Eight Pieces: Patterns

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Kristal woke in the gray before dawn.

The room felt chilled, and the cold reach behind her eyes, behind her heart, settling into her lungs.

It wasn’t cold, she realized, when she sat up. It was pain. The room wasn’t cold–she was.

Clouds rolled in from the coast, settling over the mountains, bringing the scent of sea and rain.

This was the feeling of pain.

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Healing didn’t happen in a straight line, she realized. It doesn’t resolve in a day, a few weeks, a month. You can’t wipe it away, no matter how much paint you apply to a canvas.

Or can you?

She took a quick tally of how many canvases she’d painted so far. Seven. That was nothing.

What had she done before, in college, when that long-haired boy with a slanted smile and eyes that hid when he laughed–what had she done when he left her? How had she buried those dreams she’d made with him?

This wasn’t the first time she’d felt this cold inside.

She’d written poems, she remembered, about rain boots caked in mud; vines in winter, spiked with thorns.

She remembered a line about her heart, a blackberry left, shriveled and molding, on the vine.

After twenty poems, warmth returned. And there had been happy moments during the nights of twenty poems.

One evening, unable to sleep, incapable of focusing on translating an assigned passage from The Iliad,  she took her moleskin notebook and a black pen that splattered ink like a monk’s quill to the campus coffee shop.

Peter Beagle was there, singing and playing his guitar, stopping now and then to recite a passage from The Last Unicorn.

She fell in love with him, for that evening only, and while his voice wound through her, and now and then he caught her eye, where she sat in her solitary corner and smiled, she realized, yes. She could love again.

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Behind her stood the paintings of the yellow bike and the single tree.

She wasn’t meant to heal in an instant.

She was meant to discover the patterns deep within her, those that led her towards others, and those that drove her away.

Her stay was a little more than half over. She still had weeks to find her way back.

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She took the day off from painting to explore.

Parrots filled the jungle canopy with splashes of red and blue, as bright as their voices were loud.

In the plaza, a speckled gecko hunted crickets near the planters.

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A rainbow arced over the falls.

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In a moment of awe, she felt that the air within her was the same as the air without. She lifted her head, spread her arms–this was the joy she’d known as a child when the broad oaks called and hawks circled on thermals overhead.

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She played her violin against the percussion of the cascades, a large iguana her only audience.

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When she set down her instrument, the stillness of the pool spread out, beckoning towards the coast, sixty miles away.

A single lantern shone, suspended from a pole on the dock. Though it was day, the lantern’s light was brighter even than the sparkles of sun on the green pool.

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This is a moment of happiness, she realized. The music of her violin still resonated within, and she watched the quiet water until the notes faded. Soak in it. Happiness is here.

In the evening, she tried to capture the patterns of light and dark at the edge of the clearing.

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The next day, under a cloudless sky, she layered blue, and black, and green over the empty canvas.

His life goes on, like this twisting black line. Her life spreads, like the sky.  There is no merging, but the context of everything, of life, of the green breath of living, offers moments. And that is all we need. No more. No less.

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Author’s note: For a poem about this painting, see Kristal, Day 2 of my GloPoWriMo project.

Septemus 53

7tupid No7e

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Lucas (aka Mr. Munch-Rasoya–ha!) “dropped by” today. Wouldn’t you know it, while I, in all my navel-less splendour, was playing on the slip-n-slide.

“Oh, yoo-hoo! Septemus!” He really did say that. Fortunately, I was checking my texts, so I could take a minute to breathe, i.e. stew.

Does he really think he can pop on over like this? Does he not know how I feel about his married self?

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I counted to tui.

“Oh, hey. Lucas, hi,” I poured on the charm.

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He looked a little off, actually. And, in spite of myself, I felt worried.

“You doing OK, buddy?” I asked. “You seem sort of drained. Coming down with something?”

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“I feel so weird,” he said. “I’ve been like this all day. Since last night. It’s the strangest thing, Sept.”

He told me an odd story. He and Raj took a day-trip to Forgotten Hollow.

“I’ve always wanted to go, ever since you told me about when you went there to meet your little sister, and Rajarooni likes old architecture, so we decided, why not? Fun little afternoon outing.”

They strolled the square, stopped by the library, and then–he can’t remember what happened next. Neither can Raj.

“It was like we just woke up, and we were still in the library, but somehow almost an hour had passed, and–it was one of those weird things.”

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He said his arm really hurt. You could barely see it now, but he said that yesterday, it had these weird scratches on it. The strangest thing was how quickly they healed.

“I still feel sort of… off. Like goofy, kind of!”

“Yeah, you look a little off,” I said. I lied. He looked adorable.

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“Oh, congratulations, by the way,” I said. And then, I couldn’t stand out there with him anymore. It hurt. He’s married. He’s cute and he’s married. He’s really cute. And really married.

I thought over what he said about his trip to Forgotten Hollow. Panda’s mum felt so concerned when I came to visit–vampire attacks. But that’s not real. That’s just the stuff of late-night movies.

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For some reason, Lucas invited himself inside. He followed me into the kitchen.

I wanted to say to him, “You don’t get to look at me with those eyes anymore. And maybe you should wear a hat when you’re around me. And what the yobasko are you doing in my kitchen, anyway, when you know how I feel about the idea of you in a kitchen alone with me!”

But I didn’t say any of that. I asked him if he wanted a glass of water.

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“Nah! I’m good!” he said.

Just for a moment, I let myself fall into the sound of his voice. I didn’t fall all the way, just into the vowels, and then I pulled myself out.

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I started dancing.

He started talking.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to tell you about me and Raj,” he said. “We’ve been sort of seeing each other for a while. You’d like him. He’s a good cook. I like to wash dishes…”

I tuned him out. He kept talking. All I heard was the music.

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Pops came in and joined us. I shut my eyes and started to singing to my pagotogo. I just didn’t want to listen to him yammering away anymore. I wanted to remember who keeps me grounded: My pops. My little brothers. My sisters. Panda. Panda?

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I had a strange image just then, when I thought of Panda, of red, gray, black, and something very warm and very wet. Panda? Are you OK, paPandagoto?

I got an image of her cleaning the bathroom, a little sad, a little quiet, but OK.

Chin up, little sister!
Smile bright.

Panda star,
You’re all right!

“My arm kinda hurts,” Lucas said.

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He stepped behind me and grabbed a pile of dishes off the kitchen counter. Lucas, why do you have to look so happy, like nothing happened, like you and I can keep on going as if you weren’t married, as if my dreams weren’t shattered, as if everything were OK?

“You’re kinda cute, do you know that?” he said to me. “For a kid. You’re gonna make somebody a fine husband someday.”

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OH! Yobasko! Stupid nose! Just go wash your own dishes. I’m not sure I can have you in my kitchen anymore, Mr. Munch-Rasoyo.

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Author’s note: If you’re wondering about what happened at Forgotten Hollow during the interval that Lucas and Raj cannot remember, check out this chapter of Pandora’s Box!

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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Whisper 2.34

Dear me,

I wish I had my mom’s wisdom! Or I wish that Riley had somehow had a chance to meet my mom. She could really use some of my mom’s special words of kindness right now.

Her heart’s broken, and I don’t know how to make it better.

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Argus called her up for a date. They hadn’t been seeing each other much, and I’d been receiving these weird sort of come-on letters from Argus, so I assumed they’d broken up. But after he called, Riley said, no, they were still together.

She left for the date before I had a chance to tell her about Argus’s weird letters.

I could tell she was upset when she got home.

“How was the date?” I asked.

“We live in such a beautiful valley,” she replied. “The sunset was mystical.”

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But when I saw the shadow behind her eyes, I figured she wasn’t telling me the whole story.

“And the date? Was it mystical, too?”

“If betrayal is mystical, then yes,” she replied.

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“Oh, Riley! What happened?” I asked.

“Argus happened,” she replied.

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I surmised that wasn’t a good thing.

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“He’s a… he’s not for me,” Riley said. “He was with someone else when I got there. On our date. That he arranged. Did he want me to see him flirting with that woman?”

I wanted to give Riley a hug, but she was maintaining this boundary around her. I let her keep her space. In the quiet moment, she told me she’d been suspecting he was interested in other women. Now she knew.

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I had to tell her about the letters he’d been sending me. I told her I figured they were random, signifying nothing. I told her I figured they weren’t serious about each other. I told her I threw them all away and didn’t make anything of it.

She said she didn’t want to talk about it. If she did, she’d say something she’d regret.

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She’s been so quiet. She’s thinking, I can tell. All I can do is give her space for her thoughts and feelings. I tell her I’m here, if she ever wants to talk. She doesn’t even look at me. She just rocks and thinks. She’s not crying, but I can see she’s hurt.

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She completely lost it with Bo. He was just being his usual goofy, mischievous, obnoxious self, and he was teasing her about having a broken heart, and she snapped. She accused him of being evil and of getting joy out of her sadness.

He tried apologizing, but she just yelled, “Get out of my face! I don’t want you anywhere near me!”

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I felt torn. I don’t want anyone talking to my brother like that. And at the same time, I can’t stand that Riley feels so sad. I can’t blame her, and I can’t blame Bo, either. I want to blame Argus, but he and Riley had never agreed to be exclusive or anything. I ended up blaming myself. If I hadn’t gone to college and left Riley to take care of Bo and Patches… If I’d mentioned Argus’s letters sooner… If I’d been a better friend to Riley…

In the middle of my blame-fest, I heard a whisper:

Sometimes, life just gets messy, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s simply part of life.

I let the words settle into the quietness that spread through the house.

“Let’s hire a maid,” I suggested to Riley.

“What?” she said.

“You like a clean house. Let’s hire someone else to help us clean it.”

“But I clean it,” Riley said.

“And you could still clean it. But now you’d have someone else who could help out. It might be fun.”

“Would she clean the kitty litter?”

“If you wanted. You could be in charge, and you could be the one who delegated the tasks to her.”

“I wouldn’t want her to do anything she didn’t want to do,” Riley said.

“Of course not,” I said.

So we hired this really cute maid. Riley seems to like her a lot, and I notice that she perks up around ten o’clock each morning, which is when the maid is scheduled to arrive.

Usually, she cleans the house before the maid gets there. I put on a fresh pot of coffee, and Riley and our maid sit at the table and chat. When I hear them laughing, I realize that Riley will be OK.

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Bo’s been on his best behavior, and he’s convinced Patches to go along with him.

I told him I was proud of him. He’s earned an A in school, and with his help, Patches has, too.

“You’re a good little brother,” I told him.

“Really?” he asked.

“Truly.” He’s my brother. He’s weird. He’s got a strange understanding of social behavior. But in spite of everything, he’s got a good heart.

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Keep remembering that.

Love,

Me

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Whisper 1.39

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The hardest part of growing older is seeing friends pass. Mike Nix is gone, and when Annie comes to our party, she is heartbroken.

“I keep hearing his voice,” she says. “And then I turn around, and he’s not there.”

Bobobo is crying in the other room. “I’ll be right back, Annie,” I say.

“That’s OK, Mrs. Tea,” says Chet. “I’ll get him. You can stay and talk with your friend.”

Chet’s a good kid.

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When I turn back to Annie, I see a golden light around Frank, and he’s rising off the floor.

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I’ve seen this too many times not to know what is happening.

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Frank smiles as if he hasn’t a care in the world, which he doesn’t anymore.

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Which he doesn’t.

But I do. It hits me. He’s leaving.

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This one hits hard. Frank!

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I lose track of everything around me. My own heart feels like it’s being pulled out of my chest. Frank!

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The party goes on without me.

I head out to the garden.

Frank has been my best friend since that night we played music together in the meadow. Somehow, he’s always understood that I’d pledged my love to Dante, but Frank stayed anyway. He knew I needed a living friend, too, and he was there, my support. He kept asking me out, writing me love letters, but he never stopped being my friend when I ignored the letters and declined the dates.

He stayed my best friend.

It’s rare to have a friend who’s there for you, and rarer still to have one who stays, no matter what, no questions asked, no strings attached, just love.

I’ve had so many loves in my life and one eternal heart-throb, and of all those, the truest friend has been Frank. I miss him more than I’ve ever missed anyone.

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