The debutante’s best chance to fulfill her purpose as a married woman comes from the debutante balls where the bedame, unmarried woman, is presented before eligible men, besires, from all ages of eighteen to eighty.
— Polistar da Halin, The Dance of Grace
Galadin perched on the uncomfortable seat of the tailor’s front room and stared into front window display. Four mannequins with formal black suits filled the area but his interest remained fixed on the fifth, an exaggerated female shape made of wood and reeds. The fabric of the mannequin’s dress rustled with the wind breezing through the open door and he loved how the sleeves moved like ocean waves.
He wondered what it would feel like if he wore it. A faint smile crossed his lips as he tried to imagine the layers of light material against his skin. Would it be heavy or light? He didn’t have breasts, would it sag too much? He wanted to reach out and touch it. To feel it against his naked skin.
He jumped at his mother’s voice. Turning around, he clasped his hands in his lap. “Yes, Mother?”
“Stop staring like an imbecile at that damn dress and come over here.” She gestured curtly to a platform next to her.
“Sorry,” he said with a blush and got up.
“Don’t say sorry. Men do not say sorry.”
She glared but didn’t add anything. After a moment, she snapped her fingers and pointed to the pedestal again.
“He’s fine, Tadame Maran,” said the tailor.
The use of “tadame” was to acknowledge that Maran was a married woman, the ultimate goal of everyone in Tarsan society. For Galadin, he was supposed to work toward being married to a beauty. Then he would be known as a “tasire” while his wife would become a “tadame.”
That wasn’t what he wanted though. When his mother found his journal with his secret fantasies of going, it wasn’t as a besire looking for marriage. However, she missed that in her excitement in hopes of seeing her only son entering High Society.
The tailor clicked his tongue. “Lift your arm a little higher. There, you’ll be just fine.”
He wore a black suit like the ones in the display area but without the jacket. Instead of a tie, he wore a pair of cloth measuring tapes around his neck. The long strips of marked fabric reached down to his belt.
Maran hissed. “No, he isn’t fine. He’s never fine in places like this.”
Quietly, Galadin got up on the platform, turned around, and held out his arms. As much as he dreamed about going to the annual presentation balls, he was rapidly being dragged away from his dreams.
The tailor gave terse instructions as he measured Galadin from wrist to ankle, inseam and even around the neck. His movements were rough, the fingernails digging into Galadin’s sensitive ribs as he worked his way down a notebook filled with measurements.
“What will the young Kasin desire?” asked the tailor.
“Black,” his mother answered for Galadin.
“Of course, there is only one color for a true gentleman. Are you interested in a single-breasted jacket? They are quite popular.”
His mother pulled a face. “The Kasins are a proper family with respect for the traditional ways.” She straightened her back. “We are not people who follow the fashions of the lazy. My son will not be found dead in those… things.”
The tailor didn’t even pause. Almost everyone in town was a Kasin, that was why the town had their name. He took more directions from Galadin’s mother with grace and patience. Her sharp tones didn’t even bring a twitch to the old man’s face. Throughout the process, neither spoke to Galadin as if he was present.
The effort to keep his arms up began to burn. He lowered them minutely. When his mother glared at him, he forced himself to lift again.
She rolled her eyes and returned to giving the tailor directions.
To distract himself, he gazed around the room but found nothing but somber, strict outfits. None of them were appealing, not a single would invoked even a hint of joy in his heart. He let his gaze drift to what he really wanted, the only bright point in the room, a light blue dress in the window.
A group of women crossed in front of the store. His gaze drifted from the dress to follow them through the window. It was a cluster of mothers and aunts around a pair of young women wearing cream outfits. They were all laughing as they carried bags from clothing stores, boxes of shoes and hats, and even the remains of a lunch.
Galadin knew that young women’s role was far more difficult. A presentation was their best chance of finding a husband. They were primped, feathered, and trained for most of their childhoods in hopes of being selected. Starting at age sixteen, they would enter a world of elegant balls, spectator sports, and amazing social events across the entire city as they performed for the eligible besires.
Despite all that, he desperately wished he had been born a girl.
“Are you looking at that Couple-damned dress again?” hissed his mother.
Galadin tore his eyes away guilty and pointedly stared at one of the suits. It was nice, but he dreaded wearing it. Whenever he thought about the somber outfits that his mother wanted him to wear, it was as if he was looking at someone in the suit, not him looking out.
She glared at him. “Get down, we’re done.”
Turning to the tailor, she held out her hand.
He kissed it lightly, his lips skimming the surface. “Always a pleasure, Maran da Kasin ho Kamer.”
The tailor had used her formal name, identifying her father’s family of Kasin and her mother’s of Kamer.
Maran guided her son out of the store and down the street in a brisk pace. “You need to stop staring at the dresses and start focusing on the women inside them. You are a young gentleman now. You need to act like it.”
Galadin followed and said nothing.
“Come on, you are late for your dance lessons.”