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Being a degenerate is okay these days
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Ethan Parker had never been one for denial, or for prayer. For many years, the two had been nearly synonymous in his mind. He bowed his head and closed his eyes anyway when the group prayer began.

Vernon Kanuho's commanding presence next to him was a comfort. Ethan acknowledged that he likely never would have returned permanently to Kingman, much less moved his family there, if it wasn't for Vern's job offer years ago, the fact that he'd seen something in his old friend that he valued enough to reach out and offer aid when they were struggling with Hye's illness and scarce jobs. If you bought into the butterfly effect, that job offer was now responsible for his missing son. Ethan didn't think that Vernon put that much stock into taking responsibility for life's random cruelties, but he still hoped that his old friend didn't blame himself in some roundabout way.

The flame of Hye's candle flickered as her hand shook. She had one arm wound around Ethan's, nails probably biting into his arm even through his sleeve as she held onto him to anchor herself. She had been suspecting an upcoming MS attack for some time now, and as much as she wished she had more control over her own body, the sudden shock of the news combined with her increasingly worsening pain over the last few days now meant a flare-up was all but inevitable. She just needed to stay standing for the duration of the vigil.

She hadn't yet notified her family that Min-jae and his classmates were missing. She wasn't sure when she'd be able to face that without wanting to shriek at her own mother, to say nothing of her younger sister. Eun-jae was the safest bet, but she needed time to compose herself before contacting him. His daughter was Jae's age, and Hye could easily picture her brother going into a spiral of fear and worry spurred on by imagining what it would be like to lose her.

Lost. Jae was just lost, and he would be found, and he would come home. Hope or denial, whatever you wanted to call it. It tasted sickly sweet.

Some people would be trying to find meaning in this. Hye had no God that moved in mysterious ways. Ethan had no God at all. They were just two candles in a storm that didn't know or care that they existed.

Ethan felt when Hye's strength failed her almost before she did. He didn't need to look to picture the frustration on her face as he disentangled their arms to put his around her waist and better support her.

"We're going," he said in a low voice to Vernon. Hye reached out to brush her shaking hand over Roderick's arm as they passed him. Rod was a good kid. He and Jae weren't close, but they were good to each other for the most part. They had their mutual connections in their parents and friends, and they sniped at each other the way teenage boys did. Rod could probably put more names to faces than most of the parents could, but he was doing his best to bear his suffering stoically. He was doing a better job of it than some of the parents, too.

Ethan blew out their candles and dropped them on the grass before leading Hye to the car.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Carry the Fire · V6 Meanwhile...