Sadi wanted to roll in the leaves. They had landed on the tree roots around her like confetti, and they made her want to skip and frolic, but she forced herself to stay still with all of her willpower.
The sun had parted the clouds that hung over the forest. Though the rain had cleared, round droplets still clung to leaves and flower blossoms. She had ached to taste those little marbles that looked to be made of glass.
But instead of tasting them, she stooped low and stared into their reflections, and she watched the tiny image of her prey rustling in the canopy above. She was hunting.
Any second now, Sadi thought.
The creature was drawing nearer, so she placed her basket softly on the ground. She crouched over the mouth of the den with open hands, grounding her stance on the roots.
There were scuttling claws on the other side of the big tree, scales scraping against scales; she could feel it as a faint vibration in the bark. She closed her eyes because she knew her sight would deceive her before her ears would.
There was a tiny hiss—then, the sound of a suspicious forked tongue tasting the air, coming around the corner of the tree.
The slithering had slowed, grown hesitant. Even still, the claws clacked lightly against the wood. Sadi could almost feel the wheels turning in that creature’s head; in her mind, she could almost see those eyes narrowing with reservation.
Then she felt a startled breath hitting her right in the face.
She opened her eyes just in time to know where she needed to grasp. She aimed for the forelimbs, since she knew those would stay well-tethered, and as she clasped the creature’s scaly wrists, the lizard shouted in surprise and sent a flock of birds above scattering.
She had caught her just at the entrance of her den, and as the lizard woman fought to escape into the hole, Sadi held on with all her strength. She let her feet slide across the ground.
“Yes, yes!” Sadi shouted, her grin wide. “Take me inside with you!”
But this seemed to change the creature’s mind altogether, and with a furrowed brow, she fell limply onto the roots of the tree with Sadi beside her.
“C’mon, c’mon! Let me go.”
“Let you go? After I waited here so long to catch you? That sounds like a waste of time.” With the side of her cheek pressed in the dirt, Sadi smiled at that half-human face, but the lizard woman did not smile back.
“Yeah, well, you’re the one wasting my time,” she said, trying to shake her hands loose, “I already told you, kid, I’m not letting you into my house. I don’t like visitors—especially people who attack me for no reason.”
“I didn’t attack you! This is all a big misunderstanding. Stay with me in the woods for awhile, just like you did on the day we met, and I’ll explain everything. I came all the way here to give you something, and if you don’t receive it, then I’ll just follow you into the hole and rush the door as soon as you unlock it. You may be quick, but I’m quicker.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Why do you even keep coming over here all the time? Look, what happened that day was just a one-time thing. I’m usually not that social and I’ve already told you a million times to leave me alone.”
“I’ll leave you alone—after you take my gifts.” Sadi tightened her grip. “Besides, what have I really interrupted here? It’s a Sunday afternoon. Is that a working day for lizards or something? Do the lizard headquarters never give you a day off?”
The scaly woman sighed with resignation and rolled over to sit up. “Fine, fine, if it’ll satisfy you enough that you’ll take a hike. Just make it quick.”
Sadi finally let go, if for no other reason than to clap her hands. “Great! Come here, come here. I want to show you some things!” She pulled the basket over, and as soon as she dropped it between them, the lizard woman made a face.
“Yes, it’s your tail!” Sadi picked it up out of the basket. “I wanted to return it to you, of course. I didn’t mean to take it. You just left it behind all of a sudden last Sunday when I tried to follow you.” Though originally she had been afraid to touch it because it would twitch and wiggle in her hand, it had grown stiffer over the past week and she had started to enjoy the feel of the smooth scales. They reminded her of leather.
“Uh, well, I didn’t exactly leave it behind on purpose. It just kind of falls off if someone grabs it too hard while I’m running away.” She gave Sadi a wry glance. “Which you did, by the way.”
“Oh my! Did I hurt you?”
“No.” The woman scooted over slightly and Sadi could see the stump of her tail bone. “It’s already growing back. It’s more of an inconvenience than anything because then I forget that I can’t use it to steer when I go swimming.”
“That’s terrible! I’m so sorry!” Laying it across two hands, Sadi offered her the disembodied tail. “Here, here! Put it back on. I didn’t realize you needed it for stuff, or else I would have returned it as soon as I was done using it.”
The lizard woman took it from her, but with some reluctance. She tapped it against the tree trunk and it gave a dead thud, and she winced at the sound. “Well, I can’t just put it back on. Besides, it’s all mummified now and—wait, what?” She raised an eyebrow suddenly. “Using it? What the hell did you use this for?”
“Nothing,” Sadi said quickly, reaching into the basket. She had lined it with dead crickets and dragonfly nymphs. “It was kind of too big anyway, and at the time it was creeping me out that it would move by itself.”
The lizard woman huffed, dropping the tail onto the ground. “You shouldn’t be the one complaining that you’re creeped out when you’re the one who—wait, what? What?” She shook her head. “‘Too big?’ Too big for what? What the hell were you doing with my—?”
Sadi let out a breath of exasperation and sprinkled some of the crickets into the lizard woman’s lap. “I told you—nothing. Besides, what do you care? It’s not like it was attached to you anymore, so you couldn’t feel it. If someone else wants to make use of something that you just threw away like that, what difference does it make? It’s recycling.”
“You keep saying ‘nothing,’ but it’s sounding an awful lot like you did something to it.” Even with her wary look, though, the lizard woman seemed helpless in the face of food, and she picked up a cricket to pop into her mouth.
“I hunted those myself yesterday. Fried them up for you, too. Do you like them?”
She and the woman fell silent, but some of the braver birds had returned overhead and started chirping, and so Sadi felt less pressured to make some noise. Still, after a few awkward seconds passed, she began, “Lizard Lady, about that first day we met—”
“Like I said, it was a one-time thing, not something you should expect to happen ever again. You caught me on a bad day, that’s all.”
“Was it bad, though?” Sadi slid a little closer and the woman leaned away some more. “I know that you lizard people aren’t very touchy-feely, so it really took me by surprise when you approached me. To be honest, I was feeling very alone at the time, before you showed up. I was wandering in the forest because my best friend had rejected me, and I didn’t realize what I needed most in the world was just that feeling of touch. And when you jumped from that branch above me and then took me in your arms all of a sudden….” Sadi felt the tears coming back, the same tears from that day. “I don’t know, I had just never really felt held before then. Even if your skin doesn’t feel like human skin, even if it’s kind of rough and thin and I can sense your blood pumping really close to the surface, it didn’t scare me because I knew that blood came from your heart—and your heart doesn’t have any scales; it’s the same as mine.”
The lizard woman shifted with some discomfort, shoved another handful of crickets into her mouth as she looked away. “Yeah, about that—”
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, something in me must have really touched her. We don’t even know each other, but she could sense my pain.’ I’ve never met anyone like that. It’s like you knew exactly what to do. Your fingers were cold, but somehow everywhere you touched sent waves of warmth through my body.”
Sadi had scooted so far over the tree roots that her thigh pressed into the scaly woman’s leg. “I decided that I really liked you and I wanted to tell you, but you kept running away every time I showed up here. Today, I was determined!” She tilted her head to try to catch the lizard woman’s eye—though she couldn’t decide which one to gaze into because they were both looking in different directions. “I’m at the marrying age, you see, and I’ve been searching for a special someone. Now I know that this someone is you, that destiny brought us together. My parents will kick up a ruckus if I marry a lizard—they’re very traditional—but I don’t really care. I know that we had something special that day.”
The lizard woman opened her hand and let the last of the crickets flutter to the ground. She pressed two fingers to her brow, rubbed her forehead as if she had been overcome with a jolt of vertigo. “Look, I think you’ve misread some things here. As I understand it, you warm-blooded people like to get all cuddly and it makes you crazy, gives you all kinds of weird feelings.”
“Yes, that’s right, that’s right.” Sadi perked up at that. Even just sitting next to her beloved lizard lady, the “weird feelings” swirled around inside her.
“Well, it’s not the same for us.” The woman finally looked her in the eyes. “You people have all this poetry about love and tenderness and sharing each other’s saliva, and we write songs about body temperature regulation. We just have different priorities in life.”
Sadi frowned, a bit hurt. “What do you mean?”
The lizard woman scratched the back of her scaly head with a hesitant look on her face, but after a moment she said it outright: “I mean that I hugged you that day because I was cold.”
“Yeah, kid, it was the first day of fall and it was cloudy! What do you want? The sun wasn’t out to heat the rocks that I usually sit on to get warm. I’m not like you; I can’t just make my own body heat. I had to find something to warm me up so I could digest my lunch, and there you were, crying your head off, like a moving furnace through the woods.”
“You mean, you didn’t do it because you like me?”
“Sure, I like you—but I only like you because you’re warm. Sorry.”
Sadi jumped to her feet. She kicked the basket and sent dead bugs flying in all directions, which made the lizard woman start. “I’m not going to just sit here and be objectified!”
“Oh? And what about you? You don’t even know me and already you were making up all kinds of stories about some connection that didn’t exist, assuming all kinds of things about how I felt, using me to live out some fantasy in your head and heal your emotional wounds. Isn’t it better to use someone because you’re simply cold instead of for some weird complicated reason like yours?” She paused, then added with a grimace, “Not to mention the whole tail thing. Jesus.”
“Fine, then!” Sadi shouted, making the leaves dance with her bare feet. “Live like this if you want! Live the callous life of a cold-blooded reptile, see if I care! Don’t come crawling back to me on the next cloudy day!”
With that, Sadi stomped off towards the trail that led to the village. She looked over her shoulder only once, and it was to find that the lizard woman had picked up her old tail to hesitantly give it a whiff. With a burning face, Sadi turned away and quickened her pace, convinced that she would never see those slitted eyes ever again.
* * *
Sadi could not sleep for the next three nights. Her mind was filled with visions of the lizard lady who had caressed her so lovingly all those weeks before, but who had been so cold with her ever since. A part of her wished she had not given back the tail so that she would at least have something to comfort herself with while she cried into her pillow.
But in the wee hours of the morning of the third day, through the sound of the pouring rain, she heard a scuttle-scuttle just outside her bedroom wall. Her heart leapt. However, because she had been so broken-hearted by the lizard lady, she whipped around to face away from the window as she saw it sliding open. She closed her eyes even as she could hear her beloved slithering into the room.
“Go away,” she said, her voice raw from her tears.
Silence permeated the space again. A presence hovered at the foot of the bed.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give you everything you want,” the lizard finally said. “I’m really different from you, and you’re different from me, and I don’t think either one of us should change.”
Sadi rolled herself deeper into the sheets, like she was wrapping herself in a cocoon. Even though she was getting too warm, she pressed her face harder against the mattress. “Of course you would say that. You’re just a lizard. It’s easy when you don’t have feelings.”
“Of course I have feelings. They’re just different from yours, so you don’t know them that well—and that’s fine. Maybe we don’t have to give each other everything to find something in each other.”
Sadi lifted her head up, wrested a hand from the blankets to wipe her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I mean….” A gust of air flowed in against Sadi’s legs as the blankets billowed up. A mass of smooth scales touched her skin, made her shiver. “You’re too warm,” the lizard woman said, though her voice was now muffled by the sheets, “and I’m too cold. Maybe I have something to give to you and you have something to give to me, and they don’t have to be the same thing.”
Without resisting it anymore, Sadi accepted the embrace, and instead of hiding her face in the sheets, she buried it against the lizard woman’s chest. She listened to the heartbeat, and though the rhythm was slower than her own, she knew that the lizard lady felt something. It calmed her enough that she started to drift off before long.
“What’s your name?” Sadi finally asked, summoning her last bits of wakefulness.
“It’s better if you don’t know.” The rain pattered. The lizard’s claws lightly scuttled against Sadi’s bare back. “You can’t pronounce it without a forked tongue.”