Book of Miracles

As Quistis walked into the quaint little shop, the crisp, woody scent of paper swept over her and she paused to absorb the ambiance. She'd always loved the little stationary shop that was perched on edge of one of Dollet's winding, sea-side streets and its familiarity was welcoming. The paper-smell was accompanied by the smoky ting of tobacco from the owner's husband's cigars and the hint of tea rose that came from the rosewater sold in their charming cut-crystal vials and it wrapped around her even before she'd cleared its threshold.

Rinoa entered the shop behind her, the tinkling of the shop bell announcing her arrival and warning Quistis to step out of the way.

She looked curiously, her dark eyes ink-bright with her enchantment. "This place is wonderful, Quistis," Rinoa said in a hushed, awed tone, crowding close to her friend. "I'm so glad you brought me here!"

"I like it, too," Quistis admitted, glancing around at the shelves heavy with books and candles, inkpots and paperweights and a row of curling, decorative desk lamps in brass and silver and glass. There were tables, too, stacked high with cards and hand-made stationary as well as displays of pens and inks and quills and wax seals. The small space was so tightly filled that the girls couldn't even walk side-by-side; instead Quistis trailed behind an enthusiastic Rinoa as they surveyed all the wares that the shop had to offer.

As she admired a particularly fine, hand-made paper that could be made into cards or stationary at the buyer's choice, Quistis reflected back on how she'd ended up in the Turritella stationary shop in Dollet on a shopping trip with Rinoa.

It had been Rinoa's idea, for the most part; she'd been lamenting how fragmented the group had become in the wake of Ultimecia's defeat, the way she never spent any time with her SeeD friends now that they'd returned to their typical duties. Quistis, still working as part of the administration, still tending the school's needs in a non-combative, non-instructional fashion, was the easiest to locate for a proposed outing.

With no reason to say no, she'd agreed and it had been on her suggestion that they took the train to Dollet for the shopping excursion â€" "Something normal girls do," Rinoa had requested. "Something fun! And, ideally, with no weapons involved" â€" they'd decided upon.

The shop, too, had been Quistis's find, although she didn't know why she'd led her friend there, other than she knew Rinoa was fond of books and pretty things and there was no shop in Dollet that Quistis correlated more with 'pretty things' than she did the Turritella. She'd thought so since the first time she'd visited the shop with her foster mother who had been forever writing letters on thick, expensive stationary emblazoned with her monogram and sealing them with bright-red sealing wax in the shape of a dainty songbird.

Quistis could remember that visit, the way the bronze light off the ocean had poured through the shop window, gilding everything with its warmth. After learning about the memory loss caused by GF-use, she was grateful for every stray remembrance she had but that one was particularly sweet. It had been the first thing about her new home that she'd liked and she'd always looked forward to shopping trips that had included it on the itinerary.

She'd even once visited the shop on her own, having saved her meager gil to purchase one flower-pressed card as a gift for foster mother's birthday and she remembered being so nervous that her little hands had dropped the gil on the floor twice before it had made it into the proprietress's hands.

Quistis also remembered the way her foster mother had â€" or rather, hadn't â€" reacted to a little girl's heartfelt gift and it was one memory she wished she'd lost in favor of keeping another, more happy one.

As she'd expected, Rinoa made a beeline to the rows of old and rare books that lined the shelves, old tomes that discussed etiquette and manners and gardening â€" all the things that mattered to the well-bred Dolletian ladies who'd made up most of the Turritella's clientele in years past. They were beautiful with tooled leather covers, elegant inscriptions and gilded edges; Quistis could understand their appeal.

Her attention, on the other hand, was drawn to the narrow bookcase where the hand-bound journals were showcased, each one slightly different from its neighbor. She picked up one with a leather cover decorated in etched whorls and thumbed through it, fingers trailing across the lined pages.

For as long as she could remember, Quistis had entertained the idea of keeping a journal, though she'd forgotten what had originally inspired her to do so. She'd bought several blank journals over the years, everything from composition notebooks to the beautifully crafted ones like the Turritella carried, drawn to them and what they'd represented.

At one time, she'd wondered why she kept buying them; knowing her secret, childish fascination with her book of old fairy tales, Quistis had once theorized that they reminded her of the grand tomes the stories had featured and she blamed her collection on whatever it was that made her hold on to those childhood fantasies.

Knowing what she did of the GFs and memories, though, she couldn't help but wonder if something inside her had been able to feel the memories slipping away somehow, if somewhere deep inside she'd felt them disappearing and had subconsciously tried to hold onto them in any way she could.

But, as much as she'd been drawn to them and as many as she'd bought, Quistis also knew that she'd never been able to faithfully keep one past more than a few entries before it would be abandoned in some dim corner of her room. She'd once had about half a dozen journals hidden among her things but they'd all been thrown away the day she'd lost her teaching license, tossed out with her lesson plans and textbooks, just another symbol of the times she'd failed in the course of her young life.

Quistis thought about that failure as she automatically moved from inspecting one journal to another, idly setting aside the leather book for a paper one with a watercolor-painted front and smooth, unlined pages

Maybe it wasn't so much a failure, she decided, as that same-something within her contradicting itself, pushing and pulling on the same fears of her ebbing memory. Maybe as much as she'd wanted to hold onto to the memories seeping away, she'd also wanted to protect herself, to guard herself from the knowledge of what was happening. And perhaps that fear had always won out and the journals were abandoned because some part of her feared that keeping one would alert her to the truth -- and somehow it was more frightening to know she was losing memories than to simply lose them.

She had to admit that she was cautiously optimistic about her memories now -- about all of their memories. Ever since Irvine had revealed the truth, it seemed as if small things â€" fragments, really â€" were slowly rising from the ashes of her mind, drifting back into place. Quistis hoped that she'd continue to discover new old memories but she couldn't help but wonder for every memory she did regain, how many others remained lost.

Quistis laid aside the watercolor journal and blindly picked up another. Her eyes slid closed and she concentrated on the earliest memory she had of the shop and its scents and its grandeur, the way she'd looked at it as a young girl suddenly so far away from everyone she knew.

She tried to follow it, tracing it past the visit to the shop and back into the Dolletian streets...the elegant gait of her foster mother and the rustle of her flounced skirt...the way Quistis's tightly-plaited braid pinched at her eyes and made her head ache...the distraction of so many people after the solitude of the orphanage...the head-turning moment when she first saw the busy town square, the...

"Quistis?" Rinoa's questioning voice sank into her and Quistis started, eyes flying open. Her friend stood beside her, watching her with a puzzled expression on her face. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Quistis assured as she felt the dreamy recollection fall away. She straightened her spine, fingers clutching self-consciously around the journal she held. "I was just thinking about the first time I visited this store."

Rinoa's confusion faded and her muted excitement glowed in the soft features of her face. "I'm so glad you brought me here," she said, again. "This place has so much neat stuff. I didn't think I'd ever be able to decide!"

"But it seems you did," Quistis pointed out, nodding toward the stationary box in Rinoa's hands.

Rinoa held it up, smiling. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"I didn't realize you wrote many letters."

"I don't," she admitted laughingly. "But with such pretty paper, I might write more!" She sobered a little, smoothing a hand over the flat box that held the paper and envelopes. The stationary boasted a dreamy blue and white design that resembled cirrus clouds splashed across a bright, clear sky.

"I thought maybe I should stay in better touch with people. You know, like Zone, Watts, Francesca...maybe even..." Rinoa trailed off. "Writing real letters can be fun. And it's nice to get mail."

"True," Quistis agreed, a small smile tugging at her lips. "It feels more substantial to have a real letter in your hand. And it's something tangible to hold onto."

Rinoa hummed her agreement, holding the stationary box close. "What about you?" she asked excitedly, eyeing the journal Quistis held. "Are you getting a diary?"

"Journal," Quistis corrected automatically. She looked down at the one in her hands. "That wasn't my intention but...yes. I'd like to get one."

Maybe this time she could do it â€" record everything that happened to her, just in case. Now that she knew the truth and understood the risks, maybe she could overcome the fear that might one day strike her if she ever opened the journal and found a stranger's life reflected back at her in her own handwriting.

At least then it wouldn't be lost.

She smoothed her other hand over the journal's cover. "Selphie's idea about keeping a diâ€"journal, it's a good one, since we use the GFs. But keeping a personal journal on the Garden computer system?" She shook her head. "I don't think so."

Rinoa was nodding, studying Quistis's face thoughtfully. "I understand," she told her, smiling. "It's private. And, well...you want to be able to take it with you everywhere -- you don't want forget anything that happens."

Quistis was still looking down at the journal in her hands. It was simple -- the cover was the same smoky blue she associated with a steamy sea and hand-polished shells were inset on it, forming a pearly iridescent block in its center. "Perhaps," she admitted softly.

Rinoa's eyes strayed to the display shelf. "Maybe I should buy one for Squall," she said.

Quistis raised an eyebrow. "Do you think that he would use it?"

"No," she admitted. "But maybe..." She tucked her stationary under one arm and reached out to pick up one of the journals composed of black leather with silver accents. "I can do it for him. So he'll never forget, either."

The "me" that was missing in the sentence was audible in the silence.

Quistis didn't know what to say so she cleared her throat and changed the subject. "Ready to leave?"

Rinoa nodded, stacking the journal with the stationary box. "Yeah, I just want to grab one thing, okay? You go ahead and pay."

She nodded and navigated the small shop until she reached the proprietress and the register. Older than she remembered, the shop owner was still warm and friendly and this time Quistis had no trouble deftly handing over the appropriate amount of gil.

"Such a lovely design," the woman drawled, her Dolletian accent pronounced. "I bet a pretty girl you like will have lots of important things to keep in a diary like this, hmmm?"

It was obvious from the lilt of her voice and the suggestive wag of her eyebrows what the woman was hinting at; Quistis just smiled as she was handed her wrapped purchase. "Very important," she agreed.

As she was leaving the shop, Quistis glanced out of the corner of her at the shop window to see that the light off the sea was flooding into the shop, bronzing everything in shades of copper and gold. In the distance, the lighthouse was visible, pulsing its beacon to lead stray ships home to port.

She decided that she was going to remember that moment for the rest of her life, no matter what.

"Here!"

Rinoa had caught up with her and had unceremoniously thrust something â€" a pen â€" right under her nose.

"What's this?" she asked as she pushed the door open and finally exited the Turritella, taking the pen from Rinoa's offering hand.

"It's a pen," Rinoa announced. When Quistis continued to look at her askance, she added, "It's for you. For your journal. From me."

"Oh." She stopped walking and looked down at the pen, one of the nicer ones that the shop carried. "Really?"

"I wanted to help you, too," Rinoa explained, her shopping bag dangling from her hand.

She tucked the pen in with her journal. "Thank you, Rinoa. Very much."

Rinoa smiled and bounced down the street, talking about one of the street cafes she'd always wanted to visit. As her friend's excited chatter washed over her, Quistis suddenly knew that her memories of their unexpected day were the first she wanted to make sure she preserved.

Just in case.

The End.

Author's Notes: The name of the shop is called Turritella after a shell; its name means "towered" and I named it that since the other shop in Dollet, Nautilus, is also named after a seashell.