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Autumn Pt. 01 Ch. 07

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Author’s Note

This continues a re-telling of my Homelands series. I’m proud of the original versions but don’t feel that they lived up to their full potential. This time around, you can expect a slower pace, stronger characterization, and a less grandiose plot. This is no longer an epic fantasy, with a huge battle between good and evil waiting at the end. If you read the original versions, you should feel as though you’re revisiting old friends, but you shouldn’t assume that you know how their story ends. If you haven’t, there is no need to do so. This re-telling is meant to stand on its own and is my preferred version of the tale.

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“Well, look who it is,” Frank said, smacking the top of Liz’s moleskin notebook.

After scowling at him for messing up her neat penmanship, his aunt looked out the window to where Dom and Brie had just rounded the corner. Meanwhile, Frank did his best to fix that last sentence. The result of his cantrip might not fool a handwriting expert, but no one else would guess that a careless nephew’s interruption had made her hand slip.

“One doesn’t often see them about town,” Liz said flatly.

“Not during the day, no.” All of the Orwins enjoyed Harveston’s nightlife from time to time, but only Liz and Frank regularly left the manor while the sun was still up. And when the others did so, it was more likely to go hiking or apple picking than clothes shopping or to enjoy a cup of coffee while taking in a lecture or a play performance.

“Did you fix that?” Liz said, looking down at her notebook. She gave Frank a weak smile and patted his hand. There was something sad about the gesture, though, and he didn’t think that was because she felt bad about scowling at him. It was like she wanted to be happier with him, feeling on some level as though he deserved that, but simply wasn’t.

Or perhaps he was projecting.

His brother waved to him from across the street. “I think they’re coming here.”

“Hmph,” Liz said as Frank waved back to his brother. She capped her pen, placed it amidst a bed of felt, and closed the pen box—all with crisp, deliberate motions.

Frank reached across the table and folded a hand atop hers. “I’m sure they won’t stay long. And I’d be happy to discuss the themes of Act Two after they leave.”

His aunt favored him with a wan smile. “I know,” she told him, sighing. Then she marked her page with an orange leaf and put everything back in her quilted handbag.

It never took much to make her sulk like that, at least not since that morning with his mother. To the best of Frank’s knowledge, Liz had no idea what had happened in that shower—the words that had been exchanged and the rules that had been broken. That didn’t seem to matter, though. Either Frank hadn’t done such a good job of acting the same way around her or something in his Libido gave it away. One way or another, she knew. For all her talk of understanding that committed, exclusive relationships weren’t really a thing in Autumn, it seemed that some part of his aunt had held out hope for exactly that. She seemed to realized that she had no right to expect such, and that kept her from expressing her feelings, but it didn’t stop the weary sighs and frowns of resignation.

Could he really blame her? Frank had told her that there were certain things he could only share with her, which was true, and that had seemed to help. His mom was known to turn a few pages, but bodice-rippers were all that interested her. Well, that, cookbooks, and women’s magazines—which didn’t seem to exist in Autumn. While her interests outside the bedroom didn’t really align with his, though, she still meant more to him than anyone else ever could or would. So much that it was actually scary. Frank remembered all too well how it felt to have stronger feelings for someone than they had in return. In some ways, that was worse than truly unrequited love because it impossible to move on when the potential was clearly there. And it was, no doubt about it. If his attempt at finally winning his mother over had failed, Frank would poured everything he had into his relationship with his aunt while trying to forget about her sister. Had that happened, Liz wouldn’t be able to fill the hole in his heart, yet Frank figured they’d have been pretty happy together all the same.

“Hey there, smallest of fucksticks,” Dom called out as he walked through the door to Talking Leaves. The place wasn’t terribly crowded, but there were a few other couples there—all of whom now had a reason to stare at Frank and snicker. As many of them did.

Casually flipping his brother off seemed like an appropriate response.

“Aunt Liz,” Dom added, sweeping his eyes over her. “You look lovely, as always.”

There was nothing lascivious about the way he’d looked at her, nor perfunctory about his praise. Given how prone the guy was to undressing women with his eyes, and how often that led to them undressing themselves a few minutes casino oyna later, it was easy to forget that Dom could actually pay a compliment without flirting—that charm was a weapon in his arsenal, if not one he frequently deployed seeing as the others were more effective.

Not so long ago, Frank would have chafed at that reminder. Ever since their mother had proclaimed her love for him, though, he found his animosity towards his brother fading. The guy could still be a jerk, but Frank no longer had any reason to be jealous of him. And without that, mild annoyance was about all his brother could elicit from him.

“Oh, you two,” their aunt said, pulling on the edge of her embroidered shawl. It was hard to tell whether she was hiding the tiny bit of cleavage not already concealed by her dress or just making sure that the centerpiece of her ensemble got noticed. The former seemed more like her, but the sudden activity in her Libido seemed to suggest the latter.

Hardly a minute ago, she’d resented the intrusion. Now, she was smiling demurely at his brother. Whoever said that flattery will get you nowhere was an idiot.

“You need to find yourself a nicer piece of arm candy,” Frank told Brie, looking her over.

It was not without some justification that he did so, either. Yes, Dom looked pretty dapper in his brown slacks, burgundy dress shirt, and a vest with silk leaves sewn into it, but their cousin looked even more stunning than usual. Ordinarily, if their cousin bothered with anything more than lingerie, she opted for a “cutesy” look; more sorority girl than fashionista. Not that afternoon, though. She was wearing calf boots, a faux suede skirt that nearly reached the ankle on one side but stopped well short of the other knee, and a tight pink sweater. Comparing her to a runway model was never much of a stretch, not with that face, but that made even more sense when she was dressed to the nines. Liz’s white maxi and sensible flats looked plain in comparison, with or without her statement shawl.

“Believe me, I’ve tried,” Brianna said, throwing Dom a quick grin.

“You’re one to talk,” Frank’s brother told him, taking in his jeans and a tee shirt.

The only reaction that got out of him, however, was an indifferent shrug. His brother could say whatever he wanted about his fashion sense, or lack thereof. It didn’t even matter that their mother more or less agreed. She still looked at him as though he was what made life worth living. How could anything else possibly matter in light of that?

“What brings you two into town?” Liz asked the new arrivals.

“She wants to expand her wardrobe,” Dom said with a jerk of his thumb towards Brie.

Raising an eyebrow at his brother, Frank said, “And you let her drag you along?”

“Oh, there’s something in it for me,” Dom replied with a wolfish grin. He wrapped an arm around their cousin’s waist and pulled so that her hip bumped into his. “I was promised a blowjob for every other outfit she tries on. Isn’t that right?”

“That was the deal,” she said. “I don’t remember saying you could tell anyone, though.”

“Does he know you don’t actually need to try anything on?” Frank asked Brianna. All their cousin needed was some inspiration; the actual garments, she’d conjure herself.

Dom rolled his eyes. Of course he did. Neither of Frank’s brothers were as inclined to spend their mornings seated by an alcove reading a book about magic from the family library, but certain things had been obvious to them even back in the simulation.

“He’s sharper than he looks,” Brie replied, giving his brother another one of those don’t-believe-a-word-I-say looks. Her eyes glimmered that time as well. Not only didn’t that bother Frank, but he realized that he was actually happy for Dom. Whether the jerk deserved a tenth of the happiness their cousin might bring him, after all the suffering he’d caused over the years, was open for debate; Frank just couldn’t hold that against him, though.

“Why don’t I go with her and let you two catch up?” Liz said, grabbing her handbag before either brother could object. “My own wardrobe could stand some sprucing.”

Giving her mother a surprised but approving look, Brie said, “Yeah, okay.” She turned to Dom. “You guys don’t get much bro time these days, do you?”

“Can’t say I miss it,” Dom told her with a half shrug.

Frank snorted into his coffee mug.

“First thing we need to do is introduce you to a color that’s not a shade of white,” their cousin said, looping an arm through their aunt’s while looking her outfit over.

“This doesn’t count?” Liz retorted with another yank of her shawl.

“I’m not talking about accessories.”

Looking over her shoulder at Frank, Liz said, “I’m having second thoughts.”

“Alright, alright, I won’t make you to expand your horizons,” Brie said, rolling her eyes.

As Dom took the seat their aunt had occupied, he and Frank shared a chuckle. No misogynistic remark passed through canlı casino his lips, either, be it faint or otherwise, allowing Frank to enjoy the moment without guilt or a temptation to reprimand his brother.

After the women left, and the brunette from the next table over fetched Dom a drink just so she’d have an excuse to introduce herself, Dom cleared his throat and said to Frank, “Actually we came into town looking for you. The clothes shopping part was improv.”

“You didn’t know I’d be with her?” Frank asked, eyebrow raised. Perhaps, though, the more important question was what his brother had to say that their aunt couldn’t hear.

“Of course I did,” Dom said derisively. “I just didn’t have a plan for how to get rid of her,” he added before trying the coffee. Judging by how wide his eyes went, he agreed that the scarecrow baristas knew their trade. “Because I’m smart like that.”

“So what you really mean is that this is the part you’re pulling out of your ass,” Frank said. He took another sip of his own coffee, which truly was amazing. “There’s something you probably should have told me earlier, and might not have until next week if it weren’t for our cousin, but it sounds better if you pretend you came into town on my account.”

With a shrug, his brother said, “That sounds like me. Does it really matter whether I meant to find you when I left the manor or not? Wouldn’t you rather hear what I have to say now and worry about whether I’m an asshole later?”

“Oh, we both know you’re an asshole. That’s not in dispute.”

Dom pointed a finger gun at him and chuckled.

The girl who’d brought him a coffee was pretending not to listen in on their conversation but wasn’t doing a very good job of it. That made Frank snort. No one ever seemed to care what he and Liz talked about, even if they did belong to one of the most prominent houses in Autumn. The moment Dom walked into the coffee shop, though, the Orwin name meant something. Of course it wasn’t about their name at all; it was how Dom carried himself. That, and how obvious it was that Frank and his aunt never discussed anything juicy. In the past, he’d have been bothered by that. No more. He did, however, find it amusing.

After erecting sound barrier, Frank asked his brother what the big secret was.

“How long has it been since we’ve caught up?” Dom said.

Frank shrugged. He wasn’t sure whether to let the dodge frustrate him. Curiosity was not something he dealt well with, but it was so rare for his brother be polite that he felt he ought to incentive more of it by playing along. “Not since we got here, really.”

Some nights there was nothing going on at the dance studio, and that often meant he and Liz would take a break to catch up on reading or just have a little alone time before she showed up at his door wearing stockings and lingerie. Frank would occasionally get hungry around the same time as other people and so some number of them would end up having dinner together. Dom had been there a couple times and they’d engaged in small talk. The closest he and his brother had come to spending time alone together, however, had been that morning with their mother. There hadn’t been a whole lot of talking then, though.

The start of a new relationship could make one forget about the other people in their lives, and that was basically what they were all experiencing. Before long, Frank suspected, he and his brothers would be heading to the bar to complain about their women over a few beers while the female contingent stayed behind to do the same with mixed drinks, a bottle of wine, and back-to-back episodes of The Gilmore Girls. Until then, though, they were a bunch of disgustingly affectionate couples, open to the occasional partner swapping or group sex, who just happened to live under the same roof. And share a lot of genetic material.

“How are things with Aunt Liz?” Dom asked, sounding as though he actually cared.

Perhaps that wasn’t so surprising. For all that Dom had caused him more pain growing up than Todd had, he’d always been the first to ask how things were going and whether there was anything he could do to help—on those rare occasions when he wasn’t the cause of Frank’s unhappiness, anyway. Todd was as content to see Frank suffer in silence as he was unlikely to cause problems in the first place. There was a lot to be said for the latter, but only one of Frank’s brothers had ever called just to chat after they’d all moved out.

Granted, Todd hadn’t had an abundance of free time when stationed overseas, and yet he had still called a few times. He hadn’t let Frank get more than a few words in during those conversations, however. Mostly, he’d just been looking to vent about his superiors.

“Can’t complain.”

“Really?” his brother said, tilting his head quizzically. “Even though Mom’s the one who’s got you singing sappy love songs when you think no one’s around to hear it?”

Frank blushed. “Nat told you about that, huh?”

“You’re kaçak casino lucky she didn’t nuke your room from orbit.”

Probably so. “I guess that’s sort of an issue,” he admitted.

“A small price to pay for finally having Mom where you want her, though, huh?”

A guilty smile spread across Frank’s lips.

“Yeeeaaah,” Dom said with a chuckle. He reached across the table to clap Frank on the shoulder. “Told you all you needed to do was get a little rough with her.”

Indignation, frustration, and confusion warred within Frank. He hated knowing that his brother thought that was the whole story; that he took credit for the change in their relationship just because he’d shared some trite advice. Yet he wasn’t sure how wrong the guy was. His diagnosis hadn’t been the same as Natalie’s, and Frank didn’t think she’d been too far off the mark, but it was hard not to notice the way their mother had responded when Frank started pulling her hair, choking her, and just generally being more forceful than in the past. Or all that “master” talk. That wasn’t a response to him making her feel special.

“You did,” was all he said in response.

His brother was smirking from ear to ear and that was somewhat infectious. “I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit jealous that morning. That was the point, though, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe a little,” Frank allowed.

A hearty laugh answered. “I probably deserve that. Though don’t forget who talked her into fucking you in the first place. Or who told you how to win her over.”

“You should offer seminars,” Frank said. “The dance studio’s free Wednesday nights.”

“I’ll look into that,” Dom said as he raised his mug to his lips.

“How are things with Brie?”

Dom shrugged. “She’s a little nerdy for my tastes, but she does her best to hide it.”

If Frank thought his brother had meant that, he’d have been tempted to punch him in the face. Dom just had to make it sound like he took their cousin for granted, though.

“I mean, no one’s gonna complain about their sex lives, right?” his brother continued. Frank wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the guy actually looked embarrassed. Between that and the dreamy look that had adorned his face for all of an instant, it was tempting to pat him on the back and stick a cigar in his mouth. “Not here, anyway.”

“Fair enough,” Frank said.

“I kinda like spending time with her even when we’re not fucking,” Dom confessed suddenly, looking a bit flustered. “And I don’t give a shit if you think that’s lame.”

His tone made it clear that he did care what Frank thought, though. Which was precisely why he held his hands up in a placating gesture and said, “Nah, man. I think that’s great.”

After deciding he wasn’t being mocked, Dom nodded. “She’s totally fucking awesome. I love that monogamy is as big a deal here as alchemy was back there, cuz you couldn’t get me to keep my hands off Nat or Mom by threatening to break both my legs and remove my testicles, but Brie’s amazing.” His voice dropped to just above a whisper. “I think I’m in love with her. We’re not supposed to say that, but I just did. What’s that tell you?”

That none of them were very good at playing by the rules?

“Just don’t start eating silver fruit,” Frank said.

“Seriously,” Dom said. “I kinda want to know what’ll happen if we ignore those `strictures’ and kinda don’t. I’m thinking that palace belongs to some badass motherfuckers.”

“Aren’t we badass motherfuckers?” Frank asked.

“You know what I mean.”

He did. He just couldn’t believe his brother was the voice of wisdom.

“Anywho,” Dom said as he floated a tray of sweets over to their table. “You wanna know where Uncle Bobby is?” Seeing the look on Frank’s face, he laughed. “Yeah, I figured you would. And that you had no idea why he hasn’t been around.”

“Well I know it’s political,” Frank said.

“He got married. To that Tuvalo girl.”

“Who the fuck are the Tuvalos?” he asked after regaining control of his jaw.

His brother drew a deep breath, exhaled, then bit into a bar of pumpkin fudge. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but fuck it. The whole point of coming to Autumn, as far as I’m concerned, was to stop living under a shroud of secrecy.”

That was surprisingly profound, at least for Dom.

“There’s eleven seats on the Guardian Council, which only the major houses stand for.”

“Pretty sure it’s `Governing’ but I’m with you so far,” Frank said.

“Eleven seats for eight houses. And only two parties, like any democracy.”

“Various European parliaments beg to differ,” Frank said, though he spared his brother a lecture on Duverger’s Law and single-member districts. Nothing in political science was worth getting pedantic over, even the parts that seemed like they might not be bullshit.

“United for Return, headed by Kaitlin Farrier,” Dom continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “and the New Home Coalition, which is Grandma’s.”

Whatever the number of parties their court had, he and his brother apparently only had one grandmother. That shouldn’t have been the part that grabbed his attention, but it was.

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