Vampire Code : The Fissure

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A fissure ran through the block of oak standing on Jaclyn’s workbench. Around this crack, she’d carve faeries, elves, dwarves, dragonflies, and wood nymphs.

On the reverse, if one knew to look, one would see the peering eyes of a demon. Bringing in one type of magic always let in the other.

The creeping-in had already begun. Her young neighbor Florinda walked past home from school with her head hung down.

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“Why so glum, little Flor?” Jaclyn asked.

“My ada finished the rail line. Did you hear that? Well, not him, but the people he bosses. And now it’s done, and he took Sparkie to go over there, but not me, I had to stay home with Rocket and Ama, but when Spark came back, he was sad.”

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“He was none too happy about that dark place, then?” Jaclyn asked.

“No, siree,” replied Florinda. “He says it’s creeply.”

“But he’s home now, safe as beechnut and sound as rabbit, is he not?”

He was.

“And he has a brave sister with a cheerful heart, does he not?”

He did!

“Then all is right in the world, and don’t you worry about the creeplies in the shadows.”

Florinda’s smile returned and she skipped up the hill.

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Jaclyn headed upstairs to the computer.

Sugar Maple was online.

“It has started,” she typed.

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“The two-way connection?” Sugar typed back.

“Yes!” Jaclyn replied. “That blasted goat-footed man. He should have stayed in the Wishing Well.”

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“We knew this would come,” Sugar replied.

Sugar and Jaclyn been expecting something like this since Cathy’s ill-conceived wish had pulled Brennan Stuckey out of the well. They’d hoped binding the two through marriage would forestall the encroachment.

After their twins were born, each full of such goodness, a swing in the other direction became inevitable.

They’d discussed plans and strategies, but until the connection was actually established, it was impossible to know what exactly to do.

“Keep your hope up!” Sugar typed.

Jaclyn closed her eyes and whispered a quick protection spell.

Spider of
Buttercup, dew drop
Yarrow, bluebell,
Spin a web round
The wishing well.

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“Let’s talk” Sugar typed. “Can you make it to the city?”

They agreed to meet at the Spice Festival at sunset.

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Though Jaclyn had never been to the city, she easily found her way from the rapid transit station to the Spice District. Sugar played her violin, and Jaclyn simply followed the pull she always felt from Sugar’s tunes.

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“Might as well have second supper,” Jaclyn said when she spied the table laden with falafal, curried eggs, and dal.

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“I’ve seen it all before,” Jaclyn told Sugar. “It was like this in the old place. First the trolls. Then the boogeys. Then before you knew it, we were hardly safe outside the warrens.”

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“But you survived,” Sugar Maple said. “It didn’t wipe your peoples out. And you found a balance, right?”

“We adapted,” Jaclyn said. “Protection spells, blessings, wildcrafting. All the rituals of the old ways kept us from being destroyed, at least.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Sugar. “You developed rune. We don’t have to look at this as the end of something. We can think of it as the beginning.”

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“It’s a barrow-full of toil!” said Jaclyn.

“That it is,” replied Sugar. “But then, I’ve never been averse to hard work. Have you?”

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Jaclyn supposed not.

“What’s this?” asked Nathanael, Sugar’s nephew-in-law, who’d come along for the festival. “Are you talking about work at a time for feasting?”

“Simply stringing the loom,” said Jaclyn, “so the warp is set when we’re ready for the weft.”

“Right then!” said Sugar.

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Jaclyn caught the whiff of willow catkins on the grill. She knew of only one man in these parts who had a taste for grilled catkin. Sure enough, near the picnic tables, her sweet-heart Davion dished up a plate of fresh-spring river willow catkins for sampling.

“What brings you here, Davi?” she asked.

“Had an inkling you’d be here,” he said.

“Aren’t you the charmer?”

Sugar came to say good-bye. “I’ve got some research to do,” she said. “Don’t worry, Jaclyn. We’ll find a way to protect who and what we love.”

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New World Symphony: Young Apprentices

An old photograph hung upstairs above Jaclyn’s bed, left by previous tenants from a forgotten time.

She never knew who the people in the photograph were or why they were important. But two things stood out to her: the the tall woman in the center and the flock of children surrounding her.

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This mysterious tall woman seemed somehow distinct from those around her.

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When she looked closely at the face, it felt familiar. Could it be a long-lost relative?

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Jaclyn had never heard of any of her kin coming to this land in distant times, but she couldn’t deny that something about that figure resonated with her.

Perhaps, every few generations, an emissary comes, infusing rune into this green land, teaching the children ways to keep magick alive. She knew that was her purpose here–perhaps this same calling had drawn a great aunt who laid down the path that Jaclyn now followed. Now that she thought about it, she’d heard hushed speculation surrounding her ama’s aunt, Neticia, whose disappearance posed a mystery.

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When considered an extension of a family tradition, her own calling seemed more significant, somehow.

Evening or morning, when it was time to meet, Jaclyn never had to call the children to her: somehow, they simply knew to come.

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One evening, Laurel Haas, Bryant Cho, and Sparkroot and Florinda Tea arrived.

“We’re ready!” said Sparkroot.

“Ready for what?” asked Jaclyn.

“Stories!” said Bryant.

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Before they filed inside, Sempervirens ran up to the door.

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” she called. “Now we can start!”

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“I’ll tell the first story,” said Laurel, and she launched into a very long tale about a poodle who had wandered into the South of France looking for the Royal Library.

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“I know what book the poodle would read!” said Sempervirens. “The Precise Poodle’s Pedestrian Guide to Puddles of Paris!”

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After each child told a tale, it was Jaclyn’s turn. She had pockets full of stories, for her father, uncles, grandfathers, and great aunts were forever finding themselves in pickles that they could only escape through intentional acts.

When Jaclyn finished her story about the time her great aunt Bonny befriended not one, but five honeybees and gathered enough honey to sweeten the village’s tea for the whole long winter, it was time for the children to leave.

Florinda Tea lingered at the chess board.

“Can I stay a little longer?” she asked, and she and Jaclyn played chess together late into the evening.

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Around midnight, Florinda grew hungry.

“I forgot to eat supper!” she said. “I was so excited to come!”

“I’ll make you a snack,” Jaclyn said.

When Florinda came inside, a bowl of herbs and fruit waited for her.

“It tastes a little bitter,” said Florinda.

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“That’s just at first,” said Jaclyn, heading upstairs to leave the girl to eat her poppet salad alone. “Once it begins to work, you will taste sweetness.”

Florinda knew that her mother had eaten here, the day she found out she was pregnant with her and her brother. Her friend Little Green ate here often, and so did Green’s mom, Cypress. It must be OK to eat food that sparkles a little and tastes a little bitter at first, especially if it tastes sweet after.

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When the bowl was empty, Florinda had to admit: poppet salad is delicious!

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New World Symphony: Delivery

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Cathy played through the night. Brahms’ intermezzos on piano in the parlor gave way to Bach’s partitas on violin in the garden.

She thought over Sugar’s fury while she played. What had made her so angry? She knew Sugar disliked Brennan–he had a habit of lashing out at people and he genuinely seemed to enjoy the misery of others.

But we’re none of us perfect, Cathy thought. We all have our complicated patterns and our foibles and follies, and to love someone even knowing their limitations, that was something, wasn’t it?

But Cathy suspected there was more to it than that. She herself suspected Brennan’s true origins–she was never taken in by his backstory, though he still believed it without hesitation.

“I’m from New Orleans,” he was fond of saying, and every time he said it, Cathy smelled rose-water and sulfur.

When onezero woke, Cathy sought her out.

“Do you think there’s reason to worry?” she asked her friend. “Was Sugar right in her first response, and did I do something wrong and irresponsible in getting pregnant?”

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onezero wrapped her in a big hug.

“When we combine two to make one,” said onezero, “the result is something entirely extraordinary! It’s not the mother, it’s not the father. You are bringing in something new, and that’s always something to celebrate.”

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They sat in the garden while the sun rose.

Cathy had to admit that, if she tuned in to how she felt, everything felt so very right. Sometimes, life steps up and asks you to follow, that’s how she felt–and here she was, following as best she could.

“After all,” she said to onezero, “this just happened! It wasn’t something I planned. It’s not something that could be expected.”

“Exactly,” said onezero from the easel at the edge of the porch. “Like when my dad was taken by the thousand. Who would expect that? That’s not anything that could be planned or expected.”

“And look how that turned out!” said Cathy, with a smile. “You’re the best surprise there ever was!”

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onezero left after she finished her painting, a portrait of a Madonna which they hung upstairs. “Call me when it’s time,” onezero said. “I’ll come in a jiffy!”

Cathy spent the late morning painting a childlike drawing of a tiny being–half fairy, half bird. The innocence of the painting charmed her.

This might be my last time alone for a while, she thought, savoring the solitude and the quiet. We make our peace, she thought, hoping to remember this during the busy days that would be sure to follow the baby’s delivery.

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In the afternoon, while she was relaxing with a computer game, the contractions came.

I can do this, she thought, remembering to breathe.

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But the second contraction came with such fierceness, as if she were tearing inside, and she wasn’t sure she could do it. She couldn’t get ahold of Jaclyn. She called onezero.

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onezero arrived with sadness. Cathy couldn’t ask what was the matter–every ounce of concentration was spent breathing through the pain.

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“I knew it wouldn’t be an easy birth,” onezero said. “I could feel it. Are you all aright?”

Cathy couldn’t answer.

“I wish Jaclyn were here,” onezero said.

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They made their way back to the nursery.

“Oh! It’s going to be all right!” onezero said. “I just felt a shift. There’s nothing to worry about! You can push now!”

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And onezero was right.

In fact, she was doubly right. Two babies were born, a son and a daughter, and both were healthy, each one with ten fingers and ten toes, and two eyes, and one nose.

“They’re lovely. What will you call them?” onezero asked.

“You name them,” said Cathy. “You’re their godmother.”

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“Me and Jaclyn,” said onezero. She closed her eyes for a moment. “Jaclyn says that the little boy should be called something… something that you had in your sandwich. Fireflies? Something sparkly.”

“Sparkroot?” Cathy asked.

“Exactly!” said onezero. “Sparkroot and Florinda.”

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onezero took out her cellphone. “We need to remember today,” she said, snapping a photo of the two of them. “I mean, of course we’ll always remember, but this will help us commemorate, too.”

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When onezero left, Cathy spent time with each baby, feeling that warm weight rest in the crook of her arm, as if her body had been built for this.

Sparkroot had eyes the shape of his daddy’s, but they twinkled with a spark all his own.

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After she’d nursed the twins and tucked them into bed she called Brennan.

“We had two,” she said. “Do you want to come meet them?”

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“It’s really something,” he said. “Are they exactly alike?”

“Well, one’s a girl and one’s a boy, and one has lighter skin and one darker, and their eyes and smiles are shaped differently, but they’re exactly alike in that they’re both ours.”

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Brennan felt proud and surprised. They weren’t much to look at–they both looked the same to him, sort of like little peanuts, and there wasn’t much of them, and they couldn’t really talk yet, could they, but they’d grow into something. They’d grow into actual people, his children, and that was something.

“I’m a dad,” he said.

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He wrapped his wife in a hug. “We really did it!” he said.

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“I’m a dad!”

She held him, and to her, with his beating heart and hot skin, he felt in her arms like a little boy who’d come home from school with a first prize in the science fair, bursting with excitement and pride.

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She went into the kitchen to prepare a late-night snack for them, and when she finished, she found him at the computer, posting onto the Forums, “I am the proud papa of twins. Who says a poor boy from New Orleans can’t hit a home run, twice?”

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New World Symphony: Blind

Cathy had the same dream, over and over. She was in a meadow filled with the songs of thrushes and vireos. Suddenly, the bird songs stopped. A pinhole opened in a rock–and then a flash of light and silence.

When she woke, the back of her eyes ached. Something was not right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

She’d been spending time with new friends and old. Something about Zuri, the new bartender at the local pub, felt so familiar to Cathy. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but they felt like kin.

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It wasn’t just that they shared the same mischievous sense of humor or that they both liked cozy indoor spaces and wide open meadows. It was a feeling–like giggles, right before they surface, and everything feels happy, and just a little bit magic.

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Old friends called nearly every day, and most nights, if she wasn’t doing a final edit of a chapter, she’d meet up with them someplace where they could laugh and dance.

Sometimes, she caught Wade looking at her a certain way. He was always sure to be there, every time she got together with any of the Boughs. Through hanging together with their common friends, she and Wade had become close enough to be best friends. Sometimes, there was a little happy buzz between them. But they’d never acted on it, except maybe to use that happy energy to make the evening even more fun.

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The night after Brennan, her boyfriend, had come over to her place to visit, she called him up to see if he wanted to hang out with them all at the discotheque.

“We both like purple,” he said.

“Matches the interior!’ she replied, surveying the place.

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They found a corner away from the dancers, and he rubbed her shoulders.

“You’re tense!” he said.

“Oh, I worked in the garden all afternoon,” she replied. She didn’t say she’d been shoveling compost, knowing how squeamish Brennan was.

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They chatted about ice cream. Brennan was describing this new topping he’d invented for a chocolate cone, something with marshmallow sauce and cherries, when Jaclyn appeared behind him.

“This is promising!” Jaclyn whispered. “This is more like it, CT!”

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While Brennan began to describe the plot of the cartoon he’d watched that afternoon, which, surprisingly enough, wasn’t boring but actually quite ingenious, Jaclyn looked down and began to whisper, too softly for Brennan to hear. But Cathy could see her lips. She was either saying something about squirrels, or worlds. Kites or light. Tunes or runes.

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Then she held up her phone and flashed a bright light in Cathy’s eyes. It was just as in the dream, and Cathy turned before her eyes began to ache.

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Jaclyn leaned forward and whispered to Cathy:

You can’t undo what you have done.
Now he’s here, you cannot run.
You must make two into one.
It has to be, two to one.

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“Let’s go upstairs,” Brennan said, “where we can be alone.”

“You seem awfully happy,” she said, as she looked down at him grinning at her.

“I am,” he replied. “I’ve got something I’ve been wanting to ask you ever since I saw you in your goofy little animal hat tonight.”

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He stood and suddenly became very serious.

“I know we have nothing in common,” he said. “Except we both like the color purple. I’m younger than you. I’m a lazy, squeamish fool who watches cartoons all day and lives on ice cream. But, I like you. You seem to like me.”

Cathy listened. It was true. She liked him very much. In fact, she loved him. She had from the moment she’d seen rise from the wishing well those billowing clouds of rose-water and sulfur smoke. She loved him before she even saw his face. She’d loved him as soon as she’d known he was coming in answer to her wish.

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“Marry me,” he said.

Her heart stopped for a moment. She wasn’t the marrying type. And how would they live, having nothing in common? She hadn’t even kissed him yet. She didn’t know if she’d like the way his lips tasted.

But she loved him. And he was here because of her. This was what Jaclyn meant, she realized. She had to. She couldn’t run.

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She said yes, and the moment the engagement ring was on her finger, she felt with that circle of responsibility an overwhelming joy. A wish followed-through-with made everything right!

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He swept her off her feet, thinking, perhaps, that her t-shirt was the color of passion-fruit topping.

She looked up at the flourecsent light–blinding in its whiteness. The light flickered, crackled, and then in a burst of white, it burnt out, and he held her in the dark.

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As her vision sparkled with phosphenes, she thought she saw through the roof, up into the spinning galaxy to the chaotic seat of creation itself. What was life made of, after all, but the union of opposing forces?

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New World Symphony: The Wishing Well Man

Once the crack between worlds has been opened, all kinds can come in. This Jaclyn knew well.

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And when the fabric separating nomdish from rune begins to fray, light spills through from every world: all it takes then is one stray wish to call forth magic from the other side.

The ones from the old world were expected. After Davion came Zuri, a dwarf-wood nymph, who brought news of others to follow. Kindred from home had always been part of the plan.

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But there was now another–an unexpected one–pulled by wishing rune.

“Where’s your new boyfriend?” Jaclyn asked Cathy at J.P. and Floyd’s wedding.

“Oh! I forgot to invite him,” Cathy confessed.

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It’s one thing to wish someone into being, but it’s quite another to proceed to ignore the responsibility that the presence of this wished-for being entails.

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Something has to be done:
we can’t have netherworld rune
move untethered through this green world
passing themselves as nomdish
to every unsuspecting one.

That was a sure way to mischief
that could never be undone!

Jaclyn’s dreams were interrupted by flashes of light. Vast green landscapes blazed white, and when she woke, the back of her eyes hurt.

She blinked into green, blue, brown–and the white desert faded. It wasn’t too late, but she would need vigilance and action.

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Brennan Stuckey had no recollection of the bright world from where he came. But anyone who has ever been where there are no shadows can tell you that there lies a realm of Lucifer: not King of Darkness, but Despot of Light.

It takes shadow to bring relief, to provide a spot to rest, a moment to reflect.

With only light, the eyes crack and the sudden blindness spreads inside. That was the trick.

Brennan didn’t realize any of this, of course. As far as he knew, there was nothing in existence more insidious than the tediousness of Saturday morning cartoons.

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They lured you in with bright colors and catchy tunes. They made you laugh. And then, they left you craving sugar-coated cereal.

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The cereal, as brightly colored as the cartoon show, smelled sweet as strawberries, cherries, and marshmallows…

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only to taste like soggy cardboard.

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Brennan, in his backstory memory, knew everything about this world in which he found himself, and he believed in the veracity of all he knew.

But when it came to the knowledge one gains from experience, he was as naive as if he’d manifested in smoke two weeks ago from a wishing well. Which, of course, he had.

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Imagine the joy of eating an ice cream cone for the very first time. Chocolate–that flavor tickles the insides of the mouth and makes the tongue soft with rich sweetness. Add something purple on top–like berry topping to pizzazz the tongue–and the experience, especially for an ice cream virgin, was enough to rain down bliss.

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This newness filled Brennan’s days with excitement. There was so much to do!

One afternoon, he spied a bored young woman walking down the street.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “It’s sunny! The birds are singing! Why so glum?”

“Eh,” said the woman, “I’ve seen it all before.”

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He invited her in for an ice cream cone.

“I bet you haven’t had chocolate with passion fruit topping before,” he said.

“Prob’ly tastes like mango, only sweeter, right?” she asked.

They chatted, and when she learned his name, she said, “Oh! You’re Brennan! I’m Cathy’s friend Paisley. I heard you two were dating. How is she?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Brennan. “Last time I saw her, she was doing pretty good.”

“And when was that?”

Brennan did a quick calculation. “Oh, about two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks? And you’re her boyfriend? Why, I just saw her yesterday. You should really call if you two are dating.”

“Yeah,” Brennan agreed. “That’s probably a good idea.”

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Cathy Tea invited him over as soon as he called.

“Did ya miss me?” he asked.

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“Not really,” she admitted. “But you know what? Now that you’re here, I’m really glad to see you!”

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