You arrived to Beach City on a quiet, still night of autumn, and settled down on a tiny flat downtown. You had sold all you electronic devices so you could afford a train ticket to nowhere and a roof over your head. Still you had no idea how you were going to pay for food and other necessities. You were too tired to worry about it at the moment; your small backpack was left unopened on the floor and your body flopped on the bed until morning.
The next time the sun rose you rose with it, all too aware of the fact that you had enough cash for rent but not for breakfast. At first you asked around town for an available position, but by 2pm hunger finally put and end to your search. Your stomach was hurting painfully, unused as you were to skipping both breakfast and lunch.
You sat down next to the pier and put a plastic cup in front of you, praying to all heavens someone would be compassionate enough to help you out before you passed out. $0.75 latter, as you were starting to feel dizzy, a man approached you. The first things you noticed about him were a cherry sweater and waist length hair.
“Hey there pal. Are you new in town?”
“Yeah… I got here yesterday” You answered hesitantly. On the back of your head you hoped he would help you but you didn’t dare ask fate for too much. He looked at you, and peered at your cup.
“Oh, man! Have you eaten anything all day?” You looked the other way, embarrassed and that was answer enough. “That’s awful! Come on, I’ll invite you for lunch” He outstretched his hand but you didn’t dare take it.
“I can’t pay you back” You said firmly, trying to get across that you wouldn’t do anything degrading in return. He didn’t seem to be the type to want such thing, but bad people rarely look the part.
“It’s okay, I don’t want anything in return. Think of it as a favor.”
At last you decided to take his hand. A gift horse in the mouth and all that. The two of you arrived at a pizza place, where you devoured the food without even looking up once. Once you were mildly satisfied, the man decided he could start asking questions.
“So, I’m Greg Universe. Nice to meet you” You introduced yourself in return. “Well, I work at a car wash nearby. If you’re still looking for a job you could be my assistant. I’ll teach you all there is to know, although there’s not too much to know about washing cars”
“I- I would really like that” The day suddenly seemed a little less gray than before, and repressed emotions rushed out like a broken damn. For a few moments you had thought you would have to go back. No, to eat bugs and wild berries, and sleep on the streets. Never to go back. “I’m sorry Greg, I just didn’t know what I was going to do, to be honest.”
“No worries, I actually have been in your position before. The difference is I had friends that took pity on me” You smiled at him, relieved there wouldn’t be any humiliation. “I haven’t asked yet, but do you have a place to stay?”
“Yeah!” You perked up. “I had to sell my phone and my car so I could have money for rent”
“That’s good, soon it will be too cold to sleep on the streets”
Soon the food was eaten and paid for. And just like that, your new life had officially begun.
On the day when the first pumpkins sales started to appear you were working morning shift at the car wash and Greg was busy organizing his van. Over the last couple of weeks you had slowly developed a proper routine. On week days you either worked morning or afternoon, or sometimes both when there was nothing else to do. Greg had introduced you to Vidalia, and she offered to teach you about art when you weren’t working.
Vidalia’s older son was Sour Cream, and he was in a band with the rest of the cool kids. You didn’t hang out with them a lot, it would’ve been kind of awkward.
Instead, you met Lars when you were both loitering around the Big Doughnut’s parking lot. Lars was pink. Not a sunburnt reddish color- he was pink, even his hair was pink, and he never seemed to have any roots. He told you it was just how Beach City was, and not to question it. Lars also had a weird sense of melancholy that hung around him, it was like life had slapped him in the face until he was forced to grow up. It was nice in a way, you felt comfortable sulking together and you both knew not to ask questions.
Lars’ girlfriend was Sadie, the same one who gave name to Sadie Killer and the Suspects. You informed Lars she was way above his league and realized it wasn’t true because he just smiled dreamily and said “I know”.
You had also made tentative acquaintances with Ronaldo. Ronaldo ran a blog, and he seemed as puzzled by the weird things that happened as you were. He also refused to associate himself with anyone who didn’t have a phone, tablet or PC. You just rolled your eyes at him.
For lunch you usually cooked your own meal, and if you had enough ingredients you cooked Greg’s too. He never asked you to, in fact he would rather keep eating fast food, but you worried about his cholesterol and sodium intake. Both of you were having steamed salmon when a boy ran in calling for his dad.
“Hey there shtu-ball” Greg got up and ruffled his hair affectionately.
“What are you up to right now? Can we hang out?”
“I’m in a break right now… I don’t know if you two have been introduced yet. Steven, this is my new co-worker, she’s new in town.” He then turned towards you. “Steven is my son, I've told you about him a couple of times”
“Nice to meet you, Steven.” You smiled at him shyly. He jumped in your direction.
“Hi! Since you’re working with my dad I guess well be seeing each other a lot. Do you have a favorite video game? Have you been to the Big Doughnut yet? I can introduce you to everyone in town, you can tell me who you’ve already met and we’ll go from there”
“Woah, easy there. Don’t overwhelm her so soon.” You giggled, now more at ease.
“It’s alright Mr. Universe”
“Just because I’m kind of your boss doesn’t mean you have to call me that” He answered, already knowing it was a loosing battle.
“Mr. Universe is his artistic name!” Steven intervened.
“Artistic?” You asked, feeling uninformed.
“Dad! You haven’t told her? This must be rectified immediately. Come with me.” He was almost pulling you out of the place.
“Steven, wait. I have to work!” Greg followed you outside.
“Don’t worry, kid” He said. “Go with him and have fun, you already spent too much time with this old man”
You were too busy being stunned by the new nickname to protest. It had been entirely unexpected, and yet there was a warm feeling that arose at having someone who genuinely cared about you. Who worried about whether your heater was working or not and made sure you were comfortable and happy.
You walked alongside the beach, and you took a moment to admire the seagulls and the waves. Eventually you could see a house that sat inside the sculpture of a giant woman. Steven took you there and you walked upstairs to the front door, behind which three pairs of eyes greeted you. You blushed, not sure what to say.
“Hello everyone! This is my new friend, I’m showing her dad’s old music.” Steven introduced you. “And meet the Cristal Gems. This is Pearl-” He gestured towards a tall woman organizing clothes. “Lapis and Peridot” He pointed at a blue and green girls that were glued to a TV. “There are more Crystal Gems, but they’re not here right now”
Visual and auditory information danced in your head until you finally picked a question to ask.
“I’m sorry but… what’s a Cristal Gem?” Everyone tuned to look at you like you didn’t know what two plus two is. “I’m new in town” You explained yourself.
“Well… the most important part is that they come from outer space, their body is made of light that comes out of their gems, and they protect Earth” Steven explained. You weren’t sure you understood but a part of it jumped out to you.
“Protect Earth? From what exactly?” You couldn’t deny you were now feeling nervous for an entirely different reason.
“That’s a long story” The tall one, Pearl, intervened. “But rest assured there’s no impending threats at the moment. You can rest easy” You fidgeted under her direct stare.
“I’ll take your word for it” You joked, breaking the tension. She nodded in silence and resumed her task.
“Lapis, Peridot, would you like to listen to dad’s old music with us?” Steven asked.
“No thanks. You can have the TV” Lapis excited the house without another word and Peridot hurried after her and said goodbye to Steven before running off.
“Steven, would you like me to prepare snacks for the two of you?” Steven tuned to you for an answer.
“Thanks, but I just had lunch” You told them.
“I’m not hungry either”
Steven and you went upstairs where the TV was. You sat patiently as he roamed around some boxes and pulled out a VHS. He then sat next to you with glimmering eyes. The screen started with a shot of wooden ground, and then a much younger Greg, in some sort of basement, turned the camera towards himself. He was wearing jeans and a leather jacket, but his hair was still familiar to you.
>> “Hello everybody! This is Greg Universe and this song is called Like a Comet…” Young Greg ran to position and started playing.
>> “Some say I’ve got no direction…
That I’m a light speed distraction
But that’s a knee jerk reaction"
You jumped up, having recognized the melody.
“Wait! I know this song. It’s the one from the Pepe’s Burgers commercial!” You exclaimed. Steven laughed.
“It wasn’t about burgers back then” He said with a solemn tone.
“Wow! I can believe that used to be Greg… That’s amazing!”
The song went on, and by the end of it you had already learned the chorus. It finished with a flushed Greg awkwardly turning off the camera. There was static for a few seconds and then a shot of the sand at night. A slightly older Greg whispered to the camera.
>> “This is Greg Universe-” The shot moved slightly to the left and a woman with large pink hair came into view. “- and Rose. We’ll be singing a song called What Can I Do For You?” Both of them ran inside what you recognized to be the same giant woman you were inside right now, and joined the rest of the band. Steven paused the transmission.
“I forgot everyone appeared in this one” He said, loosing enthusiasm for the first time since you met him. “The one in the drums is Amethyst and the base is Garnet. And Rose was my mom”
“I’m sorry for your loss” You had picked up on the past tense.
“Thanks” He smiled at you before unpausing the video. The song made you wonder about the nature of Rose and Greg’s relationship, but you didn’t roam on the thought. It seemed inappropriate to think ill of the dead. In any case, by the end of the song you had an entirely different question in mind.
“Wait, wait, wait. What was that?”
“When two gems trust each other they can fuse and form a new one” Steven explained.
“That’s impressive and a little confusing”
Most of the songs that followed were about Rose, and in each of them you could see Greg slowly age and mature until he came to be he man you knew. Steven occasionally intervened to provide context or commentary and Pearl just worked in silence in the background. Soon the sun started to set and you had to get going. Steven, like a gentleman, offered to walk you home.
“Sorry Steven, but I live downtown, so I would feel really bad for making you come and go all this way”
“You don’t have a vehicle?” Pearl asked.
“Sorry, I don’t”
“Do you need to call someone to pick you up?” Steven followed up. You stared at the floor and subconsciously inched towards the door.
“I’m living alone at the moment”
“What about your family?” Pearl continued. “Although you have reached adulthood it is common for humans your age to remain with their parents unless they enroll in higher education” Your heart started to pound harder and harder. You wanted to run away, you didn’t want to explain yourself, but you didn’t want to shut them off completely and isolate yourself.
“I don’t have a family” You blurted. “It’s not a big deal or anything, sometimes that just happens. I’m fine right now. I don’t mind walking home, it’s a good work out”
Before you knew it Steven was hugging you firmly. Your ramble died down, and your body tensed up, completely still.
“We can be your family from now on if you’re okay with it” He peered up at you. “Dad already likes you, so you can be like an older sister”
“Thanks but… I’m fine. I’m okay on my own. Please don’t worry about me”
“Even if you’re okay now, you can always be better with other people by your side” Steven replied. “And we'll also be better with you around”
“I do believe I have Greg’s number saved on my cellular phone. I’ll tell him to come pick you up” Pearl decided.
“Shush” She placed a single hand on top of your head and left it there until she was sure you wouldn’t be protesting anymore. You felt your cheeks heat up, even more so by the fact that Steven was giggling at the situation. Could you really trust these people? Would it be okay to just let your guard down and… breathe? Just for a while. Just until you got strong enough to not mind being alone.