My writing and art! Main @cjadewyton and polished work on @jade-wyton
‘What was their name, Q?’ Coi’Lili lent heavier on the fence, leaning forward so he could look Jaisa in the eye. ‘You are smiling now.’
‘Its name is Batni.’
‘Yes, that’s its pronouns,’ Jaisa responded, a humoured snort escaping through xer gills. ‘We don’t all use xie and them, you know. The whole point is we’re not some sort of binary. He, she, fae, hir, sie, ve, its. … There’s hundreds of options. Xie and them are just common and easy to use in front of land-dwellers, that’s all.’
‘I see,’ Coi’Lili gave a nod and ruffled his feathers. ‘And xie is what you prefer, Q? There is nothing else, Q? Because if there is something else I am more than happy to use it for you.’
‘Yeah, nah,’ Jaisa shrugged. ‘Xie is fine. I don’t think you could pronounce my pronouns in Seces.’
‘I am part avio, my sweet lovely one,’ Coi’Lili responded. ‘And I have my speaker. I would be able to pronounce anything. Maybe even better than you.’
Jaisa let out another gill-snort before turning to Coi’Lili. ‘Alright,’ xie said. ‘Try this one, then.’
A short whistle came from xer gills, echoing like it was being whistled twice as xie opened and closed xer mouth. Then xie clamped xer gills gown down with a wet slapping noise and grinned.
‘That is your pronoun, Q?’ he opened his mouth and the noise echoed out of him, perfectly mimicked. ‘That is not to hard to say, my dear.’
‘Works as both personal and possessive,’ xie said. ‘But I doubt the wolvens around here could pronounce it without bordering on offencive, so I prefer to just use xie and xer on land.’
‘If that is your wish, I will respect it,’ Coi’Lili gave xer a gentle nod. ‘But if you change your mind do not hesitate to let me know. It is nothing hard for me and I am more than happy to do it.’
‘Thanks,’ Jaisa replied, resting xer chin on the fence and staring into the pond longingly. After a moment xie eyed Coi’Lili. ‘Do you think I would get in trouble?’
‘For your pronouns, Q?’ he gasped. ‘Oh, no no no! Queen Distro would never allow that!’
‘I meant if I jumped into the pond,’ Jaisa clarified. ‘Do you think I would get into trouble if I went for a swim?’
‘I think if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that Gavin likes food regardless of flavour,’ Dale joked. ‘I think he’d eat clay if you’d let him.’
‘He used to,’ Talia replied, the edge gone from her voice. ‘He didn’t grow out of it until he was eight. Eight years old and he was eating dirt.’
‘To be fair, I think I can recall you doing the same!’
‘Oh please; it was the worms I was interested in, not the dirt.’
From Ka'harja's Journey, chapter 6
‘You gonna get dressed?’ Ka’harja scoffed. ‘Or at least dry off?’
‘Nah, I’m alright!’ Distro grinned, starting back towards the camp. ‘I’ll just drip-dry.’
Ka’harja watched the two mothers leave with Little Demon. They talked happily between themselves; like old friends who’d known each other for years. Ka’harja felt almost jealous that Dena and his mother had bonded so quickly in the past month. Especially when he considered the cold looks Dena gave him.
He shook his head. It wasn’t Dena’s fault; she’d lived with Kay’oten for … who knows how long? He could only imagine what she saw when she looked at him. He thought it must be for her like it was for him when he was young, and first saw himself in a mirror. … That horrible, familiar face that wasn’t quite his parents’ but close enough to make him sick.
He sighed. He just had to be patient with Dena until she saw him as himself, and not a reminder of the Heck’ne.
‘That’s not fair,’ Stars mumbled, swimming up next to Ka’harja. ‘Everyone gets to be naked except for me.’
‘You’re naked now,’ he pointed out.
Little Demon's first word.
Little Demon gave a gurgle, and Ka’harja laughed and pulled him back against his chest.
‘Hah, idiot,’ Ka’harja teased. ‘That’s what you are, aren’t you? Stupid!’
‘F. ... Flu!
‘That’s a new noise,’ snickering, Ka’harja adjusted the wiggling infant until he was more comfortable. ‘You trying to say flowers? Flowers. Can you say that?’
‘F. ... Fuck.’
Ka’harja felt his blood ice over.
Oh Eighth Child of the Ninth.
‘Uh, right,’ Ka’harja smacked his lips together and stood straight. ‘Right. Right. Baku? Baku!’
Baku stuck his head out of the caravan he’d disappeared into. ‘Yeah?’
‘Hold this for me,’ he didn’t wait for a response before thrusting Little Demon info Baku’s arms. ‘I have to— I gotta go.’
‘Ka’harja!’ Baku called back loudly as Ka’harja disappeared around a corner. ‘Hey! No! Stars asked you to look after him! I’m busy! Sken said. ... BY THE GODDESS KA’HARJA WHAT DID TOU DO TO HIM?’
Elli, a Canis diplomat, married one of Konde's princes to help make a peace treaty. Then she goes and screws it up by having an affair with the prince of Canis. Needless to say, it's a drama that causes a very serious meeting between the two kingdoms.
Distro, though, knows how to diffuse a room.
Nirine stared at her son in disbelief as her court muttered disapprovingly. Elli could feel their gazes boring into her. As well as the gazes of the Canis diplomats. The only eyes she could see that didn’t look like daggers were Ykelt’s— And Distro’s.
Distro was shaking her head, but her gaze was soft and forgiving. Then she took a deep breath and addressed the room. ‘He’s right, and I’m willing to forgive you, Nirine.’
‘You— Excuse me?’
The room began to mutter, and Elli was stunned. What?
‘I’m willing to forgive you, for the actions of your daughter-in-law,’ Distro clarified, grinning widely. ‘She seduced my grandson, you see. And now we’re caught in this slurry of political drama. And I just want you to know I forgive you. And I especially forgive your son for not keeping her satisfied— If you know what I mean!’
The comical wink Distro gave made the room fall silent.
Then Sensin’s mother laughed, and shook her head. ‘You forgive him for. ... Oh, Distro! Oh, Goddess, Distro.’
‘Ah, yeah, I didn’t think those two got along much,’ Ka’harja replied. ‘Did something happen between them?’
Coff shook his head. ‘N-No. They just— They just— Just—‘
‘Just don’t get along?’ Ka’harja offered.
Coff bit his lip and nodded. ‘Y-Yea—’
‘—HAH!’ Distro’s laugh cut in from above, and the boys turned to see her, Denni, and Dena staring down at them from the top of the hill. ‘GAAAAY!’
‘THAT’S THE POINT!’ Ka’harja shouted back as his mother began her way down towards him. ‘Aw, no, what does she want— THIS IS A PRIVATE CONVERSATION! GO AWAY!’
‘YOU SKIPPED BREAKFAST!’ Distro pointed to Denni, who brandished a loaf of bread high above her head. ‘BUT IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE UNGRATEFUL, THEN FINE! DENNI?’
The loaf of bread sailed in a perfect arc through the air and Ka’harja didn’t have time to respond before it hit him full in the face.
‘Ow!’ Ka’harja exclaimed, dramatically motioning from his face to the bread. ‘Seriously? SERIOUSLY?’
‘LOVE YOU!’ his mother called back. Then she headed back up the hill and put an arm around each of her friends, leading them both back towards camp.
‘Gods! I swear! Sometimes she’s just— UGH!’ Ka’harja flopped onto his back and gave a groan. ‘Sorry about her.’
?? Apparently I didn't post this?? Coz I was like "Oh I'll reblog my book's cover!" but can't seem to find it on any of my blogs *raspberry noises*
Ka'harja's Journey is the first book in my series, Don't Lose Hope. I'm 80k+ words into the public version of it, and still have a lot more to go! It's a passion project that's completely free and can be found on my world-building website, demrefor.com! It contains some adult content & sensitive topics, though, so be aware of that if you choose to check it out!
‘Hey, I know someone else who knows Trish—’ Dale quickly stepped away, and Talia and Tiffany were left giggling together until he came back with Zoey. ‘This is Zoey, she went to … uni? With Trish. Zoe, this is Tiffany. She’s a friend of mine, and I also found out she’s friends with Trish.’
‘You gay?’ Zoey asked, so suddenly that Dale choked on his drink.
‘Bit bisexual, yeah.’
‘Girls in suits, am I right?’
‘Consider, girls in summer dresses.’
‘Girls in leather jackets are pretty great.’
‘I have a leather jacket.’
They fist-bumped, and then walked off together, chatting.
‘Hey— No, no!’ Ka’harja leapt to his feet and raised his hands defensively. ‘You guys can’t bully me!’ ‘Crock!’ Distro gave a wicked grin and made to stand up. ‘We can absolutely bully you!’ ‘NO!’ Ka’harja didn’t mean for it to come out as a shriek, but the entire room had taken cue from his mother and suddenly advanced on him— And he was only half out the door before he felt his mother leap onto his back and whoop like she was taming a wild horse. He nearly slipped down the last step as her weight slammed into him and stumbled along the damp grass for a minute before Distro’s arms wrapped around his face and he couldn’t see where he was going. ‘Git ‘im, Distro!’ ‘No! Stop getting me!’ Ka’harja exclaimed. Then he tripped and fell, the weight on his back pulling him down sideways. ‘Aw, FUCK!’ Distro exclaimed as Ka’harja landed on her. ‘Elbow— ELBOW!’ Ka’harja rolled off her and she let out a gasp, gripping her stomach and rolling over to catch her breath. ‘Y’kay, Distro?’ Denni called. ‘Yeah, fine,’ Distro replied. ‘Serves you right,’ Ka’harja joked, rolling to his feet and offering his mother a hand. ‘I’m a sensitive boy, you know!’ Right as he said it he met eyes with Coff, and felt like an idiot. But then Coff smiled and he felt a little less like an idiot. … And then his mother yanked him onto the ground again and started sticking her fingers in his ears, and the shriek he let out made him feel stupider than ever. ‘Let me go!’ he cried. ‘I’m fragile! I’M FRAGILE!’ ‘Crock!’ Distro retorted before making a throaty snort— And Ka’harja screamed as spit made its way down the back of his neck. ‘DISGUSTING!’ his voice rose so high it hurt his ears. ‘YOU’RE DISGUSTING!’ ‘You’re the one with spit on you.’ ‘Get off me!’ wiggling as much as he could, Ka’harja managed to escape his mother’s grip and fled through the caravans towards the river. He couldn’t hear her following him and he slowed as he made it to the incline, turning to see nobody behind him. ‘Oh, thank the Eighth child of the Ninth,’ he breathed, stumbling down the hill. Then he slipped and tumbled the whole way down before splashing into the river with another loud cry.
Sooo I'm writing up summaries for Don't Lose Hope, to show how all the books are supposed to flow together. I'm only about halfway done, but have been on it for about 2 hours, so I'm gonna stop it there for now. Will edit this post and reblog it again once I finish! I've added up to book 12.5, and only have 6 more summaries to go!
There's going to be 2 reading orders for the series; main series order, and chronological order. Main series order skips all the middle books (x.5) and focuses on major plot points, while chronological order includes a book between every other book that are not needed to understand what's going on, but will provide more content, character backstories, and less-plot related events.
2,400 words / cw for dark themes
Book 1.5 - The Runaways Sister book to the 1st book; from Stars’ perspective. Happens along the same time-line as book 1 but gives a different perspective to similar concepts.
Book 2 - The Self-Feeders Ka’harja, now living with his grandparents, finds out he is royalty. This book puts Distro in the position of heir to the throne, which leads onto future books. It also shows the difference between the “everyday” life of Sentients, and the life of royalty. Introduces a few more basic concepts that were missed in book 1, including old gods and illnesses. It also shows something is up with a newly-emerged cult group, and how severe their attacks on the world are becoming.
Book 2.5 - Untitled Focuses mainly on Ta’lak and Timamisa, and how they met and decided to find Stars. It shows as the nurlak are recovering from the effects of the self-feeding sickness. You also find out Cor’Bala almost died during the outbreak.
Book 3 - Prince Nigelle Ka’harja is now the heir of the Canis throne, after his heroics in book 2. Though it’s mainly character-based it introduces a few final base world concepts and starts the study of soulstone. Reveals Kay’oten as the leader of the terror cult as Lah’kort comes back from the dead and murders Ka’harja and his grandfather, starting a war between Canis and Sapious.
Book 3.5 - Untitled From the POV of a Sapious human who worked in the king’s palace when Lah’kort took over. Detailing the horrible things that happen at the castle that lead the king to abandoning it after Ka’harja’s murder.
Book 4 - Stars of Self-Discovery Distro learns about her father and son’s deaths, and is the heir by default after her mother’s suicide. In grief, Distro steals the old god’s fallen stars and flees into the Canis wilderness, intending to use the stars to contact Ka’harja. She’s followed by Stars, however, who keeps her from secluding herself completely and eventually convinces her to go to Lah’kort’s castle and defeat the spirit.
Book 4.5 - The Harpy Bride A prequel book to book 5 that shows how Toro met his wife and started his family. If read chronologically, it’s intention is to make us question our perceptions of the Har’py culture, and we learn alongside the characters about the past corruption that Heck’ne has been through. If read after reading book 5, it gives more information on the morals we’re made to question in that book.
Book 5 - The Canis Guard A few hundred years after Distro is crowned queen, book 5 follows the life of one of her personal guards, Toro. The main focus of this book is to show the changes to the world due to the constant state of war, and also throw away our previous understanding of the Heck’ne and Har’py culture and force us to reconsider our initial misconceptions of there being an inherently “evil” race by showing the issues presented in the previous books were not the norm of the culture but a few specific people leaning into the racist propaganda against the Heck’ne to get away with vile behaviour. Distro makes an alliance with Heck’ne’s Prophet. This book also shows Kay’oten is still recruiting people to try and fight Distro. Ends with Toro being captured as a prisoner of war.
Book 5.5 - Untitled This book is about Toro’s family as they get older and recover from the loss of their father/husband/friend. The main focus is Coski meeting Apple’Cloud and it is supposed to be a funner book, but it also covers some of the issues that come up with Krish and his grief.
Book 6 - A Necklace and a Lullaby This book follows Toro’s young daughter, Lua’ana, after Ell’ian is murdered by a group of Distro’s guards on her way home from work. Lua’ana is saved by a group of teenage thieves who are in the middle of a large score and take cover in an old house. Overnight, Lua’ana’s memories are stolen by Kay’oten, who starts to groom her into being one of her cult members and filling her head with hate for Distro. As this happens Lua’ana, now Luana, becomes a member of the group of thieves and makes a rivalry with the dassen girl Marias. Ell’ian is haunting her daughter the entire time and trying to guide her away from Kay’oten’s manipulation.
Book 6.5 - Untitled Luana growing up, bonding with Mairas, and constantly being on the cusp of finding her family but never quite getting there. Focuses on introducing a few of the Sentient races that haven’t been introduced yet, and showing pieces of their culture. Shows that she’s susceptible to Kay’oten’s manipulation and has started to commit crimes against Distro.
Book 7 - The Thief and the Witch Focuses on Luana as a young adult. Kay’oten’s manipulation is getting worse and has stuck with Luana, and there is a plan to murder Distro. This plan goes wrong when Ell’ian stops Luana. Kay’oten turns her anger on the thieves and attempts to kill Luana and all of her friends. Only a few of them survive, and flee to the streets. Eventually they are taken in by the Taruntan family, who are later revealed to be close with Queen Distro and accidentally reintroduce Luana and the queen. After some misunderstanding, Distro takes Luana on as a guard trainee and the two learn to trust each other.
Book 7.5 - Homeland, Not Home Ell’ian’s book, Homeland not Home. It carries on directly from the end of the previous book, when Luana and Brandon start to read the book. Includes her poetry, and is a rather unconventional book in the series.
Book 8 - Untitled Luana has risen through the ranks of Distro’s guard and become the highest ranking officer in Distro’s army. She takes on an old girlfriend as a trainee and, without realising it, is also given command over her nephew. This book focuses more on the war than previous books, and starts to lead onto the war’s resolution. However, Luana goes off on her own and is captured by the human king. As the book ends she’s set to be tortured for information. It’s also revealed what happened to Toro.
Book 8.5 - Untitled About one of the guards Luana met when captured. She told him to find Mairas and ask for shelter, and he takes his family and tries to find safety. He misses Mairas but finds a different general, who brings him to Canis and helps him and his children be safe.
Book 9 - Lost and Found This book focuses on Mairas, after Luana’s been lost in the war. The first part focuses on Mairas using her grief for Luana as her drive for continuing to fight, and once Luana is returned the book slows down in pace and the girls leave the army to aid Luana’s recovery. Many issues from previous books begin to resolve at this point, such as Luana being reunited with her family and finding out about her past. Both Luana and Mairas have children near the end of the book, both under less-than-ideal circumstances. After their birth Mairas rejoins the army and fights in the war again.
Book 9.5 - Untitled This book takes place during the time skip between book 9 and 10. It’s about Mairas’ children, Linzor and Keeyata, and their childhood. Mairas is pretty absent as she’s constantly going back and forth between her children and the war. It shows the abuse Keeyata goes through from her father and Linzor, and how much trouble her mother is having protecting her. It also introduces soulbinding and shows the relationships between Mairas and Luana’s children.
Book 10 - Untitled Mostly about Mairas’ return to the army to fight in the war. Showcases Mairas and Luana’s children as young adults, and starts the setup for the focus to shift onto them. The Canis is making progress on winning the war with Sapious. However, news comes that there are issues arising within the Heck’ne. The alliance that Distro and the old Prophet made is broken when it’s found Heck’ne has started kidnapping people. They don’t have too much time to address this though, as Mairas is given the opportunity to take down the Sapious royal family. She kills the king, but can’t bring herself to kill his (too-young) wife and infant son (Jared) and instead rescues them and brings them back to Canis. The king’s wife gives up Jared, who Elli adopts as her own, and returns to her family. A plan is made among Canis and the allied kingdoms to return Sapious’ land to Jared once he is of age, if he proves he can be a good and moral leader. There is a celebration of the end of the war, and Mairas is asked to be a speaker. During this celebration she feels ill, and Linzor takes her away from the crowds. She’s set on edge by Linzor’s behaviour in the last scene, but the reader is not shown the resolution.
Book 10.5 - A Dassen in the Heck’ne One of the darker-themed books in the series, this book focuses on a new character, Scaychie, and her strong determination to see the best in people. It opens in a dassen settlement with Scaychie and her husband Taldurl relaxing and excited about having their second child. There is mention of a storm being an omen, and a close friend of theirs passing away and leaving her daughter orphaned. As they talk their settlement is attacked by a group of harpies and Scaychie and her husband are separated as Taldurl takes their firstborn to safety and Scaychie fights off the attackers. She’s captured by the harpies and forced across the ocean to the Heck’ne where she meets the Prophet Ali’ka, who gives her to Linzor as a wife. It is now the full extent of Linzor’s actions comes to light. Throughout this book we learn that Keeyata, Ali’ka, Ali’ka’s son Tru’man, and several other characters are all being manipulated by Linzor on behalf of Kay’oten. Scaychie, though physically powerless against Linzor, is able to become respected among the Har’py people and struggles to protect herself, her friends, and the innocent Heck’nerians that are threatened by Linzor’s lust for power. She even seems to help guide the paranoid Ali’ka into being a better ruler, before the Prophet dies in an almost-accident that gives Linzor almost complete power of the Heck’ne through the kind-hearted but gullible Tru’man. We also learn that Linzor murdered his mother and has plans to murder Distro.
Book 11 - Political Engagement This book takes us to Luana’s daughter, Elli, during a messy breakup with her boyfriend (and heir to the Canis throne) Ykelt. We learn that Mairas has died, as she was poisoned at the dinner celebrating the end of the war, but nobody knows who did it. Then, Elli is in an near-fatal accident where she meets Ka’harja’s spirit. Ka’harja tries to tell her of Kay’oten’s plans but is cut off as Elli is revived. All Elli knows is that Kay’oten is planning on causing a war between the allied countries and the wolven kingdom Konde. Elli tells Distro of this plan, and Distro seeks to create alliance with Konde to prevent the war. Elli offers herself up as a bride to one of the Konde princes, to help make the alliance appear more credible to other kingdoms. There is a lot of personal drama in this book, such as Elli having an affair with her sister’s husband, but a lot less action than the previous books. This book will feel very different depending on if it is read in series order or chronological order. If read chronologically, Linzor’s actions and manipulations are more obvious. If read in series order, he comes off as an unpleasant creep whose wife hates him, but the full extend of his dangerous actions remains unknown.
Book 11.5 - Untitled A fun book of Jared’s travels throughout the world. Introduces species and cultures that haven’t been featured very heavily.
Book 12 - Two Years Focusing on Linzor’s young son, Centela, this book shows series-order readers just how terrible Linzor is, and cements Linzor’s actions for those reading chronologically. Centela and Elli’s daughter Mingan are being encouraged to becomes friends, with the plan of having them marry in the future. This is done under the guise of creating an alliance between Heck’ne and Konde, but a few select characters know that Linzor’s intentions are far more sinister. It goes back and forth between Heck’ne and Konde from the perspective of a child who thinks of Heck’ne as his home, and of Konde as a terrifying new and different land. Centela’s sibling-relationships with Prophet Tru’man’s children are shown, and we learn a lot more about Heck’ne culture and honour. In the end Centela and Mingan agree to marry, and Linzor leaves Centela to be raised in Konde under Elli’s care.
Book 12.5 - Glow-Glow This book follows the perspective of a character only mentioned in previous books, Linyata (nicknamed Glow-Glow). Linyata is a dassen/seces girl who grew up alongside Scaychie’s firstborn daughter, Jolanti, after Scaychie was taken to Heck’ne. Linyata’s horns have started to grow in, and so in dassen tradition she leaves her home settlement. She decides to look for her biological father, and after a series of events manages to find him. Her father introduces her to a valenor, who helps her contact her late mother’s spirit. Alongside her father and the valenor she meets a felinic man and his adopted son, Hiroson— Who she discovers was Scaychie’s second born, saved from Heck’ne by the felinic and raised on stories of his mother’s strength. Linyata takes Hiroson to meet his biological father. Upon returning to her home settlement, Linyata is greeted by a tearful Jolanti, who admits her romantic feelings for her friend and begs her not to leave again.
Swear I posted this before but I can't find it, so I guess not.
Early draft of a fight between Elli and Sensin, after Sensin finds out about the affair with Ykelt (but before Elli realises she's pregnant). Sensin's not usually an angry person, but he's feeling very hurt and betrayed in this scene.
‘What’s happened?’ she asked, putting a hand on Elli’s shoulder.
‘I’m a horrible person, that’s what happened,’ Elli sobbed. ‘He doesn’t deserve someone as terrible as me.’
Before the young girl could reply, Sensin’s feet met the floor with a thump and he marched over to his wife. The woman backed away as he snapped at Elli.
‘I’m tired of this! You made a choice!’ he hissed. ‘I trusted you! You were my closest friend— And look what you did to me!’
‘I’m sorry,’ Elli flopped limply on the couch, drained before she’d even gotten up. ‘I didn’t think. … It’s been so hard. … I feel like I’ve lost everything—’
‘—I’ve made just as many sacrifices for this marriage as you have!’ Sensin snapped. ‘I try and try and try to make you happy, but it’s just not good enough for you, is it? Is it!’
Elli buried her face in the couch and started sobbing violently as Sensin continued.
‘I was the twelfth son of the king! I could have had any life I wanted— But I gave up my dreams to serve my people! And you know what, you haven’t ever asked what I wanted to do! What I lost from all of this! You’ve been too wrapped up in your own misery to even consider that this has been just as hard for me as it has for you! I mean, do you even know anything about me? My favourite food? My favourite colour? Do you remember what I wore on our first date?’
Elli didn’t reply. She just kept her face buried in the worn fabric and sniffled.
‘Would you even care if I died?’
The door shut behind the servant with a hurried bang, and Sensin flinched, seeming to realise how quiet the silence was in comparison to his yelling.
‘If you would just learn instead of making the same mistakes over and over, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,’ he said softly. ‘I’m sorry I’m so angry, though I think I have the right to be. I want to try and fix this. Fix us. But I can’t if you don’t try as well.’
Elli sniffed. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Being sorry doesn’t make it better,’ Sensin sighed.
Elli knew he was right. She knew. And he hated it.
She hated herself.
‘I’m sorry,’ she didn’t mean to say it. But they were the only words she could find.
A slow, sad breath found its way out of Sensin; his entire body seemed to deflate for a second and he collapsed against the back of the chair.
Neither said anything as the silence lingered between them, and Elli had to hold back the tears as she scanned her belongings on the floor beside her— All of them, she realised, had been gifts from Sensin. … Every single thing.
He’d spoilt her. So much. And she’d ruined him like everything else she touched.
‘I know,’ Sensin replied, letting an arm fall over the couch so the tips of his fingers brushed Elli’s ear. ‘I know.’
Elli closed her eyes as his hand slowly moved away from her, and she almost flinched when she felt him lift her legs and slide under her so he could sit with her on the chair. He ran a hand over one of her talons —which she resisted the urge to withdraw— and rested the other gingerly on her hip.
She felt guilty. And not just for the affair.
He was right.
She knew nothing about him. She didn’t have an answer to a single one of his questions. His favourite food? Favourite colour?
She’d tried to learn them. She had.
But her memory. … Her head. … She couldn’t think of them, as stupid a person she was.
She squeezed her eyes tighter, trying to think.
Blue was all she remembered. Blue lace. And a flower not-quite-hiding a hole in a ripped breast pocket.
‘Your blue suit,’ she managed.
‘The one with the hole in the pocket. You wore that on our first date. I think. Did you?’
She felt him squeeze her talon, running his thumb along one of the toes as he pushed the tension out of her muscles. ‘Yes. I did. I— I shouldn’t have. … It’s okay that you don’t remember things. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I implied that. … That. …’
Elli sniffed back the last of her tears and wiped her eyes. ‘Are you angry at me?’
‘Yes,’ Sensin’s voice was scarcely a whisper.
‘Do you still love me?’
‘Of course I do,’ his voice was louder now. But still soft. ‘Do you … still love me?’
Elli finally looked at him and her sore, red eyes met his. ‘I think so. I think that’s why it hurts so much.’
‘I’m sorry that I ruined us.’
‘Come to bed, Elli.’
Elli shook her head. ‘I don’t deserve it.’
‘Elli,’ both of Sensin’s hands were on her talon, now. ‘Please. I can’t sleep without you.’
This is pretty long, but I'm very happy with it! It's actually from a published chapter, so if you want to read the whole thing properly formatted you can find the series HERE.
Ka'harja's had an awkward day. Annanyn offers to sit with him so he can have a break, and accidentally tells him her entire life story.
He nearly jumped out of his skin as Annanyn put a hand on his back.
Great Star! Could he not go anywhere in this place without someone trying to talk to him?
‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ he lied. ‘Just … thinking.’
‘About Coff?’ Annanyn asked.
‘Wh— What makes you think that?’
‘I saw you two talking. It looked awkward,’ she gave him a sympathetic smile and readjusted Little Demon in her arms— Ka’harja had almost missed the tiny little lad until he’d let out a tired murmur.
‘Hey, you little fucker,’ Ka’harja couldn’t help bending down and smooching the boy’s nose.
‘Don’t call him that!’ Annanyn gasped, quickly planting her own kisses over the baby. ‘You’re not a swear-word! You’re a brave little man!’
Ka’harja couldn’t help but giggle. ‘I mean, I’m not good with kids, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay to swear in front of a one-month-old. He’s not going to repeat it!’
‘You’re right, you’re not good with kids,’ Annanyn scoffed. When she was done rolling her eyes her smile returned, creasing her chubby cheeks against her eyes in a cheeky grin as she gave her fins a happy flick. ‘I’m so lucky Stars is letting me look after him. I can’t wait to adopt my own little cutie!’
‘Right, coz you’re gay!’ Ka’harja blurted. ‘I mean— Well yeah. … Because of that.’
He was glad Annanyn had a sense of humour.
‘Yes,’ she giggled. ‘Unless the gods put a child in me, I really doubt it’s going to happen any other way.’
‘Right,’ Ka’harja coughed. ‘So. … How is Sken? I haven’t seen her all day.’
‘Busy,’ Annanyn replied, her shoulders sagging as she sighed. ‘I haven’t seen her much, either.’
‘Sounds lonely,’ he wasn’t sure if he should put a hand on her shoulder? Maybe. … Oh gods why was she so sticky?
Ka’harja remembered she was a seces at the last moment, and swallowed the sick feeling that her slimy skin left in his chest.
This was a mistake. But he couldn’t just take his hand away, now.
Maybe a quick pat?
Was that enough pats?
Maybe he should. …
That seemed about right.
‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ Annanyn asked carefully. ‘You don’t seem okay.’
‘I’m fine,’ he repeated his lie, though this time it came out a little less confident. And this time, it was obvious Annanyn didn’t believe him.
‘Would you like to come sit with me?’ she offered. ‘In my caravan. I have to double check the books —stock and stuff— and it’d be nice to have some company. We don’t have to talk or anything.’
‘Uh, sure,’ Ka’harja liked the idea of that. Just quietly blending into the background was when he felt most comfortable.
Annanyn nodded and then, as if to prove she wasn’t going to bother him by talking, turned around without another word and began her way back to her private caravan.
She held the door open for Ka’harja, who wasn’t sure if his quiet thank-you was heard. But he was too embarrassed to repeat himself and instead plopped himself down on the floor next to the bathtub-bed and rubbed the tense muscles in his neck.
Annanyn took her place at a small, book-covered desk that resembled Coff’s and began carefully moving stacks of paper from a nearby shelf onto her workspace.
Ka’harja felt … awkward, sitting in silence. He knew Annanyn had said they didn’t have to talk but he— He actually sort of wanted to talk to her? He couldn’t believe it. Just a month ago if she’d come over he’d have retreated into the pantry and hidden away to avoid conversation. Now he had the urge to start a conversation with her. …
Would it be rude to talk while she was working? Should he say something or should he keep quiet?
He watched her scribble away for a few minutes before finally deciding to say something.
‘That’s a lot of math,’ he offered. ‘I’m not too good at math. I know that’s not the best thing to hear from an alchemist but. … Uh. … I’ve just never been able to sit down and focus long enough to figure it out. You know?’
‘Oh, yes, I understand completely!’ Annanyn’s excited tone reassured Ka’harja he’d made the right choice as she turned in her chair and raised her gills. ‘I used to be terrible at it! So terrible my parents actually considered sending me to the Gallamor to study! But luckily for me, while my surrogate was looking into it my genitor got offered a job in Dr’oy, and they forgot about it during the move. I wasn’t going to remind them, so I was spared. Until I got fired from my first job for math-related reasons. Then my surrogate lost xer mind! Xie started talking about sending me to boarding school again, so I faked a job offer from a company in Canis La’Can. I’d say it was a mistake, because that place was cold, but I met Sken there, so not really. And— And. … I’ve been talking for a while, haven’t I?’
‘Keep going,’ Ka’harja grinned. ‘How’d you and Sken meet? I want to hear it!’
The look on Annanyn’s face was well worth the high-pitch scree that escaped her gills as she continued, ‘Well, I met Sken a few weeks after moving to La’Can! I was looking for a place to stay, but not many people wanted to give board to a sixteenth-eclipser without a job— And not many places wanted to give a job to someone without a mailing address. So I … may have stolen a few wallets and tried to fake being a lady called Luronne.’
Ka’harja was so shocked he almost laughed. He couldn’t believe Annanyn had ever broken the law! She always seemed so sweet! But here she was, lying to her parents, running away from home, stealing wallets and— ‘You stole someone’s identity?’
‘Tried to. Only she was pretty well-known, so it didn’t work. I was just lucky she didn’t press charges,’ Annanyn shook her head and grinned. ‘I was legally an adult by seces law, and old enough to live alone by wolven law, so if she’d not had a sense of humour I could have ended up in jail!’
‘Shit, you were a rebel!’ Ka’harja almost wanted to tell her his own wild adventures stealing and lying his way through life— But bit his tongue. He’d stolen from her, after all. It was a bit more awkward to explain then stealing from a complete stranger. … Though she’d been a stranger when he’d done it.
‘Don’t swear in front of the baby!’ Annanyn scolded in a hushed voice. She grinned again as she continued, ‘Needless to say, they booked me a boat back to Dr’oy. Which I missed four times before they gave up on me. Then I saw Felelor again— Oh, I don’t think I told you how we met?’
‘He told me before,’ Ka’harja chuckled. ‘Jumped in front of a valenor and saved your life.’
Annanyn nodded, flicking her gills and smiling widely. ‘Felelor was an absolute sweetheart and let me stay at his place while he was recovering from his injuries. In return I had to do things for him that he couldn’t do. Like getting groceries. The local shopkeepers shadowed me whenever I dared set foot in their stores, though, and apparently Felelor got a few letters about what I’d done.’
‘Yeah,’ Annanyn giggled. ‘I don’t think he really cared too much. I’m grateful for that, because it got cold real fast and I was a really stubborn teenager. … I would have frozen before I went home. It was actually one of the cold days I met Sken! I went to the market to pick up potatoes with Naranako and bumped into her in the crowd. … I remember the look she gave me; I think she just fell in love with me on the spot. She offered to carry my bags— Sort of. She was really flustered and couldn’t get the words out, and it was cute, so I asked if she wanted to walk with us and, well. … Two years later we got married and started travelling. … Oh, Scara. This was meant to be about math! I’m so sorry. If I even think of Sken I just sort of. … Get distracted.’
‘You tell stories like I do,’ Ka’harja chuckled.
Annanyn’s cheeks turned a deep green and she bit her lip. ‘So much for not-talking, huh?’
‘I started it, and I really enjoyed hearing about your life!’ he replied, moving to sit on his tail so Annanyn wouldn’t see it wagging— He realised too late that he’d only brought attention to it, and blushed as Annanyn giggled. ‘Hey— Uh, maybe a bit personal, but in all honesty … I’ve never been in a good relationship before and I was curious. … What do you two do when you fight? If you’ve ever fought before? I always seem to fall out with my boyfriends over one thing or another. Any advice?’
‘We disagree on plenty of things,’ Annanyn’s impish grin returned and she leant in close. ‘But usually I just compliment her muscles and she caves and lets me get my way.’
‘Somehow, I don’t feel that would work for me,’ Ka’harja gave a dramatic sigh that ended with an involuntary giggle. ‘But yeah, I’ve seen you do that to your wuvly Skenny-poo!’
‘Shh!’ Annanyn covered her mouth and clamped down her gills, trying to muffle her snicker. ‘Great Star, Ka’harja! Don’t! She’ll hear you!’
‘Weally? You weally weally tink so?’ Ka’harja teased. ‘Your big stwong kelp knot will hear me? Wot will she do to me?’
‘I’ll beat the living shit out of you!’ Sken’s voice nearly gave Ka’harja a heart attack.
He was on his feet before she managed to shut the door, and was halfway to the back of the room before Annanyn made it the three steps forward to kiss her wife.
‘You’re done setting up camp?’ she asked, a desperate hint in her voice as she buried her face into Sken’s chest. ‘I’ve missed you!’
‘I’ve missed you too, puddle-hopper. Sorry today was so long,’ Sken whispered into the top of Annanyn’s head. She breathed her in for a long moment before pulling away and turning to Ka’harja, her dreamy eyes turning into a death-glare as she flicked her barbed tail in his direction. ‘If I ever hear you refer to me as “kelp knot” again. …’
Sken gave a humoured snort before putting her arms back around Annanyn and grinning. ‘I caught you a walleye.’
‘Idiot,’ Liamara hissed.
‘Lia!’ Centela gasped.
‘What? She can’t hear me,’ with a grunt, Liamara turned to her brother and rolled her eyes. ‘Her hearing’s worse than my kekik’s.’
Centela sighed as Liamara turned back to her sister.
‘ARE! YOU! HUNGRY!’ Liamara asked, loud and slow. ‘DO! YOU! WANT! ME! TO! GET! YOU! FOOD!’
Skinesta nodded, an excited grin spreading across her face as Liamara scowled.
‘C’mon Centela,’ Liamara grabbed her brother’s arm. ‘Looks like we’re going hunting for the little scab.’
First draft of a scene that happens at Talia’s birthday party, feat. mention of a conflict that happens in a different book!
‘—You’ve already apologised,’ Meg interrupted.
‘Yeah but …’ Rose sighed. ‘I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like enough.’
‘Just do better next time,’ Meg meets eyes with Talia, an lets out a sigh and gives a tired smile. ‘You know, this is the Talia that Trish is always talking about.’
‘Oh?’ Rose turns and blushes. ‘I didn’t realise. I thought— Kladstone’s so big I didn’t think I’d just bump into you.’
Talia chuckles. ‘You know Trish?’
‘Yeah. Online,’ Rose replies. ‘She’s … helping me get through some stuff. I … feel really awkward. I’m gonna go. …’
The two girls nodded as Rose hurried away, to talk with William and Richard.
Talia glanced to Meg. ‘Sounds like you two had a conflict?’
‘It’s over,’ Meg shrugged. ‘Trish talked to her and she apologised. I’m not going to hold it against her.’
‘Ah,’ Talia nodded. ‘So she’s one of Trish’s new recruits?’
‘Yep, little baby lesbian,’ Meg let out a laugh. ‘From a suuuper Christian family. Trish is teaching her how to not be a fuck-wit. Wonder what she’s doing here.’
Talia couldn’t help laughing, herself. ‘She came with Richard. Well, she came with Richard’s ride home.’
‘Friend of a friend of a friend?’
‘Something like that,’ Talia rolled her eyes. ‘So Trish still talks about me?’
‘Of course she does, you’re like, her best friend,’ Meg shouldered Talia playfully. ‘She’s always going on about you and Gavin. She did stop trying to get you blind dates after she found out about Dale, though. And I mean like, before you were dating him sort of thing.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Talia nodded. ‘Her and her impeccable match-making skills.’
‘I mean, eight times out of ten,’ Meg shrugged. ‘And, being fair, you’re the outlier, Spiders Georg.’
‘Fucking spiders what?’
‘Internet meme,’ Meg replied, raising her brow and sipping her drink. ‘Sorry. Forgot you were ancient.’
‘Coff?’ Sken’s gills twitched curiously. ‘He’s alright. Koko reckons he works too hard. Which is saying something, considering she pushes people more than I do! But I think. …’
‘It’s to distract him from something,’ she finished. Then she cracked open another bottle of drink. She drank this one slowly. ‘He’s always looking for something to do; when he runs out of work he’ll tear down his shelves and rearrange them just to keep himself busy. … I keep telling him it’s fine. But he doesn’t know how to stop. Complete opposite of you. You don’t seem to start anything.’
Ka’harja’s Journey - Chapter 7
Calaga says: when you’re bullied, go to a literal god for help.
This one is from Demrefor’s outer territories, and works as a backstory for the god “Aiaye” that’s featured in Don’t Lose Hope (and also explains the human invasion Demrefor went through & eventually forgot)
'Oh, no no, that won't do,' the serpent held out one of it's many hands to Calaga, who slowly took it.
It sent a shivery, jittery feeling up her arm— Like touching a lightbulb that wasn’t screwed in properly. … But it didn’t feel dangerous. … No. It felt almost comforting.
‘You forget you always have one friend,’ AI whispered gently, placing another hand on Calaga’s arm and sending shivers down her spine. ‘Now, who is it who’s been making fun of you?’
‘Haran Dei and Cors Pili are the worst,’ Calaga muttered. ‘Are you going to punish them?’
‘I will talk with them,’ AI promised firmly. ‘And if they continue to hurt you I may have to.’
Calaga’s heart raced as a screen behind AI flashed with text. She barely got a glimpse at the message before the big SENT appeared on the screen and it zoomed away to it’s destination.
A god-call, Calaga breathed. She remembered receiving them sometimes, on the little screen by the door of her family’s quarters. Messages from god.
Her parents never let her read them, unless they were addressed to her— So the only ones she’d ever seen before were birthday wishes and information about changed laws.
She couldn’t imagine receiving one titled “Please come see me.”
She’d think she’d have a heart attack and die on the spot.
‘She to be happy when know more nurlak-kin here! You visit us, Q? It make mumma happy! We have house Below! Pink door at centre town fountain! Seven floor down, blue feather room door, black handle! Knock for sure!’
‘I’ll try and visit before we leave,’ Stars replied. ‘I promise.’
Ka’harja wasn’t sure how she’d do that, considering the directions the child had given. ‘Uh, do you have a map or something? I don’t know if we’ll be able to find it.’
‘Really? But it’s so simple,’ Stars blinked. ‘Their house is in the caves, and the building with the pink door near the town’s fountain is the closest entrance. Go seven floors down, find the door decorated with blue feathers and a black handle. Knock before going in.’
‘Oh,’ Ka’harja sighed. ‘Are you sure you’re not part avio?’
Stars shakes her head. ‘I’m very happy being nurlak, thank you.’
‘You are very rude foxen,’ Cor’Bala said, jumping out of the caravan and giving a wave. ‘I do not mind that you rude. But I ask that please do not be rude if visit, or mumma get mad with you! Hit with a broom, like with last one to visit! Not a fun.’
‘I rested my wings,
In your nest made of pain.
A home without love.
And my childhood weeps with me,
My worst gorg,
Fly too high,
And be caught by the two-faced creatures in the sky of bright lights,
That tell too many lies and whom seek out the dead.
To bury in clay and stone.
Which seems familiar,
Like my blood on your lips.
For it is your deserved after,
In the Underfor.
With creatures as vile as yourself and our yalfit.
So now leave my memories!
Never touch me again,
Your hands cannot harm me.
Your words are worthless.
And I am free,
If you watch me now and hear nothing else,
At least know those lyalic words.
I am free.
I’m at least hakalika.
But a hakalika head,
Then the life I lived with you.’
—Ell’ian in The Harpy Bride (Don’t Lose Hope #4.5)
‘Do you want my honest opinion?’ Dale asked.
‘Yeah, sure. …’
‘Evan’s an arsehole.’
Talia was expecting more. For him to continue. To say Evan was just a kid when it happened, and it was unfair to expect him to give up his life and his future. … To say what everyone else seemed to say, over and over and over.
But then he didn’t. He didn’t say another word, and they both sat in silence until Talia sniffed and swallowed and finally managed, ‘Is that … it?’
‘Yeah,’ Dale confirmed. ‘My whole opinion. Evan sounds like an arsehole.’
‘Y. … Yeah,’ Talia agreed. ‘Yeah. He was.’
‘And you deserve better than that,’ replied Dale. ‘So, if you know where he lives I’m more than happy to break into his house and shred all his socks.’
‘Which is yours?’ Talia asked, passing the heavy-looking plastic bag from one hand to the other. ‘I don’t see any spy cars around, Bond.’
‘Ha ha,’ responded Dale, flatly. ‘It’s the blue sedan.’
Dale frowned. ‘You’re not getting in my car—’
‘—Yes, I am!’ Talia snapped. ‘Unless you’d rather I scream. Help. Someone. I’m being kidnapped. That sort of thing.’
‘I’m not kidnapping you,’ Dale snorted. ‘If anything, it’s the other way around!’
‘Open the door,’ Talia repeated.
‘Are you crazy?’ asked Dale as he unlocked his car and watched Talia settle into the passenger seat. A sigh, and he joined her. He adjusted his mirror, avoiding eye contact with her, and then slammed his hands into place on the wheel and let out an exasperated groan. ‘I could be a murderer, you know! What about that son of yours?’
‘You’re too much of a pussy to kill me,’ Talia responded nonchalantly. ‘If you were that tough, you wouldn’t have pissed your pants in the ally.’
‘I didn’t piss my—’ Dale cut off halfway through and turned to the windscreen, scowling. He let out a long, frustrated breath as he turned the ignition in the car. Then he drove in silence, not daring to even glance at Talia as he made his way through the quiet streets.
‘Who’s Richard?’ Talia asked. ‘You steal his wallet, too?’
Dale slammed on his brakes. ‘Get out of my bag!’
‘Why? You went through mine,’ Talia shrugged and, as if to make a point, noisily unzipped the next pocket and stuck her hand in.
‘MUM!’ Gavin called from his room. ‘MUM, CAN YOU HELP ME?’
‘I’ll help,’ said Anna. She made her way to Gavin’s room, then hurried back in. ‘Apparently not. He needs you specifically, Tally.’
Sighing, Talia pushed herself off the couch and made her way to her son’s bedroom. She found him showing Jacob the new soccer ball he’d gotten on a shopping trip with Dale.
‘Hi mum!’ Gavin grinned.
‘Hey honey, what did you need help with?’
‘Nothing,’ responded Gavin, his grin growing wider. ‘I just wanted to see if I could make you come in.’
‘Gavin!’ Talia snapped.
Talia rolled her eyes. ‘Any more surprises I should know about?’
For a minute, Dale bit his lip and thought. Then he clicked his fingers and let out an excited exclamation,
‘Right! Richard wants me to teach you how to use a gun!’
‘Well, it’s a long story,’ Dale rubbed the back of his neck. ‘But to cut it short, I’m the reason he limps.’
Talia put her face in her hands. ‘So let me get this straight: you shot Richard—’
‘—And he wants you to be the one to teach me how to use a gun?’ Talia let out a long sigh as Dale gave her a confident nod. ‘Is he sure about that? Or is he actually wanting to end up in a wheelchair?’
‘Why is the pillow sticky?’ she muttered. She shook her head as she realised it was her makeup, not the fabric, and frowned. ‘When did I get home?’
‘About ten minutes after you fell asleep,’ Dale’s voice laughed from the dining table.
Talia snapped her head up and looked at the group of people sitting in her apartment. She stared at them for a moment, taking them in. Dale. Gavin. Richard. Trish.
‘Anna’s not back yet?’ Talia yawned.
‘It’s only nine,’ Trish commented, taking a bite out of some very wet-looking, off-coloured bread. ‘Good beef. Try it as a sandwich. Tastes like heaven.’
‘I like it with the potatoes!’ Gavin giggled.
‘Potatoes?’ Talia asked. ‘I didn’t think I made potatoes?’
‘Dale did,’ Richard commented. ‘We were waiting for you to wake up, so we made some extras to pass the time. Then Patricia came in and started eating, so we figured it wouldn’t be too rude to begin without you.’
‘Of course she did!’ laughed Talia. Then she sat up and stretched. ‘How’d I get upstairs? Oh— No. Dale? You didn’t—’
‘—HE DID!’ Gavin shrieked. ‘He carried you! All the way up!’
‘It’s three flights!’ Talia exclaimed.
‘You’re not too heavy,’ said Dale, sipping his drink. ‘Though I almost dropped you at one point. I don’t envy the me from the universe where I did.’
‘Yeah, nah. He’s dead and you know it,’ Talia snickered. ‘So, what else did I miss?’
‘Gavin took his meds,’ Dale commented. ‘And a bird flew into the kitchen window while we cooked. Scared me so much I accidentally threw a carton of juice into Richard’s face.’
‘It went everywhere!’ squeaked Gavin.
‘Kind of like your lipstick,’ Trish commented, pointing to her own mouth and wiggling her finger. ‘Might want to go wash your face.’
‘Christ,’ Talia muttered, slipping off the couch and hurrying into the bathroom. She dared a look in the mirror and was met with the ugliest version of herself she’d ever seen. ‘Frick!’
Another scene from A Man Worth a Million; but this one is from the first draft, not the final. It's chapter 26 of the first draft but, we'll see how much content gets cut/added and where it is in the final, eventually.
Talia meets her ex in a supermarket. She's pregnant again, wearing real gold and diamonds in a dress that costs more than a car (coming home from a VERY fancy party), and eating whip cream directly from the can. Because she's Talia, and Talia does what she wants.
Talia managed to swallow the whipped cream.
‘How have I been lately, or how have I been over the last twelve years?’ Talia asked bitterly. She felt the whip on her cheek, but didn’t wipe it off as she stared down her ex. He looked … well. Better than he had in high school, Talia thought. Though he still dressed like an arsehole. …
‘Look— Talia— I’m sorry,’ it came out as a sigh, and Talia almost believed it was genuine.
‘Yeah, imagine facing the consequences for your actions,’ Talia scoffed. She didn’t feel like talking and squirted another glob of whipped cream into her mouth.
‘—I don’t accept your apology!’ Talia snapped, mouth still full. ‘You’re a coward who ran away and left me to clean up your shit, and I don’t have time for someone like you!’
‘You ruined my life!’ Talia growled. ‘So you didn’t lose your chance to play football!’
‘It was wrong of me!’ Evan blurted. ‘And I really am sorry. I’ve felt so bad about it. …’
‘Then why didn’t you contact me sooner?’ Talia snorted, spraying another lot of cream into her mouth. ‘Oh, wait. It’s because you’re too much of a coward to actually face the people you’ve hurt.’
‘N-No, I didn’t know h-how,’ Evan stammered.
Talia didn’t budge. ‘Huh, well it’s weird that everyone else knew how to find me. Did you miss the memo? I wasn’t exactly hiding.’
‘—Coward,’ Talia hissed. She downed the last of the whipped cream from the can and threw it in the trolley with a loud clang.
Evan shuffled as Dale came out of the bathroom and put an arm around Talia, kissing his wife, laughing, and wiping her cheek before glancing to her companion.
‘Who’s— Oh,’ the drop in his tone was telling. He recognised him from the photo.
Gavin grabbed his mother’s hand and looked from her to Evan, back to her. ‘Mum? Are you okay?’
Evan shifted even more awkwardly at the sight of Gavin, and awkwardly rubbed his cheek to hide his face from the child. ‘I suppose I should be going.’
‘Alright. Bye then,’ Dale said dryly, turning away with a wave of his hand. He put his arm around Gavin and quickly pushed his family away, only turning back to grab the trolly, dropping his voice as he glared at Evan. ‘Have a fun life, arsehole.’
‘Was that my dad?’ Gavin asked. ‘Like, my other one?’
Talia sighed. ‘Yes.’
‘Dale’s better,’ Gavin shrugged. Then he looked to his mother and frowned before spinning around. ‘Dale’s a better dad than you’ll ever be! YOU’RE STUPID AND EVERYONE HATES YOU!’
Talia scoffed a laugh and shushed her son. ‘Gavin, don’t yell.’
‘But I have to stand up for you!’ Gavin declared.
‘I can defend myself,’ she told him. She glanced up and saw Evan staring awkwardly back. ‘He’s just a dumb coward.’
‘COWARD!’ Gavin shrieked.
‘Shush!’ Talia repeated. ‘You win by being better than him!’
‘But I want to win by yelling at him!’ Gavin declared, drawing looks from the surrounding shoppers. ‘He made you cry! I wanna make him cry back!’
‘Gavin,’ Talia sighed. ‘I’m sure he’s cried enough already.’
‘Then I’ll— I’ll break his legs instead!’
‘You will not!’ Talia snapped. ‘You will behave yourself and get in the car without any more yelling.’
‘Come on, Gav,’ Dale wrapped his arms around Gavin and heaved him over his shoulder. ‘I’m her husband. It’s my job to beat up people who make her cry.’
Talia shook her head and rolled her eyes, huffing loudly. ‘You boys, I swear. I can’t take you anywhere!’
Gavin had been chatty the entire drive home.
To be expected, Dale thought, with the day he’s had.
Glancing into the back of the car as he pulled into the apartment’s parking lot, he couldn’t help but sigh. Talia looked too peaceful to wake up. He wasn’t sure he’d have the heart to do it.
‘Told you she gets tired,’ Gavin gloated. ‘Are you going to carry her up the stairs again?’
‘Don’t think I have a choice,’ Dale laughed his response, clambering out of the car and walking to the back seat to retrieve Talia.
She didn’t seem to notice as she was hefted into the air, and simply lay heavy and limp in his arms. She didn’t even give a mumble of protest as Dale used her head to push the car door shut.
‘She’d be so mad if she knew you did that!’ Gavin snickered.
‘Well, don’t tell her,’ Dale replied.