“ My sister would kill me if she saw you up there! Please be careful Emily! “
Emily could hear the worry in Aunt Yellowcloud’s voice. But, she was a great climber and in no real danger. The rocky outcrop had plenty of finger and toe holds for her eleven year old hands to grip. She didn’t even spare her fretting Aunt a glance. Her attention completely on the ochre and orange vista rolling out before her.
“ It’s so pretty Mary! I think I can see where we parked from up here! OH, there are little climbers on the cliffs!! “
“ Come on down Little Bird. The tour bus could be leaving at any moment. We are holding up the group. “
She winced at the nickname. It was Aunt Yellowcloud’s idea to give Emily her Great Grandmother’s name as her middle name. A tribute to and reminder of her Native American heritage. Some of her classmates made fun of it. So, when asked what the “B” stood for in her name she’d lie. She would say it stood for “Bernice,” “Bernadette” or just “Bob.”
Jessica R. Murphy took another long drag on the cigarette. She had happened upon this shady niche in the museum garden and decided to take advantage of it. Even though smoking might not be prohibited here, she still kept a wary eye out for the museum staff. Last thing she needed was some snob hassling her over the “filthy” habit. She had dealt with enough pretentious bullshit today.
But, this wasn’t so bad. Leaning against a fountain inside the small shady nook, she had a good view of the garden’s length. The sun streamed through the overarching trees. Soft yellow light dappled the grounds and marble statues. This she could appreciate. Better than the last two hours of paint splatters, color squares, and portraits of dead guys. She had no idea why Emily got such a kick out of it.
Murph had reluctantly agreed to join Emily and James on this outing. She knew being around the two lovebirds would make her feel like a third wheel. However, it was better than sitting around the apartment moping. If only that prick James wasn’t around she ruefully thought. Then they might actually be able to have some fun. As fond as she was of her childhood friend, she really did not care for Emily’s friends. And, no matter how many “subtle” hints Murph dropped, Emily kept trying to incorporate her into her clique.
“ I think she’s out here. She was near the garden exit last time I saw her. “
“ Emily, maybe we should leave Jessica alone for a while. We’ve been virtually dragging her through the gallery. She clearly is not enjoying it. Come on, we’ll text her when we are ready to go. “
“ The whole point of bringing her with us today is to keep her mind off of Dean. I don’t want to give Murph enough time to crawl off into a corner to mope. “
“ Sigh, why do you even bother with her? You two have nothing in common. “
“ Don’t be an ass James. “
Murph dropped the cigarette and ruthlessly ground it out. She’ll show that jerk. She is about to be very interested in colored circles, shoelaces, and bent clothes hangers.
“No, I feel really horrible about it.”
Crystal’s animated gestures and high pitched voice contrasted heavily with the mellow atmosphere of the coffee shop. Normally this would have made Emily more than a little self conscious. Briefly reminding her of why she never hung out with Crystal in public. However, that thought found no purchase in her current melancholy mood. Crystal exaggeratedly slumped over the narrow table between the two. She continued speaking.
“I mean, who is left of the old gang? Mary is off to California. Sue ran off with that dude to Florida. I think she’ll come running back when she figures out the guy is a flake. Dave left for M.I.T. Even Kevin left town shortly after Graduation. OH, and James, he just left. Did you guys break up? Have you even heard from him?”
Emily looked away. This was the last thing she wanted to talk about. James had promised her they’d stay together. That they of all people could make a long distance relationship work. But, Emily deep down knew that those words were superficial at best. He’d left her behind like everybody else. Leaving her to rot in this hick town. She glanced back at Crystal. She was staring intently at Emily. Emily quickly focused back on the bar where Murph was peddling cappuccinos. She tried to change the subject.
“Naw, he is busy with moving. How about you? When are you leaving for Boston?”
The sandy haired, lanky girl’s eyes started to grow misty. This is exactly why Emily had brought Crystal along tonight. Her dour spirits needed soothing and Crystal always put on a good show of sympathy. The girl would cry over a mushed house fly. A faint tear started down along Crystal’s aquiline nose.
Those words were very satisfying to Emily’s ears. But, a twinge of guilt quickly followed this selfish pleasure. She would have to do something nice for Crystal before she left town. Emily let out a sigh and leaned into her left hand. With a wistful smile she mused.
“Don’t be. I’ll get out of this dump yet. Who knows where I’ll be next year.”
First, a sneak peek from the coming chapter.
Now, for the relevant topic. A special thanks to you who support or have supported Astray3 in the past. It means a lot and keeps the work grinding ever onward. I have been contemplating ways of rewarding contributors without gating off any pertinent story content. Which is tricky given the myriad of ways readers can make donations.
The principle way to contribute is via the comic’s Patreon page. ( https://www.patreon.com/astray3 ) Which is great, Patreon has a variety of tools to help manage bonus content. Buuuuttt…given some recent events, readers may have some misgivings about the service. So, it’s understandable if potential patrons are hesitant to use it.
Another way to contribute is via the paypal button that appears with comic posts. You can make a one time or recurring contribution using that service. Just look for this button…
Sadly, I haven’t really investigated this option and have no clue how to deliver exclusive content with it. It is an easy way to contribute if you already have a paypal account though.
With that in mind, there are going to be a few changes to the Patreon coming up. The comic and the new Tangent side series of works will be free for public view. Nothing is going to change with the primary story content. However, Patreon patrons will start getting exclusive updates of background/developmental material. Weekly sneak peeks, like the above image, along with supplementary work like character designs with some creator insight thrown in. The Patreon only charges for comic updates. Which makes now a fantastic introduction period! Astray3 won’t be posting comics till March. Meaning that you can enjoy the bonus content for free until the comic starts posting again in March. ( I’ll make an announcement about the official return date beforehand. )
I’m still trying to think of a way to reward non-patreon contributors. Please comment below if you have an idea.
And that is all for now.
“ And there she goes. “
Xaun kicked the air like an anxious child. Her eyes still focussed on where the prismatic swirl had winked out of existence. With a mischievous smirk she spoke obliquely to her companion.
“ What shall we do with ourselves now, Cyrus? “
The seemingly older man instinctively knew the real turmoil boiling under Xaun’s carefree demeanor. The real fear she was obviously trying to hide. After all, Cyrus was fighting down the same rising anxiety.
“ Let’s not dwell on that. Why don’t we make the most of the time we have left? “
She made an exaggerated show of mock relief. Cyrus might not be able to assuage Xaun’s dread, but he could distract her for awhile. Maybe long enough that they wouldn’t notice it when it happened.
“ No, how about we make the least of it. I can never process the time difference between here and there. It’d be a shame to get involved with anything we can’t finish.“
Xaun languidly turned to regard him. Her lavender eyes searching his face. Was she looking for
a sign of his own despair? Cyrus met her attitude in kind. Casually leaning on the record shop’s sign, he presented a wry smile.
“ Well then, I understand this area was underwater about 65 million years ago. Should be a beach around here somewhere. “