Chapter 3

In the afternoon, I knew Ethan wanted to send me away when his friend was over. Did he worry I was going to embarrass or bother him? Surely I came from a less wealthy family than him, but that should had not been a problem. Whatever Ethan did to get me to leave the house, I was glad he gave me some gold to spend in town. However, status of wealth had no importance in L'Mer, especially when religion ruled. The Goddess loved and saw every person equal regardless of race and wealth. Since I was a little girl, Aunt Licia told me as long men and women continued to bring up their offspring, they had the Goddess's blessings. I now wonder if that that meant that I no longer received "blessings" from the Goddess just because I was avoiding the idea of having children.

My thoughts passed as the coach opened the door for me. Stepping out of the carriage, I felt a bit unease returning to town. I hoped I would not bump into anyone I would know, especially my aunt. She would question where my husband was and ask all sorts of questions about him I would not care to answer. The best I could do now was avoid wandering aimlessly in that side of town where I was raised.

"Lady," a merchant called out, grabbing my attention, "would you like to buy some perfume?"

Staring at the little violet vial he held out to me, I shook my head at the offer.

"This violet perfume is made from the finest ingredients," he said, remaining persistent.

Shaking my head again, I replied firmly, "No thank you, sir. I am not interested." As much as I knew merchants were just doing their jobs, I did not like to be pushed or persuaded. I never used perfume anyway since I did not like strong smells clinging to my clothes.

The merchant placed the violet vial down on the table along other colored vials that ranged from the spectrum of the rainbow. "They cost less than they did yesterday," he replied, completely ignoring my response that I was uninterested. "It's a good deal."

Smiling weakly, I backed off. "No thank you, sir," I repeated, turning away from the perfume stand. Relief washed over me as I made my way escaping the prodding merchant.

My feet stopped when my eyes drew to a studious young woman sitting on a stool. On her lap was a good-sized sketchbook covering her thighs as her square hands worked vigorously with a stick of charcoal. Her strong hand moved smoothly on the sheet of paper, carefully placing intricate details and shades into her drawing. Her long plaited black hair fell over on one shoulder which revealed the round shape of her head that was snugged behind a yarn-stitched, sky blue cap. Her furrowed thick eyebrows, almost slanted, matched the sharp concentration in her eyes.

My eyes could not leave the scene I stumbled upon. The artist was sketching an elder Katash that had paid her a sum for a self-portrait. Like a female scribe, a female artist did not made much money for a living if she bore no children or had no husband to provide her. By the woman's worn working boots was a wooden box that contained all the coins she received from her clients.

I hesitated whether or not to ask for a self-portrait after the elder Katash. Sweat formed on my brow, letting anxiety slip from my mind. Surely it would not be too hard to ask her for a drawing? Why was my sudden shyness stopping me? The artist's hands ceased movement as her eyes examined the charcoal drawing below her. She looked up several times back and forth at the woman, comparing her finished drawing.

Her eyes soon landed on mind, startling me. My cheeks flustered as they were taken aback by her large, deep brown eyes that made my very own soul feel little. Her eyes took quick notice of me and moved back to the still elder Katash. I did not stay for long for I soon found myself fleeing from the artist's corner.

I stopped by a little chocolate shop to catch my breath. My heart pounded against my chest, and I pressed my hand to my heart, feeling silly at my sudden actions. My stomach felt a bit queasy, and I could still feel the warmness lingering on my cheeks. My thoughts recalled vivid details of the dark-haired artist drawing on her stool chair. I needed to get her out of my head. I barely knew her; she was a complete stranger in the streets. But why was I so drawn to her? I dismissed my impulsive infatuation and entered the chocolate shop, hoping it would take my mind off of her.

The sweet smelling shop was kept neat and orderly. The counter remained empty where the backdoor had been left opened. Perhaps the owner of the shop had businesses to take care of upstairs. My attention was about to draw toward a red decorated box of spiral-shaped dark chocolates, but a whine tore my eyes away from the sweets.

"Papa! Papa!" a Tash called out from the door.

I turned around, a bit startled, wondering how the little girl had been by the door without my knowing. Surely I would had heard her scurrying footsteps.

"A customer?" a gruff voiced hollered. In the background, I could hear numerous high pitches that belonged to an orchestra of crying babies. I tried very hard to drown out the noises.

Stomping footsteps reached the door, and a chubby man with a white apron smeared with chocolate faced me. On both of his arms, he balanced two tiny babies that were literally screaming. Putting one baby on the counter, for it exhausted too much of his strength, he asked impatiently, "How may I help you?"

The baby on the counter started to shriek more, flailing its little fists in the air. I tried to pay attention to the man. "I'm… just looking around," I replied, feeling disturbed. I was very tempted to leave the shop now.

"Well, let me know if—" the merchant was cut off by a shouting voice from the door.

"Haim! I need help! Where are you?"

"I'm helping a customer!" he shouted back.

"But can't you see I'm pregnant? I need help!"

The owner, losing patience with the woman whom I assumed was his wife, stomped back inside the door. His wife was pregnant once again? I counted the Tash in the room, the crying baby on the counter, the baby he was holding, and his pregnant wife. That would mean they had four children, assuming those were his children, and that woman was his wife. But perhaps they had even more children hiding upstairs. Wasn't that stressful taking care all of them?

The Tash that had surprised me earlier by the door was tempted by the chocolates in her father's store, moon-eyeing all the different shapes and chocolate flavors. I left the store immediately, feeling sick and reminded of my expected Katash life.

The house was awfully quiet when I returned, but what could I had expected when Ethan wanted me away while his friend was over. My mood was still spoiled from the unpleasant scene in the chocolate shop. Shivering at the thoughts of bearing multiple children, I headed toward the kitchen clearing my mind for what to cook for dinner. I cooked potatoes last night, but Ethan did not seem satisfied with them.

Scrimmaging through the cabinets, I found an array of spices I could use to make eggs tonight and dress up chicken in good sauce. I guess I would be making eggs and chicken for dinner. Would Ethan's friend be staying for dinner? There was only one way I could find out.

Hoping they would be upstairs, I left the kitchen to ascend to the second floor. My feet stopped midway in the air when I heard crying coming from the hallway. Who could that had been?

It was a pitiful sob filled with emotion that disturbed my heart greatly. Hushing and soft soothing words muffled the cry. The soft voices seemed like they belong to Ethan. Was that his friend crying then? I speculated quietly.

I walked up another step, hoping to make out the conversation.

"You have been my first and only love," the voice, which matched that of Ethan's, began. "That woman means nothing to me."

The voice sniffed. "I know," a stuffy masculine voice replied. "It's just not fair."

"Life isn't fair ruled by the Temple," Ethan replied. "I care nothing for the Goddess or their religion. It's all ridiculous."

The talking ceased for a moment. I lingered in the silence, trying to believe what I just had heard. So his friend was also his lover? Same-sex relationships were discouraged in L'Mer because couples could not produce children, but they did happen. Usually, depending how strictly tied their family was to the Temple, they were shunned or fortunately tolerated. However, love was love, and I believed whoever the person loved, they were equally accepted under the Goddess's eyes.

Guilt suddenly took me, making me wish I never had "stolen" Ethan's place. I remember his odd behavior and our first meeting. It all made sense to me now why he acted strange toward me. He already had a lover and was also probably only interested in men.

"Thank the Goddess though," I whispered, closing my eyes in relief. Despite this setup was unexpected and tragic for them, perhaps my Katash duties would not matter to Ethan. He could expect nothing from me, and that was all I wanted.

Heading back downstairs, I respectfully quit eavesdropping and left the two to their own privacy. Meanwhile, the artist from town who I irrationally avoided slid back inside my mind.