Sabine's aura turns a prickly shady of suspicious green when I ask if I can go out for a jog after dinner. I try not to look as desperate as I feel, but I'm not sure if it's working; I want to get out of this place and on the road so badly it's difficult not to give in and bolt. It's just so incredibly...awkward around those two. I do want Sabine to be happy, especially after all the things she's done for me (even if she's jumped on the I-have-an-unhappy-teen bandwagon). And, well, I don't have a reason to not want Munoz to be happy either. So, I know I'm stuck with them, but it doesn't make the brief flashes I get into their minds during these dinners any more enjoyable.
Or really even bearable. At all. Imagine the worst third wheel possible, then times it by ten and you have me at this dinner.
Besides, I'm also feeling restless. I need to move, go for a drive, maybe go see Damen. Anything to just get out of this house and take my mind off of things.
Luckily, Munoz smiles at Sabine and encourages my request, and like magic my aunt's aura flickers back to rosy pink and I am in the driveway and on my way. Awkward as it is, I still can't get over the fact that my teacher actually looks...pretty nice out of the classroom. Not as nice or classy as some other guy I know, like-
Swallowing and wondering why I'm a little out of breath, I stop myself mid-thought. Damen, right? I was thinking about how no one could compare to Damen. That's pointless, since there's no one who really can blend elegance, immortality, and just a hint of mystery into such a perfect mixture as he can, right?
Uneasily, I sift through Sabine's thoughts as I unlock my car and back out onto the road, psychically looking for signs of trouble. I can't figure out why I feel so...distracted, it's like I know there's something big and bad right under my nose but I can't see it, I just want to brush it off. But peeking through my aunt's thoughts right now- oh man, major bad decision.
In addition to some (hopefully fantasized) scenes I regret glimpsing, I can tell I'm in for a lecturefest tonight if I keep up the weird behavior. I sigh, concentrate on driving again, and realize I'm doing eighty in a construction zone.
What? When did that happen?
Something's clearly messing with me. I don't realize until I manually force myself to scan for traffic police that I've narrowly missed two speed traps and am about to go blindly into a third. I grimace. Slowing down and then sitting at the red light, I realize I have no idea where I'm going.
Red lights sure cast a damper on the immortality party. All I want to do right now is speed (after checking and double-checking for highway patrols) and get away from this weird feeling. It's like when you have two small magnets and, no matter which way you place them on the table, as long as they're close enough together, one or both will swing around and attach itself to the other. But if that's what's happening with me, then what am I being drawn to?
When the light turns green I keep going, passing Damen's exit, though I don't realize it until I reach the next one. A part of me feels empty and sad and wants to turn around to stop in, but the larger part of me is dead-set on continuing. Even though I thwarted the dark magick I accidentally worked on myself, I still don't feel like fessing up just yet. Damen and I have gone through a lot in the past few months, with Drina trying to kill me, Roman turning Damen and the whole school against me, then forcing me to make Haven an immortal, and then Damen and my more recent temporary split.
Oh, not to mention Roman's preventing Damen and me from ever touching each other again. For the time being, hopefully.
I just wanted this summer to be nice. You know, running through the sand, him teaching me how to surf, then curling up on a towel together and watching the sun set. And yeah, I know everything is energy and I can feel the heat and rush whenever we come close, but it's not the same as skin-on-skin contact. I was hoping for something more. Was that really so much to ask?
So, that's why I'm saying nothing. And yeah, I'm sure that in a week or two we'll both be laughing like crazy together about me having to explain myself to Sabine about the athame and my blundering through dark magick with the help of the Salem twins and then showing them up royally (the one upside of today), but right now I'm not seeing the comedy.
After a while, I don't feel like driving anymore and I park. Meandering along the streets that surround a line of shops, mostly boutiques and high-end, trendy stores, their wares gleaming as the setting sun hits the display glass, I wonder if Damen ever did this, watched as the signs on shop doors slowly flip from "Open!" to "Closed...see you tomorrow!" as the owners sidle out to find dinner.
I wonder how you spend eternity always reaching after one thing that you can never have. It just seems so lonely.
But then again, he's had a lot of time being, well, not lonely that I guess being lonely and longing after one person and one person only must be a welcome change of pace.
One shop on the corner of a busy intersection looks like it's still ready for business, even though everything else is closing. Deciding to explore, I walk toward it, if only to browse and get out of the late afternoon heat. Its wooden door is inlaid with ornate glass that glitters enchantedly, and when I push it open I feel like I'm entering the house made out of candy from Hansel and Gretel.
Only there's no witch determined to cook and eat me in this place. The inside is dappled with light from the huge windows on both walls, washing the wood furniture that packs each room in a deep, golden glow. I walk in a little further, seeing a hall full of tables with intricate carvings, cabinets that shine with varnish, mirrors and artwork placed aesthetically on the walls, all of it very old-world and almost otherworldly in its ethereal beauty. It's very fitting for an antique store.
A part of me has to admit that it's taking my breath away, little by little, just like when I'm in Damen's secret room, but with an explorer's finesse rather than his collector's flair. It's the feeling of being out of time, anachronistic, I guess, like you're seeing centuries pass in front of you like clouds on a windy day.
From what I can see and sense, the store's empty. The dust motes gently descending through the shafts of sunlight aren't in much of a hurry, so I decide to take my time and browse. At first, I'm conflicted because it doesn't feel quite right to stay when no one's visibly attending on me (I don't plan on buying anything but I feel weird poking around an empty shop) even if the sign did say it was open. Still, the pine and wood polish scents on the air are intoxicating...Sabine hires professional cleaners, but since all the furniture in our house is super-modern, I haven't smelled this since I was back in Oregon and Mom cleaned the furniture by hand.
I smile, wandering through rows of cabinets warmed to a cozy brown by the sun. Almost like the color of perfect marshmallows for smores. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, relaxing for the first time since-
"Oi, have a care will you? You'll plow right into something priceless, break it, and then how will I charge you for it?"
Abruptly, my sweet reverie ends and I turn to face whoever just started talking. I have a good idea of who I'm going to see, but I'm really hoping I'm wrong. Like maybe, Jude and Lina have set up an antique shop as a surprise business venture or something and have hired this guy who talks exactly like-
Roman rakes a hand through his mop of golden-blond curls as he shakes his head and says, "Gods, Ever, I really don't how you manage." He sighs and straightens up, holding a rag in one hand and a bottle in the other. "Walking in totally unannounced- very impolite, mind- having your way with the sales items, surprising someone amongst his wares, why, it's usually frowned upon. But, for you, I suppose an exception could be made."
I stare at him, mouth open for a moment. Looks like my theory about Jude and Lina really was too good to be true.
At a loss for things to say-I mean, how much more weird and silence-inspiring can you get, getting caught wandering around your arch-enemy's store?- I grasp for something, anything to explain myself. Roman, in the meantime, is smiling self-assuredly.
"Anything I can help you with, my dear? Are you looking for a specific piece, or just stopping by my place of work rather than residence for another of our scintillating chats?"
A part of me wants to hit him, even though it would be a pity to watch his features contort from contended-cat-with-mouse look to shock. I resist. Barely.
"Actually, I am in the market for an item." I say, trying to come off as being just as smug, even though my heart's racing. I'm so sure he's going to find me out, or that he already has; that's got to be why I'm so nervous. My shielding's been off all day, he's probably seen through it.
His expression shifts fluidly from amusement to a mix of that and curiosity. "Oh? And what kind of item did you have in mind?"
I'm so surprised that he hasn't called me out yet that I name the first thing that pops into my head. "A chandelier. But," I look around apprisingly, "it doesn't look like you have many here, so I'll just check out the next place on my list. Thanks and bye."
He chuckles in that stuffy, faux-British way, and suggests that I look up. And, to my great surprise and dismay, there are at least twenty different chandeliers of varying sizes, shapes, and metallic makes hanging suavely above me. I don't even have to glance back at him to know he's probably smirking smugly.
I'm at a slight loss for what to say next.
But Roman has either bit the bait or decided to play along, because at once he shifts toward being the perfect salesman, asking me if I have a specific metalsmith or workshop in mind, and what features I'm shopping for. I hastily decide on something small, unassuming but classy, gold, and that still uses candles rather than electricity because that seems to be the only combination he doesn't have in stock.
Still, even though I'm making this up off the top of my head, I feel oddly relaxed. The feeling that I need to be going somewhere is gone, which is weird since I can safely say that Roman is one of the few people that I never let my guard down around. Maybe I need to get out of the house more. Being around a lovestruck Sabine all the time can't be healthy.
Roman is looking at me expectantly, and I know he must have just asked me a question but I have no idea what it was. I blink furiously and feel color rising to my cheeks. "Um, sorry?"
He smiles, slightly lopsided but still effervescent. "I said, would you like to look at a few pictures of a chandelier a seller in Florence is offering? If you're interested, we could acquire it for you, as it seems to fulfill your criteria."
I'm about to refuse on the basis that that would take too long, but I stop myself. What, I need a chandelier that urgently? Who would need light fixture faster than the speed of mail? Even in my head it sounds unbelievable. So, I nod and follow Roman through the rows and rows of cabinets back towards one of the desks. As we walk, I ran my finger over one of them and it comes up clean.
"You're really serious about this whole polishing thing, huh?"
He slows and turns back, a different expression on his face than I've seen. "How do you mean?"
I shrug. "It's summer; things get dusty really fast because of all the pollen in the air. You'd have to dust more or less everyday to keep all the furniture in here spotless."
"There are other employees, luv." He laughs, and at once he's the old, cocky Roman again. "I hardly spend all my time gallivanting among old tables and chairs, dusting. I fancy myself a bit busier than that."
Busier, yeah. Busier making dark deals with strange, exotic-looking employees. But, I'm not so sure that's the whole truth. When I walked in, everyone else was gone, and he was the only one with the furniture polish lurking in between cabinets. Suddenly, an idea clicks.
"You don't like it when they touch your stuff, huh?"
My stroke of genius earns me an eyeroll. "Hardly. Honestly, can you think of why I would set up an antique store if I did?"
I can't really disagree, but I also can't shake the feeling that I'm right in a way. I press my lips together and follow him over to one of the desks when he sits down and begins to locate the picture for me. In the meantime, I look out on all the pieces, metal and wood, that crowd the large shop area. "Why did you?"
He hardly glances up, still clicking away, the light of the computer screen reflected in his blue eyes. "There's a question with a lot of answers to it, depending on what you're asking."
"Start an antique shop, I mean. Is it your populist, give-back-to-the-people thing again, or something else? Because it seems odd for someone who's going to live forever to pass off all of his hard-earned stuff to random people in southern California."
He stops typing for a bit, and I absent-mindedly wonder how he must have felt learning how to use a computer and what decade he started. Even though I'm supposed to be mentoring Haven, I'm still so new at the business of immortality. I mean, I haven't seen anything change globally in my lifetime, except maybe seeing email start to outpace the post office. But it's not like mailing letters has gone extinct, like, say, having balls and asking a girl's father for marriage has. And until I have to learn how to drive a hover car, I'm pretty sure I'll still feel more or less at home in the world.
When he starts talking again, I realize that it's been a long pause. "I suppose it is, as you so aptly put it, my 'give back to the people thing.'" He smiles, and gazes out over the assembly of furniture like he's surveying a kingdom. "There are, as you've seen, different approaches to the passage of time. One is the elitist, treasure-hoarding view to which your dear Damen subscribes, and its complement is a spreading of the wealth, if you will. I could, for example, have each of these tables furnishing my dinning room a different week and store the remainder, or I could even have fifty dining rooms all in one house. But it gives me greater pleasure to preserve them when they would otherwise have been lost and then bring them back into the world, even," he looks back toward me, and he has the same strange expression as he had before, "when they just go to some random people in southern California, yes."
I can't believe he's being serious, making sense, and yet mocking me at the same time. Oh, wait, I can. But he's not done. And what he says next really catches me off guard:
"Each one, in a sense, is a fragment of eternity, a little gift from a past time with its own stories and idiosyncrasies to reveal. All people may not be able to experience immortality as we do, but at least in this way they can reap one of the benefits of it." He leans back and sighs, the very picture of a furniture philosopher.
But, even though I've hated agreeing with Roman in the past (and kinda hope I won't ever have to in the future again), his approach makes sense. I mean, Damen only has one signed copy of Jane Eyre, but if he had more, then why not preserve a piece of the past for someone who'd treasure it? Preventing artwork or masterfully crafted woodwork from being destroyed probably won't change the course of the world, but it makes someone's life a little brighter to own it in the future.
He finds the picture of the chandelier, as promised, and to my shock, it's the exact image of everything I described. I'm caught flatfooted at first, not sure how I should or really even can decline making an offer on it at this point. I make a slightly incoherent remark about money, and Roman nods, saying that he'll see what he can do as far as haggling goes.
"I'm quite an old hand at it." He remarks, trademark smooth smile back, reminding me that he has indeed haggled for centuries, and knows a few tricks. For all I know, he's bartered pigs and hens for some of the things in here.
I leave after that, and, out of the corner of my eye I see Roman flip the sign from open to closed at the same time Jude walking along the sidewalk. Suddenly, it hits me that I just spent almost half an hour with Roman and didn't once question him about the antidote. I'm so upset and angry that I want to scream. Wasn't that the point of this entire visit? Somewhere behind me, I swear I hear laughter, and I don't need psychic powers to know where it's coming from. That jerk!
So when I cross the road to meet Jude and see his arm bandaged, I'm even angrier. But, with that anger also comes with a cool realization: this, at least, is one mystery that I can solve today, and decisively at that.
Sorry for the huge time gap between chapters! I'm getting ready to go back to college and life is hectic, but hopefully this extra-long chapter will make up for the wait.
Since Ever's weakness is her perception, I really wanted to play around with that more here. Specifically, it didn't make sense to me that she knew right away that her spell went wrong. I want her to still be a smart and interesting narrator, but I want the reader to see that even though she's still perceiving things wrong, it makes a kind of sense in her head (rather than, for example, just discounting the advice of Romy and Rayne as silly) and not get a feeling like she's an idiot for seeing situations that way.
I'm a little worried about how Roman came out; writing him was difficult. Ever also felt a little snarkier in this chapter than in the first. Let me know how you feel about the shift-I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice! Thanks for your reviews!