Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
[TW: Heartbreak, alcoholism, passive suicidality, existential issues, the exploitation of kink.]
June 25th, 2022:
Look at me, getting promoted! Less supervision when I’m out, more time to front, more of an understanding that Xanthe and I were essentially splitting this life down the middle. And I loved this arrangement. I could go to my bar and be addressed by my name. My good friends were introducing me, “Have you met Sparrow? He/they pronouns!” “You want to bum a smoke? Well, hi, Sparrow, I didn’t know it was you!” I was slowly but surely gathering outfits and accessories.
And that came with responsibilities, especially when your host’s mental breakdown has been preluded on the system’s Richter scale for weeks.
That early morning, I wasn’t even mad when I switched in to see them throwing up in a grocery bag.
I scrolled through their phone and winced. Okay, calling Cotton, I definitely got. Calling Casey, hell yeah, I’d do the same thing. Texting him? Oooh, they were in a bad way. “D’you know there’s like… two people– I’ve been seeing… One’s essentially a bloody supermodel who lives in Germany. Grade-A shiny–” Xanthe rambled disjointedly. When they were like this, they seemed kind of distorted. Like a scratched DVD. “I think they might actually have mutual feelings for me, too. They’re lovely. And I haven’t texted them back in months. I’m scared. Ghosting them is hurting them, but– I mean, hell, that resentment for me was on its way anyway. Everything in love with me ends up insane or dead, I’m–” I winced as they leaned over the bag again, retching. “I-I’m fucking poison.”
One way to purge your emotions. I handed them a glass of water, letting them know what I’d been around to witness. “So, you called Affinity House. They didn’t have a bed and you started throwing up as you were on the phone.” I watched Xanthe grimace. “Not your most glorious moment, no.”
Xanthe swallowed the water slowly. They were perched on top of the stairs, leaning against the doorframe. I recalled a visual summation of that day’s memories– Xanthe had a weekend shift at the bar. That was busy, but they had a good time. But honestly, sometimes only when Xanthe is strolling down idyllic streets, twirling their cane, and whistling that a breakdown jumps them in an alley and steals their wallet.
See, I spent my life around people who mask in some way or another. I was well-accustomed to that falsified evenness, but I was always fascinated when that would slip. As I caught Xanthe staring at me during my obligatory clean-up, I realized that tonight was one of those moments. “Yeah?”
“You know what’s odd about seeing you all in love?” they said hoarsely. “It’s startlingly familiar. Back when we were fusing, I felt emotion I could scarcely even conceive of. Around 2019, I think I might have been borrowing your emotional capacity, for [Arkady.] Maybe the systems figured my base emotional range was too selfish. Too fantastical.”
“Well, that’d certainly ruin his fucking day,” I laughed.
Xanthe’s mouth twitched upward in a smile’s attempt but no further. “With your emotions combined with mine, that was the most selfless I’d ever been… That was my first and last chance to feel human, I think. Not that I haven’t loved my other partners, just–” They motioned helplessly. “It was like being blind my whole life and seeing, just for a brief moment. And that the first thing I saw were dazzling colors and light… Then from then on out, all I witnessed were war crimes, in high definition, then just darkness again.” They shook their head. “What I felt was selflessness. And look where it got me.” They motioned helplessly.
I frowned. It’s easy to take for granted how much Xanthe uses their frivolousness as a shield. A moment like this was like seeing a jester choking on tears backstage between sets. It could be unsettling. “You’re in a lot better of a place than they wanted you to be. Every day we’re alive, Rowan gets just a little more miserable.” Fingers crossed, at least.
“I don’t even know how much longer that’ll be,” they sulked. “I came back from the other side, still feeling dead. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if my time as a host was coming to an end.”
I stiffened. I was next in line for host by default. If this poor system had to rely on my impulsive ass to lead it, we were fucked. Xanthe and I had this yin-yang thing going, a balance that took a lot of work to achieve. I could see why they might wonder about that, though. The past couple of years alone would warrant a split or dormancy. That and this new revelation had shaken them to their core.
Only one way to find out.
I knelt in front of them. “Look at my eyes.”
They did. I watched the numbers reveal themselves in Xanthe’s irises, calculating the alter’s personal lifespan with all the factors the system had available. Then I smiled. “Do you want to know something hilarious?”
Xanthe scowled at me. “Wot?”
“You have years.” I never liked to give anyone an exact approximation. After all, it was a give-or-take kinda deal.
I watched a couple of emotions flicker across Xanthe’s face. Surprise, disappointment, weariness, then finally, amusement. They started to giggle airily until they curled up and passed out.
I had to figure out if I still retained movement over the body. I did, but my control was dwindling. I dragged our shared carcass to the bed. I didn’t even have a chance to take our shoes off before the body lost consciousness entirely.
Xanthe woke up before me, which was rare. I think Rowan’s constant alcohol-shaming had left its scars since Xanthe was prone to anxiety attacks after any night of ‘going overboard.’ I was only co-fronting, remote from the body as I made myself coffee that we technically didn’t have and was only available to me via power of imagination or some bullshit. Xanthe emerged into the kitchen, definitely looking worse for wear. They tossed their phone to me to read. “New cover photo just dropped.”
I looked at their phone and winced.
I read it in full. Xanthe is disinclined to let many details bleed through to this blog, for a change. I was chewing on my lip through the end of it. “I was really hoping it would have worked out,” I said roughly.
Xanthe shrugged. “They just knew what I’d already figured.” I looked at them. Their eyes were tired. It was common courtesy among us to front through the hangover if you were the one that’s caused it, and I’m sure they felt about half-dead. “That there’s not much left to come back to.”
I had one more question. One that needed asked if I was going to do any decent damage control. “Did you ever reunite with him? The one who wasn’t a dick to you?”
“Visarden?” There was a slight pause in which Xanthe seemed to be swallowing something. Whatever it was, they’d just barely gotten it down before they choked out a “Nope!”
They spent the rest of the night drinking and listening to ‘Dark Paradise’ on repeat. The line, ‘But I wish I was dead’ was echoing with a marked ferocity throughout the house, I remember.
It was after this when Xanthe’s panic attacks within new budding relationships became unbearable. Xanthe announced that they were taking themself out of the dating pool, perhaps for life. Considering history, this should have made the Living Fiction system at large feel relieved. But no, it felt more like Xanthe had a war injury that crippled them in some profound way. I did try to hype them up a bit, pointing out how Xanthe had briefly dated that one guy, but that only led to this exchange:
“What about that one guy? Eron? You were comfortable with him.”
“He was aromantic. No danger, there, I thought.”
“What happened with that?”
“Blighter fell for me. Drama ensued.” Xanthe faked a theatrical sigh. “If only I’d been born rich instead of so damned loveable.” They frowned at me for how hard I laughed at that.
Xanthe’s declined everyone from band lead singers to fellow systems to, like they said, German models. All over one person that frankly looked like I would’ve taken lunch money from.
A self-destruction though it may be, you can’t deny that the old bird hadn’t worked alone.
January and February, 2018:
As a response to my novel, Lost Chaos, finally closing in on its publishing date, Apollo decided this was the time to announce he was releasing a poetry anthology book. This vaguely annoyed me, as you might imagine. What I considered more vexing is that my cover artist was nowhere near completion. “I may end up just releasing it anyway,” I’d griped to both Apollo and Will. “Just take a picture from my Instagram and polish it up a little.”
“Don’t just take one from Instagram!” Apollo scolded. “I’ll just do it for you.”
And then in a move that has perplexed me since, Apollo did the cover of Lost Chaos at no cost to me. He did a hell of a job on it, too. There were very few gestures of true friendship between the two of us throughout the years, but this was likely my favourite.
I admired the cover and gave him due credit. After all, I loved his art style so much more than his sister’s.
All the rest I remember of January was that, for the first time in thirty years, Savannah had a snowstorm. I was sleeping upwards of 13 hours a day. I’d posted that perhaps my secondary puberty was wearing me out. I was still having increasingly unhealthy hook-ups with Apollo. He’d choked me to the point of nearly passing out lately. I’d later find a diagram of the proper method for recreational breathplay and realised that was what we were not doing.
But I was finding myself increasingly indifferent to the prospect of it ending badly.
I moved through the winter like a ghost. It seemed within this stagnation, I’d begun to wonder; Am I even real? Is any of my life?
Who would mourn a fever dream?
March of 2018:
I was reading ‘The Last Days of Oscar Wilde’, a somewhat fictionalised account of Oscar’s life in Paris. Of course, there was a multitude of scenes wherein Oscar still fraternised with Bosie– still appeasing him, still defending him to Robbie. “As much as I love Oscar Wilde, I’m glad I’m different,” I would pen down in my journal. “I saved myself from the Bosie I was locked with.”
I remember I looked up from my journal to see that Apollo had joined me at Gallery Espresso for tea.
One of my Facebook friends were starting to forge a strong friendship with me. Generally, my Facebook audience was about as vital as it was faceless to me, but Arkady’s comments were something I usually paused to read in-depth. His input was unfailingly witty and he generally loved to hype up both my fashion and literature posts. Also, he had a theatrically maligned reaction to my puns, which meant my joy in tormenting him with my brand of wordplay was keen.
I was sort of aware he had a crush, but several of my admirers were prone to short-lived crushes. My response to this was usually, “Ah, give it time.”
I didn’t realise how deep his was.
It was about February of that year when a lot of our conversations moved to DMs. He’d seen me posting about ‘Six of Crows’ and was excitedly telling me about his own reading journey through Bardugo’s masterpiece. I remember him telling me how much he related to Kaz Brekker and how much Rochester, the city in which he lived, reminded him of Ketterdam. How his fiance was darker-complected and a good climber much like Inej.
There were several weeks where my phone would ding and I would smile and check it rather than just ignoring it.
Six of Crows was the launching pad wherein Arkady and I would relate parts to our own lives. “That line about people already thinking you’re a monster– Jesus, I FELT that.” “This book does such a good job at depicting PTSD! My experience is very similar.” “I’m so glad this book just so casually has queer people. So much media just fetishizes it. Then all of my bloody Fujoshi friends are like, ‘OMG the gay!’ I’d rather be called a slur.” “Oh my gods, I used to have friends do the same goddamned thing.”
He also had this odd sense of popping up in chat to check in on me whenever I was in the mood to vent. I swear, he had a sixth sense of it. He never judged me a day in his life, (Yes, this was, in fact, the case, once) usually offering either parallel anecdotes or jokes.
It grew to the point where we were talking every other day. It was a welcome distraction, especially as I’d yet to just… block my ex already.
Asher was posting again. She’d actually turned her name back to her legal one, Julie, and had switched back to she/her pronouns. No shade to anyone who has explored their gender and discovered they were cis, but I do mean some disrespect for those who have changed their name and gender and sexual preferences and political alliances with every single partner. When they had a crush on a more punk-ish trans man, Asher had gone by he/him pronouns and said they were aro-ace. Then upon meeting me, they changed their name to Alistair, changed their pronouns to they/them, and were panromantic/pansexual. And now with their new beaux, they were suddenly a straight cis woman named Julie.
I had them in my phone as ‘Karma Chameleon.’
They were also less attractive to me, which I personally always enjoyed in an ex. They’d let their hair become 50% comprised of roots as it grew out and they even stopped wearing make-up. They would even caption their photos with, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I used to put so much effort into my appearance just to take pictures and impress people. Could you imagine just how miserable that is?’
Narcissism aside, I’m rather certain that was aimed at me.
Eventually, they posted a selfie in the beginning of March. “New Year, new me!”
Bitch, this wasn’t January. My petty ass went ahead and commented, “Maybe just keep the number of new yous to per new partner. That’d be less exhausting.”
They finally blocked me and I was immediately opening the chat with Arkady, knowing he would relate. “Want to hear about me being petty?”
The text back was immediate. “YES.”
This led into further discussions, with us swapping nightmare ex stories, of which we both had plenty. It was during this time that I expressed longing to have an arch-nemesis. I had plenty of enemies, you see, but they, on the whole, never bothered to get to know me. Here I was, chock full of character flaws, and people were more apt to lie about me. Amateurs.
Arkady was actually of the same frame of mind.
Okay, so we were full-on courting now, even swapping Sherlock and Moriarty gifs to cement the flirtatious nature of our playful rivalry. Not that I needed any more partners in my repertoire. I had three wonderful partners and I thought of them all with equal attention. AJ, Kaspar… -looks at smudged writing on hand- Whitney? (I cannot emphasize enough how rubbish of a partner I was to Wendy.) But there I was, becoming smitten. Which was odd, because I’d actually never known what Arkady looked like. His profile picture, at the time, was someone else’s illustration.
People who hid behind artwork on social media profiles meant that they were self-conscious, which typically meant that they’d given up on their appearance, which tended to be unattractive to me. Either you’re looking like a heavily-modded main character in a video game or I scarcely know you exist, romantically.
Oh, come now, Zeitstück. I chided myself. You can stand not to be completely bloody shallow, for once. Not everyone you date has to look like they could be a model. Just check and see what he looks like.
It actually took a full week for me to do so. I was having those pleasant, fluttery feelings and didn’t want it to get ruined by my vanity. But I did finally allow myself to scroll through his photos and look, bracing myself to have this drastic change of heart and become less of a superficial cad.
So, then I went to his profile. I scrolled back through his pictures. Then I felt immediately annoyed.
You were beautiful this entire time and just hid that fact from me? Why, to promote character development? Raven black hair, a facial structure that seemed sculpted by a master artist or two, luminous green-grey-blue eyes that reminded me of labradorite, an entirely androgynous form. My impression of him remained the same, too, even as I went through his Tagged Photos, which are universally the least flattering photos of anyone. Nope, hot there, too. Damn you. You should be posting pictures just as much as me. The fact that he wasn’t was clearly his master plan as an arch-nemesis. You fiend.
Another pleasant development. Hormones, after taking their sweet time about it, was actually starting to make some changes in my voice. I remember ‘Sherry’, the owner of the inn, asking one morning after hearing me talk if I had a cold. A customer, hearing my name over the phone, ended the call with a ‘Thank you, Sir!’ A coworker on an opposite shift called the desk and asked in confusion who was on the other line. “Xanthe? Is that you? It didn’t sound like you!”
I was also impatient for Mum to start actually addressing me properly. Years of her looking at me and only seeing Nebula, this was finally my chance to introduce myself. Not that she made it easy. I once again on the phone to try to explain to her my gender identity. Someone in the background asked her a question, as she happened to be out running errands. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m talking to my daughter!”
I rolled my eyes. “Mom, you don’t have a daughter. I’m not a girl. That’s what I’ve been telling you.”
“You can’t tell me you’re not a girl! I was there when you were born, [DEADNAME.]” It was a partially scolding tone, but one that beheld laughter, as if she never had any reason to take this seriously. Then, infuriatingly, she said in a baby voice, “I know you’re female, [DEADNAME.] I changed your diapers!”
I sat at Co Sushi Lounge during happy hour, downing my latest glass of pinot grigio with zeal, not able to even come up with a comeback. Mum had work in about twenty minutes so, after I became cold and unresponsive, she made her goodbyes and went to clock in.
I waited. I knew when she was due to clock in. Two minutes before that, I sent her a text. “Well, it’s going to be rather difficult to think of me as your daughter as my voice continues to drop and I have a five o’clock shadow. I’ve been on testosterone for five months. Good luck!” The funny thing was, she’d have just enough time to read it before having to turn her phone off for 12+ hours, just mulling over my confession without any way to respond.
It’d be another couple of weeks before she’d acknowledge that conversation even happened, but it was the small victories that counted.
Meanwhile, my relationship with Wendy was bashfully neglectful. She damn-near spoiled me on a surface level, but I was far too in my head to remember we were dating half the time. Which made me feel guilty, which generally led to more avoidance. In perhaps a desperate move for my attention, she texted me one night that she had fallen through her glass coffee table and was ‘bleeding from cuts everywhere.’ I’d asked her if she could get any help, call anyone in her area. “No one cares about me, Xanthe. No one would care.”
There was no conclusion to that night, no explanation of how she’d gotten help.
Looking back, this was perhaps some sort of fishing to make me admit how much I cared. But I felt pinned down by trauma, like a butterfly in a case, frozen by the prospect of watching someone die from a distance if I didn’t convince them not to.
The next time I saw her for our outing, she wore short sleeves and a pair of shorts. No cuts to be seen, something I felt almost guilty for looking for. The incident with the glass table was apparently entirely forgotten. She stopped responding sometime after that, which took me an embarrassingly long time to notice.
That was alright for me, though. I’d found another local shiny by the name of Taylor– a charming brunette that I found as enticing as hard to get ahold of. Which, obviously, felt ideal. To this day, I wonder if she could’ve been an alter. She appeared when she wasn’t expected and seemed to vanish when she was. We’d never kissed, but did huddle together over a bottle of wine or three and giggle ourselves to sweet delirium. Somehow, she’d always be called away towards the end of the evening.
I could just chalk it up to sheer rejection, except that she would initiate these encounters, flirtatiously hint towards ‘hanging out and something more?’, then a friend of hers would show up to be a third wheel or she would suddenly remember an obligation. I’d half-expected to be blocked after such encounters, figuring perhaps something in my drunken rambling had put her off.
But then, Taylor would invite me out and we’d do it all over again, with her snatching me from the public and pouting that I’d been a stranger.
Never had a flirtation vexed me so.
She wasn’t the only one I was beginning to suspect was not real. As my life seemed to slow to stagnation around me, I felt more and more like I didn’t exist. I couldn’t quite quantify my trauma, couldn’t make sense of the worlds wherein I spent half my life– both the inworld or the outerworld. One or both was a dream. It didn’t seem worth it to continue to question it. I found that I stopped caring.
After all, I lived alone for a reason. I didn’t have local friends so much as I had local drinking buddies. If I was talking to thin air on a regular basis, that was my business.
My existential issues did leave me with an odd relationship with fiction, though. Ever since that monumental panic attack I had after reading ‘The Innocent’, I’d had to take caution with reading. I couldn’t shake how horrifying it had been to be treated as a disposable figment of imagination by Kirra. Thus, even reading a dramatic death scene within fiction felt like I was witnessing an actual death. Even worse, no one else seemed to feel this way. Like a more whimsical public execution, a character’s death was entertainment to most.
That made me sick.
It was around this time when I had obliged Apollo’s recommendation for his favourite book, ‘Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. It was seven hundred pages of a red-headed young boy named Kvothe who had no personal flaws, always did the right thing, and had remarkable talent and was tortured and harmed by just about everyone he met, mostly out of jealousy or abject cruelty. Except for whatever pretty girl he was helping. It was an exhausting read. Granted, I’m not sure how I would feel about it if I wasn’t fully aware that Kvothe was how Apollo viewed himself. “I am so special and talented and the world is against me for No reason!”
Without spoiling too much, I will say that there is a steady reference to Kvothe ‘waiting to die.’ The first book doesn’t say why or if there’s a cure for the magical malady, so, after reading the Bible-length tribute to Apollo’s ego, I asked him, “Does Kvothe actually die, though?” There was a sequel out that Apollo had read and I wasn’t sure if this issue would be resolved, but I’d rather just have the spoiler and ease that anxiety.
There, Apollo responded with one of the more grating replies I could have gotten. He started making fake laughing noises. “Aha! Ahahaha-ahaha! Ahaha! We don’t get to know that, Sweetie,” he said with a mocking cheerfulness.
Gods. Imagine if people talked like that about a ‘real’ person. ‘Is that man from the car crash okay?’ ‘LOL it’s too early to tell, buddy! Guess you’ll have to read the obituaries!’ I could only imagine the response to myself dying. ‘I sort of predicted that way back in Chapter Five. You could see the foreshadowing.’ ‘Yeah, I hope the next protagonist isn’t so self-referential.’
I then decided to abandon the series, unable to even think about the books without wanting to punch Apollo.
He did provide ample opportunity to mock him later on. The next time Apollo and I drank together at Chromatic Dragon, he ended up drinking at my place afterward. I think I actually had, against my own best judgment, vented a bit about AJ. They’d recently gone on an odd rant about how trans masc people who could enjoy ‘PIV sex’ (i.e., “Straight sex”) were privileged and were actively making life worse for AJ personally. “Didn’t they used to count that against people’s gender identity disorder diagnosis? It was listed in the DSM-5.” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but it makes everyone assume that I want sex that way! That or it’s my build. I think people just notice my feminine lower half and assume. ”
I’d frowned when I was on the phone, confused. “Lately? As in, after HRT?”
“Well, no. It was when I was in my closeted phase and dating straight guys.”
Well, okay. Mystery solved!
“AJ keeps repeating this story to me,” I began as Apollo and I sat in Chromatic, over my fourth ‘Heisenberg’ cocktail. It had blue rock candy, because of course it did. “Of how one time they were on a bus and there was a trans woman, Gigi, who sat next to them and said that she was glad there was another trans person on the bus. AJ asked how she knew they were trans and this girl was like, ‘Oh, because of your build.’ And now, that ten second conversation is their vital resource for how they look and it’s infuriating. AJ now thinks that this random girl is ‘the only one that’s been honest with them.’ And not that some weirdo is going around to make a game out of clocking people.”
“Yeah, I feel like AJ is one of those trans people that think they’re the end-all, be-all of ‘valid’ and they look down on trans guys like me!” Apollo asserted. “Guys who have long hair or still like jewellery. I feel like they’ve never seen me as a trans guy because of it.”
I didn’t bother pointing out that AJ also had long hair. It was generally discouraged to interrupt Apollo when he was on a roll, no matter how erroneous it was. There were only so many hours in a day.
“I remember, one of the first times I met them, they actually asked my pronouns. But it was the way they asked it, like they didn’t believe me. Like I’d only changed my pronouns for a career or something.”
I’d squinted at him. The math wasn’t adding up in my head. AJ had to move from Savannah in the summer of 2015. Apollo moved here in 2016. When would they have met? Wait, wasn’t Apollo visiting Kirra or something that one time at Chive?
The scenario was unfolding and warping in my head, gaslighting me in real time as I tried to map it. Yes, there were four of us that day at Chive. Apollo had only just come out, that was part of Kirra’s odd trans phase. She had been trying to copy her twin brother. “Maybe it’s because that was what Kirra was doing?” I’d pointed out.
“Whatever,” Apollo snapped, because mentioning his sister could always be a hit-or-miss affair. “I just get this feeling that AJ doesn’t even believe I’m trans, especially since they insisted on asking my pronouns.” He said that in the same way one would while describing someone following them into the restroom. “I’m sorry, I know they’re your partner, but from that moment on, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t! I refuse to be friends with them. I just can’t trust them after that.”
I had a hard time maintaining a straight face. I called AJ later on to tell them the bad news. “Wow, Xanthe, you really ruined my day,” they’d said in a flat tone.
So, yes, enjoy my flirtations and the drinking, but my life on the whole just seemed a string of vaguely connected and entertaining events. Hell, I was even invited to a stranger’s house for a steak dinner and accepted it, purely on the basis that she’d thought I was a ‘nice young man’ and I wanted to ride that high a while more.
The steak was good, though.
Arkady remained a consistent online flirtation I was increasingly charmed by– I was hoping all of this would lead to him visiting Savannah and maybe making out with his foppish tour guide.
Then April 27th came.
The three-year anniversary of when Kirra nearly killed JaK and broke my brain. And ultimately revealed just now unreal I was.
You know, I’d reasoned that I would’ve probably never lived a ‘normal’ life anyway. But I could have gone on, thinking I was real, for just a while longer. Then I wouldn’t be walking around with what seemed like a glass dome around me, destined to be an experience or a costume or a novelty or a story one tells in therapy. I’m not a person, but what if I’d gone a little longer thinking I was one?
To try to stave off my existential dread, I’d made plans to meet Taylor at Starbucks on Bay Street. From there, we would embark to dinner and drinks. I sipped my chai latte and scrolled through my phone. Almost instantly, my blood ran cold.
Fucking ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ came out that very fucking day and already, people were splashing the timeline with news of character death meant to ‘spoil’ and ‘troll’ people. ‘Lol Loki dies within the first ten minutes.’ ‘Not Gamora, she was my favorite! ):’
I tried to resist what I usually did in these times– research the death obsessively, going through every nuance, wondering how the character felt, how their fellow cast would mourn, how their entire life all culminated into these last cinematic moments.
It just had to be released on April 27th.
To make matters worse, Taylor had surely ditched me. I’d waited nearly an hour and a half and she wasn’t responding. It wasn’t unusual for her to stand me up. She would undoubtedly pop up again in the near future and have a fitting excuse. I just hated that it had to be today.
While I was scrolling, trying to distract myself, a message popped up from Arkady. He’d had a rubbish day working at Funk N’ Waffles and wanted to vent. “Can I call?”
I told him yes, grateful for the company. I’d heard his voice on the phone only once before, when he called to explain what hijinks ensued when he gave a stranger a ride home. It was incredibly pleasant, actually sort of musical-sounding, even when laced with irritation as it was now. We spent probably an hour exchanging work stories. It didn’t take us long to work away our respective agitations through the power of story-telling. I was eyeing the Bohemian Rooftop Bar across Bay Street. “I’m here drinking a chai latte but I believe I need something stronger.”
“Oh yeah? Do it. I’m getting into the wine myself.”
I think we took perhaps a ten-minute break for me to get settled at my new location, then we were at it once again. It’d been a long time since I was so immersed in conversation and he had me laughing more often than not. I was giving him fun Apollo stories, referring to him as ‘my frienemy I occasionally hate-fuck.’
“Ah, I see. Hate-fucking is valid and kinda hot, honestly,” Arkady allowed. I was beginning to get curious where he’d draw the line with me. I had this absurd, masochistic urge to just drop increasingly hard-to-swallow facts about myself to see what would drive him away. “Though I don’t think I’d sleep with my frienemy. His face looks like a goddamned potato.”
I laughed. “A potato specifically?”
“Yeah! Not even a nice-looking one. In fact, if Irish farmers were to find him during the potato famine, they’d just yeet it across the field and say,” Here, he switched to an Irish accent. “‘Noooo, we’re not going to eat that one todaaaaay.'”
I could scarcely breathe, I was laughing so hard. Gods, it feels good to meet an asshole to match my level of pettiness. We talked about everything. Our childhoods, our exes, our friends we love and those we scarcely tolerate, literature, history. I remember how often we yelled, “Oh my god, SAME!” when the other one had reported yet another occurrence we thought was specific only to us. I ordered drink after drink on the rooftop as he drank at home. My throat felt hoarse from talking and my cheeks were sore from smiling. And of course, we flirted.
I remember I was trying to convince him that I found him attractive, even insisting that we would have a photoshoot together someday. “You and me in the same frame might as well break reality.” I remembered he enjoyed that but was adorably flustered.
As the night wore on, me through my prosecco flutes and he through bottles of wine, our discussions became more intimate. We talked about fictional characters we related to, scenes that forever changed us. I opened up about what had happened with Asher and Rayzel and he admitted that he’d made his own conclusions and unfriended Rayzel a while ago, just for solidarity with me. “I remember you posting, back in August, about you having to fight off nasty rumours about you. I just felt… so bad you were going through that, but you managed to stay strong and witty anyway.”
My heart swelled.
“You know, if wooing me is within your master plan, it is working. You villain,” I confessed to him. “I do hope you get to visit Savannah. I’d hope for a kiss from you in a heartbeat.”
His voice lowered to a murmuring level. It sounded like thick velvet. “Darling, your heart wouldn’t have the chance before I’d be upon you.”
Fuck. This was dizzying. And me, sitting in a rooftop bar and gazing into the sunset as he says it. My heart was fluttering. It felt like my very first time falling in love, somehow.
It was later on that night when I had to take my leave home, though neither of us were inclined to hang up. We were both well and truly drunk now. I think I’d noted that, through my unsteady walk, I’d nearly hit my head on a tree branch. Arkady attempting to give me some stammering compliment, something about how not to injure my head because it was one of his favourite parts about me. I don’t even think he made it to the end of the sentence. It was adorable. “Oh, are you so infatuated that I’ve made you stutter?” I teased, smiling.
His voice lowered again, to that decadent rumble that would burn itself into my very nervous system. “If I were only infatuated, I would be speaking normally.”
I was done for. The words ‘I love you’ were already hovering on my lips. I felt I had to physically bite them back.
Then I was in my apartment, laying under my desk. I was entirely drunk, but would be fine in the morning, as my tolerance had reached concerning levels. Arkady, on the other hand, was beginning to be worse for wear while trying to keep up with me. He was going in and out of accents, telling me about how he shouted, “I’m drunk and I’m Slavic!” on a table at a bar called Lux in a Bulgarian accent. Then he began talking in an Irish one. I think it was my suggestion, but he flitted to a lilting, sort of fantasy posh, British accent.
If I’m ever in a coma, just play me a recording of that. I’ll wake right up.
“I feel that this accent is closer to my own anyway,” Arkady– No, Visarden said. I would only know his name in months to come. But looking back, this was him. Not that this was the first time I’d talked to him. When I was snatching screenshots for this very blog (an exercise in the most exquisite of masochism, I assure you), I’d realised I’d caught him before. Like below.
“Oh, well, you’re free to do your natural accent around me!” I said, and not only because I could listen to him talk until the end of time. “Truth be told, my body– this vessel was born in Ohio, of all places. I’m British. See, I’m a walk-in soul. An actual fictional character, stuck in reality.”
“I’m not surprised, just from knowing you. You seemed too good for reality.” Visarden said airily. “I have a confession of my own… I don’t know if you believe in–… well, vampires, but–” He stammered around a bit more.
I smiled, not wanting him to get caught on a subject that I was so familiar with.
“Oh! Oh, yeah!” I laughed, leaning up under the desk to pour myself another glass. “They’re rather old hat by now, to be honest. I know several.”
“Oh?” Visarden seemed startled. This was clearly not the reaction he was expecting.
“Oh, yeah!” I assured him. “My ex was one. And my best mate, Aberle. Apollo. Prosper. Koji. I know plenty–” I frowned, trying to find the divide between one life and another. But somehow, with Visarden and Arkady, that divide hardly seemed to matter. “Well–… In another… plane, I think. Plane of existence. Or this one. I don’t rightly know. I think I accidentally fall through dimensions, sometimes.” I paused. Both wine and a new, budding love were propelling me forward into a new high I’d only experienced within that moment and this blog. “Truth be told, I was glad you wanted to call today. I– It was my traumaversary today. On… April 27th, 2015, my ex– the one I told you that broke my ribs– got in my head and basically convinced me that she had the power to kill my friends in the other plane. I… was there. There was– This engine jutting out of JaK, one of my friends’ partners. And Sound was just… weeping, and screaming. And it was my fault, because that was the day I’d tried to break up with her. Like I saw the engine through his body–… He didn’t die. Because I begged her to spare him. Actually begged, on my knees and everything. I don’t know how that saved him. But she didn’t think any of us were real, and that whatever she did to us didn’t matter, because none of us were real. And today, I happened to see spoilers for that Infinity War film, where everyone is talking about character death like it’s just an amusing development, and that it doesn’t fucking matter, and–” I was breathing hard, drawing my knees close to myself. It felt like I were floating away. “I mean. I can’t exactly go into a therapist’s office, with PTSD, from a war my vessel was never physically in, you know?”
Fuck. Okay, I’ve said too much. I mean, granted, he did just tell me he was a goddamned vampire, but this was something I hardly spoke aloud. Something I was trying to cram right back into the closet, something that should remain a secret just so I could continue to somewhat function. Or pretend I was functioning.
The way I was going, I probably would’ve been dead within two years.
I would always be alone in this pain. Cotton did as best to understand, but he only understood that I was in pain. Kaspar didn’t even remember. Aberle existed on only one side of it– he had no need for the double life I was forced into. AJ was always dismissive over it.
“Xanthe,” Visarden said emphatically. “I’m… so sorry you went through that. You didn’t deserve it. And it doesn’t matter if you’re real, Xanthe. You exist. At least to me.”
I wanted to cry. I wanted to somehow teleport myself to Rochester just to cry in his arms, let him say soft things as the emotions for him and my general unrealness fought each other in my chest.
“And… What you said, earlier… That your body is a vessel, I…” He took a breath. “I relate to that… I know what you mean. I really do. I see people that others tell me aren’t real, I see worlds that– can’t possibly be real, according to everyone else. I’m from– another world, another plane, as you would say.”
“I’ve even fought in wars, in another realm. I’ve seen people die. I’ve been shot with arrows. I’ve seen people die and mourned them until they came back to life. On one occasion, I even fetched someone I knew from the afterlife myself,” Visarden said this with so much fervor that I knew he wasn’t only entertaining me. He was relating to me. “You call it plane-hopping or falling through dimensions, but… There are other worlds, layered over this one, and you’re not alone in seeing them. Or living that double life.”
I sat up, faster than I’d meant to. I slammed my head under the underside of my desk, hard enough for my teeth to snap together and rattle from the force. Visarden asked me if I was alright– he was slurring quite a bit by this point. Meanwhile, I was trying to talk my vision out of having a divorce with the rest of me. “You– You actually experience it too–? You’re not lying to me?” Nausea and an irrational terror were jolting through me. Surely this person wasn’t real. I mean, I was falling for them before I knew all this, this was just dramatic overkill.
I was also gripped by the suspicion that it might have been Rayzel and Asher trying to fuck with me. That Rayzel, having known Arkady only days before he friended me, had concocted a plot to get me attached. And then they’d reveal their treachery and his by inviting me to some odd gala wherein my vulnerable screenshots would be shown through a projector for an audience of sadists who would laugh at me.
(Seriously, that is exactly what I pictured. I always have been one for the stranger conspiracy theories, I suppose.)
“No… No, it’s been my life for a long time. Maybe even before this vessel was around,” Arkady/Visarden was slurring quite a bit before the voice dropped to distinctly American. Arkady. “Holy shit, is it really 3am?”
I blinked. We’d been talking, on and off, for nearly 12 hours. It had been my traumaversary, but this was the best 12 hours I’d had in a long time. We eventually said goodnight. Well, I said ‘Goodnight, Love’, which I thought he might catch as a hint.
He would later go on to say that he hadn’t, because, “I thought that was just because you were British.”
I thought of the plot of Six of Crows. The Ice Court, a legendary impenetrable fortress was something that the main group of characters had to breach in order to reach their goal. And hell, I felt like my own fortress. Emotionally worn, shell-shocked, hollow, feeling distant from almost everyone and everything. It seemed no one would ever get through that well-guarded dome of equal parts solitude and extravagance. And now this– this random snarky bastard from New York, of all places, was waltzing right through every wall I’d built as if they were beaded curtains. And just cheerfully waving at me as I stared at him in shock.
It was the very next day wherein I made my decision about him. The lack of blood-alcohol content didn’t seem to sober me to thoughts of Arkady.
This felt uniquely dangerous. I do remember that I’d been particularly paranoid about me having known him through Rayzel. It seemed oddly plausible that maybe Asher and Rayzel had collaborated with him, told him of my ‘delusional’ fantasy worlds and have him tell me a similar story to ensnare me into vulnerability.
But for twelve hours of a phone call? After five months of flirting? There was so much authenticity in Arkady’s voice. Nothing seemed more real than that.
This was the happiest I’d felt in a while. This was the most alive, the most real, I’d felt in such a goddamned long time. If he was a cruel trick, he was certainly an exquisite one, as I would note in my journal.
Hell, if this was their plan, I’d be more impressed that it would prove that I could still invest myself into another person so deeply. Even enthralled to find that I was still capable.
I wanted him regardless.
Just as with Kaspar, and just as with AJ, I wrote him a letter.
“[Arkady.] I’m in love with you. Would you break reality with me?”
Note: For those of you wondering if it hurt me to write this, it did. Immensely. But I’ve always wanted to circle back to the beginning, especially now that you know how it ends. Now that we all know how it ends.
I want you to see those moments of joy and hope and optimism and safety. My dear audience, I want you to know the grandeur, the bliss of what I had before it all slipped through my fingers. And know, like I do, that I will never have that again.
Authors in general are a bunch of pathological sadists. Is it so selfish that I want your heart to break along with mine?