The tallest building in Balarand, and perhaps all of Tsubasa is Gonda Tower. It towers so far above its peers that even Castle Balarand is dwarfed. It’s said that on special nights, the very brightest of them, if you stand on the top of the tower you can reach up and touch the tips of the moons as they fly by. It isn’t true, but the sky never looks better than when you’re on top of the world.
I know the owner, so next time we go to Elince, I’ll take you up there to see for yourself. How does that sound? You want me to continue the story instead of giving you travel tips? Oh well.
Today, Beatrice and her Mom had made a visit to Gonda Tower’s vast shopping center, and, as always, every single floor was busy. If Emi were here, she would most certainly be having a fit right now, Beatrice thought. Despite the anti-Dannark demonstrations going on in the streets outside, the shops were just as packed as any other day.
Beatrice preferred the hustle and bustle of the marketplace near the library, the one where she and Emi first met all that time ago. The excitement of finding something new, of meeting people from all over the world and haggling with them over prices, outclassed anything she could find in these huge, clean stores. Well, she never actually haggled before because she never had enough money to buy anything worth doing it over, but she liked the theory of it. The theory of arguing.
Even so, Gonda Tower was nice. Each floor had a different department selling all sorts of things. One floor was filled with art supplies for painting and sculpting, another with stuffed animals and children’s toys, another with Ancient Elincian-style memorabilia that could be used to decorate one’s home. The floor that Beatrice and her Mom were on was a massive clothing store, covered from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with outfits of infinite variety.
To say that it was overwhelming was a grand understatement. Actually, Beatrice wasn’t sure if she had ever been in a clothing store before, on account of Mom making all of her outfits herself. That was why today’s adventure was a little bit odd, she thought to herself. Mom rarely left the area around the apartment, that Beatrice knew of anyway, and their first mother-daughter outing in a year was suddenly a shopping trip for expensive clothes.
Mom was also much, much more interested than Beatrice right now. Don’t get her wrong, she liked cute dresses as much as the next girl. But for the most part, wearing a simple shirt-and-skirt combo was enough. Getting into Emi levels of dressiness was just too much.
Mom took a long green dress, so bright it hurt Beatrice’s eyes just looking at it, and held it up against Beatrice’s chest. She examined it closely, and nodded. “It looks good on you.”
“What, you don’t like it?”
Beatrice shook her head. “I like it. It’s just… I’m not sure.”
“Why don’t you try it on and see?”
“Alright.” Beatrice took the dress and went into a changing room to see how it looked on her. She took her glasses off and undressed. As she looked in the mirror at her own freckled cheeks, at her own blue eyes, and her own curly hair. She used to hate this face–it was so plain, so boyish, making her look shy, making her look unkempt when she was neither of these things. But this was the same face that Emi loved. There had to be a reason behind that, right?
She put the dress on and rotated herself around to get a good look at it.
How did it all come to this?
Trying on an expensive dress at Gonda Tower. Going on a trip to Mammoth Pass. Being in love with a diplomat’s daughter, the most beautiful girl in the entire world. A few months ago, she was on-track to join the priesthood just like she had always dreamed about. Then she saw that face at the marketplace, and everything changed so dramatically.
She hadn’t fully wrapped her head around the extent of it, yet. It was just that crazy.
The dress fit well, though a little bit at the waist. But she didn’t like how loud the color was, how much it would make her stick out. Though, why she didn’t want to stick out was beyond her. Was it that she always felt insecure about her appearance, and didn’t want to showcase that to everyone else? Was Emi’s worrisome self rubbing off on her?
Actually, she decided that she did like the dress. She exited the changing room and showed it to her Mom. Her reaction was an immediate clapping.
“So beautiful,” Mom said. “My daughter is so beautiful.”
“Thank you, Mom,” Beatrice said. She would have blushed, were it not her Mom who complimented her.
“You’re going to be the star of every event in Mammoth Pass,” she said.
“Well, no, I think Emi is still going to be the star.”
“Not after we’re done here. We’re going to get you clothes to make you shine.”
“Mom, are you sure we need to buy all these fancy clothes like this?” Beatrice asked. “I’m fine just wearing whatever you make.”
Her Mom smiled, and said, “What I make isn’t good enough. A girl like you deserves more.”
“I don’t–” Beatrice stopped herself before she could get in an argument about something as silly as self-deprecation.
And for the first time in a while, Beatrice saw that lip-scrunching sadness on her Mom’s face, the kind of indignant resignation that beset her in her worst moods.
Beatrice hadn’t done anything wrong that she knew of. She had never disobeyed her parents. Never gotten in a fight. Never came home late at night with a few too many Balarand brews in her belly. And yet here, and now, her Mom looked like she was about to cry.
And now Beatrice felt terrible.
Could it be that Beatrice was seemingly abandoning her lifelong quest to join the Priesthood, or that she was dating a girl from a family so important her parents were away from home for months at a time? Could it be that she thought she was abandoning the family for whatever pursuits, as if she hated her Mom and Dad because she wanted to see the continent with her own eyes? She wasn’t sure.
“What’s the matter, Mom?” Beatrice asked, instead of skirting the issue and ending up with worse hurt feelings.
“Nothing’s the matter,” she said, eyes filling with tears. “My baby girl’s growing up. And I am so proud of her. It’s just a little…” There went the crying.
Oh. It was THAT kind of sadness.
Beatrice quickly moved to hug her around the neck, but dropped the green dress on the floor. Whoops. “I’m sorry for growing up,” she said.
Mom stopped crying and laughed. “I wish all children told their parents that.”
As Beatrice picked up the dress again, a question occurred to her. “Mom, what do you think about me and Emi?”
“What do I think?”
“About me and Emi… and, the priesthood. I’m going to take the test, but…”
Mom turned away from Beatrice to browse through the other dresses on sale. After a moment to look at a frilly cream-colored dress, she said, “You can’t do both, can you?”
“Pick the girl.”
The way she said it was so instant, so decisive, that it took Beatrice off-guard.
In fact, she didn’t respond for the duration of their time shopping. She got six new dresses, all paid for with the money her family had been saving up for a vacation to the coast this summer. Today was supposed to be a joyful day, and yet Beatrice was stuck on the suddenness of her mother’s words.
And then she thought about it.
She really was going to pick the girl.
As perplexing as it was, she was going to pick the girl.