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Romance Fantasy Fiction

It takes a clear mind to outrun a storm—

and Naomi had no intention of outrunning this one.

She paced through the pawnshop, dustpan in hand, unable to focus. Head in the clouds. Body underwater. She had to clean the shop before retiring to bed. Naomi approached an empty shelf, an arm pressed to her stomach in hopes of containing the fluttering within. She swept. Dust fled from her brush.

Her mind wandered and drifted.

Astray from reality.

An arrow's flight away. 

Beyond the skies. 

Behold the infinite malignity of the stars.

The boy said she looked nice today.

Back to solid ground.

Crashed. 

Fractured. 

Refracted. 

Blazing, gleaming, splendorous. 

The colours ebb and flow and she would go with them.

The boy wants to see her again.

She’d been dusting the same shelf for some minutes now. Naomi blinked and shook her head. Rain pattered on windows that could have been a world away. 

The boy likes her.

She found a broom and began to sweep the floors. Beneath tables, around corners, swatting the occasional spider on the ceiling. Naomi organized the books and rings and other trinkets the pawnshop held. She wiped down the windows with a damp cloth, swaying her head from side to side-

“Gutter rat,” Vali said. “What are you doing?”

She jumped. Froze. Statue solid.

“I’m…cleaning,” Naomi said. “Like you asked. Like I always do.”

“Looks more to me like a half-hearted dance.” Vali yawned, stretching her arms out behind her. “Well, as long as the shop’s clean, you’re free to do as you like. Food’s on the table when you’re hungry. Until tomorrow, gutter rat.”

Naomi nodded, finished up, then retreated to the table. She stared at her meal. A candle flickered in front of her. She couldn’t eat—her stomach fluttered as if birds flailed their wings within.

Doves and ravens. 

Virtue and affliction. 

Good and evil.

This is bad.

She tapped her fingers on the wood. The ivory-coloured candle melted down. If she asked Vali for extra silver, she could buy a dress. The thought alone made her hopeless.

Courageous. 

Irrational. 

Focused. 

Fearful. 

Vigorous-

“Gutter rat,” a voice came. “Who are you daydreaming about?”

“Huh?” Naomi looked up. Vali sat across from her—she’d come from nowhere. 

“You haven’t touched your food.” 

“I’m not hungry.”

“A girl who grew up on the streets denying a meal?” Vali smiled. “You’ve fallen for someone. I had a younger sister, you know. I’ve seen the signs. You’re a bit expressive at that-”

“I ain’t so,” Naomi said. “Ain’t even a little. ‘Sides, I don’t want to talk with you.”

“You’ve gotten good at hiding that accent,” Vali said. She stood, walking over to the stairs. “And I think that’s the clearest of giveaways. As long as everything here is clean, go live your life. I didn’t take you in to make you a maid.”

Rain tapped against the windows. Naomi blew out the candle.

She’d rather not stare into the fire.


- - -


She’d never felt happier.

Walking through the streets of Middknight, his hand weaved with hers, she found the skies to be brighter than ever. They’d stop at the marketplace for lunch—fruit had never tasted so sweet. Beside him, she no longer felt reduced to a mere pick-pocket. 

They slept under an oak tree as leaves drifted around them. She rested her head on his shoulder, listening to the quiet tide of his breath, clouds passing overhead. The cool breeze shifted her hair. She squeezed his hand. The years of sleeping in sewers and alleyways, running from Town Watch for a scrap of bread, had all been worth it.

Then came the fair.

Fields dedicated to merchants and performers. Horses adorned in armour. Middknight boasting of their military strength—the greatest cavalry force of the world. Women flew atop pegasi. Pure white, flying beasts, taking to the sky and sparring for an audience.

“Could’ve been you in another life,” Leon said. They sat together in the field, watching the show. “Atop a pegasus. Sword in hand, defending our skies.”

“I wouldn’t know how to keep balance. They have to dodge arrows, you know? I’m happy staying away from the battlefield.” She inched closer to him. “Would you fight on horseback?”

“I’m going to,” he said. “When we decide war, anyone who can lift a weapon will be needed, and I want to fight for my people. It’s only a year before I can start training. What do you think you’ll do?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Rather, tell me, when I walked you home yesterday, it was a shop…and didn’t look like a home.” The pegasus riders clashed overhead, steel against steel. The audience clapped. Armoured cavalry set up for a jousting match. “Is your family merchants? I’m sure the front line will have a use for you. Logistics and supply counting.”

“I’m an orphan,” Naomi said. Leon grimaced. “Or, I was, but now I live with…” Caretaker. Guardian. Stand-in parent? None of the labels suited Miss Vali. “I live with a pawnshop owner.” She forced a smile, her face blushing red.

“A pawnshop owner took you in.”

“Yes, last year, because before that I lived on the streets all by myself.”

Leon gazed at her. “The streets. Like a cutpurse. Can you even read?”

“I’m learning!” Naomi said. “I’m learning, and I can almost read on my own-” She stopped herself, watching Leon’s eyes lose their colour. “She’s teaching me to hide my accent…and…to count…”

“Goddess,” Leon said. “You can’t count?”

“I can! Slowly.” Her heart pounded. “It’s a lot to remember, but I'm trying my best!”

Leon stood up and brushed himself off. He looked off into the crowd, to another girl, then turned back to Naomi. “On a second thought, I don’t think you’re worth the effort. Best of luck, though.” He walked off. Time slowed to a stop as her heart shattered. Colour drained from her vision. She couldn’t breathe, staring at the black and white sunset. 

A man fell from his horse. 

The audience clapped. It sounded like thunder. 

She wandered. 

A stand of oranges now looked like stones. 

Eating one would’ve tasted as dry as biting into coal. 

She stumbled, stopping to throw up.

A merchant called her out. Naomi ran.

She hid in an alleyway.

Like she used to.

The sky grew dark overhead.

Clouds amassed.

Rain soaked her hair.

Naomi stared into a puddle, her reflection obscured by raindrops and tears, and she saw nothing but a dirty gutter rat. One not worth the effort. She sobbed, head pressed against her arms, clothing stuck to her skin.

Alone.

A passerby stopped. Naomi sniffled and raised her head. Maybe it would be Leon, come to apologize, and she would accept it, and she would apologize too for not being intelligent enough, and-

“Hey,” Vali said. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She walked over, droplets tapping against her umbrella. Vali kneeled, then sat beside her. “The fair ended hours ago. I made you dinner and everything. What’s wrong?”

“He didn’t,” Naomi struggled to piece her words together, tears picking up. “He didn’t…” she balled her hands into fists, her eyes squeezed shut. “He didn’t want me, Miss Vali. He doesn’t want me no more.” She fell into Vali’s arms, unable to hold back the tears. The shopkeeper rubbed her shoulder.

“Naomi,” she said. “You can sit and mope, and that’s fine. Everyone does it. But I don’t want you to stare into this darkness, thinking that’s all life is. You may be sad now, but at the same time, you should be happy that something can make you feel this sad—it’s a sign you’re alive! The only way you can feel this awful is if you felt something great before. Are you following?”

Naomi sobbed, wiping a fist against her eyes.

“No,” she mumbled.

Vali tightened her grip. “What I’m saying is, you have to take the bad with the good. Otherwise, the good times will have no meaning. Let what you’re feeling now be a beautiful sadness, my gutter rat.”

She pulled Naomi to her feet. “Can you not call me that anymore, Miss Vali, I don’t-”

“I want you to be proud of your past. Not many have a story to tell like yours.”

They walked home.


- - -


She couldn’t eat much, or work without sighing, or get out of bed without Vali calling for her most days. She fought for the motivation to continue learning. An uphill battle. Tears came and went. But time did pass. After a month, she found herself watching the window, missing the sunlight.

Maybe she did sidestep an arrow with him.

She could do better.

She would be proud of her past.

Naomi stepped outside—

and turned a corner.

January 04, 2022 09:03

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41 comments

Jon Casper
23:04 Jan 05, 2022

Well-polished story, Alex -- I could not find a single issue. Great job taking us through Naomi's heart. I felt terrible for her when Leon walked away. Wonderful message from Vali at the end about the dark and the light. Some of the phrases in here are sublime: //Rain pattered on windows that could have been a world away. //She rested her head on his shoulder, listening to the quiet tide of his breath, clouds passing overhead. //She stopped herself, watching Leon’s eyes lose their colour. //She couldn’t breathe, staring at the black and...

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Alex Sultan
19:01 Jan 07, 2022

Thank you, Jon. Your comment seems to be very well received at a lot of likes. I'm really glad you liked the story! My concept was originally Vali's speech, and I worked backwards from it. I tried to adapt to a different writing style for this piece, going off of the very few romance novels I've read, so I'm glad it worked. Thanks again for the kind comment - I'm looking forward to your next story.

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Jon Casper
20:21 Jan 07, 2022

OMG I had not noticed -- 8 likes on my comment. That's ... unusual!

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Alex Sultan
09:05 Jan 04, 2022

authors note: I don’t write romance often - I’m much more confident with dark-fantasy/thrillers/historical fictions/war stories/anything else. I would like to get better at this genre, however. I’m very open to feedback on this one :)

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Dee Wes
13:20 Jan 08, 2022

She pulled Naomi to her feet. “Can you not call me that anymore, Miss Vali, I don’t-” “I want you to be proud of your past. Not many have a story to tell like yours.” *** This is a great story that speaks, elegantly, the importance of self value.

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Alex Sultan
19:59 Jan 08, 2022

Thanks for reading, Dee! I appreciate you taking the time to do so and leave a comment. I always like to have some sort of message with my stories, so I'm glad it came across clear. Thanks again!

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11:22 Jan 06, 2022

Great stuff as usual Alex! My favourite part was when she's in the alleyway hoping Leon will show up, and it's Vali instead. It was such a powerful way of showing who really cares about her without actually saying it. The rejection from Leon was done well, a real gut punch. The only suggestion I would have is building their relationship up a bit more earlier in the story. We know Naomi is infatuated with him but it's not clear why (apart from her being an impressionable young girl of course). Obviously hard to do with the limited words tho...

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Alex Sultan
19:06 Jan 07, 2022

Thank you for reading through and leaving a comment, Shuvayon. I appreciate the kind words and the feedback - it is something I'm taking note of for the next romance story I write. I'm glad you liked the style change, I tried something completely new - a style I read in a foreign novel - and I'm glad it worked. Thanks again!

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21:52 Jan 04, 2022

Hi Alex, I'm pleased to see you entered this week too and did it with enough time for me read :-) I really like the sentiment behind this, the story of change and reflection and the kindness of the shopkeeper showing someone how far they can come both in a practical skill set and with their emotional development. I love that she eventually sees Leon for what he is, with all of his intolerance and lack of compassion. The story is something of an emotional roller coaster and both extremes of feeling are portrayed convincingly, along wit...

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Alex Sultan
23:53 Jan 04, 2022

Thank you, friend - this story really is an emotional rollercoaster. I find Romance stories a challenge to condense under 1500 words, but I like what I came up with for this one. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm going to take all your notes into consideration when I edit it over tomorrow or whenever. The doves and ravens one is a really good catch - I didn't notice the order. The 'town watch' comment too. I was originally going to write town guard, but thought 'watch' had a better flow to it, and capitalizing it would make sense. Thanks again f...

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Sharon Harris
21:58 Jan 13, 2022

I love that you’ve gone for romance, and you’ve done it really well. There’s plenty of emotion but not sickly at all. The use of short sentences suit Naomi’s voice well, she seems the sort of girl who wouldn’t use many words. I thought you could have teased us more with Leon before he ran off, nasty boy. I felt very protective of Naomi until Vali found her in the passage, then I knew she was in good hands again. I love reading your stories, thanks for writing them.

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Alex Sultan
19:58 Jan 14, 2022

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Naomi is certainly the kind of character who doesn't talk too much, and I felt her thoughts would flow well with the short sentences. I appreciate the kind words :)

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Kate Winchester
18:26 Jan 12, 2022

You have a gift with words! I loved the way your sentences flowed. I tend to be dialogue heavy, but you have a great balance. I felt sad for Naomi, but I’m glad there’s a glimmer of hope at the end!

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Alex Sultan
20:26 Jan 12, 2022

Thank you, Kate. I appreciate the comment. I feel sad for Naomi too, her being excited about learning to read and then getting made fun of was hard to write - I'm glad I could get the emotion across. Of course, there's hope for her :) Thanks again.

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Kate Winchester
22:00 Jan 12, 2022

You’re welcome ☺️ Definitely lots of emotion. I have a hard time too when I get attached to my characters.

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Kevin Morley
11:47 Jan 12, 2022

Love that last line. Also liked the short lines of text and the construct...the way you used white space to convey meaning. Sharp style.

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Alex Sultan
20:16 Jan 12, 2022

Thank you, Kevin. I read this exact sort of short-line style in a Japanese novel, and I wanted to try my hand at it. I'm glad it worked. Thanks again for the kind words.

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Dragos Marcean
06:57 Jan 12, 2022

Poor Naomi! I felt that humiliation myself. I cannot agree with Vali as she wouldn't stop calling her 'gutter rat' because she should 'be proud of the past'. I understand what she wants to say, but I believe that one should learn from the past and not necessarily be proud of it. I liked how Vali told her that she had to 'take the bad with the good'. It's a very tough lesson to learn that somebody is not good for you, especially if you have a low self-esteem. Good that she finally realised she dodged a bullet or 'sidestepped an arrow' (nice...

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Alex Sultan
07:17 Jan 12, 2022

Thank you for another comment! I do agree, Vali is rude, and adamant at that. I'm glad you liked the 'sidestep an arrow' line. I was proud to come up with that. I really do appreciate you taking the time to read and comment - these characters are two of my favourites, who I plan to write on a larger scale someday. Thanks again for the kind words.

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Faith Ogedegbe
03:40 Jan 10, 2022

Nice story,Alex.

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Alex Sultan
07:18 Jan 12, 2022

Thank you, Faith.

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Tommie Michele
22:58 Jan 09, 2022

Alex, Naomi's voice in this story is incredible. The sentence flow and the one-sentence paragraphs really did it for me (and I already loved Naomi, from the last story she was in). The double meaning in the last line, too--amazing. I hope to see what you come up with for this week. I should be able to get back to Reedsy stories in the next few weeks, thank goodness--I've really missed the community here. I've had so much to do with my novel, but I got a response from a publisher (surprisingly, the publisher I was hoping for the most) reque...

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Alex Sultan
23:23 Jan 09, 2022

Thank you! I'm really happy with Naomi's voice in this story. I have a lot more planned for her, so it is so reassuring to know my writing style for her works. For the last line, I'm glad you liked it, since it's probably my favourite closing line I've written. The flow of it and its meaning feels so fitting. I do plan to write this week. Probably more war/historical fiction, I'm not too sure yet. Here's to hoping your novel does well! You'll have to let me know how it goes - I wouldn't mind reading it over once it's out :) Best of luck, f...

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Jalissa Cooper
22:57 Jan 09, 2022

’The only way you can feel the is awful is if you felt something great before' That line is heartbreaking and encouraging at the same time. Wow, truly a perfect look at tough times. Nice job 👍

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Alex Sultan
23:17 Jan 09, 2022

Thank you, Jalissa! I do like Vali's speech a lot - I'm glad it resonated with you. I appreciate the read :)

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Keya Jadav
19:24 Jan 05, 2022

This was an interesting take on the prompt. Still hard to digest the way the boy turned her down. I liked the use of short phrases and the way it has shaped the whole story. It was a good start, for sure, and the dreaminess of Noami is detailed quite accurately- the thing I loved the most. The story rides through bumps of emotions but I am satisfied with the way it ended. Good one!

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Alex Sultan
20:03 Jan 05, 2022

Thank you! I'm glad you liked the style of it - I read a book a while ago from a Japanese author, and they would write with this short-one-sentence-line-style every few paragraphs. I thought it was really effective, so I tried to replicate it here. It's nice to hear it worked :) Thanks again for reading!

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Annalisa D.
20:10 Jan 04, 2022

I really like the end of this and agree that she can do better. I think you did a good job of making the reader empathetic for the main character. I felt so hurt for her and angry at him for acting like that. You do a nice job of showing her feelings through the story. It's very well written and has a nice pace that works with the feelings. Being fast at a time someone's thoughts might be and slowing down for parts that would emotionally feel longer.

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Alex Sultan
23:32 Jan 04, 2022

I'm glad you liked Naomi - she is one of my favourite characters I've written. Even as the author, I do feel bad for her, the part where she's excited about learning to read especially. It's nice to hear the emotion worked for you. Thanks for reading, and for the thoughtful comment, friend.

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Annalisa D.
01:42 Jan 05, 2022

Sometimes I feel bad for what I do to my characters too. It can be helpful in writing their situation with the right amount of compassion, but I have to be careful sometimes of sticking to my plan and not making things nicer for them purely from guilt. A balance like anything but I think it's a good sign you can feel with them.

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Alex Sultan
19:55 Jan 05, 2022

Exactly! The way I see it, if I feel bad for her, I can assume readers will too.

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Barbara Burgess
14:24 Jan 04, 2022

A nice and interesting story. I like how it unfolds.

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Alex Sultan
23:24 Jan 04, 2022

Thank you, Barbara. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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Delia Tomkus
12:39 Jan 04, 2022

I thought it was really good! You did a good job with expressing her sadness towards the end. It felt like real sadness, with the thundering crowd and the oranges that looked like rocks.

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Alex Sultan
23:24 Jan 04, 2022

Thank you, Delia. I'm glad I could get the emotion across - I tried a whole new writing style with line-by-line short sentences, and it is nice to hear it worked out. Thanks for the kind words!

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Susannah Meghans
05:28 Mar 16, 2022

I love the life lesson she learns about accepting all of who she is & how it made her who she is.

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Alex Sultan
10:50 Mar 17, 2022

Thank you, Susannah. I'm happy you read my story.

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J.C. Lovero
05:18 Feb 21, 2022

Just realized this story is in the same universe as your submission about Naomi/Vali this week. Really cool! Be careful with tagging something as a romance if it doesn't have a happy ever after (HEA) or a happy for now. Since Naomi and Leon didn't end up together at the end, some people may read it and have negative feedback if it doesn't meet the reader's expectations for that genre. Otherwise, another enjoyable story from you, friend :)

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Alex Sultan
07:48 Feb 21, 2022

Thank you for reading! I'm glad you clicked on this one. The style to it is my favourite. Feedback taken as well, what you wrote makes a lot of sense - I don't write/read romance often and never thought of it that way. I appreciate the comment 🙂

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Kathleen `Woods
12:10 Feb 13, 2022

First off. Thanks for having a favorite, makes things easier when the catalog starts to get longer. Second, the writing for this piece sounded great, it really kept the mood throughout. Naomi definitely has a flowers & bubbles mood to her thoughts and it feeds well into the age assumptions for first loves. Lastly I need to pick on Leon. Leon you absolute Basket, do ya think anyone who can actually read is just gonna put up with ya? That's it I guess. Thanks for Writing!

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Alex Sultan
19:23 Feb 13, 2022

Thank you for reading! I really like this story - I had a lot of fun writing the short sentence style to it and matching it with Naomi's character. I have a whole novel planned for her, so writing her here was easy. I do agree, Leon's character is the worst, and I did feel bad writing Naomi's dialogue! Good thing is she'll be okay. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this through 😁

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