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Additional Family Fee

2020

“Woooow,”Emily says between chews of orange-flavored bubblegum, “this place hasn’t changed at all.”

It really hadn’t. A-village was exactly like how she remembered it. Dull, dingy, and small, with the same faces and the same weather and the same goings on. There were a few more new shops, but they were chain stores that could be found in any other city, like A-village had finally decided to step into the present.

She squirms in her seat, her gaze roaming from the passenger side window to the front and then finally to the radio which she immediately decides to fuss with, something to take her mind off her secondhand embarrassment.

In the driver’s seat next to her, Roger doesn’t take his eyes off the road, but takes a hand off the wheel to guide hers away from the dash, and then lace their fingers together.

The contact is enough to…not relax really. Emily hates this place, always has, but it’s enough to remind her that Roger’s here. That Roger’s not leaving just because of this.

“I think it’s nice,” he says. “Reminds me of B-Town when I was growing up.”

“Really? I can’t imagine a city like that being so—”

“Emily.”

“…Quaint.”

Roger sighs. “I don’t know if I’d like growing up in a loud place like that, and I don’t think you would either.”

Emily slowly turns to look at him.

“Roger. I love you, but don’t—”

“I know, don’t speak for you. But I think you don’t like this place because you’re a big fish in a small town, but what happens when you’re a normal fish in a really big town?”

He follows that up with a smile and a kiss on her engagement ring.

Emily sighs and settles back in her seat. While she doesn’t agree with his assessment or his prying, she supposes he would know better than anyone, being a normal fish himself.

“Once we’re done here, we’re looking for houses in B-Town.”

“Sure,” Roger says with a shrug and easy smile. “Is this it?”

The car slows to a crawl. Emily looks out the window, then squints and opens the window for a better view, then pulls away from Roger so she can get out the car.

She…didn’t recognize this at all.

It felt right when they were in the car, like they had driven the proper distance into town before the turn off, the route burned into her brain from all those years of having to walk everywhere.

The road looked…different. As in, better. As in, paved like a road should be, even up beyond this point. The inn was kind of out of the way in town as far as inns should be, kind of on the outskirts of town where the roads stop being roads and start being dirt paths. It meant the inn looked over the village, which was pretty, but at what cost?

Emily had always wondered that, but now it seemed like that had been resolved completely.

The road was an actual road that cars would drive on, and branching from that road, where the dirt path to the inn would be, the dirt path she slipped and cut her knees on so many times, is another actual road, paved with pale grey and white stones, gently and reasonably sloping up the hill to the inn. There’s even a proper sign for the inn and some patted plants at the juncture, cheerfully inviting guests and even villagers up for a night’s stay.

Emily…blinks at the scenery, then slowly nods and gets back in the car.

“Yeah. This is it.”

She may have hated the inn, but she was glad the business and her parents were doing well enough to do stuff like this.

“This is your family’s hotel?” Roger says as they crest the hill. “We should actually stay here sometime.”

Normally, Emily would swat him on the shoulder, tell him not to joke about that, but now…she…she really can’t. The hotel looks nice, really nice with a consistent design and a fresh coat of paint and landscaping. The paved path they’re driving on widens out into a proper plaza, with a garden centerpiece and even a small parking lot.

Emily’s chest feels a bit tight, and after a few moments she can’t stand to look at the hotel any more.

Next to her, Roger laughs as he pulls into a parking spot.

“It’s hard to believe that this is a family business.”

Something about that excites Emily, like a much-needed drink of water given to a dying man. Of course, of course this isn’t the family inn. They just took a wrong turn somewhere, she got something mixed up. She and Roger will walk into the lobby, and the owners will say “Oh, those people? We bought the hotel from them a while back. You can find them in the next district over.” And they’ll laugh at their mistake and go to meet her actual family in their completely normal home, enjoying a completely normal life.

Yes, that was it exactly.

Now calm, calmer, Emily smiles to herself as she gets out of the car, only to stop as the inn doors open and Jeremy himself walks out into the yard with the old straw broom, ready to start the much-hated tradition of sweeping the leaves out of the lot.

Her first thought is “fuck”, but nothing more than that. She doesn’t have time for more than that because all of her anxieties— why did she even have anxiety to begin with?— melt away the moment she sees family.

“Jeremy!”

She leaves the car door open as she rushes across the new lot to pull her brother into a crushing hug.

As usual, he doesn’t return it— she hugs him too tight for that— but he does eventually slap her back, their “code” for her to break the hug and pull away.

He looks flustered as usual when she finally steps back, but Emily can’t help but grin and plant her hands on his shoulders, giving him a little shake.

“You haven’t grown a bit, huh?” she says, her laugh echoing throughout the lot.

It was a cliche thing to point out, but that anxiety was back in full force, and she truly had nothing else she could say right now without an anxious lump forming in her throat.

She knows what kind of reaction she’ll get from her little brother— his getting flustered and insisting that a growth spurt was on its way.

But instead he just looks at her with an eyebrow slightly raised, and then shrugs.

“It can’t be helped. I am the height I am.”

Emily blinks, unable to do anything else as her mind short circuits.

From the outside looking in, literally nothing happened. Jeremy just…got over an insecurity he used to have. That’s something she should’ve expected after having been gone for so long. But for some reason it feels like the last tether connecting her to her family had just been coldly cut.

It was like the crybaby little brother she had said goodbye to when she went off to college had been abducted by aliens and replaced with a completely different person altogether.

All this time she had such a clear image in her head of who she thought Jeremy was. She remembered the crying and the insecurity, the way he didn’t have any friends and was such a wallflower that he was practically curling in on himself, the way he always wore loose clothes like he wanted to be hidden in the fabric, or ill-fitting hand-me-downs that he hated, the way he hated sweeping the lot most of all, doing it as quickly (and sloppily) as possible so he could run back inside like he was afraid of the sunlight.

And yet, here he was, standing up straight and out in the light like he owned it, wearing a pair of well-tailored jeans and a designer graphic logo tee that she’d seen in B-Town when they were driving through on the way here.

That in itself was fine, of course. It would be unreasonable to want her baby brother to stay awkward and insecure forever. It was only natural that he’d get some extra pocket money and start taking care of himself.

But even things like…Their parents would never have let Emily have a nose ring. Fuck, when she first got her jumbo twists their mom yelled at her for the color even though it wasn’t even her actual hair. And yet, here Jeremy stands, obnoxious gold nose ring shining in the light, and Emily couldn’t imagine their parents actually continuing to let him live there and work at the inn.

But that was one thing, the thing that tore up Emily most was—

“What happened to your waves?” she asks, gently pinching at his natural hair.

Jeremy shrugs again and swats her hand away. “I like leaving it natural better. Less upkeep.”

“Aww,” Emily says, voice cracking imperceptibly. “You were so happy when I got that cream for you.”

Jeremy gives her a look, an actually annoyed one, with eyebrows furrowed and mouth tilted in a half grimace.

“Yeah, and I looked like a tool for the last three stories.”

Stories?

“Anyway, Mom and Dad are taking a break on the porch. If you want to chat with them, now’s the time.”

“Oh,” Emily says, flagging slightly. “Yeah.”

“See you around then.” Jeremy dips his head, then starts to saunter off when Emily feels the familiar presence of Roger at her back.

“Oh, wait,” she says, grabbing the hem of his shirt. “Before you go?”

It definitely comes out more like a plea than she intended, and Jeremy turns back to her and Roger with a bit of sigh. She remembers back when they’d do anything to get out of work. Did their parents send him to boot camp or something?

Well, whatever.

“This is my fiance, Roger,” Emily says, gesturing to the man in question.

“Nice to meet you,” he says, stiff and awkward as ever, extending a meaty hand for Jeremy to shake.

And in that moment, something seems to pass over him. At first those anxieties start getting rowdy again, and Emily considers that Jeremy’s newfound confidence is more of a front that he first let on, one that’s crumbling in the face of someone who isn’t from the family.

But that’s a weird thing to wish on someone, and it’s far more likely that Roger rubbed him the wrong way. It happens quite a bit, with a guy as big yet soft-spoken as he is.

Eventually, after a weirdly cold once over, Jeremy finally takes his hand, giving it a firm shake like he’s running for office.

“Nice to meet you, man.” And then to Emily: “You should go see Mom and Dad.”

And that’s the end of the conversation, with him stalking off in way that’s a lot like the old Jeremy she remembers.

“He’ll be fine,” she says as she pats Roger’s back, the usual routine after one of these failed introductions.


Despite what her new anxieties wish were the case, her parents do indeed still own the inn, and their recent success has been the result of hard work and some lucky breaks.

It shows too.

They seem calmer, happier, less stressed than they used to be. Much like Jeremy, they seemed to have blossomed in their own way, taking the time to dress a little nicer—her mom in the dresses she used to always stare at in magazines and her dad in the slacks and vests he always had gathering dust in his closet— and take care of themselves a little more. They actually look like they own the inn, and the parents she remembers would never take breaks on the back veranda with a pitcher of tea between them.

The meeting goes almost too smoothly, but what else would she have expected? Roger was a nice guy, and despite her “rebellious attitude”, Emily was a perfectly fine adult.

Even still, she spent the whole conversation on pins and needles, waiting for the other shoe to shop. Waiting for her parents to pat her on the back and hand her some linens to bring to the washroom.

But no. They just sit on the porch and talk and sip tea. Jeremy even comes out and has half a glass before he excuses himself from work for the day, and her parents say nothing.

Even most stunning is when the conversation winds down, and her mother leads her and Roger up to their room, not the broom closet she grew up in, but an actual room a floor above the newly-renovated but still conservative family suite.

She waits three days for that other shoe to drop, hiding out in the room while Roger does the heavy lifting of unpacking and socializing with her family, only to sheepishly come out her shell once she realizes that the dinky family inn she remembered now has enough money and status to hire other employees.

It feels odd just loitering at the front desk, especially when her mother and Jeremy are actively working, but it’s a small hotel in a small town. Most days are quiet days.

Her mother is the one who pulls Emily into conversation while Jeremy sits there, taciturn save for a grunt in reply to Emily’s awkward but cheerful greeting.

Emily…never imagined her mother was so much of chatterbox. She always thought that was…well, not her thing, but her parents strictness always made her think that her own gregariousness was a quirk of genetics that somehow got through. Her mother was certainly never like this when she was living here— the longest conversations she could recall them having before this point were usually arguments, about her appearance, about working at the hotel, about living in town.

When she thought about them now, it was hard not to feel a little embarrassed, and it didn’t help that she was already speechless in the face of her mother’s secret conversation skills. Even though she’s being kind, Emily can’t help but feel like she’s being slapped in the face by what she could’ve had.

Eventually, she gets her break when her mother goes down to the kitchen to check on the cooks, though Emily remembers it as her going down to do the cooking. Her relief quickly turns into discomfort once more as she remembers that she’s just standing at the front desk, loitering.

The obvious solution is to perhaps invite Roger into town, see what else has changed in A-village, but the idea makes her queasy. She never had much love for the village to begin with, and if seeing what changed about the inn made her feel…like this, then she couldn’t imagine what would happen if she saw the town thriving.

So, despite everything she’d ever imagined, she takes her mother’s seat at the front desk, next to her brother.

While Emily was surprised that her time away from A-village allowed her to connect on a more intimate level with her mother, she had always known that Jeremy was on her side. Her memories of him were always positive when he wasn’t being a little crybaby, their bond made strong through a mutual dislike of the inn and her pranks always helping him to bring him out of his shell.

She waits, twisting back and forth in her seat slightly as she waits for Jeremy to drop the act, turn away from the newly installed computer to bitch about how terrible work is like old times. That moment never comes.

Whatever Jeremy’s doing has his full attention, or maybe he was focusing on not giving any of his focus to Emily. She couldn’t imagine what she had done in three days to warrant the cold shoulder, but she reaches her foot out and gently nudges his chair.

“So…how have you been?” she asks, lobbing him a softball.

“Great,” Jeremy says, leaving no room for further questioning.

Emily didn’t remember him being this cagey, even at his worst. She jostles his chair again.

“Just great? Nothing on your mind?”

Jeremy— finally— spares her a glance, his fingers pausing above the keyboard for only a moment before resuming their pace.

“Nothing you can help with.”

That…hurts.

“Hey, don’t say that. Your big sister has plenty of advice she can give.” Emily thinks for a moment. “Or you could ask Roger.”

Jeremy exhales loudly, his nose ring jiggling with the motion, and stands abruptly, pulling his phone out of his back pocket.

“I’m going for a walk.”

And then he leaves, marches right out through the front doors without another word, without even telling their parents first.

Emily sits there, blinking in shock, until her mother comes back.

“Oh, did Jeremy leave?” she asks, smoothing down her skirt as she takes his seat and resumes his work, though not quite at the same adept speed.

“I…don’t know what I said.”

Her mother shrugs, scratches a patch of buzzed-low hair behind her ear.

“Probably nothing. He likes to take his little walks.”

Emily turns in her seat, eyes wide.

“He just does that?” And they let him?

“Sure. Jeremy works hard, he ought to take more breaks in my opinion.”

Emily blinks and looks out through the front doors. Jeremy paces around lot, phone pressed to his ear, laughing and smiling in a way that seems…refreshing, free, nothing like the way he acts when he’s at the front desk.

Emily is…Emily is…

She can’t be mad. It’s not fair for her to be mad. She’s not bound to the hotel like she used to be, she’s her own person—

But she can’t help but feel like she’s been fucking screwed over. She went through so much shit while living under this roof, got so much grief for so much bullshit, and the solution to all of that was just shutting the fuck up and putting her nose to the grind until her parents felt sorry for her?

Of course it seems obvious in hindsight to a certain extent, but that doesn’t assuage her anger, doesn’t make her proud of or happy for her brother.

She just feels miserable.

And yet, she keeps coming down to the front desk, sometimes doing a bit of work, but mostly to watch Jeremy. It’s…odd, she knows that, but she can’t help but be curious, be jealous that he got to tap into the secret of being a perfect child, and live through him in that regard.

It’s another day not unlike the first, only now Emily is a bit more confident in her being a homebody.

She comes down with her laptop, and she and her mother look at possible dress shops to hit up later until she leaves for the kitchens, leaving her alone with Jeremy who no longer bothers to speak to her, just gets up the moment their mother turns the corner and heads out into the lot.

She doesn’t expect someone else to show up.

The car clearly expensive, bright yellow with a streamlined yet curved form, not unlike a wasp. The driver backs into a spot with ease, like they’d done it so many times before, and once the ignition is turned off, Jeremy hops up onto the hood, like he’d done it some many times before.

The driver’s side door opens and out steps a man with golden hair and a golden eye, wearing a simple white shirt, black overalls, and yellow sneakers, and— Emily has to quint for this— a gold nose ring, not unlike the one Jeremy’s sporting. With a smile and a wink, he slams the door shut and joins her brother on the hood of the car, immediately flicking open a black lace fan.

Emily squints, wanting to see what’s going on so bad she’s practically leaning over the front desk.

The man…was so familiar…


“Darling, have you missed me that much?” the mayor smiles, gently tipping his head to the side as he fans himself. “You look so desperate.”

Jeremy sighs. He could only imagine how he looked— eyes wide and brows slightly furrowed, his fingers already pinching at the mayor’s shirt as if to pull him closer. Desperation was one of the many expressions of his that the mayor found cute, cute enough to take a photo of mid-conversation and save in his bank after making sure Jeremy got an eyeful. It was embarrassing, but at least the mayor had gotten more subtle with it, opting to take images of his “adorable” facial expressions with his eye instead.

“I can’t help it,” he hisses, glancing back at the inn. “I’m losing my mind in there.”

The mayor follows his gaze and scoots closer to him before flicking his fan open again so both their faces are obscured by the lace.

“Well?”

Jeremy sighs. “It’s a lot.”

“I thought you were looking forward to seeing your sister?”

“I said I took time off for her visit, not that I was happy about it. And I didn’t know she was bringing her fiance.”

Jeremy sighs, and the mayor gently tips his face up with a finger under his chin, brow raised in anticipation.

“I don’t want to talk about this here. Is there anyway we could meet and just…not fuck?”

The mayor snorts, the presses his hand to his mouth as if he can physically hold back his laughter that way.

“You mean a date, my love?”

Jeremy’s face heats up. “Stop, don’t—”

“Never mind, darling. I’d be happy to take you out whenever you like, as long as fucking isn’t completely off the table, yes?”

Jeremy sighs.

“Fine…Thank you.”

“Mm. I’ll arrange something and text you the details.”

“Seriously,” Jeremy says, gripping his wrist again. “Thank you. I…really need this.”

He sits up straighter, hesitates, then screws his courage to the sticking point and leans up and in, pressing his lips to the mayor’s. His eyes are screwed shut, he misses the glint in the other man’s eyes that only grows brighter before the kiss suddenly deepens and the mayor’s tongue invades his mouth, leaving him wanting more and more and more—

But all good things must come to an end, especially when he’s in the parking lot of a family inn.


The memory hits Emily like a lightning bolt and she sits up in bed, waking Roger from his shallow sleep as she grabs her phone and starts scrolling through social media with the brightness turned all the way up.

Roger squints at her for a few moments before she finally thinks to explain herself.

“There’s this model…” she mutters under her breath, explaining absolutely nothing as she gets used to the app’s updated interface.

Roger waits patiently as she gathers her scrambled, still sleepy thoughts. She hasn’t used this app since high school, and she immediately stopped using it the moment she graduated. All the people who followed her were people from high school, people she barely liked and would always associate with this backwater town, but now they were her biggest leads.

It takes a while to find a username she recognizes— she doesn’t want to dwell too much on how much everyone seems to have changed— but once she does, the user she’s looking for shows up almost immediately and she turns her phone towards Roger so he can see.

“This model,” she says, shaking the screen to prove her point. “Everyone in town follows this guy for some reason.”

She hadn’t seen Jeremy’s friend up close, but looking at these pictures, it was hard to deny that they were the same person. Same gold braids, same gold eye, same gold nose ring.

xxdxxmxyrxx.

Even back when she was in high school, Emily couldn’t understand why everyone was so interested in this guy. Beyond his looks, of course— every image looked like it was done in a studio, perfectly posed, perfectly made-up, perfectly dressed, perfectly staged.

And even those pictures that weren’t to be magazine spreads— pictures of him cooking or candids of him sleeping on the couch— had this air of…perfection about them. He could photograph himself in the most compromising position and everyone would still shower him with adoration.

It made Emily feel…icky, just another model using their looks to get attention in the place of actual talent, but then she got to the memes.

They were…good. Probably. They had all the trappings of a good meme, the rapid adaptability, the ingenuity, the abstract humor that could only be cultivated by a proper connoisseur, but they all flew over Emily’s head. The comments, populated by her classmates and fellow villagers, seemed to be thoroughly pleased. That too, rankles her a bit, the idea that she’s been gone from town for so long that they’ve developed their own sense of humor, one so dense that she could never hope to return to it without giving up the identity she’d worked so hard to cultivate.

Next to her, Roger yawns and sits up, and she leans back against his chest as she continues to scroll through the model’s pictures.

“So you think Jeremy’s dating him?”

Emily’s first thought is “No, of course not.” She knew, she suspected, that Jeremy was gay, but this model was too…public, too beautiful, too perfect, too confident, too flamboyant, the kind of person that would make Jeremy shrink into himself more.

Plus, there were no pictures of Jeremy on this model’s timeline, and Emily didn’t see the model as the kind of person who would just date someone and not post it everywhere.

Then again, there aren’t any pictures of anyone else on the model’s timeline either.

Perhaps it was an image thing, he didn’t think Jeremy would look nice standing next to him, even though Jeremy had clearly changed quite a bit since Emily last saw him.

Her recently developed anxiety latches on to a different conclusion: maybe the model was the one encouraging Jeremy to make those changes in the first place, trying to mold him into the perfect accessory.

Yes, that was it. That explained everything— why he had ditched his waves, why he had gotten the nose ring, why he had started dressing wiser, why he had started ditching work.

Though it didn’t explain why their parents let him skip work.

Emily keeps scrolling.

Unless…


She’s still scrolling through xxdxxmxyrxx’s profile the next morning when she traipses down to the kitchen. The kitchen, because watching Jeremy at the front desk is starting to seem voyeuristic— especially now that her father has been taking over desk duties and she doesn’t have the excuse of looking at wedding stuff to justify her presence.

Her mother, on the other hand, is still willing to put up with her, doesn’t mind that she loiters in the kitchen and even makes them a pitcher of tea to share out on the veranda.

“Do you,” Emily ventures, “know who this is?”

She holds out her phone for her mother to see. Of course her mother immediately reaches out to scroll and lean in since she doesn’t have her glasses.

“Oh, yes. That’s the mayor.”

Emily blinks. “The guy hanging around Jeremy all the time is a model…and the mayor of our town?”

“Well,” her mother says, “I don’t know about him being a model, but that’s certainly our mayor, yes. Why do you ask?”


“You didn’t recognize him?” Roger asks, looking over her shoulder as she brushes her teeth the next morning. “Didn’t he and your parents have a falling out?”

Emily shrugs and spits out her toothpaste into the sink.

“I mean, sure, I guess? It never really went anywhere, and I never really cared about hotel stuff.”

“Really?” Roger grabs his own toothbrush and steps in front of the sink as she moves aside. “You weren’t worried about your parents losing the inn?”

“That would require the mayor to have an inn in the first place,” Emily says, taking a seat on the toilet lid and stretching her arms over her head. After a long moment of silence, punctuated by plastic bristles scraping off enamel, Emily continues. “The teenager I was then…would’ve been happy…if everything with the inn had come to an end.”

Roger pauses. And then—

“I see.”

— and back to brushing.

Emily lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

Roger spits and wipes off his mouth, then stops and thinks for a moment.

“So…Jeremy, your little brother, is dating the mayor…of the town?”

Emily rubs her temples. “They’re probably not…dating. Maybe I just read the situation incorrectly. They’re probably just friends.”

Roger’s reflection in the mirror raises an eyebrow, but the conversation ends there.


Emily finds herself spending more time in the family suite now that it’s been remodeled.

It’s not like she plans on actually helping out with the inn, especially since she’s no longer required to, and she still feels iffy about going into town, so her downtime between wedding preparations and house hunting is spent lounging in the living room, something that’s actually enjoyable now that the suite isn’t the scene of the latest fight with her parents.

She also thought it would be a great time to see what Jeremy gets up to, but he’s almost never around— either hiding in his room or having fun in town…somehow.

Imagine then, Emily’s surprise when Jeremy leaves his room, fully preened and primped and perfected, smartly dressed in all black save for a pale grey and blue tie.

Emily stares openly as Jeremy rolls up the sleeves of his dress shirt, and when he finally meets her gaze, he nods once stiffly.

“Uh, are you heading out for a job interview?” Emily asks.

Jeremy looks at her again, then starts cackling as he makes his way to the door.

Emily distinctly hears the click of heels on the hardwood floor and a snarky comment springs to mind once she confirms that yes, Jeremy is wearing boots with a reasonably high heel, but even the way struts across the suite to grab his keys is enough to stay her tongue.

For half a second, she’s jealous. She remembers the little sophomore who wanted to stand out so much but was still afraid of ridicule and judgment. Having to remind herself over and over and over to exude confidence no matter what, after getting her glasses, after getting her braces, after getting her bright red twists, after getting her bright red lipstick—

And here Jeremy was just…doing that.

A-anyway, by the time she’s finished gawking and reminiscing, the door slams shut and Emily is left alone.

She waits a moment, then slinks over to the kitchen where Roger is doing some work on his laptop.

“You wanna tail him?”

Roger blinks. “Tail…Jeremy?”

Emily shrugs. “Sure, I used to do it all the time. Maybe this time it’ll be fun for once.”

“Okay, sure.” Roger shuts his laptop and gets up from his seat with a grunt.

Emily blinks.

“I…didn’t actually think you’d say yes. Normally, you’re the level-headed one.”

“Well,” Roger says as the two of them head up to their room to change, “you have a situation where someone has possibly had a sudden personality change, coupled with them being in a relationship with someone older and more powerful who has previously had an altercation with their family.”

Emily stops partway through pulling on a sweater dress to give Roger a grimace.

“Oh, you’re like…legitimately concerned,” she says with a sneer.

Roger glances around, then looks at her with narrowed eyes. “Is that not why we’re doing this?”

“I’m here to have fun, you buzzkill.”

Roger sighs and they finish up their quick transformations.

They didn’t look nearly as snappy as Jeremy— Roger had changed into a clean flannel shirt and khakis and Emily a patterned sweater dress cinched with a chunky belt and some nice hoop earrings— but they really only wanted to blend in.

It wasn’t like he was going anywhere particularly ritzy, right?

Their mad dash out to the car is cut short by the fact that Jeremy is still loitering in the lobby, tapping away on his phone. All three of them notice the grey car parked in front of the entrance at the same time, and Jeremy checks his phone once more before leaving the lobby.

“That’s not the mayor’s car, is it?”

“Absolutely not. Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Emily scrambles across the lobby, managing to get outside in time to catch the first few numbers on the license plate on her way to Roger’s car.

“Let’s go, go, go!”

Roger, completely unused to these sorts of reconnaissance missions, scrambles in a panic to get the car started, but with Emily’s keen memory they manage to find the car that Jeremy got in and follow from a distance.

“Was this always meant to be so difficult?” Roger asks between pants.

“To be fair, this was a lot easier back when he was just going to do his homework at the library,” Emily says with an apologetic shrug. “Ah, they just turned.”

The drive lasts about 30 minutes and, to Emily’s surprise, takes them to the heart of B-Town. While Roger pulls into a parking spot, Emily watches in the side mirror as Jeremy gets out of the grey car and crosses the parking lot, walking into the giant hotel like he’s done it plenty of times before.

“The Grand Chrysanthemum Hotel.” Emily reads the sign as she steps out of the car. “Seems fancy.”

Seems was a bit of understatement. The parking lot alone was as big as A-Village’s square, and the lights from the hotel and surrounding casinos are bright enough to resemble daylight. It was the sort of place that Emily would’ve dreamed of staying at, though she knew the most she afford was have her wedding in the back lot.

Roger doesn’t look nearly as impressed.

“It’s not that it isn’t a nice hotel,” he says, looping an arm around her shoulders. “I’ve just been before.”

Emily looks at him with eyebrows raised. “Oh, really? That’s new information.”

“I didn’t tell you because it wasn’t special. I was in middle school, maybe? I was just dragged along for some extended family stuff, I barely remember it.”

“Huh. You must have some famous family.”

Roger grunts but doesn’t say anymore as he holds the door open for her.

The lobby is massive, with a giant crystal chandelier hanging down from the ceiling and gold gilded floors so polished that she could see her reflection…and a little up her skirt too, how embarrassing.

She and Roger are the only two people in the lobby, save for two maids working at the front desk (which was, in Emily’s opinion, a strange choice, but nevermind). Even so, the lobby seemed to be filled with noise, the dull ambiance of people chatting and the clinking of glasses and utensils against plates.

“The dining hall?” she asks.

“I think this place has a separate restaurant,” Roger replies. “This way.”

Luckily Roger is right, saving them the embarrassment of having to ask the maids at the front desk for help. They turn down a narrow corridor which opens up into another large atrium filled with tables and patrons.

Even from halfway down the hall, Emily can see Jeremy up ahead, making his way to a hostess with bright pink hair. She tugs on Roger’s arm and they both slow down to assess the scene.

The two of them, Jeremy and the hostess talk animatedly for a bit, complete with the hostess lifting one of her legs to show off the medical boot she’s wearing. The two of them chat some more, the Jeremy finally leaves, heading off for a table without the host’s guidance.

So he’s definitely been here before.

“You don’t think this place is reservation only, do you?” Emily asks as she tries to keep track of where Jeremy went.

Roger swallows and loosens his collar. “…Either way I’ll make it work.”

Emily looks back at him and raises an eyebrow.

“Planning on using those family connections of yours?”

She doesn’t get a real answer as they get closer to the hostess. As acerbic as she’s been regarding Roger’s family— she’s met them before she just didn’t know they were so…well connected— she can tell he’s nervous, his steps faltering and his breath heavy, and she reaches up to hold the hand resting on her shoulder, giving it an assuring squeeze.

Roger nods subtly as they stop in front of the hostess, and before Emily can say anything, she’s immediately taken back.

The hostess was a host, albeit one with hot pink hair and eyeshadow.

He seems to notice the realization written across her face and gives them both a little eyebrow wiggle and a smile before launching into his spiel.

“Welcome to The Grand Chrysanthemum Restaurant. Do you two have a reservation?”

Roger clears his throat and leans in conspiratorially.

“Is, uh, is the name Bishop on that list?”

Emily blinks. She knew that Roger’s last name was Bishop, obviously, she was going to marry the man, but when used in this context, she couldn’t help but feel like there was someone more important who shared the same name.

The host’s attitude frosts over a little. “Bishop.”

“Y-yes?” Roger stammers only to be cut off by a more authoritative “Yes. Is my reservation ready?”

Roger starts and pulls Emily aside. In her struggle to follow, she glances over to her shoulder to see a tall, older man with long salt and pepper locks, followed by a small entourage of body guards.

She looks back at Roger, eyes wide. Way to take a fucking gamble.

“Your usual table is open, Mayor Bishop,” the host says as the mayor’s bodyguards gather around him. He pays them no mind, instead casting a glance towards Emily and Roger. “By any chance, you wouldn’t happen to recognize these people, would you?”

The mayor, mayor A.J. Bishop, the whole-ass mayor of B-Town, barely turns his head towards them, his eyes flicking over them critically before he finally shifts his weight to lean against the host’s station.

“I don’t know, stranger,” he says to Roger. “When was the last time you showed your face around the gym?”

Roger sighs. Emily slowly turns to look at him with wide eyes and raised brows, but she doesn’t get a chance to properly marinate her fiance in surprised disbelief before Mayor Bishop pulls Roger in for big bear hug, complete with loud shoulder slaps.

“And this must be the fiance,” Mayor Bishop says, turning to Emily and offering a hand.

She takes it nervously— she had no clue that Roger and the mayor of B-Town were related and she couldn’t fathom that someone was talking about her to Bishop— but once Mayor Bishop closes his hand around hers, she leans in and studies her face closely, the intensity of his gaze making her lean back a bit in response.

Finally, he seems satisfied and turns his attention back to the host.

“She’s got Remy’s nose, doesn’t she?” he stage whispers.

Remy?

“It’s hard to tell with the nose ring,” the host replies in kind. “Definitely the ears though.”

“Oh, definitely.”

“Do you guys know Jeremy?” Emily finally works up the courage to ask.

They look at her, then look at each other, and then just as quickly their little chat is over.

The host starts to get up from his seat, but the bodyguards stop him, take the appropriate amount of menus for their party, plus two for Emily and Roger.

The host seems resigned to this turn of events, and whispers something to the bodyguards. In the meantime, Roger clears his throat.

“Thanks. For, uh…”

“Don’t mention it,” Mayor Bishop says, patting his back again. “I better see you in the ring more often.”

He smiles and turns to follow one of his bodyguards to their table. The other one pauses, waiting.

Emily plasters on a polite smile as she loops her arm through Roger’s again. “You have so much explaining to do.”

“I know.”

“Later,” Emily says. “Right now we’re getting a free din—”

She cuts herself off as she looks at their table and, more importantly, the table next to it.

It just so happened that their table was right by Mayor Bishop’s…and right by Jeremy and the mayor’s. While Jeremy’s back was facing them, thankfully, the mayor was sitting upright and alert, with Emily and Roger clearly in his line of sight.

Or they would be. For whatever reason, the mayor had opted to pin his braids back in a way that covered his real eye, and left his gold fake eye exposed. It was a…very odd choice, but it meant that she and Roger were off the hook for now.


After finishing up his chat with Dean, Jeremy turns to look for the mayor’s table and his heart nearly stops.

He wasn’t really used to meeting the mayor for dates. They didn’t really “date”, but whenever the mayor wanted to dress up for whatever reason, Jeremy was usually there to watch the process. He kind of enjoyed it, studying the way the mayor crafted something he took so much pride in.

But it was something else to just stumble upon the finished product.

It took him back to the first, well, the second time he ever saw the mayor, curled up in in his secret place out behind the hot springs. They way he looked so light and ethereal, like the god everyone said he was, the way his heart hammered in his chest, the way he was afraid to move forward as if it might shatter the illusion.

Of course, this wasn’t then. Jeremy only pauses for barely a moment, hardly noticeable to any of the other patrons, the mayor notices, his gold eye twitching up towards him before he smiles and beckons Jeremy over with a crook of his finger.

Jeremy lets out a breathless laugh as he takes his seat at the table, trying very hard not to stare so much at the mayor.

He fails obviously, but he knows that if the mayor wasn’t busy looking through some files he’d encourage him to stare all the more.

The mayor’s idiosyncratic long braids were wrapped up, neatly secured under a black headscarf with a geometric gold pattern, exposing the long line of his neck and calling attention to all the features of his face that Jeremy normally took for granted, the full lips painted off-black, the high cheekbones dusted with gold highlighter, and phoenix eyes made all the more sharp by winged gold eye-liner. The collar of his dress— there’s no way he’s wearing pants— exposes the sharp contours of his collarbones and the round curves of his shoulders, and, although the idea of dinner and a chance to talk to the mayor is all he’s wanted this week, he’s disappointed that he can’t see more of the mayor.

“Patience, my love,” the mayor says, organizing his papers and filing them away in a yellow and gold folder that he shoves back into his over-sized white purse before giving Jeremy his full attention. “Now, how are you, love? You seem…stressed.”

It’s so easy to get comfortable with him, both of them instinctively reaching across the table to hold hands with each other.

“Stressed doesn’t even cover it,” Jeremy sighs. “Should we order first?”

“Don’t bother. I had some business to take care of so I thought it might be easier to have you come here instead. We’ll leave in a bit.”

Jeremy sighs again, letting go of the mayor’s hand for a moment so he can take a sip of complimentary water.

“It’s just…more of the same, I guess. I always had issues whenever my sister was around, but now that she’s back and now that I’ve matured a little it’s more frustrating than usual. Neither of us ever liked working in the inn, but her fucking having a little bitch-fit all the time kind of left me with doing most of the work, but she has it in her head that growing up there has oppressed her and she’s returned to show us that she’s changed.”

The mayor cocks his head to the side. “And has she?”

“I guess. I think she’s more surprised that everyone else changed too,” Jeremy says, unable to keep himself from smiling at the coincidental schadenfreude.

“Well, we take our victories where we can,” the mayor says, properly resting his elbows on the table and leaning forward. “Is that all?”

Jeremy winces, his grip loosening slightly on the mayor’s hands.

“I…I wish I could tell people about us.”

The mayor blinks and cocks his head to the side. “It’s not like you can’t.”

“I mean, sure, but there’s stuff to consider. There’s the fact that you’re, you know, you, the age gap between us, our future, the town’s opinion, my parent’s opinion. And then…”

“And then?”

“I feel like if I’m going to come clean to my parents, then I might want to talk about the Chrysanthemum too.”

The mayor winces at that.

“Yes, I can certainly see how that might be problematic.”

Oh, but not the other thing? Jeremy wants to say, but he’s moved past trying to decipher the mayor’s logic.

“What brought this on?” the mayor asks. “Not that you shouldn’t worry, it just seems rather sudden.”

“Well,” Jeremy pauses his mouth working as he tries to come up with the best way to say what he ways to say. “It’s not that I don’t like the guy, he seems nice enough, but I didn’t think Emily would come back with her fiance. It just…puts more of a damper on things.”

“How so?”

“I mean…” Jeremy sighs, wishing he could pull his hands away and gesticulate but knowing he needs the comfort of the mayor’s touch. “Emily’s straight and there’s nothing wrong with that, but she gets to raise hell from middle school to high school, leave without looking back and then come home with her fiance to open arms, but I’ve been doing my work and her work for years and I still don’t even know where I stand with my parents and I’m still too fucking nervous to find out.”

“It seems like a very—”

“I know it’s very much a prodigal son situation. I don’t hate my sister or anything like that, but it’s frustrating watching her walk around with this chip on her shoulder because she doesn’t like to dust and a few people made some comments about her hair color, but I’ve been giving everything to my parents for years and still have to stop and wonder if I should be putting some of my money towards an apartment just in case.”

“I—”

“Stop,” Jeremy says, putting up a hand. “I’m sorry for interrupting you but I really, really, don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s out there, I’m done, just give me a moment.”

The mayor sits with him, massaging his palms as Jeremy calms himself down.

“You know,” he says. “You should probably do more than vent and bottle your emotions.”

Jeremy sighs. “I know.”

“And while I don’t think you should do anything to put yourself in danger, I do think there are ways for you to probe your parents before you make any drastic decisions.”

“I know, I know. Maybe it can wait until after Emily leaves though.”

“That’s a perfectly reasonable time line,” the mayor says with a serene smile.

Jeremy narrows his eyes.

“This isn’t fair. I can’t be the only one being vulnerable tonight. What’s got you ticked this week?”

The mayor thinks for a moment then smiles again.

“C-ton’s city manager is an absolute cunt.”


Across the table from her, Roger’s face makes a bunch of fun, inventive expressions, but most of them range from shock to concern to embarrassment to resigned agreement.

It’s a shame that she herself couldn’t sit closer to the table and hear what was going on without blowing the whole operation. The most she could do was sip her wine and nudge Roger’s foot under the table.

“So…what are they saying?”

Roger blinks, stammers and sits up in his seat, nervously fiddling with the buttons on his shirt.

“Uh, nothing, just…”

Emily chuckles. “Guy stuff or gay stuff?”

Roger doesn’t get a chance to answer before Jeremy and the mayor get up from their table, the mayor slinging his bag— a massive white designer purse, the kind Emily thought that people made knowing full well that no one could afford them— over his shoulder and wrapping an arm around Jeremy.

Emily blinks, mostly because they’re already leaving even though Emily and Roger just ordered, but also because whenever the mayor came to the inn he was usually wearing, you know, typical guy clothes. They were colorful and maybe a bit flamboyant, but nothing as flamboyant as a black mini-dress with shimmery gold garter boots attached to a skinny gold belt.

Emily stares, gob-smacked, as the mayor turns his head back towards them, still looking with that freaky gold eye. He gives her a cocky smirk, then guides Jeremy out. Not the way they came, past Emily and Roger’s table, but out through the restaurant’s main entrance.

“Well, fuck,” Emily says, slamming down her wine glass and scrambling to grab her purse as Roger follows suit.

“B-but we just ordered?”

They both glance over at Mayor Bishop, who casually sips his scotch and gestures for them to go.


“This is so much better,” the mayor says, “isn’t it?”

Jeremy nods, not really in a position to do much else.

The mayor’s car was parked in the lot of the ever iconic B-Park, known for it’s square footage and the immaculate landscaping done upon it, yet neither of them were partaking in the scenery. Instead, the mayor had taken Jeremy by the hand and let him confidently into the bushes, stomping on mulch and twigs in thin stiletto heels, leading them into a modest clearing, small enough for two to share and surrounded on all sides by a thick cover of greenery.

From his purse, the mayor pulled out a cloth, a pale yellow gingham, and laid it out, covering up most of the glass in the clearing, then sets down the bag and sits down, lotus-style, gesturing for Jeremy to get comfortable next to him.

He was confused, but happy to get away from the vibrant atmosphere of the Chrysanthemum’s restaurant, and his happiness grew tenfold when the mayor reached into his bag again and pulled out a steaming bowl of Jeremy’s favorite soup, spicy pork with sliced tubers foraged from A-Village.

And after that came the wine, the bread, the salad, the casserole, the mixed rice, the steak, the salmon, the mashed potatoes—

It didn’t take long for Jeremy to forget why they had gone out in the first place…and ask for seconds.

In the present moment, the mayor sips his wine and gently pats Jeremy’s head as he crams some more bread into his mouth.

“Slow down. As happy as you voraciousness makes me I don’t want to see you choke.”

On food. Jeremy doesn’t say that, but he does take the mayor’s advice and slow down a little, taking the time to serve himself a plate with proper portions of salmon, mashed potatoes, and cold salad. The mayor pours him a glass of wine, and Jeremy takes a contemplative sip before he decides to ruin the moment.

“How do you know my sister?”

The mayor’s smile is unreadable. “She’s your sister.”

Jeremy narrows his eyes, glaring at him over the rim of the wine glass.

Very rarely was the mayor secretive. The only few times that Jeremy could really get him to shut up was when they fucking, and even then he wasn’t completely silent, switching out his usual mayor-isms for (welcomed) praise and sweet nothings. Even most secrets could be pried out of him with a little needling.

In the past hour alone the mayor couldn’t help but explain that the cloth they were sitting on was his family’s particular material, and in truth Jeremy recognized it from various fixtures in the mayor’s home, that his purse was semi-enchanted so he could pluck the dishes he’d spent all day making straight from his kitchen and onto Jeremy’s lap, the particular details of every food Jeremy had consumed over the course of the hour.

And this wasn’t a complaint. With everyone else the mayor only spoke when called upon, and he spoke like each word was meticulously crafted and chosen for that particular moment. Jeremy appreciated having that insight into the mayor’s thoughts.

However. The only times the mayor really really shut up and got cagey with his words was when he was angry, like he was deliberately damming up his emotions by not speaking them into existence.

But that was the good stuff, the juicy stuff, the stuff Jeremy really really really wanted to hear.

And it this point, Jeremy could place vague bets on what exactly was causing the mayor’s irritation. The city manager of C-ton really was a cunt, that’s just facts, but his sister…

It had to be that ability.

The mayor was the emissary of A-village (and technically the surrounding region)’s gods and spirits. The point of connection between the people and the divine. These days most people weren’t religious in that regard, so it didn’t make a difference— but any ardent prayers or scathing criticisms passed right through the mayor’s head on their way up.

And Emily, no doubt, had plenty of criticisms.

The mayor sighs and pulls Jeremy into his arms, accepting the conciliatory forkful of creamed corn being offered to him.

“I don’t know whether I should be glad you know me so well or uncomfortable with my loss of privacy,” he mutters, resting his head on Jeremy’s. “She certainly was an…aggressive teen— you can hate me without telling me about it— but I suppose I can’t hold her youth against her. I’m wired to be defensive to those sorts of things.”

“Well, I’m certainly not going to call you out on it. I just figured I’d ask since there seemed to be some tension in the restaurant.”

The mayor pauses, wine glass halfway to his mouth, and grins.

“When did you notice?” he asks, the glint in his noticeably more…sharp. So much for not holding her youth against her.

Jeremy chews on a bite of salmon. “Probably the moment I stepped out of my room fully dressed for the night and she happened to be in the living room. She’s been doing this shit since I was nine. Mom sent me out to deliver some mail, then sent her out to make sure I found the post office okay and she hasn’t stopped following me since.”

The mayor chuckles in a way that doesn’t diffuse the mounting tension in the slightest. Jeremy decides to make a sacrifice for the greater good and sets his plate down so that he can hold the mayor’s hand. The mayor only barely reciprocates, his thumb moving slightly across Jeremy’s dark skin but nothing more.

“I’d have to say it was the first day we met after she came to town, and I saw her half-falling over the desk so she could watch us make out and invade our privacy.”

“Hmm,” Jeremy says, “Yes, well. Why don’t we stop talking about things that make us mad?”

The mayor thinks for a moment, then smiles his usual cheerful smile. “Yes, I wholeheartedly agree.”

Jeremy raises an eyebrow, not even bothering to hide how skeptical he is of the mayor’s sudden emotional shift. The mayor cups his face and leans forward, gently pressing their lips together before giving him a little nuzzle and pulling away.

“Do you still have room for dessert?” the mayor asks.

“Of course,” Jeremy says automatically. The mayor’s odd behavioral shift aside, when a cook as good as him offers you more food, you never say no.

The mayor smiles, because he knows this, and finishes off all the wine in his glass before setting it back into his bag, along with all the mostly eaten dishes littering the gingham around them.

“Ready?” the mayor purrs.

Without waiting for his answer, the mayor rolls onto his hands and knees, gently swaying his ass back and forth in Jeremy’s direction, all the while coyly glancing back over his shoulder.

Jeremy thinks as he takes a slow sip of wine, then caps off that train of thought with a gentlemanly burp.

The mayor stops and frowns.

“What? Did you want me to bring condoms?”

“No, no,” Jeremy says, setting his wineglass aside and sitting up on his knees so he can see what he’s working with. “Just getting into the proper mindset.”

“Well,” the mayor purrs as Jeremy takes two full handfuls of his ass. “As long as that’s all.”

Jeremy rolls his eyes and slaps his ass, drawing out a short yelp and a shuddering sigh. The slight pain is enough to distract the mayor, keeping him docile as Jeremy undoes the garters connecting his boots to his belt. Once they’re unbuckled, Jeremy’s free to roll up the mayor’s already rather short skirt—

The mayor reaches back and grabs his wrist, a quick reminder of just how strong he really was.

“Ah, may I, darling?”

Jeremy sighs. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sight in front of him, except to maybe glance up at the mayor’s equally lustful, yearning expression.

Playing with the mayor’s asshole has quickly wormed his way onto his list of hobbies, but at the moment it was tight and twitching around the end of a butt plug, slightly slick from the lubricant the mayor used.

Jeremy grips one of the mayor’s cheeks in each hand and spreads him open wider, drawing out a bashful groan.

“Did you have this in all night?” Jeremy asks, half whispers as the pad of his thumb brushes over the end of the plug.

Mm. If I had put it in any later I would’ve let you watch.”

Jeremy chuckles at that. The mayor bows forward so the side of his face is pressed up against the gingham, his back and ass arched higher than it was moments earlier.

“Do want to pull it out,” the mayor asks again, voice breathy as he grows more desperate, “or should I?”

Jeremy’s tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip as he takes the mayor’s hand, the one that had grabbed at his wrist earlier, and gently guides it so that his fingers are grazing the end of the plug. The mayor makes a noise halfway between a sigh and a laugh as he realizes what Jeremy wants.

“You can be so cruel at times,” the mayor says, carefully getting his bearings on the plug before slowly pulling it out of himself.

As expected, the plug wasn’t the normal, small kind that the mayor liked to use on Jeremy sometimes, but a big one, a full dildo in an off-black color that could only be achieved with silicon, covered with little gold studs.

In his astonishment, Jeremy laughs, marveling at the dildo plug once it’s completely out of the mayor’s ass, leaving him hard and panting and struggling not to rut against his family’s special gingham.

Jeremy keeps him pacified with one hand slowly stroking his dick. “You always have to go so crazy with these things, don’t you?”

The mayor bites his lip and whines.

“I wanted to do something more…normal, but when I remembered how long I would have to wait before I got to see you again…”

“Aw,” Jeremy leans over and presses a kiss to the small of his back, hands fumbling with his zipper. “You were trying so hard to keep yourself satisfied, weren’t you? You’re so loose already, maybe I should hurry and help you out, hmm?”


Emily’s emotions at the moment were very mixed.

On one hand, the idea of a stroll in the park after dinner, or after a glass of water technically, sounded romantic, but after following her brother and the mayor into the woods, she was starting to think it was less so.

She always figured her brother was kind of…awkward in this arena, regardless of sexuality, but this seemed rather well thought out. It did seem more like the mayor was running the show tonight, but there was something about the two of them moving in tandem that made the evening seem less asymmetrical, the way they moved through the foliage like they had done it plenty of times before, while Emily and Roger were left stumbling in their wake.

Thankfully, the dense foliage finally opens into a clearing into which Jeremy and the mayor step leaving her and Roger safely hidden in the shadows.

They pull back into the foliage a bit— to be too close would be to expose themselves, but they lose the ability to hear what’s being said, a luxury that’s only been afforded to her fiance so far.

Not that that seems to matter. It looks like a fairly normal picnic, save for the fact that the mayor seems to be pulling food out of his bag. If that bothers Jeremy, he doesn’t show it, in fact he seems more than happy to tuck into whatever the mayor hands him, pausing every now and then to take meager sips of wine.

In a stark contrast, the mayor seemed almost solely focused on his wine glass, only pausing his intermittent sips to talk or to bring out more food for Jeremy. On one hand, Emily was reminded of all those prissy girls from high school who wouldn’t eat on dates to make themselves seem skinny and beautiful.

On the other hand, she couldn’t help but reminded of all the fairy tales she had read growing up, about how you shouldn’t take food from the Fairy King.

Apart from that though, there’s really nothing of interest going on. They talked at the restaurant, and they’re talking here, and even less interestingly, the mayor actually seems to be interested in what he’s saying. The chances of seeing Jeremy embarrass himself tonight were very slim it seemed.

With nothing else to do, Emily goes back to scrolling through the mayor’s social media.

What she’s looking for is some sign that she’s not the one being played. Any sign of Jeremy on the mayor’s feed to prove that this is actually a real relationship, or perhaps the opposite. That Jeremy’s blossoming is a fluke and that the mayor is using him so that she has something to be smug about, something to show for going through the trouble of coming out here tonight.

Roger’s gasp and his hand on her knee jostles her out of her thoughts. She looks up, at first seeing only greenery and Roger’s wide eyes as he scoots away from the little opening he’d been using to watch the happy couple. Confusion mounting, Emily rolls onto her knees and scoots over to take Roger’s place.

Two things:

Firstly, contrary to Emily’s assumption, the relationship between the mayor and Jeremy was very clearly real.

(Or at least it was at this angle.)

Secondly, contrary to Roger’s concerns, Jeremy was very much not being manipulated by the mayor.

(Or at least not in that position.)

“We should go,” Emily whispers.


Later in the car, Roger breaks the silence by drumming a rhythm-less pattern on the steering wheel.

He glances over at Emily, then back at the road.

“We…don’t have to mention what just happened,” he finally says.

“Then don’t.”


Jeremy wakes up freezing in the cold morning air.

It’s still dark out, thank…somebody. Jeremy didn’t know what he was do if he woke up in the middle of the morning, cock still out, the mayor’s ass still exposed to the elements, perfect for some jogger to stumble onto.

…Not that the mayor would mind, but some people in this relationship still had their dignity.

Even worse was—

Jeremy’s face heats up as he remembers the events of the previous evening, and presses his hands to his cheeks as if he could somehow hold that embarrassment in.

It wasn’t even the fucking that was embarrassing. Or at least, it wasn’t anymore. Once he and the mayor started they couldn’t not keep going— both of them being driven by separate feedback loops of pleasure and praise and pleasure and something vaguely akin to devotion, and their quest to keep those feedback loops going they’d get into all sorts of shit they wouldn’t consider doing while “sober”.

The mayor had never really cared and Jeremy had learned to get over the residual embarrassment by the morning.

No, what was bothering Jeremy now was the fact that he knew his sister was watching and— for no reason other than he could and that he felt like it— decided to “kick their date up a notch”.

But then, what did he have to feel guilty about?

While this was a public park, this was a private date, hidden in the bushes. If his sister followed him here, came to violate his privacy for nothing more than a laugh, then she saw what she saw and only had herself to blame for it.

Jeremy would never think to stalk her and Roger into the woods.

Only barely satisfied with this conclusion, Jeremy sighs loudly, loud enough to make the mayor stir next to him. His face scrunches up for a moment, annoyed at the intrusion, then softens again, his eyes opening just barely and his mouth spreading into a grin at the sight of Jeremy sitting up next to him.

Jeremy’s heart does a little flip. That was a sight he could get used to seeing every morning.

“Morning, love.”

In lieu of a reply, Jeremy leans over and kisses the mayor’s forehead, the mayor snuggling deeper into the gingham at the soft contact.

“What time is it?” he asks, like it even matters to someone like him.

“Morning,” Jeremy replies. “We should head home.”

The mayor sits up without protest, delicately dabbing at his eyes to keep from smudging his still pristine eyeliner. “Plans for the day?” he asks, as Jeremy gathers their mess and unceremoniously shoves it all into the mayor’s purse.

Jeremy pauses and thinks for a moment.

“I think I’m going to come out today.”

The mayor makes a non-committal noise, still rubbing at his eyes, then seems to realize what Jeremy said and looks at him with eyes wide.

“I-I suppose I don’t mind but, didn’t we agree that you would wait until after your sister left?”

“Yeah, but I don’t trust her one lick. Might as well come out before she accidentally outs me.”

“…Very well. I suppose you want to swing by my place then?”

“If you don’t mind.”


The nervous energy Emily feels is very different from what she first encountered when she returned to A-Village, all of her new anxieties, while still there, buried beneath what she had seen last night, her mind filling in the blanks for her and then some, even as she tries to do anything and everything she can to keep her mind off Jeremy and the mayor.

It’s Sunday today. The inn isn’t closed but there’s an understanding that her family needs some time to regroup, the few customers can help themselves and those who can’t have the non-family employees to assist them.

Even if she wanted to, Emily couldn’t go and lose herself in busy work, not that she wanted to now that Jeremy seemed to be thoroughly invested in it himself. So she was trapped, admittedly in a rather comfy extra room in their family’s suite, but trapped all the same with nothing but her increasingly graphic memories of a coupling she did not plan on witnessing, various wedding trifles doing nothing to take her mind off things.

On a bright side that’s still rather dim, she’s not alone in this. Roger too seems more awkward than usual, already destabilized from being in his in-laws house, and even more so from whatever had occurred last night that they were choosing not to speak of.

Still even without speaking of it, it was clear that Roger had seen something worse than she had, but he wasn’t acting nearly so…skittish. Although neither of them had slept the night before, Roger was the one who had taken initiative to got down to the family suite for breakfast— a courtesy that had been offered to them since they arrived— and returned with a mouth full of pastry and the news that Jeremy hadn’t returned yet.

This was, to Emily, objectively worse.

Having been gone from home for so long, she had no idea to how Jeremy was going to react. At least if he had come home and just ate breakfast like normal the moment would have passed, but now that he had yet to come home, it felt like there was something ominous hanging over Emily’s head. The other shoe waiting to drop.

Was it…her fault? Maybe Jeremy was scared, feeling ashamed, like he couldn’t be himself around her or their family, and that wasn’t true at all! She couldn’t speak for their parents, but what she saw hadn’t affected her in the slightest! Jeremy was still her baby brother, the little brother she always looked out for, something like this wasn’t gonna tear them apart, right?

Roger says nothing for a moment, then slowly looks at her.

“How do we know he saw?” he finally says.

“What?”

“I mean, i-it’s not like we caught Jeremy looking at us. You said the mayor was looking at you in the restaurant, but you said it was with his fake eye, right? And Jeremy didn’t see us before we left so…”

“So we have nothing to worry about,” Emily says, letting out a noise somewhere between a sigh and a laugh. “Oh, what a relief.”

Emily flops back on the guest bed, only to sit right up as keen, anxious ears pick up the sound of the key turning the lock, and the same click of low heels she had heard the night previous.

Confidence regained, she gets up and opens the guest room door with a smirk, hoping to go back to casually ribbing her brother but now in a way that was both affirmative and supportive—

Only for the smirk to melt from her face completely.

Jeremy had stopped in the living room, arms folded over his chest, waiting for her with his own smug expression. He didn’t say a word and Emily, too stunned to reply, didn’t say anything either, just stared at him for a moment before quietly shutting the guest room and slinking to the bed, defeated.

That moment felt so familiar and it takes her but a moment to figure out why.

She remembers all the times she had tried to keep Roger’s bearded collie, Selene, out of the pantry, all the little tricks she gleaned from the Internet systematically dismantled by one (admittedly rather cute) dog. And every time, Emily would go into the pantry and Selene would be sitting their surrounded by her spoils, looking up at her and panting happily. Even with eyes covered, she would always make the exact same face that Jeremy just did.

And what, bitch?


Jeremy doesn’t know why the fuck he knocks on the back door to the veranda.

His parents turn back to look at him, confused since the door is already halfway open, and Jeremy shakes his head in acknowledgment of his blunder as he steps out into the veranda and takes the seat next to his mother, sitting sideways and upright rather than lounging like his parents.

“I…have something to tell you.”

If his parents are picking up on the mood, they aren’t showing it. Both of them are looking at him with interest, curiosity, his mother lazily fanning herself with one hand. This is probably a good thing.

Jeremy clears his throat and starts to speak up again, only to be interrupted by the back door sliding open again.

When they had regrouped at the mayor’s house this morning, both of them know they had to change out of their clothes, but into what had been left up in the air. Jeremy had chosen to dress…normally, like he always would, to show that he was still the same son they always knew. But the mayor insisted on dressing a bit more respectfully, but not necessarily in a way meant to intimidate.

For the mayor, that meant a black sweater and headband, gold braids worn down, a midi-length yellow pencil skirt, a hint of white eyeliner on dark skin, white heels and white coat tossed over his arm for the chill.

Jeremy’s heart leaps to his throat, words failing him, no thoughts beyond He wasn’t supposed to come yet and Who cares?

His parents look at their new guest, confused as to why the mayor of all people would suddenly come for a surprise visit, then back at Jeremy.

The reverent expression on his face speaks for itself.


“Emily,” her mom knocks on the guest room door. “Come downstairs, we’re having a little get-together.”

Emily sits up on the bed. A get-together? There were no such things in this household. Perhaps she meant getting together and cleaning the inn? That made way more sense.

But to Emily’s surprise, her mother leads her out, onto the patio and into the little strip of grass that constituted their “yard”.

Well, they certainly had gotten together. There wasn’t much besides the pitcher of pink lemonade and plate of pecan cookies perched precariously on the veranda railing, but her father and Roger were already chit-chatting happily, along with, surprisingly, Jeremy and the mayor. Roger and the mayor particularly getting into a heated but enjoyable conversation about boxing of all things.

Her mother, despite the topic, is more than happy to step down from the veranda and listen in, which Emily supposes is a good thing, but that does leave her alone on the veranda, still feeling just a bit too awkward to come and join the rest of them, still feeling a bit too…alienated, the anxiety and the fear of punishment from Jeremy working in tandem.

She nibbles on a pecan cookie as she makes her way towards them, close enough to seem interested but not enough to have to actually engage with the conversation.

Lucky for her, the clump breaks up gradually— her mother turning her attention to Roger and Jeremy being roped into conversation with their father, still a bit jumpy from his coming out.

Leaving Emily by herself…and the mayor by himself.

She notices him, paying attention to Jeremy and her father but not really contributing, and prays that he stays over there watching them. Instead, he tips his head to the side, his gold eye glinting in the light as it’s aimed at her.

She’s starting to think that maybe he can actually see out of that thing as he smiles and saunters his way toward her.

“You seem nervous,” he says, tone both playful and…not. Emily feels a chill. “Pecan not to your liking?”

“Oh,” Emily says, glancing down at the cookie in her hand. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but she had been so busy in her own head that she hadn’t really noticed the taste. “Did you make these? I never took you for a cook.”

The mayor smiles, all teeth, all sharp, and Emily feels herself shrinking under such attention, like an ant noticing that she’s being watched by a human being.

“Well, that’s not true at all, is it? Because you certainly saw me feeding Jeremy the night before, among other things, right?”

What was Emily supposed to say to that? Was she supposed to apologize? She should apologize, but she had a feeling the mayor wasn’t going to accept it. So what? Should she play along and incriminate herself more? Increase his ire?

A low “Oi” breaks her thoughts— the tension— and Emily and the mayor look up towards Jeremy, Jeremy who isn’t even looking in their direction, continuing the conversation with their father while simultaneously beckoning the mayor over with two fingers.

“Congratulations on your engagement,” the mayor says, pairing it with a look that could be described as nothing short of catty before sauntering over to join Jeremy, resting his chin on her brother’s head of soft curls.

Jeremy looks up at him, then glances over at her, hand raised slightly.

I got you, sis.

Emily relaxes. This was a good thing, probably.

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