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  1. Sci-fi makes for poor reading!

    Thank you for sparking this discussion. The article poses thought-provoking questions on readers' thoughts when reading sc-fi. And it makes sense! If the reader is focused on the world the author is creating, they're missing out the on the "internal" world of the characters involved (thoughts and motives etc.). Two sc-fi author that comes to mind is Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin. While they're both intentional about creating these well-developed settings, the characters they create and how they interact with each other is arguably one of their greatest strengths and are prominent themes in their work. To ignore these would make you lose out on in so much that is packed in their stories. For other sci-fi authors, this could be somewhat discouraging.
  2. Stripes

    I'm particularly moved by "Stripes" and the desire for freedom that is introduced at the end, creating an entirely new perspective on the poem. You're good at these unexpected turns and detours you take the reader on :P. Wednesday was written well, and you are good at immersing the reader in your story. I'm fond of the way you ended in this one as well, universes without bend and ocean without chart. Pretty and heavy :).
  3. The first line of the poem is striking. You immediately grab the readers attention from that line alone. Your first and second stanzas are written in a way we all could relate. We not only do we get a glimpse of your story and your thoughts at the time, but we can put ourselves in your shoes and reminisce about our own first time, the feelings that came about from it, and the role of curiosity and research during those years. Eloquently done. The third and fourth stanza was heartbreaking, but I think it did well to showcase the real anxiety and exposure you felt from that moment. The fifth and sixth stanza were placed perfectly. I loved the way you described that moment in the fifth stanza and the space imagery you used was a beautiful touch to it. The last stanza was an excellent ending and I feel brings it all to completion.
  4. a winter's tale

    The wording in Sonnet 76 was evocative. Your description of the individual is powerful and I liked your use of heat and touch. Sonnet 75. This line: And what links us can sorrow overthrow. Beautiful. I appreciate how the both of you find resilience and strength being with one another. Thank you for these AC :D! - Bryant
  5. Basualdo

    Thank you for sharing this piece with us. This took a great deal of courage.
  6. Chapter 3: Conspiracy

    Thank you so much, NOSkis :D!! This novel has been so much fun to create and I'm ecstatic to hear that you and others are enjoying it as well. It's a tough story to write and I was afraid that I may be moving a little slow with updates. It's good to hear that's not the case haha. Hopefully, I'll finish writing the next chapter soon. Thank you for reading! - Bryant
  7. Goodbye Daddy

    Passionate, yet tragic. No one should be on the receiving end of that kind of vitriol from a parent, especially not you. You're a beautiful and talented soul bud, and no one can take that away from you. Bryant
  8. Write "She's Gay" on My Headstone

    Lydia, you get *snaps*. I wanted to *snap* to each stanza. You told your truth, and you did so unapologetically and directly. Your fierceness is noted .
  9. VI. The river's son

    You combined your dialogue, action, and description well in this chapter. AND this was an exciting part of the story :P. Good job, sir .
  10. Chapter 3: Conspiracy

    Thank you jp! And you'll soon find out ;).
  11. 8 days before... I held Barken tight that night. Something told me that scent I detected near our home didn’t belong to anyone from around here. My mind wouldn’t sleep. My dagger was close by, an easy reach in case something dared to come near. The wind created a draft in our home. Every sound put me on edge. Eventually, my body would allow me to sleep. At dawn, I wandered around the outskirts of Orion admiring the dark teal horizon that was only beginning to see the sun. The dry steppe that surrounds our land is far reaching with cedar brown barren fields and spots of olive green bush that go on forever. Winds were calmer this morning. The air smelled fresh. Birds with wide, expansive wings soared like the sky was theirs, preying on critters burrowing into the dirt. As I prowled the grounds, I found my own prey. It was a miraculous beast. Its black fur stood out against the bare backdrop, traveling aimlessly. The beast’s thick legs held up it’s wide, expansive torso. Two bone colored horns stuck out its elongated head. I had a great urge to witness its strength. I whistled to the air. It took notice of my call. Its hooves dug into the dirt, ready to charge over. And when it took off, the beast shot at me like a cannon, a whirlwind of dirt in its path. I closed my eyes. Hearing, sense of smell, and taste were magnified. My aura became more pronounced, manifesting in black flames that outlined my body. My eyes opened. My sight, in particular, had become more focused. The beast closed in. I swiftly dodged to the side, it flying past me and nearly knocking me to the floor. Stopping was no issue for it as it slowed to a halt. The beast became engulfed by the column of dust and dirt that it kicked up. I braced for it to come once more. Breaking through the dust, the beast rushed through with its horns pointed in my direction. I stood my ground. I grabbed ahold of the horns as it attempted to skewer me. Its nostrils on the other end of its long stout flared. Its large black eye conveyed one single thought at that moment: To kill. A strong opponent, it attempted to wrestle away from my grip, jerking me in different directions. The beast let itself loose and lunged forward, lancing me in my side. I felt a sharp pain on the right side of my belly. Touching the wound, I noticed blood trickling down. The beast gave me no time to recover as it charged at me again. I dodged and swiftly grabbed the daggers in my cloth. When it’s horns came to strike me again, my daggers collided with them. The handles, designed as tightly coiled black vines, made for an easy grip. It’s wide blades glimmered, emblazoned by my aura. I shoved the beast back, pushing it on its hind legs. It was taken off guard by my strength, it’s two front legs dangling in the air. I jumped up, daggers aimed forward, pointing them towards the beast’s chest. My feet pressed hard into the beast’s belly in an attempt to push it on it’s back, then I shoved my daggers into the beast’s chest. It fell backward to the ground, a heap of dust brushed up after it’s fall. The beast’s limbs went limp. I pulled my daggers out, using the dirt to wipe them. I shoved them back into my cloth, grabbed the beast by its legs, and headed home. Barken was pleased by my catch. The beast’s size provided a meal for us and plenty to share with the others. He was taken aback by the laceration I had on my side. He always said I played too much with my food. He invited Sapphire and Cosmo over to share the meal with us. Sapphire brought nasturtium to eat and calendula for my wound. “It’s huge!” exclaimed Cosmo, marveling at my catch. “Diego, you must train me to conquer these kinds of beasts.” Barken treated and bandaged me up before we had our meal on the floor. “Diego,” said Sapphire, “You spoil Barken too much. Your eyes must’ve been much bigger than your stomach going after something like this!” Barken said, “I told him he should bring it to the market today.” Sapphire sighed. “Do you still plan on going?” “Why wouldn’t I? I never miss the exchange. Nor do you. Something worrying you?” Sapphire started playing with her hair. Cosmo began eating more feverishly like he hadn’t eaten for days. “...Cosmo’s been picking up foreign scents all morning. Possibly outsiders. I don’t feel safe having him wandering around with all the goings-on.” My ears perked up. Dropping the bone he was gnawing on, Cosmo said, “Mother, I don’t want to spend all day trapped inside! I want to go to the market!” Sapphire regarded Cosmo with a stern look. “I’m not letting you out there. It’s best we keep a low profile, at least for the time being…” “What did you smell?” Barken asked. Cosmo directed his attention away from his mother. “I don’t know. It was acrid, a foul stench.” “Sour?” I interrupted. Barken’s eyebrow lifted. “Yes,” he said. “Almost acidic. I doubt it’s anything. Probably came from these scum guards prowling around...” Hmm, Cosmo noticed it too. Deko’s presence couldn’t be more apparent. Even before dawn as I was headed out to hunt, guards were wandering around Orion. What would guards be doing snooping around Barken and I’s home? Cosmo was holding back, he knew something more. I’d press him, but I doubt Sapphire would appreciate me evoking his curiosity. “It’s precisely why I’m keeping this one close,” said Sapphire, her arm over Cosmo. He frowned as he continued eating. “It’s understandable why you’re concerned,” said Barken. “No need to keep Cosmo stuffed indoors. With everyone’s eyes wide open, we can watch out for each other.” I tore off a large piece of meat before saying, “Keep him near me.” “WHAT?” Sapphire exclaimed. “After one of them almost killed you yesterday?! You’re ill-tempered, and there’s no telling where your mouth will get you if those guards push you too hard.” “Diego has always kept Cosmo out of harm’s way,” argued Barken. “You can trust him. Diego would give up his life before anything happens to your son.” Sapphire nodded. “That’s what I fear…” she said, trailing off. Barken edged closer to Sapphire as though he didn’t catch everything she murmured. I heard her quite clearly. That’s what I fear, watching another one of us die. Festivity was in the air. Warriors put on display their selection of beasts, comparing the rewards of their hunt and showing off their prowess. If openly carrying weapons wasn’t a criminal offense, I’d imagine these women and men holding their axes, javelins, and swords alongside them, putting on demonstrations of their physical strength. Elementalists had their veggies and fruits along with spices and herbs, creating potent scents that flourished through the corridor. Sapphire brought her snapdragons, dill, and chicory, their vibrant petals creating rainbows. The children who came to see her flowers were given honeysuckles to taste as they bounced around from stand to stand. Barken and Ramon held hands with the people, offering them counsel and guidance as well as blessing their goods. Cosmo helped me handle my captured beast, bringing its voluptuous body to one of the stands. Villagers passed by, admiring its size. While I stood near the front with my back turned, I felt a body shove into me hard. I spun around quickly, ready to charge. “Nice catch, big dog.” I was happy to see it was Zuri, another warrior who did labor at the same post as myself. Her large hand held my shoulder tight. She was mauve skinned with two boysenberry colored braids that came down her chest. She wore a short sleeve white shirt that cut off before her belly button, and a long, bumblebee yellow skirt. It was unlike her to wear something with frills. “Where’s your catch?” I asked, moreso to compare and gloat. “I have my other managing our stand while I greeted everyone. Nice to be away from the mines and among our people.” Zuri’s lover was a clairsentient named Bebe whom Barken knew well. As small as Orion is, it’s hard not to know who everyone is. “Speaking of others, where is yours? Usually, you keep him close.” I noted Barken across the way, speaking with Bebe. “I’m looking out for him. I’m keeping watch of the little one at the moment.” Cosmo was bartering animatedly with another villager. The villager carried a sack of what appeared to be produce over her shoulder. Zuri smiled at the sight, then noticeably frowned. Villagers were spreading out at the end of the market, replaced by tall figures that forced themselves in the crowd. “Watch him closely. The guards are among us.” Zuri said this before walking off in their direction. The villager bartering with Cosmo had been concluding their transaction when I came towards them. “I tried convincing a friend that I caught the beast with you and they accused me of being a liar,” said Cosmo, handing the villager a portion of my catch. “Do they think I’m inept? I’m tired of this doubting of my abilities!” “I’ll bring you on my next hunt. We’ll find something to show off to your friends.” Cosmo seemed satisfied with this. Barken made his way through the corridor with Ramon no longer at his side. Zuri had joined Bebe at their stand, interacting with the other villagers. Sapphire seemed to have a change in spirit, downplaying her magical abilities as she interacted with customers. One of her eyes was trained on the guards that moved deeper into the crowd. Even I found myself getting tense. “Want to go around a bit?” asked Barken finally reaching us. “I’ll keep watch over your stand. Cosmo and you can go play.” Cosmo ears perked up as he moved away from the stand. “... Okay. I’ll return to relieve you.” The sun was high. A ferocious heat settled in on us. I play wrestled with Cosmo, relieving my angst as well as his. The marketplace doubled in size as time passed us. The clairsentients were regrouping. Elementalists retreated home to replenish any materials they ran out of. This free time was much needed, being able to enjoy myself and not be under Deko’s thumb. I cared less about the guards’ presence. “I have to take you down at least once,” said Cosmo. “We can’t be done until then. It’s the only way!” As we grappled, I observed my stand again to check on Barken, who was speaking with another villager. The man seemed to be giving him a hard time. “You have good discipline,” I said. “This will help you in the long run.” We had a hold of each other’s arms, trying to pull one another to the ground. I used my leg to trip up Cosmo, who fell on his back. “No fair!” As I lifted him up, I checked back again at the stand to find Barken missing from it. A good amount of my beast was still unclaimed. I played with Cosmo some more. He was growing stronger. While it was customary for a child to receive training from a parent, Cosmo would receive training from me. As close-knit as we are on Orion, descendants are never without any form of direction as there is always a warrior, elementalist, or clairsentient that could cultivate the child’s inherited abilities. Sapphire and Barken’s relationship made way for me to step in as his mentor. After grappling with Cosmo some more, I noticed Barken still hadn’t appeared. “Barken knows not to leave the beast unattended. Let’s take a break, Cosmo.” The heat had us both sweating profusely, breathing hard, sticking out our tongues and catching the drops of sweat that fell down our faces. At my stand, Sapphire showed up with her acquired goods. “We’ll be having a wonderful feast tonight, little man,” said Sapphire proudly. “Plenty of beast and veggies for you.” Her attention went to me. “I lost track of Barken. Have you two seen him?” “I was going to ask you the same,” I said. “I’m going to try finding him. Can you wait here?” “Of course.” I separated from Sapphire and Cosmo, attempting to find a less congregated area. The mix of scents and noises were distracting, rendering me incapable of using my senses to their fullest extent. When I found a secluded space, my nose lifted itself in the air. Surely I’d pick up on Barken’s scent. I sucked in the air like a vacuum, frantically moving around to different spots as if it would make a difference. Barken’s scent was always within Orion; I was always able to track him. My inability to do so infuriated me. I returned to the marketplace. Cosmo and Sapphire were parsing out their goods in the back of the stand. When Sapphire noticed me, her face grew pale. “...You couldn’t find him.” was all she said. Cosmo’s eyes darted between Sapphire and myself. He picked up on our worry. “He was just here. No guard came near him, I saw for myself. What could’ve happened?” “I haven’t checked in with the others. Let me see if I hear anything.” I didn’t gather much info. Bebe noted she hadn’t seen Barken since they last spoke with each other at Zuri’s stand. Zuri hadn’t been paying attention to notice Barken having gone missing. “I’ll come with you.” Nothing unusual was noted by the testimonies of the villagers that were near him. Zuri was having a hard time keeping up with me as I barely gave anyone time for small talk. We ventured outward. When I found Ramon, he expressed his concern as well. Barken was supposed to meet him here at this time. This was worrisome. During our discussion, he mentioned seeing a villager talking to Barken. I concluded that would’ve been the last person to see him before he disappeared. “The man seemed very distressed,” said Ramon. He caressed his chin while staring upward. “He started tugging on Barken’s arm, that much I remember. I turned away for a short moment only to find the two gone, leaving behind the remains of a beast with black fur.” “Who was this man?” Zuri asked. “It’s hard for me to say. I know I got a good view of him. For some reason though, I couldn’t identify who he was.” “Hmm...” “I know it may not seem possible, however, I could’ve sworn I never seen that man before. His posture, the way he approached Barken... It was quite strange.” Zuri cocked her head, trying to make sense of Ramon. The mere thought of the statement left me unsure of his genuity. I wondered if the old man might’ve spent too much time in the sun. “There are no outsiders in Orion,” I said. “What you say couldn’t be true.” “I’m quite aware that what I say doesn’t seem right. But I meant what I said. That man could not be from here.” “Would you be able to identify him again?” Zuri asked. “I can try… I know if I saw him again, I could find him.” We were wasting time. I was tired of entertaining this wild goose chase. Then again, what choice did I have? I was no more capable of finding Barken than anybody else. The sun was no longer on top of the sky. Evening was nearing... We reappeared on the market grounds. Stands were beginning to close. The crowd was thinning out, followed by an unsettling emptiness. Sapphire was burning sage as she paced around the space with Bebe at her side. Cosmo squinted at his mother, sneezing and scrunching up his nose whenever the smoke blew his way. He gave the impression of keeping his distance from the two. Zuri, Ramon, and I interrupted their stroll. “Any sign of him?” asked Bebe. “No,” I said. “Our Elder claims to have seen a man with Barken sometime before he disappeared.” “Are we sure this has nothing to do with the Deko Guards?” Zuri inquired. “I’m sure of it,” said Sapphire, waving around her sage. “The guards’ never left my sight. If one of them accosted Barken, I would’ve surely been witness to it.” “Then all we have is Ramon’s word,” I said, unable to hide my lack of confidence. “We’re still investigating. I’ll do my best to inform you if something comes up.” Sapphire frowned. She separated herself from the group and returned her focus to cleansing the area. She spoke low, praying for Barken’s return. I told Bebe what Ramon had seen. Ramon seemed occupied scrutinizing the dwindling crowd among us. “If what Ramon says is true,” said Bebe, “Either someone in Orion is not who they claim to be, or one of our own is responsible for our friend’s disappearance.” “You believe him?” asked Zuri. Bebe glared at her. Zuri nodded. “You know that’s not what I mean. Do you believe an outsider is among us?” “...I’ve never had a reason to disbelieve Ramon, and I certainly don’t now.” “I think that’s him!” Ramon interrupted excitedly. I scanned the area. A wide-eyed villager seemed to be watching us from the distance, moving away swiftly when he noticed me. “The man with skin like mine and orange irises?” I asked. “Yes! It's most definitely him!” And before Ramon could finish, I ran towards him. The spooked man seemed to think he’d be able to escape from me. He pushed in between a couple, ran into a stand, and started exiting the market grounds. He was no warrior. I caught up to him quick. I grabbed him by his arm and he gasped. He tried to yank his arm away like he didn’t care if it ripped off. Ramon’s assertion was correct, this man did not live here. “Who are you?” I demanded. “Where do you come from?” The man kept breathing hard. His eyeballs rapidly moved around while making intelligible words. “Have you seen a clairsentient with umber skin? Copper bracelets? Green loincloth?” The man stopped struggling. He began shaking as I held him. I unleashed his arm and made him face me. “Dammit, you answer me or I’ll-” The man didn’t even look me in my face. I tried pinpointing the end of his stare. His attention was directed at the three guards. I bore down on him. “You gape at them like you expect them to save you. I’ll let you go if you tell me what I need to know.” Tears formed in his eyes. “I don’t mean to deceive you, my brother.” Brother? I loosened my grip on him. Zuri came up slowly behind us. What was that smell… The sour stench? He said, “I was only doing what I was told, I-” “Told?! What were you told? By whom?” The man started sobbing. He kept directing his attention to the guards. I had all the evidence I needed. Releasing him, I marched through the market towards the trio of bumbling overseers. I was in luck, there wasn’t a crowd. A hand grabbed my shoulder hard. “What do you think you’re doing?” Zuri asked, trying to hold me back. “Getting clarification.” We were closing the distance on them. Sapphire was still praying when she noticed what direction I was moving. She froze. Cosmo came to speak to her, but realizing he wasn’t being paid attention to, observed where his mother’s attention lied. He stepped towards my direction before being jerked back. When Bebe discovered me, she had a horrified expression. She pointed Ramon to my direction and the two rushed toward me. “Hey!” I screamed. The guards lifted their heads, staring dumbly at me. Zuri yanked me hard enough so I wouldn’t make contact with the three. “Got something to say, mutt?” a male guard said, gripping his scepter with his two hands. Zuri kept holding me back, her arm encircling my torso. “Diego, don’t-” “You all have communication with each other, don’t you? Tell me where Barken is.” The guards looked among one another. He said, “Who the hell is-” “HOUSE THREE! BARKEN FROM HOUSE THREE! TELL ME WHERE HE IS!” My scream echoed through the vicinity. I was seeing red. Bebe and Ramon were on the sidelines and I couldn’t get out of Zuri’s hold. “You have mouths. Open them!” “Diego, stand down,” pleaded Ramon. “You think you can demand anything from us?” A female guard said. “He must be stupider than he appears.” I spat, “Tell me that without the fucking scepter in your hand.” Bebe called out to me. “Diego, no!” “GIVE ME BACK, BARKEN!” And without warning, a scepter swung at us. Zuri pushed me hard, catapulting me into the air. I thought I heard bones breaking. My back crashed into the ground, scraping against the dirt. Bebe screamed. I lifted myself up to find her running north. Sapphire held Cosmo. Cosmo’s eyes were wide. Zuri was lying on the ground, her body was twisted unnaturally as she laid there. A braid swayed in the wind. Heads were going to roll. I used my arms to jump to my feet and sprinted the guards way. They watched me coming. I was ready to pull out my daggers when a guard called out, “Get your hands away from her!” I halted. I found Bebe who was crouched at Zuri’s side, her palms glowing as they hovered above Zuri. The female guard briskly moved towards the two. “You know the law, Ida Dynasty whore.” “Fuck you!” screamed Bebe as her palms moved closer to Zuri. “Don’t, Bebe!” Ramon called for her. Bebe’s eyes glittered with tears. “Ramon!” “You know the consequences. We can’t lose you.” Bebe’s fists hit the ground. Distraction. I charged at the two male guards, my fists itching to break into their faces. “DIEGO!” Ramon yelled at me. I jumped in the air, my fists held back. The guard I targeted swung his scepter at me. I dodged it, jumping onto it and about to break his neck before he said, “Touch me, and he dies.” I froze. A leg came to my face and struck me hard, neck twisting. I flung wildly towards Bebe and Zuri. My body skidded on the ground, my shoulder and head grinding against the dirt. I was wracked with pain, I could barely move. Ramon ran to my side. “Gentle, my child, gentle.” One hand held my head, the other cradling my stomach as he lifted my torso up. The guard I nearly attacked was sniggering while the female guard re-joined the other two, smirking superiorly. Sapphire and Bebe assisted in bringing Zuri out of harm’s way. Cosmo was standing away from the scene, lips trembling. A small crowd of descendants surrounded the scene. They stood idly by. I heard a ship above us. It hovered in the air, it’s wide, dark lavender shape blocking out the sky. We all watched it. A door beneath the ship opened up. Something was pushed out that I couldn’t identify. Seeing its arms swaying, I realized it was a descendant. And when I saw it more closely- “Barken!” Ramon appeared shocked to life. “What was that-” I tried standing but fell back down. “It’s Barken! Barken’s falling! Someone catch him, please!” “I got him.” A male warrior came onto the scene, separating himself from the crowd. Barken kept tumbling to Earth. My heart stopped. The male warrior watched him fall, going to the spot he expected him to land. Barken landed right in his arms. His head fell back, arms dangling. Those guards had a death wish. Expecting to find them still in the same spot, ogling us like vermin, the three had disappeared. The large ship above us started taking off. And the three guards flew into the opened door they flung Barken out of. Then it occurred to me. Vigorously I started scanning the area around us, seeing if he was still present. The outsider, he was the one with the sour smell! What was he doing around our home? What is his relationship with the Deko guards? It didn’t seem I’d get any answers today: He had vanished as well. “Barken!” It was Sapphire I heard. Ramon helped lift me up as she ran towards him. The crowd seemed to be holding their breaths. Please, Ida, don’t let him be… “He’s alive,” said the male warrior. My hand grabbed for my chest and I breathed a sigh of relief. Barken’s okay, at least physically. The small crowd approached the male warrior. Ramon put my arm around him and helped me move closer. “He’s exhausted but unharmed,” said a voice. “My son and I can take him home,” said Sapphire, her voice trembling. She called out, “Cosmo, come here son.” When we reached the edge of the gathering, Ramon announced, “Please, make way.” They created an opening for us. Ramon brought me to Barken. Sapphire stared sadly at him, her hands caressing his face. I scrutinized that same face, his lips, his nose, motionless though I heard him breathing. He lied in the warrior’s arms as if he was sleeping. “Zuri will be okay.” Sapphire was speaking to me. “Bebe was given assistance taking her home. They’ll be alright.” I nodded to her. “Thank you.” Darkness fell over Orion as night time come. The quiescence created a modicum of peace. A villager handed Sapphire her sack of goods before we left home, with Ramon still holding me up, and Cosmo carrying Barken. The remaining clairsentients calmed the crowd, immersing themselves in song, singing in response to Barken’s safe return. In the end, I couldn’t get the damn faces of those guards out of my head. I could’ve killed them. I could’ve killed them all!
  12. Chapter 2

    I liked the flow of this piece and the way you describe the sub's relationship to the dom. Nicely done :)!
  13. I Was an Empire

    I'm already picturing this piece as if it was being told orally. The rhythm, the metaphors. I'm in love with the images you created for us. An engaging and powerful piece. Thank you for sharing, Lydia :D!
  14. Epilogue

    Thank you, jp !!
  15. Epilogue

    One year later... The stars stood above an ocean view through the window. Fireflies congregated near the porch lamp in the corner of the awning. The fireplace was on and Miles Davis was playing low in the background. Uncle Charles and Aunt Gladys invited Devan and Jade over to spend some time during the colder autumn months. What better time to cozy up with the family? And maybe a friend… “Mmm, my parents used to play some Miles Davis on our long car rides,” Jesse reminisced. “He was something,” Aunt Gladys said. “You must’ve been an old soul to appreciate that kind of music.” “Appreciate? Honey, it put me to sleep!” Jesse and Aunt Gladys laughed and high fived. Uncle Charles, Jade, and Devan were laughing beside them. “I know what kind of music Uncle Jesse likes,” Jade said with mischievous eyes. Devan’s eyebrow lifted as he looked at Jade. “What kind of music are you two listening to?” “We don’t need to talk about all that, Devan,” Jesse interrupted. Devan eyed Jesse suspiciously while Jade was hiding her snickers behind her hand. “Jesse, don’t be listening to that crap they play on the radio around Jade.” “Uncle Devan!” Jade exclaimed. “Aww neph, she’s sixteen,” Uncle Charles chuckled, waving his hand at him, “hell, most the stuff she’ll hear on the radio are comin’ out the mouths of the kids she’s around anyway.” “... Not to mention your uncle’s own mouth,” Aunt Gladys said slyly. The group laughed. Jesse smelled the air. “Mmm, whatever ya’ll have cooking smells real nice!” Aunt Gladys’ shoulders rose a little, appearing bashful. “Well, Charles and I wanted to cook you all some good comfort food. We have some macaroni and cheese, candied yams, and some collard greens.” “Don’t ask why there ain’t no meat except for that ham hock that's been simmering in the greens,” said Uncle Charles. Aunt Gladys put her hands on her hips in silent protest. A knock came to the door. Devan looked around. It seemed like everyone was already here. “Did we invite someone else?” he asked. Uncle Charles and Aunt Gladys looked at each other with smirks on their faces but didn’t say a word. Aunt Gladys proceeded to the door. Jade glanced at her uncle before looking towards the floor, avoiding her uncle’s gaze. Jesse was the only one who shifted his seat towards him. He said, “I asked someone if they were free and if they could come over. I went by it through your uncle and aunt first cuz, you know, I’m not about to bring random folks to people’s homes.” “Who did you bring? Filiberto? Nikolai?” “Well, come on in, dear,” Aunt Gladys greeted the guest. “You got here right before dinner.” And as Devan waited for the stranger to be out of the way of the front door, he saw him. Stefan had his hands stuffed in his arms to protect them from the cold. As he peered around at everyone, he had on his smile. But as his eyes traveled to the end of the room, there was Devan, and his face noticeably changed. His smile went away. Devan looked at Stefan with awe despite his efforts to appear unfazed. “Make yourself at home.” Stefan hung his coat on the rack. Jade lifted herself up from her seat, moving towards him. “I missed you, Uncle Stefan,” she said. She opened her arms and the two embraced. Devan couldn’t hide his jealousy. Being gone for so long, surely Jade would feel some type of way towards Stefan. But she didn’t. It was like she understood without needing explanation. Devan glared at Jesse. “Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing him?!” “Because I knew you would try to stop me! Devan, you know you miss him.” Of course he missed him, Devan thought. He always thinks about Stefan, that’s the problem. And if Stefan cared at all that he does, then why leave? For months? “...You should've warned me.” Jesse sighed. “Ugh, you Taurus’... Devan, people don’t up and go for no good reason. Try to hear him out tonight, okay?” Stefan walked up to the two. Devan turned at the fireplace. “Hey, Jesse.” “Bout time you got here, sweetheart,” Jesse said as he lifted himself up to hug Stefan. “I thought you went right home to sleep. Your trip went okay?” “It did. I’m feeling a bit tired, but I didn’t want to miss this.” Stefan eyed behind Jesse. “Hey, Devan.” Devan turned to Stefan. He fit nicely in his clothes wearing a white turtleneck and faded jeans. He stood up with his back straight, shoulders relaxed. He wasn’t playing with his fingers to do something with them or scratching the back his neck because he was nervous. There was something different about the man who stood in front of him. Devan lifted himself up from his seat. He reached his hand out. “... Long time no see, Stefan.” Stefan grabbed it, and they gave each other a half hug. “Aww, look at ya’ll,” Jesse moaned, making a pouty face. Devan side-eyed him. Stefan hid his giggles, like he usually did as a result of Jesse’s antics. “I think dinner’s ready,” said Aunt Gladys, heading to the kitchen. “Jade, Devan, help Uncle Charles set the table. Jesse, dear, if you could help me with the food.” “Is there something I can do?” Stefan asked as everyone went their separate ways. Devan purposefully moved slowly to eavesdrop on his auntie’s answer. “Warm up by the fireplace, baby! Have some hot cider. I’m not gonna put you to work yet!” The smell of baked macaroni and cheese, toasted marshmallows, cinnamon, pineapples, and ham hock simmered in greens wafted through the air, pleasing everyone’s nostrils and eventually stomachs. Uncle Charles was adding more to his plate when he said, “We ain’t had all you here in some time. Look like ya’ll have grown some this last year.” “Grown?” Jesse said in a questioning tone. “I haven’t noticed any changes in my figure.” Devan rolled his eyes. Jade chuckled in Stefan's shoulder. “What Charles is trying to say,” Aunt Gladys said, “is that you all have gone through a lot and have come out on the other side looking quite alright. I heard a certain someone’s getting a raise.” “Yes mam!” said Jesse cheerfully, clapping his hands together. “Rise in pay for my year of work at Judy's Boutique. I’m supposed to be celebrating with Filiberto. Go get our dance on at the club.” “Really?” asked Stefan. “I thought you were done with the clubs and bars?” “I am! I hardly go out anymore. But, I figured I’d deserve a little prize for my hard work. Maybe have a light beer to get me going.” Jesse winked. A light beer? Even Stefan and Devan had to look at each other to make sure they were hearing him correctly. They hardly recognized him; Jesse was past his playboy days and wasn’t looking back, a relief for them both. “And how bout you and Jade here,” said Jesse. “Still studying hard and kicking butt, homegirl?” She nodded and smiled while eating her food. “Something like that.” “She’s been getting herself involved at the gay-straight alliance at school,” said Devan. “Oh?” said Aunt Gladys. “I had no idea you were into social clubs, dear.” Jade shrugged. “It’s cool having friends like me and who support me in my new school. We’re trying to have a dance sometime. Uncle Devan, you should chaperone. You could bring a date and we can have a double date.” Devan regurgitated his champagne. Stefan started laughing. Jesse cheered while Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles exchanged looks. “Double date?” Devan said in a questioning tone. “Ooh gurl, give me the tea,” said Jesse, fluttering his eyelashes and bringing his cup to his lips. “Jesse!” “She is at that age,” said Stefan, shrugging. “I started dating around her age.” “You’re not helping.” Stefan smirked at Devan. “How was being back home, Stefan?” asked Uncle Charles. Stefan spoke about seeing Chandra and his dad, updating them on his life. His dad was getting ready to retire and Chandra had a new romantic interest in her life that seemed to be occupying her time. “Her parents approve of him,” he said, before laughing softly. “They were pretty hush-hush about it. Didn’t want to upset me since they imagined Chandra and I being married one day...” Once everyone was finished eating, Aunt Gladys raised herself up from the table. “Charles and I gotta get up early in the morning, so imma start grabbing these dishes before we head off to bed. Stefan, if you’d be so kind to help out?” “Sure.” Stefan started collecting the dishes with Aunt Gladys, making sure everyone was finished with their meal. As Devan handed his plate over to him, their eyes wouldn’t turn away from each other. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles went off to bed as the rest of the group lounged more in the living room enjoying hot cider. Jade yawned loudly. Devan put his arm around her and she leaned into his chest. “Someone’s getting sleepy,” said Devan. Jade nodded. “I’m gonna sleep in the guest room.” “Sounds good. I’m going to catch up with these two for a bit. Have a good night, okay?” “Night night, darling,” said Jesse, “see you in the AM.” Jade waved to the three of them and headed off to bed. The three friends made themselves comfortable on couches and cushions, taking in the ambiance. The wood in the fireplace kindled gently. “Mmm, I got work in the morning,” said Jesse, wrapping himself in a blanket and cozying up on the couch. “I ought to head to bed soon too. I should bring you over to my place sometime, Stefan. Thanks to you and Devan, my place is poppin’!” “Have you had your big debut, showing off your apartment to the who’s who on James Street?” Stefan joked. “See, you’re laughing now. But you wait, Stefan! Queen Jesse will have his glory days again.” The three laughed. A momentary silence filled the space, replaced by a soft whistling noise, the whistling coming from a sleeping Jesse wrapped up comfortably on the couch. Stefan and Devan no longer had the others to fill in for the lulls in the conversation and only had themselves. Neither seemed eager to bring the other out of their comfort zone. “Can I talk to you outside?” asked Stefan. “...I see no reason why we shouldn’t.” A brisk cold blew into them the second they opened the front door. Stefan put on his gloves while Devan shoved his hands into his coat pockets as they walked off the porch. The moon’s shine glimmered across the water and sky. “I didn’t expect to see you,” said Devan. “I know. I kinda made sure you wouldn’t know until I walked through the door. Guess it worked.” High tide covered a good portion of the beach. Devan and Stefan came to the edge of the shore and started walking alongside it, listening to the waves. “How have you been?” Devan asked. “New place treating you okay?” “Yeah. Much needed time to get myself together. It’s been a tough year, doing things on my own.” “That means Chris is out of the picture?” Stefan looked at him. “Yeah. He actually moved back to my hometown.” “Really?” “Mmhmm. He had no reason to stay here once we broke up. He’s still doing the same job, going on with his life, says Chandra who sees him around. Might even have a new boyfriend, but I don’t listen much to rumors.” Stefan watched his feet crush the sand beneath him. “...I saw him when I went back. I was picking up some movies for my dad in a plaza near our home. He came in the store.” Devan gulped. “What happened?” “He paced around. Didn't even notice me at first. It felt like I was there for an eternity. I was trapped. What if he caused a scene in the store? But once we locked eyes, I got out as fast I could. “Guess some things don’t change. No matter how long I’m away from him, the second I see him, I freeze. I don't know if that's something I'll get over.” Stefan licked his lips and seemed to relax. “I was so used to always trying to placate Chris. He knew it too and took advantage of me because of it. I needed some time get myself out of that mindset... Going back to taking care of myself and not abandon my own needs for someone else.” “And that’s why you left,” said Devan. Stefan nodded. “I understand it’s been hard, Stefan. You were going through hell, and I doubt anyone comes out of that unscarred. But why leave?” Devan paused in hopes Stefan would answer. But he didn’t. Stefan looked more at the sand on the ground and the body of water next to him. Devan became impatient. He turned and swung Stefan around so that he was looking straight at him “You could at least say something! We made all these plans for each other: move in together; take care of Jade; help Jesse make his apartment into a home. We had everything all planned out. I wanted you to stay! But then you go without an explanation? Jade, Jesse, even my aunt, and uncle go out of their way to treat you like family, but you can barely even call me?” Devan tried catching his breath. Stefan looked soberly at him. “I don’t want you thinking I don’t care about you, Devan. I didn’t want to go either.” “Then why?! Make me believe you because I’m not sure what to think, honestly.” Stefan exhaled. “I know it looked like I tried to distance myself from you. It wasn’t fair for me to leave you in the dark, and for that, I apologize. But I want you to understand that it was my only choice.” “Only choice?” “... Leaving Chris and starting over wasn’t easy. I needed time to focus on myself.” “And you couldn’t do that with Jade and I?!” “No,” he said firmly. Devan kissed his teeth. “I couldn’t have done what I did being with you and Jade. And you knew it too. You tell me you want to be my friend, but I think we both know that you wanted something more.” Devan turned away from Stefan like it hurt to look at him. “I had the chance to come to terms with what happened. Jesse and you put yourselves out there to get me away from Chris and I can’t thank the both of you enough. But I saw it in your eyes and heard it in your voice why you wanted to keep me close. I didn’t leave because of your feelings for me at the time. Please understand that. I was afraid of leading you on when I knew I wasn’t ready. “I was in no shape to be in a romantic relationship with anyone, so I promised myself that I wouldn’t jump into anything. Not when I was unsure if I had gotten over Chris. Being with you, unfortunately, made that harder.” Devan tried to look away from Stefan’s steady gaze but found himself stealing glances. Finally, his eyes rested on him. The moon was in his eyes, those eyes he fell in love with. Having Stefan there that moment forced Devan to reconcile with the emotions he’s repressed since Stefan left. Rage, sadness, disappointment. All of them came to him full throttle, overloading his head. His mind told him he was angry, but his heart told him something else. “I understand if you’re still angry. I’ve done a lot of work on myself this past year, and I came tonight to show you the results of that.” “I see...” Devan paused before saying, “I’m happy for you. And I forgive you.” Stefan smiled. He held out his arms and took hold of Devan. They were warm amidst the cool breeze. Stefan’s arms held Devan and Devan held Stefan tighter. “I missed you…” Devan said in his ear. As the two removed themselves from their hug, Stefan’s hands lingered on Devan’s shoulder, and Devan’s hands found comfort holding Stefan’s waist, cupping his lower back. The two could see each other’s journeys in the last several months through their eyes, and the strength and wisdom they gathered along the way. Both stood boldly facing each other, desiring desperately to be everything the other one needs. Devan brought his face closer to Stefan’s. His head tilted to the right slightly. Stefan didn’t have a reaction at first. But he found himself moving gradually closer as well. He closed his eyes, tilting his head. And they locked lips, sharing a kiss. A kiss they could’ve lost themselves in forever.

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