Ty swayed on his feet as the train rattled and clanked over the trestles, high above the Hudson. He clutched the bar tighter, longing for the familiar ache in his fingers, the cramps that came on after hours of practice, the endless melodies of a symphonic suite played over and over until perfection was achieved.
He felt nothing, which wasn’t unusual; he hadn’t practiced at all today. Instead of preparing for his big audition or his solo or something that actually mattered, he’d been stuck in a dusty shop on the opposite bank of the river, in the south side of New Martia. Instead of memorizing notes, he’d been regurgitating the same tired tarot explanations to a horde of believers who wanted to know what the year ahead held for them.
He closed his eyes and let tension go like an exhalation of smoke. The car bounced, and he rocked forward on the balls of his feet, eyes springing open.
The river was inky-black in the early winter sunset, shadows bleeding into it from the land, swirling in the water, shying away only when the dying rays of the sun set the surface ablaze in neon pinks and oranges, all eddying round and round, oil paint splattered across the canvas and—
They shot into the tunnel, and the world was a wall of shadow. Ty blinked again, inhaled to sober himself.
He … might have smoked a little too much before leaving the shop and saying goodbye to his parents.
He was planning to take another hit when he got home, then sink into his viola exercises for a bit. It wasn’t something he often got to indulge in after a shift at the store, not when Lawrence was around at least. His roommate insisted that work was finished after five o’clock.
Ty wanted to point out that, a) he was a student, so he had homework; and b) most musicians worked at night. There was something about the shadow hours that invigorated Ty in a way he could scarcely put into words.
Whatever—the point was he preferred to make music at night, and that would work really well if he ever, say, joined an orchestra. They tended to work weekends and evenings.
But it was hard to argue with his best friend, especially when he footed the bill for everything without complaint—the shitbox apartment in the Village that kept jacking their rent, the too-expensive food they ate, their streaming subscription and their internet bill. Sure, Lawrence could afford it; he said he was happy to do it, so long as they were comfortable, but Ty still felt like a bit of a mooch most days. It was why he even still worked for his parents at the shop; he hardly worked enough or got paid enough for it to matter, but he could at least pretend that he and Lawrence were on equal terms when he paid for dinner once in a while. (Most of his cash, though, went to tuition or supplies for class or feebly trying to pay down the mountain of debt he’d been accumulating. Scholarships for people with non-human ancestry only went so far, it seemed.)
Still, allowing Lawrence silence or companionship after a long day at school or in the lab wasn’t such a tall order. And Lawrence meant well enough—he just wanted them to relax, to take time for themselves and to hang out. Have fun. Ty wanted to point out that he thought playing was fun, but he knew what Lawrence meant.
Lawrence had left for Earth at the end of exams—his annual two-week pilgrimage to visit his family for Christmas. He could only spare a couple of days around other holidays, and he only went for a week in the summer. Ty never questioned him going. He said he had to, even though he usually seemed miserable about it. But he was bound, bent, and determined to go, so Ty reveled in having the place to himself. It was … nice, in a lonely sort of way.
The train screeched into the station. The doors swooshed open; the cold rushed in, coiling around Ty’s sneaker-clad feet. He shuddered as he stepped onto the platform. The stairs out of the tunnel were already covered in snow, and he emerged into a veritable blizzard.
He hated snow. He had no idea why they had to put up with the miserable stuff; the domes were climate-controlled, so it could have been hot and humid all year long if someone wanted. Or temperate, at least. But no, some people were climate traditionalists. They used Earth as a model, because Earth was clearly perfect.
He shivered and tugged up his hood, bowed his head against the driving wind. His sneakers slipped through the slush as he trudged the three blocks from the station to their shoddy apartment.
His fingers started to ache, cold digging deep into his bones.
Maybe he’d forget about practice, sink into a nice, hot bath instead. It had been forever since he’d taken a bath. Wasn’t manly or some such bullshit, but his Piscean half suddenly missed the water like someone had lacerated him, left him bleeding out on the street.
Bath and bong—a perfect plan. He grinned as he clambered up the steps to their brown-brick building.
He paused in front of their door, noting the brass number, the peeling paint. Overhead, the fluorescent light buzzed and flickered.
He tried the handle, frowned when the door gave, creaking open just a touch.
Had he forgotten to lock it?
A light was on in the kitchen. His heart sank. Had they been robbed?
That would fucking figure. He tiptoed into the entryway, closed the door as silently as he could behind him. Then he had to mount the pile of shoes—his Vans, his Chucks, Lawrence’s shiny dress shoes, all tossed haphazardly across the claustrophobic hallway.
He didn’t bother adding his current pair to the pile, instead smearing slush and sand and salt all over their filthy linoleum. He might have to book it back into the street, so it was best to be prepared. He peered cautiously around the corner, then frowned.
“Lawrence? What are you doing here?”
His best friend paused with a shot glass halfway to his lips, his bright blue gaze darting to Ty.
“I thought you were in Nevada,” Ty continued, jamming his hands into his hoodie pocket. He supposed Lawrence had every right to be in the apartment he paid rent for, even if he was supposed to be away for another few days.
Something must have happened. Something bad, judging from it. Lawrence considered visiting his family a duty. Plus, Ty knew how much his roommate’s mother badgered him and berated him about living on Mars, of all places.
Lawrence slammed back his shot, then dropped the glass to the table. It skittered, but didn’t tip. He shook his head. “Couldn’t stand their bullshit anymore,” he spat, eyeing the bottle of tequila.
“Your mom and dad?” Ty inched toward one of the chairs. He’d met Lawrence’s parents exactly three times: once when Lawrence had graduated from his master’s; then again at a house-warming party for Lawrence’s Aunt Doris when she’d moved to New Martia’s West End; and then once more when Aunt Doris had thrown an engagement party for Lawrence’s cousin Chaz and his now-wife Lucinda.
“No.” Lawrence sounded almost mournful.
Ty dropped into the chair. Lawrence dragged a hand down his face. He stared at the wall, and Ty wondered how long he’d been there, how long he’d been drinking.
Finally, he said, “I don’t know what they’ve been telling Gran, but it’s bullshit—they know I’m gay, Ty, they all know, I don’t understand why—”
“Back up. Your grandmother was giving you shit for being gay?” Ty had met the Myrtle Trafford—the one people ran news stories about, the one everyone said was a brilliant scientist, a cutthroat business woman—but she was literally the sweetest old lady. Ty couldn’t imagine her giving Lawrence shit for being gay. Actually, he couldn’t imagine her giving Lawrence a hard time about anything. The two of them adored each other.
“No!” Lawrence cried with exasperation. “You’re not listening—”
Ooookay, Lawrence wasn’t drunk or tipsy. He was trashed. Whatever had been said had really got under his skin. “You’re right,” Ty said cautiously, “I’m not. Why don’t you start from the beginning?”
Lawrence clutched his head. “Gran wrote me out of the will,” he moaned.
Ty frowned. “So?”
Lawrence glared at him. Ty shrugged. “I mean, what does anyone need a half-trillion-dollar fortune for?”
“You want Chaz to have it?”
“No,” Ty said quietly, then glared at the wall. Chaz was a grade-A fuckhead as far as Ty was concerned.
Ty didn’t think he’d won himself any points with the family by starting a brawl at the Aunt Doris’s dinner table, but he’d be damned if he was going to let Chaz call him a rainbow trout again. So what if he was a queer half-Piscean? He could still kick Chaz’s ass.
“It’s not about the money. I thought Gran and I shared a vision, and now she’s basically written me out of the will—it’s all going to Chaz.”
“All of it?”
“Every penny, the business, everything. Unless …”
“Unless?” Ty prompted as Lawrence eyed his shot glass again. His roommate seemed not to hear him as he poured another drink.
He tossed that back, then said, “There’s some clause in it about an heir.”
“An heir?” Ty quirked a brow. “What are you now, the fucking royal family?”
“I don’t know.” Lawrence sounded so distraught. “I’m sure it wasn’t in there before, and now there’s some damn thing about me having a biological kid to ‘secure the future’ by the time I turn thirty.”
Ty resisted the urge to gag. Lawrence’s family could be so damn imperious. “So get a surrogate.”
“I have to, and I quote, have an ongoing conjugal relationship with the mother.”
Ty lifted both brows this time. “That’s … something.”
Like, it was one thing to say you wanted your kid to attend this particular Ivy League school or even to have a kid, but to dictate his sex life?
People from Earth were weird.
“It’s bullshit is what it is! They know I’m gay!” Lawrence was almost in tears; his face was flushed, less with the drink and more with anger.
“Can you contest the will?” Ty asked gently. Myrtle hadn’t exactly been well the last time he’d seen her, although she’d been sound enough of mind. If someone was manipulating her, though …
Lawrence shook his head. “She doesn’t even remember it, Ty. She called Chaz Chuck and me Larry, and she thought we were in Houston.”
“So contest it! One of your relatives got a feeble-minded old woman to—”
“I don’t think I can, starfish. I don’t know; maybe she was of sound mind when the change was made.”
“Obviously not, if she’s listening to Chaz.” Ty crossed his arms and kicked at the table.
The smile that flitted to Lawrence’s face was worth it. It disappeared a split-second later, swallowed up by darker thoughts. “It’s probably my parents, actually.”
“Sounds like something they’d do,” Ty muttered.
“It’s probably because I’m not there enough. That’s how they got their hooks in, convinced her. I should go back. I shouldn’t have left, I should—”
“Stay here and finish your stupid PhD,” Ty supplied, drumming his fingers on the table. “You’re this close to done, Laz.”
“I could apply somewhere else, get a transfer, and—”
“Or you could forget about the will,” Ty offered. “I mean, if it’s not about the money, what’s it matter?”
Lawrence glared daggers at him. “I want to carry on Gran’s work. But I can’t do that if I … I don’t know what I’m gonna do, Ty.”
Ty was silent for a long moment, contemplating Lawrence, before finally venturing, “You could, like, get Val knocked up.”
The way Lawrence sneered at him killed any other suggestion. “Are you kidding me? I could never ask that of one of my friends. I can’t ask her to screw up her life like that. Not over my stupid family drama.”
“Fuck your family,” Ty growled, mostly to avoid blurting out the other solution now coiling around his brain.
If Lawrence wouldn’t agree to Val helping him, the chances of him letting Ty help were even slimmer.
Even though Ty could.
He really, really could.
Lawrence tossed back another shot before Ty could stop him, then bolted out of his chair. He clutched at the table immediately after, swaying on his feet.
Ty pitched out of his seat, scrambling around the table before his friend could collapse. “How much did you drink?” he asked, slinging an arm under Lawrence’s.
“I don’t know.”
Ty turned away. “You reek. Time for bed.”
Lawrence laughed, then tightened his arms around Ty, squeezing him. “Thank you, fishy,” he gushed.
“Ugh,” Ty replied, half-dragging his friend toward his bedroom.
“You’re the best,” Lawrence continued.
“The best friend I’ve ever had.” Oh no, Lawrence was off on one of his friendship speeches now. “The bestest friend, my bestest friend in the whole wide world, I don’t even deserve you!”
“Nope, you don’t,” Ty agreed easily, letting Lawrence stumble over the threshold of his room. “Who else would put up with your drunken ass?”
“Your cute ass,” Lawrence retorted, grinning like a loon as he collapsed onto his bed.
Ty glared and hoped he wasn’t blushing too hard. How Lawrence had yet to figure out Ty had a crush the size of Jupiter on him was beyond anyone, because Ty wasn’t very good at hiding it.
“Good night, Lawrence.”
“Say that again and I’ll fuck you up.”
“You’re my starfish.”
“Fuck you, go to bed.” Ty slammed the door, then stalked off down the hall, rubbing his temples. Why did his best friend have to be such a disastrous drunk?
He collapsed onto his own bed, stared up at the ceiling. Now that it was silent, thoughts crowded back in, chasing themselves around in circles.
What if … what if …
With a sigh, he turned over and dragged the blankets over himself.