As I lie down to sleep in a bed with far too much space and comfort, I realise that somehow, Amaryllis has taught me how to remember the ceremony. I stare up at the ceiling, the shadowed vaults carved with painted, gold stars, as if the roof is missing, and practice the hand gestures and movements. I try to perfect the way my hands have to move as I walk towards Calliope and Akantha, becoming drowzy until I begin to see the layout of the ceremony on the backs of my eyelids, and I slip away into sleep.
* * *
In the morning, I do not move from my bed, listening to the sounds of other Muses and their mentors buzzing around the courtyard outside my window. It's the first time that I can just observe, rather than racing from building to building to find my class when I wake up late. I can do what I want today, I have liberty until sunset comes, and the ceremony begins. It's the summer solstice as well, so I can hear the footsteps of attendants preparing everything downstairs. It's ten o' clock before I slip out from the covers, but I remain in my night clothes, finding it pointless to change into something else since I will soon have to be dressed for the ceremony. My hair has remained soft and tidy in the cloth Amaryllis tied it in yesterday evening, and it falls around my face like water as I look at myself in the mirror. Even I have to admit that I look pretty, for the first time I can say it and not feel narcissistic or embarrassed. Somehow, the oils and creams they applied to my face seem to have masked my childish freckles so that my skin is clear and without blemishes. My eyebrows have been plucked so that they are tidy and low-arching, and I can still faintly smell lavender oil on my skin.
There's a soft wind blowing through the open windows, the air already hot and searing gently over my shoulders. The view is just as beautiful, more so it seems on this day; my birthday. I'm sixteen today, but it seems like a moot point. I'm without Marissa, or Thaddeus or Mother, and everything's too quiet for my liking. I don't feel at home in this apartment, none of it can ever belong to me. It has and will belong to each and every one of us for a couple of nights, and that's it. It unnerves me as I imagine my classmates waking up just like me, and I wonder if they felt as alone as I do now.
I don't want to be alone on my birthday. Mother wouldn't want that.
An idea occurs to me, and I bite my lip as in a rush like the sweep of a wave, it takes hold of me.