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By all accounts, it started off as a very normal Friday night.
Leithan and his friends took their usual shortcut, across the familiar narrow streets and alleys that would lead them to the only queer bar in town. Shay and Leithan chatting together, Rami trailing after them quietly – a typical well-worn pattern.
“Your boyfriend coming tonight?” Shay asked.
Leithan shrugged. “Probably.”
“Are you gonna take Yoxai drugs again?” Shay asked with a sidelong glance.
“Klar,” Leithan corrected.
Shay scoffed, “Klar means drugs in Yoxai, so.”
Leithan waved it off like it was an invalid argument. “Yeah, but there’s a nuance, Shay.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say.”
The moon picked that moment to peer through wispy clouds, casting reddish light over Shay’s hair and revealing the fresh crimson dye that brightened her tight black curls.
“Your hair came out nice tonight,” Leithan said honestly.
She smiled, glancing up at him. “Yours too.”
Leithan captured a strand of his own straight hair between two fingers, lifting it to examine its dark violet color.
“Well, if your boyfriend makes it,” Shay said, “could you ask him for more red dye? I’m running low, and that Yoxai stuff is the best.”
Walking behind them, Rami made his first contribution to the conversation, through an exaggerated sigh, “You guys and your precious fucking hair.”
Shooting him an over-the-shoulder look, Shay replied, “You’re just jealous.”
Leithan smiled, hands in his pockets.
Their path led them to a homeless man they knew, seated lonely on the side of Morningsky Street. He always wore the same hat, dark green with three sad tattered feathers.
Leithan watched as Rami paused to drop one rister in the man’s waiting hand. The old man flashed a smile under his hat’s brim as he pocketed the coin. Leithan thought uneasily that no one should be so poor that their only option was begging for coins in the street.
Which, in turn, made him think of tomorrow’s election . . . and the excuse for a human being Leithan had been coerced into voting for. He sighed. He’d promised himself not to think about the election tonight.
Shaking it off as best he could, Leithan followed his friends as they slipped inside the Hive. A nondescript brick building like all the other workshops, except the interior had been converted into a club. Ironwork chandeliers hung from wooden beams, providing a cozy glow across tables and dance floor, and a massive gramophone blasted jazzy music from one corner.
First stop was the bar, obviously.
Leithan leaned onto the polished wood surface, still immaculate this early in the night. A panoply of wooden casks rose in pyramids to either side of the long bar counter. Up on the wall, the shelves held an extensive collection; whatever your poison of choice, the Hive could deliver.
“Hey!” Leithan smiled at the handsome bartender.
“West Siders,” he greeted back. “Are you guys playing tonight?”
Leithan shook his head; they were short one friend. “No guitarist.”
“All right.” The bartender shrugged. “What can I get you?”
Leithan and Rami exchanged a sheepish glance. Yeah, their band wasn’t really good enough that anyone would be disappointed if they didn’t perform.
They got their usual bitter ale for Leithan and Rami, and a litchi cocktail for Shay.
Drinks in hands, they spotted Leithan’s boyfriend Nix and his two friends, seated at a table between stage and terrace door.
Leithan found it strangely challenging to muster a smile as he went to sit with them. Even as Nix briefly draped his arm around his shoulders in greeting, and as Leithan glanced into familiar hazel eyes, unwanted thoughts came nagging and vying for dominance. About last night.
Yeah, exactly, last night. It’s over now.
This time felt different, though. He just couldn’t relax. Maybe because of the election. Fuck, but there was just too much going on, sometimes.
Nix frowned. “You okay?” he asked in Yoxai.
“I’m fine,” Leithan said, switching from one language to the other like second nature.
Just shake it off. Try to enjoy tonight.
Shay, seated next to him, perked up at the exchange, but didn’t comment.
Leithan had been teaching her some Yoxai lately. Mostly because Shay wanted to converse with Nix’s hot friend Koral, currently seated across the table.
Beside Shay, Rami looked up from his beer to gaze at the stage, where two sets of tam-tams sat unused.
“Are you guys performing later?” Leithan asked in Yoxai, addressing Nix’s friends.
Because Koral and Steba were totally the star musicians of the Hive. Everyone loved when those two showed off their skills, making the crowd dance to well-honed rhythms. Way better than gramophone jazz.
Full disclosure, way better than Leithan’s band too.
“Maybe,” Koral said through a smile.
And Leithan could just feel Shay and Rami swooning. Koral was this green-eyed, dark-haired beauty who never failed to seduce them both. Yoxai girls were typically shorter and curvier than their own Rengleam standard, and Koral was no exception.
Nix leaned in then, speaking into Leithan’s ear so only he could hear, “Did you let it happen again? With him?”