Beatrice struck the hammer down and slammed the nail into the piece of wood. A drip of sweat fell from her chin and plopped on her arm, but she paid it less mind than a gnat fluttering about around her head. She struck the wood again to make sure the nail was in place, and smiled when she saw it was good.
A wave of exhaustion had set on her, but she kept going. The warm sun overhead had just reached its apex, and the birds had finally come back out to sing their chirpy tunes. With a free meal waiting at the end of the day, Beatrice was never going to quit helping here, not until it was all complete.
It was grueling work, repairing the damage done to the restaurant Foron’s. Half of northern Balarand had burned to the ground, but the Dannark government had done nothing to help rebuild So it was up to Beatrice and the other former junior priests of the St. Helens Academy. The school had been shut down permanently, but that wasn’t going to do a bit of good in stopping its students from helping their favorite afterschool dining spot.
Her face was covered in sweat, and she had nailed more boards than her mind could comprehend, but Beatrice felt amazing. She really felt like she was doing something. And best of all, she had her friends around to help.
There was one friend missing from all of this volunteer work, though, someone Beatrice had been secretly hoping would show up the entire time.
But it didn’t happen.
At least, not until the lunch break was over. Then Beatrice saw that silly little hat, and those shining blue eyes.
Bodhi Makala had showed up to help rebuild Foron’s.
It wasn’t until after the volunteer work was over that Beatrice and Bodhi finally got a chance to talk. Without exchanging a word, the two met up and began walking down the street in a random direction. They were going north, up towards the port and where Runa still lived, but they probably wouldn’t need to walk that far.
The streets were quiet, with at least one guard posted on every city block. Many shops and businesses were still facing fire damage, broken windows, or even total destruction. With the occupation government busy putting down pockets of guerilla resistance, nothing could be done except by their own hands.
One day, Balarand would all be back to its vibrant, pretty self, even if it took a hundred more days like today from Beatrice and her friends.
Bodhi finally spoke, saying, “You look beautiful, Bea.”
“Beatrice,” she replied instantly. “And thanks.”
“That dress… It’s really a work dress?”
“Oh, yeah, this?” She looked down at the plain outfit she had on for her volunteer effort. “I made this for sewing practice. It’s not very useful as anything other than a work outfit. And I definitely learned today that skirts are not good for hard labor…”
“You learned how to sew? Darn, you never cease to amaze.” Bodhi flashed one of his classic smirks. “I see you’ve kept growing out your hair, too.”
“Yeah… It’s really long now.”
“Really? You think so?”
“I know so.” Bodhi, for just a split second, began to reach out to touch her hair, but pulled back before his hand went anywhere. “Anyway, I’m glad about today. I’ve been waiting for Foron’s to reopen for weeks now.”
“Did you love me?” Beatrice asked suddenly.
Beatrice lowered her head and smiled. “You didn’t come help out at Foron’s just to see me, did you?”
“Well, I…” Bodhi sighed. “That’s exactly what I did.”
“I thought so.”
“I heard you were there, and I heard you passed the Priesthood Exam. I wanted to see you one last time before you left Balarand forever.”
“And yeah, I loved you,” he said. “I loved you for years, Bea. But you were always… How do I say it? Unattainable.”
Beatrice giggled. “What the heck does that mean?”
“Always nose-deep into your books. Never wanted to hang out. Committed to becoming a celibate priest and abandoning everyone around you. That sort of thing.”
“It took me a long time to realize how felt about me, Bodhi,” she said. “Until after I broke up with my girlfriend. It kind of hit me how you must have felt the whole time, and… I felt a little guilty.”
“Because I never returned your feelings, not one little bit. I don’t know why. Maybe in some other world it would have worked, but… the Gods didn’t Will it, I guess.”
“I felt really jealous when you met that girl,” Bodhi said. “All those years by your side, thinking you’d see me one day for more than that annoying guy who always calls you Bea. But then you found someone else who loved you.”
“And so you’re here now looking for… closure?” Beatrice asked.
“No way. Closure is Mammoth crap. I’m just here to see my friend.” Bodhi laughed a little bit, but Beatrice couldn’t tell if it was genuine or fake. “Listen, I sorted out my feelings for you a long time ago. Maybe I loved you in that schoolboy kind of way, but it was nothing. When I saw Emi, and I saw the way she looks at you… that’s when I realized all I had was an overgrown crush. That girl REALLY loves you, Bea.”
“And I really love her,” Beatrice said.
“You really love her, but you’re still becoming a priest.”
“Just… why?” he asked. “You two are perfect for each other. She loves you, and you love her. So why would you ever do something to end that?”
Beatrice shrugged. “What’s it to you?”
“I just don’t want you to make a decision that could ruin the rest of your life,” he said. “Love is so important and you can’t just throw it away to serve the Church. They have a billion priests. You only have one Emi.”
“There’s something I realized during the rebellion,” Beatrice told him. “I have a duty to serve. Tsubasa is about to enter a dark time, and the harmony will disappear if there aren’t people around to save it. With my knowledge and ambition, I can become the kind of priest who saves lives every single day. I can change the entire continent for the better. The kind of love I have for Emi is the same kind of love I need to give to the whole world.”
“I… guess I can’t argue with that,” Bodhi said. “So it’s all religion stuff.”
“The Will of the Gods and all that,” Beatrice said.
“You really don’t believe, do you? In the Gods and the Church?”
“I do, I do.”
He looked at her with an intent stare, and said, “I… can’t tell what you’re thinking anymore. You’ve really changed, haven’t you? You aren’t an emotional open book.”
Beatrice rolled her eyes. “Or you’re not some sort of Beatrice Expert like you think,” she said. “Now, is there any destination for where we’re walking, or are we just going nowhere fast?
“Going nowhere fast, I imagine.”
“That’s fine by me.”
Beatrice could have felt pangs of bittersweet nostalgia. She could have felt sad. But she didn’t. Instead, she enjoyed a walk with a good friend, and that was that.