p style="margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"strongAuthor's Note: So I was rereading the story for nostalgia's sake when I realized that, personally, I kind of wanted an ending and something to tie up all the loose ends I left. So I'm back, at least for the time being. I'm sorry if this isn't cohesive with the rest of the story, my writing style changed and I probably missed some details. I also don't have an editor, so that's slightly problematic, but I'll find a way. But I wanted to give some closure to all the people who were reading this series. This isn't the last chapter, I have more coming that I'm already writing. I'll update soon. /strong/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"strongSide note: This is probably the longest chapter I've ever written so fair warning and I hope you enjoy it! There's also like random indents on some of the paragraphs and I can't get rid of them, I'll try and fix it for the next chapter. /strong/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"My stomach was tied in knots. Max, Dylan and I were waiting silently as the elevator descended to the first floor. I couldn't help but wring my hands together to prevent them from pulling the hem of my too-short dress down once more. I supposed it wasn't the shortest dress I had ever seen, but the feeling of my thighs remaining exposed to the cold air and the scrutinizing glares of others made me want to run the other direction./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanRelax," Dylan placed his hand on the small of my back. "You look nice."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"It was an odd compliment coming from him, but it still helped me to drop my hands to my sides and square my shoulders. I needed to exude confidence, and I couldn't do that while meekly staring at the floor and twiddling my thumbs. The other banquet attendees were all affluent stockholders that had more money than they could ever spend. Whether it be by the grace of God or the grace of capitalism, they had it all. So I, too, needed to act as if I owned the world. At least for one night./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;"A slight /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"ding /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"alerted me to the fact that we had reached the ground floor. The doors slid open to reveal Fang side by side with Lihn and Jesper. I avoided his gaze and instead walked forward as elegantly as one can in heels and stood before them./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Max and Dylan stood slightly behind me, leaving me open the gazes of anyone who happened to look our way. Currently, I felt a familiar dark gaze and I didn't have to look his way to know he was eying me up and down./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He cleared his throat slightly before speaking, "The dress couldn't have been longer?"/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I scoffed and opened my mouth to let out a venomous retort. Luckily, I wasn't able to begin speaking before Max did something I didn't expect her to./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI don't think what she wears is any of your concern," Max defended./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I smirked slightly watching as Fang hardened his gaze into a glare that would have scorched Max alive if it could've./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanYou look beautiful, Skylar," Jesper said with a comforting grin./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I smiled in response, feeling slightly uncomfortable with the attention and praise. I was grateful, nonetheless, for his kindness./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I stepped backward, further into Max and Dylan, before speaking. "What's the plan for tonight?"/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Everyone paused. It seemed as if they were all worried about the same thing. How exactly was tonight going to go? Could we successfully pass off as investors before even getting into the party? We were all anxiously awaiting answers that none of us could guarantee./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWe need to split up into pairs, success is more believable if there's more than one person claiming it," Fang explained. "Preferably, someone from my team will be with each one of you. My team knows all the investors we need to speak to and the details of their personal lives."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWho all do we need to talk to?" I asked. "And how are we supposed to introduce ourselves to them?"/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Lihn grinned slyly, "If we divide and conquer, each pair has about 4 couples they need to speak with, at most."/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="font-variant: normal;""/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"As for introductions," Jesper interjected, "We can all just introduce ourselves as we usually would. Maybe just make up a last name that sounds normal enough."br /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;""/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"I don't suppose Fang works as a suitable first name, though?" Dylan questioned. "Not for someone who's supposedly descended from the city's elite."/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWho's Fang?" Fang asked, ironically. "You're looking at Nick Montgomery."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I let out a small laugh before stifling it. "So how are we going to pair up?"/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI'll go with Max," Jesper offered./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanSure thing, Pretty Boy," Max jokingly winked at him before strolling over to his side and gripping his shoulder./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI can go with Skylar," Dylan began to pull me closer to his side before I stopped him./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI don't think that's exactly how this works," I spoke carefully./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Truth be told, I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to act around Fang or what to do in the odd situation I'd found myself in. Sighing, I made my way to Fang cautiously./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI'll be fine," I reassured Dylan as I planted my feet in front of Fang./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Dylan raised his brow in a silent question while I felt Fang stiffen next to me./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"emspan style="background: transparent;"Will you actually be okay?/span/em/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I didn't know, but now wasn't a time that could account for uncertainty. I silently nodded to Dylan./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"emYes/em./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"That left Dylan and Lihn to partner together while I tried to calm my thundering heart rate. I took in a shuddering breath while Fang nodded toward an elaborate doorway. Judging by the classical music drifting through the open door, carried on lilting laughs and quiet chit chat, I guessed that was the banquet hall./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanReady?" Fang asked./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"A verbal answer wasn't necessary as we all began to move toward the room./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I stopped myself from sharply inhaling when I laid my eyes upon the grandeur of it all. Everyone was dressed in clothes that looked like they cost more than the entire hotel itself. Ivory walls were littered with gold detailing, enough to make even the finest designs of the Rococo period envious. Cold marble floors seemed to extend on for a mile under the countless pairs of all-too-expensive shoes. Everything and everyone was glittering under the light of extravagant chandeliers that looked like they weighed more than I did, heavy with gold and crystal./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I refused to flinch when I felt Fang's hand sneak around me to rest on my waist. Even with the added height of my heels, I could barely see over his shoulder to see the furious look on Dylan's face. Fang turned his head slightly, craning it to just barely reach the shell of my ear./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI'm sorry," Fang whispered./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"His voice was low enough that I don't think anyone else heard it, even with their genetically superior hearing./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"What he was apologizing for, I wasn't exactly sure. I just knew his hot breath was on my ear and I was trying my best to not lean into it nor to sprint the opposite direction to escape him and his gravelly voice./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I simply turned to meet his gaze. "Who are we meeting first?"/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He nodded at Jesper and Lihn before guiding me slightly through the crowd, headed to a destination only he knew. He briefly passed a waitress with startlingly silver hair carrying a tray of bubbly, golden champagne. He snagged two champagne flutes before placing one in my hand./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI don't drink-" I began before Fang cut me off./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanIt's non-alcoholic," he said, nodding at the waitress./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"The waitress, upon a second glance, was Connecticut. She sharply turned away as if we had never met before. Which, I guessed to the knowledge of everyone else here, we hadn't./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I laughed softly and pulled away from a Fang to give off the impression we were simply another young couple exchanging amusing small talk./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I wasn't sure why but it reminded me of a quote I had read somewhere. Large parties carry an intimacy that small parties never allow for. I never understood how intimacy could be found among the symphonic roar of small talk and clinking of glasses. But here we were, surrounded by hundreds of people and none of them gave us a second glance. Had there been fewer people or less noise, I thought that maybe more attendees would give my silver hair or our young ages an odd look. None of them did, we were all alone surrounded in a sea of life./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="font-variant: normal;"Ironic/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;", I mused silently before taking a small sip from the glass in my hand. It was sweet and highly carbonated. It tasted almost like apple juice. Maybe it was./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"We started to walk farther into the crowd before Fang nudged me forward until I knocked into a soft body./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanOh," I sighed politely. "Pardon me. I wasn't looking where I was going."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"The body I had knocked into turned around with a smile. She was a petite woman, middle-aged but still refined with dignity and poise. Her gray hair was wound tightly into a bun that looked as if it was defying gravity, piled atop her head gracefully. /spanspan style="background: transparent;"Her smile was a sharp contrast to the superficial woman I had seen from behind. Her lips were startlingly painted but her eyes crinkled nicely and her cheeks were softened with dimples. Her smile was genuine, something that was unexpected at an event such as this one./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanNot to worry, dearie," she grinned while looking me up and down. "Well aren't you a sight for sore eyes."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I forced a laugh to bubble from my throat with a small, "Thank you."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Her eyes crinkled even further. "Tell me, sweetheart, what's someone as young as you doing at an event like this?"/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI'm here with my boyfriend, Nick," I clutched onto Fang's side with a sweet smile./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Fang extended his hand politely, "Nick Montgomery. It's a pleasure to meet you."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"They shook hands without a trace of awkwardness./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanA Montgomery? What a lovely family, although they didn't mention they had a son…" she phrased the question so it seemed as if it wasn't one./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI'm distantly related to Jack Montgomery, I'd be surprised if I could recall the last time I met with one of them," he replied with a mild chuckle./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I was surprised at how charming he sounded. Equally, I was just as surprised at his knowledge of all the families in attendance./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;""/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"I see the family good looks were still passed onto you, despite any /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"distant/span span style="font-variant: normal;"relation," the lady casually chatted. "Oh dear, I didn't catch your name?"/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"She turned to me expectantly./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanSkylar Forbes," I replied./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWhat a pretty name for a pretty girl," she said. "I'm Addison Ford."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I wondered if flattery was simply a part of their everyday conversation. It likely was, but I couldn't help but feel as if my walls of defense were lowering with each pleasantly passing minute./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanIt's a pleasure," I said, maintaining the soft smile on my face./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanYou're the wife of Walter Ford?" Fang interjected smoothly./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI am," she replied kindly./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I thought I'd feel more uncomfortable, playing a role and hiding behind a mask, but it was surprisingly easy. I was slightly on edge, but it disappeared with every circle of Fang's thumb on my waist and every easy smile from the woman. I felt steady./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I knew I was intelligent, but intellect had never really served the purpose of survival and fighting too well. But here, considering every word that left my mouth and discussing topics I'd never truly cared about, I felt in my element./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanThe work he's done with clean energy, it's truly admirable," Fang complimented. "I've been looking into hydraulic and eolic energy and your husband has employed some of the best researchers in the field. I'm highly impressed."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI'm sure he'd be pleased to hear that," she said. "Why don't I introduce you?"/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"The night continued in much of the same manner. Fang would guide me until I bumped into the elite of his choosing. He would make small talk, mention someone's successful husband or wife, and then eventually leave the conversation with a new business card lining his pocket./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Regrettably, I would mostly chat with the spouses. Being highly educated myself, I was able to hold conversations with them about their degrees and areas of study. If the School had done anything to me, it was ensure I was excellent. It was a quality that had never really benefitted me or impressed anyone until now./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"While I hated the idea of small talk and conversations in which you said anything but what you meant, I had to admit I was engaging in it better than I thought I would. One woman had even been a foreign language major and we had a brief conversation in Mandarin. I couldn't say my Mandarin was flawless, but it got me by well enough to put a smile on her face and ask her husband to get our contact information./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"What I did absolutely despise was the way every single person I met would look me up and down as if assessing if I was worth their time. There was a hidden analysis behind every pair of eyes I met. I guaranteed that the vast majority of people I had met decided I was a harmless and amusing young girl who was entering the business world by way of her boyfriend. Granted, it was a safe bet many of them had a similar story. But that was a fact that didn't make me dislike the clear underestimation in their eyes any less./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"It was a brief moment where Fang and I had no one to speak to. I was stood in front of a table full of food that no one was eating, myself included. That part was regrettable, especially because of the dreadful emptiness in my stomach. But the carbonated apple juice helped my stomach to not make any sound in complaint./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanMandarin?" Fang asked, breaking the comfortable silence between us./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I took another sip out of my almost empty champagne glass, "Lots of investors were Chinese so it was a good way to be personable and to also show an increased IQ."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I didn't have to mention the School by name for him to know what I was talking about: the countless investors that would enter the School every day to watch me jump through hoops (both literal and metaphorical) to please them./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanAnd eolic energy?" Fang continued to ask. "Since when do you know more about that than the woman with an engineering degree in reusable energy?"/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanDon't be pretentious, just call it wind energy," I laughed. "And if you had no one to talk to and nothing else to do, you'll read books about nearly anything."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He laughed in response and I felt my heart start to break all over again with the way conversation had started to flow so easily between us again./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanFor real though," he stated, "I knew you were impressive but I guess I've never seen you in action like this. You're incredible. And you made this so much easier with how much everyone likes you."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;"Made /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"this /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"so much easier. Right, we weren't boyfriend and girlfriend. We weren't young and wealthy investors. /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"This /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"was a mission and nothing more. It hurt a little bit and I felt my face fall slightly before schooling my features back into neutrality. /span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanRight," I said flatly. "Well, I have to use the restroom so I'll see you in a few."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I pulled away from him, shrugging his grip off of my wrist and weaving my way through the ocean of people. After walking for a bit, I found the entrance and a directory nearby it. Quickly locating the restroom, I strode in and locked myself in the stall as quickly as I could./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed my posture for the first time tonight. I felt a slight pain as my tense muscles relaxed too quickly, but in a sort of masochistic way, it was a nice pain. I could finally feel my body as it was, without forced tension and held breaths. My shoulders slumped and I covered my eyes with my palms./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I could still hear soft classical music playing from the banquet hall and it was oddly relaxing. I allowed myself to actually enjoy the pleasant melody as I hugged myself tightly, trying my best to hold myself together, even if I had to do it physically./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I took one more deep breath before readying myself to leave. I pushed the stall door open and was hardly surprised as I took in the luxuriousness of the bathroom itself. I washed my hands, focusing on the methodical actions of lathering soap and rinsing it off under the cool water. I was so focused on the task at hand, so focused on not thinking, that I barely registered the door opening. I turned to glance at the person who had just entered but I was shocked to be met with the same dark eyes I was trying to avoid./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanFang, this is a women's restroom!" I scolded. "You have to get out of here."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanRelax," he said. "No one's in here anyway."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He locked the door behind him for good measure./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanBesides," he began to walk toward me. "We already talked to all the investors we needed to. They're not the ones I need to talk to right now."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I turned away from him, drying my hands with a towel of Turkish cotton. "I don't have anything to say to you, Fang."/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanSo don't say anything. Just listen to me." I don't think I'd ever heard Fang beg, but now with his eyes wide and sad, it felt all too similar to pleading. "Please."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I exhaled heavily through my nose before turning to face him. I leaned against the wall behind me with crossed arms and stared into his eyes./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;""/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"I know I left. I know I didn't say anything to anyone and I just up and left. I hurt people. I hurt /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"you /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"and if you think that it didn't kill me to do that then you're wrong," his voice was rough with emotion and it almost made me feel bad for him. /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"Almost/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI made a mistake but I thought I was protecting you," he explained. "God, I messed up and I know that now."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He scrubbed his face with his hand as he sighed thickly./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I continued to hold my arms around myself. I was afraid that if I didn't I might do something stupid. Something like wrapping them around him. I wanted to scoff at the thought, I'd become so cliche. I was so affected by everything he did and said. What was the point of giving him that sort of power over me if he was just going to leave?/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;""/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"I just- I kept thinking to myself, how could I protect you if all I was constantly thinking about was you? I kept thinking about the way you cover your face when you laugh or the way you put your head on my shoulder when you're tired or the way you squeeze my hand when you know I'm nervous. I kept asking myself how could I protect you while /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"loving/span span style="font-variant: normal;"you."/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I hated the way I felt my face heat up with a blush. I hated that my heart started to beat more rapidly in my chest. I especially hated the way I felt the mask I was wearing, the mask I'd worked so hard to keep on despite all the chaos around me, fall to the floor and shatter./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanI made a mistake, okay?" Fang said. "I made a mistake and I can't expect you to forgive that. But I'm sorry. I'm so sorry even if you stay mad at me and you never speak to me again after tonight. I just needed to tell you that I'm sorry and that I didn't leave because I didn't love you. As cliche as it sounds, I left because I did. It was a stupid decision and I don't really understand it. And I know that doesn't make any sense but-"/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanFang," I said simply./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He froze in the middle of his speech. He didn't say anything. He just stared at me looking mildly terrified. For the first time, I saw him as he was: a teenage boy./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"As ridiculous as it sounded, he had never seemed so vulnerable than with his hair flopping into his eyes and his chest slightly panting from all of the words he was trying to force out in such little time. I knew he wasn't the sappy or expressive type, but it was immediately apparent by how much saying those words impacted him./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanFang," I repeated, wishing my voice hadn't been so soft. "I... I think I forgive you."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I wanted to hug him. I wanted to genuinely feel safe, a feeling I hadn't felt since he had left./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I had never wanted to be the kind of person who entirely depended on someone else. But I guess I had, in a weird way, with Fang. I never wanted to be the kind of person who so readily fell in love. But I had done it all over again in a few minutes. I started to feel like maybe that wasn't such a bad thing./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanBut we need to go back out there before the others worry or before anyone gets suspicious, okay?" I dropped my arms to my sides and kicked off the wall to begin walking back to the banquet hall. "Can we talk about this later?"/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"My voice sounded so hopeful I wanted to gag./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanOf course."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He unlocked the door and held it open for me. I walked through and looked back with a small grin. He walked quickly to match my pace. He snaked a warm arm around my waist as we headed toward the banquet and I had to force my smile not to stretch any wider than it already was./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"When we entered the room, we noticed an immediate shift. I felt Fang tense at my side and I was sure I did the same. I glanced up at Fang before pulling him with me as I made my way through the crowd of people./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I weaved through bodies and dodged flying limbs until I saw a familiar flash of red out of my peripheral vision. I immediately began lightly pushing my way through everyone, apologizing profusely to each and every person I knocked into on my way./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Finally, I reached a corner toward the front of the room. I saw Max, Dylan, Jesper, and Lihn all staring anxiously toward one person in particular./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"A scientist in a white lab coat stood upon the stage at the other end of the room. His voice boomed and echoed through the speakers attached to his microphone. I found myself wishing I didn't have superior hearing because when the mic sent out shockwaves of reverb the sound of it sharply stabbed my eardrums./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I leaned into Fang slightly more when I noticed everyone in the room had their eyes glued to the man. He was speaking like he was a politician trying to win over each and every person in the room./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWe all are here because we're trying to send a message," the man belted out. "Each and every one of you is vital to our society. You are the city's wealthiest, most well-educated and most well-connected."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;"Wow/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;", I thought sarcastically, /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"way to be modest about the situation./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanAnd it is all of you who have the capacity to initiate change in our society," he said. "And that is why you have been invited to this event. We deemed you significant enough to orchestrate the sort of revolution the world has been needing."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanYou all might be asking what revolution, is it exactly, that we are asking you to get behind?" The man illustrated the thoughts of everyone in the room. "We all know the world is corrupt. We have life-changing sciences and we're not using them because the people in power are not only corrupt but incapable."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;" I turned to Fang. I asked, "Life-changing sciences?"/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;" "spanspanYou don't think he knows about us?" Fang's eyes widened almost imperceptibly./span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;" "/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"What if he does?" I / We stopped talking to continue listening to what was spewing from the scientist's mouth./span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;" "spanspanBut what if we could motivate the world to change? Using the efforts of the people within this room, we could not only increase your standings in society even further, but you could also become those who started a revolution."/span/span/span/p
p style="margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;" "spanspanLots of you are memorable now, but will that hold up in history?" He spoke almost threateningly./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I wasn't surprised to see many people looking around in confusion. None of us knew what this man was truly implying or trying to get anyone to do. It didn't sound like a call to action, entirely. But if it wasn't that, what was it?/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;"Think, Skylar, think, /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"I told myself. /spanspan style="font-variant: normal;"Why would a man need the most significant people in society all gathered in one room?/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"He could have met with any of them individually. It's a lot easier to convince a crowd of two than it is to convince two-hundred. He could have taken a more personalized approach to each person, guaranteeing a higher success rate of converts./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;"So why would he gather everyone together?/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I couldn't put together how it could be more effective than simply meeting personally./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; line-height: 200%;"span style="font-variant: normal;"For press reasons/spanspan style="font-variant: normal;", I supposed./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"There would be more media coverage if they were all together. But then again, none of us were doing anything noteworthy so I doubted it would be front-page news./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"The epiphany crawled into my brain far too late for it to have made a difference./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanFang!" I gripped his shoulders tightly and I had no idea how crazy I must've looked. "It's a trap and we have to get out of here. Right now."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I started to grab the others and drag them back into the crowd of people. Fang leaned over and said, "What's going on?"/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"It wasn't accusatory, and I could tell he believed me./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I kept moving the others forward as I explained as quietly as I could. "Why else would he gather the most significant people in a room to do nothing? It would've been more effective to just talk to them individually. But instead, he's gathered everyone here to get people's attention. Nothing we've done is attention-worthy or enough to spark any change. The only thing that would actually create the revolution he's talking about is if… If people get hurt."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I knew the others in our group had heard when I watched their faces go pale./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanYou're sure?" Max asked./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWhy else would all of these people be here with no press around? The press have to be alive to tell the story," I replied./span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I heard Jesper mumble several curses and Max began looking around as if she could find some sort of clue as to what was about to happen./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWe need to keep moving, the only way we can get everyone out in time is if we create an emergency."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Dylan replied this time. "We all have some things that if we were to reveal would cause plenty of emergencies."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanWe can't do that," I said. "It would just shock everyone, it wouldn't get them to actually leave."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"I thought for a minute. "A fire alarm."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"Fang finished my thought, "If we pull a fire alarm, emergency services will be contacted and everyone will get out of the building."/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;""spanspanCome on," I said, gripping Fang's hand. "We have to get moving before whatever he's planning actually happens."/span/span/span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"We kept pushing through people. This time, no apologies were uttered. We were so close to the door when it happened. Max had been only ten feet from the exit. If we all had just moved a little faster or figured out his plan sooner, everyone would have been fine./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"It was the loudest sound I had ever heard. It boomed across the entire hotel and likely into the streets outside of it. I watched as a ripple of fire and ash came toward us. It was faster, faster than any of us could run or even fly./span/p
p style="text-indent: .5in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 200%; text-decoration: none;"span style="background: transparent;"The world came crashing down around us and it ended in the color of smoke./span/p