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A BAND OF ROSES
by Pat McDermot

To prevent a second assassination attempt against his wounded daughter,
King Brian sends her to Japan as the nominal wife of a wealthy businessman.
While warrior-in-training Talty recovers, she ponders romance.

* * * * *

Kiyoshi gradually introduced me to the equipment, and soon he and I were sparring with kendo sticks, a Japanese bata of sorts. As much as I prized his patience and skill, his polite constraint had me longing for Neil, who’d never hesitated to knock me on my duff.

One morning as I swung my kendo stick at a hanging bag of straw, I realized that Neil must be flying with the Air Corps by now. An elusive image of him kissing some faceless girl interrupted my attack.

Naturally he’d be kissing her. They’d all be kissing the girls, rogues and rascals that they were. I, however, had never gotten a real kiss from any fella. Ever.

I whacked the bag with the kendo stick.

I thought I must really be healthy again to be wondering about romance.

Sex, actually.

Eric treated me like his foster child, but I began to wonder if I could change that. He was my husband after all, and I was curious to know what romance would be like.

Sex, actually.

I needed my mother.

I whacked the bag again.

I’d try speaking to Imi.

* * * * *

If my father and Eric had negotiated the consummation of the marriage as part of their business arrangement, I knew nothing about it. I’m sure my physical condition at the time precluded such discussions. However, I wondered. Though Eric was nearly twenty years older than me and had never even hinted at such things, I wondered. The scars on my chest would repulse even the most dedicated suitor. Still, I wondered.

One evening after dinner, Imi consented to my request for a private talk. When she answered my knock, I slid open the rice paper door and entered her private world. I expected conservative quarters, in keeping with the lady herself. The explosion of colors nearly knocked me down.

Konban wa, Imi-san.”

“Good evening to you, Talty-san. Please, come in.”

I closed the door behind me and stood transfixed. Chinese rugs covered the floors. Carved wooden chests had me guessing what prizes they held. Then I looked up.

Magnificent antique kimonos adorned the walls, each stretched to display embroidered designs ranging from simple to elaborate. Cranes in flight graced the back of a gorgeous black garment to my right. A majestic phoenix suspended over red and gold flowers hung to my left. Silk robes embedded with metallic green and blue chrysanthemums shone from their perches. Embroidered peonies blazed everywhere.

“Your collection is lovely, Imi. I’ve never seen such fine things in a museum.”

Imi lowered her eyes. “They are my one indulgence. Especially the wedding kimonos. Sometimes I imagine wearing them to the wedding I never had.”

Wedding kimonos. What a great opening. I sat, determined to end my wondering. “I’ve been thinking about weddings myself. Mine and Eric’s, to be precise. You know that Eric married me as a favor to my family.”

“Yes. I think he made a wise decision.”

I smiled at the compliment. “Imi, what happens when girls in Japan marry?”

Her face scrunched in question.

“I mean, how do they know…what to do? Do their mothers talk to them?”

None of Imi’s kimonos matched the brilliance of her smile. “Girls from wealthy homes can go to special marriage lessons. Men treasure more a bride who has this training.”

Well, of course they would. Even I knew that. “How do you get this training? Can only Japanese girls go?”

“You want to be Eric’s real wife?”

I nodded. If Imi was beside herself with joy, I was behind myself with embarrassment. I’d started this, however. I’d finish it. “If he’s amenable. I don’t know, though. He doesn’t—”

“I can arrange these lessons, Aijou. It would be my wedding present to you and Eric.”

Calling me “beloved daughter” was a recent development. Technically, I was her niece-in-law, and Eric her nephew. However, I’d often heard her call him Aisoku, “beloved son.”

“I don’t want Eric to know. Not yet. I’m not sure he’ll like the idea. I’m not sure he even thinks of me that way.”

“All he needs is one night with you. Everything will be fine then.”

I let out a breath and thanked her. Talking to her hadn’t been as hard as I’d thought.

* * * * *

As was proper, Imi accompanied me to the establishment where the marriage lessons took place. She enjoyed tea with the older ladies while I met with my classmates. Gaijin that I was, they stared at me, though only for a moment. I suspected they felt just as awkward to be receiving these instructions as I did.

The sessions were basic, though graphic. Boys of about eighteen entered the room wearing silk robes until several older women disrobed them to provide various demonstrations. We weren’t supposed to touch the boys, only watch. After five classes, I knew more about boys and their privities than I ever thought there was to know.

Now all I had to do was find the right moment to show Eric how much I appreciated everything he’d done for me.

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