“We are out of milk…” Saari muttered as she looked into the refrigerator.
“WHAT?!” Daniel shrieked as he came down from his bedroom.
She lifted an empty carton out of the fridge.
“But… My cereal…” Daniel was genuinely upset.
Sylus came down into the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” he was bleary eyed and scratching his head and stomach simultaneously.
“We are out of milk,” Saari showed him the carton.
“Dad I want my cereal… It’s been a rough couple of days. I need some Chococrisps to cool my nerves. I think it’s only fair you get more milk. Like now,” Daniel stared his father down.
“I just woke up…” Sylus groaned.
“I will get the milk if you drive me to the store,” Saari chimed in.
Sylus grumbled as he ran his hand over his face. “Let me go get dressed,” he muttered as he wandered back up to his room.
“Get some ice cream, too, please?” Daniel whispered to Saari.
She smiled and nodded.
“How about some cookies or something too?”
“We can bake cookies, Daniel. We do not need to buy them,” She replied as she rummaged through the rest of the fridge.
“But it’s easier to buy them…”
“But it is not as rewarding, is it?” she looked around the refrigerator door at him.
“I guess not…”
“We need more meat for your father,” she stood up, her hand resting under her chin as she thought. “I need to make a list somehow… But…”
“Here,” Daniel got a pad of paper and wrote his name on it, “Can you read this?”
Saari turned to him. The horns allowed her to see in a strange way. They filtered what would be considered sight through the void. She knew she would never see the world as it truly was, but she could navigate it well enough. Reading had become a problem since she let Qalia. The only things she’d read before escaping to earth were ancient texts and those were written in the blood of voidsents so they translated just fine. But on earth? Pencils? Paper? She could rarely make any of it out. It was starting to get upsetting that the written word of her new home was something she’d never be able to read.
“It says ‘Daniel’. I can make it out because I am familiar with those symbols.”
“Hmm…” Daniel thought a moment, “Oh I know!”
He tore the sheet of paper off and started drawing something on the fresh page.
A black and white cat jumped up onto the kitchen counter.
“Not now Skitzel…” Daniel pushed the cat away. It watched him write a bit before finding the torn off piece of paper. It stepped on Daniel’s drawings with much intention in order to sit on said sheet of paper. Daniel glared at the cat.
“I think you are in the way, Mr. Skitzel,” Saari reached over and picked up the cat. Mr. Skitzel nuzzled up against Saari and began to purr.
“I like cats,” she smiled as she made her way into the living room.
Sylus returned wearing a slightly different suit from last night. Blue shirt this time. He glanced at Daniel drawing at the counter and then over to Saari sitting on the couch cuddling Mr. Skitzel. She was wearing the top half of her priestess robe over a pair of jeans. He couldn’t blame her. It was hot out. He stood at the bottom of the stairs in silence for a moment before anyone noticed him. Mr. Skitzel caught sight of him and hissed. Sylus hissed back, his eyes becoming elongated rather than round as he did so.
“Do not scare him!” Saari yelled as Mr. Skitzel scrambled off her lap, “You are lucky I am wearing pants!”
“He already hates me,” Sylus muttered as he straightened out his jacket.
Saari stood up to adjust his collar.
“What would I do without you?” he smiled.
She gave him a quick peck on the lips, “Most likely leave the house in a wrinkled shirt.”
He kissed her on the forehead.
“Here,” Daniel hopped down off the bar stool, “What does this look like to you?”
Saari took the sheet of paper from him. “They are drawings. Crude but I can make them out. I see a milk carton. A steak. A box of ice cream. And…” she looked down at him, “We will bake cookies. I will purchase the ingredients.”
“Should try m’gram’s recipe,” Sylus strained to say as he tied his tie.
“You have Grammy’s recipe book?” Daniel looked up at him in awe.
“I should. Unless yer mum took it.”
Daniel laughed, “She didn’t exactly have time to take anything. Bitch…”
“DANIEL!” Sylus shouted.
Daniel recoiled. Saari’s gaze shifted nervously between them.
“Daniel…” Sylus knelt down, “Don’t say things like that. You’re better than that. Please…”
Daniel’s eyes began to well up, “But everything she did… I-”
“Daniel…” Sylus breathed as he reached out for his son.
Daniel let him pull him into a hug.
“I hate her, Dad… I hate her so much…”
“Hate is a very strong word, Danny. It’s not good to hate…”
“But you hate her, too, don’t you?” Daniel sniffed, “Why did you let her get away…”
Sylus leaned back to look Daniel in the eyes.
“I try not to hate, Dan. It’s a terrible feeling. I know it hurts. I know that pain. Trust me I do…”
“Then why can’t I call her a bitch? She is one. I hate her!” Daniel stomped as his father pulled him in closer. “Dad…” he wept. He reached around his father’s neck and gripped his collar tightly, “Why did you have to go away…”
A cold wave of guilt filled Sylus’ entire body.
“I… I had to… I had to or you wouldn’t have had a home…”
“But you left me with her…” Daniel leaned back to face Sylus.
“Why did you leave me with her? FIVE TIMES!” Daniel yelled at the top of his lungs. Sylus pressed his head against his shoulder. He could feel his own tears coming on.
“DANIEL!” Saari yelled, “That is not fair and you know it! Your father did what he had to. You both suffered. Please…” Saari knelt down beside them, her tone calming yet remaining firm, “Please… Remember that you were both hurt very badly,” she ran her fingers through Daniel’s hair. He leaned back to look at her. “You were both mistreated, but it is time for you both to start healing. And you must do so together. You have a reason and a right to be angry, Daniel, but your father loves you. Do not direct your rage at the wrong person.”
“Daniel…” Sylus choked.
Daniel looked at his father again.
“It’s okay if you never forgive me, or blame me for everything. It really is. All I can do is apologize and promise you a better future…” Sylus forced a smile.
“Dad… I…” Daniel struggled to speak.
“It’s okay. Just know I love you. I always have and I always will. You’re my son,” his smile grew more earnest, “And that will never change.”
“Dad…” Daniel wrapped his arms tightly around his father’s neck. “I’m sorry…” he wept into Sylus’ shirt, “I’m so sorry…” his voice started to hitch, “She’s not coming back… is she?”
“I warned her what would happen if she ever did. I doubt she’d run that risk. She’s happy now. Without us…”
“She doesn’t deserve to be happy…” he grasped his father’s hair on the back of his head.
“Do we?” Sylus spoke quietly, just above a whisper.
“I-” Daniel looked up over Sylus’ shoulder. Mr. Skitzel was perched on the arm of the couch looking down at him. He seemed concerned. For a cat. “We do… right?”
“Right,” Sylus ran his fingers through Daniel’s hair.
“I love you, Dad… I’m… I’m really sorry…” Daniel sniffed as he pulled away.
“It’s okay, Dan. Just remember: She’s gone and we’re going to be happy. I know you can’t forget what she’s done to you, but you need to try to move on. You have your whole life ahead of you. You can’t carry that hatred with you everywhere,” Sylus wiped the tears from Daniel’s eyes.
“That’s what Dr. Karen says…”
“See? If someone with a degree says it, it must be true,” he chuckled lightly. Daniel laughed a little, too. “So what are we going to do now?”
“We’re going to work on getting better,” Daniel said confidently with a nod. “We’ll show her we can be happy without her just like she can be happy without us!”
Sylus’ smile grew almost uncontrollably. He leaned in and kissed his son on the forehead.
“We’re going to be okay. And if we aren’t Saari will kick our asses until we are, right?” he looked to her, still kneeling beside him.
Saari smiled. “If that is what you want, my Lord. I would be more than happy to kick your ass, but perhaps not Daniel’s. He is still so young and impressionable,” she winked at him. Daniel laughed.
“Are we all okay now?” Sylus let Daniel pull away. He nodded as he wiped his eyes, “Good,” Sylus grunted as he stood up, “Goddamn maybe I am too fat…”
Saari rolled her eyes as she turned to Daniel. She put her hand to his cheek and brushed her thumb under his eye, “For what it is worth, I love you, too, Daniel. I will help however I can.”
“Thank you, Saari,” he leaned in to hug her but bumped his head on her horns. She lifted them up so he could make it in for the hug. They laughed.
Sylus stood over them smiling. He’d always wanted a family. One that loved each other and not just themselves. He had fooled himself for so long believing he was loved when he really wasn’t. It was plain to everyone, but he was blinded by her acceptance. He never thought he’d find someone who embraced him for who he was, but thinking back… It seemed like it was more a means to an end than something she ever really accepted.
“So much time wasted…” he muttered to himself.
“Had you not used that time as you had,” Saari stood up, “We would have never met and my people would have all perished. As terrible as it sounds,” she put her arm around his waist, “Everything happened the way it did for a reason.”
“You believe that?” he looked down at her.
“Of course I do. I believe in some vague weave of fate’s design. I believe we have control but every action has a predetermined reaction. Had you not enlisted as many times as you had, you would have never made it to Q’tax. As terrible as it is to frame it this way… had she not pushed you…”
Sylus shook his head, “But at what cost?” He looked over to Daniel who was sitting at the counter drawing again. Mr Skitzel was sitting on the edge next to him.
“Would you have ever been able to see through her deception had you not been through what you had been? Would you have ever had the strength to tell her to leave? To know that you would be alright without her? You needed her at some point in your life, Sylus. She nearly destroyed you, but in some way you felt you needed her. And that’s okay. But you know better now. You have grown…”
“Literally.” He interjected as his patted his belly.
“And you have learned. You know now. You and Daniel both know you deserve better.”
“But… I let him down… My flesh and blood… My son… I failed him… And I know he resents me for it,” Sylus sighed.
“He does not. He is hurt, yes, but it is not because of you and you know that. But things are different now. They are getting better. So long as we can keep things going in that direction, Daniel will never have to worry about being hurt ever again,” she wrapped her arms around him, “We will be okay, Sylus,” she squeezed him tightly, “All of us.”
They stood a moment in silence staring at each other. He couldn’t see her eyes behind the horns but he knew where they were. To most people the horns she wore were a terrifying symbol. They represented a kinship with the void. The fate of Q’taxia was already well known. The influx of Q’taxian refugees left many afraid for the fate of their own world. But where most of the world saw a powerfuly daunting figure in the Q’taxian culture, Sylus saw the love of his life. Never at any point had he been afraid of her. He was enamored from the first time he laid eyes on her. Except back then… He was certain he would never leave Q’taxia alive.
To Saari, Sylus was a pleasant anomaly in her otherwise dark world. Even with the ability to see through the void, things were dark. Her interpretation of the world around her was more shapes and edges that stood out against a darkened background. Colors were usually distorted, lines weren’t always straight, but it was enough to help her around. It also made her keen to energy eeking from the rift that humans had yet to find ways to detect. Anything born of the void was vivid and clear to her. Sylus had two settings in her eyes. One was his default visage: A pale rotund mass with purple eyes and mouth. It was an oddly comforting form in the darkness. The second was when the voidlord was in control. He became a flaming purple mass that was nearly too bright to look at. Both forms emitted more light than any ordinary object including the very sun and both were accompanied by the presence of constantly squirming tendrils that appeared as bright purple strands in the darkness. She knew Sylus from anyone else in the world. That was all that mattered to her. Daniel was a mass similar to Sylus’ default form. A pale glowing form with black eyes and mouth. Much like Sylus had been before he became steeped in void energy. She knew them both and she loved the sight of them.
“Oh shit milk…” Sylus muttered. He looked around Saari at the bar, “Where did Daniel go?”
Saari turned around, “Probably to his room?”
“Daniel?” Sylus called up the hall.
“One sec!” Daniel called from his room.
Sylus nodded at Saari.
“Okay,” Daniel began as he came out of his room and down the short flight of stairs, “This is Saari’s visual guide to stuff.” He handed her a flimsy black and white marble notebook. Scrawled across it’s cover were the words ‘Saari’s Guide to Stuff’. “I started drawing some things. I think I’ll try to find pictures in catalogs later because I can’t draw very good. But you get what they are right, Saari?”
“Oh Daniel thank you!” she exclaimed with genuine joy as she took the notebook from him.
She opened the book. In it were drawings of things like a loaf of bread, a milk carton, a T-bone steak, a ham, bananas, apples, a yogurt cup, a container that must have been juice next to a very crude round thing…
“What is this?” she turned the book to Daniel.
“Oh that’s an orange. I was trying to figure out how to draw orange juice without using the words…” he trailed off a bit.
“Oh no, it is wonderful. I just couldn’t tell what it was… I’m not familiar with fruits yet…” Saari felt bad.
“You know every cut of meat though,” Sylus grinned at nothing. She jabbed him in his side with her elbow. He flinched a bit.
“Of course I do. That’s all you eat!”
“That actually hurt…” he rubbed his side.
“It was your squish…”
“My squish is sensitive!” Sylus moaned as he pulled his shirt up to see the damage. “Woman! It’s bruising!”
Saari smirked at him.
“You’re a lot stronger than you look…”
“But you knew that already,” she sneered playfully.
“That I did, love, that I did,” he smiled as he tucked his shirt back in.
Saari turned back to the notebook. There was a tub of ice cream and one other round symbol. She had an idea what it was but she turned the book to Daniel again.
“Is this another fruit?”
Daniel became a bit flustered. “N-no…”
She looked at the book again.
“What do you think that is, Sylus?”
He looked to the notebook as he straightened his tie, “That’s a biscuit.”
“Cookie, Dad… Cookie,” Daniel corrected sternly.
“Daniel…” Saari turned to him again,” We’ll make our own.” she knelt down to pat him on the head.
“Not a fan of health kicks myself, but what about homemade ice cream as well? I hear that can be pretty good,” Sylus mumbled with his head craned back as he struggled to straighten the knot in his tie.
Saari stood up to help him.
“That sounds like a nice idea,” she spoke slightly distracted by the state of Sylus’ tie, “How did you manage this…”
“Magic, baby. I have 20 fingers and none of them can tie a tie,” he wiggled his fingers in front of her.
“I see 10,” she muttered.
“It’s the 10 you can’t see you should be worried about,” he smirked.
Without looking away from his tie she reached over his shoulder and grabbed one of his tendrils. His body became rigid.
“That wasn’t very hard.”
Sylus hissed as her grip tightened, “I forgot you can see them…”
“Clearly,” she released him.
He gasped in relief.
“What does that feel like, Dad?”
“Like really bad rope burn,” his voice croaked a bit.
Daniel cringed. “Ouch.”
“I will be more gentle next time,” she patted him on the cheek.
“You fixed it?” he was genuinely surprised as he looked down at his tie.
“Magic,” she wiggled her fingers in front of his face before turning to Daniel. “Thank you very much for the tome, Daniel,” she bowed slightly to him, “Your drawings are plenty good enough. You may have to add more over time, though.”
Daniel nodded, “I plan on it. By the time I’m done you’ll have a full visual guide to everything!” He threw his hands over his head in excitement.
Saari smiled as she held the book to her chest.
“You know I could make you not blind right?” Sylus mumbled as he buttoned up his jacket.
“It is nearly one hundred degrees out and you are putting on a jacket?” Saari said snidely.
“These are dangerous times we live in,” he adjusted his shirt in his pants, “If I die, I want to be found looking like a boss.”
“But you cannot die…” Saari sighed.
“Sure I can. It’s not a 100% guarantee. Just unlikely. That was the agreement,” Sylus grunted as he sat down to adjust his socks.
“You can die?” Daniel looked around Saari, “I thought you were invisible…”
Sylus stopped and looked up at his son. A mild sense of disappointment on his face.
“I am?” he looked at his hands.
Saari knelt down a bit and whispered in Daniel’s ear.
“Why are you like that?! You know what I meant… Invincible… Jeeze…”
“You coming with us?” Sylus grunted again as he stood up.
“If you want,” he shrugged.
“You two not gonna make out in the car or anything?”
They both flushed a bit.
“We’re going to the grocery store…” Sylus groaned a bit.
“Well I am going to the grocery store. Your father is driving me,” Saari corrected.
“I’m going in with you…”
“No you are not. I can do this on my own,” Saari barked stubbornly.
Sylus cringed slightly before making his way to the door.
“You coming, Dan?” he motioned to the door.
“Can I have $20 for the arcade?”
“$20!?” Sylus choked.
“Stuff’s expensive. Would you like it if I was on drugs?”
Sylus looked to Saari who was clearly stifling a laugh.
“$20? Really?” he reached into his pocket for his wallet. It wasn’t there. His mind started racing. Where could he have left it… The car? The diner?
He looked up to find Saari, holding his wallet, handing Daniel a twenty dollar bill.
“Can you not?” he barked as he grabbed his wallet back.
“You never retrieved it after last night!” Saari exclaimed.
“Handing out my money…” he muttered as he checked the contents of his wallet.
“To your son, my Lord,” Saari sneered.
Sylus cringed as he stuffed his wallet back into his pocket, “You know I hate it when you call me that.”
“What is it that you say…” she said as she shrugged, “Technicalities?”
Sylus grinned and shook a bit as he opened the door and stepped outside.
Saari smirked as she grabbed her staff beside the door and followed.