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Authors: Catherine Green

Life In The Palace

BOOK: Life In The Palace
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Life in the Palace

Book one of the Palace Saga

 

Catherine Green

All paths lead to the Palace

Prologue

At the time it didn’t even make my top ten list of the weirdest things that had ever happened to me. Afterwards my whole weird-o-meter got totally recalibrated. The thing about freaky life changing events is that, outside of TV, they don’t usually come with convenient background music to alert you to pay attention.

She got a text message. This is a fairly standard occurrence, even for the socially inept Tal. Her brow furrowed as she quickly responded.

“I’ve got to go,” she said, quickly gathering up her books.

I stood to leave also. “I’ll walk you out. I’ve had enough for today.”

She looked thrown. “I’m in a bit of a rush.”

“I can go quickly.” I followed her briskly down the corridor. Her eyes darted around in the elevator.

“Is everything okay?” This girl was getting weirder and weirder. I decided that next semester I’d find a new study partner.

“Yes, of course. I just have to go and do something. I hope I didn’t miss the bus. Do you think I missed the bus?”

I had a feeling she didn’t really expect me to answer. As we hurried down the path to the bus stop, she was muttering under her breath. I listened carefully.

“Please send me a bus. I need to do the Service.”

Maybe I’d just study by myself for the rest of the summer session.

As we skirted around the iron gates at the entrance to the drive, we saw the bus pull away.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Will you have to wait long for the next one?” I was concerned. She looked at me wide-eyed. She didn’t blink.

“No,” she said. “Another bus is coming now.”

I peered at the faded timetable on the bus stop wall. “It says here they’re only every twenty minutes.”

“A bus is coming for me.” She still wasn’t blinking.

In downtown Montreal the bus routes go up and down the busy main roads, leaving the side streets for parking. Suddenly, down the hill and past the college library a bus
was
on its way.

“Is that a number 23? Oh good. A bus came for me. I’ll be on time.”

I looked at her and then at the approaching bus. I swallowed hard, “Isn’t that street one way… in the other direction?”

She shrugged. “It might be, but I needed a bus.”

“You needed a bus so a bus just came?”

She nodded and started getting out her ticket.

“How did that happen?”

“It was sent for me,” she said lightly.

As the door opened I called out, “Who sent it?”

Her response was lost as the doors closed behind her. Without the music, I couldn’t have known that my life would never be the same again.

Chapter 1

I
blame it all
on Spike. She says if I blame it on anyone I should blame it on my sister. Spike has a fair point. If I hadn’t been in such a rush to get away from the mess Stacy left behind when she rode out of town on the back of her boyfriend’s Harley, I would never have been in Montreal. I certainly wouldn’t have gone three months early for my freshman year, and would have had a normal study partner. But if it wasn’t for Spike I would never have met Seth.

I was on my way, slightly late, cutting across campus through the old, brick Arts building to the concrete monstrosity that was the science building. My phone buzzed in my bag and, despite my lateness, I took the call.

“Hey Spike,” I smiled down the phone at my longtime best friend. I heard a click and an intake of breath.

Cigarette lit, Spike replied, “What’s doing, Chloe? Still studying like a crazy person? You realize this is totally against the code.”

“I know, I know. The alternative to being a jock is not being a nerd. There is a third way.”

“It sounds like you need reminding.”

I defended myself. “There’s no one around. What am I supposed to do? Find someone in the street and start walking next to them like we’re friends?”

“It worked for Crazy Steve,” she laughed.

“Whose name, may I point out, is Crazy, I repeat Crazy, Steve. The guy’s on meds for a reason.”

I could almost hear Spike nodding as she conceded the point. “True, but you have to admit that he doesn’t lack for social interaction.”

“Much of which takes place in his own head.” I didn’t want to admit how close to the truth she was getting. Arriving at a new college just in time to take the summer session hadn’t been the best way to meet people in a new city.

Spike gave a little snort of mirth. “Is it really that hard?”

I sighed. “No, it’s not. But at least studying gives me something to do.”

“That’s great, but I didn’t mean the school work. I meant the whole Stacy thing. She ran off and your parents went mental. I got the memo, but
chica
, you can’t spend the rest of your life in mourning. Montreal is a party city; I looked it up online. There are some mega cool bars, live music in the clubs, free jazz on the streets, the works. You could put a shout out on Facebook and before you know it, you’d have the friends of your friends to hang with. There is no need to sit around in the library licking your wounds. Either get yourself out and get some friends, or go to therapy.”

I sighed.
I’m running way too late to be having this conversation
. I took the easy way out. “Okay, I got you. Make friends. Will do.”

“I’m looking forward to a progress report.” Spike’s tone was light, but I knew she meant what she said.

I slipped into my regular seat in class. If the professor saw my late arrival, he didn’t seem to care. The class passed painlessly enough. About halfway through, I noticed that the guy three rows up was looking at me. I glanced to my left at Tal, my study partner. There was no one else he could be winking at except me or her. Somehow I knew it wasn’t her. I tried to look over in his direction without being too obvious. I don’t think it worked because he only smiled more.

“Is he a friend of yours?” Tal whispered.

I shook my head. “Don’t think so. At least, I don’t remember meeting him.”

I waited for her to laugh at the slight admission of (admittedly fake) drunken guilt. Her face remained totally impassive.

At the end of class, he made a beeline for the two of us.

“Hi! How are you doing?” he called out.

Before I knew it, Tal had blushed, mumbled goodbye and disappeared into the background, leaving me to fend for myself. I watched her brown ponytail go bobbing off into the distance. Smiling as brightly as possible, I wondered what kind of mess I was getting myself into.

“Was this not one of the most boring classes you’ve ever taken?” he asked cheerfully. He started walking with me, although I wasn’t sure where he was headed.

“No,” I shook my head. “Last session I took organic chem with Professor Goodwill.”

He groaned. “Ahh, the infamous Professor Goodwill with the ever-present spittle.”

“I’ve always wondered myself if it isn’t toothpaste. Maybe he’s OCD about brushing his teeth?” I glanced at him, trying to work out where we’d met before.

“But then why is he always wiping his mouth?” my nameless companion countered.

I laughed and shook my head. There were cute wrinkles around his blue eyes as he laughed. With blond hair and a slight tan, I can’t say I was sorry to find myself in his company.

“My roommate claims that once Professor Moody lost her shoulder pad halfway down her sleeve and tried, surreptitiously, to shake it out.”

He broke out laughing again. “I was in that class,” he said triumphantly.

I stopped walking and looked at him. “You weren’t! Did it really hit someone in the face?”

“Michael Chan. I understand he kept it as a souvenir.”

Now it was my turn to laugh.

When I could breathe again, he stuck out his hand. “Josh Wilks. We haven’t actually met.”

“I was wondering,” I said as we shook, “I’m Chloe Diaz.”

“And why, Miss Diaz, do you have nothing better to do with your summer than to take survey science courses? Two sessions worth, no less?”

I paused for a second then shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s not a bad city to spend the summer in, and I wanted to knock off a few pre-recs before the semester starts.”

“You’ll be a freshman?” he asked, as we wandered out to the lush expanse of grassy lawn in front of campus.

“We all have to start somewhere. And it is supposed to be the Ivy League of Canada,” I justified, partly to break the silence.

“It’s a good school. Don’t take that away by mentioning Canada.” He threw up his hands in mock horror.

“You’re not Canadian?” I eyed him suspiciously.

“Good grief, no.” He said with passion. “I’m from Boston. And you are definitely not Canadian, either.”

I sensed a question. “Texas, more specifically El Paso.”

“El Paso, that’s practically Mexico.”

“I did say my name was Diaz,” I pointed out.

“Why would you swap sunny Texas for soon to be freezing cold Montreal … unless you have a passion for gun control?” His eyes wrinkled again.

“It was the furthest away from Texas I could get without going to England.”

Much to my relief, someone called his name from further down the hill before he had a chance to ask why I was in such a rush to get away.

Josh looked apologetic. “I gotta run, but will you come out with a bunch of us tonight? We’re going to the legendary Chubby’s.”

I was just thinking that I’d never heard of the place, when I heard my mouth say, “Sure, what time?” Apparently my mouth was in league with Spike. Not wanting to look like a total lunatic, I realized I’d have to go.

 

Spike’s work schedule meant I had to have the obligatory what-to-wear crisis alone. After some debate, I settled on black pants with a slight sparkle and a crocheted white sweater with a white T-shirt underneath. I put on a moderate amount of eye makeup (because my brown eyes are dark enough), nude lipstick, the handcrafted silver earrings I got last Christmas, and, as always, I piled my wavy black hair up on top of my head.

My stomach performed instant lap band surgery as I pushed open the heavy bar door. I wasn’t an expert in bar décor but with dark walls and colored lights, this one was everything TV had led me to expect.

Sitting facing the bar, Josh and his friends were hard to miss. The only other customers were a group of blond tourists huddled over a map of the city.

“Over here,” Josh called, despite the fact I’d already seen them. “Everyone,” He called out, “This is Chloe Diaz from El Paso, Texas. She may have come to Canada to embrace gun control.”

The collective “everyone” turned to smile. Josh rattled off the names of everyone else there, all eight of them, and I instantly forgot them all. They were spread out over three tables, implying that others had still to come. I sat next to Josh, across from a pretty girl with long corn blond hair and a smattering of freckles.

“I’m Bernice, but everyone calls me Bernie,” the blond girl smiled. “You might as well just take the names one at a time.”

I caught her accent and couldn’t place it. “Are you from Australia?”

“No, New Zealand.” Bernie answered with a slight smile.

Across the table another girl, whose name I clearly hadn’t caught, took a sharp breath in mock horror. “Careful! To be taken for Australian instead of a New Zealander is as bad as a Canadian being thought American.” Beneath short spiky hair, her eyes twinkled as she spoke, like I’d just been admitted into an international conspiracy.

“I take it that you’re Canadian?” I dared to ask.

The spiky-haired girl cracked a wide smile and put one finger to her lips. “Sssh, you caught me,” she said in a flawless American accent. “I’m really from France. I’m trying to infiltrate the Anglos.” She winked.

I liked her already. “Your secret is safe with me. Is anyone here actually Canadian?”

“I am,” said an Asian guy with hair skirting the edge of one eye. “I’m from Winnipeg.” He put a drink down on the table in front of Bernie and sat next to her, about an inch closer than was polite.
He must be her boyfriend.

I braced myself for all the usual barrage of ‘where do you come from’ variety of questions. None came. They didn’t seem to mind who I was or why I was there. Being Chloe from Texas was enough. After the obvious cracks about El Paso being practically Mexico, I stayed out of the conversation. I didn’t like having to explain how someone with the name Diaz ending up with quite such pale skin.

The group of eight quickly doubled in size. It seemed anyone who was on campus for the summer was welcome to hang out with Josh and his ever-expanding circle of friends. Spike was right this was just what I needed; some easy banter and the chance to finally unwind.

At about ten, I looked at my watch and was surprised that so much time had passed. I was about to make some ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ type joke, when the bar door opened and the most attractive man I’d ever seen in the flesh entered. His jaw could have been chiseled out of marble by Michelangelo. His dark, tousled hair brushed his sun-kissed forehead, skirting the edge of deep green eyes. His skin was tanned to perfection, but not so much that you’d suspect he’d put any effort into acquiring it. Slight stubble washed his cheeks, too long to be just the product of laziness, but not enough to be called a beard. A black short-sleeved shirt was open showing a black T-shirt stretched over a well-defined body. His dark jeans had no belt.

As the place had filled up, our group had moved closer together. The only free chair was next to me. The god of good looks sat down. I tried not to stare.

Josh put one hand on the back of my chair, “Seth, this is Chloe Diaz. She’s new around here. Chloe, this is my brother.”

Seth turned his emerald eyes towards me and nodded politely. Then something someone said on the other table caught his attention. I wanted to yell, “No, look at me,” as he quickly turned away to follow the furious debate. Something inside me sighed. Deep down in the inner recesses of your heart, every girl dreams that one day the unattainable guy will waltz into her life and transform her into the princess. But in my life, with Stacy always having been the princess, I was left to be the ugly sister.

“An iPad is not going to bring clean drinking water to anybody.” The guy from Nigeria was quivering with indignation.

The British chick’s eyes twinkled with glee. “You can’t argue that technology doesn’t have any place in improving lives.”

“So while AIDS ravages the African continent, they can have 15,000 tracks to keep them company?”

Josh shifted edgily in his seat. I wondered if she was hitting too close to home. I saw Bernie exchange a look with Seth.

“Hey, Bernie, is it true that in New Zealand they have a giant inflatable ball and you can run down the side of a mountain like a hamster in a cage?” Seth’s voice was enough to stop all other conversations in their tracks. Everyone looked at Bernie.

“Sure they do, it’s the new bungee jumping,” she called back, slightly too loudly.

“I thought paragliding was the new bungee jumping?” someone countered.

A wave of relief had everyone chattering excitedly about ever crazier sporting options.

Seth leant over in my direction.

“Are you into extreme sports?” he asked softly. I caught my breath as his tone made a mundane question unbelievably intimate.

“Only vicariously,” I answered, and immediately congratulated my mouth for producing an answer worthy of the moment without bothering to bypass my brain.

He cracked a smile. His left cheek had a dimple.

He looked me in the eyes and I nearly died.

Why are you making this happen to me? We both know that I don’t date the untouchable guys. I date the normal guys, maybe the friends of the untouchable cool guys. I go to the movies, watch Kristen Stewart do what I can only dream of, and like any other girl I go home happy with the fantasy. But I won’t ever go home with Rob Patterson, so don’t ruin my dreams by making me hope.

“Are there any other pleasures you enjoy as a voyeur?”

Do you have no mercy?

“Line dancing; although, strictly speaking, it is an extreme sport.” My mouth was on a roll.

He smirks. “I haven’t much experience with line dancing.”

“I’m from Texas,” I shrug.

He’s not sure if I’m joking. “What do you wear to go line dancing?”

“Steel-toe capped boots, a floor length velvet dress and fake eyelashes.” It’s my turn to laugh. His face is a picture. “I’m actually serious. It really happened. I did say it was an extreme sport.”

He looks at me curiously, “And you made it out alive?”

I nodded. “Ok, I’ll tell you the whole story. My best friend back home is an uber goth: long straight black hair down to her bottom, porcelain white skin and enough eyeliner to make a drag queen proud. It drives her mother crazy. Her mother is this super southern-beauty-queen-Barbie-doll type. She decided that Spike and her needed to spend more quality time together so they went line dancing. Her current (and fourth) husband is some sort of line dancing champion. Spike said she’d only go if I went to.”

BOOK: Life In The Palace
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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