Picnic in the meadow. A senator's introspection.
The yellow sun is warm on my bare shoulders. I hear the wind whistling through the grass and feel it as it lifts my skirts around my ankles. I close my eyes and when I inhale, it is the sweet scent of saltwater spray and meadow.
At your insistence, I open my eyes and take the slice of fruit that you offer to me. Our eyes meet as I sink my teeth into it and for once, I am not the first to look away. I hold your gaze and watch the play of emotions in your expressive blue eyes and I giggle softly when you finally look away with reddened cheeks.
It is so delightful to be here like this with our little picnic in the middle the meadow. If I have ever had a moment like this, when my only cares were which outfit would be practical for lying in the grass and whether I packed enough liquids in the picnic basket then it was so long ago that I do not remember. I idly watch a herd of shaaks parade in the far distance and I feel your gaze return to me. It has become like a game, our wandering eyes. There are even certain rules. First one of us stares until the other is compelled to look back and our gazes are locked for heartbeats. The one that breaks the stare is the one that has to initiate it moments later. All this goes on while we make idle conversation about everything and anything. Right now, we are talking about the years we have spent apart. I ask about your training as a Jedi. I hear the earnestness in your voice as you answer me, not even trying to contain your delight at my apparently idle interest in your life. But it is not idle, even though it should be and both of us are aware of it. Your life as a Jedi seems to be dominated by your tumultuous relationship with Master Kenobi and your dangerous adventures. I wonder if all your Jedi missions are really so wild or whether you selected the ones that were most likely to impress me. I remember you as a boy showing me your protocol droid and insisting that you were yet to show me the fastest-ever Podracer you were building outside. You have never needed to brag to impress me, Ani. I have always known you are special. Even then, you fascinated me.
The conversation turns back to me and once again, I find myself confiding in you more than I have ever with anyone before, certainly more than I have planned to or more than I think prudent. I talk about my brief hiatus between Queen and Senator and the melancholy that had almost overwhelmed until Queen Jamilla re-instituted me in public service. I talk about my years as an Apprentice Legislator and my adventures in academia and the military. The memories of that time are so bittersweet. I was young then, although I did not know it. I believed in the sanctity of the law and our government of democracy. Those days were filled with hard work, rigorous training and intensive study but they were also filled with cheerful companionship, high-spirited yet good-spirited debates and most importantly, passionate idealism. I believed in a system that I have long come to accept as corrupt. My life now is filled with political alliances, cut-throat senate debates and cynicism.
But I have no intention of letting my thoughts dwell too long on my life in politics or lack of it. I want them to dwell on you. Your attentiveness to my words is highlighted in your every expression, your features mimicking the mood of the points in my narration. It is like looking into a mirror with a different reflection, that is how closely you empathise with me.
Our conversation turns to the more personal and I am asking you about your romantic life. Part of my mind tells me that I am going into perilous territory. Frequently of late, that part of my mind has been giving me a lot of well-needed and unwanted advice. This time around, I choose not to heed.
I am enchanted by the endearing mixture of embarrassment and earnestness with which you narrate a story of emotional celibacy. I refuse to even ask myself why I am so elated by your answer. Then you are turning the question back at me and I hedge because I want to tease you. I still remember Palo, as clearly as any girl would remember her first crush, her first kiss - his wonderful hair and eyes. I tell you this and watch your face darken with anger and hurt and I am delighted. That annoying part of my mind tells me this time that I am playing with fire and now, the other part, a part which has generally lain silent and docile all these years, rises up and tells it to leave me be. It is the part that I think might be my heart.
The conversation moves out of the intimate and into queries about my career. Are you merely taunting me, I wonder, when you speak of your antipathy to politicians and our system of rule? You, more than anyone else I know personally, would have cause to be disillusioned by the system. I can never forget your mother's words to me: the Republic does not exist here and the realization that there were people in this free system of democracy who were literally slaves. I can never forget the disappointment in your earnest face when Qui-Gon told you we had not come to Tatooine to free the slaves. I remember that as a child you dreamt of being a Jedi and freeing the other slaves. Do you still have those dreams, Ani or have you become complacent with cynicism? Your heart must ache so with thoughts of your mother. I want to help you, Ani. I want to ease your burden for you.
You are laughing at me now, teasing me about my position. Your words are like needle pricks in the already dwindling balloon of contentment inside me. I manage a small smile and look away. I do not wish to be reminded about the protocols of Senator Amidala, Ani. They do not include lying shoeless in the grass and flirting with an adolescent Jedi Padawan. I do not wish to be Amidala today. I was Amidala yesterday. Yesterday, when you kissed me and your breath seemed to draw out the soul from my body, I could feel everything I ever stood for and believed in, fall away from me and leave behind a person that I did not know. And Amidala had drawn away from you in fear.
Perhaps, that person was Padm?, just Padm?, the woman I might have become if I had never been Amidala and had my illusions corrupted so early.
I am suddenly pulled to my feet. You take off, laughing, and I watch you taunt a lone shaak that must have lagged behind the herd. Your antics are amusing and I am touched because with your uncanny ability to read my moods, you must have sensed my disquiet. You chase after the irritated shaak, determined to tame it, and laughing, I follow. My pensiveness drops off me like a cloak.
Today, I want to be just Padm? with you. Young and carefree, with every right to play in the grass and feel beautiful and wonderful, basking in the attentions of a young suitor.
For that is what you are, Ani. Do you think I do not know you, what you want from me, what your attention and charisma and impish charm are driving at?
Or is it Padm? whom I do not know? Because while you have made yours common knowledge with every word and gesture from the moment of our first meeting, my own feelings are hidden from myself.
The shaak manages to shake you off its back, trampling over you as it trots off. My heart stills for a heartbeat but then I force myself to remember that you are, after all, a grown Jedi and you are made of tougher stuff than a nine-year-old boy. I call after you all the same but you do not answer. It is an old trick and I am not going to fall for it. I am learning to be wary of you, Anakin. After last night, it will be foolish of me to keep mistaking you for a wide-eyed child.
Last night I struggled with a sleep that was haunted by dreams of that kiss.
I have to convince myself that that was all that kiss was. A dream.
Get up, Ani. You are taking this joke too far and I am no longer amused. As if in response to my thoughts, you groan softly and your body heaves from the ground. Then it collapses under its own weight.
The wind between my skirts tells me that I am running but my mind doubts that. Everything seems to be either slowing down or moving against me: the blades bend leisurely before they part before my feet; your still figure draws away even as I reach for it. Like a zooming holo-vid, my vision shrinks until my focus is solely on you. My ears cannot make out any sound because none is coming from you.
I have but known you for a few days in a span of ten years but now I think and I cannot remember a time in my life when I was without the knowledge of a blue-eyed boy who thought that I was an angel. My mind moves to the opposite possibility - that there would be a time in my life when that blue-eyed boy would be no more - and it recoils from it.
If my heart is pounding, I cannot feel it and if my breath is heaving, I cannot hear it. Fear is cold in my chest and I feel the numbness spreading through my body. I fall on my knees beside you; my eyes note the utter stillness of your body. For the first time since our reunion, my hands reach out to touch you of my mind's accord. Your body is limp as I turn it on its back. I wait for the part of my mind that would tell me that I am overreacting.
It is silent.
I am furious! I can feel my chest heaving inside me now; my heart is literally pounding with anger. I strike at you and I am even more furious because it only serves to amuse you. I strike harder, repeated blows all over your face and body until your arms trap mine and we are rolling in the grass. Your chest is heaving against mine and I can hear the sound of your laughter and feel its breath in my ear. It is not funny, Ani. It is not even remotely funny. But happiness is bubbling between my ribs and I throw back my head and join you in laughter. We are still rolling in the grass and it should be awkward but all I feel is light and weightless and happy because you are Ani and even though you were heartless, you are alive and in my arms and I am in love with you.
I win our scuffle. You throw your head back in defeat and your dear, dear face is wreathed with grins. I laugh down at you with sheer delight at my discovery. I do not know when the emotion first took root in my heart and started to grow. Perhaps, it was planted there ten years ago when I promised you I will always care for you. Perhaps, it was planted even earlier, when you asked me at the moment of our first meeting. I do know that it has been growing greedily within me ever since our reunion, consuming me with a pain that my mind has been unwilling to understand. It is the discovery of the emotion and not the emotion itself that gives me joy.
I love you.
Later, this awareness will cease to be a cause for elation. Later, I will sit down and my pragmatic mind will analyze it clinically: an outlandish assumption, a ludicrous conclusion based on a moment of anxiety and spontaneity. But for now, I know with both my heart and my mind. And I celebrate this gift of love with every fibre of my being.
We ride on the shaak together. It is as docile beneath you as I am against you. In a way, we have both fallen under your spell. Your body and mine are pressed so closely together that I do not know where mine ends and yours begins. My arm has flung itself over your chest and you hold my hand to your heart with your own. My breathing is in pattern with your heart?s beating. You are silent, for once, and I am glad. I do not wish to talk, to discuss, to argue and spoil this perfect moment with awkwardness, denials and misgivings. They will come in time and they will come in plenty. For now, I only want to give my soul freedom to be tied by this strange bond that connects us so intimately, formed ten years ago when we were both children and now forged and strengthened into something that transcends reality.
The yellow sun kisses us with its warmth. Your braid dances in the wind and caresses my cheek. And I inhale your scent of sunshine and earth as the distant waterfall blesses us with the sweet scent of saltwater spray and meadow.
I will remember this day for the rest of my life.
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