“Couldn’t you be just a little excited?” Mrs. Vasilver asked her daughter. “It’s the Ascension Ball. No Vasilver has ever attended an Ascension Ball before.”
“I am excited, Mother.” They were at Lamille’s, her mother’s favorite dressmaker. The shop was so busy at this time of year that not only was the price for her last-minute order exorbitant, but Wisteria also had to come to the dressmaker for a final fitting instead of the seamstresses coming to her. The private fitting room was lined with mirrors, with a raised dais at the center. Wisteria stood upon the dais with her arms outstretched while a squadron of assistants and seamstresses fluttered about her, pinning and adjusting and snipping and stitching. The gown was an Ascension Ball confection, unlike anything else Wisteria owned because such things were not worn at any other event. It had so many crystals hand-stitched into the fabric that it was heavy. It made use of some of the very latest materials: fibers from a patented hybrid plant created by one of the Blessed were woven into a fabric called silk opulence, which combined the smoothness and drape of ivysilk with the breathability of cotton, and added flexibility to prevent it from wrinkling and to allow it to move easily with the wearer. The chiffon-like trim was uncrushable, springing back to its original shape even if compressed for hours. Wisteria planned to practice walking around in the gown this evening at home, to get used to the feel of it and where the various parts of it would end up as she moved. The dress was a lovely piece of art; Wisteria hoped she wouldn’t spoil its effect by inhabiting it.
“You don’t show it,” her mother complained.
“It’s refreshing,” Mrs. Lamille murmured, checking the drape of the cape attached to one shoulder.
“What was that?” Mrs. Vasilver furrowed her lined face at the dressmaker.
The short, slender dressmaker cleared her throat, glancing to Mrs. Vasilver and then back to the daughter. “Meaning no disrespect, ma’am, but Miss Vasilver’s poise, calm, and patience make it a pleasure to work with her. Very…professional.”
“Why, thank you, Mrs. Lamille,” Wisteria said, touched. The older woman bobbed a curtsy, then stepped back to appraise her handiwork from different angles.
Mrs. Vasilver folded her arms over her chest. “All right, it’s very well for you to be collected at the fitting, but I wish you’d not be so cold to his lordship.”
“I don’t mean to be cold, Mother.”
“It’s just – an invitation to the Ascension Ball, for my little girl! I am sure Lord Nikola is fond of you, Wisteria. If you’d show him a little encouragement…”
Encourage him how? I already gave him a thirty-page document outlining my thoughts on our prospective marriage. How could I be plainer about my desires? “I don’t think Lord Nikola is looking for a wife at this time, Mother.”
Mrs. Vasilver waved a hand. “Oh, all men will give you that idea, Wisteria. They don’t know what they want themselves.”
“If they don’t know, how could I possibly?” Wisteria was used to hearing nonsensical statements treated as obvious fact, but they still bewildered her.
“You have to lead them to it,” her mother said. “Once you show one the advantages of the match – in a subtle way, mind you, you can’t just tell him, he needs to think it’s his own idea – he’ll come around to it.”
Wisteria thought again of that long document on the advantages of the match. “It may have escaped your notice, Mother, but subtlety is not my strength.”
The shorter, older woman heaved a sigh. One of the attendants re-positioned Wisteria’s arms at her sides instead of straight out, which was a relief as they’d started to ache from holding the heavy fabric up. “But you’re such a clever girl,” Mrs. Vasilver said. “I don’t see why this is so difficult for you.” I don’t even see how it’s possible for anyone else, Wisteria thought. “You unbent enough to flirt a little with Lord Nikola the other day, it seems you—”
“Wait, how is that? When did I flirt with him?”
“Why, when he called, of course. The day he invited you to the Ball – Thursday last, was it?”
“I was flirting?” Wisteria’s understanding of the word ‘flirt’ was purely intellectual. It was one of those things that other humans did with each other involving looks and gestures that she could not hope to interpret.
“A little. You might have been warmer – if you could only smile a bit, Wisteria—”
“What was I doing that was flirting?”
“Oh, you know.” Her mother waved a hand vaguely. “You needn’t be defensive, dear, there’s nothing wrong with—”
“I don’t know, Mother, or I wouldn’t ask.” Wisteria fluttered her fingers, excited, and clasped them together before her mother could comment. “Please, do you remember what, exactly?”
“Gracious, child, just the sorts of things young people say. Like when he said – what was it – that he was better for seeing you? And then you quoted it back to him when he asked how you were. And the two of you bantered about something or other inconsequential. The weather. You know. Flirting.”
“Oh my. Is that what flirting is? I was only trying to be pleasant and show an interest, and perhaps amuse,” Wisteria said. Next to her, Mrs. Lamille coughed politely and tugged at an ornate sleeve. Wisteria dropped her hands to her sides again so they could finish fussing at the dress.
“Dear, what would you think flirting is other than those things?”
Wisteria considered this. “It always sounded more arcane when people talk about it.”
Mrs. Vasilver laughed, and even the seamstresses suppressed smiles. “What strange notions you have, Wisteria.”
“And he was flirting with me?” Wisteria was still marvelling over the whole idea that she could actually do this strange thing and never notice. On the one hand, usually her obliviousness didn’t extend to her own actions, so this was something of a new low. On the other, perhaps flirtation wasn’t as impossible as she thought, if one could engage in it with just words and not significant looks and meaningful gestures. Whatever those were.
“Well, yes. Not that I would ascribe too much to it – some men are terrible flirts and from everything I hear Lord Nikola is one such – but , you know, I do think there’s some potential for you there if you’d just make an effort.”
For the first time, it struck Wisteria that Lord Nikola’s statement of ‘I am not interested in marriage at this time’ did not necessarily mean that, whenever he became interested, it would not be in her. Granted, that was the most likely outcome – at twenty-six, Wisteria was already old for a bride, and why trouble himself to tell her if he did not mean to discourage her? And yet… “I will, Mother,” Wisteria said, surprising a smile out of her parent. Probably not the way you’d want me to. But I’ll try.
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