The end of Drina’s night had finally come to an end as she slumped into the couch in the hostel’s common room. What a draining night, she thought while resting her arm over her eyes. Ocan had already long gone to sleep, having checked on her before resting in the common room. Lulu had offered to make a meal for Drina before she headed off to bed herself. It was well past into the night, and the common room was empty and silent. Something she welcomed with open arms since her evening was spent surrounded by a constant stream of people. Who would have thought she was going to be as popular as she was? The moment the festival grounds were open and running, she had a constant stream of guests. It wasn’t bad considering she was good at what she does and the money was splendid. It was the dull and recurring questions and statements.
All anyone ever asked about was the same things. When will I meet my soulmate? Will I ever get rich? When will I become famous? Although each reading was always just a little different, sometimes Drina felt like a broken record. Repeating the same results or what the customer wanted to hear just to make some coin. On rare occasions, she would get a serious reading and the person was open to hearing what they needed to. They were so far and few that it was almost disappointing. Drina enjoyed those particular readings the most since it gave insight and was ultimately beneficial. It also helped flex her skills as a teller, challenging her to read beyond the basic template of patterns and meanings.
The extreme readings rarely happen where death is the threat in the future, which is why Hestar’s reading was particularly important. Several readings in the past had shown an early death, however, it was due to natural or unavoidable circumstances. This one was neither. It was a grave omen, one that always frustrated Drina since not all future readings explained what the cause was. In Hestar’s case, it revealed itself as unnatural and preventable. The best explanation for this type of reading was murder. Drina hardly knew Hestar and who would want to murder her, making this a difficult predicament. To save a life at the risk of her own or step aside and not interfere? In good consciousness, Drina could not simply ignore it.
With a heavy sigh, she wiped at her groggy face and opened her eyes. With a startling jump, Drina was face to face with Hestar. She quickly pressed her finger against her lip to keep her from yelping, her smile wide with mischief. Drina had been so deep in thought that she didn’t notice her presence. The heat from her face radiated while Hestar giggled.
“I am going to take a guess and assume it was a long night?”
Drina pushed herself up to sit facing her, removing her scarf around her head. “Yeah, nothing too strenuous though.”
Hestar sat close beside her on the couch. Playfully she traced her hand along Drina’s forearm, sending shivers throughout her body.
“I was a little surprised to see Ocan here alone. She told me about how to were out working at the festival. It’s nice that she is also helping out around here. Makes my job easier. She is such a good kid and a good worker.”
It seemed so odd for someone to speak of Ocan so fondly, especially a stranger who’s only known her for such a short amount of time. Drina felt just a little proud of Ocan for doing so well without her nearby. Although, it was a bit of concern why Hestar paid so much attention to her. Call it old habits, yet Drina felt she needed to keep an eye out for her even more so.
“What do you do around here anyway?”
Hestar smirked, resting her head against her arm along the couch. Her eyes sparkled as she continued to swirl her fingers lightly against her skin.
“I help bring in business to the hostel. Sometimes with fliers or just word to mouth as visitors make their way into the town. There is a lot of transient traffic since we are a crossway between cities. When there are events going on, I go bring people through the door. During the slow season, I clean and make beds. There is always something to do around here and it can be quite eventful.”
With a raised eyebrow, Drina gave her a teasing smile. “Eventful with transient folk? Should I be concerned that I am just a small fling?”
Hestar fluttered her eyes wide, a small blush brewing on her cheeks.
“I-it’s not like that. Sure I have fun once in a while, but not always with the tenants within the hostel…”
This time, Drina was on the offense. Leaning in to close the gap between them, she lightly brushed at the side of Hestar’s face, pushing back a small lock of her hair. “So I’m not fun enough? What a shame.”
The look of panic made Drina chuckle devilishly. It was unfortunate that Lulu entered the room seconds after, her uplifting sing-song cheer announcing that the food was ready as she placed it on the table.
“Meal is ready! I know it’s not much for a midnight feast, but hopefully, it will be filling enough.”
Drina lightly sighed, rubbing her thumb across Hestar’s lips before pushing off the couch to join Lulu at the table. The plate had a small freshly baked loaf with butter lavishly spread across it and an assortment of meats. Although it made her mouth water, she still felt the gnawing of a different hunger still left unsated. Lulu’s warm smile dampened as she spotted Hestar on the couch behind Drina. Looking between the two of them, she deliberated just what had transpired while Drina began to dig into the meal. Hestar hesitated a moment before deciding to join them at the table, listening to Lulu’s small talk about how Ocan had helped her around the hostel. Nodding to the conversation, Drina silently chewed while she listened. The warm meal was a blessing, even if it was small and simple. She felt so spoiled by Lulu even though she was able to pay her for it.
“How were the festival grounds? Did you get many clients?”
Both of the ladies sat waiting for Drina to speak, while she enjoyed the meal. It only took her a second to realize they had been watching her that they were expecting her to talk about how her work had gone. Shuffling in her seat, Drina realized how uncomfortable she felt at the attention. Never before had she really talked about the daily dealings of her life, even with Ocan was with her. It was common to spend days in silence as they traveled, something she had become comfortable with. Staring at her plate, she swallowed her food to delay.
“It was decent.”
It was all she could think to say, leaving the rest hanging in the air. Did they expect her to tell them about her experience? Maybe complain about some of the readings she had given? It was hard for her to know what was acceptable to say. The pressure caused her to panic, causing her to clam up even more. It was Hestar who broke out into a full-hearted laugh, shredding the awkwardness around her.
“Not a woman of many words. You and your sister are similar in so many ways, yet completely different personalities. Once you get Ocan to start talking, she can go on for hours!”
Drina stiffened, concerned about how much Ocan had spilled. It would be something she would need to pull her aside in the morning to deal with. As if reading her mind, Lulu reached out to touch her wrist.
“Don’t worry, she hasn’t spoken about you or each other’s past. Ocan has only spoken about the lack of conversations she’s had with you and nothing more. A girl her age needs to socialize more! Be around girls her age.” Drina dropped her bread to the plate, feeling full and worried. Leaning back in her chair, she crossed her arm to stroke at her chin. She knew it was true, yet all the hiding and running hindered their ability to live a normal life. If only she had been born a regular girl and not a gypsy, she may have had a chance. Until they could escape this continent, there would be no rest. Drina pinched at the bridge of her nose before taking a deep breath in. Releasing it quickly in a huff, she dropped her hand from her face to look at Lulu in earnest.
“The festival was crowded and stifling. I made a deal with Mr. Gafrald which secured me a tent close to the entrance so at least the foot traffic is consistent. With the tent, it muffles the constant murmur and I can give a good clear reading.”
She paused, tapping her finger on the table in thought. It was much harder to speak now that she was able to practice the art of conversation. Uncertainty perpetually circulated her thoughts, making it hard to share. Casting a glance over at Hestar, she caught the admiration in her eyes while scanning her. It made Drina smile, one that was not easily contained. Since their arrival at the hostel, things have been eventful indeed. With a laugh, she turned her attention back to Lulu’s warm smile.
“It was a lot of fun. I haven’t been able to enjoy myself for a long time.”
Lulu gave a small cheer, standing to grab the tea she had been brewing on the counter for them all. “See, it’s not hard to let loose a little once in a while!”
Drina scoffed, her smile plastered to her face. “In’credaplicinta.”
Out of habit, the common phrase slipped from her lips. It was a saying somewhere on the lines of “not while I breathe”, often used in jest to tell someone off when they were pulling the person's leg. It had been so long since she had heard the words, it had even surprised her. Hestar stared intensely, mesmerized by her language while Lulu pivoted on the spot to toss a motherly finger at her.
“Ah, not in my hostel! I will shake you loose of your stone-like appeal young lady, so help me! No one leaves without a smile here.”
Drina sat shocked while Hestar burst out into laughter.
“Well whatever you said, you’ve done it now! Getting in trouble with Mama Lulu here.” Hestar leaned onto the table, her hand balanced under her chin with a grin. Her eyes glinted with trouble, the kind Drina didn’t need to guess hard to know what kind. With a honeyed voice, she held Drina captive.
“Looks like your part of the family now.”
Why did she make things hard for her? Drina got lost in her eyes, her words sinking deep within her skin. Family was foreign to her, yet between Lulu and Hestar they made it feel familiar. Her heart pounded within her chest, frightening her. No, they couldn’t stay. Ocan and her needed to leave as soon as Drina solved Hestar’s fate and made sure she was safe. Drina’s face paled, a cold sweat sending chills through her body. This place was a trap and Drina knew it would be dangerous to stay any longer. Reaching into her pouch, Drina grabbed a few coins to pay for the meal and tossed them on the table. The sound of the metal clinking confused both ladies as Drina pushed from the table to leave.
“Thank you for the meal. I’ll square up the rest in the morning.”
Drina felt the icy cold walls of her isolation closing up on her, the safeguards she needed to protect her and Ocan. They were getting too close and she needed to place the distance quickly. Turning her back to them, Lulu called out to her as she made it to the door.
“Don’t worry about payment, Ocan’s help around here is payment enough.”
Drina didn’t bother to face her. She knew if she let it slide now there would be no backtracking. “Nothing comes for free. A service given is a service paid. Goodnight Miss Lulu.”
With that, she left the room and headed to her bunk. Ocan snored lightly as Drina crawled up carefully into the bed. Her heart hurt at the thought of her rude departure, knowing it would have upset Hestar. It was for the best, she was just a transient visitor to the town anyways. She could have any man or woman that came and went and Drina would just be another person on the list. If she could save her that is. The cold realization hardened her more. Love was not in Drina’s future and the only family she had was Ocan. Wrapping an arm around her sister, she hugged her close. Even though she tried hard to believe those thoughts, a tear slipped from her and splashed against the pillow.
The sounds of lightfoot steps startled her as she listened intently to Hestar entering the room. Drina held her breath, hoping that she would not try to come reason with her. The steps did not seem to head her way, instead she heard her climbing into her own bunk, shuffling until there was silence. No more could be heard other than the snoring of several others sleeping in their bunks and a few coughs as people adjusted. It took everything in Drina not to turn around to face the room and steal a glance over at Hestar. Even if she was awake and possibly looking back at Drina, catching her peeking will only show she felt guilty and feed the hope of the facade. Drina sighed disappointedly. Why did she have to fall for someone so beautiful and kind? With her eyes closed, silent tears streamed down her cheeks before the abyss claimed her into a deep slumber.