We linger in the aftermath of Dave’s confession for a while, until Alec gets up.
“Okay guys, enough tears,” he says, wiping away his own. “We’re supposed to be partying here!”
Dave chuckles. “He’s right. Sorry for being a downer.”
Kaitlynn shakes her head. “Don’t apologize for sharing.” She gets up and sways to the side, giggling as she almost falls over again. “But Alec’s right, this is supposed to be a party. I wanna dance!”
She locks eyes with me as she says it, staring with unusual intensity. I swallow and sit up.
“We don’t have any music though,” Jacob mumbles, his eyes half-lidded.
Dave scratches his head, then gets up and grabs his bow. “Let’s see if this works.” His Focus Crystal lights up red, and he strikes the bowstring. A wail not unlike that of an electric guitar bursts forth.
Jacob is roused from his lethargy. “Dude, what was that?”
Dave smiles. “Amplify. Now, let’s see if I can pick out different frequencies...”
Within minutes, he’s playing a simple blues tune on his bow. Jacob joins him, drumming on his shield, and Alec starts scatting adlibs.
Kaitlynn drags me off the couch to dance with her. I go along with it, dancing with her while sipping on the remnants of my second bottle of mead until it’s empty. What a pity. This stuff is really good. Maybe I should get another...
Except I have exactly 100 Trial Points right now, so I can’t. Damnit.
‘Suuriii,’ I subvocalize, ‘my Toxic Energy Tolerance is too high, I’m not getting drunk enough!’
[Don’t worry, Emma. You’re plenty drunk.]
‘Hey, what if I take that hallucinogenic mushroom? I bet Kaitlynn still has that!’
[Do me a favour and forget about that idea, Emma. Eating that thing would pull you into a Dreamscape out of my control. And if you didn’t manage to return in time, you’d die.]
I pout. Such a partypooper.
Kaitlynn grabs my hand to spin me, and soon enough I’m distracted by the flush on her face and the gleam in her eye, and forget all about the shroom.
Dave plays a variety of styles, from blues to disco to some slower stuff, and we dance the whole time. In the more upbeat songs, Alec joins us in jumping around.
At some point, during a slower song, I hear Dave explain to Jacob that he played guitar in a metal band back on Earth, which doesn’t surprise me. He then goes on to say that, regretfully, he’s almost used up all of his Qi.
Somehow, I’m still caught off-guard when they switch styles to death metal. Jacob starts beating his shield with all he has, Dave is headbanging while he plucks his bowstring, and Alec does his best impression of grunting, in between fits of laughter.
I stop dancing to watch them in amusement. Kaitlynn first covers her ears, then grabs me and drags me off to a room—hers I think—with a peal of laughter.
Inside, we sprawl onto the single bed, still laughing. Everything feels fuzzy and warm, and the ceiling spins slowly.
Our laughter dies down. I’m lying on my back, and Kaitlynn’s pressed into my side, nuzzling into the crook of my neck. Her nose presses against the sensitive skin, and her exhale tickles, sending shivers down my spine.
“You know,” I say, breaking the silence. “I think I said something about this earlier, but I’ve never had many female friends.”
Kaitlynn backs up a little to look at me, blinking languorously. “Why’s that?”
“Bitches be cray,” I joke. “No, I don’t know; girls don’t like me. Think I’m rude, or somethin’. Or they worry I’ll steal their boyfriend.”
Kaitlynn hums, pursing her lips. “People find you rude? Imagine that. How odd.”
I glare at her, threatening a tickle by twitching my fingers against her side. One of my arms somehow wound up curled around her back. “Now don’t you start, too!”
Kaitlynn giggles and jerks away a little from my feigned assault, which just presses her more closely against me. “Seriously though, I don’t get it; you’re so sweet to me.”
I shrug. “Guess I took a likin’ to ya. You’re pretty nice to me too, most of the time. When I’m not doing anything crazy.”
Kaitlynn partially sits up to glower at me. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
I freeze up. “Ehm, pretty sure I said ‘Well gosh, you’re always so nice to me too!’ ”
“That’s better,” Kaitlynn says smugly, before giggling and relaxing back into me, somehow pressed even closer to me than before.
The closeness is getting a little overwhelming, in fact. My palms are kinda clammy, and I can feel my heartbeat in my throat.
“It’s just... I can’t stand the thought of something happening to you, you know?” Kaitlynn confesses softly. “That’s why I get upset when you do something dangerous. You’re like, the closest friend I’ve ever had, and I jus’ wanna hug you and never let go. And I was worried for a bit that it might be your Charm affecting me, but right now I just don’t care anymore if it is, I just want to be close to you.”
She looks up at me with big, slightly watery eyes and our gazes lock. Heat wells up in my chest. I want to say something, express similar sentiments but my throat closes up.
Despite the heady haze of the booze, I am now so focused on her face that I catch the minute motion of Kaitlynn’s eye when her gaze flicks down towards my lips.
Oh god. My gaze flicks down to hers. They look delicious.
Without knowing how, when, or exactly why, I close the distance and lightly press my lips against hers.
They’re warm and soft, so much softer than a guy’s, and her breath tastes intoxicatingly sweet.
The mere feel of her lips sends waves of heat crashing through my body.
It’s a soft, sweet kiss, laden with meaning that I currently can’t express through words. Objective meaning.
‘You’re important to me, too. I care for you and will protect you, no matter what. God, your lips feel good.’
For a split second, Kaitlynn freezes up. Then she moans softly and melts into the kiss, deepening it.
That little moan breaks something inside of me. The emotions welling up take a turn in a new direction. The heat within me moves south, and by mutual agreement, our kiss quickly turns hungry, then needy, as we begin to express emotions I was only vaguely aware existed.
I wake up with an armful of Kaitlynn. At first, I just smile down at her face, not really thinking much of it, since this isn’t altogether that unusual a situation by now.
Then, I am hit by a rush of blurry memories.
My smile freezes.
Oh, shit. Okay, calm down, Emma. You’re still fully clothed at least, this time.
I carefully extract myself from Kaitlynn’s sleeping form. She makes light noises of protest but doesn’t wake.
I stealthily remove myself from the scene of the crime, passing through the thankfully empty living room into my own, where I start to pace.
Holy shit, what happened last night? I remember tears and confessions, some dancing, and then...
I touch my lips. They’re swollen and sensitive.
We made out. A crash of butterflies erupts in my stomach unbidden, bringing with it a nervous, nearly giddy energy. We made out a lot, judging by the state of my lips.
At least I’m pretty confident it was just making out, as my uniform is still buttoned up, and I don’t feel sore anywhere else.
I frown. Actually, I seem to remember some gro—yup, I definitely remember groping. Oh god. I made out with a girl—with Kaitlynn—and I liked it!
My hands are shaking, and I have a sudden bout of vertigo. I kneel down on the floor and start taking deep, steadying breaths.
[Say, Emma,] Suri chimes. [Is everything all right?]
I nearly jump out of my skin. “Ah! Geez, woman. Don’t scare me like that.”
[Right. I’ll endeavour to warn you before I speak in the future.]
I huff out a breath. “Fine fine, I’m just a little on edge, sorry.”
[I can tell. Your flow of Lavi is completely erratic. What’s the matter? I would think you had a lovely night.]
“Look, it’s complicated, all right?” I say with a sigh. “You know what, ehm, being gay means?”
[Obviously. What about it?]
“Well, it’s... there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just unusual,” I explain lamely. “And I have nothing against people who are gay, I’m just not one of them.”
[Ooh, I believe I learned a phrase once for this kind of situation, let me think. Right: ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much.’ I believe it was said by some famous spear-wielding human?]
I roll my eyes. “No, he was a playwright, it’s just his—Look, it’s not like that, okay?”
[Ooh, actually, I remember a better one, so I’d like to change my official response to: ‘Denial is not just a river in Egypt.’]
“Yes, very funny, Suri, thanks for listening and being so understanding.”
[Oh all right, miss grumpypants, I was just having a laugh. Go on, tell me why you’re so ‘not gay.’]
I deflate and brush some stray, unkempt locks out of my face. “It’s kind of a long story.”
[That’s fine, dear, I have nothing but time.]
I nod and go lie down on the bed, still feeling a little wobbly, and take a moment to gather my thoughts.
“As a kid, I always hung out with boys,” I begin. “I kept my hair cut short because I didn’t like it long. I didn’t want to wear pink and play with Barbies, I wanted to go outside and play soccer with the lads and would come back home covered in mud and twigs. My mom wasn’t pleased of course, but she accepted it. At school it was never a problem, either; most of the boys were my friends, so even if some of the girls gave me weird looks, I was pretty popular.”
[Sounds nice enough,] Suri observes.
“It was, but then came high-school,” I continue. “Suddenly, the general consensus became that I was a ‘Dyke.’ I hardly knew what it meant at the time, I remember looking it up in the dictionary... and being thoroughly confused by what I found. I mean, I obviously wasn’t a ‘long wall or embankment built to prevent flooding from the sea.’ ”
[Ah yes, the Entropic Realm and its silly misunderstandings; always cracks me up.]
“Yes, well, my innocence didn’t last of course, and when I learned what people really meant, I got even more confused. I mean, I’d never had such feelings for a girl, but people seemed very adamant, so I started questioning myself. However, I kept returning to the same conclusion: I liked boys and only boys.”
“So, I protested, went in discussion, but the more I pleaded my straightness, the harder they laughed. ‘If you like boys so much, then tell us who you like.’ Naturally, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I knew how to be friends with boys, but not yet how to be more than friends with them.”
[What a strange world you lived in,] Suri chimes. [I would love to see it someday, but alas...]
I blink for a moment and then nod. I don’t know what kind of hardware Suri runs on, obviously, but I imagine it would be close to impossible to build a computer that would remain functional after being taken to a Realm with completely different laws governing reality. If we even find a way back at all.
“Well anyway, that obviously wasn’t the end of that whole drama, but... let’s just say I was left thoroughly traumatized about my sexuality by all of it, and as a result, painstakingly examined it. I even watched lesbian porn a couple of times, just to see if it did anything, but nada! And that’s why I’m so confused right now; I’m absolutely confident that I’ve always been straight, so I just don’t understand what happened last night!”
[I see,] Suri chimes. [I think I understand the problem now.]
“Really? Enlighten me.”
[Very well. The problem is that your mindset is in many ways still that of the Entropic Realm.]
I frown. “What do you mean?”
[Isn’t It obvious? I’ve told you before that the male and female genders are a thing from the Entropic Realm. You’re Yin, Kaitlynn is Yang; being attracted to her is only natural.]
Ah, of course. Wait, what?!
I shoot upright on the single bed, shaken by Suri’s sudden claim. “Are you saying being in this Realm changes my sexuality?!”
[Well, yes. Why wouldn’t it?] Suri chimes.
I flounder, waving my hands around as if it’ll conjure up an argument for my sake. “But, human sexuality is rooted in our brains, it’s hard-wired!”
[In the Entropic Realm, yes. Your ‘brain’ works differently here. Face it, Emma, you’re a Yang-sexual.]
I scoot back on the bed to lean against the wall, reeling as I try to take this in. “You’re telling me, the result of millions of years of evolution tailored to sexual reproduction and social cooperation, all of that’s gone?”
[Well, that’s a tad dramatic. I’m sure some form of preference still survives, but you’ll have a hard time thinking of another Yin in a sexual way. Your feelings for them will at most range from friendly to adversarial.]
“So, I could feel attraction towards Dave, Jacob, and, well, Kaitlynn, but not towards Alec, because he’s Yin?”
[Indeed. Haven’t you noticed how differently you treat Alec?]
I frown. “I always just thought that was because he’s an annoying little shit. Kinda like—”
[A little brother?] Suri chimes. [Quite. No, there are only six Yin-Yang pairs possible within your party: you with Kaitlynn, Dave, or Jacob, and Alec with Kaitlynn, Dave, or Jacob. Some of these are mutually exclusive, obviously; I’m sure I don’t need to explain such a simple mathematical operation.]
I’m hardly listening at this point, because my brain grinds to a halt at the image of Dave and Alec together, romantically. There is no way in hell that would ever happen, right? The image of Alec and Jacob together, on the other hand... Not bad.
Suri interrupts my train of thought. [Now that you know this, what are you going to do about Kaitlynn?]
I can feel the blood drain from my face. It’s an excellent question. And one I’m wholly unprepared to answer.
I sit up against the wall, pull my knees towards my chest, and frown at nothing. Suri doesn’t say anything, apparently understanding that I need to think.
So. First of all, I’m apparently not gay, or bi. I’m a Yang-sexual. It’s a relief, in a way. Again, not to say that I would have a problem with being like that. It’s a relief because it explains my confusion.
It explains a lot. Because if I’m honest, I’ve been ignoring certain signs that I’m familiar with, around Kaitlynn. Signs that I’ve never displayed around another female. Signs of a crush.
In hindsight, they’re pretty clear, but I’ve never been great at confronting my own feelings. Also, I’ve been a little preoccupied. I mean, I literally battled a giant crab to the death yesterday.
Now that I’m hesitantly allowing myself to experience them however, my feelings rush out in a way that’s a little overwhelming. The very thought of her evokes a rush of nervous energy. A memory of Kaitlynn’s soft, warm lips—very warm, actually, might be a Yang thing—comes unbidden. My heart starts beating harder, almost painfully so, and my breath comes deeper.
Shit. What am I going to do about her? Should I... pursue her?
That idea brings with it another flood of nervous excitement. God, I’m not sure if I’d even be able to stop myself from trying!
This whole thing is surreal. It feels kinda like I’m dreaming, or like the world is spinning out of control, so I close my eyes and take a deep, steadying breath to calm down.
The idea of actually liking another girl still feels so foreign, that part of me baulks at it. And yet... Is it really such a big deal? After all, gender isn’t even a thing here. Even Jacob fell for—oh shit, that’s right! I’m not the only one affected here. Jacob wasn’t straightened out by my Charm: he’s a Yin-sexual!
Everyone who comes here just gets their sexuality Warped. Man, that is weird.
My breath hitches at a thought. A frown creeps over my face. “Suri, what would happen to our sexualities if we managed to return to the Entropic Realm?”
[An intriguing thought. I suppose if you somehow managed, you would revert to the sexuality you previously had down there.]
The butterflies disappear, replaced by an empty, sinking feeling in my stomach. “Are you telling me this place made me fall for someone that I have essentially zero chance of a future with back on Earth?”
[Well, if you’re positive about your straightness back on Earth, then in a way, yes. I’m sorry, Emma.]
This is so unfair. I was just starting to accept it. Just starting to anticipate. Before I know it, a bitter, angry tear rolls down my left cheek.
Of all the ways this Realm has screwed me over, this one takes the cake.
If Suri is upset by me smashing the mirror in this room with my spear seconds later, she doesn’t say anything.
Happy Valentine's day, everyone!
I only just realised how fitting a day this is for today's chapter. ^^'
Couldn't have planned it better if I'd tried ;)
Hope you all enjoyed it, please click here to vote if you did. ^^
Next week: the start of Book 3!