(I'm starting to go back and rearrange all the stuff I wrote through so quickly last weekend.)
Gilly stood in the midst of excited and nervous girls in the grassy quad at the Nishiyama Shuuduoin, wearing her new and slightly itchy uniform. The buildings of the convent rose up around the crowd she stood in, with its Gothic windows paned in dark glass and stern architecture. The morning was a little cool, and she wore a cardigan over her white blouse with the narrow banded collar.
Though she stood near Tenshio, she did not hold his hand. At nearly twelve years old, she had begun to feel self-conscious about such displays of affection.
Her face had lengthened and her cheekbones had become more prominent. Above her large dark eyes were strongly marked, level eyebrows and a high, curving forehead.
Her silken shining hair was drawn neatly back from her face with two simple barrettes. The rest of her straight hair fell to her shoulders, where the ends persisted in curling up every which way.
She did not smile often and in repose her face held a quiet, almost studious reserve; an expression that mimicked the one she had seen most often on Tenshio’s face throughout the years.
Though she was not a particularly tall child, she had grown in height and her arms and legs were a bit on the gangly side. Tenshio no longer had to crouch down in order to see her eyes when he was speaking to her, though he still did so from time to time, out of both habit and affection.
Tenshio himself had not changed at all. For the slightly formal occasion of the first day of school, he wore a dark grey silk coat over his indigo hakama and layered kimono. His face was pale, calm and remote. He stood patiently, watching the crowd of other parents.
Every once in a while, Gilly would recognize one of her classmates and her somber face would light up. Inevitably, the parents and child would make their way over, to offer their respect to the Daitoku in pleasant and courteous phrases. It was almost as though Gilly and Tenshio stood at the center of a slow moving current in a pond.
Over the years, various history and geometry classes, as well as the attitudes of the villagers, had taught Gilly just how important the Daitoku was. He was important not just to the Nishiyama region, but to the entire daemon community and everyone knew him, if not by face, than by name.
Sometimes it surprised her, to come from a class where she had seen fuzzy black and white pictures of former Daitoku mina in her history book, their expressions stern, to find Tenshio waiting by the gate, in color and smiling.
The same authority figure that had charge over one of the most sacred places in the spirit realm was also the one that held fallen leaves, acorns and river rocks in his hands for her when they went for a walk up the stream, and bought her birthday presents, and tutored her in math.
“There is Aiko,” Tenshio said to Gilly quietly, bending toward her.
“Where?” whispered Gilly, her eyes searching out the crowd.
All the girls wore the same uniform and so were difficult to recognize them at first. Then Gilly heard the deep and carrying tones of Master Yuudai’s voice over the general murmur of the crowd. Standing on tiptoe, she caught sight of a dark curly head, and then Aiko was running up to her, her eyes bright; Gilly braced herself.
“Oh, Gilly, isn’t it exciting?” Aiko cried, squeezing the girl.
Aiko was still slightly taller than Gilly. Her loose hair tumbled around her shoulders. Her face had matured into the same classic beauty as her mother’s, though where her hair had come from, no one could tell. It wasn’t so noticeable when it was done up in the more formal styles that were typically worn outside of the school.
“We’re going to see each other all the time now!” Aiko exclaimed. “Master Tenshio,” she added, bowing belatedly.
“Miss Aiko,” replied Tenshio.
“Do we have a good room?” Aiko asked excitedly. Her things had been sent ahead, and Gilly and Miyoko had spent the last few days setting up the room the two girls would be sharing for the next year.
“I think so,” Gilly replied, cautiously, not entirely sure what constituted a good room.
Master Yuudai’s large frame had appeared out of the crowd, Lady Atsuka following in his wake. The two parties greeted each other warmly.
“Best of luck, Miss Gilly, on your first day of school,” Yuudai said to her.
“We’re so glad to have you in the same class,” Lady Atsuka added. “Little Aiko will be less homesick.”
“She can come over to Mrs. Miyoko’s house with me anytime I visit there, Lady Atsuka,” Gilly said earnestly.
The heavy bells hung in the chapel tower began to ring out, startling the birds that had been roosting there. They rose up with a confusion of black flapping wings against the morning sky.
Gilly watched a tearful Lady Atsuka hug Aiko close.
"Do you very best this year, Gillian," Tenshio said to her.
"Yes, sir," Gilly said, turning her attention to him. "I will."
“I know you will be kind to Aiko. It will be hard for her at first, a situation you can most certainly relate to.”
“Yes,” agreed Gilly, soberly.
“This is for luck," he said, smiling. He reached inside the folds of his kimono and brought out a small, silk wrapped package. Gilly took it respectfully in both hands, her face shining.
"Thank you very much, Master Tenshio," she whispered.
He patted her head fondly. "I will see you at the end of the week."