The afternoon’s events hadn’t put anyone in the mood for a party, exactly, but a moment to chill out and not think about how shitty human beings—praeternatural or not—were was welcome all the same. After John had filled Lowell in on what happened with Jankowski, John’s friend Macy had invited them over, apparently because she thought it was long past time she met John’s “inspiration.” Lowell had been to John’s place before, this old, rundown house that served as desperate grad student rooms and, as in Macy’s case, a few small but self-sufficient apartments. But his visits had always been short, mostly just overnight or for a quick stop in, nothing where there was actually time to hang out.
Largely because John’s room was literally that: a room. He shared a bath with three other people in the same hall. Lowell’s place was just more comfortable for both of them.
Macy’s couch was comfy enough, though; Lowell practically sank into it, and John flopped down after him, all arms and legs. His knee rested against Lowell’s, and he reached up to grab a beer off Macy when she brought them. “Thanks!”
She smiled back at him and handed a bottle to Lowell. “And one for my favorite Man of Mystery’s Mystery Man.”
Lowell accepted the beer. “Thank you. And, uh, thanks for having us.”
“Oooh, polite too. You’re right, John, he’s a gentleman.” Macy took a sip on her own beer and fell into an armchair that looked like it had belonged to someone’s grandfather…in the ’70s. “How was the day? Find any evildoers?”
“Nah, just murder.” John frowned.
She wrinkled up her nose. “Can you talk about it?”
John was sucking on his beer happily, so Lowell guessed that one was for him. “Not really. Client confidentiality.” He realized his manners a beat later and added a “Sorry. There’s not much to tell yet anyway.”
Macy was smiling in a peculiar way. Not quite a smirk. Like it wanted to be a smirk. “I get it. Probably don’t wanna know anyhow, right?”
“You really don’t,” John said. “What happened with that undergrad who kept interrupting you in class to tell you why Buddhism was way better than, like, literally everything?”
“Well, not saying he’s wrong…” Macy swallowed some beer. “But I finally just had the professor say something, since clearly he had zero respect for his GA. Whether it’s because I’m a woman or not. I don’t wanna speculate.”
“Ass-wipe,” John decided, and Lowell made a sound of agreement.
Macy turned her honey-gold gaze on Lowell, and he suddenly felt as if he was being weighed and measured. But she said, “And now we’re on to Kierkegaard—which, whatever.”
“I don’t mind Kierkegaard,” John said. His beer was already halfway gone.
“That’s because you don’t have to teach him.” She snorted and shifted her gaze to John again. “Do you still have that book?”
“Right, shit!” John stood suddenly, then set his beer on a side table cluttered with books and old CD cases. The place was clean, smelled of incense and Macy, but there was a lot of…stuff. “Be right back. Lemme go grab that for you.”
He started for the door with no more warning. Lowell watched him go, then took a sip of his beer. He looked back over at Macy, who was watching him with that steady, appraising stare again, and gave her a nod. She kept staring. He wasn’t sure if she was trying to make this awkward and uncomfortable, or if it was just a coincidence. Either way, he wasn’t going to acknowledge it.
She tossed her ponytail of thick dreads over her shoulder and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. “John said you weren’t real chatty. Said getting anything out of you took a million sweet words. Or a crowbar.” Then, for the first time, her smile lacked that smirky edge and actually touched her eyes.
Lowell smiled. Yeah, that sounded like something John would say. “Crowbar usually works best.”
“He did put greater emphasis on that option.” She cocked her head slightly. “He thinks you’re special. He thinks you think he is too, which I like. But, you know. Friends just want to see for themselves. Especially when it’s someone like John, who has zero sense of self-preservation. You get me.”
Lowell did. Normally, this sort of you break him, I break you
kind of thing got his hackles up. He didn’t handle threats well, even good-intentioned ones. But Macy cared about John. She looked out for him, and he couldn’t fault her for that. “Zero is maybe giving him too much credit. But, yeah, I do think he’s special.”
A small laugh escaped Macy. “And with how romantic he is, the way he talks about you is like—” She stopped and made a face. “I’m sure you read his books. So I admit, I wanted to see for myself this real guy who topped it all.”
Lowell could have blushed thinking of how exactly John had described him. He’d read enough of John’s writing to have a pretty good idea of what something like that would be like. “He thinks better of me than I deserve.”
“He thinks better of most people than they deserve.” She snorted. “But not like he thinks of you. So, cards on the table so shit can stop being weird: you guys moved fast. And I’m superhappy for him. But I know he’s been burned—pun totally not intended, oh Jesus, sorry.” She rolled her eyes at herself before going on. “The demisexual thing. I mean, asshole people who don’t know what it is ignore it; asshole people who do
know what it is tend to think…”
“That it’s some kind of special-snowflake syndrome,” Lowell finished for her. “Yeah, that’s bullshit. Like you said—assholes. I’m an asshole, but I’m not that kind of asshole.” If she wanted details about their sex life in regard to John’s demisexuality, though, she’d have to ask John. It wasn’t his place to share that with his boyfriend’s best friend.
This time when she laughed, it was outright delighted. “I’m getting that. And from the stuff I do
know… Not to be rude, but another reaction would be the ‘it’s okay because he’s the fuckable
kind of ace’ thing and…ew.” But this wasn’t an accusation; it felt more like a conversation now.
Albeit a fucking weird one.
“Yeah,” Lowell agreed. “More bullshit.” He still stood by what he’d told John the first time they’d really talked about his demisexuality: if John never wanted to have sex, that was fine. “Don’t think that
makes me anything special, though. It’s just basic fucking decency.”
“Preach.” She leaned over to hold out her beer bottle for a clink over the coffee table.
Lowell tapped the bottom of his bottle against Macy’s and then took a swig, finishing off the last of the beer in it. “So, is this the part where you tell me not to hurt him?”
“If I thought I needed to, yeah.” She smiled and held out a hand for his empty. “Another?”
“Please.” Lowell handed her the bottle and, after a pause, said, “I’m glad he has you to look out for him.”
“Same.” She moved to the kitchenette and clanked around in the fridge for a moment, then popped up looking thoughtful. “Partly because I think we might be the first, from the way he talks.”
Which was fucking wrong. They shouldn’t be the first. They should be just another in a long line of people. “Yeah. I noticed that too.”
“Yeah.” She popped the caps off three bottles as she talked. “I’m glad I don’t have to do the whole threatening thing, though, seriously. I mean, what am I gonna do? Astrally project into your bedroom and scare you to death? That’s just creepy.”
Lowell huffed a laugh. “Not very effective, either.”
“Not when you deal with actual killers on a daily basis, no.” Macy brought all three beers with her into the living room. “So you were really BSPD? You don’t have a cop vibe.”
Lowell stood to help her. “Yeah, I was,” he said as he took two of the bottles. After her thank you, he went on, “There are a few halfway decent cops out there. Or there were. BSPD is even more of a mess now than it was back then.”
“I’m saddened but not surprised to hear it.” She settled back into her armchair, this time pulling her legs up beneath her lotus-style. “Even good cops have a thing
about them, though. A cop thing. John said you didn’t seem to fit in there, but he’s, uh, biased. And I mean against cops, not just for you.”
“John? Really? I had no idea,” Lowell said completely straight-faced.
Her sudden explosion of laughter sounded like Bah-ha!
“Well, yet another reason I just had to see you for myself.” This time it was almost playful rather than the interrogation feel from before.
Lowell held out his hands as if to say Well, here I am
Now her appraising gaze was clearly put on and overblown. “Hmm. I see what he meant about the eyes.”
At that moment, the door swung open and John appeared, holding an ominously large book. “Found it!”
Lowell chuckled. “And how many book mountains did you have to move?”
“Three.” John scrubbed at his short hair with his free hand and closed the door behind him. “Found my cache of Georgette Heyer mysteries, though!”
“Can I borrow The Black Moth
?” Macy asked.
“What?” John cocked an eyebrow and held out her book. “You need more time to grill him?”
“You little shit,” Macy said fondly as she took it.
John flopped next to Lowell again and recovered his old beer, giggling all the while. “Wasn’t too hard on you, was she?”
Lowell smiled to himself as John settled against him. “Honestly, I’m surprised I’m still alive.”
“I was incredibly intimidating,” Macy said.
“Gonna be okay?” John reached over to pat Lowell’s belly.
“Only time will tell.”
Katey Hawthorne & Jenna Rose