Gage didn’t see his lady friend for almost a week. He knew avoiding her was childish, but he was overwhelmed with hurt feelings and rejection. He couldn’t believe he had acted impulsively, and hadn’t taken the time to calculate the huge differences in their lifestyles. There were many things he liked about life at the Cherry Moon Collective like a slower pace, communal meals, camaraderie and friendship, meditation and soul-searching, fresh garden goods, and the nights of making love under the stars.
But in many ways, they were starkly different. Lè didn’t eat meat. She didn’t use technology. She didn’t watch television or go to movies. She didn’t drive. She didn’t have a computer so he couldn’t share his Sim-ype screenname or update his FaceMash profile to “in a relationship.” She didn’t have a telephone. He couldn’t send her a flirty text during the day or call her just to hear her voice. She wore simple clothes, and she didn’t wear makeup. She was still beautiful, but he liked the idea of a woman dressing up for him. He was pretty sure she only owned about four outfits total. If he wanted to see her, he would have to drop by the flower shop or the Collective. All his dreams of owning a home with her and starting a family and taking her to Simcago with him when he went for classes were crushed. She wouldn’t leave the Cherry Moon.
Gage finally decided it was time to “man up,” and visit her at the Collective. He found Lè in the bathhouse. She was alone, sitting in the steaming waters, the tops of her breasts and shoulders exposed. Her eyes were closed as if she were meditating. He wanted so much more from her. His heart ached. He couldn’t go on like this.
“Hi Gage,” she waved to him as if they were buddies.
He had stripped down and slipped into the waters, but strategically sat across from her.
“Solèi, we need to talk.”
“Of course. I think I upset you. I apologize,” she lowered her gaze respectfully.
For a so-called matriarch, den moeder of her tribe, she was quite reserved and deferential. He had expected “Amazon” woman, and that was something Lè was not, except for her sexual prowess perhaps.
“You did,” he admitted. “But I think I offended you.”
“All is forgiven. I have given you space to think. What have your thoughts been?”
She was handling this surprisingly well. He half-expected them to break up after the “housing” incident, but then again, were they actually together enough to break up?
“Lè, what are we?”
She laughed and flicked a bubble on the surface. “What do you mean?”
“I mean… us… are we dating? Are we more than friends with benefits? Are we boyfriend and girlfriend? Are we just strange bedfellows? Or lovers? Do you want more or less from me?” he asked his onslaught of questions before he lost his nerve.
She pursed her lips and pondered his questions for a moment. He waited, feeling his heartbeat accelerate. Why do I care so much? Why do I love you? She reached for his hand, and stood up revealing her full glory.
“Come,” she said. “The bathhouse is no the place for this conversation.”
Ten minutes later, they were settled on Lè’s bed in her private room. He really wanted answers to his burning questions, but he did understand her wish to relocate. They would be less likely to be interrupted here. Except by maybe Heather, he thought in irritation. Sometimes he wished the Nativians allowed locks on their buildings, but they didn’t as they didn’t believe in confining people or keeping people out. Strange because now he felt like Lè was holding him at arm’s length and toying with his emotions.
“Are your nails painted?” he exclaimed, reaching for her hands as he suddenly realized her fingernails were coated in black and gold polish.
She flushed and withdrew her hand. “Cherry Kanto just got a job working as a stylist in town, and she practiced on my nails.”
He smiled genuinely. “They look nice.”
“Thank you,” Lè seemed self-conscious.
“Should I get dressed?” he asked, offering something to make her feel more comfortable.
“Oh no,” she shook her head. “It’s fine that we are… like this…” her tone sounded odd. “Would you like some nectar?”
“No, I’m fine…” he responded.
They lay on the bed in awkward silence. Gage hoped she would speak first, but after a few minutes, he realized, she wasn’t going to talk so he started.
“Lè, I want to know what we are to one another. I can’t live with these unknowns, and I don’t know if I fit here… or with…” he didn’t add the ‘you,’ mostly because he didn’t want to hurt the woman. “And I don’t know…” he swallowed hard. “…what your customs are for such a thing. And why it’s so important to you to be the den moeder.”
“I was chosen for the role by Nokoina. I am the caretaker for my people,” Lè replied. “I am an ahmi, the chosen head of household. The only way I leave this role is through my death.”
“Well, that’s a little dramatic,” Gage rolled his eyes.
“It is very serious. I don’t know how to explain this to you,” Lè sighed. “I am like their mother.”
“But you are so young,” he interjected. “I was doing research and the book I was reading says that den moeders are usually old and…”
“You were doing research?” her eyes twinkled.
“Uh…yeah…” he rubbed his head uncomfortably. “I wanted to know more.”
“Why didn’t you just ask before?”
“Because… I didn’t think this would be an issue… for us…” Lè brought his hand to her chest. “Gage, you are my manawa. We don’t have a word for this in Simlish like we do in Nativia. It translates… heart…breath…it means you are important to me. I am only with you and you are only with me. I will not seek another partner. I will not desire another man. I want you.”
Gage’s hand slipped, but she caught it and massaged his fingers gently.
“We don’t use traditional terms in Nativian culture because we don’t believe in being confined by the constructs of this world. Our souls can bind with one another. We can bind ourselves to a tribe of people. But we ourselves are free spirits. I don’t consider you my boyfriend. I consider you something more. Why do you have to have a label for us? Why can’t we just simply be?”
“Because things work differently in my mind, but if I’m hearing you right, you assure me that you’re with me and you care for me.”
“I love you.”
His heart stopped and he stared deeply into her eyes. No woman had ever said the ‘love’ word back to him, except his foster mom. Not even Kass. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if they were boyfriend and girlfriend or lovers or whatever other term he used. It simply mattered that she loved him. I am loved.
Gage wrapped his arm around Lè’s bare shoulder and pulled her tightly to his side. He could feel her heart beating against his rib cage. They interlocked fingers, and shared a kiss filled with longing and desire. Her knee brushed his own sending shivers up his spine. She leaned her head back against the bed frame and exhaled and he did the same, in sweet relief. He was loved. She loves me. Everything will be okay.
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