The butterflies were still fluttering in Sean’s chest. But now they were momentarily gentle and peaceful. He often wished he could slow time down to enjoy holding Kong’s hand a little longer.
Moments passed and Sean began to slow the truck down. It was a small town where the main street was easily walkable. Gently, he squeezed Kong’s hand as he pulled the truck into a place to park.
“We’re here.” He spoke in a whisper.
A nod would come. A breath was taken and Kong reluctantly let go of Sean’s fingers. Waiting until the other opened the door, Kong sat and then slid out and stood. Stick taken up, his arm would once more wind around Sean’s and he waited to be lead.
Going to town was not something he did. He wasn’t familiar with the obstacles, the people, so he stuck close to Sean as best he could.
Sean nearly interrupted Kong’s letting go, but the fear of the town’s residents seeing them persuaded him otherwise. He put the truck in park and pocketed the key. Soon he got out and helped his friend out of the truck.
He looked over the short Main Street where there a few people here and there. This area of the road was paved and there were sidewalks.
“There are a few stores on either side of the road. We’re closest to the general store. They should have the cloth. There is a low sidewalk we’ll step up on,” Sean explained as he lead Kong over to the mentioned sidewalk.
His steps were slow, but sure as he watched Kong’s face and then his feet before looking around again for obstacles and people. He could see a couple of stares already.
There was an innate sense of trust billowing around as they began to journey down the thoroughfare. Stick would tap the sidewalk and Kong stepped up onto the curb with grace. Thankfully he couldn’t see the looks of the townsfolk but all the same he could feel the stares.
He did his best to hold his head up though he understood he stuck out and knew that it had some bearing and impact on Sean. “You do not have to walk with me if you do not want to,” Kong offered quietly.
People like him weren’t on the same level in society. He loathed it but there was no freeing himself from that burden.
Sean was thankful and amazed by Kong’s grace. He himself was quietly preparing himself for the people they may pass by or encounter. Treat them like the spirits he dealt with on a nearly daily basis. Ignore, passively discipline.
He turned his head a little to look over at Kong as navigated the area for him and made their way towards the general store. But he saw how his friend’s chin would dip lightly. Sean understood why, but it didn’t mean he approved of society’s beliefs and behavior. He hated society for that. Then his heart fell a little at Kong’s words.
“No,” Sean spoke, his jaw tightening a little. “I want to walk with you. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t.” He wanted to touch his friend’s arm, kiss his forehead to reassure him. But he had that fear that the townfolk would see, judge, and attack.
The reassurance was warming, welcome. Only a silent nod would come. Features would set to default: stoic and unapproachable. It was this expression that had saved his neck a time or two and also one that tended to bring more turbulence than happiness.
Remaining close to Sean, Kong kept an easy pace. Stick would slide from side to side. He paused only once as a teenager refused to move out of his way, causing the blind man to circumvent carefully around so he could continue on.
Eyes on the ground he said nothing.
He had an important task and no time to exchange words with a stranger.
Sean loosened his jaw and regained the calm expression he usually kept. His eyes seemed to still retain a bit of concern and unhappiness at the idea of not walking with Kong.
He kept the easy pace with Kong, pausing at the need to circumvent the teenager. Sometimes Sean wanted to be more aggressive, but that would not do Kong and him any favors.
Yet he disliked Kong seeming to look down, to be subservient.
Soon they arrived at the general store and Sean opened the door for Kong to enter first. Once inside, he spoke softly, “There are perishables to the left, a counter on the right with finer things. I think the cloth is towards the back. I may have to ask about lumber.”
Slipping into the General Store, he paused after crossing the threshold to assess the surroundings. Moving to the side to allow Sean room to enter, he waited and then began to walk alongside the other man. Gaze still would hold the ground through all of this.
He listened to that soft voice glad that he was in good company.
“Okay,” Kong breathed, nodding. He would give what coin he had and hoped it would be enough.
Gently Sean flexed his bicep to give Kong a silent notion of support. He kept an eye out for any unreasonable people. There were spirits in this store, but from word of mouth they knew to keep their distance until given word.
“Let’s take care of the cloth first. How much do you need?” He asked as they passed the counter and an older man behind it who wore sleeves rolled up and a dark-colored full apron.
There were many things in the store that he would like to get, but he would not be greedy. And there scents were wonderful - coffee, paper, metal.
That support was taken in stride and welcomed. The corners of his lips twitched with the delight though the expression had vanished faster than it’d come. He trusted Sean, more than anyone, which was saying a lot.
“I do not know,” Kong explained, shaking his head. Kieran had not been specific on any lengths of either item, only that both were needed.
There was that calm Sean liked. He hoped Kong trusted him like trusted the other man - as an equal than anything less.
“All right. I think we can get a yard. Possibly something durable, but not abrasive to the touch,” he spoke as they got closer to the bolts of fabric, notions, and cutting table.
Units of measurement here made no sense to him so Kong nodded again to say he understood and that the suggestion was fine. “Yes, something easily handled would be best.” Durability was good, too.
As they approached the fabrics, Kong waited to see what Sean would select. He was aware of patterns but he would only be able to understand texture because of his loss of sight.
“Something easily handled,” Sean echoed as they stepped along the fabrics. He lightly ran his hand over some of the fabric bolts. There were wool, gingham, corduroy, and cotton.
He breathed as he felt someone starting. But he moved on, finding a thickly woven off-white cotton that was softer than burlap or canvas. “I think this will do.” Sean looked over at Kong as he pulled the bolt out of the stack and offered it for the other man to feel.
Shuffling along after Sean, he wasn’t without his own measure of curiosity. While he could feel the pressure of eyes upon him he ignored them the way he always did as they focused on the task at hand.
Pausing, a hand would lift and his fingers brushed across the expanse of fabric. A nod would come. “That feels like a fine fabric.”
He didn’t know how much it was but he would give what he could. Now to find the wood.
“Good. I will ask someone about the other item we need,” Sean smiled. IT was better to focus on Kong and their task.
Pulling the bolt under his arm, he stepped over to the cutting table and rang the desk bell that sat on top of a small desk beside the table.
Kong remained where Sean had left him, amidst the rows of bolts of fabric. Patiently he stood, solid yet graceful and waited for his friend to return. Once in a while that sensation of eyes being on him would come, though it left as whomever had been staring avoided the aisle completely.
Many aromas began to trickle toward him. Various scents he had not experienced before and some that he knew quite well.
Sean only took a few moments to engage with a store clerk and get a yards worth of the cotton fabric. He looked over every so often to check on Kong and to see the stares from the living and woeful glares from the dead.
With the cloth folded and a strip of paper pinned to it, he returned to Kong’s side and breathed. “Did Kieran tell you the length of wood you need?” Sean offered his arm again and breathed as he looked over stoically at the couple of people measuring out dried tobacco leaves.
Shaking his head, he felt a bit unprepared. Why he hadn’t asked more questions he wasn’t sure, and he felt a bit foolish for it. “I do not. But if we get something with length I am sure he will find purpose for what remains.” Kieran didn’t strike him as someone who wasted things unless it couldn’t be helped.
Arm would wind around arm. “Do we find wood here?”
“Mmm, perhaps.” Sean nodded. He always asked towards specifics when he did his readings. It was a firmly ingrained habit.
“I don’t think so. I will ask when I pay for this - which shop deals in wood,” Sean nodded. Silently he sighed as Kong’s returned to being around his. Then he motioned a little, escorting his friend to the main counter. There Sean placed the small bundle of fabric on the counter and plucked out his coin purse.
Next time he would not be so hasty and foolish, so as to avoid this embarrassing guessing game. Cheeks flush, he moved alongside Sean toward the counter. And, like his friend, Kong began searching for the coin he had brought.
A small purse was revealed and he offered it to the other man, “Please, let me take care of this.” Wherever difference there was in the cost could be covered by Sean if need be. But this was his task, after all.
Sean turned his head as he was about to pull out a few coins to pay for the cloth himself and listened to Kong’s request. “All right,” he spoke softly and gently took the purse. His lightly calloused fingers gently touched Kong’s hand as he took the item.
He slid a couple of coins out and supplemented the rest of the price with a few of his own. There was no reason in his mind to leave his friend penniless. The owner took the coins and gave Sean a not too friendly smile.
“Do you happen to know which store carries wood or lumber? My friend is working on a new walking stick.”
The shopkeeper eyed the tall Asian man, assessing and sizing him up without an inch of discretion. The analysis offered the conclusion that he refused to do business with anyone outside of what he was used to, which meant that the shopkeeper looked only at and spoke only to Sean.
But a coin was a coin regardless of who was offering it.
“Lumber yard down the way,” came a grunt. Large hands would scoop the coins for the cloth into the register and some would be offered for the difference. The coins were slid to Sean only.
Eyebrows would furrow at the idea of the pair of men being friends, such a thing was an odd circumstance. But the shopkeeper kept the opinion to himself.
Kong said nothing at all, knowing it was better to let Sean handle everything.
Money spoke more languages than a person’s heart. Sean had encountered such disrespect when he was younger and trying to help his father and brother survive. His eyes scanned the shopkeeper’s face and saw the discrimination.
Sean covered the coins with his hand, slid it back and quietly deposited them in Kong’s coin purse which he gently handed back to him. He tucked his own coin purse back into his trouser pocket.
“Thank you.” Sean spoke at a normal volume despite his desire to be just as gruff.
Gently he nudged Kong and escorted him out of the general store with the cloth underneath his arm. Once outside, Sean breathed and spoke, “The lumber yard shouldn’t be too far.”
The coin purse was taken, tucked away out of sight.
Turning, he followed Sean. Arm in arm they went, back the direction that they’d come with purchase in hand. Already he was exhausted from the endeavor. The outside air was refreshing, he inhaled it deeply and was glad for it.
“Alright,” Kong replied, nodding. “I can wait in the car if you’d rather.” He didn’t want to illicit the same thing that had just occurred in the General Store.
Being outside again felt just as freeing to Sean. It had become quite suffocating in the general store. He gave Kong’s arm a gentle squeeze and then slowed his walking as the other man spoke.
“Mmm,” he hummed. “I would rather you be by my side unless….are you upset after how you, we were treated in there?” Sean spoke softly with concern tinging his words.
Hearing the preference, Kong would nod. He enjoyed being by Sean’s side and would as long as the man would have him there. “Would you not be?” The question was posed quietly. “I will stay by your side.” He would endure knowing that anything that came would be short-lived and dealt with.
He didn’t want to impose more than he had already, nor did he want to bring shame to Sean.
“I would follow you anywhere,” he confessed.
“I would be upset. I am upset,” Sean whispered. His anger was telegraphed in the momentary tightening of his jaw. “Good,” he breathed. Once they got the other item, they’d be int he trust and on the way back to the grounds.
“Thank you,” he smiled softly. “Likewise.” Sean would never feel like Kong was imposing. The people of this town were ignorant. Carefully, he turned and led his friend down the street.
There were a few more stares, but the scent of lumber soon began to fill the air.
At least one of them could say or do anything about it. Kong wasn’t interested in starting anything or having something taken out of context so he kept to himself. He was enjoying the time together in spite of everything.
Moving with Sean, Kong kept pace easily. Stick would move from side to side. Along the way the wind blew gently around them, stirring the leaves and making them dance in lazy circles.
Sean wasn’t interested in starting anything either. But he would defend Kong against the townspeople if it came to it. Taking a deep breath, he would nod to himself.
He mostly ignored the strangers he saw, both living and dead. Only person that mattered right now was Kong. And Sean smiled as he saw the leaves swirling about them. At times, he thought they did well not speaking.
But as Sean caught sight of the lumber yard, he whispered, “I see the lumber yard now. On the other side of the road are a couple of stores selling metal wares and a drinking establishment.”
Kong paused as they neared the lumber yard. His head would cant slightly, listening to the wind. The pattern of footfalls, soft whispers, all of the things that made up the small town. “What would you like to do while we are in town?”
This trip didn’t have to be only about him. Sean was an equal participant, if he wanted to do something, to see something or go somewhere he should. “Please, we can go where you would like.”
He would wait to see what Sean did, where they would go. The lumber yard or somewhere else?
Sean grinned and nodded. “I am doing it right now - walking with you.” He could be a simple creature. Since Zion Mystique moved around, there was little concern on his part to be seen in the town with Kong. It was a treat.
He hadn’t thought of visiting any of the stores that caught his interest. He had what he needed back in his wagon and at his side. “It is all right. I like getting a bit of fresh air and exploring with you.”
Sean continued to walk with Kong. “The lumber yard. I would like for you to get what you need first.”
Glad for the answer, he felt humbled by it. A nod and a sigh of relief, and he felt a renewed sense of purpose. Moving with Sean, he shifted a touch closer nearly desperate to take his hand though he refrained.
The scent of cut, fresh wood met him. He found that he was partial to the earthy tone of the lumber. “I trust you to pick something nice.”
In a perfect world, Sean would have taken his hand. But there were to many judgmental, prejudicial, fearful eyes watching.
“I will.” He whispered as they soon crossed the threshold of the lumber yard. “There are fence pickets here of all lengths, blocks of wood, poles, blocks, bits for framing houses. I think perhaps a seven foot length would long enough to work down to what you would like.”
Silently he followed and listened. Doing his best to imagine what Sean was describing, he would nod. The idea of a new walking stick sounded nice though he wasn’t sure what Kieran wanted the wood for. Maybe Sean knew better than he did and for once that was alright.
“I trust you.” So many different smells met him, wood, metal.
“What do you think?”
Sean looked over each area, keeping alert for those who worked in the yard. It was nice to move about an open area to purchase something. He wasn’t sure what Kieran had in mind, but he hoped he was guessing well enough.
“Likewise.” he whispered.
“I can see oak, pine, maple, birch, cedar. Perhaps a wood that would not be susceptible to moths or other bugs. But also we need something strong. Do any of these sounds promising to you?”
“Do you see any redwood?” It was native to his land, some variation of it. If not he wasn’t sure. Cunninghamia was a coveted piece of timber in his homeland. There were some things here that he knew would be similar. He doubted many things from home would ever be here.
As if he could see, Kong took a moment to look around for himself.
Redwood. Sean walked around another aisle where lumber was neatly stacked. “Perhaps. I see richer colored wood over here,” he spoke as he gently ushered Kong towards the shorter stacks. There on top of a short stack was a sign - “redwood” and a price.
“Yes, right here.” He whispered as he stopped in front of the stack. “And in eight foot length pieces. And about four by four thick.” Sean smiled softly.
Following Sean, Kong moved around the aisle and let his friend decide. There were too many options for him to choose, mostly due to the fact that he couldn’t see them for himself. Sean would have to be his eyes. Finally they seemed to pause and an assessment was made.
It delighted him that they had what he was after, redwood. “Do I have enough coin?” He inquired.
Hopefully he would.
There was less of it than the rest, thus the higher price tag. Sean didn’t want to tell his friend the price. If he did, he had a feeling that Kong would decline what he wanted. Shaking his head, he sighed.
“I think you will,” Sean replied. It was a statement of hope. Besides, he would pay the difference plus some. There were few times one could get what they wanted. This was a time Sean was going to make sure Kong would get what he wanted.
“Is it too expensive?” He inquired softly. He didn’t want to get something too pricey as he was humble. Kong was not a man of material things nor one who demanded or expected the finer things in life.
As long as he had enough he would trust his friend’s judgement. A nod would come and he lifted a hand to touch the wood, feeling it beneath his fingertips.
“Do you like it?” That was the more important question.
“It is higher than the others.” Sean confessed softly. But he was sure with their combined funds that they could afford one eight-foot length. This was something he wanted for Kong.
Watching Kong reach own to touch the redwood, Sean suppressed a frown.
“I do. It’s beautiful.”
He didn’t want to burden his friend with expense, but this was the closest thing to home that he had been able to find without really trying. “Alright.” Whatever pay came from the Carnival he would use to pay Sean back for his contribution.
The wood was solid beneath his fingers. “We will get this one, then.” It was decided.
Sean would not be burdened. He had put away a good amount of his pay over the years for emergencies, unexpected things. And Kong’s new walking stick was a welcome unexpected thing. And there may be a refusal of that repayment.
“Yes.” He spoke softly and looked around for the lumber yard owner. “Here, hold this for me, please?” Sean asked Kong as he offered him the folded bundle of cloth.
The cloth was taken. He nodded and waited to get through the transaction so that they could begin the journey back to a more comfortable place. Holding the prior purchase, Kong tilted his head to listen to the various sounds around them.
Motioning to the man approaching them, Sean inquired about buying one eight foot long section of the four by four thick piece of redwood. He received a bit of the same foul expression as the general store owner.
But thankfully a coin was a coin here as well. Sean dropped quite a few coins in the lumber yard owner’s hand and took up a piece of redwood. With a smile, he thanked the man and turned to Kong carefully as not keep from hitting his friend.
“Ready to head back?” he spoke softly.
Throughout the transaction, Kong remained silent. When it was over and the shopkeeper went away, a breath of relief was expelled. Nodding, Kong wound a careful arm around one of Sean’s, cloth tucked close to his body.
“Yes. If you are ready.” If there was more to do in town that Sean needed, Kong would endure. Whatever made his friend happy.
Sean’s skin crawled a little at how the shopkeeper seemingly ignored Kong. And he disliked how Kong would remain silent. He was a perfectly lovely individual. He urged the other man a little closer as he flexed his bicep.
“I’m ready.” He breathed and led Kong out of the lumber yard with his other arm managing the piece of redwood. Sean was happy to be around Kong, to help him with what he needed. And besides, this time with him was a gift.
“Is there nothing else that you would like to do while we are in town?” He felt the question was fair to ask considering they’d journeyed so far here for meager things.
Walking together was nice though he yearned for more context. Around them the wind blew a little.
Once they were clear of the lumber yard, Sean slowed at Kong’s question and turned to him. “I would like to do many things. Perhaps find a place to sit and talk some more. And also pick up a few bottles of whiskey.”
He wanted to hold Kong’s hand, but it was risky even here.
As they paused, Kong would look over at his friend. “Then we should do those things while we are here.” Sitting and talking would be alright, it could be perceived as odd, but they could bear it.
Stocking up before going back to the carnival grounds was a good idea.
“I cannot say that I have ever had whiskey.”
“Okay,” Sean smiled. “We can find a shady spot. I think there were some benches and trees that we passed getting here. Or we could talk while sitting in the truck.” Yes, it would be odd. But it was them and he hoped to make it normal.
“Oh? Then I offer you a chance to try it when we return to the grounds.”
Being outside was one of his favorite things, but being outdoors in town would probably not work the way that they both imagined. Unfortunately in this age he was not a person favorable to others. “Why don’t we find a place to sit and talk at the Carnival?” At least there they wouldn’t seem so out of place. They could still chat in the truck, but being around people who understood was easier and less stressful.
A little bit of a smile appeared. “Do you think I will like it?”
Sean frowned a little, but nodded as he understood the discomfort of being around those who would see them as out of place. “That sounds good to me.” He would compromise if it meant being around Kong more.
“Mmm, I don’t know. What drinks do you like, what flavors?”
Glad that Sean understood, he began to journey with him back in the direction he recalled their vehicle being parked. “I do not know,” Kong confessed. “I have never had anything stronger than tea before.”
He wasn’t interested in anything that might alter his state of being, or at least wasn’t until Sean had brought it up. Now he was curious. How did you feel when you consumed whiskey? Were there more types than that? He recalled hearing vaguely of beer or ale.
“I would not know.”
“I see, hmm,” Sean hummed as he watched out for cars or townsfolk as they walked back towards the truck. “What type of tea do you drink?”
Whiskey usually calmed Sean down, loosened him up like wine but in a slower fashion weirdly enough.
“Oolong is my favorite,” he explained, tone filled with delight. “But it is not easy to come by. But I also have many other favorites. You cannot go wrong with tea.” Black, white, green, jasmine. So many options out there.
“Do you like tea?” He found he knew nearly nothing about Sean but the idea of learning more made him so excited.
Sean listened intently as he walked with Kong. He didn’t have much exposure to tea sadly. Maybe only a handful to times.
“I…,” he frowned a little. “I’ve only had tea a few times. I don’t know what kind it was.” Sean kept most to himself, selfless to the point of sometimes neglecting or forgetting himself.
“Oh?” Kong replied.
That didn’t really surprise him. Most didn’t drink tea, preferring coffee to it or alcohol. A smile crested his lips. “I can teach you how to tell one from the other. It is not as much of a challenge as you might think. It may surprise you that you like it, but it is not for everyone.” He would never force Sean to like something. Tea could be strong and sometimes was enjoyed by preference.
“Yes,” he sighed. Sean wanted to know more about the world, to live further than being a spirit medium from New York.
“I would like that,” he smiled and nodded. “Learning about new things sounds good.”
“It will make you seem more sophisticated,” Kong assured him, though his words were playful and teasing. Sean was already sophisticated and so intelligent. “You will be the most well versed in tea.”
The fact that Sean was eager to learn warmed him. It was a promising gift, the willingness to seek knowledge.
He smirked, color filling his cheeks a little. “Really. I look forward to it.”
Sean flexed his bicep, pulling Kong a little closer.
That subtle shift closer had his smile growing though he knew he had to keep most of what he was feeling to himself. Fingers would squeeze that bicep in return and he felt a tickle of delight in the silent communication. “As do I.”
Together they travelled carefully and finally they reached the vehicle they had brought. Once he had made it to the cab, the door would open and Kong took a moment to secure their cloth purchase and his walking stick before climbing into the truck.
When the door closed he sat silently and waited.
Sean looked down at Kong’s hand and then at the other man’s smile. “Good,” he whispered.
He secured the eight foot piece of redwood into the back of the truck, closed it, and then made sure Kong climbed into the truck. Soon Sean opened the door and climbed into the driver’s side beside Kong, closing the door alongside him. “Ready?”
Nodding, he braced himself for the sounds and the vibrations. Feet would settle on the floor firmly, his frame would press backward against the hard, cushioned seat.
Hands would settle into his lap and his eyes would drift toward the floor.
“All right,” Sean whispered as he fished the key out of his pocket and started up the truck. Looking around and turning the truck back towards the carnival grounds, he began their journey back.
Gently he reached over with his right hand and placed it upon Kong’s hands. There was happiness and peace in being able to have this time together.