Tessa's small body attached to my left leg, nearly knocking me over. I grabbed onto the door handle for balance and smiled down at her. Once I was sturdy on my feet, I bent down and picked her up. Her soft, fleeting breaths on my neck made me shiver.
"Did you return that library book?" I questioned her. I could feel her petite hummingbird heartbeat on my chest.
"No," she mumbled against me. Tessa put her hands on my shoulders and propped herself away from me. "But its okay. I talked to, um…I forgot."
I couldn't help but laugh at the confused expression on her face. Along with telling time, Tessa also had a hard time with names. "Leann," I said for her. "The librarian's name at Vareth is Leann."
"I talked to her and she said I can bring it back tomorrow and I won't have to pay."
I set her down on the floor and ruffled her hair. "You're lucky you're cute. You get away with too much." She gave me a yes-I-am-and-I'm-proud-of-it smirk and skipped off to our room. "You'd better find that book, Tessarae!"
I sighed and plopped my body down on the pallid couch my parents had bought when they were alive. It seemed as if my entire body ached and I wasn't sure why. I'd done everything I normally did, except meet Jack.
The frown that appeared on my face at the thought of him was perceptibly grave. Sure, I did feel bad for how I treated him at the end of the night, but he had covered up for me. I didn't want anyone to take responsibility for my actions. Even if he hadn't have stepped in when he did, Dan probably wouldn't have fired me. He wasn't that kind of guy and he knew my living status.
I ran my palm down my face, suddenly feeling the worst guilt I've felt in a very long time. I'd overreacted. To make matters worse, I didn't know where to find Jack to apologize. I didn't know where he lived or his occupation, if he had one.
"Kianna, I found it!" Tessa's voice sounded from behind the closed door.
"Where was it?" I yelled back.
"Under the bed!"
I didn't have the energy to reply to her. I closed my eyes and allowed my head to fall to the side. The next thing I felt was extremely sudden. Tessa's body weight on my lap, and her lips to my forehead. I opened my eyes.
"What are you doing?" I asked. She pulled her lips away.
"I learned that if you think someone has a fever, you kiss their forehead. You don't look okay."
I wrapped my arms around her and laid her down on my lap, smoothing out her hair. "You don't kiss their forehead, silly. You put your lips on it to check the temperature. Its more accurate than using the back of your hand. And I'm fine. I'm just sleepy."
She closed her eyes and balled her hands up into fists the way she did when she was littler. I watched her eyelids flutter until the time caught my attention. It was a little after nine, and I'd forgotten the leftovers at Club Vampire.
I was about to ask her if she'd eaten dinner, but her soft snore stopped me. I didn't think it mattered anymore, so I picked her up and carried her to our bed. She looked even smaller when I gently placed her in the center.
I sat at the foot of the bed and lowered my head. Once again, Jack snuck his way into my thoughts. I wondered when I would see him again, if I ever did. Then, an idea popped into my head.
I turned off all the lights in the house and locked the door on my way out, twirling the key around my finger as I headed back to Club Vampire. With any luck, Ortoroz would still be in the Void Community Office behind the Casino.
"Kianna, this is unexpected. Its very late, and you're panting. Is something wrong?" Ortoroz inquired when I'd opened the heavy wooden door. I sat on the couch opposite of him and tried to catch my breath.
"I'm okay. I just ran. I need to ask you something."
He leaned closer toward me and smiled in a way that reminded me so much of my dad. "If you need a few more days to pay your rent, its fine. I understand."
Ortoroz had been a friend of my mother's, so I'd known him my entire life. All my rent money went to him, although he usually ended up giving half of it back to me. When my father died, he'd adopted Tessa and me, which wasn't unusual. He was a very kind man, and stepped in as a father-figure to all the orphaned young people of the Void Community, which was a lot more than you'd think.
I shook my head. "No, I'm okay with the money. You'll have it by tomorrow. I have a question about a person." Being the leader of the Community, he had to know details of members of other guilds. I just hoped Jack belonged to one. "Have any of the guilds accepted new members recently?"
Ortoroz leaned back and cupped his chin with his fingers. I stared intensely into his one eye (I wouldn't dare ask what happened to the other) and mentally prayed. "Actually, yes," he finally said. My heart skipped a beat. "I believe Theater Vancoor recruited a new member just last night."
"Do you know the name?" I asked a little too soon.
"If I remember right from what Elwen told me, his name was J…James? No…Jason?"
"Yes! That was his name!"
I smiled and nearly jumped over the table between us, tackling him back against the couch in a hug. "Thank you!" I didn't waste any time heading for the door.
Once again, I was panting heavily by the time I reached Theater Vancoor. I was rushing because I didn't want Tessa to wake up for some reason without me there. I knew she'd be okay, but I just didn't enjoy the thought of it.
"Are you okay?" the receptionist, Thanos, asked when I almost fell coming into the building. He was already standing up to help me, but I raised my hand to stop him.
Feeling the heat of embarrassment on my cheeks, I cleared my throat and stood up straight, dusting off my pants. "I'm okay. Is Jack Russell in, by any chance?"
After Thanos sat back down, he slouched over the counter and shook his head. "You missed him by about five minutes."
Disappointment hit me hard. I tried to think of solutions, but the only one I came up with seemed too childish. It was the only one I had, though. "He'll be here tomorrow, right?" Thanos nodded. "Can I leave him a note?"
Thanos ripped off a small section of paper from a book in front of him. I frowned, thinking of the tantrum Tessa would have raised if she saw that. I hurried over to the desk and grabbed the pencil, scribbling down the message I wanted to give him in my best handwriting.
"Thank you," I told Thanos, accidentally slamming the pencil down on the desk. I just hoped he would remember to give it to Jack.
I didn't sleep that night, so dragging my tired self to Dead End Armory the next day seemed like torture. I kept watching the clock, waiting for 5 o'clock to come. It seemed as if years had passed when the clock finally chimed five times. I didn't waste any time getting out of the small store.
I had only five minutes to make it to Vareth, so I decided to run full-speed, avoiding eye-contact with everyone I passed. I didn't want to answer a boatload of concerned questions.
Once I arrived, I stood near the entrance and ran through my "I'm sorry" speech in my head. I couldn't tell you how many times I'd changed my speech while I was trying to sleep. Thankfully, I think I'd perfected it.
I examined everyone that walked by. They either smiled at me and said a polite greeting or glared daggers and continued with their business. I'd asked one man the time, and he told me 5:30. I'd asked Jack to meet me at 5:05.
I waited ten more minutes before giving up. As I dragged my feet to Club Vampire, I wondered why he didn't show. I didn't blame him, though. If I were in his shoes, I would've crumbled up that note and threw it away.
I nearly tripped over my own feet at the sound of my name. I turned to see Jack dashing toward me, and I thought he wouldn't be able to stop before plowing into me. I held up my hands in front of my face and shut my eyes tight. I braced myself for a heavy impact, but it never came.
"What're you doing?" he asked. Slowly, my arms dropped down to my sides.
"I thought you were going to run into me," I answered truthfully. Jack amusedly snorted and rolled his eyes.
"I'm an expert runner. I can stop in half a millisecond," he joked. It was at that point that I noticed my heart beating inside my ears. I was so nervous and scared to apologize to someone I hardly knew. "C'mon, Kianna. I'm trying to make you smile. You look upset."
I shook my head, staring at his forehead. I didn't want to look into his eyes. "I'm okay."
"Well, that note said you wanted to talk?"
I inhaled deeply, searching my memory for my speech. My stomach twisted up in knots. Everything I had planned to say was forgotten. That took me all night to think up, and I'd forgotten it all.
"Um, yeah," I said slowly. "I just wanted to say that, um…I'm sorry for how I acted last night."
Puzzlement filled my head. The night before, I played out this scenario in my imagination. I would apologize, Jack would become angry and turn into a dragon, and then he would breathe fire on me. None of that was happening.
"That's it? You're not mad?" I asked, doubting his forgiveness. Jack pursed his lips and shook his head.
"No. You'd have to do something pretty serious to make me mad."
I forced a grin onto my face. "Well, that's good," I mumbled. "I guess I'll see you around. I've got to get to work."
I turned and began to scurry away, being careful to not trip over my own feet. I'd already embarrassed myself once in front of him today. Twice would be a nightmare.
"Wait a second!" he called. I stopped and closed my eyes. I just wanted to get to Club Vampire and spend the next few hours doing mindless sweeping and repeating, "Hi, my name is Kianna. Can I get your order?"
"Yeah?" I asked, turning to face him again. He wasn't as far from me as I'd thought, so I took a step back. The fact that he'd followed me made me a little uncomfortable.
"I know you don't really get the chance to stop and take your time to eat. I mean, it's pretty obvious that you're a busy person. So, would you like to go to dinner?"
I raised my eyebrows at him, shocked. I'd never been asked out to dinner. My meals always consisted of sandwiches at Club Vampire before I started my shift. Speaking of Club Vampire…
"I-I can't," I replied. "I need to get to work."
Jack feigned a disappointed look. "Well, then I guess I am mad at you."
A sense of unfairness washed over us. My mouth fell open and my eyes narrowed at him. "You're what?"
"Mad at you," he repeated, then turned and started walking away. "Bye."
I stood there, processing my feelings. Upset, angry, annoyed, and something else I couldn't quite put my finger on. I watched him walk away, my hands doubled into fists, then ran after him.
"Fine!" I called. He slowed his walking pace and smirked. I just glowered at him. "Fine, I'll go to dinner with you."
I'd never eaten at the Begin Eatery before, so I was a little nervous. Especially since I was walking in with Jack. I didn't even want to imagine what people would think.
"Welcome to the Begin Eater- Oh, hi Kianna," Yuri greeted. I smiled at her, surprised that she had a second job, too.
She glimpsed at Jack, then at me, then Jack again. "Would you like a table upstairs or downstairs?" she asked. Jack glanced down at me, mentally telling me that it was my choice. I looked around at the other customers. Downstairs was getting pretty crowded.
"Upstairs is fine," I told her.
She led us to the stairs and I stood near the wall to let Jack pass me. He shook his head and swung his hand slowly toward Yuri. "Ladies first."
"No, it's okay."
He made a frustrated grunting noise and gently pulled me from the wall, putting his palms on my back to push me upstairs. I laughed and ran back around him. We moved in a circle, constantly switching who was leading and who was pushing, until Yuri cleared her throat.
"Okay, children, do you want to eat or not?" she scolded in a joking manner. I playfully glared at Jack and walked in front of him, following Yuri to the table she picked for us, which was near the window. Once we were seated, she handed us menus and walked away, telling that she would be back in a few minutes.
"You're so stubborn," Jack told me. I peered over the top of the menu, doing a good job at hiding my smile.
"So are you."
It took me a couple minutes to decide on what I wanted. I made sure to keep the prices in mind, so I picked the cheapest entrée I could find. Just a simple bowl of steamed rice.
"Ready?" Yuri questioned, returning with two glasses of water. She placed them down in front of us, and grabbed a pencil and piece of paper from her pocket.
Jack made eye-contact with me and I looked up at Yuri. "Steamed rice," I told her. I watched her scribble it down on the paper. Then, I looked at Jack. His eyebrows were pulled together in an irritated way. "What?" I asked him.
"That's all you're getting?"
He met Yuri's eyes, his expression changing from upset to pleased. "She'll also have your special. Actually, add the special and the Roasted Dodo."
Yuri laughed at the squeak of protest that came from my mouth. She looked at me with the your-man-has-money look and quickly added onto the order. "And what'll you have, Jack?"
"I'll have the Radish and Giraffe Stew."
"I'll be back with your food."
She took our menus and Jack smiled at her as she left. His smile disappeared when he looked back at me. I made sure to add a hundred more daggers into my glare. I could tell it made him feel awkward, so he looked at a plant behind me.
"That's a pretty color."
"Do you realize how many Dagols my meal is going to cost?"
He shrugged and took a sip of his water. "It doesn't matter," he said, using his napkin to wipe the water ring the cup left behind. "I got paid today. Besides, you're skinny. You need more food in that tummy."
I was about to argue, when my stomach interrupted me. He smirked boastfully at me, so I decided not to say anything more on the subject. "Are you from here?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "No. I'm from Solieu Village. I lived with my older sister until recently. I came here to try out for the knights."
The word "knight" caught my attention. "How did that work out for you?"
"I made it…somehow. It didn't last long. My brigade went on a mission and one of my teammates was injured, so they disbanded us. My captain and I went to Theater Vancoor and I was the only one who made it."
The guise of sadness on his face made my heart hurt. A subject change was needed again. "You said you lived with your sister? What about your parents?"
The look of grief was gone and he smiled. "I'm an orphan," he said simply. I became bewildered.
"Why do you seem happy about that?"
"Well, I don't know much about my mom. She died when I was really young, so Adele, my sister, was pretty much my mom growing up. But my dad…He was amazing. He was a knight just like I was, and you're not going to believe this…" He leaned closer to me, so I did the same. "…he killed the Water Dragon."
"The Water Dragon? What is that?"
His eyes went wide. "You don't know about the Water Dragon?"
I shook my head. He was about to tell me about it, but Yuri came with our food. My stomach growled loudly at the smell of everything, but I could tell that I wouldn't be able to eat everything Jack had ordered for me.
"I can't finish all this," I told him once Yuri had left.
"How about this? We share everything, and whatever we don't finish, you can take home. Sound good?"
I thought of Tessa and how I didn't bring her dinner home last night. "Yeah, that sounds fine."
"Thank for you tonight," I told him as we walked back to the Beast Pit. Street lamps were beginning to turn on and kids were rushing home. I peeked at the small box of food Jack was carrying (he refused to let me carry it home) and thought of how many dinners Tessa could get out of that.
"No problem. I'd rather spend money on a friend than spend it on something stupid like lotto tickets or something."
I faked a pouting face at him. "Hey, I buy those all the time."
The panic in his eyes was obvious. "I-I didn't mean it in a bad way. I just meant-"
He gently nudged me when I started laughing. "I'm just joking with you. I've never bought one of those dumb things," I reassured him.
We arrived at the stairs leading up to the Beast Pit. I turned toward him and took the food from him, earning a confused look in return. "This isn't your house," he told me.
"I know, but its not far. I can carry it the rest of the way. Besides, I need to go talk to Dan."
Jack nodded and I was glad he didn't argue with me. I thanked him again and dodged a hug. I used the excuse of holding the food and retreated up the stairs. Luckily, by the time I got to Club Vampire, Dan was still there.
"Hey," I mumbled, suddenly feeling very awkward. "I'm sorry I didn't show up tonight. I mean, I should've told you before…"
He grinned at me and waved his hand in the air by his face. "Don't worry about it. I just hope you and Jack had a good time."
"How did you know-"
"Word travels fast in Radiata. You should know that."
He was right. I thought back on the day my dad died. Everyone else in the kingdom knew before I did. I shuddered at the memory and blocked it out.
"Besides," Dan continued, "I remember what it was like to be young and in love."
I nearly dropped the food on the floor. My heart was in my stomach and I wanted to yell. Instead of arguing, I just forced a smile onto my face and made my way home.
In love? No, definitely not. I met the guy two days ago. Also, I didn't have time to be "in love." I was in love with taking care of Tessa. She was the only person I would ever need in my life.