This is War

You know, it’s been a while since I let myself write a rambling, half-thought-out rant here, but this is a blog and what the hell good is a blog if you’re not doing that? I’ve been focusing a lot on my fiction recently, as you might have noticed. There’s a bunch of reasons for that but the big ones really are that I’ve really, desperately needed an escape from the constant barrage of bullshit that’s coming from our government, the sweeping hatred that’s gripped our country, and all the other fuckery that’s flooding everything I look at recently. This, though, isn’t about escaping. It’s about speaking up.

It’s about speaking up when I see our president signing an executive order that results in the detaining of legal US citizens because of their national origin. It’s about speaking up when I see rights being trampled on in the name of “safety”, with thinly veiled words that prove that it’s not about safety. It’s about seeing Sally Yates, our now-former Attonrey General, standing up and doing her goddamn job, knowing full well that it would result in immediately losing that job. It’s about watching as a fucking Nazi-sympathizing fascist takes control of our country. It’s about all the people who think we’ve gotta “hear both sides”.

You know what? You’re right! We’ve gotta hear both sides! And I’ve heard them. I’ve heard one side say we should be turning refugees away, because their nationality makes them a suspect. I’ve heard that side say that I should be subjected to shock therapy until I “convert” to their definition of normal. I’ve heard that side say that we should ban immigration, and not guns, to address crime. I’ve heard that side openly and frequently say that we should be asking ourselves if a genocide of the black race is to the benefit of our world.

I’ve heard it, and I reject it. If you try to tell me that a life — ANY goddamn life — means less than yours becasue of nationality, because of religion, because of skin color or sexual preference or any other goddamn reason: you are my enemy. Maybe we were friends once. Maybe we were family. Maybe you already hated me, or snickered to yourself when I came out as a transgender woman. Whatever we were, whatever it was before this moment, it is dead. I do not accept your hatred. I do not accept that disagreeing with racism and xenophobia is a “differenece of opinion”. I do not agree that slavish devotion to our president — to ANY president — is the meaning of patriotism.

You say I should practice tolerance, that I should respect a difference of opinion. That’s great! I’m willing to respect a difference of opinion any goddamn day. No problems there, buddy. When you say that about someone who poses an eminent threat to my queer friends, to my friends of color, to my Muslim friends — I draw a line. This is not my rejecting my ideals; this is not me rejecting logic or reason or restraint. This is me, responding to an open declaration of war. We did not start this war, you and I, but like it or not, we are drawn into it. There is no option for neutrality. The current administration has made that perfectly clear.

So, hold fast to your logic and your centrist beliefs. You’re probably a white guy — it’ll probably work out, for you. It won’t work for women. It won’t work for people in skin that’s darker than yours. It won’t work for the LGBTQ community. It won’t, because our nation is led by a man who’s ear hears only what it wants — and what it wants is fed to him by the self-proclaimed “voice of the alt-right”. By the by, there is no such fucking thing as the “alt-right”. They’re the new breed of Nazis, and their goals are the same as those who laid the groundwork for them in 1930s Germany.

Maybe you think we’re being whiney little snowflakes, thinking we’re somehow special and deserving of a “participation trophy”. Fuck you. I never got a trophy for participating in anything. I’m not special, I’m human. That’s it. That’s all any of us are. It’s the only thing we can be, and the only thing I’m proud to be any more. I used to feel pride in my country — and yes, this goes back before Trump. Before Obama. Before I was even a part of the political world, when I was a part of this country’s now-dying educational system. My teachers never told me that I had to listen to a president if he was enacting laws I disagreed with; they encouraged me to think. To grow.

And yet, as we watch the nation churn in growing turmoil, the president is tossing aside all “defectors”. Anyone who questions his word is labeled an enemy, even if it is their job to do so. This nation was founded with a series of “checks and balances” — maybe you remember hearing about them? Those are crumbling before us as the direct result of a fascist ruler and a spineless gathering of weak, pathetic politicians beneath him. Democrats, Republicans — I don’t give a shit about party lines. Both side have shown their cowardice in the last week, and both will continue to empower this raging ass-hat until it’s far too late to save any of us anymore.

Maybe you think I’m a sore loser because my candidate didn’t win. I didn’t have a candidate in this election. There was nobody running who represented my interests. Not during the primaries, not during the general election. Never. Not once did a candidate come forward that gave a shit about me as a person. Most of them, though, would have agreed that I’m a person, or even that I’m an American. Trump has called me an enemy. That is his word, not mine. That is his label, not mine. This is his war, but I’m forced into it. Sure, out here in California, in the skin of your average white guy, I’m pretty safe. My life isn’t in immediate danger. Others’ lives are, and if you think we can sit back and wait while they build the walls, the camps — fuck you. You’re going to end this on the wrong side of history.

Anyway, if you’re at the end of all this, then you’re probably someone that agrees with most of what I’ve said, so there’s no real point in going on any further. All the hotheaded, safe-space-needing Nazi sympathizers are gone by now, so thanks for pulling through. On the off chance you managed to get here while still thinking that everything I’ve laid out here is somehow extremist or wrong — why? What is the endgame in your fierce dedication to supporting those who would just as soon see me dead because I present a threat to their world view? I don’t have any more words for you. Get out of my life.

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Not Home

A sharp electronic tone cut through the air, a repeating scream to return to consciousness. Delphine watched as her host stumbled in the dark, pawing at the wall for light before silencing the alarm. She watched as Megan dug through her closet, seeking out her normal dress in favor of the cloak’s embrace. She seemed rushed, like she was trying to make an escape. They spoke briefly before parting as Megan dashed out the door, headed back to the diner for another day’s work. Delphine sighed.

You never knew what you’d get with any new acolyte. Well, not an acolyte in this case, but new all the same. Fresh to the world that existed parallel to her own. Full of that youthful exuberance, the whimsy of seeing something more than you’d ever dreamed. Delphine remembered the feeling, long ago as it was. She mused on her own introduction into this world as she set about setting everything as it had been when she arrived. She smiled as she scrawled out a note, tucking it under her earlier gift to Megan. She wondered how long it would take for curiosity to give way to temptation.

Delphine finished tidying the kitchen. Everything as it had been when she arrived. Save for the note, she couldn’t risk any trace of her passing through. Once she was satisfied that her work was complete, she checked the locks and turned off the lights, her fingers tracing the wall as she returned to the bedroom. Drawing her cloak around her, she sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of Megan’s bed, closed her eyes, and began the incantation. In her mind’s eye, she watched the ground below her give way, a gaping sinkhole into the soil below stretching out beneath her. She saw herself drift into the Earth’s gaping maw as the land sewed itself back into place above her. She saw flickers, reflections in the blackness skipping past her vision in faint flashes. She felt herself become one with the dirt.

When she opened her eyes, Delphine was standing in the dark. Dim streetlights hung to one side, and wild shadows stood above her on the other. The park. It wasn’t a bad landing; only a five minute walk back. She could get some more rest; while the sun was rising on Megan’s day, Delphine had nearly three more hours before it would find her again. She glanced around to be sure she was alone, then pointed herself towards home.

No, not home. That didn’t seem the right word. Sure, she had her own cot every night, but the shelter didn’t offer the other amenities that came from having a real home. Privacy. Quiet. No, those things didn’t come with the territory here, but it was better than nothing. Hell, it was probably better than a lot of things. People caught in relationships they secretly hate, sharing their entire lives with the ones they despise. People caught under the terror of abuse. People locked in jails for things they didn’t even do. At least she was free. Well, mostly free. Free enough.

Quietly making her way inside, Delphine found an open cot and laid down. She’d slept well enough, but they’d — well, been up late. You really never did know what you’d get. It wasn’t like her to get swept up in their wild reactions, but it had been one hell of a weekend. A slice of what normal life might be like, if she could dig her way out of here. It wasn’t as easy as all that, though; even with an income, everyone’s looking for rental history, for your last three addresses, references, all that crap. These weren’t things you could go out and pick up from the mall after a good week’s work.

She drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the shuffling around her during her moments of lucidity. It had been nice to get away from it, but she didn’t want to risk losing everything. They had to stay together, and a flash-in-the-pan romance sure as shit didn’t facilitate that. She did regret the hurry of the morning, but she didn’t want to overstay her welcome. Sending Megan off to return to her usual routine was cruel, but necessary. Above all else, keeping up the appearance of fitting in to society was important. That was one advantage she had over most here; whatever the circumstance might call for, she could dress the part.

Eventually, dawn broke and the kitchen sprung to life. She wasn’t on the cooking crew today, so her tardiness was excusable. Today was dishwashing duty. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous task, but it was something to do to feel useful and earn her keep. She ate in silence, like she always did. Most around here weren’t exactly social butterflies, and those who were soon learned to keep to each other — especially during meals. Everyone had their routine, no matter what path their life took. Everyone played their part in the grand performance of life. Most of them would never really know their role, what their existence meant on a longer timeline. Most didn’t really seem to care.

It was different for her, though, and for the rest of the Five, all of the initiates and acolytes. They still had their routines, their parts to play, and their roles to fulfill, but with an actor’s awareness of their placement. Sure, not even Lillian had the whole script, but they knew enough of the design to understand what needed to be done here and now. They couldn’t act on impulse — not when it counted. The strategy had been in play since long before Delphine had been born, but now relied on her ability to maintain it. Everything that happened with Olivia — it put everyone in danger. Olivia was a global threat.

She finished her meal and made her way to the back of the kitchen. The stereo in the corner was rattling out something between static and heavy metal; she couldn’t tell what was intentional or not in the varying distortions. She stepped to a sink and set to scraping, spraying, scrubbing, and racking everything that came in. She was quick at it, now, but there were more living here than there had been when she arrived. Whatever it was that was unfolding in the world around her, it seemed that an increasing number of down-on-their-luck folks found their way to this doorstep.

Once the dishes were done, she and the others went their separate ways. Some would stay here, backing up other work crews to stay in good graces. Some would hit the streets, playing instruments or simply silently begging for coins. Others would take a bus or carpool to a normal job, somewhere downtown or near the university or — well, away from here, the place that polite society liked to support but didn’t want to see. Delphine’s day was likely to be something more unique.

At least, that’s how it turned out to be. Her friend’s face was on a small TV in the corner; that didn’t seem right. She stepped closer and caught the tail end of what sounded like an inflammatory rant disguised as news. They were calling Celia terrible things, accusing her of ties to some nebulous group of extremists in a far-off land. It didn’t make any damn sense — what could she have possibly done? Whatever the talking head on the screen had to say, Delphine knew that he was wrong. This wasn’t a report, it was a smear campaign on national television.

This was a declaration of war.

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The remainder of her work day was business as usual. She’d calmed down, though she was still kicking herself. Regardless of the circumstance, regardless of how lucky she’d been that nothing had been stolen, she’d still brought a stranger into her home. She’d still abandoned all sense of reason for a night of passion. She’d still let her control over her own life and actions slip, and she was angry. Sure, it had been — well, pretty damn great, all things considered, but it wasn’t her. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t — well, it wasn’t worth losing her job over. Focus. Untangle the thoughts later, she told herself. The customers are here now.

Still, throughout the day, Megan felt that same shame and guilt brewing in her mind. She felt betrayed; she wasn’t sure if she blamed herself, or Delphine, or anyone. It didn’t matter who she tried to put that on, the net result was the same. Focus, damnit. Watch where you pour the coffee. Smile. She’d always had a natural charisma that helped her rake in tips, keep light conversation. Today was a struggle. The ease with which she strolled from table to table was gone; she felt stiff, almost robotic, trying to force out pleasantries. She strained to conceal it all, but the more she struggled, the more she was sure it was painfully obvious. Nobody said anything, of course — this was a diner, not a damn therapist’s couch — but she could see concern, sense the curiosity at her unusual behavior. They knew.

As her shift ended, Megan found herself feeling uncertain. Normally, on a day like today, she’d head home and putz around, looking for small chores to keep her busy until she felt satisfied enough to rest. Today, she wasn’t feeling it; the very thought of going back to her empty apartment, of plunging back into the earthy smell and the blur of recent memory, knotted her stomach. She pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the highway. A long drive to nowhere might help clear her thoughts. She cranked up the music as loud as her crappy stock speakers would allow, rolled down the windows to let in the freezing winter air, and drove.

It wasn’t long before she was out of town, out among the woods and hills and emptiness. There wasn’t much traffic out here on a Monday afternoon, and she took full advantage of the open road. The landscapes around her became a blur, the trees and telephone poles blazing past her, the sky rolling above. She felt her thoughts, her worries, blowing away in the icy wind that tore through the car, carried off like so many falling leaves. She felt free, not just from the pressures of life, but from her own internal walls that she’d spent all day building up. She felt unburdened from every distraction; all, of course, but the sudden flash of red and blue behind her.

She spat profanities to herself as she pulled over to the side of the road. Of course. Of fucking course. I let go one goddamn time, and this has to happen. Goddamnit. Why the hell am I such an idiot? Why the hell would I- Her moment of reflection was cut short when she caught his face in the side mirror. Harris. Of all the possibilities, it had to be him.

“Miss Adams! What a pleasant surprise.” His voice grated on her, like someone dragging a bag of rocks across a marble floor. “I’m sure ya know why it is you’re bein’ pulled over. Let’s see that license an’ registration, if ya got ’em.”

She fished out the paperwork and handed it over, trembling with a mix of embarassment and fear. What were the chances that the cop to pull her over would be the same she’d found on her doorstep? That the same cop she’d run afoul of, who never seemed to join his colleagues for breakfast, would be here now, so far outside of town? He had to have been following her, waiting for her recklessness to provide an easy excuse. She stewed in thoughts of calling him out as he went back to his car, presumably running the numbers to make sure there wasn’t some other infraction from her past for him to drag out.

Hours seemed to pass, and Megan regretted her decision to leave the windows down as she drove. In the rush of tearing across the countryside, she hadn’t felt the bite in the air, but as she sat in festering silence waiting for Harris to come back, it seemed to rip into her flesh and gnaw at her bones. Her face ached. Her fingers could barely grip the steering wheel. The swirl of clouds above had yet to make good on their threats of rain, but the scent was on the breeze. She hoped this would be done before it came.

She didn’t notice Harris leaving his car until he was again standing at her window. “All looks to be in order, miss Adams. I’m sure it’ll be no trouble, comin’ up with the fine. You know I don’t like doin’ this, right? Might be a lot easier for ya if there was anything you remembered since the last time we talked…” he let these last words fade. The implications of his pressing were obvious.

“All due respect, officer,” she offered in a tone that suited the icy weather, “I have no idea what you mean. I don’t know those kids, and I don’t know where they went.”

“Well, darlin’, you figure it out, you lemme know, alright?” He handed over her license, registration papers, and significant ticket. Over a decade on the road, and she’d never been given one until now. She knew she’d earned it, but still — it couldn’t have been coincidence. She rolled up her windows and waited until he’d curled off behind her and back towards town before following suit.

Still fuming over everything that had happened and entirely unsure of what to do, she headed home as if on autopilot. Rain had begun to fall in a light patter that was just enough to secure an overnight freeze that would wreak havoc on the roads come morning. Cold, wet, miserable, and clutching her costly prize, she made her way inside.

The earthen smell hit her like a ton of bricks. It had been there before, but somehow it seemed to have grown. She tossed the ticket on the coffee table, next to Delphine’s note. I’ll see you soon; it seemed like a mockery, somehow. Like she was just supposed to agree that they’d meet again, and everything would be fine. They could sit by the window and tell fanciful tales again and she could forget the bullshit of the day, or the week, or however much time would pass before “soon” came around. Like she was supposed to think a night of lacking inhibition had meant anything at all; who knew how many other women or men had been swept up in Hurricane Delphine, their lives left forever altered in her wake.

Megan remembered her burrito, left hours ago in the microwave. She’d normally just toss it straight into the trash and find something else; but then, she’d normally not bring god-knows-who to her bedroom. She’d normally not have spent her afternoon pushing her poor, aging car to its limits on the highway. She’d normally not have a bottle of whatever the hell that was on the table, or the scent of wet dirt permeating her home, or — well, what was one more terrible decision to round out the bunch. She started the microwave up again, telling herself this was enough to kill anything truly harmful.

Burrito in hand, she flicked on the TV and plopped heavily onto the couch. It felt empty; hell, she felt empty. She still couldn’t remember the last time she’d properly eaten, but something more was weighing on her as she bit into her latest terrible life choice. The familiar tune of the local station’s evening news program played from across the room, and the droning voice of the same anchor she’d seen there for years began its daily recitations.

Exhausted and hardly interested in the same hum-drum bullshit blaring from the screen, Megan felt her eyes grow heavy. The room began to dim as she slipped towards sleep, too flustered still to bother moving from the couch to her bed. As the flickering pulse of the television began to fade behind eyelids that were barely still open, Megan nearly missed her opportunity to see a familiar face; framed to the right of the anchor’s stoic gaze was Celia. Beneath the photo, a one-word question: “Terrorist?”

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The alarm’s piercing shrill cut through the darkness, as it did on so many mornings before. The sun wasn’t yet out; while this had been normal as recently as three days ago, now it seemed to make a mockery of everything that had happened. She was tangled in sheets and entirely shaken from the rude interruption of what must have been a wonderful, if disarming, dream. The murmur of Delfine’s waking signalled that it hadn’t entirely been in her head.

Her head. It throbbed with each blare from the evil mechanical herald of a new work week. Rubbing her eyes, Megan groped blindly for the light switch. The stark whiteness cast a dreary reality on her situation; after all this, after everything she’d learned and felt over the past days, she still had responsibilities. A life to live, a diner that needed coffee made, a shuffling set of loyal customers waiting to greet their day with her smile. It disgusted her to think of returning to that mundane grind.

Megan pawed through her closet, searching for some clothes to put on for the day. While the cloak’s wonderous shapeshifting was a fantastic feature, it didn’t seem right to wear for a day’s work. She dressed as Delfine watched from the bed, slowly rising and wrapping herself in her own magic garment.

“I’ve got to go to work,” Megan said, her words dragging with obvious distaste. “Are you, um, staying … here?”

Delfine chuckled. “I’ve got a life, same as you. I need to get back, too. Fortunate for me that it’s … well, I’ve got a few hours yet, let’s just say it like that. Don’t worry. Lock up when you leave, I won’t need to go that way.”

“Wait, you’re … of course you’re leaving,” Megan replied. “I’m sorry. For, like, all of — I don’t know. Thank you for coming here. I, uh…” her words fell to pieces in her mouth, unsure of what she should — or could — say.

“I’ll see you again, Meg,” Delfine reassured her. “This is only the beginning. At least, I hope it is. For all our sakes, I guess.”

“When? Will you come back here? How am I supposed to learn if – if you’re not, you know, here?”

“You worry too much. Just go. You’re expected, and the last thing we need now is anything that draws more attention from — from Harris, and whoever sent him. Keep your guard up, newbie. Don’t be afraid, but don’t close your eyes now. I’ll see you … later.”

Megan cast a vicious look at the clock; it was time to leave. She hated the idea, but not having a home to come back to because she walked out on her job to chase some mystical wonderland was an even worse fate. She grabbed her coat and was off, locking the apartment behind her. By the time she arrived at the diner, the resentful feelings had started to ebb, replaced with something very different that continued to tug at her mind as she went about her day.

Maybe it was the act of going through the motions at work. Maybe it was the way everything so monumentally normal. Maybe it was the faces, the people coming in and out of the diner, all the same as they had before. As they would continue, unaware of what had begun here. Had she lost her goddamn mind? She’d just spent two nights — shared her bed! — with a total stranger! Megan’s thoughts ran in circles, winding around and around, locked in orbit around the very notion that she, on some lark, had taken a dose of god-knows-what, landed in some kind of fairy tale, and spent a night in bed with someone she didn’t even know.

What the hell had she been thinking? Is this how normal people, well-adjusted adults, lived their lives? She’d practically stumbled through the entire weekend, caught up in some fantasy that — while entirely satisfying, mind you — had absolutely no business existing. What was this connection she felt with Delphine, really? Sure, she was pretty. No, that wasn’t the word; she was more than that, but even so, people didn’t just have that kind of instant … whatever it had been.

Megan wondered if Lillian was somehow responsible. Delphine had said she couldn’t make people act against their will, but did that mean she wasn’t able to have any impact on them? Maybe this mysterious woman had somehow manipulated her, planted false memories that had been the reason Megan knew each of them by name. Hell, maybe none of it had even happened the way she remembered. Waking up wrapped around someone else like that was a sure sign that something had happened, but who’s to say that she wasn’t some passing friend of the ones who’d left the pill, come to take advantage of a hallucinating local? And if that’s what had happened, she’d fallen for it entirely. Hell, she’d even —

“Shit!” Every head in the diner turned toward Megan in an instant. She was nearly as surprised as they were at the sudden outburst from remembering a key detail; whoever Delphnine was or wasn’t, she’d left her alone in her home. Who the hell does that with someone they’ve known for all of a weekend?

“Cammie, I’m sorry, I — I gotta take lunch a little early, I just remembered something at home.” She waited for the nod of approval, and tore out of the diner like her life depended on it. She thought about calling the police, but decided to wait until she’d arrived home to see what the damage might be. She muttered a string of profanities that lasted from the diner to the parking lot of her apartment. Scrambling for her keys, she finally managed to unlock the door — at least it had still been closed, so maybe her stuff was still here. Hell, maybe Delphine hadn’t even left yet.

She stepped inside. Nothing had moved. Well, nothing except the bottle; if that was here, maybe she hadn’t made it all up. She scoured the place, going room by room and then back again, checking every closet and cabinet just to be sure. Delphine wasn’t here, nothing was missing, and — wait, what was that smell? It reminded her of an open field after a rainstorm, or maybe the scent of seaweed on an ocean breeze. Wet. Earthy. It seemed strongest in the bedroom, but a thorough inspection found nothing out of place, down to the last haphazardly-tossed sock that had found its way under the bed.

She breathed in, trying to calm herself as she threw a burrito into the microwave for lunch. If she was here anyway, may as well make the most of the time and actually eat something. Had she eaten anything while Delphine was here? It was all a blur, from the moment she’d opened her eyes on the beach to the ear-splitting squeal of the alarm this morning. Surely, she’d at least done that much; people just didn’t go for days without eating anything. She must have.

She scanned the room again, waiting for the beep to signal that her food was ready. As her eyes traced every detail of the living room, they caught something she’d missed in her hasty entry. Tucked below the bottle sitting on the coffee table was a folded piece of paper. She crossed the room, forgetting hunger for a moment, and pulled it out. Hesitantly, she unfurled it and read the note scrawled inside.


I hope you find this soon. I’m sorry I hurried you out the door. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay.

I’ll see you soon. I promise.

– D

Behind her, the microwave announced the end of its task. Her stomach turned at the thought of eating; without so much as another glance towards the kitchen, she returned to the cold and started the drive back to the diner.

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An Unwelcome Guest

A flurry of motion. Megan all but leapt from the couch, springing towards the sudden interruption to press her eye against the peephole. Delfine hissed a quiet profanity and swept her cloak over herself, practically sprinting away from the living room; a wordless glance told Megan she’d have support if it was trouble that had come to her doorstep. She took a sharp breath and peered outside.

An unfamiliar face, but sporting an all-too-familiar blue uniform. Why the hell would there be a cop knocking on her door on a Sunday afternoon? She mutterd an echo of Delfine’s earlier epithet. Another knock. “Miss Adams? I’ve just got a couple of questions.” His voice was rough, like someone who’d had too much whiskey for too long. Trembling, she turned the deadbolt and opened the door enough to show her face.

“Uh, can I help you, officer?” She was afraid it came out sounding suspicious, like she had something to hide. Maybe she did; she’d never been good at feeling these situations out.

“I sure hope so, miss Adams. You mind if I come in?”

“Oh, god, it’s a mess in here. Let me grab my jacket, and we can talk out there?”

“It’ll just be a few minutes of your time, I promise.” He put a hand on the door, pushing it open against her half-hearted resistance. It was probably easier not to push back too hard, and to get this over with. Reluctantly, she stepped back inside and allowed him to follow; she made a mental note of the name on his badge. Harris. Easy enough.

She suddenly remembered that the morning’s pleasantness had distracted her from getting dressed. The best part of wearing magical clothes, though, was that this could be an afterthought without presenting a problem. She appeared to be wearing a pair of worn-out light grey sweatpants paired with a plain white t-shirt. It was a sufficiently Sunday look.

“So, uh, what can I do for you?” her voice trembled slightly as she tried her best to keep her nerves in check.

“I hear you served some, ahh, let’s say unsavory-lookin’ kids a couple days ago. Out-of-towners, out here causin’ some ruckus. Was wonderin’ if ya might have caught where they was headin’.” His voice had a curious quality to it, like he was forcing an accent that he thought was appropriate for the setting. His breath smelled like milk left out overnight, not quite curdled but certainly on its way. Everything about him seemed to set off a warning sign in the back of Megan’s thoughts.

“Well, let me see,” she responded slowly. “I think I remember, kinda. Party kids, right?” She tried to smile, but worried that it looked as insincere as it was. She’d never been a good liar, so it was easier to be vague than to create some other story. Harris nodded.

“To be honest, officer, I wish I could help. I don’t like hearing there’s trouble here, but my job starts and ends at the table. I didn’t catch much of what they said.”

The officer reached into his pocket and extracted a small card. “Well, you think of anything, miss Adams, you be sure and let me know, alright?” He held the card out for her, and she gingerly plucked it from his fingers. It seemed for a moment that he might grab for her hand, but perhaps she was just being paranoid. Without another word, he gave a slight nod and left as abruptly as he’d come. She bolted the door behind him, shaking.

“Megan?” Delfine’s voice floated in from somewhere behind her. She was still wracked by nerves, paralyzed by the feeling of an unwelcome man barging into her home with prying questions. Maybe she was overreacting; it had been quick, he’d accepted her responses easily. Too easily? Maybe. Whatever the case, she was still frozen by the door when she felt Delfine step up behind her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Who was that? Do you know him?” There was concern in Delfine’s voice now; she was worried, too. Something about that set Megan even more on edge. She was fighting back tears. Trying to stay calm and collected, trying not to collapse in a pathetic heap, trying to maintain some sense of composure. Trying. Failing. Falling.

Delfine caught her around the waist. “You’re alright, sweetie. Let’s, uh, why don’t you come lay down?” Megan was barely aware of walking as she was guided through the hall, into the bedroom. No tears came, but her whole body shook, her legs unable to hold her up on their own. Delfine helped her sit on the bed, taking a seat next to her and keeping a supportive arm curled around her waist. She allowed herself to breathe, and remembered that she hadn’t answered the earlier question.

“I have no idea who the fuck that was. I mean, I don’t — maybe he’s new, or newer? I don’t deal with the cops a lot outside of work. Maybe he’s just not the diner type, or — I don’t know. He just seemed … off, I guess.”

“I’m sorry, Meg. I — this is probably my fault. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“No, no. You’re not taking blame, Del. You said it yourself, just yesterday. It was my choice. I became a part of this by choice, and even if I didn’t know everything that would come with it, it … you’re not …” her words sputtered off, and she fell backwards onto the bed, bringing Delfine with her. She turned, their eyes meeting, and placed a hand on Delfine’s cheek. She was shaking, too.

“I don’t care who shows up at my door, okay? It’s worth it. You’re worth it. You’ve shown me, just … so much. So much that I haven’t had a second to let it sink in. I’m not letting that go, not for anyone, and not for some rude-ass, probably-fake cop. I bet his name’s not even Harris. Slimy little fuck.”

Delfine laughed. It was quiet at first, but the longer Megan’s words hung in the air, the more she seemed unable to control it. Megan soon joined in, and they laughed loudly together at the absurdity of it. The very idea that some would-be policeman would knock on the door on a lazy Sunday, in the middle of winter, asking questions about some drug-addled kids that had visited the town diner two days ago and been on their way was simply too much.

They tried to collect themselves, fighting giggles that refused to stay silent for long. They were tangled together now, the bedsheets a twisted pile beneath them. As she quieted herself, Megan found herself staring at Delfine’s face; their bout of laughter had returned the lightness to her eyes, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. The stern and solemn look she’d worn on their first meeting felt like a distant memory, vague and faded against the warmth and softness she saw there now. All sense of fear, all the confusion of the past two days, all the worry for the days that would come — all of it melted to nothing at her touch. Delfine was all that she wanted or needed, and she was here. As their arms wrapped around one another, Megan barely noticed the shift of her clothing as the cloak slid from her shoulders and fell quietly to the floor.

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