Wee warning for some NSFW, swears, and a thick Scottish accent.
“You have had good reason to hide and run most of your life, Lukas. Why risk throwing away that caution now?”
The white blossomed flower stood as an audience to the latest round of the long and tired argument. The stiff stem, square, with sharp corners when rolled between fingers, was reminiscent of a plant within the mint family, but the flowers arranged in an umbel were more akin to the parsley group. To both Echo and Lukas, it was a cherished gift from their youngest child, made for an art project some years ago. Fitting, that it was witness to the battle fought; one of the sticking points was its creator.
“Why must we give Shanna more things to worry over?” Lukas persisted. “She already struggles with the mundane world, and she’s only gathering her courage now. We shouldn’t set that back by explaining to her that the fantastical things are real, too.”
Echo folded her arms, pressing fingertips into her soft flesh. Their brood had left the house in the morning, finding joy in the return of Summer. Isabelle was, of course, reading beneath her beloved tree – Lukas fervently believed that if it were ever to be in threat of removal she would chain herself to it without a second thought – and Quinn was spending the day with Owl, the two of them making headway on their latest English project. Ayr, being tied closer to home with Shanna, had simply gone outside into the back fields to play frisbee.
Echo paused, as she always did when thinking of her youngest. Her mother’s instinct warred inside her over this point. The two conflicting sides sat upon Justice’s scales and they raised and fell based on Echo’s mood that day. One on side, the prospect of giving Shanna more cause to fret was a genuinely distressing thought, but on the other, Echo had always been a cautious person, and taking a risk that Lukas’ past would never return – however unlikely it would be – seemed too great to her.
She scratched fingernails across her skin. The light sensation was enough to ground her, keep her from disappearing into her thoughts. In displeasure, she pressed her lips tightly against one another.
“I know, but I can’t help but feel like they should be prepared. We can’t do much except tell them – shouldn’t we? Even if that didn’t include Shanna, for now.” Echo searched his face and saw nothing give. “We have been going over this for years!”
“And I don’t believe there’s a compromise that will see us both happy,” Lukas said, keeping his voice firm but apologetic. Shanna had only recently agreed to leave the house for an entire weekend. She was such a polar opposite to Isabelle, who could confidently waltz her way down to London and back without batting an eye.
mmediately, he felt guilty for the comparison; he hated to judge his daughter by the qualities of his other children, because to do that with any person would find them lacking. He simply hoped that she would find ways and means of coping, although so far no such medication or counselling had been successful.
“That’s what it means to compromise.” Echo tried to remain as unyielding as him, but found herself too frustrated to remain emotionless. She fisted her hands and prepared to walk away and cool down. Her husband’s strength cracked and his face softened, and then all at once they were pulling each other close.
“I hate this argument,” Echo mumbled into his chest. “But I feel like we’re doomed to have it until we die.” With fingers carding through her hair, and the reassuring calm beat of her husband’s heart beneath her ear, she could believe nothing was wrong. How lovely it was to be held by such a sturdy presence – Echo found, the older she became, the less faith she had in religion or governments, and the more she had it with Lukas.
“I know, mi amor. And I’m sorry too. Perhaps… perhaps if Shanna continues to improve, then I can reconsider. You know as well as I that Ayr would struggle to keep such a thing from her. And Quinn would be so curious about the reality of vampires that he might overlook the dangers. I – worry. Just as you do. And I love that you care enough to.”
“We will have to compromise one day,” Echo said, leaping on the chance at a new round with a different outcome. She felt Lukas sigh beneath her, a sudden cave-in where the parts of her body which rested on his were airborne for a fraction of a moment.
“Yes,” Lukas agreed, finally. “Alright.”
Ayr settled on the bottom steps on their – well, the room that his father called the foyer and his mother called the utility room. In reality it was just a dumping ground, cold and always a little damp. The strange layout of their house meant that the only way to the next floor was through this room, which meant that when Ayr came in to use the bathroom, he’d overheard his parent’s voices. The floor – flagstone, with chipped cement between each uniquely shaped piece – sharpened rather than dulled the words. Ayr could hear most of their conversation without straining, though the nature of their words meant he questioned if he’d heard incorrectly.
He rested his head on his hand and stared ahead, frowning as he mulled over the bizarre exchange of heated words. The fact that his father – largely serious, grounded in science and reality – had unironically talked about ‘the fantastical’ had Ayr believing he was either dreaming or suffering from heatstroke.
Eventually, the pressure of his bladder became too great to ignore, and the only evidence that Ayr had been inside at all was the drying mud on the first step.
It struck Isabelle how used to seeing Kian she quickly became. Their conversations hadn’t progressed any more from the rapid fire battles they fought at the start of each session, but out of that an easy familiarity had grown. She became used to the prickly attitude Kian wore like a coat, knew how to look for his crooked smirk when he was teasing her, and knew to listen to the aborted huff of amusement he made whenever she delighted in teasing him back. They weren’t friends, exactly, but Isabelle still held out hope that this was going to be the first chapter in their romance.
Getting past that barbed outlook, though, proved to be more difficult than she thought. Isabelle was careful never to push too hard, hating the idea of seeming too eager, but whatever she did Kian remained frustratingly aloof. She hadn’t given up, as such, but Izzy decided that patience was going to be her virtue and she would just concentrate on reading. Her book pile was suffering, after all. It was hard to focus on reading when her attention continued to stray to the magnetic boy next to her.
She flopped against the tree with a sigh, forgoing the blanket after a quick feel of the grass proved it was dry. Kian didn’t even look up from his book to greet her, which he did only when the mood took him, so she said nothing either and wriggled around until she found a comfortable space.
Her book was the advanced copy given to Quinn by Great Aunt Summer, who had revived the series from which Shanna’s namesake came from in a final trilogy. Isabelle read the first such book now, diving into the pages with the sort of hunger one tended to reserve for the more carnal pleasures.
In the corner of her eye, the flash of dark movement distracted her. Kian had finally glanced over, then away, and then he’d done a double take. Before Isabelle could even look up properly, he blurted out what was on his mind.
“How did you get that?!”
Isabelle blinked and followed his gaze, turning over the book to see Summer’s name printed in raised golden letters underneath the title A Quartered Soul. Isabelle knew, despite her usual aversion to fantasy, that the news of the last trilogy (reprised after twenty years of writing other projects) had buzzed around many a reader’s mind.
“Yeah,” Kian scoffed. “Obviously. It’s not out yet.” He crinkled his face into a frown, the likes of which Isabelle fervently wished she would get to experience again. It was cute, which was a shock, given that Kian had both a cat’s grace and its disdain. The ‘v’ between his eyebrows touched the top of his long nose, folding skin there too.
Finally, Isabelle let herself feel smug. Now who was chasing who? She shrugged, suggesting in a practiced way that she absolutely knew the answer and was simply withholding it, and then leaned back on her tree.
“Want spoilers?” she asked, hoping her voice sounded coy.
“Fuck you,” he retorted, scowling, and returned to his own book. She watched him, her grin widening by the second as she realised he was no longer turning the pages. He eventually twisted around again and met her triumphant smirk. “Seriously.”
“If you want.” Isabelle hoped the sun was highlighting her best angles, and looked at Kian from underneath her eyelashes, who looked taken aback by her answer. His eyes flicked over her – appreciatively? – and he found his composure.
“C’mon, twig, where did you get the book? Is there a reading list I need to be on?”
“A question for a question,” Isabelle suggested, and with a put upon sigh and a roll of his dark eyes, Kian agreed. “And – this doesn’t count as my question – twig?!”
Kian smiled, slow and sexy. “Then I don’t need to tell you, do I?” he asked sweetly.
Isabelle bit off her groan of annoyance halfway through. “Fine. My question is…” She trailed off, peering up at the clouds above them, her brain going a thousand miles a second to figure out what she wanted to know. The answer was, of course, a lot of things. And choosing only one was hard.
“My question is,” she said, leaning forward, “why do you come here to read?”
“Why do you?”
“Oh, is that your question?” Isabelle asked innocently.
“No,” Kian snapped. “I come here because I’ve got nothing else to do, and it’s nice, company notwithstanding.”
“Hey!” Isabelle objected. Kian made a little ‘hurry up’ gesture, pointedly looking at the book in her hand. “Summer Williams is my great aunt.”
This was the first time Isabelle saw Kian become entirely speechless, his mouth dropping open before he snapped his jaw closed. She relished in the new sight, gleeful and victorious.
“Are you serious?”
“Why don’t you go to school?” Isabelle shot back, hoping he would still give her a question.
Kian ignored her. “I’ll trade you something for the book after you.”
Isabelle pursed her lips. “I don’t think you have anything I want.”
“That’s a lie, twig.” Kian inched forward, glancing at her lips. “I’ll give you a kiss.”
Isabelle felt her cheeks heat up and, despite herself, looked again at Kian’s mouth. The boy exuded the sort of smug confidence that came with being wanted, and at the last second Isabelle pushed her hand in front of her mouth, so that Kian’s lips met her palm rather than her lips. She pushed him away.
He’s just playing with you, idiot.
“Gross,” she said, around her heart thumping excitedly in her chest.
Kian gave her the kind of look that, if he was Scottish, would have directly translated to ‘stop kidding yourself on,’ and pulled away, raising his hands in surrender. “You want answers, right? I’ll take you to my house if you lend me the book once you’ve finished reading it.”
Isabelle narrowed her eyes. “And doesn’t that sound like another way to kiss me.”
Kian snorted disdainfully. “As if you’d mind.”
Isabelle wouldn’t, he was right. She wasn’t inexperienced, either, despite how he made her feel. “Well, if you continue sounding like such as arse, I will mind, actually.”
Kian gave her a droll look. “Then I, hand on heart, promise you that I will take you to my house, give you a tour worthy of MTV’s crib, and let you put your cute nose in my business so that you can give me that book when you’ve finished, on the understanding that I will return it to you, unharmed, when I am done.”
“Cute?” Isabelle repeated hopefully.
“See, twig?” Kian grinned, all teeth.
“Is it just me, or could that have gone better?” Mia asked, falling into step beside Quinn. Quinn found himself scrabbling to keep up, surprised at both the appearance of Mia and having to take part in the real world rather than continuing to languish in his thoughts.
“The – assembly?”
“What else would I be talking about?” Mia asked, cocking an eyebrow. “I mean, how awkward! I swear, Mr. Mackay is such a bad public speaker. He never opens his eyes when he talks to people, it’s so weird.”
“I never pay attention,” Quinn said apologetically. “Assemblies are either to spread the word of God – and forgive me, but I’m not troubled by the idea of an all-knowing entity that gets interpreted by corrupt humans – or to tell us something in an hour that they can do in ten minutes. It’s a waste of time. Only Ayr enjoys them, and that’s because he gets out of class.” Quinn glanced sideways at Mia, who was walking along with a jaunty step. He didn’t know if she planned on walking him home, but he took the thin dirt path that cut through fields and back roads that was the shortest route home, and she kept pace beside him. “Did you stay late after school, too?”
Quinn found his eyebrows somewhere halfway up his forehead. “What?!”
Mia chuckled. “Mrs. Papov hates me. She’s one of those people that thinks teaching is where you tell someone else what to think, and punish them for thinking something differently.”
Quinn nodded; he’d heard of her, if only because Ayr also had the unlikeable religious studies teacher. “I wager there’s more to it than that, knowing you.”
Mia didn’t even try to feign otherwise. Her eyes twinkled. “I told her that all religions are cults and that if we were going to pray to anyone, it might as well be to the Greek Gods. At least they’re interesting.”
Despite himself, he laughed. It was hard not to see the funny side; between the unashamed quip of Mia’s satisfied words and the beaming sun, he couldn’t find it in him to play devil’s advocate. He had to make one amendment, though.
“You should have said Cthulhu. That would really shock her, if she even knew who he was.”
“Oh my God,” Mia gasped, coming to a stop and smacking a head to her forehead. “Quinn, that would have been perfect! Oh, now I’m so annoyed at myself.”
Quinn snorted and reached out to guide her next steps around the fresh sheep mess, and then they hopped over the gate, the metal lukewarm under their hands. “Did you plan on coming this far?”
“Eh, it’s a nice afternoon, and my mum won’t be home until later anyway.”
Quinn’s house sat nestled within sparse trees ahead of them. Mia leaned against the rough bark of a Scot’s pine, watching him with half-lidded eyes.
“Do you want to come in?” he offered.
“Nah, I gotta get started on dinner. Just thought I’d rant with someone while I could.”
“Glad to help, then,” Quinn said, shrugging a shoulder. Something about Mia was different today – she wasn’t usually so talkative or upbeat – but perhaps she finally felt settled in after a long and difficult move to the town late last year. He gave her a wave and set off towards the back of the house, where the old trampoline had been rusting for the best part of three years – not that Echo or Lukas were particularly sad about that, given how often Ayr had wounded himself on the contraption.
“Bye,” Mia called, shoving her hands into jacket pockets and watching Quinn amble away. The sun was still high in the sky, and it wouldn’t disappear beneath the horizon until the clocks approached midnight, as close to the solstice as they were. The fact that the summer holidays were just around the corner was a constant source of excitement for the siblings and their year group.
The warmth of the light cupped her face with its gentle touch, and in its glow Quinn looked more in his element than ever before. She bit down on her bottom lip as he disappeared around the corner, sighed, and then began to retrace her steps until she could find a path that would take her closer to town.
Cara’s sixteenth collided with the start of the summer holidays, which was a blessing for the group. Ayr was the first to arrive, of course, and in his backpack he pulled out bottles after bottles of alcohol, launching into a joke about how his bag was bigger in the inside. They had all planned for the hangovers the next day; Cara’s mother was out and all the emergency numbers were stuck to the fridge with a bizarre magnet of Alex Salmond caught in a very unflattering angle – not hard, considering his face, but clearly the previous SNP leader didn’t have a fan in this household.
Ayr had warned his parents not to expect him home before the clock’s hand was past the yard arm, and so when Gregor and Raffe had turned up with a 12 pack of Tennants each, they had picked up some controllers and settled to play and drink until Adam arrived. He wouldn’t be allowed to leave his house until after dinner, and for once Ayr’s heart twinged with old sympathy.
“I can’t believe I’m the only one on the hard stuff,” Cara tutted, bouncing in her seat as her cartoon character rushed to put out a fire before it could truly start. “Raffe, get me some clean dishes.”
“Aye,” their friend burped, following up his response with rapid clicking on his controller.
“I thought I’d give the pish a go,” Ayr said, swirling around his beer.
“Ach, you’re the only wan tae turn yer nose up.”
“I have a rich palate,” Ayr replied, taking a gulp. “I couldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Oh Aye, got yer pa’s tastes, ‘cause no Scottish lass is gonna say nah tae some o’ this.”
“D’ya ken his mum, Raffe?” Gregor put in, incredulous.
“True,” Raffe grunted, thinking of the very put-together woman. “She must have English in her.”
Ayr laughed. “I’m pretty sure there are plenty of Englishmen who would go for this tasteless crap.”
“And yet yer still drinking it, ya wee bawbag.”
They played several games and became more and more boisterous, cycling through titles like Overcooked and Jackbox, inventing reasons to drink with each win or failure. Cara giggled with infectious delight, the high of her birthday combining with the euphoria of drinking, until inevitably she began to look at the time and her phone with a growing frown. Ayr could feel her fidgeting next to him and almost fancied he felt when her positive energy changed.
Then again, maybe he was just used to it.
Cara put her controller onto her lap and stared at the door with morose eyes. “Do you think he’s just late?”
No one needed to ask who she meant: his absence was uncomfortably obvious. Raffe, for his part, looked over at Ayr with an incredulous roll of his eyes, as if to say that the other one didn’t just have bells on, it had tassels and party animal balloons too.
“He’ll be here,” Ayr said, with more confidence than he felt. Surely Adam wasn’t so cruel as to conveniently forget about the birthday Cara had been waiting for – and planning – for months.
Two hours later Cara lurched away from the group until she could sink to the floor the other side of the TV. Raffe and Gregor glanced at each other and, when it was clear Ayr was going to her rescue, shrugged and went back to their game.
He settled beside her as she clumsily poured more whisky into her cup. She sniffed back tears.
“What do you think he’s doing right now?”
Raffe glanced away from the TV. “Sheep,” he offered, deadpan. Ayr turned his snort into a cough, and Raffe leaned over to Gregor. “Adam’s da is a right teuchtur, proper farmer like. Mutton molesting runs in the blood. The wee cunt gets aaf tae sheep so much he gets a stiffie just feeling up a woolen cardie.”
Ayr struggled to hide his laugh, but after a moment, Cara joined in. “His dad is awful,” she said, nodding. Ayr and Cara exchanged a look; they both knew, but they were helpless bystanders. After a while, swirling her drink in her cup, Cara said, “and sometimes he can be too, like today.”
It was the best Ayr had ever heard her admit that her boyfriend could be a dick, and Ayr jumped on it.
“He shouldn’t treat you like this. Not turning up to your birthday? That’s the move a real shite plays, not a boyfriend.”
“Yeah,” she gulped. “I’m done with this. And I need way more booze. You in?”
The evening quickly descended into the happy buzzing that strong alcohol induced, and eventually Cara dropped the controller to favour just her drink, consuming it with a determined focus. At some point she stumbled off to the toilet, and then stumbled back. That she had landed on Ayr’s lap at the same time was a happy coincidence, one both Raffe and Gregor astutely ignored.
They continued to ignore the two as Cara’s hands started wandering, as the two gave each other more attention than the game, and only shared an eye roll when Cara kissed Ayr.
In this hazy state, it was easy not to question what would happen next. It was easy just to live in the moment, and not worry, even though Ayr doubted he would have shed much of a thought for Adam even if he had been sober.
To move to Cara’s bedroom seemed to be the natural progression, and Raffe’s amused farewells fell on deaf ears. Ayr only had eyes for Cara, who was pushing for each step and, well, Ayr could never deny her.
The hard wood at the end of Cara’s bed jolted Ayr as he half-fell down onto it. His jeans had been discarded somewhere, and he had already forgotten the challenge that squeezing out of them had been. Cara’s had gone at the same time and she sat on his lap to gaze down into his eyes.
“What about Adam?” Ayr said, or tried to say, around a mouth that didn’t quite want to leap to attention.
“He’s not here,” Cara hissed. “And you – you’ve always been here.”
Ayr trailed fingers down the bumps of Cara’s spine, a thrill running down his own. A flush of pleasure warmed his skin, and he was happy that Adam had treated Cara so carelessly. Ayr never would.
“And you want to – you’re sure -?”
Cara sat back on her heels, her eyes searching Ayr’s. She knew he asked not because of Adam, but of that secret traded between them so long ago. Her eyes filled at Ayr’s care and tenderness, something often foreign to Adam, and she kissed him.
“Let me,” Cara murmured, insisting he moved back and onto the bed. A clumsy scramble back, and Ayr found his top flung somewhere and Cara pushing him down. A rush of blood south followed as he realised her top had disappeared too, but when he reached up to her she locked his arms back to the bed.
Ayr didn’t begrudge her the control – if anything, it was way beyond what his fantasies had thought possible. He didn’t think anything could be hotter than her lips on his skin, but the rest of the night proved otherwise despite the lingering presence of alcohol.
And for a while, neither of them thought of Adam, or of anything but each other.
Because I keep forgetting, the school was made by Dhalsims, and Cara’s house was made by Ninjaofthepurplesims, whose download page is fab and who is a wonderful human that I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person!
The book Kian is reading was my book of 2018, and any lover of fantasy, strong female characters, and badass lore/world building should check out Lawrence, but especially that series. Also there’s lesbian nuns, so, sign me up I guess?