Beatrice was trying.
She really was. But after that night, school was the very last thing on her mind. It was like a completely different world to her.
Emi had taken her hand and placed it in hers, gazing at her with those eyes as dark and warm and deep as soil... She couldn't believe that, after all that fretting and worrying and staying awake late at night thinking about someone she barely knew, she actually ended up with her hand grasped within hers.
Mr. Statusian was lecturing about something or another. Honestly, Beatrice wasn't paying much attention right now, which was rare, but she knew she'd started all of this already on her own. One of the big downsides to studying outside of class was that she already knew all the material that was going to be discussed, and even if she made a valiant effort to participate in the lectures, she usually was not learning much new. Not listening to the professor, as was happening now, was not going to impact her life at all unless he--
“Miss Ragnell? What do you think?”
“Did you hear the question?”
“Yes of course, I'm just... Uhh...”
The entire class stared at her. Beatrice, the one who always came to class two weeks ahead on the readings, who sat back in her chair confidently any time a tough question was postured, now sitting in front of everyone caught off-guard in a complete daze.
She couldn’t take it.
Beatrice got up, took her school bag, and bolted out of the classroom.
She locked herself in the bathroom for a while, not to cry but so she could get some semblance of privacy and think about what the heck was going on with her. Even though it was not a difficult puzzle to solve. Obviously this was because of Emi. Well, not Emi as much as herself thinking about Emi.
That back there was just so embarrassing.
As much as she hated to admit it, she relished her status as the class suck-up, her position as the top student in almost every subject. Being a complete dolt in class and obviously not listening to the teacher would jst make everyone lose their respect for her. She wasn’t sure if that was what upset her so much, though. Maybe it was seeing the look on Mr. Statusian’s face when he realized she hadn’t been paying attention? No, it wasn’t that either.
Beatrice felt confused that anyone, even a girl as pretty and graceful as Emi, could make her act like this. It shouldn’t be like this. One girl taking priority over her life of service to the Gods? Being a junior priest was never that important, and even someone like her couldn’t treat it as more than it was, but this was Beatrice’s life. Or, it was supposed to be.
At the moment, though... ugh, what was she doing?
She walked over to the mirror and peered into herself, her mediocre appearance wrapped up in the guise of cuteness thanks to the St. Helens school uniform. They say looking into a mirror is a great gateway to analyzing the inner self, but at this moment, Beatrice felt more like it was a great gateway to annoying herself even more.
Junior priests didn’t need to look suave or sexy. They needed to think deeply, embrace compassion, and, of course, pay attention in class. Looking hot meant that you were exempt from things as lowly as a junior priesthood studying magic you could never pull off on your own. It meant you could go where you wanted, do what you wanted, be what you wanted. It meant you could change the world and accomplish great things even without devoting yourself to the service of the Church. You could make your own harmony... or... something.
She wasn’t sure what her mind was trying to tell her anymore, except that it refused to stop thinking about the other night.
Gods, she held that woman’s hand. Somehow, in some bizarre continent known as Tsubasa, someone as unremarkable as Beatrice Ragnell managed to hold hands with... well, with Emi L’Hime. She could practically imagine it right now, skin against skin, her thumb caressing her index finger...
...And this was what ended up getting her caught zoning out in class. Exactly this. Beatrice leaned her head against the mirror and gave a frustrated groan. She was hopeless, wasn’t she?
She stayed and sorted out her thoughts some more.
Beatrice left the bathroom about twenty minutes later and returned to the classroom. Class had already ended and most of her fellow students had long since left. The only person she saw was Mr. Statusian standing by his desk, hand on his hip as if he had been waiting all this time for her to return. She balled up her fists, sucked up her pride, and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left class like that.”
To her surprise, Mr. Statusian didn’t laugh it off like she thought he would. Instead, he asked, “Do you want to talk about what's going on right now? I've never seen you act like this way until the past few days and... If you need to talk about anything, anything you need to get off your chest, something like that, that’s okay.”
About what’s going on right now.
Beatrice very briefly considered telling her him everything, going into great detail about the girl she had spent the evening with who for some strange unexplainable reason had turned Beatrice's heart into putty. “No, there's nothing to talk about, I was just... having a bad day today.” She hoped that was a sufficient enough excuse and that he wouldn’t see through it. Trust me, adults always see through it.
The two exited the classroom and walked into the hallways.
“Well, don't worry about that. It happens to everyone,” he said. “Everybody knows you're one of the best students in this entire school. Whatever it is that's distracting you will be over with pretty soon, and you'll be right on your way towards making the priesthood.”
Beatrice’s face went ghostly white. “The priesthood,” she muttered, too quietly for her teacher to hear.
All these feelings in her heart, all the jumping around for Emi L’Hime, was running completely contrary to her life path, the path she had chosen for herself when she was just a child, standing four feet tall and pointing to her Dad at the old lady handing out food to the homeless. She was going to be the one to bring new harmony to Tsubasa, that’s what she always told herself.
Now, suddenly, after that night with Emi, thinking about that was almost an alien concept to her. Like a different person had dreamed it up, and she had simply inherited it along with all the other junk floating around in her mind. The only thought her mind would give her was this image of Emi in her arms, both of them old and wrinkled, sitting out on a dock and watching the sun set past the Balarand River, the sky purple and the endless farms and towns across the waterway going dark. Beatrice hated herself a little bit for how specific of a thought that was, and how much it plagued her imagination.
She would never speak of this to anyone, least of all Mr. Statusian.
“Now, there's no homework for tonight,” Mr. Statusian said, bringing Beatrice’s attention back to their conversation at hand, “but I know you'll probably do some studying anyway, so here's some documents I compiled earlier that I can give to you for some extra reading.” He said this as if Beatrice would lap up any study material like a trained dog... Honestly, it was an accurate assessment on most days. But today...
Today felt like a completely different existence. A world with four moons, not five, or a world where tall people were discriminated against, a world where you didn’t need to become a junior priest to get a decent career in Balarand. None of that was real, but it might as well have been.
Her mind boggled.
“Thank you sir, but I don't think I'm going to do much studying tonight,” she said. “I think I have something else planned.”
She said that calmly, but her heart was pounding. If Mr. Statusian knew what was going through her head right now, there would be no end to the shame it would bring him. His star pupil was a fraud.
“Are you sure? Well then, I hope you do whatever it is you want to do.” He stared at her, trying to analyze her, and Beatrice was doing a terrible job of hiding herself. But, after a moment, he relented, and his expression eased up. “I, on the other hand, will be going straight home to grade all of my students’ papers on the last essay. I'm looking very forward to seeing how you did.”
Oh no! Beatrice didn't even know there was an essay assignment, let alone that one was due... She definitely didn't do it! What was coming to her... ? What was happening to her...!?
“I'm just kidding with you,“ he said.
“Oh... Haha... Very funny...”
“I try to practice my joking skills with my students before I go home to my convent. Otherwise I get called Ulric the Plainsmith. That was my nickname back during training.”
“Oh, really? That’s oddly demeaning.”
Suddenly there was a loud banging on the wall. Mr. Statusian and Beatrice both turn to look, and it turned out to be a soldier from Dannark, their face completely covered by a helmet except for their mouth and chin. “This building is closing in five minutes,” the soldier said. “Gather your things and leave or we may place you under contempt of occupational law.” Their eyes were obscured, but their mouth had a stern frown that told that they were not going to skirt the law just because the people in question were a student and teacher.
Her heart had been beating fast from thinking about Emi, from trying not to let Mr. Statusian know what an emotional mess she had become. Now her heart was beating fast because soldiers were staring at her, pikes in hand.
“Come on, Beatrice, we need to get out of here. Thank you for your time,” Mr. Statusian told the soldier. “We apologize for inconveniencing you.”
Beatrice had no idea that the soldiers had encroached upon the junior priest academy. This meant that the new government was taking firmer control of the education system and that there may have been some sort of subversive movement or something along those lines. There had been quite a lot of protests lately, but those never involved the school, did they?
Despite her feelings on the subject, she couldn’t help shuddering. This wasn’t going to go over well with her classmates, that was for sure.
They hurried out of the school and Beatrice began walking home. Mr. Statusian followed her and caught up with her. “Hey,” he said. “I forgot to mention the other news from the lecture. St. Helens Academy has been put under tighter supervision starting today. A few of my coworkers have made some comments recently that were against the wishes of the occupation government and those remarks happened to be printed in the Balarand Circle. It may not be fair to the students, but... the school now has a curfew of ten minutes after the final class period ends. I don’t enjoy it myself, but the government has offered us very generous financial support. So...”
“So, it evens out?”
“You could say that.”
“But does that really make up for how harsh they’re treating the students?”
He smiled, but his eyes were glaring off at the soldiers patrolling the school grounds. “Well, personally-- I probably shouldn't tell you this-- but I suggested to my co-workers that we refuse the money entirely. I believe suppression of our freedom to gather in a public space and communicate with one another has the mark of a very unprosperous occupation to come. I don't like it one bit, but the majority of the teachers agreed more funding will help the school in the long run and I will support that decision.”
This was the first time Beatrice had heard Mr Statusian talk so openly about the occupation. She rarely talked about it with anybody other than her parents because as anyone knows, politics are not a good subject to make small talk with. It was a bit unnerving to hear his opinion so openly stated.
“Just... don’t write what I said down in the newspaper,” he added.
“I’ll try my best,” Beatrice said with a single laugh. “See you tomorrow, Mr. Statusian.”
“Yes, and good luck on your plans today.”
Thank you, but Beatrice didn’t need any luck, she thought as she made her way to the library. She wasn’t the type to believe in luck, not when the world was so intricately connected. The only differences were the decisions each person made.
Luck was only an excuse for those that made poor decisions, or those that thought the Gods were the only force in Tsubasa. As much as Beatrice had an inner fire of conflict inside of her, that was a mere ember compared to her desire to see Emi again. If there was anything in the world that mattered more at that moment, she couldn’t have named it.
She entered the library, said hello to her Dad, and sat down at a table. It was time to wait for the girl of her dreams.
But, it turned out Beatrice wasn’t very lucky today. Emi never showed up.