Howdy Neighbor || Alfie & Bex
Timing: Before the events of Promise to Bind.
Location: Hallway of Alfie’s apartment complex.
Parties: @inbextween & @yikesimonfire
Summary: Bex drops by Eddie’s apartment with a gift; Alfie isn’t sure what he thinks of her.
Content: internalized homophobia tw
It wasn’t necessary, but Bex liked doing nice things for her friends, and so she’d made Eddie a bone crown while she’d hyperfocused on making things yesterday. She’d had so much energy the past few days, due mostly in part to Mina, and well-- the stuff that had happened between them. Sometimes, she couldn’t stop smiling about it. Sometimes, it made her face hurt. The crown was littered with dried, pressed flowers that were sealed with preserve to keep them from crumbling apart, and she’d dusted off some of the small antlers Morgan had in the workshop-- way too small to even be baby deer antlers, so Bex really had to wonder what they might be from. They looked almost rabbit size-- and arranged them in a fashion she thought might suit Eddie. The coyote jaw bones really brought the piece together, as well. She hoped he’d appreciate the celebration of death in it. She figured he might, considering he saw ghosts and lived his life with them. But when she knocked, no one answered. Hmm, maybe she should’ve messaged him first. That probably would’ve been the smart idea, but she’d sort of wanted to surprise him. She wondered where he might be, as she peered into the front window. All the lights were off, which meant no one was home, probably. She pulled out her phone to text him when she noticed someone outside the apartment next to Eddie’s. “Oh, um hello!” she called out, waving. She didn’t recognize them, but then again, Bex didn’t know a lot of people around town. “I was just dropping something off! Do you know Eddie?”
It wasn’t uncommon that Alfie saw people he didn’t know lingering around the apartment complex. In fact, he didn’t know many people that lived there — even fewer by name. So when he got upstairs, mail in hand, he didn’t think anything of the young woman standing outside of Eddie’s door. As he reached for his keys, he ducked his head to avoid any unnecessary eye-contact. Soon enough, he’d have the door unlocked and he’d be safe. But then, in an unusually friendly voice, she called out to him. The sound of her voice made him involuntarily jerk (and almost drop his keys), but he managed a glance in her direction with a polite, but thin-lipped smile. “Hi,” he curtly replied. The question that followed, however, caused his brow to raise.
“Eddie? Uh — yeah. Yeah, I know Eddie.” Knew him better than most, or at least that’s what Alfie liked to believe. But that was neither here nor there. “I think he’s out, actually. Can’t exactly say when he’ll be back.” Obviously he was out, it probably didn’t take Alfie’s saying so for the stranger to figure that out. She wouldn’t have been standing outside if Eddie were home. Still, while Alfie fiddled with his key, edging it closer to the lock, he figured his friend would probably appreciate him being courteous. “Didyouneedanything?” The words sputtered out in an incoherent mess. “Or, uh… Is there anything I can do to help? He — he’ll probably be back soon.” He figured the polite thing to do was at least offer to wait with her (Eddie would like that, right?) but thought it inappropriate to mention.
Bex didn’t really notice the anxious behavior as she fussed with the phone and the crown in her hands, trying not to drop either one of them. At least her clumsiness had never extended to her hands. She managed to type out a text before the other boy mumbled something so quickly she didn’t quite understand it. “Oh! Oh, that’s-- kind of you to offer,” she said, looking down at her phone as it buzzed. An immediate answer, of course. He wasn’t going to be home for a bit, and she had stuff to do. Mina was expecting her back in a bit, as well. “Um, actually, yeah,” she said, pocketing her phone and looking back over at the other boy. He was quite a bit taller than her, even in her heels, and it wasn’t often she met someone who achieved that. She glanced back at Eddie’s door, before turning back to the other boy. “Would you mind giving this to him when he gets back? I would stay, but I have to be somewhere, and, well, I don’t really trust just leaving it on the doorstep, you know? I made it for him myself and I’d really like it if he actually, you know, got it.” She paused. “Not that I think anyone would steal it or anything! Or, well, I guess I sort of do, otherwise I’d be okay leaving it, but I’m more worried about it getting broken.” As nervous as Bex could be, she was used to talking to strangers and asking things of them. At least her parents had taught her one useful thing.
She made it for him herself? Alfie stood there, dumbfounded for a moment before giving her a small nod. “Yeah, yeah. ‘Course I can!” The hand holding his keys dropped to his side as he shifted towards her, his arm prematurely extended for a swift transfer. In the process, he noticed his shoulders were slouched and straightened up his back a bit — careful not to stand too tall and risk intimidating her. “Trust me, I get it. It’s a sketchy place. There’s no telling what might happen to it before Ed — Eddie gets back. ‘Sides, we wouldn’t want it falling into the wrong hands.” A forced chuckle followed which Alfie immediately regretted. “That… sounds like I’m saying it’s dangerous or something. I just mean, y’know… Things happen around here and, who knows — it’d probably be fine, but better safe than sorry.” His lips pursed together as he studied her face, trying to remember if he’d seen her anywhere; in any pictures Eddie had shown him, or even just from around town. Nothing. Was this just a thing now? Eddie having people over to bring him handmade gifts? “Will he be expecting it, or should I mention who it’s from?” he wondered. He figured that Eddie would be expecting it if she considered leaving it, but he also hoped that putting a name to her face might jog his memory.
“Oh, thank-- I appreciate that!” Bex said, catching herself quickly. It was still such an easy habit to fall into, saying thank you, without knowing what someone was. She thought of all the times she’d said thank you to Professor Campbell and hoped he wasn’t a fae. “Oh, yeah, yes! Better safe than sorry! I mean, this place doesn’t look too sketchy, and when I was over helping him edit some videos the other day, it seemed like a nice place! I think there’s definitely much sketchier places in White Crest,” she rambled. Oh, she was rambling again. She always did that when she was nervous. She smiled to cut herself off and held out the crown for him. “Do you know Eddie well?” she asked, when she noticed the slip in name. If he called him Ed, they were probably good friends, right? Usually people who were close gave each other nicknames. “Uh, no, I don’t think he’s expecting it. I just-- decided to make one and thought of him while I was doing it, so,” the sentence cut short as she shrugged. She wasn’t really sure why she’d made it for him, only that she wanted to do something nice for him, after everything he’d done for her. “You can tell him it’s from Bex,” she tacked on finally, looking back at the other boy with a half smile.
Helping him edit videos? Alfie never helped Eddie edit videos. Granted, that was probably because he never showed any interest in helping him. “Oh, yeah,” Alfie forced another laugh. “He keeps it surprisingly free of dog hair, considering.” He wasn’t sure what to say to that. Hell, he wasn’t even sure how he felt about that. Eddie was allowed to have other friends; it shouldn’t have bothered him. So why did it? “We’re pretty close, yeah.” At this point, Alfie didn’t even know if that was true. No — that was ridiculous. Of course they were close. Eddie was his best friend, after all.
As soon as the stranger introduced herself, things started making a little more sense. “Oh, Bex! From the — the exorcismyay,” Alfie’s voice dropped to a near whisper when he said “exorcism”. He remembered Eddie mentioning her now; how a filming adventure went awry. As it seemed, these excursions of his were just as dangerous as ever. “I realize now that’s still the same word in Pig Latin,” he tittered, a genuine smile crinkling at the corners of his eyes. The nagging in the pit of his stomach was quickly dissipating. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bex, and it’s sweet that you wanted Eddie to have this. I’m sure he’ll love it. I’m Alfie, by the way. Alfie Ramirez.” Why did he just tell her his full name? Should he shake her hand now? Was that the right thing to do? Without thinking, Alfie dropped his keys to offer Bex his other hand. “I’d hate to keep you,” he added as an afterthought. “I know you’ve got somewhere to be.”
“Hey, well, Bucket is a queen and she deserves the world. I wouldn’t mind dog hair all over me if it was hers,” Bex chuckled, giving Alfie a better smile this time. He was a nice guy, and, so far, Bex really liked him. Especially if he was friends with Eddie. She didn’t think Eddie would be friends with anyone that wasn’t at least a little like him. “Oh, have you known him long, then? He said he grew up here, and he’s one of those people who seems to love this town. I think it’s cute, don’t you? How much he seems to like this place. It’s...refreshing.” She wasn’t sure why she’d said all that, but she supposed it was the truth, so what did it matter? And if this was Eddie’s friend, then, maybe she wanted to connect with him, too. Maybe she wanted to show Eddie that she had a genuine interest in his life. He made her feel welcome, after all. And safe. She had broken down in front of him and made him see her horrific nightmare and he’d still offered to drive her home and then also be her friend. He deserved a lot more than a bone crown and a date rejection.
“Oh! Yes! That! That was fun! I was so excited he asked me to come with him. I’ve never seen a ghost before. Or, well, I still technically haven’t, but I’ve seen what they can do! And stuff like that! And it was-- kind of amazing? Did you know there’s different kinds?” She straightened up, laughing a little. “Sorry, I um-- kind of get carried away when i get excited. It’s nice to meet you, Alfie!” she stuck out her hand and took his, watching his keys drop to the ground. “Oh! You’re not keeping me! I mean, I do have someplace to be in a bit, but not right away! Eddie just said he wouldn’t be home for a while--” she shook her phone at him in a gesture of ‘he texted me’ before dropping it, “--so I just don’t have time to wait for him to come back.”
There was a dull throb in Alfie’s chest the moment Bex referred to Eddie as “cute”. For years now, he’d been telling himself not to think like that — and for years, he’d failed. His friend and neighbor would forever be unattainable. It was fine; Alfie accepted that Eddie would only ever be his friend. But that didn’t mean that it wasn’t difficult every now and then. How could he pretend that his feelings were strictly platonic when Eddie’s laugh made his heat soar? Or when he stood there, one hand on his hip, and the other forcing his mess of hair in every which way? Eddie was cute — painfully so — but hearing that someone else thought it too seemed… unfair? Almost. With any luck, Bex said that sort of thing about all of her friends; it couldn’t be exclusive to Eddie, could it?
“Uh, kind of, yeah,” Alfie croaked. “I’ve known him since high school, but we didn’t talk much.” That was a lie. Sure, they went to school together, but implying that they interacted at all was inaccurate. “That changed when Eddie moved in nextdoor, though. We’ve been friends ever since… The rest is ancient history, and all that jazz.” Alfie knew he needed to stop embellishing the truth. One quick chat with Eddie and Bex would know the truth. Hell, he apparently didn’t make it a point to mention him to her yet. The ache in Alfie’s chest permeated his entire body. His cheeks flushed and his heart raced. He was being ridiculous, he told himself. It shouldn’t matter that Bex didn’t know about him. It shouldn’t matter that Eddie was making new friends. And having them over to his house. Introducing them to Bucket. Watching movies and cuddling on the couch.
Stop it! His mind screamed at him over the sound of Bex’s voice. What was the last thing she said? “Different kinds?” Alfie parroted, trying to remember the words that came before it. Ghosts, right. His ears were still ringing. She shook his hand and he laughed, returning the gesture long enough to be socially acceptable before withdrawing, completely disregarding his keys on the ground. “No, no — you’re fine! I know a bit about ghosts, but I’ve definitely never had an encounter like that before. It sounds—” terrifying, “— fun!” For what it was worth, Alfie didn’t exactly want to shoo Bex away, not even when his heart was drumming in his chest. Maybe if he changed the subject? “Ah, that’s understandable,” he agreed. “Have you been here long? In White Crest, I mean — not here, here. I can’t say I’ve ever seen you around.”
If the other boy was distracted by thoughts, Bex didn’t notice. She was caught up in her own, thinking about Eddie, and how much fun she’d had with him, and what was wrong with her? She had Mina, she had slept with Mina, more than once, and maybe she wanted more than to just be friends with Mina, so why did she keep thinking about what Eddie had said? Why had he asked her out? Why hadn’t she just told him the truth? Everything was so confusing yet so clear right now. She blinked, and readjusted, because Alfie was talking again and she needed to pay attention. Pay attention. “OH, you went to highschool together? That’s cool! I assume you went to the school here? Yeah, I mean, that’s fair. I always feel like people are very different in highschool than after.”
She looked down at his keys on the floor and wondered if he knew. Should she point them out? “Um, you dropped your keys, by the way.” He was being oddly quiet between bouts of words, and she wondered if he was somehow off put by her. She was being awfully nosy, after all. She couldn’t help it. Eddie was still kind of a mystery to her, aside from his ghost stuff. She wanted to know more about him. She’d have to ask him. Maybe bothering his neighbor was a bad idea. “Oh, me? I mean, technically, yes? I was born here. I live-- lived-- out on Harmony Island. I’m in East End now, but I didn’t go to school in town. I went to a private school up in Augusta, so that’s probably why you haven’t seen me around.” Lately, a lot of locals had been saying that to her. Did everyone just know everyone here? She supposed the whole six degrees of separation was more like two degrees in a tiny town like this. “What about you? Did you grow up here? I mean, obviously you went to school here, but, you know, did you move here or were you always here?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Alfie absentmindedly agreed, not bothering to get into the smaller details. In high school, the boys didn’t have much to do with each other. He saw Eddie around campus and onstage in theater productions, but that was about it. Whoever Eddie was in high school, he doubted they would have gotten along back then.
When Bex mentioned that he’d dropped his keys, Alfie looked almost startled. His eyes shot to his feet where, lo and behold, his keychain limply lied. “Oh, huh, I— yeah, I guess I did,” he grumbled before crouching down and plucking them up. How was he managing to make this much of a fool out of himself? He worried what Bex must have thought of him; more importantly, what Eddie would think if he knew. Would she tell him? ‘Hey, I met your neighbor, Alfie. You know, the one you never mentioned? What a weirdo!’ His thoughts swarmed with what they’d potentially say about him. No doubt laughing as they huddled around Eddie’s computer and bonded over a shared interest.
“Harmony Island, huh? Sounds fancy.” Alfie chewed nervously on the inside of his cheek as he tried to purge the negative thoughts from his mind. Honestly, he didn’t know much about the island. His reaction was purely based on the fact that it was, well, an island. There were probably a lot of fancy houses there, right? As per the natural progression of conversation, the question was now turned on him. “Yeah, I grew up here,” he answered as he shifted his weight, standing somewhat smaller than he had before. “I’ve never left the greater White Crest area, actually. My family— they, uh… own the library. Or, run it, I guess? It’s probably a lot less cool than it sounds unless you really love books.” Bex probably didn’t care about what his family did for a living, but it was better than hearing how great friends she was with Eddie. “I haven’t worked there in a while, though. I’m actually a software developer. Freelance. I could never work a nine-to-five.”
Bex took a small step back as Alfie bent to pick up his keys. He didn’t seem very talkative, and she wondered if it was because of her. Was she making him uncomfortable? Was it weird that she’d come to Eddie’s place without asking before hand? Was he wary of her? Did he not like her? She shook the thoughts from her head and tried to focus back in on what Alfie was saying. “Oh, uh, yeah! My family is actually kind of uh, well known around town,” she said, rubbing the back of her head before hands came together to wring each other out. She looked back over her shoulder, as if maybe she would turn and see Eddie coming down the hallway, but there was nothing. “My parents are pretty well off.” But I don’t speak to them much anymore. Or at all. She shivered at the thought.
“You’re-- family owns the library? The public one? Do-- do you have a sister? I think I might’ve talked to her online! Is her name Leah?” She was somehow grateful for the change of subject, perking back up for a moment. IF she could make friends with Eddie’s friends, then that was only a good thing, right? That had to be a good thing. “Software developer? Woah, that’s so cool! How’d you learn to do that? Did you teach yourself or did you go to school for it? Either way, that’s, like, super impressive.”
Alfie gave a series of small nods as Bex talked about her own family. He wondered if he should know who they were, but thought better of it. He was still a stranger, after all. They knew each other's names and that they shared a mutual friend. That was it. Alfie was never any good at making friends. Sure, there was also Nell, but their friendship started out of sheer luck — and family ties. Small talk was also not within Alfie’s usual realm of comfort. He hated it, in fact. That’s probably why he didn’t have many friends. That and the fact that that he never felt he needed any. Maybe, with any luck, he’d manage to befriend Bex too. “That makes sense; with private school and everything,” he agreed.
A light laugh surfaced from the depths of his chest. “Yeah, that’s the one,” Alfie confirmed after clearing his throat. “Leah, yeah. She’s, uh— she’s great, really.” He never knew what to say when it came to his family. His parents were strict when he was growing up. They still were, actually. Not that he had much to do with them these days. Leah was — beyond a shadow of a doubt — the golden child. Compared to her and their other siblings, Alfie was the black sheep. That wasn’t the sort of information people usually offered to someone they just met. Instead, Alfie kept quiet; at least until Bex showed an interest in his job. All of a sudden, his face lit up. It was cool! “I’m mostly self-taught, actually! I mean, I took some classes for it in high school, but that’s about it. It’s just always been something I’ve enjoyed doing — fiddling around with computers and whatnot.” Alfie grinned sheepishly at Bex. As much as he enjoyed talking about it, he didn’t want to bore her. “What about you, though? Do you work, or…?”
“She is! She was super nice and agreed to let me borrow some books! Which...it’s a library so of course she did, but I mean, like--” Bex lowered her voice a bit and leaned in, “--special books, if you catch my drift.” Supernatural books. Magic books. She smiled again as she leaned back and gave a short chuckle. “Sorry. I just get really excited about books, and when I actually happen to know people. I don't know too many people around town, so it’s nice knowing this place is actually smaller than it seems, you know? Like, who woulda thought that Eddie’s neighbor, who I met coincidentally, was related to the nice librarian lady I talked to online, who also knows my mo-- er, my current guardian, and is friends with her! Isn’t that wild?” She tried to recuperate fast enough to hope Alfie hadn’t caught her stumble. Not that he knew about her situation, but the slip had even her surprised. Morgan wasn’t her mom. Morgan probably didn’t want the responsibility of that, either. Plus, Bex was an adult, mostly. She didn’t need someone to be that for her. She was doing fine, really.
“But, oh, wow! That’s so cool! And so impressive that you learned most of it all on your own! Do you make a lot of money doing it? What kinds of things do you design? I mean, software, obviously, but is it like, firewalls, programs, mods? There’s so much. Me? Oh, well-- I used to intern at my parents’ law firm, but I, uh-- have recently had a change of heart for what I wanna major in. So, currently jobless, just uh, focusing on school! And, well-- I guess ghost hunting, now. Does that count as a job if I’m not getting paid? It feels like more than a hobby, though, you know?”
“Special books — right, totally getcha. Like, say… her personal copy of ‘Interview with the Vampire’,” Alfie nodded. It wasn’t surprising that someone jumping into the ghost hunting scene would be interested in perusing the restricted section of the library. On the contrary, Leah wasn’t known to lend out books (as far as Alfie was aware) and he couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to it than just Bex’s excursions with Eddie. “Sorry, that was lame. But, yes, I caught your drift.” As Bex apologized, Alfie shook his head with a gentle smile. He was no stranger to talking a bit more than he should about things that made him excited. The library might not have been one of his go-to hangouts these days, but if Bex wanted to gush over it, he’d be happy to listen. “No need to apologize! And actually — now that you mention it — White Crest may be a relatively small town, but you’d be surprised how many people I don’t know. I guess it is pretty cool to realize who knows who and whatnot.”
The broad grin never wavered from Alfie’s face. It was easy to push aside his reservations towards Bex when his craft was in question. He was very quickly warming up to this new acquaintance. “A handful of different things, actually! I’ve cast a pretty wide net. I’ve recently been really into programming a personal database. It’s, uh… a work in progress.” Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. In the event that it got back to Leah, his sister might start asking questions that Alfie wasn’t prepared to answer. “But, yeah. You pretty much hit the nail on the head with all of those. The pay’s decent enough, though I haven’t had any big projects lately — takes care of the bills at least.” Did it matter that some of these projects were morally questionable? Alfie was merely the brains behind them; what the clients used them for were out of his control. He objected not to voice this, considering her parents were in law. “Hey, take it from someone who didn’t go to college: you’re allowed to change your mind about that sort of thing. ‘Specially since you’re the one earning the degree. Have you picked a new major, or…? If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
“Yeah, but less Interview With A Vampire and more--” Bex started, then stopped. She’d been reminded time and time again that telling people she didn’t know that she was a spellcaster was a bad idea. But Alfie was friends with Eddie and he was Leah’s little brother, so he could be trusted, right? She wanted to trust him. “More, Practical Magic.” Oh, that was a blatant reference, wasn’t it? Well, no hiding it now, she supposed. She gave him a sheepish smile and waved it off. “Not lame! Definitely not lame. If it was lame then so was mine.” She chuckled lightly, hoping to move past the notion quickly, nodding eagerly when he amended his statement about White Crest. “Yeah, totally! I’ve definitely noticed that. I mean, I grew up kinda closed off, so I never really knew people around town, but once I started actually meeting people, it was like everyone knew everyone! Or knew of them, at least. Wild, huh? Six degrees of separation who?” Oh, now she was just embarrassing herself. She cleared her throat. “It’s just interesting to see. When I moved away to Penn State briefly, it was so different. Everything was so impersonal.” She’d sort of liked that, though, blending in easily. The dream of that life was so long gone,though.
“Woah, you’re making a whole database all from scratch?? That’s incredible!” Bex exclaimed, perhaps a little too loudly, but she couldn’t help it-- people being excited made her excited and her cheeks bubbled with it. She needed to find every reason to be excited, anyway. Every reason to be happy. “But, you know, pays the bills is good! Especially if it’s something you enjoy! Isn’t that what they say? Find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?” She remembered one of her professors telling her that. She didn’t know if it was true. “Oh! Uh, yeah, I have. Um-- Anthropology. I’ll probably focus on uh, Archaeology. It’s what interests me the most. But, really, anything about history interests me. I could probably go to school for the rest of my life getting different history degrees. I won’t, though! But I could.” She rubbed the back of her head. “I’m what they call a History nerd. Or buff. History buff. Anything you wanna know about history, I probably know something about!”
Practical magic? That came as a surprise. The only spellcasters Alfie knew in White Crest were the Vurals. He always figured there were more, but never bothered to find out for himself. A wave of anxiety crashed over him at the thought of Bex having something to do with his curse; a worry that quickly subsided at the realization that no beginner magic-user could be involved in a plot spanning across what was likely centuries. Unless…
“Not lame,” Alfie reiterated with a meek smile. “Although, I can’t exactly say I’ve read it myself.” He wondered if it would be appropriate to ask her more about it — if only to subdue his concern. Maybe it was best to leave it be for the time being.
It was interesting to hear about Bex’s fondness for White Crest. The reasons she seemed to adore the small town were on Alfie’s list of why he wanted to leave it. “That sounds ideal to me,” he said playfully, electing not to elaborate. Explaining that he longed for a bigger city where he could easily hide away would only dampen the mood. Not to mention that it could potentially get back to Eddie who would undoubtedly be upset by it. If anyone could make Alfie stay, it would be him — another thing on his ever-growing list that Alfie wasn’t prepared to get into with Bex.
“More or less,” he chuckled. “The original code is pretty much public domain, but I’ve made my own enhancements.” These ‘enhancements’ being private journals that he so eagerly nicked from the family’s secret collection, though that was neither here nor there. He’d return them… eventually. “I mean, that’s awesome, though! There’s still so much to discover through artifacts from the past.” In a sense, Alfie was doing the same; unearthing his own past through vague remnants of it. “Good on you for chasing your dreams.”
Alfie thoughtfully pursed his lips. He wondered if Bex had anything in her bank of knowledge pertaining to his own circumstances. “Actually, now that you mention it… You don’t happen to have any recommendations on, say, the history of White Crest, do you? More specifically pre-dating European colonization?” It was a long shot, but he couldn’t exactly ask Leah.
“Oh!” Bex perked a bit, “it’s actually a really good book! If you like reading about that kinda stuff, I’d totally suggest it.” She beamed for a moment. She loved talking about books and sharing other people’s interests and, well, it was always nice when people shared hers, too, wasn’t it? She wondered if Alfie knew about all the things that went on in the shadows of White Crest, all the things the world tried to hide from people-- probably, considering he was friends with Eddie, and Eddie didn’t seem like the kinda guy to hoard that type of information. In fact, he was the opposite. She shook the thoughts away.
“What? Oh! Yeah,” she blinked back to the present moment and away from her thoughts and nodded. “I don’t mind living in a small town. I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but I dunno-- it’s not so bad, for me.” It was harder to disappear, but maybe that wasn’t what she wanted anymore. Maybe she did want to be known, after being hidden for so long.
“Enhancements? Well, I mean, still! That’s amazing. I’m sure you made it infinitely better. And, well, yeah, thanks! I just kinda figured, what’s the point of life if you’re just living someone else’s, you know?” She gave pause at his last question. She did, in fact, have recommendations on all that. But they were Morgan’s family notebooks and the ones she’d dug up at the record hall and “borrowed” permanently. No one knew they were missing, not when she’d replaced them with fakes. She chewed her lip. “Uh, I mean, you could check town hall, if you wanted to. They might have some old newspapers or records that could tell you about that stuff. Does your family not have any books on that stuff in the library?” And little did she know, her own parents had records of that time. They’d been in White Crest longer than the town had a name, after all. She shrugged. “Sorry I can’t be more help there.” Her phone buzzed and she glanced down at it. “Oh, uh-- I-- I should probably get going, actually. I-- thanks again, you know, for talking to me and for holding onto that for Eddie for me.”
“I’m not exactly, uh — how do I put this? — affluent in that sort of thing, if I’m being honest,” Alfie chuckled. The hand holding his keys darted behind him to rub the back of his neck. Growing up, Nell tried her best to explain it to him, but the only thing Alfie could relate it to was his lessons on temperature control — and his innate ability to burst into flame. Aside from that, magic simply didn’t make sense to him. He always assumed it was something some were simply born with. These new-age witches and wiccans most likely accomplished nothing more than what any ordinary human was already capable of. Then again, what did he know? He figured it would be impolite to ask Bex whether or not she had any real powers. It wasn’t his business.
Alfie nodded along as Bex spoke, failing to come up with anything valuable to add. Living in White Crest was a curse (at least for him), but he didn’t expect others to share that opinion. He wasn’t sure how far back his history with premature death went. All Alfie knew for certain was that the records he did have access to were set in the unusual town; none of which explained the source for his self-proclaimed “curse”. What he needed to find was something with the answer in bold print — a pissed off spellcaster rebuking one phoenix in particular. Or perhaps an astrological phenomenon occurring around the time of his birth or death. Not that Alfie knew the precise dates.
“Yeah, I mean, the library definitely has some stuff,” he said sheepishly. “But, uh, thanks. I’ll have to give town hall a shot.” At that moment, Bex’s phone buzzed. Alfie hadn’t noticed the tension in his shoulders until then. “Oh, of course! Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you.” He felt a little guilty for being relieved that Bex was leaving. He hated small talk. “It was great to finally meet you, Bex. I’ll make sure Eddie gets it as soon as he’s home. And, uh… be safe out there.”
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TW: talk of arranged marriages, homophobia, sexism, use of religion as an excuse for homophobia, intentional misgendering, talk of dismembering, transphobia
word count: 1,436
It was a lovely day, albeit a bit chilly, as autumn had just arrived. Aphmau was strolling around the village of Phoenix Drop, checking in on her citizens and enjoying the weather. Molly had approached her just a couple of minutes ago and had asked if it was alright if she brought Alexis, who had woken up from her slumber only two and a half weeks ago, up to Aphmau's house to go play with Malachi and Levin, Aphmau of course had allowed it, as all of the kids in the village were close friends. She wondered if Kyle and Yip would be there when she got back to her house, she brushed off the thought and continued on her walk.
"Hey, Lady Aphmau!" She heard a voice call from behind her, she turned around to see who it was, it was Brendan, with Cuddlezilla, and another hamster, who was sitting on Brendan's head.
"Oh hey Brendan, need something?" He shook his head. "Nah, I just was wondering how the married life was going for ya'" He smiled.
Aphmau smiled back. "Oh, it's going great."
"That's good, you sure surprised everyone with the announcement. Haha, even Garroth was surprised!" She laughed along with Brendan, the only ones who hadn't been that surprised were Dante, Malachi, and Yip, mainly because that they had only been in Phoenix Drop for a couple of days when it had come out that Aphmau was married. Garroth, Laurance, and Donna had been among the most surprised, and Aphmau had found it quite funny. They chatted for a bit before Brendan had to go tend to the crop field that had replaced the old farmhouse that Zane had stolen from Brendan been staying in. Aphmau continued her walk around the small town but was stopped around 10 minutes into her walk by Laurance. He didn't smile at her as he usually did when he approached her, instead he wore a neutral expression.
"Lady Aphmau, there are some people at the gates, they say that they want to speak with the Lord."
"Oh?" He nodded.
"Then let's go." The two then walked to the gates together. Once they got closer Aphmau noticed that there looked to be 3 people there, although she couldn't see much.
"Ah, Lady Aphmau, you're here." Garroth said when he looked over. She smiled and approached him, there were indeed three people there, and they were all wearing armor, Aphmau assumed that they were guards.
One of them scoffed when they saw her. "We asked to see the lord, not the lord's wife." Aphmau sighed.
"I am the Lord." The guards looked at each other as if they didn't believe her. The guards looked at each other and whispered some unintelligible things.
"Alright," The guard who spoke before sounded as if he was being forced to play along in a young child's game. "Is there anywhere for us to speak privately?" Aphmau nodded, doing her best to ignore the man's tone. It seemed like her guards were doing the same.
"Garroth, open the gates."
"Yes, Lady Aphmau." Garroth walked over and pulled the lever to open the gates. The guards stepped in after the gates had risen.
"Follow me." She said, turning around to head to her house. She waited a couple of moments before heading off, Laurance, Garroth, and the three guards following behind her. It didn't take long to walk through the village, and up the hill to her house. She smiled softly when she saw Zoey, Levin, and Malachi outside. Zoey smiled at her and Levin waved (and nearly fell over while doing so, because he stood up to fast). Aphmau waved and then opened the doors to the house. She walked over to the table and took a seat, the three guards also took a seat, Laurance stood right next to the doors.
"So, why did you need to speak with me?"
"Well our Lord has heard many good things about this village and would like to form an alliance, through an arranged marriage."
"With who?" She asked, hoping they wouldn't say what she thought they were going to say.
"With your firstborn and our Lord's firstborn." Aphmau breathed a heavy sigh.
"I will not force my son, either of my sons, into a marriage they had no say in." The guard who had spoken previously sighed, and then the room was silent for a moment.
"This is why we needed to speak with the lord, not his wife" The guard hissed under his breath, probably hoping Aphmau didn't hear him.
"Did you not hear me before? I am the Lord, I don't have a husband." The guard tensed up, "Then why do you have that ring, it's obviously a wedding ring, why are you wearing it if you're not married?"
"I am married, I just don't have a husband."
The guard scoffed. "Oh really?"
"Yes, I have a wife." The three guards looked at each other and then looked back at Aphmau, none of them spoke. A heavy silence filled the room, and it was broke by a light knock on the door. Laurance opened it, it was Zoey, holding a flower crown in her hand.
"I do hope not to interrupt anything important, but Aphmau, the boys made you a flower crown and Levin was very insistent on me bringing it to you." Aphmau smiled.
"Ah, I see." She got up and walked over to Zoey. Aphmau smiled wider, and toom off the flower crown she already had on, the blossoms were already starting to wilt.
"Care to put it on me?" Zoey blushed but didn't say a word when she put the crown on Aphmau's head.
"Of course." Zoey smiled and excused herself from the house. Aphmau walked back to the table and sat down.
"Do- do you not follow Irene?" One of the guards asked. Aphmau was shocked.
"What? Why would you say that?"
"Well you have a wife, and it's against Irene for two people of the same gender to be together, and not just that two women together is abhorring!"
"Don't forget that women are not supposed to be in positions of power." Aphmau was confused, she'd never heard anything about Irene forbidding women from being in power nor Irene being against people loving people of the same gender. She looked over at Laurance, giving him a 'do you hear this?' look. Laurance wasn't paying attention, as he was staring at the guards with the most murderous look she had seen on someone's face since Zenix. She went to say something but was cut off by water running. Malachi had appeared in the room and was getting a glass of water. "Malachi, what are you doing?"
"Getting some water, Levin knocked over his cup." Aphmau nodded. "I see."
"How could you be raising children around such things?" One of the guards asked, with an inculpatory tone.
"You heard me, how could you raise children around such abhorring and repulsive things! No one like you should be around children, let alone leading a village and raising children." The guard spat.
"And why is that?" Laurance growled.
"She'll corrupt them, just look at that one, you can't even tell what it is!"
"It?" Malachi asked. "I'm a boy stupid."
"Whatever" After the guard said that the door opened, it was Garroth.
"I was just che- Holy Irene Laurance!" All eyes fell on Laurance, who was currently staring at the guards, and whose eyes were a deep crimson red.
"Laurance is everything alright?" Aphmau asked, very concerned for her friend.
"I'm... fine." He said, still not looking away from the guards. "I think they've long overstayed their welcome, don't you agree?" He asked, Aphmau nodded slowly, only the tiniest bit concerned as to where this was going.
"I would say that we should just kick them out, but some things were said that I'd like to have a little chat with them about..." Aphmau contemplated letting him talk to them alone.
"I'm sure they'll be fine, Mom!" Malachi smiled at her. She nervously smiled back.
"Alright, but I'll be back in twenty minutes.." Laurance seemed to light up at this.
"I'll stay here to get snacks!" Aphmau nodded and walked out of the house, as she shut the door, and was walking over to where Levin and Zoey were she just missed
"I'm going to tear you limb from limb"
"Ooo! Can I help?"
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when I was thirteen, my brother Charlie got married. he’d been dating this boy for a while, and he rushed into a wedding because it had just been legalized a few years ago and he needed a way out.
I didn’t understand. I was naive, didn’t know why my bubba left the house so young, when he used to promise he’d stay until evie and me were old enough to move with him. I didn’t realize my parents wanted to kill him for marrying Jessie.
I asked once if I could move in with them, I think I said it was because they had a nicer dining room at their house. Charlie looked so sad, Jess would tell me much later that they wished they could take me and evie away. because we didn’t understand what ma and pa were doing to us until it was too late.
Charlie was in an accident just a few months after the wedding. he flipped his car, on accident, said the papers, on purpose, said his husband. I didn’t believe it either way.
he lived for six more months in the hospital. we all thought he was getting better. and then he just died. they still aren’t sure what happened, they think he just didn’t want to live anymore maybe. Jessie told me that wasn’t true, but he wouldn’t look me in the eye when he said it. he just didn’t want me to think badly of Charlie for leaving us.
everytime I closed my eyes after that day I saw his grey lips, his still chest, his pretty blue eyes empty behind almost closed lids until I was afraid of my own bubba. I didn’t understand it. he was dead, I watched him die, but
but that couldn’t have been him. it just couldn’t have been. my bubba was at his new house, at the fancy dining table I liked better than ours with his husband, waiting for me and Evan James to come visit for the weekend with our little backpacks packed.
and then we buried him. right next to my uncle Wayne who died the same way when he was just a year younger than Charlie. I saw a picture of my uncle Wayne once, I always thought he looked like Paul Williams. I always wanted to meet him, but I guess bubba beat me to it.
we started going to church every day instead of every other. ma said we had to be forgiven for something, but wouldn’t tell us what.
pa did though. he said it was because Chuck was a queer, a bad mark on our name, and now God was going to punish our family, starting with killing my brother, so we had to repent, lest we all be struck down like poor Chuck was. the only reason I didn’t believe him back then was because bubba always hated that nickname, Chuck. he preferred Lee.
me and Evan James were bad in church, we were grieving, we didn’t care about listening to the same boring stuff we already heard. I was afraid of the preacher anyways, from the days when he used to be in charge of the daycare, and leave the lights off in the arts and crafts room.
so they told evie and me we’d be going on a trip, to a judgement house like we had done lots of times before. I was always real afraid of them, but I used to have Charlie’s hand to hold. not this time.
the story was about a nameless boy. he was very young, and he never listened to his loving parents. he dabbled in lots of bad things, drinking, drugs, sodomy. he flipped his car and went straight to Hell, just like Charlie, only my bubba didn’t drink. they didn’t care about that though.
all they cared about was teaching us that if we didn’t want to be like the nameless boy, who everyone in our small town knew was actually named Charlie, we had to be good and quiet, and listen to our parents. most importantly though, we couldn’t ever, ever break the rules of love like good ol’ Chuck did when he married Jessie.
I stayed on my knees all night after we got back, praying out the big window beside my bed that nobody would ever find out about Stacia. I didn’t want to have to end up like Charlie just because I liked girls too.
I‘ve almost did though, end up like him lots of. I guess it was about curiousity, what was on the other side, would I get to see bubba again, things like that. I’m so glad I don’t know the answer.
I was ruining myself, I stopped eating until I fainted. I took a whole bottle of my pain killers and washed it down with fireball. and then I didn’t have any left and was struggling to get by when my joints started locking up. I pulled out in front of a semi when I knew my brakes were rusty. I stood on the edge and almost, almost...
but He never took me. and I thought for a long time, maybe that is my punishment, not getting to be with Charlie again and having to live with what I’d done, who I was.
but I know it isn’t. I know that’s His way of saying that what the bad people down here try to teach on his behalf isn’t true, that it truly was an accident what happened to Charlie and that it’s okay if I kissed Stacia under the ginkgo tree in her backyard, and it’s okay if I’m not always happy and good and well behaved, and it’s okay if I leave my parents behind for better things.
and I want that to be true. so that is what I will continue to believe.