Mercy

VIII MERCY

Dinner with Jamere and Abraxas at Karaleigh’s was a progression to their relationship she found hopeful and endearing. Luna thought about these two women who dominated her life as mothers as she slipped quietly out of the bedroom, shoeless yet dressed.

Luna?”

Hmmm?”

You look beautiful,” Chloe walked up and procured kissed her cheek.

Thank you,” Luna whispered, encircling Chloe to smooth their bodies together, kissing her.

You need to calm down,” Chloe murmured between kisses, her breath rustling against Luna’s lips.

I know. Dinner is serious, though,” Luna sighed.

Unlike anything else we’ve been doing?” Chloe waited for the soft giggle, “and only because its absolutely obvious we’re…”

We’re what?”

In love…” Chloe sighed, “…it falls of us.”

Only?”

Heroic, then,” she laughed, “but we should get going or we shall be late.”

Heroic?” gathering her bag, she followed Chloe out of the apartment, “like an old time movie?”

Everlasting. We’ve beautiful live. All of those showers and sneaking off for inappropriate nap times…” Chloe pushing the elevator button, the door at once opening. They stepped in and Luna hit the lobby button. Chloe dropped her hand, lacing her fingers into Luna’s. Walking out of Ellysion, flawless, together they turned to walk up to Karaleigh’s.

Chloe squeezed slightly too tightly, “…is this how you felt going to Westwood?”

Yes. Except Jamere and Abra already like you because I love you and you’ve all met on several occasions,” Luna crinkled her nose, “and I hadn’t met the trilogy.”

It wasn’t that bad!”

No, and neither will this,” this becoming a pattern for them, calming each other.

Finding the crisp spring air refreshing, invigorating them through Clovia Hills and into Briar, towards the waterfront boardwalk, strings of light glowing their path to Karaleigh’s.

You know the Chef?” Luna asked while walking the last half block.

No, the trilogy do. She has a place out at the lakes, and obviously uses their stuff. Knows Callister, too.”

Callister’s. Where we had that beautiful breakfast after you took me ballooning?”

Yes,” Chloe replied, walking into a cacophony of noise, murmured voices both at the booths and the packed bar.

Welcome to Karaleigh’s. How may I help?” asked the perfectly suited maitre’d.

Karaleigh’s is shaded in lush, vibrant greenery, interlocking plants cascading from the roof and covering the walls. Only the view of the riverside remained unhindered, glass doors open to the sounds of the city at night. Their table overlooked the languid river, black slate underneath the quarter moon.

Luna, Chloe,” Abraxas stood as they approached, Jamere smiling. Light kisses are exchanged before settling into the booth.

You walked?” Jamere asked.

Of course. You?” Chloe replied.

Yes,” Abraxas answered, “Zola said she’s already prepared our meal.”

Of course she has,” Luna snorted softly.

Abraxas raised her eyebrow, “Luna?”

Her names means famous bearer of rulers. She is a commander. Of course she’d dictate our menus.”

You and your names,” Abraxas said softly, lovingly, squeezing Luna’s knee, “connecting us all.”

You said you were apprenticed at the Eloise together?” Chloe asked of Jamere.

Yes, I replaced her as the first year once she went to second.”

Intense?”

Absolutely,” Jamere’s smile did not reach her eyes, “as I imagine a medical internship may be.”

Luna cleared her throat sharply as appetisers appeared on their table. Jamere flushed, “Eloise was, is, a very tough place to learn. They do not allow mistakes.”

Clientele can be quite demanding at Eloise, I’m sure,” Chloe is unsure if she is being tested or not, “but at least your mistakes won’t kill people.”

Awkward silence uncomfortably fell, pervading the four.

Really?” Luna said, rolling her eyes, “Abraxas. Jamere. Chloe. Now, of all times?”

Sorry,” Abraxas straight off said, not at all meaning it, “isn’t this context meant to be an inquisition?”

As opposed to any other time you’ve met?”

Really,” Jamere shrugged, laughing, seeing the immutable truth of their love, “I feel you are being rather diplomatic, want to trade horror stories?”

Maybe,” Chloe subtly relaxed, “Isn’t there fierce international competition for this Eloise’s apprenticeship?”

Yes. Very much so. Prestigious and exclusive, only taking one applicant a year. Eloise guarantees it’s graduates work. Several of the Eloise board had their multi-million dollar car’s repaired at Ash’s. Most of them knew me from when I was an infant.”

This is when Ash’s was an actual smash repairs?” Chloe asked, “using connections to get the job, hmmm?”

Yes,” Jamere laughed softly, “Charlotte and Asher, my mothers, were very indulgent of me. I found cooking very early, and they both wanted the best for me. Eloise is defiantly the best.”

So, a love of cooking and connections got you the Eloise?”

Yes, and it was horrible. I was possibly a very indulged child, and an apprentice is the kitchens kicking post, the absolute bottom of the hierarchy. It made me fierce and fearless, though. In those four years, I worked very hard, and barely slept, yet still was bullied, demeaned, pushed to extremes. I was very talented, however my mothers had called in favours to get me this, so I held my silence, favours they could have used later on. I was offered a position at Eloise, but I left, ran away, rejected Eloise for a fellowship overseas, in a country known for its culinary delights. I was tainted, weary and unforgiving.”

How long were you gone?” Chloe’s voice an undercurrent, soft and flowing, between them as their table was cleared of the entrée and main meals placed in return.

Twenty years, building my reputation from one job to the next, a new experience in a new country. I came back when Charlotte became sick.”

I’m sorry.”

It was a long time ago,” Jamere smiled sadly, as she deflected by asking, “you interned at MARH?”

Yes. The neurological unit. I wasn’t as feted or as loved by my parents, but everything else is frightfully similar. Intense, hierarchical, inescapably fatiguing,” Chloe’s voice rueful, “but I love it, I guess it’s why I now head the unit. I get to fix the part that runs everything, the brain’s this monstrous machine, and it’s amazing.”

Luna hadn’t seen Chloe talk about working before and its turning her on all over again, being so understandably ferocious about her passion.

I think we need something lighter to talk about?” Abraxas countered.

What about you two?” Chloe responded, “How is it you found each other?”

I met her at Ash’s the week it opened,” Abraxas said, “with my sister, Cressida.”

Chloe looked between them, sadness dripping from their voices, evoking the death of sisters and mothers, “Luna said Charlotte is the reason for Smash Punch?”

Yes, she was amazing. When I opened Ash’s, I saw homeless shifting within the shadows of our sub-streets, sheltering from the wrath of weather and fellow humans. The name came from one of Charlotte’s journals,” Jamere’s hand drifted to Abraxas’, entwined together, absorbing their love, while plates are moved to make way for desert, “and I met Cressida, Abra and Archer.”

Abraxas understood Jamere intimately, knew what her touch asked, “I founded Pacer Philanthropic Organisation. Cressida loved Ash’s, and Smash Punch, and wanted to help. From the start, our charity and lives kind of weaved together.”

Luna said you came here for Lunch? Showing each others version of the city as a getting to know each other ploy?”

Yes. Lunch was spectacular,” Chloe smirked at Luna, “you said it was a ploy?”

No,” Luna sighed, smirking right back, “I think they figured that bit out themselves.”

Well it worked,” Chloe said, stealing a quick kiss quietly while desert is cleared and aperitifs appeared, “very well, in fact.”

Since the group Lake St. Clair trip and dinner with Abraxas and Jamere, Chloe relaxed into her immeasurably improved life with Luna. The cohesion between them stunning, her isolation left far behind as she could see the city in a fundamentally new way. Galla gradually becoming her friend, and slow development with Kai brought the fresh quartet circling into each other. She sat at CLS, waiting for Luna as her mind drifted around this delight, always a misstep away.

Luna was finishing at eight and agreed to meet her here. She arrived dishevelled from work and still stunning, Chloe stood to greet her, lips lightly meeting, falling towards Luna’s green eyes until she is swimming within them, her fingers grazing black corset, ribbons intertwined and tied into discreet little bows over intricate lace. Leather pants and heavy boots filled her out. Chloe sat, distracted by the bows, wanting them in her mouth, desiring to unwrap the hidden treasure beneath. Drinks appeared before them as they drifted around the circular booth to sit next to each other, shoulder to knee, their arms entwining from elbow to fingers.

Remember when you asked me about Gretchen?”

Yes,” Chloe said, encouraged by Luna gradual revealing of herself understood how exhausting and traumatic, it could be.

We survived living on the streets, as infested as they were, only to end up twisted, irrevocably, in a system that wanted more from us than we could possibly give. Our saviour was Mitsuko Cho, a civil right attorney who knew our case could gain her the career advantage. It took three years of her fighting from when we were fifteen, and our freedom at eighteen to catapult her status to partner within her firm. I resented the lead physician on our case, Gretchen, for eventually gaining custody of only me. It was obvious that the agency wanted me and I resented the interference in our lives. Gretchen was sickly sweet, insidious in her persistence, attempting to curtail invasive needles and injections in exchange or trust,” it tumbles out of her all at once, words hitting into each other.

Chloe squeezed Luna’s hand, leaning the infinitesimal distance to kiss her on her cheek, feeling her sharp breath and minute relaxing beneath her lips.

I…” Luna struggled, “was unkind to her. She loved me and wanted me to stay, wanted me to be her daughter. I couldn’t. I resisted her at every turn. Within the community I was raised in, every adult was responsible for the raising of children, no one claimed ownership. To think one would be enough, I didn’t understand, and I could not give up Kai. The day I turned eighteen, I left everything she gave me and never told her where I was. It…” Luna paused again. Her eyes spun inward, a certainty now an uncertainty, “…was some thing I did because I felt I didn’t want to be controlled. I hurt her. I regret it.”

Thank you for trusting me,” Chloe smiled and leaned in grazing their lips together, “I love you.”

Luna sighed into their kiss, smiling through her tangled distress, she could never hear that enough, “There’s one more thing. I’m to invite you to family dinner.”

Family dinner?” Chloe asked.

Yes. Abraxas, Jamere, Archer, Kai and Galla. You and me.”

So I passed? This happens often?” Chloe said, excited, the invitation extended beyond bringing her into Luna’s world, but within Luna herself. She felt wanted as well as the familiar moistness gathered between her legs.

When we can all fit it in. Usually every eight weeks or so, at Jamere and Abraxas’ place in Circe Tower. Well, Ivie usually schedules everyone but Kai. Do I have your permission to give her access to your phone and calendar? Or more accurately, I guess, install her?” Luna answered.

Install her?”

Yeah, well she’s the operating system on my phone and laptop, but some of her functions distilled into apps,” Luna shrugged.

Yes…” Chloe pulling Luna in to connect their lips, unable to resist any longer, “of course.”

Bree was thirteen when her life changed, enabling her to see choices could be made that were her own. Her mother had taken the case of the two teenagers who were alone in the world against a government agency, the Federal Security Agency (FSA), attempting to circumnavigate their choices and control their lives.

Mitsuko is a formidable force and in watching her argue that choice to determine ones own destiny was a right made her realise she could choose for herself, her future could be her own over the destiny dictated by her parents. Luna became her inspiration, however it was not easy to stand up to the legacy thrust upon her.

She was infinitely impressed her mother had fought and won against the government, yet her mother was a dichotomy. She had forged a career on self-determination, and an affinity for the freedom to make your own, yet managed Bree down a very specific path she was not allowed to deviate from.

Gretchen started in paediatrics, and almost by accident become a consultant with the police for infants coming in from Kahtya Slums, mostly on neonatal infant abuse, death and drug cases. She developed quite stringent forensic procedures as her case load spread across the cities law enforcement agencies for providing expert testimony in court cases. Her world full of infant rehabilitation programs and consulting. She was content, fulfilled beyond measure and built her life where knowledge and connections made her wealthy. Her apartment within Phoenix felt more home than anywhere else, her own silence against the noise of the world.

Gretchen consulted on a case for the FSA, two teenagers who spoke in a language only the two could understand and the girl spoke exclusively for them both, with her pale hair and searing green eyes. She shielded the boy with fierce intensity. Her initial directive, to complete a medical history of them both, was difficult. Kai would not speak, and tailored his responses in test stimuli to mimic Luna’s, in spite of them being separated. Luna would answer with very direct and specific information and refused to elaborate. Separating the pair simply made Gretchen’s job impossible.

Gretchen received infinitesimal information from the FSA — what she did receive was eighty percent redacted — yet she knew they’d been homeless for twelve months and before this, were in an isolated community. There was a suggestion of sexual abuse, but Gretchen found no evidence.

She assembled a team experienced with isolated and non-communicative minors, but met with resistance and interference from the FSA. The psychiatrist submitted a damming report the damage being perpetrated by the FSA in these circumstances worse than what they had experienced. Gretchen placed the pair back together and did not seek their trust but their cooperation. Luna stood for them both, always brazenly independent.

Both had particularly unique blood work. Kai’s contained no antibodies found in the general population. Neither had had their infant shots, but at least Luna’s indicated some form of hereditary inoculations no more than two generations back. It was phenomenal they had not both been severely ill, knocked out by some simple flu. The FSA attempted to use this as evidence they needed to be in a permanently controlled environment. While Gretchen determined an immunisation schedule, she argued their exposure and survival during the year on the streets voided their argument. The psychiatrist report indicated they would suffer irrecoverable damage if contain within such an environment.

The pressure from FSA became so relentless Gretchen, concerned for the welfare of the pair, contacted Mitsuko Cho, and initiated her legal challenge. After much negotiation and expert testimony, the FSA failed in their bid to keep control. Kai, emotionally underdeveloped and in most need of a cohesive, structured environment was considered secondary to Luna. Luna presented to be much more challenging in finding a suitable placement. To keep her protected, Gretchen gained custody, unperturbed by the threats from the FSA.

The regular psychiatrist appointments and reports indicated allowing them both independence from each other was fundamental for their development into constructive adults. They were unlike any other case she had seen. Neither had been neglected or abused, both could be considered educated and adept at transferable survival and social skills. Not long after she moved in, Luna began to work at Pacer, Gretchen encouraged the stability and continued development of her friendships with Galla and Archer, important to be outside of her dynamic with Kai.

Over the three years Luna and Kai were in care, they were freed from their forced committed to, but not from their control of the FSA. While they were still held under constant monitoring and surveillance, as much as they did with Tempenka, no argument could be made they could not or did not function perfectly within society. They fulfilled all of the practicality and duties Cho had negotiated and developed a wealthy support base in the Pacer group that could not be dissuaded or broken, and, at eighteen, had each other. Gretchen was almost flummoxed that they managed to received what was at worst described as corporate sponsorship and believed that this was the mitigating factor in their release rather than her own or Mitsuko’s effort.

Luna threw up in Chloe’s bathroom. Chloe sat to the side, back up against the wall until Luna finally settled back to rest on her feet. Chloe handed her a cool, damp cloth.

I’m sorry, Chloe.”

For what? I’m sorry she upset you so badly,” Chloe’s voice a melody calming Luna’s stuttering heartbeat.

Unexpected is all. She’s intense,” Luna knew after a lifetime of arguing, Chloe’s mother wielded language like a weapon, her voice full of concise, sharp edges.

She is,” Chloe agreed at the unannounced and therefore unexpected arrival of her mother for lunch, “She’s a powerful woman is all, her job is to be intimidating.”

She certainly is. I should be used to intimidating women by now,” Luna concentrated on regulating her breathing, and forced her stomach to settle, “what’s your mother’s full name?”

Isabeau Jeveria Mehira.”

Really?” Luna looked surprised.

Why? What’s wrong with it, doesn’t it fit?”

Nothing is wrong with it. Isabeau means pledged to deity. Jeveria, blessed female spreading happiness, Mehira, swiftly, capable. Your mother,” Luna smiled lopsidedly at Chloe, “pledged to spread happiness swiftly. Also, she gifted the world an orchard.”

So, she fits?”

You certainly make me happy,” Luna stood, her legs slightly shaking.

Chloe stood to hold her, balance her, “She turned up because I told her about you. She knew if I told her anything at all, you mean something to me.”

What did you tell her?”

The truth,” Chloe smiled, “that I love you.”

When?”

I told her the day before the opera,” and even though it is mid-afternoon, asked, “Shower?”

More of a brush my teeth adventure, but sure…”Luna giggled softly, “…we tend to get distracted easily in the shower, though.”

Of course…” Chloe began removing Luna’s shirt, “But we get distracted everywhere, to be honest.”

Luna slipped out of her pants as Chloe pushed them down, standing as nakedly exposed as she figured out the dates and asked, “You told her you loved me before you told me?”

Pretty well much,” Chloe began undressing and uncharacteristically left her clothes where they fell on the floor as Luna walked to the control panel, pushing her favourite settings, “in my defence, I told the trilogy before that and why I love you, and you know, took you to meet them.”

Hmmm, well…” Luna took the toothpaste covered toothbrush from Chloe, moving beneath the water, the rest muffled by white noise.

We really won’t see her much. I barely see her now.”

That’s not really the point, is it?” Luna turned under the water to face Chloe.

I guess not. Still,” Chloe nestling her body against Luna’s, “She’s her own life. I have mine with you, and I want this. We only intersect because we’re related. Outside of us, don’t care.”

It wasn’t that bad, I just wasn’t prepared,” Luna dumped her toothbrush on the bench, “it’ll be fine if I know.”

I love you,” Chloe leaned in to rest their foreheads together, “and I’m sorry. I should have planned for a meeting, knowing she would do this.”

I super love you, too” Luna leaned in, resting in the weight of them perfectly, “and possibly you should’ve, but been and done now.”

Luna thought about Gretchen, about the love she offered and was rejected for it. Everything about that time wrapped in deception, secrets and lies and Gretchen had represented all of this to her still learning self. The truth is far more complex, and in the three years since she walked out without a word, Jamere reminded her of this severe misjudgement of Gretchen. Love constructed masks for her life and she thought herself unable to live without these masks until Chloe taught her she could live.

Now that lust had settled to a more manageable dull ache rather than desperate neediness, Luna noticed all the small things Chloe did in the everyday ordinariness of their connection, the quiet shift of alignments that pegged them together. Love removed her mask and forced her to reconsider her past behaviour. Gretchen compromised her career to give Luna the opportunity to be free, her love never told her lies. Luna still knew her number by heart, remembering out of guilt.

Hello. Gretchen speaking.”

It’s Luna.”

Gretchen inhaled sharply, but said nothing.

I was wondering if we could have coffee?” Luna’s voice quivered. Silence crackled over the line until Luna could not stand it.

Asceline,” Gretchen said, pitched so low that Luna almost missed it, “thirty minutes.”

Thank you.” Luna said before the phone clicked in her ear. She was nervous, but knew Jamere was right. It was time to release both of them from the past.

Luna made her way from her flat to Briar and into Asceline. Luna arrived early, ordering for them both, remembering her exact order, always. The building smelled of paper, ink and comfort. Their coffee was delivered as Gretchen walked in and Luna watched as her eyes drifted over the cafe’s seating, resting when they hit her face. Sitting in uncomfortable silence momentarily as Luna drew herself back in, preparing for what she had to say, “I’m sorry, Gretchen, for the way I treated you.”

Silence fell again as Luna picked at the tablecloth. They had mutated each other, Luna realised as she sat contemplating Gretchen’s silent reaction. Both of them corroded and in pain and abrasively chased the cracks within each other even deeper. Gretchen watched Luna grow and learn in the years together, and maintaining her subversive sense of self against developing any relationship. She was self-determining at all times, maintaining her own structure and boundaries against incursion.

Gretchen learnt she herself had been corrupted by maternal love, unreciprocated but powerful and found Luna’s rejection unexpectedly brutal. Luna slayed Gretchen’s expectations at every turn as they developed along with each other, expanding with her sense of maternal responsibility. Life back then continued, both of them methodically concious of the delicate nature of them. Luna worked and studied whilst all the time maintaining her stringent distance from Gretchen, who worked at building a relationship between them.

Galla and Archer were permanent presences, as were other adults allowed into the life Luna refused Gretchen access to — Jamere and Abraxas. Luna volunteered for the charity the women run, worked for their niece. These were the women Luna spoke with and went to for advice. It had broken Gretchen a little more each time, that she was never family chosen. Gretchen desired to provide a family for Luna, but had instead been left for one.

Even as Bree failed her audition, her parents were organising for her to attempt again, passing off the failure on nerves. It was here Bree understood it is not enough to fail, she needed to stand up for herself. She left the family apartment in Circe and walked to the place that always made herself feel safe, Asceline. Walking in, she saw Luna sitting with Gretchen, both looking intense and melancholy. She understood their complicated history and slipped up a level, leaving the frappe she wanted for later.

Bree remembered Gretchen’s presence as she became friends with Mitsuko over the trial with FSA, remembered the chaotic emotional resonance tearing through all the music she composed. Bree understood, more than the others, Luna’s trauma is her own and nothing Gretchen could do or offer would fix it. Gretchen was developing these desires for family and while she should’ve been looking at the bigger picture, Bree’s family became her alternative.

Bree saw the turmoil when Gretchen initiated adoption paperwork in the six months before Luna’s eighteenth birthday, the filing of this paperwork set off a chain of events requiring Mitsuko to battle the FSA for attempting to bring the pair into permanent government custody. Bree knew Mitsuko had proven Luna and Kai success when they both completed their education, maintained employment and participated in charity, fulfilling all obligations of their release to foster care. Publicly, the FSA looked like monsters, privately Luna did, taking her ferociousness out on Gretchen.

Bree watched as Gretchen stumbled when Luna, with the freedom her mother had fought for her, took the insignificant amount of items she collected and left. Gretchen returned to an empty apartment where there was nothing. Gretchen focused so much of her energy on Luna that this devastated her, and she took the lack of any contact as vicious absence and rejection. She stayed in the apartment a week until Mitsuko pulled her out of her pain, showing her new ways to survive. They all attempted to keep track of Luna’s life, in spite of the zero communication. While Gretchen envied Jamere and Abraxas, the closeness shared with Luna, Bree saw how Archer, Galla and Luna formed not only an impenetrable sibling bond, but had found freedom.

Gretchen now understood Luna as a catalyst, but not responsible for developing the sense of maternal desire causing her to suffer: her disappointment is her own. The sense of melancholy that invaded her was not a deprivation of herself but a transformation. In the face of pain, twisting the length of her body, she chose dignity.

Thank you,” Gretchen’s voice an undercurrent of all of their history as Luna felt it fracture against her, “Can you tell me why?”

Why I’m sorry or why I left?”

Both. I think I understand, but I want to hear you say it,” Gretchen distinctly remembers the day Luna come home, this slight, pale anomaly with green eyes, deep as an ocean and with as many secrets, remembers it for changing herself beyond the capacity to return to who she had been.

Gretchen, always has been driven, focused and alone suddenly was not responsible for simply herself, but for the intricate daily welfare of another with particularly special needs. Gretchen stood aside as their primary physician, a job she understood intricately, to gain full legal responsibility for Luna, a path she became lost within.

She tried as much as she could to gain Luna’s trust, setting a bare minimum of cohesive, distinct rules. She provided tutors to attend Luna’s education, and by the second year she was taking college level courses. They reached a commonality at a very basic level and for three years, existed in this quiet battleground, a delineated space where everything existed and yet nothing was resolved.

I’m sorry I hurt you and rejected you. I’m responsible for Kai and I believed at that time you were part of the group attempting to control us. I mistook all of your actions as proving this. I was wrong and for that I’m sorry.”

Thank you. Really.” Gretchen smiled at last. Three years and not one word from Luna. But she clung to the belief forgiveness can be bigger than pain, “that’s what I thought. I’m sorry for pushing so hard.”

They returned to silence again, but it was indefinitely more comfortable. Gretchen looked up at Luna before asking, “Where do we go from here?”

I don’t know,” Luna smiled.

Bree found Luna an hour later, alone, standing to leave. Bree, desperate to free herself, saw the opportunity and walked up, “Luna?”

Yes…” Luna looked up, sensing the desperation, “Bree? What is wrong?”

Bree was silent for a moment, said, “Can we talk? Would you like another drink?”

Yes. Thank you.” Luna sat back down as Bree took the short walk to the counter and indicated Luna as she gave the order. She returned to shyly sit down in the chair vacated by Gretchen.

Bree?” Luna said, too exhausted to maintain much of a pretence. She waited until Bree made eye contact before stating, “What is it?”

How do I…” Bree faltered, twitching with nerves, her voice low and squeaky, “I want to be free.”

Her voice so quiet Luna would not have heard it anywhere else but in the silence of a book store, “What do you mean?”

Do you remember me?”

Luna frowned, “Remember you?”

I’m Mitsuko’s daughter.” Bree watched as Luna reacted, her face betraying the memories Luna went through, this on top of the conversation she had with Gretchen overwhelming.

Mitsuko?” the weight of those years flooded through Luna.

Yes,” Bree nodded, “I was thirteen when all the stuff happened. Well, started.”

You played music?” Luna didn’t remember Bree, yet recalled the haunting music filling Mitsuko’s apartment.

Yes. That is my problem. My parents want me to play with RCPO. I failed my audition. Intentionally. I want them to leave me alone. But…” Bree struggled not to cry, “they want me to audition again. I love music, but they make me hate it.”

They don’t know you failed intentionally?”

Bree slowly shook her head, her eyes downcast. She was quiet as she said, “I don’t know how to tell them no.”

Why are you asking me?” Luna maintained her eye contact even when Bree was unable to, failing to see the reasoning of the younger girl.

Because you seemed so…controlled. Even when you had none. You made your own decisions.”

But I ran away, Bree.”

I know. But you also ran towards what you wanted.”

I don’t know what I want. Even now.”

Except to be free,” Bree intonation mournful. Luna showed her that artists are crazy bohemians who break the rules to recast their own, gathering life rather then follow neat, maintained pathways. Luna traced out new space for herself to be free, unlearning the constraint of her youth while refusing to live by new ones.

Yes. Except that,” Luna conceded, opening her palms up from the cup, “Talk to them. Truth is hard, but it needs to be told. It is better than loosing your family? Ask for what you want, but expect resistance, so give them time frames. Realistic ones. You can ask for a year, and offer them a proper audition at the end of this.”

Sitting quietly, the silent shuffling of Asceline’s customers pervading calmness. Bree said finally, “I’m scared.”

Its better than not saying anything and never getting what you want, or never finding out what it is that you truly want,” Luna understood why Ivie did not tell her Bree’s connection to her. Bree was not a threat to her, simply a misguided teenager seeking freedom.

Okay,” Bree shuddered.

Your mother argues logically for a living. Your father deals with numbers and figures. That’s how they will understand. Present her with a cohesive argument, calmly.”

They’ll not listen…” Bree said desperately, “…they never do.”

Then you’ll never be free. Running away did not make me free, it made me a target. Running from your family has consequences,” Luna’s truth brutal, but Bree wanted what she could not give her, permission, “You want freedom? Then take it.”

Thank you,” Bree whispered, understanding Luna was not placating her with what she wanted to hear.

Ivie’s assimilation into Chloe’s life both startling easy and frustratingly complex. Ivie initially asked for endless permissions to access her phone and laptop and work computer, her shared staff calendar, managed by her executive assistant. Endless requests to add her calendar to Luna’s, her permission to compare it to Galla, Kai’s, Jamere and Abraxas’. She found it surreal.

Ivie lead her from work to Antique Atelier one night. She weaved her way through the crowd to the end of the bar shifting in to a spot with a view of the stage, captivated by the restless energy of jazz as it danced across her, catching her breath as it refused to stand still. Antique was full, crowds shuffling against each other, softly murmuring underneath the powerful music cascading around the room. It was darker than Chloe remembered, full of shadows, the seating was precisely haphazard, arranged in an odd viewing arch rather than for eating.

Galla was playing the sitar and Luna’s body wrapped around the cello. Chloe recognised the pianist, saxophonist and double bass player, but could not place their names. Bree played percussion. Their jazz is nomadic, it can’t, won’t stand still and flooded Chloe with unexpected permeations. Fingertips tapped her on her wrist, a drink placed next to them. Chloe turned, smiling at Cat, mouthing thank you as she waved off payment.

Chloe struggled to regulate her breathing as she watched Luna taken by the music, the group centring around tones and playing off each other spectacularly. Chloe noticed Pacer’s symbol, along with another, a Reaper with “PBLH” along the scythe blade, on some of the equipment, and the group are surrounded by similarly branded microphones.

Most days Luna’s sex appeal is effortlessly accidental, as if a simple by product of her beautiful existence, but when done on purpose, with this type of focused intent, the effect on Chloe is absolute with its utter devastation. The group are dressed as Noir dancers — old and timeless, at once ancient and infused with youthful energy.

Chloe ached, moistness dampening inside her underwear, as she watched, fascinated, becoming vulnerable and unmoored. At the close of midnight, the band finished, taking the applause with them while disappearing into the backstage. Chloe, lost, slowly began reeling her scattering back into herself, withdrawing her heartbeat to a more regular tone, even thought the rush of blood still dominated her hearing. As lights came on, and she walked out to feel the brisk air clean her head, the crowd slowly dissipated along the darkened street, the soft bleating of her phone asking her to wait.

Hay,” a voice drew her out of her reverie as Luna’s body collected into her own, connected along their length, kissing her deeply, before, “Chloe…” Luna said, drawing back slightly to look her in the eyes, “Are you okay?”

Yes,” Chloe’s voice is deep, “Really. You’re phenomenal. I’m overwhelmed by your talent. I love you.”

Chloe, I love you. Its simply playing…you’ve literally performed brain surgery. I simply played a little cello,” Luna murmured in her ear as the employees emptied into silence, “I didn’t know you were coming. I’m glad you did.”

Ivie told me.”

Chloe sighed against Luna’s cheek, filling with emotions she couldn’t describe or say.

Luna,” a voice called from the doorway called.

Luna twisted away from Chloe, who tensed at the loss of full body contact, “Hey, Galla.”

Hi Chloe. We’re going to Harper’s.”

Awesome,” Luna smiled as the rest of the players hustled out of the door behind her. Feeling down Chloe’s arm, she grabbed her hand, “Chloe, this is Claudia, Xaiden, Calais, Estelle and you know Bree.”

Hi.”

Guys, this is Chloe,” Luna shifted her head slightly, “You want to go to Harper’s?”

Chloe twisting Luna into her and wrapping her arms around her waist, pulling her flush against her, drawing her lips together, kissed Luna and nodded, “Yes, sure.”

The babble of voices around them continued as they walked up to the monorail, Luna’s hand secured within Chloe’s.

You okay? You sure that you want to go to Harper’s?”

Yes and Yes. Why do you play jazz?”

Because I’m nostalgic for a life I’ve never lived and a history I’ve never encountered. It teaches me how to embrace imperfection, celebrate it, revel in it.”

What is the Reaper symbol?”

Pacers Bootleg Live. They record live music. What we just did will be available at the shop.”

Really?”

Yup. Galla wrote that, too, composed it.”

You act like none of this is a big deal.”

Because its not,” Luna shrugged, indiffident. Chloe sighed at how remarkable she found herself loved by this.

Will we get a copy? Do you have many recordings of your playing?”

If you want a copy, sure. Ivie has a music app player, and you can get a digital copies of past stuff if you’d like.”

Yes, please.”

Later, as they lifted their glasses, the group taught her a new toast, “May we always be this incomplete.”

The truth is it made her life easier when Ivie integrated everything. While she found annotating her appointments, meetings and functions for Ivie initially invasive, they gradually began to fade as Ivie learned her idiosyncrasies. The side trip to Antique Atelier and every day subtle contact with Luna was innovative, and by the time family dinner arrived, Ivie co-coordinated the schedule so precisely, she realised she had stopped maintaining any of her own events.

Ivie felt that Chloe was initiated enough and trained her functionality enough to be invited to join Iviesphere. Chloe noticed the invitation and called Luna to clarify what she was getting herself in for. Ivie patched her through to Luna’s headset, and her voice immediately lightened Chloe’s day.

Hay Chloe.”

Hi,” Chloe paused, remembering the first time she called Pacer and was rejected this privilege.

Chloe? What’s wrong?” concern filtering through.

Oh, nothing, happy to hear your voice is all. What on earth is Iviesphere?”

Oh. Right. I’ve mentioned it before. Ivie must’ve thought you were ready. The internal social network for Pacer and Ash’s staff, Smash Punch volunteers and associates, but is often extended to family and friends.”

Oh, Okay,” Chloe sounded confused.

You don’t have to, you know, but its the like the fun side of the calender/life management,” Luna giggled, “and you already know Archer, Kai, Galla, Abraxas, Jamere, so…”

Help me with it tonight?”

Sure, but, you know, just tell Ivie and she will probs do it for you.”

Okay…” Chloe sounded dubious.

Life management, Chloe, she’s totally invasive.”

Okay. Anyway, thanks. See you tonight?”

Yes, tonight. Still love you,” Luna chuckled.

Always love you.”

Raptor City had three gated tower complexes, defining the skyline, all located in Clovia Hills, a symbol of the wealth pervading the city. Luna was sitting in Abraxas and Jamere’s dining room, swirling her glass around. Archer, Galla, Chloe and Kai were sitting around the table. Circe Tower is quiet, as always, and a beacon, shinning the comfort of home none of them spoke of, yet built together after their first families imploded. Tonight Chloe’s induction into the ritual, and they walked from the Ellysion.

So, you met with her?” Jamere asked.

Hmmm,” Luna assented. Gretchen lived in the Phoenix Complex. “At Asceline.”

And?” Jamere pressed.

I apologised. So did she,” Luna smiled as Chloe’s hand appeared on her leg, squeezing reassuringly, subtle intimacy, “She seemed okay. But then a weird thing…Bree came up to have a chat.”

I’m proud of you,” Abraxas said, “that took courage.”

Bree’s the one you introduced to me at the lunch for SP?” Jamere asked, nodding at Abraxas’ words.

It was odd,” Luna said, as she nodded, “She was so…desperate to break away from her parents. Mostly her mother, I think. Remember Mitsuko? She was a kid when her mother defended us. Its as if she wanted me to do it, you know, talk to her mother.”

Yes, she’s Mitsuko’s daughter. They live in this building,” Jamere stated, surprised still that Luna did not recognise Bree, missing the connection. Chloe accepted another anomaly of Luna’s past half divulged.

Mitsuko can be intimidating,” Kai smiled, “Bree would probably feel that as well.”

Trust Bree to see any of us as people to look up to,” Galla snorted.

She was a child when all of you were around,” Abraxas reminded them, “Of course she looked up to all of you. To her you were free. You didn’t have parents telling you what to do.”

No, we’d strangers instead,” Luna rolled her eyes.

She didn’t see that,” Abraxas countered.

I guess,” Luna said, “I should’ve probably been gentler.”

Brutality may suit you, most likely not Bree, so yes, that may be more appropriate,” Abraxas laughed.

Chloe watched the exchange, the trust encapsulated in this warm room. They were family as much as Caro, Arlo and Quin were to her, and she felt within this moment loose, as unbound as she had ever been before.

Goodbyes were said as Kai left for his shift. Archer sidled up to Luna, whispering into her ear.

Okay,” Luna following Galla into Archer’s bedroom.

I guess they’re leaving you here with us,” Jamere watching them disappear, “Coffee?”

Please.”

Chloe sat close with Abraxas and Jamere, coffee aroma filling the room.

Did she forget I’m here?”

I highly doubt that. She’s rather taken with you,” Jamere said.

I suppose I’m rather taken with her as well.”

I like how close she is now. Ivie show you the quickest way to walk here?” Abraxas sipped at her coffee.

Yes. I think Ivie’s conspiring to keep Luna there more often,” Chloe blushed slightly, “not that I mind.”

Absolutely Ivie would do that. She hates Luna’s flat. Uninstalled herself and refuses to go back. Expect a request for her to invade your home.”

Ivie’s terrifying and easy. She lead me to Antique Atelier to see Galla and Luna play Jazz one night. Yes, her flat is quite…” Chloe searched for the right word, “…abysmal.”

Luna said you turned up,” Abraxas smiled, “Ivie does that, coaxes everyone astray even while leading them together.”

How was Alpha house?” Jamere changed topics.

This past week, or just in general?”

Both, I guess. She first took you on her twenty-four hour date, yes?”

Yes. It’s vastly different to the charity I do. I usually make decisions. Alpha is front line. I like being with her when we volunteer together. Luna said you’ve been together all of Archer’s life?”

Abraxas face tightened, “Yes.”

Sorry, did I say something wrong?”

No. We’ve been together since she was two,” Abraxas replied.

Cressida? First customers at Ash’s?”

Yes…” Jamere sighed, as Abraxas’ hand tightened over her thigh.

Sorry, Chloe. Its one of those transformative times in our lives. We met, yes, fell in love, but my mothers, Charlotte and Asher were already very ill. Charlotte died the second year we were together, Asher the third. We met Galla, Luna and Kai not long before we lost Cressida and Saber,” Abraxas nose twitched, her voice falling, “Luna is herself and I’m very glad she found you, but they’re our daughters, and we are concerned as inevitably any consequences, positive and negative, affect us all. It almost seems some times we have an awful exchange rate.”

Luna is quite a charmer,” Jamere added, “and hasn’t been defeated by her life.”

Yes, she certainly is,” Chloe leaned back into her chair, “and you’re so protective of her.”

How much has she told you?” Abraxas quietly asked.

It’s hard to tell,” Chloe lifted her eyes, searching their faces for how to proceed, “She half tells me things, mentions things in passing before I realise there is an entire story behind it. If I ask, she simply closes down.”

We know, she is….” Jamere looked apologetic, “…extremely difficult to know…”

But immeasurably easy to love,” Abraxas added.

Chloe hummed her approval, “Yes, very much. She told me about Archer and Cressida, Charlotte and Asher, Gretchen and some about Kai. Its hard to gather a history half told, but it’s easy to wait when she’s with me.”

There are only so many ways to fall love,” Abraxas shrugged, “all at once or not at all.”

Did you both fall in love all at once?”

Archer did,” Abraxas laughed, “fell head first at Jamere and refused to let go.”

Yes. Well. Neither could I. She was adorable,” chuckled Jamere, but her eyes betrayed terrible sadness, “this little squishy infant.”

What happened?” Chloe asked, her voice infused with cream.

Jamere leaned into Abraxas instinctively, seeking immediate comfort in her presence, whose response one of uninhibited love. Chloe saw how similar they are to Caro, Arlo and Quin, elliptical within their acoustical love, and hope skittered within her for Luna’s and her own future.

A lot happened,” Jamere said, “but all a long time ago.”

Not for Luna. She doesn’t forget, holds everything.”

We know,” Abraxas frowned, “So hard it hurts.”

Neither of you hurt her. Galla and Archer don’t. I don’t. That’s why I am here, isn’t it? Kai hurts, but he’s connected to everything, something deeper, she’ll not say.”

You’re remarkably perceptive,” Abraxas looked at Chloe, inscrutable.

Yes. Well.” Chloe looked at her coffee, sensing the minute shifts on the sofa as they touched each other as close as possible, lengthening against each other, she said, “Cressida taught Archer music, you taught her responsibility. You both wanted Luna, Galla and Kai but were denied, yet have become a family anyway. Archer, Galla and Luna are exceptionally close, bonded by death and love,” Chloe sipped at her coffee, looking at Jamere, “Asher protected Charlotte and they loved you.”

Yes she did, yes they did, yes we did,” Jamere smiled, “History is a funny thing.”

Its a torturous thing,” Chloe retorted, “makes the present jittery and the future uncertain.”

Yes. Certain,” Jamere added, “Death happened. Life happened. Love happened.”

Chloe looked at them both, absorbing the subtle energy inhabiting the space, the almost drunk, pervasive peace.

Perfection happened,” Abraxas, running her hand along Jamere’s arm, said “We’ve the scars.”

Cressida? Charlotte? Archer?”

We prefer the living, but yes,” Jamere continued, “Charlotte always said I was the gift of her life. I never really understood until I met Archer.”

Giggling broke through their conversation and a streak of laughter following one body from a door flung open, over the couches and into the kitchen.

Its absolutely offensive how in love you are with her,” Galla snickered.

Precisely,” Archer nodded, “It’s disgusting.”

You both can shut up,” Luna rolled her eyes as he rearranged the pillows, shuffling further into the centre of the bed, as the other two curled up around her.

I can see why Ivie loves her,” Archer settled her head in Luna’s lap, Galla’s in hers, the three a circle nestled in Archer’s bed.

Ivie is happy with anyone you give her permission to talk to…”

She is beautiful.”

I know. I’m kinda finding it hilarious she is out their alone with Jamere and Abraxas right now…”

She’ll be fine. Dinner went well?” Galla laughed, “Abraxas wasn’t wholly insane.”

Yes, it did. I know, she’s just been fierce every time she’s been near Chloe.”

I guess you’re not staying tonight?” Archer frowned.

Didn’t really think about it to be honest. We walked from Ellysion.”

Her presence at family dinners is required now, she understands, yes?”

She’s still getting used to Ivie. Although she did followed Ivie’s instructions to Antique for Jazz night,” Luna exhaled in delight.

You know Ivie is basically obsessed with you both, yeah?”

Why are you saying that like its a bad thing?”

Its not bad…per se, but…Ivie keeps using the way you look at each other to look at me. Its disconcerting.”

What, with devoted, worshipful love?” Galla chuckled.

I know,” Luna scrunched up her face, “its pathetic, but I can’t help it.”

It tots is,” Archer laughed, “and nope, you’re hopeless.”

She…” Luna smiled, “is insidiously subtle. You know she stocks Bumblebee Love in the fridge? She got me these stupid fluffy giant slippers that are just perfect…”

Seriously, cute as,” Archer fumbled with Luna’s hand.

No, its not….” Luna whined, “…you know her housekeeper washed stuff I left these and now I’ve a shelf in the closet? And now she’s bubblegum body wash. Ivie…have you been selling me out?”

Ivie giggled, “No…”

Ivie…” warning crept into Luna’s voice.

I helped her with her shopping list…you said to help her…”

Ivie, you are so precious…” Galla joined in Archers laughter.

Galla, this is not funny!”

Oh, but it is disgustingly awesome…” Galla snorted, “Ivie is trolling your love life…”

Why are you three jumping over the couches?” called Abraxas as another jumped over, running from the third chasing.

Because we want…” one of them called back, until the rest was drowned out by three bodies physically collected against each other through the door and into the kitchen.

Abraxas stood with Jamere and followed them. Chloe stood to do the same when Luna rushed out, covered in cream, followed rapidly by Archer, Abraxas and Galla all covered in cream and sundry. Luna snuggled into the back of Chloe, who felt dampness soak through her shirt.

Did you just get cream all over me?”

Maybe. Also. Honey.”

In an all to close amount of time, Chloe was surrounded as Archer squished cream into Galla, and five bodies snaked around each other, laughter bubbling around them.

You cant hide behind Chloe forever, L…”

Does that happen at every dinner?” Chloe asked as they walked back to Ellysion. She had changed into some of Luna’s clothes, left in Archer’s room.

Its ridiculously how beautiful you are even in my clothes.”

You’re being entirely too flattering and completely evasive.”

No, things like that rarely happen,” Luna said quietly, “they were kind of teasing me about you, so I distracted them…”

Chloe pulled her slightly to a stop and drew her in, kissing her, ferocious, “You started a food fight because of me?”

Hmmm,” Luna hummed against her lips.

Chloe drew them in again, whispering, “You’re so deliciously perfect.”

Let’s continue this at home,” Luna drew her the last two blocks.

The penthouse is so silent it hurt until Chloe trailed Luna towards the bed, lowed her down while pulling her out of her shirt and unclasped her bra to throw them both to the floor. As she whispered her lips across pearly flesh, she hooked her thumbs into the pants and underwear to drag them down Luna’s legs until they, too, fell to the floor. Luna moaned, straining against Chloe’s caress until their faces were once again together. Luna looked into Chloe’s darkened eyes, arching her back as fingers pushed and curled inside of her.

Chloe moved to the soft of Luna’s neck and began another descent until Luna whimpered, “No, no, stay with me, please.”

Chloe moved back up to link their lips, connected by all the emotion she held over the day against Luna, whispering against them, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Brushing her thumb against the swollen bundle of nerves, she pushed harder and quickened her pace. Lifting her eyes to fall into Luna’s she glided into the galaxy they contained, their bodies shuddering uncontrolled together. Chloe gathered Luna up, sheltering her close as possible.

When her breathing regulated, Luna muttered, “Chloe…”

Chloe caressed Luna’s bottom lip before kissing her, quelling any fear and moved her lips, fluttering down soft skin, over the pulse escaping Luna’s neck, into the sharpness in the blades curving in her arms.

Chloe,” insistent, Luna’s voice drifted.

Let me….please….” Chloe murmured against her skin.

Luna felt Chloe taste every scar, worship every anomaly, unstrung herself against such love. Chloe made her feel she could fall apart any second and it was glorious. Life on the edge where she is no longer alone and it exhilarated her. After, Chloe’s head lies on Luna’s chest and she hears the sound of her heartbeat thrumming, a whisper of her good fortune. She finds how beloved this sound is as it lulls her to sleep with steady, unwavering precision, draws her unconsciousness out and leaves her dreaming into space.

It is Ivie that leads her astray again, diverts her driver from her apartment and her into the Pacer basement by the side door, codes and directions supplied by Ivie’s insistence of her attendance at Archer’s apartment. She stopped after crossing the threshold of the door, to look at three bodies in the open space, swinging wildly, waving their arms over their head and turning rapidly in one hundred and eighty degree angles, light shimmered around them, bathing them in halos as their performances mimicked movements closer to ballet then anything gamer related.

Galla called out first, then Archer before Luna turned and broke through the viscous light stream and positively bounds up to Chloe, slipping a kiss onto her lips, “Hi, what are you doing here?”

Um. Ivie?”

Ivie?” Archer called, giggling a question rather than in warning, “Hay, I was winning?”

Ivie!” Galla laughed, “Outrageous!”

Coffee?” Luna mumbled against Chloe’s lips.

Yes.”

Okay,” Luna lead her back to the kitchen and released her over to Galla and Archer as she walked over to the machine. Ivie dropped down out of the light stream and flickered into her usual human form, looking bashful.

Chloe snorted at her, “What game you were playing?”

Kind of dance battle cross composer cross orchestra mixing, its kind of difficult to explain. I mean, really, its evolved over time. Kind of maybe musical scrabble twister?”

Sounds…terrifying actually.”

Only to ones who have never played, I guess,” Galla smile turned predatory, “like all games by corrupted by family. Unrecognisable to the uninitiated…”

Galla. Coffee.”

Galla’s head snapped around at the call, before she sat down with Archer on stools surrounding Chloe, as Luna pushed mugs across, “You should be initiated. You followed Ivie here, so family games it is.”

Chloe took a sip, swallowing shallowly, “Okay.”

Hungry?”

Yes.”

Excellent. Jamere sent enough food to sink us all in,” Luna left her steaming mug and waked over to the fridge, pulling out a container and plating food while Chloe followed her efficient, precise movements.

You can’t really help yourself, can you?” Galla shouldered her gently.

Huh?” Chloe turned, shuttling her cup on to the bench.

Watching her,” Archer shifted on her seat, answering Chloe.

Chloe blushed slightly, “No, I guess not.”

Hell, I guess you two can be a team, then.”

Luna pushed food towards them all, “Of course you would shaft me with the newbie.”

But you have me,” Ivie broke in, “I don’t want to be on my own team.”

Okay. Well, at least with Ivie, I’ve a chance,” Chloe agreed.

Singular mode for us, double for them,” Archer confirmed as they shared the light and easy lunch, parleying coffee until the inevitable match between them.

Chloe became quickly lost within the game, confused yet pleasured by the intricacies of the game. As they finished there second round, Ivie called dinner.

What time is it?” Chloe asked.

Seven,” Ivie shrugged.

We’ve been playing for….”

Four hours.”

This is unexpected…” Chloe frowned, “…I lost track…”

Your schedule was clear,” Ivie said as Archer giggled, “and I’m monitoring your work correspondence. I would tell you if anything came up.”

Luna and Galla joined in the laughter at Chloe’s flummoxed face.

Giggling already?” in their revelry, all four had missed the hissing of the door, “before dinner?”

Abra, Jamere,” a chorus of voices called.

Ladies,” Chloe nodded.

You look flushed,” Jamere noticed Chloe’s face as she walked up, “Girls, what did you do?”

Zee Zee.”

Abra snorted, “Even I don’t know how to play that.”

Yes, I’m not sure I do, either,” Chloe laughed, “thank you Ivie for leading me here.”

As Archer, Luna and Chloe began unpacking the bags Jamere and Abraxas had dumped on the table. Galla lifted her head to see Chloe’s face, “Jamere always feeds three hundred.”

Oh…” Luna looked up from opening containers, “…yes, Jamere feeds an army.”

Can you blame her? You three eat like black holes, greedy in your hunger,” Abraxas drew glasses down, having decanted the wine already, “give Chloe time and she’ll learn all of our idiosyncrasies.”

Archer shrugged, grabbing plates, taking them to the table, “She has all the time.”

As Chloe joined the five at the table, Luna’s hand appeared on her thigh, weighted comfort squeezing, it certainly felt like it.

Kai finally succeeded in getting them all to the new Tequila bar, Arantxa, subtly lit with a golden hue and spring loaded dance floor. Reaching Ash’s in the early dark hours, sweaty from dancing and dizzy from tequila, seeking comfort food and for their night to never end.

Kai asked, “So, have you been to the new restaurant, Karaleigh’s?”

Yes,” Luna mumbled through a mouthful of eggs.

Jamere walked in from the dark and scanned the interior, bare of interesting customers before she hit the table of chattering friends. She pulled the jacket and gloves off, dumped them behind the bar with her bag and walked over, “Hey guys.”

Jamere. Starting ever earlier,” Galla stood to hug her.

Yes, when will demands,” shrugging, “Chloe, Luna, Kai, Gerome.”

Nice to see you again,” Chloe nodded.

And you,” the night server brought coffee over to Jamere as she grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the table, “So, where have you all been?”

Arantxa.”

That new tequila bar? How was it?”

Fine. They’ve a springy floor. Busy,” Galla said, smiling as she shrugged, “Why haven’t taken me to Karaleigh’s?”

Karaleigh’s is swanky. They use produce only from those types of places,” Gerome rolled his eyes, “They’ve no sense of community.”

Hey! Westwood Manor is one of the their suppliers,” Chloe laughed.

So, have you been?” Kai asked of Jamere.

Both Chloe and Luna smiled as Jamere nodded her head.

Hmmm, dating as a group?” Kai looked aghast, mocking them. Chloe and Luna shrugged as Jamere laughed, “Please, Kai, there more interesting things inside of the house.”

Yes, but you can also do certain things in public…” Gerome said.

Of course there are,” Jamere said “Whatever would I do if you two weren’t here, stretching the limitations of my business. I don’t have an adult entertainment license.”

You didn’t tell me you had a second job….” Luna said, joining the laughter until they were all gasping for breath, the communal nature of comfort lifting them all.

By the time they finished their food, and contented with coffee, the black sky edged towards a soupy grey. Jamere walked over to the kitchen to begin her work day as Luna, Chloe, Galla, Gerome and Kai drifted to their apartments to sleep.

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