Tell Me Our Story – Anyta Sunday

Jonathan leaned against a shelf of regency romance, worn spines and elusive happily-ever-afters pressing into him. His phone sank into his pocket, heavy with the emotional weight of a dozen Picstar messages and that newest video clip. Air stirred the dusty, woody scent of old library books as footsteps padded over soft carpet. Jonathan contained the turbulence rising up his throat and turned his head. Short blond hair, azure eyes, and a wide smirk moved toward him. “Hey, Savvy,” he murmured. His fifteen-year-old sibling—ten years his junior—arched an eyebrow, amiable and frank. “Why are you hiding back here?” “Not hiding.” Savvy lounged against the opposite ceiling-high shelf, gaze flicking over his face from chin to eyes. “You’re always a hard read, but . ” The geography of the books at his back momentarily sharpened along with a deeper ache. A hard read. He had always tended to repress feelings.

It helped keep him together. In control. But inside . He pinched the shelf either side of him, kept his gaze steady. “I know you’re disappointed,” Savvy murmured. “You want your online persona to make a difference—encourage reading marathons and thoughtful discussions on romantic literature. Winning the Social Challenge could have helped with that, increased your exposure.” That was only half of it. That was only a fraction of it. But it was the fraction he knew how to handle. He nodded once. “There’s always next year. Plus, you got invited to the ICon. You’ll meet all those influencers and learn loads, and who knows, maybe that’ll launch you into the online stratosphere.” Everyone who’d participated in this year’s Social Challenge was invited to attend the conference in April. Everyone. His stomach flipped, and flipped again.

“It’ll all work out,” Savvy continued, pulling a book from the shelf. With a grin, they thumped it against his chest like a gavel. “In the meantime, keep reading swoony stuff for your fans. People love an aloof guy secretly rooting for romance.” The book was a warm pressure, hundreds of pages thrumming under his fingertips. An echo of his pulse. “You should check O’Hara’s latest Social Challenge entry. You could learn heaps from him. Hell, if you were still friends, you could just message him for help. Hey, why not just message him for help?” A strange current jolted through Jonathan. His pocket—that post—grew heavier. Savvy’s blue orbs searched his: Why aren’t you friends anymore? Jonathan breathed through the press of memories at his chest, briefly shut his eyes, and then quickly lifted his wrist to check the time. The tiny golden hands on his watch ticked toward six. “Closing time.” He pushed the novel back onto the shelf and side-stepped Savvy’s curiosity, heading for the main counter and its little brass bell.

A flash of blond hair and gangly legs jumped on the countertop before him. “I think O’Hara is ambitious and gorgeous and fun.” “Off the counter, Savvy.” “He’ll probably win the whole competition.” Probably. Jonathan clasped his phone through his jeans. There’d been something . extra about O’Hara’s latest post, something hard to define. He’d looked strangely connected to the ruins behind him, like he was a conduit for some ethereal philosophical magic. He glowed like he wasn’t quite part of this world. Turkey. Amongst the ruins of Aphrodisias, shirt translucent with sweat, eyes bright and glittering but his dimple lost to quiet thoughts. He doesn’t quite look at the camera. He’s speaking with someone behind it. This ancient city worshipped the goddess of love, Aphrodite.

I feel giddy standing here. How many lovers stood right where I am now and held hands and kissed and vowed to love forever? It’s so ticklish, the air here, a magical place. I feel like I could wish anything and it would be granted. Like maybe one day I could be someone’s beating heart. And they could be mine. Jonathan shivered and snapped his attention to the little bell he was still ringing. And ringing and ringing. He quickly stopped, ignoring Savvy’s keen eye, and nodded to departing visitors until he was left staring at tens of thousands of books. A snore rippled through the quiet. He and Savvy exchanged a glance and trundled to the periodicals corner. Mr Cranky— Mr Crank, officially—sat sleeping in his wheelchair in his usual gold-embroidered pirate hat. Jonathan dropped to his knees and peered through the shadows at his haggard face. “Mr Crank? Sorry. It’s closing time.” A disgruntled snort.

“Just shut me in here. I’m a big boy.” “Your wife would miss you,” Jonathan said. That was met with a grimace. “I wish.” Jonathan pushed back to his feet. “How about coming with us for some fish ‘n chips and we’ll escort you to your door?” Mr Cranky wheeled out with them, scowling when they took too long to lock up. “I want battered fish. None of this crumbed nonsense. And don’t expect me to pay for everything just because I won the lottery.” Jonathan wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Ten minutes later, Savvy and Mr Cranky took turns swatting one another’s hands from their shared newsprint parcel while the chip shop thrummed with locals. Jonathan tried to stay in the moment, but his focus shifted outside to the deep turquoise Sounds. Small islands peppered the warm, still water, washed with rich sunset hues. One in particular pulled at him, a familiar magnetism.

His thoughts drifted, and he burned the roof of his mouth on hot salty chips. “That island you’re staring at?” Mr Cranky snapped at him, “I see you rowing over in the mornings. There’s true treasure there.” Savvy palmed their head. Jonathan barely raised a brow. “Hm.” “True, true, I tell you. Folks in my day called it Soulmate Island. Friends went there and bam. Lovers. And usually, nine months later, bam. Kids.” “Is that how you and your wife got together?” “Aye. My first and my second.” “How terribly romantic.

” “Are you making fun of me, young Adonis? I never saw that Jacquie over there with you, and she hasn’t come to the library for weeks now. You see?” Jonathan swallowed. In all of the two years they’d been together, he’d never taken Jacquie there. He’d considered it, once. But the place was too . “I’ll prove its magic to you, boy.” Mr Cranky crumpled up the paper around their few remaining chips. “Let’s get home. I miss my wife.” Savvy helped Mr Crank with the door and followed him out. “Just what are you thinking, Jonathan?” The island made a striking silhouette before the sinking sun. Love existed. Long-lasting love existed. But it definitely didn’t come from spending time on that island. “ONE-TWO-THREE.

ONE-TWO-THREE.” Four-and-five-year-olds surrounded him in the mirrored dance studio, their little legs shifting, not quite in time. Lessons at this age were mostly about becoming familiar with the music, following a beat. Parents waited in the lobby outside the open doors, peering in to watch. One kid ran toward their mum, and another tripped over. Ben, the dark-haired boy with rosy red cheeks, would be picked up last. His mum used the forty-minute dance session to shop for the week. One-two-three. Ben held his hands up and stepped in precise rhythm. Jonathan nodded at him, and he beamed. When the others had all gone, Jonathan played the music again—free time, now—and Ben jumped about erratically, laughing, giggling, throwing himself around the room. “This music is the best!” he said, and then tugged at Jonathan’s fingers, urging him to join his wild dance. It was a vain effort, but every week, Ben tried. “Sorry I’m late. Again.

” His mother rushed in with a tired, happy smile, and Ben raced over to her. “Say goodbye to Mr Hart.” Ben waved. Jonathan waved back as they left. “See you at the library on Saturday.” He shouldered his bag and slipped out into the evening, locking the doors behind him. Savvy was already home studying for a test, so Jonathan took the free moment for himself. He passed the town’s gazebo, crossed under the crumbling stone arch of Courtship Crossover, and cut across the performance space at the pavilion. At a giant weeping willow—his favourite tree—he picked up a hint of vanilla perfume on the breeze. Familiar. He pushed aside the threadbare curtains of willow fronds, and toed into the footholds in the trunk. “Hey, Jacquie.” A mass of long dark hair curtained the figure sitting on an upper branch, leaning back against the trunk. “Knew you’d come here.” “Creature of habit?” “Yes.

” She smiled gently at him as he found his own perch. “And . ” He stiffened, waiting. “You come here when you’re down,” she said. “I’m fine, Jacquie. I mean, maybe happier if—” “Nope.” “That was depressingly quick.” Jacquie fingered her glossy lips, feigning deep thought. “Still nope.” Jonathan pulled a book from his bag and peered over it. “I hope you’ll tell me what I did wrong.” “Wrong? Nothing. God, no. You were the perfect gentleman.” Jonathan fanned the pages of his romance with his thumb and pretended to read.

“A thousand of these, and still clueless.” “You were just . too perfect.” Jonathan blinked. “You will need to explain this horrendous experience.” Jacquie laughed softly. “You went into it wanting it to last. But we’re in our midtwenties. Sometimes we just want to burn.” “Burn.” “Experience something fiery, passionate.” “We had passion.” “We had tenderness and respect.” “Scandalous!” She smiled. “Don’t you want more than that? Don’t you want that .

indescribable spark with someone? Don’t you want to know what it feels like—not just to like someone, but to crave them?” “I could be more . fiery.” Her foot bumped his playfully. “I sort of can’t wait to witness it.” “Witness it?” He batted her lightly with the book; she grinned and batted him back with painted claws and boots until they slipped from the tree and into a tangle in the grass. She straddled him and he flinched when she went for his wrists. She pulled back, eyes locking onto the wristwatch he’d instinctively shifted out of her reach. It was just . intensely sentimental. He never let anyone touch it. Her eyes returned to his, kind and sad. She smiled again and plucked his phone from his pocket. “Stay right there. Book open against your chest. Yes.

Goddamn, I wish it was me. There, your fans will go nuts.” “Hardly.” “Just you wait. At ICon they’ll be all over you.” “It won’t be me they’re all over . ” The thought trailed between them, and Jacquie knew enough to know exactly what he meant. “Will you be okay?” Jonathan picked himself up, dusting off invisible grass. “I’ll be fine.” Just fine. Absolutely fine.


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