In the morning I woke up to Gus passed out shirtless on the floor, a bit of drool gleaming at the corner of his mouth. The light peaking through the curtain was gray and I could hear the hushing taps of rain outside. Shivering, I sat up, wondering why my underwear felt so crusty.
The sight of him reminded me that today, the second day of the three day festival, was his birthday.
No matter what, I have to find a way to buy his present from the festival, I thought fiercely. Not to mention I had to get Milly, Hal, and Derrick a present too, as the people who’d helped me the most in this weird world of Nehcor’s. One really comes to appreciate charity when they’re completely out of their depth.
Should I have not fallen in love with the idea of buying him something exotic at the festival and just gotten something from the stores before festival season? Yes. Had I thought to consult with anyone about it? No. Was I regretting that? Yes. Yes I was.
Especially when every aching bit of me protested as I pushed myself to my feet, a blanket around my shoulders to maintain my decency, and shuffled out of the room to the kitchen.
For once, Milly wasn’t up first. I looked out the window, but it was impossible to decipher the time through the grey of the storm, so I figured her limitless stamina had simply found its limit and she too was getting some much needed rest.
I stood there for a minute, feeling crusty and gross, staring into the kitchen stupidly. I wanted to take a bath of sorts. The idea of putting a dress on over my dirty underwear made me cringe. But after another few moments of trying to figure out how I’d manage to tote in some water from the spigot with the blanket over my shoulders in the pouring rain, I decided I didn’t care. I went back to my room, dropped off the blanket over Gus so he wouldn’t get cold, grabbed one of my soaps and a large towel from the basket I kept my bath stuff, and headed outside.
I hung my towel on the doorknob, where the eaves of the backdoor would keep it from dry, and stepped out.
The rain, despite being so early in the morning, was faintly warm. My eyelids fluttered from the pleasure of my first shower in several months. Even the stones were still warm as I stepped out, lifting my arms out to allow the water full access to my armpits and sides.
Outside the hush of thick rain, the city was silent and gray. No candles burned in the glass windows of the manner, curtains and window shutters were closed everywhere else. No thunder rumbled. The air tasted of clean water and musky earth opening itself up to take in the sky whole.
It was a glorious, soothing scene, too sacred for the movies or paintings to ever give justice.
After only a few minutes of standing there, I felt renewed.
Thus, calmly, with little thought, I peeled off my gross, sweat-soaked underwear, leaving me bare and naked for only the chickens to see, if they cared to peek their heads out of their coop. I lathered the soap over my body in languid circles. I undid my braid and fingered the soap through my hair, closing my eyes at the feeling of my own nails across my scalp along with the pattering of the rain.
Only once I was sure every inch of me smelled like the rose of my soap did I return to the stoop to wrap the towel around me, my dirty underwear hung over my arm. I squeezed out some more water from my hair before stepping inside, careful to not slip over the puddles of water that followed me. The hallway and kitchens were still empty and quiet. I moved as silently as possible as I eased back into my bedroom and opened the chest at the end of the bed to get a new pair of underwear. Gus was still asleep, though he had moved to his side, facing away from the bed, which worked all the better for me to hurry and dress. I wrinkled my nose at the green patches on my blue dress before pulling it over my head.
Just as I got the ties done behind me, I heard the squeak of the bedroom door next to ours and thought Milly must have finally gotten up.
Sure enough, I found Milly getting started in the kitchen, looking bleary-eyed and frizzy-haired from the moisture in the air.
“Oh? Did you take a bath?” she asked.
“More like a shower. Do you want my help getting a bath set up?”
“Nah. I stuck out a tub next to the chickens to gather some rainwater last night. I’ll use that when things calm down.”
I was already elbow-deep in dough with Milly when Gus woke up, along with a few of our guests as told by the thuds above our heads.
“Good,” said Milly on seeing him. “Take over for Lil’ so she can see to the chickens.”
Usually, he would argue that, since I was already down and dirty in the dough, he should just get the chicken eggs. Then Milly would argue that I actually liked the chickens and since I wasn’t a bratty smart aleck I deserved to have some happiness in my life, unlike him. Then I’d push in my two cents and our morning would be officially started.
But Gus didn’t argue. He just walked in and stood next to me, keeping a good few inches between us so my arm wouldn’t even scrape him as I turned away, which took a bit of effort as Milly and I were kneading dough where the two counters met. I glanced over to check on him but his expression was flat. No default scowl, no sleepy eyes.
“You sleep okay, Gus?”
“Fine,” he said, not looking at me, just on the dough.
Figuring he wanted to just get to work, I quickly moved out of the way, wiped down my hands, and headed out into the rain once more with the egg basket.
Throughout the rest of the day, though, he continued not to look at me. I wondered if he was angry at me for passing out last night.
“You couldn’t help that,” he said with his back to me. “Stop being dumb.”
Then he left the room we were cleaning before I could ask further, saying something about how he had just heard the guests leaving the next one and that he’d get started on it.
He was avoiding me. I knew it.
Our lunch break wasn’t so much as a lunch break as it was find a corner to scarf down a sandwich. A pair of guests had decided to get drunk and left quite a mess for us in the suite, which took all morning to take care of, and tonight was promising to be just as busy as the next. At least the rain had stopped, though the sky remained muggy.
Hal pulled me aside when I got up to get going on cleaning the common room, which also needed more work since people had slept in there last night as well.
“Don’t you have something to buy?” he said.
I blinked in surprise, then smiled wide.
“Are you sure you only have water magic?”
He chuckled and pushed a small bag into my hand.
“Holiday pay,” he said. “To go along with whatever your boy hasn’t managed to eat already.”
To which I was eternally thankful. Keeping the black hole full which was Gus had gotten quite expensive.
Before Gus could catch me leaving and demand to be taken along, I fled.