There wasn’t quite a popular group within the small high school, but if that term could be applied to any, then it would be given to Ayr’s friends. It wasn’t a big group, but it didn’t have to be when the year group barely brushed forty on a good day.
There was Raffe, a scrawny lad with a smile that was so wide it looked like it could split his face. On top of a squished nose were two small but bright eyes, matching his grin for ferocious spirit. Raffe had been drawn to Ayr in their childhood, when Ayr had desperately wanted to play football with the other kids but was frustratingly too unbalanced and uncoordinated to make a good addition to any team. Raffe had snatched a spare ball from somewhere and had come to join him off to the side, passing the ball back and forth without any stinging barbs whenever the ball flew past Ayr or he missed the kick the first couple of tries. They’d been friends since.
Gregor was a newer addition, moving in from Aberdeenshire with the impressive accent to match. Half the words that came out of his mouth, Ayr didn’t understand. It was a whole other language in the granite city. He had the sort of attitude which proved he tried too hard, overcompensating for make-believe insecurities, but once he’d found the group and settled he wasn’t so difficult. His grin was still a little too unsure, his laughs a little too loud, but generally he’d figured out that pushing his way around wasn’t going to get him into the group for long.
There were a couple of others in the group who came and went as they pleased, and then there were a handful of footballers which milled around because of Adam, one of the strikers in the local club. If Ayr was asked to sum Adam up in one word, he would refuse. There were many words he could use for Adam, and most of them would make his father tut and tell him to mind his tongue. Sometimes to get away with it, Ayr would just say them in Spanish. So long as Mrs Sempere wasn’t around, he could call Adam the most creative insults in the world and no one would know.
The reason, if Ayr was being totally honest with himself, wasn’t entirely due to the fact that Adam enjoyed reminding others he was top dog (even though it wasn’t true and no one gave a damn). Ayr was often on the end of his smiling teasing, the backhanded compliments, and the pretend sympathy burned. He saw fit to tell Ayr all about the PE lessons he missed once a week in favour of the physical therapy that his dyspraxia specialist had referred him to, and he enjoyed boasting about all of his sports exploits knowing full well that Ayr’s deepest, most precious dream – an unachievable wish-on-a-falling-star – was to be a professional footballer. It was a goal that was impossible before it had even been fully realised, but even so, Ayr harboured that desire inside him anyway.
The reason Adam knew this was because Ayr himself had told him. Beyond Raffe, Adam had been his best friend. Slightly cruel at times even then, but he’d learned from the best, and for a long time Adam had frequented their house and lapped up the loving attention of Echo greedily. Then, of course, Cara moved into the house down the street, and Adam had won her affection even though Cara and Ayr had something special that no one could deny, that no one really knew the origin of. She had told him a secret on the first night they’d met, and he promised her he’d take it to his grave. And he would. From then on Ayr had always been the person she confessed everything to, and though Ayr had never returned the favour, she knew. She knew.
He loved Cara simply. Not in any grand way; not with undying declarations of love or with a fierceness that stopped his breath, but with the kind of love he’d learned by watching his parents, the kind of love Echo radiated. Simple. He loved her like a flower loved good soil; like a dog loved treats; like an artist who loved the muse. Not anything as dramatic as need, as something that was necessary to survival, but something that made life that much easier, that much more enjoyable, that much more precious.
The way she curled her legs underneath her when sitting to read a book in front of Ayr’s fire; the way she tapped her fingertip against the corner of her mouth when deep in thought; the way she smoothed her nails over her lips as an absent gesture. It had never surprised him, the love and fondness he had for her; it hadn’t been anything fast. It had just been there, one day, and Ayr accepted it like it was just another part of his personality.
She grinned at him now, reaching over from Adam’s hold to tweak his nose.
“Deep in thought, Airy?”
In response Ayr pulled his best thinking face on, frowning so hard he made his eyes buzz. Adam scoffed at the childish conversation and pulled away to talk to his football friends, dismissing her in one easy gesture, and for a second Cara shivered at the loss of him. She glanced over her shoulder, a faraway sadness rippling through her eyes, and then perked up for Ayr.
Ayr truly believed he wouldn’t mind Adam and Cara being together, if not for that sadness. The relaxed way Adam dropped her when it suited him, knowing she’d be right there for him to pick up again, irked Ayr more than he showed. Still, Cara knew it. She knew how to read him better than anyone, bar his siblings. It was a point of principle these days; they both knew Ayr hated Adam for his shark’s grin and casual cruelty, but he refrained from mentioning it because it would only upset Cara, and she knew anyway.
And he was good at distraction, good at lighting up the rest of the world so the darkness didn’t seem so bad. He’d been doing it for years with Shanna and Cara both, and to some extent himself, if he was honest. He was an old, deft hand.
So he grinned at her, and he beckoned her closer with a conspirational wink, and when she shuffled closer to him he flicked the end of her nose and said, “Just thinking about how good I would look right now in that hat Mrs. Sempere wore before class today.” It had been a fantastically bright woollen hat, long like an elf’s, rainbow coloured and hand knitted. Ayr had already fallen in love once, but now he was convinced there was another tally mark to add. “God, I’m so attractive,” he sighed. Cara laughed, boisterous and alive, and they began to make (theoretical) plans to steal it.
Isabelle’s bag, while bulky, was light. Inside was a well folded blanket and a precious book. This was a fantasy giant, recommended both by Quinn and Lukas, though it wasn’t often Izzy’s preference. She enjoyed the tamer novels, set in the real world, and even magical realism was pushing it in her opinion.
She walked underneath cold blue skies, hands trailing to reach out and catch the spurts of grass reaching upward, avoiding the overgrowing gorse with a nimble twist to the side. It wasn’t long before the dirt shortcut joined what passed as the main road for their little town, and Isabelle’s feet felt incriminatingly loud as they hit concrete rather than soil made spongy from the dead needles of coniferous trees.
The town was ominously quiet, everything still as the weather waited for the storm to envelope it. The gales didn’t bother Isabelle; she would read until the wind picked up enough to threaten her pages and then she would pack up and wander back, the storm trailing behind her like a pet.
Somehow she expected him; felt the same pressure hovering around the tree as she had last time. Maybe that was just her over-active imagination, or maybe it was her own wishful expectations. He was sprawled out, basking under the sun like a smug cat, long fingers of his right hand playing idly with a ring, rolling it round and round his fingers.
“Are you here to stare at me again?” he asked, never taking his eyes off the book. Isabelle shifted her weight from one foot to the other. This time, she refused to be put so off balance.
“What if I am?” she asked, a challenge huddled in those words. This time the boy blinked, his eyes swinging towards her with a steadily climbing eyebrow.
“Then you should at least do me the favour of admiring me from a distance.”
Just to be contrary, Isabelle walked towards him, spread out her blanket next to him, and folded her legs beneath her. She heard the quiet sigh as the boy placed his finger in the book and finally turned his whole head to her. That was as much of his attention she was ever going to get, she bet.
“What’s your name?”
His eyes narrowed – not out of suspicion or anger, but Isabelle had the sense she was being assessed. He had cocked his head as if listening to something, and again there was something alien about the way he moved. So precise; so sharp.
“Kian,” he said, and his other eyebrow scrambled up to join its partner. “Don’t you have a book to read?”
“I do,” Isabelle said, shrugging. “But if I’m sharing my spot with someone, I’d like to know their name at the very least.”
“At the very least,” he repeated in a murmur. His eyebrows swooped down instead, creating a furrow as deep as a valley, and again he studied her. “Here I heard the English weren’t chatty.”
Isabelle reared back in disgust. “I’m not English!” she protested, fierce rather than merely annoyed. “I’m Scottish. British at the very least –“ she broke off as she heard his victorious chuckle, emanating from somewhere deep in his chest, the sort of low pleasure one would associate with a cat presenting its prey to its human. She felt herself flush in irritation, and dove her hand back into her bag to snatch up her book.
She twisted around so that she could lean against the tree, ignoring how close she sat to her tormentor, still snickering. She could hardly move now, not without losing the fight entirely. Instead she mustered her composure and flicked open the book with a flash of her shining nails, and settled down to read.
She was entirely caught up in the story when she became aware of breath on her neck, the smell of spearmint chewing gum catching her off guard.
“That’s a good book,” Kian said, voice low and smug, the tickle of his words on the small hairs of her neck making her shiver. He huffed a laugh again and retreated back, picking his book up to read as if nothing had happened. Isabelle held herself tightly and refused to respond, staring at the words on the page in front of her until her heartbeat had returned to normal. Only then did she start reading again, but never dropping back into the story, waiting for Kian to lean into her space again… hoping, in fact.
But he was content to stay where he was, until Isabelle was forced away as the wind howled a warning. She said nothing to Kian as she packed up and left, but felt his eyes track her anyway.
Ayr rambled across the school field, kicking his feet through the short grass. The entire world was damp, exuding water at every turn, and with each step brown mud oozed up as if trying to claim his foot. The rain had stopped before Ayr had even left the house, but it had been pouring down all night, the smack of water on their roof made soothing by the fact that he had been curled up in a warm bed.
With the amount of moisture that the sorry town was sitting under was enough to soak into his clothes anyway; at least if it had actually been raining then Ayr wouldn’t feel foolish using an umbrella. He shivered and made his way to the outdoor lunch area, knowing that despite the dreich weather, some of the group would congregate there after PE.
Ayr found Cara and Adam at usual table and swerved away, but Cara saw him and brightly beckoned him over. Ayr sighed inwardly and brought his packed lunch out of his bag. At one point he’d taken to buying the canteen’s food, too embarrassed to pull out his leftovers wrapped with care, until he’d realised that he would rather be teased and enjoy his food than be another pupil with an uninspiring lunch.
Cara shuffled closer to him, pulling Adam with her as if he really was glued to her hip. He performed the old ritual of teenage boys; greeting Ayr with a grunt and a jut of the chin upwards, but Ayr didn’t even bother returning it.
“How was therapy?”
Ayr shrugged, as he always did. He both hated and loved that Cara asked every time, without fail. It was nice to know she was interested, but at the same time it always dissolved into a sneer from Adam.
“Shame you missed PE,” Adam said, on cue. He smiled, and it was a pleasant smile, if pleasant smiles were used as a weapon. “We were playing rugby.”
Ayr’s heart twinged. Another sport he loved, and another one he was often left behind on. It wasn’t that he couldn’t play – rugby was actually an easier sport than most others, apart from the throwing and catching of the ball. There was little finesse in it, no need for the sort of fine motor control and coordination that badminton or football needed, and by the time Ayr tripped over his own feet the other team were typically tackling him anyway.
It was that he couldn’t play on par with Adam. Adam, who would bitch and moan if Ayr happened to be on his team, telling him not to slow the others down. He always said it with a grin and a friendly punch to Ayr’s shoulder, but they both knew it for what it was.
Ayr returned the shark’s smile. “Shame, I would have loved to have seen you get railroaded by Damien. It’s always the highlight of any rugby match.”
Cara flicked a disapproving look his way, which Ayr basked innocently under. “Did you get my card?” she asked.
Dutifully, Ayr pulled it out of his back. “Super sweet sixteen invite?”
“I have not called it that,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Regardless, I shall accept, and be your guest of honour.” Ayr adopted a suitably regal pose, listening to Cara snort with laughter. Adam merely gave him a disapproving once over.
“And my guest of honour shall bestow upon me great gifts,” Cara said solemnly, scrunching up her face in thought. “Something big, and worthy of my attention.”
“I have something big and worthy of your attention,” Adam smirked, muttering into Cara’s ear. All at once her face was bright red.
“Ew!” Ayr cried, loud enough to cut through some of the raucous around them. “Gross, we don’t want to hear about your genital warts, my man.” Adam replied with a finger, turning his face to share a kiss with Cara that made Ayr want to stick his own finger down his throat. The two of them became too preoccupied to notice this, so grumbling under his breath, Ayr swung his bag back onto his shoulder and stalked off in search of someone less likely to play tonsil tennis in front of him.
“And we see Mia’s character, Bai Jinn, crest the rise as the sun sets behind him. You see his shadow as he crouches to the ground, fingers spearing into the dirt. You see him raise his face to the sky as the memories return – slowly, at first – and then all at once, leaving him kneeling on the ground until the sun has fallen away. The rest of you don’t know what he’s seen, what’s been unlocked, but you see him look up and towards Dova with an unfathomable expression. What do you do?”
Isabelle crossed her legs the other way, a telltale ache telling her that she had been sitting for too long. It wasn’t often she sat in one place without moving – even underneath her tree, she’d routinely change position as the sun moved – but it was easy to forget reality as Quinn spun the tale of their characters for the roleplay game.
Expectantly, they glanced over at Ayr, who was typing up something on the computer. He wasn’t so interested in their game, but he always spent the evening in the living room where he could add extra notes to his school work, or make some headway on his homework while he could. He half listened and joined in when necessary, and the others in the group put up with it for the sake of inclusion.
“Uh, Dova does some wicked finger guns.”
Quinn snorted and glanced sideways at Mia, one of their friends who had taken to dungeons and dragons with glee. She was the newest member of the group, and her character had immediately given Quinn ideas of how to spice up their long running campaign.
“I’m going to walk down the hill – slowly, I guess, with the wounds that I have…”
“Uh huh,” Quinn said, glancing at his sister and the final member of their party, a childhood friend they had fondly called Owl since meeting him. He blinked his large eyes at them, made larger behind his thick glasses, and quirked an eyebrow.
“Guess we don’t know what just happened, huh?”
“Nope,” Quinn said cheerfully. “Unless Bai Jinn decides to tell you.”
Isabelle fidgeted and worked an ache out of her leg. “Can I step up between them and, uh, ready myself to protect Dova?”
“You have such faith in my character’s past,” Ayr said mournfully, glancing over his shoulder with an easy smile. “Dova’s a good guy, remember?”
Owl laughed his little bell of a laugh. “You left me to die in the last campaign!”
“You were slowing us down. Dova’s a realist, not a bad guy!”
“Still…” Isabelle muttered, frowning at nothing but air. “You’ve worked with criminals before. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bai Jinn is about to try and behead you.”
“Yikes,” Ayr sighed, leaning forward in his chair to stare at something particularly confusing on the screen. Quinn took a moment to rock backwards so he could see what his brother was trying to fathom out.
“The equation doesn’t really matter,” he cut in. “Just so long as you get the end point, and that it makes an acid.”
Ayr made an assenting grunt and made some notes, and Quinn devoted his attention back to the table. Mia was watching him until he caught her, and then she glanced back at the dice on the table.
“Bai Jinn is going to push Isabelle aside and… throw his arms around Dova.”
“Whoop!” Ayr cheered, half-heartedly, still distracted by his chemistry work.
Quinn grinned and glanced back at his notes. “And given that we’re approaching nine, I think that’s a good place to leave it.”
“Oh man,” Owl blinked. “I was really hoping Bai Jinn was going to slap him one.”
Mia snorted. “It was fifty/fifty.” She reached forward to gather up her dice and pack them away, along with her character sheet which was carefully folded and slipped into a special part of her notebook.
The two of them filled out, politely turning down an offer from Lukas of a lift home, and Quinn drifted back into the living room to see Ayr yawning at the screen.
“You’re on late tonight,” he noted, reaching out to poke his brother’s side. Ayr was a self-confessed slob. His side of the room was always a mess, paper and clothes strewn everywhere. Quinn despaired, but he’d learned that there was nothing to be done, and Ayr tried his best to keep the mess just to his half of the room. Despite this – and the laziness, the lateness, and general laidback attitude – Quinn loved his brother and sympathised with him. He helped where he could, just like the rest of the family, though generally Ayr was pretty happy to get on with things at his own pace.
“Chemistry sucks,” Ayr groaned. He understood most of it until the more complicated calculations had come in. Maths was his weak point. “I wish I could just get an automatic A like in Spanish.”
“You mean the elective you took just because we’re already fluent,” Quinn added dryly, rewarded by his brother’s angelic, lopsided grin. “I’ll talk you through it, if you want.”
“Yeah, please,” Ayr said, scrolling back up to the equation he’d been inspecting earlier. Quinn hovered behind him for the next half an hour, patient in a way Ayr’s teachers never were (this was more a statement on how many pupils they had rather than any lack of understanding), and by the end of the night Ayr reckoned he understood the gist, even though the specifics slid out of his brain like sand every time he tried to make sense of it.
They drifted off to bed, calling their goodnights to their parents, unknowingly passing through another round in a long, long argument about truth, ignorance, and safety.
With all the computer breaking confusion, I managed to reinstall reshade and then not set my usual screenshot key, or something. So forgive me for any pictures which don’t have the usual DOF… I blurred them when I remembered on photoshop. Oops!
I am super, duper psyched to welcome back another dear friend of mine to simming. I’ve mentioned her a few times – in fact she gave me Mia to use in the original version of SOL (though this Mia is but a homage as the file has been lost to time) – and most importantly, the merging of our legacy worlds together created a fantastic plot which has been refined further into what you’re reading now. So please, if you fancy reading her own legacy re-write of the Tales, I would be soooo happy for you to welcome her into the community! You can find Rachel’s page here.
And because the link didn’t seem to work in the last post, my other old simming friend has also returned, and I’m going to link to her chapter list in the hope that it works this time. Find her here!