Thursday, June 1, 2017
I woke early, grabbed a shower, and went shopping with Candy, Joelle, and Anrel. I insisted the guys stay away, telling them I needed ‘family time’ with my girls. I think I may have hurt their feelings, but I wanted to hit the shops without them…I’d noticed the date. Even though I’m not really a hardcore believer in Earth’s old religion, I still wanted to celebrate Christmas. I needed to buy presents for everyone.
Joelle was of the same mind, so we rounded up Candy to tell her of our plans. The idea of buying Katrina, Anrel, and Stidmun gifts was more than enough to pry her from her Nobek’s side. With two hours to escape, we did our Earther thing and hit the shops.
I was grateful for my own account and the decent amount of funds in it. Imagine using Clan Seot’s account to buy them gifts! That wouldn’t do. As I mused over some really terrific knives, trying to choose one for Larten, it occurred to me that I should shop for Clan Aslada too.
“Crap, I have no idea how to send stuff to them,” I told my stepmom. “I don’t know how Kalquorian addresses work or what theirs even is. I’d better com them.”
“Is that such a good idea, Shalia?” Joelle asked. “After all, you are visiting with Clan Seot right now.”
“You have no idea how understanding those guys are,” I said, dismissing her concerns with a laugh. “I don’t think they have a jealous bone in their bodies. Besides, I commed them several times while I visited Clan Aslada. I had to keep them updated on Mom.”
“That’s understandable, especially when you needed the extra psychological support. You don’t need that at this point. You’re on vacation, not dealing with a sick parent.”
“It’s not like I’m doing it in front of Clan Seot,” I argued, checking the time and adjusting it for the difference. “Just like I didn’t talk to them in front of Clan Aslada…except for the one time Larten decided to be funny.”
“I don’t know,” Joelle said, her brow wrinkling with concern.
I was already clicking the clan’s home frequency. Aslada answered almost immediately. “Shalia, I beg you to tell me you wish to return to us.”
“I bet you say that to all the Earther girls,” I giggled. Joelle snickered and wandered off to continued shopping.
“Since I’m only acquainted with the one thus far, then I suppose I have to agree. Are you coming back early?”
“Not yet. Sorry. But I do want to send you and the other two wonderful men something. I just need to know the where so I can tell the shopkeeper.”
Jaon’s growly voice answered this time. “All you need to send me is yourself.”
“I’ll second that,” came the milder voice of Meyso.
“You big charmers.” I felt flustered to hear all that. My face was warm, and I know the grin on my face was as nervous as it was pleased. “It’s just, there’s an important Earther holiday coming up, and I want to celebrate it properly. It’s traditional to exchange gifts, so I need to know where to send the things I got for you.” Thinking of their insane level of generosity, I hurriedly added, “And don’t you dare buy me anything in return. You’ve given Anrel and me too much already.”
“We could never give you everything you deserve, even if we had all the money in the universe,” Aslada sighed. “You are so sweet, my adorable Shalia. Where are you now? With that other clan?”
I told him all about the cruise thus far and that we were about to leave Nacabri. “The port of Abcuhera is next,” I said, stumbling over the city’s name a little. It’s a mouthful.
“Oh, we have a lovely island retreat off that shore,” Aslada said after correcting my pronunciation.
Of course they had an island. They probably had their own space station or moon they hadn’t yet told me about. At least all their money hadn’t made them into assholes.
Aslada was still talking. “You, Anrel, Matara Joelle, Matara Candy and her companion should visit it. I can have a staff ready if you want to sleep there rather than on a cramped boat or impersonal inn.”
I noticed the limitations on his generosity. “Oh, no competition allowed?” I asked, keeping my tone light and teasing.
“I’m afraid I’m too jealous a jerk,” he said with a laugh. There was no apology in his tone. “We aren’t comfortable with having our rivals enjoy our property. I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course I do,” I said. “I wouldn’t have dreamed of suggesting it anyway.”
I noticed Candy and Joelle were queuing up to pay for their purchases, so I finished my conversation with the guys hurriedly, though it took some wrangling to convince them they should receive gifts from me. They thanked me profusely in the end, with much more gratitude than my little gesture deserved.
I had fun on our little shopping jaunt, picking out cute things for everyone. Candy, Joelle, and I had way too much fun yelling at each other not to peek as we looked for gifts for each other and chasing one another around as we tried to catch a glimpse of what we would be getting. I don’t know what the shopkeepers thought of our hijinks, but it was highly amusing for us. Anrel too, as she caught our enjoyment and chortled with delight to be included in the silliness.
We showed up with island attendants a couple minutes later than when we were supposed to go back to the ship, but everyone just laughed at our breathless excuses. No one cared we’d taken too long. “As long as you haven’t fallen into the ocean,” Ila said.
“Or into other men’s arms,” Erom teased with a significant look towards his brother. Cifa snorted and made a rude gesture at him before giving me a kiss of welcome.
Erom’s comment reminded me of my clandestine com to Clan Aslada. I’d brushed off Joelle’s concerns at the time, but her words came back to nag me. Had it been wrong for me to talk to them? Surely not; it had been part of an innocent gesture to include them in my holiday celebration. Why shouldn’t I buy them Christmas gifts? They’d given me so much…including helping to nurse my mom back to health. Plus it was accepted as normal that I should entertain more than one clan. Hell, there were those who would argue I was limiting myself by only considering two so far.
Yet Joelle’s attitude that I should concentrate on Clan Seot exclusively while I was on this trip with them had me thinking twice about my actions. Guilt gnawed at me, stealing some of the fun as we got underway and headed for the next stop. I also wondered if Seot, Cifa, and Larten would give me up as a bad bet if they knew I’d reached out to their rivals. I wondered if it was telling that I’d made it a point to keep my conversation secret.
I started to feel bad. That made me mad, because what did I have to feel bad about? I’d made a damned com to men I’d already slept with…men Clan Seot was well aware I’d had sex with and would fuck again given I was supposed to return to Clan Aslada’s home to have an angst-free visit. It wasn’t like I’d done anything wrong.
Yet I couldn’t shake the turns of conscience and annoyance. The antics of my shipmates on the main deck started to get on my nerves. Needing to clear my head, I slunk off to the forward deck to get some peace and quiet. I stood at the rail, letting the sea-scented wind blow against my face and staring at the sheet of green sea before me.
I thought no one had noticed me go, but I was on the bow only a minute when Seot appeared at my side. His smile was caring, but his gaze was sharp.
“What’s wrong, lovely?”
“Nothing,” I said, returning the smile to show how all right I was. “I just wanted some quiet.”
“Are you sure? Ever since we left the island, you’ve been distant, especially with Cifa, Larten, and me.”
“I’m having a non-chatty morning. Don’t you ever have those?” I could hear the forced lightness in my tone and knew Seot heard it too.
He crooked a brow at me. “You act like something has happened. Did I or my clan do something to put you off? If we’ve done something wrong, I’d like to fix it.”
I huffed disbelievingly. “You guys are perfect. You’re always perfect. Fix anything, and you’ll elevate yourselves to gods.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
I sighed. “It’s nothing. Really. I just need to get my head straight for a change.”
Seot stared out at the horizon ahead of us, the hazy line where blue sky met green ocean. He stepped back, and I relaxed, thinking he would leave me alone rather than push the issue.
Instead, he moved behind me and wrapped me up in his arms. Pulling me close, he said, “One unshakable rule I have for my clan is that we talk our issues out. Cifa and Larten know they can come to me with anything. I want you to do the same.”
“I don’t have issues with you, Seot. I’m trying to figure out concerns that are all mine.” Even as I said it, I snuggled back into the shelter of his body. He felt too good not to.
“If I am to be so lucky as to become your Dramok, then all matters that affect you affect me too. You have to trust me, Shalia. We can’t have a real relationship unless you have faith in me. I need to know you realize you are safe to tell me anything. Please?”
My heart sank as I grasped that he wouldn’t let this go. I thought about giving him a nice lie that might spare his feelings…but I had the notion Seot would see right through it.
The gals and I hadn’t told anyone we’d been Christmas shopping. Candy and I wanted to surprise our beaus with presents they wouldn’t be expecting. As far as the rest knew, we’d bought ourselves and our friends souvenirs. So that part, I glossed over.
“While I was shopping for gifts for my friends, I thought it would be nice to get some things for Clan Aslada too. They’ve done so much for me, that I would have felt like an ungrateful bitch to leave them out. I commed them to get the information so the store could ship the gifts straight to them.” I quickly reassured him, “The presents came out of my own account, not your clan’s.”
Seot was quiet for a couple of beats. It felt like an eternity as I waited for him to react. I was glad he was behind me, because I was afraid to see the expression on his face.
At last he said, “I suppose they were happy to hear from you.”
“They seemed to be. They said all the right stuff, except when it came to your clan. I think they’re a bit threatened by you.” I told him about the island getaway.
Seot chuckled. The easy sound of it made me relax a little. Maybe I hadn’t screwed up after all. “It’s just as well they aren’t feeling generous. Ancestors only know what Larten might leave behind on their island as a swipe at them.”
“I don’t want to visit their place with you guys anyway. It would be weird.” I groaned. “This whole thing is weird. I think that’s what I’m having trouble with.”
“I know the official line that says it’s okay for me to entertain multiple clans. You in particular have been beyond understanding in that regard…not just where Clan Aslada is concerned, but my past with Oses and Betra.”
“But you find it strange. How can I want you and let you be with others? Is that what you’re thinking?”
I finally turned to him to look him in the eye. I can’t say how reassured I was to see not one iota of condemnation on his face. No, Seot looked at me with a caring expression, as if only my feelings mattered. That brought another twinge of guilt.
I said, “Maybe I do find it a little odd. But mostly, I feel I’m wrong for dating two clans at once. It doesn’t seem like I’m being fair to any of you.”
“We’re free to see other women, you know.”
“But you aren’t! You said you wouldn’t,” I said. “Unless you’ve changed your mind?”
He shook his head. “We don’t want anyone else. Just you. Which is why the offer to clan is on the table.”
“See? So it’s a double standard after all. Because truth be told, if you did court another woman, it would be like a punch to my gut.”
Seot smiled. “It’s good to hear you say that. I’m glad that we mean enough to you that you don’t want us to see other women.”
“It’s not fair though,” I fretted. “It can’t be. Tell me you don’t hate this situation, and I’ll call you a liar.”
He kissed my forehead. “I won’t lie to you. I don’t like that you’ll be seeing Clan Aslada again. Shalia, I knew what I was getting into when I talked to Cifa and Larten about applying for the lottery. I warned them that we might find a woman who sang to our hearts but went to another clan in the end.”
“How can you do it then? Are you a masochist?”
He laughed. “I think of myself as a realist. I took a long look at the situation you Earther women were coming from…a world of few choices and opportunities. A world where you couldn’t indulge your most natural instincts to satisfy lust. Tell me, Shalia, what happens when someone is suddenly allowed to have something that had been denied to them their entire lives? Something inherent to their true selves?”
I rolled my eyes. “Massive over-indulgence in that thing. Sometimes to an unhealthy degree.”
“Exactly. How many of the women on your transport, once they started having sex with the crew and learned they could do so without repercussions, became extravagant with their favors?”
I thought of Katrina and her salons, with numerous young men draped all over her quarters. I started laughing. “Yeah, I see where you’re going with this. But I didn’t enjoy having a lot of different lovers. I wasn’t hopping from bed to bed as much as most.”
“But you have stretched your wings, so to speak. As much as your particular worldview will allow you to.”
I narrowed my gaze. “What do you mean, my particular worldview?”
Seot chuckled and hugged me close. “You need a real connection to the men you share your body with. You have to feel affection, if not outright love for them. Isn’t that true?”
He was right. “It only feels good when they mean something to me and I think I mean something to them. Otherwise, what’s the point? I like sex, but I like cruising around on this boat too, and I’m not going to marry the ship.”
“Sex is pleasant on its own, but with someone you care about, it’s transcendent. Life-affirming.”
“That’s my point. Thanks for naming it so well for me.” I smiled up at him, adoring the way he knew what I wanted to say and finding the right words when I couldn’t.
“It’s not a bad way to be, Shalia.”
“But because I think both your clan and Aslada’s are the bee’s knees—”
“Means you have found something wonderful in two places,” Seot interrupted. “Now you have to discover which of the two will fulfill you for the rest of your life. Only you can do that, Shalia. Only you can hear who your heart clamors the loudest for. So if you must spend more time with the other clan to be sure, then do so. Without apologies. I would not have you choose my clan out of guilt only to live with regret for all of your days.”
“Even though you want me?”
“The only thing worse than not waking up next to you each and every morning would be to wake up next to you knowing you’re miserable with me.” He said it with firm resolution. “I will do everything in my power to be your perfect mate, but in the end, your happiness is up to you. I can’t change that no matter how hard I try.”
I flung my arms around his neck and pressed my lips to his. “Thank you for not being mad. Thank you for giving me so many chances, even though we both know I’m a wreck.”
His eyes shone as he searched my face. “You are no such thing. You are a woman who has seen the worst of so many, and yet you are still capable of hoping for the best. I believe you must have the strength and bravery of ten thousand Nobeks, my lovely girl.”
There were a lot more compliments after that. And some pretty hot necking, which ended with Seot’s hand down the front of my shorts and me muffling happy cries against his shoulder.
Feeling a lot better with the air cleared, I rejoined the gang and got into the fun they were having. When my com went off and I saw Clan Aslada’s frequency, I keyed it to take a message. This was my time with Clan Seot…and as grateful as I was to the other guys for all they’d done, I decided to honor my time commitment with the present clan.
I checked the message they’d left later. They’d received their Christmas gifts (already!) and had commed to thank me. Jaon was thrilled with his knife, Aslada was touched I’d remembered he’d wanted new protective covers for his handheld and portable com, and Meyso said he loved the collection of drink recipes from Nacabri’s top mixologist. He was going to have their bartender make him a couple before he went to bed.
I hadn’t spent a lot, not considering the money they’d spent on me, but I’d picked gifts I thought they’d enjoy. I’m a big advocate of ‘it’s the thought that counts’. Right now, my thinking is that they can have my undivided attention when I meet up with them again. At this time though, it’s all Clan Seot.
And no more guilt. I hope.