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Khimairal Ink

Stories by Stephen D. Rogers Sharon Hadrian Q. Kelly T. J. Mindancer Barbara Davies


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Publisher Claudia Wilde Managing Editor Carrie Tierney Assistant Editor C.A. Casey Cover Photograph/ Layout T.J. Mindancer

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In This Issue

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New Year, Old Ideas Intermittent

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13 The Second Coming of K‛Miel Khimairal Ink Magazine is published January, May, and September.

Sharon Hadrian T.J. Mindancer

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20 The Old Woman HH 28 Excerpt from Into the Yellow

Q. Kelly

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30 Contributors Š 2007 Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company

Carrie Tierney

Stephen D. Rogers

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My Father is a Lesbian

Claudia Wilde

Barbara Davies


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elcome to a new year! Hope this one brings only the best to your life. I have to admit, writing this issue’s introduction was not as easy as some of the others. I did not want to use clichés and write about how a new year offers a fresh start or how it can bring changes in a life. Even worse would be recapping the old year and saying how the new year will be even better. So . . . the only, obvious thing to write about is . . . the great stories in this issue of Khimairal Ink! January’s selections capture the essence of our submission statement. “ . . . the stories we most enjoy are positive, thought-provoking, and clever.” First time contributor, Stephen D. Rogers has penned the clever who-dun-it, “Intermittent,” while another newbie, Sharon Hadrian’s funny flash fiction piece, “My Father is a Lesbian,” is certain to invoke your own scientific studies. T.J. Mindancer has graciously added to her Emoria world with a thoughtprovoking tale about obligation and choices, while Q. Kelly’s exquisitely told story, “The Old Woman,” offers a different perspective about true love and second chances. We are fortunate to have an excerpt from Barbara Davies’ new book, Into the Yellow and Other Stories.

Barbara has been one of our favorite contributors to Khimairal Ink and her collection of stories is superb. By the time this issue hits cyber-space, we will have over 300,000 hits to Khimairal Ink. Once again, I’d like to thank the readers of the Merwolf Pack, the Academy of Bards, and our speculative fiction fans for their interest and continued support. I am encouraged by the number of quality of submissions we have been receiving. However, with growth comes inevitable change. Our outstanding artist, Trish Ellis, has found her business booming and will be devoting her time to the many projects lined up for her. We would like to thank Trish for all her wonderful illustrations that made Khimairal Ink so distinctive. But this means we will be tweaking the format and design of upcoming issues. The excellence of our writers will remain high and we hope you enjoy the new look. We will have a booth at the Xena Convention on January 12-14, 2007 in Burbank, so if you are there, stop by and say hello! See you next issue! Claudia

Join us for the May 2007 issue featuring . . . Sentimental by Tyree Campbell Prayer by Kirsten Elliott


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his is the sixth issue of Khimairal Ink. We went into this venture without any expectations beyond simply thinking it would be a neat thing to do. Putting together issues have been easier than I had envisioned. We always seem to get enough submissions that capture our attention and imaginations. Our circle of readership and authors increases with each issue. Khimairal Ink is an organic ever changing entity and while the look may change, the quality of the stories remains at the highest level possible. While working on this issue, I kept thinking, “Something’s missing.” Trish Ellis’s artwork is missing. She never believed me when I’d tell her that she’d eventually be so much in demand that she wouldn’t have time for us. But that’s what happened and we’re proud to have helped a talented artist build a business out of what she loves to do. We have some newcomers to this issue. What I like are the contributors who stretch their imaginations to pen a story for us that combines their

preferred genres and our guidelines. Stephen D. Rogers has carved out a niche as a mystery writer and he’s brought that genre to our pages with “Intermittant.” Sharon Hadrian gives us an entertaining piece of flash fiction with “My Father is a Lesbian” that pokes fun at how we as a society love to jump to conclusions. T.J. Mindancer gives us a rare serious piece based in her favorite fantasy world, Emoria, with “The Second Coming of K’Miel.” “The Old Woman” by Q. Kelly takes us on one woman’s personal journey that begins with a crazy dare. Our mother company Bedazzled Ink has published a wonderful collection of stories by Barbara Davies and we’ve included an excerpt from the title story of the collection, “Into the Yellow.” I hope you enjoy this issue. Carrie


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y client had lost four windshields in as many weeks and she didn’t want to lose a fifth. She worked days, couldn’t afford to stay up all night with a flashlight waiting for the perpetrator to strike. Me, that’s just one of the ways I made my living as the brain, brawn, and beauty of Fran Rivers Investigations. Some people were meant to be cops but it turned out I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t like consenting to the constraints of scheduled shifts, working details directing cinema traffic to make ends meet, bowing to a political bureaucracy that favored the boys in blue. After five years on the job I went private and had been that way ever since, no regrets. Even after three long, boring nights of this surveillance, sitting in my car watching my client’s as if it might perform some trick, I loved working for myself. Frankly, if someone else had assigned me this task, kept me sitting out here night after night while sleeping at home in a comfortable bed, I’d probably resent the duty. As it was, this was my choice, my case, and—eventually—my collar. Then I sensed rather than saw movement across the street. A baseball bat glowed pale in the moonlight. Someone slight dressed in black approached Vanessa’s car from the opposite direction, glanced back and forth between the car and her bedroom window. I raised my flashlight as the perpetrator lifted the bat. Then she screamed. Some of my best friends were women. My life-partner was a woman. I was a woman myself. You’d think with all that experience that I

would have somehow come to terms with the sound of a woman screaming but it still went right through me like a blast of raw electricity. Midwife material I was not. By the time I picked the flashlight off the floor and peeled my feet off the ceiling, the perpetrator was long gone. I listened for an engine start but heard nothing. I could see the bat glowing from a spot along the curb and jogged over to claim my prize. Even if the bat didn’t prove to hold fingerprints, at least I’d saved the windshield and perhaps convinced the perpetrator to find another hobby. I wasn’t quite certain, come to think of it, whether I’d actually turned on the light before the perpetrator screamed. Maybe I had or maybe she saw me and thought I was aiming a gun at her or something. Patting the windshield as I reached Vanessa’s car, I stopped when I saw what made the perpetrator scream. There was a dead man in the driver’s seat. At least I assumed he was dead. I wasn’t usually quick to make medical judgements, especially by moonlight, but I could see that the right side of his head was missing. I didn’t feel it necessary to check for a pulse. Whoever he was, he was sitting in the front seat of my client’s car which unfortunately made him my business. I carefully leaned through the window he probably broke to gain entrance and shined my flashlight around the interior looking for a gun. Broken glass sparkled back at me but there was no sign of a weapon which probably ruled out suicide.


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I straightened and took a deep breath. Suicide was bad enough but murder meant the car would be impounded. That was even more inconvenient than needing a new windshield. A slow scan of the neighborhood didn’t turn up any faces pressed against windows. I didn’t see lights popping on or hear sirens in the distance. Not even dogs barked. Could all living things have actually slept through the perpetrator’s scream? I glanced at my client’s bedroom. Vanessa was expecting trouble and even she hadn’t stirred. Gambling that no one had called the police yet, I walked up to my client’s door and rang the bell until my finger developed symptoms of carpel tunnel and Vanessa finally appeared. My client was rubbing her eyes and wearing pajamas that were so nauseatingly cute that I could feel myself turning asexual as she squinted at me. “Fran. You woke me up. What?” “Can I come in?” “Sure.” She backed away to let me enter, closed the door, and collapsed against it. “I was sleeping.” “Didn’t you hear the scream?” “What scream?” Vanessa blinked, slowly. “Your friend with the baseball bat came back to see if your new windshield was any stronger than the previous ones.” “Was it?” “She didn’t have a chance to find out.” “Good work.” Vanessa used both hands to cover a yawn but failed to contain it. “So which of you screamed?” “She did.” “What happened? I thought you were just going to talk to my late-night visitor.” She yawned again. It was no wonder my client hired me to stay up all night for her. I had the sudden impression that she could have been sitting in her car while the perpetrator bashed the windshield and Vanessa might have slept through the whole thing. “I wasn’t the reason she screamed. It was the man in your car who made her test her vocal cords.” Vanessa scrubbed her face with her fingertips. “What man?” I stared at her. “For a client with something to

explain, you ask a lot of questions.” “Do I?” Vanessa coughed, ran her tongue over her teeth. “You woke me up.” “That’s the one thing you’ve told me.” “Well, it’s true.” “No kidding.” I turned and marched through her living room to the kitchen. After finding the switch and flipping on the lights, I began going through cupboards. “Can I help you? What are you looking for?” Vanessa had joined me and was draping a hand towel over her head to shield her eyes. “Coffee.” “It’s right there, next to the pot.” I sniffed. “That’s right, you live alone.” “What do you mean?” “Whenever two people live together, one usually develops an unexplainable aversion to leaving everyday items out in the open. It seems to be a law of human nature.” I hefted the can. “If you had a partner this would be behind closed doors. Maybe even the coffee pot.” “I don’t understand.” Vanessa staggered across the kitchen and dropped into a chair. “Frankly, neither do I.” I scooped coffee into the filter and added water before joining Vanessa at the table. “When did you last use your car?” “Today?” “That’s a start.” I peeked under the towel. “Could you be a little more specific?” She shrugged. “I probably got home at fivethirty or so and I’ve been in ever since. I worked on the computer some, read, watched a little television.” I’d arrived at ten to begin the windshield watch and apparently I should have taken the time to check Vanessa’s car before beginning my surveillance. “Do you have any idea why a man would be sitting in the front seat of your car?” Vanessa shook her head. “Who’s this man you keep talking about?” “There’s a man in your front seat. He’s dead.” I gave her a thumbnail sketch, guessing height and weight, extrapolating the right side of his head. “He doesn’t sound familiar.” Vanessa closed her eyes. “I must still be dreaming although I’ve never been this tired in a dream before. Can you sleep in a dream? Would it be twice


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as refreshing? Do you think you could dream while dreaming you were asleep?” “Vanessa. Listen to me. There’s a dead man in your car. I have to call the police. If there’s anything I should know, you should tell me now.” “Did I mention you woke me up?” I poured us both a cup of coffee before calling it in. Some six hours later, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, a glass of white wine in my hand, Cindy kneeling behind me so she could massage my shoulders. “So then what happened?” I waved the glass through the air, watching the wine roll up and down the sides. “Then the police arrived.” “Anybody you knew?” “Not intimately.” Cindy smacked the top of my head. “That’s for being fresh.” “I knew both detectives, about half of the uniforms.” I felt safe smiling since Cindy couldn’t see my face. “Did Vanessa recognize the dead man?” “Not so she said.” I took a sip of the chablis, closed my eyes, tried to relax and let Cindy’s fingers do their magic. “Do you believe her?” “She’s my client.” Cindy harrumphed. “Any ID on the stiff?” “Thomas Terrence. He was a small time hood with a dozen priors, mostly drug-related. Vanessa doesn’t take drugs, doesn’t have any close friends who do. I couldn’t find a connection between the two of them.” My lover sighed. “I hate alliterative names. I bet his hood-friends called him TT. So what do you think happened, that TT tried to steal Vanessa’s car before you showed up?” I nodded. “That’s the only scenario that explains everything. TT tried to steal the car and the steering wheel shot him. I’m told the brake pedal has cut a deal and is willing to testify.” Cindy cuffed me again. “I don’t know why I bother helping you solve your cases.” “Help?” “Yes, help. I’m sure Watson never had to listen to such lip as I get from you.” I rubbed my head with my free hand. “And the odds are long that Sherlock Holmes wasn’t

smacked around by the good Dr. Watson either. Perhaps that’s one of the benefits of being a fictional character.” “Do you think they were lovers?” “Vanessa swore she never saw him before.” “I meant Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.” “Watson was married if I remember correctly.” “Oh, I guess that settles it then. It’s not like he could be gay if he was married. Silly me.” I laughed. “You just keep working those shoulders and leave the literary analysis to students desperate for a thesis.” I sipped my wine. Cindy shifted. “Speaking of work, I have to leave in forty minutes and I haven’t even showered yet.” “You’ve got plenty of time.” Cindy must have agreed since she continued to rub my shoulders. “So, what do the cops think about TT trying to steal Vanessa’s car while you were waiting for a different crime to occur?” “I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.” “What do you think?” “I think I love you.” “Besides that.” Frankly, I didn’t want to finish the story because I knew it would mean the end of my massage. On the other hand, Cindy’s fingers were inches from my neck and she wouldn’t hesitate to use them if she felt I was stalling. “In his left coat pocket, Thomas Terrence had a wad of cash. In his right, he had a bag of cocaine.” “Meaning what, oh great detective?” I finished my wine. “Meaning he just might have skipped out halfway through a drug deal with both the product and the dough. That’s no way to make friends.” “How do you know that the money and cocaine weren’t his?” “They could be. But then why would someone have killed him? What was he doing in Vanessa’s car?” “And how else would we explain the smudge of coal dust in the seams behind his left knee and the spot of blue paint on his shoe?” “Are you making fun of me?” “Yes.” Cindy laughed. “And you figured that one out all by yourself. If you weren’t already settled on being a private investigator, I’d suggest a career in psychic forecasting.” “I’ll keep it in mind.”


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“So you think TT double-crossed a baddie, ran, and randomly decided to hide in Vanessa’s car?” I nodded. “He punched out the driver’s window. There was glass all over the seat and floor.” “And then the guy TT tried to rip off caught up with him before he could get her car started, however it is that they do that. It always looks so easy in the movies.” “Bang. Blood and brains splattered all over the interior, bullet lodged in the passenger door.” Cindy snickered. “What?” “You have to admit, it’s kind of ironic. Vanessa hired you to protect her windshield and look what happened. Her car was just about wrecked. Who would want to drive a vehicle with somebody else’s brains all over it?” “I don’t imagine it would be pleasant.” “Who cleans that up? I’m sure the police don’t.” “A cleaning service I suppose.” “So what did Vanessa say about all this? A drug dealer was killed in her car.” “She said she was too tired to process everything. She just wanted to go back to bed.” “And what did you say?” “I suggested she move to a better neighborhood. In the space of one evening, nobody responded to either a gunshot or the sound of a woman screaming. Even the shooter didn’t expect such indifference or he would have taken the time to empty the dead man’s pockets.” “So what does this do to your case?” “What do you mean?” “You’re being paid to watch Vanessa’s car. Is it even going to be parked there tonight?” “Oh that. It’s solved.” “What? You’re kidding. You said the perpetrator was long gone by the time you got out of your car.” I reached up and patted Cindy’s hand. “After the police were done with us, I took Vanessa’s address book and called each person listed, opening the conversation with the statement that I had her baseball bat.” “Sly.” “Thank you.” I placed the empty wine glass on the floor. “Took me all the way into the G’s. Paula

Grant was a three-night stand two months ago. When Vanessa broke if off, Paula went from carrying a torch to carrying a bat. The woman simply did not take rejection well.” “So you’re going to be home tonight then.” “I’m going to be home.” “Well that’s a relief.” Cindy hugged me from behind. “You know how much I miss you sometimes.” “Just sometimes?” She kissed the top of my head and then climbed down from the bed. “I need to get ready. Congratulations on solving your case.” “Thanks. And thanks for the great massage.” I watched Cindy cross into the bathroom to start the water running. She called back over her shoulder, “What about the guy who shot TT?” “What about him?” “Do the cops have any leads?” I shrugged. “Someone will talk or the killer will be killed himself during a future deal gone bad. The cops will keep the file open but they aren’t holding their breath.” Cindy turned to face me. “So broken-heart pays her debt to society and the cold-blooded killer goes scot free.” “Justice can be that way sometimes, intermittent.” Cindy slipped out of her clothes and through the shower curtains. “Hey, what did you do with the shampoo?” “I put it away.” “Where?” Deciding I felt a little grubby myself, I stood. “Don’t worry, I’ll bring it in to you.”


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July 23, 2005 8:54 a.m.

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oday, while brushing my lesbian teeth and lovingly admiring my dripping wet, nakedly feminine body in the bathroom mirror, I inadvertently stumbled upon the newest, clearest theory of sexuality yet. Dr. Freud, watch out! I believe this information should be disseminated immediately, so that young, unaware homosexuals everywhere can embrace their same-sex love at the earliest possible age. Eventually, I hope that my discovery can be applied to prenatals the world over. It’s so simple, and yet already my “theory” (which henceforth shall be known simply as “my fact”) has a 100% success rate. Oh Great Minds of Science, here it is: my Internet girlfriend and I both squeeze the toothpaste tube from the very top, which irks my mother (a “bottom squeezer” and homo-converting Conservative). This leads me to conclude that top squeezing is a distinctly lesbian behavior, and tomorrow I will be heading to the Hygiene section of Target to spread the word to my fellow sisters. Oh, and on the pre-natal thing. I guess we’ll have to wait until they start teething. July 24, 2005 8:06 a.m.

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oday I have stumbled upon the most amazing realization: my father also squeezes the toothpaste from the top, an uncontrollable condition that solicits further ire from my

mother. No wonder they don’t get along. This newfound knowledge is clear in its intent, and has been revealed to me for one express purpose: to further the study of my fact by including another, more complex group of humans into my research pool. I am very excited by this discovery. Clearly, my father is a lesbian. July 26, 2005 9:07 p.m.

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have spent the past two days pondering the most effective way to quickly and efficiently pull my father out of his stifling heterosexual male closet. Finally, after much research, I have decided to make him watch Boys Don’t Cry in reverse until he comes to terms with his repressed sexuality. I figure that the sight of Hilary Swank as a member of the man-gender will make any male wish to be the female that (s)he truly is. He might also cry, but then he is allowed. Also, I received further conclusive proof today Re: my father. I posted a photo of him on an Internet message board, and several hours later I received a response from a lesbian in England who said (very matter-of-factly might I add), “He pings for me.” I feel vindicated.


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yhe looked over her flock of sheep with satisfaction. They were freshly shorn and the bales of wool were stacked in the wagon ready to go to town. The black wool was treasured and fetched the most silver of any kind of wool. Yet luck of the distaff kind was supposed to follow where black sheep had tread. Luck was something other people seemed to have. Raising black sheep never affected Tyhe’s life one way or the other. She soaked up the summer sun and the quiet that floated on the breeze and walked down the small hill behind her house to the gate. She liked to try to capture the feeling she got on days like today in the music she played on her sea fiddle when the moon replaced the sun and the breeze had a bite to it. The contentment and peace she felt on that hill early in the morning didn’t seem to be a part of the rest of her life. The gate loomed on the other side of the stand of young trees much too soon. Once she stepped through, she had to enter the real world. A world she inhabited but never really learned to live in. She paused before she pulled on the gate and cleared away some overgrown shoots that clustered near the hinges. At least the physical representation of her inner world would be tidy. Jeight, her horse, whinnied a greeting as Tyhe’s feet crunch the straw in the stable. “Hey, girl.” Tyhe patted the white blaze on Jeight’s muzzle. “Ready to get the wool to market?” Jeight snorted and stamped a foot. She knew the word “ready” and that seemed to be enough for her. Tyhe put the bridle on Jeight and led her to the

wagon. She noticed more blue paint had chipped off the side boards. Maybe the wool would bring in extra silver to buy paint. Not that her family seemed to care what her wagon looked like as long as she made it available when they needed it and her to drive it. She hitched up Jeight and pushed those thoughts away. Her life was of her choosing and it was no different from any other women of her age and position in the village. Yet . . . she sighed and paused before she climbed onto the driver’s bench . . . Yet others like Swile and Yerno seemed to be happy and satisfied with their lives and she just couldn’t fathom what they had that she didn’t. She often wondered if they were just better at acting out how everyone expected them to behave. If we have to act like everyone expects us to act, where did these expectations come from? From people not wanting to admit they’re failures at life. Tyhe pulled herself onto the seat and gathered the reins. After a check over her shoulder that the wool was secure, she shook the reins and Jeight walked the wagon onto the rutted lane. The wagon rambled to the end of the lane and turned onto the freshly raked dirt road. The downpour three days earlier deeply rutted the road and the villagers did what they always had to do—complain loudly until the mayor ordered the good for nothing Master of Roads to do his job. She heard the commotion before she rounded the hill. She didn’t have to see to know what was happening. Just another normal morning at Kynda’s house. Everything was high drama and


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high passion for her sister. Life at a constant squeaky high pitch. Tyhe rambled past the lane to the house. The six youngsters hurried in and out of the stone building, frantic, forgetful, and funny as they prepared for school. Despite the constant chaos that swirled around her sister and her family, everyone seemed happy. Her sister would gush about the joy she had in her children, her husband, her life. Tyhe only half believed her. She had never felt such joy, at least with other people. She certainly couldn’t believe the depth of the love Kynda professed for her husband. Just a delusion enforced by fireside tales. No one would ever admit to not actually having the same heightened emotions as the perfect heroes and heroines in those stories. She was no less human than those around her, just more realistic about her feelings and too honest to give into society-sanctioned harmless lies. “Whoa.” Tyhe halted the wagon and waited for her sister to run to the road. No matter the chaos swirling around her, Kynda always looked impossibly calm with not a hair out of place. “Hey Tyhe,” Kynda said. “Such a beautiful morning. Would you mind picking up the children a sandmark early today? I know it’s not your day to pick them up, but the schoolmasters are attending the annual guild meeting and they have to let school out early to get to Glaus in time for the meeting. If you’re busy . . .” She wasn’t busy. Her life rarely had the kind of structure where she actually had to be specific places at specific times. Her days just seemed to ramble from place to place and from person to person. “I can do it.” As always, a bit of her inside flame seemed to dim when she agreed to do something that was plainly not her business. Something she had done so many times that the expectation she’d agree to do it again bordered on taking her for granted. Just once she wished she could say, “Sorry but I have something else to do at that time.” But she never had such an excuse. “Great, I knew I could count on you.” Kynda glanced back at a tremendous crash from the house. “Got to go, see you later.” Tyhe shook the reins and tried to get away as

quickly as possible without it looking as if she was rushing away. Glaus. Three sandmarks by wagon due south. How she envied the schoolmasters for having a good reason to go there. She knew every landmark and angle of the road from her house to the harbor at Glaus. The road on her map was finger-worn, she’d followed it so many times in her mind. She’d been there once and the odor of salt water and fish and the breeze hitting her face with a caress she never experienced inland always permeated her senses when she thought of the sea. She sighed. Why couldn’t she have been born next to the ocean instead of boring old Higland, a tiny hamlet hemmed in by tree-covered rolling hills? “Tyhe!” She sighed and pulled on the reins. She twisted around as old Keteran ambled out of his shop and dodged around bins of vegetables and fruits. “Morning, Keteran,” Tyhe said. “I see the houndberries have ripened.” “And a good tasting crop they are this year,” Keteran said. “Do you a have a moment? My niece just visited Ingor and stopped by on her way home to Kittles. She brought me the most interesting shell she found on the beach.” Tyhe frowned. “Ingor doesn’t have any beaches.” Keteran nodded. “She said it came from up the coast, Merchants Bay. Where the Ingorans go to get out of the city.” “Merchant’s Bay has the longest beach of black sand on the continent,” Tyhe said. “Reile tried to explain the black beach to me,” Keteran said. “How the water rolls up on it and leaves different shades of gray from charcoal to ash as the water seeps from it.” Tyhe’s nostrils twitched, and she could almost see the beach, alive as the water sifted through the volcanic sand, and feel the salty spray on her face and hear the waves slapping the shore. “Yeah,” she said. “I hear the beaches are spectacular.” “Anyway, I was wondering if you had a moment to take a look at this shell,” Keteran said. “My niece didn’t know what kind it was.”


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Tyhe grinned and pulled the wagon off the road. Her hands shook with anticipation as she jumped to the uneven ground and wound the reins around a cross post. “I told Reile, if anyone knew about the shell it’d be you.” Keteran scurried ahead of Tyhe and disappeared into his shop. Tyhe stepped through the oversized doorway and braced herself for the strong but not unpleasant aromas of rich earth and ripe fruits and fresh picked vegetables. Keteran pulled a head-sized shell from behind the service bench and held it out to Tyhe. Tyhe gazed with wonder at the swirl of bright blue and orange. “She found it on the beach?” Keteran grinned in delight and nodded. “She’s been beachcombing since she was a youngster and has never seen anything like it.” Tyhe took the shell in both hands and was surprised at how light it was. The bright colors gave it a counterfeit substance. “It’s a blue sun shell. From the Jearwada Islands.” Keteran whistled. “That’s halfway across the sea.” “That’s why it’s so rare to find a whole shell,” Tyhe said. “And even rarer to find one so perfect. Usually all that’s found on the beaches are small bits of blue and orange.” “Reile will be pleased to know she found a treasure,” Keteran said. “A valuable treasure,” Tyhe said. “Collectors pay good silver for a perfect blue sun shell.” “She’s coming back through in a few days.” Keteral took the shell and found a soft cloth to wrap it in. “She always asks after you when she visits. Perhaps you can come by for an evening meal while she’s here.” Tyhe sighed inwardly as she gave him a pleasant smile. “Let me know the day.” Keteran’s grin creased his eyes. “I’ll do that.” Tyhe walked out of the shop and climbed back on the wagon. The downside of living alone was that everyone knew someone who was a perfect match for her. Keteran had been trying to get her together with Reile for years now. Senik, the weaver, was always arranging for her nephew to stop by to see her sheep. Oegta, the silversmith, made sure her daughter—a student at the University of Artocia—sat next to Tyhe every Midwinter Feast Day.

It was all a part of the games of courtship that everyone played. And it wasn’t that she was adversed to finding a life companion, she just didn’t feel anything more than friendship for these potential candidates. She wished she felt more, but she didn’t. She waved at Jinde the blacksmith. She probably spent more time with Jinde than anyone. They grew up together and never outgrew each other. Tyhe always thought that Jinde could have been the one because she was so comfortable with her. If Jinde had shown any interest, Tyhe would have probably settled down with her and would have been happy she was sure. As happy as she thought anyone could be. Jinde shoved an unfinished sword blade into a pile of pink coals and turned to Tyhe. “Did Keteran show you the shell?” She grinned through a face streaked with sweat and soot. Tyhe rolled her eyes. “Yes.” “Worth spending an evening with Reile?” Jinde’s sapphire eyes sparkled with good humor. “At least she’s half-way interesting to talk to,” Tyhe said. They looked at each other and sputtered a laugh. They had too many stories between them about being the captive of absolute bores for an evening. But sometimes that illusive something happened. Jinde had met a weaver over the hill in Honfrey and Tyhe knew that Jinde thought she could be happy with this woman. Or did she just decide she liked her well enough to stop the endless attempts of neighbors to find her a life companion? Could I ever think that about a person? Tyhe sighed. She wished she could let herself go enough to consider the idea. “Are you sure Sihle doesn’t want any of this wool?” Tyhe asked. “Not this season,” Jinde said. “But don’t be surprised if she bargains for some next year. She was really impressed by the quality.” “Enough to take on more sheep?” Tyhe asked. Jind rubbed her smudged chin with a sweaty hand. “Maybe. I’ll talk to her about it.” Tyhe grinned. “Did I just give you an excuse to pay her a visit?”


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Jinde returned her grin and her eyes sparked with amusement. “Maybe.” Tyhe laughed and nodded at the coal tray. “Your blade is getting too hot.”

S

he couldn’t believe the amount of silver her wool had fetched. Triner, the wool merchant, had told her war was brewing to the north and Ynit was buying up wool for the soldiers. Lucky for her, black wool was needed for nighttime raids. With extra silver in her belt pouch, she ventured into the central market. Maybe she’d buy something special. She grazed from stall to stall, nothing catching her fancy enough to spend hard earned silver on. She blinked up at a voice behind her. The distinctive mountain inflection grabbed her attention with an almost aching familiarity. She spun around and stared at the woman chatting with Kryra the candlemaker. K’Miel wore the thirteen years since the last Tyhe had seen her better than well. She looked magnificant, with her tousled blonde hair so sun-bleached it was almost white. She was tall and lean with long strong muscles and looked as if she was born to wear the uniform of the warriors of the sea. The confident yet amiable glow that Tyhe had always envied still radiated from her. Tyhe had never seen so many shoulder sashes on a warrior, including a captain’s sash. So K’Miel had made captain. Braids hung from her belt. She was a real Emoran warrior and the village whispers had been that the sash with the purple thread running through it showed she was of royal blood. K’Miel strolled Tyhe’s way. Tyhe’s breath caught at the light blue eyes she remembered so well as they glanced around the market from a sun-darkened face. Some had said she was descended from the great Hekolatis. “K’Miel,” Tyhe said. K’Miel stopped and turned to her. She blinked and looked shocked, probably at being recognized. “Uh, you don’t remember me,” Tyhe said. “I was one of those children you taught warrior

skills to years ago.” K’Miel gazed at her. “You’re the one who asked all the questions about oceans and about being a sea warrior. I gave you a list of books to read.” “And I found and read every one of them,” Tyhe said. K’Miel nodded and played with the lacing on her bracer. “I, uh, even memorized your name because I thought for sure I’d see you around Ynit. Tyhe. Right?” Tyhe stared at her in amazement. “I was only twelve.” K’Miel shrugged. “You haven’t really changed all that much. You’ve just grown older but I still see that curious eager girl in you.” “But that was thirteen years ago,” Tyhe said. “You remembered me,” K’Miel said. Tyhe laughed. “It’s hard to forget a sea warrior for a teacher. Even if it was for only two moons.” “It was a memorable time for me, too,” K’Miel said. “Recouping from my first severe battle injury and performing my first noncombatent assignment in a place very different from where I grew up.” “I never thought about it that way,” Tyhe said. “To a twelve-year-old you were a worldly sea warrior who had lived an exciting life.” K’Miel threw her head back and laughed. “I was a green cadet barely out of training in Ynit, wounded less than a sandmark into my first battle. Hardly exciting.” K’Miel put her hand out to indicate that they walk. Tyhe gladly strolled next to her. K’Miel certainly was now what Tyhe had thought her to be years ago. “Truth is,” K’Miel said. “I was homesick and missing my family. I was young myself. Only nineteen years.” “You seemed much older,” Tyhe said. K’Miel gave her an amused look. “But not now, I bet.” Tyhe realized K’Miel was right. She didn’t seem that much older than herself. “No, not now.” Her breath caught as something odd inside her stirred. “I thought for sure you’d go to Ynit.” K’Miel looked truly perplexed. Tyhe gazed at her feet as those desires to flee


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this village to be a sea warrior flooded her mind. She felt lightheaded and blinked up in surprise by K’Miel’s warm strong grasp on her arm. “Share a meal with me.” K’Miel’s gentle persuasive voice seemed to caress Tyhe’s soul. Tyhe took in a ragged breath and nodded. K’Miel released Tyhe’s arm and Tyhe felt a sense of loss. What was going on with her? “I remember the inn had excellent food,” K’Miel said. “It still does.” Tyhe gave her head a shake. “What are you doing here?” K’Miel gave her an odd almost embarrassed look before erupting with another laugh. “I found myself landbound for a spell and decided to visit some old haunts.” Tyhe didn’t doubt this, but there was something else from the way K’Miel said it and her curiosity was on fire.

“Y

ou’ve never settled down with a life companion?” Tyhe sopped the last of the stew with a chunk of bread. Nearly everyone in the village had some kind of crush on K’Miel before, and even now, the people around them watched her with fascination. “Emorans who wander far from home have a different approach to finding a life companion,” K’Miel said. “It’s hard to explain, but sometimes we first meet our future partner at the wrong time and we have to retrace our steps so to speak.” “Do you usually know who it might be?” Tyhe asked. K’Miel’s cheeks reddened under her deep tan as she gazed into her tankard. “Usually.” “So that means you’d return to where she lives,” Tyhe said. “I really thought you’d go to sea,” K’Miel said. “You’ve said that already.” Tyhe frowned at K’Miel’s strange look. Almost a cross between misery and embarrassment. She felt the heat rise in her own cheeks as her subconscious insisted on filling in this puzzle with unsettling pieces from her heart. How many times had she allowed herself to imagine being on a ship at K’Miel’s side, exploring different lands with her, reveling in her companionship? “What exactly are you saying?” Tyhe was surprised at the hoarseness in her voice.

K’Miel ran a shaky hand through her hair. “I was sure you’d moved on. I was . . . I came here to find out where you went.” “Me?” “Through the years my thoughts and dreams kept coming back to this village as if I’d left something important here.” K’Meil sighed and captured Tyhe’s eyes. “Sometimes the woman is too young on the first encounter.” Tyhe felt lightheaded as her own thoughts and dreams collided with reality. “Me?” “You were the only one who truly made me feel at home and comfortable here,” K’Miel said. “We spent a lot of time together.” “Because I was being a pesky tagalong asking a million questions,” Tyhe said. “You were interested in what I did,” K’Miel said. “More than interested. You had the spark within you to follow what was clearly a desire.” Tyhe ran a finger around the rim of her tankard. “You’re right. I wanted to become a sea warrior so bad, I ached from the longing.” “You would have been welcomed at Ynit,” K’Miel said. “You excelled at the warrior arts.” “I . . . I . . .” Tyhe wipe away an unexpected tear. “Sorry.” K’Miel gazed at her with those gentle blue eyes and captured a tear sliding down Tyhe’s cheek between her thumb and finger. “Leaving home is the hardest thing a person does. I left home when I was fifteen and was uncertain about it every moment of the journey until I entered Ynit. It was foreign and exciting and I was training to achieve my dream to become a sea warrior.” She looked down at the table. “Before I have to return home to assume my duties there.” The feelings Tyhe had buried deep for all those years flooded through her. She had hidden, even from herself, the reason she’d never been interested in potential life companions. It had been too painful. Even as a twelve-yearold, she knew what she had felt for the dashing young sea warrior had been more than a crush. She had made herself forget the long months she couldn’t keep the tears and the pain deep in her soul away after K’Miel left the village. K’Miel grasped Tyhe’s hand on the table. “Come to the sea with me.” Shock numbed Tyhe’s mind. “What?” K’Miel released Tyhe’s hand.


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Tyhe’s whole soul ached from the loss of warmth as her reality and dreams crashed together. K’Miel wrapped both hands around her tankard. She gazed into the dark ale. “I guess you’re settled here. Found someone.” Tyhe shook her head. Her mind was in a chaotic panic. “I, uh, have sheep.” “My countrywomen can watch over your sheep,” K’Miel said. The haze of unreality suddenly lifted. “You really want me to come with you?” “Yes,” K’Miel said. “Just as a companion. An old friend. Someone I want to show my world to.” “And if I’m not the one you’re looking for?” Tyhe asked. “We’ll still be friends,” K’Miel said. Tyhe swallowed on a dry throat. How would her sister react? What would Jinde say? What would Keteran tell Reile? What about everyone she saw everyday? She gazed at K’Miel, who stared at a knothole on the table. K’Miel was afraid. Afraid she’d say no. She didn’t want to say no. What did she care what everyone thought? It was her life. But she never really believed it. Before now. “I know this is all kind of crazy.” K’Miel sighed. “I had to give it a try—” “What?” Tyhe was beyond panicked. “I—” “If you’re contented here—” “I’m not.” The words caught in Tyhe’s throat. K’Miel blinked up. “I’ve always regretted not going to sea,” Tyhe said. “I can’t even give a good reason why I didn’t.” “Most people can’t.” K’Miel put her hand over Tyhe’s. “It’s not too late. It’s never too late.” “I could go on a ship?” Tyhe asked. “I’ve been given a new one. It’s still being built.” K’Miel shrugged. “The reason I’m on leave right now.” “New ship.” Tyhe couldn’t keep down the rising excitement. She had visited the shipyards on her one trip to Glaus and had dreamed of being a part of the crew on a ship’s maiden voyage. “I’ll need a navigator.” K’Miel picked at the lacing on her bracer.

“I don’t know—” “There’s time for you to be trained in Ynit,” K’Miel said. Tyhe sucked in a breath as her brain tried to grasp what K’Miel was saying. She had dreamed . . . no she had ached for K’Miel to show up at her door and take her away to sea. It was the most outlandish of all her longings, and she only dared to let her mind roam through that fantasy when the real world pounded her down too hard. “Say yes.” K’Miel’s soft voice cracked. Tyhe gazed into K’Miel’s eyes. They were filled with a heart-breaking vulnerability. This magnificant warrior of the sea truly had feelings for her. Deep feelings. For her. A nobody sheep farmer from nowhere. “Yes.” K’Miel’s expression of shock and joy stole Tyhe’s breath away. Yes. It seemed so simple now. She didn’t have to face life alone anymore. Tyhe grinned and felt free . . . and happy. Maybe all it took was the right person. “Yes.”


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20

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o,” says my best friend and roommate Jessica. “How about this?” Her blue eyes gleam, and mischief pulls her lips back for one of those Jessicasmiles that never fail to chill my spine. “No.” I don’t even need to hear what she has in mind. “Come on,” she chides. “You said you wanted me to help you meet people, to help you break out of this cocoon. To help you get over Janet.” “Yes,” I reply warily, and I reach for a box of crackers. We’re in the middle of a supermarket with blindingly shiny floors. “But not in one of your, well, you know. Just introduce me to people. Go with me to parties. Normal stuff, you know?” Jessica snatches the crackers from me. “In case you haven’t noticed, that is what I’ve been doing. And guess what? It ain’t working. The next woman to walk into this aisle, you ask her out. On a date. No fudging about it.” I laugh. “Whatever. No.” “Come on, it’ll be fun.” “Yeah, I’ll be asking some ugly homophobic chick out or something. No thanks. Or . . .” My chest tightens. “Or Janet. I bet she’ll be the next person.” Jessica sighs and runs a hand through her closely cropped brown hair. “Janet’s clear across the country!” “Thanks for reminding me.” “It’s been six months! Have some fun.” I pretend to survey a row of peanuts. But it is Janet’s face, her green eyes, her long black hair, that burn my vision. “I appreciate this, really. You putting up with me and all that. But

I’m not going to ask some random stranger out. I’m not you! You know I can’t do that.” Jessica shrugs. “Fine. Either you do it, or I’ll do it for you.” Indignation swells inside me. Envy is mixed in with it, too. Most people would not dare follow through on such a threat, but Jessica would. “Fine,” I mutter. “Fine, fine, fine, I’ll do it myself. How do I look?” Jessica surveys me. “Wonderful, as always. You’re a heartbreaker. The next woman to walk in here is very lucky.” “You’re such a cheeseball.” “What? You’re great, and you’re hot. Start acting like it.” I shake my head and wander over to the middle of the aisle, where the popcorn is. Jessica is at my heels. “Stop that.” I finger a box of diet popcorn and then turn to Jessica. I love her. I really do, but there are times I want to strangle her. It’s amazing we’ve managed to be best friends since childhood, and then roommates. We are complete opposites, both in looks and personality. Where she is short, dark-haired and butch, I am feminine, willowy and blonde. I am shy and passive, while Jessica is outgoing and makes friends simply by snapping her fingers. “Why do I put up with you?” I wonder aloud. Jessica laughs. “The question is why I put up with you.” “You’re not really gonna make me do this, are you? What if—” “Shh! Shh! Someone’s coming!” A woman turns into the aisle, and my heart stops. I freeze. I want to die. I stare at the woman,


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sure this is not happening. She is a tiny mouse of a person. She is a light-skinned black, and she is old, with a slightly stooped walk, wrinkles, a flowered dress, the whole enchilada. At least she doesn’t have a cane. I’ve dated black women before, and her race isn’t a problem. But her age. Gawd, her age! Ohnonono. But then relief washes over me; surely Jessica won’t make me ask this woman out. I’m saved, at least for now. Jessica cocks an eyebrow and nudges me in the ribs. “Hunh. Well, have fun.” “You’re kidding!” “Nope. Gonna make me do it?” “This is not funny. That woman probably has memories of the Civil War!” Jessica snorts. “We had a deal. And, look, she’s not wearing a wedding ring.” “I’m leaving.” “Damn it, Rach, what’s your problem? What’s wrong with meeting new people? This could be a very interesting woman. All you have to do is ask her out.” I fling my hands up and sneak another glance at the oldster. “Fine.” I figure she’ll say no. Why would she say yes? I would never have to see her again. It would get Jessica off my back. Besides, it was better I do it than have Jessica create a huge drama from asking the woman out on my behalf. “Fine, Jess. But you owe me.” I gather in a deep breath and sidle up to the newcomer. I feel so incredibly stupid, so horribly foolish. The oldster peers up at me through her spectacles. She has blue eyes, beautiful, deep blue eyes so out of sync with the color of her skin. Caught off guard, I look down at her stupidly. She is a good seven inches shorter than I am. “Yes, dear?” she asks. “Um, ah,” I begin. “I was wondering if you, ah . . .” “Gracious! You have gorgeous hair. Silky and light.” My hands automatically fly to my hair, feeling for strands out of place. “Thank you. Well, see, I was . . .” The oldster twists her lips back into a broad smile. Her teeth are healthy, white and even. No old-woman pearlies in that mouth. She must

be wearing dentures. “Am I in your way?” she asks. “You’re not blocking me. I was wondering if, well, if you’d, well, could you shake your head for me? Like you’re saying no.” “I don’t understand.” “Right. I’m not sure I understand, either.” I force the words out of my mouth before paralysis can seize me. “Would you like to maybegoouttoeatsometimeorseeamovie, and you can say no, you definitely can say no. I understand completely. So.” I jerk a thumb toward Jessica. “I’ll just go back and tell her that you said no.” The woman frowns, and cold bumps crackle my skin. I hate doing this. This sweet, kind old lady must think Jessica and I are playing a joke on her, picking on her, making fun of an old chick. More garbled words flow from my mouth. “See, my friend thought that—it’s a long story. I don’t want to bore you.” “Are you asking me out on a date?” Eagerness laces the woman’s voice. “Uh.” She’s not going to say yes, is she? Oh, God. “Are you a lesbian?” the old woman asks. The supermarket shelves close in on me. I can’t breathe. My tongue is thick and useless. After a moment, I reply: “Yes, I’m gay. But you’re not, obviously, so I’m just going to tell my friend you said—” “Tell her I said yes. I’ll do it.” I must have misheard. “Pardon?” She shrugs. “It’s on my list of things to do before I die. Go out with a woman. And you’re a beauty. You’re sweet. Your hair is to die for.” She extends a liver-spotted hand to me. “I’m Ada Smith. Pleased to meet you.”

I

do not speak to Jessica for five days. Jessica speaks to me plenty. She tells me to get over myself, that I’ll have fun, learn new stuff, hear interesting stories. Maybe even make a new friend. I don’t care. I don’t reply. I am mortified. I hate Jessica. I, Rachel, twenty-five years old and a paralegal, have a date with a geezer who probably has grandchildren older than I. Wonderful. Just wonderful, thanks to Jessica. I could call Ada and cancel, but I don’t. Above


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all, I am a nice, polite person, and I respect this woman enough not to break our plans. However, I’ve never been good with people: kids, teenagers, the elderly, you name it. I can’t imagine how my evening with Ada will resemble any sort of fun. I go to see her anyway, on the fifth day of not speaking to Jessica. We meet at seven p.m. at a Chinese restaurant. “You look beautiful,” Ada remarks, and heat stains my cheeks. I am easily embarrassed. I had spent a good couple of hours fussing over my appearance. Why? To show Ada the respect she deserves, I guess. I had chosen my best black pants and a dressy white shirt. My hair is pulled into a bun, but some strands have broken free. I’ve gone light on the makeup, as usual. It’s just lip gloss and foundation for me. “Thank you,” I reply. “You look nice too.” Ada beams, and I can’t help but smile back. She has a contagious grin, and she does look good. No flowered, old-woman dress this time. She’s decked out in a sparkly black shirt and black pants that show off her small, trim body. She isn’t wearing her spectacles, and so her blue eyes are even more lively and vivid. There’s no denying it, though: She’s still an old woman. Over cashew chicken and lo mein, Ada tells me about her slave grandmother and the blondhaired master that passed on his blue eyes to Ada and her older brother. Ada married young, at sixteen, and had two children. When she was thirty-two, her husband, Steve, was hit by a car and died. Ada tells me about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchild. Her youngest grandchild is my age, twenty-five. This fact does not mortify me as much as it would have before. For long stretches of time, I forget I’m on a “date” with a great-grandmother. We click all night long. Ada’s voice is rich, honeyed, and when she shares her stories, she is decades younger. Age flies off her face. Her eyes sparkle like hell, and I can’t get over how blue they are. She truly is a beautiful woman, even if she is, well, old. What becomes clear to me as the evening progresses is that Ada doesn’t feel old. She’s as vital and energetic as she was at twenty, at thirty, at forty, even though she can’t run marathons anymore. She asks me about myself, but I demur. My

life has been nowhere near as rich as Ada’s. I would rather hear about her, and I say so. She laughs and looks at me in a little, secret way that makes me feel like I’m the only person in the restaurant. I swallow some anxiety and ask her if she’s told her family about the “date.” Ada giggles. “I sure did. They thought it was a hoot.” “A hoot? They didn’t care that you’re going out with a woman? A woman young enough to be your granddaughter?” Ada shrugs and sips from her Coke. “They know about my list. I brought it.” She reaches into her purse and draws out a yellowed piece of paper. “Started it when I was thirty-five, but I’ve added on since then.” I scan the hundred items, nine-seven of which are crossed out. My heart stirs with jealousy— Ada has done, has accomplished so many things I’ve never dreamed of doing. She’s made love under the stars in at least ten different countries. She’s run with the bulls in Spain. She’s painted a mural. She’s bungee jumped and sky dived (at age sixty, she informs me). She’s touched all fifty U.S. states. She’s written and published a kids’ book. She’s found her slave master grandfather’s “other” family, all blue-eyed blondes, and befriended them. The three items that remain are: Go out with a woman Find the love of my life Die happy “What’s this about finding the love of your life?” I ask. “It wasn’t your husband or any of those guys you bedded in those far-flung places?” Ada’s eyes bear into me. “No,” she admits quietly. “There was always a little something missing.” I shift uneasily, unsure of what to say. “You’ve done a lot.” Ada grins. “I’m thinking it’s time to start adding to the list again. I don’t plan to die anytime soon.” “Glad to hear it.” “Rachel, thank you for a wonderful evening. I’ve enjoyed your company. Would you like to go out again, now that you see I don’t bite?” My stomach clenches. Go out again? “How old are you exactly?”


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Ada’s lips turn downward in disapproval. “I’m seventy-five. And much more than a number.” “I know.” Ada’s right. I need to look past her wrinkles and spots and see her for who she really is. I’m not ready to do that just yet, though. “Ada, we’re not actually going out, understand? We’re friends. I’m not going to kiss you good night or anything.” There is a flash of anger, of irritation, of something in Ada’s eyes, but it disappears as quickly as it appears. “Of course,” she says smoothly. “So what do you want to do next time?”

J

essica is eager to hear all about the “date” the minute I walk into our apartment. I finally break my days of angry silence. “It went well,” I admit. “Ada’s an interesting person.” “Are you going out again?” I don’t answer right away, and Jessica turns white. It is obvious she meant the question in jest. “Oh my God!” she breathes. “You are. Oh my God!” I brush her exclamations off. “Not like that. Like as friends.” “Nuh-uh,” Jessica counters. “You’re stiff and tense and defensive. Did you kiss her good night?” I shove past Jessica. “No, I did not kiss her good night.” I stalk into my bedroom and lock the door behind me. I sink into my bed and stare at the ceiling. The truth is, Ada has given me one of the best evenings of my life, and I can’t stop thinking about her. Her smile, her laugh, her eyes. Her split-second reaction when I said we were friends and that I wasn’t going to kiss her. Ada’s expression was not borne of disappointment, but borne of the knowledge that I had never, not even for a second, considered her with an open mind. “I’m a jerk,” I whisper. “And I can’t wait to go out with Ada again.” Interesting, funny, charming Ada. “This isn’t happening,” I hiss, and I clutch a pillow to my chest. I remind myself that Ada is seventy-five years old, with liver-spotted hands and a great-grandchild. She would not last more than a minute in bed, would she? What would making love with her be like? She’s a brittle, fragile sack of bones. She’s a walking heart attack. My thoughts drift to her list. So full of life,

that list is. So full of life Ada is, so open-minded, forceful and bubbly.

F

or our second “date,” a week after the first, Ada and I picnic in a meadow. A babbling brook meanders nearby, and butterflies float lazily around us. The Georgia spring is swinging into full bloom, and new life is everywhere. This meadow, which Ada calls her secret place, is the stuff of romance novels, it really is. All too aware of that, I struggle not to lose myself in the moment or Ada’s bottomless eyes and her magical voice. I fail, miserably. Ada tells me stories from her girlhood and from her later travels to Paris, London and Prague. She still has sex, had it a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact, with a thirty-eight-year-old man. I choke on my sandwich, but a bottle of water helps avert disaster. Near the end of the picnic, as the sky is turning orange and purple, Ada coaxes some information out of me. I share what it’s like to be a paralegal. I tell her about Janet and why we broke up (she got a job across the country). I tell Ada about my haughty, WASP parents who still don’t accept I’m gay. “Imagine them seeing me with you,” I say with a laugh. “Just be true to yourself, to your heart,” Ada replies simply. She has a way of talking that makes it clear she is not lecturing or judging. “It’s your life, not their life. It’s up to you to spin the magic out of your days.” “Hmm.” I glance at my watch. We’ve been picnicking for nearly four hours, and the sun is falling asleep. I move to help Ada to her feet, but she does it fine by herself. I pack up the blanket and basket. Ada does not mention going out again, so in a tentative little voice and with my heart a mess, I ask her. She fixes her unnatural blue eyes on me and smiles. “I would love to, Rachel,” she says, “but on two conditions.” “What conditions?” “The first is that you kiss me. Now. The second is that when we go out again, it’s a true date. None of this ‘friends’ crap.”


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I stare at Ada for a long moment; I can’t believe I’m even considering her requests. I am, though. Ada is the most interesting person I have met. She’s beautiful, lively and intelligent. And yes, I do want to kiss her. I no longer fear her old-woman lips; I have a sneaking suspicion her mouth will be perfect. I do want to go out with her again. But what would people think? My parents, my co-workers, society in general? Even Jessica would blanch. And I still can’t imagine myself in bed with Ada. What about children? I want kids someday. Perhaps I’m thinking a bit too far ahead, but . . . Ada clicks her tongue. “Well?” Confusion frustrates my mind. “Ada, I don’t know.” “I see.” The hurt in Ada’s expression breaks my resolve. “Fuck it,” I exclaim, and I sweep Ada into my arms. This old woman’s lips are soft, her kisses gentle, her tongue the right amount of insistent. Her moans set my body aflame. In that meadow, for fifteen minutes, Ada blesses me with the best makeout session of my life. I am falling in love.

I

cannot bring myself to tell Jessica that Ada and I kissed, that we’re going out again. So I don’t. I tell no one. And Ada and I go out again and again and again. After one month, we make love, and it is different than with my “younger” others, but no less perfect. Just . . . different. Different wonderful. Different indescribable. Ada has more energy, more gentleness, more kindness, more wisdom than I imagined possible in one human being. She is good to me, good for me--surprising me with treats and little gifts. She’s the best thing that happened to me. Ada teaches me how to dance, how to ride horses (yes!), how to change the oil in my car. She shows me how to slow down and smell the roses and how to find beauty in weed-choked lawns, one-eyed men and hairless cats. More often than not, we fall asleep in each other’s arms and wake up together. After two months, I meet her family, including her four-year-old great-grandson. I feel right at home, but I know that soon, Ada will step up her insistence that she meet my family. And she does.

I agonize, and Ada patiently talks me through it. Yes, of course we all want our parents’ approval, she says, but it’s more their loss if they’re going to huff and puff and get all uppity. Ada advises me to start “easy” by telling Jessica why I’m never home lately, why I have a spring in my step, why I laugh at everything now. My heart is cold and clammy even as Ada’s warm hands caress my back and move to my neck and then to my breasts. My parents would be furious. They would call me stupid. Ada is black. She is seventy-five years old. How much longer will she live? Is it worth it for me to pour love, devotion and the best years of my life into this woman? In time, her wrinkles will sag with more desperation, her vision will diminish, she will go deaf, and her mind will fail. And forget about children. I tell all this to Ada. She clucks and looks at me with her all-knowing eyes. “It’s you, Rachel, you who are asking those questions. You’re the scared one. Not your parents. Sure, life is a gamble. It’s a risk. You could die tomorrow, and I could live thirty more years. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Only you know if you love me enough to take this kind of risk, if you’re brave enough. Only you know what’s in your heart.” “Ada, on your list, you said you wanted to find the love of your life.” Fear tinges Ada’s eyes. It’s a new look for her, one I do not like. “And have I found the love of my life?” she whispers. Tears steal my vision away. “I don’t think so. You deserve better than me. I’m a coward. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I do love you, but we’re not meant to be together.” Ada moves to touch me, to reassure me, to wipe away my tears, but I push her away.

I

suffer through a ghastly year. If I had thought getting over Janet was hard, getting over Ada is impossible. I see her everywhere, in the most likely and the most unlikely places—in Jessica’s blue eyes, in the outline of a vase at my parents’ house, in a bag of peanuts. I carry a picture of Ada and me in my wallet, and I sneak looks at it every chance I get. Twelve months after Ada and I break up, I am as miserable as ever.


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And then one day at the very same supermarket where we met, I see Ada with a thirty-ish Asian woman—a stunning, statuesque creature. They are holding hands and are lost in their own world. Ada looks happy. And younger. I have no intention of saying hello, but Ada calls out before I can slink away. “Rach! How are you?” “Fine,” I muster. “I’m . . . yeah. Fine. How are you?” Ada indicates the Asian woman. “This is Kim.” Ada goes on to explain that she and Kim met six months ago and they’re engaged. Ada has not spent her year moping. I manage a few decent words of congratulations and stumble out of the store. I run to my car and cry and cry. I have let the best thing in my life get away. And why? Why? Because she was old? So what? My excuses seem silly, so pointless now.

L

ife goes on. Time goes on, but it doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds. Ten years after I ran into Ada and Kim in the grocery store, I still mourn Ada, though the raw pain has ebbed into a dull ache. I have dated here and there. I simply can’t get over the woman I let escape. I simply can’t forgive myself for my stupidity and my fear. I wonder every day how Ada is, if she and Kim are happy. And, yes, with guilt, I wonder if Ada still lives. I scour the newspaper obituaries religiously, but I never see her name. My father dies of a heart attack, and my mother runs off with the twenty-year-old pool boy. Jessica, who moved out soon after my breakup with Ada, marries the woman of her dreams. Everyone is either dead or happy, except for me. I spend my days drowning in the sea of muck that is my life. Then I see Ada in the snack foods aisle again, and my fog lifts. Only for a minute, though. It is obvious Ada is dying. She is a gaunt, a shell of her former self, but she still manages to be impossibly beautiful. Willing myself not to cry, I say hello. Something floods her features— recognition, love, happiness, relief? “Rach,” she creaks. Her voice is a rasp, unlike her eyes, which are as full of life as ever. “Rachel.”

A few tears escape me, and I wipe them away with the back of my hand. “How are you? How’s Kim?” Ada snorts. “Kim left me nine years ago for some young’un.” I blink. “Wow. I’m sorry. You two looked so in love.” “How are you?” “I’m all right.” “Seeing anyone?” My gaze slumps to a shelf. “No. I haven’t really dated since you. I was stupid.” “Oh, Rachel,” Ada says sadly. “Life’s too short to keep flogging yourself. We all make mistakes.” I meet Ada’s eyes. “I wish I’d known about you and Kim. Nine years ago! Why didn’t you tell me? We could’ve . . .” “It wasn’t my place to go to you. Anyway, it doesn’t matter now, does it? Cancer. Found out last month. Yes, yes, don’t tell me, I should’ve gone to the doctor sooner. I have three months, maybe four. Won’t be able to walk by next week, probably.” I know in that instant what I want to do. What I have yearned to do for the past eleven years. I only hope Ada will let me. “Please,” I implore her. “Let me ...” I fumble, searching for the right words. Ada understands, and she smiles. “I’ll tell everybody. Everybody. Jessica, my mother, her pool-boy lover. I’ll shout it from the rooftops! I love you, I love you, this wonderful woman, and I want nothing more than to make you happy. Please?” Tears shimmer in Ada’s eyes, mirroring my own. “I still have two things uncrossed on the list. Find the love of my life and die happy. I’m glad that I can cross them both out.” I take Ada in my arms and kiss her.

T

he next four months are the best and the worst of my life. I take care of Ada, and she takes care of me, even as her health deteriorates and she is reduced to little more than a vegetable. I do not care. Above all, I am determined that she will die happy. And she does, in my arms, with a kiss on her lips and that eternal smile in her eyes.


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In the hours after Ada’s death, I am lost. My purpose is gone. I can’t imagine having a future. Then I find a letter from Ada, tucked in the middle of her favorite book. Perhaps letter is not the right word. Ada has made a list for me, a sweet little five-item list, though she admonishes me to add on to it. 1. Live happy. 2. Die happy. 3. Lose yourself in a crazy, spring-afternoon rain in Rome. 4. Get a dog and a cat 5. Go to the supermarket. Go into aisle five, where the snack foods are. Ask out the first woman who enters. I smile through my tears. This is what I will do with my life: be someone Ada would be proud of. I will keep Ada’s spirit burning. Three days after Ada dies, her family and I bury her. My mother and Sebastian, her poolboy lover, come. So does Jessica. They hold me up. In the following months, I visit Rome and lose myself in a rain. Italians and tourists huddle inside, but I run and run, for twenty minutes. When I return to the United States, I adopt a mutt and a kitten from the SPCA. Then, one year after Ada’s death, I am ready to follow the instructions for number five. I go to the store and to the snack-food aisle. It is empty, but my chest is full with tightness. My heart is wobbling with anxiety and anticipation. Who will round the corner? An old woman, like Ada? A homophobic woman, like one I’d been afraid of meeting all those years ago with Jessica? A twenty-year-old airhead? A plain, mousy Jane? Funny how negative I am. I’m still scared. I wait and wait. No one comes, except for a middle-aged man. It makes no sense. The time is noon; the store should be bustling. I wait some more. Five minutes pass. Still a ghost town. “Hell,” I mutter. What cruel, sick irony this would be if no woman shows up. Be patient. She will come. The odds guarantee it. The laughter of children reaches my ears, and there they are, tumbling into the aisle—boys, four shouting, gleeful boys. They look about four

to ten years old. They are all red-headed and freckled. They bleed mischief, as most boys do, and two have frosting-smeared chins. I cringe. I hope they are with their father, or at least with a man. I’d rather go with a woman who does not have four hollering boys. I imagine what Ada would say. Don’t be afraid. Embrace life. Welcome the unexpected. I gulp. Whatever will happen will happen. A few moments later comes a woman, apparently the boys’ mother. She echoes their red hair and freckles, and on her long, lean frame hang overalls spattered with dried blue and pink paint. Is she an artist? Or just frazzled? Both? Her hair is askew, as if she has been electrocuted. She keeps pleading with her sons to settle down. She and the boys wander closer to me, and I get a good look at her eyes—oh, her eyes! They are a beautiful, painful blue. I know that blue. Ada’s blue. I smile, and I make my way to the woman with the blue eyes and the four rambunctious sons.


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Khimairal Ink

rost crystals encrusted the ground when Kesho crawled out to the basking stone. The first to wake, she emerged through a cave strewn with leftover food and dirty utensils, and the bodies of still comatose guests. She stretched as the sun’s warmth penetrated her hide and quickened her sluggish blood. It was a fine, clear morning, no sign of rain. A good day for cloudskimming. Kesho had slept fitfully, her stomach churning with too many glimmer-flies, her mind awash with images of handsome males with crests and horns. But there had been that other dream too, the one that came more and more often lately. It returned now, as she lazed in the sun. She was riding a cloudskimmer, the huge green leaf floating on the surface of the Yellow. The toxic cloud stretched featureless on all sides, and it seemed that she was adrift without oars on some desolate sea covered with nothing but trailing banks of fog. She felt surprisingly calm, given the circumstances–unperturbed by the skimmer’s aimless drifting. Then came movement overhead, and she looked up. Spiralling lazily down towards her was a huge bone-bird. The beady gaze met hers, and Kesho wondered for a moment if it were waiting for her to die so it could feast on her bones. Instead, it began to circle the skimmer–once, twice, three times–and then it set off away from her in a straight line. The skimmer, its means of propulsion a mystery, began to follow the bird.

The gliding motion had lulled her almost to sleep when she realized that the bird had alighted on something up ahead. At this distance, it was hard to make it out–a tree, a rock? In the middle of nowhere? And then the fog bank rolled away, and the unmistakable forked outline of Batian Mountain materialized. As her skimmer crunched onto its lower slopes, the bone-bird stared down at her from its branch, and gave a single loud croak. Batian Mountain dissolved like smoke before the wind, and a confused Kesho watched the Storyteller approach her with his measured tread. “Hello, young Kesho,” he wheezed, and she became aware of the basking rock, hard beneath her belly and knew she was awake. She yawned, dispelling the remnants of the rapidly receding dream, and made room for him, shifting another inch when his bony knee dug into her side. “Did you enjoy yourself last night?” he asked. She gave a noncommittal grunt, and his nearer eye swivelled towards her. “You are healthy, and loved, Kesho. And it won’t be long before you marry Buki and have younglings of your own. Why should you be unhappy?” She fidgeted, uncomfortable under his piercing stare. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Storyteller. I’m so restless these days. And there’s this recurring dream.” “Tell me.” So she did. “What does it mean?”


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He considered for several moments and tasted the air with his warty tongue before answering. “You’re not the first to feel this way, Kesho. Some years ago, Grofor became obsessed with Batian Mountain and felt compelled to journey there, in spite of the dangers. I advised against it, but there was no stopping him.” He gazed sadly at Kesho. “Fight against these yearnings, if you can.”

A shadow blocked the sun, and Kesho glanced up. Ngojea loomed over her. “You’ve basked long enough, little sister. It’s my turn now.” With an apologetic glance at the Storyteller, Kesho rose and went back to the cave.


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Stephen D. Rogers Over three hundred of Stephen’s stories and poems have been selected to appear in more than a hundred publications. His website, www.stephendrogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

Sharon Hadrian Sharon Hadrian was born and raised in a tiny, homogenous town outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She has written everything from rock operas and screenplays to movie reviews and children’s books. Now a staff writer at AfterEllen.com, these days Sharon can be found crafting more serious works, particularly those related to diversity and minority visibility. She is also the founder and senior editor of Antithesis Common, a literary magazine with a diversity slant. She currently resides in England.

T.J. Mindancer As fictional as her fantasy stories, T.J. Mindancer is a figment of C.A. Casey’s imagination and Casey takes no responsibility for what Mindancer forces her to write. Mindancer roams the World of Emoria. Casey’s writings include articles in library journals and in Strange Horizons, and stories in Aoife’s Kiss, Beyond Centauri, and an upcoming issue of The Lorelei Signal. She also penned two novels for kids, Dragon Drool and Top of the Key.

Q. Kelly Q. Kelly is an editor living in Froot Loop Land, Virginia. She has won numerous short-story and journalism competitions. She’s also authored several novels and is in the process of finding roosting places for them. She loves flirting, mocha Frappucinos and royal families. You can e-mail her at yllek_q@yahoo.com.

Barbara Davies Barbara Davies published her first short story in 1994. Since then, more than forty of her stories have appeared in various magazines, including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Rage Machine Magazine, Farthing, Electric Spec, and Here and Now, and in several anthologies, including Ideomancer Unbound and F/SF Volume 1. The readers of Kimota gave one of her stories their 1999 Best Story Award.


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