"How was the ball last night? I'm sure it was simply wonderful!" Kaylee was fifteen to Inara's seventeen, and therefore little more than a girl, plus she apprenticed in Inara's father's stables. Still, Inara was happy to spend time with her. Her enthusiasm quite outweighed her common birth.
"It was acceptable, I suppose." Inara could see Kaylee was less than impressed with the lack of explanation contingent in this description, but Inara didn't know how to tell Kaylee that the balls the girl glamorized were just another part of the way she could feel society trapping her as she grew closer and closer to her age of majority.
"There must have been the most beautiful dresses." Kaylee didn't let Inara's lack of enthusiasm damp her own. Not that anything short of a thunderstorm could manage that task, and only then because thunder spooked the horses.
"I'm sure the seamstresses are grateful that they spent many hours so we could all emulate butterflies, then toss the dresses when we were done."
Inara felt sorry the instant she could see the way Kaylee winced at her bitter tone. Carefree as the girl was, she certainly wasn't oblivious to the fact that Inara was superior in social status. She seemed to take that to mean that she couldn't disagree with Inara ever, which seemed ridiculous when Inara's statement had been about the innate unfairness of societal inequalities.
"What are you going to do with your dress now?" Inara thought that if Kaylee had been higher born, then her ability to always have something positive to say would have seen her much admired in Inara's social circles. As it was, Inara was the only one who had to opportunity to appreciate the girl's company.
"I suppose I should give it to you."
Kaylee's mouth gaped open. "You wouldn't really, would you?"
Inara shrugged. "Why not? This way you'll have something to wear when a prince stops by to invite you to a fancy ball." Inara wished she could believe a prince would come for Kaylee; she was the girl who wanted one. Inara just wanted to be able to live her own life.
"Or for my wedding!"
Inara laughed. "It's not really wedding colors." She realized after she said it that Kaylee wouldn't be able to afford anything nicer than the castoff Inara was giving her now, even if she saved for years. Unless Inara made a gift of something else.
"Maybe my wedding colors will be blue and yellow. You don't know."
"Fair enough." Inara fiddled with the lacing on her bodice so she could breathe a little easier. Her maid always tied it too tightly. "I suppose you'll have more freedom than I do in that regard. Society would never cast you out for the colors you choose to wear."
"Only because society would never accept me in the first place." The tone was bright, but Inara couldn't tell whether Kaylee was upset or not. "Miss Serra, you seem envious of me for reasons I don't understand." Definitely upset then, the girl never called Inara anything but 'Nara when they were alone.
"You have more freedom than me," Inara said. She gestured around her room, at the curtains and trappings of wealth. "People expect less of you."
Kaylee shook her head, and Inara was almost proud of the girl for stating that she disagreed. "You've the option to give it up. Yes, people would be disappointed, but you could become me in an instant, with all the freedom to wash other people's horses down that gives me. The best I can ever hope to be is a stable-master, but chances are I'll just be another of the stablehands all my life." Kaylee paused, and bit her lower lip. "So don't talk to me about freedom."
The girl was nearly in tears, so Inara gathered her in a hug. She didn't know what to say to make this better, because she suspected Kaylee was right. Inara would be lying if she told her she had a bright future ahead.
Kaylee drew back from the hug, tears no longer lingering in the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to complain to you."
"Complain all you want. What else are friends for?"
Kaylee grinned, and Inara realized that she'd never before called Kaylee a friend. A confidante, yes, or a companion, but there was never the degree of mutual understanding in those descriptions that friend implied. Inara resolved that that would have to change. She wanted Kaylee to consider her a friend.