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All right, Jay decided. The most important thing here was the people. He was still pretty much a stranger, and had to rely on other people for information. So getting to meet Hannah today was important. He could look at the keys later tonight, and think about signs tomorrow—at least by doing this, it would mean he’d met all four of the people most closely associated with the four signs on the door, and meant he had access to as unbiased a view of all these things as possible, as a result. Anyway, his goal had been to be like Aunt Grace—to not associate himself with any one cult overly much, and he imagined not ignoring any of the four she clearly was involved with was part of that.
Besides, eldritch things aside, he’d always heard that small towns would notice if you’d snubbed someone. Even if most of the others had in some way come to him, if there were four main cults and he left someone out, it’d just be rude.
But he didn’t need to do it alone. Getting someone’s help would mean he could get things packed up, get down to the antique store, and still have time to socialize with someone—if only just the person he got to help him.
His thoughts immediately went to Louis. Louis was likely to still be home—given both the mysterious heir to a family fortune vibes he gave off and his mentioning that the work he did was from home; plus, he just plain didn’t seem like the sort of guy who got out a lot. Louis had already given him advice about what he could take down to be sold, and had offered to help with the house.
And given that he’d practically run out on the guy after the shocking news of cults, he could probably stand to make a second chance at a first impression. Weird to think that was just this morning.
Anyway, he’d already sent Camden, his other main option, away, and somehow he didn’t think he really wanted to ask Ashesh to help him carry stuff out to the car. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Ashesh again—something about that wild, overwhelming presence called to him—but in this circumstance, it definitely didn’t seem like a good idea.
Thus decided—and somewhat feeling the pressure of how little time he had to waste—he headed back over to Louis’s house.
Louis answered after the first knock, which was a little weird, but maybe he’d seen Jay coming. “…You came back.”
“Yeah,” Jay said. He ducked his head, a little embarrassed as he thought back. “I’m sorry about earlier.”
“Well. As you said, it wasn’t anything personal.” Louis folded his hands in front of himself. “You’ve done your thinking, then?”
“I’m still sort of doing it,” Jay admitted. “But I’d like to spend more time with you, and didn’t want you to think… you know. That you’d done anything wrong. Are… are you still up to helping me out with the house?”
Louis tilted his head, apparently curious. “Certainly. You’re still thinking of taking some things down to sell?”
“I have to. Otherwise I’m going to trip over something and die before I can deal with any of this anyway.” Jay said it a bit glibly, but it was, in all honesty, a very real possibility.
“…All right,” Louis said. He took down a peacoat from the coat rack next to the door and pulled it on, untucking his slightly overgrown blond hair from the back, all without disturbing his mask at all. “What do you need done?”
Jay gave him a smile as he lead the way back over to his house, which seemed to surprise Louis, who clutched his coat more tightly around himself. “I was thinking of packing up some of the extra junk. You said not to touch anything uncanny—can you tell?”
“…I can, yes.”
“Then help me find some of the bigger safe items so I can move it out. I can’t unpack any of my stuff until I’ve got rid of some of hers, you know?”
Louis nodded. “That did seem like it might be a problem. All right. We’ll assess vases and tables and all that.”
“And weird old appliances?” Jay joked.
“I don’t know that the antique store will take those,” Louis said. “But we can stop by the thrift store and donate anything they reject, if you like.” From the sound of his voice, he was smiling.
“We might have to,” Jay agreed. He held his door open and gestured with a nervous grandioseness. “Welcome to my home.”
Louis took a step in, looking around slowly: the mess in the hall, Aunt Grace’s shoe where Jay had thrown it, all the rest. “It really still feels like her. We’ll have to change that.”
Jay swallowed. “I guess so,” he admitted. “Let’s take a look at the living room first?”
They did a quick pass through the living room together, Louis declaring this clock, that statuette, this coffee table all unremarkable things, helping Jay pack the smaller items into the bin he’d taken his bedding from earlier, and move the bigger items out to the car.
They were far from done with the living room, but Jay directed him to the kitchen when the car was about half full—after all, he desperately needed counter space if he was going to be able to use the kitchen at all. Louis agreed that the grinder was probably a pasta maker, but it, like the toaster oven and a half-dozen other barely-used appliances, didn’t need to stay.
As Jay came back in from carrying the pasta maker out to the car, he saw Louis standing with a hand on the kitchen table, gazing down at the cover of the book there, not touching it. “My, uh, other immediate neighbor gave that to me,” Jay said. And then, probing a little, “Or rather, the guy who was there while my neighbor was out. I think he might be Nyar—the Crawling Chaos?” That last because he remembered Camden’s warning; he couldn’t really think that naming them would be such a big deal, but then, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to risk it if it were.
“Oh,” Louis said, with a remarkable lack of surprise. “That might be. As I said, I didn’t pry into your other neighbor’s business, but many cults in this world are to him in his myriad aspects. My god has no issue with him; that would also explain why Miss Bowen—who normally lives there—has never had issue with me.”
Just kind of staring at Louis, Jay prompted, “So it’s not weird to you that he came in person? You think that’s likely? That I really did just meet—something like that?”
“Mine cannot come so easily into this world. He? He always has. It’s never been unheard of to meet him.” Louis shrugged. “…I’m sorry, Jay, I’m really not easy to disturb about these things anymore. You’re a decade too late for that.”
Jay wondered, abruptly, what Louis had been like a decade before. “Do you think I should keep talking to him?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it, personally,” Louis said, “but I don’t serve him, so why would I recommend it? He can be benevolent, if it serves his purposes, and he can be the cruellest thing imaginable. That’s what something having a thousand forms means; you don’t know what one you’ll get at any time.”
“And what about your god?” Jay asked him, quiet. “Is he benevolent or cruel?”
Louis seemed to consider that, the silence stretching too long. Then he just sort of sighed. “I don’t think you can consider him on that scale,” he said. “Entropy and atrophy just are. So is the King in Yellow. There’s a luxury to him that many enjoy, and a decay that many abhor. I don’t consider him evil, but he’s not good.”
“You don’t sound very devoted.”
“Oh, but I am,” Louis said, putting a hand over his heart. “Why would you love something that you lie to yourself about?”
That was fair enough, Jay supposed. He glanced over the cleared counter. “Well, come on,” he said. “That’s about all my car can hold. Let’s get this downtown.”
They finished packing the bin in the car, and Louis climbed into the passenger seat. Jay took a moment to contemplate the elegant curve of Louis’s ear where his hair, and the string from the mask, had tucked behind it, then got the car in gear.
The trip only took about twenty minutes—even coming from the edge of town, it wasn’t a long way, and Louis’s directions helped him get there quickly. He parked the car right outside the store. “Can you help me bring things in?”
For a moment, Louis hesitated. “I don’t know that I should—” But then he shrugged, as if his own reticence didn’t bother him any, and got out. “Sure.”
“It’s just that I’ll need to talk to, uh, Miss Dylan? About the goods, and—”
“And other things,” Louis said. “I’ll take them in and then go for a walk.”
“Thanks,” Jay said, grateful.
He helped Louis carry the bin in, then left Louis to help get the rest of the items wrangled out of the car and deposited as he looked around the shop.
It seemed surprisingly normal—he’d built himself up a little, imagining the type of antique stores you saw in horror movies, but it had the big open windows and clean counters he would have expected from one back home in Seattle. A variety of glass cases marked out browsing corridors, each filled with trinkets, dolls, and glassware; in a second room further back, he could see furniture and appliances.
“Miss Dylan?” he called out toward that room.
“You must be Jay Park.”
He jumped at the sound of her voice coming from right behind him, and turned to see a young woman grinning at him. She was around thirty, with short red hair, a face full of freckles, and visible fangs in her broad smile. She was wearing a flowery tunic dress over leggings, and was definitely cute, albeit in a way that reminded him absurdly of, of all people, Wolfsbane from the X-Men comics.
Kind of werewolfy.
“Hi,” he said. “Um… how did you know?”
“Not a huge number of Asian people here,” she said bluntly, which, to be fair, he’d noticed too. “Let alone any I haven’t met, let alone any who called ahead to say they were going to bring stuff over today or tomorrow. Let alone any as cute as their voice implied. Oh, I see you’ve got his lordship at your beck and call!”
Louis appeared to ignore the comment; Jay glanced between them. “He lives next door,” Jay said weakly. “He’s been very kind to me.”
“That’s a surprise!” she said. She offered a hand, tipped with, yes, definitely talons. “Anyway, call me Hannah. ‘Miss Dylan’ is my maiden aunt.”
“Uh—yeah,” Jay said. He took her hand and shook it. “Sorry, I thought you’d be older.”
“Because of the antique shop? Yeah, my aunt owns it, but these days she doesn’t do much. Took the wrong item in too carelessly. Now she doesn’t really show her face out and about anymore.” Hannah wrinkled her nose, like it was a great joke.
Jay desperately sought for something to say. “That sounds, uh—”
“I mean, hey, I get to own my own business at twenty-nine,” Hannah said. “So you know, looking on the bright side here. You want me to assess these things? Some of them are likely to be junk, but hey, you’re Grace’s boy, I’ll see what I can do.”
“If that’s okay,” Jay said. They both watched as Louis silently brought the last of Jay’s items in, inclined his head, and headed back out without another word. “And I also wanted to just… talk to you about some things?”
Hannah crouched, starting to dig through the bin Jay had brought. “Oh, yes, Mother said you might. What can I do you for?”
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