Merry Christmas to my Beloved Readers! 3/3
The west gates to the city were open wide, as they always were. Mist’s hooves rang loudly on the stone streets.The lights in the inn were bright and warm when we arrived. I directed Miurian to the back door, which, thankfully, Mist was just small enough to pass through to. The chickens had turned in for the night, so I didn’t get the pleasure of their reaction to this great new beast.
No sooner had he helped me down from the horse when the back door flew open and Milly rushed out.
“Lillian, you little wart! How dare you worry me like this!”
And the next thing I knew I was being suffocated by her breasts, engulfed by an embrace which squeezed the air from my lungs. I only just managed to squeak out a ‘sorry.’
She hugged me for longer than I was comfortable with. Miurian watched on awkwardly by his gentle giant.
“Well…I’ll just be heading back then,” he said.
Milly seemed to wake up then and detached herself from me.
“Thank you, sir, for bringing her home safely.”
“Wait, your coat!” I quickly took it off. Having had to buy a dress for myself, I knew the value of clothes in this world.
“I’m not going to keep it. I have a coat, it’s pretty, and I’m not going to be the cause of you catching your death on the way back to the temple.”
“Alright, alright.” But despite my stern tone, he smiled as he took the coat. I almost expected him to say ‘yes, mother.’
I was slightly jealous of how easily he rescaled the mountain of his horse. It made him look cool. I wanted those mad cowboy skills. If cowboys ever rode warhorses, that is.
I waited for Milly to start attacking me with questions, but she rushed me inside to thaw in front of the kitchen fire. She only spoke once I had a bowl of veggie and pork bone soup on my lap.
“I’ll go tell them you’re back.”
The soup tasted good. But, then, pretty much everything Milly made tasted good. Not gourmet royal court, but homely, as though nostalgia and happy memories could be made into a taste.
Only a minute after she’d gone, the last person I was ready to see turned into the kitchen, pale as I felt and eyes puffy and rimmed with red.
Gus strode in. “Lilly…”
I hugged my soup, as though it could protect me. “Gus—“
He fell to his knees before he could reach me.
“Gus! Are you hurt? What’s wrong?” Holy crap, had Hal beaten him? Had someone else beaten him? Should I start looking for knives to murder someone?
“I’m fine,” he said quickly, before bowing his head. “I just—I just need to say sorry. Please, sit down. There’s nothing to worry about.”
I did so, hesitantly, hoping I hadn’t spilled anything on my dress. Laundry in this age was a pain.
“I’m the one who should be saying sorry,” I said. “Yelling at you like that and running off—“
The slight trembling to his voice, as though he might burst into tears, made me stop. I closed up my mouth.
“I’m the one who forced my feelings and wants on you without any consideration as to how it would make you feel,” he said, very low and soft. “I insulted you, demeaned you, and tried to make you think and do what I wanted you to do. I was a selfish and immature and you’re right. I am a child. A cocky, angry, belligerent child.”
“Don’t say it’s okay. It’s not.”
“It was still stupid and selfish of me to run off like that.”
“What else could you have done to make me listen? Lilly…I thought I knew you better than anyone here, but I didn’t bother using any of that. I should have known that someone like you, whose feelings and desires had been so abused and pushed aside, would’ve responded like that. I am at fault. And I don’t expect forgiveness. But I will get better and I will grow up, I swear, so please…please don’t leave me.”
His last words cracked completely. He hadn’t looked up at me once through all this, staying kneeled with his gaze to the floor.
I looked down at the bowl in my white and pink hands. The fire had gone a long way in thawing out what Miurian’s coat hadn’t kept off.
I knew I shouldn’t just drop down and brush it all away, that wouldn’t fix things nor would he believe that I’d really listened to him. And there was still a dark ache in me from revisiting the fact that I was still alone, that I still had empty arms, and that I still had the problem of not knowing how to proceed from here in accomplishing my mission in this world. Nor what I’d do afterwards.
In the back of my mind, the heavenly dream drifted past.
I put the soup aside by the stool Milly had sat me on and went to kneel in front of him. Gingerly, I put my arms around him and nuzzled my face into his soft silver hair, as I had done so many times already. His familiar smell came to me, not musky or spicy, but not bad either. But it was him, like blankets and favorite old shirts, bread in the oven, and beautiful blue mornings.
“I like you,” I said. “I like you a lot.”
He didn’t hug me back, but I could feel wetness from where his face pressed into the light blouse of my dress.
“I’m not going to abandon you. Even if it is your fault, I’m sorry for running away. I won’t do it again. I promise.”
I didn’t know if that’s what he was wanting to hear, but he finally hugged me back once I’d said it.
Milly came up then, knocking her knuckles on the doorframe to announce her presence.
“Don’t mind me. You two finish making up.”
Which reminded me. “Gus, Hal didn’t get mad or you or anything, did he?”
“Of course he did,” said Milly. “The kid started the fight, didn’t he?”
“No one beat your baby, Lil’. We’d never do that.”
I expected Gus to protest at being called my baby again, but he didn’t so much as stir.
“I only gave him some advice,” said Hal, who had appeared in the doorway as though by magic. “Hoo, you don’t look much better than him. Did you cry or get punched in the eyes?”
I let go of Gus and scowled at Hal. But, of course, the older man only gave me that hot chocolate smile of his. He came over to pat my head.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” he said.
I took a turn hugging Hal and Milly in turn before finally returning to my soup. Gus disappeared sometime during that without so much as a sound, making me worry. But he didn’t seem much worse for wear when he met me on my way to bed and initiated the hug with me, which was probably a first. He wasn’t all that into physical contact. That was all me.
“Could you let me know when you get that letter from Sir Dustove?”
“Sure. Did you want to send him a letter?”
“Yes. Just…to ask a favor.”
“Hey, you can talk to whoever you want. And you healed his eyes, so you probably have part in that favor he offered too.” I ruffled his hair, wishing I could hug his head all night like some weird silver teddy bear. They grew up too fast…even if he’d never been mine.
He seemed to sense my thoughts, though I didn’t feel his magic, for he pulled back to give me his famous disproving frown. He’d make a great school principal one day.
“You’re thinking bad stuff. Stop.”
I just smiled. “I’ll try. Sleep well, Gus Gus.”
“You too.” He reached up to brush some of my hair behind my ear as he stepped away. “Have only good dreams.”
“Hopefully my brain obeys your command.”
And it did.