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 Let's Be Sweethearts Together, February 14, 2167 | Reese Marshall
Reese Marshall
 Posted: Feb 12 2018, 11:56 PM
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39 YEARS
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532 Posts
There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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Reese took his time to respond. He reached out to take the cup, hesitated like a starving stray being offered food, looked at Bruce -- making eye contact for a passing moment -- and then took the mug. He slouched, holding the cup with both hands as if it was the most important thing in his life, which was perhaps strange because he didn't take a sip.

His eyes had wandered back to the ground. He listened to the girls chattering in the next room; he listened to the whirring of the refrigerator; he listened to the soft hum of cars outside and the gentle sound of Bruce's breathing.

"Okay, six." he finally answered and then he shrugged. "We'll do whatever you want." There was no enthusiasm in his voice, nothing that reached out to say that his friend was still there inside this pissed off figure that had taken him over and buried him deeply inside.

He lifted the cup to his lips and then his eyes moved back up to Bruce's face.

"Do you--" he started, and then hesitated. He remembered the rules. He wasn't supposed to project. He couldn't help it, but he wouldn't say it out loud and disappoint him further. His eyes closed and he let out a breath. "Nevermind. Sorry." He offered -- though Bruce wouldn't know perhaps that it was about breaking one of the rules he was supposed to not ignore.

He wasn't cut out for this -- for friends. He still couldn't even vaguely fathom what Bruce saw in him, but he saw it. That was what was supposed to be important. "I--uhm--" he started again, eyes closing after he tripped over his words again. A fist clenched and unclenched with frustration at his side, leaving the mug safely in one hand.

@Bruce Vaughan
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 12:19 AM
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45 YEARS
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731 Posts
Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
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Nearly five months ago, a street urchin had managed to break into Shangri-La by transforming herself into a cat and hiding under the sofa in the staff lounge. Upon returning to her human form, she had accused Bruce of running a cult and using Shangri-La as a front, utterly convinced that the rumors reflected reality and that he was a villain of the highest order. They hadn’t seen one another before or since. Still it had taken less to coax her from that impression, to ease her into some manner of basic behavior rather than acting as a skittish animal than Reese embodied in this moment. His friend appeared to be made of glass right now, the wrong touch would shatter him into a thousand pieces.

“Six,” Bruce confirmed with a nod, unable to clap his hands as he did when reaching an agreement. The mug in his hand still contained a few dregs of coffee that he didn’t want to splash across Reese or the kitchen floor, to scald flesh or splatter against the refrigerator, destroying his copy of the school calendar and the pictures his girls had drawn for him over the years (the ones he was allowed to keep rather than relinquish to their parents for preservation).

The soulless acquiescence, coupled with Reese’s listlessness, did little to encourage Bruce. However, they couldn’t push this back with the hope that Reese would recover himself by sleeping this disappointment off and waking fresh in the morning. Bruce had four and a half days to put together a Scene, to stitch it from whole cloth when he knew so little about his friend’s preferences. Constructing one for Owen and Penelope? He could do that in his sleep. But for Reese? What did he know beyond the other man needing a degree of emotional intimacy and familiarity to try? He liked leather (based on his reaction both to Bruce’s costume and the mannequin at the Red Room) and was familiar with bondage jewelry and had recognized the items in Bruce’s collection but had drawn back his fingers as though the crop had stung him full of venom.

No. Losing that day would cause them both to suffer and Bruce couldn’t allow that. Besides, they needed to get the other man a new phone.

Teasing had brought on this sudden change, which caused Bruce to hold back his first two responses. He settled for a combination of levity and utter innocence, by replying, “If you said that to me twenty years ago, we’d wind up at a dance hall. But the diner should be fine.”

Watching Reese stumble over words brought the frown to his lips, and sent him forward a step. Not intended to corner the other man but to help him if he needed something. “Reese?” He queried softly.

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 01:00 AM
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39 YEARS
Citizen
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532 Posts
There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
Thyme is Offline



Reese's reactions were all off. He didn't nod back the way he usually did. He didn't reach for his phone (which was broken on the front step, but he should have tugged it out by reflex) to put in the information. His eyes looked lost and his movements had all muted except for the opening and closing of his fist.

He hadn't taken a drink from his mug in longer than he usually went when he held alcohol in his hands. He didn't sooth himself with his go beverage; he didn't rub his own arm; he didn't moved inappropriate close to the other man to sooth himself. He stood there.

The joked came and Reese didn't respond. He didn't smile or laugh. He didn't reach out to show his approval and acceptance of the other man by hitting his chest or back. He didn't shove him the way that he had the night before or knock into him the way he had on Christmas Eve. He didn't even so much as snort a laugh, roll his eyes, or swear at the idea that Bruce had said 'dance hall' which either implied that he had once upon a time taken dates to formal affairs or that he had just called a nightclub a dance hall like a pretentious son of a bitch.

He stood there. Fist clenching and relaxing over and over again.

The first response was garnered from his own name. He didn't react to this any more normally than anything else. His eyes looked around, but he didn't seem to see anything, really. His eyes didn't seem able to really focus on Bruce and so they found the floor again where it was easier to stare and seem like everything was okay.

"Yeah?" he asked, trying to sound normal, but it fell incredibly short of normal. His wall was firmly in place, but he looked like the man Bruce had seen standing by himself on his lunch break in September--cut off.

@Bruce Vaughan
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 01:23 AM
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45 YEARS
Citizen
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731 Posts
Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
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Bruce stared into the other man’s face as a discomfiting realization settled over him.

This man wasn’t his friend.

He wore his friend’s face but had drained the life from his eyes. He couldn’t even mimic his friend’s behaviors, not his self-soothing gestures, not his facial expressions, not his thirst for alcohol. For better or for worse, Reese Marshall didn’t turn down liquor that had been thrust into his hands. But this man? He didn’t seem to remember that full cups could be drained by putting them to his lips.

No, this wasn’t his friend who laughed at his jokes and nudged him gently, expressing toothless disapproval with the invocation of Christ’s name. The one who shared secrets and took his calls, who met him for lunch or dinner at least once a week. The one who loved cheeseburgers and worried about Bruce catching cold. The one who complimented his fashion sense and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. The one who’d fallen asleep against his body last night, watching a movie and drinking gin from the same bottle that filled the mug now forgotten. The one who only yesterday had agreed to come to his birthday party.

This wasn’t one of the men who shared a body with his Reese, one of the other facets of his personality that poked through from time to time, or who enveloped him like a suit of armor to protect him from disappointment. This wasn’t playful drunk Reese who told horrifying anecdotes, unaware of their implications, while rubbing their shoulders together. This wasn’t the frightened father on the verge of a panic attack, vision swimming as he struggled to anchor himself to the present rather than slip through time into the past or a terrifying future. This wasn’t the vulnerable ball of fluff who collapsed into Bruce’s arms in tears, seeking safety in the mental manipulator’s scent and his soothing baritone. This wasn’t the spitfire who took offense to everything and spat caustic replies for fear of rejection, quick to take matters into his own hands before they became too entwined (too late). This wasn’t even the stranger with whom he was barely acquainted, the one with interest burning in his blue eyes and uncertainty on his lips.

No, he recognized this man. This was the man he’d dragged to the diner in September, whose gaze settled everywhere but Bruce’s face and who turned down the opportunity to touch the guitar on the wall, because that demonstrated too much interest in the world around him. Barely responsive to anything said to him, conversation like pulling teeth.

The one who had disappeared once he and Reese grew closer.

This man, this shell, wasn’t his friend. And he didn’t belong in Bruce’s house.

“You should finish your breakfast,” he suggested, a euphemism for downing the rest of his gin. His tone left no room for argument, because that was how he had always interacted with these walls. “I have to do Mabel’s hair, and I can do Wendy’s too, if you want. They can match.”

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 01:55 AM
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Typic
39 YEARS
Citizen
Typic
532 Posts
There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
Thyme is Offline



For what it was worth, if Bruce had explained all of these facets to Reese another day and another time, he probably would have laughed in his face and said he spent far too much time thinking about Reese for his own good. The discussion would not doubt involve an inappropriate touching and far too elongated eye contact for two men who were nothing more than friends.

And then probably for the next few days, he'd think about Bruce thinking about him. He'd try to figure out what it meant, if it meant anything.

But it wasn't that day.

Instead, the shell who had taken over Reese's body listened to the instructions. He raised the mug to his lips and knocked back the gin in one fell swoop, setting the mug down and putting his hands into his pockets. Even this movement that he often did looked different in some way. He didn't look relaxed; instead, he looked like he was trying to replicate the movement that Bruce's friend did naturally.

He cleared his throat as Bruce offered to do Wendy's hair. "No. It's okay." He said flatly. It was even the same practiced phrases that had appeared the first few times they had hung out together. The words that sounded so disinterested it was hard to actively want to pursue a conversation. The words that rejected people before they could even come up with an idea of starting something up.

"Can I use your phone to let my parents know we're on our way." It held no inflection; only detachment from reality that was going on around them. The reality that made him break down. This was the man that Wendy knew best -- the one who could hold his walls up through any onslaught; the one that when he broke, didn't walk back out of the bathroom ten minutes later, but broke things with an intent to leave this Earth. This man was no one's friend -- because he was no one.

"Then we'll be out of your hair."

@Bruce Vaughan
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 02:10 AM
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Evolute
45 YEARS
Citizen
Tier 3
731 Posts
Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
Bright is Offline


Bruce knew from his encounters with this shell that if he pressed, he could get his way. However, he had no vested interest in doing Wendy’s hair to match Mabel’s, and time wasn’t on his side for a standoff. As such, he nodded once to accept that Reese had declined and let that matter slip away.

Despite the walls and the flat affect, Bruce wouldn’t let their Valentine’s Day, now at least eight hours overdue, end on a sour note. He certainly wouldn’t let Reese get away with describing his presence, or Wendy’s, that way. Before answering the question, he said firmly, “You aren’t any trouble, you know.”

Not phrased as a question, because he doubted that this hollow, apathetic Reese construct would muse on that to any satisfying degree. And he didn’t want a standoff over a subjective point of view to which only Bruce had access. Whether he found Reese and Wendy’s presence off-putting, burdensome, or exhausting. No, no, and not until this moment.

Then he gestured at the phone on the far counter, indicating that Reese could do as he needed with it. To ensure that he didn’t interlope on the conversation, he announced, “I’ll make sure Wendy’s bag is packed while you give them a call.”

Then he crossed the room with his long stride, opened the door long enough to slip through, and then closed it again to give the other man privacy. Returning to the dining room, he surveyed the table where the girls were chattering about the concerns that only crossed the minds of young children. He pulled on a smile, smothering even the hint of something unpleasant on his mind. “Mabel, let’s do your hair. Wendy, your father needs you to pack your bag. Do you need help? And Avery…we should wash your face.”

She was covered in syrup and sausage fragments. Although more had gone in her mouth than was smeared around her lips. Not too bad for a toddler.

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 03:18 AM
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39 YEARS
Citizen
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532 Posts
There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
Thyme is Offline



Reese acknowledged that Bruce didn't think they were problematic to have around without registering it. "Alright." He said in an attempt to get Bruce off of his back. That seemed to often be his goal -- as little communication and interaction as possible. Everyone was safer that way.

Wendy glanced over at Bruce when he asked her to pack up her stuff and went hopping off to get things tucked into her suit case to get ready to go. So far as she was concerned, things had gone spectacularly well. Her father hadn't run away; Mr. Vaughan fell solidly in her cool-adults category; and she'd made a new friend. (Avery was fine too, but their age gap kept her from being able to mark the girl as anything more than Mabel's little sister.)

Reese dialed the phone and leaned against the wall as he listened to the line ring. His eyes closed then opened when he heard from the other end.

"Hello? Who's this?"

"It's me."

"Reese? Are you okay? Did you get a new number?"

"No."

"Are you okay? Where are you? How's Wendy?"

"Fine."

"Did you have a good time with her? Your father kept checking his phone all night. You know how he worries."

"We're just about to come your way."

"Your father and I love you, Reese. We'll see you soon."

Reese hung up the phone, tucked his hands into his pockets again and glanced around the kitchen, and then moved out into the rest of the living area to find Bruce and his daughter. Wendy's suit case was mostly packed and he leaned down to help her put the last things into it. Then he went to find Bruce.

"Thank you for letting us come over." he said it without the affection or weight that he'd said his thanks the night before. In fact, he literally held out his hand to shake as if they were nothing more than acquaintances.

@Bruce Vaughan
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 01:00 PM
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45 YEARS
Citizen
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731 Posts
Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
Bright is Offline


Running Shangri-La for so many years had instilled a strong propensity for multi-tasking. While Wendy and Mabel disappeared into the guest room to fetch their belongings and their hair supplies respectively, Bruce hefted Avery and brought her to the bathroom. He did her face, brushed her teeth, and rid her hands of even the remnants of sticky syrup so she wouldn’t leave a thin sheen on everything she touched. When the other girls reemerged, he brought Mabel into the dining room where she could settle in a chair while he brushed her hair, a simpler set of braids then the day before.

He eyed the hand stuck towards him suspiciously, coupled with the statement that managed to miscategorize every aspect of their relationship or the previous day’s events in fewer than ten words. It would be an impressive feat if it weren’t so insulting.

The idea that he had tolerated Wendy, and, more to the point, Reese rather than suggest that they sleep over. Rather than give Reese his key to send him along early, or fetch Wendy’s bag and pack his friend a second one, serve him gin, tuck him in when he fell asleep, and then made him breakfast the next morning. As though this was something he did for strangers or clients, instead of for a close friend.

Bruce certainly wouldn’t let that go unanswered.

While deliberately staring into the other man’s face, he reached for his hand, and sandwiched it between both of his. Not to shake it but to draw it closer to his body for several long seconds. Not a power play, not a traditional one intended to jerk the arm from his socket, but a sign.

“I didn’t let you; I invited you,” he corrected. “And I was glad to do it.”

Finally, Bruce let the other man’s hand slip from his grip, his own moved to rest on the top of Mabel’s head. “I’ll see you tonight, Reese. Get through the day as best you can.”

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 02:51 PM
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39 YEARS
Citizen
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532 Posts
There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
Thyme is Offline



In his current mind set, Bruce's words meant nothing. He didn't understand the difference between let and invite because one implied that someone cared. He neither could nor wanted to deal with that information. Perhaps, he'd look back hours later and put together what the other man meant, but at this moment, standing next to his daughter who had tried to take his hand only for it to be moved out of her reach and tucked in his pocket, he did not comprehend and his words were the same ones that implied exactly that mentality. "Okay." He acknowledged.

The prolonged touch didn't do what it should have. It didn't pull him out of this husk that had wrapped around him. It didn't even seem to make him uncomfortable. Bruce had perhaps seen it once or twice when they'd first gone out -- when he was working on breaking down this shell. A woman could have pressed their hips together, and Reese would have given no response -- appropriate or otherwise.

Wendy, for her part, curtsied without being instructed to, trained from her youngest days to be a lady in every sense of the word. "I had a wonderful time." she said as her father turned away from the other man and started towards the door. The child lowered her voice and repeated what must have been something she'd heard her grandmother say. "My father enjoyed himself as well; he just has a bit of trouble showing it. You understand."

Then she spun around to catch up with Reese, who had picked up both of their bags. Her hands fell to her sides as she looked up at her father and said "I had a of fun" to get his attention. Dead blue eyes turned to look at her. The forced smile made its way back to his face. "Good."

And he opened the door and walked through it, pausing just long enough to pick up his broken phone and tuck it into his pocket so that he didn't leave a mess at Bruce's home.

@Bruce Vaughan | I figure we can either wrap it with this or you can toss another post up. <3
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Feb 13 2018, 03:13 PM
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45 YEARS
Citizen
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731 Posts
Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
Bright is Offline


Mabel had not been raised as a lady, although she was polite and kind. She smiled and waved to her new friend as Wendy and her father left. Yet she took after her Uncle Bruce - observant and too concerned about the world around her – and the sudden change worried her.

She thrived on consistency, like many young children did. She sorted people and events into categories based on past experiences so she could predict their behavior the next time. Reese had been a bit odd, because his behavior had bounced back and forth from competitive in games to smiling and joking to getting overly emotional and rushing off to the bathroom in the middle of dinner. But this? To Mabel, it looked like he’d become a robot. When the door shut and left them alone in the dining room, Avery in the guest room and the house otherwise abandoned, she craned her neck around and up to look at Bruce.

“What happened to Reese?” She asked with the childlike innocence of someone who didn’t realize the significance of her question.

“It’s hard being a grownup sometimes.” Bruce squeezed her shoulder affectionately, his own gaze settled on the clear shot from dining room to front door. Waiting for a knock and an apology or the announcement that they’d forgotten something. Neither happened.

“Do you get like that?” She asked curiously. Not distracted but eager for insight into her favorite Uncle’s life beyond what she saw during visits.

“No.” He forced a smile and let his hand slide from her shoulder to the back of the chair. “But I’m lucky. I have it a lot easier than most people.”

Never speaking of the rumors. Never speaking of the carding incidents and how he experienced more than his “fair” share as an Evolute living in Haven. Never speaking of prejudices. Never speaking of the secrets he carried on behalf of his clients. The girls were too young for those concerns.

“Let’s go get Avery. We have to get you two back home to your parents, and then I need to get to work. It’s a very busy day for me today.”

Mabel hopped out of the chair and grabbed his hand, tugging him behind her towards the guest room. “Is the day after Valentine’s Day really that busy for a spa?”

His smile widened, more genuinely now, and a glimmer entered his eyes. “The day after Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days there is.”

“Really? Why?” She asked, confused by that. Wouldn’t Valentine’s Day make more sense to be busy? Like Christmas vs. the day after Christmas?

Little did she know that this was also one of his busiest days, because his holidays so often fell shortly after the better known, culturally sanctioned ones.

“You’ll see when you’re older,” he promised.

((OOC: We have a wrap. Twelve pages. Go team.))
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