Luna arrived at work in the naked light, alone with the rising sun as it struggled against fog, heavy settled over the city. Night was transitioning into day, yet clung as if hangover, holding the daylight fuzzy and unfocused. Luna embraced this dynamic space and after stubbing out her cigarette, entered her four digit pin and pushed the door open as the light buzzed green from red.
She walked through blindingly white hallways to create a lonely echo to reach the staff lounge, where she dumped her bag and heavy coat into her locker. She took her lighter jacket as she walked back outside, slipping through several service alley’s to reach a hidden lane way café.
Galla hated early morning, the sliver of sky from her window stippled sand paper orange, a delirium after effect from the darkness. She lived in a loft, the only delineation from the single room the bathroom she stumbled into. She owned this little place in a thirty story complex, where the elevators often more broken than not, and the stairs smelt of sweat, urine, mould and fungi. The mess of streets making her suburb, Zyvah District, are old, dark and broke. The people and buildings refracted pieces of each other, much like everything else. Yet this place is her own and she coveted it.
Galla showered and dressed, stomped the three levels to ground and out to the filtered daylight. It is winter and the fresh overnight snow already grey and slushy. The monorail station was three blocks over and three blocks beyond that Luna and Kai’s place. The station is cramped, full of dead eyes and monotone faces looking at pulsing screens, manicured hands caressing bleak information.
Galla fumbled for her phone and texted Luna, misremembering where they are meeting as more often they were together than not. The monorail carriage squealed to a stop against cold, abrasive metal. Luna texted she would bring breakfast and Ash’s sludge thick coffee in to work.
“How are you baby girl?” a voice called as Luna walked through the open space left by the raised roller doors rusted into blood flecked immobility, from the counter stretched wide across the back wall.
Jamere, knowing Luna’s order, passed it to the kitchen before bringing pot brewed herb coffee and a glass of ice over to the long mahogany counter bar throwing warmth across the back length of the garage. Luna threw her jacket behind the end chair she climbed into and leaned back into the chilled brick wall.
“Tired,” smiling weakly before sipping a mouthful of thick hot coffee poured over ice and as steam spiralled out into her eyes, she scanned the few bereft customers. The old building containing Ash’s once had been on a main street and hosted many diverse businesses before it became mazed within back city alleyways, to evolved into an insiders secret. The early morning atmosphere is placid; after the night drunks, yet before the rushed business people lacking the skills to manage life or its time. This is Luna’s favourite time, referred her solitude before the chaos of the day. She turned to Jamere and commented, “unusually quiet.”
“Yes, you’ve always had great timing,” Jamere smiled and shrugged, understanding Luna as she had been a regular for most of the five years she had spent in this city. They both relished the red brick, dirtied by its own history and the ebb and flow suited them both, where the monsters of the darkness played against the raptured sins of a coffee soaked daylight.
“I guess,” Luna said, mimicking Jamere’s action, aching for a life she could not describe. She felt lost, the fractured seat of her soul missing as long as she could remember. This sense of longing for an unknown missing element corrupted everything from her childhood to now, fault lines scorching her body.
“Luna,” Jamere’s concern filtered through her intonation, floating across the bar to enclosing around Luna’s isolation, a hug wrapped within her voice.
“Really, Jamere,” Luna raises her eyes to meet Jamere’s, “I’m good.”
“Okay,” Jamere, knowing not too push to hard. She observed a lot of human behaviour since inheriting the building from her mother, Ash, a cantankerous old mechanic who inherited it from her own father, “How’s Kai?”
“The usual. Nights at Marlene’s, as always. He’ll probably be in after his shift,” Luna shrugged.
“Most likely,” Jamere smiled, masking the concern at Luna’s seeming indifference to her twin.
Jamere knew them as young teenagers, two halves of the same old soul, each mirroring the movements of the other, perfect mimics in intense and uncanny ways, only ever together in those early years. In spite of the odd location Ash’s attracted a grifter element with customers and the twenty-four hour operations catered to cross-cultural elements rarely seen in many other places.
The kitchen bell rang out and Jamere pulled away to retrieve a plate laden with Luna’s breakfast and laid it in front of her, “You’ve been at Bravo house this week?”
“Thanks,” Luna pulled herself off of the wall to shift closer to the plate, “yes, doing some of the supply runs, book transfer’s and stuff. I think Ivie has me at the apartments this week. When are the plans for Smash?”
“Four weeks from this Saturday is the meet and greet for new volunteers, at about nine-thirty,” Jamere said, “this year you’ll be assisting in planning the charity gala, part of our executive committee and unfortunately this may cut into your hours at emergency shelters.”
“Okay. What am I to be doing?” a small smile crept onto Luna’s face, “its on Ivie’s calendar?”
“Of course it is,” Jamere smiled as she turned towards the slow trickle of customers sleepily stumbling up to the counter for orders strong enough to help them assimilate into the day, relieved Luna had questioned what she would be doing rather than the significant change of volunteer status. She had been doing it for so long, her experience is invaluable to SPW, “and I’ll tell you in four weeks.”
Luna began her breakfast, methodically working her way anti-clockwise on a square plate. As a take-away breakfast slid next to Luna, she nodded her thanks. When finished, Luna pulled her jacket back on her small frame, waved at Jamere and escaped back to the alleyways, the coded door and echoing hallways.
Galla walked into the basement meeting room in the Pacer Complex, the seven story, 24 hour entertainment megastore stretching above her, where the other forty-three people commencing their shift gathered. She reached over as Luna walked into the staff room, grasping at the takeaway bag, mumbling thanks as she inhaled the coffee.
“You could at least meet me one morning,” Luna smiled, sitting next to Galla.
“You know the rules. Not unless we’ve left from night shift. You may not sleep, but I love mine.”
“Slacker,” snorted Luna, “and I love sleep. We just don’t get along especially well.”
“Shut up,” got lost as Galla started eating.
The rest of the assembled staff were busy adjusting the base feedback on their headsets, which allowed all of them to maintain permanent contact with Ivie, as the manager strolled in, adjusting the earpiece of her headset while reading the live digital array fed directly from Ivie to her tablet.
“Morning Team. Luna and Galla, I need you both in Classical. Claudia and Xaiden are unable to attend until the midday shift. Tanikaa, our guest band for the second floor have cancelled, and the house band is currently on tour and yet to be permanently replaced. Any volunteers?”
Staff usually worked on a specific level, knowledge and passion a major selling point of Pacer. Luna and Galla preferred to work on the second level, alternative music, as opposed to popular music on the ground floor. They are often stranded on three as both trained in classical music. On exceptionally rare occasions, they were on level four, but country and international music not of particular interest to them. Both refused to work in children’s entertainment on five or with DVDs on six, neither catering for their musical talents.
“We will,” Calais and Fletcher spoke, both instantly attentive. Staff are performers, musicians, dancers and are required to perform independently in any of these capacities or to support guest performers.
Calais and Fletcher are like most of the staff, taking this job to meet other musicians and fill missing band positions. Many bands formed and dissolved within the walls of Pacer, which had a history of creating successful bands, coveting that Pacer has the resources to create their careers.
Even if they failed, missed the success juggernaut, Pacer would keep them for itself, the convenience of an endless talent pool and would use their talent to mentor younger, developing musicians. Those who are good, or around long enough, to become house bands get automatic access to the recording opportunities Pacer provides. The complex evolved into this collective of artists and bands, producing and stocking all staff member albums.
Calais responded, “Spenal.”
“Okay. Can anyone help with drums?” moments pass before Ivie breaks over the speakers. Pacer is technologically advanced and all operational systems are controlled via Ivie, a fully integrated artificial intelligent program, “Bree Khiam.”
Bree, on her first shift and a recent percussionist graduate from the county’s elite music program at The Raptor City Academy of Performance Arts (RCAPA), looked up from her black and red fingernails at the disembodied voices announcement and said, “Okay?”
Ivie’s voice broke the silence in the rooms speakers with her calculated, balanced voice, “The classical act for the hummingbird just cancelled.”
The Manager looked over to Galla and Luna, “Can you two play the Hummingbird. Sanihda and Eviva can you do the dance set at nine on one?”
“Claudia and Xaiden are on at midday,” Galla asked, “Why don’t Xaidia play?”
“Claudia has tendinitis. Xaiden will wait until it’s healed. They’ve asked for a performance break so Claudia can seek treatment. Lane, are you sorted for seven?”
Level seven is the complexes most controversial. The age restricted adult entertainment have an exclusive team and specialised security measures because of the live performances. Pacer frequently is criticised for this level, however money is power and they effectively were able to deflect any negative press aimed at them. Lane, specialist manager for seven nodded, “All organised.”
All four nod their acknowledgement. After a few more negligible announcements, the team dispersed, Luna leaving with Galla for the third floor, “I don’t want to play today,” sticking out her tongue in mock petulance.
“Luna?” Bree called, as she exited the staff room behind them. Luna stopped, turned and waited for Bree to catch up, “sorry, What’s the Hummingbird?”
“The hummingbird hour is the time between twelve and three.”
“Why is it called that?”
“Mythology surrounding the name refers to two types of socialite women who spend the afternoon lunching and shopping. There’s the society kind, lives via inherited or married wealth, and the corporate kind, whose fought for their own independence their status is paramount to their own power. They both shop at lunch to appear important and time poor in a twenty four hour society. Its important to know the difference when you are dealing with them.”
“Um. Okay,” mumbled Bree, “and I heard you volunteer for Smash Punch?”
“I was thinking of helping,” Bree looked at Luna, moving from foot to foot in her nervousness.
“There’s a meet and greet in four weeks from Saturday, at nine thirty. I’ll introduce you to Jamere, if you would like to come. If you do volunteer remember to tell Ivie, she can assist with your shift and volunteering schedule.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Bree smiled, shuffled her feet before shrugging and continued up to the floors above as Luna turned back to Galla.
“Do we know her?” Galla looked after Bree as she walked off.
“I don’t think so,” Luna frowned, remembered themselves when they first started at Pacer, the two of them together and requested the same shifts, “It’s her first day.”
“She seems to know you…”
Ivie spoke over their headsets, “Upon graduation she recorded her original composition with Pacer Music Studios and attended an audition with Raptor City Philharmonic Orchestra her parents organised.”
“Eh,” Luna shrugged, not really caring that Pacer stocked and published all RCAPA music student’s graduation compositions, but remembering that only the top three percent of RCAPA undergraduate music students were automatically offered an opportunity to record their compositions on the Pacer label, in addition too all Honours and Masters students, “how did she fail, Ivie? She would have been top three…”
“Nerves?” Ivie offered, “but she uniquely filled the only requirement of all musicians and producers utilised in the recording are themselves students by being the only player, even though she could have used the RCAPA student philharmonic.”
“Okay Ivie,” Luna shrugged, loosing interest as they began their ascent, “what if we play living composers?”
Galla pulled a face, pleased that while on the third flood shifts together, they could experiment against each other with defiant disregard for the hummingbird fanatics, and said, “What if we played Gothic chamber music?”
Luna laughed, comforted by her years old friend, whose violin and fondness for dead composers a connection before anything else, bonding deeply forged scars twisted in iron onto their flesh. The classical floor is the hardest to play, as the mornings are quiet and often sets were often ignored, while the afternoon sets attracted fanatics critical of any interpretation beyond their own favourites. Luna, classically trained in piano, flute, violin and cello and Galla in piano, violin and sitar, both knew that in spite of their preference for working in alternative, their talent left both of them the most obvious replacements on classical.
“We could ask for permanent night shift?” Galla suggested, begrudging that staff shifts spanned across six rotating times. Both preferred either of the two night shifts, or the late afternoon shift extending into night as it gave them more creative flexibility, interesting customers and, rarely, the classical floor.
“We could both play an Owling for once,” Luna said, referring to the infamous early morning sessions that happened anywhere between midnight and four whenever the will took the people present, where staff and customers could play without restriction or restraint.
Owling Sessions created a dedicated, cultish following and members of this group tattooed a local masked owl upon the base of their skulls. Both Luna and Galla had this tattoo inked upon themselves and in many ways founded this symbol of the group. Luna revealed in the freedom of this melding of talents, experimental delineation lost within the gaps of time, allowing both of them to fold the gnarled spaces within their soul, fading away the hollows and cracks. For Luna, the leaderless melting of music energised by the bodies of unhampered participants, flowed her away from the trauma of their past and allowed them, even if momentarily, to forget the sharp edges of their present.
This shift, this day, these friends would be on until three, and they were already exhausted at the unexpected and additional performances over the last two hours of their shift. Walking onto the floor, waving at Kali and Lethe restocking shelves, Luna smiled at Galla, adding, “Okay. But the least we could do is mix fusion Jazz with Gothic Chamber.”
“Absolutely,” Galla snickered, walking up to the café, empty of customers, over to Estella and Walter, “slacking off were we?”
“Its too stressful to work when its this busy,” Estella said, indicating the lack of customers with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“I guess,” Galla said before ordering coffee and sitting down.
“Why are you two here?”
“Claudia and Xaiden changed to the midday shift,” Galla said.
“No idea this morning. We’ve thirteen and fourteen.”
Chloe stood in her ninth floor office suite in the neurological unit of Mathilde Avenue Research Hospital (MARH), looking over Violet River. The outer office contained her secretary, an efficient woman permanently running interference, as her hours were wayward and non-standard. She had her office at home, preferred it, but presence at the hospital usually mandatory in her position. Still, she demanded her appointments be clustered in the morning so that her afternoons were ripe for escape. Today she could find the elusive Beethoven she is seeking.
The shift warped around them, the climate controlled environment encapsulating time so effectively they barely noticed it was midday until Claudia and Xaiden walked onto the floor.
“Hi. Glad you’re finally here,” Galla said, noticing Claudia’s strapped hand, “Ss Xaidia will be playing?”
“Thanks Galla,” Xaiden laughed, “compassionate to the end.”
Luna feigned innocence, “But Claudia, whatever is that bandage!”
“Its seriously so annoying. We had to cancel Eloise.”
“You usually play there?”
Claudia see-sawed her non bandaged hand, “Kind of. We’ve played private events there, and they’ve very slowly started giving us gigs,” she raised her bandaged wrist, “this may lose it.”
“We’ve other things going on” Xaiden shrugged “the Eloise is a nice gig, though…”
“You love it more than me. All of those well dressed ladies…”
All laughing, Luna picked up her coffee from behind the counter, “We’re going for lunch.”
Chloe walked onto cavernous classical floor, assaulted by colour the walls covered in band and music paraphernalia. A pianist played as she scanned the floor, over the thirtyish people wondering and a few scattered throughout the chairs in the café. Chloe saw a slight girl with spiky hair fiddling with the headset attached to her ear. From her crown, spirals of deep royal purple and glowing pink circled her head, creating a halo of colour under the fluorescents. Chloe walked over, desiring to quickly leave this bastion of overwhelming consumerism.
Luna was pressing buttons on her apparently malfunctioning headset, repeating, “Ivie,” into the slimline mike jutting along her jaw, as Chloe walked up and she turned at the gentle tap on her shoulder, meeting a set of startling brown eyes, liquid chocolate over ice that she stumbled across and slid into oblivion.
“I’m sorry to startle you,” the customers voice, throaty and deep, seared across Luna.
Luna recovered enough to smile subtly as she attempted to pitch her voice as evenly as she was not, “How can I assist you?”
“I’m looking for a March nineteen twenty-three Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recording of Beethoven’s Symphony number five, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler on vinyl,” a gentle pause as she swallowed, her face on fire, then as if an explanation, “I heard it at a party.”
“Sure,” Luna said, thankful for the distraction. The customer is beautiful, standing powerfully before her. She holds herself perfectly, charmingly, beautifully, brilliantly and all of this is focused directly on her. Every single other sensation other than the one she is presented with overwhelm her, as of she belonged in the vacuum.
“Ivie,” into her crackling and distorted headset. Ivie, a vast digital management system, controlled life inside the Pacer bubble.
“Luna,” Ivie’s voice finally distorted back.
“Nineteen twenty-three BPO Beethoven five,” Luna asked, concisely pitching her voice over her rapid fire heartbeat.
“Proceed….” kicked over her headset before it acquiesced to crackled distortion.
Luna looked apologetically at her customer, said, “I’m sorry. Let me take you to the Beethoven section.”
The classic corporate hummingbird, with her tailored suit, manicured nails and echoed, clipped footfalls, followed Luna’s lead. The crackling dulled enough for Ivie’s hard edged voice to break through, “I-thirteen, R-three, T-two, V-four.”
“Thanks,” Luna responded, grateful for Ivie delivering immediate customer service queries, even with her dodgy headset. Luna pulled out the fourth Vinyl in the second tier of the third row, aisle thirteen and handed it to the hummingbird and pitched her voice low, “Is this what you are looking for?”
She perused it with quick efficiently, “Yes,” as she looked up to Luna, “you do not look like the others on this level.”
A statement, definitive, not a question. Luna shrugged, edgy at the way she was reacting to the customer in front of her, pushing some rogue pink hair out of her eye, “I’m not always on this level. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“How does it not bleed?” She indicated Luna’s hair, “and you’ve specific knowledge for multiple floors?”
“The experience of my hairdresser,” as she smiled for the first time that day, repeating, “and yes, this floor, pop and alternative. Is that all you need today?”
“That’s quite an eclectic mix. Yes, thank you, this is what I wanted,” she extended her hand, fine fingers resting together, “Chloe.”
“Luna,” smiled again as she shook the dry, manicured hands, feeling a subtle jolt transmitted through their hands as their eyes connected. Luna’s headset crackled, creating a piercing whine in Luna’s ear. She winced, breaking eye contact, pulling the ear piece out and said, “I can walk you to the teller.”
“No need. Is something wrong?” Chloe noticed details, weighing the odds of any situation with precision yet felt unsettled by Luna’s deep dragon green eye’s, blazing fire at the edges. She felt the loss of those eyes whilst observing both the wince and extradition of earpiece.
“No,” Luna smiled, an unusual habit but one she is unable to resist and starting towards the service counter, she shrugged and admitted, “my headset is playing up.”
“Your headset?” Chloe asked, following the fascinating girl again.
“The headset…is feeding back is all. I’ll need to change it.”
“Thank you for your help,” Chloe’s voice deep and smoky, drifting down Luna’s spine.
“You’re welcome,” Luna replied, approaching the service counter, “this is Galla.”
“Thank You,” Chloe turned towards Galla.
Luna mouthed “Hive” at Galla pointing between lifts and her dangling earpiece. Galla nodded in return as she turned to smile at Chloe, extending her hand towards the record. Luna backed away and returned to the administration basement to visit Archer. She thought about Chloe on the way down, the caress of her smile, the way the suit shifted with her, the sway of her hips within her stride. Warmth spread through Luna as she walked into the Hive.
“My Headset isn’t working.”
“I know. Here’s the replacement. I also need you on level one, dancing to Milhra,” Archer looking up from the codes scrolling over her monitor at Luna.
“With who?” Luna unstrung the earpiece through her shirt as she unclipped the power pack attached to her belt, “and I’m meant to be playing on three.”
“Galla can handle three, and Decter Mesa, and can you two stay late?” Archer asked, “we haven’t found replacements for the four who called in sick yet.”
“Archer, he can’t dance,” Luna replied as all of the sweetness flowing through her body twisted cold. She pushed the new earpiece into the power pack.
“He’s all we can spare. Kali is needed on four,” Archer looked apologetic.
“When…” Luna asked, defeated, beginning to string the cord through under her shirt and replaced the earpiece where it belonged, “and yeah, we can stay.”
“Fifteen minutes, and thanks.”
“Lucky you’re awesome,” Luna sighed, walking back out to the lifts and returning to classical to tell Galla of their extended hours.
Exiting the lifts to walk out on to the floor, she is startled by a tranquil voice, “Hello.”
Luna turned towards the voice, hope sparking at the rusty intonation, “Chloe?”
“Galla said you were dancing shortly.”
Luna smiled at the unequivocal statement. Her jazz timbered voice left no other interpretation as a glow flushed over Luna’s face. Chloe’s voice is ferocious, sanguine, intelligent, sounding of hard edged black coffee and measured, calculated, barbed wire dipped in chocolate as she spoke again, “I decided to stay and see you dance.”
Luna nodded, curious, “On level one, the lowest café tier, back corner table, has the best view.”
A simple nod, and Chloe turned upon her knife point stiletto and walked towards the lifts. Luna walked over to the counters, where only Laeir was behind the desk, asking, “Galla?”
He shook his head, smiling wickedly, “Break.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in an hour.”
Luna walked back, tracing her steps to the lifts and down to level one. It didn’t matter the band playing, as Luna’s mind drifted back to the curve of Chloe’s voice. As she walked to the floor, she scanned the café and found Chloe sitting where she had suggested. Luna began trembling as her mind free fell as her desire spooling, an effect no one had on her before.
Chloe watched the enticement walk out onto the floor, intrigued by her delicate paleness. She felt this spark, enticed by this tendril of intuition radiating out towards this girl. She often felt this at work, during the delicate surgery she performed but never felt it directed towards an actual person. Chloe’s obsessive qualities focused relentlessly and served her well in her career, but she is absolutely unprepared for this incursion into her personal life.
Chloe sat in the corner of the café, staying longer than necessary to watch the girl, enthralled. Chloe felt this connection immediately, yet held no idea what it meant. Pacer is, as usual, busy and the performance barely noticed outside of the café. Chloe could not remove her eyes from the movement, Luna preternaturally attuned to the music, her attention stealing all that Chloe had. Nothing had broken through to her like this in years. Luna felt Chloe before she saw her as her dance set finished and as she walked toward the break room. Chloe smiled at her, buttoning her jacket, but did not say a word, stealing Luna’s breath as she went.
Luna returned to level three after a fifteen minute break, and wandered over to Galla, shifting stock onto shelves from a trolley beside her.
“Miss,” Luna spoke harsh and guttural.
Galla jumped and turned before she giggled, “Luna!”
“What’s with telling the hummingbird?” Luna raised her eyebrows in mock anger, her secret pleasure still tingling.
“Not really. Archer paged you, I responded your headset was down and you were on your way. She told me you’d be dancing.”
“Uh, so that would still’ve been headset only?”
“Luna,” Galla smiled, both breaking out laughing before continuing, “I told Laeir, as it was told to me directly.”
Luna smiled as she picked up a group of Chopin books before responding, “Sure, Galla, sure…”
“You’d this look your face,” Galla continued, baiting Luna, “exactly like that one you’ve now…”
“Shut up G. Kai and I are going to Harper’s. You coming?”
“Evasive little Princess, aren’t we. Just giving you a hard time,” Galla, holding up her hands in submission, “yeah. What’s playing? Who’s playing?”
“Not sure. We’re getting food before Kai has to work, but he’s shifted to the late start, so Harper’s came up. And we’re now working late.”
“He won’t care I’m coming.”
“I know. That’s why I said,” Luna laughed, comfortable with the lightness of the afternoon, and the prospect of finally being able to catch up with her twin. In spite of living together, shift work had kept them apart for over a week. For the few hours, they idly re-shelved merchandise, joking about the dodgy dancing of Decter Mesa.
Luna and Galla pulled off the last music performance and made their way to the basement staff area, Luna grabbed her bag from her locker and took out her mobile, looking at the messages from Kai, relaying it to Galla, and from there they walked out of the staff entrance, walking further into the alleyways to avoid the main streets.
“Kai said he’ll meet us there.”
“Okay,” Galla pulled her backpack on over her winter coat, “at least we’re out earlier than expected.”
“Yes,” Luna snorted, early for the night shift. Ready?”
“Yep,” as the afternoon sun hit them, gloomy in an overcast sky, on their way to the monorail.
Luna asked “Do you…never mind…”
“What?” Galla, whose trauma coiled around her core and mutated with her into adulthood, heard the tone splinting into Luna’s voice.
“Nothing,” Luna sighed, unable to articulate the vacancy settled within her, an absence, longing for what she couldn’t seem to say.
“Existential crisis?” Galla, abandoned well before she even lived, adopted yet orphaned by five, understood how ill-fated and corrupt luck is, branded by blindness in her left eye and three skull deep lacerations from forehead to chin because of it. Deeply scarred and physically able to show it, Luna was the first friend she connected with at all, an ethereal wisp with an accent and an indifference to other people.
“Galla…” Luna groaned.
Luna knew she was gifted with an openness to humanity and to nature and it is painful, an open wound refusing to scab over to give the peace she desired. She needed to save herself from the constant influx of people static while also being open enough to share her life with Galla, Archer and Kai, their insular relationships indifferent to the world outside. She filled her disconnected world with distractions efficiently along with the anonymity cities always grant. Luna knew she has pulled Galla in so close that they isolated their damage in the barren wasteland outside of themselves.
“I know something is wrong. Is it Kai, again?” Kai, Galla knew, flung himself out into the world, connecting with everyone and anyone physically to disconnect emotionally. All he managed to achieve is to filter his stray world behind Luna’s protection, shelter his broken self. Kai Luna’s shadow, borrowing her strength, a sycophant, one alien soul in two bodies.
“No. Not Kai. It’s me. Its just…I don’t know how to say,” Luna shrugged, unable to describe her acute desolation, this undeniable sense of longing, protecting a void breaking open at the centre of her soul, the shifting illusion she presented to the world fractured, loosing the core of herself to hide. She feels adrift and unsure of where the stable earth is, only certain of the scars crackling between them, maintaining their bonds of trauma and flesh, “I don’t know.”
“We’re….” Galla spoke soft, “…as always us.”
“I feel…I’m expecting something,” Luna shook her head, “no, more like this intense sense of anticipation, but I don’t know what it is I’m waiting for.”
“Okay. We’ve to find what your missing?” Galla said before adding, “are you sure it isn’t that Kai may try to have us poisoned with his clothing choices?”
Luna giggled, shouldering Galla, the mood between them lifting, “I think we can safety assume he’ll be dressed appallingly.”
The city is old, built and rebuilt over centuries and particularly the inner city was full of back alleys, dark and useful places that can be delightful shortcuts when you know the paved secrets. Luna and Galla rustled out into the Ianthe laughing. Harper’s is an ancient place that at one point been a laundry, a coffee house, an art gallery and It evolved into a meeting place of revolutionaries, poets, artisans and painters, writers of glory and dissent and from this became a performance place with the dark corners creating life to songs of swords and heroes.
It is a small egress the width of a Volkswagen Beetle, barely lit and sunk most of the way through to the other side of the block. Where the back of darkness stopped, a minuscule kitchen slid, cooking some of the best foods and delectable treats. There are no menus, no list of micro-brewed beers, or ordering system. Harper’s only opened at nightfall, closed as daylight hit and was always full between those times, a cloud of people incessantly outside the doors. The battle to find a table matched only by the fight to keep it. Once gained, food and drink would appear on shoddy, graffitied tables.
Luna and Galla turned the last corner, the cloud of drifters and itinerants gradually using the last of the afternoon sun to gather and wait for it to fade. Galla and Luna crowded through the intimate space until they found Kai, defending a table.
“Took your time.”
“How’d you care?” Luna snickered at Galla answered.
“Double teaming tonight?”
“Always tri-teaming,” Luna replied, kicking him in the leg. They sat, the noise of Harper’s flexing, while the winter sun drifted to its inevitable solution.
“So do we get food here?” Galla asked.
“I already ate. You two are late.”
“Ohhh, Kai,” Galla brightened, “Guess…”
“Galla, no,” Luna pushed Galla mockingly, her face pulsating red in an instant as her thoughts turned to Chloe. Even her own mind betraying her, already flipping a hummingbird customer to thinking of her by name.
“What?” Kai’s interest peaked from Luna’s obvious flush, “Tell.”
“Don’t Galla,” warned Luna.
“Well, Kai,” began Galla, “Luna met someone…”
“That’s it!” Luna intercepted dramatically, “Kai, so no. Galla is simply being…”
Kai laughed, purring, “Owww, Luna…”
“She’s a corporate hummingbird, Kai, seriously,” Luna rolled her eyes.
“Ewwww. Social death.”
Laughing, more Harper’s specials appeared on the table. The three friends relaxed and chatted and with the inevitable influx of people, rose to the inspired pleasure of Harper’s entertainment. Even when Kai left for work, Galla and Luna stayed, mixing their bodies to the sounds, flowing and twisting until the last of the night relinquished to the dawn and Harper’s closed itself from it, a precipice retreating from dawn as it bleed life to the side walk.
The ladies, exhausted, drifted to their homes and yielded to the slumber awaiting them. There was a face in her dreams, a memory from the future, a longing for this figure remained when she woke, desperately longing for intimate connection with another. This intensity within the drift, the space between sleep and awake, and her desire burnt her soul into flames.
It took Chloe three days after the weekend away to walk back to Pacer and up to level two. It was late night, after finishing work, and she could not see the girl who captivated her interest so severely. Chloe wanted her, had dreamt about those dragon fire green eyes, the lilt of her her voice. She woke determined to talk to her, as she was unsure if she was simply focusing on someone, anyone, or if it was something about her specifically that had caught her attention. She had, instead of the spiral headed wonder, found the cashier with the unique facial scars walking across the floor.
Chloe shut the distance between them, “Excuse me.”
“How may I help you?” Galla smiled as she turned, recognising the customer to continue, “Beethoven?”
“Yes. Chloe, actually. I’m looking for Luna.”
“Really?” Galla’s smile deepened, “for?”
Chloe lowered her eyes as she flicked her wrist to see the time before replying, “That I’ll not say.”
“Then I’ll not help. She’s special.”
“Intriguing,” Chloe held Galla’s gaze, unspeakable micro-battles transmitting between them, “Its for a personal reason.”
“Then I can help,” Galla’s eyes glazed momentarily as she said, “Ivie…thirty minutes” before her focus returned to Chloe as she adjusted her headset, indicating the café in the corner. They sat in a quiet corner, coffee aroma drifting out of their cups before Galla asked, “What is it you want?”
“Luna,” Chloe’s voice with an unexpected tremor of truth, naked and scared of this exposure.
Galla’s smirked, “Really?”
“Lucky for you, I think she wants you, too.”
A smile broke across Chloe’s face, “Excellent.”
“Not so much. We’re not in high school. I’m not going to pass notes.”
“Fair enough. So I should just…ask, then?”
“You need to make sure she will not say no.”
“By being spectacular and unique, unexpected. All I’ll do is confirm our shift times. The details are up to you.”
Chloe wrote her number down, and shifted it across to Galla, “Thank you.”
“That’s okay. But I’ll be watching,” Galla laughed, “Sorry. That sounded bad…clichéd, I mean…”
“I understand,” Chloe replied as she joined in the laughter.
Luna sat with Galla at the edge of the dark edge of a dirty bar, watching the desperation shift by, “Why did we come here?”
“Because,” Galla shrugged.
“How’s that an answer?”
“If we’re going to hate the world together, can we at least observe the disgust with a little ingenuity.”
“We can do this at Harper’s. Or Arantxa if you want somewhere new.”
“We always go to Harper’s. It’s too easy. And we promised Kai we wouldn’t go to Arantxa without him.”
“Too easy? To do what?” Luna said.
“I don’t hate the world, G, and neither do you.”
“How do you not hate the world?” Galla pushed.
“G,” Luna finished her drink, disliking the challenge,“I’m leaving.”
“No. This place is skanky.”
“Fine. Violet Pier?”
“Fine,” Luna pushed her way out of the dark bar and onto the darker street, “Galla, why are we here?”
“Because I’m tired of pretending. You say no to everything.”
“What do you mean.”
“You saw the people back there? The aged despair, the lonely hopelessness. That is us. You. Me. Kai.” Galla knew Luna and Kai’s history, felt their pain and the constant presence of federal agents.
“How’ll we end up like that when there are three of us?”
“Kai is a stripper, worshipped for his slight frame and youth, will abandon himself to become the leader of a group as lost as he is. I hide…” Galla didn’t remember being loved, really, just a vague sense of comfort and warmth lingering that left her longing.
She unconsciously caressed her face, along the puckered skin sewn into three scars running from her hairline to just under her chin. These should have faded, but as her face grew, the scars stretched with it. Her eye had sustained far too much damage and was removed, completing the wreckage of her face. It is both what kept her apart and got her attention.
We build our own cages, Galla thought, I just keep bars around mine, “…you know you do, always volunteering to cover the silences, not filled by work. We’re denying what will let us grow. The three of us have this sense of contagious, contaminated decay wrapping us into our own world. We’ll be those people at that bar if we don’t change. I don’t want to be them.”
They remained silent until they reached the Violet Pier Bar, jutted precociously onto the end of the pier, where the pylons and water met. The night is damp and the pier wood gleamed wet underneath them walking out to the bar, decamping at a spot left of centre.
“Why now? What happened?”
“Luna. You’re acting all strange, you can’t even voice what you is going on, but I feel what you feel as much as you feel me. Something is drifting.”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. I guess.”
“No, L, I don’t know exactly what it is, but it is something And you’re scared. But scarier than what was in that bar?”
“Galla. I’m just not sure. We’re so different…”
“Truth? You cannot avoid life forever, even if you’re scared.”
Chloe sat at her desk, half a bottle of wine already gone, looking aimlessly out on the glowing city, as alive as ever at midnight. From this height, the cacophony of the streets dull. She had been at a corporate fundraiser. It seemed there were always more and more to attend, donate to, sit on the executive board with, fill all the time with. She is unsure how much emptiness she had left to fill, already lecturing at the universities medical unit, on the board for Avalon Asylum, the Opera committee, and the Arts Academy Foundation.
One weekend a month was already donated to the Kahtya Foundation, monitoring the health of the cities Kahtya Slums, infested as they are with disease and poverty. This all in addition to her actual work running the neurological unit at Mathilde Avenue Research Hospital. Chloe felt tired and desolate. All of these things, hollow objects and mirrored places were meant to be fulfilling her, yet had left her exactly where she currently was — alone.
Chloe’s life predetermined rather than predestined, she felt mostly her choices had been made for her, under the guise of “proper” reasons rather than for herself. Honestly, she could not say it was wrong, these decisions having made her wealthy, secure, successful and well respected. Still, external expectations dictated her current choices, how her reality is presented over how she actually felt. She always feels the isolation acutely. Unattached, her fear had distilled into a spectacular career, but an empty life. Her mind drifted, inexplicably, to the delightful Luna and she felt that it was time to implement her plan. She found her phone and texted Galla.
Chloe’s car service dropped her off at three am to Pacer. She stood, momentarily, outside before walking through the door. Galla texted her to tell her the level they would be on. She slipped up to the second floor, looking around the surprisingly busy floor. Instruments were being played across the café. She saw Luna standing on the counter, bass strung heavily between her hands.
Chloe mesmerised, hearing the melancholic heaviness of music, allowing thirty people to cohesively bind together, these remnants of the night scattered across the floor, sitting as enraptured as she. Chloe walked around the edge of the crowd to sit at an empty space, watching Luna’s nimble fingers across the four steel strings. A figure dropped down next to her as a clatter of bags landing at her feet, “Hi.”
“Galla,” Chloe smiled.
“I feel this may not be your type of music.”
“It does not mean I cannot enjoy this,” Chloe laughed.
“Or enjoying her…”
“Why are you not playing?” Chloe asked, ignoring Galla’s cheekiness.
“Went to get out bags,” Galla shrugged, “I was done.”
Coffee’s appeared within the hands of one of the cafe’s barristers. Galla took hers and Luna’s and indicated the third is for Chloe.
“Thanks,” Chloe admired, “Won’t Luna’s get cold?”
“Your welcome. Luna doesn’t really like hot coffee.”
They sat in silence, watching Luna finish that song and the next three, before jumping down and passing the instrument off. She came over and lent down to pick up her coffee before hesitantly looking at Chloe, softly saying “Hey…” before flicking her eyes to Galla, “Thanks, G.”
“Yup,” Galla and Chloe stood as Luna picked up her bag and walked together down to the ground level, into the silence. Chloe leaned in and whispered, “thank-you,” and as her lips pulled away, grazed them across Luna’s cheek, “see you tomorrow.”
They all walked out together and then separated, Galla and Luna heading towards the monorail.
“Why was she here, G?”
“I guess she likes you…” Galla said, smiling mischievously.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing, I swear!” Galla held her hands up, feigning innocence.
“Yes, of course you didn’t. Instead I’ve a stalker. Now I understand why you took me to drink in that filthy bar.”
Galla snorted, “Who’d stalk you?”
“Shut up,” Luna shouldered Galla.
When Luna got home as she pulled out her mobile, a brown paper wrapped object floated inside of her bag. She unwrapped it to find a notebook and matching pen. It was covered in muted watercolour owls. Opening the book to the inside cover, swift, confident handwriting had inscribed her name across the page. Luna smiled.
Branches the thickness of her wrist slapped her across her face, gouging out her skin, ripping at her hands as she tried to shield herself, bloodying her. She felt her breath scream in her throat, stabbing cold ice into her lungs, her feet slipping against uneven brook side damp.
She can’t see, feels the sharp drop in creature as white mist descended on her, falling disastrously against the a pool of water in the middle of the ocean and she thrashed swallowing brackish water, violently throwing herself awake, Luna sat up. She hadn’t had a night like this for a long time. She did not have the luxury of falling apart. Kai depends on her stability. Even when out of control, he knows to return to her safety.
When she dreams were like this, it was as if her history, her memories were coming to eat her alive from the inside. Her desire for this infuriatingly persistent woman triggered the nightmares again, allowed them to creep back into her life.
The entire week of night shifts, Chloe appeared at three am, effortlessly sexy, with a gift and shared a coffee. The week was intense and intimate until Galla texted her that they would not be at work for the weekend. She gave no other explanation, yet said that they were returning to night shifts. Chloe drove alone to her country cottage, Westwood Manor, to spend the weekend with friends she had known longer then herself. The radio she left off, with the windows closed against the chill.
This drive, while only three hours, is the only silence she seems to get, the only time she could truly be alone, allowing her to turn her beeper and mobile off. Her mind swam with Luna, her dancing, her fluidity, the small part of herself hoped against reality that Luna would be thinking of her, twisted with the same plague of intuition. This is the reason she is driving, to see the trilogy of lovers to centre her again, give her the insight she could not have of herself.
The cottage is her safe place, full of friends and memories binding them all together. Quin, Caro and Arlo shared her life since their time at boarding school. As the four of them moved through school and university together, becoming a bubble of their own making, insulated with everything they did. Study, travel and desire spun into years of evolution into adulthood, loving each other beyond all else.
The highway to the Lake’s district became smaller and thinner until twisting into a two lane road to connect all of the villages surrounding the two great lakes and the thirteen smaller ones hidden as they were within marshlands screaming with inhabited life. Lake St. Clair was heavily forested, villages and houses etched out of the ground with little visual impact to the flow of the lakes.
Chloe swung through the six largest villages along the first largest lake, closest to the interconnected highways. Even at this hour, life was drifting lazily, and the next few smaller villages were completely quiet. Chloe rounded over a bridge and the road squeezed smaller, rougher at the edges, as she continued a third of the way past the second lake where the villages slowed to a speckle and the cottages were isolated mansions prized for the century’s old stone work and deep treated timbre.
It was on the cusp of darkness, the daylight sifting through, shaking peppered light gradually succumbing to night when she drove past the single cobbled row of shops, Miller’s Inn, and hit a large gate fifteen minutes later that opened achingly at the push of a button recessed into her dashboard. The driveway was gravel and twisted through natural old growth forest. The cusp of change entranced Chloe, fascinated and enticed her, sheltered her, encased her within this transition between the space in the middle.
She walked in the wood front doors as dusk was settling further into darkness and walked into the living room. After curling within the warmth of her friends, she sat on the rug in front of the fire, the round glass glinting within the orange-yellow glow.
Caro, lying across the sofa staring at the dark ceiling, said, “Who is she?”
“I don’t know…” a wash of emotions surged through Chloe as she attempted to explain how someone she only just met threw her into turmoil.
“What do you know, then,” Arlo asked, curled up next to Quin.
“Her name is Luna. She works at Pacer. When we shook hands, it felt inexplicable, of fire and forever. Her eyes are dragon flame green and sear right through me. She has short, spiky purple and pink hair that is a halo of colour every time she stands near light, her voice sounds like honey in the rain. She has a watercolour owl tattoo on her neck,” hope floated in Chloe’s voice that in an ordinary moment, one simple and sweet and like any other, a squall can come and obliterate all else without warning. How within this ordinary moments, life transforms, mutates, changes.
“When did this happen?”
“Ten days ago. She’s been on night shift all week, I’ve been meeting her at three in the morning the entire time,” Chloe’s eyes were lost, hazy in the golden glow. The lull between the quartet was ancient and coiled across their thirty odd year friendship.
“On a scale of indifference to Disney princess, how lost are you?”
“Three thousand kisses and I would still not be done, three thousand kisses this second would not satisfy me. I lust for her beyond measure to which I could not live without her,” Chloe said, her face was part anguish, part euphoric desire to consume Luna, then she shrugged, “I sound absurd, even to myself.”
“You love the idea of her more than yourself. Finally, someone has broken through,” Caro smiled.
“I love you three more than me!” Chloe said, “and this whole situation is ludicrous. How do I feel this way when I don’t even know her.”
Its not the same. You know because that’s why you don’t live here with us. You understand the love we have together,” Quin indicated Arlo and Caro along with herself, “Is the love you want, and sometimes love is like is, friends who become lovers, yet this does not invalidate strangers having chemistry. Like you and Luna.”
Chloe shrugged, “yes, I know. She has…enthralled me.”
“We can tell,” chuckled Arlo, “Are we going to meet her?”
“I’m still working on it.”
“Wait. You haven’t been out with her yet?”
“Well…”Chloe smiled as she giggled, “…I’m trying.”
“Have you considered asking her, maybe?” Caro asked, “or do you need help with some farcical plan you’ve concocted?”
“I was thinking of a picnic in the greenhouse.”
“Perfect. I’ve some new treats you can taste test,” Quin added.