.. | the waterstreet mill | chapter 4
As Hunter had bid me to, I made it back down the stairs close to sundown. Carefully I chose the nicer of my clothing, which incidentally wasn't much, as Ghen had already so politely told me, but I would have to make do. Much of my time before then had been occupied by a letter I was writing to Archer and Aislinn, detailing my first impressions. I had tried to make my words excited and joyful so they would never regret their decision to send me here, but in truth with every line I'd wanted to beg to be able to come home. I was still feeling so raw on the inside, even with Hunter's assurances that I would eventually find my feet.
Evening had hardly set in and already there were people beginning to mill about, looking otherworldly to me in their fashionable clothes. With drinks in one hand, some men even had a pipe in the other, reminding me a little painfully of Archer. He used to sit and smoke quietly after the boys were down, gazing into the fire grate. When the smell of the smoke filled my nostrils, I remembered how the orange glow used to light up the red tones in his hair and gleam in his eyes.
Most of the noise and bustle was concentrated in the dining room where large crowds of both men and women shared the tables, food and conversation. They all spoke very animatedly, among friends as they were, as they enjoyed their wine bottles and bread.
Alone for the moment, as I had yet to find Hunter or Ghen, I wandered through the background, feeling my outsider status more than ever. Indeed, it took all the intestinal fortitude I had not to turn right around and go back to the safety of my room. Here I was in the midst of a crowd of people who all seemed to know each other, by face at least if not by name. I myself knew nothing of them or their ways, and was a fool to think they didnít know it too.
I swept my head around, wondering who in here would possibly know my name. Behind the bar I spied Josif waving his hand at me to come over. Timid, but thankful for a face I knew, I made my way through the few that crowded the path to him.
Amid other calls for drinks, Josif set a glass of some bruise-colored liquid in front of me. I just stared at it.
"Liquid nerve," he said. "You look like a cornered animal." He smiled handsomely.
Lifting the glass to my lips, I couldnít help but wrinkle my nose at the sickeningly sweet, almost putrid odor that filled my nostrils. At the keep I had tasted the brew Archer kept for special occasions, but its hardy scent was nothing to this, whatever it was.
"What is it?"
Josif wiped his hands on a small towel he kept looped in his belt. "I call it a Purple Death Wish. Drink it quick or youíll never finish it."
Oh, with a name like that, what's the harm? I thought wryly. But I trusted his genuine smile, steeled my reserve, and took the thing in one gulp. It was like swallowing fire. Josif laughed as I let the glass clatter to the bar, gagging and choking and desperately trying not to make a huge scene of it. Offering no apologies, he was called away to serve the others who waited, leaving me to recover on my own.
Someone slapped me on the back to help me gain myself again. Through teary eyes I looked up to see Ghen.
"Heís a bastard," he said off-handedly. "But look at it this way, youíll never taste anything worse after that one."
I worked to clear my throat. "I might not taste anything after that," I croaked.
Ghen rubbed my back more with slight smirk, amused himself at the joke Josif had played on me. After a few moments, when I'd gained my wits again, I noticed that he looked very well that evening, all cleaned up and dressed nicely in dark indigo velvet and black linen. Even the stones in his rings matched the rich azure of his clothes.
Of course he noticed me looking at him. "How do I look?" he asked, standing back so I could admire him. "Good enough to eat?"
"If thatís what youíre going for," I said, clearing my throat again.
He raised an eyebrow. I supposed he had expected me to be flustered still in his presence but I had recalled Hunterís encouragement and took a chance to see what would happen. Liquid nerve indeed. My head was already feeling lighter.
"Itís exactly what Iím going for," he said, "but thatís not for your ears, little one."
"I expect most of what comes out of you is not for anyoneís ears, least of all mine."
He blinked at me for a moment as I held his gaze. Then, we both suddenly started to laugh. Grinning proudly, Ghen put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me to his side.
"So you do come out of that shell every now and then! Keep up that mouth, and you'll fit right in. Here, let me get you a real drink."
Ghen stayed with me for most of the night, taking me by the hand as he weaved his way through the ever-growing crowds. He introduced me to all of his friends, most of whom passed off my age and drab appearance with obvious disinterest. Could I blame them? Standing next to Ghen surely I looked like Iíd come right out of the last century. To my embarrassment it didnít escape Ghenís notice either, though he made no excuses for the snobbery of his friends.
"Tomorrow, sweets, weíll find you some nice clothes. You canít show your face around this crowd unless youíre as beautiful as they are," Ghen said into my ear. He brushed my hair back from my eyes as he studied my features.
"And it wouldnít even take much," he promised. "You could be devastating."
My cheeks reddened at his scrutiny. He had but touched on the tip of what would become my biggest obstruction on the road to learning who I was. I had at least known enough of myself to be happy with Archerís family, but here it was different. Hard work was not enough. Pride had to be taken in everything one did here, including the way one looked, and it seemed there was a whole other side to me that Ghen thought was there. Was it, I wondered?
We both leaned against the bar and watched the crowds silently for a while. Beginning to feel the alcohol Ghen was nearly pouring down my throat, I began to relax. I started to watch peopleís body language in the heady atmosphere, somewhat bewildered at the ease with which men made contact with each other. They hugged and spoke closely face to face with an almost tangible innuendo hanging in the air all around me. I even spied a couple locked in a kiss and turned away, flustered. How naive was I still that even watching such a thing made my heart flutter in my chest with anxiety and longing. And fear.
Beside me I heard Ghen cluck his tongue. He gestured with his drink to the entrance of the bar where I spotted a familiar figure. Who knew where he had been all night, but I didnít care at that point. Upon seeing him, my breath caught in my throat.
Hunter was dressed in sleek black to match the raven of his hair. He looked cool and distant in the crowd, wandering smoothly through his friends and acquaintances whose number rivaled Ghenís. He got through very slowly but with charm and grace; everybody was eager to turn and speak to him and he generously gave each his attention. I watched, quite unaware of how obvious I was being about it, as the ale had fully made its way to my head, led by that first bit of hell Josif had handed me. I really should have stopped while I was ahead, but even now Ghen was pushing another mug into my hand.
"He makes it look so easy," I heard myself say.
"It is easy, when you're him," Ghen remarked, downing the rest of his drink. Then, upon sighting some of his friends, he left me without any warning. But I hardly noticed his absence, leaning there against the bar, lost in my thoughts.
I watched Hunter smile, then laugh. Flash those white teeth and give himself over to an embrace from someone he knew, and then let his hand linger on their lower back as he turned to speak to someone else. Ghen was right; there was no doubt in my mind that he was a very fine-looking man. But there was just something else about him that was drawing the attention and interest. It was in his charm, his very nature; one didnít even have to know him to feel it.
Case in point, Iíd been attracted to him from the moment I met him.
Hunter mingled his way through, drink in hand. He hardly looked like himself as I knew him at least. He was all smiles and talk, sometimes very animatedly in comparison to the sober, composed man I had begun to really admire.
And then, suddenly, amid the strangely comforting cacophony of shouts and songs and conversation, his eyes cast across the room to the bar, and found me. How he had picked me out of that crowd was uncanny, when there was so much else that should have caught his eye. Then again, my plainness may well have made me stand out much more than any fancy clothes could have.
Hunter drifted over to the bar, getting stopped left and right by those wishing to speak with him, to acknowledge his position as the owner of the place. After a few moments he finally made it to me. He shoved his empty glass down the bar towards Josif and motioned for another.
"What do you think?" he asked, leaning close to be heard. God, he even smelled good.
"Itís loud," I answered back for lack of anything better to say. What else could I tell him? That I was still so distrustful of crowds that I still was in fear of getting pick-pocketed?
"You get used to it," he said, waving to someone across the room.
"Everybody knows you," I said, not wanting to shout but wondering if he could hear me at all.
He laughed and picked up the drink Josif had made for him. "Comes with the trade," he said, clapping a hand on my shoulder. "Everybody wants to be in good favor here, and they have to do that through me."
I wondered if that was all they wanted of him. Surely he couldnít be that modest and naive to think that his looks and personality had nothing to do with everyoneís attraction to him.
Actually, as it turned out, I was the naive one to think for a second that he didnít know. But I would find out that one later too.
"Donít get lost, ok?" he said, looking as if he would leave me. Someone across the room had beckoned him over, and he seemed willing enough to make the journey. "Iíll see you tomorrow, Micah," Hunter said with a smile, disappearing into the throng of people.
Not later, all the way until tomorrow. I wondered what plans he could have that would take him out of here for the night. My heart fluttered to think.
Ghen found me again towards the end of the night when the crowds began to thin. In all actuality it was more like the early morning, and I was certainly feeling it.
"Youíre still in one piece I see," he said, patting my cheek. We were walking back up to the front bar after having spent most of our evening in the cozy back bars. He put an arm around my shoulders and guided me towards the winding stairwell. "So now you have an idea about what itís like," he said. "Itíll become second nature to you, I promise."
"Will it be so busy tomorrow?" I stifled a yawn as I spoke.
Ghen brushed my bangs away from my face again. "Nope, tomorrow is a rest day. People in the city like to stay home and pray. Here, we like to sleep late." He winked at me. "Now go get some sleep. Youíll come to love the end of the week."
I nodded absently, feeling as if I could just lay down on the stairs and crash there quite comfortably. But somehow I made it back to my comfortable room, shrugged off my plain clothes, and tumbled into bed.
When I woke up the next morning, I thought I was still dreaming. Certainly I had been just a moment before, but those kinds of dreams had no business sitting on my bed when I woke! Hunter sat there above me, dressed comfortably in soft linen and breeches, with his hair partially fallen over one eye with the curious cock of his head. He was studying me.
"Rise and shine," he said.
I sat bolt upright, only to be rewarded with a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and a pounding head.
"Am I late?" I asked, looking about for my clothes. I could feel the color in my cheeks, but did he notice? As I tried to smooth my hair back I wondered what time it was.
"No, no, I just thought maybe youíd like to go into town with Ghen. He seems to think you need a new wardrobe. Itís evidently imperative that you get one as soon as possible."
"I can give you money," he said before I could protest, "thatís no issue, but you have to promise that youíll keep it away from him. Ghen has a certain sickness when it comes to spending money on clothes, especially when it's not his."
I gave him a half-smile and demurely slid out of the bed.
Hunter cocked his head again. "Whatís wrong? Didnít you have fun last night?"
I ambled over to the basin of water to rinse my face. "I did, really," I said quickly, nodding. "Itís just that, well, Iím afraid I donít know much about clothes shopping."
When he didnít respond, I looked over my shoulder, only to be startled to see that heíd come up right behind me. He handed me a towel to dry my face but appeared distracted. He was looking at my bare back.
"I havenít seen this one," he said wonderingly, reaching out and tracing the faded pattern with his fingers.
I had frozen under his touch. "There are others?" I asked softly.
"A few," he said with a nod. He dropped his hand and took a step back so I could dress. "Itís an old practice, outlawed in the city, actually. The outerlands are a different story I imagine."
Distracted, I pulled my shirt on slowly. It was strange to hear him speak of it as a Ďpracticeí, when I had lived it for real. It was even stranger to think that itíd been several years now since I had left home with that brand as an open wound between my shoulder blades.
With a sigh, Hunter changed the subject. "I wouldnít worry about the fashions," he said. "Ghen will do it all for you. If he canít spend his own money, heíll be glad to help you squander yours."
He looked a me a little while longer, studying me again. I had finished dressing but still felt as vulnerable as if I was standing there naked. I wasnít used to someone taking interest in my mark, and it had felt strange to have someone other than Archer touch it. I felt almost... violated, even if it was just Hunter. It wasnít that I disliked his touch- I just wasnít used to it.
"But if you ask me," Hunter continued, apparently unaware of what I was feeling. He reached out and took a lock of my hair and let it run through his fingers. "Dark would suit you. Black, red, grey, perhaps some white for special occasions. But definitely something to play off those dark eyes."
When I recounted the story to Ghen an hour later, he just laughed and took a puff from his rolled paper version of a pipe. It was evidently quite the thing to smoke in the city, though could get expensive since the little things had to be rolled and cut by hand. He called them his Ďsmokesí.
"I could suggest something else that would bring out your eyes," he said, "but would never mention it in good company."
We were walking down the cobbled roadway just outside the large square that encompassed the Mill. It was a brisk morning and Ghen had lent me one of his finer coats so that I didnít embarrass him with my well-worn leather drag, an old hand-me-down from Archer. I shoved my hands in my pockets, ignoring his lewd remark. Besides it being too early for such vulgarity, I was much too distracted by the sights around me to really listen. I had only seen the city in darkness on my first night here, but here in the daylight, my previous trepidation lifted.
People were all about as before but there were so many more this time- chatting on the street, doing their errands and chores, opening windows to the invigorating morning. Carts passed us, some strapped to spotted mules or donkeys and other smaller ones being drawn by large goats. I saw no fine steeds like mine that still resided in the Millís stable.
"No one rides in the city?" I asked, looking up at a two-story building whose window a woman had just shouted down from. As I craned my head up at her I got a healthy view of her bosom as she leaned over the sill, enough of one to make me blush. When she spared a hearty glance at me, I quickly looked away.
Ghen took another drag from his smoke, shaking his head. He seemed so unaffected by our surroundings. I hoped that I would never get so used to things that one day I would just fail to take notice.
"Itís bad luck," he answered. "People still rode in the city years ago, when half of it burned down-" He was distracted by a bakerís shop window that we were passing, through which I could see a robust young man stocking the barrels of rolls for the morningís sale. He looked up at us and locked eyes with Ghen.
But Ghen kept going, hardly hesitating in stride. He was smiling to himself. Fail to notice indeed; Ghen would endlessly notice the only thing that seemed to matter to him.
"Did you know him?"
"Nope," he answered simply. "But that doesnít matter, does it?"
I just rolled my eyes and shook my head.
"Anyway," he continued, flicking his smoke away. "So many people died in the fire, people would dismount when they rode through, you know, out of respect. The tradition just stuck."
"How long ago was that?"
"Long before I was alive. Here we are."
He led us to a sector the street that was lined with linen and cotton shops with fabrics of every possible color hanging in the windows.
"Come on, come on, no time to waste!" he said with a grin, grabbing my sleeve and dragging me into the nearest shop. He was like a child in a taffy shop, and I, the calm and sensible one with the money, was at his mercy.
By the time we were done, the sun had risen high into the sky and I had seen more color and patterns in the period of several hours than I had in my entire lifetime. I actually had a headache.
Hunter had been right to let Ghen handle everything. All I had to do was stand still long enough for measurements to be taken and he took care of the rest. In just half a day he had spent nearly all of the money Hunter had given me, a considerable amount I could never have wasted on clothes alone.
As we walked home, Ghen wrapped an arm around my shoulders. He had dressed me in some ready-made garments that weíd splurged on after the selections for the custom-made frocks were done. Soft linen shirt, snug corded pants, and to keep out the cold, a guilded brown leather drag that was to become one of my favorites. Even I had to be pleased with myself.
"The transformation is almost complete," Ghen said. "Now comes the hard part."
"Making you fit into those new frocks. Attitude."
Attitude. Confidence. Contentidness with one's self. It was all a sense of being that I lacked. I have to admit though, when Hunter wandered into the lower bar that afternoon where I sat with Ghen and Dray, talking of the day's events, my ego got a little boost. He stopped momentarily in his tracks, as if he had not expected the results. Ghen nearly shoved me off my stool to stand up and show him.
Hunter nodded approvingly as he circled me. "Classic, Ghen," he said with a smile. "Very good work."
"Yes, I suppose he wonít embarrass me too much now." Ghen winked at me as he spoke.
Hunter turned to me, a hand on his hip. "You've got no excuse now, am I right? You certainly look the part, but do you feel you're ready for everything?"
I absently pulled at my new clothes, still getting used to their weight. "As I'll ever be, I suppose-"
Hunter clapped me on the shoulder. "Excellent. Tomorrow night, then. We'll find out."
The day of my first night at work. How I dreaded the coming of the evening. Hunter bade me to spend all day downstairs with Josif, head tender of the bars. Blond, handsome and tall, Josif had quick hands and an even faster quip to his words, probably having come from his having to deal with flirtatious bar patrons all night. I found it difficult to keep up with him.
As I stood there he ran through the different types of ales, wines and the few brews that Hunter had occasion to secure from a few private drafters around the city. Then there was what he called the "hard stuff", potent swills that could be mixed or taken on their own, and guaranteed to "cure what ails you", as Josif put it. He said that most of the rougher crowd favored the inexpensive ales but the higher class liked wine.
"Snooty mugs like this stuff," Josif said, handing me a small sip of it so I could familiarize myself. "Just look for Ghen-types, they'll order it every time."
He said the hard swills were for those who came here with serious intentions to forget their troubles and get smashed, and that I should be careful with that type. After he had let me have a little taste of everything, I leaned against the bar and took a settling breath. It was noontime now. In a few hours I would have to put this new knowledge to work.
Josif came to stand in front of me, idly wiping his hands on a small rag. "What's wrong?"
"Just a little nervous I guess." I tried to calm my fidgety hands. "I'm not very good with people."
He gave a fine smile and gently chucked my chin with his fist. "You'll do fine. Ghen is going to be your shadow tonight, and I'll be here."
Huh. I was remembering what happened last time I put trust in him. It nearly knocked me on my- well, off my feet anyway. Outwardly I just nodded to him, genuinely wanting to believe him when he said everything would go smoothly. In my naivety, I even thought it was nice that he would offer look out for me.
"Stop flirting, it's making me ill." Josif and I looked in unison at Ghen as he walked in, smoke in hand. "And quit talking about me."
As he approached, Josif backed away from me and busied himself with wiping down the already shiny bar top. "We weren't talking about you, lily," he said. "Not every conversation has to revolve around you."
Ghen came and leaned all over the bar he was cleaning. "I heard my name," he cooed. Josif stopped his cleaning, looking slightly impatient to me but what did I know? They probably always talked like this.
"Then you're hearing things," Josif cooed back in a mocking manner. He spared a glance at me as he moved from behind the bar to leave us. "See you tonight, Micah." Then he was gone.
Ghen pulled himself up to sit on the bar. "Huh. Nice and friendly, aren't we?"
"What's wrong?" I asked. Gah! I was so innocent.
Ghen leaned close. "You watch out for that one," he said in a serious tone. "He's got a reputation, if you know what I mean."
I shrugged. "He seems nice to me-"
"Nice! What do you know about telling nice from 'I want to suck you dry'?"
"Ghen!" I hadn't quite gotten his metaphor but I blushed all the same.
"Good-looking, witty, interesting. Put together, he's devastating and he knows it. Be careful of that," he warned. There was something rueful in his voice.
I was beginning to get an idea, just by the way that he spoke about Josif and by the way they'd spoken to each other just now that there was some history between them Ghen hadn't shared. I was furiously curious as soon as that realization crossed my mind.
"You don't like him then?" I asked.
He ran his hand back through chestnut hair. "Of course I like him," Ghen said a bit impatiently. Then, a little more softly, "Everybody likes him."
I asked no more questions about it. If he wanted to tell me what had gone on, I knew he would have. As of right now, I knew I was still a bit of a stranger. I thought that perhaps someday Ghen would think of me enough to divulge his secrets, of which I was sure there were many. But for now he just sat there on the bar inspecting his fingernails like they were of some interest.
Amid our silence, I decided to say, "You did hear your name."
Ghen looked at me with a slight smile. "I know."
Evening came. Ghen helped me choose my clothes for the night with some last minute instructions as he ran his fingers back through my hair to smooth it.
"Don't worry about being nice," he said. "Just remember their faces and who wanted what. That's all that really matters, the rest will come naturally. And don't forget to smile."
I looked at myself in the polished mirror that hung over the basin in my room. Ghen had said that dark clothing would suit me better since my eyes and hair were dark too. It was something I had never thought about before. When I looked at myself in the mirror I saw a young man I did not recognize but for that unsure gaze staring back at me.
Ghen looked at my reflection over my shoulder. He gave me a little hug from behind. "You really are quite fine to look at, you know," he said. "This will be a snap for you."
In the end, he was right once again. Though it took me a good hour to get comfortable with the interactions, I found I had a good memory when it was put to use, and people were nicer to me than I had expected. Was it the new look I sported? Ghen had brushed my hair and flipped it a different way than I was used to letting it fall, and there were, of course, the new clothes. Who was I all of a sudden?
Being down here, finally a little more in tune with the place around me, I soon got the chance to really see the heart of the Mill. In watching the patrons, I saw that a lot of them, but not all, shared preferences like mine. They laughed and played, joked and cajoled with each other like I had never seen men do. Few of them seemed to take anything very seriously and innuendo dripped from almost every word spoken. There were men and women together too, don't get me wrong, but there was certainly a tip of the scale in our favor. What I thought was the most intriguing of all was how well these 'regular' couples fit in with what was going on around them. I had never seen people so at ease with each other, how was it that this place had come to exist?
And if this was the true way of things, what had I suffered for? Those thoughts swirled in my head as I tended my few tables, listening to Ghen nearby bantering with his companions, quipping those witty remarks and sending others into fits of laughter. Why couldn't I have been born here in the city? To be so at ease with myself like Ghen was, and Hunter too. Where had they come from that they took such an environment for granted?
About that moment, as if summoned by my very thoughts, Hunter wandered in. I had paused in mid-reach to watch him, forgetting completely what I was doing. He was dressed in his customary black with his even darker hair shining in the bright lamp lights, which reflected the brilliant smile he was flashing to those he knew. I watched the way he walked, the straight posture, the cool, collected gestures. He held himself like I would imagine royalty would.
God, even now to think of how fine he looked to me that night. That was the beginning of it all, I'm sure.
Hunter had his arm around some other man's waist and I could not help but see in his handsome companion's face a look of carefully guarded pride to be there. He maintained this lofty expression even as Hunter was constantly turning to speak to those around them.
"What's with you, boy? You got a crush or something?"
"Huh? Oh!" I snapped my arm back from where I'd been leaning over someone's table in my own stupor. As my face flushed a little the three who sat there exchanged glances with each other.
"Uh, no, not really," I faltered, nervously wiping my hands on the rag I kept looped in my belt. Damn it all, I might as well have been drooling all over their table for as obvious as I was being.
The man who had spoken followed my gaze to Hunter. "Uh huh," he said to his companions with a little smile.
I took my leave of them quickly, hoping they wouldn't want anything else that night and made a beeline for the back where I could be out of people's way. With a rapidly beating heart I leaned against an empty chair and took a breath. I was suddenly so flustered that my head was throbbing and my hands wouldn't stop shaking.
"You all right?" Ghen had found me. "You look a little hot." He fanned me with his hand.
I shook my head. "It's nothing," I told him. "Nothing."
I finished up the rest of my shift relatively uneventfully, once I had gotten myself under some control. I couldn't believe I had gotten so tense just from a little teasing. What about that would have put me on edge so much?
Perhaps it was true? Maybe I did have a 'crush' as they called it. Certainly I found him interesting- okay, intriguing, but that didn't mean that I liked him, did it? I mean, I hardly knew him!
Evidently I was still naive enough to think that that had anything to do with anything at all. I should have learned that from my experience with Archer. As I thought about it I began to realize that the teasing from my table wasn't really what had gotten me so flustered. That little embarrassment had just been an added bonus.
Later into the night, a few moments before he wandered out I had found myself watching Hunter again. He seemed not to notice me at all, which hurt my feelings a bit seeing as this was my first time on the floor. Some words of encouragement would have been helpful, but on the other hand I was glad he didn't single me out.
Finally after making his greetings and conversations, Hunter disappeared, along with that other man with the lofty gaze who'd been next to him the whole night. I silently wondered where he was off to.
As the days wore on and I gradually became used to my new place, I began to fall into my routine, as Ghen had promised. Much to my surprise, once I began to come out of my shell and speak to people, they actually took quite easily to me. Even Ghen's well-meant prodding at me grew gentler. Either that or I was just getting used to him. In any case, we made a silent peace and he was never able to put me on the spot again.
More at ease, I was able to start extending the focus of my thought a little farther beyond my own displacement. I soon became furiously curious as to how Hunter managed the whole Mill by himself, but without the gall to ask him myself I finally came to the conclusion by watching him that the man was just terribly efficient. It was in his nature to be fast but thorough, professional but still responsive to those who worked for him. And they all loved him, every one of them. It showed in their faces when he spoke and in the work they did. Even Ghen's never-ending mocking humor against him could be read as a mark of respect in his own way.
But despite the happy-go-lucky spirit of most, if not all of his workers, I noticed that Hunter seemed less affected by their jovial nature. Instead, he tended to be somewhat withdrawn from them, and endured their teasing with only a quiet, patient smile and never retaliated or even got angry over it. I found this quiet, profound demeanor a little intimidating because I could never tell when something was worth saying to him. So more often than not, I said nothing at all.
The patrons I was to serve proved a harder lot to get used to. Some were polite, some helpful, some willing to understand that I was still new. But there were always others who grew impatient or whose bawdy comments rang a little too personal for me. But I wasn't ever alone. Someone else was always nearby to rescue me should I need it. More often than not it was Ghen himself, having taken to keeping an eye on me each night we worked together. It seemed so easy for him to put them off or satisfy them, make some savvy excuse on my part or 'defend my delicate honor', as he called it. I could only watch and learn from him, hoping someday that I could be as bold and assertive.
Hunter himself was always around the bar at night too, when we were busiest. I would always look for him, taking comfort in the mere fact that he was in the same room as I, though he rarely took notice of me in those early days. Sometimes I wondered if he had made it a point not to. I suppose I could have been less obvious about my awe of him, though. In fact, I was so careless one night that Ghen caught me staring.
"It's a shame isn't it?" he asked.
I hurriedly went back to wiping down the table I stood over. "What is?" I asked innocently enough.
He gestured gracefully towards Hunter who stood leaning easily against the bar, surrounded by his attractive crowd, smiling in that easy, open way of his. He was disarmingly captivating in that setting. He could attract a crowd so easily; it was in his gestures, in the very way he stood.
"That," Ghen said, crossing his arms. "So much to look at and none for the taking. He doesn't stand with anyone else but the rich and beautiful. They follow him like geese."
I snorted a laugh, wondering if Ghen had ever encountered a real goose in his life. But I followed his gaze again and my smile faded.
"Don't you fall prey to it too, little gosl'," Ghen said, touching the tip of my nose. "There'll be no rescuing you from that dead-end."
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