I’m standing in the door to my shop. Aurelius is playing with Philo, our felnus. He’s a four-legged animal that thrives on companionship. Since I have no other children, am an only child myself, and don’t live near any other parents, I knew I needed to get a pet. Aurelius needed more than just a mother. Philo never leaves Aurelius’s side. Even when we are working through Aurelius’s studies, Philo is at his feet beneath the table.
Things are not what they used to be. I knew my life would change after Aurelius, but I thought he would be the one to change it, not a madman, self-proclaimed king. Our planet is in ruin. Not just the part I live in, the whole planet. We’re in the middle of a war. He’s brainwashed men into thinking they can gain some sort of power and riches by joining his forces. What power? What riches? The only power he gave them was the power to kill at will. The only riches he gave them is the richness of blood on their hands.
Since we live in such a remote area, we have yet to be hit with the hardest of the war. We are still able to carry on with our daily lives, but our traveling merchants have felt it like no other. Those who have decided to sell from home have lost most of what they had. Those who decided to risk the Carnage have not come back or have come back in pieces when they were unwilling to join the cause.
I’ve shielded Aurelius from most of the gore. I tell him what is happening, but I’m not sure he knows how bad it is. My shop has lost a lot of business. I’ve been keeping a stock of pirpusus hidden in case vandals or, gods forbid, the army decides to take what is ours. Vandals I could handle. Most of them are just starved and desperate for food. The army, however, I fear they would try to take more than my food supply.
I am a strong woman, of that I am confident. But there is also a part of me that wishes he was still here. He seemed so powerful and, even if he wasn’t exactly powerful, his sheer mass would be enough to keep them at bay. I still haven’t forgiven him for disappearing the way he did. He gave me something beautiful, but it’s like he knew. It’s as if he knew the responsibility that would follow and left before I had a chance to corner him with it.
Gods he was beautiful though. His large hands were gentle when they caressed my skin. His eyes were kind and caring. He came into my shop almost every day for three months. At first he spent hours looking around only to buy the same thing – one raw pirpusus. I finally started to tease him about it and he teased me back.
“You know, you’re the first person I’ve seen take this long to pick out one fruit.” I told him one day after giving him his change.
“And you’re the first shop owner I’ve met who hasn’t told me to stop loitering.” His eyes danced with mischief.
“So you do this often? Come into a women’s shop, browse her wares, making you think you’ll buy the whole store, only to buy one small thing?” I shoot back across the counter. His face makes me feel incredibly comfortable with him. That confident gaze is unyielding, but the smile that is constantly playing on his lips makes him seem younger, more playful.
“Not usually. Do you often give your faithful patrons such a hard time about buying fruit?” I lean my forearms on the counter to get closer and whisper to him.
“Only the ones who take forever to buy it.” He leaned into the counter as well, his face inches from mine. His massive frame taking up all of my view.
“What if I told you I take that long because the gardener is more beautiful than the fruit? And that I take so long because I know as soon as I have what I came for, our business will be done.” There was a slight shift in his gaze. The stars left for a second and were replaced with a small amount of sadness I didn’t understand. He blinked and it went away, the stars came back.
“Same time tomorrow?” He asks, that hint of a smile coming back. I nod. He doesn’t move and I feel unable to move. I stare into his eyes which seem to get deeper. It’s like there are worlds inside them. It’s like there’s an infinite amount of knowledge and wisdom behind them. I don’t even realize he’s been moving until I can feel his breath against my face. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
The sound of the shop door opening breaks the trance. I stand abruptly and smile at the new customer. My cheeks feel like they are on fire. He hasn’t moved. He’s still leaning across the counter staring at me. Slowly he stands. Slowly, deliberately he stretches his hand out and lightly runs a finger down my blushing cheek. He winks, turns and leaves. Now that he’s gone I realize my heart is pounding and that I’ve been holding my breath. I slowly breathe in and hope the customer doesn’t notice how flustered I feel.
That was a long time ago. I can still feel his finger brushing my skin. I can still feel his eyes on me. I shake my head to clear the memory. I look at Aurelius’s smiling face. He has his father’s eyes, but that smile is all me. He throws another stick and Philo takes off after it. Both our hearts stop. I see Aurelius’s hand drop out of the air where it had hung after throwing the stick.
“Mother?” He says unsteadily backing toward me.
“Take Philo inside.” I tell him. The felnus runs back with the stick in his jaw. Aurelius takes the stick, drops it on the ground, and walks toward the door. Philo follows at his heels, completely unaware of what’s to come. I stand staring at the horizon. I thought we were far enough away from the big cities. I was so sure we’d be safe. The cloud of dust and subtle rumble tell otherwise.