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Authors: Catherine Green

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BOOK: Life In The Palace
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“Sounds like a good plan,” Dava murmured.

“Except that then she tells me she’s not even interested in him, and that she’s got a different boyfriend.” Tal stuffed her bus pass back into her bag.

“That’s great!” Dava beamed, “Our prayers helped.”

Tal sighed, “Yeah, they did. But then she started telling me about him. He’s so wonderful and so romantic. Before I knew what was happening, my Interloper had overtaken me and I told her how I wish I could date and just be normal.” She tried to hold back the tears filling her eyes.

Dava stroked Tal’s hand, “It is hard.”

Tal threw up her hands, “But I shouldn’t go around telling Others about it. How is she ever going to understand? She just thinks I’m a religious freak. It’s not like she’s ever going to know the truth. Why bother?”

“You just said the answer; your Interloper was in overdrive.”

“But it can only get you to do something you want to do. I wanted to complain to her.”

Dava pursed her lips, “Maybe you just wanted to be friends with this girl. You can have an Other as a friend, you know. Just be careful what you tell her.”

“What happens if she starts to know too much?” Tal asked. “She asks me questions like she actually cares!”

“If you have to, give her some pamphlets; that usually throws them off. Start telling her a lot of theology then she’s sure to back off.” Dava suggested.

“But then she won’t be my friend.” Tal muttered.

“I hear you. If you want to be her friend you might want to avoid sounding like a total lunatic. Nothing is going to happen if you only tell her the basics. I doubt she’s even that interested. Just tell her the minimum. She won’t believe you and you won’t have to worry about giving the game away.”

Tal shook her head, “Do you think it’s easier for the Angels?”

Dava smiled, “No, they don’t have free choice so they don’t get a reward and the Others don’t have Sight so they don’t perform the Service. We have the best of both worlds.”

*

Seth answered the door wearing only his familiar black jeans. Before I could close the door behind me, he slipped one arm around my waist pulling me close against his firm chest. Not a bad way to start things off. He tasted like fresh mint toothpaste, apparently he hadn’t been joking about only getting up minutes before I arrived.

“Not planning on getting dressed?” I asked, when he pulled away for a second.

“Clothing is so over rated,” he said, as he finally shut the front door behind me.

I followed him into the kitchen. “Josh says he’ll be home later. He said something about a Wii rematch with Dwayne.”

“I think he’s avoiding us,” Seth chuckled.

“There was more to the message,” I confessed. “He might have said something about not coming home until we came up for air, which he might have suggested would be some time next May.”

Seth took my hand, intertwined our fingers and then pulled me towards him. “Only May?” He murmured as he bent to touch his lips to mine. “I thought at least next June.”

My witty response was lost in the force of his kiss.

I’d never noticed that he was so much taller than me. I could have done the math: I’m five foot six and Seth must be at least six foot three, so I could have worked out that his lips are at least a few inches above mine. At a certain point, I realized I was standing on tiptoes and liable to topple over due to the lightheadedness his proximity was inducing. I was about to suggest relocation to the couch when my stomach announced its presence.

“Was I led here under false pretenses?” I asked.

Seth wrinkled his brow in exaggerated confusion.

“I was promised lunch involving multiple food groups. I carefully didn’t get anything in the cafeteria so as to not ruin my appetite.”

His whole face lit up. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been totally remiss in my duties as a host. Do let me provide you with the promised luncheon.”

He bowed deeply and then grabbed my hand dragging me into the living room. In the corner, next to the bay window that dominated the room, a table had been laid with a linen tablecloth. Two places were set with real china plates and crystal glasses.

Seth waved his hand towards the table. “Salmon en croute with dill sauce and a mixed greens salad with balsamic dressing. If you make yourself comfortable, I’ll bring in fresh butternut squash soup and crusty garlic bread.”

“You really made all of this? I’ve only seen food like this on the cooking channel.”

“I didn’t actually make the puff pastry myself but I really did put the salmon inside and bake it.”

“For me?”

He kissed me on the nose. It was surprisingly nice for a gesture that could have been totally patronizing. “All of it for you. Although, if you don’t mind, I was hoping you’d share with me.”

I picked a chair and was quickly tucking into one of the most delicious soups I’ve ever tasted.

“What’s in this?” I asked as I scooped the last morsel into my spoon.

“More? I like it too. It’s the coconut milk that makes all the difference. The curry adds a little zing but the coconut really rounds things off.”

He brought me another huge bowl. I was worried I wouldn’t have room for the salmon. I worried needlessly. It was worth finding room for.

“When did you whip all this up
?” He might have been lying about the whole sleeping thing. I just need to check he’s not a vampire. I’ve seen him in the sunlight, so I’m pretty sure he’s not, but these days a girl can’t be too careful. Do werewolves have special culinary talents? Maybe a heightened sense of smell leads to great cooking abilities? I’m sure that I’m Team Seth but I’d like to know what I’m dealing with.

Seth stifled a smile, “I’m very productive between three and five am. I picked a menu of things that could be made in advance.”

“Do you eat like this every day?”

“No, only when I’m trying to impress.”

I nodded, “You succeeded. Is there dessert?”

He stood and motioned with his index finger that I should follow him. I sank next to him on the sofa, our sofa. I slipped into his arms. It was not quite the dessert I’d had in mind but it was sweet.

 

After seven, Josh came home. The dishes were still on the table and we were still on the sofa. We stopped what we were doing and I watched as Josh, Dwayne and Ethan plunked themselves down on the other sofa.

“Hi guys,” Josh called cheerfully.

Ethan was struggling not to giggle.

Dwayne’s face was totally deadpan. He must be a mean poker player.

“Gentlemen,” Seth nodded curtly.

“Chloe, I’m not sure that you’re familiar with the layout of our apartment,” Josh said. “Behind us is the kitchen, this is the living/dining room, and over to your left you will see two doors. One is my bedroom, the other to the right is Seth’s bedroom. When we want to experience privacy, we make use of the bedroom facilities so thoughtfully provided.”

Seth shrugged, “Ok then.” He stood up and waited for me to join him.

I looked around quickly as we walked through the door. In the middle was a big pine bed with navy blue sheets, unmade. One whole wall was lined with books. On the floor was one of those shaggy rag-rugs that look good but are really uncomfortable to walk on. Over the bed was a print of a painting that might have been a Van Gough but not one I recognized.

“What was that?” I asked as soon as the door shut behind us.

“That was Josh saying, ‘Brother, I’m happy that you found a girl you like. Enjoy your good fortune, but I expect life to go on pretty much as usual, so please arrange yourself accordingly’.”

“Oh, I thought it was more like ‘up yours.’ ” I didn’t want to be the cause of major brotherly tension.

“Nah. Josh isn’t like that. This is his way of clearing the air. If he avoided us every time you came over, it would get really awkward really quickly. This way everything is out in the open.”

“Except we’re in a locked room, not so open.”

“We can go back out to hang with Dwayne if you want.” He started to make for the door.

I pulled him back, “I didn’t say I was unhappy.”

“I guess we’ll stay here then.”

Chapter 5

I
had my head
in Seth’s lap. He was gently running his fingers through my hair. It was fast becoming our usual Sunday activity. I could see how the sun picked up the golden highlights in his hair as it streamed through my window. I hadn’t even bothered to get properly dressed. I was still wearing the same tank top and shorts I slept in.

“Do you ever drink in the bar?” I asked after a long session of silent pontification.

“Sometimes, although it’s a waste of my tips that I could use for something else.” he shrugged. “Why?”

“I’ve been with you in multiple bars but I’ve never seen you drunk.”

He thought about it. “I have to try pretty hard to get drunk. I think we have secret Irish ancestry. A lot can be blamed on ancestors.”

“Tell me about it. I can’t wait to get married and get rid of Diaz. I’m just not that successful at the whole Latina thing.”

Oh, my goodness, I just told him I can’t wait to get married. Will he know I already planned our wedding when I was supposed to be listening to someone else’s group presentation?

“You’re not the most Latino looking Latina I’ve ever met.” He admitted.

How many Latinas does he know? I think he missed the marriage faux pas.

“I know, I’m too pasty to be a real Latina, and too freckled to be a very successful Goth. Stacy got all the throwback genes from some Swedish grandmother and I got stuck in the middle in cultural no-man’s land.”

“Stacy always gets the better deal?”

I took it as a challenge and leapt up to find a photo of my famous sister.

“See, come on admit it, she got the better deal.”

He looked carefully at the picture. “You’re right she’s very attractive in a Kraft cheese snacks sort of way.”

Seth sat up and placed each hand very gently around my face. “Chloe Diaz, you are a beautiful woman. I fought my brother to wheedle my way into your affections. I love the person you are but the packaging is not without merit.”

He put his hands down and I rested my head against his chest.

“Do we stay messed up by our families for the rest of our lives?” I asked.

“Only if we let them.” He kissed my hair. “Are you still going over that whole situation?”

I nodded, “But now it’s totally different. All of this-,” I waved my hand expansively and hoped he knew I meant meeting him, “Gives me a lot more sympathy for her. If this is how she feels about Rob then I understand why she’d run away. I’d climb mountain ranges to get to you.”

Seth kissed my head again, “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“But why did she have to drop out of college? Couldn’t she have just told Mom and Dad to stick it and moved in with him over there?”

“Have you tried anything as radical as asking her?” I moved away so I could give him a look. “It’s not that crazy an idea. You could just ask her.”

My eyes narrowed, “I don’t know where she is, so how am I supposed to just call her up and ask her?”

“Message her on Facebook. She’s not mad at you, why wouldn’t she respond?” He made it sound so disgustingly reasonable.

I was not ready to be convinced. “What am I going to say? Why did you run off with Rob?”

Seth smiled, “I’d start with ‘How are you doing?’ before you go in with both barrels blazing. You don’t have to, but it might make you feel better.”

I stopped with the next protest on my lips. “Why?”

He shrugged, “You said that you never really had much to do with your sister, you have no idea what motivates her. Maybe now you could actually have a relationship with her.”

“Have a relationship with Stacy?” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

“It might make you feel better if you can see her as a real person not just as some sort of icon.” He looked a little uncomfortable.

It was time to change the subject. “Are we going out for what is rapidly becoming lunch?”

There was a twinge of relief in his smile. “We might have to, there’s nothing left in your fridge. Would you mind if I stopped by your balcony while you finished getting ready?”

I smiled magnanimously, “It’s all yours.”

By the time Seth was ensconced on the balcony, I was ready to think about his suggestion. I flicked to Stacy’s Facebook page. I hadn’t thought to check it in a while and she doesn’t show up on my newsfeed very often. I guess I should have taken the time to list her as my ‘family.’

Her last status update read:

Anyone know a good drycleaners Jacksonville?

The previous one:

Decided that rats in NY were better than alligators in FL

Do I just message her? What on earth am I going to say? Are you having fun with your runaway boyfriend? Or what the hell do you think you’re playing at, Mom is beside herself with worry. Last I heard she’d started making jam.

Hey Stacy, how’s the weather in Florida? I hear it’s pretty humid this time of year. Thinking of you, Chloe

I stared at the screen after I clicked send.
Is today going to be another one of those days when I never make it back home again and end up regretting my early morning clothing choice?

I glanced at the clock.
We’ve successfully bypassed most of the morning, so I can just plan for the afternoon/evening part of the day? Can I leave emergency makeup and jewelry at Seth’s place in case I need to make a sudden transition from school to evening? Is it too soon?

 

“I see you make great progress in the getting ready department in my absence.” Seth says as he comes back in.

“I’m not sure what to wear,” I say finally, dragging myself upright.

He surveys the scene from my desk chair. “Unless my eyesight is failing me, you appear to be wearing clothes.”

I gave him a look.

“We’re going for brunch,” he says cautiously, then pauses, “Am I going to lose metrosexual status if I ask what the problem is? I didn’t know brunch equals clothing crisis.”

“It doesn’t. Brunch followed by hanging in the park, followed by dinner at some chic hole in the wall, followed by drinks by the river, followed by watching you work, equals a clothing crisis. It’s asking a lot from one outfit.” That was the honest truth, but it might have been girly overkill. Seth seemed chill, but then Seth is always chill.

“Okay, three thoughts. One, obviously you look stunning whatever you wear.”

I went to protest and he waved me to silence. “Don’t tell me it’s just a line and my boyfriendly duty to say so. It’s true, so I just have to put it out there. Second, you’re right, yesterday was a bit of a marathon. I was not envisioning a repeat today. I was thinking much more chill. Brunch, the Tams, then maybe my place for dinner.

“If you’re blatantly not doing any studying today, the least I can do is make sure you get an early night. Thirdly, if you think this whole mix-and-match outfit thing is going to be a recurring problem, why don’t you just leave a few things at my house?”

He waited for my reaction. When I didn’t reply he asked, “What part of this is bothering you?”

“I keep waiting for the part where something sucks. It can’t be this good and this easy.”

Seth smiled, “I could start farting more frequently.” I shook my head but came over and slipped in under his arms. He smelt like heaven.

“Is it just you? Are you just perfect? Was it like this with Emily?”

“It was not like this with Emily.” His face is passive.

“Isn’t it supposed to feel a bit uncomfortable when you start dating someone? Aren’t you supposed to feel tense, or have a few fights?” I looked up at him.

“Do you always analyze things this much?” He smiled his funny half smile that he saves for when he’s trying to be serious for my sake. He didn’t wait for an answer. “We still haven’t resolved the main issue over here. Could you put some real clothes on before brunch becomes dinner? I’ll just amuse myself over here.” He picked up my laptop. I went to pick out a low-key but still cautiously multipurpose outfit.

“Hey, Chloe, before I sign you out of Facebook, I think Stacy messaged you back.”

“She did?” I was across the room in a shot.

Hey sis, how’s TX? Who’s winning the AC wars this year? Did you get that job at the burger place with Spike and Jared? Did Jared come out yet? FL is hot. At least there’s kind of built-in AC on the bike, although Rob makes me cover up. He’s very safety conscious. Rob’s working in a bike shop here. He’s talking about opening his own place. I’ll probably transfer to U of FL.

You can tell Mom and Dad I said hi if you think they want to hear it.

Stacy

I curled my legs under me, cradling the laptop between them. Words flickered through my mind.
What do I say back again? Was she just sitting by her computer waiting to hear from me? Clearly not. But she wrote back straight away.

Not sure who’s winning in the AC wars. I got the burger job but decided to come to school early. As of last night Jared hadn’t come out, but Spike says she’s wearing him down. She’s threatening to defer college if he doesn’t get over himself by the end of the summer. I think she should forget the official coming out stuff and just get him laid. Is U of FL a good school? Is it easy to transfer?

Chloe

I clicked reply and then regretted every word.
Why am I asking her about school? I should have just stuck to non-confrontational subject like the weather.
Before I finished berating myself she’d responded.

Where’s school? Why’d you go early? I thought you guys had some whole summer extravaganza planned. Does Jared really need Spike to hold his hand to get laid? Maybe you underestimate the guy, he’s pretty good looking. U of FL is a decent school, it has a very good biology department. Transferring shouldn’t be a problem. I got good grades the semester I was at Dartmouth. Rob says hi.

Stacy

Rob says hi? He’s sitting there reading over her shoulder. Doesn’t he have anything better to do on a Sunday? What does she do all day, anyway? Watch him fix bikes?

Montreal. Home wasn’t a fun place to be after you left. Mom started baking. Spike and Jared understood. I said I’d go with them after summer session was finished but now I doubt I will. I met someone, his name’s Seth Wilks. Actually Spike hooked up too, I’m not sure she’s in a rush to go on an epic road trip. You might be right about Jared. It’s always the quiet ones. What do you do all day? Just hang out with Rob?

Chloe

I clicked reply angrily. Seth’s name linked to his Facebook page.
I might as well get some mileage out of the hot boyfriend. Wait, shoot.

“Seth, what’s your profile pic right now? Is it you or some cryptic message to Bret?”

Seth looked up from the random textbook he’d pulled off my shelf. “It’s me at the bar last week when I poured the Guinness with the shamrock on top.” He looked at me quizzically but before I could answer a new message popped up.

Sorry you had to take the fallout especially if baking was involved. It seems things worked out okay in the end, though. Seth’s beyond cute, nice work sis. Is he good to you? Right now, I’m working the day shift at the 7/11 down the road. Rob forbids me from working while I’m in school, so I want to have some money saved to make things easier on him. That’s why the transfer: Dad said they wouldn’t pay for school if I was with Rob. Rob can’t exactly earn enough to pay for Ivy League tuition and keep us going day to day. Rob treats me like a princess, I’m very lucky. You’d like him if you met him. I got to go now, there’s a vintage air show Rob wants to go to. Stay in touch,

Stacy

I stared at the screen while absentmindedly eating.
Ok, so I blamed Stacy for ruining my life and Rob for ruining hers. Dad said that jerk got her to drop out of school and go cruising around on the back of a motorcycle. Now all of a sudden, he’s going to support her through school?

I chewed thoughtfully as I tucked the last bite of cheese melt into my mouth.

“Hang on a second? Where did that come from?” I wheeled around

Seth chuckled, “We were obviously not leaving any time soon. I didn’t think you could have the big reconciliation with your sister on an empty stomach, and Simone was kind enough to share her breakfast supplies. How’d it go?”

I glanced back at the computer screen. “She’s in Florida working in a 7/11 while Rob fixes bikes. It sounds like the white trash nightmare my parents keep presenting it as, but now it seems like maybe it isn’t?”

Seth cocked his head to one side in a question.

“Rob is supposed to be the big bad wolf who stole away their princess but Stacy says she dropped out of school because Dad gave her an ultimatum: either their financial support or Rob. She chose Rob. Now she’s going to transfer to some local place and Rob’s going to support her through college.”

“Not quite the bastard he was made out to be, eh?”

I shook my head, “As usual in life, things are a bit more complicated than they’re made out to be.”

“Are you going to keep in touch with her?” Seth asked.

“I think so. She’s my sister, maybe now it’s time I actually got to know her.”

*

Noy and Tal were already waiting for class to begin, when Dava came in.

“Sorry I’m late, Cale promised me a lift but we had to wait for him to get Jov. He wants to know if you want this back.” Dava tossed the sword across the room.

Noy caught it lightly, weighed it in her hand and smiled. Light reflected off the blade shimmering over her delicate nose and high cheek bones. For a second, Noy’s hair looked like it had been spun out of gold. Yet again, Tal wished she had the guts to do something with her hair besides tie it back.

“It’s yours, Jov,” Noy called to her brother and threw it into the air. The sword flickered out of sight.

“Nice! Thanks Noy,” Jov called back from the next room.

Dava pulled up a chair next to the worn wooden table. “That was a good one, what did you do to earn it?”

“Bought a homeless guy a sandwich and slipped him the money for a night at the Shelter.” Noy explained.

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