Fall 2022

Max

On a cold rainy fall day, there's nothing better than being with friends in a nice dry place. One of my favorite spots is Steam Scotts, a Steampunk cafe/boutique/bookstore owned by the county's former treasurer Adam Scott (who has an uncanny resemblance to Lin-Manual Miranda) and his family. I love this place, always so warm and inviting. Not to mention they have amazing and incredibly delicious merchandise.

The cafe has a lounge area where people can just chill. There's two tables, each surrounded by couches and chairs. Me and my beautiful girlfriend Grace are sitting on one of the chairs, it's not really made for two people, but a lot of creatures make it work. I know Grace doesn't like to be out in public in the "mortal world" when it's not October because of her appearance, (she's a Bird Deet, so she has a beak and a body full of feathers) but I keep telling her to ignore the stares. Who cares what people think? I love her, and no matter what, I'll always see pure beauty when I look at her.

Next to me is my hetero-life-partner Harry, I want him to be on the chair with us, but that might be uncomfortable. So he's instead on the couch to my right.

Next to Harry, is my 10-year-old niece Jazz and her older brother Tom. Jazz doesn't like socializing, but Tom usually drags her along. At the moment, she's busily typing away at her laptop. Tom is a grade younger than me, which makes it harder to believe that we're nephew and uncle, but my sister Alice has a lot of in-laws.

On the chair opposite me, are two of my "Detention Buddies": Lex and Currie. Ever since that day in detention, those two have become inseparable. They're even foster siblings, and honestly, I've never seen Currie so happy before.

On the other couch surrounding our oval table are three more of my "Detention Buddies": Gilbert, who's the closet to Lex; Ray and his boyfriend Ian. I gotta say, those two do make a cute couple.

"So what'z everyone'z Christmas planz?" Gilbert asks us. His English is getting better by the day, but he still has a somewhat thick accent. Not that I mind seeing as how I'm fluent in French. (As well as Ray)

"Same as every year." I answer, "On the day of Christmas Eve, travel to Spain, which is six hours ahead of us, with mis hermanas, Yoli, Don Xavier and Doña Jade for nochebuena; then when it's evening here, come back here, go to my Aunt Isolade's and because her husband's Italian, partake in the 'Feast of the 7 Fishes'; keep my older sister Alice and our mom from destroying each other; make small-talk; and watch as one of us dresses up as Santa for the kids. This year is my cousin Justin's turn, although Uncle Tristen did say it would be my turn in a few years. Then on Christmas Day, spend the day both in Wales, which is five hours ahead of us, and here with my Mom's family and try to keep the peace."

"Are the fights that bad?" Ian asks.

"Yep." I take a sip of my tea. "No matter what, Mom, Grandma and Aunt Max can't help but tease. Especially Mom and Grandma."

"Why do you always go?" Tom asks me.

"It's the holidays." I answer, "And they're still family."

"So's my dad." Ray replies, "And I'll be lucky to get even a message from him; whether it's my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter."

"What'z Za-Thanksgiving?" Gilbert asks. He's an exchange student from France, so he's probably not knowledgeable on U.S. customs.

"Every year on the 4th Thursday of November, the U.S. gives thanks for everything we have." Tom answers, "Also you stuff your face with friends and family."

"Usually there's turkey and a potatoe dish." Grace says, "Or in Max's family, there's at least two."

"Two?" Currie asks.

"Yep." I answer, "Mashed potatoes and Alice's mashed sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes are always a hit."

"Yeah, she adds sauteed sweet onion, garlic and rosemary, as well as mashing the marshmallows and brown sugar into them, rather than just putting them on top." Grace adds. Since we started dating, she's always come over for Thanksgiving, since it's not a holiday universally celebrated in Fayland.

"Why?" Lex asks.

"Why just have the good stuff on top?" I answer.

"Why onions and garlic?" Ian asks.

"Tastes good." I answer.

There's s bit of silence, we eat and drink, and Jazz types and clicks away.

"I'm going to my Grandma's." Harry finally says, breaking the silence.

"For Thanksgiving or Christmas?" Ian asks.

"Both." Harry answers, "I'm really close with my dad's side of the family, but not so much my mom's."

"Doesn't your mom's brothers send you a card?" I ask.

"Yeah, but you know they don't come every Christmas Day." Harry replies. Then he takes a sip of his hot chocolate.

"On Thanksgiving, me, Jazz, and our guardians are going to our Grandpa's." Tom says.

"It's 'Jazz, our guardians and I'." Jazz corrects.

"This ain't Language Arts!" Tom retorts.

"Proper English matters no matter where you are." Jazz replies while glued to her screen, "Also, that sentence can lead to confusion. You should've said, 'Jazz and I are going to our grandparents along with our guardians."

Tom rolls his eyes. "Are you done on that thing?"

"I just have this one last paper to edit." Jazz answers.

"How much they paying you?" Tom asks. Jazz has a business where she edits her classmate's papers.

"Five bucks." Jazz answers.

"That low?" Harry asks in confusion.

"That much?" Ray asks.

"These are 5th graders." Jazz states, "They don't have much money. Besides, $5 is my standard now."

"You charged my cousin $10!" Harry tells her.

"One: he could afford it. Two: it was way more than a simple essay."

"So?" Harry asks.

Jazz faces him, and says in a sharp tone, "Uncle Harry, please."

I place a hand on him, telling him to just let it go. He sighs, and eats his cookie.

"Well... uh..." Currie starts. I see Lex comfort her. Currie takes a breath, "I'm not sure of my plans. Normally I go to my grandparent's, but I'm not sure if I'll be welcomed there." I hear her family's giving her a hard time after the child abuse claim was filed against her parents.

"Don't worry." Lex tells her, "I told you, you're always welcome in my family. I'll always be here for you."

A gracious smile spreads across Currie's face. I can tell she's still getting used to a non-toxic environment.

"Yeah. We're going to my Uncle's place. And you don't need good grades to eat. You just need to show up and not be a dick."

We can't help but giggle.

"Wait, the lawyer uncle?" Ray asks.

"Yes." Lex answers, "And no, he is not looking for an intern."

"You sure?" Ray asks.

"Yes." Lex answers.

"Awe." Ray complains.

"I told you I could get you in touch with Jade's sister." I tell him.

"That's all the way in Philly!" Ray complains.

"And you need the experience." Ian scolds, "I'm serious. Do you know how hard it is to get a job these days?"

"Yes." Ray answers, "But I can't get an affordable, reliable way to get to Philly on a consistent basis."

"We can help you." Grace tells him.

"How?" Ray asks.

"I'm sure Rita can convince Ms. Janet to cover your transport costs, or-"

I squeeze her. There's no way I can secure a portal gun for him, he's a plain human who will be using it in a highly populated place.

"Or what?" Ray asks.

"Nothing." I dismissively say.

"She said 'or'." Ray tells me.

"Portal gun." Grace quickly throws her voice.

"Like on Rick and Morty?" Ray asks intrigued.

"More complex and easier to use." Grace answers, "If you don't have Teleportation powers, it's how you get from place to place when you don't feel like other mods of transport."

I can see Ray is intrigued. Better shut him down now. "They cost as much as a smart phone, and once people know you have one, they'll either want one for themselves, or won't stop bothering ya to make portals for them. Trust me."

"Do you have a portal gun?" Ray asks me.

"I plead the 5th." I answer.

Ray nods his head with a knowing glance. He's smart. I need to change the subject.

"So Gilbert, did your host family mention Thanksgiving?"

"Uh... oui. They zaid zat zey were having family over." Gilbert answers, "Zey zaid it was a feast for family, or zomething. I didn't pay much attention."

"Was it the English?" Ian asks.

"Partly." Gilbert answers.

Ray and Ian take on a mischivious grin. "Were you thinking of Ada?" Ray asks.

"What? No!" Gilbert denies.

"You two are close." Ray says.

"So?" Gilbert asks, rather defensively.

Ian gets off Ray and leans in super close to Gilbert, "You're always flirting with each other. And you do give off the vibe of a married couple."

"So does Max and Rita." Gilbert replies.

"Yeah but we're siblings." I say, "A better argument would be me and Harry." I feel a squeeze from Grace.

"Please don't drag me into this." Harry mutters to me.

"What it's true." I reply. He looks away. I turn to Grace, "And all I said was it was a better argument. Everyone knows we're a couple."

Grace makes a face, "Everyone?"

"Yes." I give her a kiss. She returns it. I've never minded her beak, it doesn't feel poky. Oh I love her.

"Get a room!" Lex says. I feel a paper ball thrown at us.

"We're in a room." I playfully retort.

Lex rolls their eyes.

"Sooo Ian," Gilbert says after a moment of silence, "What are you doing for Zanksgiving?"

"Well, this year, I'm going to my Aunt's house." Ian answers, "She lives all the way in Swarthmore, so we'll be staying three days."

"Three days?" Ray asks, he looks hurt.

"You can handle three days without me." Ian says with a smile.

Ray looks uncomfortable, "I guess. But, this is, like, one of the longest romantic relationships I've been in."

"Really?" Ian asks.

"Yeah." Ray nervously answers, "Dating someone for more than two weeks is rare for me. It's only happened once before."

Ian takes on a smug look. "Guess I'm special then."

A genuine smile crosses Ray's mouth, and pink hearts appear in his eyes. (Although, among the 10 of us, only me, Grace, Tom and Jazz can see the hearts) "Yep." He kisses him, Ian kisses back. They kiss until they end up in Gilbert's lap.

"Hey!" Gilbert cries.

"Sorry." Ian and Ray say.

Libby

On a cold rainy fall day, there's nothing better than going to a cafe. Although that can get boring after a while. The best way to make it unboring is to always go to different places. That's why today, my sisters and I are taking the trolley from Central City to Spridly. We're sitting in the middle, with Abby closest to the window, and Margo closet to the aisle. It's a bit of a tight squeeze, but we make it work.

"Why are we going all the way to Spridly?" Margo complains.

"Because it's fun." I answer.

"Shouldn't we have told Dad?" Margo asks.

"Dad doesn't need to know." Abby answers.

"But Dad doesn't like us going so far from home." Margo nervously says.

I stroke her hand in comfort. "You didn't have to come with us." I tell her. I feel the strong urge to boop her nose.

"I didn't want to be stuck in the house all day." Margo answers. "The forecast calls for rain all day."

"You can go places with your friends." I tell her.

"Or alone." Abby adds.

"They're all busy, and I don't like to be alone." Margo pouts.

"Well you're here now, and our phones have full charge." Abby tells her, "Nothing to worry about."

We ride in mostly silence for the rest of the trip. With only the chatter of other passengers and the occasional noises Abby makes as she reads something on her phone. I wrap an arm around Margo, and she leans into me, resting her head on my shoulder. When our stop comes, we pull the bell and exit.

Ah, Welsh Road; the hang out of Spridley. A road filled with shops, offices, and an arcade. On the other side of the trolley stop is the town's elementary school, a Catholic Church, and all the way down is our Aunt Gretchen's farm.

"Where to first?" I ask Abby.

"Steam Scotts." Abby answers, "I want a pumpkin latte."

"Ooh, I hope Horace is working the register today!" Margo squeals.

Me and Abby giggle. Margo and her crushes. Horace is a chimera who's in poetry club with me. His left eye is green and his right eye is brown; his left side is covered in freckles while the right is bare; the left side of his hair is naturally curly and brown while the right is smooth and almost black.

"He's too old for you." Abby laughs.

"So?" Margo asks. "It's only a few years."

"You're an 8th grader, and he's a senior." I tell her, "It won't work out."

"Says you!" Margo scowls as she puts her hands on her hips.

"He's told you he's not interested." Abby says, "Besides, he's a womanizer. Trust me, I go to the same school as him."

"You're only a sophomore." Margo protests. I can tell she's getting desperate.

Abby laughs as she shakes her head. "Come on, let's go." She opens the umbrella and grabs my hand, and I grab Margo's. We huddle under the umbrella as we rush to the cafe.

There's a long line. While we wait, we look around and gossip.

"Maybe we can check out the boutique." I suggest, "I could use a new top."

"Your wardrobe's near bursting!" Abby scolds.

"Well, I did offer Margo and Ada some clothes." I remark.

"I didn't love them." Margo replies, "And when would Ada have the chance to wear them?"

"Good point." I say. I think I have a problem.

"What are you guys gonna get?" Abby asks, changing the subject.

"Pumpkin hot chocolate." I answer, "And I wonder if they have those pumpkin blueberry scones."

"They should at this time of year." Abby replies, "What about you Margo?"

"Chocolate drizzled lemon drop cookies." She answers, "And maybe a hot chocolate."

"Plain?" I ask.

"Yeah, I like plain." Margo answers.

"But they don't offer Pumpkin every day." I tell her.

Margo shrugs her shoulders, "It'll be available until Christmas. I can handle it."

"True." Me and Abby say in unison.

There's only a few people ahead of us now. Abby checks the news on her phone. I look at the cashier, it's Horace. Margo's gonna flip.

I feel Margo wrap her arms around my left one. She rests her head against mine, she's so adorable. I kiss her head.

We move up the line, it's very boring.

"Where do you want to go to next?" I ask my sisters.

"Home." Margo answers.

"Besides that." I answer.

"Hey, check this out." Abby says as she shows us her phone, "New gun laws are finally being enforced."

"Really?" I ask. I know how hard it's been trying to regulate guns so they don't end up killing people.

"Yeah, there's pushback, of course, but that's expected." Abby nonchalantly answers.

"What are the laws?" Margo asks.

"Banning of semi-automatics; mandating safety regulations; making sure if you have a gun, it must be registered, even if it's a gift." Abby answers.

"They got all that done?" I ask in disbelief. I may not be as informed as my big sister, but I know enough.

"Yeah, it's amazing what can be done when common sense takes over." Abby replies.

"Hey!" I hear someone cry. I turn to see a group of people in the lounge. I see 7, no, 8, people? Maybe more? They seem cheerful. They seem to have a conversation going on. I know it's impolite to stare, but, I just can't look away for some reason.

Then, the most handsome man I've ever seen rises from the couch farthest away from me. He has auburn hair in a ponytail, with some blonde in it. His face, oh, so handsome! I wonder why I've never seen him before! New Wales County's quite small, so you're bound to be familiar with everyone. But him, oh my.

"Who's taken your fancy?" Abby asks.

I point.

"Him?" Abby asks in disbelief.

"Yeah." I answer, "Do you know him?"

"That's Ray McJames." Abby answers, "He's on Debate with me, and he's in a few of my classes. He's a HUGE flirt."

"Like Jeff?" I ask. Jeff is an Elite who's always flirting with Abby, Ada and Maria Ricardo. Even though Abby and Ada keep rejecting him for being a jerk. Maria's more open to his advances, even though she and Abby are both in serious relationships. Although rumor has it that Maria's boyfriend is abusive and she's only with him because of her mother.

"Oh no." Abby answers, "Jeff doesn't understand boundaries nor how to take a hint. Ray does."

We move up in line. I think I remember her telling us.

"Is he nice?" Margo asks.

"Ray? Yeah. He's witty, caring, intelligent," She takes on a wistful face and tone, "handsome, worldly, cunning,"

"Do you have a crush?" Margo asks.

Abby snaps out of it and quickly says, "Oh, no. I just see him as a friend. I would never cheat on Jack."

"I never said you would." Margo replies.

Abby looks embarrassed. I should change the subject. We move up in line. "Is he seeing someone?" I ask.

"Kinda." Abby answers, "He's really close with Gabrielle Scott, and there's rumors he's dating Ian Foster."

"Ian Foster?!" Margo and I exclaim. Ian's an Elite, and there's rumors that his dad's a homophobe.

"Yep. Started when they were in detention for that fight with Lee Butcher." Abby answers.

"Why haven't I noticed?" I ask, I'm in the same school, and I do keep in touch with some Elites. Not as much as I used to, but I do.

"Well, you're not one for gossip." Abby answers.

"True." I answer.

We reach the front of the line. I see the pumpkin-blueberry scones in the display case, yay! When it's our turn, we go to the register.

"Hey girls." Horace says with a flirty smile, "What can I do for ya?"

Abby sighs while I roll my eyes.

"Date me?" Margo squeaks.

"Uh, you're too young." Horace awkwardly replies.

I see Margo pout.

"Medium pumpkin-spice latte and an apple scone." Abby orders, bring the subject back to ordering.

"Uh, sure." Horace says, then he rings her up. "Are you separate?"

"Yes." Abby says.

"Ok. That'll be $4.71." Horace says.

Abby smiles and takes out a five. Horace then gives her the change and receipt.

He looks at me. He knows to give us our orders all at once. "And you?"

"Pumpkin hot chocolate and a pumpkin-blueberry scone." I answer.

"Usual size?" Horace asks.

"Yes." I answer.

"That'll be $4.77." Horace answers.

I'm all out of fives, darn. And I only have three ones. I give him a ten. He looks a bit upset. He puts the bill in the register and gives me my change and receipt.

He turns to Margo. "Your usual?"

"Yes." Margo answers. She still looks upset, but I see a bit of hope.