Chapter 5: Decisions

Life doesn’t stop just because of sorrow’s knocking. — Tachisomi Chiniróma

Lily smiled sweetly as a Dinsanas, young girl of sixteen, stammered with excitement about her new dress. It had only taken an hour to come up with something that would flatter the young debutante’s generous hips and heart-shaped face. The colors were easy to determine, the proper shade of green for fifth week events and she had plenty of sheer cream fabric for a debutante, but the rest of it required a flair of fashion.

Falim na Maifir, the girl’s mother, was young. Lily guessed that she had been sixteen or seventeen when she had her daughter. Both had the same smile and way of repeating their words when they were excited. The mother kept fingering her wedding bracelet. The yellow gold had been polished to a shine, no doubt to show off the small insignia of her husband’s new rank: Knight of Kasin. It was the lowest military rank that was allowed to participate in High Society events.

After listening to the mother’s often-repeated descriptions, Lily knew the promotion came only weeks ago, just in time for their daughter’s debut.

Lily smiled and tried not to let the bitterness of her own situation darken their celebrations. Both mother and daughter were still in shock they were entering the world of Society, the first tiny step that may propel their family higher in the ranks of the Kasin family.

“Thank-thank you!” gushed the young girl.

“Come on,” urged Falim, “we need to move on. We only have a few hours before the long drive home.”

“I’m going to get all all my dresses from you!”

Lily smiled politely. She had heard that promise many times, but it rarely came true. Like most of the other debutantes, they would order from as many different seamstresses as they could. She expected to see the young girl once more and then never again. With her bust and hips, Lily knew that the young girl would be a catch if she could calm down.

“Come on!” said her mother, firmly guiding the young girl from the store.

“Goodbye-bye!”

Lily waved and watched as they crossed in front of her window to go to their next stop, a milliner who specialized in making hats for young women just entering the Social scene and didn’t have the money to splurge. They mentioned the name more than once.

As soon as the mother and daughter slipped out of view, Lily let out a long sigh and let her shoulders droop slightly. It had been a busy day, with four new commissions for dresses. They were all cheaper ones for minor functions and parties, but it still took time to sew and fit them. The patterns and deadlines danced in her head, weighing her down.

She headed to her desk and sat down. Her notebook rested on the side of a calendar that had dozens of lines to identify her commitments. In her mind, she could see the days before those events that needed her attention to measure, cut, and sew hundreds of yards worth of material.

Except for Nirih’s and three other high-priced dresses, the rest would bring in little profits compared to the hours she needed to make them. It was tempting to cut corners and only single stitch the seams or use a simpler embroidery pattern, but she knew unprofitable orders were the cost of being an owner with little reputation. She had to pay the bills with secondary functions and insignificant parties before others sought her out for the formal affairs.

She marked down the young girl’s party and the various deadlines needed to make that commitment. After that, she scrawled a horizontal line across the days she needed to work on the dress. As she filled in her notes, she kept catching sight of the cream cuff of her outfit.

The cream was the only indication that she was still of marrying age. It had been two weeks since her mother made her announcement and the hopes of marriage crumbled quickly. She had months until the final Social event, but there wasn’t anyone interested in her. She had drifted from Society over the last few years and the idea of delving back into the formal world of dances, dinners, and flirting was overwhelming.

Her thoughts turned to Kendrick. His dark eyes still haunted her dreams. The almost forgotten memories of his stolen kiss had been rekindled when he showed up. She hadn’t seen him since he ran off, but only part of her was relieved by that. The other part still longed to touch him again, quietly in the rain, like they did long ago on her mother’s gazebo.

A blush crept up on her cheeks.

She grabbed for a nearby bottle of wine and poured herself a glass with a shaking hand. Gulping, she drained the glass and set it down harder than she intended. It rocked back and forth for a second before settling into place. She drained the bottle into the glass again but left both standing.

Lily took a deep breath and focused on her notes. She made it only a few words before Kendrick’s face once again welled up across her mind.

“Damn it!”

She shoved the papers forward, crumbling the pages against the backboard of her desk. The glass tilted alarmingly and then fell over the side.

“Damn!” This time she screamed louder.

The glass bounced, sending wine splattering everywhere. It slopped up against her dress and splashed across the wooden floor and a deep-pile rug near her desk.

Frustrated, Lily almost screamed with rage. She lashed out at the glass but missed it. Shoving herself up, she started to kick again but then she spotted movement near the window.

It was not a customer, but someone hurrying past the store to another destination. The brief interruption was enough to halt her frustration.

Lily stood there for a long moment, trying to calm her emotions. Every time Kendrick’s face rose in her thoughts, she crushed it down by thinking about the dresses she had to make in the new few weeks. It was hard, she kept thinking about him, but soon she was able to focus on the wine ruining her floors.

As she mopped up the floor, she considered her situation. She was only months away from being a kudame and being forced from her childhood home. No one would want an unlucky bedame for their wife, which meant she was only prolonging the inevitable by waiting until the end of the Season.

She cleaned as she imagined someone calling for her, but it was an empty dream; she had burnt out of those fantasies years ago. There were only two who had ever expressed an interest in her hand: Kendrick and Hasan. The two men had come to blows during the party before each one disappeared after the fire. Neither had come back in nine years.

Lily leaned against the mop with a sad smile on her face. She hadn’t thought about Hasan for many years either. If it wasn’t for Kendrick returning, she would have forgotten him. She heard he got married to another Kasin about a year after the fight. It wasn’t seemly for her to keep a thread on him, so she let their lives drift apart.

She tried to remember what Hasan looked like. She remembered long, blond hair and delicate fingers. His mother and father were both bureaucrats with a few toes into Society. He was destined to follow their footsteps.

The memories refused to solidify. After a few seconds of leaning there, she returned to her cleaning and let her thoughts drift toward the dresses she had to make and her obligations.

When she started to color the wood again, using her magic to bring it back to the same shade as the surrounding planks, the memories welled up and tears threatened to fall. She struggled, desperate not to remembering her past despite the effort to concentrate.

By the time she finished cleaning, she made a decision. She was going to move out as soon as she could. With her work load increasing steadily, there was no time to focus on moving at the end of the Social Season. Her mother, no doubt, would have her out on the final day, which meant Lily would be distracted by the move when she needed to focus on crafting the best dresses she could.

She finished on a heavy heart. It felt good to make a decision, but it left a sour taste in the back of her throat. Most of her childhood dreams had been of moving in with a husband directly from her mother’s house, a shining lighting of everything that was right in Society.

A tear ran down her cheek before she wiped it off.