Merry paused before the door of the coffeehouse, some tiny place near the docks. She wanted nothing more than to turn and run – a petty part of her mind whispered that that’s what Rose had done, but she shushed it. She wasn’t Rose. If Merry wanted the people around her to be honest and not avoid uncomfortable situations, she had to do them the same courtesy. With a deep breath, she pushed open the door.
Rose was already sitting at a table in the corner, facing the door. She stood as Merry entered the room, and Merry embraced her lightly. “It’s so wonderful to have you back, Rose!” Her voice was as bright and cheerful as she could possibly make it.
Rose looked slightly uncomfortable with her greeting – Merry guessed that she had been expecting a much cooler response. Merry simply smiled. She was going be the bigger person here.
Merry and Rose sat down across from each other at the round, sturdy oak table. The coffeehouse was small, and mostly filled with tourists who had recently arrived in Kintargo. It was the perfect place – Merry wanted to avoid anyone who knew her as Maisie while meeting with Rose. That would be an awkward conversation.
Merry leaned back in her chair a little. “So tell me all about what you’ve been doing with the Pathfinders! How exciting!”
Rose smiled slightly, although Merry could tell she was avoiding eye contact. “It’s been interesting, certainly. I’ve been all over the place lately, but we just returned from excavating a keep in Nirmathas. I don’t even want to think about skeletons ever again.”
Merry laughed a little. “It sounds fascinating. I always knew you were perfect for that kind of thing. You’ve always been so smart.”
Rose nodded, then lapsed into a moment of awkward silence before speaking again. “Listen, Merry, I’m sorry about what I said before I left -”
“Don’t be,” Merry said, expending all her effort to keep her voice light. “You were right, it was a stupid thing to do. But I made it out, didn’t I?”
Rose shook her head. “But I should have done something. I just felt so hopeless. Everything was collapsing around me. I didn’t know what to do.”
“It’s in the past, Rose. We can’t do anything about it now.” Although her voice was as cheerful as ever, Merry could feel herself getting angry. Not now, she told herself. She could yell all she wanted once she was home. She had to keep up the mask in front of Rose.
Rose furrowed her brow. “I’ll never understand you. I don’t understand how you can stay so blithe when such horrible things are going on around you. I almost admire it, to be honest.”
Merry had to bite back a laugh. “I do my best.” If only Rose knew. It had been like this since their parents died – it was Merry’s job to stay positive and pull Rose back from despair and anger. Aunt Chastity’s mocking voice echoed through her mind. Our little thundercloud and ray of sunshine.
“Damn it, Merry.” Rose was frowning now. “I can’t handle this light princess shit. You’re not better than me just because you act like nothing happened. Get angry at me, or something. Anything.”
Merry smiled thinly, dropping the mask just a little. “Is that what you want? Would that make you feel better?”
Rose scowled. “At least your boyfriend had the decency to come right out and call me a bitch. Is this what Charmaine taught you? How to make people feel awful about themselves with a smile on your face?”
The mask cracked. Merry’s eyes narrowed, and her voice was quiet and hard. “Don’t ever speak to me about Charmaine. Or Corthos, for that matter. You haven’t seen me in five years, Rose. You have no idea about the kind of person I am now. But it seems that you’re the same as ever – absolutely self-centered.” She knew she was going to regret it, but by the gods, it felt so good to finally express how she felt.
A pause. Then Rose smirked. “I always knew you had it in you. That anger. You’re my sister after all.”
“You were the only one who got to show it,” Merry snapped. “I never had that chance. I was the ray of sunshine.”
Rose raised an eyebrow. “Like Chastity used to say? You can let go of the ravings of a madwoman who’s been dead five years. It’s okay. I give you permission.”
Merry sighed heavily. “It’s not just that. I… Even before, I was always the pretty one. Mamae’s good girl. You got to be the smart one. And at the Lion… you couldn’t show how you really felt, or someone would use it against you – one of the patrons or the girls or Charmaine herself. I’m trying so hard to be more honest about how I feel, but… gods damn it, Rose, it’s hard to unlearn something you’ve been doing all your life.”
Another pause, then Rose placed her hands on the table and folded them. “I never realized. I wouldn’t have, I guess. I’m sorry, then. Really. Ir abelas, lethallan.”
“Ir abelas.” Merry took a deep breath. “I am glad you came back, Rose. Even with my bitterness, I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” Rose bit her lip. “I regretted leaving every day, but I didn’t know how to come back. Or write to you. It seemed impossible. Your boyfriend is an ass, but he convinced me to do what I never could on my own.”
“Corthos is good at that.” Merry looked down at her hands, blushing slightly. “And it’s fiancé, actually.”
The look on Rose’s face was absolutely priceless – Merry wished she were a better artist so she could capture it to show Corthos later. Shock and confusion and the tiniest bit of delight all rolled into one. After a moment, Rose managed to compose herself. “Well then. Congratulations? He didn’t mention that when I saw him before.”
Merry smiled. “It’s a recent development. And I doubt that piece of information would have changed anything, knowing the two of you.”
Rose grinned. “True. He is an ass, though. You have to be aware.”
“He has a tendency to be, yes,” Merry replied with a laugh. Even after all that had happened, it was good to have Rose back.