Vampire Code: The Cynda

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“What are they doing, Ama?” asked Sparkroot.

“Have a chat-chat-tickle-me!” laughed Rocket.

“They’re not having a tickle-fest,” said Cathy. “Though it does look like it,” she added as she glanced over to Jaclyn and Davion near the portico. “They’re getting married.”

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After supper, while Jaclyn had helped Cathy wash the dishes, she’d leaned over and whispered, “Will you be my cynda?”

“Really?” Cathy had replied, louder than she’d intended. “Really?” she whispered. “You’re doing it? When?”

“Tonight!” Jaclyn had answered. “Now! Or at least, as soon as we’re done with the dishes.”

Cathy agreed to the honor. Jaclyn had been her own cynda when she and Brennan had married. The cynda is the most respected member of the traditional elvish wedding ceremony, especially when it is private or when the union has been expected for a long time. The term comes from “cynda-rutin,” or “bystander,” and the cynda is witness, midwife, and marriage counselor, all rolled into one.

Like a bystander, the cynda stands in approximation of the ceremony, close enough to watch, near enough to eavesdrop, and at the ready to coach, persuade, or nudge at the slightest hesitation.

From her spot on the patio, it didn’t look to Cathy that Jaclyn and Davion would need any nudging whatsoever. She’d never seen Jaclyn, in spite of her free and independent spirit, quite so happy.

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Davion said the traditional Gnomish vows:

Spree taka longdy
Aska me de pardy.

Longa dech ne baydoo
Mekka snee par kardy.

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Cathy didn’t know Gnomish, but she knew the voice of love.

“They look happy,” Sparkroot said.

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Jaclyn replied with her own cross between a blessing and vow:

Sun in the west,
bird on the nest.

Feather on the wing,
You wear my ring.

It was supposed to be a joyous occasion, Cathy thought. And certainly it was. These were words of love. Sparkroot had grown silent, as he stood to watch and listen. Then why did this heaviness settle over her?

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It wasn’t for Jaclyn and Davion, of that she was sure. She listened to Davi continue with his own vows as he left behind tradition and moved into the region of his own heart.

“Jaclyn, what brought me, brought you. What brought you, brought me. We were both pulled by rune into this nomdish land. What was it for, but to find me and you?”

Cathy had felt that, once, about Brennan, brought here by the rune of her own wish. She’d been happy when they’d married. She’d believed the words she’d said:

To stand with fate
Sometimes brings
Greater freedom
Than to walk alone
Through heaven’s gate.

But that had been so long ago, before she’d felt imprisoned by his harshness. Still, it felt like standing with fate, to have brought into this world these three children. That was something.

But where was freedom? Where was warmth? Listening to Jaclyn and Davi, she couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like to have kindness and fate.

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She shook herself to dispel her wistfulness. This wasn’t a time to shade the moon.

There’s freedom in surrender, no matter how heavy the weight.

Jaclyn laughed again.

“Go on,” she said. “Put on the ring!”

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“Once I do, it’s nae comin’ off!” replied Davion. “Are ye sure as can sure can be?”

“Oooh!” replied Jaclyn. “Maybe you can take it off on Sunday, every fifth Sunday, and I’ll be a fifth-free-dove!”

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“That would nae do!” said Davion. “Just give me the ring and I shall put it on before we have to call the cynda to make us do so!”

And with that, he put on the ring that sparkled like a star’s wink.

“My bonny elvish bess,” he said.

“My sweet runish doan,” she replied.

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“They’re married now,” Sparkroot explained to Florinda, “just like Ama and Ada.”

“Will they live in separate houses,” asked Florinda “like Ama and Ada?”

“Most likely so,” replied Sparkroot. “That’s how you stay a happy couple.”

“Will they have lots of kids?” asked Flor.

“Most likely yes,” replied Sparkroot. “That’s what comes from married people.”

“Then they’ll be very, very happy,” said Florinda. “Just like us!”

“More pasta, Ama!” yelled Rocket. “Tummy wants yummy! More yummy!”

Cathy had to laugh. Love is still love, even if no one is the perfect spouse. And even the sting of the harshest of words could fade inside the ring of happiness.

Freedom meant something more than having no cares: It meant tending to the cares entrusted to one with a carefree heart.

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Three Rivers 21.1

Twenty-first Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: The Dos are a game-generated family, living in another beautiful home by TheKalinotr0n.

21.  Healing Past Wounds

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Before the girls came home from school, Debra Do liked to walk through the house, sensing the mood in every room, filling each, as much as possible, with her own peace. She called  this ritual “Prepare.”

Her daughters, each of them, would bring home backpacks stuffed with their own issues just waiting to be triggered: might as well have a clean space in which to receive them.

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“Let’s unpack it,” Debra liked to say to her elder daughter, Kaylyn.

“Oh, Ma. Leave it packed. It’s too gross to look at,” Kaylyn would say.

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But Debra would insist: “Tell me about it. You don’t have to spill it all at once. A little at a time will do. Don’t just leave it there, festering inside of you with all the old hurts.”

Debra, Kaylyn, and Nyla, the younger daughter, had plenty of old hurts. The death of her father when she was seven spun itself through Debra’s core, so deep that it was a part of her, and she knew, each time someone left, that the terror of abandonment would awaken.

When Kaylyn’s father left in the middle of Kaylyn’s second year in grade school, Debra steeled herself to be strong for her daughter, for she knew what it was like when a father disappeared. Death or desertion, it hardly mattered to a child. All the while, as she was there to be both mother and dad for Kaylyn, her own heart split. Echoes of past pain seared her. You can die of a broken heart, she read, and so, out of her desperate love for Kaylyn, she meditated. She practiced mindfulness. She did yoga. She went to grief therapy. She pounded pillows. She tended plants. She baked batch after batch of cookies: chocolate, marzipan, French vanilla-cinnamon oat, rose water. And one day, her heart stopped aching. She found she could breathe a full breath without it catching.

That was when she shifted her attention back to her daughter. That was when she began the ritual of “Prepare,” and when, every day after Kaylyn came home from school, she’d ask, “What have we got to unpack today?”

One day, she didn’t even need to ask.

“Ma, let’s unpack it,” said Kaylyn, and she launched into a litany of complaints against girls who snubbed her, boys who laughed at her, and teachers who piled on the homework and made snide comments when kids complained.

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“It’s tough when you feel alone,” Debra said.

“I hate it,” said Kaylyn.

“How do you feel at this moment?” Debra asked.

“At this moment?” replied Kaylyn. “All right, I guess.”

And Debra was rewarded with one of her greatest joys: the sight of her beautiful daughter, smiling.

“Ma, I’ve got calculus homework. You think you could help me we’re done eating? You like calculus, right?”

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Nyla, her younger daughter, was a greater challenge. She seldom showed her deepest feelings.

Debra understood this. When pain goes that deep, it stays hidden, coiled around the heart or buried in the marrow.

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Debra and Nyla shared the same pain. Debra had met Nyla’s father when Nyla was five. They met at yoga class. Debra always laughed that a Marine would take yoga.

“Body and mind,” said Stefan, Nyla’s father.

They married within a year, and then Stefan was deployed for six months overseas.

He never returned.

Having been through grief before didn’t make it easier, Debra discovered. Each time was different. This time, she felt it on so many levels. Her own fear of abandonment was triggered. Her anger at Kaylyn’s father reasserted itself. And when she wrapped her arms around little Nyla, she felt her own body tighten in grief, remembering the death of her own father. How can you be there to support a child when your own life is shattered in pain, once again? Scars hurt every bit as much as living tissue, she realized.

They got through it. Sometimes, she thought that Nyla was the one who decided to be strong for her.

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Nyla was a storyteller, even from early childhood, and whenever she suspected that her adoptive mother was hurting, she would launch into a tale. Most often, the stories were tragic, and as mother and daughter felt themselves wrapped in the story’s shroud, the warmth they shared would slowly melt the blocks of ice within.

Lately, Nyla had begun to tell hero’s tales. Debra wondered where her younger daughter learned the pattern of the hero’s journey. Does it lay so deeply within us that when we’re called to draw from those reserves of strength we come to find that path engrained in the code of our imagination?

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“The girl had five ghosts,” Nyla said this night, as she finished her story. “And each had its own powers, and they followed the girl wherever she went so that she could call on them whenever she needed them! And never once did they ever abandon her.”

“Now that’s a fine story,” said Debra. “And with that, I think it’s time for bed for one storyteller, at least.”

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Nyla hugged her big sister goodnight. This was what the “Prepare” ritual was for, so that, before laying down for sleep each night, they could feel this warmth. Debra clung to the faith that each time their day’s journey led them here, something healed inside.

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In the middle of the calculus tutorial, while Debra explained some of the finer points of infinite series to Kaylyn, Nyla returned with a bowl of chips.

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“It’s your bedtime, Squirt,” said Kaylyn.

“I can’t sleep when I’m hungry,” said Nyla.

“Bed after snack,” said Debra.

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Kaylyn tucked in her little sister when the calculus lesson was over and the chips had been eaten.

Debra and her older daughter watched a movie together, avoiding romance and opting, instead, for a Hercule Poirot mystery.

“I like that crafty Belgian dude,” Kaylyn said.

“I like Christie’s sense of moral justice,” added Debra. “What a safe world she wrote.”

Kaylyn laughed. “Safe? Somebody always dies! Usually several somebodies!”

“But justice always comes,” replied Debra. “The mystery’s always solved, and justice comes, and everybody heals and moves on. That’s a tidy world.”

“Can I sleep in your bed tonight?” asked Kayln.

“Sure,” said Debra. She’d read article after article about the dangers of co-sleeping with older children, but finally she decided screw it. There were times when a body just needed to hear another body’s breath beside it in the dark of night, and she wasn’t about to deny that to either of her daughters just because some of the latest psychologists said it led to chronic insomnia or increased anxiety.

In the middle of the night, Debra woke as the moon shone through the bedroom window. Kaylyn was breathing deeply beside her.

She got out of bed to check on Nyla.

“What are you doing up?” she asked, when she saw Nyla standing beside her nightstand with the lamp turned on.

“If he’s never coming back,” Nyla said, “who will tuck me in when you’re gone?”

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“Oh, Sweet Pea,” said Debra. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m the one that stays, remember?”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Nyla lay back down.

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Debra rubbed her younger daughter’s back and sang to her, an old sorry song about a mourning dove in a pine.

As she watched the little girl sleep, she thought how some wounds we carry with us, and this was surely one, a mark upon a life that would follow this little girl until she sang her own little ones to sleep, and maybe even past that time.

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Wonder 49

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I was grateful for work the next day. Something to get my mind off of grief. Well, for a little while, at least. Yuki was my first patient, and she always helps me feel better.

“I heard about Jake,” she said. “You OK?”

“I have no idea” I replied. “Is it OK to feel sort of frozen inside?”

“However you feel is OK,” Yuki said. “Everybody feels it differently.”

After I prescribed the herbal remedy for Yuki, Luna suggested I take a house call that had just come in. I felt there was some sort of conspiracy between my friends, for the house call was to my friend Jeanette Hairston’s home.

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I saw her roommate first. It was a simple diagnosis–just a cold which our herbal remedy would fix right up.

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Jeanette, however, seemed a little loopy.

“I been trying a little home remedy myself,” she said. I suggested she try, instead, a cup of strong green tea and a nap.

“Give a call if you still feel badly when you get up,” I said on my way out the door.

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I passed the rest of my shift logging research results. I couldn’t focus enough to run tests, but entering the data let my mind clear while my heart slowly thawed.

Yuki called as I was leaving the clinic.

“Come meet me at the Blue Velvet!” she said. “Let’s hang out together.”

I took the train there. The prospect of an evening surrounded by people, conversation, and music was way more appealing than a long night at home, just me and my feelings.

“Yuki!” I said when I saw her, “you get Best Friend of the Decade award!”

She laughed. “You think I’m going to let you alone at a time like this? I know you, Charlie. I know what you need.”

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Miranda was there, too. Now I knew there was a conspiracy! We shared a quick hug.

“You heard about Jake?” she asked. I hugged her again. I’d met Miranda the same day I met Jake, back when Miranda and I were little kids.

“You holding up OK?” I asked her.

“I’ll be all right,” she said.

We sat at the bar, sharing stories. I told about a time when Jake had tried to teach me to weed the garden, and I’d pulled out all the clover, instead.

“Very thorough,” Jake had said. “Next time, pay attention to the shape of the leaf of the plants, so you don’t pull out the very ones you want to keep.”

Jake had launched into a short lecture about beneficial plant communities and rhizomes and such. And I realized, for the first time, that that had been my introduction into this field of science and herbal medicine that is becoming my life passion.

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Miranda and the others left. I wasn’t sure where Yuki was. For a moment, the bar was silent, and I felt a deep pain inside.

“It hits you in the gut, doesn’t it?” said Cassandra, who took the bar stool next to me.

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“Grief’s a funny thing,” she said. “After Father died, I couldn’t eat for a week. Then the next week, I had a headache. Then finally, I thought I was having a heart attack. It was grief. All of it.”

“Are you OK now?” I asked “You look pretty chipper.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “You just get used to it, that’s all. I still feel like there’s a dagger lodged in my upper left chest, right below the clavicle.”

“That’s the subclavian artery,” I said. “You should have that checked out.”

“No,” she replied. “I’m fine. I hardly even notice it anymore, only when I really tune in. You get used to it. You’ll see.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get used to phantom pain lodged in my body. I wanted to move through grief, in its own time, and come out the other side. I tried to explain this to Cassandra.

“Not me,” she said. “I like feeling that tightness there. Every time I do, I remember Father. This way, I’ll never forget him.”

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“You know,” I joked, “there are other ways we can remember our friends and family. Like hearing a favorite song, for example. Or telling one of their favorite stories!”

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“We could,” Cassandra said. “Or we could feel pain and smile anyway.”

I left before sunset. Yuki had left a while before. For some reason, I wanted to catch the sunset from the ferry. I wanted to stand on the deck, facing the ocean, and remember all the sunsets that Jake and I watched together. I wanted to discover what I might feel–what was there, besides pain, that was left of him that I could still feel while I watched the sun go down?

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