Sneaking Around - 12

Sneaking Around

Maureen

pushing papers off a desk, pulling at buttons

flesh on flesh, heartbeat on heartbeat, fingers winding through hair

a quiet but powerful melody of movements and harmony of pulses

breath coming fast, brushing against flesh, spurring the heartbeat, flickering at hair

fingers trailing fire, touch rippling across skin like water

and then, when the momentum had built up, putting them at the center of it all, she let go and gave herself completely to what she’d helped shape

clothes strewn about the office like feathers

feathers shaken as if leaves by wind, each wingbeat making them ripple like water

water trailing down skin like fingers

fingers reaching out to touch feathers, fire snapping through flesh and hair, sudden and startling and cacophonous

flowing and twisting and swaying and spinning

heart beating in her ears as she fell

A weight dropped on her, suddenly.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOE!”

Pain lanced suddenly through her head as her whole body arched under the force of the blow. Her eyes snapped open.

Galen’s bright face and broad grin greeted her.

“We’re making you breakfast!”

He slipped off her and darted through the curtain drawn in the doorway, leaving a moment of stillness behind him. The pain slowly began to spread thinner into a mere body-wide ache that throbbed in time with the rhythm of rain pattering on the earthen roof.

“All set with the crepes here!”

“Wow, Lance, they look really good.”

Her mouth tasted awful. Eating was not a thing that would happen today. She hoped no one would be too terribly disappointed.

She groaned, slowly rising to sitting and bringing her palms up to either side of her head, propping her elbows with her knees. Then she hissed and pulled her hand back. Through her swimming vision she could pick out nasty yellow, blue, and black bruises from her fingers to her palm. She tucked it back into her blanket.

At some point she’d have to get Sofie’s accounting of events. When her skull wasn’t trying to collapse on itself.

“Hm. Really? I think they look kinda crepe-y.”

“I vote we kick Lance out of the kitchen.”

“I second that, Benji.”

Under the popping rain was the telltale bubbling and clanging of cooking coming from the kitchen.

“It was his idea. I wanted to pour water on your face.” This voice was close enough to ring painfully through her ears and thud against the inside of her skull.

Again she opened her eyes. Ruben was standing there, arms crossed, chin lifted, and head tilted to one side.

“Thanks, Rube,” she mumbled, closing her eyes.

“… fuckfuckfuck don’t tell me I’m actually burning the compote fuck that’s like the easiest thing to cook ever shiiiit!”

Ah, Angie’s dulcet cursing, drifting through the hall.

“You’re welcome.” Ruben’s voice was mild, matter-of-fact, like Lisa’s.

“I think your stirring’s what’s doing the burning, Speedy Gonzales, not the stove. Maybe let it sit and rest for a little, huh?”

“Is breakfast ready yet, guys?”

Galen, so bright and chipper. Too chipper for this hour. Whatever hour that was.

Moe cracked open an eye. “Sorry, forgot you’re seven. That was sarcasm.”

A small, smug smile quirked. “I know.”

“Ange, why don’t you come over here and work on this whipped cream while you’re waiting.”

“Rayita, you’re brilliant.”

“Okay, if we’re kicking Lance out, it’s only fair if we kick Carmen out too.”

Apparently even Aida was in on it, making an effort to be… well, present. What a day to be—painfully—alive.

“What are you—awww shit! That’s not fair. Gorman’s… contagious, okay?”

Despite herself and the pain of her throbbing eyeballs and the ache of her hand, her mouth curled up at one corner. “Aren’t you a smarty pants.” She went back to massaging her temples.

“Guys, it’s not too late to let her sleep in. She’s been having a kind of a rough time lately.”

Sofia’s voice this time, a gentle hush. Gracious Niamh shower her golden heart with all manner of blessings. Too bad it was too late.

“I think I might’ve overdone the whipped cream. Is it supposed to be this… fluffy?”

A grunt, a pause, and then, “Is now.”

Dovilė too? This was becoming a bigger and bigger affair. Moe could feel the chances of her quietly enduring this hangover dwindling.

“So you’re just gonna stand around staring at me then?” Moe asked of Ruben.

Ruben nodded. “You’re getting breakfast in bed. So Senbast and I are making sure you don’t get up. Also that you don’t fall back asleep.”

Moe cracked open her other eye. Senbast? Briefly she scanned her room. Seated by the doorway was the quiet little boy, watching her intently like a kitten watching a toy feather.

“We won’t be long, Sofia. Just long enough to let her know that we’re grateful she exists. She can go back to sleep after that if she wants.”

Oh Lisa. Such beautiful, warm sentiments, spurring such ugly dread. She must’ve taken a page out of Queen Clidna’s book, to mix those two feelings so effectively.

“Compote’s ready.”

“Oh good. That’s everything then. Where’s the tray?”

Moe sighed and lowered herself back to her pillow, staring at the ceiling through squinted eyes and furrowed brow. “Can I bribe either of you two to stall everyone for five more minutes? Or hours—make that hours.”

“Nope,” Ruben stated. Senbast seemed to silently echo the sentiment.

“What if…” She wracked her aching brain for a tempting offer. None was forthcoming. “But I’m the Birthday Girl. That affords me special privileges.”

“Nuh-uh. You didn’t do anything special. All you did was be born. That wasn’t even your fault.”

Clinking and clanking. The piercing chime of silverware striking dishes. Well. It looked like her verbal skirmish with a seven-year-old was growing ever more futile.

“Thanks, Rube. I’ll remember that for your birthday.”

A collection of footsteps drew closer.

Lisa’s voice poked in from just outside. “Good morning, Moe…”

Moe gave up and slowly sat upright once more, her vision pulsing at the edges. The curtain drew back, revealing Lisa backed by a crowd in the hall. At the forefront was Angie, whose hands held a tray arrayed with a full, steaming plate and mug. There was even a cracked vase and a couple of flowers from Benji resting on the tray. Sofia, just behind Ange and Lisa, discreetly gave Moe one of her sheepishly apologetic smile-grimace looks.

“… and happy birthday.”

The cloying sweet scent of warmed, sugared fruits wafted in and spread through her room like poison. Her stomach curdled. She weakly tried to swallow the growing burn at the base of her throat and pressed her hand against the sour air it sent up.

don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t puke

Suddenly, the crack of thunder cleaved her brain in half and filled her vision with white so painfully bright it rivaled Lugh’s blazing brilliance.

When she came to, a mixing bowl was in her face. It was halfway filled with something that smelled like the taste in her mouth, the burn in her throat, the ache in her stomach.

Moe rolled her head away from it, clenching her eyes shut. “Ugh. Fuck me.”

“I’d advise against that for the next day or two.” Suze’s voice was close, mercifully quiet, lacking the painful sibilance of a whisper. “But thank goodness you drank the water I gave you when you returned earlier this morning, otherwise you’d be having a much worse time right now.”

Thank goodness indeed. She sure didn’t remember drinking water earlier. Moe cracked her eyes open a little. Susan was crouched before her, unflinchingly holding onto the bowl.

“Oh Suze… Praise Danu and glorious Apollo for your beautiful, beautiful soul.” Wait. Something wasn’t quite right. If she had the bowl, then… “You too, whoever’s got my hair.”

“Hermes, in my case. If you’re keeping tally, that is.” Ange’s voice, behind her, just as quiet. “I’m sorry, Moe. Not that I’m approving or anything, but if I’d known you’d been drinking last night, I would’ve nixed the whole breakfast in bed idea.”

“Awww, Ange…” The best enabler ever. Her eyes stung a little. “I’d hug you, but if you don’t mind I’d rather not risk barfing on you.”

“Much appreciated.”

“Gross,” said Ruben. His voice was farther away now, probably at the door.

“So maybe next time you guys’ll listen to me?” That was probably the closest Sofia’d ever gotten to an I-told-you-so.

Lisa chuckled a little helplessly. “Alright. Birthday dinner it is, then.”

“Oh good, it’ll give me time to remember some good Moe stories.” Carmen raised her voice a little, just enough to address Moe. “Just ‘cause you’re hungover doesn’t mean you’ll be spared, flaca.”

“And there’ll be cake, right?” Galen asked.

The sour burn began to make a resurgence. Moe tugged the bowl a little closer.

“Ah… maybe tomorrow, Galen.”

“Aww. Okay.” There was a pause. “Get better soon, Moe. I’m sorry I jumped on you. I didn’t know you were hungover.”

Moe was running out of blessings to give. “Thanks.”

Little by little she heard them filing down the hallway.

All this, despite how angry she’d been at everything and everyone. All this, despite how badly she’d treated them. They still made her breakfast, wished her a happy birthday, took care of her while she was sick, and didn’t ask any questions about it either. They were still… grateful she existed.

Well, she was grateful they existed. Maybe a full-on offering to Danu was in order. A big one. After she’d given everyone a massive hug. That is, when her brain wasn’t set to explode every thunderstrike and she wasn’t about to fill the rest of the mixing bowl. Ugh.

Despite… well, everything, today was going to be a good day. The best of times, even in the worst of times.

Sneaking Around - 12

God-Touched Nut_Meg