Hartley smiled as he slept in his own bed for the first time in what felt like years. He couldn’t get over the comfort of it: the way his head sunk into the pillow, the way his blankets wrapped around him like a warm, loving hug. His eyes opened as dawn crept in across his room, painting his walls a rich amber. Yawning, he sat up and shifted through his ocean of blankets and comforters his mother covered him up with after he fell asleep. Hartley ran a hand through his mane, pulling back his locks before finally adjusting himself and getting out of bed to begin his routine. Hartley stood up, feeling the difference that a bed made rather than bus seats. His knees didn’t feel like they were about to give out, and he could sense a warmth through his entire body. His appreciation for civilized life came creeping back in whether he liked it or not.
Shower, teeth brushing, flossing, and diligent drying took up the first hour of the day. Hartley strode back into his room, droplets of water trailing into the carpeted floor as he rummaged through his closet, relieved to have his own clothes back. He plucked a few shirts from their hangers as he tried to figure out an outfit that would work best. Hart stood in his mirror holding up different shirts, looking over his slim form before dropping the bundle of shirts onto his bed. He looked at himself for a moment and traced his thumb along the scars on his chest and running his hand down to the few that marked his belly. He felt the gaps in his fur and the small bumps that dotted his flesh, pausing for a moment before returning to his dresser for a better, tighter shirt.
Lyra stepped out of her own bedroom, noticing the trail of wet carpet and footsteps leading into her brother’s room. She watched him as rolled his shirt down tight before stepping into a pair of dark pants. His tail, fluffy and damp, softly swaying back and forth as he turned and saw her in his doorway.
“You’re up early,” she said, laughing as she turned from him, smiling as she walked down the hall and into the kitchen. Hart’s eyes rolled as he stepped out into the hallway again, stretching his arms and shoulders.
“Yeah, what of it?” Hart replied, “I felt like getting up, what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I just figured you would want to sleep in,” Lyra said as the two stood at the kitchen counter. The smell of hot coffee and fresh fruit juice hung in the air from when their mother left for work shortly before, “Growing boys like you need plenty of sleep,” she joked as she came up behind her brother and pinched his cheeks, gently tugging on his whiskers and making him visibly irritated.
“Stop it!” Hartley laughed, pushing her away. Lyra giggled in return and fixed herself a glass of juice, “You don’t need to act like a mom with me, ya know?”
“Oh, come on, I’m not motherly. I’m just looking out for you is all,” she joked as she gave her brother a hug and playfully dug her knuckle into his head. Hart chuckled and pushed her away again. She took a few steps back, careful not to spill her glass.
“Please, you’re practically a helicopter parent,” Hartley replied, leaning against the counter as he flicked his tail, letting it dry just that bit more before he’d wrap it. Lyra looked at him a little worriedly. She tried to crack a smile and stepped forward to sit down at the kitchen island, out of Hartley’s view, “Hell you followed me to Sampi just to make sure I was safe,” he said as he held his hand to mimic a helicopter closely following a target. Lyra looked down at her hands, gripping the glass.
“I’m just looking out for you,” she said. Hartley opened his mouth to say something, but Lyra held her attention to herself. Hart closed his mouth and turned out of the kitchen and returned to his room. Flopping back down onto his bed, Hartley reached for his phone. He held it straight up in front of him with his arms locked as he aimlessly scrolled through messages and emails, not really paying attention to anything he was looking at. Hart listened as his dad got up and left for work. He wondered how much time he’d spent just lying in bed, staring at his phone. His eyes hung a bit as he clicked it off and dropped it next to him. The chupa stood up and straightened his shirt. He stepped out back into the hall and noticed Lyra was still slouched over in the kitchen. Sighing, he stepped back out and approached his sister from behind. He sat down on the stool to her right, leaning over the stone countertop. She sat motionless, just toying with the now empty glass between her hands, turning it in her fingers.
“Hey, let’s go for a run,” he said, leaning in and looking over to Lyra. She glanced back to him with a half-cocked grin.
“You wanna’ go running today?” She asked in a somewhat playful tone, “Now you’ve really gotta’ tell me what’s gotten into you.”
“I just thought we should go, ya know, for old time’s sake,” Hart replied more confidently.
“Oh yeah, and what’s in it for me?” she asked, leaning her left elbow on the countertop as she tipped the glass on its edge with her finger, letting it roll back and forth.
“God, you and your fuckin’ angles,” Hartley said, chuckling to himself, “Fine, we can go to that one coffee shop you like downtown, on me.”
“Hah when did you start drinking coffee?” Lyra asked.
“Since the time I ran away from home and barely managed to sleep on the ground for a week.” he joked, “You did always tell me I would have to drink it a bunch before the taste would grow on me.”
“Ahh, out of necessity then~” Lyra said in a rather playful tone as she tipped the glass back upright and stood up from the stool to put it in the sink, “Welcome to the world of adulthood, little brother.” Hartley smiled as his sister stood ready to head out. The pair made their way out. Lyra opened their front door and stepped outside into the cool, dawn air. A swift breeze blew through her golden hair as she looked out over the horizon, seeing the beautiful, yellow rays of light creep in from behind Nerom. Hartley stepped up behind her and the two started jogging out and down along the sidewalk against the wind. The air smelled fresh as it rolled across the hills and grasses of Episemon. The siblings jogged along the residential streets and made their way out of their suburban neighborhood. Cars drove past more and more frequently as the two jogged on. They cut across to the large lake and ran along the beach, their feet pressing firmly against the tough, saturated sand. The two smiled brightly as they felt the breeze rushing over them, running up along back to the street and into town. They crossed over bridges made their way through the industrial parks before reaching the more heavily trafficked parts of Juniper Grove. They passed bistros and shops full of people enjoying the morning before they would have to leave for work. Hartley and Lyra slowed down to a walk as they reach their destination. Hart stared up at the new buildings that have popped up since he left for school, marveling at how the skyline had changed over the few years since he was gone. Hartley and Lyra stepped inside the coffee shop and were met with the smell of the morning’s brew and the sound of smooth easy-listening over the loudspeakers.
“Do you know what you’re going to get?” Lyra asked her brother, turning back to look at him as her tail swayed low
“Something iced, probably,” Hartley said as he looked up at the menu that spanned the length of the kitchen. Lyra got up to the register and ordered a straight black coffee, paid, and went to the pick-up counter while Hart ordered a simple iced mocha and followed behind. Lyra took both drinks and brought them over to a couple chairs near the streetside window as the sunlight washed over them. Hartley took his drink and a straw as Lyra sipped from hers.
“I have no idea how you drink it black,” Hartley said as he poked the straw in and took a few sips.
“Eh, you learn to appreciate the simple things in life,” Lyra joked.
“Yeah, like needing to drink something that tastes like hot cardboard just to wake up?” Hartley added playfully as the two sat and relaxed after their exercise. The two smiled and enjoyed their drinks. Hartley set his down and looked to his sister, “I’m sorry about what I said earlier back home.”
“Oh that,” Lyra replied, sighing a bit as she set her coffee down to look her brother in the eyes, “Don’t worry about it. I can get pretty clingy.”
“No, it’s not that. I went too far,” Hartley said as he leaned forward to get close with his sister, putting his hand on her knee, “I know you’re looking out for me. What I did… was so dumb, and…” he paused for a moment and tried to formulate his words, “I should have told at-least you about it. I can only imagine what you felt when I finally get back from school and then just up and leave a day later.”
“No, Hart, I understand,” Lyra said as she nodded and placed her hand on her brother’s, “I get that you had a lot on your mind. We weren’t with you while you were at school so it’s no wonder you had all those thoughts and feelings swirling around in your head. I’m just glad you’re safe.” Hartley nodded and smiled as he leaned back in his chair and sipped more of his coffee.
“Hey, Lyra,” Hartley asked, “would you mind if we stopped by the shrine? I’d like to talk to grandpa for a bit.” Lyra looked up and smiled at her younger brother, more than happy to make the trip.
“I think he’d like that. Are you ready to go?” she asked in return as she finished the last of her coffee, getting up to toss the cup away.
“Yeah, let’s get to it,” Hartley said as he stood up as well, stretching a bit and finishing off his drink with a loud straw slurp. The two exited the coffee shop and ran towards the edge of town where they came in the night before. It didn’t take long for the sidewalk to turn into paved road, and then for that to become a dirt trail. The cars driving by soon thinned out until it was just them. The siblings jogged through the grassy planes up to the shrine the city was built next to. Greeted by one of the shrine maidens and led inside, the maidens offered them food and refreshments as they did with every wary traveler. They entered the grounds and walked across a small footbridge over the irrigation stream. Hartley looked around at the shrine and smiled, running his hand along the metal as he was approached by the shrine’s priest. They bowed and exchanged pleasantries and talked about their mornings. Hartley asked if he could visit the garden’s cenotaph. The priest smiled and bowed before leading Hart to the garden as Lyra stayed behind to sip some tea that the maidens had prepared. One of the maidens approached Hartley and the priest as they walked through the garden. She handed Hart an incense tribute before she bowed. Hartley bowed in return, smiling and thanking her for the incense. The pair strolled through the flowers and plants, admiring how well the generation was blooming. Hart bid farewell to the priest and went to place his offering at a metal structure at the end of the garden. Sunlight broke through the leaves of an old tree that hung over the cenotaph. Golden rays of light illuminated the metal, glistening off of the morning dew to create a symphony of refracted colors. Hartley knelt down and lit the offering before placing it in the holder. He crossed his legs and closed his eyes, his mind wandering as he began to picture himself sitting with his great-grandfather. In front of him on the metal structure was a small plaque which read: ‘Sentinel Lorian.’ Hartley held his eyes shut and began breathing slow and methodically before showing a wide, relieved smile.