Atheists Anonymous

By Boom Baumgartner

There were few things everyone in Leazes Park could agree on. Even though it was a nice day, it was too sunny for some and too hot for others. The breeze was simultaneously welcome, too cool, and an irritation as a reader on a park bench struggled to keep her book open to the correct page.

The woman who strode in from Richardson Road didn’t look like she would agree with anyone about anything. A large gold ring pierced her septum, and her dark eyes were goat-like, with their horizontally long, narrow pupils. Contacts probably.  She was dressed in a worn satin jacket with the words “Atheist’s Bowling League” scrawled across the back, torn jeans and clunky ankle boots. 

She frowned at the swans coasting across the gentle waves of the lake with suspicion. When one came too near, climbing out of the water with an accompanying splash, she stomped her foot and bellowed at it. Cowed, the swan hurriedly turned back to the lake, and swam all the way across it. All the while, the woman glared at it with her arms crossed.

While the day was a fine spring day, the mom who watched her children playing on the water sculptures thought it was still a bit too cold to be out and about. The drunk students were too queasy to think about the park at all. The football fans heading to the angular stadium looming on the edge of the park were anxious about Newcastle United’s chances. No one agreed on anything, except for one thing. Everyone, from the old man fishing placidly in the small lake to the Chinese tourists taking selfies next to the lion statue, agreed: the woman with the nose ring and bizarre contacts was strange.

The woman may have known this. May have guessed it, in fact. But thinking about those sorts of things did very little to interest her. So, regardless of what people thought, she made a straight line for a delicate tree on the edge of the path circling the lake.

“Hey, long time no see,” she said, her voice high and chipper. She waved her hand toward the tree in greeting. 

The tree, predictably, did not answer back.

Unperturbed, she continued to talk to it. “How long have you been in Newcastle?” Then she affected a Geordie accent, lilting, friendly and a little bit slurred. “You know, ‘doon the toon.’”

The only response the tree gave was the rustle of its long leaves in the afternoon breeze.

“Come on, Daph, I know it’s you.” Then the woman kicked at the ground and sighed dramatically. “There aren’t any bay laurel trees on the fifty-eighth parallel. If I’ve noticed you, someone else will.”

Still, the tree said nothing. The woman canted her hips and crossed her arms, almost like she was a primary school teacher waiting out a temper tantrum. Letting out an exasperated breath, she took out a thermos from the khaki bag that hung over her shoulder.

She poured out brown liquid into the lid, and held it out to the tree. “It’s your favorite. Dittany,” she said in a wheedling voice.

When the tree did not reply, she shrugged and sat down next to it. For the next hour, she sipped on the tea, and stared up at the leaves of the laurel tree. While the trees around it struggled to bloom this early in the year, the laurel tree was already almost impossibly green.

No botanist had walked through the park yet to remark on the strangeness of this particular tree being this far north, nor at the earliness of its spring growth.

The strange woman drained the last bit of tea, and with a sigh, replaced the lid back on the thermos. “Let’s have a cuppa another time, yeah?”

Without waiting for another answer, the woman left.

Time moved slowly for Daphne. It had since her feet took root in the ground, and her arms reached out to the sky. Her skin, a coarse bark, wrapped around her like the battlements of a fort that had weathered the elements for more than a few millennia. 

It was difficult, she thought over the long hours of the morning, not to think like a tree. To think of time in seconds and minutes instead of years.

She had meant to say hello, but then Io had left before she could. The sun set before she decided she would greet Io the next time she came. A cup of tea sounded quite nice, actually. And Dittany was her favorite.

It was morning in Leazes Park, and like every other day, no one agreed on anything. Most, however, thought that the disheveled young woman, her hair tangled with sticks and leaves, was probably not well. No one called social services, though some thought they should. 

It had taken Daphne all night to return to herself, her branches retreating into her fingers, and her feet separating from the earth. The bark contracted and hardened around her. It had been so long since she had seen her skin, she didn’t even mind.

She had come to Newcastle in the 60s wearing a flouncy, white dress with a peasant blouse and a short skirt. She still wore it now, though it was almost brown after weathering the decades.

“Daph!” called a high voice. Daphne smiled, slowly turning her head toward Io.

Io was waving her hand, her feet heavy on the pavement as she walked to the spot a laurel tree had once been. Just then, a pair of swans drifted by the edge of the lake, and Io turned and yelled at them. “Fuck off, perverts!”

Daphne narrowed her eyes. Evidently, Io was still holding a grudge.

“I think I’ll have that cuppa,” Daphne said.

“Sure, how about at my place?” Io asked. “You’re not fit to be seen at a Costa let alone a cafe.”

Daphne smiled. “I could use a shower.” She pulled at her hair, the auburn locks so snarled she barely could hold out a piece to look at it. “Do you have witch hazel?”

“I’ll stop by Tesco’s.”

“That’s a funny name for a person.”

“It’s not a per…” Io gave Daphne a quizzical look. “Daph, how long have you been a tree this time?”

Daphne shrugged.

Io frowned, worry etched into the lines around her eyes.

Daphne did not say much when she followed Io to her flat in Jesmond. She fled the Tesco Metro when a man accidentally brushed up against her, and Io found her wringing her hands outside the store, her back pressed up against the glass. Ever since that point, it seemed to be taking her a great deal of mental effort to continue on.

Io lived in a run down Tyneside flat in Jesmond which she had paid for by the week for the past year. She never knew when she would feel the sting of the gadfly and have to move on, so she preferred it that way. It was furnished, but every piece from the floral couch to the lacey bed stank of the eighties. They smelled like other things too, mostly of must and use.

If Daphne had anything to say about the decor, she kept it to herself. Io gave her the tour, which she mutely listened to. They finished in the garden, which was small and half-paved. When Io handed her a towel, she took it and went to the shower with the witch hazel Io had procured on their way home.

While Daphne showered, Io grabbed her clothes and tossed them into the washing machine. Then she put out some of her own clothes on the bed and went to put the kettle on.

Nothing felt safer to Daphne than the bark on her arms, and the leaves at her brow. She thought she could take that safety with her. She always did. But all it took was one man with blue eyes and blond hair. One man with broad shoulders and narrow waist. One man with a knowing smirk quirking the lines of his lips. That was enough.

It’s been two millenia, Daph, she told herself, staring at the disgustingly pink tile in the bathroom. Get over it. That was surely what Io would tell her. What anyone would tell her. But they didn’t understand. Apollo was the point of an arrow aimed directly at her heart, and one day he would pierce her skin. Her father had given her the gift to transform into the laurel tree, promising that Apollo could not have her as long as she grew branches. But her father was wrong. Apollo had found her, and plucked her leaves to make a crown.

One day, Apollo would find her outside of the forests she hid in, and declare his victory.

The water, which had only been lukewarm to begin with, had turned ice cold. It was only a bone deep shiver that brought her out of her thoughts of taught drawstrings and painted targets.

Io had left new clothes out for her on the bed: a soft, gray shirt that said “Thank God, I’m an atheist!,” a pair of straight-legged jeans cuffed at the ankles, a red flannel overshirt, two thick socks, and a pair of worn out plimsolls.

The kettle whistled when Daphne came down into the kitchen. 

“Take a seat, take a seat,” Io said, pulling the purple kettle off the range. She grabbed two mugs from the cabinet, both clearly bought from the charity shop and ringed with years of tea and coffee stains. 

She put the nicer of the two in front of Daphne, as this one did not have a chip on it. It did, however, have a frowning cat on it that said “Mondays.” Daphne had no idea what that meant, so she looked around the kitchen to distract herself from asking about it.

“I must confess, I don’t have much of a tea collection. English Breakfast? Dittany? Um, something herbal called Sleepy Time? I think that may have come with the house, actually.”

“Dittany,” Daphne said, her eyes trailing up to a corkboard on the wall. It was littered with newspaper clippings, all hanging at haphazard angles. The headlines were bold, and said things like “Cow Thwarts Area Rapist” and “Green Safe Under Mystery Cow’s Protection.” There was even a picture of a white cow chasing down a man in a black hoodie in a night shot of a dimly lit street. Underneath the photo was the caption “Cow terrorizes late night revelers in Grainger Town.”

“Are these all…?” Daphne trailed off as she pointed at the articles.

“Me?” Io came over with the kettle, pouring the tea in both of their mugs. 

Reflexively, Daphne’s fingers grasped around the base of the cup to soak in the warmth. Daphne nodded.

“Wouldn’t it be great if they were?”

It occurred to Daphne that that was not an answer. But she decided not to press it.

Instead, she pulled at her shirt. “Are you trying to be funny with these atheist shirts?”

Io blinked, and then shook her hair out of her face. “No, why would I be?”

“You, above everyone else, know that gods exist.”

“Do I?”

Daphne’s mouth hung open.

“I know that there are people with a lot of power, but that does not make them gods. I’m not going to give those arseholes the satisfaction. That shirt is about protest.”

Daphne stared down into her mug. “Is that why you came to me? To join in your protest?”

“No, well, yes, but no. I came because you got fucked over, and I wanted to help you.”

“I’m fine.”

“You spend most of your life as a tree.”

“Yes, well, I… I find the taste of converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into a glucose quite delightful.”

Io didn’t respond. She just let that statement hang in the air, to be examined at all angles, and be found wanting. Daphne flushed, and brought the mug to her lips. She forgot to blow on it, and it burnt the tip of her tongue. Whatever else Io could say about being a tree, she at least didn’t have to wonder at what temperature the water was when she sucked it from the ground.

“Look,” Io said, after taking her own sip of tea and setting it down. “I’m sorry. Daph, just how are you?”

Daphne let her hair fall across her face as she said, “Fine.” She could hear the sigh trapped in the back of Io’s throat.

“That’s good.”

“How are you?”

“Not great. Better, like way better, but not great all the same.”

Daphne looked up. “What do you mean?”

“You know, getting used to it is hard.” Io sat back, and kicked out her feet to rest on the vacant chair next to her. “I’m like you, babe. Zeus fell in love with me thousands of years ago, and I’m still fucked up about it. I’m coping and all, but there is only so far you can go with a therapist before she locks you up in the looney bin because you tell her your real psychological scars don’t come from mommy and daddy, but from a man who turned you into a cow to hide you from his wife.”

“So you went looking for me because you thought you could…”

Io nodded. “Form a support group.”

“I don’t like to talk about it,” Daphne said quietly, not able to look her in the eye.

Io shrugged. “That’s okay. I don’t really either.”

“Then what do you actually want?”

“I want to live, and I think if we lived together, we could do it. We wouldn’t have to explain to each other why we are the way we are. We could like… just be.”

Daphne frowned. “What do you mean?”

Io shrugged. “I can’t explain it. Just, will you give it a try? Be my flatmate for a bit, and see if you don’t prefer it to wafting gently in the breeze while drunkards barf by your roots.”

Pursing her lips, Daphne’s fingers tightened on the mug.

At first, living with Daphne wasn’t much different than living alone, Io discovered. She wandered in and out of her room like a ghost, the whistle of the kettle the only sound of her passage from the world of her room to the kitchen. She rarely showered, but when she did, it took several hours for there to be hot water again.

Io had hung Daphne’s clothes out to dry that first night, and they disappeared before dawn warmed the window ledges. The clothes she had lent to Daphne had been placed in front of her bedroom door, earning her a carpet burn on her elbow when she tripped over them. They were going to need to go shopping…when Daphne was ready.

Daphne, evidently, was mostly a tree now though. She did not move fast, want fast, or need fast. Her tea was always cold before she finished it, and Io would have to take it from her and dump out half its contents before putting in more warm liquid.

Truth be told, Daphne was not an ideal flatmate. She left mugs out, filled with half-drunk dittany all over the house. She never did the shopping, or the cooking. And on more than one occasion, Io found her in the backyard growing over the garden fence.

None of it really bothered Io though, except for the tree thing. She didn’t want to explain to her neighbors why there was a tree and sometimes there wasn’t, and it would be super great if Daphne didn’t call attention to their super-humanness. When she said that, horror seemed to curl up behind Daphne’s eyes, and she drifted back into her room. It took a week before she reemerged again.

But Io understood. She really did. The gods could be anywhere at any time, and no one knew that better than the men and women they touched. Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, and Danae. Cornix, Arethus, Nyctimene, and Melia. Only a few names of the many that Io knew were changed by these capricious gods, whose will and desires translated into a power that affected muscle memory for thousands of years after.

The gods could be anywhere. Best to be something else. To be a tree. A crow. An owl.

Or a cow.

Except being a cow didn’t save Io anything. Hera, that dumb bitch, still tortured her. She imprisoned her on an island, and then sent a gadfly after her to sting anytime she thought to stand still. And why? Because Zeus had thought she was pretty once.

Well, she was still pretty. Nothing could change that. Every decade, she did the opposite of what men found attractive. She cut her hair. She shaved it. She died it black. Pink. Blue. Lime green. She wore pants, then skirts, and pants again. Then she became angry that she was still trying to dress for them by dressing against them, so she stuck with the haircut she liked best. A long bob without bangs that she could cut with scissors over a kitchen sink every few weeks.

She still wore sunglasses, but it wasn’t to cover up her unusual ungulate eyes; to hide what Zeus had done to her. She wore them because she wanted to. And she didn’t wear them when she didn’t want to.

It was glorious.

She had learned that she couldn’t ignore some parts of her and pretend to be something else. All of her was Io, and that included the life she had spent as a white heifer. If that meant she had unusual eyes, a hot temper, and a chip on her shoulder then she embraced it.

Daphne, however, was not there yet. Io could forgive that.

Which is why, after Daphne retreated to her room and had not come out for a few days, Io was outside of it gently knocking.

“Daph, you okay?”

No answer.

“I’m going to come in, all right?”

There was still no answer.

Daphne was on the bed, holding her knees against her body. The blinds were closed, and the room had that particular smell rooms always got when somebody has been in them too long. But because it was Daphne, the scent that lingered reminded Io of loam more than must and sweat.

“I’m sorry,” Daphne said before Io could say anything.

“What for?”

“I just… I’m mucking this up, aren’t I?”

“Mucking what up?”

She gestured vaguely with one hand. “Whatever you wanted.”

“I didn’t want anything.”

“Yes you did.”

“I really didn’t. I just wanted you to feel comfortable being yourself.”

“I’d feel more comfortable if there was a place I could be a tree without drawing attention.”

Io nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll keep an eye for a place. But in the meantime,” Io plucked at Daphne’s dirty dress. “When is the last time you shopped for clothes? Surely you aren’t comfortable in these.”

“I’m far more comfortable wearing this than going out.”

Io bit her lip and stared at Daphne for a few seconds. “I think it’s time you see the wonders of the internet.”

Daphne has been a tree for decades, but that did not mean she didn’t understand technology to some extent. It took her some time to understand that the small boxes people talked into in the 90s were phones, and even longer to understand that those phones had turned into miniature computers, but she was not surprised by the internet.

Well, yes. She was. But she certainly wasn’t going to show it to Io. Io thought she was enough of a charity case already without her also thinking she lived under a rock like Charybdis. The last century really had gone far too fast for Daphne. Two hundred years ago, days went by placidly, and Daphne could make sense of it at whatever pace she wanted to. Now, there were entire shopping districts that fit into one’s pocket, and you could buy goods with the press of a finger. It was… a lot to handle.

At first, when they shopped, Daphne was too dazzled by the choices. When it overwhelmed her, Io just said cryptically, “Oh shit, I’ve Berlin-walled you, haven’t I?”

Daphne didn’t want to ask what that meant because she didn’t want to let Io know that this was another thing she was ignorant about.

In the end, she just said, “This is too much. Can’t I just have something simple?”

And that was how she ended up with three pairs of comfortable joggers in black, grey, and mustard, and a pack of loose grey t-shirts. 

Once a week after that, Io would come into her room and open up her laptop to a clothing store. “Let’s just do it for fun, eh?”

When Daphne protested, Io said she was just shopping for herself and wanted input.

Io didn’t always purchase something when she was shopping on her laptop. When she did, she liked to go through online thrift stores, page by page, making sure she didn’t miss anything she might like.

“Oh my! What is that!” Daphne cried, looking at a beautiful gold jacket that glowed as if it were made by gods.


“Is that what those are called? They look like mermaid scales,” Daphne said dreamily. “I bet you would feel like a Siren in them.”

“Absolutely. You could sing men to their deaths in that gold sequin bomber jacket.”

Feeling teased, Daphne said, “Nevermind.” Then she had Io buy her another pair of black leggings, this time with tiny plastic jewels inset on the sides.

So it went for a while. At first, she didn’t notice the other tabs on Io’s computer. But every time Io sat next to her on her bed, her laptop open to different online thrift stores, Daphne would glance at the other things Io searched for on her browser. Sometimes it was Private Investigator Magazine. Other times it was OkEros. Over and over, it was the name Romeo Amore. 

“What’s that?” she asked, when all three tabs were open.

“Hm? Nothing.” Io closed the top of her laptop and left.

Io had found him. She had tracked him through dating sites, across newspapers about jilted women with empty bank accounts, and into unemployment databases she had no right to access. It had taken her over a year, but now she knew exactly where he was, living under the name Romeo Amore. 

Subtle. Real subtle.

Whatever. She was going to talk to him no matter what his name was. She shouldered a jacket and made her way to go out.

“Oh my gods,” Daphne cried from the stairs. A package must have arrived. “I love it!”

She ran up the stairs, clutching a gold sequin jacket to her chest, her face alight with joy. “I can’t believe you bought this for me. Where could I possibly wear this? I never go out.” She trailed off, and stared at the jacket.

“Well, pop it on then,” Io said, squeezing past her, and descending the stairs.

Daphne smiled, and shrugged it on. “Mirror!” she shouted, then she disappeared around the corner.

Unable to get her boots on without untying the laces, Io sat at the bottom step and tried to force her heel in before giving up and pulling on the knot.

“I actually look like I’m wearing an outfit!” declared Daphne at the top of the stairs, her hands on her tilted hips in a look of triumph.

Bemusedly, Io glanced up. Daphne had been favoring leggings with criss-cross patterns at the ankles and a sleeveless shirt. With the jacket, it did actually kind of look like there was some intention to her wardrobe.

“Where are you going?” Daphne asked.

“Out,” Io said lightly.

“Why don’t I come with you?”

Io froze.

Without waiting for an answer, Daphne bounced down the stairs. She picked up a pair of worn, white plimsolls and put them on.

“I’m going toward the station,” said Io cautiously.

Daphne bit her lip, her eyes drifting up while she thought about it. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Io swallowed. 

“I’m all for you getting out, but are you sure?” Io asked shakily. “It’s a forty-minute walk. Isn’t that a bit far?”

Daphne tapped her toe against the bottom stair, attempting to shove her foot in more securely. “Well, what are you doing? Is it really important? Could we turn around if I feel uncomfortable?”

“I’m going…” Io glared at the torn, padded yellow envelope by the door. The treacherous thing had to arrive now, didn’t it? “I’m going on a date,” she said in a rush.

Daphne stopped, her hand almost to the door handle. “You didn’t say anything about it.” Then she rounded on Io, her eyes narrow and accusing. “You didn’t plan to tell me about it, did you?”

“It isn’t anything.”

Daphne crossed her arms. “Have you met this person before?”

After months of being holed up with Daphne in this small Tyneside flat, it never felt more claustrophobic than it did right now. “No,” Io said, placing the words down as carefully as she would a fragile glass figurine.

“And you didn’t plan on telling anyone?”

“As I said, it isn’t anything,” Io said mulishly, silently berating herself for coming up with a lie that was way too close to the truth. Surely she could do better than that. But it was too late now to dwell on it.

“Well, you’re not going alone. These internet boys could be anyone, you know that right?”

Io blinked. “What do you know about that?”

“I know how to turn a television on, and what a Google is. And don’t tell me it’s not an internet boy, because I see you on OkEros all the time.”

Io groaned. Caught.

“You’re not going without me.” Daphne’s bottom lip stuck out into a hard, stubborn line. “I’ll sit at a cafe across the street or something.”

“There isn’t a cafe across the street for you to sit at. It’s on the Tyne.”

“Fine, then I’ll stand around the corner or something. Then, I’ll come by your table a half an hour later and be like ‘Oh my gods, Io, I haven’t seen you in ages.’ Then, if he’s not a creeper you can be like, ‘I’m sorry, you are?’ and if he’s a serial killer, you can be like ‘Daphne! My gods, we must talk right now! This cannot wait!’”

Io continued to stare at her. Was there a way to get out of this? One thing was for certain, Daphne could not be anywhere near that table when Io met the man in question.

“I’m going to be late. I don’t have time to talk about it.”

“I think you would be surprised at how we can walk and talk all at the same time.” The light current in her tone did very little to disguise the hard stubbornness in her eyes.

Without a way to say no, Io let Daphne open the door and she followed her out.

The Quayside was too nice of a place to meet someone like Romeo Amore, Daphne thought. Especially when you had to walk through the castle ruins to find the pub overlooking the banks of the River Tyne.

Io had left Daphne several streets down overlooking where Hadrian’s Wall had once been. They had made a plan, but Daphne didn’t think it was a good one, so the moment Io turned away, Daphne ran up the street and around the back into the open area seating at the pub where Io was supposed to meet her date. 

The beer garden was a courtyard made of old brick, hemmed in by buildings each with its own architectural style, brick neighboring stone and stucco alike. Between the umbrellas, trees grew, providing extra shade. All in all, it was quite pleasant. A place Daphne thought might be nice to go to with Io. Not meet the man who called himself Romeo Amore.

Io did not recognize the small laurel Daphne had compacted herself into at the far end of the beer garden. She had a cider in one hand, and an intent look on her face, as if she were ready for a fight. Not a date.

Discomfort began to prickle between the seams of Daphne’s bark.

Daphne recognized the man the instant he walked in. His lean body had not changed over the intervening decades, but his hair was now cropped short. Grimly, Io waved at him, and watched as the white of his eyes flashed when he saw her.

Betrayal. Hurt. Anger. Daphne thought, If I were my old self, would I be running away or throwing tables over? 

“So I’ve been catfished, have I?” the man who called himself Romeo Amore said, taking the seat opposite of Io at a hightop pressed against a brick wall.

Io grinned at him.

“So what does one of Zeus’ tarts want with me? I’ll not shoot him, if that’s what you want.”

Disgust twisted Io’s face. “Ew, Cupid, no. Hera should have cut his dick off so he could never ‘seduce’ another person again.” Io had made exaggerated quotation marks with her fingers when she said “seduce.”

“Not divorce him?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.

“She should have done both.”

Cupid sighed. “Anyway. You have me. So what do you want?”

A flash of temper burned across Io’s face before she regained her composure. She closed her eyes, then took off her sunglasses before reopening them. “I need you to undo an arrow,” she said, and the anger that soaked in from Daphne’s roots blossomed into something hotter.

Cupid laughed, a burst of arrogance and condescension escaping his lips.

Io’s nostrils flared.

“You know,” Cupid said, still chortling, “the body replaces every cell in itself every ten years. It takes longer for the gods, but it’s essentially the same premise.”

Io stared at him.

Rolling his eyes, Cupid hooked his arm on the back of his stool. “That means, you’re like Ship of Theseus. Who you were ten years ago isn’t the same person you are today.”

“Fascinating. But I rather think you’re avoiding the question.”

“Look, the arrows wear off over time. You’ve obviously been tracking me, you should have figured that out by now. ”

Io licked her lips. “So Apollo isn’t chasing Daphne anymore?”

“Nope. And she isn’t fleeing him anymore.”

He was wrong. Daphne knew this. Once you ran from a man once, you never stopped; when someone decided “no” wasn’t an acceptable answer, you could never trust the word again.

When Io didn’t say anything more, Cupid got up, straightening his coat. “If that’s all you want, I ordered a pint at the bar. It’s the least you could do to pick up the tab.”

“You think that this is all I want from you?”

Cupid’s eyes narrowed as a smirk crooked the corner of his lips. “And what does a nymph dare demand of a god?”

“That you never use your arrows again. No woman should have to do as you command them.”

Cupid snorted.

From her time as a tree, Daphne took everything slowly. It was easier to live life when you weren’t really living it, she thought. Easier to sway in the breeze, than try to fight what could not be fought.

“I’m serious, Cupid.” Io’s voice was hard, like iron. “If I find you screwed over even one more woman, stole her heart when she did not want to give it, con her out of her money, anything…”

“You’ll do what?” hissed Cupid.

It happened all at once. Tables clattered across the beer garden as people shrieked and threw themselves toward the exit. A great white cow stood in the middle of the courtyard, her nostrils flaring as she charged at Cupid. Startled backward, he tripped and stumbled.

At the same time, Daphne reached out her roots, disrupting the old brickwork as it clawed out of the brick pavement and around his body. She pulled him down into the ground with a swift tug.

Only his face appeared above ground, and Io pressed her wide forehead against his while he spluttered. “Fine, fine, fine! You win!”

Anger was in Cupid’s eyes when Daphne released him, and he grabbed for what he kept hidden against his back. His expression changed from confusion to bewilderment before settling on horror. Each hand grasped the broken half of a bow.

Io pressed forward, the sound of her hoofs on the stone banging like a war drum. Cupid took a few steps back, his body shaking. Then he eyed the laurel by the exit of the beer garden. Caught between an angry cow and a vengeful tree, he chose to run past Io and into the pub.

Like all days in Leazes Park, no one quite felt the same as one another. It was a warm day, though the ground was still wet from a morning mist. Many of the people in the park were angry because Newcastle United had lost their game, some having drunk themselves in an angry slather, while some marched across the pavement in heavy-footed disappointment. Io and Daphne ran by an older man, a builder by trade, who sat on a bench worriedly checking his text messages. They laughed as they passed three students arguing about an answer on an exam. All the energy they had bound up within them released as they hooted and hollered across the park. A middle-aged woman rocking a baby back and forth in its stroller looked up with a frown. Some were indifferent to Io and Daphne, others unhappy from the noise they were making, and others pleased to see young people enjoying their life.

Even so, everyone in Leazes Park agreed: the two women that ran alongside the edge of the lake looked happy.

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