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~Suzette~

༻Chapter Twenty-One༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

{The days go on and on, each one melding into the last. I paint, visit Beaulieu, paint some more, attempt to socialize with Hikaru, and paint more again. Normally, I love it, watching myself grow progressively better and better…but it is difficult not to feel increasingly worn down.

My mother indeed allowed Hikaru to move in with us, but…the wound from the loss of his mother is still so fresh. Once he comes home from working, he usually lays down in his bed, sometimes sleeping, sometimes staring at the wall for hours at a time…

All I want to do is make him happy again, see him smile again…but, what is there to do? I guess I’ve technically lost a parent before, but he died before I was even born—it's completely incomparable. I didn't realize…how much he really is in my life, until he's almost entirely out of it. Ironically, right when he moves in with me is when he becomes most distant.

“Hikaru,” I whisper one evening, setting my hand on his side. He turns on his back and stares up at me, dark bags under his eyes. It seems he hasn’t been sleeping very well, in spite of being in bed so much…

“Hmm?” he mumbles.

“I’m going to have dinner with my master tonight, would you like to join me?”

“…Hmph,” he huffs, and turns away. “I doubt he’d like me.”

“Why’s that?”

“…I don’t even know why you like me.”

“Hikaru…” I sigh, “How do you think your mother would feel about this?”

“What?” he turns over again.

“I didn’t know her that well, but…I think it’d make her awfully sad, seeing you stay in bed all day like this, not talking or socializing with anyone.”

“I’m not good at that anyways.”

“Hikaru.” He sits up, and looks at me, eye full of sadness.

“I won’t make you go,” I say, “But…will you go with me one day? He really wants to meet you.”

“He knows about me?”

“Of course he does,” I smile. “He’s almost like a father to me…of course he knows about you.”

Though it is very small, almost imperceptible, a small grin does indeed appear on his face.

“Well…it might be nice to get out of the house for a little bit.”

“All right, let’s get ready—!” I hop up, and swiftly put on my coat and gather my things. It worked!

Hikaru and I leave the house, into the dark, freezing night. The ground is covered in snow, sparkling under the moonlight. But, it’s not snowing, windy; other than the temperature itself, the weather is entirely agreeable—and admittedly, the cool, fresh air is refreshing as well. If there is any time to bring Hikaru out of the house in this season, tonight is surely the night.

“I must warn you,” I say, “It’s a bit of a long walk. He lives out in the woods, away from everyone.”

“He sounds smart,” Hikaru replies with a slight smile. “I’ve been to the park around here, but I don’t think I’ve been in the actual forest…”

“Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll love it,” I reply. “Although maybe less because it’s winter, but we just have to wait for that.”

And so, he and I walk through the town, to the edge and beyond. Everything is so still and quiet…maybe a bit too much.

“Everything all right?” I ask Hikaru after a while.

“Yes, I’m just a bit nervous; I imagine he must be a great painter, to have taught you so well…”

“And?”

“There’s nothing notable about me at all…I mean, nothing good.”

“You’re getting really good at drawing plants!”

“I’m still not nearly so good as you…”

“You know practically everything there is to know about the gods, all those old myths and tales,” I say.

“But, that’s not really—”

“Well, I think I’ve shown you I don’t know much about that.”

“Lots of people know about that.”

“Even if you’ve not seen them, lots of people know how to paint too.”

“I guess that’s true…”

He and I continue walking through the forest, until we finally arrive; a seemingly small, unassuming house away from everything except the trees, only the faint light off the snow and from the candlelight within showing that anything is in there at all.

“This really is away from everything…” he mumbles, as we walk up to the door, and I knock.

“Who’s there at this unholy hour?” Beaulieu angrily shouts from within.

“It’s Alex, I came to—” Before I’m done, abruptly the door opens.

“Alex, my boy!” he exclaims smiling, as though his previous outburst never happened. “Pshyku, some rather unpleasant people have been trying to barge in lately, I just assumed they decided to try new tactics.”

“Did you forget about us having dinner?”

“Oh no!” he theatrically puts his hand to his forehead, “I thought that was tomorrow! Well, come in, come in!”

“Actually, I brought someone too…” I look back towards Hikaru, eye wide. He looks a bit overwhelmed, like he has no idea what’s going on, or what to think of it.

“Oh, is this Hikaru?”

“You…remembered my name?” he looks at him, now even more flabbergasted.

“I’d hope so, with as much Alex talks about you.” Suddenly his face turns bright red…and I imagine mine does too.

“If you’re a friend of my boy,” Beaulieu says, “Then you’re a friend of mine as well. So you come in too!”

And so, we both go in to his cramped little house.

“There's so much here…!” Hikaru exclaims, likely referring to the vast array of paints, canvases, sketchbooks, and nearly any other sort of art supply you could ever imagine, for anything except sculpture perhaps.

“Well, sorry for the mess,” my master says, “It tends to stay this way. I actually live back there, where it isn't quite as much of a wreck.”

The next room at the other end of the house is incredibly small; a small table with a few chairs, a few worn cabinets, a tiny wood stove, and one small bed—his entire living space in a room as large as my bedroom back in my apartment. But I would be lying to say it isn't one of my favorite places to me. Especially with the smatterings of candlelight, and Hikaru here with me too…

It really does feel like home.

“I don't mind, it's cozy…” Hikaru says, echoing my thoughts precisely.

“I’m still sorry it's nothing fancy,” Beaulieu apologizes again, while stirring a pot of beef stew in the stove. “My work is a bit more glamorous than my own life.”

“I think I like this better than an estate or some such thing anyways,” Hikaru mumbles, and Beaulieu smiles.

For a long time the three of us sit, eating, talking; and for the first time in what seems like ages, Hikaru smiles and laughs. For a moment, at last, he can forget all his troubles…

“So,” Beaulieu says after a while, “I know my boy's becoming a painter like me, but what about you? What do you want to do when you get older?”

Suddenly, Hikaru becomes very silent.

“I…I don’t know. I haven't really thought about it. Erm…anything I can do, at least.”

“Nonsense,” my master says, “Everyone can do something.”

“Not someone like me,” Hikaru sighs, looking down and away from everyone.

“With that attitude, maybe. Look here son,” he says putting his hand on Hikaru's shoulder, who slightly jumps from the gesture. “My father was a beggar and my mother was a whore, I was left to fend for myself when I was younger than you. But I became determined to become a painter, and look where I am now.”

“I’ve…had thoughts of becoming some kind of physician,” Hikaru blurts out. “I really like plants…I’ve tried learning how they work, maybe someday I could combine them for medicines—”

“That’s wonderful!” Beaulieu exclaims. “Why wouldn’t you be able to do that?”

“What if people don't want medicine from someone like me?”

“Now that…I can’t say,” my master sighs. “Then you have to find something else. There's a million things in the world, everybody has their place somewhere—remember that, and you'll be fine,” he smiles.

Maybe that place is with…

“Well, I suppose I'll try,” he replies with a weak grin.

And so we continue eating and talking, having a good time. Although from that point onwards…Hikaru does seem a little more distant.

“It's been nice, boys, but I really need to get my sleep, I don't got so much energy as you.”

“Mâzjêr né!” Hikaru and I thank at once, and I can't help but chuckle a bit.

The two of us finish saying our goodbyes, and exit the warm house, back into the even more frigid air. But now, the full moon hangs high overhead, giving a cool glow to all the world, making the snow shine…although the air prickles the skin, the beauty remaining more than makes up for it.

“Your uncle is really nice,” Hikaru comments, once we’re out the door.

“My uncle?”

“Well, however you're related to him—”

“We're not related at all...” I trail have, looking at him with complete confusion. “Why do you think that?”

“Oh, you just look so similar, I assumed you must be related.”

“I mean, I know eyes like mine aren't that common, but I'm sure lots of people have them…somewhere,” I add, thinking back to that…I've never seen in person someone with similar eyes to me, not brown or even light brown, but more of a golden hue. I’ve heard they’re out there somewhere, even if Beaulieu is the only other person I’ve seen with them.

“I mean not just your eyes, but also your curly black hair, your faces just look really similar too. I thought it was only your painting that looked a little like you, but you look even more similar in real life.”

“Well…” I mumble, thinking of his reasoning—I guess if I was older and had a beard, we would look almost exactly alike… “As far as I know, my mother's my only relative. She doesn't have any siblings or parents, and I don't think my father did either. Or at least, he’s from far away.”

“If you say so,” Hikaru acquiesces, clearly not that convinced. Now, I wonder a bit myself…maybe I'll have to ask him sometime.

He and I retread our steps, the imprints in the snow still as clear as they were when we came. In spite of myself…I keep finding my eyes drawn to him.

His hair and skin shine softly under the moonlight, perfectly matching the sparkling snow around us. His eye is like a ruby nestled amongst the soft snow…

“Alex,” he says after a time, “Is everything all right? You keep staring at me…”

“Y-Yes, everything’s fine!” I stumble, completely caught off guard. I thought I was being discreet, but apparently not…

“Hikaru,” I say quietly, although not another soul is anywhere around, “You always say all these bad things about yourself, but, you know…you are really beautiful.”

“Y-You don't have to say stuff like that—” he looks down, face instantly flushing red. “You don't have to pity me.”

“I’m not pitying you, it's true. You look like you're shining…” He chuckles.

“Well, I guess that's what my name means…my mother said she chose it because of my hair, but I always thought—”

“It's fitting.”

“If you say so.”

He and I continue walking quietly for a short while; eventually, the sound of my heartbeats overwhelm the sound of my steps. In spite of myself, I can't stop looking upon him, I can't help but be drawn to him—

“There's some things I need to tell you, I think…”

He merely side eyes me without saying a word. I have absolutely no idea what he's thinking…and it's a bit scary.

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately; I’ve realized, I really…I really can't stand seeing you miserable, more than anything.”

“Pshyku…” he mumbles, and starts twirling around the edge of his scarf. “It's so hard…I’m not trying to inconvenience you, I’m sorry, I—”

“You don't have to apologize to me, why would I be upset at you for being depressed?”

“You said you don't like me depressed—”

“That's not what I mean.”

“Then…what do you mean?” He gazes up at me with a wide eye.

“All I want to do is make you happy…all I want to do is see your beautiful smile again. I miss it so much.”

“Alex…” Gently I turn him around to face myself, and now his face becomes perhaps even more red than his eye.

“I…I don't know what the future will be like,” I say, “But…”

I come close to his face, so close our breathes intermingle, becoming a single, warm cloud in the cold night, and I whisper in his ear—

“Would this make you happy, Hikaru?”

For a moment, he merely glares at me. His breathing stops entirely.

No, have I made a—

But before the thought can even finish he pulls me down in an embrace, in a tight, warm, clumsy kiss.

My body becomes entirely paralyzed, only the sensation of chills run through me.

As abruptly as he started he pulls away, a look of panic overwhelming his face. I…merely stare.

I’ve kissed Ines innumerable times, but it was…nothing like that. Not ever. Not even my first kiss.

Is…that what they’re truly supposed to feel like? Or is it better—?

“Pshyku! I know that's probably not what you meant—!” he quickly turns away.

“It is,” I whisper, grabbing his arm. “You don't have to second guess yourself so much…you're right more often than you think.”

Now he doesn't say anything, but turns back around and merely buries his face in my chest, and grips me tight. I softly return the gesture.

“I think…lêm sâ tsiâ né, Hikaru. I love you, Hikaru.”

“Truly?” he mumbles within my chest, “Or…am I just going to wake up from this as always?”

“Well…if you do, then so will I. And perhaps we can continue this then.” He laughs lowly.

“I guess so.”

He and I continue walking through the forest once more, more closely the time.

“Alex, we can't tell anybody about this, under no circumstances—”

“I know, Hikaru.”

“Do you mind? Do you mind…keeping a secret like this?”

“I’ve never had to keep many secrets…” I say, “But I can learn. I don't mind.”

“You really are too good for this world…” he mumbles, seemingly assuming I can't hear him. In return, though I know he isn't looking, I give a slight grin.

I hope I am…then maybe I can give you the happiness you deserve.}

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

I awake smiling wide, full of joy…but immediately, soreness and pain from the day before floods my limbs. And once I truly begin remembering the day before…all the previous joy of those sweet memories is washed away with a surprising speed.

Florence…the one person who was kind to me as a child. The one person who truly care about me.

My father was often gone, out with friends, out on “business” both legitimate, and  “business” I would rather not consider. My mother was always demanding, always scolding me to be quieter, to put on a more proper face like a true lady. Elise was much the same, although her words always cut with even more edge. How lamentable it was that I have such lowly pastimes as baking. How lamentable that is seems I ceased to grow at ten, except perhaps outward, and could never even compare to her beauty. How lamentable that I was ever born at all.

He was the one who would play with me, in the way all children regardless of sex prefer to. Who would spend time with me, encourage my dreams, whatever they may happen to be. That someday I would be surrounded by love of all forms.

Even after he left, those dreams did not die entirely, only withering once it was announced I must be married…and only fading away entirely once the day at last came.

That is, until within Hikaru I discovered a new light to perhaps help lead me out of the darkness, though small and faint it may be. I…never imagined it would come to envelop me such as it has.

I lay at the ground, staring at the bright, brilliant blue sky above, listening to the sounds of birds all around as my thoughts flutter to and fro. Of course I should move eventually, yet…

Thinking of all the days I lost with my dearest family…is devastating.

“Oh, are you awake?” Hikaru says after a while, and soon his face is leaning above my own.

“Yes…I am sorry, I am a bit exhausted still.”

“You and me both,” he sighs. “I can say, Solzédniê truly gave me everything I thought and more.” I chuckle as I lift myself up, hunching over slightly as even sitting straight seems to require too much energy.

Slowly, softly, he puts his hand upon my back.

“How are you feeling today, Suzette?” he asks me in perhaps the most mild voice possible.

“I…do not know. There is so much.” He pulls me closer, and I cannot help but lean into him…but as much as I would love to relish in this moment, my mind remains elsewhere.

“Do you mind bringing out the map?” I ask him after a moment.

“Not at all, although…” he sighs, “I don’t know where we are. I can probably find the general area, but the specifics…we might have to find a town and ask the people there. Fae tend not to know the human names for areas.”

“Ah, I am so weary of civilization…” I complain, and now he laughs loudly.

“Well, I think a break for today would do us well; although, I think having some idea of what we’re doing shouldn’t hurt.”

“I agree.”

He brings out his old map, and spreads it out on the ground, perusing it carefully.

“Huh…I guess I have been by Bydlin before. It’s in Mârsêl, just as she said. And I think we’re about in this area,” he says, circling his finger around the upper part of Solzédniê’s province, where it meets with northern Soleia. “So it seems it might take a couple weeks at most to get there.”

Looking at the map, Mârsêl borders this province to the upper left, and Bydlin is closer to the southern end…so it truly is not terribly far at all.

Swiftly, a lightness overcomes my chest. Although I know Elise cannot truly be trusted…I desperately wish to believe she is telling the truth. And that, should this truly be the truth, that he is still there…

And we can finally remedy these years of sadness in absence.

“That is lovely, that is truly lovely…” I whisper, glancing over the page.

“It is,” Hikaru smiles in return. “Maybe you can even spend some time with him, and our journey will not even be too much later than before.”

“I sincerely hope; that would be wonderful,” I sigh.

For a moment, however, my thoughts begin going to a different subject…

“Hikaru, did we…run through the entire city? I only remember when the guards began to chase us, and then the next I remember it was night, and we were out…”

“…Yes. We outran them,” he replies firmly.

“Is there something that matter with me, then? Forgetting so much—”

“It was…a long day; don’t worry, you’re fine.”

I sigh…something about his manner appears off. I wonder how he has kept so many secrets, it seems over time he becomes worse with both lying, and keeping them hidden. Perhaps that is not a bad thing…

He folds up his map and puts it away, and thus he and I begin our normal routine after of days of being away. Walking in the grass as we are bathed by the warm sunlight, him asking faeries where we may find something to eat once more. Now, away from the city, the contrast is startling—the sounds of birdsongs are infinitely more numerous, small butterflies can be seen fluttering about everywhere. Even the occasional creature such as rabbits can be seen ruffling through the grass. It is just as lively as Solzédniê; no, perhaps even more so, yet it is far more peaceful. I truly do stand by yesterday’s comment…I believe I would adore to live in a place more like this.

For perhaps an hour we walk about, gathering wild greens and freshly ripened berries, at last filling out flask with truly fresh water—I think my most missed thing from the wilds. Luckily, in a relatively short amount of time, we have everything we need to face out the day.

“Do you still wish to rest for today?” he asks, and I slowly nod. I would adore to find Florence as soon as possible…but, I know if I do not rest after yesterday—after the great number of things which have happened, truly I will surely regret it. Especially for him perhaps, with as terribly as the city can overwhelm him…

So the two of us find a soft patch of grass, in the shade of a small gathering of trees, and begin eating some of our breakfast.

“Suzette,” he says after a little while, “Would you like to try playing your accordion? You haven't said anything, but maybe—”

“Oh of course!” I exclaim, entirely forgetting we ever got it at all. Oh how wonderful, something good did happen yesterday, that is right!

He gently brings it out of his satchel, handing it to me as though it is a treasure. In truth, to me…it is.

Slowly I move the bellows, playing around with the keys to decipher what each of them is. But soon I begin playing a simple melody as Hikaru watches on silently, for a time at least.

“Well, that was quick,” he comments, looking at me wide-eyed.

“Oh, it is merely a simple melody, not much…”

“Can you play other instruments?”

“Hmm…” I pause, thinking “To some extent piano, harp, violin, flute—but mostly piano.” Now he looks at me even more dumbfounded.

“Then it sounds like you need no help from me!” he laughs. “I can only play my hurdy gurdy. Alex could play the violin too, I always would watch him…but I never bothered learning anything until after he left.”

“I only learned them because I had to, though…” I sigh, looking down. “A sad woman like me needs as many skills as possible to attract a husband…I suppose I still was a bit poor to only get that, but alas.”

“No, Suzette…you say I’m too harsh on myself, please don't start doing it to yourself now.”

“Elise was correct; not precisely, yet—”

“Not at all. She's full of shit.” I cannot help but chuckle; perhaps it is not amusing, but seeing him grow so uncharacteristically harsh so suddenly…well, perhaps it is slightly.

“She is in many ways, indeed,” I say, “But unfortunately not everything she said is a lie. Once I was—ah, well, I suppose you remember when we first met, I was…a bit of an embarrassing sight.”

“What do you mean?” I gaze away, lightly tugging at my sleeves.

“I was so large back then…well, I suppose I still am, but even more so…”

“Well, I never thought that made you embarrassing…” he mutters. “I was attracted to you, your manner regardless—”

“You were…attracted?”

“What?”

“You said you were attracted to me…”

“Oh no! I meant—I mean—” he entirely stumbles after himself, his face growing more read than a sunset.

“You are well,” I reply with a slight laugh. “I know you had misspoken.”

Yes, that is what it is…right?

“W-Well,” I now stumble, “Regardless, I still appreciate the sentiment.”

He looks away from me towards the ground; his eye appears to glaze over. It is a tad strange…he almost looks more sorrowful than embarrassed.

Still, I soon return to my instrument, and begin pushing and pulling, pressing the keys once more. I hope to overwhelm any stray thoughts with the sound of the music which, although perhaps it sounds a tad conceited to say, only becomes more beautiful.

However…it does not work.

Attracted…what other word could he have possibly meant? And why would that be the one which comes out instead? Of course, everyone misspeaks occasionally, yet…I suppose it is difficult to shed such a mistake as that from my mind.

Either way, I smirk.

“Are you enjoying it?” I ask him, stopping the music. He nods slowly.

“Yes…it’s beautiful.”

“Mâzjêr né!” I chirp, and a small smile comes across his face. Yet, he still does not look at me.

Regardless, I go back to playing, smiling all the while.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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