Zerian grumbled. The hot sunlight was creaking its way into his eyelids, and he couldn’t fight it anymore. He felt so sore and exhausted. He wasn’t sleeping well lately.
He rolled out of his lumpy bed and onto the rug to stretch. He glanced around at his little apartment above the shop. He stood and put his hands at his heart, as he was taught, and said his morning Grace of Thanks for all the living and all the dead.
He could hear Bess playing her flute on her balcony above his. Her apartment was directly above, and just a bit smaller. The tune she was playing was light and jaunty. Intriguing, as she didn’t usually play so happily.
“Good morning Bess,” he called as he pushed aside the woven doorway and onto the balcony.
She quickly stopped playing and he heard some heavy footsteps.
SWOOSH – she had swung herself from the railing above and tumbled onto his balcony, tucking into a roll and landing on her feet. A true nimble gymnast. “Thank goodness you never move your furniture, Z, or I’d be dead.” She was quite solemn – but Zerian had to laugh.
Bess was wearing a leather-tooled top with four strings that tied behind her neck and back. She was always exposing her midriff for all the universe to behold, before being interrupted by her tawny, gauzy leggings and heavy belt that supposedly kept them in place. She was quite a personality, but to Zerian she seemed like a typical portrait of her people, the Medoin, a primarily nomadic nation that took great pride in boldness and barbarity. She flashed him a challenging and charming smile.
Zerian thought he was in love with her once. It was shortly after they first started working together.
He remembered that golden afternoon when he thought he had said all the right witty things, and she smiled back at him. That same charming and challenging smile. He leaned a little closer – edging for a kiss, maybe – hopeful and optimistic as he was. But then time stood still and Bess busted out laughing at him. He was both confused and insulted, and Bess slapped him on the shoulder.
“Z, you had me going – you cannot be serious,” she almost bellowed.
“I – I am. I feel a connection with you Bess,” Zerian stated, almost pleadingly. Then he turned defensive.
“C’mon Bess – are my feelings lying to me? Are you telling me I’m completely wrong? I totally misinterpreted the intentions?” He bristled. He thought this was a sure thing. He felt attracted to her, and her to him – she couldn’t have ignored their chemistry!
“Zerian boy,” she wiped away a tear of laughter, “You are not in love with me.” She stared deep into him. “You are in love with the idea of me. Not the actual me – the idea of me. And you want that for yourself. If you strived to live like I do, and swagger like the Medoin, then you would have figured out that it was never ME. It was always about YOU.”
Zerian remembered that day clearly, and the way it stripped him. He had been incredulous. First of all – he had never wanted to be like Bess. It was arrogant of her to assume something like that.
Or did he?
Also, when did Bess start talking like a fortune-teller or some kind of know-it-all who could see into his soul?
She was always like that – you just refused to see her that way.
But she didn’t know him that well – only a few months. It was all just conjecture.
A few months is enough time, especially if you are a fortune-teller…
Gah! Zerian shook his head and admonished his ridiculous out-of-line thoughts. Back to the present moment. The one where Bess and him were not in love, the one where he definitely didn’t want to be like her, where she was certainly not some wise sage from the temple high, and the one where she was just a good friend.
A great friend, actually.
Bess was still standing before him, waiting patiently for him to gather his foggy morning thoughts (something she did a lot).
“So – ready to open the shop or you want to break your fast first? I’m in the mood for fish.”
She started towards the door without waiting for an answer. Zerian grabbed his shoes and they pounded down the stairs to the street.
Keep going to Part 3