The Second Sun

Isabel runs out of money in Stockholm.

She could write to Sophy, of course; she did, in Vienna, where Bettina had said, We can’t have a mind like yours wasting away in that pit of a boarding house, only to abandon Isabel five days later to the company of her brother’s friends; and later in Berlin, where Alexander had said, very quietly, I don’t believe it is safe for you here, is it?, and Isabel had lived for some time under the protective watch of him and his servants: both, by long practice, most painfully discreet. Alexander had been a friend to her: he had even invited her to Paris, but she feared to overstay her welcome, and rode instead with Cenek Pechácek and his bad reputation to the university in Prague, where she picked up enough Czech to not be taken for a German and learned to drink with the scholars without ending the night vomiting into the snow; and when the eyes that fell upon her there began to stay too long, she went by carriage to Krakow, where she was dismissed from the observatory after a week and a half and, instead, bent her head over her calculations by wavering candlelight long into the night. She’d not given those sooty addresses to Sophy, no more than she’d written of the rattling carts that smelt of hay and dung; or the reek of tar and river-fish on her hands, or the expanse of ocean that finally at the end of summer lay itself at her feet at her in Danzig: lit in lavender twilight, her own silver road.

London, she had thought with a shudder in Danzig; and then, Paris, but of course Alexander had been called back to Prussia; and then: North, towards the comet in the belly of Ursa Major, with Polaris above her shoulder. North, to Erik Gärnö, formerly of the observatory in Lund—or to Teodor Wåhlin, perhaps, known to grind his own lenses and returned from Uppsala. North, to Stockholm: where the air has snapping teeth, and one never runs out of sea.


Average Joe


As soon as they hit the floor Joe presses Fist of Justice back, tongue in his mouth, hands on his wrists, just above the gloves. Christ, the gloves. Fist of Justice is gasping, shoving his knee between Joe’s thighs, and after a total of about 0.7 seconds he yanks his wrist free so he can pull at Joe’s zipper, which rips. Well. That’s another pair down. At this point Joe’s pretty sure he’s singlehandedly keeping JoS. A. Bank in business. “I want,” Fist of Justice is gasping, rolling Joe over onto his back; he drags Joe’s boxers down around his ankles and then rolls him over onto his face. Joe can’t do much more than gasp. Fist yanks Joe up onto his knees and spreads him, his gloves rough on Joe’s ass.

“Christ,” Joe gasps, as Fist of Justice spits into him, bending down with a groan. Joe blinks, hard; sweat is dripping down his face, rough with plaster dust and gritty in his eyes, and—and Jesus, Jesus Christ, if he’d known that there were good odds he’d end up with superhero tongue up his ass he would’ve started getting captured by psychotic villains ages ago.


In Portland

In Portland, after the rain, the air would become so transparent that Amy would stop being able to perceive distance. She would bike down Belmont from Mt. Tabor with the cold burning in her lungs, the wind tearing through her hair and whipping the ends to slap her cheeks, and she would look out over the city, green and water-sparkling, with her eyes scrunched halfway shut against the brightness. Her fingers would be numb when she tried to do up her bike lock, and when she finally tumbled through into the cafe the bells on the door would knock against her thigh. The air inside would feel like a sauna, the feeling returning to her fingers one stinging nerve ending at a time.

The bells on the door jingle, and Amy shifts and looks back down at her MacBook, mostly. Revised spec for Smith Cooper Enterprises, the subject line says. The email body is still empty. The redheaded barista is just coming in through door, her face flushed pink over her perpetual pair of scarves. Amy stirs her tea the other direction and watches the barista unwrap her overabundance of winter clothing, hanging each piece on the coat rack by the kitchen door. Nate, the owner—a grumpy middle-aged exile from yuppiedom who always looks resentful whenever Amy asks for the honey for her tea—is obviously lecturing her; Amy glances at the clock on her MacBook, which says that it is 1:03 P.M. The redheaded barista has rounded, soft-looking shoulders and impossibly elegant curves of arm; when she’s behind the bar, she ties her thick masses of hair back from her face with one of an apparently endless number of floral printed kerchiefs; and she works from 1 P.M. to the cafe’s 10 P.M close, every Tuesday through Friday, and sometimes picks up half-shifts on Saturday night when the huge barista with the brown-blond dreads gets a gig.

“Smith-Cooper Enterprises” is supposed to be hyphenated. Amy fixes it.



Phil takes Joaquim down from the clinch with a standing leg sweep, but Joaquim is fast, the fucker, and he gets Phil’s face once on the way down and again on the ground, trisecting Phil’s head with two searing lines of pain. Phil’s head is spinning, but he drags himself together and pushes through, slamming the meat of his hand into Joaquim’s head twice before Kiet calls it and Phil releases, staggering up and back, then bending in to help Joaquim up. Everything is roaring, everywhere, and Phil’s right eye is stinging.

“You all right, man?” he yells to Joaquim, patting his shoulder. The promoter’s assistant, the skinny Asian guy with hipster glasses and a blue plaid shirt, is still watching them so intently Phil can feel it.

Joaquim nods, looking a little out of focus, but Kiet is leaning in and saying, “Borrell, Dr. Jake better look you over—Navarro, get yourself cleaned up,” which is when Phil realizes he’s bleeding.

Hipster Glasses holds the cage door open while Phil helps Joaquim out.

“Need a hand?” Hipster Glasses asks.



Oliver’s halfway through his third pint of lukewarm and watery ale when he half-hears, half-feels, “You’ve been following me,” warm and a little damp against the side of his neck. He can’t quite check his half-smile; Edward obviously takes this as an invitation and slides a knee between Oliver and his right-hand neighbor (a half-troll with uncomfortably broad shoulders and beautiful table manners), then sits sideways on the bench.

“I know I am, of course,” Edward says, “an almost irresistibly attractive man,” still very close and more than a little yeasty-smelling, “but after four towns in a row without you so much as saying hello—”

“Six,” Oliver corrects, then takes a sip of his ale. “I’ve been following you since Lowencaster.”


Spirit Week

On Monday morning, Drew gets to school earlier than usual. It makes sense, probably, but it does pose one small but annoying inconvenience: he has to pull his car up outside the entrance to the parking lot and climb out to unhook the chain, then drag it off to the side.

Rebecca is just pulling up as he gets the chain wound up, and she rolls down her window to say, “Oh, thank you, Mr. Wachowski! You’re certainly early this morning.”

“Spirit Week, Principal Hopkins,” he says, smiling at her, “Everybody on deck, I hear.” She laughs, and he ducks to peer at Neil through the window into her back seat. Drew says, “Go Manatees!”


Code of Conduct

This starts with Ozzie, with his hands wrapped around Luke’s wrists, Ozzie’s knuckles pressed into the wall.

* * *

Ozzie sips his coffee while Harrison talks. Harrison talks a lot, but not in a dick way. He just has a lot to say. He’s on the army tonight, and all his stories start, “When I was in the army,” meander through a number of good-hearted and pragmatic old-man-musings on wisdom and common sense, and then end, “Everyone should spend some time in the army. You ever think about joining up, Gonzales?”

“No,” Ozzie says.