Rita’s heart pitters in her chest for at least the fifth time that day. It’s odd, she thinks, that it does it so often now that she’s met Estelle. Never once did it before, but now it is a constant reminder of how much she treasures the time she has with her, even if it is limited. Which of course it is. Because Rita’s never had constants in her life aside from her research. At the end of the day, you only have yourself. At least, that’s the mentality she grew up with. As much as Rita wants to become even closer to the girl—to let her know how much she means to her—she’s still scared of the loss she knows she’ll face eventually. She’s already lost everyone else she’s ever considered caring about; it is inevitable that Estelle will eventually abandon her as well
The thing is that Estelle makes her slip. She makes her forget for entire days that this isn’t a lasting promise. That they won’t be friends for the rest of time. That they won’t spend the rest of their lives seeing each other every day.
Today is one of those days, with the sun shining bright across the horizon and colorful flowers decorating the landscape, with Estelle sitting in the meadow beaming in that way she does while holding a hastily constructed bouquet of various colors. Not the work of a florist by any means, the mixture of orange, yellow, red, pink, and blue still somehow looks compatible and refined when the girl holds it out to her.
Rita’s eyes widen the tiniest bit and she shakes her head. “Flowers don’t suit me.”
“Sure they do.” A second later, Estelle has thrust an orange hydrangea behind her ear.
Feeling along the delicate petals, Rita can feel her face flushing. What is she supposed to do with a bouquet anyway? Even if they were not on the constant move, she would never be tidy enough to keep enough space free for something of pure decoration. But when Estelle forces the flowers into her hands and she brings her nose down for the smallest of whiffs, her mind changes instantly. This bouquet could never be pure decoration.
On impulse, she picks a nearby tulip the color of a ripening cheery and stuffs it behind Estelle’s own ear. The princess giggles at the action, looking more regale and beautiful in the backlight of the sun than she’s ever seen her. It takes a moment for Rita to remember that staring isn’t proper in most situations, and she looks away mumbling, “See they suit you much better.”
Her eyes are brought right back when her hands are grasped in the other girl’s. “I’ll treasure it.” She sounds so sincere that Rita’s heart nearly aches. She’s losing herself a little bit at a time. One push and she will give in, she knows. What she needs is a breather.
As much as it pains her, Rita pulls her hands away, ignoring Estelle’s pouting expression, to snatch a flower at random from beside her. With unsteady motions, she plucks the petals off one at a time. Honestly, it’s silly that she’s giving her fate over to such a childish superstition, but her higher brain is currently out of commission and she is frankly tired of holding back. So, she ignores the mocking critic in her head and Estelle’s questioning voice, focusing instead on that lilting back and forth—she loves me, she loves me not—until there is only one petal left.
With wide eyes and shaking hand, she meets Estelle’s gaze once more. “I have wanted to tell you something for a while now…” She trails off, still scared to take the leap before seeing proof of solid ground on the other side. Estelle lacing their fingers together is more than the nudge she needs. Swallowing the thickness in her throat, she forces her voice to remain steady. “I care about you a lot, Estelle. I…don’t think I’ve ever cared about anyone as much as I do about you.”
Rita studies her reaction closely. A crinkle at her eyes, an upturn of her lips. Something that had been set to bursting inside Rita deflates leaving excess space in her chest once more. “Oh, Rita!” Estelle’s absolutely beaming now and her fingers are tracing along her palm. “I’m so glad you told me!”
“Of course, silly. I care about you a lot, too.”
“You do?” She supposes she must sound like an imbecilic but Estelle’s smile does not falter—if anything it grows even wider.
“Very much!” Her voice is excessively high and enthusiastic and Rita cannot control the emotions stirring inside her. She is in the in-between now. She sees the land, is reaching toward it for near life, but she’s still not there yet; she’s still dangling.
“Then…um, when we all head home…” Her face heats again because she’s not sure how to best phrase her question. “What are you planning to do?” Return to the castle, of course, her brain answers.
“I’m still deciding. Halure seems nice, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” she answers without much thought because she’s still processing that she will not be returning to the castle. Silence stretches on as they contemplate the future. Diverting her eyes to their joined hands, she asks quietly, “Would you mind if I joined you? Wherever it is you end up?”
Estelle leans in close, so close that Rita can feel her breath when she exhales. “Mind? I would love for you to join me.”
Earth has formed beneath her, and Rita heaves an exhale before allowing her forehead to press against the princess’s. “It’s a date.”