The Artifact (Book 2, Time Series)

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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.

His father had angrily explained that the water current beneath the falls could have sucked them under, drowning them, and all of the boys were too scared to do it ever again. But the rush from free-falling over 20 feet to the water below was something Wahya would never forget.

Morgan brought back that feeling when she hit the gas pedal in an attempt to shock him. Her expression made 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 felt a rush right now is an understatement, and he craves more. But that was to be stifled as they enter the brightly lit boutique called Cindy’s Trends. The blast of air conditioning hits Wahya as he scans the shop from the entrance, taking in the racks of clothing and shoes stuffing every corner of the space. But the bizarre breeze isn’t the only strange thing in the air. 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. And the exactness of the designs astounds him. 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. As people in this world are not the same size or shape as one another, just like in his world he is confused by the sameness. “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 James’ shirt 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 small white piece of fabric in the neckline must have symbols representing the appropriate fit.

“Amazing!” He thinks to himself, “That’s 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, 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 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 then 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 is happy to see the longer sleeves, thinking to himself that it’s a bit chilly inside here, much like it was in the other buildings they’d been in. That strange, cold breeze that blows only indoors still boggles his mind, for it had felt very warm outside. “The climate is all backwards in this world!”

His next 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’s what she’s thinking through. If she doesn’t know how long it will be before I can leave, then she won’t know how many clothes to get. 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, “I don’t even know where I might go if I did end up leaving here! I didn’t even know that this world existed - how many other worlds are there?! I’m tired of trying to make sense of it all - my head’s starting to hurt! If only I could ask her what’s going on!”

Morgan’s focus returns and she puts 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 were 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 aren’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 - especially shoes - 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 to himself, “Well, these are definitely better than James’ shoes! But I hope the end of this is coming soon - I’m wore out!”

Guiding him to one of three small, partitioned rooms in the back of the shop, Morgan 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 at the same time that he takes in the number of garments they’d collected - he was going to have to try on every piece of clothing. Wahya looks the buoyant blonde in her colorful eyes and says slowly and firmly, “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 expression at his attempt at defiance softening his resolve.

The look on her face says that she is really isn’t trying to torture him. Then he reasons, the quicker they finish here, the sooner he can ride in the car again! Smiling again, she closes the door, leaving him with several shirts. In truth he never liked clothes fitting days, and he recalls all the times his mother would make him try on 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!”

As he peels off James’ borrowed t-shirt, Wahya 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 thinks, “I’ll bet I don’t 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 these 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 seemed strange, but given the condition of the cool air inside, he’s beginning to see why all the Spirit-People here where 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 had been quite platonic, the part of him that had warmed at her touches and glances all the while, wonders 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 in trouble with every minute he spends in her presence.

Satisfied with their fit, Morgan collects the t-shirts and long-sleeve pull-over shirts Wahya tries on, then points out the last group of shirts they’d selected for him. Going back into the stall, 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 there are no holes down the opposite side of the shirt in which buttons would 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 has come undone - the rubber band breaking when he took 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. “Please help,” he utters quietly.

Morgan stares at him momentarily not sure of what he’s said, and as she takes the sight of him in, 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, for it’s 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 and 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. But 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 quickly and takes 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, not realizing that pressing the two metal pieces together hard wouldn’t break them and is necessary for them to snap together.

Coming to the rescue again, Morgan covers his forefinger and thumb with her own, squeezing until it snaps. Again, as she touches him, she seems oblivious to the effect her touch has on him. He on the other hand, is very much aware of her effect on his heartbeat and nether regions - both of which have risen.

Wahya swallows hard, turning from the open doorway in which they stand with every intention of going back inside the little dressing room, and closing the door to cool down and gather himself to finish what’s turning out to be a painfully torturous clothing session, as quickly as possible.

But Morgan doesn’t get the message and seems to have entirely different plans in mind.

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