"No, not that one. Too, hmmm, too summery. Try the green."
"Yes, mother," Emara murmurs, and obediently changes dresses. Again. Keeping her mouth shut has become more of an effort for every dress she tries. This one too long, that one too short, and what even does 'too summery' mean? It's just a dress. It's just a party. The world will not end if-
"-too sheer," her mother decides. "What about the red?"
Emma silently starts changing again. Then ducks awkwardly behind the screen when the door opens unexpectedly to reveal her father. "Dad! Changing!"
"What, still?" he says. "We're going to be late for the party, Emara, how long does it take to put on a dress?"
How many dresses? Emara thinks, mildly hysterically, as she tugs the red dress over her head and re-emerges. "All right?"
Her mother inspects her critically. "Well, it'll have to do. I wish it covered your shoulders, your skin just isn't doing well-"
"Party!" her father interjected impatiently. "That we are late for!"
My skin was fine before we moved, Emara doesn't say. She misses traveling. She doesn't really care about her father's business, much less understand it, but she liked the variety and, whenever possible, the languages. (There's something intrinsically appealing about the idea of saying things her parents can't understand.) But the business needs them here now, in the center of things, so here they are. Her parents adore it- the culture! the people! the parties!- but Emara's rather soured on the idea, lately.
She swipes her brush through her hair one last time before her mother can comment, wraps her shawl around her shoulders, and smiles at her parents. "All ready. Sorry to, um, keep you waiting."
"You look very nice," her mother says, and mostly sounds sincere, so Emara takes it as a compliment. "You'll make a lovely bride someday."
Emara scrambles, as politely as possible, for the door. Better to head that train of thought off before it begins.
As soon as they arrive, one thing becomes very clear immediately: Emara is wildly overdressed. (And if even Emara is noticing? It's egregious.)
"You said this was a fancy party!" her mother hisses to her father, her smile frozen in place. "Dress nicely, you said!"
"That's what they told me!" her father whispers back, before moving to thank their hosts for inviting them. Their hosts at least are far too polite to mention their outfits, but Emara spots a couple women behind them staring and whispering with grins. She sighs internally.
"This is not the impression we should be giving," her mother frets. "You don't want to be remembered as the girl who's trying too hard, not after that whole... incident."
"That wasn't my fault!" Emara can't stop herself from objecting.
"Really, Emara, you were just overreacting. Don't be so crazy about this," her mother scolds.
Emara- does not respond to that. This is definitely not the time. She pastes a smile on her face, and introduces herself politely when her father brings them over to their hosts for introductions, and curtsies when she should curtsy and fades back to let the adults chat when she should fade back. She makes it through exactly two artificially friendly conversations with women cooing over "what a bold fashion choice she's making, that dress!" before she heads for the buffet, because if she has to suffer through this party, in this dress, she's taking advantage of the food. And she's definitely taking advantage of the alcohol.
One glass of wine and two surprisingly delicious cheese tarts later, her mother catches up to her. "Stop snacking, you'll ruin your dinner," she says as Emara goes for a third tart. Emara blinks at her slowly, then takes the tart anyway. "Emara!"
"They're tasty," Emara says, and takes a bite.
"And full of who knows what. Your dresses are already getting too tight, sweetheart, it's very unattractive. You really should be more careful what you eat. Boys will notice these kind of thing."
Emara has... no response to that she can make in a room full of people. How has she reached the point where she has to care about what dress she wore to a party? She doesn't actually want to know the answer to that, so she takes a sip of wine instead. "Um, boys? What boys? You said this wasn't a matchmaking party?" she reminds her mother. It's why she'd agreed to come in the first place.
"It's not intended as one," her mother corrects her, "but surely there'll be nice young men here. And you really should be more friendly, Emara, you're never going to meet anyone standing by the tables."
"Fine," Emara says. "I'll move."
"Watch your tone," her mother warns, but leaves her be.
Emara watches her go, takes another cheese tart, and promptly walks outside into the garden.
The grounds are lovely. It may not be summer, but it's a warm evening with the slightest breeze, and the gardens are clearly a feature of the estate. Small paths wind past bushes and under trees, and they're clever about disguising where the property borders up against the neighboring park, which makes the whole thing feel much larger than she's sure it really is. Her shoes aren't the most practical for cobblestone, so she finds a chair that looks reasonably private and settles into it. It's some kind of smooth white stone, prettily carved and more comfortable than she'd expected from stone, and she relaxes to enjoy the quiet and the view of the party through the arched glass doorways.
She's halfway through her tart and just regretting not bringing a napkin when her mother appears and offers one, looking clearly disappointed. Emara takes it and wipes her hands and is about to offer it back when she sees her mother's expression, reconsiders, and puts it down on the arm of the chair. "Um, thank you."
"What are you doing out here, Emara," her mother sighs. "We just talked! I told you, you need to be mingling."
"I mingled," she says defensively. "They were, um. Nasty about my dress."
"I told you, we should have gotten you a new one," her mother says. "You've had this one forever, it's getting tight around the hips, you should at least get it tailored-"
"I've had it one year," Emara says shortly. "And it still fits, and it looks fine."
"It's bunching around the arms," her mother corrects.
"Which doesn't matter!" Emara says. "It looks fine!"
"Emara," her mother says sternly. "You've already had one relationship fall apart, you can't afford to let yourself slide-"
Emara doesn't quite lose it on the spot. She looks around for other people, at least. And when she has confirmed that everyone else at the party is still inside, then she starts in. "I. Look. Fine. No one could possibly care less if the dress fits right when I'm this overdressed, which is not my fault, and we didn't break up because of the size of my hips!"
Her mother looks actually shocked for a moment, then settles somewhere between angry and upset. "Emara! Just because you lost your chance with Kileran-"
"Uh. I did not 'lose my chance,' because, uh, I did not do anything. He was apparently just interested in the business connection, and he found himself someone with better wine industry connections, and that's kinda not something I control! At all!"
"And I am allowed to find someone who likes me, right, not my business connections, gods, at least if he'd just wanted me for my body that would still have been about me-"
"I will find someone! Eventually! And it does not need to be tonight, and they will not be limited by a certain number of cheese tarts, if they care they're not worth it and until then I will just eat the cheese tarts because they're delicious, it's not the end of the world!"
"If you're going to be this much of a pill, then perhaps you should stay out here," her mother says stiffly. "Your father and I can come find you when we're ready to go." She turns around and heads towards the party. "Try not to make more a scene," she adds before she vanishes inside.
Emara looks around, realizes she's stood at some point in all that yelling, and flops back down. She looks at her remaining half a cheese tart. "I hope you're worth it," she tells it dolefully, and finishes it off.
Then she downs the rest of her wine. Ugh. This party.