Casual Chaos. (Xanthe and Sparrow.)

[TW: Childhood drinking, abusive relationships, abusive friendship, brief description of suicide, amnesia, brainwashing, changing of hosts, brief molestation joke, magic used as manipulation.]


[Early Spring of 2012]

Kirra was always easier to handle when Casey was around. Which was great, because Casey never really turned down an opportunity to hang out. They weren’t as… put-off by Kirra as most of my ex-friends had been? Friends I’d had for years had essentially blamed me for her actions, condemning me along with her. But Casey was more likely to look at Kirra’s bullshit and say, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking, can you do that again? Ahahaha, shit, okay, one more time–”

Kirra, a censored Casey, and myself nearly cut out of the goddamned frame.

Casey and I had been helping Kirra prep for applying for [UNIVERSITY REDACTED]– one of these preparations definitely included carrying a huge canvas of her art from the high school to her house in fucking 35 degree weather. While there were gale-force winds, and the canvas was as wide as four of us. “Can you imagine if she thanked us?” Casey quipped sarcastically. “Like wow, wouldn’t that be cool?”

“I’ll thank you enough for the both of us, how’s that?” I braced for another gust of wind that nearly blew the both of us to the soccer field. “Well, this is one way to get on ‘1000 Ways To Die’!”

“That show is such bullshit!” Casey yelled over the next gust. “The last episode literally had the murderous pitbulls named Michael and Tyson! You’d have to have some real contempt for your audience to think that–” The rest of their sentence was lost in the wind.

At Kirra’s home on west 8th street, she did not, in fact, thank either one of us. Kirra’s house was a cramped home that was kind of considered historic in the way that your grandpa’s term for minorities could be considered ‘historic.’ It had a bathroom upstairs that was so filled with random stuff that it never got around to working and its spaces always seemed precariously stacked and suffocating, which coincidentally were adjectives that could be used to describe Kirra’s mother. “I don’t know,” Kirra explained moodily. “Like I’m sure they’ll like my portfolio, but I also figure if I’m not big as an artist by now, I never will be.”

Oh, so you’re in one of those moods. I wanted to veer away from the spiral, but Casey, who’s famous for looking at their pre-frontal cortex and saying, ‘No, thanks’ spoke up with, “H-How old are you again?” I fought a smile at the thick incredulity in their voice.

“Seventeen,” Kirra snapped.

“Yeah,” Casey chuckled as Kirra left the room. “You know,” they said, addressing me, perhaps aware and not caring that Kirra had reappeared behind them. That’s what I’m saying, this fucker was immune to her. “I really do hope [UNIVERSITY REDACTED] likes her portfolio. Because history has taught us when someone like her that doesn’t get into art school, it never really ends well.”

I could not control how loud I laughed at that, holy shit. And I could tell– just fucking tell, that that joke didn’t bother Kirra, until I’d laughed at it.

I stopped laughing abruptly when I caught her eye. Fuck.

It was literally within two days when Kirra threatened suicide from about 7:30pm to about 7am. I knew I was on the finale of this particular one, because ‘Ryuuga’ had texted me. ‘Hey, we arrived, Kirra was barely alive, what did you do to make her want to–’ Fuck me. And of course, my dumbass believed it every time.

One year before, when Mom had divorced Rick, I’d raided their fridge in the garage. I’ll let you in on a little secret that will surprise no one. My favorite stepdad, Rick, was the alcoholic. He’d even let me drink with him, starting from when I was 13 in that old Ohio countryside. He was also probably the first father figure I’d had who’d given a shit.

And he didn’t even touch me, either! Bonus points!

He’d find my notebooks, scrawled and cursive drafts of my novels, and sit down with his reading glasses and give me feedback. Actual interest in my writing career! He also taught me to drive a motorcycle (despite me almost steering one of his into the pond) and would ride his 4-wheeler around to look for the best trees for me to climb.

Mom and Rick (or probably just Rick) both dumped so many of those Captain Morgan’s Parrot Bay Wine Coolers in empty Sprite bottles and that potential concert contraband been helping me through these crises. So, it was easy to fill my old track team bag with these, and just sparse them out over the next year for the really bad nights. I mean, I had to keep them under my bed at room temperature. Not like Dad ever noticed.

But they got me giggly and calm. I felt something so close to happy.

Me, as Casey’s taking pictures of me.

The only other thing that helped me feel like that was my weird trailer park friend with no filter that knew the script of American Psycho by heart– the same one who compared Kirra to Hitler.


[Spring of 2022]

“This person has known the system for 11 collective years,” Xanthe told their podcast audience in autumn of 2021 during their interview with Casey. “Your condolences are appreciated.”

“How did you and [Casey] become friends, anyway?” I knew it was going to be a good story because Xanthe had laughed when I asked. Casey, of course, had been my best friend, one of the only two that had phased from my circle over to Xanthe’s.

It’s putting it lightly to say that Casey and Xanthe hadn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot. Xanthe, in the early spring of 2013, was still grappling for their identity. “I think [Casey]’s trip to Savannah in spring of that year is when it started sinking in. Don’t get me wrong, we still had fun hanging out together; I’m never going to turn down good company and a free photoshoot. But they kept catching on to different mannerisms, were thrown off by my different preferences. You know, ‘Since when do you drink tea?’ By this time, I actually still looked like– well, you, for the most part. When I started realizing I wasn’t ‘Neb,’ I told those around me. Started to feel invalidated and eventually insulted when they hit the denial phase. With [Casey], I hadn’t– well, my tact was rather poor at the time, and I think I was a bit more blunt with the ‘your friend is dead’ bit than I should’ve been. That’s about when it got ugly.”

From said photoshoot! Xanthe’s very first one.

When asked what exactly had been said between the two, Xanthe paused for a moment before raising their eyebrows and asking, “Do they remember what they said?”

I’d asked. Casey didn’t.

“Probably better that their brain redact that,” Xanthe shrugged. “I’m not repeating it, in any case. I understand their reaction better, now.” Since losing Visarden, Xanthe had gotten a bit more empathy for those who lost someone while that same someone’s body was still walking around. Mixing Casey’s maddening, confusing brand of loss with Xanthe’s crippling existential issues was bound for some nasty battle wounds.

Xanthe went on. “After that, they disappeared for a good… few weeks, and then would start texting again, asking me about myself. They seemed to at least realize that, you know, they had still yet to get to know me. Which was validating. I was still hurt, sort of ignoring their messages. Then they realised that if they baited me into an argument, I would actually respond. And keep responding.” They actually smiled while recounting this. “I wasn’t interested in pleasantries, then. But verbal sparring? A chance for a witty comeback? Fuck yes. It became… something enjoyable, I guess? For the both of us. I was in a better mood when I was arguing with them. Some semantics arguments would last for days. And it was fun, figuring each other out through seeing what actually hit a nerve. Half of their insults were pretty clever and made me laugh– I’d post some of them to my timeline. It’s legitimately how we got to know one another. Then we’d take a break to cool off and pick another fight a week later.”

This is a real screenshot I’d found between the two of them. No one remembers the context. Even worse is how Xanthe keeps cackling. -Sparrow
A pretty typical exchange, yeah. -Xanthe

I giggled at that. It was so bizarre, yet completely believable for those involved. Not many go for an ‘enemies to friends’ genre, but these two… “That is a really weird way to begin a friendship.”

“What ever do you mean? I recommend it to everyone.” They sipped their wine.

It was during the summer of that year when Xanthe courted and then almost immediately lost Elisabeth, because life itself decided this fucker needed a tragic backstory right out of the fucking gate. I honestly half-expect them to appreciate the cinematic value. “[Casey] was … actually weirdly close in figuring out I was a system– probably trying to understand what exactly had happened to you.” Xanthe explained this to me while I plied them with drinks to jog their memory. I just stuck their rambly ass on a hammock and started taking notes– that’s how the magic happens, folks! “They would pick at details and I sometimes didn’t have answers for them… But they had terrible aim in deciding what was real and what wasn’t. They, thinking Elisabeth was an alter but not having the terminology, accused Elisabeth of being made up– which, of course, was a sore spot for me. And easily disprovable. After a few more harsh exchanges, we stopped speaking altogether.”

I’d heard Xanthe and Casey both reference those times– and the two times when they’d both sworn up and down, ‘Fuck this asshole, I’m never speaking to them again.’ And how they’d always reconnect within a year with a, “Um, hey, sorry about that, I kind of hit a phase, what have you been up to?”

Gods, leave for a decade and everything goes screwy. The covert and disorienting nature of D.I.D., as a disorder, plus Kirra/Apollo essentially Pavloving us to forget Casey’s existence– Yep, that was a thing. “I remember freaking out whenever [Casey] would casually mention us hanging out without her,” I recalled. “Because I knew, at least subconsciously, that the backlash would be harsh. I remember getting screamed at for two days when she found out [Casey]’s dad was teaching me how to drive and she wasn’t getting in on that.”

“Same.” Xanthe nodded emphatically. “I had to actively hide the fact that I was even friends with [Casey.] I’d hide their comments on my posts. Kirra would ask where I’d gotten a gift from them, I’d have to lie. Then eventually just… believe the lie. Each time Kirra found out we were talking, something would go horribly wrong in the inworld. So, it was kind of a sad relief when [Casey] and I would have a falling out.”

Jesus. It was a miracle that friendship survived, but at least it was essentially indestructible these days. “How’d you start talking again?” I asked Xanthe.

Again, they laughed. “Fucking Kirra on her bullshit.”


[FLASHBACK: Spring of 2014]

Kirra’s Facebook was quite the sight in its heyday. That was right around the time she were struggling with her endometriosis– a painful disorder that, granted, is never taken as seriously as it should be. But entitling an art project with endometriosis as the inspiration, “I Wish it was Cancer, Then You’d Understand” was nothing short of unhinged. Then when she started claiming she actually had cancer— gods, it just never ended.

There was also the entirely false claim that her doctors told her that she wouldn’t live past the age of 18. And then she started claiming in a comment thread that half of her heart’s valves didn’t even work.

Weird that half of the fantasies she’d had about herself matched also with my own current wishful thinking.

I’m pretty sure that’s when Casey texted me again after about seven months of cold, enforced silence on both our parts. “Okay, truce,” they’d said. “Does Kirra not know like, how a heart works?”

I wanted to be angry. Gods know I can hold a grudge. But Casey’s presence was always so undemanding, someone who I never felt the need to mask in front of. I suppose if you let some of your demons play together for fun for an entire solid year, there’s not too much to hide anymore. And holy shit, I needed someone to vent to about Kirra. Even still, I did still have my dignity. “You know you can’t just say truce and make it true, right?” I texted back. “That whole Elisabeth thing was fucked up and you know that.”

“Sure do! I’m sorry. But please tell me you saw Kirra’s status earlier today. I think she deleted it?”

“Oh, you think I wouldn’t grab a screenshot of that? I’m insulted.” Just like that, we were talking regularly again. Less fighting, this time. Kirra was more fun to talk about than the admittedly messy transition between the old host and myself. I opened up about some of the more outlandish claims– the cancer, not expecting to live past eighteen.

It was a few weeks into this when Casey decided, hell, why not confront the person who was obviously making up multiple ailments? I liked the idea. Someone standing up to my tyrant partner? Knock her down a peg? I wasn’t discouraging it.

It was a few days later when Kirra had sent me a screenshot of her conversation with Casey. “What the fuck?”

I read the screenshot. Casey was, indeed, pointing out the obvious fallacies with Kirra’s supposed ailment. They had all of the arrogant zeal of someone who knew they were in the right. And Kirra getting increasingly irate and eventually downright furious.

I couldn’t really blame her. See, she actually did have hypoglycemia. And that was what Casey decided to call her out on.

My jaw had dropped. I was honestly more impressed. Imagine the haystack of lies Kirra spun on a daily basis and this fucker pricked themself with the only needle. I quickly texted Casey. “You realise that she actually does have hypoglycemia, right?” One of the few things I’d actually seen proof of. Her mum had actually referenced it on one of her visits and I’d mentally checked that off my ‘Fact or Fiction’ list.

The text back was pretty quick:

I laughed. I was actually physically bracing from the imminent explosion I was sure to face, shoulders tensing, leg bouncing at my desk. “Your help is like a bull in a china shop, I hope you know that. How on earth did you manage to pick the only one that isn’t fake?”

“Because I’m dumb, I don’t know! D:” I knew for a fact that they were getting verbally eviscerated by Kirra, so I went easy on making fun of them.

The next couple of hours were a barrage of texts from Kirra. Cursing Casey, accusing me of having something to do with it. Me, dodging. ‘Oh, no, dear, I have no idea why they’d do this.’ ‘Yes, I agree, I can’t see how anyone would think you’re faking.’ Then Kirra told me to never talk to Casey again. “They’ve really done it this time. I’m never speaking to them again and you shouldn’t either.”


[Spring of 2022]

“Did you have to stop talking to them?”

Xanthe laughed again. “Gods, no. I just changed [Casey]’s name in my contacts so Kirra never knew who I was texting. The next time we stopped talking again is when Xhaxhollari was having his labelism crisis and [Casey] ended up exploring their gender at the same time. Then *I* had to be the one to text first and apologize for being a dick. We really are pretty much even, at this point.”

“What got you talking again after that one?”

“Kirra. On her bullshit.” Xanthe smiled at the irony. “She’d tried so hard to keep us apart and usually drove us back together. I have never seen a prophecy more self-fulfilling.”

“Whatever gets the band back together, I guess!” I laughed. “What happened next?”

“[Casey], along with Aberle, was actually pretty vocal about how I should end my relationship with Kirra. And of course, I did. And suddenly, [Casey] and I got along swimmingly.” Xanthe shrugged. “Almost like Kirra was the problem all along. And the thing is, once [Casey] accepted my identity, they encouraged it. They’d send me gifts constantly to compliment my aesthetic– you know, the aesthetic Kirra never approved of. And you want to know something that probably really pissed her off?”


Xanthe reached for their watch pendant– their famous blue and gold pendant that had been the center of their lore, their wardrobe, color scheme– their very identity for years. They’d recently gotten it repaired. ‘It’s still broken but it looks good,’ is what the jewelry repair had said. It surprised no one when Xanthe’s reply had been ‘Same.’ “It was April of 2013. [Casey] was in Savannah. I told [Casey] I’d fallen in love with this ‘pretty shiny ticktock’ in a consignment shop window. And they’re the one who bought it for me.”

Xanthe, having changed their hair to match that all-important watch.

I raised my eyebrows. In Savannah, where it’d finally started to sink in. Xanthe was still, for lack of better terms, was still gathering a personality. The system undoubtedly created Xanthe to be a foil to Kirra– maybe it did want some direction from someone who’d always seemed immune to her. A symbol of what she couldn’t take. “You never told me that.”

Xanthe smiled wearily. “I didn’t remember until recently. That’s how deep the brainwashing had gone. Do you realise they’re who gave us our Xbox 360? When my phone died in Savannah, they sent their old phones in the post two separate times so that we wouldn’t be fucked with job-hunting. I literally would never have gotten the call back from the inn job otherwise. They sent us care packages of food when we were broke. This was after they realised you were gone. Honestly, I don’t think the body would have made it past Kirra if it weren’t for them. They’ve legit been on the same level as like, Cotton. And they’ve only existed in shadows when I’ve been writing, you know, my online autobiography.” It was at this point where Xanthe looked legitimately upset– their face was still trying to smile, but their brow was furrowed.

“You okay?” I wasn’t quite ready to put my notebook and pen down, but they were starting to look like they might need another drink.

“Yeah, just… Bloody–… years later and I’m still undoing the brainwashing. D.I.D. fucking sucks, Sparrow.” They laughed lightly. Casey and Xanthe shared that same kind of laugh, that wasn’t a laugh so much as an uncomfortable punctuation to an understatement. “It redacted one of the best friends I’d ever had.”


[April 14th, 2017.]

“Hi, is this Drayton 700? I believe you have a reservation at 7 o’ clock tonight? A table of ten? Yes, I was calling to let you know that there are going to be a lot of gender-variant folks there and I wanted you to tell the server in advance not to gender anyone at that table. Like don’t call anyone ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, it will not be worth it, trust me. Okay, thank you.”

Apollo wasn’t giving me a whole lot of reason for even going to this goddamned thing, but somehow I was bound and determined to make sure it went well. He’d invited Buchanan, who I had to swear with a right hand raised I wasn’t going to get into it with. He’d also invited Flannel, the kid who damn-near flinched away from my handshake. He’d invited Aurelia, who seemed to exist near him just so he could feel superior to her and have something to be vaguely irritated by. And his fucking mother was in town.

Brenda, as a person, explained a lot about both Apollo and Kirra. I’d rarely had an encounter with her where she wasn’t either screaming, drunk, or inexplicably baby-talking to herself. She apparently held a grudge about me breaking up with Kirra, because Apollo casually dropped that Brenda might be taking her concealed carry to Apollo’s birthday dinner, specifically to deal with me.

These days, I’d rather be subjected to a surprise AA meeting than attend something like that, even if Apollo was still my friend.

So, why the fuck did I go then?

I can only speculate that it was some sort of masochism or even a subliminal death wish on my part. Maybe I wanted a fight because I was bored.

Anyway, the evening in question was automatically helped by Cotton. We’d, as a group, had been walking through Forsyth park to Apollo’s birthday dinner when this ginger bastard shows up in the parking lot pulls the same goddamned ‘Surprise!’ move he did for my tea party.

Superb, you funky little muppet.

Keep up the good work!

There was more good news still to come. While we were being seated, I’d asked Apollo, “So, when is your mum coming? Just so I know which tables to dive under.”

“I told her I cancelled the party,” he said.

I remember I appreciated that. Aw, you’re not going to let your mother slay me in broad daylight? You really are a friend!

As I said in my last blog, we do need to remember the correct definition of ‘trauma bonding.’ I hope none of you are just reading the Faerie saga or just reading this one. You’re missing a lot of parallels I keep pointing out. Really, the lines I’m drawing across the two of them are profound. Who needs a therapist when I can just sell my crippling mental anguish as a brand?

But keep in mind, Apollo created the goddamned problem. He was who made Brenda hate me, then invited Brenda out to the same event I was going to. And then he could be my savior at the last minute.

Then there was Cotton, who saved the night just by being there.

“I was kind of nervous about coming out,” I heard Flannel saying on the very far side of the table from me. “But the waitress hasn’t like, misgendered me at all.”

You’re welcome. I raised a cheeky little toast in his direction, but to no one’s surprise, he was avoiding looking at my side of the table entirely.

“I remember COTTON was the worst at misgendering me for a while!” Apollo said, somehow gleefully, as he decided to call out the friend who just made a four-hour drive for him. “He called me just about anything but he!”

See, the table laughed, somewhat uncomfortably. Mainly because Apollo’s tone gave everyone the mismatched signal that this was all playful teasing. There were a few uncomfortable glances from some of the other trans folk. I could see Cotton’s ears turning red. Granted, I was still undoubtedly the most hated individual at this table, but suddenly, not by much.

Cotton and Apollo. Not the same dinner, but definitely the same mood.

Apollo went right back to chattering with Buchanan and I swooped in to be a distraction. “So, Cotton! I got the script you sent me. About the zombie? The ending proper threw me–”

“I thought he was a ‘they’, like you,” Cotton confided in me after. I noticed he was fidgeting with his tie. “That’s what he told me. Apparently, he told everyone different. So, now I’m sitting there, looking like Captain Jackass.”

“Yeah, something similar happened to me like… three years ago?” I admitted. “I still have clueless folks call me a ‘transphobic lesbian’ over it. Kind of weird to make you the verbal pinata after a four-hour drive.”

Granted, it was part of Apollo’s hobby to briefly attack anything I liked. I think he caught how I only looked like I was having fun after Cotton had arrived. “He lectured me about how to dress for an interview!” Apollo had scoffed. “I feel like he’s being passive-aggressive and trying to teach me how to be a gay man, like he doesn’t see me as one already!”

I’d stared at this man who had inspired an entire notice on ‘professional work attire’ within his short tenure at the inn. He wore a tank top with a skull on it behind the desk. “Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”

My love life was actually going somewhat well, for a change. Asher had started dating a girl a few months back and we’d go on dates as a content little love triangle. Her name was Rayzel and she was from Rochester, New York– a city you might have heard of if you’ve been reading through these blogs.

One of the things I loved most about polyamory is that when my partner had another, it took the pressure off of me to, you know, function like a human being. We’d gone to dinner dates, the fair– plus, Asher complained about Rayzel to me a lot, which meant I could be my favourite flavour of good– Comparatively!

Myself, Asher, and Rayzel.

I’d come to terms that Asher wasn’t nearly as fucked up as me. The contrast wasn’t all that flattering, but kissing them felt like a mild opiate to me. I just found it difficult to relate to someone whom life had clearly treated better.

I will say, even though Xhaxhollari loved them more, I did still love them. Was much of it based in that they were a good audience, they were hot, and that I can’t be alone with my own thoughts for long without my brain actively eating itself?

Oh, yeah. But I still loved them.

One night in spring, I’d requested the overnight off in preparation to staying over night and sleeping alongside them. The thing is, I used to sleep terribly around someone I didn’t quite trust. I appear to have gotten over that, (Maybe enough years have passed without anything happening to me while I’m unconscious?) but back then, sleeping next to a partner seemed daunting.

So, that night, I’d had a couple of drinks– took a few melatonin, and actually slept. I slept well, too. Sleeping while cuddled up to a partner is actually very healing. It feels like it started to catch you up on all of the affirming physical touch that your parents clearly withheld throughout your childhood. I think that was my first time I’d slept next to a partner.

I awoke the next day with a new sense of security. Asher had even made me breakfast. It made me feel… sort of real, to be honest. We’d even talked through my recent decision to pursue testosterone– they offered to give me a ride to Augusta if I decided to make an appointment at the closest informed consent clinic. Look at me, relying on people! Trauma, who?

Feelings like that never last long for someone like me. It was only a few days later when, as I was hanging out with Asher, Rayzel, and a smattering of Asher’s friends, Rayzel confessed that the two had done a Tarot reading on me.

“It really showed me how bitter and closed-off you are. It’s what I can detect in your aura, too. It’s like you’re so distant that no one can reach you.” Rayzel was actually the first taste I’d ever gotten of Rochester’s toxic occultism and– gods, it was some heavy foreshadowing, wasn’t it?

I sipped my wine, a 19 Crimes blend that was apparently much less bitter than myself, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the public roast of my intimacy issues. “Why did you do the reading?” I asked pointedly.

“Well, you seemed really surprised that you were even able to sleep next to me!” Asher told me. “I also told her you have an inability to cry. And Rayzel was doing Tarot, so–”

“I just wanted to be helpful,” Rayzel emphasized. “I’m an empath, though, and could already detect some of it? Asher told me that you were damaged but I didn’t know how bad it was.”

“Didn’t you tell me that it was like, the most distant you’d ever seen?” Asher prompted. A couple of their friends actually giggled. I was starting to wonder how cursed I’d be for setting fire to Rayzel’s Tarot deck.

Their tones were all jovial, even if it did have brief notes of concern, but I definitely felt as though I were being bullied. The others in the room had ceased to have their own conversations and were apparently enraptured in hearing about just how fucked up I was. Rayzel, the sudden expert in my fucking personality, nodded. “It’s like there’s a crack in you that’s just… taken over. And I’m an empath and a healer, but you’re just so disconnected that Asher and I don’t even know how to begin to help you.”

Do you have someone in your life that feels distant, closed-off, unwilling to open up? Well, the best way to handle that is to publicly shame them for it. That way, the poor bastard will never make the mistake of opening up again.

Rayzel showered me in ‘supportive’ (see: vaguely pitying) texts right afterwards.

“I’m content.” “No you’re not.” Okay, just because she was right doesn’t make this any less condescending.
“i’M A hEaLEr.”
Wait, is she starting to insinuate that I have DID?
OH MY GOD, SHE WAS STARTING TO INSINUATE THAT I HAD DID. (And I definitely believe that was Xhaxhollari answering, there.)

“I really don’t like that you two did a Tarot reading about me,” I’d told Asher pretty soon afterwards. “If you’ve a problem with me, tell me.”

“She just wants to help,” Asher soothed. “She’s being nice to you.”

Nice was one word for it. Treating me like a goddamned charity case was another.

It was ironic. I’d bitched for years about how I was never seen, now I was angry that I was. And it wasn’t because Rayzel was an ’empath’ or was even particularly well-versed in magic. I’d later find that Asher was venting to Rayzel about me far more than I’d realised, which gave her a steady stream of information. But she wasn’t wrong.

And I hated that. I was filling my hollowness with wine, casual chaos, dating, and cultivating my own online fanclubs for a reason– so that this void, this ‘crack’, that occasionally felt as though it were actively swallowing me– at least wasn’t visible to anyone else. And there Ms. Psychic was, prodding around my emptiness with a fucking crystal ball.

That’s not the part of me I want to be seen, goddamnit. “I mean, she kind of has a point,” Asher pointed out. “Rayzel sends you supportive texts and you’re weirded out by it. But then Apollo texts you about his mom wanting to literally shoot you and you act like it’s just another Wednesday for you!” I laughed at that. They hadn’t meant that to be funny.

It was within the next month that I had, you know, to entertain and over-stimulate myself to prevent the chance of an introspective thought of occurring, had invited Apollo and another [UNIVERSITY UNDISCLOSED] student, Rachel Sandene, to my flat to drink and watch ‘Are You Being Served?’ That’s, indeed, what the invite entailed.

Now, when I invite people over to watch something, I do expect a bit of chatting. I’ll pause so they can tell me their anecdotes or their observations, but I do want what we’re viewing to be the centre of the occasion.

So, tell me why Apollo decided to take this opportunity to explain how ultra special he was?

“Well, I actually found out from the doctor’s recently that I have tetrachromia. See, most people just have two cones in their eye, but I actually have a third functioning cone,” he boasted, proving once and for all that this idiot didn’t realise that tetra meant four. That was even the Greek word for it, too. Good going, Apollo.

Rachel was more than gullible. “Oh, wow. So, you can see more colours than the average person?”

“Oh, I definitely can! I can see colours that I can barely even describe to you. See, I went to an optometrist’s appointment and they saw something wasn’t quite right, so they did a few extra tests. And it makes so much sense! That’s why my professors and I kept disagreeing on how I should colour or shade things! I kept getting frustrated by all of the colour they couldn’t see! I remember one time, I–”

My telly had been paused on Mr. Peacock’s scowling visage for ages. Apollo was making himself a spectacle in my own bloody apartment. It went on for at least a half hour and I wanted to watch ‘Are You Being Served?’, god damn it.

Though his face was a pretty good representation.

That’s when I started Googling. I scrolled on my phone and became an amateur expert in tetrachromacy, because Apollo wouldn’t shut the fuck up long enough for me to hear Mr. Humphreys’ next one-liner. I found articles about Concetta Antico, who made the news first in 2004 when she was genetically tested (which is not something they do at the average optometrist’s office) to be a tetrachromat. This made the news because this was a genetic abnormality so fucking rare that it was theoretical until 2004.

“Good lord,” I interrupted in the middle of Apollo’s boasting. “You should be contacting the news stations! This sort of thing is profoundly uncommon. As in, every discovered tetrachromat so far has had an entire news article published about them!” Shows you to prioritize your grandiosity over my Brit coms. Prick.

Apollo looked at me, visibly startled, perhaps having forgotten I was even still there. You know, in my own flat. “Oh, yeah, ahaha, I thought it was pretty cool–”

“This was only theoretical until 2004!” I went on, injecting my tone with awe. “Only about 12% of the AFAB population has a fourth cone and it’s not even functioning unless you’re in the .03% of that population that even carries that gene! That’s unbelievable! Can you imagine what that’d do for your art career if you got to come out about that?”

Apollo was stunned into what must’ve been seething silence. Rachel went home shortly after. I swear to gods, the door had only just closed when he whipped his head around to face me. “What the fuck was that?” Any mask he had been holding up for Rachel’s sake was gone.

I fought a smile and the smile didn’t win. I’m glad dating Kirra for years had led me to craft an expert poker face. “What do you mean?”

“Saying all this about how I should go to the news? Talking about how rare it is?” he snapped.

“Well, yeah! You didn’t know? I thought it actually may give your art career a boost. You know, payback for all those art professors.” I could see Apollo’s facial expressions softening. My playing at stupid worked better than I’d predicted, which was vaguely insulting, considering. “It makes sense for how vibrant all of your works of art are!”

“Eheheh. Yeah, it does.” The fiery energy was abruptly gone, as if he had shoveled dirt over it. He even visibly slouched in his chair, as if to prove he hadn’t been prickly only seconds before. “I just… don’t want the news or anything to hear about it. It reminds me of how my mom would always get attention for my ailments.” And the sob story continued. I listened, silently impressed with myself for how I’d both smacked him down and had gotten away with it.

Not that it would last long. Apollo stewed on this for nearly two weeks and then realised that maybe he had been bamboozled by yours truly.

So, then he picks a fight with me through vaguebooking!

The original status has been deleted, but I remember it was something like– “25% of the population has tetrachromia. For all the people who keep talking about how ‘rare’ it is.”

Apollo was at the desk during a morning shift and I was up early jogging that day, I remember. I did double-check my research, to be clear. I do hate to be wrong and I like to eliminate every possibility I can. I Googled ‘25% tetrachromia.’ Then I found the LinkedIn article it was linked to.

Yep, a fucking LinkedIn article.

Also, if a computer can replicate the colours that only those with super vision can differentiate using just sheer pixels that pop up on Internet Explorer, I don’t think it can be trusted.

This was just embarrassing, at this point. It’d honestly be more cruel if I’d left it alone, wouldn’t it? So, I texted him.

I knew I was in for it when he compared me to Casey. That story about Casey’s rather botched confrontation had been obviously legendary enough to surpass any sibling rivalry between the two ginger twins.

“I just want to be normal.” APOLLO I KNOW YOU.

But as last time, I humoured his sob story and pretended to be awed. I even stopped by the front desk after my run to discuss it in person at the inn’s reception area. “Honestly, that’s incredible,” I said, meaning it quite literally. “I’m just jealous you never offered for me to be your travelling buddy to Newcastle.”

Apollo was too versed in lying to say ‘What?’, but did give me a quizzical look.

Thank gods for autism. I managed to become a near-expert in this niche out of pure spite. The fact I had learned weeks ago presented itself in the front of my mind, at the ready. “I found out that Newcastle is the only place that has the ability to test for it. Come on, Apollo. I know you can’t stand me sometimes, but you know I’ve always wanted a vacation to England.”

This meme honestly fit too fucking well.

Gods, it was all so worth it to watch panic momentarily spring into his eyes. He knew at once that I knew, that I had caught him dead-to-rights, and that arguing further would give him away. As if this bitch would keep quiet about being special enough to go to the fucking United Kingdom without bragging about it to everyone and their brother! This fucker would rent a billboard. I knew that because I was the same fucking way. “Yeah, it wasn’t much of a vacation,” he said, noncommittally. “I’m not obligated to drag you halfway around the world with me, you know.”

He never brought up his tetrachromia around me again.

A conflict that promised to skewer me had fizzled out to something of a quiet victory. I’d won and it’d been hilarious.

I mean, as always, my inworld was what had paid. That time, Cecil had jumped off of a roof that week and had to be bitten to be turned into a vampire to save his life– that was a whole dramatic thing, obviously, but really par for the course.

I remember what cheered me up that week. It was two things:

One, I’d discovered a wonderful novel called Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Urban fantasy, witty misfits thrown together in dubious circumstances, nuanced social commentary. Gods, it was practically made for me.

Two, Casey and I had been texting at each new premier of ‘Better Call Saul’– live reactions, commentary, swapping texts about each scene and making each other laugh. Fair amounts of ‘Fuck Chuck!’ from the each of us. We’d made it a weekly tradition at each new season. And, you know, after seeing Cecil’s skull split open, laughter was something I needed a steady supply of.

As generally unsatisfied with everything as people found me to be, or even bitter and cracked, sometimes I was just happy with good company to watch telly with.

Whatever ‘happy’ meant for me in those days.