Part Three: Status
“Two years to remove one pesky weed!” The king growls. He slumps in his throne with a momentary expression of relief. Since reporting news of the plant, our soldiers immediately searched through each quadrant of our territory, though its seeds had already spread invasively rooting itself near Gu sh’wah bushes. Warnings were sent to neighboring tribes, though the G’yote spat on us over our concern for a delicate flower.
Opar crosses his arms. “How can farm boy send out a warning and for two years we’re the ones weeding? Oh King if I may ask, why not have sent the harvesters to venture though the jungle since they seem oh so familiar with foreign vegetation.”
“The more who know of their capabilities…” my words stammer out by the intimidation of my superiors. “It is best to keep the mortality rate low amongst our tribe.
“It’s an easy murder—one even an irate wife could take advantage of.” Fakusha’s eldest brother jests with a curl of his lip, addressing his comrade’s crumbling marriage in a playful manner.
“It does not explain his knowledge over vegetation foreign to us.”
“I know tribesmen from faraway places…” again my words fumble out.
“Speak up!” The king hollers, slamming his fist on the throne’s arm.
“My mother has had visitors over the years.” I intentionally leave the comment vague in hopes to cut off his hopes of further interrogation.
“Ridwiqu’Mar’s mother has slept with spies.” Opar hisses. “Another reason of the many to distrust him.” My gaze drifts to my toes.
The king raises his hand, silence fills the room. “What is important, is this weed has been eradicated before Fakusha’s betrothed has stepped foot on our territory.” A Yoluku ship arrived not long ago. “Have the women decorate our village, the tenting ceremony shall commence tomorrow at dusk.”
A nimble messenger in cobalt blues rushes into the throne room with a small ornate basket in his arms, interrupting our private meeting. Wide eyes glare at him. He falls to his knees holding the basket over his head towards King Torajamaku and his wife.
Opar peeks into the basket then hands it to the king.
“Our prince wishes to maintain favor with the Aykotah, however—”
“However?” Torajamaku stands.
“Let him finish, dear.” The queen hushes reaching for his hand. The king returns to his throne. “Please continue.”
The messenger swallows, inhales a deep breath then nods. “The prince you wish to marry Lady Fakusha revokes your offer as he is now to be wed to Borreka Gush’yanda of the G’yote tribe.”
“Huan Ni’guaro’s sister? He rejected his opportunity to lead our tribe as king to marry a G’yote? Why?”
“It seems she has offered a larger dowry.” Spears tap his spine. His voice now quavering, “Please, I am only the messenger.” I withhold my smirk, thankful I gave the G’yote shaman the suggestion. That will give Fakusha and me a minimum of three full moons to prevent her next betrothal.
The king stares down into his lap to inspect the gift. “Candles and candied fish?” His brow perks, insulted. “He wishes to subdue my wrath with a small bottle of wine?”
“The finest our island has to offer.” The Yoluku messenger adds watching Opar’s scowl increase.
“Offer this!” Our king chucks the candle against the wall, cracking it through the center without it splitting. “Your people will not be granted access to my daughter’s wedding when the time arises. Leave.”
The messenger nods then scurries out. Our king motions for the soldier next to me to confirm he returns to the boat promptly.
Opar picks the candle off the floor and returns it to the gift basket. Rubbing the deep grooves in his forehead, the king lets out a melodramatic sigh. “Opar gather your troop. You leave tomorrow to alert the other princes.” He notions me to his presence. I bow, though he holds the basket out to me.
“Alert Fakusha of this delay, will you?”
“Yes oh king.”
“And scold her on any enthusiasm the news may bring her.”
“Scold her, oh king?”
“Use your friendly charisma before she plots how to dismiss the next prince I choose.”
The waves thrash onto the shore along the beach residing next to the fiery mountains. “Were you sent to distract me as the tribeswomen decorate the village?” Fakusha overlooks the azure waters. “I find it doubtful Father would spare you the day for us to trek here. It still boggles my mind you work for him.”
I smirk. “Everyone works for the king.”
“You know what I meant, silly.” She punches my arm while straddled over a driftwood log. I sit on the ground below, watching wave after wave crash into the sand then retreat.
“You will not meet your betrothed tomorrow. He gave you this in hopes to compensate for the heartache. It seems he has fallen for another maiden, one far more lady-like than a feisty princess who deems it appropriate to beat her guards.”
She rolls her eyes, lashes fluttering to the falling sun. “Can we open the basket now?” I snigger handing it over.
“Oooh! Is this for me? Cheers good friend.” She holds the bottle high. “To not marrying strangers!” She pops open the bottle and chugs.
“Whoa!” I spin to rip the bottle from her grip. “Your father would be furious if I let you drink this all to yourself.” I take a swig of the nutty brew. She nabs the bottle back so I snatch a handful of the candied fish, finding the flavor overly appealing.
Pausing from the bottle, she nibbles at the fish then spits it out.
“I thought you liked candied fish.”
“This is Yoluku candied fish.”
“It’s a delicacy nobles eat to provoke a mood.” She chugs more wine. I swear, that woman drinks like her brothers. “How do you not know this?”
“Still… your mom’s as educated as our witch doctor on these matters. Was this prince from the Yoluku tribe?”
“You know I am not permitted to admit anything on who you will or no longer will marry.”
Fakusha slides off the log to offer me the bottle. She lays her head on my lap to stare up into the early stars. “It’s a strange present nonetheless.” Holding up the candle she tinkers with the broken seam.
Watching her, my lips rest on the smooth glass edge of the bottle. “Don’t. I need to fix it.”
“It’s wax, you can mend it just as easily if I…” The candle snaps in half. She holds her nose to it enjoying its fragrance. She lifts it to me for a sniff. Pleasant, sure. We swap bottle for candle when I notice the stiff wick.
I smell the candle again, the scent familiar. Fakusha holds her palm for my dagger. I hand it over without a second thought, studying the candle further. She breaks off a dry twig from the driftwood.
“I’ve only seen these in flowers yellow and orange.” She removes a flint stone from her travel pouch to light the useable half of the candle. My eyes widen to the burning stem pinched between her finger tips. I catch her wrist and blow it out.
We’re nose to nose when footsteps shift the sand above us.
My gaze travels beyond her loose braids to the fully armored soldier confidently striding towards us with a wicked glint to his stoic face. A thick coil of rope hangs off his broad shoulder. From day one he’s been scheming to remove me and here’s his chance wafting in front of him like roasted boar meat on a golden platter.
“Greetings Opaaar. Wish to join usss?” she offers holding her near empty bottle up high.
His lips twitch upward.
“Aren’t you supposed to be gathering your troop for tomorrow’s sailing?” I ask.
Opar flicks the dirt from his nails. “We’re packed and ready.”
“Don’t you have a wife?” I hiss. Spending many hours by the king’s side rather than hers, then to head off for a long journey, he should cherish what short moments are offered. “What are you doing here?”
He plants himself on the log above us. I sit back, though Fakusha unaware of the tension lifts the basket to him offering the final scrap of candied fish. His feet dangle between us, like an unwanted chaperone he spaces us apart. “My apologies, did I spoil the mood?”
Fakusha guffaws. “You’d assume so, but Ridwiqu’Mar likes his head on his body.”
“I do.” Ripping the bottle from her hand, I offer the remaining drips in hopes it would help him unwind. “Wine?”
He shakes his head. “My father said he saw you two running off to the bushes up to no good, and well… he was correct.” His glare drops to Fakusha whose gaze can barely focus on the braids she’s fiddling with. “Strong wine, it seems.”
I gulp. “Unfortunately so.” Scratching my scalp I offer, “There’s nothing I could do that could delay this report, is there?”
Opar hops off the log and motions me to the open sandy expanse. “What’s that game you two used to play? King-Guard?”
“King and Protector.”
“Hmm. Yes. She would shout commands from the tree tops and you would hit the bushes with your measly little stick.” He tosses me the rope.
“You wish to play King and Protector with us? We’re um… seems inappropriate given our age.” The imaginative game is meant for young children. Normally there would be two sides. One person would be the king who is held hostage, the rest or in our case, just me would be the loyal army. The two sides would fight until the king is saved or has escaped on their own. Fakusha and I would just pretend we had opposition, or half way in I’d pretend I defeated the hoards and was able to finally rescue her.
Fakusha slaps my back. “Oh Ridwiqu’Mar, it will be fun. Tie me up! Tie me up!” I do so cautiously. “Oh come on. You can make it tighter. Don’t go easy on me.”
Opar unsheathes his sword. “Your game seemed redundant without a formidable enemy. The king is impressed by your swordsmanship. I am not, you are schmoozing him to increase your ranks while seducing his daughter behind his back.”
I join Opar in the expanse, balancing the pommel in the palm of my hand. Violent waves wash out the jungle sounds. “Why can’t you appreciate my skill?” Why can’t he assess me in public? Throwing my sword in the air, I catch it by the hilt. He charges with a powerful two handed swing.
“You shouldn’t be a soldier.” My weapon is jostled from the forceful impact. Push and pull, metal scrapes metal. Skill aside, owning a dull overworked weapon holds a heavy disadvantage. A few more weighty impacts and the handle could split apart. “You’re a harvester’s son. That’s who you are. This life was never meant for you. Lady Fakusha shouldn’t know your name. You’re born from infidelity. Go back to the fields, farm boy.”
I boot him a step back, though like Fakusha his stance is firm. Glimpses of steel breeze by my limbs. Soft clinks of my weapon dodge most the strikes. Experience and talent aside, I refuse to lose in Fakusha’s presence.
“Are you jealous I’ve caught the king’s attention?” I pivot, deflecting a stab forcing his blade’s direction to the sky. I must be careful; he could slam his meaty head into mine if I leave myself exposed for an extended moment. “Or is this because you’re second, and you’ll always be second. There is no promotion for you. There never will be. Even if the king died, you will never rule. Joroar, your father perhaps but…”
A pungent scent chokes out my breath—Poison.
He kicks me to the ground. I roll in the sand dodging his painted blade. Recognizing the coating in the moonlight, the malodorous sap is deadly.
My jaw drops, my glance to Fakusha is brief. Clutching sand in my free hand, I bare my teeth, and charge him for a lethal strike.
Even if the king dies, as long as the queen lives, whomever Fakusha marries remains eligible for the Aykotah throne. Technically, the queen could remarry and have more daughters, but if her only daughter were to die...
Opar came to confirm her mortality. How easy it would be for him to murder her, then sail off at dawn.
“Wow! Great acting! This is fun.” Fakusha cheers, very drunk. She doesn’t even try to untie her own ropes.
“The late king Xund’Mar was my uncle. Tribes feared us under his rule. The Miroregos throw their riches to the wind and our village suffers.”
“The village was in ruin upon Torajamaku’s arrival. His charity has lifted our spirits. Your uncle was a tyrant!” I growl, releasing the sand into his face. He picks at his eyes, while wavering his weapon with half the control. How dare he attack her? She is our tribe’s only hope to prosper.
A faulty swing on his part provides me the opportunity to disarm him. The sword flings towards the sea as I strike him to the ground.
How dare he attack my…
With my sword at his throat, I motion Fakusha to me. She wobbles and hops—trips, laughs, then scoots close enough for me to untie the rope while keeping the threat at bay. “Since our king is gracious enough to allow a harvester’s son such as myself to fight for him, perhaps he will show mercy to your betrayal.”
“He may favor you over his sons, but I am his personal guard.” The gift was presented to the king.
Repulsed, I shake my head tying him with the ropes, creating a tight leash to drag him back home. “One who paid a messenger for false report?”
Unfortunately I focus most my attention to assisting Fakusha through the rough jungle trail. She trips over few roots, complains about being sore, to then sing offensively loud. Our hostage is not threatened in the least, mocking us—primarily me the whole journey back to the village.
“Heavy speculations considering the Yoluku prince did send their rejection.”
“Perhaps.” However, they would not bother with a gift at all would they? The candle, wine and fish, it would create a mood not for the king’s daughter but the king himself. The fumes would poison him and whoever he lit the candle for. Since he is a faithful man, the queen would fall too. “Though Keyla’s candle making skills are nearly as reputable as her…” I clear my throat. “She is popular among merchants.”
Opar ignores me.
“And your sister has been engaged to whom? For how many years?” I tug at the rope. “The Wek’Wek prince rejected the offer to become king of the Aykotah through Lady Fakusha, when he could have a more patsy consort. Why, Opar?”
“I am but a loyal son.”
“And a greedy fool.”
We approach the throne room at dawn. Fakusha drapes her arms over my shoulders, collapsing on my back.
The king raises a brow. “Opar?” Why aren’t you on the docks? Why is my daughter drunk? Why are you bundled in rope being dragged on a leash? With the bewildered look on his face, he shows uncertainty to where his interrogation should begin.
“I caught these two—”
“You caught nothing.” He turns to me, shifting his weight from one arm of his throne to the other. “Explain.” Opar opens his mouth. Torajamaku lifts his hand, “Ridwiqu’Mar, explain.”
“Joroar tries to overthrow you.”
The king’s brows rise. He motions me to continue.
“That white flower is common on the islands of the Wek’Wek, Wu’Wu Suoluangah, and Shi’queteih people. Joroar is second in line to the throne with his blood ties to the late king Xund’Mar. I noticed, I mean… the arrival of that weed corresponds to his daughter’s engagement to the Wek’Wek prince. They remain unmarried after three years of this announcement. His niece, an expert candle maker was the creator of yesterday’s gift containing none other than…”
“Yes, oh king. Her little brother insisted on giving Fakusha bouquet after bouquet. At first his infatuation seemed innocent, though he always seemed to pick the wrong blossoms. Opar here, challenged me to a duel and well, you are aware of the result. However, he carried this rope and his blade was poisoned.”
“Indeed, oh king.”
“And my daughter’s state?”
“Uh… yes. The wine was safe for consumption. The Yoluku fish too… the present given to you and your wife.”
He scowls following my insinuation. “Not the worst assassination attempt, I suppose.” Opar’s eyes drift to the floor boards, accepting his fate. The king glances to the wall in the direction of the bedroom chambers. “It is a good day to be alive.”
I nod in agreement.
The king grins, his attention tilts to Fakusha. Her eyes fight to remain open. “Take her to her mat, will you, Ridwiqu’Mar?” I nod following command. “With haste, you’re needed at the dock.”
I toss the rope end to Torajamaku. My eyes widen comprehending his unspoken praise. Opar’s position is mine. I’m… I’m the king’s guard?
Bound yet silent, Opar grimaces.
The king scratches his beard, shifting his gaze between us two, “I can’t have second best by my side, now can I?” He stomps on the rope as I piggyback his daughter to her chamber.
Softly I place her down. She grips my armor as I pry her stiff fingers free, her lips brush my cheekbone. I blink, somehow stunned more by her action than her Father’s words. Fakusha may never remember this moment, but I’ll cherish it forever. My body floods with heat, returning promptly to serve the king.
Thanks for reading Ridwiqu'Mar's story. You will be able to find him and the character's mentioned in The Aykotah Daughter.
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Part Two: Advancement
“How does a farm boy like you end up joining us selected few?” Opar says with furrowed brows or brow. His excessive hair and the thick muscle ahead his eyes are intimidating. He and Fakusha’s eldest brother are traditionalists, never speaking a word to me instead giving me a limited range of growls and grunts.
However, I envy his position—the king’s guard, no everything about this cold glaring man I covet, a life by the king’s side and his advisor for all things military. His father, Joroar is next in line to the Aykotah throne.
Musicians exuberantly play as guests sing and dance to their melodies. Festive powders and paints are thrown at the G’yote royals to promote passion and blessings. The fire is stoked for flames taller than me.
“Especially after that stunt you played.” Fakusha’s eldest brother adds. “Her secrets should not be kept from the king—”
“Since you have delayed our search for a new ruler, Torajamaku was furious, yet you gain promotion after promotion.” Opar adds. “Why are you here, dirt digger?”
I bite my lip. My armor still seems loose after mornings training and evenings assisting with the fields. My brother’s muscles aren’t quite developed yet for the task, yet mine seem overworked. I don’t know. Why am I at the new G’yote king’s wedding?
“Opar!” The Aykotah queen hisses. “Smile, be happy for Huan Ni’guaro and his new wife.”
Aykotah do not share the same enthusiasm, though he masks it well with a stoic expression. “A G’yote queen…” Opar mumbles. “Oh king, not that I should question your motives, for I am sure there is valid reasoning to why you attend, but why is he here?” His head jerks to my direction.
“Wives.” Fakusha’s eldest brother blurts glancing over the dancing crowd to his grinning brothers. “Huan Ni’guaro has many sisters.”
The king’s lip curls upward. He too faces the crowd. Motioning me to him, he snags my borrowed cloak with a strong grip of my shoulder. “Perhaps not wives, but husbands for you know who.”
“You are her closest friend, are you not?”
My startled eyes quiver from his commanding glare.
“We could meet each prince individually through formal invitation, or send them a friendly greeting tonight.” He chuckles, “And maybe find you a wife.”
“It was a joke. A tribal princess would not marry a harvester’s son like you, though with your swordsmanship skills you show promise under my reign.” He strokes his chin, “A servant perhaps, but the G’yote people are garbage. You may as well cling with one from our tribe.”
“Oh king, did you just… give me marital advice?”
“You’ll grow to be a good man, Ridwiqu’Mar. I wouldn’t allow you near my daughter’s presence if you were as distasteful as…” he clears his throat while G’yote tribesmen pass us by.
Our queen winks to her husband, inviting him to a dance.
“I value your insight. Weed the uninspiring princes out for me will you?” I raise my brow perplexed by my role. “Find us a prince which appropriates with her trait.”
I scratch my scalp, baffled. Do I truly believe there is a man among this crowd that would make Fakusha a better husband than I? Hush, Ridwiqu’Mar, you should not hold such arrogance. She is royal, you are not!
In the distance, our shaman speaks shoulder to shoulder with the G’yote’s facing me. Through the smoke and tunes before us, their voices seem inaudible.
Fakusha’s brother bumps into me. “Matchmaker huh?”
Opar crosses his arms. Veins bulge through the knotted muscle. “Don’t mess up.”
I shake my head. “Never.” One failure and I am back to mulching the earth for the rest of my life. Avoiding them, I enter the dancing crowd wishing for Fakusha’s presence.
“Look at that soldier.” A maiden snickers to her a friend. “Me… oh no. I can’t.” She glances back. Friendly, I wave. She covers her mouth giggling. “Fine. It’s a fluke he noticed. I mean he’s Aykotah so there’s no chance he will ever want—”
“Go already!” Her friend nudges pushing her into my chest.
She makes amusing accompaniment while I scope the guests.
A scrawny tribesman dark as midnight in elaborate gown swings his arms for the crowd’s attention with a roulougri in his right hand. Very few have the patience to learn the complex windpipe instrument. His comrade snickers next to him with a drum slung around his hip.
Huan Ni’guaro lifts his hand from his betrothed’s hip, stepping away from a passionate spit-swap from her—awfully jovial for a man whose father died less than a season ago. “What is it brother?”
Brother? That runt is a prince? Though he may hold a year or two above me, his figure is dainty. The maiden rests her head on my shoulder, wrapping her arm around my back. I grip my sword’s hilt as precaution. Never trust the enemy.
“Ah-hem.” A wide grin spreads to both cheeks. “For you and your new wife… a song of everlasting love, suiting for a marriage. For this one woman you will cherish for…” I snicker from his crackling voice.
Huan Ni’guaro’s eyebrow twitches with a foul expression of irritation. “One verse, Ni’guah guah.”
His comrade rolls his eyes drumming the hide with two cushioned mallets. This Ni’guah guah lifts the roulougri to his lips. A few notes in, the instrument squeaks like his voice. A darkened blush fills his cheek. He tries again, though it appears he needs more practice.
Having enough, Huan Ni’guaro walks over rips it out from his hands and snaps a pipe off the instrument, throwing it all into the fire. Close enough, I hear his whisper, “You’re an embarrassment.” The prince rushes to retrieve it. Nothing about this runt says ‘War-lord’, especially if he can’t defend his honor. Here I thought I was pathetic.
The maiden next to me gapes at the man over my shoulder. Another prince, by the symbols scarred on his chest, I recognize him from the Heir’Kurmaka tribe. Though his people worship demons, he holds the attributes my king looks for.
He pinches Ni’guah guah’s robe then points to our king, mortifying the runt with embarrassment. I grin craftily pondering Fakusha’s reaction if I were to recommended this runt as her betrothed.
Torajamaku approaches them first.
“Why is the Aykotah king...” My dance partner plays with her necklace ogling the charmer next to my king.
“Our king seeks a prince for his daughter. Who in this crowd would you choose?” My eyes travel to the Wek’Wek prince conversing with Yoluku and Wu’Wu Suoluangah royals. She shakes her head at my suggestion. “Why not him?” I ask. The maiden’s attention remains fixed on the thick arms of the Heir’Kurmaka prince.
“Haven’t you heard? He’s engaged to one of your Aykotah.”
“He is?” I raise my brow. “Who?”
Pointing to Opar she replies, “His sister.”
“Where were you!” Fakusha shoves me with both palms, furious. I catch myself on the mossy tree behind me in this thick lush jungle. Stars line the sky. Neither of us should be here alone far beyond curfew. Yet here we are catching up for lost time. Between training and harvesting a bountiful crop, it seems I see less of my friend and more a royal in recent days.
“Serving the king, Lady Fakusha.”
She groans. “Don’t Lady Fakusha me, Ridwiqu’Mar. Serving my father in what capacity, huh? How could you go to the wedding I couldn’t. It’s not fair. You get to travel, meet foreign women, consume wine, and I’m trapped here cleaning after my baby brother.”
I lean up against the tree exhausted. She called for this meeting, I could use the rest. Threatening to leave I pat my yawn.
“It’s all your fault, you know. If you had tied that basket shut, I would have been free to join the celebration…”
Before she can finish that thought I interject, “Your brother was towering over me. I barely had a moment to scrub my pits.”
“Anyone can tower you, runt.” She plunks her fist over my head to remind me of our height difference.
“Hey, finding you a prince that won’t break his neck to look way up at you will be a challenge.”
“Finding a prince?”
“Nope. I said nothing!” I press my hand over my mouth.
“Ridwiqu’Mar!” She slides her fist down and makes another to prop on her hips. “I don’t want to get married. I’m going to be king remember? You will be my soldier.”
I shrug. “Well I am a soldier, so…”
Wandering off a few steps, she peeks through the bush to the moonlit waters. “It’s just… if I were to marry a stranger. We’ll have to kiss.”
I press both hands now over my lips acting out a violent gag. Her kissing another man? No. I won’t have it. Fakusha rolls her eyes at me, unimpressed.
“Grow up. Aren’t you old enough to be attracted by girls? Shouldn’t kissing be interesting to you now?” Her eyes widen with a snap of her fingers. “You have kissed other girls…”
I snigger, rubbing at my nose faking my confidence, though the answer is just once and it was odd.
“I should be… what if…” Pivoting on her heel, her approach is slow. One, two, three steps and we’re a hair apart.
“Don’t Lady Fakusha me.”
“You’re right. You’re not much of a lady.”
She growls, smacking my chest. I grip her wrist, meeting her gaze with hooded eyes. “I’d be an embarrassment to the tribe if I were to fail at such a task… and you being my closest friend and all…”
“Closest…” I murmur, my heart racing, pounding violently against my chest. Her fingernails tap my leather armor. You’re the reason I train. I dreamt of serving the king to be closer to you. Is it terrible to share a lifetime in want, hungry yet never satisfied?
“Yes! Great! If you do not mind—as friends of course… helping each other, yes? Yes,” she says with a glint of determination in her eyes. “Two friends helping each other out. Perhaps, this skill could persuade our future partners. No one will have to know, because we’re simply doing each other a favor…” rambling with such enthusiasm her words loop.
“For us to kiss?” I clarify, bewildered by her enthusiasm.
“Platonically, of course.”
“Fakusha?” Each word to follow my voice softens. Should she worry whether a man will wish to kiss her or not? I doubt so.
“You are beautiful.” Suddenly the cool evening air seems searing hot like the midday’s sun.
“I know.” She rolls her eyes as-matter-of-fact.
“And… this is what you truly wish from me?”
“Could you kiss me?”
“Could I or should I?” We need to clarify this before I’m caught in the act and exiled to a distant island. I swallow, the saliva thick down my throat, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. She stares down to my hand. I release her wrist.
“I’ll make it quick.”
A smirk curls up my cheek. “Of course you would.” I shake my head. “Nothing comes out of haste, my…” I clear my throat. “…friend.” A platonic kiss? Is there such a thing? Though, if she declines one of true intent and tattles to her father, it’s off the island for me.
She snuffs hot air onto my face. “Fine. I’m going to kiss now, okay?”
“Okay?” Frantically she rubs her sweaty palms on the sides of her multi-fringed skirt, looking away.
“Are you going to kiss me?”
She picks a blade of grass off my armor. “Aren’t you supposed to close your eyes… first?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never kissed a princess before, let alone one who acts entitled to kiss my mouth albeit completely forbidden to do so.” Silence boy, you’ll ruin this moment.
“Well I’m going to kiss you on the mouth.”
She squints. “Okay! I’m going to kiss you now.”
Fakusha tilts, eyes slit at mine, biting back a growl. Is this it? Are we going to become each other’s secret, betraying the next king all for the sake of love? It would not be fair on behalf of our people, however, when have they been fair to me? No prince will understand her like I, here in this moment, friends… almost more.
Her breath is warm as my cheeks. I brace my hands on the top of her hips, soft—womanly. It won’t be long before men will desire her womb.
The tip of her nose scrapes mine sensitive against the new metal, though I refuse to complain. Bitter cold skin taps mine. I part my lips then…
“Lady Fakusha?” calls the distant voice. “Lady Fakusha, are you there?”
Our eyes widen. She pushes off me then darts deeper into the woods. My back pounds into the tree once again.
“Ridwiqu’Mar?” a fellow soldier asks, “Were you just with… was that… have you seen Lady Fakusha?”
He holds a bouquet of wildflowers in his hand. I squint. “Stay away from her. You know the law.”
“I uh… yes, only a friendly gesture.”
“Like your wagers on who can disrobe her first?” I rest my hand on my sword. “Try again and I’ll dismember you.” His face pales. Perfect, he understands. “Goodnight.”
With a nod, he drops the flowers and scurries off to the village. I sigh with relief, wiping the clammy sweat beading off my forehead then squat down to inspect the flowers, all various blossoms in white though one peaks my interest.
Three cones per stem, safe to smell yet toxic to burn. I twirl the stem between my fingertips. Often this bloom is mistaken for its golden ancestor used as an active ingredient in perfumes. However this variety is not native to this island, so how could he have found them? I pocket them for safe keeping—for the king.
Will Ridwiqu'Mar follow Torajamaku's orders or his heart?
Find out in the final segment of his story in "Part Three: Status"
Part One: Impressions
“Aaaaaaugh!” The cry echoes across the azure waters on this blistering hot day. It’s too late to back down. Forget the stoic expression I held seconds ago, my comrades mock me now.
Miroreka Fakusha teases me with a snigger, her face adorned with jewels.
The earlobes were fine. Oh how I’ve been horribly misinformed the wall between my nostrils would be indifferent. I glare up to her older brothers, particularly the one who pierced me.
“You’re not going to impress anyone if you cry like a baby.” he says cleaning his needle in the ocean.
“I could always return the favor.” I growl back waving my scrimshaw dagger.
“I’ll pass.” His gaze travels to the young ladies nursing their firstborns under the jungle shade. It’s a beautiful day, one worth halting obligations for. “I’m not in that pool anymore, remember?”
His sister wanders off to dote over the babes, though her hips have a natural sway—unforgivable for me to admire, since she is the king’s only daughter destined to become the incarnate representation of the Aykotah. That prince, whoever he will be will be granted dominion over our tribe, meanwhile I’m at the lowest rank in the Aykotah social class. I’m about as despised as a barren woman in a tribe that adorns fertility.
“You on the other hand, Ridwiqu’Mar should consider finding a… naaah. Start flirting.” He turns to his brothers, “He needs to stop bantering with my sister before the tribesmen start accusing him of being her personally assigned eunuch.”
I choke on my spit.
He pauses to watch Keyla stride along the beach towards the merchants with a basket full of candles. “Hmm. What about her?”
I raise my brow not giving her a consideration. My mind, no my heart is already set, throwing all caution to the wind, when Fakusha became more than a girl who used to push me into the mud or play ‘warriors’ with me with sticks we’d fashion into swords. She has this dream that instead of marrying a foreign prince, she will forgo the role of queen and rule the tribe instead. That she would become king of the Aykotah, and riling her up brings the sparkle to her eyes.
Only I would be exiled if I ever showed interest in courting her. Being the only daughter to King Mirorego Torajamaku, marrying within this tribe is forbidden, let alone a harvester’s son—like me. I am a pureblood Aykotah unless I abandon my allegiance. Plus, my siblings’ paternal history varies.
Keyla flicks her long braids behind her ear in a dramatic motion inviting men to gawk. Perhaps the Miroregos suggest Keyla because rumors claim she lack piety and the chances of me settling with a woman with her virtue in tact is unlikely. Her father’s lineage does holds merit since her uncle Joroar is second in line to the throne. If I were to successfully pursue her, there is a chance our child could follow my dreams and serve the king—Fakusha’s future consort. I shake my head to clear the daunting thought.
“Really? She’s staring your way.”
“Keyla.” He clarifies the ‘she’ as if I didn’t clue in.
Fakusha’s second eldest brother gives me a shove. “Ridwiqu’Mar, one of these days you’re going to have to stop pretending you’re a soldier and settle down. Sure, sure you spend all your time hanging around a girl, but Fakusha isn’t any help when it comes to women, or competition. You’re never going to prove to the maidens of our village your worth if your feeding our sister’s ego from the treetops.”
I squint. We haven’t played ‘King and Protector’ in those forts for a full year now.
Another brother interjects, “Besides she needs to spend more time with the ladies to become one.” He winks at his wife. She blows him a kiss back which he catches with pride. “No prince is going to want her with a farm boy shadowing her.”
“Farm boy?” I repeat back. “Say that again at blade-point.”
“Why do you even spend time with her?” Galukush, her younger brother adds. And here I thought they appreciated my friendship. “How are you… still?”
I hop off the driftwood log and hold my hand out for a sword to borrow. The brother I challenged unsheathes his. We stand two arm lengths away from each other. “Your mother required healing after Fakusha’s birth, so she summoned my mother to nurse her… then we became playmates… so the story goes on. I keep her out of trouble, don’t I?”
“No, you cover it up. You kiss her...”
The older brother clears his throat then waves the sword around.
“I was going to say feet.” Galukush shakes his head at his older brother, though he’s ready to duel.
“This is the part where you wager with Keyla that if you win, she brings you—just you… dinner on the docks tonight.” I snort.
“You dare not go easy on me, I thought you Miroregos were a dignified bunch.” My sword may point to the second eldest, but with that jest I threaten all nine sons. I counter his intimidations with my own tricks, practicing the weight of the blade by flipping it through the air and controllably around my limbs. “Fight me and if you lose, Fakusha and I will call you farm boy.”
They laugh. “If you win? I’m one of father’s greatest soldiers. Need I remind you, you are but a little boy? How old are you, ten?” Fourteen. “If you can defeat me, I’ll hint to Father myself that you should lead in our next battle.”
Fakusha returns taking a seat by her younger brother. “Careful you’re dripping everywhere Ridwiqu’Mar. His wife would have a fit if she has to wash blood out of his clothing.” She taps her chin. “On that subject, why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”
I shrug. “It’s a hot day.”
She pinches her top. The indigo fabrics embroidered with intricate detail, a garment my kin could never afford.
“How are you not sweating in that robe?”
“It’s a shirt.”
“If it covers your knees it’s a robe.”
“It doesn’t explain why you’re not wearing a shirt.”
“Well Lady Fakusha, I’ve been tilling the earth all morning not prancing around the village.”
“Prancing?” Her dark glare catches my opponent’s attention. “Get him!” she commands. My eyes widen, but I grip the hilt in time to defend the startling blow.
Metal scrapes metal. Her brother has the advantage on weight, like her he is strong, so I do what I always do when dueling with Fakusha: dodge, deflect, defeat.
Again our swords clink, after a crafty pivot under his free arm. He lifts his monstrous leg to boot my gut, but I somersault around him again, spring to my feet with the given momentum, and tap my sword’s tip on his leather armor between his shoulder blades.
“Beginner’s luck,” he hisses as he drops his sword in the sand to surrender. “I’ll talk to Father.” His tone glum, I suppose so if an enthusiastic amateur beat him at his own game.
A deep voice carries over the beach. “No need.” Their father, King Torajamaku crosses his arms with a smug glint in his eyes. The shaman and a two soldiers trail him. “Young Ridwiqu’Mar, is it?”
“Yes, I am he.” I bow immediately. No, that is not enough! I fall to my face, sand sticks to my bare stomach. He nods, then returns to the village core.
Composing myself, Fakusha whips her arms around me in a tight hug.
“Hey, why’d you pick his side?” I ask Fakusha returning the sword.
“I did no such thing.”
I cross my arms, unimpressed.
“You don’t need the encouragement,” she says elbowing her glum brother. “How’s your mother? She um… how many moons until her baby comes?”
I raise my brow noticing her lengthy skirt on a hot day like this. “Two full moons roughly. She’s definitely showing in her final season.”
Fakusha bites her lip. “Hmm. Yes.” Picking at her braids, her brothers decide to wander off, most likely assuming we’re going to chat about girly topics. They are correct.
“You will have to find another person to borrow from or find a new solution soon.”
She grunts. “I know.” Retying the leather bands around her ankles, she asks, “Could you bring them tonight?”
I nod. “I will place the basket by the other offerings in the throne room as usual.” Since my mother is with child, she has no need for the extra cloth. For Fakusha, using her own would attract the attention she seeks to avoid.
She nods back. “Thank you.”
Though she pivots, I catch her wrist. “You can’t keep this a secret much longer. The tribe will catch on through your omission. If not this, they’ll note the other changes to your body.”
“I’ll tie my torso wrap tighter,” I gulp. One day that action will bring more attention than divert it, though I seal my lips to prevent a stinging backhanded slap. “Flowing fabrics to distract from any oncoming matronly shape, I’ll find ways…”
“They will find you a prince, nonetheless Lady Fakusha. You are to be our queen. You will be forced to marry and that man will demand an heir—whether or not he knows now it is a possibility.”
She rolls her eyes, “Don’t remind me.”
“You have been summoned by the king to the throne room.” The voice belongs to Fakusha’s eldest brother, his command coming from the bottom doorstep to my mother’s home. I pause from carving a bone hilt.
“May I wash up first?” My dark skin is plastered in golden mud and diced leaves stick to my ankles.
He nods. “Make it quick.”
I shake my head entering the hut. After a brief scrub, I rush to tie on my formal wear, though it is generations old and lacks the frivolity most tribesmen are privileged with. In a hurry, I stuff the closed basket with my mother’s bandages, the ones Fakusha has been borrowing for the last two seasons.
“An offering?” He scrutinizes the container from afar.
“Supplies for Fakusha’s latest project,” I smirk, latest scheme is more like it. “Might as well make one less trip, yes?”
He squints, lacking humor. He’s never liked me, probably because I’m too relaxed around the royal family. Perhaps he believes I will indulge in this privilege.
Arriving at the throne room, I place the basket among other offerings. Some contain clean linens, fresh fruits, and fine gems. Fakusha watches my delivery, though her mother grabs her elbow before she can casually saunter to the table of goods.
“Young Ridwiqu’Mar,” The king says approaching his throne. “Interesting.” He taps his nose referring to my recent piercing. I bow my head in gratitude then kneel in front of him. The shaman stands to his right side, the witch doctor to his left. He strokes his braided chin adorned with beads. His torso like a boulder displays wounds from various battles and wars. His fingers tap the arm of his throne decorated with the bones of men who have crossed royals in the past.
Remaining members of Fakusha’s family sit with the elders to the right, with the soldiers to the left. Freestanding torches are lit by a servant.
“Your father is harvester, correct?”
“Yes, oh king.”
“You wield a blade that combats the training of a prince. How so? Who taught you?”
“I’m self-taught, oh king. I watch from afar, prepared for battle in a moment’s notice. I envy his position.” I bite my lip staring at his son’s blanched face. “Though, he was a worthy opponent. Indeed I was challenged by his skill.” Not really, his strength perhaps but if he exerted more of that strength he could be formidable.
From the corner of my eye, Fakusha sweats profusely. Constantly she scans the basket though her mother forces her to remain by her side. A spot of blood hits the floor by her heels.
The king scratches his beard. He prizes it. I would too if I held such growth. “Your mother was Fakusha’s wet-nurse, yes?”
“Yes oh king.”
“Though you are entering manhood, you still remain in my sole daughter’s presence.” He crosses his arms. Muscles bulge. His sons mirror the action. I bow my head.
However young footprints wander playfully around the gifts. The king’s youngest son, apparently skipping his early bedtime sneaks through the baskets picking out snacks for himself.
Fakusha whispers in her mother’s ear to bring attention to her baby brother, though the queen ignores her daughter’s concern allowing him to explore.
A grin curls up Torajamaku’s cheek. “And so you will spend more time with her.” Stifled laughter creeps among the crowd. I raise an eyebrow.
A servant prompts me to stand, taking my measurements.
“From now on you must address her by her position in society. You will train with the others at dawn…”
My jaw drops, speechless. Am I dreaming? The king wishes for me to join his throng? I’ll have my own sword, a real one—not carved branches, and armored cuffs, not make-believe ones from discarded fabrics.
Fakusha’s baby brother flips the basket upside down. All its contents fall on the boarded floor.
He doesn’t care, placing the basket on his head like an oversized helmet and holding the lid like a breastplate, but Fakusha and I are mortified.
The king twists to peer behind his throne. “That is the basket you brought?”
“Yes oh King.”
He glares at Fakusha.
His wife partially lifts her skirt to reveal a thin trail of blood down her calf.
The king clears his throat. “I see you have been attending to my daughter’s recent needs.” He squints. “Recent?” I gulp, unsure whether it should be I or Fakusha who should answer that question. “Assembly excused. I must speak with my rebellious offspring in private.” Wow. Forget child or daughter, but offspring? Ouch.
I mouth, “I’m sorry” to her as I’m forcibly escorted out of the building. Used leather armor is shoved into my chest. The force nearly topples me over. My eyes drift to my armor… my own armor! I’m a soldier!
How long will the king's impression on Ridwiqu'Mar last?
Stay tuned for "Part Two: Advancement"
While I'm still debating which manuscript to publish next, this week I will be posting a short story related to the Aykotah/tribal universe in three segments. The Barred Soldier, written from Ridwiqu'Mar's perspective takes place before Fakusha's story (The Aykotah Daughter). What will this story be about? Well...
"Is it terrible to share a lifetime in want, hungry yet never satisfied?"
He's a social outcast: a harvester's son, with a questionable upbringing and she's a tribal princess forced into following the traditions of their people. Ridwiqu'Mar, Fakusha's best friend... and only that. Are his amateur swordsmanship skills enough to impress the king--her father? Destined for separate futures, what must a friend do to remain close, to be closer, to be more than friends?
Anyways, raising kids keeps my hands full. I'm blessed to have girls that love books, though sometimes I wonder how sane I am after reading The Cat in the Hat to my toddler a minimum of three times a day. So... if my future posts develop a strange rhythm and rhyme, you will now know why.
What is the difference between a good poem and a great one?
Seriously, how is Alligator Pie a renowned (Canadian) classic? Here I am reading it to my firstborn, confused as can be. Anyone can rhyme, but not everyone is Dr. Seuss. Not all poems are emotional either, but if they were... how could you judge?
Why do I bring this up? In one of my manuscripts the protagonist (Jamie) is an avid reader and poetry fanatic. He acknowledges he has no skill in the art itself yet tries anyways by consistently recording his thoughts in a poetry journal.
Recently I posted a short poem about the moose in our back yard...
"You won't have to search hard,
A visitor you see,
Right here in our backyard,
Beyond the apple tree."
I wasn’t aiming for gold with this caption. I was playing with rhyme. In school, I struggled with the poetry unit. I think it was because I couldn’t read the teacher’s mind. Since then, I have of course developed the ability to not only read minds, but convert them—not! Anyways, we would read poems but I would understand them only on a surface level. The poems I beloved seemed underrated. Writing poetry was worse. The ones I poured into—decent. The ones I wrote halfheartedly—appreciated.
Then we spent what seemed like forever studying literary devices, except while they are great in poems, they seem to become stumbling blocks in stories. Repetition comes across as redundant. Alliteration seems unfitting. Rhyme is interpreted as tacky, like the old geezer who shouldn’t rap but does.
Below is an excerpt of my novel manuscript, “Haunted.” In this scene, Jamie Rodgers is picking up his new girlfriend Sarah from work, even though he is madly in love with Natalia. Earlier in the story Sarah requested he write her a poem. (Changes are still to be made as this story is only a rough draft.)
“You know you don’t have to wait every time.” Sarah winks back. I shrug.
“I don’t mind. You’re worth the wait.” I murmur into her ear. Those are the exact words I want to tell Natalia. Because that is what it is these days isn’t it—a waiting game.
“Hey is that my poem?” Sarah asks, ripping my journal out of my hands. Eager, she reads it out loud,
“Sweet syrup rots the teeth,
It increases my heartbeat.
Coveting it to a festered defeat,
An endless cycle of highs and lows.
I’m high on her flavor.
Wishing for the love I’d savor…
My tongue scorns.
My throat filled with thorns.
My heart, the throbbing cavity.”
She closes the journal, placing it in the glove box. “I guess this makes me your sweetie.” She leans over for the first of many kisses. I smile through it. If only my situation wasn’t so sour.
So what are your thoughts? Does interpreting poetry come natural to you or are you in the same boat as me? What’s your favourite poem and why?
Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash
You can trust me because I’ve had two kids, so now I’m clearly an expert. Okay all you moms with a flock around you, hardee-har-har. Yeah, I have much to learn... but let me have my moment of fame, yeah? My nine months are over, thank goodness! (And yeah, my second girl was born on Jesus’ birthday. I didn’t see them angels singing for her arrival now did I?) I may be sleep deprived, but yay I finally have my body back. Anyways, with that redundant update over... here it is: My Top 5 Facts for the New Mom.
1. Maternity Pants are overrated.
No seriously, they’re glorified leggings. FACT! Yes that elastic band is comfortable but the fabric was not meant for a woman’s body. They lack pockets and the material was far too thin. (There’s this thing called winter, and it’s freaking cold!) Literally, it’s wear and tear. Simply having bigger clothes like looser jeans will benefit the new mom before and after birth. And don’t worry, you had a baby... that’s proof your man thinks you’re hot stuff—so don’t sweat it and go for the sweats for a while.
2. Not everyone can breastfeed.
It’s worth a try and it will help you recover. But put your baby on the weighing scale often and listen to your healthcare professionals. The milk is free, comforting, and full of antibodies, but it’s not much help if it’s simply not there. Don’t let pride starve your child. Formula is bloody expensive. The cheap stuff is all filler—then there’s the bottles. Just do what you got to do so they get what they need.
3.The amount of ultrasounds you have will vary.
Depending on the child’s health and your health or anything concerning either, you may have more or less than two three visits with the sonographer. And yes, follow their instructions and drink the water! Some pregnancies require multiple tests, others few. Information is your doctor’s friend.
4. Birth is not entirely free.
In British Columbia, while most medical services are free to Canadian citizens there are few exceptions. Since circumcision is optional for traditional practices and not necessary for the child’s well-being, the parent would be billed. There is a small fee for the birth certificate.
Immunizations are free including the flu shot. The dental screening is free too. (This is awesome because they help you with brushing techniques, search for decay, and provide a fluoride treatment to strengthen the enamel.) BC Health even offer to check the infant’s hearing, again for free. After the child is born, a mother is given the option for a nurse to visit to check on the health of both baby and parent.
5. You will see a new side to your community.
Where I live, the pregnancy outreach centre downtown is where mothers can pause from their errands to nurse their child, find supplies like baby clothes or gear, and be educated by various experts. Child Development Centres are another incredible hub for connecting with other parents, children, and resources. By signing up for their newsletters, they will inform a parent on neat opportunities fit for the child’s needs and sponsored events bringing fun to the whole family. Extra hands make light work. I was blessed by my local church when they planned and hosted an open baby shower for us, saving us hundreds on clothes and supplies, and offering renown tips.
In summary, adding a child to your family is going to raise costs. But one might be lucky in saving big costs by breastfeeding, using cloth diapers, accepting hand-me-down clothes, and borrowing baby gear and toys. Even if your child is healthy, take advantage of the help others are willing to give you.
Photo credit: Dakota Corbin on Unsplash
English is complicated. There are words in the English language that honestly make no sense. Take the word, “Once” as an example. By its spelling it should be pronounced, Won-Kuh, Won-see, On-see, On-ss, or On-Kuh. If anything, the word once should be spelled onece.
Forget the "I before E except after C" rule, because this language is littered with flaws. As a Canadian, the peaceful neighbouring stereotype that we are, we can’t even agree on whether or not to use the U like the British or forgo it like the Americans.
Is it doughnut or donut?
However, spell steal like steel and now you’ve committed a crime. (I’ve witnessed this one twice this month in published works.) Homophones, they’re those lovely little mistakes us writers can commonly make when we forget to differentiate sound with meaning. In an early draft of the Aykotah Daughter, my flowers had pedals not petals. Yes apparently car pedals were floating through the air when she met her betrothed Ni’guah guah.
What mishaps have you discovered while editing?
I'd like to thank those who took part in my most recent Twitter survey. The winning results being, a contemporary romance with a quirky church girl. That in mind, I present to you, a sample of my novella Offbeat to start off the new year. Happy 2019 readers!
Chapter One: Accommodate
Drenched in a guilty sweat, Jeff ran up the stairs to his two bedroom apartment—with only fourteen minutes before his next potential roommate was to inspect the place. He thanked the sky that the stranger wasn’t obnoxiously punctual. The first minute was wasted as he rattled his key in the stubborn doorknob, as he rushed to get his act together.
While Jeff had been renting the unit for well over a year, his previous roommate Lucas had moved out with his girlfriend, so Jeff was going to be shy eight hundred dollars with a spare room.
Skipping the shower, he combed his dark hair back with his grizzly fingers. Lifting his arm he dared a whiff of his sour body odour, and zipped up a sweatshirt in hopes it would cover up the smell, or at least the perfume that had rubbed off on him. With ten minutes to spare, he piled as many dishes as he could in the dishwasher, scrubbed the toilet bowl, and shut anything potentially cringe-worthy behind his bedroom door. Peeking over to the stove clock, he noticed this stranger was now eight minutes late.
His sweat soaked through his shirt.
Panicking, he ripped it off for a clean t-shirt from the dryer. Above Jeff noticed the spring breeze scent of his dryer sheets, sparking an idea in his frazzled mind. Three knocks on the door disturbed him as he shoved it down his shirt. With no time to scrub it against his skin or pull it out, he opened the door.
“Hi. You must be Jeffrey.”
The stranger had short rose-gold hair with thick bangs that covered their eyes, and a black and grey plaid shirt buttoned to the neck. They wore thick frames that weighed their appearance down, scuffing red marks along the bridge of their nose.
“Jeff.” he corrected, welcoming his guest. His eyes trailed down, noticing the two minuscule lumps on her chest.
“Sorry, my bad. I’m Chrissy. So this is it.” she said enthusiastically. “And eight hundred, you say?” She glanced down to the gym studio across the street. Jeff nodded. Chrissy pivoted around to the kitchen, cautious opening the cabinets at random. She lifted her hand to prevent a container or two from falling. Jeff blushed. Chrissy didn’t seem to mind, when she went straight to the fridge.
“Health-nut huh?” she said scanning through all the fruits, vegetables, and the leftover salmon packed away in a sealed container. She shut the fridge door. Her gaze carried over to the weights in the living room and bungee cord dangling from the ceiling.
“There’s a washer and dryer over here...” he mentioned distracting her from Chrissy’s bizarre intrusion of privacy.
“Yeah I saw it. Where do you work, Jeff?” She flicked the kitchen tap on testing the water pressure. It was moderate, cold then hot enough. He scratched the back of his greasy neck. Stretching out his deltoids, the dryer sheet drifted to the laminate floor. He caught it and crammed it into his back pocket, before she noticed.
“Me? Oh. Just down the street there.” He gestured towards the gym. “I’m a personal trainer. And you?” Developing a sudden interest towards the woman, he leaned up against the counter between her and the dishwasher. Her lips pressed together.
“Huh. Does that mean I can’t eat cake?” Jeff smirked at her comment, not insulted at the least. Desserts generate business. Through her thick bangs, he caught her eyes. She swallowed her breath, “Graphic designer. It’s not as cool as it sounds. I basically draw up logos on Photoshop, and set up computer-illiterate baby boomers with a website.”
Trying to be clever and relate, Jeff slid out his phone and opened an app to his online feed, with a picture showing off his musculature. “Oh. I just use social media to promote myself; I do a lot of mouth to mouth.” He coughed, “I mean word of mouth.” Chrissy pitifully laughed.
“You have a girlfriend?” she asked. Jeff shook his head proudly. “Are most of your clients women?” Jeff shrugged in hopes his suave would impress her.
Chrissy spun around to the spare bedroom with nearly two hundred square feet. “Wow.” Her eyebrows rose. Her hand slowly caressed the worn oak surface of the table, next to the door. “The closet is small, but can I keep the desk? It seems it would be a beast to move.”
“It won’t be in the way?”
“Any other questions,” Jeff queried as Chrissy stood by the small boxed window. Three iron bars protected the outside, as she overlooked the street view.
“It’s my first apartment okay. Yeah... I was getting sick of Mom and Dad looking over my shoulder, you know? Um... give me a second.” She tugged at her lips pondering though the list of generic questions she half remembered. “Are utilities included?”
They walked out to the living room, but spotting his dusty music collection she rushed over to the shelf of CD’s, scanning over the titles.
“No.” Jeff paused watching her flip through the albums. “We split the cost. In the winter you should expect to pay closer to a thousand. I split groceries too. I eat a lot, in fact I’m going to eat whatever is in the fridge, so don’t bother labelling it.”
Chrissy glanced up to his blue eyes. “Even cake?”
“Especially cake.” He winked. She bent down reading the fine print of the bottom CD cases, budding with interest—Jeff invested in the view of her voluptuous backend.
“I admire your honesty Jeffrey. I’m going to need a day or two to think about it. I’ll send you an email when and if I’m ready to move in.” she said while sliding the handful of jewelled cases back into the shelf. And by thinking about it, she meant sparing a moment to pray, if she bothered to.
“Jeff.” he corrected her.
“I know.” She shrugged. Standing up, she shook the figurative dust off her knees. He smiled politely, despite the putrid fumes wafting from his armpits. Envying a shower, he promptly encouraged her to the front door.
“I can’t help but feel like there’s a catch. Large bedroom, great location, affordable cost. Anything you should warn me about?”
Jeff rubbed the underside of his nose. “What are your thoughts on guests staying the night?”
Far too innocent, Chrissy shrugged. “How many?”
She rolled her eyes. “Huh. I’ve outgrown the whole sleepover stage.” She opened the door to the narrow regretfully carpeted hallway with a trace of cigarette smoke corrupting a standard mildew scent.
Jeff nervously stroked the back of his ear. “So if I’m busy in my room...” His words trailed off. Jeff’s hand covered the doorknob. Chrissy rolled her eyes again without a concern.
“I’ll respect your privacy. No worries. I’m somewhat of a hermit anyways.” She waved farewell with a budding curiosity to who his friends may be. Despite him having a handful of years over her: four, five, six at the most—she wondered if perhaps she’d be able to recognize a couple faces.
Jeff shut the door, hurried to the bathroom, and peeled off his shirt. He winked into the mirror before twisting the shower faucet to the maximum heat. The water boiled his skin red purely satisfying and numb to the senses.
Three knocks interrupted him. He quickly wrapped a towel around his waist to open the door. “Hey,” he said with a smoulder. Chrissy swallowed her breath. Water dripped down his skin following the indentations of his muscles.
“A month. Not biweekly right?”
Jeff grinned, “Yeah.” She nodded then shuffled down the hall.
He returned to the bathroom, with a long chain of text messages on his phone. Many of them were clients checking up on him. One in particular requested a photo. With a smirk cut off from the frame, he dropped his towel and replied.
The weather was favourable for early May. The sun outshone the chilly air, making it optimal weather for moving day. “Hey. You’re still here.” Chrissy announced. Jeff, partially insulted raised an eyebrow. Tugging the garbage bags of clothes from her hands, he tossed them in her bedroom.
“Uh yeah? I thought you’d want help moving your stuff.” She shook her head, the color of her skin darker with embarrassment. She gestured him out. He furrowed his brows.
“My family is going to be here any minute.” She covered her mouth. “I didn’t mean for it to come out that way, it’s not that... it’s just... my parents are not the greatest with first impressions.”
Jeff chuckled. How could her parents struggle with first impressions? He swore their daughter was dressed like a man at their first encounter. So used to the appearance of spandex and sassy fluorescent deep-cut tank tops, Jeff spotting a tailored plaid shirt on a woman who refused to reveal any skin was somewhat perplexing.
“Do I embarrass you?” He hooked his muscular arm around her short chunky frame. She squinted, acting as if he was.
“No, it’s just. Yikes.” With a squeak, she closed her eyes. Her father and brother Joshua filled the hallway with two twin mattresses cautiously navigating them. They were thwacking them wall to wall, so Jeff let go to assist them. They leaned them along the wall of her room. In a sweat, Chrissy’s father wiped his hand on his denim pant leg and held it out for Jeff to shake, stunned at his traditional approach, he did so merely to be courteous.
“Hey. I’m Jeff. Chrissy’s roommate.”
Her father’s friendly smile remained, but his handshake nearly crippled him.
“You’re her roommate? Hmm.” Her father scanned the apartment. “It’s just the two of you?” Chrissy’s father turned to her. She tried grinning herself out of his authoritative glare, but ultimately failed.
“What does your girlfriend think about this?” His brows scrunched. Chrissy crossed her arms, more irritated than Jeff.
“Dad. It’s fine. I’m not interested in him, if that’s what you’re wondering.” she said it far too readily. Jeff blinked, confused. She’s not interested in him, at all? But she saw him shirtless, and he was sure there was some form of chemistry developing between them. And with all his innuendoes of cake or her intimately intrusive behaviour, was there no spark? Who could resist a muscular man with charm—apparently Chrissy.
“I don’t believe a guy and girl should be under the same roof.” Her father announced. Chrissy shrugged, fairly unapologetic. She had already signed the agreement. It was with confidence too, proud she was taking her first steps on her own since earning her diploma.
“Separate rooms. Dad, people do this all the time now and it’s no big deal.” Chrissy placed her hand on her father’s shoulder. Jeff joined her brother, avoiding the building tension. “Trust me, you won’t have to worry. Like I said, I’m not interested.”
Not another word on the subject was discussed, not with Jeff present at least. However, by her father’s domineering glance Chrissy knew the topic was far from over.
“Should I order a pizza or...”Jeff offered, his finger pointed around the room as he hinted for suggestions.
Chrissy’s father shook her head. “So I’ll see you at church tomorrow?” he asked. She nodded, shutting the door on them. Without a word, she entered her bedroom dead focused on unpacking her belongings, gratefully without them.
Jeff cleared his throat to steal her attention as he leaned against the doorframe. “That was weird.” Chrissy rolled her eyes, dumping the third garbage bag. A mountain of clothes covered her mattress. Jeff inched closer, handing her a wire hanger each time she was done with the last. “Do they hate me or something?”
She giggled. “My parents don’t hate. They’re just conservative, and I’m... liberal. Moving out is what we needed. I am an adult so... yeah?” It was clear by her tone of voice that Chrissy loved her parents dearly and she only hoped for the same in return. She assumed by her upbringing that they sought out a meaningful relationship with her, but she was nothing like her older brother. This subconsciously brought a weighing doubt, especially because she knew she was different.
It wasn’t her rose-gold hair or quirky mannerisms. Chrissy was a creative woman, who had yet to figure out if she could accept herself. Anxious to what her family thought of her, she withheld the deep discussions to herself and sometimes privately in prayer.
Chrissy gave up on untying the last garbage bag, so she dug her fingernails in to tear it open. Her blankets fell out with a few worn out children’s towels. Jeff smirked recalling his first time away from home. Unlike Chrissy, he moved miles away from his family to attend University. After his scholarship ran out, he decided to leave his kinesiology degree unfinished to assist in boot camp programs targeted towards women his age.
Piling the towels in one arm, Chrissy picked up a shoe box with her free hand. “You don’t share toiletries do you?” She asked sarcastically standing in the bathroom. Jeff revealed the empty spaces within the vanity, assuming she would hog the entire space. For curiosity’s sake, she opened the one space he didn’t offer. Towels, bottles of soap, his razor, and his styling products had burst out falling onto her toes. She snickered. Placing her shoebox down, she opened it to reveal: a toothbrush, a hairbrush, a disposable razor, shampoo, floss, toothpaste, and a Ziploc baggie’s worth of makeup. “That’s it.” she confirmed, organizing them neatly in the first drawer. She set her folded towels underneath, with room to spare. His jaw dropped, while he shoved his hair gel back into the cupboard.
He cleared his throat. “Simple.”
She brushed her bangs out her face to reveal standard brown eyes. There was nothing special about them. No unique flecks or hazel rings to add variety to her plain far too common irises.
“Sure. There’s enough complicated with my life. A bar of soap shouldn’t add to that.”
Most of my fiction stories are written in first person and in the present tense, but I'm always finding ways to challenge myself to improve on the craft. (This is before professional editing.) Yes, this was a longer blog post than most, so thank you for checking this out and share your thoughts.
...And because I'm a big meanie, you don't meet Drew and Desiree, other crucial characters in the Offbeat novella until chapter two.
Being a church-going brunette girl meant the same thing every December. I was always Mary come Christmas time. Okay, that’s a lie. When I was too young for lines I was a sheep and when I outgrew the role, I became the Inn keeper or Narrator. My husband claims he was always a shepherd, whacking the back of his sisters' heads with the staff. (As in he was never trusted with an important role.) Whose genius idea is it to give pre-pubescent boys large whacking sticks? Anyways, the Nativity story holds fond memories for us who have grown up in North American church culture.
Now while it has been many years since I’ve slipped on the blue housecoat over my scraggly child-like body and vanilla table cloth over my tangled hair, I am yet again playing the role of Mary. Not that I’m a virgin teenager, but I am with child. (I’m due shortly after Christmas with baby two.)
Sometimes we like to consider the social pressures and obstacles Mary faced during her expectancy. However playing the waiting game for both the holiday and my child, I wonder about her complaints. Like was Jesus really active in the womb? I mean, this is the LORD incarnate right? The inn was full. The whole town of Bethlehem would have been crowded. Was Joseph able to round up a midwife or two to help with delivery? And mercy! Travelling by donkey? Okay, it’s better than travelling by foot, but still. Ouch! Maybe that trip alone induced the labour. (I’m assuming this was their method of travel.) Did they pack expecting to deliver on the way or was it earlier than they thought? Did they pray to God asking, “In your timing but... please after we return home from the census”?
Imagine if Jesus’ birth was recorded by women? The details on that report would probably include what time of day the contractions started, how long she was labouring for, the nursing—all of it could have been unnecessarily descriptive. To some it may still be an interesting story, but those details pull from the main focus.
But it never hurts to wonder.
And to an unbelieving world we are provided with more than enough details to accept Christ. Prophecy fulfillment aside, Baby Jesus must have been incredibly cute for the shepherds to be spreading the news about a newborn. Yeah, God doesn’t make mistakes, but this was His own son. I’m curious; did He add a dimple or two?
In no particular order and with the year coming to an end, here are my top 5 romance novel recommendations of this year. All these books are available through Amazon Kindle Unlimited which I am in love with. Perhaps in the future, I’ll publish some novellas straight to it so you the reader will have more free reads to enjoy.
1. The Draughtsman Damsel
by Emily Klein
I’m not usually one for Medieval or historical timelines, but readers out there should make an exception for this story. After watching Quest for Camelot with my daughter, I wanted to read the book it was based on, finding this instead. I was not disappointed. And the research that went into this, wow! This novel has a unique take for the intellectual reader and an incredible finale.
2. Calling Love (Modern Conveniences Book 2)
by Leah Atwood
I love a good blue collar romance. Leah’s works tend to have a calm pace to them, and this came at a time where I was becoming sick of predictable white-collar metropolis city romances stories. Archer was a charming character especially towards the care of his ill grandmother, and I’m glad he shows up in more of Leah's books.
3. Ninja Girl
by Cookie O’Gorman
For a story with plenty diverse characters, I enjoyed meeting them all secretly wishing this was a series so they could return. This fun book contains (trying not to spoil anything...) exciting fight sequences, a karaoke bar with marshmallow fluff on tap, and a sports car with a slick paint job. (Cookie knows her stuff!) Yet another YA novel where the parents are involved in their children’s lives and it benefits the story.
4. It Was Always You (Ridgewater High Romance Book 3)
by Judy Corry
If I’m honest... the whole Ridgewater series really. I went on a Judy Corry reading binge this winter and did not regret it. In the third book of her series though, addressing youth homelessness and redeeming a character that I in an earlier book labelled a jerk... well done.
5. Rule #1: You Can’t Date the Coach’s Daughter
by Anne-Marie Meyer
I think what makes this such an adorable high school romance story is not only the events between the main couple, but the relationship the protagonist has with her strict father. Also how the lovers weren’t trying to be together maliciously out of angst for the set rule, yet hoped to prevent drama at any cost.