It has been ONE MILLION YEARS
just under a year since I last wrote the words Thursday Thousand, and I am hella excited to be here.
In February of 2019, I began a short project where I had to post a short story every week, on Thor’s Day, that had only one parameter: it had to be, had minimum, 1000 words long. It could be any genre, any length beyond that, and could even contain mild cliffhangers!
Why? Because some of those definitely turned into novels, let’s be honest here. It was in an effort to get myself working, and, suffice to say, it worked. Two of my last posts for the project were first chapters of finished novels that Thursday Thousand helped me get back to. I’ve come back to it occasionally for different reasons–Halloween spooky stories, hoping to flesh out a new novel idea, and, now, for Pride.
Last year, I tried my hand at maybe reviving Thursday Thousand for a little bit, a sporadic once a month kind of thing, but the first story I wrote was for the researcher & the librarian, which turned into a full duology, and that was about where the short stories ended. However, as we’re finally embarking on one of the best months of the year, I thought it’d be fun to bring back these short stories for a quick four-week celebration. Each week will feature characters I already know and love across the queer spectrum, and I am so excited to share these stories with you.
Eyyyy, we’re back in the land of my heart! Researcher & librarian is probably the most recent thing I’ve written in full since I finished the duology at the end of last year. This polyamorous relationship was completely unexpected, and it snuck up on me along the edges of the larger story until, all at once, I was like uhhhh what is happening? These three are so much fun together, and I’ve never actually written in any of their POVs or been able to see their relationship from anything but the outside, so I had the most fun with this short story.
Some background: the researcher & the librarian is about a chaotic researcher (Freddie) who completely upends a Portuguese library and its quiet staff by claiming that demons are real, and Freddie wants to summon one. His sister, Florence, is working with a local astronomer, and Vicente comes to work with them about halfway into the first book. Raul is one of the librarians that work at the Joanina, and Heloísa is his wife.
Coimbra, Portugal | Winter, 1935
There were several things that Vicente might have expected to come after banishing over twenty ghosts from the Peláez estate, but Raul Palmeiro curling a hand around their elbow in the stone courtyard and pulling them to a stop didn’t even cross their mind. They expected an exhausted last hour at the grand party the Peláez family had thrown to herald in the new year, too nervous to leave because to be here at all was something Vicente had never thought to wish for. They expected Florence, maybe, to tuck beneath their arm and squirm close, seeking warmth and comfort after such a treacherous night. They still had a hard time understanding that none of this was a dream, that when the door had opened to the gorgeous, trailing house listed on the letters they’d received, life was only just beginning.
Vicente had known, the moment they were old enough to talk, that there was something wrong in the way people referred to them. Minha menina pequena, their father would say as he swept them into the air, bright and beaming. Sometimes, looking back, Vicente would think about those smiles, of how long they had clung to them, desperate to maintain the lie that would keep them safe. But it was an impossible thing, and no matter the sorrow that their mother saw sketched across their future, Vicente could no sooner wear a dress than they could stand to be called that name any longer.
Even when she died, Vicente persevered. They enrolled in school, sneaking bills and admission letters from beneath their father’s nose, and it wasn’t until after, when Vicente was nearly a year into their first job, that it all fell apart. It seemed like magic now, that the letter from their mother’s oldest and dearest friend, Célio Estévez, arrived only a week after their father screamed an ugly lie as he dragged minha menina pequena back home. Vicente had never expected an answer to the strange, lonely letter that they sent Célio, and yet.
A few bare months later, and somehow, Vicente was here, surrounded by friends they’d never thought to hope for, invited to parties as a man, and treated with the kind of respect that only fellow queers could understand. But even with Florence’s daring trousers and Freddie’s insane idea to exorcise a handful of ghosts in the attic of the Peláez estate, while their only daughter sat inside a pentagram with him, seemed far-fetched when compared with this—Raul’s brown fingers looped loosely around their elbow.
“Vicente,” Raul said, and there was such a gentle smile on his face that, though Vicente’s heart was thundering across their ribs, they felt a little calmer just for that smile. “Um momento?” Raul tipped his head to the side, and Vicente blinked rapidly, bewildered that someone like Raul might want to speak with them in private. Florence, dutifully, kicked the back of their boot on her way by, and Vicente quickly nodded, following Raul off to the side.
They’d been so wrapped up in the light pressure of Raul’s fingers around their elbow that they hadn’t noticed the woman hidden in the shadows, face cast up to the cold night sky, the dying flames of the torches around them washing her face in a warm, golden glow. Vicente nearly dragged straight to a stop at the sight of Heloísa, for though Raul asking for their attention was unbelievable enough, to be noticed by the most elegant woman of the night, even beyond Senhora Peláez, was too much. Vicente was sure that they were dreaming, that they would wake at any moment to find all of this gone—not just the party, but Célio’s observatory, Florence’s friendship, and Coimbra itself, the city snatched from their fingers and stashed safely away from them. They would wake, gasping with despair, as their father’s house took shape around them, the pale cream room they’d grown up in with the pink-tasseled pillows a slow suffocation.
When Raul drew them to a stop next to his wife, Vicente found that they couldn’t quite breathe. The air was brisk with the deep winter chill that Florence laughed at, and Heloísa was wrapped in furs, though her smile was beautiful when she tipped her face down from the stars. Vicente had seen her inside, and even now, bundled away and cheeks going red from the cold, she was magnificent. She’d worn a deep burgundy gown to the party, the cut high at her neck and fanning out along her arms until the sleeves opened at her elbows and billowed around her while she walked. She looked like she was drifting through the ocean wherever she went, deep red spilling out around her, and her lips were a daring dark color to match. Her eyes had been highlighted in gold glitter, and the furs that she held around her now sparkled. Her long, brown hair was hidden beneath the furs, though it’d framed her face in such a way that whenever she tossed her head to laugh, it swayed with the waves of her dress.
Heloísa spared her husband a single, commanding look, and Raul dropped Vicente’s elbow, stepping to the side. He lingered between them, like a bridge from reality to dream. When Heloísa turned her dark gaze on Vicente, they felt their knees buckle a little, but they thought of Florence’s spine of steel, and they held themselves upright, eyes steady and breath held. Florence was not regal, was not delicate and did not bow to society, but it was her brashness that Vicente stole now, her confidence and the haughty tilt to her chin when people looked down on her.
“Senhora Palmeiro,” Vicente said slowly, lifting a hand. Though he was freezing and exhausted, Florence’s twin brother, Freddie, had stopped Vicente at the edge of the party, a weary smile on his face, and whispered that Raul was interested in getting to know them a little better. They’d had a single conversation at the party, Vicente and Raul, and though it’d been tailored entirely to the work they both individually did, it seemed they’d made some kind of impression on the librarian. Vicente hadn’t the faintest why that interest extended to Raul’s incredible wife, but something told them not to hold the hand palm-up, as though expecting Heloísa’s to be set delicately within, but to hold it like a man greeting a peer.
Heloísa’s smile was brighter than the stars above when she took Vicente’s hand in her own and gave it a firm shake. “A pleasure, Senhor Araújo. It’s a wonderful name, truly, but I wonder if we might do away with the formality. How does dinner sound? This upcoming Friday, no suits or stiff piano-playing. We’ll put on the gramophone and eat on the floor, if that’s to your liking.”
“Or at the table,” Raul said, though there was something mischievous in the way he glanced at Heloísa. “Let’s not unravel the wretched monster that lingers beneath your elegant veneer.”
“Wretched,” Heloísa said, her mouth curling into something sharp and brilliant. Vicente felt their knees try to buckle again. “I prefer wicked. Seven? I do so hate all these late dinner parties. I’m half asleep by nine if I’m not properly fed. Meu amor.” She held out one of her brown arms to Raul, who dutifully stepped in, and Vicente felt their face go hot at how close he stood, arm looped around her waist, Heloísa tucked firmly into his side. “Do say yes, Senhor Araújo,” Heloísa said, her gaze caught on theirs even as her head tipped toward her husband’s.
Yes, Florence whispered in their head, so Vicente swallowed and said it aloud before they did an about face and managed only with sheer willpower not to sprint off in the opposite direction.
The week rattled forward faster than Vicente might have liked, and though they didn’t tell Florence that something had happened, or even that something was coming, it was clear that she noticed enough. She didn’t say anything, but the way she lessened the sharpness with which she delivered most of her words suddenly took on a softer edge, and while she’d never been anything but kind to them, she was going out of her way to help them until, at long last, Vicente shook her off and said, “Knock it off, or I’ll trip you.” Florence was delighted at the threat, and she mostly returned to normal except for the cups of tea that kept appearing on every available surface.
And then, without much warning, it was Friday.
“Tudo bem,” Florence said as she deftly caught the tea mug Vicente had knocked off the table with their elbow. “I think it’s about time to call it a day.” Vicente didn’t need to glance at the brilliant windows all around them to check that it was, indeed, still barely midmorning, but their gaze still swiveled around, confused. “You’ve shattered three pieces of chalk, and you know how Célio feels about chalk. And if you break the mugs, I’ll be furious, so you’ve successfully turned me into the sister who assigns Freddie tasks when he’s feeling flighty and likes to leave spell components all over the kitchen, despite their toxicity. Go get a bucket of water.”
“Florence,” Vicente said imploringly.
“Vicente,” she drawled back at them even as she abandoned her work and headed over to the windows. It was ludicrous, that they should clean the windows, particularly when Célio often employed someone to do exactly that, but they couldn’t deny that much of what Florence had implied was true. They were feeling flighty, and they did need a distraction, so they gave in without much fight and went off to fetch the cleaning supplies.
Much of their day passed in that way—Vicente worked their way around the observatory, Florence occasionally drifted off to argue with Célio over one of his formulas, and Célio grumbled at his own nervousness whenever he practiced a bit of his upcoming lecture on them. It was the kind of day that left Vicente feeling bone tired, that struck deep beneath the mental chaos nipping at their heels and soothed everything into a muted kind of calm. Even when Florence glanced meaningfully at her watch and started to scoop up her things for the day, Vicente didn’t quite feel the sting of nerves yet. It wasn’t until they were walking through the city together, Florence chattering about nothing at all, just filling the silence that Vicente’s uncertainty was starting to overwhelm—it wasn’t until they parted ways, Florence off to her brother and Vicente off to something terrifying, that they finally felt the weight of it all pressing down.
This had to be a joke. Some kind of awful thing, bound up in despair and disgust. That they had been welcomed into Célio’s home, embraced fully by Florence’s friendship, even quietly shuffled into the higher society of Coimbra’s wealthy families—that was too much to believe on top of this. But every time the thought started to rise, Raul’s gentle touch and Heloísa’s sweet smile brought Vicente back down. It might have been a joke if it was anyone but them, but they had seemed so genuine, and Vicente trusted Freddie not to lead them astray. It might have been a joke if Raul wasn’t already so deeply entrenched in the queer community that Freddie was rallying around him, and it was this knowledge, this strange place that Vicente had started to acquire in the world, that kept their chin lifted as they finally stopped outside of a black door with a golden door knocker and lifted their hand.
“Por favor,” they still whispered as they set the knocker against the door, wincing a little at the echo of metal on wood that cascaded around them. Por favor, the words whispered through their trembling hands and terrified breaths. If this was a joke, Vicente would turn their back on Coimbra and never look back.
Vicente waited for the door to remain closed, for the silence to grow thick and awful, for the joke to finally settle, but they’d barely been there for even the barest edges of panic to arrive when the door opened, and there was Raul. He looked both so different and so familiar to that fateful night a week ago, tired from the exorcism of several ghosts, but still stupidly handsome in his fine suit and starry-eyed wonder. For though Raul was still just as attractive as he’d been a week ago with his dark, curly hair, neatly trimmed beard, and slow, warm smile, he looked more comfortable now, too. He was in a pair of loose grey trousers, a navy sweater tucked over a soft-looking grey linen shirt, and he was wearing loafers now instead of black shoes that shone under the moonlight. As always, Vicente was struck a little dumb by the sight of him. It wasn’t even that they got all that many opportunities to witness Raul at all, but Célio occasionally sent them on errands to the library, or they crossed paths whenever Freddie, their strange center, brought them together. But it was as undeniable as it had been the first time Vicente saw Raul how uncommonly attracted they were to him. It was not something Vicente had all that much experience in, particularly with the possibility of reciprocation, and it was only the saving grace of Raul’s knowing smile and extended hand that brought Vicente successfully through their dumbstruck awe and into the house proper.
“I’m glad you came,” Raul said, his voice low and dangerous as he brought Vicente in through the front hall and to the right through a doorway that led into a sitting room. And there, in truth, was the cause of most of Vicente’s stress.
Growing up, they’d always known that they were meant to be a man, but that society’s pronouns didn’t quite fit the way they felt on most days. It always left them feeling a bit unlevel. No one else ever talked about their queerness in general, but this was not something Vicente had seen in anyone else. And though they’d started to finally find their footing, even before Coimbra, Heloísa Palmeiro was unraveling all of it. Vicente had been certain, for years now, that they were attracted only to men, and it had felt like such an unshakeable certainty that when Vicente saw Heloísa for the first time, they shelved those feelings of awe and desire away as simply wanting the kind of confidence that Heloísa exuded.
She had gone and shaken the very roots of their foundation, though, and there was no way to shelve any of what Vicente was feeling now. She wasn’t draped seductively across one of the sofas, but she might as well have been. Instead, Heloísa was curled into the corner of the sofa, bare feet tucked under her, a blanket draped over her lap, and a cup of tea held loosely in one hand while she read a book in the other. Her dark hair was pulled over one shoulder in a long braid, and though there was a bit of glitter dashed around her eyes, she looked so much less formal and unapproachable. She looked, just as she’d promised, like she meant for this to be a relaxing evening.
“Finally,” she sighed when she spotted them, setting her book aside and holding out her tea as she pulled off her blanket. Raul came over to take the tea, and then Heloísa was on her feet and crossing the room, a brilliant smile pulled across her mouth. She was wearing a vibrant red lipstick that faded beautifully into the overall portrait of her—black and white polka dot blouse that ruffled in chiffon layers around her shoulders and billowing black trousers that swayed like a skirt as she walked. “Vicente,” Heloísa said as she stopped before them, and that single word, their name, the one they’d chosen all those years ago, something in the way Heloísa said it nearly unraveled Vicente there on the spot.
They were certain that they’d never had any attraction to women, and yet, here was Heloísa, a goddess among mere mortals.
They swallowed, trying to infuse their voice with a little of Florence’s calm confidence when they said in return, “Heloísa. Obrigado for the invitation. Your home is lovely.”
Her smile, impossibly, grew to outshine the setting sun. “May I embrace you?” she asked, her arms already coming up, and Vicente wouldn’t have dreamed of denying her. She smelled like sugar-coated polvorones and candied orange, and Vicente found their eyes closing of their own accord, a deep sigh of relief melting away in Heloísa’s arms. When they parted, a hot flame of embarrassment tried to shoot across Vicente’s face, but Raul was just barking a knowing laugh as he wandered out of the sitting room, tea cup still in hand, and Heloísa was beaming like they’d given her some kind of gift and not entirely the opposite.
“Come, come, sit,” Heloísa said, turning back toward the sofa. “We have so much to talk about.”
Florence was, predictably, an utter menace the following Monday. She was beside herself at the fact that Vicente hadn’t come straight to her house after the dinner was through, and even more affronted that they hadn’t come over the weekend, but Vicente felt like they were floating on a sunbeam slowly drifting through space, and, when Florence arrived at the observatory on Monday, their feet were still far from the earth.
“Well?” Florence demanded the moment she caught sight of them in the soft morning light of the observatory.
“I think I love her,” Vicente mumbled, and it was the exact wrong thing to say if they didn’t want Florence bursting into excited giggles and running the length of the observatory toward them. It was a story told in fits and starts, their work interrupting them as they went about the day, but, by the end, Florence had the full of it, and she was practically glowing with joy. It was gratifying to say it all aloud, to know that they hadn’t dreamt the entire night. That Heloísa’s constant laughter and Raul’s gentle smiles were a thing of reality felt like something from a different world, and to unravel each moment for Florence, a best friend Vicente had never thought possible, made it somehow more concrete.
It was a silly thing, though, those words—I think I love her—and while Vicente did feel like they were floating far above everything else, they gradually started to come back down, to settle beneath the wave of a dream come true, and to see, all at once, the stark reality of it. They’d been so focused on the wildness of being attracted to Heloísa that Vicente had never once considered the fact that Heloísa was the one guiding all their interactions. Though it had been Raul that had approached them that night, it was Heloísa that had asked her husband to do so. And though it had been Raul that opened the door, that invited Vicente in, it was Heloísa that had carried much of the conversation, that had left trails of heat across Vicente’s body anytime she set a hand on their arm or flashed them one of her earth-stopping smiles. It was, in the end, Heloísa that was bestowing her affection. For all that Raul had done to welcome Vicente into their wonderful life, he hadn’t actually indicated anything that felt like desire.
A week after Vicente’s life had been properly turned inside out and shaken to its core, they sat down across from Florence and said, “I think he’s only doing it because she wants him to.”
“I’m going to need more words than that,” Florence said. She was currently beneath the telescope, occasionally looking away to sketch out numbers in a notebook. Vicente slowly lowered down onto the ground next to her, folding their legs beneath them.
“Raul,” Vicente clarified, “Heloísa has been very forward about what she wants, but he has—well. It feels like he’s doing as she’s asked. He does everything that she asks. What if he doesn’t actually want this—me?”
Florence frowned at the telescope before she dropped her head and rolled out from underneath it, looking up at Vicente. “Admittedly, my knowledge of Raul is limited to whatever Freddie’s told me,” she said, “But he seems like a very private person. Freddie didn’t even know he was married for ages, and the first time he even saw Heloísa was at the new year’s party. Maybe it’s not that he doesn’t want you, just that he’s as nervous about all this as you are? I mean, sim, you’re putting yourself at great risk right now, but so is Raul, to an extent. This is awful, but it would be one thing if you and Heloísa were going behind his back. But Raul is—well, a man interested enough in another man to welcome that into his marriage. Vicente.”
She needn’t have said anymore, and, clearly, their expression was enough to project that. They hadn’t even considered the gravity of that first conversation, of Raul steering Vicente away from prying ears so that his wife might ask this person they’d just met to dinner. Raul had obviously put a great deal of trust in Freddie’s word, just as Vicente had, and while they were living entirely different experiences, Vicente carried the possibility of destroying not just Raul’s marriage, but his entire standing in society. It was more than Vicente had even considered, and it was entirely the reason for why he politely declined Heloísa’s next invitation to dinner. When it arrived at Célio’s house, there was nothing that Vicente might have liked more than to accept immediately, but there was so much twisting in their head that Vicente needed the distance.
It was a complex, complicated knot of feeling. It was not just the unexpected chaos of finding Heloísa attractive, not just the warring desire to also want Raul, but the fear that dogged Vicente’s steps, that they might ruin not just their own life by pursuing this, but two others, as well.
It was too much of everything, and it was easier to just end here before anything went further, before a beginning could even be established.
Later, Vicente would wonder if Florence had known. They didn’t think it was quite her level of deception, particularly given how much she knew about what Vicente was feeling, but as they made their way down the street, on their way home from tea at Florence’s, it seemed a little too obvious to find Raul lingering outside Célio’s house. He was exchanging a pleasant conversation with the old astronomer, which would have been odd enough on its own—Célio hated to loiter outside, in full view of the public—but the stark look of uncertainty that clicked into place across Raul’s face when he caught sight of Vicente was enough to make them want to turn right back around. It’d only been a few days since the declined invitation, but it was all Vicente had been able to think about, and now, here was Raul, come to crack it all open.
“Ah,” Célio said as Vicente opened the gate and slowly made their way up the path to the front door. “As before, you are more than welcome to come inside, Senhor Palmeiro, though I shall understand if you don’t, as well.” An ominous beginning only made worse when Célio backed into the house, closing the door behind him, a clear statement that Vicente was meant to stay outside and see this through.
“Boa noite, Senhor Palmeiro,” Vicente said as they stopped at the edge of the path, enough distance between them that the uncertainty in Raul’s face shifted into a hard-edged understanding.
“Boa noite, Senhor Araújo.” His voice was a bit cold, but Vicente still heard the sorrow laced through it. Raul cast a hand between them and shook his head. “There are a thousand things I intended to say, but I think that says it all. My apologies for coming to your home like this.” Raul tipped his head and made to slip past Vicente, but something in the knife’s edge set to his shoulders made Vicente reach out a hand, fingers curling around Raul’s upper arm, drawing him to a stop. They were facing opposite directions, though Vicente closed their eyes rather than look at the house that had become their home.
A long heartbeat of silence swelled between them before Vicente made themself ask, “Why are you here?”
Raul’s exhale was anger given sound, though he didn’t twist out of Vicente’s hold, just stayed there, every muscle in his arm gone rigid. “Heloísa was upset,” Raul said evenly, “She thought—well.” And then, with a softness Vicente wasn’t expecting, Raul laid a hand over theirs, gently pulling away, and turned halfway. Vicente kept their eyes closed, facing the house. “I was blessed with Heloísa. I would have married any woman and prayed that they might overlook the things people whispered about me, but never, not in my wildest dreams that I refused to even dream, did I think that someone like Heloísa might exist, never mind accept me into her life.” Raul’s next inhale was unsteady, and Vicente opened their eyes, looking over, determined to hear this, to allow Raul the space to speak it. A wavering smile unfolded across Raul’s mouth when their eyes met, and Vicente felt something like hope unfold. “How stupid must someone like us be to be caught not once, but four separate times?” Raul asked, and everything sharpened into fine clarity.
“Four?” Vicente asked, their body turning without any real thought to do so, until they were facing one another.
“Three times as a teenager, so my parents tried to hide it as youthful indulgence, but once a year before I met Heloísa, and with someone far above my station, someone that had the power to destroy all we held dear, that nearly tried to wield that power.”
Vicente swallowed, understanding dropping their shoulders so that Raul’s mirrored theirs, sinking with relief at this shared knowledge bringing them back into one another’s orbits. “And Heloísa?”
“I love her,” Raul said immediately, and with such breathless certainty that Vicente believed him without hesitation. “I will always love her, and there is no one I would rather spend the rest of my life with. That she even considered something more is just beyond me. Vicente, I—if I made you think, for whatever reason, that you were not welcome in our home, in our life, por favor. I am terrified of what this may bring upon us, but you are worth it. If you would have us, we are an us. It is not just Heloísa that wants this. When you declined dinner, Heloísa was upset, but I thought—I thought I might have brought ruin to us, and I had to know. Whether this ends horribly right now, and I’ve made some mistake, or—” Raul broke off as Vicente’s hand came up, curling around his arm again.
There were, as Raul had said, a thousand things Vicente intended to say, but, in the end, there was only one thing, really, that might have assuaged all of it. “Dinner, then.”
Raul’s smile was full of so much relief, it was only through sheer willpower that Vicente didn’t kiss him in broad daylight.
Though Vicente shouldn’t have been surprised, Heloísa was not someone that lingered in predictability, so the note to dress comfortably left them baffled until they arrived at the house to find that the furniture had been shifted in the sitting room, and, just as Heloísa had teased two weeks ago, dinner was served on the floor. The staff seemed well accustomed to such oddities, and they swept in and out of the sitting room as Heloísa carried on about the book she was reading and Raul complained about one of the professors at the university attached to the library and Vicente was goaded into telling a hilarious story about Célio. They abandoned their shoes soon after succumbing to dinner on the floor, and though Raul had his loafers on again, his sweater was gone in place of an after dinner jacket, and he looked cozy in a way that spoke of a long day at the library and finally coming home to a place where he didn’t have to think at all.
It was only after the plates had been cleared, tea served, and the staff bid a fond farewell that Heloísa cast a meaningful glance at her husband, leaned back against the sofa behind her, and demurely slid one of her bare feet out from under the hem of her skirt. Raul smiled, and it was such a fond, gentle thing that Vicente’s heart cracked a little at the sight of it. Vicente wondered at how they’d found one another, a woman too bold for a society that wanted her soft and a man too kind for a world that wanted to cage him.
“I think we ought to talk,” Heloísa said as Raul curled a hand around her bare heel, thumb swiping out to pass up the arch of her foot. “A sentence each, I think, should do it. State what you wish to see realized from this coming together of great minds, and we shall see about making it a reality. Sim?” When there were no objections, Heloísa nodded as though she hadn’t expected any. Vicente thought it very likely she always got what she wanted, for who could deny such a queen?
It was a daunting proposition, though, and one that would put an end to these joyful dinners and quiet energy strung between them. To say it aloud, to speak into existence why, truly, Raul had hooked a hand around Vicente’s elbow and asked them to speak in private, to acknowledge that, though they were married and, by every right, should be happy, there was something not missing, but waiting. Somehow, Vicente had stumbled upon a couple so extraordinary in their love that they wanted to open their arms to more.
Though a silence threatened to settle, Heloísa didn’t break it until, oddly enough, Raul did. “I want to be worshipped.”
Horribly, a laugh was startled right out of Vicente, but Heloísa mirrored their mirth, and Raul’s expression didn’t dissolve into one locked behind fear, but exasperation. He flicked a feather light finger across Heloísa’s foot so she shrieked and yanked it away from him.
“I’m serious,” Raul said as he set his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. “You don’t pay nearly enough attention to me. I want something slow and—tenuous.” His gaze, though it had hovered somewhere near the empty space that Heloísa’s foot had been, slowly drifted to catch and hold on Vicente’s. “I want to be broken into pieces,” Raul said, his voice gone low, “and put back together with finely honed precision.”
Vicente felt their throat go utterly dry, a desert wasteland as they imagined Raul, flushed and panting, sprawled golden brown across wrinkled linen sheets, sweat beading along his collarbone and eyes half-closed, desire and despair all tangled up across his face.
Heloísa sighed, as though satisfied that they were finally arriving at the truth, and said, “I would like to witness that. For I would like to pay you enough attention, but you’re so lost in your own head that it’s hard to keep you on earth sometimes, dear. Vicente?”
Before they could consider the potential hole they were digging, Vicente said, brown eyes still hooked firmly on Raul, though he was looking over at his wife, smiling again, “I should like to break you.” At that, Raul’s gaze snapped around, and there was such naked want there that Vicente thought it an honest miracle that they’d never seen it before, that they’d ever had cause to doubt exactly why they were here.
“Right, then,” Heloísa said with a kind of firmness that lit an uncertain flame of fear at the base of Vicente’s spine, “That’s that.” She started to rise, and Vicente inhaled sharply.
“Heloísa,” Raul chided, “Don’t tease them like that.”
“Never,” Heloísa murmured, though there was mischief in her voice as she crossed the room. She knelt before Vicente could even fathom getting up, knees dropping to the floor just in front of them. Her expression was playful as she lifted a hand to tuck around their face, thumb fanning out over their cheekbone. Her hands were butter soft, and she smelled like roses. Vicente felt themself unconsciously leaning into her, drawn into the orbit of her wonder. When she spoke, Heloísa’s voice was cast low enough that the words would not travel beyond the sphere of her presence, “There are a dozen other things I want, but this seems like a gentle place to start. And Vicente?” She waited for them to blink, to nod, before she continued, “Say no. At any time, tell us that we’ve gone too far, that you’ve had enough, that you do not wish to carry on. Promise me.”
“I promise,” Vicente said immediately, though it was a different sort of promise, a prayer that they would never need to say such a thing.
“May I kiss you?”
In a million years, Vicente had never imagined that they might say yes to such a thing, and, even now, their body said the words for them, leaning forward out of Heloísa’s hand, meeting her halfway as she tipped them together, her mouth as soft as the roses that she smelled like. She lingered only long enough that Vicente felt short of breath when she drew back, and any hope of breathing after that disappeared when they caught Raul’s eye, his attention fixed unwaveringly on them.
Heloísa hummed, told them not to stay up too late, and floated off as though she were a witch in a story, gone home to her cozy realm of magic, a spell woven behind her to draw two princes toward one another.
Later, when Vicente tried to tell Florence about that night, they had no idea who moved first, if it was Raul coming across the floor or Vicente striking the hard wood as they started to rise, only that it was Raul’s shoulders that hit the sofa, Vicente’s hands that bracketed his jaw. It was Raul that tried to lean harder into the kiss, but Vicente that eased him back. It was Raul that let out a breath as sharp as a knife, and Vicente that drew them both together as they said, “I want you. I want her. I want this.”
For the rest of their life, Vicente would never understand how it happened, how, for years, they came back to this sitting room again and again, drawn into this unexpected circle; how, against all odds, they’d found not one, but two people that loved them so dearly, they would stop at nothing to see the wanting in their hearts realized. It was a beginning, that night, and it would forever be an end, for Vicente would never again love someone like they did Raul and Heloísa Palmeiro, a beacon that they returned to always, a dream never dreamed, and yet come true all the same.