After some time had passed, with a countless number of curious glances directed in their direction, Lily dislodged herself from Iris. Tate, who had at this point decided to sit on the steps, drawing circles on the ground while waiting for them to finish, jumped up. She excitedly ran in front of the pair and spun to face them.
“Ugh, that took forever! Well? You want to go see the jeweler now?”
Lily felt the conspicuous lack of gold in her coin purse, but she smiled and nodded. It seemed like Tate really wanted to go, and after forcing the 13 year old to wait for so long, it was the least she could do. Even if she lacked the financial means to buy anything, she could at least go take a look at what they had on display.
Tate led them down the streets, taking a highly familiar path. She was clearly not joking when she said it was close to her house. The shop was literally on the same street as the smithy, just four lots down. Similar to Tate’s parents’ smithy, the jeweler felt very welcoming, with a modest display showing gems of various cuts and colours, set into varying accessories, with a brightly-painted wooden sign above the door that read “Simply Brilliant”.
Tate skipped up to the door and knocked on it lightly. After a few moments, a woman in her mid-thirties opened her door, her face lighting up in delight.
“Tate! What a pleasure!”
She shifted her gaze to Lily and Iris. She first bent down to pat Iris on the head.
“You must be a friend of hers.”
She turned to Lily.
“And you must be this little one’s mother?”
Lily started chuckling. She knew her build and appearance made her appear older than she was, but to be mistaken for Iris’ mother was…unexpected, to say the least.
“Sister, actually. I’m Lily, she’s my little sister Iris. Nice to meet you.”
The woman blinked as Lily extended her hand for a shake. Recovering quickly, the woman took the offered hand and shook it vigorously.
“Oh my, I’m terribly sorry. You just looked so mature, I assumed – terribly sorry. I’m Rose, owner of this store. Please, come in.”
Without waiting for a response, she ushered the trio into the shop. The interior of the shop was primarily composed of wooden tables, covered in glass cases, housing jewelry in a number of shapes and sizes. Lily walked over to one such table, which was covered in row upon row of simple round brooches, each containing a small piece of some kind of blue jewel inlaid in silver. A slight tingle ran up Lily’s spine. Her <<Probing>> was picking up traces of magic – small, but present. She turned to Rose.
“These are enchanted, aren’t they?”
Rose’s eyes widened.
“Yes! I’m surprised you could tell. They have a weak <<Barrier>> enchantment on them, so they’ll protect you from danger. Tate helped me with these.”
The half-shield girl puffed out her chest proudly.
“Well, are you looking for anything in particular? A magical accessory? Or just fashion?”
Lily scratched her head.
“Ah… Well… About that… I’m not actually planning to buy anything today; I don’t have the money.”
Rose nodded understandingly.
“I see… well, do feel free to look around. Tate’s friends are always welcome.”
Lily waited for Tate to busy herself staring at a particular display, before she moved up closer to Rose, who was watching the 13 year old with a contented smile.
“You seem really close to Tate.”
Slightly surprised, Rose jumped, then answered.
“She comes here often. She loves spending afternoons just looking at my displays. And… I always wanted to have a daughter, but… that’s not possible for me. So she’s just like a daughter to me. When I look at her, I imagine her as my own, laughing and staring at the jewels that I sell.”
“Not possible? Why not?”
Lily’s mouth uttered her thoughts, just moments before she realised the insensitivity of the question. Rose’s face showed a brief flash of pain, then returned to a neutral expression. Her left hand traced a groove on her right ring finger.
“I’d rather not talk about it, if it’s okay with you.”
Without another word on the subject, the party spent a leisurely afternoon in the shop, waving goodbye to Rose as the daylight began to fade. They walked a few steps down to Tate’s home, where Jeremiah ran forward and hugged Tate, while glaring daggers at Iris and Lily.
Behind him, Jeanne emerged from her shield and whacked him lightly on the head, causing him to release Tate, who was growing increasingly red.
“Dad, not in front of Lily!”
“But why? I’m your father! What does it matter if I hug you?”
“You’re embarrassing me!”
“You had no problems with it before! Why now? It’s because of her, isn’t it!?”
Jeremiah pointed an accusing finger at Lily with tears streaming down his eyes, causing Jeanne to hit him on the head again, slightly harder. While he lay on the floor clutching his head, Tate buried her face in her hands to hide her embarrassment.
“I’m terribly sorry for that. He hasn’t quite accepted that Tate has someone more important than him now.”
Tate turned even redder.
“Thanks for bringing her home. Do you want some tea? A snack?”
Lily turned to Iris, the two girls sharing a meaningful glance.
“No, we’re fine, but… Is there anywhere we can be alone? There’s something we need to do in private.”
Jeanne cocked an eyebrow, lips forming a suggestive smile.
“Oh my. How about her room?”
“Second floor, last door on the left. I’ll make sure Jeremiah doesn’t disturb you, so make sure you really firm up your connection.”
Lily stared. Jeanne seemed to have come to a very mistaken conclusion regarding Lily’s intent. On the floor, the prone man whimpered. Shrugging, Lily turned to Tate, who looked around frantically for a few moments, turning finally to her mother. Jeanne simply smiled serenely and puffed her ample chest out with pride. Sighing in resignation, Tate swiveled around and led the way up the stairs to her room.