Written by Sparrow
Characters from Tortall naturally belong to Tamora Pierce. Culfield University is completely fictional by the way, so are the characters!
Bad. Evil. Mean. On first glance, they appear to be very clear words with precise meanings that are black and white. But on second thought and with much more experience of the world, it will be discovered that the definitions of such words can be rather subjective and relative. Do intentions or actions define whether a person is mean? Do the means justify the ends?
Unlike the stories we were told upon our parents' laps, most people do not want to do evil. They do not think, ah ha! I shall be an evil villain, and shall mark myself clearly out to be so by being horribly ugly and mean and surround myself with a suitable number of like-minded minions. Instead, most often, they will self-rationalise or self-justify their actions. Some silencing their conscience and appeasing it by thinking that what they are doing is right or more seductively, entirely logical, practical. Thus, satisfied with their way of so called reasoning, they will continue in their actions, actually believing that what they do is right. It is horribly difficult to condemn such people in their actions. They truly do believe what they are doing is right. But are just horribly misguided in thinking so. Their only fault is allowing themselves to seduce or self rationalize or justify their ways in doing so. Instead of normally thinking through the process, applying their values and coming to a conclusion. They think backwards. They come up with the conclusion they like, then justify or rationalize their way towards it.
It is indeed most unfortunate that Daine the ill-luck to run across such a person and incur her dislike. At first glance, Camilia did not look like such a mean or evil person. She was beautiful, with golden curls, blue eyes and a smile like an angel. Her manners were pretty, she was pleasant and always had a smile on her face. No, Camilia was not the girl who Daine caught Perrin smooching with at the Deli.
That girl was Camilia's best friend.
Things might have been different if Camilia was that very girl that Perrin was canoodling. But she was not. And because of that, anything Camilia did to Daine, she gained absolutely no benefit. Her best friend did. And because she was in a way, helping her best friend, she did not think of her actions as closely as she should have, nor the means she used to achieve her ends. Camilia felt herself perfectly justified in protecting her best friend's actions in hooking up with Perrin.
After all, why force a relationship between Perrin and Daine when clearly, her best friend was so much better for him? Sure, Perrin and Daine may have been in a so called relationship, but that is just mere labeling, a mere technicality. They were not married, right? Perrin's heart was not in it, surely Daine should have realized it? Shouldn't Daine have taken steps to break it off, instead of dragging Perrin to her every whim? Her best friend was just helping to speed things up and help all parties concerned. It would have been incredibly disastrous if Perrin and Daine married before they realized their hearts were not in it or that the relationship would not work! Think of all the time wasted in her best friend pining away for Perrin and for all parties concerned. It takes two hands to clap and Perrin would never have strayed if Daine was not keeping him happy…
Camilia had staved and quashing any sort of murmuring from her conscience and felt righteous, like a guardian angel, in protecting her best friend. She spread rumours, quashed gossip that tainted her best friend in anyway. For indeed, so convinced was she that Daine was the villain in this situation that when Camilia heard Miri defending Daine, Camilia was absolutely incensed. How dare she, Miri paint her best friend in such a bad light? Surely Daine must have been pouring poison in Miri's ear. Can't that girl just let go? They broke up, move on with life!
It was of course greatly ironic that Camilia was guilty of much worse conduct than Miri. In applying double standards, she thrust from her mind any thoughts that it would be natural for people to defend their best friends. Instead, she imputed much fabricated evil and ill-will behind Miri's words. She rationalized that it was possible, no, it is very possible that Miri had been spreading around rumours. That Daine had to be dealt with. She must be the mastermind behind this! Logically, who else stands to gain from any bad gossip about her best friend?
As a result of her thinking, she did not feel any qualms in spreading more rumours that it was Daine who hung on to the relationship, refusing to let Perrin go and stalking him, purposely creating a scene and humiliating him in public! This is despite herself knowing all these to be lies and pure fabrication. Her mind worked fiendishly and hard and soon she was half-convinced that what she said was true. Thus, she was greatly disturbed when her best friend told her that Perrin was more distant and thought of Daine more now that Daine had apparently, a new boyfriend.
That she-devil! Trying the oldest trick in the book! Jealousy. Trying to entice Perrin away and using another poor boy in her scheme. Well! That girl has to be taught a lesson. It was her duty, no, more than that, it was right to try to put Daine entirely out of the picture altogether. Culfield University should know what kind of person Daine is!
Rules and regulations were hardly a bar to Camilia's twisted reasoning. In breach of rules, while she was taking care of the examination candidates' personal belongings during the exam, she searched and took Daine's phone. All she had to do was to make a short call, return the phone and let karma kick in.
"Oh hi, you must be Daine's new boyfriend?"
"And you are?" the voice asked warily at the saccharine voice.
"Oh, I'm Camilia, you must have heard of me," Camilia drawled in reply. "Voted the hottest freshman in my year."
"Where is Daine?"
"In the exam hall. I'm just helping Daine look after the phone while she is in the examination hall. School regulations against bringing mobile phones in and all that," Camilia replied, then said flirtatiously, "So, how's a cute guy like you hanging around with Daine?"
"You don't even know how I look like," the voice responded logically.
"Well, women have a sixth sense about things, you know… Your voice, well, it really sends chills down my spine and I really… love… it… So… how about it? It can be our little secret, you and I…"
"There is NO you and I," he said firmly.
Camilia laughed a twinkling laugh, "Not yet, but I am sure you want to… come to the Winter Ball with me."
"No," the voice remarked dryly.
"Oh, what a tease you are," she said sultrily. "I know you want to… go out with me… and get… possibly lucky…"
"No, and where is Daine?" the voice asked.
"Why are you so insistent on that girl? She's in the examination hall," Camilia responded. "You don't know what a terrible person she is. She is a nice person, but she has a sense of insecurity. She likes to portray herself as someone vulnerable which guys really fall for. But, once they know her well enough, they realize that she can be a bit too possessive. Understandably because of her whole broken family background and her lack of security."
Camilia paused and shared in a confidential whisper, "I really don't want to say bad things about her and it is awfully mean for me to say it. But, I can't just stand by to watch you accidentally get burnt with her. Just like my friend's boyfriend. She started stalking my friend's boyfriend and became obsessed with him. Thinking that he was hers, she followed them to a restaurant and made a horrible scene about it. But commendably, although he had every right to tell her to go to hell, he put his foot down firmly and told her to leave him alone."
"Ah yes, the incident at the Deli," the voice said dryly.
"Yes, you must have heard of it. Though Daine had twisted the news to her own benefit so that he would face pressure to go back to her," Camilia remarked.
There was a long pause, the voice seemed to be thinking.
"Oh come on big boy," she teased.
"So you have been helping your friend tell this… information to everyone," the voice inquired.
Camilia laughed, "Of course I have, that little witch had it coming a long time. Hankering after Perrin, thinking that she was good enough for him. He was too kind hearted in not rebuffing her embarrassing attempts."
"So, you want me to go with you for the Winter Ball and leave Daine stranded without a date." the voice commented dryly.
"Oh, you make it sound so bad! But great minds things alike! It's really just helping to balance karma. I really care about Daine and want to make sure she learns her lesson. I mean, in the future when she goes to work, she can't expect all people to be as nice as me! She has to learn some humility. Not to depend on guys so much or be such a desperado!" Camilia explained earnestly.
"If I don't go with her, Daine will find another date. So your plan might not work either way," the voice responded, neutrally.
"So are you interested in going to the ball with me?" Camilia asked eagerly.
"I'm always interested in setting things right, and letting people get their just deserts," the voice replied neutrally.
"Well, as you know, tradition at the Winter Ball is to give the most "talked about freshman" prize. So the emcees will call out the list of nominees for this prize. As you know, being the most talked about can be complimentary or insulting. Like," she giggled. "You remember Numair winning the prize in his freshman year, for being the most talked about bachelor in campus for being sooo hot and eligible. Second place went to Evin Larse for being the second most talked about freshman for pulling that outrageous stunt on the Dean's beloved car! Well then, as you know, there will be five nominees and three prizes. According to tradition, the emcees will shine the spotlight on the nominee and the nominee's date will help give a short speech on behalf of the nominee on why he/she should win the prize."
"So you want me to give a bad speech?" the voice asked curiously.
"No," Camilia replied. "I want you to meet her at the ball, give some romantic excuse. Arrange such that she can identify you by a certain object, like, a red rose or something. So the emcees will be calling us on stage. Naturally her for the Yella Deli incident and me, for being the hottest fresh man on campus. Afterwards, they will call for their dates to come on stage. You will go on stage and act as if you will walk towards her, but walk towards me in the end. You will then commend me for the award and put her down, stating how ordinary and dull she is, etc."
"I see," the voice said. "Are you sure that none of Daine's friends will go on stage to help her?"
"Ha," Camilia sniffed. "Please, she doesn't mix around with guys at all. Only with a few friends. Such an anti-social girl. Too busy chasing guys to make more friends. So are you willing to try and set things right?"
"Definitely," the voice agreed affably.
Daine bit her lip, nervously shaking her leg in the car. Miri happily sang along to the car radio, she turned to Daine, "Relax girl, you look hot! I just don't know why you insist on wearing that ugly jacket to the Winter Ball."
Daine folded her arms. "If I wasn't wearing something so airy, I wouldn't feel cold. Besides I'm leaving the jacket at the closet room." 'Where HE will take the jacket and wear it. Which is how I'm supposed to recognize him,' she thought. She nervously fingered her gown, wondering how he would react when he saw her. She must admit that she definitely looked her best, but was unsure if she could carry off the look. Her hair was pinned back, with her curls tumbling down her back, a few loose tendrils softened her face. The make-up was dramatic, with a dark tone to it. Miri had really piled on the dark eye shadow, mascara that supposedly made her eyes look sultry. Daine had first blinked at her reflection, thinking that her eyes looked really big on her face. She wore a blue gown that brought out the matching shades in her eyes. It had a plunging neckline and back. There was a crisscross of fabric below her bust to accentuate her figure and the flowing skirt made her feel like twirling around and around. Miri swore that she looked incredibly good, which was a distinct change from her usual T-shirt and jeans she wore around campus.
Daine glanced at Miri, she was wearing a bright orange halter dress with an asymmetrical hem. Somehow, the colour suited Miri, she had a nice peachy glow to her complexion and was reflective of her cheerful personality. Evin Larse, Miri's recently acquired boyfriend was waiting for her at the Winter Ball. No doubt because he was told that "duty called". Miri had pounced on Daine in the afternoon to whisk her into the dress and do the relevant make-up. This was probably to stop Daine from chickening out half way and not go to the Winter Ball. Daine sighed, she had finally agreed to wear this dress because it was to show Perrin what he was missing. But, if she was honest to herself, she wore it for HIM. The voice. She wondered how he looked like and whether he would like her… Well, she did feel this bit of connection with him… ah heck, yes, she liked him. She really did. But she wondered if he would like her. He is a guy after all, and guys tend to place emphasis on looks. Like Perrin had amply shown. Though a small voice at the back of her mind told her she was being a bit too cynical about the male species.
They reached the University hall. Being built in the 1800s, Culfield University had a unique architecture. It was a rather grand hall which needed no or little decorations. The carving along the walls and soaring pillars were magnificent. The ceiling was a laborious and wondrous piece of art undertaken by the artists of those times, commissioned by Lord Culfield (the founder of the University). There were huge impressive paintings that originally hung on the walls. Impressive not only because of their size (a life size portrait was really a life size portrait back then), but also because of their intricate frames. However, to preserve the lifespan of the paintings and its frames, the university wisely kept them away in a special storage room and only displayed them on special occasions. This was NOT one of them. In fact, antique paintings, university students and alcohol were definitely not a good mix. The grand design of the hall made decorating easy or difficult. It was not a place to use cheap crepe paper or balloons, which would look incredibly tacky in such surroundings. Instead, committees either left the hall as it is, or threw in a healthy budget to perhaps get chiffon and satin (like last year's Winter Ball) to drape around the room at strategic places. Daine rather they left the hall alone and use the money for better food. Somehow, balls notoriously had sub-standard food.
Unlike other students, Miri drove Daine and herself to the ball in her sturdy Ford car. The more affluent students (and the more attention seeking ones as well) hired limousines or expensive cars with chauffeurs. Daine didn't begrudge them the need to splurge on the event, but it was an annual affair and wasn't the grandest ball of the lot that was thrown. Nonetheless, it would have been lovely to be driven to the doorstep, as driving by one's self means that one has to walk to the hall after parking. Which can be pretty daunting when it is winter and gowns were not meant for cold temperatures. Nonetheless, her oversized jacket kept her suitably warm and she strolled to the hall with a bouncy Miri at her side.
They entered through the grand doors. Naturally, it did not immediately open to the hall. Contrary to what most people thought for olden buildings, there is normally a chamber or two, perhaps even a reception room before the actual hall. This is to allow the hall to be better retain heat and insulated against the cold from outside. Perhaps it was movies showing heroines, dramatically flinging open the door to a ballroom and everyone gasping at her beauty. Well, it was only sensible for guests to put down their outerwear before they went into the actual hall itself. Struggling out of outer wear was a rather unglamorous thing to do if it was in full view of everyone.
For the Culfield University Hall, the doors opened to a reception area that was filled with people taking photos or a breather from the music inside the hall. Daine wondered briefly, if HE was here, among the throngs of people. She heard some giggling and tried not to blush to see Camilia and her friends smirk at her. Camilia was a good friend of the girl that Perrin had a fling with. This meant that Perrin and the girl are probably not too far away.
"Whose poor guy's jacket did she steal?" Camilia remarked, before her henchlings burst into peals of twinkling laughter.
"Aw ignore them," Miri said. "Those witches are just jealous. And will be even more so when you ditch that jacket."
Daine clutched the lapels of the jacket, ready to take it off and took in a breath. 'Alright Daine, this is it. You are ultra fabulous. Good body. Nothing to be ashamed of. Pride. Yes pride is good. You may not be the most top heavy woman around, but you sure are toned.'
"Stop thinking about it," Miri muttered. Miri yanked off the jacket and handed it to the attendant.
She tried to look confident when she turned to see a shocked Perrin. A delicious thrill of satisfaction ran through her although she fought to stop looking down to make sure all her assets were covered. They should be, she had double-taped the dress down to really make sure no accidents happened. Well, she did look good in the dress. She strolled towards the hall with Miri before Miri was accosted by Evin. Damn! So much for a spiffy exit! Now she had to practice looking like she was involved in their conversation, although it was pretty obvious they were cooing over how good each other looked. The words "third wheel!" was screaming in her mind as she absent mindedly scanned the room. Suddenly, her blue-grey eyes were caught by dark eyes.
Numair Salmalin was leaning casually against the wall. She knew he had also looked a bit shocked when he saw her since he happened to be somewhat behind Perrin and was in her line of vision. She attributed it to her suddenly showing, oh wow, look at me, I got a figure, see see. He looked absolutely delicious in the formal clothes he was wearing. She knew that she really shouldn't be staring at him and felt mild curiosity at not seeing Varice near him. Varice tended to be clingy as a vine when she was around Numair. He cocked up an eyebrow, raising his cocktail glass. As if silently making a toast at her for her entrance.
'Oh, the hell with it. You only live once!' She winked back at him and gave a slight smile before turning her gaze back to Miri and Evin. She and Evin were towed unmercilessly by Miri into the hall. They signed into the book and found that they were surprisingly given a good table. Normally, students were encouraged to form tables of ten when they bought the tickets to the Winter Ball. Students who did not form groups were then grouped and placed at the Organising Committee's discretion. Since these students tended to be the less socially popular, (hence, the inability to form groups of ten) they were generally placed in rather awkwardly placed tables.
"We must be really moving up in the social world," Evin remarked. "I wonder who are the other poor chaps who were foisted to sit with us."
"Hmm…" Miri murmured. "Maybe one of us must be getting some award, which explains why we're in such good seating and near the stage."
Daine felt a cold shiver down her spine and started to raise from her seat, "Do you really think so? That sounds a bit ominous since we-"
"Daine!" Onua called, plunking down next to Daine, pushing down Daine on her seat with her hand. "I'm so glad you are sitting at my table!"
"Uh hi Onua," Daine smiled. Onua was Daine's senior in her hall. Though they were just acquaintances, Daine warmed up to Onua immediately as Onua was a naturally friendly individual who just clicked with most people.
"Heya Onua!" Evin greeted. "I'm surprised you are with us actually, would have thought that you would be with your usual clique." He gestured with his head to the prominent table where the most popular seniors sat – Buri, Raoul, Jonathan, Thayet, etc.
"Nah," Onua smiled. "I'm coming here solo this year, so wouldn't want to be at that couple-dom table. Especially since Buri got attached to Raoul recently, I fear I am the only single person left in my clique!"
"Oooohh," Miri said. "That would imply that Numair would be similarly taken. I wonder who is the lucky girl? I heard he has been drowning in offers from the top firms even before he graduates. This has spurred on the attempts of our female population to hook this soon-to-be-filthy-rich bachelor." Miri glanced around, "Our favourite contender Varice is seated at another table from your clique…"
"He's not taken," Onua said, looking at Daine directly who had been watching amiably to the conversation between Miri and Onua.
"Hmm?" Daine responded. "Good for him."
"Woman, don't you care? The university's most eligible man is about to be taken away!" Miri scolded.
Daine looked at Miri and laughed, "Why should I? We're in completely different circles. I don't even know the guy. It's like hearing Brad Pitt getting together with Angelina Jolie. Good for them, but I don't really care."
"Hmm…" Onua hummed. "Well, how did your semester go? Anything memorable?"
There was awkward silence at the table and Evin and Miri quickly stumbled to cover up the silence. Daine had no doubt that they had all thought of the infamous Yella Deli incident. She sighed and cast her eye around the ballroom. 'Where is he?' she thought. 'I hope he had not changed his mind!'
Daine bit her lip, and tried to smile politely whenever a joke was cracked at her table. She really shouldn't have raised her hopes… or even hope for that matter. Hadn't she learnt her lesson with Perrin? Placing hopes on people never gets rewarded. It's better not to hope. So that this heavy feeling of disappointment wouldn't be upon her. The dinner was in full swing and no sight of her jacket. Any person who moved in her general direction was treated to her full gaze… and she was beginning to feel like the desperado that Camilia always liked to poke fun at her about. When someone at her table commented about her wandering attention (and eye), Miri joked that she's a swinging single and is lucky that she can scope out the guy scene since most of the hotties on campus have turned up for the ball (this was met with an exaggerated clearing of throat by Evin).
'Get a grip Daine!' Daine scolded herself. 'It is not like he's your boyfriend or if there's any sort of commitment on both parties. Perhaps he couldn't turn up last minute… or maybe he chickened out…' She shook her head. It was no use speculating what could have been. 'I guess deep down inside I thought he would be this prince in shining armour, coming to swoop me off my feet. Yeah,' she smiled to herself. 'It would be perfect if he was hot, so Perrin could see that I'm doing much better than him… Petty, but yeah, that would be good.' She muffled her giggling. The strange thing is that she would not mind a hoot if Perrin was attached or had a whole harem of girls if she was happily attached herself. But being single, and a third wheel between her best friend and her boyfriend? She just wished he wasn't attached, that he would be single and alone like her. She shook her head, hypocritical, weird, but that bad taste was still in her mouth when she saw Perrin with Kimberly on his arm. Argh, why couldn't Kimberly be a bit less pretty or less busty? 'That's life… I get dumped by a jerk, he picks up girls like nobody's business and here I am, waiting for this guy who I have only spoke to on the telephone…'
Suddenly, she was blinded by a bright spotlight on her. Joren drawled, "It's that time of the night that you've been all waiting for." Joren was awfully blunt and can be downright insulting. But his good looks allowed him to get away with it and it added to his "cool" image. His personality was irritating, but was good for entertainment as an emcee in putting people on the spot and seeing how they react to his rudeness. A meaner version of Simon Cowell actually. Daine ignored him throughout the night, he was a typical boot licker in university – only attracted to the popular and fun people, people who were useful. Otherwise, everyone got the sharp end of his tongue.
"The most talked about freshman award! Can our three nominees come on stage? Paul Hassard, Veralidaine Sarrasri and. Camilia Breene."
Daine just wanted the ground to open up and swallow her NOW. Whenever someone called her by her full name (mainly teachers and her mother), it meant she was in big trouble. An ominous feeling swamped her. If she had a choice, she would have sneaked away. But with the big spotlight on her and everyone's stares, there was no way she could do so without making a fool of herself. Oh how she wished she was outgoing or flirty like Varice! She would have handled everything with aplomb, and probably batted her eyelashes through everything. Like the absence of a date. Oh, you mean I have to settle on one
"Don't worry," Miri whispered. "I'll get Evin to go up to say something."
"No," Daine whispered back. It was even more humiliating to have what everyone knows as her best friend's boyfriend to come up on stage and speak on her behalf. It was better to just brazen it out. "Don't, it would be worse for me if your boyfriend came up and talked on my behalf. I rather just act like a breezy single."
Daine plastered a smile on her face when a stage assistant came up. Neal gallantly offered Daine his arm and grinned. It was rather sweet of him. Most of the times the nominees would follow behind the stage assistant docilely. 'But I guess it's his way of showing support,' Daine thought. Her heart beat faster as she thought of what would happen on stage. She did not have a date to extol her virtues, so she would assume that Joren would do it. Knowing him and the title of "Most talked about freshman", the only thing that was talked about was her Yella Deli incident. She felt like a lamb to a slaughter and felt little assurance when Neal left her on the stage and winked at her.
The lights were shining on them, while Camilia basked in them and Paul stood confidently. Daine tried to pull back her shoulders and clasped her hands. She had a tendency to gestulate when she was nervous and she didn't want to be waving her arms wildly about. Bad bad. Clasped it is.
She just concentrated on slowing down her wildly beating heart as Paul's girlfriend strolled on stage and gushed about his bringing glory to Culfield University in his pivotal role in bringing back the swimming trophy from its rivals. The crowd roared with approval with the usual heckling from the swim team, someone yelled, "Marry me Paul!" Then it was Camilia's turn.
"We will next have the lovely Camilia Breene, then the surprisingly lovely Veralidaine Sarrasri," Joren crooned. Daine looked at him at the corner at her eye to see him raking his gaze up and down her. She repressed her need to shudder and slap his face. He swung his gaze towards the crowd, "We have microphones here, so there's no need for anyone to start yelling."
Daine fought her blush and prayed fervently for this ordeal to be over… 'What doesn't kill me makes me stronger,' she chanted in her head.
"Now who's the lucky gentleman who's going to speak up for Camilia?" Joren asked.
"You mean only one gentleman?" Camilia purred, batting her eyelashes. The crowd laughed appreciatively at the joke and Daine fought from cringing.
Suddenly, a movement at the corner of her eye caught her attention, time just stood still for Daine as she turned and saw The Jacket. The Jacket moving through the crowd, she didn't know why, but her attention was fixed on The Jacket that seemed to be on a powerful frame. With an incredible effort of will power, she dragged her gaze higher and saw the wearer.
She felt like all the air had gone out from her lungs. This had to be a joke. A bad bad joke. She had Camilia gasp in surprise next to her and then laughed a twinkling little laugh. Camilia smirked, 'this is going better than I thought. He is well-known for keeping his word and I made him promise to talk about me so that I will win the award and to put Daine in such a light that people won't vote her. Perfect. To be ridiculed by such a hunky guy would permanently relegate Daine to social pariah!'
"Well, well, how apt, if it isn't the past winner of the most Talked About Freshman – Numair Salmalin!" Joren crowed.
Numair came up on the stage which side was nearest to Daine. She could only gawk at him as he strode to stand between Camilia and Daine. It was only then that she thought, 'What is he doing on stage NOW?'
As Numair opened his mouth to speak, Daine prayed hard that he wasn't the Voice, that he wasn't the Voice that she knew and loved. But to her dismay, the familiar voice flooded the hall. "I am here to first talk about Daine, then about Camilia."
Daine shut her eyes. It hurt. It really did. The saying 'shame on you if you fooled me once, shame on me if you fooled me twice' ran through her mind. She bit her lip and tried to maintain her composure. She should have known. Known that all guys are –
Unwillingly, she listened to what Numair said as she could not have physically blocked his words out. Short of knocking him out with the microphone which she was sorely tempted to do. "I don't want Daine to win this award as the most talked about Fresh Man. She is plain, ordinary, dull. She creates scenes. So you should all shift away your interest from her. Instead, you should all focus your attention to other things. Like voting Camilia in for being the most Talked about Freshman."
There was absolute silence when Numair made his speech and Daine was completely red with embarrassment and humiliation.
"I don't want people to look at Daine, I don't want them to even think about her. I don't want them to take up any of her time or for her attention to be diverted to them for a single second. I want to be the only person to do that. I want to be the only person to look at her, the only one to think about her, the only one to take up her time and her attention." Daine's heart felt like it stopped when Numair slid his arm around Daine and nuzzled her gently. "So fellas, back off, she's mine."
Numair then cast a dismissive glance towards Camilia, "Now, Camilia on the other hand, fully deserves to have the most Talked About Freshman award as she is the most conniving baggage on campus. Not only did she stand by while she watched her friend steal another person's boyfriend, she deliberately and systematically spread malicious rumours to vilify the victim. Unsatisfied, she went on to try to, how do you say this politely, persuade me to turn against Daine."
Numair then gently guided Daine off the stage as she was too shocked to do anything but to stumble after him. The crowd then began to break out of their stupor and there was the great sound of discussion and shocked whispers.
"Thanks Onua for reserving the seat," Numair said as Onua moved one seat away from her place next to Daine to an unoccupied seat.
Onua grinned at him, "Wanted to have front row to see you finally get shackled."
"I, I, I don't understand," Daine stammered.
Numair eyed the noisy crowd who just simply stared and chatted at the sight of them. "Come on, let's have a brief chat," he held her hand and towed her outside towards the balcony that led to the gardens away from prying eyes.
When he was satisfied that he was at a sufficient distance and an angle from the crowd away from prying eyes, he stopped. He took off his black jacket and placed it around Daine's shoulders.
"You're the voice," Daine finally said.
"Yes," Numair said cautiously, unsure of what her thoughts and feelings were.
"Why did you not tell me your identity? Were you like, testing me out or I don't know! I just don't know," Daine put her hands to her cheeks. "I think I will be a permanent shade of red from now on."
"Nonsense," Numair said, gently grasping her hands. "I didn't tell you who I was as I didn't want you to be on your guard or have pre-conceived notions of me. You thought I was a he-slut who played the field like a bunny rabbit. And I know you really like me for me. My personality. Who I am and my ideals. I really felt like I could talk to you about everything. We were frank with each other and what we had was real, although you did not know my identity."
"Does that mean you… like me?" Daine finally asked in a shy voice and peeked up at him.
Numair laughed, "Silly girl. Of course I do, and much much more than that! Though this is not the place and time to say it, considering hundreds of people are probably staring at the door we just exited. I am a rather private person and you're the only person I ever let get close to me. You do realize that I could have taken my jacket back from you at any point in time? But I kept making excuses to myself and soon I realized how hard I have fallen for you. I was beside myself with anger when I heard Perrin making disparaging remarks about you. I practically tackled him and only the fortunate intervention of Raoul and a couple of others managed to pull me off him. I could kill him for what he did to you."
"It was you? Perrin never mentioned who it was!" Daine responded in surprise.
"Of course, it is a blow to the pride to say you got beaten up by a puling scientist who does nothing but get dirty while sitting down on the ground to watch meteor showers." Numair said and he tenderly brushed away a curl from Daine's cheek.
Daine shook her head, "I can't believe this is happening, it seems so surreal."
Numair put his hands on the lapels of his black jacket and tugged Daine gently towards him. He enfolded her in his arms and he leaned down to kiss her. They later broke away, breathing deeply, Numair said, "That was real, you are not dreaming."
His eyes gleamed as Daine reached for him again and said, "I think I might need more convincing-"
"Sorry guys to break this up," Onua interrupted from the door. "They just announced the winner. Unfortunately, it seems to be a tie between Camilia and Daine."
"She can take the prize," Daine said smiling up to Numair, "I have my prize right here."