The knock on the door sounded so far away. It was kinda nice. It was like the whole world was far away.
“Labukas, Galutis…” It was Moe, singing a little sad greeting song. “Can I come in?”
She sounded like she was far away too. That was less nice. “Mm-hmm.”
The door opened.
“Aww, honey.” Her face came into view sideways, clooties dangling down from her bound-up hair. Her brows were turned up and her mouth pressed out in something that flickered between a sorry smile and frown. “Isn’t it hot in there?”
Sweat tickled down his neck and between his shoulder blades. One drop ran along his nose.
It sucked. It was hot and sweaty and whenever he moved he could smell his B.O. While this was kinda cool (’cause it was like he existed more in the world, just like how his steps crunched on gravel now when they didn’t last year) it was mostly pretty gross. But if he wasn’t under all the blankets and pillows then he’d be back out in the world where Ricky didn’t like him anymore and Ruben was incensed at him because he was hurting everyone by being sad and there was nothing he could do.
Galen wanted to cry. Except he didn’t want to cry. He was tired of crying.
And didn’t want to be dehydrated.
Moe pressed her lips again and scrunched her nose. “You want a hug?”
He’d gotten lots of hugs already, which was nice. But Moe-hugs were always just warm enough (even on stiflingly hot days) and smelled really good and felt like being completely submerged except without the whole not being able to breathe thing.
Just thinking about it made him ache.
“I like hugs…”
“Okay.” The rest of her moved around. “I’m gonna need you to come out of your sadpile, though.”
Well. He could be back in the world again if it was for Moe. But… the blankets and pillows were too heavy right now. “Can I have some help?”
“Awww… Of course, Galutis.”
Moe disappeared for a bit. The weight on him lifted. That was a little easier. He peeled off some blankets here and there.
When there was just enough of him out, Moe kneeled and hugged him. It was just warm enough and smelled really good and felt like being completely submerged except without the whole not being able to breathe thing.
Then she pulled away and pushed his hair back until it stuck to his head, offering him another sympathetic smile.
“You smell pretty ripe, Galen.” Her smile twitched at him so he knew it wasn’t really a bad thing. “Do you want to take a bath?”
It would be nice to not be all sticky and pungent anymore, but…
“Yeah, kinda.” He pressed a blanket against his face. It was hot and damp and smelled like him. “But it’s too hard.”
“Yeah… yeah. I’ve been there.” Her hand rubbed over his sweaty back. “I brought chocolate. Would you like some?”
That might be nice…
“I like chocolate…”
Moe shifted and made some box-sliding and wax paper crinkling noises. Then she settled again.
“You’re gonna need your face if you want them, honey.”
He lifted his face from the blanket and grabbed one of the chunks in Moe’s chocolate box. The chocolate was good. And the wall was nice enough to stay still while he stared at it.
There had been a lot of laughter.
Ricky was funny. Really witty. And smart, too. And he’d thought Galen was funny and smart. It had been really affirming every time one of his jokes had gotten a smile.
There was nothing wrong with him, Ricky had said, when he finally stopped avoiding Galen. He wanted to just be a friend.
But they were already friends. Best friends. Better, even. How was “just” supposed to even work through all the inside jokes and crying and stories and time… and… and… intimacy?
Well… he already knew the answer to that. Space. Which Galen could understand. Sometimes space was pleasant, or even really needed. But this space was so big and empty and hurt so much because it would never go away. How could Ricky not feel it? How could he want that if nothing was wrong?
“Ricky never liked me as much as I liked him.” The words dropped like rocks splashing carelessly into a pond. (Probably these rocks hit the pond fish in the head or something.)
And then his face was buried in Moe’s shoulder. Her arms were wound around him again. And tears were spilling out and his chest was aching.
The words had hurt. But his eyes hadn’t stung when he’d said them. He wasn’t even sure if that was something he wanted to cry about.
“Moe, I think…” His breath come in quick, hard, with his sob. “I think… your sad… is taking over… mine.”
Moe pulled away and put her hands over her mouth. “I’m so sorry, Galutis.” She slowly drew her hands in her lap and stared at them, as if her palms cupped water that she could see the answers in. “It’s really… hard… to see you so… heartbroken and… know that I can’t fix the problem.” A corner of her mouth quirked up tiredly. “Without brain-control, I mean.”
The chocolates rested between them. The sadness started to drip away little by little.
Moe should have one.
Galen picked it up and offered it to her with another rustling of wax paper.
She looked up and then laughed a little. “This was supposed to be my job, buddy.” She sighed and took a chocolate. “I had resolved to be your guide through the traditional breakup rites.” She bit the chunk in half.
Awww. Moe really liked rites. He’d ruined it for her.
Her hand rubbed slowly over his head. “It’s not that big a deal. Mostly I just like spending time with you and being all supportive and shit.”
Maybe he should get her to talk about it. It would be better than thinking about Ricky, anyway.
“Who were these rites traditional for?”
Moe leaned back and thought a moment, and shifted the chocolate to the opposite side of her mouth and spoke out of one corner. “The pre-apocalypse media’s portrayal of average United States citizens.”
Wait, so… “Does that mean it’s not actually real?”
Moe gave him a bit of a smile. “Maybe for some people it was. Maybe it still is. And it could be real. I mean, chocolate is nice, and I imagine watching a feel-good movie about ridiculous relationships or watching a sad movie might’ve been nice.” She paused. “But my memory for movies is not as good as Angie’s. I was thinking more about telling you a romantic story or singing sad songs.”
Well… maybe that could be nice. It was too hard to tell right now.
Maybe something else would sound better.
“What are… our rites for breakups?”
“Well…” Moe pressed her not-happy smile out a little. “You remember Brendan and Aida’s breakup.”
Oh. Right. Brendan got drunker than he already was and broke his piano and Aida went scouting for a week. Maybe Aida’s rite was healthier than Brendan’s, but it also kinda required not needing to eat or sleep every day.
Moe tilted her head at him as if saying ‘there you go’. Her eyelids flicked down to the chocolate in her hand and then looked up. “How’d Mom deal with the breakup with… Dewayne, right? I mean, I know she was the one who broke up with him so the emotional needs will be very different… but I must admit, I’m curious.”
Oh, Dewayne! He’d been really cool! He’d always made pancakes for breakfast everyone whenever he’d spent the night. Mom hadn’t talked about him in a while.
… How had she dealt with it?
“Um… I dunno.” Moe ate the rest of her chocolate, waiting. “She was really… tired for a while.” But that had been pretty normal then. “I mean, it was kinda different from her usual being-pregnant tired. She spent a lot of time tidying up your rooms here and cuddled us a lot.” Galen shrugged a shoulder. “I think she mostly thought about everyone who’d left.” He lowered his shoulder.
Moe’s lips twisted and her hands pressed over her chest. “Awww…” She closed her eyes, took a breath, and pushed her hands back into her lap. Then she opened them. “Remind me to give her a hug before I go.”
“Yeah. A big one.” Mom was awesome and deserved more hugs. Probably especially after talking to Ruben. Ruben’s feelings were really hard to talk about.
Who else had to deal with breakups?
Oh! “What about you and Mokosits?”
Moe furrowed her brow. “What about me and Mokosits?”
“Well, when Mokosits wouldn’t talk to you for two weeks, and then wouldn’t talk to you again for two more weeks… that’s kinda like a breakup, right?” She drew back, giving him a dubious face, but didn’t say anything. “How did you deal with that?”
Her face faded. “Well.” She lifted her brows and lowered her eyes. “I… ah… worried a lot, got angry and singed Danmairge’s floor, and then got upset and flooded Kern River slightly. Not exactly the most constructive way to express my emotions.” She turned her eyes upwards and leaned back. “And then Dovile told me some of what was going on. That helped, ‘cause then I knew and I could… let go. Let him deal with his own shit, you know? So I tried living my life as I had before Mokosits and I became friends.” Her eyes turned back to Galen. “I don’t recommend that. It sucks. I stopped after day point-five.”
Well… that made a lot of sense. It was like trying to live life after Lance died. It hurt a lot to remember what was missing all the time. But then what was he supposed to do?
“Did you try something else instead?”
Moe pressed out an uncertain corner of her mouth. “Yeah, sort of. I improvised, based on what emotions I needed to express and what I felt was missing.”
That… that sounded like maybe what he needed. “What was missing?”
“Well…” She blew out a breath and sought her memories on the wall. Then, after a long moment, she looked back. “Okay, Galen. I could talk about myself—I like talking about myself—but I doubt it’ll help you. You and Ricky have a different relationship than Mokosits and I do. And your needs and mine are also different.”
“Well…” There was the alternative… “My other option is a pre-apocalypse media portrayal.” Also… “Besides, I like learning about you.”
A smile spread over Moe. “Awwww.” Then she wrapped him in a hug again. “That’s probably the brain-control talking.”
Galen grinned. “Probably.”
“Still.” She scritched the top of his head with her fingertips. “You’re the sweetest thrall ever.”
They hugged for a while, then she pulled away, took a deep breath and settled back into her spot next to him. “Okay. Well. The most obvious and distracting thing that was missing was the sex.”
Yeah. That made sense for Moe. There were more words waiting, though.
She lifted her eyes a little. “It wasn’t that straightforward, though. There are a lot of things involved in that besides getting off. There’s the… um… physical exertion, you know? I mean… motion…” she swayed and shrugged a little as if dancing, “breathing… heartbeat… pulse… sweat…” she brought her hands over her chest as if it was part of the dance, tapping her top hand in a rhythm like a heartbeat, “it’s… all…” Moe stilled, trying to catch the word, her hands still over her chest, “an expression of aliveness.” She lowered her gaze. “And there’s the contact with someone else. Which is kind of the same thing. The aliveness, I mean. Except it’s theirs, and you get to smell it, taste it, touch it, hear it, see it and… just… be part of it.”
But Moe liked Mokosits more than just for sex. “So… what else was missing?”
“The conversations, and the laughing… the stories and joking and teasing.” Moe’s brow quirked. “Not that I don’t get that from you guys. Mokosits just has his own way of doing it.” She shrugged a shoulder. “But there’s the rub. I have you and Mom and Sofie and Carmen and Leanne, Brendan and Shawn and Dovile and Ange and Aida and Suze and…” Moe rolled her hand a little so that she didn’t have to say the rest. “So while it’s sad to lose Mokosits for a while, I could… be happy anyway. And pretty easily too.” Moe looked at him. “Keep in mind, I also knew he’d talk to me again one day. So I was probably less upset than I might’ve been otherwise.”
Ricky might not want the inside jokes anymore. Ever. And Galen didn’t know how long he didn’t want to talk. What was he supposed to do about all that? “What did you do, then? To get back what was missing, I mean.”
“Well, I danced whenever I felt like it and sang whatever came to mind. And I looked for people who would be happy to share that with me. Like you guys, and the… fellow children of Danu… and sometimes Lady Hathor.”
Wait. Lady Hathor was the best at making people happy. “Why only sometimes?”
Moe sighed. “Because I’m very sexually interested in her, but she made it clear that she’s not interested in me.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I can respect that. That’s not a problem.” Then she narrowed an eye at Galen. “But sometimes it can be… confusing to be utterly happy and satisfied on the one hand and frustrated and unsatisfied on the other. Which is hard to deal with when I’m already sexually frustrated to begin with.” She lifted her chin at Galen. “Besides, I didn’t need to feel happy for the sake of feeling happy. I mean, it’s nice. But what I needed was…” She waved her hand. “Well, I told you already.”
“Did that work, then? The dancing and singing?”
Moe nodded. “Only along with the hugs and laughing and cuddles and talking, though.” She gave him a smile. “That shouldn’t come as a surprise. You guys are all my love and my life. You solve basically every problem I have ever.”
Now it was Galen’s turn to hug her. It was long and tight and smelled good and wasn’t too hot at all. And he could feel her heartbeat and breathing, just like she’d said. And it was nice.
“Ruben got mad.” Galen said after a while. “Because I was being sad.” Moe sighed and her hand rubbed over his back again. “It’s supposed to be good to be sad sometimes, right?”
“Yeah, honey.” Her words hummed through her to him. “It is.”
But then… “How can it be good if it hurts you guys? I mean… Ruben was angry because that’s what he does when he gets hurt or scared. And you were hurt because you can’t fix the problem.”
Her hand stopped moving and her arms squeezed him further. “I think… I meant more that it’s not my problem to fix…” She didn’t talk for a bit, but kept the silence with her. “Rather… it’s not my challenge to overcome. And it’s not in my power to make it mine, not really. So I felt helpless, which… well… I don’t like feeling.” She took in a deep breath, pressing into him. “But I’m not helpless. I can give you hugs and chocolate and talk with you.” She pulled away a little. Her eyes were so… gold. “Most importantly, though, is that it’s absolutely not your fault I have those challenges, Galen. And it’s not your fault that Ruben’s mad, either.” She smiled again, soft and warm. “It’s always more important to me that you feel safe being sad or happy or angry or anything than it is for me to feel like I can help.” Then she looked to one side. “I can’t speak for Ruben. I really hope that’s true for him too, and that his anger was about something else and that he’ll be able to work it out. But…” she looked up again, the corners of her mouth quirking a little. “Either way, that’s his challenge, not yours or mine.”
And… and Galen wasn’t helpless. He could give Ruben hugs and chocolate and talk with him.
After he’d had a chance to be angry. After Galen’d had a chance to be sad.
“Okay.” He knew what to do next. “I’m gonna take a bath. And then… I think I want to eat chocolate and sing sad songs with you and Carmen and Suze and Sofie and Leanne and Sen and anyone who wants to join us.”
Moe nodded. “You want me to bring your sadpile down for you?”
Galen shook his head. “Nope. I don’t need the sadpile anymore.” He smiled. “This breakup party will be way better. And less hot and smelly.”