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Cheria ran down the spiral staircase as her body would allow, praying with every inch of her being that whatever was reality was less tame than what she imagined. There was an informal tea party for the higher ups in Lhant today, and since she headed the local medical division she was expected to go with a plus one. Accustomed to high society from Frederic and Asbel, she had all the preparation needed for any high-society function.


Her plus one, on the other hand…


Reality was ten times worse than what she imagined. Sitting on the table was Pascal, wearing the ugliest, tackiest neon yellow suit known to mankind. She hadn’t bothered to even iron it, and she was wearing two completely different colored, oversized dress shoes. At least she had bathed…or at least wore enough heavy-smelling cologne to kill a bunch of skunks. She smelled like Richard but if Richard had locked them all in a 4x4 enclosure in an underground bunker. “Tch-tch, Cheriaaaaa. How you likin’ the new threads? Richard and Sophie helped me with a new look!”


Upon closer inspection it did look like an outfit Richard had at the very back of his closet, but most definitely Sophie was the one who helped her get dressed. “Pascal!” she snapped. “How is your bra still showing?!”


“Huh? Oh. Guess I didn’t button up my shirt all the way. Whoopsie-daisy.”


It wasn’t even a dress shirt. It was a faded cami that she’d probably slept in the night before. Huffing, Cheria firmly grabbed the cami buttons and made a point of buttoning every single one despite Pascal’s objections. Then she buttoned every single one of the shirt buttons, which the shorter girl stomped her feet in response. “Cheriaaaaaa. Can’t you let me a little bit of breathing room?” she whined.


“No! You know how these sorts of functions work! You can’t just be half-dressed willy-nilly!”


“But Daddy Malik doesn’t button up his suits half the time and he’s fiiiiine.”


Cheria placed her hands on Pascal’s shoulders and shook her head, sighing. “You and Sophie have got to stop calling him that, even as a joke. Here, can you zip up the back of my dress? You got here quicker than I’d expected.”


“Sure thing, girlfriend!”


A lingering thought in the back of Cheria’s head was that she hoped that Pascal had washed her hands before getting off of works, lest both their outfits be ruined by oil stains. She really didn’t want her favorite light blue dress to be ruined, either, but she shook that thought away as she felt Pascal’s warm, gloved hands crawl up the back of her skin while they found the zipper. “Dum dum da dum, Cheria, you’re so lucky not to have any pimples on your back, ya know? Your skin’s so smooth!”




Pascal shot her a wide, toothy grin, and her heart couldn’t help but flutter. It was funny. For the longest time, she thought she had feelings for Asbel. And perhaps she did, based on feelings she had back when they were kids. But now that they were adults and helped save the country and went on with their lives, she had realized that whatever lingering thoughts she had were likened more to that of a crush. She still liked Asbel, as a friend, but…


But every counterthought in her brain was taking care of this doofus.


“Here,” she said in a softer tone of voice. “Let me fix you up a little, ‘k?”


It wasn’t easy. Pascal never stood still for anything unless she was immersed in a three-day work binge or eating bananas, so she kept rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet as Cheria combed through her hair with her fingers. The red and white strands were not greasy as usual. “You’ve been using dry shampoo lately, Pascal?”


“Yeeep, the very bottle you gave me! It works wonders!”  


Cheria blushed, glad she could be of some use. Usually Pascal ignored most gifts, hygiene-related or not, oblivious to such methods of sentimentality.  She combed through a few more pieces of hair, wishing Sophie had picked out a tie to go along with this hideous suit as well, then stopped and took a step back, admiring her efforts. Pascal looked like a crumpled banana…but if it made her happy, she didn’t think too many people would object. The older woman was already pumped up as she balled her fists in the air and put on an oversized hat the same atrocious color as her suit and a pair of red sunglasses. “Let’s cowabunga, dude!”


Most people in Lhant were…sympathetic enough. Cheria believed they could handle her. “Let’s.”




It was an informal tea party, but the people of Lhant still stuck to the traditional, formal ways of courtesy for the most part. Richard was actively trying to blur the class lines now, but changing hundreds of years’ worth of unspoken rules took time. Everyone here knew each other’s business, line of family, and line of work, so for the most part they had grouped together based on those divisions. Although Cheria was a newcomer in the medical field, her grandfather’s ties serving the Lhant family still kept her beholden to the higher classes, and she daintily sipped at her tea.   


And then there was Pascal, chatting it up with some fishwives as she literally flexed her skinny arms and scarfed down a bunch of crablettes. Cheria kept one eye on her at all times.   


“So, this Pascal….you said she has a Master’s?” one of the women asked.


Pascal took a sip of tea and immediately spat it out. All over the grass. Whatever etiquette lessons Richard had been trying to force on her lately wasn’t working. “A Ph.D,” Cheria said miserably.


“Oh. How charming.”


The other women were not impressed. To be honest Cheria was annoyed with them. Even if Pascal didn’t act…like that, they’d still judge her over something so arrogantly superficial. She failed all the typical signs of “presentable” femininity – nonexistent boobs, short, couldn’t walk in heels, hated dresses, smelled bad…but she was so smart, and she was the only one who talked about how she could come up with so many ideas for things like banana peels or crablettes or sopheria. Even now, she was bragging of how many of those chocolate scones she could fit in her mouth.


Oh no…


“Excuse me!” Cheria cried hurriedly, nearly knocking her chair to the ground as she raced over to Pascal.


“Sho, thith is nine I think, and each of the scones still hath theirrr origthinal flavwor-“


There was barely any more space in Pascal’s mouth, and her eyes were watering like crazy. She held onto that stupid hat like crazy as she aimed her tenth scone forward. Cheria’s immediate thought was, She’s going to choke. And immediately as soon as Pascal placed that tenth scone into her mouth, she began coughing wildly. Kicking off her heels, Cheria rushed over to her and practically punched her stomach in a violent Heimlich, sending the scones flying out of her in all directions. The higher society women stared in disgust; some of the fishwives snickered. Pascal herself looked impressed as she placed a hand on her hip. ”Only ten, huh? I can do better than that!”


She reached down to the nearest scone, attempting to try again. Cheria slapped the scone away. “Scones are for eating, Pascal.”


“Well, duh. I was gonna eat them after I broke my record.”


Her face looked so stupidly cute and oblivious to the entire situation as one of the security guards walked towards them. Cheria couldn’t believe her type really was smart dummies. Well, she knew she couldn’t beat her, so she might as well fill her teacup with a large helping of sangria and join her. “Just please don’t aim your scones at anyone, Pascal,” she made in a final plea.


“Can do, boss!”


Pascal winked at her as she stuffed the first scone back in her mouth. Cheria took a long gulp of her sangria. This was going to be a long tea party.