By the time I had completed my discussion with Bainel, the Sun had begun to set. Having acquired his signature, I hurriedly left the inn and returned to the Ezov – having been unopened yesterday, it was imperative that we at least open our doors today, or our reputation would suffer a hit. The queue was already starting to form, but I politely navigated my way through the crowd and entered the Ezov.
Rosalind was already dressed – she had chosen the red dress for the evening. She glared at me as I closed the door behind me.
“…You went to see Bainel.”
I paused. I had a lot I needed to say to her, but we currently had a crowd waiting outside – it would not do to keep them waiting.
“…Yes, I did.”
“Without telling me.”
“I was going to, but you didn’t answer your door when I knocked on it. Time was of the essence. We couldn’t let Bainel wait too long.”
“And? How did you manage to sell the shop without the approval of the owner?”
“I didn’t.” I glanced at the clock – it was close to six. I sighed and scratched my head. “Look, I managed to work something out that didn’t involve selling the shop. I have the documents with me, I can run you through them later – but right now, both of us have a job to do. I promise that nothing’s been finalised. I’ll talk with you after we close up.”
Rosalind held my gaze for several seconds. Then she closed her eyes and calmed herself down.
“Alright. We’ll speak later. Open the doors once I head up.”
She quickly ascended the stairs to the waiting room above, following which I opened the doors as she had instructed, admitting the flood of customers.
We both went about our work that night as we always did, but there was an air of distance between us – the three girls in our employ occasionally showed a glimpse of concern, before the bustle of work carried them away. I was able to do my work as waitress and doorwoman as per usual, but the uncomfortable, invisible tension between us was unpleasant. I resolved myself to seek Rosalind’s forgiveness at the earliest reasonable opportunity; I could not imagine continuing to work in such an environment for long.
When the night had ended and the crowds dispersed, rather than cleaning up with her song as she usually did, Rosalind pulled up a chair and set it up in front of the stairs, seating herself in it as if guarding the entrance to the bedrooms.
I washed my hands to cleanse off the sweat and grime of a night’s work, then retrieved the signed documents from the locked cabinet behind the counter. Having allowed the uncomfortable air between us to fester all night long, frustrated with how Rosalind acted, my frustration had been building for some time. Perhaps it might have been better to act a bit more amicably, but at the time I was too frustrated to restrain myself – I tossed the bundle at her and grabbed another chair, seating myself across from her.
“Bainel and I have signed it; so all that’s left is your signature. Read it – I think you’ll find no problems with the contents of the deal.”
Rosalind placed the papers on her lap, but showed no signs of opening it or reading it. Instead, she fixed her gaze on me.
“No. Tell it to me instead. Tell me the contents of the deal. Tell me with your own words how you went and sold the shop without my consent.”
My annoyance, my anger, and my discontent with the uncomfortable tension bubbled forth and burst – my next words were shouted.
“For fuck’s sake, I already said I didn’t sell the fucking shop! I told you that the moment I came in.”
Rosalind continued staring at me, her face devoid of expression. I exhaled deeply, trying to keep my frustration under control. Then, in a low voice, I continued.
“Look, I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed to offer the sale in the first place, and I shouldn’t have gone today without informing you. It’s… I… I’ve always been this way. I get too carried away with some idea or another, and can’t see anything else around me – not the people around me, not their circumstances, not the consequences my ideas hold for them. I end up hurting those around me. So… I’m sorry. But this is different. Believe me when I say that the new deal doesn’t involve selling the shop. I’ve taken your wishes into account when drafting it – if you’ll just read it, I’m sure you’ll agree. Above all else, I don’t want you to hate me, Ros. This tension – I sure you feel it too. I want to get rid of that.”
Rosalind’s face softened.
“…Tell me anyway. Tell me about the deal.”
“So I can forgive you. So I can hear the same voice that betrayed my trust regaining it.”
I found it unnecessary, but also understood her intentions. Rosalind was a figure more emotional than most would think. I could, to an extent, empathise – I had been her emotional support for the past year or so, ever since Ruth left, and I had suddenly pronounced something as shocking as to sell the house where she had grown up. I should have known better, I should have taken it into consideration from the start, but what I should have done did not change the fact of what I had, in fact, done. Therefore, though I felt her insistence on my giving voice to the proposal to be slightly superfluous, I complied.
“We’re signing over the duties of management of the Ezov to Bainel – he’ll take over the day-to-day logistics and bookkeeping. We’ll still own the Ezov in name, but Bainel will be the one who keeps it running. He’ll receive 70% of the profits from the Ezov, while the remaining 30% will come to us. In exchange for having the majority share, he’ll assume responsibility for paying all costs associated with running the shop. In the event that he wishes to make some non-administrative change to the operation of the Ezov, such as changing its menu or adjusting our non-alcohol policy, he’ll need to seek our unanimous consent. He’s also offered to stock our shelves with high-quality tea and to provide training to our employees regarding etiquette and brewing techniques. He’s also offered to source for a talented chef to help to improve our menu. Both of these are non-administrative changes, so he’ll need your approval as well – the document is among that bundle.”
Rosalind stared at me blankly.
“Joint ownership? That exists?”
“Well, as far as I can tell, not yet, no. We’ll be the first.”
“Is this another idea from your world?”
“Yep. Well, I’m just referencing existing models in my world, and the economic climate is rather different, so I had to adapt it a bit, but it should work perfectly fine in this world, as well.”
Rosalind looked at the papers in her hands, unbelieving.
“And Bainel agreed to this? It seems like he’ll be putting in a lot of money.”
“That’s probably just how much he values this operation. That’s not all he’s offered to do. There’s another part to the proposal, regarding our future.”
“Yep. I told you that I was trying to make sure you had a way to travel, as you always wanted to do, right?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“I managed to figure out a way to turn that into even more profit – and Bainel wants in. Before the year ends, we’ll depart this town and travel around the country. While we travel, we’ll stop at every major city and hold a concert – which Bainel has agreed to fund, under the condition that the tickets be sold only at the Ezov. Our ticket sales will count as a part of the Ezov‘s income, so as per the agreement, he’ll receive 70% of the revenue from ticket sales. Naturally, the concert will be broadcasted back to the Ezov via Resound Jewel, for your fans staying here to watch.”
“Wait, wait. Hold on. How are the people in the other cities going to be able to purchase tickets if we only sell them in the Ezov? This town isn’t exactly easy to visit.”
I was impressed. The surprised look on her face clearly demonstrated that the idea of holding concerts in other cities had not occurred to her – but even so, she had immediately picked up on what seemed to be the biggest flaw in the plan. She had a good head.
“Ah, but that’s also part of the proposal. You’re aware of the guilds, and how guild branches operate, yes?”
“Well, we’re going to set up branches of the Ezov. In every major town, no less. Under the name of the Serene Ezov, we’ll set up numerous branches around the country, where we can sell merchandise and tickets for your concerts – naturally, the Resound Jewels that recieve the broadcasts of your concerts will also be installed in these branches. The name of the Serene Ezov will spread across the country, and might even become a household name. And Bainel has generously agreed to fund the establishment of these branches. We’ll be famous! …And rich, but mostly famous! Bainel’s also agreed to sponsor all our concerts – but that just shows how much profit he imagines that we’ll make.” I leaned back and crossed my arms with a grin. “So? How about it? Do you have any complaints with how I’ve handled it? Your dream is within reach, Rosalind. Your dream of travelling, and of making the Ezov a success. You once told me how you felt conflicted about choosing between the two. Well, with this, you don’t have to choose. You can do both!”
Rosalind stared at me, presumably stupefied. I laughed.
“You know, I’m a bit worried about whether your silence indicates awe or disapproval. It might be nice to grab a hint.”
Her response was to fly out of her chair and fling her arms around my neck. I could feel a trace of a warm, wet sensation on my shoulder. I slowly patted her flame-red hair that matched the color of her dress. She spoke, her words muffled by the fact that her mouth was pressed into my shoulder.
“Thank you… Thank you! This is… This is amazing…”
“That’s right. You get to – no, rather, we get to fulfill our dreams.”