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~Suzette~

༻Chapter 24༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

     {“At least the weather is nice…”

     “I guess so,” I mumble as Hikaru and I trek through the woods. Normally this is a nice occasion, but right now…the belongings on my back feel immensely heavy. And I couldn’t even bring everything; but, I doubt I’ll be allowed to return now.

     “You didn’t know,” he reassures me softly. “You truly thought she’d—”

     “Why are you being this way?” I glance down towards him, puzzled.

     “What way?” he asks innocently, truly not knowing what I’m talking about. I can’t help but sigh in frustration.

     It’s strange, he seems so different recently…he’s not much shorter than myself now, his voice keeps growing deeper and deeper. But he acts exactly the same as before.

     Right now…I can hardly stand it.

     “We’re only in this situation because I’m an idiot, and yet you’re treating me as kindly as always.”

     “I wouldn’t say you’re an idiot,” he says. “Maybe a little naïve, but…”

     “Naïve to the point of being homeless seems pretty idiotic to me,” I sigh. “You told me, and I didn’t listen.”

     “Well, it makes sense that you thought your mother would accept us—”

     “Stop making excuses for me, Hikaru. I appreciate it, but…it’s awfully inappropriate. This time I made you homeless.”

     “Maybe not, Beaulieu—”

     “He might accept us for a minute, but once he realizes why we were kicked out…he’ll abandon us too.”

     Now Hikaru sighs.

     “I know…but we only have so much hope right now. I’d like to keep it,” he says.

     I smile.

     “Aren’t I usually the one trying to cheer up you?”

     “I guess we must trade places every now and then,” he chuckles before pausing for a moment. “…Thank you for staying with me, Alex.”

     “Why wouldn’t I?”

     “I heard what your mother said, that if you just condemned me she would let you stay…”

     “Might let me stay,” I add.

     “Whatever you’d like to call it,” he walks a little bit closer, wrapping his arm around mine, “I appreciate it regardless. So…mâzjêr né, Alex.”

     I grin, and look up…and the grin leaves as swiftly as it came, as the small house surrounded by trees comes into view. I heave a heavy breath as Hikaru and I walk up to the door.

     “Who’s there?” Beaulieu answers frustratedly inside.

     “It’s Alex and Hikaru,” I say back, “We…we—”

     “Just come on in, open the door!” he shouts back, his voice becoming a bit more muffled. I do so, and inside it seems everything is…even more disastrous than usual. To the left lies a large, half-finished canvas of scenery, and my master once more bursts in, arms full of various small pots.

     “Is he going to break those…?” Hikaru inquires worryingly.

     “Oh no, boy,” Beaulieu replies roughly putting them down, “This is the usual around here!”

     But once he looks up at us and he stops, and stares for a moment.

     “You two are carrying an awful lot with you.”

     “We moved out of my mother’s house.”

     “How marvelous!” he smiles at first, but then it quickly shifts into a frown. “With your enthusiasm…was it a voluntary affair?”

     I simply shake my head no.

     “…Set your things down, we need to talk,” he replies gruffly, and Hikaru and I both do as told. The three of us weave through the mass of supplies in his work room back into the living area, and settle around the small table in the corner.

     “What happened, boy?” he asks softly, golden eyes meeting mine. I immediately look away, towards Hikaru…who in turn is staring at the floor, avoiding both of our gazes.

     “My mother kicked us out,” I reply quietly.

     “Both of you?”

     I nod.

     He furrows his brow, and I notice his hands clasp into fists on the table. He takes a long, deep breath.

     “Why? Did she find a husband who doesn’t like you? Did you do something? What is this?”

     From the side, I notice Hikaru bury his face in his palms.

     “…I don’t know if I can tell you, but—”

     “No,” Beaulieu interjects. “Tell me.”

     I slowly return to look him in the eyes…and my chest ties in a tight knot.

     “I don’t want you to hate me too—”

     “How do you know I’ll hate you? You’ve not even told me.”

     I try to answer, but the words won’t come out. I move my lips, but they remain silent.

     “So, what is it? Shirk your responsibilities at home? You and your friend here getting a bit too—” Upon hearing this I immediately panic; and thus, he immediately stops.

     “I see…Alex, is that it? Are you two together?”

     My breath stops—he almost never, ever refers to me just by my name. He’s not the type to refer to anyone directly, really.

     “What a farce,” he mutters, shaking his head.

     In a moment, it’s like I feel every part of me shatter.

     You knew this would happen again, and yet—

     “Get up,” Beaulieu says to me.

     “I’m sor—”

     “No apologies boy, get up.” He stands up from the other side of the table.

     For a split moment, out of the corner of my eye I notice Hikaru…face covered in more fear than I have ever seen from him.

     Sâ pšyku, Hikaru…

     Reluctantly, I get up and face my master, looking down towards him. I brace myself—for shouting, a slap, or punch, whatever he deems appropriate.

     And so, he grabs me, and…pulls me into a tight, tight hug.

     “Um…”

     “Sa pšyku vrémond, Alex… you don’t deserve to deal with that,” Beaulieu says uncharacteristically gently. “You don’t deserve this.”

     I try to stay composed, I don’t want to appear weak in front of him of all people—but my vision can’t help but become a little blurry…

     “I try not to say ill about your mother,” he says, pulling away, “But she can be an…interesting sort. I’m sorry that’s turned on you now.”

     “You’re not upset at me at all?”

     He merely laughs.

     “From the night you brought him over I already had a feeling, boy,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You never brought a friend here aside from the last girl you were with, so I assumed that was no different.”

     “Uh…” I hear Hikaru mutter quietly to the side. I look towards him and soon my master does as well, Hikaru’s face covered in pure red.

     “Oh, don’t look embarrassed,” Beaulieu says, “You’re my boy now too, you know.”

     At this Hikaru says nothing, but a small smile comes across his face.

     “So…” I begin, “It’s all right if we stay here?”

     “Well…”  Beaulieu sighs, putting his hand on his hip, “You can, but there isn’t much room for you here.”

     “We can sleep on the floor, I don’t mind,” Hikaru chimes in from the side.

     “Gods no,” he replies turning back to him, “What kind of father would I be if I made you two sleep on the floor?”

     “What do you—” I begin asking, but Beaulieu immediately turns around and interrupts.

     “I’ll be sleeping on the floor, you two get the bed. I won’t be around for much longer, anyhow. Going to the salon in the capi—” he immediately stops.

     “You should come with me!” he exclaims, patting my back hard.

     “Come with you…?”

     “Of course! The last time I took your work to a salon, it sold quite well! Maybe some rich family will give you work for years, and you two can go off on your own.”

     “…You really think that would happen?” I ask him, eyes growing wide.

     I don’t think I’m poor at painting, but could I really be good enough for that?”

     “You won’t know until you try, son,” he says. “And besides, even an old coot like me needs connections. Even if you only get that, it’ll get you far one day, I know it.”

     “Well, Hikaru?” I ask, turning to him. “This concerns you now too.”

     “If you want to,” he says with a weak smile. “I don’t know if I’ll make things hard for you, with me be—”

     “Nonsense,” my master and I both say simultaneously.

     “You’ll be fine!” I say, going around and wrapping my arm around him. “We’ll be fine, I know it!”

     “Okay,” he says, smiling wider.

     “Then I guess you boys best keep your things packed, we’re going to Solzédniê!”

     Now Hikaru grows pure white.

     “The…capital-of-all-of-Soléiâ capital? Not the provincial capital?”

     “That’s the one,” Beaulieu says.

     “I’ve…never been to a city anywhere near that big…well, I guess it is the biggest in Soléiâ…”

     “Did you hear me before, Hikaru?” I smile, “We’ll be fine. You’ll be fine!”

     “…Okay, Alex,” he grins softly. He doesn’t seem convinced…but I hope to change that.}

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     Slowly I arise, the sweet smell of morning dew still lingering in the air. I feel invigorated, refreshed…everything is growing well again. Hikaru and I speak more often, more freely. Ever since he has taken a break from that dreadful goddess, he has appeared so much more joyful, lively…a beautiful face which I always wish to see. Perhaps it is merely my perception, yet even the Sun appears to shine a little more brightly, the grass seems a little greener. And yet…something still remains missing.

     As the nights continue to be filled with dreams of companionship, two young lovers trying to make their way in the world—the days remain silent on such matters. I know the truth. He knows the truth.

     So why can neither of us speak a word?

     I suppose, for myself…although it certainly appears clear much of his ill thoughts stemmed from Maiden Moon, I cannot help but wonder how much is truly genuine to him. For perhaps as long as I have known him, he has always said such cruel things regarding himself…

     Does that loathing run even deeper than I realized? Will I—do I—only make it worse?

     Presently, I have no idea whatsoever to do. And he too says nothing…

     So I suppose I will continue to as well.

     “Ašon bon, Hikaru,” I say.

     He jumps slightly, clearly a bit startled, but soon smiles as sweetly as always.

     “Sâlêzj, Suzette.”

     “Is all well?”

     “Yes, why do you—” he begins, but looking down at his map he swiftly understands. “Oh yes, I was just making sure my estimate is right.”

     “Your estimate?”

     “On when we’ll reach Bydlin. We should be there by tonight.”

     “…So soon?” I whisper, suddenly feeling out of breath.

     “Well, it’s actually taken a bit longer than I anticipated.”

     “Yes, I suppose so,” I mutter, lost within my thoughts.

     Aside from the day Hikaru and I had our issues, the days continue to blur further and further into one another. I do not even remember how many have passed since then, perhaps if I count the memories of Alex since then I shall recall them—yet even those memories are largely a pleasant blur, aside from a few such as last evening’s. Thinking of it, it is almost concerning how it appears I am losing my grasp on time at all…

     “Are you ready?” he says as he folds up the map, and places it within his bag.

     I take a long, deep breath…

     Am I?

     Of course, since we left Solzédniê, I have been anticipating this—yet it still feels far too fast. Yet, perhaps there is no way to truly prepare to see someone you have not spoken to in fifteen years…

     “I am,” I reply, slowly standing up. “Let us find Florence.”

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     Morning turns to afternoon as we traverse through forested, winding hills. The cicadas sing loudly, birds flutter from tree to tree, one can occasionally even see the rumbling of bushes as animals rush to escape the presence of humans. It is truly lovely, yet…I am beginning to wonder if he has gotten us lost. He never has before; and yet, it is difficult to believe there is civilization absolutely anywhere within this area.

     Yet soon enough we come across a worn dirt path large enough for carriages and carts, yet it appears none have come by any time recently. Perhaps there is some sign of life after all. For a time, we quietly continue down the path.

     “Is Bydlin at the end of this road?”

     “It should be,” he replies.    

     With each step, my heart beats faster and faster, as dusty memories flood into my mind. I cannot help but think to the night when he left, and to life after…

     It is quite odd…thinking upon it, it is when he left that my life began growing seemingly infinitely worse. Mother, Father, and Elise grew stricter with me, even further limiting my true passions for pursuits I scarcely cared about. The cruelty began to appear suffocating—as I grew into a young woman, everyone found me even less desirable rather than more, and soon there was little respite from their mockery; until they sent me away to the academy, at least. And then of course I encountered even more mockery there, as it became clear to all how mediocre I am… If Florence had not left, I doubt our family would have viewed me any more fondly, nor anyone else; even so, I would not have been so alone. At least, I do not believe Florence would be so shallow…

     And so…in a way, it is partially his fault, yes? So should I not curse him, wish to never see his face again?

     Yet all I wish to do is see him again. Regardless of everything, I cannot find it within me to bear a grudge against him…even before I discovered his letters were hidden from me, I could not be angry. It was not his decision to leave—and truthfully, if it were, I do not know if I would grow angry then either. Ah, perhaps I am merely a fool, finding it difficult to shun those I have ever loved…

     I continue stepping along, hazily staring upon the dirt path below.

     “Suzette—Suzette,” Hikaru says, shaking me, “Look up.”

     I do as he says—and the sight below entirely takes my breath away.

     The hill we are on goes down and down, far into a green valley surrounded by hills just as the one we are on. The valley itself lays scattered in equal measure with farms and trees. Almost precisely in the middle lies a small, yet still decently sized town. It is dotted with colorful buildings, many appear to even have patterns painted upon them. There are fields of a myriad of rainbow-hued flowers surrounding the very edge of town, like the frills lining a quilt… It resembles the quaint, idyllic villages of faerie tales. Even in the distance, it is perhaps one of the most lovely towns Hikaru and I have encountered. If Florence is here, I entirely understand why.

     “If that is Bydlin…it is truly beautiful,” I mutter in awe.

     “It really is,” Hikaru says. “I think even I wouldn’t mind living in a place like that.”

     Is that so… I think to myself, but of course say nothing.

     And so Hikaru and I slowly stroll down the steep path to the village below.

     “Do you know how we should find him?” Hikaru asks as we continue onwards.

     “I suppose we must ask—well, I shall ask, I will not do that to you.”

     Hikaru chuckles, and I smile in return…I hope to create a light atmosphere, to in turn lighten my nerves. It is only partially successful.

     As we walk into the village, it is even more marvelous than I imagined; many of the buildings are indeed painted with flowers, and even the many which are not are quite colorful besides—it is truly a lovely, lively scene. Yet I am struck by how the town otherwise appears rather empty. Of course, the last time we truly encountered civilization was Solzédniê, which is certainly a poor comparison to any place—even so, the other scattered towns we have passed through have been more populous than this, unless they were merely a tiny hamlet that could scarcely be called even a village. This place appears to lie somewhere in between, and yet only a small handful of people are out.

     After a moment, however, I do notice someone quite near to us, an older woman who is strolling about quite leisurely, it appears.

     “Excuse me, Lady,” I say, approaching her, “I am a traveler, and I merely wish to know, is this town Bydlin?”

     “Oh yes—” the woman says cheerily, looking down towards me. Yet once she sees me she stops, and squints her eyes. “Perhaps it’s merely my poor eyesight, but…do you happen to be related to someone called Florence?”

     Suddenly, my eyes grow so wide they nearly hurt.

     “He…he does live here?” I whisper in near disbelief.

     The woman smiles.

     “He runs a tailor shop here; look for a sign with clothes painted on it, and he should be in there.”

     “Oh, mâzjêr né!” I exclaim, and the woman merely grins.

     “I hope it goes well!” the woman replies, as she begins along on her way once more.

     Swiftly I turn back towards Hikaru so fast it nearly makes me fall over; yet, I am too excited to mind terribly. Hikaru, meanwhile, looks just as surprised as me.

     “So he is here after all,” he says softly.

     “Let us go find him!” I say excitedly, and Hikaru merely nods in return.

     The two of us steadily traverse through the small town, and it is not long before we find it. Just as the older woman described, a wooden sign hangs off a building with an image of clothes, and the words Téiyi de Lebrun, Lebrun’s Tailor Shop, written below. This truly makes me smile—to think how much our family would loathe to see their elegant name used in that of a tailor shop of all things. I cannot help but find it at least a bit amusing.

     Slowly Hikaru and I walk up to the two storied building, itself apart of a long line of other buildings full of numerous other businesses. In the front are wide windows which allow one to see what is inside. Steadily, I step towards it…

     I only gaze for a moment, and all I see is one singular shadow hunched against a table, seemingly writing something. Quickly, I look away.

     “Is he there?” Hikaru asks.

     “I believe so…” I say, chest beating faster and faster, a weak, jittering feeling overcoming my body.

     Someone whom I have not seen in fifteen years, whom I never anticipated ever seeing again—right there…

     “It’s okay, Suzette,” Hikaru smiles sweetly, and for a tiny moment my worry washes away. “I’m sure he’ll be ecstatic to see you.”

     But at this, I merely frown.

     “…Will he?”

     “Why wouldn’t he? Weren’t you two close?”

     “I am sure he believes I hate him…” I sigh. “Never contacting him, never visiting—”

     “I’m sure he also knows just as well as you what your family is like,” he replies. “I doubt he’ll be surprised at what happened, nor hold it against you.”

     “Well, shall you come with me—”

     “No,” he replies flatly.

     “You will not come in?!”

     “Maybe after a little bit, but…I think you should go to meet him by yourself.”

     “Are you afraid he shall not like you because…”

     “Of course, I am,” he replies, “That’s always something on my mind; but, that’s not why I say that. This is a personal affair between you two, it doesn’t really involve me.”

     “At this point, I believe all my affairs involve you…”

     At this, a small, tiny grin is born on his face.

     “I’ll be in in a moment. But you don’t have to be so nervous, Suzette. It’ll be well—just remember that, all right?”

     “Yes,” I nod, not particularly enthusiastically.

     Of course I am worried, perhaps even a bit afraid…yet I suppose it truly is not the best to always rely on others to push you through the fields. Sometimes, you must traverse through yourself…

     Softly I open the door, and a small bell rings out.

     “Jéyu bon!” the voice of Florence greets happily, yet he does not pull his eyes from his work. “What can I help you with today?”

     The foreign familiarity of his voice takes me aback.

     He truly sounds no different than before…

     I remain silent. I surely should have prepared more thoroughly…yet, I have not the slightest clue what to say. How to say it.

     I merely stare at him, trying to see him from the side…he appears almost precisely the same as I remember. The same short, coiled black hair. Deep brown eyes, lying behind spectacles just as before. The only difference is he is slightly older; yet, he does not look nearly as old as perhaps he should after so many years. Perhaps being in an environment that is not so stifling and toxic has helped him to stay well…

     For a little while longer he continues on his drawing. Now I can see that he is planning out an outfit for someone, drawing each individual piece, the measurements scribbled in beside the more detailed pieces. I smile…it quite reminds me of how I plan my recipes. An entirely different medium, yet it appears somehow both he and I must have some deep need to create.

     “Uh,” he mutters awkwardly after a time, “Is there something I can help you wi—”

     He gets up and turns around, ceasing his work. And upon seeing me, he stops speaking entirely.

     I wonder if he may recognize me…I am scarcely taller than before, if at all, yet I do look different in so many ways. However, I wonder if all of this, everything, is just rather embarrassing…that his sweet little sister grew up to be me.

     “Do you…” I begin, meandering, not entirely certain of what to say, “Do you recognize me, Florence?”

     He stares and blinks at me, as though when he opens his eyes once more it will reveal an apparition. Yet of course, everything stays the same.

     “Are you…what’s your name?”

     “Suzette,” I whisper softly.

     Before I can say anything else, he engulfs me in a tight, tight hug. And now, I cannot help the tears from flowing…

     “Sâ pšyku vrémond né!” I frantically begin, “I never received your letters, I was not trying to abandon you, I—”

     “Stop it,” he scolds, “Don’t say that. I figured they had something to do with it. I’m the one that never returned—”

     “Yet if you did, surely they would have been terribly angry with you, and then…” my thoughts drift off.

     Truly, who knows what would have happened…but I surely know, it would have been horrid. I have little doubt of that.

     For a little while longer he holds me, and I almost feel like a child again—before everything became so awful…

     He pulls away, a huge smile on his face, although he still looks a bit weary.

     “We’ve reached an understanding, then,” he says. “No ill feelings.”

     “Of course,” I reply.

     He sighs, putting his hand against his forehead, looking around.

     “It’s unbelievable…” he mutters. “It doesn’t feel that long ago, yet you’re so different now…”

     “Well, it appears you still recognized me, at least…I believe?”

     “Yep! You’re not that different,” he says with a slight laugh. “So what are you up to these days?” he asks after a moment. “I never quite imagined you looking like this—I mean; you’re definitely not dressed in a way our family would approve of.”

     I hold my hands, not quite sure how to answer.

     “Well…I suppose you can say I recently divorced. Not quite officially, yet…”

     It feels strange to say, that is not quite how I normally think of it, as it scarcely feels like that man and I were married at all…yet, I suppose that is what happened.

     “Oh wow,” he mumbles, and looks away as his eyes appear to nearly fall out of his head. “Yeah, I guess you’re far more than old enough to be married…I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out.”

     “I did not wish for it regardless, so I am glad to be free of it.”

     “Were you forced into it?”

     “Yes.”

     His face twists in disgust.

     “That shouldn’t surprise me,” he scoffs. “I’m glad to be tied to such wonderful people,” he rolls his eyes.

     “Well then,” he continues on, “What’re you up to since?”

     I pause for a moment, a little caught off guard. He appears to speak so differently from how I remember, although I suppose that should not be surprising…however, it is not at all a bad thing. Certainly, it is quite incredible that it appears his spirit is the same as before…

     I suppose time has changed us both, yet not entirely.

     “I am traveling to get the funds I need, but…I am hoping to start my bakery some day relatively soon.”

     At this, he smiles wider than perhaps I have ever seen him do in all of my memories.

     “I can’t believe you actually took my advice,” he says, seemingly with a bit of awe. “That’s…that’s really wonderful, Suzette. I wish you all the best.”

     “Why would I not?”

     “It’s not easy. But, I guess you know that just as well as me, now.”

     “Yes, unfortunately…” I sigh. “But, I would not change it.”

     “Where do you plan on going?”

     I pause.

     “…I do not know yet. I am traveling with a friend, who is planning to help me…yet after our journey ends, I have not the slightest clue where we shall go.”

     “Oh, you brought a friend? Why aren’t they here, then?”

     “He wanted to stay outside for a little whi—”

     Before I can even finish speaking, Florence has already opened the door!

     “Florence!” I exclaim, scattering to get to him, “He can be a bit nervous and—” I slow to a walk, as I hear their conversation.

     “What are you doing out here?”

     “I figured you’d want privacy, considering how long it’s been…”

     “I appreciate that, but—if you’re my sister’s friend, then you’re mine too, you know.”

     A small chuckle.

     “I’ve heard something like that before.”

     “Then you should know to come on in,” Florence says opening the door wider for him. And so Hikaru walks in, a small smile on his face as well…

     “Oh, and you didn’t tell me, what’s your name?”

     “…Hikaru,” he nearly whispers, as though he’s embarrassed to say it.

     “Don’t say it like that,” Florence quips, as he flips a sign saying “open” to “closed” on the window. “You sound like you’ve no confidence whatsoever.”

     “Hmm…” Hikaru mutters, crossing his arms and looking away. “You really are Suzette’s brother.”

     At this, he merely laughs loudly.

     “Huh, face not give it away?”

     At this, I cannot help but begin chuckling.

     “Come on you two,” Florence says, turning around. “Suddenly it’s my day off! So, are you hungry?”

     I silently nod.

     “Then come upstairs…we’ve still a lot to talk about, you think?”

     “Yes, I do believe so.”

     And so Hikaru and I follow him up the narrow, winding stairs.

     Perhaps, sometimes…everything can turn out perfectly after all.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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