“Of course, it is flattering to receive letters of visit,” said mother. “But you are right. Some men… most men only wrote to you about the exact reasons you pointed out: pretty face and a strong family name. But there are also those who are unlike them. They wrote you letters with great care. That means when they saw you at the party, they could look beyond your looks and name. They could glimpse you as a person. It is an undoubted fact that you made a very good and lasting impression.”
I had made a lasting impression for my own convenience. In this kind of superficial world, it might be useful later. I had never been complimented on being elegant and handling a situation. I decided it felt good to be complimented on that. I was curious what other things the letters might have said.
“I apologise for speaking so hastily,” I said to mother. “I hadn’t thought that far.”
“Lately, you…,” said mother, rubbing her temples again. “I didn’t want to bring it up and cause you to go through painful memories because I know you went through something horrifying when we weren’t here. But… something has changed in you. And it worries me. I worry about you. Everyone changes when they have their debut party but… I feel like you have grown so quickly. You seem more like an adult rather than a carefree teenager.”
Mother stood up and walked to her. She took my hands in hers and looked at me affectionately. “I guess I am a little upset too that my baby seemed to have grown up so fast while I wasn’t looking. Please don’t mature so fast, Alice. There is so much I want to do as your mommy. I already feel like… you are on an entirely different path.”
She looked at me fondly with her emerald eyes. In those eyes, I felt an avalanche of memories and emotions flood through my mind. I recalled her many expressions: when she was happy for me, when she was smiling, when she scolded me. It was all done out of love.
In noble families, boys and girls were raised differently. Boys were sent to another household to train as knights. They were given an education on many different things. And girls… well, they spent the majority of their time with their mothers. And when the mother went to the capital to live with father for a few months, the daughter was expected to learn to manage the household from the butler and the maids, until she was married away and she would have to manage her own household. It seemed women were closed off in homes for the best years of their lives. Locked away.
This life is different. The time is different, I reminded myself. “I am sorry.” I held her hands. I closed my eyes and lowered my head. In this life, at least I wouldn’t be alone. I had my family. I had people who loved me and cared for me. I had a family who cherished me.
This time I could live without worrying about money. I didn’t have to survive each day as it came. I could afford to live without selling myself short or compromising on things I didn’t want to do. I have people who love me for who I am. I had a choice.
Of course, that didn’t mean I would be all warm and fuzzy inside and agree to a marriage immediately. I loved those around me but I would also need to love and respect my own decisions and opinions. Besides, it would be nice to live as the darling daughter of mother and father for a while.
“I will take a look at those letters,” I said softly. “That doesn’t mean I will choose somebody and meet or marry them, though. But I will at least take a look since you have gone to so much trouble to compile them for me.”
“Of course!” said my mother brightly. “You absolutely don’t have to meet anyone if you don’t want to.”
I opened my eyes and looked at her. “Do you mean it is okay even if the people I don’t want to meet are on the ‘important’ pile?”
“Of course!” said my mother. “It’s your life. Look through them once but you don’t need to consider any of them if you don’t want to. I mean it.” Mom stroked my cheeks. Her soft and warm hands felt like sunshine. Emotions pulled at my heart.
I might not be sure of anything in my life but… this much was certain: I loved my mother and my father and my brothers. And grandfather, of course! I loved them and I wouldn’t do anything to ruin that.
“You’ve already made a list, right?” I asked my mother, glancing down at the letters scattered on the floor. It would be painstaking to sort them out.
Mother laughed. “Of course! I am not anything if not meticulous.”
“Alright,” I said, “I will take a look through them. I am curious how people write letters.”
“Great!” said mother, “If there is anyone that you would want to meet, then let me know, alright? I can then plan on a time and date to host the tea party. When you are ready and willing, of course.”
Ah… the tea party. Mother patted me on my cheek softly when she noticed my unwilling expression. “It will be alright! Who knows? You might meet someone. You might make friends your own age! Of course, you don’t need to see them if you decide you don’t want to. You will always have that choice. And no one can take that away.”
There was nothing wrong with what mum said. It’s just that I am not used to the idea of making friends. But she was right. I could try. Maybe I could find a friend. I tried on a smile and nodded at her.
Mom pinched the tip of my nose gently. “You will never be forced to do something you don’t like. You remember that alright? Just don’t run away from experiencing new things in life. You have your whole life ahead of you. You only live once.”