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~Suzette~

༻Chapter Sixteen༺

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{Silently I walk up to the small house, shivering with every step. After seemingly far too long I make it to the entrance, but stop, letting snow flutter and pile up on me.

This is the second time I’ve been so nervous to come here, and somehow it’s even worse than the first…but I have to. Can’t leave everything like this.

So softly, I knock.

“Who’s there?”

My breathing stops. Everything stops.

“My mother’s working right now, if you want to see h—”

“It’s me.”

Slowly the door creaks open, with one red eye peeping at me through the cracks.

“Why are you here?” he whispers.

“…I think it’s obvious we need to talk.”

“I already know what you’re going to say. I don’t want to hear it,” he says with a slight quiver in his voice.

“I really don’t think you do…please, just let me come and talk to you.” At first, nothing. Then the door opens up fully.

“Then I guess you can come in,” he replies softly while bearing a miserable look on his face, as both of us make our way to his small, worn sofa. 

“Firstly…sâ pshyku vrémond,” I apologize with a sigh. “I shouldn’t have been so pushy, I just—”

“I know,” he replies quietly. “Is…that all?”

“No, the second thing is—you’re not a freak, Hikaru.”

“We both know that’s a lie, Alex,” he says, looking into my eyes. It sends a slight shiver through my back…he tends to avoid direct contact if he can help it. But right now…

“Why do you always say stuff like that?”

“Look at me, where I’m from, what I do, I’m—I—”

“You’re not, and if you think I’m here to get angry at you, I’m not.” He remains silent, and both of us glance away from each other.

“Hikaru…I’ve never heard of a boy loving another boy like that before.”

“Yeah, because it’s a sin…”

“Who said so?”

“The gods made us to create, and especially to create more of us, like all life does—to deliberately spit in the face of that—”

“You know I’ve never much cared about religious stuff.”

“But I do!” He turns his face back towards me, now with tears streaming down.

“Any god that damns you for something as stupidly insignificant as that isn’t worth worshipping!” Although I don’t mean too, I find it hard not to raise my voice. He merely glares at me in shock. I rarely get angry, but—

“I guess you were right, this…is different from how I imagined it…”

“Hikaru…” I say, putting my hand up to my forehead, “I…I need time to think over everything. Obviously, it never even occurred to me to view you like that, so…so I don’t know how to feel yet.

“But, I do know one thing—you’re my best friend, and if you want to change that you’re going to have to try a lot harder than this.” A small, nearly imperceptible smile comes across his face. But, I notice it.

“Truly?”

“Yeah, of course…why would I hate you for liking me?”

“Alex…mâzjêr né,” he whispers while looking away.

“You don’t have to thank me; I haven’t done anything,” I reply. “Let’s just…try to go on as normal from here, okay?

“Yeah…I’d like that.”}

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Gently, the first morning rays filter through my eyes. Under normal circumstances, I sleep at least through the dawn; and yet recently, ever since the Solstice, it is as though my body refuses to allow too much rest. New energy flows through my veins, of strange revelations I still do not know quite how to handle. It is exhilarating…yet slightly exhausting.

Now that I understand the truth of the matter, of past and present, all I wish to do is share it with him. Embrace him tightly, and share everything.

Lêm sâ tsiâ né, Hikaru… See, I truly did keep my promise to you. I love you so much. Everything is well, everything shall be well. Please…let us not part again.

But, how does one say that? Where to even begin? Especially when I am certain it is not reciprocated…I do not doubt that he loves me, but it surely must not be like that.

That thought…hurts. But, there is little I can do of it, aside from carry on.

With such words swirling in my mind, I look out into the distance. We are on the precipice now between wilderness and civilization. Large fields of wheat and other crops continue for nearly as long as the eye can see, with small homes and hamlets nestled between them. However, at the far edge of sight, I still see it—buildings huddling together with increasing frequency, seemingly melding into a single, immense mass. Solzédniê.

For so many years I have wished to return, and even now I have considered starting my bakery there—to think, it is right there! Right in sight!

Although, truly seeing it, I wonder how much it has changed, in the over dozen years since I was last here. I wonder how different it must look through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child…shall it have the same charm? Or did I merely enjoy it so much because of course a child would find something so different exciting? Or perhaps it was merely my brother’s presence, and his ability to make even the most mundane things seem enjoyable. I truly wonder; yet, I suppose I do not need to for long now. I shall soon discover the truth, and luckily even now I still have pleasant company.

I continue gazing upon the horizon, the sky shifting from hues of warmth to the cool hue of the daytime. Eventually, I hear rustling behind me.

“Sâlêzj,” Hikaru mumbles, still clearly not entirely awake. “Are you ready?”

“Yes!” I reply excitedly. He comes up and sits beside me, chuckling under his breath.

“Nice to see you’re more optimistic now,” he smiles. “I’m…happy one of us is.”

“Are you worried?” I look towards him, who is now merely staring at the ground.

“I don’t do well in cities,” he mutters, crossing his arms.

“I am sure it is not so horrid,” I attempt to reassure him, putting my hand on his arm. “There are so many people in Solzédniê, perhaps you will scarcely stand out at all.”

“Oh, that’s not what I’m worried about, although it doesn’t help,” he sighs.

“Then, what are you referring to?”

“I hope you don’t have to find out.” With this, he gets up, and extends his hand out to me.

“Would you like to get going now?”

“I suppose so,” I utter while grasping his hand.

I wonder what he means by that, yet…well, I hope I do not need to find out.

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For some hours Hikaru and I continue forward amidst all the fields of wheat, corn, and even more crops that I scarcely pay mind to. After a time, everything seems the same as before, even if it is not—immense flat fields, clusters of houses between them…it is considerably more monotonous than the forests and valleys which we tend to call our road. While of course we have encountered numerous fields before, nowhere else are they so endless. Only the steadily creeping boundary of Solzédniê gives the sense that this expanse truly does have an end.

After a time, another issue arises as well.

“It is amusing,” I say, “For as many crops as there are here, there is a surprising dearth of food…”

“Not surprising,” he replies with a sigh. “With as large as Solzédniê is, any wild land would be a waste. At least for them.”

“Yes—all this food, and nothing for us,” I say with a slight chuckle, attempting not to become down. Yet, the gnawing within me tells a different tale.    

Anymore, all we eat is wild plants and fruits we find on our path; the last time either of us truly tasted anything cooked was when we visited that strange bakery, and I hardly remember how long ago that was now.

The thought of even mundane foods—breads, soups, meat—it makes the pain within me become nearly unbearable.

“Hikaru,” I begin, tugging upon his sleeve, “Perhaps we should attempt to find some place to eat soon…”

“Agreed,” he answers. “I’m sure we can find some in on the cusp of the city.”

I look forward, disheartened at how far the city still appears to be; and yet, looking around, there are still mostly fields and isolated houses around us still. I suppose there is no other choice than to resign to our fate, and so quietly we continue onwards.

As we keep walking, I proceed to do what he occasionally does, and detach from our surroundings entirely, focusing all my energy on each step. The hunger, the monotony, and all the swirling feelings within me still for a moment, and I am merely overcome with peace…it is nice.

“Would you like to go there?” his voice breaks the silence, and I soon return to reality.

In the distance not so far away, I see it: a large inn of multiple stories, the stables to the side seemingly nearly as large as it is. Over the entrance hangs a large sign, too large perhaps, that reads Sâr Ordin, The Gilded Edge—of course, in gilded letters. Although the establishment does not seem as fancy as this may imply.

“Yes, that shall be fine,” I reply to him.

As we come closer to the inn, my heartbeat grows faster as I see all the various people around; for a moment, I feel as though he has perhaps influenced me… Although in truth, I know it is because…I have never been around so many people like this.

Travelers, merchants, nearby farmers simply looking for something to drink, so many kinds of people I have truthfully scarcely had much to do with. And, I am not ignorant—all those tales of how the lower classes know their “rightful place,” would never be discontent with those above them—I am worldly enough to know that is utter nonsense. By nearly all standards I have rescinded my status as an aristocrat, but that does not necessarily mean I fit in…

When Hikaru and I were in town last, I did not quite think of this; we were only passing through after all. But now, that we shall be sitting down, presumable amongst so many people…

I look up towards Hikaru, to see if I can discern how he is feeling. He looks roughly as enthusiastic as always in these situations—that is, not terribly. But, he does not seem particularly concerned at least, so I put away my fears as we enter the inn.

Immediately, I am struck by the overwhelming sound of conversation and—music? At the far wall, lays a stage, an upon it a man with lute singing.

“Is it common for inns to have music such as this?” He looks down towards me, clearly a look of perplexion on his face.

“Have you…never been to an inn with music?”

“Sometimes there may be a music hall, but one must always pay to come in—must we pay?”

“To eat,” he replies with a slight laugh. “But I suppose you likely wouldn’t have gone to a normal inn before.”

Normal; to think, at one point not long ago I believed that word entirely applied to me, that he contrasted with myself in just how bizarre he seems. I suppose it truth, neither of us particularly belong anywhere, it would seem…

We find a seat in the far corner of the inn, at a table that seems ill-fitting for both of us. Here the light only barely reaches, and the swirl of conversation in the front of the room becomes absorbed by the music.

“It is much more peaceful here,” I say with relief at not being amongst the swarm of people.

“That was the idea,” he smiles. “Hmm, you almost sound like me now.”

“I have just come to enjoy a little quietness, is all—!” At this he laughs, before a voice soon interrupts us.

“What would you prefer to have today?” cheerily chirps a woman with long blonde hair, and a small dress that is…certainly unlike any I have seen. It seems a tad too small…

Suddenly, I begin panicking.

W-what sort of thing am I supposed to order?

But, luckily for myself Hikaru begins to order—some water and bread, and “meatless stew.” I merely order the same, and immediately put my face to the table once I am done.

“Ah…”

“Is everything all right, Suzette?”

“I believe you have influenced me too much, Hikaru.”

“What do you mean?”

“Being here, dealing with people—I have not the slightest clue what I am doing, it seems so simple and yet—”

“The lives of nobility are going to be different from someone like me…of course you’re out of your element.” He looks upon me with a gentle expression of understanding…

“It is just…I suppose by now, I anticipate for you to know what you are doing within the woods and wild places, while I am entirely confused. I assumed I had human society figured out, yet I struggle to simple order food within an inn…”

“It’s fairly easy, most of these places have the same sort of foods. That’s why there isn’t a menu.”

“I see…” I sigh. My, it feels ridiculous having to be taught something so simple…

“I know you’ll get used to it, you’re better with people than I am anyhow.” I chuckle; I know he is correct, but in this moment it does not feel that way.

I look out into the room, at all the sorts of people…two older women in mud-stained aprons huddled close, speaking in hushed tones. A young man yelling, clearly having too much to drink in spite of the early hour, and presumably two friends—one laughing along with him, the other clearly having nothing of it.

It would seem this is the Solzédniê I never witnessed as a child.

“What are you thinking about?”

“My mind is merely wandering, I suppose.”

“Then you’re in good company for that.”

“Perhaps so,” I reply.

Soon the waitress arrives once more, bringing both our drink and food.

Before this journey, I do not believe I would ever have partaken of something like this, but at this moment it almost tastes better than anything I have ever tasted. As I eat the stew however, something feels a bit missing…

“Hikaru, why did you get this without meat?” He looks down at his food, avoiding me.

“I just don’t eat meat.”

“Why not?”

“Well…” he sighs, “I never went hunting, before I began wandering. I attempted to afterwards, but I…

“The fae,” he whispers a bit closer to me, “The one we met on the day of the Solstice is a bit different from most. They don’t long for death, but they usually do not mind if others eat their fruits, they do not feel pain from it…they’re not like us. I can’t…I can’t bring myself to kill anything like us, that feels pain like we do. And so now I’ve gone so long without meat, I don’t think I could handle it even if I don’t prepare it.”

“You say that almost like it is shameful.”

“For a man to not hunt…”

“By now, I would be much more surprised if you did hunt,” I say. “It is not something I ever particularly thought of or questioned.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” he replies. “I remember with Alex—”

Abruptly, he ceases speaking. I cannot remember the last time he has mentioned his name to me, perhaps when we first began this journey…

Although it is the house he and Hikaru shared that we are traversing to, it is his paintings which we seek to collect…Hikaru never mentions him. But I know why.

“That is the one whose paintings we are collecting, yes?” I attempt to feign ignorance, yet it feels so odd…every evening, nearly without fail, I am Alex. Hikaru believes I know nothing of him, yet I know Alex better than anyone else could even begin to—including Hikaru.

“Yes, well…I remember when we spent time together, how often others would berate us for not hunting or similar things—”

“And I doubt they are the ones who became so successful in their lifetime, yes?” I add with a sly smile.

“If I am successful to you, you would certainly have much different idea of that than anyone else I’ve met.”

“You usually seem rather joyful to me, is that not success?” I look down for a minute, and pause. “This is why I am on this journey…I had status and wealth before, but no freedom, no friends, no joy—do you not have all of this?”

“Well…” he smiles with a familiar melancholy, “I have nearly all the freedom in the world, and though I have friends I am far more often alone…and if I don’t stay some degree of joy, I will fall into despair.

“Surely you have seen…just how much I must stave it away. So even by that definition, my degree of success is debatable. I just do all that I can.”

“Then…I hope someday you can be more successful without so much struggle, Hikaru.”

“I appreciate your optimism, yet unless you change society…”

“That is not the issue; well, at least, not the only one.”

“What?” He looks up to me with an utterly baffled look, as though I spoke something vulgar.

“Society has gotten to you terribly, has it not?”

“…Elaborate,” he says.

“It appears you have taken it to your soul how society treats you…”

“It’s just a fact that I’m—”

“Yes I know, yet not all the world is so cruel, and…

“Sometimes, it almost seems as though you believe you deserve your treatment. You speak of it so much, like a mantra—'Of course, of course I do not belong, why would I—'’

“Suzette…”

“I wish you would love yourself a little more, Hikaru.”

He gazes at me, eye gaping wide, speaking nothing before he looks down once more.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that…”

“Unfortunately it would seem you did not listen particularly well then.”

He pauses, before continuing to eat once more in silence.

“Regardless of what anyone shall think, including yourself…I quite enjoy you as you are.”

He pauses, and stare out into nowhere. Still saying nothing.

“You may do with this information what you may,” I add softly, and continue eating as well.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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