[Krystoff] The Contract (6)

LADY: …

JUN: …

LADY: I go to work for one day, and you make a contract with that demon??

JUN: I didn’t make any contract!! We just… discussed the possibility.

Dinner probably wasn’t the BEST time for me to tell Lady about the massive conversation I’d had with Krystoff, but I wanted to talk to her about it as soon as possible. She stares at me from across the table with a pasta shell sitting impaled by her fork, forgotten.

LADY: Yeah, that’s how he gets you! He’s a sector apparition, for goodness’ sake, being convincing is practically a part of the job.

LADY: But, ugh, if what he said about tensions between neighboring apparitions is true… He might have had a point. I hate it when that guy has a point.

JUN: You guys know each other, right? He mentioned you a few times like you guys had a history.

LADY: Hardly. But it might seem that way since we’re the two oldest creatures in this neighborhood, and living as long as we have, you inevitably cross paths a few times. He’s not awful, at least as far as appointed apparitions go, but…

LADY: How do I put this nicely… He’s got too much baggage… He’s exhausting to deal with. So we mind our own business and steer clear of each other, usually.

JUN: Haha, fair enough. So… what do you think? Is he full of shit, or should I stick around and see if he can make good on his word?

LADY: I think the real conundrum is, do you really want to spend time regularly with a troublemaker like him… But anyway, I’ve never really known Krystoff to be a liar. He can be deceptive, but it’s not like him to say anything he doesn’t mean. At least, when it comes to this type of matter. Apparitions tend to be very… how do I put it…

LADY: Their morals and alliances can go any which way, but whatever the agenda is, they like to play by the rules. It’s what makes them Duen’s equivalent to politicians.

JUN: Bold of you to assume human politicians follow the rules…

LADY: In a perfect world. Apparitions can be horrible in their own unique ways. Same as anyone else. But maybe Krystoff told you that already.

JUN: He mentioned it briefly. Well, actually, Regenald did most of the explaining.

LADY: Ha. Krystoff and I have at least one thing in common, and that’s long lifespan burnout. It can become very easy for the day-to-day, the niceties, the thoughts you’ve had ten thousand times already, to become torture. I imagine talking about his sector duties is like nails on a chalkboard for him by now.

The topic of Lady’s constant burnout pushes something I’ve been wondering to the forefront of my mind, so I decide to change the subject,

JUN: That reminds me, I’ve actually been wanting to ask. What led you to open up a bar?

LADY: Same as any occupation I’ve ever held. Boredom. But I like my bar in particular because lots of interesting people come in and tell stories.

LADY: I’ve had the bar for about… three years now? Which is simultaneously a lot and no time at all for me. I don’t really like to tie myself down to long commitments, so I’m honestly surprised I’m still enjoying it. If it weren’t for the interesting customers, I’d probably have shut it down already and moved on to the next thing.

JUN: I’m glad you’re still enjoying it! It’s a cute place with a nice vibe. I’m sure lots of people would be sad if you closed it down.

Lady gets a far-off look in her eyes, and I feel like I’m seeing the opaque surface of an ocean that goes deeper than I could ever fathom. She’s always been easy to talk to, but sometimes I worry that there’s no possible way for someone like me to wrap my mind around what she thinks. What she’s been through.

If there’s a gap in perspective between a child and an elderly person, I don’t even know what to begin to call the canyon between Lady and I. The thought makes a brief flicker of sadness hit me all at once. I want to be there for Lady the way she has been for me, but I feel like I have no hopes of ever truly relating to her or having anything to offer that she doesn’t already have figured out on her own.

She’s never indicated that she feels that way, but I can’t help wondering. I bet my problems look like funny little distractions to her. Hell, even Krystoff’s problems are “exhausting baggage” to her, and I have trouble believing my stupid life drama is worse than whatever a magical protector deals with on a daily basis.

Then again, I think if Lady really didn’t get anything out of the companionship of creatures with shorter lifespans like me, she would just surround herself with other beings that live as long as she does. And she and Krystoff are clearly not friends, so.

I’m probably overthinking it.

LADY: Speaking of moving on to the next thing, I’m thinking about breaking up with my boyfriend.

JUN: …

JUN: You have a boyfriend??

LADY: Huh? Oh, yeah! I mean, we’ve only been dating, like, a year. And this is not to speak ill of him, but I’m just getting kind of burned out on the whole thing.

JUN: What the heck! How come you never told me?

LADY: Wha? You’ve only been over here for a week, and it felt like a pointless thing to tell you over text!

JUN: I mean, I guess I know why YOU would think that… But I would have enjoyed knowing. What’s his name? What’s he like?

LADY: His name is Ariston, and he’s a sweet thing. An object head—box fan. First time dating one, actually. He used to come to the bar just to enjoy the ambiance, since he can’t actually drink. We got to talking, and he ended up asking me out.

LADY: I didn’t really see any reason to say no, so… I said yes?

JUN: You weren’t, like, into him at all…?

LADY: Hmmm, I don’t really know… I feel fondly towards him, but kinda the same way I would towards, like… a friendly cashier who I see every time I get my groceries…

JUN: L-Lady…

LADY: What?

JUN: You gotta break up with him… That’s too cruel…

LADY: Why is it cruel! I’m nice to him and we enjoy hanging out!

JUN: I bet he really, really likes you. Hell, I bet he was going to the bar regularly just so he could talk to you!

LADY: Maybe… But we haven’t talked about future plans or anything, so I guess it just feels casual to me. Not that I’m really in the market for future plans right now.

JUN: You ought to have at least had a conversation with him about all of this… It’s awfully thoughtless to date someone for a year—someone who might think he has a future with you—and not even let him know that you think of him as some kind of… detached stranger who you happen to accidentally see regularly.

Lady rubs her temples. She probably already knows this, but being told by someone else is a different story.

LADY: It’s just hard. Or rather, it’s easy, to just let stuff like this fall wayside. It’s easy for a year to look like an inconsequential blip on the radar for me. And for me to just… do things without thinking about the potential aftermath.

LADY: After all, I brought you here without even thinking about how it could have endangered you. I’m sorry for my thoughtlessness, Jun.

JUN: You don’t have to apologize. I’m the one who asked to come here, and I was fully willing to risk whatever it took to be here. I chose it even knowing that it would most likely just be a forgotten break from my own world.

LADY: Are you thinking about the deal with Krystoff?

JUN: I dunno… Maybe. It would be awfully nice to have a choice in what happens to me by the end of this year. What if I do something that means a lot to me? What if I meet someone who changes my life completely?

LADY: Well, for what it’s worth… I do think it would be nice if you could stay. Or at least take your memories back with you. I wish I had the magic to make it happen myself, but my abilities are super limited. Krystoff probably really is the only one who could make something like that happen.

LADY: God, he’s such a busybody. He got to you so fast. I know he likes to sniff out newcomers, but this is a record for him. He must like you.

JUN: I kinda doubt that… He seemed kinda fed up with me the entire time we talked.

LADY: He is an apparition. Being inflammatory is kind of his bread and butter.

JUN: Though to be fair to him, I was kind of bullying him slightly the entire time.

LADY: You? Really??

JUN: I can’t help it! Something about him just makes me want to give him a hard time.

LADY: That’s so funny. You’re funny, Jun.

JUN: What’s so funny about it!

LADY: Maybe hanging around Krystoff isn’t such a bad idea for you after all. You can use him as target practice for being assertive.

JUN: I can be assertive… sometimes…

LADY: Uh-huh… Like that time you sprained your ankle during a hike and you didn’t tell anyone because you didn’t want to draw attention to yourself…

It’s weird for me to think back to the brief time Lady spent in the human world. It feels like a dream I had ages ago. It was also one of the few periods where I somewhat had a social life. Lady’s good at bringing people together like that.

JUN: Okay, but I didn’t think it hurt that bad, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. …Until it started to hurt a lot.

Lady politely hides a laugh behind one hand.

LADY: You’re funny, Jun.

JUN: Sure, I’m funny… Anyway, don’t change the subject! Make sure you talk to Ariston!! You should probably break up with him but be nice about it!!!

LADY: I will, I will…

>A few days later…

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