Leonne leaned her elbows against the table top, her feet tucked beneath her in the wide seat of the padded chair. Sitting in a loose ball, she tucked her elbows to her sides. She put her hands on either side of her head, holding it gingerly. She would have liked to just rest her forehead in her hands, but that was too much pressure and her skull felt more fragile than bone that morning. So, she just pressed gently at her temples with the full length of her fingers, and shut her eyes carefully.
She heard the door open behind her, and decided it would cost her less to sit still and wait for the person to announce themselves, than it would to turn and see who it was. Her visitor paused in the doorway, then took a quiet step inside, and shut the door. Her skirt rustled against the carpet as she came farther into the room, and then the other girl set a gently steaming mug in the center of the table. The bottom clinked, and Leonne focused a little too intently on the sound. She looked up at Cerena without moving her head.
“Good morning,” Cerena said. She slid into a chair on the far side of the table, so that Leonne could see her more easily, then flicked a rough examination over Leonne. “Congratulations. You’re human like the rest of us.”
“What are you doing here?” Leonne asked. She tried a smile at her friend. It didn’t hurt more than anything else, so she kept it.
The first thing that she ever said to him was, “It’s a shame about your face.”
Zain had received worse, as far as greetings went. She hadn’t sworn, she hadn’t included an exacting right hook, and there was something about her tilted smile that slid it more toward sincerity than insult.
So, Zain smiled back.
“Thanks,” he said. He leaned his side against the bar, set his elbow on top, and kicked one foot lazily behind the other. “It was a bad day for me when they outlawed looking this good.” He had to hold his smile back from stretching into a grin when she laughed in surprise.
“Oh?” she said. She finished wiping out a mug and set it on the lower shelf on the other side of the bar. “So, that shiner was just a good friend of yours helping you stay out of jail?”
There are many things I could tell you, maybe half of which you would believe, because that is our way: to chew before swallowing, to decide for ourselves whether we like the taste of a statement before we accept it. But please, let me convince you of this: it’s better to grow a calloused skin than a calloused heart.
It’s not the fashion, to wear this evidence of wear and tear on the outside for everyone to see. Baby soft skin is prettier. It’s more inviting, more pleasant to touch. You’ve even been told that it’s easier to love, and that any display of past imperfection makes you weak. It’s better to keep your scars tucked inside your rib cage, etched on a heart that few can see.
But ignore the person who asks you to make it easy for them; you are worth earning. Ignore the person who thinks they can read weakness in a marked skin; they don’t know what left those marks or the strength you used to reap them. There is beauty in experience and in perfectly fitted armor.