The Artifact (Book 2, Time Trilogy)

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Chapter Thirteen: Cindy's Trends, Part I

July 2023
Cindy’s Trends Clothing Boutique
Richmond City, Virginia

}}}-----> WAHYA <-----{{{

Wahya had only felt such adrenaline a handful of times in his life - his favorite being the time he and his friends jumped over the waterfall near the village when he was a young teen. The pool at the base of the steep falls was extremely deep, and when his father found out what they’d done, he’d admonished them severely, explaining that the water’s current beneath the falls could have sucked them under, drowning them. The boys were too scared to do it ever again, but the rush from free-falling over twenty feet to the water below was something Wahya would never forget. Perhaps that’s why he easily chose to leap over the cliff in his escape earlier this morning.

That same rush hits him squarely in the gut the moment Morgan hits the gas pedal in an attempt to shock him. Her expression makes it clear that she intended to present a thrill. That, added with the fuel of her cute, yet sexy, hard-headed impatience over the seat belt problem, causing her to accidentally fall into his lap, was enough to turn him on more than she already had. To say that he feels a rush right now is an understatement and he craves more.

But that’s soon stifled as they enter the brightly lit boutique called Cindy’s Trends. A blast of air conditioning hits Wahya as he scans the shop from the open entrance, taking in the racks of clothing and shoes stuffing every corner of the space. The bizarre breeze coming from indoors isn’t the only strange thing in the air though, as his ears pick up on the most unusual music he’s ever heard. At least he thinks it’s music, and he tries to discern where the makers of the music are. There are no musicians in sight, yet the sound comes from everywhere and nowhere.

“Okay, where to start? How about shirts?” Morgan ushers them to a table with various t-shirts neatly folded.

Wahya’s eyes take in the unbelievable number of colors going from bright to dark, and everything in between. The exactness of the designs astounds him, for in his world no two garments are exactly the same. Yet here, there were multitudes of duplicates. The concept that clothes would be readily made without being fitted to the wearer is also new to him. He notes that people in this world are not the same size or shape as one another, just like in his world, so the sameness confuses him.

“How does one even begin to find a garment that will work in a place like this?!”

Morgan motions for him to lower his head so she can see the tag in the collar of the tank top he’s wearing now. “Extra-Large,” she says aloud then proceeds to pick a t-shirt from the table, checking the tag before unfolding it and holding it up in front of Wahya. She nods appreciatively, and Wahya determines that the symbols on the small white piece of fabric in the neckline must represent the appropriate fit.

“Amazing!” He thinks to himself, “That is how they know what to choose! These people use their symbols for much more than my people use our own.” He considers that drawn symbols must not be as sacred here. Instead, they seem to be very essential to the tiny blonde he watches hovering from table to table nearby, picking up various tops and collecting them in her arms.

Now, fully realizing that Morgan has brought him here to get clothes to better blend with the people of this world, he picks up a dark orange shirt, holding it up to her for confirmation as she browses closer to him again. The color is closer to his usual, brown-toned garments, and despite its obvious differences, the tone seems more familiar and comforting.

Morgan again nods appreciatively, motioning to the pile again, apparently asking him to select any of the other colors. Given the choice, Wahya seriously contemplates the choices, finally pointing to the dark blue and green-colored tops. Checking the tags for the right size, she guides him over to several racks of long-sleeved shirts - some pullover and others button-up.

“You’re not acclimated to air conditioning, so you need some long-sleeved shirts, too. Can’t have you catching cold,” Morgan explains as she flips through the hanging shirts.

Wahya, not realizing they were thinking the same thing, is happy to see the longer sleeves, feeling the chill of the air inside the building permeating his thin top. “The climate is backwards in this world!” That strange, cold breeze that blows only indoors boggles his mind, for it had felt very warm and humid outside, in fact warmer than usual, he thinks.

His next, more serious, concern is cultural, for Wahya knows certain colors are worn only for certain occasions or by certain people. And a part of him is surprised that Morgan is allowing him to choose the colors. “What if I choose a color that would be offensive for me to wear in her culture? Perhaps she is being careful, or any color that would be inappropriate isn’t available anyways... Maybe colors don’t even have sacred symbolism here...”

Putting his fears aside and his trust in Morgan, he helps her select a number of long-sleeved shirts, noting that she seems to be working out a problem in her head. He wonders what’s perplexed her, then looks at the armfuls of shirts they’re both holding at this point. “Why do I need so many shirts?! She must think that I will not be leaving her world, at least not for a very long time. Maybe that is what she is thinking through. If she does not know how long it will be before I can leave, then she will not know how many clothes I will need. Though, this seems like overkill, even if I have to be here permanently!”

He frowns, letting out a sigh as he waits for her to finish thinking, his own thoughts bubbling in his mind. “I do not even know where I might go if I did end up leaving here! I did not even know that this world existed - how many other worlds could there be?!” He rubs his head. “I am tired of trying to make sense of it all - my head is starting to hurt! If only I could ask her what is going on!”

Morgan’s focus returns and she hurries to put everything in a cart. The metallic cage-like contraption on wheels, just another amazing object of this world that Wahya studies with interest. They proceed with jeans, shorts, and then off to the shoes section where Morgan measures his foot, realizing that James’ sneakers are a half size too small.

“Ten and a half! I’ll bet those have been uncomfortable!” Morgan exclaims as she taps his foot to tell him to step off of the foot measuring device. If the multitude of clothes weren’t so overwhelming, Wahya would be taking more pleasure in how the busy little woman tends to him, pulling him this way and that. He just can’t believe how complicated clothing seems to be here. At least the options seem to be complex. He only owned a few pieces of clothing at home, and those were tailor made to fit him perfectly, to include the moccasins he only wore part of the time.

Glad to have a seat while she ties the strings of yet another pair of shoes, he wearily thinks, “Ahh, these are definitely better than James’ footwear! But I hope the end of this is coming soon. I am worn out!”

But Morgan doesn’t allow him to sit for long. Guiding him to one of three small, partitioned rooms in the back of the shop, she opens the door to a space containing a full-length mirror on the back wall and ushers Wahya inside. Gathering all the shirts from the cart, she hangs up half, setting the rest down on the bench to the side.

“Okay. So, you have to try on the clothes. We’ll start with the shirts,” she motions for him to try on the garments as she talks.

Understanding dawns as he takes in the number of garments they’d collected - he was going to have to try on every piece of clothing! Wahya’s resolve waivers and he stands a little straighter, looking the buoyant blonde in her colorful eyes seriously, then slowly and firmly states, “Morgan. No!”

Morgan stops short, surprised by his sudden abruptness and apparent usage of “no” in English, not to mention her name. She looks at him wide eyed, freezing mid-step. Then an understanding of her own softens her features, and she purses her lips regretfully. “I know you’re tired, but we’re almost done. I promise!”

He didn’t need to know what her words translated to in Tsalagi, her tone sounded familiar - just like his mother’s and grandmother’s when it came time for him to do something he didn’t want to. He’d spent the last twenty-seven years hearing the women in his life utter such sentiments. Begrudgingly, he lets her continue, as she motions for him to try on the clothing once more, her remorseful, yet partly humorous expression at his attempted defiance softening his resolve. In due time, she could easily get under his skin, he thinks as the look on her face tells him that she is really isn’t trying to torture him. Then, trying to motivate himself, he reasons the quicker they finish here, the sooner he can ride in Morgan’s car again. When Morgan sees he’s willing to cooperate, she smiles again, then closes the door, leaving him with several shirts.

In truth he never liked clothes-fitting days, and as he looks at the pile of clothes in front of him, he recalls all the times his mother made him try on the clothes she’d made for him to be sure they fit right. This had been a regular occurrence as he quickly sprouted up to his six-foot tall self, then quickly wore out clothes in the process of daily life. “Maybe I do need a lot of clothes!” He ponders with a small laugh.

As he peels off James’ borrowed t-shirt, he remembers how his mother used to bribe him with treats when he was little to stay still for fitting sessions. Eventually, he learned that when she cooked several helpings of his favorite grape dumplings, that meant she was making clothes. Even as he grew to be a man who cooperated more easily, however begrudgingly, his mother kept the dumpling tradition going.

The memory saddens him a little as he thinks of his mother’s death. He would give anything for her to still be alive to make him sit through a clothing-fitting now. Then he wonders what Spirit World she ended up going to when the sickness came for her, having always thought there was only one Afterlife World until today. Pushing these thoughts away quickly to bury his emotions, he forces his thoughts back to today’s fitting session. “I will bet I do not get any grape dumplings out of this!”

He can see Morgan’s feet outside the stall from under the door and wonders why he couldn’t try the clothes on outside of the partitioned room so she could see, for he doesn’t really know how the clothes are supposed to fit. Laying James’ shirt on the stool, Wahya chooses the green t-shirt first, pulling it down over his chiseled torso. He feels the soft fabric with his fingertips and against his bare skin, and is fascinated with both the texture and color, “What material do they use to make such fabric? And what do they use to dye it? Or does it naturally come in all these different shades?”

While not extremely tight, the cloth is more fitting in a completely different way than the buckskin tunics Wahya would wear in the fall and winter at home. Wearing shirts in the summer just seems strange, but given the condition of the cool air inside, he’s beginning to see why all the Spirit-People here wear so many clothes.

Taking a look at himself in the long mirror, he isn’t sure he loves it, but thinks it looks nice. Unsure of what to do next, he tentatively opens the door and peeks out, looking for Morgan. She turns as he opens the door, gesturing for him to come out and smiles. “Let’s see!”

She makes him turn around, and he suddenly feels a bit self-conscious modeling the shirt in front of her. Her approving head nod, accompanied with praise-worthy-sounding phrases and a pretty smile tell him that she likes what she sees. While she seems to be all business and her touches and glances have been quite platonic, a part of him has warmed at her touches and glances all the while, and he can’ help but wonder if she likes what she sees in not only the clothes, but in him as well. Even if he’s not an expected guest of this Spirit World, would it really be wrong to be attracted to her? If it is, then he knows he’s getting himself deeper into trouble with every minute he spends in her presence.

Satisfied with their fit, Morgan brings him back to the moment as she collects the t-shirts and long-sleeve pull-over shirts she had him try on, then points out the last group of shirts they’d selected for him, sending him back into the dressing room yet again. This time Wahya chooses a light blue, open-front shirt that he’d picked out earlier, pulling it on. But when he goes to button it up, he realizes that the buttons are not buttons at all, and that there are no holes down the opposite side of the shirt for which buttons to go through - only tiny, round silver objects that match up with the decorative ones on the other side.

He rubs his hands over his face and through his long hair, which came undone when the rubber band broke while taking off the last shirt. Breathing out loudly, he opens the door, and looks tiredly at Morgan waiting nearby. Holding out both sides of the front to her in frustration, he utters quietly in his own tongue, “Please help.”

Morgan stares at him momentarily, unsure of the problem. Yet, as she takes in the sight of him, for a fleeting second, Wahya thinks he sees her eyes widen slightly at the sight of his state of partial dress. He’d changed shirts in the privacy of the tiny room without her, and now remembering her reaction to his body when they met, he no longer wonders if she likes what she sees. It’s clearly written all over her features and body language.

Quickly coming to her senses and erasing that light, she gives him an apologetic expression. “Oh! I’m so sorry - I didn’t think about snaps!”

She doesn’t hesitate, moving to come show him how the snaps function, quickly taking the fabric from his hands. Working from his flat stomach, upwards, she leaves the very bottom snaps undone. It’s an easy, yet fascinating concept, these ‘snaps,’ and after watching her do the first two he’s got the idea. Yet, the warm, flickering sensation of her soft hands brushing against his chest as she travels up the shirtfront stills his ability to take over the button-snapping from her.

When she reaches the second snap from the top, she stops, looking up at him, and he pretends that he wasn’t watching her instead of the snapping process. Had she been talking this whole time? He can’t remember.

As she steps back, he feels a little lost without her closeness, but overcomes this quickly, taking up the first snap she’d left undone at his waistline in an attempt to show her he understood her instructions. But it’s not quite as easy as she made it look.

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