The snake-faced woman can greet a lover’s wife with an easy smile and open arms.
— Mineris Tormdot, Fear and Roses
When the midday bell rang out across the city, Lily jumped at the sudden sound. The district bell tower was only a few blocks away, and the deep tones shook the floor and rattled the windows. A second peal of the bells ran out before the first tremors had faded.
Lily glanced at a wine glass on the corner of her sewing table. The pink wine rippled with the bell’s vibrations. A third peal caused it to slosh up against the side of the glass and a few specs of dust floating on top bobbed with the movement.
The bell rang out again for the fourth, late morning. She nodded to herself and picked up the glass. That would give her two more hours until the fifth or midday bell.
The city bells rang out again.
Lily’s eyes widened as she watched the ripples across the pink liquid. “It can’t be that late,” she muttered before slamming down the glass and hurrying over to the door between her workshop and the front of the store. She peered past the frame into the brightly-lit street outside.
The shadows were narrow arrows pointing down from the unlit sconces and alcoves across the street. There were very few people walking outside. The two people she saw had umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat. Their feet were obscured by the wavers of heat rising from the cobblestones.
She was just about to breathe a sigh of relief when a carriage pulled up in front of her store. She recognized it as Hasan’s with a sinking sensation.
Glancing back, she looked at the dark purple fabric on her cutting table. She had almost figured out how to make everything work. Just a few more hours, that’s all she needed to make it beautiful but she would lose her momentum if she left it for lunch.
She sighed and turned back the carriage. She couldn’t dismiss the ride, not since it was her idea to meet with his wife. The impulsive idea she had to stay near Hasan but keep him at arm’s distance felt foolish now. Already, she found herself remembering how his hand felt up against her womanhood or the way his lips tingled against her own.
Lily moaned and ducked her head. “What was I thinking?”
Part of her said she did the right thing by pushing him away, but the vulnerable side still warmed at the simple fact that Hasan still wanted her. In his eyes, she was attractive and desirable, not a kudame being shuffled out of High Society. To return to being nothing more than a cast off woman on the edges of Society was terrifying.
She sighed, the flush of being desired stirring in her thoughts and eroding her duty to finish Nirih’s dress. She should work but she needed Hasan just as much.
Turning back, she gathered up her things and headed to the front.
The driver held open her door and bowed his head. He was a younger man, in his mid-twenties, with a black suit, matching gloves, and polished shoes. His suit was well-tailored but she wasn’t familiar enough with the tailors in the city to guess who made it. He said, “Good afternoon, Kudame Lily de… dea Kasin. I am to here to escort you to Tasor Hasan and Mindil da Kasin.”
Lily felt a brief surge of jealousy at the use of the tasor title, a married couple. The driver seemed to have emphasized the word and she wondered if he knew what Hasan was doing inside.
Blushing already, she nodded to the driver and let him guide her to the carriage.
The drive to the restaurant was short. When they stopped, she looked out the window to The Golden Waves, a mid-scale restaurant known for lightly fried fish and excellent grilled vegetables. It was a good choice, but not unexpected knowing Hasan’s attention to details. He had an interest in food that she didn’t remember from before, in their dinners together, he had commented on the texture and flavors.
The driver held open the door and offered a hand. She took it, holding her flowing skirt with one hand as she stepped down from the carriage.
The outside chairs were filled with the full range of middle class society, elegant folk wearing beautiful outfits while they drank and were seen. There was a sea of pastel pinks, greens, and blues with the black and dark blue suits of the men peppered among the tables. Many of the diners took long, slow drinks of their teas or held their forks as they spoke. It was measured, graceful, posed. She could see how they played to the audience of pedestrians who glanced over with thinly veiled envy.
As Lily walked toward the door, there was a subtle ripple of movement. She only caught it in the corner of her eye, but she saw women tilting their head away and the men averting their eyes. They were turning their backs on her, those who knew she was now a kudame.
In the back of her mind, she could name everyone who looked away from her. They were the women who used to giggle at parties with her when they were younger. Later, some of them had brought their daughters to Lily for the unimportant functions, a pity purchase of a dress for the forgotten woman. The men were also looking away from her but not before they looked at her from head to toe before their eyes flickered away. To them, she was cursed and forbidden.
Tears started to fill her eyes, but Lily forced herself not to shed them. She couldn’t cry anymore, there wasn’t anything to miss. She lifted her chin slightly and strode to the front door, pausing only a mere second before one of the wait staff opened it for her.
She glanced over the audience, dreading sitting out in the sun with the others, but she didn’t spot Hasan. Instead, she noticed a waiter standing near the door who made a gesture for her to enter.
Despite her attempts not to cry, she almost broke down at the effort. She was surprised that Hasan would have granted her the courtesy of being seated away from an audience, he seemed always more focused on her to be aware of her struggles.
She lifted her chin and strode forward, grateful that she could enter the restaurant with some measure of dignity. It hide the fluttering of her nervousness as the imminent meeting with Mindil loomed over her. She wondered what Hasan’s wife looked like or even acted. Would she be sweet? Dismissive?
The waiter led her down a narrow hallway to a larger room in the back of the restaurant. It was far away from the glass windows and close to the kitchen. Unlike the front tables, there were only a few couples and foursomes scattered among the tables.
Lily didn’t spot Hasan until the waiter brought her around a thick post and a trellis filled with decorative plants. At first, she thought he was bringing her out the back door but to her surprise, there was a table set up in a private niche.
“Lily!” said a woman as she stood up. Her voice was clear and vibrant, confident. It was also far more informal than Lily suspected. There was no “dea Kasin” or “kudame,” just her first name. It was surprising, strangers never used only first names when greeting each other.
Before Lily could recover from her surprise, she was pulled into a tight hug. Mindil didn’t have the false hesitation that many Society women gave when embracing, nor did she give the feather-light touch to guide someone to the right position. Instead, she just wrapped her arms around Lily’s waist and pull her tight. Her bountiful breasts pressed up under Lily’s, pushing them up in the embrace.
Despite the firmness of the hug, it wasn’t constraining or tight. It was soft, like Lily’s favorite stuffed animal. She relaxed in the embrace, the memories of happier times blending in with the surrealism of embracing Hasan’s wife. Automatically, she took a deep breath and drew in Mindil’s fruity scent. Mindil wore a Kormar perfume that Lily couldn’t quite place.
“By the Couple,” Mindil said after a moment. She pulled back until their bodies were still touching but no longer grinding. Her hands slipped to Lily’s hip. “You are as beautiful as I remembered.”
Lily gulped and forced her attention on the woman holding her. It felt strange, as if she was pinned, and a flutter of heat radiated from the fingertips that resting right on the bone.
Mindil was shorter than Lily by about a foot. She had a curly hair that bobbed with every shift of her body. The dirty blonde strands contrasted with the soft blue with a hint of green that pooled in her eyes. She had a second chin and a broad, inviting smile.
“Like what you see?” Mindil said in a low, playful voice.
Blushing hotly, Lily realized she was being rude. She gulped and glanced down, past the swell of Mindil’s breasts and belly. Her attention focused on Mindil’s dress. It was out of place, a deep red in a sea of early season pastels. Seeing neat, almost invisible, stitching along the seams of the red and white fabric, Lily guessed it had been expertly made in last year’s style. Lily’s gaze followed the lines of seams and fabric, picking out places where the dress had been adjusted to fit a wide body while deemphasizing the swell of her belly or the softness of her hips. Lily couldn’t see even a hint of a corset or shaping underwear.
The unfettered woman in front of her was exotic compared to the countless women that entered Lily’s dress. She looked free and happy. There was only a hint of society’s chains on her outfit, less on her body and smile.
Lily licked her lips and glanced up.
Mindil grinned and raised an eyebrow. “Lily?”
Stunned, Lily tried to remember what the question was.
“Do you like what you see?”
“Y-You’re… you look…” She didn’t know what to say. She gulped. “You’re beautiful.”
Mindil’s smile could have lit up the room with magic. “Oh, by the Divine Couple, thank you! I was a little nervous, myself. None of my spring dresses felt right but I figured you wouldn’t mind something out of season.”
Lily cringed and glanced around. They weren’t obscured by the trellis and half the back room could see her. To her surprise, no one even looked at her at Mindil’s loud exclamation.
“I can see why Hasan has been talking about you all week. You are still gorgeous.”
A blush on her cheeks, Lily glanced at Mindil who was smiling broadly. She tensed and then glanced back at the trellis, wondering about the people beyond it.
Mindil tugged her toward the table. “Don’t worry, no one can hear me if I don’t want them to.”
The puzzling words drew Lily’s attention fully back. “W-What?”
“My talent. I can’t be overhead. I could scream at the top of my lungs and no one would even bat an eye.”
Hasan, looking a bit uncomfortable, stood up as Lily approached. “She’s done it more than once. It also prevents people from looking at her when she’s threatening me with an umbrella.”
“And you should have never brought that cat into the house. I—” Mindil kept speaking, her red lips moving, but Lily couldn’t hear a word.
Lily stared in surprise. Mindil was like an illusion that advertised services in the richer parts of the Crafters’s District. Unable to hear the words, she stared at Mindil’s lips. Like her dress, it was the wrong color for the season but it matched the dress. She had a full mouth, one that was curved into an easy smile.
“—of course, I just wanted Lily to see how my talent works.”
Lily jumped and blushed. “S-Sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be. Hasan has heard enough of me already. Come, I bet you skipped out on breakfast because you went to work so early.”
“I-I… yes.” Lily wondered how Mindil knew.
Lily went to sit down on a seat across from Hasan but Mindil’s firm hand guided her closer to Hasan, sitting her down in the chair that Mindil had been sitting. Their knees touched and the electric surge between them brought a flicker of heat.
Shocked, Lily looked guilty at Hasan who had a blush on his own cheeks.
Mindil sat down next to Lily, her own thighs brushing against Lily’s through her thin dress. She sat just far enough that they weren’t squished together but Lily could feel the presence of husband and wife on both sides of her. It left her feeling vulnerable but also overwhelmed.
The rest of the restaurant seemed to fade away with the intimacy of their closeness.
A strand of Mindil’s curly blonde hair clung to the woman’s face until she hooked it over her ear. “I can’t believe how beautiful you are. And your dress! It’s amazing. You must tell me who…”
Lily blushed and smiled, still trying to regain her wits.
“You did, didn’t you? And this stitching, did you do it yourself?” Mindil tugged on the bottom of Lily’s dress, drawing it up to her knee and ran her thumb across the embroidery. “You really did amazing work.”
“I… I made it.” Lily shivered as her heart beat faster.
“You did a fantastic job. I can’t believe I haven’t heard about your shop before a few weeks ago.”
Mindil favored her with a brilliant smile. She drew Lily’s hem away from her thigh. “Hasan said you can change fabric colors, right? I have never seen this shade before.”
Fighting a heat fluttering through her, Lily reached down and rested her hand on her thigh to keep the dress from being pulled higher. While she didn’t dare pull it from Mindil’s hand, she didn’t want to be rude either. There was something intense about Mindil’s fingers that matched her husband’s gaze.
Lily glanced at Hasan who was staring down at her exposed thigh. She felt excited by his desire and a tremble coursed through her body. Her plans to stay near Hasan but separated was quickly crumbling with Mindil’s enthusiasm.
Hasan lifted his gaze and they stared into each other’s eyes for a moment.
“Could you show me?” asked Mindil, breaking the mood.
“The color magic? Please? I’d love to see it.”
Fighting the urge to glance at Hasan, Lily looked around for something to demonstrate her magic. She spotted Mindil’s dress. It was the wrong color for the season and would be a perfect example. She held out her hand. “May I?”
Mindil answered by gently capturing Lily’s wrist and pulled it down to press her palm against her thick thigh. It was soft and hot under her touch. It was also far more intimate than Lily would have ever suggested.
Lily froze for a moment.
“Oh,” Mindil released her grip. “I’m sorry, that was—”
“No, no,” Lily gasped, “it’s okay.”
Mindil smiled broadly. “I didn’t mean to be so forward. It’s just…” The smile faded for a moment. “Please?”
Lily took a deep breath but kept her hand along Mindil’s skin. She concentrated for a moment and then let her magic flow through the fabric. Color flooded through the fall colors, changing them into spring in a wave of power. Each flower became a contrast between orange and green but then Lily’s power swirled into each one to tint them with different hints of yellows and whites.
When the flood of colors reached her chest, Mindil arched her back and stared down at her ample breasts as the flood swirled over them. Her smile came back redoubled, a brilliance as she cupped one breast and then the other. Lily couldn’t help but notice Mindil’s nipples were hard and denting the fabric just below the collar.
It only took a minute before the dress was completely altered.
Feeling encouraged, Lily reached out and caressed Mindil’s hat. The magic flooded through the fabric and feathers, coloring them to match. She started to lower her hand when she caught Mindil watching her. There was a look of something intimate in the other woman’s eyes, a joy as intense as her husband’s.
Her throat was dry, but Lily didn’t pull her hand back. Instead, she ran her fingers along Mindil’s hair. Her fingertips caressed along the smooth nape of Mindil’s neck for just a moment.
Lily’s chest felt tight as she let a bit of magic seep from her fingers and into the hair. She kept most of the hair blonde but she colored the tips to match the exact shade of the hat. It was an exotic style, one that came from the southern countries but it seemed to be perfect for the woman in front of her.
Mindil’s lips parted slightly. A moan, felt more than heard, rose up.
Lily pulled away, unfamiliar with the reason her chest was so tight or why her heart was beating so fast.
Reaching down, Mindil picked up one of the spoons and looked at herself. Her eyes shimmered for a moment. “It’s… beautiful!”
She tossed the spoon down and reached over to hug Lily tightly. “Thank you!”
This time, Lily was prepared and she hugged the woman tightly.
Mindil pulled back with a wry smile. “Almost perfect.”
Lily gulped. “What?”
“Think you could change my lips?”
Lily’s heart thudded loudly. She looked at the orange lipstick. For some reason, she hesitated before she slowly lifted her thumb. Gently, she slid it along Mindil’s lips and colored it to match the dress.
Mindil let out a deep breath, her body growing hot against Lily.
For a moment, Lily didn’t want to pull her thumb away. She found herself staring into Mindil’s eyes, searching for a response but finding the same overwhelm intensity looking back at her. She gulped and licked her own lips before finally drawing her hand away.
The curvy woman inspected herself in a spoon again. “You are amazing.”
Mindil set down the spoon, this time more carefully. “I can see why Hasan really likes you.”
Hasan’s leg along Lily’s thigh tensed. “Min!”
Lily blushed. She clutched the edge of the table.
Mindil winked as she continued. “When he heard you were getting put into some nasty house, he pulled a lot of corners to get you the brownstone. I think he used some of our money to get you a better place. He won’t tell me, but I know that he did.” She winked at Lily.
When Hasan didn’t respond, Lily wondered if Mindil was obscuring her words.
“I was planning on being furious with him but seeing you again and hearing about what happened? I’ll forgive him.”
Behind her, Hasan leaned closer. “If you are talking to her without me—”
Mindil grinned but didn’t react to him. “He is a good Kasin, you know. A good family man and loyal beyond belief. A little obsessive, though.”
Lily knew that Hasan’s interest was more than just serving the family. She ducked her head.
Hasan exhaled. “Don’t mute me, Mindil.”
“Why not, Has?”
“Because she… she…” Hasan stammered.
“Don’t worry, she needs our help. No bedame should be left alone like this, I agree. In fact, you should consider having dinner a few nights a week with her.”
Lily tensed, her lips parting with shock.
Against her thigh, Hasan tensed.
Mindil smiled at her and the warm look sent a pang of heat rippled through Lily. “No one should be alone, don’t you think?”
Unable to come up with a reply, Lily was grateful when the waiter came to deliver appetizers.