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In Edenridge 11 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
Introducing: Hennessy James & Spencer Kesar
Wednesday Morning, July 21st



Happy One Month Anniversary in Heaven, Daddy.

Wearing a dark blue long sleeves shirt and jean shorts with patches all over it, Hennessy James stood in front of Osprey Original Tailors on Main Street with a chocolate croissant in one hand and caffè mocha from Rochambeau’s in the other. She was supposed to be grocery shopping for her family but instead she was staring at a beautiful dress she could never afford. People would find her to be a bit strange, imitating one of her favorite movies, but she found the classics to have such hope and feel good notions in them. Aubrey Hepburn’s character, Holly, from Breakfast at Tiffany's, might’ve seemed like she wanted the lavish lifestyle that wealth offered, but the reality was, money provided stability. Holly wanted stability. Hennessy wanted that too.

To have wealth of any amount, the twenty one year old wondered where her life would be. Hennessy didn’t care about being a princess, like all the girls that resided on Scott Street. She didn’t even care if she ever left the Hallow, or what everyone in this town called Jamestown. She didn’t care if this beautiful gown ever left the boutique for her to wear at tea parties or a ball where she could stumble as she tried to waltz, even if it really was a gorgeous dress and the muted blue would look great on her. She didn’t care what money could get her specifically. What she did care about was the idea of money and how much that would change everything for her family. How much that would solve all their problems.

If she had money, she could make Miss Carol’s trailer into a big house and fill her fridge with a bounty of food so she could eat like a queen. She could help Georgie go to school for business or finance, since out of all of them, she’s always been better with that kind of stuff. Honestly, with the rumors of a new hotel, maybe that meant a better job opportunity for her. And you know what would help with that? Money. Georgie could get the best business attire so she looked the part. She could take etiquette lessons so she aced her interviews. All this could be provided, if only they had money.

Hennessy could give Scout the proper medical attention she needs for her narcolepsy and maybe even put a playground on their compound so she didn’t have to trek to town with a big cousin to watch her constantly while she played on the monkey bars. Hyper as can be. For Blade, she would buy the best makeup and send him to Hollywood so he could learn from the greatest artists and celebrities of beauty and glam. For Billy, she would make sure to give him the largest library, like that in Beauty and the Beast. He could read to his heart’s content and all the books would be his, to keep in perfect condition.

And for her brothers? She’d be able to afford a headstone for Landon and make it a birdbath to show his gentle soul. A peaceful place where birds can come and go for water and sustenance. And Bucky, he didn’t need much. He was content with his construction job and he liked to carve with his knife, so for him, really the money would be for when he ever wanted to go out to be in the company of others and drink beer. A beer fund. Maybe. Bucky was hard. He wore their dad’s clothes and he played their dad’s guitar. He preached time and time again he didn’t need much. He was happy just using his money for the family.

Regardless of how simple her brother is, she knew that money was the answer to all her family’s problems and money wasn’t something they had. Sighing to herself, Hennessy strolled to a sidewalk bench and took a seat, finishing her breakfast before she absolutely had to head over to My Darling Food Mart. The sun gleamed on her pale skin and she soaked in the beauty of the early morning. Her time at Osprey’s was always so peaceful. She cherished it. Just like Holly cherished her time at Tiffany’s. She liked that movie a lot.

Spencer Kesar’s mood was all over the place. In one sense he was happy because he had spent the summer interning with Virgin Delta, shadowing Captain Leigh Robinson on his daily routine before a flight, spending time with the ground crew as they managed passenger baggage, he checked the flight systems and worked alongside the boarding crew. It has always been Spencer’s dream to fly.

He didn’t know much about his life prior to the orphanage. He was just a baby when he was taken there by his birth parents. All he was left with was a blanket and an airplane plush. As a child, he would clutch onto that toy, keeping it close to his chest as he looked out at the stars and the night sky. Sometimes Spence would imagine that his parents were space explorers who knew they couldn’t take their son on a perilous journey and so decided to leave him in the “safety” of the orphanage, hoping a nice family would take him in until they could return from their adventure and take him to his new world; which they never did.

Then when things began to get real and the harsh realities of the world he found himself in revealed themselves, Spence saw the sky as an escape. Thus he studied hard, he took every opportunity he could get to get out when he could. It became his life goal to fly him and his friends out of danger and into the great blue yonder where they could be free. Paramount to this was his friendship with another young orphan, Flora or Floss as he would come to call her. Spencer saw such light in her, it was fetish and neon but it was warm and loving. Floss became his little sister in every sense of the word and when the time came for him to finally escape, when the Kesar family chose him to be their son, Spence insisted on bringing Flora. Trent and Monty Kesar were more than happy to oblige.

He loved his adopted parents; they were good people. After years on the road, traveling with bands and partying the world away, Trent and Monty settled back into life in their hometown with their new kids. He opened his own tattoo studio while she began working with animals at the shelter. To look at the Kesar’s, all dressed in leather and dirty hand shirts, covered in tattoos, one might think they were the wrong type of human being but nothing could be further from the truth; they were the best of humankind. Spence would always give them shit but they were as dear to him as anyone ever could be.

For all intents and purposes, the young man should’ve been happy but he wasn’t. Part of him was in a great state of anger. Vivian Lucasta had canceled on him again, a pattern which kept on rearing its ugly head over the heads of their friendship. Spence had lived next door for years and had always liked her. He had been honest about his feelings too but she turned him down. That was fine, that was ok. He was willing to put in the work but she seemed so distant lately and it was hurting him. It was going to be ok, he was used to not being wanted.

Having dropped off a book for Shane, an old friend, Spencer departed Osprey’s with his hands tucked away in the pockets of his Levi’s jacket and his messy blonde hair hanging over his eyes. Looking like he did, he should not have been in the fine apparel establishment. Now he had to go and buy Floss some chocolates or she’d get very angry with him. She was having her little boyfriend round for “studying” later that night and had tasked Spence with finding the perfect snack. Glancing over to his right, the would-be pilot noticed a gorgeous young woman sitting in a bench nearby and he thought to himself, perhaps she would know what the best candy to get a sixteen year old was….asking her would be weird though. Don’t be weird, Spencer.

“Excuse me?” He began before a smile stopped any further words coming out his mouth for a second. “No, sorry. Ignore me. I was about to ask a really stupid question. Didn’t mean to interrupt your breakfast.”

Covering her mouth, she mumbled, “Wait.” Hennessy wondered why he was so quick to retreat. All because she was eating food? Did she have something on her face? Did she look foreboding? Unapproachable? If she was giving off a bad vibe, she would want to know. It wasn’t that she had a resting bitch face was it? Frowning behind her hand as she finished chewing, she watched him while her mind was going one thousand miles per hour.

Oh, lord. She was overthinking now.

Finishing chewing her chocolate croissant, placing her food on a napkin, which was on her lap, and resting her mocha down by her foot, she looked back up at him and gave a soft, sweet smile, “I don’t believe in stupid questions, so please ask away.”

“Oh, OK.” Spencer took a step closer to the young woman. Now that he could see her more clearly, he was taken slightly aback by how pretty she was. Her smile was incredibly bright and inviting, she reminded him a lot of someone, but who he couldn’t place. “Well this is going to sound really random but…I need to buy some snacks for my sister and she thinks she’s being funny by not telling me what to get her. I was hoping that maybe you’d have some inkling as to what to get an overly happy sixteen year old and her boyfriend?” Spence brushed some of his dirty blonde hair away from his face so he didn’t seem to unkemptor appear like some vagrant up to mischief. “I know I know, it sounds crazy weird but if you met Flora you’d understand….well kind of…”


Hennessy took a moment to think about the name and why that sounded familiar. After a couple of seconds, she snapped her finger, “That’s the cutie at the animal shelter sometimes helping her mom? I sometimes volunteer there, when I’m not babysitting a bunch of troublemakers. She wears a lot of colors,” Hen chuckled at the thought of the little blondie with pink and blue tips.

“Yeah!” So this girl volunteered with his Mom and his sister; Edenridge had always seemed like a small world unto itself and this latest coincidence just reaffirmed that. “She helps Mom out from time to time, though how she doesn’t give those animals an aneurysm with all that color is beyond me.” Spencer shrugged as he took a seat next to Henny but gave her plenty of space so as to not encroach. “She likes to play games. This is her latest one. ‘How to make my big brother do unnecessary shit for me’. Anyway, think you can help me out?”

“Depends. Can I get a name?” The young lady with dark hair, blue-green eyes, and gentle mannerisms smirked at the boy, before introducing herself, “Hennessy. I know. Don’t judge. My family calls me Hen or Henny. And you?” As she waited for his response, she grabbed a napkin out of her tote bag to clean her fingers.

Balling the napkin in her hand, her adorable smile never leaving her face, she admitted, “First time I’ve had company during my breakfasts here, it’s nice.” Amicable and kind. Two words that have been used to describe this young James girl time after time. Her gaze went from her hands back to that pretty dress on display before looking back at him, waiting patiently.

“Spencer.” He responded. “Spencer Kesar.” He could already tell that the young woman’s attention was diverting quickly, moving away from him and to the pretty dress in the window of Osprey’s. “You like that dress?” The long haired boy examined it intently and had to admit to himself that he knew very little about fashion. His father wore bowling shirts and big hats, his mother wore exclusively band merchandise and his little sister looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Despite his friendship with the Osprey heir apparent Shane, arguably the most fashionable straight man in the history of ever, the two rarely talked about the clothing world. Shane had very much distanced himself from his fathers empire, only ever bothering to be involved when his father was down a model.

His mind lingered on her mention of eating breakfast alone. How could a girl this sweet, at least from first impressions, and beautiful be so alone? Spencer could hear it in her voice, that same sadness he knew that he carried with him. That perpetual feeling of being an outsider. “You know, if you like that dress, my friend's Dad owns the store, I can probably get him to get you some kind of discount?”

“Oh no! I could never. I know Shane. He’s one of my first friends here,” Henny started tearing at the napkin, little by little on her lap, not really paying attention to where it fell. “He offered to just buy me things from here but I could never. I’d feel really guilty plus a dress like that would look so silly on me.” Self conscious now, she looked away from the boutique and to the boy beside her. “Shane texts me occasionally when he’s back from his charters or to check up on me. I told him from the get go to never ever buy me expensive things. I care much more about gifts from the heart. And it’s not so much the dress… okay, you’re going to find this very silly of me.”

The tissues started to cover her croissant and her lap. “My family and I don’t really have much but we make by so when I see this shop or the pretty girls that come in and out of it, I like to think of scenarios of what I’d do if I could afford something like that dress. Honestly, all my money would go to my family. Maybe we’d be able to turn our dump of a home into something worth visiting. Where I live, people tend to forget it exists.” When she ran out of napkins, her eyes fell down on her lap. “Oh, sorry… I made a mess… habit.” Blush graced her face as she began to clean up. She put her croissant back in its baggie and in her tote, then she proceeded to sweep the tissue with her hand. Standing up, she scurried to the trash can, leaving her things behind, like her tote with her wallet in it, already having trust for this stranger, and came back to rejoin him.

Spencer was a little taken aback by the openness and willingness to share that the stranger called Hennessy had. She didn’t know him from Shane, yet here she was barking her heart and her history, anxiously so based on the shredded napkin that now stained his dark jeans. He wouldn’t even know where to start if she had asked him to share anything of himself with her. As open and as loving as his adopted parents were, Spencer did not share their ability to communicate in the same way Floss did. He has always been private and on the few instances that he had offered someone a peek behind his messy blonde bangs, they didn’t like what they had seen. It made him wonder if the blood that ran through his veins was cursed. Not that he ever cared to try and work out who he was. For all intents and purposes, the boy he should’ve been was dead.

“It’s very sweet of you to think of your family first.” Spence smiled, doing what little he could with his limited capabilities of making someone feel happy or comfortable. “I don’t really have much either.” The aspiring pilot lamented. “Like we don’t have a lot of money but we get by on what we do have. I guess we’re lacking more in time? If that makes sense? Everyone is always so busy which is fine but I guess sometimes they might forget I exist.” Spencer let out a little chuckle to mask his feeling as his words echoed Henny’s.

Both of his parents had quite time consuming jobs and Flora was at the age where she didn’t need to rely on her big brother any more. If he was brutally honest with himself, Spence would have to admit he didn’t have a great deal of friends and those he did have had better friends than him. Shane had JP, Natalia and that manic nympho girl, Adderall or whatever her name was. Vivian had Mara and Jill. Spencer was pretty lonely, all things considered. All he had was the sky and it was all he needed…or at least that’s what he told himself.

“It’s not as sad as it sounds. Honest. I know my family loves me. I mean they chose me. Sorry that went too deep, I get in my head sometimes. Anyway!” Spencer clapped, trying to shatter the glass house he was building around himself with his words. “Let’s just ignore that and focus on the task at hand. Candy for Floss.”

“Yes, candy,” Henny’s smile turned into a playful serious face, placing her fist under her chin and puckering her lips as she pretended to be in deep thought. She had felt how disheartened and sad he became when he talked a little bit about himself and she didn’t feel right probing. His relations with others seemed like a sensitive subject. They were strangers so it wasn’t her place to ask, so instead she would distract and provide the information he wanted.

Picking up her cup off the floor, she took a quick sip of her drink before making suggestions. “If you want something close by, I’d say Mr. Beau’s beignets. Not candy. But what kid wouldn’t like a delicious pastry? Made by Mr. Beau himself! He makes everything with so much care. And love.” Tapping her chin, she continued to guide, hoping she was helping him even if it was just a little bit, “If you want to give her a big surprise, I hear a chocolate and pastry shop will open… this Sunday, I do believe. The Sweet Tooth Factory. I might take my littles. I hear for the first 100 customers they’re going to give freeeeeeeeee chocolateeeeeee.”

Excitement washed over her. She was giddy at the thought of free anything and loved a good deal. The flea market in Pinehurst was something she tried to go to every so often to see if she could get some steals. Coupons and discounts made a huge difference for her wallet. “There’s one more option though!” She exclaimed, happy to have company and appreciative he wanted to hear what she had to say. “My Darling Food Mart. From what I know of your sister, she would eat just about anything but I think what she would really like is something that her big brother likes. Candy or not. Now that I know she’s your sister, she talks a lot about you.” She gazed at the boy, quickly making a decision and clearing her throat, “I actually have to go grocery shopping soon, if you want to come along? If not, that’s fine. I won’t be upset.”

“Oh, Floss talks about me?” Spencer was a tad thrown by the revelation that his younger sister spoke about him. He didn’t think she would bother. She was getting older now and finding herself and her own life but for the longest time it had always been just them against the world. He worried deeply about the day which he believed would come, where Flora would finally cut ties with him. After all, she and Spencer weren’t blood. She had no obligation to him, no connection beyond a shared upbringing. Be feared the day she would leave him behind, much like everybody else had.

“You know what? Nevermind that. Yeah I’d absolutely love to go to the market with you.” He didn’t know much about the strange girl he found outside of Osprey’s but what Spence did know was that he trusted her. There was a certain sparkle in her eye and a curve in her smile that made him think that perhaps she needed him to be some sort of distraction for her and that was fine; he was ok with that as long as he got what he wanted. Which in this case was to find tasty treats for the light in his life, his little sister. “My Darling Food Mart is.”

Hennessy observed him quietly. He did it again. He backtracked and didn’t talk about his thoughts and feelings. The sight of these subtle mannerisms and afflictions made Henny feel for him but she knew it was not right to push him to talk. When he was ready to talk, he would or maybe this would be the last day they saw each other and he’d forget she ever existed. If that were the case then he had nothing to worry about. They’d go on about their lives as strangers. If that’s what he wanted, she would understand. “We have a little bit of a walk but it's not too bad, plus my car is in the parking garage over there. Well, my family’s car.”

The young woman collected her things, with him at her side, before rising. “Like I said, we don’t have much so I’m usually dropping my brother and cousin off at work so I have our wheels to take the rugrats out or do errands. Georgie usually gets out of work at five and Bucky hangs at the Longhouse on the Res until I get there. This used to be my other brother’s job, and I would stay home but he isn’t around anymore. And that’s okay because now I’ve gotten over my fear of driving, I think!” She had casually brought up her dead brother like it was nothing but based on her forced chipperness, this was simply how Henny coped. Her eyes were sad, yet hopeful and she tried her best to smile through it all. No matter how bad her heart was aching.

Spencer understood the hole that could be left behind by a sibling in absentia. Growing up in the orphanage and watching as the children that he thought of as siblings be adopted or age out of the system. Hell, there were girls that he knew who simply disappeared without a trace. The assumption being they were taken in by some loving family and raised to be fine members of society but Spence always had his suspicions that there might be something more untoward going on. There was a reason when the Kesar’s chose him as their son that he wasn’t going to leave Flora behind in that place. He’d never leave her.

“It’s a nice day.” He said as he got up to his feet. “If you’re up for it, we can leave the car here and just walk. It’s really not that far and I don’t know I’m enjoying the quiet right now, you know?” Spence offered up his hand to the young woman with a smile hidden behind his long bangs. Henny was sweet and the least he could do for her helping him was to help her too.

The gesture of him wanting to hold her hand took her aback. She wondered if it was appropriate when they only just met not too long ago. Knowing her, she was overthinking this and it was simply him just wanting to keep her safe, like her brothers do all the time. Hennessy didn’t interact with many people outside her family and most of the time, she found herself lost in the classics. Rebel Without a Cause, The Best Years of Our Lives, Singin’ in the Rain, It’s a Wonderful Life… the classics. “We can do that,” she nodded in agreement, adjusting her tote on her shoulder. Staring at his hand for a second too long, she took the leap of faith and reached for it, gently grabbing onto it, albeit nervously. Something so simple carried so much weight to her. Anxiously she looked around, and took another sip of her drink, trying to hide the fact that this was something she didn’t do normally. “Onward we go!” She chirped, beaming brightly and unable to hold his eye contact now that they were walking hand in hand.

Now he was even more confused. He had only offered his hand to help her up but now they were essentially skipping down the street together like some couple from one Floss’ teen movies. He didn’t hate it but Spencer also really didn’t understand it. Then again, if Viv was to see him holding the hands of a pretty girl down the street, it could only work in his favor surely to make her feel the same sting in her heart that he felt? It seemed malicious and unfair to Hennessy but surely after today he wouldn’t see her again? This was a one time thing so what was the harm?

He glanced up into the sky above them, crystal clear and sparkling in blue save for the streak of white which was obviously the trail left by a passenger plane, likely a Boeing 747. One day that would be him, flying high away from the loneliness that had crippled him all of his life. A world to explore and new adventures to undertake. Maybe he would take Henny on one of those trips. She seemed like she needed it just as much as he did. Maybe one day his birth parents would be there, sitting in first class, unaware that their pilot was the son they gave up on, the son that was going to prove he was worth more than nothing.

“Let’s fly. To Darling Mart!”
In Edenridge 17 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
TIMESTAMP — Tuesday, July 20th, 2021 || Midday || Before Ain’t No Thing Just Everything & After On My Mind
FT.Colin Brady & Antoine Beauregard



When the news that Jamie O’Hara and Russell Lord were arrested in connection of the most recent round of letters that hit Edenridge mailboxes, it came during a time when things were already tense. The letter business specifically was a hot button issue for the force, trying to find who was the culprit and who was making hell for everyone and anyone. Colin was one of many who were on the case, but he could only feel sympathy for those who were most affected this time around.

Colin knew the O’Hara’s almost as well as he could. He’s had a few frequent conversations with John O’Hara, mostly about basketball, about their kids. His heart went out to the man for what he must be going through right now. One of his kids were the subjects of the letters and the other was responsible for it. He wished he had enough time to devote to checking in on John, but between all of the people he interviewed, the witness statements, and then logging it into evidence before heading back out there and doing it all over again (but this time in different areas), Colin couldn’t find the time. They were spread so thin that just about everyone who had a badge was pulling double shifts today and probably would for the foreseeable future.

By the time midday came around, all he wanted to do was go home. All Colin Brady wanted to do was go home, eat some dinner, and pass out, but before then, he needed a pick-me-up. And maybe, it was his own selfishness coming into play because going home meant having to face Marlie, who he promised he’d be home before 3, which he wasn’t.

Yeah, there were a lot of promises he had made to his wife that he hasn’t been keeping as of late.

Parking across the street from Cafe Rochambeau, the seasoned detective went directly inside, feeling a sense of relief that the cool air above compared to how hot it was outside. Immediately, he saw the owner of the establishment greet him with that typical smile that Antoine Beauregard was known for. He waved to the man as he approached the counter. “How are you doing, Beau?” He asked him, Colin’s exhaustion clear in his voice and his eyes. They were bloodshot red. If he weren’t committed to his sobriety, he would have gone to the Hole and got drunk right then and there. Some days, Colin wondered if it was even worth it anymore. He was causing so many problems in his life and all because he’s starting to come to the realization that he and Marlena weren’t doing great. Any excuse he could find to stay out late, asking for more shifts from Chief Windham and trying anything he could to not have to see his wife, Colin had a problem worse than the disease ever gave him.

“I think the better question is, how are you doing, detective?” Beau had heard the rumblings and the musings all day from patrons coming in and out of the cafe about the events that had unfolded on Scott Street that morning. Of course it would be the talk of the town, how could it not be? Drama, intrigue and some of the most prominent fades in Edenridge, it had all the makings of one of those Netflix dramas that his daughters were obsessed with.

Beau had only gotten to teach Jamie O’Hara very briefly. She had moved schools in her freshman year due to her mental health but in the time he did see her and in the moments he had watched on as she grew up into the young woman she was today, he thought her a good person. He still did. From his several decades working for the New Orleans Homicide unit, Beau had learned many hard truths about life, one of which was that the evil of man can sometimes feel like the only option, the only door, the emergency exit. It’s what forces good people to do bad things. He had to admit that he often had to remind himself that there were always, always two doors that could be taken. Jamie and Russell chose the wrong door. He hoped, sincerely, that whatever lay ahead of them, they would choose the other door.

As he slid over to the coffee machine to make Colin’s regular drink, Beau looked at the younger man and waved a finger. “And don’t you dare lie to me, I’ll know, I always know.”

That was the thing with Beau. In the few times Colin had sat down and had conversations with him, no matter how infrequent and inconsistent they were, he had always surmised that there was no use lying to him. Perhaps that was the eye he once had for the job that never quit. Colin had that particular clairvoyance, but lately he’s been struggling to maintain it. “You can take the job from the man but there’s always a part of it that stays with you, huh?” Colin let out a low laugh, almost like he was mentally kicking himself for thinking he could show up to Beau’s place, regardless of how rare it was for him to come here and not think Antoine would spot the weariness that he thought he was hiding better than he actually was.

“So where shall I start? Been a long day, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Nothing stays a secret in this town for long.” Colin could only think about it again. Jamie O’Hara and Russell Lord. Secrets blew up their lives and so many others. He wondered if the same thing about his marriage and how that was struggling could be next. If something so big as those letters could be found out within a couple of days, what did that mean for such a minor, insignificant-in-comparison thing like his failing marriage? “With Costigan in the hospital, we have been spread far and wide. Most, if not all, of us on the force are pulling double shifts. Haven’t had a wink of sleep since very early this morning. Thought I’d get the best coffee in town. You remember how I like it, right? I know I haven’t been here as much as I would like to.”

“I remember everything, detective. This thing is basically a safe.” Beau tapped the side of his head with his index finger. As he prepares the coffee for Colin just as he always liked, the former detective glanced over at the patriarch of the Brady bunch. The tiredness on his face was obvious, what wasn’t was the borderline frantic playing with his wedding ring. In Beau’s experience, the need to fiddle with one’s forever band meant that there was most certainly trouble in paradise. He had seen it so many times with fellow officers, the job and the street always came first. That’s just the way of the world for a boy in blue. “Things will calm down eventually, you have the perps in custody.” He didn’t really like referring to the kids like that but he would for the sake of Colin. “But it isn’t that what’s really bothering you is it? Why don’t you tell me what’s really happening, Colin?” Beau slid the freshly brewed coffee in front of the other man and smiled. “It won’t leave the room, it’ll be between you, me and Solomon.” The ex teacher motioned to the record player which was playing “Don’t Give Up on Me” by the late great Solo on Burke.

Colin absentmindedly had began to rub his wedding ring. His mind went back to those early days when he first fell in love with Marlena. He was so young and dumb compared to how he was now. He still was foolish but in different ways. Foolish because he couldn’t come to terms that, now they had established themselves as genuine members of the town and even to the point where Marlie, his kids, and even himself had the respect of so many people, Colin could feel the weight of all of that trying everything it could to crush him. He sprung Marlena from her home in Phoenix, the threat of her father forcing them to leave the country and go on the run for years. He knows she resents him for that. Look how he treated her now? Avoided her like the plague and finding every excuse he could not to see her when she was awake.

And of course, the ever keen eye of Antoine Beauregard had seen that. Maybe subconsciously, the Brady Patriarch had wanted to talk about it, but too stubborn to admit he needed to vent and certainly too stubborn to see Shannon Ramsay about it, though lord knew that’s what he needed. So maybe this was the closest thing he would ever come to it - at least until he swallowed his pride and admitted he needed help because this was undoubtedly the closest he’s ever come to wanting to throw away over twenty years of sobriety.

Before speaking, Colin took the coffee and took a small sip from the steaming mug. Bitter with a slight hazelnut note. It reminded him of the coffee back in Phoenix, where he had spent the better part of his 20s in before moving abroad.. “I’m not sure where I should start.” Colin took another sip and pondered quietly for a few moments. In those moments, he thought back on the years spent on the road. First Ireland, then Spain and how his wish to be with Marlie took her away from her family. Without even realizing it, he said out loud, “I’m a fool. Marlena sacrificed so much for me. She left her family, left her life in Phoenix because she loved me. Now how do I repay her? I tell her we should move here, give the small town life a try. Sure, we have been here for six years now and it’s been wonderful. We both have great job, friends, and our kids all thrive in their own way - but at what cost, Antoine? I avoid her most of the time until I can’t stomach my shame and go home and when I am home, we’re either fighting most of the time or we hardly speak.” He didn’t mean to unleash everything and he knows he’s absolutely in the wrong for everything. Colin knew it as soon as he took that first sip from the mug. “We just haven’t been the same since our oldest, Marco, was shot by Decker.” That was a moment that Colin truly started to feel as much of a failure his father-in-law used to call him, especially when he was actually trying to use his son’s horrific near-death experience as some excuse as to why his marriage was suffering.

Beau had seen this dark cloud before. Too many times than he would like to admit if he was Frank. There is an idea, a thought, a wish that any man or woman who wears a badge that allows them to protect and serve, should be perfect. They are expected to follow the law to the letter, to be free of sun and be paragons of virtue and grace. This simply was not the case, how could it be? When one’s job was to gaze upon the bodies of children with holes in their head, leaking out brain matter on their seventh birthday or something just as heinous, how could someone be perfect? Everyone had a vice, something that wasn’t right but it helped them cope with the evil that men can do. Some turned to the very drugs they took off of the street, others alcohol and others dove into the world of sex, whatever the vice, there was always a cop behind it.

“Your family went through trauma and it no doubt weighs heavy on the soul for you that your job is to protect and serve but you couldn’t do a single thing that day. Neither could I.” Antoine remembered it so vividly. He remembered every face in the crowd of parents drowning in anguish. The memory of every student, fear on their young faces. The screams. God the screams. “The job always comes first but what you have to remember, nobody, no victim that don’t matter. You not talking to your wife, during your shit? That makes her a victim. Make sure she matters.”

If Colin didn’t know it any better, he swore he was talking, confiding, and getting harsh truths from his own father. Sean Brady was the same as Antoine Beauregard when they gave advice. Both were worldly but both could also give you the harsh truth, whether you asked for it or not. Colin’s relationship with his father was strained. Has been for years. Yet he was still getting the same advice that cocky bastard old man of his would give out from someone who walked the same life he did. Sean Brady was a retired Boston detective, so he knew just like Antoine knew what Colin had to do.

As he pondered what Antoine said, Colin pulled out his shield and looked at it for the longest time. It felt like hours to him because the weight it carried, the sacrifices he had to make to be the best detective he could be, in his heart he knew what the wise sage that owned this cafe was right. He knew everything uttered the minute he walked through those doors and felt the rush of the AC hit him, was nothing but the truth. “I swear I never thought I’d be this kind of man. Not just a cop, because lord knows when I was a stupid kid, the last thing I wanted to become was just like my old man. But also a bad husband like he was. I didn’t realize just how much I was like him until this very moment passed by. He sacrificed a lot for the sake of the job and now I’m no better than he was.” That’s the part that stung Colin the most. It wasn’t the fact that he felt like he was failing Marlie as a husband or he was taking her for granted. It was that despite everything he tried, despite every fiber in his being that never wanted to be just like Sean, the truth of the matter was simple. Colin and Sean were no different.

Well, at least that’s what he used to think. Colin understood everything that Antoine said was the truth and that there was one thing he could do to change the course of his life. Colin put his shield back into his pocket and leaned forward somewhat. “We’re so disconnected at this point. Where do I even start?” Colin took another sip from the coffee in front of him, trying to find the answer himself but coming up with nothing. He knew he should find the answer for himself, but damn it if he didn’t even know where to start.

“How about a cup of coffee?” Beau said playfully before he took a sip from his own mug of Java behind the counter, his chocolate eyes smiling at the younger cop. He looked over to the large bookshelf that covered his back wall and his gaze fell upon a particular hook in red binding. Knowing what little he did about the Brady-Castillo’s family, it felt appropriate reading material. “I think that one of these’re going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you’ve got to start going there. But immediately. You can’t afford to lose a minute.” Antoine waxed lyrical as he quoted Catcher in the Rye. “The simplest step forward Colin is to take a step back. Take Marlie out, search and find that thing that brought you together in the first place and think about the you back then and where you wanted to go. Are you there now? If not, why not?”

He understood what Antoine was meaning and what he actually needed to do, but part of him laughed (not outwardly but internally) at the suggestion of him and Marlie going back to what brought them together. In his mind, he knew that was dangerous in itself because what brought them together was danger. It was the danger of her being Emilio Castillo’s only daughter, the daughter that Colin was a bodyguard of sorts to at the time because of some…not so wise choices he made while he lived in Phoenix. Choices that came with unforeseen consequences. “You’ve been around the scene of organized crime enough, right? Marlena is a former cartel princess, if you’d believe that. I got neck deep in with her father when I was in my 20s. Caught me on the job with some of my favorite white powder and my old partner, Jack Daniels, and forced me to do his bidding. Work for him. I caused a lot of people to get entangled in my mess. Something I’m still dealing with to this very day.”

Colin’s mind immediately went to his sister Corinne and how she got entangled with Donghai/Douglas Chang. Perhaps if he wasn’t fooling around in Phoenix, he could have stopped her from making such a huge mistake. Lately, Colin was full of regrets. “So our beginnings aren’t what you might call healthy, but maybe it wasn’t all bad. Back then, I was out of my mind but she always made me feel right. No matter the consequences, she always made me feel like I could be better. She still does.” And maybe that’s what hurt the most for Colin. She had never been anything but the best wife anyone could ask for. In return, he’s avoided her, blamed himself, and buried himself into work to the point where it became his life.

He looked at Antoine. “Maybe you’re right. Not sure if we could recreate our beginnings because that would be next to impossible now, but you’ve given me an idea that might work.” It was a long shot, but maybe what they needed was time away. Time to fix themselves. “Think I might put in for a few vacation days. Maybe starting Thursday and into Saturday.”

Beau smiled as he could tell that his words were climbing the wall and dropping into Colin’s heart, where he hoped like a flower, they would take root and grow and force the police officer to reach up towards the sun for nourishment, the sun being his lovely family. “It ain’t never gonna be like it was but all you can do is try. You got babies and they’re worth more than any amount of money or object or excitement in this entire cosmos. Love, Detective. It’s what makes the world go round.”

Turning away for a second, Antoine began to search around his countertops for something. He lifted mugs, plates and trays until his ham hock hands found one of his beloved books with an envelope sticking out. He plucked the white sealed pack delm the yellowed page and spun back to face Colin. “Here.” Beau offered up the envelope to the detective and his face was soon covered by his big grin once again. “There’s a hockey game this weekend. Collie and I were given some tickets a while ago but she’s out of town visiting our daughter Genevieve in New York. Why don’t you take Marlie down? Eat some hot dogs, shout obscenities at teenagers playing a game. Get your blood pumping and just be in a moment together.”

Even as Antoine was speaking, Colin opened the package and saw exactly what it was as the cafe owner explained. Two tickets to a hockey game. Colin found himself half-grinning. It brought memories back to a time shortly before they moved to Edenridge. To a time before they had settled on the quaint, though now-cursed, town of Edenridge, Mass. It was when they finally moved back to Phoenix, after so many years of being away the life Colin had built there and the life Marlena had there, when her father grew weary of hating everything about Colin. During those few years spent in the southwest, Colin would regularly take him and his family to soccer games. To football games. When Marco developed a love for soccer, which he had in Ireland and Spain, they went to more and more. It was something that not only made them all feel closer as a family, but it was important to Marlie. She wanted them to know their culture and Colin remembered just being happy that she was able to smile again.

Hockey wasn’t soccer by any means, but there were still those memories of being at a sporting event that was from a better time. It was just a small step, but as he looked at Antoine, he smiled and nodded. He pocketed the tickets in his shirt pocket. “I’ll do that. I’ll have an extra one just for you. Boston dogs are the best, after all.” The Irish man laughed a bit too hard.

“Good, because I’m off the processed meats.” Beau tapped his gut and let out a heart laugh. “Collie got me on a diet.” He smiled towards Colin as the bell rang to signify a new customer entering the Rochambeau. “Sorry Detective, duty calls.” He pointed to the Brady patriarch's pocket where he had placed the tickets. “Remember, go, have fun. Leave the badge and gun at home, just for one night: You and the Mrs need to be Colin and Marlie again and when it’s all said and done, come back here and I’ll reserve you my finest booth.”

. The comment he made about his wife having him on a diet was something he could relate to. He understood it more than anyone else, when your wife did something like that, doing something that seemed like over worrying or too controlling, it came from a place of love and concern.

After it was said and done, Colin asked for a dozen benguits and a few pastries. If he was finally going to make it home, which according to his watch was a lot sooner than he initially thought he might, Colin didn’t want to come empty handed. On his Tupper App, Marlie asked if he could bring her and the kids something back and even though he brushed her off, not thinking much about it, he was in a better mindset to actually follow through. At the very least, maybe this could lead to a better peace offering than being home before the sun fell on Edenridge.

With the bag in hand, Colin left a twenty to cover the cost of the coffee and the newly ordered beignets. “Take it easy, Antoine. I’ll be sure to yell some colorful curses at them kids just for you.” Colin pocketed his wallet and left the cafe.

When he reached his truck, a 2015 Chevy Silverado, he sat in the driver’s seat. Thinking. It wasn’t turned on yet because Colin found himself in a deep thought. He spent close to ten minutes thinking about the makeshift therapy session he had with Antoine, everything the older man said, everything that Colin said and came to realize about himself. That he came to realize about his marriage. The great disconnect between him and Marlie was the root of it all. He made it worse by putting so much blame on himself and maybe that was also part of it, but they needed to find themselves again. He needed it as much as she did.

As soon as he figured that out, Colin could go home with a slightly less clouded mind, but more importantly, he was ready to face his wife.
In Edenridge 26 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
TIMESTAMP: Tuesday Afternoon
Featuring: Winona Deere-Echohawk & Kerry Casey



Moments like these were always hard to watch. Their pain masked behind a smile, the Deere-Echohawk twins watched their mother as she picked berries and placed them in her basket. They watched their mother slip away every day, her memory of them fading, and as much as they wanted to show they were hurting, they couldn’t. Certainly not in front of her and not in front of the village they called home.

That was the downside of being their father’s children. They had pride and didn’t want to be seen as weak. Add their mother’s genetics, and now they were prideful warriors who felt obligated to care for everyone else but themselves. The twins knew how to survive, and survive they would. Through love and patience, they were determined to keep bringing their mother back, as many times a day as she needed them to, no matter how heartbreaking it was to them.

To those on the outside, they wouldn’t know how bad Elizabeth was getting but to her direct family and to the Coldwinds, they saw the photograph book of her mind losing its pictures, its memories. There was a link to some old PTSD traumas, unresolved pains, and false-guilt that could no longer be repressed. A past the twins knew nothing about seeing how their parents focused on the precious moments and taking care of the village rather than harboring on their personal histories unless it was meant for a story.

Elizabeth wasn’t completely gone. She was still there and the twins were adamant of finding things to bring her back, like the books she shared with their father, that brought a combination of happiness and deep memory. She still remembered her daily routine, especially when it was time to go and read to the kids. It seemed everything at the beginning of her life was all still there, what seemed to be fading was them. And maybe it’s because they were just like their father in so many ways.

It wasn’t until Elizabeth called her son by his father’s name, Bright Star, that Tennessee couldn’t hold it together. It didn’t take too long to convince her mother to start walking back home. Her mother kept calling her Komeha’e, which was the Chief’s first wife. Someone that Elizabeth clearly held dear. With the help from Kerry, getting back on track and shifting gears was quick and easy. He spoke in her mother’s poetic language, which was storytelling, and talked about the many horses he tended to. As they walked down the path, further and further away from the strawberry field, Ten was given the space he needed to sit in his emotions.

In time, they returned to the cabin and Winnie was able to get her mother comfortable in the living room to watch her cartoons until she fell asleep. When she finally did fall asleep, Winnie tucked her mother in, kissed her forehead and tiptoed outside. Going on the porch, where Kerry was waiting, she joined him and leaned her head on the column. She had to go to work soon. “Sorry about that. I don’t think Ten’s ever going to forgive himself for almost crying in front of you.”

“It ain’t less manly to cry in front of another man.” It was strange to see how different people treated dementia. Kerry had seen it first hand when he was younger. He witnessed the early signs with his grandfather and the full thing with his sister's ex boyfriend Walker’s father. It was a hell of a thing for everyone involved: a slow way to die and a slow way to watch someone die. He had borne the sight of people being treated with tenderness and care, like a newborn babe. Yet here on the Rez, Elizabeth was treated the same, albeit with that extra care. It was fascinating.

Since his arrival at Blue Hill, Kerry had tried to keep to himself and just focus on the horses he had been asked to tame and take care of. He enjoyed spending time with his long lost mother and stepfather, as well as their new family. He made friends like Tank and Rio but he found that he was linked deeper with the Echohawks, Tennessee and especially Winona. She was, to him, a light in a dark room. The minute he saw her riding on her horse with Fallon down the Main Street he knew he had to know her.

Every night, Kerry waited until closing time at Aponi’s Heart for Winnie to finish her shift and he would offer to walk her home. And every night he did that, she would say no. Until the day she didn’t. On that day, Elizabeth had taken a bad turn and Winnie definitely needed someone to lean on. So Kerry was there, as a friend, which he was happy to be. For her, he would be whatever she wanted him to be.

“The amount of men I saw bawl in their bunks or whose tears I watched dry up instantly in the desert. It can’t really be fathomed and it’s my something to judge by.” Tipping his hat up and resting his foot on the bottom stair of the Echohawk cabin, the cowboy looked upwards at the incomprehensible beauty of the native girl with a half smile, his lip curled to one side. “And how’re you doing?”

“Processing, I guess,” Winona shrugged, speaking earnestly and from the heart. Truth be told, she didn’t know how she should feel and if she were sad, she wouldn’t know until she was already crying. Emotions hit her hard and suddenly. Even before her father passed away she was like this. Her mind was wired in a way where her priorities were at the forefront and everything else? Like her sadness? Placed in a cupboard, forgotten until it decided to come out on its own. Until then, Winnie made sure to keep a good head on her shoulders, or at least, she tried to.

“I know I’m sad but I can’t feel it much,” she admitted, gently peering down at the man who occupied most of her mind most days. “I imagine when things start slowing down, it’ll all come crashing in. At least I hope so…” she trailed off, wondering if it was weird that at this moment in time she couldn’t feel the dread that haunted her brother. She hadn’t cried since her father died and maybe this was her way of building walls. A way to protect herself from pain. There was sadness in her eyes but a clear disconnect from her mind and heart. Winnie was never good at processing grief well. “Should I be sad? More so than I am, I mean.”

“Everybody processes everything differently.” Kerry admitted as he professed a further step up the old wooden porch. “Some people can’t get real emotional, like a Mama. She’s wilder than a hurricane. My little sister and cousin are like that too.” He took a further step forward until he was standing next to the raven haired beauty and rested his hat on a nearby table. “My Dad, he had some loss. You know? More than any man probably should and he would lash out in this rage. It was a wildfire burning any living thing on the prairie.” He ran his forever dirt stained hands through his dirty blonde hair, shaking away the summer sweat. “I think you’ve experienced a devastating loss before and because of that, you’ve closed your heart to feeling it again because you need to let everybody else feel it first.”

Kerry placed his hand on Winnie’s back and offered to her the gift of a full smile. “And that’s ok, you know? Certain people feel what they need in the quiet moments. In the silence they let the weight of their pain be carried off by the wind. Problem is, the wind always brings it back unless you find someone to share the weight with.”

Feeling his tender touch on her back, Winona locked her brown eyes with his, carefully listening to him. Kerry was the type of handsome that radiated from his heart-loving soul. The girls on the reservation would only see who he is at face value, and he was handsome, don’t get her wrong. Just by his face alone, he had all the features that would make any girl swoon but when Winnie looked at him, she never turned away from his stare. Never let her gaze wander. She focused on the depth of his eyes to the Cowboy twang and pleasant expressions of his voice. She focused completely on him like he was the most important person to her, like he was her world and without him, she wouldn’t know what she’d do.

That was how Winnie made people feel. She made them feel special. She gave them her undivided attention and put them first, before herself. Even if what she had with Kerry was likely different, she wouldn’t see it until it came crashing in. That’s just how she was. That’s how she always was. “Sometimes it feels like I’ve known you all my life. You’ve been on the Res for how long now?” The question was mostly rhetorical. She had a long day so she wasn’t going to drop a guess. She just knew it would be weird if he suddenly left and she didn’t have him to go to.

Their friendship started off as walks from Aponi’s to her house and slowly progressed into more and now, when they were apart she felt his absence and missed him. Missed him far more than she’d ever say out loud. Truth be told, she didn’t understand how he became so important to her but he did and she knew without him, she would feel this deep sadness that she presently tries to avoid whenever she can. The closer she got to him, the more vulnerable she felt. She didn’t know if she liked it. “Once upon a time we were strangers and now you’re the person I’m most comfortable with. It’s… hard to explain.”

“I don’t think it needs to be explained.” Kerry looked out across the open fields that sat before the Echohawk house and spread out towards the Blue Hill Reservation. It was tranquil here. Soft wind blowing through well manicured brush and whistling across the distant tree line. He had grown up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains and the Yellowstone, deep in the Wyoming territory where buffalo graze and blades of grass could change to specs of sand or mounds of snow in a single step. Yet there was something different about Blue Hill. Something special and magical. It helped wash away the trouble or perhaps it was the people? “It is what it is and we are what we are. Don’t need no more explaining than that.”

He returned his gaze to the beguiling indigenous woman and brushed a strand of her jet black hair behind her ear. “You feel whatever you need to, whenever you need to. Nobody got the right to judge you. You’re entitled to be who you are.”

There were times, times like these, that Kerry Casey left Winona absolutely speechless. They say looks can be deceiving but when she looked at him, she knew that he was who he was, no excuses. Smiling at him in response to his gesture, she subtly leaned into his hand before turning away to look at the pastures, the fields and the land, just like he was doing seconds before. She crossed her arms, deep in thought. The silence between them was welcomed because they had each other and there wasn’t always a need for words. Their presence alone did all the talking for them.

When she was ready, she spoke up, “Ten’s going to graduate soon and follow my dad’s footsteps.” She remembered when her brother brought it up, this dream he didn’t want to let go, anxious at her reaction, knowing this was a sore spot for her. “I know we need more lighthorsemen, and my brother is driven. Once he sets his mind on something, he commits and goes above and beyond. I just…,” her voice trailed off, thinking back on her 21st birthday, the gunshots echoing in her mind. “My dad hasn’t been gone for that long and I don’t know if I could handle losing Ten like that.”

Kerry sighed a little through his nose before his hands traveled from the Win’s lower back to her shoulder, his other hand soon followed as he supported her. “I think you can handle more than you believe you can.” He let his calloused fingers add some reassuring pressure to her shoulders. “You’re strong but don’t feel like you have to force yourself to be. It makes sense to be frightened, to be scared. Hell, I'm scared too. Ten’s an idiot.” A soft laugh escaped from the ranch hand’s mouth. “But he’s a good man, with a good heart and a big appetite for life. He’s about to enter a dangerous part of his life but also one of the most rewarding. To protect one’s fellow man, it ain’t something to be taken lightly. It’s the highest honor there is.”

He would be lying if he had said he had joined the rangers to protect his fellow man. Kerry had only enlisted to escape from the clutches of Blackhat and the Outlaws. Yet had found a purpose in the deserts of war. He had found a sense of duty and responsibility. Better than most, the cowboy could understand Ten’s desire to do more and he knew that it would do wonders for his best friend by giving him pieces of himself that he was missing. Still, that didn’t change the fact that finding oneself might mean hurting pieces of others. Kerry had lost track of the lives he had taken in pursuit of victory but had not lost track of the people at home he hurt along the way. His mother and sister were those that suffered the most.

Taking a chance, Kerry wrapped his arms around Winona’s upper body and held her safely in his arms as they looked out across the sea of green. “Plus Fallon is terrifying and will protect him better than anyone else ever could.”

He was right. Fallon was a force of nature that no one but Pava could go up against. Growing up with those two, she always felt like she was chasing after them, to keep up with the amount of sheer will they had to achieve whatever they set their minds on. They refused to be underestimated or taken for granted. They refused to let men look down on them. They refused to be seen as less then. They refused to be seen as weak. Strong women they were, and to this day, Winnie looked up to them.

Time and time again, Fallon and Pavati would tell her that strength was more of a mindset than anything and while they had physical strength, what she had was spiritual strength. Since she was little, Winnie had sharp senses that only grew as she blossomed into a beautiful woman, full of light, love and compassion. Within her, there was stillness and a sanctuary, as she felt everything around her deeply. For her, life only made sense because she saw it as a mystery and didn’t try to conceptualize and search for the meaning. When you quiet the mind, the soul will speak and that is how she’s chosen to live her days. Quietly, with love as her compass.

When Kerry wrapped his arms around her, she wasn’t taken by surprise. Winnie wondered if she should’ve been but him holding her close, like she was something worth protecting, felt natural. It felt right. Everything about them felt connected from the first day they looked into each other’s eyes to now as they stood in the silence of nature. “Do you consider yourself a protector, Kerry?” she breathed, leaning her head against him so she could feel his warmth.

“I try to be.” Kerry rested his chin on the top of her head, breathing in her scent of wildflowers. “There’s a lot of stuff in my life that I wish I could’ve protected more or maybe even differently but you just gotta play the cards you're dealt, you know?” He thought back through significant moments in his life, where metaphysical road split and he chose one way rather than the other. He thought about his father and their ranch. His mother and her desperate plea to escape. In the midst of it all his little sister and cousins, whom he shielded for years from a fury that rivaled a God. Kerry could see the face of every soldier that died by his side, of every insurgent starting down the barrel of his gun. When he slept, his penance, haunted in his dreams for the choices he made, for being a protector. “All I know is if I’ve got something worth protecting, I’ll hold it until I can’t no more.”

Kerry gently kissed the back of Winnie’s head. “All I know is Ten definitely has something worth protecting. This place, these people, you. If I were him, ain’t nothing stopping me from watching out. Cos you’re worth protecting. I’d shoot down the devil himself if he rode down these borders.”

Another silent response.

Winona pondered, wondering if her next question was worth asking. She wanted to know. She didn’t know why but she wanted to hear his response. Cocooned by his protective nature, feeling the tangible thread in the air that linked them together, she wondered what their shared truth was. They danced around each other and their feelings and then had profound experiences like this, where she felt emotionally vulnerable, anxious and safe, all at the same time. Her voice was soft, nearing a hushed tone, as she finally spoke, taking her own risk, albeit verbally, “What about love? Do you have someone worth loving?”

This moment was filled with something he could not explain. As they shared a warm embrace and words of encouragement and support and ethereal meaning, the topic turned to love. Kerry was no fool. He knew where the sharp edge of the question was pointed; directly at his heart. She wanted to hear him say the words. Words that held the most meaning and could mean a thousand different things to an infinite amount of people.

“I do.” His eyes fell upon her face as he spoke. “I have someone who is rarer than any jewel. She’s more beautiful than the night sky and wilder than a stampede of buffalo charging down some unfortunate that has crossed their path.” There could be no doubt in her mind, she had to know he was talking about her. Kerry had loved her from the moment he landed at the Reservation. That first night in Aponi’s where Winnie threatened to kick him out if he caused any nonsense cowboy shit. “And you? Do you have someone?”

“Mhm, I do,” Winnie confessed, reciprocating Kerry’s devotion that she knew boiled inside him for a while now. “He came on steed not like a chivalrous knight but as a troubled man, burdened by his past.” She shifted herself so that she could get a better look at his face, not wanting to say anymore without him seeing that she meant every word. Days went by and now they could share them together. There was no one else she would rather share her time with than Kerry Casey.

Maybe, what they had needed no explanation. Maybe, what they had was all they needed to define their truth. Maybe, what they had was exactly what was meant for them. A love so profound it would last even after they died, just like the love her parents had that her mother grasped onto each day to not lose herself to her disease. Everlasting and their’s. Something that inspired them to fight and keep going. Something not worth letting go. Something that would make her father proud that she found, all on her own, when she wasn’t even looking.

It is what it is. We are what we are.

She couldn’t have said it any better.

“He admits to his faults and shortcomings and strives to be a better version of himself,” Winnie tenderly smiled up at him, throwing caution to the wind to speak from the heart. Something she was afraid to do, out of fear of replacing her father. “Like the warmth of the all-encompassing sun, he shines on me. Like the changing wind that touches everything, he moves those around him forward. He came to me and put me between my life and expectations. He came to me in a dream, and I’m grateful,” she gazed into his eyes, her heart exposed and open for him to grab. She adored him. There was no way he could think otherwise. She loved him. “I’m grateful he found me and I found him.”

With a hand on either side of her face, Kerry leaned down to kiss the smaller woman who was radiating love from her body in his arms. He had wanted to feel her lips on his for so long and now they had it. As they merged into one, the fire in his soul and electricity in his blood exploded in an eruption of elements. He backed her against the support pillar of the porch when he felt her give herself more to him. During a break in the kiss, Kerry brushed her hair away from her face and look deep into those big dark eyes. “Is this what you want?”

“You, Kerry,” Winona cupped his face, and at his lips’ touch she blossomed. “I want you.” There was a rush of helplessness inside her as she yielded to her desires. A rare thing for her. She felt herself weak in his hold as he supported her, and directed her body, pressing it against the pillar. There were wild tremors along her nerves as she insisted on another kiss. Drawing him in with her gaze, she laid her mouth on his and surrendered to this sensation. Surrendered herself to him. There was a sudden and abrupt thought that interrupted her yearning to get completely lost in the moment. Anxiously, she pulled away and revealed, “I’ve never been with anyone else.”

Kerry smiled reassuringly towards Winona and made sure to give her the space she needed. “We don’t have to do anything.” He took a step back and placed his hands in his pockets. “We can take this as slow as you want.” He tilted his head and allowed himself to smile fully, a true rarity when it came to Kerry Casey. “But I want you to know, I’ll always wait. I ain’t going nowhere. I’ve wanted you from the minute I got here, I can wait as long as it takes.”

He was saying all the right words. Winnie knew he meant what he said and yet, her heart sank when he backed away from her, which ended this dream just as quickly as it started. It was her fault for admitting her lack of experience and now he was respecting her boundaries, which was the right thing to do. She knew it was the right thing to do but then why did she feel a painful sadness like she did something wrong? “You have a handsome smile, Kerry,” Winnie whispered, before putting her walls back up.

She considered to herself that maybe this was a mistake and it was too soon for them to have taken a chance. If she had just kept quiet and not talked about what was on her mind, she wouldn’t have felt those things and wouldn’t have known how his lips felt. She was so stupid to think this was the right time and that he wanted her just as bad as she wanted him. He was a gentleman and that was a good thing. She should be more understanding. She was good at understanding the wants and needs of others. If he thought space was what they needed, then that’s exactly what she’d give.

Pulling her phone out of her back pant’s pocket, she checked the time and sighed in relief at a clear escape from this situation. “Thank you. For this,” she smiled, easing her way past him, walking to the front door of her house, “I need to get ready but I’ll see you later?”

“I’ll be there before closing time.” Kerry took a step closer to her, the smile still plastered on his handsome face. “Somebody’s gotta walk you gone right?” He moved forward, placing his hand atop hers which was gripping the open door and kissed her again. Now that he had tasted the fruit of his love, he would take every chance he could to have it again. Leaning back, his nose grazed hers as he looked into those pretty dark eyes. “If you can’t see me, I’ll be at the table at the back.” Kerry turned and picked up his hat, placing it back upon his head. “Just watching someone worth protecting and someone worth loving.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” she softly responded, her knees growing weak at the second kiss. She needed some time with herself to tune into her emotions, and see what was the best way of moving forward. She was anxious, which could be felt in her throat and through her veins. He wasn’t going to change his routine and the signs were all there, he wanted her. Yet why did she care so much about how badly he wanted her?

Helpless and confused, she watched him walk away. When he was down her porch and nearing her mailbox, she closed the door, hiding her terrified face as the nerves ate at her. Resting her forehead on the door, she muttered, “How am I going to focus tonight?”

TIMESTAMP: After Finding Neverland
Featuring: Mitena Strongbow, Penelope James, & Forrest Proudstar



Slowly, the Dreamchasers, no longer the Lost trio, started heading back home. Jade with her Pancake. Mordechai with Natalia. All but one had enough reason to return. Penelope James found herself on edge and uneasy with the idea of going back. She knew the moment she was back in Edenridge, grief would wash over her, as it always did. She was still in pain at Blue Hill but to her surprise, it was taking a positive turn. It made her feel she would survive and find a reason outside of Charlie to keep going. To not give up.

Mitena had taken her on another walk, showing her a hidden secret, off-the-beaten-path gem. Blue Hill, like Edenridge, was full of obscure yet beautiful finds. At first, Poppy was confused because it was a stamping ground, a barren patch in the center of the wood. Tena had explained that before her people were pushed out of Edenridge that witches would hold counsel here and dance around the campfire. That wasn’t what made this a remarkable site though. Mitena asked if Poppy minded waiting for a little bit, and of course, Poppy didn’t mind at all. So they waited and talked about little things like their jobs, their hobbies, and what they care most about.

In time, the sun set and a magical phenomena happened around them. Magic appeared around them like clockwork. Blue Ghost Fireflies came out of the forest and shimmered around them, with bluish-greenish color, glowing, not flashing like their counterparts. It was ethereal to say the least. There Tena told her about the legend that these were the ghosts the witches wanted to give peace, during that horrible period that revolved around ‘the Judge’ where so many lives were lost.

Poppy was lucky because it seemed this would be likely the last day they’d come out until next summer. These fireflies specifically only visit for maybe a month, less than even, but when they do… you understand why the people you meet are meant to be cherished. Love and magic have a great deal in common. They both tie into the soul and heart, connecting them with practice, enriching the self and delighting one’s heart. Poppy couldn’t help but feel nostalgia fill up in her tiny frame, as she imagined those she lost, yet kept dear to her.

Charlie, Maxine, Danny…

For a moment, she felt like she could see their apparitions, like Danny staring up at the moon, book in hand, but she knew this was just her heart wanting to see those she lost, missing them terribly. He looked at her and smiled, the light reflecting on him so magically. She could see it, just by how he looked at her, how proud he was. How proud he was of all them. How proud he was to see them fighting to live. How grateful he was they were still trying.

The night was beautiful. Little Danny soaked in the night, the stars and the silence. Danny Boaz was at peace. She could see how happy he was in this surreal, ethereal place. She could see there were no thoughts beyond the present — his moment with her. That smile, his smile, he wore so well. The energy that surrounded him, positive and warm. The glint in his eyes, hopeful and content. Bringing her attention to Tena, she watched the strange and unusual woman pray to the surrounding spirits and send good tidings. All of this because Rhonda Decker knew what she and her friends needed.

“You can feel them can’t you?” Tena poised as she waved her arms in rhythmic prayer. “The people you’ve lost along the path? They’re here. We can’t always see them. We can’t always feel them but they’re there. They’re there.” It seemed that the young singer had become some form of spirit guide for those that had traveled down from Edenridge. She offered them something they each seemed to desperately need and want. Something it seemed that only she could give them. Perhaps she was giving to them all what Charlie had stolen?

Through the flicker of blue flame, Mitena’s doe eyes watched Poppy with a smile as she embraced this side of her which she doubted the tiny girl knew even existed before her trip to the reservation. She no longer seemed fragile, the brittleness of the glass case she had boxed herself into had now been reinforced by her spirit and by her will. Would it last when she ventured back to her own world? Tena did wonder. Yet she also knew that the difference between then and now was that if ever Poppy or any of Charlie’s soul pieces needed her, she would be there, something that she wasn’t before and regretted deeply.

“No one on the reservation knows this place exists. It’s a Silverheel secret. Only members of my family are welcome here and you’ve been family for a very long time.”

Giving a small smile in appreciation, Poppy didn’t say anything in return. Not right away. She gracefully laid a hand out and watched a single firefly rest in the palm of her hand. Memories, too strong to be forgotten. Memories that not even time could combat. To keep them alive, she had to continue to remember. Their lives ended unceremoniously but she still loved them. She would always love them. No matter the words left unsaid and how things ended. Penelope was grateful, immensely grateful, for the memories they shared. Even the bad ones.

Poppy watched as the firefly left her hand and closed her hand, grasping at the air as Charlie was back in the forefront of her mind. “Do you think… I can be happy?” She didn’t know what happiness entailed but she also knew she had a long journey ahead of her and she also knew that meant more pain and more heartbreak. “I try so hard,” she glanced over to Tena, her voice as low as a whisper, “I try so hard to stand but I keep getting hit with shit. I don’t know why,” she tried to gather her thoughts, her bittersweet emotions spilling out with every word. “I don’t know why this is my life, or why others have to go through so much just to be happy.” She frowned, not knowing if she should be angry, sad, numb, or happy. Not knowing how to feel because she was so tired of feeling. “I just want to be happy,” she muttered, yearning for something new and something good. Something that wouldn’t turn around and hurt her. Something she wouldn’t lose in the end that made her feel a little less lonely. Something that she could call her own.

Tena looked deep at the girl with the flower for a name. She was so deep in the sadness that had been her entire life, she must feel like she was drowning. As Mitena prepared to open her mouth to state her piece, she saw the rustling in the trees behind Penelope and a smile began to envelope her lips. Taking a step forward, the indigenous beauty brushed a single strand of hair away from Poppy’s pale face and looked into her big green eyes. “There she stood, pale, glowing, wrapped in transcendent light. There she stood, pulling me out of the water again. The crunching weight of the darkest depths fading as I flew into the air and into her arms. We painted over the silence with silence. I was happy. She was happy. It wouldn’t last the night but we would be happy again. I would do anything for her to be happy again.”

Reaching out as she echoed her brother's words in his novel, wrapping her fingers around Poppy’s shoulders and gently turning her around one eighty to view the rumblings in the wood and the emergence of Resi from the thick trees. “I think you can be happy.” Tena whispered, gently pressing a soft kiss behind Penelope’s ear. “Go be happy.”

Stunned at the immediate recognition of who would say, or write those words, Poppy felt a couple of warm tears trail down her pale, smooth skin. It wasn’t a stream. She didn’t find it in her to give into the rain. Instead it was a mist blurring her vision but keeping the storm at bay. Wiping her under eyes with her fingers, those words echoed in her mind, like all the memories of him did. If only he had the courage to say those words to her, to tell her that she made him happy. Faith could only carry her so far and in the end, he gave into the dark, leaving her behind. He was her everything but what they had, she knew, wasn’t healthy. She recognized that.

With every passing quote she heard, every passing secret and moments he shared with others, she knew he could never love her the way she deserved until he loved himself. And she too needed to learn to love herself. They didn’t help each other, not in the way lovers should. They depended on one another. And when they were apart? It killed them, slowly and painfully. That wasn’t what love was supposed to be like. Was it?

Taking a couple of deep breaths, she rested her hands in front of her, holding them together as she buried the sadness to see who was coming to meet them. When she saw Forrest, Tena and Charlie’s cousin, a subtle shift in how she held herself could be seen. Her shoulders relaxed, her smile wasn’t as small, and her body seemed less heavy. There was a glint in her eyes. “Hi, Resi,” she greeted, before looking back at Tena in surprise, having not expected to see him again this soon, “You invited him?”

“No.” Tena smiled as she softly placed her hands on Poppy’s lower back and with a touch of force, pushed the ghost girl forward. “You did.” Her voice whispered lowly into the Edenite’s ear before taking a step back towards her bags. “Cousin! What brings you out here?” She feigned surprise as she watched her older relative make his way into the firefly grove.

“Foraging!” Forrest raised a small clear bag from behind his back and aimed it at the two girls. “I have this idea for a stuffed mushroom snack which would be great for someone in need of a quick brunch!” Bending down, Resi plucked another fungus from the ground before turning his attention to the two beautiful girls in the clearing. “You two watching the fireflies?”

Tena glanced at her cousin before shifting her look to the outsider. “We were but actually I need to be going. Apparently some guy wants me to head out as a supporting act for a two week tour of Canada. Sounds kind of badass. You mind taking care of Penelope for a few hours while I go work out the details. Thanks Resi, you're the best.” The songstress did not even wait for the wild haired Indian boy's response as she tossed him the keys from her back pocket and took off with her bags into the woods.

“What the hell just happened?”

“I actually… don’t know,” Poppy admitted, realizing she once again wasn’t wearing Charlie‘s jacket and finally felt the chill of the evening through her skin, sending a subtle shiver throughout her petite body. Holding herself as she watched Mitena leave her, completely abandoning her for a business thing, Poppy tried to connect the dots of why her new friend would do half the things she did within the past minute or so. Like pushing her closer to Forrest or suggesting this was her idea, that she was the one inviting him over to the Silverheel ranch. Truth be told, Poppy was coming up empty. Unfortunately for Tena, the girl with the flower name was clueless and wouldn’t be able to read any romantic gestures unless it hit her in the face. It wasn’t like she was looking for it anyways. Poppy was still rewiring her brain to look outside of her perception, her perception being everything Charlie.

Brushing off the sudden moment of randomness, no point in overthinking it, Poppy glanced Resi over before asking, “How do you know those mushrooms are safe?” He had a little curl bouncing in front of his face begging to be touched. Distracted by the impulse she stepped closer and twirled the strand around her finger, “You have such cute hair,” she complimented. It took her a second or so before she realized that these actions were only meant for people like Jade and Decky. Her hand retreated behind her back. “Sorry… I couldn’t help myself.”

“It’s ok. People dig the hair.” Resi normally wouldn’t allow anyone to touch the wild mane that he had carefully maintained over the years. Hair to a Native American is sacred, it is a connection to family, tribe and creation itself. It is a display of individuality while being respectful for that which came before. For anyone to touch it to some could be considered blasphemous but for Resi, with Poppy, he didn’t mind, in fact, he kind of liked it. “As for the mushrooms, well if we ignore the fact that I’ve lived in this place my entire life, there are a few telltale signs. Like if it’s slimy or has dark spots, do not touch those ones, they’re bad bad bad.”

Forrest looked around the clearing. He was surprised that Mitena had brought the ghost girl here. This was where the family gathered and watched his auntie Dakota, Tena’s mother, leave this plain and join the Creator. The family camped under the stars and watched her fall asleep, knowing she would never wake up again. It was the best way to go, in his opinion. He wondered if his cousin had brought the offcomer here in some attempt to connect her to those that she had lost? More specifically, Charlie.

“We should get out of here. It’s getting dark and we don’t want the skinwalkers to find you.”

“And we both know they’d find me, I’m hard to miss. White as heck. They can use me in lighthouses to guide ships at night,” Poppy chuckled, poking fun at herself. She was gradually getting color, ever since she started going outside more, but not enough to make much of a difference. She was always a pale girl, though since the incident, her paleness took more of a sickly manner. She was getting better though. Little by little, Penelope was healing.

Before she decided to follow Resi, she turned back to the fireflies, taking in the spirits one last time. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands together. Placing her lips against them, she quietly prayed and made a wish. When she was done, she returned to the present, her reality, and spun on her heels, her dress twirling as she did so, “So since you’re here, does that mean you’re not busy? With work, I mean…” she looked at him doe-eyed and hopeful. “…are you free?”

“That’s the joy of being self employed, I set my own schedule. Technically I’m working by gathering ingredients…” Forrest waved his bag of mushrooms again. “…But for you? I’m absolutely free.” He stuffed the clear baggy into his rucksack and reached out, taking Poppy’s hand into his without a second thought.

Resi remembered the day when Mitena came to him with the news of what happened to her brother, Charlie. The two men had never met, never exchanged a word and didn’t have any kind of relationship. Forrest didn’t know Charlie at all but he still felt the pain of his loss through Tena. People would look at his cousin and see someone completely put together, spiritual, intelligent, creative and driven to succeed. No one ever saw her quiet moments outside of himself, Jadyn and Illara. No one ever saw the Tena that cried herself to sleep. No one ever saw the Tena that wouldn’t leave her room for a month. It wasn’t until she got a package in the post, a book, a collection of thoughts and feelings and a story written by her big brother that Mitena finally left her room.

Forrest could recall every passage of that book because it became his cousin's bible. Amongst its sea of words, was the story of a girl; a pale girl with green eyes from the wrong side of town. Having met Poppy a few times now, Resi could tell, no he could feel, why Charlie loved her. Watching her twirl in the dragonfly-kissed coming night filled the world and his heart with joy as pure as fresh white snow. “Is there anything you’d like to do?”

“Well…” Poppy gleamed up at Resi as they walked through the shelter of trees, down the well traveled dirt path, to their next destination. Her overflowing grief and the eternal sadness that encompassed her entire being grew quiet. It was still, frozen in time, at least for a moment. Not gone, it never would be. This sensation that used to be so overwhelming, to the point she wished she had novocaine to numb the pain, felt… distant. At bay. It was surreal what this place was doing to her. For so long, she couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t function. For so long, she laid in her pain, unable to get away from it. She laid there crippled by depression and anxiety. Crippled by self doubt and self loathing. Crippled by her shortcomings and desire to die. For so long, she thought of one thing and one thing only. And that thing, that person, was the Raven perched persistently above her heart’s door. The Raven she desired. The Raven that wanted her to let go and find purpose. Let go and be happy. Let go and live. The Raven she loved.

Right now, in the company of Forrest, all these emotions, her monsters who’ve taken control of her since that dreadful day, fell silent. This allowed Penelope to focus on the boy beside her and him alone. They walked away from the dancing lights. The further they got from the stamping ground, the darker their surroundings became. The wood was dark but she wasn’t alone. She never was, was she? “I’ve been walking a lot today. So I was thinking we could watch a movie? I don’t care where, I just think it would be a nice way to end this emotional day. A story, some treats, and… good company.”

Wait. Hold up. Wait a minute.

Was she asking him to watch a movie? Now this was the moral test of Resi’s self. He couldn’t deny that he was attracted to Penelope. Very much so in fact. But he also couldn’t deny that he had some idea of the baggage that came with her. He had read Charlie’s book, he had seen into his cousin's heart. Yet it only intrigued him more. There were two girls in that book but Resi only had eyes for one.

“Well.” Ruffling the back of his wild head of hair, the young cook looked down at the tiny girl in his hands and smiled. “We don’t have a movie theater here so I guess we can head back to the Silverheel and put something on there. I still have a room in the barn.” Forrest was lucky that Jadyn hadn’t decided to demolish the place or turn it into some crazy sex dungeon. “But I can’t be out too late, I have to be gone for my little sister.”

“Oh you have a sister?” Penelope raised an eyebrow, wondering when she would get to meet her. “Understood! The movie doesn’t have to be long,” she earnestly agreed on his terms, absentmindedly interlocking her fingers with his. “What’s your sister like? Is she your only sibling?” When he mentioned he had a sister, her mind immediately thought of Maxine and all her great qualities. Max died too soon when she had such a promising future ahead of her. So many touched souls Max left behind and then her best friend, Indie, did what she could to keep her memory alive. To this day Indie always did what she could to keep Max alive.

“Yeah. Illara.” Resi gripped Poppy’s hand right as they emerged from the woods and out into the open field. “She’s eighteen so not really little but Illy has always been really shy. She helps me out on the truck though she mostly just preps my ingredients.” The reservation dog took a deep breath, inhaling all the smells and taking in the spirit of the world around him. Illara was his heart. She was the reason that he fought so hard not to fall into the same darkness that had swallowed most of their family whole. The Silverheel sisters, his cousin Charlie, Tena’s father. There seemed to be some curse against the lot of them. Forrest would be damned if there was a curse that he wasn’t going to go out kicking and screaming. “You have any siblings?”

I did. “Yes!” Poppy chirped, looking away from him and straight ahead as she did so. “Maxine. She’s a couple years older than me.” With her free hand, she reached for the teardrop necklace she rarely takes off that dangled from her neck. The necklace that held some of her sister’s ashes. “She’s incredibly witty, a bulldozer when it comes to getting shit done, and she cares, so deeply about Edenridge.”

Fiddling with her necklace, she glanced back at Resi, reminiscing the times when her family was whole, “She would say if you take care of the little things, the big things would take care of themselves. It would all just fall into place.” She breathed, before continuing, “She is so wise for her age, it’s incredible really.” Poppy smiled to herself, imagining her sister and how life would be if she were still around. The ‘What Ifs’ always plaguing her mind. “She is someone who fiercely preaches about the beauty of Edenridge, and that it’s the community that makes it. My town tends to… live in the past, with their ghosts and all the bad. Every corner you turn, a curse. A bad omen. A death story. When there’s so much dark, it’s hard to see the light. But she… didn’t struggle with any of that. I don’t know how she could be so strong. She was a beacon for many and…” Poppy’s voice drifted as her hand stopped playing with her necklace. “…I miss her.”

It didn’t take a genius to realize that Poppy was dancing between past and present tense, to see that her sister Maxine was no longer of this world and had joined with the great spirit. Even still, the sparkle in those luscious green eyes was enough for Forrest to see that whoever Maxine James was, she was a good person, just like Poppy. No one is talked about with the same feeling if they weren’t a blessing on the world. “She’s always with you. Those that are gone live in our hearts and minds or at least that’s what I like to believe.” The young chef glanced up at the distant lights of the Silverheel ranch and smiled. “What was her favorite movie? That’s what we’ll watch tonight, and she can watch it with us.”

“… okay, well,” Poppy cleared her throat, caught off guard with the question. She hadn’t thought about Max’s favorite things in such a long time. She was so used to thinking of the promising future that Max would’ve had instead of thinking of the girl she was, who had her own unique quirks that set her apart from other girls. “My sister,” Penelope returned her free hand to her side, before chuckling to herself, Loved crime fiction. Action. Thriller. So if I could think of something she would like to watch… probably Dirty Harry. Honestly, it’s dad’s fault that we like these types of films. He used to watch them all the time with his friends.”

There was a brief pause.

In that moment, Penelope prepared herself, getting ready to imitate Dirty Harry’s mannerisms and Clint Eastwood’s quiet, unforgettable and compelling tone. Quoting the most famous scene in the movie, she made a handgun with her free hand and went in full character, glancing at Resi as she spoke. While her voice wasn’t as deep as Clint’s, she was still able to project authority, strength, and wisdom like he does, “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track of myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Forrest felt almost compelled to say something cheesy, like being in Poppy’s presence alone made him feel lucky. Which itself wasn’t really a line as much as the truth. There was something about this ghost girl that filled him with joy; something warm and pleasant and dare he say happy. He was entranced by her imitation of Clint’s most iconic character and couldn’t help but just watch her, the way she smiled and her hair danced in the light wind.

It was clear as the night sky above them that Poppy loved her sister just as much as Resi loved Illara. Siblings were a strange thing, some could be as close as close could be, others distant with life and more that led completely separate lives. Both Forrest and Penelope loved their siblings deeply and had done their entire lives, people like Mitena, never got the chance. It was a sad way of the world that even those that deserved everything could go their entire lives with nothing.

“I’m really glad you’re staying another night, Poppy.”

Caught a little off guard, Penelope looked up at Forrest, not expecting the sudden words of affection. She didn’t know why but she was drawn to him. Something about him and his presence, she wanted to get close to. He warmed her on the inside as well as made her feel anxious and worried, all at once. She was at peace and felt safe, yet she felt so antsy just by being near him. An increasing urge that she couldn’t quite understand. Two vastly different sensations that she didn’t want to stop feeling. She liked this feeling, so much so that her face began to blush ever so slightly.

“Me too.”

As they walked down the dirt path, hand in hand, getting further and further away from the fireflies, Poppy found herself absentmindedly staring up at the moon.

She was bright and beautiful tonight. Even when she wasn’t whole, she was full of light, awe-inspiring and poetically captivating. The moon was a luminous guide, whether she was aware of it or not and her cold, arid orb took Poppy’s breath away.

That big moon over their heads was creating a glow in Poppy’s big green eyes and as she stared up at it, Forrest stared at her. He was completely and utterly in her thrall. Even her pale, alabaster skin seemed to be glowing under the shine of the sky spirits light. As they approached the end of the path and the entrance onto the Silverheel ranch he once called home, Resi couldn’t help but think to himself that there was something completely and utterly special about the offcomer, Poppy James.

He couldn’t take his eyes off of her and he didn’t want to.
TIMESTAMP: Tuesday Night
Featuring: Esmeralda Montero
Introducing: Ian Floyd



The Bull Shooters.

A roadhouse halfway between middle of nowhere and somewhere, a place for people who don’t really want to be found. That’s what the Bull was.

When Ian Floyd stepped through the old saloon doors, he was instantly struck by the smell of stale beer, cigarette smoke and manure. The background sounds to God’s forgotten shithole were that of old Merle Haggard records, the crack of pool cues against hard targets, the clinking and clanking of beer glasses in celebration of another day surviving the last vestiges of the great American frontier. Oh to be a renegade lost in the throes of time and space.

With his guitar case in hand, the shaggy haired stranger walked silently through the mess of outlaw souls and honky tonk girls. He did not make eye contact, his hazel gaze buried beneath the brim of his white Stetson hat. The floor was sticky from the perfect mixture of spilled Coors Banquet, Jack Daniels and Warhorse Mead. Taking to the small, inches high stage, Ian placed his case down on the ground and a hand onto a nearby speaker. He needed to feel the energy of the place in his fingertips, to feel the room and its hearts beat alongside his. He heard a voice in his ear, one he could only assume was the owner asking him why he had hijacked the stage. Raising his finger to silence the slobbingly man, Ian’s eyes drifted to him only for a moment.

“Old Fashioned.”

Dumbfounded, flabbergasted and absolutely terrified, the owner retreated to the bar to make the strangers drink whilst the pale rider turned to view his audience. She stood out like a beacon in the darkest of night. Amongst a herd of cowpokes at the pool table, she was at the centre, her incredible body on full display in her mesh tank and leather skirt. She was thriving on being the centre of attention, having all the men and some women fawning over her, desperate to kiss her red painted lips. She was there to hide and she was doing so by being the epicentre of an entire atmosphere.

The owner returned with Ian’s drink which he took and downed instantly. “Another, thank you sir.” As the grubby little man departed again, the stranger rolled up his sleeves to reveal his heavily tattooed hands and arms. Reaching out he turned down the background music which caused silence to fall in the Bull. Hundreds of eyes fell upon the stage as Ian plugged in his acoustic guitar and stepped up to the microphone. He began to pluck at the strings and his eyes locked with the woman by the pool table when he opened his mouth to sing.

“The other day I found myself up on the corner
I thought I run into a friend of mine
Ended up that he was just a stranger
I said hello as he passed me by

But then he turned and put a gun to my head
He said, My friend I'm going to rob you blind
I said You must be down on your luck
I'm out of money and I'm all out of time

He pulled the trigger and I fell to my knees
My spirit left and then my body went cold
I'm looking down upon the lights of the city
I feel alive, but I'm dead and gone.”

Souls meet in mysterious ways. There is a bind, a thread, that pulls them together. Some appear as natural threads meant to be intertwined, fed with needle and thread. Others? A powerful addiction. When they meet and find deep comfort and understanding, just by a look, separating the two becomes near impossible. Nothing in this world can keep them apart. Through some dire alchemy, in order to gain, one must sacrifice, in order to understand the good, there needs to be bad. In return, a gift of an irreplaceable fullmetal heart is presented to you.

Esmeralda Montero couldn’t entertain the possibility of finding happiness she could call her own. She’s had her fair share of hardships, like the death of her parents, or the fact that her sister stays at a mental hospital and has since they moved to Edenridge. She understands the value of life. She understands why it should matter. She understands it doesn’t matter what cards you’re given, it’s how you play your hand. Even then, with her deep understanding and awareness, her life was never meant to be her own. Not in this story. Her life was for her family and always would be until the day she died.

Under her uncle’s request, Esme had been assigned to assist the Gonzales side of her family and their business. She’s been doing that for a few months now and it seems that her stay was finally bearing fruit in the form of the Encanto project. Whether in plain sight or in the shadows, Esmeralda, or Belladonna as most in her profession would know her as, was capable of doing extraordinary things. Trained by a husband and wife duo, family friends, one gifted with finesse and fighting, a gunslinger if you may, and the other who fancied herself as an agent or conductor of sorts, getting what she needed and wanted through different means. Non-violent means. Together, they helped make Esme one of the best in her league. All on her own volition.

Though none of that mattered here. Esme was at the Bull with no agenda other than to enjoy herself, away from her usual crowd, and participating in something simple, like a pool game with a few despicable men. One with a wife but looking for an escape, one who felt entitled over every woman he talked to, and one who wants to be seen as a gentleman but has a history with sexual violence. They saw a promiscuous woman wanting to be fucked but little did they know, this Flower was deadly.

Gripping the cue stick, her body aligned with the shot, Esme decided it was time to stop toying with her prey. As they watched her bend over, distracted by the leather skirt wrapping around her thighs and hips so tightly, she observed the diamond system, sharply focused on her angle. With no need to take a few strokes with her arm, she made her strike and let the trick shot take its course. There was only one ball left and it was her’s.

The 8-ball.

When the music started playing and those at Bull Shooter gradually went silent, their eyes falling on a commanding presence, Esme brought her gaze from the table to the stage. She knew she made the shot so she didn’t need to watch it go in. Curiosity overflowed within her as even the thirsty fools next to her turned to a man with a guitar. When she noticed the musician singing and staring straight at her, she raised an eyebrow, intrigued.

He captured her attention and in his eyes and in his song, she felt a profound intimacy. A familiarity like she knew what he was going through and he, her. His soul was sewn into each word and when she listened to his voice, she felt the raw emotion and desire for something simple, just like her. As much as she could’ve gotten lost in his eyes, the belle of the bar couldn’t drop her guard. Gritting her teeth behind a smile, she forced her stick in between her arm and side, shoving her weapon straight into one of the man’s stomachs. A man who was close to touching her backside.

The Gentleman.

Gasping and cursing, he spat, “What the fuck?”

“I think I’ve had enough,” she pleasantly gleamed, turning away from the musician. Tossing her stick on the table, she scanned the men in front of her before her eyes fell on the one holding his stomach, “Oh my bad, that looked like it hurt.”

“No fucking shit,” the guy groaned. Peering up, his rageful eyes examined her form from a new angle, before straightening his body. “How you going to make it up to me, sweetheart?”

“Hm,” she blandly answered, unamused. Keeping up the act, Esme feigned innocence, knowing well enough he had no witnesses, “Are you accusing me of hurting you? Lil’ ol’ me? I could never.” She teased, casually running her hand through her hair, giving a nice glimpse of her chest and the black cross pasties under her mesh shirt. “Did you two see anything?”

The other drunk men shook their heads. They were too busy watching the musician to notice the quick exchange between Esme and the Gentleman. The music was a much needed break from getting destroyed in a game of pool. By a woman no less. One man went out of his way to give his friend a pat in the back, “Drinking a bit, ey? Can’t even walk straight anymore I bet!”

Pushing the man’s arm away from him, the touchy one growled, “That bitch, with her stick…”

“A bigger one than yours,” she purred, quietly egging him on as his friends looked at him like he was crazy. Frustrated that no one believed him, and that the other men were siding with a whore of a stranger, the drunkard reached for her wrist and forcibly grabbed it, dropping face and letting his true colors take surface. Not flinching in fear, letting this moment play out, she whispered, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Ian watched the events and chaos unfold around the exotic beauty almost as if it was playing out on stage or screen and not on the messy bar floor that sat before him. When one watches these events happen in a fictional setting, you cannot step in on them. You cannot intervene or change the outcome of the matter. The stranger absorbed the scenes happening around him, as he always had but something was different this time. Ian could tell even from this distance that the woman had everything under control, she didn’t need him to be a knight in shining armour which he was far from being at the best of times. Yet she called to him, not with her voice or her words but with her eyes. There was something in her eyes.

He did not rush though. Ian waited until he had finished his song before placing his guitar back into its case and descending from the stage. He moved through the stares of the crowd and the hands being placed upon his person for a good show in utter silence, his eyes never leaving the woman and the men accosting her. By the time he had reached them, the barrel of his six shooter was already buried in the spine of the gentleman and his hazel eyes had not moved from the Latina enchantress. “Partner.” Ian drawled. “Now you move one inch, my finger pulls this trigger and I blow your T1 to T4 Thoracic vertebrae straight outta that potty belly you got goin’ on.” He did not raise his voice and he spoke calmly as he continued on. “It won’t kill ya but it’ll hurt like heck and you won’t never be able to walk again. It’s my suggestion that you leave a few dollars on that there pool table for the ladies and then you call it a night. What say you?”

“What is he, your boyfriend or something?” The gentleman hissed behind gritted teeth, already taking money out of his wallet and putting it on the table. His friends were sweating at the sight of the gun. It was easy to tell they weren’t the usual crowd the Bull attracted. Far from it. This bar wasn’t a place for uppity men with trust fund money giving them a leg up in this world. If they wanted to feel a sense of belonging, they should cross the street to the Afterlife. Even then they better be careful who they get handsy with. There’s a dame with poison in her veins ready to protect her girls, without hesitation. One of R2’s best friends. Primrose Lyon.

The good fellas’ were in no mood to brawl because some broad wasn’t down to fuck their friend. The moment the musician intervened, they were quick to dip, leaving the gentleman to fix his own mess. While he was trying his damndest to play it cool, like he wasn’t scared, Esme could see in his eyes and his erratic behaviour that he was trying to get out of the musician’s proximity and fast.

What a coward.

All bark and no bite.

Shrugging to his question, neither denying nor confirming, Esme lost all interest with everyone but the man who seemed to come straight out of a western film. Tilting her head slightly, her eyes caught in his, she examined him closer, particularly his facial features and stance. He was a good few inches taller than her, with deep depth in his stare. He owned his masculinity but not in a way that would make a woman gag in disgust. With his grit, she could see empathy. Behind his modesty, she could see an Alpha. All of this with how he carried himself. A wider smile curled on her face, looking pleased he got the message without her saying a single word to him.

When the gentleman left their side and only they were standing in front of each other, she was quick to interrupt the silence in between them and gently tease, “My hero.” Holding his gaze, she leaned against the pool table. Giving him a sideway glance, highlighting her curves, she slid her hands on the pool table trim. “We don’t get cowboys here often.”

“Maybe not the same type as me…” Ian enjoyed the show she was very obviously putting on. The woman carried herself like a snake, her body writhing and slithering, seductive and sensual, enticing the holiest of men to certain doom. “But there are cowboys everywhere ma’am. Most only ride in when they’re least expected.” He placed the gun he had carried to the table into a holster on his waist before tipping his white Stetson up slightly to reveal his handsome face just a touch more. His skin carried years beyond his own. Beneath his collar, the inkling of a hidden tattoo reached up like a hand wrapped around his neck.

Reaching into the pocket of his old faded levi’s, Ian pulled a single silver coin and leaned forward, placing it on the edge of the pool table, directly by the woman’s fingertips. He allowed his fingers to trace hers for a moment before taking a step back. At no point did his eyes break away from hers, from the moment he walked in until their present conversation. “I suppose, I got next.”

“I could use a challenge,” Esme purred as she slipped his coin in between her fingers and rolled it on her knuckles. “One pocket. First one to get eight balls in their pocket wins.” The rules were simple enough, requiring plenty of skill and accuracy since they both would only have their corner pocket to shoot in. Based on how smoothly he asked for a game, she knew he wasn’t one to underestimate. She was drawn to him but maybe that was because he was the most interesting person at the Bull and not because she felt an immediate connection the moment he laid eyes on her.

Leaving the pool table, grabbing her stick with her, she broke the distance between them, closing the gap. Her body was open and relaxed. She brushed her hair to one side, exposing her neck. Holding his coin in one hand and her stick in the other, she leaned in and asked, “Heads or tails to break?” They hadn’t even given each other their names yet but there was something unspoken in the way he looked at her. Like her, his name was something earned. By the end of tonight, she’d find out. She was banking on it. Exuding sensuality and playfulness, she waited for his answer, subtly rubbing her stick. Patiently waiting.

“I usually take tails.” She was trying to tease him, to lure him in. With her closeness, Ian could see her breathing, her chest moving to the rhythm of her lungs and heartbeat in perfect synchronicity. That was her tell, like the faint sounds of a rattlesnake in the grass, telling you they were coming and that there was nothing one could do to stop it. “But I also always allow the lady to go first.” Ian removed his hat to allow his greying bangs to fall a bit slightly to better frame his bearded face. He rested the hat down on the table and raised two fingers towards the barkeep to signify his want for two more drinks for him and his new dance partner. “Your move.”

A coin toss was rarely a 50-50 proposition. Depending on the design on the coin, the likelihood of it landing on the side that was already upright was more probable. Intentionally, she let heads face up. She didn’t want to win this. Esmeralda wanted to see what he had to bring to the table. This was his moment to woo her and she’d let him. “Well then, if you insist,” she agreed with his statement and continued, “I’ll take tails.” The coin rested on her thumb and in seconds it was up in the air between them. She was agile and fluid with her movements, and there was so much control, even for a simple coin toss. The toss itself was soft, moving slowly in the air and easy to predict. Her brown eyes never left Ian’s dark gaze. Catching it and placing it on her opposing hand, she smiled before showing the results, “Looks like you win.” Taking her hand off, she revealed that it did indeed land on heads. “Set us up, Cowboy.”

This one liked games, that much was obvious and he wasn’t against it. It wasn’t often that Ian was allowed to play games considering his line of work. He spent way too much time on the road, travelling between towns and never laying down a single root. It would be nice to just unwind with this unfathomable beauty. She definitely wasn’t a relaxing presence, in fact everything about her from her almond coloured eyes, to her dangerous curves and body language, it was all designed to build the heart rate, distract and cause chaos. Sometimes a little chaos is just what the doctor ordered.

“Yes ma’am.” Making his way to the other side of the table, Ian began to rack up the coloured balls inside the triangle, followed by the ball at the end for them to strike. Pool was a game of patience, skill and marksmanship. All it could take was one slip of the cue and it would be game over. He didn’t like to lose, which was why he never did. Picking up the stick from the nearby rail, Ian leaned down and narrowed his eyes on the ball. “Two balls. Right corner pocket.” He struck the white ball and it careened forward, clattering into the others and knocking two balls into the pocket as he had predicted.

Esme wondered how long he would keep this up. If he was good, he could potentially keep going, taking successive shots until his inning was over. His inning would end when he either scratched, fouled, or shot an illegal shot, which simply meant when he went in any other holes than his targeted hole. That was the game of One Pocket. Of course, he could score in her targeted hole, then that would be her point, but she doubted he would. Then again, she didn’t know him and he didn’t know her.

Esme couldn’t deny she was curious about him and his intentions. She knew one obviously was because she was hot and he wanted to fuck her. She wasn’t dumb. Who didn’t want to touch her body and fuck her senseless? Still, she wondered if he was just as intrigued about her as she was with him. Beyond the physique and body language. Beyond the attraction. How much did he want to know her? Really know her. Only time could tell. He already shot two in, all he needed was six more than he’d win the game. But that was the thing. She wasn’t here to win nor play if he made this game quick and painless. She was here to watch him carefully.

This was too easy for him, she could tell.

A waiter approached them with two beer glasses, placing them on a nearby table. Leaning her stick on the same table, she grabbed one, took a leisure sip, and declared, “I change my mind,” before daring, “If you can get all the balls in that one pocket, without it coming back to me, I’ll give you… something of mine. If you fail? Well, I guess you’ll just have to kiss me goodbye.” Her lips curled into a smirk, as she took another sip of her drink. She did love games, that was just how she and her sister spent their time. More so her little sister nowadays since her job didn’t really allow a spa day or a vacation or two. So times like these, where she did have a break in between jobs, she made the most of it. Enjoyed it while it lasted.

Ian had made the mistake of showing how easy it was for him to pocket a ball. He had played his first card a bit too early it seemed but as she could, she changed the game. Something of hers? With someone like this nameless woman, that could literally be anything. She was ramping up the intrigue with every passing glance she offered him. Leaning down to take his next shot, Ian did not look at what he was doing. Instead his eyes stayed locked upon the Latina beauty that was trying to pull on his strings. He struck the white ball again and he knew straight away that it would hit and sink the next ball into the hole. “Count me in.”

The game came and went. As expected, Ian won with ease. Since Esme had been playing billiards with men for the past hour or so, she didn’t want to do another game. Instead they went to the bar to talk, continuing to explore each other’s souls with every glance. At this point, the two had indulged in a couple of beers and kept the back and forth going with teasing; the Latina complimenting his obvious skill in shooting his target. The woman’s shoulders eased more, her breathing steady and slow, little creases around her eyes, as she smiled through her stare and her lips. Her painted red, playful and enticing lips.

Esmeralda was no idiot. She knew simply by how the musician held himself and the depth in his eyes that she was spending time with the most dangerous man in the bar. But she also knew he wasn’t there to work, he was there to find something. Peace? Rest? An escape? Simplicity? Whatever it was, she felt like she could relate. At least, she thought she could. Those eyes drew her in like the smell of her mother’s chicken tortilla soup or the sound of her father strumming his guitar.

Her cousin Rico was always one of her favourites and maybe it was because his talent reminded her so much of her father. Her dad, Miguel, never did pursue his dreams in music. He chose family at the end of the day and dedicated his life helping her uncle Esteban in any ‘political’ affairs, using his charisma and empathy to strengthen client relationships. When he passed away, he had written in his will that he wanted Rico to have his guitar and his songbook, knowing well enough in time that boy would make something out of his past. His once upon a dream. His dream changed, of course. His dream was in the form of his two little girls and helping them blossom into the beautiful flowers he knew they were. His dream was his love for his family.

Her mother too held strong values with the family. She was focused on keeping the foundation of the Monteros strong, being the rock for holidays and traditions while whispering advice to her brother. Estefania was intelligent, witty and ruthless when she needed to be. Her uncle would say in passing that if she cared more about the business and not so much about protecting the family, she would’ve surpassed him a long time ago. But family was everything to her. While on the surface she was a woman who owned a restaurant in Little Havana, Miami, giving the Hispanic community comfort food and motherly advice, the reality was, her brother trusted her and her wisdom, and when he was lost he would search for his compass. His sister, the person that would always lead him back home and remind him of the reasons behind his goals.

And now, both her parents were no longer in this world.

Esme didn’t know what this mystery man was to her yet. She didn’t know if their time together was only for a moment or for a season, or perhaps even longer. For now, he was here and she was here with him. The intrigue and anticipation was sitting on the edge of their seats as she took another sip of beer. They hadn’t looked away from each other this entire time and she noted a while ago that all he cared about was her eyes. Her body was a plus, obviously, yet he seemed more interested in unmasking her and looking for any secrets he could find through the flames of fire that were her warm brown eyes. She liked that. “What’s your story?” She unabashedly asked. “What separates you from all the other cowboys?”

Ian’s thumb traced the rim of the top of his bottle as he looked deep into Esme’s big brown eyes. Their entire game, he had felt the glare from all the other patrons of the bar. The seductive woman stood out in a crowd wherever she went thanks to her all encompassing beauty, whereas Ian brought attention to himself because of his own visage, an outlaw renegades who had just taken his first steps out of a Spaghetti Western.

His thoughts lingered on her question. ’What’s your story?’ It was a loaded question if ever there was one. He had heard in the past that unloading onto a perfect stranger could sometimes be the best catharsis a person could ask for. Did he need catharsis? Did he deserve it? Ian Floyd had not led a pretty life. He had not led a good or decent life. To venture down the long and lonesome roads that he chose to travel down, the cowboy had to disassociate the acts that he had committed with his body from his soul. Ian sat opposite the enchantress with only one regret that he still carries around in his heart like a weighted sack full of stones, dare he share that regret?

“I ain’t never tryna be anything other than what I am.” He responded. “I’ve seen and done things that I expect to burn for and I’ve made peace with that. Can you say the same?”

“Oh baby,” Esme took a swig of her beer, before finally breaking eye contact. Sighing to herself, she stared at the alcohol inventory, like she was staring into a deep void. Empty eyes and a lost soul. “I’m my own personal hell, already burning. But yeah,” she replied, resting her chin in her hand and her elbow on the bar top. “I get what you’re saying,” she glanced back at him, giving him a half smile, “I am who I am. No excuses.” She understood where he was coming from. More than he likely realized. Or maybe he knew, simply from the way she looked at him, that she too made peace with the things she’s done. She was young, her demons weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so it made sense to embrace them instead of acting like they didn’t exist. Embrace the storm, become it.

Whether they were saints or sinners, it didn’t matter. From sins of their past, some rise. Others, on the other hand, fall because of their virtue. Good and evil, it was such a subjective subject. Esme knew she was strong but she was also tired. A storm that most would run from, but she wanted someone to walk into it and not be afraid of all the things that came with committing to her. Her past, her sins, and her family. This was getting awfully dreary and personal. Shifting the tone, she turned her body towards him, her mind compartmentalising the dark so that she could focus on the present. Her beer was left by its lonesome self but that's fine, she had a few and was feeling good. She’d come back to it, or not. “How long have you been playing music?” she asked, her knees touching him ever so slightly, inviting him in.

Ian could feel the skin of her knees gracing him with their presence and any other normal hot blooded man would’ve glanced down to look but his eyes stayed with hers. He could see in the darks of her big brown eyes that there was a pool of sadness. The way she stared off and reflected, for a brief moment he wondered if she shared the same thoughts and feelings he did? That was a question for a later date, if there was one, it was not a question for now. Ian accepted her invitation and his tattooed hand wandered down to her knee, his thumb gently drawing circles on it. “All my life but I never made a single dollar from it. Never tried. Music to me ain’t about money, it’s about catharsis. It’s about words and sounds that strung together can make a cowboy form west Texas, a street hustler from Baltimore and a vision like yourself all feel something deep and meaningful and real.”

“Wish I could say the same,” Esme purred, acknowledging that beyond a pretty face, she was a woman of little hobbies. As playful as she wanted to come across, nights like these were rare. She was a workaholic. Once upon a time she and her family would go hiking, rock climbing, biking, hunting, fishing— they were an outdoor recreational family. Though Espie would make sure to always bring her comics and her sketchpad, her father would bring his guitar, and her mother would crochet dolls. Esme didn’t have an art. She preferred looking around and studying the plants and the animals, taking in the stars and clouds, and watching her family in appreciation. She admired people like Ian, like her family. Talented people that could connect souls through their passion.

Esmeralda wasn’t someone who could connect easily with others. She didn’t know why but she was always like this. It wasn’t like she was intentionally trying to have a guard up. It’s just when she was given the opportunity to make a friend, searching for emotional transparency and connection, she found disinterest instead. People were not worth her time. Her uncle grieves this part of her, blaming himself for not shielding her from the reality of the world at such a young age. He’s convinced himself that there were things his sister hadn’t told him and that his two nieces were exposed to trauma that neither of his own kids would understand. At such a young age too. Esme didn’t think it was that deep. She simply didn’t find most people interesting and was content with her own company.

Was she lonely? She hadn’t put much thought into it but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t enjoying herself right now. There was something between her and this mysterious musician that she had never felt before and without hesitation, she knew she would follow this unusual feeling and see how long it’ll last. How long it would burn. “My dad used to play music. Never pursued it but as long as he had his family and his guitar, he was happy,” she responded, her deep, brown eyes softening at the thought of her late parents. “The most I’ve ever felt was when I’ve listened to his songs, and now your’s. At some point I just…” she sighed, her chest moving with such sensuality. Everything she did, whether she liked it or not, came across extremely seductive. Closing her eyes briefly to feel his caress on her knee, before gradually opening them to fix her gaze with his, she let the silence linger. His stare was intense and full of depth. So much could be seen simply by the way he looked at her. It made her want him. It made her want to know how he felt.

Silently, Esme drew him in, begging him to take her, as she finished her thought in an almost whisper, “… stopped feeling.” Subtly, her expression and body language hinted at her need for intimacy. Heat emitted off her and her smile was enticing. She could feel the intrigue and yearning between them. This unspoken synergy. She wanted him and she wasn’t hiding it. It was his call, he could shoot his shot. The latina was giving him all the signs in the world. If he wanted to take her, right now, he could.

Ian had learned very early in his life how to remove himself from the ways of feeling. He had made his living for nearly twenty years, ending the lives of others. The only way he could do such a thing without remorse was to remove his soul from the equation. It was his belief that the body was merely a tool to be used by the spirit to carry it across the world. When Ian took on a contract, it was him killing, it was his body, that was the weapon. That was why with every new vessel whose journey he ended, he marked his own body with ink to remind himself of the soul that he helped reach its final destination.

As he looked into Esme’s big brown eyes, despite the allure of her vessel, he was drawn in by the soul that inhabited it. A dangerous, seductive and well travelled soul that felt kindred to his own. Ian stood up to his full height, placing his hands on her thighs as he stood between her legs. He did not say a word as he took a hold of Esme’s hand and led her to her feet and out of the door of the dirty bar.

For a moment, the bar went silent. Two enigmas with such commanding presence walking out, hand in hand. There is nothing more dangerous, more powerful, and more compelling than a woman and a man who know themselves, neither caring if they live or die, yet both coming to the same idea. One idea. And that idea? There was him, there was her, and then there was both of them. Together and ready, to explore this sudden turn in fate.

There is something we live by, we die by. Of all the pure things, of all that is true, for both sinners and saints. It could be used as a weapon and it can be used to destroy but that’s not all it could be used for. Neither strangers shared their names. Even so, their souls did all the talking. They weren’t people who played it safe and this could be either the start of something wonderful or the start of something torturous. A sweet dream or beautiful nightmare.

They found themselves in a nearby alleyway. He pushed her up against a wall…

Whatever this was, it certainly was the start of something new.
TIMESTAMP — Tuesday July 21st, 2021
FT — Stacy Capek, Salvatore Montero,
Small FT from Mr. Beau
LOCATION — Cafe Rochambeau



Stacy had remained mostly quiet throughout the entire walk. It wasn’t that she didn’t have anything to say or that what had happened was still eating away at her. In the reality of it all, she was still overwhelmed by it and she wanted to savor the time spent with Sal and with their hands locked together, fingers interlaced, but above all, she didn’t know what to say. Maybe part of it was Dylan’s mind games yet again preventing her from embracing this blissful moment entirely.

But what she knew to be absolutely certain was, despite Dylan’s residual effects still on her mind, it wasn’t enough to completely undo how happy the cheerleader was. Nothing could take away the fact she knew she was protected. No amount of second guessing or Dylan Doyle’s voice in her head would undo what Salvadore Montero did for her today.

She allowed herself to look around, see the street, the local businesses, the life of Edenridge. What Mika had told her about this place over the years didn’t do any of it justice. She always felt like he didn’t like Edenridge enough to brag about some of the places that she was seeing as they walked down the street. “It’s beautiful here. I adore the charm these shops have.” She was smiling, looking at Sal. “I can see why my sister loves coming here so much. Even after last night, it’s such a vibe.”

“I used to visit once or twice a year.” Salvador mused. He knew bringing up the events that had just unfolded was not what Stacy needed at that time. She needed to decompress and relax. Being forced to face something sometimes was the best way to deal with it but other times all it did was make things far worse, Sal was living proof of that. “I have a bit of family here so when my Dad got the call about maybe building a hotel here, he got real excited.” He could see the light smiles crossing Stacy’s lips the deeper they got into town and the further away from the site of Dylan’s rage. She had such a beautiful smile. Reaching the popular cafe called Rochambeau, Sal stopped for a second to open the door. “Shall we, m’lady?”

He has family here too?! Stacy wanted to ask so badly if maybe he knew her brother. That would be one small world and even more than that, she wanted to just live the normal life. She wanted to be able to go where she pleased. But right now, her mind was thinking about how she just wanted to introduce Sal to Mika. Both who have been heroes to her and one in only such a short amount of time.

Shaking herself out of her deep thought, she giggled as she walked through the door, indulging him as she turned to face him, curtsying like she was a dame from Downton Abbey. “Why thank you, Ser Sal!” She couldn’t stop giggling, taking his hand yet again, this time pulling him inside.

“You realize I’m Mexican right? I’m no Sir, I’m probably your slave. Not that that could ever be a bad thing.” Sal didn’t know whether that was a witty comment or whether he had just very blatantly put his massive foot in his massive mouth. He took off the baseball cap he had on to protect his eyes from the summer sun. His mother always said wearing a hat indoors was bad luck. “Sorry that was awful. I’m so used to being around…yeah no never mind.”

He followed the young girl into the coffee shop. It definitely wasn’t anything like any of the Starbucks he was used to in Miami. It was much more homely. Well decorated, classic interior, almost like walking into someone’s living room. The soft soulful background noise reminded him of some long forgotten lounge in the darkest and most interesting parts of Harlem. Salvador wrapped his arm around Stacy as they made their way towards the counter. “What would you like? My treat.”

Stacy couldn’t stop giggling at Sal’s joke. It was bad but in the best ways. In a lot of ways, she couldn’t help but feel he and her brother would get along amazingly. They both told jokes like that. The kinds that would make people roll their eyes at them but also make them smile wider than they ever had. Much like Salvador was doing for her right now.

She knew of this place. Everyone knew about Rochambeau Cafe. Stacy may have lived in Pinehurst, but even people from her high school knew about this cafe. Whenever Pinehurst would have a game in Edenridge, she and the girls from the squad would make their way here. She had small conversations with the owner, Mr. Beau. He was a lot like her Uncle Gus. Wise and full of life. She also heard about the cafe from Mika a few times, said the beignets were to die for. Along with the coffee. Couldn’t go wrong with them, he’d say.

“My brother says the beignets are to die for. Oh and the blueberry biscuits. The soft bake kind. OH and maybe a…oh what did he say? Pastel de Nata?” Stacy felt like she was getting greedy, but with everything going on today with Dylan, she forgot to eat. “Sorry, that’s too much. I can just have a beignet if it’s too much.” She bit her lip nervously.

“There’s no such thing as too much, there’s only what we can handle.” It wasn’t a great philosophy but Salvador was doing his best to be somewhat charming for the beautiful girl that clung to his arm.

His mind drifted to his childhood, to one particularly rainy Miami evening. Both he and Cass had come down with the flu. Esteban too was fighting off the illness, drenched in machismo and cough medicine but Ivelisse had forbidden him from working. Thus both hoteliers were stuck in their penthouse with their very sick children. Sal was a needy child and wanted all the food. Cass was happy to sit and watch her father pretend not to work. Throughout the entire evening, Ivelisse continued to order more and more food for Sal to eat. In hindsight it was probably a lesson in greed but at the time, all it did was make him happy. The night ended with the family together, watching The Princess Bride, Esteban and Cassie passed out asleep and Sal struggling to stay awake but with his mother smiling from ear to ear as she stroked his hair and mouthed along to every line of dialogue. She seemed happy.

The reason he thought of that day was because he had realized that Stacy was doing the same thing he did, trying to eat away the pain and distract herself by laughing at his corny jokes. Perhaps she needed a night like that just like he did. Salvador bowed his head in his best Dread Pirate Roberts impression towards his Princess Buttercup. “As you wish.” He went up to the counter and smiled at the jolly man standing there with his eyes that were once buried in a book now glowing welcomingly at the young pair. “Can we get two beignets, two nata, two blueberry biscuits and I’ll have a chai latte. Stacy, what would you like to drink?”

Stacy, on some level, had always been so used to apologizing for her sometimes gluttonous and indulgent cravings. It didn’t help that she always had a major sweet tooth. She typically kept it in check through dieting and rigorous exercising, but lately it had been the last thing on her mind. And now it still was but for a better reason. “Iced chocolate mocha frappe, but can I get it with almond milk instead of whole?” Stacy’s first instinct was to look to Sal, but she also gave her attention to the infamous Mr. Beau himself, whose whole aura reminded her so much of her Uncle Gus. She didn’t know if it was ever appropriate, but she felt like he could hear all of her bad days and offer the best advice or just a hug to make it all better. At least, that’s what Mika always said about Antoine Beauregard.

“You heard the lady.” Salvador beamed at the older man behind the counter. “Iced chocolate mocha frappe with almond milk.” He reached into his overalls for some change and realized in that moment that he was certainly not dressed for a coffee date. Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the shop window, Sal noted his black hair looming shaggy beneath his turned back baseball cap, his body was only covered by a white tank and his lower half by dirty, paint covered overalls which he had borrowed from one of ReyRey’s people. God, how could she even stand to look at him like that. Shaking away the negativity, Sal pulled out a few dollars and slipped them over to the large gentleman.

“Why don’t you lovebirds take a seat? Back corner booth is free. I’ll bring over your order.” Beau smiled as he always did as he tossed the cash in the register and began to prepare Sal and Stacy’s food and drinks. Today seemed to be a day for love and couples. It was started with Miss O’Hara and Miss Kaine and then Miss Navarro and Mister Takahashi. Now it seemed it was with the two young folk that he wasn’t too familiar with; though he did recognise the boy from previous sparse visits. Maybe once a year, he was a relative of his old friend Big Rey Gonzalez. The duo seemed infatuated with each other based on their gazes. It made Beau miss Colleen, he couldn’t wait for her to be home from visiting Genevieve in New York. It also made him wonder when his children would find the same love that he had with his wife? It made him wonder when he would be a grandfather. He was getting older and time was creeping up fast.

As Beau lovingly prepared their order, Sal led Stacy by the hand to the booth that the jovial man had directed him to. He allowed Stacy to sit first before taking his seat directly opposite her. “I just wanna say….I’m glad you wound up at Swerve last night. I don’t think there’s anywhere else I would’ve rather have waited out the storm, especially considering the company…”

It was impossible for Stacy to withhold a giggle. She knew who he was referring to. Between that very assertive blonde, Bron and the crazy-haired dude who nearly gave her a heart attack, she and Sal stood out like sore thumbs. Even Marco seemed to fit in more than they did. “I’m happy I did too. In truth, part of me thinks that me being there was such a happy accident, but I don’t think it was.” She pondered on yesterday’s events. She knew it was risky coming to Edenridge. She understood some of the risks, but maybe she just couldn’t stay away. MAybe she was just like her father and brother, after all. She had only intended to come to this town to meet up with Adam, but then she met Marco and that made a lot of things out of her control unfold in such a chaotic way.

Stacy never believed in accidents. Fate was something close to her heart. Maybe the hopeless romantic in her needed to believe in that. She sometimes felt like it was her fate to be with someone like Dylan. Like maybe because of the man her father was, but she tried not to think of it like that. But meeting Salvadore yesterday, bonding with him, being happy with him. That also was fated to be. “Do you believe in fate? Or that things were meant to happen so other things later down the road could be made possible?” She let her mind wander again, trying to decide if mentioning something that she knew she shouldn’t was a good idea, but looking at Sal, she knew she could trust him.

“Hm, that’s a good question.” Taking his seat opposite Stacy just in time for Beau to bring their coffee and treats, Sal leaned against his fist as he pondered her musings. His family was not a peaceful one. They were violent criminals who did not think twice about shooting someone in the street and mincing their bodies into dog meat. Yet they were religious, praying to Gods and believing with absolutely certainty that what they did was for some greater good and cause. If he were to believe in fate, then all the heinous acts of the world had to happen for a reason. The difficulty in that belief could be found in not knowing what the reason was. “I guess sometimes.” He responded. “I guess my opinion changes day to day.” Salvador thought about it some more; if his mother hadn't died he wouldn’t be in Edenridge, he wouldn’t be in that booth with Stacy and his stomach wouldn’t have butterflies. “Today, I do.”

Stacy felt something in her stomach tighten during the long pause that Salvador took. She knew she asked a heavy question. Even as she asked it and thought about what her reasoning could be for asking such a deep question, she knew just how loaded of an inquiry it was. Before today, she never gave it much thought herself, but as she gripped her wrist, only holding it with a light grasp, she thought about today. About Dylan. About how he changed the way she looked about the world. Maybe that was overdramatic for her to think. He just grabbed her wrist. It’s not like Dylan actually hurt her past making her feel small in such a vast world.

“I’m so happy to hear that. Because I do too!” She said that so fast she didn’t hear it until a few seconds. “I mean, not happy but just…relieved that we both feel the same about it.” As she took a sip of her ultra-sweet drink, she thought about what she wanted to say. She felt so safe and even protected with Salvador, more than she ever did under her uncle and aunt’s roof and she just couldn’t stop thinking about Mika, how he sacrificed so much to keep her and Katya out of danger, but no matter where they went, that was always going to find them. Dylan proved that. “I used to not give it much thought. Like I always believed in fate, but only half-heartedly. Things happen for a reason and nothing could change that, but today…” She took another short, though it felt like a long one, sip from her mocha. “I know I mentioned my brother and if I told you what I want to tell you, he’d probably kill me in a way an older brother who just loves me too much could. But I feel like I can trust you. And, if I’m being honest, I need to tell somebody. And you’re the only person who I feel comfortable enough with to let it all out to.” In her head, she knew she wasn’t making much sense. Not about what she wanted to vent off her chest nor what she could only imagine what it might be like for Sal to hear this. “Sorry, I know I’m not making any sense.” She instinctively went for one of the beignets to stop her from saying anything she knew was foolish of her to do so, chomping away on the fluffy pastry, getting momentarily lost in its goodness.

Sal was a little taken aback. What sort of secret could this angel gracing Earth actually have? Whatever it might be, he knew one thing, he knew that it wouldn’t change the warmth he was feeling enveloping his heart every time he looked into her eyes. Getting up from his seat, the boy from Miami moved around the table until he was at Stacy’s side and sat down next to her. He left a little space between them as he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable and smiled. “You can tell me anything, Stace.” He rested his arm on the back of the booth as his dark eyes looked at her. “But you don’t have to either. We can just sit here and enjoy our food.”

Stacy wanted so badly to just spill her guts about her family. Keeping this secret in was so hard. Keeping the truth about her family was hard on her heart. As much as she understood some of the gravity of why they had to keep it a secret. Ivan Zima, her father, wasn’t a good man. It was an adjustment to realize this because she always looked up to her father, but in truth, her memory of Ivan was only that of vague memories. Uncle Gus was more of a father than her own had been even before she and Katie and Mika were sent away. But knowing the full truth about him made her question a lot she once held dear to her. Maybe that’s part of why she was drawn to Dylan, but it wasn’t everything.

She didn’t know what to do. The only thing right now that made sense was Sal and how just being near him made her feel empowered. Maybe that’s all she needed right now and what she thought she needed to say to what? Get a load off? Maybe that wasn’t what she really wanted.

As she leaned against his chest, she closed her eyes for a few moments. She tried to clear her mind of just two thoughts: did she want to tell Sal about her family because it was something she felt like she had to or because it was something he needed to know? She knew the answer was somewhere, but maybe it didn’t need to be clear right now. There was so much going on in her head right now. Dylan still was ever-present in there but so were these feelings she knew she had for Salvador. And she still had the frame of mind to understand that, right now, she wasn’t thinking clearly.

“We should chow down. Before it gets cold,” she giggled but she didn’t move from where she was against his chest. She didn’t want to move.

“We probably should.” Sal raised his hand and began to caress the back of Stacy’s head as she hid herself in his embrace. Whatever she wanted to tell him could definitely wait until she was in a better headspace. He was ok with waiting. Right now what she needed was just to be with someone who could be there and present for her. Salvador had all the intention of being just that. He glanced over at the smiling man at the counter who quickly averted his gaze back down to the pages of the book he was reading. Sal really wasn’t sure what to make of everything that had happened in the last two days and he especially wasn’t sure what to think of what was growing between him and Stacy.

All he did know was that he didn’t want it to stop.
TIMESTAMP: Tuesday, July 20th || Afternoon
ft. Adelaide Davies & Elysia Fable
& introducing Devika Balakrishnan
@BrutalBx, @LovelyComplex & @Aewin
Or: Two Gremlins and their Handler

He didn’t see her. Yeah that was it. That was the only explanation why her Cammy didn’t say hi when he and his new friend left the Woodwork Shop a few minutes ago.

April was elated to see Cameron with a new girl, her poor baby had been through such a rough time. It was nice to see him happy and the girl he was with was absolutely stunning. Then again, why wouldn’t she be? Her little boy was so handsome, so strong. Cammy always attracted beautiful people. Shannon said during one of their sessions that her son was like a raging blue inferno, attracting moths to his flame. It was in human nature, a primal imperative to be drawn to the dangerous, the mysterious and the beautiful. Hell, maybe that was why April was so attracted to Cameron’s father Ivan in the first place.

Back when she was just a Southside rat, “Crazy April” always had a man on her arm. Some were genuine connections and others were an attempt to change her social standing, climb the ladder of success and be seen as something more than what she was, just another broken Southie. She thought about Cameron and how he never worried or cared about where he was in the hierarchy. She was envious. Her boy accepted his lot in life although April knew that he hated it. He hated the way they looked at him. She couldn’t blame him really, they looked at her the same way. The McMahon Woodwork shop was supposed to be her Father’s way of making their name mean something. As she looked up at it with her baby blue eyes, she knew her Cammy had taken the reins. Perhaps now with him there, the McMahon name would ring out in a positive way?

April wasn’t on Chestnut for Cameron though or to see the workshop. No, the reality was that she was there for the empty building next door and to hand the keys over to a young lady who had just purchased it. She was around Cam’s age, maybe they could be friends? With one hand twirling the crucifix around her neck and the other in her jeans pocket, fiddling with a keychain, April put on her best, brightest smile as the new tenant appeared from around the corner.

Leisurely, Elysia turned on Chestnut listening to Le Disko by Shiny Toy Guns hum from her custom audio system. She drove a retro, refurbished, teal 1967 Chevrolet Camaro with a cigarette hanging from her lip, coffee in one hand, and shades to protect her sensitive eyes from the sun. Her family loved investing in vintage things, like cars. Her family loved being different. Avant garde her mom would say. Retro cars were only one of many things they spent their money on to fill their boredom. They’d proceed to hire people to make the old like new and then her dad would travel the states to show his collection off at car shows.

In comparison to her peers, Ely knew she was fortunate beyond belief to have the Fable starting pack, old money that progressed into art money, to the point that her parents' boredom could make them ‘angel investors’ for the talented kids of Edenridge. Whatever the fuck that meant. She knew without them she likely would’ve given up on her dreams a long time ago. Still, unlike them, she liked to stay rooted in reality. She chose to use her hard earned money to get her places. To pay for her apartment with Indie. To help fund the many events Maxine and Indie used to crank out way back when. And to buy her and her business partner, Nathan Blake, a photography studio.

Her brother, Atlas, has used his privilege to support his travel expenses as he uses his incredible writing skills and his best friend, Skylar Bloom’s, videography skills to be the leading travel blogger duo in the world. Atlas & Sky is what they call themselves. She’s nature loving, giving nomadic lifestyle tips, hiking, diving, and other fun nature-oriented activities around the globe, dragging Atlas along. Her brother, however, was focused on sharing breathtaking and inspiring travel content, sharing his experience in a raw and authentic way while not sugar coating anything, like talking about tourist scams and culturally sensitive topics. He likes to dance with the locals and is an extreme foodie.

Together, they are the best of both worlds, providing extensive travel guides and itineraries if you ever are to visit one of the many places they see around the world. Ely wondered how that idiot was doing. He was awful at staying in contact with his family. She was sure he was fine. He always was even if Sky stressed him out making a man out of a city boy. They weren’t lovers, contrary to public belief. Best wingman and woman, but not lovers. Their audience shed silent tears.

Once Ely parallel parked, the platinum blonde put her cigarette in her portable ashtray, looked at herself in the rear mirror and rubbed her thumb under her lip to clean her lipstick. Taking a sip of her coffee, she turned off the ignition. Across the street from her future studio, she stared at the older woman waiting. April McMahon. There were many rumours about her but Ely never cared for rumours. Some people would think her and Nate were crazy for investing in property in the southside but the price was a steal and life was boring, so Ely had the mindset of: why not. Nate didn’t care about the logistics so long as they had an office to operate and a place to lock their equipment at. Security could be worked on once Ely saw what she was working with. Ely, like her parents, whether she wanted to admit it or not, liked to help her community and if that meant crossing the train tracks to give Fable & Blake Photography a home then she wouldn’t hesitate. She saw the listing, made the call, asked questions, and purchased it without touring. Her instincts told her to just do it and so she did just that. She just did it. Made a bid and won.

Exiting the car, leaving her coffee behind but grabbing her camera bag, looking like she had just rolled out of bed, when really, Ely just threw on whatever she wanted in a moment and made it fashionable, the young adult strolled to the realtor. Slipping a gum in her mouth, she met April’s gaze behind her shades and gave a head nod, “Beautiful day, yeah?”

“When you live here long enough you realise that any day after a storm, there’s a certain kind of magic in the air.” April smiled brightly as the young woman joined her outside the vacant lot. Seeing Elysia as she was, the realtor couldn’t help but be reminded of herself in days long gone by. The difference was that the young Fable carried herself with intention, April was a train wreck hanging precariously off of a cliff's edge, waiting to plummet into the murky depths and crushing weight of the ocean. Reaching into her jeans pocket, the older blonde woman pulled out a set of keys with a wooden keychain on them; an intricate celtic design. “Well these are for you!” She said sprightly as she handed them over to Ely. “Square key is the front door. The smaller one is for the inside lock up the stairs which takes you directly into the space. Do you want me to take you inside or do you wanna greet your future on your own?”

As April has finished speaking, a peroxide blonde would come speeding around the corner. “Hiiiiiiii.” Addie greeted as she sprung up behind Elysia, wrapping her arms around her waist and playing with the hem of her short white dress. The pixie’s painted lips pressed a soft kiss to the artist's neck before her blue eyes drifted to the older woman and her mouth struggled to not fall agape from her beauty. “Holy fuck your fucking hot.” Addie stared at April intensely, entranced by the estate agent's visage before she rested her chin on Ely’s shoulder. “Baby you smell gooooood.”

“Thanks, Fruit Loop,” Ely softly purred. There was a subtle smile on Ely’s nearly moodless face when Addie came rushing in. Her gum clicked in her mouth. Taking in the sun and the warm embrace coming from her forever girl, the platinum blonde observed the older woman as she spoke and held the keys to her new studio. Letting Addie be Addie, Ely acknowledged her girlfriend's presence by tracing her finger in circles on one of Addie’s hands before replying, “I guess a better question I got is, are there any secrets waiting for me? And while I know the neighbourhood, you likely know this street well. I did my research and the vacant Pop! Shop is across the street, that building over there,” She gestured behind her, Addie was now part of her person, her body moving along with her as Ely naturally carried on with business. The building behind them was boarded up and covered with graffiti tags. Most of the tags were curse words, deceased names, and serpent slang, which all covered the art of a kid shovelling a box of jawbreakers in his mouth. “Once upon a time the business and residential home of child molestor and murderer, Christian Warren. What’s the story behind this building?” She pointed back to her future studio. “There’s always a story.”

“I don't know about you guys, but I don't like ghosts.” Another voice piped up with a chuckle from the entrance of the studio. A tall, dark skinned girl stood, her eyes twinkling mischievously. Her outfit was casual, with a graphic Looney Tunes tee that she had undoubtedly stolen from one of her girlfriends, black biker shorts, and crisp white Nikes. “Surpri-iiiiise!” She called out excitedly.

Devika was a deeply spiritual person, and despite her belief in ghosts and spirits, she was still quite fearful of them. Her belief in auras and energies was strong, even if she couldn't see them with her own two eyes. She often found herself drawn to places with a certain energy or aura, and this old warehouse Ely had just purchased gave her an uneasy feeling. But she didn't want to ruin the mood, not when her partners Ely and Addie were here to celebrate a new chapter in Ely’s professional life. And why wouldn’t Devi show up to support her girl on her day off? She knew if the others could, they would (some happily) crash the viewing too.

Devi had never been one for traditional relationships, and she was happy to have found a group of people who shared her views on love and intimacy. Her polyamorous relationship with Ely, Addie, and three others was built on a foundation of mutual respect, attraction, and love. It had taken time for them to find their rhythm, but now they were all comfortable in their roles within the group. Devika loved the way that Ely's creativity and passion inspired her, while Addie's wild and carefree spirit brought a playful energy to their dynamic. It wasn’t easy hiding her partners from her family, but being with her partners had brought her a sense of belonging and happiness that she had never experienced before. Devi jogged into the building. Whether she was eager or nervous because of the vibes, nobody had to know.

Upon approaching, she leaned in to give Ely and Addie a quick peck on the cheek, feeling a surge of warmth in her chest as she looked at them. They were her family, her support system, and seeing them happy made her happy. “So, what's the plan for this space? Are we going cosy art studio vibes with Vez’s plants or are we going full kinky sex dungeon?” she asked, grinning.

April was slightly taken aback by the newly formed trio. She had done a lot of things in her life, some good, some bad. She had had multiple lovers of both sexes at the same time, she had been hooked on drugs and she had whored herself for money but looking at the three girls and the way they gazed at and touched each other; to be that in love and with multiple people no less, she had never felt that before.

“Always a kinky sex dungeon.” Adelaide released Ely from her grasp, only to pounce onto Devika. She pinned the beautiful dark skinned girl against the wall of the newly acquired studio and pressed their lips together. Addie loved everyone in the Poly deeply and equally but Devi always held a special place in her heart. She was the first one that Addie met and whom she entered into what one could but probably shouldn’t define as a relationship. Hell, she was with Devi on that dreadful day two years ago when Charlie Decker made his end waltz. She wrapped her arms around her girlfriend’s waist and slid her hands down into the back pockets of Devika’s shorts. “Hi baby.” She whispered into the aspiring student’s mouth before turning to look at Ely and April. “You two might wanna go inside, I wanna do bad stuff.”

April cleared her throat and handed Elysia the keys. “How about I just let you girls do your thing?” The older woman smiled genuinely. “You can keep the key ring. My son made tons when he was a boy. Anyway as far as a story? Not much to tell you. It was built to be an extension on the Woodshop next door but it never fully materialised, so it was then made into a storage facility and then nothing. Not sure why no one wanted to buy it but that means nothing now. It’s all yours.” She grabbed the strap of her bag with both hands and took a step back. “I hope all of you enjoy the place. You have my number Miss Fable if you have any issues. Welcome to your new home!” April grinned before turning and walking away.

“Yeah, thanks,” Ely waved to the realtor walking away, before looking at the two younger girls she called her girlfriends. She adored them deeply but there certainly was a time and place for shenanigans. Ely’s business endeavours weren’t one of them, at least not during the exchange of keys with a realty agent. She didn’t want to burn bridges when she was just starting to build them and for all she knew, she might need April’s assistance again in the future. Still, Ely wasn’t one to police them, especially not Addie. Vez was better at giving them words of wisdom and advice, with a motherly touch, while Ely chose to let things go, unfazed and unbothered. Shake it off and keep going. She was far too blunt when she did speak and the only people she would speak with unfiltered harshness, knowing they could handle it, were Max, Indie, and Owen. “I’m not moving forward with any design until Nate gets a chance to see what we’re working with.”

Taking off her shades, hooking them on her shirt, her cold and focused stare met with both of the girls watching her with interest and intrigue. “Since we’re all here,” Ely dangled the keys in front of them. “First one to the top of the stairs will have full control of decorating my office space. To add extra incentive, in my car, I have a present. Whoever wins gets to decide who wears it. I might not be running up these stairs but I’ll know who wins. I can tell when you’re both lying.”

Devika couldn't help but smile at Adelaide's affectionate greeting. She returned the kiss with equal passion, enjoying the sensation of Addie's hands on her waist. She knew that they had to be careful not to get carried away, but it was hard to resist the pull of their love for each other. As April made her way out of the building, Devi turned her attention back to Ely, even if it was a bit of a struggle with Addie distracting her so nicely.

She listened attentively as Ely spoke about waiting for Nate to see the space before moving forward with any design plans. Devi nodded in agreement, knowing that Nate and Ely’s creative talent together would be able to bring their new abode to life. But then Ely mentioned a little competition, and Devi's competitive streak kicked in. “Challenge accepted,” Devi grinned, eyeing the keys that Ely was holding. She loved a good competition, and the idea of winning the chance to decorate Ely's office was too tempting to resist. Out of the group, Devi’s method of decorating was opposite Marie Kondo’s at best - chaotic (though she preferred the term maximalist) With a vision of Ely’s incentive in mind, Devi slipped out of Addie’s embrace, sniping the keys in Ely’s hand and took off running towards the stairs, her long legs carrying her quickly towards the top like a mad girl on a mission.

Addie narrowed her big blue eyes and stared at Ely as Devi broke away from her to chase down the goal of decoration. “You are soooo getting punished for that later.” She scrunched up her little face to fein anger. Had anyone else interrupted Adelaide when she was mid touching, the young botanist would likely have blown a gasket. No one is to come between Addie and her girls. Yet since it was Elysia, her person, her good lady, it was acceptable…but only just.

“I would rather drag my dick through a hundred broken whiskey bottles than let Devika win.” Taking a roll up from her shirt pocket, Addie placed it between her thick lips and lit it with a match. After blowing some smoke from her lungs, she dropped her bag on the floor by Ely’s feet. Adelaide quickly jumped onto the thick black drainpipe that clung to the side of the new studio and began to climb it like a spider monkey. In a true contrast to her sex goblin energy and grunge aesthetic, Addie had always been a sporty girl. She played soccer and volleyball for Edenridge and also enjoyed swimming and rock climbing. Inside the small girl was the heart of an athlete, though one would have to Wade through the marijuana smoke to find her. “Ely, make sure you watch my ass wiggle!” She called back as she began the ascent.

Devi couldn't help but burst out laughing as she turned to watch Addie's impressive display of athleticism through the large windows by the stairs. The way she climbed the drainpipe like a pro and called out to Ely was both hilarious and impressive. Of course Addie wouldn’t choose to take the stairs: just like how she often refused to use the door like any other person. But that was Devi’s person, and Addie was right to point to her ass as the view. “You go, girl!” Devi shouted after her, cheering her on. Devi needed the head start considering Adelaide’s way of thinking combined with her athleticism meant that the brown beauty had absolutely no chance of actually competing with the little gremlin.

But as Addie and her jiggling ass made her way up the pipe, Devi's laughter began to turn into wheezes and gasps as a stitch formed in her side. She tried to keep up with Addie's ascent, but her body was not prepared for the sudden burst of physical activity. Devi's legs began to wobble, and she collapsed onto the landing while painfully wheezing from laughter.

“VINDICATION!” Addie yelled as she watched her lover fall to her knees. Sucking some more smoke through her joint, she smiled from ear to ear, clutching the weed in her teeth as she carried on her climb. Adelaide never really considered herself competitive. Even when playing team sports the goal was never about winning. The two main reasons she even considered athletics as a pass time was to chase the high of adrenaline from the activity and to chase the incredibly fit and attractive girls that played said activities. Her being crazy in shape was simply a bio product of pursuing sex and drugs.

Once she had reached the summit of the pipe, Addie reached her short leg over to see how sturdy the window ledge was. It seemed strong enough. She then reached an arm over and popped the window open. Unlocked; this definitely was the Southside. She wondered if the hot real estate woman would get in trouble for that? Securing herself, Addie lept from the drainpipe and spun in the air until she was seated on the window ledge, her legs dangling like a schoolgirl whose feet couldn’t touch the floor. “I am the lizard queeeeeeen!” She proclaimed, raising her hands in victory before rolling backwards into Ely’s still locked new studio.

Devi pushed herself up from the ground, huffing and puffing with every breath. “She beat me!” she panted, still trying to catch her breath. “Seriously, I'm taking Emmy up on her next offer to not skip leg day. This race was BRUTAL.” She dramatically clutched at her side, “I got this stitch for NOTHING. I want compensation!”

Devi fumbled with the keys as she complained, unlocking the office to see the blonde pixie rolling into the office after having sat precariously half out the window. Nope, that wouldn't do, it was time for reparations. With the door open, Devi darted inside and launched herself at Addie with a barrage of tickles and cuddles. So what if the office floor was a little dusty? Devi would brave the allergies for any moment of intimacy with her girls. “You may have won the race, but I'm the winner because I get the cuddles.” she declared triumphantly, nuzzling her nose into Addie's neck. “ELYYYYYY. Join us! The cuddle pile awaits!”

Perhaps it was for the best that Devi didn’t get creative reigns to Ely’s office. She already had plans to paint the office in vibrant colours, hang cute posters of animals and eclectic art that would have fit Ely’s effortlessly cool-girl vibes. Aw well, maybe if Devi pouted enough, Vez would allow her a small corner of hers and King’s living room to “make over”.

The moment Devika tackled her, Adelaide threw her joint out of the open window from which she had just entered. In any other circumstance, she would consider the wasting of good weed up there with sex crimes, animal abuse and the music of Ariana Grande as a travesty. The wasting however to receive a mere modicum of physical contact from any of her girlfriends was the only valid reason she would allow. Giggling and laughing, Addie had to save herself somehow form the half crazed tickle machine that was atop her. She wrapped her legs tightly around the brown girl's waist before pulling their bodies together and grabbing Devi by the face. “You are not playing fair.” Addie leaned up and kissed Devika deeply before biting her girlfriends lower lip and slowly dragging her closer to the ground. “I’m pretty sure I’m the winner. I hereby claim my prize.”

While the two young ladies were left to their own devices, Ely, in no rush to catch up, turned on her heel, back outside to retrieve the ‘surprise’ from her car. To Addie and Devi, time went by fast, as they were likely caught in a heated exchange but for the platinum blonde artist, time went by leisurely. Returning to the lobby, she entered the elevator. Holding the present in one arm, a white box with a sheer red ribbon tied around it, her camera bag still hanging from her shoulder, she eased a few more pieces of 5 Gum Mint in her mouth.

Going up, she thought to herself how in the past she would never be in a committed relationship. Now she was committed to five people, and perhaps more if they fit the vibe. Polyamory was something she always considered but in high school she embraced the wild child life, raving and using her cash for all sorts of vices. Max never did like how much Ely loved to trip and get high, losing herself in the pleasures of the world. At the time, all of Ely’s friends were afraid she would kill herself, just like Allison did.

The fact that Max died and not her was a surprise to most people in her year and honestly, that broke her heart because she knew Max had more to give. So much more to give. Ely was just here making most of her time through sheer boredom. Photography to her was like an oasis in the desert. Not many things piqued her interest but when she took pictures of people, she saw beauty. Now? She had five muses. Adelaide being her first and her favorite. The one she’d crave even when she wasn’t hungry. Her best girl and sex bunny.

Devi, on the other hand, was one of her newer flames; they were still very much in the honeymoon stage. There was no doubt that Devika was a smart cookie but what attracted Ely to her was how passion emitted from every fiber of her being. Everything Devi does, she gives one hundred and twenty percent. Sometimes it takes a massive toll on her but who she is as a person is incredibly endearing to the older woman.

Ely would be lying if she said that Devi didn’t remind her of her best friend, Indie, at times. Indie would be someone Ely considered off-limits because she knew deep down, Indie and Owen were made for one another. Those two idiots just refused to take that leap of faith. Devi was something special though and Ely was finding new things she loved about her each and every day… then again, all her lovers were special one way or another.

The only one out of her companions she hadn’t slept with was Verity and that’s because she needed the neurotic and fastidious redhead for other things. Verity Roy-Wilson was particular, self-critical, and a worrywart. Sometimes her concerns reminded her too much of her deceased friend for her to ever see the pretty girl in a sexual light. Still, she adored each member of her eccentric family. Especially the two gremlins waiting for her in her new studio.

Was Maxine happy to see that she found people to calm her raging spirit and inspire her to want to do better?

She hoped so.

God, she fucking hoped so.

Ely missed Maxine James. More than she would ever admit. Max was her biggest cheerleader, giving the best business advice and criticism to hone her skills. Then followed Indie and Owen, who never stopped being supportive of her dreams even though realistically, unlike others, Ely could easily get where she needed to go. She came from money. Owen working as much as he does, and still making time for his friends, was a constant reminder of the privilege that Ely would have no matter what. Sure, she may be using her own money but that doesn’t change that when you hear Fable you think of some of the most transcendent and illustrious artists and ambitious patrons in the Boston area.

Indie was probably the most pushy and flighty friend she ever came to associate herself with. Without that naggy voice, maybe she wouldn’t have found her people. Maybe she would’ve travelled the world, never to look back, just like her brother.

No matter. Every person Ely considered family did something for her and she knew she wouldn’t have gotten to this place without those words Maxine had said to her, the day before she died.

Don’t kill yourself, Ely… you’re never sober and that’s not healthy. Don’t you think? Kill the part of you that you don’t like. This life, this night, you. You matter and all I can see is you wasting your time for nothing when you have the world at your fingertips. People like me, Owen, Indie? We don’t have it as easy. I would kill to have your life and to better my family’s situation. Please, at least consider me the next time you think of drugs or booze or whatever. Think of the people that love you...

Opening her studio door, Ely had put her glasses back on to hide her glossy eyes. Popping a bubble, she hid her grief behind a smirk when she noticed her two girls naked on the bare floor. “Couldn’t wait, huh?” Closing the door behind her, she walked to the past-through window that separated the large room from the kitchen area. Placing the box on a counter, the artist voiced, as she took the camera bag off her shoulder, “Don’t move. The lighting is hitting you two perfectly.” She needed to capture the moment.

“Well make it snappy, Snappy.” Addie sat straddled across Devika as Elysia began to take their photos. She could feel the warm kiss of summer breaking through the window and caressing her bare skin as her big blue eyes stared down at the caramel enchantress she had pinned down. As Devi’s hands explored her body, Adelaide leaned ever so slightly backwards so as to not ruin her lover's shot before she brought her gaze to meet Ely’s. “You really like to watch, huh baby?” Her eyes still locked on the photographer, the botanist lowered herself until she was fully pressed against Devika and began to kiss her neck before nibbling ever so lightly at her ear. “You taste delish.” she whispered.

“Luckily for everyone here, I like to put on a show.” Devi responded breathily, sliding her arms down her Pixie’s back. Her body was so soft and toned, indicating at Addie’s athletic history, and she could feel the warmth of her body against her inflamed skin. They moved together like they always did, desperately, hungrily, like they could never get enough. As Devi hooked a leg around Addie to trap the lovers in place, she turned to look at Ely. Her hand reached out into the air, trying to pull the beauty closer. “Come… let’s Christen your office together.”

“Hm,” Ely acknowledged both girls’ comments as she crouched down. Still in place, she turned the focus ring slightly to make their skin crisp in the picture. What art brings cannot be weighed or measured. She loved art because there she could convey her emotions without speaking. The power of a picture was to convey truth and to speak to one’s soul without using words. Whether Adelaide and Devika were taking a stroll in the park or bundled on the couch watching spooky movies, Ely saw beauty in their youth, in their smile, in their eyes, in their bodies, in their minds, in their hearts, and in their attitudes. Ely saw beauty in how they loved each other and how they loved her. Every flaw and every imperfection, every weakness and every insecurity, she loved everything about them. They were beautiful and they were her’s. “… Adelaide, since you won.” She snapped a picture the moment both girls looked at her simultaneously with intrigue. “There’s a candy thong and bra in the box. You can choose who gets to wear it. There’s also a new toy we can play with. I only ask for one thing: don’t tell Nate.” There was no need for her business partner to know what happens in their shared office when he isn’t around. He would blush at the simple mention of sex, she bet.

Addie looked at Elysia with intrigue, a candy thong huh? That was very interesting but the way things had gone, it was not something that excited her at that moment. “I’ll have a think but in the meantime…” The pint sized pixie grabbed a hold of the blonde’s hand and pulled her towards her and Devika. “You better take your dress off and kiss me or I’m about to get real nasty.” Adelaide scrunched up her nose before tilting her head to stare at the peroxide artist. “Real. Nasty.”

Devi's mind was blissfully occupied with the woman in her arms. Her fingers lazily traced circles on Addie's bare back, a contented smile spreading across her lips as they both pouted for Ely to join them. Where Addie resorted to not so thinly veiled threats, Devi’s mode of attack was always turning up the sweetness. Like Mort from Madagascar, only a little less furry.

Devi had been in relationships before, but none had ever been like the one she shared with the five in the polyamorous relationship she was in today. Everyone had their draws, and not just physically (though that certainly didn’t hurt). With Ely, it was something magnetic and unexplainable. Maybe it was Ely's confidence and poise, or her effortless cool that made Devi feel safe and protected. Perhaps it was the way Ely laughed, or the gentle way she would touch Devi's face when they kissed or guide her to pose. Whatever it was, Devi was smitten. She loved the way Ely made her feel when they were together, like she was the only person in the world that mattered. Devi had always been a passionate person, but with Ely, that passion was amplified. It felt safe.

Devi took hold of Ely’s camera, taking as much care as she could while being straddled by the energetic wild cat above her. She placed the camera as far away from them as her hands could reach, to avoid collateral damage. Devi might not have known the sentimental value of the camera, but she certainly knew enough to respect Ely’s passions just as she did hers. Devi then leaned in towards Ely, her lips brushing against the older woman's ear as she whispered playfully, “I think I might need a little bit more of your attention, Ely.” With a playful pout, she planted a quick kiss on Ely's cheek before settling back down against Addie's warm embrace. The three of them entangled in each other's arms, Devi knew she was exactly where she was supposed to be - in the arms of the people she loved.

INTRODUCING: Dorian, Raven, Sabrina, Samara, & Lucien Aviles
TIMESTAMP: Around Chasing the Tide




Deathly silence.

The Aviles house was usually quiet in the morning because most if not all of the family members were nighthawks. Unfortunately to merge with the malcontents of society, they had to rise from their slumbers and greet the day as if it was their old friend, death, and they must do so warmly and with open arms.

Raven stood barefoot in her beloved garden, her body drenched in the low hanging black frock that hugged every contour of her amazing body. She was pushing fifty years old but the dark goddess had figured her with an almost ageless beauty that she shared with all of her family. Through the Earth and into her heels and toes she could feel Mother Nature feeding her, nourishing her. Beneath the dirt, her long since passed family members fertilised the land and gave their souls to its roots to feed the future. The warm post storm sunlight bounced off of her porcelain skin as she leaned down to sun her fingers through the mud. “Good morning, Bianca. I hope you slept well.” Raven spoke softly in a whisper as she greeted her fallen first born. “Time to wake the family.”

Gliding through the desecrated halls of the house her Tito built; Raven caressed the walls ever so lovingly. When they had first arrived in Eden, the early Aviles picked out a spot on Hickory Lane, once the scene of a famous and bloody revolutionary battle, to build their familial home. The first house was small but with each new member arriving from across the border, a new section was added to the house. Tito wanted everyone to have their own room, their own space and of course, the confusing layout would discombobulate any harmful entities. Each room she passed, Raven softly stroked the nameplate on the door for the relative that once called it theirs. Every room in the Aviles house told a story, some good, some bad, all worth hearing.

She reached the end of the north hallway and to the room belonging to her now oldest daughter, Sabrina. She rapped on the door three times before calling out. “Sabrina my nightshade, yet another day has come. Time to rise.”

On the other side of the door, a muffled groan could be heard, managing to eek its way out from under the black sheets that sat atop the mattress. A rumpled mess of black hair could be seen as well, surrounding skin that had paled from consistent deprivation of sunlight but still carried the color of her ancestors. Her face had yet to be put together, given she had just awoken from slumber, but the darkness that surrounded her eyes didn’t need much help being accentuated. As she stared at the alarm clock, then the dark blackout curtains that prevented the light from entering in and disturbing her shadowy sanctuary, she confirmed that everything was as she had left it when she went to sleep. No demons had visited. No spirits had ruffled anything up. Not even a wandering wraith perched upon her dresser. ”I’m up, Mother!”

The woman sighs. “Another day, huh?” Sabrina Aviles hoisted herself out of the shell of the blankets and sat up in bed. “Guess I’ll deal with it then.”

The eldest living member of the latest generation of Aviles roamed around her bedroom putting together her outfit for the day. It wasn’t hard to be dressed for work, but it did mean that she couldn’t wear some of her preferred outfits. Cops generally didn’t like it when you outwardly displayed your beliefs that most of what they were doing was meaningless. Instead, it meant she had to slip it into her usual conversations with the people she dealt with.

Still, there was one conversation on her mind more than any other. As Sabrina went to her bed stand to grab her phone, she could see the usual people popping up. Her sister. Her brother. Mei. Lamb. Avery. But the one she wanted was the one that was missing from the updated list.

“Where the fuck are you, doofus? It’s been days. I can’t keep covering for you forever. Muttering under her breath was common for Sabrina, but usually Clay Costigan was in person to earn such contempt. As of now, he still hadn’t sent her any response to her last batch of texts.

It was an odd friendship, one that didn’t make sense on the surface. One of the most popular jocks in all of Edenridge and the queen of the goths, drafted onto the cheerleading squad for some reason that even she never fully understood.. Maybe Allison wanted more raven-haired representatives on the squad. Maybe she thought having an Aviles would mean that bad luck would be warded off. Not that it did Allison any good in the end. Still, there was only one jock that she could usually stand to hang around with at parties, and it was the one who seemed to know that at the end of the day, he was playing a game, and it wouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of life as he knew it. There was a simplicity to Clay that Sabrina appreciated, and definitely had feelings for. She was a woman after all, even if her leanings didn’t tend to include male romances. Clay was the exception, and although it ultimately proved it wouldn’t work out, their friendship remained strong. When Auntie Marina and Clay came together to help her get the job at the police station in the first place, it seemed like the perfect way to get some money together and start moving on with her life.

Yet her mother was still waking her up in the morning. The tendrils of this family truly were permanently wrapped around her.

Dressed enough to curse, in a zip-up hoodie and black-striped leggings, she finally moved towards the door. Breakfast would likely be provided, and you couldn’t conjure the dark powers on an empty stomach. Sabrina zombie shuffled down the hallway and the heart of the mansion. No matter how many branches grew from the place, the central points were always the kitchen, the dining room, the rec room. The places where the family could come together, discuss their days and have deep conversations about whatever macabre topics came to mind. It kept things tight, even as Uncle Felix seemed determined to spread the seeds of the family far across the state. Everything still came back to the manor. In life and in death.

”Better be some toaster strudels left or I’m going to drown Lucien in the bathtub.”

“We tried that already, remember? Mother Death just sent him back.” Emerging from her own room just as Sabrina walked by, Samara ruffled her long dark hair with the blonde streak and yawned. She could still smell last night's booze on her skin but she didn’t really care. All of her flights out of town had been grounded because of the storm, so she was stuck in Eden for at least another few days. Sam didn’t mind being home with her family at the house but she certainly preferred being in any number of exotic locations that her job allowed her to go.

Unlike Sabrina, the younger Aviles girl was not dressed to see what the morning would gift her. Wearing only a black Motörhead tank to cover her modesty along with her black underwear, she followed her older sister into their kitchen where no doubt their father had cooked up some monstrous delight to give them sustenance and their brother would lie in wait to cause no shortage of aggravation.

“Well you two look like shit.” Lucien teased his sisters as they entered the kitchen. He was already fully dressed in his leather jacket and black jeans but that was because unlike his siblings, he had only just gotten off duty. On his pale white skin, remnants of smoke and soot were still visible. He had been on call with the fire department during the storm to help out where needed. As he took a sip from his “Best Big Brother” mug, he had a smug grin crossing his face. “I ate the last toaster strudel by the way, so you two are on Father’s breakfast today.”

This was not the news that Sabrina needed. She was already on edge with Clay recently failing to keep her informed about his whereabouts. The thought of indulging her father in one of his culinary catastrophes was not something she wanted to dwell on. It didn’t help that Lucien was the owner of one of the most punchable faces in Edenridge, and he combined that with a voice that could make the news of drought-ending rain sound unappealing as hailing brimstones. Not that he would be upset to deliver the news of fire from above either. Sometimes she debated whether her brother would continue to fight fires or join forces with them. Right now she would aid the fires for his brazen flaunting of his eating habits.

“Even if we look like shit, we still look better than you,” Sabrina dryly remarked as she moved behind her brother. In one fell swoop, she raised her palm up and cuffed him upside the head. A little bit of Auntie Marina’s violent streak lived in her after all, and Lucien was her usual target as had been since they were children. Of course, her usual methods were a little more elaborate than just a smack in the cabeza, but she was tired. And now there was no strudel. A slap would have to do. “Or did Ronan show you up again for all the glory out there? For a volunteer, he sure does a better job than you do.” She sat at the table, debating whether or not to try and stomach whatever it was that could be smelled and dealt with from the kitchen, or to make a break for it and grab a breakfast sandwich on the way to work.

“Children enough!”

Dorian Aviles entered the kitchen, already immaculately dressed in a fine Italian suit and with all the authority in the world. He was a regal-looking man who had gone grey gracefully and very obviously only took care of himself. Whether that was through training or dark magic had yet to be fully revealed. The patriarch of the Aviles coven raised his hand in the air to silence his three offspring. “We do not wage war at the breakfast table.” Making his way to the focal point of the action, Dorian leaned down and dropped a kiss on both of his daughters heads and a shoulder pat for his son. “And you all know that I do not repeat myself.”

“Go gentle, my beloved, it’s just what siblings do.” Raven followed her husband into the dining area. Gliding over to the man that has held her heart in his hands from the moment they met, she wrapped up his handsome face in her hands and kissed him deeply. As she moaned into Dorian's lips, Raven couldn’t help but feel a modicum of sadness. It was in these moments of happiness, with her husband and her children that she thought back to the child she lost and how she should be sitting in the empty seat at the table. Bianca’s seat always remained empty.

After breaking the kiss, Raven began to glide across the room until she found herself sitting in her place at the table. As her husband started to plate up the breakfast that he had lovingly prepared, the gothic goddess rested her painted hands on the counter top and leaned back in her chair to get a good look at her three children. “What are your plans today? Anything exciting?”

Sabrina rolled her eyes at the display of affection from her parents. If her father had been tasting whatever he prepared this morning, her mother’s lips were now likely as toxic as some of the nightshade plants she was growing in the garden. “Well, I plan on continuing to slowly die, preferably in the darkness. I’ll be plotting my revenge on Lucien for stealing the last strudel. And then, I don’t know. Work, I guess.” She sighs. “Still trying to figure out where Clay has been the last couple of days. He’s a goof, but he’s usually not the type to blow off his job.”

Raven looked deeply at the face of her eldest living child. To the untrained eye it was as morbid and as uncaring as always, but to her mother? She could see that Sabrina was hurt and confused. The young woman had always been deeply fond of her friend Clayton. The foppish basketball player had spent many nights over the years at the Aviles house and for a time, Raven truly believed that her daughter had found her person. Mother Nature works in mysterious ways and Clay seemed to be one of those ways. He brought something out in Sabrina that Raven didn’t even think existed; joy.

Reaching over, the matriarch of the strange family on the hill slithered her fingers over her daughter's arm and wrapped them around her like a mother snake, for comfort. She would not speak more on it, Sabrina would tell her when she was ready. Her bare obsidian gaze drifted and then fell upon her youngest child, Samara, a bewitching beauty, with her alabaster skin accentuated by near dark eyes as close to the black of night as possible. It was never really a surprise that she chose to follow the teachings of the succubi. “And what of you, child?”

Sam had a mouthful of alligator bacon when her mother began to question her. She really wasn’t in the mood. With a strip hanging from her still red lips from the previous evening, Samara pulled down the hem of her shirt to cover her bare legs slightly. The mansion was cold at the best of times but today there was definitely something more than just wind chill in the air. She could sense something being carried on the breeze, a darkness. Something big was happening that day. “I’m still grounded.” Sam spoke, her mouth full. “No flights for another two days so I’m probably gonna spend the day at Beau’s reading and then go get fucked and fucked up later.”

"I'll snipe Luci by saying you were already fucked up," Sabrina dryly commented, giving her brother a glare since she could not go at him with words. "But keep me posted on getting there later. I may join you. It feels like the only thing I can do right now after work." Her thought process was interrupted by a buzz on her phone. She thought about looking at it for a second, but if it was Rocky giving her crap about another of her spider colonies at the station, she didn't want to see it. "I feel like we haven't embraced the darkness together in a long time, Sam. So if you can't find someone to fill the emptiness within, let me know."

”Honestly, sometimes I don’t know why I bother.” Lucien polished off the contents of his mug before getting up from the breakfast table. It was true that the only Aviles son enjoyed toying with his sisters and getting under their skin. In some ways he was the black sheep, never really pushing the envelope of his magic like his two sisters. Luci enjoyed being a regular member of society and releasing his power only in short bursts. He understood that keeping his Hellfire under wraps was easier than trying to explain it to a bunch of white picket fence Nepo babies.

After tossing his mug into the sink, Lucien let out a great big yawn. His day was over and he had to try and get some sleep before his shift at the fire station later that day. “It’s Clay by the way.” He pointed to his sister's phone as he breezed by towards the hallway. ”That text is from his hairiness. You might wanna respond.” His last words faded as he rounded the corner and travelled deeper into the Aviles compound.

"WHAT?!?" Sabrina shouted as she dove for the phone. She knew Lucien wasn’t a technomancer or anything, but a quick glance indeed confirmed it was the Costigan boy. "I have to take this, excuse me." She rose from the table and headed into the living room, intent on getting the story on why she hadn't heard from him.

“I never liked that boy.” Dorian had finally sat down at the head of the table, though what was supposed to be a full family breakfast was down to one child now, two if he counted their beautifully departed child, Bianca whose spirit he always felt lingering around them. “Too much power over her.” He sliced into his ostrich egg and watched the golden yolk spill out across his plate like blood from a deep wound, it was a satisfying cut. Reaching for a triangle of fresh toast, the silver haired Dorian glanced over at his wife, who in her breathtaking visage was offering him the coldest of looks. “I’m sorry, dear.”

Samara looked at her parents as the cold atmosphere soon gave way to adoring smiles and stolen moments. It was amazing how they could argue or disagree and then instantly revert back to their lovey-dovey selves without even uttering a single word. Truly it baffles one’s mind. “I might go over to Karina’s, see if she’s free today, maybe borrow her Grimoire since I left my last one in Düsseldorf.”

“A day with your cousin would be lovely.” Raven stretched her arm over the table to her young daughter and stroked the blonde strand in her hair. “We’ll get you a new grimoire today. Just try not to lose this one, ok? They have such powerful magic locked within their pages. A normal person could cause so much trouble.”

Meanwhile, the black-haired woman paced as quickly as she could to a semi-private place. It was about time he finally got back to her. Sabrina hadn't checked in with his other platonic woman best friend since yesterday, but she had to assume Avery was breathing a similar sigh of relief. To say nothing of his twin sister. She sat down on the ornate black leather couch that dominated the attention of the common area and quickly scrolled to the new message.

From Clay (Doofus):
Hey Sabby, didn’t mean to go MIA. Dealing with this latest letter business got me in a bit of trouble. I’m at Sinclair Health now. I’m fine! Don’t panic, like you ever panic, knowing I’m hurt is probably giving you an orgasm. But yeah, I’m fine! Mostly superficial. If you could put me on a cheeky holiday day though? So I still get paid? Love you Witch x

Even in a text message, Clay always had a way of sounding like Clay. It’s like she could practically hear the wink in the tone. Of course he would get into trouble over the stupid letters. It was Clay. It was what he did. Ever since high school, he would charge in wherever something nefarious was happening and do his best to fix whatever was the problem. Maybe that’s why the first time he showed up when Sabrina was cursing someone in the middle school cafeteria, she blew him off, but the fifth time he caught her trying to summon a plague of frogs to land on that snooping Emily Carano’s head and instead tried to convince her to leave Emily alone, she started wondering why he would even bother engaging with someone who had death wrapped around her body like a feathered boa. But she soon caved to his persistence and charm. He had a way of growing on people like that. It was endearing.

But of course, he was also still a doofus, and chasing after this letter business was exactly the sort of thing a dumb person would go after. In Sabrina’s mind, the person behind the letters was solely looking to cause misery and chaos. That was supposed to be her job, and she did it in a far more ethical way than this person was doing it. Besides, the recent posts going after the deceased David O’Hara brought up some nasty thoughts that paralyzed her from joining Clay in the hunt for the person responsible.

First, Sabrina remembered back when David turned up dead and drowned. Her mother and father were part of the party delivering their condolences to the O’Haras, given the positions they had in the community. Her aunt was part of the crew that recovered the body and processed the area. Her uncle was the one who confirmed David died from drowning and not from alcohol poisoning. The Aviles family were used to death, but Clay was not. Seeing him and Lamb torn up about David confirmed that she had to be the one to handle the tragedies in their group. Sabrina was the only one who could truly embrace the absence of life given the role death played in her family history.

But there was another aspect of David’s passing that troubled her. It was rumored that David was having an affair with one of the frosh at Edenridge High, and that revelation was what drove him to drink and to his bitter end. Sure, the community had made its judgement, but the O’Hara boy was far from the only upper class member to dip into the younger pool. He was just the one who got outed, and got shamed.

Maybe Sabrina was just luckier when it came to keeping her own dip under cover.

After it became clear that Clay was always going to be a lovable doofus, but never the love of her life, for multiple reasons, she followed the ideals of her friend Avery and decided to lean into her lesbian tendencies. But there weren’t many seniors that not only shared her views on life in Edenridge, but also were interested in exploring that side of their sexuality.

There was a frosh though. And after a couple months, loneliness can overtake even the darkest of hearts. It was consensual, but given what happened with David, Sabrina never spoke a word about it. Neither did her partner. It didn’t last for very long. By the time Sabrina graduated, the young woman also started experimenting with a boy. Sabrina knew because she was told about it, a boy that also met an early demise in this violent village. And now that woman seemed to be in a very loving relationship with another girl. A girl who also has known the personal touch of death far too often and if she looked at the clues, might have easily figured out just how close things were five years ago between the mentor and the mentee. But if she hadn’t connected the dots then, she definitely wouldn’t remember anything due to the Olympic swimming pool of alcohol Sabrina saw her imbibing in some of the pictures she got from in texts from her own sordid shame.

She was reminded even before she opened Clay’s text. Mei Ramsey had texted about a trip to Afterlife with Allison 2.0 herself, Jill O’Brien, and Sabrina had to turn her down. The offer was still on the list of most recent texts when Clay’s message was front and center.

All Sabrina could do was sigh. ”Clay, you damn idiot…” Also, she was offended by the notion that the mere thought that he was in pain would make her orgasm. She finally started to compose a long awaited message back.

To Clay (Doofus):
For your information, I only cum if I’m the one causing you pain. Not if you have Satan-only-knows kinds of damage inflicted on you for three days. But I’m glad you’re still among the land of the living. You know I have you covered. You want me to stop by on my way to work? I can bring you some not-terrible non-Sinclair food and tell you the boring stuff you missed at the station. Spoiler warning: it was nothing. Because of the storm.

The text was starting to get long, especially for Sabrina, but this is what Clay deserved for making her actually worry for the first time in forever. Almost two years, actually, when she heard Mei was a victim of Charlie Decker and was headed into surgery.

Next time, don’t go off by yourself. If I’m not going to get to cause the pain, I at least want to see it. This is like that time you fell trying to dunk and snapped your arm all over again. You can pay me back with lunch to catch me up when you’re better. …I’m glad you’re OK, Doofus.

A black heart ended the second and final text and another heavier sigh escaped Sabrina’s lips as she leaned back on the couch. Clay was no longer in a quantum state of dead or undead, as much as her father would be disappointed. But that confirmation alone would make her father’s breakfast so much more palatable. Of course, why do that when she now had an easy out?

Sabrina returned to the kitchen. “Mother, Father, Samara, I must depart. Clayton requires sustenance that he can not get at his recovery facility, and I am the only one who can give it to him. After I hold it hostage as punishment for two days of non-communication, of course.”

The patriarch of the Aviles gazed up at his eldest’s pale face, a flush of colour returned to make her cheeks near rosy. That was what that boy did to her, he brought out something warm, something damn near positive. All he wanted was Sabrina to be happy and if the Costigan boy did that, then he would allow it, if it’s what his darling wanted. It didn’t mean though he had to like it. “That’s not a euphemism for sex is it?” Dorian received a slap on his arm from his beloved wife for his trouble.

“TOTALLY IS!” Lucien’s voice called out from down the dark manor hall. “SABBY LOVES HIM. SHE WANTS TO MARRY HIM!” The firefighter bellowed in sing-song, the echoes bouncing off of the old palatial walls.

Sabrina very nearly abandoned her plan of altruism and committed to a day of torturing Lucien so he would feel no sleep right then and there. The only remedy for the mental pain that made Lucien try to interrupt her plans was certainly a healthy dose of physical pain. However, she didn't have to.

“Excuse me a minute.” Samara got up to her feet, not caring to flatten the shirt that was barely covering her modesty as she charged into the dark of the hall. The silence she left behind was broken by the yells of her brother and the sound of blunt impact and crashing debris. After a minute or so of chaos, there was silence once again and Sam emerged from the infinite black now dressed in a black skater skirt, her doc martens and an off the shoulder black and white cardigan. She placed her long fingers on her older sister's shoulder and motioned with her head. “I’ll give you a lift, I’m going to meet Karina anyway.”

At least there was one sibling who Sabrina could usually count on for support instead of mockery. And for wardrobe borrowing when she did have the time to head to Afterlife and wanted to look like she could break a heart if she so desired. Not that there were many that had hearts worth breaking, but there were a couple hearts that she was happy she didn’t have to break for the moment. They may not have seen eye-to-eye as children, and sometimes even now, but the sisterly bond was still strong. Especially against Lucien.

”Thank you, Samara. I’ll be ready in two minutes. I’ll meet you at the car.”

As Sabrina moved as quick as a frenzied zombie towards her room, she did have a chance to think a little. Samara said she was going to meet up with Karina Berríos, their cousin and technically the oldest child remaining from this generation of Aviles thanks to her uncle’s inability to keep things wrapped up when he was younger. Her mother, Carmen, definitely had the looks to get whatever she wanted in her youth, so she couldn’t blame her uncle for that, but the fact that Karina wasn’t actually an Aviles was a thorn. Did that fact protect her from the curse of the first-born? Was the originator that much of a believer in matrimony? Sometimes it didn’t make sense why Bianca was the one that had to pay the price, but there were other times to think about that. Her mind was apparently racing all over the place with the news from Clay. There wasn’t a text back yet either, probably busy answering texts from others.

Sabrina added her own black skater skirt to the ensemble and slipped a dark black blouse under her hoodie in case Chief Broadus was demanding non-hoodlum clothing today. She shoved a couple of makeup options in her leather studded purse, content to just do her face properly at the station. There had to be something for her to do to kill the time. Content that she had everything she needed, she headed out to the garage and awaited her offered ride.

Sam dropped down the stairs and into the garage where her sister waited. Dark eyes fell upon her cherished all black Ford Thunderbird that sat there. The flight attendant had first caught sight of the beautiful car on one of her first trips working for the airlines. Her flight had settled in Utah for the evening, Salt Lake City to be precise and Samara was taking in the city as she had a few hours to kill. It was only when she got a little turned around and wound up in a residential neighbourhood that the dark princess saw her future, parked in a driveway, with a for sale sign. As soon as she was back in Eden, Sam dragged her twin brother back to Utah and bought the car, though she didn’t have a licence so Luci had to drive it cross country and had he dented it, she would’ve hung, drawn and quartered the little firestarter.

With her black and blonde tresses framing her face, Samara looked with a very mild smile curled upon her lips at Sabrina. She along with Lucien did love to tease her about going native. Of the three Aviles kids and their cousins, Sabby was the one who surprisingly had adjusted to living a somewhat normal life in Edenridge. Her friendships with the likes of the Costigan siblings and the girl from the comic book store solidified that. As doused in infinite black and death as the Aviles family were, it was nice to see Sabrina care for others. Sam remembered the odd times when the boy with the hair was hurt in the basketball court and how Sabby often went to his side. She remembered just how scared her big sister was when Charlie Decker shot up the school and that girl Mei was stretched out with a hole in her neck. The tears in Sabrina’s eyes were worth more than any word.

Grabbing a handful of white ash from the pot by the garage door, Samara tossed it across the threshold, freeing her vehicle to leave without being followed by spirits wishing to cause ill. “Where do you want me to drop you?” The younger Aviles priestess asked as she climbed into the car.

Sabrina hops into the Thunderbird and leans the seat back. She was a little uncomfortable getting a ride from Samara given how little she had been actually driving a car, but the black stallion was her baby. She was always careful with it and if Lucien even threatened a scratch, he was met with claws. It would be fine. “You can just take me to the Dunkin’ by the clinic. I’ll get Clay his usual order and bring it to him, and I’ll get a danish and curse that it’s not a strudel.” She lets out a breath she wasn’t aware she had been holding in. The chain coffee run was a sign of normalcy. Peace returning after the storm. “If you want to stick around, I’ll cover something for you as well. As thanks for being the far lesser of two evil siblings.”

”Don’t really wanna hang around and watch you give the hairy one the googly eyes if I’m honest, Sab.” Samara said as started up the car. She pressed the button to open the garage door and began to jank around with the old gear box. ”Besides.” As the engine roared into life, growling like some demented beast crawling out of the depths of hell, the wicked witch shot her older sister a dark, dangerous look. ”There's chaos in the air and I’m excited to harness it.”
TIMESTAMP: Crashing Tide, Part 1
FT: Eleanor Costigan & Caterina Belmonte



Eleanor Costigan sat on a bench outside of Sinclair Health, staring up at the big blue sky above. There wasn’t a single cloud to darken the day. The breeze was light and warm, as if the day was built from scratch to be perfect, the calm after the storm. She had spent the morning putting out fires and being quite confused about what the hell was going on. When her nephew, Adam turned up at her door, a boy she had not seen in years thanks to her big brother, that should’ve been a sign. Then she watched Jamie O’Hara, a girl she had known from the day she was born in the very hospital that now sat behind her, had a heart wrenching breakdown.

Ellie didn’t even clock that her own son was in the middle of the fracas until he was being loaded into an ambulance. She tore out of the house and jumped in with him. Her little Clay was a mess, bloodied, battered and bruised. When they arrived at Sinclair, she let the doctors take him whilst she called Sean, who was still a few miles out at sea and Laura, who as pragmatic as ever said that there was nothing to be done until the doctors had come back.

When they did, they told Ellie that Clay had a severe concussion, some broken ribs and a slipped disk, the artist couldn’t help but sigh in relief. It was mostly surface damage and he would recover with rest but that didn’t stop her heart racing. She had always worried for his safety, that’s just what a parent did. Yet she was the parent of a police officer; Eleanor’s greatest worry was that she would get a knock at the door or a phone call in the middle of the night that Clay was shot or that he was dead. She hadn’t yet come to terms with that worry. It haunted her.

Blowing out the stress from her chest, she tightened her grip on the seat of the bench, her fingers still stained gray with the clay from her unfinished morning pottery project.

At this point, Cat’s confidence had deflated and she was not the strong woman she tried to be everyday. The woman that was walking from the parking lot to the entrance of Sinclair Health was broken, a shattered glass ballerina glued together, trying to prepare for the worst outcome possible. During the car ride, her mind was on replay. She saw her and Clay’s first disagreement the day before and how she so easily let him walk away. She saw when he took her to the lake and he comforted her, let her lean on him, only wanting one thing in return, that she’d go back to being okay. She thought back to when he pulled her off one of her husband’s lovers at Afterlife and brought her to the safety of his apartment. She replayed their first kiss and their first time. She replayed their moments from now to when he ran on her father’s boat naked and into her arms.

Hugging herself, trying to not fall apart, Cat saw Clay’s mother sitting and staring at the sky. Swallowing hard, it felt like there was a ball in her throat, she approached the woman with a crestfallen expression. Her emotions had reached its peak from her mother battling cancer to her family ripping apart from the seams. She didn’t know what she was doing and she couldn’t hide the pain anymore. Not at this moment. Not when all she could think about was Clay not having another morning with her to eat breakfast, to joke, to dance with, to climb every mountain with and if she needed to rest, he’d be there to wait for her or pick her up and tell her it was going to be okay. She was going to be okay. Everything was okay.

Her mind was racing because for a short moment she finally understood what it meant to be happy and to not be ashamed of her tears and her broken pieces. He steadied her and kept her safe when she was constantly holding her family together. For once in her fucking life, she found someone who would swim a whole ocean for her just because he loved her and that’s it. All because he loved her. He loved her. He loved every flaw, every weakness, every ugly part and saw beauty where she didn’t. He did all that and all he wanted in return was her to be with him. For her to find happiness with him.

Fuck, what was wrong with her?

“Is he okay?” Cat breathed, announcing her presence to the mother of the boy that slipped his way into her heart rapidly and without warning. A boy that crashed into her like a tsunami. Instead of knocking her off her feet, he carried her where the light couldn’t. Caterina was terrified, scared shitless of anything bad happening to Clay. If only she told him how she felt.

Ellie’s chocolate eyes fell from the sky and onto the pained face of the neighbor girl. She shared her eyes with her son, so dark but so expressive. Many thought little of Ellie. She was a foundling, a Callahan no less, so life was easy for her. She was a space case who couldn’t remember what day it was and had many times been referred to as an unfit mother with no basis. Eleanor was far more clued in than people thought. It was easier for her to pretend to be dumb than to make others feel bad.

She had always known about Clay’s crush on Cat. The way he looked at her, the way his little eyes twinkled when he heard her smoky voice. And she knew her son, he would wait and fight until he landed the woman of his dreams. When they arrived at the hospital and they asked who Clay’s emergency contact was, Ellie assumed it would be her but when they read out Cat’s name? That all but affirmed her suspicion that her son was having an affair with the woman. She saw it coming before they did.

Ellie pushed herself up to her feet and took a step forward. She wrapped her arms around the younger woman and pulled her into a tight embrace. “He’s ok. A little banged up but he’s going to be fine.” She whispered into Caterina’s ear as she nuzzled into her neck, letting the pain out and letting love fill them both.

The sudden warm embrace of a mother opened the floodgates. Cat wrapped her arms around Eleanor, her purse hanging from her arm and silently sobbed into her shoulder. She had been a mess since yesterday that not even wine could console her. “I’m sorry,” Cat muffled into Ellie’s shirt. “I didn’t want you or anyone to find out this way. I’m so sorry if it’s caused you any pain,” Cat choked on her tears.

Picking her head up, Cat gazed into the eyes of the older woman who was a parental figure she and her siblings looked up to growing up. She was fifteen when her father decided to pack their bags and leave their home in the Big Apple. She was fifteen when she moved to Edenridge. She was fifteen when she was welcomed on Scott Street by the Costigans. One of the first families to make them feel part of the town. One of the first families to open up their home to them. Vivia grew attached to Eleanor and even picked up a paintbrush. Cat, however, had too much going on as the eldest Belmonte to stop and take in the fresh air. When she looked at Ellie she felt that. She felt her spirit and how unbothered she was of most things but not because she didn’t care. Eleanor Costigan was the embodiment of: don’t worry, don’t hurry, and be sure to smell the flowers along the way.

“I’m so glad he’s okay,” Cat uttered. Her pain bled through her words. There was no doubt there was so much guilt and grief in her words, woven in one tragic blanket. Unwrapping her arms and hands, Cat wiped her ugly crying face, blushing in shame and embarrassment.

“You should go to him.” Ellie reached forward and wiped away some of Cat’s tears herself. “I reckon at this point he’ll be more happy to see you than me.” Of course she wanted nothing more than to be with her baby boy but she could see it on Caterina’s face, the guttural cry and the shaking hands, the girl needed to be with Clayton. She was in love with her son. Selling Sean on the idea would be a mission unto itself but he could wait, he was still somewhere in the Atlantic. “I need to go get his Dad anyway. He’s in room thirteen on the second floor.” Elle leaned forward and pressed her lips to Cat’s cheek, holding her arm gently as she did so. “Look after him for me? He’s a good boy.”

“Okay,” Cat struggled to find the words. Her mind, in a haze. “I promise. No,” She corrected herself. “I will. You have my word.” She needed to stop guessing and hoping her life would get better. That her father would open up and admit his own struggles and pains. That her siblings wouldn’t take things for granted. That her kids didn’t hate her.

Already Cat was taking charge of her life by filing for a divorce and studying to become a police officer. Now it was time to embrace the feeling with the person that she wanted more than anything in this world. The future was unknown but she knew relationships were a commitment. She’s been through a few, one being a long, toxic marriage. She shouldn’t be afraid of this feeling. It made her happy and what was wrong with that? What was wrong with being happy? Cat needed to stop doing everything for everyone else and start dreaming again for herself. She needed to find her own happiness.

And that started with Clay.

“Be safe, Ellie, and… thank you.”
TIMESTAMP: After Scott Street: The Real Dream
Featuring: Clayton Costigan, Caitlin Cleary, Kylee Grimm & Jamie Lord



Every time Jamie looked in the mirror, she so desperately wished to see David staring back at her. One day he would. One day she would open her eyes and she would see that stupid curly hair framing his goofy grin. He would be laughing and telling her that she needed to decide for certain whether she was going to be a blonde or a brunette because he was sick of her changing it all the time. She would tease him about his choice of music being exactly like their Dads and then Davey would go off to play ball with Rhett and Clay and she could go about her own monotonous life until she was ready to come home to her brother again.

One day that would happen.

Jamie closed her eyes and exhaled deeply, her body slowly moving to the sound of David’s Infinite Spotify Playlist of Dad Rock. Russell’s screams were drowned out by the deafening synth intro of Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. She still had the bloodied knife on her hand as she danced through the hallways of the O’Hara house. Her father was already gone for the day and her mother had headed out to the store. Russ was in the living room, hooting and hollering but what was fine, that didn’t matter. He didn’t matter.

Her darling husband had lost his mind when Jamie had gotten home that morning and told him that she had kissed someone else and liked it. It was so typical of Russell to throw back in her face that he stood by her through everything. Jamie hated him for it. He wasn’t doing it because he loved her, he was doing it to hide himself away from the world; to hide the truth that everyone already knew and didn’t care about. Russell was gay. Everybody knew. Jamie was just his beard. An opportunity he saw when she was at her lowest to cover up his own pain. Their argument was heated and although he had never laid a finger on her, Russ was large and she was not. She hadn’t planned on using the knife until Russ said he had beaten up Clay the night before and left him for dead.

He did what?!

How could he do that? Clay was their friend. He was a good hearted soul who just wanted to help people and Russell attacked him for no reason. He tried to preach that he did it for her, that if Clay found out Jamie was behind the letters that would be the end of everything. How could he hurt Clay? Jamie had always loved that floppy haired idiot. Once upon a time, it was romantic; in fact they were each other's first kiss but time and tide makes fools of us all. They were never meant to be. Instead they were friends, the closest of close until Davey died. Knowing that her husband had tried to silence their friend, that drew down the curtain of red mist and forced Jamie’s hand and the blade between her fingers to slash Russell’s arm.

He was on the couch, having made a tourniquet out of a tea towel and was on the phone to the emergency services. Jamie wandered out of the front door, her eyes bloodshot and teary. She still held the knife as she walked barefoot onto the pristine green grass of her Scott Street ancestral home. The music was blaring through the open front door as she turned her head towards the neighbors home, the Cleary house.

If David wasn’t with Jamie, maybe he was over there?

Exiting the Cleary household, Kylee was a woman on a mission. On the phone with Adam who was still at the Costigans, she gave him an update, “Hey baby, meet me at Absolute Sound. I got a surprise Dawn Patrol special to do.” Scanning at her wrist watch, she noted the time, morning was nearing an end. She shrugged, “Sure Amie might still be live, but she should understand. That girl has a squirrel brain and this is far more important. So, yeah, I’ll see you soon? Mm, yes sir I’ll be careful.” When she listened to the next words, Kylee became a blushing bride and embarrassingly answered, “Stahp. I need to focus…” she could see Clay’s and Cece’s eyes on her, which caused her to look away, “I love you—” her train of thought stopped abruptly when she saw David’s twin in a tragic state. “Jamie…” she whispered. Barefoot, sunken eyes from all the tears she’s cried, and a bloody knife. Instinctively, Kylee put herself in between Caitlin and the distraught, mentally unstable woman making her way toward them. “Adam, I need to go. Clay!” Kylee hung up her phone.

“Calm your tits, I’m moving a bit slow today…” Clay’s ever present humor fell off of a cliff’s edge as he came up behind the two girls and saw his childhood friend moving like a zombie towards them. She did not look like her usual, ethereal, radiant self. This version of Jamie looked manic and half crazed. Clayton swiftly jumped in front of both girls, blocking them with his lanky frame. The adrenaline quickly surged through his veins to mask the pain. He didn’t immediately reach for his gun, instead opting just to reach out his hand to his former lover. “Jamie, babe what’s with the knife?” He scanned it as quickly as he could. There was only a small amount of blood on the blade which meant that whatever she had cut, realistically suffered a surface wound at best. “Jamie, you hear me?…”

Jamie tilted her head slowly, taking short steps forward. “Is he in there?” She asked, breaking into a wide smile. “Is my Davey in there? I have to tell him something important. I know you want to keep him all to yourself Caitykins, but I need him. I need my big brother.” Her words were frantic as she ignored both Clay and Kylee, focusing her attention on the small redhead they were shielding with their bodies. “I need Davey."

The moment Cece's eyes fell on the woman with a knife staggering towards them, fear unlike anything she'd experienced before settled within her heart. The multi-generational bond between the O'Haras and the Clearys meant that the redhead was aware of Jamie's mental health issues, and knew that the reason she'd been sent away for some time was because David's passing exacerbated them. When she and Russ had returned to town a few weeks ago, she seemed better, healthier than she'd ever seen her before. No matter how hard she tried, Cece couldn't think of what had triggered Jamie to such an extent that she would do any of this. What she did know was that staring at the state of the woman she grew up alongside, the one who had treated her like a sister and been the biggest accomplice she and David had during their time together, terrified her and broke her heart in equal parts.

"He's-- he's not here, Jamie," she croaked, her voice trembling as much as her body was. She could tell from the woman's glassy-eyed stare and her inquiry that she wasn't all the way in the present. Her mind was probably stuck in the past, before tragedy had struck them all. Telling her that her brother was no longer with them was bound to escalate things, so Cece opted against being the one to say it. "David's not with me right now.”

Jamie stared vacantly at the trio; their words soaring over her head. She turned her head in time to see the doors of the cul-de-sac open and the residents of Scott Street empty from their loveless castles to view what was happening on the Cleary lawn. The fragile tie turned her O’Hara blue gaze back to Clay, Caitlin and Kylee and narrowed her gaze onto her childhood friend. “Clayton, you must know where Davey is? Is he with Franny? Or did you just get back from your date's house? Should I call Rhett?”

Clay was heartbroken seeing Jamie like this. She was obviously in some form of manic episode. She had suffered through them her entire life. Some were quick, others lasted days. When David passed, the mania was constant and unstoppable until she went and got help. Nobody knew exactly what was wrong with Jamie, the O’Hara’s had kept it quiet but everyone knew that something was wrong. “Jame, he’s gone. You know that, right? David’s been gone for years.” He tried to remember the techniques that they had all been shown to help pull the girl from her delusions. The problem was, Clay’s own mind was foggy from assault by her husband. “Focus on my voice; on my words, where are you right now?”

Jamie tried to open her mouth, to make words come out but instead there was only a whimper as the tears started rolling down her puffy, red face once more. Like a light switch being flipped, the broken monument’s face darkened and she raised her blade. “I had to do it.” She spoke coldly, “They said such horrible things. They all dragged his name through the dirt and why? WHY? Because he was protecting you.” Jamie hissed as she glared at Caitlin. “I love you Caitykins. I really do but you’re not worth what they did to him. It’s not your fault; we love who we love who we love. That’s just the world. But he is mine. David is my world and I am not going to let them spit on his soul any more. They are going to hear the truth.”

The truth in Jamie's words cut Caitlin deeper than any injury the knife in her hand could’ve caused. She was right. She wasn't worth what had happened to David. She wasn’t worth the accusations, the insults, the snide comments or the death threats. Davey had died because of her-- his life wasn't worth that. She had earned every single ounce of hurt that had come her way since the day she decided to kiss him by the lake. Every negative feeling she’d experienced since his passing was warranted. If Jamie wanted to end her life today, then so be it. She should've gone through with it herself years ago. It was exactly what she deserved.

“I’m sorry,” was all the young woman could whimper in between her sobs, the crushing weight of her guilt and her pain bringing her down to her knees, her face buried behind her hands as she fell forward. “I am so, so sorry.”

“Is this how you honor his memory?” Kylee sadly but firmly asked the older woman, having pocketed her phone in her pants. She made herself visible to Jamie, moving beside Clay, knowing he would want to shield her. She met his gaze, seeing how badly his body was hurting, and told him through her eyes she could handle herself. She was a big girl. Her father raised her in a way to at least know how to protect herself from an ongoing attacker on the street just in case she was mugged. She wasn’t too worried. She was more worried for the mental health of all the people around her.

“We love who we love who we love,” she repeated after Jamie. “Look around you, Jamie.” Kylee raised her hand to gesture at Clay, Caitlin, and her general vicinity. “You are not the only one hurting. I can’t say what this town did was right but what I can say is would David want you to remember him for the sadness and the tears? Or would he want you to remember the days you laughed, walking down this street, right here, during Halloween, going to basketball games, dancing by the lake with friends, and hiding out in your secret place? His smile. Doesn’t he have such a nice smile? I always thought your brother’s smile was so pretty and bright,” Kylee never took her eyes away from Jamie. She wanted the woman to hear her; really hear every word she was saying. She had no idea if Jamie would be receptive but she had to try.

Kylee Grimm was the outsider in this situation. That didn’t mean she needed to be a bystander. She knew enough information to break the silence of the town. She might’ve not added fuel to this fire many years ago but she didn’t do anything to put the fire out. More importantly though? She saw her friend and her former classmate in pain. So much pain. That was enough for her to take action. “He never stopped loving you, Jamie. He will never stop loving you. Please don’t be unhappy because you can’t see him. He’s with you, I promise he is. Every morning, every dawn, and every night. He’s with you. Right here.” Kylee placed her hand on her chest, her heart, where she’s made a home for her own loved ones. “He’s with you,” she repeated, like a mantra. “He’s always been with you.”

“But he’s not with me though, is he?” Jamie spoke coldly, the usual warmth of her words was snuffed out by grief. “They took him away from me. Why did they have to take him away?” Her face began to shrink and resolve into sobbing as Kylee’s words found a hole in her wall of pain to seep into. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He just fell in love, he just fell in love. Isn’t that what is supposed to make the world go round?” Jamie’s teary eyes fell upon Caitlin once more, who was now being held by Kylee for support, they were brimming with sadness and despair. “Davey loves you so much. You make him so happy, Caity. I just want to tell him that I found someone, someone who could make me happy too. Is that so wrong?”

Clay always knew that Jamie’s co-dependency on her brother was bad but to be this severe! Her episodes obviously didn’t help the situation and his death only could’ve exacerbated it. Taking a step forward, the former elite reached his hand slowly up and took a hold of the surviving O’Hara’s wrist. She didn’t fight back as he took the knife from her and dropped it onto the floor. He had always known that Russell was a marriage of convenience and Jamie’s words of finding love were not meant for him. He wondered if it could be closer to home than he realized. Avery had messaged him earlier that morning mentioning a kiss. He all but skimmed it because of how groggy he was but now it all made sense. Avery and Jamie had kissed and despite what joy it seemed to bring based on the ballerina’s words, it had also set off her mania, likely the confusion of it all.

She watched Clay take another stride forward, when hooked his arms beneath Jamie and pulled her into his embrace she began to weep uncontrollably. Her knees buckled as she sank down into the grass, clinging onto Clayton’s now bloody shirt as she did. He followed her down to the door and held her tightly. She looked up at Caitlin and reached out her hand, her other still grasping onto her childhood friend. “Caity…”

The redhead's face remained buried between her hands, her whole body shaking with violent sobs. Hearing Jamie speak about David's love for her, the happiness she brought him and how she wasn't to blame for what happened brought a sense of relief and healing to her aching heart. Sure: Jamie was right when she said that protecting Cece wasn't worth what the town did to David-- that was her grief speaking. But it was comforting to know that even in the midst of her distress, Jamie could still remember that the happiest Cece and David had ever been was with each other.

When Cece heard the sound of her name being called out, she looked up at the brunette and noticed the other woman reaching out her hand in her direction. Her eyes were still streaming, and her face was red. But even with the tears blurring her line of sight, the Cleary girl could see her own pain, suffering and grief reflected in the O'Hara daughter's face. Yet at the same time, she saw kindness, empathy, affection… And understanding.

Accepting Jamie's invitation for comfort and seeking some of her own, Cece wrapped her arms around the brunette and pulled her into a tight hug. "I'm sorry, Jamie!" she repeated, her voice cracking as she spoke. She hoped the other woman would be able to sense her compassion for her suffering, her genuine regret about what had transpired, and the immense love she still would always hold for her brother and the O'Hara family as a whole. "I love you, and I am so so sorry about what happened. You know I loved him with my entire existence."

Clay backed away as both Caitlin and Jamie embraced each other, clung to each other for comfort. The two most important women in David’s life had found each other and potentially and understanding. The sad fact of the matter was that as cathartic as it all was, Clayton couldn’t just leave it at this. Jamie and Russell both had committed serious crimes and would need to face the consequences of their actions. This was his greatest fear about becoming a police officer, it was something he and David had joked about many years ago. Clay had to arrest his friends. Taking out his cell phone, he quickly dialed up his commanding officer. “Sir, it’s Costigan. We’re gonna need a squad car and some officers up on Scott Street…..yes sir. We have a domestic dispute.”

Watching Clay, Jamie gripped CeCe tighter. She knew it was all over, that she had failed. There would be no justice for David, no matter what she did. Edenridge was a town of secrets, a town of lies and judgment. Bringing her lips to Caitlin’s ear, Jamie feverishly gripped at the back of the redhead's neck to pull her close. “Don’t ever let them forget what they did, Caity. What they did to him. To you. To me. Force their eyes open, make them watch.”

The redhead nodded in agreement. After the lengths to which Jamie had gone for justice, Cece would make sure her efforts wouldn't go to waste. "I will. I promise."

It was finally time to step out of the shadows and speak her truth-- consequences be damned. She owed it to Jamie, to Coach, to Lizzie, to David and most importantly, to herself.
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