On a sleepy mid-morning, she and I walked through an autumn-kissed city, the crisp wind blowing softly, the leaves crunching under our feet. A thick fog filled the air; frost dusted the tips of the grass and the corners of the windows. Wrapped in an off-white sweater, the standard purple jacket, and a crimson scarf, I nonetheless felt chilled by the weather. Two days earlier a cold snap had rushed over the city, freezing garden after garden before their fruits could be reaped. In the next dorm over, a group of students, all around twelve or fourteen years, commiserated over their lost flowers, rued their failure to save the plants. The queen’s gardens, I expected, would remain in the height of summer.

Perhaps there was something I missed. Perhaps I was too young, too ignorant, too shallow to understand what went on in my sisters’ heads. Perhaps there were things I had not yet the right to know. After all, the two of them had something I could never have: shared blood. And maybe that made all the difference.

Sparks twitched in the air, prancing against the dim backdrop. I glanced at them, as if expecting an explanation, but the moment I turned my head the pinpricks and orbs sprang together from the sand and zoomed up to the sky. One after another they fled the ground. One after another, they landed in the night sky to burst into light, expelling a shower of stars. The world flashed back and forth between light and dark, day and night. Amazed, I watched the fireworks, listened to their thuds, cracks, and eventual hisses as they dissipated into stardust. I knelt in front of it all and wondered all sorts of things, thoughts that spun around inside my skull fast as the sparks flew from the ground. I wanted this to happen every night, I wanted to stay up and watch the stars burst until dawn, I wanted to sleep through the day, I wanted to never have to go to school, I wanted the light to last, I wanted Anthy to stop being angry at me for whatever I had done—I wanted everything to be the way it ought to be.

She went on and on. I was not sure what she was saying, but I knew it could not be good, because why else would her face be contorted that way, why else would she be raising her voice so high, why else would her shoulders be shaking as if she were on the verge of crying? I understood so little and it was so terrifying, realizing that someone was actually angry at me. I had done something wrong. All I could do was run away: digging my paws into the mud, I sprinted away and left her there to stare at a disappearing me.

That’s fine. Strap your baggage over your shoulders, keep that heavy stuff on your back until it at long last breaks through the cheap fabric and comes tumbling out, tumbling into the dirt. Stroll on to the coffee shop that reeks of brown seeds, and find yourself disappointed.

Throughout her life, she would avoid every social situation not out of anxiety, but lack of interest. To her, they were extraneous and frivolous; they were a sickly sweet glaze on a fat piece of dough that no one would have wanted in the first place. People, in her mind, were silly. And often ugly.

The bookstore itself was situated on the far north end of the citl, an area renowned for artisan breads, used clothing boutiques, and grotesquely high rent. 

Maurice used to think his mind a bastion of youthful energy and wit, but college dimmed his confidence as it surrounded him with equally energetic and witty classmates. And most, actually, were much better than him. There were millions of Maurices out there, coming in dozens of species and colors, all fated to work low-wage jobs with little hope of moving up. 

The record shop was musty and warm, a bit like incense but more like a campfire that had just flickered out. Turned out the lights were flickering, too, so that fit the feeling a lot. On and off, on and off, on and off. I leaned over the boxes and flipped through the vinyl, each cover flashing by, one after another, one after another. Power poppy band with a pretty picture of Shenkuu at night. Some fire faerie sitting in a box, a little piano beside her. Pteris flying off in an empty sky. Most of them were too obscure for me, I guess. Not much organization either, as Theo complained. He still went to the shop, though, once a month to nab some used vinyl. Inspiration, he called them. All this stuff about letting the music flow through, from the tips of his Bori claws to the hairs of fur on his twitching tail, a bright blue like the dress I was wearing. I rolled my eyes and let the records fall forward. 

124 Morrison Street, apartment 9B, quarter to six in the morning on a cold, cold day. There and then I lay in bed, arms folded, eyes staring at the cracks in the ceiling.