VII Lake St. Clair

Why is it so early,” Luna mumbled as she relinquished to being awake, “we weren’t out that late.”

I think it was what we did when we got back…”

Why, Chloe,” Luna rolled over, smiling salaciously, kissing the warm instep of Chloe’s neck, running her hand tauntingly over the hip underneath her fingertips, feeling Chloe’s heart beat raise beneath her pursuing lips.

Chloe moaned soft and raised her hip, responding to Luna’s insistent invocation heating her body. Unfurling to each other, whispering truths between moans, drifting further into merging their bodies until an alarm shrilled across the room. Luna shifted as Chloe’s body slowly twisted away and pushed herself from the bed to attend the beeper. Luna sighed and moved off the bed and into the bathroom, pushing the control panel starting the shower. By the time the water relaxed her frustrated muscles, Chloe joined her.

I’ve been called in,” kissing Luna on the shoulder, running her arms around her.

Okay,” Luna smiled at the slippery touch, “know when you’ll be off?”

Not at this point, will call you when I can?”

Absolutely. Call Ivie if I don’t pick up.”

What are you doing Monday?”

No plans.”

I’ve an idea and three days that I’m off and not on call. Think that you could get away?”

Yes, most likely, I’ll check with Ivie. Why?”

Excellent…” Chloe mumbled against her neck, “…road trip.”

Where are we going?”

Can Galla, Kai and Gerome get time off?”

Where? Yeah, probably, why, what about them?” Luna smiled, turning within the embrace.

The manor. I know Kai and Galla are important to you. There’s no reason we cannot all be…its not a choice between them and me. It’s felt like that lately, you’ve been balancing the scale between us. It shouldn’t have to be a choice.”

Luna considered what she is saying, “If its a balancing act, I’ve crashed.”

So. All of us. Three days off?”

Okay, sounds perfect,” Luna said, stepping out of the shower, and grabbing a towel, followed by Chloe. She loved the overnight trip they had taken, loved the peace of the Manor. She wanted to see Caro, Quin and Arlo again. Kai, Luna knew, would love it too.

Dressing and walking out of the penthouse to the street, a car waited for Chloe. She kissed Luna before reminding her, “Call you when I finish?”

I’m on at midday. Galla and I’ll be having dinner after if you wanted to come.”

Okay, I’ll keep it in mind. I’m not sure I’ll be up for much.”

Chloe…”

I don’t know what I am facing yet. Say hi to Galla?”

Will do. I’m on the same shift tomorrow. After?”

Yes. See you around nine-ish?”

Yes,” Luna leaned in kissing Chloe before she slid into the car and glided into traffic.

Luna walked up the street, aiming for the monorail. The grey sky casting steel blue throughout the mid-morning habitation of the cement streets. She did have enough time to go home but its easier and simpler to change at Pacer.

She skipped three stops on the monorail and come out onto the street Pacer dominated, lucky for always keeping extra clothes at work. The clothes she kept at Chloe’s were more relaxed and comfortable, incompatible for Pacer. She slipped down the side of Pacer and continued on to Ash’s to gather something to eat. Luna took her reserved seat in the corner of the bar and pulled her mobile out to see a text waiting from Chloe, “I love you.”

What are you smiling about?”

Luna lifted her head, “Hi Jamere. Nothing,” as she slipped her mobile back into her bag.

Chloe?”

Yep…”

Would you like to eat today?”

Okay, Okay,” Luna laughed, hands up in defeat, “She’s invited Galla, Kai and Gerome to the manor.”

To the place she took you on for the weekend getaway at Lake St Clair?”

Yes,” Luna flushed slightly, recalling the feeling of peace at the lake mansion, “She did. But just…you know, overnight, left on Saturday, came back Sunday.”

Family dinner time, I think,” Jamere smiled at the buoyant energy emanating from Luna. “I’ll bring her to the next one?” Luna sighed, “but, be gentle. She may’ve met you all, but I’m not sure she is ready for all of us together.”

That should do just fine,” Jamere handed Luna a brown bag with sandwiches.

Thanks,” Luna skipped out and back to Pacer to organise her time off with Ivie before shift.

So, where we eating?” Galla asked

Close to home?”

Sahntyna it is then. No Chloe tonight?”

She’s still at work. Some complicated case,” Luna shrugged, “On that note, would you like to come Lake St. Clair on Monday? Three day getaway.”

To that mansion she has out there?”

Yup, Chloe, Kai, Gerome, you and me.”

Is she crazy?” Galla snorted slipping among the meagre crowd and into the carriage, “Why?”

Because Chloe wants to. Kai is my brother and you are my closest friends and I’ve been neglecting you. I want us all to at least be familiar if not friends.”

This sounds like a serious attempt at integration.”

Yes. Jamere said I have to bring her to the next family dinner.”

I’d love to. I’ll call Ivie.”

Already did. You’re good.”

Sneaky, assuming I’d say yes.”

Luna shrugged, smiled and shifted out of the carriage, down the stairs, and towards the neon glow of Sahntyna. Walking in they saw Kai and Gerome in the back corner booth, midway through their meal.

What are you doing here?”

Looks like the trouble’s arrived,” Kai said around a mouthful of paella.

Trouble was already here,” Galla pushed him over in the booth and picked up some chips.

Luna sat next to Gerome and pulled sauce drenched chips from his plate, “how do you feel about a long weekend away in Lakes St Clair? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”

Long weekend? Chloe’s place?”

Yes, Chloe’s place, Westwood Manor,” smiling at her oldest friend, “Simply a few days away.”

All of us five? Sounds suspiciously delightful. How we getting there?”

Chloe has a car,” Luna finished the chips and started fishing around for Kai’s.

She doesn’t really know us….hey, grab that waitress, as you ate all of my chips,” Gerome sighed. Luna shrugged and called the roller skate wearing waiter over and ordered extra food for herself and Galla.

Kai looked at Luna. Watching her as he fractured subtly, his light flickering in the shadows of darkness. The happiness pervading her was alien. He rapidly became overwhelmed with old fears, encouraged by the memories of the voices screaming during those first nights.

Luna stood, always, to face the world and adapt to it. She had, chameleon like, adjusting to exploit favour, learnt how to remain unseen in a city with too many watchful eyes, how to manipulate the weakness in others to her advantage. Galla was the first person she met she had not been able to bend to her will, and this made them friends.

Kai searched for the power he felt on their last night at home, a pervasive sense of destiny and failed when, here, separated when placed into care, all fate was off. While Luna evolved and grew into her power, Kai relinquished his too a world intent on defeating him. He failed to thrive, stayed too long in Luna’s shadow, siphoning her power and protection for comfort. Looking past his own turmoil, Chloe seemed perfect to Kai when he felt her as keenly as Luna obviously did. The quartet sat deep into Wednesday night, highlighted in the neon glare.

The next night Luna and Chloe lay in the living room eating Chinese out of cardboard containers, the muted glow of the television flicking light to the room, “Why are you really taking all of us?”

Because connections shouldn’t be disregarded. Kai, Galla and you’ve too much of a history and I want too much of a future. Archer was, of course, invited, yet Ivie mentioned that she declined. Too far away.”

Luna sighed contently, “Yes. Okay. That makes sense, I guess. But 3 days in the Lake’s District?”

You’ve been spending time with me at the expense of your friends. No reason why we cannot all complete the circle. It’ll be fine. And fun.”

But….” Luna struggled against the inclusion of her love and her life, failing to understand how far she ventured into this love that she was renouncing the life she fought to have made, “…Chloe.”

Luna, it is simply just…We. Us. Our.” Chloe smiled, shrugged and nodded as she reached out her hand to trail it down Luna’s face, “You are here. I do not fear for anything.”

Chloe…”

That first week, you know, when I saw you at three every morning?”

Hmm.”

What did you do those three days in-between that and the date on Monday?”

I worked the Winter Solstice Festival.”

Played at the festival?”

Yes. Celebration of life and death. Galla and I played. We also play the Summer Solstice Festival.”

What did you play?”

Violin.”

Was this for Smash Punch?” for by now Chloe knew Luna did nothing without charitable purpose.

Yes, it was. Always.”

Why are you with me?”

Luna sat up, shifted to look in Chloe’s eyes, “What do you mean?”

Chloe tugged gently, pulled her back into her, “You do everything with intent. I seem a little off plan is all.”

Luna relented to Chloe’s persistence and laid her head back on Chloe’s shoulder, “You are definitively off plan. But much of my life here has been off plan. Actually being here at all is in fact extremely off plan,” Luna snuggled in as Chloe wrapped her arms tighter, “but you broke me out of being so dedicated to everything else but myself, I guess.”

This is a good thing?” Chloe murmured against her temple.

No. Of course not. Change is an awful, terrible thing…”Luna squirmed in Chloe’s embrace as she giggled, “Why do you want to know?”

I was just thinking if I hadn’t come in to find Beethoven, or come back at three in the morning, or asked you for the first date. How terrible it would it have been not to have you?”

Luna shifted her head up and kissed Chloe, “You are incredibly sweet you are.”

You need to know how important you are to me, how serious I am about you. I love you,” now she could say it, she couldn’t stop.

Chloe…” Luna’s voice obscure as she leaned in, kissing her briefly again before returning her head to the perfect space in the crest of Chloe’s neck.

If only you could see yourself how I see you, you would see how beautiful you are,” Chloe tenderly continued, caressing Luna’s back, exquisitely exploring all of her details.

Are we getting there the same way?” Luna softly spoke, feeling overwhelmed as the pieces final came together, loving the soft touch caressing her skin, gentle as whispering wings from a butterfly.

Yes. They can all stay here the night before or we can pick them up on the way through. When are you all working?” Chloe accepted the diversion.

Galla and I get off at three am, Kai and Gerome at six.”

So, your all going to sleep all the way there?”

Probably,” Luna smiled, “I’ll tell them to dump their bags here so we can just pick them up on the way out,” mumbling as she finished her food.

Makes sense,” Chloe stood and grabbed the empty food containers, Luna stumbling to help, before slipping into their bathroom for their evening ritual. Luna’s favourite was the shower, carnivorous space she could do as she willed, pursued flesh exposed, water causing slippery bodies to flush together.

Finished, Luna pulled the blankets up and snuggled into Chloe’s body, pressing her lips against bare skin, “I never let myself have a spare moment. Ever. I couldn’t. If I had one single second, I would think and then I would’ve fallen apart.”

Was it that bad?”

No. But I could never forgive myself. Kai refused to speak. Gretchen was overwhelming. By then, everything had fallen apart and twisted into each other, warped how I felt about everything. I rejected opportunities out of spite. I…” Chloe felt the warmth of tears collecting in the hollow of her throat, “I couldn’t reject you.”

Chloe felt the chasm snap, breaking her wide open and spilling out of her. Luna’s voice is heavy as she said, “I cared until I couldn’t. Galla noticed, pushed me into confronting how I didn’t negotiate my reality. And then there was you. Caring. I had always chosen to be busy because it was easier. Until you offered me…you, I guess.”

Chloe felt hot breath tickling across her throat and she swallowed hard before saying, “I always fought everything. You made me different. For you, that first time I saw you, I wanted you and wanted to fight that I felt that. Instead, insanely so, I submitted to pursuing this. I was terrified, knowing that you could say no. But, here you are, a revelation.”

Luna shuddered, surrendering to this feeling of improbable, decadent love, “You are my dream before the dawn, yet still you stay gold with the rising of the sun.”

Chloe leaned in, drifting into a kiss as light as heaven, weaponising this sentimentality held between them. Luna leaned forward, meeting her lips and falling deeper into their kiss. Luna realising that better than being loved is loving, and encompassing them both in words she could not say but show. Trembling, she kissed down Chloe’s neck, across skin stretching in pleasure and her tongue began to trace lace, teasing the wetness soaking through.

Whimpering drifted down to Luna, encouraging her exploration, her lips burned down Chloe’s body until she was blooming beneath her. Moving up just a couple of inches, her lips murmured across the ribbon trimmed pantie line as Chloe shivered when her teeth made contact. Luna peeled down the lace, pulling them away from the body she desired and kissed her way back up the leg to bury her face in luscious sweet taste of Chloe.

Anticipation compressed the next three days into laughter filled fun. At the end of their shift, Galla and Luna took the town car Chloe insisted on sending for them to her apartment, where they played games, too excited to sleep until Chloe woke by alarm and dragged herself over to the excited friends, “Morning Girls.”

Morning. Shower?” Luna asked.

Chloe vaguely nodded, the alarm still buzzing around in her head. Luna nodded at Galla and went to shower and dress with Chloe but was quick enough to head back to the kitchen to prepare breakfast burrito, easy to take in the car.

Hay, G, use the bathroom through there.”

Blue room?”

Yup.”

Kay, thanks.”

They fumbled through the rest of the getting ready before the three went down to the apartments basement car-park, the car already stacked with their bags. Chloe, driving, asked Luna for directions to Marlene’s and pulled up just after six, the car full of Galla and Luna’s energy.

Kai and Gerome scrambled into back seats and collapsed against the back rests, “Well, that’s one shift I’m happy to leave behind.”

That bad?”

No one good goes to a strip club on a Sunday night.”

Ew.”

Yup.”

The sun shone off the purple river. Raptor City was built hard against a river twenty three kilometres from an ocean. The water flowed from the deep heart of the country, hidden tablelands and cavernous underground caves. The last three kilometres of Violet River were muddy tributaries crossing purple veined swamp trees. There’s still no explanation as to why the water threw a violet shade.

They chatted aimlessly enough for half an hour before gradually each one drifted off into an uncomfortable slumber, half slumped against the cool, chilled glass and left Chloe driving on alone. The early morning city traffic graduated to the empty silence of country highways. Only a three hour drive, Chloe could handle the soft twitches of dreaming friends.

Pulling up to the house into a circled gardened roundabout she tooted the horn. Three bodies collected out of the door with excited smiles, “Chloe.”

Arlo,” a swift hug, “Caro,” until, “Quin,” the four of them laughing as Luna stirred with the breeze, struggling against the sleep pulling her underwater. Chloe turned back to the car as Luna mumbled “Chloe?”

Hi,” Chloe walked around the passenger door and pulled it open as Luna slipped out into her arms stretching into the hug under the sunlight, unfurling like a cat. Luna stumbled against Chloe as her spine snapped back in and Chloe kissed her laughing, overwhelmed at how quickly this beauty has hijacked her heart, scrambled all the signals and rewired her brain.

Luna kissed back, twisting out of her arms to turn into the car, reached over the seat and pushed Galla, “Hey, G, time to see sunshine.”

Ehhhh,” Galla resisted waking by thumping Kai and Gerome.

Luna giggled as she turned back, stretched again before moving to hug the three women, “Ladies.”

Luna,” three voices spoke in unison, laughing, pointing at the car, “You did that on purpose.”

Gerome crawled out after Galla while Kai, leaning against Gerome, is jarred awake as he hit the seat. He stumbled from the car, stretching out his arms and stamping his feet awake. Luna turned from the women and gestured at them, “Galla, Kai, Gerome.”

Turning in recognition of their names, Luna said, “Arlo, Quin, Caro, and yes, I did.”

The eight stood silent for a moment, shaking off sleep and excitement, unknown elements with the love for Chloe and Luna stringing threads between all of them.

Hi,” all smiling at each other awkwardly.

Let’s get those bags in,” Quin said.

Galla stretched following her to the boot, replying, “Sure, as long as it gets us out of this sun.”

Luna, distracted by Chloe, turned to say, “Did someone say bags?”

Yes,” Arlo moved to the back of the car, the rest swirling around to the back end while Chloe released the catch. Galla, Luna, Kai and Gerome grabbed their own bags as Arlo, Carol and Quin extracted the shopping bags.

Galla, guys, come with me. I’ll show you to your rooms, as long as you all don’t go back to sleep,” Chloe said.

Okay, but we get to eat soon, right?” Kai smiled.

Yup,” Luna laughed, “that burrito was lucky it took you this far.”

Silence,” Kai swung his bag playfully towards Luna, “for we need sustenance.”

Well, then you better follow me quickly,” Chloe took Kai and Gerome to their room in the right wing of the third floor and showed Galla to hers across the hall, and after confirming they all remembered the way back down, left them.

I will see you all downstairs,” as she led Luna on to the left wing of the hall suite.

Luna put her bags down, Chloe embraced her immediately, knowing Luna’s precocity for waking up, “You okay?”

Hmmm. Yes.” Luna squeezed tighter, melting into the warmth, the stillness between them changed, mutated against their silence, drifting to places both of them could inhabit. Peaceful, Luna thought, peace she had never encountered, at least not in this way.

Luna. What is it?”

Nothing, really,” Luna buried her face into Chloe’s neck, “I like it here.”

Unsure of where she meant in her arms or at the manor, Chloe’s voice soft, imbued with love, asked, “Hungry?”

I guess,” Luna gently kissed the pulse beating under Chloe’s skin as she drew back.

So am I,” Chloe reached out for Luna’s hand, entwining their fingers.

She knew how completely monumental her love for Luna is, that she desired her terrifyingly so, desperately so, and they are in a place they could both afford to show their feelings, where she could exhibit her devotion. She still feels love is a terribly inaccurate representation of how she feels, “Let’s go.”

Walking down the stairs, holding comfort with each other and smiling at the raucous laughter drifting from the kitchen as the group attempted to make sandwiches. Chloe and Luna joined, smelling the multi-layered scents of home. Luna tightened her grip on Chloe’s hand, feeling the gravity of finding her home among the wreckage of her life.

The eight of them together combined over food freshly made. Quin, Caro and Arlo, this iconic apex triumvirate, melted into such a flawless symphony together and even Chloe in awe of them. Their relationship created a pervasive sense of calm beauty that infiltrated the guests, diffused their demeanour.

The day expanded around them as much as inside of them ans they wandered the groves, and swam in the dual temperatured lake, in-between the sun warmed upper layers and chilled, icy lower layers, eight bodies bobbing up and down, voices and splashes intermingled in the open air. They all flowed together around the day, enjoying the expanse of the house and the lake while the world spun outside of them.

The daylight of the second found Luna walking the path out to the lake, Galla to the forest and Kai and Gerome ventured to Miller’s Inn. Chloe sat on the couch, over stuffed and soft, confident, relaxed in love. Quin, lying across the sofa, kicked out beyond the full satisfaction of lunch, turned her head to the side and looked over to Chloe, “She’s still delightful.”

I know.”

They’re young.”

Yes. But ravaged enough for all of us.”

Gerome seems the odd one out.”

Yes. But only because he is not as mangled as the rest of us.”

Probably,” Quin laughed, “you two are insufferably sweet together.”

Chloe looked out towards the lake, contemplating, “She’s filled that blank space. I don’t know how else to describe it…everything that’s me has an exceptionally exaggerated value. My education, my wealth. She is this enigma, the single entity not exaggerated. Her loss would be so extravagantly fatal. All else blurs and crumbles into insignificance. She shines against all of those dark places I carry in my heart. She is why I wake up in the morning. I think of her constantly, even when we’re together. “

I can see it. You are worthy, you know, you are enough. Even if she is part of some secret hipster criminal underworld,” Quin leaned back after shuffling the pillows behind her.

They certainly look that way, don’t they,” Chloe laughed, shrugging against the emotion overwhelming her, her voice low “…I guess we’re so unexpected.”

It usually is. No one expects it.”

How did you get it?” even though Chloe saw it happen and they had had this conversation before, perspective always a fabulous thing.

I didn’t. I was the last to know. Caro was…” Quin waved her hands around, “Caro noticed our love in the silence, noticed before either of us our potential together, how our movements sang to each other and bound us all together, love deeply forged. Caro raised Arlo to us, extending our enclave for the three of us. Caro was certain, quelled any anxiety we had about a trilogy of love. She wrapped us three together, enfolding all of us together. There is nothing else we wanted, settled as we are into desire, love weaved through us, passions pursued, our tranquillity was…” Quin sighed, “…Still felt like a surprise. Both times. Now, they would probably say the same, that it was unexpected and a surprise. Yet, here the three of us are. In love. Still.”

I guess,” Chloe smiled, “You three have always just been.”

No. Us four have always been. Everything else is just surface story. We may be clubbing at our half-century, but we’re all finally the people we are meant to be, more solid, cohesive and together.”

Galla left the stone home soon after lunch on this second day, willing herself to walk under the coolness of the canopy. Shades of green over layers of brown and a sedate sense of dampness. A sharp, soft crack behind her made her turn.

Hi,” Caro said. She held two baskets in her hand, and offered one out to Galla, “Interested?”

Yes,” Galla took the basket, “What are we looking for?”

Dinner,” Caro indicated Galla to follow, walking deeper into the forest.

Almost all of their food is produced at the farm and Caro preferred to sell the excess at the farmers market. Quin created heavenly concoctions from other portions, mixing chilli mushrooms, lime apple preserves and creating tastes they all loved. It was Arlo who knew what she could do, knew these things were definitively marketable.

How do you know what’s okay to eat?”

I cultivate it.”

OK…” Galla placed her hand against a trunk and steadied her herself while negotiating the incline.

Intentionally tilling by creating farm land gives you versatility to grow things not naturally grown, a chance to encourage mutated growth. I choose not to do that. I grow what can and what should be grown here. We’ve an intentionally small production, as we never wanted to be a commercial farm.”

You’re popular for a non-commercial venture.”

It wasn’t the plan we wanted to be self-sufficient,” Caro paused and turned, looked at the stone manor, the centrepiece to this flowing forest bloom, eyes unfocused.

Only Caro seemed to remember where all the growth is and when to extract the delicacies, only she attuned to the play of the seasons. All her life she had been. before continuing, “Some things are grown by allowing the earth it’s own time frame, allowing the natural heart to bloom. There is nothing grown here that couldn’t find its place in the eaves of trees, in the cracks of the bark, along the boroughs or nestled within the dark, moist dirt fed by decaying leaves.”

Have you always wanted this,” Galla shrugged, gestured around, “wanted to be a gardener?”

She refocused and turned towards Galla, “I was raised in a mansion by the sea. The salty breeze always followed me, highlighting the ice in my hair and making the hollow colour in my eyes stand out. I was the twelfth generation to live there in a long line of wealthy heritage and breeding. I was meant to be a lawyer, but I was the eight child of an overzealous mother, wanting to make up for an absent, industrialist husband. This became a gift, allowing me to escape the banality of inheriting my family estate and be constrained by legacies of expectations, I don’t miss the sea in this forest,” Caro pulled at a tree root, he voice lost in the breeze, hustling through the trees as Galla understood she was talking about more than simply the forests, “we wanted our own world. We didn’t want the false positive reality offered. We wanted…” Caro stopped and shrugged.

Galla looked at the shadows dancing with the afternoon, softly completed Caro’s sentiment “…to feel more than what you were told you should feel.”

Caro looked at Galla, observed the young, scared face before answering, “Yes. To feel. To know.”

Why here?”

Chloe hasn’t said? Can you grab those?” Caro pointed to edged mushrooms, spawned in the recess of tree roots.

Galla climbed up the slight embankment and gently pulled the storm grey cups, sheltering them in the wicker basket. Standing to brush dirt against her pants, she continued along a path set by Caro, quickly adding, “She may have told Luna.”

We all met back at school. It was one of those where rich parents leave their children when they become too old to be cute yet to young to be useful. That age where its better to be locked away then to get up to any scandalous behaviour,” She stopped and kneeled down to pull out buried carrots, thin crystalline green tops shuddering in the breeze.

My father caused the scandal, drinking at a business function, drove the three hours home, and closer to home then not, hit a local and killed him. He lasted a year, ashamed and broken, before taking his own life. I became a pariah when I returned to school after this, the legacy of my father sent gossip filtering down to school friends. I could never escape my name, not the way I look,” Caro swallowed, “I’m obviously a Xanthe, we all have the same sharp cheekbones, glacial eye colour and ice white hair. It is so much the dominant family trait that my siblings are virtually indistinguishable from each other, to anyone outside the family.”

Galla kept quiet, waiting for the soft cadence of Caro’s voice to continue, “I was excluded for the first time because of my family rather than included due to it. I was lucky to attend boarding school far enough away to only return to the house during the summer holidays. The four of us were all different. Strange. Excluded somehow. That’s how we became friends. What I could do is choose the family I wanted, and I did. From what I can gather, how you, Luna and Kai chose each other. Mutual trauma.”

Caro delicately reached up and plucked greens from behind bark hollow which, falling to the ground as the protection was no longer needed, landed in a gentle whispered thud before her voice lilted once more, “Quin came out here, working the summer after graduation. She found this place in ruin and when Chloe and I visited, she showed us. The Manor was a devastation, and we all fell in love with it. Quin stayed and turned this place into what it is. It took me a couple of years to move out here, where I began cultivating the garden. Quin and I…” Caro paused to kneel to the ground and began digging, fingers probing into earth, pulling out beetroot, “In that corner, between those two trunks. Dig there.”

Galla drifted between the trunks and imitating Caro, caressed the ground, shifted the dirt around, and began excavating. Caro’s voice again drifted the divide, as she stood basket in one hand, brushing the excess dirt off with the other, “When you find home, you stay. The grove is down here.”

Luna walked barefoot from the house down to the jetty, and swung her feet as she sat at the end. Westwood Manor both busy and delectable in its tranquillity. The natural noise filtered from everywhere around her and it gave her a peace she hadn’t felt since Tempenka. She knew she irrevocably lived forward, yet can only remember backwards. This place was softer, woodier, richer. Tempenka was grassier, drier, duller. Yet both swayed Luna’s physical memory triggering each other, the past and the current, shuffling within her like a deck of cards, looping time inside of itself. Westwood Manor stood in stone behind her, blended into the sky, slumbering against the earth.

Arlo slipped down to the jetty and sat next to Luna. Relaxing silence nestled in around the two as they mimicked each others slow arch leg swing. Luna spun her fingers through seeds carried upon the wind, Arlo waited.

I missed this. There is silence here unlike the city.”

Yes,” Arlo looked out upon the lake, watching pale arms unfurling, fingers drifting, “Chloe said that you were raised on a farm?”

Yes,” Luna folded her insect thin arms back into her body and rested her hands to her lap, absolute stillness, “I forgot how quiet it is outside of the city. Memory is a funny thing — one insignificant detail can trigger others.”

Bad? Good?”

Both,” Luna remained still, “as everything usually is.”

This silence is gentle between them as Arlo asked, “Why does Galla have those scars?”

A car accident when she was a child. She exchanged her parents for those,” Luna’s voice reflected a loss not her own, but one she held for her friend.

She doesn’t have anyone?”

She has me and Archer, Kai. She has herself.” Luna opened her arms and showed her palms, offering what she had, smiling sadly as she did so.

Yes. She does.”

Like you’ve Chloe,” Luna stated, understanding their relationship beyond what could ever be told.

Of course we do.”

Luna sighed, tilted her head, “What is Arlo?”

I was named after a folk singer.”

Why a folk singer?”

Chloe mentioned you’ve a connection with names. It means my mother listened to his particular music a lot while she was pregnant with me.”

What about Quin and Caro?”

Caro, after her grandmother. Quin after her father. Chloe said you know what our names mean. How our names are a jigsaw fitting together.”

Okay. Like Gerome was named after his father. Yes, names represent the pattern binding us together.”

Why are names so important?”

Names connected to who you are and to who everyone else is and anchored to both your presence and destiny in this world. My name means Moon of the Celestial Sphere. Kai’s means Tree with Deep Earthen Roots, our names balance each others, creating a harmony,” Luna subtly shifted her position, “names are the truth of who you are.”

Caro’s middle name is Celestia.”

I told you. Names connect us to the people we are meant to have in our lives, kind of prophetic,” Luna voice lilted with laughter as small pieces filled gaps that had been void for years. These three were as much part of Chloe as Chloe was of her, all of them orbited the woman in love with moons.

Gerome was counting the buildings at Miller’s Inn as Kai walked around from the end of the street, calling, “Seriously. This is amazing.”

I know,” Kai ran his hand down the stonework, looking at twelve shops standing along a quiet street.

I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Look,” Kai pointed at a glass shop as they walked over to the glazed window. A small sign hung in the recessed door with opening hours posted, “there beautiful.”

Who runs it?”

We can ask,” Kai shrugged, “Luna would love that one.”

I guess,” Gerome turned back to the street, stone cobbled in its short length, “Its like time has stopped.”

Or being regressed. The Manor brings tourists here.”

So cynical,” sighed Gerome, “for someone so temperamental. The Manor shop is in Kaxis Wood, anyway.””

Kai rolled his eyes, “the shop is closed until four. The café on the corner said it will open at three.”

That is still an hour away. Nothing will open before then.”

Should we wait or walk back?”

Walk back. We can go for another swim.”

Luna walked into the basement to find Arlo’s office with an ancient wooden potting desk and an open view to Quin’s basement space, along with a phone, only ever answered during business hours, a laptop and desk lamp. The basement Quin specifically designed to include all of their work spaces, bottles labelled and stacked into precise rows. Installed refrigerators walled along the left, close to the external stairs, filled with the chilled excess of Caro’s haul.

The trilogy shifted around each other flawless, building together a boutique, organic empire branded as luxury. Arlo was grateful the organic boxes Caro produced for the Atelier along with Quin’s Preserves had exceeded expectations in the wider population. Arlo manoeuvred them in a perfectly placed position of desire being greater than supply, when she limited the products available, and boosted there exclusivity.

Among this consuming work, Arlo noticed the subtle coil of Caro’s fingers as she constructed a place for her attention, her scent as she leaned in and changed an order. Arlo watched as Quin, unnaturally petite yet filled a room with her presence, measured and turned simple treats into flavours beyond imagination, evoking landscapes usually sequestered in dreams, she hummed lullabies, a lilted murmur of comfort underneath her breath.

Caro and Quin independently spaced their own endeavours in harmony, shifting together, creating delicacies. All of their products tasted unlike anything else, an orgasm for the palate. Within ten years, the business provided the household income, and a store opened in Kaxis Wood, enticing the tourist trade with their treats. Arlo would not provide to third party sellers, but did donate four boxes, one for each season, to charity auctions.

Hi Luna,” Arlo looked up from her paperwork, “What’s up?”

Hi Arlo,” Luna looked around, “Chloe told you anything about Smash Punch?”

A little,” Arlo shuffled some files in the back right corner of her desk, pulling out Chloe’s email, “She said something about a charity box for a gala?”

Yes. That would be it.” Luna sat in the chair Arlo indicated.

Chloe said she’s getting us tickets. We’ll bring the box in when we come in. You’ll need description and photo of completion seven days before for the program?”

Excellent. Yes. Photo and content.”

Of course,” Arlo annotated the email, included an update for the donation schedule, “Chloe said that you are the donation co-ordinator?”

Yes, first time, actually.”

How you finding it?”

Good. Usually, I’m more background prep. At most, I may play. This is much more responsibility. I love it.”

You have many items?”

Yes. We’ve regular donors. But I’ve been trying to get a bit more variety, like this is a bonus even if I didn’t get it myself,” Luna’s lopsided smile charmed Arlo.

Yes, you did. You’ve learnt the first rule if any event. Connections.”

Yup. Always a bonus. How do you guys choose where your donation goes.”

Mostly pulled out of a bag of applications. Sometimes where here of ones we want to donate to. Like Chloe and Smash.”

Thank you.”

You’re as special as she says.”

Luna scaled various shades of red, “I think you know she’s the special one.”

Absolutely,” Arlo nodded, “look at the symmetry in that.”

An open fire glowed scattered light across main living room. None of the sofa’s matched and the pillows an array of splattered colour to hide the stuffing peaking from underneath the buttons. All eight nestled within the safety of the fires yellow glow. Galla lay across some pillows, smelling the lyrical notes of the room, and observing the relationships snuggled in the room.

Kai and Gerome, their youth buzzing with tension, tangled over the floor. Luna and Chloe, rested in delightful freshness, coiled in the corner of a sofa. Caro, Quin and Arlo, a triangle shaped trilogy floating beyond the boundaries of each other and curled into contentment beyond measure. Galla felt hope, comfort in this future where love could flourish against sharp harsh reality plaguing this group. Eight voices each sang a song, melting into a syrup shaped lullaby.

Luna lay in the large bed, darkness deep with only pale moon illumination. Chloe’s arm slung over her, snuggled together, sharing the warmth of each other. Luna is so sure at this moment, so certain of their nest she feels an emotion she barely recognises: safe. She is unfamiliar with safe and its unsettling, unmooring her from inhibitions in remembering the past. Even though she is gentle as she shifts out of the bed and walks over to the windows to look out into the world, Chloe woke, feeling her absence.

The darkness filtered shadows drifting around the slight figure standing in front of the universe, as black is burned blue with the light of a thousand million tiny fires, leaving trails of light reflected off her skin, she is beyond this realm. The quarter moon cast a ghostly sanguine light. Chloe waited for her eyes to adjust as she shifted to sit up. Her soft voice drifted under the noiseless space, “Luna?”

Its so pretty here,” Luna’s murmur flattened the space between them.

What is it?”

Just thinking. When I was younger.” Luna remained still.

Chloe crossed the room and slid her arms around Luna, who leaned back into her warmth, comforted as she drifted and continued, “It was so quiet at night. We all slept in a big room together, all of us under twelve. The nursery guardians, our teachers, slept by the doors. We used to escape out of this window and go down to swim in the creek. It would’ve been very early morning, two or three. We would’ve done this when we were four or five, I guess. The creek was always freezing in the darkness. It was so much fun.”

Luna’s eyes unfocused, the curve of her mouth hovering fondly with the memory. Chloe remaining wrapped around the woman she loved, allowed her float among the memories reflected upon the surface of the lake. A short while later, when it was apparent she would not say any more, Chloe pulled Luna to their bed where Chloe drifted back to sleep in her arms.

Luna, unable to sleep, as it is too evasive in this peace, disentangled from Chloe and slipped out of the large, warm room and of the mansion into the cool pre-dawn. The path comfortably worn and smooth beneath her naked feet. The wood squeaked as she walked to the end and sat down. The steady heartbeat of Chloe asleep in the darkness is duplicitous, both an enticement and terrifying. The rhythm of her own heartbeat changed, tuned to Chloe’s source and aligned itself, until she could hear both beats rushing the sound of the sea through their bodies.

She knows she loves Chloe because her reality is defiantly better than even her dreams and she lost any desire to sleep when she could live it. The boards of the pier squeaked while the pallor of the lightning sky turned grey. Life is both waking from it’s sleep to welcome the rising star with slow haphazard grace, and beginning to sleep, feathers rustling as night faded.

You haven’t slept,” a voice behind her stated as it moved and sat next to her.

A little,” Luna shrugged and nestled her head into Chloe’s shoulder while still maintaining her view of the lake.

Tell me. Please.” Chloe’s gently evoking love, amplified echoes through chambers of them both.

It reminds me of when we were children. Kai and I. The sounds of the water in the creek. Finally understanding how to read. Morning sun rituals. How to bake bread. Beheading the ancient chickens.”

Luna quietened, stilled by the ripple of pink flooding the world, replacing the gray while an undercurrent of peach rose to kiss the underbelly of sky, “but none of its really honest. It was keeping us infantile, hidden from reality, whist pretending we knew it all. You make me a better me. These memories are sticky residues and don’t remind of home. You do. You, I find insane I want to wake up to you and when I don’t, I miss you. I find it terrifying that I want to wake up to your face. Yet. I want to. Still. Sometimes it stops me sleeping.”

You humble me every single day. I love you,” Chloe said, flushed as the gold dawn swayed over the lake and blazed the glass lake into fire.

Good,” Luna lifted her head and turned slightly to look in Chloe’s eyes, finally able to say what she felt, her tone so slick, Chloe slid right off without ever finding purchase, “Because I love you.”

There lips met as the sky completely shattered darkness into daylight.

Kai and Luna are lying like they used to, on the earth with their souls bleeding into it, soft skin touching from their shoulders to their hands, resting love. It is a sense memory from childhood they could not remember not doing. The soft noises of Lake St. Clair surrounded them as dirt scratched across their backs, the sun heating their shirtless bodies, “I’m sorry Luna. I was jealous. Am jealous.”

Why?” the lilt in her voice reflected in his, always matching.

You…you ran. I kind of followed. I never would’ve on my own. I always thought you’d have left, irrelevant of whether I followed. You didn’t need me at all. You always have this, I don’t know. Luck. You got us to the city. You got Gretchen. I got the bingo preacher. Galla was scarred and almost blinded. You, though, just went on.”

Kai, it’s still all you. You followed me. Preacher was very good to you, you just missed the comfort of Tempenka. Galla’s scars are her own. As are mine. We deserve to live, Kai. I know we were taught that outside of bounds would be cursed, but you need to grow beyond that. Challenge what we were taught. I’m not taking your jealousy.”

And I’m not giving it. I felt out on the serrated contour of reality when you ran, you carried within you the genesis of our destruction, you lost our freedom by stealing the opportunity to survive the urban decay thrust upon us, living as if we held no value or beauty or interest. We’ve always infected each other with this type of emotional contagion. I’m simply telling you it’s been hard to see you get the luck again. We fly within our own wingspan, but sometimes another flies in front of you and eases the burden. You always flew in front of me, I took your tailwind yet missed what you can see out the front. Chloe looks at you with such beauty. I see how she is with you, cusping the wind and guiding it to you.”

Glowing in the sunshine, their unease with each other always temporary, their words only part reflection of the legacy within them, their birth bond unbroken.

Kai. I don’t know. Really. But she’s something. She’s willing to love me past our pain. She isn’t just willing, she does. She does love me. Loves us. Because we are. At some point there is no…I’ve always loved lonely, because I’ve never been lonely, Kai. I’ve always had you and a destiny that is hard to outrun. We will never be those children again. She eases my pain, Kai. Please relax. She loves me because of our past and in spite of it,” Luna paused, waiting for her voice to come back, waiting for the words to assemble, “Kai. This is how the future happens, not by avoidance, but by standing. I’m standing.”

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