“Nobody wants to eat that.”, “That is disgusting.” chattered three young female centaurs nearby as Katie spent an afternoon alone picking out lunch in the plaza.
Everything she touched, the others made a critical comment on. Katie looked at the shopkeeper. The elder centaur simply shrugged. She quickly paid for her selections and left the shop.
The girls followed her out to a seat under the warm noon sun.
“Why are you hear?”
“Haven't you done enough?”
“Go back to your planet!”
She was shocked but not hurt since she was used to people like that not liking her by this age. Glaring at them while getting up to leave the plaza, Katie felt a firm grip on her shoulder.
“She’s not going anywhere!” glared Baku. The girls dispersed quickly after flashing expressions of envy as they leer at Katie and tried to flirt at Baku with their eyes.
“Are you ok? I'm sorry about this.”
“I'm fine. I'm a big girl now, don't worry about me.” smiled Katie as she pulled away from his grip.
The three girls did unsettle her. Knowing the future will have more of this popping up, she thought it was best to keep an emotional distance from Baku to save herself from future hurt feelings not from him but the others. This was a battle she did not want to fight.
There was a festival celebrating something or other in the plaza that week. Some of the young male centaurs donned the body paints of old as they danced. A dancer would occasionally make eye contact and give a smile to Katie. She smiled back to be friendly.
“What do you think of them?” asked Baku casually as Katie watched.
“They all look pretty good to me with all that paint.” responded Katie assuming he wanted to know if she enjoyed the show.
The next time the group of them went out she was startled he marked his body with paint. He joined in the dances with all the other young males in the pit, making eye contact with Katie on occasion and smiling before looking around at others.
“What’s he doing?” asked Katie.
“He’s dancing for a suitor. He has come of age.” said Batya.
“Oh, ok,” responded Katie with a small pang of sadness thinking one of the many other lovely young female centaurs gathered to receive tokens of bonding. “Life goes on.”
“You don’t get it do you?”
“Getting you was his idea. He got what he wanted. He’s incredibly happy to do this for the first time with you here.”
“But I’m only 16! I’m not ready by Earth standards!” exclaimed Katie both horrified and delighted at the same time.
“He’s chosen you, everybody knows it too. Count yourself lucky! All the other girls wish they were in your horseshoes,.” said Petal.
“He hung onto the thought of you all these years.” said Batya
“All you gotta do is declare yours. The rest is for you two to figure out.”
Katie’s mind raced. She started having three way conversations with herself debating the merits and horrors of having a committed relationship to him sprung onto her like this so suddenly.
“So what is your decision? He’s coming your way to make the offering. You either take the token or not.”
It was a yes or no answer that gave her so much anxiety she wished she would pass out from this and not think about it a while longer. She needed time.
“Katie Mah, I offer you, me” as Baku held out the ceremonial token.
DANG IT!!! she thought, FINE! I can always back out of this right? This is like an engagement, right? People break it off all the time. I can if anything gets weird. I can always tell him I need to get back to Earth and live my final days burning in that hell hole of a planet. Yeah, that makes sense... ok.
“OK!” said Katie frighteningly fast and soft in not exactly the happiest of tone
Baku looked at her with confusion unable to hear over the din.
Adjusting her voice, anxiously smiling, more loudly “I accept!”
Baku smiled and hugged her as tightly as when they met again in the hospital basement.
“You two are so cute!” said Batya hugging the two.
“Planet Earth is now our problem too!” joked Petal.
“Your herd and our herd are joined!”
“We live and die as one!”