Disappointment is a burr in your sock when you are standing in a puddle.
— Kormar proverb
Three hours later, the sting of regret had faded but not gone away. Everything smelled like sausages and sugar, from her hair to her socks. Halis handed over a bag with five sweet sausages wrapped inside. It was for the trip home for a family heading back in the dark instead of staying in town. “Have a good evening!” she said with a false smile.
Her father peered over the grill. “Five more? It was a good night. Think we can sell the last two before everyone crashes?”
It was almost midnight and the din of the festival had faded into pools of drunken laughter and merriment. The cold wind blew down the deserted lane between the games and the food vendors. Across the way, the couple running the bottle game were draping a canvas over their stall just in case it rained.
“Well, keep them running until the herald comes around. You never know.”
Halis nodded and rolled the sausages over. There wasn't much left on the table, only a few bits of jelly and maybe a pinch of brown sugar left on the bottom of the jar.
“Hal! Hal!” Purim ran up with something in his hand. “I made you something!”
Halis smiled at her younger brother. She crouched to bring herself down to his height. “What do you have, Pur?”
“I made you a crown!” He brandished a circle of corn stalks and flowers, loosely bundled into a ring with a large mushroom in the front. It was dripping wet and barely held together with a few threads she suspected he ripped out of his jacket.
“It's beautiful,” she said.
“You said you wanted a crown, I heard it. So I made you one!”
She hugged him tightly. “You are a good brother.”
Purim squirmed free.
“Ew! No hugs!” He set down the makeshift crown on the table. Taking a few steps, he suddenly spun around and then ran to hug her tightly. “Love you!”
Halis sighed with a smile. She would always have her family.
“Could I get two sausages to go?”
Halis froze at the sound of Meram's voice. Trembling, she peeked up past Purim's crown to see Meram on the other side of the table.
Meram's hair was tousled and bunched up. It looked like she had tried to brush it out with her fingers but Halis could see a few leaves still stuck in the brown strands. Her smile was still brilliant and she had a faint blush to her cheeks, probably for reasons more than the cool wind.
Gulping, Halis stood up. “Sure… I'll get those for you.”
Her hands shook as picked up the buns and set the last two sausages along them. Her heart felt heavy as she worked as much jelly as she could on the brush.
She froze, her hand shaking.
“I'm sorry.” Meram said softly. “I didn't realize you were fishing for Rail, not until… well, I'm sorry if you lost your chance. I'm not interested in… him anymore. Well, I never really was but….” She looked bashful. “Sorry. I should have given you the chance.”
Halis gulped and her tongue felt twisted. She tried to speak but the words didn't quite come out. “I wasn't looking for him.”
“Oh.” Meram's smile lit up the night. “I just thought. I mean, you've always been so sweet to me and I wouldn't want anything between us.”
Halis almost burst into tears. She looked down with her blurry vision and fumbled with the brown sugar. It took her three tries before she finally gave up and then just poured the rest over the buns. She burned her fingers on the grill setting them down.
Her chest ached as she looked up. “A-Anything else?”
“Any more of those honey sticks?”
Halis shook her head.
A few moments later and she was handing the paper-wrapped sausages over.
Meram smiled broadly. “I'll see you tomorrow, Halis? Bring some of the honey sticks? I'll buy a bunch for the trip home.”
Halis nodded. “Have a good… evening.”
She fought her emotions as she watched Meram walk away. To distract herself, she reached out and grabbed the crown that her brother had made. It was wet but it reminded her of the time she tried to crown Meram.
Her gaze focused on Meram as the brown-haired woman crossed the aisle while looking in the bag.
Then Meram stopped.
Halis inhaled sharply.
Slowly, Meram turned to look over her shoulder. There was a strange look on her face, confusion maybe.
Halis realized she was staring. With a blush, she ducked behind the table in a pretense of picking up the crown. Her cheeks burned as she used the bottom of her skirt to mop up the moisture from the woven stalks. Fortunately it was just water, not anything else.
When she finally caught her breath and the burn of her cheeks faded, she took a deep breath and stood up.
Meram was standing on the other side of the table.
“Were you looking for me?” Meram asked with a smile.
Halis panicked. She opened her mouth to say something but no words would come out. The seconds passed by and she found herself growing more and more embarrassed. In desperation, she shoved the crown toward Meram. “T-This is for you!”
Meram's smile lit up the night again. She took it and look at it.
“Remember when we were younger? You shoved a crown like this in my throat? I couldn't talk for days after that.”
Halis cringed. “I… I was trying to crown….” Her voice trailed off as Meram lifted the crown and set it down on her tousled hair. Her heart pounded in her chest.
“I think it's beautiful.” Meram looked up as if she could see it. “I always wanted to be royalty, even for a night.”
The world spun and Halis had to grab the side of the table.
Meram's eyes sparkled as she grinned back at her. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”
“I-I have to work.”
Someone kicked her from behind. The canvas fluttered against her back.
Almost dying of embarrassment, Halis cleared her throat. “I can take—”
Another kick. “The night. Take the night,” whispered her mother sharply.
There was a giggle, Purim was back there also.
“I have the night off,” finished Halis.
Meram smiled and her shoulder shook for a moment. Then she tugged her hair back over her ear. “Good, because I think I've been crowned a Harvest Queen and I'm pretty sure I need a queen of my own for the night.”