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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Ready to Stop Now!

Life is hard, there's no denying that. I knew growing up that my life was never going to be easy, and I just accepted it. I will admit that I used to think that all I needed to do was ask my mom or grandma for help, and then my life would be a bit less hard.

At some point, I grew up, and realized that I couldn't do that. I stopped asking my family for help because they didn't have anything to help me with.  Even so, I always believed that one day things would get better. I always believed that one day all the hardships would pay off and I'd get to enjoy life for a while. I still believe that, but...

This just might be the straw that breaks this camel's back! Let me set up the situation for you. It all started when I made the decision to be a stay at home wife and mother. These were my goals in life, and while the majority of people might point a finger at me and judge me because of my decision, I don't think that being a stay at home wife/mother is a crime. I should not be punished, yet that's exactly how I feel. Like I am being punished.

As a result of my decision, I do not have a job, nor do I have any form of income. I got my first job at age 16, and more or less had a job or two until I was 21. Therefore, I did not realize that choosing to stay home would make it harder for me to find a job in the future. However, I haven't worked in so long that even when I apply for a job, I'm not hired because I don't have a work history.

This is the foundation of all my problems. I chose to rely on someone else to support me, but life has not been kind to him either, so we have no money. MOST of the time, I actually don't mind this. Don't get me wrong, if some benevolent Deity offered me a choice between being rich with tons of non money related problems, and being poor with tons of money problems, I'd probably choose to be rich. After all, everyone has problems, so why not have problems AND money?

Yet, I have learned so many things because I'm poor that I know I would never have learned had I been born rich. I am truly grateful that I am who I am. I'm grateful that I've learned the lessons I've learned. I honestly wouldn't change anything..... except for my income. I want to earn money on my terms damnit! I want to support my family using MY skills, not by obtaining some job that I will never care about!

Ok, so by now, it's obvious that my current problem involves money. Here's more behind what happened. In 2003, I was driving my car with a license but without insurance. I was following my friend to a place he knew but I didn't. I didn't have insurance because the car cost us 50.00 to buy and would have cost 100.00 a month to insure. We didn't have that kind of money to waste. (We never do...) I got pulled over for speeding, got a ticket for no insurance. I eventually had my license suspended then revoked because I couldn't pay the 600.00 fine.

In 2008, I was driving our vehicle at the time. It was a van my mom had bought for us for 600.00 (which means that it was practically worthless). I honestly didn't drive it often, but on that particular day, I had no choice. I had to drive my boys to daycare and get to class. I was running late, and it was raining. Taking the bus was not an option at this point because I would have missed my class altogether. So, I made the decision to drive without my license OR insurance. (Again, we were on welfare, how could we possibly afford insurance???) (Also, don't judge me damnit! I know I am not the only one who has ever driven without a license or insurance.)

On this particular street, there's a light every block or two. I had stopped for one light, then slowly approached the next. It turned red suddenly enough that the two cars in front of me stomped on their brakes. I wasn't worried in the slightest because I had more than a car length between me and them. They both came to a full stop, but my brakes decided at that moment to not work. I stepped on them, and NOTHING! I didn't slow down in the slightest!

I ended up rear ending the car in front of me, but after we both pulled over, the driver and I both inspected her car. She had a scratch. I didn't see it, but she assured me that it was there. I told her that I had to get to school, and drove off. I was freaked out because - had I been the one hit - I would have just dismissed the scratch as nothing and went about my day. She - on the other hand - could not leave it at that. She reported it, and I got into trouble for driving without insurance. (That's actually a whole other story, heh heh.)

Get this! I already stated that I didn't have a license at the time, but did the cops, judge, or lawyer appointed by the court care? Nope! They all told me that I can get caught driving without my license as much as I want and I'll just have to pay a fine and have my license suspended (by this they mean that there would be a time frame attached to when I would be able to apply to get my license back).

However, if I was caught driving without insurance just 3 times in a 10 year period, I would be charged with a felony, have to pay a huge fine AND have to serve time in jail! Oh no... the laws are totally not designed to favor the big insurance companies! (Note the sarcasm.)

Anyway, what does this have to do with anything? It happened years ago, right? I have not had so much as a traffic violation since then, plus we had insurance after that - to avoid potential felony charges and jail time (even though we had much better things to spend that 70.00 a month on). Well, that other driver apparently claimed that she got injured. Probably whiplash or something equally as... You know, I do believe that the fear, adrenaline, and sudden wrenching movements of an accident can cause muscular problems, but I was trained as a massage therapist. I do not for one minute believe that treating a case of whiplash should cost 12,000+!

Yep, 12,000 plus. Our state is supposed to be a no fault state. This means that an accident is just that and no one is at fault, but I have been through enough accident in my youth to know that this is not true bordering on a downright lie. The insurance company that belongs to the "victim" always seeks repayment from the insurance company of the one at fault.

In my case, there was no insurance company, so her insurance company is suing US for over 12 thousand dollars! This is just one more demand for money we just don't have! I immediately called the lawyer listed on the paperwork - the only contact number - and told them that this lawsuit is pointless. We have no ability to pay, and so their client will in essence be spending an additional amount of money on a lawsuit in order to obtain money from us that does not exist! I begged them to reconsider. I told them very honestly that:

My hubby and I are both unemployed. We have been on welfare since 2004. (FYI, we have not taken all 60 months of cash assistance that we can get. We have only received cash assistance for 36 months, that is why - for those that know about the 60 month limit - we seem like we've been on welfare longer than legally possible.) We get section 8 rental assistance. My husband currently gets unemployment benefits because he was unfairly fired from his job that he hadworked at for 3 years. (I must point this out because we ARE trying to get off of all public assistance, though I feel like no one believes us. Also, please note that unemployment benefits only last so long and will run out.)

Therefore, we have no "earned" income and the only "unearned" income we get is what the government pays my hubby for his unemployment. The only reason we are not starving out on the streets is that we get rental assistance and food stamps. We literally owe more money than we will probably ever earn, and adding another 12,000 to it just makes me feel hopeless.

Keep in mind that I owe 12,000 on a repossessed car from 2003. My hubby owes more than 35,000 in back child support, and we both have more than 12,000 each in student loans that we will need to repay at some point. Not to mention the various other debts... How will things ever get better unless we win the lottery???

My faith is very low. I honestly do not want to continue living this pointless life. Seriously, as long as I had hope that one day things would get better, I was able to keep struggling and keep going. I had faith that everything would turn out all right in the end, but now I don't. I don't want to commit suicide, I just want my fairy godmother to euthanize me.

My ONLY comfort is that my boys cannot be held responsible for our debts. This means that after they grow up, they will be free of our constant money problems. They will have me there to warn them not to get in any debt. They may actually get to live the life I always hoped I'd get to live one day. A life where there is enough money in our bank account to cover our expenses and feed us without help from anyone. (Especially NOT the government!)

Ok, so I am almost done ranting. The last thing I have to say is this: The response I got to my pleading to have this lawsuit dismissed... I was told that I can make payment arrangements - he refused to explain to me how I can make payments with NO money - or they will place a judgment against us. At that point, they will revoke both our licenses (hubby was not involved in the accident AT ALL, but his license will be revoked too because he owned the car I was driving SMH!), and garnish our wages and taxes until it is paid. I actually laughed. I already don't have a license, and I don't have any wages to garnish. We haven't filed taxes in years because A - we don't make enough to have to pay taxes, and B - we wouldn't get the tax credit back anyway because child support already has a permanent garnishment against our taxes.

SO considering all that, WHAT can we do, I asked? His response... "File bankruptcy."

Ok ok, let me get this straight. INSTEAD of dropping a case that will cost money to pursue and NEVER pay, the lawyers and the insurance company would rather ruin our lives and force us into bankruptcy. We just FINALLY got to the point where all our previous debts - except our student loans and the child support - were almost 10 years old. If we had any money to put down on a loan on a house, we could actually qualify (if we had jobs). But NO! Now we will have to probably file for bankruptcy and then wait another 10 years before a bank would even consider letting us get a home loan. Which means that things really will never get better unless we win the lottery.

So tell me, why am I still alive? I just don't know any more...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Getting Sick... Or Not!

Recently, I boasted to my sister, "When was the last time you seen me get sick?" To which she replied, "When was the last time I saw you?" She has a point in that she rarely sees me, so I changed the question. "Ok, so when was the last time you heard about me getting sick?" I asked this because she was so sure that eating a piece of garlic bread that had been sitting out on the counter overnight would make me violently ill. I wanted it because it was nice and crunchy, and I was in the mood for crunchy. I did not get sick from eating it. My POINT is that I was certain that my boast would actually invoke Murphey's law and I would then get sick from something else. Here it is, almost a week later, and I am still as healthy as can be :-)

Earlier today, I was reading an article about fevers. This reminded me that the last time I did get sick was about this time last year... I think. (I'd have to reread my notes to be sure.) I didn't have a cold or the flu, I just had a fever that lasted about 3 days and I couldn't get out of bed long enough to even make food for my boys. I think that allowing my fever to work through my system untampered with is what kept me from getting sick the entire rest of winter.

Also, my boys haven't been sick in a while either. They got the sniffles for a couple of days last winter, but nothing else. This actually does not make me as proud as one might think. To me, their lack of sickness indicates lack of exposure to those things that make our immune system stronger. This differs from me since I actually do get out and about more often then they do. Plus, I used to get sick constantly when I was younger, so I'm sure my immune system is functioning the way it should.

The reason that I am posting this is that - while most people would probably be overjoyed by not getting sick - I actually hope that me, my hubby, and my boys all come down with a fever soon. Why? Because right now none of us have anything going on, so it's a good time to get sick. Also, a fever is a good test of how well an immune system is working and - much like a test of an alarm to make sure it's working properly - it's a good idea to have one from time to time. Lastly, getting sick now while it's convenient is much better than getting sick later on when we're swamped with errands and running around.

So... how do I contract a fever? I really don't know, and I don't plan to stand outside for an hour in the freezing cold just to catch one. My guess... I'm thinking that it would be best to make some homemade chicken noodle soup and bring it to a friend who is sick, except I don't think I have one of those off hand either. It's a head scratcher to be sure!

Have a happy day :-)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Background

I know it's probably weird that I like to share my backgrounds, but... well... I am weird so whatever! lol!

Currently I am using this as a background:
As you may have noticed, there's a lot of kissing going on in my backgrounds, lol! This is Lina Inverse kissing Zelgadis. In the Slayers anime, Lina is with a man named Gourry, and I think they make a good couple. Plus, I want to see Zelgadis get with Amelia, who is totally in love with him. That said, there's just something about this picture that makes me squeal happily, lol!

Speaking of kissing in backgrounds, heh heh, here's another that I absolutely LOVE!
This is Sakura and Shaoran from Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicles. Sigh... little pink floaty hearts...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why I Consider Milk Sacred

I'm in a strange mood today. I can't seem to write, and nothing looks appealing. I don't want to read, watch TV, not even crochet! So, I'm surfing the net and contemplating life in general. I decided to post something I wrote for a local newsletter because it very concisely states what I believe and why.

Why I Consider Milk Sacred

            Today, I could go to the store and buy a gallon of milk, which is so very ordinary, how could this act possibly be considered sacred? From nearly the dawn of mankind, milk has been considered sacred. Goddesses were depicted as mostly breasts for their ability to create milk. The Vedic religion reveres milk; the Hindu religion considers cows to be sacred for their milk.
The very first defined cultures of humankind, the Sumerians and Babylonians worshipped the cow as a goddess, as did the Egyptians, having both a cow goddess, Hathor, and a cow god, Apis. Even the bible is full of references to the sacredness of milk (and honey). If all that is true, then why do we modern Americans consider milk as nothing more than a commodity at best, and something vile to be avoided at worst?
I believe the difference in sacred milk and modern commercial milk is exactly that; commercialism. At no other point in history was milk ever produced as something other than a vital and sacred nourishment. As people grew larger in population, and congregated in ever larger cities, providing milk for everyone became a logistical nightmare. It is impossible for everyone in a city to own a cow on their own property, so a few industrious people decided to own large herds of cows and sell the milk to city-folk… for a profit.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with earning a profit, but things have been done in the name of making money that could not be considered sacred in the slightest. There is a reason the truly spiritual endeavor to live a life without money; money can corrupt.
After the war of 1812 cut off America’s supply of alcohol from Europe, distilleries soon became a part of every city. It was discovered that the waste product – slop – from the distilleries increased the amount of milk a cow produced, and so cows were kept in lots alongside the distilleries. This slop may have increased the amount of milk, but it made the cows sick, and their milk quality was so bad it could not even be churned into butter. It was good for nothing but selling to the inhabitants of the crowded city.
Unsurprisingly, this “milk” from sick cows caused the people who drank it to fall ill, causing a crisis. Of course, the simple and obvious solution of not feeding cows distillery slop – and keeping them on pasture rather than in lots – was not cost effective, therefore a different solution was needed. Concurrently, in France, a man named Louis Pasteur had a theory about germs, and suggested boiling things to kill germs. This theory was applied to the milk from distillery slop fed cows, and resulted in a decrease in overt illness and death from the consumption of it.
To recap, in an effort to decrease costs and increase profits, the problem of bad milk is created, and then in an effort to solve this problem, pasteurization was employed. Since there were arguably more people in cities drinking bad milk than people in the country drinking milk from healthy animals on pasture, the country grew divided on the subject of milk and pasteurization. Plenty of people, including those who wished to continue profiting from the bad milk, became advocates of pasteurization for all milk.
Many doctors prescribed unpasteurized milk from healthy cows for their patients, and from about the 1890’s to the 1940’s here in America, there existed various medical milk commissions and certified raw milk. Why? Because as people have known for many millennia, milk is good, healthy, and even sacred. Nowadays, people have argued that milk is not meant to be consumed by humans after weaning. Arguments against milk include, “no other animal consumes milk after weaning,” and “no other animal drinks the milk of another species.”
This is only true to a point. Having raised plenty of pugs, I can honestly say that the adult dogs will try to nurse off of a milk producing mama as often as she will let them. I have been told by farmers that the same is true for cows. I reason that it is probably true for most animals, and I also know that pretty much any animal I have ever been around will jump at the chance to drink cow’s milk or cream if given some. I guess that the only reason that they don’t regularly drink milk (their own or another species’) is simply because they haven’t figured out how.
I consider milk to be sacred for many of the same reasons my ancestors did. Milk is full of nutrition, and when it comes straight from the cow (i.e. not pasteurized), it is also full of those things our bodies need for vibrant health (such as probiotics and enzymes like lactase). I consider milk to be sacred because if a person had access to absolutely nothing to consume but an acre or so of grass and a milk cow, that person would survive quite healthily on the milk alone for as long as the cow continued to produce. The same cannot be said if the person ate just the grass…
I consider milk to be sacred because it is. As a friend of mine once said, “There is nothing on this planet that was created for the sole purpose of being food except milk. Absolutely everything else has it own reason for being, sure it may be food to us, but that is not the reason it was created.” I agree.
For a more in depth explanation of how conventional milk comes from sick cows and is pasteurized solely to keep people from getting sick from bad milk - please read The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid. Or visit http://realmilk.com/

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cheri - Part 8

Part 8

“Ando, I think we should stop here,” Chèri stated, sounding exhausted. Their journey to Topaz Region’s Capitol City – locally referred to as Topaz City – had taken close to a month. Additionally, despite being near hounded by bandits for the last week – pretty much from the moment they had crossed into Topaz Region – they’d managed to arrive unharmed with all their belongings. Ando had proven himself a capable bodyguard after all!
“My Lady?” Ando questioned. Chèri never wants to buy food; she far prefers to buy ingredients and make food herself.
“I’m too tired to cook,” Chèri sighed, mostly honestly. Ando shrugged, and tied their horses to a nearby post. The food stall was one of the many outdoor shops found all over the Empire. Even though it was fall, it was still warm enough for everyone to eat their lunch outdoors, but Ando could tell that it was getting a bit too chilly for this to continue much longer.
Chèri ordered a large plate of fried noodles. It was covered in a scrumptious sauce, and had a generous amount of vegetables and goat meat scattered throughout. Chèri moaned in anticipation, sitting at the wooden counter that was part of the cook’s work area.
Ando sat next to her, appreciating the warmth. He was surprised that they were able to sit at the counter considering that this vendor seemed to be completely packed with customers. After traveling in relative silence for so long, the noise of the crowd was almost deafening.
Another new customer pushed against Chèri to make room as Ando ordered a bowl of miso soup. Chèri didn’t protest his rudeness; she was too hungry to care. Instead, she merely snuggled closer to Ando, causing him to blush.
They had literally spent an entire month with their bodies pressed together as they rode the horse – alternating which one carried them and which carried their stuff – so this was no big deal to Chèri. Ando firmly shoved his momentary wild imaginings to the back of his head, and made room for her so that she wasn’t practically sitting in his lap – not that there was much room to be had on the packed bench.
Ando knew it was far too late – he was utterly in love with her. Everywhere she went, she tried to make things better, and he couldn’t help but admire that about her. His admiration made him want to protect her, and that was when he realized that he had fallen for her and hard.
She had no idea; she was oblivious, and had far too much on her mind to notice how he felt. This was for the best because he knew that she still missed the Emperor. He heard her mumble his name as she slept, which actually hurt.
On the nights when they’d had to camp, it was far too cold to sleep separately, so they had gotten used to snuggling together. On the nights when they had an actual bed to sleep in, there was no point in paying for two beds when they already shared their blankets the rest of the time, so they slept together.
It was frustrating! Any other time he had slept with a woman, there had been so much more going on! Ando had a hard time keeping his thoughts clean!
Chèri – on the other hand – knew what people thought about them. She knew that everyone probably assumed that they were married and often enjoyed each other, but she had no idea that Ando had feelings for her. He hid them well, and never tried to kiss or touch her inappropriately. This relieved her greatly because he was literally the one person she could trust and rely on in any situation. She owed him her life several times over!
“The boss ain’t happy,” a man muttered.
“I tried my best! I can’t squeeze money out of people who literally don’t have any!” A second man protested.
“Look, it’s very simple. If someone owes the boss money, they pay. If they can’t, they die.”
Chèri covered a tiny smile with her sleeve. This was why she had chosen to eat at a crowded food stall. Ever since they had entered the region, too many people had whispered and pointedly not complained about their hardships. They were afraid, and she wanted to know why.
The second man paled, and whispered, “You want me to kill innocent women and children?”
Like everyone in the boisterous crowd, Chèri and Ando kept their attention firmly on their food – which had just been served. They dug in, and pretended to ignore the conversation. Thankfully, the two men were also sitting at the counter surrounding the owner of the stall, so they had no problems listening in.
“Yes, anyone who dares to defy the boss!” The first man insisted. He looked like someone who had been in many a fight to the death. His face was covered in small scars, and he was missing at least one finger.
“I can’t kill women… or children…” The second man sounded like he wanted to cry.
“Listen, I like you, so I’m trying to help you here,” the scarred man purred in a smarmy way. “There’s a particular woman coming to Topaz. The boss wants her gone. He wants her to be nothing more than an unpleasant thought, if you catch my drift. That means that any man who handles her for the boss will be rewarded.”
“I see…” the second man still looked like he wanted to cry, but sounded resigned now. “What does she look like?”
“Who knows?” The first man shrugged. “She’s a fancy lady coming all the way from the palace to interfere with the way we run things here. It should be obvious to spot her, just look for a big carriage and an entourage!”
The second man sighed and bit his lip. “When is she supposed to get here?”
“All the boss knows is that she left the Imperial City a month ago. She’s had plenty of time to get here, but no one’s seen hide nor hair of her. I’d wager she was killed by bandits long before she even got close to our region.”
Thank the Gods I decided to pass through the border gates using my simplest identification token! They don’t know where I am because I’ve kept quiet about it!
A third man shifted from a table to the empty seat that opened next to these two. “There’s a rumor going around that a mysterious woman has been traveling from temple to temple. She feeds the people and provides them with entertainment. Everyone assumes that she is nothing more than a traveling performer.”
“So,” the first man grunted. He obviously recognized but didn’t like the newcomer.
“Think about it… Would a traveling performer be able to afford to feed everyone in every temple she came across? What if she’s the lady we’re looking for in disguise?”
The first man stroked his chin in thought. “You have a point. I think we should keep an eye on the temple. If she’s on her way here, she’s bound to show up there sooner or later.”
“I agree,” the third man stated. “Even if she’s not the one, the boss won’t turn down the opportunity to play with her a bit.”
Chèri realized that she was listening to their conversation a bit too intently. She’d forgotten to eat, and still had a third of the food on her plate. The third man was watching her with interest, and though she hadn’t looked in their direction once, she could feel his gaze burning into her.
She tugged on Ando’s sleeve in a very overt way so that everyone could see what she was doing. “Honey, I think the baby doesn’t like this food, I can barely eat.”
Ando quickly held back his astonishment over her statement, and played along. “Do you think you need to see a healer?”
“I don’t know… maybe…” Chèri covered her mouth with a hand, and pretended that she was about to be sick.
“How far along?” The owner of the stall asked with a grin.
“Not far,” Chèri murmured, appearing to concentrate on holding down her lunch.
“Most women feel sick in the beginning,” the owner informed her with a knowing nod. “You should try eating less food more often throughout the day. It’ll help.”
“Thank you,” Chèri replied with a grateful smile.
The owner handed her a cup of tea. “Here, it’s my own special ginger blend. You’ll feel better in no time.”
Chèri nodded, and sipped on the delicious tea. “Honey, how much longer until we get to your mother’s?”
Ando had previously told Chèri that he had been born and raised in Topaz Region – which was one of the reasons he’d been chosen as her guard. He smiled at her, holding one of her hands. She really is a genius!
“My mother lives not too far from here. Cheer up, we’re almost there,” he informed her.
The stall owner frowned. “I thought for sure you two were travelers.”
“Oh we are,” Ando assured him. “I left Topaz several years ago to find a better life. I eventually got married, but then I received word from my mother that she wasn’t feeling well, so we came to visit.”
“Who’s your mother?” The owner asked with a curious smile.
“Junai Jun,” Ando replied with a shrug that said, don’t blame me because she’s my mother.
The owner roared – as did a few others in the crowd who’d heard him. “Junai is your mother?! That old biddy must have been pulling on your heartstrings; she’s as healthy as a horse!”
“And twice as stubborn!” Someone added.
Ando nodded in agreement. “I figured as much, but she is my mother, after all. I figured she’d decide to come to me if I didn’t visit.”
“I’d have paid to see that!” A man teased good-naturedly. “The neighborhood would be so much quieter without her nagging!”
“Honey!” Chèri protested when Ando simply smiled and nodded. “Are you going to let them talk about your mother that way? What if they were talking about me?”
Ando wasn’t sure how to reply. She’s never met my mother! She’ll completely understand once she does…
“Ahh!” The owner made a suggestive sound. “Go on and take your little woman to meet her new mother.”
Ando nodded, and pulled a string of copper coins out of his pocket. There was barely more than he needed to pay for their lunch. Chèri got to her feet, and bowed to the owner.
“Thank you for the delicious food. I’m sorry I couldn’t eat it all.”
“No problem! Feel free to come back here anytime you need some more tea!”
Chèri bowed again, and then slipped her arm through Ando’s. It was a gesture that announced that they were planning to be intimate soon, and she accented it by casting him an adoring look. Oh, if only! Ando thought.
He carefully set her on one horse, and led both horses to his mother’s house. From what they had overheard, this was the safest thing for them to do. He knew his mother would keep their secret, but it would be up to Chèri to decide to trust her with it.
“Thank you for playing along,” Chèri whispered with a grateful smile.
“How could I not?” Ando grumbled. “They pretty much announced that they wanted to kill you.”
His mother lived in a building that she shared with several other people, but her portion of the building was the same as when she had all her children still living at home even though none were. This meant that she had two spare rooms, but there was nowhere to shelter their horses. Ando would have to bring them to a public stables a little later on.
Junai was a busybody, so she often sat looking out her window while she worked on making a quilt or a bit of lace. Today was no different, and as a result, she saw her son arrive. “Ando??? Is that you?!”
“Yes mother!” Ando called out. Chèri had no idea if she could trust Ando’s mother, so she decided to continue their act from moments ago. She smiled happily, and waved at Junai.
“I’m so happy to finally meet you, mother!”
Oh Gods! Ando had to firmly remind himself that Chèri was just acting. It felt far too wonderful to hear her call his mother hers. It felt like they were really married!
He lifted her down from the horse, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m relieved we finally made it!” She announced, and then kissed him.
Eh?! What’s this? My son’s finally brought home a bride! Oh happy day!” Junai shouted for all to hear.
Calm down! CALM DOWN! We’re just acting! Ando’s heart was racing.
“Don’t just stand there, boy, bring her inside!” Junai ordered impatiently. Several of her neighbors were now staring at them out their windows.
“Congratulations Ando!” They all cheered.
“Carry me like a new husband is supposed to,” Chèri demanded in his ear.
Bracing himself for the highly suggestive ordeal, Ando gathered her into his arms, and carried her into the building. I think I’m going to kill her for putting me through this! Even thought it had been days since they last bathed, she smelled intoxicating.
“Ando, my boy!” Junai greeted, gesturing for her son to enter her home – which was at the top of a set of stairs. Ando complied, setting Chèri on her feet. Junai hugged each enthusiastically, and then shut the door.
Her grin vanished, and muttered quietly. “So, care to tell me what’s really going on?”
I should have known! Ando mentally muttered to himself.
“What do you mean, mother?” Chèri persisted.
“Oh come now!” Junai still spoke quietly, but with oomph. “I know my son was assigned a pretty high rank in the Imperial Guard, yet suddenly, he’s given it up to bring a wife to live here? I don’t buy it!”
Chèri’s lips twisted in an appreciative smile. “Well then, what do you think is going on?”
Junai grinned in return, already liking this pretty young thing her son had dragged home. “I think that’s it’s no mere coincidence that a woman was appointed our new Regional Director, and a month later, an Imperial Guard shows up on his mother’s doorstep with a new ‘wife.’”
Chèri nodded in agreement, but pointed at the door and stated loudly – because she could tell that there were people in the hall waiting to see if the happy couple would emerge for well wishes – “There’s more great news! We’re expecting!”
Junai tilted her head in a gesture of understanding, and decided to play along until they could be certain they wouldn’t be overheard. “Finally! I’m going to have a grandchild!” She bellowed knowing full well that people were used to hearing her do so.
“I’m going to bring our belongings inside, and then I’m going to bring the horses to a nearby stable,” Ando announced, finding it hard to keep up the act.
Chèri nodded, standing next to him as he opened the door. She smiled and waved at the neighbors, all of whom took the opportunity to congratulate Ando and pat him on the back. Ando played his part graciously, but Chèri could tell that it was starting to get to him.
Women started to bring over bits of food to welcome Chèri, and she chatted with them – exchanging recipes – while Ando accomplished his goal. The women found out that she was “expecting,” and regaled her with stories of their own pregnancies and births. All in all, Chèri was having so much fun, that she almost forgot this was all just pretend.
Ando returned a while later, and had no idea how to evict the posse of chattering women from his mother’s home. He cleared his throat purposefully. Chèri looked up, and pretended to cover a blush.
“Oh my,” she giggled. “I think I’d like to be alone with my husband now. He seems to have need of me.” Spending time working on Kiki’s accounts had given her enough exposure to polite innuendo that she was able to give everyone the wrong impression pretty easily.
Her guests all gasped as if it should have been obvious that the newlyweds would want to be alone. They all spouted sudden excuses – a need to make dinner, a remembered errand – so that they could politely leave. They all cast Ando admiring glances, and he surmised that they thought Chèri was lucky to have him. He covered a blush.
The moment they were alone with his mother, he exhaled in relief.
Chèri smiled, and strode into the kitchen. Before they could do anything else, she needed time to think, and cooking always helped her think!
“I like her,” Junai whispered confidentially to her son. “Any chance you could marry her for real?”
“No…” he sighed in depression. “The Emperor himself would kill me.”
“I see…” Junai muttered. “Too bad!”


“It’s been two months since she left! Why the hell hasn’t she arrived yet?!” Reiki demanded. Ran and Ko both knew full well who he referred to.
“Maybe it’s not safe for her,” Ran suggested.
“The Regional Palace should be completely safe! Inside it, she’ll have guards and Officials to help her.” Reiki realized that he was pulling on his hair in frustration, and forced himself to stop.
He crossed his arms on his table, and buried his face in them. “What if I sent her to her death?”
Ko sighed, and shifted uncomfortably. Reiki didn’t need to see this to know that Ko was hiding something. The Emperor pierced his bodyguard with an inquiring stare.
Ko tried to maintain an uncomfortable silence for a few more moments, but then sighed again, and cracked. “This is strictly confidential, mind you, but my father reports that a woman bearing the Ruby family crest withdrew money from the Topaz Capitol City’s Money Guild 2 days ago. The Guild maintains messenger birds just like the government does, so this information is pretty much straight from the source.”
“So she’s alive!” Reiki exhaled in relief.
“Unless someone killed her and now has her identification tokens,” Ran suggested, thinking over all the possibilities. Reiki glared at him, and Ko smacked him up the backside of his head.
“Well,” Reiki contemplated the possibility. “Was it a lot of money?” Surely a thief would try to obtain as much as they could get.
Ko shook his head. “No… she withdrew a single gold coin.”
Ran laughed. “A woman asking for a single gold coin! She was sending us a message!”
Reiki nodded. “Yes; that she’s alive, that she’s there, and that she doesn’t need anything from us.”
“That reminds me,” Ran murmured absently. “I received a report this morning from the soldier you sent to look for her. I was so preoccupied with other things that I forgot about it until now.”
Reiki glared at Ran again. This report would have been helpful earlier! Ran cleared his throat, withdrew the report from his pocket, and opened it. The seal was still intact, so they knew it hadn’t been tampered with.
“As I searched for Lady Shurin Ruby, I could find no trace of her, except that someone by the name of Shurin passed through each of the regional gates. She was accompanied by one Ando Jun, so I knew it was her. None of the inns recall ever seeing anyone matching their description. I had better luck once I arrived in Topaz City. There is still no mention of Lady Ruby, but Ando Jun is easy to find. Him and his new wife Chèri – which is spelled wrong,” Ran smirked. “Are the talk of the locals. They spend their days chatting with commoners and are apparently expecting their first child. It is my conclusion that she is the missing Director, and that both have abandoned their duty.”
Ran sighed and then examined the letter for hidden clues. Finding none, he continued. “This arrived from the Regional Palace by messenger bird this morning.”
Reiki wore a tight smile. “I think that soldier will probably send a different report once he’s had a chance to look the situation over more carefully. Think about it, he said that she’s talking to commoners, right? Well, that’s what Chèri does! The rest has to be part of her disguise.”
Ran tilted the message in the light to read it better. “Wait there’s a scribbled out sentence that’s hard to read. Rumor… murder… Director… Hmm, I think it says that there’s a rumor demanding the murder of the Director.”
Ko nodded. “That makes sense. She can’t just show up, people are looking to kill her.”
Reiki had to push all thoughts of her aside so that he could concentrate on his other work. Knowing that she was likely in danger of being killed only made things 10 times worse. At this point, he half wished that she had married Ando and abandoned her duty. At least in that scenario, she might return to the Imperial City safely one day.


It was the coldest part of winter, but Chèri felt like she was on fire with purpose. She was surrounded by a crowd of people – men and women who huddled together for warmth as they listened to her. This was the first time people had dared to openly come listen to her, so, it was the first time that she was shouting out what she had to say for all to hear. Until now, she had merely whispered to this person or that.
A man stood up to protest. “Why should we risk our lives? It’s all the fault of that damned woman, the Regional Director! If she would just show up and do her job already, we wouldn’t have to worry anymore!”
“Just what exactly do you think the Regional Director can do?” Chèri demanded passionately.
“She can arrest that man!” A woman shouted in return.
“And then what? Will you stand up to testify against him? Without any evidence and no one willing to testify, she would just have to let him go again!” Chèri insisted truthfully.
“But you’re asking us to take a stand!” A different man protested. “The only reason any of us are alive is because we keep quiet and do what we are told! If we so much as think of defying him, we’ll be killed!”
“He can’t kill everyone at the same time,” Chèri pointed out. “If we all stand together, he’ll have no choice but to back down. If we all vow to testify against him, the Regional Director will be able to convict him of his crimes!”
“That, my pet, is a very troubling statement indeed,” a new man informed her with a deadly smile. “So… you are the woman whispering nonsense to rile up the rabble.”
Chèri cast a significant look at Ando. This was the moment they had been waiting for, and as much as he hated the plan, he had agreed to go along with it. He flung his arms out and stood in front of her.
“Stay away from my wife!” Ando yelled.
The dangerous stranger laughed. His laugh was echoed by about a dozen men who pushed their way into the middle of the crowd. Every one of them – except the leader – held metal rods.
“What kind of man stands quietly by as his wife talks herself into danger?”  The deadly looking leader asked. Chèri was pretty sure by now that he was the boss of the organized crime in Topaz Region, and the man that wanted her – the Director – dead.
Finally, he shows himself! “I’m not afraid of you! The worst you can do is kill me! If you do, you’ll only be proving me right!”
He laughed as if she had just told the funniest joke he had ever heard. He started to tsk. “Ah… my pet, I can do so much more than kill you. By the time I’m done, you’ll be begging for it.”
Chèri couldn’t stop a shiver of apprehension from running up her spine. The strangest thing about this man was that he looked and sounded just a tiny bit like Reiki. I have to concentrate on the plan!
“Didn’t you all hear him? Will you really be comfortable letting him get away with that? He only has power if we let him! Stand up! Tell him no! Tell him he can’t steal all of your money and then kill you when you run out! If we let him continue as he is, eventually there will be no one left!” Chèri shouted fervently.
The boss tilted his head towards Chèri in an order to his men. They responded by coming towards her menacingly, tapping their rods against their palms. Chèri stood her ground, placing a palm on Ando’s shoulder as he stood in front of her.
“I’m sorry Ando,” she whispered, and he nodded. He started defending them from their attackers, but they quickly overwhelmed him. No one tried to help him, but he and Chèri could tell that people wanted to. They simply couldn’t overcome their fear.
Why did I let her talk me into this? Ando mentally sighed as he curled into a ball to protect his body as they kicked him. They didn’t waste much time on him, since Chèri was their real target.
“Do not touch me!” Chèri screamed as one of the henchmen grabbed her. “Put me down! How dare you?! Didn’t your mother ever teach you how to respect a woman?!”
The boss was laughing again. “I’m going to enjoy breaking you!”
Chèri was hanging over the henchman’s shoulder, and she beat on his back with her fists. She pushed herself up until she could see the crowd. Everyone was trying hard not to watch her. They all looked guilty and on the verge of tears.
“How dare you?! You are my friends! Are you really just going to let him take me away like this?! Stand up to him! Don’t let him do this to me!”
Woman buried their faces against their men’s chests, and men stood with their fists clenched, but no one dared look her in the eye or move a muscle. They all felt terrible. It was true that she had befriended almost everyone in her short time here.
The boss roared with laughter until Chèri wanted to be sick. “You’re wasting your breath! There’s not a spine to be found among the lot of them. They are nothing more than sheep for me to use until I send them off to slaughter!”
A rock landed in the middle of the boss’ forehead.
“Who threw that?!” He demanded furiously.
Men and women alike threw their fists in the air, and roared the frustration and anger. “Get him!”
Chèri had chosen a large square for her speech hoping to attract as much attention as she could, and it seems like her plan had worked. Everyone was so focused on what was going on right here that no one had paid attention to what was going on around the square. A loud horn blasted everything into silence.
“Nobody move!” The man in charge of the local militia commanded. “This entire area is surrounded!”
The boss gaped incredulously at the soldiers who were surrounding the square. They were packed so tightly that no one could get through without a serious fight. He looked uncertainly towards the henchman who still carried Chèri.
“You there!” The commander pointed at the boss. “The loudmouth blathering on about sheep. You seem to be the man in charge, so, I hereby charge you with attempting to kidnap the Regional Director!”
“That’s preposterous!” Boss man screamed indignantly. “I’ve never even seen the bitch!”
Chèri lifted her head again; she had taken a break from her indignant screaming to watch her plan unfold. “Did I forget to tell you? I am Shurin Ruby of Clan Ruby; the first female Official and Regional Director of the Topaz Region. The fact that your thug here is holding onto me is proof that you are indeed trying to kidnap me!”
Boss man looked and sounded like a fish out of water as he tried to think of a way out of this situation. He looked around to find an opening, and watched his men huddle together in the middle of the crowd. They all contemplated the merits of taking hostages.
Chèri didn’t bother to ask to be put down, though the henchman holding her seemed to be just as bewildered as the rest of them. “As Regional Director, I hereby place you and all your henchmen under arrest. If you put me down now and surrender quietly, I promise a fair trial, but if you continue to resist…”
The commander took over for her. “Men, remember, you have orders to kill anyone who tries to flee!”
There was a heavy silence as every single person in the square tried to wrap their heads around the situation. For the astonished bystanders, this was a complete shock! Imagine, we’ve been complaining about the Regional Director all this time, and here she’s been trying to help us all along!
The henchmen looked to their boss as he finally decided that he would rather die than be captured. An insane glint settled in the boss’ eyes as he looked at Chèri. She knew that he was about to make the worst possible decision, and that it was time to play her final card.
“Ando! Now please!”
Ando had been pretending unconsciousness on the ground, and was now in the middle of the boss and his henchmen. He stood – having suffered no real damage from their earlier attack – and held a knife at the boss’ throat. The gesture was no mere threat, and Ando drew a small line which immediately began to bleed.
“I am Ando Jun, a high ranking Imperial guard assigned to protect the Regional Director. I distinctly heard my Lady arrest you. I suggest that you give up now while you still have your life!”
The boss tensed in order to fight, and Ando slit his throat hard enough for the knife to break through his windpipe. “Anyone else want to resist?”
The henchman holding Chèri slowly set her on her feet, and held up his hands. The dead body of his boss had made the threat of death all too real. His comrades were all smart enough to realize that they were outnumbered, and had no chance of escape. Death didn’t look as appealing as they’d first thought.
“Commander, I think they’ll come along quietly now. I’d appreciate if we wrap this up quickly so that you can escort me to the Regional Palace. It’s about time I officially take up office, don’t you think?”
“As you wish, my Lady!” The Commander agreed with a deeply respectful bow.
Soldiers took custody of the criminals while Chèri walked through the crowd. “It’ll be all right now,” she assured them, patting people on the arm or gently squeezing their hands. “Things’ll get better now. Thank you all for finally standing up! I could not have done this without you!”
The Commander gestured for Chèri and Ando to follow him, and she stood gazing at the crowd for one moment more. “I promise you all that I will do my best to be a good Director.” She placed her fist in her palm, and bowed to the crowd in general before she turned to follow her soldiers.
The stunned audience finally found their voice. “My Lady!” They cried out. “Thank you for stopping him!” As one, they bowed to her.
Chèri nodded happily, and felt like she had truly earned their respect. It may have taken her a while, but she had finally made a start. She stepped into her new residence, stopped, and placed her hands on her hips.
“Hey, Ando?”
“Yes, my Lady?”
Chèri brushed aside mild frustration that he had already stopped calling her by name. “I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”
Ando laughed. “Yes! And I could use a cup of tea!”
Chèri laughed. “To the kitchen it is then!”

Go To Part 9 

Charts and Readings