The La-Iin Series
“An-Tois is getting so big!” Gen-Reiya exclaimed. “Hard to imagine him as that tiny thing that came out of the egg. It’s kinda cool watching a baby grow up!”
“You barely notice it when you’re with him all day,” she sighed. “One day you just say to him, ‘Are you bigger than you were a month ago’? It feels like he’s been growing up fast, but he’s not going to be a year old for a while still….”
“So that’s what it’d be like for us if we had kids?” Xhen-Wu said. Gen-Reiya bit his lip and blushed. Cou-Riette giggled.
“I would think so, yes. Make sure I can be there for the hatching if it’s feasible! And don’t have them as young as I did.”
“I think it’s cool that you can joke about that now,” Lishe-Ashyo said. “Sorry, probably sounded tacky.”
“No, it’s fine.” Cou-Riette smiled when she turned to see Lishe-Ashyo. “I can’t really take offense from anything you say now, Lishe-Ashyo. You’ve helped me so much with An-Tois all these months, especially with that ultimate mommy pack,” she said with a giggle in her tone.
“Well, I wanted to help,” Lishe-Ashyo said. “I feel like I do nothing all day at home, and I miss having to go to school. Sometimes I start getting up to go to Malicerie…so if I can help out with him, that’s good. I get to see you both, and I like that. Good thing I’m not his Dad though, otherwise he’d never mature…”
“Oh, Lishe-Ashyo,” Cou-Riette sighed. “I’d say you’ve definitely matured since the days we spent at Malicerie. Then you couldn’t shut up about girls and how you would have a whole line of them at your door. And you weren’t wrong either, you were quite popular back in school, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be the same should you go to college….but you’ve become a respectable young man. I must admit, I sort of miss you acting like a fool all the time.”
“Mali-Ana would beg to differ,” he said. “…hey, speaking of, where is she?”
“I’m over here.”
Mali-Ana had come over in a good mood, but once Lishe-Ashyo and Cou-Riette had begun to interact, it quickly soured. For Mali-Ana felt that she was starting to pick up on something, and anything that made her feel more certain about that made her angrier.
“Why aren’t you coming over here, Mali-Ana? Don’t you like An-Tois?” Cou-Riette asked.
“I like seeing the both of you,” she said bitterly.
“I–I’m sorry….honestly, I don’t like that An-Tois is almost a fixture to me either. But he’s a baby, and my family doesn’t care for him, so what can I do?”
“That has nothing to do with what I said.”
“Are you upset about something, Mali-Ana?” Cou-Riette asked. “We are friends. I can tell most of the time when you are upset. You used to confide in me about such things. We can talk, and if you need to do it one-on-one, that can be managed as well.”
“No, it’s not that,” she said.
“Then what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. …but there is something I want to ask you, now that we’re talking.”
“Yes, Mali-Ana? I’ll answer anything.”
“Just how grateful are you to Lishe-Ashyo?”
“Why’s she asking that?” Gen-Reiya asked. Xhen-Wu shrugged. Lishe-Ashyo looked up, seemingly confused. Cou-Riette’s expression relaxed some, and her mouth turned up in a small smile. Mali-Ana grit her teeth.
“Very grateful,” she said. “I almost feel like a woman from a Wiench novel, the single mother who gets help from a dear friend and can’t express her gratitude to him. It’s a little embarrassing to say these sorts of things in front of him, but you asked…I can’t really express my gratitude in words. I feel Lishe-Ashyo is almost as….well, that would be too embarrassing to say, but I can say I feel that we are a lot closer than we used to be, and that makes me quite happy.”
Lishe-Ashyo had looked away by the time she was finished, his cheeks turning a slight pink. Gen-Reiya and Xhen-Wu stared at Cou-Riette with a smile.
Mali-Ana, however, felt she had heard enough.
“I knew it.”
“Knew what?” Cou-Riette’s smile disappeared and her expression became one of confusion. She flinched when she noticed Mali-Ana was crying.
“What’s wrong, Mali-Ana!?”
“Just like a woman from a Wiench novel, huh…? Like a woman from a Wiench romance novel?” A look of realization crossed Cou-Riette’s face as Mali-Ana continued to speak. “You know, I know the trope about the single mother getting help from a dear male friend. I also know how that sort of stuff ends. That and what you’ve said right now, and how you’ve been acting lately, helped me come to a conclusion.”
“Mali-Ana,” Cou-Riette gasped. “I think you’re mis–”
“Misunderstanding?” Mali-Ana stood up and stomped in Cou-Riette’s direction. Cou-Riette backed away. Lishe-Ashyo moved a blank-faced An-Tois out the way of the two girls. “In case you haven’t noticed, I understand that attitude better than anyone else. I live it every day.”
“So you admit you have a crush on Lishe,” Gen-Reiya said with a sniff.
“No I’m not!” She exclaimed. “Anyway! I’ve come to this conclusion on my own. Try and deny it all you want, but you won’t get me to believe you. I know you’re in love with Lishe-Ashyo!”
The room fell silent. Lishe-Ashyo was stunned, but he tried to keep his attention focused on An-Tois, who was starting to become upset. Xhen-Wu stared at Cou-Riette with a look of concern, while Gen-Reiya kept a glare fixed on Mali-Ana.
“…it’s true that Lishe-Ashyo and I have become close in recent months,” Cou-Riette started. It was obvious to all around her that she was trying to keep herself calm. “Perhaps some might misconstrue that as romantic just as you have. But Mali-Ana, you know me. I act differently about a person when I like them. Don’t you remember when I had that crush on Tenha-Gumo? The idea of being near him made me completely lose my composure! Had he hugged me back then I would have devolved into a sputtering mess. If Lishe-Ashyo did the same right now, I would be perfectly fine.”
“You want me to?” Lishe-Ashyo asked.
“No, I’m good.”
“I didn’t accuse you of having a crush on Lishe-Ashyo,” she spat. “I accused you of being in love with him.”
“Same thing attitude-wise. Also, another thing? Oftentimes when people fall in love, their thoughts focus on the romantic. My thoughts towards Lishe-Ashyo have not been doing such a thing. Maybe you could argue that this is something you could never prove, but am I not staring you in the eyes right now? Honestly.”
Mali-Ana continued to glare.
“And take what you will from what I’m about to say, but in your fantasy world where I am in love with him, so what? Wherein lies the problem there? The two of us are close friends and have been for quite a while, so it wouldn’t be an unnatural development. Just look at Gen-Reiya and Xhen-Wu. I admit the two of us are slightly more romantic than them and therefore in such a situation it would likely be a more romantic relationship but why is that a problem? I am not the sort of woman who would force Lishe-Ashyo to act as An-Tois’ father if such a thing came to happen. He understands the situation well enough that I think we both know how it would go.”
“I feel uncomfortable,” Lishe-Ashyo said quietly. Xhen-Wu gave him a pat on the back.
“So, having said all that, the only reason why I can see how that would be a problem for you and something you felt you needed to get mad about fir because the “rumors” are true and you are in love with Lishe-Ashyo yourself. You fear what would happen if someone like me liked him, someone who treats him much better than you do and who has an arguably closer relationship with him. And quite frankly, Mali-Ana? That’s petty.”
Mali-Ana sputtered for a short while before finding her words. “You’re the one who felt the need to go on a tirade to defend yourself! With all that how do I know I’m not right!?”
“You’re not denying what I said.” Cou-Riette sighed. “Look, Mali-Ana, I don’t want to fight over something so stupid like a misunderstanding. We’re better friends than this. We should understand each other. And if this is how you’d act if I liked the same man as you, I have to wonder if it wasn’t a mistake to call you my friend.”
Mali-Ana’s expression became indignant.
“Fine then, I get it. I’m the one in the wrong and you’re nothing but right. Because I’m all hot-headed and you can keep your cool. Fine, fine then, maybe it was a mistake for you to call you my friend. But not your mistake, mine.”
Mali-Ana started to stomp toward the door, shooting a glance at her friends one last time to say, “And just so you know, I don’t like Lishe-Ashyo that way!”
She slammed the door. Cou-Riette scoffed. Soon after, An-Tois began to cry. Cou-Riette took him from Lishe-Ashyo and began to soothe him.
“I feel like this is my fault,” he sighed.
“It’s not. Mali-Ana is being petty is all. I didn’t mean it when I made that comment about our friendship being a mistake. I was only saying it to make a point, but I suppose I could have been kinder as well.”
“I wish she’d stop acting like this,” Gen-Reiya said. “She’s making everything tense.”
“I wish I could just give her what she wants, but it feels like incest to me,” Lishe-Ashyo mumbled.
“It’s not your duty to do that. Mali-Ana must ride out her feelings if you can’t return them. Hopefully someday soon, she will understand that. Perhaps the only thing you need do is get her to tell you and turn her down officially. Then she can turn to the rest of us for consolement…” Cou-Riette trailed off before continuing, “If she even likes me anymore…”
“You two will get over this. At least I hope so.” Xhen-Wu said.
“I believe we will too, but when we do, will we still be as close as we used to be?”
Later that night, Cou-Riette decided to call Mali-Ana.
“Yes, who is this?”
“My name is Fasoucie Cou-Riette. I’m one of Mali-Ana’s friends, Mr. Reusung,” she said. “May I talk to Mali-Ana?”
“Oh…Mali-Ana locked herself up in her room and hasn’t come out. I heard her crying but I can’t get the door open…I don’t think you’ll be able to talk to her tonight. Would you like me to pass on a message once she’s feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you,” Cou-Riette sighed. She hoped her disappointment wasn’t evident. ‘And I hope that crying is because she regrets our fight…’ “Tell her I’m sorry and that I want to make up as soon as possible. And ask her if we could talk in private sometime soon. You see, the two of us had a little…fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s upset either about that, or about the subject of the fight…”
“I see. I’ll try to pass it along, and get her to talk to you if she ever comes out of her room. Sorry she wasn’t available.”
“No, it’s fine. Thank you, Mr. Reusung. Good-bye.” She hung up the phone and sighed.
‘Please let this blow over soon….’