Piece of a Legend

 

 

Chapter Two

 

"So" - Tucker had to leave the word on its own for a moment to lick melting vanilla ice cream off the side of his cone before it dribbled down over his fingers. "What do you think? Great place, isn't it?"

 

Aaren nodded enthusiastically, lowering his own cone. It wasn't only to agree with a new friend - their new town really was fantastic, at least in his opinion. "Hell yes!" He grinned at the boy sitting on the curb beside him.

 

Blair rolled her eyes upward and sighed heavily. "You're such a loser," she said in a long-suffering tone, and tugged at a particularly long portion of his hair without much force. "This place is a dump."

 

"Sort of like your face," he shot back, and ducked as she took a swing at him.

 

"Freak!"

 

From her other side, Seymour smiled at his cone, and didn't comment.

 

At least those two get along. Aaren straightened up again as Blair abandoned her physical retaliation and settled for glaring. The worry that his sister would say something dumb and wreck everything was starting to fade. Before they'd started the "tour" - really just an excuse to walk around and for their escorts to show off the fact that they'd met the new kids first - Seymour had seemed pretty sensitive. But somehow, he managed to put up with whatever Blair dished out as if his skin had scales to protect him from her poison.

 

Well… he had apparently put up with Tucker for ten years.

 

"Anyway," Tucker cut in, ignoring the argument as if it hadn't even interrupted whatever he'd wanted to say next. "Now that you've seen the whole town, and figured out how great the place is" - he disregarded Blair's answering snort, and smiled winningly at the two of them - "you want to see more. Right?"

 

"No!" Seymour said vehemently, before Aaren or Blair could even open their mouths.

 

"You don't even know what I was going to say!" Tucker protested, looking almost injured. His abandoned ice cream was already creating steady white paths over his sun-browned fingers.

 

"Yes I do. And no."

 

Aaren glanced back and forth between them, then directed his attention to his ice cream. He could see where the conversation was going, and had an idea of what might be behind it. Tucker had Aaren's support already, so he didn't have to worry about a complete rejection, and could go after Blair's without too much worry. And if he had Blair on his side, then he might be able to force his best friend to come along as well, unwilling or not.

 

Not going to work, Aaren thought - but didn't say out loud. The one important factor was…

 

"What are you talking about?" Blair cut in irritably, loud enough to interrupt whatever Tucker was going to say in response to Seymour's refusal.

 

"Those trees back there, by your house." Tucker was quick enough to beat his friend to the reply, leaning forward to smile hopefully at her around Aaren. "I thought you guys might want to take a look around. A does, don't you, A?"

 

"I - "

 

"Are you nuts?" Seymour hissed, cutting off Aaren's reply. "You can't take them in there! It's too dangerous!"

 

"Says you!"

 

"Hold on a second!" Once again, Blair cut into the conversation without an invitation, and fixed the both of them with a flat stare. "Are we debating going into some untamed wilderness for one of those 'coming of age' male crapfests that show up in old movies?"

 

Tucker looked nonplussed. "I never said 'coming of age' anything."

 

Blair did not look impressed. "Whatever. I don't care. No matter what you're thinking, I don't do the nature thing, all right?" She raised her cone again, deliberately keeping her eyes trained on it. "Take Aaren and leave me out of it."

 

Seymour shot a triumphant look back toward a disgruntled-looking Tucker.

 

"Fine - be like that." The redhead turned his head away with a long-suffering sigh, as if they were all being childish somehow. "The two of you don't know what you're missing. A and I will have your share of fun, right?" By the time he'd turned back to face Aaren, the trademark grin had returned.

 

"Sounds good," Aaren said agreeably, and licked up another mouthful from his own cone.

 

Actually, he had more reasons than he wanted to admit for being interested in that forest - the most urgent of which, at the moment, had to do with the boy he'd seen just on the edge of it.

 

One of Them, he thought, and suppressed an excited shiver. It was thrilling to think he'd be a part of something like this - that he could see something of supernatural origin, even when others could not. The knowledge buoyed him up - he felt like floating. And the boy himself - he was almost spiritual, like an element in a story. A mythical person… mysterious… fascinating… otherworldly…

 

Attractive…

 

Aaren bit his lip against a secret little smile, and resisted the urge to blush furiously. Well… no one has to know, he reminded himself, and felt his body flush as if reacting to the prospect. A hidden, forbidden affair - that was cool. Only in his head, of course, but since no one else could see the guy… They wouldn't know. I could keep it to myself, and who'd suspect a thing?

 

It was almost intoxicating to think about.

 

"How about the cellar?" Seymour suggested - obviously in an attempt to change the subject away from that forest. "There's still some time to just hang out."

 

"I thought that was what we were doing now," Blair said flatly, the remains of her cone bobbing sharply for emphasis. "Unless you've got another definition of the phrase. Some backward hick town thing or something."

 

"City kids don’t know how to relax, do they?" Tucker commented, mostly to Aaren but with a wicked grin for Blair. "Good idea, C - but let's take a trip to see L first, huh?"

 

Seymour gave him a slightly suspicious look. "What for?"

 

"For when me and A go tree-hiking, that's what for." Tucker jumped to his feet without waiting for an answer, and directed that bright smile down at Aaren. "Come on, I'll introduce you. You'll like her, trust me - she's got the cool psychic stuff going on."

 

That did sound interesting. "Okay," Aaren agreed, and pushed himself to his feet with his free hand.

 

At least maybe this mysterious "Laqueta" could tell him about that boy.

 

~~~~~~

 

"Go away!"

 

"Oh, come on, L!" Tucker banged on the door one more time, and then leaned around the ancient wooden porch to try and peer in the window. "What's got you so worked up that you can't see us? There's new kids here who want a reading, right, guys?"

 

"Yup," Aaren agreed, nodding - at the same time as Blair snorted and shook her head.

 

"I told you to go away, Tucker Cardinal!" The voice coming from behind the door was the kind of one you heard on TV commercials often - low, almost hypnotic-sounding. At the moment, the indignation in it kind of spoiled that effect. "If you don't leave right now, I'm calling your father!"

 

Cardinal. Aaren had to slap a hand over his mouth to cover a snicker. It figured that Tucker would have a strange last name, too. Fits him, doesn't it?

 

"What difference will that make? Dad gave up trying to keep track of me five years ago, remember?" Tucker was still leaning over the porch railing, trying to see past the curtains lining the window. Laqueta's house seemed to be pretty typical of what they'd seen in the residential area of town - large, wooden, and old. There were obvious modern touches, but Aaren was willing to bet that the original structure had been built back when the town was first formed. "Anyway, there's nothing wrong with trying to get in and see a friend."

 

"Well, you're not getting in that door, so you might as well go away!"

 

"L~l~l…" Tucker drew the letter out, imploringly. "Come on…"

 

"No!"

 

"I'll buy you ice cream…"

 

"No, and I mean it, Tucker!" Laqueta's voice gained an octave. "Leave me alone!"

 

Seymour cleared his throat, glancing over apprehensively from where he was standing with Aaren and Blair at the other end of the porch. "Maybe we should go."

 

"What's the big deal, anyway?" Tucker called plaintively, ignoring the voice of reason. "You like doing readings for us - you said so yourself!"

 

"I'm in no condition to be seen by anyone right now, much less do a reading!" By then, Laqueta's voice was up in the range of shrill, and it cracked a little, as if she were really upset. "You leave me alone, and come back when I'm fit to be in the public eye!"

 

'Girl stuff', Tucker mouthed over his shoulder, and rolled his eyes upward in an extravagant show of disgust. "None of us cares what you look like, L!"

 

"I care!" she snapped back, and Aaren saw a sharp movement at the window, as if the curtain had been whipped even more tightly shut. "You leave me alone right now or I won't do a reading for you tomorrow either!"

 

"But L - !"

 

"Do you have some issue, Tucker Cardinal?" The new voice came from above them - Aaren started a bit and looked up, catching sight of a tall, hooded woman leaning out from a window above them. She had long dark curls and a sensual mouth, and her dark eyes were calm and knowing. "You are disturbing the spiritual flow about this building."

 

"Sorry, Ms. G." Tucker actually leaned away from the window and stepped back, putting both hands behind his back as he looked sheepishly up at the woman. He actually sounded abashed. "We wanted to see Laqueta. What's wrong with her?"

 

The woman smiled at him - just a slight up-curving of her lips. "She was in the sun a little too long, it would seem - the lotion should soothe it. It would be better if you came back tomorrow; she will be more inclined to be visible to others by then."

 

"Yes, ma'am." Surprisingly, Tucker agreed immediately, with a quick grin and a mock salute. "Maybe we'll see you then, Mrs. G."

 

"At some point, certainly." The woman disappeared once again into the window.

 

"Be back tomorrow, L!" Tucker called out, and turned back to the others with a rueful smile. "Guess that's it, then - no forest tonight, sorry, A. How about the cellar, though?"

 

Aaren wasn't sure he followed that. "Cellar?"

 

"It's an old root cellar," Seymour explained, as they made their way down the porch steps. "The old Alderman place got torn down a couple years ago, but since the cellar was underground, it's still there. Tucker and I go there to hang out sometimes - it's pretty neat."

 

"A root cellar," Blair repeated, flatly, and then sighed, rolling her eyes upward. "Great."

 

"What do you have against root cellars?" Tucker immediately pulled Aaren up ahead of the others, with another one of those conspiratorial grins. "Like I said, A - match made in heaven. Think they're getting along okay?"

 

"Better than I thought they would," Aaren admitted, stealing a glance over his shoulder. Blair looked as disagreeable as ever, but Seymour was still glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, a slight, hopeful smile on his face. They walked a decent distance apart, her with her hands in her pockets and him hunching his shoulders just a bit. It wasn't the best set-up, but it could've been worse. "At least she's not freaking out on him."

 

"C could handle it," Tucker said confidently, waving a hand as if to dismiss that thought. "He can put up with just about anything, trust me - your sister's not going to bug him that much. Unless she breaks his heart, but that's the risk with falling for someone, right?"

 

"Yeah." Aaren knew about that risk - he had to keep it in mind most of the time, really. At least with a spirit or a ghost or whatever, there'd be less chance of rejection. "So how come you guys like to hang out in a cellar, anyway? Less chance of being bugged?"

 

"Yeah, kind of - and it's just cool to have a place for whatever, right?" Tucker shrugged, looking as if he didn't really have an answer - but it didn’t matter enough for him to think of one. "It's not like there's a hell of a lot to do around here, and people get annoyed if you're hanging around in the streets."

 

That made sense. Aaren nodded. "Okay - so how far is it?"

 

"Pretty close, actually - man, you should know by now there's no such thing as 'far' in this place. Come on."

 

It was easy enough to spot their destination even without it being pointed out. Seymour had mentioned that it was under where an older house had been torn down - and, apparently, no one had bothered to build anything over it just yet. The weeds spreading across the large, empty lot were overgrown and seedy, giving the place a wild, long-abandoned sort of look. The remains of a boarded-up cellar were only visible as they actually began picking their way through the waist-high grass, but at least it looked relatively stable.

 

"Didn't you hear me when I said I didn't like nature?" Blair sounded more like she was grumbling to herself than to the others, swiping at the waist-high plant-life in frustration as they trekked across to the cellar's entrance. "Shouldn't someone be taking care of this place?" she asked a second later, irritably.

 

"It doesn't really belong to anyone, that's all," Seymour explained, without a trace of the urge to kill her and dump her body in the grass that Aaren was battling with at the moment. "The only reason the house was torn down at all was because kids used to sneak in, and it wasn't really all that safe. People got worried, so…" He shrugged.

 

"It's not that bad anyway," Tucker pointed out, charging ahead with his usual energy to pull at a rusted steel ring attached to the old wooden door that was built into he structure on the ground. The wiry muscles on his arms and shoulders made themselves evident for that moment - coated with some sweat and gleaming a nice golden-brown shade in the sun - as he lifted the thing with an exaggerated grunt. The action revealed a sturdily-built set of stairs, which sloped down to a bottom floor that Aaren could barely see for the darkness in the cellar.

 

"This part's done better than the rest of the house did," the redhead panted out a second later, shooting a grin back at the rest of them, and wiping off his forehead with a sort of flourish.

 

Aaren felt the corners of his mouth quirking up in answer, and didn't try to stop them. Tucker was just so… cool.

 

"It better - I don't like the idea of having 'died in a collapsing root cellar' written in my obituary," Blair noted in a flat tone, eyeing the ill-lit set of stairs dubiously. "Isn't it kind of dark?"

 

"Need a night light?" Tucker suggested cheerfully, and went straight on into the next thought as if he wasn't expecting a retort. "There's a light - well, actually, it's candles, but it's not so bad. Me and C put them down there." He glanced over at the taller boy. "Got the matches, C?"

 

"Yeah… and you still owe me for that, by the way," Seymour pointed out, giving his friend a dry look. "I shouldn't have to keep buying them myself."

 

"I'll pay you back!" Tucker looked injured, but didn't hesitate to head down the passage anyway. "Dad cut off my paycheck at the café until I've paid for that fence, remember? Come on, let's go in."

 

Aaren followed, leaving Blair to Seymour once again. Under his feet, the stairs creaked, but seemed firm and solid despite their obvious age. "The café?" he repeated, curiously.

 

"My dad manages one of those cute food places that the tourists all like to go to." Tucker made a face, barely visible in the dim light and with his head turned so Aaren could see it in profile. "I work there once or twice a week - mostly washing dishes, but sometimes I serve, too."

 

"Only when they're desperate," Seymour quipped from behind them - just as the leading two reached the bottom of the stairs and were enveloped by the darkness of the cellar itself.

 

"Hey, it wasn't my fault those trays are so hard to hang onto!" Tucker fumbled around against some shelves that Aaren could barely make out as his eyes adjusted. "You try carrying them some time! And bring me the matches, will you?"

 

Seymour snorted. "Sure, Tucker," he agreed, and moved past Aaren, digging in his pocket for the needed item. "Whatever you say."

 

A thought occurred to Aaren, standing there watching as the two of them lit up the grubby little dollar-store candles that were set up on the mostly-empty shelves that lined the walls of the small wood-walled room. 'Tucker', Seymour had said - and 'Tucker' was what he'd been calling him since the two of them had met Aaren. But… "How come you don't call him 'T'?"

 

Seymour blinked, looking a bit startled. "Huh?"

 

"Ouch!" Tucker, with his back to them, had frozen in the act of lighting a candle at the question - the match had inevitably burned down and he'd had to drop it, whipping his fingers around to cool the resulting burn. "Damnit!"

 

Aaren frowned. "Is that not a good question, or what?"

 

"No, it's cool." Seymour grinned a bit, glancing sideways at his friend, who had resorted to sticking the injured digits into his mouth, expression almost mournful. "No one else actually does that, though - calls people by their first initials. It's just Tucker."

 

"But it's okay if I want to, right?" It had seemed like a good idea when he thought of it… On second thought, maybe it was too much like copying someone else.

 

The fingers slid free. "Seriously?" Tucker's eyes were wide - like he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "You would?" Actually, he looked like someone who'd been offered a wad of cash with no strings attached.

 

Seymour's expression was thoroughly amused. "Tucker's been trying to get someone to call him that for years," he told Aaren, smirking a bit. "No one ever has."

 

"Oh. Well, then I will." He definitely felt better about the idea - not so stupid after all, as it turned out. "It's cool."

 

"Oh brother," Blair muttered, and he saw her roll her eyes upward at the edge of his vision. "And I thought no one could be a bigger dork than you…"

 

"Welcome to the Planet of the Dorks!" Tucker abandoned the remaining candles, all but jumped forward to sling his arm around Aaren's neck again, beaming. "There's a whole separate language to learn, but it sounds like you'll catch on fast - we can start with behavior and all that later; I think citizenship should go really well."

 

Aaren blinked. He hadn't been expecting a reaction quite like that - and definitely not being so close to another boy for the second time that day. Tucker didn't feel bad at all - although it was a guiltier feeling than fantasizing about a mystery male on the edge of a haunted forest. "Uh…"

 

Seymour snickered. "Sounds like you've been accepted," he commented, and shook his head with mock regret. "You poor bastard."

 

"Hey!" Tucker bristled.

 

Blair sighed loudly, and moved purposefully over to find a clear patch of ground to sit on. "I'm surrounded by losers," she complained mournfully, and leaned back against the wall with a dull thud.

 

~~~~~~

 

Somehow, living out in open countryside, Aaren had almost expected to be woken up by a rooster or something at the crack of dawn. He knew Blair had been expecting it, because she'd said so out loud and warned them all that she'd throttle the damn thing if that did happen. Their mother had laughed and said that there was no way - there were no farms anywhere near them, and roosters didn’t just run around wild in the area, so there would be no crowing at the crack of dawn.

 

But somehow, he'd still expected it.

 

He realized that he had when he woke up with his face turned to the window - and the alarm clock - to find that it was nine-twenty-six, the sun was out, and no rooster had crowed.

 

There was, however, something going on, because his skin was prickling. Something felt strange about the bed, and he felt as if he was being stared at - intensely stared at, as if someone or something were focussing all of their attention on him, to the point of desperation.

 

Aaren blinked, wrestled his mind free from sleep, and rolled his head over.

 

And lost his breath.

 

Crouched on the edge of his bed, staring at him with an unabashed fascination, was a boy.

 

Not just any boy, Aaren realized, trying to recover from the shock and wring something like thought from his head. It was that guy from the forest. Up close, he could see that the boy wore ragged, fairy-tale-like clothing in shades of brown and green - shorts and shirt, with a fine rope belt and cut-off edges. His eyes were dark, almost black, and his face was smooth-skinned and shaped exotically - although Aaren wasn't sure how, exactly, just that it looked like what he pictured when he thought of the word. The boy's hair was wavy and tousled.

 

And a clear shade of forest-green.

 

Aaren took in a sharp breath before he passed out from lack of air - and then promptly forgot to continue breathing. The boy was… well… beautiful. He looked as though he'd been sculpted by an artist, as sensual and perfect as a greek marble statue, but with the color and richness of a living being. His body shifted under Aaren's regard, but he didn't seem to mind the attention - rather, he met that gaze steadily, and smirked.

 

Hormones took over the thought process completely at that point. Aaren swallowed hard, not daring to move for fear of banishing the image somehow. God… he's…

 

Everything he'd wanted. The epitome of sex. The unnamed, ethereal focus of his wet dreams.

 

Aaren was in heaven. Or hell, considering what his mind was conjuring up for him. He couldn't even think coherently enough to wonder why there was a boy crouched on the end of his bed in the first place. Hell, it didn't matter why there was a boy crouched on the end of his bed! If this was a dream, he wanted to enjoy it for a while before it ended.

 

Still with that smirk, the boy leaned forward suddenly, bracing one hand on the bed near Aaren's knee as he moved purposefully forward. The second hand crawled up to rest at Aaren's hip, almost touching it but still a maddening inch away. The look in the boy's eyes was feral, like a cat stalking a bird; he moved slowly as if to lull his prey into a false sense of security.

 

Aaren's heart rate went up several notches; he stared back, eyes wide, mouth a bit open, body stiff with shock and nervousness, quivering all over with anticipation. Is he… going to…?

 

The prospect of what he could do - what it looked like he would do - was enough to make his breathing ragged.

 

The boy paused for a moment as he pulled himself completely over, feet and hands holding him poised in position like a gymnast or acrobat. He stared lazily down at the shaking form beneath him, as if debating with what to do with his captive now that he'd completed the capture. Then, with a deliberate slowness, he bent his elbows and leaned down.

 

Aaren shut his eyes, willing his breathing to slow. Oh god… yes…

 

"Aaren! Sweetie, are you up?"

 

His eyes snapped open - in time to see the boy start back, retreating nimbly back into his former crouching position. As the door handle clicked, he offered a quick, parting smirk, leaped gracefully off the bed, and was out the window before Aaren could so much as raise his head.

 

The door opened.

 

"Sorry to wake you - you're usually up by now anyway, aren't you?" His mother leaned into the room, smiling a bit apologetically. "There's a phone call for you if you feel like taking it - one of your friends from yesterday, I think. Tucker?"

 

Aaren had to swallow twice before he could wrap his head around that. "Yeah…" He cleared his throat, find the word a little too shaky for his liking. "I'll… be there in a bit," he forced out, hoping she'd take the confusion for having just woken up.

 

"Okay." With another smile, she leaned back out, pulling the door closed behind her.

 

Aaren let out a groan, bringing up a hand to slap it to his face. Aw man… Mom… The incident from before was still strongly in his head - too strong to have been a dream; he felt more awake than he would have otherwise. His hands were still shaking, too.

 

He was in my room…

 

It was almost too good to believe. Too weird to believe. It was like something from one of his books. Or, if he was being honest enough to admit it, from his fantasies. A boy in his room, trying to seduce him - like an incubus or a creature from another plane, wanting him so badly that he'd come into his room and try to tempt him away.

 

Who would've thought it would actually happen?

 

And - Aaren slid his hand down so it rested over the rapidly slowing beat of his heart - what would have happened if his mother hadn't come in at just that moment?

 

God…

 

He shut his eyes, let the elated smile take over for those few precious seconds as he went over the incident, and pushed himself up to go take the phone call. I could fly through today after something like that!

 

After all, if this was just the first morning… What would happen tomorrow?

 

Like his mother had said, it was Tucker on the phone. "Didn't wake you up, did I? You said it was okay to call early, and the sooner we see L, the sooner we can get going." As usual, he went right on without giving room for a reply - if Aaren could have managed to somehow create enough thought to put one together. "Hey, you think your sister'd want to hang out with C again? I mean, we're not going to be around and all…"

 

Aaren ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back out of his face and feeling out the tangles from sleeping - one of the dangers of keeping it in a longer-than-average style. "I still need breakfast and a shower," he pointed out, stifling a yawn. The kitchen looked slightly blurry - he'd forgotten his glasses on the bedside table again. "Blair won't be up until noon at least - he can call her sometime after that, I guess."

 

It all seemed so… normal. Listening to Tucker ramble on after just about being kissed by a supernatural being - it was like living two separate lives, side by side. Aaren felt that he was suffering some sort of jet lag after traveling between the two, and had to wait for his mind to adjust to the time difference.

 

"Yeah, okay." Tucker obviously wasn't in any position to notice that, so he went right on, with the kind of energy that shouldn't be allowed so early in the day. "I'll tell him - and how about if I come over in an hour? That enough time? We can see L, then have lunch, then go ghost-hunting."

 

"Sure." It sounded okay. He wanted to spend the day with Tucker - actually, the more his brain woke up, the more appealing it sounded. In a completely different way than spending time with the boy from the forest sounded. "See you then."

 

"See you!"

 

Aaren hung up.

 

"Are you going out again today?" His mother was making waffles in the toaster - so far, they didn't have much in the way of groceries. She was already fully dressed, looking as disgustingly chipper as Tucker had sounded. "The water took a while to warm up - that could just be because I had the first shower, though."

 

"Okay." Actually, a cold shower didn't sound so bad. Aaren let out his breath in a rush, sending errant strands of hair flying for a bit. "Tucker's coming over in an hour. He wants me to meet this girl we didn't see yesterday."

 

"Just as long as you're back for dinner." She spoke in an almost absent-mindedly authoritative tone, softening it with a bit of a smile. "I've got some things to take care of - you fend for yourself for lunch today, okay?"

 

"Uh-huh." Aaren slouched out of the kitchen, hearing the toaster finish behind him. There were a few boxes here and there still, but the place was starting to look like a home already. It was weird to see all their old furniture in such an unfamiliar setting.

 

Then again, the whole morning had been weird - why should the furniture be any different?

 

~~~~~~

 

The shower wasn't too cold at all; Aaren lingered for a bit, washing away the rest of the grogginess his mind was clinging to - and the remains of his frustration over the boy. He came out feeling a lot better, and actually more than a little pleased with how things were going. Friends and sexy supernatural stuff already, and he hadn't even been there 24 hours. It was an accomplishment - a strong enough confidence-builder to prompt him to make eggs for breakfast, and to keep even a dent from being made in his mood when he burned them.

 

"Oh man - what'd you set on fire in here?" Tucker waved a hand in front of his face after Aaren opened the door and picked up his shoes. Despite his words, he looked as exuberant and confident as ever, bouncing almost absently on the balls of his feet. "Ready to go?"

 

"Yup!" Aaren grinned back, standing and shoving his feet the rest of the way into his shoes. This time, he was dressed more like Tucker - with a T-shirt instead of the tank top, but with the same style of knee-length shorts. It seemed like a good idea, since it was already starting to get warm out, and it wasn't even noon yet. "Bye mom!" he called over his shoulder.

 

"Bye!" her reply came back, from somewhere upstairs. Behind that, he heard Blair's loud - and grouchy - demand of, "What's burning around here?"

 

Aaren shut the door and took the porch steps at a near-run, ignoring the way Tucker snickered behind him.

 

The sky was really clear - it was one of those things that made living in a small town better than a city: being able to see the entire sky when there were no clouds out. It seemed to be just endless blue around the one blinding spot of sun. Probably the perfect day - both in mood and weather.

 

And with the two of them hanging out… Aaren grinned, falling in alongside his friend as they made their way toward the town. Things could only get better.

 

It really felt like he and Tucker had a good connection right from the start. It could've been just wishful thinking on his part, but he got a good feeling whenever they talked - it was like they just… well… fit right. It was practical for them to hang out, since Seymour was so crazy for Blair, but he didn't mind at all - and he was pretty sure Tucker didn't mind either. They'd spent all afternoon yesterday talking - or, for his part, mostly listening. Not that he minded hearing Tucker ramble on.

 

It's going to be great, living here. For more reason than just one…

 

"I've got to help out at lunch - Dad's short today, since one of the servers went on vacation." Tucker made a face, but seemed willing to shrug this off, offering an apologetic glance. "You don't mind, right? We can meet up again after - I'll show you where the café is and all, and I'll be done at one. Cool?"

 

"Sure, no problem." Aaren wasn't all that concerned with lunch anyway - mostly, he was wondering about the forest. Not just for Tucker's company, but for other obvious reasons.

 

I wonder if I'll run into him in there - it's probably where he lives, right?

 

The thought made his stomach jump a bit - nervousness or excitement; he couldn't be sure which. Between his awesome new friend and his exotic new love interest, the day looked almost too good to be true.

 

"I probably don't have to say this, but… well…" Tucker suddenly shot him a bit of a sheepish look, scratching his head a bit. Bright red scraps of hair danced around in front of his eyes in response, emphasizing the green - Aaren noticed the color contrast in one of those moments of unexpected clarity that sometimes caught him unaware. "L's a psychic - and I mean, it's not just fake or anything. She really knows things."

 

"Yeah, you said so before." Aaren nodded, blinking a couple of times and tearing his gaze away. Even if he wasn't interested in that way, it wasn't a good idea to be caught staring, right? "So she'll do a reading for us, right? Tarot cards or something?"

 

"Not… exactly like that." The other boy's hand slid down, rubbing at the back of his neck as he laughed a bit, awkwardly. "I mean, she can do Tarot readings too, but it's different when it's with the forest…" He shrugged, letting his hand drop, apparently unable to come up with the right words. "Anyway, you'll see. It's just…" He paused, a frown tugging at the corners of his mouth as he stared ahead of them.

 

"It's just?" Aaren prompted, when he didn't go on right away.

 

"Ah, I don't know." Tucker whipped up his arms a bit in another shrug, letting them slap down again as he smiled awkwardly at the other boy. "Don't go in all skeptical, that's all. L's… sensitive about that sort of thing."

 

"Oh." Was that all? Aaren grinned back, reassuringly. "Trust me, I'm the last person who'd be skeptical." For more reasons than one, too - along with his love for the supernatural… there was the fact that he'd been visited by a boy other people couldn't see who could sneak into his bedroom to sit on his bed and stare at him.

 

Among other things.

 

Tucker looked kind of relieved - although that could've been more because Aaren got what he was trying to skirt around the edges of than because Aaren agreed with him. "Good. You'll like L, then - and she'll like you too, probably." He grinned, abruptly past the awkward moment. "Come on, it's still cool out - let's race."

 

"Sure!"

 

It was not as cool by the time they got to Laqueta's house - Aaren had to lean against the railing, with Tucker breathing at least as hard beside him. His skin felt damp, his shirt was sticking to him, and it felt like the sun was beating down on his back mercilessly, even as the air gently brushed at the sweat-coated places. He was tired, his legs felt like rubber, and his lungs were throbbing in protest of the activity.

 

Tucker looked over and shared a grin with him, and none of that mattered.

 

"You two can come inside now."

 

Aaren broke the stare, straightening to look at the door again. It had opened some time while they were catching their breath from the run, just far enough to accompany the invitation without revealing much about the dimly-lit interior of the house. And the voice that had come from beyond it was the same one that had spoken out so strongly against their visit the day before - clear and almost like a singer's, an echo of the hypnotic tones of the woman from the upstairs window.

 

So that must be…

 

Tucker pushed himself up as well, giving Aaren a bit of a smile before turning toward the door. "Guess that's our order to move out," he said, and went on to push the door open.

 

Setting aside just the barest hint of trepidation, the other boy pushed up his glasses and followed him in.

 

 

~~~~~~

 

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