Monday, November 28, 2016

October 20

I am sitting next to my mom, who I barely recognize. They shaved her head to do the procedures, so she’s bald as can be. She has multiple tubes running into her skull, draining stuff to keep her brain from swelling. Meanwhile, the medication she’s on post-surgery made her face balloon, so that’s kind of ironic. She looks terrible, and I have to keep reminding myself that Meyso says the surgery looks like a success so far. He’s pretty sure the tubes that make her look like some mad scientist’s experiment can come out before the day is through. Tomorrow, she’ll be allowed to wake up for the first time in months.

So today is about waiting. I’ve spent a lot of time on the com these last few hours as I sit with Mom. I spoke to Tep and shared everything I could remember Meyso telling me. My former doctor was encouraging and expressed certainty that things were going well. I hate to sound like I doubt Meyso, because I don’t. I wouldn’t have entrusted Mom with him if I wasn’t sure he’d do a good job. I still needed that boost from Tep.

I talked to Feru too, because I can tell him all my stupid fears and he won’t make me feel like a complete idiot for feeling them. He knows all the right things to say to make me feel like the world isn’t about to end after all. And as is usual with him, he insisted I com him any time, day or night, if I needed the support.

With everyone else, I made myself sound upbeat. I don’t want to be the big, whiny Shalia, especially when I’ve been assured there’s nothing to worry about. Mom is closely monitored. All her readings are terrific. The surgery went without a hitch. I can tell Meyso’s pleased as punch and all the orderlies and nurses keep asking me what kinds of foods and activities Mom will enjoy most once she can indulge in her New-and-Improved-Eve life.

Candy and Katrina are ecstatic about Mom coming through with flying colors so far. They want to throw her a party once she’s released from care. What sweethearts. I didn’t have the heart to tell them Mom despises social occasions with a passion. But who knows, maybe Mom will be more of a party kind of gal when it’s all said and done.

I had to send a recorded com to my dads and Joelle since they’re still so far out of frequency range. I ducked into the restroom to com Oses, Betra, and Clan Seot since Clan Aslada has stayed near me and Mom since she came out of surgery. I didn’t want anyone feeling weird or jealous or anything like that.

Everyone was encouraging, though no one was fooled by my enthusiastic report. The whole bunch saw right through me.

“Do you need us there?” Seot asked on behalf of Larten and Cifa. “Never mind how awkward it will be for the two clans who hope to win you. Your needs are more important than our discomfort. If you need the support, you shall have it.”

“No, it’s okay,” I insisted. “I just didn’t realize how Mom would look when she came out. As soon as she opens her eyes and starts cussing, I’ll be fine.”

When I commed my favorite guys, Oses was stoic without being dismissive. “You’ll get through this, pet. If half the stories you’ve told me are true, Matara Eve is too tough to keep down for long. It’s frightening when someone you love suffers, but everything is proceeding according to plan.”

Betra added, “It’s natural to worry. Anyone would be anxious over their mother in the same situation. Take things one moment at a time.”

I sighed. “It feels like each second is a year. I think it’s been hours and she should be doing something different, but then I realize only five minutes have gone by.”

“I’m sorry we’re not with you to help you feel better. You’ll com us as soon as something new happens?”

“Absolutely.” I tried to stop the poor-me mantra going on in my head. “How is life treating you two?”

“Great.” I swear I could hear Betra’s smile. He sounded happy. “It’s quiet too. Word is the route to Earth is now well protected, so we shouldn’t have the same problems on this trip as we had the last time.”

“Well, how nice for anyone who isn’t me,” I said, exaggerating the sarcasm so he’d laugh. “I should have taken that trip instead of the one before.”

“That’s what you get for evacuating in a timely manner,” he teased.

I kept the conversations quick so Clan Aslada wouldn’t clue in that I was talking to a bunch of other guys. It did seem kind of rude for me to talk to lovers past and possibly future when they were around, but I had promised to let everyone know how Mom was doing.

I’m still waiting to find that out myself. Anrel’s manny takes her out when she gets fussy and needs a nap, but otherwise, she stays with me. I talk to her about her grandmother and tell Mom everything Anrel does. I know she can’t hear me, but it seems important to do in case something goes wrong and she doesn’t wake up. I know she will wake up, but looking at the way she is right now is screwing with my head. I keep waiting for something awful to happen despite assurances to the contrary. I guess I was born to worry myself crazy.

Clan Aslada is patient with me, though. They have stayed with me as I sit and wait for Mom to start living again. They have been wonderful through the whole day, making sure I eat, insisting I take a walk and get some air from time to time with the promise I’ll be called back in if Mom so much as twitches, sharing stories and telling jokes to keep me from worrying too much. They are amazing. I am so lucky they showed up on my list of compatible clans. As soon as Mom is better, I need to find a way to express my gratitude. I owe these men big time.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

October 19

I met Jaon’s parent clan today. Clan Islan showed up earlier than expected…as in two hours early. I was still in the middle of my training when they made their entrance. Jaon was in the gym, watching Toleca spar with me when a servant came hurrying in to whisper in his ear.

“What?” Jaon dropped a grav-bell and stared at the flustered attendant.

His startled exclamation claimed my attention, and Toleca smacked my arm smartly with his rod. “Eyes on your opponent, Matara,” he reminded me. “Nothing else matters when someone wants you dead.”

Hissing in pain, I concentrated on Mr. Scary. But then, a bunch of people came into the room, talking loudly and making a fuss.

Toleca snarled, “Stand down,” and turned to glare at the interruption.

I watched as a woman separated herself from a knot of unfamiliar Kalquorians and Clan Aslada’s harried staff to approach me and an Toleca. She looked as if we’d done something to personally affront her, though I’d never seen the woman before in my life.

“What is this? What is going on here?” she demanded in an imperious tone.

Jaon hurried forward and bowed. “Hello, my mother. What a surprise to see you before you were expected.”

His words could have been abrupt, but he said them in a respectful, even indulgent tone, taking any sting out of them.

“I woke early and saw no reason to delay coming. I’ll greet you after you’ve showered, Jaon. In the meantime, tell me this is not the woman you’re courting.” She looked at me without bothering to hide her dismay. I was a sweaty mess in my shorts and tank top.

A man with the unmistakable look of a Nobek came forward as well. “Surely she’s not training in self-defense when she has you to protect her?” he thundered at Jaon, who reddened. “And by another Nobek? Explain this.”

And that’s how I met Jaon’s parents. Nice, right?

I never did hear Jaon give the reasons for me being in training rather than depending on him to defend me against whoever might dare to threaten. My attendant rushed over to me and bundled me away in a hurry. Meanwhile, Aslada also came into the gym and loudly greeted Clan Islan, distracting them as I made my quick exit. His hale-and-well-met politician’s voice boomed as my manservant Imdiko Iro and I trotted down the hall to my suite.

Iro shook his head and gave me a twisted smile as we went. “So much for first impressions, both for you and them,” he muttered. “Why Matara Tezila couldn’t wait for her son and you to come to her instead of bursting in like that, I can’t imagine. But she’s always been a bit eccentric,” he added in an undertone.

“In what way?” We reached my suite and shut the door. Iro locked it for good measure.

“Oh, just that if a notion to do something hits her, she does it. Like finding out what Jaon’s potential Matara would be doing in his gym. Let me get your bath going so you can get cleaned up.”

“Better make it a shower. I don’t want her having that Nobek of hers knocking my door down because she demands it.”

I was joking, but Iro’s face suggested it might be a matter to take seriously. “I think you’re right. Just a moment and I’ll have it ready for you.”

By the time I was cleaned up and in my gown, which was a gorgeous spring-green color, Iro had everything ready to make me parent-worthy. I did my makeup while he fussed with my hair.

“I guess I haven’t been properly warned about Jaon’s parents,” I said as I slapped on powder. “Aslada made lunch today sound so casual.”

“Maybe they didn’t want you scared half to death,” Iro said. “Oh, not that Nobek Jaon’s parents are awful. It’s just Matara Tezila can be unpredictable.”
“Like showing up to lunch two hours early.”

“Right. Also, she can be condescending one moment, and then personable the next. We look forward to her visits because when she’s feeling gregarious, she tells the best jokes and insists on everyone having fun. You have to not take the cold moods personally when she’s in them.”

“Okay.” I thought I could live with that. “What about the rest? Jaon’s Nobek father looked pretty ticked off that I was training.”

“Nobek Floeb is old-school in how he views the duties of the breeds. Mataras are never to worry their pretty heads about being safe. Nobeks must defend their clans to the death. Dramoks cannot be questioned. Imdikos see to every need.” Iro’s eyes twinkled. “He’ll give Nobek Jaon hell for letting you train like you are, mark my words.”

“How will Jaon deal with it?” I wondered. He hadn’t wanted me to train either.

“He’ll remind his father he’s his own man and challenge him to a fight if he doesn’t like it.”

“He will?” I was upset to think I’d caused a rift between father and son.

“Yes, but Dramok Islan will tell them to stop acting like a pair of brainless animals, Dramok Aslada will order drinks and say something amusing and charming, and Floeb and Jaon will head-butt to show how tough they are before laughing it off. Don’t worry; they’ll argue and resolve those arguments that way at least half a dozen times before the day is out.”

I worked on getting my eye makeup right. “What about the other two?”

“Dramok Islan is what you might call blustery. He’s very much lord and master of his clan, except where Matara Tezila is concerned. He often tells her she needs to do something, but she ignores him and he ignores her ignoring him. He’s loud and demanding to the point of seeming rude, but it’s an act. He can’t bear a woman to cry and will lose his mind doing whatever it takes to make her happy. Give him a smile for any reason – hell, for no reason – and he’ll melt. I can’t wait to see his reaction to Anrel.”

I was almost ready, needing a dash of lipstick to finish myself off. Iro was putting the last pin into place, giving my hair all the regal elegance a debutant could hope for. “And the Imdiko?”

“Imdiko Lahdin is the serene one of the bunch. He used to be a Temple of Life priest, and he carries that calm demeanor with him still. Most of the time he sits back and watches the mayhem around him. It only takes a word from him to quiet Islan and Floeb, or to make Tezila stop and think about what she’s doing. But as long as no one’s well-being is impacted, he lets them carry on as they will.”

My hair, makeup, and briefing were done. I called for Anrel to be brought to me. With Manny Snoy and Iro in tow, we went to the garden where everyone waited for us.

Introduction, round two.

This encounter went much better. Tezila rushed to me with a gleeful, “Here you are! I’d scold you for making us wait so long, but a pretty girl like you is worth waiting for. Oh yes, we were early too, weren’t we? So all is forgiven. Oh, here’s the baby!”

I didn’t think Tezila pretty, not in a traditional sense, anyway. Her nose is bulbous and a bit off-center. Her brow is heavy, and her chin juts out quite a bit. But when she’s happy, she shines like a playful child. She has the thickest hair I’ve seen on anyone, flowing in gorgeous waves to her knees. Her energy is nonstop, almost frenzied at times. And yes, as the day wore on I saw flashes of arrogance, especially towards the staff. But like Iro said, when she was merry, she made everyone around her merry too. She’s got wonderful attributes.

Anrel loved her. She loved Dramok Islan too, who did turn into a big pile of mush over her. The bearded clan leader, with his fat nose an even larger version of Tezila’s, looked like illustrations I’d seen of fairy tale dwarves. A giant dwarf, of course. He fussed over me too, his booming, demanding tone going gentle when he spoke to us gals. He asked about my mother, consoling me over and over about how she would be all right, how I shouldn’t worry, how Meyso would make everything right for ‘the poor, sweet lady’ as he called her. And then he’d turn to Meyso and thunder, “You’d better not mess this operation up!”

Meyso always gravely nodded and promised to do everything possible. When Islan looked away, he’d duck his head and give in to the grin that insisted on being expressed.

As is usual for Nobeks, Floeb had little to say. The thin-faced warrior with many scars behaved respectfully towards me and made stilted but polite conversation. He indulged in a comment or two to Jaon for falling short enough in his duties that I was being trained to fight. When that happened, Jaon growled, Islan yelled at them, Aslada shoved drinks in their hands, they butted heads like a couple of angry rams, and then toasted and laughed at each other. Just as I’d been told they would.

Imdiko Lahdin was indeed the calm center of Storm Islan. I found him relaxing to be around with his peaceful demeanor. He was fascinated with the beliefs of Earth’s religion. When the rowdier elements of his clan didn’t interrupt us, we had fascinating conversations about those beliefs and the ones I had. Having talked with several Temple of Life priests by this time, I felt comfortable discussing such things without fear of being judged.

It was an insightful, if exhausting day. I like Jaon’s parents for the most part, though if I’m honest, I like Betra’s more. I still hold their clan as the one I’d aspire to have. Too bad I can’t pick my in-laws as well as my clan.

They’ve gone home now. Tomorrow, I get to focus on Mom as she goes through her operations. One thing is for sure; Clan Islan kept me well distracted from worrying too much about that. I should thank them. I hope I can sleep tonight.