Far From Home (November of 2018. Feat. Jasper Harvey.)

(TW: Brief mentions of sexual assault, mental breakdown, intense loss, gaslighting.)

It was only shortly after I confessed my love to Arkady via a letter that he made immediate plans to spend a long vacation to Savannah, Georgia. Looking back, it was an 18-hour train ride. The cost of the suite he procured in my inn was discounted by yours truly but still astronomical on a barista’s salary, paid for by saving up his tips. Even so, there was no hesitation– he was going to come meet me, come Hell or high water.

Arkady had heard my venting about how awful my birthday had been the year before– how it was the epitome of everything I was starting to drown in while in Savannah. So, we centered this trip around my 25th birthday. He promised to make it my best birthday ever.

He delivered.

Arkady was an utter dream. He even bought Zeitstück to read, sending me his exasperated Snapchats at the puns, glaring into the camera for subjecting him to that. Then, at the last, letting me see him cry at the ending.

Honestly, I don’t really remember much about the summer of 2018. It felt just a blur of waiting.

It’d only been some months before then that we’d discussed marriage. I knew that Arkady and Rowan were officially engaged. I was prattling on about how much I’d love to be invited to their wedding and it was Rowan who suggested that Arkady marry me, too.

Now, as a true incarnation of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry, I’d always mocked and feigned horror about the idea of marriage. But with him, it didn’t seem so revolting. “Well. Engaged couples have been known to get free drinks at bars.” It was easier to joke than to say, ‘This will sound insane, but I’m considering it.’

I think I tried to stop myself from falling as fast as I did. I knew it was ridiculous, on some level, to be this feverishly attached to a twink that popped up from the other side of the country, seemingly out of nowhere. But aside from the initial and veritable ocean of compatibility, this also seemed destined.

It was in June of that year when Arkady and I were discussing Silas and Inalis, our ill-fated but deeply paired past-lives lived as twins. Shortly after I accepted his theory that my past life may have been Wilde, Visarden– a former lover of Wilde’s not in the history books– started showing up more and more often. I think he was at first attracted by the prospect of meeting his former love’s latest incarnation, but, hell… He was a vampire/faerie who had lived in both France and England, I was a Victorian ghost who’d moved from Germany to England. Visarden was, if mind-created, a chronologically displaced fictive much like myself.

Then Jasper of my system met with Arkady’s Jack and they were enthralled to find that they had been reunited lovers from the Prohibition era. Another past-life of ours, surely. Their story spun out before us, two hands on a proverbial planchette spelling out their story.

Both Arkady and Visarden could do a bang-up English accent, but I could tell the difference between their voices. Visarden always tapped each and every consonant like with a precise delicacy, as if playing them as instruments. Arkady’s was also posh, but there was less delicacy. Like walking at a brisk and dignified pace through the letters with a nod to each of them. Oscar and I were both touched when Visarden would lament Oscar Wilde’s self-esteem and body issues. “He was a stunning creature,” Visarden confessed. “He’d always tell me that all of his appeal was only in his mind, and I remember being so frustrated– actually indignant– that he couldn’t see that he was part of the beauty in the world.”

I also remember the first time Visarden dressed up the way he looked like, within the headspace. Elven ears, a long purple wig so dark that it was almost black in the shadows, sclera black eyes. He sent me a video, satisfaction brimming off of him. “Well, here’s… me.” He smiled.

I understood and was delighted that someone else did too. It was the feeling I had when I’d first dyed my hair blonde, when I’d purchased my first frock coat, when I donned a jabot for the first time.

During this time, Arkady seemed so much more in-tune with Visarden than he was after Vali had entered the scene. He even contemplated whether he could also speak in an English accent like Visarden during his trip to Savannah, and I encouraged it, delighted by the prospect.

Visarden wasn’t all who I’d met. There was also William, a fussy and Virgo alcoholic aristocrat from the Victorian era, who swung between sweet politeness and a sassy sharp tongue. I dated him, too. I mean, he was essentially just Kaspar and Visarden combined, so why not? There was also Dram, the jacked and cold Bulgarian vampire who, through ambient intimidation, could cause frightened arousal in everyone around him. (Though he was tragically heterosexual.) There was also Michael, the privateer. There was Tovald, the European doctor. And Lucifer, the– Well, yknow. I was also involved with him and he loved to threaten me romantically… I think he once told me he was considering sacrificing me on a slab in Bonaventure Cemetery and I was rather gung-ho, not going to lie.

Arkady had yet to meet my alters in anything but chats, which was typical of everyone at the time. He was chatting with Aberle and Jasper, at the very least. He could even catch when Oscar Wilde responded. But I was familiar with many of his people and they delighted me endlessly. I tantalized Arkady with tales of the inworld, and he swapped some of his own. Two different genres of existence, yes, but living that double life was something that helped to bond us even further.

I couldn’t imagine spending my life alongside anyone but he and his.

It was raining when Arkady arrived in the early hours on November 2nd, 2018. I knew he’d need sleep shortly after arriving, and I hadn’t bothered to dress up. Well, okay, maybe a pressed white button-up. And maybe a vest. And maybe I’d do some make-up and contour. And–

I stood on the sidewalk that morning on Gordon St. The sun was only threatening to rise as I listened to the light rain falling on my appropriately-ruffled umbrella. Funny enough, a lot of the first couple of our weeks of officially long-distance dating was only pictures and audio. We’d both expressed anxiety with our face’s charm being lost when in motion. It was Rowan that’d first suggested a video chat for their own designs.

The first time I’d ever seen Arkady in motion, in all of his live glory, in May of 2018, was in the background of Rowan. Which is how Rowan preferred he live his life anyhow. I remember my breath catching. I was staring past Rowan, who was prattling on to me, at my glorious love. It was as if he hadn’t been real until that moment when I saw him shyly leaning into the frame.

But there he was, able to be in full motion in front of me. He didn’t speak for a while, letting Rowan begin the conversation that night. “[Arkady] says you’re like us and he actually told me that he wanted to tell you everything. So, I wanted to talk to you. What are you really?”

A fictive and a host to a very fantasy-based system, I would have said if I had a clue. But what I did say was, “Sort of a Victorian ghost, sort of an elemental being, sort of an alchemical patchwork project OC…” I explained Phisoxa, Vex, and the Thysia curse.

Rowan and Arkady, with a noticeable exaltation, explained who they were within their respective worlds. Rowan revealed themselves as the Unseelie Fae King and Arkady told me he was a vampire/fae (Faepire?) king of Asgard.

I wasn’t overly skeptical of these claims– their worlds were no more ridiculous than my own and I’d merely thought that our alternate lives simply perched in different genres. This was, in fact, the famous phone call wherein Rowan, in an incorrectly British tone, pretended to be my Canadian Elisabeth. “I– I remember you!” they called out, falling to the side.

I remember that I’d frozen. See, I’d contemplated, throughout the years, whether ol’ Betsy had hidden her fragile health condition from me just to use me as a last hurrah, risk to my psyche be damned. I think Rowan had thought this may have been a destined reunion that would further attach me to them, but I was simply just traumatised.

That wasn’t the only time Rowan had channeled something that same night. Arkady had quickly, somewhat brightly explained that Rowan was somewhat of a conduit to entities and energies, which led to this happening often. It was towards the end of the call when Rowan’s voice dropped into this fascinating hiss-growl combo that seemed like a meek outtake from the Exorcist. “They’re not to be trusted!” They hissed, glancing at me.

And of course, because I’m me, the only thing I really took away from that was Arkady’s reaction. I really craned my neck to look past the bouquet of red flags just to fixate on Arkady’s little hero moment. Arkady sprang into action, putting his body in between the screen and Rowan, facing his ‘possessed’ fiancé as if I were physically in the room to defend. “Don’t.”

I had a little shiver at that protective tone, not going to lie.

The Rowan creature snarled at him. He had to talk them down until Rowan once again ‘fainted’ to the side. Looking back on it, I realised that was a very profound dynamic that played out. Rowan attacking me for no reason under the guise of magic, Arkady defending me, Rowan ending the situation dramatically.

Only in the end, Arkady would stop defending me.

We’d had video calls since, nearly every week. But now, here in that early November morning, he was solid. With a heat, a heartbeat, a physicality that was every bit as enticing as it seemed daunting.

I felt frozen for a brief moment. Real life was always so much duller than imagination. I’d fretted, reasonably, that perhaps I’d romanticized him too much. That I’d come face-to-face with him and find him lacking. But no, he was my imagination run wild and more, dreams coalescing into that perfect silhouette, and he was– Oh, fumbling with the suitcase! Fuck, what kind of host am I?

I helped Arkady with his large baggage (our relationship in a nutshell), showing him which door was mine. We were in the narrow hallway of my foyer when we first kissed, an agonisingly brief peck between us. I helped get him settled, all the while craving any and all form of intimacy that I’d wanted of him since first falling in love with him from eight hundred miles away. It was stupidly tempting to say, ‘Oh, yeah, here’s the bed, I put my two mattresses together to make a guest bed, you can put your suitcase on the frame, did you also feel the Heavens themselves shift when my hand brushed yours just now?”

It wasn’t long, though, before we were seated on my bed and we could pause and look at each other. Really look at each other. Camera lenses didn’t do his eyes justice; they were strangely luminous, with shades of green and grey that didn’t just grow on trees. Well, much to Rowan’s chagrin.

“You’re really… here, in front of me.” Arkady’s voice was filled with so much awe. I didn’t realise until then that I’d been holding my breath, waiting for his in-person assessment of me. But he kissed me and, you know, it was apparently a passing grade.

It was all the pent-up passion you only ever read about, a kiss to become lost in. Every synapse within myself was set ablaze. Senses that I’d thought were long dead awoke with a start and took a breath. Wind shifted in the opposite direction. The sky itself froze. Galaxies shuddered. Time leaned into the moment as if savouring a caress. It felt like something forbidden by the gods themselves, as if reality were had not the parameters to hold such bliss.

He also felt like home. He felt like healing. He felt like a future.

When we broke apart, it was for the plain need to breath. We were gasping softly as we looked at each other. His hands were on my shoulders. “You’re taller than I imagined,” he observed.

I smiled. “Everyone says that. I’m about three inches shorter in the other plane.”

That’s the only dialogue I really remember. I offered that we should go upstairs for the inn’s free breakfast and get some food in him. It was funny, the awkward, flustered conversation we had at the breakfast table. I don’t even remember what I talked to him about, just that our kissing had left us shaky enough to forget what words were.

The nap afterwards was the largest lesson in patience I’d ever had. I knew he needed rest, I knew it. I had to lay next to him, quiet, not hearing his voice, not kissing his lips, for hours. He was right there. All of the champagne in the world wouldn’t have maddened me so. We did, mercifully, engage in some vigorous introductions afterwards.

I remember laying together afterwards with him, half-naked under the sheets, listening to his heartbeat on his chest. “Laying with you now,” he began hoarsely, wonderingly. “Having you in my arms, I realise like… I need you. Like. I can’t live without you.”

I don’t remember what I said back. It usually made me uncomfortable to be needed, but… With him, it felt okay. Almost expected.

The rest of the night was a blur. We were both still delirious with lack of sleep, but I made sure to give Arkady a tour of River St. As hard as it is to recall that first night, I do remember standing with him on the cobblestones of Factor’s Walk. “So…” I began. “You know how you confessed to me that you’re the devil?”

“Yes,” Arkady said, not as wary as he should have been.

“And you know how you’re a vampire?” I confirmed.

“Yes…” Okay, he was starting to be suspicious. Good.

“Would that make you–…” I couldn’t help but grin. “A bat out of hell?”

He looked at me in such a deadpan manner before spinning on his heels and walking in the opposite direction. My cackles echoed off the stone walls. I caught up to him and took his hand, and we both giggled together. I showed him Bayou Cafe, apparently. I have only fleeting memories of that, likely from sleep-deprivation. He did like it, but how could one not?

I do remember keenly, sleeping in his arms that night. I’d been starkly unused to bedmates, worried that though I’d been dreaming of sleeping in his arms for months, I’d be my same restless self and probably keep him up half the night. Especially since I were sober. As he was pulling me up against his chest, arms wrapped tightly around me, I wanted to fret. No, I usually have to have a fan pointed at me. And a pillow between my knees! I’ll get overheated and fussy and–

Then nothing.

Because I’d fallen asleep instantly. The safety of his warmth, the lullaby of his heartbeat. I’d never slept so well.

Arkady had learned of my sleeping issues and also wondered if I’d be asleep. It actually delighted him when he woke up to find me out like a light. “At one point, I had to get up to go to the bathroom, and I saw you were shifting and fussing a bit… Then I told you that I’d be right back and you settled.”

That very same day, Cotton had come down from Atlanta for my birthday. Arkady once again donned his grand robe and a jabot. We were both in my flat as I introduced them to each other. “[Arkady], this is my best friend and the fabric of my life, Cotton. Cotton, this is my partner, [Arkady.]”

Cotton looked Arkady up and down, taking in the cheekbones, jawline, the jabot, and the attire. “…Yeah.”

Thus began the birthday-week partying. We began at Ordinary Pub, as they had their ‘Bottomless Mimosas’ deal going. Arkady did seem nervous about meeting Cotton for the first time, telling anecdote after anecdote as if he were on a stage. I think it was within the first… twenty or so minutes when Arkady dropped his top three biggest traumas? He also kept explaining with almost every dark joke, “I’m morally grey, you see–”

But finally, Cotton and Arkady settled on talking of Shakespeare, a shared interest of both of theirs. It seemed to quell Arkady’s nervous flitting from anecdote to anecdote. Apollo joined the three of us and we began the beloved Savannah past-time of bar-hopping.

It was actually quite fun! One of the reasons I had enjoyed Apollo’s company was that he offered a debonair and discerning presence to any atmosphere and of course, I was always tickled when Cotton came to visit. I was also giddy to show Arkady off. Not only to the city, but to Apollo in particular. “See?” I wanted to tell him. “Your sister convinced me I was unlovable, and here I am, the most loved I’ve ever been.”

I remember cackling at a pun in Artillery, the sound seeming for all the world like a deranged parrot. “They sound like someone stepped on a bird,” Apollo griped.

“Oh, I find their laugh endearing,” Visarden said with a smile.

Visarden also lauded my violin skills, of all things. If you didn’t realise I played violin, it’s because I’m self-conscious of it, and very few people on the planet have ever seen it in person. So, I was at least doubly tickled when I caught him telling Apollo, “It really is quite remarkable that they’d started learning so late and have the skill that they do. They have a sincere talent for it. I enjoy listening to them play, and I hope they do it more often!”

That sweet thing.

This is a bit of an aside, but I also remember that I was at the Prohibition bar when I’d smugly ordered ‘a cocktail I’d invented.’ This invention came at a time wherein I had not one shred of bartending experience in my body and this was very evident because this ‘cocktail’ didn’t have a bloody spirit. “It’s prosecco, blue curacao, and elderflower!” I’d say, probably narrowly avoiding being brutally beaten by the bartender. “I call it the ‘Bluegiousie’!”

I’ve pulled that on at least three separate bartenders in my time in Savannah and none of them have physically assaulted me, which really tells you a lot about the benefits of being allowed to drink on one’s shift.

I remember that particular night was when I took my first edible. In fact, Apollo, Cotton, and I all indulged in one of Arkady’s THC brownies for the first time that night. They did absolutely nothing to all three of us, but we had gone on a liquor run just before and thus were perfectly intoxicated without them.

We all played ‘Never Have I Ever’, a game in which we learned that everyone but Cotton was a goddamned slut. It was towards the close of the night where Apollo decides to go on a relatively unhinged rant. See, he’d come to resent the job which I’d vouched him into, which was very on-brand. Tonight, he was under the impression that when the pre-printed paycheques were signed by Elizabeth from marketing, his in particular were less.

Elizabeth had no qualm with Apollo that I ever knew of, but damn if he wasn’t being persecuted for five seconds.

It was a Classic Apollo Moment, during which time Arkady was, as he put it, ‘unceremoniously throwing up in [my] sink.’ His stomach was legendarily sensitive, so he’d warned me ahead of time that this could happen. But it also begs the question– how does one ceremoniously throw up in the sink?

That dramatic bastard would find a way.

I would talk to Arkady about it later, citing that Apollo likes to make things up. I was launching into the infamous coconut allergy story when Arkady looked at me. “Um. Apollo’s allergic to coconut?”

“Allegedly,” I affirmed.

“Well, apparently not, because those brownies have coconut oil in them.”

Whoops. Apollo, of course, was completely fine throughout the night, confirming the lie. I even asked him the next day how he felt, in which he boasted that he didn’t even have a hangover.

I later on made the mistake of trying to tell AJ this fun little anecdote. “You gave Apollo coconut even though he was allergic to it?” They said, resentfully.

Once again, AJ and The Point were in their own long-distance relationship. “He wasn’t allergic to coconut, AJ. He’s lying again.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t know that when you gave it to him,” AJ pointed out petulantly.

I took a deep breath and counted to three. “I didn’t know there was coconut in them. It was unintentional.”

“I feel like that’s something my mom would do. I feel like she wouldn’t believe me about my soy allergy and she’d sneak it on me just to see,” AJ said ruefully.

Christ. Anyway! Back to better times!

Arkady and I moved our love nest into the inn’s Tree Top Suite. It was always one of my favourites– the entire top floor (Oh, wait, just picked up on that coincidence), rooftop access, and a little kitchenette and living area. The next day was light on affairs. I vaguely remember going to Gryphon Tea Room and seeing Cotton off.

The next day was the 5th.

The day began with a pillow fight. Arkady had been teasing me and the south at large for the word ‘chigger’, blaming my time in the south to the supposed degradation of my political correctness. Then I threw a pillow at him and we spent a not unremarkable amount of time pummeling each other with pillows in a fancy, historic suite.

To be honest, I hardly even remember most of the day from then on until after the sun had set. We were due to dine at Chive, my favourite restaurant on the entire planet. We were both dressed to the nines and, for this occasion, it was just the two of us… Well. Physically.

I’m sure it was at least three. “They’re not paying for anything,” Arkady told the server firmly. “It’s their birthday.”

I did feel trepidation, however, when the server took my ID and surveyed it to confirm I was of legal age to have my first helping of prosecco. Of course, they would see ‘8/25′ as opposed to ’11/5’, but most servers were interested in the last two digits of my year of birth anyway. Still, I always feared that one server would call me a liar, presumably while shining a spotlight in my face and pointing dramatically.

But no, she smiled, handed my ID back, and went about her underpaid business. “I glamoured your ID so that they’d see your real birthday,” Arkady confirmed.

I grinned at him. All of these strange facets of my life that never seemed able to fit or be explained away, yet he embraced every single one of them. Even helped cover for them.

He took my hand. This was a tradition for him, giving his partners a heartfelt monologue for their birthdays– But I hadn’t known to expect this treat. “Xanthe. I can’t believe I’ve found you. Even in the past few months we’ve been dating, you’ve– made me feel so confident, in myself, in this, and of course, you…” His voice was so soft. Like a silken bed I could simply rest in forever. (That’s a coffin, Xanthe, you described a coffin.) “Xanthe, you’re a loophole in the universe. You’re one of the most witty and charming people I’ve ever met.” I realised with a start that tears were actually sliding down his cheeks in the dim, bluish light of the Sea Bar. “I can’t believe I get to know you. I can’t believe I get to love you. I’m so utterly lucky.”

An actual picture of me at Chive that night.

There was authentic awe and reverence in his tone. It all felt like a dream.

I’d tried and failed to forsake the waking world and just sink into my inworld, my fantasy-based sanctuary. And I was beginning to see that a life with him meant I didn’t have to. Arkady was my safe fantasy.

I never enjoyed a birthday more, though my 29th does come close. We went to one more bar, The Alley Cat, just after Chive had closed. We talked more, driving ourselves nearly hoarse with talking. I remember stepping out and, to my astonishment, seeing the entirety of Savannah covered in fog.

Arkady knew how much I loved fog. My favourite weather condition, something that I had woken up to so long ago when I became host. It wasn’t unusual for a thick blanket of fog to appear in November, but this early? The first fog of the year, undoubtedly.

“I brought the fog for you!” he told me. “I didn’t know it was going to work, but… Well, consider it a late birthday present.”

How could I not have believed in magic for that moment?

And of course, he famously held my hand on the roof of Tree Top and, while I was both drunk and high, guided me through to Faerie.

I remember being so nervous. I remember thinking I would see the wrong thing, that whatever I would see would be only in my head, clashing with his world. I was still holding onto his reverent tone he’d had within the restaurant. What if he would soon see me as insane and broken instead of something to be in awe of? That would’ve undoubtedly broken me.

I’d know, I lived through it.

But no, Arkady was nothing but encouraging and affirming as I described the pond reflecting the full moon with an odd clarity, of the strange stag that seemed to be evaluating me in the forest, how this pond gave way to a portal that I could step through. “You’re doing it!” He appraised. “You’re seeing Faerie!”

His final present to me that night was murdering the doubt that Kirra had instilled in me so many years ago.

The next day, we were predictably hungover and decided to stay in. I showed him The Great Gatsby that night, but like two excited kids at a sleepover, the film was dragged out to at least twice its length because we kept having to pause and talk to each other.

The next day, I worked. The day after, it was to be Arkady’s birthday celebration.

He hadn’t known I’d already purchased my plane ticket to go see him for his actual birthday, so I suppose this was my purely selfish need to spoil him. November 8th was also Dorian Gray’s canonical birthday, so. Yknow. National Twink Day.

We began the day at Bonaventure Cemetery, where I aimed to raise his self-esteem to a level that could at least be seen from the height of his allure. I served as his mediocre photographer, directing him to pose among the historic tombstones and greenery. I actually could not view him through a lens without cursing under my breath.

Even better was the smouldering, intense look that he kept giving me the camera that made me forget how to breathe. “You know that look’s all for you, right?” He told me after I pointed it out.

Next on my list was taking him to the Pounce Cat Cafe on Broughton St. Knowing Arkady was effectively blind without his glasses, I used this to my advantage and told him to take his glasses off while I led him to his surprise. I remember grinning when he actually audibly gasped, in sheer glee, in seeing the eight or so cats through the window from the sidewalk. “Can we go in?” I will never forget the tone of his voice. It was like I had led him to bloody Versailles.

“Of course!”

After an hour or so of watching him play with the cats, and reminding him he couldn’t take a cat back with him on the train, we moved onto the next location. I once again took his glasses so that he wouldn’t see the sign before the grand reveal.

Given that one of our main bonding points had been our mutual love of Pirates of the Caribbean, there was no better restaurant.

He seemed in awe of being so spoiled, which struck me as odd, at the time. When Rowan had visited months prior, they seemed to have money to burn. And they had treated me multiple times and seemed to take pride in it. Not many twenty-something year old queers could take an impromptu with a rental car to Savannah and rent a room in a historic inn. Why… would Arkady seem so surprised at a bit of pampering?

We had a good time, though, as per usual. The atmosphere had us quoting Jack Sparrow quotes back and forth at each other as we had excellent food and drinks. And after, one of my most precious memories– Arkady and I had a sword fight. Myself, with my crow-head cane. Himself, with his umbrella, whacking at each other theatrically as we made our way across Bay Street. We were yelling the rhythm of Pirates theme at each other– not even real words, just literally, “Duh-du-DA-DUH-da-da-da-DAH-DAH–” and laughing, playing like two little lonely kids that finally had their first friend.

Fuck, mate. If I have a good afterlife for a solid ten minutes before the devil knows I’m dead, it would just be that.

Afterwards, we went to Mata Hari. We had a brilliant time. Rowan did text us, checking in on us at intervals. I think this was one of the longest points Arkady had been separated from them in their relationship. Checking on Arkady beside me, it looked like he was in grave danger of being taken home by a gay Swedish man. “I can’t take him anywhere,” I griped playfully to Rowan. “He keeps being picked up! It’s a problem!”

Afterwards, in the alley outside of the speakeasy, the night took an interesting turn. “Well, Jas,” Arkady’s voice said in a Chicago accent that seemed to have just a hint of Irish, posture taking on a more slouching pose that seemed all shoulder. “Reminds you of our time, eh?”

“You’ve got that right!” My– mouth said??? “Imagine how swell it’d be if we owned a place like that?”

It was the very first time I was aware of a switch. I was watching it, having been shoved from the front like someone had taken my controller mid-game. Am I… channeling my past life?

Jasper’s accent was a bit different than Jack’s. Jasper always tried for the American posh, or the transAtlantic accent, to make himself seem richer than he actually was. His diction was careful, his vowels wild and unrestrained.

Jack grinned. “I knew you’d come out and see me!” Jack wrapped his arm around Jasper’s waist and squeezed. Jasper leaned against him in the alley and they shared a deep kiss– something that felt odd but somewhat warming to witness. “Covered Tracks was the cat’s meow! It was you that always wanted to pretend we were bathing in milk and honey.”


Xanthe should have seen this coming. The Prohibition Museum bar, the tribute to my empire that they gave Capone all the credit for, then watching that Fitzgerald film, then going to a bonafide speakeasy? The genuine article, where you have to give a password and everything, in this century? They were asking for it. And if they weren’t, I wasn’t asking permission. “We were kings, Jack!” I said. “The crown princes of Chicago! Why hide it?”

“Oh, yes!” There Jack was, slipping into Irish again. He always made it thicker too, just to be funny. Or annoy me. Who knows? “God forbid we’re reminded of our homeland, eh? Not a pub! We have to have a lounge cast in gold in a criminal empire! We don’t want to be lookin’ like the fuckin’ potato-eaters we are, yeah?”

“Oh, you stop it this instant! You sound like you herd sheep!” It’d been so long since I heard his voice. Well, not his voice, seeing as he was borrowing the vocal chords of someone who sounded like a damn choir boy. But his tone, his turn-of-phrase, that crooked grin, that was all him.

There we were, reunited after all these goddamned years.

I was the first one to die, out of the two of us. That, I found out while we texted. Well, while Xanthe helped me text, anyway. I’d made it to 31, Jack made it to 40 before giving up. I asked him, say, why 40?

“It’s divisible by two,” he’d said.

Goddamn poet, isn’t he?

“Look at us, Jacky boy, a night on the town just like old times.” It was hard not to feel nervous in the arms of another man here on the open street. That wasn’t like old times.

Jack seemed to read my mind. “I wouldn’t get too comfortable. This is still south of the Mason-Dixon, ain’t it?”

“Phooey!” I shot back. “You know what else was past the Mason-Dixon line? New-fucking-Orleans. I tell you, anything went in that town. This place kind of seems like that, don’t you think?”

We went about joking and laughing in the alley. We walked around for a while before Jack said, “You know, I’m dying for a smoke.”

It was the most on the level idea I’d heard all night. I had to think a moment, consult the day-to-day life I’d spied on quite a few times, to try to see the modern world from my ghost’s eyes. “There’s a place called ‘Parker’s.’ It’d be open.”

We were beating our gums the entire walk, catching up. “Remember that time you drank the booze we used to preserve old Willie in the barrel?” “Remember when you were so blue that I filled an entire tub up with champagne? And you actually got in it?” “Remember when I was mad at you and put a corpse in your bed? And you snuggled with it?” “Remember when I cut out that broad’s heart for you and gave it to you in a jar after she turned on you?”

Then we were there, at a gas station. I was dying to get my hand on a cigarette, trying to see what it’d be like with Xanthe’s near-virgin lungs, and then–


“[Arkady]?” I was outside of Parker’s, suddenly. I’d been watching Jack and Jasper for only a while before time jumped forward. It was at least a half hour that’d gone by, from my calculation. It reminded me of all of those lost windows of time that I had back in 2016.

Arkady’s voice seemed far away, but it was back to being himself just from the sheer fact that I called his name. So used to channeling, as he was. He was asking me what I wanted at Parker’s.

The thought made me feel panicky. “I think I just want hangover food, actually,” I told him.

For some reason, I went to sit outside while he procured us some breakfast sandwiches. I felt… disoriented. Did I fake that, wanting so badly to channel like Arkady and Rowan? But why couldn’t I remember how I got here? Did I lose control? Was I like one of those baby witches fucking with Ouija boards? Fuck, Jasper was a murderer in his day. A literal gangster. Did I kill anyone on the way back?

Arkady joined me shortly afterwards, on one of the metal picnic table. “The guy with me in line actually gave me a cigarette!” He boasted.

Oh, right. Wasn’t there something about cigarettes?

I had the vague notion of having wanted one, but the thought didn’t make sense to me. I just felt a ghost of a jab, as if feeling distantly annoyed that he hadn’t thought to ask for one for me, but I’d never smoked a day in my life.

“Jack was so happy to see Jasper,” Arkady smiled. “At one point, Jasper called him ‘Jacky boy’ and Jack’s eyes just lit up. It was adorable!”

I wasn’t there for that part. I was trying to sort all of these sensations, chewing as if the breakfast sandwich might cure me, when an older gentleman sat with us at our table. Arkady explained that this was who gave him a cigarette.

We chatted pleasantly for a while, just making small-talk while trying to nurse tomorrow’s hangover in advance. It wasn’t unusual for Savannah locals to get overly friendly– I’d actually taken pains to explain to Arkady that this happened down in the south, and he was making an effort to be friendlier than his Rochesterian instincts first led him to–…

Oh, wait, no, he was being friendly.

And… speaking in a thick southern accent?

All these years later, I still have no idea what was going on. A headmate that appeared just that once? Arkady trying a little too hard to fit in in his drunk state? Asking him the next day, he also had no idea.

Anyway. It was a friendly encounter at first. The man sat down with us. He was babbling on about how he could tell we were gay, and how he had no problem with gay people getting married. “You two should get married,” he said, which had me choking on my sandwich and my face turning red. “You two look like a good gay couple. Some people have a problem with it and I don’t.”

I can’t really, really remember the specifics of what happened next. The man was on my side of the table, talking to Arkady. As he was complimenting us, he started rubbing the underside of my upper arm. In my already fragile state, the fact that he brushed my bound breast with the back of my hand was not ideal.

“Have either of you ever been with a guy like me?”

I’d stiffened. Bad touch, bad touch!

Granted, he thought I was a bloke, so probably wasn’t even aiming to brush against what he did, but. Still. It was around then that I started hinting that it was time to get back to the inn. Arkady assured me he was having fun chatting with his new friend and I felt increasingly perturbed by the situation.

Rowan started texting me, then. Just asking how things were going. I explained the situation– see, I had no reason to mistrust Rowan at this point…

Okay, I mean. They did sexually assault me back that same June but the people who have done that to me could form their own bowling league. I was essentially texting them to be like, “Hey, you’ve had this model of twink longer than I, and it seems to be malfunctioning, should I consult the manual?”

I forget Rowan’s reply. I’m pretty sure it was advice to text Arkady under the table that I wanted to go, and I believe that’s what I did. Either way, we were talking away from Parker’s and on the 10 minute walk back to the inn. Arkady was… assertively dismissive?

“There was nothing wrong with it,” he said, still in that unfamiliar southern accent. “I was just being friendly.”

“I’m not saying that was wrong,” I told him. “I just felt uncomfortable and wanted to go.”

It was odd how jovial he was. He was failing at reading the room on a bizarre level. And being someone who was so usually on my same page, I found this even more unsettling than anything else that’d happened. “I wouldn’t have let anything happen to you!”

“You realise the bloke touched me, right?” I pointed this out somewhat firmly, to try to snap him out of whatever state this was. “I dunno if he was trying to, but I had a bad feeling and was trying to get you to pick up on it. Rowan said to text you, and I think that worked, but the whole thing feels like one missed high-five.”

Arkady went silent.

Once we’d returned to my own flat, I was undressing with the intent of putting on pyjamas. Arkady reached for me, to try and hug me, then paused with his arms outstretched. “Is… Is it okay?”

I frowned. I didn’t think I’d snapped at him that hard. “Yeah, love, it’s fine. Like it wasn’t inordinately traumatising or anything, I just wanted to let you know why I wanted to leave.” I realised I could feel him trembling as we hugged. He went to sit down on my chaise. “It’s not a huge deal, but he was talking about if we’d ever been with someone his age and all, and I wasn’t quite up to that sort of scene tonight.”

I was babbling– I think I ended up changing the subject to some of the more happier aspects of the evening. “I think Jasper and Jack really enjoyed seeing each other.” “I damn-near thought you were going to leave with that Swedish bloke tonight.” “The food at the Pirate House was brilliant. I don’t think I expected it to be that good.”

Arkady wasn’t responding. I turned to him and realised with a start that tears were silently running down his face. “Woah! Fuck, are you okay? [Arkady]?”

“I want to go back to the Tree Top Suite,” Arkady said tonelessly.

“Sure, but. Love, if I said something, I do want to make it right,” I was kneeling in front of him now, stroking through his hair.

Arkady stared straight ahead, not even seeming to see me. “I want to go back to the Tree Top Suite.”

“Darling, are you alright? I’m sorry if it seemed like I was snapping at you, I–”

“I want to go back to the Tree Top Suite.”

Okay, message received. I led him back down the sidewalk, five narrow buildings down, to the Tree Top Suite. It was hardly a moment after I’d shut the door behind me when Arkady burst into sobs, shaking violently. I led him into bed just to hold him. “You were texting Rowan?” He asked, as if I’d turned him over to the feds rather than texting his partner.

“Yeah? Love, I wasn’t like… complaining about you or anything, they’d texted me first!” I too was sensitive about being talked about. Thank you, Narcissism.

“I’m so sorry,” he wept. I squeezed him tighter. This was a breakdown, a bad breakdown. He was apologising, desperately, for ever having put myself into the situation at Parker’s. Despite me trying to explain that it wasn’t that big a deal, he was certain that I wouldn’t ever be able to go back to Parker’s without being traumatised.

“Love, I had my ribs cracked about three blocks from there,” I said, it being my turn to misread the room. “I once witnessed someone die within a square mile. The city is full of ghosts for me.”

Then he was apologising for ruining the entire night– which, he hadn’t. Not at all. I had no idea where this was coming from. Because I’d never lived with Rowan.

The breakdown then takes a different turn because then he fears for my life. “I’m going to leave and you’re going to die,” he cried. “I’m scared, I don’t know what will become of you.”

“Riddle me this, you Enochian fuck! If a tree falls in a forest and said tree never fucking existed in the first place, does it make a sound?” 

I’m… still apt to disbelieve paranormal explanations to this day, but that was his exact wording. ‘I’m going to leave and you’re going to die.’

Huh. Maybe he was even mourning, in that moment, what he would do to me. Perhaps doing all of the caring in lieu of his future self. But at the time, I’d figured that this was due to him getting on a train the following day. I told him, no, I’d be sad, but I wasn’t going to die from it. I wanted this week to last forever, but there would be others like this.

Then Rowan calls me. They hadn’t heard from me in a while after the odd Parker’s incident, so I suppose it was reasonable they’d want an update. I think my reply was basically, ‘Hey, we’re back at the inn, safe, [Arkady]’s having a bad breakdown but we’re safe and it’s under control.’

I do remember one of the questions Rowan replied with was how much Arkady drank, which actually did strike a sour chord with me at the moment.

Arkady took a good few minutes to realise what was going on. After he saw that I’d hung up, he asked, fearfully, “You called Rowan?”

“No. No, Love, they called me. They wanted to know what was going on?”

Then the conversation takes a turn that startled me then and breaks my goddamn heart in retrospect. Arkady started begging me not to send him away or call the police on him. That lasted a good while. I was assuring him, fervently, that I wouldn’t fucking do that, that he’d done nothing even close to warranting that. Then, he tearfully begs me to take him back.

He thought I’d broken up with him, or threatened to.

Arkady couldn’t listen to me as I told him, ‘No, Love, I haven’t broken up with you. I never would.’ I was holding him as tightly as it was possible to hold another human being, as if trying to squeeze the anguish out of him.

“Please take me back… I’m so sorry.”

I’m actually starting to shake upon writing this. See, I’d taken extensive notes about that night because the last chunk of it had baffled me so. I wrote down his exact wording, what happened when the break occurred. I couldn’t make much sense of it. But– scroll up.

I’d mentioned Rowan knowing about the situation, right before Arkady fell silent.

And I think about his specific fears– of being left, of being sent away, of ruining an entire good night with one mishap.

And if you ever wonder why I mourn you instead of hating you, well, because I fucking listen.

I didn’t know it at the time. I couldn’t have fucking known it at the time, but I was seeing then what five years of dating Rowan goddamn Janiszewski had done to Arkady.

He slowly settled down, finally falling asleep in my arms. I remember spending a lot of that night terrified, that maybe I’d fall asleep and he’d get up and get into his pills or something. He hadn’t threatened it, but it’s the first scenario my suicide-scorched mind tends to reach for in any given situation. I tried to wake him at one point– hilariously, I saw his hand extend back towards me with his index finger up, as if to indicate, ‘Wait a second’, then he just–… falls back asleep.

He did this twice.

I figured that meant he was alright.

The next day was his long-dreaded departure date. We theorised then that the breakdown may have been because this was the last day, and that he didn’t want to leave me. “I do have episodes like that, from time to time… It’s part of why a lot of people find me hard to deal with,” he admitted.

I’d frowned at him. “Love, if those are your demons, I’d just want to try to fight them with you.” Hell, at least his demons never threatened to kill my friends.

After Arkady arrived home, he called me and explained a theory of his. See, he hadn’t remembered telling me that I was going to die, but the fact that he did raised some concern, as he considered himself clairvoyant. “Well, AJ’s coming to see you next month,” he explained. “Considering their uh… mental state–” Their own private line to the suicide hotline, yes– “I’m worried that’ll be kind of their last hurrah and they might kill themselves after. And that could break you…”

That ended up being wrong on all fronts. If AJ had, it wouldn’t have broken me.

Losing AJ wouldn’t have been enough to kill me. They certainly weren’t, in the end. But you, my dear?

Your vision wasn’t wrong.

It didn’t mean that AJ didn’t try, though.