#StrangeLit: Darkest Dreams: Excerpts

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#StrangeLit – Darkest Dreams

This is what happens you allow yourself to unlock your dreams: You may just find the darkness that lurks there. Explore the tragic, the romantic, and the comedic side of our darkness in these stories.

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I personally chose three stories: Majesty by Jay E. Tria, When It Rains In Mystic River by Therese Barleta, and In My Dreams by Yeyet Soriano.

Get it for only PHP 45.00 or $ 0.99 here

Author Bio of Yeyet Soriano: Yeyet Soriano has been writing her entire life, first as an angst-ridden teenager, then as a single working woman, then as a married working woman with kids. Though the themes of her written works have changed over the years, she held on to one truth—she needed to write to keep the voices in her head at bay.

Her first foray into self-publishing was when she collaborated with some of her high school friends on a book in 2011, where one of the mini books was entitled “Yeyet,” and some of her nonfiction and fiction works were included. The book was Life in the Middle, A Discovery, and it is being distributed in print by Central Books (central.com.ph/bookstoreplus).

She just self-published Turning Points, her first e-book novel through Buqo, as part of the #JustWritePH writing class. It is included in the #JustWritePH For Redemption bundle, but will also soon be released as a stand-alone novel in e-book format.

Her day job is that of an IT manager for the Asia-Pacific region for a multinational corporation. She is married to a man who reads only to fall asleep, and they have three wonderful kids—two of whom love to read and one, only starting to learn to read.

Contact Yeyet:

yeyetms@gmail.com

http://twitter.com/ysrealm

http://facebook.com/Yeyetsorianowrites

http://www.ysrealm.com

In My Dreams by Yeyet Soriano

Welcome to Barrio Malaya!

Everyone in Manila will visit Barrio Malaya at least once in their lifetimes. It is a rustic yet picturesque town, with the sea in the north, thick woods in the east and west, and a train station in the south. It is one of the stops of a high-speed train system, which the dying board to go to their next destination.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Roxas has a lifetime pass and has almost permanent resident status in Barrio Malaya. She first visited the place when she and her father met an accident when she was seven. They explored the town and rode the train together. But at some point, they got separated—she had to get off the train and her father continued his journey. She woke up to a reality without her father, and with an emotionally distant mother. From then on, Olivia was homeschooled and prevented from having any access to the outside world by an alcoholic mother who seemed to both hate her and love her too much to risk losing her.

In her dreams, Olivia has unlimited access to Barrio Malaya, and it is where she learned about everything, from how to make friends, to how to live, to how to fall in love. She also continued to board the trains, in the hope of finding her father.

Nineteen-year-old Gabriel Sahagun first came to Barrio Malaya when he was twelve years old. Victims of a freak accident, he and his parents already had their tickets to ride the train, but at the last minute, someone pulled him back. He never saw the man’s face. He woke up in the real world discovering that his parents were dead, but he had developed the talent to transfer Death—he can take whatever is killing one person, take it upon himself, and then transfer it to another person.

Liv and Gab meet in Barrio Malaya. Gab visits Barrio Malaya whenever he is in mid-transfer, meaning, he is the one dying. They fall in love but have never met in real life. But that is about to change, because Gab has taken a terminal condition and has lost all strength to transfer it to someone else. As he lies dying in the real world, it is up to Liv to find him, find a person to transfer the condition to, and get that person to Gab before Gab dies.

Did we mention that Liv has never set out from her house alone in all her life?

Excerpt:

My name is Olivia. I am sixteen years old. If I had any real friends, they would call me Liv.

When I was seven years old, I died. At least that’s what they said. Not to my face, mind you. But I heard them talking to my mom while I was in the hospital. They talked in whispers. She was crying nonstop. When I recovered, I understood why.

My dad died the night I died. Although I was revived, he wasn’t. I miss him so much.

It was a car crash. Some drunken creep drove on the wrong side of the road and hit our car head-on. Our car turned turtle and crashed. I still remember screaming for Daddy to wake up while I fumbled with the catch of my seatbelt, smelling the car burning. Daddy was able to get us out of the car before it exploded. Apparently they found us at the side of the road, alive but near death, with my dad’s back a mass of burns.

I wouldn’t let go of my dad and he wouldn’t let go of me. We were brought to the hospital in one stretcher. When they were able to separate us, we individually died. They were able to get me back after one minute. My father never came back.

That was the official version.

My version? After the explosion, which happened just in time after my dad was able to get us out of the car and onto a safer area, my dad grew weaker. I hurt all over and I was very hungry and he laughed when I told him. The fried chicken takeout, the reason for the trip in the first place, was burned with the car.

We heard sirens. I felt dizzy and then I nearly passed out. But I felt my eyes tearing up because of the smoke.

“Daddy, my eyes hurt bad!” I said, tears running down my dirty cheeks.

“Let’s get out of here, Livie,” he said weakly.

We walked slowly to get away from the smoke and the smell of burning. We found a narrow path which was pretty, and we followed it. After a while, we no longer heard the sound of the cars on the road. We came upon a wooden gate, with a small wooden sign that said, “Welcome to Barrio Malaya.

I read it and knew at once that malaya meant “free.” The gate was slightly ajar.

Daddy pushed it open and we entered.

“Wow, Livie, look! A quaint small town!” he exclaimed.

“What’s ‘quaint’?” I asked. I breathed in the clean, crisp air. I felt a light breeze cooling me down.

“Quaint means sweet, nice, and old-fashioned,” Daddy explained.

“What’s old-fashioned?” I asked again. I was seven, sue me.

“Not new. Not modern, something classic. This is like we are no longer in the city,” Daddy patiently explained, as he always did when I pestered him with questions.

“Like the province?”

“Yes!”

The town looked like it came straight out of a picture book. Put in a castle in the distance and it could have been a fairy-tale scene.

We walked around for a bit. The air smelled of salt, meaning the sea was near, and I could have sworn I could hear the surf. I was feeling better, my eyes no longer hurt, and I wasn’t dizzy anymore.

“Daddy, I’m hungry,” I said, still longing for fried chicken.

“Oh . . . let’s see if we can find a place to eat.” Daddy took my hand and we walked on.

We found a diner. The sign on the door said “Kantina.” Daddy ordered us two milkshakes and a big plate of fries.

Kantina was also very pretty, nothing like any of the places we had been as a family. But then we’ve mostly been in fast-food joints in the mall, and mostly Chinese restaurants for formal affairs. The place was made entirely of wood, which reminded me of the houses in the province. The waitress was very cheerful and friendly, and she had on a nice waitress uniform. She had short hair and a cute face like a fairy. She looked like she was the same age as my mom, and her nameplate said “Cherry.” She said I was very pretty with my long hair.

I realized then that I should not have appeared very pretty because I was so dirty from the accident and I’m sure my hair was ratty, but I looked at my Daddy and I was surprised because I’d never seen him so handsome. His wounds and bruises and the dirt on his face and clothes were gone. He was clean and neat and very nice to look at. I turned to a mirror on the wall and saw that I was clean as well, and my long curly hair newly combed and shining.

I wanted to say something to Daddy but my hunger got the better of me. I ate the fries and drank the milkshake. We finished eating in a short while.

Cherry approached our table. “Hello there, your train will be arriving in a few minutes. I suggest you guys get started in walking to the station.”

“Train?” Daddy asked.

The waitress looked at him and smiled and said, “Yes, your train.”

I was looking at Daddy’s face just then and saw that at first he was confused, but then something seemed to make sense to him and he nodded in understanding. He looked at me and smiled; at first it was a sad smile, but then it became the kind of smile that lit up his handsome face. He looked back at Cherry.

“Oh, then we best get going then,” he said, his voice filled with excitement.

“We’re riding a train to go home, Daddy?”

Daddy looked at me and smiled. “Yes, Livie, we are.”

“Cool!” I remembered the train we rode to Disneyland in Hong Kong and I was excited.

Daddy and I walked past other pretty wooden houses and well-maintained gardens and even parks with playgrounds. The roads were wide and there were no cars in sight. Most everyone else was walking. There were a few on bikes.

We reached the train station, and when we reached the platform, there were a couple of people waiting with us. On the platform was one row of benches, one bench after every few feet interval, as many as the eye could see. I looked beyond the platform and saw there were more platforms at intervals and in between several train tracks.

A train stopped in front of us and a conductor ushered us in. She was tall, quite pretty, with an easy smile. She looked like a movie star. Her nameplate said “Ms. Tupaz.”

Daddy and I settled into a seat and I felt sleepy. I felt my dad’s arms around me as I leaned toward him. I must have slept.

When I woke up, my Dad was talking to Ms. Tupaz. They were arguing. I held on tighter to my dad. The train was moving fast. It reminded me again of the train we rode to go to Disneyland in Hong Kong a few months before the accident, a seventh birthday present from Daddy.

“Livie.”

I looked up at my dad and I felt this overwhelming love well up inside me.

“I need to go to the bathroom. Ms. Tupaz will look after you.”

I nodded. Ms. Tupaz was really pretty. She had nice light caramel skin that I loved. I didn’t mind being left with her. Dad hugged me tight and kissed me on my forehead.

“You love your daddy?”

“Very much!” I said with a wide smile. This was a usual exchange we had between us.

“How much?”

“This much!” I stretched my arms as far apart as I could.

“And he loves you more!”

I smiled. He went to the bathroom.

After a few minutes, the train slowed and stopped.

Ms. Tupaz stood up and extended her hand to me.

“Come, you need to get off this stop. Your dad will follow . . .”

I took her hand and she led me to the platform to a bench.

We sat and waited. I saw my dad walking toward the door and I smiled wide.

He smiled back. But he stopped as he reached the door.

“Livie! I love you! We’ll see each other again one day! Take care of your mom!”

Before I could react, the door slid shut and the train sped away.

I started running after the train, and my dad, but Ms. Tupaz held me tight.

“Let me go! Daddy! Daddy!”

I saw the train disappear in the distance and my heart sank. I panicked. I cried. I was seven, after all.

Then I did what I did without thinking. I kicked and screamed at Ms. Tupaz and pummeled her with my small and insignificant fists.

“I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job,” she whispered.

She embraced me and I blacked out.

Get it for only PHP 45.00 or $ 0.99 here

Author Bio of Therese Barleta: Therese Barleta is a human anomaly. This chill frat man trapped inside a 12-year-old girl’s body enjoys HBO and Netflix a little too much. She likes reading and writing depressing stuff.Contact Therese at AuthorThereseBarleta@gmail.com        

When It Rains In Mystic River by Therese Barleta

Whenever sirens sound off, Naomi is always worried that Seth is somewhere being chased by the police, if not already gunned down by rival gangs that pollute the south side of Boston. “Please help me just this one last time,” Seth would always tell her, but Naomi just wants to live a normal life as a pretend human being, not Seth’s Encantada girlfriend who always bails him out of his shady dealings. As soon as Seth finds an out from this life he’s known forever, he takes the opportunity before Naomi can even say no. How could she when this is the exit they’ve both been waiting for? Or is it a shortcut to their doom?

Excerpt:

The road whipped dusty, cold, and unforgiving wind into Seth’s face as his motorbike roared through the long stretch of road that was almost buried in beech trees. He could still feel the drizzle, remnants of the rain a while ago, misting lightly over his skin, unlike the debris that pricked at his cheeks, his mouth. The smell of wet leaves, wet trees, wet concrete filled his lungs. The stench, even if mildly rotting in its flavor, was welcome to him, just because it was brought on by the rain. He liked the rain.

He thought about their run-down bungalow  and hoped that water hadn’t dripped all over the sofa and the bedrom. All the leaks in the house were conveniently where things could be soaked up where they lay, and if it weren’t for the verdure surrounding the home, the rooms would be filled like an aquarium in no time.

Shallow puddles splashed as his motorbike ran through them, angry, muddy spatters covering his boots and his jeans, making them look like a dog’s dirty coat. This was the kind of weather they’d usually bring buckets out for. And if it had started leaking, that would mean Naomi was up.

Which he hoped she wasn’t.

She sometimes had late-night gigs at some of the bars near Berkeley if she didn’t have last shift waiting on tables at Darryl’s. During those days she would come home late, something he didn’t mind, especially not lately.

It’s been like walking on eggshells around her ever since he brought up the fact that he agreed to do the pharmacy gig. It was always like that when he gets a job.  The air around them would be palpably cold and clammy, like there were droplets of water surrounding them. It almost felt like she brought on the rain. Maybe she did.

Naomi had these weird set of capabilities that made him speculate that maybe the weather was also under her purview. She’d exhibited certain oddities from the day he met her. On their second date, she did an impersonation of Jimmy Carter, which was supposed to make him laugh, but he ended up getting confused and terrified instead. First it was only her voice that changed, but afterward her face began to morph as well. Her long dark hair started to recede into white wisps, brittle over a pale face that started to sag and sport age spots. Blue eyes stared back when the ones that belonged to hers were brown. It only reverted when Naomi noticed that Seth had started to look scared. Her visage quickly changed back into her actual face, like deformed rubber springing back to its original integrity. She looked as shocked as he was, as if she didn’t know what she’d done either.

They both tried to pretend the next day that none of that took place. Who knew if it even did. They were several drinks in when that happened. But when the aberrations occurred more than once, Seth knew not to blame the drinks anymore. They weren’t  fucked-up daydreams or illusions from any of the blunts they’d light up every now and then.  Through all of the strangeness, he stayed anyway, and he’d come to realize that it was what bound them together later on.

They’ve been together two years now. Although these past few weeks, things could be better.

Seth skidded the motorcycle to the side, under the shade next to  Sookie’s empty, rusting cage, before running inside the house. Sookie was his grandmother’s dog, who died a year after she did. The rottweiler always avoided Naomi. Seth felt the same creeping wariness once the door creaked open and Naomi stared at him, glaring, tight lipped. Seth passed her by without looking, as if she weren’t there at all. They’d been dancing around each other like ghosts for a week now, several days after he told her he needed her for this job.

He pulled out a ziplock bag that he had tucked into the back of his pants, threw it onto the bed. He paid a lot for these documents, more than the usual rate, but his regular guy had been busted a few months ago and he had to rely on this other one that charged double. “Fucking criminal,” Seth muttered under his breath as he went through the contents of the clear plastic bag. Passports, Social Security IDs, voter’s IDs, and birth certificates, for himself and Naomi. At least these papers looked legit. By the time they used this, he’d no longer be Seth Astra nor would she be Naomi Cáceres.

Naomi was looming nearby; he could feel it. Seth looked over his shoulder and she was there, mop still in hand, staring at the documents like he had hauled trash in and laid out the garbage on their bed just to spite her.

“I told you I was serious about this. This’ll be the last job I’ll do, and then that’s that. We get out of here and then we’ll live. As normal people.”

Naomi was still quiet, her uncertainty echoing without her even saying a word. “As normal people,” Naomi repeated, disdain coloring her words. “How long ago have you been telling me that, Seth?”

“The corner store holdup. Mattapan. That thing with the Haitians—” Seth paced around and sighed, slid his hands against the sides of his hair while he did, as if the pompadour he was sporting was falling apart, when really it was only his patience that was crumbling. “This one’s different, you know that.” Naomi’s eyes darted toward the IDs on the bed, and she huffed silently. She couldn’t deny that the papers he brought in did solidify his claim that after this job, they could  finally walk away, but promise after promise that he made had frayed her trust in him over time, a loose screw that was barely holding things together.

“And you know I can’t pass on this job.” After his muling stint for the Haitians, Seth came up short. They turned up a couple of grams missing after the run, and  he’d have to pay for it, one way or the other. Seth was tempted to think it was because of Tony, but he knew the guy wasn’t dumb enough to do that on an errand for Hi-J. “You know why I took this in the first place.”

Naomi couldn’t argue with that anymore. Just like she felt she couldn’t, when she had  gotten into a relationship with him, knowing what he did. But that wasn’t reason enough for her to want less, and she was starting to believe that she deserved more than being the deus ex machina to Seth’s troubles.

She hadn’t said no to helping him just yet, but all the same, she couldn’t tell him no flat out. It left them where they were, at the same place two days ago,  inconclusive, as Naomi went back to the living room.

 

It felt like waiting in a doctor’s office. The room Naomi was in right now was a makeshift foyer for a house that was never meant to have one. The door opened to a dusty rust- colored sofa, where she was sitting right now, along with a Hispanic mother and son. The boy, seven, looked like he had something, eyes dull and jaundiced. He was thin like those UNICEF refugees kids. He stared, slack- jawed at the flaking paint on the wall like it was the most captivating thing in the room while his mother held his hand, tight, afraid that her boy would slip away anytime. It looked to Naomi as if the boy already did.

 

“I’ll take them on first, if you don’t mind,” the doctor told Naomi with a kind, parental smile. Sometimes she wondered why people even say that when you didn’t really have a choice but to let them go first. She watched them go in. The boy lurched lifelessly, assisted by his mother, disappearing behind the bead curtain that separated the waiting room from the doctor’s office

Mrs. Almodovar wasn’t really a doctor in any medical sense, and that was why people like the boy and the mother went to her. This was where people took the sick that hospitals had given up on, when science gave no more hope. Worse, when they couldn’t pay for the medical care needed.

That was what was scary about the C8 Movement going on right now. For three years now, ever since the GOP revealed that the winning Democratic forerunner was a Wendigo, the world had undergone many changes. One by one, supernatural beings started coming out, wanting to be integrated into society. Naturally, the first thing that happened was registration. The rest was still being figured out. Everything was in transition, and Naomi felt that it was a legitimate worry that if shamans started to hold as much ground as doctors did, the pay grade would rise, and then there would be no one that the little boy or his mother could go to.

Taxes for the supernatural were the first thing the government tried to make arrangements for, aside from keeping tabs on who had what kind of powers.  The way Naomi saw it,  the government was  scared of them but hungry for their money anyway. This gestalt conjured up Seth’s face in  her head, and Naomi shuts her eyes as if pain shot through her chest.

“Are you sure you want to go through this?”

The old woman asked Naomi, worried, but she couldn’t help but feel annoyed. You’d think that Naomi would’ve grown used to it, people questioning her choice, but she only got more exasperated each time. “My answer will not change, Mrs. Almodovar. I want this.”

Naomi first went to see Mrs. Almodovar when she was 14 years old. It was then that she was getting the inkling that she was not like other people. Maybe not even human. Nobody told her, because nobody knew, not even her father. Or maybe he did, but always pretended that the strange things that happened to her didn’t. He was never too fond of her anyway. She heard about the shaman at school, when her classmates were telling scary stories, which included how Mrs. Almodovar had made a spirit-possessed mother get well.
The Portuguese woman was surprised to see a 14-year-old walk into her house one scorching  Saturday afternoon. Initially she thought Naomi was just asking on behalf of a relative, but a few minutes later, it was becoming clear to Mrs. Almodovar that Naomi was here for herself.

Get it for only PHP 45.00 or $ 0.99 here

Author Bio of Jay E. Tria: Jay E. Tria writes contemporary Young Adult and New Adult stories about characters that live inside her head, about people she meets and people she wishes to meet. She also reads, daydreams, and blogs. She loves skinny jeans, sneakers, live gigs, and adopted cats. She is not a cool kid.

Books: Blossom Among Flowers | Songs of Our Breakup | Songs to Get Over You

Official site: http://www.jayetria.com

Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad: jayetria

Majesty by Jay E. Tria    

What would you do if the ghost of someone you loved appeared in front of you?

‘Majesty is a beautiful ghost, with her hair of fire and eyes gray like smoke.’ That was Andy Fey’s first thought when the ghost of her best friend Majesty Hall appeared in her bedroom, only two months since her death. Majesty doesn’t know why she’s there, why only Andy can see her.

Andy wasn’t sure if she could tell Gale, that boy who claims that he and Majesty were in love. Funny, sarcastic, and a self-proclaimed serial heartbreaker, Gale is proving to be a good friend in grief, though his trail of broken hearts could soon include hers.

As Andy and Gale wade through their sorrow, Andy wonders if Majesty is here to help ease her into this new, complicated friendship, or if she has a mission all her own.

Excerpt:

Once I got over the initial shock of seeing a ghost, I started noticing the details.

Firstly, ghosts were not naked. Neither did they wear all white, or the last clothes they were wearing on the day of their death. That often repeated assumption planted gruesome images of victims of car crashes and preys of murder in my overly vivid imagination.

Majesty died in her room, pulled out from sleep by a wretched pain in her skull and abdomen—hypovolemic shock, the doctors called it, triggered by internal bleeding—but her ghost was not in pajamas. She wore what looked like her favorite printed silk scarf, a blue cashmere sweater, and a pleated skirt. I could not make out shoes though. The floating made it impossible. Her outline was blurred at the edges, the shape ending down her legs where her feet should be. I shuddered, deciding I really didn’t need to know about spirit shoes.

Secondly, ghosts were at the peak of health. Apart from the fact that they’re dead, that is.

I took note of all of these things as I hobbled around my room, trying to get dressed while keeping an eye on Majesty. I had rushed to the common bathrooms for a shower because she won’t shut up about my human need to be clean, and burst back into my room not fifteen minutes later. My heart sagged in relief to find her still here, her shimmering image floating idly around my square space.

“Will you come to class with me?” I asked as I stuffed my feet into socks, then boots.

She had her hand over my curtains. She moved her fingers over it, the fabric shivering when her forefinger came too close. She pulled back. “Probably not.”

“It’s Statistics day! I mean I’m not taking it anymore, but the class would still be there. You should totally go. Professor Grayson would love to see you.”

Majesty’s lips pulled up to a small smirk. “You really think that’s the way to get me out of here? Statistics?”

I shrugged. The sentiment card was worth a try. “Can you only visit me here? In my room?”

“It does seem like it.” Majesty closed her eyes, listening to that sound again that to me was only silence. “Yes, it does.”

Why? I wailed in my head. But there were more pressing questions. “Where will you go?”

“Here. There.” Majesty opened her eyes and smiled.

In any other day before her death, I would’ve been furious at the vague answer. But now it just terrified me. I was afraid if I blinked, it would take only that second for Majesty to disappear. What more if I had spent the whole day outside? I would lose her again.

I hitched my backpack over my shoulder, one wary eye on my desk clock. Its minute hand screamed that I should have been out the door ten minutes ago.

“Can I see you again tomorrow?” I rushed out the words. My voice was small, but it rose like that of a child nearing tears.

“I don’t know.” Majesty floated towards me, her hands waving me out.

I backed against the door, the instinct of fear quick to grip my chest. Majesty halted, hovering a safe foot’s space away, her gray eyes smiling.

“I don’t think so, Andy,” she went on. “It’s not Wednesday tomorrow.”

I gripped the door handle, my voice climbing back up my throat. “But are you sure? Maybe yes?” I croaked, keeping my eyes on hers. The key was to ignore the floating. “If yes, I can be here all day. I don’t need to see Gale. I see too much of him now anyway. I’d make some excuse.”

“Gale,” she whispered.

Majesty’s gaze swept past me, as if pulling out a thread of images from a spool of memories.

I edged one small step towards her, trying to catch her gaze. My backpack dropped to the floor. My boot crunched on it on my next step.

“Do you remember him?”

 

***

I met Gale on the second night of Majesty’s wake. He was there on the first night too, so I’ve been told. But I didn’t see him until the second, and only because Auntie Ruth introduced us.

He wasn’t the type of guy I would notice, now that my profiler scanner was off (it didn’t work during wakes of people I loved, apparently). Gale had no piercings, no T-shirt of an obscure rock band, no beautiful face framed with beautiful, day-old hair.

He looked normal, the preppy kind of normal. He was wearing a shirt with a collar under a sweater, paired with crisp slacks on that day I met him, and virtually on all days that I’ve seen him since. That was his uniform. He had a long, pointed face with a nose that seemed too large for it. His sandy hair grew past his ears, and he seemed the type who grew it not because he thought it made him look cool, but because he didn’t care.

But he had smart eyes. Not as deep and dark as Caleb’s, but an endless pool of blue, clear as water. His eyes pulled me to him the way Majesty’s gray pools of smoke did.

I thought that was the first link between us.

“Gale and Majesty went to high school together,” Auntie Ruth said by way of introduction. She turned to Gale, her hand gripping my arm. “Andy was Majesty’s best friend. She met her at university.”

“I know you,” Gale said, his water-blue eyes on mine.

The way he said it augmented my initial impression. Here was a smart boy, no doubt, with an especially smart mouth.

“I see you on her Facebook page. She calls you hon.”

I lifted my chin, detecting a quick note of jealousy and disbelief, a sound I was used to hearing from people who found the friendship between the popular girl and tomboyish dork unprecedented.

“That is me, yes,” I replied with a sniff. “I see you there too. You are the morning person.”

He was in several of Majesty’s posts. They were always having breakfast together in the most ungodly hours of the morning, sometimes before class, sometimes during the weekend. The time of day when I would be happily buried under my blankets.

Gale wasn’t Majesty’s boyfriend though, present or ex. I figured that from their carefully curated pictures, and I teased Majesty about it one time just to be certain. She had said that he was just a friend. But I remembered the fond way she said it, the intimate way her voice caressed his name.

Gale smiled, a quick open-hearted grin. “That is me, yes,” he echoed my words, his voice lilting and cheerful.

His grin was like a welcome sign, and that was the second link between us.

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