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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Spiritual · #2238422
Joan gets some clues on how to lift Hera's curse.
Chapter Song: Tracy White - Mama Jenny's Little Monster(s)

Chapter 71: Sunset

Joan's phone buzzed, and she stole a glance at it. She saw a text from Mokuba. Just finished work. Please call me when you're free to talk. Joan cast one last smile around the table before excusing herself. Michael took Joan's hand, and Tamara followed close behind as they left the banquet hall.

They walked outside to see an astonishing orange and pink sunset blazing on the horizon. Here and there, teams of kids in equally colorful shirts ran by hollering with excitement. Joan found a quiet patch of grass and sat down with Michael while Tamara kept watch a few paces away. Too many people bustled around to risk putting Mokuba on speakerphone, so Joan leaned in close to Michael, both their ears pressed against the phone as she initiated the call.

"Hey." Mokuba sounded drained of energy.

"Hey. I've got Michael here too. What's going on?" Joan asked.

"Laura is giving Marc a week to move all his stuff out. He's going to be living with me for a while."

"Oh. I didn't realize things were that bad."

"Yeah, well I tried talking to Laura, but I think I just made things worse."

"Did you try to feed her more lies?" Joan blurted before she could think too hard about it.

Mokuba paused for a moment. "Maybe I should have, but no. There were some things she said that make me wonder if she was thinking of leaving him for years, but this was just the last straw. She says she's done with men. All men."

"What? Why?"

"Apparently men are selfish, greedy pigs."

"Seriously? Women are the ones who walk all over men. We give them a little sex, make them sign some paperwork, and then they hand over their entire paycheck to us."

"That's right," Michael chimed in, "Woman get all da money, but Man don't get all da Woman."

"But you get Linda too, right?" Mokuba asked.

"That's only because I got lucky on the first woman wanting polyamory. If it wasn't for Joan, I wouldn't even know it was a thing," Michael explained.

"I heard that Laura was the one who pushed for polyamory in her marriage with Marc too, so I'm confused about why she's calling it quits over this," Mokuba said.

"Do you think it would help if I talked to her?" Joan asked.

"You can try, but I doubt she'll listen. She seems to have developed a sort of superiority complex based on her age."

Joan groaned. "She's a lost cause, then. How is Marc taking all this? Is he there with you now?"

"I'll put him on."

Marc didn't say a word at first, but Joan recognized his breathing.

"Are you mad at me?" Joan asked.

Marc's voice came out quiet and on the verge of cracking. "Why'd you let this happen?"

"Why'd you want it so much?"

Marc broke down. His sobs carried over the entire continent via electronic signals. Three hours from now, Marc would face the same sunset Joan currently admired.

"Hang in there, Marc. I'm still yours. I'll always be yours."

"How do you know? How do you know you won't change and become jaded like her? Nobody can promise forever."

Joan repeated something she'd once heard him say. "Don't be cynical. I don't know how Laura's head works, but I'm still in love with everyone I've ever been in love with. Unless I get a brain tumor or something, you're safe."

"You're adorable. I'm not expecting anything from you, though."

Expecting. Joan shuddered at the thought of Hera's curse on her pregnancy.

Marc sensed her emotions as the ring's magic carried them to him. "Sorry."

"No," Joan said as Michael squeezed her. "We're going to make this happen."

"What makes you think you can defeat a goddess?" Marc asked.

"I've got you."

Marc paused, stunned that she could still put so much faith in him after all that had happened. "Fuck it. I'll fight Hera. One of us is going down, and I don't care who."

"I care, which is why I want to make sure we're ready before we face her. I was practicing earlier. How was that for your head?"

"Not bad. A welcome distraction actually. Almost like a massage."

"I'll keep it up then."



"I need to know something. Your Michael . . . why is he OK with three other guys impregnating you?"

Michael spoke for himself. "Because I get to impregnate Linda too. Because being a parent is about so much more than sharing genes with the kid. Because with the Kaiba brothers' money, that kid will have the best opportunities in the world. Because with four dads, that kid will be loved more than any kid in history."

"Shit, man. I didn't realize you were listening," Marc said.

Michael grinned. "Get used to it."

Joan and Marc said their goodbyes. Joan then got Mokuba on the line to discuss some logistics of their next rendezvous. By the time she got off the phone, the sun had fully set. Lightning bugs illuminated Joan, Michael, and Tamara's path back to the university hotel.

Chapter 72: Four Boys

Joan woke refreshed and donned an official neon orange Imagination of the Mind International Tournament T-shirt from her volunteer packet and a lime green squid hat with tentacles that dangled over her hair. While such a hat would make her stand out in any other setting, such frivolity abounded at Imagination of the Mind tournaments. Here, it would partially mask her identity and allow her to walk freely across campus without a second glance.

Michael grabbed Joan's hat and put it on his own head.

Joan growled and bore her teeth. "Why Male take Woman's hat?"

"Male need it more. He need to hide bald-bald from kids."

"Why didn't Male bring his own hat?"

"That's Woman's job. She always bring big box of funny hats."

"Woman didn't want to pay for checked baggage."

"Checked baggage on a private jet?"

Joan threw up her hands. "Woman hasn't had time to think since she met Kaiba brothers."

"Woman thinks?"

Joan yowled and clawed Michael's arm.

"OK, OK. You can have your hat back. Male buy one from souvenir stand."

"Good Male."

Michael put the hat back on Joan's head and kissed her. They finished their morning routines and headed downstairs with Tamara for breakfast in the banquet hall. This time, they chose a table filled with elderly strangers and struck up a casual conversation about where they were from. Clearly, this group didn't keep up with popular culture, and Joan enjoyed the anonymity as she scarfed down her pancakes.

"What a lovely ring! May I take a closer look?" a wrinkled woman from Iowa with glitter on her cheeks asked.

"Sure." Joan presented her hand to the woman.

The woman smiled over the sparkling jewels and engraved names. "Oh, four boys. How old are they?"

Joan had to speak loudly over the clamor of the other volunteers, all caught up in their own conversations. "The oldest one is forty-four."

The woman looked back up at Joan and gaped. "What!? You can't be older than thirty."

Joan chuckled. "They're my lovers, not my children."

The woman's mouth tightened in shock. "Oh. Is that the new trend in California?"

"Not really. It's been around for ages in many parts of the world, though Western anthropologists have a nasty habit of downplaying it."

They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment before the woman's curiosity got the better of her. "Where?"

"The first culture I learned of was the Aché of Paraguay. They believe that a child can be fathered by multiple men. Their marriages aren't really formal, so anthropologists like to call it partible paternity rather than polyandry. Cicisbeism is another word anthropologists use to make polyandry seem less common than it is."


"Marriage to multiple men."

"I see. Are there any cultures with more formal arrangements of this type?"

"Indeed. My personal favorite is the fraternal polyandry in Tibet. I have a thing for brothers."

"Oh, I have a hard time imagining that. My brothers fought constantly when they were growing up. They couldn't even share a room. Sharing a wife would be out of the question."

Joan shrugged. "A lot of it depends on their expectations while growing up. Western cultures place more emphasis on individualism, and Eastern cultures focus on collectivism, or cooperation is another way of putting it."

"Oh, I remember hearing about this somewhere. Isn't that why they have more inter-generational households, whereas here we kick the kids out at eighteen?"

"Pretty much."

From there, Joan and the elderly lady resumed small talk until Tamara nudged Joan and told her they needed to get going. Joan kissed Michael as they parted ways and headed off to their respective destinations.

Author's Note: Several months ago, I ran a little contest, and the winners are featured in this chapter. They gave me permission to use their contest submissions in this story. The pieces included are "KALI : THE DESTROYER OF EVIL" by Tanya Bose from writing.com and "Magic and Madness" by _Fallxn_ from Wattpad.

Chapter 73: Impromptu Competition Waiting Room

Having thoroughly studied the map in her volunteer packet the night before, Tamara knew exactly where they needed to be and how to get there. She led Joan down wide red brick paths, past pristine lawns with perfectly manicured trees and majestic stone dormitories.

A team of teenagers wearing floppy chicken hats skipped past them. One noticed Joan and stopped, but another teammate grabbed his hand, and they got back to skipping. Apparently they had to get somewhere on time. Joan realized that any delays might cause her to be late as well and picked up her walking pace, smiling to herself and avoiding eye contact with strangers as she and Tamara hurried to a three-story brick building containing a lecture hall and numerous small classrooms.

Joan checked in with the Impromptu Competition captain's assistant and sat next to Tamara. Once everyone had arrived, the captain herself gave everyone a pep talk and a few reminders. Joan had heard most of it before, but this year, a new rule had popped up overnight. "And if anybody mentions the W-word, including team coaches and parents, you tell them to say companion instead. If they persist in using it, assess a one-point unsportsmanlike conduct penalty."

Joan itched to raise her hand and explain that she actually liked the W-word but decided not to push her luck. After all, teams never received a warning before being penalized for an F-bomb or even a minor profanity. Walt himself had probably issued this directive after thorough consideration. Besides, the organization had to maintain certain standards in order to appease sensitive groups of people. While Joan didn't like pandering to certain sensitivities, she knew the organization would do the most good by catering to the broadest audience possible. Besides, her own mother wouldn't have let her compete in Imagination of the Mind if it had a reputation for strong language.

The day started easily enough. The enormous lecture hall served as the waiting room for the Impromptu Competition, and a judge would appear in the doorway every other minute to summon a team. Meanwhile, the Impromptu Competition captain watched the room like a hawk, trading out with her assistant whenever she had to be somewhere else. Tamara busted out her bumblebee song again, and many teams came down to the podium to present their own silly songs, make armpit farts, or burp the alphabet.

One kid stared hard at Joan's nametag before yelling, "I know you! You're Kaiba's whore!"

The entire room went dead silent before Joan replied, "I'm sorry, we don't use that word here. I am Kaiba's companion. Please use companion instead of that word."

"But Kaiba likes that word," the kid said.

"What Kaiba likes doesn't matter here. I want to hear a song or a poem that you like."

"OK!" The kid leapt up and dashed to the podium. "My grandma taught me this one.

"Oh, far across the winds and the distance,
Her voice flows, so persistence,
That it reminds the new of the old,
Of the buried terror that sleeps so bold,
And as the fire flickers with red and green,
Goddess Kali lights up the power e'en.

"But if you feel the aching rush roaring down your veins,
If the world opens its heart to you anew;
Why, then let's rejoice in your pain,
And hear those ancient tales of forgotten blue.

"The story dates back to a hundred thousand years back,
When the lives used to sizzle down the rack.
A place where the serenity overflows the charisma of Mother Earth,
Where the motions of time and love gave a new birth,
The Daughter to Himalaya,
The Daughter to Mahalaya.

"But on the planes beneath;
Where the dark waters guzzled down their throats,
Where the lands were overcast with dirt and heath,
Lived the songs of evil hauling like a coat (Asuras!).

"As Devi Mahatma speaks - like the petals of uncolored dew,
From the forehead of Goddess Durga, as with the frosts that ever flew,
With the anger and vex that heats,
Hidden among the Heaven's beats.
But little did the leaves knew,
What brew in the minds of Evil, dancing with the clue.

"And so the time came,
When the Evil Gods picked up their frozen swords,
With unbeaten hearts that pledge another aim,
And their battle cry of sorrow and destruction filled their cords.

"All the Gods everywhere approached Mother Durga with distress,
I feel like it was only yesterday that they turned up hopeless
And prayed to her in solemn minds with love,
That from her forehead she drew out the beauty of dove,
Scattering them along with the strength of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva,
And so was Goddess Kali born, Anah!

"A skin as raw as it is black,
Yelling over her naked body of fire,
So cold and hungry her stare that; there's nothing it could lack,
Named her Ambika, the mother of ire.

"And with raged feet, she danced up to the battlefield,
Her burning locks down her temples like fire wields,
And slowly she crept into the darkness her foes had welcomed,
And she just danced and danced;
Till the petals of fire flew around from the scimitar she unbolted
From her bosom to the bosom of the loathed.

"The sharp cut of the weapon invited fear and blood,
As the blood-thirsty Asuras leaped onto her,
But nobody could bear her wrath of flood,
Every time she cried 'Cur'!

"Her fingers soaked in blood and unveiled hatred,
Tongue lolling as she made another attempt so sacred,
And with the sword stung deep into her villain's heart,
She drank blood so contended from her cart,
And raised her vision towards the others,
Who were running after one and the another.

"She and drank and fought,
Dancing and Dancing,
That nothing could have bought,
Her spirits to a calming.

"To stop her overwhelming anger, it called Munda and Chanda's presence,
Soon they returned with a body so bloodless and lifeless,
That the most Brave should behold his courage,
That to this day it scares to encourage,
Earned her the name of Chamunda, dark as ink,
To command the powers within a wink.

"And so her dark body flew along the battlefield,
Crushing everything to pieces,
And while the Gods up at the Heaven healed,
As their anxiety ceases.

"And to this very day, the terror sleeps,
Of the most dangerous war that still weeps,
And let us take vows on her brave name,
The will to battle a billion of a simple dame,
To restore the Heaven's Kingdom back to the Gods,
And so Goddess Kali's name remains engraved in the odds.

"Jai Maa Kali!"

Joan picked her jaw up from the floor. "Now that was amazing. High Five!"

The kid slapped her outstretched palm just as a judge called for their team. They scurried out the door with their teammates. "Bye, whore!" they called over their shoulder.

Joan bit her lip and locked eyes with the Impromptu Competition captain. The captain nodded briefly and left the room to record the W-word penalty on the team's scoresheet.

"As a reminder, please be mindful of your language while you are here. Certain words make some people uncomfortable, and we need everyone to feel safe so you all can do Imagination of the Mind next year," Joan announced. "Now, does anyone have another story or poem about mythology?"

When nobody volunteered to take the podium, Joan busted out "This Land is Your Land" and got most of the kids singing along. The Impromptu Competition captain came back into the room, nodded with approval, and left once again. Relieved that she had earned the captain's trust, Joan continued performing her duties, asking for folklore and legends whenever possible.

Joan heard many thrilling tales of heroes and fables with talking animals. Even though she really wanted more clues on how she could defeat Hera's curse, she thanked every kid who stepped forward to share and told them they did an amazing job.

At last, another kid rewarded Joan's patience with another story of goddesses:

"We hear of winners of battles,
And little of the defeated.
Yet the greatest betrayal in
Millennia is different.

"I was told by my mother,
Who was told by her own
And many before that,
That thousands of years ago
There was an inseparable due.
The Greek Goddess Hecate is the
Victim of this tale, although her
Powers are known through the land.
Lyssa, the Goddess of Rage and Fury
Is the victor in this battle, but
Remains almost unknown.

"The two were close as can be,
And Lyssa could not be more supportive
Of her lover, when she earned
The title, Goddess of Magic.
The unpredictable Lyssa was
Vengeful and ruthless,
And was thought to become the
Goddess of Passion.
She was a powerful entity,
Although untrusted by the almighty.
Could she control
Her anger?
So the almighty waited, hoping
She would prove them wrong.

"However, in many cases,
A true evil occurs.
Some find pleasure in testing
Those with power hidden within.
Those like Lyssa, with
Heightened emotions and
Unexplored power.
Those manipulated by beings
who enjoy chaos and betrayal.

"One such being took Lyssa aside,
Feeding her lies of the one
She truly cared for.
He used that rage burning inside
Her for his own evil.
'It's for her own good.' He would
Whisper, convincing Lyssa
Her lover had turned evil.

"One dreadful day, the battle occurred.
The day Lyssa confronted her lover,
Screaming at her to speak the truth.
But Hecate's truth came too late.
Lyssa was too full of fury.
Full of fear and betrayal.
The pair fought, and as all battles
Throughout history have shown,
There could only be
One winner.

"As the final blow had been struck,
Lyssa looked into the eyes of her
As Hecate's eyes fluttered shut,
Lyssa realised the truth.
Her passion was used against her
And the one who mattered most to her.
As Hecate's last breath escaped her,
An almighty scream
Ripped through the skies.

"It was then that Lyssa won her battle.
A battle fought due to lies and deceit,
A battle which shouldn't have occurred.
A battle which lost her her
Closest companion,
But won her her status,
As those who defeat a Goddess,
Earn the power of those before them.

"Hecate is the one known by all,
But Lyssa is known to those as a
Goddess you must never cross.
The Goddess of Rage,
Frenzy and Rabies.
What the world mistakes for evil,
Few know the truth.
Her anger and power,
Once used against her,
Is now used to punish the bad.
To prove that she is
Not to be messed with.
To seek vengeance
For the one
She was forced to kill."

Joan wished she could stop and think more about what the story meant for her predicament, but she had to keep smiling, to keep welcoming new kids to the podium. After all, this tournament was about them, not her.

Chapter 74: Kurva

That evening at dinner, Joan led Michael to a vacant table at the far end of the banquet hall. She had to share what she'd learned with him while it was still somewhat fresh in her mind, and she needed as much privacy to discuss it with him as possible. Tamara trailed them as usual, scanning the banquet hall for threats before taking a seat beside Joan.

Joan repeated what she remembered of the tales told in the waiting room to Michael, but before he could respond, a loud, "Kurva!" drew her attention to an approaching Slavic man with a friendly smile.

Tamara jumped to her feet. "State your intentions."

Without the business suit, it took Joan a moment to recognize the small-time CEO she and the Kaiba brothers had dined with at the Silicon Valley Game Developers Summit. "It's all right. I know him. Kinda. What was your name again?"

"I'm Jan. I apologize if I unsettled your bodyguard. I'd heard a rumor you were here and didn't believe it until I laid eyes on you. May I join you?"

"Uh . . ." Joan hesitated. As much as she wanted some peace and quiet with Michael, nobody here rejected company, especially not with five vacant chairs. "Sure."

Jan sat beside Tamara but addressed Joan. "So, what brings you here?

"I've been volunteering since I graduated high school, and I roped my husband into volunteering with me," Joan squeezed Michael. "What about you?"

"My son has been competing for the past five years. Another parent coaches his team, so I've always volunteered as their judge. This is our first international tournament and we're very proud of our team."

"Nice! Which performance?"

"My son is competing in Mechanical Marvels, and I'm judging Creative Conveyances."

"Cool! My high school team always competed in Mechanical Marvels or Creative Conveyances, and I judged those my first few years, but then I got stuck as a regional performance captain for Timeless Treasures."

"My my, Kurva. I had no idea you were so high on the totem pole around here."

Michael drew close to Joan while keeping a sharp eye on Jan. "Why is he calling you Kurva?"

"Because we're not allowed to say the W-word," Joan said.

Jan chuckled. "Yes, we had quite the debate over that this morning when the Creative Conveyances IPC told us about the penalty."

Joan smirked. "So you found a loophole."

"Indeed. Could I ask a small favor?"

"Depends on what it is," Joan said.

"May I have an autograph for my son? He was disappointed when he learned I'd spoken with the Kaibas but had nothing to show for it."

"Only if you can keep a secret," Joan replied.

"A secret? I would be honored by your confidence. I will take any secret you entrust to me to my grave."

Michael placed a hand on Joan's forearm. His thoughts infused into her as his brain underwent a mild zap. «How do you know you can trust this guy?»

«He's harmless,» Joan replied.


Joan focused on Jan's aura, using the same technique she'd used to examine the tarot card reader's aura. Pure curiosity danced there, bright and silvery in a sea of pink, eagerly drinking up the sights and sounds Imagination of the Mind tournaments invariably provided. A glimmer of hope that she might offer him her services twinkled, but an even larger hope that she wouldn't even bring up the topic loomed. While he enjoyed flirting with the unknown and seeing things from new perspectives, he didn't want to dive in over his head. No malice tarnished his aura. «Really — he's just a typical Imagination of the Mind kind of guy,» Joan relayed to Michael.

«If Woman says so.»

"First of all, do you believe in magic?" Joan levitated Jan's water goblet and slowly spun it.

Jan eyed the swirling water and chuckled. "That's quite an impressive trick, but magic's just science we don't understand yet."

"Arthur C. Clarke," Joan replied, "and I tend to agree, but I don't fully understand this myself."

"You can stop it now," Michael said.

Joan set down the goblet. "Sorry. Male's head hurts when I do that."

Michael whined and cuddled up to her, and she stroked his head. Jan's eyes widened with concern.

"Whether we understand it or not," Joan continued, "let's pretend for a moment that every culture's mythology has some truth to it. If you need a scientific explanation, blame it on aliens if that helps."

Jan stroked his chin. "I see. If that is so, and deities roam the earth, why don't we see them on a day-to-day basis?"

"There could be any number of reasons. Perhaps they're too busy fighting each other to deal with mere mortals. Perhaps they have some sort of pact against picking on the weak. Perhaps they only mess with mortals when one of us really pisses them off."

"All right, Kurva. My imagination is at your disposal."

"Let's say that, out of the blue, Hera comes crashing through your window and lays a curse on you."

"Hera the Greek goddess?"

"Yes, that one. How would you go about breaking the curse?"

"I would find a stronger god to intercede."

"All right, but which gods are stronger? How would you know?"

"You say every culture's mythology in this world is true?"

"That's my assumption for now."

"Then the answer is obvious. Go to the one most people still worship today: Allah, Jehovah, Adonai, or just God with a capital G if you prefer."

Michael laughed. "Your mom is going to love this."

Joan turned to look at Michael. "Will you come to Mass with me?"

"Male knows this is important to Woman and he's willing to go, but Man may need to walk out early if he starts feeling like he interrupt the sermon with an outburst."

"Thanky, Male." Joan took a deep breath. "It's probably better if you don't have to go through that, so I'll ask Marc and Mokuba to see if they're willing to join me instead."

Jan tilted his head and furrowed his brow. "So you've seriously been cursed by Hera?"

"Yep. That's the secret. Don't go spilling it," Joan said.

"You have my word . . . but what's the curse?"

"I'd rather not talk about it right now. I only want to focus on how to break it."

"I'm so sorry."

"Don't worry about it. It's not your fault at all. Hey, what about that autograph I promised you?"

"Ah yes, thank you." Jan pulled out an Imagination of the Mind International Tournament program booklet and a pen. Joan signed it Mrs. Kaiba and handed it back to Jan. Their conversation went back to brighter topics and, for a time, Joan forgot about the curse.

Chapter Song: The Banks O' Doon by Robert Burns – Public Domain

Chapter 75: Complicated

The next two days passed in a blur. Joan heard so many songs and stories that they all blended together like a puddle of melted rainbow sherbet. When not performing her waiting room duties, she socialized with the Timeless Treasures judging team, Jan, or complete strangers.

Scott stopped by Joan's table on his way to the awards ceremony. "See you at the after party?"

Joan took in the broad smile on Scott's devilishly handsome face and almost changed her plans. "I'd love to, but I'm flying out tonight so I can be home for church tomorrow."

"You? Church?"

"It's a long story, but I need to have a serious talk with the Big Cheese."

Scott patted Joan on the shoulder. "I hope the talk goes well. See you next year?"

"Thanks. And yeah, hopefully."

"Cool. Gotta run!"

Joan finished the last few bites of her dessert as she watched Scott join the other IPCs congregating around Walter Mickley in preparation to head off to the university's stadium. Since the shuttles back to the airport wouldn't start for another hour, she got in a taxi with Tamara and Michael.

Once safely back inside Seto's jet, Joan and Michael ensconced themselves in the master bedroom and participated in the mile-high club. Resting in the afterglow, Michael said, "Woman usually bite Male's head off about getting to bed on time, but she's been really chill about it this whole trip."

Joan mused over his comment. "Seto kept Woman on California time, but still . . . the time zone shift to Pennsylvania felt like nothing. Sleep comes easily when I want it, and I don't feel like I need as much of it either. In fact, I've been feeling healthier overall since I got the ring."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Michael said.

Joan bit him playfully, and they tumbled into another round of sex before Michael collapsed into sleep and Joan decided to join him. They woke shortly after they landed in California and remained on the plane for another hour, enjoying Seto's luxurious amenities as Joan and Tamara prepared for church and Michael prepared for work. Michael kissed Joan goodbye and hopped onto BART at the SFO station while Joan and Tamara met up with Marc, Mokuba, and Mokuba's bodyguard Joe in the loading zone. Mokuba handed Tamara the keys to her Prius and squeezed into the back seat with Joan and Marc.

Once settled, Joan took her time kissing Marc, letting his pain soak into her until Mokuba nearly lost his patience. "I'm here too, you know."

"Sorry." Joan turned and gave Mokuba a similarly long, slow kiss but continued holding Marc's hand. «Please keep in mind what he's been through. I know you don't really have anything to compare it to, but trust me on this.»

Guilt turned the kiss bitter on Mokuba's lips as he realized that Marc's presence meant she probably wasn't charging him for this time. «I'm sorry. Yeah, he needs you more than I do right now.»

Joan pulled back, smiled, and turned to Marc. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Marc took a deep breath. "It's complicated."

"Is there still a chance of working it out?"

"It's . . . over." Marc's last word came out in a squeak.

"Oh. So what's the complicated part?"

"Work has been Hell. People are starting to notice the tension."

"What are you telling them?"

"Nothing. They don't need to know."

"But don't you think talking to someone with an outside perspective might help?"

"We got a therapist for that," Mokuba said.

"We?" Joan asked.

"Yeah, I was going to go to one anyway, and I had Roland set me up with the closest one to home so it wouldn't be much of a drive, so Marc tagged along, and the first thing we saw when we walked in was a guy wearing an ugly red hat that said, 'Make Monogamy Great Again.' I think you can imagine what happened next."

As much as Joan wanted Mokuba to spill the juicy details, she knew that now was the wrong time to ask. Instead, she squeezed both their hands. Silence passed between them until she began singing softly:

"Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu' o' care!
Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed never to return.

"Aft hae I rov'd by Bonie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine:
And ilka bird sang o' its Luve,
And fondly sae did I o' mine;
Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree!
And my fause Luver stole my rose,
But ah! She left the thorn wi' me."

Marc and Mokuba both shook with muted sobs. When the song ended, their heads fell against Joan's shoulders, and she put an arm around each of them. They stayed that way until the Prius pulled into a parking lot behind a tall, pink church. Joan stared up at the familiar spire, realizing she hadn't even told her mother that she was coming yet, let alone bringing two lovers.

Joan pulled out her phone and turned it off. "Phones off, everyone. We don't want them going off during Mass."

Mokuba, Tamara, and Joe pulled out their phones and turned them off.

Marc remained motionless until Joan poked him. "I left mine at Mokuba's place."

"You, without your phone? You're kidding."

"I don't want to be harassed by Laura's divorce lawyer today."

"I don't think they typically work on Sundays."

"Laura hired a friend, and you never know with atheists."
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