Part Two of our queer epic switchblade-and-sorcery novel, Those Who Create and Destroy, is here, with a new chapter free to read every Monday and Friday! ✨
In today’s new chapter, “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” Rory begins to buckle under the strain of caring for Max, and Fabiana nudges him to start burning bridges.
Download the full Part One free for e-reader, for those who need to catch up!
“This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race”
story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb
Content Warning: MENTION OF RAPE, GRAPHIC STIMULANT USE, HOMOPHOBIC/MISOGYNISTIC LANGUAGE, GORE
Rory was starting to fucking hate cartoons. He’d used to be a fan of them, especially the Cartoon Network lineup. But lately something about the nonstop deluge of color and noise made him feel like he was at the bottom of a lake struggling upward, flailing his limbs with every ounce of his strength, never getting any closer to the light.
Max was still in the bathroom, so he changed the channel. Three’s Company was playing again on TV Land. He switched away from that, too, and finally landed on the ten o’ clock news. Tossed down the remote, flopped back on Max’s bed, tucked his arms beneath his head. Stared blankly at the ceiling.
“John, I’m standing outside the Cook County Jail, where former Northwestern University football player Bryce Archer is scheduled to be released on good behavior Wednesday, after serving six months of jail time. Archer, along with then-teammates Ethan Kirkpatrick and Jordan Knight, was convicted of raping Archer’s then-girlfriend, a freshman Northwestern student, at a campus fraternity party in September of 2007.”
“What are you watching?” Max frowned as she emerged from the bathroom.
“News,” said Rory.
“Why?” He felt the mattress stir as she settled next to him.
Because it’s real.
“I don’t know. You can turn it off.”
The reporter’s droning was replaced by the manic voice-acting and wacky sound effects of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
Max scooted toward Rory, rolled on her side to face him. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Rory sighed, turned his head to look at her. She had on one of Jules’s old shirts and nothing else. The dark rings around her eyes were seeming deeper these days. Her hair was stringy, unwashed.
Her hand slid over his naked torso; lingered in the hollow of his hip where he was ticklish. He twitched.
“You didn’t come earlier.” Her palm passed over his shaft.
“That’s okay.” Rory drummed up what he hoped was a smile. “It happens.”
He shifted as she started to massage him. The soft flesh stirred, rallied under her touch.
He closed his eyes—frowned as cartoon sound effects started bouncing around in his skull.
Opened his eyes. “Can we turn off the TV?”
Max hesitated. “I’m…not great with quiet lately.”
Rory chewed his lip, exhaled, nodded. “That’s…fine.”
Max sat up on her haunches. Looked at him.
“What?” said Rory.
“You’re sick of me,” Max murmured.
“No. Jesus. Everything’s just kind of a bummer lately, all right? It’s not your fault.” He touched her hand.
She was quiet a moment. Then, “I bet you think sometimes how great it would be if you could walk out of here and forget I ever existed.”
Rory sat up. “Max. What the fuck?”
“How you’d actually have a life outside this room if it wasn’t for me.”
“I never said anything like that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
Rory ground his teeth. “Fine. You wanna get real? The only problem I have with you is how you won’t quit saying stuff like that—about how I’m not into you anymore, and how I don’t want you, and how I’m probably gonna leave you someday. I fucking hate it, okay? It makes me feel like nothing I do for you even matters.”
“It doesn’t.” Max’s lips curved in a hollow smile. “No matter what you put into it, a void is empty. It knows—it feels—it is—nothing.”