It’s a little strange walking with Helena. For all I’ve talked at her, I guess I haven’t talked much with her. Silence is okay for now, but I think she’s going to come to my room for that chat, so I need to make sure I’m ready. No awkward silences, got it?
The walk back is short but beautiful. There’s something nice about the lights in this world, bright enough to light the paths and yet not overpowering the night sky. Maybe I should compliment the author? It’s a very romantic light, I think, so it’s probably because of her. The perfect atmosphere for illicit rendezvous and all that.
Coming to the dormitory, I pull my loose focus together. Without her saying anything, I lead us through the corridor and up the stairs, along to my room near the end. I do still wish we had locks on our doors, but it’s not like anything has ever happened. Even at my last school, my roommate never bothered me in our room and nothing went missing over the three years.
“Please, do sit,” I say, setting the chair from my desk for her, while I then go for my usual spot on the edge of my bed.
“Thank you,” she says, her voice soft.
Looking at her, she hasn’t changed much since the start of the year. A little on the short side, a tiny bit chubby (at least as far as her face goes), and she still wears her long hair in a side ponytail, brunette with some streaks of darker brown. Ah, and our fringes match—a simple hair clip keeping her hair neatly out the way.
“You aren’t comfortable with braided hair yet?” I ask. Most days, she does braid a strip of hair, but I haven’t seen her do any more than that.
She lowers her head, gently shakes it. “Um, I have practised, but it is….”
“Scary?” I say.
At this age, change is pretty scary. For all that adults chide us for caring about what other people think, it’s very hard not to care when you spend most of your days surrounded by them. Especially here, there’s no getting away from our peers, no moving house or changing jobs, no declining invitations, no hiding away.
Yet I like change. It’s not always for the best, but it’s better than the anxiety of regret. I want to work towards changes for the better.
“Say, would you do my hair?” I ask, taking out the slip of ribbon keeping my hair in ponytail. From my bedside table, I take the hairbrush I use in the mornings and evening, quickly pulling out the loose hair stuck in it.
“I, I think… it would look better if you do it,” she says.
Standing up, I offer her my hand. “But I would be happy if you do it.”
Reluctant at first, she gives in and lets me help her up, and I move the chair over to the edge of the bed. Swapping places, I sit on the chair while she takes the bed.
“Did you braid your hair at home?” I ask.
“Yes, for practise,” she says, her voice still timid.
She’s thoroughly brushing my hair, gentle yet firm. It makes me ask, “Do you have a sister?”
“Um, a younger one, and two brothers.”
“Really? That’s quite the large family,” I say.
She laughs, a tinkling kind of laughter. Is this the first time I’ve heard it? I think it is.
The mood comfortable, I don’t have to worry about overstepping boundaries and all that. When it’s like this, I’m pretty good at naturally keeping the proper distance, and I don’t feel pressured to blurt out whatever comes to mind.
I mean, having her do my hair is, all things considered, overly familiar, but our relationship started because of this and I wouldn’t ask anyone else to do the same. Like, I’m not going to try and dress her up and do her makeup—that’s something I only do with Violet and my sister (albeit I’m the one dressed up when it comes to my sister).
So anyway, I carry on with the questions. I ask if she showed anyone at home her braided hair, and she didn’t, and I ask if she braided her sister’s hair, and she didn’t, and then I ask a bit about her family. My tone is friendly throughout, never judging. I want to get to know her, not make her into who I want her to be. Besides, I’m sure she already has bad feelings about her shyness, no need for me to make it any worse.
That said, I can be encouraging. “You know, it would always make me happy when my older sister played with me. Even just a few minutes to brush and put my hair in bunches, I liked spending the time with her,” I say.
“Really?” she asks, her tone interested.
“Yes. As old as we are now, she still likes to treat me like a doll, and I happily let her.”
And then I move the conversation on, telling her more about my family. I try not to speak too much, give her chances to ask questions and all that, but, when it comes to my family, well, I can ramble on and on all day.
Since she’s often laughing, I think that’s probably okay.
Whether or not intentional, it takes her quite a while to finish doing my hair—I’ll just assume she’s being extra careful. Bringing the braid over my shoulder, it looks good. “Perfect,” I say.
When I turn around, she’s fidgeting, staring down at her hands. “Not really,” she mumbles.
I reach over and pat the back of her hand. “Really, it is.”
She turns away from me, a light blush showing on her neck and it gradually reaches her ears, likely in part because she keeps glancing and seeing me still looking at her. To see her on a date with Evan, I’d likely die from second-hand embarrassment, but I would die so very amused.
I don’t want to tease her too much, as fun as it is, so I settle myself with a deep breath and bring my gaze back to the front. “Say, did you have anything you wanted to ask? About what Violet told you.”
Even if I can’t see her now, I can hear how she holds her breath for a moment, so near to her.
It turns out that she does have some things she wants to ask. I trusted that Violet was truthful and, from what Helena says, that trust was well placed. Truthful, but too hard on herself. The questions are simple enough and pretty much just to confirm everything that has happened. It’s not like it’s a secret, so I don’t mind saying. My childish “imagination”, the ostracising and bullying at Queen Anne’s, and my friendship with Violet. She sneaks in a couple of questions about Evan and Cyril, but I don’t mind those either.
This takes us to somewhat late, my evening tea sense starting to tingle. With that in mind, I’m not surprised by the knock and say, “Come in.”
Not the best position for tea, I stand up and start moving the chair back to the desk as the door opens.
“Good evening,” says Violet, bowing her head, and she freezes as she looks up. It’s not hard to tell who she’s looking at. Though she quickly recovers, she has her guard up. “Lady Kent, Lady Horsham,” she says.
“And to you,” I say, gesturing at the chair. “Won’t you join us?”
“No, thank you, I simply wished to check you were well,” she replies, still in the doorway.
Behind me, I hear my bed rustle, and Helena comes around. “I should be going,” she mumbles.
Huh, why does the atmosphere feel like I’ve been caught having an affair? Joking aside, I say to her, “If you’d like to come for tea another evening, please do.”
“Y-yes, I will,” she says, giving me a smile before she turns to the doorway. It’s not exactly a scurrying, but she shuffles over in little steps and passes Violet with a quietly said, “Good evening.”
For a couple of seconds after she leaves, Violet says nothing, just staring at me, and then she finally comes into the room, closing the door. I back onto my bed and once again gesture at the chair. “I’ve kept it warm for you,” I say, eager to end this silence.
“Thank you,” she says—rather insincerely.
A few steps and she sits down. Silence. It drags on for a handful of seconds, but it’s her turn to break it, so I wait for her to speak. Ten seconds… fifteen.
“Your hair looks nice,” she says.
About time. “Thanks. Helena did it for me,” I say, turning my head to show it off better.
A second, and then Violet says, “Helena did, did she?”
“Yes?” I say, not understanding what she’s getting at.
“So you two are this close already?”
Oh, oh no. Violet, are you really—no, you couldn’t possibly be…. Giggling to myself, I let myself fall back onto the bed. “Are you jealous?” I ask.
She clicks her tongue, as good as admitting it. Oh dear, oh my, oh bless.
“I am,” she whispers.
“Come here,” I say, holding my arms up in the air.
She shakes her head. “What are you—”
I clap my hands, cutting her off. “Quickly now.”
Though she rolls her eyes first, she does get up and come over. “Now what?” she asks.
I wiggle my fingers. She takes the bait, grabbing my hands to help me up. Except that I have no intention of that and yank her down, upsetting her balance, pulling her down to me. Oof. Don’t tell her, but she’s a bit heavy.
“Are you a child?” she mutters.
I giggle, locking her into a tight hug. “Yes.”
She takes a deep breath, and then gives in, the tension leaving her as she wholeheartedly accepts her fate.
“Do you feel better?” I ask.
“I do,” she says.
So I relax my hold. She takes a few seconds to gather herself and then half rolls off me, half sits up. “You really are….”
“Terrible?” I say.
“Shameless, overly familiar, naïve, and I am so grateful for that,” she says.
Oh Violet, you really do know how to woo me. “You’re my best friend and nothing will ever change that, okay? Helena asked me about braiding hair, but I don’t want to say too much so ask her if you want to know more,” I say.
Though I can’t see her face that well (her sitting up beside me and me lying down still), it looks like she’s pouting, the corner of her mouth showing the littlest bit.
“Fine,” she says.
Yes, definitely pouting.
My smile is overcome by a sudden yawn, stretching my arms out and scrunching my toes. “Really, some days feel like, if they were chapters in a book, it would take at least four to go from morning to night,” I say.
“You are tired, then? You’re not upset with me?” she asks, sounding awfully timid.
“Why would I be upset with you?” I ask back. Not wanting to miss anything, I push myself up, tilting my head to better see her face.
She doesn’t exactly look pleased at my peering, but she doesn’t turn away either. “Well, I might have declined your invitation a little harshly,” she quietly says.
“And you thought that would bother me?” I ask.
After a slight pause, she nods. “It is just that, when I came to ask you to join us for supper, you looked… almost scared of me.”
“I had a feeling like I was forgetting something, that’s all,” I say.
“So then… you aren’t upset with me?” she asks.
Unable to keep all of it in, I let out a giggle or two, the sharp look she gives me doing nothing to help. I quickly shake my head, softening her ire. “Not at all.”
“That, that’s good,” she says, turning away.
Oh Violet, you big softy you.
We settle into a comfortable silence that’s soon broken by evening tea. From there, I bring up reading, talking about the book I’m on at the moment. And like that, time is fleeting, surely no more than a minute passing and yet the hour becomes late.
“Good evening,” she says, her hand on the door handle.
“Sleep well,” I say.
She takes a moment to process my unusual send-off, and then says, “And you.”
I’m sure I will.