One

It was late August, the sun beating down relentlessly on the city of Savannah, but none of that seemed to deter the pedestrians who were strolling down River Street with makeshift paper fans made from tour pamphlets, occasionally stopping to point out a place to eat or a shop they wanted to peek into.

The trolley bell clanged, signaling a stop as tourists clambered off to join those already exploring the busy street, and a tug boat carrying shipping containers full of who-knew-what traveled lazily down Savannah River.

A few blocks up, in Ellis Square, half-naked children ran through the fountain, their joyful screams bouncing off the surrounding buildings as their family dogs lapped happily at the nearby doggie fountain.

Around the main fountain, parents sat gossiping with each other, their heads bent close and faces hidden by wide-brimmed hats and massive sunglasses.

All in all, a perfectly normal day in the most haunted city in America.

Julian Thorne shook his head. People always thought of Savannah as this spooky town, lost in time, but he just knew it as home. There were the ghost tours, of course, and he could see a hearse rattling by filled with tourists instead of a corpse; other than that, though, it seemed to him a perfectly normal town…although admittedly very hot.

“It’s too hot,” Teddy declared as they passed Ellis Square, heading to class after having grabbed lunch at one of their favorite places on River Street.

“I’m ready for winter,” Grey moaned in agreement, leaning on Julian as if the heat had drained her of all energy.

Julian chuckled and lightly pushed her off him. “Don’t get your sweat on me,” he teased. “This is a Raf Simons tee; I spent the entirety of my last paycheck on it.”

All three of them attended Savannah College of Art and Design, which placed much of their campus smack-dab in the middle of the historical district. It worked out well, despite the tourism. Something about the timeless city helped inspire creativity and the trio never wanted for anything to do on the weekends. Of course, with the tourism being what it was, it helped that Teddy was such an imposing figure.

At 6’3’’, he towered head and shoulders above nearly everyone. With him around, people seemed to part like the Red Sea for Moses, allowing the much smaller Julian and Grey to slip by without trouble. Whenever he went anywhere alone, Julian had to push and shove through others; people overlooked him. To look at them now, one might be hard pressed to believe that Julian had been the one to save Teddy from bullies when they first met over a decade ago, but that was precisely what had happened. Not that it had been a particularly successful rescue—Julian’s nose was still a little crooked because of it—but the attempt had been made and they’d been friends ever since.

“You’re going to regret spending that much money on that shirt by the end of the day,” Teddy stated.

“Probably,” Julian said. “But it makes me feel pretty.”

“Aww, Jules, you’re pretty enough for me,” Grey said. “Even without Raf Simons.”

Julian scoffed. “You’re not my type,” he joked.

“Drag a sis,” Teddy commented. “How will she recover?”

“I was your type in high school. How many times did you ask me out before I finally relented?” Grey returned with ease, hazel eyes twinkling.

“Ya’ll did date a lot in high school,” Teddy pointed out.

“Yeah, way too much for one gay man,” Jules returned.

“Hey, I was a great girlfriend,” Grey said.

“True,” Julian relented. “Too bad it was the ‘girl’ in girlfriend that was the problem. Otherwise, we’d probably be getting married.”

“It’s not too late,” Grey teased. “I’d make a great beard too.”

“I am definitely not interested in getting back in the closet, but thanks for the offer.”

“Anyway, this is where I depart,” Grey said as they arrived at the student center just off Montgomery Street. “I need to sneak in a little bit of studying. You guys still have classes, right?”

“Yeah,” Teddy said. “Then I’m dropping Jules off at work. But we should be seeing each other at rehearsal tomorrow.”

Teddy and Grey shared a look, one that Julian couldn’t quite read, then he shrugged it off. They shared a lot of those looks and though he didn’t quite know what it meant, he’d learned long ago that there were certain things they shared with him and certain things they shared only with each other; he wasn’t sure what their secret was, and any attempt to ask had always resulted in them laughing it off and saying he had imagined it.

Maybe they were right; he knew he could be a little possessive at times. Whenever he let himself think about it too much, it stung. But as long as he kept himself busy, he could usually forget about it within an hour or two and he certainly had enough to keep him busy.

In addition to classes, he worked until nearly 11 p.m. as a tour guide on one of the many “haunted” tours that trawled through town. Even if he didn’t believe in the nonsense he was talking about, it was a lot of fun to get dressed up in Victorian garb and show off his acting chops…all while getting paid. He knew many of his fellow students weren’t so lucky, stuck doing jobs in restaurants or nearby retailers rather than the artistic jobs they all craved. Still, it was very time-consuming work and he also had to fit in homework and theatre rehearsals into the time he spent not in class or at work. More days than not, Julian came home completely exhausted and rundown. Thankfully, he didn’t have to drive himself to and from everything or else he’d probably wrap his car around a tree in his exhaustion; Teddy was always willing to take him where he needed to go and he always seemed to be awake no matter how late Julian’s activities kept him.

It did help that they shared a good bit of those activities, though Teddy didn’t have a job. His parents were well off and wanted him to focus primarily on his studies so they kept him comfortable. They even offered to help Julian here and there, looking on him as a second son. His pride wouldn’t allow him to accept it though. His father had instilled in him a strong work ethic early on in life, and Julian strived to make him proud by earning everything he got.

“You good?” Teddy asked as they made their way across the street to where Teddy had parked his car earlier that morning.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Jules asked, climbing into the passenger seat.

“I dunno, you just got real quiet suddenly.” Teddy started the car, pulling out of the parking lot and into the road.

“I’m fine, just thinking about what all I have to do this week.”

“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to take a break one of these days. You’ve been looking sorta pale lately and you’ve got these dark circles under your eyes.”

“What is this, insult Julian day?” Julian said, making a face. “That’s the last thing a person wants to hear. You’re supposed to tell me I’m gorgeous always.”

Teddy laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t say gorgeous…”

“You’re the worst best friend by far,” Julian declared. “I want a new one, ASAP.”

“And who’s going to drive your ass around if not me? Hate to say it, but you’d be lost without me,” Teddy said, blue eyes catching the gold of the sun as he grinned at his friend.

“Hey, I can drive!” Julian said.

“Yeah, right into a building.”

“I am a perfectly adequate driver,” Julian protested. “But I guess you’re right…at least about the break thing. I have been feeling pretty shitty lately. I think I might be coming down with the flu or something. You know, you’re fucking lucky.”

“Why’s that?”

“I haven’t seen you get so much as a sneeze since you were ten years old. What the hell is your secret?”

Teddy paused—not perceptibly, not to most people anyways, but Julian had known him since they were eight—then shook his head. “I’ve been sick,” he said. “You just didn’t notice.”

Julian arched an eyebrow, pinning his best friend with a stare. “Me? Not notice when the person I spend at least eighty percent of my day with gets sick?”

Teddy shifted, giving Jules a sheepish glance from the side of his eye while trying to keep the bulk of his stare on the road ahead. “Yeah, I just don’t complain about it as much as you do. You’re pretty pathetic when you get sick, you know. Ask Grey.”

“And back to insulting me. I see how it is.” Julian sat back in his seat, closing his eyes against the sun, which suddenly seemed way more annoying than it did before.

“Well, you do make it easy…”

Julian made a noncommittal noise in response and Teddy sighed, switching the music on to fill the suddenly silent cab.

They pulled into the parking lot outside of their class building minutes later and Julian hefted himself out of the car, reaching to snatch his backpack out of the backseat. Teddy caught his hand and Julian gave him a glare. “What?”

Teddy held his gaze a moment, then moved his hand to the strap of the backpack, tugging it towards himself gently. “Let me carry this for you.”

Julian retained his glare a moment longer and then relented, recognizing the gesture for what it was: an apology. He let go.

“Fine. But only because I’m fucking tired and don’t feel like arguing, not because I’m ‘pathetic,’ as you put it,” he said.

Teddy grinned. “Got it. Now let’s go before we’re late. You know the prof will make a spectacle of us if we come in after he’s started lecturing.”

*

 

 

 

 

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