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Vitre hadn’t bothered with seeking out a new lover in quite some time. It didn’t bother nim much; nis lover back home in the wetlands more than made up for it when ne visited him, and most other people just didn’t seem worth the trouble. Easier to just be alone during the times between visits.
But sometimes being alone got lonely.
When that happened, Vitre made the effort to be a little more social and actually spend some time around other people. It wasn’t easier either, but it was much easier and safer than trying to build something more with someone else. Especially since any honest relationship with someone would have to involve an awkward conversation explaining things like nis lover back home, and how that relationship wasn’t going to end, and he was basically family, and any new additions to nis life had to understand and accept that reality. The conversation with nis current lover would be much easier, of course: neither of them had ever wanted or asked for monogamy, just honesty and respect and trust. Jealousy had never had a place between them, and they never tried to place a claim on the other — only to offer whatever they had to give at the time to the relationship. They encouraged and supported each other, and the love had eventually grown from a place of friendship. It was, in many ways, Vitre’s ideal relationship. Apart from the physical distance currently separating them, of course. That part was frustrating, but he had no desire to leave the wetlands and Vitre had a strong desire to see more of the world, so things were the way they were and that was that. It was no use to argue with reality, no matter how much one might wish to do just that.
So instead of wishing for a lover to fill those lonely times, Vitre instead wished for a friend. Friendship wasn’t easy for Vitre; connecting with other people was stressful and difficult for nim. But some people made it seem to natural that they sometimes just swept Vitre along in their path, allowing Vitre to bask in the feeling of belonging for that moment. Terynik was one of those people, and Vitre had adored her for it from the first time they’d met.
Today was one of the lonely days, and Vitre wasn’t scheduled for work which would normally be nis first choice for a distraction from the feeling. So instead, ne had slunk into the shared living room/kitchen that connected multiple staff bedrooms and bathrooms. The building was next door to the trailer where Vitre lived, and it wasn’t uncommon for Vitre to come in to use the shower, but it always felt a little odd to just come hang out in there — despite the fact most other employees did, regardless of whether they lived there or not. Terynik was sitting at the table drinking a cup of something hot, though, and immediately invited Vitre to join her. This dispelled the last lingering discomfort.
“How’s it going?” Terynik asked.
“Got the day off. Been working so hard, though, I’m not sure what to do with myself when I have free time,” Vitre said, only half joking.
“Oh, I know that feeling so well! Got any plans?”
“You want to come shopping with me and Molvy?” Terynik asked. “I’m just going along for the ride anyway, so I’m sure she won’t mind. I think she just wanted the company anyway.”
“Okay, sure,” said Vitre, and wondered anxiously what to say next to keep the conversation going.
“Great! She said she’ll be here in ten to pick me up, so I figure we have about half an hour.”
Vitre laughed, knowing all too well how accurate this commentary on Molvy’s chronic lateness was. “Sounds about right. At minimum.”
“True. You want coffee? I just made a fresh pot…”
After they’d both settled again, full cups before each of them, there was a silent moment of conversational lapse. Vitre felt hyper-aware of every movement, the placement of hands and the direction of look, needing some way to start to flow again but completely unable to think of anything to say.
“So I wanted to ask you something,” Terynik said abruptly.
Vitre nearly startled, and cleared nis throat to recover. “Anything,” ne said automatically.
Terynik kept her gaze fixed on the table. “Are you…seeing anyone?”
“What do you mean?” Vitre felt completely adrift now.
“I just…are you involved with anyone? I don’t mean to pry, I swear, I just…wanted to know.”
She was blushing now, her blood brighting the undertones of her skin. She bit her lips and stared at her coffee, suppressed fidgeting making slight movements of her fingers seem abrupt and jerky. Vitre still couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with this strange conversation. Ne felt so far out of nis depth that ne was drowning with uncertainty and anxiety.
“I’m not with anyone at the resort…” ne ventured.
“Back home?” She shot nim a quick, questioning look.
Vitre shrugged. “Sort of? I’m not, like, taken or something, but…”
This was exactly the sort of muddled clarification ne’d hoped to avoid.
Terynik look disappointed, then a flash of recognition crossed her face, and she turned hopeful. “I’ve heard stories about, um, how some of our people used to view relationships.” She trailed off, leaving it up to Vitre to fill in the rest.
“Attraction isn’t a limited resource,” Vitre told her. “Love, sex, relationships, trust, respect, honesty — they don’t have to limited either. People are free to do whatever they want as long as the core of what matters is honored. And what really matters ought to be decided by the people involved, not society or tradition. People can create any kind of relationships they want to, as long as they do it together. That’s what our people used to practice, and some clans never stopped. I’m sorry if yours was one of the ones who lost that kind of view of the world.”
Terynik was staring at nim now, her gaze intense. “I’m sorry it was, too. I like your way better. I can’t promise I can always live up to it, but I’d like to try. With you. If you want to.”
Vitre wasn’t sure what to do with this offer. On the one hand, ne hadn’t really wanted to try a relationship beyond friendship. On the other, Terynik was kind of an amazing person who Vitre was a little in awe of, and the discovery that she might be interested in nim was not just flattering, but downright surreal. Plus, from everything ne’d experienced so far, she’d fit right in back home if it came to that, which was always a bonus.
“I’m not great with people,” Vitre finally said, “but if you’re willing to put up with that, then I’m willing to try, too. With you.”
In that moment, Vitre suddenly understood the cliche: Terynik’s smile really did seem like it lit up the room.