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Natal

Elder Statesman
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
1,166
Location
Bucharest
Capital
Camp Hill
Nick
Ovi
Drew Stone I
Toccoa, 28th of June 2022

Auburn Avenue in Central Toccoa was the main drag in the huge 9 million city that was pretty much the economic and cultural heart of Natal, even if it was situated in its periphery on the eastern coast, along the Thaumantic seaboard. Downtown Toccoa was a mosaic of business skyscrapers, fancy hotels and exorbitant apartments in high rises, crisscrossed by boulevards, which even if they had two or three lanes per direction, they still felt puny compared to the buildings on their side. There were three rings that surrounded the central point of Toccoa, the inner central business district with its downtown, the mid rim with its 10 to 4 storey high apartments and the sprawling suburb. Within each of one was the world famous Toccoa tree canopy, which made the city feel like it was situated in a huge forest, built in such a way to disrupt nature as little as possible. The town hall estimated that up to 45% of the city's surface was covered by trees. A few miles away from the city was Stone Mountain, a huge granite monolith which was carved with the face of Andrew Lewis Bowman, the Director General of the Engell South Westernesse Company during the time of the responsible government referendum in 1848, who then became the first president of the Commonwealth of Natal. On the tip of is, the lookout was world famous as you could see the city of Toccoa, as a huge forest, as the trees covered the suburbs, but then you could see the skyline rising up. Magnolias, dogwood, pines, cedars and huge oaks could be seen everywhere. For its huge, nearly 9 million population, Toccoa was peculiar that because of its tree canopy, it was described as bird watcher paradise, especially around the huge Piedmont Park.

Drew went out of the police precinct, a building made out of red bricks, showing of the legacy of Engell architecture, unto the busy sidewalk along Auburn Avenue, just as he received a text message from Karah Goodwin, a high school colleague of his, who later became one of his best friends as both of them navigated through the efforts and the dramas of college, her acing in Law School at the Sunbelt University here in Toccoa, while Drew barely managed to get through the police academy in Camp Hill, before managing to get a transfer into Toccoa, and the much richer eastern coast. We arrived and are waiting for y'all, said the text. I'm coming!!! Adelaide got caught by something and she'll come a bit later, he texted back. FFS, I ordered her food! I'm calling her! Karah texted back.

"Jesus, I'm here, calm down," said Drew as he nearly power walked along Auburn Avenue, stopping at Mary Mac's Tea Room, a restaurant that became an institution around, for it offered the best southern cuisine. It remained cheap as it still wasn't discovered by tourists but considering it's location, it was only a matter of time. Mary Mac's was pretty much a hole in the wall to get quick food, and around it there were tables to eat it if you don't take it to go. At the table sat Karah Goodwin, a Himyari-Natalian woman in her very late 20s, with long straight hair. She always said she likes it like this, but everyone in her circle of friends knew it was because she wanted to integrate as easy as possible in the law firm she was working in. Her girlfriend, Yolanda Dávalos, who had Josefino ancestry, always told her to keep it natural, but even if Karah wasn't ever called out for it, she always felt societal pressure towards it. Yolanda was a very agitated woman in her early 30s, much more artistic than her partner and sometimes when you looked at both of them, you wondered who was truly more mature. Drew sat down greeting both with a nod.


"Howdy!" Yolanda said with a monotonous voice, as she was looking on her laptop, which was standing on the table, clearly to the annoyance of other customers who were . "Everything okay?" asked Drew looking at Karah, who was also absorbed by the screen. There was an awkward silence, with Yolanda murmuring something, and Karah barely acknowledging him. Drew's phone buzzed as he received a text: Just managed to escape, I'm coming now. It was from Adelaide. "Adelaide's coming now," he said trying to get the attention of the other two. That's also when the woman at the counter called them to get their food. Karah ordered three po'boys, while Yolanda had a cheese steak sandwich, for what she called a more Federal taste, referring to the Federation of Westernesse.

"Sorry about that," Kara said as she gave Drew his sandwich. "We're a bit stressed because we would like to move together and prices are utterly crazy at the moment. We were just looking at apartments or houses," she continued. "Hm... where did you look at?" Drew asked. "Well, first I looked at something nice, like Ansley Park first, but honestly, paying 1.5k in rest for a studio apartment which would feel like smothering us is too much. Then I looked at Cabbagetown and Old Sixth Ward, but those are even worse," said Yolanda, still not making eye contact with Drew. "Have you tried the suburbs?" he asked, and that's when both raised their heads, Karah outright looking utterly gobsmacked. "Do you hear yourself?" she asked. And that was enough to kill the subject for him, as he was used to Karah being jokingly abusive from time to time, but it was an inside joke of theirs that they did it in private, and weirdly, now that Yolanda was around and Adelaide, his partner detective was about to arrive, it just made him blush, so he returned to his po'boy. Yolanda clicked some more, the only thing which was possible to hear, besides the other customers in the awkward silence that was just fell, and then just murmured something to Karah, Drew only managing to catch something about the motorway.

"You're from the rural seabord, right? No offence..." said Yolanda finally acknowledging Drew and starting to munch on her sandwich. "Eeeeh, none taken until you said 'no offence', but yeah. Around Toccoa, a small town called Willacoochee," he said smiling. He was a very close friend of Karah, knowing each other since forever, so when Karah introduced Yolanda about a year ago as her girlfriend, she told him to to his best to befriend her as she felt she might be the one. "What do you think of White Oak? There are some houses that you can get for about 700 dollars a month here, and they seem decent," Yolanda said. Drew thought a bit. "White Oak is weird. Not diverse like at all. It's one of thse sleepy town that still feel like a setting for a 70s sitcom, where the white man goes to work, the white wife starts doing chores around the house then taking the white kids to and from school or from football practice and stuff like that," he said. "So it's white, rich and boring..." Karah concluded. "Pretty much, to be honest, if its 700 dollars a month if my be in some bad place in the town, because like you said it's rich, but then there's also the issue of the environment... an interracial gay couple sticks there like a sore thumb..." he said with a concerned face, unsure if this would annoy Karah. At least he was honest and told them what to expect, not really torches and forks, because it's not the 1920s, but interactions would be weird and awkward. The two were more disappointed than anything. So he started feeling bad. He went round the laptop and looked at the map, and told them to look more towards the Adamsville and Westbriar areas, which were quite decent price wise, even if it meant that they might get stuck in the traffic on the I10.


"Howdy! Sorry I'm late!" Adelaide said as she managed to arrive, interrupting a scene where Karah was starting to get annoyed at Drew for proposing that she should take the metro than use a car on the I10. "Hey girl, didn't know exactly what to get you so I just got a po'boy for you too!" said Karah turning towards her and offering her the sandwich. "Thanks a lot, Karah!" Adelaide responded as she sat down. Drew was quite surprised by the chemistry the two had. Adelaide looked as your typical southern belle, in her late 30s, with curly blonde hair and a skin that Karah was making fun of because was paler than milk, yet she was an extremely good detective whom in the few instances they met up for lunch like this, quickly befriended Drew's friends.

"We have an issue," said Adelaide looking at Drew. "The commemoration of the Banning of Slavery is approaching, and the Liberation March is set to be bigger than ever this time, with many even from nearby cities wanting to come to Toccoa," she said. The mentioning of the Ban of Slavery Day, get the attention of Karah and Yolanda too. "Yeah, but it's become a thing since forever! The Liberation March always is this huge celebration for the end of slavery back two hundred years ago," said Drew. "Yeah, normally it is, but some idiots decided to do a counter march..." she said with an annoyed tone. This shocked both Karah and Yolanda. "What do you mean... a counter march? They want to march to enact it again?!" said Karah angrily, nearly shouting. Adelaide shook her head. "It's a right wing movement that says that slavery has not been a thing for so long that it doesn't affect people nowadays, and they feel that there are governmental programs that in their words positively discriminate the Himyaro-Natalians..." Adelaide said. "What the fuck?" murmured Drew, but he was outright covered by Karah's nearly shouted "What the actual fuck?!". "But yeah, it seems that the townhall has not given them the right to march but has offered them the Millennium Plaza to demonstrate there. They expect less than 50 people, but still, they called all hands on deck for any situation, so that means even us, as detectives to be on guard," Adelaide continued.

While Karah and Yolanda went on a chorus of expletives against them, Drew was annoyed, because he knew that clearly there would be more. It started to become a thing in many Natalian circles that slavery was a done and dusted thing and many are going far to "correct" what they see as a negative narrative being thrown upon the nation, presenting Natal as an evil place in the 18th and early 19th century, something which those nationalists hate.
 

Natal

Elder Statesman
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
1,166
Location
Bucharest
Capital
Camp Hill
Nick
Ovi
Drew Stone II
Toccoa, 4th of July 2022


It felt as I was shell shocked. "Come on now, Drew, you really should be proud of yourself, because if you didn't pull the trigger or did it a second later, we would have had tens of wounded if not dead," said Captain Briceson Wade, the commander of our Precinct, Toccoa 63. He was a large Himyaro-Natalian man, in his early 60s, with a shaved head and usually a stern face, but this time he was all smiles. In his youth he was a worldwide known bodybuilder, and even if he officially retired from the sport, you could still he that he was massive. "I understand that, but..." I tried to say. "No buts. I know what you're doing. You are beating yourself up because you shot a man who later died. I know. I did the same, when I first killed a man, back in 1984, when there was a robbery at a jewellery shop here on Auburn, and we intervened, and one of the robbers opened fire on us, and back then..." the Captain stopped, pensively. "... well, Toccoa was pretty much a gangster paradise back then and there was an internal memo running around that said that we must make it understood that once the police intervenes, things must calm down, if not you're going fully down... if you get my drift..." he said, looking at me and while I understood, I think that my beaten up face made him feel the need to further explain it, even if it was clear that he wasn't comfortable with it. "The idea was back then, that... if you get shot at, you shoot back, and you eliminate the treat... The idea was that it made the streets safer if gangs understood that if the police intervene and they continue their shit, they will get eliminated... So... back then, we were going to this jewellery store and we started getting shot at by some armed robbers, so I shoot back. I never actually planned to even hit anyone, just to make it clear that we will shoot back. I shot upwards, but I wasn't paying attention and the bullet hit the metallic door frame and ricochet inside. I hit one of the robbers in the neck. The other immediately threw his gun and surrendered. I killed that man, and I felt terrible, and what made it worse, was that I knew it was an accident, yet I killed someone and instead of being chastised for what was a gross error, I was being congratulated..." the captain made another pause. "So I know how it feels, especially when you see me congratulating you, but you need to understand, the situations aren't comparable. You opened fire because deep down you knew that if he was faster than you, he will probably wound or kill about ten of our guys the very least. It was a gamble, but your instincts were right," he continued. "I still feel like shit..." I manage to murmur. "Somehow, I'm not sure that's how supposed heroes should feel..." I continue. The captain frowned and sighed. "Look, there is a difference between a gun totting redneck who joins the police for his chance to shoot people and others who join the police because they believe in the importance of law enforcement. I don't want to give you a rousing speech filled with clichés, but let me tell you this. It's simple actually. You feel like shit because you're not a psychopath who revelled in the adrenaline of shooting people. It's just means you're a good guy with a strong backbone. I felt like shit too and let me tell you that for a while, you will feel like that, and after a while, time heals it, but it will remain with you, deep down inside you. Years later, you will randomly remember this, and it will fuck up your day, but I want you to do something for me. I want you to a day or two off, to chill out a bit..." he said smiling again, but this time it felt like a more reassuring one, which made me even succeed in moving the corners of my mouth up a bit, something that I felt it was impossible before. "Oh, and one more thing," he said as I prepared to leave. "When you go out, look in the eyes of the people working here, and if you regret your action, imagine that we would be at their funerals," he said with a serious voice.

I take my phone out as I leave the captain's office and I text Karah: "Can you please come and take me home? I feel like dying" I wrote and I barely sent it, when the phone vibrates: "Sure. Do you have your car or do I need to come with mine?" she texts back. As I text her that I have the car here and that she should take a rideshare or a taxi, I am interrupted by a colleague who pats me on the shoulder and congratulates me for yesterday. I smile back, but instead of feeling better, I start to feel like shit again. I fucking killed a man... I just... I stopped the line of thought as I took a deep breath. I went to the reception, where some civilians were waiting, as I didn't feel like talking with the other colleagues, as I waited for Karah. Probably in the span of ten minutes, three more passed by and congratulated me, so I just decided to go outside.

"Ugh..." I just growl as I take a seat on the stair of the precinct leading to Auburn Avenue, as I see Adelaide sitting there too, smoking a cigarette. "Howdy, Drew! Jesus, you look rode hard and put up wet!" she says in her typical Dalton accent. Many people in the precinct made fun of Adelaide that she was a redneck, but I felt that she was sometimes the closest I could get to and could understand me. "I feel empty inside... like I'm fixin' to die..." I say with a worn out voice. "It's natural... I understand it. The use of deadly force is something that hits you hard, especially if it's your first time... I went through such situations twice in my career and I must say that the first time it was hard, as I was shocked, but the 2nd time, I remember it vividly and I knew that it was me or him. Let me tell you, after the 2nd one, I slept better," she said still puffing her Red Sunrise cigarette. She offered me one, so I accepted and lighter one with her as I was waiting for Karah.

"You know, in a sane society, it shouldn't be like this. Use of deadly force is an extreme measure and here in Natal, I feel that we have gone crazy with it. Just look at @The Ottawas. They have less than half of our population yet they have about ten times less instances of use of deadly force. But, this is us, this is our people and our nation and we both knew from the start that there will be instances where stuff like this will happen. And we also know that probably, besides the crazed militias in Occidentia, Natalians and Westermen are the most armed peoples in the western part of the world, so it also means that our jobs are more dangerous. Before I became a policewoman, I said that I ain't be like the cops who appear on the news in shootings, yet here I am... It's the way things are at the moment, and we need to accept it and slowly work with ourselves to improve it," she said as she finished her cigarette, extinguished the bud on the granite of the steps and patted me on the back, going back inside the precinct.

It didn't last longer until I saw a taxi stop right in front of the precinct and Kara went out of it. She came up to me and she just hugged me. She didn't even need to say anything, just reached out her hand and I gave her the keys. We went together to my car, a silvery grey
, which was parked on a small alley just on the right of the precinct. "Do you want to talk?" she asks me. "Somehow I don't, but I know it's probably bad to just try to ignore it..." I say. She starts the car and for a moment she doesn't say anything as she waited for the pedestrians to cross and then waited for the traffic on Auburn to slow down so she could take a right.

"Look, I love you, and you've been like a brother to me... you've been even more than that, as you told your mother about me and she took me in when I went through my crisis, so you know we're like family. I know you will get annoyed at me for saying this, but I need you to get grounded again, so I will say it..." she said with certain stops in the whole speech as she was paying attention to the road, especially as she was trying to navigate the crazy traffic on Auburn, moving from the 1st lane to the 3rd as she wanted to do a U-turn on the next intersection. "I know that, and even if I will get angry at you, just knew before hand that I love you," I say smiling towards her. Huh, it was the first smile since yesterday. She does have this magic effect on me, lifting up my spirit every time I need it. "Do you remember 2014?" she asked. I was a bit surprised, but of course I did remember it. It was the year when we were seniors, passed our SATs. Of course, I nearly failed it, and she aced it, hence why she remained in Toccoa and I had to find a spot at the Academy in Camp Hill. "Of course I do..." I say. "...cursed year..." I add after a pause. "What do you remember from it?" she asks. I look at her, and literally make a wtf face. "Just answer the goddamn question!" she says as she managed her U-turn and we roll down Auburn this time towards the south. I sign and shake my head and preparation for the shitstorm. "Well, my first boyfriend. Remember dear Dylan, who gave me an AIDS panic after I heard that he cheated on me and I was actually part of a weird love... not triangle... but more like a square and later when they all fuck around and I'm the idiot who still thinks Dylan is faithful, I hear of the whole thing from one of his lovers who found out he was HIV positive," I say. "Yeah, that drama was quite something. If your mom finds out, even now nearly a decade later, she would probably die," she said smirking. "How about the whole SAT fuckery, because I nearly failed an academy entry because I was going through my first heartbreak mixed in with that panic, which brought me fully into a breakdown..." I continue, this time more visibly annoyed and she observes it, starting to slowly chuckle. "Hey, at least I finally took your out of your shell and you start to feel some emotion! Tell me more!" she says this time laughing. "Well, don't really forget that those years weren't the best either. I remember 2013 was your very own Annus Horibilis, to go full pretentious Engellexic," I say, but then I immediately regret saying it, as I made a reference to an episode when she came out and her mother kicked her out. Since 2013 Karah and her mother never spoke, even if now she wants to make amends, Karah doesn't accept it. My mother took her in as a guardian back then, hence why she is fully integrated within the whole Stone family. She used to be very touchy about it, but it seems that she didn't get mad. She just chuckles, although you can feel it's a bitter one. "That thing was all catawampus! But still, we were talking about you! I remember you came out that year," she continued. "Yeah, and I was kicked out of the rugby team, bullied for a while, until I pretty much gave Wyatt Reed a black eye and I broke a tooth of his. Then he left me alone, together with his gang of idiots. Of course I was suspended for 3 days for it, my mom came to school, found out about me, and even if she was accepting, as she had a history with you, I could feel she was quite depressed and felt she let me down that I didn't tell her sooner," I continued, but then I looked at her as she was again paying attention to the traffic, as we were going through a roundabout.

"Where is all this going?" I ask her. "To be fair, not where I actually planned it, but it works way better," she said, this time truly smiling. "What I wanted at first was to make you remember the talk the three of us, you, me and your mother had in the summer, regarding going the college. And she did tell you that this moment will come. There will be a point when deadly force needs to be used. And you said you understand that..." she said, but I interrupted her. "Yeah, I remember I said I understand that and the just answered that I clearly don't because it's one thing to see it on TV and another thing to see it live," I say. "Exactly. But what we build up for up to this, was actually better. I know it was shitty, but look back at years such as 2013 or 2014. We went through much greater shit, than this. You do beat yourself up for the whole shooting, but imagine this..." she stopped again, paying attention to traffic as she went on John Beecham Avenue, where my apartment was. "If you saw the man taking out his semi-automatic, and you wouldn't have reacted, he would have opened fire, and you would be now beating yourself up because you would feel like a failure as you could have save colleagues of ours and avoid a mass shooting," she said as she stopped the car on my parking spot and turned off the engine.


"I know it's hard, but I feel there would have been no way this could have ended in a better way," she continued as I started to nod in approval, while she locked the car and gave me the keys. "I'll leave you to wallow for a while, but I know you will understand what all of us are telling you," she concluded, this time with a hug.
 

Natal

Elder Statesman
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
1,166
Location
Bucharest
Capital
Camp Hill
Nick
Ovi
Drew III-A
Toccoa, 8th of July 2022


The four days passed extremely fast, although I felt like I did nothing. Sleeping, waking up, feeling like shit, going to sleep again. I left the apartment only once, when I really needed to go to do some shopping, as contrary to what I was feeling, I still needed to eat. I was in the late afternoon, early evening, when my phone was vibrating like crazy. I was laying on the bed, just with some briefs and a t-shirt on me, which honestly, felt disgusting, but I was just too unfazed by anything and I just rolled with it. In the past four days, I think my phone vibrated about 20 times as I had messages and calls from Karah, about eight were from my mother, who was probably extremely worried, two were from each of my sisters, Lara, (the youngest and favourite kid of the Stone family, as she was married to a rich lawyer in Sonoma State and to my mom's joy has 2 kids of her own), and Miranda (the oldest of the Stone kids, and probably the black sheep of the family, as she just moved away to Nonestica, but it seems she managed to build a successful start up in cosmetics) one was, surprisingly, from Yolanda, one from Malik, one of my friends from the Police Academy in Camp Hill who was trying to get transferred to Toccoa and one was from Captain Wade. Of course I answered to a call of my mom, as it was cruel to let her worry that much, to Captain Wade, as it is necessary to be professional, even if you feel like dying... and of course, to Miranda, because she is a bossy bitch who can't be rejected, and it's also usually the best to be on the safe side.

The phone continued to vibrate, but I just growled a bit at it and ignored it. I woke from the bed and opened a window, and the very humid, dense, hot air of Toccoa hit me, but I enjoyed it, as I grew up here in the south east. When the phone stopped, the buzzer on the door started ringing. I growled at it again, but I decided that it's probably really bad if I really isolate myself from anything. The moment I pressed the answer button, I couldn't do anything before Karah started throwing a storm of invectives at me: "Why the fuck do you have a phone?! You should keep a friggin pigeon to send messages if its that hard to answer! Buzz me up," she said. I tried to say something but even if I opened my mouth, no words came out. This is probably what happens when you literally don't say anything at all for like two days. I buzz her up and unlock the door. Until then I go and drink some water and try to straighten my voice, knowing Karah she will need to talk... a lot...

She barges in with a weird happy energy, but she stops just as she takes a look at me. "Jesus, you're disgusting... what the actual fuck, Drew?!" she said. "It's okay, I'm fine... the shitstorm passed," I say and I go towards her for a quick hug, but she stops me short. "Not with that T-shirt and I hope you brushed your teeth since I last saw you 4 days ago..." she said with a condescending tone. I can't but smile at her... "I've seen yours worse, and I always brush, I'm not disgusting," I say, going for a hug. She does respond to it but quickly brushes me off again. "Okay now, honestly... do you feel okay?" she asks, this time with a serious and sober tone. "Yeah, I'm good. Reached that first point when I don't think of it all the time and I can start enjoying myself a little," I say. "Good..." she says as she takes my hand and drags me into the bathroom. "Take a shower now!" she says. "I need you out with me tonight," she continues. "Wait, isn't this your date night with Yolanda?" I ask. "Yes, it is, but it's a special night," she says. "So yeah... c'mon, less talking, more showering..." she hurries me up, but I try to get more information out of her, and try to not be crass making threesome jokes, but all I get out of her is a "You'll see when the time comes!".

I start showering, but literally a minute later she barges in. I do my best trying to cover myself up: "Jesus Karah, what the fuck?!" I yell at her, but she just ignores me. "Oh, calm down it's not like I haven't seen it before! Look, I'm too excited for it, so I will need to tell you!" she says. "So it can't wait until I shower?!" I say back, but she just waves me off and takes a seat on the toilet, so I just decide to ignore her. "So, it's a special date night," she says. "It's a couple's date night..." I say. "Exactly, a double date!" she says smiling. I nearly drop the shower gel bottle. "Double what?! You crazy?! Why? Why would I..." I try to say something, but I just stutter. "I was thinking you need something to get you out of your comfort zone," she says. I turn off the water, but she just waves me off again: "Just rinse off and dress up..." she says. "I'm not ready for this, Karah..." I say rinsing off and then taking a towel. "Yes you are, you told me about a week ago, before the whole Liberation Day shitstorm that you want to get yourself back in the game and get that app whose name I forgot now, so I decided to up my friend game and get you someone before the app does," she says, quite proud of herself. "Oh, Jesus... this is going to be a perfect shitstorm. Who did you convince to sacrifice his free time, common sense, hopes and dreams for what would probably be a cringe fest of an evening?" I ask. That's the moment Karah starts smiling, and I start to be concerned. "You know him," she says. "Lord save me..." I moan, but my mind goes into overdrive, trying to think of all the guys who would be interested in me, whom I know, but somehow are closer friends to Karah so they would clearly accept this at her behest. Nothing comes to mind. "He's a little shorter than you," she says. And I see how this works. She tries to give me a feature by feature description, hoping that I would recognise him and I would probably get excited or something. "Brown hair, green eyes, dreamy smile," she says. "The last one doesn't help, it's quite subjective," I say as I take a dark grey t-shirt, over which I put an unbuttoned red-black chequered shirt. "Squarish face? Strong jaw? Wears his hair like he just came out of bed, but I feel it's filled with too much product," she says, but I just shake my head, saying that doesn't help at all. "Bless your heart, Drew, and praise Jesus I exist, for you are truly helpless..." she says with an exaggerated disappointed tone. She took my cologne and doused me in it, something that made my mind, which was already in overdrive, to panic, thinking it's too much and I might scare him off, but then it just hit me. Am I truly starting to hope this might be a nice evening? Heh... "Okay, you know him very little, just got acquainted and met a few times. It's actually Yolanda's friend. Gavin Mclean.," she says smiling, but then she sees my face just come from slight smiles to a total poker face.

"Wait! Gavin Mclean?!" I say shocked. Gavin was Yolanda's friend who came to our nights out as a group before Yolanda and Karah officially became an item. There weren't many of them, but Gavin always gained my attention, as I he was extremely handsome, and a shockingly decent guy. At least I hoped he was, because usually he was shy enough to actually barely speak at all, it was mostly with Yolanda and sometimes making some comments to the whole group. I never got the chance to actually speak with him. Hell, I never knew he was into guys, he always felt so straight acting... Then again I am straight acting too, as this is the reality of Natal, especially in the police force, but I if I was asked I never denied it, hell I used to out myself with all sorts of witty comments that always, funnily, shocked the others. But yeah, I was afraid to talk or flirt with him before, as I felt I might scare him off. But now, I feel this might be my chance, and I really need to not fuck it up.

Gavin I
Toccoa, an hour later


I was quite nervous and I could feel myself sweating in Georgia's humid heat, even now in the evening. "You need to calm down, you'll see Drew is all over the place, and a bit annoys at time, condescending at others, but he's a really good guy. If even I managed to like him, believe me Gav, that says a lot," said Yolanda as she tried to be supporting, but I just smile at her, still looking on the shiny lights in the evening on Auburn Avenue, with it's skyscrapers all lightened up, and the boulevard filled with neon adverts, while crowds of party goers were moving like a ants around. I was born and raised in Coronado, Sonoma, and as much as everyone was going about it as being the perfect city, with its Cedarwood Sign, the Wilson Observatory, the Blue Hills and the red and golden sunsets on the Implarian ocean, Toccoa was something totally different, much bigger, much crowded, filled with less rich snobs, but emanating energy. If there is a decision I look back and I can say I'd do it again and again, would be to move to Toccoa for the EMT course. Firstly, because that is how I met Yolanda, whom has become my best friend and secondly, because, of the city.

I was nervous about it. I knew Drew from the group's nights out. He was interesting, as I observed he usually was introverted, as every night started out with him being quite quiet, talking mostly to Karah, but funnily, as the nights progressed, he was getting more and more active, talking more and more. He always fascinated me, with his trash talk of weirdly the most mundane of things, and how him and Karah were sharing this weird connection, squabbling like an old married couple. Of course, his weirdly light blue eyes, with a greenish hue which made them truly hypnotic, his handsome face and all it made him really cute. I did try to take some looks at him, but I did feel like he was looking back at me so I always did my best to move away.

I always was quite open, but I never thought someone like him would be interested in me, but then again, I always preferred to keep to myself, but things changed about a week ago. I was working with Yolanda, she is a social welfare worker, on a governmental program catering to homeless teenagers, while I am a paramedic, so she asked us to do some classes of sexual health to the youths at the shelter. She was telling me about how her and Karah were having their weekly date nights on Fridays, and sometimes pretending they weren't in a relationship, trying to woo and flirt with each other as they were still barely knowing each other. When she was saying this, I just randomly said that it's been some time since I was on a date. She left to make a call, and the next thing I know was that she organised a weird double date between her, Karah me and when she said Drew, I was gobsmacked.

I never thought he would accept it, but here we are, the Friday I dreaded, yet was excited for the most, finally arrived. I was wearing a white linen shirt, over some black jeans, both quite slim slim fit on me, as I thought that if I spend all that time at the gym, I should try to make some use of it. I took a cab to Yolanda's place, and I expected both Karah and Drew to be there, but she was alone. She said Karah went "on a quest, to save the prince from his tower," which really amused me, but probably made me even more nervous. What if he didn't want to come? What if Karah only annoys him and he'll be grumpy and the whole night would be filled with awkwardness and cringe?

"Gav, like I said, chill. It's just Drew. Just imagine this going well and you having to put up with him all the time... ugh," Yolanda said, supporting. "Eh, it's fine," I say chuckling. "Not that I put quite a lot of hope in this, but a part of me really wants this to work out," I say. "Believe me, if this works out, it will be Drew getting an advantage, as he will have someone really nice to ground him, while you might end up babysitting him," Yolanda says, this time laughing. A part of me wonders what history do they have that she always talks of him like this.

The taxi stops in front of the Mall, a large pedestrianised street, nearly three miles long, whose intersection with Auburn became since the late 80s a veritable gay village in Toccoa. I pay for the taxi, as I had cash on me, while Yolanda sends me half via a banking app. We didn't plan anything big, just get some drinks, and we'll see afterwards. We go inside the bar and we get seated. I was thinking at first that we'll wait for the others, but Yolanda, just went for it, ordering herself a rum and coke. Of course, she made the request for the rum to be Josefino, not Georgian, nor Queen Emma, not Correntine and God help us with the Nataian rum made in New Dulwich. I went with something easier, just a beer, but of course, Toccoa being Toccoa, I had about 30 options, so I went with a craft pale ale.

Yolanda and I were talking about the whole youth homelessness issue from work and how rife STDs were, when Karah and Drew came. Of course, Karah had to break the ice with her typical feel good energy: "Howdy, my loves! Sorry it took so long, but I had to prepare the Prince," she said throwing Drew a look, who I only now see blushed. Yolanda laughed and I chuckled, which I see made Drew blush even more. He was much more reserved, just nodding in a greet for Yolanda. I rose from my seat when they arrived... western politeness personified. Greeted Karah who wanted to shake hands like it was a weird professional meeting, and I didn't know what to do with Drew to be fair. I reach out my hand for a shake too, but he just goes in for a short greeting hug. I'm unsure if this is because easterners are a bit more touchy feely, or he likes me. Either way, for a short span of half a second, I feel the hairs of his beard touch my cheek and the smell of his cologne, which as much as smelled really nice, was a bit strong.

"So, what's happening? Are you talking again about handing condoms to horny Toccoa youths?" Karah said, a bit loudly, but before any of us could answer, she went to get some drinks. "Horny Toccoa youths?" asked Drew bemused, but when I see that he's looking at me, ignoring Yolanda, and I try to calm down my nerves and the whirlwind in my stomach to smile back at him and then answer: "Yeah, it's a social welfare program. We're trying to stave off an STD epidemic affecting mostly homeless youths here in Toccoa," I say.

"You know, I kinda feel bad, as we've met a few times before, but we barely talked. You work in social welfare?" Drew asked, and I observed something in him, that every time he started talking, he would keep eye contact, but he always broke it. Might be because of some anxiety or nervousness. Could it be that he is as nervous about this as I am? "Nah, that's Yolanda," I say pointing over her, but I see she's on her phone, not interested in us. "I work as a paramedic," I say. I could see Drew's eyes brightening up and slowly nodding. "That's really nice, I bet you have some crazy stories," he says. I was ready to answer, but Karah interrupted us as she came back with drinks. "Another... specifically Josefino, rum and coke for bae," she says as she hands Yolanda a cocktail, "another pale ale for the nice guy," she says handling me a pint, "a non-alcoholic beer for the pretentious prince," she says this time giving a pint to Drew, which I saw he blushed again, "and for the most important person here, of course, myself, a nice Engell Gin and Tonic," she says taking a seat, grinning. Weird how she managed to actually come with all four glasses all by herself. Yeah, no wonder both of them were so over the place, as Drew and Karah felt like weird twins.


"Yeah, not that many nowadays. I used to have, as I managed to get my first job here in Toccoa at the Piedmont Hospital, and that was truly crazy," I say taking a sip. "Oh, I totally get that, the Piedmont is huge and honestly, not in the best areas of the city. We used to intervene so many times in that area because of the shitty neighbourhoods and they were all sent to the Piedmont," he says. "Weren't you overwhelmed?" he asked. That kind of took me by surprise. I expected the talk to be casual and just light enough to keep the conversation going, but he seems truly interested. "Oh, yeah, it was crazy, like at some point, when there was a personnel crisis, a year ago, I worked once a 20 hours shift, I felt like just collapsing," I say. "But now things got much much better. I got transferred to a clinic in the suburbs, in the south side, and it's so quiet that we even do all sorts of education workshops, hence the whole... condom distribution to the horny youths thing," I say chuckling and I saw Drew smiling, which made the whirlwind go even crazier.

Drew III-B
Toccoa, two hours later


Gavin was totally not how I painted him in my mind when I first met him. First, I thought he was straight, then I thought he was boring, I was even thinking, when we had our group nights out, that while he was quite the eye candy, there was literally nothing else in him. And here I was, listening to some of his stories, and finally seeing himself relax enough to open up, and I discover how smart he actually is, hell... probably one of the smartest person I know, probably dethroning Karah. We did talk and drink a lot, I went for non-alcoholic because there are some strong reasons why Karah forces me to stay away from alcohol when shit happens in my life, but still. I found out of Gavin's love for music and musicals, telling me how he even was in a theatre club and he wanted to sing more, but it just didn't work out, hence his fascination in biology brought him into his current career.

I did tell him some police stories, he seemed fascinated by them, he did try to ask me about the whole Liberation Day event, but I totally observed Karah hitting him under the table. It's funny, because I was actually okay talking about it. Like, I do get that it might haunt me for a while, probably forever, but seeing people act like I'm a crystal glass close to breaking every time that gets mentioned starts to be annoying, especially when Gavin actually really seemed interested in it.

After a while, we went out of the bar, Yolanda said she had a reservation at a karaoke place, which terrified me a bit, as while I love singing too, I love doing it in my own privacy, with no public. Problem was, that there was a kerfuffle and our reservation was lost, something that I saw really disappointed Gavin. We tried to find something else to do, and we decided to play some pools, but with no reservation, and Friday nights being Friday nights in Toccoa, there was no chance whatsoever. By this time Karah was getting bored, so Yolanda decided to call it a night.

"Really sorry that it didn't work out. I don't know what happened, I do remember submitting that request for reservation, but I don't know what happened," she says. "Eh, it's okay," I say. Gavin was listening quietly, while Karah was struggling to hold off a yawn. "We'll be taking a taxi, back to my place," said Yolanda, "if you want, Gavin, we can take you with us, as your place is in our way," she said. But I quickly intervened: "No need," I say, then I look at Gavin, and we just made the weirdest eye contact possible. I may have probably sounded a bit too earnest, as Karah started smiling. "I could drive him," I say, and I see him smiling and slightly nodding. "Ah, perfect," Yolanda says, as Karah continuously winked at her, making fun.

We walked to my car, which was in a public parking lot behind a Best Westernesse Hotel on the Mall. "Yeah, sorry, if I sounded a bit too much," I say referring to the whole driving thing, but he just laughed. It's probably the first time I hear him laugh, instead of just chuckling or grinning. He has a really nice laugh, not forced, but really hearty. "No worries, I'd take this over any taxi drive with Yolanda and Karah, especially now that I feel Karah is a bit tipsy and she'll be allover Yolanda," he says, which makes me laugh. We get into my Hartnett Grizzly, and before I start the engine, he asked me: "How come we never really talked before?" He sounded sincere. I just shrugged. "I think we let the images we projected on each other be strong enough barriers, that simply didn't allow any interactions," I say. "I'm glad we tore them down, to be fair," he says smiling, and resting his left hand on my shoulder, something that just made me melt away. I start the engine and exit the parking lot, going on Auburn.

"Yeah, about the 3rd of July thingy. Don't feel bad for asking, as I did see Karah hit you to stop you," I say. Gavin blushed. "Sorry, I really didn't know it was a sensitive subject," he said. "Don't worry about it. It will probably be for a while, but I am glad to talk about it with someone who isn't smothering me about how and why I should feel about it. I would really enjoy just being allowed to say what I feel, rather than be told how I feel," I say. He smiled, in a supportive way, which I caught only with the corner of my eye, and I just thought that I could see that handsome face with a slightly goofy smile literally at any moment of day. "It's not that big of a deal. It was at the Liberation Day Parade, and those shits from the Equality Front tried to disrupt it, we tried to stop them, and at a moment's notice, one of them took a gun out, and that's when I just shot, without thinking," I say. Gavin seemed fascinated by the story, but just allowed me to continue. "I know I should have shot towards his legs, but it just happened so fast, that I couldn't really aim right and I hit him the chest. He died at the hospital. And I feel bad for doing it, knowing that if I concentrated more I could have just shoot him in the legs, but everyone just called me a hero because he had a semi-automatic weapon and was preparing to open fire on the police," I say. Gavin truly was absorbing my words. He just nodded in understanding, but never said anything. "But it's time to allow us to enjoy ourselves, not just wallow in sorrow," I say, turning on the radio. "...the initial reports stated that president Olivia Harper Poole was severely wounded, but now it is clear that she has died in the bomb blast..." the NaBC news reporter started literally yelling as the volume was too high compared to the way we talked before.

Gavin frowned. "Yeah, it seems the world really goes to shit," he said. "True, but that doesn't mean we can't find a reason to enjoy life," I say, as I switch from the radio to my phone's playlists. I had what I called my "basic bitch" playlist, and when a song by the Oneidan Ella O'Connor came up, I observed that Gavin was slowly humming to it. "I saw you really were hoping for that karaoke," I say, and I observe him blushing. I thought of it, as as much as I knew I'd be dying of cringe while singing in public, Gavin was just a man, not THE public, and we're still in my car, windows up, so why not. "So, let's have a do-over of that and just do it here," I say laughing as I turn the volume up and start singing. He joins me but from time to time he bursts into laughing. "I know, I sound like a strangulated duck," I say, laughing too. "Nah, you're great, I love it!" he says continuing to sing. We go through about four songs, when we reach his apartment.

He does down the car, and we reach the moment I was dreading. I wanted this to become a thing, but I felt that if we go up, it might give the whole night the vibe of just some drinks and a hook up. Then if we bid our farewells, it might be that it was just an okay, or decent night and it won't repeat. I decide that rather than biding him farewell in the car, I get out of it too, and we just stop in the pavement. "I really loved this," he says, blushing a bit. "Yeah, me too. I must be honest, it was a huge surprise for me. Karah only told me about it an hour beforehand and gave me no info. But it has really been one of the greatest surprises I've been through in the past period," I say, smiling. "We should have a do-over of it," he says. "Oh, clearly, we need it to strive for perfection," I say smiling. I see Gavin blushing a bit, and that's when I think that this is the moment. He pauses a bit, and my mind goes crazy. Should I kiss or, would that be too much? Should I hug him, or would that be too little? When he started coming closer to me, I could just melt away. I quickly respond to his kiss, of course wondering a bit too much if I am too much into it, but I just decide to go with the flow. Our lips find each other like it was the most natural thing, although seeing him blush before hand, his mind was clearly going crazy over it like me. I embrace him, pulling him closer, while I feel his hands cupping my face. We kiss some more, but then get interrupted when someone comes out of the building, with a dog. The Jack Russel comes towards us excited sniffing both of us, and his owner just apologised for the interruption. "I really loved tonight," Gavin said. "Yeah, me too. We should clearly do this again," I say.
 

Natal

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Drew IV
Toccoa, 17th of July 2022


Interesting how Toccoa traffic is so bad even on a Sunday, at 7 in the morning. I was driving along Walnut Tree Street, towards the northern outskirts of the city and I was just standing in traffic as the street was intersecting the exaggeratedly long Auburn Avenue, and considering its crazy traffic, it meant we were waiting about 3 minutes on a red light to get a green light that lasts probably only 30 seconds. "Oh come on..." I mutter only for myself, as a car with an Oneidan plate spent all the green light not moving. Some people behind me honked, but I never was that big into it. Plus, it's impossible to get annoyed or angry considering last night. In the past week, me and Gavin met up nearly on a daily basis. I think only one day, last Sunday, went through without meeting up, and that's because I wanted to present myself being cool, not head over heels, but by Monday, I just couldn't resist. "You guys really have no chill," Karah said. "Just be sure you don't get burned out, because if things really get bad and it doesn't work out, considering how close Gavin is to Yolanda, I don't want to make things awkward," Karah told me a few days ago when I was telling her that it's been going surprisingly great with Gavin. It did annoy me a bit, but more importantly sown the seeds of anxiety. What if I make a mistake? What if I smother him? What if he answers back only because he's nice but feels I'm too much? As as I was spiralling, as usual, he just remained by my side, and probably was even more than me.

This morning though, I was in a completely good mood. Last night's plan was for Gavin to come over after work, and I was even hoping for some sexy time, but he collapsed from the exhaustion literally after he came over and ate something, so yeah... I feel a bit bad for being a thirsty bitch, but still I feel nice that we slept together, nothing else happening now. Adelaide's call this morning, something about a murder that we needed to check, as it was tied to our investigations regarding the Equality Front woke me up, and I had to leave quickly, allowing Gavin to sleep.

I finally cross Auburn, and I stop at another semaphore when my phone buzzes. It was from Gavin. I'm so sorry for last night, he texted. Why would you? I text back, a bit confused, yet slightly bemused. It was another slow semaphore, so I managed to put through a few more texts until I managed to finally cross the intersection. Well, I just collapsed and fallen asleep like a complete bozo... he says, with three weary face emojis. I text back some laughing emojis, and then write: No worries, lol. It's clear you were exhausted. I had to leave early because there's some work urgency, but I left you a key in the kitchen. I put the phone down and continue driving, but I continue texting as I have to stop at traffic lights. Thanks for the coffee too, Gavin texted me with an emoji with heart eyes. I just smile back. Sorry again about it, but I'd say we should have a do-over for this evening, he texted. We're literally closing in on infinite do-overs by now, I text, but I see he quickly texts back: I accept such a destiny. That last one made my stomach go crazy. As I was driving, it bemused me even more that I felt like a giggling middle school girl who made eye contact with a guy she has a crush on.

I drove up to the street Adelaide told me to come to, just to see a quite ugly image. The street was inclined, and we could see a destroyed car, upside down, a torn up tree and a destroyed concrete wall. The police was already there and some people from the nearby houses, probably woken up by the ruckus, were standing on the street, looking at the scene and wanting to see what happened. I park my car and after showing my badge to a police man, I am allowed to enter the scene, where I join Adelaide.

"Howdy Drew... sorry, not a really good Sunday morning it seems," she says, with frown after I greet her. Adelaide is fascinating, with her milky white skin, curly blonde hair and big smile, it gives you the image of a southern belle, so gracious and vulnerable, yet she also feels like she was made of steel. A true steel magnolia. "What in God's name happened here?" I ask, as I put some gloves and look around the car. It's a dark red Hartnett sedan, probably one of the more exquisite models as the seats were made of leather. There was blood in the car. "Car lost control when it tried to avoid someone backing up from the garage, hit a tree, tumbled down and crashed in the wall," she said. "So it's a traffic thing... what does it have to do with us?" I ask confused. "Well, because who the victim is, it's our duty here to see if it's a traffic issue or it's ours," said Adelaide. "And who's the victim?" I ask, a bit confused of the whole thing as to why Adelaide was so weirdly cryptic. "Alice Makeba," she says blankly. And I just stare at her. No, it's impossible. Alice Makeba?! She's like an institution for the Natalian progressives and the leader of the Ferrets, the Natalian Communists. She is probably the greatest voice nowadays against groups such as the Equality Front, and now it clicks. That's why we are here, as we're investigating the Equality Front. "Shit," is all I could mutter.

It needs to be understood that this is bigger than everything up to this point. While she is known to be a radical and a communist, Alice Makeba is literally the biggest voice of the Himyaro-Natalian community. She is literally the female, black version of President Jose Constanza, rambling about everything, yelling at clouds, being a bit of a clown at times, but most of the times, always being seen as this defender of her community in civil society. If the Equality Front tried to assassinate her, we could just ban the organisation, arrest them all, and hell, probably even if we execute them all, nobody would condemn it, only commend it.

"What's her status?" I ask Adelaide. "Severely wounded, and from what I understood in a coma. She was sent to Piedmont Hospital," she says. "I'm gonna talk with the guy who she nearly drove into, can you talk with Mr. Makeba?" says Adelaide. I nod, and I go to one of the traffic policemen that set up a barricade and ask him to show me Mr. Makeba in the crowd watching us from the sides. He points me to a small, Himyaro-Natalian man, wearing a polo shirt and a loose cardigan over it. The man had a buzz cut, his hair greying, was wearing glasses and his beard was styles in a goatee. The cardigan shocked me a bit, as it's the Toccoan summer, even now, at 8 or 8:30 in the morning, I can already feel the humidity and the heat making the hair unbreathable.

"Excuse me, sir... Mr. Makeba?" I ask gently, but I startle him, so badly that his glasses nearly fell down. He was still in a state of shock. "Detective Andrew Stone from the Toccoa PD, can you answer some questions for me?" I ask, trying again, to be as nice as possible, but Mr. Mabeka nodded at first and murmured something. I came closer and furrowed my brow, and he cleared his throat, and then said with a slow voice: "Y...yeah... anything."

"Mr Makeba, has your wife recently came into contact with people she normally did not?"
I ask him. He looks at me bewildered. "Normally did not?" he asks. "Yeah, like, besides her party colleagues, campaign director, press, like did anything happen recently that you feel was out of place?" I ask again. "I... I mean... I'm not sure, I didn't really follow her..." he says, looking towards his feet. I frown, it was weird, when there were party meetings of the Ferrets, Alice always came up with her husband, I was expecting him to be closer to her political doings. "Did you feel any changes in the past weeks? Regarding her actions, behaviour, attitude?" I ask.

It was easy to observe that he was trying to avoid my gaze. "She became... a lot angrier recently. Normally Liberation Day was the most important holiday for her, yet the news of the shooting in Toccoa and the Equality Front trying to disrupt the parade really made her fume," he said. "Do you know if she came in contact with the Equality Front?" I ask and this was the moment in which he raised his head and made eye contact. He was frowning, and I could clearly feel I touched a sensitive cord. "What kind of idiotic question is that?" he said angrily. "Mr. Makeba, I'm trying to build the background here, as it is clear that this movement is in complete opposition to your wife's positions, and knowing their history and behaviour, I want to know if they ended up meeting up, not in a friendly manner, that is. I'm talking about heckling, shouting, yelling, abuses, this sort of stuff," I say with a monotonous tone. "There were two situations. Once, she said she was yelled at when she went out of a store downtown. A guy called her a communist, but she always ignored this, and in the few days after Liberation Day, probably 5th or 6th, we had a brick thrown through our window, by unknown assailants," he said. "I see," I mutter nodding.


"Just one more question, Mr. Makeba. This morning. Seven AM on a Sunday is extremely early for a ride. Can you tell me why she left this early? Was there some emmergency party meeting or something?" I ask, but again, the man was gazing towards his feet. It felt he was having a dialogue with his shoes. "No, she went for a ride to calm down..." he muttered. I lean in. "We had an argument. I told her to quit the party, as I felt like we were having targets on our backs. She disagreed, got angry and left," he said. "Thank you very much, Mr. Makeba, you've been very helpful," I say.

I approach Adelaide, who shakes her head when she sees me. "The man said he checked and the road was clear, but visibility is poor from where she came because of the crest of the hill, there," she says pointing towards the incline of the road. "So he just reversed normally, only to see a second later the red Hartnett barely avoid him, and crash into the tree and wall," she says. "It means she had huge speed," I say and she only nods. "And made no effort to reduce it by breaking. You see?" she says, pointing at the road. "No skid marks," she says, and now it's my turn to nod.

"What of her husband?" she asks me. "He's a bit weird. I can't escape the feeling that he knows a lot more than he lets us believe," I say. She looks at me, an eye brow raised, intrigued. "He got angry when I asked about here recent activities, and said she left this morning after having an argument with him," I say, and she looks at me expecting more. "It seems they were targeted, having a brick thrown through their window, and he asked her to leave the party. She got angry and left, then had the accident," I say. Adelaide stops, nodding as she thought of it. "They will analyse the car to see if everything was functioning normal. In the meanwhile we should check that brick through the window episode," she said.
 

Natal

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Bucharest
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Selena I
Coronado, Sonoma, 22nd of July

The phone started ringing again, with the Josefino reggaetón sounds that I once liked, but being so overwhelmed by it, it just started annoying me. I answer it on my handsfree piece, so I can keep my hands free as I was changing the duvets on the bed. Talking about not having any chance to do house chores, let alone have a life... "What's up, Travis?" I answer the call, as I see it's coming from Travis Cooke, my boss and one of the three big bosses of the agency I work in. "What the fuck did you tell your client?!" he outright startles me by shouting like this and I drop a pillow on the floor. "Wait... what? What... client?" I say shocked, and my mind goes into overdrive, like I was going through all of them and their projects to imagine what the fuck did I mess up. I leave the duvets and the pillows and move into the kitchen. The apartment is an extremely small one bedroom apartment with an open kitchen, for which I was paying $2,500 per month, typical for Coronado, especially as I could see the white and lit up letters of CEDARWOOD up on the hills in the distance. The dream... I should be happy, not having near panic attacks for all this shit as as I try my best to micromanage everything.

"I'm talking about Spears! Ethan Spears! The idiot is arguing with European Studios that he wants a lump sum of 2 million dollars! I thought you know your shit, Selena!" Travis Cooke nearly yelled at her. "Jesus, Travis, calm down. Of course I know it. I told him that if he wants to play in Altering the Sun, he needs to go with what they offer him, especially when we all know it will be a big one, and as a percentage, he would earn more especially if the movie is successful!" I nearly yell back, starting to sweat only from being nervous and angry and I could feel my cheeks getting flushed. "Well, the idiot just said he wants a two million lump sum and European is calling me, of course, angry as fuck, because they don't want to take such a huge sum from their budget to give it to him!" Travis says back, this time in a more decent manner. I did observe that when I started yelling back, he always calmed down, but it's a recent thing, as I didn't have the courage for most of my career to do that. "Look, I'm gonna call European and calm them down and then I'll have a talk with the idiot, to set him right. Now go to sleep and chill out, enjoy the Friday evening!" I say in a more encouraging way, to calm him down, of course taking it upon myself to babysit a rich arrogant bastard, who is somehow seen as one of the greatest actors of our generation, and save a 200 million movie deal...

I close the call and sit in the kitchen, on a chair, by the window, lighting up a cigarette and opening the window, to blow the smoke outside. I look at the Woodruff Golds packet, and scoff, thinking that if I manage to sort this shit out, I deserve to roll up a joint. Just as I light it up, I start to feel my stomach grumbling, it was like an alarm that I was so stressed out today, even without this last crisis, that I forgot to eat anything. I go to the fridge, only to see it being literally empty, so it meant that for most of the week I even forgot to do some grocery shopping. I let off a sigh and I go to the bathroom, where I wash my face and look in the mirror. I started to get some bad eye bags and shadows and... ugh, a furrow, just showing that I frowned more than not in the past years. But, let's keep the eye on the prize. Coronado, Cedarwood, tinsel town. I wanted this, I dreamt of this for most of my life. I'd rather keep doing this than doing nothing in the Jimmy Wells State, surrounded by rodeo clowns, rich bankers and junkies, absolutely nothing in between... When I go back into the kitchen, I take my phone, and order some food. Some Implarian eateries are round, so some tacos are perfect. I take a seat again by the window, and take a puff from the cigarette. "Fucking Cedarwood..." I mutter as I see the lit white letters on the hills.

I take the phone and start making the calls. "Meadow Trevino! My best gal from European Studios!" I nearly should in a gleeful manner, trying to keep the atmosphere as light as possible. "Selena, thank god you called. My guys here are ready to break the pre-contract for Spears, and between us... I think the director is close to cave his head in..." she says, the last being more whispery. I start to wonder if she is with someone else at the studios, or if I'm on speaker on some room where they are all there. "I know he went of the rails... hugely and it's extremely unprofessional, but don't worry. We agreed on something. The percentage remains, " I say, as I start to feel solidary with the director, wanting to smack the shit out of Spears. "Actually, that's the thing. We know he's... difficult," she says but I interrupt her. "Believe me, you don't know how right you are," I say, taking another puff from the cigarette. "But we also know that he's like the biggest name in Cedarwood recently, especially with our target audience. I know that we said an initial sum of 100k and then 3% of the profits, but if he's ready to walk out, we are forced to do our best to keep him. We would give an initial sum of 500k," she says flatly and I'm left breathless. "You.... you're sure?" I ask, still shocked. "Yeah, we would have liked to not reach this point, but here we are..." she says flatly again and I could feel her annoyance through the telephone. "Don't worry. It will all be sorted," I say and then finish the call.

I just sigh again, wondering how many bridges if Spears burning with the studios with such actions. Of course it's great to get such sums, but I feel he's three jobs away from being blacklisted. My phone vibrates, and I see it's a text, from Amelia Rose-Cooper. At first I get nervous, as I fear that she pulled a Spears too, but with no angry call from Travis beforehand, it feels like nothing big happened. Hey, I'm in the neighbourhood and I want to talk with you about something face to face. Can I come over?, the text says, and of course, I start panicking. Nothing good comes after a text that calls for a face to face talk. Sure, no worries, I text back. Of course, Amelia isn't only a client, she's my very first client and is also probably my closest friend here in Coronado, so it's probably just something personal, guy issues or whatever. I'm babysitting idiots, so bring some booze too, I text her again, feeling a bit guilty that I probably project the image of an alcoholic. She just replied to my 'Sure, no worries' text with a '^'. I light up another cigarette and prepare to call Spears.

"Sweet Mary and Joseph, Ethan! What in God's name are you doing?!" I say when he answers. "Good evening to you too!" he says back with a weird tone, that I can't really tell if he's truly happy... or high? Who knows... who cares... "You know it's not good when I'm finally chilling on a friday night and all I get is angry calls from European Studios and from boss Cooke!" I say, feinting anger. "I know... I know... but you know the Spears, I like covering my back. If this movie is as big as they expect it to be, 2 million shouldn't be an issue," he says, but I am just blocked and disgusted that he truly called himself 'the Spears'... Jesus Christ. "Listen, you can't just do that! The pre-contract said 100k and 3% of the profits. You can just fuck up the budget like that and ask a ridiculous sum too!" I say. "I know, but I'm just negotiating! You know me, Selena... you actually know me a bit too well...There are some money issues around, and I need some extra cash. I don't want to fuck up the movie, but I feel that if people hype me up so much, I should receive more than 100k," he says. I sigh, but I just thought of a way of probably putting myself in the service of the studio. "How about I call them and ask them to double it?" I say. "200k, it's not the 2 million you absurdly requested, but you know like me nobody will give you that," I say. "Yeah, I know that, but still... I was thinking of at least 500k," he says too. "Hey, you weren't on the phone with me when Travis Cooke and the big bosses from European were shouting like rabid dogs about how they are ready to shelf the movie because of your stunt or the very least to fire you. So if you're that desperate for some cash, I'd take 200k instead of nothing, especially as it gives you a decent amount to live... well, at your rate of wasting money... what, 2 weeks?" I say. "Very funny," he says flatly. "But yeah, okay, if you manage to get me a double of that initial sum, I'm game and I'll go tonight to sign the contract," he says. "Sweet. Thanks for being... nice," I say and I finish the call. I just feel the need to smash my head to the window and probably take a huge gulp of gasoline or chlorine to make this all end...

I call the people at European again. "Meadow! Great news!" I say as she answers. "You convinced him?" she asks with a slight hope in her voice. "More than that. I won him over with only 250k instead of the 500k dollars you proposed," I say, very proud of myself. "Oh my God, Selena... that is awesome, you really done us a service here," she says. "Well, this is my gift you to so you can keep me on the loop with any future projects. Spears is coming tonight to sign it," I say. "But don't forget to lose all proof that you were ready to pay him half a million," I add. Meadow laughed and assured me, so I prepared to call up Spears again, but I was interrupted by the buzzer. I went to the door, opened it, expecting Amelia, but it was just the food. Okay, it was a taco platter that was bigger than expected. I put it on the very small table on the kitchen and then I take the phone and call Spears.

"So, did they accept to save the movie?" Ethan asks right as he answered. "Even better," I say, right when the buzzer when off again. I go aimlessly to it and open the door, letting Amelia in. She brought a bottle of sparking wine. I point to the handsfree piece, pointing that I was in a call and she nods understandingly. "So, like I said, even better, big guy. They were so desperate to keep you that I managed to get you 250k, instead of only 200k, so you can survive three weeks with them, not only two," I say jokingly. At first, Ethan was speechless. "Jesus, Selena, you're a hero. You are just awesome," he mutters. "Look, I need to take care of some other things now, but I want you to go this very moment back to European to sign up the contract!" I say sternly. He said he will, so I finished the call.

By the time I finished the call, Amelia took two glasses and poured some of that sparkling wine. "Fucking Cedarwood," I mutter when I lay my gaze again upon the brightly lit letters of the landmark as I finished the call. "Here's to fucking Cedarwood!" Amelia says handing me a glass, stressing the third word. "What's got into you?" I ask as I take the glass and invite her to take some food too. Jesus, looking at her, I can't feel but jealousy. Her hair is bright auburn with some blonde locks, all shining like the sun, her eyes one of the deepest green you will see, her skin so perfectly tanned. Compared to her, I feel like I lived in a cave. This job is clearly killing me. Just look at this, I babysat an idiot who just because he's an arrogant prick got an extra 150,000 dollars and for this I will get only my usual 4,000 dollars a month, and that will be when the salary comes.

Amelia was beaming, yet felt a bit concerned too. It was weird to see her like this. "So... some things have happened," she says. "And I fear what you will say about them and I fear to disappoint you," she continued. "Amy, you were my blessing and my curse. You were my first client that truly became a star and aided me up the ladder too, but you are also a curse because you projected this image that acting nicely and being behaved and grounded is the normal... and let me tell you, in the high circles of Cedarwood... it's not. Just look at fucking Spears... So yeah, you can't disappoint me," I say. "No, but I want to be honest here, and maybe I will ramble for a bit," she says as she takes a taco and we begin eating. "You know that old adage about doing something you like for a job because you won't feel like working?" she says and I nod. "That's what I thought acting would be for me. And at the beginning it really was. I loved playing off-Coogee in Toccoa when I was a student there, but I always felt it was Cedarwood that was calling me. Now, ten years later, I feel the opposite," she says and I raise a questioning brow. "The opposite?" I ask. "It's not like I'm not acting, but I feel that compared to theatre, Cedarwood is now so concentrated on stardom that it feels like we are famous just because we're famous and acting is a side gig. I just heard you on the phone with the whole money stunt. Honestly, it's disgusting," Amelia says. I cannot but nod and raise the glass. "Here's to seeing Cedarwood in its true disgusting image," I say and Amelia laughs.

"The thing is that we do so much side stuff, and it's only about remaining relevant, that acting feels secondary," she says. "You start to freak me out. You're preparing to tell me you want to quit?" I ask her. "Well, I received a call from an old friend, who is now a big name in Coogee Street. He wants to band together and produce and direct plays and musicals on Coogee Street," she says shyly. "But Amelia, you have a life here. Coogee is in Toccoa, on the other side of the country... hell, the continent, it's on the eastern seaboard," I say. "I know, but I feel smothered by Cedarwood. I have no active projects and didn't even have one since Dry Country, so for more than a year I do no acting and I still am so overwhelmed by work and everything that I feel I'm suffocating," she says. "I see those letters from the landmark sign and sometimes I feel like they are ready to fall on me and smash me," she continued and I nod. "Fucking Cedarwood," I mutter. It hit me now, that if Amelia feels like this too, it's clear that are big issues in the industry, it's not just me. It's the overwork, the race to run and catch a star, the panic attacks you get from the fear of failure, yet around you, everyone is smashed by it, yet they all come in droves because of the stars Cedarwood creates. It's desperation, and broken dreams.

"You won't get as much money as a Coogee Street star or producer or director as you do in Cedarwood," I say. "I know, but it's not about money. I'll sell my apartment here and buy one there and from there I'd take anything that gives me a decent life. I want to act again. I want to feel like I'm creating quality shows and I miss not being smothered, suffocated and overwhelmed," she says and all I can do is nod. "Honestly, if things go like they did today, I'd rather go everywhere and not look back. Look at me, stress is fucking me up. You'd say I'm 45 instead of only 32," I moan, but Amelia scoffs. "You're exaggerating, but yeah, we need an escape," she says. "We?" I ask. The idea flustered me. I know it's spontaneous, but it might be exactly what I need. "Yeah, I was wondering if you'd enjoy stepping into production too. Plays and musicals not movies or television, but I imagined you would enjoy it. I have contacts there and you can get some clients with no issue as an agent and then you can work with me," she says. I somehow fade out and try to imagine something new. It's not like anything ties me to Coronado, as the company made it clear a few times that they see me as expendable, I have no circle of friends, Amelia being probably my only friend, and currently no boyfriend, so yeah... I can feel in my stomach the seeds of escape being sowed and I start to smile thinking of it.

"It's... something... I'll have to think about it," I say. "Of course, it's a huge change, I don't want to force it unto you," she says. "But... honestly, I start to like the idea," I say as I start to think of Toccoa more and more. "Sleep on it, take as much time as you need," she says. "In the meantime," she continues, taking her phone out and showing me some pics of her with some people. "I want to show you the people from the acting workshop I taught. There are some nice people there, very talented," she says. My eyes fall on a guy, probably around 20 years old, with ruffled brown hair, a Thaumantican complexion, but freckled and with deep hazel eyes. "Oh shit, he's really nice," I say. "Oh, yeah, that's Sebastian Mclean, he's awesome. Very good, very talented. Has a divine voice and loves singing. I kind of pitched Coogee to him too, as it feels like it makes more use of his singing skills, complementing the acting ones, rather than Cedarwood," she says. "Mclean? He's Engell? He has a very... Josefino vibe... maybe Correntine," I say. "Yeah, he's half Engell, half Implarian. I spoke quite a lot with him. He has an older brother who's a paramedic in Toccoa and he said the two of them loved musicals and were terrorising their parents singing all day in the house," she says laughing, but I fade out again. Toccoa. That starts to sound better and better.
 

Natal

Elder Statesman
Joined
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Bucharest
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Camp Hill
Nick
Ovi
Gavin II
Willacoochee, Georgia, 23rd of July


This weekend seems to have been designed to be a weird one. I can say it started all by Thursday, when I was at Drew's. Yeah, don't blame me... I think I saw his apartment more than mine and by now even have some clothes and a uniform there in case I spend the night. Yes. We're going on the 2nd week but it feels like the most intense honeymoon phases one would probably see. Yolanda told me countless times again that everything is moving too fast and that I'd clearly be hurt once this phase passes, as she thinks that one of us will clearly "wake up from it and see the other in his real image" and probably be scared off. Yet at the same time... I with him it's weird. Yeah, I'd go for Andrew rather than Drew as it feels more... I dunno... like him... Drew gives the impression of a jock who peaked in high school.. But yeah, I don't know, I feel that even if this honeymoon phase passes, I want to still have him in my life. I want to be there for him, I want to be his friend, his best friend, and probably that is what makes this work. Doesn't everyone say that in a relationship, the most important thing is that once the passion and lust passes, to consider the other as your best friend? Maybe it's the hormones going crazy, but at this moment, I can clearly divide my life into a before the 8th and after the 8th of July, when we had the first date and I simply cannot see myself going back to what was before... and I think Yolanda feels this too and is a bit jealous. "You know... It's weird, but I was hoping you'll ground Drew more, rather than you transform into a clone of his," Yolanda said at the beginning of this week and it felt weird, but a part of me couldn't but smile.

But on Thursday, Andrew asked me if I have some plans for Sunday and if I want to come to Willacoochee with him, as his mom said she wanted to quality time with "the only Stone kid around". He asked me to come with him and it hit me that as much as he tried to present it in the coolest way possible, it's a big episode, where he full on presents his... what? guy who he dates?... crush?... partner?... boyfriend? I mean, we didn't put a label on it, but considering that in the past two and a half weeks I nearly spent as much nights at his place than at mine's says a lot. But... I... I'd really enjoy doing some heavy labelling, but I wonder if he's that much into it, as I see he tried to avoid everything like that... Also, the fact that he's on this shitty case that feels like a white supremacist conspiracy doesn't help, as he's clearly stressed out by it. So yeah, I accepted to go to Willacoochee with him, and I prepared mentally for absolutely anything... label wise, that is, not the apocalypse. I changed some shifts, worked an extra one on Friday, so I won't lose a day off, slept off the whole of Saturday to recover and now the dreaded day arrived.

We left his apartment in his car. Driving down on Palm Heart Road, on a Sunday around noon was nice as I always felt south side Toccoa was the posh one. We crossed into Adair Park, with its posh wooden mansions from the days of Engell dominion and company rule, before we went on Pryor Street. This one was one of the city's touristy hubs, especially if you were here for sunbathing. It's a road running parallel with the Thaumantic ocean, with a huge sandy beach on its east and rows upon rows of hotels and hugely expensive apartments and then Pryor Street turns into Highway 40, going south towards the border with the State of St Lucia.

While driving, Drew seemed quite happy. Totally ignoring the fact that he had a nightmare last night that startled him up so badly that he literally smacked my face while sleeping. I woke up scared at first, but turned around, going back to sleep, when I started feeling something wet and warm on my cheeks. That's when I observed that he gave me a bloody nose. When I went to the bathroom he woke up too and he was extremely sorry about it all, going as far as saying that he'll sleep on the floor, giving me the bed, so it won't happen again. That was sweet and I simply could not accept that, but still, it's not the first time he has nightmares or is startled, and while I haven't known him that well beforehand, I do recognise this as being a new thing and it concerns me as I know it all boils down to the events of the 3rd of July. At it rips my heart to see it. And now I start getting angry, as instead of trying to understand it, Yolanda tells me that I should give me more space, instead of being closer to him.

"You okay?" Drew asked me, looking for a fraction of a second towards me, before turning back on the road. "Y... yeah..." I say, trying my best to keep a whimsical appearance, but the stuttering didn't help, and I could see it on Drew too. Fuck me... all my concerns, emotions and everything and him reading me like an open book. "I'm very sorry about last night," he says. "It's... I dunno... Before all this, I don't even remember having nightmares..." he continues and I turn to him, smiling and resting my hand on his forearm, which was resting on the gear shift. The car being automatic and him keeping a had on the wheel, it was safe. "Listen, I know it sounds bad, but sometimes... we are aren't always the script writers in our life, we are mostly the main characters and sometimes, the universe, destiny, fate... call it however... hell, even God, if you want it," I say, but I am interrupted in him chuckling. I do love that he actually listens to my weird rambling and he even finds them funny sometimes. "But, sometimes we don't have control. We just react to events, and it's the way we react to them what defines us more than when we dictate them. I know, the whole 3rd of July events have been... hard," I say, trying to find a word that doesn't sound condescending, while also not making it superficial. He just nods. "And I know that everyone tells you that you saved people and that it could have been a disaster. But still, it's a cross to bear," I say. He nods again.

"I feel guilty," he says after a pause. "I..." he stopped in his tracks, as he changed lanes. "Our training says that we should have shot in non-vital areas... you know where I shot him?" he says and looking at him I observe his eyes shining, getting watery. I keep silent but tighten for a moment my grip on his forearm. "In the neck," he says flatly after a moment. "His friends all ran away and I could see my work..." he stops again. "Drew, please stop," I say, because it was clear he was struggling and I want him to open to me naturally, I don't want him to feel that I force him to revisit an event it clearly traumatised him. "No, I'm doing this for you," I say. "I feel I own it to you after I managed to bloody up all the duvets with your blood," he says, with a slight smirk. "Yeah, sorry about that, but please, it really was nothing," I say. "So yeah, everyone tells me that I saved people, but you know what I want? I want someone to yell at me. It was probably the shittiest dissociation I went through when I was going towards the office of Captain Wade, feeling like I'm going to the gallows, and instead of being reprimanded, punished, fired, I was congratulated," he said, this time more relaxed. It was clear that moving away from the victim's image reduced his tension. "It's a fucked up society," I way and he nods. "We allow all those guns to run amok in the hands of all sort of nutters and malevolent idiots, and instead of doing something to reduce the chances of such situations taking place, we congratulate those who put themselves in front of the terror, and are forced to use deadly force, ignoring their needs and psychological recovery afterwards," I say, and Drew just sighs.

It is clear that he needs to speak with someone, and it's also clear he's not ready for it. I want to be there for him, but I'm unsure how much pressure to put on it, so I don't make him hostile to me, while also not allowing him to bottle it all up. I know we've started this thing before the 3rd of July events, but with the scraps of the story I get from him, I built up a decent scenario of how things went. Interesting how the press isn't even remotely interested by it by now, nor of the Equality Front or other fascists. But still, I do think about what would happen if things like that go badly. What would I do if I hear from Karah that he was shot? I think I'd just die too and that probably answers all of Yolanda's concerns about burnouts and how it's too fast, too much and too everything in the honeymoon phase and won't last past it. The rest of the road is quite light hearted, we sang along some songs, he was weirded out I know my way along some country songs too, then talked some shit about all sorts of stuff, from Brad Ross and Roadrunners to Karah and Yolanda and his sisters, and it was probably the 2 hours that passes the fastest in my life.

The town of Willacoochee was a quaint small fishing town that in the past two decades turned into this posh resort town for the very rich, who want to go elitist, renting colonial mansions along the beach, or even richer pensioners who spent their life savings buying a house over a million dollars to move here and enjoy the rest of their sunset years. It was quite Engell and colonial, with red brick buildings in the centre and quite big wooden houses, most of them painted either in white or in some shades of beige. Drew drove in front of what felt like a non-descript two storey house, a bit farther away from the beach, but with a view of the Thaumantic. In the interior west, this might seem just your typical middle class suburban house, but knowing coastal Georgia and Willacoochee, it seemed upper middle class to upper class. A black Engellexic car, and Arsenius Rover XE-PACE, was parked in front of it.

"What the fuck?" Drew muttered seeing it and parked his Hartnett Grizzly besides it. I look concerned at him. He took a deep breath. "Am I bad for being nervous?" he said grinning. "I think I should be the nervous one," I say. Of course, as a good Sonoman, I always come bearing gifts, this time, a bottle of wine, because I didn't know what I'm getting into, so I brought a sweet Moscato, to try and honey my way into the Stone clan. We ready to enter the house and Drew takes his keyes to unlock the door, when the door opens up. A young woman, looked like in her 30s, whose features were similar to Drew's, but her face left taller, while Drew's was more oval. She also had more prominent cheekbones than him, and her eyes were dark brown, incomparable to his deep blueish-green eyes. She had long blonde hair, but she clearly dyed as the roots started to show she was originally black haired.

"Well, well, well... look who the tide brought in. Scooby Drew and..." she said and stopped as she made eye contact with me. While I was behind Drew and a bit on his right side, I feel I could observe a wince of his just from the muscles of his neck. "...and probably the most handsome guy who ever came here," she says playing around with her eyebrows. I smile at her and yet I am completely lost. She intimidates me. "Yeah, leave this one alone, he's mine. Plus, I thought it was clear that the guys I bring home should not be interested in you," Drew says as he enters the house kissing her on both cheeks as a greeting. That surprised me a bit. It was very... Gallo-Germanian. But then again, he said that I'm his. I could feel my stomach doing somersaults. It's probably the first labelling we've done. "You know it happened once," she says, but then turns towards me: "he was bisexual," she says winking. "Aaaaah... don't worry about me," I say smiling, feeling like I just fell in an ambush. I think this might be his sister. Probably Lara, she was the one still in Natal. "I'm Miranda, by the way," she says, going for a hand shake. Of course, 50% chances of getting it right, and I was wrong. Miranda, the older sister. The was that had a reputation of being called "difficult at best times, evil at the worst, but lovable if you get to know her, but people usually don't reach that point". "Gavin," I present myself and go for the hand shake, but then she just hugs me and kisses me two times on the cheeks. I was a bit surprised by the move and I think she felt it. "Don't worry about it, we're originally Radilan, too many generations ago but assimilated here. We're touchy feely," she says laughing. "Please stop terrorising him," Drew says and she just scoffs, as I just tried futilessly to hide a sigh behind laughter.

Miranda leaned in and grabbed the bottle of wine I was folding. She analysed it a bit and then nodded. "Sonoman, Moscato, sweet, 2018, exquisite tastes, Gavino. You clearly are in Drew's camp," she says smiling. I glance at Drew who cringes. "Usually guys coming here for me or my sister brought at most only a wine they described as white or red, knownothings," she continues, leaving us and going inside the house. "Moooooooooom! Drew and his hot boyfriend have arrived and brought awesome wine! If you don't leave the chevalet now, you'll miss it!" she says shouting. Drew turns to me. "Please don't let her scare you," he says, looking at me with an apologetic face. I grin at him. "I've listened to your stories. I was expecting something... different... but yeah, she has something intimidating in her, but don't worry," I say laughing. I could literally see him being relieved. "She does seem a lot though, isn't she?" I further say. "You have no idea..." Drew mutters.

We go inside after we take our shoes off, which surprised me too. I never expected them to be so... Gallo-Germanian. And Radilan? Am I the only one shocked by it? I mean, I know Natal had quite strong assimilation policies and the only way to enjoy some social mobility until recently was to be white and have an Engell name. That's why I know I am privileged, as I am white passing, and I have an Engell surname, because of a grand father, but I'm 75% Tiburano. Probably that's what the Stones did too when they arrived here in the past century. I wonder what was their original surname.

"There they are! The prodigal son and his boyfriend!" a woman in her mid 60s, with grey hair that was dyed blonde, wearing a colourful robe over a white T-shirt that was stained with what looked like oil paint, and sirwals. She was smelling of sage and paint, had her hair tied in a ribbon that had a psychedelic motif and had earrings that had amethyst crystals hanging from her lobe. I didn't know how to describe her besides the weird mixture of a hippie and a character from Uroduah Nights. Then it hit me that there were crystals everywhere, and there was burning incense on a table. And she called me a boyfriend. The boyfriend. His boyfriend. A part of me loves it, another part of me panics, with Yolanda's voice in my head telling me that everything moves too fast.

"Hi mom, this is Gavin," Drew says. "Oh, so he's the famous Gavin... Andrew..." she says, taking a look at me. "He's more handsome than I would have imagined from your stories," she says with a smile. I smile back at her. Miranda watches with impish eyes in a corner, while Ms Stone was totally not how I expected her. Drew did describe her and called her an old hippie, but I never actually truly imagined it. "Oh, don't be shy," she says and takes my arm. She takes me from the living room, where I see Drew and Miranda remained to talk. "So, tell me interesting stuff about you, Gav," she says, but she stops in her tracks. "I know Miranda has a way to aggressively nickname anyone around, is it okay if I call you Gav?" she asks and I just nod. "Nice, now, tell me stuff about you, while I show you around," she continued. "Well, I work as a paramedic, in Toccoa," I say, but she smiles at me and waves it off. "I know about that, but don't be nervous, it's not a job interview. I meant about you," she says. To be honest, I start to like it, I can truly imagine her organising some hippie community back in her youth. Then I remembered Karah. Yeah, Ms. Stone took her in, de facto adopting her, when she was chucked out on the streets.

"I'm from Coronado," I say. And she makes big eyes. "I lived about 25 years in Coronado," she says. I smile back, remembering exactly what I said about the hippie days. "Around where?" I ask. "Santa Marta," she says. "Now I know it's a rich community of yuppies, but back then it was the best place. Bohemian central. Of course, I had to ground myself, as I had to raise three kids and honestly, between us, as much as it was great fun, it wasn't a great place to raise a kid," she says, but then she waves it off again, nodding me to continue. "Well, I know it doesn't really show, but I'm Tiburano, and I am quite proud of my culture and heritage," I say. She smiles mischievously. "Hablas Josefino?" she asks. "Un poquito," I say. "I know, it feels hypocritical, but I feel that I shouldn't be told off for my heritage just because I don't speak the language, when it was my parents decision to abandon it for Engell," I continue. She tightens her grip on my arm for a slight moment. "Listen, a language is something you can always learn, but for culture, it depends a lot on what you feel here," she says tapping two times on my chest. "Look at us, we speak Engell. That doesn't mean Natalian culture doesn't exist. Look at me and my kids. Originally we're Radilan. My grandfather came from Novo Porto. We were originally called Strinati, but he decided to change it to Stone to make his and his children's life easier, that doesn't mean we were less Radilan. It all depends oh much in your heart you feel connected to your heritage," she says. Honestly, by now I start to feel that Drew has a strong contender to my favourite member of the Stone family.

She takes me to show me her painting studio. "I used to be a historian and a linguist," she says. "I specialised in Implarian History and the evolution of Josefino linguistics between the Viceroyalties of the Empire. Most of my time in Coronado was spent teaching at the Sonoma University, in the Coronado Campus. After a while, it just didn't work anymore. I felt smothered by it. You could feel the city back in the early 80s starting to transform, from artists being artists for the sake of art, many were coming for money," she continued. "Don't get me wrong, an artist should live decently and have a decent sum of money, but choosing an artist as a life model because of the millions he makes in a Cedarwood blockbuster, in detriment to their artistic accomplishments, was just the thing that killed Coronado's vibe and made it a soulless, plastic, gilded city..." she said, putting quite the emphasis on the epithets, but she stopped in her tracks. "I hope you don't take offence that I'm talking shit of your hometown," she says and I laugh. "I'm in Toccoa, so that's says enough I think," I say and she joins me laughing. "Yeah, I really like you, you're a sharp one. Quick and handsome, you've won the jackpot," she says, making me blush. It's the moment I'm happy she can't read my mind, because I feel I won it when Drew noticed me.

"I'm staaaaarving! Can we eat now?!" Miranda yelled from the kitchen and Drew joined her in. Me and Ms Stone started going down the stairs, when I ask her: "Weird question, Ms. Stone, regarding the whole heritage and culture," I say and she waves me off. "With one condition, call me Anita," she says, waiting expectantly for the question. "Do you speak Radilan too?" I ask her. "Ovviamente! L'ho imparato da solo!" she says gladly and then sees my confused face. "I said I learned it by myself. Changing the surname was an attempt to kill the heritage, but that never stopped me," she said and then looks a bit at me. "Gavin isn't the most Josefino of names," she said chuckling. "Engell assimilation is still strong in Natal," she continued. "Yeah, it's actually my grandfather's name. He was Gavin Mclean and we kept the name from my father's side, who then married my mom, giving me the surname Mclean-Guttierez," I say. "Wear it with pride," she says and we go towards the kitchen.
 

Natal

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Drew V
Toccoa, 25th of July 2022


"And everything was nice, and chill and I was ready to have Gavin be weirded out by my mom's hippie vibe, but then she was there..." I say to Adelaide as she drives us to precinct 1-7, in Northern Toccoa, where the precinct covering the Walnut Tree neighborhood, where we found Alice Makeba's car. "Wait, who is she?" Adelaide asks. "The devil..." I mutter. "Hm... I always thought the Devil was a he, not a she. Like... you know, the red skin, all muscled up type. Horns and the whole shebang. Clearly seductive too," she says laughing. "Eh, there's probably one in the seven depths of hell like that too, but no, this time it's a she, as Miranda was there," I say smirking. Adelaide made big eyes. "So wait, she's here? I thought she was living the life in Nonestica!" she says loudly, but is stopped by me shaking my head. "Nope, she's now back and wants to expand her cosmetics business in Natal too, so she will be around to fuck my life again," I say. "Sounds like a nightmare. Did she scare Gavin off? Was it that disastrous?" she asked. "Weirdly not. He even had the courage to answer back and even mock her here and there, and what was even weirder he loved my mom's lectures about loving thyself and living in the moment all that shit," I say. "Heh, he survived a meeting of the Stones, he's clearly the one. Time to tie it down before he starts to be more lucid and run away," Adelaide says laughing. "Yeah, I'd do that but I feel it's too early, might scare him off," I say bemused.

Adelaide parks in front of the precinct and we get off. We go in, and are surprised by the level of activity, with many more people moving around, completing files and sometimes getting called to the reception, that we are used to at 6-3 on Auburn, in central Toccoa. The joys of working in an unfortunate neighborhood with high criminality I imagine. "Morning, how can we help you?" the woman at the reception greets us with a flat voice and a face that feels like being there is the biggest effort. "Hi love, we're from 6-3, down on Auburn. We called but we were told that we had to come here personally to receive a report on a 911 call from a few weeks ago," Adelaide says in her nicest way possible. "Yes. That's procedure. Requests can only be submitted in person or by fax, not through a phone call or e-mail," the woman says flatly. I raise a brow. "But we don't use faxes anymore for some time..." I say weirded out a bit. "True, but procedure hasn't changed," she says and she hands us a form to fill. Adelaide sighs exasperatedly. "Bureaucracy..." she moans and we take a pen and move to a table to fill it. After a few minutes we give the form back to the receptionist and wait on some seats to be called out.

"I hate this. Shit smells too bureaucratic and impersonal here," Adelaide says. "Run me through what we know," she continues and I take out my work phone to check the notes. "So, we've got a revisionist group which is clearly all for white supremacy, the Equality Front. We know they planned to disrupt the Liberation Day Parade, and there was a shooting, but we don't know if the shooter was a lone wolf or it was organised by the group," I say. "Eh, even as a lone wolf, such groups always attract them," Adelaide mutters. "And then we have the accident of Alice Makeba, known to be pretty much the biggest SJW loudmouth in Natalian politics. A bit hard to see it as an accident, considering she came hard after the Equality guys, and was even harassed, with the brick incident reported by her husband," I say. "We need to be professional Drew, we still can't rule out an accident and the brick can still be thrown by anyone," Adelaide says. "Let's see first the report of the brick incident here... they if they would move faster already..." she says but right then we startled by the tannoy announcement.

"Detectives Caldwell and Stone to the reception!" the voice of the woman there was as flat and unmotivated as usual. We go there and she hands us the file we requested, with the transcript of the call. There was only one sheet of paper, with the header of the Ministry of the Interior and the Toccoa Police Department, while the footer contained the signature of captain Hammond, the commanding officer of Precinct 1-7. The document itself contained only a phrase. "No existing record on the database," it said. A just take the paper, look at it dumbfounded and without thinking I turn it around, as it feels as a weird joke. Adelaide bursts into an angry laughter. "Bless your heart, love but I feel you made a mistake," she says turning towards the woman behind the counter.

The woman remains frozen, but I could see some sweat appearing on her forehead. I feel she was expecting us to go nuts, especially when she herself saw the paper. A part of me wanted Adelaide to lose her shit, just to enjoy the show. "I'm sorry, Ms Caldwell, but that's all we have. There is nothing on the database," she says crisply. Adelaide smiles, but I can see her getting tense and her knuckles going white from how much she clenched her fist. "Can we speak to captain Hammond?" she asks in what was probably her sternest voice. "He asked to not be disturbed," the receptionist said, but this time with a frail voice. Adelaide just hit the counter lightly with her fist and furrowed her brow at the receptionist that she changed her take: "I'll sort it out," she said.

We get seated again. Adelaide is fuming. "Do you think they would be hiding something?" I ask, and she just shakes her head. "It's just too easy to find out the truth with this kind of stuff, so no," she says. She is right though. The transcripts of the calls could have been gotten hold of from the National Police Service too, but this necessitated a warrant. Here we were working more on goodwill and some solidarity. I am wondering if this also means the whole incident hasn't been reported, which makes everything even more complicated. The woman from the reception called us out and we were told we can enter the captain's office.

"Detectives Caldwell and Stone," captain Hammond greeted us. "I know it's bad, and it looks bad, but the paper was 100% genuine. It's not that I'm trying to set you for failure, it's that people around here prefer to sort their own deals by themselves and they barely call us," he says. "So you think the incident was not reported?" I ask. "If it even existed, it was not reported, no," he says shaking his head. "If the police did fuck all and lost the respect and legitimacy of the citizens around here, its clear no official channels work properly," Adelaide said and the captain followed her, ignoring the snipe remark. "It also means that there are unofficial ones, do you know any of that?" she asked. The captain shrugged. "People here seek justice by themselves..." he says but I interrupt him. "Captain, we're not talking here about vigilantes or gangs or cartels, we're talking about the chairwoman of the Ferrets. The Communist Party of Natal may be a minor party, but still, it's one of the big four which have a presence in the congress. Alice Makeba won't work vigilantes as she was... is... a public person," I say, correcting the past tense I used, but the captain just shook his head. "That's where you're wrong, detective Stone. The communists are even more closer to have such vigilante style groups than anyone else, and Makeba might have been their main commander," he says. "Look at them, they roam around with their red berets, thinking they're some weird paramilitary group and honestly, as much as I hate it, they are the ones who get the job done around here when people just turned their backs on the police," the captain said. "So we can contact them..." Adelaide says but the captain shaking his head again stopped her. Truth be told, it started getting on my nerves. "No, they're a secretive group and they won't chat with any of us, nor of you. You need to gain the trust of someone already in to induct you so you can do it, but before that, nope," said the captain.

We got out of the precinct, with exactly zero, Adelaide swearing, when she got a phone call. I try to imagine how and whom could be helping us here, because if we would just roam the neighborhood calling out that we want to help, it would just sound like desperation and nobody would care of us. I take my phone out, as I get in the car, waiting for Adelaide to end her call and talk with her, when I get an idea. Karah. She was very active with the ferrets when we were in school and then in college. I was browsing Daguerrogram, looking at a story of Gavin's, with him mimicking a "kill me now" meme that was viral a few years ago, and I smirked thinking that it falls perfect on my situation too, but I decide to facetime Karah.

She immediately answers. She was in probably the most non-descript office, wearing a blue shirt, reading some files over a laptop. "Drew, I told you not to call me when I'm at work," she said making an exaggerated disappointed face. "No, I know. But now it's important. It's work related," I say. "Mine, not yours," I add too and she just slaps her forehead with her palm. "What is it?" she asks. "What do you know of the vigilante groups of the Ferrets?" I ask and I could see her pupils widen. "Nothing," she says flatly. "I'm serious," I say. "I know nothing. You know I love you, but in this case I know nothing," she says continuing her act. "Oh, come on, Karah. I need this, it's for Makeba," I say. She sighs and moves out of her office in some different room, much weaker lighten. "You're lucky I love you. Listen. This can't come like I told it to you, so if I tell you how to do it, I'll want you to take my name to the grave with you," she says in the most serious way I ever saw or heard her. I only nod. "There's a password that opens certain people up for it. You will need to talk with the secretaries around the local headquarters, they are the communication officers for the groups. Just go to them say you want to aid them and tell them that "The fight goes on. In the west, the beacon will always be shining". That will make them understand that you know about the whole system. Now, try your luck at the Auburn headquarters downtown, if they are the same people I knew, they will be more open. Now, let me return to work," she said and closed the call right before I managed to say anything.

Adelaide gets in the car. "You were right. Makeba's wasn't an accident. The car was analyzed and its breaks were cut... a clear cut. It's clearly a sabotage or an assassination attempt," she said gravely. She starts driving and on the way back downtown I tell her what I spoken with Karah. We decide to try our luck as it was literally the only lead we had and I didn't want to lose everything in this case because of secret societies, vigilante groups and hell, even the deep state, if that was a truly a thing.

The parked the car in front of the local headquarters of the Natalian Communist Party. I was literally cringing at what the people inside would be thinking of a white Hartnett Grizzly with a flourescent green band and the big signs of Toccoa PD would mean if it parked in front of their establishment like we did. Hell, Adelaide even left some skid marks on the road because of hey way of driving here. She usually was much more relaxed driving, but now, it's clear she was mad.

"Hello, can I help you with anything?" a tall Himyaro-Natalian woman wearing a green shirt asked us as we entered. "We're looking for the local party secretary," Adelaide said. "It's right in front of you," she said pointing towards her. "We've been told that you can help us," Adelaide continued. "We did nothing illegal," the woman says. "No, it's nothing like that. It's actually us helping you," Adelaide says, and then she gazes towards me. "The fight goes on. In the west, the beacon will always be shining," I say and the Ferret woman smiles. "So you must be detective Stone," she says. I was shocked and I could feel blood rising to my cheeks. Adelaide was shocked too. "We've been told that you'll come," she says and invites us inside, into her office.

"I've been told this is about Comrade Makeba," she says. "Yes, we believe that her situation is the result of an assassination attempt and we want to find out who did it," Adelaide says. "There's also the situation of countless incidents that weren't reported to the PD," I add and the woman smiles all-knowing and takes out a huge dossier, with probably about a thousand pages, I estimated. "We know it was the Equality Front," the woman says, but when none of us says anything, the added: "on the attack against Comrade Makeba". "You seem very sure," I say, but the Ferret chuckled. "Look at this file. This contains our very own reports on activities of the Equality Front and two other groups affiliated to them: The Dominion Society and the Brotherhood of the National Revolution. Out of them, the Dominions are just pot smokers who talk shit, the Equality Front loves to take on the spotlight, and until recently they were harmless, but the real issue is the Brotherhood. They are a secretive group that fights against us, and was even behind the Liberation Day Parade incident," she says, smiling again knowingly at me. "What are you talking about?" I ask, "I never heard of this group," Adelaide adds.

"That's the point. The idea was for you to never hear of it. But there were cases of domestic terrorism recently that can only come from them, and what happened on the 3rd of July was their doing," she says. "How do you know all that? And how can we know all this is true?" I ask. I feel like only the return to the 7/3 events makes my blood boil. "The Ferrets waged a war against far right groups for nearly 50 years," she said condescendingly. "Politics and the Police always loved to present it as gang wars or turf wars, but sometimes, domestic terrorism is hard to hide. A gas explosion at an apartment, a drive by shooting. Stuff like that, especially in Toccoa, Harton and Camp Hill, have happened for decades. It's just that they were so low intensity that nobody cared and everyone thought that they were lone wolves, like you did too with the 3rd of July shooter," she continued. "How do you know you're telling the truth and not using all this to slander political opponents?" Adelaide asks but the woman laughs again. "You're here, aren't you? You knew about the password and everything, so I imagine you at least are open to what I said being true. But the rest is here, in this dossier," she said and I extender my arm to open to dossier to look at it, but she put her hand in the way.

"Not so fast. Before I open this up, I want to know if I can trust you, and maybe with it, earn your trust too,"
she says. I retract it, intrigued. "What is it?" I ask. "We have found out that the Brotherhood has a safe house in Toccoa, where they store weapons. It's an apartment, but in reality it acts as a weapon warehouse," the woman says. "If I will text you the address, I want you to raid it and see for yourself if I speak the truth or not. If the raid is successful, I'll surrender my dossier to you, so you can understand what the Ferrets did as vigilantes and how we were at times even more efficient than you, the coppers," she says. Me and Adelaide look at each other and just nod.
 

Natal

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Oct 7, 2018
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Bucharest
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Camp Hill
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Ovi
Drew VI
Toccoa, 31st of July 2022


45 Vanira Street East. That was the address the Ferrets gave us. We did a lot of convincing on Captain Wade, who told us that we'll fall into a trap of the Ferrets, as if its true what they said, it's also the first time the paramilitary wing of the Communist Party would cooperate with the security forces. This means things are actually extremely bad. I start to wonder how much we just enjoyed the privilege of living in the liberal bubble that is Toccoa, or better said it's middle class, thinking everything was working well and perfect and now we're just panicking because we see the realities behind the glitter. Last week, after the visit to the Ferrets, Gavin saw I was absent and miles away and asked me about it, while I couldn't yet fully tell him the whole ordeal, I asked him if he feels recently that things have changed in Toccoa. He was confused by the question and a bit weirded out, but said that the atmosphere is pretty much the same as it was when he came here 5 years ago, so at least there's that.

Now, at the precinct, Captain Wade finally gave his approval for the raid, but more negotiations had to be done with him to allow me and Adelaide to lead it. Of course, we had to have the heavy artillery out and say that if we won't do it, we'll be discredited in the face of the Ferrets. That is when he accepted and here we were getting bullet proof vests on us and going out the precinct. We were a team of 12 and we took three civilian Grizzlies to drive towards Toccoa's west end, on Vanira Street.

Getting closer to it, I could feel my stomach contract. "Don't get nervous," Adelaide says. "Remember your training and everything will be okay. Also... prepare mentally while on the road, for the possibility to use deadly force. There kind of people have no God and don't care, let's not get fucked up because of such cunts," she says giving me an assuring smile. I smile back, nodding at her and touch the pistol I have on my hip, in a way to assure myself that it's there and ready to use.

Adelaide took a radio. "Listen up, our target is on a row of terraced houses, so try to keep shooting to a minimum, we don't want civilian victims. We have been reported that the targets use the house as a warehouse for their weapons, so I imagine they won't let go of them easily, so be prepared for anything. Don't be shy of using your guns, but at the same time, do it wisely," she said. She then turned to me. "We're getting close," she muttered and I could see her do the same gesture like me, touching the holster of her gun.

The cars parked on the road in front of the row of terraced houses, with number 45 standing right in front of us. They were wooded houses, some derelict, some in a decent state, but it was clear it was a low income area. We went out the cars, Adelaide in front, followed by me and then the rest of the fast reaction group. Adelaide knocked on the door and then yelled: "Toccoa PD, open up!" Nothing. "Toccoa PD, open up the door!" Nothing. "Tocc..." she stopped as we could have clearly heard something fall down behind the door. She then turned towards us. "Bring it down!" she said.

The fast reaction group came with a ram and they started hitting the door, which fell after three hits. From behind it, gun shots were fired and we quickly took cover. I took my gun out, Adelaide was already firing back. Only me and Adelaide had pistols, the fast reaction group had submachine guns and they start shooting back. A fast response from the security force who shot back managed to end the gun fight, leaving two distinct voices moaning that they were hit inside the house. The fast reaction group goes in, checking the house. Adelaide takes her radio. "Dispatch, this is 6-3-1 Actual, we have two men wounded, calling in an ambulance, over," she says.

We go in. It seemed like a totally normal house. "Clearly they wanted to defend something, very strongly," I say. Adelaide nodded. "At leat they're not idiotic enough to keep them in the open, but in houses like these, you can clearly hide stuff within the wooden and plaster walls or underneath the flooring," she says as she hit the floor with her feet. We look around, while I could hear the members of the rapid response team shouting that the house has been cleared. I look around it, while Adelaide and one of the others checks on the wounded men, when I head something falling and hitting the floor inside a small wardrobe by the main door. The sound was muffled, and I think only I heard it, so I decide to check it.

I go by the door and look towards Adelaide, who was bandaging one of the wounded men, waiting for the ambulance. I opened up the door quickly and I'm startled seeing someone hiding there. I somehow turn on the side, going for my pistol just as he took out his and he shot. I could feel the bullet going through my right shoulder into my chest. Before I even fell, Adelaide quickly reacted and took out her gun, shooting the man hiding there. "We have a man down!" she yelled on the radio.

I started panicking and hyperventilating, but that pushed me into a cough and every move made everything worse. My whole right arm went numb, and I could feel an excruciating burn in my shoulder and a weird feeling of extreme cold within the right side of my chest. I started coughing and I started panicking about my lung being affected and I could feel the warm wetness of the blood dripping on my arm and down towards my back, sticking my shirt and the bulletproof vest to my skin.

"Drew, Drew, listen to me. The ambulance is on its way. We're going to get you patched up," I could hear Adelaide say but my ears were going crazy too with was probably was tinnitus. I started panicking. Ambulance. Needing an ambulance. "Am I..." I tried to say something but I started coughing again. "Shhh, it's okay. Calm down, stay with me, don't panic," Adelaide says, trying to smile, but I could see it in her eyes that she was freaking out too. My mind started running away. My mom. How do I explain this to her? She would go crazy. What would Captain Wade say? Oh my god, he'll be disappointed. I clenched my left arm around Adelaide as I could feel like I was just stabbed when I tried to move my right arm. "Calm down, don't move, but stay with me," Adelaide said as she was trying to bandage the gun shot entry to end the hemorrage. And Gavin. What would Gavin say? He will probably die of concern. Oh my God, if he would learn of all this fuckery, he will just leave me because he would probably die of worrying with idiots like me. I could feel tears forming around my eyes. Jesus, I can't believe I'm dying. I wince when I feel Adelaide doing her thing by my wound. The idea of feeling so much blood around me started panicking me again. No, I must keep my composure. "Drew..." I could hear Adelaide, and I looked at her, seeing her mouth moving, but I don't think any sound came out. This can't happen. Right now when I feel everything goes well... Gavin.... no, this. "Aaaaaaaaaaargh," I groan as Adelaide opened up the useless bulletproof vest to check if there is an exit wound.

"Drew, it's bad, but an ambulance is coming, stay put. Stay with me," I could hear her say, but seeing her panicking openly now, made me panic too, so I just close my eyes, I don't want to see her panic too, it's enough I'm going crazy here. I try to open my mouth to say something, but I only cough, which makes everything feel even worse. The burn is unbearable and I can feel my right arm going numb, my shoulder and chest on fire, while the rest of me god goosebumps because it started feeling chilly. No, this can't end like this. I... Gav... "Drew, open your eyes!" I could hear Adelaide yelling at me. "Calm down, don't panic," she said. I opened my eyes and I looked at her, I saw her mouth moving some more but I couldn't hear what she was saying. The room started spinning with me, but it stopped when Adelaide took my head in her hands and forced me to face her, but again, she was saying some stuff, but everything felt like moving too fast, chaotic. And then it stopped. I blacked out.
 

Natal

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Bucharest
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Ovi
Gavin III
Toccoa, 25 minutes later


It was a slow day at the clinic. Usually the Piedmont hospital was getting most of the calls and it must have been something extremely bad if our ambulances would have been called into action, so our clinic was usually tied with governmental social work and we were in the mid of doing a bunch of STD, blood sugar, tension and other such tests to homeless people who would be sheltered. I just took a girl's hand, she clearly was under 18, to check her blood sugar, when my phone rang and startled us all. My phone is always on silent and only vibrates, but I left it on the ambulance's dashboard, and when it started calling, it's vibration made the whole board go crazy, startling everyone. I ignored it at the moment. As I punctured the girl's finger and squeezed it to get a drop of blood, Jennifer, the colleague I was working with, took the phone. "It's just a random number," she said. "Eh, ignore it, they'll call back if they truly need me," I say. I check the gadget and tell the girl that the sugar levels were alright and complete a paper in her forms.

The phone vibrated again, but only once, so it was a text. I checked it before sorting out the next person.
Gav, it's Karah, please come quickly to the Piedmont. Drew's been shot, the text said. My heart just sunt as I read it. I could feel my eyes getting wet, but I blinked quickly a few times to stop them. I felt a knot forming on my throat. No, it can't be. I can't lose him. I can't without him. "J... Jen... I..." I stutter and she looks at me concerned. "Everything fine?" she asked. "No... My... partner got shot and he's at the Piedmont. I need to get there," I say stuttering, as I start feeling cold sweat forming on my forehead and on my back, sticking the t-shirt I wear to the uniform jumpsuit and to my back. "Yeah, sure, go, I'll finish here..." Jennifer says, "Gav," she said catching again my attention. "Be sure he's fine," she said giving me an optimistic smile, which to be honest I really needed.

I don't take my car, as parking at the Piedmont with anything but an ambulance was a nightmare. The hospital, which was also Toccoa's largest, was only three or four blocks away, so rather than waiting for a taxi and the traffic, I decide to go by foot, so I start sprinting towards it. The Georgian summer in unrelenting. Forty degrees are already hot as fuck, but when humidity is also a factor, everything is worse. And within all this, here I was, sprinting like I was competing at the Pam-Pelasgian games, dripping of sweat, nearly hitting a group of Tianlongese tourists. I cross the New Himyar Avenue just jaywalking, not caring of the semaphore, to the annoyances of the cars who honk as they stop trying to avoid me. At this moment, I didn't care anymore. It's not like I was a miracle worker, and I knew I can't do anything, I'm there just to be there, but I was feeling the need to be by his side more than ever. I knew what the job entails and I knew that this moment might come, but it's one thing to plan it mentally and another to face the reality and see everything you prepared for unravel as you let yourself fall victim to your instincts, panics, fears and tears.

I stop to catch my breath and for a moment I thing what a weird image it might be, seeing a paramedic, in his red overalls running like crazy, with no ambulance around, I even chuckled. I start running again. I need to be by his side. Weird how the mind just feels like it starts wondering like crazy when it's in overdrive, like it has an emergency algorithm to try not to get burned out by worries, fears and panics. But God, getting shot that you had to be sent to the hospital... The Piedmont of all places, which is an emergency hospital. Shot in the head? In the chest, in the gut? In the neck? Did the bullet touch an artery? Did he lose blood? Is he critical? Is he dying? Oh my God.... Emergency hospital! The Piedmont. He's dying... or close to it. I'll be dying without him.

I stop at the crossing at the next avenue, as I decide to not jump in front of the cars anymore. The red light feels like it's lasting forever, even if it probably lasted less than 15 seconds since I reached the crossing. I know it's still early, we've met and dated for only 3 weeks, but never in my life have I felt this. I was in those weeks the happiest I ever was in my life. I need to reach him. I start running again and I start to spring again like crazy when the green light comes.

I reach the Piedmont, and I already observe I am attracting weird faces from people working here, as they recognize the uniform but I don't recognize me, nor do they probably remember me from when I worked here three years ago. I go to the reception. The woman there ignores me at first, and is startled when she sees that I look insistently at her. "May I help you?" she asks. "Yes, hi, I am looking for Andrew Stone, he was brought here after a shooting," I say. The woman looks through her computer. "Yes, there is someone... Are you on his case? or are you visiting?" she asks. "Visiting," I quickly say. "Are you family?" she asks me again. "He's my husband!" I quickly say, so loud that even I was startled by it, and the fact that I didn't think before I said it. "Second floor, room 216. They are preparing to get him into surgery. His sister and a coworker are there too, waiting," she said.

I was surprising myself I still knew the layout of the labyrinth this huge hospital was, but I went directly to the elevators. Sister and coworker... would Miranda be there too? Would she arrive that fast from Willacoochee? In the lift, some workers gave me weird looks, and I probably looked like shit, ruffled, sweaty, and hyperventilating still, but by now I didn't care, the only thing that was in my mind was Drew. I wanted to see him again. An image of him smiling and laughing at some shitty comment I made stood central in my imagination, but from time to time, reality crept back and I could only imagine him falling down, shot, bloodied, suffering, dying. Every time that happened, I tried to revert to good memories of him. Before the elevator reached the level I needed I could again feel tears forming in my eyes, which I quickly wiped with the back of my hand.

I went out of it and nearly ran across the corridor until I saw Karah. She was the sister the woman talked about. As much a sister as I was his husband. And went to her and she immediately rises from the chair, hugs me, and starts crying. "What happened?" I ask. "It was a raid," she said, but I knew about that, Drew told me right before he left. A white woman, with blonde curly hair comes by us. "Gavin?" she asked and I nodded. "I'm Adelaide Caldwell, I'm Drew's partner. I want to say I am extremely sorry and I feel like it's my fault and..." she presented herself and greeted me but then she started apologizing, but I wasn't interested in that. I knew what being a policeman means, so as much as I was angry and panicked and annoyed, it was inhumane to accuse her of anything. "I... what happened?" I ask, still confused about what happened.

"It was a raid. Initial reports said the building was clear, but some guy was hiding in a closet and literally shot at the first person to came to open it, and Drew was the victim," Adelaide said. I looked at her and it surprised me how affected she was. Her voice was unraveling too. A doctor came out and the three of us just jump on him.

"Good news and bad news," he said. "He was shot once, the good news is that the bullet didn't touch any artery nor did it touch the spine, the bad news are that it entered on the lower side of his right shoulder, shattering the uppermost part of the humerus, went out through his armpit only to enter again, breaking one of the ribs and touching a lung. The very bad part is that there was serious blood loss, but we managed to stabilize him and now we must get him into surgery to get the bullet out and save the lung," the doctor said, talking mostly with me, probably because he saw the uniform and he knew he can explain it without countless questions and interruptions.

So now we wait. At least he's stabilized, but God, shattering the upper extremity of the humerus, that completely fucked the right arm and then the lung too. Karah sat to my right side and took my hand into hers, while Adelaide to my left, resting a hand on my shoulder. That's when, while probably relieved from the of all the worst case scenarios I created, I just had a breakdown and started crying. This time for real, not just some tiny tears forming in my eyes. Real crying, something I haven't done since my early teenage years.
 
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