Rediscovering Home

Jasmine Giacomo

Rhou slammed her newly-cleaned courier case on the marble table and stalked over to the cupboard, yanking it open. She lifted out a mug with a blue stone embedded in its handle, and poured it full of cold tea from the pot over the dead fire. She had a finger poised on the embedded stone when the ashes caught her eye. They’d been dead for over a day. She rolled her eyes and focused her anger into magic. Through the blue stone and into the mug it went, and the tea began steaming.

She sniffed it, satisfied. Old hot tea was infinitely better than old cold tea. Now, if only someone had been here to welcome her.

But no. She was always out of everyone else’s loop.

Sitting in a chair, she leaned back and rested her heels on the table. The adobe arch that framed the open window let in a warm spring breeze, and Rhou enjoyed its coolness, compared to the fervent, bustling heat of Capiscala.

Coming home is only mostly terrible, she decided.

The back door slammed twice. It had done that for years. Father hadn’t ever been able to determine what sort of hex had made it bounce, and had wasted more than one Firstday afternoon aiming his topaz goggles at it and experimenting with spells. Mother had always yelled at him when he summoned the Hexator imps.

Rhou tipped her head, looking upside-down behind her chair, and saw Micia, her sister-in-law, coming in from the garden with a small basket of young teepa leaves. Rhou lowered the chair’s front legs to the floor with a thump that made the short redhead jump.

“Constellations!” she gasped. “You surprised me. Why didn’t you send a flash that you were coming? I’d have come over earlier and had something ready.”

“Because I didn’t know I’d BE here until two hours ago,” Rhou grumped. She slumped in her chair and leaned her elbows on the table. “My job reeks. In more ways than one, today.”

“Let me make you something, then,” Micia said, walking to the hearth. She loaded a few logs into the fireplace and pushed a red jewel embedded in the bricks of the mantle, next to jewels of several other hues. Fire leaped into existence and licked at the wood.

“You know what they had me do?” Rhou said, watching Micia slide out a cooking shelf over the fire and fill a pot with water from the pump.

“What was it this time?”

“Lady Emrynn didn’t like the puppy that our beloved Count presented her with on High Salvia. She claims she’s allergic. So I got to cart the scrappy thing back to him in my courier case.”

“The puppy didn’t care for the Shift?” Micia asked, breaking the thick stems off the palm-sized arrowheads and dropping them into the steaming pot.

“He dumped in my case during transit." Rhou's lips twisted. "Little coward. It's two seconds of darkness and silence, and he couldn't take it.”

“That’s...unfortunate,” she returned. Rhou suspected she was holding in laughter. Her oldest brother’s wife always seemed too glib to be taken seriously.

“It took me ten minutes to find someone at the Count’s manor who wasn't laughing too hard to direct me to a cleaning room.”

A squeak escaped from Micia, and the woman quickly cleared her throat, carefully keeping her back to Rhou as she stirred the pot over the fire.

“Clearly they aren’t the only ones amused at my expense,” Rhou added.

“I’m sorry,” Micia said, chortling at last. “You’re such a sourpuss, though! Surely it’s nice to come home for free, without having to ride for two days by horse.”

“Home." She snorted. "I’m not sure this qualifies anymore. Sure, the building is the same. Not counting when Rama created that pocket dimension from his closet by accident.”

Micia chortled again. “I love that story. I never tire of hearing it. He still has that claw scar on his shoulder, too.”

“But no one’s here anymore,” Rhou protested, as if she hadn’t heard. “Mother and Father live in the Shades now. You and Rama live a few streets away; you just come here for the garden space. Bangee haunts the next-door neighbors' cellar because we grew up and they have kids now. And Hathom and Hotham are at the Empire Academy. It’s an empty shell now!”

“All right, that’s fair,” Micia allowed, tonging three swelled leaves onto a dark blue stoneware plate. Their aromatic steam wafted through the room. She set the plate in front of Rhou and gave her a fork and a knife. Sitting across from her, she said, “You know the family has left this house vacant for your use if you’re ever in town. But, if it doesn’t feel like it really belongs to you, what about the capital? Capiscala has plenty of people. Do you think of it as your home now?”

Rhou sliced away at the fat leaf, pinning it to the plate with her fork, and slipped a bite into her mouth. Normally, she loved teepa. Now, though its flavor was sweet and tangy on her tongue, it brought bittersweet memories to her mind.

“No," she answered. "When I left for the Academy, this house was full, but the campus itself was a jam-packed madhouse in comparison. When I graduated and came home, half my family had moved on. I moved to Capiscala; it was a constant crush of busy people. Too busy to stop and get to know me. All about their own business. I tried to blend in, but I just felt like a lost soul.”

“Rhou, why didn’t you say something?” Micia said, reaching for her hand.

Rhou moved it and grabbed her knife again, hacking another strip from the teepa leaf. “And then I got hired as a courier," she said around her food. "At a moment’s notice, I go from the busy city where no one knows me at all, to these backwater burghs like I grew up in, where I stand out like an Immortal’s white crow! I don’t fit in anywhere anymore.” She touched the blue stone on her mug again, reheating her tea, and then took a sip.

“But Rhou--”

The courier cut her off, slicing her hand through the air. “I hate the couriers' anonymity. It's the same no matter where I go. No one sees me; they see my uniform, my case." Rhou's voice began to rise. "My life is a constant cycle of apathetic crowds and gawping strangers. There's nothing for me here, and nothing for me anywhere else.” She paused, glaring at her courier case. “And I really, really hate Shifting with dumpy-dogs! Why couldn‘t the Lady just drown the--"

The mug in Rhou's hand exploded with anger-magic, and shards plinked around the room. The blue stone from the handle sparked against the marble table, leaving a sooty scar.

Micia stared at her. “Perhaps,” the slight woman suggested, “you’re in the wrong line of work?”

Rhou stared at her for a long moment.

Then her boisterous laughter rolled around the room. The air tinged blue, and the flames burned low and hot, roaring in the hearth. Her courier case snapped open and shut, the blue stone on its tongue winking. Rhou pressed a hand against her stomach, tears of mirth running down her cheeks. Finally, after another laughter aftershock, Rhou regained her composure. She wiped her cheeks, sighed aloud in a contented voice, and met Micia’s eyes; the woman looked at her with curiosity.

“You’re right; I probably am,” she nodded. “I’ll look into that.”

Her sister-in-law raised her eyebrows and grinned. She slid from her chair and got another mug down, this one with a red stone in its handle, and filled it with tea. She slid it next to Rhou’s plate, touching the red stone and warming the tea.

“Thanks, Micia,” Rhou commented. “This teepa is really good, too,” she added, gesturing with a laden fork.

“You’re welcome. Next time you’re in town, let me know, whether it’s ahead of time or not, no matter what job you‘re doing or where. I’ll cook you some more. Or anything else you like. After all,” she smiled, “we’re family.”

Rhou nodded and swallowed hard, blinking moisture from her eyes.


© 2009 Jasmine Giacomo. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Jasmine Giacomo lives and writes in Washington State with her husband and two small children. Her other work includes "The Healer of Kyras," which is set to be released by The Absent Willow Review in October 2009. One day she dreams of owning enough cats someday to be called "that daft cat lady" by the neighbors.
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