Raising a Hero–chapter 33

Another heatwave came through a few weeks later, as though to mock us for appreciating the budding, colder mornings. My white dress served me well, though at some point not even being naked could have saved me. Even though I didn’t have a massive festival crowd to try and keep up with, Derrick, Gus, and Hal still watched me like a hawk and took turns telling me to drink or take a break. It was a humiliating reminder of my ‘unbuffness.’ I felt like some fragile lilly in both name and body.

Whenever I got a break to go into town, to the temple, or even outside the city walls to appreciate the rolling green farmland at the height of the growing season, Gus followed along. If I said I wanted to go alone he’d throw the teenage equivalent version of a hissy fit, so to get him to shut up I’d just take him along anyways. Besides, those were some of the best times for us to talk about anything and everything, and I found a lot of opportunities to teach him what I knew, or him me. Sometimes, I’d even take one of the books out with us to practice reading and writing with.

And sometimes, we just sat there, breathing the air as we hid from the sun in whatever shade we’d found to lounge it. 

And at the end of each of these outings, we’d visit the bakery, because darn if they didn’t make addictive deliciousness. Though I soon gave up on trying to stop Gus from messing with Glen. If the man couldn’t overcome a bratty teenager, he probably wasn’t worth the time to date anyways. Not that I was thinking of dating him. Though Nehcor’s offer for advice had tickled me.

Though when I finally did ask him for advice on one of my temple trips (Gus complaining at my heels), all I got was ‘Whoever you want. I’ll ding you if he’s complete rubbish. Don’t give me that look, marriage is about two imperfect people learning how to compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s beauty are the imperfections. No one is going to be perfect, and, though I know you won’t believe me, your first choice in husband was just bad luck. You’re not that crappy at picking as you think, nor are you an awful choice in spouse yourself.’

Says the man who left out ALL the important bits when he kicked me down from heaven, or wherever his little kotatsu haven sat.

The harvest came, along with another festival, though we didn’t get nearly as many visitors due to they all had to stay home and, well, harvest. It was a huge undertaking, though, that involved husbands, wives, children, grandparents, and even neighbors. Milly made an extra huge batch of stew during harvest, and for good reason, as we got even more locals, their families included, coming in for food, too tired or busy to make it themselves, or as an extra treat for their hard work.

The festival itself was also much smaller. The booths mostly sold harvest goods and treats, and the performances were mainly magic and music based to give the tired working folk something to look at as they drank their beer. 

There came an official ‘last day of harvest’ where a huge bombfire was built up outside each city gate, right smack in the middle of the street, where musicians and dancers set up in the cooling, autumn twilight. Hal all but kicked me and Gus out, along with Derrick and Milly, to go enjoy the celebration.

The first thing that hit me was the sheer heat of the bonfire, as well as the smell of sweaty bodies, more pungent than usual as people danced in pairs about the fire. 

“You ever do something like this at home?” Gus asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe. Usually, if there’s a bonfire it’s set up by a bunch of drunks wanting to have some fun…or just burn a lot of stuff.”

“What kind of dances are from your homeland?” asked Derrick, joining in Gus’s curiosity.

“Well…” I eyed the way men and women, of every age, clasped hands and spun, the ladies holding up their skirts and the men making half-moons with their other arms. “Nothing like that…man, we’re boring.”

“It’s okay. I’ve never done this either,” said Gus.

Milly snorted. “Oh, aren’t you sad. Come here, chit, I’ll dance with you.”

“What? No! I ain’t dancing with you—“ he cut short at my chilling gaze.

Milly smiled wide. “He learns. Now, take my hand.”

“We’re both all grimy.”

“Oh boo, man up. I’ll teach you how to do it, so thank me.”

My boy looked particularly grumpy and put out as the broad Milly dragged him towards the fire, still diminutive compared to her size.

Leaving Derrick and I standing awkwardly next to each other, a faint expectation left behind in the air. People about us chattered and laughed, their shadows stretched long and flickering against the city walls by the orange light. Somewhere nearby, a dog barked.

“So, um…” I wiped my hands on my skirt. “You ever done that?”

“Mostly when I was a kid,” said Derrick, also wiping his hands, though on his sleeves, which didn’t do much as they were still striped in soot from his work. “Would you like me to teach you? Though, I don’t know how well I’ll do.”

“As long as you don’t step on my feet. Moderately certain you’d crush those, no offense.”

“None taken. I’m a big guy.” He reached out his big hand.

Even though I could feel nervous jitters racing up and down my body, I also felt excited as I put my hand into his.

Finally. Some well-deserved fun.

Derrick started off like two left-feet, but once he got comfortable holding my hands and giving directions, it wasn’t long before we too were swinging around the fire, our hands sometimes only holding together by virtue of his rough calluses for the sweat. At some point he took hold of my waist and swung me into the air with such ease, I felt like a little girl again, flying through the air. The laughter it triggered was the lightest, most carefree sound I’d managed to make since…since…

I didn’t know when.

Sad memories of other happy times, which then proved to be lies, crashed and died against the wall of my joy. Despite the heat of the fire, I kept returning back to the fire with Derrick, swinging in circles until he’d lift me up again and spin me round, my white skirts aflutter like clouds.

And then, a thin hand caught my arm tight.

“Me,” Gus panted. “This time with me.”

Not understanding how he could look so grumpy at a time like this, I chirped my agreement and pulled him back into the circle.

The top of Gus’s head just reached my chin. It was a big difference from the tower of Derrick, who could easily rest his entire neck on the top of my head. His hands shook as he pulled me around, jerky and unsure. He couldn’t seem to look at me either, watching everything else, our hands, my skirts, our feet, my braid waving out behind us or besides my face.

“It’d probably help if you looked at my face,” I said breathlessly. “And stop trying so hard.”

“I don’t want to step on you,” he said, but he finally forced himself to meet my gaze.

There, his ruby eyes stuck like glue, glittering from the firelight.

We spun. I flipped my skirts. He arched his arm above him, his shoulders having begun to broaden towards manhood. 

“There you go,” I felt high with delight. “We’ll make a dancer of you yet.”

“Why?”

“So you can woo yourself a wife when you’re all grown up. Make me some babies to hug.” I just managed to not call them ‘grandbabies.’

His panting mouth smirked. “You almost said ‘grandbabies,’ didn’t you?”

“I learn, unlike a certain someone.”

“No, you don’t.”

And in a quick rush he grabbed hold of my waist and lifted me into the air.

I squawked, holding onto his shoulders, which weren’t as thin as the last time I had held them.

He plunked me down, probably just managing not to drop me entirely.

“I’m not your baby. And you’re not my mom.”

His gaze on me then burned just as hot and hard as the fire next to us.

It unrooted a swarmy, unpleasant feeling within me that sent needle-like prickles up my back.

As though somehow sensing he’d gone too far, he let go of me, said he was tired with a half-made smile, and trotted back to the side where Milly and Derrick looked to be considering taking their own round about the fire. 

…Did my scrawny little boy just manage to lift me?


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3 thoughts on “Raising a Hero–chapter 33

  1. Fun time they had dancing and I’m glad they are all keeping eye on her from getting to hot again! As for Gus…does he like her like her? He said she’s not his mom but is it just a child crush or becoming more? Humm

    Like

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