Adam usually comes visit twice or three times a week.
Not that they have a schedule or anything, tho. Adam just drops by whenever, he and Leo spend a few hours together bringing each other up to speed on the things happening in their lives – those they don't know everything about already, them being constantly connected through social media, that is – and sometimes Adam stays for lunch or dinner before going about his business again. At the end of the day, not much has changed since high school between them. Not even Adam constant needs to complain about Blaine's presence. The fact that this is Blaine's house, and so Blaine has every right to be present, is apparently an inconsequential fact.
Unfortunately, Adam barely had time to come by in the past four weeks due to the fact that he was supposed to have a certain number of art pieces ready by the end of the month and he was hardly halfway through half of them. And Annie was not there putting everything back into perspective for him. She tried, bless her, but encouraging Adam is slightly harder from Mars than it is standing right next to him in their living room. To avoid being very unpleasant with Leo because of the stressful situation (warding off an highly possible fight with Leo in doing so), Adam fell from the face of the Earth for the great part of a month, leaving just a short message behind, something on the line of Busy working. Behave. I'll show up with cake some time around next month. .
Leo has behaved, which is miraculous in itself. He never takes very well when he can't see his friends – Adam especially – but this time around he knew the reason behind Adam's disappearance and the promise of cake made the waiting a little less bitter. So, when the second message arrive – Cake is coming – Leo is just happy that this horrible period is over.
“Last time I checked, you only have two cars,” Adam says as he enters the house, holding a pink squared box from Nickles in his hands. Blaine's own Mercedes – a black, sleek beauty as elegant and yet presumptuous as its owner – is always well kept in the garage whenever it's not being used, away from any possible harm. Leo's SUV is usually in the driveway. Not because the garage lacks space, but because Leo is very lazy, and since they use the SUV for any everyday errand, it would be too much trouble to get it in and out of the garage every time. “What's with the Audi?”
“Oh, that's Sam's,” Leo answers, closing the door and following him in the living room. “She came to visit Blaine, social call she said, and they went for a walk. I think we are on the verge of a new announcement. I'm betting on a new baby.”
“Another one?” Adam frowns as he takes off his jacket. “Doesn't she have three already?”
Leo shrugs. “They're all grown up. Like, the oldest are eleven. Maybe she wants another tiny bean.” Adam freezes in the middle of the room and looks at him with the hardest scowl in the history of hard scowls. Clearly, Leo's choice of words didn't please him at all. “What?”
“You're not about to tell me you want another one too, right?” He asks, as if it would be a very bad thing to do, which probably is in his head. “You already have three. Besides, Blaine is ancient at this point. He wouldn't even be able to deliver.”
Leo offers him a perfectly arched eyebrow. “One, I don't want another baby. Two, if I wanted it, it doesn't mean Blaine should be the one providing the material,” he says. “And three, just for the records, Blaine's sperm count is impressively high for his age, so he would be perfectly able to deliver.”
“And... it becomes weird,” Adam sighs. He should know by now that any discussion with Leo can potentially turn into a detailed account of something he doesn't want to know – specifically something about his sexual life, which seems to be his favorite topic since he actually found out about sex – and yet he insists talking to him. “Why do you even know that? No, never mind. I don't want to know.”
Leo had already opened his mouth to explain to him why he has this information, no doubt, but he closes it and snorts. “So, did you finish the work you were busy with?”
“Sort of. I've got four paintings still drying in the living room, but they should be ready for Friday, in time for the exhibit. This is the only reason why it's a good thing Annie is still on Mars. She hates it when I use the rest of the house as a studio,” he answers with a shrug. He and Annie rarely fight over matters regarding the house (mostly because she's never there), but if there is something she can't deal with is the inevitable mess he makes while working on one of his pieces of art. So, of course, she doesn't want it anywhere outside Adam's studio, where it belongs. “Anyway, I expect you to be at the opening.”
“As if I ever missed one!” Leo says, outraged. Except for those two horrible years of his life, Leo has been to Adam's every art exhibit; and he doesn't even get any form of art that is not comic books or computer graphic, so it says something. “Blaine and I will be there at nine.”
“Do you have to bring him along?”
“I married him, I might very well show him off around, what do you think?”
Adam would really like to tell him that he could show him off by bringing a photo of Blaine with him – after all, the man is at his best when he can be looked at but not heard – but something in a corner of the living room catches his attention. It's a white marble pedestal, something that matches the rest of the pretentious furniture in the room but that Adam is sure wasn't there last time he was in the house. On it, there's a glass display case, like those you can see in a museum, with what seems like a giant glass egg in it.
“What is that?” Adam asks, getting closer to the pedestal. The thing inside is, in fact, an egg-shaped sculpture of sort made of glass or, more likely, of crystal. Its surface is completely inlaid with different patterns, so that light plays on it, drawing rainbows on the display case. All in all, it's a delicate, beautiful object. A purchase that shows a certain taste, but that doesn't look like Leo or even Blaine at all.
Leo beams, his whole face seems to lighten up. “Oh, right! You know nothing about it!” Leo suddenly realizes that there is still someone he didn't tell this story about. And here he thought he couldn't tell it anymore! “Sit down, I have to tell you everything about it!”
“Do I wanna know?” Adam asks, as he inevitably sits down on the couch and watches Leo take off the display case and grab the egg before sitting down right in front of him.
“Oh yes, definitely!”
From experience, Adam knows that he almost never does. Also from experience, he knows that he can't stop Leo from telling a story when he wants to tell one. He is a writer and a nuisance after all, a toxic combination. “Fine, try to make it short, tho.”
“So, you know my fans, don't you?” Leo asks, clearly expecting a positive answer.
Adam shrugs. “I know you have people following you on social media, yeah.”
Leo makes a face. “They don't just follow me! I mean, some of them yes, but my books have a very active fandom and people interact constantly with me and I with them. It's more of a big focus group, really. I've won the author-readers connection award three years in a row, and I'm likely to win it this year too!”
“I will pretend I know what you are talking about,” Adam says.
“Well, anyway, four weeks ago a box comes in with the mail. I open it, and the egg comes out. No card, no instructions, no explanation whatsoever. There's only a tiny piece of paper with the Zyon on it.”
Leo said like it's an obvious thing, but Adam has no idea what that word even means. “The what?”
“The Zyon! The coat of arms of the Sentinels? Do you even read my books?” Leo sighs, rolling his eyes. “I can't believe you're my best friend and you don't know these things.”
Adam frowns. “If it's of any consolation, I can't believe I'm your best friend period.”
Leo gives him a half-stern half-offended look, but the urge to tell this story is too strong and he doesn't have time to act properly pissed off at Adam. Not right now, anyway. There might be some retaliation in the future, on the charge of betrayal. “Well, the Sentinels are a group of special soldiers. It's a big thing in the books. At some point, about three or four years ago, a few people who liked the saga started calling themselves The Sentinels. The name stuck and now all the fans are called like that. So, I knew it was them, I just didn't knew who exactly and why. So, of course, I went on line and I write a 2,000 words post on the box arrival.”
“Of course. The world would certainly implode if you didn't share even the smallest detail of your life with the army of strangers who stalkers you and your family on line,” Adam comments, full of chagrin. He disapproves of Leo's way of dealing with his readers as he disapproves of almost any other way Leo deals with anything else. In his opinion, Leo's constant need to talk about his everyday life on his blog is totally unacceptable. Any kind of people could extract useful information from what he writes. Sometimes all it takes is the vague mention of a landmark nearby and any psychopath with an internet connection and the right means could find your house. They already know he's based in Ohio, it wouldn't be hard to narrow it down.
“Five minutes later, Annabel logs in and tells me they are the ones who sent the crystal egg,” Leo goes on, unfazed.
“She's the girl who runs the official fan site in the United States. I've met her a few times at signing sessions. She's cool. Very clever girl,” Leo explains quickly. “Well, anyway, she says that a few of them sent me the egg and that it's a puzzle I have to solve. Of course this is absolutely thrilling and I love it.”
Adam sighs. “When a sane person would zig, he obviously zags.”
“I ask for hints but she says that it's too soon for those and that I have to try a few things first,” Leo continues. “I believe that's fair, so I think of giving it a go. The first thing that comes to my mind is that maybe it can be opened in some way. It looks like an empty shell, but you never know. So, I try to unscrew it. I twist it. I even press here and there in case it's one of those cool toys that seems sealed and you have to click on the right combinations of buttons to open them up. But nothing works.”
“It surprises me you didn't try to break it,” Adam says, sarcastically. Leo has never been one for subtlety. Adam bets Leo was one of those children that can't be bothered with the shape sorting cube and just put all the shapes in the cube by opening it from the top. He would love to say he remembers that, but he doesn't. In the earliest memory he has of Leo they were both three and well past shape sorting cubes.
“I thought about it,” Leo nods, confirming Adam's theory, “but it didn't seem like the sensible thing to do. Besides, I thought it could be my last resort. I had tons of things to try before that. So, I go back on line and write about my attempts to open the glass egg. People start pitching in. Someone says that it might have something to do with a secret message hidden in the incisions. So I grab the twins, some pieces of paper and poster paint.”
Adam frowns. “Why whenever you open your mouth, I've never the slightest idea of where the discussion is going? Do you use a different set of communication rules? How do you even write books that people can actually read and understand?”
Once again, Leo ignores him. After all, if he really listened to Adam's every complain, he would never do or say anything. “I let the kids dip the egg in paint and roll it on a piece of paper. It works like some kind of stamp, do you know what I mean? At first, what comes out is the same pattern etched on the egg.”
“You don't say?”
“So,” Leo goes on, raising his voice just a bit, “I tell the kids to try with different colors one on top of each other, and when that doesn't work either, we try rolling the egg in different directions, creating new patterns. None of them, tho, makes any sense or reveal any hidden message.”
“Ah, shoot! And here I was, almost believing it would work!” Adam shakes his head. “How did you get the egg clean again after all that mess, exactly?”
“Solvent,” Leo answers, making a face. “It's been a pain in the ass, but we managed. So, nothing seems to work, but I don't give up. In the meanwhile, of course, I'm recording the whole process of puzzle-solving on my blog with photos and everything. “
“People go nuts about this. Everybody wants to help me out and, if I don't write anything for a day or two, they ask me how it's going and why I'm being so silent. Meanwhile, Annabel keeps telling me that it's too soon for hints.”
“She's playing you,” Adam comments, mercilessly.
“She is,” Leo chuckles, amused. “I move on to light experiments.”
Adam rolls his eyes, seeing his chance of ever going home before dinner vanish. “Just to be sure, this story has an end, right?”
“Of course it has a end,” Leo makes a face. “What story would it be without an end?”
“I don't know, you've been watching that TV show, that thing with the zombies, since I can remember,” Adam says, shrugging. “It's been more than twenty years. At this point I doubt it'll ever end. It's still gonna be airing when the world will be over and real zombies will roam it.”
“But that's different! I told you, the end is not the point. What matters is the journey towards the end,” Leo says.
“What if there's no end?”
“Who cares? The end wouldn't change the meaning of the whole thing,” Leo insists. They've been having this conversation since they were teenagers, and the TV show had already been going through a considerable amount of reruns, reboots and spin-offs. Adam thought it was already too long, and it had gone on for twenty more years, and counting.
“The ending always changes the meaning of a plot.”
“I don't know, Adam. If I killed you now, would it change the fact that you've been an impossible prick? I don't think so.”
“It'd put me out of my misery,” Adam nods, as if he was serious. “I call that a change.”
Leo frowns at him, but he says no more. Under other circumstances he would go on and on and on, possibly explaining to Adam the whole narrative behind the TV show, including whatever piece of information he had managed to find somewhere else than the TV show itself, but right now this tale about the egg seems to intrigue him more, so he lets it go. A miraculous event indeed.
“As I was saying, I moved on to light experiments,” he says. “The idea was to shoot a light through the egg and watch the result on the wall, of course also taking into consideration colors and stuff. This one was a bit tricky because colored lights are not easy to find. I had to go to the mall and buy, like, some of those glowing stick you bring to concert. Do you know which one?”
Adam is seriously risking to fall asleep. The story is not as thrilling as Leo thinks. Especially not for someone like him, who strongly believes there was no point in trying to solve a stupid puzzle from people Leo didn't even know to gain exactly nothing from it, except a bunch of likes on a social media page. The incredible amount of time Leo can waste on stupid things is beyond Adam. There's always one silly thing or other that catches is attention and draws it away from more important thing. He has always been like that.
Adam thought he was going to change once he would grow up, but he effectively never did. Sometimes he wonders how Leo even managed to have functioning adult life, and then when he realizes that the answer is probably Blaine he wants to puke.
“I try several kind of lights, both white and in different colors. Then I try to move the egg, incline it this way and the other. I put the egg against cardboard of different colors and shoot the light through it. Absolutely nothing.”
“That doesn't surprise me, to be fair,” Adam comments, and then sighs. He settles better against the couch, which is an extremely comfortable design beauty that costed more than he would be okay to spend on a piece of furniture even if he had that kind of money. Still, not wanting to buy something doesn't mean he can't appreciate that same something bought by someone else, especially if that someone is Blaine. He feels a weird satisfaction on placing his ass on something that belongs to him. “Please, tell me that you gave up at that point.”
“Of course not!”
Adam is under the impression that he heard a lot of of course that weren't so granted as Leo made them out to be. In fact, most of the things Leo thinks are commonly normal are not normal at all, but that could be ascribed to the fact that the entirety of his life is based upon something nobody else found okay but him. “Why did I even ask?”
“There is no such thing as giving up,” Leo goes on. “But I went on line to say that I was running out of options. I really didn't know what else to do with that crystal egg, except breaking it, but it still looked a waste to me. Plus, I liked the thing, and I didn't want to ruin it, if I could avoid it.”
“This time, I actually agree. It's a beautiful piece and if that's real crystal, and I'm no expert but it looks real to me, then it's also expensive,” Adam says. “I have a friend in New York who makes this kind of sculptures and sell them for hundreds to thousands of dollars apiece, depending on the size. You have very rich fans.”
“It's more likely that I have many fans,” Leo chuckles. “On a Christmas of three years ago, the Make-a-Wish Foundation organized a challenge among few of the writers who supported the charity, including me. They invited us to encourage our fanbases to donate, after a big donation on our part too. Up for grabs there was a short story by the author whose fanbase had donated the most. Of course, these are all kids, like, there are adults too, but my readers are mostly teenagers, so it's not like they have proper jobs or the mean to donate fortunes. And yet they managed to win with basically only one, five and ten dollars donations. It was super awesome!”
Adam can't help but laugh, because these kind of things genuinely excite Leo, and that's nice to see, but he still has to be contained sometimes or he gets lost in his head. “For sure, but you're digressing and meanwhile the exhibit day comes and then goes, Timmy gets married and your younger children have now children of their own. Can we please get to the end of this story? I beg you.”
Leo chuckles. “All right, all right! It is almost over, anyway!”
“So, there is a God.”
“Annabel, possibly out of pity, sends me a private message that says Think of the sanctuary,” Leo goes on, he can barely contain a smile as he speaks. Adam knows him well enough to know that there might be a great ending to this story that he can't wait to tell him. He's simply just dying to tell the tale. This doesn't mean it will be great for Adam too.
“I'm supposed to understand this?”
“Not yet,” Leo assures him. “I think about that message for, like, hours. I'm so puzzled that I don't even answer her. I go out, run errands. I take the kids to school and Logan has to call me three or four times every time to catch my attention. It's just that I feel like I should know what she means with those four words, but I can't put my finger on it. Then, suddenly, two days later, I get it. And it's so surreal that I actually start laughing in the middle of a very dramatic moment for Timmy's football team. Just imagine, me sitting on the bleachers, Blaine sitting right next to me and the twins holding a banner with their brother's number on it. The people in the crowd are holding their breath because it's a tie and the next few passages can decide the winner of the match. And then suddenly I just burst into laughing, bent in half. Blaine was really worried. I think he thought about some bout of madness or something. Everybody is glaring at me in disapproval and the only thing I can think of is, Think about the sanctuary.”
“Still don't know what she meant by it,” Adam reminds him, just in case Leo forgot.
“Right, right, I know,” Leo chuckles. “Now, since you are a terrible best friend and you don't know anything about my books because you don't read them...”
“Will you ever stop holding that against me?”
“Perfect,” Adam sighs.
“I have to take a step back and explain a few things to you.”
“I was dreading this moment,” Adam sighs again, and then, like the brave hero of an epic saga, he nods with gravitas. “Bring it on.”
“In the latest book of my saga, my boy is growing up. He's the main character, I hope you know that, at least. He just turned sixteen, so his whole world consists of two things, hormones and anger against society.”
“He must be so nice to hang out with,” Adam comments sarcastically.
Leo glares at him. “There's nothing weird with it, except that he's an half-breed and he feels everything twice as strongly, especially anger. He gets easily pissed off, which is bad because he's currently on a diplomatic journey to try and stop a war.”
“Who's in charge of making world-changing decisions in those books? You have a war to stop and you send a hormones-ridden teen with anger management issues on a diplomatic quest? What's wrong with these people?” That's the main reason why Adam doesn't like fantasy or fantasy-like books. They don't make any sense to him most of the times.
Leo chuckles. “Well, if you put it like that, of course it doesn't seem logic, but they have their reasons. There are four books before this one making him the perfect choice for this journey. Unfortunately, he has to make it while puberty hits him, which does not make it easier. Anyway, along the way he gets to this sanctuary of monks who spend half their lives praying and studying and the other half fighting evil. One of the monks, seeing him troubled, gives him a wooden box and tells him that inside he'll find something that will help him manage his anger. The problem is, the box doesn't open.”
“Like, it's stuck?”
“No, it just doesn't seem to have a lock,” Leo explains. “It's basically a wooden cube. He takes the box with him, but can't make sense of it. He tries everything he can think of to open it: prying it open with his sword, hammering it, smashing it against a rock, he even finds somebody physically stronger than him in the hope that he can open it, like you would do with a jar of pickles, but nothing. The journey goes on for days and he keeps trying different things. And as the time passes, he dedicates most of his energies to solve the puzzle, until, finally, he finds a way to slide sideways what he thought was a side but it was a panel instead. Underneath this panel there's a tiny button. When he presses it, he hears a click and the box opens. But it's empty.”
“Are you kidding me?!” Adam is truly shocked. He was getting into the story – maybe because Leo is good at telling it or maybe just because he was very curious about the content of the box. “How do you even get readers to trust you when you pull this shit on them?”
Leo chuckles. “I'm very good at teasing them,” he says, making Adam frown. “Anyway, about a month later, a little disappointed, he comes across the same monk in another place, and he's like, You lied to me, this thing was empty. And the monk goes, “It was, but you still found a way to manage your anger in it.” And that's when my boy realizes that's been a month since he lost control of himself, because he had focused all of the energy in excess, channeled it into opening the box.”
“Is this a wax on, wax off situation?” Adam asks, showing that he's not so impervious to old school pop culture references. Leo is quite impressed.
“Sort of, yes,” he confirms.
“Still, I don't get what this has to do with your egg,” Adam goes on. “Please, tell me there's a connection between the two things and that I didn't just waste an hour of my time listening to your insane ramblings.”
“Hey! Even if they were insane ramblings, you should still listen to them, because you're my best friend.”
“The contract between best friends. Isn't that obvious?”
Adam looks at him, arching an eyebrow. “You know, I think I wanna see a copy of that contract, because I'm pretty sure my signature on it was forged,” he says, and then laughs when Leo throws him a pillow and misses his face miserably by at least five inches. “You suck so much at throwing stuff!”
“Shut up!” But Leo is laughing too. “There is a connection, anyway. Annabel and the others got me the egg and pretended that it was a puzzle to solve, so I would try and do just that. In the process, I got to have fun, spend time with my kids and be generally thrilled about this whole mystery. It took my mind off things, you see? It helped me cope with a little bit of anxiety I was having at the moment, and of which they knew about because of my blog. They were absolutely wonderful.”
Adam must admit it was a nice gesture, especially because it was ultimately done for a complete stranger. They might know what he tells them – which is a lot more than Adam would like – but they still don't know him, and yet they thought of a way of cheering him up without being invasive. He must give it to them, it was a great thing to do. “They were really nice,” he says, genuinely impressed.
“They were,” Leo agrees. “It was a lot of fun, so I thought the egg needed a special place. They were very happy when I posted the picture.”
Adam is about to start with another of his very long speeches about the fact that there's absolutely no need to take a picture of everything that happens in his life, that photography is an art and should only capture emotions and so on and so forth, when the entrance door opens and the living room is suddenly filled with Blaine's full laugh and Sam's frillier one. Whatever they were talking about a moment ago had to be very hilarious because they can't stop chuckling.
The first thing Blaine does is leaning over to kiss Leo, who almost purrs. Then he looks at Adam and nods in his direction. Adam sighs and nods back. “Anderson.”
“It's good to finally have you back in the house,” Blaine says, sitting on the armrest of Leo's armchair. “Were you two catching up?”
“I was telling Adam about the egg.”
Blaine starts laughing again. “Oh, so you must have been here at least an hour,” he reasons as he pulls his husband towards himself and cuddles him.
“Pretty much, yeah,” Adam nods.
“What egg?” Sam asks, blinking. She's leaning against the wall, the stretch of her endless legs disappearing under a short puffy doll-like skirt.
“Oh no,” both Adam and Blaine say in unison. But the light in Leo's eyes has already changed. The story is definitely about to begin again, whether they want it or not.
“So, you know my fans, don't you?”