Chapter XXIII: Stubborn Girls Against Stubborn Rules

“I honestly don’t even know what to do with myself,” she told Brandon, while falling back onto her brother’s mess of a bed.  “I mean, I admit I’m quite drained but my mind is just wired.”

“Why don’t you stop by one of the study rooms and do some research?” Brandon suggested as he began to fold his laundry.

“Or maybe actually go and rest,” Sebastian pointed out, his arms shaking as he struggled to maintain his handstand. “Trust me, it only gets harder from here.”

“What on earth are you even doing, Sebastian?” she asked, ignoring her twin’s advice.

“Practicing.  Some of us have a full day of lessons,” he emphasized.

“Give her a break, mate.  This is her first time trying to control the fire.  Remember when you passed out for a day and a half?”

“I suppose.  But that’s why I think she should be sleeping.  Most of us can’t even move the next day.”

“Except the Weasel.  Seemingly he bounced right back, “Brandon said.

“Plus, she already had her first encounter with fire-play long before today. Mind you, it was more like an accident than anything else.” Boy said as he dried his hair off with a towel. “Or perhaps you don’t remember her being passed out for three days?”

“This is true,” Sebastian said, falling out of his headstand.

“You know, I could have left the room while you showered.  You didn’t have to try and get ready in the loo,” Lucy told Boy.

“It’s alright.  I don’t mind.”

“Not like you haven’t lived with a bunch of boys before,” her twin teased.

“I’m still a lady!”

“When did that happen?”

Before Lucy could jump at him, the bell tolled for the student’s morning lesson.  The boys were out the door faster than her mind could count the notes.

“See you!”

“See you, Lucy!”

“Love yah, Lulu.  Cheers!”

And the door slammed leaving her in a mess of boys’ dirty clothes and burnt pages.  Well, except Brandon’s side of the room.  He was always quite clean.

Lucy stood up and exited the dorm, looking up and down the hall.  What was she to do?  Then the idea struck her and she went off to fetch her coat and mittens.

It didn’t take the girl long to weasel her way past the nosy man at the front desk.  A few simple half-truths, and she was skipping down the steps of the Clock Tower.

The cold December breeze picked at Lucy’s curls as she walked the embankment, but she didn’t seem to mind as her eyes took in the changing river.  It had been a long enough time since she had been outside on her own.  Close to a month in fact.  When she turned onto Oxmore Street, her eyes lit at the familiar holiday smells and decor.  It was both bittersweet and warm nostalgia.

“Excuse me, miss, you look like you could use a lovely bouquet of snowdrops,” a small girl offered, gesturing towards her cart of winter flowers.

Lucy smiled sweetly to the hopeful saleswoman. “Thanks, but I think I will pass today.  Here,” she pressed a 50 pence into the girl’s palm. “You bring one home for yourself.”

“Thank you, Miss!” she gave a toothy grin before skipping back to her mother’s cart.

Lucy began to look at the wide variety of stores up and down the street.  Clothing, furniture, toys, and candy shops with brilliant signs of colour.  Even the bakery had gotten a new coding of paint.   But that would be a last stop.  A surprise just for Mel.

The first shop she entered was Mr. O’Connor’s Irish Knitwear.

“Hullo, I’ll be right there!” he shouted from the backroom as Lucy took in the familiar smell of musk and wool.

The comfortable shop had man mannequins modeling the latest fashion of scarfs, hats, and waistcoats.  The colours were all of dark hues to match the winter weather.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” he chimed as the stout man waddled to the front of his shop. “How can I help you-”

He stopped as Lucy turned and smiled at the startled man. “Hullo, Mr. O’Connor.”

“Bless my stars.  Is that really you?  Is that really my dear Lucy?”

“They must be blessed because it most certainly is,” she laughed as the old man strode towards her as fast as his figure would allow.

“Oh, my dear, tis so good to see you.  Tis so good!  It’s been a while.  Has Adrian already burnt through those gloves of his?”

“Not quite yet, but I was thinking of getting him a proper scarf to match.  Perhaps, you can help me pick out quite a few things.”

“Most certainly, my dear.  Tis a shame I do not get to see you at Mel’s anymore,” he admitted as he began to pull off various pieces from the models.

“I miss it too.  But I’m in a good place right now.”

“Yes, yes.  Mel says you’ve earned yourself an excellent working place in the Clock Tower.  Very impressive.  Very impressive,” he nodded, as he held the two pieces up to his heavily bearded face. “Which do you think he’d prefer?”

Both were of impeccable quality, the only difference being the color.  Where one was deep green while the other was a mustard yellow. “I think it will be the emerald colour, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Not at all, love,” he grinned and placed the scarf on his counter. “Will one do?”

“Actually, I’d love to be able to get four of them.”

“Four of them?! My, my, what is the occasion?” he asked placing the first on the counter while reaching underneath one of the drawers and pulling out two more.

“A family reunion of sorts,” she smiled.

“Ah,” the clever shop owner smiled. “I do remember seeing your mother’s obituary in the paper – survived by her sons, my word! But, I just knew your brother couldn’t have been dead and gone!  Much too tough, like your father.”

The memory of her mother’s funeral stung her to the point that she felt dizzy with loss. “Ah. . .how could I forgot.”

“Are you alright, my dear?  You look a bit pale,” the concerned Mr. O’Connor asked. “Perhaps you should sit down.”

“Oh no,” she waved her hand and laughed as best as she could. “I’m fine.  Just a bit tired is all.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with today, my dear?”

Lucy smiled, shoving the thoughts of bitter things back and away. “If I remember correctly, the last time we chatted you were dabbling in the art of leather gloves.”

O’Connor grinned from ear to ear. “Right this way!”

Lucy wrapped up the last of her shopping and left the store, bags in hand and her purse half as light.  There were only two more stops and then she could feel satisfied enough to go home.

She stopped by the clockmaker’s shop and when she left, had in one of her secret pockets, a well-polished box and less than three pounds left in her purse.

Then came her final stop.  As Lucy’s heart pounded she stared at the bakery she had left only a month or so ago.  And yet, it felt like ages.

The bell chimed at the front of the store and there came a shout from the register as the lunch hour customers moved about.

“Be a fifteen minute wait, miss!” one of Mel’s son’s shouted.

“I can wait,” Lucy called back, grinning from ear to ear as the boy practically jumped from his spot in surprise.

“Lucy?!” the brown curly top bounced, looking over the crowd of people.

Lucy winked.  “Tell Mel I’m here when you can.  I’m happy to wait.”

Sure enough, only five minutes later the crowd had eased and Mel had rushed from the kitchen.

“Lucy!” she cried. “Lucy, my darlin’!”

“Hullo!” she laughed, throwing her arms around her previous employer.

“Oh heavens, how I miss ye,” Mel hugged just a squeeze tighter before she finally let go.  “Well, let’s have a look at ye,” she smiled and twirled the girl in her traveling skirt.

“Mel, really,” Lucy blushed in embarrassment yet still amused her dear friend anyways.

“Come, do ye have any time tah sit?”

“I,” Lucy looked to the small clock on the wall. “I honestly don’t know.  Not much, really.”

“Oh, come now.  Just a wee afternoon tea.  Johnny’s already got the kettle hot.”

“One cup,” Lucy insisted, following her friend to the back of the shop as it merged into her kitchen.

One cup of tea quickly turned to two and then to three, but by the time the last was finished, Mel was caught up on Lucy and her family’s affairs.  Of course, minus the small fact that Lucy was actually being trained as a Top Hat.

“What strict employers,” Mel clucked, holding her cup. “Are ye sure you are happy there?”

“I’ve honestly never been happier,” Lucy admitted.

Mel leaned back and looked over her former worker.  A smile played on her lips. “Ye look happ’r.  I worried after you, with your mother passin’ and all, but seeing yeh helps.  Ye look so much better.”

“Really?” Lucy laughed, crossing her legs.

“Absolutely,” Mel told her seriously. “Darlin’, yeh have a confidence, a sense of purpose.  I’m not rightly sure I can put me finger on it.”

Lucy blushed in disbelief.  She certainly didn’t feel any different.  At least, she didn’t think so.

“Well, my dear I should let you go,” Mel nodded, as she put away the tea.

“Thank you for having me,” Lucy smiled, starting to stand.  “I’ll come back as so-” And suddenly, a dizzy spell spread over her and Lucy found herself collapsing back into her chair.

“Lucy!” Mel rushed to her side. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she muttered, holding her head in her hand. “I-I just think I stood too fast.”

“Well, take your time.  The boys will clean up the rest, so don’t you worry.”

“Thanks, Mel,” she smiled as the woman crossed to put some of the dishes in the sink before returning to the bakery.

Lucy sighed and ran a hand through her curls as her vision flickered in and out.  After a few deep breathes she managed to gather herself and her bags together, quickly putting her bonnet back upon her head.

“Goodbye!” she called to Mel’s son as she left.  She had to get to the Clock Tower. Fast.

Lucy felt her body slowly shutting down on her.  Yet somehow she kept it all together.  If her vision began to fail, her hands would find the railings along the walkways.  If her balance shuttered, she swept herself from foot to foot.  Past the embankment, across the street, and up the steps until she finally made it past the doorway.  Only instead of weaseling her way back up the dorm steps, she was met with a quite cross teacher.

“Vaan,” she gasped, pulling her parcels closer to her chest, as if that would defend her.

“Hello, Lucy,” he coldly replied. “Where have you been today?”

“I-I,” she stuttered as the world tunneled for a moment.  She kept her knees pressed together, using the last of her strength to keep her upright.

“You are supposed to be in your room.  Resting,” he growled in annoyance.

“I had the day off,” she protested, but her head was screaming back.  She just needed to get through the scolding, make it down the corridor, and collapse.

“You are not allowed from the Clock Tower without permission from your Master!”

“Got it,” she nodded, sweat beading on the small of her back.

“We have rules.  We have always had rules.  You know better,” his voice grew lower and more irritated.  “There is a reason we have them.”

“Rules, yes.  I’m sorry,” she passed as she dared to make her way to the dorms.

“Don’t you walk away from me!” he boomed, snapping at her wrist.

Lucy froze as vertigo began to spin her about. Don’t tip, don’t tip, don’t move.

“Are you even listening to me?!” he said, twisting her about.

It was just enough to pull her over the edge.

“Lucy?”

The young girl’s eyes turned glassy before rolling up into her head.  Her body shuttered, going limp as the colour in her cheeks vanished into a sea of white.

“Lucy!” He shouted once more, grabbing her shoulder awkwardly as she fell ungracefully down onto his side.

Vaan sighed in annoyance and yielded his verbal reprimands.  He looked to the Top Hat behind the desk, who quickly raised his hands in refusal.  “That’s all yours, mate.”

Vaan rolled his eyes, easing the girl into his arms and placed her parcels on top of her.  At least she was light enough.  Even smelt of soft vanilla.  He would just have to finish his lesson tomorrow.  For now – sleep was the best thing for the girl.

©2017 E. M. Vick

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