QSFer Kelly Haworth has a new MM Fantasy book out:
Scott Kensington lives happily without magic; prayer is all he needs to worship the gods. Then he starts his studies at the University of Frannesburg, and not only is he suddenly surrounded by eccentrics—those gifted with magic—but his own latent ability begins to surface, with consequences that could tear his soul and family apart.
Nick Barns is grieving for his lost mother and desperate for distraction—usually in the form of limited-edition action figures. As a telekinetic, he’s no stranger to magic, so he offers to help Scott adjust to his new powers. They quickly learn how their magics interact, their shared passions soon growing beyond superheroes and immortals. But Nick’s not taking his studies seriously, and his father threatens to pull him from the university. Overwhelmed by his own crumbling family, Scott’s convinced he can’t handle a relationship, but he doesn’t want to let Nick go.
With grief, guilt, and magic complicating everything between Nick and Scott, it seems that not even the gods—or a new comic book—can save their relationship now. Sometimes, even reading someone’s mind won’t help you understand what they want.
Sometimes you just gotta pray. And I know our goddess will answer those prayers, ’cause she wants us all to live our best lives.
I smiled. My mom’s ConnectUs status reminded me of listening to her at the dinner table back home. I’d only been away for three weeks at this point, but gods, I missed her. And not just her advice and support—I missed her spaghetti, too.
Tapping on my phone, I tabbed back to my profile page: Scott Kensington, with a profile pic featuring my younger sister and me smiling outside of high school. My most recent status read, “I made it through my first week at University of Frannesburg! Miss you all!” I was living the beginning of a coming-of-age movie by going away to college, but there was no way I’d have any life-changing epiphanies or meet the love of my life right off the bat. Not when even the social requirements of going to class made me exhausted.
I glanced back at my mom’s status. Maybe prayer would help with that.
Leaving my religious theory textbook open on my pillow, I climbed down from my loft bed. My desk and dresser hid underneath the loft bed on one side of the dorm, and my roommate Mark’s unlofted bed and desk sat on the other wall, with his dresser on the back wall under a window. There was too much furniture for the size of the room. We couldn’t have made it work if Mark hadn’t suggested lofting one of the beds.
I’d never had to share a room before. It was like those TV shows with feuding brothers, where they put a line of tape down the middle and each side was completely different. The walls on Mark’s side were covered in posters for bands and video games, and he had a dual-screen handheld game console and pile of games and strategy manuals on his dresser.
My side? Still sparse. All I had really managed to set up was my altar on my dresser . . . showed my priorities, I guessed. But my altar was full: a ten-inch statue of Natalis carved from a marbled rosy stone stood before a round mirror, which held small figurines of Sanya and Flavius in their creature forms, a fish and a phoenix respectively. Mom had given me Sanya before I left as a prayer to stay healthy. And Dad had given me Flavius as a prayer for ambition and opportunity. Though I displayed him for the luck.
I lit a tea light in front of the mirror with a flip-open lighter and rubbed my thumb across the floral insignia etched on its side. Ten petals for the ten gods.
Swiveling my desk chair around to face the altar, I sat down. The candle’s light danced on the central statue, throwing her curvy shadow onto the wall behind her.
“Hi, Natalis,” I whispered, running a finger down the side of the statue’s face and across her shoulder. “I’m lonely. I hope you don’t mind if I talk to you.”
She wouldn’t mind of course. But I hated feeling like a bother. Why would my little voice matter among the billions she heard from each day?
“University of Frannesburg isn’t that bad. The dining commons has decent food, and the classes are pretty much what I’d expected, all reading assignments and don’t forget office hours,” I started, like I was talking to my mother. But I didn’t have to talk to Natalis that way anymore, now that I wasn’t home, and Mom wasn’t right behind me.
With a sigh that drooped my shoulders, I tried again.
“I’m lonely. Ralston feels a whole world away, not just two hours. I knew Frannesburg would be different, but Mark doesn’t even have an altar, and the Flavius statue in the quad doesn’t have any offerings. What am I going to see next, an eccentric not knowing which god gifted them magic? I hadn’t expected religion to be so unimportant to people in this city, with so many eccentrics here.”
After growing up in a little town full of normals, magic still took me by surprise. I had seen dozens of telekins around campus, and the university had a healing program. Yesterday I had even passed a fire weaver with actual fire in her palm, my first time seeing fire weaving in person—
But that wasn’t what I wanted to talk to the goddess about.
“The problem is . . . I don’t feel any connection to anyone. And I’m fucking up every opportunity Mark gives me to be social.” You’re not supposed to swear to the gods. Shut up, Mom. “Why does it sound so awful when he asks me to hang out? Why can’t I relax around him and meet his friends?”
I realized I was squeezing the lighter in my palm, so I put it down and took a few breaths to un-fluster myself. I had to get all my thoughts out, and at the end would be clarity. That was the hope, anyway.
“It’s not like I’m scared of them. They’re kids, like me.” You’re not a kid anymore if you can drink, smoke, and be drafted. Deep breath. Un-fluster, for the gods’ sakes. “They’re in the same situation as me, trying to figure out college life. But nothing they want to do sounds worth it. I don’t want to go to some random burger place. I don’t want to lie in the sun on the quad. Not alone, anyway.” Lying with a boyfriend would be okay.
Like that would ever happen at the rate I was going, leaving the dorm only for class and food.
“I need help finding the courage to get out there,” I said, drumming my fingers along the edge of the dresser. “That’s it. I know courage isn’t really your thing. It’s more Flavius’s. But Mom always encouraged us to talk to whichever god we wanted, and Mom’s prayed to you my whole life. I trust you. You can give me the right level of help. Thank you. Together we love.”
I blew out the candle and smoke snaked over the altar, its reflection in the mirror crossing behind the gold phoenix of Flavius. Maybe she was calling on him to help me out. Or maybe it was a big ole coincidence of positioning.
Well, there, out of my system. I didn’t feel better, but it had been worth the try. Maybe tomorrow I’d have the guts to—
With a single rap at the door, Mark bounced in, his smile infectious and his golden-brown hair flattened from the drizzle outside. He threw his backpack onto his bed, collapsed into his desk chair and gave it a whirl.
“Hey, dude, you like ice cream?”
“Ice-cream social at eight tonight in the third-floor lounge. One of those meet and greet sorta deals. You in?”
I blinked. I was tired, but . . . “Sure.” Something this unforgivably social had to be Flavius’s doing. But, thanks, Natalis, that was actually really fast. I could hear Mom now.
See? You just had to pray. You just had to believe.
And she was right, of course. Faith, and trust. In Natalis, and myself.