Summary: Maya tries to figure out just what she’s gotten herself into.
Find the first part here.
Maya’s grandparents and parents, who were staying the whole weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday, had gone to church. Maya hadn’t gone for years- it wasn’t that she didn’t believe exactly, it was more that she couldn’t focus on worship when all she saw around her was the way humanity’s faults over-shadowed the purer messages of love and forgiveness. She decided that it was better to fix the whole man’s inhumanity to man issue first and then, once that was settled, she’d go to church- that way she would be able to concentrate on it. So Maya stayed home, despite her father’s scowling at her at breakfast. She had been treated to a great number of his scowls as the weekend wore on- he seemed to be getting more and more angry about the upcoming wedding. Maya was torn between being pleased that he wanted to defend her right to choose her own relationships and being really mad at him for not seeing the bigger picture- what she was going to get to be a part of in becoming the first Ambassador to the Interior Tribes. She had hopes that her dad would come to understand why she chose to go along with it all on his own. Stranger things had happened- look at her life.
“Maya, do you have a moment?” Selen spoke from behind her. It was a wet November morning and Maya had cozied herself in the corner of an overstuffed loveseat in her grandparent’s library. She raised her head from rereading Silent Spring for the fifteenth time (a classic was a classic because it stood the test of time).
“Selen. I thought you had left.” She closed her book. “Is something wrong?”
“No, everything is well. I was merely hoping to speak to you about a small matter.” He looked down at the book she was still holding. “It will keep, if I am interrupting.”
“Oh- no. This will keep.” Maya put the book aside and smiled up at him. “Sit down. Tell me what’s on your mind.” She made room for him next to her on the small sofa.
“To be honest,” he began as he folded his long frame into the sofa seat. “I am concerned about your father. I fear I have offended him in some way. I feel I must assure you that such a thing was never my intention and whether it was through commission or omission, I wish to redress this wrong no matter what it requires. Maya, the approval of your kinsmen is of the utmost importance to m-”
“Okay, stop!” she interrupted. “Just stop right there, mister. First of all, you don’t need the approval of my kinsmen, you need the approval of me. Me- the fully independent, thinking, person who has to be in this ceremonial marriage with you- the only person who is leaving everything in her life behind and becoming the Ambassador to your people- that is the person you need approval from.”
“Yes, of course. I apologize. I did not mean to imply-”
Something about the way he looked at her- copper colored eyes glittering at her, and about the way he was always to careful in how he turned a phrase- trying to be precise and complete, and about the desperate earnestness he displayed to her so often- something about all of those things softened her heart and she relented.
“I know, I know- cultural differences. Just, don’t forget that I’m not from the Interior and I’ll remember that you’re not from here, deal?” She stuck out her hand.
“Yes, yes we have a deal,” he replied and shook her hand. Then he leaned closer to her, not letting go and spoke as if what he was saying was a precious secret, “I would still like to make my offense right. He is your father, even if I don’t need his approval, I should think that you would value his opinion of me and therefore I should do the same.”
“Selen, my father is- well he’s a man of very stable opinions. You haven’t done anything wrong- he just- he just can’t see past the differences between us to the big picture- and he may never be able to do that.”
“Stable opinions.” Selen frowned. “I do not think I understand how you are using this word.”
“I mean he’s pig-headed- stubborn. He thinks that this ceremonial marriage is a bad idea and the fact that it is an important tradition for your people doesn’t change that for him. My point is, Selen, you haven’t done anything. He just dislikes the whole business and he’s taking it out you, on both of us.”
“Then I must do something to gain his-”
“No, you know what? If anyone need to do something about my father behaving like a spoiled child over this, it is me. It is time for my dad to grow up and smell the politics.” Maya stood up and crossed the library.
Selen followed, asking concerned, “Maya, what are you going to do?”
She turned back to him to reassure, “Don’t worry, I know how to handle my dad. I’m sorry- I should have dealt with this days ago.”
The maid had been given from a day before Thanksgiving until the end of the year off in order to allow for Selen to be in the house. She had fairly high clearance in order to work for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but the circle of people with a need to know about the treaty was apparently too narrow to allow one more non-essential woman to be around to cook and clean for Grandpa and Grandma Rutledge. As much as it irked Maya that they had a servant, it also irked her that Marta was put out of the home she’d lived in for thirty-five years, because of the U.S. Government’s overdeveloped need for secrecy.
Marta’s absence meant that there was no one to overhear Maya tearing into her father about his attitude, except for Selen…
The churchgoers arrived home shortly after Maya and Selen’s conversation in the library and Maya was able to find her father on the back terrace. He was reading the Sunday paper and smoking a cigar (which was why he on the terrace- Grandma Rutledge wouldn’t allow it in the house proper).
“Hey Papa,” she began, using the name for him she’d used as a little girl in part to remind herself that he was someone she had loved and depended on all her life. She tended to get too aggressive sometimes and used such verbal reminders to herself to balance her thoughts.
“Hi, Princess.” She disliked that nickname and he knew it. He only tended to use it when he was mad at her. He folded up his paper and turned to give her his attention.
“There’s something I really need you to do for me…”
After Thanksgiving, Maya, as the future ambassador, began attending many of the same meetings that Selen was needed at. Most of these meetings were little more than review sessions during which various heads of state and their representatives seemed to be trying to see how much leeway there was in what had already been agreed to. Men used to commanding power looking for loopholes that would give them just a little more leverage of some sort or another. Maya got to see Selen as he dealt with all manner of thinly veiled rudeness and species-ist biases with considerable charm and patience. He was impressive.
As one would expect, there were only a few places that Selen could be on the surface since the existence of the Interior Tribes was still unknown to the rest of humanity. There were various military installations that were cleared for his visits, a handful of government buildings in each country that he was required to attend treaty meetings in, and there was Maya’s grandparents’ house. The Rutledge estate was where Maya was staying for the interim between her having shed her previous life’s trappings and her eventual move underground after the Wedding/Treaty Signing. Several governments had made guest suites available to him on military bases where he needed to spend large amounts of time, but VIP suites under watchful military eyes were not anything like a home, even a cold and tension-filled home like the estate.
After the last of the nine meetings they attended one day in early December, they were closer to the Rutledge estate than the nearest base that Selen had quarters in, so she invited him back. Her parents weren’t there anymore- her mom had a book signing in Wisconsin and they never slept apart (it was a thing for them- Maya once used to think it was her dad holding on too hard to his more successful wife, but eventually she realized that it was he who put her career at the forefront and that that was what you called love)- her parents weren’t there anymore, so her dad and his glare of death wouldn’t be an issue. He and Selen hadn’t been in the same place since Maya had had her little heart to heart with him, so the results of that experiment were purely theoretical.
A quiet dinner (and late) dinner later- just the two of them since her grandparents were out at a fundraiser- a late dinner later and Maya and Selen were saying goodnight, but as Maya lay in the dark of her borrowed bedroom, she could neither think nor sleep- restless was not something she dealt well with- not without something to occupy her hands, so she decided to try some chamomile.
The kitchen should have been empty. It, in fact, wasn’t.
By the light of the small bulb over the stovetop, May could see Selen peeking into the full height pantry cabinet. He was muttering to himself in what had to be his native tongue because it sounded nothing like any language she had ever heard.
“You all right?” she asked his back, making him turn so swiftly that he bruised both of his left elbows on the open pantry cabinet door.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to- Are you okay? I can get you some ice-” she made for the refrigerator to make good.
“No!” he shuddered, “No need for ice.” He rubbed his upper elbow with his right hand. “It is nothing.” He unbent and re-bent his arm. “You see, it is fine. Ice would not help, in anyway.”
She cringed. “I’m sorry. Ice is- I guess ice isn’t basic first aid for you, is it?”
“No, it is not,” he said, giving a small smile.
“Huh.” She considered a moment. She had been reading much about the history and politics of the Interior Tribes, but not much about everyday life underground. “You know, I don’t know what is. Don’t you think I should know what is? I’m going to be living among your people in less than a month and I should know things like that.”
“Yes, you are right,” he agreed. “I will assign one of my assistants to document some basic knowledge for you to read.”
“Thanks.” She stepped over to the stove to get started on that chamomile. “So, what are you doing up now, anyway?”
“This, I suppose, is just the same type of information that you do not yet know. Commonly, my people eat six meals daily- it is better for out very high metabolisms. I was just hoping to find something for Hragant, the last meal of the day, which falls during the short wakefulness that occurs several hours after retiring for the night.”
“Oh. Would you like some tea to go with Hragant?” she offered.
“That would be lovely, thank you.” He ducked his head back into the cabinet.
She got the teas set up and peered into the cabinet from just behind Selen. “Find anything good yet?”
He looked over his shoulder at her. “I’m not certain.” He emerged with a jar. “Do you think I would like marinated artichoke hearts?”
“Uh- not this late- definitely not for Hragant- too spicy,” she warned him. “Let me take a look.”
She shouldered in next to him to see the cans on the top shelf. She was able to find some vegetable soup, but had to stretch to reach the can.
“Please allow me to help,” he offered, the sound of his voice close in her ear as his smooth three-fingered hand closing over hers around the can. “These overly long arms should be of some use.”
And pressed in close as they were, she could feel the heat from her body bleeding towards his cooler one. And pressed in close as they were, she could smell the sweetness his cool breath when it blew against her cheek as he spoke. And pressed in close as they were, she couldn’t help but lose her head a little. And pressed in close as they were, all she had to do was turn her head a little and push up on her toes to reach him, to press her lips to his chill ones.
It wasn’t much of a kiss. He stepped back from her immediately and she didn’t press for another. In fact they kind of pretended that she hadn’t done it- proceeding to share a can of soup and tea before going back to sleep. Maya wasn’t exactly sure why, but she suspected that just then, in the middle of the night, with their wedding and the treaty signings looming, their instinct to literally step back was the right one.