Emi dropped the diced onions into the pot and covered it with a lid. It was easier than she expected. Ms. Khami looked back at her and smiled.
“I really appreciate the help,” she said. “The other housekeepers are so overworked with deck. It was too much work for me to cook everything by myself.”
“I really enjoy this,” Emi said, her tone coming out a lot flatter and more distant than she had intended. “It’s better than being in my room, that’s for sure.” She managed a laugh but it came out too fake for her own liking.
“Emi, I know that… it has been hard for you to adjust. But know that I will always be there for you if you,” she said. “So, I thank you for letting yourself be available to me.”
“Ms. Khami?” Emi asked. “Why don’t the housekeepers eat supper with the rest of the family?”
“They are not part of the family. Most of them do not even live here,” she answered.
“But you do. You’re a L’Hime too. You’ve been more of a parent to my than my own Mother. And still you never eat with us.”
“Don’t be silly.” And that was all she had to say on the matter, it seemed.
But that wasn’t enough for Emi.
Once the meal had been prepared–large helpings of fish, rice, vegetable soup, and a bowl of lentils–Emi ran into the foyer and shouted up towards the third floor. “Hey everyone! Come on down for some lunch! We’re all eating together!”
The housekeepers came down a few minutes later, and gathered in front of the dining room in confusion. Ms. Khami stood behind Emi, and shook her head when they gave her confused looks. Emi, though, put her hands on her hips and then pointed to the dining room table. “You are the people that keep this household running, and you are never treated as well as you should be. So from now on, you are eating with the rest of us.”
“Miss L’Hime…” Ms. Khami began.
“While my parents are gone, I am head of the household, and what I say goes. Do you hear me?”
Ms. Khami said nothing.
Emi went over to the dining room fireplace and lit it. If there was going to be a supper, it needed to be a warm one. Everything had to be perfect.
“Is everyone here?” she asked. There were about eight housekeepers here now, including Pip, and all of them were covered in sweat. “Okay, let’s eat.”
The housekeepers began hesitantly sitting down around the table. Emi quickly ran in and out from the kitchen, bringing out dishes and setting them down. This was exactly what she needed to do as a L’Hime–embrace her status as a leader, and use that for benevolence and inspiration. Pip kept giving her a look, but she ignored that, because she felt great. When she actually accomplished things, Emi could–
She tripped over the carpet, and in an instant the bowl of sauce she was carrying tumbled over, crashing onto the floor, its contents spilling out and staining the carpet.
Emi collapsed onto her knees. Her eyes fixed themselves on the sauce that poured out slowly, a river of goop flowing slowly out. All of it ruined.
It… it wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t fair!
IT WASN’T FAIR!
Nothing was ever fair.
Her love for Beatrice was gone, her chances of having the life she wanted were gone, and now her chances of being a functioning human were gone, too. She was just going to exist as some sort of placeholder husk for her future children, just a cog in the gearbox of a tangled family tree.
Ms. Khami and Pip helped her to her feet. She scowled at them. They backed away.
“Hey, it’s alright, it’s okay,” Pip said. Her usual peppy tone gone, replaced with pure pity.
Emi was pointless, was useless. She despised herself almost as much as the Gods did. She marched over to the wall, took her fist, and pounded it in, cracking the wood and sending a surge of pain through her hand.
“I hate this,” she said. “I hate this!”
She was so angry, so ballistically mad at herself and everything in existence. She could feel the heat building up inside of her, as if it were rising from the fireplace, as if it were literally wrapping itself around her, ready to consume her.
And she would have let it.
But the moment she felt an ember against her back, her rage dissipated. The flames around her vanished. Her body cooled down, and she bowed her head.
“My Gods,” said Ms. Khami. “Emi, we need to get you to–”
She shoved her out of the way and ran up to her bedroom, quickly locking the door before anyone could follow.
Emi was done helping for the day.
The Gods were punishing her for something, maybe. Or perhaps it was simply destiny. There were so many explanations for why it didn’t work out, but they surely had to be something supernatural, something beyond her control.
It was either that or she was a dishonest hag who failed her girlfriend by not being honest about her life.
That was a dealbreaker in most relationships, wasn’t it?