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A @LovelyComplex, @NeoAJ, & @BrutalBx Collaboration || Featuring: Kylee Grimm, Roddy Callahan, Danilo Belmonte, Jillian O'Brien

“Would you shut up!” As if matters couldn’t get worse, all eyes were on them, or well, him, which caused Danny to sweat. Danny from highschool would love the limelight but this Danny, he was anxious and nervous because knowing these numbers meant somehow he was tied to this and he didn’t like that. On top of that, Kylee and, goddammit, Roddy decided to insert themselves.

“Is everything okay?” The Mayor’s daughter smiled with faux concern, while releasing Roddy from her hold. “I couldn’t help but overhear… you might know what the numbers mean?” The minx that was Kylee Grimm ate up all this tension and poked the bear a little more. She wanted him to spit it out already so they could go to their next lead.

“It’s just a hunch...” Danny’s mind was kind of distracted with how harsh Jillian was to him, but there was no turning back. He didn’t want to give her another chance to scream at him. Even if he messed up sophomore year, he didn’t think he deserved any of this. She was just being a bitch and taking out her misery on someone that still legitimately cared about her. Maybe the only person that wanted to save her.

“A hunch? Hm. Well we’re all ears.” Kylee gestured to them four but also the people around them. His whole class. “A hunch is better than what we have.”


Having stared at those numbers for a bit, from when they went on the wall to when Jillian screamed at him, Danny did find himself in a memory, freshman year, where he was talking to Francis early in the morning. It was one of those memories that at the time, all Danny could see was that beaming smile, but somehow, he looked past the miraculously handsome jock’s face and saw his senior open his locker.

Combination 16-7-5.

Even through all the idle chatter and listening to Francis’ laugh, Danny Belmonte was able to ingrain this in his mind and that made him panic. Why of all the details about Francis did he remember this? It made him seem like a creep. He wasn’t a creep! He was just head over heels for the guy at the time. Clearing his throat, and cracking his knuckles, he looked from Jillian, to Kylee, and ended his green gaze on Roddy. If anyone needed closure, it was Roddy Callahan. This was probably eating him alive, when really, it was just a simple answer. The next lead was Allison’s boyfriend’s locker. Made perfect sense and didn’t take a rocket scientist.

Danny was nervous people would look too deep into him knowing this. Like instead of thinking oh maybe Francis needed Danny to open his locker in the past, they’ll immediately jump to Danny’s gay. The thought of being ridiculed and judged…

He didn’t want that. Especially not after Jillian made his ears bleed. But, if he acted like this bothered him, or changed the tone of his voice in any way, then someone, like Kylee, who was good at picking up things, would definitely catch on that he was in the closet. He had to act normal. Maybe they’d leave it alone and not ask why. “I’m pretty certain we have to go to your brother’s locker, Roddy. That’s his combination.”

“I thought you said a hunch!” Kylee became totally flabbergasted. And yet, she still wasn’t done talking, intrigued at the fact that Danny of all people, knew this was Francis’ combo, “Why the hell do YOU know this?” The exact question that Danny didn’t want to be asked, the gossip girl was quick to ask. “Like come on, were you really THAT close to Francis?”

“I don’t know… I just do.”

Roddy was unsure what to make of this revelation. Why would Danny know Francis’ locker combo? For all intents and purposes and as far as Rod was concerned, they’re relationship didn’t extend beyond sports. It was a long standing theory that Danny was Francis’ heir apparent to the crown of Eden’s premier jock. Danny, like Fran, was not an out and out duck like the guys you see in movies. He was genuine and caring, had his faults sure, but was a decent human being nonetheless.

“I would just call him and ask but…” Even in such a confusing time, Roddy was trying to be rational and logical. He was not an outwardly emotional person and often thought about life in ones and zeroes. It was this aspect of him that really created the great divide that separated him from his peers. Some even teased him with the nome de plum of Robo Roddy. “Fran and Joaquin are somewhere in the fucking mountains right now shooting. I’d need a satellite phone to get in touch with them.”

Francis had met Joaquin his first year at Yale. Having come out as gay but still trying to find himself, he wasn’t expecting to meet his soulmate at the first party of the year but that’s what happened. By all accounts, aspiring filmmaker Joaquin made the first move. Whatever the case, the two just worked together and when Fran brought home his new beau (not that one) the Callahans were impressed and just as smitten.

If Danny’s demand for silence didn’t stun Jill, him being able to nail down exactly what those numbers were certainly did the trick. Would anyone have been able to pull that answer out of thin air? Shoot, Jill was still trying to remember what she did that summer. It was getting harder to remember things. Ask her what flavor was on the wings she had earlier, she’d be hard-pressed to tell you. But she knew there was no way Danny should have had that kind of answer to that question.

Luckily, Kylee was there to ask the questions that Jill wanted answered. Granted, Jill could have asked them herself, but it probably wouldn’t have been that eloquent. “My colleague from the daily paper raises a very good point, Danny boy. How’djya get that locker combination in the first place? Let alone remember it years later?”

In these moments, the cold exterior that Marco had witnessed countless times when people pressured Danny too much started washing over him. Balling his fists, digging his nails into his skin, Danny reiterated, “Like I said, I don’t know. And does it even matter? Or have you—” he specifically directed this to Jillian, “—forgotten why we’re here?”

Annoyed now, Danny eased his way through the crowded group and took charge, “We’re here because of the letters and look, there’s a dead girl on the wall. Let’s stop wasting time and just see if I’m right.” Why call Francis when they could just check themselves?

If Danny wasn’t caught up in his head, angry at feeling cornered, he would’ve looked for Marco and helped him out. Right now though? He just needed to leave. Marco was with Lanie anyways. He would be fine. Danny, however, could no longer be in this gym that should be filled with good memories but only reminded him of how much of a disappointment he was.

From getting reacquainted with his ex, to him hurting Tiffanie’s feelings, to Jillian’s hollering, to Francis’ stupid locker combination, today was not his day. He was ready for it all to be over. The sooner they got to the bottom of this, the better.


Roddy placed his hands upon his hips and shook his head. Maybe the purpose of all this was to drive some sort of wedge between the kids of Edenridge? For what purpose he wasn’t sure but one thing that Rod was certain of was that whoever was doing this, under the guise of truth and justice, did not have the best interest of these people at heart.

”Lets just go to the locker, it can’t hurt any.”

Without a second thought, the second born son of Callahan span on his heel and pushed his way out of the gym and into the derelict halls of Edenridge High.

@BrutalBx @Venus

A @BrutalBx, @LovelyComplex, & @metanoia Collaboration || Featuring: The James Sisters, Jade Taylor, Charlie Decker, & Allison Davies


December 4, 2016, Pinehurst, MA

In a well kept 2000 Toyota Camry, Maxine James steadily drove on the highway to get from Edenridge to Pinehurst, for a game everyone at their school was looking forward to. Tonight was going to be fantastic because it was a mental breather from her strenuous AP level classes. She knew she aced her Latin exam which was something she was freaking out about for two weeks now.

Thank goodness she had help with studying. Nolan was a lifesaver and now she would be repaying him for his efforts by meeting him at the game and giving him some delicious goodies she labored all night making. They didn’t look pretty but they tasted delicious and that’s all that matters! Her and her sister weren’t necessarily the cooking type but at least Max can say her food was edible.

Not too long ago, Nolan had texted her that he reserved seats for them and had a little surprise for her. Maxine couldn’t help but blush at the thought of what it could be. Looks like they were on the same page of surprising each other, as per usual. She enjoyed spending time with him and she was glad he liked her company too. Whatever the surprise was, she knew it would make her smile. He was good at doing that… making her smile.

Maxine’s radio was on one of the early 2000s stations and once He Loves U Not by Dream finished, which made the girl’s younger sister, Penelope, in the backseat nervous, she decided to turn the knob for something more… hip. Nice and old fashioned styled radio. Nothing smart and fancy about her car. Suddenly and almost abruptly, Get Low by Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz vibrated through the old car, bass booming. This could work. This could definitely work.

Knowing that tonight might be a special night for her little sister, Maxine decided to turn the volume up. Grooving in the driver seat, shimmying her shoulders from side to side, she enthusiastically and comically sang to the music letting her inner gangsta out. Max hoped this would ease her sweet pea’s nerves. It was a good song to scream to, which could do all these pretty ladies in this camry some good.

Turns out Charlie had something special for her sissy. Whatever it was, it better be good. There was a part of her that prayed he was going to ask her out. Because if so: FINALLY! Yet, Max knew better than to get her sister’s hopes up because what if Charlie choked and didn’t. He was a procrastinator after all and probably didn’t think he’d lose Poppy’s heart, so the easiest thing to do was to push asking her out, time after time. Waiting, always waiting, for the perfect moment. Life was too short to waste your time on anything but love and she hoped in their case, they would follow their hearts to each other. “Come on, Pops! Let it all out. Jade, help please.”

Peering in her rearview mirror, Maxine winked at the hottest blonde in the Southside, gesturing her head to Penelope beside her, who was fiddling with her fingers and looking out the window. Today the wallflower, Little Miss Poppy, was making a statement with her outfit and makeup. Props to Jade for taking her away from the grunge aesthetic for once. Charlie would be DUMB to let this opportunity slip him by because my-oh-my was she freakin’ adorable and dressed appropriately for the wintery brisk. That was important too.

All the bombshell from the southside could do was sigh, alternating her gaze between Maxine and her best friend. For the past several minutes, she bore witness to the intoxicating and equally-cringe “dancing” that the older James girl displayed. Jade was nearly ashamed to admit that she also vibed to Lil Jon. When it came to 2000s hip hop, he was the clear superior right alongside Enimem. Anyone who said different was either stupid or trying to prove a point with their snobbish friends.

“You heard her, Pops!” Jade turned to Poppy, still gazing at Max and then back to Poppy. “Listen, you remember when we binged Naruto?” Jade could just feel Max’s eyes look at them in the weird way and Jade just continued. “Well, do you? Remember when that blonde dumbass was falling and falling? He was about to die and he most certainly would have if he didn’t do what he needed to so he could live. And presto!” Jade made a sound effect to emphasize her point. “He lived to see another day.”

Halfway through that, she lost her train of thought and the moments of silence that came after reflected that. “Anyway, you’re falling down the cliffside and now it’s time to unleash your inner-nine tails, Pops! Summon your Chief Toad!” It was a kept secret that Jade was a nerd. Maybe it was the underdog story of coming from nothing but being accepted anyway that drew her to the story of Naruto.

Was that supposed to help her? Poppy looked at her best friend, completely dumbfounded. The idea of her falling off a cliff was not something she wanted to think about. Even if in the end she would unleash a great power. All she could think of was what Charlie had planned for her tonight. He made things seem extra special. She doubted he’d go into his surprise during the game, but after? What was waiting for her? Was he finally going to…?

No, she shouldn’t get her hopes up nor let the sadness and sorrow of her and him never crossing the what if bridge get her down. They were still young and had their whole lives ahead of them. If tonight was just as simple as him showing her a spot he found in town that he found beautiful for one reason or another, she would be happy. They didn’t need to risk what they had because they wanted to rush their lives together.

Even so, part of her hopes and wishes… they could take a leap of faith, together. “You’re such a weeb, Jade.” Poppy teasingly rolled her eyes at her friend. Not really in the mood to talk about what was going on in her headspace, Poppy decided to sing along to Get Low. Maybe, just maybe, that would help with her nerves. “... now bring yo ass over here, hoe and let me see you get low if you want this thug. Now take it to the floor and if yo ass wanta act, then you can keep yo ass where you at.”

“3, 6, 9, stand real fine. Move it to you suck it on me one mo time. Get low, get, get low, get low!”

By the chorus, all three of the girls were singing off the top of their lungs:

After a couple more 2000s hip hop classics, they reached the parking lot of Pinehurst High, where the cheer competition and basketball game was going to be held. Once the car engine was off, the girls exited it and Maxine did a big stretch. “That was fun. Thank god we’re finally here. I hate that drive.” Amongst the cars and people, Max’s smile turned into a grin, “So packed already! The rivalry between our towns is so wild but it’s great to see all the team spirit.” Turning on her heel to face her little sister, Maxine pulled out her pink rosy lip stain and applied it to Poppy’s lips, “What a cutie.”

And then as Max kept making those finishing touches, Jade’s blue-green eyes found themselves just scanning the parking lot. It scanned and scanned, surveying everywhere. She felt like she was in the enemy’s territory and, technically, that wasn’t not true. They were in Pinehurst, Edenridge’s rival. Jade had always felt immense pride for her school. She may not have been a cheerleader or even in any sort of sport where her loyalty was tested in the most obvious way, but hell be damned if she didn’t have school spirit (do you?).

So there was a tinge of gut-twisting nausea that came over her face when it set in. They were on enemy turf. But something that made the bitter pill to swallow a little sweeter was seeing her old friend. Well, their old friend, but Charlie was always someone she loved wholly. Definitely not that same way that she suspected a certain someone did, but she adored him in every sense of the word.

“So how’s our girl looking Max?” Jade asked, looking back at the James sisters, smiling with an impressed grin when she saw the glowing shade on Poppy’s lips.

“I think she’s going to stop hearts.” Hopefully, one specific heart.

Poppy rubbed her hands together, warming them from the chill, looking back and forth between her best friend and sister. “Okay, okay! Let’s go.” All this playing dress up was exhausting when Charlie didn’t care about what she wore. At least, she didn’t think he did.

“You two go ahead! I’m going to call Nolan.”

Her sister didn’t need to say it twice. Grabbing Jade’s hand, Penelope took the lead as they started heading to Pinehurst High’s gym. When she saw Charlie, she beamed and waved at him from a distance. In the moment, she focused on how handsome his smile was. Not what had to come and not what may never be. Just them, presently.

Charlie didn’t like being in Pinehurst; something about the air just smelled too clean. He knew it wasn’t really a bad thing, just something he wasn’t used to. Sitting on the bottom bleacher, he stood out in a sea of green and white Edenridge Pride. He sat tall, rocking his leather jacket with a moss coloured flannel shirt and his dirty blue jeans. Charlie’s long legs trembled with nerves and excitement; not for the coming game but for the arrival of Poppy and for his shift on the corner.

It was a simple fact of life that Charlie Decker had always been in love with Penelope James. Everyone knew from when they were kids that those two were meant for each other. Problem was that neither would admit to it. At least not until tonight. Reading through some of his fathers old journals had inspired Charlie, he realised just how short and lonely life could be and he wasn’t going to be another statistic like his dad. He wasn’t just going to leave this world without a fight. The start of that fight was letting Poppy know how he felt.

He raised his head from his phone just in time to see Penelope and Jade enter the Pinehurst gym and he felt his heart stop. There was no one else in the room anymore. He watched the girls walk towards him and his grip on his phone tightened to the point that he nearly cracked the screen.

The blonde stood there silently, quietly observing her two friends looking at each other. Charlie always knew how to make that whole broody thing work for him. There weren’t many who could make the jeans and the leather work. Jade had seen many from her uncle’s club and her cousin, too, just look like they were spit out of a cringey OC generator. But Charlie Decker? Yeah, he had the perfect balance.

And she wondered if Poppy noticed this too? What was Jade saying? Of course, she did. The way she stared in silence at him, yeah Jade saw it, yet no words came from either of them.

With a frustrated huff, Jade would break the ice for them. “So, Charlie!” She put on her best half-smile. “Poppy looks good, yeah? I mean, what do you think?”

"She looks gorgeous.” The south side serpent sat in awe for a moment. He wondered why she’d made such an effort and for the briefest of moments he thought that maybe that effort was for him but within milliseconds he had convinced himself it was for one of the basketball players; probably Callahan or Lord, God he hoped it wasn’t O’Hara, that guy was such a dick.

"Sorry that we’re stuck at the front. All the cool kids are sitting at the back”

The genuine sweetness in Poppy’s cheeks from being called gorgeous went away as quick as the color came. Charlie’s attention and eyes didn’t last long on her. She bit her tongue, preventing herself from displaying a frown or showing she was disappointed. “That’s okay, we got a better view.”

Fidgeting with her fingers, as they proceeded inside, she glanced at the court seeing the basketball players warm up. Her eyes fell on Danilo Belmonte, the first freshman to get on the varsity team. A growing star. He was definitely going to do great things in his future and for that, she was a little envious of him. He had it all figured out and money to back his dreams.

Sighing to herself, she shook her head and stopped herself in her tracks. She needed to use the bathroom, or well, no. She just wanted to be in the bathroom to collect herself. Backtracking, leaving Charlie and Jade, she quickly dismissed herself, “I’ll be back! Do you guys want any snacks?”

"I’m good Pops.”

Allison emerged from her bathroom stall, sniffling lightly after a hit of the good stuff. She told herself it was just to take the edge off. It was something everyone did. It’s not like she had a problem. She walked over to the mirror and began to touch up her makeup. Ally had to kill it tonight. Not only was she working with inexperienced cheerleaders but this was her last shot at making a memory. She was the Queen of Eden and there was no way in hell she was going to allow herself to become a never-was. This was her tournament. This was her night.

Entering the bathroom, a detour before she gets some snacks for herself and Jade, Penelope James made her way to the sink next to Allison. When the cheerleader peered at her through the mirror, Penelope simply nodded at her senior and turned to the mirror. Looking at herself, she couldn’t help but feel sad that all her work went to waste. Charlie didn’t see her. He wasn’t ever going to see her. She was completely invisible and it was her fault for thinking tonight would be any different.

She hated mirrors.

Deeply sighing, she undid her cute bun and ruffled her hair. This felt better. This felt more like her. Why did she think pretending to be something she wasn’t would help? Part of her debated taking off all this makeup, right here and right now, but Jade put a lot of time and effort to help her soul sister look like a Northie tonight. In addition to that, Maxine put this cute lip tint on her. Bleh.

Instead, she took off her winter fingerless gloves and turned the sink on. Before washing her hands, she looked over to the girl beside her and smiled, “Good luck tonight. You’ll do great.” Penelope didn’t want to seem rude by just focusing on herself, but Allison and her, they weren’t from the same world.

If anything, Maxine felt like she was meant to be from the Northside. Not Poppy. Then again, Pops didn’t feel like she belonged on the southside either because everyone shielded her from everything and kept her out of trouble. No one wanted her. On top of that, it didn’t help that at this moment she was staring at Miss. Queen-of-Eden who was meant for the spotlight and in comparison to her? Penelope was an absolute wallflower. Just staring at her brought out Poppy’s worst insecurities. Allison was very pretty, especially up close. Maybe Charlie would prefer a girl like her.

"He’s an idiot you know?” The head cheerleader of the Celtics began as she applied a little more lipstick to her face. "Whoever you got yourself gussied up for? Yeah he’s a fool. You look absolutely amazing, even more so now your hair is down.”

Ally couldn’t place the girl that now stood before her. Judging on the finer details of the younger woman’s face she would hazard a guess to say she was probably a southie; they had a paleness to their skin since the sun never shone on that side of town or at least that’s what Nanna Davies liked to say. She popped her lipstick tube back into her clutch before turning to face the small pixie she shared a bathroom elegy with.

"You want some free advice babe? Men, in all their forms, are inherent fools. You are and always will be, in control. You like this kid? Make him earn it.”

After turning off the sink, Penelope mumbled, “Easier said than done.” She felt defeated, even though the night was so young. Equally turning herself to face the taller woman, the James girl surveyed her form and crossed her arms, finding it odd that this stranger was making her feel comforted at a random night like this.

“We’ve known each other since we were babies. And we don’t necessarily have this thing called boundaries, now that I think about it. And, like, how can I be like this?” She gestured at everything that was Allison Davies. “You’re beautiful. Popular. Sexy. Smart! I’m just… me.” Awkward bookworm, with some anger issues.

Allison brushed her hair back, partly as the girl's compliments made her feel warm but mostly just to add a bit of volume. "Sweet pea, you shouldn’t try to be this.” The cheerleader brushed the hem of her short skirt to iron out a crease before taking a step closer towards Poppy.

"There’s millions of me’s all over the country. One at the very least in every high school. Hell, here in Pinehurst there’s Bianca Washington. When I graduate, I’ve no doubt that one of my little girls will take my place and Allison Davies will just be a name in the halls. Trust me, no one will remember me in four years. People will only remember me because my little brother Vinny is a freshman.”

Leaning down slightly, Allison brushed a stray strand of dark hair from Penelope’s face and pushed it behind her ear. "The long and short of it honey, there’s only one of you. You’re a fox and you scream individuality. So here’s what you do, you go back to that boy, fierce and fiery and you show him that you’re his number one and his only one. It may take a while, like I said, men are idiots but if you really think he’s worth it, put in the work.”

Storing Allison’s advice for use later, Penelope kept her thoughts on the head cheerleader’s first spiel. Call it intuition or the ability to read between the lines, but it felt like Poppy got a glimpse of the real Allison Davies. The one that sees herself as forgettable and who has nothing waiting for her after graduation. Through all the confidence, she saw a girl who knew what was waiting for her and hated it.

Penelope was a weird one. Any other girl probably would squeal at the compliments from such a bright woman. Any other girl probably would run out the door to make that boy see what was right in front of her. Any other girl would look at Allison like an idol. Poppy wasn’t like other girls. Tilting her head, with the cheerleader’s smiling face inches away, Poppy bluntly inquired, “Are you scared? To graduate.”


Allison stood back up to her full height and reached back into her bag, pulling out her lipstick tube once again and turning it thrice in hand. "I’m not sure what’s waiting for me on the other side of senior year but I guess that’s just something I’m going to have to find out for myself.”

Glancing down at her phone which was resting on the sink, Ally noted a message from R2 and the time. She tossed the lipstick tube over to Penelope and offered the girl a genuine and warm smile. "Something to remember me by.” At this point, she could recall, vaguely, who this girl was which was Maxine James' little sister. Picking up her phone and stuffing it back into her bag, Ally span on her heel and headed towards the exit, stopping and turning she looked at Pops with her chocolate eyes and winked "It’s all yours, Miss James. It’s up to you to choose what you do with it” She hurried out of the open door as the Go Celtic chants began to rumble throughout the Pinehurst gym.

Watching Allison leave the bathroom, Penelope was left alone to think about the moment that just transpired. Her eyes fell on her hand that held the girl’s lipstick. After letting her gaze rest on it, she looked at herself in the mirror. She could use more color. Her makeup was kind of understated. Was this weird? To be gifted used lipstick? Probably. But, Poppy couldn’t help but like the gesture.

Well, here goes nothing.

Returning to her seat, with a cherry cola and an assortment of candy you can easily get at a convenience store, Penelope shuffled her way to the seat in between Jade and Charlie. She had an awful sweet tooth, which was apparent now if you hadn’t known before, because she bought every candy the concession stand offered. Once the drink was placed in between her and Jade, she pulled out an airhead, tore the wrapper open and placed it in her mouth. With the green airhead hanging from her lips, it brought notice to her newly painted hot red lips. “Did I miss anything?”

Poppy’s stature felt taller, more confident, no longer disheartened by the possibility of Charlie not liking her. Her hair was down, her face was vibrant, the color red popping off her pale skin, and she looked at the court in excitement. She was glad she had that talk with Allison. It truly felt like she was in control and if she wanted Charlie to notice her, she would have to make him work for it.

Charlie’s head was buried in his phone. ReyRey was hounding him to get on the corner and get to work. He was biting at his ringed fingers and worried that he’d probably have to cut out early to get there. It was a twenty minute drive to Pinehurst and Charlie didn’t have a car. When he felt Poppy sit next to him he raised his head up and his jaw nearly hit the floor. She was a vision and immediately, he felt like his heart was trying to beat hard out of his chest like a hammer hitting a wall.

"When virtue and modesty enlighten her charms, the lustre of a beautiful woman is brighter than the stars in heaven.” Charlie went into autopilot, quoting as he often did without even thinking about it. Penelope was showing why she was the reason he got out of bed in the morning. "Erm…I don’t think you’ve missed anything, the cheerleading thing is just about to start.”

In a masterful way, when Charlie’s lackluster acknowledgement of what she saw when Poppy rejoined them, Jade smiled at her sister while simultaneously stepping on Charlie’s foot. It was a small act but one she hoped the message could be read clear as Poppy’s beauty was tonight. “Not the only thing that’s about to start.” Jade said in a somewhat low tone. She noticed Poppy made some changes. She noticed that there was a different energy that surrounded her sister. She noticed all of this and wondered if Charlie would too.


A @metanoia & @LovelyComplex Collab || Featuring Danny, Marco, Poppy, & Jade

How much time passed?

Marco wasn’t saying anything, yet they were still sitting there, holding hands. Danny didn’t turn to glance over, nervous at the image of Marco intensely staring at him, waiting for him to react first. The feelings of the past twisted and turned in his stomach, as he imagined how the boy next to him loved him.

Like a puppy, Marco was devoted, playful, and trusting. Too trusting. It was kind of sweet, but Danny didn’t think he deserved any of it. His ex was so unbothered and calm, carrying such a forgiving and beautiful soul. Then there was him, and unlike his ex, Danny preferred to be strong, afraid to reveal his own fragility. Although he would never admit it, he is well aware of how vulnerable he is. All his weaknesses and flaws seemed to shine when Marco was around him.

Was that weird?

It was like…no matter how much time passes, when he sees his ex, he feels distracted, as if he was falling deeper and deeper in this hole, with the light far out of reach. Was that a proper way of phrasing this? Falling deep… in a hole. Probably not. How do you explain this feeling? It was so overwhelming and felt like he had to walk forever just to get to sweet relief.


Was that the word for it?

Not realizing the time was nearly eight, Danny picked up the sound of a motorcycle. He didn’t fully register it until he saw the color red and two girls parking right next to his vehicle. Immediately and abruptly, he released Marco’s hand and found himself turning his engine off, pulling his keys out the ignition, and bolting out the door, not saying a word to the person next to him.

Leaving Marco to his own devices, he gleamed at the newcomers, his fellow classmates of 2020, “Jade, is that you? And…” He took a moment to scan the girl tightly holding the blonde, who wore a large male hoodie (reminded him of someone) and had lustrous dark hair. Oh! “Penelope?”

The sound of Jade’s harley clicked off, its final purrs lingering even as Saint Danilo himself called out to her and Poppy. “Well, isn’t it Edenridge’s favorite Choir Boy!” Jade remarked, smiling, clearly teasing Danny. “And who is that you have with you?” The sultry blonde narrowed her blue-green eyes a bit, honing in on the male in the passenger seat. It took her a few seconds and she silently acknowledged it was Marco.

And she quickly remembered his reason. And then she had a thoughtful expression on her face, one that she tried to hide but it was clear. She was thinking about how Marco was one of Charlie’s victims and he was here. “Looking good, Marco!” She called out to him, offering the boy with the scruffy facial hair as he looked at the two ladies on the bike.

“Oh, y-eah! I mean thanks!” Marco looked at the one behind Jade on her bike, blinking as if trying to figure out if he recognized her.

Thank goodness she had a biker helmet on because Penelope was ill prepared for this. Getting off the bike, on the opposite side of where Danny, Danny’s car, and Marco were, Poppy shuffled herself in Jade’s shadow, where her friend’s form mostly hid her. Dinner helped calm the storm that was boiling inside of her. It was still there but food really helped appease the rage. Now all she could feel was anxiety.


What did her therapist tell her to do? Imagine a good memory so her nervous system could calm down. Let it embrace feel-good brain chemicals… positive vibes. Positive memory. Positive. She was her own lighthouse. Positive. Think happy thoughts.

Instead of happiness, the nostalgia of the parking lot came rushing into her, like a crashing wave, only causing her to curl up even more and lose courage. Going into a catatonic state, Poppy was completely still and wordless. A corpse of a girl. Attempting to break out of it, reengaging herself with the world around her, she fought with her own voice inside her head. If she couldn’t handle the parking lot, what makes her think she could handle the gym? Was she in over her head?

Before Poppy’s mind went into deep despair, Danny laughed at Jade’s witty comment, “Very funny. It’s good to see you guys. And hell, you look good too.” As if he noticed how frightened the other person, who he assumed was Penelope, was, Danny decided to distract her mind with something everyone loves. Sweets! “Hey, you want to be the first to try Nina’s cannolis? Here, give me a sec.”

Going to the backdoor, he opened it and reached for the box with cute, yet clearly spiritual words to his class written on it: Blessings of grace and peace be with you today and every day. Before exiting, he looked at Marco, “ coming out?”

Marco absentmindedly shook-nodded his head as if his brain had two completely different answers. But after a moment passed, he committed to the latter, since it felt like the most obvious of choices. And, given the drastic change that he noticed in his ex when he saw Jade and Penelope show up, playing a role like they had when they were “dating” was for the best. Or at least, in that moment, that’s what Marco told himself. “Yep! Making my way out now!”

With a grunt, Marco exited Danny’s car one partially-leg at a time, his grunts escalating into ones of genuine, albeit severely temporary pain. But what mattered most was that Marco was out and he managed to walk a few steps to the back as he looked at Danny. He did his best to not gaze at Danny like he usually did but simply as his friend, which he was. Though, even he couldn’t deny those long moments spent holding his hand were nice. “Do you need any help?” He asked.

“No, you’re good. I should be the one asking you that question. Did I park too far?” As he waited for Marco’s response, Danny closed the door behind him and opened the box for Jade and Penelope to grab a treat. He had forgotten to bring enough napkins… maybe the school had some. The big brother-senses tingled as he looked at Poppy, so he had to ask, “Is she alright?”

“No worries!” Marco smiled, waving away Danny’s concerns. “I’ll be fine.”

About the same time Marco spoke, Jade discreetly bumped her elbow into Poppy’s arm, quickly looking at her sister before looking back at Danny. “Don’t worry ‘bout her. She’ll be fine.” That was something Jade hoped she was right about. “We’ll take a couple of those cannolis, though.” She returned her assertive gaze onto Poppy. “Right, Pops?”

Cannolis? Cannolis were positive. The nudge and the word cannoli did the trick because she recalled a memory of Maxine and her attempting, horribly, to make some. The kitchen was an absolute mess but they did nothing but laugh that whole night. Finally, she took off the motorcycle helmet and hooked it on the handle of the bike. Securing her face mask, Poppy softly whispered, “That sounds yummy… thank Nina for us.”

Danny had to lean in to hear what she said, but instead of making her repeat herself and ask why she was wearing a face mask, he simply treated her like normal. “Fantastic and of course! Hey, you pick first.” He gingerly brought the box closer to her, as if he was approaching a scared child, and patiently waited. Poppy looked in the box, up at him, back to the box, back at him then hesitantly reached to pick one for herself. He didn’t do anything abrupt to disrupt the clearly troubled girl. Instead once she happily had her treat, he steadily shifted the box to Jade. “The one to the right is the big one. You can have it if you want.”

”Oh, how Catholic of you!” Jade enjoyed teasing him. Maybe she was the bitch, but she couldn’t help it. But that being said, she never said no to the best of any selection. Jade had her pride, sure, but free was free, after all. “But don’t mind if I do!” With a snarky half-grin, she took the Italian dessert into her hands, snapping herself a bite of it, showing no care about the crumbs falling between her fingers and to the floor. With a mouth half-full, she glanced at Pops. “Pretty fucking good, huh?”

Poppy had her back turned to the group, embarrassed to eat in front of them and nodded at Jade, giving her a thumbs up. It was delicious. She wished she could give some to Charlie.

“You know me! Just wanting the Lord to love my giving spirit.” After dramatically rolling his eyes, he winked at Jade, which might’ve been the first time he’s ever done that toward her, seeing how he rarely crossed paths with the southies throughout their highschool career. “We should probably head inside, huh?”

Finishing her cannoli, Poppy wiped her fingers on her jeans and proceeded to cover her mouth with her mask. Turning around, she gave Danny two thumbs up, ready, or so she hoped, to face this dreadful night. Truthfully, she was glad she wasn’t alone. Jade was at her side and these two boys seemed warm. Welcoming. Safe. She liked them. Why did she never become friends with them?

“You two head on in first.” Danny wasn’t going to say it outloud but he was worried about Marco and kind of regretted parking where he did. He thought about giving them the box but then he swiftly changed his mind. Jade would keep all the cannolis to herself. That would’ve been a stupid idea.

Jade exchanged a glance with Poppy, then she looked between Marco and Danny. She may not have been the most observant, but all her time being around pervs at Edge of Sin has benefitted her with something of a sixth sense to tell when someone wanted you around and when they wanted you to make like an egg and scramble away.

"Alrighty then," she said with a breathy laugh. She took Poppy by the arm gently, though still with enough assertion within her tug, as she'd lead her and Pops away. "Guess we'll see you inside." One more glance and Jade left with Poppy.

As he watched the girls walk away and he was left alone with Danny once more, Marco looked at his ex with a curious gaze. In the back of his mind, he was thinking why he sent the two away but there was a moment when Marco looked into Danny's earthy eyes, the grounded element that always told him what he needed to know without asking and he just frowned.

"You know…" Marco began, pausing momentarily as he tried to find the right words he wanted to say. So he took in a breath and continued, "I'm fine. And you didn't park too far. Really, if I could sprint to match your pace, I can walk steadily to the gym. So you really didn't have to send the girls away like that. I mean, it seemed they really wanted to chat with you. If anything, I could have walked ahead so you could catch up." There he went again: rambling and putting his foot into his mouth again. It really was amazing that Marco had it down to an artform.

Relieved he didn’t have to explain himself too much, seeing how Marco already knew what was on his mind, Danny gave him a disapproving glare, “I can talk to them later.” Holding the box of cannolis with one hand, Danny took a moment to survey Marco’s leg before meeting his eyes once more, “Thinking back on this morning, the way you were breathing, you hadn’t run like that in awhile. Don’t try to lie because you’re piss poor at it. Not only did you need a long cool down period this morning but I haven’t seen you jog in a minute. You used to do it routinely. We don’t know how long we will be here and what to expect so I want to make things easier for you. You’ve put enough pressure on your leg, Marco, so please get back in the car so I can bring us closer.” Danny made his way to the other side of his car, unlocked the door with his free hand, and opened it for Marco once more.

As much as Marco wanted to fight Danny on it, he knew it would be a battle with much resistance. That and, even he had to admit that hearing the harsh truths took him a few long moments to process. At first, especially on his face, Marco was shaking his head, half sentences of denial leaving his lips, albeit in a raspy tone, and him just trying to pass off what Danny had implied as simply not true. But his ex knew him better than most.

And that was the part that equally frustrated Marco as it did result in his quiet surrender.

Even as he got into the passenger side door, grunting as he climbed inside one painful leg at a time, he almost sulked about the hard truths Danny spoke. And he knew he was right. Before the accident, before Marco was shot by Charlie Decker's bullet, a simple sprint wouldn’t have forced him to be out of breath so quickly. And maybe that was the pill that was hardest for Marco to swallow. The fact that he was such a gifted athlete, so passionate about fitness and maintaining his body as if it were a temple, in the state he's in now where he's on the verge of being overweight and cares less about appearance as the days go by, he couldn't help but think about how far he's fallen.

On some level, he might even blame himself for being out in the field that day.

No, don't go there again. Dr. Patel said to never go there.

Whether Marco was aware or not, when Danny was sitting next to him in the driver’s seat, the concerned look never left his face. He just knew Marco needed comfort. Instead of saying anything, and yes the cannolis were safe in the backseat, Danny started up his car and casually rested his hand on Marco’s leg, gently squeezing it. Once again, he made zero eye contact and focused on the task ahead. Getting a closer parking spot. As he leisurely drove, he contemplated his actions. He didn’t understand why he felt like he needed to do this but here he was taking more chances than he had since senior year.

Marco was so deep inside his own head that he hadn't registered the touch of Danny's hand on his leg nor the grip it had on his thigh. It wasn't until he looked down, eyes almost widening at the sight of his ex's hand gripping the boy's thigh and he softly smiled.

Silence remained even as the vibration of Danny driving the car closer to the gym produced the only sound. When they were nearly there, Marco smiled still, but this time, he partially raised his head up to meet Danny's gaze. "Thank you." That's all he said. That's all Marco felt he needed to say.

“Danny really has gotten bad at being subtle, huh?”

Jade was still laughing even as she and Poppy were slowly making their way to the gym. She didn’t know what the relationship between Danny and Marco were and frankly, a couple of Northside boys didn’t have any effect on her either way. She was cool with the two of them but didn’t really care if he told her to fuck off or not (which he totally did). Maybe Jade would be slightly less annoyed if he hadn’t bribed them with those bomb-as-fuck canollis.

When they got inside the gym, a lot of memories came flooding back. Mainly Jade suffered through her senior year, losing all of those friends she had once held so close to her heart, being ostracized because of her kept loyalty for Charlie. Between Decky and Keisha, who both lost brothers because of Charlie. She knew that they hated him and she didn’t blame them. If she were them, she probably would, but she wasn't. She wasn’t because she couldn’t even think about how she could completely forsake Charlie. He was…

Everything. And guilt was a funny thing. Guilt for abandoning him and letting high school drift her away into other circles. Guilt for not seeing what she may have been able to prevent. Guilt for failing both Charlies in her life, but most importantly, she felt guilt that she couldn’t see what might have been right in front of her.

And as her hand, which was gripping Poppy’s, tightened its grip, Jade’s heart tightened and she felt something of a tightness develop in her throat, making breathing just a little more difficult. “Fuck,” she expelled in a raspy tone. “We shouldn’t…”

And that’s when Jade saw Decky, she started to panic. “Fuck fuck fuck!” Nevermind every one else who was around. “When the hell did he come back!?” Jade turned to Poppy almost in a panic.

Poppy had been in a trance as they shuffled their way to the gym. She remembered this walk all too well. Especially on that day when Charlie told her to meet him in the gym. Her insides were conflicted, doing summersaults. Finding out about the letters put her in a state of shock and anger, talking to old classmates gave her anxiety, but now? Now she felt numb. Or her defensive mechanisms were doing it’s damndest to not react with a PTSD episode, especially when they entered those big doors and she could imagine the sight of Charlie, Roddy, her father… as if it was only yesterday.

Something on the inside knew she wasn’t ready for this memory. Instinctively, Poppy looked up and smiled, seeing someone that was hard to forget.

Mr. Beau had appeared out of nowhere that fateful morning and pulled her into his embrace, shielding her from the horror that was happening in front of her. While she knew he would never say his frustrations he had about her father and the police on duty, for not securing the area and making sure others weren’t around to witness the finale of the worst day in Edenridge history, Poppy also knew he did whatever he could to be a light in broken kids’ lives. Kids like her.

Even if it cost him his job, his sanity, or his own life, Mr. Beau was always there. Ready to help. Without him, she would be jobless. If anything, he was the one thread keeping her connected to the good parts in herself. Jade tried her best to take care of her, but Mr. Beau? He was there for her, guiding her, when her parents weren’t around. He reminded her what made her such a wonderful human being and that the darkness in her may not go away but will one day motivate her to do great things.

Instead of shutting down, Penelope shifted her body to her best friend and grabbed Jade’s other hand, so that she was holding both. Squeezing them, she comforted, “I don’t know, but we’re going to be okay. We got this. Hey. Look at me.” Poppy released one of Jade’s hands to place her cold, thin fingers on the blonde’s cheek, “I’m not going to lie to you. This fucking sucks but we need answers. We’re soul sisters, okay? And we will be okay. I promise you, as long as we have each other we will be okay.”

Going on her tiptoes, Poppy wrapped her arms around her friend and pulled her into a hug. She didn’t care if people saw from a distance because love was love and she wasn’t going to hide how she felt towards anyone anymore. She lost her chance with Charlie; he died without ever hearing her say she loved him. She loved him so fucking much. Hell, Little Danny went without Poppy ever having a chance to say see you later. So many lost words. So much regret and missed opportunities. So much…. selfishness. Poppy wasn’t going to give up on the people she loved.

Not now. Not ever.

Never will there be a day where her friends don’t know how much she cares about them. Never. “We got this, love.”

She was still in panic mode, but it was mostly internal now. Poppy’s comfort had worked and what was even more important, she was right about them needing answers. The letters had to stop. Whoever was doing this needed to be stopped and Jade made promises to herself and Poppy that they’d find out what’s really going on. “You’re...right.” She mouthed out, squeezing her sister as tight as she could without hurting her sister. Jade had to take this moment to really indulge in what was a two-way street support system. Just as much as Jade was Poppy’s entire world, the thing that kept her afloat, when she really sank low, the blonde relied on her sister more than ever. “You’re absolutely right.”

Jade released Poppy from the hug and took in a few breaths. She looked at the scene unfolding and was wondering just what the hell was about to happen. She saw Mei and Aaron. The latter had flipped off the former and Jade sighed. And then she sighed in a way that caught some of her internal panic and she didn’t want to deal with that just yet. “Let's not bother with them right now. I’m...not ready for that.” Her voice was drier than it should have been.

Originally, Marco had thought fighting Danny on his I’m-not-taking-no-for-an-answer “suggestion” to park closer to the gym so it would be easier for Marco to walk was the right thing to do, but as he found out, just walking from the car and the twenty feet they were away from the entrance to the gym was proving to be a task that he wouldn’t have been able to complete if Danny wasn’t by his side, helping him when he can.

And that brought Marco back to what Danny had said. His hard truth about how he really wasn’t doing good physically. The pill that he had to swallow with a dry mouth about how a simple jog — or in his case earlier today, a sprint — took him out of commission for several hours and it took nearly thirty minutes for Marco to make it home with Danny’s very on-hands help.

It was the same when they got to the gym, though when they walked in, Danny took more of a concerned friend approach by making sure Marco was okay. And he understood. Alone, Marco and Danny could be as comfortable near each other as they wanted, but it was back to regularly scheduled programming when people were around.

Not that Marco minded it.

They were at the bleachers and an already out-of-breath Marco had to take a seat on the nearest available spot on the first row of bleachers. Aside from the deep breaths he took in after sitting down, Marco saw what he could only describe as the real-life equivalent of the chat section of a League game. “Well, that doesn’t look good,” Marco commented. He took in another breath as he lazily gestured towards the scene involving some of the Southies.

Glancing over to the girls standing not too far from them and watching the scene unfold, Danny could tell Jade didn’t want to deal with all the bullshit, but with the smaller girl… her eyes diligently viewed everyone, as she contemplated her next move. “He has a bat, Jade. I can’t just let him do some dumb shit. I just know my dad and co are a block or two away waiting for this to fall apart.”

“I can try to diffuse the situation,” Danny offered, as he placed the box of cannolis on Marco’s lap.

“I can… go with you.” While a little scared of her own immediate response, pretty sure she wasn’t ready to handle the crowd, Poppy knew the only people that could manage Decky were people that understood him. If she focused on him, and just him, ignoring the rest of her surroundings, she could prevent a panic attack.

“I’ll be back.” Gazing up at Jade, she gestured for her to sit next to Marco, who could use the company. As much as she would love to stay at her best friend’s side, Decky had weapons and he knew how to use them.

With that decided, Poppy trailed a little behind the big Italian boy. The closer she got to all the people, Decky, Kylee, Mei, Jillian, Aaron… the more nervous she became, the more her throat itched. Shaking her head, reminding herself why she was here, she picked up the speed, passing Danny and darting to the kid with the metal bat. “Is that your solution? Is that still how you solve problems?”

Clenching her fists, staring at the boy’s back, feeling a suppressed rage, Poppy thought about how if Charlie never got involved with the SSS, he might’ve not fallen so deep into depression and gone mad. Her voice, while muffled behind the face mask, echoed in the gym with almost ten people in it. People could hear her if they really wanted to. “Are you… stupid?” Her voice cracked.

Instead of interrupting the girl’s tangent, Danny let her take the floor. She might’ve been only talking to Decky, but her words felt like they were directed to all of them. Including him.

“Do you really think whoever is behind this will show their face tonight? No. This isn’t getting solved tonight. We might get a lead or this could all be a stupid prank. It’s like highschool hasn’t ended and we’re all being turned against each other. Drama. Fucking drama. Can we just cooperate to see what this is all about? Can we just calm-the-fuck-down? As if we hadn’t lost a lot already. Stupid. Fucking stupid.” At this point, Poppy’s breathing started picking up. This is the most she publicly talked in front of anyone, let alone her old peers. Why was it so hard to talk? Why did she have this fear, this mental barrier holding her back? Heavy breathing, she closed her eyes trying to calm her heart rate, her right hand resting on her chest. It wasn’t time for an attack.

Although the girl was struggling, Danny was impressed with the words she said. When she started hyperventilating, he looked over to the Southie boy and politely requested, “Can you, uh, find her water? Or just take her over there… a bit away from here.” Away from the crowd.

If the fountains were working, he would direct them to those but water might be limited in a building that hasn’t been used in a couple years. He knew anxiety from his niece, Danielle. These were clear signs of a panic attack rushing in. Poppy was doing the right steps to control herself. Not only did she recognize she was starting to panic, she started deep breathing to reduce the symptoms, closed her eyes to not look at the environment with a lot of stimuli, and if he could guess, she probably was saying a mantra in her head.

Believe and breathe. Believe and breathe. Believe and breathe.

Not waiting for a response, Danny crossed his arms and looked at the rest of the group, “Well that was a handful, but I agree with her. How about for the meantime, you guys go get yourself a cannoli, if you like that sort of stuff, and chill. Sounds good?” Gesturing behind him where Marco and Jade were as they chomped on a cannoli (yes Jade got herself another one), he sighed, “This isn’t great, I know. But we’re all here for a reason. So, let’s be patient and see it through.”

After he said his addition to Poppy’s spiel, his eyes fell on Jillian and he dumbly waved, happy to see his friend, who had mixed feelings towards him.



A @LovelyComplex & @Venus Collab
Featuring: Danilo Belmonte & Tiffannie Taccone

Watching his mother grapple for the happiness she once felt before, trying to find her path and peace, Danny found himself taking deep breaths in the bathroom, building up the courage to do his routine visit. He knew how scared she was. How terrified of the idea of her breast cancer getting out to the public because she truly didn’t want her battle to be twisted. If anything, she wanted people to see the real and authentic her, that they’ve seen at her restaurant. The one and only Silvia Belmonte, from the Big Apple, who served the best homemade pizza in the whole goddamn neighborhood. Not the dying woman she was now.

In Edenridge, unless you had cruel intentions, you do not control the narrative. She wasn’t blind to the world around her and how most of her life her husband was involved with something that could’ve gotten her and her kids killed. Even if you can be saved, you’re innately drawn to sin.

Silvia knew a sinner when she saw one. That’s why she wanted to help them. Each person deserves the chance to be saved. However, she wasn’t naive nor was she short-sighted. She knew some people were beyond redemption, as sad as that sounds. They couldn’t be saved because that defining moment was long gone.

In chaos theory, there is this thing called the butterfly effect and it is the idea that a small change can make much bigger changes happen. One small incident can have a big impact on the future. Would her death help her family or break them? Silvia truly believed that there were moments in people’s lives that could change everything, and that perhaps, we do live another timeline, in a parallel universe.

Prior to her cancer escalating, her husband thought she watched too much TV. Cinema gave her all these fantastical ideas of time travel, time loops, and alternate timelines. This year, Taz latches onto those notions in fear of losing his wife, forever. If she could continue to lift up such a shattered community, she would. Sadly, she knew she was weak. Each and every day she could feel her body, her mind, and her soul become a little more powerless.

Silvia was tired.

Approaching the door, Danny all dressed up for his night with his ex, and their peers, for an event he can only assume would be emotionally charged, the future man-of-the-house stopped in his tracks. He stared at the door and swallowed deeply. Don’t cry. After knocking on it, he could hear a faint, yet serene voice beckoning for him to come in. Nodding to himself, he reached for the doorknob. Once he entered, Danny closed the door behind him.

No one in the Belmonte family was ready to accept losing their rock. It was so much easier to act like the pain didn’t exist. It was so easy to push all the dark bullshit on the back burner and act like nothing has changed. That you were in control and your life wasn’t so incredibly unpredictable. It wasn’t just Danny refusing to acknowledge that something was wrong. No. Everyone in his family was extremely vulnerable right now, but when they left those front doors, they brought their sense of control back, even if it was clearly fleeting.

There was no way in hell they’d break. There was no way in hell they’d have the community worry about them. How could you seek security when you’re so used to being security for everyone else? If only they could let their mind escape. Go to a tropical paradise and forget all this pain that filled their hearts, but Danny knew, he just knew, the only way to get better was to face this beast mano-a-mano. No matter how terrified he was himself. He, his sisters, and his father could no longer bury the despair and with their mother constantly begging for morphine, not wanting to feel the hurt anymore, and the letters, these stupid fucking letters, they can’t forget. Life doesn’t want them to.

After thirty minutes, Danny quietly exited his parents’ bedroom. Instead of despair, he wore a face of apathy. When he felt triggered, and the loving bond he desperately needed, a tender kind of love, was nowhere in reach, he decided to survive. Cool and indifferent. Consistent in his morality. Consistent in his way of living. Consistent in being strong, because he had no other choice. After making his way downstairs, he followed a sing-song voice, in hopes that could help lift his spirits before being in a car, alone, with his ex.

The voice led him to the home's ample kitchen, where a blonde girl in bright pink hot-pants and a black T-shirt one size too small was mumbling a song under her breath and dancing in front of the stainless steel refrigerator while opening the lid of her favorite ice cream pint. His cousin Tiffannie was the type to be in good spirits the majority of the time, but today she seemed to be a little more chipper than usual. She placed the lid on the granite countertop, grabbed a spoon from a nearby drawer and took a few bites of the chocolatey concoction, never once pausing her singing and matching choreography. It was only after she stumbled mid-twirl that her eyes fell on Danny, and she jumped and yelped a little in surprise.

"Daaaaannyyyyyyy!" she whined, her cheeks flushing lightly. "Why do have to be such a creep, standing in the corner all silent like that? You scared me!" she told the man, pouting and taking another bite out of her ice cream pint.

Raising an eyebrow at the vibrant blonde he was blessed to call his cousin, Danny crossed his arms and leaned up against the rim of the kitchen archway. Disregarding the stalker comment because he wasn’t one and even if there was part of him that did investigate some things he would never admit that to her, Danny smiled, “I heard a pretty song. It led me to an overly happy Lil’ Peach. What’s got you in such a good mood, anyways?”

A mischievous smile spread across Tiffannie's face. "Oh, you know! Life. It's wonderful, isn't it?" she answered in a singsong voice, giving another little shimmy before taking another bite of her ice cream. It was then when his appearance downed on her, and her perfectly arched brows furrowed together. "Are you going out tonight?" she asked him, her tone growing suspicious. "You better not be going off to a party without me!"

“You know I wouldn't.” Danny was quick to protest. Was it so wrong of him to not wear active wear and look good in front of his class? Yeah, he even put the good cologne on because it’s been a minute since most of them were under the same roof, assuming they would all attend tonight. “I’m picking up an old friend and we’re going down memory lane.” Okay, that sounded weird and misleading, and it fuelled the fantasies of the overly-imaginative cousin currently wiggling her eyebrows at him.

Clearing his throat, he left the archway and stood beside the island. Nervously releasing a cough, he breathed, “The letters, Tiff. I guess someone has some answers? So yeah, I’m going. I think I need to? I don’t know. Do I look okay?”

The girl nodded enthusiastically. "Mhm! You look amazing," she sweetly complimented her cousin, skipping over to him to wrap him up in a quick hug, trying to not get any ice cream on his polished clothes in the process. "You smell good, too," she noted in approval, deeply inhaling his spicy cologne. Tiffannie had the nose of a bloodhound, so it was easy for her to pick up on the fact that Danny had upped the ante for the night by using his expensive cologne. Whoever this girl was, she was really lucky. Her cousin was clearly planning on getting laid tonight.

"Who's the lucky girl?" she asked curiously, digging into her frozen dessert pint again.

Tiffanie had this nature about her that caused Danny to lose his train of thought faster than she made any men get hard. Without even thinking, he started saying his ex’s name, “Mar—” but when he realized what he was doing, he finished his answer with a lie, “—cela.” Fuck. Uncontrollably blushing now, Danny decided he needed to back away and leave the premise immediately. “So yeah, thanks for the compliments, they’re great, you’re great. I’ll… I’ll see you later! Bye!”

"Nuh-uh!" Tiffannie cried out, slamming her ice cream pint on the countertop and racing after Danny, her bare feet barely making any noise against the cool hardwood floors.

Thanks to the girl's long legs and her quick instincts, Baby Peach caught up with Danny before he could reach the door to the garage. And before he could stop it, Tiff was wrapping her pink-manicured hand around his arm in a surprisingly strong, vice-like grip and turning him around.

"You don't get to lie to my face and think you can get away with it!" she argued, the pout back in her lips now. "Marcy's been over here to hang out with Mira thousands of times, and you guys have never said anything to each other beyond the blandest of 'hey's. You really expect me to believe you're dressed like that and smell like that to go out with Marcy? I call bullshit."

With how intense Tiff was prying in his private love life, Danny found himself biting his tongue out of frustration, conflict, and anger. He didn’t like the feeling of being cornered and this is exactly why he would never tell his cousin about Marco, or Francis, or any crushes he’s had of the same sex. She didn’t know when to close her trap. “Lie or not, it’s none of your business.” His voice went down an octave, as he threatened, “Get. Off. Of. Me.”

They were doing so well up until now and this might have been an overreaction on his part, but what did she know? She didn’t know what he was going through. Tiffannie did what she pleased with hardly any repercussions and if her actions did have consequences? She had people always protecting her. He held back his urge to manhandle his cousin out of his way and gave one of the darkest glares he’s ever given her, showing she hit a spot she probably never knew he had in him.

Tiffannie's eyes widened as big as her mouth did, and she let go of Danny's arm out of pure shock. In the eighteen years she had known her cousin, he had never spoken or even looked at her in the way he was doing now. She could feel her face getting red with the million emotions going through her, and her blue eyes immediately filled up with hot, burning tears. Her lower lip trembled dangerously for a few short seconds before she ultimately burst into tears, turning on her heel and storming out of the room. Her quick footsteps echoed across the kitchen and up the stairs as she went, followed by the sound of the guest bedroom getting closed a little louder than usual. Meanwhile, the pint of ice cream stood abandoned upon the kitchen countertop, a small puddle of condensation forming underneath it.

Once his cousin was out of the room, Danny lifted his hands and ran them down his face, stretching it a bit, in exasperation. He wanted to scream. The Belmonte boy took his resentment for himself out on an innocent person. All Tiffannie wanted to do was root for him because he hadn’t gotten out in a couple of months. Instead of being honest that he was seizing this opportunity to rebuild a bridge with his male ex, he got defensive. What the hell was he protecting anyways? His livelihood? His honor? Why couldn’t he just be honest with her, with himself, and everyone else?

He was scared and that was pathetic.

This might’ve been irrational of him but he worried if he did reveal his interest for the same sex his mother would die unhappy and his father would blame him for her death. Why couldn’t he be like Francis? Open and upfront about his sexuality, regardless of what others think. Or Marco? That boy had no shame and it was so admirable.

Grumbling to himself, Danny turned back from the garage door and cleaned the kitchen counter, tossing his cousin’s ice cream away. He made a note to buy her more, as he wiped down the dirty surface. “You’re a fucking idiot,” he scolded himself.

One thing he did get lucky in was how no one was really around to hear any of that. If any of his sisters were around, or worse, his father, this would’ve been a bigger scene. Checking his wrist watch, he found the excitement he had once before, completely gone. Maybe this was stupid of him. The reasons he had to go to this thing tonight didn't matter anymore, not even giving closure to Marco was on his mind. Yet, he wasn’t one to change plans last minute so he forced himself to go to his car.

Time to get this night done and over with.

“A good day gone sour. Fucking great.”

FT. Journalist Wesley Silo @BrutalBx



Pre timeskip, 5:59 AM on the dot:

When Kylee Grimm found out there was an audacious reporter from Boston in town, she was quick to ask her father for help. She could’ve found out where he was staying on her own, or even contacted Lincoln to use his sick computer skills to trace the exact coordinates of this guy’s cellular device, but that was more work than not. Her brother had yet returned from Boston and knowing him, he would ask for a favor. Kylee did not have time for a quid pro quo. Daddy had resources right at hand. He was fast and efficient. Why waste her time going through her brother when she could just go to the man that loved her the most?

The mayor’s youngest daughter didn’t want to lose this opportunity, nor did she want anyone to interview him first. Her father was surprisingly agreeable, even validating her, saying it would be a good idea to get to know this outsider, who might disrupt the peace of his town.

Taking a deep sip of her matcha tea, straight from Cafe Rochambeau, Mr. Beau knew how early Kylee got up so he made an exception to have something prepared for her before the cafe’s open hours, the self-involved princess prepared to go on her livestream, in one of the studios at Absolute Sound. Main Street Music of Edenridge was one of the businesses her father invested in, so the studios themselves were industry standard and she preferred to separate work from play.

Beside her, with an assortment of donuts in front of him, was the star of the day. Wesley Silo. Kylee would be lying if she said she didn't find this man appealing. Mr. Silo was that kind of handsome that started with the depth and intrigue in his hazel eyes and went to his perfectly sculpted face that got into your bones, causing you to shiver at how natural he smiled. From there, you start noticing other things, like how his voice quickened when he sparked with excitement, clearly thrilled to unravel the many tragedies of her home. Still, this was not the time to mix play with work. She would bury her admiration to uncover a bit more of this man. A man who wanted to get involved with something far bigger than him.

This episode she’d call: Cloaked Mysteries. He was already debriefed of how things went and for the most part, Kylee was all about having her conversations with her guest flow organically. She didn’t want to force anything. Truths cannot be found if there is a script. Of course, Kylee never came unprepared, she had questions on the back of her mind, but if she thought of something better, she would certainly scrap her notes if it meant delving into something compelling and worth the listen.

Turning her broadcast on once the clock striked 6 AM, she let her intro music fade in, with added sound design, when it was time for her to talk, Kylee gingerly faded the sound to a low volume, as she enthusiastically chimed in, “Hello everybody! Kylee Grimm here on Eden Angels for the next couple of hours of my show that’s all about keeping you informed, entertained, and involved with our post-apocalyptic home!” Pause. Giggling, she continued, “...Kidding! You know I love it here. As always, Edenridge is where our story begins and we’re on Dawn Patrol!” By the time she finished her spiel, the edit version of the song had vanished completely.

Glancing over at the reporter, giving him a cue with her eyes, which was her way of saying, you’re almost up, Kylee announced his presence, “Today is a special day. We don’t usually have someone from outside of town here, but today, today we do and I’m so excited! I hope you’re ready because I’d like to introduce you all to Wesley Silo, Mr. Boston Reporter.”

Clapping sound bit.

“Hey, Mr. Silo, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brings you to our little home,” Kylee beamed at the man beside her.

"Happy to be here, Kylee.” Wes was not at all comfortable doing this type of thing. He was a nerd, a joke, a social outcast smothered in his Jewish curls. Yet if this was what he had to do to get his story, then that’s what Wesley was going to do. "Well, as you rightly stated I’m a journalist from Boston, born and raised there, go Patriots! I write for the Globe and I love a good mystery which is why I’m here.”

Wesley moved his mouth away from the microphone for a moment to take a sip from his water bottle before returning to face the brunette. "Five years ago, Edenridge was famous only for being the place where the Hangman Killer Alex Lewis was caught. That was it. Now here in twenty twenty one, it’s mere utterance brings feelings of dread and discomfort, like Columbine. In such a short space of time this place has had such a myriad of tragedy and I’m here to find out why. I don’t believe in ghosts Miss Grimm but if I did, I’d say this town has its fair share.”

Raising an eyebrow, engaged and curious of what the future holds for her guest, Kylee smirked, “I’d like to challenge your thoughts and quote Steve Crain, from The Haunting of Bly Manor, ‘Ghosts are guilt, ghosts are secrets, ghosts are regrets and failings, but most times, most times a ghost is a wish’. Are you truly ready to discover the many ghost stories Edenridge has to share and all the monsters lurking behind the veil? You do realize you’re going to make people angry, right?” When she finished her spiel, she took a contemplative sip of her drink.

"I’m a journalist, Miss Grimm. Making people angry comes with the territory.” Wes had spent much of his youth getting beaten down by bullies and much of his early journalism career being told no or that he wasn’t good enough. "There are strange things afoot here in Edenridge. Crime rates are ridiculously high. Kids are killing kids and the sheer amount of unsolved deaths alone would fill about five seasons of Cold Case. Case in point, the letter sitting to your right right now,” The Bostonian motioned with his eyes to a small slip of paper that was sitting just to Kylee’s left. "If I’m not mistaken, that is one of Charlie Decker’s journal entries which are being sent to Eden residents. I’d like to figure out the who, the how and the why behind that to start.”

“Whoever is behind these letters is kind of sadistic. You’re not the only one who wants to know. All this town is trying to do is heal, but someone doesn’t want us to forget,” Kylee reached for the letter, letting her hand run on Charlie’s handwriting, “It’s funny. How much Charlie Decker saw, yet kept inside. Sad, really. That it led him to wound this place in a way that no one can fix. I have a few theories of who it might be, or might know.”

Putting the letter closer to Wes, Kylee nonchalantly inquired, “Have you taken time to check out the Southside? That’s where his family is. It’s hard for me to believe none of them would know something. The girl that was practically his girlfriend, even if they never became official. Penelope James. She owns a few of his things. Or how about his, I think, best friend? Mordechai “Decky” Boaz. He was quick to leave town after it all fell apart, but I hear he’s back. There’s also that hot mess of a girl, Jade Taylor, that he kept close at one point in time. If I were you, I’d start there, but that’s just me.”

Wesley was impressed with the girls hutzpa as his grandmother would say. To name and shame on a popular broadcast such as this and risk the potential of alienating herself from everyone was a bold move. "You’re very quick to point fingers at those closest to Charlie. Yet whose to say it’s not someone from your side of town? Someone who discovered everything and felt different? If I’m not mistaken, your own father, the illustrious mayor of this place, his entire campaign was based around ridding this place of crime but the Serpents as they’re called are still going strong. There could be someone in his camp pushing this stuff out there to make his failures look better.”

When the reporter brought up her father, her eyes glinted with fire and spite, but she was quick to keep that fake smile on, beaming, and contest his thoughts, “Well if you think you can do my father’s job better, be my guest. As if cleaning crime in this town is just a hop, skip, and a jump away,” Kylee rolled her eyes, annoyed, but it was her job to press on, “It could very well be someone that lives in my neighborhood, I never said it wasn’t. But in order to find a lead I think it’s better to start from the beginning and work your way through the town. You can’t assume who Charlie Decker associated with on the northside, but you do know people who knew the ghost that still haunts us today. I applaud you if you decide to start with the founding families or my dad! That’s ambitious of you, but right now you got nothing. You don’t even know who Charlie was. So what makes you think you’ll actually figure out the case before any one of us?”

This was why he didn’t do media; Wes knew that he had messed up and by challenging the beloved mayor of this place that he was probably making himself into yet another Edenridge pariah. Still he could not keep his mouth shut, that just wasn’t his style. "I don’t pretend to know who Charlie was. I have seen all the same journals you have and I’ve read them and reread them and followed every possible train of thought that I could. If anything you and others like you have a one up over me when it comes to this considering you were there. The difference is, this is my job, to find the truth and the truth of the matter; in my opinion, this whole thing isn’t even about Charlie. Once again, somebody is using him and the things he knew for their own gain. Whoever is doing this, isn’t trying to redeem Charlie Decker. They’re using what he knew to expose everybody else.”

What was this? Some comic book story where there is a mastermind behind it all? Kylee, still young in her own way, just didn’t get why this reporter thought this was more than just bad luck. Edenridge was an unlucky town and death happened. It was part of life. “That’s one big conspiracy you have there,” She sipped her drink once more, before continuing, “I get that these letters are premeditated and have a clear purpose, but what if it really isn’t that deep? What if someone is just mad and trying to spread chaos? Based on the letters thus far, it makes this whole town out to be the enemy. We all failed Charlie Decker. We failed Alison Davis. Amanda Caulfield. Maxine James. All those that died the day of the shooting. What could someone really gain from some sad boy’s death? Even if he did know more than he should’ve, I still don’t get how that can help anyone. All it does is cause us to not trust one another.”

"Maybe that’s the point, as you say, to create chaos. Either way, this is what I’m here to figure out.” Wes took another sip from his water and glanced down at the letter once again. Those little slips of paper were the key to everything. The police had tried to track them. They had tried DNA. Nothing was pinging back. That was a mystery unto itself to unravel. "It’s my sincerest hope that the people of this town welcome me in. I’m not here to drudge up old feelings and bad memories. I just want the truth. I’m here to help.”

“I suppose that’s admirable of you. I’m sure, whether they’re ready or not, there are people who want closure. No matter how much it hurts, people deserve the truth so all I can do is wish you the best of luck,” scribbling a quick thought down, hardly readable because of how tiny she wrote (it had to do with her talking to someone about something), Kylee mused to her guest, “Can I assume you’re going to be at the school tonight?”

"Maybe. I’ve got a few other leads to check today besides…” He bowed his head towards the girl and smiled, "There’s already going to be one reporter there getting all the juicy details.” Wes casually glanced at his watch, knowing full well that the interview was nearly over thank god and he could get in with his investigation.

He did have a point. She would be there and if he was willing to share information with her, she could do the same for him. Still, Kylee did wonder if bringing an outsider into all of this would benefit anyone. Then again, maybe an outsider was just what Edenridge needed. “You’re right about that. I do appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to talk to me. I hope we can stay connected. Who knows what the other may find! Now, listeners, we’re entering our intermission so please listen to some sweet vibes, starting with Ghost by Au/Ra & Alan Walker.”

After switching the broadcast to play a pre-prepared playlist, Kylee put her tea down, stood up, and apologized, “I’m sorry if I came off strong! Sometimes I get carried away and you mentioned my dad… I’m sorry!”

Following the smaller girl's lead, Wesley stood up to his full lanky height and smiled, "Please I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring your father into this. Sometimes my mouth decides to write cheques that it can’t cash. I have a habit of letting my two hundred mile an hour brain dictate my words.” Scratching the thin fuzz beneath his chin, the reporter entertained a thought before reaching into his tan blazer and handing Kylee his card. "In case you have any information you want to share. I think with a talented insider like you, my job could be a whole lot easier. We could really make a difference together. Just think about it.”

Holding his card between her pointer and middle finger, examining it, Kylee twinkled in eagerness. The age difference was transparent between these two, from experience to attitude, but that didn't mean they didn't share a common goal. Plus, he made her feel like she could be a valuable asset to him and that’s what she cared about more than anything in the world.

“I’ll give it some thought, Mr. Silo. If I do give you a call, that’s a BIG IF, I want ice cream,” she winked at the journalist, before checking the time and as fast as she let him in, she kicked him out of the studio, “It’s been great having you! I still got a show to host. Have a good rest of your day, sir, and beware of all the ghosts watching you. OooooOoOoOooooo!”

After closing the door behind her, Kylee leaned up against it, dwelling on the interview that just transpired. She should be more worried about the repercussions, but she was too busy immersing herself in the emotional complexity of social ether and all the fascinating points that Mr. Silo brought to the table.

A man who didn’t believe in ghosts.

“We’ll see how long that lasts.”

@BrutalBx @Venus



An Awkward-Fun-Silly Collab with @LovelyComplex & @metanoia

Everything in Marco hurt.

As the bright morning rays hit him on his face, practically blinding him, the brisk chill that came with it only served as a reminder that Mother Nature was often unforgiving to those who abuse it.

Or in his case, Mother Nature was living vicariously through his mother, Marlena Castillo-Brady.

He stayed up long past when his body was begging him to sleep. He remained awake long past when his brain advised him to sleep. Both were screaming louder than a bloodhound when it was upset, more violent than an abused pit, yet he couldn’t bring himself to quit the game.

And then another. And another and another.

Before long, Marco was neck-deep into double digits when it came to how many games he played, how many matches on Summoner’s Rift and even ARAM just for the kicks. He loved that game so much that when it came time for him to finally sleep and when he decided he had, had enough, that’s when all hell broke loose. And that’s why he had just come back from taking Buster, the family Golden Retriever back in.

Woof woof

“At least someone’s having a good morning,” Marco commented, looking down at the slobbering hound as he let him back inside through the side gate door that led to the backyard.

As he closed it, he could hear the not-so-silent footsteps Buster made against the concrete, the relieved sounds of his barks filling the silence of that his immediate presence left behind. In some way, that provided Marco with the peace of mind as he dangled the mail keys around his left index finger, twirling successfully and slid it into their mailbox when he got there.

Looking inside, there was nothing but junk.

Well, Emil’s Muscle Fitness came in, but Marco wasn’t in the mood to fetch that for him.

As he turned around, the scent of something familiar in the air, though it was probably just the brisk summer morning air, Marco found himself gawking at a familiar sight.

Across the way, wearing a simple tank and shorts, albeit doing way more than it should have, there he was: jogging through the neighborhood like clockwork.

Danny Belmonte.

How long had it been since Marco saw him? Well, probably not long since he’s seen him jog regularly for the past few weeks. Of course, Marco never stopped him. The wound from when he left Marco in a state of deceptively-hidden heartbreak, though not as fresh as it was last year, was very present. But time healed that wound somewhat and he was in a place emotionally where he could see Danny without being painfully reminded of that day when his former lover rejected him.

And as he ran by, off in the direction of Godmother’s Sandwich Shop, which was a bit of ways away but it wasn’t that far of a walk, jog, wobble if you happened to be recovering from a savagely bad leg injury. But really! Who is actually keeping track?

With a curse escaping his lips like the breath that Danny stole as he strutted by, Marco grimaced into a pace that was at least three-times faster than his doctor recommended he walk. Coming off of his injury, he was advised to take it easy, to not put so much pressure on his leg.

Trust me, Doc. It’s not his leg that’s having the work out here.


Maybe a half mile later and practically all of the excess energy that Marco had leftover from the three or four cans of Dr Pepper now gone, a bell dinged over him as Marco rounded the corner.

Out of breath and leaning against the brick foundation of some building, Marco had to take a breather. Brisk walking wasn’t something he should be doing, but in the few weeks he’s actually been able to walk without a cane or crutch, it was freeing in a way. But that didn’t mean he was in any condition to keep up with a hell of a jogger that his ex-lover was.

Speaking of which, Marco took in a few deep breaths and scanned for him.

And low and behold, sitting about ten feet away, at a table that had an enticing chair opposite of him, Marco sighed as he took off into a walk again.

And as the chair screeched across the concrete pavement of the sidewalk, Marco plopped down onto it like his entire body was a sack of flour that was carelessly dropped on the floor.

“Whew.” He breathed out, lifting up the menu, scanning it as if it was why he took an uninvited spot across from Danny. “I’m-po-oped!” He commented, his words spacing out as his racing heart didn’t allow him to speak his thoughts completely without deep inhaling and exhaling.

Up until this point, Danilo Belmonte had no idea there was a puppy tailing him. Even at this point, he thought this was all coincidental. His sister’s shop was open to the public. It wasn’t like he could claim it as his own private sanctuary of sandwiches. Still, was he expecting this? Was he mentally prepared to hear his ex’s voice? Especially this close in proximity. As his mind stuttered, his attention going from his phone to the boy hiding behind the menu, Danny found himself at a loss for words. Instead of saying anything, he paused Hail & Fire’s new single on SoundCloud, placed his phone on the table, and reached forward. Letting his hand have a mind of its own, he steadily pressed the menu down so he could see his face.

When his eyes confirmed the person in front of him, because even though Danny knew who it was, he still had a hard time believing it, the once great Casanova stood still and stared. He found himself unexpectedly in shock and there was a stillness within him. His inability to react made him feel all the more stupid. He should’ve known this day was coming. He did. He just didn’t think it would be today, or tomorrow, or this week even!

His eyes locked with his ex’s over the breakfast table and for a moment, he could imagine some of the best memories he shared with him. Memories Danny did a fantastic job on burying up until today. The boy in front of him was a goofball, with a phenomenal smile. Marco put his whole heart in whatever he set his mind to. Most importantly though? He looked past Danny’s flaws, which unfortunately, were many.


As if God knew he needed a savior, Cat came out and hit the back of her brother’s head. Whack. “Marco! It’s so good to see you!”


“I seem to be interrupting something...” Caterina was quick to deduce, all the while smirking with her natural sex appeal.

“You’re not,” Danny was quick to interject. He wasn’t going to let his sister get carried away with her theories of how her baby brother spent his days and all the drama that ties into it. Leaning back, trying to hide how uncomfortable he felt, Danny cleared his throat and tried to speak up. Unfortunately, he was too slow and his loquacious, minx of a sister was back at it again.

“It’s been so long since you’ve visited the main house. Mom asks about you all the time! Did you know that Danny—”

“And that’s enough from you. I’ll just have the classic, porchetta di ariccia. As for him,” Danny glanced over and instinctively found himself going back to old habits, “Irish reuben? Or… something new?” Internally, he found himself screaming. He remembered his usual AND he was acting like junior year never ended. Instead of showing any signs of panic, he simply gleamed a forced smile at this evil woman that liked toying with him.

“Is that what you want, hun? Seems like my BROTHER forgot his manners,” Cat sassily crossed her arms, not really wanting to hear Danny talk. She heard enough of his voice daily. It was clear that this Belmonte woman, who exuded dominance and temptation, had not seen Danny’s friend, at least not like this, for months. A year even. Probably even longer. She lost track of time, seeing how her home life wasn’t perfect and she was too busy using her business as an excuse to not deal with her problems.

Relieved. Danny was relieved that his sister lost her train of thought and was back to focusing on her job instead of spreading LIES. Or whatever it is she wanted to tell his ex. Danny knew it was nothing but trouble. SHE was nothing but trouble.

“Has he?” Marco laughed, taking a moment to platonically admire the beauty that was Cat. Hard to believe she was only his sister. It was truly a wonderful thing, life that could have people so far in age yet connect them on the same branch. Marco being the oldest between him and his two siblings, he didn’t necessarily have the pleasure of having such an older sibling. “But yes, your brother knows me like my Ma does.” Another laugh and he set down the menu. “Irish Rueben with extra sauerkraut.” He was already imagining consuming that sandwich the minute it was set down in front of him.

With a comforting family vibe and a charming yet firm way of speaking, Cat grabbed the menus from the two boys and politely asked, “Water for the both? I don’t want to take up too much of your time, Marco. I’m sure you and my brother have a lot to talk about—”

“—we don’t,” Danny exasperatedly sighed.

“Danilo Valerio Belmonte.” Curtly, the older woman hissed. What has gotten into him? Their mother taught him better than this and if she was here she would be utterly disappointed. There was no reason for her baby brother to be uneasy and on edge. It was just her and Marco. “And I thought I was on my period.”

“Oh-my-god,” Okay, okay. Chill. He needed to chill. Marco seemed too distracted by his need for food to notice Danny’s plight. “Just get us water please and thank you.” At this point, the siblings had electricity releasing off of them, as they both coldly stared at one another.

Clearly ignoring her brother’s pleas for her to disappear, bringing her attention to the sweet boy across from him, Cat went from a glare to a beaming smile as fast as she could get a guy off, “Just water?”

Marco was doing his best to contain the excess bits of laughter that passed through his lips as Danny and Cat exchanged banter that only siblings could, but hunger and exhaustion made that a difficult task. Nevertheless, looking up at Cat, he nodded, seemingly agreeing with Danny’s water-only solution. “Yeah, I’m fine with just water,” he said, smiling at Cat.

With Marco’s response, Cat was finally satisfied and went on her way back into her place of business. Thank Christ. At least while Cat was present, Danny had forgotten about the heartbreak he caused to the boy in front of him. The further she walked away, the more he realized why he needed her there. He was now alone with his ex, who probably had plenty of questions for him. Pulling out his wireless earpieces, placing it on the table where his phone was, Danny could feel his nerves building from his chest to his throat.

Get a grip, Belmonte.

Absentmindedly cracking his knuckles, a little tick of his when he’s stressing, Danny did his best to break the ice, “So running, huh?” They both were involved in sports at one point in time. Marco getting back into running wouldn’t be off the table if they were still in school and he didn’t suffer from a severe injury. It still felt kind of soon for his ex to put that much pressure on his leg, but Danny had no right to jump to conclusions so instead he simply watched the boy in front of him with care and concern.

”Oh, yeah…”

There came something of a laugh that staggered between slow breaths. Even as Marco had been sitting there for a few moments, he still was trying to catch it and Danny’s half-question didn’t help. And he knew it wasn’t his intention. Danny never meant to make Marco feel awkward. He wasn’t that kind of person. But what could Marco actually say? I saw you across the street and decided to follow you would only go over so well. Especially with how things were left off between them, but Marco never was angry. Hurt, sure, but never angry.

Another series of slow inhales later, Marco found himself able to speak without being interrupted by his stupid lungs. “I thought I would test how much I could do.” Another laugh.

“And?” Danny firmly asked. Not one to hold back his worry, he pressed on, the nerves dying out at least for the time being, “Are you in pain? Do you need an ice pack? I hope you warmed up before you ran. Do you have a physical therapist?” Before any more questions could leave his mouth, his sister brought out the waters.

“Your sandwiches will be out soon.” She read the table and saw how… serious her brother was staring at Marco, so instead of intervening, she let them continue their conversation.

“Drink,” Danny eagerly demanded, even going out of his way to push the glass closer to his ex.

Save for the echos of Marco sipping from the glass of water, silence was the only thing that remained after Danny’s rather...assertive suggestion came following Cat’s second departure. It was strange. With the questions about how he was feeling and then what he knew Danny caring about his hydration levels, Marco felt like, that is to say how Danny was acting reminded him back when they were together. The way he was interested, how he seemed, and just.., God just how it was like nothing had changed between them.

And Marco smiled at that thought.

He set down the half-full glass, which if that wasn’t symbolic to the way he was feeling right now, then nothing would. “But, uh, to answer your earlier questions, nothing hurts. I mean, nothing that I can’t handle.” Technically, he wasn’t lying. His leg hasn’t been aching since he sat down and his chest wasn’t feeling heavy since he was able to take a few dozen relaxing breaths. “You don’t need to worry about me, Danny!” He smiled cheerfully at his ex. “Really, I’m not in any pain!”

Leaning back in his seat, crossing his arms, Danny muttered, “Is that so…” Clearly not buying the high-spirited act. Was this meeting actually coincidental or was there some ulterior motives? Danny wasn’t clever enough to read between the lines but he had this deep-seated feeling. Something telling him that things weren’t right.

Why would they be? He didn’t give this kid closure. He dumped his ass like he tossed that mystery meat away without much thought or care. Why was Marco sitting with him? Why was he giving him the time of day? Their relationship junior year was intense and passionate, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect. It was far from perfect. The culprit to all their problems? It was Danny.

Danny couldn’t come out. Danny was the one who purposely toyed with girls in front of Marco, knowing that an hour later they’d both be in the janitor’s room getting down and dirty. Danny was the one who asked him out to prom only to take it back and break up with him the day before. To add salt to the wound, he had a random girl linked to his arm for an event that they should’ve celebrated together. After Decker went mad, and Danny came back from camp, instead of checking on his ex, he pretended he didn’t care.

Now that he was thinking about it, this. Whatever this was. He just didn't get. Danny’s eyebrows furrowed in frustration, getting more and more annoyed by the minute, as his ex just sat there. Smiling. This stung more than he thought it would. He would prefer if Marco cut the bullshit and just interrogated him, or yelled at him. Anything that wasn’t this. They were dancing around the tension as if it didn’t exist and Danny had no idea what Marco expected from him. “Well, good to hear.”

Before both boys knew it, their sandwiches were in front of them. Danny had been so stuck in his head that he didn’t see his sister come and go. Grabbing his food, he took a giant bite out of his sandwich, but ultimately kept quiet. Munching away and just looking at the neighborhood around them.

“Oh boy!” Marco’s eyes lit up when he saw the dripping reuben in front of him. He practically had his tongue out, panting with excitement. Food was something that was close to Marco’s heart. One of his great passions and, well he had a soft spot for sandwiches. Almost anything could be made into a sandwich if you were creative enough. And as he took a bite, sounds of approval left his lips as he took that first bite. The tangy crunch of the rye bread, the sour, yet-kind-of-sweetness of the kraut, and the meatiness of the cornbeef — honestly, Marco was in heaven.

With a mouth half-full, he said. “-is s-o food! -at rwafy oufid ferself!”

As much as Danny wanted to stay grumpy, he couldn’t. All the questions racing through his mind halted the moment Marco started devouring his sandwich. After deeply sighing, his lips rose into a smile. Some gazes were emotionally distant and cold but Danny’s eyes, the type of green that reminded anyone of new spring growth, bright and soft, were protective and kind.

Once a minute or two of silence passed, as they both ate their sandwiches, Danny glanced over to his vibrating phone, seeing his cousin spamming him to bring her a sandwich. Rolling his eyes, he shoved the rest of his food in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Quick to run and quick to eat, he cleaned his hands and mouth with a tablecloth and replied, “I mean, she does make the best sandwiches, but you knew that already. Now, what’s your plan? For today, I mean.”

After he finished, Marco wiped away the excess of mayo and deli mustard off of his lips and glanced down at his empty plate. Drippings of kraut and the cornbeef resting on a sloppy bed of crumbs was all that remained. ”Oh, probably not much,” Marco admitted, leaning back. He felt twice as fat as his slight gut implied. ”Spent most of the night gaming. I’m pretty much ready for a nap.” Marco laughed as the laugh was exaggerated into something resembling a relaxed moan as he stretched his arms over his head, cracking limbs releasing their gathered pressure. ”How about you? Anything special you’re gonna do today?”

“I’m going to walk you home,” Danilo said calmly and matter-of-factly. That would be something different and special. Not part of his usual routine. In addition to that, there were those letters that practically the whole town got. The most recent one of his was on his bed and there seemed to be something tonight that he felt like he needed to go to. Or he felt too guilty to avoid. “Then I’m going to pick you up tonight around 7:15 PM, so make sure you’re up and ready.”

Standing up, too impatient to wait for his sister, Danny looked at Marco and ordered, “Don’t move.” Once he did so, he went inside the shop to pay the bill or maybe get two free meals for him and his ex.

He tried to get a word in. Both to decline that obviously-gracious offer that Danny made about walking him home. He felt fine and could make it back, but there was a moment when their eyes met that Marco knew it would be a losing battle. His ex had a way about him that made it nearly impossible for him to fight him on it. He was stubborn, passionate, and just amazing in the way that he could be so stern like a brick wall, but as caring to Marco’s not-so-well-hidden fragility. That in itself made Marco accept the defeat in silence with a nod.

And when his ex left and came back from paying, he couldn’t help but smile as he grunted standing up. Beside him, Marco was brought back to when they had been together. Back to a time that neither of them were reeling from the tension brought upon them nor the terror that Marco went through after getting shot.

It was just them and Marco weirdly, though probably so much, felt like he wasn’t even thinking about how tired he was. “Well, I’m ready when you are.”

Swiftly, Danny grabbed his cellphone and his headphones. Once his things were pocketed, he proceeded onward to the stop sign, right at the corner. Maybe tonight would be the night he could properly apologize and give the Puppy the explanation he deserves. Then again, who knows what was waiting for them at Edenridge High at 8PM. The truth? What the hell did that even mean? He’d need to ask Quinn what his theories were. Looking back at Marco, over his shoulder, the Italian lover boy boasted with finality, “I’m always ready.”
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