[Interlude] Dealing With The Truth in Weirder Stuff Posted July 13 Saturday Evening, The Barn Cade had done his best to wrestle with the knowledge he'd gained at the wake. Even after his Date with Marissa, and everything that happened, he still wasn't sure how he'd even bring the subject up now. So he turned to the one person he trusted implicitly in all of Shelly. He dialed up Sean on Saturday, "Hey Sean, I need to talk to you. You mind if I come by? I'll bring pizza." It was a bit out of the blue, so he thought to at least offer to bring food, Lord knew they all ate a fair bit these days. "Not at all," Sean replied. Phone caught in the crook of his neck, his brows rose in surprise when he looked at the time. He'd lost track and hadn't even started to consider what he was going to do about supper. It was already later than he usually ate. Cade could hear the sound of the wheels of Sean's computer chair rolling over the hardwood, as he went from one computer to another, this one showing rough designs for potential renovations to The Barn. "I'm feeling like... hm, pineapple tonight. I got drinks covered." He gave a mug on his desk a shake and frowned, finding it empty. "And I'll put some coffee on, if you want." "Alright, I'll be by in about twenty minutes with the Pizza." He couldn't believe Sean ate pineapple on his pizza, but whatever, they all had their strange tastes in things. He called in his order for pizza, one meatlovers and one pepperoni, and a Hawaiian with Bacon for Sean, then let his mom know he was heading to Sean's. After picking up the Pizza, he headed over to the Cassidy's, and parked next to the Barn, where he figured Sean was. He knocked on the door. "Yo Sean, it's Cade, ya in here, or the house?" "I'm here. Just a sec," came Sean's high, sweet voice from within The Barn. A moment later, Cade could hear the padding of feet on hardwood, then the unbolting of a deadbolt, the unlocking of a lock, and the unlatching of a heavy latch. Normally, Sean kept the place unlocked until he went to bed, just yelling for whoever knocked to come on in. But with everything that had happened lately, Cade couldn't blame his friend. The heavy door slid open and Sean looked up at his much bigger friend, nodding him inside. "Heya Cade, bringer of pizza goodness, c'mon in." Leading him inside, it was clear to Cade that Sean hadn't had much intention of going out for the rest of the evening. He was wearing shorts, big, fluffy Red Panda slippers, and an old, faded, green t-shirt, a distorted Triforce across his chest. A crackling fire in the cast-iron wood stove lent a cozy warmth to the central part of The Barn. Sean's grey cat Turing seemed to make a point of ignoring the buxom boy, sauntering past him to wind sinuously between Cade's legs with a barely audible purr. Sean sighed with a wry frown. "I think Turing is still pissed at me... for reasons. Fair reasons, I suppose, but I needed a test subject." He lead Cade to the big gaming table, its surface cleared off, save for placemats, plates, a bread knife, two glass mugs, and a ceramic one listing off game developer hourly rates. The scent of brewing coffee mingled with that of the wood fire. Sean bent over and dug through the mini-fridge for drinks, then plopped down into his usual seat at the table when he DMed. He took a sip tangerine lemonade, then added two slices of pizza to his plate. He glanced over at the shelf full of gaming books and painted miniatures. Cade would bring up what he wanted to talk about when he felt like it, there was no rush. "We've a lost a lot of players lately, and y'know, there's all this stuff going on, but are you still interested in the D&D campaign?" "Hell, yes!" came Cade's reply with a surprising enthusiasm. He chuckled, grabbed some of his pizza, and a regular lemonade from Sean's fridge. "Seriously, I've missed gaming. I don't know about the others, but I'm definitely in." Cade reached down to pet Turing who was still rubbing against his leg. He knew gaming was important to Sean, and Marissa was right, they needed to take the time to do the things they enjoyed together while they could. "You gonna invite everyone?" He already knew Marissa's answer should she be invited, but whether or not Sean meant to bury the hatchet with Devin and invite him was something he wasn't sure about. "I'm glad you're taking some precautions man, even if it seems so odd." He sighed. "I mean before, people left their homes unlocked, we all damn near knew everyone else. This town never really seemed that big or strange." "Yeah, well... " Sean gave an awkward shrug, then took another bite of pizza, chewing contemplatively. True, he hadn't really worried about someone breaking into the house or Barn before, but with his unusual condition in a small town in a more rural state, he had to be aware of the possibility of being accosted or assaulted. "After Charlie and what happened to Jase and Lilly, better safe than sorry, I guess. The town is getting bigger. And stranger." Sean finished his first slice of pizza as the much larger teen was demolishing his second. He picked up a chunk of pineapple that had been dislodged in the box and popped it in his mouth. "As for the campaign, yeah, I'll invite everyone." His lips twisted wryly. Running a campaign wasn't just about managing character interactions, but managing player interactions too. How the hell would he manage the Jauntsens? Not that he expected they take him up on the invite. "Not sure if I'll get any bites, though. Kat maybe. She came along to watch when I ran Sophia's game Thursday." He wasn't sure how interested Kat really was in gaming - she seemed more to be humoring him - but he smiled to himself at her reaction to Devin's sketches of him in potential Homecoming wear. He seemed unware of the faint colour rising to his cheeks. He hid his face in his glass, nearly finishing his lemonade. "So, uh, what about you and Marissa? That, er, still going on?" Sean asked as he picked up his second slice of pizza. "Yes, and some of what I've got to talk to you about is somewhat related on that front," he said before finishing another slice. "It'll be over after homecoming, one way or another, so we're both enjoying it until then. What about you? Any prospects? I know you seemed to get on well with Kat." It was true, that much of Cade's time had been taken up by his "relationship" with Marissa, and he hadn't really done as much with the rest of the Fellowship. Though to be fair, they'd not really gotten together with everyone since that time at the Bannon's farm, and the fight with the Tree. "Or maybe you found someone else. " "There aren't exactly many girls clamoring for a guy built like this," Sean said, standing up and gesturing at his amply endowed, hourglass figure with both hands. It wasn't that he didn't get attention. He did. it just was rarely the sort he wanted, from who he wanted, and depended drastically if they knew about his intersexed status or not. He had to shutter his Twitch channel and scrub all evidence of it from the internet two years ago less than a month after starting it. It was off to YouTube and strictly behind the camera after that. Just weeks ago, Cade would have heard bitterness in Sean's tone, could see him hunching his shoulders, and he probably would have been wearing an oversized hoodie, even inside the warm Barn. He definitely wouldn't have pointed at his attributes. But now, he only sounded matter of fact, maybe a little wry, and he kept his shoulders straight. "But Kat seems to like it." Sean tried to sound nonchalant, but his fair cheeks grew pink as he thought about making out with the slight French Girl after the funeral. It was his first time really making out with a girl. He picked up his plate and glass and turned away, stepping over to dump them on the tray he used to carry dishes to the house or the deep sink in the small bathroom to clean them. He mumbled over his shoulder. "She seems to like Courtney a bit too much." There was the bitterness Cade expected. "But we're going to Homecoming. We'll see how things go from there." Sean filled a mug with coffee from a pot he had brewing and returned to the table. The mug looked ludicrously large in his slender hands as he held it up, inhaling the delicious aroma. "I don't think you came over to talk about our dating lives, feigned or not actually started yet, dude." He took a sip of the sweet nectar of life and let out a soft sigh. "So, what's up?" Cade smiled as Sean talked about Kat, and chuckled. He was happy he'd found someone to go with. Then Sean got to business first. "Yeah, no, not exactly, though what I've got to say will definitely affect mine I think. You remember when I asked you to help with checking on my Dad? Well nothing really got resolved that night, and confronting him didn't work out to well either." He sighed, and laid out the rest. "At Charlie's home, I found out the truth. I was upstairs, looking for wherever Haruka had gone because mom asked me to find her, and I overheard Dad talking with someone. It was Marissa and Devin's mom, Misti, Sean. She's the one he's been having an affair with. " It was very obvious how angry Cade was with his father regarding this, and he sighed. "And no, I haven't told Marissa and Devin yet. I want to, I plan to, but I just couldn't. I know I need to tell them." Sean sucked in a whistling breath through his teeth. "Weeeeeeeellll... shit." Sure, stuff happened. People cheated, got divorced. Charlie's parents had gotten divorced, Avalon's and Clara's parents had... whatever the hell they had going on. There were a few other students at Shelly who had divorced or separated parents, and there had been more than one infidelity brought into the open. Sean was sure it just wasn't as prevalent in a small town like Shelly than in more cosmopolitan cities. It had never entered his thoughts that his own parents might cheat on each other or get divorced. He had no frame of reference of how it was hitting Cade, other than the obvious anger. On one hand, it so totally sucked. On the other hand, if the Sherriff was cheating, at least it was with, like, the hottest mom in Shelly. It could have been so much worse, like, someone still going to Shelly High. Ugh. He had had a vague suspicion when Cade had asked him to track his dad's phone but hadn't taken it any further. On the other other hand, that mom was Marissa's mom. "You do have to tell them, Cade, and the longer you wait, the worse it's gonna be," Sean said. He pulled up a knee to his chest, heel on the edge of his chair, and wrapped an arm around his shin. "I mean, it's going to be bad no matter what." One half of his mouth curled up in a fatalistic grin. "Can ya shoot me a text when you are though, so I can get out of ground zero." His grin faded and he spun his gaming chair with his dangling leg and gestured with his mug of coffee. "But if you need a place to get away from the fallout for a while, you can crash here, dude." Devin had given him the money Marissa had... acquired to spruce up the Barn for the psionic gang. He'd already been sketching some plans - definitely needed a full kitchen and a full bathroom - but putting in either bunks or turning the other loft space into sleeping space instead of storage space or something was added to his mental list and moving up it. "Maybe so. If anything I can help you with anything you need done around here." Cade sighed, and sipped his drink before continuing. "I know I have to tell them, that I probably should have told them already. It's just been hard to do. Hell it's hard to accept. Sure Misti is hot, I definitely see where Marissa got it from, but come on. My Dad's the sheriff. He's supposed to be better than this y'know?" He shrugged and shook his head. "And he knows about Marissa and I too, and that makes this fucked up even more." He looked to Sean. "It STILL gets worse." "Thanks to Devin everyone knows we weren't really going out. Fine, we had our reasons, I'll tell you if you want. Thing is, after the memorial, having heard what I did, I went over to get Marissa. One thing led to another, I just wanted to get away from Shelly for awhile, and we did, together, after having sex. We had what certainly didn't start as a date, but became one, and We actually are officially dating now, at least until after Homecoming." "That is fucked up!" Sean agreed, his melodious soprano voice blunt. But Cade saw a complicated mix of emotions cross his friend's pretty face. Marissa might be some flavour of crazy, but she was also crazy hot. Sean couldn't help but feel a spike of envy that Cade had gotten down with her. He'd been hit on by guys, two had even known about his condition. Some were old enough to be his father. Gross, even if he had been attracted to guys, which he wasn't. It would probably be easier if he was. Until Kat, any girl who'd known he was intersexed hadn't shown the lest romantic interest in him. A couple of the ones who hadn't considered him a total freak seemed to think he might be a suitable replacement for a gay best friend. Ugh. The one time he'd taken a chance, Sophia had turned him down. Hard. After that, he figured he just wait and once he made it big in Tech or Gaming and moved out of Montana, he could find someone who didn't mind his peculiarities. Maybe in California. Though now, he might not have that time... It made him wonder if he really liked Kat for who she was, or if he was grasping at the only opportunity he could see. "Dude, whatever you and Marissa have, it has nothing to do with your Dad. And whatever your Dad has with Misti Jauntsen, it might affect you, but it doesn't have anything to do with you." He stopped his spinning chair with a foot and leaned towards Cade, large jade-and-turquoise eyes intent. "Don't let his mess derail whatever you might have." Then he looked awkward and uncertain. "And if you need, like, I dunno, moral support - or maybe a witness - when you tell Devin and Marissa, you can count on me." It was an honest offer, Cade to tell Sean meant it, just as he could tell Sean would prefer to be anywhere but there at ground zero. "I appreciate it Sean, I really do, but I think it'll be best that I tell them alone. I mean it's probably gonna be obvious that I told you before anyone else. At least if it's just us, I'll be the only one teleported to Guam or somewhere else fairly remote." He chuckled softly. "They can be mad at me for telling you, but when it comes to it, I trust you Sean. You were already involved from before. You're always here for me, and have been. I feel the same way with you. If you ever need anything, if I can help, just ask. Besides, I think they're both better people than to take it out on me. I definitely wouldn't want to be my dad or their mom though. " He took a sip from his drink, then stared at it, as if it might hold the answers he was seeking. "I know, and I feel they definitely have a right to know this too. I just know the fallout from this is going to be major, and have some very lasting effects." "If Devin 'ports anyone, it'll be your dad and his mom, and it won't be anywhere you can find on a map," Sean said wryly. He took a sip of coffee, then suddenly straightened in his chair, head slightly tilted. A mere instant later, Cade heard Sean's phone chime with a notification. Sean gave his friend an apologetic smile as he plunked his mug on the table. "Just give me a sec, I gotta respond to this." "What's that?" the big boy scout asked curiously as the overendowed redhead planted a foot against a leg of the heavy gaming table and shoved, his chair skittering across the hardwood to one of his computer setups. "Question 'bout ReGenesis not loading right. He at least sent the error code, so it's a simple fix, problem with a config on his end," Sean answered absently. He wasn't even looking at his monitor, let alone using the keyboard. He uncanny eyes looked distant, and almost seemed to glow. "How's the game going?" "Pretty good!" Sean practically chirped. It hadn't exploded virally - yet - but pretty much every comment was positive, and it had already almost sold more copies than his first game, Annwn, and that had been over two years ago. "I mean, super psionic coding powers and virtual semi-autonomous agents for staff might make me better and more efficient than the entire team of a AAA developer, but I can't compete with their advertising budget nor have the accrued reputation to draw attention. But I ain't complaining." He pursed his lips, considering telling Cade about his meeting with Brad Stanton from EA, though he wasn't entirely sure what he had decided on that front yet. Well, he did, but still, the offer hadn't been what he had expected. He was going to stay mum, but Cade had told him about something way more private. "I had a dinner meeting with a guy from EA yesterday. At the country club. Brad Stanton. EA, or Brad at least, is interesting in buying Regenesis. What he really wants in the Spectrum Engine that runs it. The offer was... big." "And?" "And nothing! It's mine!" Sean said fiercely. "I'm not gonna sell, so they can make shit, piecemeal games that make bank that go mostly into the executives pockets." He sighed and scooted back to the table, cradling his chin in his hand, elbows on the table "Still, I can't say I wasn't tempted. There were a lot of zeroes." He shook his head, shaking the thought away. "Anyway, you didn't come over for me. When you talk to the Jauntsens, let them know that I know, instead of letting them find out later. It's only fair. And about the fallout... it might be bad, but c'mon! We fought personified evil in a hell dimension! Even Marissa at her worse is barely more terrifying than that!" Cade smiled, not just because it felt good to see Sean actually happy about something, but he knew he was excited. "Trust me man, seeing you actually happy is good too. I'm glad you're not selling, they'd probably screw things up. I mean it is EA we're talking about. They'd load it down with all sorts of unneeded microtransactions." He chuckled. "Yeah, fighting interdimensional horrors in a realm of pure evil, versus an angry pair of Jauntsen twins. At least with the horrors, I know there's no good in them and am free to shoot them at my leisure." He shook his head. "Can't do that with Marissa and Devin, and really I wouldn't want to. I know they've been shitty to us since they came to Shelly, you in particular. Marissa can still be a bitch, and Devin an asshole, but they have gotten better. They still think we're all a bunch of fuckups, but they haven't just left." He smiled. "I'm envious of all of you." It was one of the first times he'd really said that out loud. "I mean you can all do these cool things, you've got real powers. I don't. I can get on a bit with wild animals, enough to not get eaten by the big cat, or to not get bit by a badger, but that's kinda it. We know I'm different from everyone else, I'd just kinda hoped to have a cool power too." "I'm not gonna lie, the psionic powers are pretty damn awesome," Sean agreed with a smirk. Four beads of concentrated light coalesced in the air, blue, yellow, red, and green. They zipped about the Barn for a moment, leaving streaks like something from Tron, before Sean let them fade away. "But they aren't everything, dude. What happened to Jase? I'd probably be toast before I knew what happened." Maybe. It depended. If he'd known to look for it, he might have seen the bioelectric impulses going from brain, through arm, to the fingers about the gun. Whether if he could have done something about it in time was another matter. He gestured across the table at the strapping small town boy. "But look at you! You're a fucking Spartan. You could have disarmed the guy and fed him his damned gun, most likely. You're built for function, and you function better than the best Swiss watch. Me?" Sean pointed at himself with his thumbs and his most obvious physical attributes stretching his shirt, mouth twisting with self-deprecating wryness. "At best, someone could say I'm built for decoration. With mismatched parts." Mismatched, flawed parts that are leading to a total system collapse. Sean didn't sound particularly bitter to Cade. He sounded oddly monotone. "Starting a Twitch Channel was a big mistake." Before, Sean used to imagine what it would be like to be taller, tall as his sisters, as tall as Jase or Cade. What it would be like to be buff, ripped. What it would be like to look masculine. Like a stereotypical boy. Like a man. Now, he rarely did, and when he did, it felt wrong to him, felt like a caricature. He couldn't see it as being the 'right' version of what he should be. It just looked like a stranger with no connection to him. Who he saw in the mirror was the real him, whatever else he thought about it. "But who knows, Cade. Maybe your super special power hasn't manifested yet? People, er, develop at different rates. Or maybe it has, and its just super subtle and we haven't even noticed." "I know I'm different than the rest of y'all, but I can't help but wish I could contribute more to things at times. I mean I have to be armed to be able to do anything. What happens if we ever run up against something that our weapons don't hurt?" His look darkened. 'When I shot Cody, it was with an AP round. That should have killed him, probably would have killed any of us considering where I hit him. But it didn't, and more he just started healing it like it was nothing. That reinforced my own lack of power. I mean I didn't lose my shit in that other world, I don't think any of us really did, but still." He sighed, and rolled his shoulders. "As far as how you look Sean, I mean yeah it's different, but you're still you. That hasn't changed. You're still a nerd, and the smartest guy I know, and probably one of the most kind. Getting on Twitch, yeah probably a mistake though, I agree. I can only imagine the sorts of things you see come through your chatlogs." Sean cocked a doubtful brow. Not lose my shit? He wasn't sure about everyone else, but at the end, with the wave upon wave of monsters assaulting them in that hellscape, he had most definitely lost his shit. He still wasn't sure if he had actually pissed himself that night, not with all the muck, gunk, and blood he'd - they'd all been - slathered in. "Riiiiight. Shit. Totally not lost." He popped himself out of his chair, turned away from Cade unconsciously before stretching his back, then walked over to refill his mug of coffee. Stirring in his usually amount of cream and sugar, he spoke over his shoulder. "Three months. I lasted three months on Twitch," he admitted, not without some rancor. He hadn't been in a good place for a while afterwards. "And it all went down because of an accident." He reclaimed his seat and stared into his coffee. "I had kept the camera tight on my face. Streaming some playthroughs, talking about game design and stuff. It was going okay." Once, he had thought about making it big as a Videogame Streamer. Not anymore. He gave a negligent shrug, but Cade could tell some regret remained. "One time. I wasn't paying attention. I got up to grab a drink. It was late and I was only wearing a thin shirt. A shirt that had grown tight over the last few weeks.... " He looked up and ran his fingers through his hair, huffing a grunt. "Total shit show. Claims I did it on purpose. Fake gamer girl stuff, all that. Biggest mistake was trying to explain." He glanced away and frowned, eyes tightening with remembered hurt. "Fake girl gamer. Not gonna lie, that fucking hurt." He waved a hand and shook his head, chasing it away, then turned back to Cade. He took a calming sip of coffee, let the heat work its way down his throat. "I scrubbed everything. I prefer YouTube anyway to live streaming. Can edit and arrange more structured videos. Gives me more time to code. And now, all the weird. Anyway, how's football?" "Sean you're the least fake gamer I know. Your enthusiasm and dedication got me, a closeted weeb Jock, to pretty openly play and admit I play D&D. You're a real gamer, I got your back on that. Later on, when you're a famous game designer and programmer, all those idiots will only wish they'd not made fun of you." "As to football, There's a lot of resentment. I think Chet expected to be handed the role of quarterback, and I stopped that. Nevermind that I'm more accurate than he'll ever hope to be, I'm stronger than him, faster than him, and smarter than him. Aside from Lilly and your sister, I've been one of the biggest athletic stars at school, but I 'Kept to my Lane' so to say, in track and baseball. I let the coach talk me into to joining the football team, since Lilly's gone. I like to think I'm good at it, and if I choose to keep playing, I'll get even better, but there's no connection to it for me yet, not like baseball, or track. I want the team to win, but unless things really change, I can't see myself playing past this year." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I set school records not that long ago in three different track events, if they'd actually been a formal event, I'd have state records." He chuckled softly. "I guess that's one good thing about not having powers, I don't have to worry about anyone coming back later on and saying I only accomplished this because I was special and had an unfair advantage." A savage smirk crossed Sean's delicate features at the mention of Chet's resentment. If not the worse of his tormentors, he'd been close, and the most physical of them. If Cade taking the role he assumed was his hurt his ego, fucking awesome. And though Sean had never really heard Cade boast that much before, after him mentioning how much he envied the rest of the Fellowship their psionic gifts, it was good hearing him put himself above the asshole jock. "Dude! Every top athlete is special and has advantages, physical and/or mental," Sean protested with a chuckle. "Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan. Yadda Yadda. Yeah, Teagan, if she's not like Lilly, she might be close." He oldest sister was tall, nearly six feet, and had always been ridiculously athletic. He nodded at his hulkingly large friend. If they were standing side by side, the top of Sean's head didn't even reach Cade's shoulder. "And you, man. How many sixteen year old guys are as tall as you, yet seem like they've spent an extra ten years in a heavy gravity gym?" The redhead waved away Cade's protests with a grin. "I know what you mean. If football isn't grabbing you, don't worry about it. But if you aren't really thinking about baseball or track as an actual career, just do whichever will give you the best scholarship, or net you the most in NIL fees, so you can do what you want." He shook his head and took another sip of coffee. "Weird, thinking about the future, normal future stuff, when we know what we know, seen what we've seen, eh?" He chuckled. "Not so weird. I think it's important to still have dreams and goals." He smiled at Sean. "Can't fight interdimensional horrors for the rest of our lives. I know I sure as hell don't want to." He rolled his shoulders. "I love Track and baseball, and provided things stay on track, I'm pretty sure I can get a scholarship for either of them. Though, that brings up something else. I've started trying to read more, study more. Not looking to learn the secrets of the universe, I'll leave that to those of y'all who're smarter and far more interested in that sort of thing, but at least so I don't have to panic on every really big test." It was certainly true that all his extracurricular activities kept him busy and left him less time than he wanted. Taking on Football left him even less time, but for now he was going to try to maintain and keep up with everything. He sighed slightly, before grabbing another slice. "I mean you still think about it right? What you want to do after we're done with all this strangeness." His eyes narrowed. "Do you think we'll ever actually be done?" It wasn't that he was imploring for a particular answer, it was the same genuine voice Cade asked most questions with, seeking an honest answer. "We're done whenever we want to be done," Sean said with a somber seriousness. "We aren't forced to stay in this shit, except by our own morals and desires and choices. If you want, you can just walk away from it." He gave a deep sigh and slid his mug aside with the back of his hand. "You wouldn't be the first. That ain't judgement, by the way. Everyone has the right to make the decisions that are best for them and theirs. That said, I'm still in it. For now, at least." Sean didn't see the need to add that it was not least in part due to self interest. Site B might hold the best answer to his panoply of genetic questions. "But yeah, I think about what I'm going to do after all the time." I might not have any time at all. He waved back over a slim shoulder towards one of his computer set-ups. "The game is part of it. I don't plan to live in Montana forever. There's a whole world to see. Heh. After what we've seen, there's very likely more than just one, really. Thinking about - planning for - the future helps me get through the present." "If there's anything I can do Sean, I'll help however I can." He smiled, and it was clear that wasn't just an empty platitude. Cade meant every word. "If there's something you need to get off your chest, I got you covered." The much larger teen was nothing if not sincere, and while he couldn't claim to know everything he'd resolved to be a better friend to his friends, and that whatever he could do, he would. "I still dream of winning the world series. I'm gonna make that one happen, one day." "When that happens, I'll buy a ticket and be there to see ya," Sean said with a grin. "And, same offer, if you need something, you just need to ask." Cade collected the few remaining slices of pizza into a single box, his strong shoulders slumping slightly with a sigh. "I should probably head out. Got some truths to tell the Twins." Sean didn't envy Cade that at all. "Latter, dude," Sean said, seeing Cade to the door and watched him amble towards his Wrangler. "And good luck."