“That sounds good,” says Austin, already starting to feel a little sleepy. More, though, he feels relaxed; Carlos has somehow managed to liquefy the tense muscles in his neck and shoulders, fry his brain to the point where he can’t remember why he was upset. It’s amazing. “Set the alarm,” he manages. “Have to get up early and…” he yawns, “do stuff.”
“Sure, baby,” says Carlos, and leans over to the alarm clock. “Seven okay?”
“Yeah,” he says, and yawns again. Carlos curls back around him and brushes a kiss against the top of his head, and that’s the last thing he remembers.
illustrated by aerie
Being back was like someone had lifted all my skin just far enough away from my body to slip a layer of black pepper beneath, then tugged it back on so tight that it was all I could do not to claw myself bloody to get out. The hotel ballroom’s doors were decorated with flashing lights and a hand-painted sign that read TIME MACHINE, but stepping inside was less like traveling twenty years back, and more like being pushed twenty years closer to my inevitable death. It was the worst paranoia of a pot high mixed with the uncomfortable disorientation of being just this side of browning-out drunk, only without the positive side effects of either condition, and I was hit with a wave of panic so fierce that I might have bolted right then and there if a pair of tiny hands hadn’t spun me around and slapped the left side of my chest.
I looked down as her fingers pulled away and saw my jacket wearing a cheerful HELLO MY NAME IS sticker with Ryan Seiler printed below in distinctly feminine calligraphy. “Look at you!” she cried, and wrapped her arms around me in a fierce hug. It wasn’t until she pulled away that I could identify my assailant: Aileen Long (formerly Aileen Delgado), the ninety-eight pounds of terror that had sent out all the near-daily organizational emails over the past six months. “You haven’t changed a bit!”