The setting sun washed the estate in golden light as Grun kissed Linza’s cheek and headed towards his shift for the evening.
Linza floated up the stairs to check the illusionist schedule, then realized she wasn’t on it at all. Skipping her day job had warped her sense of time. So, Linza drifted back down to the courtyard, debating whether to stay at the estate for a pastry or to head home.
Then an enthusiastic bundle of lilac frills shattered her inner peace.
Tanyth beamed up at her. “Linza! You busy?”
Linza froze. A broad smile crossed her face to mirror Tanyth’s, but she didn’t feel any of its mirth.
“I’m free, actually!” she said, surprised at how cheerful she could sound even while she was starting to panic.
“Sure!” Even as Linza turned to follow Tanyth, she silently cursed herself. Couldn’t she just say, ‘Oh I’d love to, but I ought to get home’. She willed herself to say, ‘Oh, I just remembered,’ but her throat tightened around the words. Enjoying her time with Grun felt like betraying Tanyth, so the least she could do was to be available for tea.
Tanyth didn’t seem to notice Linza’s angst. They said, “I was glad about Grun setting up our calligraphy lesson. I had just been thinking it had been too long since you and I hung out!”
“It really had been!” Linza said, voice smoother than it had any right to be, with how her heart was racing.
“Speaking of which, how was your ‘date’?” They grinned teasingly, calling back to Linza’s earlier protests.
Linza’s throat tightened again. Admitting how much fun she’d had was sure to crush Tanyth, but she also couldn’t bring herself to speak ill of Grun. Linza took a breath to speak, but her silence was already too long, and her words fizzled.
Tanyth laughed. “That bad, huh? Alright, I won’t torture you for the details. Except… I totally will. But, tea first!”
Linza finally breathed again as Tanyth bounced on ahead. If Tanyth jumped to their own conclusions, then she was hardly responsible. But what would she say when they pressed for details? Maybe they’d be distracted by the time the two of them got their tea and settled in.
They sat at a little table on the balcony lined with ruby velvet. Linza opted for a lavender green tea, hoping it would calm her nerves. Her hands shook, and the teacup rattled against the saucer when she accepted it from a waitress in a ruffly orange dress.
Tanyth tipped back their rose milk and gulped half of it down, and as the cup clacked back into the saucer, Tanyth’s smile was gone.
Linza’s body went still, like a mouse caught in a beam of light. Whatever Tanyth was about to say, she wasn’t sure if she could bear it. But she couldn’t do anything but quietly wait, either. Why was she this way?!
Tanyth fidgeted with the edge of the table cloth. “So… um… I… I realized something this week, after our calligraphy lesson.” Their bosom swelled with a deep breath. “Everything given. I wasn’t entirely honest with you, before. When I was training you and we did your illusion exercise… I know I never said anything but… I should have. I realized this week…”
You realized how shitty it feels when someone knows you like them and they just ignore it for ages? Linza thought.
Tanyth swallowed. “Oh, you can see why I struggled to say anything before!” They put their hands to their cheeks. “I saw that you loved… Well, I felt the same— I cared for you too. Care for you. In the way— I think— you wanted.”
Linza blinked. This wasn’t what she’d expected. At all.
Tanyth soldiered on. “I didn’t say anything because I was a-afraid that… I’ve always been afraid that… well, I don’t like being pinned down. I-in a relationship sense. And I assumed that… that was what you would want. And… I don’t know if it was fair of me to assume that. And I guess I realized this week, well… you and Grun seem to get along. And I thought, what am I so afraid of missing out on that I’d risk missing out on getting to be with— I mean if you wanted to— Well, you must have thought me terribly cold, and— I never even asked your or said anything— I understand if you’re upset.” Tanyth finally took a breath. “Are you upset?”
“No,” Linza said quickly, “Of course not.” But it was as much of a lie as her smile had been.
Tanyth’s eyes brightened like the sun emerging from behind a cloud. “I’m so glad to hear that!” Tanyth reached out and put their hand on hers on the table.
The butterflies returned all at once, a whole swarm, inside of her and around her and blurring her vision and fluttering in her brain.
Tanyth took another deep breath. “Would… would you like to go on a date with me?”
“Oh! R-right now?”
“Well… how long are you free for?”
“Oh, um, n-not very long, unfortunately.” She wasn’t sure how long she could last at the cafe without completely falling apart.
“So… another time? Or…” Tanyth’s eyes welled with hope, their breath waited for her answer.
“Y-yeah, I’d like to,” Linza said. It was true, regardless of whether she actually went out with them or not. She offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
Tanyth beamed. “That’s great! I… I’m really glad. Y’know, I was worried…” They glanced down, tucked a strand of hair behind their ear. “I was worried you’d really hit it off with Grun.”
Linza took a long drink of her tea, if only to have something to hide her face. “Mhm.”
Fortunately, Tanyth didn’t seem to have noticed. “Are you free tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure, I’ll have to, um, check with Wyn, she and I had something planned.” Linza liked to think of herself as an honest person, except the lies came so easily when she needed them to.
“Right! Yeah, just let me know.”
Silence stretched between them. Linza wasn’t sure she could string together another sentence, let alone prompt the next conversation topic.
“I um…” Tanyth said, “I actually have my next shift soon.”
“Oh, yeah! I should let you go. I have some errands, anyway.”
They parted ways at the front of the cafe, Linza walking quickly to nowhere except the opposite direction as Tanyth.