Kevin stirred. His leg twitched, and he rolled about happily in his sleep as the morning sun fell through the window and warmed the couch he slept on. It was one of those things he liked about Apricot Bay: sunlight. Lots of sunlight.
It'd been a busy three days since he stepped off the trains with Seb and Penny by his side. Apricot Bay was such a strange new place for all of them. The people here were so friendly and inviting, the trees smelled like fresh apricots, and after the long winter in The City, Kevin was glad he didn't have to worry about either of them going missing again. Oh, and the diner down by the train station with the tuna bar? That was pretty cool too.
Kevin could only dream about where they'd all go next. For now, though, he slept peacefully, tongue hanging out of his mouth, as he basked in the spring sun like he'd always wanted to.
Giulio stomped around the dark confines of his studio, eyeing his latest painting like he eyed a cannoli. High-minded auteurs at his last exhibition noted the presence of a green figure throughout much of his work, and this was no exception. It was challenging, challenging like a flight of stairs, challenging like sculpting with fat seal flippers—not to mention highly conceptual. Giulio doubted anyone would get it.
Of course, there were those who suggested the green figure was no one else but Riley, but that would be silly. It was such a simpleton, literal reading that Giulio would scoff at it if you brought it up. Not to mention, Giulio is not gay.
Even if it did somehow end up being about Riley (which it isn't because he's not gay), they wouldn't understand the deeper subtext of it. Fools, always relying on the basic, mawkish frivolities of the context of the work and never anything below the surface. What amateurs, what narrow-minded, unwashed philistines.
Of course, all this standing got Giulio rather winded, or maybe that was just from thinking about Riley.
No one would get it anyway.
Penny teetered through the house, carrying an overfilled watering can between her stubby arms and occasionally splashing some of the overfill across the floor. Always a troublemaker, the move to Apricot Bay afforded Penny the ability to get a little more...creative with her endeavors.
A few days after the move, her seed packets came in, and not long after, she found herself a target: the mailman. No one's quite sure how Arthur got Penny's ire or if she even really had a problem with him. All that was clear was how much she loved to torture him.
At first, it was simple stuff. Sharp thorns peeking out from the gaps in the brick path. Thick vines to grab his ankles and trip him up. Stinking iris growing up the mailbox post, its noxious fumes encouraged by God-knows-what she put in the fertilizer. Dragon's skull for effect.
And every single time, she'd watch from the projection window, evil smile morphing into a full-on cheshire grin as Arthur slunk timidly to the mailbox, wise to her previous antics, but not the one in wait. Last time, it was seed-spitting sunflowers that got him. She had to outdo it. She had to.
She finally made it out onto the patio; panting, she dropped the can at her feet. Her new plant, a lobster's claw, was growing in rather nicely. Kneeling down, she smiled and whispered to it.
"And how's my new favorite plant doing today~?"
The claw snapped at her, nectar dripping out of it like spittle. She giggled.
With some effort, Madeleine dragged the ladder from one end of the study to the other. The tiny fennec girl certainly needed the extra height; the shelves stacked all the way to the ceiling, and there were books to read up there.
She began her ascent, stubby limbs reaching for one rung after another as she stuck her nose between the shelves. All sorts of papers and discarded implements littered each one. On the top shelf lie the books. They all read about ancient history, some of her homeland and some of other civilizations. She soon found what she was looking for, a thick, leathery book on Mayan embalming practices, and she tugged it out and moved to climb back down.
On her way down, Madeleine felt her chest tighten. Something set it off again. Her lungs seized up. She couldn't breathe.
The hacking and gasping started up with enough force to almost knock her clean off the ladder. She dropped the book, sending it to the floor with a hefty crash, and scrambled off the ladder and into an adjacent bedroom. From a desk drawer, a frantic Madeleine retrieved her inhaler, squeezing down on the canister and taking huge drags of the medicine inside. One breath became two, then three, then four...
The attack subsided, but Madeleine could only groan when it was over. She had hoped coming to Apricot Bay would've stopped those.
Swipe, swipe. Dip, swipe. Fidget, tilt. Swish, sway.
To Riley, everything always moved. The sway of the paper lanterns hanging on long strings overhead, or the fidgety swishing of his tail as he looked over a tricky detail in the middle of a painting: all in motion. Even the long emerald vines and feathery ferns that covered the windows and walls of his studio moved, just slower. If someone disagreed, Riley would just insist they were moving at the right pace for them.
Life certainly never stopped moving outside the gallery. Whenever he got stuck on a painting, Riley would peek out of the second story pane glass at the rustling leaves and the gently flowing, ankle-deep stream that wrapped around the gallery and drained out to Apricot Lake. He'd watch Arthur run up and down the footpath, slipping mail into the town's mailboxes and flipping the flags of each one as he went.
It was something pathologic in him. Something about idleness itched him horribly. Not time spent in leisure, time spent in wait. Not even Giulio's dramatic flair and insistence on the challenge of real art drove Riley as bonkers as the thought of another day spent paralyzed. Maddening, like a straitjacket. He spent so much of his life before Apricot Bay sedated; he could never return to it.
And so, with a sigh and a fiddle of his beret, Riley got to his feet and slid down the hall towards the long stairs of the gallery foyer.
It had been the first time he moved in hours.
Catherine reclined in the warm dusk air of the sunporch of her old home. It was her parents, but you can only get so old before the urge to explore again bites like a tick. She didn't mind. Comfy house.
She got to thinking about Seb again.
It was already rare to see new folks move in, but another armadillo? In this part of the country? She had to see it for herself. She heard he came from The City. City folk normally hate it here. He was rather on edge the one time they did get to talking, but Catherine never let a first impression faze her.
Even as grumpy as he got, even as unfriendly as he could be—she knew she had to befriend him. Nothing she could explain out loud, just a little nagging feeling there was something more to him, or something bugging him, maybe. Maybe it had something to do with that alien dog friend of his—not that she could explain that feeling either.
For now, though, she laid back and watched the sky melt to tar like it always did this time of night. Comfy house.
Colton's back was to the wall again.
The grind of underground subway cars coming to a halt had roused him from his sleep again. Another night spent freezing in a brick alleyway, kept company only by bags of trash. His little unfed stomach stung sharply. It was nothing he wasn't used to, at least.
The guilt was keeping him up again. Didn't seem to matter that three months had passed, or that even what he did grew duller and duller in the back of his mind. All he could remember was the gun barrel and those words.
"Let go of her. Now."
He curled up and rolled over, trying to sleep it off, but it was useless. All he wanted was to be happy with her, and he ruined it again.
Colton sat up and hugged his knees. He gazed into the yellow streetlights at the end of the alleyway and wondered if it was where he belonged. He wished the answer was no.
...Maybe the answer could be no.
In its warmth, Colton wondered what he'd be if he wasn't selfish, if he didn't hurt people and ruin everything. He wanted to write it off, but he couldn't. This couldn't be where he belonged.
In the chill of the night, Colton slunk down The City's streets towards the old storage facility Penny used to work at. It was in worse shape than he was, yet someone was inside: a lanky, bespectacled orange cat a fair bit taller than Penny. Colton knew she was gone, but—maybe he'd know where she went.
Maybe he could make up for everything.
Sebastian's mind buzzed like the AC unit hanging in the window. A perpetual scowl cut across his face as he stared at his three bright blue screens, blue as the moon hanging over the tide. It was the only time he could get any work done at all; by day, Kevin and Penny were too busy playing with bang snaps in the driveway or terrorizing people in town for Sebastian to focus any.
This Apricot Bay thing was weird to him. He was glad Kevin and Penny were where they belonged, yeah, but—this wasn't for him. Couldn't have been. Having to make small talk checking out at the store. Having to know everyone's name. That goddamn mailman. The strange sense that everyone else is just that little bit insane, under all the peace and ivy.
And the tree.
Even City Square, in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of people and cameras in every shop window, didn't give Sebastian the feeling of being watched quite like that tree did. Wasn't even the encroaching feeling of eternal surveillance, it was like he was being targeted. Scanned. By a tree.
"...It's fucking cold in here," he muttered under his breath.
Sebastian rolled his chair across the room, and with the press of a button, stopped the AC unit cold.
Thoughts. He didn't like those. Still work to get done.