“Hello,” she said to the mirror. “How are you? I am fine.”
She flushed, and made a face at herself. “You sound like an idiot,” she said. And tucked her hair behind her ears in an old nervous gesture, though it fell forward again a moment later. “It’s just…”
Just going to the theater. Just the first time she’d been out with a male who wasn’t family. Just-
Wilhelmina tucked her hair back again, looked in the mirror, and wailed, “I’m so stupid.”
Someone knocked lightly on the door. “Mina?” Jaenelle’s voice was bright and clear as ever. “Can I come in?” Wilhelmina chewed her lip for a moment, and considered rather seriously saying no, barricading the door, and refusing to come out for the rest of the night.
“All right,” she said, finally. “You can come in.”
Jaenelle poked her head around the door first, and the rest of her followed. “You should know you’re making all the males twitchy,” she said, with her bright smile. (Wilhelmina had never seen Jaenelle smile like that at – in Chaillot.) “Lucivar just told me to tell you if something goes wrong he will personally pull ‘the whelp’ apart.”
Wilhelmina gulped, well aware that was almost certainly meant literally. “I don’t think I can do this,” she confessed to her younger sister. Jaenelle gave her a little frown.
“Why not? You look lovely. Good choice with the dress. Blue is a good color for you.”
Wilhelmina twisted her hands together and paced. “I don’t know! What am I supposed to talk about with him? I don’t know him very well at all, and-”
“And Khary will be a row down,” Jaenelle interrupted, “If you need him, and that’s why you’re going to the theater, Mina, so you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. Besides, he’s nice.” Jaenelle smiled. “I can tell. He asked me what kind of flowers you liked.”
“I would only kill them anyway,” Wilhelmina said. “I never was very good at gardening.”
“I told him to bring you a fish instead,” Jaenelle said, and her eyes must have gone wide, because her younger sister laughed brightly. “I’m joking. I promise. You’ll do fine. I promise he’s just as nervous as you are. Not that I blame him, considering the mood of the males out there…” Jaenelle trailed off. Wilhelmina grabbed her arm.
“They won’t do anything to him, will they?” Her eyes narrowed. “I’d be very upset.”
“They won’t do anything,” Jaenelle said soothingly. “I’ve told them that you’ll be angry if they do.”
Wilhelmina wilted. “They’d probably just laugh at me if I got angry with them.”
“Would not. You could be scary if you were mad.” Wilhelmina cast her sister, who was the Queen of Scary When Mad, a dubious look.
“You’re making fun.”
“I am not,” Jaenelle objected, all wide-eyed innocence. “I’m entirely serious! I wouldn’t want you mad at me. Besides, the males know better than to interfere with this kind of thing. They’ve gotten in trouble for it before.”
Wilhelmina examined Jaenelle carefully, searching for any signs that her younger sister was joking, or just trying to make her feel better. She couldn’t find anything. And crossed her arms tightly across her chest. *I’m scared,* she said, on an Opal thread, just to Jaenelle. Jaenelle’s expression softened.
*It’ll be all right. You’re very brave, Mina. I know it, and you know it too. You just have to remember.*
“Are you sure I can’t just stay here?” Wilhelmina said, aloud, blushing a little. But it was a bit more half-hearted. Jaenelle nudged her shoulder.
“Quite sure,” she said, sternly. Wilhelmina reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear again, and Jaenelle caught her hand and gave it a little squeeze.
“You’ll do great,” she whispered, “And you’ll have to tell me everything when you get home.” She paused for a few moments, and looked thoughtful. “If he is mean to you,” she said, “Don’t tell Lucivar. Tell me. I promise I’m meaner.”
Wilhelmina couldn’t help a tiny shiver – sometimes it frightened her, thinking too much about what her sister really could do, even now that she no longer wore the Ebony – but she also felt a little warmth. It was Jaenelle, after all, who’d kept her safe in Terreille for all those years, even when she was suffering for it. It was Jaenelle who’d looked after her more than the other way around.
“Now,” Jaenelle went on. “We’d better go down and wait by the door so we’re ready when he gets here, yes?”
Wilhelmina took a deep breath and let it out. “I can do this,” she said softly.
“You can do this,” Jaenelle agreed. “My big sister.” She leaned up and kissed Wilhelmina’s cheek, lightly. “Just have fun. It’s just the theater. Watch the play. Enjoy the play.” She paused. “Grab his hand if there are scary parts.”
Wilhelmina swatted at her sister, but couldn’t help a smile. “Stop it.”
Jaenelle’s return smile was a little wicked. “Don’t come home too late,” she said teasingly, and Wilhelmina frowned sternly at her.
“Young lady, if you don’t-”
The bell at the door was ringing. Wilhelmina’s heart hammered against her ribs. Jaenelle gave her hand another squeeze, and Wilhelmina felt a flood of warmth and energy. “There he is,” Wilhelmina whispered.
“Go on,” Jaenelle said, and let go of her hand. “You can take it from here.” Wilhelmina grabbed the railing, the butterflies in her stomach the size of one of Jaenelle’s magic ones.
“I’m going to be sick,” she said, worriedly.
“No you won’t,” Jaenelle murmured. “You’re a witch. You’re brave. I love you. Now go on. Before he starts to worry you’ve stood him up.”
Wilhelmina took the first step down the stairs, and then another. The bell rang again.
“Wilhelmina?” Jaenelle called behind her, and Wilhelmina turned around at once.
“What is it?”
“I’m proud of you,” Jaenelle said, with a little, shy smile, and Wilhelmina took a deep breath and smiled back. “Be good!” Jaenelle trilled, her smile growing to a grin, and then skipped back up the stairs. Wilhelmina squared her shoulders and looked at the door.
She half reached up to tuck her hair behind her ears, and pulled her hand down.
She was safe. She was home. And despite the quaking in her knees, she was ready for this.
One step, then another. The rest came easily, and she opened the big door and smiled her real smile. “Hello,” she said. “We should probably get to the theater, right?”