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The bell above the door to the Haze of the Moon jangled cheerfully as Ressa came in, stomping snow off of her feet on the thick rug.Author's Notes
The cheerfully lit room that greeted her was warm, after the winter evening, and invited cozy conversation in every quiet corner. It smelled like spiced drinks - a specialty of the women's club - and slightly of mingled smoke. Plush chairs in alcoves were half-filled with customers, chatting to each other with social abandon. Most of the fringed tapestry curtains were pulled back, but a few were down, giving those customers a private place to converse and take in the specialty food and drinks of the club. A brightly-dressed server took her coat, and Ressa ordered her usual.
Ressa was tempted by several tables where it was apparent hot gossip was being shared, and smiled and nodded at the other customers with friendly promise before proceeding back to one of the two public rooms that opened off of the lobby, marked with a crescent moon. There was a double-entrance, an air pocket of sorts, to keep the smoke from the back room from overwhelming the front. Within, the cozy atmosphere became almost sultry, with lower light that was hazed in smoke. This room, unlike its mirror companion (which was marked with a star) had a gentle scent, and Ressa could breathe without fearing for her self-control. This was the moon blossom room, a social place for a ritual for women alone. The other was for smoking hazeleaf, a mild psychotropic that was widely licensed in the Empire. Ressa didn't care for the relaxing effects of the drug, or the visual 'haze' that came with it. Moon blossom, on the other hand, had no side-effects - and one very excellent principle property: birth control.
Ressa took an open seat at one of the round tables, greeting the other women, who greeted her back in familiar fashion. They chatted easily about the latest local gossip, and smiled widely at a mother who entered after Ressa with a young woman - clearly just entering puberty - shyly at her heels. Ressa accepted her mouthpiece and spiced cider from the server as the newcomer to their table took an empty seat next to her and scooted herself in.
Ressa took more care in attaching her mouthpiece to the central hooka than she usually did, aware of the girl watching her curiously, and her mother explained the process with a great deal of cheerful assistance from the other women.
A swift inhalation of the filtered smoke, a roll over the tongue, and Ressa held it for a short count, as timed by a mellow little bell. Three such patterns, keenly aware of the scrutiny, and Ressa had her medical license checksheet initialed by the server to show that she had received her dose of the drug for the tenday. The spiced cider took the slightly chalky taste from her mouth, and the young woman nodded and clumsily installed her own mouthpiece to a free tube of the hooka as Ressa unscrewed her own.
She couldn't help but recall her own first time in a moon blossom circle - new to all the mysteries of puberty and prevention that had been no more than theory before - and she smiled as she left the smoky room, rich in ritual and nostalgia.
Inspired by Lorna's weekly 30-minute prompt.