Everyone loves Khex and everyone wants to be invited. I don't mind that in the slightest—this is about him, after all. I want him to have a send-off he'll never forget. So Lucy and I (via messages) organize dishes to be served and what everyone will bring. I coax the local pub to sell me a small barrel of Khex's favorite brew and bring it over to Lucy's homestead the day before. The night before the party I stay up all night, specially spicing the “shitty pretzels” that Khex has grown addicted to and sewing block letters onto a homemade banner. Rektar had to translate and write out things for me and I've been assured the banner reads "GOOD LUCK KHEX" in the Homeworld script.
This party will be perfect.
I cry the entire time I work on the banner, so miserable that it feels unbearable. I'm losing more than my best friend. I'm losing everything.
It's a fantastic party.
I'm impressed at how Lucy and Ash pulled everything together. It seems like all of Port is here to send me off. I'm hugged by so many human women of various ages who I've helped out over the years. Sinath and Ainar grab me by the shoulders over and over again, making me drink brews and promising that I'll send them comms and snack packages from Homeworld. Rektar is just quietly observing. I know he's happy for me, even if they'll miss me back here. A party isn't much Rektar's sort of thing anyhow. He sits in the back and watches…
Kind of like Ash does.
She smiles and waves at me from her spot in Lucy's kitchen, holding a glass of wine. Every time I glance back at her, she's watching me with a look of pride on her face, and that makes me feel good. I want to enjoy this party because I know how hard she worked on it, even if all I want to do is grab her and head to her house and watch a vid together.
Instead, I hold babies and fend off Sinath when he tries to shove yet another brew into my hand. I tell everyone about the job I'll be taking over—ironically, a crossing-guard station at a prestigious militia outpost. I don't know whether to laugh or be insulted at my new position. All the maneuvering my family pulls and this is what I get? More directing traffic duties? But I can't deny that the location is a highly touted one, and I'll be rubbing elbows with the elite. It's a start back on the path to redemption.
I hand Tara back to Rektar as Lucy bustles past with more snacks. "You know you didn't have to do all this," I point out to him as yet another air-sled pulls up full of people. This party is absolutely packed. "It's incredible and I'm humbled, but you really didn't have to do this."
Rektar just shrugs, bouncing Tara to make her smile. His focus is on her as he replies. "Ashley insisted. She wanted you to have a memorable leave-taking."
As if I could forget anything about leaving this place. Even now, my chest aches that I'm spending these final hours shaking hands and smiling at people I barely know instead of spending it quietly with Ashley, like I'd prefer. It's not that I don't like a party. I love a party. But I'd rather have Ash at my side, making me laugh. I want to share everything with her, but I know why she's in the corner, pretending to nurse a glass of wine instead of mingling like Lucy is.
Ash is putting herself out of her comfort zone for me, and it makes me ache with affection. I want to grab her and kiss the kef out of her. I want to hold her tight and never let her go. I want to shake the kef out of her for not loving me. Instead, I just glance over at the corner she's in and give her a small wave.
She lifts her wine glass to me and winks, then makes a shooing motion, indicating that I should go party some more.
"Do you like the banner?" Rektar asks.
"You mean the one that says 'Good Harvest, Khex'?" I eye the cloth banner over the door. "It's something."
Rektar chuckles, and his daughter giggles, echoing her father. "It was supposed to say 'Good Luck' but I think she misplaced one of the symbols when she sewed it on."
"Ashley, of course. She insisted that you have a banner. She made it herself, you know."
"You certainly are singing her praises," I point out, voice light, even though my chest is aching fiercely now.
"I just think you're walking away from a good thing," Rektar says simply. He rubs a hand on his daughter's back and then tries to smooth down her wild curls. Tara's hair is a lot like her mother's—the color and texture is Rektar's but the curls are Lucy's and as a result, Tara's mop of hair is the fluffiest I've ever seen. It's keffing adorable.