On a particular couch in a particular house, two girls sat side by side reading, and smiles shined on their faces.
Beatrice, free from her schooling duties and not yet deep into her Priesthood Exam studies, was finally reading a fictional book for the first time in a while–a mystery novel titled Hauntsgiving. It was the first part of a longer saga called The Elf Cycle, and this first one was about a dead mage’s spirit terrorizing a provincial town in some far-off land.
So far, the book was… okay. The thrills were compelling and kept her hooked like a salmon, but the characters were two-dimensional stereotypes and there was little artistic depth to the story thus far. But Emi had asked her–more like begged her–to read the book, and she was willing to put up with any narrative deficiencies to keep her girlfriend happy.
Emi was on the eighth book in the same series, published just like week, titled The Last Gemini. It was an amazing adventure with the mage ghost and her mythical golem partner, following the two as they solved a series of grisly murders. She adored every mystery and every twist and every line of witty dialogue. The tragic star-crossed romance between the ghost and the golem, hopelessly in love but unable to admit it to each other in all their dual immortality…. It was an enthralling experience. Trapped in time, and trapped in romance…
The two women said little as they read. There wasn’t much to say. Well, besides one very specific phrase:
“I love you,” whispered Beatrice.
Emi giggled and her face lit up. She took a deep breath and inhaled her girlriend’s scent. It reminded Emi of the marketplace from all that time ago…The memory of autumn air blew against her cheeks. Sweet and crisp as ever. She could still see the tables of fruits and veggies; she could still taste the crunch of the salmon bind in her hand; she could still absorb herself in the deep lakes of Beatrice’s eyes.
Beatrice saw Emi’s look, felt Emi’s breath, and couldn’t help but blush as well.
It had been a long time since Beatrice and Emi had first met, since they first studied together at the library. Then, they were so ensnared by each other’s exuberant beauties that neither could keep their attention away from one another. Over time they had grown more comfortable together, more solidly in love, and that skittish infatuation had faded. Now, spending alone time together was no more nerve-wracking than taking a nap.
And speaking of that…
Beatrice set her book on the arm of the couch, stretched out for a moment, and then laid down and put her head on Emi’s lap. She closed her eyes. Emi’s thighs made for excellent pillows; they were firm, smooth, and wonderful.
Emi wasn’t about to quit reading her book, not until she figured out the golem’s hidden secret, but she felt the warm head on her lap and began moving her fingers through Beatrice’s winding curly hair.
“Mmmm,” Beatrice muttered like a purring snow leopard. She took her hand and rubbed her fingers on Emi’s face, down her pointy nose, over her lips, and then across her cheek and through her still-shockingly short hair. Emi let the girl’s soft fingertips send a jolt of electricity down her spine and overwhelm her senses, each and every one of them. She took the girl’s hand away from her hair and clasped it within her own.
Emi giggled again. “I love you,” she said.
But Beatrice had already fallen asleep.
It was a great thing, Emi thought, that their lives had ended up a lot better than that of the ghost and golem from The Elf Cycle. If Emi hadn’t sat down at the desk in the library that autumn day, they may have gone their whole lives without knowing each other’s embraces. And yet, due to whatever miracle of luck that graced them, she did sit down, and they did meet, and they were together now.
But even as she continued to flip through The Last Gemini, where it turned out that the dead mage may have been alive, but astrally-projecting her ghost body the whole time, a worrying thought scratched through her mind. Many worrying thoughts, in fact. Emi was notorious for her ability to fret and ponder over every little thing, whether that was about the secrets she kept or the clothes she wore or that embarrassing thing she said to a shopkeep six days earlier.
But then she looked down at Beatrice, sound asleep in her arms, and those worried disappeared. Because in reality, it didn’t matter what was coming, what worries she had or what insurmountable challenges faced them. Because they were in love.
Emi reached the end of her book; it ended with a captivating cliffhanger, but she couldn’t help but keep her attention on the woman laying on her lap, the woman holding her hand. She set it down and leaned her head back on the couch.
She could hear Beatrice breathing in, and out, and in, and out, and in… and out… Even the way she exhaled was cute. Without thinking, Emi matched the rhythm. Their tempos synchronized. Emi not only heard Beatrice, but felt her very being, in a sense. They breathed in and out together just like this.
With her free hand, Emi continued to play with Beatrice’s hair. She put her fingers into the jungle of curls, letting the hairs wrap themselves around her hand, and then unwind as soon as she pulled it through. Like a spring in a machine, they bounced back into their original positions.
Life would be easier if people were built like machines, Emi thought. Life would be easier if…
Before she could do any further reflecting, she fell asleep.
Beatrice giggled as she entered Emi’s bedroom. “You must have tidied up recently,” she said. “There’s no way the Emi I know would be this clean.”
“Am I wrong?”
“W-Well, this is the new me, the new and improved Clean Diplomat Girl,” Emi said. She noticed her outfit from yesterday laying on the floor and kicked it under the bed. “How do you like the place?”
Beatrice took a tour around the bedroom, walking while rotating herself in a circle, apparently trying to capture it all. Emi didn’t think this was a good sign. Finally, she answered: “Your room is as big as my apartment.”
“I knew you’d say something like that…”
Beatrice went over to one of Emi’s closets and opened it to reveal even more space. “You have a closet you can walk in!” she exclaimed. “Who in the world needs so much room? You should be renting this place out to a whole family, and then you could make a whole bunch of money off of it.”
“I don’t exactly…” She didn’t want to come off as a rich brat. She had to watch her words. “One day, I want to give the whole place away to people who need it, if I ever can. Though, I guess my brother Touma will probably inherit the house, not me…”
“Touma L’Hime? THE Touma L’Hime?”
“Don’t you start that again,” Emi said.
Beatrice snickered. “Your room looks nice. Especially this painting over here.”
“Oh! Do you recognize it?”
“No, but it looks pretty.”
“It’s a famous painting called The First Winter Ceremonies, by Tormod Benici. It depicts, uh, the first Winter Ceremonies. He said he was inspired to make it after receiving a vision from Bk’Man Himself, so he used the stark white snow to plaster on a dreamlike haze to the whole event.”
“And you own this famous painting?”
“No, it’s just a copy,” Emi said. “The real one is up in a museum somewhere in Dannark, I think. It’s way bigger.”
“It’d be nice to see someday,” Beatrice said. “Maybe you could prove to me fairies aren’t completely fake nonsense.”
“They’re real!” Emi shouted. “I mean… They don’t live in Balarand so the painting isn’t accurate, but nobody said the painting was real… Well, I guess…”
Beatrice giggled. She loved seeing Emi flustered, no matter how easy it was to accomplish. In fact, she did it again by stepping to her side and wrapping her arm around her waist. She recoiled for just a moment, but then relaxed and let Beatrice hold her.
“Just the two of us in your bedroom…” Beatrice whispered.
“Just the two of us in my bedroom…” Emi whispered back in a much more apprehensive tone.
“Ah, I see. You must have cleaned up in here just for the occasion.”
“I… Uh–” Emi froze up for a second, then shot back to life in a burst of energy. She left Beatrice’s side and then walked over to a shelf containing a very familiar item. “Look at this! Remember this thing?”
“Oh, that’s the centaur carving from our second date!” Beatrice exclaimed. “I forgot all about that.”
“What a night, huh…”
“A gondola ride, a light snowfall, and a dance at a fancy party… That was an awful long time ago.” Beatrice let herself get swept up in the amazing memories of that night spent wandering Balarand with Emi.
“It hasn’t been that long,” Emi said. “Only a few months, I think.”
“But so much has happened since then. I feel like a completely new person by now.”
“You do?” Emi asked.
“If I became a new person, you might not love me anymore.”
“There isn’t a world out there where I don’t love you,” Beatrice said. “That fact is etched into the fabric of the universe.”
Emi suddenly choked up and had to fight back the incoming tears. After a moment of sniffling, she calmed down and picked up the centaur carving. “Tris, can I give this to you?”
“Eh? how come?”
“I thought maybe you’d like to have it as a reminder of, um, how our love is etched into the fabric of the universe.”
“I’m not really big on gifts, and I know you aren’t either. So I don’t see why.”
“Not really a gift or anything,” Emi said, “but just so we can have something of each other’s to remind ourselves of… This is embarrassing to say out loud.”
Beatrice went over to Emi and kissed her on the lips. “You’re so sweet. I’ll take it. One day, I’ll give you something of mine, too.”
“That’d be great.”
“Of course, speaking of gifts…” Beatrice winked and put a hand on Emi’s cheek.
That same cheek, of course, lit up in rosy red. “Tris!”
“Hehehe–Oh, what’s that over there?” She pointed to a bundle in the corner of the room that was covered with a blanket.
“It’s, uh, well, it’s just some blankets, of course! Yeah, just blankets.”
Beatrice’s eyes narrowed and she smiled slyly. “Yeah, just blankets. Not that mystery thing you keep mentioning, just some blankets. I get you.”
“Haha…” Emi’s laugh was incredibly insincere, but she was sure it fooled her. Definitely.
Next, Beatrice’s attention turned to Emi’s bed, freshly made-up and adorned with pillows of all sorts. Emi was actually proud to have made her bed, all by herself, with no help from anyone. It was a work of art that could never be replicated.
“That’s a really nice bed,” Beatrice said. “It looks so comfortable.”
Emi beamed. “Yep. It’s one of the best beds in all of Balarand.”
“Yeah, I bet it is. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one this big, either. I’d love to try it out…” She took a hop and landed on the bed on her knees. “Gods, this is soft.”
“Haha…” Emi’s face had turned completely red. “Too bad we took a nap on the couch earlier. Hey, why don’t we go see some other rooms in my house? Doesn’t that sound fun? Here, I’ll show you to the storage room downstairs. It’s where my family used to keep the horses.” Without hesitating for a second she left the bedroom.
Beatrice lingered in the bedroom for a moment. She wore a mischievous grin on her face.