Qhuinn, son of Lohstrong, entered his family's home through its grand front door. The instant he stepped over the threshold, the smell of the place curled up into his nose. Lemon polish. Beeswax candles. Fresh flowers from the garden that the doggen brought in daily. Perfume - his mother's. Cologne - his father's and his brother's. Cinnamon gum - his sister's.
If the Glade company ever did an air freshener like this, it would be called something like Meadow of Old Money. Or Sunrise over a Fat Bank Account.
Or maybe the ever-popular We're Just Better Than Everyone Else.
Distant voices drifted over from the dining room, the vowels round as brilliant-cut diamonds, the consonants drawled out smooth and long as satin ribbons.
"Oh, Lillie, this is lovely, thank you," his mother said to the server. "But that's too much for me. And do not give Solange so all that. She's getting heavy."
Ah, yes, his mother's perma-diet inflicted on the next generation: Glymera females were supposed to disappear from sight when they turned sideways, each jutting collarbone, sunken cheek, and bony upper arm some kind of fucked-up badge of honor.
As if resembling like a fire poker would make you a better person.
And Scribe Virgin forefend if your daughter looked like she was healthy.
"Ah, yes, thank you, Lilith," his father said evenly. "More for me, please."
Qhuinn closed his eyes and tried to convince his body to step forward. One foot after another. It was not that tough.
His brandy-new Ed Hardy kicks middle-fingered that suggestion. Then again, in so many ways, walking into that dining room was belly-of-the-beast time.
He let his duffel fall to the floor. The couple of days at his best friend Blay's house had done him good, a break from the complete lack of air in this house. Unfortunately, the burn on reentry was so bad, the cost-benefit of leaving was nearly equal.
Okay, this was ridiculous. He couldn't keep standing here like an inanimate object.
Turning to the side wall, he leaned into the full-length antique mirror that was placed right by the door. So thoughtful. So in keeping with the aristocracy's need to look good. This way, visitors could check their hair and clothes as the butler accepted coats and hats.
The young pretrans face that stared back at him was all even features, good jawline, and a mouth that, he had to admit, looked like it could do some serious damage to na**d skin when he got older. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. Hair was Vlad the Impaler, spikes standing up straight from his head. Neck was strung with a bike chain - and not one bought at Urban Outfitters, but the link that had previously motivated his twelve-speed.
All things being equal, he looked like a thief who had broken in and was prepared to trash the place on the hunt for sterling silver, jewelry, and portable electronics.
The irony was that the Goth bullcrap wasn't actually the most offensive part of his appearance to his fam. In fact, he could have stripped down, hung a light fixture off his ass, and run around the first floor playing Jose Canseco with the art and antiques and not come close to how much the real problem pissed off his parents.
It was his eyes.
One blue. One green.
Oopsy. His bad.
The glymera didn't like defects. Not in their porcelain or their rose gardens. Not in their wallpaper or their carpets or their countertops. Not in the silk of their underwear or the wool of their blazers or the chiffon of their gowns.
And certainly not ever in their children.
Sister was okay - well, except for the "little weight problem" that didn't actually exist, and a lisp that her transition hadn't cured - oh, and the fact that she had the personality of their mother. And there was no fixing that shit. Brother, on the other hand, was the real f**king star, a physically perfect, firstborn son prepared to carry forth the family bloodline by reproducing in a very genteel, non-moaning, no-sweat situation with a female chosen for him by the family.
Hell, his sperm recipient had already been lined up. He was going to mate her as soon as he went through his transition -
"How are you feeling, my son?" his father asked with hesitation.
"Tired, sir," a deep voice answered. "But this is going to help."
A chill frog-marched up Qhuinn's spine. That didn't sound like his brother. Way too much bass. Far too masculine. Too...
Holy shit, the guy had gone through his transition.
Now Qhuinn's Ed Hardys got with the program, taking him forward until he could see into the dining room. Father was in his seat at the head of the table. Check. Mother was in her seat at the foot of the table opposite the kitchen's flap door. Check. Sister was facing out of the room, all but licking the gold rim off her plate from hunger. Check.
The male whose back was to Qhuinn was not part of the SOP.
Luchas was twice the size he'd been when Qhuinn had been approached by a doggen and told to get his things and go to Blay's.
Well, that explained the vacay. He'd assumed his father had finally relented and given in to the request Qhuinn had filed weeks before. But nope, the guy had just wanted Qhuinn out of the house because the change had come to the gene pool's golden child.
Had his brother laid the chick? Who had they used for blood -
His father, never the demonstrative type, reached out a hand and gave Luchas an awkward pat on the forearm. "We're so proud of you. You look...perfect."
"You do," Qhuinn's mother piped up. "Just perfect. Doesn't your brother look perfect, Solange?"
"Yes, he does. Perfect."
"And I have something for you," Lohstrong said.
The male reached into the inside pocket of his sport coat and took out a black velvet box the size of a baseball.
Qhuinn's mother started to tear up and dabbed under her eyes.
"This is for you, my precious son."
The box was slid across the white damask tablecloth, and his brother's now-big hands shook as he took the thing and popped the lid.
Qhuinn caught the flash of gold all the way out in the foyer.
As everyone at the table went silent, his brother stared at the signet ring, clearly overwhelmed, as their mother kept up with the dab-dab, and even their father grew misty. And his sister sneaked a roll from the bread basket.
"Thank you, sir," Luchas said as he put the heavy gold ring on his forefinger.
"It fits, does it not?" Lohstrong asked.
"Yes, sir. Perfectly."
"We wear the same size, then."
Of course they did.
At that moment, their father glanced away, like he was hoping the movement of his eyeballs would take care of the sheen of tears that had come over his vision.
He caught Qhuinn lurking outside the dining room.
There was a brief flash of recognition. Not the hi-how're-ya kind, or the oh-good-my-other-son's-home. More like when you were walking through the grass and noticed a pile of dog shit too late to stop your foot from landing in it.
The male went back to staring at his family, locking Qhuinn out.
Clearly, the last thing Lohstrong wanted was such a historic moment to be ruined - and that was probably why he didn't do the hand signals that warded off the evil eye. Usually everyone in the household performed the ritual when they saw Qhuinn. Not tonight. Daddio didn't want the others to know.
Qhuinn went over to his duffel. Slinging the weight onto his shoulder, he took the front stairs to his room. Usually his mother preferred him to use the servants' set, but that would mean he'd have to cut through all the love in there.
His room was as far away from the others' as you could get, all the way over to the right. He'd often wondered why they didn't take the leap completely and put him in with the doggen - but then the staff would probably quit.
Closing himself in, he dumped his duds on the bare floor and sat on his bed. Staring at his only piece of luggage, he figured he had better do that laundry soon, as there was a wet bathing suit in there.
The maids refused to touch his clothes - like the evil in him lingered in the fibers of his jeans and his T-shirts. The upside was, he was never welcome at formal events, so his wardrobe was just wash-'n'-wear, baby -
He discovered he was crying when he looked down at his Ed Hardys and realized that there were a couple of drops of water right in the middle of the laces.
Qhuinn was never getting a ring.
Ah, hell...this hurt.
He was scrubbing his face with his palms when his phone rang. Taking the thing out of his biker jacket, he had to blink a couple of times to focus.
He hit send to accept the call, but he didn't answer.
"I just heard," Blay said across the connection. "How are you doing?"
Qhuinn opened his mouth to reply, his brain coughing up all kinds of responses: "Peachy f**king jim-dandy." "At least I'm not 'fat' like my sister." "No, I don't know if my brother got laid."
Instead, he said, "They got me out of the house. They didn't want me to curse the transition. Guess it worked, because the guy looks like he came through it okay."
Blay swore softly.
"Oh, and he got his ring just now. My father gave him...his ring."
The signet ring with the family crest on it, the symbol that all males of good bloodlines wore to attest to the value of their lineage.
"I watched Luchas put it on his finger," Qhuinn said, feeling as if he were taking a sharp knife and drawing it up the insides of his arms. "Fit perfectly. Looked great. You know, though...like, how could it not - "
He began weeping at that point.
Just f**king lost it.
The awful truth was that under his counterculture fuck-you, he wanted his family to love him. As prissy as his sister was, as scholar-geek as his brother was, as reserved as his parents were, he saw the love among the four of them. He felt the love among them. It was the tie that bound those individuals together, the invisible string from one heart to the another, the commitment of caring about everything from the mundane shit to any true, mortal drama. And the only thing more powerful than that connection...was what it was like to get shut out from it.
Every f**king day of your life.
Blay's voice cut in through the heaving. "I'm here for you. And I'm so damned sorry....I'm here for you....Just don't do anything stupid, okay? Let me come over - "
Leave it to Blay to know that he was thinking about things that involved ropes and showerheads.
In fact, his free hand had already gone down to the makeshift belt he'd fashioned out of a nice, strong weave of nylon - because his parents didn't give him much money for clothes, and the proper one he'd owned had broken years ago.
Pulling the length free, he glanced across to the closed door of his bath. All he needed to do was tie the thing to the fixture in his shower - God knew those water pipes had been run in the good old days, when things were strong enough to hold some weight. He even had a chair he could stand up on and then kick out from underneath him.
"I gotta go - "
"Qhuinn? Don't you hang up on me - don't you dare hang up on me - "
"Listen, man, I gotta go - "
"I'm coming over right now." Lot of flapping in the background, like Blay was getting his clothes on. "Qhuinn! Do not hang up the phone - Qhuinn...!"