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ley
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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Tue Jun 28, 2016 9:08 am

It's loud, but that's just the way she likes it. This way none of the French will be able to approach her and flirt. There's a couple things wrong with people flirting, first being the fact that she doesn't understand French. And the second is, well, she can't reply.

She's not stupid. She came with a bunch of friends and her phone in the inside pocket of her leather jacket in case of emergency of any sort. She put it on vibrate, because nobody can hear anything in this mess.

Keeping her empty bottle close to her side, she pushes her way to the bar. Signs a couple of words to the bartender and pays for another beer. She can't believe her luck; probably the only bartender in the whole of Paris who knows BSL.

A man orders after her, speaking French. He has to repeat himself, because the music is too loud. Amelia feels bass and drums someone between her heart and her lungs, and only after a second or two notices the man's eyes on her. He says something, and she shakes her head, pointing at her mouth.

"Parlez-vous Francais?" he says, with a foreign accent, and she thinks, what an idiot. Obviously not, if she shook her head. But he's a handsome idiot. And when he nods towards the dancefloor raising an eyebrow, she stretches her hand out, and he takes it.

His hand is cold, she notices. And when she gives in to the beat, she notices his torso is warm. He's a bit shy, but the way he watches her with his blue eyes (almost neon purple in these lights) makes her think he wants her close, but is too shy to ask/gesticulate. She takes his hands from his dancing and puts them around her waist. There's question in his eyes. She answers it with a smile.

God, it's been a while, hasn't it? Long gone are days when she'd take the first person who'd lay their eyes on her to bed. Old habits die hard, it seems, as some sort of a force makes her look into his eyes and not stop looking until she wraps her hands around his neck and gently tugs him down to join their lips.

She doesn't speak his language, and he doesn't speak hers, but kisses either don't have a language, or are universally understandable. His lips are careful, while hers are wanting, and it doesn't take them more than a couple of songs for him to take her hand and point towards the outside. She leads them out.

He says something about a room or a house, that much she understands, and looks at her, as if she knew what he was talking about completely. She tilts her head on one side, but nods. His lips are far from her as he goes to fetch a taxi, mouthing words on French rather than kissing her. He notices her gaze, smiles, and takes her hand as they enter the car. She barely notices when the taxi arrives, because the man with blue eyes is drawing circles on her arm and she already has chills. They exit, somehow. As they were walking to wherever the hell he was leading her, she types a quick text to her friends about where she was going to stay and turns all the focus back to the man.

It's his flat, she thinks, and on his keys there's a small basketball keyring. That's one of the few things she notices before his lips are on hers again and he's kissing her with more confidence and she's lost.

She can't quite see where her clothes go, but she tries to equal him, taking the same amount of fabric off of him as he does. He awards her with a kiss everytime something hits the floor, and she responds with small gasps every now and then. She wants to voice out her feelings to him, at least that he would understand, but no such luck.

They find the bed eventually. It's a small flat.

His lips are great and all, but novelty wears off as her mouth grows numb, and her body shivers under his hands, too cold to be healthy, but he isn't a smoker. That is, as far as she can taste his mouth, and she's pretty sure that by now she knows every corner of it. But his hands are electroshocks, and his fingers are little lightning bolts, and she's heading towards a high.

He doesn't let go of her as her breathing stutters. He just presses tiny kisses into her neck, letting her calm down.

His eyes are either looking at her or closed, creating silent conversations behind his eyelids and sending them her way. She changes her mind; he's not handsome. He's beautiful. Most men would want that adjective as far away from them as possible, but she has a feeling this one wouldn't mind. She doesn't even know his name, and still she thinks some things about him. Life is sometimes funny like that.

She discovers a particular spot where his jaw meets his neck which makes him voice the weakest moans. When she lets her teeth glide across his neck, he's gone, and she's gone, and they're gone.

She doesn't know how he fell asleep with his hands around her waist and face half in her hair, but he did, and she didn't mind it a single bit.

Morning comes, and regret kicks in, in all its lemon-like, bitter glory.

She leaves him. Of course she does, because what can she do with a French man whose name she doesn't know, and who didn't know her situation. She writes a paper note with her name on it, and leaves quietly, picking her clothes out on the way out. It's the least she could do.

But if she could, she would've stayed. In his arms, in the arms of a French stranger, in the sunlight, without a worry in her mind. Not an option for her.

Skip forward a couple of years, or half a decade, and she's back in England, older, but not necessarily wiser. She works in some sort of an office, and she doesn't get drunk every Friday night. She wishes she can apologise to all the people she left on Saturdays, and one man in particular. It's her blue-eyed Frenchman, who she hasn't seen since that night.

She has her voice now. After a surgery and couple of years of vocal training, she even sounds in the limits of normal. Drinking a lot of water helps, she found out, but lately she's been seeing his eyes in plastic bottles. It's getting closer, the day she slept with him years ago, and she can't stop thinking about him. The day passes and she is able to get him out of her mind, when he walks into the office, and she nearly chokes on her water.

He hears her coughing and looks her way. When their eyes meet—yes, her Frenchman's eyes were the same shade—he smiles and walks up to her. Introduces himself, and says her name so she doesn't have to. Huh. Obviously not French.

She surprises him by speaking, and decides to take a lunch break, and never to stop talking again.

She loves having a voice. She loves cheering at basketball games (which she learned to love after Paris), she loves singing along to concerts, and she will love the soft night sounds he will get out of her mouth when she invites him to stay at her flat.

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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Wed Jul 13, 2016 10:29 pm

If a metaphorical conversation which talks about 'unconventional relationships' and such ever comes to life, I will let others tell their tales of love triangles (love angles, as Ark once called them, exploring the beauty of the English language), underage unconventionalities and supposed same-sex scandals, and then, when the entire room falls into silence heavy with words, I will get up and arrogantly snort at their stories. In fact, I will not stop laughing until my boyfriend and girlfriend
don't grab me and physically drag me away. From the metaphorical conversation going in my head.

It is said that book publishing people go through dozens of books a day. They read the first few paragraphs and decide, yes, this book might be worth something. Their mantra is, 'don't judge a book by its cover, judge it by its beginning, which may or may not be interesting'. If I was to follow that logic, this is how my book/story/biography/attempt at recovery would go.

I'd start with a confusing sentence, and continue to explain it throughout the paragraph. When it's properly explained, I'd move on. I'd hide my name, of course, until someone calls me by it. All amateur book writers say their main character's name early, and lose that slight tint of mystery which appears in reader's mind and keeps them going. Then, I'd start this puzzling and baffling journey of the main character. He would travel the world in seek of treasure, or a family member, or, groundbreakingly, a woman, following clues, tying up lose ends, with a sex scene or two, to keep the young audience glued to the pages. In the end, I'd either kill somebody, or make a huge plot twist, that the main guy's maid was his mother or that his sister was his brother or that the main character is his own daughter, and everything would be fine. Mister Reader would be surprised, tried to make sense of the end, and eventually give up.

I was never good at starting things. And I am not a writer.

I'm not sending this book to publishers. It's going straight forward, being prepared for press. Because there's demand for it. Because you all little nosy bastards want gossip. Ah, yes. That's the reason. People cling to gossip like Mediterranean (is that how you spell it? Note to beta readers; delete this note) people cling to their olive oil. It's not something they need. It's something they think defines them.

I will oblige. I will write AHO's full biography, from start to this moment, in which I am writing this. I'm writing my way to the present, and maybe to the future, if my brain decides not to rip itself into shreds.

I'm not good at starts, but if I was to start anywhere, I'd start by telling you about the days before the band. Prequel, if you wish. Late June before college, when I met Helene Mercier.

(Just a heads-up before we start. I will ask Hel and Ark about these dialogues, but it's been a while. The dialogues won't be precisely written, but all of them will be as close to the original as I can. All mistakes are purely the product of my bad memory.)

When school of children ended, I had to pick a flat somewhere near my college (aka school of adults), but nothing in Britain is ever cheap, so I found a flat and searched the glorious world of internet and its forums and ads to find someone to share the flat and rent with. Be it destiny, as people used to call it, be it just a random encounter, which it was, I ended up sending emails back and forth to a certain hel-with-one-L, which was her username back then. She had to change it eventually, people found out, but I still find it a brilliant name.

On a rainy day, we walked into our flat for the first time. I don't know why, I remember it was raining and her brown hair was wet from the roots to her thighs, where it ended. She spends half of her life just brushing it, I'm convinced still.

"Hi", she said, not shaking my hand, but saluting me. She always drags the 'ee' sound in that greeting. "Which instruments do you play?"

That was her first question directed to me. That woman lives for her music. In a way, I guess we all do. It's such a shame that, in this world today, music became a strategy, a way to earn money and fame. Us musicians, and I mean people who actually feel music and understand it (as opposed to most of so called 'pop musicians'), we just want to make music. We don't need glory and magazine articles.

"Bass, a bit of drums. A bit of everything, really."

"Guitar", she answered a question which I never asked. "But mostly singing and songwriting."

"A synth-player and we have a band", I said, as a joke. I had no idea how close I was to the truth. So close it could burn me.

We spent that July writing songs together. It's easy to feel young and free in moments like these. You throw away clocks and paper calendars, turn off phone alarms, turn phones off completely, and give in. Existing feels feathery and airy.

She set up a date for us, on a particular starry night. Grabbed a blanket, a guitalele her mother gave for her birthday, and headed to the small hills just outside of town. Half asleep, with soft, dull sounds of music from her fingers, she stopped suddenly.

"Hey, Otto."

"No more songs?" I asked. Always selfish, craving for more. I know. I'm like that, and it's a miracle they didn't dump me.

"We can continue, if you wish. I just wanted to ask… I told you about Russia?" She had a trip planned in August. She told me about it when we were figuring out rent together. I said I'd manage it somehow. She and her high school friends had bought plane tickets to Moscow at the beginning of the year, and planned to stay for two weeks. More on that later.

"You have."

"Good… good." I sensed it wasn't the end of the conversation, so I sat up and waited for the rest. She sighed and put the instrument on the blanket. Then, leaned her head on my shoulder. She always smells vaguely like her shampoo (and I am sure everybody wants to know the brand of it, so they can go buy it and say they smell like her. New levels of terrifying are being born). This moment is carved into my mind as the moment I knew I was in love with her.

Cue some romantic shit ballad from the eighties. It could've ended here, in all honesty. She could've found another man and my love would stay a product of my mind, a never-realised plan. She was one step ahead, as she always is.

"I wanted to ask you…" I watched as her fingers tangled between mine. Her black polish was chipped from the strings, and her fingertips were hard and calloused. Nevertheless, her hands are one of my favourite ones to hold. "Are we dating? Because if we are, I have to alter my vision of you. Also stop saying 'hey, bro'. Because you're not my bro then. That's weird. But if we're not, that's fine also."

I squeezed her hand.

"We can date, but…"

"But?"

"No, it's fine. We can date."

I decided to wait with my 'confessions and supposed dark secrets'. I usually come clean two or three months into the relationship.

Not that I find there's anything wrong with me. But it seems that the rest of the world already has plans to 'make me normal', like them. Being normal is completely boring to me, especially when that word comes somewhere near my name. People have their minds set on making everybody like themselves, because people are heavily narcissistic animals.

That's how Hel and I became a couple. Simple, easy. People usually follow when I tell them this part of the story. They lose me when I start with the next part.

Hel went to Russia in August, as planned. She called regularly and I'd laugh at her silly, but poetic descriptions of places, squares, cities and people. I got so used to her speech patterns through the songs she wrote that I didn't see the descriptions as a surprise.

One day she called, and wasn't her usual self. I could hear it in her voice that something had changed. Here's the conversation as she and I remember it.

"Good morning, Hel, thanks for waking me up."

"It's six in the morning in England."

"Normal people don't wake up that early… Lucky for you, I'm a robot." She didn't laugh at that, and I caught on. It hurts me now to see how well I knew her.

"Otto, something happened. I'm sorry, but I don't… I don't even know."

"You can tell me."

"Just… You know how we said we needed a pianist?"

"We said a synth-player." I thought about the silence on the other line, and it scared me. A lot of things scare me, but mostly they're related to me, not to others. Others are stable, and I am a bleeding tectonic plate.

"Yeah. Yes, we did. I have to go to meet… yeah. Bye."

If I was to choose a single moment when each of us was dishonest, this would be Hel's moment. Usually we're huge believers in communication, but this was before 'us' as we now know it. They apologised for their lies. I still haven't. Give me some time, I'm a slow learner. Very slow.

Somewhere around noon that day she texted me one name. Arkady Volkov. Told me to look him up online. I did.

Him being Russian, of course, I didn't find many articles I could read, so I headed for the images. Pictures of a man playing a piano flooded my screen, so I assumed he was a piano player. A pretty good one, I judged by the blurry fingers and heaps of people behind him. Alone, on the stage, where he looked like he belonged. I remember thinking, when I was going through the photos, that he looked stunning. There was something about the way the photo held his gaze towards the black and white keys, which made me believe that he was one of those, what I called them, real musicians.

I still didn't know the reason I had to look him up. I didn't ask, because I thought she would explain everything, like she always did.

Now, I don't know the next part of the story very well. All I know about it is from stories Ark and Hel had told me, but then I'd lose something. I'll forget an important detail and have to rewrite everything. I'll ask them to write the way it all played out so I don't have to.

Otto just gave me his laptop with a blank document open and told me to write about my life before I met them, so I guess that's what I'll do. I am not a writer; I am a musician, so this won't be the best written thing you've read in a while.

I grew up in a small town by Volga whose name probably means nothing to you. My dad fixed pianos for a living. He used to be a piano player, you'd never guess. He met my mother on a concert of sorts. She's a violin player. And because of my family, of course I had to be a musician. I was practically born for music, to continue the passion of my parents.

I was sent to music school when I was about six, and before that, dad taught me piano the jazz way, without sheet music. I think I still prefer it like that, because it feels more free. But no. For the next ten, fifteen years I played music by people long dead, and people called me a prodigy. I called it hard work and bad grades in my actual school. I nearly failed third grade of high school, but it's not like my parents cared. As long as people kept writing articles about my skill and emotion through music, my dad kept being proud of calling himself my blood.

The performances kept on going and going and I didn't realise it was summer, and I haven't had a day off in months. I broke, told my dad that I needed a vacation, and took a train to Moscow. Things went uphill from there, but I don't want to be the one to tell you everything.

Of course, I have to continue the story, Ark handed the laptop over to me. Hi, I'm Hel. With one L, just a tad closer to Hell. Close enough, Otto would tell me, but who listens to him anyway.

So I went to Moscow with my friends in August, and we wandered through the city. I can't begin to describe Russia if you've never been there. It's a completely different feeling from being anywhere else. I know, because I consider myself a traveller. Even before AHO and its success, I flied on a route England-France-Morocco almost every year, first visiting my grandparents, then visiting my other pair of grandparents, then go back home. Russia was something new to me, and something beautiful.

I separated from the group the second I saw a music shop with a Gibson model. Music attracts me like a candy shop, so naturally I went in and asked the owner if I could play for a moment or two. He understood a bit of English, and pointing at the guitar helped. He said that I could, so I damn nearly skipped upstairs, where the more expensive instruments were.

I saw a man there, sitting on a piano stool and stretching his fingers. His hair was long and tied, and clothes casual, so I didn't expect something special from him, but his fingers landed on the Steinway softly, and the music got my heart beating between my ears.

He stopped, way too soon, and turned to me. Said a few words on Russian, which I didn't understand at all.

"English? Francais?" That's all the languages I knew.

"I asked, why were you just standing there", he said. From what I heard, Russians speaking English resulted in a thick, Slavic accent, but this was not it. He still has that soft, almost gentle accent, as if the words can't hurt you.

"I was listening. I like music", I explained, probably in the most idiotic words I could find in my brain. I was too busy focusing on all the guitars on the wall. I picked a shiny brown one and found a chair, then dragged it to the man. "I'm Hel."

"Arkady. You play?"

"Guitar, yes. Piano, no. But I'm willing to bet you're better than me", I said as I strummed a B7. He laughed a bit—what a lovely sound.

"I don't mean to brag, but unless you're the best player in the world, I don't think you can match me, no." I punch his shoulder lightly.

"Nice. Can I get a preview of your skill?" I was willing to let go of the guitar for a minute or two.

"Um, sure", he said. "I named this one", and then he said the composition's name, something in Russian

Wait, he named it? Another author? Calling Otto about Arkady was the first thought in my mind. Meanwhile, he started playing, and I didn't think anymore.

The music was gorgeous. Sultry, jazzy, dare I say, sensual, as if it belonged to a smoky bar, as a soundtrack to a woman undressing itself. It felt warm and close to the heart, and it was done too soon.

"That's one sexy piece of music", I told him, trying to clear my mind from the images in my mind.

"I thought so, too. My father would hang himself if he heard me play this."

"Well, come to England, they'll appreciate it there", I blurted out.

"I'm thinking about going to college there this year."

"You're a bit late", I told him. Otto and I enrolled around March or so. But I wouldn't mind having him in England to hear him play every once in a while. I started doubting myself around that moment, but I decided to keep it to myself.

"I think that won't be a problem. Let me hear you play."

We spent the next few hours in that music shop, jamming and laughing, until the owner kicked us out on the street and my friends called me over to join them.

"I'll see you later, I guess?" I asked, still eyeing that beautiful Gibson. Do you believe me that, till this very day, nobody bought it for me? I find that disgraceful.

"Sure." We exchanged numbers, and as I was heading a different direction, he said, "wait."

"I haven't even left yet and you miss me already?"

He smiled at that, and I couldn't help but to smile that.

"I wanted to invite you to see me play tomorrow morning."

"You have a concert?" I said. He never stopped surprising me, it seemed.

"It's more of a performance. If you don't like classical music—"

"No, I like it."

I said it too fast. He looked at me and shook his head, laughing. There was something in the Russian air and his light accent, that made a certain thought appear in my mind.

See, I never wanted or intended to cheat on somebody. I tried to be as honest as possible, and I thought I was a good girlfriend, although you might need to find a second opinion on this subject. But I didn't want to leave Otto. And I… well, I did want Arkady. I wanted his music and his laughter, and that confused me greatly. I knew that he was going to England. His eyes told me that.

Thinking back, it hurts my head.

"I'll see you at nine?" he said after he gave me the address.

"Not if I see you first." He looked at me strangely.

"I don't… I mean, we're going to see each other?"

"It's a phrase... I'm sorry", I laughed nervously, and he smiled.

"Okay then. Well, no matter who sees the other one first… I'm looking forward to it."

I left him still smiling. My mood dropped that night when I thought about my situation, and it made me call Otto in the morning before I went to the performance. I didn't know it then, but my brain was already scheming.

At that time I knew about Otto's 'baggage', as someone called it once, meaning to offend him, and he has since then used it as a joke. And it all… somehow clicked.

And my sticky fingers made some calls and my big mouth convinced some big brains and the seat next to me on the airplane was occupied by Russia's number one pianist. Back to Otto now, writing is exhausting.

It confuses people, that part. How Hel and Ark met, and how we never considered it cheating. Bear in mind, there was no physical contact involved. People always assume that, to be in a romantical relationship, you have to have sex, or at least kiss sometimes. It might just be the way our relationship evolved, but we never saw the need to rush things.

Hel and Ark flew to England and I greeted them with confusion, but with a bit of excitement as well. Hel told me all about his piano skill, but nothing could prepare me. Honestly, once you hear such talented musicians like Hel and Ark, and then hear then every day as practice, you grow numb to music that is subpar. Having a keyboard slash piano (because god knows we couldn't afford a piano back in the day) added a new dimension to our songwriting, and the fact that Ark knew so much made him huge in my eyes.

There have been a few bonding moments between him and me, but I'll share this one with the world, because the other ones don't carry much meaning to people who aren't us. They were 'you had to be there' moments.

He had never cut his hair. He told me, something about his father's religion or faith, so it was… not long, because Hel's is long, but impressive nevertheless. So, one day. I sat him on our balcony and looked him in the eyes.

"I'm going to cut your hair. Just say the word and I will do it."

He didn't complain. In fact, he had been suggesting getting it shorter before, but it was more of a 'what if', rather then an 'I will' sentence.

I got my little machine which I'm pretty sure it's used for beards, not heads and set it so it would leave about seven centimetres of his hair still on his scalp.

"It depends on whether you want emo hair or a military cut", I said, probably making it sound like a threat, scaring him. But never mind. In these first days of AHO we were all insecure, and Ark especially, being in a new crowd and a new country. If you didn't guess it yet, our band name, AHO, is our initials. Initially (note to self; try using a different word. Using the initial word twice makes you sound like a twat, more than usual mkay) we were going to name ourselves ArkHelO but I felt left out because both of them had three letters and I had one, so we scrapped the idea and went with the name which should be fairly familiar to you now.

"Something in between, I guess. I've never had short hair so I don't know."

"I will try my best. If nothing, it will grow out so it will cover my mistakes. But firstly", I said and took one of Hel's hairties she has lying around everywhere. I tied his hair with it and showed him the scissors. "Last chance to run off screaming."

"You can go ahead", he said with a light smirk.

I cut off the hair and gasped.

"Oh no", I said quietly.

"What?" he asked, his voice getting a panicky edge.

"Nothing, I'm screwing with ya. Actually I don't think it looks half bad. Might as well leave it like that."

And he had that lion hair for about a month before he shaved the sides and became a hipster even back then, the Ark we all know and love.

College was alright, I guess. I don't remember half of it, but I'll tell you what I do remember. The first year being torture. And why?

How does one even begin to think to be in a polyamorous relationship? It's not exactly like someone walks up to you and introduces you to it. Here we have to thank Hel for doing research. Her starting point was, 'do romantic relationships have to be limited to two people?', and she went from there. The fact that I am asexual helped a lot.

Should've mentioned that earlier, but as it was the case of coming out to Hel, I didn't do it too soon in this story, nor in media. But anyway. I don't do sex. Not in my mind, or in real life. Sometimes kisses. It's just the way it's always been. People often ask me if it's made my life harder, being non-straight. I honestly think it made me think more clearly than I would if I had to maintain a sex life.

But back to the point. Being in a relationship like the three of us are doesn't mean that every time someone has sex it's an orgy. When I heard that I found it hilarious. It just means that love is shared around more.

And I do love them, in every way but the physical. I just wanted to point that out, for all the non-believers. Don't question that statement, okay?

So, come the end of college, we stopped worrying about us, and started worrying about actually not failing college. And those two fuckers did it. Me… not so much, but I had my reasons, and the board understood. I wrote some of the exams again and passed, and then there were three legal adults, in a flat, with degrees and jobs, and no idea where to go beyond that point.

Ah, many of you now gasp. Here comes Battle of the Bands.

Now, if I could, I would strangle the person who named it, because, Battle of the Bands? There weren't even actual bands involved.

I should begin from the, you know, the beginning. Battle of the Bands (or, in the text following, BB, because I can't be bothered to write this down fifty times, okay) is a talent show where bands (ahahahahah) enter and compete through three rounds, the second one being live. First round, you compete in front of five judges and you need three votes to pass. Second round is classic, performing live and collecting calls from the viewers. Despite there's still one round left, three bands (see above) or even less proceed to the next round.

Third round is, what they said, makes BB special. The people who funded the whole show own a bar-line all over the world, so they send the remaining bands (I'm not going to say anything) are sent on a mini-tour, Europe and North America, always performing in the bars with a low entry price, and in the end, the band (…) with the most people hearing your music is the winner, and they get a record deal, and the money they earned from entries goes to charity. They don't mention that the rest of the cash made by the other two candidates go in their own pockets. I'm sorry, but I am a bitter arsehole. My mother's side of the family, blame them.

It was Hel's idea to enter. By then we had five or six albums worth of songs, and that was one of few things BB required. Talent and originality. Ark had talent, Hel had originality, and I was there for I don't know, shits and giggles. I'm (partially) kidding.

For our first song we played June Lies, which is also the first single we were planning on releasing.

We walked out on the stage and stood there while the polite clapping faded.

"Who do we have here?" asked Jane Roland-Smith, the 'nice' judge, so she put on a smile which I didn't trust one bit.

"We are AHO. Helene Mercier, Arkady Volkov", I pointed around and ended on me, " and me. I'm Otto Oscar Roscoe."

"Nice to meet you all. When did you three meet?"

And then a bunch of questions related to the band which I already told you about. I'll cut to the good stuff.

"If I'm correct, Arkady is pretty big in Russia?" This time the small person with the glasses spoke. Kill me, but I don't remember their name. They're supposed to be the smart judge, even though they had everything written down.

"Yes. I'm a piano player", Ark said, stopping all discussion there.

"What will you be playing today?" said Harold Prewett, who was the strict one. They all had roles which they had to play, and as musicians, they didn't act very well. Harold has to appear very cold on camera, and in reality he helped us out a lot.

"June Lies. We wrote this song last year", Hel said, her hands already twitching for the strings. Maybe the judges noticed it, because they let us play with smiles. Or it's just that my partners look great on stage, doing what they love.

We started playing, and I'd love to add a link to where you can find our performance, but this is going to be printed on paper or in magazines or whatever, and nobody is willing to copy a web link by hand. Just look it up, I don't know.

The performance went well. We don't really get stage fright. Ark has been playing his whole life in front of audiences, Hel is extremely confident in her music, and I just don't give a shit. When we finished, people started clapping again, but this time because we were good.

I don't need reviews or critics to tell me we're a great band. Believe me, I know. I only do some harmony work and play random instruments when needed. Hel and Ark are the consistent ones, and they are so incredibly good. I could talk to you for hours about their talent, but I am still honestly amazed by it. They are a great band by themselves. No amount of critics can make my opinion faulter.

We went to the second round, of course. We didn't see it as that big of a deal. Nearly everybody passed because that means more cash when people call to vote for their favourites in round two. But people started writing about us and our music, and that period is the only period when I read all the articles which contained our names. Later the list just grew and grew and I had my own issues.

The gossip we started was just unbelievable. Everybody wanted to know whether Hel is dating any of us and that was the main interest of those articles. I hated it. I wanted people to listen to my songs, not try to guess who's dating who. That's not interesting and irrelevant to me. I've never listened to a musician based on their relationship status, their sexuality, or the amount of girls they can pick up in a club. Because I may be many things, but I'm not shallow.

Let me tell you who is shallow, as opposed to me. Carla Bernston, or as she prefers, K-Cool. She was one of the competitors in BB. She sings (but doesn't write) what Ark and Hel like to call 'grinding music'. I just call it trash-hop. Because not all hip-hop is bad, okay? I like both hip-hop and dance when it's done good. What K-Cool sang… it wasn't good.

I'm mentioning her not only to make old drama resurface, but because she is relevant to the story. She is a 'singer'. And she most certainly isn't a band. That's why I was so pissed at her and I even went so far to call Prewett and complain about the very loose rules of the competition.

That's when Prewett began standing on our side. He called the funders and creators of BB and asked if they're going to look up whether she can compete, but, as it turned out, her father was one of the people who ran the show, and blah blah. It's obvious where it went from there.

People who have money. This is just I'm going to throw out there. It is always said that money doesn't make you happy. I strongly disagree, because people who have money don't need to worry about putting food on their plate. People who have money have all their wishes taken care of. People who have money don't have to worry about basic human needs. What's left to make them unhappy are the psychological things, which are just in their brain. People who have money, like K-Cool, wish to be singers, and pay for producers and studios and songwriters, and all they have to do is slap their names all over that and sell it. And the best part is, people buy their lies.

I'm sorry, I know I should be able to filter myself but I have had enough. I don't want fame, as I said. Neither do Hel and Ark. But it would be nice to be separated from K-Cool in conversations. I don't want to be associated with her because I think that I'm above her. Call me selfish and narcissistic, but the only time I'm bringing myself up is when I know for sure that what I do is good. And the songs we did in second round? Pure gold.

Go thank Ark for the masterpieces we played. Around that time he had no job to do so he started experimenting with his music and turned to more recent jazz and atonality, which resulted in unique, compelling melodies, still my favourites till this very day, and Hel and I did what we do best, lyrics. We had written maybe seven or eight songs specifically for the second round, and when we showed them around to friends who weren't subjective, they told us that they were great. Again, I'm not trying to make us apear flawless, but we were good during that period. Dare I say that that was our best period.

All the songs had Ark on piano, Hel on a twelve-string, and me varying between drums and bass. They were written for piano specifically and Ark had to modify them so they had a specific flow, but they still had stunning piano solos in the beginning. Having written all the melodies, he had to sing, also, to tie it all in together, so three-part harmones were also something which was common on these tracks.

(By the way, I don't have a proper segue for this, but all the songs are in production and will be out soon. Check them out if my gratitious descriptions weren't enough for you, they'll be available for free download on our page. If my migraines ever decide to give me a fucking break, I will finish them.)

Now, round two. It consists of a series of live performances with various themes which are given to performers as soon as they pass round one, and who collects the most of votes from the viewers after all of the performances, pass to the last performance, in which they perform the song which gained them the least votes in hope they can make it good enough so they pass to round three. This round is overly complicated and takes a long time to explain, and I'm aware of it. I'm sorry for shit-talking about BB so much. I am aware of the good things it brought to my life, but that doesn't mean everything was puppies and unicorns from the moment we entered.

Themes were vague and abstract, so that everyone had the same chances, because there were different genres involved, after all. There was everything from ballady-jazz we did, punk by Prismses, all the way to folk by Grass is White. Both those bands were a great inspiration to us, and I am still known to blast out some early demo Prismses tracks, just because they're great.

What was the tripping stone was definitely the fact that people like K-Cool had professional songwriters and lyricists behind them, so of course her songs were appealing to those who listen to mainstream music. Genres were also a big problem, because people either don't listen to folk, or are huge fans of it, and those huge fans come in small numbers. Punk is an early 2000s thing, rock and heavier stuff is never as good as the classics, and singer-songwriters who came as one man bands quickly fell flat because it's impossible to write songs on your own to a topic you feel uninspired to do and make it sound good all the time.

In the end, the ones who got the most votes were pop and hip-hop artists (not actual, quality bands), and, by some small miracle, the three of us also.

I like to think of it this way: we had a shit-load of fun. The fun we had could be carried in buckets out of our flat during that period. Some of that fun had to be transferred onto the screen and made people like our music.

My favourite memory from that period is a simple one. Us, sitting/lying down on a sofa we bought with the combined amount of Hel's paycheck and mine. We were watching a rerun of our performance from the night before. I sat in the middle, with my arms around both of them, and I remember Hel looking at the two of us, saying, "We did it, guys. I think we did it."

We fell asleep on that sofa. We don't have it anymore.

Rereading back on what I wrote, I didn't mention our relationship as much as people would want me to. That's probably why some of you are reading, to get all the spicy details. Well, here you have them.

We celebrate all anniversaries. Those between me and Hel, Hel and Ark, and me and Ark, also an additional date somewhere around winter holidays when we had agreed upon this arrangement. Since all individual anniversaries are in summer, we celebrate them so that the person who is not included at the moment reserves dinner for the two lovebirds and leaves them alone for the night. Works like a charm.

As for the actual, honest-to-god, all-together-now anniversary in winter, we used to invite our college friends and go to a dance club (which had to have a stage—or at least karaoke), drink not more than half a beer each, and just have some fun. For all four of the years we had done it, there was making out involved, and also some of our friends who thought they'd never end up together… well, they did. We played some questionable spin the bottle games back in the day.

But we haven't done that last year, because we have been pretty busy with all this competition thing, and I am sorry.

Round two behind us, and months of prep follow. People told us where we would perform and we had to magically remember it all; they told us to put on a show for about an hour or two, to put our songs in them in a cohesive order and what not.

And we were going through heaps of paper back in our flat, thinking about each and every song we had ever written and whether we wanted to perform it or not.

Don't get me wrong, I love all of our songs, but some are shittier than the others. Those from Ark's period of atonality were either terrible or great, and those from my period of rap were really fun but awful in reality. If Hel ever wrote something which was bad, we heard it once and never again.

But it was so hard, choosing songs. They were like our babies, I know that people use that metaphore a lot, but it really is. You can't pick a favourite child, and not to stray from the topic, just like I can't pick my favourite partner.

In the end, we had managed to come up with a show which was two hours and just under fifteen minutes long, without talking inbetween. We were about seventy eight and a quarter percent sure they were going to kick us out before we manage to end our performance, but we didn't care. And that one was a hundred percent.

Did we think we were going to be mega popular, household names, legends? Of course not. I don't think anyone entering this competition has that full narcissistic approach. But we knew our lives wouldn't be the same.

Actually, that's a lie. We didn't have lives before BB, not if you don't count college. We were 'ordinary citizens' for maybe three months. We don't function like normal people do, we don't have to save to buy shit we want or worry about monthly bills. (Psst, don't tell anybody, but Ark and I bought Hel her bloody Gibson. We're going to give it to her on her birthday.)

That was just how we prepared. I am sure that K-Cool and the other 'singer' whose name is really and totally irrelevant in my life had a crew behind them, researching what makes the crowds sway, and which melody patterns cause which part of our brain feel stuff, I don't know. I'm making this shit up as I go, I don't have a clue.

I'm sorry, as this piece of trash, no, wait, literature, as this piece of literature goes on and gets closer to the events everybody wants to know about, my thoughts get scattered and I'm a bit sick to my stomach and Hel took away all my pills and unless I get them back, this going to be a wreck from here and out.

At this part of the story, and also this part of me writing the story, things get ugly. It's nobody else's fault, but mine.

Ever since I was little, I believed people didn't care about, so I kept my issues locked safely down near the bottom of my heart. I don't know why, people always told me it's some sort of a childhood trauma, but as far as I can remember, none swim up in my mind.

I have depression. Anxiety-inducing, bone-shaking, terrifying depression. It's not always present. Some days I like to imagine it as a cartoon cloud that carries large grey mist which only covers me and nobody else can understand that, in the mist, it's colder than outside of it, and it feels heavy. Most of the days, though, it's a shadow. I know it's there, but I'm not aware of it until it hits like a wave, and I think, 'well, you're here'. At least, those two places were the places in which I existed for most of my life, that is, until I was about seventeen, when everything went to shit, and pills got involved.

Take a wild guess at what helped me through. No, not LSD. Music. But not exclusively music. Sounds. The sound of bass strings getting tuned in. Rain against my window when it got windy, which isn't a rare happening in England. Screaming, which was most often the best choice. Screaming and shouting, just to relieve the pressure I felt in my brain and my chest. And it held me for a while. Sometimes simple rhythmic drumming against a wooden surface did the trick. Sometimes not even heavy metal blasted through my headphones so loud my parents could hear it almost as easily as if I'd plugged in speakers.

I told Hel and Ark about it when we were creating a pro and con list for us three being together the way we are. (Yes, there is a list. No, I'm not taking a picture of it and posting it on all the social media I can find.) I told them that this relationship can only work if they accept the fact that I won't be okay sometimes, and during that period they should leave me alone.

The arseholes didn't listen, of course.

When I didn't want to come out of the bathroom, they arranged little concerts on the other side of the door, playing all my favourite songs until I couldn't stand being silent anymore and started singing along. Almost always when that happened, I ran out right into their arms. When I put something heavy on and listened to it through my headphones, Hel made hot chocolate and played a foreign movie with subtitles on until I got interested in the movie plot and started watching with her. When I couldn't sleep at night, Ark rolled the keyboard on its stand into the bedroom and played soft music until both Hel and I were as good as dead on the bed, and then he'd sleep on the sofa not to disturb us.

And I can't express in words how that feels.

A part of me always thought that they'd just give up. One day I will be too broken for them and they'll leave because they'll realise that they can't fix me. One day I will say something awful and not mean a single word of it, but the words will hurt them.

Words can be so wonderful. They can heal broken bones and mend hurt muscles. They can build worlds and hope and, if you're lucky, trust. They can make you believe in things that are incredible and unbelievable. And they can destroy the worlds they created, destroy your imagination and clear your mind from anything but reality, and they won't stop until your bones are broken again. Until you are broken again. Believe me, I know.

There was a period of time in which every article I read about AHO was claimed as lies in my mind. They took my laptop for a week and solved that problem without any difficulties.

And again, there are periods when I think we are the best fucking band since bleeding Queen. So there's that. I'm messed up inside out.

Where was I? I lost track of my thoughts and my words. I should have these conversations in my head, not on this document. (Delete this and reevaluate your fucking life choices, Roscoe. Too far is too bloody far.)

Round three is a mini-tour. I don't know why they call it a mini-tour, because it's a huge tour acroos two continents, beginning with America and ending in Europe. We already had a camper waiting for us, as well as all the advertisment for the tour and all the shows booked. We named the camper Alice. Parting with Alice was the final straw to the mess that happened somewhere in the middle of the tour.

The shows were pleasant and casual. They were actually more fun than we thought them to be. Hel was the ringleader, and she coaxed Ark and me into being decent human beings for fans of our music. The peformances rarely ever ended before midnight, because someone always had a musical wish, or wanted to sing one of our songs with us, or (on one memorable occasion), this one gal actually proposed to her now-wife-I-think. Someone update me on this story, it postponed my downfall for about a week and I'm ultra-grateful.

You can have too much of a good thing, it seems. Or at least, not a good thing, a thing that people assume is good, but is actually very destructive.

It starts slowly, and you don't even realise that something is wrong. You stare at a clock and marvel at the fact that every second brings you closer to your death. You don't worry, because everyone has these thoughts, right? Then you consider the reactions of your loved ones if you died in a, say, car crash. You don't shave for days, because you know what will happen if you see a sharp object. When your boyfriend notices you beard and your girlfriend tells you to, and I quote, "shave that desert cactus off of your face, you look homeless", you start mentally preparing yourself. You shave and, even though you cut yourself once, it was accidental and you're happy with yourself and your control.

It escalates. Becomes a forestfire from a match. This all happened in a period of five or six days.

Detective and police shows make you sick to the stomach because what if you were the corpse? You wouldn't feel the pain of living. Nobody would miss you anyway. People who told you they loved you are liars, because no one can love a messed-up person like yourself. You don't talk to your flat-mates/camper-mates unless you absolutely have to, because you might tell them what you've been thinking this past week and they'll reveal that their love is a prank or something and then you'll have even more reasons to end yourself.

Because I didn't talk with them most of the time, one day they went grocery shopping without me. They'll tell you that, if they could change anything in their life, it would be the fact that they left me alone in the camper and that razor blade I had been eyeing for a couple of days.

I wish I could explan what went through my head while I was preparing to do it. Words fail me once again. I remember thinking that nobody will miss me anyway, and everything I knew was a lie, and that they didn't actually go out to buy some milk—they were running away from me. And I was, too, running away from me.

This is my worst regret, if anyone's keeping track. Making them go through this because of me.

I woke up hours later, in a hospital. Hel was sitting next to my bed, and through tears she told me what had happened.

Without going through much detail, because this segment already took me hours of staring at my computer screen and tears and bloody migraines, this is what happened.

Hel and Ark ran into some fans and took pictures and sat for a coffee and a chat, and the fans wanted to hear from me, so Ark went back to the camper to invite me to join them. He found me in the camper shower, in wet clothes, unconcious from a hit in the head I got from slipping, and the still-open cuts from the inside of my elbows to my wrists.

"He called an ambulance", Hel said, putting her hand on mine, "and accidentaly called the British number first, and then the American. He was so scared for you, and…"

And so was she, was ending to that sentence she couldn't finish. At the time, Ark was washing my blood off his shirt and his hands.

If any of you twats still have any questions about why we exited the competition, here is why.

I was going to be completely fine, said the doctor in a southern drawl. My arms will heal, and scars will fade throughout the years. I couldn't care less about my physical state at the time. Not like I wanted to self-destruct again, I think my little shower adventure got rid of that urge. No, I cared about them. Who is going to fix Hel, who got a phone call from the hospital because Ark couldn't think about calling her while he was checking if I still had a pulse. Who is going to fix Ark, who, for a split second, thought I had died?

It opened my eyes, and made me see just how much they cared about me. The answer is, almost as much as I cared about them.

They kept me in the hospital for a couple of days, which I spent apologising to Ark and Hel, and they kept saying that they were just glad I was alive. I was sent home with my arms wrapped in something textile-like with instructions to get it removed in Britain.

That's why we stopped our tour in the middle of it. That's why K-Cool won BB, even though she isn't god-knows-how talented. Being super-generous as they are, the crew behind BB let us keep the money from the tickets.

What happened after all this drama that all of you wanted to know about? Not much. BB ended about a year ago. With the money we got from it we bought some mics and a bunch of wires to connect our instruments onto our computer, blah, blah, technicalities nobody wants to know about. We started our website where we posted our songs, and another one where people can donate money in exchange for video chats and signed CDs. We have time now. I mean, I'm home full-time anyway, and they have a flexible work schedule.

It surprises people, that Ark still works as a piano tutor and Hel is a waitress in a bar where we perform every once in a while. In reality, celebrities who aren't mainstream and widely known like us don't get much money off of internet and interviews and photoshoots and what not. The cash from entry tickets for our concerts just barely cover the actual cost of renting out a stage for the night and the truck in which we carry instruments and wires and lights. So they work, but it isn't such a big deal, because they're doing what they like doing, and until they're a hundred percent sure I'm totally fine, they'll only let me work as AHO's manager.

That works for me. I'm contributing in a way, so I don't feel useless. Everybody knows that feeling useless leads nowhere good.

After the scars on my arms had healed, a new obsession started for all three of us. Tattoos. First we all got a matching one on our wrists, our band logo, and then we split paths. Hel likes her small, but meaningful colour tattoos, she has maybe seven now, all over her body, and Ark went all-or-nothing and has a huge steampunk design on the left side of his ribs. As for me, I tattooed my arms fully, so the scars wouldn't be visible. It took one long day in the tattoo parlor, but it was so worth it.

Life goes on, I guess. It could have been different for us, if we had won BB, but in a way I'm glad we didn't. You all know what happened to K-Cool, who was the winner. Her album was rated one of the worst ones of the year because it had to be actually written by her, and she is now forgotten, a casualty of show-business. As for AHO, we still have our small, but loyal fandom. If our music helps a single person, we've already done the best thing we could possibly do.

Since the whole shower scene, I haven't written any songs. I had started some which Hel and Ark had finished, and I put together a melody to which I sang suicide letters as a part of charity work to prevent said suicides. I can't. My thoughts can't focus on something which is too long, but I think I'm doing better. I mean, this piece of writing has thousands of words. If I finish it, I will try songwriting again. No, I have to spread positivity. When I finish this pieamce of shiterature. See, I'm being creative. You may call this literature but it still don't make it any less shit.

Even if I had the opportunity, I wouldn't want to be world-famous. I don't want to be careful about the brands I use, or the tv shows I watch, or have to hide from paparazzi. I don't want to perform in front of people who came to my concert only because they saw me in magazines and came, even though they didn't like our music, because they liked being associated with famous people.

But still. We are not famous people. We're a little famous people, and it comes in handy. Sometimes we video chat with our fans for hours, and nobody's screaming because of the pure fact they got to see our holy faces. We have normal, human conversations. Sometimes we give fans advice on how to be a better songwriter or how to fix a certain bug in a certain editing software, and they give us tips on how to wash bloodstains out of fabrics. (It didn't work. I'm sorry, Danielle and Chris. Maybe this much blood was too much. Just for the record, I was sleeping on the sofa and the bandages on my arms bled through. No war story here, but I did murder a sofa.)

We get to sign every CD that is bought with a special note to whoever bought it, because we have all that extra time which could have been spent by touring and recording albums and putting on stage make-up every day.

Albums are still in the making. Just because I'm having a dry period doesn't mean that the world stopped spinning for them. They're still writing songs every now and then, with a slight change. They're spending more time on them. Ark's songs got softer and started resembling the lullabies he had played when I couldn't sleep at night. Hel's, on the other hand, got harsher, louder, and started hitting close to home because her words carried truth. Pair those factors together and we got ourselves a proper emo album.

I'm kidding, in case your brain didn't come to that conclusion. You'd say that what happened made me less of an arsehole but no such luck. I'm as arrogant as ever, because my arrogance doesn't run bone-deep. I don't mean what I say when it's soaked in sarcasm and hatred. By some miracle, they understand.

Also, by another miracle, we got ourselves a piano. Well, a pianino. A piano couldn't fit inside our flat. Our neighbour gave it to us because, when she heard Ark practice, she googled him (she's eighty by the way), and once she saw him play, she thought it was disgraceful that he doesn't have a nice and proper piano to play on. It is so old and the wood is worn and it had to be tuned in but it has the warmest sound I've ever heard in a piano. It must be all the love the neighbour and now Ark put into it.

I think I'm going to end it here. I uncovered all of the drama tabloids wanted to know about, so now fake fans can piss off and go do whatever they were doing before, and leave my band and my family alone. I'd rather have three genuine fans than three million people who listen to my music just because I'm famous.

As far as plans for the future go, I don't have any. Neither does Ark, while Hel thinks we should save up some money and buy a house on the countryside. If it has wifi, I'm happy.

Ah, I lied. I do have a plan, and it's for tomorrow. Tomorrow there is some sort of a march through London because a company didn't allow a gay couple to adopt a kid. People are calling it 'Pride 2.0' because of reasons, and because it is far from the actual London Pride. I'm going, and so is Ark, in our full asexual-bisexual glory. Hel has work, and she thinks that it's not fair that a cis straight woman goes to Pride because it's not for her. Ark and I are going to march and text pictures to Hel to make her smile and take a break. We are going to mingle with a small group of fans we had met online, and at some point, I will make Ark carry me, for the love of god.

Because of the pictures, peer pressure, and partially because of my own wishes, I'll kiss Ark and pray that a picture of the kiss has Pride flags in the background, and also that it ends up in every newspaper so that homophobes have a reason to bitch about it.

When I come home, I'll kiss Hel too, because I'll be happy from all the positivity in town, and sometimes kisses are worth more than words to me. I wrestle with words almost as much as I wrestle with kisses. Sometimes kisses help. Tomorrow they will.

Hel and Ark will share that look they get every once in a while, and, while I mimick vomiting, Hel with head to the bathroom and Ark would mysteriously disappear in our bedroom. When Hel joins him, trying to be as less obvious as she can, I will plug speakers into my computer, position speakers so that they blast music beneath the bedroom door, and sit down and wait until I start hearing noises. Then, I'll open a folder which holds my 'baby-making' playlist which I had compiled years ago, and play the least sexy music I had the misfortune of hearing. When the playlist ends, I'll remove the speakers from the floor, turn off the music and sleep on the sofa, like the physically-third-wheel I am, and I'll set my alarm early next morning so I'll bring them breakfast to bed.

I'm only going to do it because I won't have any intentions on washing the sheets. Not because I love them so much it saved my life.

Definitely not because of that.

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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Mon Jul 25, 2016 8:29 pm

It struck me about a month after I finished college, that not only was I unhappy, but I also didn't know who I am.

I had a a job, sure. A tour guide in a capital earns enough cash to actually live in the aforementioned capital. I had a flat. A small one which I rented out monthly, but it's still a flat. Isn't that all a human being needs to survive?

My experience claims otherwise.

I found myself in an art gallery, with my heap of Chinese tourists scattered around it. They were little dots of colour in the building on the floor with white-greyish paintings and white walls. Taking a break from all the people, my introvert soul stopped in front of a (I'm pretty sure solid) white painting, and stared at it blankly for about ten minutes when I felt a person shuffle next to me.

Well, to put it shortly, he was a more interesting sight than the paintings.

He had almost-shoulder length hair, honey blond streaked with brown, a week's worth of a beard, and the most stunning shade of red lipstick I had ever seen in real life. His clothes were no less eye-catching, with ethnic patterns and layers and shiny bright yellow boots.

"Hello", I half-mouthed. That's what I always do. I never stray too much from politeness.

"It's a beautiful piece of art", he said, looking like it like it's the freaking Mona Lisa. I decided to educate him about it, because I knew about the artist. When you drag three tourist groups here in a week, you tend to remember things.

"It's called Release. Made by a certain Anonymous back in the fifties. This whole gallery is filled with similar works, possibly from the same artist, from different periods of his creation. They present different emotions; for example, red rage, blue bitterness, black bleakness, orange optimism and this piece", I nodded towards it, "white emptiness. It is said that white is the only period without the alliteration in its name because either he was too lazy to think of it, or there just wasn't an emotion that started with 'w'. He could have used wrath. Or wonder. Or wanderlust. But he was empty, so it might represent the lack of spirit or will to live. Release is said to be the last work he has ever done. Maybe because they think it's unfinished."

A brief silence followed.

"It's a blank canvas", he said. And yes, his voice was equally blank.

"It makes you think about the meaning of life."

"Does it?"

The poor man was really confused.

I made a face which vaguely looked like regret, and sure enough, his laughter filled the tourist-packed halls. He wasn't afraid of being too loud, or being judged.

"It's truly the blankest of canvases."

"…Fuck… Fuck me, that's perfection. Do you know how many zeros does it sell for? I wanna guess."

"I do."

"Let's get married then… five zeros?"

"Six. Don't give promises you can't keep."

"Fuck."

I looked at him with a small smile threatening to force its way on my face. I was enjoying myself in his company, which was not that hard, since I haven't conversed with people from my own age group in weeks.

"You're lucky that all these people don't speak English. I don't think they'd like your language."

"Call myself triggered", he said and nodded towards my tourists. "You a tourist guide?"

"Yeah."

"Do I have to pay for a tour to spend some time with you or is there another way?" His flirting shocked me. I don't think anybody ever flirted with me, let alone that obviously. "Also, if you're taken or not interested, tell me and I won't go into this relationship with any romantic conotations."

"You're on a hunt, I see?" I said as I raised my rainbow umbrella so my tourists would gather around me.

"All friends I had died in a submarine accident. Tragically." We reached a point where half of the time I didn't know whether he was joking or not, and it's not like his type of humour didn't run through my fields.

I told the group that we were going to the main square, and that I end my tour there. As they were walking out of the gallery, I turned to my lipstick-wearing friend.

"I'm thinking about accepting your offer. Only if you tell me your name."

"My bad." He sticks his hand out and I shake it with vigour. "My name is Juno. What's yours?"

I was going to answer, but I stopped. I didn't want to give him a name I disliked and never used. It definitly had something to do with finding myself, but I didn't know at the time.

"You can call me M."

He didn't push it, and I can't describe how relieved I was.

We walked out in front of the group, and I didn't even get to talk to him because a couple of seniors wanted to know about my Chinese heritage and I had to dig out everything I knew about my dad's side of the family until they left me alone and I returned to Juno.

"Very hot. How did you learn Chinese?"

"No, not you too. I will tell you on our second date." I think that, his confidence boosted mine. "I'm impressed you knew it was Chinese. Most people don't."

"I know many things which I may or may not use in life."

I decided to test him.

"Cat eyeliner?"

"Of course."

"Wine tasting?"

"A fun week in Italy."

"Tango?"

He cocked his head to the side and made a 'hm' noise. By then we had reached the square, and I let my tourists take photos.

"I don't know how to tango. Now that you put this thought into my head, you have to be my dance partner."

"I can't dance."

"Neither."

"Give me a moment."

I thanked the group for hanging in and listening to the history of the city I was born in, and then I gave them maps and send them on their way. They were like my little ducklings, and I was a proud parent. I turned to Juno.

"You suggested this date. You choose where we go."

"Into the wilderness."

For the first time in a long while, I had something to do after my tour. Usually I sat across one of the many statues and sleep behind my sunglasses until my next tour, but I had a feeling that Juno wasn't going to allow it.

"I'm going to hold your hand", he announced. "For a pure and innocent reason."

"Which is?"

He offered me his hand, and I hesitated a bit.

"We're going to be faster if you follow me. I don't think you know this bar."

It was time for me to step out of my comfort zone for once, and what better way than hold a stranger's hand as he leads you god knows where?

"Alright." He smiled when my hand slipped into his. "But I have to be back here three hours from now." He tilted his head to the side.

"We might have to run."

We ended up running anyway, because it started raining afterwards.

The bar he lead me to was dark and themed with Spanish flags and dancers.

"You go order", he told me, letting go of my hand, "I'll go get the best spot." He walked away, but I still had questions.

"What are you drinking?"

"Surprise me."

Oh, I will, I thought as I ordered. First, I called my work colleague to take over my next group of tourists. I need to be responsible. But he should have known better than challenge me. I am too competitive for my own good.

I walked around the small bar until I found him, slamming the two whiskey tumblers against the wooden table.

"Is that a threat or a promise?" he said with a smirk.

"I can outdrink you."

"Don't make me repeat myself."

If I learned one thing from high school, it's how to drink.

I nodded towards his drink, holding up mine.

"C'mon." He took the tumbler and clinked it against mine.

"Cheers, darling." I drank before answering.

"Hold away from the pet names yet, this is still the first date."

"And you bought me whiskey", he said, drinking considerably less than me. Hah. It felt great. "You either want to get me hammered or bed me, and none of it is happening tonight."

Conversation got more relaxed after that.

"I think I should shave", he said, completely off topic. I was just finishing my whiskey, and I was ready for more, while he was struggling.

"I like your beard."

"Yeah, but my beard is ruining my lipstick."

"Do as you wish", I said and touched his glass with my fingernail. "And… you're not finishing it?" The look he gave was absolutely priceless.

"Whiskey is like a woman. It needs to be enjoyed slowly until reaching ecstasy."

I coughed, hiding my laughter.

"Oh yeah. Just to behave as humans and all…" I said, notifying the waitress to bring us more of the delicious, deadly alcohol. "I'm obliged to ask for your pronouns."

"I believe that people take gender too seriously. Pronouns don't really matter to me, but I appreciate you asking in case they matter to somebody else."

It's true that I was uncomfortable asking. Nobody discussed gender with me when I was a kid, and I didn't go around asking every frilly female and every lumberlike male their pronouns. In Juno's case, it was necessary to ask. Add in the fact that I was a bit tipsy, and that's where you get this new, open version of me.

"And you?" he asked, in the most gentle way. I just shook my head, not trying to offend him or anything, but I just didn't know how else to reply. "Alright. That's fine with me." He eyed the two tumblers the waitress brought us with disapproval. "You're trying to kill me."

"What doesn't kill you. Actually, everything kills you, if you put it in perspective."

"No, reel it back in, we were having such a great time and now you talk about death."

"I live in a town which is full of statues of dead people, it must've rubbed off on me at some point", I simply shrugged.

After I finished both my whiskey and his, he declared me to be the drinking champion, and we headed our separate ways. I thought that the last image I would have of him would be the one of him with rain, ruining his make-up and making him slip on the stone tiling which was all over the town.

I know many poets, artists, musicians who lived here and have museums dedicated to them who would like to blame destiny for everything. Something good happened, they'd say it was destiny. Something bad, also destiny, because there is no way we could have avoided it.

They'd also say that Juno calling my phone the following day was a sort of destiny, that he had to search through phonebooks to find me and after he had given up all hope, he would find me. In reality, he went through my phone when I went to the bathroom.

"Hola, tango partner. Our deal still on?" were the words he greeted me with.

"Juno? It's eight in the morning", I stated, filled with superfluous intention.

"I have a friend who's willing to teach us tango an hour from now."

"Were you actually serious?" I had a hangover, and all my insecurity and the lack of confidence flooded into my brain.

"M, if you intend to be my friend with an open option for more, you have to understand one thing. I'm always serious."

"About your friends dying in a submarine?"

"It's called sarcasm. Now, do you know where Pablo's dancing studio is or do I have to drag you to it?"

"I could have work", I told him, but in reality, I just wanted to hear his reaction.

"No, you don't. Your tour agency doesn't work Mondays and Wednesdays."

"Why do you know… You know what, I don't even care."

"Meet me on the main square half an hour from now. Bye."

I was considering not going. In my mind, it was filled with uncomfortable moments and Juno deciding that I was too stiff and to precise to let myself go. In reality, I never did things like this. I never drank whiskey before six with strangers, I never went to dancing classes, and I never flirted. Around him, the word 'never' managed to disappear.

He didn't even give me a chance to say no.

I downed a glass of milk in hope to fight my hangover and got dressed. After some consideration, I packed my dress shoes in my backpack, just in case he actually made me dance.

I was on the main square, feeling stupid. I've always felt too tall and willowy standing up around people, so I generally sat down. My mother always told me that I could be a model if only I had narrower shoulders and more hips, but the thought of having pounds of make-up on my face made me feel sick to my stomach. Also, I liked my shoulders. They were the only thing about me which wasn't thin and 'delicate' looking.

He came from behind, and scared the living daylights out of me.

"Boo", he said, using my shoulders as leverage for jumping. "Are ya ready to tango?"

"No loud noises, please", I groaned and turned to him. "Didn't the whiskey affect you even a little bit?"

"Darling, I drank one glass. My mother used to drink one for breakfast regularly."

"And I drank three." I shook my head and started following him. "I can hold my alcohol but that only means that I'm going to regret it next morning."

"Don't have any regrets", he advised me, and somehow it hit me more than all the psychology lessons I had in school and all the times people told me the same exact words. Because, out of all these people, all of them had regrets. Juno either had one huge regret, or none at all.

"Shall we?" he asked, and, when I nodded, tangled our fingers loosely and headed forwards.

I wasn't used to just holding hands. Usually my couple of relationships began with kissing or even more, and holding hands was just a marker for others to know that we hooked up. This felt nice. Like I was in first grade again, and boys and girls were gross to the opposite gender. Holding hands was a compromise.

It didn't feel like a compromise with Juno.

"Do you have the entire day free?" he asked as we strolled around the streets, and to me it seemed like there was no particular route we were following, but I guess he knew. Even if he didn't, he sure as hell made it seem he did.

While I was considering answering, another thought appeared in my mind.

"Are you dying?" He didn't miss a beat.

"No, I'm not."

Cue the longest period of silence I ever had near him.

"May I ask why you think that?"

"Because you're so relaxed. Doing things normal people don't usually do and not worrying what other people thing. As if you were to die tomorrow." He nodded along to my short-lived speech.

"That's the reason I don't have many friends. I tend to go through life face-first, with my heart on my sleeve. I just… don't want to miss out on anything. I see it like this—our life is an all-you-can-eat table… and it's filled with food I never ate before. I don't know if you understand."

"I think I do." But I didn't feel the same. I felt like life is a foggy forest, and I needed to find my way out.

"That's my reason. I don't have cancer, I'm not suicidal, and I don't have a mental condition. I don't think it's insane, wanting to enjoy life."

"It's not, but most people don't."

"I think you already noticed that I'm not most people."

But I am, I wanted to tell him. I want to leave a calm life without much interfering. Or, rather, I wanted.

We arrived in front of a small dance studio and went in.

"Hola, Pablo?" Juno called out. "His English is a bit shaky, but you know Spanish, so that's fine."

"Why do you know that I speak Spanish?" I think that by that point I should've just stopped asking.

"Carmen at the bar speaks only Spanish. You had to order whiskey somehow."

I shook my head, and he took off his shoes.

"You might want to do the same. It slides better", he said, and, to prove his point, skated around the floor a bit. I started untying my shoelaces, and Juno went to find Pablo.

When he returned, I was shoeless, and he was Pabloless.

"He's not here. I'll text him we're in his studio, and wait for his reply." He typed out a message and put his phone in the chest pocket of his t-shirt. "Can you waltz?"

"No?"

"I'll teach you. Come here", he said, and I slid my way to him. "Hands out."

"How?"

He took my hand and put it on his back, and leaned his palm against my shoulder. It was different than I was used to, because I'm pretty sure he put me in the male position, but it was comfortable. I liked the warmth of his back against my hand, and a thought about sleeping next to him hit my brain like a speeding train. I shook it off somehow.

"You're taller, so…" he said, explaining our arrangement. "Okay, now follow my feet."

Pablo didn't come, but Juno managed to teach me the basics of waltz in less than an hour. He even found some music online to which we could dance.

"We need to find a place where we can show off our moves", he said when we walked out on the street. I was carrying my shoes in my backpack, regretting the fact that I carried them all the way here, and now all the way back.

"Vienna", I suggested, "a couple hundred years ago."

"I meant something today", he smiled, but didn't say anything about the location.

"A rave party."

"Great. A bunch of break-dancers and us, waltzing in the middle of it all." He squeezed my hand. "Great idea."

"Don't even think about it."

"Now you know I will."

It started like that. Innocent enough, gave me motivation to move beyond my comfort zone and do things I wouldn't usually do. And he never pushed it. He knew my limits very well and he never crossed them.

We had held hands and flirted, and that was about it. I always felt that he might make the next move, because that's what I was used to, but after a couple of months, I stopped worrying that he will get me drunk and out of nowhere try to do whatever with me.

One day I didn't reply to his morning text. In fact, I took a day off, and stayed in bed until I had a reason to do otherwise. I had to know that he would be at my door in no time.

There was a knock, and I didn't reply. Then he went through my cactus shelf and found my key behind one of it. He entered quietly.

"Hey, are you here?" he asked.

"Yeah."

He followed the sound of my voice to my bedroom. I was still under the covers, and he sat next to me.

"You want to tell me what's wrong?" he asked. By then I learned to be direct with him, otherwise we'd dance around one subject for hours and make no progress what-so-ever.

"Ten years ago my grandparents were in a car crash. I was a teenager back then and it hit me pretty hard, the fact that people that I used to see every day suddenly weren't there, didn't exist."

"Anything I can do to help?" he asked, and suddenly I couldn't sit still anymore. I threw the covers off of me and headed towards my wardrobe.

"Yes. I want you to go with me to church." He glanced down at his painted fingernails and looked back at me with one eyebrow raised. "Don't tell me I found one thing you don't want to do."

"I have no problem with churches. Churches have a problem with me."

"Me too, but we don't matter in this whole story, okay?" He nodded, as if understanding completely. "I want to light them a candle. That's the least I can do."

I grabbed my clothes and gave him a quick look-down.

"You look like the 90s chewed you up and spat you out."

"Honey, I had to earn this choker."

"By killing a hipster?"

"Perhaps."

We exited my flat, with only our fingers touching. I could sense, for the first time since I've known him, that he wasn't throwing himself fully in whatever activity we picked for that day. I understood why. Church people and religious people are two different people. Church people are people who go to church (obviously), but they go to appear like they care an ounce about God, while in real life, they gossip about their neighbours not being in the church. Religious people, and I consider myself to be one of them, didn't care whether they go to church or not, and they don't care about differences in race, gender, sexuality. They care about certain qualities, behaviours, and generally being a good person.

Church people wouldn't accept Juno or me. Lucky for me, I don't care about them.

The church we were going to was small, far from the tourist area, because I found that churches visited by tourists don't have the serenity local churches always had.

I was born into a Christian family. My mother's religion always bled into every aspect of my life, while my father wasn't a religious man himself. When I think about my childhood, I always think of Easter and Christmas with my mom and my dad. I have no bitterness towards religion. But, as Juno said, it obviously has something against me.

I let go of his hand when we entered, and headed to the place where small candles were. I took out my lighter I had since my smoking high school years, and took a candle into my hands.

"For M's grandparents", Juno said.

"May they rest in peace", I added, and lit it. We watched the flame flicker a bit, then catch on. As I put the candle back, he sat down, and I went to sit next to him.

"It's a pretty church", he said, looking up at the rosetta windows.

"It has an ugly soul", I said, and explained further. "My parents and I used go here when I was younger. Even then I noticed people, mostly older women, looking at us like we don't belong here. But never mind. I still think that people make a church, but God makes faith."

"You believe in God?"

"Yes. Not necessarily following the rules of the religion", I took hold of his hand, "but I do."

"It's great to have something to believe in."

We sat in silence for maybe less than half a minute when a silver-haired woman walked up to us, and almost aggresively pushed Juno's shoulder.

"What are you doing?! This is a house of God, how dare you walk in looking like that?!" Even though I personally thought that he was decent-looking, at least more than usual, apparently she had something against his skirt. I knew that Juno could fight for himself, but I couldn't help it.

"I believe it's none of your business, how he looks."

She narrowed her eyes at me and our linked hands.

"I know you. Your grandparents died here years ago, and you had the courage to bury them here. Filthy immigrants. They would be rolling in their graves if they knew about your affair."

I got up and nearly went at her, but Juno got up between us.

"Okay, M. Don't. She's not worth it." He pulled me away from her, and turned to the woman. "Nobody can judge us but God. Lucky for me, I don't believe in him. Thank you for nothing."

We didn't talk as he dragged me away from the church, and I cursed the world around me in silence. He stopped near a park and sat us down.

"M. Please calm down."

"But—"

"Listen. Close your eyes."

I did as he said, with my breathing still erratic. I don't know why she set me off like that. I heard people talk about me and about Juno many times before, and I ignored them. It was too personal this time, I guess. He put his hands on my arms.

"First, handle your breathing, otherwise you'll begin hyperventilating. I know firsthandedly." His touch didn't make things easier, but it did help with my thoughts. "Don't let people like her get to you. Because they're uneducated. Poor in their prejudice. They can't see past their stereotypes. And they don't matter. And you know what matters."

The air became thin, and I could sense expectation in the air. I can't say I was surprised when his lips touched mine.

His hands were around my neck, and I allowed mine to circle his waist. When he moved away, I kept my eyes closed, and he started laughing.

"What, you told me to close my eyes."

"Not for an indefinite amount of time."

"You didn't specify."

I opened my eyes and, when I saw his lipstick all messed up, I wiped my mouth, and for the first time in my life, I didn't mind having make-up on my face.

"Note to self", he said, not even trying to fix it, "no more lipstick in your presence, if this is going to become a permanent thing."

"It just might."

Not even a week later, he called me around three in the morning.

"No."

"… I didn't even say hello."

"It doesn't matter. It's not worth it. You saw me five hours ago, I'm sure it can wait."

"It's about—"

"I have a hangover and work tomorrow morning. Please."

"What if I told you that I can free you of work tomorrow?"

I straightened up in my bed and stretched, knowing that I'll have to get up, now that he got me interested.

"I allow you to voice your thoughts, and if I deem them irrelevant, you're buying me coffee for the rest of the month."

"If you can pack a suitcase with a week's worth of clothes in less than an hour, and be at the airport not a minute after four thirty five—"

"What the fuck", I whispered. I didn't expect that I would be flying anywhere.

"I need a date to a wedding in Spain, and since Spain seems to be a recurring motif, who is a better date than you."

I started packing at that very second.

"You say that like you have many options."

"Who says I don't?"

"Then show me your bloody harem. Wait."

"What?"

"I don't know what to wear."

He started laughing, and I pouted, even though he wasn't there to see me.

"Ah, dear… if that's the worst problem you have…"

"It's a problem never-the-less." I said, feeling my stomach twist at his words. That was probably the first time he used a pet name for me, and it made me feel like smiling.

"Wait, you go pack and I'll go right your wrongs, okay?"

He hung up before I could reply. When I packed up, my phone rang againg.

"Oh, good, I was worried you fell asleep again."

"I'd never."

"The whole clothes situation is under control. Are you all set?"

"Of course."

"I'm in a taxi right outside your place, come on. Don't forget to lock the door and feed the cat."

He said that because I did leave it open once, and a stray cat wandered into my flat. Juno insisted that we keep it, and now it comes over my window every now and then. Her name is Terminator 2000, and it was not my choice.

"Piss off", I said and hung up.

I locked my flat and didn't feed the cat. Out of the building, there was a taxi, so I put my suitcase in the trunk and joined Juno in the back.

"Good evening", he said. He was in his less flashy edition, because he also must have just woken up, and I must say that, even though he looked good even without make-up, I missed his red lipstick.

"Good morning", I yawned. "I call abuse, it's cruel to wake me up like that. What did you tell my boss?"

"That you were going on a funeral of your mother's sister's son's ex-girlfriend."

I shook my head.

"The amount of bullshit that comes out of your mouth is unbelieveable." He tried to hide a smile, because he could already tell what was about to happen.

"Don't you think that my mouth was meant for better things?" I sighed before giving in and kissing him.

"Awful. There are better ways to get my kisses, you know."

"I'm willing to discover them all."

I don't think I've ever blushed until I met him.

Te flight was rather uneventful. Juno fell asleep, but I couldn't close my eyes gor a long period of time. Even though I flew every once in a while to pick up tourists from different parts of the world, I still didn't like it. Maybe because I didn't have control, and was unable to let myself go, as Juno had told me many times before. I think that he managed to change that part of me, if nothing else. He changed me for the better.

When we arrived, we spend an hour waiting for my suitcase.

"You should always have a colourful suitcase. It doesn't get lost as easily." I decided to believe him, because his arrived half an hour before mine.

From then on, we walked to our hotel using maps and my knowledge of Spanish. An experience I would never relive again, but at least Juno had heaps of fun as I tried to filter all the swearing for his listening pleasure. We both learned a couple of new swearwords that day.

When we left our suitcases in our hotel room, Juno went and introduced me to the family. I forgot most of their names, but was impresses never-the-less by the fact that Juno knew all of them.

The bride was a hyper brunette who looked like she could shoot guns in high heels, and she squealed like a child when she saw Juno and me.

"Dios mio!" she exclaimed as she threw herself into Juno's arms. "You did come! You know, José told me you wouldn't, but I told him that you would rather die… and you are?" she asked, with one hand still around his shoulders.

"His date?" I said, trying not to stare at the bright smile giving in to a wicked grin on his face.

"Is that a question or an answer?" she teased me. "I'm kidding. Anybody deemed good enough by Juno is good enough by me too. You're practically family, come here." And she pulled me into a hug. While her head was on my shoulder, I threw Juno a 'help me' look.

'Give in', he mouthed to me, and I tried to do as he advised, without much success.

The same story happened with the groom, but he didn't hug me, which I greatly appreciated.

I didn't realise I had an issue with physical contact before. I generally didn't hug people easily, kissed if I had to, not to even mention how uncomfortable sex was for me. By that time, I began realising why. Because of my body, and the fact I didn't like the way people saw it. That's why being with Juno was different. He understood.

The bride and the groom saw more people as more helping hands, so they gave us enough work to occupy us for days. Somehow we finished just before midnight.

When some things happen, your brain makes a big deal out of it. And sometimes, it goes naturally.

That night I slept next to him for the first time, if you don't count the time we decided to repeat our drinking competition, and he completely blacked out, so I had to carry him to his flat and I fell asleep on his sofa. I decided not to count it.

It felt comfortable. He wasn't too warm or too cold, and didn't toss and turn. Thoughts of what could have happened if we weren't so tired made my breathing stutter, and they lulled me to sleep.

The wedding was in the morning. I woke up to a tuxedo on the chair, shower sounds, and a note ducktaped to my hand.

'The tux—yours for the day. It should be your size, but I eyeballed it, so there's that. Find Mario and thank him for it. The ceremony starts around nineish, so get ready. I do hope you have brought shoes.'

Since he was in the bathroom, I tried the tuxedo on. It fit, surprisingly, for the most part, but the sleeves were a tad short. Still, a tux is a tux, and it filled me with childish joy. Because he knew me better than I knew myself at the time.

He came out of the bathroom blowdrying his hair.

"Morning", he said, looking me up and down. "You look…"

"Silly?"

"Mindblowing." I smiled. I did a ridiculous twirl and made him laugh before I went to find my shoes.

The wedding itself was a strange experience. It was on a language I hadn't spoken properly for years, and I'm sure Juno understood even less. But he behaved.

The afterparty was another thing entirely. Loud music, short dresses, and a lot of alcohol. Even though me and an occasonal brandy share a history, I didn't drink a drop. I wanted to feel the night in its fullest. I danced, talked with people. I hadn't felt that relaxed in years. And all that time, I didn't let go of Juno's hand.

When it was early in the morning, they went easy on the music and played a tune the both of us recognised.

"Waltz?" I asked, feeling his hand moving on my back into the right position.

"The best song to end the evening?" he yawned. "I'm afraid I'm tired of dancing. It's been nice and all, but weddings are exhausting."

"I agree", I said, and leaned my head against his.

"I…" he started. "I love that you are here with me today."

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. With anybody else."

He kissed my neck and relaxed against my shoulder.

The song finished, and he let go of me briefly to notify the newlyweds we were going. Then he took my head and we walked to our hotel room slowly.

"Is this going to be a permanent thing with you? Flying around the world? Because I don't think I would mind it."

He grinned.

"I have a couple of gals planning a wedding in Australia for the next year. I'm afraid that flying around the world is a possibility." He unlocked the door and we went inside. "You go change first."

"Okay, boss", I teased him. He looked up at me and winked, and the thoughts from yesterday floated up, so I disappeared into the bathroom.

I glanced at the mirror, and seeing myself in a tuxedo made me stop and think. I liked what I saw. And everything sunk into place. Who I was, why I was here, and what I was doing. I started laughing at my reflection—finally. Finally, I felt light and airy. Because I was free. I had a life of my own and I could make it whatever I wanted it to be.

There was a knock on the door.

"Juno?"

"You okay?" he entered the bathroom. "Well, you seem happy."

"I... I think I know."

"That's great", he said and and walked up to me to wrap his hands around my torso. "What exactly is it that you know, may I ask?"

"I want to use the pronoun 'he' from now on."

"Mkay. It's good that you know who you are. You picked a name yet?"

I had considered it before, to find a gender-neutral name for myself, but I thought it worked well either way.

"I like the name Maddox. I think that's my name from now on."

"You've finally quit being indecisive. That's phenomenal", he said softly and kissed that one spot on my neck again. I leaned into him completely, but then he turned me around and kissed me properly, and we would have gone at it at that very moment, if it wasn't for one minor detail.

"The tuxedo. Juno, I have to return it."

He sighed and pulled away.

"Well, take it off then."

There was challenge in his voice, and I'm not the one to not take it.

"Out. I'll join you on the bed in five minutes."

"Don't make me wait."

I kissed him once again, short and fast, before shoving him out of the room.

When I was alone, I took off the tuxedo and folded it. I felt like I was breathing with both lungs for the first time when I turned the light off and went into the bedroom. He had turned the light off, so I felt my way to the chair and left the clothes on it.

"Juno?" I called out.

"Maddox?" he returned, lightning-fast. I laughed, giddy like a child.

"Yeah, by the way, thanks for helping me figure that out."

"Me? I did nothing."

But when I melted into the mattress, when my body melted into his and when our lips met, I couldn't help feeling that he helped, in his own special way.

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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Fri Aug 05, 2016 9:28 pm

Okay, I don't know who's in the worst position. Me, buying condoms because the producer suddenly wants water-balloons in the music video, or she, in a wheelchair, looking at the shelf of lube with complete disinterest on her face.

"It's not what it looks like", I say, god knows why. To save my supposed reputation, I would assume.

"Uh huh", she says, her voice and expression dead. "Honestly? I don't care what you do."

She seems a bit familiar, not in the 'I woke up next to you and I'm never drinking Guiness again', but in the 'you were on TV when they were filming a reportage on the main square and you looked at the camera' way. So I decide to keep the conversation going.

"Don't take the scented one. It will give you a rash." What? Am I out of my mind? I don't even use lube! One guy I worked with gave me that very valuable piece of information, and I decided to share it with the world, it seems. She looks at me with a look of evil.

"God, can't you take a hint?"

"I am not god, I'm pretty sure. Also you insulted at least five religions by saying that god is young black pop singer who has spiderbites and neon pink dip-died hair."

"What are you talking about?" I should stop talking now. But I don't.

"I'm talking about myself, and the fact that I'm not god."

Her mouth is open, and her icy grey-blue eyes stare at me in disbelief.

"Why do you keep on talking?" At least for this question I have an answer which is not pulled out of my ass.

"Because you keep on asking questions."

She closes her mouth shut.

"That's actually a pretty reasonable reason", she says, and I swear, is she smiling? I'm pretty sure she is smiling. OH MY GOD IS THAT TERRI WALTER??

"Oh my god, are you Terri Walter?" I watch her smile disappear as quickly as it appeared, but I don't care, because she's my childhood idol Terri Walter, and I know all of her songs, and even though she went brunette, apparently, she looks as good as in the nineties, as a pop-dance superstar.

"For… for fuck's sake." She could be worshipping Satan, because from this point on, I don't think I care what she has to say.

"I love your work! You are the reason I began singing in the first place!" That's a massive lie, the latter one. I sang years before her, but never mind. You can lie a little when you meet celebrities, or at least I hope so.

"Oh, great", she says, with the fakest and the most sour smile I've seen in possibly years. "Just make sure you have autotune."

"Don't be so negative!… Hey." My optimism fell flat. "What ha—I mean, why are you in a wheelchair?"

"It's nothing", she says, ready to take her lube and get the fuck out of here. "I'll walk in less than a year."

"That's great. I was worried it was something serious, like cancer or paralysis or death. Ooh, ooh! Terri Walter?" I asked. The bestest idea just appeared in my mind and pulled at my ears and my mouth and I just had to say it.

"You don't know when to stop." That wasn't a question, but I continued nevertheless.

"Do you want to listen to my album? It's only a demo but it's just missing the guitar and it's going to be big. By big I mean huge."

She looks like she is genuinly considering it, and I am willing to drop the whole condom-waterballoon fiasco if Terri Walter listens to half of a single song I worked on.

"Do you have an empty trunk where my wheelchair can fit?" In the back of my trunk is a blanket and a dog bowl because of my ex-roommate who had a dog who was sick all the freaking time, and I will gladly get rid of it if Terri Walter rides in my beat-up car.

"Of course. You picked your lube yet?"

At this very moment, an old lady passes by our row and the look she gives us is the most precious thing. No, I'm wrong. The most precious thing is the fact that Terri Walter sticks her middle finger up at the lady.

"Dude", I gasp. "I didn't know Terri Walter has balls the size of the freaking moon."

"Stop calling me my full name. Just Terri is fine." She grabs the first package of lube she can find and rolls out of the row with grace. I follow her, nearly skipping. While she's paying, she sends lightning bolts from her eyes directed towards the cashier, and he doesn't say a word apart from 'hello' and 'goodbye'. I admire her for a couple of seconds, wishing I had her social skills, before realising. Shoot. I have to guide her to my car.

"This way, m'lady." I say and walk slowly and carefully to Ross. Ross is my car, named after the artist who spraypainted it to look like a racing car. The paint is chipped at some places because I still can't do parallel parking, okay. She rolls past me to Ross.

"You have to be kidding me. Simply have to."

"This is Ross", I say, grinning. I'm such a proud mama. Ross has been with me for ages and I don't think I'm replacing him any time soon.

"You have no taste at all."

"Of course I do. But my taste seems to be different than yours, which is strange because I vaguely remember you having green highlights in your hair, and that's exactly my taste." She doesn't reply.

I unlock the door and watch her miraculously occupy the shotgun seat. I have Terri Walter in my car!

"Do I fold the chair?" I ask, even though I have absolutely no idea how to actually do it.

"There's a switch on it, I coloured it yellow." Her voice is blank, probably because she's admiring the barely-scratched leather seats.

I find the yellow switch and I pull it, and the wheelchair becomes flat. So very pleased with myself. I put Mr Chair into the trunk and entered Ross. No pun intended.

"You didn't tell me your name", she says when I close the door and turn the engine on.

"Gigi", I say. She'll probably sooner recognise my stage name than my real one.

"Yeah, and I wrote all of my songs. What's your real name?"

"Gaia Symons", I say with a pout. People have told me before that my stage name is like a stripper name, but I don't have enough butt to be a stripper. As for the boob area, I think it's fine as it is.

I toyed with my radio until I found my demo album, and played it.

"Betcha you don't know my real, I mean full name", she says, and it feels like a challenge, even though her face doesn't give me that impression. Oh, honey, I know your place and date of birth, your parents' names and your favourite food at the time.

"Theresa."

"Colour me impressed."

I don't think that the realisation of what happened struck me yet. Terri Walter is listening to my album in Ross. I will repeat this in my brain until it sinks in, and then I will go to my flat and scream until my vocal chords break.

"Where am I driving you to?" I say, and then hum to my tunes. I really like the beat of Traitor, it's one of the first one we edited and it has a great bass, if I do say so myself.

"My house?" she asks and looks out. "You can play your songs there, I invested in a grand piano about ten years ago."

"Don't play the piano. Never had the chance, plus they're very expensive."

"That's a shame", she says, probably the first nice thing she told me. "If you want to be a proper musician, you have to learn either guitar or piano, or in my case, both."

She also played marimba for a short period of time. I know too much about her, but even though I should feel guilty, I don't.

"I play the flute. Six torturous years of music school, but I guess I'm good at it." She shakes her head.

"Turn left here. You can't sing and play the flute at the same time, you know."

"I generally dont perform live."

She sighs with enough force to blow my car away all the way up to Washington.

"You're one of those."

"One of what exactly? I'm trying not to be offended here." I kind of lie, because get that sort of comment a lot, mostly from my family who hate my 'talent' being wasted on mainstream music. But it's not like I want people to listen to my music and think about how talented I am or how good are the lyrics. I want them to listen and have fun, dance a bit. It's kissing music, I called it that once. A music which makes you feel like a teenager again. But obviously Terri had something against it.

"You make music for others, and not for yourself. Stop, for goodness sake!" I might have driven through a red light. Oops. She looks at me again, and it's a miracle there isn't steam coming out of her ears. "Who gave you a driving licence?"

"A nice man in LA."

"Did you have to suck his dick to get it?" I pout.

"No need to use such crude language, Ms Walter."

She rolls her eyes and relaxes a bit. Well, as much as she can, because I actually drove through a red light and we miraculously survived.

"How old are you again?"

"Twenty four. And you are…" I do the math in my head and raise my eyebrows at the number which results. "Thirty? Wow, that's a lot. It's been a long time since you were popular."

"I could be your father", she says, and I'm not sure whether it's meant to be a joke or not, but I can't help but giggle because of the pure ridiculousness of that sentence. It's awful, but because it's so awful it's so funny to me. And… is she smiling? She definitely looks at me and smiles! Heavens above, she has emotions! I'm pleasantly surprised. "Thats…" she's trying not to laugh and that makes her laugh even more, "that's probably the worst joke I made in years, and you think it's the best joke in history."

"It's funny." Isn't that the beginning of one of her songs? I immediately start singing it. "'It's funny when you smile at me like that', c'mon, sing along." Her mood drops faster than teenage boy's balls.

"'Smile' is such a bad song, please don't…"

"How can you not like something you've created? It's an incredibly catchy song, you should be proud of it." She just shakes her head.

"Stop here, the red house."

I know Terri Walter's address. Sixteen-year-old me would be thrilled and probably stalk her.

"Red?" I pull over and turn off and lock Ross. "What was in your mind when you decided to colour your house red? I mean, I like it, but it doesn't seem very… present-you." In my mind there was already two versions of her. The one I was a fan of, and this one. The whole point of music is to make people feel happy, and why was she so angry then?

"I made some mildly dubious decision in the past."

I get out and pull out her wheelchair from the trunk.

"Need help?" I ask, but then she moves her legs into the wheelchair and uses her arms to transfer the rest of her body, and that's very confusing, all things considering. "Um. I thought you couldn't walk."

"I can't. My muscles are too weak, but I can move them a bit."

I want to ask her what happened. I don't think she would tell me, though.

It's hard for me, those couple of metres from Ross to her house, because I really want to see her house, and she is so slow. I think on purpose. I resist the urge to push her, because I don't think that's polite.

She takes out the key (which has an old neon yellow keyring, I am so proud of her) and unlocks the door, so I can marvel at the interior.

Huh. When she opens the door, the interior isn't exactly stunning. It's boring, actually. No pictures, no dust-collecting statues, no plants. It feels like a hotel room, and it makes me a bit sad.

Is it possible that after having so much colour in her life she got sick of it and switched to greyscale? I don't think I could ever get sick of colour. It's like someone would tell me that I would get bored of happiness. But, when I look at it, she got bored of happiness also. Maybe that means something.

She leads me through the rooms until we reach her living room, and here there's a bunch of pictures. Finally. Proof that she has a soul. But when I look at them more closely, I see that they're all recent, and the oldest one I can see is from a New Year's Eve party of 2005, where she still had a bit of highlights and where she has her hands around a couple of guys. Most of them are pictures of buildings and landscapes, with an occasional hairline and sunglasses appearing on the bottom of the frame. Honestly, it feels like she printed out a photography blog.

"Pretty pictures", I comment.

"I travelled a lot", she says and glances at the right side of the room. I didn't pay it much attention because I was looking for anything that would tell me she was human, but now that I look at it…

A piano. A gorgeous, sleek black concert piano

She looks at it, with her eyes full of thoughts.

"It's so awesome", I say. I want to touch it.

"Had to destroy a wall to fit it, but yeah." I skip over to the piano and hold myself back from touching it. Instead, I sit on the stool and wait for her to come and open it. Even though I can't play it. Fuck that, I know how to read sheet music and that's enough, right?

"Did you name it? You should totally name it. And spraypaint to look like a race car or something. I know a guy."

"No", is her answer before I can even finish my last sentence. "You're not touching her."

"It's a she", I nod. "Amanda."

"No. You can't name her. I forbid it." She parks the vehicle next to me, opens the piano and removes the protection cloth thingy. Then, she stops, with her eyes glued to the keys.

"Elisabeth. Lindsey. Catherine."

"Stop", she says, and there's something in her voice which I can't define. "I haven't played in so long."

"Me too. Twenty four years is a long time."

"You played as a fetus?"

Ha. Good one.

"I meant never. I was trying to put it in perspective." I laugh, and I'm pretty sure she never laughed in this room. I christened it.

"Um", she shakes her head and looks away, "you said something about your songs? I don't have a flute, but if you have sheet music for it, I can back you up."

Terri Walter wants to play a song I wrote! Okay, I will stop, it started getting on my nerves. Celebrities are human also.

I usually don't have sheets for my music because I edit everything in the program, where I can put everything in key and call it a day, but some of my older works were written by my college friend Frankie, so I do have sheets for them.

"Yeah, wait", I say as I go through my phone to find them. "But they're for guitar."

"And I'm out of practice, and it's a pop song. I'm not expecting anything groundbreaking."

Ouch. I should probably stop feeling around her, because my feelings will only get hurt.

I get up to move over so she can play properly and put the phone on the stand. She plays a couple of test chords, and even though that warming up could sound so cool, yet again I haven't heard classical music since I finished music school.

"Okay, what's the name of the song? The story behind it?"

"… I was bored and I wanted to write a song, so I wrote some lyrics?"

She seems dismissive about my answer, but she doesn't comment. When she glances at my phone, she groans.

"Who in their righteous mind decides to write a pop song in G sharp?"

"My friend Frankie."

"Apparently."

She starts playing. The song on the piano sounds more smooth jazz than pop, because she plays it slower than Frankie did. I sing along, and, wow, it's been a while since I sang 'Bring Peace and Love'. It's really good, I have to thank Frankie again for giving me to use it freely. I might as well shove it somewhere in the album, as an acoustic bonus.

She adds some extra harmonies, I notice, which probably aren't possible on guitar, and I know that I want her to play on my album. How cool would that be? A person who inspired me being a part of my crew. I think that's a very inspirational story to tell young children. Dreams come true. Yes, a bit later than you'd expect, and your singer isn't blonde anymore, but it was a dream nevertheless.

She finishes with an added C#G#-C# melody and it makes my whole song seem funny. I punch her shoulder lightly.

"You made my song comical."

"My whole life is comical."

I don't know if she's joking or not. Oh well.

"Have you been in this house for a long time?" I ask, because I still can't get over the fact that her house doesn't look like anyone lives in it.

"I moved in when I moved myself away from the metaphorical lights of fame."

More than ten years ago. I know what I'm buying her for her birthday. Fairy lights and random inexpensive decorations which clash with each other. That's what every house needs, in my opinion. That, and Claudia, how I named her piano.

"Yeah, what's up with that? I, as a fan, never got closure."

She looks at me, and for once she isn't mad. Not at me, at least. Progress has been made.

She sort of faded away from her life as a singer, and to what? Empty existing? I wouldn't be me if I didn't try to stop it. But not yet. She has to explain me her reasons. And then I can force her to admit that she regrets leaving her fans.

"I realised that the toxicity of the industry was getting to me and I got out as fast as I could. I fired my manager and songwriters and band and photographer, and waited for a week until the paparazzi left my old flat alone, and that was it. It's so hard to become relevant, and so easy to become irrelevant."

"Why would you want that?"

"Because I cherish my individuality." She closes the piano loudly, scaring me in the process. "Enough about that, okay? If you liked me even a little bit back then, then you'll let this subject die in the abyss I threw it in."

"Mrs Negative", I call her.

"You would be, too, if you lived through my life."

"Are you kidding me? I would be even more extravagant."

Her gaze lingers on me for a while, thoughtful. And only God (not me) knows what she's thinking about.

"Sure", she says quietly and rolls away to the fridge. "I have some juice things Barb likes, if you want a drink."

"Barbara Santos?!" I squeal. If it is her, well then, um, only the best make-up artist for singers in the world, and Terri's still in touch with her? I knew before that Barbara worked on a couple of Terri's music videos, but are they that close that she has juice things in her fridge because of her? I mean, I guess, apparently.

"Yes. Are you going to continue this first-name-last-name trend with her as well? It's dehumanising."

"It's just that I've always referred to celebs—you guys—in that way. It's become a habit." She pulls out a juice carton and goes on a search to find glasses, I guess.

"Well, that habitual behaviour hurts others, so I think you should stop. Barb and I are humans. Not paper cut-outs."

"I never said that", I say and cross my arms. "No need to attack me."

The glasses are on the top shelf, so she leans her hands against a counter and lifts herself up. When she's stood up properly, she quickly grabs two glasses and puts them against the counter.

"Can I help?" I ask. But then she growls a 'no', and I start feeling useless.

Because I don't mean to make her appear weak or whatever. I'm trying to help because it's easier for me to do. Imagine if you had to play on somebody's wedding, and you don't know how to play any instruments. That means you have to learn to play the instrument first, and then learn the songs they want you to play, whereas a person who can play an instrument can do it much quicker. It's not demeaning. It's convenient, at its worst

"Okay, I won't then."

She pours the juice into the glasses and, in my effort not to help her, I sit down on the sofa and cross my legs. Because, you know, that makes me not want to get up ever again. Because God forbid I help her. Helping is so overrated, pshh.

She puts my glass on the table and returns for hers.

"So." This is my attempt to start a conversation, which is a masked wish that she will actually start it.

"So?" she asks, and my plan backfires on me.

"I'm trying to be nice."

"Don't."

"And end up like you?" I ask, not expecting an answer.

"Probably. Don't end up like me."

"I don't want to, trust me. I don't have any intention to become sad and bitter."

"That's what my friends call me."

I grab my heart (left boob thank you very much) and gasp so hard it hurts my throat.

"You have friends? If I didn't get a heart attack now, I never will. Holy shit."

"I just… wow. Did you think I sit around and sulk all day long?"

"Pretty much, yeah." Well, that was the vision in my mind, at least. But I am suspicious. "How many friends."

She stares at me and her eyes are completely blank.

"At least… probably…"

"Yeah?" I encourage her.

"Threeish."

I close my eyes and take deep breaths in order not to laugh at her. I fail miserably. I take that back, laugh WITH her, because she's definitely laughing as well.

"That's so sad", she says.

"One for each decade of your life", I snicker. "Fair trade."

"No, fuck off."

Our laughing fest takes a moment or few to calm down, and then it's just awkward.

"Should…" I cough, "should I go?" Because this is her house, after all, and I'm an intruder.

She shakes her head, with suspicious vigour, and I feel like I am missing something, except I can't figure out what would I be missing.

"No… you can stay."

Okay. Not weird at all. Her tone became different, and it reminds me of the way she used to do interviews a long time ago. Why do I remember that, you may ask? Shut up, that's why. I remember loads of useless details and this one just happened to be one of them.

Silence follows, and I drink my juice. I take one small sip at the time, and when I'm done, she's still quiet. That kind of confuses me, I would say. Because saying I can stay and then doing nothing about it? Either plain rude, or something else. And since she's emptied the barrel of the rude gun, let's try the other option.

Then, she moves, thank God, she was beginning to look like a statue. Her tongue reaches out for her lower lip and pushes it back so her tooth catches it. I stare at that strange little gesture for a while, and notice that she's staring back.

I'm not completely oblivious, am I? What am I missing?

Her stare migrates from my eyes to my lips.

Oh. OH.

"Um", her voice is low, and a bit scratchy, "you—you can kiss me if you want to."

And until that very moment I didn't know that I wanted to.

Past that moment I don't want to talk about. If you want to know what happened, just go through some fanfiction and it should all be clear to you.

With one final kiss on my neck, she lets herself drop off of me to the left.

"Too old for this", she pants, "but still got it."

"I've never been with a girl before", I confess out loud. That information should've ended up in my thoughts, not my mouth. She runs her hand through her hair, and I think that I like brunette Terri more than blonde. I may be biased.

"You don't know what you're missing."

"… Girls?"

That's the moment when she rolls away from me with a sigh of all sighs.

I fall asleep like somebody shot me dead. But honestly, if I'm about to go, let it be now, because I always wanted to end on a high.

I kinda have a feeling tomorrow will be a low.

I wake up, very promptly covered, and she's not in bed. Just a bit disappointing, the tiniest bit.

It doesn't quite settle in my head just yet. I had sex with Terri Walker. What the fuck, I don't believe my own mouth when I pronounce these words in her bed covered by her blanket. And then I nearly yell a 'what the fuck', but she might have neighbours who wouldn't appreciate.

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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Sat Jun 17, 2017 10:48 pm

It's a day so long that Benedict genuinely, truly believes that God is playing tricks on him.

"What's the address again? I'm sorry, I've been up for seventy-four hours straight", his red-haired chauffeur groans, making a turn and joining a bigger road.

"Er. Firstly, seventy…fiveish?" he says after a glance onto the clock, as if it helps, "and secondly, no bleeding clue. Just drive to a bigger city of sorts. Oh, hell, right now I'll just fall asleep in the car and call it quits."

Benedict's on the driver's side, only the wheel is not in front of him, and when he sees two bright lights heading straight into them, he only has the energy to slam an invisible brake.

-

"Cars are terrifying. Have I said that already?"

"Only about fifty times in the last hour", Ellie says as she watches over Zach's hands, which are doing all the right things to keep the car moving.

"It's such a big machine, and you're surrounded by other machines of similar size, and you're totally dependent on the mental stability of those around you. If, per se, someone in next to you decides to slam your car against the railing, he has full freedom to do so."

Zach's rambling, which is something he tends to do a lot when he's nervous, and then, horrified by his own words, glances at the car driving alongside them, and accidentally swerves.

-

"Zach!"

Then a crash, then some smoke. Ten minutes later, an ambulance siren.

-

"Mr Hewitt, are you with us?"

Zach's eyes open to white and his pulse spikes.

"Where's Ellie?" he asks, and his words come out as a pant. He's in a hospital, he realises, and there are two nurses by his side. He doesn't understand why, though. The only thing that's even remotely hurt is his forehead, but he feels a bandage there so that must be taken care of. They should focus on Ellie and her well-being.

"Your wife is under examination", they explain, "once the doctor's sure that she is fine you can go see her."

And then they're gone, leaving Zach to his own brain, which is already close to boiling with thoughts.

"Hey", he hears a voice but doesn't acknowledge it. "You're Zach?"

'Who is this person who's postponing my mental breakdown', Zach asks himself and turns to look at the person. He'd never guess that such a deep voice is coming from such a small man. Sure, he was tall, but he looked lanky to Zach. Wiry, perhaps.

"Yeah", he says, and that small word requires loads of concentration not to absolutely lose his shit and start running around the hospital screaming.

"I'm Benedict. We crashed into each other", the man says, as if it's the most normal thing in life. A whimper escapes Zach.

Because he's never had someone so important like Ellie in his life, even though he doesn't vocalise it most of the time. The thought of not having her near him most of the day makes him want to build a gun and shoot himself with it.

"It's going to be fine", Benedict continues, stepping over the fact that Zach nearly literally has steam coming out of his ears. "It was no one's fault anyway. The road wasn't properly marked. The main thing is that no one got seriously injured."

"Seriously injured", Zach slurs out.

"Well, yeah", Benedict says. He looks way too calm, and Zach wants to shoot him too, but first he'll shoot himself. "I saw her. Ellie? The blonde? I don't think she was even bleeding."

"Internal bleeding. Rib fragmentation. Concussion", Zach recites. "She doesn't have to bleed to die."

"Christ", Benedict whispers under his breath, "she's not going to die."

"She is."

"Yeah, in fourty to sixty years, judging her health status", Benedict blurts out a number he's not even sure is correct, but it doesn't really matter. When he looks at Zach again, his eyes are full of tears.

"I can't lose her too."

This one hits Benedict a bit harder than it should.

In the next moment, Zach's wide shoulders are in Benedict's embrace, and he's crying his heart out into Benedict's shoulder.

"I mean, shit..." he sobs, "she deserves so much better. She doesn't deserve to be hurt, and especially not by an asshole like me."

Benedict finds himself envious of the man. Almost every day he wishes that Amelia leaves this profession for something less dangerous, and then concludes that her only place is next to him. Of course, his selfish view only ends up in both of them being hurt more than Zach could ever possibly imagine, but it's not like he can stop her. There isn't a single power on Earth, neither floods nor fires, that could stop Amelia in her tracks.

But if only she didn't have to hurt so much.

He finds himself crying as well. Not much, but a tear is shed, and it only makes him want to be in Zach's position more.

-

"Ellie!" Zach barges into the room with the force of four hundred bears and ends in his wife's embrace in what seems like a millisecond. Benedict approaches Amelia with more grace.

Ellie has something black on her leg which Zach doesn't care to identify, but she explains that she has a sprain. Zach's already thought of twenty five ways to make Ellie's life easier until the sprain heals. Number six includes carrying Ellie around.

"Hey, love", Benedict says, his fingers tracing a miniature stitch on Amelia's forehead, on a similar place as Zach's injury. "Everything okay?" She huffs.

"Of course. You act like you don't know me. In fact, I told the doctor I didn't need stitches, but I bet on whatever that he thought I was actually this bloke's wife", Amelia nods at Zach, who's babbling something about wheelchairs, "and he's apparently been threatening to sue the hospital if his wife loses a single drop of blood."

"Anything else", Benedict asks.

"The car's fucked, but at least Howard had a good laugh. He thinks it's because I forgot I wasn't in Britain anymore."

"I love you", Benedict smiles, as if he hadn't said it before. Amelia just rises her head to kiss him.

On the other side of the room, Zach does a similar romantic gesture, by claiming that he'd never drive again. Ellie finds it almost as sweet.
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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Tue Jul 04, 2017 10:09 pm

If people were buildings, Cali would be a windmill.

He's absolutely everywhere, and Freddie is well aware of his presence. He sits three desks away from him during English, in the back. His lunch table is five tables to Freddie's right. Come Gym Class, and he's either pretending to be sick, or the last one in a race. (To be fair, Freddie's not far from him.) As for Chem classes, he's just a desk away. Which is, of course, a splash-zone, because if something explodes, Freddie's the one taking the damage. One time they gave Cali magnesium and Freddie spent a class period in the nurse's office, recovering.

And Freddie pines. Oh, he has it bad.

Cali makes it so much harder than it should be. He wears those tight, tight blue jeans and sticks his hair up to the sky and when he smiles, there's crinkles between his eyebrows, and Freddie had seen him, on the TV last summer, during the Pride parade, his chest painted rainbow, crowd surfing, and it fucking aches.

He won't do it. His mouth is zipped, and he won't say a single goddamn word.

"It'd be funny if it wasn't so tragic", Melissa says as she watched Freddie watch Cali. His chin is leaned against the lunch table, his arms crossed on it, hell, only his wary eyes and a mop of hair were visible.

"My life is tragic", Freddie replies.

"You going to Prom?"

"Why?"

"To be my date, idiot. Nobody wants me and god forbid your parents think you any gayer than a priest. Wait, that's a shitty metaphor."

Freddie whines and Melissa places a hand on his shoulder to shake him a bit.

"Maybe get drunk and do some confessing?"

"Fuck no. Maybe he'll get drunk and bang me."

"Something to work toward", Melissa says, and the bell rings.

-

Freddie's in the corner, with a still-full cup of beer, and for what seems to be the first time during his schooling, he's blissfully uninformed of Cali and where he is.

That is, until an arm is thrown over his shoulder. It startles him, so he spills half of his cup onto the floor.

"Whoa there, fuck", there's a slur, and it's someone very drunk, and very unaware of it. "It's Cali, I'm not scary. Well. That's debatable, ain't it? You're the kid from my Chem class. I can't see shit. I forgot my contacts."

Freddie acts like his heart is not performing a metal concert between his ears. Oh, yes, of course. That kid from Chem class. That's what he is.

Cali takes the glasses from Freddie's nose with the grace of a baby elephant and shoves them onto his face.

"There. All better now." He squints through the lenses. "Heck. You're cute."

Freddie will collapse, right fucking there, in his rented suit, onto the wall-to-wall carpet, and spill beer all over him, because this is not happening.

"I need you to do me a favour", Cali slurs out and leans more against Freddie, who is not sure he can hold himself up, let alone the drunk pile of limbs Cali is right now.

"Whatever you need." And he means it. Everything.

"There's this dude, right, you don't know him, he's from my street, and he's here. I think he's some poor girl's date or something, the fuck should I know. And he's staring at us right now. A massive homophobe, that one is, and I need you to kiss me to make him freak. The fuck. Out."

"Okay." Freddie passed his puberty all right, but he's pretty sure his voice cracked.

"For a straight guy, you seem strangely okay with this", comes a surprisingly sober reply from Cali.

Freddie shakes his head, feeling nervous. He's doing it, he's coming out for the first time. Melissa just knew, and Cali is too drunk to remember.

"Not all that straight."

Cali squeaks, like a dog when you step on its tail.

"What? Why didn't you tell me? We would've been such a sweet power couple, we'd run this motherfucking school! Welp, too late for it now. Shut up, kiss me."

Freddie's lips are squished between Cali's more insistent ones, and he tastes so much like beer Freddie feels like he's gonna throw up, and their noses bump into each other, and when they separate, Freddie is too occupied with his brain to notice that Cali is hugging him. Not hugging, holding onto his dear life. And sobbing like an earthquake.

"I lied", Cali whines. "That fucker... We banged twice, and now he decides he's not gay and he don't want nothing with me and—and—and I just wanted to be with someone, I'm so stupid…"

Freddie holds him, because there's not much more he can do.

"You're not stupid, you're amazing", he whispers, and Cali's unfortunately close enough to hear it.

He looks up, his brown eyes behind Freddie's glasses reflecting disco lights like porcelain, and he looks wrecked. Freddie wants to save him from whatever madness this world is.

Freddie sets his drink down on a nearby table, retrieves his glasses and leads Cali by his hand to his mother's car. Cali follows wordlessly, hiccuping here and there and tripping over his feet, and Freddie steadies him every time.

"Where're we goin'?" Cali slurs out. Freddie has an unexplainable feeling that Cali's body is drunk, but his brain is up and running.

"Away from all these fuckers from school. You don't need them."

"Heck yeah", Cali mumbles.

He's not drunk enough not to yell shotgun, which attracts attention of no less than three straight couples making out against a brick wall, no more than ten feet apart.

"Get in the car", Freddie can't hold back laughter, and it earns him a bright, wide, lopsided grin of Cali's. Once he's sure that Cali's in the car and has his seatbelt on ("Whoa, third base. Take me out to dinner first. Wait, which base is third?"), Freddie gets in and starts the car.

"Be warned, if you try to mug me in an alleyway, I have nothing of value on me. I've, like… an expired condom and ten bucks."

"I'm not gonna mug you."

Freddie's beyond amazed with his self-control. He manages to drive out of the city onto a hill and think about Cali's lips on his only twice, which is difficult for three reasons: 1) Cali kissed him, 2) Cali's in his mother's car and 3) Cali is singing a very sexual song as if it was a campfire song and it's driving him up the wall.

He stops the car two metres away from the edge of the hill. It's his to-go place—Melissa and Freddie spend their summer days here, soaking up the sun, and during other seasons, they do their schoolwork here, and it's only now becoming apparent to Freddie that those days are gone, they're heading out to college, and he won't be able to go back and do it all over again. He will never see his classmates and he'll never see Cali again. God knows where that hurricane of a man is going to end up.

Freddie sits on the hood of the car and soaks the twinking lights of the city beneath them in.

"Gorgeous", Cali says getting out of the car, his voice sounding as if he took a bite of something deliciously sweet and covered in chocolate.

"It is", Freddie sighs, nostalgia washing over him.

"I meant you."

Then Freddie's turning absolutely red and his hands automatically play with the cuffs of his suit.

"This is stupid", Cali continues, "we spent years missing out on something. If only I knew… I wouldn't waste my time on some fucker who doesn't care about me." He laughs, but it's dry. "Hey, maybe you wouldn't care about me. Maybe we'd be a total trainwreck. But I'll be fucked if that would stop me."

He sits next to Freddie and holds his hand for a while.

"I wouldn't hurt you", Freddie whispers.

"I know. You're too nice for that. But I'm not."

Cali sighs, lets go of Freddie's hand, and the moment is gone.

"I'm a piece of shit, and I'm just glad you didn't get to experience that."

"I'm no good either. Maybe we'd cancel each other out."

It's a small smile that covers Cali's face now, but it feels more precious than any that came before.

"Tell you what." Cali puts his hands on the pocket's of Freddie's trousers, and Freddie has no time to feel embarrassed because Cali fishes out Freddie's phone and starts typing. "I texted my phone from yours. Now you have my number." Cali returns the phone where he found it. "If two good-looking queer men such as us aren't able to find an equally good-looking, preferably smart partners in, say, ten years, we meet up for a coffee and try dating each other. If nothing, at least we'll know we tried."

"If I don't find anyone in ten years, you might as well shoot me."

Cali giggles—there are crinkles between his eyebrows.

"Dude. In ten years… Imma be so ripped. You'll be able to play my abs like a freakin' xylophone."

They laugh for a while, and then Freddie feels Cali's head on his shoulder.

"The sight's pretty sweet also", Cali mutters and nuzzles into Freddie's neck.

"I could've been dancing with someone at Prom, and instead I'm here with you."

Something works its way into Freddie's heart. It's small, and he won't remember it in the morning, but it definitely exists for fifteen minutes or so. A certain warmth during a mild June night.

He watches the horizon and it clicks in him, that he's wanted Cali for so long, and now he's in his arms, and he kissed him, for goodness sake, but that's all. And Freddie's fine with it.

Cali's asleep, Freddie guesses by the soft snoring noises and drops of drool on his neck, and he decides to carry him into the car. Easier said than done, as he struggles with Cali for a couple of minutes until he's sprawled on the backseat, and Freddie's driving him home.

Er, not his hime, because he's not reached that level of 'stalker' yet and he has no idea where Cali spends his days when he isn't in school.

It's about two in the morning, he later finds out, that they come home, and his mother helps him with carrying Cali to the sofa.

Then he bonelessly drops onto his bed and is gone for the night.

When he wakes up, the sofa's empty and there's a note taped to his hand.

'See ya in 10. Or sooner. Cali xx'

He immediately begins missing him.

-

(9 years and eleven months later)

Freddie can't believe it. He's genuinely flabbergasted with this whole situation.

Because he's there. He's been there for at least three months and Freddie is just, how the youth says it, shook.

He likes his job, he really does. Being a news reporter means he gets to be in front of a camera (which, he recently discovered, he loves) and he has a steady source of income and a job that lets him sleep in on weekends. Pure bliss.

What he didn't know, though, that Cali had similar aspirations.

He is so close. Freddie gathers information from ten to four, then he's on air from four to five, then he heads home. Cali appears around the four forty five mark and sets up a camera pointing towards a set directly across Freddie, and just as Freddie's done with the shoot, Cali disappears somewhere to do something and Freddie can't find him. Every workday he loses him. Three months.

And in those three months, Freddie watches him actively and is thrown back to his high school days, and he's reminded of his massive crush.

Hey, eighteen-year-old Freddie didn't have such bad taste. And twenty-eight-year-old Freddie hasn't had sex with anyone in two and a half years and Cali is as good of a victim as anybody.

He looks extremely good in glasses though, so no one can blame him for staring.

He remembers one morning, as he's trying to wake up for work, their deal. And it's been nearly ten years. Who's counting anyway? He dresses up extra nice, clean t-shirt and all.

When he's done with the shoot, he says goodbye to all the crew and the cameramen, and begins the hunt. The building is not that large, he keeps telling himself, he's going to bump into him soon enough.

When he finally finds him, he's on set, filming some airhead talk about sports, and Freddie decides to wait. He doesn't have to wait long, because Cali develops a radar for him the moment he enters the room and when he looks at him, a huge grin develops on his face.

'Wait for me', he mouths, and Freddie nods, returning a smile.

The sports guy talks for eons (or maybe fifteen minutes) and when a lady yells out 'cut!', Cali flicks a couple of switches on the side of the camera and runs, no, sprints in Freddie's direction, and Freddie has just enough time to open his arms to hug him, and it feels weird, because apart from that one night, they hadn't spoken all that much, but then Cali's lips are near Freddie's ear and he's whispering.

"You're literally the only thing I've been thinking about this year and I'm very horny and my place is a block away."

"Deal", Freddie whispers back. Nothing's changed.

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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:21 pm

She watches him, as if her eyes can heal his wounds.

The Brighton beach is as calm as it can be in June and they're sitting outside of a café, sipping from a milkshake Amelia ordered.

Benedict came out of the fight as a winner, but his ribs were fractured, his lung was shot and he was concussed. The nurse at the hospital nearly fainted when Amelia walked in, carrying him.

Amelia is a bit better, only her right side of the body was bruised from a fall. Benedict was still worried more about her than himself, though.

Howard called them to London, but Benedict guessed that, the moment they set their foot in the country's capital, they'd get new orders from the HQs, and he isn't feeling well enough to throw himself off a building or something. You know, the usual.

He isn't feeling well at all. Whenever he coughs, Amelia glares at him, and he tells her that he's fine. He's not fine, but Amelia doesn't want to argue with him.

"Doesn't this ordinary, every-day life feel unreal to you?" she asks.

"It's like a whole new dimension, to be honest", he tells her, looking around. He notices a bunch of stands, an arcade, with plushies to be won, and he grabs hold of the armrests of his chair. "Come on", he says, and Amelia immediately gets up to be his crutch (because he refused the real ones over at the hospital).

"What're you up to?"

"I'm gonna make us normal for once by challenging you to one of those games", he nods at the stands and Amelia leads them both there. "Also, I'll prove to you that I'm fine by winning you a huge elephant plushie."

"Howard will lose his shit if we bring that thing to the HQs", Amelia giggles. "Let's spend the state's money on arcade games."

When they half-limp, half-walk up to one of the stands, the man in charge of the game looks at them once, then twice, probably thinking that a near-invalid and his ginger friend have no chance of winning his game.

His game's an aim-and-shoot, and Benedict and Amelia are the country's best spies. Hell, the world's best.

"Two games, please", Amelia says to the man fishing up some coins from her pocket (change from the milkshake).

The man nearly laughs as he watches them prepair the toy guns.

"Arright, luv. Ya gotta score fifty to win", he explains the rules to them.

"Does the gun kick back?" Benedict asks, more of a joke than an actual question, and Amelia giggles. The man looks between them, confused.

"What kinda guns you been firing?"

"Real ones", Amelia says through laughter, and the man doesn't have time to react because the game starts, and they shoot. Neither of them miss a single target, and when they both have scores over a thousand, the man seems absolutely shocked.

"Do we get an elephant plushie now?" Amelia asks putting the gun down.

"Um", the man says. "Um, you get, er, tickets? And you exchange them for prizes at the stand over there", he points in a vague direction of it as he prints out what seems to be twenty tickets and hands them over. Amelia gathers them together and places them on the inside of her jacket, and Benedict waves the man goodbye.

"That was fun", Amelia says. "Let's do it again."

They visit every single game in about an hour. Amelia has the most fun at memory games, and Benedict—hurt, panting Benedict, with a cut over his eyebrow and a cast on his leg—almost gives a woman a heart attack when he manages to hit a pad with a hammer so hard that it scares a seagull (which had sat on the bell at the top) away.

"You practised this?" Benedict asks Amelia when she's throwing rings at bottles—a drinking game.

"My school years were fun, you have no idea."

They're done soon, with at least three hundred tickets in Amelia's pocket and a silly grin on both their faces.

"What a rush", Amelia sighs happily as she and Benedict walk towards the prize stand.

"Indeed", Benedict says. "At least there's no danger of injury here."

They stop in front of a prize stand, and notice a kid, looking at the prizes with longing in her eyes.

"Wait", Amelia removes Benedict's arm from her shoulders and fishes out the tickets from her jacket. "Hey, kiddo", she says and kneels down in front of the girl. "Ben and I won these tickets, but we don't need 'em. Would you like to have them?"

"Really?!" The girl squeaks and stretches her arms out. Amelia gives her the tickets, careful not to drop any.

"Have fun with your new toy", she says and walks back to Benedict.

As they watch the girl pick a prize (and she could pick absolutely anything), something passes between them. A thought.

A normal life, a house near the seashore. A child, a dog, a nine-to-five job. Something they'll never have.

In a different world, perhaps.

They walk away from the lights of the arcade into reality.

When they get to London, Howard sends them to South America.

-

(Somewhere, in a different universe)

The doorbell rings, and Amelia quickly saves the file, sends it to her boss and bolts to the door. Enough work for today. She opens the door.

Benedict's outside, soaking wet and freezing cold, holding a red rose, which somehow managed to survive the storm. He's shivering as Amelia wordlessly pulls him inside.

"Happy birthday", Benedict says, quiet and shaky. "Rain caught me by surprise."

"I can tell. The bath's already ready for you", she presses a kiss against his cheek, and wonders how he's not frozen.

He undresses on the way to the bathroom, leaving clothes behind him. Amelia will pick them up later; the stone tile of the mudroom will survive the water. When Amelia reaches the bath, Benedict's already in it, nose deep in the bubbles. The rose is in the sink, slightly wilted but still beautiful.

Benedict can't deal with the cold, Amelia found out within the first month of their relationship. He was a restless teenager, and he went with his group of friends to a frozen lake. All of them ended up in a hospital with hypothermia and ever since, whenever he'd end up outside in the cold, he'd be in danger of losing a finger or two.

"You human again?"

"Mm", Benedict sighs—his teeth have finally stopped chattering. "Join me."

Amelia considers it for just a fraction of a second before her clothes are on the floor as well and she's nestled against Benedict's chest, his hands (not even a bath could warm those up) around her.

"D'ya like my present?"

"Woke me up", she replies. Benedict's present came in form of a fluffy furball with a ribbon around its neck which was now asleep on the bed. "Where did you find it?"

"A friend at work has a dog, she had two puppies and they only had room for one. Did you name her yet?"

"I thought Iris." Benedict's lips for a half-moon on Amelia's neck.

The two of them met at Amelia's prom. Benedict's date was Mia, who had English with Amelia (who turned out to be Benedict's half-sister, but that's another story entirely), and Amelia went with a girl named Tanya, partially because she was in the process of self-discovery in high school, and partially because Tanya's boyfriend left her a day before prom. Of course, both of their dates went and find someone better to dance with, and they were left against the bar, where Amelia told Benedict about how lousy prom is, and Benedict wanted to prove her wrong. They ended up dancing to Iris, and an hour after that, in Benedict's car, soundly asleep.

"I like it."

What a lovely moment this is, Amelia thinks. So calm, so warm. Of course, Benedict's one and only job is to ruin everything nice.

"We've been together… what, seven years?"

"Six and a halfish.

"Ish", he repeats with a chuckle. "Ever thought about getting married?"

"Ever thought about proposing?"

"Fair enough", he tells her. "I'm not much for marriage either. If my promise to stay with you doesn't mean anything without a priest, then what sort of a lying man am I?"

One of many things Amelia loves about Benedict is his honesty, and the way he thinks about (and around) things. He's blunt, and Amelia always knows what's happening with them. It's a thing she could learn from him, Amelia thinks.

It's nice and calm again, and there goes Benedict, destroying.

"What about children?"

Amelia can't believe him.

"Goddamn it, Ben."

"I gotta ask, so that I know we're on the same page."

"And if we're not?" she turns to face him.

"Then I'll adjust."

She leans forward and kisses him. He's such a miracle.

"I don't know, really", she answers, "perhaps. I wouldn't be against 'em if they came along, but they're not in plan yet." She laughs a bit. "Maybe they'll have my hair and your eyes."

Benedict sighs a bit and nuzzles into her hair.

"We could clear out the guest room and paint it."

"Baby-proof our entire house", Benedict adds. "Sounds to me you're already planning."

"Dunno. But the process of making them is fun."

They laugh, and then they lie in the bath until the water grows cold.

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PostSubject: Re: Random Stories   Mon Oct 09, 2017 9:15 pm

Getting into running is much harder than Amelia originally thought. It's not like she was in shape to begin with, but Tanya insisted that Amelia ran with her as some extra motivation. She had no choice, basically. Plus, it gets rid of hangovers, so there's that.

That's how Amelia ended up on the main square just before dawn, freezing her tits off in running shorts and a sports bra, and just quietly fuming.

"Are you coming already?" she finally called Tanya, after ten minutes of waiting in the cold.

"Well, I gotta make sure my lipstick isn't moving anywhere, hold up. I'll be there in ten, don't start without me", Tanya's voice coming from the speaker is tinny and with an echo, which means she's still in the dorm building's bathroom, which means she's twenty minutes away. And, Amelia? She's getting pissed.

So she paces. Well, the proper verb would be 'stomping around', but Amelia likes to think she has her temper in check (when, in reality, she never does).

It's five minutes to starting time, and Amelia is preparing to turn on her heel and head back home, maybe sleep in until noon, when a tall man stops her.

"Did your friends ditch you as well?" he asks, and it takes Amelia a moment to recognise he's talking to her.

"Huh?" she asks, then shakes her head. "Um, yeah. I don't even wanna run, if I'm just going alone."

It wasn't meant as a flirty comment, but the man sure did receive it as one.

"You can tag along, if you wish, although I might slow you down", he says with a ginger smile on his lips.

"Doubt it. I've been running for like a month, so I fully expect to run out of breath around kilometre deux."

"I've got remnants of childhood asthma, plus this bad boy", the man lifts up the leg of his tracksuit to his left knee only to reveal a robotic-looking prosthetic. "Or the lack thereof, I guess."

"So you're Terry-Foxing it?" Amelia says, forcibly dragging her eyes away from the prosthetic. It's very shiny (her spidey senses are tinging), but it's rude to stare.

"I guess I am. I'm Benedict", he adds, as an afterthought.

"Amelia. You from around here?"

"God, no. My mum is rolling in her grave. You can't just call me a Londoner, not when I'm Essex born and raised."

"The accent's completely gone."

"By choice, I assure you."

They share a smile which is the warmth of a fireplace in the fog.

"Who ditched you?" Amelia asks, and after a glance at people surrounding them, she begins stretching like them. Something cracks, but Benedict either doesn't notice or he hides laughter like the best spy in the world.

"Erm, my college mates, Jon and Brett. They've got this whole thing … what's it called? 'The Queer London Running Club'."

"How many members are there?"

"Jon and Brett." Amelia is much worse at hiding laughter, but when she giggles, Benedict follows suit.

"And why are they late?"

Benedict fishes his phone out of the inside of his rain jacket and unlocks it with a four-letter word, only to scroll for a bit before turning it to Amelia.

[Benedict] Are you two seriously late

[Brett] hol up jon got dirt all over our pride flag

[Benedict] So leave it behind and hurry up

[Brett] duDE the flag shant touch the ground otherwise we will end up in whatever the reverse of hell is

[Benedict] Heaven?

No response after that.

"As you see, serious matters", Benedict says solemnly nodding.

"Of course, they usually are. How long have you been running?" Amelia asks, trying to get more information on the man, because he is tall, handsome and fun, and the only thing Amelia wants out of this run is to end up drinking coffee with Benedict afterwards (but, if he ended up a part of the Queer London Running Club, that might prove to be a problem).

"For as long as I can remember, I believe. It's the most…" he stops himself with a small, private smile, "solitary sport I could pick."

"It's the most useful one, as well", Amelia notices. "If someone attacks you, what would you rather pick, throwing a basketball around you or running the fuck out?"

"You have a point, I must say", he says, sharing the smile. "Look, we're starting."

The first hundred metres they don't even run. There's a hoard of people in front of them, and until they thin out, they can't pick up the face.

"This type of running suits me", Amelia notices with all seriousness she can muster up, and the look Benedict gives her the 'that's stupid, but I'm holding back laughter anyway' look.

Once they actually start running, it's smooth sailing and breathy laughter for a bit more than four kilometres until Benedict asks Amelia to stop near a bench of sorts.

"I'm sorry, I think something's gone wrong", he says, looking a bit distressed. His hand grabs the bench until he lowers down to sit in it and check his prosthetic. "Did you see anything fall out while we were running?"

"Um, no, I don't think so?" Amelia kneels down so she can see him better. "Is everything okay?"

"Lost a screw", Benedict says, tapping the side of the metal. "If I continue moving, this whole thing will fall off." He shakes his head and huffs, disappointed with himself.

"Where are your friends, can they come pick you up?"

"Mm… they're probably at the finish line, but this is a no car zone."

Amelia gives it a short think before standing up and turning her back to Benedict.

"Mkay, hop on."

"What?"

Amelia's part-time job includes carrying heavy boxes in a department store, so she is pretty sure she can carry him the last four hundred metres. Benedict, on the other hand, isn't.

"You need to get to the end somehow", Amelia turns back with her eyebrow raised. A challenge.

"If you die, it is not my fault."

"Well, I'm not gonna run, but—oof." Benedict cuts her off in the middle of the sentence by hopping onto her back, but Amelia's reflexes kick in and she is able to hold him up by wrapping her arms around his legs, which were in turn wrapped around her waist. She feels the cold of the fake, and the warmth of the real leg on her stomach, even through the fabric of his tracksuit.

"Are you okay?" he asks, and Amelia can hear the smirk on his face.

"Hmpf. Don't patronise me." And with those words of victory, she heads to the finish line. "How come it didn't fall apart sooner?"

"Beats me. It's a prototype of sorts—I'm basically government's robot guinea pig."

"That's hella cool."

"I'd argue it's not. Firstly, screws fall out all the time. Why do I even have screws? Secondly, mandatory monthly check ups."

"Like a period", Amelia muses.

"Exactly like a period, but it bleeds a bit less and there's more doctors."

Anelia carries him to the finish line, and her back goes completely warm from the places Benedict's stomach pressed against it. Just next to the finish line, there's two flushed-looking guys, covered in one huge pride flag (which still had dirt on it).

"Mate!" One of them (taller, curly-haired) rushes forward. "Benatron 5000! Did your leg go full-on Astro Boy and tried to murder you? What happened?"

"See, his kind of shit is what I have to deal with on a daily basis", Benedict whispers (comfortably) close to Amelia's ear before landing back on his feet… or foot. Amelia doesn't know the proper terminology. Just then, the entire prosthetic comes off with one swift movement and a click"Jon and Brett. More like Judas and Brutus. How dare you leave me like that?"

"Turns out half of the Queer London Running Club dislikes running."

"What a shame. You came with the car?"

"Well, 'fcourse."

"Shove my leg into the trunk and get me my crutches." There is a certain finishing note in Benedict's voice as they do as they were told. "They owe me big time", Benedict shakes his head as he turns to Amelia. "I did an essay for both of them last month."

"Very impressive", Amelia says, but Benedict wasn't finished talking.

"So they owe me, and I figured, what better way to use them than getting rid of them and, perhaps, going for some breakfast with you?"

How bold, Amelia thinks as she feels her face heating up and her entire head nodding enthusiastically.

Do robot legs give you mind-reading powers?

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