I was sitting on Ethan’s lap while we watched a slapstick sketch and picked at the remains of our dinner when I reached a decision I’d been toying with for years and, probably, knew I was going to make all along.
Turning to Ethan I asked, “Do you love me?”
He looked startled and confused before saying, “Of course, why?”
“Just making sure. So you wouldn’t mind if I were a leytgelez, then. Good.” I smiled and kissed him then snuggled closer as I laughed at the foursome on stage.
“Is that your subtle way of telling me you’ve become a leytgelez, or just that you’re thinking about it?” he asked sounding reassuringly amused.
“Thinking about it.”
“Cool.” He tightened his arms around me and we enjoyed the show and, later, each other.
I spent the morning carefully selecting just the right clothes and make up. I’d known Lady Salarissa for awhile. It’d have been hard not to, I swear the woman knows everyone for at least six systems in every direction. Still, I wanted to look the part. It seemed important.
Ready, finally, I set out to the Salon to take my place there.
“Good morning, dear,” Salarissa said to me as I stepped into her Salon.
“Good morning,” I said, then hesitated. I really wanted this, but I was suddenly nervous. What if I’m not good enough? I thought for a heart freezing moment.
“Did you need anything, dear?” she asked gently, probably sensing my sudden nervousness.
I nodded and regaining the confidence and determination I’d felt when I’d realised this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life (perhaps what I was meant to do), I said, “I’d like to become a leytgelez, milady.”
She stared at me for a moment then smiled and said, kindly, “Walk with me, dear.” She guided me out into the gardens in the middle of the villa. After awhile she stopped to admire the colourful fish swimming in an ornamental fountain then she asked, “What makes you wish to be a leytgelez, child?”
I shrugged. “Honestly, it’s the only thing I can imagine being good at. This or a prostitute … frankly I don’t like the latter. It seems too …” I sought a proper word and settled on, “impersonal. I’ll admit: I’m very sexual. I’m much more interested in the folks who are looking for the physical company rather than intellectual. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to flirt, talk, make love … be more than just some rented toy.”
She smiled at me as she tucked a strange violet flower into my hair at my temple. “You’re saying you’re no philosopher nor any kind of poet, but you care far too much for people to leave them fulfilled only in body and that only incompletely since it would be nothing more than … shall we say ‘a deposit’?”
“You hesitated earlier. Why? You’re a charming and intelligent girl, surely your biggest fear should only have been that I’d say some foolish thing about having no room for a new leytgelez at the moment or, worse, some demented nonsense about your age.”
She knows! I realised in shock. She’s leaving it for me to say it out loud, but I can see it in her eyes … she knows! I marvelled as, for the second time in the years I’d known her, I encountered the Lady’s power to … well … supposedly her species cannot read minds, but despite that the woman is notorious for having an unnerving skill at it anyway.
I started to look away, but then realised there’s no shame in a bit of humility paired with awe. “I’m no artist. I can sing, but not spectacularly; I can pick a few songs out on a loothin; I’m an atrocious poet; I’ve too little interest in the deeper mind to have studied philosophy or psychology … I’m really just not any kind of artist. You’ve so many people who’re so brilliant and talented. I suddenly felt so inadequate, like I wasn’t good enough to join such a Salon as you’ve got.”
She held my hand, and with her other she brushed a stray lock of hair from my face as she kissed me softly. “But my dear, you are an artist, and a fine one at that. You’ve simply got so much natural talent in you that you can’t see how uncommon someone like yourself is. Conversation, companionship, caring, loving, even eroticism are all arts in themselves. I’ve always found you to be engaging, witty, charming, good humoured, quick to smile, tender, opinionated, strong of mind and will, and anyone who is eager and willing enough to share bodily pleasures could write volumes on erotic art if given the barest inspiration – you could be taught all any here knows then turn around and teach us all a good many things by the end of the sulid. I couldn’t ask for a better leytgelez, dear. Of course you may join my Salon. I only asked to be sure that it’s what you truly wanted.”
I beamed and threw my arms around her and hugged. I was so happy I couldn’t speak. Finally, I found my voice, “Thank you, milady! Can I start soon? Not today, I’ve got to tell Mommy, and Ethan! And Daddy and…”
Lady Sal laughed. “Tomorrow is fine, unless you need more time.”
“Tomorrow’s perfect.” With another hug I ran home to give everyone the good news.
“Guess what Daddy?” Cassie said excitedly, running up to and hugging me.
“You’ve found the perfect eye-shadow to wear with your newest dress?” I asked sarcastically. I knew she wouldn’t be that excited over eye-shadow, but I firmly believe that it’s a Dad’s job to tease his kids.
“No! I’ve become a leytgelez! Isn’t that great?”
I must’ve misunderstood her. “You’ve what?”
She sighed, then spoke slowly, like I was an idiot. “I’ve become a leytgelez. Well, actually an apprentice leytgelez, but still … I start tomorrow.”
“Cassie, that’s not funny. I mean, I know I’ve said you looked like a whore a lot, but …” I cut my sentence short, seeing her face. She looked like she was trying to decide whether to hit me or cry. “Cassie! You know what I mean!”
“What’s wrong with leytgeleshi? You think Sarah is only a whore?” Sarah is her cousin and one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met. She has also been a leytgelez since she was about Cassie’s age.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it!”
“So Sarah’s not a whore, but I am? Nice, Dad. Real nice.” She started walking away.
I grabbed her arm. “That’s not what I meant.” I was trying my damnedest to not yell. I was pissed, but I’m not, contrary to popular opinion, completely stupid and knew that my future relationship with her was on the line. “I just … I think you’re too young. Why don’t you do something else for awhile? See if there’s something else you wanna do with your life.”
“Just because you were monumentally stupid at my age doesn’t mean all sixteen year olds are!”
“Casandra, you are too young! It has nothing to do with me being an idiot, it’s just … You’re only sixteen! You shouldn’t even be having sex, much less having people pay to have sex with you!”
“They pay the salon, not me. And they pay for a pleasant experience, not necessarily sex! Glad to know you think Sarah is just a whore. And Gretchen, I’m sure Vinnie’ll be happy to hear what you think of his mom.”
“Gods damn it, that’s not what I meant! I meant … it’s the sex part that bugs me. You are too fucking young!”
“How old were you when you first had sex?” She asked, knowing the answer as we’d had variants on this bit of the argument countless times in the past three years.
“My youthful stupidity isn’t what we’re talking about!”
“What are you talking, or rather, shouting about then, Robin?” asked Karen from the doorway, with a look that said if I answered wrong I’d be sleeping in the doghouse (literally. My wife is evil) for the next korva or so.
“Do you know where she just got a job?”
“Yes. And I’m proud of her. Aren’t you?” It wasn’t a question. When I didn’t immediately answer, she asked again. “Aren’t you, Robin?”
“She’s too young! Karen, she’s only sixteen!”
“She’s too young to have people paying to have sex with her!”
“Robin Thase, you know damned well that leytgeleshi offer services besides sex. Now, did I hear you correctly earlier? Did you call your own daughter a whore?”
“Not exactly.” I paused, trying to recall exactly what I had said. “I said, or would have said, had I finished my sentence that just because she — you know what? I think I shouldn’t finish that sentence. I know what I’m trying to say but what I was gonna say you two will misunderstand and then we’ll argue and I’m tired of it. Fine, Cassie, be a leytgelez. I don’t like it, and I think you’re too young, but your Mom obviously knows better than me and she says it’s fine. So it is. Just don’t expect me to like it.”
The looks they were both giving me should have made me burst into flames. “What?” I snapped.
“Robin Thase, you owe your daughter an apology.”
“For what? I didn’t call her a whore; I didn’t even says she dresses like a whore this time! She wants to be a leytgelez, it’s fine with me, after all, like you keep telling me, she’s an adult now. I have no business telling her what to do.” When Karen’s glare didn’t go away, I looked at Cassie and said, keeping my voice as calm as I could, “I’m sorry I’m meddling in your life again. It’s none of my business what you do for a living. But, I do want to make clear that this is not a career I’m happy with you having. But.” I sighed. “If you’re sure it’s what you want, then I’m proud of you, I guess.”
I was glaring at Daddy; torn between bursting into tears and strangling the man I could only scowl with unshed tears welling in my eyes. The last thing I’d ever have expected was …. well … this! A woman he calls ‘mom’ as often as not has been a leytgelez since before he was born!
Mommy knew he’d broken my heart, and I was a little grateful that she was trying to get Daddy to see this, but it wasn’t working. At his ‘apology’ Mommy sternly yelled, “Robin! That’s not an apology, nor is it remotely related to what you owe Cassie one for. Now …”
I interrupted her. It just wasn’t worth it. At this point any apology from Daddy would just be a hollow attempt to appease her. “Don’t waste your breath Mom. He’s not sorry. Besides, I’m a big girl. I can deal with him myself. If you want to yell at him later, that’s your business, but it doesn’t have to be on my behalf.” Daddy flinched at … I guess my sounding so much like Mommy.
Daddy looked a bit exasperated and confused — even kind of put upon, “I’m sorry I called you a whore, okay?”
He wasn’t looking at Mommy who looked as though she were about to explode. I just shook my head slightly. “Daddy, I really can’t believe you’re really this stupid. If I wanted to be a fucking whore I’d have joined some kind of brothel! I don’t know when you suddenly took it into your head that leytgeleshi are whores, but I’m really ashamed to call anyone so shallow and idiotic my father. Really, all the shit about my clothes was one thing but this is going too far and if you can sink this low I really feel sorry for Melissa. She worships you and she’s growing up. It’s not long now before that little thing is wanting sex and dressing to show it. What’ll you do then? I’m sorely tempted to never speak to you again as it is. Start acting like a father again and one worthy of the way my baby sister looks at you instead of like some kind of retarded brothagk or you’re liable to find your children treating you like one. You’re not funny anymore, Daddy, you’re hurtful. I was excited and happy and you’ve spoilt that for me. I don’t want to see or talk to you for awhile, and when I do I don’t want any damned apologies, I just want my Daddy back,” and before he could change his expression from the slapped, dumbfounded look he had or grab my arm again I turned and stormed out of the room and, having burned all my rage in that lecture a sob broke free and slightly spoilt things as I slammed the door headed … I didn’t know where. I wanted to go to Ethan, but he was in a class just then. I wound up at my new workplace crying in Lady Salarissa’s lap as she smoothed my hair and listened silently to my choked and incoherent tirades about my asshole father.