The eastern sky glows pink, heralding the sunrise. It’s a fresh new day, full of promise and wonder. The previous night’s snowfall hides all of the footprints from the day before, and all of the misdeeds that go along with it.
Crimson Byrd hates himself.
The previous night plays over and over in his head.
It started off innocently. The excitement of seeing someone just like him, and then putting two and two together. He had read her book a million times, and he knows the story well. He knows both sides of the story, actually. It’s a story he had heard long before he moved to Aurora Skies.
All he had to build up the nerve to talk to her. He almost had it there in the café. But his courage slipped away from him.
So he kept following.
The first time he read Luna’s book, he felt an immediate connection. He wanted nothing more than to meet her, and when he read about her in the paper—and when he saw her rather unflattering, yet still endearing, picture—he knew for sure that she was like him. Even the grainy black and white couldn’t hide her alien features. And here she was, living in Aurora Skies. She’d been so close to him the whole time.
The picture was so bad that he didn’t recognize her at first. And he definitely didn’t expect her to be so cute. Her unruly orange hair was skillfully braided, her fringe twisted around to both frame her elfin face and hide her pointed ears. And through the layers of bulky winter clothing, he could tell that she had a slim body.
His mind turns to that slim body, blue and bright, soft light bouncing off of her naked skin.
I’m a creep, he shakes his head, trying to release the image of her from his mind.
And then there’s the disappointment and anger he felt when he saw her with—with—a man. A very human looking man. He’d had so many imaginary conversations with her. Imaginary conversations that led to imaginary friendship to imaginary love, and this fucking human had to fuck everything up.
He has to push that anger deep down. He doesn’t know if it’s genetic, possibly the result of having some seriously fucked up family history, or if it’s environmental. But every once in a while, it rises up and takes him in a strangle hold. Images run through his mind. What would it be like to push that guy? What would it be like to stab him? He could just grab her and kiss her. Who could stop him?
Everyone has thoughts like those. They flash in your mind and leave before you even have a chance to truly consider them. But he has them constantly. They suffocate every normal part of his brain and force him into terrible fits of catatonia.
When his thoughts reach a fever pitch, the familiar refrain starts: I hate myself and I want to die.
Everything about him is wrong. On a fundamental, subatomic level he is wrong.
“Watcha doin’, brochacho?” Crimson’s sick song is interrupted by the slurred voice of his twin sister.
Clover looks so different from him, it’s hard to believe they’re even related, much less that they’re twins. She inherited their maternal grandmother’s pink, human skin and their father’s dark hair. She covers her pointed ears with a messy bun, and her yellow eyes with cheap contacts and she passes as human. Meanwhile, Crimson is a carbon copy of their green-skinned, yellow-bellied father, save for his shocking magenta hair. He has his mother to thank for that.
Sometimes Crimson can’t stand to look at his sister. Some people have all the luck.
She stands in the doorway, and as she tries to look serious she loses her balance a little bit. She’s absolutely hammered. She falls to the ground, rolls on her stomach, and crawls towards him on her belly. The whole time, she maintains her resting bitch face.
She’s trying to make him laugh, but Crimson is not amused.
“Are ya readin’?”
He doesn’t respond.
“Oh, it’s this bitch,” she pokes at the book. It’s The Collective, open to a random page. “I love this bitch! I read her, like, I read her, you know?”
“I don’t think you’ve read this book, Clover.” It hasn’t left his possession since he picked up a copy at the bookstore, and his sister isn’t the type to set foot in the library.
“It’s the one with the werewolf and the vampire! Yeah, I read it like ten times.”
He rolls his eyes. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Well, I played the show and then the bar guy said he couldn’t pay is BUT they had free beer for us. And,” she burps and then continues, “I had to drink enough beer to make up for the cost of the show, right?”
“I admire your decision making skills.”
“c’mhere.” Clover pats the space on the floor next to her, “c’mhere and tell Clover what’s wrong.”
Reluctantly but obediently, Crimson scoots next to his sister. She lays her head in his lap, a familiar gesture—drunk Clover often uses her brother as a humanoid pillow.
“So tell me ‘bout it, lil brother,” She’s five minutes older, a fact that slips its way into many of their interactions and arguments. He pauses before answering.
“I saw someone I wanted to talk to, but I couldn’t.” His problems sound so stupid when they’re simplified like that.
“Why not?” She scrunches up her nose, making a confused face.
“I just couldn’t.”
“S’not that hard to talk to people.”
“Maybe not for you,” his words are acidic, “but I don’t exactly look like the friendly type.”
“True, true.” She pauses, “was it a girl?”
Crimson looks away from her. He doesn’t want to have this conversation. Relationships are easy for his sister, but he hasn’t had the best of luck. For once, Clover takes the hint and changes the subject.
“Remember when mom used to hold us like this?” Clover slurs.
“I don’t think mother ever even touched us.”
“Oh. I must be thinking of the nanny then.”
Clover passes out, her head rested on Crimson’s lap. They don’t really get along, but they’re in this together, thrown together against the world simply because they shared a uterus and a past. And as much as Crimson resents his sister, she grounds him. Her presence reminds him that yes, there is at least one person in the world who knows he exists. One person he can share his life with, even if most of it is obfuscated behind his poker face. One person who might be a little upset if he wasn’t around. Just a little.
“You should go to the café tomorrow,” Clover murmurs, making Crimson jump a little. Guess she wasn’t asleep. “She might be there again.”
Sometimes his sister just knows things.
After the unsettling experience of the day before, Quentin suggests that Luna spend the evening at the café while he goes to practice. He know that she has a constant, ubiquitous fear that she’ll be murdered, and it’s heightened after being stalked by someone who is likely a complete loon. The base fear, though, probably stems from watching all of those true crime shows with her dad when she was a kid.
Oh, and the kidnapping and attempted murder Luna experienced as a teenager probably didn’t help, either.
Luna agrees that staying in a public place is best. Ultimately, it won’t be a sustainable plan but it makes her feel safe for now.
So she settles into one of the comfy sofas at Björn Café, book in hand and bubble tea within reach. She probably should be writing, but her second novel is on hold while she gathers inspiration. Possibly due to the weather, the café is mostly empty, save for the barista one familiar face.
Crimson has been hanging around the café all evening, initially half-heartedly based on his sister’s advice, then with serious hope that he can build up the courage.
Luna notices him, of course. He keeps passing her, back and forth, from the table he claimed in the corner to the barista. She can hear flimsy excuses from him as he addresses the barista: “Can I get some cream? I dropped my straw, may I have another? More napkins, please?” His voice is deep and scratchy, like an old recording on vinyl.
She should be scared that he’s following her. Really, she’s just annoyed that he is so loud. Every time he shuffles past her, she loses her place in her book. The last time he walks by, she peers over her book at him and sneers. He scurries away like a hurt puppy.
You’re being ridiculous, he thinks to himself as he drops himself into a stiff chair, for fuck’s sake, she knows you’re here! Just go talk to her. But, as always, he is crippled by indecision.
So crippled, he doesn’t notice her approaching.
He doesn’t feel her glaring.
He doesn’t hear her foot tap.
Finally, he snaps to. And there she is, doing the best she can to seem fierce. It’s a laughable attempt, really. She’s too delicate looking to really be imposing, and she doesn’t have the ferocity to be menacing.
“Who are you?” Her voice wavers, and his heart stops. He has so much he wants to say.
A memory returns to him.