Not to be mean or anything, but Billie doesn't really like her grandpa much.
In her own defense, he doesn't really do a whole lot to be a very likable person. He's a cop, for one, and just kind of mean in a general sense. She doesn't even think she's the only one who feels like this, really, so mostly she's just not really sure why they keep inviting him over for stuff. Everyone always seems a little uncomfortable when he comes around; Moms get a little more frowny, Dads sit a little too still, Billie's dad in particular always seems a little disappointed, and Thea will say it outright when she knows that no one else will hear, so Billie mostly just tries not to feel too guilty about feeling like it in the first place.
She does keep it all to herself though, because being excellent to other people is important, even to the other people you don't like.
No one ever taught that to Grandpa Logan though.
"You really should grow up a little, start moving like a normal person," he tells her suddenly, having cornered Billie in one of the halls after she'd left Thea to go get a tape from their bedroom. Usually it's not too hard to avoid being alone with him, 'cause everyone in the house travels with a buddy, but Billie's been caught out and she tries not to tense at the unbalanced feeling encounter.
"Huh?" she asks, tilting her head to look curious and stuffing the tape in her pocket before he notices it and tries to take it from her or something. It's hers, of course, Uncle Bill made it for her, but that probably wouldn't stop him. Frankly, she thinks Grandpa Logan could do with some better music than whatever he listens to, because it's gotta be rank for him to hate music so much. She keeps that thought to herself though, because somehow every conversation about music turns into an argument when he's around and Billie's not prepared to deal with those negative energies while all solitary.
He makes a wrinkled face at her, like the one Thea makes when there's accidentally cucumbers in her sandwiches instead of Billie's at lunch. Billie resists the impulse in her face to mimic the expression because she knows he'll probably yell at her for that too and Billie would rather not.
"'Huh?'", he repeats, in that low tone people use when they're making fun of her, and Billie shifts her arms uncomfortably at the recognition. Most of the time adults don't to that kind of stuff to her face, they keep it in their heads instead until they can say it to her parents like she can't hear them or something. It's weird to face an adult with that tone directly, like she wants to cry a bit. She wishes he'd leave. "You and your cousin both need to start learning some proper disciple. Just another thing your fathers seem to be slacking with these days."
Billie chews on the inside of her cheek a bit, eyes wide and blinking to make sure they stay clear. She's wracking her brain for something to say to that, something in defense of herself or Thea or of their dads, but all the words have fallen right out of her head. "Bogus," she mumbles, lacking anything else, but it does a good job of summing up her emotions on the subject. She's heard this kind of stuff before from conversations no one thought she was listening to, but she didn't think it was the sort of thing adults just said straight to other kids.
Maybe the reason why they don't is because it kind of hurts. It makes her wish she didn't have to hear it, and maybe wish her parents wouldn't have to hear it either actually.
He doesn't seem happy with her response, it just makes his lip curl up at her. Billie finally gives in and lets her face make the expression back at him. She finds herself kind of hoping that being on the receiving end of it will make him not want to do this to other people anymore, but she doesn't think it works.
Her dad shows up before Grandpa Logan gets a chance to start yelling at her though, coming around the corner and seeming surprised to find them here, especially together. "Hey Billie!" he says, wiggling his fingers against hers when she trots over to grab onto his jeans a little. "Dad," he acknowledges with a tilt of his head, quieter. Billie glances up at him when he puts his hand on the top of her head, "Thea's waiting on your tape," he tells her.
She knows it's probably a good excuse to run off, but she just pats her pocket to let him know that she has the tape and doesn't leave quite yet. She wants something else before she can leave, so she's gotta stay close to him while she figures out exactly what it is so that she doesn't get distracted and lose the train of thought before she can pin it down.
"What were you two talking about?" Dad asks, bobbing his head a little, in acknowledgement of all the things she didn't say or maybe just because he wants to. He shoves his hands in his pockets though, probably because grandpa is always snapping about the way he moves his hands, so Billie shakes her shaka at him just to give him an excuse to do it back if he sees it. Just because she tries to be kind doesn't mean she can't use spite every once in a while too.
"I'm talking to your son about utilizing some body control for once," Grandpa Logan says, and Billie can feel the way Dad shifts on his feet, straightening his shoulders and looking straight ahead, hand coming back down to cradle her head again.
"She's doing just fine," he says. "Doesn't run into walls anymore or anything!"
Dad says it proud and it makes Billie's chest puff out a little in response. She tries not to lose the pose when the same words just make grandpa scoff at them sarcastically.
"She moves like an alien," he cries, which she thinks is kind of mean, but at least he used the right pronoun this time.
Dad sort of hesitates at that, like the exact opposite of the instinctive way Thea argues with insults like that, like he isn't sure if that's something he can argue with. Then he just shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head all in the same movement. "She's doing just fine," he repeats. "Leave her alone," he adds, in a voice more stern than he ever usually uses. He tugs lightly on a strand of her hair and she follows after him when he walks off, stepping back a little to give his legs room but not quite letting go of his pants.
Grandpa Logan doesn't follow.
"Can we jam?" Billie asks softly once she's pretty sure they're not close enough for him to overhear just in case, still feeling the unsettled question trying to form in the back of her head.
"Musically?" Dad asks, peering down at her through his hair. She doesn't think she's imagining that he sounds a little upset like her too.
She shakes her head. "Verbally," she corrects, admittedly a little bummed out. Music would probably be easier if she's being honest, even though her hands get most uncomfortable trying to form any chords on the guitars they use. But the question in her head is finally coalescing into words that she can use and she doesn't want to lose them before she gets a chance to talk about it all.
Dad nods agreeably at her, the way he basically always does when she asks him anything, and follows when she tugs him in the direction of hers and Thea's room. Probably Thea is still in the garage, which is good, but probably bummed that she's still stuck waiting on the tape. It's fine though, probably, because Thea's usually better at waiting than Billie is anyway.
Dad sits on the edge of her bed and waits quietly while Billie paces around on her carpet a bit more, bobbing his head in time to some music she can't actually hear. She kind of wishes she could. While the questions turn into words in her head, Billie spends a little bit of time holding her hands down at her sides like other people do, and then switches back to hold them out further the way she usually does. One's a lot more comfortable than the other. When she turns back around to face her dad after the little experiment, he's looking at her kind of sad through his hair.
With all this information in mind, she climbs up into his lap clumsily and just looks at him look at her for a bit, then looks at the pockets on his shirt instead because he doesn't care where she looks when they talk. "Are we aliens?" she asks, thinking about grandpa's words and her dad's hesitation and all the things people at school say sometimes, the way she feels behind her lungs when other people say or do things she just doesn't get.
(It doesn't occur to her to single herself out. She and her dad are the same, and Thea and her dad are the same, and they're all the same as each other. Whatever she is all four of them are, even if they're different sometimes too.)
Dad sighs, wobbling his head a little like he does when he's thinking hard about something. "Maybe," he says, which isn't really quite what she was expecting to hear honestly, but maybe she's just getting too used to asking teachers questions instead of the dads. "Maybe we're all aliens. Me and Bill and you and Thea." He shrugs again. "Or maybe elves or changelings or whatever."
The word connects things a little closer to music in her head, which is easier to think through. "Like Changeling Eyes," she recognizes. Wyld Stallyns had released that song two years ago; it was not well received - all the critics said it was weird and too experimentally both lyrically and instrumentally - but it's Billie's favorite song on that whole album. It's on the mixtape she listens to every night. It is most lonely to hear, but somehow just like looking into a mirror too.
Dad grins at the comparison, "Exactly," he confirms, giving her a little high five before leaning back on his hands a bit. "I do not think it matters too much if we aren't the same as other people. We fit somewhere, even if it's only with each other, and your mothers. I'll always understand you, and the princesses are proof that even people that aren't the same can love you just the same. And if the people who aren't like us aren't kind because they think we're different-,"
"Then I will show them how to be kind first," she finishes, bouncing her forehead off his shoulder with a happy little trill as he laughs. The excitement at the familiar lyrics fades a little quickly though, she wishes it'd linger. "Should I hide it though?" she asks, thinking about the sick feeling in her throat before, "Grandpa Logan thinks I should."
Dad's face falls a little at that too. "Chief Logan has never been most kind," he admits, almost like he doesn't want to, "even when I was your age." Billie leans her head against his chest, a little saddened at the thought, while he rolls around words in his head. "Do you want to hide being a strangeling? Does it hurt anyone?"
She thinks about that for a moment. Other people make fun of her, but the only hurt that really lingers is when Thea catches someone teasing and hits them for it. Usually no one tattles on that though, and Billie's not about to give up the secret. "No," she decides, ultimately deciding it doesn't really count as fighting if someone else started it all. "You don't hide it much," she can't help but point out.
(Maybe one day it'll be funny, that Billie grew up thinking their moms were the odd ones out in the world. She'd always just assumed it was because they were the princesses of old, and that was why they were so different from each other. There was a crazy culture shock to realize that her moms were the ones everyone else thought was the most normal out of all six of them.)
"I've never been too good at it," Dad admits, but he doesn't really seem too bothered. "Bill and little Thea don't hide it either. Lots of people don't, really. You've just kind of got to find them."
"Isn't it safer though?"
"But is it joyful?" he returns, and Billie thinks of holding her arms stiff at her side and the discomfort of it. Weighs the weight of the hollow ache behind her lungs dealt by other people against the transcendent joy that spreads through her limbs that gets shared with her family. Imagines trying to ignore experiences like the distortion of trees through classroom blinds or the twisting vibrations of leaning her forehead against the washing machine door. Pretending to act like other people and faking liking what they like just to hide everything about who she is to please them.
She nods, but not in agreement, and he nods back like he knows just what she means.
(She can't imagine her dad and Grandpa Logan having a conversation like this, but the decision seems like one he made before too. She hopes Uncle Bill was there for it - it seems like it would hurt to make alone.)
"Changelings," she says decisively, feeling something settle at the choice, other than the delight to finally claim a bit of her favorite song for herself.
"Changelings," he agrees, and when she holds her hand up he gives her a most enthusiastic high five, his teeth shining behind the dark curtain of his hair as she giggles in delight.
There's a kind of ache in the choice, like she already knows that there's an acknowledgement that the things that are hard aren't ever going to get easier. The feeling of being different is never going to actually go away. The people who like to point it out aren't ever going to stop. But, she isn't alone. She isn't different alone, and she doesn't think that her family would ever really let her be, even if they somehow weren't just like her too.
The difference might be lonely, but she thinks the loneliness would hurt a lot more if she didn't even have herself to hold onto among all those other people.