They sat up on the bed in their hotel room and held each other in their grasp. It was a bed so big it wouldn’t have even fit in Beatrice’s bedroom back at home. It was so soft, so comfortable–almost like Emi herself. Though the bed wasn’t quite as nice as the girl.
Beatrice had taken off her glasses and put them on the nightstand. She was always a bit bad about wearing her glasses to sleep, but she knew tonight would be kind of risky if she left them on. But even as blurry as her vision was, she could see Emi well enough to know she was the woman she loved. That was a very, very cheesy line, she thought to herself.
“Those Mammoths were amazing,” Beatrice said, continuing to look her girlfriend with that distinctive farsighted blur her natural eyes gave her.
“Yeah,” Emi said. “I love coming to this city. I just can’t believe we got to do it together. It’s so…” Emi trailed off and rest her head on her shoulder.
Beatrice reached out her hand and stroked Emi’s leg up and down. It was soft, smooth like a face after tears had run down her cheek. Her fingertips couldn’t resist the feeling.
“What are we going to do tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure.” Emi scooted closer to her and wrapped her ams around Beatrice’s back. “Lord Lau wants to take us to the museum. I’m sure your Dad would want you to go. After that… I’m not sure yet. Where do you want to go, Tris?”
“I don’t know,” Beatrice said. “All I care about is right now.”
“Oh, Tris, stop…”
With Emi in her grasp, she could do anything to her. Anything with her. But for some reason, her focus was fixated firmly on her very soft, very smooth skin.
There wasn’t a single hair, not that her hands could discover, not on her shin, nor her knee, nor her thigh, nor her hip…
Emi raised her head and looked at her. Her heart raced–Beatrice could feel it beating against her chest, they were so close. Their noses practically touched. Beatrice’s legs were nestled underneath Emi’s, and Emi’s arms were wrapped around her waist.
Beatrice tilted her head and planted a kiss on her girlfriend’s lips. They moved around gently and slowly and went on for seconds, minutes, maybe more; it was impossible to tell.
Tears began to stream down Beatrice’s face. She couldn’t even feel them falling, she only felt them as they stained her cheeks. The two continued to share the kiss for a moment longer until Beatrice tapped Emi’s leg and let go. Her face was drenched.
She rarely cried, so this was a complete surprise to her. And to Emi, too.
“Tris… So soft.”
“You too,” she said, wiping the tears off her face. She squeezed Emi’s calf a few times. Squishy, almost as bouncy as the bed they sat on. “I love you.”
“Do you really? I never knew.”
“Emi, why do you shave your legs?”
“I… What do you mean?”
“It’s a bit weird is all,” Beatrice said.
“Hey! You know, every girl of my status does it. It’s completely… normal. Right? I’m not weird?”
“I don’t know how I should respond to that.”
“Tris!” Emi took a hand off Beatrice’s waist and moved it to Beatrice’s lower leg. Emi’s fingers against her leg hair were ticklish but electric. “It’s not like leg hair is bad or anything. I just like mine the way they are, but I like yours the way they are too. It’s a perfect match.”
“Fair enough,” Beatrice said. “Hehe, it tickles. Stop. Stop!”
“Heheheheheh.” Emi used this opportunity to unleash a full-on tickle attack, assaulting Beatrice with the full force of her wiggling fingers.
It was now evident that Beatrice’s oft-boasted-of tickle defense measures were a fraud, and all those tickle masters she trained with had been mere scam artists. She went down like a chump, literally falling on her side in laughter.
“Stooop!” Beatrice squealed, but it was no use, as Emi had already begun the siege on her belly. She was sucked into the vortex of infinite laughter.
Emi let out a maniacal chortle that reminded Beatrice way too much of Runa.
She pushed Emi off of her and onto her back, and she bounced against the bed for a second, accompanied by a loud thud. “Ouch,” she whined.
“Are you okay?”
“Hehehe.” Emi used this as an opportunity to make another tickle attack, and Beatrice again fell victim to the tickle ambush.
“Never,” Emi said. “I’ll never let you go, not in a million years.”
“You’re so…” Beatrice pushed Emi off again. “…Lame.” She climbed on top of Emi and restrained her wrists to put an end to all of this. No more tickling.
Emi was blushing more than Beatrice had ever seen before. “Tris…” she murmured.
And then, with Emi in her grasp, Beatrice suddenly felt very nervous. For a moment, she thought about releasing her grip and backing off. But she didn’t.
Beatrice let out one last giggle and the two locked lips once again.
Emi, at this moment, was jumping up and down on her bed while Beatrice was taking a nap before supper. The fabric was so soft that her jumps did not even interrupt the girl right beside her… How cool was that?
She loved all of this. All of Beatrice, all of this hotel room, and, dare she say it, all of herself.
Yes, Emi had stayed in places like this, but never somewhere with such a gorgeous view. Outside their window was a full view of the city, all the way towards the nearby Mount Galahad. Emi had never been all the way there, but there were outlying villages and towns built on the mountains, with buildings literally carved out of the mountains themselves. One could see the buildings dotting the surface of Mount Galahad from anywhere in the city, but to actually reach them took days of arduous travel, walking and climbing through winding, unsafe terrain. As a result, the only people that lived there were poor herders and strider hunters. She wasn’t sure how anyone could live so close to a large city, and yet so far away from civilization.
Strange thing to think about while acting like a child and jumping on her bed, she realized. Emi landed butt-first and laid her head on one of the unnervingly soft pillows the castle staff had given them.
This was nice. Very nice.
Beatrice snored. Well, mostly nice.
She looked at her gorgeous girlfriend, as beautiful asleep as when she was awake.
“I love you,” she said softly.
Beatrice’s eyes started flickering open, somehow waking up from those quiet words but not Emi landing on the bed. “Yuri the only one for… me…”
Beatrice returned to full consciousness. “Yuri– I mean, you’re the only one for me. Is it time for supper yet?”
“Good.” She shut her eyes and dropped out of consciousness before Emi could add another word.
Emi laid down next to her and sighed. She really wished her parents could have been here, but it did once again save her the trouble of having to explain who Beatrice was without getting into the inevitable confrontation with them about her engagement with Lady Khara.
After all the stress building up as she awaited her parents’ final judgment, she ought to have been utterly insane after not telling Beatrice for so long, but instead she felt relieved. That couldn’t have been a good thing, could it?
It didn’t matter. She was going to tell Beatrice about it soon. It wasn’t a big deal, not when she explained it right. She was just going to enjoy the rest of this trip, and then worry about all that later.
Emi laid her head down on the bed next to Beatrice and nestled in close. Her nose nuzzled against her bare back and took in that smothering scent of old books and determination that belonged only to the woman she called Tris. She put her hand on her face and rubbed her fingers across her freckled cheeks. Then she leaned in and gave a peck to her lips.
“I love you so much,” Emi whispered once again.
Beatrice responded by snoring.
A deep breath… And another.
This was just another test. Beatrice aced tests. When she set her mind to something, she accomplished it. So all she had to do was set her mind to this.
She brushed at her skirt–there was nothing wrong with it, but she couldn’t help herself–and straightened up her back–her posture was already solid, but she couldn’t help that either,. Then she took the first steps down the spiral staircase.
Beatrice had climbed up and down the huge central stairway in the L’Hime Family foyer more times than she could count, and had never felt any particular way about it. So why, here, had the atmosphere suddenly turned so thin?
Probably because at the bottom of this spiral staircase were hundreds of people partaking in the faciest of parties, the kind so rich you could see the golden sparkles on guests’ dresses from outside the building. Probably because Beatrice wore a bright green dress that showed off her bust and legs far more than anything else she’d worn in her life. Probably because waiting down at the bottom of those stairs would be a pair of brown eyes that would make the immediate judgment–was this the one, or was this all a mistake?
She knew it was beyond certain what Emi felt about her. She knew they were both in love, that the Will of the Gods had brought them together into their own personal harmony, that no matter what happened, they would always have a bond stronger than any magic. Even so, she felt skittish, those stomach-gnawing worries like that her mediocre looks couldn’t pull off this dress and that would end things for good.
So, because of those strange pangs of anxiety, Beatrice took each step with great care. She kept herself composed and measured, let her legs descend each stair one at a time, pausing briefly each time to make sure her dress didn’t flow more than it needed. It didn’t her nerves very much.
It took until she came into full view of the party–
–with all eyes on her and even a few claps–
–with that one familiar face leaning on a wall over by the corner that stared, mouth agape–
–that those nerves were finally put to rest.
Beatrice may not have been beautiful, not in her own biased blue eyes. But she was good at tests, and she passed this one like all the rest.
With the pit of her stomach suddenly cured of all ailments, she gained all her confidence back in one instant. She took a glass of tea from a server’s tray and waltzed over to Emi.
“How’s my little wall flower?” she asked.
“I hate parties,” Emi said. “But seeing you in that dress just made it worth it.”
It took great pains not to let the compliments go to her head. “Sorry I took so long, sweetie,” she told her.
“That’s okay. I’m enjoying the company.”
Emi pointed to behind Beatrice. She turned around and saw a long table with a green cloth surface, and three multi-colored balls. A few young, handsome men were gathered around watching as another man aimed a stick at one of the balls. They watched with great anticipation before he struck it and it rolled across the table at great speeds. It bounced against the corners and eventually rolled to a stop in a different part of the table.
The men began to laugh, and so did Emi. The man looked incredibly disappointed.
“These guys have kept me company,” Emi said after she finished laughing. “They’ve been teaching me all about this game.”
Beatrice sipped at her tea and nodded curiously. “It looks very interesting.”
One of the young men, a light-skinned man with a scruffy beard, turned to the two and gave a hearty smile. “Emi, did you see what Giles did?”
“He completely missed it!”
“Yep, because Giles is really lame,” he said. “Oh, is this her? This stunning beauty right here?”
Emi nodded. “Yep! This is my girlfriend, Beatrice Ragnell.”
“And I’m Ari Hugel,” said the beared man. “Nice to meet you, Beatrice.” He extended his hand. Beatrice looked at Emi skeptically and then shook it with a strong a grip as she could give–ack, that hurt.
He laughed. “So, what do you know about the game of carambole?”
Beatrice said to him, “Absolutely nothing. I’ve never even seen it before.”
“It’s really fun,” Emi said. “Watch it!”
She didn’t really want to. But… But. Emi had been talking to complete strangers. Emi had been having fun in a party all on her own. This was an amazing development! Beatrice had to support her in every way she could, even if it meant watching a game involving… balls bouncing off table cushions or something like that?
“So what is carambole?” Beatrice asked.
“Watch and learn,” said Ari. “Though not from Giles.” The men laughed at the poor man who missed the shot earlier. Ari set the balls up in a triangle position on the table and took the long stick from his friend. “So in carambole, the goal is to use the cue ball, in my case this one–” he held the white ball up to show her–”to hit the orange ball, then bounce the ball off three cushions, then to hit your opponent’s cue ball, which in this case is Giles’s green one.”
“Bounce off the cushions three times?” Beatrice said. “That seems really hard.”
“And there’s more,” he continued. “You can hit the balls in any order, and as many times as you need, but you have to hit the other cue ball last no matter what.”
“That’s… Gods, that sounds hard. And if you miss?”
“If you make a point, you get to try again. If you miss, it’s your opponent’s turn. First to five points wins.”
She studied the table. There were so many angles, so many possible ways, and she could tell immediately that this would take math and physics equations just to comprehend the basics of what went on with each strike.
“Do you understand, Beatrice?” Ari asked.
“I think so. The rules are simple, but the game…”
“Yep, that’s carambole. Want to try it, since Giles is obviously too tired to continue?”
Beatrice looked at Emi, who seemed ecstatic, and then back to Ari. “Sure. Don’t expect much though.”
“Don’t worry! Maybe you’ll have beginner’s luck!”
“That was pretty pathetic,” Beatrice said.
“It was your first time. Perfectly alright,” Ari said.
Beatrice lost, zero points to five. The young men didn’t laugh at her like they did their friend, which made it even worse. She felt pitied.
Emi stepped up to the table and put her hand on Beatrice’s shoulder. “It’s just a game, Tris.”
“Just a game, but…”
“Here, I’ll try,” Emi said. “I’ll show you that losing can be fun, too!”
“That’s the spirit,” Ari said. “Let’s have some fun.”
Beatrice proceded to watch her girlfriend win the next eight games in a row. It turns out being a gear-head like Emi made people pretty decent at this kind of sport.
This should have been a very useful lesson to Beatrice about the value of not always being the best, about failure sometimes being a better teacher than winning ever could. Instead, it just frustrated her more.
At least she looked great in her bright green dress…