I’m two days late, thanks to a chronic Benadryl coma. Hello, Pollen. I can’t say I’ve missed you. In any case, Phaedra and Tully meet in this piece. It’s terrible, but right now I’m just filling in gaps and trying to conquer writer’s block. Enjoy if you can manage it.
Phaedra folded her arms as she leaned on the door frame, the bakery sweltering behind her. The morning was just another in an endless series; wake up, bake bread, sit around until the sun came up and customers filtered in, bake more bread—it was just a monotonous cycle. Every day blended into the next. Now and again, sleep would penetrate that cycle, but it was so rare now that Phae wondered if she hadn’t been asleep this whole time she worked at the bakery. It felt like she was dreaming on her feet, most of the time.
Except it wasn’t dreaming. It was reckless reminiscing. Longing to have the life she left behind, judgment and reason always getting the better of her now.
When did she get so old? At twenty-six, she was out of the game, and three months after she was discharged, she wound up here: a bakery run by an old man who could hardly manage his way around his own shop anymore. At least looking at that sad old fool made her feel a bit more secure. Then again, all she’d been though… her aches and pains may well have outdone that old timer.
Tugging a cigarette out of the front pocket of her skirt, Phae tucked the brown paper tube between her lips and followed it with a match pulled from a box that had been drawn from the same pocket. The sky opened up to pepper the narrow street with a light sprinkle of rain just as she struck the match and drew the flame to the end of the cigarette, puffing a bit to light the end. Another slow day. It was inevitable. No one wanted to shop in the rain, and the financial state of this district seemed to be in a continual backslide since the prince was crowned.
Politics were a gods-awful bore. Still hard to swallow, but boring as sin, and Phaedra wasn’t sure she wanted to pretend to care about how terrible things were. It just wasn’t something she could manage—thinking about her own misery and the misery of those around her.
Her dark eyes settled across the road and down three buildings, brow knitting slightly as she focused on the figure huddled against the walls, trying to take advantage of any slight overhang to escape the rain, though it didn’t appear to be working; the slender figure was drenched to the skin already. Whomever it was, her shoulders were hunched in defeat.
Perhaps that rain cloud was following her.
As the girl approached, Phaedra drew hard on the cigarette and let the smoke float from between her lips in a twirling wisp that curled upward to meet the clouds. Dark eyes followed that girl until she was nearly passed the bakery, cringing against the torrential downpour.
“’Scuse me,” called Phae, a smile tugging the corner of her lips, just barely enough to be noticeable when the girl turned to her. She was a pretty thing; a soft face and eyes of such a brilliant cerulean that they nearly beamed beneath the sunlight-sucking clouds. “You look cold.”
The girl paused and shifted from foot to foot. Phae could almost hear the squishing of her rain-soaked stockings from across the street. Her eyes became hopeful, but her stature still reflected her unease. “I am… a bit,” she conceded, and pulled her coat a bit tighter at her throat.
That smile turned into a genuine curve of Phae’s lips as she tucked the cigarette between them once again. “Come inside,” she said around it. “We don’t have any customers anyway, and–” she pulled dragged on the brown paper, and tossed the butt into the street, “you look like you could use a seat in front of the fire.” The smoke drifted from between her lips as she spoke, letting out in puffs on every word. “Maybe a blanket and a change of clothes?”
The girl’s knees nearly buckled at the offer, and she gave a vigorous nod, bolting across the narrow street. “Thank you… Thank you so much,” she burst out, stepping past Phaedra and into the bakery just as Phae shut the door.
“It’s fine, really. I’m Phaedra.”
“Tully.” The girl glanced over her shoulder to smile shyly at her hostess. “Do you own this place?”
Phaedra shook her head, tugging her dark curls into a bun and fastening it with a strip of torn cloth she’d tugged from her skirt pocket. She was dressed casually for convenience at work, though she seemed well put together. The brown panel skirt she wore matched the cream color of her chemise, the billowing sleeves tied up at her elbows, though the cincher around her waist added a splash of vibrant green to the flour-dusted ensemble. Tully was staring longingly.
“I don’t own it. I just work here.” She paused. “And live upstairs. Speaking of which…. Wait here.”
Tully nodded and watched her go. It was women like that that got ahead in life, and girls like her that got stuck out in the rain.
When Phaedra returned, she had a skirt not unlike the one she was wearing, only darker, and a faint yellow shirt to match. The cincher matched the skirt, though, so it was a bit plain. Plopping the pile of clothes on a chair, she went to the door and locked it. “You’ll have to hike the skirt up, and draw the neckline of the shirt a little tighter. You’re a bit smaller than I am.”
Tully turned faintly pink and pulled off her capelet and the jacket beneath it, draping them by the fire to dry, a mop of wet, golden hair falling free of the hood Next, she pulled off her dress, untying the bow at the back of the neck to tug it over her head. Back to Phaedra, she stood there in only her bloomers as she rummaged in the clothing, and pulled the articles on one by one, until she finally looked to Phae with a shy, pleading look, the cincher loosely wrapped around her waist.
Phaedra chuckled and tightened the lacing expertly, tying it off, and patting the lace-line. “There. That’s… well, the clothes look like a tent on you, but they’ll do for now, won’t they?”
“They’re clean and dry. You don’t know how grateful that makes me,” stated Tully, her spirits visibly higher now that she was by a warm fire, raw fingers rubbing one another to get some feeling back into them.
“Tully is an odd name,” Phae said after a few moments, rearranging trays of bread and pastries in the racks. The girl’s face turned red.
“It is a bit, I suppose. Can I help with anything?” She stood awkwardly at the fire, quite clearly feeling useless.
“Eat.” Phaedra handed her a half loaf of soft bread coated in a honey glaze. “Where were you headed?”
Tully took the bread with lowered eyes and tried to eat it slowly, but wound up tearing pieces off almost ravenously. “Almshouse.” She muttered around a mouthful.
“Well, I need help here. I’ll pay you well, and you can stay in one of the rooms above the bakery. It stays warm in cold weather up there, and there’s no shortage of bread to eat.” Hands on her hips, Phae waited, watching the girl go from stunned to thoughtful, chewing slower as she mulled it over.
“I thought you didn’t own this place….”
“I don’t, but someone has to run it. What do you think?”
Tully’s eyes met hers and she gave a small nod, smiling slightly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Besides,” Phae glanced over her shoulder as she slid a pan full of risen, loaf-shaped dough into a brick oven, “you look good in my clothes.” she grinned.
Tully let out a soft laugh, and looked down at herself, giving a little twirl and the skirt bell inflated a bit. “I do, don’t I?”
“Warm up.” She laughed softly. “You start tomorrow.”
Tully, beaming at her luck and Phaedra’s acceptance, plopped beside the fire and began combing out her wet hair with her fingers. The chill was nearly gone from her now, and the rain sounded like it was slowing. Ten minutes before, all hope was lost and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Now… now, she had a job and a place to live… and a beautiful new acquaintance who granted her this new hope.
Perhaps things were looking up.
Phae glanced over from her work, and Tully smiled.