Chapter Nine: Hooked On A Feeling

The tension built for the rest of the day until it was so thick even Bruxharu himself couldn’t tear through it. Their one bedroom house had somehow, in a matter of minutes, become even smaller. From the living room, he could hear her moving around in the bedroom, and whenever she walked out, she pointedly ignored him. Nowhere was comfortable.

It reached its climax that night when Bruxharu crawled into bed, at last, and slept next to Randi’s already sleeping body. Though they didn’t speak, the tepid air between them began to dissolve little by little and life returned to relative normalness.

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Hormones?, he wondered as he washed up before work. He’d remembered reading about the changes a human woman’s body went through during pregnancy; the cravings, the spikes of mood, the body aches, exhaustion. He knew that even the hardest day of work for him couldn’t compare to what was happening to Randi.

And that was under normal circumstances. Bruxharu, the full-blood demon, wouldn’t have a normal human child no matter what. Was the baby spiking her pregnancy symptoms even worse? Demons, by right, were more quick to anger and naturally hot-headed. Was their child influencing that in her?

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Randi: Brux? I know you’re leaving for work soon, but do you have a minute?

Randi stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. The first words she’d spoken to him in nearly 48 hours came on the sweetest tone that he’d ever heard. Before she could say anything, he found himself rushing to be the first.

Bruxharu: I’m sorry, Randi. I want you to know that. If I came off like I was snapping at you or your sister, I didn’t mean that. I sometimes don’t know how to talk to people.

Randi: It was me… I wasn’t expecting pregnancy to be this hard, or having this big change in my life with moving and Precious suddenly not being there… I just get so tense!

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Bruxharu: It’s okay. I forgive you. I’m a tough guy, I can learn to take it.

Randi: You are. You’re my big, tough demon. I’m sorry for yelling at you. Maybe today I’ll get some rest while you’re gone! Don’t work too hard tonight.

Before he left, she kissed his cheek and smiled.

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But rest would soon cave to curiosity when Randi’s phone rang and she heard Precious on the other end.

Precious: Come out with me. There’s a festival going on tonight that I’ve been dying to go to and I think you’ll love it. You need to get out of that house anyway, and out of Oasis Springs. You always loved San Myshuno!

Not only did Randi love San Myshuno, but also the delicious food that was made in it, always around every corner. Without hesitation, she slipped her shoes on and left to meet her older sister.

Randi: It all smells so good!

Precious: I’m glad you came! Don’t worry about anything tonight. We’re just going to enjoy ourselves.

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Under the brightening lights with the sun setting over the city, Randi took in the sights and smells. Men and women milled about the food vendors as the spices tanged the air through the whole festival. Skillful fingers plucked the strings of a guitar and a woman’s voice rose up, smooth as honey.

The last time Randi had been anywhere as lovely had been when she was a little girl. She’d clung to Precious through the crowd of people and watched street artists paint the sidewalk into a masterpiece right before her very eyes.

Somehow, the festival was even better. Whether it was because she was an adult capable of experiencing more of the world or just because the city had evolved even more since all those many years ago, she didn’t know.

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The bartender looked at her when she approached, a confused but polite expression.

Bartender: Are you sure you should be having anything?

Randi: One won’t hurt!

At least, she figured one wouldn’t hurt. Precious had told her that when Randi went off on her tangent about being tense all the time.

Randi took her glass and found Precious through the crowd. She sat at a picnic table with a plate of food reserved for her sister. The men sitting with her seemed to know Randi upon sight, as they stood up to greet her and escort her into the conversation.

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Randi: And then Precious said, “These are my coworkers!” Can you believe it, Brux?! Precious lives in San Myshuno now! She said her job relocated her to the city, and she took the offer right away! She said she’s leasing a three bedroom apartment right now! And Brux, it is soooo pretty. The view is amazing! I can’t wait to go back!

By the time Bruxharu had come home from work at the end of his shift, Randi was already sleeping soundly. It wasn’t until the next day that Bruxharu heard all of the details.

Bruxharu: But what about resting? I thought that was the plan…

Randi: I had a better time being out with Precious! You should have seen all of that food! Everyone was steaming out of their ears! It was hilarious!

Just then, Randi’s phone rang from the bedroom and she leapt up to grab it. Pregnant or not, she’d suddenly become agile like a cat! And as excited as one upon seeing a mouse…

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Randi: Precious wants to take me back into the city! To see a show! It is seriously the coolest thing that she lives there now. I can’t wait.

Bruxharu: Randi…

She barely heard him for how furiously she tapped away on her phone screen. He cleared his throat and tried again.

Bruxharu: Randi, you need to stay home now… The baby is ready to come any time and I have a day off! I told Pete it was the baby’s due date and he let me stay home tonight so that I could be with the two of you.

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Randi: Brux, Precious is my family too! Not just you and the baby! I want to go. I need to go! I’ve dreamt about San Myshuno for years… I can’t wait until we move there.

Bruxharu: … The plan was never to move to San Myshuno.

Randi: … You want to stay in this desert forever?

Bruxharu: It’s my new home! This is my land. We own this place, Randi…

The look of confusion crossed to anger, but before she could start the argument brewing up between them, everything washed away by the sudden spike of pain in her body.

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Randi: Oooooh! What is that?!

Bruxharu launched up from his seat to face her, but her sudden scream sent him into a full on panic.

Bruxharu: Randi?!

Randi: Oh!! I think its time! Owowow, Brux! Take me to the hospital!!

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Bruxharu: Okay! Let me throw on some clothes! Do you need some pants? I’ll get you some pants! Something to wear! What do you want to wear?! Anything and I’ll get it or you!

Randi: Just! Go! Bruxharu!!!

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He didn’t know how they got there, or even the person that checked them in at the front desk. The world, the concept of time, raced by in front of him as Bruxharu Danusahm tried hard to keep up. And then, all of a sudden, it came to a dead-set stop.

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The beeping machines grew louder and louder with the doctor’s instructions. Suddenly the sterile white walls started closing in around him and Bruxharu felt the breath leave his lungs.

Doctor: It’s all going to be fine. Just a few more levers and pulls and we’ll have your baby out to meet the world.

But the good doctor might as well have been talking gibberish for all Brux heard. The doctor’s face swam fuzzy into view, but somehow he managed to stay upright and present.

Bruxharu: Randi… Randi, it’s going to be okay. Almost there. You’re doing so great.

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Though she heard them both word for word, she looked at neither of them. The pain didn’t even seem to bother her as much anymore. Randi waited for the birth of the child, and idly wondered what it would look like… Like Bruxharu, it’s demon father? Green skin, black eyes, horns? Or like her…?

It wouldn’t look like her. It would look like the red sand of the desert and like the blaze of the sun. It would look like the old local bar and the dunes she couldn’t escape from, no matter how hard she tried.

It never bothered to cross her mind until then: the future. Precious had asked all of those questions, but had she? No…

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With all of the grace of a true princess, the sweet little girl entered the world so unlike the way her father had: quietly.

Bruxharu: Is she okay?! Is she healthy? Why isn’t she crying?!

Doctor: She’s healthy and most importantly, she’s happy! Congratulations, mama, papa. It’s a beautiful baby girl. I’ll work up the birth certificate.

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Her name would be Saena Danusahm, after the great demoness Sae who fought away the hybrid frogs from her land.

She listened to her dad’s corny jokes, and smiled when he laughed at himself. It was singularly the most beautiful thing Bruxharu had ever seen. To witness it reminded him of his own father’s will, in taking Brux in as he had and also in sending him back out. Holding little Saena, he understood then what it was all for.

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Author’s Note!

Hello, everyone! I haven’t been able to play/write much lately due to the concern for the state of my country, work, visiting with my family (who live out of state, so it’s always nice to be able to see them), and all around other responsibilities! That being said, I completely intend to jump back into the story as best as I can, posting when and how I can, and furthering along the Danusahm generations.

In coming back to it, though, I’ve decided to take a more… Random Legacy Challenge approach rather than a Prettacy Legacy Challenge. I feel like I’ll stay much more invested when I can do specific things for each generations and not have to think about long-term gameplay, but rather the generation I’m on. Especially since my favorite part of the Prettacy Challenge is to watch the evolution of the genes with each generation, which is what we’re going to be doing anyway!

I’ve played ahead and I have some chapters to write up first, but I’ve also rolled for Bruxharu’s Generation 1 parameters, so I will note in the beginning of the chapter when the rules start taking affect, and then I will roll again once the next generation is born for those rules! Since I’m much more concerned about story rather than the challenge itself (seriously, I’m just using it to have fun and keep my gameplay as interesting as possible), I think I’m going to keep my rolls to myself and let the parameters play out through the story by what my sims say and do!

If anyone absolutely wants to know the rolls outright rather than see the gameplay, by all means, just ask! I’ll be glad to share.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far and continue to do so!

Chapter Eight: Baby’s On Fire

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Bruxharu called the first person that came to mind, Don, and asked him to meet somewhere. The only place he could think to suggest was Pepe’s, and Don agreed that he sounded like he needed a stiff glass of juice.

Bruxharu: Thanks for meeting me out. I really need to just… talk or vent.

Don: Don’t worry about it, man. I’m here for you. You said you had good news and bad news? Well, lay it on me.

Bruxharu took a deep breath.

Bruxharu: Randi’s pregnant.

Don: Oh… Plum, man. I’m so sorry… How soon?

Bruxharu: …That’s the good news.

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Don: OH! Oh, right. Yeah, of course. So what’s the bad news?

Bruxharu: The bad news is that everything else isn’t good news. I just met Randi’s sister, and she chewed us out. She said we aren’t ready for this child, and I think she’s… right. Randi quit her job so we’re depending on my small paycheck to make it through, she just wants to watch TV all day… I like her, but I’m starting to feel like I don’t even really know her. That’s another thing Precious said, that I didn’t know her. And she’s right about that too. But I don’t want to treat her like her sister treated her, like I’m lecturing her. So I don’t know what to do. And on top of that, I had a run in with my neighbor. You know? … Lancy Nandgraab?

Don gave him a funny look, but by the cautious glance Bruxharu gave around the bar (especially those people closest to where they were), and the way he lowered his voice, he didn’t ask.

Don: Okay… Don’t worry about… You Know Who. She’s not important right now. What’s important is this baby situation. You’re going to be a father… That’s huge, man…

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It was. Don was right: it was huge. In a matter of days, Randi would be giving birth to Bruxharu’s son or daughter. Fear pierced his chest, wedging itself into his ribs and beyond. Despite the way others had acted, he didn’t regret it, and he would do it all again the exact same way if he could (except maybe a better technique between the sheets…) But even still, he felt the strong need to sit with his head between his knees until the world stopped spinning so fast.

He wondered if his father had felt the same way when he decided to take him in. Perhaps it had been worse for him, because there was no time to prepare like Bruxharu had during the pregnancy. Perhaps he should count himself lucky…

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Don: And if you really need me to, I can always give ol’ Precious a call. Sounds to me like she’s too pent up and needs some… attention.

For the first time in days, Bruxharu laughed.

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It’d been too long since he’d spent time with Don and he didn’t realize just how much they had to catch up on. Bruxharu told him all of the details with Nancy, and the research Moira was doing for him (which reminded him that he needed to call her.) He told him everything about his job, caught him up on his old acquaintance Pete, and on everything about his relationship with Randi. In return, Don told Bruxharu all of the seedy little details of his romantic escapades in hopes of making him jealous.

It only worked a little.

By the time Bruxharu dragged himself home, it was late. Very late. Randi had made herself a spot in the very center of the bed, and rather than wake her, he chose to sleep on the couch.

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Randi sent him to bed when she woke up.

Her stomach churned at every little bite of food she had, just as it had when she first suspected she was pregnant. For whatever reason, her baby hadn’t settled since. At first, it was easy to ignore in all of the excitement of moving in, of a first love, of being pregnant. But, the shininess was wearing thin, and fast, and she just wished that the nausea would pass finally.

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It didn’t.

She hugged the toilet and whined aloud. How long was this supposed to last?! Shouldn’t it have been over by now?! Why hadn’t anyone told her?!

While Bruxharu slept on in the bedroom, Randi cleaned her face and damped her forehead.

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And then she called the only person she knew she could call…

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Randi: Everything aches and I’m always so tense and I feel sick. I can’t keep anything down! It’s all fighting back! – What if the baby doesn’t like me? Do you think that’s it? – I thought the morning sickness was supposed to be done with by now?!

Precious: Randi, this is all a natural part of pregnancy. If you had told me sooner, I could have told you that.

Randi: Please don’t start.

Precious: You’re right. I’m sorry. I just… can’t believe you’re really pregnant. Or that you’re living here. I mean, look at this place, Randi. The baby won’t even have a room of its own. Can you afford a crib? Does Bruxharu know what comes with raising a child? I know you don’t, but does he?

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Randi: I don’t know, Precious! I don’t know. I don’t know anymore. I thought all of this was going to be different. Better. I want to be a stay-at-home mom that doesn’t have to work. And he promised me that! But…

Precious: That is literally the busiest job ever, Randi. A stay-at-home mother works harder than any other profession. Say goodbye to sleep, to peace and quiet, to privacy. Your needs aren’t first anymore when you have a child. This isn’t right for you, Randi.

Randi: But I just thought…

Precious: Then you weren’t thinking.

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In the bedroom, Bruxharu’s phone buzzed him awake with a sudden start. He fumbled with the buttons and squinted at the screen and the text message that came up. Who was Ira? How did they get his number? And why were they asking him out?

For a moment, he thought that it was a wrong number. But then it dawned on him: The Librarian.

The same woman that had jumped down his throat about questioning Nancy Landgraab was asking him out on a date to one of the most public places in Oasis Springs! What was she getting at? Had Nancy set this up? Was it a scheme to trap him?

Rather than answer at all, Bruxharu closed his phone’s screen and crawled out of bed. The sound of voices in the living room drew his attention there, and without thinking to change, he walked out to investigate.

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Precious: You know I’m right, Randi. Don’t look at me that way.

Bruxharu: Right about what? – When did you get here? What time is it? I’m sorry I slept so long… I got in late.

He never caught the look that Precious gave Randi, the knowing look of a fixed stare. By the time he turned to the pair of sisters, Precious smiled up at him as she stood to leave. Randi joined her.

Precious: Good to see you, Bruxharu. Maybe in the future we can have a thorough chat and clear up some air between us, huh? Maybe…

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Bruxharu’s jaw worked in its socket, and he felt his eyes narrow on the Oakley sister. Before he could say anything, Randi shot him a look so cold it stilled his tongue and whatever words may have been on them.

Precious, on the other hand, only moved in to hug her sister.

Precious: Call me. And consider what we talked about, okay? There’s a lot to think about. I love you.

Randi: I love you, Precious.

Precious: Bruxharu, take care of yourself and take care of my sister. I’m holding you to it.

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As soon as Precious walked out and shut the door behind her, Randi turned on Bruxharu like a rabid dog. She raised her voice so loudly it jarred him off the couch. Holding her back, she took the place he abandoned.

Randi: Where the plum were you last night, Bruxharu Danusahm?! What gives you the right to stay out that late without telling me where you were going to be? What if I had gone into labor?! What if something had happened to you? What if something had happened to me?!

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Bruxharu: Randi! Calm down! – You look… sick? Is something wrong? Should I call a doctor?!

Randi: Don’t you dare change the subject on me! I asked you a question! Where were you?!

Bruxharu: I was at Pepe’s, with Don! I didn’t talk to anyone else! I was just catching up with my friend and then I came home. Randi, what’s gotten into you? Did Precious say something? Did something happen?

Randi: Where do you get off accusing my sister of anything?! – You know what?! Just go! Go! Get out! I don’t want to see you! Go to your plum job that doesn’t pay you pennies!

Stunned, Bruxharu found himself at a loss for words…

 

Chapter Seven: Rebel Yell

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Sleeping next to Randi was the most comfortable Bruxharu had ever been in his life. In quiet little moments through the night, he reached out to feel her there, dreaming soundly, and scooted himself closer to her body. Within moments, he would fall back asleep, just to wake up again with his arms around her growing belly.

But living in the same house was another matter. Bruxharu took a shower upon waking up and dressed himself for the day. By noon, Randi still lounged in her sleeping sweater, bare foot, taking her time with a sandwich Bruxharu had made the night before.

Bruxharu: I have the next two days off. Why don’t you invite your sister over?

Randi: Do we have to?

Bruxharu: Don’t you think she wants to know that you’re going to have a baby? And maybe with who? I want to meet her, Randi.

Randi: Okay… I’ll call her to meet us at the park. We should go on a date!

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Bruxharu didn’t know how romantic a day trip to the park with his girlfriend’s family would be, but he didn’t argue it. Randi had been excited enough to abandon her plate of food to get dressed, so if a date was what she wanted, a date she would have.

As soon as they walked up to the park right in the center of town, Bruxharu spotted Moira and waved to her.Without hesitation, she rushed over to join them.

Moira: Brux! Hey! I found some information out for you-… Oh my… You must be Randi, and you are definitely pregnant. – I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m Moira.

Randi gave Bruxharu a questioning look, but smiled nonetheless.

Randi: That’s right, I’m Randi. Are you old friends with Brux?

Bruxharu: Moira was one of the first people to help me get settled here. She’s been amazing help.

Moira: About that information, we’ll catch up later, okay?

Bruxharu: Sure, okay…

Moira: Bye, you two!

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Randi stared at him across the short distance, her bottom lip puckered.

Randi: What information? And what did you mean, ‘amazing’? Do you like each other? Is there something going on?

Bruxharu: What?! No! Randi, no… Moira is married and has two kids. I’m with you, and we’re going to have a baby. There is nothing going on. She’s just a friend.

Randi: What information, then?

Bruxharu: I’ll tell you at home, where it’s more private, okay? I promise. Come here…

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Bruxharu: Nothing compares to the two of you.

He spread his big hands against her belly and smiled. When she returned it, he snuck a small kiss away from her.

Bruxharu: I’m going to go find us a picnic bench. You wait here for your sister.

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Instead, it was Nancy Landgraab that came jogging up while on her daily run. Had Bruxharu known, he would have chased her away like a dog chases a cat (or, at least, he would have liked to.) But Randi smiled at her.

Nancy: Randi Oakley, what a lovely surprise! -My word, are you pregnant?! You’re absolutely glowing, my dear. How are you?

Randi: I’m good, Nancy! Thank you. I feel good. I’m definitely pregnant.

Nancy: Your sister told me that you moved out, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out why. I guess the mystery is solved! I’ve heard rumors that you’ve been seeing the new man in town. That Danusahm man.

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Randi: That’s right! Bruxharu. He’s my boyfriend. We’re neighbors now, Nancy! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live up on that beautiful hill!

Nancy laughed, but how true it was could not be determined.

Nancy: Well, wonder no more, my sweet girl. Are you making him take care of you? I heard he’s an… aspiring entertainer. God forbid. I hope you’re going to make him find a better job to support you with. That’s no income for a woman worth it such as you or a newborn!

Randi: I know. But I have faith in Brux. He just got promoted and if he keeps it up, it could really pay off! And if it doesn’t, he’ll do what he needs to.

Nancy: I hope you’re right.

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Bruxharu: Hey, you. Is your sister here?

Randi sat down on the bench and scooted a hamburger toward herself.

Randi: Precious? No. Not yet. She’ll find us. I just saw some friends I know and told them about the baby. – Hey, Brux? Have you thought about what else you’d like to do besides being an entertainer?

Bruxharu: No… I like my job. It was rough at first, but it’s getting better. Pete says I have a natural tal-…

Randi: Oh! There’s Precious!

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Randi: Come sit!

Randi didn’t move to greet her sister when she approached, but she didn’t need to. Her baby bump was so obvious, even under the table, that Precious just stared at it as she sat down.

Randi: I’m-

Precious: Pregnant! Randi, when did this happen?!

Randi: Surprise!

Precious: Plum right, it’s a surprise! – Who are you?

Bruxharu: … Uh, hi, I’m Bruxharu Danusahm.

But Precious didn’t seem to hear. Within the moment, she wheeled back onto Randi.

Precious: Randi, what made you possibly think this was a good idea? You’re not ready to be a mom! You’re always so impulsive! You can barely keep your room clean, and you’re supposed to be a young adult!

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Randi: It’s not like we asked for this to happen, but it did! I can’t change that! We’re in love, Precious. And I’m pregnant. Deal with it!

Precious: HAH! You’re one to talk! You’ve never dealt with anything in your life!

Randi: I didn’t ask for a lecture! We wanted you to be here because you’re my sister, but not if this is the way you’re going to act!

Precious: If you can’t handle the way I’M reacting, how are you going to be able to handle a kid, Randi!?

With a sudden force, Randi stood up from the picnic table and stormed away. She muttered to herself, a string of inaudible curses by the sounds of it, and stomped away through the brush and flowers toward the restrooms.

Bruxharu: Hey, don’t speak to her like that. We’re doing the best we can.

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Precious: Yeah, and that’s the sad part! This is the best you two can do! You’re not any more prepared to raise a child than she is, and don’t you dare act like you know more about my sister than I do. I raised her, practically. I pay her bills, I buy what she needs. You don’t have a clue!

Bruxharu: Maybe I don’t, but mocking us about it isn’t going to change anything except that she won’t want to be around you! We wanted you to be apart of this experience, but if this is the way you’re going to deal with it, then you can forget it!

And with that, he stormed away after Randi. But by the time he reached the bathrooms, he realized that she’d left the park entirely. Their plans tanked, their date had finished as a massive failure, and their moods crashed with it.

Chapter Six: It Takes Two

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Somehow, some way, the course of his work day had changed a terrible morning into a relatively decent afternoon. He’d left home prepared to roll up his sleeves and throw a punch at any one of Pete’s entertainer friends if they so much as made a snicker in his direction (not that he’d ever actually thrown a punch before in his life.) To his surprise, no one said anything. And if they did, it only came with a small pat on the shoulder.

Keeping his cool had paid off, and by the middle of the shift, Pete sent him home earlier with a new position and a bonus! So long as he promised to keep writing new material, and consider being able to pluck a guitar as a back-up.

Bruxharu Danusahm had officially become an Open Mic Seeker with a night time schedule.

He called up Randi right away.

Bruxharu: I probably should have called you before I left for work this morning, but I was… running late. I’m sorry. But I have big news! Can we meet somewhere? The library?

Randi: That’s perfect, because I have big news too, Brux…

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Randi’s news was bigger than anything he could have possibly had to say…

Randi: I’m pregnant!

The words slammed into him like a train without a conductor. For a brief moment, the panic that overtook him caused him to frown in flash of confusion. Pregnant? But how…? Of course, he knew how, and if he could stop being an idiot for a moment, he wouldn’t ask himself such silly questions. But he couldn’t help it… Pregnant. His child was growing inside of Randi’s belly and already she was showing.

Would it be more like Bruxharu? If it was as big as he was (as most Azil demons are), would the pregnancy hurt Randi? It would explain why she was already showing…

For the first time since he’d moved to the surface and into the human world, Bruxharu ached to talk to his father. In that moment especially, his absence was felt to the point of tears, but Bruxharu managed (if only just) to keep himself together.

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Randi: I know it’s surprising, and we didn’t plan for it, or anything… But we did woohoo…

Bruxharu: You’re pregnant.

Randi nodded and moved her hands to her swelling belly. Immediately, Bruxharu smiled. And then, in a fit of madness, he began to laugh.

Bruxharu: You’re pregnant!

He grabbed her with careful hands and smacked a kiss to her face, and then her mouth, and then her forehead.

Bruxharu: I can’t believe you’re pregnant! We’re going to have a baby…

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The news of his promotion dithered away to the back of his mind as visions of cradles, diapers, and tiny toys filled his head. When he went into the library and sat down at one of the computer stations, he completely left behind any intention of putting together his own material and instead took to searching all about human pregnancy.

It was one of those topics that, as a growing and learning child, he had never tried to read too much about. But he found it funny that as he grew older, so did his interests and priorities.

He was going to be a father…

And for good measure, he made a note to also check his books at home (the few he brought with him from the underworld.) With any luck, he would be able to find information on Azil pregnancies.

Just in case.

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Meanwhile, Randi wandered to the bathroom. She’d heard the old wives tales about needing to pee so much more while pregnant, and boy were they right!

She paused to look at herself in the mirror, and she smiled.

Mrs. Randi Danusahm had a nice ring to it, she thought. Mr. and Mrs. Bruxharu Danusahm. Bruxharu the famous comedian. So many dreams swam into her head, dreams about the baby, dreams about a beautiful ceremony accompanied by piano, a flowing white dress. And the best part of all of those dreams: she didn’t have to do any of the planning. If Bruxharu didn’t take care of it, her sister did, and her friends.

She’d better go home and start packing, she thought.

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By the time Bruxharu made it home from the library (his head full of terrifying information), Randi had moved what little she had. As it turned out, Randi’s sister, Precious, owned most of everything that was Randi’s, even her bed and furniture.

Bruxharu: Did you talk to her? Was she alright? Is she excited?

Randi: Of course I talked to her!

Randi hardly looked away from the television in front of her.

Bruxharu: Well, was she excited?

Randi: Oh, I didn’t tell her about the baby…

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Bruxharu: What do you mean? Why not?

He settled his weight on the couch next to her. The movement sparked her to look away (that, and it was a commercial break.) She smiled at Bruxharu.

Randi: It just didn’t seem like the right time. And besides, I wasn’t in the mood to hear one of her lectures.

Bruxharu: She lectures you? Are you two… close, or not close…?

Randi: We’re fine! She’s just… She’s Precious.

Bruxharu: Why don’t you invite her over, tomorrow? We can tell her about the baby, and I’d love to meet her. She’s… family now.

Randi: Mhm!

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When the commercials were done, Randi returned to watching the screen. Bruxharu glanced at her, glanced at the tv.

Bruxharu: What are you going to tell your job?

Randi: What?

Bruxharu: Your job? When is your next shift? They might be able to tell you when you can take family leave.

Randi: Oh, I already told them. They completely understood and wished us a healthy baby! I think Zoe might be throwing me a baby shower there, even though I don’t work there anymore- …

Bruxharu: What?! They fired you? They can’t do that…

Randi laughed. It was the first time during the program that she looked away to touch her own face.

Randi: No, silly. I quit!

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Bruxharu: Wait, you what…?

Randi: I’m pregnant now! I can’t be pregnant and work. I have to rest and help the baby grow, and get ready to give birth. – Aw, Brux, that smells delicious. Thank you. I’m starving now that I’m eating for two.

Confused, Bruxharu let Randi take his plate and he didn’t bother trying to keep it. Instead, he shook his head.

Bruxharu: But, Randi, I only make a little over $200 a day… We can’t afford a baby on that.

Randi: Don’t worry so much, Brux. We’ll be fine! We have each other… And that’s the most important thing, right?

Chapter Five: 15 Minutes

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The moment Bruxharu came home from his first day of work, he called Randi over against his better judgement.

What a horrible first day! He hadn’t gotten fired, no, but even that would’ve been a better alternative to having to stay the whole time while comedians cracked jokes at his expense. If not about his green skin, then about the size of his horns, or his black eyes, or the patterns in his skin. The only thing that kept him from storming all the way home (or worse, letting his instincts get the better of him and starting a fight) had been that he wasn’t the only butt of the jokes and that at least once everyone was laughed at.

But that didn’t stop his blood from boiling, just as it had since he was a teenager. His father called it a phase he’d never grown out of, but Bruxharu knew better. His hotheadedness was purely genetic. And until his skin could thicken, every small wound dug at his nerves until they were exposed and he was inflamed.

As soon as Randi arrived, Bruxharu’s will broke. He snatched her into his arms and planted a kiss on her unlike anything he’d ever read, much less experienced himself.

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Despite Randi’s moans,  when Bruxharu righted them in place so that she could stand on her own again, she (reluctantly) pulled away.

Randi: Brux! What was that about?

Logical Bruxharu, the one that was desperate to explain, was shoved aside by someone else entirely, someone more primal, someone more ‘real’. It had been everything that Randi had wanted, right?

Bruxharu: I have to kiss you. I can’t stop myself, Randi. I feel tight and pent up and I’ve been thinking about you since I first saw you.

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Randi: You have?

Bruxharu nodded. He took a step back as he felt his stomach knot up, but whether from nerves or something else, he couldn’t know for sure. Eagerly, Randi followed.

Randi: Oh, kiss me again, Brux.

And again, lamely, he nodded. But if in his desperate state he were to accidentally hurt her, he would never forgive himself. She was human, after all.  And he… wasn’t.

Bruxharu: I will. I’ll be right back, okay?

Randi: Don’t be too long.

She winked at him.

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Bruxharu: Okay, Bruxharu Danusahm. Get yourself under control. This may be the first time you’ve ever touched or kissed someone, but it won’t be the last. No matter what happens, the world will go on and you’ll be fine. Just calm down. Randi is here now. The day is over with. Why am I still angry?! There’s a beautiful woman waiting for you right outside the door. If that’s not a reason to be excited, I don’t know what is.

For every word he said aloud to his own reflection, he stared himself down and willed himself to believe them. Finally, and with a deep breath, he was ready for the unknown.

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No romance novel could have ever prepared him.

And yet, while it did feel good (of course it did), it wasn’t what he had been expecting out of his first woohoo. The sheets kept getting in the way, he felt too big for the bed, everything was complicated. He expected more out of himself…

But apparently he was the only one to feel that way. After shutting off the lights, Bruxharu crawled back in bed next to Randi and watched as she immediately drifted off to sleep. For himself, sleep wouldn’t come for another hour at least, and he hoped by in the morning, the naggling embarrassment he felt would be forgotten.

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Thanks to his sudden onset of brief insomnia, Bruxharu slept later in the morning than usual and he wasn’t the first to wake up rested. Randi left the bed, casually redressed in her clothes, and made her way for the couch in the living room.

The television, for what it was and as tiny as it was, had enough channels for her to flip through happily (as channel surfing was her favorite activity after all). But the whirl of images flashing by on the screen caused a small tickle in the back of her throat that soon flooded her belly. Nausea washed over her and she willed herself not to be sick.

Unless the hotdogs from their date had been bad after all, Randi had a sneaking suspicion already…

Without waking Bruxharu, she turned off the TV and snuck out of the house to run all the way home to her sister and her medicine cabinet.

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When Bruxharu finally woke, he found it to be a worse morning than he had feared the night before. Not only was his embarrassment back and stronger than ever, Randi had disappeared. He lost what he wanted, and gained what he wished would just go away so that he could live the rest of his life in a miserable hole in the ground (not that all holes under the ground were miserable, to be sure.)

And the day was only beginning…

Chapter Four: Love Is Blind

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Moira said that letting a bully like Nancy Landgraab take up anymore space in his thoughts or his time would essentially be allowing her to win even without her knowing. She suggested that he go out that night, taking someone special along with him, to not only distract himself from Nancy but also from his nerves about his new job that he’d be starting! He couldn’t argue the logic, and since he’d already decided that Moira knew her stuff, he agreed to give Randi a call.

At first, she seemed confused about who it was on the phone with her, but before he could get the word ‘green’ out of his mouth, it dawned on her.

Randi: Of course! You’re not easy to forget.

He chalked it up to mere distraction, and he urged his nerve back to ask her out on a date. To his honest (but happy) surprise, she said yes.

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It would have been perfect except for one small bit of road block he couldn’t have possibly prepared for: Bear Night.

One by one, the costumed bears marched into the bar, their voices muffled by the anonymity their fur heads allowed them to have. One particularly brown bear waved at them as it passed, to which Randi quickly turned away.

Bruxharu: What’s that all about?

He’d never seen such a thing! Or even heard of it. None of his father’s vast expanse of books had ever talked about it. Perhaps he would have to take time at the library in the future to do his own research. Randi did not look in the mood to catch him up to speed.

Randi: It’s just some stupid club that meets around here. I knew a guy… It doesn’t matter. Can we get out of here?

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While Bruxharu was happy to do whatever she asked, the problem was that he didn’t know where else to go! He’d only lived in Oasis Springs long enough to visit a few places, one of which was where she worked. He glanced at the Prickly Pear diner, and Randi caught the look. She watched him, waiting, and though she didn’t say a single word, he could feel her stare testing him.

He looked around more. Down across the street, the river running through Oasis Springs sat dormant and quiet that night. Fish leapt up and broke through the surface, but even their lazy activity only seemed to add to the hush over the town. He saw the dock, saw the grill, and it was all he needed.

Bruxharu: Come with me.

Like a light, Randi brightened right in front of his eyes and he knew he had passed the test.

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Bruxharu: I’m sorry there was a change of plans on our date.

Randi: No, no! It’s okay. Change can be nice. And anyway, I’d rather spend time with the real deal.

Confused, Bruxharu looked back at her from the grill he manned, carefully flipping hot dogs. One day, he would own a grill of his own.

Bruxharu: What do you mean?

Randi: I mean, you’re really a… a…

Bruxharu: Demon?

Randi: Mhm! And those guys that dress up in the bear costumes are just playing pretend. It’s not real. They’re just… Gary and Aaron and Jake underneath the suit. But you’re you all the time.

Bruxharu frowned at the grill, but before he could ask anything more, Randi stepped closer to him.

Randi: My sister says that you’re on the run from the authorities and that you must have done something bad.

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He didn’t know whether to laugh or defend himself. The swell of anger that burned in he chest had to be swallowed down. The words sounded like something out of Nancy Landgraab’s mouth. Maybe rumors had started… But Randi’s sweet face smiled at him expectantly, and he remembered Moira’s advice.

Bruxharu: Why does she think that? I’m not. I just moved here for a fresh start. My father sent me up because he thought I deserved to be happy.

Randi: Is your father a demon too?! Like a demon king? Are you a demon prince?

That time, Bruxharu did laugh.

Bruxharu: That would be a better story. Tell me about you. You have a sister? How long have you lived here? Do you like your job?

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Randi sighed, picked up a plate of food, and nodded her head.

Randi: I have a sister. She’s older than me. Our parents died when I was young and she took care of us. I live with her. We used to live in Willow Creek, so we haven’t lived here long. And no, I don’t like it. If it wasn’t for my sister, I wouldn’t be working there, but she needed money right away.

Bruxharu: I’m sorry, Randi…

Randi: It’s fine for now. Do you have a job?

Bruxharu: Just today, actually. I start tomorrow. I’m kind of nervous…

Randi closed some of the distance and smiled, a smile so genuine it reached her eyes.

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Randi: Do you make a lot of money?

Bruxharu: I hope I will. I want to provide for my family and for my legacy. It’s what my father envisioined for me too.

He stood from the picnic table just as Randi reached him. Her voice lowered huskily, smooth like juice. With her that close, his entire world swam with her until he was consumed. All he smelt was Randi, all he could see (and see he did. He couldn’t help himself! And she didn’t seem to mind.)

Randi: I can’t wait…

 

Chapter Three: Can’t Win Em All

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After a full night’s sleep, Bruxharu woke up to the bright day with a heart full of hope. He hadn’t heard from Don since they left the Prickly Pear diner, so he assumed he made it home safely. But he did recall all of the advice his friend had given, and Pete’s number.

He didn’t bother getting dressed. Picking up his phone, he dialed Pete the Entertainer and paced around his kitchen between his tiny dining table and the old counters. Don had been exactly right about Pete: the man was odd, eccentric sounding, but his enthusiasm (and, surprisingly, his criticisms) for the entertainment business drew Bruxharu in. And after a short phone interview, Bruxharu was pleased to hear that he’d landed the job as an Amateur Entertainer! From what he could tell, he was little more than an assistant to Pete or anyone else that Pete needed him to assist, but a job was a job, and Don had insisted it was most important before anything else.

Write jokes, had been Pete’s advice. If he wanted to advance as an entertainer, Bruxharu needed to come up with his own material and it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to pluck an instrument either.

Bruxharu: How do I begin coming up with my own material?

Pete: It’s called the internet, friend.

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Bruxharu hung up the phone and promised to meet Pete bright and early the following morning at 9 am. He shot a text off to Don to let him know the good news, and then suddenly, he had time to himself. The tiny television set he’d been so excited to explore the day before sat black screened and uninviting. He just wasn’t interested anymore. He sat down on his loveseat and flipped through the news, the action channel, the documentary channels about cultures from all over the human world (something he truly should’ve enjoyed!), but he settled on Romance, and wiled himself to watch.

A knock at his door interrupted him. There was a guest, but so far as he knew, he wasn’t expecting anyone to come around, unless maybe it was Don. Something in his gut told him that Don didn’t necessarily wait for invitations.

But it wasn’t Don, and sadly it wasn’t Randi. Instead, it was a woman in a striking green dress, her skin somehow flawless despite the hot sun that blazed overhead.

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Bruxharu: A guest! Hello!

But if the woman had any previous enthusiasm for coming by, it was gone the moment he stepped out of the door. Skepticism etched itself across her face, and the gourmet fruitcake she held up proudly slowly began to lower as if she didn’t care one way or the other if it landed completely on the ground.

Nancy: I believe you’re our new neighbor.

Bruxharu: Oh! That’s your place there? That makes sense… – I met your husband yesterday! Geoffrey? I told him, your place looks amazing! I look forward to being neighbors.

Nancy: I’m sorry, but why are you here?

Bruxharu: … What?

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Nancy: Why. Are. You here? It’s really a simple question, and please, know that I’m not intending to be rude, but why are you here? You hardly look like you belong here.

At last, it had come. The nightmare that Bruxharu had every night of his teenage hood as soon as he was old enough to realize the harsh reality of how different he really was had reared its ugly head. But it came in the form of a beautiful, yet forked tongued she-demon that didn’t even know his name.

Nancy: This land used to mean something, it used to have value… Did you know that? Do you have any idea of the history here? No, I’m sure you don’t. Nevermind that I asked.

Bruxharu: …I bought this land…

Nancy: What do you do?

The question whipped by him, and before he could stop himself or get a handle on what was even happening, he found himself answering without thought.

Bruxharu: I’m an amateur entertainer…

Nancy scoffed without ever looking at him and held the fruitcake back up for him to take.

Nancy: Yes, of course you are. Why wouldn’t you be? Everyone wants to be an entertainer in this town. These people used to have drive, and focus. – I made this, but now I’m so sure why. Here.

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From his pocket, his phone buzzed with a text message. In one hand he took the fruitcake and in the other he desperately grasped the phone out. It was from Don. Before he could shoot him another text with “HELP!” in all caps, Nancy pushed past Bruxharu and walked herself down the pathway to his front door.

Nancy: You met my husband, you said?

Bruxharu: At Pepe’s…

He rushed to put his phone away and chase after her. They reached the door at the same time, and stood, waiting patiently.

Nancy: Well?

Bruxharu: Well…?

Nancy: Invite me in. Do you have no manners? – This is worst than I thought…

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Bruxharu: Right… I’m sorry… Please, come into my home. Thank you for the fruitcake. I’ll just put this away.

Without word, Nancy followed him inside and stood just beyond the door. Her eyes searched every nook and every cranny until Bruxharu returned. As subtly as possible, he used his big body to keep her confined to the front of the house, away from the rest of his personal space where her judging eyes couldn’t reach.

After a long moment of silence, Nancy smirked.

Nancy: You truly look as lost as a newborn babe.

Bruxharu: It’s been a new experience. And a long two days.

Nancy: Yes, well… Mind who you know in this town. When you put yourself this closely to very powerful people, that’s the life you choose to live.

Bruxharu: I’ll remember that…

Nancy: You’d do well to.

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Bruxharu: I’m sorry… But have I done something? Something wrong?

Nancy: Not yet. And if you’re not careful, you won’t be able to afford more than one mistake before it will be too late. But… you seem nice enough. Blissfully unaware… Maybe there’s hope for you yet.

Bruxharu: For what…?

Nancy: For success here. Let me make one thing clear, one thing you need to know for that to happen: This is my town. Don’t forget it. If you play your cards right, I could be your greatest ally. And if you play them wrong, everything you love and work for will be in ruins. Do you understand? Make no mistake, this is not a threat. It’s more of a… friendly warning; neighbor to neighbor. I want you to succeed, Bruxharu. Every morning that I wake up, I have to look across that street and see this little plot that you call yours. One day, my grandchildren could be playing with your… spawn… The town that gets left for them will be immaculate.

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Nancy straightened her shoulders where she stood and smoothed her hands over the stomach of her dress. When everything was flattened and in place, when every blonde hair on her head settled exactly the way she wanted it to, she smiled. For a split second, it looked genuine and true.

Bruxharu: I don’t even know your name… How do you know mine?

Nancy: Nancy. Nancy Landgraab. And, Bruxharu… I know everything that happens in this town. Welcome to Oasis Springs, neighbor.

And with that, she was gone. She closed the door behind her as she left as quietly as if she’d never been there at all. Only the fruitcake on his dining room table was evidence to the contrary.

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The sour taste Nancy Landgraab (and her disgusting fruitcake) left in Bruxharu’s mouth pushed him out of his own home entirely. No matter what channel on the TV he flipped to, no matter the chore he tried to do, he felt the malicious remains of her presence as if the woman was still there, lingering with her judging stare.

He sent another text to Don, a composed message that only consisted of “Are you free?” When he got one back that said, “Nah, man, working hard today,” he decided to explore more of Oasis Springs. If it really was Nancy Landgraab’s town, and he’d made it his new home, he decided that knowledge was power. The more he could know, the better (if only to set himself at ease).

Almost immediately, he found the Oasis Springs library. If it had been yesterday, he may have been surprised to learn that the Landgraab family had single-handedly donated everything needed to construct the library in the first place. But after that meeting, he could only think ‘It figures’.

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Moira: Brux! Hey there!

Just when the words on the screen were beginning to blur together, Bruxharu heard the familiar voice and turned to find Moira approaching. Finally, he thought, a much needed friendly face. It was all he could do to keep from standing and giving her a hug. He didn’t know her well, admittedly and especially considering he’d only met her the day before, but the woman had a way of putting things at ease with her laid-back nature and positive outlook on things.

Bruxharu: You don’t know how happy I am to see you right now.

To that, she laughed.

Moira: Research giving you a headache?

Bruxharu: More than you know. Especially because I’m trying to do two things at once.

Moira: Well that’s never a good thing. Maybe I can help? I’m just killing time until my daughters are out of school, anyway. Tonight is our mother-daughter date night, if they can put aside their differences long enough.

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Bruxharu couldn’t thank her enough, and he most certainly tried! Moira took the computer station across from him and asked what he was researching and where she should start. He explained his new job, and what Pete said about working on his own joke material and that he didn’t expect she could help him with that. But when he went on to fill her in on the meeting he’d had with Nancy Landgraab, Moira began to frantically touch her mouth in shushing movements.

But it was too late.

The librarian marched herself over to their tables with a purpose, hands on her hips.

The Librarian: Sir? This is a library. People are trying to study and concentrate. Please show some respect for your peers.

Bruxharu: But I wasn’t yelling-…

The Librarian: Sir, I’m not trying to argue with you. If you can’t abide the rules of the library, you will have to leave.

Moira cleared her throat from behind her computer screen, and she smiled at the woman.

Moira: Thank you, we will.

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When the woman left, Bruxharu stared after her in horrified confusion. Moira dropped her voice to an even quieter whisper.

Moira: If it weren’t for the Landgraabs, she wouldn’t have this job. You’ll come across that a lot… Brux, be careful who you talk to, okay? The Landgraabs are well known from all over, and they have a lot of influence. As for that research… I’ll see what I can dig up on my own and I’ll let you know. You focus on what you need for your job.

Bruxharu: Thank you, Moira… Thank you so much.

Moira: Hey, don’t mention it. Not all of us come from ‘old money’, and some people remember what it’s like to start new somewhere. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.

Bruxharu took a deep, relieved breath. Yet before he could properly exhale it, a new (yet oddly recurring) thought struck his head. In the middle of it all, he’d almost forgotten! But how?! How could he ever have forgotten such a beautiful face…

Bruxharu: Actually, I… do have something else I need help with… It’s about a girl…

Moira: Oh. Well, that’s simple. Whoever she is, just ask her out. One way or the other, it will solve all of your problems.

Chapter Two: True Romance

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Later that night, after taking Don’s cue of a shower and an outfit change, Bruxharu retraced his steps back to Pepe’s and then meandered even farther to the Prickly Pear diner. It was a small plaza, with little locally owned shops tucked in together side by side like family. As he walked by each store front, he made a small mental note of them: a tiny cafe bar, a small bakery, and an empty retail store.

He wondered to himself what kind of things had been sold in that retail store for some place like Oasis Springs. Furniture, maybe. But as he walked around and into the diner itself, every thought in his head vanished like a slate abruptly wiped clean.

If the lovely redheaded Katrina he’d met earlier was a pretty human woman, this woman was drop dead gorgeous, even if her goofy uniform.

How could his father have come to the human world so many times that he practically felt it was his own in a way, and see someone as beautiful as her, and never fall in love? Not even once? Bruxharu couldn’t make sense of it. In fact, he couldn’t make sense of much at all, because the longer he watched her tap her little pen on the counter, the deeper lost he became in her.

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Randi: Are you going to ask to be seated?

The flower speaks! And what a beautiful voice she had; more precious than any song he’d ever heard.

Uncertainly, the young woman looked up at him. In his panic, Bruxharu darted his eyes in any and every direction, until the flash of a name tag on her apron caught his eye. “Hello! My name is Randi!” Randi…

Randi: The place is totally dead, so you can have your pick of any seat… No rush…

Bruxharu cleared his throat (since when had it gotten so tight on him? He hadn’t felt frogs in there since he was a growing teenager!) and offered a sheepish smile. Without warning for her, or for himself, he heard himself speaking a little too loudly in his nerves and was completely unable to do anything about it but listen to himself in horror.

Bruxharu: No! – I mean, yes! I would like to be seated, thank you! I’m meeting a friend here!

Randi: You must mean Don. He said he had a friend coming. Right this way.

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As soon as Randi and Bruxharu were within sight (Bruxharu following at a distance he was trying to determine was ‘close but not too close’), Don turned in his chair and smiled.

Don: Hey, big guy! Check it out. I got us a table out here because I thought you might want to get in some of that Oasis Springs air, and see the town a little more.

Taking his seat, Bruxharu followed Randi with his eyes as she walked back into the diner for the rest of her shift. He could feel his heart going with her, physically leaving his body and being taken right inside behind the hostess’ counter…

Bruxharu: Who is she?

Don: Who? Randi? She’s cute, right? – Uh, she’s kind of new around here I guess. She and her sister have been living here for a while.

And just like that, with a few carelessly spoken words, Bruxharu’s heart was shredded into two.

Bruxharu: Oh… I didn’t know you two were together…

Don: What?! Haha! No, man! Not at all. I’m not really with anyone, you know? – Ah, well, Katrina kind of thinks that we are, and I might have mentioned something about the possibility since she was giving me a place to stay, and all…

Don’s voice drifted off in his head as he continued to explain, and Bruxharu knew he should be paying better attention to his friend (his first real friend that wasn’t his father or toys), but his heart had been restored! Randi and Don weren’t together! In fact, it sounded as if Randi wasn’t with anyone! If only he could get himself under control long enough to show her that he wasn’t as odd as he knew he definitely looked and probably came across…

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Don: … But that’s really a long story in and of itself. The point is, if you want something, just go for it.

Zoe: Hello, you two.

For a split second, Bruxharu’s stomach clenched so tightly he thought he would break the chair, but when he turned to look at their waitress, it was a woman he’d never seen before. He visibly relaxed.

Don: Zoe, this is Brux. He’s new here, so be nice to him.

The woman smiled, tucked her pen into her ticket book, and reached out to shake his hand.

Zoe: Glad to see a fresh face! What can I get you guys?

Don: Brux, this is how you do it. – Zoe…

Confused, Bruxharu looked between the two of them, from smile to smile.

Zoe: Don, don’t say it-…

Don: You could go on a date with me. That’s definitely what you can get me.

Laughing, Zoe wrote in her ticket book.

Zoe: Pepperoni pizza for the table, reminder to charge Don extra.

Don: Hey!

Zoe: Good luck with this one, Brux.

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Don: Don’t let her fool you. I’m kind of a Casanova around here and she can hardly resist.

Bruxharu: So is that how you do it? You just… ask them out?

Don: Pretty much. – Hey, look. I’ll help you, okay? If its women you’re having problems with, I’m the guy to know. There are just a few key things you need. Ready for this? Okay… Do you have a job?

Bruxharu: Uh… no. I don’t really know how to go about getting one…

Don: Well, that’s step one. No one is going to mess around with a bozo that doesn’t have a job. Alright? What kind of job are you looking for? Can you cook? Mix a drink like me? Are you book smart? You look like a book smart kind of guy…

Bruxharu: To be honest, today was the first time I’ve ever even had juice before.

Don: Man! Are you serious?! Where have you been, under a rock?!

Bruxharu laughed awkwardly.

Don: Well, what do you like to do?

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Bruxharu: Well… I like to make people laugh? I used to put on these performances when I was younger-…

Don: Say no more, man. I’ve got the perfect guy for you to talk to. His name is Pete, and he’s kind of a weird guy. If you ask me, he spent too much time in the drama club in school, you know what I mean? But he’s serious about it and he knows his way around lounges from here to San Myshuno – not so much as a entertainer anymore, though. More like a, uh, behind the scenes guy.

Bruxharu: Wow… I mean, yeah! Thanks, Don.

Don: We’re friends, man! Don’t worry about it. Happy to help a fellow playboy out.

Bruxharu: Well, I don’t know about that…

Don: Future fellow playboy.

Over the rest of the meal, Don filled in Bruxharu in on all of the best pick-up lines to try, the essential keys for dating success (confidence, confidence, confidence!), and the best way to play on being funny for the sake of a flirt. For Bruxharu, it was the most intense lesson he’d ever been through – as all of the other things in life had come with relative ease to him, but socialization (especially with women) most certainly had not. He’d never actually met a woman before that wasn’t dead…

But he kept that revelation to himself, and instead enthused to Don about how amazing pizza was. Where had pepperonis been all of his life?! To which Don laughed.

Don: Listen to this guy!

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Though Don insisted to pick up the check and pay for the whole meal (his treat), he did urge Bruxharu to be the one to personally deliver it to Randi the Beautiful, Majestic Hostess.

Confidence, Bruxharu chanted in his head, a new mantra. Confidence.

As he walked in, he saw Zoe and Randi talking at the counter. They giggled to themselves, but quieted themselves to a smile when they spotted Bruxharu.

Zoe: Is Don still out there? I have a bone to pick with him about this ‘date.’

Though Bruxharu could note the playfulness in her tone, he couldn’t determine how serious she was in what she said. But undeniably, as she passed him out of the door, he heard her whisper, ‘Good luck.’

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With Zoe and Don behind him (in spirit, if not actually), Bruxharu stepped up to the podium and slid his phone out of his pocket.

Bruxharu: Do you want to know what my shirt is made out of?

Randi: … What?

Bruxharu: Boyfriend material.

He saw the flash of confusion cross Randi’s face, and Bruxharu willed himself not to turn toward his phone as a means of escape. And then he saw it, a brief flash of smile, and soon he was grinning too.

Randi: Okay.

It was everything he wanted to hear and more.

Bruxharu: My name is Bruxharu. You can call me Brux. All of my friends do…

The fact that he could say that at all! Friends! He had real friends!

Bruxharu: Can I maybe get your number?

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Randi: … Yeah.

Somewhere, an angel was singing for him. It was all he could do to keep himself from sauntering out of the diner after he and Randi exchanged numbers. If she still sounded unsure, he willed himself to believe that it was only a matter of time. After all, he had the best  weapon on his side: Don the Casanova, with more experience than Bruxharu could ever dream of.

Bruxharu: I’ll call you.

One promise, and he turned and left. He didn’t look back (as Don had advised), and before he was completely out of earshot, he heard Randi pick up the phone and say, “You’ll never believe the strangest man I just met…”

Don had said that making an impression was better than being forgotten, words of wisdom that he would do well to remember in his future profession as an entertainer. Well, Bruxharu had made an impression, and he went back home all smiles.

 

Chapter One: Out of the Darkness

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Welcome to Oasis Springs!

It was a place like none other that Bruxharu had ever seen. The sun scorched earth greeted him as he crawled up from the underworld where he’d lived his entire life. He and his father, Grim, had fire there and lights, and when they wandered outside of the cottage and walked deeper into the cave to the grotto deep within the earth, they had the sun streaming in from the cracks in the surface of the earth. But it was nothing compared to the new world around him.

His piercing black eyes, so dilated by the darkness below as to see, closed instantly to keep from being blinded. He felt his way to the nearest rock and leaned against it as he took the time for his eyes to adjust. Slowly, the desert filtered back in and he was consumed by it. The fresh air swallowed him as eagerly as he breathed it into his lungs, and before he could help himself, he was laughing.

Bruxharu: Dad! Dad, look!

He called out to his father and turned to find him, but Grim had disappeared back into the trenches of the world.

He was gone, and Bruxharu realized in that moment that he was completely alone.

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But he was not without his father’s words in his head and in his heart. Before Bruxharu left to meet the human world for the first time, his father said to him, “Find land. Find your family, find love.”

Bruxharu meant to find his legacy.

But love and family he knew came down a long road that he could only vaguely imagine, so instead he searched and he found land, and he found a small home to call his own.

It was the sparsest thing that he had ever seen, even in pictures of the human world! The house contained only the bare necessities that he would need to survive (like a semi-decent working kitchen, a bathroom, a bed.) And with the remains of his money (which, admittedly, weren’t much at all), Bruxharu bought the one thing he’d never had in all of his life: a small television set.

He meant to put it to good use too, but before he could settle down on his small loveseat to explore the many channels of the human world, he was reminded once again of his father’s words, and instead he heard, “Do not waste your time, little boy.”

So out into the world he went to explore…

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The streets were so far empty that he could see (unless he was using roads the wrong way, but he was fairly certain he wasn’t), but from what he understood, it was the time of day when most people were working.

The first building he came across was a homey little bar with only a tiny sign by the front door to denote that it in fact wasn’t someone’s personal property. Across the street was a small plaza, and beyond those even bigger buildings that looked more and more impressive (or in this case, intimidating).

With a confident breath in, Bruxharu walked up to the door and strolled in.

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The interior matched the same warm outside of the bar, even down to the lack of people except for one man standing behind the bar. A television played on the wall beside him, and a man on the screen recounted news from another part of the world (a part that was far more exciting, so far, than seemingly sleepy Oasis Springs.)

Bruxharu walked up to the bar and settled his massive frame down on a stool, torn between the first human he’d ever seen completely in the flesh (because he didn’t count the ghosts that his dad used to get to baby sit him) and the television screen which was huge compared to the tiny one in his new home.

Ultimately, he decided the bartender was more important. He lifted a big green hand into the air, waved, and said, “Hello!”

Though the bartender had to do a double-take, which Bruxharu understood, he smiled.

Don: You’re new here.

Bruxharu: Very new. I just moved in today, in fact. I didn’t have much to unpack or straighten out in my new house, so I thought I would come check out the town. It’s beautiful here.

Don: Well, welcome to Pepe’s. I heard that someone had bought the land up the hill, but no one had any idea who. – Sorry. You’ll see that rumors spread fast around here, haha.

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Bruxharu: I’m sure! And I don’t mind… I expect people to say somethings…

Don: Like about how strange you look? To be honest, you’re not the only one around here that looks different. So I say don’t worry about it. They’ll get over it pretty fast. Don, by the way. Don Lothario.

Bruxharu: Nice to meet you, Don. I’m Bruxharu.

Don: So, Brux, where are you from?

Bruxharu: It’s… kind of a long story.

Don: Yeah? Tell me about it sometime. Do you have friends or family around here or something?

Bruxharu: Something like that, but at the same time, I’m still kind of… on my own. I don’t know how to make friends really, or where to even begin.

Don: Lucky for you, you came by the right place while the right bartender was at work. I’ll help you out.

Bruxharu: Really?!

He could already believe it. Already he was making a friend (friends help friends!) and he hadn’t been in town for more than a day. He wanted to reach over and pat Don on the back in ‘thanks’, but reminded himself to be cool and calm and collected. He was too big and too green to be making any sudden moves already.

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It was Don that moved first when the door opened. Another man walked into the bar and said, “Hey, Don” while never once taking his confused stare off Bruxharu. Shyly, Brux looked at the television screen, and after introductions were made (though he’d already forgotten the man’s name in how nervously excited he was), he wandered off to the side of the bar. The little stick figures on the table called to him and appealed to his curiosity until he caved.

Messing with it, he began to learn the general idea of foosball.

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Don: Hey, Brux! Being that you’re new here and all, how about a drink on the house?

Bruxharu turned away from the foosball table and walked back to the bar, intrigued. He’d never had juice before. His father never kept it in the house, because Reapers didn’t need to eat or drink, and the ghosts that came to visit physically couldn’t bring any with them. But he’d read about it. Oh, he’d read a lot about it! Almost all of his favorite stories seemed to have some juice in them at some point, be it heated juice arguments or betraying juice kisses!

Bruxharu: Thanks!

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The door opened behind him, and Bruxharu turned to see a woman walk in. At last, he could say he’d seen what one looked like, and his father had never told him just how pretty the humans could be!

Don: Hey, Katrina.

And Don knew her! But, then, Bruxharu could already tell that Don seemed to know everyone in the town of Oasis Springs. Some, he reckoned, definitely more than others.

Katrina: Howdy, Don. Who’s your friend?

Don: This is Brux. He’s new here. He just moved in across from Geoffrey.

Katrina: Did he?

She turned to him and smiled her warmest hellos. It was all Bruxharu could do to keep from gripping his glass so tightly that he shattered it.

Katrina: The pleasure is mine, Brux. My name is Katrina. We’re welcomed to have you.

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Nervously, Bruxharu sipped down his juice (Don had called it a wrench?) Only a few small tastes in, and already he could feel it settling over him like a warm blanket, in his arms especially. He was smiling before he could stop himself!

Bruxharu: And I’m pleased to be here! Honestly, if I had known that all of you humans were this cool and this nice, I would’ve moved up here a lot sooner than now! Not that I really had a choice in that. I didn’t become a man until recently, and well, let’s just say-…

Don cleared his throat to interrupt him. Bruxharu looked at him and caught him giving a minute shake of his head.

Bruxharu: I mean… It’s just really nice to be here…?

To that, Don smiled and Bruxharu dared a small glance in Katrina’s direction to take his cue and smile too.

To her credit, she only laughed in response.

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Soon, the bar began to fill up around him and as Don was put to work for his money, Bruxharu returned to the table football game that he’d started to love. Finally, someone was interested enough to come play with him.

She was strange looking, even to Bruxharu, with an odd sense of fashion (and he didn’t know much of anything about fashion!), but he was the last person to judge someone based on how they looked. It was her personality that mattered, and she was kind enough, though a little impatient. Her competitive side kicked up in the middle of a learning game, and the rules and tips on how to play foosball took a back seat her to making sure she won, but Bruxharu didn’t mind too much.

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He took to the next game instead, and a different woman joined him for that one.

Moira: It’s my favorite game.

Bruxharu: It looks complicated.

Moira: Have you never played before?!

The excitement lit up on her face and he didn’t need to ask before she was delving into the rules.

Moira: I haven’t played it in so long! I think the last time was when my daughters were young! – Okay, let me see if I remember this… It’s pretty simple, really. The goal is to remove these little pegs without letting the entire stack fall over. If you do, you lose. The best way to make sure it all stays up is to pay attention to which parts of the structure is sound.

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While it all sounded simple and clear to him, he was only two moves in when the entire base slid and crashed in on itself, leaving Bruxharu to flinch guiltily.

Bruxharu: Oops.

Moira: Aw, that’s okay. It takes practice!

Bruxharu: Did I hear you mention that you have kids? You don’t look nearly old enough!

To Bruxharu, it sounded more like a come-on than the small talk he intended it to be… Suddenly, he wished that his father had owned books on the art of conversation that he could’ve read as a child instead of titles like ‘The Meaning of Life’ and ‘How To Cope With Loss’.

But to his surprise, Moira only smiled.

Moira: I do! Two daughters. I’m sure you’ll meet them soon enough. They’re both quite sociable, though Siobhan slightly less so. If you ever find yourself in Windenburg, feel free to stop by. You can meet my husband as well.

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Within the hour, so many people had come and gone between their quick drinks, little check-ins, and smiling ‘hello’s that Bruxharu could barely keep up with who was who and just how many people lived in the town of Oasis Springs. But within that time, a smile had hardly left his face, and it only broadened more when he met Don walking out from behind the bar.

Don: Brux, I’m off the clock, man.

Bruxharu: Is this how she always starts her shift?

He glanced at the new bartender that took Don’s place, and they both laughed.

Don: Sometimes you need a little something to deal with the locals. So, listen, I’m going to run home and catch a shower, change my clothes. But later, maybe you want to meet up over at Prickly Pear’s for some eats? I’ll show you around the place, and give you a quick walk down the main path here so you can see the best parts of Oasis Springs. – By the way, it’s the place right across the street.

Bruxharu: Oh! Yeah! Thank you. That would be awesome. I’ll meet you there later?

Don: Cool. Later, man.

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He could hardly believe it! He’d made a genuine friend, and they were meeting up for eats! He assumed Don meant food, unless ‘eats’ was some slang for ‘treats’ and then he didn’t have any idea what Don could have meant. But either way, he knew it was bound to be fun. Whatever worries he’d had about the human world had quickly (for the most part) melted away. The juice had finally settled in his stomach, he felt more like himself (just a happier version), and the people were better than he could have ever imagined.

That’s why he thought nothing of it when a man seated down the bar from him cleared his throat.

Geoffrey: Ah! Well, hello there. You must be the fella I saw moving in across the street.

Bruxharu: You live in that huge place?! Wow… It’s really nice! – Hello! My name is Bruxharu. I’m new here.

Geoffrey smiled, though Bruxharu couldn’t tell if it was at him or with him.

Geoffrey: Quite…