“In the meantime, perhaps you’d like to take a look around?” Damian asked. He gestured towards a shelf lined with mugs. “Some of our cups might interest you.”
Cups, not mugs. There was a reason Damian had used that word. He darted a sly glance full of rose purple mischief in Gabrielle’s direction. He moved towards the mugs, lifting a delicate, floral one from its spot. Not that Gabrielle had noticed it being there before. It didn’t matter. It was here, now, because the customer was here. Not that it was necessarily the cup she’d choose.
The girl stared at the painted rose, delicately traced with vines on the cup’s side. It matched the color of Damian’s eyes perfectly. She smiled, as she studied Damian with the first signs of appreciation she’d shown.
“I think that cup suits you better than me, sir,” she said, with a surprisingly graceful nod. She walked over to the row of cups and picked up one of pewter. “So plain,” she said, turning it over in her hand. She set it back down. “Like me,” she added, as she reached up to touch the cropped edges of her short, dark hair. Once more, her eyes moved towards Gabrielle’s, the strands of Gabrielle’s hair. Covetously. They gleamed almost tauntingly in the dim light of the store.
Once upon a time, Gabrielle had felt such hunger, when she looked at the Mireille’s coppery waves, blowing free in the wind. Watched her skins swish around bare, bore legs, sure feet which wore no shoes. It didn’t matter. Those feet had always known where they were going, free to walk where they filled.
“Is it really?” Gabrielle asked. She took a step closer to this strange customer, whose shoulder slumped. That long neck of hers, which had been so graceful, was now drooping. Bent with insecurity of self consciousness. “Are you?”
“If only I were more beautiful!” The girl wasn’t paying any attention to her. Damian set down the cup. The girl raised her long fingered hands in front of her face. “I despise the sight of my own face!”
You shouldn’t, Gabrielle thought. It wasn’t her place to criticize a customer, though. It was to give her what she wanted.
The girl lowered her hands to stare wistfully at Gabrielle’s hair once more. Or was she staring at the fishnet with bits of shell?
“Here,” Brie said impulsively. She took the hat off her head, freeing the rest of her golden tresses to tumble over her shoulders. The girl gasped, lifting a hand in front of her eyes. Damian let out an exasperated little sound, as he crossed his arms in front of him. “Try wearing this.”
“It won’t look as good on me,” the girl said, shaking her head. She reached out for the hat, though, with trembling fingers. She licked her lips, uncertainly. “It’ll look weird.”
“So what?” Gabrielle asked. She offered the hat to the girl. Its fishnet veil tickled her hands, pouring out of her fingers. Trying to escape. Not a chance. “You think it doesn’t look weird on me?”
“Yes, but it looks weirdly good on you,” the girl said, looking down at her own her fingers. Not at Gabrielle or the hat. “Nothing looks good on me.”
“Stop convincing yourself of that!” Gabrielle snapped. She regretted it instantly. Losing your temper with your customers was very unprofessional. Even if they reminded you disturbingly of your younger self. She softened her voice. “Try looking weirdly good. Just once.”
The girl lifted her head. She looked straight into Gabrielle’s eyes. Once more, Gabrielle saw that eerie silvery green sunset color.
“What do you want in return?” she asked in a level voice.
Damian smiled a little, almost in anticipation. It was Gabrielle’s turn to swallow her own exasperation. The boy took entirely too much delight in getting the better of other people. That wasn’t what the Navel was about, or Gabrielle.
“Your name,” she said, meeting that gaze straight on. “Tell me your name.”
Most people would wonder at such a price. A name seemed a little thing to offer. More fools them. This girl wasn’t one of them. Her eyes narrowed a bit at the request.
“Hebe,” she said. She allowed a smile to twist at her lips, a very unpleasant smile. “If you wish, you may keep it. I’m coming to dislike it more and more, along with everything that goes with it.”
“Hebe,” Gabrielle repeated. “It’s quite all right. Go ahead and keep using it.” A strange impulse made her add, “I don’t plan to use it against you.”
“Besides, you may find a better name waiting for you beyond the Door,” Damian added. “If you can find the right one to open.”
“A better name?” The hope in the girl’s voice was touchingly pathetic, as she turned to Damian. “Really? Beyond the door?”
“Really,” Damian said, with a nod. Gabrielle fought the urge to slap her protege. However, he seemed in complete earnest. “Keep opening them. Don’t leave any door unclosed. Eventually, you’ll find the right one.”
“Or the wrong one,” Gabrielle shot back. “Not every answer can be found beyond the Door.”
“No,” Damian agreed. His eyes never left Hebe’s. “Her answer, however, is.”