Another week had gone by and Jeron had finally received his summons from Aria. As he was getting ready to pick her up, he turned around to find Sylus standing at the bottom of the stairs, tightening his tie.
“How’s it look?” he held his arms out.
Jeron had seen Sylus wear this suit many times and it had never really fit him. He’d always been much too petite. He often wondered why he didn’t buy one his size or have it tailored. Now he understood. In this new, bigger body everything fit perfectly. It was like he had a desired look in mind and went headlong into nailing it. Jeron sighed with frustration. Once more he found his feelings swirling with confusion.
“When did you learn to tie a tie?” Jeron chuckled.
“Ten minutes ago,” Sylus grinned as he straightened it out.
“Hey!” Daniel slid off his stool, “You’re finally wearing your tie where people can see it!”
Sylus felt his face heating up.
Daniel turned to Jeron, “I don’t know if you knew but Dad wore that tie to work every day under his uniform. It means the world to him.”
Sylus cleared his throat as he slowly turned to Jeron who, oddly enough, was smiling.
“Sorry, Jer,” he coughed.
Sylus clung to his tie, “I-I don’t…”
Jeron sighed, “You know it’s shit like that that convinces me you’re who you say you are.”
Sylus laughed nervously. “Still trying to figure me out?”
Jeron pinched the bridge of his nose, “I really don’t know…”
“So, uh,” Sylus cleared his throat, “I was wondering if I could go with you to pick Aria up.”
Jeron raised an eyebrow.
“I-I’m feeling well enough…”
Jeron leaned around him, “I can’t exactly be bringing you out in public, Sy…”
It was then that he remembered the weave of tendrils that hung from his back. How could he forget? They were part of him now and would be forever. Like any other appendage, it wasn’t like he could just make them disappear. Or… Or could he…? He remembered the shopping center and how he was able to hide his tendril. He had no idea how he managed to do that, but maybe he could do it again?
I can help, Qaitax interrupted his thoughts.
Jeron’s eyes widened as the tendrils faded from existence.
“Also,” Sylus added, “These are real clothes. So I won’t suddenly be naked once we leave the Mist.”
“How’s that even gonna work?” Jeron put his coat on, “Can you even leave this place?”
Sylus shrugged, “As good a time as any to find out.”
“Sy…” Jeron pursed his lips, “I’m not sure I can handle you dying again so soon.”
“Jeron, we’ll know pretty quickly. If it’s bad, I’ll get out and walk home.”
“It’ll be fine, Jer. I promise!”
Jeron sighed deeply as he shook his head. A very clear look of dissent on his face.
It was then that a familiar sense of dread hit Sylus square in the pit of his stomach, “Oh,” he stepped back, “Ah…”
“What?” Jeron fished his keys out of his pockets.
“I… I didn’t mean to impose.”
“I didn’t even think about you being stuck with me for so long,” he forced a laugh, “I’ll be here when you get back.” He sat down on the couch. “Drive safe!”
“Changed your mind?” Jeron opened the door.
“Y-yeah,” Sylus forced a smile, “I… I changed my mind.”
Your mind has not changed… What are you doing?
“Shut up,” he hissed under his breath.
Jeron glanced at Daniel who was subtly shaking his head.
“Sy, you can come if you want…”
“Nah,” he laughed, “I wouldn’t want to impose. Besides, you barely know me anymore. Would be kinda shit to be stuck in a car with a stranger for hours.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I forgot. I forgot that what was a matter of days to me was years to you. I forgot I can’t just jump back into your life like nothing’s changed. I’m not being angsty or obstinate, I’m being realistic. You didn’t exactly jump at the idea of spending time with me and that’s more than reasonable! I’m not going to force myself on you. End of story. Now get going,” his voice took a drastic turn from somber to cheery, “Aria’s waiting.”
Jeron closed the door. “Dan?”
“Would you and Saari mind going to your rooms for a minute?”
“Sure! We can listen to some more music if you like,” he turned to Saari.
She nodded with a smile, “I like the ones with the string instruments.”
“Guitars? Violins?” Daniel laughed.
“All of them! Strings are very nice in my ears.”
“I’ll find some fun string music then. From all kinds of genres.”
“That sounds nice.”
They headed into Daniel’s room and closed the door behind them.
“Please don’t yell at me again, Jeron,” Sylus clenched his fists on his lap, “I’m not being dramatic. I’m doing the right thing.”
Jeron took a deep breath as he sat down beside him.
“Since it wasn’t that long ago to you, I’m assuming you know what happened right before you left, right?”
Sylus sorted through his memories. None of them were very clear, but he had vague recollections of occurrences.
“A lot happened. What are we talking about specifically?”
“The part where I told you to stop assuming the worst and that I would tell you if something bothered me?”
Sylus bit his lip. “You looked annoyed. I didn’t change my mind over nothing. Really. Aria’s waiting. You have to go.”
Jeron stared dead ahead, “I’m confused, Sy. I’m confused about all of this. I have no idea how I feel about any of what’s going on.”
“That’s fair,” Sylus stared at the floor.
“And you’re right, we can’t just jump back into it like nothing’s changed…”
“I’m still me, Jer… I swear. I know I look and sound different, might even act a bit different, but it’s me Jeron… I swear…”
Jeron leaned back into the couch. “I believe that, Sy. I really do. But…” he turned to face him, “You’ve changed. So much. I mean Sy, come on. You went from this slender feminine waif to… I don’t even know what this is.”
“Big-boned?” Sylus forced a nervous laugh.
“Is this what you wanted for yourself? All along?”
Sylus sat back, “Yes. I knew that in the confines of reality this was impossible. I could never change myself to this degree, but in a perfect world where dreams could become reality, yeah… This is what I always wanted.”
“Qaitax didn’t have any input in this?”
Sylus turned to him, “You think he forced this on me?”
“I really don’t know…”
“Well,” Sylus choked a bit, “He didn’t. He was actually surprised I didn’t want to be some kind of Adonis. All the power in the world and infinite possibilities and I just want to be a fat fuck with some facial hair and thick sideburns on a slightly wider jawline.”
Jeron sighed, “You’re not really that fat…”
Sylus scowled at him, “Honestly, Jeron.”
“No really. I’ve seen fatter people.”
“You’re just… Rounder. Yeah, you’ve got some kind of belly going on, but it’s not entirely unpleasant.”
Sylus found himself leaning on his knees again.
“This is what you wanted, though, right?”
“It is,” Sylus breathed.
“And you’re happy with this?”
“Then who am I to judge?” Jeron stood up.
Sylus felt like he was on the verge of tears.
“I know it’s a lot to ask, but am I even remotely attractive to you anymore?”
Once again, he had no idea what to say. His mind was constantly trying to rationalize his feelings. There were so many, but the biggest one was confusion. Jeron never saw himself loving another man. Not like this. Not someone who was clearly masculine and unmistakably male. He thought about Sylus from before. Yes, he was still feminine, but… he wasn’t well. He always looked sickly, tired and worn… His eyes were always sunken and his gaze so often appeared distant and dead. Like he wasn’t fully there. That was old Sylus. A being trapped between two phases of existence with no hope of escape. Jeron’s father used to say that all Sylus needed was the right man and BOOM he’d be normal. But right here and now? He seemed far more normal than he ever did before. This person, this completely different person seemed so much more natural than Sylus ever had. The way he sat, the way he smiled… As alien as his eyes had become, they still looked so much more alive than they ever had before.
Was Sylus attractive to him? He wasn’t sure what to say, but he knew what he felt. He loved Sylus before and he wanted to be intimate with him then, but now? He hated himself for how badly he wanted to press himself into his chest and feel his warmth around him. This Sylus triggered something in him that he hated so much but couldn’t ignore. Something deep inside of him was stirring and he knew that if he indulged he’d definitely shame his parents. Pops didn’t raise a sissy.
“Hey,” Sylus smiled, “It’s okay. I kinda knew I wouldn’t exactly be your type anymore.”
“I really don’t know Sy… It’s been two weeks and I keep fighting with myself over how I feel about you. What’s right? What’s wrong? Who are you? Who am I? I’m pushing forty, Sy and I don’t know who I am…”
“It’s okay, Jer,” Sylus stood up, “You don’t have to settle for anything less than what you really want.”
Jeron shook his head, “Come with me, Sy. Some time together would be nice. We can figure the relationship thing out in time.”
“You sure?” Sylus smiled coyly.
“If you can fit in the truck, you can come along,” Jeron opened the door.
“Well, like you said, I’m not that fat.”
“Think the kids’ll be okay for a bit?”
“Daniel? Saari?” Sylus called up the hall.
The door to Daniel’s room cracked open as the boy peered out.
“You weren’t listening to music, were you?”
“Jeron and I are heading out for a bit. Will you be okay?”
“Between Saari and Quip, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about spawns, Dad.”
“I’ll be back soon, Dan. I promise.”
“I know,” Daniel smiled before returning to his room.