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Authors: Maddy Edwards

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BOOK: Susan's Summer
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Chapter Ten
 

 

Once Teegan had left, we went back to Arsenal. I felt Seth’s eyes on me, but whenever I turned to look he looked away.

“So, you’re staying and accepting dinner invitations on our behalf?” he asked dryly.

“I didn’t accept anything,” I said.

“Ah,” he said. “That’s not what it sounded like.”

“Maybe you aren’t very good at discerning people’s meaning,” I muttered.

“Anyway,” said Mae, “before we continue this lovely . . . discussion, Susan, I think we should talk.”

“So, we’re staying?” Mae asked once we were back in our palatial room. She beamed at me.

I felt better the second I walked in. “Yeah,” I said, fiddling with the covers on my bed, which someone had made while we were out. “I mean, I feel like Katie needs the company, and I don’t know what’s going on with Seth, but Teegan seems cute and we know people in the Marchell court.”

“Teegan Neal is cute,” said Mae, nudging me in the side.

“I guess so,” I said, shrugging.

“Oh, wait, is he single?” Mae asked, flopping on her bed. “Probably not. Guys that cute aren’t single unless they want to be.”

“I think he might be my betrothed,” I said quietly. “But I’m going to message a couple of mom’s friends to be sure.” I felt my face flush at the open-mouthed shock on my friend’s face.

“Some of your parents’ friends?”

I rolled my eyes. “Mrs. Cheshire might know. She knows everything. I’m not sure she’d tell me, though, since we didn’t keep Autumn away from Holt when she wanted us to.”

“That wasn’t your fault,” Mae protested. “I’d rather stay single the rest of my life than talk to Mrs. Cheshire about my love life,” she continued, with feeling. “And anyhow, what makes you think it might be Teegan?”

“He said something about a deal or bet or something that his parents made with my parents.”

“You think he might be your betrothed because his parents told him they made a bet with your parents?” she asked skeptically.

“What else could it be?”

“Um, maybe they were going to have a rousing ping pong tournament? They wanted to put money on it? There are all kinds of things it could be.”

“I guess,” I said, and bounced onto Mae’s bed to sit next to her. “But my parents didn’t play ping pong.” I was grinning like I hadn’t grinned in months. “And my parents weren’t the betting kind, either.”

“It’s not like there are a lot of eligible guys it could be,” said Mae thoughtfully. “Look, he’s cute and if it makes you happy you should definitely check into it.”

I grinned and looped my arms around her neck, giving my friend a hug. “Happy’s kind of a stretch at this point, but I want to finish what my parents started. At the very least, I just need to know.”

“While you’re at it, why don’t you find out what’s going on with the Arsenals,” Mae suggested. “I’d really like to know why they’ve been so reclusive all these years.”

I shrugged. I wanted to know that too, especially because of the way Seth had looked at me, but it was their own business, which is what I told Mae.

“Fine, fine,” she muttered. “But my mom literally did a happy dance when she found out we were staying here. I have a feeling that if we stay very long we’re going to have a lot of long lost friends wanting to come visit.”

I frowned. “Is the Arsenal name really still that important?”

“Oh yeah,” said Mae. “And if any girls catch sight of Seth Arsenal? They aren’t even going to ask if we want visitors, they’re just going to show up. Did you see that girl in town today? She couldn’t take her eyes off him.”

“I guess he is a catch,” I muttered. I had known it, of course, but hearing that Mae and every other eligible fairy knew bothered me. I had no idea why; I didn’t want to care about anyone, so why should I mind that other people were interested in Seth? I wanted to find my betrothed and get on with it. My determination felt almost clinical; I couldn’t bring myself to care. Any feelings I had must be purely physical, right? At least, that’s what I was trying to make myself believe.

There was a knock at the door, and before either of us could call “Come in,” Katie skipped into the room.

“My brother,” she said, “drives me CRAZY.”

Mae made a sympathetic noise as Katie plopped down on my bed.

“I mean, it’s fine during the year. I go to boarding school in Switzerland. But the summers, he’s crazy.” She shook her head sadly.

“That’s why we never see you from one year to another,” said Mae, as if Katie had just confirmed a long held suspicion.

“Yeah, that’s where my parents met, so that’s where I go. The European Fairies are something else, let me tell you. They go all
Midsummer Night’s Dream
on me. My brother graduated from the same school a couple of years ago.”

“Did he find his future wife?” Mae asked.

“No,” said Katie. “My parents said—” But before she could finish telling us what her parents had said, her phone buzzed. Leaping up, she answered it and started talking at lightning speed to someone on the other end.

“Yeah, we’re going to a PARTY . . . unfortunately Seth IS going . . . but not even he can ruin a party . . . .Well, actually. . . .”

Mae looked at me and grinned as Katie whirled around the room. Katie was so happy about the party invitation that she was practically floating as she continued talking into the phone. “He can. I mean, he’s not as bad as people think he is. He has a good heart. Just a lot on his shoulders. I understand most of the time, but come on! He’s young. He can’t work all the time.”

As Katie talked and Mae sat there enjoying the spectacle, I drifted off into my own thoughts. It may sound backward, but I had set out on this trip to find my betrothed because I was entirely, one hundred percent opposed to love. I couldn’t bear the thought of caring about someone the way I had cared about Holt, only to see him die. The very hint of such an ending was just too awful. Between Holt and my parents I had gone through enough loss in my life already, and I wasn’t even out of my teens.

Instead, I had felt certain that finding someone I was betrothed to, someone I hadn’t chosen, would be a safer path. How could I possibly like someone my parents had picked for me years ago? I had never admitted this to anyone, but I had secretly hoped it was Samuel. I knew he had an intended with his Rose, but I had still secretly hoped it would be me, and at first it had been difficult to watch him with Autumn. The fact that he had been mooning after someone he was supposed to have, but that Holt was causing problems with, had only made it worse. If I hadn’t loved Holt so dearly I wouldn’t have supported him.

Now I had arrived at Arsenal to the secretive Seth, who alternated between warm and standoffish but who, despite his confusing behavior, made my heart beat wildly whenever I looked at him. What made it worse was that once or twice, even in this brief visit, I had thought he might be looking at me the same way.

But Teegan . . . wow. That dark brown hair that blew perfectly in the wind and always looked good and those milk-gray eyes that you could just get lost in or drink up—it all took my breath away. And there was nothing secretive about Teegan. He was open, kind, and comforting.
So
not like your usual Winter Fairies. I wanted to stay as near to him as I could while also running far, far away. My own feelings were confusing me as much as Seth Arsenal was.

“So, anyway, my brother is being ridiculous,” said Katie, who had gotten off the phone, “but it’s okay. I think with you two here he’s going to let us go.”

“Let us go?” I repeated. I didn’t care who Seth thought he was or if I was his guest, no one “let” me do anything.

“Well, me; he’s my legal guardian, since Dad left.”

“What do you mean ‘left?’” Mae asked. I knew she had been wondering; even the west coast Fairies had heard of the mystery of the Arsenals.

“He’s been in Europe for a few years now,” said Katie vaguely. “After Mom died he was just never the same, and one night he just up and left. He writes letters pretty often, but I don’t see him. I’ve offered to visit, but I think it makes him too sad. I think it would remind him of Mom. The worst part is Seth. He’s had to take on a lot of responsibility, including me. I think it’s been hard for him. That’s why we’ve sort of withdrawn. He doesn’t want to have to explain Dad’s absence.”

“Wow, I’m so sorry,” said Mae, running her small fingers through her short hair. “I can’t imagine how hard that must be.”

Katie nodded soberly. “I really miss Mom.” Her bright eyes, so clear like her brother’s, glistened a little.

“Really hard,” said Mae, sitting down next to Katie on my bed and wrapping an arm around her thin shoulders.

“Well, then we’ll all go and it will be amazing,” Katie said, smiling a little now.

“I take it Seth doesn’t have a girlfriend?” Mae asked very smoothly, like she was just clarifying logistics. I was impressed. So was Katie, but she still saw through it.

Giving Mae a stern eye, she said, “He had a lot of girls in high school. Like, he was practically a legend. Even with the American accent, girls still found him hot.” She didn’t look at all embarrassed to be talking about her brother in those terms. “But since then there’s been nothing. I think when Mom died and Dad sort of lost it, he felt more responsibility and he didn’t think any girls would understand.” Mae and I were both sitting there, staring at her with our attention fixed, but she cut herself short and said, “I’m so sorry. I’m totally rambling. Anyway. You both probably want food.”

~ ~ ~

After the three of us had eaten, we split up. Katie took Mae back to her room to try on outfits for the party, and I went to take a nap. Mae and I hadn’t finished our discussion about staying, but I could see from her behavior that she wasn’t going anywhere.

 

Chapter Eleven
 

 

The next day I was in the garden with the wind blowing the summer air around me, carrying the scent of pine trees and the Arsenal flowers, when I was interrupted. It was another brilliant June day, and I was finding the Arsenal estate uncomfortably relaxing. I had a hard time believing that all that beauty was due to Seth. Twenty-something guys were usually more concerned with hot girls and partying, in my experience.

I didn’t hear him come up behind me, but I could feel his presence in every plant around me. It was a very familiar feeling, the same one I had always had when I went to a garden with Holt. Crying in front of someone I barely knew might be in the cards after all.

I turned around and looked Seth in the eye. I was swaying slightly, but I tried to pretend that it was because of my Glamour and not because of Seth. Just physically attracted to him, just physically attracted to him, I kept reassuring myself.
And to be honest: Seth was gorgeous. Tree mice would have found him physically attractive, so it was no mystery that I did too.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice lower and warmer than I had heard it before. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” He held up his hands as if he was trying to prove he didn’t have a weapon.

“You want us to go,” I said. “We will. Right away. Just point me in the direction of my fixed car.” I tried not to sound pathetic when I said it, but the sad truth was that I felt pathetic. I felt like I had failed. Getting drunk and almost beaten up was unacceptable, and I shuddered to imagine what my parents would have thought about my careless behavior. And worse, it wasn’t just about me. I had dragged Mae into it as well. I was acutely aware of how badly I had gone off the rails, and here was Seth offering me a place to stay, however mixed the messages were. Behind the clear blue of his eyes I could see some sort of silent pain, but I couldn’t reach it and didn’t want to. At this point it was all I could do to deal with my own pain, never mind someone else’s.

“If you want to stay, you should,” said Seth. “I didn’t mean to be rude earlier. I just know you feel like we’re keeping you here, and I don’t want you to think that. Having you here has been wonderful, but you can go at any time.”

I thought wonderful might be a stretch, but when I saw the way he looked at me, like he couldn’t get enough, like he could do it for hours, I wasn’t so sure.

“Tell me again why you brought us here,” I murmured, stepping closer to him, relieved to see his breath catch a little.
Good. My presence affected him just like his affected me.

“Because Katie is lonely and because you were, uh, really drunk.” And stupid, his eyes added silently and with amusement.

I gritted my teeth. I didn’t want to give a biting retort. Well, I did, but we were guests and he had healed my head, so I felt like I really shouldn’t.

“All right.”

Some part of me had to recognize that I wanted to stay. In the short time I had been there I had felt more emotions, both good and bad, than I had felt in months. Besides, Mae and Katie were happy with our being here, and I didn’t want to spoil the summer for either of them. Who knows, staying here for part of the summer might present its own kind of fun. And I did have to figure out if Teegan was my betrothed. Hmmm. . . .

I looked at Seth from underneath my lashes and thought I saw the smallest smile flash across his face.

“Katie will be thrilled,” he said as he backed away with a grin.

“Where are you going?” I huffed.

“I’m getting away from you before you can change your mind.”

Look who’s talking,
I thought. Out loud I said nothing.

~ ~ ~

When I got back to the bedroom Mae was about to shower, so I decided to go exploring some of the house while I waited for her. Seth never really had given me that tour, so I figured I’d just take one on my own.

We had been warned not to go onto the floor above the one our bedroom was on, and I was desperately curious about what was up there. There were also floors higher up, and I wondered if we could visit those—not that I was going to go up without asking. I didn’t want to see Seth’s face if he found me wandering around in places he had asked me to keep out of. As confusing as his attitude had been so far, there was a light and a heat that brightened his expression whenever he saw me, and at the moment I couldn’t stand the thought of doing anything to ruin it.

Nothing had been said about the floor our room was on, and right across the hall there was a tantalizing sign that read, “Study,” so I decided to start there. The doors beneath the sign were closed, so I knocked. When I got no answer, I went inside.

It was a library. Books lined the walls in rows that reached above my head, on shelves made of beautiful dark wood. There was a desk in the middle of the room with a thickly cushioned chair, and lots of pictures. I loved the pictures; I had always liked seeing what other people looked like, and I could spend hours going through old albums. Slowly I walked around the room looking at portraits in beautiful silver frames. Most of the Fairies I didn’t recognize, and some of the pictures were very old, making me wonder if these were Arsenal Fairies from back in the glory days when Arsenal was strong. I knew that at one time Arsenal had been the biggest court in the States, with lots of members joining it over the years.

Seth and Katie’s parents had run a wonderful and happy court. They were known to be fair and fun, but also quiet and endearing. The last thing they wanted was battles with other Fairies, and the Arsenal Queen was especially known for her peacefulness. She loved beautiful things and her garden, not conflict and the quest for greater power in the fairy world. I knew my parents had known the Arsenal King and Queen well, because my mother used to talk about them. They had even visited us at one point, but I had been sent away because I was really sick. Yeah, Fairies got sick too. Not like humans, but we still had to rest when it happened.

I found myself thinking that I could have been happy as part of the Arsenal Court as well. Being a cousin of the Roths meant that I would change courts only if I were to marry, say, a Hamilton, but still, the Arsenals had been widely respected and admired. I could see why.

What I wasn’t expecting here, and wasn’t prepared for, was to see a picture of Holt and my parents together. The three of them were laughing and smiling, their arms wrapped around each other. I stopped dead, my eyes growing wide and the air rushing in my ears.

For all the tears I had shed since Holt had died, I hadn’t let myself really go into the grief. I had gotten drunk and carried on, but I had held my deepest grief at arm’s length, just sort of walking around in a shell, trying desperately to get some separation from the pain. Not that I held it against Autumn, Samuel, or even Logan (although why did Logan have to be such an ass sometimes?), but even that was part of my inability to really let myself absorb what had happened. I kept expecting the phone to ring and to hear that Holt was fine and that it had all been some weird, unfunny practical joke. I did know as a matter of actual fact that he was gone, I swear I did, but I felt that if I ever once let myself truly acknowledge that I would never again hear his sweet voice or see his smile, I might lose it. Like now. I just started crying and dashed out of the study as fast as I could. The road trip I had dreamed up to try to get away from the pain seemed to be leading me back to it at every turn.

 

BOOK: Susan's Summer
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