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What We Came From

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Looking back, Steven wasn’t sure where along his trip he’d gotten the idea. New Carolina was only a few states south of Delmarva, so it had to have occurred to him pretty early on. He’d definitely started really considering the idea by the time he’d hit Keystone, though. That was when he’d brought the idea up with his therapist on their weekly video chat, live from the bed & breakfast he was staying at.

“You want to meet your grandparents? Greg’s parents?” Dr. Lin seemed surprised by that idea, enough so that she immediately began scribbling away at her notepad. Steven had recognized that very early on as something she’d do whenever he made a point she’d want to come back to later. They’d probably filled at least 20 pages of those within the first two meetings after he’d started with her. There was a lot of ground to cover. “They’re the ones whose house you broke into a few months before we started working together, right?” 

“Yep, those are the ones.” Even in spite of how weird his overall life was, Steven couldn’t help but feel like that one was a particularly weird little misadventure. Even if his entire family’s legacy was one of rebellion and war crimes, breaking and entering a human home was something else altogether. Fortunately, Dr. Lin had been pleased to have that relatively minor issue to delve into among Steven’s cavalcade of Gem traumas. 

“That was a pretty big point of contention between you and your dad, wasn’t it? He had that hypothetical upbringing you sometimes wish you had.” She quickly began flipping back through the notepad, scrounging through the veritable novel of Steven’s past until she finally found the spot where he’d described the incident in question. “You were very impressed with the normalcy of their house. The potpourri, the foreign spoons, the ceramic goats, and so on.” 

“The goats were actually glass, not ceramic.” 

“Right, sorry, I’ll just update my records.” Heh. That was something about Dr. Lin that Steven really felt helped him in being able to do that at all. She had a sense of humor. He had a lot of doubts at first, but when she’d grabbed her pearl necklace during that first session while smiling and asked if Steven was comfortable with her wearing it, he knew it’d be just fine. 

She continued. “Regardless of what their goats are made of, though, you lashed out at your dad because of how you perceived that lifestyle. Greg grew up in a home with parents and rules. You grew up in a van with him, and not much in the way of restriction.” 


The woman stared at Steven through the screen for a moment, pausing. Eventually, she seemed to realize that was all he had to say on that. “So, what’s that mean for you then? You’re on a road trip across the country, do you want to be able to stay with them when you make your way through West Keystone?” 

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s not about their house anymore, or even that kinda life. At this point…” Well, it wasn’t an easy question to answer. Considering he was already going around the country for the express purpose of trying to find out a little more of who he was and what he wanted, any question about what he wanted from family he didn’t even know was hard to parse out. “...At this point, I think I just want to know them.” 

There wasn’t any comment on that from Dr. Lin right away. Rather, she simply nodded and scribbled away at that notebook for what had to be at least a solid 30 seconds. Whenever that happened, Steven could be sure she was gonna hit him with something big. What exactly, he was never sure, but it was always something. 

Once those 30 seconds were up and Dr Lin’s pen had finally stopped, Steven finally got to hear just what that something was. “Alright, so, Greg was the only human family you knew from birth. For 14 years, you were unaware of any other blood relations you might have. It wasn’t until Andy fell out of the sky, literally, that you were suddenly forced to contend with the fact that there was an entire line of DeMayos he’d never really mentioned to you.” 

Yep, Steven was exactly right. Dr. Lin had just been gearing up to hit him with something strong. “Yeah, I guess that’s part of it. He showed me a picture of his aunt and uncle, Andy’s parents, but I never even learned their names! And it wasn’t even important to him, he let Lapis keep it in her new art studio just because it reminded her of living in the barn!” 

“He undervalued it, a direct memory of those relatives, which was at odds with the respect and love for family that he instilled in you at the same time.” 

“Exactly! Like, come on dad, was your family really so bad? Did you just wanna keep acting like we never came from anything for the rest of our lives?!” 

The familiar feeling of frustration boiling up in him was recognized as soon as Steven finished, realizing he was beginning to clench his fists and raise his voice. Nope, time to decompress. At all once, Steven drew back from the call for a moment, folded his hands together in his lap, and scooted back up against the headboard of the bed he was sitting one. His eyes closed as he began to analyze where he was at. Physically and emotionally. 

A deep breath in through his nose. An exhale through the mouth. This was okay, it was not a situation where he had to fall apart. Everyone he loved was only a phone call away, and Dr. Lin was right here, still on the call here with him. She always gave him a chance to recollect himself on his own each time he started to panic, and he’d been getting better at it as it continued happening over the past few months. Now, he really felt like he was taking accountability and helping himself more often than not.

A few minutes passed like that, with silence only being filled by Steven's internal thoughts. Thoughts of encouragement, safety, his support network, things that made him happy, and more. Whatever helped him step back from the precipice he stood on that had so nearly led him to a bad panic attack.

By the time he opened his eyes, Steven’s frustration had dissipated by quite a bit. There was still a raw feeling, but he was okay enough that he felt like he could finish the session. It was good it happened towards the end, too. Sometimes he’d have a bad little attack right at the start, and feel like crap as he struggled through the rest of the session. At least now he didn’t feel like he had to ration what was left of his energy just to get through. 

“Feeling better?” 

“Yeah. Sorry about that. Did I start glowing during that one?” 

“No, actually. You’re very adept with the tools we’ve been using. You identified that you were beginning to spiral, withdrew from the subject that was affecting you, and just like that you’d helped yourself before the stress could physically alter you.” 

Beyond just the instruction of the tools she’d taught him, positive reinforcement had gone a long way toward helping Steven feel comfortable in being able to do all this. A few kind words really solidified his progress for him, he found. “Thanks, Dr. Lin.” 

She smiled at him from his screen, but looked to the right as her phone began to beep. Not the chime for their time being up, just the one for the five minute mark. A useful tool in case Steven had to finish a thought he was on, or if there were any last minute topics he really wanted to cover. Dr. Lin reached over to turn off the alarm before facing back to the camera. “Alright, we’re winding down. There’s just one last question I think I should ask. You’re clearly very resolute about seeking out your grandparents, you’ve shown that it’s an important point as far as you’re concerned. What did Greg have to say when you told him?” 

“Ha, funny story about that.” Steven, ever the advocate for open and honest communication these days, might’ve made a tiny little lapse in judgement with this plan. “I actually haven’t told him yet.” 

“You want to do what!?”  

Of course Steven had to bite the bullet and call his dad eventually. To his credit, he didn’t end up waiting too long. A few hours later, enough time to recuperate from his session and have a meal, he’d returned to where he was staying and prepared for another video call. His dad was always up for a call, and things had started well enough. 

The two of them were relaxed on their respective beds while they'd talked about all the usual things. Places Steven was visiting, what was new in Beach City, how Greg was decorating the old room, all kinds of stuff. It was all easy to talk about, enough that Steven thought he could segue into his plan without much issue. 

In reality, not so much. 

As soon as Steven had even asked about visiting Greg’s parents at their timeshare, his dad’s entire demeanor changed. He leapt up off the bed, pulling the phone closer to his face and giving Steven a close up of his anguish-struck expression. “Steven, I know that maybe I didn’t really explain it well when we drove out to their house, but I can promise you that this isn’t a good idea!” 

Well, Steven had at least been prepared for a reaction like this. “Dad, I get the apprehension, but it’s not like what we talked about before! I don’t care about what kind of upbringing you or I had anymore! I just think I should be able to know them.” 

It wasn’t like Steven had expected such a simple sort of explanation to completely placate his dad, but he’d at least hoped it might’ve calmed Greg down a bit. Instead, it only seemed to do the opposite. His dad continued to look like there was a knife twisted in his gut, the beginnings of tears starting to form in the corners of his eyes. Steven could even begin to see him pace about his room, like a stressed out animal in a cage. 

“Steven, I told you before, you don’t have any idea what they’re like, my dad especially! I know you wanna reach out to people, but they’re not the ones to do it with! Please, just let me protect you from them!” 

In spite of his immediate urge to implore Greg to finally let him make that choice, Steven couldn’t really bring himself to do so. Not with his dad like this, looking like he could start hyperventilating at any moment. He couldn’t ask something of someone who was already feeling as low as ever. He had to get him to relax if there was any hope of them talking about this at all. 

“Dad, it’s okay! Just take a second, and we can talk about this! Where’s your relaxing music CD? Did you bring it with you when you moved in?” 

“Yes, it’s in the drawer with my—” Greg seemed to catch himself as he thought about it, suddenly shaking his head. “Wait, no, I do not need to calm down! You need to understand me, Steven, that this isn’t an option! There’s things about them you wouldn’t understand, things that go beyond meatloaf and curfews!” 

While not necessarily damning, whatever these unspecified things that Greg was referring to had Steven second-guessing his decision. While the controlling things that Greg parents had done to him did sound like a pain to deal with over so many years, Steven had assumed that those things were meaningless now that Greg was an independent adult off living his own life. What could they do to him nowadays? 

“Alright, dad, I hear you. Just, tell me what you mean? It’s been like, over twenty years by now! Who knows what they’re like by now?” Steven had done enough of the old unwilling forgiveness in his life with so many people who’d tried to kill him at some point. By now, he just wanted to know what could’ve gone down for his dad to react like this. 

For a minute there, it looked like Greg really might start to talk to him. The tears were flowing freely now, but he’d stopped pacing and his breathing had returned to normal. He couldn’t quite look up at the camera yet, but he was clearly thinking hard about things. About what he could say. 

Just when he finally looked back to the camera and Steven allowed his hopes to rise, they were shot down just as quickly. “Steven, I love you. More than anything else in the universe. But this? No, I can’t do it.” 

Even as Steven opened his mouth to protest, Greg was a step ahead. “Anything else you want or need, I can do that for you, but this is the one exception. Please believe me that whatever you might want them to be like, I can guarantee you that they are not.” 

With that, Greg reached for his phone and ended the call all before Steven could so much as utter a word. The CALL ENDED message was all that Steven could see now, leaving him wondering just what it was that he didn’t really know about his grandparents. 

Even when his common sense called on him to listen to Greg and believe what he said, Steven couldn’t quite bring himself to just drop the subject. He was smart enough to leave well enough alone when it came to talking to Greg about it, but he still had his heart set on giving this a chance. Not having his dad’s help did complicate things a bit, though. Aside from knowing that his grandparents spent this part of the year on the timeshare on Florida Island, Steven had no other idea about how to find them. 

Even though he had what felt like all the time in the world, Steven really couldn’t do a lot without so much as a general idea of where the timeshare might be. Florida Island was a hugely popular vacation spot as it was, who knew how many timeshares he’d have to wade through trying to find one that was used by the DeMayos, assuming that sort of information was even publicly available. 

Without Greg, Steven’s plan was as good as dead. His dad was the only one who might have any of the information needed to make it happen. 

Well, that was true until it suddenly occurred to Steven that there was another person he could reach out to. 

Later that same day, he was back in that same spot on the bed for just one more video call. He tapped that contact near the top of the alphabetical list, holding his breath as it began to ring. Hadn’t done this is in a little while. 

“Steven Quartz Cutie Pie DeMayo Diamond Universe, you little turd! You’ve been at this little cross-country self-discovery mumbo jumbo for how many months now, and you’re only just now calling your poor old uncle?!” 

Welp, it wasn’t like Steven had the time to consistently video chat with everyone he knew, but he could still understand Andy’s frustration. With how often Andy was out and flying around anyway, he’d kinda blended into the background of Steven’s mental list of important people. He couldn’t be that upset about Steven leaving Beach City if he himself wasn’t a Beach City resident anyway! 

“Heeeeey, Andy! Sorry it’s been a bit of hot minute, I meant to call sooner, it’s just been—” 

“Aw, forget about it, you know I’m just giving you grief!” Andy’s laugh was as big and boisterous as ever. A nice shift in tone after Steven’s last call wasn’t nearly as light. “Hey, how’s that shrink of yours treating you? She’s not just trying to foist a bunch of pills on ya, is she? All that therapy stuff is supposed to be more than just the chemistry of your mind or whatever.” 

“Dr. Lin and I are working really well together, Andy, and she’s not the kind of doctor that prescribes medications anyway.” Even with a comment that could be pretty easily construed as something misinformed and ignorant, which it possibly was in some ways, Steven understood that it came from a place of love. Surprisingly enough, Andy had been one of the people most vocal about his opinions on how Steven should seek help. All helpful input, believe it or not.  

Steven had surmised that, after making a conscious effort to get over his own problems with change and acceptance, Andy just really wanted to be sure Steven could have an easier time doing just that. It was a touching little revelation, even if it was slightly clouded by Andy’s tendency to be a little much. 

“Right, right, she’s the no medicine kinda doctor, the one who just works on the brain, that’s good! Your brain’s still young, Steven, it’s workable! You got a lotta’ time left in ya before it turns all to mush like me and your dad!” 

There were many layers of hilarity to that sentence and Andy’s view of psychiatry as a whole, but Steven couldn’t really focus much on that once his uncle mentioned his dad. That was going to be a difficult subject to broach, but it was one that he couldn’t rightly shy away from. How to find the right words, though? 

Well, maybe his dad could be a good segue. “Speaking of dad, I actually just got off a call with him not too long ago! It’s still kinda weird seeing my room being lived in without me, and with all sorts of new stuff in it!” 

“Ugh! You think it’s weird for you? This is the first time Greg’s lived in a house since he left! Even when he went to college, he was staying with that friend of his that his parents hated.” That sounded like dad, alright. Hitting his stride and just living for that rebellion as soon as he got out.

“I guess I had to pick up that rebellious streak somewhere.” Funny enough, silly jokes like that didn’t feel quite as heavy anymore. He could still remember laughing uncomfortably about a remark he’d made with Connie and her friends at the roller rink so many months ago, in response to Daniel’s quip about inheriting stress from his mom’s family. Now, he could actually laugh earnestly about that kind of stuff. 

“Eh, we all knew his folks were too hard on him. Still, it was a damn shame when he suddenly ducked out. Some stuff started going south around that time.” Andy suddenly looked a little pensive, reminiscing on the past. He reached up to remove his hat, running his other hand over the smooth part of his head. “Aunt Paula and Uncle Andrew didn’t wanna come out to anything looking like they didn’t have a grip on their kid. All of a sudden we saw ‘em less and less until we weren’t getting anything from ‘em but the annual Christmas cards.” 

That, that right there. That was the gap that Steven wanted to bridge. The clear missing piece in life that he, Andy, and his dad were yearning for. He’d come far enough that it wasn’t just about helping them, it was something Steven really felt like he wanted for himself. If that thing he wanted also benefited other people in his life? Then all the better. 

“Y’know. We talked about that, too. Grandpa and Grandma DeMayo. I brought up the idea of me going out to meet them at their timeshare to dad on the call.” The memory of Greg looking broken and hurt from his phone screen had Steven feeling similarly down. “He didn’t respond very well, though. Without him, I’ve got no idea where to find them.”  

Quite suddenly, a light bulb seemed to go off over Andy’s head. Steven could see his eyes widen as he explained the situation, alight with whatever had just occurred to him. “ mean they still go down to that old place on Florida Island?” 

This time, it was Steven’s turn to go wide-eyed. “You know about it? Can you tell me where it is?” 

“Aw, geez. I never been there, but…” Something seemed to be clicking in his head yet again. Andy deliberated for a few more seconds before snapping his fingers. The camera on his end suddenly whirled around and ended up focused on the ceiling, the phone obviously having been put down. “Steven, don’t go nowhere, I’ll be right back!” 

Not like he had much choice if he wanted to see where this rabbit hole went. So he sat tight, fingers idly drumming against the sides of his phone in anticipation. Andy couldn’t have taken any longer than a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity to Steven nonetheless.  

When Andy finally returned, a small stack of something in hand, Steven could finally let go of a breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. “Hey, Steven, I found ‘em! I knew I held onto these somewhere! Kept 'em hiding under the seat of the plane!” Andy began to flip through them, and from the glances he could steal at both sides, Steven was finally able to discern just what they were. Postcards. 

A few different faces flashed by as Andy continued sorting through them, until he settled on one and gave a particular smile with a look of recognition. He flipped the card to show the picture side towards the camera, and Steven was able to make out a family photo. Greg and his parents, looking as stiff and formal as they did in all the family portraits that had been hanging in their house. 

Sure enough, the card that Andy was holding up seemed to be in a very different sort of setting. Almost definitely Florida Island. All three family members were in casual type summer wear. Greg in khakis and a polo, Mr. DeMayo in a matching set, and Mrs. DeMayo in a modest sundress. They stood on a sandy beach, still with the parents flanking Greg from both sides, one hand on each of his shoulders. Was that just their signature pose? 

As entranced with the photo as Steven was, Andy seemed much more preoccupied with what was on the back. “I knew these things would be good for more than just the sentimentality! Still got the address there, right on the back! Steven, you want me to text it to you?” 

Yes. That was exactly what he’d called for, wasn’t it? That address was just about the only hope Steven realistically had of meeting with his grandparents. Now, in the actual moment though, he only felt unsure. If he ended up really going through with this, and things went south, his dad was at risk of hurting even more. 

This was all so messed up. Steven’s thoughts were ramping up and moving a mile a minute. He needed info. Context. Anything. “Andy, please tell me what you think. The last thing in the world that I want is for my dad to be hurt. He’s really upset about this. You actually knew them, do you think it’s worthwhile for me to reach out to them?” 

That question actually seemed to throw Andy a bit. He sighed suddenly, setting the postcards aside and steadying his phone. “Like I said, we all knew Greg’s folks were tough on him. Too tough. They didn’t like his hair, or his friends, or what he was suddenly doing at school. When we stopped hearing from him, it was sad, but not really surprising, ya know?” 

Steven knew. What a luxury for other people to just be able to walk away from the people that hurt him. 

He nodded, but stayed silent as Andy went on. “They weren’t the best they coulda’ been, I know. But hey, neither was I when we met, am I right?” 

“Well, I wouldn't have called you the worst stranger to have flown to my home out of the blue one day, at least!” The less they had to talk about Andy’s tumultuous introduction to Steven’s family, the better. He was just glad that it had only taken a day to get through the worst part of that particular obstacle. 

“Aww, you’re just being sweet, you cupcake! Anyway, I get it. Greg deserved better from them. He’s a real good guy, I want him to be happy too.” They were on the same page, it seemed. Steven and Andy were at the exact same crossroads of wanting Greg to be safe while also wanting to reach out to some of their family. “I haven’t talked to them, so it’s anyone’s guess what they’re like now. What I do know, though, is that running into Greg after so many years turned out to be a pretty good thing for me. Made me into an uncle and everything!” 

Just like that, Steven understood just what his own preoccupation with this little venture was. The same way Andy had improved in so many ways from having family there for him, Steven was looking for more human connections that might help him along his way to find what he wanted in life. He couldn’t be sure if this particular connection was going to be one that would definitely help him, but he’d never know without at least trying. 

A small revelation, but enough for Steven to suddenly be sure what he was going to do. A slight grin grew on his face as he suddenly turned to the bedside table, reaching for the pencil and little journal he’d left there. It was typically used for Dr. Lin’s assignment to assess himself and how he was doing on a day to day basis, but he just needed one page for something else. 

“Andy, could you go ahead and read that address off for me?” 

In Paula DeMayo’s humble opinion, the constant rolling and crashing of the waves just outside the house was a perfect companion to some light reading. The temperature was nice and modest, too. Not blistering but any means, but just enough of that Florida Island heat that she and Andrew kept coming down here for. A welcome departure from the cold of a West Keystone winter, that was for sure. She counted herself lucky to be able to enjoy a quiet moment like this, in their little patch of paradise. 

Of course, nothing so perfect could go without interruption forever. A knock at the door suddenly sounded through the adjacent sitting room where Paula sat. She made it a point to finish her sentence before plucking her bookmark off the coffee table, tucking it into the pages and returning the novel to the bookshelf to the right of the sofa. 

“Coming.” With everything in place, Paula finally began making her way to the door, low pumps clicking against the wooden floor all the while. She stopped in front of it to primp up for a moment, tucking any stray strands of hair behind her ears and smoothing out the wrinkles of her long skirt. She really hadn’t expected company today. Nevertheless, she finally undid the lock and opened the door to a young man. One who was probably hot in that slightly garish jacket. “May I help you?” 

“Uh, hi.” He looked a little uncomfortable, but smiled and gave her a little wave anyway. Odd. “I’m looking for Paula and Andrew DeMayo!” 

Hmm. Probably not soliciting if he had found them all the way out on their timeshare. “I’m Paula. Andrew is out at the moment. What can I do for you?” 

“Oh! It’s nice to meet you, I’m Steven!” The young man held his hand out, which Paula took with some apprehension. Even though she had no idea who he was, something about him was undeniably charming. Something about that chubby face and his smile was nostalgic. He reminded her a bit of Andrew’s childhood pictures. 

“Paula DeMayo, pleased to make your acquaintance, Steven.” She couldn’t help but smile as she gave his hand a slight shake before pulling hers back and folding both hands in front of her. Something about his grin was infectious. “What brings you by today?” 

“Uh, I guess I just came to meet you!” Paula quirked an eyebrow, which Steven must have noticed. He suddenly reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a phone. After unlocking it and doing some swiping and tapping, he turned it and showed a picture to Paula. Steven on the right, and a remarkably familiar face on the left. “This picture is of me and my dad, Greg. Your son.” 

All at once, so many things seemed to click for Paula. One hand reached up to cover her mouth, while the other clutched at her blouse. Steven’s familiar visage, how she could’ve sworn she knew the other man in that picture, even that black shirt with the star smack dab in the middle that he was wearing. Greg’s son… 

“Oh, Steven. You’re…?” The hand on Paula’s mouth suddenly turned, pointing a delicate finger at the young man on the house’s front porch. Four decades since she’d brought Greg into the world, over two decades since they’d last spoken to him, and suddenly she found that he’d brought a son of his own into the world. 

“Haha, yeah, I think you’re my grandma! Crazy, right?” For as shocked as Paula obviously was, Steven seemed to just be doing his best to try and lighten the mood. Easier said than done, especially in a situation such as this. His forced smile wasn’t doing much to ease her obvious shock, though. “Sorry, I know this is a lot. If you’d like, I can leave and come back. Or we could—” 

Paula didn’t give him a chance to finish the thought. She wiped a sudden tear from her eye and pulled the boy in for a hug, making a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “Oh, Steven, don’t you go anywhere! You’ll come in for tea right this instant, young man!” 

“Tea?” When had Steven ever been invited for tea before? This had to be the first time! He chuckled and returned the hug, arms wrapping around Paula as he leaned into the embrace. “Tea, yes! That sounds amazing, thank you grandma!” 

They spent another moment like that, huddled together and sniffling on their porch. Paula was the first to finally pull away, keeping her hands on Steven’s shoulders. “Alright then, come on in! Just make sure to remove your…” She looked down, suddenly frowning as she took in Steven’s choice of footwear. “...Oh, Steven. Flip-flops?” 

Steven himself looked down, wiggling his exposed toes. Were they a problem? “Well, it wasn’t like I was gonna need my boots today.” 

Paula could only sigh. She gave Steven’s cheek a quick pat before turning, making for the stairs. “Wait here just a moment, dear. I’ll fetch a pair of your grandfather’s socks.” 

Sat on the loveseat in the sitting room, the first thing Steven noticed was just how uncomfortable wool socks could be in such warm weather. If his grandma hadn’t been so insistent, he would’ve never worn something like this. Taking a look around the house, though, he could kind of see why she was. The house was spotless and immaculate, enough that tracking any sand or dirt would be immediately noticeable. He couldn’t so much as see any dust on the shelves. This vacation beach house looked cleaner than his old, lived-in beach house. 

“Steven! Do you like sugar with your tea?” 

“Oh, yes please!” He turned into the direction of the kitchen where Paula had headed off to prepare the tea. Steven had offered his help, but she’d insisted he take a seat. Since then, he’d just been looking at the immaculate state of things and resisting the urge to scratch at the itchy socks. 

Just a moment after he’d answered, Paula returned to the room carrying a tray with both hands. She’d gone above and beyond in terms of presentation. It was the fancy kind of tray with two raised handles, and had every tea amenity one could ask for. The tea pot itself, two tea cups on two saucers, two stirring spoons, and a small plate with three sugar cubes. 

“I just assumed you’d want two sugars, I hope that’s alright. Greg always was the type to have a little tea with his sugar.” Paula grimaced a bit as she set the tray down on the coffee table between them, immediately getting to work. The two cups were poured with practiced precision that was obviously a result of doing this for many years. 

“Oh, it’s fine, sugar is great.” Steven accepted the cup and saucer offered to him gratefully, being careful to set it down gently. He didn’t really know much about fancy dishware, but he’d hazard a guess that dishes this intricate looking were probably some kind of fine China. “Are you running low or something?” 

“No, dear, there’s plenty more in the kitchen. Why?” Paula was quick to stir her own sugar cube into her tea, spoon clinking against the sides of the cup lightly. 

“Well, could I go grab some more then?” 

“Steven, please, remember your etiquette.” His grandmother took a seat in the armchair on the other side of the coffee table, crossing one leg over the other before reaching for her cup. Taking a sip seated like that, Steven couldn’t help but think about how she looked like a character in a TV show hired to teach the main character how to act fancy and proper. 

“Huh? Oh, right, sorry grandma!” It seemed a little pedantic, but Steven wanted to make the effort to appease Paula. Maybe the stereotype about old people being very specific about stuff was just truer than he thought. He stirred his own sugars into the cup before lifting it by the handle and extending a pinky. “Thanks for the tea!” He finished by taking a sip, ignoring the bitterness that called for just a little more sugar. 

That didn’t get the desired effect. Paula’s grimace had returned, looking at Steven like he was a fly in her soup. “Not your manners, Steven, your etiquette.” 

“There’s a difference?” 

The sigh from his grandma that followed had Steven blushing and looking away in embarrassment. Oh boy, this was going as well as his first shot trying to relate to Connie’s friends. At least they were his age, but trying to bridge this generational gap was a bit of a daunting task, even for someone who’d saved the universe. 

“Well, I suppose it can’t be helped. Greg never had a mind for high society after all. I’m sure we can fill in the gaps at least.” Well, that was good then. A little compromise on both their parts would mean this didn’t have to be so painfully awkward, at least. “With that said, shall we address the elephant in the room?” 

Steven didn’t grasp quite what the meant at first, but her smile clued him in after a minute. “Oh, you wanna talk about my dad?” Yes, that was a great point of common ground! A perfect jumping off point, and then they could go from there! 

“I’m sure I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but mostly I’m just glad to see you! If you’re here, then it means Greg was finally able to marry and settle down with a girl. We worried that would never happen.” 

Well, at least Steven didn’t only have to give her bad news. “My parents did settle down, but I don’t really think they ever got officially married. Sorry.”  

Predictably, Paula’s face fell. She resumed a more neutral expression after a moment, at least. “Well, it’s a start. You father used to send us letters from Delmarva, do he and your mother still live up there?” 

“Uh, yeah, my dad still lives in Beach City. That’s where he met my mom, Rose.” This is where the hard part came in, though. “My mom isn’t around anymore, though. I never got to know her.” 

When he cast his gaze downward, Steven heard the clink of the cup again and suddenly felt a hand rest on his knee. He looked up to see his grandma leaning across the table between them, looking at him with an expression of empathy on her face. “I’m terribly sorry, Steven. I really wish Andrew and I could’ve met her.” 

“Thanks, grandma.” He put down his own cup to lay a hand over hers. It was soft, very delicate. Definitely dwarfed by his own. Judging by the look of himself and his dad compared to Paula, he guessed that a lot of their physicality came from his grandpa’s side of the family. It was a nice sort of feeling to have, one of knowing where you came from. It was doubly nice when you weren’t finding out about your relatives' old war crimes, too. 

That being said, there was something else in what Paula said that Steven was intensely curious about. He sat up a little straighter, looking at her head-on again. “Why were you so worried about dad finding someone?” 

“Oh, goodness.” That question seemed to open a whole new can of worms for Paula. She suddenly leaned back into her chair, placing a hand against her forehead and looking a little exhausted. “With the way he acted, Steven, we thought we’d never be able to fix him. Wild and crazy choices, so many things he hid from us until he slipped up and we only found out about them by accident.” 

Constantly sneaking in and out through a second story window was apparently not as fool-proof as Greg made it out to be. “You guys really weren’t down with the whole music thing, huh?” 

“Ugh. The rock and roll was hard to cope with, I admit, but even Andrew and I could’ve put up with that in tandem with a viable career.” The conversation was clearly draining for her. Something about the look in Paula’s eyes just radiated pure exhaustion. Even so, Steven didn’t want it left there. 

“So what was it then? What kept you from talking to him for so many years?” He must’ve looked as desperate as he sounded, because Paula’s face took on a look of immense pity. Steven would’ve resented that if he didn’t care more about finding out than his own pride at this point. 

What followed was a very tense bit of silence. His grandma all but froze for a moment, barely moving a muscle until she finally started to shift in her seat. Those delicate hands Steven had noted before were suddenly folded in her lap as she leaned forward, finally answering Steven even while looking like she was in a considerable amount of pain. 

“Steven, your father picked up some ideas when he started getting older. From where, I’ll never know, but he started spending time with people that weren’t good for him.” His grandma looked like she could be sick at any moment. Wait, could she be talking about Marty? Greg had always cited him as one of the worst people he’d ever known. “There was one boy in particular that he even started sneaking into the house. Dallas, I think his name was. That’s who he stayed with when he left us.” 

His dad stayed with him? That had to be the friend Andy mentioned on their call earlier, then. The one that his parents hated. Steven still didn’t know why, though? Was Dallas a criminal? A bum? A bad boy type with a motorcycle? 

Thankfully, Paula went on. “Well, one day, things came to a head. Andrew went upstairs to bring Greg down for our weekly meatloaf dinner, but he didn’t think to knock for whatever reason. So when he opened the door…” 

Finally, it seemed to be too much for Paula. Tears pooled in her eyes, and her voice broke into a full on sob. Whatever Steven’s grandpa had seen, it was supposedly too much for her to even so much as talk about. Part of him wanted to tell her she didn’t have to go on, but the other part of him was happy when she continued of her own volition anyway. 

“When Andrew walked in, he found the boys on Greg’s bed, lying there and kissing!” 

It was a good thing Steven had put his tea down. He would’ve spit anything in his mouth out onto the coffee table after hearing that. So, his dad had a boyfriend previously? His dad was bi? That hadn’t been something he’d been expecting to learn today. Still, that didn’t explain the whole falling out. 

“O-Oh. So, what was the problem with Dallas, then?” It was a little difficult, but Steven did his best to conceal his surprise. He steeled his face while reaching for his tea cup, hoping to look like he hadn’t just been blind-sided by this recent revelation. 


“What was the problem with Dallas? I mean, why were you mad at dad for dating him?” 

The response from his grandma was hard to parse. She looked at him in a way that he couldn’t really describe. What was that expression? It was almost like...disappointment? 

“Steven...Dallas was a boy.” 

“Yeah. But I mean, why did you…?” Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Suddenly, a thought occurred to Steven. A thought he didn’t like. A thought that made him feel sick, like he was about to throw up. Was that what she meant when she mentioned worrying about him marrying a girl? No, no, no, that wasn’t it. His dad would’ve told him about something like that, right? If it was that awful, his dad would’ve warned him. 

Steven looked to his grandmother’s eyes with a hopeless sort of look, pleading with her to confirm that wasn’t true. He couldn’t be here with someone who felt that way, it wasn’t right. There had to be a legitimate reason. The only thing he got back though was a condescending little shake of her head. 

“Steven, I understand Greg might have embedded some of his own beliefs in you. I don’t blame you for any of that, but you have to understand that they aren’t normal.” No. Steven froze as tears of his own started to spill, still sitting there with his cup in hand. Paula suddenly sighed as she rose from her chair, beginning to walk around the table towards him. She reached out, her hand starting to make its way to Steven’s shoulder. “I mean, really. If Greg and Dallas had been together, you would have never been—” 


Steven was out of the loveseat before Paula could so much as lay a finger on him. His tea cup had fallen to the floor, staining the rug underneath the table. More concerning though, was the intensity of his scream. No immense quake or broken glass this time, but it did shake the building. A few books fell from the shelf, while Paula’s own cup fell and clattered to the floor as well. Paula herself seemed as shook up as anything, looking around in shock. Her perfectly pulled back bun wasn’t in such good shape anymore, with a few gray locks now sticking out every which way. 

More concerning was the fact that she was pink. Or, more accurately, there was a pink light being cast on her. One that was definitely coming from him.  

He was glowing pink again. Hadn’t done that in a while. 

Months of advice in his therapy sessions came flooding back to him. If this wasn’t a situation where he was safe, it was time to remove himself. Steven clenched his fists at his side and closed his eyes as he recalled his breathing exercises, making an effort to be conscious of the way his body felt as he did so. A breath in through the nose, hold, and exhale through the mouth. Difficult when he was attempting to fight off sobs, but not impossible. A few cycles of that until he could finally feel his body begin to let go of the tension he was holding onto. That was usually a pretty good indicator of when the pink had worn off. 

Sure enough, when Steven opened his eyes, he took a look at his hands and was relieved that the discoloration had passed. Thankfully, Paula had stood aside all the while. Whether out of sheer shock or because she recognized Steven needed a moment, he didn’t really care. All Steven knew now was that it was time for him to go. 

“I’m leaving.” Finally, he could reach down and whip off those awful socks. He tossed them onto the nearest chair while walking back towards the front door where he’d left his flip-flops. 

“What? Steven, wait!” Paula trailed after him, sparing a quick look at the poor state of the room after Steven’s outburst. In any other case he would’ve elected to at least help clean up the mess he’d made, but this was an exception. There was no real damage, and this wasn’t a safe place for him to be sticking around anyway. 

The fact that Steven had elected to ignore her, even as she followed him, was clearly upsetting for Paula. She reached out for his shoulder again, but stopped short of actually touching him. Probably thinking better of her plan after considering what had happened just a moment ago. Regardless, she was intent on keeping him from walking out like this for whatever reason. “Steven, wait! Let’s just talk about this! We’re family!” 

Wow, did Steven hate to hear that now. He’d heard that from people who had actually been a part of his life, and from people he had to make peace with for the sake of helping others. From Paula, though? It was as hollow and empty as a statement could be. 

“I don’t want to be treated the way you’ve treated your family for years!” He whirled around suddenly after getting his flip-flops on. She backed up a bit as he did so. Probably a reflex after seeing what could happen when Steven experienced stress that he didn’t process right. He couldn’t blame her, but it proved his point at the same time. She didn’t know him, and she was scared by him. His family had seen him at his lowest and still wanted to help him. 

Paula and Andrew needed help, but Steven wasn’t the one responsible for giving it to them, or even helping them find it. Even so, there was a part of him that wished they might seek it out someday. If not for their sake, then for Greg’s. To apologize for treating him the way that they did. 

It was for his dad’s sake that Steven did stop one more time before leaving. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket, taking a card from one of the sleeves. It was Dr. Lin’s. Meeting with her specifically wasn’t realistic for obvious reasons, but it would at least make the point that they had to do some serious work if they wanted to start fixing things. 

Steven stuck the card on the table by the door as he opened it, turning back again as he stepped out. “Please. If we’re really family, understand that the way you treated my dad isn’t right. You have to take responsibility for that if you ever want me to be even remotely okay with you.” 

Paula’s mouth opened to respond, but Steven had shut the door before the sound could actually reach him. He had no more time to hang around here. Not when this place had nothing to offer him.