Dear readers, welcome to Gertrude Hunt for our Friday edition of Talks with Dina. Today, by popular demand, we have a special guest, Arabella Baylor of House Baylor.
Arabella: Thank you for having me. The tea is delicious.
Dina: It’s our pleasure.
Arabella: Also, the little pastries with the strawberry filling are to die for.
Dina: I’m so glad you like it. I’ll let our chef know. He’ll be delighted. So, I have a checklist of things to ask you.
Arabella: Oh no. It’s getting serious.
Dina: We pride ourselves on being thorough. So first, you look very well put together. What are you wearing?
Arabella: Nothing too special today. The skirt is the cherry miniskirt from AKNVAS, multi-colored plaid, high-waisted, front-slant pockets. The pockets are functional which is my favorite thing. Also, since I’m short, the mini hits a little lower on my legs, which is great for business settings. The matching Valdi blazer is from the same brand. The white turtleneck I picked up at JC Penney’s for about $20.”
Dina: Are clothes important?
Arabella: Well, the obvious reason is that I want to look cute. I mean, we all want to look cute. As you know, I come from a very large but tight-knit family. We own an investigative agency. Prior to becoming a House, we mostly handled insurance fraud, some bail jumpers, cheating spouses, and so on. Small time non-violent offenses. Now our business revolves around the magical heavyweights of Houston. Our clients come from dynasties several generations deep. The kind of people who custom order baby apparel from a couture shop in France and have it flown in by a special courier. One must fit in to be taken seriously, especially since they typically see me when the bill comes due.
Dina: What kind of cases are you typically handling now?
Arabella: A lot of theft, both physical and IP. Fraud is very common, usually within the bounds of the family. A large sum of money disappears, and the Head of the House wants to know which one of his siblings or offspring is responsible. Background checks are huge, the kind that go beyond the basic databases. Still catch a lot of cheating spouses, though. Hehe.
Dina: Some things never change no matter how much money you make?
Arabella: Exactly. But to go back to your earlier question about clothes. It’s not just clothes. My hair is done, my makeup is on point. My nails are manicured. When my older sister, Catalina, throws on some sweatpants and trudges out in the morning to walk Shadow with her hair messed up and black circles under her eyes because she stayed up too late working on some thorny Warden case, nobody is alarmed. Everyone in the family knows that Catalina’s specialty is maintaining steel control over her magic. I don’t have the same luxury.
When everyone around you is paranoid that you might Godzilla-out at any second, you try to compensate. When I was younger, I’d adopt over-the-top cute mannerisms and get into funny fights where I would flail harmlessly to reassure everyone that I was in control. Now I accomplish it with this. ::indicates the outfit:: I’m the antithesis of frazzled. I’m composed and elegant, and in control. Do you know how much bearing sloppy clothes and unbrushed hair has on my potential to explode?
Dina: How much?
Arabella: None at all. What I look like is not an indicator of how I feel in any way. However, people can’t help but make visual judgements. Even when they are your family, and they love you.
Dina: Speaking of family, is it true that you once said that you’re nobody’s favorite?
Arabella: I knew as soon as I said it that it would come back to haunt me. But I stand by it. I don’t want to give anyone a wrong impression. I’m loved. My family is supportive and caring. And I wasn’t treated any differently than my sisters when it came to gifts, chores, or attending school functions. But some things are subconscious.
Nevada is Grandma Frida’s favorite. She is the first grandchild. Grandma Frida still calls her “the baby.” I used to have a lot of butthurt over that. I’m the youngest. I should be the baby.
Both Grandpa Linus and Grandmother Victoria prefer Catalina. Grandpa does dote on me. I can come to him for advice any time, and he spoils me. But he doesn’t respect me. He doesn’t take me seriously. I’m humored. Grandmother Victoria mostly doesn’t notice I exist, unless I specifically get her attention. To be fair, she ignores Nevada and my cousins as well. She put all of her eggs into Catalina’s basket. And Catalina is welcome to those eggs. Dealing with Grandma Victoria requires a computer brain. I would lose my patience and smush her.
Dina: Is that why you kept your grandfather’s identity secret after that incident in the hospital?
Arabella: Partly. Mostly I just liked having a bit of power over the two of them. Let me tell you, you have never met two more manipulative people. When they met, it had to be fate, because they richly deserve each other. Keeping their hospital visit private gave me ammunition in case I needed to use it. When one of them started planning something nasty, I could wave it around and threaten to expose the whole thing. It worked better on Linus than Victoria.
I did have to excuse myself and laugh hysterically for a few minutes when it all came out. You should’ve seen Catalina’s face. Ha! I shouldn’t laugh, because she really went through hell with the two of them, but her expression! I wish I had snapped a pic.
Dina: So back to being nobody’s favorite.
Arabella: Sure. We’ve covered grandparents. Mom is a person of great integrity. She tries so hard to keep everything equal, but if you watch her, you’ll notice that she pays slightly more attention to Bern and Leon. They had an awful childhood until they came to live with us, and she’s compensating a little. It’s not that she loves me less. That’s not it at all. It’s that she focuses on Leon and Bern, and when they are okay, she usually ends up putting out fires with Nevada or Catalina. It’s understandable. Nevada has baby Arthur, who might be a supervillain. I low-key keep waiting for him to accidentally destroy Houston because he can’t find his sippy cup. Catalina deals with sick Warden crap and tries to run the House. I…
Dina: Fall through the cracks?
Arabella: Sometimes. For example, when it was Bern’s turn to go to college, we all had a lot of discussions about it. What major, how he was doing, how his grades were, and so on. Same with Nevada. When Catalina refused to go, it was a massive deal. Leon needed a lot of encouragement, and we all rooted for him. It was a group event to keep him on the path to his degree. I think we all should’ve gotten honorary degrees by the end of it or like one of those coins military people get. Let me ask you, what’s was my major?
Arabella: That’s exactly what most of my family would say, except for Nevada, who saw my Diploma. I double majored in Business Administration and Applied Magic Theory and got my degree in 3 years. I also have a Masters in Global Business and House Societies from Yale. I was admitted into the special semi-remote program for Primes there. To get in, you need a 3.8 GPA and two Prime sponsors who are not related to you. Really helps if one of them is an alumnus.
Dina: Who did you get?
Arabella: Augustine Montgomery and Stephen Jiang. I flew back and forth every other week for a year to attend debates and in-person lectures. I’d spent four days there and come back for ten. I paid for it out of my own pocket and told everyone I was going shopping up north. I would even bring back an outfit or two and parade around in them.”
Dina: Did it work?
Arabella: Some. I knew when Leon figured it out because he started to make cute comments about my shopping trips. Leon is the best PI out of the lot of us. Alessandro tries very hard, but Leon is on another level. Maybe a tie with Nevada, except Nevada relies on truthseeking, and Leon is just that good. It’s really hard to keep things from him. He’s like a cat. Mom eventually told him to knock off hassling me, and that I lived in my own house and was allowed to have my own independence. I do love my little house on the edge of our lake. It’s my sanctuary.”
Dina: Does anyone else know?
Arabella: Bern. He needed me for something, and when I didn’t answer my cell, he tracked my cell down to New Haven and put two and two together. But I don’t think Nevada knows. The grandparents and mom don’t either, and Catalina for sure doesn’t, because if she knew, she would’ve added my Masters degree to my agency bio. She’s obsessive about it.
We’re a family of PIs. Keeping a secret is pretty hard and I didn’t exactly hide it that well. They don’t know because they are not paying attention. That’s what I mean by falling through the cracks.
Dina: How did they not figure out that you weren’t keeping up with your regular workload?
Arabella: That’s because I did keep up with it. Another thing I learned from Stephen is to maintain two separate workstations, each with their own workflow. I have two offices, one at my house and the other at our office pavilion. I color-coded everything. The two shall never meet.
Dina: Does this mean you’ve conquered math?
Arabella: Nope, still hate it. I hate it so, so much. I almost dropped out because I couldn’t pass basic algebra. I dropped it 3 times and had to beg Bern for help. My poor cousin, heh. I think my math-stupidness broke his brain. Thank God for accounting software.
Dina: You’ve mentioned Stephen twice now. Are you two romantically involved?
Arabella: :laughs : No. Stephen is gēge, older brother. I help him with some…problems he encounters in the course of doing business and we collaborate frequently. I did try to hit on him when we first met because I was young and naïve. I went through this phase where I crushed on various celebrities, and he was the first one I’ve met in person. Steven was very kind to me and made it clear that it would never happen. He also talked to me about risks. Some of the things I did back then would make it easy for me to be taken advantage of. I’ve grown up a lot since then.
Dina: Will you tell us a bit about your magic?
Arabella: Of course not. There are two lovely people who created me, and they need to earn a living. If I give away all of my secrets, why would you buy my book?
Dina: Could you at least tell us what your plans are? Will you work for Baylor Investigative Agency forever?
Arabella: I’m not sure. It wasn’t the original plan. At least I never saw myself doing it as a career. It was a great way to earn some money when I was a teenager, but when we became a House, it was all hands on deck. Most emerging House collapse within the first 3 years. The family needed me, so I did what I had to do. We are much more stable now. I’m not unhappy. Who knows, perhaps I will do something else in the future.
Dina: Thank you so much for spending time with us.
Arabella: Thank you for having me. I had a lovely time. And just so we are clear, I’m keeping these pastries. They are coming home with me.