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Trembling Petals and Quivering Whiskers

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Trembling Petals and Quivering Whiskers

Bernadetta really liked her roommates, truly she did, but their antics sometimes made her question her current living arrangement. She was an art major focusing on classics but was minoring in botany. Her roommates, also students at the University of Adrestia, thought it was a peculiar mix, but then again Edelgard’s PoliSci and Bio majors also were questionable, so no one teased Bernadetta about hers anymore. Edelgard, Dorothea, and Petra were so much more outgoing than she was, always out having a good time, but good ol’ Bernie thrived staying home alone because it meant she could concentrate more thoroughly on her work.

Besides studying, Bernadetta ran an online shop where she sold artwork, paraphernalia of that artwork, as well as commissions. She was well known online as BrigidFlytrap, running her ‘Sundew Workshop’ where her creations ranging from embroidery rings to landscape paintings and everything between were showcased. She was popular enough that she made quite a pretty penny off it, and that was a good thing, because she paid her tuition with it. Currently she was finishing an embroidery project that was commissioned by one of her favorite patrons…

Earlier in the semester, Bernadetta had opened commissions to help pay for text books and other college expenses. She was pretty popular online so she knew her slots would be filled quickly. Most were the usual ‘can you paint my OTP’ which always made her mega bucks, but there were those that really enjoyed her textile projects too, mostly the little crocheted plants and creatures she featured. But this one request was different from the usual. Bernadetta remembered the email quite well.

I have been following your work for a while and have always admired it. I’m so glad you’ve opened commissions again and I hope I am able to get a slot. I was hoping you could possibly paint a landscape sort of scene? I have a very specific image in my head but I know you don’t normally get requests like this, from what I’ve seen others pay for. You can ignore this email if you want.’

It was beyond bizarre, and the person hadn’t signed it, and the email mylittledorte(@)chillmail(dot)net gave her no clue on the identity of this person, and it made Bernadetta a bit nervous, but surely this couldn’t be nearly as bad as it seemed. She swallowed thickly and had responded to that email.

Oh I’m glad you emailed me! Your request sounds interesting and I’d love for you to elaborate! You’re right in that I do get a lot of ship stuff, but I always enjoy original content too! I’m willing to draw or paint a landscape for you, just give me the details! -BrigidFlytrap’

This person wasted no time in responding, as if they were waiting for Bernie to respond. Well, she supposed they were, but it was too fast. But Bernadetta read it anyway.

Ah, ok! Um, I’ve never done this before so if I’m not descriptive enough, just let me know. But basically I was interested in a landscape scene set in a meadow of summer flowers, at sunset. There is a castle in the background but in the foreground, and what I’d like to be the main focus, is a beautiful girl on a majestic horse cantering away. The girl is pale with periwinkle hair and a deep navy, elegant dress. I suppose she’s a princess or a duchess. Someone noble. The horse is a black stallion, powerful, robust, with a long flowing mane and tail. It’s an image that’s been in my head for a while, but I don’t have the artistic talent to do it justice. But I’ve seen your other paintings, and I think you could really pull this off, but again, if it isn’t something you want to do, feel free to decline. Thank you.’

Bernadetta’s jaw dropped. This sounded like a painting she was dying to do for a long time now. Her work was varied, she could do almost any style, but she loved doing more intense work like this. It gave her an excuse to use one of the more heavy duty software programs she rarely got to use. It would be able to mimic real oil paintings and that is exactly what this customer wanted. Bernadetta just knew, so she immediately replied.

That sounds lovely! I’ve got a fairly good image in my head of what you want. Since this is a bit different, I may have to adjust my rates, and I’ll be using a different program than normal because my normal one probably won’t get the right effect you’re after. I can give you a quote after I do some quick calculations if that’s alright. -BrigidFlytrap’

Her mystery customer again responded lightning fast.

That’s fine! I will pay any amount.’

Bernie stared at her phone screen like it was lying to her. What did this person mean by ANY amount?! So Bernie could say ‘okay it’s a million gold’ and they’d pay???? Bernie wouldn’t do that, of course, but… Maybe she could upcharge a little. Dorothea often said she undercharged, that her work was too good to be bought at so low.

Bernadetta opened a spread sheet, typing in the amount of hours this would possibly take, how detailed it would be, the size, and such. Her calculations said she should probably charge close to two hundred G, but she balked at that number. No one would pay that much in this day and age. So many people asked for free art on her social media profiles and it was beyond upsetting. If she had a dime for every person that said “but this takes you like two minutes! Why should I pay?” she’d be loaded. Even more so than her parents, but she no longer had ties to them, so that point was moot.

But… This person did say any amount…

Okay! So I ran the figures and it seems since this is a more detailed piece that will require extensive coloring, background, and features two figures, I’ll have to charge 200 G. Is that okay? -BrigidFlytrap’

She hated adding the ‘is that okay” because Dorothea would have said of course it’s okay, Bern your work is wonderful and you’re worth twice that, but her insecurity got the best of her.

The person took a bit longer to respond, but respond they did.

Yes, that’s perfect. I send the money to you via GoldPal right?’

Bernie nodded and then realized that was stupid because this was an email, but she typed ‘yes I will send you the invoice in just a moment! -BrigidFlytrap’ and then proceeded to nearly throw her phone into the wall.

This customer, this wonderful, beautiful, lovely customer, was going to pay her 200 G for a painting!? She could howl in joy.

She collected herself and sent the invoice to mylittledorte(@)chillmail(dot)net and decided she’d start sketching out the idea on her tablet and send it to her new (and now best) customer just to show she was taking this seriously.

Her phone jingled and lit up telling her she had a notification. She checked to see it was from GoldPal and that a Marianne Edmund sent her 200 G for the service, but also left a TWO HUNDRED GOLD TIP???? Bernadetta felt her heart go into shock.

400 G… She was getting 400 G for… for PAINTING. This person really liked her work that much?!

Should...should she respond???? How does one say “Thanks for the fast payment and also for the 100% tip, I’m a broke ass college student who is emancipated from my parents so every little bit counts”?

She decided she’d do the first part of the message, and express gratitude for the tip without sounding like too much of a weirdo. Had this happened in person, she would have died from shock. Here, she could freak out first, then send a composed email.

Thanks! I got your payment and I am very flattered at the generous tip! It is very appreciated. I’m going to start the sketch now, and I will send you updates so you can approve before I move on. Thanks again! -BrigidFlytrap’

There was no response, and Bernadetta wondered if that was a good thing. She wondered where this Marianne Edmund was right now, if that was their real name. Were they within Adrestia? Or were they farther off in Fódlan, Faerghus, or even Leicester? Maybe even overseas in Brigid, Dagda, Duscur, Sreng, or Almyra? There were so many places she still had yet to see, all of which had breathtaking sights, and though she was meek and could only do online communication well, she did dream of being a stronger Bernie, a Bernie who traveled around the world and painted plants and animals and just...existed in nature. Enbarr was a nice city, but Bernie dreamed of solitude in the woods, in the jungle, in the mountains… Anywhere but a big city that was too loud and had too many rude people. Anywhere but a city that her parents still very much lived in.

Bernadetta could only dream.

But again, that was earlier on in the semester. Now, it was the holiday season and many students had gone home to celebrate Saint Seiros Day with their loved ones. Bernadetta’s loved ones, namely her three roommates, had all gone off. Petra went home to her archipelago of Brigid to be with her grandfather but Edelgard, Dorothea, and their new beau Felix went off to Edie’s childhood home. Bernie wondered if Mr. Hresvelg knew what exactly Felix was to his daughter and her girlfriend, but that wasn’t any of Bernie’s business to be sure.

No, Bernie had no loved ones, except…

Well, she couldn’t call her favorite customer a loved one. That was ridiculous.

But Bernadetta Varley did in fact sometimes fantasize about meeting this wonderful patron of hers, and wondered if she (Bernie did learn the patron’s name was indeed Marianne Edmund and used she/her pronouns) would just whisk her away and let her paint peacefully. It sounded a bit much, almost like she was a leech, and Bernie hated that, but the idea of any sort of security was a far off dream for her. For now, she had to work hard in school and in her business so she could continue to do good things.

This particular project Bernie was working on was an embroidery hoop featuring two horses facing each other, nose to nose, and the general shape was meant to be a heart. Bernie had to draft it out on paper first to get the angles and proportions right, but it was coming along nicely. She often sent updates to Marianne, more than she did any other regular customer. They held long conversations through email, but eventually, as the months went on, Bernie and Marianne decided they’d share each other’s Khaos usernames so they could chat on the popular IM app. They had been chatting quite a long time at this point, and whenever Bernie opened up commissions again, she always told Marianne first to see if she’d want first pick at a slot. Usually, Marianne did. Bernie had done so many projects for her at this point. Besides the detailed painting from before (that Marianne gushed over), Bernie also did a crocheted pony, a few charms, and now this embroidery hoop. Bernadetta thought Marianne’s fondness for horses was adorable. She was...a horse girl. But Bernadetta figured she wasn’t too different, if her interest in carnivorous plants was any indication.

Yes, the two girls found comfort in each other, and during this time of year where it was hell to be alone, that was a good thing.

~*~

Marianne very much looked forward to Bernadetta’s updates on her commission. At some point, BrigidFlytrap did indeed share her real given name, and Marianne thought it quite charming. The two had taken to each other incredibly quickly, at least in Marianne’s opinion. She always found it so hard to interact with others, but the internet made socializing a little easier. She did have a few social media profiles, and she followed Bernadetta’s workshop on all of them, but she wasn’t what one would call active. She rarely posted, mostly just viewed artwork, read articles or stories, and watched funny animal videos. Her Likes and Bookmarks were in the thousands. She had little to no followers, except for a few close school friends and bot accounts. (One could never escape the bots.) Without the internet, though, Marianne would never have met Bernadetta.

Perhaps ‘met’ was a bit strong. The two had never actually physically met. Marianne didn’t even know what she looked like. They knew each other’s names simply from the GoldPal app since one had to use a legal name for that. Marianne had considered searching for Bernadetta Varley on FaceSpace, but held herself back. She wouldn’t want Bernadetta to do that to her, so why would she do that to Bernadetta?

Curiosity did eat at her, but she let it slide as she heard her phone beep with a new notification. Bernadetta had just sent a message.

Hey Marianne! Here’s the finished product!

Attached to the message was the commission Marianne asked for. It was exquisite: two horses gently nuzzling each other, their manes framing their long necks. Along the bottom were blue roses and their petals were scattered around the horses. It was so intimately detailed and Marianne’s heart filled to the brim with joy.

Ahgkdanl Bernadetta this is so beautiful! It’s even better than I dreamed! Thank you so so much!

She saw that Bernadetta was typing and awaited her message.

Aahhh, I’m so glad you like it! I can’t wait to send it off to you! Same address?

Yes! Thank you so much. Your artwork is truly a gift.

Bernadetta sent a blushing emoji and Marianne found herself giggling. She hadn’t been this happy since… High school? When her friend Hilda used to drag her into schemes and they somehow got away with it? Marianne was still flummoxed as to how Hilda could talk her way out of any trouble, and Marianne was floored at herself for going along with it. But Hilda gave her something she didn’t feel often.

Purpose? Acceptance? It was some sort of spark that Marianne didn’t have a name for yet. But Hilda had moved halfway across the country to Derdriu to start her own company (ironically she dabbled in crafts too) alongside her long-time friend Claude so Marianne didn’t see her as much. She still sent Marianne selfies of her going to parties with Claude but also of her work and Marianne was touched Hilda still thought of her.

A bit self-deprecating. Of course Hilda would still think of her. They were best friends. But distance can do things to a friendship, and even when Hilda would occasionally visit they went back to their old ways. But constant communication wasn’t really a thing since adult life got in the way.

Marianne was working on veterinary school, so the majority of her friends had already graduated or were about to, but Marianne still had a few years of schooling left. She was focusing mostly on equine medicine, but she knew she’d need to know animals in general. She was interested in exotics as well since that was a less common specialty and plenty of people she knew had sugar gliders, chinchillas, parrots, and lizards and emergency care wasn’t always immediately available. She felt it was her duty to care for all animals so she did.

Messaging Bernadetta had become another favorite pastime for her. She mostly stayed home to study, and her father was very pleased she was doing well in school, so he didn’t mind she didn’t go out much because she was at least not being distracted. He did express concern that she didn’t seem to have many friends, but Marianne usually deflected saying they were busy but she certainly communicated with them. Of course, that was mostly Bernadetta. There was a kinship there that her father wouldn’t really understand.

Marianne’s family was loaded. Her father was a successful (and thankfully popular) politician and her mother was a psychiatrist. They worked hard and it was fruitful. Until Marianne finished school and attained a proper practice, she would be supported indefinitely. She knew not many had that sort of privilege so she was abundantly grateful.

That was why she was able to spend so much money buying and commissioning things from Bernadetta. Her parents weren’t totally aware of it but they knew of her hyperfixation on horses and other animals so they didn’t think much of it when she got yet another package that featured those. If it made her happy, it was fine. She was responsible otherwise.

Marianne lay in her bed, thinking of how happy she was to know Bernadetta. It was so nice to have a friend who just seemed to understand her. She hoped they could continue to become closer and that was a thought that both frightened and excited Marianne. It was new, but she could accept it if it brought this much joy.

~*~

Winter was over and the new semester was upon them. Bernadetta and Marianne didn’t contact each other as much since school was a thing, but they did keep in touch on Khaos. Midterms were going on the week before spring break and both girls were so relieved. This semester had been killer on them both and they were excited to have a week long break.

But midterms of course came and went, and while Bernadetta’s scores could have been a bit better (she had awful test anxiety), Marianne aced hers. They both shared their scores and Marianne was happy that Bernadetta at least passed. She expressed as much in a message.

mylittledorte
Tests aren’t easy, especially midterms and not everyone does well. A C is fine! You’ll still graduate so there’s no worries there.

BrigidFlytrap
ahhh thank you marianne, I really appreciate it!

There was a pause as both girls weren’t sure what to talk about next. School was over and they were finally free to message but…

BrigidFlytrap
Marianne?

Mylittledorte
Yes Bernadetta?

BrigidFlytrap
Have you ever considered...video chatting?

Marianne froze for a moment. She had of course thought of this, but she didn’t have the courage to say anything. So if Bernadetta, who was equally as shy wanted to see Marianne…

mylittledorte
I have actually…

BrigidFlytrap
Oh!!!! Are you free right now???

mylittledorte
I am.

And without much warning, Marianne was receiving a video chat from Khaos.

She accepted it and saw Bernadetta for the first time. Marianne’s first thought was of a mouse. Bernadetta seemed very small, had messy purple hair, and frightened grey eyes. But she was...adorable. Marianne hadn’t realized it yet, but… Seeing her face… She really did like Bernadetta.

Likewise, Bernadetta saw Marianne for the first time and was captivated by the messy periwinkle hair. Marianne looked as if she didn’t smile often, but Bernadetta felt her heart melt a bit when Marianne gave her a very gentle smile.

They both stared at each other indefinitely, but then Marianne finally had the courage to speak.

“It’s nice to see you, Bernadetta. Now I have a face to the name.”

Bernadetta felt skittish at hearing that, but it was Marianne so it didn’t last long. “I’m glad to see you too! Your hair is so pretty!”

Marianne blushed. “Oh, I haven’t...brushed it today… Sorry...”

“No! Don’t be! It’s still really nice.”

Marianne nodded. “I like yours too. Especially the color.”

Bernadetta felt herself trying to comb her fingers through her somewhat matted hair. “Ah, I should take better care of it!”

Marianne found herself softly giggling. “It’s okay… We’re both messes, aren’t we?”

Bernadetta beamed, possibly for the first time in her life. “We...are.”

There were a few silent beats and then Marianne looked thoughtful.

“Marianne? Is something wrong?” Bernadetta asked.

“No. I, um, well… When the semester is over, it will be summer. My parents have asked what I was planning to do since I’ll have to find an interning program soon. I wanted to spend the summer doing something nice before that so...” She bit her lip. “I know this may be sudden, but, um, would you like to maybe go on a trip with me? There’s a campground known for diverse wildlife and flowers and I thought maybe you’d enjoy it...”

Bernadetta’s jaw dropped. Her friends always teased her for never leaving the apartment, which was even more daunting now because Edelgard and Dorothea’s boyfriend Felix had transferred from FU to UA and lived with them all now. He was so scary, but they insisted he was actually really nice… Hard to believe considering how blunt he could be.

But… Bernadetta liked Marianne. And she wanted to see her in the flesh, to hug her, breathe in her scent.

And then she realized those were dangerous thoughts to have. But they were irresistible. Petra had always said Bernadetta was like prey, not a hunter. Bernadetta decided she’d try and be that hunter.

“Yes, Marianne. I will go with you.”

Marianne’s face lit up. “Oh really?! That’s wonderful.” She picked up her phone and scrolled through something. “I have information on the campground here. I’ll send it to you and we can talk about booking your flight. It’s in Leicester… I hope that’s alright.”

With Marianne, anything would be alright for Bernadetta.

“It is. I’m...really looking forward to it, Marianne.” She felt herself smile genuinely for the first time in forever. Marianne always brought these smiles on. It was so strange. Bernadetta never had a friend like this before.

Were they really friends though? That thought terrified Bernadetta.

~*~

The semester had finished and Bernadetta was relieved. It meant she could focus on her actual work she enjoyed, but also… She was leaving for a flight to Leicester to see Marianne. Marianne would be picking her up from the airport and then they’d take a rental to the campground for their little getaway in the woods. Bernadetta, who had never gone on such an adventure in her life, was going to meet someone she had met online, her favorite patron, and they were going to catalogue and observe fauna and flora because they shared that common interest. If this were a cheesy romance novel, Bernadetta would think they would fall madly in love and elope.

Bernadetta landed, and was woozy because she took a strong anti-anxiety medication because flying scared the heck out of her. She managed to grab her luggage and had wandered outside of the airport and then…

There was Marianne in a very nice rental car, waving her over. The trunk popped open and Bernadetta hauled her stuff into it. She then got in on the passenger side and buckled. She looked up and saw twinkling in Marianne’s eyes.

When they realized they were both staring, they quickly looked away. This was their first in-person meeting and here they were gawking at each other as if they’d never seen another woman before. Bernadetta felt her heart race and Marianne could feel her cheeks burn. She turned on some soft music and drove off.

When Bernadetta felt like her breathing steadied, she finally said, “It’s...very nice to finally meet you, Marianne.”

Marianne was silent a moment because she seemed to forget how to speak. Bernadetta’s voice in real life was so...cute.

“Um, did I say something wrong?” Bernadetta asked, assuming the worst. Dorothea and Edelgard had to sit her down and tell her she needed to be confident. Marianne would not have invited her if she didn’t like Bernadetta. Bernadetta started crying and Felix, who was making dinner that night, told her to just smile, because that’s what his friend Sylvain had always said. Marianne sounded like a good person and if Bernadetta really liked her, she wouldn’t mess anything up. It was weirdly nice advice considering the source, but Bernadetta agreed. She had to be confident.

“No, you didn’t say anything wrong. It’s just nice hearing your voice.” And then Marianne realized the gravity of that statement and stuttered. “Ah, that is to say, I’ve never not liked hearing your voice!”

Bernadetta was shocked at first and then sighed in relief. “I like hearing your voice too.”

If Dorothea was here, she’d have yelled out “get a room!” and Bernadetta would melt into a puddle in embarrassment.

The drive to the campground was fairly long, but with soft music playing and gentle conversation, it passed by quickly. Marianne checked them in and they went off to their cabin.

And somehow… A mistake had been made.

“Um, Marianne? Why is there only one bed?”

Bernadetta looked shocked and a bit nervous. Marianne was horrified. It was supposed to be two double beds and somehow… The booking gave them a single queen.

“I… I need to tell the receptionist. There must have been a mistake…!”

Bernadetta gulped. “Well, it’s not that big a deal… We’re both girls, right? That’s… I don’t mind… I think...”

Marianne paused by the door, wondering if she should go through with correcting the booking mistake, or listen to Bernadetta and share the bed. On one hand, she hadn’t slept in another person’s bed since she was a child and her mother stayed with her until she fell asleep. On the other… Feeling Bernadetta’s body heat against her own…

Marianne knew she was potentially touch-starved, and Bernadetta probably was too, but they were strangers…

No. They weren’t. They had been talking for several months now. Yet they hadn’t even hugged yet. And Marianne found she wanted to correct that.

“I suppose… It’s not that bad. If you don’t mind, of course.”

Bernadetta felt herself sweating but shook her head. “It’s fine! I, uh, well, I sleep with a lot of stuffed animals… So sleeping next to a person isn’t so different right?”

Marianne couldn’t help but chuckle. “You sound like me. I sleep with a bunch of stuffed animals too.”

Bernadetta felt like she could jump for joy but when she took a step towards Marianne, she froze. What was she doing?

“Bernadetta?”

“Yes Marianne?”

“Um, would you like...to hug?”

And Bernadetta, shy little Bernadetta who used to rebuke anyone’s touch or caress, found herself running into Marianne’s arms. Marianne was safe. She knew that. Marianne wouldn’t hurt her like her father. Marianne was kind and calm and understood social anxiety and didn’t overstep boundaries. If Marianne wanted to hug, Bernadetta would gladly indulge her, because she wanted the same.

Marianne tightened her arms around Bernadetta, shocked that she was so willing, but also mollified. She felt so incredibly happy.

“You’re so warm,” Bernadetta mumbled into Marianne’s shoulder.

“You are too,” returned Marianne, and they sighed into each other’s embrace.

This moment could last forever and neither would care.

~*~

Since they had gotten to the campground late in the afternoon, the two girls spent some time getting dinner at the mess hall, indulging in warm breadsticks, pasta salad, and iced tea. It was very pleasant and they enjoyed quiet conversation over their previous semester and what they looked forward to for their final year.

Well, for Bernadetta, it would be her final year. Marianne still had a few years to go because becoming a vet was quite an extensive process. But they had both been doing well in school and Bernadetta looked forward to finishing her art degree so she could pursue even bigger careers in the art world.

They returned to the cabin and took turns showering. Bernadetta was shy upon walking out in just her towel to grab her clothes to sleep in, but Marianne politely averted her eyes because she would feel the same. When bathing was said and done, they spent some time sitting by the window, looking at the stars.

Bernadetta and Marianne knew next to nothing about constellations, but they liked to make up shapes and laughed at the stories they had made up. Well, mostly on Bernadetta’s part. She was incredibly creative, and Marianne found her stories enchanting. When it had gotten too late, they decided sleep was in order.

They lied in bed as far apart as they could, lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling. Bernadetta felt her heart nearly beat out of her chest. Marianne felt clammy anxiety eating at her hands.

She is so near… Marianne thought.

...yet so far, Bernadetta finished. Both girls did not realize it, but they were having the exact same worries.

Marianne bit her lip, wanting to be closer to Bernadetta. Bernadetta wanted to be asked to cuddle. It was an odd feeling, considering this was the first time being physically in her presence, but Bernadetta felt like she had known Marianne for years. She was that comfortable. In a way, Marianne felt like home, and Bernie wondered if it was too soon to even think that sort of thing.

Marianne finally sighed, deciding she’d ask after all. “Bernie...”

The nickname on her lips sent shivers down Bernadetta’s spine. “Yes?”

“Um, you can lie closer to me, if you want...”

Bernadetta paused, hoping Marianne was asking exactly what she wanted to hear. “You...want to cuddle?”

“Um!” Marianne gasped. “I… If you don’t mind! I’m just… Cold! Yes, very cold!”

It was very warm in the room considering it was summer and the window AC unit was only so powerful. But Bernie knew how Marianne felt because she felt the same.

“Sure, Marianne. I don’t mind at all.”

Bernadetta scooted closer, as did Marianne. They were in the center of the bed, and at first they wouldn’t touch each other, shoulders barely brushing. But then, simultaneously, they turned to each other, looking into each other’s eyes. Then… They embraced, Bernadetta tucking her head under Marianne’s chin, Marianne burying her face in Bernadetta’s hair. Their grip was tight and soon they fell asleep with no problem at all.

~*~

The camping trip was phenomenal. Each day, Marianne and Bernadetta would explore the woods surrounding them, and somehow they discovered something new every time.

Marianne managed to find a frog she had never seen before, holding it out to Bernadetta. The little amphibian however leapt out of her hands and right onto Bernadetta’s face. Marianne couldn’t deny that the shriek Bernadetta made and then the subsequent apology to the frog made her laugh.

“Ah, um, sorry. I was a little freaked out, but that’s not the little froggy’s fault!” Bernadetta had managed to wrangle it and hold it gently in her hands. “It’s cute, you know?”

“Yes! I’ve never seen one like this before.” Marianne looked through her book of native wildlife to Leicester. “Oh! It’s a Kupala Jewel Frog. Kupala isn’t far from my own city. This frog is very rare… And far from home.”

“I wonder how it got here?” Bernadetta asked as she continued to hold the frog. It was a beautiful shade of turquoise.

“Maybe someone released it into the wild… That’s not very good for the ecosystem though.”

Bernadetta sighed. “I hope that’s not the case. What should we do?”

“Hmm, we can take it to the rangers that run the camp. They might know what to do.”

Bernadetta nodded. She kept a small plastic container on her that she was going to use to take some clippings of plants but instead used it to hold their new slippery friend. The container had a lid with ventilation holes so it would be able to breathe. She put in some moss as well for a little moisture and something soft for it to be on.

They continued exploring, taking pictures of the plants, of the animals, and they may have taken some of each other. In the sunlight filtered by the thick leaves of the woods, both girls found each other to be radiant.

~*~

It was the final evening. Bernadetta would have to fly out tomorrow, back home to Enbarr. Marianne would be heading home after dropping her friend off at the airport, only to spend the rest of the day in her room. Would she have wanted to talk to her family about her new friend? Was Bernadetta really that new of a friend? Was she even a friend, or something more? It was all very complicated and Marianne, a decidedly not complicated person, didn’t want to go into it. Yet.

Bernadetta suggested they take a walk along the hiking trail, with lights and proper footwear of course, and enjoy the moonlight. It was a full moon, the stars were brilliant, and there were mentions of a star shower overheard at breakfast that morning. A lot of the campers had already left for home, so the two girls knew it would mostly just be them.

So when the sun went down, and the moon rose up, they put on their hiking boots, grabbed flashlights, and headed out.

The hiking trail was very quaint during the day. Perhaps at night it would have been spooky, but with how bright it was, it was actually closer to being ethereal. Marianne felt very at peace, and was thankful to Bernadetta for this suggestion.

“It’s a really beautiful night, Bernie,” Marianne said softly. “I’m really glad my final night here is with you, walking along this trail.”

Bernadetta blushed and was thankful that it couldn’t be seen. “Oh, um! Me too. It’s been a great week. I’m really glad you invited me.”

“Yes, we really did have quite a lot of fun.”

They had seen flowers of all sorts, some carnivorous plants that Bernie adored (and admittedly made Marianne a little nervous), deer with their offspring, so many colorful birds, lizards basking in the sun, frogs (the one they turned in was actually an escapee from an exhibit not too far off weirdly enough), so many fish in the river and lake that the woods led into. To Bernadetta, this felt like a fairy tale, like she had been transported to an enchanted forest, with Marianne as the divine princess at her side. And Bernie? Well, maybe she was just some sort of fae explorer, but she still felt like Marianne was the magical one.

Marianne smiled at the moon as they reached the end of the trail. It was a fenced off cliff that oversaw a lake, the stars and moon sparkling over it, the reflections just as twinkling. They did see a few shooting stars. Marianne felt so at peace with Bernadetta at her side, wishing for this moment to last.

“Bernie, this has been an utter dream.”

“Y-yeah, it has.”

They stayed quiet for a long time, pondering what they were about to say. The world was so calm, but the inner turmoil both of them felt was tumultuous.

Am I really about to tell her I like her? Like that?! Oh Bernie, you can’t! You’ll screw this up!

If Bernadetta knew of my feelings, would it be possible for her to find someone like me worthy of her?

And then they both realized they were being a little silly in their self-deprecation, because this entire trip they felt nothing but comfortable with each other, and if they hadn’t, well, they wouldn’t have shared a bed (and cuddled in said bed!)

They turned to each other, surprise hitting their eyes.

“Marianne-”

“Bernadetta-”

“Ah! You first! I’m sorry!”

“Don’t be. It seems we both have something to say.” Marianne sighed. “I really meant it when I said I had a good time.”

“Y-yeah, me too! Um, well, I’ve already said that. Sorry for repeating.”

Marianne shook her head. “Don’t be sorry. I’m happy to hear you. As long as it’s your voice, I don’t mind. I...really like listening to you.”

Bernadetta had no words for that. “Really?”

“Really. Actually...” Marianne averted her eyes, suddenly very bashful. “I have something to say to you.”

Bernadetta felt her heart beat at an impossible rate. Marianne could have said anything. Her worst fear would be that Marianne would say she didn’t want to see her ever again, which she knew wasn’t likely, considering the current conversation, but old habits die hard, and Bernadetta still had a lot to work through.

“Y-you can say it. I’m all ears.”

Marianne smiled. She grasped Bernadetta’s hands. “Bernie… I really like you.”

Bernadetta felt her world stop.

“Like...me?”

Marianne tightened her hold. “Yes! Yes, I like you! A lot! I don’t...want you to leave.”

Marianne confessing her feelings gave Bernie the courage she needed. She was about to confess the same.

“Marianne, I like you too. I… I feel so safe with you.” She tightened the hold on her hands. “I don’t want to leave… But I know I have to.”

“I know… But, we’ll still talk, right?”

“Of course! I mean, why wouldn’t we?”

Marianne hid her face in her shoulder. “It’s just...scary.”

“Yeah.”

They were standing there, under the moonlight, holding hands, not quite sure how to initiate something more. But then Bernadetta found some courage and tugged Marianne closer. Marianne looked into Bernadetta’s eyes and found her arms wrapping around Bernadetta’s waist.

They felt themselves quivering, trembling, like petals in a spring breeze or whiskers sensing a disturbance. The dynamic had changed, but it didn’t matter. Because they had each other, and that was all they cared about.

The stars twinkling their consent, Bernadetta Varley and Marianne Edmund shared their very first kiss.