OG Q’taxians #9: Love.

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Sylus sat at the island bar in his house. There was a cup of coffee in front of him. His hands were resting flat on either side of it. Every time he touched it, it rattled around on it’s saucer and seldom made it successfully to his mouth without spilling. His eyes were deadlocked straight ahead. He couldn’t move without some form of shaking over taking him. He hadn’t slept or eaten in days. The two things the Voidlord couldn’t make up for. There were a lot of mortal things he didn’t have to do nowadays, but the two things mortals and Voidspawn share, sleep and eating, were the two things he found himself unable to do. Every time he closed his eyes, he’d be in a place devoid of light and filled with that deathly feeling of isolation. Sometimes the shadow would show up and linger just outside his sight. If he turned to face it, it would keep moving so it remained in the corner of his eye. It never spoke to him again, just watched. The shadow wasn’t what bothered him. It was the desolation. He could take being beaten, trampled, shot and stabbed, he’d been there. Physical pain was something he was very used to. He was also used to that deep loneliness, but not in a way he could really handle. It was like an old friend from a dark time who rather than shone a light to help you up, pushed you further down under the impression that the only way up was to hit rock bottom, but once you hit rock bottom, it became almost impossible to try to get back up. By then everyone else in your life was gone. Every tiny speckle of light had gone out and now there was nothing but darkness and nothing to reach for. That was the feeling of desolation Sylus felt whenever he was fool enough to close his eyes thinking he was free to rest.

It was that desolation that lead him to make stupid decisions in life. He wanted to be surrounded by people who loved him, but since he’d changed he’d lost everyone who ever had. Until he met her…

Jessica Lecien.

The “love” of his life. The one person who he thought would ever accept him, but that… That wasn’t true. Yet he lied to himself enough that it became true. He’d do anything for her and she knew it. She’d string him along with a kiss or holding his hand as a reward. She was never intimate with him and he accepted that. All he wanted was her companionship. A break in the utter loneliness he’d become so familiar with. Some part of him knew he was being used, but what could he do? He loved her.

“When are we getting married?” she asked him one day.

At the time, the tear had opened and La Sombra was already swarming with government and military personnel. Sylus had been working as a janitor in the Works. It paid more than any other job he could get and, as illegal as it was, he knew he’d find no other work due to his abnormalities. In hindsight, he realized she knew exactly what she was doing.

“M-married? I’d always thought you’d move on before we got that far,” he laughed nervously.

She stood up slowly from the couch, “You mean you had no plans to make me your wife?”

He was honestly taken aback.

“After everything I’ve done for you?” her tone was shifting into rage. He had to do something to diffuse it.

“I just… I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t be trapping you here, with me…” his voice was so timid and meek.

She scoffed, “I’m here of my own free will aren’t I?”

“I-I… Y-yes…”

“And I’ve been here for a while, haven’t I?”

“Y-yes…” it had been about a year and a half.

“Don’t you think I’m entitled to be legally bound to you?” She was under the impression he made a lot more than he did.

“I-If that’s wh-what you want…” he stammered.

She nodded, “It is. So make it happen,” she sat heavily on the couch.

“Sh-should w-we go look for a r-ring th-then?” he was standing behind the counter ringing his hands just out of her sight.

“A ring?!” she jumped up with joy, “Oh Sylus of course! I’d LOVE to go looking at rings!”

She put on her designer coat and rached for her designer purse that hung by the door. Sylus, in nothing but jeans and a t-shirt, followed her out to the car. There were two cars back then. The garbage black sedan and a high end silver sports car. You could guess who’s car was who’s.

Jessica slid into the passenger side of the silver car. Sylus, always afraid to even touch it, slowly sat down on the driver’s side.

“Let’s go to Aria’s. She has such beautiful pieces there!” she smiled at him.

He smiled back.

Aria’s… Aria was probably the most expensive jeweler in the area. Beautiful things. Hand set and all that, but the price matched the quality and workmanship… Sylus knew he couldn’t afford anything from there… It was then that he knew how this day was going to end. His heart sank right down into the pit of his empty stomach.

Aria’s was located on the main street of a busy little art town a few towns away from La Sombra. It had the look and feel of a place just oozing with designer class. It was an old brick building with gorgeous signage out front. Inside resembled an old farmhouse. Everything was rustic and simple. Unlike other upscale jewelers who always went with neural white walls and lighting, Aria’s was designed almost like a home with warm, sun-like lighting. There was a table set up specifically with a white light, should anyone want to use it, but seeing things in a light similar to how they’d truly look outdoors was part of the appeal of shopping there.

“Sylus! Jessica!” Aria herself called from behind the counter as they entered the shop, “It is a pleasure to see you both!”

Sylus was a regular. He knew when he fucked up, buying something from Aria was the only way to diffuse the situation. He was also a big spender; spending far beyond his means. He was embarrassed to think that Aria might have known that.

Aria came around the counter to greet them. She was a young Indian woman garbed in a beautiful combination of brown and yellow sari wraps. She shook Sylus’ hand first. Mistake… he knew he’d pay for that later. Then she turned to Jessica and offered a curt bow and a hand shake.

“I have some new items for the Autumn Collection. Your favorite time of year, right Sylus?” She was smiling and trying to be personable.

Sylus opened his mouth to speak.

“I prefer winter. Real winter,” Jessica replied, “East coast winter…” her voice dropped into a low growl as she turned to Sylus.

She reminded him often how he’d dragged her away from her home and out west to the Voidworks. She blamed him almost every day that he held her against her will from her family. He had never done anything to stop her from leaving. In fact, he was sure she’d have left by now. But here she was and there they were. Picking out an engagement ring…

“Oh so crisp and clean!” Aria smiled, “Let me see…” she looked around the room. All of the cases were glass with a rough wood frame. There was a certain level of rustic elegance to it all. “OH! I have some prototypes for the winter collection! Would you like to see them?”

“I’d love to!” Jessica’s tone was cheery again.

Sylus followed timidly behind her. Aria would look back every so often to see him staring at the floor with his hands in his pockets. He kept a good distance from both of them, he knew how much Jessica hated him being close to her especially in public. This was a special day, and while he knew it was destined to end in disaster, he was going to do as little as possible to make things worse.

He listened as Jessica and Aria discussed the contents of the case they were looking in. It was all crystal clear diamonds cut perfectly and set into silver and white gold bands. Some were simple and elegant, others were detailed and stately. Every piece was a work of art. Aria opened the case and Jessica began trying things on. Sylus was hopeful when she picked up one of the simpler ones. It was a larger diamond with two small ones mounted on either side of it. There was a floral feel to their settings and the band itself was simple and thin. She put it back. It wasn’t “big” enough. And then she gasped. Sylus waited in fear for the reveal.

“This is it Sy!” she screamed as she turned to face him.

There on her finger, was the most over-the-top ring he’d ever seen.

“That is one of my most complex pieces, but at the same time it can be seen as very busy. Would you like to try the small band on again?” Aria was actively trying to talk Jessica down, “It was quite elegant on your slender fingers.”

Jessica shook her head, “No. This is the one. Right, Sylus?”

He smiled.

“Then that is the one.”

“WE’RE GETTING MARRIED!” Jessica screamed as she began bouncing up and down.

The few customers in the room with them stopped their browsing to clap for them. Jessica was shaking as tears were welling up in her eyes.

Aria approached Sylus slowly. She palmed him the price tag.

“I don’t normally offer a payment plan,” he opened his hand, “But I will for you, my friend.” She put a hand on his shoulder.

His heart sank even deeper. It fell out of his stomach and sat at the bottom of his intestines. He couldn’t afford lunch at work for months now… He sighed as he forced a smile.

“It’s what she wants.”

He joined Aria at the checkout counter as they worked out the details of his payment plan.

Jessica bounded over to him.

“Everyone loves it, Sylus! It’s the best engagement ring EVER!” She embraced him. In public. His entire body froze from the unexpected contact. When he put his arms around her, she pulled away. “Don’t do that,” she spat before turning to Aria, “Is everything taken care of?”

Aria nodded, “We are doing a payment plan.”

Jessica looked up at Sylus in disgust, “You work for the government and you can’t afford a stupid ring?”

Aria balked upright, offended. “Excuse me? That is my prized piece you are wearing. If you cannot show it respect I will not allow you to purchase it!”

“I-I’m sorry, Aria… That’s not what I meant… I just thought my fiance who worked all hours of the day over at the Voidworks would be able to afford something as important as my engagement ring,” her hands were clenched into fists.

Aria glared at her, “The ring is in reserve,” she put her hand out, “I will hold onto it until it is paid off in full at which time it will be yours.”

Jessica looked up at Sylus with such a look of utter disdain that he thought for sure what was left of his broken-down heart was going to disintegrate.

“Th-think of it this way, l-love, it’ll give me time to plan the perfect proposal!” Oh how he knew he’d regret ever saying that.

Her glare of hatred slowly morphed into somber acceptance.

“Fine,” she took the ring off and forcefully handed it to Aria, “it better be fucking good,” she spat as she left the building.

Aria and Sylus both watched her go.

“You truly cannot afford this piece, Sylus,” Aria sighed as she finished writing out the reservation slip.

“I can and I will. I’ll find a way. I have to,” he turned to her with a tired smile, “I’ll work triple shifts! I’ll take on some side work! Perhaps Jeron could use a waiter? There’s plenty I can do to make this work…” Aria looked at him in sad understanding, “I’ll pay it off, Aria. In fact,” he bowed to her, “I’ll pay if off sooner than you expect!”

With that he turned on his heels and followed Jessica back out to the car.

The following weeks were a nightmare. No sleep. No rest. He brought half of every paycheck straight to Aria. He managed to convince the Safety Commissioner at the Works that he could work one and a half shifts seven days a week. The Commissioner was reluctant to honor his wishes, but at the end of the day, Sylus needed the money and the Voidworks was short on staff. In return, he was granted a small gift card containing his weekly allowance of lunch money. Government paid. He spent it only on coffee out of a vending machine.

He had made his way to the Diner to work a few hours between shifts as a busboy. That was all he seemed to be good at: Cleaning up after others. Jeron offered him a substantial amount for his menial work. Sylus couldn’t rightfully accept all of it.

“You can’t keep going like this, Sylus,” Jeron leaned on the counter as Sylus mopped the floor, “It’ll break ya.”

Sylus paused a moment to lean on the mop handle, “I need her, Jeron…” he sighed, “I need her so much… I can’t be alone again… Not like that…”

“Hell I’ll marry you then,” Jeron threw his hands in the air, “I’m low maintenance, too. Don’t need a ring or anything,” he laughed.

Sylus smiled weakly.

“I’m really not your type though, Jer,” he returned to mopping, “Got some important parts missing,” he laughed at his own expense.

“Doesn’t change the fact that you’re human…”

Sylus leaned hard on the mop, “Am I though?” He chuckled before resuming his work.

“Let me at least feed you dinner,” Jeron sighed as Sylus put his things away for the night.

“Thank you, Jer,” he put his hand up in refusal, “but I really can’t.” he chuckled nervously.

“You’re skin and bones, Sy…”

He sighed, “I’ll put some weight on over the holidays. Once I can rest a bit. Until then,” he put a hand on his stomach, “I just can’t.”

“Some juice or something?” Jer didn’t want him to leave empty.

“No thank you,” he smiled, “Jess might have dinner on the table. Wouldn’t want to spoil it.”

It was almost 2am.

“Well then you have a good night, Sylus! You don’t have to come in tomorrow if you’d like to get some rest,” Jeron smiled at him weakly.

“You too Jeron! Thanks for everything!” he waved before leaving the diner.

He walked home. Everything was within walking distance in La Sombra. He stood across the street from his house. There was a car that didn’t belong to them in the driveway. Sylus sighed. He knew what that meant. At least it was the same car as the last few times.

Quietly entered his home, he found a blanket in the closet by the door and laid down on the couch. It was something they had agreed upon early in their relationship. Since he didn’t have the parts she desired, she was allowed to sleep with whoever she wanted. He was to take his place on the couch and not bother them. He wasn’t even allowed to watch. Not that he’d want to. He felt failure enough that he couldn’t please her they way she liked. He pulled the blanket up over his head and fell asleep to the sound of his fiance fucking another man.

A week before Christmas, he practically collapsed into Aria’s store. He dragged himself to the counter and handed her an envelope.

“That should do it,” he breathed with a smile.

Aria counted the money and checked it against his balance. She paused a moment with the wad of cash in her hand. Sylus stood waiting expectantly. It was indeed enough to pay the ring off. Aria sighed before offering him the money.

“You spend a lot here, Sylus. I value your patronage and your friendship. Consider this a holiday discount,” she smiled.

Sylus stared at the money like an idiot. He didn’t understand what was happening. At first he was afraid he’d made a mistake. Then he took the time to slowly parse her words. She was giving him his money back. Why though?

“I-I don’t understand…?” he looked up at her dumbfounded, “is this not what I owe you?”

Aria smiled. She had known Sylus to be a bit simple at times. She knew there was more to it than anything on the surface, but it wasn’t her place to ask.

“It is, but you’ve been very good about paying and you’ve purchased a lot from me in the past. Keep this,” she turned his hand over and placed the money into it, “Merry Christmas.” she smiled again before going into the back to find his ring.

Sylus was left utterly confused.

Aria returned with a small black box. She opened it to reveal the gorgeous ring inside. Sylus was beaming. He placed the money on the counter to take the box from her.

“It’s so beautiful…” he smiled sincerely, “just like her…”

Aria stifled a scoff. Jessica was plain and boring in her eyes. On top of that, she was mean and downright insufferable. But Sylus loved her. How and why Aria could never understand.

“Thank you, Aria,” he put out his hand to shake hers.

Instead she came around the counter and wrapped her arms around him. She leaned up on her toes to plant a kiss on his cheek. She felt his body go limp. His breathing changed as he began to shake. Aria pulled away in concern.

“P-please don’t tell h-her I ch-cheated…” his breath shook.

“Sylus.. No no no no no I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she reached up and wiped a tear from his cheek.

He pulled away violently.

“Th-thank you so much, Aria!” he forced a smile, “I’m proposing on Christmas Eve! I have everything planned out… I can’t wait!”

Aria just smiled at him as he turned to leave. She turned to find his money still resting on the counter.

Sylus had surprised Jessica with a trip back to her family in Connecticut. She was elated at first before becoming angry and combative. He knew why, but at the same time, he thought she’d value her family more than her sex life. She begrudgingly boarded the plane through all the Christmas rush. Sylus was far more uncomfortable than she was. He hated crowds and tight places. That was all the airport was this time of year. He had to provide contingency ID at every security check because none of his official documents hadn’t been replaced yet. All he had were temporaries. He was worried that at any second they’d call him out as a fraud and prevent them both from boarding the plane. Luckily, with the holiday rush, they compared his ticket to the temporary license, glanced at his face, and let him through. He was relieved.

Her family met them at the airport. They cried and hugged each other. Sylus kept his distance. He knew her family hated him for “ruining” their daughter. He finally approached when it was time to put Jessica’s luggage in the back of their minivan.

“Kathryn,” her mother nodded curtly to him.

He just smiled and nodded in acknowledgement.

Sylus sat in the back with the luggage. Jessica and her family chatted the entire way to their home. It was a beautiful colonial. Sylus loved this building. He hadn’t been in it in a very long time. He helped Jessica bring her luggage to her room before turning to leave.

“Here,” he handed her an envelope, “Don’t be late,” he smiled as he kissed her in her forehead.

She glared at him as she opened it. It was a Christmas card. A simple one. Inside Sylus has written an invitation to the New York City transit line in two days. His words promised a night she’d never forget. She looked up at him rather disinterestedly.

“You brought me out here to take me away from my family?” she scoffed.

“Just for a day, love. We’re here for a while. I promise, you won’t regret it,” he smiled to reach out to embrace her, but she pulled away.

“Then don’t be late,” she barked before dropping the card in a waste bin.

Sylus smiled before leaving. He stood outside in the cool northeastern air calling a cab to take him to his hotel room. He wasn’t allowed to stay in the house. They thought he was too mentally unstable to be trusted. It had always been that way. When his cab arrived, he loaded his single small bag into the back seat with him. He didn’t have to worry about much in the way of good clothes. He wouldn’t be invited to dinner or anything. He was a freak. A monster. He sighed as the cab pulled up to the hotel. He had treated himself to something a bit better than a rundown motel. It was the holidays, after all. He stayed at a small chain hotel outside of town. Collapsing on the bed he turned the television on. He fell asleep to the sound of fictional characters laughing and hugging each other under Christmas lights.

When the day came to travel into the city, it was snowing. Snow on Christmas Eve… Sylus screamed with joy. A white Christmas. He showered and got dressed in the only suit he owned. Calling the limousine he’d reserved, he returned to Jessica’s house. Her whole family was waiting outside.

“I thought it would be nice to treat the whole family,” there was an edge of disdain in her otherwise cheery tone.

“Oh, yes. Of course!” Sylus forced a smile.

They all piled into the limousine. It was Jessica, her mother, father, and brother. There was plenty of room that none of them had to sit on top of each other, yet her father and brother both chose to sit so close to him that he could barely move. He could feel them putting as much weight as they could against him.

“So Kathy,” her mother turned to face him, “what do you even do for work these days? You look terrible and far from hire-able.”

“I-I work at the Works,” he smiled to her.

“The Works?” she questioned.

He nodded, “The Voidworks. The government facility built around the rift.”

Her mother turned to her with a grin before turning back to him again, “So you’re some kind of bigshot scientist?”

“N-not really… I’m… I’m a janitor…”

Everyone in the car burst out laughing. The men flanking him pushed him side to side.

“Well that figures,” Jessica’s mother laughed before turning to her daughter, “What do you see in that… thing?”

Jessica gave her mother a sly, knowing smile.

Sylus had only purchased two first class tickets on the train. He gave his seat to Jessica’s mother. He managed to find three seats for the rest of them scattered throughout the economy section. He was grateful for the time to himself though he would have rather been with Jessica. His heart ached for her so badly.

Once they were in the city, everything went on his credit cards. Everyone bought new designer things and used limousines to travel. He was wary that at any moment his cards would get rejected for reaching their maximum. No one even hesitated to hand him something with the phrase “I want this”. He always smiled and bought them whatever they wanted. He didn’t care about them asking, he only cared that he might fail to give them what they wanted.

The city was beautiful. Lights everywhere. A light coating of snow upon the ground that grew as it continued to fall. Sometimes he’d hand Jessica his card stand outside the shop looking up at the darkened sky as the snow drifted down. It was oddly calming. He’d close his eyes and let his mind wander to an alternate reality where he wasn’t a scrawny worthless human being. Where he was truly loved and respected. He sighed heavily before forcing the thought back down where it belonged. Her father would sometimes stand outside with him taking pictures of the streets and all the store fronts. The man never acknowledged Sylus’ existence. And to be honest, Sylus was grateful for that.

They had dinner at a very fancy Italian restaurant. They all ordered so much food. Except for Sylus, of course. When he ordered a pasta platter he was made fun of for being obese. He was already a waste of space. If he took up any more there’d be no room left for anyone else! They laughed. He got a small salad. They feasted. They toasted. He paid. He felt lucky enough to be allowed to sit at the table with them.

After they were done, he managed to convince them to visit the giant Christmas tree. They were so full and wary of crowds, but they agreed it was worth seeing. As they approached they ooo’d and ahhh’d. They held each other’s hands. They smiled and talked amongst themselves. It took a lot of courage for Sylus to approach Jessica.

“Can I borrow you for a second?” he smiled.

She gave her mother a knowing smile before nodding to him. He took her hand and lead her as close to the tree as they could get. Her family managed to follow at a bit of a distance. He held her hands in both of his.

“Jessica Lecien. Love of my life. Song in my heart,” he rubbed her hands in the cold, “you have been with me so loyally for so long. You have sacrificed so much to support me. I owe you so much,” he got down in one knee. There, on the white ground in the falling snow by the light of the Christmas tree he drew the small black box from his pocket, “It would honor me if you would grant me your hand in marriage.” He snapped the box open to reveal the ornate ring she had picked out months before.

People around them started cheering. Everyone loved a little holiday romance.

“FINALLY!” She cried out as she put her hand in front of his face, “Put it on! Put it on!”

He did so with a smile.

“LOOK!” She called to her family as she ran by him.

Sylus stood up from the snow and pocketed the empty box. He watched, from a distance, as her family gathered around her to admire the ring. He smiled as his knee began to grow cold from the wet of the snow. He began making his way over to them. Her mother was quick to glare at him so he stayed back. He watched from a distance. They all bustled toward him. Her father handed him a camera.

“Take pictures. Make them good,” he growled before joining his family by the tree.

Sylus did as he was told and he did so with a smile.

After it was all over, she and her family were still giddy with joy. It was getting late. Sylus had made a reservation at a high end hotel. When this came to light, he was forced to try to find another room for the rest of them. Her brother refused to stay with his parents so once more, Sylus relinquished his place in the room with his fiancé. Instead he said he’d head back to his hotel in Connecticut. They didn’t hear him. He left without another word.

On the ride ride back his stomach started to growl. He tried to ignore it until his seatmate started giving him awkward glances. After enough loud grumbles he finally stood up and pressed past his neighbour. Stumbling a bit, he made his way to the galley car where he ordered a hot dog and a bottle of water. It was then that his cards were finally was declined. With a sad sigh, he returned the water and made his way back to his seat. He smiled at his seatmate before sliding back in and sitting in his seat. He lifted his small bag and placed hit on his lap, squeezing it against his stomach. He could still hear and feel his hunger, but his neighbour had stopped giving him looks. For that, Sylus was grateful.

Back at his hotel room, he collapsed on the bed. He didn’t even turn the television on or take his shoes off. He just laid there listening to his stomach growling.

“Please stop…” his voice shook as he rolled his head into a pillow. It only seemed to get louder, “PLEASE!” he shouted as he sat up and forced a balled fist into his gut. “I just want to be alone…”

That was the furthest thing from the truth. He hated being alone. It was a terrible feeling, but it was something he’d grown very familiar with. Even with Jessica in his life, he was still largely alone. He rested his head in his hands before slowly beginning to weep.

The muffled sound of low quality music came from somewhere in his room. It was his phone. He reached for it on the bedside table hoping it was Jessica so he could wish her a good night. It was Jeron. Had something gone wrong at home? The Works? Was he okay? He answered the call.

“ ‘Ello?” he rubbed his eyes.

“Sylus?”

“Oi hey,” he breathed.

“How did it go?!” he laughed, “I’m actually surprised you answered!”

“Oh? Ah, yeah. I’m back in Connecticut. Jess and her family stayed at the place in the city,” he did his best to hide his shaking voice.

“Oh…” Jeron’s voice trailed off, “Are you okay?”

“Hm? Me?” he laughed, “Of course I’m fine!”

“You don’t sound it…”

“Why wouldn’t I be? I traveled all the way across the country to spend all my money on people who hate me and deadname me at every opportunity,” he laughed nervously, “I’m broke now, too! All my money… Gone. All of it. I can’t even afford a fucking water bottle…” he kept laughing. He laughed until it moved into a cackle.

“Sy… Please calm down…” Jeron tried to comfort him over the phone, “Sy? It’ll be okay… Please… Stop and catch your breath.”

“Lucky I paid for the room in advance,” he choked out through his tears, “Lucky lucky!”

“Sylus…”

Sylus started choking on his own saliva. He was manic and enraged. All the time he’d spent burying his feelings, his needs, his wants… It was all coming to a boil.

“Were ye serious, Jeron? About wanting to marry me?” he said without thinking.

“Sy…”

“Of course ye weren’t! I don’t have a fucking DICK!” he started rolling around on the bed laughing at himself, “What kind of a freak am I?! Tell me, Jeron! Please! You’re the only person who bothers to talk to me. Tell me. Tell me how fucked up I am. How much of a waste of space and life I am. TELL ME!”

There was a long pause before Jeron finally spoke up.

“Sylus Synclaire,” he began slowly, “That’s your name, right?”

“Is it?” the laughter had stopped and he was left drained and incapacitated with a headache from hunger and dehydration, “I haven’t been called that in a while…”

“That’s the name you gave me when you came to La Sombra, right?”

Sylus nodded forgetting Jeron couldn’t see him.

“I’ll take the silence as a yes. That’s who you are, Sy. And as far as I can tell, Sylus Synclaire is a very hardworking man whose only desire is to be loved the same way he loves. And Sylus Synclaire loves intensely and almost to a fault. Sy… You aren’t a freak,” Sylus scoffed, “And you aren’t a waste of space and you certainly aren’t a waste of life. No one is a waste of life. You bust your ass for months only to have YOUR vacation stolen from you. Why?”

“They have to be happy…” Sylus was on the verge of tears again, “Why can’t I be happy too…”

“Because you need to break away from that kind of shit. Forgive me for brutal honesty, but Jessica is using you and you damn well know it,” Jeron’s tone was firm.

“She’s the only person who will ever love me…”

“But does she? Does she love you, Sylus? If all she does is take and take and take and never give, does she love you?”

There was a very long silence.

“No one else will ever accept me…”

“That’s a fucking lie,” Jeron barked, “There’s someone for everyone in this world. Sometimes finding them means leaving others behind. You have to live your life, Sylus. You have a lot of love to give and it’s being drained from you,” Sylus stifled a gasp, “The last thing I’d ever want to see is a good person like you being broken down into nothing but another mindless cog in the machine. You’re so much more than that, Sy… Please… Look inside yourself and find who you are and what you want in life. You can’t keep defining yourself by the perceptions of others. You have to define yourself and then find those who accept you for that definition.”

Sylus wept. He knew Jeron was right, but he also knew he was too great a coward to do anything about it. He was ashamed.

“I’ll kick your ass into gear if I have to,” Jeron chuckled.

Sylus gave a short, sobbing chuckle of his own in reply.

“You’ve come a long way, Sylus, but you have a few more hurdles until you’re free. I know you can do it,” Sylus could practically hear Jeron smiling. There was a knock on his room door.

“I di’int order ‘nything…” he slowly sat up trying not to worsen his headache.

“Open the door,” Jeron replied.

“I-Okay…” Sylus wiped his eyes on his sleeve as he approached the door. Opening it, he found room service standing out in the hall with a trolly of food, an ice bucket of water bottles, and a bottle of red wine.

“Sylus Synclaire?” the delivery man asked slowly.

“Aye, that’s me, but I di’int order anything…”

The man nodded as he tried to push the cart into the room.

“Oi no! I can’t afford this!”

“It’s covered by someone else,” the delivery man replied.

“By someone…” Sylus stepped aside as the man wheeled the trolley into the room.

The man began pointing at the covered dishes on the trolly. “The cheeseburger with steak fries is here. The fillet mignon, cooked medium rare, with a side of mixed vegetables in garlic sauce is here. The garden salad with honey mustard is here. And finally, the desert sampler is here,” he pointed to one last tray before turning to Sylus, “Will there be anything else?”

Sylus was caught completely off guard. He stared at the man in the nice uniform. He found himself envying how well kept the man was while he stood there in a wrinkled suit. Once more, he was embarrassed.

“D-did you do this, Jer?”

“Merry Christmas, Sy,” Jeron said gently.

“Jer I-I can’t accept this…”

“Sure you can. Consider it your holiday bonus!”

“M-my…”

“Eat up, my friend. I know you must be starving. Call me when you open the wine,” with that Jeron hung up.

Sylus turned to the waiter who seemed to be waiting for something. “I-I can’t… I can’t tip you… I’m so sorry…”

The man raised a hand with a smile, “Don’t worry. I’ve been well compensated for making he delivery. Merry Christmas, Mr. Synclaire.”

With a short bow, the man left the room.

Sylus turned to the trolly of food. It smelled so good… He knew he shouldn’t eat it, but it was a gift… Would be even worse if it went to waste. He lifted all of the covers from their respective plates. His stomach was quick to make it’s needs known.

“Call him when I open the wine,” he mumbled to himself.

There was so much food. He wasn’t sure he could eat it all. As much as he knew this was going to be a mistake, he dug into his meal. Knowing he was alone, he took no precautions for being civilized. He really was starving, but that was soon to be remedied.

Some time had passed. All of the plates save the dessert tray had been cleaned. Sylus laid on the bed utterly stuffed and barely awake. He held the bottle of wine in one hand, reading the label over and over while the other hand was resting on his full stomach. He didn’t know wine very well, but the year on it was his birth year. He smiled as he reached for his phone.

“How was it?” Jeron answered.

“Ungodly delicious,” Sylus answered, his voice far stronger than Jeron had heard it in a long time.

“Good. Got the wine?”

Sylus stifled a belch as he answered, “Yeah?”

“Okay. I have a bottle of the same thing here. On the count of three, uncork?”

Sylus sat up looking to see if a bottle opener had been left on the trolly. Sure enough, there one was. Guess he’d been too preoccupied with eating to even notice it. He groaned a bit as he reached for it.

“Alright,” he sighed as he got comfortable on the bed, “Your count.”

“3… 2… 1…”

They both popped the corks on their bottles.

“Smells sweet for a red,” Sylus sniffed the bottle.

“I have to apologize,” Jer chuckled, “The year was appropriate, but it’s honestly not the best bottle of wine you’ll drink.”

“It’s wine,” Sylus laughed, “Wine you…” his mind wandered off. Embarrassment. Fear. Sadness… “I-I can’t drink this. Thank you, Jeron,” he leaned over to put the bottle back onto the trolley.

“Too sweet?” Jeron laughed a bit disappointed.

“Oh no… Nothing like that I just…”

“Drink it, Sylus,” Jeron commanded, “Drink it and be happy.”

“I-I am happy. I’m stuffed!” he patted his stomach.

“Wash it down,” Jeron’s tone remained firm.

“But…” Sylus sighed, “You’ve already done so much for me…”

“Sy… Remember my dad?” Jeron’s voice softened a bit.

Sylus nodded, “He used to give me bacon and eggs in the morning before I went to work…” he gave a short laugh, “I couldn’t afford food then, either…”

“And what did he say every time you tried to pay?”

Sylus sighed, “Don’t let it go to waste. Take care of yourself…”

“Exactly. Take care of yourself. I knew he was right to be so generous with you. You appreciated it. Unlike some grunts who just ate and left. You always tried to pay us. Dad always said you were a strange one, but that he’d take you and your strangeness over any straight laced government man any day,” Jeron laughed, “I never thought we’d be friends, to be honest, but showing up at his funeral with those flowers? And then trying to step up to help me run the place?” Jeron sighed, “I knew then and there that you were important to me. You saw who else showed up… No one. Not another soul. Just you and I. After all the good he did…”

“Your dad was good to me…” Sylus breathed, “He was a good man…”

“And I just want to carry on his legacy. So drink that wine and I’ll drink mine. Let’s get drunk together in our loneliness.”

Sylus smiled.

“Cheers,” he lifted his bottle to no one.

“Cheers,” Jeron replied.

The rest of the evening passed with the two of them plastered on the phone. When the ran out of wine, Jeron sent up some cheap whisky, much to Sylus’ delight. The whisky warmed his gut. They drank and talked and laughed and reminisced. All the hangups and inhibitions in Sylus’ life were gone if only for the night. He said things he knew he shouldn’t have, but he didn’t care. Jeron was equally open discussing rather personal things.

“Hey, Sy?” Jeron’s voice wavered with intoxication, “I love you, man. I mean… On another level. Bit more than brotherly…”

“Wanna fuck?” Sylus laughed.

“I’m not 100% opposed to the idea…” Jeron’s voice trailed off as his mind wandered.

Sylus gasped, “But Jeron! You’re gay!”

“And you’re a dude ain’t ya?”

They both laughed heartily.

“Oh god…” Sylus was starting to come down, “Oh god I needed this…” he sniffed as he laughed a bit more.

“So did I, Sy,” Jeron replied softly, “So did I.”

“Thank you so much, Jeron… I-I have no words and, well,” he hiccuped, “You know I can’t pay you back…”

“Ah! But you already did! You spent the night with me and that’s enough,” Jeron sounded happier than Sylus had ever heard him, “Listen, Sy,” his voice became a bit more somber, “You’re my friend. Forever and always. I won’t let anything bad happen to you, I swear. If I have to pull you out of that hellhole, I will. Even if you’re kicking and screaming, I will not let you stay trapped in that situation.”

A hot sense of guilt and embarrassment consumed Sylus, “I-I just proposed to her… M-maybe she’ll change a bit now?”

“Do you really believe that?” Jeron sighed.

Honestly, he didn’t, but he was already forcing himself to believe it.

“How much worse can it get, though? At least now I can go back to a regular shift at the Works,” he laughed insincerely.

“A small mercy,” Jeron replied.

They both sighed.

“It’ll be okay, Jer. I’ll be okay,” he smiled, “Please don’t worry.”

“I will though. I always will, you know that.”

Sylus sighed again, “Don’t hurt yourself over me, okay?”

“Hurt myself? Brother, I’d step through fire to drag you out. And I mean even the real shit, not just metaphor,” Jeron gave a short laugh.

“You’re insane,” Sylus chuckled nervously.

“No. I just care about you. And you need to learn to care for yourself, too,” Jeron spoke softly, “You’re worth so much more than you give yourself credit for, Sylus. I know you’ll see that someday. I just hope it doesn’t take something terrible to get you there…”

Sylus nodded, “If I’m dumb enough it might,” he laughed, “And you know me! Not the brightest tool in the shed!”

Jeron burst out laughing. He knew the mistake was intentional.

“Get some rest, Sy. You must be exhausted. Long day, belly full of food,” Jeron chuckled, “Get comfy and get some rest. I’ll see you when you get home, okay?”

“W-would I be a pest if I… I called you tomorrow?”

“Won’t you be at dinner with her family?”

“N-no… No I won’t… I’m not really allowed in the house,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “I’m too disturbed to be allowed inside…”

“What the actual fuck?” Jeron whispered slowly, “Excuse me?” he scoffed, “With mentality like that, you’re definitely not the one who’s disturbed,” he scoffed again, “Jesus Christ… Yes! Call me! Maybe we can do this again!”

“Less food next time,” he patted his stomach, “As much as I enjoyed it, it really was too much.”

“Hmm…” Jeron thought a moment, “Ham. I’ll send you a ham. I have one here, too. Christmas Day Dinner across the country! I like it…” he trailed off a bit.

Sylus couldn’t help but smile.

“It’s a date, then!” Jeron exclaimed excitedly.

“A-A date,” Sylus’ smile grew, “I can’t wait!”

“Neither can! But until then, sleep tight, my friend,” Jeron yawned.

“You, too, bud,” Sylus started getting under the covers.

“Oh! And Merry Christmas, Sy!” Jeron remembered at the last second.

“Hap-er Merry Christmas to you, too, Jer!”

And with that, the four hour call ended. Sylus was once again alone. It didn’t bother him this time, though, because he knew Jeron, all the way across the country, was really right there with him. He smiled as he turned out the bedside light. For the first time in a very long time, he was truly happy in both body and mind.

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered to no one as he rolled onto his side and fell asleep.

The next day, he Sylus hesitated to call Jeron, but out of desperation he did so anyway. This was after he had made several attempts at calling Jessica to wish her a good morning. He knew she wouldn’t answer, but he had to try.

He and Jeron talked a bit before agreeing to a time for dinner. After that he sat in his hotel room watching crummy Christmas movies. They were poorly made yet somehow managed to amplify that classic holiday mood.

When dinner rolled around, it wasn’t nearly as intense as the night before. They sat with each other on speakerphone as they ate. Sylus thought it was perhaps even nicer than the night before. He wasn’t starving so he was able to savor his food rather than inhale it.

They shared another bottle of wine, but ended the drinking once they each ran out. No seconds this time. They talked well into the night for both their time zones.

Sylus had managed to fall asleep while on the phone. Jeron chuckled wishing him a good night.

“Youtoooooo,” Sylus muttered back with a smile in his barely waking state.

Silence settled in the room. Even though their conversation had gone quiet, it never felt silent. They were still connected to each other. Just knowing someone was there was enough to force back the inevitable feeling of loneliness that came with silence. But that real silence had to come eventually. They couldn’t stay on the phone all night. Even after they hung up, Sylus still didn’t feel completely alone. He wasn’t sure how long this feeling would last, but he promised himself he’d hold on to it for as long as he could.

Once again, he rolled into bed the happiest he’d ever been.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

LOVE… IS IT?

The shadow…

THAT…

Sylus could turn to face it this time. There was a dim yellow glow around it almost as if light was being sucked into the black form.

THAT IS WHAT YOU DESIRE…

“I already have it.” He barked back.

DO YOU? The shadow replied before vanishing.

Sylus woke up with his hands still resting on the counter. His coffee untouched. Alone.

“Fuck me…” he muttered as he tried to fight back tears.

PERHAPS ANOTHER TIME…

Sylus slammed his hands on the counter as he stood up. He turned and looked around to find himself to be, indeed, alone.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” he bellowed.

DOESN’T BEING ALONE FRIGHTEN YOU? RIGHT DOWN TO YOUR MORTAL CORE?

“WHO ARE YOU!? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM MEEEE!?” He screamed.

Saari and Daniel ran into the living room to find him kneeling on the floor clutching his head with his hands. They both knelt down on either side of him.

ALL IN DUE TIME, MY DEAR SYLUS. ALL IN DUE TIME.

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