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TIMESTAMP: Monday, July 19th, 2021; after “A Badger’s Breakdown / A Viper’s Virtue”



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Featuring Mikhail Zima & Caitlin Cleary
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After such an infamous start, the rest of Caitlin’s day had gone on surprisingly smoothly. Mika departing her home once he’d recuperated from his earlier scuffle gave Danny and Cece a chance to reconnect for the first time in months. She told the Belmonte boy all about her relationship with Niles: their beginnings, the highs, the lows and her current concerns with where they stood as a couple. In return, and after some persuading with some strawberry cupcakes she’d baked for him the night before, she was rewarded with a detailed update on his life: his repaired bond with Natalia, his unexpected rekindled relationship with Marco Brady, where he stood with his father regarding his sexuality and the unfortunate news of Silvia’s rapidly declining health. And just like old times, the best friend duo provided each other with a listening ear, honest advice, and words of encouragement.

Once Danny left her home shortly after midday with a basket of assorted-flavored muffins and her mother had come and gone, Cece was left alone with her thoughts again. Instead of isolating herself in her bedroom like she’d done before she sought solace in the one place she felt at home: the kitchen. As her hands busied themselves with the preparations of another round of muffins, the young woman reflected on the day’s happenings and the lessons she had come to learn. The earlier conversations with Mika and Danny about her past had helped her realize that every secret she had kept in hopes to spare and protect feelings had only backfired on her. The more she mused about her former actions and the reasoning behind them, the more her thoughts circled back to Niles, and how their budding, borderline toxic relationship could no longer go on when her heart wasn’t truly in it. So while her muffins baked, Cece bared her soul out to the Sinclair man one last time in a heartfelt letter that concluded their romance before personally delivering it inside an envelope addressed to him to his mailbox. She had returned home just before the storm began to make its appearance in Edenridge.

It was sometime after six in the evening when the sound of the garage door opening and closing followed by a knock on the side door pulled Caitlin out of her stew-cooking reverie. Her ginger eyebrows came together in a frown, and she paused the Taylor Swift track she was listening to so she could pay more attention to the noises around her. She glanced at the window nearby and back at the door in confusion, wondering why anyone would risk going anywhere considering the weather conditions that had only worsened as the hours passed by.

Had one of her parents or Rhett forgotten something in the house? Doubtful. They wouldn’t wait until the storm was at its peak to pick up whatever the missing item was. Had they decided to close up shop early and ride the storm at the house? Unlikely-- the only times they would ever close The Hole were during some important holidays, close ones’ deaths, championship Celtics games or life-threatening weather (which they didn’t consider this storm to be). She checked her phone for a missed call or text message from any of them explaining the situation, but found herself staring at an empty notifications bar instead.

In the meantime, another round of knocking echoed through the home. Cece, now on edge at the thought of a stranger knowing the code to their garage, parking inside it and knocking on their door, grabbed the handle of the nearest large kitchen knife and tip-toed to the side door. She probably wouldn’t get far with it if it came to a confrontation, but she wouldn’t go down without a fight. A quick peek at the peephole was all it took for the identity of the ‘intruder’ to be revealed, and the young woman let out a sigh of relief as she unlocked the door and swung it open.

"Hey," she greeted the man in her garage, a hint of confusion easily heard and visible as her little frown made its return.

In the back of his mind, past the part of his physical self that was drenched in Mother Nature teaching him a lesson to not go out in the damn rage she was putting Edenridge through currently, Mika knew it was a close one. The timing of everything, especially after having a long talk with Ley, made coming here a risk. What if a tree fell over and hit his truck? What if some cops caught him? He’d have to explain why he was not only speeding down main street when the only source of reliable light guiding him were the unreasonably bright headlights of his Tacoma (thank Phil for the hook up, by the way), but out in the height of the storm.

But he made it. He made it past the gate. He got lucky because someone else was coming back from wherever they were. Mika couldn’t see who it was, but he saw a head of bright blonde hair on a damn motorcycle. When he had gone the opposite direction that the biker did, Mika went to Cece’s house. And thank God that nobody seemed to be home other than her (hopefully). He risked it all to open the code and had gotten completely drenched in the process. Now he was staring her in the eyes, her confused expression saying more than she ever would or could.

“Yeah...hey.” Mika awkwardly said, giving Cece a small wave that she returned with her available hand just as awkwardly. He wasn’t certain about what he could say to explain what he was doing in her surprisingly spacious garage. No scrunchie to return as a shitty excuse. Nothing but the truth weighing heavy in his heart.

After a more careful visual inspection, Cece noticed Mika’s damp clothes, puffy eyes and reddish nose-- all clear indicators that he’d been crying some moments before. These hints, and the fact that he had driven through the storm currently roaring outside to once again drop by her home unannounced, gave Cece definitive cause for concern. The only times Mika had ever cried in front of her were during emotional scenes in a movie-- not because of anything else. "Is, um, is everything okay?" she inquired, her inquisitive eyes searching his blue ones for any answers on his worrisome state.

No, everything is not fine-- would be what he would say if he was being honest. He wanted to be honest with her, but not right now. At the same time, he knew he couldn’t get away with just some lame excuse. “I guess so...” Well, that was better. Not as blunt as what he wanted to say, but it set the stage for something more meaningful later. “Can I come inside?” Mika asked, laughing for a few seconds immediately afterward. “What I mean is can I come inside the main house? Possibly out of these clothes too? I..I will explain everything I promise. Just…need to not be so wet, y’know?” Despite the incredibly awkward and possibly tense (for both of them, really) situation, Mika laughed again.

"Yeah, of course!" Cece quickly conceded, stepping aside to allow Mika entry to her home. Once his back was turned, she locked the door, placed the kitchen knife in the doorside table and followed him suit.

As Mika settled in one of the booth chairs of the island, the redhead exited the kitchen for a moment and returned with a fresh towel that she gently draped over her visitor’s shoulders like a fluffy cape. “Here. I’m sure you could use this,” she told him with a soft, caring smile. “I can throw your wet clothes in the washer and dryer too, if you want. I’m sure I can find some of Rhett’s old clothes that might fit you in one of the dressers upstairs.”

“It’s like you’re a mind-reader.” Mika’s poor excuse for sarcasm was in clutch tonight. He laughed as she took the liberty of draping the towel over his shoulders. Mika silently dried his damp hair with the towel. He had to imagine that Cece was probably thinking, at least in some capacity, that he was insane to be here, much less go through the storm to get here. Why would he do it? Mika didn’t have an answer right now. After his talk with Ley, he just had to come here. He didn’t think about the why in great detail. He’d know when the time came. For now, he would get as dry as he could.

But before he could, Mika finally took a solid look at Cece. Maybe it was that oversized gray T-shirt she was wearing that hit her mid-thigh and his assumption she was going braless, but part of him liked what he saw. She smelled nice, too, like strawberry shampoo or something fruity. He could smell it even from how far away from her scalp he was. “That’d be great. If I spend another minute in these clothes, I might catch a cold.” Mika put the towel on the island, half raising his shirt, revealing his toned abs. “So should I just do it here or…?” He asked with a half smirk.

The young woman rolled her eyes, shook her head and playfully pushed Mikhail away, giggling nervously as she always did whenever he made loaded comments like these. Leave it to Mika to take any opportunities to make things suggestive and run with them. It was one of the things that, albeit embarrassing sometimes, she enjoyed about him. “There’s a perfectly good downstairs bathroom down the hall that would come in very useful for what you’re trying to do,” she reminded him in a teasing tone. As much as she wouldn’t mind having a first-row ticket to witnessing what was hiding underneath the man’s damp clothes for a second time in one day, Cece had a larger interest in hearing the reason why he was at her house in the first place.

He chuckled low at what Cece implied what he might’ve or might’ve not been trying to do. Was she right? Well obviously she was, but Mika would never admit that - at least not right now. Mika walked closer to the redhead, his lips still curved into a smirk. As he walked past her, Mika was leaning closer intentionally and turned his head to her. “Down this hall you said?” Her silence, pink cheeks and the way she held her breath as he closed the distance between them spoke volumes and Mika chuckled. “Right. Be right back.”

As he went down the hallway, Mika found the bathroom and closed the door behind him. The last time he was looking at his reflection, he was so ready to completely break it, but didn’t through whatever self control he had at the time. The last time he was gazing at his reflection, Mika had too much weight on his shoulders. Ley helped rid himself of some of that weight, but it still remained. Not only that, it felt like that didn’t really help a lot. Talking about David and telling his sister about it got him to thinking.

It was…

“Focus, Mika. None of that tonight.” Correcting his train of thought, the man slid off his clothes and tossed them into a small pile. He had hoped they didn’t get wet, but he was on terrible terms with Lady Luck. Once finished, he heard a knock on the bathroom door. Knowing who that was, Mika decided to be cheeky. Lo siento, baño ocupado!”

Although Mika couldn’t see it, Caitlin rolled her eyes as she stood on the opposite side of the bathroom. "Did you come all the way to my house just to have someone to make your corny jokes to?" Caitlin joked as she placed the clothes she'd picked out for Mika on the floor. "I left the clothes outside the door. I'll be in the kitchen when you're done."

By the time Mika returned to the kitchen wearing a pair of Rhett's old green and white Celtics shorts (something Mika never thought he'd wear ever again) and a gray T, the Russian boy was met with the sight of two meal servings, two ice glasses and some napkins were neatly laid out on the island countertop. A generous serving of warm Irish stew was inside each of the matching bowls, paired with a jumbo corn muffin on a smaller plate and their drink of choice: Dr. Pepper for Mika and water for Cece.

"What's all this?" He asked, confused in the best way possible. His senses soon filled the gaps. It was slightly different, but the aroma that took his sense of smell by the balls was Irish stew.

"I hope it's okay that I served you some dinner," Cece told Mika as he entered the room, leaving a trail of clean-smelling soap behind him. "I was in the middle of making the stew for dinner when Mom texted me that she and Dad were spending the storm at the Hole, so there's plenty of food to go around, and I know you can't ever say no to a fresh, home-cooked meal," the redhead teased with a wink, taking a seat in front of her meal.

She had him there. Plus, between the amount of stress he’d been under all day and the very little time between meeting with Anya to Ley, Mika hadn’t be able to eat a decent meal aside from that leftover chinese over five hours before. “It would be a crime to let it go to waste.” The first thing Mika did was wash his hands, using that same soap that Cece so graciously left. Once finished, he took a seat at the table across from Cece.

And once he sat, the smell really grabbed him to the point his stomach made some sounds. Amid everything, Mika had barely registered that Cece even put out his favorite - albeit controversial - cup of pop. “I feel bad for your parents. They really are missing out on some good grub,” Mika noted, taking the first bite of the stew, blowing on it as slowly but as many times as he could. It was still hot, of course, but so delicious. Mika obviously burnt his tongue but it was so worth it. “It’s really good. Been so long since I’ve had your cooking. Really gives Mom a run for her money,” he laughed, remembering how he should go by her place once this storm lets up.

"Oooh, I'll tell Mary-Anne you said that," Caitlin teased Mika, eating a spoonful of stew. His mother’s cooking was definitely in her top five list of favorites, so it was always a big compliment whenever he praised her culinary skills and compared them to Mary’s. "How is she doing, by the way? Is she okay, is she still in Edenridge? I think about her often. I've missed her and the conversations we used to have."

Mika chuckled low, swallowing the bite of the stew he just took. Cece asking about his mom made the Zima man frown slightly. Last time he was able to actually physically go see her was…a couple of weeks ago. When he found Boa in the graveyard. The night that he had dinner at the Gonzalez’ house. That felt so long ago in light of everything that happened since. It felt so simple in comparison. Having to drag Boa out of his hole and letting him sleep off…everything at his mom’s place. Even though it was sad to think about, it also made him smile.

He hesitated for a moment. “She’s still here.” Mika’s voice went almost emotionless, though behind a neutral expression he was hiding a momentary anger and deep sadness for how his mother had to live. Here he was, freely moving about, sneaking into Cece’s house for the second time in the same day and his mother couldn’t even go outside her apartment without a top level Fallen Angel and Serpent escort. She can’t even see her own family. “I’m sure she misses you too. Maybe…one day, when everything isn’t so fucked up, you can see her again. And maybe outside of that apartment, too.” That was Mika’s deepest wish, but he didn’t see a way for that to be possible any time soon.

Cece was quiet in silent realization for a moment. Now that she stopped to think about it, Mika had never elaborated on the reason why Mary was not to leave her cozy apartment in the Southside. During the time they were dating, her inquiries about the situation and the strict protocol they followed to see her had been dismissed with 'it's complicated' and 'for safety, it's best if you don't know'. But after their conversation by the lake, the redhead could only guess that the woman's circumstances had to do with keeping her safe from Cameron Hyde and his psychotic ways or the violent tendencies of Mika's father Ivan. Of course, the only way to know for sure was to ask.

"You know, I don't think you ever told me the reason why Mary's here in Edenridge," Cece mused, taking another bite of her stew bowl and hoping Mika would catch what she was implying.

Mika knew this was going to come eventually. In truth, part of him had hoped this specific topic wouldn’t be brought up, but that was asking for too many miracles. Besides, as much as he didn’t want to, maybe it was time he did tell her the full story. Everything: about his father, him in Edenridge, and the dirty truths about why they were here.

Looking up at Cece after he took a quiet moment of thought, Mika expelled a long sigh. “So, you remember what I mentioned about my father, right? About how he was a violent man?” Mika could see it in her eyes that she did, and she confirmed this with a nod. “Well here’s the grim truth. The Zima Family, we...” Mika’s stomach turned. He hadn’t associated himself as a Zima in years. “...We aren’t your normal family. We are just one cell of the greater Russian Mafia, or commonly known as The Bratva. My father is the current head of this cell, based out of New York City.” Mika understood that was a lot to take in. “The reason I’m telling you this is to set the stage. My father has a lot of enemies and not just from his business, but here in Edenbridge. Hyde, for one, is probably numero uno. He was still in jail when mom came to Eden - around the time the shooting happened. She heard and was worried I had been shot. Other stuff happened too, but because there may have been a threat on all of us - me and my sisters included - Big Rey and an associate of his and my father’s, the Fallen Angels, hid her on the top floor of the Lost Souls Apartments. Top floors are VIP and it’s the most protected floor in any of the buildings. That’s why you were blindfolded. It really was better that way.” As he said all of that, Mika understood now a lot of what he thought was best for Cece was bullshit. He underestimated her ability to handle everything. Maybe it was time to be completely honest with her about everything.

The redhead nodded, deep in thought. If Mika would have given this explanation to any other girl, they'd probably dismiss him as full of shit and send him off on his merry way. Russian-born men and their families being involved in the mafia was something you only saw in Hollywood movies. But Cece knew and trusted Mika-- he wouldn’t lie about something like that. Not only that, but she was a born and raised Edenrite: a small town in which the unlikeliest of possibilities often turned out to be the truth. No matter how sheltered Gary and Deidre had tried to keep their children from the world, she wasn't oblivious to some of the underground forces that, with their inner workings, contributed to the way Edenridge ran.

The explanation, of course, opened the door to a more concerning question. "Are you expected to take part of or be involved in the cell to a greater scale at some point?" she asked him point-blank, her eyes locked on his expression. Based on her limited knowledge of criminal organizations involving families, it wasn't a far-fetched assumption that, at some point, Mika could be asked, expected or even obligated by force to partake in the business. Sometimes, in these situations, the choices would be made for you with no room for opinion or protest.

Mika gave a halfhearted, genuinely clueless shrug. “Who knows what goes on in Ivan’s mind. I was far too young at the time to have any real stake in the…family business. My older brother, VIktor, on the other hand, he’s probably going to be in charge on the eventual day that Ivan hits the bucket. And I for one couldn’t care a damn bit when either happens.” A grim thing to admit, but Mika held no love for his father nor the brother of his that was every bit the son of Ivan as Cameron Hyde was.

And then Mika realized that speaking so nonchalantly about how he felt or didn’t feel about his father sounded harsh. Cece only knew that his father was violent. She didn’t know the violence he showed to him. “Sorry…I guess thinking about him just brings up unpleasant memories. That and he called me this morning.” That was something Mika didn’t mention to anyone. “Called me to ask how I was. Can you believe that? The nerve of him! Asking how Mom was as if he had any right to. Not after the way he treated her, forcing her to leave her home--” Mika stopped himself from going any further, almost letting it slip just where she was from. He wanted to tell her, but not unprovoked like that.

The sudden outburst didn’t phase the young woman. For as long as Cece had known Mika, he had always been candid about his dislike for his father. It was a topic they avoided discussing when they were seeing each other; and the more she found about the reasons behind the defensive wall, the more she understood why it had been built in the first place. “It seems like you all have sacrificed a lot for your father,” the redhead observed, keeping her compassionate eyes on her ex. Basing a personal opinion off on the words and/or experiences of others wasn’t exactly the best thing to do, but by finding out Ivan had possibly treated Mary-Anne and Mika in a way that they didn’t deserve, the Cleary girl’s impression of the Zima patriarch was not the best. “I’m really sorry this is happening to you guys. Nobody deserves to be punished or make sacrifices for the mistakes of others.”

Mika wanted to believe that she was right. As much as he wanted to solely blame Ivan for this, and he was to blame for most of it, Mika knew he had a hand in that too (technically a fist). It all came back to that summer, on the last day of school, in the first week of July of 2016. The day he unintentionally changed his and his family’s life. He looked down at the half-empty bowl of stew, wondering if he should let it go. It’s the easy thing to do. Not holding himself accountable for what he did to that kid, that Bulgarian kid he nearly killed. It would be so much easier for him to just pretend that the Big Bad Boogeyman was the only one to blame.

But he wasn’t.

“You’re right about one thing: nobody should have to suffer for one person’s mistakes, but Ivan isn’t the only guilty one here.” As he felt the pits of his stomach twist like the very storm that rained down on Edenridge, Mika had to tell her this part. He brought his blue eyes back up to Cece. “I would love nothing more than to cast the blame on my father. He’s a bad father who put Mount Everest-height expectations on me and gave me some pretty shitty tools, but he’s not the sole reason I…we’re here. You remember when I told you that we were shipped off to Edenridge and Pinehurst because of something that happened?” He asked Cece, who nodded in confirmation. “It’s because of me.”

Mika’s fists balled as his stomach tensed up, his throat tightening. He pushed through the sudden discomfort, though, and continued. “It’s my fault because of my temper. I tend to keep it under wraps, but close to six years ago, I was a different person. And there was this kid, an annoying fucking pizda. You might not know it, but in that life, we have as much in common with the Bulgarians as strawberries do with sour limes. Put us together and there’s bound to be a nasty clash.” Remembering that day made Mika visibly irate. Not for what happened, but for the after, and how red he was feeling that day. “It was our last day of school. I was out with my boys - Boris and Denis - just trying to enjoy ourselves, then Penko Petrov comes up to us. He starts to disrespect us. He was lower than us, like an ant. So nobody did anything.

“But then he put my mom’s name in his mouth. He called her a slut and a whore. Said my sisters would be the same. And..and..”
As Mika relived that moment in real time, his eyes changed. The look in them was darker and he grinded his teeth, trying to contain the residual ire that was tied to that memory. “I don’t know what happened between me sitting down and being on top of him, but I beat him to the point he was hospitalized. Fast forward a week and it turns out he was the son of one of my father’s…business rivals. Blew up one of the cars in our driveway and, well…the rest was history.” Mika was feeling red. As red as he was in that moment. There was a reason he didn’t like to talk about his father because talking about Ivan meant that he remembered that one action. And it always brought the unresolved anger and guilt he kept buried at a consistent rate. “So you see, that’s why it’s not just Ivan’s fault. I’m to blame for my family’s suffering too.”

As Cece listened to Mika’s tale of how he came to Edenridge, she could tell that the events in question continued to haunt him, dragging him down with guilt and shame. It was obvious that he regretted his actions and the life-altering consequences they’d had in his and his families’ stories. But it was a sign of growth that, like she had hours before, he was able to be honest and truthful with himself about his flaws. By showing remorse, taking accountability and utilizing his error as a teaching moment, Mika proved that he was no longer the kid he spoke of, but a man whose experiences made him wiser. Maybe he needed a little help to see it.

She rose from the chair she'd been occupying, stood up in front of the man and tilted his chin up so he would be facing her. "Mika, look at me," she ordered, waiting until his eyes met hers before continuing. "You can't beat yourself up over something you did when you were a kid. I know that's the easy thing to do-- I did it myself for years with David's passing. But if there's anything I learned today, is that carrying all that guilt within you, even after saying how you really feel, is only going to keep you miserable. All we can really do is make the most out of our situation and grow from our mistakes." She told him, pausing to let him mull over her words and cup his face with both hands. "Look at it this way: if you hadn't moved to Edenridge and if I hadn't lost David, we wouldn't have met each other. And it would have been a tragedy to miss out on your lame jokes," she teased him with a laugh.

He smiled as she gave him no choice but to look at him. His anger that previously occupied his eyes, the kind of gaze that looked too much like his father's, softened once Cece had firmly demanded he look at her. No matter how angry Mika became at his life nor the life he was living, Cece always managed to pull him out of the darkness he willingly succumbed to. She always had that superpower about her.

"I don't care about what you did when you were an immature thirteen year-old fighting to demand respect for his family in the middle of Brighton Beach,” she reassured him, caressing his cheeks with her thumbs. “That doesn't define you. I care about the sweet, funny, protective, loving and caring guy I came to know after a chance encounter under an oak tree in March of 2018. The man that makes sacrifices to keep his loved ones safe, even if it means breaking hearts in the process. The man that's trying to wrong his rights with honesty and transparency. That's the only Mika I care about."

Honesty and transparency

Out of every word that came from his former beloved’s mouth, Mika clung onto those two words. He appreciated everything she was doing and it was working, but Mika could feel it come back - that sharp guilt poking at his sides, growing in his stomach - about those two words: honesty and transparency. Cece believed he was doing the right thing, trying to correct all the wrongs he did by being honest. And maybe some of that was true. He was honest with Ley, with Danny this morning, and with his sisters a few weeks ago. But what about with Cece? Mika promised he would tell her everything. When they went to their spot, he said what he felt was appropriate at the time, but with recent events, even before coming here to her house tonight, Mika had been rethinking everything.

But how could he tell her after this long? Where would he even begin?

Then he looked into her eyes. He really looked at her. This wasn’t the same Caitlin Cleary that was so defensive over David and so shy and insecure. She was never weak, but over time, he came to understand that she had so much pain. And over time, Mika came to understand that they weren’t so different from each other. They had the same pain, same weaknesses. Mika just behaved differently. Understanding all of this, even though he never realized it, she also had the same strength he did. She was unassuming with it, but Mika knew it now. She didn’t flinch when he talked about his father and what the Zima family really did nor when he was describing in great detail about what he did to Penko.

So maybe he could be completely honest with her? Be the Mikhail Zima…Gonzalez that she once loved and cares about.

As he brought a hand to gently caress Cece’s left, Mika smiled, laughing low. “I don’t deserve you after everything I put you through, but I’m really glad that we’re in each other’s lives again.” As he said that, a guilt passed through Mika and a thought that he knew he didn’t want to voice but just had to. “if you’ll forgive me for possibly ruining the moment, but Niles…he doesn’t deserve you. I just hope he doesn’t do anything to ruin anything between you two. I don’t like him, but if he makes you happy, you deserve to have that in your life, Cece. Even if he couldn’t be here with you.”

The mention of Niles wiped the smile off Cece's face, replacing it with the guilt she’d been feeling since she’d delivered the letter to his mailbox a few hours prior. “Actually, Niles and I aren’t together anymore…” Caitlin admitted, letting go of her hold on Mika’s face and dropping her eyes to the floor beneath her in guilt and shame. She didn’t think she’d be talking about it so soon, but nothing ever went according to plan in her life, did it? “He's a good guy who deserves to be happy and I hate that I wasted his time but… I couldn’t do it any longer.”

Mika had no words. The shock that she and Sinclair no longer being together was something that’d take some getting used to. He didn’t want to seem too happy, but part of him was. Maybe it was wrong of Mika to feel that way. He didn’t know Niles and maybe, deep down, there was a small part of him that felt like he had no reason to dislike Niles. Perhaps the only reason he did was because he had been with Cece. It was a crap reason and it would be just the sort of thing his father would do. He couldn’t help it. But as much as he didn’t like Niles, curiosity took priority. A curiosity about what Cece said, so he just had to ask.

As he kept his eyes on her, Mika just said it: “Couldn’t do what any longer?”

The redhead took in a deep breath, straightened her shoulders and looked up at Mika, a vulnerable expression all over her beautiful face-- she was scared of the consequences of the words she was about to say. “As much as I really liked him, I couldn’t keep trying to force myself to fall in love with him when… When I’ve obviously never stopped being in love with somebody else.”

He was frozen in the chair he sat in by…something. A revelation like that, on top of everything else, Mika couldn't quite process it all. She and Niles were no more and she was still in love with somebody else. She didn’t have to say the name because Mika knew. His stomach turned and tossed itself over and under in every possible way, heart began to pound at a crazy rate. Everything that could make it impossible to process what she just said was simultaneously active.

And he didn’t know what to do with this. Should he just be selfish and take her right now? No, that was wrong. Goddamn that voice in his head! Goddamn his guilt! Goddamn it all!

As Caitlin watched the way Mika’s face dropped after her confession, tears began to well up in her eyes as her heart sank to her feet. Just like she had done when they first started seeing each other, here she was: making the mistake of being vocal and open about her feelings only to be met with that impenetrable wall of resistance Mika seemed to have built around himself. She understood the reason why he kept his defenses up around his father-- but why was he so adamant on keeping her out, too? All she had ever done was love him and support him unconditionally, treating him with tenderness, kindness and respect… And all she ever got in return was being pushed away whenever she got too close.

The hurt Cece had felt watching Mika’s expression morphed into a deep-seated anger. “Why do you always do this shit?” the redhead burst out in utter frustration. Her turquoise eyes suddenly blazed as brightly as her flaming hair did, and her voice was loud and passionate in a way Mika had never heard before. “Why do you always make me feel like I can tell you everything I’m thinking and feeling, but any time it’s your turn, you fucking push me away? You break up with me after over two years in a relationship with no label because you never wanted to give it one. Then you find out I started seeing someone and you had the audacity to show up at our date and ruin it-- which, by the way, was part of the reason Niles and I broke up in the first place. You seek me out a few weeks later to confess the reason why you broke up with me in the first place and I’m like: ‘hmmm, it looks like he’s changed, so he deserves my forgiveness for his honesty’, so I forgive you and we’re okay again. Then you use that as an invitation to show up at my house twice today, saying all the right things and stringing me along to think that you’re finally, finally letting me in… And the minute I start talking about my feelings, you’re like Forrest fucking Gump running away from the bullies chasing him! It’s getting fucking old, Mika!”

The young woman was red-faced, her chest rising and falling with the intensity of the emotions she was experiencing-- but she wasn’t finished yet. “Why are you even here, anyway? To string me along some more? Because if all you’re here for is to toy with me, then you better take those musty clothes with you and get the hell out of my house! I am done playing games with you!”

“No..that’s not--” Shut up, Mika. Stop talking before you dig yourself into a bigger hole than you already have.

Even now, he had no words to offer immediately. Mika was stuck between this rock that weighed him down almost to the highway to hell that he was Forrest Gump- running on and the hard place that has been suffocating him for so long. The aerostasis right before asphyxiation where everything around him feels like he can’t breathe but he’s not quite dead-- that’s what Mika’s state of mind has been in an endless, repetitive rotation of. And all because he couldn’t allow himself to feel, or be open about it for once in his life.

Instead of being honest with her, he just sat there like the little helpless child that everyone kept saying he was. And now he had done this thing to Cece twice - the thing of hurting her to a point where it made him feel twice as bad. Twice as guilty. If only he could just say it: say that he still loved her. Say the fucking truth that he never stopped loving her, but…he just couldn’t.

Not yet.

He couldn’t tell her that until he told her something else first. It has been weighing on him for so long. For way longer than she has known him.

Mika sank off the chair and next to Cece. He didn’t attempt to touch her but he was on both knees in front of her. “I promise that’s not it. I’m not stringing you along -- not now, not ever…” His hands were balled up into fists, chest tightening and tightening like something had a vice grip on his heart. Not something, but someone: Cece’s anguish was grasping it to the point where unknowing tears flowed down Mika’s face. “I can make excuses. I can say it’s because of my father or my circumstances growing up. But that’s not even close to being it. It’s more simple than that.” He forced himself to take a deep breath. “Cece…Caitlin…the reason I could never be this way…be the man you wanted me to be is because I could never trust myself that way.” He bit his lip but never broke face with the redhead. “When I said my father took my mother away from her home, I never elaborated about that. Truth is, my mother…she’s from Edenridge. Like you and like David, she’s a foundling.” Oh, God it was coming. One last deep breath, Mika. Just let it out. “Her name, before marrying Ivan, before becoming Mary-Anne Zima, was Mary-Anne O’Hara. She’s John O’Hara’s - Coach’s - younger sister. My mother… she’s your David's aunt.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Aewin
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Aewin Chomp!

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Introducing: Indira "Indie" Rossi, with her friends Elysia "Ely" Fable and Owen Quinn

@Aewin @LovelyComplex @BrutalBx
TIMESTAMP: Sometime after 10 PM



A dream is a wish your heart makes…

The kids at Edenridge Elementary had voted for Cinderella as the fairytale fundraising show. It made sense because it made them believe no matter the hardship, their dreams could come true. The proceeds would go to additional classroom supplies, as well as pay for extracurricular activities. There was a severe educational budget cut before the school year of 2015-2016 so both teachers and students were struggling. Maxine James knew there was a need in the community and she wanted to help in the only way she knew how. Through a fundraiser.

Humming to a song of a perfect storybook, Maxine, coy and embarrassed, stared into a vanity backstage of the Silverlight Theater, looking at her reflection. Her face, while painted beautifully, was covered with shame and guilt. She was wearing a gorgeous, light blue tulle gown, compliments to her best friends. For the moment, she was taking a breather before she had to go back out and do the famous on the steps of the palace glass slipper scene. When she looked at herself, she saw a peasant in princess clothing and she knew the girl that should be wearing this dress wasn’t the girl she was looking at. The girl that should be wearing this dress was…

“Can you get that camera out of my face, please?” Maxine looked through the mirror at the caramel beauty excitably watching her reapply the shimmer blush on her cheeks. God, she felt like a clown. Theater was so dramatic and somehow everyone wanted her to be the leading lady because ‘wouldn’t it be cool if a southie stood in the spotlight’? Grimacing at the thought of Emerald Eye, the local community theater troupe, choosing her over the girl that wanted the role more, Maxine tried her best to push the voice inside her head to the backburner. The voice that told her she wasn’t meant for this world. Placing her makeup brush down, she turned to the girl with the phone in her hand and exasperatedly grumbled, “I feel stupid.”

“But Maxie!” There was a cry from behind the camera visible from the vanity. Indira Rossi stood with her iPhone panned directly facing Maxine, dressed in a comically large blue robe with its hood pulled down to reveal a sparkly plastic tiara secured to a dark mop of curled hair. “That’s my bestie you’re talking about, be careful before I bippity-boppity-whoop you for saying that.” Indie made a face that was an attempt at being threatening, but all she managed to do was look like she was smelling something rather unpleasant.

Which, considering the material of the robe… she might just be. Polyester never did sit right on her skin anyway. There was a grunt of displeasure before the camera moved to the vanity, the phone setting against the mirror to keep recording the girls as Indie started readjusting the oversized robe. As the fairy godmother, she had taken many liberties in an attempt to salvage her costume like using the large pinkish red bow that would have usually sat around her neck to tie around her waist and cinch in the excess blue fabric. The tiara had also been another creative attempt she had taken to feel even remotely cute, seemingly doing its job to add to her confidence.

“Seriously though, you look stunning babes. Blue was literally made for you.” Indie added, in an attempt to lessen Maxine’s discomfort.

Adjusting her posture when her friend stood behind her, Maxine grabbed a strand of her hair (most of it was in an easy but elegant updo) and twirled it around her finger to bring out the curl. Locking her attention with the other girl, those wistful blue-green eyes intently fixed on Indie’s glowing smile, the eldest James daughter twinkled, “You think so?” Carefully, she released her strand of hair and watched it bounce from her finger. In a hopeful manner, she brought her eyes back to her reflection, as she modified her shoulder straps to drop and show some skin. “Do you think he’s here? Nolan I mean,” she asked.

“You know it. He's gotta be at the front rows to cheer the Belle of the ball. Wait, wrong Disney property, but you get what I'm saying.” Indie watched her friend play with her hair nervously from the mirror before she sighed. Indie carefully pulled off the plastic tiara that sat on her head, making sure to smooth away any flyaways it caused in the process before gently slotting it on Maxine’s head.

“What princess would you be without your very own crown, hm?”


Indira dropped her phone soon after, allowing the device to clatter on her lap as the video continued, the mic muffled by her skin. Instead of being at the backstage of the Silverlight Theater, Indie was in her best friend’s room. Instead of it being the whole crew by her side, it was just Elysia Fable and Owen Quinn. The once quartet now trio without their missing piece: Maxine James, the heart of the group.

The video had been taken early sophomore year, with Indie’s growing obsession with wanting to document everything so she could ‘never forget’. And now those videos were what kept Maxine alive in her memories.

There was something about the storm that made Indie so melancholic, so contemplative. Usually she'd indulge in her movies to pass the time, but there was only so many times she could watch Kajol’s character in ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ be swept off her feet by a womanizing bad boy in a field of mustard to cheer herself up. Even her dance class had to be cancelled for the evening, forcing the usually active young woman to stay home and do absolutely nothing.

The horror!

There were only so many times Indie could scroll through the same five social media apps on her phone, or look through the same few videos of Maxine she had on hand. Or worse, staring at the wall of record covers Ely proudly displayed in her room.

Not that it was a bad choice, but Indie preferred her bedroom to be relaxing with the fairylights and soft fluffy sheets that matched the high pile carpet. Ely's room seemed to be the complete opposite in aesthetic to Indira’s room which happened to be next door, with pops of colour, nature and walls full of decoration.

Indie felt her phone buzz in her lap and a quick glance down revealed it to be a notification from her dance class WhatsApp group chat, a delayed response to her early afternoon announcement of cancellation. The town of Edenridge had been swept by a new plague of letters. First it had been that Charlie boy who shot up Edenridge High two years after Indira had graduated, and now a poor girl’s love letters were everybody’s business. One good thing about that dance group was that it allowed Indie to hear about all the gossip that went around in the elusive Scott Street. It helped her stay in the loop even if she wasn't from the rich part of town herself.

“How fucked up is this new trend of letters? I swear I’ll be pissed if I wake up tomorrow and have someone airing our dirty secrets written by Maxie stuffed in our mailbox.”

“Secrets are a currency in this town, babe.”

Owen Quinn was not much of a talker. It wasn’t in his nature which meant that when he did talk, people listened. Coming from a family like his, all of whom had large personalities and larger rap sheets, it benefited him in the long run to be able to blend into a crowd. He was happy for the likes of Aiden and Harper to get all the attention because it meant that he could slip through the cracks unseen. He loved his family but for Owen, his chosen family of Indie, Ely and the late Maxine were far more important.

Unlike his siblings, Owen tried to work as honestly as he could, working for the Navarro Cleaning Services and doing odd jobs where needed. He spent the bulk of his time in houses belonging to Eden’s foundlings or fancy homes in Eastbrook and just like everywhere else, it was easy to be unseen, to hide outside the bubble and peer in. He knew secrets, he knew things he shouldn’t but he also knew that hidden truths and selves only caused pain. So much pain.

The letters were interesting. So far they had been centered on the self professed Elite. David O’Hara’s dalliances and the lonesome death of Allison Davies. That one stung, Owen knew Ally, probably better than some might expect and hearing about her final moments, that just didn’t sit right. Still, so far the Elite were the targets, he could only hope that himself and his family were not anywhere in that list. How could they be? They were just a bunch of Southsiders. “I wish that wasn’t true but unfortunately it is.”

Leaned up against the rim of her window, staring out at Milligan Apartments across the street, her lips adorned with dark brown lipstick, her platinum blonde hair untamed and asking to be brushed, wearing only a tank and navy blue joggers, Elysia Fable took a long drag of her Newport cigarette. Blowing the smoke out of her window, she rested the cigarette between the second and third knuckle of her index and middle finger as she listened to the music playing in her room. On her record player was a snazzy tune called This Is the One by The Stone Roses. They had such a vibe. 80s vibe.

Flicking ashes out of her window, she glanced back to blankly stare at her two friends. She was listening, for the most part, but she needed to finish her cigarette before she felt motivated to talk about the drama of this town. Obviously, smoking was a nasty habit of hers. Made her smell disgusting.

She really should quit…

Regardless of the tragic circumstances of her health, she needed it, like most people needed their coffee. It wasn’t like her parents cared or even knew she smoked. They were oblivious or chose to act like they knew nothing. That only gave her more of a reason to buy another pack. If Maxine were still alive, if her brother didn’t fuck off to another country, they both would beg her to lean more into her other bad habits, like chewing gum or ice. At least then, she wouldn’t feel like a pile of ash.

Focusing on an empty space in between her friends, Ely’s jade eyes were reflective and melancholy. She was deep in thought. That was just how she was. Pensive and constantly thinking. Her group… They were a weird batch. Not Midnight Society weird, but weird. Nothing made sense about them and yet they worked. They just fit together like they were each other’s missing puzzle pieces.

Ely gave off Southie vibes until you saw how much her equipment cost or walked inside her bedroom and Max always held herself in a way where even if she was born on the other side of the tracks, she wasn’t trailer trash. She was meant for more. Her purpose, whatever it may be, was greater than them combined. Then there was Owen, who was as Southie as Southie came, minus the fact that he wanted to get ahead in an honest manner and not fall into the crime stereotype that the majority of his neighbors gave into.

Last but not least, Indie. Honestly? If it weren’t for Maxine, Ely might’ve never been friends with her. They were polar opposites. Sure, they both were creative geniuses, which at times could clash, but they fundamentally contrasted. Indie tried her hardest to curate this idea, picture-famous life so she could make it big, while Ely only sought to enhance the beauty that could be found anywhere. All you needed was to look at something through a different angle and there you could see its beauty and meaning. There was nothing wrong with how her friend chose to live her life but from an outsider’s perspective, it looked absolutely exhausting having to play pretend constantly for likes and views. Sometimes Ely wondered if Indie knew the difference between her real self and her social media character.

No matter, Ely loved her and knew Max would want someone to look after her. Might as well be Owen and her. Out of them all, Indie was the one that would usually find trouble, which is funny when you think about Owen’s family and their reputation. The Quinns were nothing but trouble. She and the girls got lucky though with Owen. He was the peacemaker, mediator, and occasional wise ass. Other than that? He was a good friend. Putting out her cigarette in an ashtray resting on the ledge, Ely finally spoke, “This might be an unpopular take but if there are letters by Max, I want them. All the people in this room know she would never off herself. That’s bullshit. Our Max? Kill herself? There’s no way. If there’s answers out there, I want to know. I want the closure.”

Going to her wall of memories, Ely brought her gaze to the last picture they all four took together and gave a half smile. She really did miss that girl. Maxine was such a promising woman with so much love to give and a big future ahead of her. It sucked that she had to go so soon. “While I do think what’s happening is fucked, why does this town have so many secrets? It’s even more fucked knowing nothing is ever as it seems.”

“If anybody STILL believes Max killed herself then they need a new IQ test or some shit to test this place.” There was no damn way that Maxine James, the light of the town with dreams of saving the world, would kill herself before she could make any massive progress. Indie knew it, Owen and Ely knew it, and the three of them would gladly take on the world and get the truth out there.

But in a place like Edenridge where a label would stick with you for life? It was an uphill battle.

“There’s always some shit going down too. Scott Street is like Wisteria Lane with the amount of drama going down every day. Like, this one auntie won’t stop bringing up the fact that she saw --actually, just heard, but what other better things do these aunties have to do than to lie for dramatization?-- anyway, she heard Vivia Belmonte in a screaming match with her fams before watching her jet off in a Firebird. This was like, last month, and they’re still giggling about it as if Vivia asked for their opinions?”

Indira’s relationship with the fourth oldest Belmonte was interesting to say the least. Indie hated Allison to the core, not difficult considering Allison got the love and adoration that Indie wanted by doing absolutely fuck all. It didn’t help that even in death Allison’s death overshadowed Maxine’s despite it happening sooner. Suffice to say, Indie should have hated Vivia for even associating with Allison. However, she had come to know Vivia whenever she’d come over to see Momo. Without Allison, Vivia had a beautiful soul - she was charming and full of life. Between Indie and Vivia, Momo often complained about having to babysit two energizer bunnies on crack with the way Indie would keep encouraging Vivia to share about her culture, allowing Indie to learn about her own Italian heritage in the process.

Owen didn’t really know what to say. He was a southsider born. He didn’t know any different. Yet in his trips across the railroad tracks to clean the houses of the rich, he has found himself on Scott Street. He had found himself in the homes of the Belmontes, the Costigans and the Davies. He knew Allison. In many ways he knew her a lot more than one might expect. He never shut down Indira’s feelings about the once and former Supreme but he never agreed with her as much as he wanted to. The Ally he knew had such pain in her heart. When she died, Owen was one of the few that wasn’t surprised but that did nothing to steal away the pain.

“It’s a different world up there, I don’t think we’ll ever figure it out.”

Taking a seat at her computer, which was left on, with Photoshop up, Ely continued color correcting and making the picture of Amity Lyon at the Rose Motel look aesthetically pleasing. The things this girl would do for her Only Fans and Youtube channel which was focused on murder, mystery, & being sexy. She had a separate channel for her twitch streams too since she wanted to give her two loves which was gaming and serial killers their own domain. Made sense. Business entrepreneur in the making. Weird girl, though. Her saving grace was she was adorable and hyper as fuck. Loved gummy bears.

Obviously, Ely was a fan.

Speaking of… Ely grabbed some Dubble Bubble out of an anime mug with Yui from Angel Beats on it and threw a couple in her mouth. Immediately after, she went back to photo editing. Amity was probably making bank by being a complete fetish with collars, bdsm undertones, knee highs, and kitten ears. Hot. Her family could use the money seeing how the Lyons went bankrupt and moved from Scott Street to Pleasantview Apartments. The family that none of the desperate housewives and gossip queens wanted to talk about because the Lyons somehow gained the reputation of being a walking omen. A bad one. Getting involved with them would curse you, your family, your finances, and everything you cared about.

Indie was right when she said Scott Street was like Wisteria Lane. On top of spreading business that wasn’t theirs, they were good at destroying people, good people, all because it was fun and they were bored. If anyone looked beyond the rumors, they would see how optimistic each Lyon was. Even with all the shit being said about them, to this day because joking about a Lyon was still in trend, they persevered. They had no choice but to.

“Is she doing okay?” Ely snapped the gum she was chewing, her focused gaze never looking away from the computer screen. “Vivia, I mean. I don’t really give a fuck about what people have to say about her life, but has anyone thought to check on her? I’m not close to her like that, but she was Allison’s best friend, right? Wasn’t there like… a picture of her holding Allison’s dead body at the party?” Ely blew a small bubble before sucking it back in and shifting the lighting in the picture.

Indie wasn't certain if she’d heard of anyone checking in on Vivia after the incident, no piece of gossip stood out after the blow up. She tried thinking back to Momo who had been close with both Allison and Vivia but doubted Momo had any time to do anything other than grade summer school work. Plus, Momo never brought up that she’d checked in with her to Indie at least. No one else in Indie’s circle had mentioned talking with Vivia either. Shit. “Lemme Facetime her, hold on.”

Pulling her phone back up, Indie immediately navigated to the Facetime app and searched for Vivia’s name through her contact list before calling her.

The ringback tone went on for an unsettling long time. When someone finally answered, the visage of Viva could be seen but she wasn’t looking at the camera and she was drenched. Her empty eyes focused on whatever was in front of her. She was completely and utterly out of it. “Hello? Who’s this?” She didn’t bother looking at the caller ID or the face staring at her. “Are you coming to the party?”

“A party? That I wasn’t invited to?” Indie had to stop herself with a low, murmured ‘focus, dumbass’ before taking in what was on her phone screen. “Why are you so wet? Viv, are you standing outside in this storm? Where the hell are you?” Indie’s voice grew more shrill from worry the more she took in Vivia’s appearance.

“What are you talking about, Indie? Max had already texted me and said you were coming. You were at the game, silly! Did you already forget?” Vivia turned to the camera and smiled at the other girl, as if she was looking at Indie from a different time, before the pain. Before the hurt. Before Allison died.

At this point, Ely had stopped what she was doing, listening in to the conversation, concern had washed over her face as well. This was hella’ eerie… was that Viv or was someone playing tricks with them? Why would she bring up Max? A basketball game? Was she talking about THE basketball game?

Before Indie could say anything more, there was light that shined on Viv’s face as a door opened and closed. “Viv, what are you doing? You’re going to catch a damn cold!” The other voice sneezed as she expressed her disapproval. “Give me that,” taking Viv’s phone from her, Bella Joseph looked to see who she was talking to. “Oh, Indie, it’s you. Yeah, I don’t know how long she’s been out here… her whole fucking body’s shivering.” Turning her attention to the blonde Belmonte, Bella held her close, “Hey, hey? We’re going inside and we’re going to take a warm bath, okay?”

“But the party!” Vivia cried in displeasure.

Bella’s eyes saddened when she looked at the once so confident, so happy Belmonte. “Indie, I’m sorry but we have to go. Vivia might need sleep, I don’t know…”

Being pulled by the other woman, Vivia searched around her and asked, “Where’s Allison?”

“Oh sweetie…” Bella hung up the call.

Indie stared at her reflection on the phone in confusion as her brain caught up with the last few seconds. “What was she doing outside Bella’s hou- Oh.” The Josephs were neighbors to the Davis household. Indie quickly scrambled to change to the messaging app.

hey, thanks for taking viv in ❤️
txt me if anything happens? xx

Delivered.

After sending off the message to Bella’s phone, Indie lingered in her messaging app, staring at the delivered receipt intently before turning off her screen.

Evidently, Vivia wasn’t doing well. She still wasn’t able to cope with the loss of Allison. As much as Indie hated Allison, she could at least sympathize with Vivia. That level of hurt Viv was feeling was deep, and now that she doesn’t have her family to turn back to… Edenridge had really failed her.

“Bella’s taking care of her. She’s in good hands.”

Indie wasn’t sure if she was trying to assure Ely and Owen or comfort herself.

Climbing off the beanbag he had been resting on, Owen made his way over to the bed where Indie was. He really hated seeing her in any kind of way that wasn’t her usual happy self. It almost seemed to him that the richer a girl was, the more broken she tended to be. Allison. Vivia. Name a Scott Street kid and they definitely had issues and they were issues that weren’t as easily solved as throwing Daddy’s money at them. Taking a seat next to his Indian/Italian beloved, he wrapped her up in one of his large arms and gently rested his free hand on top of hers. “She’ll be ok.”

Indie leaned into Owen’s comfort, head settling against his shoulder as though it was made to be there. “Yeah… she’ll be okay.” She repeated with more resolve. Viv wasn’t alone, not anymore.

And this is where she got up to make them dinner.

“I’m fucking famished. I’mma throw pizza in the oven,” Ely glanced at her two friends who have been dancing around their feelings for each other for far too long before exiting the room and leaving them to do whatever they wanted to do. Literally they could have sex and she’d be okay with it. She knew it wasn’t going to happen but at least a girl could hope.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by LovelyComplex
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LovelyComplex

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TIMESTAMP: A couple hours after Yours
Late Monday Night




____________________________________________________________________

It was somewhat surprising how many people were in the mood for coffee and pastry when there was a hurricane going on.

Beau had lived in Edenridge for a long time with Colleen now and he had experienced this type of storm a handful of times. She had a habit of saying that this was a cleansing that happened once a year, to help purge evil and wash away tainted soil from a cursed ground. He was happy she never dragged him to church on Sundays. The things he’d seen and done, he’d burn up before he even got through the door. She had been born and raised in Edenridge before she had found her way to New Orleans and into the arms of a near destitute Homicide Detective so she knew her stuff. Colleen called him from New York about an hour ago to let him know she was safe and that their daughter Genevieve would call him after her show. One day he would get there but for now, he was needed elsewhere.

It was late now and the custom had more or less died off. Antoine couldn’t help but look outside and be reminded of Katrina and the destruction it raught in its wake. He was lucky that most of his life survived the hurricane but he knew a lot who were not as lucky and who had lost everything. Looking out across his shop at the few customers he had, Beau took a sip from his own drink. Ricky Osso was sitting in the corner booth with his dog snoring loudly enough to hear from across the room. Though that didn’t bother the girl with the headphones sitting on the other side of the room as she slowly sipped her fifth black coffee whilst scribbling away in some book.

Strange kid.

Pushing his reading glasses back up his nose, Beau returned his attention to his own book. As he began to scan the words again, the bell above the door rang out. God, who would be out and about in this monstrosity? Lifting his gaze upwards, he smiled his big toothy grin at a former student. “Mister Sinclair, so good to see you but boy what are you doing dragging your ass through that storm? My coffee ain’t that good.”

“Good question,” Niles replied, taking off his black helmet. After dinner at the Phillips-Shomer house he had visited the hospital to deliver food to Avigail and her coworkers, like his dad. With it being July, it was almost Tisha B'Av which meant Rye’s family were fasting mostly and remembering the multiple tragedies in Jewish history. There wasn’t a specific dish that needed to be made so JP’s mom, Robyn, who was taught an assortment of dishes of her wife’s culture, decided on something simple. Today’s dinner choice was matzoball soup with a side of latkes, and for dessert, she made Rugelach. Niles had spent hours talking to his Auntie not by blood but by bond, Wednesday Davies-Drake, that he lost track of time. He had told his dad he was going straight home but that was a lie. He didn’t know why but he wanted to see Mr. Beau so here he was, in the heart of the storm, visiting a cafe that was the heart of Edenridge.

With leftover Rugelach that he originally was going to give to his sisters, Niles strided to the counter, placed his helmet on top of it, and opened his backpack. Taking a tupperware out with Jewish delight inside, Niles placed it on the table and slid the dessert to his former English teacher, “I guess a little rain didn’t hurt anyone,” he smirked, that mischievous smirk that Beau knew all too well. Glancing around to see who else was in the room, his gaze went from the youngest Osso that hung out with Natalia’s niece all the time to… staring for a little too long, Niles found himself caught in a spider web with a black widow. Turning his head back to Beau, and immediately doing a double take, he tried to put a name to her face. She looked familiar… She definitely went to Edenridge High when he was attending but he couldn't figure out her name for the life of him. She was hot.

Stop. Niles turned back to Beau once more, internally scolding himself. He had a girlfriend. Sure, at this point, he was searching for reasons to still like Caitlin who was way too complacent and obedient for his liking but that doesn’t change that he chose to be with her. He had to do better and that meant no wandering eyes. See, Niles loved being the dominant one, but Cece was turning out to be a doormat and that was not enjoyable at all. “For you,” Niles glanced down at the Rugelach then back at Beau.

“Well thank you son,” Beau took the box away from the boy and placed it under the counter. “I know what I’m having when I get home tonight…if I get home tonight.” The weather warning had all but washed out most roads and Antoine knew better than to venture out in horrifying conditions. He had seen too much in his time in the force and one was people chancing rain thinking they’re good enough to beat mother nature's grace. “You really shouldn’t be out in this.” Niles was always a bright student, if anything he and Decker had a lot of similar thoughts, Beau could see that in their writings but somewhere along the tree, their branches split. “Especially on that death trap,” the older man motioned to the motorbike now parked outside his cafe. “So what can I do you for? Coffee? Tumeric latte? Pepsi?”

“An iced apple crisp oatmilk macchiato,” Niles auto-responded, like this was the only drink he ever got when he did visit the cafe. Taking a seat, he drummed on the counter with his two pointer fingers, trying to figure out the why he wanted to be with Mr. Beau during a monsoon level storm. Was it something his father said that got him thinking? Was it the way Wednesday looked at his father with clear frustrations (even if she tried well to hide it)? For most of the night Hector Sinclair was locked up in his office. He didn’t even see Niles until his son was about to leave. When they did talk and his father told him to go straight home, he caught the scent of a perfume that didn’t belong to anyone Niles was familiar with. A scent of a woman that wasn’t his mom’s.

Niles sat there thinking, thinking why now out of all other times. Was he visiting Beau because he thought his dad was fucking someone in his office and now he was revisiting the past? Was he visiting Beau because time and time again in highschool Beau was the only person to give him a peace of mind when Niles had no one else to go to? Was he visiting Beau because he saw a mirror of the man he could become in his father and he didn’t want to become that man? Was he visiting Beau because he knew he wasn’t doing okay, not really, he was just good at playing pretend? He didn’t know why but he knew he needed this. He was here seeking something and part of him hoped that this something was exactly what the doctor prescribed. A reset so he could focus on being a better man. A man his mother would be proud of.

“I got a lot on my mind.”

Beau got to work on his young charges order and his mind drifted across the years to all the faces of students gone by that he had helped. Some he had helped more than others, less fortunate, the downtrodden. Niles was a completely different beast. He came from money, his family held power yet he was just as broken and as deeply flawed as any Southsider. He was the perfect example of how blurred the lines of Edenridge really could be.

“On the house,” Placing the glass in front of the forlorn boy's face, Beau placed his elbows on the counter and balled his hands into fists before he rested his head on the newly formed pedestal. “Well everybody's got a secret, son. Something that they just can't face. Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it. They carry it with them every step that they take.” He recited as the lightning flashed around them.

Taking the drink his mother used to order religiously, Niles grimaced at how sweet it was. He hated sweet things but he needed comfort. Intently, he listened to his teacher. Always the sage Mr. Beau was. “Yeah, I know,” the doctor’s son sharply responded. There was no ill intent behind Niles’ curt voice. That was simply how he talked most of the time. “This town is littered with secrets. It’s what keeps this place interesting, I guess.” Momentarily, he stared into his drink, brooding on the letters being distributed lately. Today there was a new set of letters but he didn’t care enough to read them. He heard what they were about but he just wasn’t interested in knowing more. He never knew David O'Hara like that nor was it his place to know the details of how his life tragically ended. It wasn’t any of his business. Neither was Allison’s OD. While tragic, it still wasn’t any of his business. Ghosts deserved to be laid to rest. This town sucked at leaving the dead: dead. Clearly not ready to talk about what weighed heavy on his heart, he brought his attention to the book, “What’s today’s read?”

Before Beau could respond, the duo were interrupted by the sudden arrival at the counter top of the gothic beauty that had caught Niles’ eye when he entered the building. She placed her black painted fingers on the Doctor’s son's shoulder as she slid the proprietor of the place a ten dollar bill. “You realize that the old man just quoted Bruce Springsteen to you right? Darkness on the Edge of Town? Absolute fucking moron,” She spoke bluntly and with an edge before turning her dark eyes to face Beau. “Thanks for the company today, I’ll see you around the same time tomorrow.” Her voice had shifted into something resembling sweetness but the underlying menace was still dripping with every word. The widow patted Niles on top of the head like a good boy and hurried out of the shop with a whirl of swift blackness.

“I don’t know whether to be turned on or terrified!” Little Ricky called from the corner booth.

Beau rolled his eyes. Fucking kids today. “I’m reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe….come to think of it I’m pretty sure you still owe me a book report on this?” The older man cocked his eyebrow.

Jesus. Who died and made her Queen Bitch? Niles rolled his eyes as she left the building, immediately finding her unattractive. After Niles graduated, he had his mind set on becoming a doctor, but even then it wasn’t like he was a walking encyclopedia of quotes. Not like Charlie was. Niles could pick up on chords and beats from musicians like Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica but ask him to remember lyrics especially from a musician like Springsteen, who he only listened to when Beau was playing it in the background, then no. It wasn’t going to happen. With selective memory, Niles chose to remember his environment and moments with the people in his life. Not quotes from a song he hadn’t listened to in years. Plus, he had to leave room in his brain for medical practices and shit.

Fuck, he was annoyed now. “Yeah, not gonna’ happen,” Niles grumbled as he put his drink to his lips, trying to let the apple crisp drink soothe his soul. “We both know I barely did any of my homework junior year. The fact that I was even able to make it to class was a fucking miracle.”

Beau took off his reading glasses and placed them down on the open book. It seemed that being playful was not the way to go to break through to Mister Sinclair on this particular midsummer's eve. “You’re right, we both know that. I covered your pasty ass for a year with the other teachers to make sure you actually progressed rather than get held back.” Pushing himself up from the counter to stand a bit more vertical, the former English teacher reached for his own piping hot coffee. “Any time any of the other teachers got on your case, I would be right there. No Niles is just going through some shit right now but he’ll be ok. He’s got too big a mind, too strong a will to let whatever this is beat him. He doesn’t always do the right thing but I know he wants to.”

Lifting the coffee to his lips, Beau did not take his eyes off of Niles as he drank the piping hot liquid tar. With a gasp from the refreshing roast, Antoine leaned back against the cabinet. “You gonna tell me what this is all about? Or do I have to start quoting Fall Out Guy next?”

“Fall Out Boy,” Niles corrected before subconsciously tapping his finger on his glass mug. The doctor’s son was quiet for a moment digesting Beau’s words and how there were countless times his English professor got him out of bullshit and lessened the blow that his father would inevitably give to him. He didn’t understand why someone like Mr. Beau even existed. Men like him were too good for this world. Edenridge didn’t deserve people like Mr. Beau. “Why?” Niles peered up from looking at his coffee, his green eyes locked on the older man’s dark brown and stern gaze. “What do you even see in me? And I don’t mean this mask I wear because I have something to prove to my dad. No, I mean the kid you watched grow up who was nothing but an asshole to everyone.”

Niles should be grateful for the life he was born into, but there was nothing fulfilling from having money. There was nothing fulfilling from having your life planned out by someone else. There was nothing fulfilling from having a home when it felt barren, lacking the most important thing to keep it full and whole. A mother’s love. To this day, he was still gripping on reasons to live and he hated that pessimistic side in him. He thought he had buried it when Charlie held a gun to him but he was realizing you can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.

Charlie Decker as fucked up as he was, Niles could relate. The pain of this town failing you, regardless of what side of the tracks you were born on, Niles could relate. Charlie did the one thing that made sense to him at the time and paid it forward. All the hurt this town caused him, all he did was give them what they deserved. Death was a kindness and some people, like himself, were better off dead. Niles, as much as he shouldn’t justify Charlie’s actions, understood him better than he’d ever like to admit. They just got addicted to different poisons. One chose drugs, the other chose self harm. Both in the end accepted the pain they believed they deserved - they just went about it differently. Charlie allowed his demon to pilot, Niles hid his demon behind a lab coat, a focused pursuit, and a charming smile.

“Mister Sinclair,” Beau sighed as he put his Best Teacher Mug back onto the bar top. “I see in you what I see in all my students: potential. Now you may be an asshole and no doubt you have done some pretty unsavory things that I darent venture a guess what they are but let me tell you something.” Reaching out, the old man put his hand on Niles’ shoulder, firm and father-like. “I have seen evil. I have seen mothers murder sons. I have seen rape victims, burn victims, little girls locked in cages yet I have not given up hope. I myself am no saint. Every time I turn around, that darkness on the edge of town that the Boss himself sang about, it creeps closer and closer and the only thing that can stop something like that? Potential. Which is why I mold minds. It is why I give you the tools not to do good in this world but to do well. Do well, Mister Sinclair.”

Mr. Beau had rested his hand on Niles left shoulder, same as the gothic bitch did. A place that wasn’t too far off from his scar. The area that reminded him why he was still alive, why he had to keep preserving even if most days he wanted to rage quit, and why most things in life were out of his control. What he did have control over was his potential as Beau put it. That would be what got him through the nights where all he could do was loath everyone and everything, especially himself. “What does that even mean? To do well?”

There was a brief moment where something eased into Niles’ mind. He snapped his finger deliberately, as he thought out loud, “What was it from Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway?” He focused on his teacher who looked at him with intrigue, concern, but most importantly, care. Niles recited the quote, “So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and… what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” He paused for a moment, having not thought about his highschool readings in a long while, but for some reason that quote, out of all quotes, decided to chime in his mind like an alarm. “Is that all I got to determine how to be the best me? What makes me feel good? That doesn’t give me much to go off of because some people feel great beating women, choking a person to death, slandering a boy’s name, who was once loved by this goddamn town. Do well, you say. Who’s there to judge?”

“Thine own judge be thyself,” Beau took a step back and crossed his large arms. The melancholy and sadness he had seen before in Niles. It hung around the boy like one of the dark clouds outside. “There is no such thing as a wholly good person, Niles. You are gifted in many ways, wealth, intelligence, wit and skill. All of these tools can be used to do what is perceived as good. Yet we as a society no longer live in black or white, heroes and villains, good versus evil. Is it not out of the realm of possibility that a so-called good person can commit an evil act if it is done with good intention? Is it so not the case in the reverse? When I say do well, I say it not knowing what kind of man you are going to grow into being. Though what I do know is that whatever path you choose, you will do well. Every darkness has a name. It’s up to you, whether it’s yours. A man must have a code.”

With furrowed eyebrows, Niles rubbed his temples, nodding in understanding but realizing this somehow turned into an English lesson. He was appreciative for the advice, as he usually was when Beau brought hard truths to the table. At the same time, it was too late for this shit. Glancing at his wrist watch, Niles took note of the time, before looking back at his teacher, “This is worse than pre-med courses,” Niles jokingly chuckled. “I came here to think, and boy did you give me enough food for thought to last me a week.”

Finishing his coffee, Niles stood up, threw his backpack over his shoulder, and grabbed his helmet, “I should get going. Yeah I know, I shouldn’t go out, but sleeping in my bed is a far better option than sleeping in one of these booths. No offense.” Running his hand through his hair, Niles observed the older man and gave a genuine smile, far softer than Niles’ usual demeanor, “Thanks. Sorry this started off weird. I’m not the best at expressing my issues. I will say: I needed to hear that.” It was good to know that Niles still had time to redeem himself, using all the things he gained throughout the years to do well. He needed a code. All men had a code.

What was his?

Off the top of his head he could think of three. One, Niles needed to stop making excuses and work hard to defend the ideas and people he loved. Two, he needed to take responsibility for his actions and be honest to people with who he was. Full transparency regardless if in the end it burned him, at least he wasn’t pretending to be someone he didn’t want to be. And three, he needed to believe in himself more and admit when he was wrong, when he wasn’t perfect, when he didn’t know how to deal because he was stuck. Stuck in a dark place.

Niles lived a calculated life, curating it to seem like he had all his ducks in a row. He was dishonest to others and he was dishonest to himself. He shouldn’t have to resort to scheming to feel good. He shouldn’t have to toy with women’s hearts just because he was a coward and didn’t want to admit that he was a vulnerable, fucked up piece of work. That he was afraid they’d replace his mother. That he was afraid they wouldn’t love him for him, all the bad and good combined. Girls fell for his potential but not the boy he was. Well, Natalia loved that boy but Niles knew, any other time, and maybe another life, she would’ve been perfect for him but as long as he was struggling with his own dark cloud, she would never be meant for him. Not really. His theory was proven when he let her go. She was able to soar, leaving him behind while she stepped into the light. She was free and unapologetically Natalia. His best friend. She was all that and more, and that was all thanks to him releasing her and allowing her to breathe. Taking away a pain that was killing her every single day.

As Dwight Moody once said: Character is what you are in the dark.

Perhaps this was Mr. Beau’s way of telling Niles to come out into the light. Not show the man he was going to become, because even Niles didn’t know that, but a reflection of him on the inside. Who he was at the moment. Someone so imperfect who so desperately needed to do well or he’d drown. Just like David O’Hara did. Someone so imperfect that he needed to find a distraction, unable to process the reality of the world. Just like Allison Davies did. Or someone so imperfect that he’d kill and be killed, unable to see beyond the pain, choosing to take matters into his own hands. Just like Charlie Decker did.

“You’re gonna be fine, Mister Sinclair,” Beau glanced out at the weather, it seemed to be slowing down for the moment. He knew he couldn’t stop Niles from leaving. All he could really do was let him know that he would always be there and always leave a light on for the kids of Edenridge. “If you’re gonna go, better go now before it starts heavy again.” Reaching below the counter, Antoine pulled out the dessert that his former student had brought to him as an act of kindness. He would save it for when his Colleen was home. No doubt she would love it.

“Take care Niles and thank you.”

“No, thank you! Catch you later Mr. Beau and stay safe. You too, kid,” and with that, Niles walked into the night, venturing into the dark, like he always did.

Time and time again.


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TIMESTAMP: AFTER "APONI & HER HEART", CONCCURENT WITH "MEETING THE STARGIRL"


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An @Aces Away & @BrutalBx Collaboration, with @LovelyComplex
Featuring Mordechai Boaz and ReyRey Gonzales


While Mitena’s band had finished and Poppy had returned to their sides, Mordechai found himself staying stock still amongst the movement around him. Externally, his face was blank and he was calmly standing with his friends, but internally his thoughts had been swirling from the moment ReyRey first drew his gaze to the balcony, muting most of his surroundings as his heartbeat pulsed louder and louder in his ears. The memories of that night at 13 Carlisle that he had been shoving away while he got sober instead of dealing with swarmed his mind and overloaded his senses. When ReyRey had first held his gun on them, Mordechai had seen a flash of Charlie standing where the kingsnake had stood, gun held on him the same way. That night had reminded him about how after Charlie had beaten him down- when he was staring down the barrel- Charlie had been ready to pull the trigger and take Mordechai out of this world, but Danny’s scared cry had startled the both of them. After that, Charlie had just continued out the door while Mordechai and Rye almost bled out next to Danny’s corpse. That memory having swarmed his mind also had him realizing that Danny had only died because he had drawn Charlie’s attention off of his big brother. Charlie hadn’t planned on killing Danny at all, and if Mordechai had just stayed with him from the start instead of having Rye watch him, then his baby brother would have been here today, Rye wouldn’t have been hit. It was his fault. Danny had taken his place, and Rye had almost followed.

Before it became too much, before he started hyperventilating in public, Mordechai did what he’d been forced to do for the past month and a half and looked for his anchors, his grounding points. He tore his thoughts away from the shooting and ReyRey in order to look beside himself to Poppy, reaching out and taking her hand in his as he tried to change his focus. He thought of all the times that he'd seen her and Jade smile when they were younger, and about how he wished he could see those smiles more nowadays. They probably wished the same thing about him. Taking a few deep breaths as the presence of his friends- both physically and mentally- allowed him to settle down and calm. Mordechai kept them from following the flow of the crowd and asked them to hang back for a minute. He could see ReyRey still in the shadows of the longhouse balcony, leaning over the railing with with his eyes still locked onto the group, so he waited just a couple minutes before gently tugging Poppy just a little further away, just inside the doors of the longhouse, so he could talk to her privately.

“I know we came here for something else,” He prefaced with a nod in the direction that Mitena had gone. He was still on track, he knew their main job here, but he also knew ReyRey, even if it wasn't as well as he'd always thought. “But R2’s here and he’s seen us. He's gonna want answers," Mordechai paused for a moment for a fortifying breath, keeping an eye on anyone that walked by behind his smallest friend's back as he did so. When he was ready, he gave her a small smile, just cocky enough to tell her that he'll be ok. "And honestly Pops, I think I'm 'bout to do one'a those stupid things that I wanted ya ta be around for."

“I understand,” Penelope softly responded. There was no hesitation, no pause, and no holding him back. It was her turn to show him why she wasn’t someone who needed protecting. It was time to show him the Poppy that Charlie loved. The forever loving, forever supportive friend. The rock in their friend group. Everyone’s angel. “You sure you’re ready?” She turned toward him and grabbed both his hands, squeezing them. She didn’t care for her surroundings, what mattered now was her and him. Looking up with her deep green eyes, the kind of green that spoke to the soul, full of nature, full of an overflowing amount of love, full of hope, a reach for tomorrow, her gaze said it all. She knew he was as ready as he’ll ever be but she wanted to hear him say it. She wanted him to commit.

“I- I dunno Pops this kinda feels like one’a those now or never moments,” Mordechai replied, gripping her hands back just as tightly as he took solace in her trust. He couldn’t believe he’d kept her from half of his life for so long. Just telling her his intentions helped solidify it in his mind, and even as he questioned himself, the doubt disappeared under her green gaze, practically glowing in light of Aponi. Fuck, with his Street Angel truly at his back now, he feels more sure than he ever has. He smiled at her, strong and bright in his own way. “No, it is now or never. I’m sure, it needs ta be now, Angel.”

There was no time like the present. They both knew time was fleeting and if he wanted to feel whole again, truly, he needed his family. His whole family. “Then go, but before you leave me,” she took a step forward, releasing his hands. Playfully, she patted down the wrinkles in his black shirt like a mother hen would for her boy going to his first job interview. “Swear to me,” she insisted, bringing her left hand up and brushing his hair to one side with her fingers — tip toes and all. A glimpse of sadness glistened in her eyes as she pictured herself saying this to Charlie. “Swear to me, you won’t forget me.” There was a brief pause before she continued, “And you’ll come back. You’ll always come back.” To her, there was a difference between a promise and a vow. To her, if he vowed, she would know that even on the darkest and coldest of nights, what they had was real and that even if he lost his way, or she lost her’s, they’d always find their way back to each other. They’d always find their way back home.

That look was back in her eyes, the one that told him Charlie had resurfaced in her thoughts, and his heart ached a bit to be the current cause- and focus- of that look. He knew she didn’t expect him to speak as though he were their lost fourth, and that even if she was speaking to Charlie too, these words were for Mordechai. Charlie haunted all their gazes, all their steps, and all their choices since the day he died, just like all the other lost souls these unfortunate survivors always harbored in their hearts and minds. They all talked to ghosts alongside the living. It helped them each to keep living on themselves. He tilted his head towards her fingertips as she brushed his hair aside and kept his eyes locked on hers while he took in what she requested.

Promises broke too easily, it was why he never made them. He couldn’t promise her he’d survive, that his minimal luck in survival as a young Serpent would continue on now. He couldn’t promise a tomorrow, he could only work towards it. But to swear to her he’d always come back? That he’d never forget her? Well, Penelope James was unforgettable. And it may not be how she intended her words to be taken, but even if his body didn’t make it back, he’d join the ghosts pushing at her back for her to keep living, keep being the best of them. Nothing could keep him from coming back home to her, she was one of the only people that still felt like it.

“I swear by all we’ve lost, Street Angel, I never have and never will forget about ya. I swear I won’t leave ya behind or run ahead without ya,” He pulled her into a hug, wrapping his arms around her and settling a hand against the back of her head, keeping her secure in his hold. “I swear that no matter what happens I’ll come back; no matter what shape it’s in, I’ll come back ta ya.”

“Good,” was all she responded back as she rested her head against her friend’s chest, holding him close like he was holding her. She was grateful he returned to Edenridge. She was grateful he was still alive. She was grateful he was starting to see what he had all the time and that was, support and love from all corners of town. Support and love from his chosen family. Support and love from her. Penelope was grateful to call Mordechai her friend.

There was a moment of silence where they just took in each other’s presence. For the past month they found themselves caught in an embrace and lost in the moment more than either were used to. The fact of the matter was they still missed each other and they didn’t want to let go. Too much lost time already to want to let this slip from their fingertips. Poppy found herself distracted by his scent - old leather, smoke, with a sandalwood undertone from his deodorant - and the memories it brought by taking over her senses before she snapped out of the comfort and pulled away, “Okay, okay, we’re so goddamn mushy sometimes.” She playfully shooed her friend away. “Go get ‘em tiger! Make haste. It’s now or neverrrrrr.” She beamed a cheesy, wide smile to the man in front of her, giving him the green light to move forward into battle.

"Yeah, now or never," Mordechai mimicked, smiling at the dramatics. It was true that they were being mushy, that he was already showing ReyRey a bit of weakness when he held her in his arms for that extra moment of her warmth. It was also true that he didn’t care, because Allegra had been right: it’s time to stop trying to protect Poppy by smothering any harsh realities as if she couldn’t handle them. Besides, he was so happy to finally have her silly side directed at him again that he refused to regret any moment of their interaction being in the eyes of the kingsnake. "I'll catch up ta y'all soon."

With those last words and a fortifying breath, Mordechai stuffed his hands into his jean pockets and turned on his heel and made a beeline- not frantic or nervous, kept deliberately casual with the knowledge that he was an outsider here where most of the people might not even remember him as one of Adora’s adopted snakes- towards the stairs to get to ReyRey on the balcony. Before he was even within striking distance of the older man, he locked his calm gaze on him and began with, “I didn’t- we didn’t know ya were gonna be here, we ain’t tryin’a crash in on your downtime.”

For once, he had hoped that he didn’t have to be ReyRey. He wanted to go one night where he could just be Reynaldo and enjoy the company of a beautiful woman, good beer and good music but alas there he was, watching as one of the problematic snakes under his command strolled towards him in a place that he had no godly business being. R2 knew he had to remain calm. This wasn’t his house and he respected the rules of the Reservation. Beyond his dealings with Jadyn, the Kingsnake’s business was private, confidential and behind closed doors. Decky was a piece of business that had made his presence felt in public when he shouldn’t have.

ReyRey thought back to that night at the start of the summer, when he revealed to a bunch of Goonies what really happened the night that a sunflower wilted on Carlisle. His conversation with Mordechai that evening did not end well and their relationship had changed since that day. How fractured it was? Had yet to be fully uncovered. “You didn’t mean to but you did,” Rey began. “I am not working tonight, if this is business, you come see me at the Edge tomorrow night. Otherwise you got about ten seconds to give me a good reason before I break a promise to the people here and I shove my gun down your throat.”

“Then I’ll be seein’ ya at the Edge tomorrow,” Mordechai responded evenly, not reacting to ReyRey’s threats with anything other than calm. He took a moment to glance back at Jade and Poppy, then to the bathrooms where Natalia disappeared and then finally to where the stage was. To where Mitena had been when they’d walked in earlier that evening. Well, he’s already pissed ReyRey off by existing in the same area, and there was no way to make the explanation he had to give the older man any better. Sugar coating doesn’t work on ReyRey. You had to be the messenger and simply take the shot if he didn’t like your delivery. “Did ya know he had a sister? And the fucker doin’ all this letter shit threatened her?”

He tried not to tense up as he waited for the expected punch to the face from his former leader for even daring bring any part of Charlie up in his presence, simply kept a blank gaze on the kingsnake as the other processed his words.

“No I didn’t fucking know and I don’t fucking care.”

Why couldn’t he escape this damn Decker kid?

Why couldn’t he escape Allison?

Why couldn’t he just escape? Rey was haunted. Every time he turned around he was reminded of past transgressions or he was struck by pain of days long best forgotten. “We’ve been over this Boaz. I am not sending these letters and frankly I’m done with the whole thing. I’ve got my own shit I’m dealing with.” There were many shackles currently tying El Serpiente down. The letters and their contents were just one small part. He was feeling pressure from the Angels and the Gorta. Their uneasy truce dancing on a pinhead. The monster that destroyed his darling sister was free and roaming the streets, the damn Monteros were now in town and by all accounts here to stay. ReyRey was no fool and was now waiting for the moment where inevitably Uncle Esteban would try and usurp control of Big Rey’s empire.

Then there was Vivia and what she was going through. Every time he saw her now, Viv seemed more and more like a shell, a husk, barely human. The time was coming where he was going to have to try and get her help. Even though he struggled to say it aloud, R2 did love Viv, in his own way and he knew that she needed something he couldn’t give her.

“What is it you fucking want Boaz?”

"I didn't think it was you sendin' the letters," Mordechai replied, keeping the surprise at how much ReyRey has kept his hands to himself off of his face. He always said he respected Blue Hill and its people, but obviously it was a lot more than Mordechai even thought. God, did he ever really know how to read this guy? Was he just that fucking blind- or just fucked up- as a kid that he idolized ReyRey because of a few simple signs of affection early on, even though the man's violence always outweighed those moments of calm, those moments of what Mordechai had thought were connection. Being a stupid kid was one thing, but what made him feel stupid now at twenty years old was the fact that even with the cold demeanor ReyRey now addressed him with, even with the family that was already surrounding him, Mordechai still felt something in him settling, clicking into place in the same way it had when ReyRey had first embraced him upon his return to Edenridge. The man's presence, tainted as it has been since their last interaction, still felt like a piece of home to him. How broken was he, that even while he's being completely shut out in the cold, he's still trying to find some warmth in ReyReys eyes and body language? "And all I want right now since ya ain't hearin' any business tonight is ta get some closure for myself and my friends. We're here ta meet Hard Times' sis and figure out what ta do next. We really didn't mean to run into ya or get in your way, we came here for our own reasons. Anythin' else I gotta say t'ya probably's gotta wait until tomorrow night, yeah?"

He was challenging the older man a bit, daring him to demand more or end the conversation now. He did his duty, he reported to the kingsnake without even being a subordinate anymore. He gave ReyRey the respect of talking to him even though their journey had nothing to do with him. Anything more out of his mouth would lean towards serpent business and the other man had expressed well enough that it was time to stay mum on that subject. Jesus, even when he's testing the waters he's still waiting for ReyRey's lead.

ReyRey leaned back over the railing, tapping his fingers as he watched Jadyn emerge from the bathroom downstairs. She would be back soon and his two worlds would come crashing together. Exhaling through his nose, the Latino man turned his head and dark gaze towards his former subordinate. “You got two minutes to say what you gotta say, after that I don’t want sight nor sound of you anywhere near me whilst I’m here understand?”

Mordechai nodded and tried not to sigh at the man's change in decision, despite the fact that he was half expecting it anyway. Condense everything he had to say to the man in just two minutes? After the weeks he's been thinking of how to approach him and that very subject? Oh yeah, easy. Fucking simple. This sucked.

"Aight, look," Mordechai started after a breath to try and gather his thoughts, eyes on ReyRey. "You were right when ya said things have changed since I've been gone," he recalled from their initial reunion a month and a half ago. "And sorry I didn't come back the next day like I was supposed ta but I think we both know I would'a gotten killed fast as shit if I'd rejoined in the state I was in. Instead I spent the last month and change gettin' sober with help from Badger, the James', and my-" he choked on his words for a minute, needing R2 to understand but also struggling with what to call Allegra in front of him, let alone whether this was even a good time to mention his kids. If he said the wrong thing and Legs finally meets ReyRey it could all go to shit faster than a meteor hitting the earth, especially between the two's personalities. Best be safe with it then. "-some other family I picked up when I was gone. But I'm not gonna sit here and pretend I ain't missin' my brothers 'n' sisters that I grew up with. And I get that I misread shit with you, my place with you," Mordechai finally averted his eyes, staring off somewhere to the left of ReyRey's feet. He caught himself going to scratch at his forearm and quickly retracted his hand, shoving both fists in his pockets with a scowl and hoping ReyRey wouldn't notice the obvious tell of weakness while also knowing that the man watched too intently to have not seen it. "I can be a useful tool t'ya again, I don't care-" lies "-i just need ta be back."

Rey really didn’t have much time to think. Jadyn would be back and having to explain this entire situation to her seemed like a fruitless endeavour. Decky was a good earner, he had proved his loyalty to the gang ten fold but he had a streak in him and a very obvious weakness that R2 despised. Yet, with everything going on at the minute, all the moving parts and cogs turning in the machine, the Kingsnake knew that in the coming days he was going to need people he could trust and people he could count on. He also knew that having someone he could control and wield like a high powered tool wasn’t a bad idea either. Decky fell somewhere in between all of those categories.

“Ok” ReyRey rubbed his face with his ringed fingers before dropping them back onto the banister. “Here’s what we’ll do. You’re back, probationary but you gotta earn and you gotta earn for me fast” He darted a finger out and pointed it at the boy's heart. “Look at me!” He commanded his follower, immediately receiving the sharp gaze he demanded. “You screw me or I find out you’re back on the gear? I’ll bury you in the ground next to Decker” R2’s eyes fell upon Poppy and Decky’s other assorted family members that had followed him to the quiet little mountain town in which they now stood. “You keep them away from me or they’re next. Am I clear? Now get the fuck outta here. I expect you at the Edge tomorrow night and we’ll find a place for you”

Mordechai clenched his fist against the threat but otherwise remained blank-faced in his reaction to the man’s words, seeing that he had reached the end of ReyRey’s patience and anything else was not just unwelcome, but forbidden. He could tell him about Allegra and the kids tomorrow, when Mitena was fully met and safe. When he was actually truly ready to hear whatever the hell else ReyRey had to say to him. When the man wasn’t threatening him and his friends while staring at them so hard it was like he was trying to burn their faces into his memory before he disposed of them.

“See ya tomorrow,” he replied through clenched teeth, nodding to the man and making his way back down the stairs and towards the bar where he’d left his friends. He took a deep breath and tried to release the tension in his muscles as he came back up to Poppy and Jade, his sisters since childhood. With a small smile that had the ghost of his old confident smirk in it, the man made his announcement to the people that meant the most to him.

"Boa's back bitches!"

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by BrutalBx
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BrutalBx

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TIMESTAMP: Late Monday Night






____________________________________________________________________


Home at last, Anya was dripping wet as she found herself back in her room in the basement of the library. She had quite the day, from having moments with both of her brothers to scouting Lost Souls to see if Jade was safe. After gathering intel from a couple of people, she found out that Jade had left town with her two friends and a Belmonte. This Belmonte, Natalia, spent more time on the southside than at home so it didn’t come across as weird to Anya that Jade knew her. As for the other two, Mordechai and Penelope, Anya knew those were Harley’s closest confidants. Her best friends.

The fact of the matter was the blonde bombshell wasn’t alone which allowed relief to wash over the Russian woman. Jade was with people and that’s all that mattered. In addition to that, Anya was comforted that Toast girl wouldn’t be around during this storm. Where she was going, she hoped that there was no rain, only stars in the sky. Now it was up to the spirits of this world to watch over the green Gem that captured Anya’s heart. She really did hope Jade was somewhere safe.

Partly unbuttoning her blouse, having gone through three outfit changes in one day, Anya went to her record player gifted by the Librarian. Grabbing one of her Tchaikovsky records, she began playing Waltz of the flowers from the Nutcracker. While some people might find it weird, the Russian Doll that was Anya Kamensky found peace in ending her work day with classical music, usually that of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. It was likely because when she was a little girl, she and her mother would sneak into shows at Silverlight Theater and watch the Boston Ballet company perform for their little town. They’d dance to spectacular stories like Swan Lake, Cinderella, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and so much more. It was thanks to Madame that the theater was even able to afford performance events from companies that toured in and around the New England area.

Her wet shirt partly unbuttoned and with little to no rhyme or reason with how she decompressed, Anya went into the small kitchenette area to heat up some Chef Boyardee mini raviolis. This was the best part of her day. Just her, some microwavable food because she didn’t have an oven, and sweet, sweet Tchaikovsky, which allowed her to recall better days before she was forced to make her Father proud. As hard as her childhood was, being lucky enough to get a roll of bread some days, she still recalled it as the most magical time because it was her, it was her mother, and together, they had each other. Before Ivan, before her Father, and before Madame showed her true colors, life was beautiful.

Life was like a waltz.

“Well well.”

The words were followed by a playful almost childlike giggle that reverberated through Anya’s small home. The door to the tiny bathroom opened up and a hooded figure emerged, holding a small but very sharp blade. A flash of lightning followed with a crack of thunder illuminated the mysterious entrant into the basement lair of the Basilisk. The figure raised their hand into the air, spinning the knife by its handle on their finger like one might spin a basketball. They stood perfectly still and resolute as the weapon turned like the hands of a ticking clock.

The intruder was the same height as Anya, roughly the same build too; compact but obviously very lethal.

“Look at you eating like a Queen. Save me a ravioli, would you babe?”

Not in the mood to play games, Anya pulled out one of many weapons planted in this room. Holding a sidekick .22 caliber revolver, cocking the gun western style, Anya pointed it toward the direction of the dark shadow whose identity was revealed because of lightning and her voice. She continued to eat with her free hand, and as she ate, she asked, “What you want, Faye?” If her sister was in town that meant one of two things, their Father had given the Asian Fox a job or she was bored out of her mind and wanted to come and play. That meant she would go out of her way, out of her territory, just to piss Anya off, since there was always something happening in Edenridge. “You know better to come here. My home.” Cooly and unbothered, the Basilisk continued to eat her raviolis, as she steadily held the gun toward the silhouette standing in the dark. The only lit part of the basement was the kitchenette area with Anya leaning against the counter. With the added classical music, those who had no idea who these two were would think this scene came straight out of a horror movie. She wasn’t going to lose her peace because her sister decided to pay her a visit.

The being now identified as Faye giggled again as she tossed the knife, hard and fast, straight by Anya’s blonde hair until it embedded itself in the wall behind her. Like a bullet from a gun, with a flash from the lightning, the Asian woman shot off across the room. She swiftly jumped into the little dining table set up in the middle of the basement and landed in a crouched position. “SURPRISE!” Faye laughed as she took off her hood to reveal her beautiful round face which was covered her the largest Fox’s grin possible. She wrapped her arms around her shins and tilted her head, pressing it against the barrel of Anya’s revolver. “Why so pouty Annie Wannie?” Faye said cutely. “Why you not wanna play with me? I came all this way.”

Having not flinched when the knife flew by her face, Anya uncocked the revolver, pulled it away from her sister, and slipped it back into the drawer. For once, Faye had read the room and didn’t beg for a sparring match that had a 50/50 chance of one of them dying. Pushing herself off the counter, building distance, the Basilisk went to her mini fridge, opened it, and offered, “Want drink?” Ignoring Faye’s childish banter that aimed to get a rise out of her prey, Anya grabbed a can of cherry coke for herself, pulled the tab off with her pointer finger, and took a big chug as she waited for Faye’s answer. One does not simply rile up the Basilisk. It took tomfoolery, dedication, and consistency. Something that Faye was great at, seeing how she knew Anya since they both were six. While it wasn’t working right now, the Fox knew with time, she’d get under Anya’s skin. She always did.

In an instant, Faye’s demeanor changed and she jumped from the table. “Yeah, sure why not?” Her tone was much more adult and less child-like. Her posture changed, she became much more relaxed as she walked to the small window that looked up towards the flooded streets above. Why her sister chose to live in such squalor was beyond Faye. All Anya had to do was ask Daddy and he would give her a penthouse or a mansion or anything she really desired. “You look uncomfortable Anya, want help getting out of those clothes?” Faye loved to tease, it was the best part of her job. She unzipped her hoodie and let it fall to the floor, revealing her own slightly damp body in a black crop top. “I don’t miss the days of walking around in body armor all day I will say that.”

Faye was rewarded with an eye roll when Anya pulled out a Fanta grape can and held it out for her sister to grab. This was how things were with them for years. Faye would tease and Anya would be far too serious to ever entertain. Though, Faye knew what brought the child out of Anya and that was: breakfast. The Basilisk loved her breakfast. Best way to her heart was through pancakes. Or just taking her to Dolly’s. Some people, like Cameron, could not cook for the life of them.

Making her way to her sister, Faye drank in just how beautiful she was as she took the offered drink. Despite their self-referential way of calling each other sister, Anya and Faye were not biologically related. They had been raised together with many other girls to be the weapons they were. Faye had never hidden the fact that she had wanted Anya, sexually but the Basilisk was the first and so far only person to ever turned down the Kitsune. “You know, your Mom upstairs is looking great. What sort of diet is she on?”

“You think I know?” Anya placed her can down the counter beside her almost fully eaten supper and walked past the other woman, her arm brushing against Faye’s skin. There wasn’t much room in this kitchenette and here Faye was, giving her no space. “Maybe tears. This library collects sad people. She loves it.” Going to her dresser she opened it and pulled out sweats and a tank, “Need clothes?”

Faye cocked her eyebrow at the sight of Anya holding sweats. As someone who prided herself on being fashion forward, even when she was lifting throats and cutting out hearts, the Kitsune would not be caught dead in public wearing anything of the sort but if her training for all those years had taught her anything, it was adaptability. Taking the clothes from Anya, Faye began to strip off there and then. She slowly peeled off her top and bottoms, revealing the fact she was not wearing any underwear. Her body was thick but incredibly toned, she did not miss gym day and there were scars from blades and bullets and other devices of torture that were as regular at their father’s place as a tv commercial during the super bowl.

After slipping into a pair of black shorts and a fresh tank, Faye returned to the kitchen and grabbed her Fanta Grape, hopping on the counter, she watched gleefully as Anya undressed. Catching a glimpse of her eyes in the mirror, the Fox thought back to days gone by when they were children who shared a room. Whenever Anya was frightened, the two would jump into bed and Faye would hold her, protect her, which usually meant that when Daddy came in the room, it was Faye that took the beating but back then, she would’ve done anything for her sister.

“I should probably tell you that you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me and I don’t just mean my fantastic ass, although that’s yours when you want it, I got a job here! Gonna be coaching at the high school!”

Instead of jumping in glee, Anya unamusingly examined her sister. With gray sweats and an army green tank on, the Basilisk approached Faye in a guarded manner. To add to her suspicions and distrust, she crossed her arms, her snake eyes cold and calculated. When she reached the counter that Faye was crouched on, the blonde woman carefully looked up and observed her counterpart. “Why? Edenridge is not your place. It’s mine.” She hissed, with displeasure written all over her face. If there was one thing Anya hated the most it was people, especially her sisters, trying to take over after she earned her place at the top of the pyramid with their father. She didn’t like people touching her belongings, nor taking credit for her efforts, especially not the Kitsune. Edenridge was her home. Her birthplace. Her place of solace. Her territory. “I only ask once - why you here?”

“Because I know something you don’t know,” Faye spoke in sing-song before giggling once again, her face twisting into a fox-like grin as she kicked her legs playfully. Anya hadn’t always been like this. There were times when she was sweet and naive and that was the girl that Faye had loved for nearly twenty years or least, her version of love. It was no secret amongst the sisters that Anya had been their father’s favorite. She was always given the best assignments, she was given more training time, she was placed at his right hand in Edenridge. None of it made sense, especially not to Faye. “Daddy has something planned, something big. He’s going to need all hands on deck and I want to make sure I’m readily available.” The Asian woman took a very loud slurp from her can, holding it with two hands. “Plus it’s just so much fun spending time with my favorite sister.”

Something was being planned. Their Father was always planning something. This wasn’t something new. The fact that he hadn’t told her yet though, that was new. Was Hyde right? Was she slipping? Losing her touch? Even if she was, this was Faye and Faye was the embodiment of try hard. “That so,” Anya snorted, not being able to take the other woman seriously. Grabbing her can of coke, the Basilisk brought it to her lips as sarcasm oozed from her tone, “H’okay. You come, you wait, he give you approval like you want. It’ll come.” Faye was so desperate sometimes. It was sad. Anya barely tried and Father still preferred her over the rest of them.

She knew he was aware of her full potential and the fact that she wasn’t going to waste her energy on every little thing he wanted. Sometimes he needed to be challenged and that’s exactly what Anya did. Challenge him. She wasn’t his doting daughter who would jump when he said how high. No, she was his daughter that found her greatest strengths through her pain and chose to use that as her motivation. So far it’s only benefited him in the end.

Strength wasn’t obedience. To her, strength was courage.

Courage to have grace under pressure. To resist fear, master it. Courage wasn’t the absence of fear but the triumph over it. Courage was action in the face of fear, ultimately making her a weapon that had a better read on humans and their emotions. A weapon who took deliberate risks and understood the implications and the consequences that would inevitably come from taking them. A weapon whose heart matched her gun. The best weapons were those who understood others' motives and that’s why their Father preferred her.

Anya was the Basilisk who saw everything, knew more about people then they knew about themselves. Anya knew the people of Edenridge while Faye only knew herself, seeking pleasure and power in other’s pain. A true sadist. But to hurt someone, really hurt them, not just dangle their life by a thread, you needed to understand their heart. Something Faye would never learn. As good of a killer her sister was, amazing actually, extremely heartless, Faye was still too selfish to be exactly what their Father needed. She loved the game of blood too much to be more than just a tool. At the end of the day, Faye was replaceable. Anya was not.

Walking away from her sister, Anya found herself slumped on her sofa, finishing her soda (placing it on the coffee table when she was done) and going back to enjoying her music. She no longer was interested in entertaining the Kitsune. It wasn’t her job. It never would be. The truth of the matter was their bond wasn’t real. It was all superficial. Two girls forced together, growing in trauma. How romantic. In time they went their separate ways in their pursuits and now everytime Anya saw her sister it felt like they were playing house. All pretend. What she had with Faye wasn’t anything like what she had with Mika. One tried to convince herself that she cared, while the other cared with all his heart. Anya was too tired for this shit. Leaning her head back, staring up at the ceiling, the Russian woman yawned, “Hope it works out. All you want in the palm of hands. Sounds like perfect dream.”

Faye scrunched up her face; she was not getting the reaction out of Anya that she had hoped. But that was ok. It had always been like this. The blonde had always been the most natural of her sisters. It had taken Anya a lot longer to lose what a normal person would call their humanity but once she did, she was unstoppable. Everything became effortless whilst Faye and the rest had to fight and claw and torture each other to even get Daddy to look at them. It was infuriating.

What Anya didn’t know was that Faye had done her research. She loved history and learning about it. Imagine her surprise when she figured out that Anya, unlike most of her siblings, still had family left, real family. Unlike Faye who had tried to track down her family once only to find she was born to be a slave, a debt passed around like a blank cheque until somebody cashed it in. Imagine her surprise when she saw the petite assassin having a cute breakfast with a beautiful girl and looking at her in the way that Faye had always dreamed that Anya would look at her. That was the moment that she knew how all this would end. Maybe not today or tomorrow but one day, it would end with the Basilisk versus the Kitsune.

After polishing off her drink, Faye made her way over to the couch that her sister had placed herself on and climbed onto it. She pulled the blanket off the floor and covered both of their legs with it before she snuggled up to Anya, wrapping her arms around her and holding her close, like they were children once again. “Remember what Matron used to say. Dreams are simply there to ease us into death. I don’t dream anymore.” She leaned forward and kissed the assassin's cheek softly before stroking her straw coloured hair. “Rest my little treacle, you’ve had a busy day. I’ll make you breakfast in the morning before I leave.”

As frustrating as Faye could be, she was here and even if what they had wasn’t a real bond, not like real sisters, it was nice to not be alone for once. There were no words left for Anya to say so instead she held Faye close, shut her eyes, and traced gentle circles on the other woman’s soft skin. She didn’t trust Faye. Then again, she doubted Faye trusted her. That was the unfortunate reality of being born in darkness and made for it. They weren’t meant to be trusted. They weren’t meant to be loved. They weren’t meant to love.

Faye. Her. They were creatures of the night. Mika was not. He could walk into the light if he wanted to. It was clear he wanted to. They couldn’t because the dark was all they knew and would ever know. Perhaps that part of their bond was real. They understood each other better than they understood anyone else. They understood the world they lived in. They understood both the little girl and the woman in their beloved counterpart. They understood each other. That’s just how it was when you were a child of the Garden and the daughter of a King in a chess game no one knew existed.

The Invisible Hand. Their Father. The Shark.

Intertwined together and fated to know one another. Tied by trauma. Tied by obligation. Tied by… love?

The Basilisk and The Kitsune.

Not all stories had a happy ending.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by LovelyComplex
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TIMESTAMP: After Meeting the Stargirl & Useful Tools
Introducing: “Chief” Christian Coldwind






____________________________________________________________________

Penelope needed some time to dissociate. Aponi’s Heart had most of the village inside of it; everyone showing their support for Red Wolf Road. She loved to see such a strong community come together for the young and talented. Even with her mind appreciating the sight, her heart grew uneasy. Not because of her grief. No, this had everything to do with her condition. Her health.

Poppy was quick to pick up on her rapid heartbeat, the heat in her cheeks, and the trembling of her hands. Shannon had recently told her that she no longer suffered from mild agoraphobia, which was what made it hard for her to leave her house, only able to go short distance without problems. In the past month Poppy had gone through leaps and bounds in her healing journey, no longer avoiding situations that could lead to panic attacks. That didn’t mean crowded places, public transport, and the like didn't still make her anxious. They still did, she simply wasn’t crippled to the point where she had to hide.

Being fully cured from an illness did not happen overnight sadly. Although she was trying her damndest for it to go away, she knew she had more work to do. Gratefully so, Poppy no longer suffered from the severe symptoms, like constantly feeling the inability to function or survive without the help of others or the overwhelming dread and anxiety of walking outside. It was only recently that she took small steps forward to being human again.

As she left the bar and stage, leaving Mordechai and Jade to their own devices, she found herself following the path of artwork, from pottery to paintings, the shelves and walls covered with so much beauty. In wonder and awe, she could see that not only was there harmony and oneness of a melting pot of tribes at Blue Hill but also how creative, boundless, and sacred the Native Americans were. Gathering emotional and intellectual insight from each piece, Penelope walked to the back where there was more seating, a bit more private and away from the chaos that surrounded the bar, and stopped at a painting of a woman. In the bottom right corner there was someone’s elegant signature. The artist’s name: Elizabeth Deere.

Observing every detail, every stroke, and every shade, Penelope was captivated, absolutely fixated, on the woman’s beauty. Her soul fire emitted off of the canvas, as if it was captured in still time. Poppy may not have known much of the woman in this painting but whoever Elizabeth was captured her curves of softness, the tenderness of her loving gaze, and her beauty within effortlessly. There was no doubt that this woman had so much love to give, an intelligent, innovative spark, and expressed herself in a way where her arms were wrapped around the world; wrapped around all who love her and those who need love. This might’ve been the most breathtaking woman Penelope ever laid eyes on. If only she could put a name to her face.

“Beautiful isn’t she?”

From behind Poppy, an older but still relatively youthful looking man made his presence known, standing next to the small girl with two glasses in hand. He was tall, he still had a great head of dark hair and he wore black slacks and a black dress shirt to match with a bar towel draped over his left shoulder.

“Her name is Komeha’e but those who knew her used to just call her Ko. I could stand here and tell you that she was a medicine woman, who healed our sick with seeds from the land and ancient tribal incantations passed on to use through our elders, given to them by the Great Spirit.” The man tilted his head as he admired the painting himself, his eyes somewhat glassy and watery. “Buuut that would be a lie. She was a Doctor. Went to school in Ohio, med school after that, came back to the Reservation and opened up her own clinic. On quieter days she taught crafts at the pre-school. She was a good person.”

His words stained with sadness, the older man turned and offered one of the glasses to the green eyed girl. “It’s just soda. You look a little young to be drinking anyway.”

“I try to stay away from booze anyways,” Penelope sincerely replied, graciously grabbing the glass from the older man. Giving him an appreciative smile from the knowledge he bestowed on her, Penelope looked from him to the painting once more, “She really is radiant. Makes me think of moonlight or a warm campfire during a cold winter’s night.” After taking a ginger sip of the sprite the older man handed to her, Penelope introduced herself, oddly enough not as nervous as she usually was when meeting strangers, “I don’t know how often you get visitors but I’m Penelope. Most people call me Poppy, like the flower. It’s nice to meet you…?” She inadvertently requested his name, liking to put names to faces, especially of people who took the time to talk to her.

“Well Poppy like the flower, my parents named me Christian Coldwind some sixty odd years ago but most people here call me Chief…probably because I’m Chief of the tribe but I like to think it’s because they wanted to give me a cool nickname, because I’m cool,” The man who called himself Chief let out a soft little laugh. It was always nice when outsiders came to the Rez because it meant they hadn’t heard all of his tired old Dad jokes. He looked back at the painting that had enamored the newcomer so and took a small sip of his own soda. “She was radiant, she was also an absolute slob. Like man, she would just leave everything everywhere but she always knew where to find stuff. Mad lady.”

There was something about the Chief’s presence that warmed her to her core. His laugh was infectious, his smile beamed light, and his words were nothing but jovial, as he held himself tall, whilst carrying the weight of the world. Her eyes did widen a little when he introduced himself as Chief. What were the chances that on her first night at the Rez she’d meet the Chief of the Blue Hill tribe? Clearly one hundred percent. It was strange how her day gave her more interactions with the village than Charlie’s sister. Mitena and Poppy were able to do small introductions but it was kept short because the native girl had to go back on stage. Strange day, today was. “Do you know her well because you know all your people or was she something more?” Penelope asked, curiosity getting the best of her. Blushing when she realized how frank she was being, the small, youthful brunette was quick to apologize, “Sorry if that’s too forward! I’m just… I like to know things,” she diverted her anxiety straight into her glass, as she took a big gulp of her drink, hoping she wasn’t being rude for asking.

“Don’t apologize,” Chief let out a little chuckle. She was an inquisitive one, this Poppy like the flower. He took another drink from his glass before a smile crossed his face. “I do like to think I know most of not all of my people well but Ko? Well I’m pretty sure I knew her well. We were married for thirty five years.” Christian’s face softened slightly as if washed over by a memory. “She passed away a little while ago, probably for the best though,” He returned to his jovial self as he motioned with the hand that he held his glass into the stage. “You see the little one playing bass with a bad attitude? Our granddaughter, Ryan. Ko would lose her mind if she had seen what she’s done to her hair!”

Chuckling at his dramatics, Poppy brought her attention to the stage, like she had many times this night and rested her green eyes on Ryan. So far everyone at this Rez was so appealing, it was maddening. Ryan rocked her look even if it was unconventional for a native girl. Hair was sacred in most Native American tribes, and other cultures like Chinese. In many tribes it’s believed a person’s long hair represents a strong cultural identity. It promotes self esteem, self respect, and a sense of belonging. For the Chinese, Confucian values decreed that hair was to be kept long because it was a gift from one’s parents. Young women used to wear their hair down to show that they were unmarried. Similar to the natives, it was a sense of identity, but it also reflected status, religion, and political stand depending on hairstyle. “Everyone here is so pretty,” Poppy admitted while pushing her hair back behind her ear. “Pretty and nice.”

“I put fairy dust in the water…or is it peyote? I don’t know, they both look exactly the same,” Chief chuckled to himself. It was so refreshing to have someone come to the Reservation and just enjoy themselves and someone who was also interested in their culture. One of the things that truly annoyed Christian was just how basic the world's understanding of them really was.

Clearing her throat, she thought out loud, finding herself more and more comfortable with this man by the minute. She felt like she was with Mr. Beau, which made it so easy to open up to him. “My friends and I came from Edenridge. I love the people, not everyone is out for themselves, but it’s drowning in tragedy and heartbreak. I feel like.. we take for granted the land that clearly wasn’t our’s to begin with, and here you are, and this amazing village you helped build and raise, this strong village you lead everyday, and all I can see is beauty. Amidst all the hardships and lack of resources, there’s support in every corner. So much love. It’s admirable, really.” She glanced up at him, putting her heart on her sleeves and trusting this stranger with her thoughts and with her feelings. There was something about this village that helped cleanse her soul and give her more clarity on her purpose. She didn’t know what it was yet or why even she was thinking these things, but whatever it was gave her a place in this world. A purpose. She saw something worth aspiring to. She saw good people that made her want to see into tomorrow. She saw something past Charlie. For once, she saw something for herself.

“You’re very sweet and very wise, Penelope,” Chief smiled at the girl with the green eyes. She came from Edenridge and obviously knew bits about their history. He had visited that place a few times over the years and the way the founders had painted their tribe as savages, it was a false history. Glancing at the corner of the small child’s bag, he noted a very familiar bit of paper sticking out and his smile turned into a grin. “I see you managed to meet Forrest,” He gestured to her backpack. “You’ll want to eat that soon. He’s very talented.”

“Oh yes! I ate one already,” Poppy matched his grin before bashfully scratching her head, recalling her moment with the reservation dog. “He helped me out of a… moment. Only recently I’ve been able to function really,” she honestly admitted. Placing her glass down on the nearby table, she tugged at her leather jacket sleeves. Charlie’s jacket really did look silly on her. He was so tall and she was incredibly tiny and yet, she wore it out of comfort. It made her feel safe. She wore it because it felt like any day now he’d come visit and collect it saying something like, ‘If you give me my coat back I will buy you a lifetime's supply of bagels' …or at least two days worth then I might forget.’ It was bittersweet what brought her here. If only she had known about the reservation sooner… “I hope I didn’t overwhelm him. I’m kind of a mess.”

“Aren’t we all?” Christian said confidently. “Plus I’ve known that boy since the day he was born. I’ve never seen him anything but welmed. Though that could be down to the fact he grew up on a pot farm, I really don’t know….Anyway!” The Chief polished off his drink and placed it onto a table before drying his hands off with the towel he had situated over his shoulder. He looked at Poppy with warmth in his eyes before pointing out the rest of the plaques and artwork on the wall.

“There’s a lot here to explore if you’re really interested. Not only will you see ancient history, like the story of Aponi’s Heart by the entrance but you’ll also find modern tales too. Over there you’ll find the story of our very own lighthorsewoman Fallon and how she lost her hearing in Iraq.” He pointed out multiple displays for the offcomers to view. “That one over there talks about my brother Big Bear and his first journey out to sea. And that one over there is a sordid tale about last month's Great Reservation Bake Off!”

Just when she was beginning to fall, Chief was able to pick her up. “I want to know as much as you’re willing to tell me, Chief!” She perked up, making her way beside him and looking in every direction he pointed to. She really was a sucker for history and for as long as she could remember, she took a strong interest in educating herself on Indigenous people. Originally, she fell in love with the teachings of the Native people because of Charlie but as she found herself more alone than not, she had all the time to keep herself busy and read.

Overtime, she became passionate about their heritage and wanted to do her best to respect it, and their land. There were over 550 tribal affiliations in the US, which meant they were extremely diverse, with different languages and cultural customs, so it was imperative she did her research and that when she did come across a Native that she made sure his or her voice was amplified. As a white person with privilege, it was the least she could do. “The world is my oyster and I, Poppy, want to find pearls,” she happily sang before following him wherever he went.

“Oh we don’t serve oysters here, too bougie. Best I can offer is a burger and some fries,” Chief Coldwind let out a hearty laugh at the young stranger’s excitability. It had been so long since anyone had shown such an interest in their history, though that was likely due to the fact that visitors were few and far between. “I guess we better get you another soda if I’m going to be your teacher for the night, Poppy like the flower.” Taking a step aside, the older gent pointed towards the bar. As she stepped in front of him, he noticed a patch on the back of her oversized jacket. He hadn’t noticed it before when they were talking.

Decker-Strongbow.

She did say she was from Edenridge. Could it be that she was there not to learn about history but to forget her own? The Chief knew whose jacket that was but he wasn’t going to say a word about it.

Past is past and all we can do is learn from it.

“Okay, where to first?”


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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by metanoia
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metanoia ⭕ Revel in what you are

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@LovelyComplex@BrutalBx@metanoia
Timestamp: After Go Go Swerve Arcana PT II: Boo
FT: Sal Montero, Aves Kaine, Rosie Drake, and Anthony "Oz" Osso
Bron Milligan, Stacy Čapek, Marco Brady, Katie Čapek



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Around two hours or so after Ozzy broke through the floor, the assorted Midnight Society members and the spare parts had settled in with some blankets and booze to watch a scary movie. Oz of course had to explain that he had snuck in through the cellar to try and get into Swerve and had pushed up the wrong floor tile, thinking it was the trap door. The Metal Lord had tried to make it home to Violet through the storm but he ended up with a flat tire so he texted her to say he was going to the store. He also had to apologise to Stacy for scaring the living daylights out of her. Now he was sitting there strumming the guitar he kept stashed at Swerve and listening to former Co-Supreme Bronagh Milligan of all people detail her love life.

“Waitwaitwaitwait,” The Dungeon Master perked up. “You are telling me that not only does your boyfriend not care about your OnlyFans or the fact you screw other people, he is also a ninja?” Oz was dumbfounded as his fingers plucked away to the tune of Guns and Roses seminal classic, You Will Be Mine.

Bron had gotten rid of Oz’s jacket and was now just sitting in her bra and tiny denim shorts and feeling herself. She enjoyed the attention her body got, she worked hard for it by God! Plus the booze they had swiped from Mr. Kaine acted as a great heater so she was no longer feeling the cold. “Yeah Tommy’s awesome. Love didn’t let me down with that one.” The online model mused. “He’s currently rehabbing a really bad knee injury but he’ll be back in the dojo soon, kicking all kinds of ass, looking sexy as hell as he does it too.”

The blonde’s eyes drifted to the other side of the room and the two youngsters Salvador and Stacy, engrossed in conversation. It was adorable to see; the chemistry was there and palpable. “They’re so cute together.”

After the movie, Katie decided to stretch her legs and found herself intrigued by the song Oz was playing. A Guns and Roses classic, which was about as on-brand for that crazy-haired maniac as anything else would be. The only thing that she’d think was more on-the-nose might be something from Metallica. It was a good song, though, so she wasn’t complaining much. As she neared the busty blonde, she heard her mention something about a couple. She followed the blue gaze and saw how Stacy and that Salvador boy were still talking.

She smiled. “And definitely a much better match for her than another boy from Pinehurst.” She didn’t want to ruin the image that Stacy had a boyfriend. She wasn’t that kind of girl. Katie knew her sister and knew that she wouldn’t willingly show interest in another person unless they had something special about them. When the moment passed, Katie turned her own blue gaze on Oz, shifting it into a glare. “You better apologize to her when you have the chance. Damn near gave me a heart attack hearing her shriek all of a sudden.” Not to mention the timing was almost too coincidental. The more Katie came to Edenrdige, the more that name it has - the most cursed town in the USA (that was it, right?) - seems to hold a lot of truth to it.

“I will, I will. If I didn’t Vi would have my balls in a marinara sub” Oz stopped plucking his guitar and placed it down by his feet. He wished he was home with Violet and taking care of her but at least she was safe in the house. The family was safe too. He had left his father at the office with a bottle of whiskey and a cigar, Bobby and Sienna were back at the house with Clari and by all accounts Ricky and that dumb dog of his were a few blocks away at Rochambeau. They were safe. Didn’t change the fact that Ozzy wanted them all together just to be sure. “Hey Aves!“ The leather-clad insurance agent called out. “You heard from McDungus?”

“Talked to him a couple hours ago,” Avery sat on the butt pillow criss-cross applesauce and shoveled cold popcorn with a mix of Buncha Crunch in her mouth, “Gave him a premium video for his wank bank. Wasn’t a long back and forth though, let’s see… I did see him earlier this afternoon before all you trolls — actually scratch that, that’s when you and I sent him,” she gestured with her head toward Sal, “on an adventure. Dude we spend too much time together. Which reminds me,” she turned her head to look at the almost lovers in their own private world, “Did you ever find Dal? How is she?”

Oz didn’t really want to admit it since it ruined the few cool points he had but he was worried about Clay. Not only was it his job to be out in the maelstrom and make sure people were safe but all the recent new letter business involved his friends. It was a somewhat unwritten rule beyond cracking a joke that the Arcana crew didn’t mention Clay’s other side, his Elite side. Sometimes it was hard to fathom that the idiot who could barely open a can of beans without spilling it just so happened to be one of the most popular guys in town yet he was not ashamed to be seen with the riff raff and the nerds. Clay was a good guy, he didn’t deserve all the stress. “I’m sure he’s fine”

Avery gave Oz a knowing glance, understanding where he was coming from. She kept a smile on her face to mask her own worry, especially while they were in the company of their big Swerve family. Not just him, her, Violet, Clay, and Rosie. Avery was never one to ruin the vibes, if she had to deal with something, she’d deal with it quietly so that everyone else could have a good time. “We can always give him a call? Or…” she glanced at Marco, who now worked for Clay’s dream woman (and sorta girlfriend now). They could always get Marco to call Cat. That was doing the most, wasn’t it? She needed to stop feeding on Oz’s energy. Anxiety was not a good look on her. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

Salvador almost didn’t hear Avery address him, too engrossed and lost in conversation with Stacy. “Oh, oh yeah!” The young boy from Miami shook away the tunnel vision, realising he needed to actually speak to other people and not just the pretty girl he wanted to marry, “She was ok. We played a game so that I could convince her to come back! I won! You guys have some really weird customs and I’m into it.” He scratched the back of his head lightly as a look of confusion fell onto his dark face. “I also met…I’m assuming her sister? She was a lot.”

“Dal’s sister?” Marco had been half-absentmindedly listening to the conversation at hand as he sat on the floor nearby. He had one of the early volumes of Naruto in his hands, resting in his cross-legged lap. First appearance of Rock Lee, when he wiped the floor with Sasuke. Good times.

But he zoned into the conversation when heard Dal’s name be mentioned and paid attention. “You must mean Lolly.” Deep in his gut, Marco felt some guilt come to the surface, causing him to partially frown. He needed to get with Lolly and catch up. Maybe a League sesh. It’s been too long. “She seems like it but she’s honestly really sweet.” He laughed after he let that slip. “Don’t tell her I told you that. She’d probably kill me in every way possible.” Or just go on a profanity volley. Marco didn’t know which was worse. “But If she’s a lot with you, then that must mean you passed all the vibe checks…uh, Salvador, was it?” He tried to remember.

“Yeah it’s Salvador, most call me Sal.” The Latino furrowed his brow slightly. “No it wasn’t Lolly it was…what did she say her name was?” He thought back to the scene, to try and place it. He remembered being outside of the Davies-Drake home. He knocked on the door and when it swung open he was greeted by a small girl with messy blonde hair, smudged makeup, wearing nothing but a barely covering her modesty, Alice in Chains shirt and a massive joint hanging from her painted lips. “Addie! She said her name was Addie!”

“That sounds about right,” Rosie chimed in, leaning over from behind the counter. Just like Marco, she had something she was casually reading too, though in her case, it was a lot less family-friendly than early Naruto (Rosie could see part of the cover in his lap). “Thank god you’re not a chick, Sal. She might’ve climbed you like a tree. Or just mention how hot you were.” She hummed thoughtfully.

And it was then, as Rosie went on a half-tangent, that Marco realized he had it mixed up. It’s been a long, tiring day. Marco was worried about Danny, about his family and about whether or not they were safe in the storm. On top of everything, he wasn’t exactly listening in on the conversation, not enough to where he got the whole story. He quickly glanced at Sal. “Sorry, my bad. I got her next door neighbor confused with her sister. Still equally big personalities, though.” He chuckled nervously, almost grimacing at the unfortunate moment in his future when/if Lolly found out what he said about her.

“Lolly should be next on your list anyway, buddy. Marco, why don’t you introduce Sal to our Dagger? The rogue in our campaign.” Avery suggested as she grabbed her phone to text Clay and check up on him. Now that Oz had mentioned it, Clay had been awfully quiet. He at least texts her every couple hours. It was getting around that time.

To: McDungus
Hey dude, you found shelter? Are you safe?
Avery Kaine


Little did Avery know Marco had never physically met Lolly. They had gamed together constantly but during her Midnight Society days, they always missed each other by seconds at Swerve. She’d leave, he’d come. She’d arrived and he’d already be long gone. They might’ve seen each other in the halls when she gave Q, Dal, and Dean a surprise visit but whether he knew that was his gamer friend or not was dependent on if he knew how she looked. Dallas was really the only one who could walk in and out of the Andersons house freely. It was wild because Marco knew her so well. They had been friends for years. And yet because she was a NEET — no higher education (she was homeschooled), no employment, or training — unless you forced her to go out, the likelihood of meeting her wasn’t high.

The Dagger? Well shit that was badass. Sal nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah! Absolutely! Let me know whenever you want to do it Marco and we can go on a quest for the dagger!” If he was being absolutely one hundred percent honest with himself, the last ten hours had been the most that Salvador had felt alive since his mother died. His quest to bring together the fractured Midnight Society was filling him with a joy he hadn’t felt in so long. And the talks with Stacy, they were the icing on an already sweet cake. For the first time in over a year, Sal was happy.

“Great idea, Aves!” Marco grinned. And he really did think it would be a great idea. Honestly, he hasn’t been able to see or even talk to Lolly as much lately, but that’s mostly because of how little free time he’s had in recent weeks. Occasionally they’d play a game or two on his days off, but not like how it was before. Between work, Danny (and Danny’s grueling workout regime), Marco just couldn’t find the time to sit down for a few hours, play a few games of ranked, troll some of the salty players, and laugh about it with Lolly. He never went too far into it, but he missed that. He missed her. “Does tomorrow work for you? Where are you staying at?” Marco asked Sal.

“Oh!” Salvador had to pause to think. Where were they staying? His father had bought a nice house somewhere at the top of town. It was a nice four bedroom, white picket fence sort of place. “Oh yeah, we just moved to a house on Scott Street.” The young nerd clenched his fist in triumph as he remembered where he now lived. He was a golden god.

“Oh this sounds like so much fun!” Stacy commented, her bright smile and giddy giggle shining a light on the room. From across the room, she saw Katie looking over and smiling at her sister. “But why is she called The Dagger?” Stacy asked, looking around the room. Really anyone could answer since it seemed almost everyone but her and Salvadore were aware of why.

“Because she stabs people in the back,” Avery bluntly answered as she placed the bowl of popcorn to her side. There was a moment she briefly glanced at Sal who kind of announced his status of wealth without intending to. He was one of the filthy rich ones. Noted. Resting her hands on her knees, still sitting on the floor, Aves continued, “In game, I mean. Not like in real. Lolly is too forward to be an actual back stabber. We call her the Dagger because in our long running Dungeons & Dragons campaign, she played the rogue. Rogues are sneaky sneak. Stab stab. It’s just some nerd shit they made up when they were in highschool.”

Grabbing her phone, she pulled out a picture of the Midnight Society at a Renaissance Fair where Eloise was dressed as her own version of Robin Hood, but instead of arrows, she held two fake daggers and looked like an absolute menace. A tiny one at that! Aves showed the picture to Sal and Stacy. “That’s her, the little Filipino. Sal’s already met the blonde, that’s Dal, the Sword, or in less nerdy terms, the knight. The tall scrawny boy is Dean, the Shield. See, he plays a Druid but his gameplay has always been on the defensive side, so instead of calling him nature boy or tree hugger, it just fit to make him the Shield. His defensive play is spell based rather than actually holding a shield. Like with bark armor, absorbing elements, or bonding with beasts. I’m probably getting carried away and all this is flying over your head,” Avery chuckled at the blank stare that Stacy was giving her. The problem with being a geek was that more often than not you got caught up rambling about things that the other person had no knowledge on, therefore talking their ears off. “Anyways! The last guy, that’s Quinton Woods. He was their dungeon master and their best friend. Their fearless leader. Him, well, dying just really… messed them up, I guess.”

As dark as it was to mention the tragedy of Midnight Society, if these kids were serious about being part of Edenridge, they needed to learn fast that everyone they saw was fractured one way or another, and that in order to survive the storm, you needed a family. Your chosen family to make you feel a little less empty on the inside. She wasn’t going to dance around the dark when Edenridge was one of the gloomiest places on Earth.

Suddenly the excited wonder that had consumed Stacy’s face disappeared at the mention of the one that died. Stacy had never been great with this sort of stuff. It’s not that she didn’t know unfortunate things happened to people, but it brought up some unpleasant memories. Mika probably thought she didn’t remember those days, but she did. The days where Katie tried protecting her from the screaming matches her father and Misha got into. She tried to black it out, but every so often they came back. “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have asked…” She dipped her head down as the auburn-haired girl fiddled with her thumbs in her pockets.

Katie, like the protector she was, let out a sigh and turned her attention to Avery. She wasn’t mad or anything, but she could see how clearly bothered Stacy was about all this talk about death and despair. “That’s dope, that you’re all named after weapons. I’ve even dabbled in D&D some but I’ve never got a rad name like Dagger or Shield. So lame if you ask me,” the blonde complained, souring her expression momentarily before she shook it off. “Might be fun if you have some spots open.” Katie chuckled, looking around the room. Her gaze centered on Bron and Rosie for a few moments, noticing just how Rosie couldn’t take her eyes off of the busty barbie even with the current topic. “Honestly this place beats the shop in Pinehurst. Adam might have my tongue for that, but it’s the truth. The vibe here is reason alone to keep me around. So if or when a spot opens up, I want in!” She announced more than stated and that’s just who Katie Capek-Zima was.

“Yeah I’m not doing that,” Bronagh waved her hand dismissively before taking a sip from her solo cup. God, a solo cup? Reminded her of college. She was definitely the odd one out here. This was not her world and she had just stumbled through the looking glass like Alice in Wonderland, she was even wearing powder blue denim for emphasis. These nerds wanted to play games, she had a game from her world that would shake things up. She had been an annual player of a thing called Dare Night whilst at college and that was always a good time. Maybe she could do something like that to get these little shits where they were too hesitant to go. “You guys wanna talk games, here’s a game. Truth or dare and we’ll play it in a world you dweebs can understand.”

Bron climbed onto the chair she had been sitting on, her long limber frame towering over the peasant subjects. “Here’s the deal. I am the Dare Mistress. I will be asking you all truth or dare and I will be the one dictating how far this goes. The field is not open for question, all I need is a volunteer to be the first.”

Oz, intrigued, started strumming a medieval type of melody on his guitar, surveying the group. “And thus, to continue on their mythic quest, the remnants of the Midnight Society and their new allies must venture forth into the woods of temptation, said to be the home of a beguiling Druid pagan who challenges the very decency of man with her wicked ways. Tales are told that any man or woman who sees her, shall succumb to her thrall and be forced to play her deadly game.”

“Yeah sure let’s go with that,” Bron shrugged.

As Rosie had rolled her eyes at Oz, Marco looked between Bron and Oz. The latter was so interesting and weird and, if Marco was honest with himself, kinda cool. The way he could just come up with that in such a dramatic fashion had impressed him to the point where the young Brady man stepped forward. Truth or dare was a game he had not touched since the early years in high school. Kylee had sort of dared him at that tragic party at the Carlisle house with Danny. So he was used to it somewhat. So what could go wrong?

“I..” His throat was dry, so Marco coughed, putting his left hand over his mouth so he didn’t spread any germs. “I…volunteer as tribute!” He raised his other hand.

Continuing to play the tune on his guitar, Ozzy returned with his Dungeon Master voice. “And low, the first to venture into the Woods of Temptation to meet the Druid was the Staff. What challenge awaited him in the dark dark forest?”

Fuck it. Bronagh would play along. When In Rome, eat pasta. That was the saying, right? Opening her arms wide, her body enticing and seductive, the younger Milligan sister tilted her head.

“Play with me Midnight Society, play with me. If you dare!”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by BrutalBx
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BrutalBx

Member Seen 13 hrs ago

@LovelyComplex@BrutalBx@metanoia
Timestamp: After Go Go Swerve Arcana PT III: Nerdgasm
FT: Sal Montero, Aves Kaine, Rosie Drake, and Anthony "Oz" Osso
Bron Milligan, Stacy Čapek, Marco Brady, Katie Čapek



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Bronagh had created a makeshift throne in the counter of Swerve Arcana. Like a Queen overlooking her subjects, she peered out across the room at the assembled members of the so-called Midnight Society and some stray wanderers like herself who had found their way into the bosom of the comic book store. The blonde sat crossed legged on the high top, with her arms leaned back. At first glance, this was what the Dungeon Master had warned the weary travellers of; a seductive, sensual Druid woman whose siren song lured one into her Woods of Temptation, to play her wicked game of challenges.

“Welcome,” Bron purred, using her best attempt at an old mediaeval accent. If she was going to be stuck with the dweebs all night, she might as well embrace it. “Pray tell, who shall be thy first to play with me?”

Oz nodded his head. It wasn’t a bad performance by any means. In another life, Bronagh Milligan, the once and former Supreme of Edenridge high could’ve been a good midnighter. “We elect The Staff as our first tribute, Mistress Dimitrescu.” The metal Lord pushed Marco forward, forgetting for a moment about his damaged leg.

“Dude really? You’re naming her after the woman from Village?” Salvador interjected.

“Shut up Goober before I kick your ass.”

“Not thicc mommy enough,” Avery muttered under her breath as she sat on one of the beanie bags reading an old volume of Langley’s The Amazing Adventures of El Mariachi. As much as she wanted to completely check out, not a huge fan of games like these, games that had more regrets than not, she kept her eyes and ears peeled so that she could read the room and make sure no one felt like shit at the end of this.

“She’s plenty thicc enough to me,” Rosie absentmindedly added, looking up at her dream mistress. She was smirking but only partially, then she immediately glanced down. She had just realized what she had said and Rosie was redder than her namesake, heart tha-thumping in her chest.

“ENOUGH!” Bron waved her hands to make the silence fall. She climbed off of the counter and softly licked the tips of her fingers. The seductress made her way to Marco and draped her hand across his body as she circled him, her green eyes drinking in his nervousness and fear. “I shall make your first challenge easy sir,” The blonde stopped back in front of the boy and pointed her finger at him. “I dare you, to kiss the person you find the most attractive and I don’t mean a friend kiss. Deep, meaningful, pure.”

“Oh okay…wait what!?” Marco breathed in response. His delayed reaction to the dare given to him had taken only a moment to sink in, but when he did, The Staff’s (a name that he was still confused about) relaxed expression had been immediately wiped off his face and replaced with one of panic and an immense uncertainty.

She wants me to do what now?

Marco looked around the group. He had to kiss one of them, but not just anyone. It had to be someone whom he found the most attractive. If this was a month ago, maybe Marco wouldn’t have had such a difficult time processing, let alone choosing someone to kiss. As much as he knew he could do it if he just swallowed whatever batch of nerves had developed in the last seven seconds, his stomach turned and twisted, stemming from so much guilt that he couldn’t stop but think about Danny. Even though he knew it was a game and maybe Marco knew that his boyfriend would understand if he just explained what happened, but then that meant he had to explain all of his thoughts going into it.

He had to explain to his boyfriend that he had to kiss the person he found the most attractive and give them not just a peck on the cheek, but a kiss that satisfied Mistress Dimitrescu enough for the torment to end.

He couldn’t. Marco just couldn’t.

“I-” Before Marco could stutter-speak the rest out, he felt a gentle nudge against his right shoulder. Katie, who sat next to him, had bumped her shoulder against his and he side-glanced her, seeing how she was…possibly suggesting herself? He didn’t quite understand and then she nudged him again. Still in a subtle way but this time a little harder.

Okay okay, Marco understood now.

“Katie. I choose Katie.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

Katie could play up the role. In all honesty, she felt bad for Marco. She didn’t know what his problem with it, but she couldn’t let him suffer any longer. Bright blue eyes watched Marco awkwardly shake his shoulders. Really? She thought it was cute but was patient as Marco faced her. Smiling at him, she puckered her lips and, as awkwardly as it was, Marco tried his best to put his all into it. Katie could sense something was up, so she played it up a bit. She cupped his face with both hands and leaned forward. She faked certain sounds that might give the impression of something different happening. Katie could act and she had faked kisses (and other things) before, but at least this time it was for a good cause.

After a minute - literally a minute - Katie let Marco go, wiping the peach-colored lipstick off of his lips, looking to the…Mistress. “Satisfied?” Katie smirked at the T&D Mistress.

“It’ll do, for now.” Bronagh’s lips curled into a smile as she felt total dominance over the nerds. It was the same feeling she got when she posted her pictures and videos pan OnlyFans and Tiktok. It was liberating to have control over one’s body and how people see it and being able to Lord over these kids had a similar feeling, mostly because she did not have to try. They were all just as awkward as each other which made them far more interesting playthings than a lot of other people.

She wasn’t going to force the Midnights into doing anything they didn’t want to do. As fun as the game could be, there were boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed and despite appearances, Bron really did care about other people. “Avery.”

“Butterscotch,” Ozzy chimes in with the befreckled comic book worker’s DnD name.

“Whatever,” Bron took a sip from Mr. Kaine’s whiskey before letting her forest greens wander over Avery’s face. She knew that the other girl wasn’t as invested as the kids in the room and she knew this was likely because Avery was in love with Jamie O’Hara and these sorts of games always led to complications in that department. Then again, that was pretty much what truth or dare was designed for. “Seeing as you’re the oldest and wisest in your party, you will be the only one I give a choice; Truth or dare?”

Looking up from her comic, Avery surveyed the room and all eyes were on her. Was she a bad vibe? They were young and having fun, and while she didn’t necessarily agree with this type of fun, she shouldn’t ruin it for everyone else that looked up to her. She wasn’t going to do a dare though. If anything, her saying a truth could get people to be more comfortable in their skin, make Swerve a safe place where whatever is said here, stays here. Sighing like Andy from Wet Hot American Summer, Aves closed her book, locked her blue eyes with the kittenish gaze of Lady D and grumbled, “Truth.” What was the worst that could happen? Avery was an open book. Nothing Bron could say or do could catch her off guard.

“Very well,” Bronagh smoothly danced her way through the group of players until she reached Avery. Earlier she had basically offered herself up on a silver platter and Aves had turned her down. She didn’t have any hard feelings because she knew exactly why and respected the comic book girl for it. Yet that didn’t mean that Bron couldn’t have a little fun with her. “Considering the fact that earlier tonight I offered you my body and you declined, I have to ask, who is your perfect partner? Who can you, Butterscotch give your entire being to?”

She didn’t have to blast that in front of everyone. Rosie was likely going to give her daggers for having a chance with Bron and not telling her. “Let’s see,” Aves leaned back in the beanie bag, looking at everyone in the room as she spoke, “For those who don’t know, I’m gay. So I like people who identify as woman. As for my perfect partner,” The pillar of Swerve Arcana took a moment to think of the best way to describe the person she found as ideal. The woman of her dreams. The one she’d likely wait her entire life for. Placing the comic book down, she smiled when an obvious face came to mind. Ready to embark on her tangent, she passionately painted a picture for her friends, “The woman my heart desires is a dream chaser. She believes in the beauty of her dreams and knows if she doesn’t just go for it, nothing will change. Her heart might feel heavy most days but god, she has the brightest, most ethereal smile.”

Aves was moving her hands as she talked, completely engrossed in her explanation of her dream woman, “She keeps to a routine because if she doesn’t, she’ll feel lost and come undone. Like morning runs. Everyday, at the same time, she has to have her morning run. For her health, but also to clear her mind.” Nodding to herself, in complete agreement with what she was saying so far, Aves thoughtfully leaned forward, resting her chin in the palm of her hand like the Le Penseur statue. That didn’t last long because she was back at listing all the things she wanted in her woman and moving her hands to her words, like Taz Belmonte.

“She has cute habits like brushing her hair behind her ear like this,” Avery mimicked Jamie’s mannerism, her own smile turning into a big grin, gushing at the thought of how adorable the O’Hara girl was, “She doesn’t notice it, but it’s something that‘s so her and so cute. She does it all the time. Oh!” And another one. “Everytime she sees a flower,” Avery excitedly said as she pretended to find a rose bush, cupping the flower with her hand, “She stops and smells it, taking a moment to breathe and appreciate what’s around her. All the time. Doesn’t matter. If she sees it, she needs to smell it. Like clockwork.”

What else? What else could she say about her ideal person? The one she’d give every fiber of her being to? “My dream girl is a hard worker. People might not know she helped orchestrate a community event because she keeps quiet, stays backstage, but she’s there. She’s always been there. People just never noticed. She’d rather have others get credit for her ideas then have her name written all over an event and that makes total sense! Makes her humble, not seeking validation. A woman who takes pride in her ideas. Like, just seeing people happy makes her happy, which brings me to the next one.”

Hopefully her friends didn’t mind her talking their ears off but Bron asked a loaded fucking question. “She cares deeply for everyone and everything. And when she sets her mind on something, no matter how hard it is to attain, she puts all of her into it. Plus Ultra or bust!” Snapping her fingers in thought, finding a million and one reasons why she loved Jamie, Avery continued, “Most girls when you first meet them, analyze the shit out of you and see where you fit in their hierarchy. Not my dream girl. She sees you, like really sees you. Sure maybe not in the way you want her to, but that’s just your own selfishness getting in the way. But like, she’s not perfect and that’s okay! I don’t want perfect. Who the fuck ever wants perfect? My dream girl is like…”

Aves took a moment to really think about this one before musing, “A glass ballerina. Elegant, lovely. Classy as fuck, but oh so delicate. You have to handle her with care or she’ll shatter and that’s okay. Being sensitive is okay. Not being able to carry the weight of the world by yourself is okay. It’s okay not to be okay. Because at the end of it all, she’ll make you feel oh so needed. And wanted. I got two arms, two hands, and ten strong boys,” Aves lightly chuckled and playfully showcased her ten fingers before resting them on her knees. “Always ready to pick her up and carry her home. I don’t want someone that’s always strong or has to play pretend so the world can accept this perfect princess they always expected her to be. My dream girl is real, like a page of a book,” she holds the Langley comic in her hand and turns to the next page, “She makes you close your eyes and want to dream. And every page of her story you read, you never grow tired of it because you find her to be the most courage, outrageous, free spirited person you ever fucking met. You can’t help but get lost in the words on the page. A book you want to read over and over and over again and the moment the next edition is out, you’re quick to grab it because she’s what makes sense. She’s always just… made sense to you. And what she is, and always will be, to you is beautiful.” Finally, Avery caught her breath, realizing how hard she went. She cleared her throat, a little embarrassed, and brought her eyes back to her comic book, avoiding all those that were gawking at her, “I hope that answers your question.”

“Well fuck,” Bron shook her head. “I was just expecting you to say a brunette with thick thighs and big tits.” She placed her hands on her hips as she gave Avery a knowing smile. Despite what people might think, Bronagh was not an airhead. She knew exactly who the girl was that the obviously besotted Aves was describing. She knew even before the girl opened her mouth. Clay had told her because of course he did. They were cousins after all and shared a lot. “So you got it bad for Jamie bad huh? That’s ok, I can work with that.”

After taking her phone from the back pocket of her shorts, the influencer tossed it to Katie. “Film this for me would you hon?” Sashaying directly over to Avery, Bronagh climbed on top of the freckled girl and began to grind her hips in a way that would make any lady of the night jealous. She forced Aves hands into her butt before cupping the queen of the nerds face in her hands and kissing her with a fervent passion. Once she was done, she climbed off and blew Avery a kiss. “Do me a favour Katie.” Bron’s green eyes never left the bewildered Avery. “Go in my contacts and send that video to Jamie Lord.”

“You kidding me? I got you, girl!” By the end of this, Katie could just add director’s assistant to her resume.

Katya was feeling a level of excitement she hadn’t in a few years. The kiss with Marco, no matter how staged it was, had brought something out in her. It was like she had her own storm brewing inside her. It was fire. It was electric. It was dangerous. While the full story of why she and Stacy were meant to stay in Pinehurst remained a mystery to her, the blonde was feeling this natural pull to want to be here more. As she filmed Bron straddle Avery like it was the VIP section of a sketchy cam model website. And she couldn’t lie…

It was HOT! Her palms were sweaty watching it, but Katie kept the camera steady. She heard a few sounds from behind her. Most of them were from Marco and…Rosie (she thought that was the small blonde’s name) in how they didn’t know what to say to it. When it was done, Katie did her duty. She saved, named it Surprise - FYEO, and sent it to whoever the hell Jaime Lord was. “The deed is done!” Katie announced almost too officially. God she loved hanging with these people. No wonder Adam decided to move back here.

With that Bron turned on her heel and returned to her position at the front of the crowd. “Whilst I’m in the mood, might as well keep this going.” She glanced over at Oz and tried to remember the names that he had bestowed upon all of these weirdos. “You’ve been staring at me all night Quill,” Bron darted her stare into Rosie. “I dare you to come and do whatever you want to me for one minute. Hurry baby, mama is waiting.”

Pretending like she didn’t know who the Quill was (of course she knew), Rosalie had looked around. Maybe the new girl that Sal was sweet on was deemed the quill. Yeah totally, that’s obviously her. Rosie talked big and made comments, but when pushed came to shove into Mistress Dimitrescu’s monster thighs, Rosie was a bit of a coward. Impulsive or not (she was), Quill’s hesitation spoke volumes. In her mind, she could justify by making all of the comments that she could think of because it was from a safe bubble. The bubble that she had no problem dipping out of for moments at a time. And it's because people just...expected it from Rosalie Drake. That's just who she was.

But now? Now, she was put on the spot. Her bubble popped and now she was exposed. Dangerous as it was, perhaps there was a certain brand of excitement that came with it. Dreams didn't come true often for her. Only in her fiction was she able to live out some fantasies (and yes she did self-insert in some scenarios), but now she could self-insert herself into a scenario that, like Bron had pointed out, she'd been thinking about all night.

Man up, Rosie! Just ask yourself 'what would Dirty-Era Christina Aguilera do?'

Rosie admired that particular era of CA and she'd be lying if Bron didn't embody that same energy. Seductive. Intoxicating. Unreasonably Hot but didn't brag. Avery talked about how, apparently, Jaime Lord was her dream girl, but Rosie liked commanding women. Femme Fatales that had the right mix of danger and purity and there was a balance of both in those beautiful green eyes staring back into Quill's soul. Piercing it without damaging it. "God was a woman. God was a woman. God was a woman..." She kept muttering to herself, behind closed lips as she approached Bron.

No matter how slow she was, when she was right in front of the blonde bombshell, Rosie felt something consume her. For that minute, Rosie followed where that moment took her. As inexperienced as she was, for the first time in her life, she took control of the many thoughts and feelings that swirled up inside her. She started at the neck, tender lips pressing against Bron's skin. She paid no mind to anyone else but the golden goddess who was hers for a minute. Seconds later and as her confidence grew, so did Rosie's boldness. She was a Drake, after all, but she was also a Hawthorne. Sensual and direct, she had cupped Bron's face, staring into those eyes. What was I doing again? For that moment, Rosie had nearly forgotten, but she snapped back into reality.

And as she leaned forward, brushing against Bron's chest only slightly, Rosie went for it. An inexperienced set of lips met hers. And for those final seconds, Rosie swore she was on an unmatched, untouched high that not even Oz's annoying hollar nor anything that could put this cloud out. By God's grace, she had touched heaven and embraced it for as long as she was able to.

She was a cute kid so Bronagh gave her a few seconds longer than a minute. She let their tongues do a dangerous dance of lust. The OnlyFans mode wrapped her arms around the brazen young woman and embraced her as they kissed, pressing her firm breasts deep into the other girl's chest. Showcasing her dominating spirit, Bron moved with Rosie in her arms towards the bean bag chair and once the timer was up, she dropped the young girl with ease into the seat. “Mmm,” The blonde licked her lips as she drank on the taste of the Quill’s lips. “You got a future kid, keep practising.”

Oz placed both his hands behind his head and tried to process the events that had transpired over the last few minutes. Bronagh Milligan, former Supreme and tried and true popular girl, had found herself in the midst of an outcast harbour and somehow turned it into a softcore porn shoot. This was insane. “Whoever said nerds didn’t know how to party?” The heavy metal man raised his hands in victory as he laughed.

Bron wiped her lips clean before her eyes fell upon the wild haired former leader of the Midnight Society. “Ozzy the Bard,” She began. She would not force Oz to do something like the girls. As much as it would be fun, Bronagh respected the sanctity of marriage which might come as a surprise to some. Oz was married to sweet little Vi and the Milligan girl had no intention of ruining anything. “Your dare; strip off naked and run into the storm…”

“Done!” Oz blurted before the former Supreme could even finish. Tearing off his monkey suit, which he hated wearing anyway, the dungeon master sprinted out through the front door and onto the street. He was completely sans any clothing and was singing at the top of his lungs.

“That leaves you two,” Bronagh playfully pointed at Sal and Stacy. “Oh what will I do with you?” She stroked her chin as she surveyed the young potential maybe future lovers and a sinister smile crossed her face. “How about…Stacy, I dare you to give Sal your phone so he can read your last few texts out to the group?”

After the quite enjoyable, if not captivating games, Stacy didn’t register what Bron had said to both her and Sal until it was played back. Her delayed reaction robbed her of her smile and she frowned, panic in her eyes as she stuttered: “What?” She wanted to die. She wanted to shake her head, deny this dare. She felt that way because she remembered looking at her phone before this game started. The last few texts…they were all from Dylan.

But what could she really say. Say no and that would draw more attention to her than she wanted. Stacy feared a lot but most of all, she didn’t want Katie to know just how bad her relationship with Dylan was. Reading them out loud would expose that very thing.

Swallowing a rather tense breath, her throat in knots, she pulled her phone out of her back jean pocket. She unlocked it by pressing her thumb against the fingerprint scanner. Her phone background wasn’t anything special - a shot of her in the red and white Monarch’s cheer uniform from last semester. Her eyes zoomed in on something that just made her frozen in place.

seven missed calls - Dylan

Her stomach sank so low and her ability to keep on a brave face dwindled, but she persisted. Hopefully they just thought it was a hard ask and they couldn’t read what was on her face. Extending her hand, the brunette handed her phone to Sal, her eyes almost twitching with panic. She forced herself to smile. God oh god! Please, let it not be bad. Truth was, Stacy didn’t read the last message Dylan sent her nor any of the voicemails she knew he left. She knew how he could be. He was mad. She knew that because she willingly ignored his texts because she didn’t feel like…she didn’t want to be sad because she knew she would be if she talked to him when she was having fun with Salvadore. He made her smile, made her feel butterflies in her stomach and she didn’t want that to be ruined by Dylan’s overreactions. But if he read them out loud…

This was all very exciting and Salvador was shocked to find this sort of thing happening in a place like Swerve. Despite his boyish good looks, Sal had been to many parties where games like this were the norm but that was Miami, it was a different world to Edenridge. The Magic City was sun drenched, filled to the brim with Latino people living, loving and dancing. It had its issues, mostly caused by his grandfather and the other cartel bosses. Sal would love to take Stacy to Little Havana, that was always his favourite neighbourhood back home. The nightlife and the street food were to die for.

Taking her phone from her, the youngest Montero smiled when he saw Stacy’s home page in her Monarch gear. God, she looked beautiful. It wasn’t until he saw a very distinct look in her eyes. She didn’t want this. He glanced down at the phone and saw multiple missed messages and calls from some guy named Dylan and based on the previews he could partially read, these were not good messages. The poor girl. The fact she gave him her phone meant that she was worried what people might think of her, what her friends might think of her. Sal was in the same boat, he’d been trying to prove himself to these people all day. Though now he had to ask the question, what mattered more, being a Midnight or making Stacy happy?

“I’m sorry Mistress D,” Salvador passed Stacy back her phone. He looked to the dominatrix-like Bronagh, standing there with her hands on her hips eyeing the two young ones. “I think everyone is entitled to their own privacy. Kissing and streaking and all that is one thing but texts and messages, no that is a line I won’t cross,” He gingerly moved his hand onto the brunette's shoulder. “Raoul de los Fantasmas nunca traiciona a una mujer.”

A brief half smile flashed up across Bron’s lips. Well done Sal. She couldn’t have planned it any better. “‘Kaaaaaay, I don’t know what you just said but that’s fine, I’m getting bored anyway.” The blonde waved her hand towards a store cupboard. “Why don’t you two just go do seven minutes in heaven and we’ll call it a night yeah?”

A wave of relief passed through the brunette’s face, something that was so clearly like a weight lifted off of her shoulders and that hadn’t gone unnoticed by her sister. She was rusty in spanish, with only a couple of semesters under her belt, but she made out the last part - ‘never betrays a woman.” She smiled at Salvadore, almost on the edge of crying but she forced herself to not go that far in how obvious her gratitude was. Deep in her heart, which weighed heavy still by the shadow cast by Dylan, she was more than just grateful for Sal. Bron accepting this change of plans didn’t go unnoticed.

High on a mix of emotions, she nodded. It was about all the girl could muster right now.

Sal let his hand move down Stacy’s arm from her shoulder until it reached her own palm which he took a hold of reassuringly, “Guess we better get going.” He smiled softly. Any other time, the Montero would be ecstatic to be playing such a game with such a gorgeous girl but he knew that her heart was not in it. Hence his plan to simply take her into the store room and let her breathe. He wasn’t going to do anything, she needed time and space because it was obvious that right now, Stacy was massively overwhelmed. He led her by her hand into the cupboard where Bronagh proceeded to close the door behind them and block it with a chair.

“Well I’m hungry, let’s see what snacks we have!”

At this point, Avery’s soul had left her body. She wasn’t even paying attention to the chaos ensuing due to Bron's audacity. After Katie sent the video, the comic girl was not able to process it fast enough before she realized it was sent. Avery, who was usually cool as a cucumber, was stuck in an absolute state of shock. Her life was over. Jamie would watch it and think her confession meant nothing today. When Bron’s attention was on Stacy and Sal, Marco and Katie were looking at Oz’s naked ass running outside, and Rosie was acting like a kid who just got a life supply of candy, Avery knew this was her chance. Her chance to leave. Taking this as her opportunity to disappear, Aves quietly shifted her body on and off the beanie bag chair. Getting up, grabbing the master keys, Avery left the room and locked herself in her father’s office. Dropping on the futon, keys on the floor, face planted in pillow, Avery screamed. Her scream was covered and muffled so no one could hear it from the outside. Not really. Closing her eyes, she tried to think about anything other than the events that transpired tonight. Somebody kill her please. Her chances of even being Jamie’s friend were fucking over. What the fuck was wrong with her? Avery should be happy that she could still share a fire kiss with a hot girl, and it felt good, but she wasn’t. Why couldn’t she just move on?

Fuck me.

Avery was not doing okay and she hated that.
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Timestamp: Flashback, March 2018, After The Love We Deserve
FT: Niles Sinclair, Penelope James, & Gavriel Shomer
Small FT: Natalia Belmonte @Venus


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Almost four months now since his attempt and he was finally consistently back at school. Within the first week of his return in early February he was rewarded with a broken right arm because he couldn’t shut his mouth when it came to a couple of asswipes talking about David the Diddler. He snarkily dissed them, bruising their egos, and because he was outnumbered, he got the life squeezed out of him. If it wasn’t for his ex best friend’s goth sister, an unnecessarily hot math teacher, coming into the boy’s bathroom, who knows what else could’ve happened to him. His father was pissed, but his father was always pissed at him. Nothing new there.

Now it was March 15th and he was still wearing an itchy, annoying fucking arm cast. He was pretty sure it was Natalia’s niece’s birthday. Sofia. How old was she? Twelve? Eh, it didn’t matter even if he remembered it or not. Not like he could talk to his ex best friend’s family anyway. She hated him. He broke her heart. And honestly? He deserved it. He deserved her cutting ties with him, acting like they were complete strangers. He deserved being hated. In his head he was alone, and she proved that he was better off on his own, a lone wolf, because without him, she was always meant to shine. Without him, she was happy. Something he never would be.

Closing his locker and putting on his headphones with one hand, feeling eyes on him like he was some kind of freak, Niles blasted Time is Running Out by Muse. An arm cast was the most telling thing when it came to someone’s social circle and as of now, Niles only had five signatures and most were people he considered family. Rye, his sisters, his aunty figure (Wednesday Drake-Davies), and Lexie Davies. Something like this should embarrass him but honestly? He could care less what people thought about him. The fact that he had names meant something, right?

Due to the fact that he walked with a dark cloud above his head all the time, with apathy in his eyes and always having something jackassey to say, it was clear that Niles wasn’t looking for friends. Rarely did people try to talk to him and he was going to make sure they had more of a reason not to. He hated people. Though, he hated himself more. No matter what he tried to do, he was married to his doubts, unable to fit the Edenridge mold. He was the Doctor’s son. The legacy of the Sinclair name and fortune. An absolute terror, fuck up, and an ungrateful little shit that took all his resources for granted. Niles Sinclair was rotten to the core and didn’t deserve to be born a Sinclair. He should’ve died instead of his mother. At least no one would miss him.

Throwing his hoodie on over his headphones with his free hand, Niles ambled in the center of the hall, where students deliberately avoided him like the plague. In the distance he caught sight of Natalia without her girlfriends for once-- a bunch of volleyball girls. Hooking his thumb in his pant’s pocket, he let the music drown out his surroundings, in survival mode: cold and indifferent.

When Niles ended his friends with benefits relationship with Natalia after his suicide attempt things got fucked and it was entirely his fault. He did it to protect her and knew the best way to go about it was telling her he could never fall in love with someone like her. In reality, he knew she was too good for him. Time and time again he brought her down. A heavy burden more so than the crown bestowed to her from Miss Supreme, or whatever the fuck it was, Reagan Ramsey.

He had felt empty for a while now and nothing she said or did could fill his soul with a sense of purpose. He hated making her cry. He always made her cry. After his last attempt, he solidified his belief that this world around him was nothing but noise. While everyone else were paper dolls, cut out perfectly to portray a role in this corrupted society, he was a ghost. Running through time and space as waste, he saw all his peers getting lost in the best of their years. While they had a spark, their smiles full of joy, he was reminded of the fact that he stood alone every time he felt the stinging affliction from his raw cuts. His thighs rubbing against his tight jeans.

When he finally strode past his ex best friend, he did take an instant to glance at her. Emotionless was the ice on a fresh wound. The thread that kept them together completely severed. As much as he wanted it to hurt, he couldn’t feel the pain. All he could feel was his inability to connect with someone he once loved so dearly; bond in a way they had done many times before. And yet time still froze around them, the room faded where it was only him and her. Only them. He hated seeing her happy.

Unbeknownst to the internal turmoil of her former best friend, Natalia continued to pack some of belongings from her locker and into her backpack, listening to Billie Eilish singing about how she was the ‘bad guy’ through her airpods. Her schedule after school was pretty packed these days-- and today wasn’t the exception, so she needed to ensure everything was in order before calling it a day. The familiar sensation of a pair of eyes on her back sent a shiver down her spine, and she turned around just in time to lock stares with Niles Sinclair himself.

A look of disdain quickly fell upon the Belmonte girl’s features. After their breakup before midterms at the end of the previous year, Natalia hadn’t so much as glanced at Niles. Her newfound popularity didn’t erase the heartbreak that she’d suffered at his hand, so she tried to avoid him like the plague since his return to school earlier the month before to better forget about things. Her cold gaze moved from his impassive face to the dark bags under his eyes, his slouched posture, the cast on his arm, and she felt herself unwillingly reacting to the alarming sight.

A flicker of something flashed across her face: remnants of the close bond they had once shared manifesting themselves in the shape of worry. Niles clearly wasn’t doing okay. His whole demeanor was begging to be paid attention to. And Tal wanted to-- God, she desperately wanted to check in on his well-being. But what was the point? He didn’t need her. That much was obvious. She had been with him through thick and thin, and all it had earned her back was to be pushed away and replaced with some annoying, flamboyant stranger who'd forcefully inserted himself in their lives and fed Niles bad advice.

Still, against her better judgment, the girl opened her mouth to say something to him when she heard her name being called out across the hall. By the time she had replied to the caller and turned back to Niles, the young man was already stalking away.



Sitting on the stairs of the apartment complex that the Shomer family resided in, having texted his dad a wellness update and that he was indeed not going to be alone for too long, Niles held in his good hand a book that his English partner, and basically cousin (not by blood, but that’s beside the point), Dallas picked out. He had read this book a thousand times but Dal didn’t need to know that. The book they were reading was the one and only Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Not many people knew Niles was smart, loved to read, and could do most of his work in his sleep. He didn’t do well in school because he didn’t care for it, not because he couldn’t understand it. It all felt like a waste of time and he knew every time a teacher assigned something that he was better than this. Better than the work they gave him. Better than any lesson plan they prepared. Better than school. He hated school. Then again, Niles hated most things. Mr. Beau’s class was his exception because that old man was one of the few people that challenged him and forced him to be humble instead of arrogant.

With his headphones still on, lo-fi gently playing in his ear, not too loud so he could hear if Rye was coming up the stairs, Niles traced the growth of Phillip Pirrip, or Pip, going from a boy with shallow dreams to a man with a code and so much depth. Occasionally, he would read a line out loud before struggling to turn to the next page. Having one hand sucked. No matter, he was determined to finish this book tonight because he promised Dal they’d work on it tomorrow. “In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”

“Charles Dickens. Great Expectations.”

With the sudden voice of someone Niles wasn’t used to hearing he glanced up from his book to see Officer James’ daughter with his Jewish best friend. Penelope. Poppy. What was she doing with Rye? Oh, wait. Was that his book partner? Should he have announced he was coming home? Placing the book on his lap, he pulled down his headphones, the struggle was real with one hand, and clumsily asked, “Shit, fuck. How long have you guys been there?”

Rye was staring at his friend, honestly not at all surprised to see him waiting for either him or his ma to return home. It's been more common since Niles got out of the hospital, but the Shomers had always had an open door policy with the Sinclairs. In fact they were the first to be given such an offer, quickly followed by the Phillips family and the Belmontes, and a year ago was extended to the Boaz brothers as well. It was in their hearts to be caring, healing. It was in their hearts to want to fix people's pains, and his ma always said that that was why it hurt so much when they befriended the broken ones. She also said it was why they were drawn to them. He took some time to glance at the girl by his side and couldn't help but mentally scold himself over picking up another.

"Not too long buddy, we just got back from the library," Rye extended his hand out to his friend in or to help him up from the step, bracing one foot against the step in order to keep his smaller body anchored as Niles steadily rose to his feet. "You know Poppy James, right?"

Niles gave a ‘really?’ look at Rye. The James family were pillars in the community just as much the Sinclairs were. Officer James simply chose to stay on the Southside instead of moving up north past Grove Street. Rather than say something snarky, Niles nodded, “Yeah, I know her. We have a couple classes together.” And since they were the same year, they grew up together, going to the only elementary and middle school in the area. The only thing that kept them apart was she was surrounded by a handful of friends and he only had Natalia. It wasn’t like Niles could entertain a friendship with her. Natalia barely could handle his friendship with Rye. “Good to see you outside of class, Penelope.”

“You as well, Niles,” Poppy serenely smiled before waiting to be let in.

“Uh, I guess we should go inside,” Niles grabbed the book from under his cast arm and turned on his heel. While he didn’t expect Rye to bring home a guest, he didn’t mind. Poppy was a sweetheart and he doubted she’d overwhelm him like some other kids did. “So… good times in the library?” He asked to the air, not caring who answered first.

“Yeah,” Rye answered both to the recommendation of moving inside and Niles’ open question. Sure he felt a little stupid after Niles gave him that look, but he knew that the other boy had a habit of forgetting that Rye wasn’t from here. Growing up Rye was in school with almost six hundred kids in his grade alone, he still wasn’t used to the tight-knit communities where everyone at the very least knew about everyone else. And besides, it’s not like he’s ever seen them hanging out. He didn’t need Niles to know about the events at the library, or that he was still a bit keyed up from them. Taking out his keys he opened the door to his and his ma’s apartment and tossed them into the basket by the door, taking the chance while he had his back to both of them to rub tiredly at his eyes. “C’mon in guys. Poppy, make yourself at home.”

Niles had never needed that said to him since the first and only time it had been offered, so Rye knew he would see it for what it was and not take offense that he wasn’t included. Closing the door behind the two, Rye made his way to the kitchen, switching the lights on as he went. He dumped the cold remnants of his drink out of the thermos and rinsed it out, putting it on the drying rack before washing and drying his hands. As he returned to his two guests, the social middleman took his headphones out of his ears and nodded towards the couch.

“We were gonna watch Perks of Being a Wallflower,” He offered to Niles. “It’s not exactly the happiest and it’s loaded with triggers, so we can watch it some other time. I mean, if that’s okay with you too, Poppy.”

“If that’s what you want,” Penelope beamed as she took off her shoes, placed her backpack in the coat closet, and shuffled to the sofa. She didn’t want to impose if either Rye or Niles weren't in the mood for it. She was curious, but she could wait. She could always wait.

“Wait, I don’t mind sad movies. Like are they bad triggers?” Niles blankly stared at his friend as he made his way to the kitchen after Rye had left it. “I mean we also got time, it isn’t like we have to start the movie now. I’m chill regardless.” While Sinclair was usually at the Shomers, his sisters were usually with a babysitter. Eight out of ten times it was Dallas. She liked doing that shit. He did not. Already making himself at home, he offered, “Want something to drink? To snack on? Could fix up some popcorn.”

“I’ll take a water please,” Penelope observed the boys around her, both sons of doctors. Niles was a lot friendlier than she expected, seeing how he was usually always angry or intimidatingly quiet at school. This was… different for her and out of her usual routine; not a bad different. Actually, it was quite nice. Just different. Made her feel strange. Not often did she hangout with people outside of her usual quartet. “And thank you.”

“Oh shit I forgot, I gotta’ do this with one hand…” For a second, Niles had almost forgotten about his broken arm. The itching had stopped and he was distracted with the people that now kept him company. “Gavriel, come hither.”

“At your command, my liege,” Rye played along, following the taller boy into the kitchen and moving around it like a whirlwind, tearing open the plastic before tossing the popcorn bag into the microwave but leaving the door closing and button pressing to Niles. Without breaking stride on his way back from the cup cabinet, three glasses in his arms, Rye ducked under Niles’ outstretched arm and filled the cups from the water filter attached to the tap, setting them down on the counter beside him one by one.

“As for Perks,” He mentioned, returning them back to their original topic as though they had never left it. The popcorn began to pop behind his head as he turned around leaning against the sink and stared up at Nile’s with his arms crossed. “I definitely wouldn’t want Autie and Carebear watching it without any supervision. The actual list of triggers is longer than my arm but up there is rape, childhood sexual assault, suicide, and suicidal ideation. The movie is a bit more subtle about it than the book is.”

“Gotcha,” Niles responded, as he opened the microwave, grabbed the popcorn bag, opened it with one hand and his teeth, and began pouring it into a bowl Rye had set up.

Honesty always worked best for Niles. He, like most people, hated it when you withheld information in some misguided attempt to protect him. Things always went worse when you weren’t up front with him, especially now when some people thought they should be walking on eggshells. He kept his eyes on Niles’ face and lips for his response as he called out to poppy over on the couch, “You want any ice?”

“Yes please,” Poppy politely responded as she observed the two boys from afar. She felt like she was peering into the private lives of two strangers and it was fascinating to her. Both Niles and Rye had this organic chemistry about them. All they did was move around the kitchen and both were on the same wavelength knowing when to move an arm, or grab something for the other. It was as if Niles knew Rye all his life, even though Poppy was pretty sure Rye hadn’t lived in Edenridge for that long. Couple years? She wasn’t sure, but she knew Rye wasn’t native.

“I’ll be fine,” Niles assured, tossing the popcorn bag away. “If I ain’t feeling it, I’ll let you know, how’s that sound?” Grabbing the bowl, wrapping his good arm (the left one) around it, Niles gave a half-smile at his friend before walking away to entertain their guest, “So Pops, I know this is a bit out of the blue,” he gestured for her to grab the bowl, which she did graciously, and continued, “And we’re not really close, and if you don’t want to talk about it just tell me to shut up —” Wow, he really was rambling. There was no sign of her checking out mentally so he probably should get to the point. Taking a seat, he cleared his throat and asked, “—Are you doing okay? I know your sister’s anniversary wasn’t too long ago. And if you want someone to talk to, I’m one hell of a good listener.”

With the popcorn bowl resting on her lap, Penelope was put in a state of shock when Niles brought up Max. He remembered? Someone that had nothing to do with her remembered her sister? There was a brief moment of silence as she tried to gather her thoughts and find the right words to say, to show how appreciative she was for his concern. He didn’t use any generic phrases either, which made this even more shocking for her. Everything he said to her came straight from the heart and she felt that. His concern and his kind heart. “That’s… really sweet of you, Niles. To worry about me. I—” she placed the bowl on the coffee table before shifting her body toward him on the couch and coyly admitted, “I’m trying to be okay, just, um, taking it day by day, y’know?”

“Yeah, I get that. I’ll tell you right here, right now. It doesn’t get easier. You’ll learn to live with the pain, but it’ll always be there. It fucking sucks. Sometimes you just get so numb, and could go weeks without feeling anything. Then suddenly it hits you like a fucking truck. You’re suffocating, drowning, trying to gasp for air because how the hell are you supposed to live to see tomorrow knowing that person isn’t there?” He ran his good hand through his curls, frustrated at the lack of resources for people struggling with mental health issues. Really, there was only his therapist, Shannon Ramsey. She was only one person and could barely keep up with the unfortunate events of this town. Still, he was open to disclose his inner turmoil to his peer, who he realized was a sweet pea. Why didn’t he get to know her sooner?

Ah, that’s right. Natalia.

“Just know, you’re not alone okay? Lean on your support system when you really need it. And something that helps me, which might help you, is thinking of how loved they are. And maybe, if there is an afterlife, they’re up in the sky, looking down at us, watching over us, and dancing. Dancing in the sky… happy. Far happier than they ever were down here.”

Niles’ words shook Poppy to her core. She was so desperate for a companion that understood her, really understood, and coincidentally, she found him in her English partner’s apartment. Her lips quivered and subtly, her hearts trembled. She never felt this way until Maxine died. A feeling of loss so intense that she thought she could actually die. Her chest always felt so tight, and like he said, it felt like she was gasping for air. Trying to breathe. It wasn’t like Maxine moved to the town over, or was traveling the world, where Max went Poppy couldn’t follow and that feeling, the feeling of being left behind killed her.

This boy, with curly hair, tenderness in his eyes, and a small, awkward smile gave her something without trying and without expecting something in return. He gave her a shoulder to lean on, all because he knew how it felt to lose someone so important that a life without them was terrible. The feelings washed over her so fast that she couldn’t help herself. Abruptly, she pulled Niles into a hug, burying her face in his chest. Niles wasn’t put off by this. Instead he held her gently with his good arm, touching the back of her head with his hand. His cast did force distance between them, but he was still able to bring her close and comfort her. As they shared an embrace, he caught a glimpse of Rye watching this scene unfold with a sad but proud smile and watery eyes, having already placed their waters on the coffee table and saved the popcorn bowl from falling off of Poppy’s lap. He did well, it seemed.

After a leisure moment, she inched away but kept her hold on him as she glanced up to see his face, “I’m sorry… this was… probably sudden, huh?”

“Don’t apologize, you needed it,” he whispered, caught in her pretty green eyes. While Natalia’s eyes were full of sparkle, like the stars in the night sky, this girl… her eyes were a hidden forest. Although there was an uncontainable wildness to her soul, he could see streaks of golden hour shifting through the sage branches of the tall trees. He found himself looking deep into nature, getting a clear understanding of the universe all because her spirit reminded him of the woods. Still and full of power. God, they were gorgeous.

Penelope brightly twinkled, grinning from ear to ear, when he told her it was okay. Her smile was blinding because for sad people like him and her, when they smiled it stood out. It was a sight to see. When they smiled, it made you want to laugh a little louder and live a little better. Poppy James was beautiful. He didn’t know if she knew that but she was. Releasing her finally, he asked, “You good?”

“Yeah! Actually, I feel so much better,” Poppy brought her attention from Niles to Rye before apologizing again, “Sorry Rye! I didn’t —”

“You really do apologize too much,” Niles interrupted, leaning back and looking to his friend to take the lead of whatever they were going to do for the rest of the night.

Rye had already cleaned up his face and gotten control over his features by the time Poppy’s attention had turned back to him. It took everything in him to not just continue standing there, beaming at his friend like an idiot because hey, that was a beautiful moment of empathy and emotional interaction with someone outside of Niles’ social circle and Gavriel was damn proud to see the taller boy take such an initiative. Penelope James was now of the very privileged few that got to see past Niles’ antisocial exterior. Rye sincerely hoped that the girl would respect and appreciate the gem she’d just been given just as Rye appreciates that Poppy felt comfortable enough around him to be this vulnerable.

From everything Decky has said, it’s been more than a rough year for Poppy. From everything Rye’s seen of the southside’s Street Angel so far, Decky has a really bad habit of understating things. When he’d walked into the library this evening the girl had looked like she was teetering on her last thread and just resigned to waiting for it to snap. He’d gotten distracted and let his mind wander during their conversation, and in turn he’d unintentionally hurt her even while knowing in the back of his head about the barebones of many of her problems. He could be a shoulder to cry on, he’s got strong ones perfect for bearing the weight of everyone’s worlds, but in the end the family member he lost didn’t die, he left. His father signed the papers and disappeared from Gavriel and Avigail’s lives like the last streak of dark sky before morning. Gavriel can’t relate to this type of pain, and much as it hurts that Niles can, or that Poppy is suffering it at all, he was glad that he was unintentionally the middleman for this meeting of kindred souls.

“Right, so we are definitely going to watch something short and funny first, I don’t care if it’s stand-up or Vine compilations but dear god do we need some laughs up in here, so,” Rye took charge pacing back and forth behind the coffee table like he was a drill sergeant. That bubble of comfort could only stay what it was if they didn’t linger on it, didn’t draw too much attention to the fact that it happened. Rye knew all about embarrassment and getting reminded you were crying into the shirt of a guy you never hang out with while over the house of a guy that screws around with one of your best friends would definitely be up there on the scale. He grabbed the remote and turned on their tv, and when he was satisfied with his choice he flopped backwards onto the couch, reaching over the back of it to grab the knitted blanket and throw it over all their laps. He leaned forward and grabbed one of the waters and the popcorn bowl off the table, handing both over to Poppy before getting his and Niles’ waters, handing the other boy his to put on the side stand next to the arm of the couch. “Perks is queued up to play next but for now we get to hear about the jukebox at the Salt and Pepper Diner. Feel free to grab the remote and add anything you want before the movie.”

It was almost funny, get Decky here and it would be the Baggy Eyed Bed Head club he’d been joking about with Poppy earlier.

“I’ve never watched, so this should be fun,” Poppy replied before taking a sip of her water and placing it back on the table to focus on the popcorn and the tv. “Oh and before I forget, before I leave can I sign your cast, Niles?”

“Yeah, of course,” The boy smiled into his cup, as he too took a sip and returned the glass to the table. “Feel free to use me as a pillow if you’re comfortable enough to do so. This guy over here does it all the time.”

Grinning at his offer, partly wishing Charlie, Decky, and Jade were here, Poppy smirked, “I’ll keep that in mind. It’s almost as if you’re flirting with me, Sinclair!” The comment caused Rye to choke on his water as he laughed, turning the amused noise into a cough as he tried to get ahold of himself.

“Uh,” Niles didn’t know how to respond to that. Her jokes caught him off guard. Was this what it felt like to have more friends outside of Natalia? People he didn’t know the patterns to, and had so much to learn from. Is this what it felt like to have someone outside of Rye? To open himself up to a stranger and try to navigate the social environment of his teenage dirtbag years? Niles felt incredibly warm and genuinely happy on the inside. Something he hadn’t felt in a long while.

“I’m teasing, I cuddle the shit out of my friends alllll the time. We love cuddle puddles in this house,” Poppy giggled.

“We do love that here,” Rye agreed, smiling at them both from his spot on the couch. Fortunately he hadn’t spilled any water on himself during his laughing fit so he had hunkered down against Poppy’s side with the blankets up to his shoulders and his feet tucked under himself. "And everyone needs some good cuddle time, it helps build trust!”

Cuddle time lasted for so long that the credits for the movie had long since ended, and Rye opened bleary eyes to a darkened room filled only with the sound of the other two’s steady breaths. The ringing was filtering back in as awareness returned to him and the boy rubbed tiredly at one eye, the other side of his face still smushed up against Poppy’s left arm. The girl herself was in the spot Rye typically inhabited under Niles left arm, head rested on the taller boy’s shoulder and chest while Niles’ head was cradled by the back of the couch. Slowly and gently so as not to jar the two who were probably getting their first good rest this year, Rye removed himself from the cuddle pile and placed his part of the blanket further up on Poppy’s shoulder.

Grabbing his headphones from the coffee table, Rye moved over to the recliner and sat back down before pulling out his phone and plugging his headphones in. Once he had the music quietly playing in his ears, he pulled up his messages and sent out a text.

To Deck Me Daddy:
Hey dude
I kno u were just over but can you come by again
Poppy passed out watching a movie
And bro
We gotta talk cuz damn she sad

Two minutes later, he had his reply.

From Deck Me Daddy:
Delivery nearby
C u in 10

Rye sighed and looked over at the two people asleep on his couch, under his care and hospitality, and hoped that his talk with Decky when he arrived would maybe bear fruit and Poppy’s eyes would gain some life back to them. Out of the four of them, if one could lose some of the bag under their eyes, he’d consider it a win. It was a bad habit of his, taking on projects without intending to, but how could you look at those green eyes so devoid of hope but full of potential life and not want to help? Poppy needed people, and he and Niles could be people if she wanted, but he was also going to make sure that those she already had were stepping up to the plate a bit more.

One more weight on his shoulders couldn’t hurt, especially with the outcomes adding it could yield.


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by metanoia
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metanoia ⭕ Revel in what you are

Member Seen 8 hrs ago

TIMESTAMP — After Part 4: Dare


____________________________________________________________________





____________________________________________________________________


When the door closed behind them, Stacy registered another sound like something being pressed against the doors. This wasn’t her first time playing 7MIH, so it was probably something like a chair or an object of some kind that was sturdy enough to hold the doors shut (in case those inside wanted to leave early).

Stacy had to admit, she wasn’t in the best headspace. She wasn’t typically the type to be eager for this specific game, but especially after the near national disaster, her heart hadn’t stopped beating itself out of her chest. Simultaneously, it was also going crazy because of a small moment between her and Sal. When he grabbed her hand, guiding her away from the group and into the storage room, she smiled.

Salvatore was the main reason her night wasn’t plagued by the anxiety and panic that often tagged each other out whenever Dylan became temper incarnate.

Hugging one arm against the other, her right hand gripping her left elbow (and the inner part of her arm), Stacy had looked at the latino boy. For a few moments, which probably felt eternal for both of them, she had been trying to find the courage to say something - anything - so it wasn’t just painful silence between them. “Sal..” She breathed in a way that came off hoarse. She coughed and tried again. “Thank you. I mean, for what you did out there..with my phone.” A timid smile crept on her face.

Placing both of his hands behind his back, Salvador began to ring his fingers in nervousness. It was things like this that made much of his family question his worth as a Montero. Rey, Cass, Rico, Ley…hell even Max; all of them were known to have been the embodiment of the Latin lover stereotype. His father and his grandfather exuded confidence, they commanded a room and they both held power in the plan of their hands like a normal person would hold an apple. Sal was none of those things. He was a lanky nerd who loved Mass Effect and Dungeons and Dragons. In this type of moment, any other member of his family would have Stacy up against the wall and they would be making out right there.

Sal couldn’t bring himself to do that.

It was obvious even before the truth or dare fake that Stacy was a little uncomfortable. He noticed it when they were talking prior. Then seeing those messages from this Dylan guy only reaffirmed the boy’s suspicion, she and an abusive boyfriend. Of course, he could say something but coming up in a business like the one his family ran, he understood the value of secrets, the good and the bad ones. “It’s ok. It was kind of satisfying telling Bronagh no. I get the feeling she doesn’t hear that very often.” He returned her smile. “You ok?”

She half-giggled. It made her smile less timid, increasing only slightly. She kept a soft gaze on him. She didn’t hide the fact that she wasn’t okay. Stacy was almost certain that everyone in the room, especially her sister who seemed to want to do something, saw, even if it was at face value, that she was petrified. And she was. Dylan wasn’t a monster, but he could be nasty. Stacy always thought she could manage him. Do what he wanted and maybe the storm that lived inside him wouldn’t rage on as long as it did some days.

“I guess I’m not very good at hiding it, huh?” The brunette laughed, looking down at her feet, licking the empty air in front of her. It took her a few moments to bring her head up. When she did, she just sighed. “I guess…well, I mean you probably saw the notifs. My boyfriend, Dylan…he’s…he’s not..” Just speaking his name made her incredibly tense, but Anastasia just kept persistent. “He’s not a bad guy. You know…he just has anger management issues. You know…sometimes when I don’t answer his calls, he becomes…difficult.” She knew what she should say: that he yells at her. Throws fits and blame her for what he’s feeling and how he’s feeling, but she just couldn’t. Or maybe she wouldn’t?

Sal didn’t really know what to say. He was absolutely disgusted by the fact that this Dylan creep seemed to be massively controlling. Flying off the handle when she forgets to return a text? That was awful. What he also didn’t find pleasant to hear was the dreaded B word; Boyfriend. Stacy had a boyfriend. Even though he had already figured it out. Although he had already seen the photos and the messages, that didn’t make it sting any less. For Sal, despite the adventure that he had had since arriving in town only that morning, the best part about it was talking and hanging out with Stacy.

He clicked his tongue as he brought one of his hands to mess with his already a state black hair. “You know Stacy, erm, well, shit.” He let out a little sign as he tried to think of what the best thing to say was. “So I grew up with a lot of bad guys, you know? The type of guys who seem nice and will thank your mother for a home cooked meal and then they’d leave the house and rob an old lady on the street, you know? What we see when we meet people, when we like them and love them, it’s not always right. It’s…my point is if a guy is making you sad or hurts you in any way, then you really need to look inside and decide how much you value yourself. Because in the end, if you don’t value yourself, they won’t value you and they will treat you like dirt”

Sal brought his other hand up and placed them both behind his head. “Does that make any sense? I don’t know, your relationship is your business and I just want you to know that I value you and your privacy and that’s why I didn’t show them the messages”

The brunette gave a slow nod, a frown on her face as it was clear she took his words to heart. They hit hard but she knew what he was trying to say. She always thought that maybe if she was different and more like Katie, or even Mika, then maybe he wouldn’t be so terrible to her. Stacy always and probably still kind of does blame herself. Blamed herself because of what Dylan did and how he treated her. Thought maybe if she did that he’d get better over time.

But he hasn’t. Any time she took time for herself, he’d want that for him. Any time she would voice any opposition to the things he did or what he said to her (or at least what she tried to say), he’d fire back at her. Or talk sweetly to her. It was never enough for him, but deep down, she loved Dylan Doyle. But maybe Sal was right. Dylan, if he loved her like she did him, why would he be like this?

She felt so conflicted, but one thing she knew for certain was how, for the first time in months (not counting when she got to spend time with Mika last month), tonight she felt genuinely happy. Perhaps part of her didn’t want Dylan to ruin that.

Slowly, as she felt her chest beat even faster, she pulled her phone out and unlocked it. Silence filled the storage room, but it was with a purpose. Stacy went to her messages. “Message one, 7:55:.Stacy, why didn’t you answer? It’s late. I just want to know you’re okay.” She spoke almost robotically. “Message two, 8:22: Come on, Stacy. I’ve called three times. Answer me.” She read it off and the tightness in her stomach, the way it turned, twisted, and left her feeling gutted only increased. “Three more like that, but it wasn’t until five minutes before we played truth or dare until he left another: Stacy, call me back now! It--” She struggled to read it out loud. She read it, of course, but only in her head. The language he used, the tone she knew he was intending - it was all like before. Her hands were holding her phone and they were shaking as she remembered. She had to…no, she wanted to. She wanted Sal to know. “It’s getting ridiculous now. It’s like you don’t love me and after all the things I’ve bought you..” When it was all done, even though she hadn’t realized it herself, Stacy was in tears. A hot stream poured down her face. The man she loved…he did this so regularly that it had become her normal and maybe she was just reaching a breaking point.

“He can be so good to me, but when he’s like this…” Stacy dropped to the floor on her knees. “I don’t know what to do, Sal…”

This was utterly heartbreaking; Salvador hadn’t even fathomed when he first laid eyes on the beautiful brunette that she had such pain weighing her down. Then again, he himself was carrying a lot of weight as well but his pain was of a different kind. He had only met Stacy that afternoon but he felt connected to her, like he had known her all his life and he hated seeing her like this. Sal kneeled down in front of the young girl and pulled her into his chest. “It’s ok..” He spoke in an almost whisper even though at this point he had forgotten completely about the outside world. “We’ll get you through this. I’m not sure how yet but we’ll figure it out, I promise.”

Initially, she wanted to resist Sal. Initially, she felt guilty, but she was nearing her wit’s end. With Dylan. With keeping it all bottled up. She spilled more about her relationship than she had with anyone. She kept this pain bottled up for so long, yet she felt almost obligated - like she needed to tell Sal. She had only known pain from boys. Either through her sister getting all of the attention or crushing on Adam Callahan who lived down the street. But with Sal, maybe for the first time, it’s like he actually saw her and not just as Katya’s twin sister, but the genuine her. Maybe that’s why she told him.

She leaned into his embrace, wrapped arms under his, allowing herself to be even more vulnerable with Sal than she had been. For once, she could just be herself with a boy that didn’t feel like she had to apologize. His voice relaxed her, making her smile through her hot tears that poured down her face. Hugging him allowed her to feel safe. All the weight she had been carrying around seemed to have disappeared the moment she allowed herself to forget about it, even if it was just for this moment. “Sal…thank you. Thank you for everything..” She managed to say, her voice was frail and hoarse. There was so much going through her head right now, but she didn’t want to think about it. She just wanted to live in this moment for as long as she could.

“I haven’t done anything, you’re taking these steps on your own.” Salvador held her closely and tightly. He didn’t know everything but he did know he wanted to keep her safe. He softly kissed the top of her head reassuringly, his eyes drifting towards the door. Through that thin piece of wood were kids playing games, kids having fun. However on their side, Stacy was opening her heart and letting it all out. It was funny, this whole thing was designed to bring them closer together through an act of physical expression, yet Sal and Stacy had found themselves growing closer through an opening of the emotional floodgates. This was supposed to be Seven Minutes in Heaven but had definitely turned into something more. “I got you Stacy.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Venus
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Venus

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TIMESTAMP: AFTER “APONI AND HER HEART”


____________________________________________________________________



A @Venus & @BrutalBx Collaboration
Featuring Natalia Belmonte & Mitena Strongbow

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Meeting Charlie’s friends was a lot.

In her correspondence with her half brother, Mitena had noticed that he had been fairly guarded to start with. He revealed very little of his life and the people in it outside of a superficial level. As time wore on and they grew closer, Charlie began to open up about a great number of things and a lot of his thoughts and feelings were very dark. It was obvious from the poison dripping from his words like blood from a knife that Charlie wasn’t okay. When Tena found out about his actions on the first day of his senior year, her heart broke into a million tiny stardust pieces. Could she have helped him? Should she have gone to Edenridge even though he was adamant she should never do that?

It was too late either way. Charlie was gone.

Mixed in with Charlie’s deep resonate thoughts on the world and far too many quotes by authors she had never heard of, Tena found herself drawn in as the few joys in his life were revealed. The main one being his friends “the crew” he referred to them as. Jade, Mordechai and Penelope. And on this particular night under the bright lights of Aponi’s Heart, the native girl had come face to face with her big brother's best friends.

Jade was everything that Charlie had described. Clad in black, angry at the world and with peroxide blonde hair, she was a badass wrapped in the body of a porn star. It was hot. Yet Tena could tell that there was a brokenness behind her smoke show eyes that any onlookers would rarely see. Charlie liked broken things.

Mordechai was Charlie's best friend. Though towards the end of the letters she received they had sadly had some form of falling out, which resulted in a massive fight which he hadn’t gone into much detail about. But the Decky that she met at Aponi’s was a really sweet and kind guy. She wondered what could have caused the friction.

Then there was Poppy-- THE Poppy, the girl whom Charlie spoke about in every letter. Ethereal, almost ghost-like with sad emeralds for eyes, her skin as pure white as freshly fallen snow. The girl, it seemed obvious, that his heart belonged to. She reached out and Tena immediately felt like she had known her all of her life despite never meeting. She held Charlie’s heart in her hands.

All of them were kind with their words, though they did not speak much beyond the intended conversation of warning Mitena about the menacing letters that they had been receiving. This gave her much food for thought. As far as she had been concerned prior to that night, Charlie was dead and buried and his legacy with him but now it seemed that like a poltergeist he was haunting and hurting the town that had failed him; even if it appeared like he didn’t actually want to.

Once she had finished her set, Tena had offered the quartet a place to stay at the farm but they declined, citing a prior relationship with Jadyn’s boyfriend ReyRey which was understandable. They were going to stay at Adora Diamondheart’s-- which was fine since Adora was a sweetie-- and had agreed to meet again in the morning before they left for Edenridge as a group. Tena had pulled Natalia aside, because out of everyone that had ventured to Blue Hill for her, she was the one that intrigued her the most. Mitena offered her privately a place to stay and the songstress couldn’t hide her surprise when Natalia agreed to stay with her for the night.

The Italian was also present in Charlie’s letters but unlike the other three, she became more fleshed out, more real, in Charlie’s heartbreaking manuscript. It seemed obvious in hindsight after meeting his friends that all of them were characters in the book that her brother had sent to her before he died. It was a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, ghosts and evil but at its core it was the tale of a boy who loved intensely but was unable to form his feelings into words. The protagonist had deep affection for two girls, one of which as a reader, you’d assume he was meant to be with. This was Poppy. Natalia was the other girl in the book. She was the one that could’ve offered him something akin to normalcy. No drama. No pain. Just two kids learning and falling. She was the one he could’ve loved but never took that step.

Maybe she could take that step for him?

When Mitena had pulled her away from the group to unexpectedly invite her to her home, Natalia (having been caught off guard) had nervously blurted out her acceptance. It's not that she was a stranger to the whole one-night-stand business-- quite the opposite, in fact. With her charming demeanor and bold approach, Tal had persuaded males and females alike to become her fleeting companions for passionate nights in college. Things with Tena, however, were vastly different. Since her relationship with Kylee back in senior year, Tal had been the driving force behind every hookup she’d been involved with in college. But tonight, for the first time since Reagan, it was she the one being actively pursued by a breathtakingly beautiful woman instead of the other way around. It was a change of pace from the norm she'd grown accustomed to, but a welcome one all the same.

Natalia felt some of her previous hesitation being left behind as they sped through the dirt roads of the reservation on their way to Mitena’s place of dwelling. The other girl’s soft, flowery-scented hair had tickled her face as it flowed freely with the wind around them, and the feel of her full, femenine figure wrapped around her arms was stirring up feelings inside the Italian girl that she had thought were long since gone. She was curious about her, and even more curious about the possibilities of what could be. The nervousness of swimming in uncharted waters was still there, but the green-eyed girl’s curiosity trumped over everything else.

Tena felt magic and mystery in the air when the pair arrived outside the farm on her motorbike. With Natalia’s arms around her waist, she glanced back at her Stargirl and smiled. “We’re here.”

"Cool," Natalia mumbled, letting go of Tena's waist, stepping off the bike and awaiting further guidance or instructions from her hostess. The two women had parked in front of what looked like a large barn standing tall in the middle of an even larger piece of land, with tall trees shielding them from the world outside. "Is this, uh, is this your place?" she asked the native girl in an attempt to prevent any awkward silences that would only increase her nerves to settle between them.

“It’s my Auntie’s.” Mitena looked around the dusty roads around the farmhouse and barn and could not see ReyRey’s Firebird anywhere, which meant that he and Jadyn were still thankfully in town causing whatever mischief they desired. “I’ve lived with her since I was young, since my mother passed. I also have two cousins who live here off and on too, Resi and Illara.” She hoped they were ok. Illara was sensitive and as much as Forrest doted on his younger sister, he was a wanderer by heart and it was easy for him to be sucked into an adventure so it wasn’t surprising when Illy would turn up at the farm to spend the night. “Jadyn is super cool. She got stuck with us all when she was really quite young herself, she’s a badass”

It was true. Once upon a time there were three Silverheel sisters: Dakota, Leah and Cheryl. Jadyn was the daughter of Cheryl-- so technically, she was actually Tena’s cousin, but the age gap and Native tradition created for her the identity of Auntie. She was only twenty one, still living with her mother when Mitena landed on their doorstep. In many ways, she never got the chance to finish growing up. She very much became a big sister to Tena. And when her mother died, she graduated from sister to mother, gaining two new charges in Resi and Illy when their father went to prison. Luckily, the Reservation always took care of their own, and Jadyn, Mitena and the kids were looked after by Chief Coldwind, the Summerhills and everyone else in the Rez.

Looking out across the open field, it was on nights like this that Blue Hill really was beautiful. The dusty dirt roads and luxurious green trees mixed with the dotted lights of the distant town were mesmerising, romantic and sad all at the same time. The ride between the longhouse and the family farm was not a long one by any means, but Tena had hoped that it would have lasted forever. The touch of Tal’s hands around her waist, her hot breath on the back of her neck… Great Spirit, this girl was driving her absolutely crazy. She had never felt like this before. Her heart was racing and she could barely breathe. What was Natalia doing to her?

”You wanna come inside, Stargirl?” Tena asked, reaching out her hand. “Or there’s some lovely spots around the farm that we could go sit under and watch the sky.”

Natalia looked up at the cloudless sky above them, peppered with diamond stars and a full moon that illuminated the sea of fields and trees around them. The sounds of nature could be heard all around them, and a comfortable breeze kissed the bare portions of her alabaster skin, balancing out the warmth of the summer. When you are blessed with alluring surroundings like these and such lovely company, it would be a real shame to stay indoors and not take advantage of the offerings laid out right at your fingertips.

With her first smile of the night, the Belmonte girl linked her fingers with the hand Tena had extended towards her. “You lead the way. I’ll follow you where we go.”

With a soft receptive smile, Mitena secured their hands together and led Natalia towards the main farmhouse. If they were going to be spending some time outside they were going to need supplies. Avoiding her bedroom, which was by the front door, Tena first took Tal to the sitting room to grab a blanket. The farmhouse and indeed the ranch itself was very old and had been in the Silverheel family for generations: old wood panel walls and a great big stone fireplace-- it was a bastard to maintain but Spirit it was beautiful. This was followed by the kitchen for some snacks and beer, which she placed into a cute little picnic basket that her grandmother had made. The girls final stop was the den, where Mitena grabbed a single antique tobacco tin before leading Natalia out of the back door and into the fields.

Following a brief two minute walk, the young women found themselves on a small embankment towards the left of the property. Off in the distance, the sparkling lights of the Blue Hill Reservation danced like small embers on a crackling fire. Tena lay down the blanket and picnic basket before placing herself down on top of it and kicking off her shoes, placing her bare feet in the luscious green grass. “Sit down.” She smiled as she opened up her tin to pull out some roll ups. “You want some? Take off that knife-edge you’re carrying around with you.”

Natalia let out a small laugh. "That obvious?" she asked Mitena, imitating the Native girl by removing her sneakers and taking a seat next to her on the blanket. It wasn't until she pointed it out that Tal noticed the tightness constricting her shoulder and neck muscles: a tell-tale sign of the nerves and stress she had been in recently. As in her head as she was about her home situation and the Charlie situation and now this situation, Tal might not have noticed, but her hostess clearly did. "I'm sorry. Without going into too much detail that would damper our night, I've been going through some shit lately, and tonight's actually the first time I've gone out since I came home from college over a month ago. I've never been here either so I guess the combination of everything has me all messed up."

“I feel you there,” Mitena took out a blunt and placed it between her painted lips. “Not every day you play a gig and end up meeting the two girls your dead mass murdering brother was madly in love with.” Sparking her lighter, the native singer lit up the joint. She took but a small drag before taking it out of her mouth and placing it in Natalia’s. “I’m sorry for the dark humour, it runs in the family, I guess.” Stupid.Stupid.Stupid There she was with her dream girl and she was making bad jokes and shitty comments.

Mitena’s off-hand comment stunned Natalia into silence. It wasn’t the crude humor she had used-- God only knew Tal used it more than it was probably politically correct. No, what brought the Italian girl’s mind to a standstill was the implication that Charlie Decker’s feelings towards her went beyond complicitness and friendship-- that they could be in the same realm as the ones he felt for Poppy James.

There wasn’t much time to dwell on this, though, because Mitena had noticed her bewildered reaction and assumed it was her doing. "No, no, it's fine!” Tal quickly consoled the other girl, trying to ensure Tena knew she had nothing to apologize for. “Don't apologize. I don't mind dark humor at all."

Tena moved her doe-like eyes to meet the pain-filled galaxies that had bewitched her the moment she saw them. She raised her hand slowly, it hovered for a moment before her fingers gently rested on a bare bit of skin on the Stargirl’s back that was not covered by Tal’s top. "Just relax. Tonight doesn’t have to be anything you don’t want. Just chill, feel the vibe. Tomorrow can come tomorrow.”

The Belmonte girl nodded and offered Tena a small, reassuring smile. It had been so long since she had been somewhat sober and actually wanting to live in the moment; but this was the perfect night to allow herself to do so. Although she didn't know her yet, Tal felt safe and at ease with Tena. It was… It was nice. "Only if you promise that we'll talk about topics that aren't gloomy or depressing," she said with a small laugh, mindlessly placing a hand on Tena's thigh. "I'm over those for a while."

"Anything you want, I promise.” Mitena’s eyes fell upon Natalia’s hand on her thigh and she felt her cheeks flush slightly. This was insane, how connected and tethered she felt to this basic stranger that she met in a bar. Yet the feeling was almost indescribable. It was a shame she didn’t have her brother's talent for words because Tena could write sonnets and anthems about how Tal made her heart race. Mitena’s fingers travelled up Natalia’s back, climbing up her spine until they reached her tense neck. Without really thinking, she began to massage her new friend. This was insane.

"So,” Tena began. “Do you go to school? Forgive me if I’m assuming but you strike me as the college type.”

When she felt Mitena's touch softly trailing from her back to her neck, Natalia couldn't hold back her smirk and the knowing smile that followed. She knew exactly what the other woman was doing with her soothing, stress-relieving massaging. Physical contact that progressively escalated into passionate, heated exchanges was a technique she'd used plenty of times herself, but one she was comfortable in engaging in all the same.

Focusing back on the present and not the rabbit hole of lust she was almost at the edge of slipping into, the Belmonte girl nodded. "Finance and Business Administration major at UMass," the woman replied, discreetly shifting closer to Mitena. This girl was very accurate in her assumptions-- proof of how perceptive she probably was. "Got a full-ride volleyball scholarship for it, too. With the exception of one of my sisters who's a teacher, most of my family's been involved with running a business in one way or another, so I figured by the time I was finished with school there could be an opening for me. But even if there isn't, it's still a field of study that has plenty of opportunities, you know?" she elaborated. "What about you? Forgive me if I'm assuming, but you strike me as the free spirit type," Tal lightly teased, shooting Mitena a small smile and a wink.

Tena let out a little chuckle as Natalia echoed her own words. Touche. She felt the girl shift closer to her and the songstress' fingers danced across her skin even more. "Yeah, nothing as exciting really,” She smiled. "We don’t have a high school here so I went to school in Salem. I did alright there, won a few trophies and medals for track and field. I loved to run. College was never really in the cards for me though. Never had any money and my auntie and the tribe needed me here.” Mitena’s eyes drifted across the skyline of trees against the moonlit backdrop as she reminisced. "But I get free beer when me and the band play Aponi’s so it’s all good,” She reached her hand higher up Tal’s back, caressing the bottom of her hair. "Family has to come first, right?”

“Right,” Natalia agreed, though she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. Before her mother’s illness, any closeness she felt towards her family was limited to her parents-- especially towards her father. The age gaps, their many responsibilities and individual, unspoken struggles meant that she wasn’t close to her older sisters, while her relationship with Mira was fine at best. Tal’s most fractured connection had been with Danny, and thankfully they were already in the process of mending those cracks before it had been too late. In hindsight, she hated that it took shared suffering for her to lower her defenses enough in order to welcome her twin back into her life. All she could hope for was that the rest of her family would follow their lead, and that Silvia’s death wouldn’t tear them apart any more than some of them already were.

“Family’s actually why I’m taking this upcoming semester off and staying home. My mother’s not doing very well--” Understatement of the year right there. “--which I’m sure you can understand. Her health has been on the decline for some time now, so I wanted to be around for when the inevitable happens…” she trailed off, feeling the heaviness of her mother’s imminent passing settling heavy on her heart.

Hearing about Natalia’s mother brought Mitena back ten years and her own mothers final days. Everybody on the reservation loved her. Despite her apparent terrible taste in men, a Silverheel woman’s curse, Dakota was a kind hearted soul. She was a nurse and spent her days caring for the sick and the elderly. It was a true shame that when it was time to take care of her, what could be done would never be enough. Mitena missed her, everyday. Jadyn and Chief and everyone around her had done wonders to raise her and bring her up to be what she hoped was a good woman but that didn’t change the fact that sometimes a little girl just wants to be with her Mom.

"I’m sorry to hear about your Mom, I lost mine a few years ago.” Mitena shook away her sadness and tried to reinforce the positivity that Natalia very obviously needed in her life. "If you ever need to talk about how you’re feeling, I’m here.” Tena had lost a whole lot in her life, so much loss, but she always powered through. Even if nothing ever came of this chance meeting with the Italian girl, she would at least know she offered what she could to take some of the sadness away.

“I’m really sorry for your loss. And thank you, truly. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Tal responded, taking Mitena’s free hand in hers and squeezing it for a moment in a display of gratefulness. In the spirit of moving away from depressing conversation and focusing on enjoying the opportunities of the present, however, Natalia added, “I plan to go back for the winter-spring semester, though, if everything has settled by then. I’m not the kind of person that leaves things halfway finished. If I start something, I have to see it through. A Belmonte never quits and never gives up-- that’s what my Pappa says.”

Snapping away from dark thoughts, Tena grinned. "Well I’m happy you always see things through; means this night doesn’t need to end just yet!” The native girl pushed a strand of Natalia’s hair away from her face so she could see more of her before returning her hand to the girl's back. "How are you finding it here? Bit of a change of pace from town, right?”

“In the best way,” Tal confirmed with a laugh. “I love Edenridge, but living there can feel suffocating at times. Getting the chance to go somewhere else to breathe is always a good thing.” She briefly explained, allowing her fingers to begin grazing the soft skin of Mitena’s outer thigh. “What about you? What’s it like growing up in a place like this?”

Tena’s eyes fell upon Natalia’s touch on her thigh and she let out a shallow breath. She had to stay calm. What on Earth was this girl doing to her? She edged even more close to the offcomer and took a minute to compose herself. She stared at the girl for a little while, just lost in every contour, every small freckle. God she was beautiful. "It’s probably a lot different to what you’re used to. It’s quiet. Not a great deal happens that’s noteworthy which can be a bit boring.” She nodded as she glanced at the picnic basket that neither had touched because they were so lost in their conversation. "So when we get visitors like you and your friends, it’s very exciting. And not every visitor looks like you do…”

“I bet you say that to all the girls you bring back here,” Natalia teased her with a chuckle, making sure Tena knew she was just joking with her by smiling at her. “A gorgeous girl like you probably has a whole line of interested people from here all the way back to Edenridge. Makes me think about how many of them I’ll have to fight to get a chance with you.”

"Oh sweetie,” Tena let out a giggle. Natalia’s smile and laugh were infectious. "You’d be surprised how many people I had to fight off back at the Longhouse just to get into that bathroom to meet you.” Although it was mostly a line, it was also true. Mitena knew that once some of her fellow Blue Hillers caught sight of Tal’ perfect perfectness, they would be on her like a rash. She could only thank the Spirit that she got there first, because even though their moments together had been brief, Tena felt like she had known Natalia all her life. "Though the thought of you fighting? Kinda hot.”

“I’d be an idiot to waste my opportunities by letting someone else take them.” The Belmonte girl laughed again, this time shifting her touch from Tena’s thigh up to her arm and shoulder, playing with the fabric of her sleeveless dress. How nobody had snatched up someone as gorgeous as Mitena didn’t make sense to Tal, but she sure was grateful for it. “Once you asked me to come back here with you, even if I was fucking nervous in the beginning, I knew this was a chance I couldn’t say no to. I’m sure you’ve probably heard this before, but I swear to you I mean every word when I say you’re the most beautiful, captivating girl I’ve ever met in my life. And I don’t know how you feel about it or where you stand on things, but I really hope this isn’t the only moment we ever spend together.”

Tena was almost speechless. To hear those words from Natalia made her heart begin to pound against her chest. How could this even be real? They hadn’t even met but a few hours ago and now they were camped out under the stars and feeling something that neither had ever felt before. "If it’s up to me, this moment will simply be the first of a million.” She began. "The second I saw you from that stage, the very second I looked into your eyes; Stargirl, I knew that I had to-- I just had to speak to you. To know you. You absolutely stole my breath away from me. Even now my heart is beating faster than Odina on drums and trust me she beats. Life is strange and fickle. It gives and it takes away. Tonight, it gave me you and I’ll be damned if it tries to take you away.”

“Then I guess you better give me a damn good reason to stay…” Natalia muttered, letting the implications of her words amplify the tension between them as she moved to caress Mitena’s face, allowing her own to slowly inch closer to that of the gorgeous woman beside her.

Was she saying what she thought she was saying? At this point it didn’t matter either way because Tena had made her mind up about what happened next between her and the Italian beauty. Her fingers reached up and took a hold of Natalia’s gorgeous dark hair whilst her other hand came up to cup the beauty's flawless face. Without another second wasted, Mitena brought her lips to Tal’s and felt a volcano burst around the two of them. Tena's brown dress was soon accompanied by Natalia's own clothing items in a pile atop the forgotten picnic basket as the girls passionately lost themselves in each other-- gentle hands and lips exploring soft, bare, alabaster and caramel skins. Tena could not fathom with her now furiously busy mind what was happening. But the only thing she could see was Natalia. The only thing she could feel was Natalia. Finally breaking their kiss, the native girl pressed her forehead against Tal’s. Breathless and now addicted, she opened up her eyes to look into the other girl’s.

She had never believed in love at first sight but this girl was making a very compelling argument to the songstress. Tal’s demeanour and energy had changed to match what Tena was feeling. Any vibe of awkwardness and hesitation was gone, replaced by raw magnetism. Something was drawing the indigenous woman to the Edenridge girl. If her older brother Charlie was right and Natalia did indeed have galaxies in her eyes, then Mitena was desperate to become a space explorer.

"Stay with me, Stargirl.”

Drinking in the sight of this beautiful woman hovering over her, seemingly sparkling under the glow of the moonlight like the rarest of gems, Natalia mulled over everything that had just happened to her in the span of over twelve hours. At the beginning of this day, she had been in the middle of a depressive episode, explaining to her father the reasons why it was best she leave the States to settle in Italy over some bagels in her kitchen island. She talked about having nothing going for her in this country, and how a clean slate somewhere else would be her only real option to thrive. Fast forward to a few hours, and here she was: staring right at what could be her one reason to never leave. It was a scary thought, allowing someone you just met to hold such power over you. But she had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. So instead of concerning herself with what came next, she did just as her father told her to: live, girl. Live now. We’ll worry about the future later.

"For as long as you want me to,” the girl finally answered breathlessly, tangling her fingers in the native girl’s luscious locks of black hair and pulling her into a heated, passionate kiss.

And under a cloudless night sky, with the moon and the stars as their only witnesses, Natalia and Mitena abandoned themselves into the heated throes of passion.
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metanoia ⭕ Revel in what you are

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TIMESTAMP: Monday, July 19th, 2021; after “Breaking Point”



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Featuring Mikhail Zima & Caitlin Cleary
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“Mary-Anne Zima, was Mary-Anne O’Hara. She’s John O’Hara’s - Coach’s - younger sister. My mother… she’s your David's aunt.”

John having a sister wasn’t a surprise to Cece. Growing up, Cece remembered hearing snippets of conversations between the O’Hara and Cleary adults alluding to this fact. Judging by their tones and expressions when approaching the topic and the way they’d change the subject when John was around, it was obvious that whatever the woman had done was bad enough to get her basically exiled from existence. The mystery surrounding this obscure sister always piqued her interest whenever she was discussed, but never enough to actually pursue the story behind it. Her only real attempt at getting more details was when she’d brought the topic up to David during one of their many conversations about life while they were dating. It turned out that her boyfriend was just as out of the loop as she was, because the only insight he was able to provide was that his aunt was ‘living it up in New York’, that his father didn’t like to talk about her, and that the only reason he’d even told them about her was because they’d stumbled on some old O’Hara family photos while cleaning up the attic on Spring. Considering the limited knowledge she had on the subject, Mary being this mystery aunt was something Cece would never have pieced together or imagined in her wildest dreams. Mary Zima, aunt to David O’Hara… Making Mikhail Zima the cousin of David O’Hara.

Caitlin didn't know how long she stood in front of Mika, his latest revelation and its implications playing over and over inside her head in a loop. Finally, the redhead sank to the floor beside her ex, eyes fixated nowhere in particular. She was quiet for another moment, thinking of what to say next. Eventually, she settled on two questions: "How long have you known about this? How did you even find out?"

Mika’s response wasn’t immediate. After she asked her questions, he realized he had tears that had dropped down his face and had left a crusty trail, so he did his best to wipe them away. He half-expected another anger-filled series of words, especially given what was implied in what he revealed. “Since I was ten,” he spoke flatly. Emotions were still high, but Mika didn’t want to waste anymore of Caitlin’s time. “My mother would tell me stories about her childhood. She’d only mentioned snippets. I think remembering made her sad and she didn’t want me and the girls to see her homesick sadness.” He knew this wasn’t easy for her to hear. It wasn’t easy for him to say. “I’ve known who my Scott Street family was even before I moved to Edenridge.” Mika said, looking forward again and then glancing down at his balled up fists on his legs.

“And why was this yet another thing that you had to keep from me?” she asked bitterly, feeling the anger from before start to bubble up again. She wanted to be sympathetic towards Mika-- she really did. He was on his knees, baring her soul out to her. But how could she even be sure this wasn’t just another secret in a list that seemed never-ending? Any time she felt she knew the real Mika, he always blindsided her with another revelation that proved that she had barely scratched the surface of who he was at all. She felt like nothing short of a fool. “What’s the excuse for this one? Because the things related to The Bratva I can understand. You breaking up with me because of Cameron-- that’s pushing it, because I would’ve liked to have the courtesy of knowing that the relationship wasn’t ending because of something I did instead of being left to wonder for years whether I was just not good enough for you or something. But this secret… I don’t understand why you couldn’t trust me with it.”

It’s not that he didn’t understand why she was so angry. He didn’t expect her to accept it, be happy that he told her the truth, and embrace him like they were in some fairy tale romance. This was real life and he had no delusions about that. But it was bigger than just her. She didn’t seem to understand, but maybe there was more to…everything. For so long, Mika kept his life a secret. Kept his upbringing, who he was, where he came from, and how it affected him to this very day a secret. Put up walls and reinforced them with as much protection as he felt necessary. The fears of Cameron or anyone else harming those close to him grew and grew until he sabotaged his own life without even considering that he didn’t need to.

“It’s not as simple as you’re making it out to be.” Mika spoke finally but kept his gaze at his legs, gripping the basketball shorts his hands rested on. ”It was never about trusting you or not trusting you. That day at the cemetery, I didn’t know you would be there. I didn’t intend on it becoming one of my most fondest memories. I went there to visit his grave. I wanted to...” A stinging emotion paralyzed Mika’s ability to speak as he struggled so desperately to find the words. “...I don’t know what I wanted from going there. I didn’t know David. I joined the basketball team my sophomore year, but I didn’t get to meet him once. I guess maybe, I had hoped that going there that day, I could perhaps find some version of myself that I didn’t totally hate. A version that wasn’t just a Zima or a Gonzalez. A version of myself that could be…more than what I was told to be.” Biting his lip, he brought his gaze up once more. “So you see, it had nothing to do with me not trusting you. I didn’t trust myself to admit that. Because if I did, that meant I believed I was worthy of being an O’Hara and I didn’t.” He felt his throat get tighter but Mika persisted. “I still don’t.”

As Caitlin listened to Mika explain the reasoning she couldn’t help but think back to the many conversations David and I had shared about the subject-- but it was the memory of their first deep conversation by the lake that stood out. ‘I know that, for a lot of us, college and the outside world-- that’s the real dream. Leave this hell hole behind and be the people we want to be, not the people we’re expected to be,’ she remembered Dave saying to her. He knew all about those high expectations, the underlying shame it could cause you when you struggled to meet them, and the level of vulnerability needed to express it to someone else.. As angry as Cece wanted to stay at Mika, she couldn’t do so any longer-- not when she knew how much it took for him to admit his truth, and when she herself could understand how crippling and detrimental other people’s forced expectations on oneself could be.

“I guess thinking you’re undeserving of your last name seems to be an O’Hara trait the younger male generation shared,” she mused as her demeanor softened significantly, looking over at Mika for the first time since he’d dropped the bomb on her. “David never felt like he was worthy of it either, you know? The legacy of being Coach’s son weighed so heavily on his shoulders, and having to compete with the likes of Francis, Clay and my brother only made him feel like even more of a failure sometimes. He always put on a brave face and acted as if everything was fine to everyone else, but when he dropped the mask when he was with me, I could see how much of a toll it was taking on him. He didn’t hate himself, but he didn’t like that he was stuck in town watching his friends do something with their lives while he didn’t even have a direction for his own. It’s the curse of being a Foundling: feeling like you’ll never be enough to reach the expectations placed on you by those around you. And you might not have known him, but I promise you that Dave probably felt the exact same way you do.”

Mika half-chuckled as it never dawned on him just how much of an O’Hara he really was. Or maybe it was that this was the first time he was thinking of himself as one without some deep feeling of guilt attached to it.

For so long - too long, it felt like - Mika had always carried this heavy burden of who to be, who his true loyalty should be for. Family was everything to the Zimas and he always felt more Gonzalez than anything else, but when he got to know his mother’s family, he didn’t think that it would make him so happy, but it did. Coach was tough but always in a positive, encouraging, be-your-best-self kind of way. But to know he wasn’t alone in feeling undeserving of it lifted so much weight off of his shoulders. And for that one person to be David, the person that Mika wished he got to know even if it was casually. He just wished he could have known his cousin.

“What was he like?” Mika asked almost tenderly, his voice still so clearly high on emotion. “Past everything that everyone said about him, what was David like?” Mika wanted to know…no, he needed to know more about David. It may just be the missing piece he’s been longing for years. Or at least that’s what he believed at this very moment.

The Cleary girl offered Mika a soft smile, stood up and stretched out her hand towards him. “Come on upstairs with me. Let me show you.”

Curious but also partially confused, Mika stood up, and took Cece’s hand, letting her lead him out of the kitchen. As they ascended up the stairs, he saw they were getting closer and closer to her room. He started to remember the times he’d sneak over to her house when the coast was clear and it would just be the two of them for however many hours they’d be allowed to spend with each other. Those were the good old days when everything in Mika’s life was simpler and he could just be who he wanted to be.

The second story was something familiar to him. It was slightly different with updated pictures of the family and certain decorations, but it was mostly familiar. Mika smiled. It centered him as he looked around. That air of familiarity was a welcomed feeling.

And then they entered her room. Even though he was in her room a little less than twelve hours ago, it was nice to be able to enter it through normal means and not having to climb up that unstable trellis like it was Romeo and Juliet.

“What are we doing here, Cece?” For the first time ever in the time he’s known Cece, Mika actually didn’t know why he was in her room.

The redhead didn’t reply right away. Instead, she made a beeline for the same closet that had harbored her during her earlier storm hours previously, and came out with the item she’d so fiercely guarded for the last five years: her David memory box. Upon first impressions, it looked like an unassuming shoe box for some boots she’d bought years ago. But after she took a seat next to Mika and removed the lid, the contents inside were completely different. A green and white Celtics basketball jersey protected the rest of the items from view, its back proudly emblazoned with a player’s name and number: O’HARA 23. Once carefully placed aside, more objects were revealed. Dried flower petals from the bouquets David had given Cece during their time together peppered the bottom of the bag, making a crunching sound whenever disturbed. A pack of envelopes and folded pieces of paper tied together with a ribbon could be seen in the corner of the box: special occasion cards and handwritten letters he had written to his beloved. Different knick knacks like movie tickets for films they had watched and dated wristband bracelets from his basketball games were also strewn about. But scattered all over the box were Cece’s most treasured pieces of all: glossy images that memorialized the best moments of her and David.

“The first words that comes to mind when I think of David are ‘charming clown’-- which is apparently another trait that’s heavy on the O’Hara men,” Cece started with a laugh, finishing around for and pulling out a selection of the best polaroid photos of David making funny faces at the camera and handing them over to Mika. “He had the most easy going sense of humor, and he could make you laugh until your stomach hurt with the lame things he came up with. Add that to his charm and those ‘boy next door’ looks, and it’s no secret why so many girls swooned over him. I hated every time he showed up with another one. I always got so jealous…” she admitted, her cheeks slightly pink in embarrassment at the actions of her younger self.

Another photo from inside the box was pulled out; this one with Cece’s pony-tailed self in full pearl and emerald Clovers cheer gear with her arms wrapped around David’s waist, who wore his Celtics basketball uniform like a badge of honor. Although the candid image was taken a few hours before they shared their first kiss, the way the two tenderly looked and smiled at each other spoke volumes about their feelings. “He was a good player, and he enjoyed playing ball okay, but he mostly did it to keep John happy and not let his friends down. Basketball was never really his passion. Finding that passion for something was one of the bigger struggles he was facing before he--” she paused, feeling a lump in her throat. No matter how long it had been, Cece still hated acknowledging that Dave really was gone. “Before he passed. He’d been talking about taking up some classes at the technical college to become an electrician. He thought it was interesting enough, but he liked the job security it could provide the most. A steady job meant he had a way to provide for a family, which was something he really wanted to have before we ever got married and had kids like we always used to talk about. He never aspired to be perfect. He just wanted to be a good son, a good husband, a good father, and a good man above everything else.”

A few more photos were handed to Mika, with Cece and David at the center in various stages of affection: hugging, kissing, smiling, making silly faces at the camera and at each other, with the deep love they shared for one another always on display. “The David I knew was funny and kind. He was thoughtful, affectionate, respectful and sweet, and he showed me a love, protection and safety I had never experienced before. He made me feel like and proved to me time and time again that I was the most important thing in his world, just like he was to me, and that I was his most trusted confidante. But he wasn’t without his own demons aside from the obvious pressure he felt with being an O’Hara. In the vulnerability I am forever grateful to he entrusted me with, Dave worried about many things: his future, our future, Jamie’s state of mind and how it affected them as a family, whether he himself would fall prey to mental illness that could challenge him in the future like his sister’s… He had a lot of weight on his shoulders, but he always carried it so gracefully with that mischievous smile of his. We were incredibly happy together, and a part of me will always, always love him. There’s no filling the hole he left in my heart when I lost him, but the grief gets easier to manage as time goes on, and I carry him with me wherever I go,” she told Mika, pointing to the dainty ‘23’ tattoo on the inside of her left wrist that she had gotten as soon as she has turned eighteen.

That was a lot to digest. Mika still was processing everything that was said and what he was handed. Despite not knowing much about his cousin, Mika was starting to piece some things together. He was starting to understand the deeper meaning behind something that he heard that always didn’t make sense. Hearing Cece speak about David and what he was like, how he only did basketball to make his father happy - he didn’t realize just how much that mirrored what Mika did to make Ivan happy.

It was mind boggling, to say the least. It wasn’t just the cheeky sense of humor they shared or passionate drive or love for those closest to them (or even the devilish good looks) - but their desire to make others happy. The desire to protect their sister. David seemed to have the same protective instinct Mika had for his sisters: Katie and Stacy, but also Ley. He wanted nothing more than to protect them from the horrors that was The Devil.

“I had no idea just how similar he and I were.” Mika spoke finally after a few minutes of silently processing everything. “You know, I just thought that maybe it was a coincidence, you know. Hindsight and all, I figured it may have been some happy accident. I mean, us being together, me being O’Hara, and even being on the basketball team.. It’s just…a lot to take in.” That wasn’t just it. Mika knew this and he didn’t want to leave it unsaid. “To think he suffered from the same things I did. Doing everything you could to make your incredibly difficult father happy--” Mika cursed internally. “--Coach is nowhere as bad as Ivan, but he was hard on us. Hard, yet fair to us during practices. But…God, Cece, I…”

As he struggled to find the words, Mika looked through the polaroids in his lap, going through them one by one. The ones of them together, of him, and just trying to figure out what he wanted -- no, what he needed to say. “Thank you.” That’s it. That’s what he wanted to say. “Truly, I mean it from the bottom of my heart, Cece. This is the best thing anyone has ever given me. I feel like I have found that missing piece in my life that I’ve desperately been wanting. I thought it was lost when someone close to me passed away, but this…” Mika’s eyes fell to the pictures in his lap. It wasn’t just that, but everything the ginger next to him said about David and the parallels he clearly saw between them. This is it. And it’s because of you.”

Smiling softly, Caitlin wrapped her arms around Mika and pulled him into a hug she could feel he needed. As a Foundling, she had the privilege of knowing and having clear records of her family history dating back to their settlement in Edenridge, so she couldn’t relate to her ex’s struggle to find a missing piece of his life because of a family he didn’t know. But she could understand the large sense of relief it could bring to know that someone else out there was facing the same struggles as you. It was a knowledge that made burdens lighter, more manageable, and easier to carry or even let go of-- a feeling that both David and Mika had given her.

“I’m glad I was able to help you,” she answered softly, resting her head on his shoulder like she had done many times before. “And thank you for giving me the opportunity to show you who David really was. Everyone else in town was so quick to judge him, even his own so-called friends. You always gave him the benefit of the doubt, never taking what everyone else said for granted and searching for the truth to make your own conclusions instead. I will always be grateful for that. David wasn’t perfect: even in my bias I’ll be the first person to admit that. But he was perfect in my eyes, and it was his flaws that made him beautiful-- just like yours do, even if they’re really aggravating sometimes,” she joked with a small laugh.

As she wrapped her arms around him, Mika wanted to resist the gesture. He didn’t want to assume too much, but if she willingly did so, then he just went with it. “I guess it's an O’Hara trait: we just can’t help but be difficult.” Mika laughed, nudging his ex playfully against her shoulder with his. This wasn’t like before, yet it was just like before-- when they had been together. Obviously time had made being this close again came with some tension, but Mika liked it. Actually, he more than liked it - it was something he thought he had lost the right to, but here he was, close to her again, in her embrace.

Mika found himself looking deep into her eyes, becoming lost in the calming beauty of them. The storm outside didn’t matter, not when he fell back into old habits. Don’t do it, Mika. It’s not the right time. He wanted to kiss her so bad, but did he have any right to? Somewhere inside, he still felt like he didn’t. Like right now wasn’t the right time, but the rest of him just wanted to chance it. If he was wrong, then that could be a bridge he would cross, but there was something about this moment.

“Speaking of eyes. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to stare into yours like this before…” He spoke low, moving his face closer to hers. He was just inches away and it just….happened. Without even realizing, for a short moment, his lips pressed against hers.

The moment his lips pressed against hers, Cece got the irrefutable confirmation that her feelings towards Mika had never gone away. Her heart still beat faster, the world stopped spinning around them and she still felt like she was floating on the highest of clouds in the sky. Even after so many months apart and the many tribulations they had faced to get to this point, it felt as if no time had passed between them. They were different people, with new outlooks on life and experiences that had served to help build them into better versions of themselves. But what they shared was still the same: a bond that went beyond anything either of them could explain. The world and the circumstances beyond their control had tried to tear them apart, yet they had found their way back to each other again.

If not love, then what else could it be?

The young woman tenderly pressed her forehead against Mika’s. “I missed you,” she confessed, proving her point with a gentle kiss to his lips.

This was the moment. The moment when every wrong thing he ever did to her, every single word that he spoke that caused her any sort of pain would begin to be turned around. He always thought that he didn’t deserve to have that second chance, not when he interjected himself back into her life and not when he refused to be completely honest with her. But this moment right now, it all would change.

He smiled at her and kissed her again. It was just like hers: a gentle kiss. “I’ve missed you too. I was worried…this wouldn’t happen again - that we wouldn’t get another chance.” Was he presuming too much already? No, Mika had to be confident that she wanted this as badly as he did. “Cece… I promise. Whatever happens, I won’t hurt you. Ever!” As bold of a statement as that was, Mika meant it. He hadn’t meant anything more in his life. He wasn’t perfect and he knew, in enough time, if certain people knew what was happening, they’d hate him, but she didn’t and she was the only person whose opinion mattered.

The young woman didn’t respond right away. She took a second to think about Mika’s words, excusing herself momentarily to return her memory box back to safety as she did so. As much as she wanted to believe that things had changed and he wouldn’t hurt her, Cece needed to make sure her ex knew and could meet the expectations she had set for herself after their breakup. It would be pointless if they went back into things only to fall into the same old patterns and mistakes from before.

"If we go through with this, it can't be like last time," she warned him, shutting the closet door behind her and returning to Mika's side. "I need you to be as open and honest as you've been with me tonight, all the time. You can't bottle up your feelings instead of truthfully talking to me, or hide things from me, or push me away with excuses about it being 'better if I don't know' or 'for my own safety'. I don't want any secrets, I don't want any lies, and I don't want to constantly be guessing what our relationship is or where it stands. That is the bare minimum I would expect from you."

As he listened to everything she had to say, Mika came to two realizations. The first was, of course, how if this was indeed going to happen again, he couldn’t fall back into old habits. That was a hard ask as it was at face value. Mika professed he was a changed man. He may have said those exact words to Cece, but sometimes he did take a few steps back. It was never knowingly but he did it. He knew he couldn’t do that - least, not with Cece.

But the second was something he didn’t ever consider only because he didn’t think it was something that she had any issue with. “I never knew you had any issue about our relationship…from before not having a label on it.” As he admitted that, a genuine shock in his voice, he spent a few moments just thinking about it. He knew the reason why he didn’t want to put a label on their relationship.

“That’s my fault,” Caitlin admitted, pursing her lips together in remorse. “I never said anything because I was scared you’d shoot me down or push me away if I asked. And I had grown to cherish what we had so much… I figured it was best to leave things as they were rather than risk losing it all. But deep down, I always wanted it to be official. I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you about it sooner.”

“I mean...” He took her hands as he was struggling to find the right words. “It’s not that I didn’t know what we were, you know? I suppose, in hindsight, I still feared that Hyde would ruin what we had despite him being in prison at the time.” Saying it out loud for the first time, Mika realized it didn’t make any sense, but back then, back when he was still under that direct influence of The Devil, it did, which was weird. He was more afraid when Hyde wasn’t around than he was when he was lurking somewhere nearby (per Anya saying he knows).

As he thought about it for a few moments more, danger was everywhere. It wasn’t just in the Southside, either. Mika knew that, on some level, ghosts on all fronts were bound to come back and there was nothing he could do but stop making excuses.

He squeezed her hands and gazed deep into her eyes. “I’m not a perfect man. No matter the steps forward I made tonight, there might be times I might step back, but I’m not going to do that alone. In the past, the main reason I did all of that-- why I pushed you away-- was because I thought you deserved better than me. That you wanted better than what I could give you, yet here we are again. Fate doesn’t want us apart and…” As his throat tightened, emotions became high like when he broke down in the kitchen. Unlike then, it was different. These emotions were of…something had buried long before he broke her heart. “...And I don’t want us apart either. I won’t do it again. I promise, Cece. I won’t do any of it again.” This was no longer the boy who was so afraid of the Devil that spoke to her, but a man who was making his own luck with the woman who had his heart since he was sixteen.

The young woman removed her right hand from Mika’s grasp and placed it on his cheek, keeping her eyes locked on his. “Mika, you’re everything I’ve ever wanted and more,” she told him, kissing the hand of Mika’s that was still in her grasp. “After David passed, I thought I’d never feel that kind of way towards anyone else. I was lonely, and sad, and scared... My future wasn’t looking too bright. I was feeling so low and so ready to give up when you came into my life: when I least expected it and at the perfect time. You showed me a love that was selfless, gentle and kind, but also passionate, exciting, intense, and even breathtaking at times. You made me feel more alive than ever before, and every risk we took was worth every moment we shared. You gave me such hope for the future… And promise you: there’s nobody else in this world that I want in other than you.”

Even before she finished, Mika put his left hand over Cece’s right that was on his cheek and his other hand mirrored hers as it gently caressed her cheek. He felt a few warm tears go down his face as they both said everything he wished they could have had the courage to say to each other before things between them became too complicated. Mika had always lacked the courage to speak from the heart. He lost Cece because of that and did and said words to her that hurt her beyond any reasonable scale. Somehow, though, she not only forgave him, but now, at this moment, she was willing to give him another chance. They had a restart and he knew he wasn’t going to mess it up.

Closing his eyes for three seconds, as he counted it down, Mika didn’t look, and he kissed her. It was the sort of kiss that said anything else he may want to say. A kiss that represented this second chance. It had the passion and intensity she spoke of, but it had a renewed earnesty Mika found himself in the possession of. His grip on her cheek tightened. He held it firm in his hand but it was with care. Mika didn’t ever want to be the reason she cried.

As it broke and he opened his eyes, his passion spoke before he could think. “I should have said this so many times. I almost did today, but I was afraid.”

Worry clouded Cece’s turquoise eyes for a moment. “What did you want to say?” she asked him with concern.

“Caitlin Cleary…” He pushed his forehead against hers, lips quivering as he smiled. “I love you so fucking much.”

The redhead let out a watery laugh, wrapped her arms around Mika and pressed her lips against his, feeling her own tears of joy streaming down her face. It was a long time coming, but there were the three words and the confirmation she had dreamed about hearing for so long: he loved her just as much as she loved him.

They were in love with each other. They were finally-- finally-- going to be together.

“And I never stopped loving you,” she confessed with all the conviction in the world, emphasizing her words with another kiss. “Not even if I tried. Not for a single second.”

This was it. Mika knew it. He knew Cece did too. Both of them knew that this was the moment. Like a match that set a fire under him, so did thunder clap outside in the distance and it was the timing of everything as he kissed her again, guiding her back onto her bed. As he did, whilst his heart beat like it was an animal in a cage, the truth of the matter was that the animal had been let free and it was as calm as it had ever been. It felt alive every time their lips touched.

He held himself propped over her, hands pressed against her bed, and he was looking down at her angelic face with perfectly angled jaws, hair so scarlet that it made every hair on his body tingle with a familiar (yet unfamiliar excitement and nervousness). It had been so long -- too long -- since the last time he saw her from this position. All that wasted time, being so wrong about the woman he couldn’t take his eyes off of. The ambiance of the storm was the perfect soundtrack for this moment.

“Cece, in the interest of no secrets, I want you. Like…before.” His voice came so hoarse, yet he just was feeling a lot right now. Exhausting day or not, right now, he just wanted her in every way that was physically possible.

Cece’s reaction to his brazen words was immediate. Her freckled cheeks blushed scarlet, just like the first time they’d found themselves in this same position three years ago. With him hovering over her, staring at him with those blue eyes full of love and desire that so easily disarmed her, she had wanted so badly for him to claim her as his own. She was desperate to be his again-- tonight and for the rest of her life.

With a breathtaking smile, Caitlin raised her head, gently pulled Mika close with a hand at the nape of his neck, and passionately locked her lips with his. If he wanted her, she was entirely his to be taken.


Wise men say
Only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you

Shall I stay?
Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you?

Like a river flows
Surely to the sea
Darling, so it goes
Some things are meant to be

Take my hand
Take my whole life, too
For I can't help falling in love with you


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Aces Away
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Aces Away Phantom by Circumstance

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Timestamp: Flashback, March 2018, After Great Expectations
FT: Gavriel Shomer & Decky Boaz

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“Thanks for lookin’ after her,” Were the first words out of Decky’s mouth when Rye opened up the door of his and his mother’s apartment nearing the midnight hour. Rye shook his head to dismiss the comment and stepped out into the hallway before closing the door behind him so as not to wake the two slumbering insomniacs inside. Decky was sweating and breathing heavily, so that ten minute estimate must have been based on him booking it from wherever he was before this. “Ya said she was sad?”

“Yeah,” Rye answered blankly as he watched Decky’s chest rise and fall rapidly. “You shouldn’t be running with two fractured ribs you moron, she wasn’t going anywhere.”

Decky shrugged carelessly- which made him wince in pain, dumbass- and worked on regaining his breath while Rye sighed and resigned himself to cleaning and bandaging the reckless snake up twice in a twenty four hour period. With one headphone in his ear and one dangling, and nothing but Decky’s labored breathing and the harsh buzzing of the hall’s fluorescent lighting, the song from Rye’s headphones easily seeped into the quiet space between them.

Had a little spot where you been going through a lot
Wanna shove it to the bottom but a trouble gonna bubble to the top
Then the bubble gonna pop and the hustle never ever gonna stop
Cause you get up in the morning get ahead then get to bed and then you do it all again until the moment that you drop
You need a plot, what you wanna witness with this life you got
You kicked and fought tryin’a get up in your skin and pick this lock
That ticking clock lets you know that bitch you got these situations witchu
Issues someone fit to quick should sit you should down to talk


“Where’s Danny?”

“Passed out with Creed and Jokes in the dorms,” Decky answered easily now that his breathing had returned to normal. He ran his hand through his hair to get it all out of his sweaty face. “I had work.”

“As you said,” Rye replied, gaining a confused tilt of the head from Decky as the other Jew caught on to his tone. “You know that adults struggle really hard with a work-life balance every day, right?”

“Uhh, yes?” The Serpent replied with a surprised blink. Where the hell was Rye going with that line of thought? “What’s that-”

“So like I totally get that you’re busy and you got Danny to look after too. That’s a lot for one guy, especially with school and you working on your emancipation stuff, so I get that you’ve got a lot to do-”

“Rye?”

“And that with all that on your plate shit’s bound to slip through the cracks, and I’m like totally here just imposing on your guys’ friendship business and that’s kind of rude since I’m not a part of it-”

“Rye-” Decky tried again with a small sigh as he saw the boy’s anxiety begin to rev him up, only for the smaller boy to continue bulldozing through his words as he tried to get out what he wanted to say.

“Or even really talked to Poppy without you around before today. Jesus what the fuck am I even doing?” The curly haired boy’s eyes were tracking the flickering fluorescents all the way down the hall instead of meeting the gaze of the person in front of him. How stupid was he being, trying to be mister fix-it for these two people that have probably known each other since kindergarten. Was he really trying to look Decky in the eye and tell him he had to step up as a friend to the person on the Shomer’s couch when Rye couldn’t even stop his own from trying to leave this ever turning earth? “Fuck it, forget I said anything-”

“Gavrie-” Decky tried for a final time, using his thumb and forefinger to apply pressure to his brow and stave off the ramble-induced headache.

“I’m just being stupid and feeling all emotional from the movie, I shouldn’t have said anything and I shouldn’t hav- mmph! The other boy pushed him back against his apartment door, finally stopping the self-deprecation falling from Rye’s lips by sealing them with his own and stealing the breath needed to say such things out loud. So starts Decky’s ritual of calming the anxious boy down before he rambles his way into an anxiety attack. The other boy’s eyes widened and then fell shut as his mind caught up with what was happening, the hands that had been flailing around pre-shove had found purchase on Decky’s chest as he felt the damp fabric that covered the taller boy’s overheated skin. Decky repositioned one of them to settle over his heart, and Rye felt himself leveling out as he felt a calm heartbeat and was led through his breathing by sharing another’s. He tried to follow the other boy’s lips as he retreated but Decky kept his own hand planted firmly over Rye’s rapidly beating chest, holding the boy against the door and keeping him grounded.

“Ya talk too much, Shomer,” The captain of the Carlisle crew finally said, removing his hand once he felt the other’s heartbeat finally level out.

“Sor-” The apology was cut off by a second kiss, more aggressive as Decky grasped the back of his neck and squeezed a bit in warning before pulling back again, keeping his hand on Rye’s neck.

“Apologize too much, too,” Decky rumbled lowly at the other boy, smirking as he saw the anxiety finally begin to cede in the curly haired boy’s dark brown eyes. They were only a few shades off from Decky’s, more of a warm oak than his own deep mahogany, but when Decky talked to him like this they practically darkened until it was like looking into a mirror. A funhouse mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

“Don’t act like you like coming here for all my mishegaas,” Rye whispered with a roll of his eyes, tilting his head back against the door to stare up at Decky. “I never even got to the point.”

“Then get ta it,” Decky replied, going to shrug before Rye’s glare and hand on his shoulder stopped him, reminding him of his injured ribs. “I’m fine, I’m on so many pain killers right now I can’t even really feel ‘em.”

“That doesn’t exactly sound safe, Decky,” Rye responded with a frown, the worry deepening when he realized the hand Decky had against his apartment’s door frame was also there to keep him propped up.

“Oy fuckin’ vey Rye,” Decky groaned, dropping his head down onto the shorter boy’s shoulder and slump against him. Instead of buckling under the weight, Rye held him up steadily and began fumbling one hand back for the doorknob, only to pause at his next words. “Stop stallin’ and get ta what ya wanted ta talk ta me about so I can get Poppy home and get back ta work.”

“You need to fucking sleep,” Rye grumbled with a hint of irritation in his tone. “And fine, but after this you have to come in and let me check your bandages, deal?”

“Deal.”

“You need to pay more attention to your friends, or at the very least Poppy,” Rye said over Decky’s shoulder, the other still not having moved from his lean against his anxiety-ridden friend. He could feel the injured boy’s brow furrowing against his shoulder and soldiered on to his reasoning. “She thinks you guys are all moving on from here. You, Jade, Charlie, she said the first time you guys had all hung out together in a while was on Max’s anniversary,” He felt the serpent tense but now he was on the roll he needed to be on, and Decky could feel comfortable expressing his emotions safely into Rye’s shoulder as he processed them. “I get that people get busy, and that finding Max was traumatic for all of you, but you have to realize she needs you more than just the day of her anniversary, right? Like she will never have her sister to turn to again and now in her mind all of her friends are also falling from her grasp, only paying attention to her when it’s required. And that fucking sucks. No one wants to feel like that, dude.”

“She’s-”

“Terrified that the three of you are going to die like her sister did, and obviously none of you have done enough to assuage that-”

“‘Assuage’, huh, pullin’ out the big-”

To assuage that worry,” Rye continued dutifully. “I’m just saying you need to carve like twenty minutes out of your schedule to watch an episode of something with her, show her that you’re always thinking about her even when she’s not around. Pass out on her bed every once in a while. Send a fucking text to check up on her eveery day, I don’t know man. You don’t have to change all at once Decks, just- something’s gotta change soon before her worries end up a reality.”

“...I hear ya, Rye,” Decky replied after a solid thirty seconds of nothing but their breathing between them. “Thanks.”

“That wasn’t exactly the well thought out response I wanted from you.”

“Sorry,” the other replied, his weight suddenly increasing on the smaller boy who wisely doubled his effort to get his door open. “Tired.”

“Jesus Christ you were supposed to be picking her up,” Rye huffed, finally succeeding in getting his door open and dragging the darker haired boy in after him. With little option left as he got heavier and heavier in Rye’s arms, the boy that was meant to be the comic relief took him to the couch and every so softly led the both of them down into the cushion Rye had vacated fifteen minutes before. With Decky now in Rye’s previous position already passed out against Poppy and his arm still wrapped around Rye’s shoulder, the final teen in the apartment was forced to join in on the rest and pass out on Decky’s shoulder. His last yawned words to fall on deaf ears were, “I’m still changin’ your band’ges b’fore you leave…”

And thus, the true first meeting of the Baggy Eyed Bed Heads club took place, with each of its members completely passed out with no chance of waking aunty time soon.

When Avigail arrived home from her shift at Sinclair Health at one in the morning, the last thing she expected was the group all asleep and cuddling on her couch. With a warm smile on her face, she set her purse and keys down before heading over to the closet, grabbing pillows and blankets from the hall closet and gently situating each teen into the most comfortable position with pillows beneath them and blankets laid across them as fully as possible. She kissed her son’s forehead, running her hand over his curls before heading to her bedroom with her phone, pulling up Hector’s contact.

She had some calls to make so no one worried about their children.

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by metanoia
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metanoia ⭕ Revel in what you are

Member Seen 8 hrs ago

TIMESTAMP — Monday July 19, 2021 — After Meeting the Stargirl
Ft. Mordechai Boaz & Jade Taylor


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After a small smile and a congratulatory pat on his cheek, Poppy had expressed interest in further exploring Aponi and the artwork throughout it. While the taller two of the group watched their friend as she began to wander, the smaller was already halfway down the nearest wall, gazing up at the bits of culture and history that made up most of the longhouse’s fixtures. Feeling comfortable enough with the fact that they could still see her- and after ReyRey’s threat he really didn’t want her going too far- Mordechai turned his gaze to Jade and tilted his head.

“Sorry for disappearin’ but I had ta have a chat with R2. We gotta stay away from him ‘til we leave, by the way.”

Jade sighed in acknowledgement. This was the last place she’d ever expect Rey Rey to be, but perhaps that was her own fault for not being as close to the Kingsnake as some others were - like Key. “Gotta say, Key, I had a lot of things on my bingo board. Rocking babes at a reservation wasn't one but I liked that surprise, but R2?” Another sigh as she looked at Key. The Blonde Angel Princess didn’t want to focus on R2, but he did cast quite the large shadow that had literally loomed over the four of them. “So we stay away from him. It’s not that hard. Big place this reservation. I’m sure he’s here for his own reasons and we got ours.”

Jade immediately flashed back to that night nearly six years ago. When she was outside as she heard Charlie’s screams as R2 wailed on him. The memory alone was enough to make the blonde’s entire body go cold, chills running from the top of her spine to her lean shins. “What about her?” Jade asked as she leaned closer to Key, her voice as low as she could make it while he could still hear her clearly. “Is it safe for us to find his sister with R2 hovering someplace?” She asked, the change in Jade’s demeanor clear as her hair among a crowd of dark-haired residents.

"It's fine," Mordechai reassured, leaning closer in order to make the conversation a bit more private. "He doesn't want anythin' ta do with it. I dunno, the way he was talkin' he doesn't give a shit what we do so long as we don't get in his way here."

The man that Mordechai had expected to talk to and the one he'd got had been drastically different. While he was expecting the same unhinged rage he remembered from over a month ago, instead ReyRey looked almost tired. Even his rageful threat seemed to be covering up for an exhaustion the man would only be willing to release once Mordechai turned his back. He wasn't sure what his leader had been up to since their last encounter, but it seemed like his ghosts were weighing him down slowly, just as Mordechai's had until recently. Just like everyone's had until they started truly confronting them.

"I don't…I don't think he wants ta be a snake here, I don't think he wants Edenridge here."

“I can’t say I blame him,” Jade admitted, finding herself agreeing. If everyone else wished they could forget about pain, forget about what forever tied them to Edenridge (for better or worse), what must R2 think and feel? Jade wasn’t especially close to him. She couldn’t go to R2 and ask him anything or have nightly talks about lost dreams and hopes for the future - not that R2 ever seemed like the wanderlust type. She was forever grateful to him for giving her a job when her Uncle Charlie was sent to prison and she wanted to do something outside of the club.

As she looked around. Even at face value, this seemed like a place untouched by Edenridge’s curse and how it can bring down even the most brightest of souls. “I won’t lie, Key. This place feels different. I can’t explain it, but it’s like it can heal you and make you see a lot more clearly than you normally would.” She smiled thoughtfully, giving Key her full attention. “I don’t know R2 like you do, but maybe that’s why.” She shrugged. Clearly Jade wasn’t entirely confident in her theory. For her, she knew ever since coming here and, especially after her cathartic conversation with Natalia, something about her has felt different.

“There always was somethin’ about bein’ outside of Edenridge,” Mordechai admitted to his old friend. “I dunno, maybe it’s because I came here as a kid that I feel safer here, but bein’ in Brownsville was weird because no one knew me. There’s somethin’ about not being in the center of the shitstorm that really helps with the clarity.”

“Yeah, that’s true. Wish I knew what it was like.” Jade frowned thinking about how she’s never been outside of Edenridge -- at least not for a prolonged amount of time. Only briefly when she’d visit her uncle in Boston at the prison, but never like how Key or, really, anyone she could think of. “Well, I guess the Angels clubhouse is kind of like that for me. They’re family, so i always feel safe there. But I guess it’s not the same, huh?” The blonde laughed, looking around for a second and then back to Key. “What was it like here for you? I mean, when you were younger? Or were you too young to remember that far back?”

“Nah, I didn’t meet Auntie Adora until I joined the serpents, so the first time I met her I was ten,” Mordechai frowned, eyebrows drawing together as he tried to recall the exact timing. “It was…some overlap between a national holiday and Blue Hill’s fall harvest, I think. I just remember the Kraeters and Britesons tossin’ me ‘n’ Danny in the back’a their car with Creed ‘n’ Jokes grinnin’ all stupid,” He lovingly rolled his eyes at the faded memory, not much more than everyone’s smiles still visible on his trip down memory lane. Of the eight people cramped into that station wagon on the Boaz brothers’ first trip to Blue Hill, only four of them were still alive today. The Briteson and Kraeters lost fifty percent of their family in one tragic day, and years later in the cafeteria of Edenridge High, Mordechai truly learned what that had felt like. “Adora’s only seven years older than me, but she looked at me and Danny that day and just took us in. It was the same feelin’ as when, uh…well, did I ever tell ya ‘bout the night Sonny and I first joined the serpents?”

Jade shook her head. “No but now I have to know.” All of Jade’s attention was Key’s now. For as long as she had known Key and, really, the rest of his crew, she couldn’t recall how most of them came to join.

“It didn’t start out great,” Mordechai warned, shrugging his shoulders and feeling the fabric of his shirt catching slightly on his scar. Vaguely, he waved his right hand over his left chest and collarbone. “It was the night I got this, another fun evenin’ with bored parents. I’d been tryin’a stop my coked out dad from beatin’ Danny, but it just turned them both on me. They made Danny watch the beatin’ ‘til he passed out then they locked him in our room and went at me with the cigs. They threw me outta the house and locked the doors once they were done, and Sunshine’s parents had a good go at him and kicked him out too. He picked me up and dragged me ta the corner where R2 welcomed us in and said he’d make it official the next day. He tried ta have us bunk for the night but we had ta stay back for Danny,” Mordechai laughed dryly, scratching the back of his neck as he looked his friend in the eye, well aware he never truly spoke of the things his parents did to him and Danny. They all knew where his scars had come from, whether he ever told them or not, so he just never brought it up and neither did they.

“So we go ta head back ta my house, and we’re gonna be sleepin’ under me and Danny’s window, right? Thunder and Slick, Jokes’ parents, give us their beanies and basically tell us they know what we’re gonna be doin’ and ta try and stay warm. We pass out as expected but when we wake up it’s all warm and soft. They’d picked us up after we passed out and took us ta their house on Olive. Kam stoked the fire and they’d built a nest on the floor for us ta sleep in. Jokes and Creed were asleep on the outsides, me and Sonny boxed in by ‘em, and in between us was Danny. Slick and Intel had broken into our room from the window and grabbed him when they grabbed us,” He was actually grinning at the memory now, remembering the warm feeling of safety for the first time ever as a child. At the time, aside from Rhonda Decker and the James parents, Mordechai didn’t even have any adults that he felt were trustworthy, so to have four of them suddenly around and with knowledge of their needs was weird to say the least. “Y’know when ya feel warm, but you’re still worried it’s all fake? Creed and Jokes’ family is so good at bein’ kind that it left my head spinnin’.”

Listening to everything that Key was saying, she couldn’t help but feel…something warm inside her. Was it Blue Hill? Was it their bond standing the test of time that she can still feel like she’s getting to know him more and more even after all these years? The blonde Harlot didn’t know. It was so clear that Key had lived such an awful life. She had known snippets, but never the full story. Both of them came from broken homes and found themselves into better situations. She had deadbeat parents and was taken in by her uncle and Key found himself in others’ care. They were more than just two gearhead-leaning kindred spirits - they were broken souls from broken homes who made it out.

Jade didn’t want his willingness to let her in go unappreciated. That’s when the blonde brought Key into a tight hug. No words. No warning. She just hugged him. It was awkward because she trapped his arms in hers and she squeezed as tight as she could. “I love you, Key. Don’t you ever forget that.” She lingered in that embrace until a few moments passed, but her hands were on his shoulders, gently yet firmly pressing on each one. “I mean it. I know..I have a lot to make up for. I wasn’t a good friend to you or Pops or anyone. I didn’t let anyone know what was going through my head, but that’s all changing. I promise, you are my family: you, Pops, Tov, Ran, Chase -- all of you are my heart.” God, why did her face feel so hot? Why did it feel like her heart was about to explode? And why did it feel cool all of a sudden. Her eyes felt watery and it dawned on her that she was crying.

“Hey hey,” Mordechai attempted to soothe, much more surprised by the tears than the hug he got from his childhood friend. He didn’t mean to cause a breakdown in his friend, and he felt kind of bad that her dark makeup was now streaking down her face like a grim clown. “We’ve all got our lives to live, Harley Head, I already told ya that I got no ill will towards ya. And hey, I love ya too,” he initiated the hug this time now that his arms were free, holding the platinum blonde tight and rocking lightly in place like he did when he comforted his kids. “I know it’s a lotta shit ta hear, and sorry for unloadin’ it on ya all at once, but it was really just for background so I could lead up ta how Blue Hill felt when I was younger. I couldn’t really answer your question outright since I couldn’t really describe the feelin’, y’know?”

He took the moment of pause as she cried to look around them and see where Poppy had gotten off to. He clocked her exactly where she said she would be, looking at the artwork, but he was surprised to see her immersed in a conversation with a tall man Mordechai vaguely remembered as Chief Coldwind. He was a good man that Mordechai had met a few times in his adolescence, and the snake hoped the two of them had good words for each other. Poppy needed more positive interactions, especially in a place with so many possible stressors. When he was sure she was fine, he continued his explanation to Jade.

“Blue Hill back then was about me bein’ taught that strangers can be kind and chosen family can be just as strong as blood, if not stronger. The BK fam bringin’ me an’ Danny here was them showin’ us we didn’t have ta have our muscles coiled and ready for somethin’ bad ta happen. I get relaxed here now because back then Adora and everyone was just tryin’a convince me that our safety at the time was real and not some sick game. Bein’ here helps unfuck my head, but it’s also hard ‘cause what I remember is actin’ like a caged animal the first few times we were here,” Feral couldn’t even begin to describe the way he acted every time a stranger on the res smiled and him or Danny, or tried to get close to converse with Adora or Tama and the rest of the family while they were out walking around. With Danny, Adora and the BK family unit, he had been a ball of misplaced protection instinct and learned aggressive responses against any outside source. Much like Tov and his family worked with TNT on his triggers when he and Conan were first adopted, the whole family and even some of the residents of Blue Hill had done the same with both Mordechai and Danny. Which leads his thoughts to, “It’s also weird… to only have Danny here in spirit. Aside from serpent runs with no hangin’ around, I’ve never been here without him.”

She just wanted to hug him again, but not just for him. She wanted to hug him for her, as well. Jade knew that she and Key had always come from the same cloth. They had broken families and were saved, but to the point that they both had that belief of a false sense of security within themselves. She had obviously felt that way for some time. Not long after her uncle had taken her out of the disaster that was her bio’s house and into a new home, she lost her Aunt Zippo. A woman that Jade looked up to when she was younger.

“I know it can’t be easy. There are days where I think about my Aunt Zippo. Taken from us way too soon. Like Danny was. I sometimes go to the clubhouse -- Fallen Angels Clubhouse, I mean -- to be closer to her. My Uncle Charlie told me a few stories about how it was just him, Zippo, and Uncle Demo, they used to piss off my grandpa so much by sneaking into his office and just blasting as much Nirvana as they could as loud as they could.” She laughed too hard at that thought. “It’s a tradition I do to this day. It makes me feel closer to her. It’s painful, but I think a little pain isn’t a bad thing if it gives you a temporary center.” As she looked at Key, in the back of her mind, she could understand how none of this really made any sense. “What I’m getting at is, maybe before we leave, if there is a place at this Reservation that you and Danny enjoyed going to, that could maybe help. And if you want to, perhaps you, me and Pops could all go together if she’s okay to.”If it was a long shot, Jade understood why. No matter how many gains she’s had within herself and with Key, she knew she had a lot of explaining to do to Pops and had a long road to recovery with her soul sister.

“Zippo was good people,” Mordechai offered with a sad smile, now thinking of yet another good adult that was taken away from the kids they loved while his parents were still back at their shitty little house, perfectly happy with the lack of children they now had. He’d only been a serpent for about three months at the time, and he remembers Jade not coming around for at least two weeks when Fiona Dawson died, the only time anyone saw her during that was at the funeral and even then she quickly disappeared after the casket was lowered. He had been the only one to find her at the time, up in one of the large trees far away from the condolences that broke more than it healed for people like them. It hadn’t been the first time he and Jade smoked a blunt together, but it was the first time that Decky personally offered her something harder. He always has been a bad influence.

“We spent a lot of time wherever Auntie Adora was, honestly, but she did show us this one field of native grassland and wildflowers. No matter the weather, me ‘n’ Danny would spend a whole day out there watchin’ the sky move. Even when it was rainin’ or snowin’, it was just so damn beautiful and like nothin’ we ever got ta see in Eden,” He looked up to the lights of the longhouse as though he could see the sky right through the roof and smiled tightly at the thought of going there without Danny but…for him. And for himself. For the sake of moving on the tiniest fucking bit after two years of emotional stagnation and self sabotage. “I wouldn’t mind goin’ there but… would ya mind comin’ with me ta his grave when we get back? Haven’t been there since the day after Carlisle, and I was blasted out of my mind so I don’t remember much.” He talked to Charlie, he remembers that much. Maybe he’ll have the balls now to do it sober.

The blonde softly smiled at Key. “I’d love that, Key. Very much.” Had she actually visited Little Danny’s grave since he passed? Maybe a few times, but never for prolonged amounts of time. Either she told herself that she was too busy or it was too painful or just excuse after excuse. The truth was, maybe like Key hadn’t because it was clearly too painful, she never allowed herself to do it. But they were both in better places. She was starting to find her purpose again and Key had gotten sober. The time felt right. “I don’t think I’ve been to his grave since the service,” Jade admitted, frowning at the admission alone. “Always had some excuse. Work, my uncle’s trial, but when it comes right down to it, I was just too afraid to go there alone.”

Mordechai tried to hold it in, but the self deprecating laugh made its way passed his lip before he could stop it. “Jade, I skipped outta town before the service even happened, didn’t even give it a full day ta be there for him. So…thanks, for being there when I couldn’t,” He looked into Jade’s eyes and the cloud forming over his head dispersed as he laughed quietly before grabbing a napkin off the bar and gently wiping at her cheeks and under her eyes. “Sorry for makin’ ya mess up your makeup, lemme fix it a bit.”

For the next minute or so, Mordechai was getting the smear marks off of his friend’s face before holding his hand out blindly for the blonde to drop her makeup bag into. He grabbed a wipe out of the pack and began to clear her face in earnest. They’d done coke in enough bathrooms together, and he’d held her hair back while she puked far too many times when they were teens, this was practically ritual for the two of them despite the two years lost between them. Over the course of the next five or so minutes, he blended out the foundation and powder on her face before pulling out her eye products, throwing on a dark shadow before giving her a thick but sharp wing on both sides. He finished her off with her mascara before handing her back the bag and smiling proudly. The whole time, he’d been taking in the silence to process his own words.

Not even a whole day…

“Did they get him buried in time?” He finally asked, forcing himself to keep eye contact. “Phil said he was takin’ care of it when I was gettin’ my motorcycle ta leave but it had already been like twelve hours by then…”

It was something so small, but the memories came flooding back. Those times of doing a line or two in-between periods and having to cover it up with some emergency patching, what Key was doing to wipe away the makeup that became a black mess on her face brought a smile to her face. But there was no blow for them to fill the gaps, no numbing agent of the pain that came with remembering Lil Danny Boaz, yet Jade, for the first time in a long time, felt like she didn’t need it. She had it in her bag back at Adora’s home, but she didn’t have this obsessive desire to run back to it and get it before Natalia came back.

“It was close,” she admitted with a small smile. “Phil and Shale worked overtime to make sure everything was in order. Everyone was. Serpents, Angels, the Phillips-Shomer family, but one of the main people who I can remember being a constant presence was that idiot Mika.” While Jade wasn’t especially close to Mika, she knew Key was. He was one of those people you couldn’t judge by looking at him. He looked like a dick and sometimes he proved that he was, but Jade remembered how much he kept it together during it, was a rock for those who needed a pillar to lean on. Was he close to Danny too? Jade had to assume so. With all of the support he provided, Jade knew that it hit him pretty hard.

“That’s…I’m really glad ta hear that,” Mordechai admitted, doing his best to just be happy that Danny had so many people there for him instead of thinking about how he as the one who should have been there most, wasn’t. “Badger steppin’ up tracks too, I’m surprised he didn’t ream me out for leavin’ him with the family work when he found me and Legs in New York.”

She fell silent for a couple of moments. All this time she had given him shit for being too cocky for his own good, only ever giving him the benefit of the doubt out of respect for Key,. For him to be the one who went out of his way to find Key in NYC, even she had to admit that put him in a new light. “Well, that I didn’t know.” She laughed, more so because she had a similar experience with him. “Did I ever tell you that he reached out to me?”

“What, really? Badger showed you his soft side?” Mordechai laughed with her. Mika left a lot out when he came to visit in New York, it seemed. He was proud of his friend and brother for all the stepping up to the plate that he never took credit for. He would need to sit him down private soon so they can have a genuine conversation about Mika’s role in working on the aftermath of Danny’s death. He needed to thank him, but more importantly he needed to know if Mika had any grievances about the time that he never got to air while he was busy being a pillar of support. “That’s a rare fuckin’ gem, Harls.”

She nodded, laughing some more. “We should totally throw him a party sometime. Make a theme of it. We can call it ‘How the Honey Badger became a Honey Bear!” The image of Mika’s irate face during this hypothetical had actually made Jade burst into laughter even harder to the point where it felt like she was going to explode. “I bet Ley would just love it too. She always did enjoy getting a rise out of him!” God, now this made her want to make this hypothetical into a reality.

“Oh, we can absolutely get Legs in on this,” Mordechai schemed, taking every moment that she laughed to burn that bright smile of hers into his memory. It had been a rare sight when they were kids but it was even rarer now, and he was worried he’d forget what she looked like when she was so happy. “And she can make him go anywhere. I’m honestly fuckin’ terrfied for her and Ley ta meet, because that is way too much bad bitch energy in one room,” He shivered dramatically before laughing again. “But if we have the kids too, he won’t do shit. I mean, he may go after me and toss me around a bit to get his frustration out, but he’ll sit at that fuckin’ party all day if we put Viva or Chai on his lap.”

“You serious? The great Honey Badger of the Southside has a soft spot for kids?” As if Jade had any room to speak. She practically melted when she held Chai this morning. Little kid would break any and all hearts and Jade would help him acquire the tools to do so - respectfully, of course. And the thought of Ley and Legs? How could Jade not get turned on by that thought. Both were hot as fuck and Jade knew that would make any fantasy any pig could come up with pale in comparison. “Okay, we are so doing this. I’m sure the Angels wouldn’t mind if we hosted it at the clubhouse.” As that thought remained for a few more moments, Jade somewhat-absentmindedly looked around. Not that she was in any rush, but she hadn’t seen half of their quartet for a while. She hoped everything was okay.

“A soft spot a mile wide, even, so much that he’s Viva and Chai’s Godfather” Mordechai confided. “Me and Legs had ta look up what the fuck that really meant becuase Jews don’t have those but we surprised him with it when Chai was born, just a little before I fell back into bad habits again. Shit, I had been sober most of Leg’s pregnancy but…” But it was rough at the end, with Mordechai’s mood taking a turn with Chai being born on Danny’s birthday and then the shooting’s anniversary came around. Taking a note from his serpent days, Mordechai had ruthlessly pushed his grief down to take care of Allegra and the kids while she recuperated and they navigated being co-parents, making it through the next three weeks on their friendship and determination alone. But then the damn finally broke and he was back on a bender, coming back to his small family whenever he was clean enough to. As he opened his mouth to continue, something caught his eye. “It’s whatever, just makes me realize we got a shitton more ta catch up on and no time ta do it.”

The door to the bathrooms had opened and out came Natalia with none other than Mitena following closer behind. Mordechai leaned back from Jade so Poppy could see him from where she was and he waved her down to return to them.

“Now that we decided ta be stupid and emotionally vulnerable right before meetin’ Hard Times’ sister,” He spoke up, watching the other three people converge on the two of them. “Ya ready for this shit Harley Head?”

For the first time during this trip, the Angel Princess really did feel like she was. “As ready as I’ll ever be, Key.” Famous last words if she ever heard ‘em.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by BrutalBx
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BrutalBx

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TW: Hit & Run
End of Day 1: Timeskip post

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Well the Southside lead had been a bust.

There were really two major issues with the core of this case being David O’Hara.

One was the fact that a lot of people had done to Davey what they eventually did to Charlie Decker; they had erased him. They had cut him from photos, torn out pages from books where his name was written. Anything they could possibly do to make it so that John and Lizette’s oldest child ceases to exist in the hearts and minds of Edenridge, they could and would do it.

The second was that those that did want to remember, those that did want to help, had nothing they could offer. Clay had spent the entire day and night talking to parents, old friends, former girlfriends, he even spoke to some people in Pinehurst and still, nothing substantial that he could use. Even Clayton’s own memory was failing him. He tried and tried to think back, to see if there was another clue he had missed that he might’ve seen or heard. Something, anything that could help him find out what really happened to his best friend. He wasn’t going to give up though, he couldn’t. He had promised Jamie.

David and Jamie had just always been in Clay’s life. He couldn’t remember a time up until the day that David died that they weren’t. He remembered how cute the town thought it was that there were two sets of twins on Scott Street at the same time. He remembered all the old gossiping ladies salivating at the potential that David and Lamb might be a couple and that Clay and Jamie could be too, especially considering how close they were and would become. He remembered Duke’s first basketball game and he relented Jamie’s first breakdown. They were more than friends, they were more than Elite, they were family. He had to do this for them.

It seemed like the storm was at its apex now. The wind was furious, the rain was hitting the ground harder than a punch from Tyson and the thunder and lightning flashes were near constant. Why on Earth was God's favourite idiot still out in it? There was very little chance at this point Clay was going to make it home that night. He tried to think of whether he knew anyone on the Southside where he could stay until the morning. The reality of the situation though was that anyone he could stay with was someone he shouldn’t stay with due to a very specific type of history and he wasn’t going to put Cat through that. Clayton just wanted to be with her but at least he knew she was safe.

He wondered if he could chance a run to the Afterlife? It wasn’t that far from Southie. He was stuck on Terrace Place but he could make a dash through the woods to Lyon and then it was a straight shot to the former St Paul’s Cathedral. He knew Lamby was there considering he had interviewed her not too long ago in the evening. He knew at least then that he had some company to wait out the storm with and well…. he could spend some time with her. This whole situation of dredging up old memories had really gotten under Clay’s skin. Whispered thoughts from faces from his past had gotten him to really think about and take stock of his life and where he was in it. Laura was his twin; they were born two minutes apart. They were raised together and they were raised well; things should be better between them.

“Fuck it,” Clay wiped away some of the rain from his face as he shot off into the woods. The trees were a good shelter for the most part but the ground was soaked right through to the roots. Anyone looking at the scene unfold would think this was the beginning of a douchey Halloween horror movie where the preppy rich boy gets gutted by the psycho clown that was secretly his girlfriend's sister the entire time. Edenridge had too many horror stories and Clayton didn’t want to end up being one of them. Luckily for the police officer, he had grown up in that wood and pretty much knew it like the back of his hand. Clay remembered playing with David and Jamie, camping out and building forts. He had taken so many girls to a certain make out spot that it wasn’t even funny how many of the trees had his initials in them. Clay Costigan; fool for love.

Emerging onto the corner of Lyon and Carlisle, the former basketball star was really starting to struggle to see through the rain. It was eerie how the sun had been shining over Edenridge town when he finished his late shift earlier that day, when he bumped into Jamie and this whole maelstrom of horror began. As if it mirrored his own sanity, the weather transformed as the day went on; the sun replaced by black clouds, followed by a light drizzle that evolved into a hurricane. Amongst it all, standing on the edge of town, Clay with three pieces of a five piece puzzle.

In the distance, a lone car came towards him from down Lyon. ”What’s this prick doing?” He muttered through the drops of rain filling his mouth. Besides interrogating half of his childhood friends, Clay had also spent the day trying to keep people off the roads. The irony that he now stood on the side of one looking like a drowned rat was not lost on him. He was still in his uniform and had his badge so stopping this guy should be a piece of cake. Reaching into his back pocket, Clayton took out his gold shield and began flashing the torch in his shoulder, signaling for the car to pull over. ”PLEASE PULL OVER THE VEHICLE!” He called out through the wind, hoping that the driver would take note.

The car turned on its indicator and drifted off to the side, pulling up just in front of Clay. There was a moment of silence as the young officer tried to peer into the driving seat but could not see anything through tinted windows and rain soaked eyes. He couldn’t see the licence plate but recognised the model. ”I’M GOING TO APPROACH THE DRIVER WINDOW! KEEP YOUR HANDS ON THE STEERING WHEEL!" Clay had no intention of arresting this lesson so he didn’t draw his gun. He simply wanted to warn them of washed out roads ahead and that they might need to seek shelter back Pinehurst way. He brushed a hand through his hair to get rid of the hair blocking his vision as he got to the door. He rapped on the window and waited for the driver to bring it down.

Without warning, the door pushed open as Clay leaned forward, hitting him with force square in the head. Stumbling back, he tried to correct himself only to be tackled into the centre of the drowning road. The ferocious downpour of fists completely took him by surprise that he could barely defend himself and the sheer volume prevented him from opening his eyes to get a good look at the person assaulting him. Unable to use his eyes, Clay tore the torch off of his shoulder and used it as a hammer, cracking the assailant in the side of the head. Rolling onto his stomach, blood pouring from beneath his hair and under his left eye, the Foundling glanced to his side to see a very large and tall male. He tried to absorb the details of the man but between the blood, swelling and rain, Clay couldn’t make anything defining out about the attacker.

Before he could react again, the shadow man took another run, leaping to his feet he penalty kicked Clay right in the face: knocking him down to the ground once more. He used his size to pin Clay to the floor and began to throttle him, squeezing his hands around the police officer's throat. In that moment, a thousand things sailed through Clayton’s mind. He thought of Cat, Laura, his parents, David and Jamie. He thought of the life he had led up to that moment and just how much business he hadn’t finished yet. This was everything that everyone had always warned him about. The life of a cop. He wasn’t going out like this, not a chance. With as much might as he could muster, the Scott Street boy flung his knee up, hitting the shadow in the stomach and causing him to let go. He fell upwards to his feet and took off back towards his car.

Clay dragged himself to his feet, coughing and spluttering as the headlights illuminated him. He didn’t even feel it when the car struck him. As if floating in mid air, time slowed down. He knew that if he struck his head then that would be game over. He tucked his chin against his chest as he slid over the roof of the car and off the trunk, hitting the ground spine first whilst the suspect vehicle sped off towards Edenridge.

Face down on the ground, barely conscious with water filling his mouth, Clay tried to pull himself up. His eyes were getting heavy, in the distance a light coming towards him fast and a woman’s voice.

He didn’t want to go yet.

He wasn’t done.

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by metanoia
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metanoia ⭕ Revel in what you are

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@metanoia @LovelyComplex @BrutalBx
TIMESTAMP — Day Two: Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Morning || After Maelstorm
FTMarco Brady, Sofia Belmonte, Caterina Belmonte, and Dexter Silo


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When her mom picked her up from Grandpa’s, Sofia knew her life was over. This would be the day she died. Cat was fuming from the inside out. Instead of raising her voice, she teethed for her mini me to get in the car and on their way to Godmother’s they went. Cat was running late and it looked like her mother didn’t sleep well. Sofia wanted to ask her if she was doing alright, but she knew better. This was not the time to talk.

The car ride was mostly silent. Unsettling so. Sofi couldn’t tell if it was because her mother was too angry to articulate words or if there was something more to the raging storm building inside of her. As much as her mother wanted to hide what she was going through, Sofi watched her through her worst years and could tell, whatever her mother was thinking about was worrying her and that Sofia, as frustrating as it was to find out her daughter lied about her whereabouts, was a needed distraction. Still, Sofia knew better. Until her mother talked, she would not say a word. When they parked in front of the sandwich shop, her mother made her decree. The consequences of her actions were as follows. Sofia was grounded for a month, which meant no phone, no laptop, and no friends, and she had to work. Work at the Godmother’s.

In that moment, Sofia realized the rest of her summer, or most of it, would be her cooped in the house or at this place here, working for her mother. This also meant she wouldn’t be able to hangout with Ricky or Aiden, which royally sucked. Her life was truly over just because she didn’t want to go to New York with her lame ass dad. Fucking dumb. When they entered the shop, her mother hid her seething anger with a smile as she handed her belongings to her daughter to put in the office and started to open the store, letting in two of her employees that had been waiting for her arrival.

Placing her mother’s purse on her desk, Sofia raised an eyebrow when she noticed a study guide and a few books focusing on criminal justice, history of law enforcement, and a police exam book. Her mother wanted to become a cop? Her curious spirit getting the best of her, Sofia started going through the things on top of her mother’s desk until she found a tiny ornate anchor keychain with C.S.C. engraved on it. Looking around her making sure no one was watching, Sofi was quick to pocket it. Jumping back from her hunching over position, the athletic teen darted to the door where her mother was calling her name. Scurrying out, Sofi speedily responded, “Coming, coming!”

“Did you get lost?” Cat sharply asked, containing her agitation as she finished setting up all the registers and went to the front door to unlock the store.

“Sorry, I… dazed a bit. I played games with Danny all night,” Sofia apologetically explained, telling a half truth. “So… you want me over there?”

“Yes, Sofia. You’re going to make sandwiches,” Cat turned away from the door and did one final walk-through. “Marco, she’ll be your assistant for the day,” the boss lady instructed, before going to the aisle of assorted imported sauces, olive oils, vinegar, and seasoning. “I’ll be stocking up over here if you need me,” Cat continued, keeping herself as busy as ever. Something was definitely on her mind.

With Cat out of sight, Sofia deeply sighed and kicked imaginary dirt. Once she was done being dramatic, she put on an apron that was hanging on a hook. Walking beside Marco, she imitated him and put on gloves. Glancing up at Marco then to the many, many sandwich meats then back up at him, Sofia loudly cleared her throat for his attention. “Are you and my uncle fucking?” She bluntly inquired.

There was a rather noticeable gap between when Sofi had cleared her throat to when Marco had registered it in his mind as some sort of very delayed reaction. It wasn’t that Marco was terribly distracted. Sure, part of him was still somewhat traumatized by that game of truth and dare (maybe he was being a little overdramatic about it), but he tried not to think about it. When the coast was clear from the storm, Marco immediately went home and was flooded with a reasonable series of hugs, obscenities, and all sort of expected reactions from his parents. Fast forward a few hours and Marco had made it to work and now Sofi was going to be working, but not just working at the Godmother, but Marco was in charge of her.

And then she came in with the whopper of something that Marco had to do a mental double take. “Sorry what?” He blinked at her and quickly recovered. “No…why? What would give you that idea?” A feeling of panic set in, but he kept it mostly under control as he casually continued to work, some of the meats where they were labeled. In the back of his mind, Marco had this sneaking thought that Sofi thought he was lying. Of course, Marco was lying. Of course he was, but he didn’t want to completely out his boyfriend, especially if he wasn’t ready to let anyone other than Rye know. Truth be told, Marco didn’t care, but he knew more than anyone that things were a lot more complicated on Danny’s end.

He was right.

She knew he was lying.

“You’re not a very good liar, Marco,” Sofia crossed her arms and inquisitively stared up at the man behind the counter with her. She even went the extra step to walk around him like a hawk watching its prey. “If my mom wasn’t so distracted with Anchor Man…” Sofia partly commented, thinking about the evidence in her pocket, which hinted that the rumors on Scott Street were true, her mom had a boyfriend. For a moment, the young Belmonte got lost in thought, getting off track, as she complimented herself, loving the nerdy nickname she bestowed on the mystery man, “…yes, that’s what I’ll call him, Anchor Man.” Rubbing her chin with her latex gloved hand, she gave the smuggest grin. She knew it was only a matter of time before she found out and had the upper hand with her mother. Maybe she wouldn’t be grounded for too long.

Focus, Sofia!

Shaking her early morning squirrel brain, she decided to drop some truth bombs to the victim of the hour, “Anyways! You see, Marco-Polo, I’d like to think one of my gifts is my memory, I’ve been able to reverse uno people all the time because I simply know when I’m right,” she reached for a French baguette and aimed it to the man beside her like a lightsaber, “Another gift of mine? Numbers and dates. Let’s bring it back,” she grabbed another bread and tossed it to Marco, for him to duel her, “Saturday, August 18th, 2018, three days before my aunt Vivia’s bday, our families host their annual bbq. From there, within the course of four months, my uncle goes from 0 funko pops to 96. That’s 6 funko pops a week. 24 a month. All shit he used to know nothing about. Shows, movies, comics, and the like, that could take months to watch just one, like Naruto, especially for my uncle who lived and breathed basketball. Unless!” She raised her baguette in the air before jolting forward to stab Marco, “He had a little motivation,” She whacked Marco’s own bread sword, ready to go at war for her theory, “I’m no engineer but it’s one thing to get into a show because of a friend, it’s another thing to watch several and clutter your room with nerdy shit when you’ve spent most of your life as the jock stereotype. And! This is only me talking about funko pops.”

As much as Marco wanted to deny that none of this held any merit, he couldn’t. He couldn’t because, no matter how much he tried to BS it away as a coincidence, he knew two things were certain: Sofi was smart. She was outrageously and, at this very moment, annoyingly so. And the second was in combination of that exceptionally-annoying awareness she seemed to possess, Marco also never factored in that Danny wasn’t subtle about it. He never thought nothing of it, but this in itself was increasing Marco’s panic whilst he tried so desperately to not let it show on his face and simultaneously trying to best his opponent wielding the French Baguette while he held an italian loaf.

Marco faced a dilemma: admit to the crime or lie himself through it.

In situations he’d ask what his siblings would do. Emil was a good liar and Marcy also a good liar. But they were convincing enough about it. They had the confidence that Marco lacked. That wasn’t to say he was lacking, but lying took a specific breed of confidence and Sofi was right about Marco not being good at it. Still, he just couldn’t out Danny like that, not even when the evidence was pointing to the obvious. “I admit, that’s a good theory--” As he began, Marco stepped forward and thrust his Italian loaf at Sofi’s bread saber. “Not sure if you’re just that naturally observant or you went a little sneaky-sneak. But how does that support the hypothesis that we’re sleeping together?” Marco asked knowing full well that this could come back to bite him in his slightly flabby ass. “Not saying we are or anything, but what about him having so many Funko Pops would make you think that? You remember I used to be an athlete, right? He was too. Who is to say that we didn’t just bond and found a hidden love over some nerdy interests.” Why was he still talking? Marco definitely had a bad habit of doing that: having a good point then letting his mouth keep flapping. Great for someone who is a gamer, not so much for someone trying to deny-deny-deny something that was so clearly true.

“Bro,” Sofia stepped back, dodging a MakAttack, tempted to bite a piece of bread off as she heard her stomach rumble, “The facts I be spittin’ are irrelevant to my theory, I just wanted to make you sweat.” Sofia tossed her bread up flipping it in the air before making a lightsaber sound with her mouth, harnessing the dark side. She was a Sith Lord. “I noticed you two stopped talking a little after your junior prom. I see a lot of shit, amigo. I can’t help it.” The young Jedi was a fool to think she didn’t have more concrete evidence to make her theory a reality.

“Only the past month you two have been somewhat like you used to.” Giving into her desire, Sofia took a bite out of Marco’s Italian loaf as he tried to gently tap her shoulder and chuckled while chewing, “Okay then, how about this. Answer truthfully or forever be labeled a liar. Do you usually call your friends babe? And say you love them and that you're safe during a crazy ass storm? Just saying, my uncle doesn’t lock his phone. He’s kind of an idiot like that.”

There was no way out of it now.

With a deep sigh, Marco half-glared at Sofi. He saw the cheeky expression on her face. An all-too-familiar feeling started to creep itself back into his body. He’d seen the same expression on both his mother’s face and Marcella’s. What an unusually annoying feeling he couldn’t shake. Anytime they both caught him in a lie, a cover-up on his behalf that was poorly done mind you, when they were proven right and Marco had no way out of it and copped to it, there was that same expression. It was worn differently, but Sofi wasn’t a Castillo - she was a Belmonte, but Cat’s daughter, so maybe it was worse? Or maybe the same just in a different shade.

Doing a double take behind him to make sure Cat wasn’t around, Marco returned his almost disappointed gaze on the younger Italian girl. “You really shouldn’t be snooping through people’s phones.” He had all but admitted to the crime. “I’m not going to answer anything without my lawyer present.” Marco was a bad liar (as the jury had seen first hand), but joking about what was true and especially this odd version of an interrogation, was something he was more than capable of doing. He leaned in close. But, if you must know, yes. Marco knew she was smart enough (clearly) to know he didn’t mean her latest question, either.

“Good,” Sofia brushed off Marco’s annoyance like it was something she was used to and softly smiled, “He’s less of an asshole when he’s got you on his mind and I’m just glad to see him not brooding as much, so thank you.” Placing the baguette back in its home, deeming it clean, she turned to Marco, glancing at the Italian bread she already took a big bite out of. Taking Marco’s bread out of his hand because she bit it, and it wasn’t servable anymore, she wrapped it in parchment paper and hid it in a counter drawer for later. The entrance bell to her mom’s shop rang causing her to quickly perk back up.

Curious girl.

Always a curious girl.

Cracking her knuckles, semi-ready to make sandwiches, her eyes fell on this tall, handsome blonde man she hadn’t seen before. He carried himself in a dignified, charismatic, but humble way and he was well dressed. Nothing like the Osprey brand though. Nah, it looked more… Pinehurst, like that news journalist the mayor’s daughter was canoodling with. Or the Monarchs she saw at last year’s party. He must be passing through Edenridge. Shrugging at the newcomer’s presence, she looked up at Marco and inquired, “Does my mom have a loyal customer? And I don’t mean your type of loyal. Is there someone that comes to see her, and just her? Rumor has it, she has a boyfriend already, and I want to know who it is.”

Marco had his attention divided between a few things, but mostly it was what Sofi had been saying about Danny, almost smiling at that. He always knew Danny was rough around the edges and possibly Marco being in his life made him happier. He never knew it for certain, but he knew his life was better and was brighter when he had Danny in his, so he had always hoped that it was a two-way street.

“That’s…nice--” Interrupted mid-thought, Marco was saved by the bell. Literally.

His blue eyes were naturally drawn to the sound and he saw someone he hadn’t seen come through the doors of Godmother and that was saying something. As popular as Godmother was, Marco liked to think he had seen all the regulars come in and this older man, well this was a new face. He made a note of the older features and the hair. Almost as radiant as Marco’s old personality used to be. But he looked different than what Marco had seen from Edenites, but he couldn’t place it.

“Sorry, Sofi, we can’t talk about this now--” Marco could just hear the expression on her face, but he had to show some responsibility, no matter how much the mystery of Cat’s potential new boyfriend interested him. “Welcome to the Godmother, home of many yummy sandwiches! May I take your order?” Marco stated with a bright smile to the older blonde man. Honestly, he had been wanting to try that one for some time now. A bit inspired by one of his favorite movies growing up, Good Burger. Hopefully Cat will allow him to say it from here on out.

“Hello there,” The man spoke softly, his voice like melted butter, there was a slight gravel but it was smooth. His dirty blonde hair was combed perfectly into a business-like swish and his three-piece navy suit clung to his obviously fit body in all the right places. With one hand in his pocket, he scratched his stubbled chin with the other before resting it onto the counter before the two workers. Water coloured eyes fell upon the young Sofi, taking her in as if gazing upon a solid memory before they drifted to Marco. “I’m hoping you can help. I’d like to get a cracked black pepper pastrami sub on an Italian loaf, with gherkins, some grated parmesan cheese and a whole lotta mustard, if you would be so kind?” The customer's eyes drifted back to Sofia. “And if at all possible, I would like to speak to the owner of this place. I’m an old friend.”

Cat’s attention was ripped from the shelf she had placed a pack of Cassini Taggiasca olive oil on. There was a moment she stared at the assortment of Italian goods, frozen in place. Was she hearing things? Or was her mind playing tricks? She had been so caught up in her worry for Clay, he hadn’t texted her goodnight or good morning, that she wasn’t paying attention to who was coming and going from her shop. Not only was the voice familiar but the order was too. Snapping out of her stupor, she sauntered to the end of the aisle. Instead of revealing herself, she peaked to see if her suspicions were right.

Fucking Christ.

From a sinking heart to a sudden spike of anger, like a pot almost about to boil over, Cat swiftly pulled herself back into the aisle and tried to gather herself. She had to be professional. Sofia mustn’t know too much of the person she was about to make a sandwich for. Professional and mature. Inhaling and exhaling, Cat tried her best to give a marketable smile and came out of hiding, only for salt to immediately come out of her mouth, “A friend is someone that keeps in touch. We haven’t talked in years, Dexter.” Going behind the counter with her daughter and employee, she glared at the man waiting to be served and crossed her arms, “What brings you to Eden, anyway?”

“Apologies,” The man now identified as Dexter raised his hands. “You’re right. I guess I deserve that.” His eyes locked onto Cat before he placed both of his hands into his pockets. “It is good to see you Caterina, you’re as beautiful as ever.” She truly was still as youthful and as stunning as she had been all those years ago. The brunette had aged like the finest wines of her family homeland and Dex couldn’t help but wonder if she tasted better too. Compartmentalizing those thoughts for the present moment, the newcomer remembered the pouty look she had on her face very well. “A few things,” He began. “Business mostly but then also some personal stuff.”

Cat could feel her daughter’s gaze on her, that uncontainable curiosity she had behind those sharp, clever eyes. She knew there would be questions later. There were always questions. Unfortunately, to smile for this asshole was incredibly hard. She hated Dexter Silo. He broke her fucking heart. “Outside,” She demanded as she gestured for her ex to follow her to one of her outdoor tables. “Marco, bring his sandwich when you’re done. It’s on me. Y’know, for an old friend.” At that point, her fiery green eyes were glued to Dex’s impassive gaze. Her expression said it all. Caterina Belmonte was absolutely livid. She had the eyes of a tiger, protective of her territory and her baby. He couldn’t be trusted. Not one bit and she was determined to get to the bottom of this, and make sure he does not, and will not come back to her place of business, and ideally home. What the hell did he want?

Dexter nodded in compliance with Cat’s demands. She was always one to get what she wanted and when they were kids, he didn’t exactly mind because usually what she wanted matched up with his own desires. The blonde man turned to look at the youngsters at the bar top and nodded his head. “It was a pleasure to meet you both.” Those Damn eyes fell upon Sofi’s once again and he smiled. “Hopefully I’ll be seeing you again. Take care guys,” He waved pleasantly before making his way towards the door as directed by Cat.

When they left, Sofia gave a melodic whistle to clear the air, “You could cut that shit with a knife. Never thought I’d see the day I’d get to meet one of my mom’s exes. This is a first!” The evidence was obvious. Her mother carried herself like a woman who was afraid to get hurt again. Her mother didn’t act like that in front of many people. If anything, the only other person who got that treatment was her father. Sofia knew this man meant something to her mother. So much so that only venom came out of her lips. He hurt her. He hurt her bad.

“You can say that again…” In all honesty, Marco felt awkward during the whole exchange. He wanted to say something, but like Sofi had aptly pointed out, it was tense. So tense that his stomach tightened up to the point that he was frozen where he stood, watching and forced to do so silently, taking a few long moments to shake himself back into gear so he could make the sandwich. Whoever that Dexter was, there was something about him Marco didn’t like.


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LovelyComplex

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Timestamp: Present day, Sunrise
FT: Penelope James, & Mordechai Boaz


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Hair floating upward, hand reaching toward the sunlight that got further and further away, and panic, an indescribable amount of fear and panic, that’s what it felt like to drown. Penelope James knew how drowning felt because the summer after her sister died she almost died herself. She wasn’t trying to commit suicide or anything. She just wanted to see if grief felt similar. If losing a piece of you, someone you gave so much of your heart to, felt like drowning. She needed to know.

She remembered that day clearly. Charlie, Mordechai, Jade, little Danny, his friends, like Zion, Topanga, and Conan, all decided to enjoy the sun and lake. It was one of the last good memories she had with her friends, before they let their demons take control of their lives. Everyone had gotten out of the water to make sandwiches and dry in the sun. Everyone except Poppy.

Poppy wasn’t scared of a little water over her head. She could recall pushing her body down deep enough to where she couldn’t hear the music and chatter from the lake-side where everyone else was. Her hair rose like seaweed, upwards, and the silence became a comforting blanket to her. The water at least in this moment was exactly what she wanted. Isolation and the noise, all that noise, no longer bothering her.

Drowning was quiet, movements ever so subtle. Rarely were they like the movies. One minute Poppy’s head was bobbing above the water, the next… she was gone. When she realized she had stayed down too long, knowing everyone else would see she was missing, with the little energy she had, Poppy tried to swim back up. She didn’t have any fight left in her, but she couldn’t let this be her goodbye. She promised Max she’d live a life for the both of them. She promised Max. She promised.

Unfortunately, Poppy waited too long. She could see all the people that meant the world to her, like they were the oxygen she breathed, and this feeling, this feeling was torturous. Overwhelmed with the sensation of this immense despair, this impending doom just around the corner waiting for her, she couldn’t think. Like grief, drowning took over every part of her. Drowning was all that she could feel. Drowning was like losing someone and that someone became the saddest part of her. Drowning was a feeling.

This feeling, how does one describe it? Like a gun to your head, forced to not even let your heartbeat. But of course it would, your heartbeat needed to go on, and just like the heart, your lungs needed air. When she couldn’t hold her breath anymore, the cold water came rushing in, and all the thoughts she once had were taken away by oxygen deprivation. Poppy hoped no one would be sad when she was gone. She hoped they knew how much she loved them. She hoped they saw that she wasn’t going to be alone. Maxine was waiting for her on the other side. Maxine was waiting for her. Maxine was waiting. Maxine.

Before the current could take her any further, a hand grabbed onto her and forcibly pulled her upwards. Breaking the surface, into safety, Poppy profusely coughed. In Decky’s arms, her eyes barely open, he searched her face frantically to make sure she was still breathing. Since he was only a beginner swimmer, having been taught by Maxine before her passing, he struggled to pull Poppy back to the shore. That is until Charlie came to help. After gently grabbing her from his friend, relieving him from the weight, Charlie tightened his hold on his Poppy, partly out of fear and partly out of anger. He wanted to protect her but he was mad at her, all at the same time.

The boys swam back to the rest of the crew. Charlie was quick to swoop Poppy up in a princess carry and with long strides, he brought her to the park bench. Simultaneously, Jade and Danny rushed to Decky who was struggling to catch his breath and helped him out of the water. The rest of the kids surrounded the group with clear concern and worry written on their faces but they didn’t want to get in anyone's way. No matter how badly they wanted to help.

Poppy couldn’t tell if she was fading or waking up but now that she was laying on a park bench she could see Charlie and only him. Slowly she registered reality and found herself locked in his serious gaze. She didn’t know what to say. Should she say sorry? Was she even sorry? She didn’t know what he wanted her to say.

And she didn’t need to because the boy gingerly sat her up, leaning her against him, and scolded her in a tone she wasn’t used to, “Don’t you ever do that to me again. Don’t you dare leave me. My heart doesn’t beat if you‘re not beside me. What were you thinking, Poppy?” He was mad. He was big mad.

In response, Poppy frowned. She didn’t mean to worry him or scare him to death. She didn’t mean to worry him or their friends. She didn’t mean to be so reckless all because she was sad. Her green eyes went from him to everyone else as she could feel her own grief take surface once more, just like how she felt when she was drowning. They were one in the same. A sensation that washed over you, taking over all your senses, until all that you could see was that feeling. The feeling of drowning. When she didn’t respond to him, Charlie caressed her face, leaned his forehead against hers, and whispered, “Are you okay?”
~

Poppy’s eyes opened. She found herself no longer by the lake. She wasn’t wet. She was warm. There was no struggle to grasp for air. She could breathe with ease. There was no music playing but it wasn’t silent. She could hear one thing. A heartbeat. The sun was rising, an iris of fire, radiating gold through a window that wasn’t her’s. Her green eyes welcomed a new day. Poppy was here. Still breathing.

Leaning into the chest of the person beside her, she thought to herself, ‘A dream…’ The dream was more vivid than usual because it was a memory put on replay. She hadn’t thought of that incident in years. So strange for it to reappear all of a sudden. As she started to wake up, Poppy took in the oh-so-familiar scent of smoke, leather, and sandalwood that was her friend, Mordechai. Originally, they had their own room but Poppy struggled sleeping. She usually did when she was in unfamiliar territory. Mordechai being the loveable fool that he was didn’t mind them sleeping together. In all honesty, it helped him just as much as it helped her.

Glancing up at him, her head resting on his chest, she watched his soft breathing. His chest lightly moved her in a gradual up-and-down motion. Carefully, she slid off him and crept off the bed. Tiptoeing to the window, with a big, plain white tee and gray pajama shorts on, she peered through it, the curtain half open, and saw serenity. Transitioning from the world of dreams to day, Poppy longingly observed her new environment, the Reservation, and pondered her dream. She wasn’t happy. She wasn’t sad. She was there. In a moment of time that would be another page to her ever growing story.

How could she spin her memory, her dream, into something tangible? Something she could feel? A wandering soul in search of a wish. For wasn’t dreams just that? A wish. If she had dreamt that memory at any other time, she might’ve woken up crying. Instead of feeling sorry for herself or being stuck in a nightmare, she saw the good in it. She saw her friends. She saw her love for her sister. She saw Charlie.

Poppy found herself smiling. Look how much she's changed, for the better. As much sadness as she did have in her, and still does, she could feel peace. Something she hadn’t felt in a long time. This trip was something else. She didn’t know how to put it in words but all that noise that kept her up at night wasn’t on her mind. The dream washed her anxiety away and made her believe that she was okay.

Poppy felt okay.

Mordechai had awoken once Poppy had removed herself from the bed, having felt the loss of her warmth and slight weight. He took his time in the soft bed, stretching his stiff limbs and cracking his joints as needed before he finally rolled over onto his stomach and opened his eyes. He immediately found his petite friend silhouetted by the light of the rising sun peeking through the large window. The sunlight seemed to emit from her, as if knowing she was the unintentional beacon of hope to their lost little trio.

“Mornin’ Pops,” Mordechai called to her as he got up off the bed, his own white t-shirt hanging off his frame, wrinkled not only from sleep but from his careless packing the morning before. He gave out a loud yawn before continuing. “Risin’ with the sun like a psycho?”

Keeping her gaze toward the sunrise, she lightly chuckled and quoted, “I hope you realize that every day is a fresh start for you. That every sunrise is a new chapter in your life waiting to be written.” She looked over to her friend, the smile still on her gentle face, and added, “Confessions of a Wallflower by Juansen Dizon.”

It was strange.

The more she healed, the more like Charlie she became and she didn’t even realize it. All the things Charlie once loved were now part of her. All the things Charlie hoped for, she held close to her heart with the desire to hope for the both of them now. No matter how much hurt she carried, she saw the best in people and for every life she lost, she continued to remember them openly, tenderly, and oh so fiercely. All does beautiful departed, she felt deeply, like she was the heart of the town, and Edenridge was the body. She valued and saw others for who they were. And still, she still found room to love them. No matter how many tears she had left to cry. She loved them. Turning on her bare heels, she put her hands behind her back and intertwined her fingers. “‘Side for risin’ with the sun like a psycho, did you sleep okay?” she playfully grinned.

Mordechai looked away from the new day dawning through the window to smile softly down at her and nod. “Never sleep better than when I feel safe,” He said honestly. And it was true, when he slept with someone that he trusted it was the only time he truly relaxed in his sleep. The first time he slept well, really slept well, was the first time that he and Danny had passed out with Charlie, Jade, Max and Poppy after a game night at Beau’s. Even with Sonny, the risk of their parents loomed over their heads until they became serpents, and even then some. As a Serpent in the dorms there was always a chance of being woken at the drop of a dime for a job or a fight. But as a kid, just a kid, that had just spent hours playing games with his friends and brother under the protective roof of a community staple, that was when he and Danny both first learned what it meant to sleep in safety.

That was what he had been dreaming about before he woke up, a time of light and warmth that he’s slowly been finding his way back to more and more, even with the people now missing from the picture. Poppy had been a big part in that, so had Badger, Legs and the kids. Now, Jade was back and Mordechai was on the mend in more ways than one.

“How ‘bout you? Ya sleep well?”

“Sorta,” she shrugged, not knowing if she did or not but at least she didn’t feel tired. Leaving her friend’s side, Poppy went to the bed and out of habit, started making it. This was her way of decreeing they were up and they would not go back to the land of dreams. They could get breakfast and enjoy the reservation with no rush, Bask in the fresh air. The sun was awake and so were they. As she removed the blankets and pillows, placing them on a nearby storage bench, she asked out of the blue, “Do you remember the day I drowned?”

“How could I forget,” Mordechai laughed, not as uncomfortable as he thought he’d be remembering that day. “My dumbass tried ta play lifeguard and almost let us both drown. I know ya weren’t tryin’a drown that day but ya still gave us all a hell of a scare. Why?”

“I dreamt about it,” she admitted, walking to the sheets and straightening them on the bed. “I spent the past two years numb. Didn’t do much. Like clockwork. Woke up. Went to work. Came back home. Laid on my floor. Repeat.” Gliding her hand on the sheets, making sure they were limited in the wrinkle department, she continued to reminisce of a chapter long gone, “I remember that day so vividly and I remember at the time I wanted to feel something that wasn’t this… sensation.” She placed her hand on her chest, her way of displaying her grief, her pain, “I wanted to compare it to something real. I wanted to see how drowning felt.”

“Okay,” He replied, head tilted. She was able to tell him the meaning behind that day, which is an answer to a question that up until now he had just gone without, the memory coming back to him occasionally through the years and making him wonder again. Now that he did have a bit of an answer though…well it didn’t sound too different from his reasoning for his first needle. It didn’t leave him worried for his friend as it once might have, because he knew she was simply reminiscing to sort out her thoughts. “I’m the last person you’ll catch judgin’ about tryin’a feel different from your constant mood. Not exactly the way I went about it, but we all do shit differently.”

She simply nodded at his compassion and understanding as she reached for the quilt and waved it over the bed. “I got so numb before the whole Allison thing that I started breaking mirrors to feel. I don’t know if you noticed yet but all the mirrors in my family’s house have been removed. That’s because of me.” It was oddly relieving to tell someone all this that wasn’t her parents or Shannon. She didn’t know if she was weird or not for doing half the shit she did, but what she did know was feeling was good. Feeling meant she was alive. Even if it was drowning. She wanted to feel.

“Before everything that was high school happened, I’ve been so… inward. Selfish. I was too focused on myself to notice that you didn’t hesitate to save me, even if you only just learned how to swim. I didn’t notice how much everyone was freaking, solely because Poppy James decided to do a little experiment. Charlie too…” When she was done putting the blankets on, she paused to look at Mordechai, “I’m quite the lucky girl to be loved by you guys and now, now I finally feel it. Now I see it.”

While not at all surprised by her honesty, Mordechai was slightly taken aback by the actual words. He had never once thought that Poppy had been selfish. Even back when it all first happened all he cared about after catching his own breath had been making sure she was alright. He had swam out to her and pulled her above water while stupidly trying to ask her questions, which in turn had caused him to almost go under with her until Charlie had taken over. At the time the only thoughts he had were for her safety and health, and he never expected any worry for him outside Danny and their friends fretting over him. Thinking of Poppy James as having been selfish, especially after everything she’s done for him since the very first day they met…it just didn’t compute.

“Pops…I left town when Danny died. Immediately, literally less than twenty four hours after the fact. Ya sat in your grief for months and then one day tried somethin’ for a little longer than ya planned,” Mordechai looked into those green eyes filled with thousands of stories waiting to be told, trying to pick out where their’s will go based on where they’ve already been. “I’m not sayin’ any’a this ta discount what you’re tellin’ me, let’s be clear on that. I’m glad you’re seein’ and feelin’ the love you’ve always deserved,” He took her pause in making the bed to put his hands on her shoulders, keeping them grounded together. “But I think ya need ta be a little kinder on yourself, especially your past self. It’s real easy for me ta look back at shit I did and judge it even while knowin’ full well how I was feelin’ at the time, but the truth is I don’t know how much I’d have done differently. ‘Cause Pops, time dulls all the emotion driven moments and thoughts that we had back then. It makes us forget just how much seemed outta our hands and how big and cold the world felt at that age. Ya gotta remember that when you’re lookin’ at things ya did in the past, you’re just judgin’ a kid that was tryin’a figure out life.”

“Maybe you should take your own advice, Mordechai,” Penelope teased, casually reaching up to move some of his hair out of his face. It was getting long. “I get what you’re saying. Believe me, I do. But this isn’t just an age thing, you know?” She rested her hands on his, while he still held her, to show he meant what he said, “Just a month ago all I could think about was me. That’s the thing about drowning. All your thoughts kind of disappear. All you can think about is fear, panic… your grief.”

Poppy removed his hands from her shoulders so that she could hold them, feel them. He was here and she was with him. This wasn’t a dream. He was back and they were changing for the better. “That day I really didn’t give a fuck that Charlie went dark and likely shot the majority of people that were there. All I cared about was: they don’t know the Charlie I know. Selfish because I couldn’t accept the man he became and the mistakes we all made. I couldn’t accept that I took part in my misery because I just stood there and waited. Just how I did when I was drowning. I stood there and waited to be saved. I gave up before I even tried. You get what I’m trying to say?”

“I do,” Mordechai assured, squeezing her hands as they held each other. “I think…I think we’ve all been forced ta do some reflection and introspection this last month or so. Shit, this last night alone,” He laughed lightly and refused to look away from her eyes. “And you’ve definitely seen somethin’ about yourself that ya needed ta in order ta set ya on the path ta heal, so I’m grateful for that, and that you’re sharin’ it with me. You’re realizin’ that ya gotta be the hero in your own story, but just know I’ll always be there as the Robin ta your Batman if ya need it. Savin’ yourself doesn’t mean ya gotta do it all alone, it just means ya gotta take the lead, yeah?”

“Speaking of taking the lead!” Poppy abruptly changed the tone of voice, pulling Decky ever so closer, “You do know Rye’s back in town, right? When you going to talk to him?” Her beautiful green eyes narrowed, expectantly waiting for Decky to do the right thing.

Now, Mordechai averted his eyes for the first time since their conversation started, gently removing his hands from her suddenly vice-like grip, a nervous chuckle finding its way past his lips as he backed up. “I didn’t know he ever left?” he tried, his voice straining for casual. “He probably needs time ta settle back in then.”

“I think he had to take care of his Savta if I remember correctly. I could be wrong since I haven’t seen him in awhile but I’ve kept up with his snap,” Poppy answered, watching his behavior carefully for a moment or two. Sighing to herself, she grabbed the pillows off the storage bench and finished making the bed. “I’m not going to force you to do anything, you’re a grown ass man but you know better than anyone that Rye is blaming himself and beating himself up more than Legs does to you on a daily. That kid’s anxiety is worse than mine and that’s saying something. I just…” she patted the pillows down and then dropped on the nicely made bed, laying on her stomach. “... don’t want you to have any more regrets.” She rolled on her back and fixed her gaze on the ceiling.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Mordechai stated firmly. It was mine. “I’m the one that sat Danny down with him and walked away, I’m the one that told him to look after Danny. I’m the one…I’m the one Charlie was focused on until Danny tried ta run ta me. I don’t wanna do that to him, Pops, I don’t wanna make him relieve that shit again just so I can get some peace’a mind. I’ll talk ta him if we run into each other but I can’t…I can’t barge in on his life like I used ta, I don’t deserve it anymore.”

He finally looked back over to her to see her staring at the ceiling. None of what he said was said with an air of regret, or even defense, he just felt that as the person that caused the most pain in the situation it would be wrong to try and fix things on his schedule, Rye deserved the chance to come to him in his own time, when he was ready to see the face of the man that shared his trauma but left everything, everyone, behind. “When I heard his voice yesterday at Scott Street, it just made me realize I’d be scratching at a wound that never healed in the first place. If he wants ta talk, fine, but I don’t have a right ta demand his time.”

“Time dulls all the emotion driven moments and thoughts that we had back then. We forget just how much seemed out of our hands, how big and cold the world felt. Remember, when you’re looking at things you did in the past, you’re judging a kid that was trying to figure out life. Mordechai Boaz. Today.” Penelope reiterated his own words back at him. She didn’t get them verbatim but she got most of it. Shifting her body to face him, resting her cheek in the palm of her hand, she motioned with her other hand for him to join her. It was too early for them to go in the kitchen. No one else was up. They probably should wait until they hear movement outside before raiding Adora’s fridge. “You do you. Like I said, you’re your own man. I’m just telling you my perspective, don’t assume how he feels. Don’t assume you know what he wants. You don’t. Not until you talk to him. Now come here, I need an arm pillow.”

Mordechai gave out a heavy sigh, properly chastised in the way only Poppy knew how to do. Quoting his own advice from a mere few minutes ago was kind of dirty play, but the fact that it fit so well with this situation as well had him biting his tongue any further on the matter. She was right, he didn’t know how Rye felt about him, or about anything from the last day they truly saw each other until now. The moment he was faced with confronting another part of his past he went right back to assuming. And everyone knows what they say about that.

Trudging over to the bed and collapsing beside Poppy, he rolled onto his back and threw his arm underneath her head when she raised it. A few moments passed in comfortable silence before, vulnerably, he asked, “Really think he won’t hate me? That we can be chill again?”

“I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn’t,” Penelope answered without any hesitation. Snuggling close to her friend, she glanced up at him once more and kissed his cheek, “I think the one that’s not ready is you. Not him.”

“Yeah,” Mordechai sighed, squeezing her close to him as he absorbed her honest words. “I guess you’re right. Thanks for always sayin’ the shit I need ta hear even when I don’t know it, Angel,” He rested his cheek on her head and took a deep breath. “Y’always know how ta keep me from drownin’ in my own thoughts.”

'Same.' Penelope thought to herself.

Like that day by the lake, they were both keeping each other afloat. Sure, they were struggling to break the surface but they did have their head above water and that’s all that mattered.

Neither would die drowning.

Not as long as they had each other.

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by LovelyComplex
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TIMESTAMP: Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Morning
After Tension @ The Godmother
FT: Caterina Belmonte, Dexter Silo, & Sofia Belmonte
Small FT: Charlotte & Frankie Silo, both played by @Aewin




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Emerging from the Godmother’s with his hands in his suit pockets, Dexter followed Caterina out into the soaked through world. The sun was now shining high and brightly in a sky once filled with clouds and darkness. Looking around, one would not think that only a few hours ago that the place was engulfed in a tempest that could’ve been sent by the Aegaeon themselves, descended down upon the sleepy New England town with all their rage to punish those they deemed evil. Caterina’s hips still had the same sway they had all those years ago, she still carried herself the same way if not with a touch more force and purpose.

It had been quite some time since Dexter had stepped foot in Edenridge for any prolonged period of time. Once upon another life, he spent much of his time in the town. Whether it was the constant basketball games between his hometown Monarchs and the Celtics or if it was time spent with a certain brunette cheer captain with the most beautiful hazel eyes, Dex had definitely spent more time in Eden than he would care to admit. Since high school and college, the devilishly handsome man had only driven through Edenridge or stopped for a quick coffee. Some might’ve said it was out of fear of repercussions for some of his actions but that was a lie because Dexter had no fear for anything. He wasn’t scared of Andy Callahan or that meathead Bobby Osso coming for him. He wasn’t scared of Caterina’s family connections. It was the one thing those people never understood and he doubted they ever would. Dexter would never be scared because he was too smart.

He was better than them.

The girl behind the counter was intriguing. The look on her face, the spark in her eye, she had to have been Cat’s daughter, it was obvious. Based on her age, she was fifteen or sixteen meaning she would’ve been conceived around the time that Caterina and Dexter were together; the mathematics all added up as he had predicted when he first found out from his brother what Cat was up to. Once the pair of former flames reached one of the drier benches outside the sandwich shop, Dexter offered Cat the first seat. “After you, pretty girl.”

“No, I’m fine, thanks,” Cat curtly declined. She was not going to sit next to the bastard that ripped her heart out, recklessly stomped on it, crushing it with his pretentious Oxfords, and decided on a whim to shoot it in yesterday’s trash like a goddamn basketball. Plus, this was Edenridge. She’d be dumb to give the town ammunition against her like she used to when she was young, stubborn, and naive. They loved to talk and they would immediately assume that her new boyfriend was her ex. That’s if they even remembered how Dexter looked. Yeah, no. Not on her watch.

Instead, she crossed her arms and expectantly surveyed him, not bothering to check him out. That would just get him off and she’d be damned to ever stroke his ego like that ever again. Her deadly glare was on his handsome face, and with fire, she intensely grabbed a hold of his hazel gaze. Once upon a broken promise, she was dumb for this man and it was in those eyes she fell so deeply and madly in lust and in love with him. Why are you here?”

“To get a sandwich, you have good reviews on Yelp,” Dexter mused. He had seen this body language before from her, one too many times. However it didn’t bother him like it did back when they were teenagers. He had grown and so had she, devolving into their adolescent selves would be unbecoming in this scenario. “Don’t read into something that isn’t there Catarina. I’m in town on business and I was hungry. It’s been seventeen years and I don’t think it sets a good example for our children to hold grudges.”

Cat raised an eyebrow at that. Having not considered the life he lived after their senior year. He was married with kids. What a relief. Her shoulders eased up, less on edge like she had been seconds before but not enough to let her guard down. She couldn’t trust he changed all his ways and she wasn’t going to but good for him for having his own family. Good for him for moving on.

The blonde businessman glanced back at the shop where he had briefly met the two youngsters behind the bar and his formulaic mind began to process the numbers as it always did. Dexter loved numbers. They were his passion, his obsession. He had always been a top athlete physically but what always gave him the edge was his ability to add, subtract, divide and conquer in half the time it would take a normal person. For Dex, life was like a game of blackjack and he had already counted all the cards. “I was an ass back in the day and I hurt you really bad, I know that. I’m not asking for forgiveness and I don’t want it, what I do want is to live in hope that we can move forward.”

“What does that entail?” Cat followed his gaze to her shop where her daughter and apprentice were. She knew that look; he was curious about something. His blue eyes sparked with intrigue like he had a question that needed an answer to. Then again, maybe he was right. Maybe she was looking too deeply into his words. Maybe for once he didn’t mean harm. Was she a fool for not wanting to put up the fight with him? To not stay angry? Probably. But still, deep down, she hoped he really did change for the better.

Begrudgingly, she took a seat beside him. One leg over the other and her arms crossed once more, Cat looked down Central Ave and the few people enjoying the town this Tuesday morning. There was a rainbow in the distance and she couldn’t help but wonder if Clay was okay. She couldn’t help but sit in her yearning and worry, wishing he were here with her, enjoying this dewy air and the sights of the town waking up. Shops opening. People going for a stroll. Edenridge was beautiful when it felt still. Edenridge was beautiful when she was waking up. Edenridge was beautiful when she wasn’t hurting. “What does moving forward mean to you?” She glanced back at him, her burning inferno that was her anger simmering down as she gave him his chance to speak, finally willing to listen.

“The reality of the situation is that my current business might keep me in town for a while,” Dexter leaned back against the picnic table with his hands in his pockets as he spoke. “And I know that there are a lot of people here who may still hold a grudge for what I did as a teenager. I can’t make that right but what I can do is show everyone who I am now and what I represent.” He relieved his hand from his slacks and reached into his jacket with it, pulling his wallet from inside a second later. Dexter rifled through the leather money holder until he found a business card. He placed it down on the bench behind them without a word before continuing. “Moving forward to me is me and my family being allowed to be at peace whilst we’re here in this community and for the folks here to leave my past transgressions right there in the past along with my early two thousands hair cuts.”

Out of habit, Cat rolled her eyes and spoke flat out, amused at his words and not fully buying it, “Good luck with that.” If he wanted a clean slate this wasn’t the place to be. The town where history meant everything and secrets were a currency. “You and your family are more than welcome to stay here. No one’s going to stop you but to want peace? In Edenridge? Please, Dexter. You’re smarter than that.”

Before Dexter could say anything more, Sofi came out with a brown bag (that held his sandwich), instead of Marco. Unfortunately for Cat, Marco had to help another customer so that left Sofi open for delivery. The little Belmonte placed the food on the table and was quick to turn around. Ready to go back inside. When her mother firmly grabbed her hand, Sofi knew she was stuck until she was freed, put between a rock and an awkward place. Turning herself around to face her mom and old friend, Sofi gave a half smile, trying to be welcoming but also lowkey wanting to yeet on out.

“Speaking of family,” Cat tried her best to extend the first olive branch, even though she hated every second of it. “This is my eldest, Sofia. Sofi,” Cat gently instructed, without saying anything more than her child’s name.

This was all Sofi needed to hear to know what her mother wanted.

“Yo,” the teenager gave a lazy wave with one hand before hooking her thumbs in her pockets. “You know that’s not a usual name you hear everyday and yet I heard it a couple times already. I could’ve sworn that the reporter guy was talking on the phone with a guy named Dexter. And—”

“Sofia, stop.”

“Sorry, habit,” the young girl scratched the back of her head as she looked around and noticed a nice car with a woman who looked around her mother’s age and girl in it, “That your family over there?”

Cat’s attention was quick to look at where her daughter was pointing at. She couldn’t see the figures inside the car — they were parked a ways away — but she did notice a familiar set of golden locks. She shook her head in a way that said ‘I should’ve guessed’ and let out a subtle chuckle. There was great relief that washed over her, knowing that his family was true, and that they both moved on from their past. Maybe this was a good sign for the both of them. Maybe she could move on and bury the hatchet. Maybe they could forget they ever were a thing.

She had Clay so really, Dexter’s presence, she was coming to realise, didn’t upset her in the way she thought it would. Initially she was shocked and thought he was up to no good but after a few minutes with him she could see that he meant nothing to her anymore. The hold he had over her was nonexistent and it was all thanks to growing up and becoming her own woman. Certain of her wants and needs. She was happy where she was and where she was going. She was happy with her journey, and all the things she used to regret. She was happy that she was smarter than people thought. She was happy. Nothing he could say or do would ruin that for her. She had her kids. She had Clay. And she had a bright future ahead of her, for her and her family.

“Yes that’s my wife Charlotte and my daughter Francesca,” Dexter smiled softly towards the youngster that had joined them. She was so much like Cat, the way she carried herself, the attitude and sass that dripped from every word. One of the things that Sofi did not share with Caterina though was her eyes and the sparkle in them. No, they were not from Cat. Beyond that, looking at Sofia was like looking at the proprietor of the Godmothers seventeen years ago.

Taking the sandwich into hand, Dex inhaled the sweet smell. “Smells delicious, thank you so much Sofia.” He gazed upon the two Belmonte women, looking for any flaw in his perfect equitation. Of course, it just wasn’t there. Maths was always right. “You know, I would love it if we could get together again soon, properly. So we can sit and talk, catch up. Sofia could come too and I’ll bring Frankie, our children should get to know each other while we’re in town. Who knows? They could bond like sisters or hate each other but that’s being a teenager right?”

Cat wasn’t the one to catch the subtle emphasis in the words: our children. It was Sofi. There was a moment she stared at the older man with a stoic expression yet all the curiosity in the world in her gaze. She tilted her head as she replied, “Don’t thank me. This was all my worker’s doing. Marco.”

When Dex wanted to ‘get together’ soon Cat had to hold her grimace back. Felt way too early to… catch up. It didn’t help when Dex said Charlotte’s name out loud she was reminded of all the times she butted heads with the woman because Dex had a way of playing mind games. Maybe she wasn’t completely okay with this after all. Still, she turned to look at her child, who was unburdened by drama like this. Sofi hadn’t even dated yet let alone started fights or anything with anyone. As nosy as she was, she avoided anything too tense. She was a good girl. The only noteworthy thing her daughter was part of was… the shooting, which took away her desire to play soccer and gave her a bad habit of relying on weed.

“I’ll think about it,” Cat spoke honestly. “My other children, Daniella and Franco, they’re with their father but they’ll be back Friday. If we do this, I want all my babies with me.” Did she want to do this? Not really. But maybe her children needed something normal to look forward to. The divorce was taking a toll on them to the point that Sofi was sneaking around and hiding at the Ossos. She knew the other two were taking the divorce worse. Especially Franco who has clung to the idea of a perfect family more so than his sisters. Bringing her attention back to the car, Cat inquired, standing up, feeling their time coming to an end, “Only a sandwich for you? Your girls aren’t hungry?”

“My girls were smart enough to have some breakfast before we left Pinehurst,” Dex responded with a nod. “You know me Caterina, food was the last thing on my mind this morning. I was too busy crunching some numbers for a client.” The simple fact of the matter was when Dex Silo started working on an equation or looking at numbers in a way only he could, nothing else mattered. He always had to be right, whatever the cost.

As the two adults were back to talking, Sofi glanced at the business card on the table to get his full name. Dexter Silo. She made a mental note to look for his daughter, Frankie, on social media when she got her phone back from her mother. It seemed that her mother was in a less grouchy mood so that was good. Silo. That sounded familiar. “Could try to get more tickets for the Horsemen game? That’s like… Sunday. Just an idea.”

“I could…” Cat auto-responded, not liking that her daughter was taking control of the situation but understanding the audacity more than anyone. It was only a scrimmage but she could easily get more tickets from Jonah. Though, she didn’t like the idea of going to a hockey game with her ex and her ex’s family. Even so, she had to be the mature adult here and it seemed like the two people beside her wanted something guaranteed from this interaction. Clearing her throat, she looked up at the now standing Dexter - damn, why was she so short - and tried to bury her petty nature with class, “How does Sunday sound?”

“Sunday, sounds perfect,” Dexter tucked the sandwich under his arm and motioned towards the business card he had left on the table. “My work and cell number is there. Why don’t you contact me with details when you’re ready?” His eyes fell upon Sofi once more and locked with hers. “It was really nice to meet you Sofia, I hope to see you again sometime soon.” He tilted his head to face his former lover and he grinned. “Be seeing you, Catarina,” Dex bowed for the two women before turning away and walking towards his expensive looking car.

Climbing into the driver's seat, Dexter tossed the sandwich that had been lovingly made for him into the back next to his teenage daughter. He turned to look at his wife as he started up the car. “She’s definitely my daughter. We’re going out with them this Sunday, as a family. Am I clear?”

“Crystal, right dear?” Charlotte responded with an easy going smile, looking at the rear view mirror to make eye contact with her daughter. Frankie glanced at the sandwich tossed beside her with an unimpressed scowl before turning back to her Nintendo Switch.

“Sure, crystal clear.”


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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Venus
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A @metanoia & @Venus Collab || featuring Mikhail Zima & Caitlin Cleary
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FLASH BACK || T U E S D A Y , M A Y 1 S T , 2 0 1 8

A horde of butterflies was fluttering nervously inside Caitlin Cleary’s stomach as she carefully made her way to the bed of the brand-new Toyota Tacoma that now belonged to Mikhail Zima. During one the first conversations she and Mika had back in March, the topic of birth dates had come up. The new friends were pleasantly surprised to find out their birthdays were exactly twenty-three days apart: with his being on May 1st and hers on May 23rd. They had gone on to share stories about their most heartfelt memories involving their special day, which prompted Mika's sad confession that he hadn’t had his favorite cake since he’d moved to Edenridge two years previously. That day, Cece had made a promise to herself that, if she and Mika were still friends when his birthday came around, she would surprise him with a home baked cake of his liking. As luck would have it, they were not only still friends when the time came, but their friendship had strengthened and blossomed at a rapid pace throughout the weeks. Before she knew it, the end of April had rolled around, and so had the opportunity to do good on her promise.

The night of April 30th, Caitlin had gathered her ingredients to set off on the journey of trying to bake and decorate her first three-layer cake from scratch. Each layer was made by combining vanilla cake batter with one of Mika’s favorite three berries: layer #1 was blueberry, layer #2 was raspberry, and layer #3 was strawberry. Cream cheese buttercream served as the glue for each layer, as well as for the cover for the walls of the cake and the piped decorations on the top and bottom. An assortment of fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries cut into a heart shape helped hide the imperfections of the cake while giving it more personality, as well as complimenting the “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Cece had messily written in dark purple decorative gel. The end result wasn’t as neat and pretty as she wanted it to be-- after all, her specialty was cupcakes, not layer cakes. But she hoped that Mika would see the heartfelt intention behind the gesture, and that the taste would make up for the baked goods's smudgy exterior.

That Tuesday, Cece had been lucky. She had been able to take her cake to school, along with some snacks, milk and utensils, and store them in the Home Econ fridge until the end of the day. She’d hidden out in the library from the time school let out until basketball practice was over as she usually did when she and Mika would plan to hang out. Once the coast was clear and Mika had sent her the message that it was time to go, the giddy redhead gathered her items, met the young man at the parking lot, and they set off together to O’Halloran’s Creek. Twenty minutes later, it was time to surprise the birthday boy.

Taking advantage of Mika getting things ready for them in the bed of the truck, Caitlin had announced that she had a surprise for him, and had politely requested that he take a seat and close his eyes. Once she made sure he’d followed her instructions, she retrieved the cake from the dark insulated bag she’d been keeping it in, placed a candle in the middle of the cake, lit it up with the help of a lighter, and carefully made her way to the back. When she had made it safely to their destination, the girl took a deep breath in an attempt to soothe her jitters before speaking up.

“Okay, Mika: open your eyes…” she instructed, holding the cake out to him as she nervously waited for him to open his eyes. And when he did, she offered him the happiest, brightest of smiles. “Happy birthday!”

“Wow…”

The shock of not only the surprisingly loud shriek from Cece, which she was normally timid with the volume and how she typically spoke. But that wasn’t just it. As he looked at what was in front of him, he was amazed at what he saw. A cake that, at first glance, looked so delicious and he certainly could see something familiar about it. The way the berries were arranged, the faint pink and purples of each layer, even down to the handwriting -- it brought back some very fond memories from his childhood. “Blossom… I could be wrong here, but this isn’t a… Boston cream pie with mixed berries, is it?” Normally Mika would take the hint of the berries decorated at the top of it, but the nostalgia goggles he was looking through hindered a lot for him right now. He was intensely salivating, but also needed to make sure he wasn’t wrong. Looks could be deceiving, after all.

Caitlin nodded vigorously. "It sure is," she declared proudly, feeling the nerves evaporate as she took in Mika's positive response to her gesture. "Or, at least, I tried for it to be," she said with a chuckle. "Each layer's got a different berry mixed into the sponge, and the buttercream's all cream cheese. I tried my best with the decorating bit, but since it was my first time it didn't come out as good as I wanted it to be. The flavors though… that I am absolutely confident about."

“Buttercream, huh?” Mika repeated approvingly, a smile on his face. He never had it with that before. His mother always just used a berry cream, which as he remembered was always tart. He didn’t have much experience with buttercream, though. Some cupcakes here and there, but he never had it growing up. Still, he wasn’t worried at all. In all honesty, as he divided his gaze from the cake and Cece, it was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. Also he loved cream cheese. Most didn’t, but he did.

“What are you talking about, Cece? The decoration looks amazing!” Mika said, grabbing one of the blueberries and popping one into his mouth. He made a noise that nobody really could describe, but it was the kind one made when they really enjoyed food. “It looks so good! As good as I remember from when I was younger.” He was all smiles and even laughed, though it was from the fondness of the happy childhood memories he had about his mother making the same cake. “I just don’t know what to say.” He was struggling to not let all of his emotions show off just how much this meant to him.

It was hard for Cece not to beam as brightly as she was. She had accomplished exactly what she had set out to in the first place: to take Mika back to times of joy, celebration, and family unity. Their friendship was still very fresh, but the snippets of experiences he had shared with her had provided the redhead with enough context to know her act would be appreciated.

"You don't have to say anything," she told him earnestly, offering the birthday boy a sweet smile. Actions often spoke louder than words, and it was obvious from Mika's expression that he was both surprised and truly touched by her heartfelt gesture. Thinking back on it, this was the most and the widest she'd seen him smile since the day they had met under the oak tree. "Just close your eyes, make a wish, and blow the candle out before the wind does it for you and steals your wish," she added with a small laugh, bringing attention to the way the flame flickered dangerously in response to the light breeze starting to pick up around them.

“Close my eyes?” For a split second, Mika’s almost wholesome smile turned into something teasing -- naughty, even, if he was being completely honest. Chuckling it away, he gave himself a small shrug. “Fine, but I’m trusting you. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do.” Normally people often said what they wouldn’t do, but Mika had a lot of thoughts in the short moment that he looked at Cece when he said that and let’s just say that Mika was the type to entertain a bunch of…creative thoughts.

The pink blush in Cece’s cheeks was instant. Leave it to her new friend to be able to fluster her with a mischievous look and a few sentences with double meanings. “Just blow out the candle, Mika,” she playfully chastised with a sheepish giggle.

As he closed his eyes and the immediate thought of Cece standing in front of him became the main focus in his mind, he smiled. And he kept smiling, picturing her. His mind flashed back to that day they met by the Oak Tree. The day that he came to visit David’s grave (or was it a memorial?). Whatever it was, that day led to some interesting things happening. Just a little over a month later and they were in a private-adjacent place, alone, in the bed of his brand new Toyota Tacoma, and she was asking him to make a wish. What did he want to wish for, though? There were a lot of things. Selfishly, he’d like it if his father wasn’t a complete asshole. VIktor, too. He’d also like to be able to return home and see his sisters as much as he wanted.

All of those things were great, but the largest part of Mika knew what it wanted. Mika, outwardly, knew what he wanted. A gust of air left his mouth, blowing the candle out and he smiled still, opening his eyes. “So what now, Red?”

"Now we get to see just how badly I butchered the taste of this cake,” Cece joked with a small laugh, handing the cake over to Mika before walking back to the passenger side of the truck to retrieve the rest of her surprise. When she returned, the redhead effortlessly climbed onto the Tacoma’s bed, settled herself next to the birthday boy and started to pull out the items from the large insulated bag that had previously harbored the cake.

“I brought us some spoons, some napkins, some milk to wash down the cake… You told me the other day that you liked to dunk the limon Flamin Hot Cheetos in nacho cheese, so I got some of those too-- and some Ritz crackers with the Cheese Wiz, in case the Cheetos weren't enough… And since I know how hungry you get after practice and how much you liked the pastrami, swiss and pickled red onion sandwich from The Godmother, I asked Danny for the recipe and the ingredients I needed so I could make you a few… I brought us some water bottles, too…” she trailed off, placing each of the items in the space between them as she mentioned them. Finally, once the last water bottle was set, Caitlin turned to Mika with a bashful look on her face. “I’m sorry for getting carried away like this… It’s just… I know how much your birthdays meant to you and how they were some of your happiest memories, so I wanted to try and make this one as special as I could for you.”

She was listening to all of that?

Mika stared in awe, not only astonished that Caitlin had actually listened to him when he made off-hand comments about some snacks he enjoyed, comments in which he’d half-assed spoken with very little seriousness behind them, but the fact she did it just to make his birthday special. Yeah, Mika had a bottomless pit for a stomach and has grossed out Aleyda and the rest of the Gonzalez’s with his preference of snacks (mostly the fake cheese that came in jars and cans). He may have mentioned his mother’s signature sandwich without giving much context other than saying how delicious it was. Nobody in Edenridge could make it like she did even if Cat Belmonte came pretty close at the Godmother. It wasn’t as tasty, but not a bad second place.

To say the least, he didn’t expect so much. The cake, the snacks, the fact she did this all for him — It was a lot. Like a slice of home that he missed since he came to Edenridge. He had accepted his life here now, but it wasn’t exactly the same, yet Cece did all of this to give him that feeling again? “No..don’t be sorry.” He finally spoke after a few moments (long ones at that) of taking everything in. The food alone was a shock and it made his stomach grumble, but the act of it all had forced him to reassess that maybe Cece might’ve liked him more than he thought so. Better question, was that a two-way street?

He looked at her, smiling. Mika wasn’t the type to widely smile. That wasn’t his thing and probably never would be. He thought people looked stupid with those wide grins. Like that Marco Brady guy. But that was his thing, so no hate there, but Mika? Nope, not the person for that kind of outward expression, yet he could feel the muscles around his lips stretch and flex, eyes almost at the brink of watering. They had a glisten in them sure and Mika could feel the intensity of emotions come up from his stomach and heart. Memories of his past birthdays with his entire family -- even his father and oldest brother who supposedly hated him, gathered on special occasions and were different people.

He shook his head briefly. “I guess you can call me a hypocrite because I’m gonna do what I just said you shouldn’t. I’m sorry I don’t know what to say. Nobody has done this sort of thing for me. At least, not in such a grand display like this.” Mika went for the cake, wanting to taste the frosting and to nobody’s surprise, it was cream cheese buttercream. “Seriously, you didn’t need to do all of this…but…” He absentmindedly grabbed one of the strawberries that served as the decoration of the cake, eating it. “Thank you.”

"It was nothing," the girl said humbly with a small shrug, her heart glowing inside her chest. Every minute of the hours of work spent making the cake and the rest of the food had been worth that blinding smile Mika had given her. "I'm sure you already know this, but I'm not someone who usually opens up to people. But ever since that first time we talked under the oak tree, I felt like I could have deep, honest conversations with someone who wouldn't judge or make fun of me. Things came so easily with you… It's something I've grown to cherish very fondly. Even though we've only known each other for a little over a month, I do consider you a friend to me, Mika. And with my friendship comes me going all out on special days like these, because I love making those close to me as happy as they make me."

“I guess I'll just have to get used to the delicious cake that only my mom really knew how to get right and all my favorite snacks being a regular thing every birthday.” Mika’s tone hinted at sarcasm, but underneath that almost teasing-like tone, there lied a sincerity full of gratitude for the cute ginger that sat beside him.

"I guess that's a sacrifice you'll just have to make…" Cece responded with a shrug, matching Mika's level of teasing and dramatic sarcasm before chuckling.

Mika wasn’t a loner that didn’t have many friends, but other than those he called his brothers in the southside, his only friend on the northside was Natalia (who he had crossed the border from time to time with, but that was neither here nor there). Caitlin was a different kind of girl than Natalia was. Well, obviously Natalia had darker hair, but it was more than that. Natalia was bold and beautiful (much like the show that his mother was obsessed with), but Caitlin, in her own way, was bold and beautiful. She had a tender spirit and a generous heart. Her eyes were soft and everything about her had so much love. If the display in front of him wasn’t evidence of that, then it was her matching her acts of caring with the confidence in her words. When she said her friendship meant there would be acts of showing that love, Mika believed her.

“By the way--” Mika looked up at her. He was smiling still but not a smirk. On his face was a gentler smile. “It’s not nothing. Fact is, and you might find this hard to believe, but I’m not the open book with a lot of people than you saw when we both ended up at that cemetery. Ever since coming to this town, I’ve tried to hide myself from opening up. It took a few wrecking balls to get me to open up, and then there was you: just sitting under the shade of that tree across from where I stood, talking to me about our families and then laughing at my bad jokes.” Mika kept his eyes locked on Cece chortling at his last comment, feeling something stir up inside him. He didn’t know what it was, but he continued, “I told you about this cake and how it was my favorite. My childhood wasn’t picture perfect, but special days like birthdays and Thanksgiving? Yeah those were pretty spectacular! Every single birthday my mom made this exact cake and you did that. For me. So trust me, Red, it wasn’t nothing. It’s never gonna be nothing. This means more to me than you might ever know.”

Mika's smile was mirrored on Caitlin's face, which grew bigger when he confessed how easily she'd been able to penetrate his defenses without even trying. It was amazing to think that their small, coincidental interaction had meant so much to the both of them. She was grateful and honored that, among so many different people in town, it was she who had been awarded the invaluable gift of his trust. It was something Cece would cherish and never take for granted.

"Thank you so much, Mika. I'm just glad I could make you happy," she said sweetly, placing her hand on his for a brief moment before grabbing one of the spoons and digging into her creation.

A comfortable silence settled between the pair for some time, with the only sounds being their meal consumption and that of their surroundings before Caitlin spoke up. "Is it part of Coach's workout plan to starve his players?" the redhead commented in amusement with a playful snicker. She'd been watching the way Mika was devouring his food like a hungry caveman for a few minutes now, and her mind immediately went to the many times that she'd witnessed The Elite eat enough food to feed a small army. Thank God their mothers liked to cook big batches. "I swear, every guy I've met that plays for him scarfs down their food as if they'd never eaten a day in their lives!"

“I-u s-w the w-y we pra-ced, --you’d e-t l-ke is too.” Mika had half of a mouthful of the sandwich in his mouth, and the way he couldn't pronounce his words properly made Cece giggle. That pastrami and swiss on..well, he wasn’t the most knowledgeable about specific breads but it tasted sour. Either sourdough or rye. Either way, he was enjoying it so much that Mika forgot the most basic rule when eating: never talking with your mouth full. After he washed it down with some water, he coughed. It went down the wrong hole, as was the expected thing to happen when you ate too much and too fast and tried to wash it down too soon. “Sorry, what I was saying is that our practices are insane. Don’t get me wrong, Coach is amazing and clearly we’re phenomenal. Even after The Elite, the current team is just…really bitchin'. Like Danny is a great captain. And Coach help us maximize our talents by giving us drills that plays into them and pushes us to our limits.”

If only she knew that he was gushing about his Uncle, but that was something Mika could never reveal for a lot of reasons. But it didn’t take away from how much truth he spoke. Coach John O’Hara was strict as hell and expected nothing short of perfection, but Mika couldn’t deny that it felt great to have someone pushing him to be his best self. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was getting to know his mother’s family -- his family.

"You know, John has a really good talent for that." Cece mused, pausing to take a bite of cake before continuing. "He has such an ability for polishing his players' strengths while significantly improving their weaknesses. In the years I've watched him coach, he puts his players first, never plays favorites and makes decisions based out of logic and not bias-- which I imagine was extra hard for him when he had the Elite, considering he had pretty much watched them all grow up in his backyard. I remember how he could even go a little harder on David than the rest just so nobody could say he was being easy on his son, even if nobody really felt that way."

Mika knew what that was like. Even though he tried to push it to the back of his mind (or out of it if it could be helped), he always managed to think about his own father from time to time. Cece mentioning how Coach was hard on David only reminded how, in his own cruel way, his father was the same way. Maybe not in the same way. Mika’s childhood was vastly different from anyone he knew in Edenridge (or at least of what he knew about their home lives), so maybe it wasn’t fair, but it was still something that always lingered. “Fathers are like that,” he responded softly in a lamenting tone. “I’m sure Coach meant well. Hopefully David… didn’t hold it against him.” Mika had no idea if he was way off base or if his assessment was hitting close to the bullseye.

From the way Mika spoke, it wasn’t hard to decipher that he might be seeing his own father-son relationship reflected in that of David and John’s. Cece only knew David’s side of the story and what she’d witnessed firsthand during family activities and basketball games. But it was Mika’s birthday. The last thing she wanted was to dampen the mood by continuing this dreary, sore subject. So rather than providing insight, she chose to remain quiet.

As a moment of silence was left between them, Mika shook his head quickly. “But yeah, what I was saying is all these drills we do are taxing and that makes me hungry as fuck. But I should at least remember some of my manners,” he laughed off his neanderthal-like display of how he ate his sandwich with all of the big bites and little time for chewing and swallowing. “Guess it doesn’t hurt that the sandwich was really tasty.”

“Well I’m glad you’re enjoying it!” Cece chuckled, wiping the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “I hope you’re leaving some room for whatever the Gonzalez’ have planned for you later, though. Might be hard to explain to them why the guy with four stomachs is suddenly too full to even sample his birthday meal,” she teased, playfully bumping her shoulder against his arm.

“Like you wouldn’t believe…” Mika started to laugh, remembering last year and how the Gonzalez’ really made it into a whole thing. The amount of food that Momma Guadalupe made, the amount of Serpents that came over -- Mika wasn’t officially part of it but he was the closest to a Prince of the Serpents as he came and it was the best. It was his first birthday he celebrated without his mother or his sisters, so it meant more to him than they probably ever knew (especially because Mika didn’t really show that side of him yet).

But another thing caused his silence. Or someone. Cece’s arm brushing against him made him look into her eyes, seeing the sparkle in those turquoise pools with specs of the sunlight hitting them, the playful expression on her face. God, why was he getting these weird feelings in his stomach? And why did his heart start to pump a little faster than it did a few minutes ago?

Mika got stuck in his thoughts for a few seconds and shook it off. “Uh..yeah they’re great, They go all out with just about anything you can think of! But how about the real star of the show--” In both an attempt to eat it at long last and, if he was being honest, distract himself from thinking too much into that singular act of her arm brushing against his, his eyes went to the cake.. It was an accident and he was looking too much into it. “Since it’s my birthday, I’m just going to say fuck my stomach and tear into this bad boy!” He chuckled and grinned, dividing his eyes and attention between the chef who made that cake and the cake itself as he salivated at the thought of putting that cake in his mouth.

“Go right on ahead, before I finish it off myself!” Cece said with a laugh, bringing attention to how she had already consumed a third of the cake before Mika had even had a chance to taste it.

“Jesus! Have you been chomping away at it this entire time?” The young woman let out a small giggle, and nodded confirming her guilt. Truth be told, that didn’t seem unreasonable. Mika didn’t even pay the cake much attention until she mentioned it. Perhaps it was because he was too focused on the sandwich. Regardless, he had to at least get his own third of it so he could try the cake she made for him before it’s all gone. As he took the knife and sliced off a part of it, he put it on a place. With his fork, Mika made sure to get the perfect bite that had all the layers of cake, cream, and berries. And when he did--

“Holy shit! This is fucking good!” Mika said as his mouth was still full with the cake. Just like how his mother made it. No, it was different. Sweeter yet still tart. He was in a state of…he didn’t know how to describe it because he was feeling a lot: the high emotions nostalgia produced, awe that someone other than his mother could make his favorite cake so well, a certain kind of foodgasm that became clear in the sounds he was making as he chewed, and maybe a bit of an addiction as he had scarfed down half of it while he still had some in his mouth.

And then he started to choke and immediately reached for the milk, washing it down as he coughed a few times. “Seriously a flavor bomb!” He looked Cece’s way with a smile on his face. “No wonder you helped yourself to a third of it.” He looked down briefly at his fork. There was still some cake on it. “In fact, you should really have some more.” With a mischievous smile forming on his face, he had an idea that maybe he was gonna regret or maybe not. He bent the fork back and flung the cake straight at the red headed chef as the remains of the cake found a place right on the left side of her face.

Cece, who had been grinning from ear to ear watching Mika sample her creation, was caught off guard by the attack. She let out a small gasp of surprise, her blue eyes widening as the realization of what had happened hit her.

Oh, he'd really done it this time.

"Maybe I will…" she quickly shot back, wasting no time with grabbing a handful of buttercream from the base of the cake and slathering it all over the guy's left cheek. "Wow, that color looks great on you! Totally your perfect shade," she taunted, giving Mika a smirk and raising her eyebrows at him, as if challenging him to retaliate.

And retaliate he did.

He widened his smirk as a majority of the buttercream frosting that she smeared his direction was all over his chin and lips so it looked like clouds that had pink hues to them were parting. He inched closer to the giggling, cowering Cece, chuckling in a more sinister way the closer he got. He dipped his whole left hand into the remains of the cake, raising it up like a weapon. “Get ready to face the white claw!” He declared as he went to lightly, yet still firmly, pressed his hand into Cece’s cheek all the while he managed to push her on her back. Though she had fought back, it hadn't been enough, and he was now looking down at her. “Well well well, you seem to have lost this round, Blossom.” He grinned as bits of the frosting had made its way into his mouth and were stuck on his teeth. “Admit defeat and you can walk away with your life!” He stated in a faux-villainous voice, even stretching his accent in a parodical way.

Upon first contact of Mika's hand on her cheek, Caitlin had done her best to defend herself against the buttercream attack. She was able to get a few licks in, smearing more frosting onto Mika's face and hair. Unfortunately, she was overcome by a case of the giggles, which had sapped any strength she had to fight back. It wasn't long before Mika overpowered her in a swift motion, causing her to let out a high-pitched squeal that was followed by even more giggles. And when he addressed her in his current position, looking down at her with his frosting-covered teeth and using that comical voice, Cece couldn't speak-- nor could she hold back the tears of sheer laughter flowing down her cheeks. The last time Caitlin had laughed this hard, to the point of tears and an aching stomach, had been with David shortly before his death.

“No answer?” The laughing Caitlin could barely shake her head.

As Mika lingered over the laughing redhead, her eyes practically oozing tears produced from the continuous, high-pitched giggles that have been nonstop for nearly a minute now, he couldn’t even think about hiding his own grin. Not the kind of grin one brandished when they were feeling cocky or clever, but the kind that was simpler in nature. He was feeling all of the serotonin build: seeing Cece, for the first time, actually giggle and laugh and have the kind of smile that was infectious. She had smiled before and laughed before when they spent time together, so it wasn’t as though this was the first time he saw them at the same time or anything like that. But to see it being displayed in such an earnest way was something else entirely. Not only that, but this was the first time he was on top of her like this.

Something was stirring and it had been for quite some time.

As she continued to laugh, filling his ears with a sound that calmed him. He had been calm the entire time they spent in the bed of his truck, but there was something else to it. His left hand, which was covered in the remains of the cake she baked for, caressed the left side of her cheek. He was still smiling at this point, but the way he looked at her was different. As lighthearted in its core, he found himself being drawn more and more into her warm, affectionate gaze. No amount of puff in her eyes, tears of joy, or echoes of jovial laughter could stop what was coming.

“You look cute from this angle...” was all he said as Mika leaned down, his heart pumping faster and faster the closer he got to her face. As he inched so close to her lips, feeling the aroma of her natural scent, the way her body slowed in its rhythm just like it did with his, he swallowed whatever remained inside his dry mouth and laid his lips on hers tenderly. It all felt like it was happening in slow motion and for him, that’s exactly what it was. In reality, it all happened in less than ten seconds that even if Mika wanted to, he couldn’t stop it from happening.

Caitlin couldn’t stop it from happening, either.

The signs of budding feelings slowly developing between them the more Mika and her got to know each other had been impossible to ignore. Cece had chosen to push hers to the back of her mind, of course, out of fear that she was misunderstanding the queues or that they were figments of her imagination. But they were there: front and center. They were present in the way they looked at each other-- turquoise pools meeting those of melted chocolate. They were present in the way they laughed at the same stupid jokes, or how they’d shyly smile at each other when walking down the halls at school. They were present in the way they confided thoughts and experiences in each other, with the certainty that their trust would not be broken. They were present in the way he held her hand, and how her heart beat just a little faster when he caressed her face, or tucked her hair behind her ear, or playfully bumped her shoulder. They were present in the way Cece closed her eyes and tentatively kissed Mika back.

Immediately, a wave of fresh, burning guilt washed over her, causing the redhead to momentarily break the kiss. Five months ago, she was being kissed just like this in the back of a vintage Ford at the clearing near her home, by the man who she had been certain was the love of her life. They had sworn undying love to each other over and over again, outlined plans for the future and pictured the rest of their lives together as a family. Was it okay to be opening herself up to someone else so soon after David’s passing? Would it be disrespectful or insulting to his memory? Was she the world’s most selfish, self-centered, horrible girlfriend for allowing herself to build a bond with another guy so fast?

In the midst of her doubt, she thought of the circumstances that had brought her and Mika together. It couldn't be a coincidence that they had met by happenstance under the oak tree by David's grave. It couldn't be an accident that their personalities complimented each other effortlessly. It wasn’t a mistake that they shared so many similar outlooks about life. And it wasn’t an error that she felt the familiar sensation of warmth, safety and affection whenever they were in each other’s presence. What brought them together wasn’t some random twist of fate. It was destiny.

Was she ready to unlock her heart to the possibilities of what could be?

All it took was one look into Mika's warm blue eyes to confirm that he would be there to catch her if she fell.

So, with nervous steps and a racing heartbeat, she allowed herself to step off the edge.

Pushing all of her fears aside with a timid smile, Caitlin raised her head, gently pulled Mika close with the hand at the nape of his neck and locked her lips with his in a slow, berry and buttercream-flavored kiss.
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metanoia ⭕ Revel in what you are

Member Seen 8 hrs ago

TIMESTAMP: Early Morning, Tuesday, July 20th, 2021 || After “I Promise/I Swear”



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The shortest distance
Between two points
Is the line
From me to you


Featuring Mikhail Zima & Caitlin Cleary
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Like the weights that Mikhail had been carrying in his heart and on his shoulders for so long, so did the freedom to be free of them at long last make him feel uneasiness. But in a different way. This uneasiness came through in hesitation last night. Unlike past times when he had been with Caitlin, or really anyone for that matter, he felt exposed. It was simultaneously the greatest feeling in the world and the worst thing for him because he had spent so much time being guarded, putting up walls that were reinforced with steel and secrets, guarded by armed guards and self-sabotage, and financially backed by billionaires and bad compartmentalization.

All of that became a moot point when it dawned on him through a very convincing Caitlin that she was about done. So many thoughts went through his mind last night, but in those moments, he couldn’t lie anymore. Not to her, but more importantly, to himself.

So he didn’t.

And the end result was any version of a best case scenario multiplied by his best dream minus everything that made him hurt the worst.

Last night, Mika didn’t have to think about what his brother was doing or thought nor who he was: Zima, Gonzalez, O’Hara. When he took Cece into his arms, though he hesitantly poured everything he ever wanted to say into kisses on her lips, her neck, her stomach, every inch of her bare skin, Mika felt the uneasiness build yet, at the same time, as he became one with her last night and with no worry in his glistening blue eyes, he felt nothing but a bliss he hadn’t felt since they were in the back of his truck that afternoon four years ago.

Last night, yeah you could say that Mika’s weight shifted into something weightless. He was exposed, but after everything and after deciding what felt most important to him, being in her arms was the only thing that mattered.

Then as the hours passed with them loving each other and coming together as one again and again after a shower, they were both laying together in her bed. Mika’s right arm was under her neck and shoulders, supporting it. He couldn’t stop replaying every second and minute that was last night. It was a whirlwind of emotions, a tornado of uncertainties, and a hurricane of ultimatums drawn in the sand by the unlikely source of fiery clarity. It brought smiles to his face all night and Mika just couldn’t believe it. Some part of him needed to be pinched because it wasn’t real.

Looking down at her, blue-green eyes full of love and adoration staring back up at his, seeing how she held onto him. While tight as she could, it still was gentle. Cece had always been gentle, but also firm. His eyes darted to the first light of morning blessing Edenridge after that hellacious storm. “Seems like it’s morning already.” He commented with a laugh, realizing that they hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep.

A cloud of gloom seemed to put a damper over the woman's previously content demeanor at this comment. "Already?" she asked her lover, visibly crestfallen and instinctively tightening her grip around his chest. After the magical night spent rekindling the love they had for one another, the last thing Caitlin wanted was for Mika to make his departure. It had been so long since they had been together in each other’s arms just like this… She didn’t want the moment to end.

“I know. I don’t want it to end, either.” Mika saw the disappointment in her eyes, a familiar glint that was in her eyes had faded in a rather swift manner the moment he mentioned that the sun came to greet them. He mirrored her sentiments as he found himself frowning only slightly. There was a significant part of him that didn’t want to leave. Of course, this had been a long time coming and when they weren’t under her blanket, the moments that he had cherished above all else were the moments they were talking. How long had it been since he had been able to lay his soul open in such a vulnerable way to anyone else that wasn’t her? Boa was the only other person he could think of, but it was so much different. Cece always made him feel a certain type of way.

Just as Mika was about to say something else, he caught Cece’s thoughtful expression, like something was on her mind. “You okay? Looks like me whenever Ms. Belmonte decided to go all algebra on our asses way back when.”

Caitlin was quick to laugh at Mika’s comment, being reminded of the times she had tutored Mika in math. While subjects like geometry and algebra came easily to her (don’t ask her about calculus), she was aware that Mika had not been awarded that same courtesy. Back in their high school days, the two had spent their fair share of afternoons with their noses buried between textbooks and notebooks, with Cece trying to explain equations to an increasingly frustrated Mika. It was a task that tested her patience countless times, but that ended up being fruitful when he managed to pass the class with a C-.

The look he was pointing out, however, was one she wore whenever she began to muse about the trajectory of their relationship. "I'm fine," she answered sweetly as her laughter faded, tilting her head up to kiss Mika before continuing. "I just… I can't help but think about how far we've come since the first time we met." Cece mused, mindlessly tracing circles on her lover's chest. "When we talked under the oak tree, I didn't think much would come out of it. We clicked, and we had a good conversation, but I didn't really expect it to go any further than maybe some smiles in the halls and brief talks here and there after that. But we kept meeting up and hanging out and getting along so well with each other… By the time your birthday came around, I knew we had something special. Of course, I had no idea how special it would actually turn out to be, but I knew it was something unlike anything I had ever experienced before-- even with David."

That was quite the admission she just made. Mika obviously knew how much David meant to her. Even before he knew the full story, he still had an idea of how close she and David were. Despite that, at a certain point, it was clear to him that what they had between them wasn't just your ordinary kind of connection. What she felt for him and what Mika felt for her, it was meaningful in so many ways and that was something he always cherished. It never went forgotten, regardless of the hell that followed their first day of their senior year.

"What I remember most about that specific birthday of mine were the cupcakes I didn't get to eat because somebody helped herself to them before I got the chance to." Mika had always teased her about that and he certainly liked to. Of course he knew not to take it too far. He just liked to have his fun occasionally.

"First of all, it was a three-layer cake: blueberry, raspberry and strawberry with cream cheese buttercream," she reminded him in the same teasing tone he had just used with her. "I remember it well because it was my first attempt ever at an actual layered cake. And second of all, I only ate about a third of it. It's not my fault you were too focused on stuffing your face with the sandwiches and the rest of the snacks instead of paying attention to your very delicious cake-- which, if I remember correctly, ended up all over us because of that food fight you started!" Cece retorted with a laugh, vividly remembering herself play-wrestling with Mika, both their faces smeared with buttercream.

“Well it has been a few years. So sue me if my memory is lacking.” But it was coming back to Mika. That day with all the food that he remembered being like his dream feast. A smile crept on his face as silence claimed him as he remembered why it was so important to him. She went to all of the trouble leading up to his birthday four years ago. That was the first birthday they spent as a couple and it was the first time Mika had started to see her as someone whom he loved - yet never said it until last night.

Listening to her, she mentioned that food fight and Mika laughed, remembering what came after. “Yeah, I remember that. I also remember what came after…” Mika’s smile turned into a smirk as he was remembering - quite vividly, mind you - about that moment. “There’s always been something between us about bodies of water and food that’s led to amazing, unforgettable moments, huh?” He didn’t laugh, though he did chuckle. Not that he found it funny, but it was more of the kind of sound one made when they had a realization. Food had always been an important aspect of his life. Be it with his mother making dinner when he was younger or his Cece, it always held a special place in his heart and filled it with memories he always cherished.

Caitlin’s face flushed as red as her hair at the memory, and she let out a nervous chuckle. "Oh God…" she mumbled, burying her warm face in his chest just like she'd done that May 1st four years ago. Mika's sixteenth birthday marked a milestone moment not just in their relationship, but in her personal life as well. That afternoon, between the Zima boy's arms and his body on hers, was the first time she had ever become one with anyone. The adrenaline coursing down her veins when he kissed her for the first time, the desire kicking in when she returned his kiss after some initial hesitation, the anticipation building up with every second they spent exploring each other's bodies, the passion guiding their actions as they became one, the way they tightly held one another as they brought themselves to sweet release, the blissful exhaustion that followed as they laid in each other's arms just like they were doing right now… They wouldn't know it then, but their actions that afternoon had shifted the course of their lives forever.

"I was so nervous that day… And after we did it, too," she admitted, peering back up at him with vulnerability in her eyes. "I hadn't been with anyone before, so while we were laying there together after it all I could think about was you stopping things with me because I was inexperienced and didn't know what I was doing, or because you'd seen my body and didn't like it anymore. It's why I couldn't look you in the eye for days." Cece confessed, thinking back to how she'd practically avoided Mika for days after their first time. "Of course I realized I was just being stupid after we talked about it, but it was something that kept me up for a few nights."

Mika shook his head and ran a hand through Cece’s ginger hair and caressed it soothingly. “You weren’t stupid. Not about that and not about anything else.” Mika remembered the conversation they had about it back then. About how that was her first time and he never knew it until she did become distant from him. “Truth be told, I thought I did something wrong. So I guess if you want to say you were being stupid, then maybe I was too.” He gently laughed. They were both the same in a lot of ways. With her, he always felt like a softer Badger than when he was with everyone else in his life -- or at least in the way he would have been like he was with the bundle of nerves in his arms. “But look at us now? We’re laughing and even joking about a moment that, for a solid time, made us both nervous as fuck. If someone was writing a story about us, I think the phrase that Mr. Beau once said was ‘character development’.”

"You are such a nerd!" Caitlin teased him, joining in on the laughter as she nudged him playfully. Once it had faded away, she quickly added, "I'm glad it was you, though. I’ve never regretted it... And I wouldn't have had it any other way." She murmured softly, adding validity to her words by pulling Mika into another kiss.

As silence momentarily settled between them and they continued to lay contently in each other's arms, a question came to the forefront of Cece’s mind. Although they had come clean about their feelings and made promises for the future, no real decisions had been made about what came next for them as a couple. If there was anything she had learned from her conversations with Mika last night, it was that assumptions had been incredibly prejudicial to their relationship. So rather than make the same mistakes again, the Cleary girl took this as her first opportunity to start their new chapter off on the right foot: by being upfront and direct about the things that were on her mind.

"So what happens now?" she tentatively inquired, looking back up at Mika to closely study his reaction to her question. "With us, I mean."

Good question.

After last night, there was no mistaking they were a lot closer than they have ever been, or at least they were getting back to it. Last month he came into her life and was nasty to her. What he shouted to Niles about her still made him physically sick. Just thinking about it made his skin crawl. But now? Now they were here. He was in her bed, holding her close to him after one of the best nights of his life where he felt truly alive and like his old self before Hyde ruined it all.

He had to ask himself that same question: what did that mean? Where did they go from here? Could they stay friends after what happened? In his heart, Mika felt like they couldn’t, but how fair was that to Sinclair? Mika didn’t like Niles and he certainly didn’t care one way or the other what he thought about him, but even he didn’t deserve to know that his ex was in a relationship the very day she broke things off with him. No matter how badly Mika may have wanted that, even he had some grasp of what was right and wrong.

“Honestly, I don’t know, Cece.” He had to speak earnestly. He truly didn’t. “Last night was an unforgettable experience like nothing I will likely forget. I mean that. But I don’t know what it means for us. Like, do we stay friends? Can we stay friends? Truth be told, I don’t think we can - not after last night. And I don't think I want to, either.” But then there was Niles and what this might mean. God, why was everything so fucking complicated when it came to his romantic life?

Cece’s disappointment about the unexpected answer Mika had given her was unmistakably displayed all over her small, freckled face. After the night they had shared and every step in the ladder that had led them back to each other, she thought that he would be as ready to officialize things as she was. To hear that this was not the case, even as grateful as she was for his honesty… She truly couldn't hide how taken aback and stung she was by the uncertainty in his words.

"Mika, I don't want to be 'just friends' with you," she said with the same level of sincerity he had offered her, shifting away from his figure for the first time in hours with fiery eyes. Her earlier fear that his appearance the night before had been out of loneliness and a desire for sex more than anything else was creeping up on her, and she didn't want Mika to feel her body trembling as she internally fought against the intrusive thoughts. "I didn't end my relationship or told you I loved you or opened up to you about all of these things to be 'just friends' with you. And I know you didn't try to make amends with me after that dinner scene, come to my house in the middle of a storm and bared your soul out to me to be 'just friends' either."

Deep in his gut, which had been turning over itself since she pulled away and he saw that look of disappointment painted across her face. That only happened in two cases (at least when he was a factor): when she was mad at him for something or he said the wrong thing. In a rare showing, though, at least from where he saw things, it may have been both.

And that fucking sucked. Mika honestly didn't know how to answer her question. He knew what the answer was. Any god out there: Slavic, Christian-- all that applied to this situation, Mika knew the answer. She wanted to know, after the moment they had, if they were in a movie, this would be the defining moment and the start of a beautiful relationship. Obviously, this wasn't a movie; this was real life and in real life, it wasn't always so clear cut. Mika wished this was a movie. He'd be able to just skip to the part where he said the right thing and she didn't look like she was going to cry because of the idiot that he was.

No, he couldn't be the reason for that again. Not again.

He tried to shake every negative thought. They persisted because Mika never was able to rid himself of them, but he focused on her and only her. Honed in on that fire in her eyes, the way a creeping sadness was mixed in on her features. "I'm not the best at this. Maybe it goes all the way back to how I was the reason your heart shattered. And what do I do? I come back into your life. Then last night happened." As he remembered everything and as it played in slow motion in his head, he saw how happy they were together. Before all the shit on their senior year graduation and before that hellish year, they were happy together. Genuinely and sickeningly cute-happy with each other. With them, when it was good it was heaven and when it was bad, it was like being on the slow-ass stairway to heaven.

In an action that he hoped wasn't received with a repulsive yanking of her hands to her person, Mika went for them, holding them in his. "I just fear that I gave up any right to actually do this again with you. You know, the whole relationship thing. Even after last night, maybe I still think that--" Shut up and just say it! "I really am bad at this, aren't I?" He laughed and shook his head. "I don't 'just want to be friends' with you either. I want more than that. Like how it was with us before. Like how it was during our junior year, but...more official. You said you never brought up how you wanted a label on it? Then let's do that. Boyfriend and girlfriend!" God, his heart was pounding so fast right now. Was this what it was like to be normal for a change? To be… an O'Hara? It felt nice.

"Do you really mean that?" she asked him in a small voice, feeling guilty about how she might have come across earlier and worried that Mika was only saying what he thought she wanted to hear out of fear of further disappointing her or because he felt put on the spot or pressured to. “You really want us to be official? It’s not because of anything I said or the way I said it? Because if it is, I’m really sorry! I don’t want you to feel forced or obligated or--”

When she started to apologize, in his gut, Mika knew what would happen. In the past, when she started to apologize like this, that made him feel intensely guilty because she would become sad and no matter how much he had always tried to do the right thing, people in his life seemed to cry and become sad, but that wasn’t going to happen again. He wasn’t going to be the reason that she’d cry. It was impossible for him to make all the wrongs he committed right, but at least he could make one of them align with the new leaf he had turned.

As he leaned forward, Mika didn’t waste another second. As her lips started to move, he gently pressed his against them mid-sentence. There were no words from either of them. For a few moments that became eternal, he answered her questions and quelled her worries with a single action. He wrapped his arms around her, bringing her closer to him, their chests touching, bodies connecting, souls embracing, and goddamnit, it was pure bliss.

When he had pulled away, which felt a lot shorter than it had been, Mika pressed his forehead against hers, mirroring last night. “Please, no more apologies. I mean it. I promise I mean it.” Mika kissed her again, though shorter, it held a larger meaning. “I want us to be what you always wanted and what I never had the courage to say. Boyfriend, girlfriend -- however you want to label it, that’s what I want, Caitlin. I’m choosing you and nobody else to be my girlfriend.”

The redhead's eyes filled with tears of excitement and emotion, and her face broke into a joyous smile. Every previous concern or fear about Mika being unsure of the state of their relationship was put to rest when he pressed his lips to hers. The conviction and certainty in his voice when he spoke, so different from the hesitation and insecurity of before, added value to every word he said. Ever since the day of their first kiss, Caitlin had dreamed about the day Mika would ask her to be his girlfriend. In the past, circumstances both in and out of their control had stood in the way of their relationship status becoming official. But today, after trials, and tribulations, over a year apart and so much growing up as individuals, the dream had become a reality: she was Mika’s girl, just like she had so profoundly desired since that May afternoon in 2016.

With her forehead still pressed against his and her arms around her beloved, Cece finally spoke up. "I love you," she proclaimed passionately, holding Mika closely against her.

”I love you too,” he muttered in an almost-whisper.

Mika and Cece allowed their eyes to meet and take in the sight of each other, drinking in every one of their beautiful features. And as the sun continued its trek rising in the horizon after the raging storm, the two lovers locked their lips together in a deep kiss and eventually came together as one once again.

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