I’d been invited to the champagne dinner. What I didn’t expect was what I probably should have expected: a group of people entirely unencumbered by social graces. I correct myself; one of them did have, and he was struggling to deal with the rest of what was apparently his family. To make matters worse, his parents had taken a shine to me, and paired the two of us off together. I wasn’t all that embarrassed – however unsuitable the proposed match – but the poor lad was taking it really hard. And there was really no way to ease his state of mind, not in the current environment.
I’m not sure how, but someone got wind that I would be at Madame Clavella’s fashion show in two days time. It was determined that they would all be there, and that afterwards Kenet and I would go out… And more was hinted at, to the poor lad’s further embarassment. I’d have shaken my head, but I was busy being polite.
The smart, shiny gray partitions were incongruous when put together with the peeling paint at the top of the wall behind Madame Clavella. It made me chuckle, not that I dared to show it, especially following on her determination to have the arena pristine and, well, shining, for her clients. Except I had a nasty suspicion that she wasn’t going to get quite the clientele she expected this evening! Something said by a group of people earlier in the week led me to think they would be here, and they certainly weren’t her multi-million-pound clients.
It was quite sad that this room was in such a state of relative disrepair. As a child I had been given the opportunity, on numerous occasions, to explore this building, and I knew all the back passages like the back of my hand. The building had always been excellently maintained, but it seemed that now the managers didn’t care. Oh well.
I wandered into the section that had been partitioned off. I didn’t understand what Madame Clavella was doing this year. By this time, an hour before the show, last year, the entire room had been turned into a glitter ball. The entrance had had champagne tables, chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, plush dark red carpets and mood lighting. The rampway had also been equally tasteful, and set up. Right now, there was nothing, apart from these beautifully-clad partitions. Even Sara, the DJ, wasn’t really set up. I didn’t think the Esoteric Scientific Theological Society was going to be getting quite the same treatment this year.
I sat down in a chair next to Sara, and looked around. I thought I’d seen one of the group of people from earlier in the week. Now I was beginning to recognise more of the attendees who had filtered in. Ah. And there was Kenet. The poor lad. He looked like he’d been crying, from the red marks on his nose between his eyes. I felt really sorry for him. His family seemed to pick on him a lot. It didn’t help much that he was probably the best looking lad of a large bunch of kids. And the eldest to boot. That much I’d managed to work out from our previous encounter. And here he was, barely able to look at me. I wasn’t surprised – but that was a problem, as we really needed to talk.
I opted for staring at him. He’d figure it out soon enough. However, doing that in a way that didn’t attract the attention of his family wasn’t easy – I didn’t much care for their intervention either.
After a while his gaze did shift in my direction, but he quickly reverted to staring at his feet. I sighed, and continued to stare. Eventually he looked at me again. I jerked my head towards the gap in the partitions. Before I moved, he’d looked away again, but I knew he was watching my every move. I left the partitioned section, went around the corner to the left and exited the room. Why this was so important to me, I still hadn’t quite worked out, but the kid was miserable. I couldn’t have that. I also wasn’t sure whether he’d follow me or not, but he was an intelligent guy. He’d work out a way to get out of there. Even as I was sure his family had seen me exit.
Sure enough, he came out of the room not too long after me. And still refused to look me in the eye. I sighed inwardly.
‘Follow me,’ I said, taking off down the corridor.
‘Where are we going?’ he asked.
I stopped walking and turned back. He hadn’t taken a step.
‘Somewhere where your family can’t spy on us.’
I hoped that would be enough incentive for him to follow me. I didn’t feel like spelling things out right here, where there may be ears lurking.
He nodded, and moved to join me. I set off at a fast pace, taking a pretty convoluted route to a balcony that was almost next door to the room, although not close enough for prying personages. I was relieved he didn’t ask any questions. What did make me sad, though, was the way he slouched. I wasn’t sure of his age, but I’d pegged him at at least 21 the other day. He shouldn’t be slouching.
When we got there, we found two deck chairs set out, just as I’d hoped there would be. It made things easier. I motioned him into one and sat down in the other one.
I didn’t feel any need to prevaricate.
‘You do know I’m married, right?’
He nodded, unwilling to meet my eyes.
‘Right. So that’s one problem solved. What your family is demanding of you… of us… is impossible.’
He nodded again.
‘Does your family know?’
It lightened my heart a little when I saw the corners of his mouth twitch. He shook his head. Ok. So he’d cared enough to investigate. The information wasn’t that difficult to find if one cared enough to look. That was a good sign. I hadn’t pegged him as stupid. Just very… oppressed. It was common enough on this world, and especially within large families.
‘Why do you let them get to you so much?’
He shrugged. It was easy to see that he’d given up long ago; he wore an almost permanent frown on what would otherwise have been a very handsome face, and his bowed shoulders were testament to the brow beatings he received. I could only pray that I could get through to him in the short time I had.
‘Have you heard of Kalen?’
A nod. ‘We attend mass every week.’
Ok. So that was good.
‘What is Kalen’s central teaching?’
This was beginning to sound like an inquisition, which I hadn’t intended, but I needed to find out where he was at.
‘Love Kalen with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love others as yourself.’
Ok. He knew the basics there. That was good.
‘I want you to think about this question. How do you think Kalen sees you?’
‘That one’s easy. He made me unique, in His image. So there’s only one of me and…’ Kenet trailed off, lost in his thoughts.
I had him exactly where I wanted him. He was thinking. And it didn’t take long.
‘So this is why you brought me here,’ Kenet said, almost too quiet for me to hear. And for the first time, he met my eyes. My breath caught at the hope I saw shining in them. A slow grin spread across his face as I watched him. The first I’d seen, and he was downright handsome. If I’d been a few years younger and unmarried… He nodded, as if all the pieces of a puzzle were matching up.
‘Just because they are my family doesn’t mean I have to be the same as them. I can be my own person, the person Kalen created me to be.’
I nodded. He was definitely on the right track now. My job here was done. One more thing, though. I dug around in my purse.
‘If you ever feel the need for a break, here’s my personal card. We live offworld, but love to have visitors.’
His eyes positively sparkled. ‘Thanks Attula!’ he said, taking my holocard out of my hand. ‘I can’t tell you how much meeting you has helped.’
I smiled. ‘No need. I’ve been in your shoes. My husband hauled me out of the pit – before he became my husband, if you get my meaning. It does something to one.’
‘That it sure does.’ He grinned. ‘Guess we’d better head back. You go first.’