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When I called Milo prior to heading over to his place, he tried to mask the fact that he was upset. It was evident that he was. I invited him to the place he felt most comfortable, beneath the lone tree in the field on admissions hill.
I sat down in the grass as I waited for him to arrive, clutching my legs to my chest. I gazed at nothing in particular.
I mentally went over the statement I was submitting to the prosecutor over break. I was doing all that I could to be brave, but I had too much fear to mask. Colt had always made me uncomfortable, like he was constantly trying to undress me with his eyes. Some girls found it flattering, but it made my skin crawl. He was attempting to pry into something personal.
Tears rushed to my eyes each time I realized he succeeded once and attempted to go back for seconds without my consent or recollection.
“You have always been darling, but this level of empathy is bordering on worrisome.”
I was jarred from my thoughts. I glanced over to find Milo’s easy smile.
“I’m not that nice.” I quipped as he sat down.
“Your expression begs to differ.”
“Sometimes it sucks that you see me.” I forced a smile. “What’s got you wound up?” I quickly changed the subject.
“I can’t go to New York as planned. An assistant and several bodyguards have to accompany me. I have to stay in a hotel of the palace’s choosing and fly there with our plane.”
“What’s the problem, exactly?”
“I don’t want to be isolated and babysat on what’s supposed to be a fun trip with my friends.”
“Can we go and stay with you? We passed our background checks.”
“You’d attempt to put up with them?” He raised an eyebrow in suspicion.
“Why wouldn’t I? I love you. Our friends do too. We had our hearts set on taking on the city together.”
“We’ll have to tell the girls who I am.”
“It won’t be nearly as difficult as you think. Trust me.” I took his hand.
“You better be right.” He moved his lips closer to mine.
“Aren’t I always?” I closed the remaining distance between us.
“No.” He kissed my cheek as I giggled.
“Can I ask you something?” He transitioned to a more serious tone.
“Why would I say ‘no’ to that question?” I looked down at our hands and played with his fingers.
“It might not be an easy one to answer.”
“Just do it, okay?” I snapped at him. I regretted it the moment I registered my tone.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You get distant every time we talk about New York. Your parents cannot be entirely to blame. We have talked about them prior and have never gotten that look.”
“What look?” I squeaked.
“All the light drains from your eyes, like you’re hollowing yourself out while pretending to be whole.”
I remained silent.
“Iz.“ He broke the awkward silence we were sitting in for over five minutes.
“I’m not ready for a lot of people to know. I can barely admit it to myself.” I cleared my throat.
“Especially.” Saltwater kissed my cheek.
“I’ll say and do things I shouldn’t, but I can promise you this – I’ll be here for you when it counts.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
“We’ve already talked about you learning to believe in me.” He playfully jabbed, putting his arm around me.
I melted into him. “Belief and blind optimism are two entirely different things.”
“You are not even willing to joke with me. That is not a good sign.”
“Not until I know I’ll be okay.”
“What constitutes ‘okay’?”
“I don’t know, plenty of things – my dad look at me like I’m his daughter instead of a human-sized disappointment for starters.”
“When was the last time you talked to him?”
“Last week. He said I needed to meet with him while I was in New York.”
“How’d he sound?”
“Cold. I don’t even know why I’m hoping it was all just a front for how he really feels.”
“I am certainly unauthorized to offer words of encouragement. I am guilty of doing the same.”
“Did you ever call your mom for her birthday?”
“No, she would be highly confused. It is not until May. I haven’t spoken to either of my parents directly since winter holiday.”
“Was it a real conversation or for appearances?”
“My mother fussed over me before I left for school. It was more instinctual than personal, but it was one of the rare occasions where she felt like my mom. My father said I looked well one evening. It wasn’t a father of the year comment, but I knew he was talking about my sobriety.”
“I’m happy he sees that you’re trying.”
“If he can look past what I’ve done, I’m sure your father can too.”
“It’s very complicated, but thanks for trying.” I put my hand on the side of his face.
“Will you be there when I tell the girls?”
We sat together, saying nothing in particular as we enjoyed the mild weather of spring. I texted Elle, notifying her to gather Morgan and Sami and wait in our living room prior to leaving the field with Milo.
“Elle’s officially lost it! She’s trying to cut my hair!” Sami shouted as soon as we entered the suite.
“Correction: I’m trying to give her layers. It will make it more dimensional and easier to style.” Elle filed her nails to a uniform length.
“Okayyy. ..Where’s Morgan?” I locked our door.
“Chemistry tutoring. She’ll be here soon. Just do the thing so that Sami stops shrieking.”
“Whoa! Back up! If I were trying to dye your hair, you’d throw the biggest hissy fit about every aspect!”
“What do you need Izzie to do exactly?” Milo interrupted, sitting down in the empty armchair.
“Serve as referee to ensure they don’t kill each other with their excess of opinions.” I sat on his lap to share a seat. “So, Elle, why do you need to do whatever it is you’re trying to do to Sami’s hair?” I asked her.
“It will look so much better. Do I really need to say more?”
“Sami, why do you have such an issue with it?” I looked to her.
“What if she messes it up and I look stupid? I’ll be the one walking around like that, not her. I’m the one risking my hair.” She crossed her arms.
“I won’t mess up.” Elle quickly interjected.
“You don’t know that! Your hand could slip; and BOOM! – I have a bald spot!”
“I’m not cutting that much. Nothing I plan to do could possibly result in a bald spot!” Elle retorted.
“Geez, what are you two shouting about?” Morgan walked into our suite.
“She wants to cut my hair!” Sami shouted, pointing at Ellen.
“LAYER – not cut!” Elle immediately corrected.
“How about this: if Elle messes up your hair, you can mess up her hair in an identical fashion. That way, she’ll be careful and you won’t be the only walking around with botched hair if she messes up.” Morgan suggested.
“Yeah, I could work with that.” Sami compromised. Ellen nodded in agreement.
“Seriously, how are you so good at this?” I asked.
“Years of practice.” Morgan shrugged with a smile.
“There’s a reason we call her ‘mom’.” Sami patted the empty seat beside her.
“I told Iz earlier, but almost everyone is saying you make a really cute couple, Milo.”
“Why do I feel like I know the people who filed complaints?” He put his arms around my waist.
“Small school?” Morgan offered.
“Your naivety about this sort of thing is refreshing. A great contrast to the general saturation of information.” Elle blew her a kiss. She returned her attention to Milo. “She’s having her cronies troll. She has to pretend she’s too cool to care.”
“Is she bothering you?” He addressed me privately.
“I don’t have any social media accounts. I have no clue what they are saying. She never talks to me; none of them do. Don’t worry about it.”
“To keep Elle from making this into a post-date interview, can we know why we’re here?” Sami brought the conversation back to its original subject.
“I would greatly appreciate your discretion and understanding. I did not tell you sooner, not because I did not feel as though I could trust you, but because I wanted you to get to know who I am as a person.”
“Annnnd….” Sami used her hand to coax him onward.
“I’m the prince of Listonenia.”
“Good one, not as good as Finn convincing most of the freshman that he was an Olympic skipper, but decent enough. There are actually princes in the world. There’s no skipping competition in the Olympics, but they do have fast walking. You all should’ve been there; it was hilarious.” She smiled at the memory.
“He’s serious. Look it up. ” Elle told her.
“You know?” Milo and I asked in harmony.
“Did you really think that you could tell me you were from a place I’ve never heard of and NOT have me look it up?”
“But you have kept it to yourself.” Milo pointed out slowly.
“Uhhh, ch’yeah. I only give people information if they ask for it directly. No one has come up to me and said, ‘Hey, Elle, is Milo a prince?’. You’re quite humble, all things considered; any idiot, by that I mean Ryan, can tell that that’s not what you want to be known for here.”
“Thank you.” He smiled softly.
“Do your roommates know?” Morgan asked.
“Yes. They went to Listonenia with me for spring holiday last year.“
“Have we been submitted to background checks?” Sami inquired next.
“Did I pass?” She pressed.
“I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”
“They did a ****** job then.” She made light of the situation.
He grinned. “I am safe as long as I am on your good side. They are banking on me being smart enough to avoid making you mad.”
“Why didn’t you want to tell us?” Morgan folded her hands in her lap.
“I used to act out a lot back home. All of it made headlines. I didn’t want you to base your opinion of me on the things I did because I wanted a say in my life.”
“You’re still our Milo.” She offered him a sympathetic smile.
Elle nodded in agreement. “What made you tell us?”
“Our travel plans have been drastically changed. We have to fly on a private jet. We’ll be staying in a hotel that can handle my security team. I’ll have a bodyguard with me at all times. I’ll also have an advisor. She’ll keep up with schedules, handle publicity and keep me from embarrassing my family.” .
“Is it bad that I’m more excited now?” Elle questioned.
He was taken back. “Why?”
“Our vaca won’t be like the other groups going. We get a private V.I.P addition of spring break. I love it.” Elle beamed.
“I told you you’d be okay.” I nudged Milo with my shoulder.
“You will be too.”