A New Aesthetic
“Eh… Ros, this is a little…”
“It looks perfect! The mature look really does suit you!”
My attempts at protest were cut off by Rosalind’s excitement. Slightly uncomfortable, I tugged at the collar, loosening it a bit, the base of the glove brushing over the silk crossover tie. After she had passed me the set of clothing, she had briefly left the room to get changed as well, and returned shortly after to evaluate my appearance.
Thankfully, my worst fear had not been realised; I was not wearing a frilly maid outfit or anything nearly as outlandish. In fact, the clothes I wore were similar in feeling to what I would have worn to work, back at home – sort of. A black pair of leather shoes were accompanied by a pair of fitted black pants, held in place by a black leather belt that sat below a white, formal, button-up shirt. Over this shirt I wore a black vest, and over the vest I wore a black blazer. The ensemble was completed by the black crossover tie and the white gloves.
Indeed, there was no other way to describe it – I was presently dressed in a butler’s outfit.
Well, back in my world, when I worked waitress jobs at classier places, I’d worn such attire as well – without the gloves – but… this was a tavern. A pub, so to speak. You don’t exactly see barmaids dressed like butlers. Not in my experience, at least. Perhaps it was a cultural difference thing. I decided to clarify.
“Um. Ros, is it common for waitresses in taverns to wear clothes like these?”
“Nope. You’d look extremely weird and out of place.”
“…And knowing this, you still chose to put me in this outfit.”
“You know, I really think it would have made more sense to get me an outfit like yours. Do you have an extra? I can go and-”
Rosalind usually changed into her sleeping clothes – or otherwise her non-working clothes, – before she came upstairs, so this was the first time I had seen her in work attire. She, at least, looked like she would have fit into a tavern-type atmosphere. She wore an orange one-piece dress with a skirt that was of a perfect length – short enough to attract gazes, but long enough to protect her modesty. The hem of the skirt itself had a black patterning, and the skirt was flanked by long, black strips of cloth that looked like the ends of ribbons. A large ribbon was secured around her waist, holding the dress firmly to her body, but it was concealed by a long, white apron that naturally extended from beneath the flap over her chest. The bared shoulders and general feel of the dress reminded me somewhat of traditional barmaids from a certain country in my world, and that simply added to my feeling that it was a costume which belonged in a tavern. Unlike mine.
Rosalind shook her head, denying my suggestion.
“No. That was the original plan, but then I pictured you in this outfit and didn’t really like it.”
I blinked. I’m fairly certain a pained expression crossed my face. That was an unexpected attack. Although I had no illusions about the fact that my behaviour and appearance were far from being the epitome of traditional femininity, it still kind of stung. Rosalind noted my expression, but did not apologise. Rosalind had a habit of being brutally honest when it came to offering advice. I was grateful for it, but it still stung. Nonetheless, she continued to explain.
“Your appearance and manner, the way you conduct yourself, I tried to imagine that in my outfit. Didn’t work. As expected, mature, serious-looking clothing suits you best.”
I could make no argument. It was a fact that feminine clothing and myself did not get along. Even my ruqun – a traditionally feminine garment – had been modified to hold a sword belt and to have a lighter, less obstructive skirt, two distinctly unfeminine modifications. I resigned myself to the fate of being a woman who looked best in unfeminine clothes, and decided to focus on the positives instead.
For one, this outfit was extremely easy to move in. If push came to shove and I needed to deal with a rowdy patron, this outfit would not get in the way. The only part of the ensemble that could be grabbed – the jacket – could be easily removed, and the fitted leggings meant I could throw kicks at leisure. While I still had… difficulties with holding weapons, I could handle myself in a fistfight just fine. Of course, it would be best if no fighting was necessary, but it was reassuring to know that I could fight if I had to.
Furthermore, the outfit was extremely comfortable. It fit me perfectly. The waist and inner leg were just the right circumference, the sleeves were just the right length, and the shirt and vest both fit snugly over my chest without constricting me. The suit was a perfect fit, as if it had been order-made for me.
I narrowed my eyes and glared at Rosalind.
“…How long have you been planning on employing me?”
Until now, I had been under the assumption that it was a snap decision made after last night’s talk. So how was it possible that she had a suit ready for me? Something was off. I did not want to start being suspicious of my only friend at this late juncture, but ten years on the battlefield had taught me the fallibility of trust. I carefully watched her as I asked my question, but Rosalind, unperturbed, simply answered with what I already knew.
“Uh, just last night, after you said you had no idea where to start.”
There was no perceptible sign of lying. Either she was telling the truth, or she was very good at hiding a lie. I had no idea of knowing which was the case, thus I continued to press her.
“Then how did you manage to have this suit ready?”
“I had it lying around. I think it used to be my mom’s.”
“But this suit is a perfect fit. Along with the pants. And the shirt. I’ve never met your mother, but I doubt she had exactly the same sizes as me.”
Rosalind tilted her head in confusion.
“Well, of course. I altered it after I decided to employ you. Ely, what’s this about? Do you really hate the suit that much?”
Still no sign of a lie. Even though it was plausible that she had managed to alter the suit in such a short time, that left one big mystery. I asked the most important question.
“Rosalind, when did you take my measurements?”
Rosalind froze as my tone shifted to one that was far more guarded, more hostile. A look of understanding dawned on her face – perhaps she realised why I was asking all these questions.
I do not remember her taking my measurements at any point. It was impossible for her to have done it in my sleep, either, as I would certainly have woken up. That meant that the only possible time she could have taken my measurements was when I was first brought here, unconscious. However, at the time, she would have had no reason to take such measurements – if she had indeed taken the measurements at that time, it would mean that from the start, she had intended to have me work here – which would mean that the reason she gave for rescuing me was a lie. And if that was a lie, there might be other untruths in her behaviour and words.
I fervently wanted her to offer me an alternative explanation, but I knew that it was impossible. There was no other way she could have taken my measurements. I could not trust her. Biting back sadness at losing my first friend, I steeled myself to make a run for it, but unexpectedly, Rosalind replied in a calm voice.
“I saw your measurements.”
I was taken by surprise; I thought she would have been speechless. Anything she said now would certainly be an excuse. I had to leave – but a part of me didn’t want to. I sighed. I would at least listen to her excuse. Rosalind seemed to notice I was no longer on the verge of jumping out the window, and continued.
“Yes. ‘Saw’. I can tell things like sizes, depth, length and distance just by looking. For example, I can tell you that the bird over there” She pointed through the window at a faraway bird, “is flying at 82 kilometers per hour. I can tell you that it’s 315.87 meters away from us and heading southward. I can tell you that it’s flying 152.4 meters above the ground. That’s how I knew. I could tell. It’s always been this way. Just by looking at something, I can know a lot of things about it. I don’t know why I can do this – though it’s helpful for mixing drinks.”
I said nothing, my desire to accept her explanation conflicting with my distrust. Her explanation was ridiculous, but I wanted to believe it – I rationalised that the world had magic. Perhaps my common sense did not apply. Rosalind, perhaps hoping for a response, spoke again.
“Ely, please trust me. I’m telling you the truth. I’ve told you nothing but the truth. I really did see your measurements just by looking at you. Please, you have to believe me.”
“…How do I know you didn’t make those numbers up?”
“I don’t. Exactly.”
I sighed. There was no way to confirm whether Rosalind truly had some kind of special vision, or whether she was lying and simply tossing out random numbers. But the numbers she gave were too unusual – if she had made them up on the spot, they would likely have been rounder, nicer numbers. Of course, this was purely speculation – there was no evidence to back up this claim. It was entirely possible she had chosen unusual numbers to make herself less suspicious. There was no reason to take this claim at face value. But… I took it. I took that justification. I wanted to trust Rosalind. It had been so long since I had trusted someone else, so long since I had wanted to trust someone else. Now that I had found someone, a friend, who was able to re-ignite my desire to trust, I was loath to let her go. Perhaps I would come to regret this decision later. But for now… I chose to trust Rosalind.
I met her worried eyes and smiled.
“Come on, then, Ros. You need to teach me the ropes before we open, so we haven’t got a lot of time.”
Rosalind blinked, her mouth agape, surprise clearly evident on her features. Regaining her composure, she stared into my eyes for a moment, possibly searching for doubt. I do not know if she managed to find any, but whatever the case, she also broke into a grin.
“That’s right. I’m going to whip you into shape.”
The two of us shared a warm silence as we descended down the stairs.