Monday, November 11, 2013
Betra stopped by today, nostrils flaring wide. He stayed just outside of my door when I opened it, almost as if he was afraid to enter.
“How are you, Matara Shalia?” he asked me. “I’m only stopping by to see if you are well?”
“I’m fine,” I answered, pasting a smile on my face. At least I had an opportunity to take care of returning the stuff he’d given me. I had packed the hair pretties, robe, and slippers back in the container. With great remorse, might I add.
“Ah, Betra, I have to give you back this stuff.” I pointed at the container.
He blinked. “Are the items not to your liking?”
“They’re very much to my liking. But – but it’s inappropriate for me to accept gifts from someone I’m not involved with.” My face heated. I must have been as red as a fire truck.
“I don’t understand.”
I would have gotten mad with Betra, except he seemed genuinely at a loss. I sighed. Doing my best to not be a bitch and go gently, I said, “I’m sure you’re a very nice person. But I’m not willing to see you as anything more than my liaison. I’m not up for a romantic entanglement.”
His confusion deepened for a moment, then his eyes widened. “You think I gave – you think I want—”
Now it was Betra’s face turning a blistering scarlet. He burst out, “Matara Shalia, I am not trying to seduce you. I gave you that package on orders.”
Oh damn. I was dying of embarrassment. “You mean – but none of the other women got containers full of goodies, so I thought – I thought—”
We stared at each other. It was hard to tell who was more horrified over the misunderstanding. We spent several seconds like that, mortified over the situation.
Then, all at once, we both started laughing. No, not laughing. Howling. We completely lost it, getting hysterical over the whole stupid affair.
“If – if you could have seen your face!” I gasped, doubled over. I was laughing so hard it hurt.
“No, you should have seen yours! By the ancestors, you looked so dismayed,” Betra said, supporting his quaking body on the doorframe. Tears squirted out of his eyes as he bellowed with hilarity.
“Dismayed? That’s too tame. You had me beat by a mile. I’ve never seen anyone look so appalled in my life!”
We must have spent five minutes shrieking with laughter and competing over who had been the most aghast over the confusion. I had tears streaming down my face as well.
Finally we calmed down enough that I could ask, “So what gives? Who ordered you to give me these things?”
Betra grinned at me. “I’m not at liberty to say at this time. Sorry.”
I folded my arms over my chest. “What do you mean you can’t tell me? This is weird, you know.”
He nodded. “I know, but I’m under orders. You will be told when the time is right why certain Mataras under certain circumstances get special treats.”
He held up his hand. “I don’t agree with keeping you in the dark, but it’s not my place to interfere.”
I gave him my most winning smile. “Can you give me a hint?”
Betra thought about it. After a moment, he grinned. “All right, I’ll do that much. It has something to do with the activities you engaged in down on Earth and the service you have provided the Empire.”
I looked at him, completely at a loss. The service I had provided the Empire? He had to be talking about either the presentation I’d given or saving the medical staff and invalids in that fire. I was betting on the fire rescue. What was more important than saving lives?
I shrugged, trying to be modest. “I did what I had to, that’s all. Anyone else in my position would have done the same.”
Betra’s expression hinted that he was on the verge of breaking into a fresh round of laughter. “If you say so, Matara. Is there anything else special you’d like me to bring you? Anything at all that will make you more comfortable?”
I shook my head. “No thanks, Betra. Sorry for the misunderstanding.”
“Not at all.” He shook his head. “Ancestors, that was embarrassing.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I’m glad we cleared that up.” Betra offered me a bow, but he was still grinning from ear to ear. “If you do wish to be provided anything, anything at all, let me know. I’ll be glad to see what I can do.”
I wish I knew who the gifts came from or why Betra can’t talk about it. It occurred to me they could be from the dads or Clan Dusa ... but why the secrecy? It wouldn’t make any sense that they would arrange for me to have presents and make such a big deal out of keeping it from me.
That made me think about Commander Nang. Good heavens, I hope the container isn’t from him. I am done with that man forever. But it’s the only option that makes sense...except for that cryptic hint Betra gave me about doing something in service to the Empire. Again, I have to consider I’m being rewarded for getting everyone out of Medical when it was set on fire. God, I hope that’s the case.
It was my worry that the presents came from Nang that made me hesitate. Then I decided, so what if they did? Nang is back on Earth and will be for a good while yet. By the time he gets back to Kalquor, I will have found a clan – or gotten myself tossed off the planet. Nang can’t bother me anymore. Fuck him.
Reassured, I rushed to put those nice sheets on my sleeping mat, ate some of the nellus, and unpacked the rest of my treasures. Mine! I get to keep all the goodies and I don’t have to worry about fending Betra off. Or offending him by giving them back. Not only that, I think our misunderstanding may have made us decent acquaintances. If I can get him to stop that stupid scenting thing he does, I could even see him as a friend.
But nothing more, for heaven’s sake. Absolutely not.