If Angelique were to be meeting up with Elyan — or anybody, really — near the shops, she always made a point to arrive a few minutes early. There was a dancer who perpetually set up on the corner. A male dancer. She always liked to take a few minutes to watch him perform, even if she couldn’t pay him for the pleasure. The Sisters of St. Marla, after all, paid all her expenses, and nuns took a vow of poverty, so what would they need pocket-money for?
And all the reasons Angelique could think for needing pocket-money? For snacks on the way to or from class, or to put a bit of coin in a street-performer’s hand, or even for new music for herself? Well, nuns weren’t supposed to be interested in those things. So her superiors would stare down their bony noses at her, shake their heads, and cluck their tongues. They’d tell her to fix her mind on holy things. To be in the world, if she had to be, but not of it. And to think of the hunger pangs in her stomach as some approximation of St. Robert’s time on the cross.
Angelique had stopped asking for pocket money.
But at least the street-dancer was free, and he never seemed to mind that Angelique never paid. There was a bit of wry humor in his smile, suggesting that he was rather amused that a nun found his performance — his very, very sensual, borderline sexual, performance — so interesting. And she tended to draw other Sims, too. There were those who came to be sure that it was, in fact, a nun they were seeing watching the performer, and there were those who thought that if the performer was attracting a nun into his audience, he had to be good.
Angelique, however, was not interested in the sensuality of his performance. She wished she was. But even when she tried to focus on his body, her eyes kept going to his face. And his face …
Deformed potato? Angelique wondered. Smushed-in monkey? Frog?
Still, he was good. Angelique would give him that. She wouldn’t have been half as interested if he wasn’t good. But there was more too it than that. He was … free. And the way he moved his body, without even music to guide him, was the kind of thing that could hold Angelique’s attention for hours upon hours upon hours. How did he do it? How did he manage to dance so skillfully without any rhythm but the one in his head?
The dancer made Angelique also think of Lynn, which might have explained part of his appeal. It wasn’t that thinking of Lynn was pleasant. Far from it. Thinking of Lynn was a scab that she just kept picking and picking and picking. Lynn always tried to be upbeat and cheerful in her letters, but their mother wasn’t above a veiled hint or two about Lynn’s true state of mind, and Clarice had no problem telling Angelique the whole story. So Lynn was doing everything right, and she still wasn’t happy. She loved her children to death and called herself a terrible mother, because there was a voice in her head always telling her that they weren’t quite good enough. Not male enough. Not enough males.
If there was no hope for Lynn, Angelique was wondering, was there hope for any of them?
Well, maybe there was. Clarice seemed happy enough. Angelique wasn’t the most perceptive Sim, and she knew it, but read her sister’s letters as she would, she couldn’t find traces of anything other than contentment and purpose. Of course, there was a limit to how much she could read. Clarice sometimes suffered under the misapprehension that her medical triumphs and fascinating cases were as interesting to others as they were to her. To Angelique, all they were were a frightening catalog of all the things that could go wrong with the Sim body and how very difficult they were to put right again. Still, when Clarice wrote about Colin and her Frederick, there was nothing but good news. She seemed … happy. How on earth had she managed that?
“Angelique! What are you doing?”
Maybe being a shire away from all male members of their family had something to do with that. Angelique sighed as she started to rise.
She absently fluffed her wimple — she still hadn’t gotten out of the habit of fluffing her hair, and hoped she never would — as she turned to face Elyan. “Waiting for you. What does it look like?”
“But — but you were …”
Angelique raised one eyebrow, wondering where he’d be brave enough to go with this.
“You shouldn’t be watching — that!” Elyan pointed, jabbed his finger, really, in the direction of the dancer. “That’s — that’s –”
Angelique batted her eyelashes. “What is it, Elyan? After all, I am but a poor and innocent nun …” She clutched her hands over her heart. “There can’t be anything inappropriate about simple dancing, can there be?”
It was amazing how well the “innocent nun” routine tended to work. Hell, it worked on the other nuns! If you seemed confused enough, the other nun would start to wonder if there was something wrong with her, seeing sensuality in something so seemingly innocent, and she’d probably toddle off to pray. Some of them, that is. Some of them had gotten wise to Angelique, and saw the innocent nun act for exactly what it was.
Elyan scowled and crossed his arms over his chest, which told Angelique, among other things, that he hadn’t gotten wise to her … but that he had no idea how to explain this to her, either.
“You still shouldn’t be watching it,” Elyan muttered. “It might … people might think you’re … improper. That’s all.”
“Oh, no, Elyan, I couldn’t do that,” Angelique gasped. “Why, is it not written that ‘Clattering tongues will clack as they may, but the true Servant of Wright carries on no matter what they say’?”
It wasn’t written — or at least, it wasn’t written anywhere in the Book of Wright. Angelique sometimes wondered if she might write a book of useful sayings for occasions such as this and see if she could get into the corpus — then it would be written — but it wasn’t now. Still, there were very few Sims, secular Sims at least, who dared to argue with any nun or monk’s statement that was prefaced with “Is it not written.”
Elyan wasn’t one of them. His scowl deepened as he tried to think of some kind of reply. “How,” he finally settled, waving toward the dancer, “is this work?”
“It is for him, I’m sure!” Angelique batted her eyelashes.
“Not for him! For you!”
“Ah, Elyan …” Angelique shook her finger in the air, grinning widely, just as their father was when he was trying to drill his latest asinine point into an unfortunate listener’s head. The difference, of course, was that Angelique knew when she was speaking pure bullshit. “What is the primary duty of a nun?”
“Why, to serve the Lord Wright, of course!”
“And how do we best do that?”
“By praying, naturally!”
“Oh — oh, no, I’m sorry, Elyan,” Angelique clacked her tongue, “that’s not it.”
“Eh — eh?”
“I mean, that’s one of the ways we serve the Lord Wright — but what’s the purpose of the prayer?”
Elyan blinked. “I don’t understand.”
“Why, to spread the Lord’s love, of course!” Angelique replied. “And think of it like this, Elyan. When I first came onto the street, this poor man,” Angelique gestured to the dancer, who had taken a seat with his back to them, probably to hide his laughter, “had no one to watch him, and he was dancing so well! I could not put coin in his hat, but I could at least give him the pleasure of an audience!”
Elyan continued to scowl. He looked from Angelique, to the dancer, to Angelique again. He was going to call her, Angelique realized, her stomach dropping to her knees. He was going to roll his eyes, and then he was going to call bullshit on everything she had said. And then — when she couldn’t even fool Elyan — where would she be?
But Elyan didn’t call her on it. He didn’t say anything against her. Instead, he deployed the most Bors-like tactic of them all. When in doubt — when you don’t understand what’s going on — change the subject. “We need to go to the bank,” Elyan announced, clipped and hurried, then turned on his heel and marched in that direction, leaving Angelique to follow as well as she could.
She supposed it could have been worse.
Although, really — the bank? Elyan had promised to take her to one of the more respectable eateries for a late lunch, and then they were going to the library to help each other study for their upcoming exams. But he had to bring her to the bank, too? He couldn’t have gotten that done before he came and got her? He had to torture her with that?
No, no, she should be more fair, even to Elyan. Elyan wouldn’t have thought of bringing her to the bank as torture. He might not have even planned to bring her, since he had to walk past it before he go to her. More likely, he had planned to go there first, then he had seen Angelique watching the dancer and had to attempt to chastise her.
Angelique glanced over her shoulder as they went farther away. The dancer still sat, probably catching his breath. At least she wasn’t missing anything.
They reached the bank. Elyan held the door open for her before he slipped in himself. Then he waved her to the back. “I have business with one of the clerks,” he sniffed, nose high in the air.
Angelique rolled her eyes. But she meandered to the back, to the shelves of scrolls and ledgers that she’d probably be yelled at if she tried to touch, anyway.
So he didn’t trust her to hear about his finances. Typical de Ganis male. Did he really think — what did he really think? That she’d blab what she heard all over town? That the conversation would go right over her pretty — whoops, nuns weren’t supposed to be pretty, very well, her devout head? That the less you told women about money, the better off they’d be?
Well, he was wrong on all three counts. She already knew plenty about money, namely the pain of not having it, and she thought she was rather better off for the knowledge. She’d understand what they were talking. And she wouldn’t blab it all over town. With Clarice gone, who would she blab it too? The other nuns? They frowned upon gossip — at least, when it was gossip they weren’t interested in. They wouldn’t be interested in the state of Elyan’s finances. Angelique wasn’t interested in the state of Elyan’s finances, and she was his sister!
Then she heard something that was — almost — interesting.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s just not here yet.”
Angelique had determined that if she turned her head just right, the wimple would guard most of her face from view while still giving her a shaky image of what lay beyond it. She did so now.
“I have half a mind,” Elyan snapped, “to demand a consultation with the master of this bank.”
“Sir, he’ll only tell you what I’m telling you –“
“I know.” Elyan scowled at the poor hapless clerk, as if that would make any kind of difference. “And that is the only reason why I am not going to … make my thoughts know. But understand, sirrah, that I find this behavior very unprofessional.”
Unprofessional behavior in a bank … Angelique wondered what that could mean. Well, she could guess. She probably would have heard the clinking of the coins if someone had given Elyan money. Since she hadn’t, she could only assume that the clerk was refusing to give Elyan money.
Given the toxic financial reputation of their father, Angelique was actually surprised that either of them were allowed within fifty yards of a bank office. The money might magically vanish due only to their proximity.
“Sir, we can’t help you if it’s not –“
“Yes,” Elyan snapped, “you can. You must — all of you — remember your primary purpose in this life. That is to serve. You know very well that our family is good for whatever funds we might desire.”
Angelique turned to her brother with her mouth open, convinced she was going to see the first-ever instance of a the Lord Wright striking down a Sim for baldfaced lying.
But the minutes passed, Elyan was not turned into a pile of smoking ash — and he kept talking. “I shall, therefore, have to discuss with my father the possibility of moving our funds to another bank. Angelique! Come along! We’re leaving!”
At least Elyan had managed to learn the art of having the last word — leave while your audience was so shocked by what you had said that they couldn’t think of anything to say in reply. Angelique straightened her wimple and hurried after Elyan, shooting an apologetic smile at the poor clerk.
He was, after all, a rather cute clerk.
The door had just closed on Angelique’s view of the clerk’s long blonde locks — like something out of Lady Guinevere’s romances, they were — when Elyan stopped. It was not a normal stop, either, but a sudden arrest of his movement, the kind of stop that causes the other person to take another step or two forward because they just weren’t expect it. “Elyan? What’s –“
He was standing still, very still. He stared at the ground. His breath came in thick pants. And his hands — clenched in fists at his sides, they were shaking —
Angelique was never sure why she did what she did next. It was instinct. But she grabbed his elbow and dragged him into the nearest shop — looked from side to side and was hardly surprised to see that they were the only ones there, since it was the apothecary’s shop — and turned to him. “What’s wrong?”
Elyan stared at her. He looked around the empty shop. He watched the door to the apothecary’s office. And then —
“He did it again! Bloody again! He can never manage to scrape together the cash for my monthly allowance on time!”
Angelique’s jaw fell. He was joking, right? He must have been joking. He was this upset over his allowance? Angelique didn’t even get an allowance — and she was fairly sure that their sisters had gotten less than half of Elyan’s allowance! Lynn, once she married, had had to pay for Clarice’s wedding dress because their father couldn’t get the money for something nice!
“Elyan …” Angelique started.
“Kay paid my share of the laundress this month!” Elyan snapped. “I need to pay him back before he leaves! And I started this month in debt because Kay had to spot me last month for my share of the cleaning woman! Aglovale never has any extra money because he has to live off his scholarships …” Elyan cradled his head in his hands and sighed. “What the hell are we going to do next year?”
“Save your money?” Angelique snapped, acid dripping from her tongue. “Spend a few fewer nights at the pub? Go without a new suit of clothes every once and a while?”
Elyan threw his head back and laughed. “Are–you–joking?” he gasped. He plucked the silk between his fingers. “This wasn’t my idea! This was Father’s! I didn’t need this! But no, I had to look good for my dinner with Leona,” he practically spat the name, “and the bloody castle had to look good, too! Did you hear about the fortune he spent at the glaziers’?”
“Somehow that didn’t come up.”
“He acts — he acts like he has money to burn,” Elyan wailed, “and in the end — I can’t even get my measly allowance!”
“So do you,” Angelique pointed out.
“I — what?”
“Just now. In the bank. You said to that clerk –“
“I didn’t mean it!” Elyan exploded, throwing his hands into the air. “You just — you can’t act as if you don’t have a lot of money in front of a tradesman! What the hell will you have me do next, Angelique? Tell the next beggar I see that I’d love to help, but unfortunately I’m just as poor as he is?” His hands shook with every word. “And do you know what the sad thing is? Do you know what the saddest thing is?”
“I don’t even spend money!” Elyan shouted. “I don’t! I pay for my share of the laundress, and the food, and the maid and the gardener and the other servants, I buy my books, and that’s it! Every time I go to the pub, I only drink when Kay buys a round for everybody! I save up every last farthing I get, because I never know when I’m getting another one!”
“You have my sympathies,” Angelique replied, somehow keeping a straight face.
“I wish — I wish — ugh! I just wish there was some way to make him see! I’m not asking for much. I’ll take less allowance, if it comes when he says it’s going to come! Gladly! But Father won’t even hear of that!”
“He won’t?” Angelique gasped. He certainly would have heard it from her, when she was still his daughter and was still his responsibility. And he certainly would have heard it from Clarice, although maybe not from Lynn after her betrothal to Tom became certain.
“No! No! The one time I tried to suggest it, he looked black and asked me if I thought he couldn’t support his family!”
Well, duh. That’s what you were saying. The only trouble with it is that it’s true.
“I don’t know what to do!” Elyan moaned. “I put aside everything I can already … and Aglovale can’t carry everything with the house alone, not after Kay leaves …” Elyan pushed his hair back from his face. “I just wish …”
Angelique raised her eyebrows invitingly.
“I just wish Father would — would listen to reason! Once! Just once!”
When Elyan finally said it — the fateful words — silence rang out over the silence. He even clapped his mouth shut, as if he expected fire from heaven to rain down on him for daring to speak against their father. He barely breathed.
But Angelique? She laughed.
“Oh, Elyan,” she sighed, half-chuckle, half-sadness. “Oh, Elyan. Welcome to my world.”