Setting 24: 1812 DAY 23, Deling City, Caraway’s Mansion 2F (Master Bedroom)

"Everyone has a talent; what is rare is the courage
to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads."

-Jong, Erica
The Craft of Poetry

Rinoa opened her eyes and then double-checked to see if she had.

She had, which meant if she still could not see anything, then someone had turned off the lights while she was snoozing. She made a mental note to fire and kill that certain someone, and not necessarily in that order.

Rinoa sat up and swung her legs over where she guessed the side of the bed was. Before hopping to her feet, though, she huffed prissily. It was the acme of skill that one could only master through years of stringent training in the ways of dignified, traditional, upper-class propriety. It was also extremely outdated, but at that moment, all alone in the dark, she felt like being silly.

He hasn’t called me all this time, she lamented suddenly. She punched her pillow in a fit of helplessness.

She might have known that not calling was one of his talents.

And generically they have so few in the first place, she sulked.

It was written clearly in their job description right next to piss her off and make her cry. Either that or it was in their genetic code, universal to their gender.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered crossly, pretty sure that she was scolding him at the beginning but worried towards the end that she might be referring to herself.

Why does every guy I fall for make me feel this awful? Rinoa grieved. All two of them.

The certainty that neither guy ever kicked himself when she didn’t call him seemed extremely unfair and was eating away at her self-esteem. She considered getting him a cell phone just so she could convince herself that being able to talk to him wherever he went and whenever she wanted to was the same thing as being right there beside him all the time.

And yet, through it all, the General had assured her that his negotiations with the Estharian President were being drafted and notarized. By Galbadian law, the procedures to acquire a legal betrothal license was surprisingly more complicated than getting one for either divorce or marriage. Rinoa had expressed her desire to be present during one of the electronic negotiations but the General had insisted that that would not be possible.

E-marriages…the latest fad, she ran a mock advertisement in her head dryly. Welcome to the future.

She frowned, remembering how he had sent her back to the master bedroom right after she asked. She was really getting accustomed to being locked inside all day. She had spared no energy familiarizing herself with every aspect of her cell.

Rinoa looked around the darkened room, mentally inserting where each piece of furniture should be. During the day, when she was bored, which was most of the time, she would close her eyes and navigate through the room for hours and never forget where she was. Once the sun had set, she could do it all over again with her eyes open and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

What a clever way to double the fun! she cheered herself on.

Maybe it was her father’s way of trying to hold on before he had to let her go for good. He was never this protective of her, not even after her mother died. Uncle Zen had taken up the slack and took charge of leading her through her emotional growth, which in retrospect might not have been the most desirable thing because of his habit of ruffling the social norms. If she was the beneficiary of her father’s bluntness, then she was the heiress to her uncle’s sarcasm.

So it all made sense why she was being treated like a child again right before her legal promotion to woman status. The General was acting weird lately because of a natural defense mechanism. He would miss being a father, even if she never acted like she was his daughter.

Rinoa might have felt sorry for him if she did not resent the fact that she was still grounded so much. Maybe he was grounding her now because he would miss being able to ground her at all later. She could not make any calls out of the house, she was restricted to this room and the kitchen, and she was not allowed to see Angelo.

She pouted when the last thought came to mind. My poor honey baby is all alone without his mommy!

The General had gone back on his word; he never did let her baby into the mansion, and she knew this because Angelo had continued to bark from day-in to day-out. She was actually surprised that he wasn’t barking his head off right at that minute.

Rinoa wondered if anyone had been feeding him over the past week. She knew that the only reason why she was allowed to go into the kitchen was because their butlers could not cook worth chocobo fodder and she would have starved to death if she didn’t fix herself some sustaining sandwiches. She always ate by herself too.

Probably because military men are too proud to eat, she theorized.

Rinoa sighed, still unable to shake off the feeling of enslavement that the term ‘grounded’ had inflicted upon her.

He is so mean! she raged. She threw a pillow to where she estimated the door was and imagined her father’s face on the door in a dartboard-type arrangement.

The General had actually gone as far as to cut all the phone lines in the house except those in the communication room, which he hogged whenever he hadn’t disappeared to somewhere else. He had also stationed guards outside his bureau room in case she tried to use the exit to the sewers behind the cabinet as Quistis, Zell, and Selphie had done.

All this just to make a me taking this grounding seriously, Rinoa scoffed, trying to convince herself that she still hated him or that she ever really hated him at all.

Whatever, she concluded her thoughts and got to her feet. The next few minutes she spent skipping around in the darkness and entertaining herself with following the paths of circles and figure-eights without running into anything. In the process, she quickly became acquainted with the creaking noises that each of steps made against the old wooden floor tiles under the rug. There was one spot seven paces from the door and three more from there towards the window that sounded different from the rest, which, in her present state of abysmal boredom, merited her undivided attention.

She rushed to the desk lamp and tried to switch it on. When she failed, she tried the room lights. That attempt frustrated as well, she resorted to the battery-powered flashlight sitting in the middle drawer of the desk. After her pupils had properly constricted to operate in the new level of illumination, she ran back to the curious spot, kicked away the rug, and knocked on the tile with her fist. It sounded hollow underneath and felt loose. Her nails provided excellent leverage so she was able to pry away the board with little problem. Upon removing it, she discovered a small compartment with a little book tucked inside it. Further inspection revealed that it was the diary of Julia Heartilly.

Faced with such an irresistible temptation to open it and delve into her mother’s every secret, Rinoa did was every responsible daughter would have done in that same situation. She plopped onto the bed, wiggled into a comfortable position, and flipped open the cover to the first page.

It was a meticulously-kept daily journal that clued her in by the twentieth page on how interesting her mother had been. She regretted that she had to get it from a book instead of hearing it from her father or from actually getting to know her mother.

She found some old sketches, a discolored picture of Laguna, Kiros, and Ward in Galbadian military uniform, and scribbles of lyrics to songs she had never heard of. There were also multiple drafts of lyrics and notes to her hit single “Eyes On Me.”

Rinoa shook her head critically after skimming through her mother’s edited versions of the song.

Mother, mother, she chided, you really should have learned how to conjugate your verbs before you released this one, or at least consulted an Anglophone editor.

Rinoa blinked in a jarring moment of realization.

It was the realization that she would soon be having a realization. Rinoa scowled and thought hard to try to figure out why the diary was so important.

The standalone grandfather clock was ticking in a manner that made her feel stupid.

So I’m about to make a realization, she encouraged herself, but could not for the life of her convert her blank stare to an enlightened one.

What am I realizing? Rinoa wondered desperately.

It seemed like she had been ruminating for forever. Forever being four minutes and twenty seconds. It was the most protracted realization she had ever had. And the clock was really starting to get on her nerves.

You can do it, Rinoa, she supported herself. She relaxed her clenched fists and pushed any desire to wrench the clock’s pendulum out of the compartment and break it in half over her knee out of her thoughts. Just focus. You’re so close to making a realization.

And then, it hit her.

She was holding in her hands all the evidence Uncle Zen would need to prove to the Wong lady that her mother was not a plagiarist.

This is the missing diary that they never found! Rinoa finally realized, kicking her feet so excitedly that the bed frame rattled. The angels sprang out from the clouds with their starry trumpets and burst into song.

Her feet slowed to a rest with her second realization – that her mother had chosen the hidden compartment as a safe to lock away her past because it contained a secret so awful that she would not produce the book to save her fortune and name.

Rinoa scowled, remembering how Zen had told her about the mystery behind the purpose of the trust fund and the identities of the ten trustees.

Why would she leave it all to them and not to me? she wanted to scream. And why didn’t she want anyone to find this diary?

She probably would have done so if she thought it would have made a difference and if her eyes didn’t catch something scrawled along the side margins of the page to which her baby picture was pasted. Julia had written “now a girl” with a smiley-face emoticon.

At least that was what Rinoa thought had been scribbled there. She searched for a better explanation or some context and even tried to reread it, but stopped straining her eyes when she noticed that it was becoming harder to read not because it was illegible, but because the flashlight’s bulb was dimming. The damned contraption was running out of batteries.

To Diablos with it, she cursed. I’m willing to bet my wedding dress that they’re Galbadian brand batteries. How like my father to take advantage of the military’s warehouse surplus when everyone knows the only reliable power sources are from Esthar.

She shook her head and hopped back onto her feet. There was no way that she was going to wait until the sun came back up to comb through the rest of the book. She wanted some answers.

There was nothing left to do but check the circuit breakers in the basement to see if they were fried and reset them if they weren’t.

Rinoa carefully replaced the diary where she had found it and covered it back up. Then, enshrouded in darkness, she primped herself before trying her luck with the door handle. Once again, the General had neglected to lock it.

“Some grounding experience,” she sneered under her breath.

Rinoa opened the door a crack and peeked outside. The snoring of the guards on either side of the door was not hard to miss.

No surprise there, she told herself. After all, that’s what they get paid to do – sleep while standing upright, like the birds do.

She giggled and boldly stepped into the hallway.

With the lights out, they probably wouldn’t be able to see me even if they were awake, she reasoned. Unless, of course, he furnished them with night-vision goggles.

That was what Rinoa liked best about the military’s warehouse surplus. It always managed to slip into domestic use. But she had nothing to worry about from the two snoozing security personnel. The coast was clear.

“Now,” she joked, “let’s find out what’s hiding in the basement.”

Chapter 25