The street in front of the Harmony coffee shop was now deserted. The last person who came in to buy cupcakes for the holiday festivities had left half an hour ago. Rowan had just finished wiping the tables clean of crumbs and coffee drops.
“You can go home, Rowan,” the chief told her, rather slowly but with improving grammar.
“I’ve nowhere to go, chief, so I’d rather stay,” she replied.
Rowan never liked holidays, since she did not really have relatives to enjoy them with. There was an aunt and uncle, of course, with whom she grew up. But they were always busy. As long as she came home at night, as long as she kept studying, as long she ate well, they did not bother with Rowan.
She carried over that dislike for holidays to the capital. She had no one to celebrate with, so she spent it working, getting paid more, thus having more cash on hand for school expenses. She buried any lingering wistfulness in work.
Master Lan spent his holidays at Beika’s house in the northwest…whether he liked it or not, because Beika insisted. Otherwise he would just stay in bed through it. Ren also had Beika’s house for celebrations.
The chief had Chie and her aunt and uncle to be with during the holidays. He was just cleaning the kitchen, and would soon be closing the shop to go to Chie’s house.
“Want to come? To Chie’s house?” the chief offered.
“Thanks, but no, thanks,” she replied. “I’d be in the way.” The chief, in his kindness, shook his head vehemently, but Rowan raised a hand. “I’ll be fine.”
“What will you do?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Sleep?”
The chief came up to her and took her head. “Come,” he repeated.
She sighed. “Thanks, chief, really, but I’ll be fine.”
They heard a knock on the shop door. It was followed by the door being opened by a familiar face. ”Chief Soji,” she greeted.
Rowan scratched her head at the fact that Eloise of the capital had adopted her title for the Selati.
“Can I borrow Rowan for the evening? The party at our house is starting,” Eloise said.
The chief bowed with a chuckle and waved Rowan out the door.
Rowan was not sure how it happened, but she found herself in the smoothest tailored suit she had ever seen. She who had never even been IN a suit in all her life, who had never been in a fancy dress all her life.
Soon enough, her jaw dropped as she saw Eloise emerge from the bathroom, wearing a sheer silk red gown that fell to her ankles. Eloise’s hair was now tied up in a bun, revealing the smooth slender neck, with some of the silver stream of hair escaping and trickling just beyond her ears. Rowan stared. She wanted to kiss that neck, an ear, a cheek.
“You look…incredible,” Eloise said, as she gaped.
Rowan did not know what to say. “Can….can we just stay here?”
Eloise chuckled. “Later. First, I want to dance.”
Rowan gulped and paled.
She did not know how to dance.
It was bad enough that Rowan had to dance in front of people. But Eloise was her girlfriend. That meant that she had to dance in front of many of the capital’s elite, including people she knew, like green hag Marceau and her brother Claude.
When they made their appearance at a side door of the ballroom, many heads turned. Some began to whisper behind fans. Even with the chamber music, the ballroom became noticeably subdued.
Eloise never liked her people much, but many of the children of the capital, she had to keep up appearance during the holidays.
“You’re out of your mind, Eloise of the capital,” Rowan whined. “Then again, you always are.”
“Ignore them,” Eloise said with a toss of her head. “Come. Let’s dance.”She took Rowan’s hand and pulled her up with her, to the center of the ballroom.
“I’ll talk you through it,” she whispered.
They stopped at the center of the room. The silence was defeaning, the space that opened around them was huge. The whispers increased.
Eloise placed Rowan’s hands over her shoulders, and placed her own hands around Rowan’s hips. Then she leaned her head over Rowan’s shoulder.
“Just hold me,” Eloise said, as she wrapped her arms around Rowan.
Rowan smirked. Well, that, she could do.
Eloise gently swayed her to the left and to the right, keeping her arms around Rowan, dancing to silence. Rowan’s heart pounded. She felt her heart pound just below where she was acutely aware of Eloise’s chest pressed onto her. She felt dizzy on the rich perfume Eloise wore for the occasion, thick and heady and aromatic. She heard the silence and the whispers even more.
What was she doing here? Why did she agree to this? Why was she dancing with Eloise? Why was she her girlfriend, despite everything? Why did she love her?
“Shhhhhh, Rowan,” Eloise said.
As the chamber music took the hint and began a gentle slow rhythm, as the ballroom lowered its lights, Rowan closed her eyes and savored the moment.
Being in such a handsome suit. Being in that wonderful ballroom, with her arms around a beautiful girl, who loved her back, despite everything. Dancing a slow dance, listening to wonderful quiet music, under romantic lights.
They were eventually joined by other dancers, older and younger and their same age, swaying in the soft lights, each pair alone together with their thoughts. Rowan slowly wrapped her arms around Eloise’s neck, breathing in her perfume and sweetness.
“Happy holidays, Rowan,” Eloise whispered. “My gift to you.”
“This?” But this was not a gift. It was rather too much.
Eloise whispered again. “No. This holiday, you are not alone. You’re with me.”
Only then did Rowan notice.
She squeezed Eloise, as she buried her head onto Eloise’s shoulders, as the tears fell onto Eloise’s gown.
She woke up with the sunrise of the next morning on a bed not her own, her head pounding from several glasses of wine. She was still fully dressed in the now-crumpled suit. She remembered furious kisses and her hand reaching out to give pleasure, but not much else. It had been an unusual night.
She was kissed on the forehead. “So drunk, and yet I couldn’t get you out of that suit,” Eloise said with a chuckle. “You can have it, since you like it so much.”
The suit. For free. She could not buy such a suit even if she saved her full earnings for two months. She lost the hangover. “But…but…”
“Shhhhhh,” Eloise said, as she gave her a kiss over the lips. “It’s the holidays.”