The first round went to Ellie. It was a calculated move on Shreya’s part. By letting her win, she figured out how strong her flinch reaction was, and how fast she was when she tried. And Ellie really did try, her eyes burning with determination.
Shreya wasn’t sure if it was part of the game or an accident, but she was sure she felt Ellie’s hands brush over hers when they switched positions. That sly accident-or-not-accident wasn’t enough to deter Shreya from taking the point in round 2.
“We’re tied, 1 to 1,” Ellie announced. “I’d hate to make you lose that smile of yours, but I’m sorry, I’ve got to do it. You’re going to lose.”
“What makes you so certain?” Shreya asked. Ellie’s unwavering confidence was something to envy.
“I’m the Slaps champion of my neighborhood. I’m going to beat you so bad you’re going to regret ever challenging me.”
“You are the one who challenged me,” Shreya reminded her, “and you are the one who will lose.”
“We’ll see about that. You’d better prepare some good answers, because I’m not accepting anything short.” They readied their hands. “Three, two, one—”
Ellie yelped from the hit, drawing her body back. Shreya stood, her mind in a tug-of-war between reaching out to her and leaving her alone. She didn’t mean to hit her that hard. Before Shreya could apologize, though, Ellie groaned in frustration, revealing the yelp to be nothing more than a loser’s cry.
“I told you I would win,” Shreya said. She deliberately picked at Ellie’s fresh wound. “How does it feel?”
“If I answer that, then you’re going to owe me another free question,” Ellie said, refusing to be frazzled. “And you can count on me making it a good one.”
“Alright.” No extraneous questions. Shreya could deal with that. She sat back down at the table, Ellie following her lead and sitting across from her.
“Guess this means I’m getting you a history book. I’ll try to find you one that isn’t too dry,” Ellie replied. Catching the confusion on Shreya’s face, she added, “dry as in boring. I’ll find an exciting one. Small disclaimer: I can’t answer for anything weird my ancestors did in the past. Morals change with the times, okay?”
Her bloodline wasn’t what she was most interested in reading about, but then again, their decisions would’ve been the ones affecting her people. Knowing why they chose to do what they did would be illuminating in its own right. What weighed more heavily: internal or external factors? Who were the ones in the wrong?
“I assume your historical texts are mostly celebratory,” Shreya said, trying her best to ask her question without it being a question.
“I don’t know. They might be. I’ve never had much interest in this stuff. It’s boring.”
“But these history books are about your people.” More specifically, the people responsible for Ellie being alive today. Their written records deserved more respect.
Ellie shrugged. “I just don’t feel much of a connection to them. I’m the odd one out. I don’t think you’ll find a single person like me in there.”
“I would not guess that I would. You’re you. You’re very Ellie, and that is okay.”
“It’s more than okay.” She pushed her chair back to give herself more room to stretch out her legs. “I wonder how low the sun is hanging at this moment. It could be time for me to go soon. Getting sleepy.” Ellie yawned, her overacting obvious from the way she said yaaaaawn instead of actually yawning.
“There are beds upstairs.”
“Thanks for reminding me! Maybe I’ll just take a nap.”
It took Shreya a moment to catch on to what Ellie was doing. “Do not avoid my question. Answer it.”
Ellie perked up. “Oh, yeah, that. My type. Let’s see… Well, for starters, I’m a card-carrying member of the VWS. You should know what the VWS is.”
Shreya hoped she’d pull the card out of her bag. When she didn’t, she was forced to take a wild guess. “VWS is the Very Wholesome Supply.”
“No, it’s not.” Ellie grinned. “It’s the Violet Women Society. We meet once a week for brandy and pie. Last week, Frances brought one of those plum shortcrust flat pies to the meeting. So sweet and delicious. It was to die for.” She put her finger to her lips. “Shhhh, we’re a secret society. You have to know someone to get in. I can only vouch for you if you’re a lady loving lady, too.”
“Show me the VWS card,” Shreya said. She held out her hand. “And bring me back something sweet and delicious the next time you go.”
“I would if it was real. There’s no Frances and no actual VWS group. It’s a joke thing,” Ellie explained. “It’s my way of segueing into your question. To begin with, my type’s girls, or people with a distinctly feminine vibe.”
“Okay.” Not being able to ask any questions made it difficult for Shreya to navigate the conversation. She just had to accept what Ellie said, and wait for her to hopefully expand on that statement. Shreya was more used to the back and forth of questions and answers. Being the one asking questions relieved her of an immense amount of pressure.
“When I was little, I wanted so badly to be a dressmaker. That’s where it all started for me,” Ellie said. She took the conversation in a direction Shreya hadn’t expected. She had started out in one tree and somehow ended up in another. The VWS. Pie. Dresses. Where was she going with this?
Shreya had done her fair share of sewing and clothes weaving. Wanting to be a helpful community member, she’d assisted with most of the available tasks at home. She’d sampled a little bit of everything. There hadn’t been anything particularly enthralling about making clothes. It was especially not something worth Ellie getting out of her chair and spinning (dancing?) around the room for.
Was this Ellie’s way of saying that her type has impeccable clothing? Or were they all women who wore fancy dresses? Marjani people weren’t fancy. They dressed for utility and comfort, as recommended by the Elders. The Elders were the tastemakers, influential enough that when they suggested everyone get a cape, everyone tried their damnedest to get one.
Speaking of capes, that bolt incident had ruined the look of hers. Shreya had patched it with another feral animal’s fur. She couldn’t be choosy, so the fur was patterned differently from the rest of the hide cape she wore. Were the tastemakers in Stockbrunn Ellie’s family? Had she secretly been judging her about her mismatched cape this whole time? That wasn’t fair. It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Ellie in the first place.
“When I was nine or ten, my mom took me to a dressmaker’s boutique. There was a gorgeous woman there. I’ll never forget her,” Ellie continued. “She was like, so perfect. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her! The way she worked that dress…” She got lost in her imagination as she talked. “It was exquisite.”
“I can work on dresses. I know how to do that.” Shreya could be exquisite, too. If dressmaking was all it took to be called that, then Shreya would bring a backstrap loom and make her one. “I can show you how.”
“Thanks, but I don’t want to be a dressmaker. I don’t think I ever really did. I was just jealous of what she got to do. All the fittings, sizing, and all of that close contact stuff. The pretty clientele. It was too much for my young, violet-colored heart,” Ellie said. “I played dressmaker with my friends after that. Those were funny times.”
“This still does not answer my question.” And what was with the obsession with the color violet?
“I’m building up to it! It’d be boring if I answered it all plainly. This way, I have you at the edge of your seat. And there’s the added bonus of you getting to learn even more about me.”
“The only thing I learned so far is that you like dresses.”
Ellie sighed. “That can’t be the most important thing you learned. They’re clothes. I don’t care about them that much.”
“You keep talking about dressmaking,” Shreya replied. “It seems important.”
“It is important, kind of. It’s my realization moment. It’s how I realized I was part of the VWS.” Ellie fake-coughed into her palm. “I was hoping you’d take the bait and share your story, too, but that’s okay. We can work up to that.”
“You lost the game. I am not going to let you trick me into giving you the answers you want.”
“Yeah, okay, fine.” She sat back down in her seat. “My type is…unique. I like people who aren’t afraid to take a stand. When everyone else goes left, they aren’t afraid to go right. They’re strong enough to be able to take care of themselves, to stand on their own if they have to,” Ellie said. “That’s the kind of ‘energy’ I’m interested in, but if you want to hear if I’ve got a certain type of look I’m into, that’s going to cost you more.”
“I can beat you at Slaps for the answer.”
Ellie smiled and shook her head. “No way. I’m going to let you figure it out on your own. But yeah, basically, that’s the kind of person I’m into, as well as the kind of person I’m trying to be more like.” She gathered their food jars, and placed them carefully into her bag. “We should start training the next time we meet. And maybe do a little searching, if you’re okay with that. Tomorrow, maybe?”
“That’s okay. Yes.” Shreya reviewed what Ellie said, trying to see where she fit into any of her words. Strong? Not exactly. She came from a culture of other-reliance. As different as she felt from them, she couldn’t deny that she needed them. Standing on her own wasn’t something that could happen any time soon, if ever.
Not that it mattered. She didn’t have to be Ellie’s type. It was perfectly fine if she wasn’t. Ellie certainly didn’t match the type of person she was normally interested in, and that was ignoring the fact she was from Stockbrunn. That was the biggest X of all, but again, it wasn’t like that mattered, either.
It’s not like it would be possible for whatever-this-was to go much further than where it currently stood. So, she’d open up her heart to whatever friendship may come from them seeing each other regularly. Friendship and information, that is. The information part was important, too.
“I should get going while there’s plenty of daylight. I don’t want to worry Zinnia,” Ellie said, standing up. “I had to pull off a kind of sneaky trick to be able to go here without her.”
“It’s a long story… It involves Marietta. I’ll tell you the next time I see you.”
“I can walk you some of the way back, as a thank you for the book…or, books.” Shreya got up and headed for the door.
“I’ll be alright,” Ellie said with a smile. “Thank you for spending time with me today, and for accepting my apology.” Her smile dropped, her gaze wandering over to Shreya’s bandaged arm. “I’m really going to work hard to make up for everything that happened. I really, really am.”
“I know you will.”
A/N: Due to my slip-up with getting this chapter finished on time, this week’s vote will end on Wednesday night (the 15th). There will still be an Interlude or Bonus chapter posted on Tuesday, the 14th.
We had 7 votes for Ellie winning, and 11 votes for Shreya winning. A close match, but sorry, Ellie, you wound up losing. As a reminder, if you haven’t taken the surveys, please do so! The deadline will be Wednesday.
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