Beatrice had spent her entire afternoon at the library, yet again with the faint glimmer of hope that she would see Emi, but it didn’t end up happening. Instead she spent her day reading up on a book titled Theoretical Uses of Magic If One Were to Tap into the Soul Itself (Which Is of Course Impossible). It postulated that one could enter dreams, inhabit other bodies, even create a copy of oneself, if only the soul could be harnessed somehow. It speculated about a secret race of beings that inhabited the dream world, and were the conduits with which we could access the secrets of the Gods. While it was all certainly wrong, it was interesting reading, and she was quite engaged in thinking about how the author came to all of these grand conclusions.
However, for possibly the first time in her life, she felt nothing but disappointment to be reading a book. And she knew exactly why: It had been over a week since she last saw Emi, with not a peep from her since.
Maybe something had gone wrong? She had checked at Emi’s house, but some housekeeper woman turned her away when she tried to ask for her. It must have been something important; maybe Emi wasn’t even in Balarand at the moment.
Still, Beatrice felt gross, like her heart was covered in sludge and she could no longer move about without feeling pangs of anxiety. What if it was something she said on their last… date? What if Emi had simply found someone better, who was richer and taller and whose hair wasn’t a mess of curls and tangles?
Beatrice looked over at her Dad, who stood at the front counter as usual. He was reading the newspaper while waiting for an elderly couple to finish picking out books from the new releases. The two women looked far too feeble to be carrying so much at once, but they each had a basket full of titles to check out. It was good to see people loving to read books.
Emi and Beatrice both loved to read books…
She hadn’t told Dad about her, and as long as this current situation persisted, she definitely wasn’t going to. It was embarrassing to mention, and she knew how he would tease her about it, so it was best to wait until there was more concrete news to report. Hopefully he hadn’t picked up on it already.
…There she was, thinking about Emi again. She had to keep reading to distract herself.
When evening came and the library closed up, Dad came around to her desk and patted her on the back. “Studious as always,” he said. “But it’s time to go home for some supper. Mom’s making shepherd’s pie again.”
“That sounds good,” Beatrice said. “But I was thinking I might go out tonight and meet up with some friends.” This was a lie. She was planning on going over to Emi’s house again, just to try and see…
“Again? You must be making some close friends, Beatrice.” Dad gave a knowing smile, and Beatrice blushed. He knew. (Parents always know.) “Mom sure will miss you again. You know how she gets when she has leftover food.”
After a moment of deliberation, Beatrice said, “Okay, Dad. I won’t,” her heart sinking at even that hypothetical situation of meeting Emi dissipating. “I’m sorry about… going out a lot.”
“Whoever it is you’ve been spending time with, they must be very important to you. As long as you don’t neglect your schoolwork, that’s fine with us,” he said. “Though if you ever want to talk about it, you know we’re here. Me and your Mom.” He went back to the service desk and grabbed a few things, including a worn leather-bound book with many bookmarks sticking out of it.
“What are you reading there, Dad?” she asked.
“Oh, this? This is one of the oldest books in the library, titled Quest. It’s a novel written many thousands of years ago, in the time before Elince was united, and Balarand stood alone as a city-state. I‘m trying to use the depictions of city life here to figure out what the people of ancient times may have worn.”
“Oh, for Mom?”
“Yes, for Mom. I’ve gone through so many books lately and learned so many things about ancient Balarand, but there isn’t much detail on the fashion of the times. But this book has plenty of it. I think she will be very pleased.”
“Do you really?” Beatrice asked. “Lately Mom hasn’t been very talkative, and I’m almost worried that…”
“She’s a little melancholic? That’s what I’ve noticed, too. So I’ve worked extra hard and I think this is going to make her very happy.”
“Well, that’s good,” Beatrice said. She liked it when her parents were happy, and happy together. The way they looked at each other… she wondered how she seemed when she looked at Emi. At least, when she was ever around. “Actually, I do have a question,” Beatrice added. “How did you and Mom meet?”
Dad chuckled. “You asked that once. You were real little, and I was still real young, and all I told you was, ‘It was pure magic, honey.’ I guess that isn’t what you’re looking for in an answer now.” He went to Beatrice’s desk and sat down across from her. “I came to Balarand when I was about your age, looking for work after my father sold off his farm and moved to Fathie. I didn’t have a place to stay, any friends, or much of an idea of how the world worked, but I had a spirit to accomplish something. I just didn’t know what, yet.
“Then I saw your Mom on the first day, a seamstress’s daughter who lived on the corner of the first street I walked down, and after one look I knew I would marry her–she was the one. I introduced myself to her and told her as much, and she laughed me right off. She had as much right to; I was a street rat, for Goddess’s sake.
“So I kept at it. I worked as hard as I could, saved up money, and finally rented a place not too far from our home now. I asked her on dates, gave her presents, but nothing worked. She was persistent, even then. Eventually, after three years, on my way home from another rejection, I got hit on the head by an apple someone tossed out of a passing carriage. Knocked me out for two days.
“Your Mom cared for me, and then… something happened after that. We fell in love. And then we had you, and I got my degree at the Balarand College, and now I work every day to keep you two happy and safe. That’s our life story.”
“Do you think… Is that what you’re going through now?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know,” Beatrice said. “Probably.”
“Well…” Dad let out a sigh. “I know that this might be tough for you, what with your junior priest studies and all. You’re a good girl and you deserve to find yourself right now if you want. But you know you can’t take it with you. You’re supposed to love the Gods when you’re a priest.”
“I know, and that’s… something I’ve thought about recently,” Beatrice said. “I’m really worried about it because I’ve really started to care about someone and… Why can’t I choose both?”
“Take that up with the Gods,” he replied.
“I want to! I wish they would… Well, you know. I just want to do what’s right.” It felt so unfair to expect such absolute devotion when they wouldn’t even… she wasn’t sure where she was going with this.
“I don’t make up the rules. I just follow their Wills, because I know that will be the path to happiness,” he replied.
Beatrice wished she could feel as positively about it. “It doesn’t feel like the path to happiness. Maybe I… I don’t know.”
“It’s okay night now,” Dad said. “All I can say is right now, if you think you’re onto something, you should grab onto it. It’s okay to have a fling right now. Better to have one now than regret it later, right?”
“Now, let’s go home and meet that wonderful woman of mine.”
They journeyed home and Beatrice’s Mom greeted them with a scrumptious shepherd’s pie. Her smiles were never as bright and shining as Beatrice once remembered them, but she was glad to have someone who cared about her as much as she did.
She wasn’t sure how she was going to deal with the impending nature of leaving her family and friends behind to join the priesthood, or if she’d even end up doing it at all, but for now that was all okay. Her time with Emi was just a fling, for now. For now.