Hallo, Aro is a series of flash fiction stories about allosexual aromantic characters navigating friendship, sexual attraction, aromanticism and the weight of amatonormative expectation.
Contains: A sapphic aromantic who fears that her interest in another girl may be best explained by a word she doesn't wish applied to her--romance. This story follows on from the piece Friendship.
Content Advisory: References to amatonormativity and the vague nature of what is (and isn't) decided to be romance or romantic.
Length: 989 words / 4 PDF pages.
The new girl isn’t a princess.
Plump, dimpled and bucktoothed, Nakia struts about the camp in red jodhpurs, a green vest worn over a floral-print shirt and a sun-faded cap tugged tight over her shaven head, here to carry out a census of Tierre’s dragons and their hoards.
Azhra, cautious of strangers rummaging through hir collection, sets Elisa to watch as Nakia sketches antique vases and takes coin rubbings. She flaps her hands when excited and shouts when discovering a new book or chest of gemstones, her high voice echoing through the cave. Dates, names of eras and explanations on historical movements spill from Nakia’s lips; every discovery provokes a glorious enthusiasm. How does Elisa not yearn for a girl who fearlessly gifts her passion to the world?
The usual lines sit, flat and unspoken, on Elisa’s tongue. Yes, she can seduce Nakia like any other girl, but what then? Partners leave, but the pain is only the difficulty of a broken relationship, a girl who expects something Elisa can’t give. When princesses and goose girls alike don’t stay with a dragon’s handmaiden, Elisa never feels the need to risk her heart.
Nakia, though, makes Elisa a coward. A silent coward left dizzy during the day and sleepless at night, tangled and bound in desire and fear.
It feels like … romance. Isn’t that what books name this depth of yearning?
“I wish,” Azhra says one morning, “you would stop brushing the same spot on my quarters and tell me what’s burdening your mind.”
In daylight, Azhra seems both less and more monstrous. Less because the dragon’s emerald hide shimmers in the sun, bold against the browns and greys of the rocky mountainside. More because one can no longer pretend that Azhra’s mouth and gullet won’t consume Elisa in a single, unchewed gulp.
Elisa sighs. “I want a girl. Want her like I can’t bear to think on what happens if she doesn’t…” She looks down, pretending to check a misshapen scale for mites. “If you really want someone like this, that’s romance? Isn’t it?”
Azhra’s snort wreathes the camp in smoke. “You’re worried if attraction is romantic?”
In Elisa’s opinion, one should avoid converse with a dragon so soon after hir breakfast; at least Azhra is obliging enough to face downwind.
“I can’t go and be in love with a girl!” Elisa works the brush near Azhra’s tail, pressing hard. “But I want her. It’ll break my heart if—see, isn’t that romantic?”
“Humans! Have you never thought that what you consider romance is … arbitrary? Cultural? And bound to a particular way of thinking and behaving?” Ze snorts again; Elisa coughs. No handmaiden ever becomes used to a dragon’s morning blood-breath. “Shouldn’t sapient animals be past requiring a rigid selection of courtship performances for pairbonding? You cause yourself so much grief for so little reason.”
“But if it’s romantic…”
Azhra turns so one massive, reptilian eye rests on Elisa. She gulps, fighting the instinctual, knee-shaking fear roused by such a gaze: nobody survives fight, flight or freeze with a dragon.
Conversation is the only art that stays death.
“I’m not romantic,” Elisa whispers, stilling her hands. “I don’t know how to be. And you said I shouldn’t have to want to be … and I don’t.”
Azhra flicks the tip of hir tail against the ground, a gesture Elisa reads less as anger and more as irritated bafflement. “Does intensity truly make all relationships romantic? What of a parent and child, then? Siblings? Boon companions? What makes someone a friend and what makes someone a girlfriend? What shape of sex is non-romantic and what shape is romantic? Arbitrary. Therefore, entirely up to you. My scales, child.”
Elisa runs her fingernails over Azhra’s scales; the dragon arches hir spine, shuddering. “I…”
Up to her? Mother doesn’t think so. Mother knows what is and isn’t romantic, particularly when sighing over its lack in Elisa’s enjoyment of casual sex. A life-long relationship, marriage, children and certain displays of affection, all things to which any good girl should aspire. While Elisa knows that some don’t follow such a narrow path after a wedding, the concept leaves her breathless and glad to be a dragon’s handmaiden.
How does someone marry someone without marrying someone?
“They say … really feeling something for someone, that’s romance. I’m so scared of her not saying yes, especially when I explain what I want! But I don’t want this to be romance.”
Dragons take partners when they will for as long as they will, while others enjoy their own caves and solitude. They don’t have a native word for “romance”. They don’t need one.
It’s too bad that Elisa can’t become a dragon.
Azhra exhales. A struggling bush by the track heading down the mountain blackens and wilts. “Intensity of desire isn’t the sole province of romance. If you know that attraction doesn’t always include romance and that romance lacks any consistency in its definition, can’t you just decide that what you feel isn’t romantic?”
Elisa drops the brush and leans against Azhra’s near hindleg, trying to find herself in the pebbled texture of Azhra’s scales. It feels too simple, put like that. She can just decide?
Mother will choke on her own spit at the idea of so discarding such limiting rules.
Elisa gives her dragon a tremulous smile.
“Tell her what you want. If she wants similarly enough that you can compromise and coexist, all else is irrelevant. If she doesn’t, she isn’t meant for you. Talk to her.” Azhra roars a gust of embers and smoke across the camp before bellowing like only a dragon can. “Nakia! Child, will you help Elisa put out this fire?”
“I hate you,” Elisa hisses, hitching up her skirts and dashing for the closest water bucket.
She doesn’t hate too much or too hard, though, when a girl in tight-fitting red trousers comes running up to the camp.