Trades Chapter 9
A Strange Night
"Sorry it's not that impressive a room," Apple said to Shu as she let him through the door. "I know how you have expensive tastes and all."
Her words somehow surprised the man. "It will do. It's just a room. We'll be gone by the morning."
"Yeah," Apple sighed, closing the door. "It's just too bad they didn't have a room for you. But at least there's, uh, room here." Blushing at that last statement, she walked by the dresser, turning on the lantern. "I think I'm gonna take a shower. Go ahead and, uh, well, make yourself comfortable." She picked up a small bag off of the floor, disappearing behind another door.
When he heard her turn on the water in the next room, Shu propped himself by the windowsill and stared out into the darkness. He had intended to change while was Apple in the shower, but all he could do was just sit there and think about the events of that day. Just missing her that morning and chasing her all the way to Seika, and then finding her at the schoolhouse...
Why does that particular scene remain so detailed in my mind? he wondered. Perhaps it was in the way he had found her. The skies were preparing for a downpour as he entered the town, so, in a haste, he rode his horse to the place he knew she would be. Stopping in front of Mathiu's old school, he hurried up the stairs, momentarily pausing just at the sight of the building. Anyone could understand why, if they knew his situation. Expulsion from a place normally did not make one so eager to return to it...
It was then he saw her. There she was, sitting on the stoop of the school, slumped over, with her head buried in her arms. He called out to her once, but she made no sort of response. When she did not answer a second time, he walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to see if she was awake. When it was obvious she was not, he attempted to turn her over on her back, intending to carry her to the inn, or someone else's house. Certainly anywhere but here...
Shu was stunned at what he found when he moved the unconscious young woman into his arms. Just finding her there asleep was unsettling enough, but there was something else that made him even more uneasy. Her features appeared to be relaxed at first, as she was now in a dream world, but as Shu looked closer, he found something in her expression--a hint of neediness.
Subconsciously he sensed that neediness involved him somehow, while on the surface he felt an impulse to do something in response to that need--no, perhaps it was a yearning. And perhaps it did not exist only at one end. Unable to make the connection, however, Shu stood up with the woman in his arms, and then decided to make the trek to the inn by foot.
Why did the episode bother him so much? Apple was his friend, but when the rain stopped, he used the opportunity to head out to the general store. Anything to get away. When the confusion in his feelings settled, that was when he returned. He still wanted to see her, after all...
I still do, but...
Apple hummed softly to herself as she towel-dried her hair. She worked a hairbrush through the wet strands, the events of that day also playing through her mind.
I can't believe Shu followed me to Seika. He actually followed me! Did he really just want me to visit, or...
She let out a chuckle at her naïveté. Grow up, Apple. There you go hoping again, when you were intending to bury the past...
And speaking of which...
Her expression hardened. That's what I was supposed to do today. And at the same time, there was much I wanted to say before I left Seika, but...
No. Maybe it's best that I didn't. I should move on. I should. I should. The young woman repeated the phrase over and over in her mind, as if to convince herself of the task. There was still much her heart didn't want to let go of.
Apple sighed in weariness, or perhaps in regret, turning around to the door. That's where she saw, hanging on the rack, her nightgown. The yellow, silk chemise that was of simple yet elegant design. It had thin shoulder straps, the skirt ending about mid-thigh. It had a robe of the same color, length, and material. Apple thought back to a couple of weeks ago when she had made the purchase, and the woman from the store would not stop going on about the low-rise matching...
"Heh." She didn't know what the big deal was. Of course, the salesclerk most likely assumed that she currently had a lover. But there were other...outfits...better suited to that purpose...not that she had the experience of knowing. Besides, she didn't think she looked the type to do that sort of thing. What could possibly have led the woman to believe so? Obviously, for sales...as was the nature of these people...
Although...I wonder what he would say if he...
She stopped herself, the thought embarrassing to her. With her face growing hot, she turned back around, resuming the act of drying her hair.
The opening of a door. "All right, the shower's free if you want to use it," Apple said as she walked out, running a brush through her hair.
"I believe I will," Shu responded as he stood up, turning to her. He stopped in surprise when he saw her. "Oh..."
"What?" she asked, lowering the hairbrush.
"Nothing," he said, studying her in her nightgown. "You look nice."
Her cheeks turned pink, and she smiled shyly. "Thank you."
Shu stared at her a while longer, but then stopped once he realized he was doing so. "Uh, anyway, I'm just going to..." He trailed off, heading toward the next room, unintentionally hitting his knee on an antique statue set on one side of the door.
Her tiny smile only spread as he exited.
Around the middle of the night, Apple awoke. The noises she heard, the utterances and protests, she could not ignore. Sleepily, she turned her head, and saw him. Over in the other bed, Shu lay, apparently having an unsettling dream of some sort.
"How can...how can you ask that..." he was mumbling. "That isn't...a fair trade..."
Apple was now wide awake, and a bit concerned. She quietly got out of bed and walked over to him, a rather curious and uneasy look on her face.
"Don't...do this," he whispered fiercely as she approached him. "That's not...leave the innocent...out of it..."
"Shu?" Apple called softly to him. "Are you all right?"
He uttered a few incoherent syllables, seemingly in response, but soon became silent. After a moment, he looked to be in a complete state of calm.
Apple then smiled, gazing lovingly at him. Look at him now, she thought to herself. So peaceful in his sleep...he resembles a child, so free of worry. Sighing, she brought a hand to his brow, trailing her fingers down the section of hair hanging loosely about his face.
She let out a startled gasp as he snatched her by the wrist without a warning. The sudden act wasn't rough or aggressive by any means, but rather, seemed to be a needy one. Still, it shocked her. "Shu--"
"Don't go," he pleaded with her. "Please, don't go."
Such behavior she never expected from him. "Shu, s-stop," she said, trying to squirm out of his grasp. "Wake up. You're having a nightmare."
"Please...tell me," he murmured. "Have to know..."
He only responded with something inaudible, but let go of her.
Apple was now more than ever worried about him. She stood there for a moment, alarmed, trying to process what had just happened, and then returned to her bed. Sliding back underneath the sheets, she lay there, studying him for a while longer.
Shu...what could be troubling you?
In the morning, it was Apple who had gotten up first. She contemplated waking up the young man in the next bed, but considering what had occurred the previous night, she decided against it. So instead, she quickly dressed, hoping she was making enough noise packing her things so that he would wake up.
Her plan backfired, that is, until the men outside had commenced construction work for that day. Shu awoke to a horrible grinding noise, but fortunately for him, he was arriving at the end of another dream. Still, what a rather rude awakening...
"You're already dressed?" he said as he spotted Apple. "Why didn't you wake me?"
Apple only stood there with her face growing warm. She had no idea of how to answer him.
Shu didn't seem to notice, however. "What is going on out there?" he asked as he got up.
"Oh, they're, uh...renovating or...expanding, or something," she told him. "I guess I didn't mention that last night. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it. You were exhausted." A pause. "I suppose I'd better change now. Gregminster isn't too far, but it may be a while before we find Viktor and Flik."
"Viktor and Flik? They're here too?"
"Well, yes. They accompanied me to Gregminster."
"But not here?"
"Well, that...that is..." How strange he could not find the words. It was unlike Shu to falter in speech. "I preferred that they didn't follow."
Apple blushed again. "You...didn't want them to follow?" she asked hopefully, wanting to be touched by those words. Deep in her heart, she knew better, yet...
"It wouldn't be fair of me to ask that after they had traveled all the way here," Shu finished.
Shot down again. "I-I see," Apple said, feeling rather foolish. "That was a, uh...nice thing you did, then."
"I suppose," he responded mechanically. "Anyway, I'm sorry to keep you waiting like this. I should be ready in a minute or two."
Apple nodded. "Y-yeah," she responded with a forced smile. She then turned her back on him as he left the room, blinking back her tears.
A few moments later, he had returned. But Apple, now sitting on the bed, was preoccupied with something and didn't really notice his presence back in the room.
"I'm ready to go," said the man as he walked to her. "What's that you've got there?" He sat down beside her, observing that she was hiding something small in her hands.
Apple slowly moved her right hand from the top of the item, revealing it to be a locket of some sort. Silver, simple, round and smooth it was, having the appearance of a compact and nearly the size of one. Yet when she opened the lid...
Nostalgia arose between the two as a powerful, yet calming melody began to play. Both of them knew this, remembered its meaning, for in the days before everything went wrong...
"I want to thank you for keeping this," Apple said softly. "You don't know how much it meant to me." She briefly turned to him. "It especially meant a lot since you gave it to me during the war. It was the last thing I had of...those days. The last memory of...of Master Mathiu. Although, you never told me how it ended up back in your possession."
Shu quickly stood, as if offended by those words. "No big deal," he said under his breath. "It wasn't a fair trade." He started to walk away.
"N-nothing. Don't worry about it."
"A-anyway," Apple continued, getting up from the bed. "It was nice you let me keep it for as long as you did, but...I...I think that..." She frowned, conflicted with but couldn't give up on the thing known as determination. "I think that maybe it's time for you to take it back," she finished quickly, all the words sounding rushed.
Shu turned around. "What are you talking about?"
"Moving on," she answered him, though there was still that hesitancy in her speech. "That's...that's what I have to do. If that means getting rid of this, then...then...I-I'd like you to have it." She held out the open locket to him.
This seemed to stun him. "Are you sure?"
Before she could respond, the entire edifice shook violently. The workers again. It was only for a second, but would have lasting effects.
Apple uttered a startled gasp as the force from the quake caused the musical item to fall from her hand. Time seemed to slow as it dropped four or so feet, making the most horrible shattering noise as it collided into the wooden floor. The glass box inside of the locket was now broken, the lid severed. After all, it was an antique. And Apple was horrified.
"No...!!" she wailed helplessly. "Oh God...!" She attempted to pick up the broken item, when he stopped her.
"Apple, wait," he said to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Let it go. You said you were moving on."
On the verge of crying, Apple could only stare back at him with the most heartbroken look on her face. "But Shu--"
Before she could finish the protest, there was another wild tremor. This one would bring the two closer together...in a literal sense.
Apple let out a stunned cry as she collapsed, right into Shu's arms. It took her about a second to realize this, and...
Breathing hard, she slowly lifted her head as her heart began to flutter madly. Having Shu around had been a comfort, but now things were a bit too close for that. Her heartbeat continued to race in delight as she looked into his eyes. Those wonderful eyes...so deceptively friendly. Oh, how could she have ever known him? However, presently there was something of more importance to consider. This was a rather awkward scene...
Her face flushed as a wonderful dizziness swept over her. And...not far from what I imagined...yet...
It was all too much to take at the moment. With all the blood rushing straight to her head, she brought her face down upon his shoulder, fainting dead on the spot.