by Tari Gwaemir
Tomoyo and Eriol converse about change.
Tomoyo was too polite to gawk, of course, but she paused before the ornate scrollwork of the iron gates, hesitated over the thick curtains of ivy crawling up the old stone walls, and came to a halt before the marble staircase that loomed behind the front door. The porters carrying her suitcases stopped as well and fidgeted as she tilted her head back to examine the carved banisters, the oak-paneled walls and finally the chandelier that lit the dim front hallway. She clasped her hands behind her back and drew herself a little taller before starting briskly up the staircase.
When the porters had left her baggage in a neatly ordered pile in the center of the small but well-lit suite on the third floor of the overwhelming house, she allowed herself to drop into a chair with a little sigh and buried her face in her hands. "What am I doing here?" she asked the empty room through her fingers.
"Keeping an eye on me and my troublemaking ways, of course," answered a light-hearted voice. She looked up.
"Who else?" he replied, with a bow. "Sakura-san informed me that you would be arriving this morning, and I hurried over as soon as I could to deliver a proper welcome."
She smiled at him, and he felt his face flush as if he were still an awkward sixteen. "Thank you, Hiiragizawa-kun. It's a relief to see a familiar face."
"Am I still familiar then?"
"Certainly," she answered, her face serious. "You haven't changed at all since you last visited Tomoeda."
"One of the side effects of inheriting a magician's soul, I suppose," he said carelessly and sat down without invitation on the uncovered mattress. "What brings you to England, Tomoyo-san? Sakura-san didn't say much more than that you were here to study."
"Mother felt a year or two abroad would do me good. It would give me a chance to practice my English."
He gave her a sharp, assessing glance. She turned away and pretended to gaze out the window. "I suppose it has nothing to do with my cousin's recent return to Japan?"
Her smile did not falter. "They plan to announce their engagement next month."
"I'm surprised Xiao-lang took so long to propose."
"People do change, Hiiragizawa-kun. She was not the same Sakura he remembered. But they only fell in love all over again when he returned." She finally met his eyes, almost defiantly. "They make a beautiful couple."
He leaned back against the wall and observed the thin hands clenched in the folds of her skirt, the slight twist to her small pale mouth, and the unreadable expression in her unflinching eyes. The fall of her dark hair still bound in girlish ribbons against her shoulders, the shapeliness of her ankles half-hidden beneath her long skirt. His breath caught, despite himself, and he looked away.
"Hiiragizawa-kun," she began.
"Come, Tomoyo-san," he interrupted, his tone flippant and cheerful, "you must be exhausted from your journey. Let me treat you to lunch." He opened the door, ready to escort her.
She stood, but repeated, "Hiiragizawa-kun."
He smiled at her, his hand still on the door. "Yes?"
"Have I changed?"
He froze. After a pause, he forced himself to say calmly, "I don't know, Tomoyo-san. Have you?"
She sighed and did not answer.
He closed the door and walked toward her. Slowly, with shaking hands, he reached for one of her clenched fists and gently opened it, placing her palm between his own. He asked quietly, "Do you want to change?"
They stood there, her hand in his, eyes averted from each other. She said, just as quietly, "I don't know. It isn't something that I can start or stop by simply wanting, is it?"
"No, Tomoyo-san." He let her hand go and stepped back.
She took a deep breath and said quickly and desperately, "But I want to change, Hiiragizawa-kun. Sakura-chan asked me to try. I want to change too."
He looked startled at the outburst. He said, hesitantly, "She's not the same Sakura you remember either. Is she?"
Tomoyo mutely shook her head.
"I see," he said in an unsteady voice.
"Am I the same Tomoyo you remember, Eriol?"
He blinked at the use of his given name, but said without hesitation, "Yes. Always."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I can't. But I believe it anyway."
"Foolish Eriol," she said affectionately and took his arm. They left the room, side by side: a step at a time.