Bitter 568

It was very odd. A few minutes talking to Lin, and Britta didn’t feel anywhere near as anxious as she had a moment ago.

Britta’s plan was to become smart and educated and she has assumed the rest would follow — a fulfilling job, confidence, respect from the people around her. If she had expertise in a field, not just the minimum level of competence required, then people would want her services and consider her a valuable addition to their team.

That was the theory.

But Lin seemed to have a whole other level of engagement that could affect people around her without the need to demonstrate her accomplishments or throw her weight around.

How did she do it?

Mum was already going through her wardrobe looking for a suitable outfit when Britta went to find her.

“What about Dad?” Britta asked her.

“Oh, he doesn’t want to go.”

Britta got the feeling he hadn’t been asked, but he probably wouldn’t have wanted to go anyway. He was far too involved with his new role as worldwide media spokesman for the game.

“What kind of place is it? Do I have to dress up?” It was supposed to be a business meeting but with Lin there was the strong possibility it was going to be quite a swanky place. Going in jeans probably wasn’t a good idea.

“Wear that dress you wore for Gayle’s wedding.”

Gayle was Britta’s cousin. She had married a guy she met at university who was going bald even though he was in his early twenties. It was a superficial and shallow thing to focus on, but there wasn’t much else to do at a wedding.

“It’s a bit too… fancy, isn’t it?” The dress in question was made of brown chiffon with a cream bow on the back that made sitting down awkward. Something she didn’t realise when trying it on in the store. “And I haven’t worn it in two years. It might not even fit.”

“It’s just a business dinner,” said Mum. “Don’t worry too much about it.” She smiled encouragingly, and then pulled out her nicest black dress that she only wore when she was going to a family event where she wanted to make sure her relatives were suitably impressed.

Britta tried on the brown dress but it only made her feel self -conscious. She went through her wardrobe and realised how few clothes she had for going out. It hadn’t mattered until now since she never had anywhere to go. With all the money she now had, she really needed to get at least one outfit for a posh outing.

She liked shopping as much as any girl, but what kind of functions would she need to be prepared for? How would she know what was appropriate? It made her anxious to even think about it.

The doorbell rang and since Mum was changing and Dad was lost somewhere in cyberspace, Britta answered it. The tall driver stood there, carrying a bunch of bags.

“You’re a bit early, aren’t you?” It had only been ten minutes since Lin’s call.

The driver held out the bags. “Miss Wu asked me to give you these.”

They were clothes from shops she’d never heard of, but the quality of the carrier bags was enough to tell her they were not cheap.

“Thanks.” Britta took them from him. “Do you want to come in?”

“I’ll wait in the car,” he said, his voice neutral and devoid of any warmth. His presence was still reassuring, but in a completely different way to Lin. Where Lin made things feel at ease because you were her equal (even though you weren’t), he made it feel like you definitely weren’t his equal, but he would take care of any problems, so there was nothing to worry about.

Britta got dressed in the clothes Lin had sent without even looking them over. If Lin thought this was appropriate, then it was. Britta was actually quite interested to see what Lin would put her in.

The dress was red and black with a floral pattern down one side. It was a very tight fit, but exactly the right size for her, which as both surprising and not surprising. It was made of satin which was very pleasant to be in.

It had a vaguely Chinese look to it, but not in a way you would be able to pinpoint. Britta looked at herself in the mirror and almost didn’t recognise herself.

Mum helped her with her hair and kept telling her how lovely she looked, which Britta didn’t really know how to deal with. Accepting the compliments would only make her feel bad when she had to return to her normal state.

The driver opened the car door for them and they set off in the luxury minivan with tinted windows and seats that would have been at home in an aeroplane.

It was a Chinese restaurant, but unlike any Britta had ever been to. Everything was red and gold, and the chandeliers sparkled like diamonds. There were a lot of people, dressed in a variety of styles, but no jeans and tee shirts.

The driver led them through the noise and colour to where Lin was seated at a large round table by herself. Even though the place was crowded, the three tables around her were all empty. She looked utterly stunning, without makeup and wearing a very simple dress that showed off her shoulders and arms, but was very conservative otherwise.

Lin greeted them with kisses (not the driver, who only received a dark look).

“Welcome. So nice to see you. Please, sit down.”

Waiters immediately appeared and danced around them, taking orders for drinks. Britta asked for sparkling water, which seemed like a safe choice. Food had already begun to arrive without being ordered. Britta was relieved she wouldn’t have to pick anything from a menu. She felt way out of her depth.

“You look lovely,” said Lin to Britta.

“Thank you. It was nice of you to send me something to wear. I didn’t have anything, um, suitable.”

“Nonsense,” said Lin, more playful than scolding, “you could have worn whatever you pleased as long as it was something you felt comfortable in.”

It was both a fair point, and by the same token, a very unfair one. Britta would have felt uncomfortable no matter what she chose. That was the problem.

“So, I hear you’ve met with L-15,” said Lin, as they started with small balls of fish that tasted sweet at first and then salty.

“Yes,” said Britta. “Is that unusual?”

“You’re the first player he’s ever interacted with,” said Lin. “So, yes, it is quite unusual. The others who’ve been sent to make contact with him have all failed to even meet him. And yet he searched you out. Unique might be a better word for it.”

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