4.11 – Rideo Puella
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Master Bernardo De Luca didn’t sit down so much as he collapsed into his chair.
“I can’t do any more of these Bea,” he sighed. “They’re too hard, too draining.”
“You say this every year Bernardo,” Bea said gently. “Saying it again won’t make Showing Day any easier on you. You’re hurting now, but by this time next year you’ll be recovered enough to handle it again.”
“And again and again and again, year after year, so many garzoni discarded as if they’re worth nothing…I cant keep doing this Bea I just cant.” Bernardo passed a weary hand over his brow. “The look in their eyes…the crushing, hurting look. What I wouldn’t give to not have to be the cause of that look.”
“You don’t have a choice, my old friend.”
“I know it!” Bernardo snapped. He instantly regretted his outburst and opened his mouth to apologize, but Bea made a waving motion of her hand as if to tell him he was already forgiven. Bernardo slumped across his desk for long minutes, staring through the stack of neat books that arrayed it. His hands were actually shaking, and there was a pain in his chest.
“This Showing day seems to be hitting you harder than most,” Bea observed. “It’s about more than keeping some and letting others go, isn’t it?”
“What else would it be about?” De Luca grunted. Beneath his desk was a bottle of white wine from Rimi, and he uncorked it before realizing he didn’t have a glass to pour it into.
“It has to do with the fact that there’s emotion involved in this Showing Day.”
“There’s emotion, there’s always emotion have you not been listening?” Bernardo set the open bottle of wine on the desk. “From my poor garzoni’s point of view….ex-garzoni’s point of view…I’m the sole reason their dreams and ambitions are crushed. A bitter, heartless old man who cares more about his stupid pointless rules than about art.”
“You know that’s not the case. They’ll know it too, once they take a position at another studio and work it out.”
“Not all of them are looking for work at other studios,” Bernardo brooded, “they might never know.”
“Aaah,” Bea breathed. “That’s why this Showing Day was so hard for you. Because she didn’t make it.”
“Don’t give me a hard time, Bea,” Bernardo sighed. “Not now, not today, not after Showing Day.”
“I’m not going to give you a hard time old friend. I wouldn’t. You seem set on giving yourself as hard a time as possible anyways.”
“I couldn’t give her a position. I only have four slots, and the choice was clear.”
“Yes, it was.”
“Giving her a position would’ve been wrong, I had no choice.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Then why do I feel so miserable about it?”
“Because she’s the first Fabera to gain a place in this studio for a long, long time, and you were hoping she’d make it?”
“No. I hope all of my garzoni make it.”
“Because of the way her lip quivered and her eyes teared up when she realized she wouldn’t pass?”
“No, although a die in igne for mentioning it,” Bernardo swore
“Because you love the little Fabera.” Bea phrased it as a statement rather than a question. The room was silent for a long moment, as Bernardo was torn between sullen anger and heartache. Without answering he grabbed the wine and took a long draught from it as Bea continued. “You love her and so you didn’t use your Storm on her. You have no idea how she feels about you.”
“If I had used my Storm I might’ve been able to help her, that’s what you’re saying. Was I the reason she didn’t make it through? Did she fail due to an old man’s foolishness?”
“You clearly forget how foolish you were as a young man as well,” Bea smiled. When Bernardo gave her a dour look she sobered. “If it makes things any better, I think she loved you too,” she added quietly.
“Which part of that is helping me feel better? That the girl I love might’ve loved me back, and now I’ll never see her again? Or that the girl whose hopes and dreams I just crushed might’ve also felt personally betrayed by my choice?”
“Alright then,” Bea said exasperatedly, “how about this; you’re far and away old enough to be her father, or that until yesterday evening you were her teacher and she your student. Had you told her you love her and then rejected her from the studio, she wouldn’t have been able to forgive you, and had you told her you love her and then accepted her into the studio you wouldn’t have been able to forgive yourself for betraying something you love even more than the Fabera; true art.”
“That’s just ‘restating the obvious’, not ‘helping’,” Bernardo took another long pull from the bottle. “Nothing is going to help. She’s leaving, she hates me, and maybe even for good reason. Perhaps it’s better that she didn’t know how I felt about her.”
“Midora knows how you feel about her,” Bea said quietly.
“What makes you so certain of that?”
“Midora knows how you feel about her,” said a voice from the doorway. Bernardo started, almost dropping the bottle. Midora was dressed in the simple clothes she had worn when she was first interviewed for her place in De Luca’s studio, the light yellow clashing a bit with her blonde hair.
Of course, she can’t wear her garzona uniform anymore…
She seemed uncharacteristically downcast, neither the fiery stubbornness nor the fierce cheer he had come to associate with her. Bernardo wasn’t quite sure how to react to her presence.
“I’m going to leave and check on…I don’t know, some excuse or other in the courtyard,” Bea said, and she walked through the wall without a backward glance, leaving the room quiet in her wake.
“How long have you been listening at the door?” Bernardo asked.
“Long enough, Master De Luca,” Midora said.
“I didn’t want to have to-”
“Don’t,” Midora held up a hand, and Bernardo stopped. “Don’t explain, I don’t think it will help.I…I only came here to tell you…how I felt. But I see you already know, and now that I know you feel the same way I’m…I’m not sure what I’m doing.”
“There really is a reason that I couldn’t keep more than four.”
“I know. I may not know why, but I heard enough to know there were reasons behind who you picked and who you didn’t. It’s okay, honestly. I’ll be able to get over it. Someday.”
It wasn’t perfect, but the lump that had risen in Bernardo’s throat lessened just a touch.
“Seeing you like this…is hard,” he attempted. “You’re usually so confident, so…” he trailed off as Midora crossed the room to sit at the desk across from him, and reached out a hand for the wine. He passed it over without comment, looking her up and down as she took a long swig from it.
“Being like this is hard,” she said quietly. “But like I said, I’ll get over it.” It was the way she said the words that broke his heart more than what she said. She spoke carefully, as if letting any bitterness through would make her shatter into pieces on the floor.
“Midora If you need anything, any money to keep you on your feet while you decide what you’re going to do-” he began awkwardly.
“I don’t think that would be quite fair to the others, Master De Luca,” Midora seemed to gain a little bit of her customary fire back from from the Rimi white, and she looked him in the eye. “Unless your offer stands for them as well?” Bernardo frowned and took the bottle back. “I didn’t think so. Don’t let your feelings for me cloud your artistic objectivity.”
It was one of the more disrespectful things she had ever said to him, but then, she wasn’t his student anymore.
“What will you do?” he asked. “Prochelli tells me you don’t plan on joining any of the other studios in Milia.”
“There’s a guild in Florezia…I had planned on applying there when I left your studio, so I suppose I’ll be sticking to my original plan, just fast forwarded by several years.”
“Bah,” Bernardo wrinkled his nose in disgust, “a Faberi guild? Midora you’re more of an artist than any Faberi I’ve ever met, you have the potential for so much more than that!”
“I agree,” Midora laughed sadly, “but it’s a step in my plan, assuming I can even get in. Especially since…” she trailed off and took the bottle back, leaving the rest of the sentence hanging in the air.
Since I won’t be a De Luca-trained journeyman.
She didn’t have to say it for De Luca to feel it like a punch in the gut. Every part of him wanted nothing more than to scoop her up in his arms and assure her that everything would work out. Was that the protective love he felt of her as his student? The romantic love he felt of her as a man? The appreciative love he felt of her art? It didn’t matter.
“If I were to write a letter to this Faberi guild in Florezia,” he said slowly, “one in which I told them exactly how much I think of you as an artist, how much would that help in the next step of your plan?”
“A letter of recommendation from one of the greatest artists in the world? Yes, I can see that being useful.” The twitch in the corner of Midora’s mouth was enough to make Bernardo’s heart rush with relief. “But…promise me you won’t put anything in the letter that you don’t feel to be true, just because of how you feel.”
“I won’t,” De Luca promised, thinking of several glowing things to include in the letter that he felt to be quite true. “I’m glad I can do something to help you reach the next step of your plan.”
“Next step? A letter from you would send me on my way to becoming leader of the guild…almost halfway to the end goal.” Midora grinned, her mischievous face brightening the room.
“Being the leader of Florezia’s Faberi guild is only your halfway point? Exactly how far does your plan take you Midora?” He asked with a chuckle.
“It takes me all the way to the top, of course,” Midora said cheerfully. Bernardo couldn’t help but laugh at her bravado, and she laughed as well, bright and airy.
Not twenty-four hours since being rejected from the studio, already planning on ruling the world, he thought affectionately. This is the Midora I’ve come to love…unstoppable.
“You think I’m joking, just you wait,” Midora wagged a finger at him. “With all of the help I’m getting, it won’t be long until I’m one of the gears that runs this machine we call Italoza.”
“If I could believe it of anyone, I’d believe it of you. I won’t be a bit surprised,” Bernardo said, passing the bottle back to her for the last of the wine. Tension that he didn’t realize he carried slowly eased away as the pair talked and laughed late into the evening. For years afterwards the tableau remained a cherished memory in Bernardo De Luca’s mind; the quiet room, the warmth of the wine, the lovely conversation, and the pretty little Fabera who wanted to rule the world, grinning from ear to ear.