To Be Continued
"A Mango in the hand is worth two in the bush, and other aphorisms."
A week and a half has passed.
Merryt hasn’t reappeared, and I haven’t pursued him. I avoid the area of the forest where his ship presumably still resides. For all I know, though, he and Rejir have packed it in and gone back to Merr, or moved on to somewhere else, maybe even another place on Earth. There’s a certain relief in that idea. Or maybe they went to check out the Venus colonies. When I told him about them, he seemed intrigued that our technology could support life on other worlds in this solar system. CiCi seems to know not to bring him up. I’m sure she will eventually but right now, I’m grateful for the reprieve. I don’t want to listen to an “I told you so” speech.
I keep asking myself what I expected. I don’t know, but I feel alternately sad and anxious. I don’t know what to do, I feel like I can’t stop playing that last weird scene over in my head. The pressing, warm darkness, the silver light from the near-full moon. His hands shoved deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched a bit, oddly defensive as he turned and strode off into the night. What should I have done? I play different scenarios over in my head throughout the day, when I should be meditating, or during appointments with villagers.
Speaking of which...
“Are you alright, priestess?” The voice breaks through my unceasing reverie. I look up from what I’m doing and realize I’m practically grinding some dried rosemary into subatomic particles. I quickly stop what I’m doing, and shake my head, clearing thoughts of running into the dark after the prince, grabbing at his sleeve, making him stop, demanding answers-I shake my head again. Ugh.
“What? I’m sorry, I know I’m distracted. I’m a little tired,” I say to the older woman who is sitting on the pouf on the floor in front of my table in the healing center. I shift my weight, realizing my feet are falling asleep curled under me. Her pale grey-green eyes search my face in concern. A pang of guilt pokes at me. Her name is Regine, and her arthritis has been getting really bad. She came to me to get to the bottom of the problem, and here I am, grinding her herbs into the next dimension and feeling sorry for myself. I shake myself from my reverie, and smile, bringing my focus back to her, pushing thoughts of the Vogwen and their prince into a mental back corner, where they belong.
When Regine has gone, I slowly clean up my work table, feeling more cheerful, and a bit calmer than I did earlier. My palms still tingle where the woman squeezed my hands before she left. I think she’ll be better now.
Finally, I gather up my sage bundles and put them in the wooden box Mom gave me when I was younger. Tucking it back under my prayer altar, I stand up, brushing off my hands. CiCi should be over around mid-morning. She and I have decided to make a trip down to Rio, and stay overnight. I need to get out of my funk, and I love the fabric markets down there.
When she arrives at my door around 11, I grab my bag and lock the door behind me. She and I share a car, since neither of us drive anywhere very often. She drives today, putting the convertible top down as she inserts the key into the ignition.
“It’s cold!” I protest, jabbing the button to close the top back up again. She pouts at me and says, “You’re always cold!” She pokes the button again, and it stops in mid-closure with a clunk and begins sliding back again. “It’s barely 70 out today!” I squawk, punching the button then holding my hand over it protectively. The top jerks and begins grudgingly closing again. She sticks out her tongue at me and puts the car into drive with a shrug. After a second she cranks up the radio. We drive to the transport station to grab an air car. Driving to Rio ourselves would be a huge road trip, but aircars are cheap and fast, and we get there by lunch time.
When we get to the sprawling fabric market, I feel my mood lifting for sure. We go into the barn-like warehouse, and I’m stoked. The minute we walk through the door, though I’m struck by the sheer multitude of bolts of bright orange fabric, piled high on table after table.
“Wow, did an orange dye factory go out of business?” I ask, laughing and picking up a fat bolt of eye-wateringly pumpkin colored silk.
At that moment, a tall, slim guy around our age pops out from around the mountainous heap of fabrics, and says, “Hello ladies! Welcome to the all new Mango Boys’ Fabric Emporium!”
His fluffy golden blond hair hangs roguishly over his forehead, and I see he has a big name badge on his chest that says “Flafrin, Proprietor.”
“Thank you,” I say, noting his outlandish three piece suit, made from collar to pant hem from burnt orange velvet.
CiCi openly gawks at him. He gives her a dazzling smile. “Have you ever heard of the Mango Boys? Surely discerning girls such as yourselves-“
CiCi’s wide blue eyes suddenly narrow, “Wait a second. I think I have heard of the Mango Boys! Aren’t they a gang?”
Flafrin looks at her with exaggerated astonishment.
“I think you have us confused with someone else. The Mango Boys are not a gang! The Mango Boys are a lifestyle! I am the founder, so I would know! We’ve only just opened up shop here in Rio, but our humble beginnings are much farther north, near Santarem!”
I busy myself with some tangerine organza. CiCi, on the other hand, doesn’t know when to keep her face shut, and blurts, “Oh, that’s right near our village!” I could kick her. Instead I wander off a-ways, trying to seem supremely uninterested in anything except fabric, which is relatively accurate.
I hear them continuing to chat, and wander on. Toward the back, on a rickety table under a burnt out lightbulb, I find a table full of fabrics of every color except orange. There’s a coffee stained paper sign taped to the top of the pile stating, “Clearance!” I happily glean a big pile of incredible textiles, and pushing an unstable cart back towards the front half an hour later, I find CiCi still talking to what appears to be the only person who works here, the indomitable Flafrin, Proprietor.
I clear my throat and say, “I think I’m ready to check out now,” giving CiCi a pointed look. Her face is pink, and she’s smiling. The fabric baron looks at my cart in dismay and says, “Oh, but you haven’t even gotten a single bolt of our GOOD products! No offense, but your cart may as well be full of trash!”
I roll my eyes covertly as I look down into my bag for my wallet, but CiCi picks up a traffic cone colored wad of tulle off a nearby table.
“Oooh, get this one, Tmonk-Tmonk!”
I’m not the biggest fan of orange. She knows this. I don’t own a single article of clothing in that shade, unless it’s part of a pattern, and even then. However, I don’t want to be rude, and I’m ready to get out with my spoils. I glance at the price tag and abruptly drop the tulle.
“$75?! For a YARD of tulle? You’ve got to be kidding me!” I yelp.
Flafrin’s smile drops off of his face in an instant.
“Are you insinuating that my products aren’t of impeccable quality?”
I laugh, because this must be a really elaborate joke.
He continues to stare at me, incredulous, then he starts jerkily snatching the fabrics out of my cart and ringing them up aggressively, shoving them into bags which immediately rip with the force. Wordlessly, he points to the total, and I quickly hand him the money, because despite his bizarre turn of mood, the clearance prices are unreal. I grab my bulging, actively disintegrating bags and hurry from the store quickly. I realize within a minute or two that CiCi hasn’t followed me. I sit down on a bench near a mosaic fountain and start trying to consolidate my purchases into the bags with the least holes. In a few minutes, CiCi comes rushing out, again pink in the face, looking flustered.
Scolding me, she says, “Why did you have to be so insulting, Tmonk-Tmonk?”
Excuse me? I stare up at her, eyebrows raised. Her hands are on her hips, and her face is thunderous.
“He wanted $75 for a yard of tulle, CiCi. A yard. OF TULLE. THAT is what’s insulting, not me.”
“Ugh, well could you keep your penny pinching to a minimum when he comes to dinner with us later?”
I drop one of my bags, which promptly explodes, spilling my new fabric all over the ground. Harried, I bend down, scoop it up, and stuff that fabric into one of my two remaining bags, which now bulges threateningly.
“No way. You did not invite that creep to dinner with us!”
“He’s not a creep and honestly, it’s the least I could do after you were so embarrassing!”
We bicker back and forth as we walk through the downtown area. We have to stop for a few minutes as we work our way through a huge crowd waiting outside of what looks like an arena or theatre. I stand on my toes to see through the people queuing up, and I see a marquis proclaiming, “Junior Olympian Gymnastics Semi-Finals Today!” There’s a group of girls around our age in matching red windbreakers just beyond the glass front doors, gathering for what looks like a photo opportunity or meet and greet. A bit apart from the group, there’s another girl with her back to the crowd, also clad in the apparent team uniform, and I see her flick a long honey and chestnut colored ponytail back over her shoulder. Before CiCi pulls my arm, I think I see that she has long, pointed ears like ours-a jolt like electricity goes through me, but then CiCi and I break through the throng and CiCi says, “Ugh, so many people, for gymnastics? Weird.” “Wait, I wanted to get one more look-“ I protest, but when I look back over my shoulder, the crowd is surging inside the front doors which just got thrown open, and I can’t see any of the gymnasts now. A second later, another of my bags ruptures, and in my haste to keep my fabrics out of the leaf choked gutter, I put the ponytail girl out of my mind for the time being.
To Be Continued...