“Emi? Emi? I’m talking to you–”
Emi slammed the door and turned the lock.
Ms. Khami continued to yell through the door about how much trouble she’d be in when her parents returned to Balarand or how she wouldn’t eat supper for a week. None of these threats ever went anywhere. She was a terrible little thing, so much worse than her brothers, sure, but she couldn’t care less. Ms. Khami would get over it.
In the confines of this bedroom, the only things that mattered were Emi and whatever she cared about. The bed was bundle of twisted blankets, the desk was littered with loose papers, and the floral blouse she wore yesterday still laid on the floor in wrinkles. Just how Emi liked it.
She hopped on top of her bed and jumped up and down. She was sure Ms. Khami could hear her mattress springs bouncing around, but ultimately the only thing she could do about it was grumble and hope in vain that Emi’s parents would decide to punish her.
“Woo-hoo!” Emi shouted.
She never felt freer than when she trapped herself in her bedroom.
With a partly-deliberate twist she flipped herself around and landed on the bed butt-first. She laid down, spread out all her limbs, and heaved a long sigh. For a few moments she stayed there just like this. When she started getting more than a little drowsy, she turned her head on its side and focused her eyes on an old painting on the wall. It was a Tormod Benici painting of the First Winter Ceremonies–a duplicate, obviously, since the original was a priceless artifact kept in a museum in northern Dannark.
The painting was pretty, even if it wasn’t real. It showed a stark white snowscape with men and women in heavy winter clothing gathered around in a circle dancing over the Jewel of Elince. A flock of fairies accompanied them, and a runic symbol glowed in the sky. No matter how much Emi disliked the winter, she loved this painting.
She loved this painting, and she loved her bedroom, itself a work of art in its own way. Every bundle of dirty clothes on the floor, every stack of books laid haphazardly against a wall, every souvenir from her parents’ trips placed in prominent but ill-fitting spots specifically to show her ambivalence towards them… It was Emi’s own masterpiece, her own creation.
This bedroom was her sanctuary, a place where she controlled the elements, regardless of if those elements were nothing more than her personal possessions. As long as she stayed in here, she could throw around whatever she wanted, or jump on her bed whenever she wanted, or feel whichever emotions she wanted.
There was a certain irony, then, to her sanctuary being the place she was constantly trying to sneak out of, but it felt like it was a natural contradiction. Emi had freedom, so long as she chose to be in here. She was free from her annoying housekeeper nagging her about everything, free from an arranged marriage she never had a say in, free from the worries of meeting the most gorgeous human being and completely flubbing it.
She tilted her head back toward the ceiling. That girl from the library… from the marketplace… her name was Beatrice. What a cute name. Pretty uncommon these days, too.
“Beatrice,” she whispered.
Her name felt so nice to say.
If it weren’t for that stupid handshake… Why did Emi shake her darn hand? Normal girls didn’t do that. Especially not with each other! She refused to forgive herself for something so egregiously embarrassing. Her face must have been blood-red the entire time she was walking home. It was red even now.
Emi put three fingers on her lips.
“Beatrice,” she mouthed, letting herself feel her lips move as she said the name. “Beatrice. Beatrice. Beatrice.”
Such a pretty name. She let her mouth keep saying it, let her mouth keep smiling like it belonged to a madwoman. Her mind imagined going back to the library, seeing that curly head of hair, putting her hands through it. Yes, that was a good plan.
The loud knocks startled her and completely took her out of the moment. It was still Ms. Khami, but she did not begin this time with yelling and complaining. “Ah, Emi, there is a guest for you. Shall I let this one in to see you?”
“I-I-Um, who is it?”
She got up from her bed and unlocked the door. Seconds later, a boy dressed in a cardigan sweater and extremely tight pants entered the room. He wore a smug grin and a long black wig that glittered against his shiny bronze face. She was fairly sure he literally put glitter in his wig (something that would be proven true in later years). This was the nobleboy Tia Knoll, the nearest thing Emi had to a close friend.
“I apologize if I have interrupted anything important,” he said.
Emi kicked her floral blouse under the bed to hide the slobbish nature she was so proud of just moments earlier. “So what brings you by today?” she asked.
“I was just in the neighborhood,” Tia said before giggling uncontrollably. Tia lived in one of the large mansions outside the city, on the southern banks of Lake Geoffrey, an area worlds away from even Emi’s admittedly nice house in central Balarand. He was obviously not simply taking a stroll, if that’s what he was insinuating. “I would like to, if you are willing, cordially accept the invitation to your parents’ winter party this year.”
“Oh… I had forgotten there was one,” Emi said. It was one of the big ones, too, judging by the name winter party. That wasn’t good. “I wonder if I can get out of it.”
“Your parents will most likely force you to attend,” he said. “I do not care much for these kinds of parties myself, either, so I understand your struggle.”
“That’s a lie and you know it.”
He giggled. “Well, I do fancy meeting new cute boys on occasion, but as for this party, I doubt it will be too interesting in that regard,” he said. “However, it will have many Dannark nobles coming down to visit Balarand for the first time since the occupation. Many chances to network with the bureaucrats, in other words.”
“I guess I’ll be seeing you there, then…”
Tia was right.
Emi’s parents always held these horrid house parties that went on forever and had hundreds of wealthy people drunkenly dancing around and all those customary preparations and fancy dresses and utter foolishness. If she could, she would desert this lifestyle forever… but she had no choice in the matter. Or any matter, as long as its boundaries were outside of the domain of her bedroom.
Emi wondered why Tia even bothered to personally drop by rather than send a letter in the mail, except that he wanted to see Emi’s unfortunate reaction to the impending party. In that case, he got exactly what he wanted.
“I see you are getting a lot of schoolwork done,” he said, looking over at Emi’s desk, which was covered in notebooks and books. Economic Theory laid in the middle, a dozen or more bookmarks sticking out.
“I hate my schooling,” she said.
“Such is the lot of those of us too special to be sent away to boarding school,” Tia lamented. “I sometimes long for the thrill of living abroad. But my place is at my home.”
“I’m hardly special,” Emi said. “Oh wait, you were talking about you.”
“You’re too hard on yourself,” he said. “I think you have been cooped up in this room too long.”
“Only for… all day.”
Tia smiled broadly and his eyes narrowed. “Perhaps you need a new hobby.”
“Maybe, but I have to get ready for this big party first,” she said.
“And that, I await.”
In that case, there were sure to be plenty of preparations to be done. There went her dreams of being able to go to the library much anytime soon. And so went her chances of seeing Beatrice anytime soon.
Emi would have been upset if she didn’t expect things like this at every corner. This was her natural mode of life, after all…