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“Shouldn’t you be packing?” Ryan walked into our suite with a bag of clean laundry as I attempted to walk out.
“I’m not leaving until tomorrow afternoon. I have more time to procrastinate.”
“Have fun with Iz.” He walked into his room before I could reply.
I ran into Anna as I was swiping myself into their building. She was with three of her friends. It was close to dinner time. I was fairly certain they were going to the dining hall. I internally cringed when she sent them ahead, instead of ignoring me and leaving with them.
“How have you been?” She wrapped one of her arms around herself and used the other to tuck her hair behind her ear.
“I’m not going to tell anyone. You don’t need to do this.”
“I messed up. I’ve said sorry. I told you I loved you. You didn’t mean it when you said it back. I thought you were sneaking around behind my back with girls at home. Looking up your track record didn’t help. Everything in my life was falling apart. I turned to him in a moment of weakness. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” The lamppost near the entrance allowed me to look directly into her eyes.
I hadn’t done it in months. Doing it then produced interesting results. She wasn’t an ex-girlfriend, lover, or friend. She was a stranger. I wasn’t angry, but I had no desire to talk to her. She was the past. There was no reason to revisit her. I learned all that I needed to.
“I wasn’t in love, but I cared. I’m sorry about your parents, but that doesn’t excuse what you did. With that said, I don’t hate you. We’re back to what we were before we started dating, nothing.”
My phone vibrated in my hand. I looked down at it.
Izzie: Virtual kiss goodbye? Car will be here in 5.
“We were –“ Anna snapped me back to our conversation.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have somewhere I need to be. Enjoy your holiday.” I rescanned my student ID and bypassed her to get inside.
I jogged up the staircase and rushed to their door. I knocked the moment I reached it.
“Where’s the fire?” Morgan teased.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to do it that hard. Has Izzie left yet?” I lowered my hand to my side.
“No, she’s in her room.” She widened the door and gestured me in with a smile.
“I didn’t think you were going to make it.” Iz greeted me with a bright smile.
I backed her into her room and pressed my lips to hers as I simultaneously shut the door behind me.
Her hand went to the side of my face. I encircled her waist with my arms. We went from pecking to full throttle frenching in seconds flat. I need to break away for air when she moaned into my mouth. She placed a soft kiss on my cheek and draped her arms around my neck.
I stepped back when her phone began to ring. She informed the driver that she would be right out.
“I can take your bag.” I offered as she put on a beige trench coat.
“It’s not heavy. I’ve got it.” She wound a gray scarf around her neck.
“You’ve ruined my romantic gesture with independence.” I joked as I stuffed my hands into my pockets.
“I have you doing enough lifting in our dance marriage. I’m not going to be a tyrant. You’d rebel without a care.” She pulled the strap of her purse onto her shoulder.
She placed her small piece of luggage on the ground. She wheeled it past me. I turned off the light and shut her door.
“I love you. Travel safely. Text me when you arrive.” Elle hugged her.
“I will. I miss you already.”
“Couldn’t stay away?” Elle smirked at me as Iz hugged Morgan.
“Right.” The way she eyed me made it abundantly clear that she didn’t believe me.
I glanced over at Izzie as my cheeks warmed. She was laughing at something Sami had said. She draped one of her arms around both of her shoulders and leaned down to hug her.
“Ready to leave?” She turned her head to me when she was done.
Elle’s smirk widened.
“Yes.” I left with her to avoid what Elle was insinuating with her eyes.
“It’s going to be so weird to return to the real world. Thank goodness it’s only for five days.” She adjusted the strap of her purse as we walked down the sidewalk, in the direction of the taxi parked by the curb.
“Four in my case and everyone else’s. You’re leaving us early.” I looked down at her.
“I need to meet up with my sister in New York. Our flight to Miami leaves early tomorrow morning. Limited options” She shrugged.
“Ms. Hales?” The driver inquired.
“Yes, hi.” She shook his hand with a polite smile.
He lifted her bag and carried it to the trunk. She turned around to face me.
“Did you tell Ellen?”
“Absolutely not. She didn’t even see my hickeys, all seven of them.” She moved in close to whisper.
“I have three right now. I’m not particularly fond of the jumpers I’m forced to wear. You won’t get any sympathy from me.” I pulled at the cashmere collar.
“Because I got carried away, I’ll lend you my scarf. You can ditch the turtleneck and look like a hipster.” She removed the wool garment from her neck and draped it across my shoulders.
“You’re not the only one guilty of that. I don’t want you to get cold.”
“Don’t worry about me. I will be in Florida after tonight.” She gave me a hug. “See you soon.”
I opened the cab door for her. She pulled it closed. I waved. She looked around to ensure no one was watching and blew me a kiss. I didn’t leave my spot on the sidewalk until the car had left the street.
I took deep breaths as I walked back to my dormitory. Her scarf smelled like her. The scent created by her coconut shampoo, soap, and natural body scent was intoxicating. It was one of many reasons I adored being in her company.
Dinner played out in its usual manner. We settled on a random conversation topic, clothing that makes weird, annoying, or awkward noises. Elle and Ryan later had a passionate debate on whether or not putting the article ‘the’ in front of a show or movie title makes it more memorable. Morgan and Nick served as the referees. Sami and Finn actively participated as devil’s advocates, firing up Elle and Ryan to see which one could defend their point under pressure for their own twisted amusement. Each time something particularly funny happened, my eyes went to the seat beside Elle. The feeling of disappointment that accompanied its emptiness never lessened. I wanted to listen to the personal tale she would’ve contributed in the clothing conversation. I wanted to know if she would’ve immediately sided with Elle or waited until she gave her overdramatic monologue like the rest of us. Asking after the meal was over wouldn’t have produced the same off-the-cuff results that made our conversations so entertaining.
“Your Highness, before we leave, we need to conduct a survey of your room.” Verna stood at my desk with her tablet ready.
“What does that entail, exactly?” I folded a shirt into the suitcase on my bed.
“Hardwick will go through your belongings in search of contraband. I will log an inventory for your parents and the palace advisory staff.”
The bodyguard riffled through the top drawer of my bureau.
“Clear.” He relayed as he moved on to the next one.
She typed onto her device. I silently stuffed the remainder of my clothes into my bag, growing increasingly frustrated each time he announced that he did not find anything.
“What’s this?” Hardwick removed a bottle of water from my miniature refrigerator.
“Exactly what it says on the label, water. Feel free to smell it.” I snarled.
He proceeded to open and do just that. I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes.
“He’s not going to find anything and you don’t have to type a report because I’m clean.”
“I have direct orders from the king. It’s his job as your father to enable you to do well, being aware of risky behavior and vices are a part of that. Ambasciator non porta pena.” She reasoned as they both worked without interruption.
“Me ne frego dei suoi ordini. I’d love to actually talk to my parents and tell them that the marks I received this quarter are the best I’ve ever earned and I haven’t taken pills or smoked in almost a year, but they send you to invade my privacy instead.”
She gave me her full attention.
“We are not intentionally trying to infringe on your independence. We’re doing all that we can to ensure that you graduate. If you’ve done nothing wrong, this will be a formality and a minor inconvenience.”
I went into the bathroom and locked the door. I sat down on the edge of the bathtub. All of my roommates had left. I could’ve occupied the living room, but the lavatory was the only area they wouldn’t dare to intrude. I buried my face in my hands.
Time to Pretend by MGMT rang out from my cellphone. I ground my teeth and removed it from pocket.
“Please don’t lecture me right now, Will.”
“I know you’re upset. That’s why I called you after she called me. You’ve been working very hard to get on the right track. Sella Moora is a great environment for you. You’re not who you once were. It upsets me that we’re required to treat you like you are. I wish I knew how to correct the disconnect.” His voice was gentle and sympathetic, contrary to the stern tone I was expecting.
“I want to make them proud.” I played with the fringe on Izzie’s scarf.
“You are. You are staying out of trouble. You are doing well in school. That’s what they want from you.”
“How have things progressed with Izzie?”
“She left early. I missed her at dinner and breakfast. I can talk to her for hours without getting bored, regardless of the subject. She listens too. Her smile is –“A smile wormed its way onto my face at the thought of hers. “It could power a city. The fact that she’s able to do it in spite of her troubled home life is admirable. She makes me want to be a better person. I’m not her boyfriend, but she likes me and I really like her.”
“I’m not falling in love. We’ve only been together for a month. I’ve only known her for four. It’s a fling. I’ve been in relationships before, none of them resulted in that. What gives you the impression that this time is different?” I crinkled my forehead.
“The way you talk about her. You’d mention the others to anger your family and entertain Sal, but your sentiments never transcended shock value, general concern, and lust. You enjoy Isabella’s company on more than a physical level, discussing her always puts you in a good mood, and you’re motivated to maintain all the positive changes you’ve made. You can’t say that it feels the same.”
“But love? My lack of focus and flakiness are well documented. The specialist I was required to visit after my expulsion described me as impulsively self-destructive and emotionally withdrawn. You are the keeper of said documents.”
“Yes, which is how I know they also state your impulsiveness stems from boredom and lack of control. You stay out of harm’s way when your mind is occupied and you are able to gain a sense of fulfillment. That’s why you were heavily scheduled this summer and you’re succeeding at Sella Moora. That behavior is merely a defense mechanism, not symptoms of a mental illness. You’ve always been able to make emotional attachments, you’ve chosen not to up until this point.“
“She doesn’t want me to love her. I’ll be respecting her wishes. The point, regardless of accuracy, is moot.” I smelled her scarf.
“You don’t have to deny how you feel. It’s natural to feel this way.”
“I’m not. I mean, I am a little, but it’s because it’s so hard to read her. I have known her for months, but it feels as though I have barely scratched the surface. It would hurt to be rejected.”
“I stand corrected. You’re not falling in love, you’re in it.”
“Great, now I have to figure out how to hide it from her. Thank you for making my life more difficult, instead of easier.” I ran my hand down my face.
“You don’t need to act on anything anytime soon. Continue to enjoy your current situation. Indulge in your first love, responsibly, of course. You’ll know if and when to mention it to her.”
“Is that an order?” I smirked.
“Yes, one I’m sure you give a **** about.” He used what I said to Verna against me in a spirited manner.
I breathed a laugh. “She really does tell you everything. In context, I meant that I don’t give a **** about his ordering them to riffle through my stuff, not his orders in general.”
“I know. I would’ve given you a lecture if I believed that were the case.”
“I wish you were the one they sent. You give me room to breathe. I don’t need to trap myself in bathrooms as often.”
“I’ve been with you for fifteen years. She has two under her belt. You were a train wreck when she started. She hasn’t seen the good. Be patient, remain calm, and allow her to observe what I know.”
“And what’s that?”
“You’re a good kid, who has made his fair share of mistakes.”
“It’s nice to know someone believes in me.”
“Chin up. The hotel I arranged for you to stay at has an indoor pool. Swim through your frustration. Try to relax. The next four days will be over before you know it. You’ll be back at school with Izzie, not thinking about us at all.”
“Contrary to what you believe, I wasn’t employed to make your life miserable. It’s more than a job at this point. I genuinely care about you.”
“You’ve always known what to say.”
“I have to or you’ll check out of our conversations. Patience has never been a virtue you possess. That’s how I know you love her.”
“Just as well, I’m sure Verna and Hardwick are ready to retire to the hotel. Behave yourself.”
“I will do my best.”
I ended our called and put my phone back into my pocket. I stood up and walked up to the mirror. I unwound her scarf from my neck and examined the hickeys on my collarbone.
I hated it when girls left marks on me, but I loved it when she did. It was physical proof that it all wasn’t a dream. She was real. How I felt was overwhelming, but addictive, just as she was. I was scared to call it love, but I was with her. That was enough.