Thursday, July 28, 2016

September 24

The beach party with Betra’s parent clan was more fun than I had any right to expect. First of all, the weather was perfect. There were just enough clouds to make the sky picturesque. The pink sand of the beach itself was as fine as baby powder. I’ve never felt sand so soft. The emerald green ocean was calm, its rolling waves a soothing drone.

Betra’s parent clan had set up a lemon-yellow awning … well, their servants had. It turned out Betra came from some pretty well-heeled stock. They owned a software-design firm with more exclusive technology than you could shake a stick at. So they had not only staff to set up a nice covered area for our get-together, but a chef on hand who was grilling thick ronka steaks and seasoned vegetables to perfection. There was also enough leshella to keep a small army giddy.

The love that Betra was greeted with when we arrived at this get-together was heartwarming to see. It was obvious how much Clan Serndi cared about their son from the way he was hugged and exclaimed over from all four. Even his Nobek father Hilon, a great grizzled beast of a man, was unabashed when he grabbed Betra in a welcoming hug. The traditional greeting of father and son was not enough for this bunch, apparently.

Matara Elwa stepped forward to greet me, her arms held out to embrace me and Anrel, who I had in my chest carrier. “Shalia and Anrel, I am so happy to meet you at last. I don’t suppose I could have the honor of holding this beautiful child?”

I was already loosening the straps that kept Anrel secure without me having to hold her with my arms. “Of course, Matara Elwa.”

Betra’s mother’s lovely face softened as she cradled Anrel in her arms. “Oh, you are gorgeous, little one! I thought Betra had to be exaggerating when he raved about her.”

Dramok Serndi finished exchanging what looked like a warm exchange with his son and turned to me. His smile wasn’t as gentle as Betra’s tends to be and he had more lines on his face, but otherwise he and Betra are nearly look-alikes. With a low bow he said, “Matara Shalia, I am glad to see you and your daughter here safe and sound.”

Imdiko Alfra was a little more personable, taking my hands in his after giving his bow. He had to croon over Anrel as much as Elwa. As for the massive Hilon, his attention kept wanting to go to the equally big Oses, though he said his hellos with a great deal of respect.

Yeah, Betra’s parents didn’t seem too sure about Oses. Everyone was pleasant, but a tad distant with him. You could have cut the uncertainty with a knife. He didn’t seem to take offense. I had to wonder what he was thinking, though.

“Shalia, come sit with me,” Elwa invited, waving me over to cushioned lounges that had been set up in one area under the vast awning. “I want to spend time with you and your wonderful baby.”

I went dutifully with Betra’s mother, wondering if I was going to get some horrid speech about leading her son on and breaking his heart. Her smile was friendly enough as we settled down away from the men who had begun to talk animatedly about some fighting championship.

An Imdiko servant brought us glasses of leshella and swept away before I could thank him. Elwa sipped hers delicately and smiled at the baby. I tried not to be too obvious as I took a good look at the woman who had gifted the universe with Imdiko Betra.

I suppose most would say she was attractive, in a forgettable way. She had no particularly astounding features. Yet kindness and intelligence permeated her demeanor, lending her an aura that would have made her stand out among a bevy of beauty queens.

After tickling Anrel into a fit of giggles, Elwa turned her attention to me. “So. You have survived a harrowing trip from Earth after enduring the unthinkable tragedy of Armageddon. I’m quite impressed with what I’ve heard of you.”

I flushed over the praise. “I wouldn’t have made it through without a lot of help. Betra had plenty to do with me being here today.”

Elwa smiled. “He can’t say enough wonderful things about you. I daresay he’s fallen in love with you and this child.”

I readied myself for the coming censure. I could well imagine the accusations coming my way. Isn’t my son good enough for you? What kind of woman are you to take his heart and walk away?

Her smile remained, but it became wistful, almost sad. “My poor Betra. A mother wants so much for her children, but they must go their own way. You’ll find out soon enough.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to any of that. I ventured into a direction I thought might be safe. “I often wonder what direction Anrel will go when she’s older. How did you feel about Betra joining the fleet?”

She sighed. “I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t surprised either. He’s always been a born explorer, always wanting to see new things. I’d rather hoped meeting you and helping to care for Anrel would change his mind, but—” she shook her head. “His heart wants what it wants.”

“He’s said he’d like a family at some point,” I said, remembering an early conversation with Betra when I’d first gotten to know him. “Maybe once he gets the wanderlust out of his system, he can settle down.”

She gave me a crooked smile, one that said she didn’t believe that for a second. “Betra is just like my Dramok father. He was home maybe a month out of each year while I grew up. Sometimes less. The rest of the time he was out exploring various worlds as a prospector, on the hunt for valuable natural resources for the Empire. Even now that he’s too frail to do that kind of work, he still disappears for weeks at a time, wandering space looking for some new adventure. He won’t sit still until he dies, and I think Betra is the same way.”

She took another sip of her drink before bouncing Anrel on her knee. “I am glad my son had the opportunity to have a kind of clan for a few months. It will have to do, I suspect. Thank you for giving him that, Shalia.”

Well. Far from berating me for having a hopeless relationship with her adored son, Matara Elwa was grateful to me. Of all the outcomes I imagined, that had not been on the list.

“He has Oses,” I pointed out.

“Betra isn’t able to – he has no romantic interest in men. I’m not sure what to think about his relationship with that Nobek.” She frowned worriedly in their direction. I looked too and noted that though Oses stood with the group of men, near Betra, he was a little apart from the rest.

Elwa looked me in the eye. “Does Oses respect Betra’s orientation? Is he pressuring him in any way?”

I rushed to explain how well they got along without going too much into their personal details. I did my best to impress on her how Oses abided by Betra’s limitations on their intimate interactions, how he saw himself as Betra’s friend, confidante, and protector. I also pointed out that Oses’ age meant he had years of accumulated experience that made it easier for him to accept Betra’s needs than perhaps a younger Nobek would be able to.

“They care enough about each other to make it work,” I finished, glad to see the elder woman looking somewhat relieved. “I don’t think they can imagine themselves apart now.”

“Good. Good.” She smiled brightly. “I never imagined the day I would see Betra with anything approaching a male clanmate. Between his heterosexuality and dislike of a stable home life, I have grieved over him remaining alone more than you can imagine.”

Over the course of the day, her change in attitude towards Oses had a positive effect on her clanmates. Seeing Elwa’s acceptance of the Nobek made them follow her lead. By the time lunch was served, everyone was speaking comfortably to each other.

I still found myself in private conversations with Betra’s fathers when they could corner me. Over and over I reassured them that Oses had Betra’s interests at heart. By the time I had to go through the song and dance with Hilon, I had the Oses propaganda machine pretty well sorted out.

All in all, it ended up being a good day. After enough leshella had cleared the way for their curiosity to overcome ideas of politeness, Elwa and Alfra wanted to know all about my prospective clans. I told them about Clans Seot and Aslada.

“We take one of those ocean cruises every other year,” Elwa beamed. “Imagine being able to jump on one of those ships any time you want!”

“I think it might get boring after a little while,” her Imdiko said. “But I’m not much for ocean trips anyway.”

“He’s been known to get seasick even with medication,” Elwa told me as she patted him on the hand. “Otherwise I’d book a cruise every year.”

I found myself studying Clan Serndi’s dynamics, wanting to see firsthand how an established clan with a Matara functioned. It was clear that Elwa didn’t defer to her Dramok as much as I imagined a Matara might. She had strength and confidence in her own opinions. When she spoke, the men listened carefully. Not that Serndi didn’t come across as a leader. He seemed content for Elwa to have her say. If he disagreed with any views … which happened only a couple of times … he voiced that opposition, but with the greatest of respect.

All in all, the four of them seemed to be secure in their strengths and considerate of each other’s feelings. I wondered if I could find that with a clan. Did it come with long years of each other’s company or had it always been that way between them?

“A little of both,” Elwa said when I got her alone to ask. “We’ve almost always gotten along since we met. But yes, we had our moments when we disagreed and didn’t handle it in the kindest way. Fortunately, those moments were few and we learned we didn’t have to be hateful over differing opinions.”

All in all, it was a good time. I think I learned a thing or two, particularly that I want a clanship like Betra’s parents have. I may have found what I’ll hold out for.

Monday, July 25, 2016

September 23

I woke to the sound of happy baby laughs. Betra was on the lounger playing with Anrel while Oses watched. Her bubbly giggles made the Nobek’s face stretch in the biggest smile I’d ever seen him wear. He barely looked like himself with that huge grin.

I stretched, luxuriating in the feeling of having gotten enough sleep. “What time is it?”

“Not quite afternoon,” Oses told me. “You must have been tired.”

“For heaven’s sake,” I said, standing up and heading for coffee. I didn’t care I had no clothes on. I have my priorities.

A little while later while I worked on my second cup in a halter top and shorts, Betra judged me sufficiently awake to spring a surprise. “We have a beach party to attend tomorrow.”

“We do? Who’s throwing the festivities?”

“My parents.”

“Oh.” I wondered if the alarm I felt would be considered an overreaction.

He snorted at my expression. “They want to meet you and Oses since you’re important to me. It will be nice for you to know them since they live nearby. If anything comes up, they’ll be able to help.”

I could see his point. Still, meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time is never a comfortable proposition. All I could think about was how likely I was to be a disappointment. Maybe they’d be as enthralled with Anrel as everyone else is and ignore me.

I noted Oses’s smile had disappeared. He looked as uneasy as I felt.

Before I could get the scoop on how I should prepare myself, my com went off. I checked the frequency and tried not to look to happy. “It’s Clan Aslada.”

I answered and Imdiko Meyso’s soft but deep voice teased my ears. “Hello, Shalia. How was your first day on Kalquor?”

“Great,” I said. “I’ve been meaning to com, but things have been a little busy so far.”

He didn’t sound upset that I hadn’t contacted him or his clan yet. “I imagine settling in is taking up a lot of time. I wanted you to know my clan discussed when we can meet with you, and we thought you’d like a little more time to adjust.”

Well, at least I wouldn’t have to explain to his clan my need to spend the next couple of weeks with Betra and Oses. Though Clan Seot had taken that pretty well … but how many clans had that kind of consideration?

“That’s understanding of you,” I said. It was funny that I’d appreciated Clan Seot showing up at my door as a surprise, but I also appreciated Clan Aslada giving me a chance to gather my wits. A clan for each of the two sides of Shalia, ha-ha.

“Actually, it’s kind of selfish too,” he admitted, his tone sounding a touch ashamed. “We want to see you sooner, but your arrival has coincided with unavoidable demands on our time that have disrupted all our intentions. I’ve had a couple of surgeries come up that I must attend to in the next week. The territorial council is arguing some legislation that Aslada has to oversee, and Jaon has been called off-planet to chase down some dangerous men who must be apprehended right away.”

I had to smile in sympathy. “You made plans and then life happened. That’s the way it usually goes.”

I heard the relief in Meyso’s voice. “Unfortunately, yes. So now I must thank you for being understanding.”

“No problem. I have friends from the transport to show me around Kalquor while they’re on leave anyway.”

If Meyso assumed my friends were men I might be banging, he didn’t think twice about it. “Oh good. I’m glad you won’t wait on us to have fun. Though we are hoping you won’t have too much fun without us.”

I grinned at the teasing note in his voice, as well as Betra’s whispered, “Oh, she’ll have plenty of fun.”

Meyso’s voice turned serious. “We also have to get together to discuss your mother’s procedures. There’s no big hurry. She’s perfectly safe in stasis here at the local hospital.”

“It would be nice for her to get back to living her life,” I said. The knot of guilt I felt over determining the course of that life had appeared in my stomach. I’d made my decision though, and I would stick with it.

“Give me the date when your friends’ leave is up.”

I did so and there was a pause as Meyso consulted his schedule. “Well, that’s perfect. Even if Jaon isn’t back and the clan can’t meet in a suitor capacity with you, you and I can have our consultation. I’m going to book our talk for two days after and tentatively schedule your mother’s first surgery the week following. Does that work for you?”

“Sounds great,” I said. I made a note in my handheld.

“And of course you and Anrel will stay in our home. Send me a list of favorite foods and whatever you’ll need while you’re here. There’s no need for you to deal with a lot of packing and worrying over forgetting anything.”

Boy, my potential clans were generous to a fault. Meyso shored up that assumption by adding, “And if there is anything that you need right now or before you get here, you have only to ask. We want you to know we are thrilled that you are considering us. Please don’t think we’re not looking forward to spending all the time we can with you.”

“Thank you, Meyso,” I said warmly. “I’m grateful that you’re taking care of my mother. Also, I haven’t forgotten the help you gave me when Anrel was sick.”

“I am happy to be of any assistance.” He sounded like he meant that.

A few more pleasantries, and Meyso had to ring off to meet with a patient. I switched the com off feeling pretty good about things.

As soon as I was finished talking with Meyso, Oses held out his hand. “Handheld, please.”

I gave it to him and he opened the calendar function. He entered a couple of names and frequencies, putting them in about five days after the estimated date for my mom’s first procedure. “These are the fitness and offensive training experts I’ve lined up for you to continue working with. These are men both Nobek Larten and I are acquainted with. They are aware that you need a little while to get everything in place for your new life here, but I wouldn’t put off contacting them any later than this. They are excellent trainers and in high demand. Taking you on is a personal favor to me,” he added, giving me a look that said quite clearly, ‘don’t disappoint me’.

“Thanks, Oses. I’ll probably contact them sooner just so they know I’m serious,” I assured him.

Betra smiled at both of us as he fed Anrel the creamy grain mash now supplementing her formula. “So. Hopefully we’re done with all the dull tasks of the day. Who wants to go for a walk on the cliffs?”