Lighthouse: Morning Joe


Mojo waited for us on the front porch when we returned from the overlook.

He stuck around, and our kitchen felt like home with a big dog eating in the corner.


He raced up to me one evening when I returned from a walk and began to waltz with me. That was when I knew, for sure, that he had adopted us.


Sept and I never had a honeymoon, unless you count those love-drunk days before our marriage. We went back to the Culpepper almost immediately. We’d left it in Anya’s capable management for over three weeks, and she was getting tired of running things without us.

But even more, Xirra said we had to go back.

We were seldom there at the same time.


Sept felt it was important to maintain the fiction that he and Max Culper were two different individuals. Of course, all his friends and most of the regulars knew. But he said the ruse wasn’t for those who knew us.

He also stressed that we shouldn’t leave home unattended for very long.

So we took shifts.


I’d been well schooled by both Sept and Xirra what my duties were at the Culpepper. Watch for anyone new, anyone who seemed unfamiliar with the place or out of touch with the common culture. And then listen for the code words.

Xirra said the first person would come at any time. We couldn’t be sure when. But we had to be ready.


I’d been showing up every other day for two weeks. Mostly the regulars came through. Aicha Choukri, a friend of Anya’s that she hired to help cover when we’d been out, was still a bit sulky from our long absence.

“You know we ran out of organic French roast,” she complained. “We’re still not fully stocked. One day, I can understand. Two, if you’re really needing some down-time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy Anya got me the job, and even more happy you kept me on. But to leave Anya in charge all that time? What were you thinking?”

I began scheming ways to make it up to her and Anya when a stranger entered behind Ulrike.


He stopped in the entrance and looked around.


Then he went to the computer stands, but he didn’t turn the computer on. He simply sat and looked.

“Hi,” I said. He stared.


I stood behind him in the line at the counter. He looked over his shoulder at me.

Sept had mentioned that in some extra-T cultures, eye contact was considered rude, so I looked straight ahead. I felt him watching, though.


Anya gave him a small Americano with extra foam. “I added some amaretto syrup,” she whispered, “and extra cinnamon!”


He sat at the large table, and I sat across from him, still being careful not to look at him directly.


Then he looked at me. His eyes looked so sad, like he’d seen hardship.

“I’m Mallory,” I said softly. “Mallory Sevens. I’m glad you’re here. What’s your name?”

He pointed at the menu.

I read the first item on it. “Mocha Java?”

He pointed again.

“Organic Guatemalan?”

Another point.

“Morning Joe?”


He smiled and whistled twice.

“Nice to meet you, Morning Joe.”

Byu jisa,” he said. I didn’t know much Vingihoplo back then, but I knew byu, sweet, for it was Sept’s pet name for me.

I shook my head.

“Do. Nut,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied. “We don’t serve donuts. Would you like pain au chocolat?”

He concentrated. “Cookiestadore. Cookstore. Cookiestory.”

It was so close. Sept had emphasized that I could not lead. The individual had to supply the full code without prompting.

I closed my eyes, and we sat silently.

Then he spoke. “I. Haff. Kumfrum. Da. Cookiestore. Adora.”

It was close enough.

“I am so happy you are here, Morning Joe,” I said. “Byudoxniuki.” Sweet freedom.

I took him upstairs to the second flat.


“You can stay here,” I said. “Gotukoda.” Home. For now, anyway.

The second flat offered temporary shelter, a place for refugees to stay while our contacts arranged more permanent lodgings and filed the paperwork that would allow them to live openly in a xeno-friendly community.

“You are safe here,” I said. I fully believed that to be true, at the time, for him and all who would seek sanctuary there. “You can take off your disguise, if it’s more comfortable. Baska.” I mimicked, as best I could, undressing from one’s skin.


When I turned around, he revealed his true form, which looked a lot like his disguise, actually, only paler, bluer.


He sat at the computer desk, again leaving the computer off.

I explained he’d be here for a few days, and Sept or I would be staying in the flat next door.

“One of us will always be around,” I said. “We’re here if you need anything!”


He hadn’t said a word.

I talked too loudly, too cheerfully, like I do when I’m nervous and wanting to offer reassurance, I’m sure of it. And he listened, though I’m sure he didn’t understand anything.


He sat beside me, and I looked at him. He maintained eye contact for a moment, and then he looked away.

“Are you OK?” I asked. “Do you need anything?” He seemed healthy and well-rested. He was clean. But he looked very, very sad.


“How about if I make some cookies?” I said. And then I realized that was a very awkward thing to say. “Or, not cookies, actually. Brownies! Byujisa?”


He smiled and sat beside me again. He began to whistle, click, exhale, and sigh. I noticed patterns. It was a language. I couldn’t understand a word he said, either, but I loved the sound of it.

I whistled back, and Morning Joe laughed.

Slowly, carefully, patiently, with a whistle and a click, he began to teach me to communicate with him.


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Author’s note: Hat-tip to For_Eorzea/SMNerd for the Cookie Store code word!

Shift 19: YOTO


So I showed up at YOTO after school. Deon said he’d take a few hours personal time and drive me. But I said nope. I gotta do this myself. I did accept the fare for the rapid transit, though.

Man, the place is colorful. I wondered if they made every kid that stayed here paint a mandala. I thought about the one I’d paint–something with the colors of the mountains.

Thinking about the mountains helped me relax. I put on a smile and walked in. Deon had called ahead, so they were expecting me.

I saw the coordinator, Aadhya Mahajan, first thing. She didn’t say much, just “Hello, darling. Come in and make yourself at home. We’ll do the intake later.”


That was OK by me. I wanted to look around before I had to sit down and fill out papers and stuff.

Nadja Aguirre and Danny Denvers were sitting in the kitchen. They both said hello, but not much more than that. I got the distinct impression that people value privacy here. That’s OK by me, too, seeing as we’re all living here together.


Marquise Mitchel was in the kitchen stirring cake batter. I took one look at his Mohawk and decided he was OK.


I stood back and watched. Everybody gave me my space. When Marquise put the cake in the oven, I made some veggie BLTs. The fridge was stocked with everything awesome, even this cool tempeh bacon that tastes so good. I’m going to see if I can find some way to get avocados. They’d go great with this tempeh bacon.

Vivaan Gupta, the co-director, walked through the kitchen. “Nice to see you making yourself at home, Jazz,” he said, just like we’d already been introduced and everything.


It was kind of cool how everybody there made me feel welcome but not conspicuous at the same time. I was so worried about a ton of questions or being put on the spot. But that didn’t happen. I just belonged.


It turns out they’ve got an unwritten “No Questions” rule. You don’t ask anybody about themselves or their past. I mean, you can ask, “What are you reading?” or “How was your day at school?” or “How’s it going?” or “Do you wanna play basketball?” Little everyday stuff. What they call “transactional questions.” But you just stay away from the prying questions.

They say, “You can talk about yourself, but you don’t ask about others. You wait until they talk to you.”

I’m waiting until Nadja talks to me. She’s beautiful. Her eyes look like mystery. Come to think of it, everybody here, their eyes show so much. If their stories are like mine, and I know they are, then I can say that their eyes show loss, bravery, resolve, betrayal, hurt, and hope.


Nadja doesn’t go to my school. None of the kids do. Mostly, they go to the neighborhood school here in Magnolia Promenade, and one or two ride the bus into Willow Creek. I’m the only one to take the RT to the city. I’m glad. This way, my being here is something that I can keep to myself. I wish all the world had the “No Questions-Wait Til They Talk” rule.

Nadja did talk a little bit my first night there.

“Do you like algebra?” she asked.

“Uh huh,” I replied.

“I love it,” she said. “I want to be a doctor one day. I love to feel my brain grow, and algebra forms new dendrites.”


It was still light when I went to bed. I felt tired. I felt so tired.

The bed is beautiful. It has clean sheets and no one else has slept in it since the sheets were changed. It has a mattress and four legs and a quilted headboard.

It was so early when I went to bed, and I thought I might sleep forever. It’s quiet. I’m inside. Nobody’s asking questions. And I can sleep.


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Author’s Notes: With the exception of Marquise Mitchel (who’s a game-generated Townie), all these beautiful teens came from the Gallery. I’ll be writing a “YOTO Teens” post at some point so that I can introduce them and give credit to Simmers who created them.