Prompt — An Unexpected Chat

The breeze sent a chill down Merideth’s spine as she waited beneath the tree for the sun to set. It still had a ways to go. The nights came later now that daylight savings had passed. She didn’t know how to feel about that. The only emotion she really felt was weariness, but then, that was every day.

“You know, there aren’t many trees in England these days,” she noted, glancing back to the tree for a moment before returning her gaze to the sunset. “Perhaps that’s why I like this spot. You’re an odd one. An old sentinel from an older time.”

The tree made no reply, as right it oughtn’t. There was a structure to the world, and talking trees simply did not fit.

“I reckon you feel that bloody breeze as well as I, no? It’s a bit drafty up on this hill, how do you stand it?”

“I find a coat does wonders for the breeze.”

Merideth spun around, expecting to see the tree miraculously sporting a trench coat and scarf. Instead, she saw a man with a trench coat and a scarf, tipping his hat as he walked up the far side of the hill towards her.

“You heard all that?”

“Just the bit about the cold, I’m afraid,” the stranger replied. He sounded American.

“You must think me daft,” she smiled, scoffing a bit at her own embarrassment.

“No, but you do seem to be struggling with the draft.” He emphasized the last word to rhyme it with her pronunciation of ‘daft’.

“I’m not entirely sure it’s wise to mock the accent of a person native to the country you’re visiting.”

“Yes, well, ‘Hello I’m Raymond Stenton’ becomes a boring introduction after a time. I try to lead with the insults first and then be nice later.”

She eyed him, not sure what to think about his peculiarity.

“Hello, I’m Raymond Stenton, by the way,” he added with a wink as he extended a hand out.

“Merideth,” she replied, taking it.

“Lovely name,” he smiled.

She grimaced. “Okay, ease it up a bit, I’m not fishing for compliments.”

“Would you like me to make another quip about your accent?”

“Does this work on every girl?”

He shrugged. “Only the ones who are lonely enough to talk to trees.”

“You’re interrupting a perfectly good evening.”

“I should say the same to you, what if I wanted to chat up this tree?”

“I saw him first.”

“Yes, but I think your tree flirting could use some work. The weather is never a good place to start with these things.”

Merideth folder her arms. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to strangers. Especially not one like him. And yet there was something about his presence that seemed… genuine.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

He tapped a satchel he kept at his side. “I start every travel vacation by climbing to the highest spot I can find and drawing places that look interesting. Then I go there.”

“Not much of anything interesting here.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve found no shortage of conversation, and if you run off I can take my chances with the tree.”

She chuckled at that, and Raymond’s eyes lit up. “I’m not sure you’ll get very far,” she said.

“Oh, I don’t expect to. Trees aren’t known for their love of long walks.”

“You talk almost as if you have quip for everything I say.”

“I do. I keep a small journal at home of every possible sentence a stranger might say to me, and I’ve written and memorized a response for each. It’s a lot of work, I admit.”

“I can’t imagine that leaves much time for anything else,” she reasoned.

He waved it off. “It was just a long weekend for me. Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you doing up here?”

Merideth looked back out to the horizon to watch as the last shred of light dipped beneath the skyline. She thought about telling him the truth, but he wouldn’t believe it. Nobody could, without seeing it. Still, she couldn’t outright lie.

“I was… planning on a chat. With someone I haven’t seen for a long time.”

His face grew more serious. “You weren’t talking to the tree.”

She looked back at the tree that served as the invisible grave marker, wiping away a tear. “No, I wasn’t.”

Another breeze went by and the cold flooded through her body. Before she knew it Raymond’s coat was wrapped around her and the frigid air was staved off.

“I’m sorry for interrupting you,” he said. “I had no idea.”

“It’s alright. You really are charming.”

“That’s nice of you to say, but in my ignorance I’ve been terribly rude. You can keep the coat as my apology. It was a pleasure to meet you.” He was already moving towards the direction he’d come, and Merideth was hit with several emotions she couldn’t immediately place.

“How about coffee?” she called after him.

“I’m sorry?” he turned.

“Let’s do this properly tomorrow, yeah? I’ll buy you a coffee and return your coat.”

He smiled and nodded. “I’d like that very much, Merideth. Have a good night.”

 

 

(Not as faithful to the prompt as I usually am, but hey, the story wanted to go it’s own way. I think it turned out all the better for it.)

Prompt: https://megatruh.deviantart.com/art/garden-in-the-sky-726244864

garden_in_the_sky_by_megatruh-dc0dy4g

Me — June ’18 Update

Well, here we are. I’d like to thank the academy for this astounding accomplishment. Spring 2018 semester is over. The Summer (and hopefully my penultimate) semester is fast approaching. I have big news (for me), too. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my friend’s apartment in Oregon, after having flown for the first time in seven-ish years. This is the first “vacation” I’ve ever had to myself, but I’ll get to that.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Alright, I finally have some blog news: I will be resuming the weekly fiction portion of my blog! Every Sunday I’ll be posting a flash fiction based on an image writing prompt. I intend to also record them and upload these videos to YouTube around the same time they post to my blog, but we’ll see. I don’t intend to be posting chapter excerpts of anything, though. Just the weekly flash fiction. Plus, that way, you won’t need to have read anything else of mine to enjoy them.

As for writing plans, well… that’s why I’m only posting one thing of fiction a week. I’m still not really devoting any effort to any larger project. Lisa Stenton has once again found herself in a muck of irreconcilable conflicts too large for me to enjoy writing her stories. I just… don’t know how to make technology and urban fantasy marry without copying other writers or making it stupid, and frankly it’s hard to hit the exact right chord I was going for with her stories. I think “The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava” was pretty good, though. Spear Gate’s new outline is still on the to-do list, but it’s honestly not that interesting to me anymore. ‘Cause, you know, that’s what new writers do. We love something until it’s hard and then find a new passion project. So, as for now, still no bigger project. Oh well.

Lately I’ve been playing almost exclusively Heroes of the Storm and World of Warcraft. Less so HotS because I’m kind of burnt out on it, but I did calculate that in about 600 games (or about 200 hours) I’ll have reached level 10 with every hero in the game. Problem is, all the heroes that are under that cap are because I don’t enjoy them much. So instead I’ve been playing WoW, mostly as a way to pass the time while I listen to podcasts.

Speaking of podcasts, I’ve finally caught up on Story Break! This means I’m caught up on six of the eight podcasts I’m interested in. After that I intend to listen to podcasts I have no hope of being caught up on. Ones that have hundreds upon hundreds of hours of content. I also have some unread audiobooks on my phone, so I still need to dive into those.

As I said, the Spring semester is over. I’m almost done getting two Associate’s Degree’s though. I just need about six classes total, so that’ll be great. I have tentative plans for what I’m going to do after, but nothing concrete. So after the Summer and Fall, I should be done… ish.

Okay, so Oregon. I’ve only been here for about 18 hours as I’m writing this, and roughly half of that has been asleep, but oh my gosh. So many trees. Living in So Cal means that I’m used to sky lines being rocky mounds of… you know, rock. But Oregon is swarmed with trees, I’ve never seen so much green in my life. There’s just… so much. It’s honestly pretty much the same (it’s less than a thousand miles, after all), but at the same time, so different. I’ll talk about it more later.

One thing I didn’t account for on this trip is the fact that I’m introverted. Being around friends for nearly 72 hours straight is… well, let’s just say I’m tired and it’s taking a lot out of me. I want to have fun, but it’ll be a struggle to keep my mental energy running for that long without burning out.

Also, the Tuesday and Wednesday blog posts will be late. I won’t be back home until late Tuesday night.

Me — Taking a Fiction Break!

Hey, everyone. I have a few news things to share. The most important thing on that list is the fact that I’m just burnt out. I would have mentioned this last week but I’ve only decided this in the last few days.

Finals are coming up soon, and I recently just got a new job on top of that (more details on that maybe soonish, because nothing is set in stone). I’ve stated my intentions to write Lisa 4 ahead of schedule several times, but I still haven’t even picked up Lisa 3 in over a week now, and I have no drive to continue, either. It’s a shame, yes, but writing 3,000 words of fiction a week is just not sustainable in my current mindset. I think forcing myself to write that much when I’m not in love with the words I’m producing is a bad move when I’ve already got so many other things going on.

There are also glaring flaws with the entire concept surrounding Lisa Stenton, and it mostly ties to the fact that it’s modern day. Flaws such as “where are all the cellphones and social media and whatnot” when I don’t want to make that a part of the story. Yet neither do I want to say that “technology doesn’t work around magic” like every other urban fantasy story, because that just makes things easy.

That said, I do still plan on continuing Lisa Stenton. It just won’t end up being one per month like I had hoped. I’m going to finish Lisa 3 when I stop feeling burnt out, and then maybe Lisa 4 after that. Now, in the past (November and December), I had taken a break from my blog and only posted Spear Gate excerpts once a week. I’m going to do the opposite this time. Only blog stuff: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I might still do Friday flash fiction pieces, but I’ll reserve the right to skip it, too.

Funny thing is, I’m not going through a rough time right now. In fact, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while. That’s also sort of how I know I need to take a break from writing. Writing isn’t simply hard because I’m depressed/down/whatever. Writing is hard only because I’m very busy and I’m not currently in love with any of my projects.

Actually, I am very interested in two writing projects. But those are personal, and will (probably) never see the light of day, because while this blog is still more for me than anyone else and I’m very open about my personal thoughts and plans, there are still necessarily things that are best kept to myself.

Good news is on the horizon, though. And as something entirely unrelated, I placed in Diamond 4 in the ranked play of Heroes of the Storm, which is higher than I’ve ever been. I’m actually pretty confident that if I wasn’t going to school and could devote 4+ hours a day to it, I could play semi-competitively. Well, not competitively, obviously, but I like striving to be the best in everything I do. (For perspective, Diamond is in the top 8%-ish of players. The tier after that is “Master”, which is the top 1%. A little research pretty much states that the difference of these two ranks is more commitment than skill based.)

So, my apologies for the break in fiction. Don’t worry, though, I don’t intend this to last more than a month or two.

Me — April ’18 Update

March has been interesting in a number of ways, and I’ve been a little stressed given the amount of things I’ve been trying to tackle lately. My Spring Break just ended, and while I had been hoping to relax, in reality I relaxed the first two days and then realized how large my to-do list was, and then never had a moment’s rest. That’s primarily why Lisa 3 isn’t done. But anyways, let’s look to the future, not the past.

And as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

No immediate blog changes on the horizon. I do want to start a weekly Research a Random Thing project and then make that the topic of, say the Wednesday posts, as I’ve discussed in a recent post. No plans for that yet, though, because I want to do that properly (and when I have less on my plate). Maybe that’ll be more of a summer thing.

As for writing plans, I obviously have to finish the second half of Lisa’s March story. That’s my immediate concern. I’m also going to try to use April as a test-run to write Lisa 4 in more bite-size chunks, as in writing 1,500 words every week. That way, when it’s published, I’ll be posting stuff that’s been done, not stuff that I cranked out the night before. As for the Sunday posts, I still have no idea what I’m going to do with them. I’m not ready to revisit Spear Gate, so I’ll probably just keep writing Spark snippets, because that’s fun. Not actively working on a “Big Project” feels weird, but I’ve just got too much right now.

I’m mostly playing Heroes of the Storm right now. Not competitively, though I do want to try to hit Diamond again this season to see if I can hit it consistently. Mostly, I just haven’t had any time at all to do anything, though I did pick up an old phone app I used to play: Skyforce. It’s a bullet hell game, but with long term upgrades, and upgrades are my favorite thing.

Having caught up on Writing Excuses, Critical Role, and Voice Acting Mastery, I’m currently binging a new podcast when I can: Story Break. It’s a podcast by the writers at Rocket Jump, and each episode is them tackling a famous IP and trying to plot out a movie or TV series for it. These IPs aren’t easy topics, like a Jar Jar Binks movie, a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, a Kelogg’s Cereal movie, etc. Surprisingly enough, they usually do an amazing job, and watching professional writers at work has helped me learn how to outline stories much more effectively. Maybe for my next Big Project I should try my hand at outlining again…

School hasn’t been hard so much as time consuming. I’m basically at the college for twelve hours straight on Mondays and Wednesdays, so it takes a lot out of me and I have to be careful to manage my energy levels. I cannot go into a school day tired, because I will die from exhaustion. Especially if it’s a Monday. Not much else to say about school at the moment, though I’ve since learned that if I take about 18+ units (don’t know the exact number) next semester, I’ll be able to transfer with two AA degrees, which is nice.

The only other thing I have to mention is my unsuccessful job hunting attempts. I’ve been applying to places I think I’ll enjoy working at, but in a lot of the interviews I’ve had, they aren’t really satisfied with my availability of “only Thursday-Sunday”. It sucks, because while the interviews have been going really well, I can watch the interviewer look at my availability and frown, which basically just means I didn’t get the job, regardless of how great a candidate I am. It’s a little frustrating, but there isn’t a whole lot I can do to change that until the semester ends next month.

I may also have some D&D stories coming on the horizon. Stay tuned!

Lisa Stenton Pt. 3/3 Not Ready Yet

Hey, everyone. Sorry, but with the holidays and some other things going on, (what I consider to be) the second half of the third Lisa Stenton short is not ready yet. I could have spent all night last night writing it (instead of writing this), but I’m honestly exhausted. I don’t want to sabotage my energy levels for the upcoming week by staying up late just before my spring break ends. Plus, I’d end up with a sub-par conclusion to a story I’m really liking.

I also don’t know when I’ll finish it. I don’t want to finish the story in lieu of another blog post (especially a fiction one), because then I’ll end up being a week behind production-wise. So I’ll try to have the conclusion of the story post on Wednesday, but I will make no promises. I want to do Lisa justice.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read the other two, the links to each of them are down below. Author’s note though: I don’t like how the second one turned out. It’s not a bad story, but it doesn’t have the fun or levity I’m shooting for with Lisa stories. The blog will probably never see the rewritten version of it, though, whenever I do get around to that.

 

Lisa Stenton — The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava (Pt. 1/2)

Lisa Stenton — The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava (Pt. 2/2)

 

Lisa Stenton — Likable Living with a Lifeless Lawyer (Pt. 1/2)

Lisa Stenton — Likable Living with a Lifeless Lawyer (Pt. 2/2)

Lisa Stenton — Lighting the Lackluster Lamp (Pt. 2/3)

“I’m a little new to this whole ‘magic is real’ thing,” I said.

“Are you now?” Cara smirked. “Well, looks like we’ve got lots to catch up on.”

“Maybe we should both be sitting, then.” A glance towards the couch full of unfolded clean laundry told me that wasn’t an option. We went into my bedroom instead.

Unfortunately, my bed was only marginally better.

“Sorry about all the mess,” I grumbled, grabbing a dirty bowl and bag of oreos from my bed and putting them on the nightstand.

She elbowed me in the rib before sitting down in the now clear spot. “I knew there had to be a reason we only ever hung out at my place.”

“Well, yeah. Plus we couldn’t exactly pick on your little brother if we were at my house.”

Cara laughed. “It’s the solemn duty of the older sibling to bring their friends over and harass the younger one.”

“Especially when that friend is an only child.” I laid down on the other side of the bed, which she took as a cue to do the same. “How is he, by the way?”

“Oh, Bax is great. Sophomore in high school now. Same age we were when we started dating. He’s still a big nerd, unfortunately, but I managed to get him on the lacrosse team. I told him it’s a good way to meet girls.” She looked at me and winked.

“I wouldn’t advise him to introduce himself the same way we met. That bump never went away, by the way.” I rubbed the back of my head in the familiar spot.

She rolled her eyes. “How many times are you going to make me apologize for that?”

“Oh, I forgave you years ago. But it’s still funny. You’re not going to live that down anytime soon.”

She jabbed me in the gauze hard enough to hurt, but still in jest. “Didn’t you have a bunch of supernatural questions you wanted to ask?”

“I did, it’s just… You know, when I recognized you back in the Passway, I expected this conversation to be a lot more awkward.”

She nodded. “Yeah, me too.” The moment passed, and she sat up with her legs crossed. “So anyways, like I said, most humans are born Wizened. It’s sort of like how you tell your kid that Santa Claus is real, only you then go to Santa Claus’ house for Christmas. It’s s—”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Santa Claus is real?”

She laughed again. “No, no, no. It’s just an example. You tell your kids fairy tales, only when you grow up in a Wizened family, they tell you true stories. Most Wizened people belong to guilds that serve different purposes. Some are mercenaries, some are intermediaries, some are commerce oriented, that sort of thing. So since you’re born into being Wizened, most people are also born into their guilds.”

“Hold on for a second. Every person I’ve met in the supernatural has used the term ‘Wizened’. What does that mean exactly?”

“Oh, that’s just any person that is aware of and involved in the supernatural community. It pretty much exclusively refers to humans, because obviously faeries and goblins and whatnot are, you know… supernatural.”

“I’ve never met any of those. Only Doc.”

“Only what?”

“Doc?” I called, raising my voice. “You here, buddy?”

“Yes…” his little voice replied. The little blue spirit crawled out from underneath my side of the bed. “Sleeping…”

“You sleep?”

“Don’t… know. Maybe?”

I lowered my hand to the ground and he hopped onto it. His little feet felt like ice cubes without the wetness, and I lifted him onto the bed with us.

“What the hell? You have a pet leech?” Cara asked, making a face.

“A what?”

She folded her arms. “That’s a leech. Basically spirits that have lost so much of their humanity they’re dumber than a wolf hunting a squirrel.”

“What’s wrong with that? We can’t all be smart. Plus, I think he’s cute.”

“They obsess over humans because they miss being alive, so they crave attention and human interaction. That’s pretty much all they know once they get to that stage. You keeping one as a pet is like feeding a rat that lives in your home instead of exterminating it.”

“I think that’s a little harsh, don’t you Doc?”

“Hmm… Harsh,” he nodded before lying down on the bed like a snow angel.

“Besides,” I added. “He’s taught me lots about the supernatural, since nobody else would.” I couldn’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but he had taught me… some things. I was sure of it.

“Well, it’s extremely rare that some random person just becomes Wizened,” she said. “You can’t even see spirits like him until you are. How’d you do it?”

“Funny story,” I said. “This guy walked into my apartment through my closet one day.”

“Your Passway?” she offered.

“Yeah, but I didn’t know it was there, obviously. He had a dog mask on his face and was looking for my mom. He gave me that magic Sharpie.”

Her eyebrows raised at that. “Black and white robes? Tall and gangly? Looks like a grim reaper wannabe?”

“You know him?”

“Oh, that’s one of the guilds I mentioned earlier. They’re called the Scavengers. They’re sort of like the black market of the Wizened world. There’s two things that are really weird about that story.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, first is that he knew your mom. That means she’s Wizened. And didn’t tell you about the supernatural world.”

“Yeah, I got that far. My parents moved to London several months ago, though, and this Scavenger guy thing happened only like last month. I’ve tried contacting her, but she’s been even harder to reach than usual.”

“That part’s not surprising,” she said. “Magical beings don’t like technology. Lots of liasons to the supernatural world are practically Amish. But anyways, second important thing. He gave you that Sharpie? No deal, no contract, no money?”

“Nope. Just told me to give it to my mom next time I see her.”

“That’s weird. A magical artifact like that is bound to be insanely expensive. I wonder why he gave it to you. He must have owed your mom a huge favor or something. Or maybe it’s cursed.”

I paled at that. “What would that mean?”

She shrugged. “Dunno, could mean a lot of things. Maybe after a while it’ll start using your blood instead of normal ink, and it will slowly, bit by bit, start consuming your soul.”

I gulped, looking back to the nightstand where the Sharpie sat. Such a powerful object, yet such a high price.

But when I turned back to Cara, I could see her stifling laughter.

She got a pillow to the face.

“You’re such a jerk,” I said.

“Yeah, well, you know. Oh. Actually, there’s three weird things about your story.”

“Go on?”

“Where did your door to the Passway come from? They’re usually made by the Locksmiths, which is another Wizened guild. And they have real, magic locks on them, not like your dumb padlock.”

“Hey, I did what I could!”

“Sure, it works for weaker stuff, but if a vampire sees a door without a proper lock on it, you’re screwed.”

“Well, that means I have to go find a Locksmith, right?”

“Sure, but that doesn’t answer the question. This guy. This Scavenger came into your apartment through the Passway. Before you bought a lock for it, your door was completely free to be opened at any time. It was only a matter of time before something came through, you were just lucky enough to have it not want to eat you. But it begs the question of how long that door was there, and who put it there.”

Lisa Stenton — Lighting the Lackluster Lamp (Pt. 1/3)

I didn’t want to die. I hadn’t really been worried about the possibility until the lake of lava about a month ago. But since then it had become a near daily concern.

Rarely though, was that concern as immediate as it was now, being marauded by almost a dozen demon skeletons.

“Back!” I yelled, magic red Sharpie sword in hand. No words came out, of course. The Passway was as eerily silent as it always was.

The skeletons did not relent. They stalked towards me as a pack of wolves surrounding a squirrel. Do wolves and squirrels live in the same ecosystem? Wouldn’t they fight over who got to eat it? Bad analogy I guess. You’ll have to forgive me for that one. Not dying was a more immediate concern than being clever.

I swung my sword out, and they took a step back. Not afraid, but at least they knew I was a threat, glowing red eyes seething hatred as they watched.

“You know, I’ve never enjoyed the stereotype of the damsel in distress,” I said. “But I’ll allow it this once, if you guys don’t mind waiting for my Prince Charming to show up.” Feeling my lips make the words brought some comfort at least.

One lunged for me. Swinging in panic, I brought the sword in between us, and the skeleton impaled itself. I might have screamed, but since I didn’t hear one it probably didn’t happen.

Relief washed over my face when I realized I was fine, but then it receded immediately. It was a skeleton. The sword had passed through all his ribs and he was now flailing his arms wildly at me.

“This is probably the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me,” I muttered, grimacing at the skewered thing swing like an overturned cockroach. Okay that analogy was much better. I could tell because I almost puked just thinking about it.

With a mustered force I shoved my foot right into his femur. It snapped in two with what I imagined to be a sickening crunch, and the demon skeleton collapsed to the floor.

Only eight more to go.

Seeing their brother-in-bones fall in combat sent them into a frenzy. They watched as his skull hit the ground and roared, glowy red essence spewing from the gaping holes of their mouths as, obviously, no sound came out. I bet it was terrifying. Bone-shattering, even.

They charged.

I swung, seriously hoping I would have the foresight to take swordplay classes in my next life.

A flash of red and silvery-blue, and a glimpse of something else caught my eye. Another person.

No time to look, though. I kept blocking and batting away claws and bites, staggering back into the wall of the Passway. Several blows hit their mark, and I could feel stinging pain on my arms, chest, and face as their hands clawed at me. It had never occurred to me how sharp phalanges could be. Especially demon skeleton phalanges.

Before I knew it, the skeletons were reduced to a pile of bones on the ground. The sole credit went to my rescuer, whose daggers seemed to be literally engulfed in flame and… ice? Once the threat was gone, the person directed me to sit with my back to the wall and gestured towards both directions of the Passway. Can’t sneak up on you if your back is to a wall, the person seemed to be implying.

I really was a damsel in distress now. To my dismay, though, it wasn’t Prince Charming that had saved me, but some girl that looked… really familiar, now that I thought about it. And she was staring at me.

Wait, I knew those eyes.

Carmen?” I mouthed, at the same time she mouthed “Lisa?”

That was ludicrous. Carmen was a guy. We dated back in high school before he moved away.

And now he was back. And female.

As soon as she realized I recognized her she averted my gaze, turning her attention to my wounds. She was untouched somehow, daggers safely tucked away at her hips. They hurt a lot more now that the danger and adrenaline had passed.

“You don’t happen to have any magic band-aids, do you?” I said. She was obviously just as deaf as I was here, but it was worth a shot.

I watched as she frowned in sympathy at the cuts on my arm, carefully avoiding inspection of my face and chest. There was no use in staying here, though. I grabbed her arm and pulled her up with me as I stood. When she looked up I motioned in a direction with my head. Back towards my apartment. She still seemed a bit uncomfortable by the situation, but nodded.

 

“I thought you moved,” I accused, frowning as she wrapped my bicep in gauze. We were in the dining room at the desk where I did my painting, with me sitting in the only chair. I held my breath and clenched my teeth as much as possible to keep her from seeing how much it really hurt.

“I did,” she said, as if she was conceding some well kept secret. “I still live in Oregon actually. It’s just pure coincidence that our doors to the Passway happen to be very close right now. How’s that?” she asked, patting my arm.

“It’s fine… A little tight, though.”

She looked up at me. “I can loosen it if you want.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll be fine.”

She ignored me, loosening the wrapping and redoing it with less force. The affectionate warmth of her touch encroached into awkward territory as I found myself staring again. She was just so… different now.

“I… uh…” I sighed. Where to even start. “There are so many questions flowing through my head I don’t even know where to start. Carmen, it’s been so—”

“Cara.”

“What?”

“It’s Cara now,” she corrected.

“Isn’t Carmen a unisex name?” I asked. It’s not like I had a problem with that, it just seemed strange.

“I know, but it’s Cara now. Please. Can we not talk about that?”

I shrugged. “Alright, sorry.” It was quiet for another moment as we both avoided eye contact. “Can I ask one more question before we change the subject then?”

She looked into my eyes, and for that one moment I was back in high school, wishing that I had done everything differently. Wishing that I hadn’t made so many mistakes with her. She nodded.

“Is…” I paused, unsure of how to phrase it. I settled for gesturing at her general person. “Is this why you broke up with me?”

She nodded again, expecting the question. “It’s more complicated than that, but… yeah, I think so.”

“Alright.”

She finished up by closing the first aid kit and standing. “I’m sorry.”

I punched her in the arm.

“Ow! What the hell?”

And then hugged her.

“Thanks for probably saving my life,” I said.

It took a moment, but she hugged back, and all the tension in the room washed away. “Yeah. Any time.”

“In that case, could you maybe do it faster next time? I could have donated all that blood.”

“You donate blood?”

“Well, no. But I tried one time. They rejected me ‘cause I didn’t have enough iron.”

I broke the hug, and we locked eyes for another minute. There was something there that I couldn’t place, but it didn’t matter. Hers were the only eyes I felt comfortable looking into, and I was glad to know that that hadn’t changed.

The moment passed, and all the other questions came flooding back.

“Have you known about the supernatural this whole time?” I asked.

“Sure. Born into it, like most humans. You’re saying you weren’t?”

“Yeah, I’m a little new to this whole ‘magic is real’ thing,”

“Are you now?” she smirked. “Well, looks like we’ve got lots to catch up on.”