In The Absence Of You
I come from a family that burns with love. You wouldn’t understand unless you were one of us. I’m not just talking my father and my mother—I’m talking every one of my ancestors. It’s in our genetic build to spend all of our energy on love.
Once we come of age, it strikes and blazes with a fire that eats you alive. This love is a plague that boils in my race and in my culture, and I wouldn’t know a different way unless I’d broken free and seen strangers love with milder flames.
Tonight, my eyes go from the merchandise on my table to the blond-headed burst of life hopping off the stage. His gaze shimmers with amusement, a cocky lip twitching as he slaps high-fives to guys and pinches girl-cheeks on his way over.
“Aishe! You got those super-tight, hot little tees with the broken heart thingy on the front? The ones the chicks dig?” he asks once he’s in front of me, Emil, the vocalist of Clown Irruption, one of the hottest alt-rock indie-bands out there. I’ve been their merch girl for a few months now. Each night, I zoom in on Emil with less and less difficulty.
“Yeah. Troll picked them up this morning,” I say referring to their tour manager.
“This is so cool—finally we see actual merch money,” Emil laughs out. Then he sets a hand to the table and squints at me. “You’ve done much better than your cousin. I mean, Shandor, man.” He shakes his head playfully. “He couldn’t draw dudes to the stand worth shit.”
My face loosens in a smile. I send a subtle glance at Shandor, who’s busy wrapping things up on stage, coiling cables and breaking down drums. To sell T-shirts wasn’t what he burned for. Shandor was born with the plague of our people too, but he hasn’t found his beloved yet. My people, we need something to obsess over, so if it’s not a man’s love for a woman or vice versa, it’s something else, and Shandor, he loves his music. Once the band promoted him from merch guy to monitors on stage, he recommended me to fill his spot, and voilà, here I am.
Shandor raises his head and stills on us, focus intent from under dark locks. He’s got a sixth sense for when guys chitchat with me. Like me, he left our traveling community years back, but the need to protect any girl of our people is so deep-rooted I doubt he ever questions it. Shandor would do everything in his power to stop any man, employer or not, from toying with his little cousin.
I straighten so that I’m tall for my height. Though I’m not overly curvy, I’m lean and strong. Supposedly, I’m also fiery, a bit fierce, a bit ferocious, traits that make me who I am, traits I don’t need here in the outside world as opposed to amongst those I was born to.
I intimidate most men with the stance I take right now, but I can’t intimidate Shandor. He glares, telling me without words what not to do, and next he pierces his stare into Emil’s back. Oblivious, Emil juts his index finger at the case of lukewarm beers behind me, wiggles it back and forth quickly, lips pursed in anticipation. “Hand over one of those babies, will ya?”