Stuck With You - Chapter 11

Dray's hand dropped into Adair's and they used this to turn his arm over. "No. The five of us are all a part of this now. Don't you see?"

Chapter 11
Winter 460, a week later

The door burst open and slammed against the wall with enough force to rock the wagon. Adair's heart and hand jumped, causing his pencil to leave a dark line across his sketchbook. He erased and erased, but the deep gouge remained on the paper after the graphite had gone. If only the correction paint he'd tried to make had worked the way he'd wanted it to! Instead of returning a page or canvas to new, it only turned it invisible, which was even worse than permanent indentations on the page. At least he could draw over a line. He still had no idea where the invisible sketchbook had ended up.

It turned out that the line didn't matter anyway. Blythe had crossed the room to give Sol a talking down- or possibly a talking up since Sol towered over everyone except his brother- for being reckless about opening the door. Adair sighed and closed his book. Blythe had been the perfect stationary model while she was inventorying seeds, but going into tirade-mode meant she wouldn't return to this until she cooled down. If past experiences were anything to go by, he had about twenty minutes before he'd be able to sketch her again.

Unless he could speed things up by taking away the source of her annoyance? He waved at Sol to get his attention, then winked to tell him that he had a plan. It was hit or miss if Sol would catch on to what a wink meant, but it was worth a try. "Hey, Blade? Sol's just excited because he found my paint. Let him go this time, okay?"

This was a stab in the dark, or at least a stab in a mildly dimmed room. Adair's yellow paint had gone missing from his bag this morning and he was pretty sure it was because his best friend had borrowed it. If any warm color went missing, it was usually in one of Sol's pockets. Sol always intended to return things, so Adair could never be too upset about this. Unfortunately Sol's intentions only lasted a few minutes before he forgot about them.

"I do? Oh! I do have it!" Sol poked through a dozen pockets of his vest before he found the jar and held it up triumphantly. "See, it's just like Addy said. I'm giving him back his paint. Just here for that. Yep, just returning my buddy's paint. That's definitely why I'm here. Giving him back his paint."

Adair covered his eyes with his hand. At least Sol understood the winking thing now, but his acting really needed work. Etri laughed softly from his spot on the floor next to Adair and leaned over to whisper, "Subtlety will be forever lost on Solei. Watch."

Blythe muttered an unamused grumble and began checking the wall for damage while Sol stepped past her and headed towards where Etri and Adair sat. Etri nodded once at Adair, then waved his arm in a wide gesture as he said to Sol, "Make the house for yourself."

A big, toothy grin meant Sol misunderstood his brother's scrambled idiom. "You want me to build a house? You've never let me build a house before! I can do that! I just need some nails and my favorite hammer and some wood and a couple of grapefruits and oh, some paint! Addy, do you have more-"

To Adair's relief over the state of his diminishing paint collection, Blythe closed the door and stopped Sol mid-sentence by talking over him. "I think Etch is inviting you to make yourself at home."

"Oh! Okay, sure!" Sol missed the sarcasm in her voice just as he'd missed it in Etri's and he hoisted himself into Dray's loft bed. There he flopped onto his back with a comfortable sigh.

Now that Sol was safely in a spot that couldn't possibly make any more distracting noises, Adair opened his sketchbook. With Blythe pacing the wagon and muttering to herself, he would just have to switch to drawing Etri. A tornado could touch down next to the wagon and Etri still wouldn't put that book down. If there was one thing Etri was good at, it was being stationary. And if Adair managed to finish this sketch, then Etri would become stationary stationary.

Adair had barely touched the pencil to the paper when Blythe came over and nudged him with her knee, somehow managing to block all of the light coming through the window behind her at the same time his pencil scratched another errant mark. "Do you hear that?"

Adair tucked the pencil behind his ear and gave up for the second time. He should have Sol make him a little ball of light to hover over his head like Sol always had bobbing in the air while he worked on his inventions. Then it wouldn't matter where Blythe stood or how close he was to the window. He didn't want to ask Sol about the sketchbook line problem, though, because Sol would likely try building a box around him to keep people out. Granted that would solve the problem, but not in the way anyone wanted, which was how most of Sol's ideas played out, now that he thought about it. "Hear what?"

"The hissing, yes?" Etri asked without looking up from his book. From the way he squinted, he could probably use the extra light, too. All the more reason not to put Adair inside a box.

Adair had assumed someone was making tea. Focusing on the sound, though, it wasn't the familiar kettle and no one had been near the stove.

Blythe walked back and forth across the room as she tried to pinpoint the sound that seemed to be coming from somewhere to the right. "Sol, you didn't bring a snake in here, did you?"

"No, that is not... I know that sound." Etri dropped the book into Adair's lap and jumped to his feet.

The act of being careless about a book worried Adair more than Blythe's pacing. He was pretty sure it wasn't a snake and he couldn't have been right about the tornado. He wasn't prone to premonitions. Truth be told, he wasn't very good at postmonitions either because he never seemed to notice things until long after everyone else did.

Etri took a few steps forward and raised his arms as if grabbing something from the air. "It is-"

A thunderous boom shook the wagon and a storm of feathers and Sol filled the air. While the feathers drifted down like lightly falling snow, Sol went soaring from the bunk and landed heavily with an "oof" on Adair's makeshift bed.

Blythe knelt next to him and touched his shoulder. "You okay?"

Sol's voice was muffled by the blanket, but Adair was pretty sure he said, "Note to self: build Addy a futon because that coulda been a bouncier landing."

Adair wasn't sure what a futon was, but the last thing he and his fear of heights wanted was something bouncy for a bed. Knowing Sol he'd get overly enthusiastic about it and make it half-trampoline. Adair shuddered at the thought. He'd stick with his mattress on the floor, thank you.

Sol pushed himself up only to be gently pushed back down so Blythe could check him over. "That was fun! Can I do that again? Please please please, Blade?"

"No way. What is it with people setting bedding on fire around here?"

Sol made a face as she helped him sit up. His clothes were a little singed and his goggles sat askew on his forehead, but this wasn't anything out of the ordinary. "I didn't do that. I mean, I guess I did do that because I was up there, but I didn't do that do that. I'm pretty sure my bed's never thrown me out before. Is Dray's haunted?"

Blythe ignored that question and glanced over at Adair. He held his hands up, pencil in one hand and Etri's book in the other. "I was sitting right here and you know I don't go up there."

Etri caught their attention with a slight clearing of his throat and nodded towards the doorway. "No, this was the disaster of someone else."

Dray shot a glare in his direction and came inside to put one of their red sequined prop bags in the cabinet under what was once their bed. "Technically it wasn't on fire this time."

Blythe snorted an unbelieving laugh. "Of course it wasn't on fire. You completely blew it up!"

"I did no such thing. Heat-boy over there shouldn't have been in my bed." Dray tossed their hair over their shoulder and picked up the book that had fallen out of the bed along with Sol. Miraculously it was still in one piece. Adair was more confused as to why Sol was in one piece, though. Was the guy made of rubber?

"What kind of idiot keeps explosives in their mattress?" Blythe harangue Dray as she followed them to the door. "If Etch hadn't been here to stop it, that would have taken out the wall and burned the place down."

Dray made an ambiguous "hmph" sound and walked out. Blythe slammed the door behind them, exactly the thing she had told Sol a thousand times not to do, and threw her back against it. "I have the most moronic sibling on the planet."

Dray's explosive tendencies aside, there was something here that no one else seemed concerned about. Fire couldn't hurt Sol, but still... "Isn't anyone worried that Sol could of been hurt?"

"Like he doesn't regularly blow things up himself. He's fine." When Sol stood up, Blythe turned her head to the side. "His clothes, not so much. Anyone got a spare pair of pants for him?"

Sol turned in a circle to try to see his own behind. "I thought it felt drafty. Hey, I think I invented new pants! Perfect for warm weather because they've got built-in veneration!"

Blythe tied Adair's blanket around Sol's waist with an expert knot. This was far from the first time one of them had to throw together makeshift legwear for him. "Ventilation, sweetie. And I don't think those pants would fly."

It came as a pleasant surprise when Etri sat close to Adair and wrapped his arm around his waist. Etri had become far more physically affectionate ever since they'd both learned that they had each other's soul-marks and Adair didn't think he'd ever get tired of this.

Too busy reveling in this closeness, Adair missed the perfect opening Blythe had left. Etri beat him to the punch. "I believe the pants flew well on him a moment ago."

Blythe groaned. "You've been around Addy too long. You're picking up his case of chronic puns."

Two things Adair loved above all else-- excepting food-- were making jokes and snuggling, so it was with extreme reluctance that he set his sketchbook and Etri's book aside and stood up. The hurt expression on Etri's face made Adair reach down and run his fingers through his friend's hair. "I'll be right back. I want to talk to Dray for a sec."

Etri squeezed his hand for a long moment before letting go of it with a nod. To be honest, Adair wasn't sure how much longer "friend" would be the relevant term for Etri, but that wasn't the friend he was worried about right now.

Blythe stopped him with a hand on his shoulder before he could reach the door. He wasn't a hundred percent sure her touches were platonic, either, but she was harder to read with this than Etri. Adair fully expected her to ask why he wanted to talk to Dray and was gearing up to defend his plan when she said in a low voice, "Tell Dray I'm sorry. I know they've learned better than to set fires indoors and this was an accident. It's just... one of us could have been hurt, you know? Even if Sol's immune, the rest of us aren't."

Except they were. As a healer Blythe's body healed any injury almost immediately. Fire and heat couldn't hurt Etri any more than it could Sol and he was half intangible half the time anyway. Adair was the only one in the wagon at the time who could have been seriously hurt.

She was worried about him. Adair hugged her tightly to show her that he understood. Blythe wasn't the type to talk about mushy feelings, but when she gave him a quick hug back, he knew he'd guessed right. "It's okay. I'll tell Dray."

He found Dray sitting on the little porch of the wagon with their legs tucked up under their skirt, ignoring Adair's cat as she batted at their long hair. Their book was opened but equally ignored as it dangled loosely from their hands. They didn't look up when Adair closed the door and walked the few steps over. "Can I sit with you?"

Dray only shrugged. Adair took this to mean okay, and as he tried to get comfortable on the cold floor, Dray shifted around so that they were facing him. Their makeup was smudged under their right eye and Adair wanted to wipe this away for them. He knew how much Dray hated looking less than perfect and how meticulous they were about their clothes and makeup. Dray was iffy about touch, though, and Adair still hadn't worked up the courage to come close enough to do this. Dray was so skittish sometimes and the last thing Adair wanted to do was scare them off.

The stare was unnerving and too piercing, and Adair got the feeling that Dray had learned this from Blythe years ago, unless it was the other way around. After a long moment where Adair had started to fidget, Dray finally said something. "Well?"

Adair blinked. He'd expected a snide comment as Dray's first words to him after the feather explosion and then Blythe's explosion. "Well what?"

"Aren't you going to complain at me, too? That's what Blythe sent you out here for, isn't it?"

Adair glanced at the door. He didn't think anyone could hear a conversation through it, so Dray must not have heard her. On the positive side, that meant no one inside could hear what was said out here, which would probably make Dray feel more comfortable. "No. I just wanted to talk to you. Blade did tell me to tell you that she's sorry for yelling. She was just afraid you could of hurt one of us."

Dray clutched at their chest and gasped. "Blythe? Apologize for something? Did I stumble into a parallel world and wasn't aware?"

"No, same world. Unless parallel-Sol also has that habit of losing his pants all the time."

"I would imagine a Sol in any reality would find excuses not to wear them." Dray picked at their nails before adding, "Look, I'm sorry about the fireworks. That was a stupid place to store them even if Sol wasn't going to steal my bed."

"I was thinking about getting a lock for one of the cabinets to keep it Sol-and-cat-free. You could put things like fireworks in there if you want. That wasn't why I wanted to talk to you, though."

Dray raised an eyebrow and tilted their head to the side. When the cat grabbed at their hair again, Dray scooped her up and dropped her into Adair's lap. She wanted no part of this, probably because Adair had no fun things to pounce on, and sauntered away. "Really. Then what was the reason? You four don't usually make a habit out of casual chats with me."

That was exactly the thing Adair wanted to talk about and the reason he'd followed Dray out. After some mental waffling about how best to bring this up, he decided to get right to the point. "You're not going to leave us, right? It's just... sometimes when you walk out the door it's like you're going to keep walking. I don't want you to leave."

Dray's eyebrow shot so high that Adair thought the gold piercing might get stuck in their hair. They opened their mouth to say something, only to immediately close it again. Finally in a small voice they asked, "You want me to stay?"

"Yeah. I mean, you've got soul-marks to the others, but even without that I don't want you to go. I like having you with us."

Dray was staring at their nails again. Adair had no idea how they managed to keep them so polished and sharp when they were constantly dancing with performance props. That staff alone would have broken Adair's finger in under five minutes, let alone a nail. Without looking up, Dray said, "No one's ever said that to me before."

Adair nodded his head towards the door. "I bet if you asked any of them, they'd agree."

Dray snorted a laugh that was so very much like Blythe's. If ever Adair had doubted how much time the two of them had spent together, this was the proof.

"I mean it! Blade cares about you a lot even if she's not really all that good at showing affection. Sol looks at you like you're the most amazing thing he's ever seen and he keeps asking us if we think you'll let him share an act with you. Etch... okay, he acts like he doesn't like you, but I've seen the way his mouth quirks into a smile when you're bickering and he thinks you're not looking. Darned if I know why, but he likes arguing with you."

Dray's own lips twitched at that comment. "And you?"

"Well, I definitely don't want to argue with you or anyone else."

Dray rolled their eyes. "You know that isn't what I meant."

Adair grinned and draped his arm across Dray's shoulders in a sort of small hug. This was the best way he could think of for answering that question and, considering the direction of the conversation, he hoped Dray wouldn't mind.

Dray went stiff for a second or two, then rested their head under Adair's chin. Their body began to shake and Adair feared Dray was crying-- was the hug really that bad?-- until he realized they were chuckling. This was almost as unnerving because laughing wasn't something Dray did any more often than crying. "And to think that I was jealous of you."

Adair gaped. What reason would anyone ever have to be jealous of a disaster like him? The only reason he'd ended up here with these carnies was because he'd been too dumb to keep his art from being stolen from under his nose. "What? Me? Why?"

Dray pulled away but wrapped their hand around Adair's forearm. "Because you've known those dorky twins only as long as I have and Blythe much less, yet they all treat you like you're one of them. I assumed since you were already in with them, that I couldn't be, so there was no point in trying."

Now Adair was even more confused. Dray's words didn't match the fact that they were still gently touching his arm. Was Dray upset with him or not?

Dray continued to talk, either not noticing that Adair had no idea what was going on or choosing to ignore that fact. "I wanted to pretend these didn't matter, that I could go somewhere else. I left once and thought that I could do so again."

Adair just stared. Somehow his plan to cheer Dray up had turned into ... whatever this confession was. And he thought talking to Sol was baffling. "You can't?"

Dray's hand dropped into Adair's and they used this to turn his arm over. "No. The five of us are all a part of this now. Don't you see?"

A shifting rainbow covered Adair's forearm where just minutes ago there had been a long black smudge: crimson flowed into brilliant yellow into forest green into chartreuse into deep indigo and back into crimson.

Adair looked up into Dray's face, always wreathed by painted red whirls that matched their red lipstick and coat. He did see it now. The yellow was for Sol and his love of light and gold glitter, and his tendency to use up all of Adair's warm color paints. Green for Blythe and her beloved garden that overflowed the wagon and grew on the patio at Adair's back even in winter. Blue was his own favorite, the color of the sky on a bright summer day and the color that made his heart happy. Indigo, the color of Etri's celestial tattoos and as dark as the ink and the night sky that he loved so much.

This was why his soul-marks were so unlike any he'd seen before meeting his friends. This was why the five of them all had their marks turn into perfect rainbows. The five of them were each other's soulmates and that was why it felt so right to have them all here with him.

He and Dray were the last piece. Adair squeezed Dray's hand and a sense of warm belonging filled his heart when Dray squeezed it back. "So you're not going to leave us?"

Dray scrunched up their nose and stuck out their tongue, making Adair wonder if it meant Dray felt like they belonged, too. Acting silly had to mean that Dray felt comfortable, right? "Of course not. You asked for it and you're stuck with me now, just like you're stuck with Blythe's constant nagging and Sol's constant lack of clothes and Etri's constant brooding."

Adair wouldn't have it any other way. "Just do me a favor and don't tell Sol that. He'll think he has to glue us all together."

- The End -

If you would like to read more short stories in the "Unexpected Inspiration" series, 
you can find them here.



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