Chapter XI: Tender

An excerpt from
Diary of the Tender
Entry 16: 18
Date 64 of 7499 SC


It was shortly after the eleventh hour had elapsed. Sunlight poured through the coloured glass, casting tinted, luminescent shadows upon the floor of the hall.

Clever was two paces ahead of me, stepping into the window's portrait of Father. He stepped cautiously over a wobbly stone in the floor and then leaned flat against the wall with anticipation. Leaning forward, he turned his head around the corner slowly and then pulled back quickly

I cleared my throat, nervous apprehension having coated it with saliva.

Clever's face then turned back and a whisper fell slowly from his otherwise gaping mouth, "There she is. Hiding in the most secular plaza in The Core."

"The Clergy dare not trod these storefronts even on the coldest days," I acknowledged. "A wager must always be paid. How much did we bet?"

"No, you don't need to pay me for this one." Clever laughed. "Besides, you've lost enough money today, Tender, hah hah. Just do what you came to do. No stalling, heh."

I rolled my eyes, and then ran a hand through my short, blond hair.

He just stared me down, those dark brown eyes probing my face for anything that might betray my lack of confidence.

I feigned apathy. However, I think he knew I was afraid. In that quiet moment, I could hear my heart pounding.

There was nothing threatening about that round face and cool, calculating eyes. That is, not until he spoke, "If you don't..." And yet, it was his own face that turned to sorrow then. "If I don't..."

I realized, then, that Clever was far more in need of encouraging than I was. And I knew, at that moment, who he had in mind. The weight of it came crashing down upon me, and for a moment I forgot about the beautiful young woman who was perusing Couture of the Blue Star just a dozen feet away.

Clever closed his eyes for a moment, looking up toward the shiny metal tiles of the ceiling. All was polished and silvery. Our own distorted reflections, clinging to the ceiling as we ourselves clung to the walls.

"We're meeting Oblique in ten minutes," he said, changing the subject. "You should start what you came here to begin, or face the evitable end."

"Evitable, eh?" I asked, as I let go of the wall and rounded the corner. The glass wall of the storefront had a single sliding door, outlined by a translucent blue border.

"Be as charming as you can be. But not too forward. Never forget that, despite what she said in the broadcast today, her nature is still her name."

The door slid upon at my touch.

I wanted to be clever. I wanted to be bold. And I knew I would be tender.

I wanted Shy.

For too long, her beauty had caught my eye without even a compliment. And on the rare occasions when we had a class together, her intellect had intrigued me.

Then there were those non-social mediums, where her self-expression ran free without being inhibited. The feathered shoes at my feet, she had co-designed. My belt, too. My favourite belt. The buckle was coated in oxidized copper, and shaped like leaves upon a leather branch. All around it, tiny metal leaves so softening to sight with a green patina.

Shy stepped out of the dressing room.

I breathed in one long breath, through nose and mouth, taking in the scent of clean new fabric and a wisp of her perfume.

A semblance of sea shells were molded over her breasts, and a sinewy translucent blue wave of silk rose over her chest and hugged her neck.

My eyes were caught in hers, no make-up upon her face. Nothing to skew what she really, truly was - beautiful in her natural state. Again, my longing and anxiety caused my mouth to fill with too much saliva and too few words.

She tilted her head to one side in a quiet, inquisitive gesture. Her smile was faint. And the blue fell from her waist in a whirl of soft waves, translucent blue upon translucent blue upon the beige of a sandy beach giving way to slender calves and sea shell sandals.

I tried to let my hands say what I could not. Slowly, and with acceptance, I took her right hand in my left, and then courage rose in me such that I put my right upon her hip towards her lower back.

That smile never disappeared. In fact, I think it widened just a bit.

She let go of my hand.

I was startled.

Hers came to rest upon my shoulder. And then she pulled me closer. I could feel her chest against mine. I had never been so close to another in such a context.

The shopkeeper was eclipsed from view by a rack of women's and men's slacks.

"You look stunning, Shy..." I whispered, as my left hand came to rest with my right, upon her lower back. That was not what I had intended to say. It was true, though, and I had meant it. Yet what I truly wanted to say was...

"Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?" asked Shy.

I was stupefied. Shy!? If she had asked any louder, I reckon she'd have gotten a name change right there and then.

"I would love to," I told her. And then I pulled her closer. Her head came to rest upon my shoulder.

It was a while before she let go of me. "I should pay for this," she said, stepping slowly away as I let my hands fall slowly.

I heard the ambient beep as Clever opened the door and entered Couture of the Blue Star. Immediately, I turned away from him toward the rack of men's slacks and began perusing - if only to tactfully hide my obvious attraction to Shy.

The blue door beeped once more, and Oblique entered. I turned my head to see him exchange a perplexed look with Clever. And I smiled, in amusement, knowing it wouldn't be long before Oblique stole something.

The End

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