“This whole time it was Emi. Wow,” Beatrice’s Dad said, chuckling as he cut into his potato. “Can you believe I’ve known your girlfriend longer than you?”
“I’m surprised you never introduced me to your daughter, Earl– er, Mr. Ragnell,” said Emi. “But I guess she was always so busy reading all the time.”
“I doubt I would have ever noticed you, I was so into my books,” Beatrice said.
“You and I both know that’s false.” Emi and Beatrice giggled together.
The four of them sat at the dining table; Emi tried to be as polite as possible, keeping a napkin in her seat and arranging all her utensils properly. The Ragnell Family home was small–genuinely not much bigger than Emi’s bedroom– but by no means was it too cramped for the four of them. Beatrice’s Dad flipped through the latest issue of the Balarand Circle as he ate, but otherwise, their attentions were all completely focused on Emi. In any other situation, this would have given her a panic attack. But now, because she had already stressed out enough about this event, she felt weirdly calm.
Oh Gods, was Emi relieved that Beatrice took this surprise well.
She had been unnerved to the point of shaking at the idea of meeting Beatrice’s parents, even if she had known Earl for most of her life. This kind of supper meeting was ridiculously important in a romantic relationship, and if she messed up it could doom things forever. It didn’t matter if she was overthinking things to the highest degree; this was a mission vital to the success of her continued existence as a human being.
So she had finally worked up the courage and told Earl herself. He helped him arrange the meeting and kept it all a surprise from her own girlfriend–at her dad’s suggestion–just so they could end up like this, happy together at the dining table.
Beatrice’s Mom was basically swooning at Emi. “When you said you had a girlfriend, I never expected her to be so….”
“So beautiful! I mean, look at her hair… It’s so nice and straight and…” Her Mom started playing with Emi’s hair. This was far from the first time someone had done this. For Beatrice’s sake, she let it happen.
“And your food is amazing, too, Mrs. Ragnell,” she told her, trying to keep from being too flustered.
“Oh, I don’t know if ‘amazing’ is the right word for it…”
“Mom, take the compliment.”
Beatrice’s parents were almost like older versions of her herself. It was so funny to look at them and then look at her, because she could perfectly picture how she would age. Her hips would widen, her curls would whiten, but those blue eyes of hers would stay just as vibrant and swirling She wanted to make the most of her time with Beatrice, but she knew she could be with her for a lifetime. Easily.
Was now the right time?
Of course, there was an ulterior motive to this family supper, which is much of the reason why she had wanted to keep it a secret from Beatrice. There was one more thing she needed to ask.
She’d been meaning to do so for a long while, but she had never found the right time. Now, with Beatrice and her parents together like this, it was the perfect opportunity for it.
If she could muster the energy to do it, that was.
Her palms started to sweat, and her appetite disappeared into the pit of her stomach. Her heart beat in doubletime. “I do have one request,” Emi said to Beatrice’s parents. She pretended that her nerves hadn’t already faded into uselessness, that she had the courage to say it.
“Go ahead,” her Dad said.
Here it went.
“My parents are arranging to meet with me at Mammoth Pass for that city’s own winter festivals in a few weeks, and I am allowed to bring a guest with me. As a way to introduce my parents to Beatrice, would you give your permission to let her travel with me?” She flashed a smile for good measure. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?
Beatrice was stunned, but her parents lit up in excitement.
“Going to see the Mammoths? That sounds like so much fun,” her Mom said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” She was still playing with Emi’s hair, by the way.
“And in all my studies on ancient cultures, I’ve never been able to visit the cultural museum up in Mammoth Pass.” her Dad said. “But.. it’s quite a lot of time. It’s nearly a week’s journey each way, right? Even if you stay for only a few days, that’s still nearly three weeks’ time…”
“It just isn’t possible, is it?” Her Mom said, a complete reversal of her previous comment. “I mean… just think of the timing, with exams and all…”
Beatrice came back to reality and banged her fork onto the table. “Emi. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” She looked stern, but Emi couldn’t tell if she was angry.
“I… I wanted it to be a surprise…”
“I need to discuss this with my parents,” she said. “Could you go wait someplace else?”
Emi looked around the apartment.
“Uh, go in my bedroom, I guess.”
Emi laid atop Beatrice’s bed, wondering why Beatrice had such a weird reaction to her proposal. It was supposed to be a nice surprise, and yet she may have gone and upset her girlfriend.
She closed the door and tried not to listen closely to the muffled voices on the other side of the wall, but it was hard not to at least listen to their tones of voice. There was no yelling, just the natural flow of a reasoned conversation, but it had been going on for long time already.
“..Never done anything you haven’t…” That came from Beatrice.
“…Studies and it isn’t a good…” From her Dad?
“…Too much, you always said. Why now? I’m ready, really. Really!” Beatrice’s voice was getting louder, which was probably not a good thing.
Oh, why did Emi do this? This surprise supper, this surprise request, anything involving keeping secrets. If this escalated into something between the Ragnells, she would never be able to forgive herself for hurting such a wonderful family…
Keeping secrets. That was practically all Emi ever did. She still hadn’t told Beatrice about her engagement. Hardly even hinted at it. And she was trying to get Beatrice to go with her on vacation. What a load of Mammoth crap she was.
Beatrice’s room was nice, at least. Extremely small, but that probably meant a lot less dusting for her housekeepers– er, for her to do. So tidy, too. Her desk spanned one entire wall except for the door while the bed spanned the other, and there was very little space between them.
How did Beatrice sleep on this thing, anyway? Emi’s bed was admittedly one of the softest ever, but this thing was like a stone slab. If this was how commoners were forced to sleep, she was okay with being a rich snob.
There on the corner of Beatrice’s desk, sitting on top of a stack of books, was the wooden centaur carving Emi had given her a while back. This was the first time she ever went into the girl’s room, and already she saw a symbol for their relationship displayed proudly. That made her heart melt away for a moment, until she realized she still needed to take something from Beatrice back to her own room. Hmm…
Eventually, the conversation ended, and Beatrice quietly entered the bedroom. Emi decided to pretend she was asleep to see what she would do. And what she did is pulled out her desk chair, flicked a candle on, and write in her notebook.
What? Was she studying at this hour? The madwoman!
Just as she was getting tired of doing this sleeping charade, Beatrice finished writing and tiptoed to the far side of the bed. She squeezed in next to Emi, sandwiching herself between her and the wall. The bed was far too small for two people to comfortably lay apart, so they were now in a very close cuddling position. She put her arm around Emi’s waist and breathed deeply, in and out. Her breathing soon slowed.
Oh no. Now Beatrice falling asleep, leaving Emi trapped here on this sheet of bedrock one might charitably call a bed. Laying uncomfortably with the most beautiful girl in the world cuddling her… What a dilemma!
“Tris, are you awake?” she asked, finally, doing her best to act like she was just waking up from a nap.
“Yeah.” she said. “My parents said yes, by the way.”
“Really? That’s amazing!”
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Beatrice said. “But my parents are very protective of me. They don’t like it when I spring big surprises on them.”
“They took it well when I asked them about having a supper together,” Emi said.
“ I told them about you a month ago,” Beatrice said.
“And… Can you not keep any secrets from me like that anymore? Tonight was really fun, but I was just really taken by surprise and it worried me a lot. Maybe I’m too much like my parents after all…”
“That’s not a bad thing,” Emi said. “Your parents are lovely. And so are you, Tris.”
“No more surprises, Emi?”
“I, uh, yeah. Yes.”
Beatrice hugged her tighter. Emi couldn’t see her face, but she hoped that Beatrice was as happy as she sounded. If those deep blue eyes of hers turned to pain, that would break her heart. “But you turned them around on it?” she asked.
“Maybe. My Dad seems fine with it now, and I guess my Mom is going along with it too. They weren’t going to allow it because all my exams are only a few months away, but I had a talk with them and convinced them that it might be the last big trip I get to take for a long time.”
“Because of… your priest stuff?”
“Yeah.” Emi’s heart sank just thinking about it. “But don’t worry about the priest stuff,” she said. “We’ll find a way to deal with it. If worst… If we… uh, well, I love you too much to just leave you be, Emi.”
“Thanks.” Her heart raised again.
“Also, my parents said I have to do a lot of studying while we’re travelling. Is that okay?” Beatrice asked.
“Have you been on the Northern Highway before?”
“No, I’ve never left Balarand.”
“You probably won’t want to study too much,” she said. “Trust me, it’s gorgeous. They don’t call it the Great White North for nothing.”
“I’ll do my best.” Beatrice squeezed Emi even tighter. She was so warm.
“No more surprises, Emi?”
But even still, Emi shivered.
When was she going to tell her about the wedding? Obviously not now, because that would completely ruin the mood. Maybe right after the trip? Or, if Emi introduced her to her parents at Mammoth Pass, that would be the perfect opportunity to shoot it all down at once, because they’d see what an amazing girl Beatrice was.
Or risk everything falling apart in front of her eyes. That would be… less optimal. But she was going to hope for the best, hope that “no more surprises” held true.
For now, though…
“Hey, Tris, can you turn around?” Emi asked.
“And face the wall? Why?”
“Okay.” Beatrice let go of Emi and turned on her other side. Then Emi wrapped her arms around Beatrice in return.
“It’s my turn to be there for you, Tris,” Emi said. “You’re the strong one, the level-headed one so much that I figured… maybe you deserve a rest.”
“I love you so much, Tris, and I’m so excited about this trip.”
“Three weeks to spend together. It’s a long time.”
“We deserve it,” Emi said.
“I feel like we’ve been in a relationship so long, but it’s only been… What, a few months?”
“A few months on the calendar, but a few lifetimes in our hearts.”
“Emi, that was the lamest thing you’ve ever said.” Beatrice adjusted herself and moved Emi’s right hand downwards, resting on her belly button. “Hold me tighter, please.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Is this okay?”
“You could afford to be a bit more courageous…”
Courageous. Emi hugged her girlfriend with a stronger embrace and thought about that word. Courageous…. Well…
“Hey Tris, do you think…”
“Do I think what?”
Emi kissed her on the back of the neck.
“I love you.”
Beatrice yelped and then covered her mouth with her hands. “Emi!” she whispered loudly. “What the heck are you doing? My parents are in the other room…”
“Oh! I, uh–”
Emi let go of Beatrice and sat up from the bed. Her hands began to shake. What did she think she was going to accomplish with all of that? What a moron. What a–
Beatrice, still laying on her side cracked up laughing. “Emi, I love you.”
“I’m so sorry.” Tears welled up in Emi’s eyes.
“You’re great. Maybe an idiot, but you’re great.”
“I’m so–Hey, I’m not an idiot!”
Beatrice sat up and nuzzled her forehead against Emi’s. “You’re smarter than I’ll ever be,” she said. “Not about everything, though.” She kissed her on the cheek and stood up from the bed. She went over to her desk and grabbed a notebook. “By the way, I wanted you to have this.”
“In exchange for the centaur carving. This is every note I took for every subject in my AA-grade classes at the junior priest academy. All of them for you.”
“For me? How come?”
“Just a keepsake, something to remember me by. And maybe I have some romantic notes scribbled in the margins here and there…”
“I’ll read every page.”
Beatrice giggled. “I know you will.” She handed her the notebook. “Now go home before Ms. Khami gets worried. We have a trip to prepare for.”
“Yes ma’am.” Emi saluted with the notebook.
If everything went well, this would be perfect. If it didn’t, everything could come crashing down. But Emi was willing to take those odds.