Of Mutual Benefit

“...and that’s how I wound up here,” Sy finished. Her tea had gone cold and her voice was getting a bit hoarse. Lucia and she were sitting in the lounge room. Like most of the public spaces, the room was decorated with a wide variety of flowers, their DNA sculpted to produce the most fantastic colors and patterns of luminescence. They were sitting in two scarlet armchairs, both more comfortable than their square appearances suggested, and two white cups stood on the small round glass table between them.

For a long time, Lucia did not speak. She looked pensive, a well-worn wrinkle creasing her forehead. Sy was about to ask her for her thoughts when she spoke. “You have had a difficult life. I admire your fortitude.”

Sy snorted. “Ahw, y’know, ‘s noth-”

“But you let your emotions get the best of you, with alarming frequency,” Lucia continued without pause. “Meditation would serve you well. If we are to work together long term, I would advise you to hone your spirit as well as your mind and body. When all three are in balance, you can perform at your peak.”

Sy felt slightly offended as well as skeptical and intrigued, a combination she couldn’t conceal. The open display of complex emotions caused the corner of Lucia’s mouth to twitch with the barest ghost of a smile. “You demonstrate the need for my advice.”

“Oh shut up, you don’ know me jus’ cause I told you some shit that’s happened t’me!” Sy snapped, her nostrils flaring. She began to get to her feet, but stopped herself halfway through. Lucia just looked at her and slightly raised one eyebrow. She and Sy locked eyes and for a few seconds, the air between them seemed electrified. Then Sy retreated back into herself. Her head slunk onto her shoulders, her legs buckled and she slumped down in her chair with a thump. “Sorry,” she said begrudgingly. “I don’ like feelin’ judged.”

“I apologize, too,” Lucia offered, though her voice was still as flat as when she gave her advice in the first place. “I should refrain from giving advice unrequested. And you are more level-headed than many others would under the same circumstances.” She caught Sy’s glance and held it. “However, I stand by what I said. I believe you may have great potential. If you let me, I may be able to help unlocking it.”

Sy looked at her for a long time. She couldn’t tell whether Lucia was offering coaching or a cult membership. “What’s in it fo’ you?” she asked finally.

“You may remember from your life before the slums that on occasion, people just want to help others without ulterior motives.” Lucia seemed to realize that she was being patronizing and held up her palms in apology. “But you are correct here. I feel out of balance recently, and I think expanding my social circle may help address that issue.”

“So… you train me an’ make me some sorta zen master, an’ in return… I gotta be yo’ friend?” Sy asked skeptically, but Lucia nodded with that maddening little smile. “Includin’ me, how many friends you got anyway?” Sy tilted her head. This was something she was genuinely curious about, considering this amazon of a woman did not seem like someone you’d go clubbing or watch a movie with. Lucia’s smile turned wan. “Including you… One.”

Sy made a face between pity and disbelief. “Seriously? I mean, if anythin’, I’d be thinkin’ guys’d flock to you! Not gonna lie, and ma bad if I’m steppin’ here, but you hot, woman!”

Lucia chuckled. It was the closest to an actual laugh she’d come their entire conversation, but there was a sadness in it, too. “I have the occasional partner,” she said. “For some reason, however, they all seem to consider me too… intense.”

Sy bit back a sly response and got to her feet instead. “Well, I can do with a little discipline, intense or not. An’ you can do with a friend. Maybe I can introduce you to a few of my own friends, too, if you up fo’ that.” She held out a hand, which shook slightly, but when she locked eyes with Lucia she saw an uncanny warmth in her smile. At least she’s not a robot, Sy thought with some relief. Lucia stood up as well and took Sy’s outstretched hand. Her hands were soft but her grip was very firm indeed, and Sy didn’t shake too long for fear of being pulled off balance.

“Nice to meet’cha, Lucia Trandilli.”

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