Monday, June 26, 2017

December 24, part 3

I led the guys to our quarters. I still felt the need the cry, but not the ability. That was just as well. This was going to be hard enough without blubbering incoherently at them.

“Maybe you should sit down,” I said as the men stood there, their worried faces breaking my heart all the more.

Seot held his hands up. “Shalia, if you’re about to do what I think you’re going to do, please don’t. We can make this right between us. I know you’re the Matara for my clan.”

The pain in my chest got worse. My strong, proud Seot was begging me not to cut them out? No, that man should never have to beg for anything. That I would drive him to it made me more ashamed than ever.

“You’re right. I am the Matara for your clan. You’re the men I want for myself and for my daughter. I love you.” As their stunned expressions brightened into joyous realization, I hurried to add, “But I’m not ready to accept your offer of clanship yet.”

They froze, caught between wonderment, elation, and concern. Seot was the first to regain his ability to speak. “All right. What’s holding you back? Is it that we have issues with you sharing private matters with former lovers?”

“No, Seot. You were right about that. I think I knew I shouldn’t discuss what was happening with Betra. Maybe that was what kept me from sending him that message.” I exhaled heavily. “There’s something still not right about this. Not with you, though. Something with me, I think.”

“What?” Cifa asked, coming close to take my hands. “Tell me so I can find a way to fix it. So I can call you my Matara and love you until the end of everything.”

The need to cry grew, but the inability continued to dog me. Nevertheless, my voice was choked as I said, “I don’t know what it is. I just know that something keeps me from accepting that I love you and want to be clanned to you. Whatever it is, I’m afraid it will continue to make me push you away when things seem to be their best…and that’s no way for us to be together.”

Cifa said nothing. He looked worried and sad. Seot seemed to understand, his expression also downcast but clear. Larten looked confused as hell, and for some reason, it made me laugh a little.

“It’s emotional shit, Nobek,” I said to him. “All the stupid feeling garbage that we other breeds insist on having.”

“Oh, that,” he said, his lips twitching with a slight smile. “You should consider not bothering with that sentimental mess. At the moment, it’s fucking with my happy future as your clanmate.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I wish I could jettison the whole nonsense. I really do.”

“Tell us what you need to get the answers,” Seot said, coming close. “Name it. It’s yours.”

“I need to go back to the Matara Complex. I need to get away so I can figure out what’s making me ruin things between us.”

“You’re not ruining this!” Cifa cried out, his tone distressed. “We just have to be patient while you work things out. You should stay with us so we can support you.”

“You mean so I can bite your head off every few seconds. So I can find ways to subconsciously derail what should be a wonderful time,” I told him gently. “Cifa, I’m not going away for good. I’m going to say yes to being your Matara. But I need to clear my head first, to find out why I keep pushing you away.”

“Do you really think leaving will be the best way?” Larten asked.

“Honestly? I don’t know. Maybe I’m full of shit on this. But I feel like I have a better chance of figuring myself out if I’m not dealing with the guilt of another episode of mistreating you three.”

“You’re not mistreating us,” Cifa insisted.

I barely heard him. For a moment, I’d felt on the verge of an epiphany, as if I’d caught a glimpse of whatever it was that made me so afraid of commitment. But the moment passed, and I was as clueless as ever.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I hate doing this. It’s killing me to ask you to give me time.”

“Then we won’t ask you to reconsider,” Seot said, giving Cifa a significant look.

My cutie-pie Imdiko wasn’t quite ready to give up, even with our Dramok’s overpowering tone and gaze. “How long will we be separated? What if you don’t discover what’s holding you back in a few days? Or a week?”

He had a point. Now that we were this close to being a clan, I didn’t want to be apart from them for long either. “If a couple weeks goes by and I’m no closer to an answer, then we’ll get together and discuss what should happen next.”

“Twenty days?” Cifa groaned. Inside, I groaned too. I’d forgotten a Kalquorian week was ten days long. Hopefully I wasn’t so dense that I wouldn’t figure out what my problem was before then.

“Cifa,” Seot said in his mild but warning voice. “She says she’s going to be our Matara. Don’t make her feel worse than she already does because you’re impatient.”

That straightened out our caregiver in a hurry. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think.” He hugged me close. “Don’t feel bad because I want you right here, right now.”

“Why should I feel bad that you aren’t giving up on such a pain in the ass?” I asked, returning the hug, squeezing him as hard as I could. “Start thinking about what kind of clanning ceremony we can have.”

Cifa’s sharp intake of breath let me know I’d said the right thing. “Oh. Oh. Which ship? Wait, that depends on the guest list. Start putting yours together, love. And there are so many wonderful locations, but it will depend on the time of year. Menus – Kalquorian and Earther food. What other race, Seot? You’ve got so many friends on different worlds because of where you do business.”

No one was really, truly happy that I was going – I reminded myself that was a good thing – but Cifa’s moment of distracted excitement helped us relax and even smile.

There was no shortage of heavy hearts as I packed to leave though. I could hardly believe I was doing it either. I was engaged to be clanned. I was in love. I would spend my life with the three men who made my heart beat faster, who made me feel safe, who saw the best in me even though I’d quite often shown them the worst.

We should have been celebrating. Instead, I was heading out to get my stupid head on straight. I had found happiness and was literally walking away from it. It didn’t matter that the separation was only temporary. It felt like someone was dying.

Probably the saddest part of all was saying goodbye at the shuttle terminal near the port where we were supposed to be vacationing and having the time of our lives. Funny enough, it was Larten who clung to me and Anrel, as if he wouldn’t let us board our transport. “Are you sure you have to go?” he asked me. “Isn’t there some way other than this?”

The brutal need to wail in grief was a solid weight not just in my chest by then, but in my stomach and throat. It made my head ache viciously. Yet not one damned tear or sob would leave my body and ease the pressure. “We’ll be together again soon,” I promised my Nobek in a thick voice. “And then you’ll never get rid of me.”

Even with my reassurance, it took a direct order from Seot before Larten would let us go. By then, the shuttle attendant was gesturing frantically at me to get on board.

I almost didn’t. I’m still not sure where the strength came from that got me on the shuttle and in my seat. I’m not sure how I didn’t scream to be let off when the shuttle lifted into the air.

It was then that Anrel began to cry. She was fed, she was dry, and there was no real reason for her to be upset…except that we’d left those we loved behind. She cried until she fell asleep in my arms. When we landed, she woke and started crying again.

I managed to wait until I got into my rooms at the Matara Complex. Then the stone I’d been carrying in my chest loosened, broke apart, and exploded in braying grief. Anrel and I sat in the middle of our greeting room floor, crying and crying and crying until we were too tired and empty to cry anymore.

Merry fucking Christmas.

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