Lighthouse: The New Sexy

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“How exactly are you all related again?” I asked Sept. He’d traced the strings of connection between the guests we were expecting to arrive on the noon ferry, but in my mind, the relations tangled in a bird’s nest.

“Emmanuel is my skogoto,” he said. “My root brother. The individuals we were cloned from were brothers, so, genetically, we are brothers. Whisper is his girlfriend, Octy’s cousin and Xirra’s niece, and the daughter of Situ.”

“Is she like her mother?” I asked.

“I think so,” Sept said, “in all the best ways.”

I noticed the genetic resemblance between the two brothers instantly.

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They seemed psychically connected, too, as they settled directly into conversation.

“I am happy you have found someone that sees your soul, mogoto,” Emmanuel said. “Most happy. I have to ask: did you drop the enchilada?”

“The enchilada dropped me, brother!” Sept joked back.

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Emmanuel chuckled. “You know, I would have to agree with that sentiment! Perhaps the enchilada itself always does the dropping.”

Emmanuel seemed to want a private chat with his brother, so I headed upstairs where Whisper sat reading on the bed.

“How’s the book, Whisper? You look engrossed!”

“Have you read any of Baxin’ivre’s poems before?”

“Baxi-who? Was he Greek? ”

“Baxin’ivre! He’s no Ancient Greek. He was an an extraterrestrial. A very famous one who helped found the rebellion. Sept’s mentioned the rebellion?”

By then Emmanuel joined us, and I felt myself to be a third wheel again.

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I moved to the other side of the loft and picked up a book of my own. I tried to focus on reading, while I could hear every word they spoke.

“Beloved, I hate to admit,” Emmanuel confessed, “I’m feeling immensely inferior to my brother in seeing him with Mallory. He truly inherited everything in our first life, and our second. He’s suave, dramatically striking, and exudes sexual confidence that I simply do not possess. He subliminally urges me to feel as though I need to improve my game, merely by existing in the way that he is.”

My cheeks flushed. I wanted to give them privacy, but I couldn’t head downstairs without walking past them, so I stayed put and stuck my nose deeper into The Secret Life of Dust, trying not to attend to this first introduction of what I learned was a lifetime theme between these two brothers.

“You should give yourself more credit,” Whisper said. “Your game is beyond entertaining and satisfactory.”

“That’s what it will be,” he said. “How were Baxin’ivre’s poems anyway? Are there any I could understand?”

“They’re beautifully composed. You should read one of the ones written for Batuotuo.”

“He wrote poems for Batuotuo? Of course I’ll read it… again. Perhaps my cells will remember something Emmanuel doesn’t know.”

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Whisper handed him the book and joined me on the other side of the loft.

“I’ve never lived in a house before,” she said with a bright smile, “and, maybe I never will. If I do, I think I’d like for it to feel like this. It’s so homey. You and Sept have managed to foster an environment so full of love.”

“You feel it, too?” I asked. “Oh, God! We’re both so love-drunk! I hope we don’t get arrested for under-age supplying!”

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“Oh, you won’t!” Whisper laughed. “Emmanuel’s soul often feels this way. I do find it amazing that the soul-feelings have filled the house!”

The way she and Emmanuel spoke felt odd to me–formal, intellectual, so very spiritual. I wasn’t accustomed, at the time, to hearing everyday talk that referenced souls.

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Whisper went downstairs to try our piano, and Sept came up, trailing Octy, who had just arrived with Sebastion.

“Look who’s here!” Sept said. “The little grape himself!”

“Greetings, pagoto.” Emmanuel set down the book of poems and followed them.

“There you are, byu,” Sept said, drawing me into an embrace.

“Peoples!” Octy yelled. “Little kid here! Not in front of the kid!”

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Emmanuel whistled. “You are slick! I certainly never anticipated moves like that from my contemplative mogoto. Perhaps I should engage in logos more often.” He snapped his fingers before pointing at me with both hands.

“You know the mind is the shortest route to a thinking-woman’s heart!” I joked.

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Whisper rejoined us.

“Some women are more captivated by theories concerning aesthetics, I’ve found,” Emmanuel said with a smirk. She acted like she didn’t hear.

“Hi, Octy!” she said. “You’ve grown quite a bit since I last saw you.”

“I have a puppy. Your aunt gave him to me. He hasn’t grown. Not one inch.”

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When talking to Whisper, Octy always referred to his mom as “your aunt.” I thought it was an idiosyncrasy. I learned later it was custom: Xirra was Whisper’s aunt before she became Octy’s mom: out of deference, she was, in conversation with Whisper, “Whisper’s aunt.” If he had been able to talk with Situ, he would have called her, “your sister.”

The brothers trotted downstairs to join Sebastion for a walk along the boardwalk.

The quiet that descended carried a hint of relief to me.

“Those two,” Whisper said. “Sept and Emmanuel. They’re always like that. They’re connected and, when they get to see each other in person, it’s like everything else fades away. Their world is consumed by the fact that their souls are in the same physical place at the same time.”

“I noticed,” I replied. “He seems closer to Emmanuel than to Octy, even, which I wouldn’t have guessed, since he was present at Octy’s birth and helped raise him. How do they feel a soul connection, when they’re connected by DNA?”

“Good question! I believe that the shared DNA draws two souls together. If circumstances permit, the souls will latch onto each other. They needed each other, and they chose to be brothers again.” She paused to smile. “Of course, this is all a theory. I don’t know the answer.”

“Has Manny described memories of past lives to you? Were they connected before, then?”

“I’ve seen Manny’s memories of his life as Batuotuo, and they were connected then, too.”

I didn’t know what that meant or how Batuotuo fit in. I had so many questions that afternoon, but I let them slide. There would be another time for answers.

Whisper looked as if she could see into me.

“When I first witnessed the bond, I felt as if I was intruding. I didn’t feel like I belonged near them, so I certainly didn’t think I belonged with them. I understand if you feel like an outsider looking in. Sometimes, I still do.”

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I wanted to hug her. “That’s exactly how I feel.” I said. “We’re so new as a couple. When it’s just the two of us, I am slowly beginning to allow myself to believe that I belong in this life. But around others, it’s harder. I feel a little shaky today, to tell the truth. I’m not exactly like you, am I?”

“Are you referring to the differences in our species, or in how we fit into the many relationship dynamics that exist between us?”

“The whole package. You’re a family, with shared history, and you all come from the same place, and you think and talk alike, and here I am, stepping in from the outside. I only hope there’s room.” I felt, more than anything at that moment, the sting of my parents’ rejection.

“I believe that family is chosen,” Whisper said. “It has much to do with shared love and connection. If you and Sept have chosen each other, then there’s room! Soon, we’ll have shared history with you.”

“When I asked Sept why he loved me,” I said softly, “do you know what he said?”

Whisper shook her head. “I don’t. Will you tell me?”

“He said it was because I reminded him of Situ. She was your birth-mother, wasn’t she?”

“She was.”

“So maybe, if this thing works out in the long run, we can be family.”

“If he chose you because you reminded him of Situ, that means you’re already family and much more than that, I think. It means you’re home.”

“That’s exactly what he said!”

Through the years, I thought back on this conversation more times than I can remember. Every challenge, every danger, every time the rebellion separated us, every time I felt so tired I just wanted to give in and give up, every time it looked, to me, like Sept was putting everyone else ahead of me, ahead of our children, ahead of Mojo or any of the other scores of earth and space critters that found their ways into our family, I returned to this conversation. Home stays put. Home is what’s waiting when the wanderer and warrior return. Home is what brings life meaning. Home is the new sexy.

Sept called to us through the open window. He and his brothers had grilled up veggie burgers in the picnic area.

Walking to them, Whisper and I fell into an easy rhythm. I didn’t know at the time, but we would, through our lives, find ourselves countless times, shoulder to shoulder, matching strides, in companionable conversation and equally companionable silence.

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“OK, peoples!” Octy shouted. “Everybody having fun?”

“One of my favorite things about visiting gotogo is being able to eat hot food with them,” Emmanuel said, taking a big bite of his veggie burger.

“What about cold food? Don’t you like ice cream, bagoto?” Octy asked.

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“I ate cold food all the time at home: salad salad and fruit salad. Dreadful, huh? Would you believe me if I said I’ve never tried ice cream? Should I, pagoto?”

“Yes,” replied Octy, “because Pops says that a life without ice cream is not worth living!”

“I’m in trouble then,” Emmanuel laughed. “I’ll try some as soon as I can!”

The moon rose above Lighthouse Island. My heart opened at the sight of the moon, the silver clouds, the white cowslips shimmering in moonlight. But to see that beauty matched in a person! Whisper in the moonlight took away my breath.

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“Living so close to the beach must be wonderful,” she said wistfully. “I don’t think I would ever get tired of watching the waves crash, the sun set, and the moon rise.”

“If that is what you desire, then that’s what will be.” Emmanuel looked around us. “The climate here is certainly appealing.”

Manny began to share his daydreams with Whisper about setting up a home base for her. In those early cocoon days, part of me worried at the prospect of Sept’s family becoming our neighbors. Sebastion was already looking for a house nearby for him, Octy, and Mop. If Manny and Whisper moved here, too, we would be surrounded by family. When would we ever get time to ourselves?

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Sept and Sebastion joined us.

“Pops! I’m so glad you found a house you like!” Sept said. “And on the cove, too! Will you make an offer?”

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When Sept turned to join his brothers for a walk on the beach, Sebastion lit into me.

“Mallory! Octy reported that you and Septemus made out in front of him! What did I tell you about PDA? Not in front of me, and not in front of my youngest son!”

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“Just a minute, Mr. Sevens,” I said. “We were in our house, in our loft! I can’t help it if your youngest son happened to come up when we were doing what any engaged couple would do!”

“All right, all right!” Sebastion said. “You have a point. Just. Please. Not around me, and not around my little boy.”

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Whisper watched the exchange with an amused, conspiratorial grin.

When Manny joined us, she shot a flirtatious glance his direction.

“I’m enthused you had time to come visit mogoto, Beloved,” Emmanuel said to her. “My soul has missed the presence of yours in my immediate vicinity.” He blew her a kiss. “I do hope you’re adoring school thus far, but I believe you and I should meet on a more frequent basis henceforward.”

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Sebastion flinched.

“That’s what couples do!” I said to him, under my breath.

“I will always have time for you and Sept,” Whisper giggled. “And I definitely will not oppose meeting on a more frequent basis henceforward.”

“I do mean what I’d offered earlier,” Emmanuel said. “If you enjoy this place, I’ll find a way to get you here. Anywhere, for that matter.”

Sept and Octy returned from the moonlight walk. Sept gave his dad a big hug, as if it had been months, not minutes, since they’d last seen each other.

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It hurt, just a little, to see the affection between father and son. I tried not to remember that my father chose not to be my dad anymore. Even when he had been my father, he had never hugged me like that.

“Octy says if you guys move here, he wants to have lots of sleep-overs,” Sept said.

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“We can have movie nights,” I said. “Popcorn, ice cream, and zombies.”

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Sept wandered off to look at the stars, just peeking out behind the clouds.

“Did I hear you right, Emmanuel?” Sebastion asked. “Are you thinking of moving here, too, with Whisper?”

“Only if she wishes it, Pops. Though I do quite enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the idea of living near mogoto. I believe we are opposite sides of the same magnet. He is my positive pull, you see, and where he goes I will always go, at some point. It’s where I feel I’m meant to be.”

I rose from the table, feeling Sept’s magnet-pull exert its force on me.

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We looked at the stars in silence while his family talked of setting up new homes here in this town by the bay.

“Quick,” I said. “Your pops isn’t looking!” I snuck in a kiss on the cheek. “I love your family,” I whispered. “I think I’m beginning to feel at home.”

“Wherever you are is home for me,” he replied.

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Author’s note: This chapter is set a few years ahead of where Ny and Ally’s stories are as of date of publication. Think of this as a preview for Whisper and Alienated , rather than spoilery!

Thank you to Ny275 and Allysimbuilds for co-writing this with me! They contributed Whisper and Emmanuel’s dialogue, insights into the characters’ psychology and relationship dynamics, and ideas for future plot developments.

Septemus 76

Spoiler Alert: This chapter contains spoilers for AllySimBuild’s Alienated and Ny’s Whisper.  Before reading this chapter, I suggest catching up on those two stories first, in particular, this chapter from Alienated, “Jogging Isn’t An Escape.”

Roots and Sprouts

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This afternoon, our home was filled with family: Octy’s mother, Xirra; her niece, Whisper; my genetic brother, Emmanuel; his genetic great, great, and etc. granddaughter, Shésti; and Pops and Octy. My sprouts and my roots.

Whisper and Batuotuo just left. Xirra and Shésti left a few hours ago. Octy is sleeping, and Pops is lying on his bed with his eyes open. Being around Xirra and  Shésti tends to do him in–all that emotional input.

I know how he feels.

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I’ll be processing this for days, weeks, months. Maybe all my life. It was… amazing. My family. I am left with snippets and scenes and the tired feeling of too much happiness to contain in a moment.

When Whisper and Batuotuo arrived, I could feel their anticipation.

I have people for you to meet, I said to them both, inside. Family.

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My voice choked when I went to introduce Xirra to Whisper.

“Have you ever felt that you’ve walked into an echo?” Xirra laughed. “That’s how I feel! Genes are incomparable data-storage devices!”

“It’s great to finally meet you. Unless you knew me as a baby,” Whisper said through a smile. “In which case, it’s nice to meet you again.”

“Of course I knew you as a baby, silly!” Xirra said. “I was Situ’s doula, like any good sister. I watched you emerge!”

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I wasn’t sure how to tell Emmanuel about Shésti, so I just blurted it out the first opportunity I had.

“Another guest is here. Another of my pops’… what-do-you-call-it. Another one of those… She’s… well, she’s related to your sko, your original. She’s like a great, great, times-a-hundred, granddaughter. Or, something. This is weird. I know. Anyway, she’s here.”

“Related to Batuotuo? Legitimately a derivative?”

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I explained, as best I could, that Batuotuo was her lineage.

“She’s eager to meet you.” That was putting it mildly. She was like a groupie about to meet the lead guitarist. “Get ready,” I warned. “Shésti is a little intense.”

Emmanuel and Shésti talked for a long time. Xirra joined them, too.

When I went up to make sure everything was going OK (Shésti can be a bit much.), they were in the middle of one of those earnest conversations that Xirra, and my brother, too, for that matter, are so fond of.

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I left them to it.

Downstairs, Pops was getting acquainted with Whisper. I’ve discovered Pops’ Achilles’ heel. He has zero resistance to the charms of a beautiful woman. Shésti, Panda, and now Whisper–He’s completely overtaken.

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“I love all the cozy nooks you have in this house!”

“I’m glad you like it,” Pops said. “It’s called Pauper’s Style! We were so broke until Xirra helped us out that we never had funds for anything more than little couches, little corners! But I think it’s become our aesthetic.”

Octy got up from his nap.

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“People!” he said. “Hi, peoples! Hello.”

“Octy, this is your cousin,” I told him.

“Hi, Whisper,” he said. We had been talking about her for weeks.

“Hi, Octy!” She smiled warmly at him. “You’re a lovely indigo color.”

“I’m a grape,” he replied. “You’re berry pretty!”

Whisper giggled. “Why thank you! You’re a cute one, Octy. Berry cute.”

“Uh-uh. Grapey cute.”

When Emmanuel joined us downstairs, he had that brow-furrowed look. I suggested he join me for a walk along the river path.

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We walked in silence.

“What did you think of your great, great, great granddaughter?” I asked when we reached the plaza.

“Intense was an understatement. You could have better prepared me,” he said, grinning.

“She is beautiful, though,” I said. “She looks like you. Pops is quite smitten.”

I told him about the baby that wasn’t. “It was pfura,” I said. “It prevented the baby from coming to term. I would have liked to have had a genetic sibling that had come from my pops.”

Emmanuel nodded. “That’s an interesting idea, to have a sibling that genetically ties you to your dad.” He seemed lost in thought, but immediately resurfaced. “If he’s taken with her, will he not ask her to stay with him? If so, there is a possibility…”

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“Oh, heavens no!” I laughed. Clearly, my mogoto had not yet gotten to know Pops. “He and I are different that way,” I explained. “He has no need for a soul-mate and hardly even knows what to make of the champagne feelings inside of him!”

“In that case, is what I’ve suggested offensive? I apologize, if so. My intention was anything but!”

“Not at all, brother!” I laughed. His earnestness is endearing. “Do you have anyone you can talk to, mogoto?” I asked. He seems so inexperienced with the easy exchange of hearts and minds.

He shook his head. “Other than Mom, and recently Whisper, no. I do not have time. I’m studying as much as mentally possible. I have goals and dreams and plans!”

We took a selfie: “To Dreams and Plans!” we yelled.

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Octy pounced on Emmanuel the moment we got back home.

“Are you my brother?” he asked as Emmanuel lifted him up.

“Relatively,” he laughed. “And essentially so!”

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In a quiet moment before supper, Emmanuel joined me in the reading nook.

He sighed and began speaking softly. “I want to know, what do you do with the bubbles inside you? I find them intimidating. Immobilizing.”

“You mean the champagne feelings? Like what my pops feels around Shésti?”

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He nodded quickly.

“I look longingly at a beautiful man with hair that is pleading to be messed up, who would look absolutely adorable in a checkered apron, but who is, alas, both oblivious and entirely unavailable, and when it gets to be too much, I shout, ‘YOBASKA!’ at the top of my lungs, and then I go for a jog. So. Maybe Pops’ approach isn’t so bad after all! Do you have someone who makes you feel bubbly?”

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“I do,” Emmanuel replied through a laugh. “And we truly are mogotogo, as I jog when it’s too much for me as well! I don’t know if she reciprocates. I’ve been to afraid to ask. But is asking the best course of action? Have you asked this beautiful man about this checkered apron?”

“No. He wanted me to teach him inside-talk. He’s from here, you know, from this planet. And he learned so quickly, and I thought that all we exchanged was mutually understood. And then he got married. To not-me. Pops says on this planet, you need to say the words aloud. Inside-talk doesn’t cut it. So, if I had known, I would have said to him, long, long ago, that he had the cutest smile, and that… Ah, well. Waters and bridges!”

Mogoto, my hearts hurt for you!”

“Ah, it was ages ago! There are other floppy-haired cuties, right? But what about you? You could start slowly. Drop a little hint. Or even drop the whole enchilada! KaBOOM! See if your world explodes.”

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“I have to say, the two of you look quite good together. Something I’d paint if I had enough skill.” Whisper said as she came to pause in front of us.

“Thank you, darling,” I vamped. “I inherited the looks, and he the brains.” Emmanuel squinted at me.

“You’re very welcome.” She gave us a peculiar look. “I think I’ll go for a jog around the neighborhood.”

“Funny! We were just talking about jogging, weren’t we, mogoto?”

Emmanuel nodded. “We were. For the record, mogoto, you inherited everything.”

“Emmanuel, don’t sell yourself short,” she paused. “I’ll find you guys later.”

Emmanuel waited until Whisper left for her run, and then continued. “You are the positive-pull. I have no doubt you’ll draw someone to fulfill your standard of ‘floppy-haired male.’ I think I’ll drop the enchilada,” he said under his breath.

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Xirra came in to say it was time to wash up for supper. Emmanuel and I, like brothers, washed our hands in the same sink, sharing the bar of soap.

He spoke softly. “Why did you write only to Whisper? Why did you not write to me, to tell me I was cloned by the rebels? That we were supposed to live together again? To invite me for a visit? Hearing these things from her, and not you, wasn’t easy for me. The frustration has subsided, but I’d like to understand your logic.”

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I had to reflect. For me, there were no boundaries between the three of us. We were a triad, connected through Situ, Warrior, and the rebels’ plans. What one of us knew, the others would know.

“When I met Whisper at your pool party, I pledged that I would share everything that I learned that concerned her. My connection with her deepened when I met Octy’s mom. Much of what Xirra shared with me concerned Whisper directly, and so I felt it imperative to relay to her. To tell you the truth, it never occurred to me to write you. This all happened before I met Shésti, and you and I are so connected, mogoto, that everything I know feels to me like it is something that you know, too.”

He smiled as he listened.

I continued. “I’m unskilled. It’s like that problem with Mr. Gorgeous Apron. I assume that because I feel it all joined inside of me, it’s all joined outside, too. Forgive me. I need to learn how to do more than inside talk.”

“In my dreams, Batuotuo seeks Baxini’vre, so I think we have always been like this: you draw me in. I will do better to reach for you in the future as well. There’s no need to ask for forgiveness, you already have it in addition to my thanks. Whisper is around me, our parents are coupled, but we had become strangers. Your letter made her speak to me.” He glanced around and then spoke quietly. “She’s the enchilada, mogoto.”

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“Woot!” I shouted. “I totally ship it! Have lots and lots of little babies, OK?” I really said that. I am so rude! But chances are, I will never have children, and the idea of my brother’s beautiful genes blending with the genes of Situ was almost more than I could bear.

“Septemus,” Emmanuel scolded. “I’m confiding in you!”

“Sorry not sorry!” I laughed. “I made taco casserole for lunch. Now I’m wishing I’d made enchiladas!”

He sighed. “I regret everything that’s transpired in the past minute…”

I laughed so hard. “Clearly you’ve grown up an only child! But I will be a good brother. I will let you suffer your shyness and reticence, while I snicker in the background! Only don’t wait too long! You don’t want somebody named Raj to swoop in while you’re sitting in the corner picking at a fruit salad!”

“I eat fruit salad every day!” Emmanuel’s eyes widened. “You really think she’d be snatched while I construct the enchilada?”

“Look,” I said, “next to Shésti and Panda, she is likely the most beautiful person to walk this green earth. You’d be a fool not to make mad love to her on the train home.”

He nodded. “I hear your argument, mogoto. Though I’ve never met Pandora, I understand the point you’re proving. But I’m not sure I have it in me to ‘make mad love to her’ on the ride home… My biggest concern is this: do I care for her because she knew my story and remained sitting on the bench, or do I care for her because I am attracted to females and she’s the only one I bother to interact with?”

“Does it even matter? If you love someone, then all questions are silenced.”

“The other reason may be that she sees me as an original, not a copy. Not Batuotuo, but just Emmanuel’s soul. That’s how I feel as well, that I am not Batuotuo, just Emmanuel inside Batuotuo2.0’s body.”

“Ah. The enchilada has already been baked, and now, it needs only to be served. What is love, my brother? Love is looking into the eyes of the soul. Nothing more is needed, ever.”

“Love is looking into the eyes of the soul,” he repeated. “Nothing more is needed, ever. I understand. The third reason is the one I should value and base my decisions from.”

“OK,” I said. “Now, I have something very important to ask you.”

He hummed a calming tone. “I’m happy to provide an answer.”

“Take a look at this. Do I go with the purple theme or the tiger stripes?” I showed him two blog themes I was considering for my new secret project.

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Mogoto,” Emmanuel grinned. “You know I’m partial to purple.”

We carried our conversation back into the living room.

“What do you intend to do when you grow up?” he asked. “When you finish with school and become a man? I’ve been thinking about the future, myself, and I am curious to know what you intend to do, as Septemus.”

I explained how, up until very recently, this was a point of pain for me. “What I desired to do,” I told him, “in my heart of feeling, was to return and fight, in anyway that I could. But Xirra tells me that I cannot do that. It would risk too much. The Kfvico’kyastorr cannot know that I–that any of us–survived the crash. So I am prisoner of my fate.”

This was how I had seen it until my trip to the desert. But there, I fell into the embrace of this planet. My fate is here. I asked him about his dream.

Before Emmanuel could answer, Whisper came through the door. “You two are still talking?”

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“We’ve been talking about you, darling!” I teased.

Emmanuel shot me a disgruntled look.

“I’d hope not,” she said, and her periwinkle cheeks flushed rose. “There are far more interesting things to talk about.”

“Well, yes. Like enchiladas.”

Whisper laughed. “Food?”

“Nurturance. Food, love, same difference.”

“Secret, the very idea that you are less interesting than food is absurd.” Emmanuel turned his attention to his brother. “Nutrition and romance are hardly a proper simile!”

“Okay then. I’m going to check on Octy,” she said. “Don’t let me keep you from discussing me, enchiladas, and your dreams for the future.” Her eyes sparkled playfully. “You know where to find me if you need me.”

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We continued the conversation in inside-talk. “Your dream, brother,” I prompted. “You were saying? Before we were so delightfully interrupted?”

“Medicine,” Emmanuel answered briefly. “What did you mean by ‘return and fight?’ If you cannot do it, than I should do it. Just as before. Baxini’vre wrote words that he could not speak, for whatever reason, that Batuotuo spoke them for him everywhere he could. This is a brother’s duty to his mogoto, no? If Emmanuel is capable, he will help Septemus in any way he can.”

“No,” I said. “First, it wasn’t that Baxin’ivre couldn’t speak. He could best serve by writing, by teaching. And Batuotuo served in the way that he best could. Second, you are not Batuotuo. I am not Baxini’vre.”

“I apologize for my assumption. Honestly, I only know Batuotuo’s half of the narrative. My sentiment remains: I wish to help accomplish the things that you cannot. What would returning to fight for the rebels entail? What would I have to become?”

“This is a conversation for the rebels. For Shésti and Xirra. If you want to be recruited, they are the recruiting agents.”

“Did I hear my name?” Shésti said. We had switched back to talking out loud. “I’ve been looking all over for you, Batuotuo!”

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“You have?” Emmanuel asked. “I apologize for not being more present, Shésti. What may I provide for you?”

“Do you think you could give me your T-shirt?”

“Shésti! I said. “That’s a highly inappropriate request!”

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“If I were to comply, it would be a cold walk home.” Emmanuel shot me an urgent look, proceeding to speak inside my head. “Though, would that improve the the enchilada’s appeal?”

Shésti surprised us both by answering inside, “Enchiladas? Oh, I’m starving!”

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Emmanuel shook his head. “I’m afraid I need to retain my shirt. It belongs right where it is. Sincerest apologies, Shésti.”

Octy has decided that Whisper is the best cousin. He wouldn’t leave her side, chatting on merrily, oblivious to the marks of grief carried about her eyes. I could feel a shadow behind Xirra’s smile, too, and I didn’t have to wonder whom they’d been talking of all afternoon.

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“Sweet Octy,” she said, “you are lucky to live in such a colorful place. It reminds me of where I live. Colors make everything better. They comfort the soul, didn’t you know?”

“I like stei, thari, fotli, steithari, tharistei, tharifotli, fotlithari…” he went on and on, combining colors. Xirra joined us before he reached to four-color combinations.

“So, byu, I’m sure you hear this all the time, but you look just like your mother. Are you musical, too?”

Whisper nodded, a smile spreading on her face. “I am. I sing and play the violin!”

fam16

“Here’s a song we used to sing all the time when we were little:

Shésti, situ, situki,
Baska xiipayukī .

Wind, spirit, air
We fly without a care–”

fam14

“When I was little, I used to sing this song!” Octy interrupted.

Stei STRAWbyu!
Yada, yada, yada!

Tharistei GRAPEyu!
Dastaliyu!

Yada, yada, CUTIE!
Boska, paboska, PUPPY!”

fam15

“Porcupines like that song best!” he announced. “And strawBERRIES!”

“Porcupines, strawberries, and Whisper. The song has a great tune, Octy, though I have no clue what you sang!”

“I don’t, either, Whisper! And I know Vingihoplo!” Pops said.

Whisper laughed. “He’s got a secret song, then. One meant only for him to understand…”

“It’s for the pagotogo!” he said. “I sing inside like Sept!” And he closed his eyes and hummed really, really loudly. “Can you hear that?” he asked.

“Yes!” we said.

“Louder?” he asked.

fam13

“No!” we said. But he hummed all the louder, until we all joined in, singing-inside, Octy-style. I think we hummed loud enough that all the pagotogo here, there, and everywhere heard!

My brother, my cousin, my pops’ secret flame, they gathered the dishes and carried them into the house. I stayed behind.

fam20

Octy only fussed a little when Xirra scooped him up and carried him in for bed.

fam18

I watched them all file into our home. The light faded. The stars came out. I looked for the far star. It didn’t beckon me. How could it, when everyone I love is here?

When at last I went back inside, I looked in on Octy. Whisper sat at the foot of his bed while he slept. Maybe one day, I will look in as she sits at the foot of the bed of her son, my nephew. One can dream. On Whisper’s face, all trace of grief had left, replaced with the soft light of home. Maybe two can dream. Or, knowing my mogoto, maybe I should amend that to three.

fam01

Whispannuel. Emmisper. Whemmasper. I ship it. The whole enchilada.

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Author’s notes: You know those times where the Sims are such great actors that all you do is chase after them with your camera and notepad like a crazed paparazzi? That’s how I felt when shooting this chapter. Or maybe, these stories we write really are their lives, and so they are not acting at all…

At any rate, having Emmanuel and Whisper visit my game was delightful, and writing this chapter with Ally and Ny was even more delightful! So grateful for the opportunity to braid together our tales… or tails (take your pick!).

I’m giddy! This is the penultimate chapter, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude! Vadish, friends and readers! 🙂