The universe compresses all around you.
The Lanterns melt into the steamy mists, stepping back once, twice, and they exist no longer. Your heartbeats will drown out the patter of feet, directed silently to the nearest exit. Trays vanish, leaving drinks scattered around the pool. This one, like a cool mountain spring, to pour down a hungry throat like a waterfall. This one, rich, and just a smidge too hot. Sip carefully, as you catch your breath. Each one resting on the grass no less than the length of one arm, stretched to the full.
Your sisters. Your friends. Each will look up, in turn, and there will be a sheep. He will gesture with perfect clarity. He will carry a sign for those too tired to understand. Blink once to remain. Blink twice for a tasteful, silent exit. Whatever their choice, they will not see him again. Perhaps they are here. Perhaps they are only here, in your hearts. You know them, better than anyone. You will know where they are.There is but one addition to this world.
The song sneaks in, under the cover of running water, of hearts overflowing, of sounds swallowed whole. Soft. Sweet. It has traveled far; through an open door, an empty hallway, past two rooms, at least. The pianist offers every tender note for love, with love, and so the song must keep playing, for love alone will outlast all things. Every silence will be comfortable. Every note will have its harmony. Nothing will dare compete for your attention.
Take this moment, both of you. A gift, from a sheep, with mice for legs, and mice for eyes, and his own hands clasped tight over his mouth. He will not gasp, or bleat, or some incredible mixture of the two. A good servant is neither seen or heard. And a friend may be there for you, by not being there at all.
********************************************************You don’t have to.
Bit by bit, his hands close around the piping bag. Each flourish removes a little frosting. The volume shrinks. The pressure falls. He must make up the difference. The pressure must remain constant and unbroken.
“You know. It’s nice, when you find something to do for someone that they never asked you for. It’s a wonderful surprise. Not having to worry about it, not having to think about something. Knowing you were watching, and thinking of them. Do good things, as you see them. It works rather well, most of the time. It earned me good marks. At the Manor.”
He saves the bottom layer for last. Bad enough, the dawning realization that you might, truly, almost be done. No need to strain your focus any further with a balancing act.
“I. Know this is different. It’s just me, here. Nobody’s asked me to cross. No one would hold it against me if I did nothing. If I had to say, it’s...I think? I think. I would rather leave all over again. If I had the choice. I’d rather sneak out of the Manor, to hop on a spaceship going heavens know where, feel the hull buckle under Poiseidon’s fury with no idea when or if we’d arrive safely. I wish I could live that over again. Instead of the Rift.”
He has to make his hands unclench, when he’s done. He has to tell them that they can tremble now. His shaking fingers rap and tap at his wheels, grasping at the rims, to roll himself closer to the goddess he’d spent so long following after. One sleeve at a time, he shrugs off the warmest hoodie he’d ever known. His folding is without crease or wrinkle; as befitting such honored raiment.
He leaves it on the kitchen counter, and leans in to hug the honored goddess of hearth and home. An offering, the firstfruits of the loving warmth he has tended in her name. A prayer, that one too weak to stand might yet find strength. A declaration, in her honor, that she never spoke falsely or tried to lead him astray. Even at the end.
“Thank you.” He sniffs, once. “For everything.”