Chapter 55: ShahinDiscuss
…through the rise and falling apart
We discover who we are
She woke and showered early Sunday morning, when Emrys was still asleep, standing under the water, trying not to think. For a moment, she was entirely alone. Quiet, peaceful. Even the visions were silent.
Peace. Her mother had wondered why she took showers so long as to drain the water heater. Her aunts had seemed to understand. And the showers here never seemed to run out of hot water.
But she had to leave its quiet eventually. She stepped out and toweled herself off slowly, and then, feeling incredibly daring, and feeling a little ridiculous for the daring, stepped out into her bedroom wrapped only in the towels.
Emrys was sitting up, having apparently awakened during her shower, and watched her from the bed. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” She watched him curiously as she wandered towards her closet. It was strange, having him here in her space. It would be stranger, if he was still here when Ayla showed up.
“So what are we doing today?” He stretched, rising from the bed.
She turned her back on him, ignoring the distracting lines of his body. “I’m going to hang out with Ayla.”
“Cool,” he nodded, pulling out some clothes and dressing himself.
“And you…” she slipped on her dress and, in doing so, turned to study his body language.
“Well, if you’re going out, I’ll make other plans,” he shrugged. If he cared about her leaving him for the day, he did a very good job of hiding it.
Throttling him with his own belt would probably not be a good idea, however tempting it might be. “Staying in, probably,” she shrugged casually. “But go ahead and make other plans.”
“Seeya.” He finished preparing himself and headed out the door with a parting smile in her direction.
She watched his abrupt shift in confusion for a moment, replaying back what she’d said. Oh, damnit. He hadn’t had that much trouble dealing with her as a Kept, had he?
Ask later. She didn’t want to directly contradict what she’d just said and make herself look foolish. “What?” she asked lightly, “no good-bye kiss?”
He chuckled, turning back to her, and approached to kiss her.
“Am I that funny?” she asked.
“No, not at all. It takes some getting used to.”
She bit his lip lightly as he leaned in for the kiss. “Even for you?”
“For everyone, or so I hear.”
“So not an answer.”
“Everyone does include me,” he smiled.
“Stop hedging.” She kept smiling. If she didn’t, she might really throttle him.
“Yes, I had trouble with it too. Less than some, since I’ve been here long enough to be careful what I say.”
“I guess I’ll have to learn quickly.” She brushed her lips over his. “Come back when you want to.”
“Okay,” he smiled, kissing her again before pulling back.
Ayla would likely be here soon. She dug through her drawer for something appropriate to cover her wrists, wondering why she was being so nervous – so, she realized unpleasantly – visibly nervous – about meeting with her friend.
Emrys, for his part, just waved cheerfully and stepped out into the hall.
She finished getting dressed, glad for the moment of silence in which to calm down. Things couldn’t have changed that much in a week, right?
She opened the door before Aelgifu knocked, knowing from the twisting feeling in her stomach that her friend was near. “Hi,” she said nervously. “Come on in.”
“Thanks.” Ayla looked as nervous as Shahin felt. “No Emrys?”
“I…” Hadn’t she, at one point, been sharp and eloquent? “No,” she answered. “I thought he’d probably just make things uncomfortable. And it’s not bad to have a little space, you know?”
“Yeah.” Ayla flopped down on the bed. “I mean, I guess. I’ve never had a live-in boyfriend – or anything,” she added with a smirk.
“Do you think things will get that far with Ioanna?” She tugged the blankets smooth and sprawled on her own portion of bed, her nerves calming.
“I don’t know.” Ayla blushed, plucking at the coverlet. “She’s really nice. I can’t help thinking it’s a trap somehow, some elaborate practical joke or something. But… I like her.”
“Yeah? She seems nice enough.”
“Yeah, but doesn’t everything around here seem like a trap?”
“A little,” she admitted. Emrys wasn’t so much a trap as a giant “keep out” sign she couldn’t help but ignore. “But don’t let that stop you, Ayla.”
“Why not? I mean, this is too good to be true, but it seems like that means it’s going to end horribly.”
Shahin rolled over and looked, really looked, at Ayla, hair obscuring her face, one knee up to her chin. She slipped across the bed and, before a burst of panic could fell her, hugged her friend tightly from the side.
“There were boys in high school, right?” she asked gently. Steve. Keith. All the mistakes between them.
Ayla nodded, her forehead bumping against Shahin’s. “Allan,” she whispered. “And… well, mostly Allan.”
Shahin made a soft noise of understanding. “Keith. Joe before him. But… this is different, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” she murmured softly. “Io’s so different from my friends in school. I mean, you are, too…” Her head dropped down onto Shahin’s shoulder. “Not in a bad way, just – you’re so brave. Making your own road forward and damn the torpedoes.”
“That’s not bravery. That’s just… sometimes there’s no way out but through, you know?”
Shahin sighed. There was something Ayla would work around to, if she kept talking long enough. At least Emrys wasn’t here. She’d been bare enough for him in recent days. “I sort of set my feet on a narrow way, many years ago. Accidentally. But once I’d stepped on the road – more of a balance beam, really – my choices were fall flat on my face or keep going.”
“The… the sable?” Ayla’s gesture took in the whole outfit, gloves and all, and, for a moment, Shahin felt painfully guilty.
“Yeah,” she answered. “The black. The gloves. The overdone appearance, the high formality. Everything that goes along with it.”
“But you still keep with it.” Ayla sighed into her shoulder. “You know who you are.”
Shahin waited. This wasn’t about her.
“I pretended okay, but I’m not even sticking to who I was pretending to be. My friends in high school – they’d freak out if they knew I was dating a girl. If they knew I was a lesbian.”
She nodded. She understood. “And that sucks. Life is better when your friends can deal with who you are and what you do.”
“I was thinking more of you,” Shahin smiled. “You put up with my weirdness pretty well.”
“Yeah, well at least you’re human. Some of the people here are pretty scary.”
Shahin swallowed her first reply. If Emrys had been telling the truth, none of them were really human. “It seems,” she said carefully, “like everyone who’s not Fifth Cohort is a little bit, ah, off?”
“And some of the Fifth Cohort, too. They looked normal when we got here, and when everyone started showing off their weirdness, but now…” She gulped.
“I know,” Shahin agreed. “It’s seems like students in our Cohort are starting to Change, too. Like Channing’s third eye, or like Jamian, the boy in my English Lit class, with the horns.”
“Boy!” Ayla giggled explosively. “Oh, that’s right, you weren’t at the dance! Oh, Sheen, it was so pretty!”
“The Hall?” she asked, remembering the way it had changed for the last dance.
“Oh, it was beautiful,” she grinned. “It was all underwater, like some mermaid grotto. Io and I were dancing between these swaying seaweed trees… but Jamian!” She giggled more. “Oh, wow, Sheen, not just the horns – he was wearing a dress! I mean, well, she was.”
“You mean he was in drag?”
Ayla shook her head emphatically. “No. I mean… well, you know how Jamian’s face has always had sort of a fey look to it?”
Shahin giggled. They all were a little fae, if Emrys was right. “Yeah. Not really all that manly, but good-looking.”
She nodded again. “Imagine that face… just a little girlier. Same horns, hair longer, and most definitely a girl. I mean, that dress really made it clear.”
Shahin blinked a little bit. “So Jamian’s a shape-shifter?” It was kind of neat, and more than a little scary.
“I guess he must be.” Ayla shrugged cheerfully. “It was kind of neat. I mean, he looked nervous, and I don’t blame him. But he looked really pretty, too.”
“See?” Shahin teased. “That’s why no-one cares that you’re dating Io, or that I’m the way I am. When there are people who can shapeshift…”
“Yeah,” Ayla smiled, “I turn out to be not such a freak in a group like this. Everyone else is stranger than I am.”
“Yeah.” Shahin smiled, because that’s what her friend wanted, but she was remembering the dreams she’d been having. Ayla, proud because she was human, better than the freaks. Ayla, hiding a core of emptiness behind her pride.
Cowardly, she changed the subject. “No Vi today? I was kinda hoping…”
“He said he was going to be here. Maybe he lost his nerve.”
“Yngvi? What would he have to be nervous about?”
“He’s been a miserable ass lately, and both Io and I told him so?”
“Really?” The thought was nicely warming. “I was afraid you were both going to hate me for it.”
“For Emrys?” Ayla shook her head no. “I think it was kind of weird, and it would have been nice to have some warning – but people do stupid things over people they like all the time.”
She tried not to be stung by that. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you. It was a little spur-of-the moment.”
“I figured it probably was.” Her friend smiled gently at her. “You can be a little impulsive, especially where he’s concerned.”
This time it really did hurt, probably because it had the ring of truth. “I guess.” She frowned. “So Vi said he’d be here? I wonder where he is?”
"No Way Out But Through" is a beautiful piece of art by MCA Hogarth
"I set out on a narrow road, many years ago..." are lyrics from a song performed by Rascal Flatts, "God Blessed the Broken Road."
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