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Authors: Catherine Green

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BOOK: Life In The Palace
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“That you didn’t hear already from Josh?” he raised one eyebrow.

“Josh says she’s ultra-healthy, she decorated your apartment and I presume she taught you to cook.”

Seth thought for a minute. “My mother is very controlled emotionally. She’s pretty controlled about everything. She has high expectations and specific ideas about what’s acceptable. We all try to please her. Sometimes we succeed. She’s a caring woman who just doesn’t know that much about being loving.”

“It doesn’t sound like she’s the easiest mother in the world.”

Seth snorted, “Whatever gave you that idea? My father is more of a hands on sort of Dad, so he took some of the edge off. It wasn’t all bad. I play piano and Josh is much better on the violin than he would care to admit. When we were kids we played a concerto together with Susie on the harp.”

“Harp?”

I saw his eyes crease as he smiled. “Yes, harp. She’s thinking of applying to the Music Faculty here. She inherited a lot of Mom’s drive to succeed.”

“What did you get from her?”

He licked his lips, “Honestly? The annoying ability to be nearly perfect at everything I do.”

“Humility, apparently, was not part of the package.” I pulled him a little closer so he’d know I didn’t actually mind.

“It is a double-edged sword. I don’t usually try to do things I won’t be able to do perfectly, so it’s rather self-perpetuating. I’m not an artist. Sometimes I think I should take an art class so I can practice doing something I’m really bad at in the name of personal development. I was trying to branch out with Capoeira.”

“You were definitely holding your own at the Tams on Sunday.” I said encouragingly.

Seth looked sheepish, “That was my second time doing it. It’s not that hard.”

We had walked out of the student ghetto and into the main business area. I caught sight of our reflection in the giant window-walls of an office building. I stopped to stare.

“Oh.” I looked up at him, and without thinking my free hand caressed his cheek.

“You just realized I’m a total jerk? It’s my big secret. People expect me to be a jerk and then I prove them wrong, but under the surface lurks my true nature.”

I didn’t laugh, and he looked worried. I shook myself. “As long as you continue to have healthy level of self-deprecation we’ll be ok. That’s not the problem. I was having a nice time, talking to you and looking at the people passing by. I just passed this beautiful couple. They were both attractive, well dressed and looked very in love. I felt the usual twinge of jealousy.”

Seth wrinkled his brow. “So? You’re normal.’

I pointed to the huge shiny wall of window, “It was us! We are that couple!”

Seth snorted with laughter and started walking again. “Which part’s upsetting you, that they were very much in love or that you accidently noticed you’re attractive?”

“I don’t think I’m ready to be one of those beautiful people,” I wailed.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Life is not a ride at Disney. You don’t just pick which story you’re living out and then just let it happen to you. Life is something you chose.”

I looked away, “Tell that to everyone else out there.”

“Everyone else is stupid. You don’t have to be the person you started out being. You can become someone else but not by purchasing an identity on eBay. If you, Chloe, don’t want to be a beautiful person, then no one can make you be it.”

I smiled weakly. “Can I just be your girl?”

“Every day for the rest of my life, but don’t make it your identity.” His emerald eyes smoldered with an emotion I couldn’t name.

 

There are moments that you enjoy so much, you replay them over and over again waiting for buses or when you can’t get to sleep at night. When I’m so old that my mouth has shrunk and my dentures threaten to take over my face, this moment will still warm my gnarled innards.

I liked this bar better than the one from the first night. Down by the old docks, this bar sported small bowls of nuts on each table and soft jazz music playing in the background. The raw stone walls hummed from centuries of tobacco and nights well lived.

He was holding my hand so without realizing what was happening, I followed him as he moved forward around the corner of the bar. Suddenly it’s too late to back out.

They’re all here. It’s like walking into the line – dancing hall in full goth-gear, except without the comfort of inches of makeup.
Then I looked at Seth.

He was glowing.

Seth I-could–get-any-girl-I-want-and-possibly-two-at-a-time Wilks was proud of me.

I grew a little taller and a smile broke out just in time for them to look up. Everything happened in slow motion. Josh looked up. I saw him process and then look genuinely happy.
Do we look that right for each other?
Bernie nudged Charlie, and then smirked. Dwayne barely looked up. Maxine arched one perfectly crafted eyebrow. Ethan had his back to us. He only looked up when the action started. Seth’s sudden change in relationship status sent shockwaves through the female half of the summer school gang.

Karen, the bitchy British chic who often dominated the conversation had just taken a mouthful of her drink. She looked. Her whole body shuddered. I think she forgot to breathe because suddenly she spat beer all over Ethan.

Her perky blond sidekick screamed, “Oh, my god!”

“Why’d you do that?” Ethan yelled at Karen, who was totally speechless. Her hands were shaking. Ethan’s tone changed from furious to concerned. “Are you having a stroke? Should we call an ambulance?”

Bernie was laughing so hard she had to grab onto Charlie’s arm to keep from falling off her chair. The sidekick was rubbing the bridge of her nose, eyes to the ground.

Ethan looked around wildly. “Should we call an ambulance? I think she is having some sort of fit.”

“Maybe she will feel better if she washes her face,” Maxine said coolly. She came around behind Karen and led her off by the shoulders.

“I hope she’s going to be ok.” Ethan shook his head as he tried to wipe beer off his pants. Everyone else was still staring at us.

“Hi, Seth, how are you doing?” Bernie asked brightly.

“Pretty good.” Seth pulled a chair up for me from the next table. I look at Seth.
Is he having as much fun as I am?
His face was characteristically chilled but his eyes danced so it seemed the answer was yes.

 

It was around nine when Seth whispered gently in my ear, “I’m supposed to work tonight. What do you want me to do? I could call in sick, or you could come with me.”

I thought about it, “I’m going to go home. I don’t want you to get in trouble with your boss and I’d love to see where you work but today has been a very long day. I might just go to sleep.”

“I’ll bring you breakfast,” his lips brushed my cheek. Besides the arm around my back, it was almost the only PDA of the evening. It seemed oddly juxtaposed after the afternoon. After a while I realized that his eyes never left me for more than a few seconds, he just kept his hands to himself.

On the way out he was less restrained. Seth stopped beside a mock-antique lamppost. He put his other arm around me and I was glad for the firm iron behind me as I melted into his kiss.

“Could you people get a room, already?” Josh called over.

Seth disengaged his lips but kept his body pressed tightly against me. “I’m just assisting this young lady in finding a taxi,” he called back.

“I don’t think you’ll find one next to her tonsils,” Josh snorted.

I shifted my weight and Seth took the hint.

When we caught up with the others, I looked at my watch. “Don’t you have to be at work at ten?” I asked Seth. “I think you’re about to be late. Why don’t you take the cab to work and I’ll go with Bernie.”

He kissed me goodbye to a chorus of Josh and Ethan coughing. I watched him go off into the night and I finally let go of the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

 

“Hot damn. Well, it had to happen to someone.” Spike said cheerfully when I finished telling her about the most perfect day of my life.

“What do you mean? Isn’t now when you tell me to stop being all Hollywood?”

“Nope. Hollywood can only get away with telling all those stories because sometimes it does happen. Sometimes someone does meet their soul mate. Some people are destined to fall in love and live happily ever after. The mere possibility keeps everyone else hoping. But someone has to be the one in a billion that gets it. Congratulations.”

I took a few deep breaths to steady myself. “You don’t think I’m crazy? Or just infatuated or overwhelmed by his coolness?”

“You, of all people, will never be overwhelmed by anyone’s coolness. You are way to cerebral to let yourself be infatuated and I’ve never noticed you to be crazy. From what you say Mr. Wonderful secretly had his eye on you all along. So it’s not even totally out of the blue. I wouldn’t bother buying a lottery ticket ever again, though. You’ve probably used up all your good luck for a lifetime,” she chuckled to herself.

“What do I do now?”

“Enjoy it.”

I got ready for bed slowly.

My whole insides feel different. It’s like something opened up. There’s a beautiful garden with roses and flowing fountains. My mind keeps saying, “but you just met him,” and my heart keeps saying, “welcome home.” I feel like I’ve always belonged to him. Is it as simple as Spike says it is, just sit back and enjoy it?

 

Simone was smirking when I woke up. I ignored her and continue dragging myself to the bathroom. As I pass through the kitchen there are pancakes, orange juice and flowers on the table. They weren’t there the day before. I glared at Simone.

“I found it on the doorstep when I came back from my run,” she explained.

“How do you know it’s for us? What if Louis downstairs got lucky last night?”

She was way too cheery for that hour of the morning. “One, Louis went away for a few weeks, he asked me to take in his mail. Two, it was at our door. And three, I saw Seth leave it.”

“Why didn’t he come in?”

“He said, and I quote, ‘Please tell Chloe I’d love to come and wake her up, but I wouldn’t want her to be late for class.’ Look he left you a note.”

It was tucked next to the flowers.

 

Chloe,

This is stage one of operation Food Group. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to eat a hearty breakfast, go to class, and then meet me later at my place for a nutritionally balanced lunch. Come whenever you’re ready, just call on the way to wake me up.

Love Seth xx

I sat down in the chair.
He brought me breakfast. It was real. Seth wants to have lunch with me. Seth cares about the food I eat. Seth Wilks is my boyfriend. He might have actually been telling the truth. In some crazy unbelievable way, it might be possible that Seth loves me or at the very least wants to spend more time with me.

Tal was sitting at our regular table as I walked over. “Josh says he’s just going to the men’s room. Do you mind waiting?”

Tal shrugged, “What can we do? Boys are weird about the whole bathroom thing. One of my brothers gets all antsy if he can’t go the exact second he needs to go.”

I looked at her. It was a very un-Tal sort of thing to say.

“How’s it going with you two?” she asked casually.

I laughed, “There is no ‘us two.’ I’m … I actually just started seeing someone else.”

She looks relieved; perhaps she likes him. A boyfriend might bring her out of her shell a bit, maybe I should set them up. I’m not sure if she’s Josh’s type though. I doubt Tal is anyone’s type
.

“What’s he like?” Tal asked with a faraway look in her eyes.

I sighed with pleasure, “Beyond wonderful. Good looking, smart, funny, kind. It’s still so new. This morning I woke up to find he’d left breakfast waiting for me on my doorstep.”

“Wow, that’s so romantic.”

I beamed, “I know. There were pancakes with maple syrup and freshly squeezed orange juice too. I’m going over to his house as soon as we finish here.”

Tal looked at her watch, “I guess we’d better hurry up then. It must be wonderful to have a boyfriend. I don’t really date.”

There goes the Josh plan
.

“Why not?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t the wrong question.

“I can only marry another one of the People. We wait until we are ready to get married before we date. I’ll probably start in my last year of school.”

“Is that why you’re in a hurry to finish?”

She blushed, “A little. Also, why waste time when you don’t have to? I see Others on campus and sometimes I feel a little jealous. There are so many things we can’t do.”

I felt bad. “Would you rather I didn’t mention it again? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh no,” she said quickly. “You can tell me all about it. I don’t mind at all.” She smiled, “It’s actually rather nice to live vicariously.”

I grinned back conspiratorially, “I wouldn’t mind having someone to tell all the gory details to. There’s nothing worse than someone who can’t shut up about their new love. I don’t know much about your community. Is it hard living with all those rules?”

She shrugged, “It’s a bit like asking if it is tiring to have to breathe all the time. This is just what we do.” Tal thought about it for a minute. “Sometimes it’s hard,” she confessed. “Sometimes I wish I just had a regular life, but most of the time it’s amazing and I wouldn’t switch it for the world. It’s just not always easy not to be able choose the life you have.”

I felt I’d touched on something personal. I’d never seen her let her guard down before. She looked so sad. I wanted to make her feel better.

“It doesn’t have to be like that, there’s always a choice.” I said kindly.

Instantly the wall was back up, “Maybe for you.” She shot back.

Just then Josh came over, but I could see in her eyes that, even if he hadn’t, the conversation was closed.

*

Tal sat next to Dava on the bus. Dava waited for Tal to speak.

“I’m just kicking myself,” Tal began angrily. “I should have known better. I was trying to find a way to stop my study partner from getting together with the Serf. I thought if I was more regular-sounding then she’d trust me and I could steer her away from him.”

BOOK: Life In The Palace
8.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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