Hey guys, sorry for the long wait, yet again. Here's another chapter for y'all and thank you guys so much for all the alerts and the reviews. They are really encouraging and thank you for all the praise. Sorry if I wasn't able to reply to some of you but because of limited Internet access I could barely get to my emails. Anyway, some of you guys were pretty close to Peter's motive to kissing Chloe. I won't reveal anything just yet, you'll just have to wait and see if you're guess was right in later chapters.
I woke up a little bit hung over and a little bit confused. It was like that moment between sleep and wakefulness, the interim between dream and reality, waking up strangely contented and carefree, unsure of where you are or how you got there. There's that vestige of emotion, lingering from the aftermath of my dreams. I felt the scratch of my dress under the covers as I shifted to a better position. Then reality hit me, I remember the party, the drinking, Peter… Alek. The curtains were pulled open, exposing the harsh sunlight on my face. I groaned, my head was throbbing painfully.
"Come on, get up. Valentina wants an audience with you."
I squinted, Alek was leaning against the window frame with his arms crossed. He didn't look like his normal arrogant and cheery self.
"You told her?" I groaned.
"I had to," he simply stated, shrugging. I pushed back my hair from my face and threw the covers off of me. My muscles were screaming in pain as I shifted a sitting position. I was still wearing the same dress and my heels seemed to have fallen off the side of the bed.
"I feel like shit," I muttered, slipping off the bed. My knees buckled, unable to take my full weight and I stumbled forward. Alek moved swiftly, anticipating my fall and steadied me.
"I'm alright." I waved him off, Geez, I hated feeling useless and weak, it was pathetic.
"You have the pride of a Mai but not the tolerance of one," he said smirking, only letting me go once he was sure I could stand on my own. Ignoring the last comment, I made my way to my bathroom to get ready. After maybe half an hour, I managed to get changed and make myself look presentable, applying a generous amount of under-eye concealer. Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything about my bloodshot eyes. I stuffed a pair of sunglasses into my bag.
"What took you so long?" Alek asked, watching me as I exited the bathroom.
"A long struggle with a very stubborn dress," I replied as I tied my hair back into a messy ponytail.
He came up beside me as we were exiting the door.
"Well, you could have always asked me for help," he said suggestively, wiggling his eyebrows. I attempted to push him over but only succeeding in moving him a few inches to the right. Honestly, I was glad he wasn't acting any different because of last night. We walked in silence for the rest of the way to Jasmin's room. Once we reached there, he let himself and me into the room. Jasmin was already waiting by the counter for our entrance and proceeded to scold me.
"You could have been killed, Chloe! Not informing any of us on your whereabouts, going with almost complete strangers to a nightclub without any of us…"
I tuned out after a while, knowing fully well that Valentina will give me a similar, if not the same, speech. Alek and I sat down on the living room couch, far enough away to give me some breathing space. He reclined back on the sofa, putting his shoes up on the coffee table and stretched out his arms along the length of the backing. Then as if remembering something, he got up and went to the kitchen. Jasmin was still ranting when he returned with a mug.
"Here, this should help with your hangover," he said in a low voice. Jasmin, unfortunately, still heard and got all riled up again.
"You drank? You're under-aged, do you know…"
I tuned out again, thanking Alek silently for all those extra training sessions. I peered into the depths of the cup; the concoction had a strong odor and a brownish colour to it. I think I could see fiberous pulp floating in the liquid. I wasn't eager to take a sip any time soon.
"What's in this thing?" I said, scrunching up my nose as I brought it closer to my face.
"My own secret recipe," he replied, winking at me. I looked at him suspiciously but took a sip anyway. It had a sort of sour, bitter taste to it, the thick consistency made it much harder to swallow. I made a face but managed to drink half of the mug before I felt like throwing up. At least I felt a little more lucid.
'Chloe! Are you even listening to me? The conference starts today and you look horrible!" Jasmin continued.
"Yeah, last night. Definitely not one of my brightest ideas," I mumbled. Alek laughed and Jasmin shot him a glare. Just then Valentina emerged from the hallway, silencing Jasmin. Alek quickly put down his feet from the table and sat up. Valentina eyed him but he only shot her an innocent smile.
"That's alright Jasmin, let me take it from here," she said smoothly, seating herself at the sofa chair across from me.
"Tell me exactly what happened last night."
So I explained everything to her. How Peter invited me over, the Mai he introduced me to, how he tried to kiss me…. All of it, minus the Alek situation. I could tell that Alek was relieved that I didn't mention our "disagreement" last night.
"But what I don't understand is that he knows I'm Mai. Why would he try to kill himself by kissing me?" I asked.
"Wait, wait, so Peter's a human?" Jasmin asked in disbelief.
"Yes, humans and Mai have always worked together but it is much rarer in today's world," Valentina explained, "Gregor Djokovic is one of the few Mai in the United States, that I know, who works with humans. Yet I can't seem to figure out why exactly Peter would attempt to kiss you."
"Unless he was just drunk out of his mind, or drugged," Alek suggested, shrugging his shoulders.
"Did you notice anything strange about his behaviour, Chloe?" Jasmin asked, looking at me.
"Besides the fact that he tried to kiss me?" I pointed out, raising my eyebrows, "Um… well, he was very determined and persistent, almost violent. I only met him for a few minutes but he didn't seem to be that type of guy…"
"Anut V, I think I have an explanation," Alek said, sitting up, "Maybe he was bewitched."
The room went silent.
"Bewitched as in compelled? Like a spell was placed on him or something?" I asked, confused. Night vision, super-hearing, empath abilities, claws, and now bewitching people? This is all getting out of hand.
"Only certain Mai have the ability, it's a lot like being an empath. There are some Mai that have the ability to bewitch humans. They essentially seduce the human, stripping away their freedom of choice. However, its influence is only temporary. It used to be that only warrior Mai had this ability, in order to protect the pride from unwanted humans but in all my years, I've never met a bewitcher," Valentina said, shaking her head.
"Did you see the bewitcher?" Jasmin asked, turning to look at me.
I tried to remember but everything was hazy, like a curtain was pulled over my memory or something. It could've been the alcohol, the confusion, tiredness or maybe the hangover. I mentally scanned the faces in the crowd, rerunning last night through my mind, paying special attention to their behaviour – or what I remember of their behaviour. Then it clicked.
"There was a Mai at the booth that I was introduced to. She seemed a little too cozy with Peter. I didn't think that it was odd at first but now I think about it, it was kind of strange. She had um… brunette hair, a really good physique…" I pursued my lips, trying to remember as much as I could, "I remember her heels, they were really high."
Alek choked back a laugh.
"Go on, Chloe. Try to remember as much as you can," Valentina coaxed patiently.
"Her name was… Catarina I think, I can't quite remember her last name. I'm sorry," I apologized, "But I remember that the names of a couple other Mai, Nicky and Lilah, they said they were from Brazil. There was another man, he was big and husky looking, I think he came with Catarina."
Jasmin stood up quickly when she heard the twin's names being called.
"Do you know them?" I asked her and her expression pretty much said it all. She looked disgusted, almost shocked.
"Yeah, they've got a reputation… not a very good one," She said vaguely, scowling to herself.
"Their particular Brazilian pride is notorious for their illicit behaviour," Alek explained casually, "They don't form a very stable relationship with the humans, let's say."
"They prefer to think of humans as their inferiors. Their negative attitude towards humans is not explicit to only their pride; many Mai share the same feelings whether of fear, hatred, disgust – through the many years of persecution by the humans, particularly the Order," Valentina said, a shadow crossing over her face. I nodded.
My parents are human, my closest friends are human… I grew up thinking I was human for my whole life, until now. Every time this human verses Mai race dilemma pops up, I feel a little awkward and uncomfortable, unsure on how I'm supposed to act, what I'm supposed to do. I don't even know my own pride's opinions on humans. I've never seen Alek or Jasmin ever demean humans but neither have I ever seen them become close to one either. Alek has a few human friends, the jocks, I don't know how much he considers them friends though, maybe it's all just a cover up. Or maybe he likes the attention he gets from it – not that he needed any help with that. Jasmin, on the other hand is a different story, I rarely see her around school unless I bump into her in the hallways but during lunch, she normally isn't seen. They are all nice enough to my friends, except for Alek – for some reason he really despises Paul, maybe it's because he finds him annoying.
"I'll try to find out who this Catarina girl is and see where we can go from there," Jasmin said, pulling out her cell phone from her pocket and excusing herself from the conversation.
"But why would they want to bewitch Peter?" I asked, still confused.
"I don't know but we certainly cannot ignore the ongoing conference, perhaps it was a ploy to reduce your influence in the votes," Valentina suggested.
"What do you mean?" I was still skeptical.
"Despite the negative views of many Mai on humans, killing humans on whim isn't highly acceptable. We don't have a universal code for Mai laws and behaviour but-"
"Killing a human in a nightclub by kissing him will definitely not earn you any points," Alek piped in, "but this Catarina girl must be affiliated with another potential or else what kind of motive does she have? She may have been contracted by most likely her own leader,"
"Or are among one of those against the Uniter and, in particular, your affiliation with humans," Valentina said. She looked at me with remorse, "I'm sorry, Chloe but unfortunately the instilled opinions of hundreds of Mai will not change overnight. As you already know, being the Uniter comes with both good and bad luggage."
"I've yet to experience the good," I murmured, more to myself though I knew the others could hear. There was a brief pause before anyone spoke again.
"Well, at least you'll have a ton of suitors. I'm sure all the most eligible bachelors that the Mai can offer will be begging for your hand," Amy piped up after I relayed all the information of the last few days, "handsome, smart, rich, talented…"
I giggled. "Amy, you're drooling again," I joked, holding the cordless phone using my shoulder as I tried balancing on one leg. I finally managed to pull the pencil skirt up to my waist.
"A little bit unfair, you already have Alek you know," she said, I could already see her pouting.
"A little perspective please, Amy. Finding out that you're the Uniter of the Mai isn't exactly my cup of tea – it's really not as easy as it looks."
"Oh, yeah there's that too. And you've got Brian."
I bit my lip at that. Brian has called me thrice in the last two days – all missed calls. I keep telling myself that I'll get around to calling him back but I haven't really been up to it yet. This Alek-Brian thing has really messed me up good.
"Oh, wait. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that-"
"Actually Amy, I think that I have to call you back later, my conference is in twenty minutes and I'm not ready yet," I interrupted her.
"Alright, good luck! Call me later!" Amy hung up the phone and I let mine drop to the end of the bed.
The buttons on my blouse where still undone when Alek barged onto the room.
"Alek!" I screamed, turning around to quickly button up the front. He quickly spun himself around the other direction for modesty's sake.
"There's such a thing as knocking you know," I reminded him, turning around to face him, arms across my chest. His cheeks were still flushed red when he turned back to face me and ruefully scratched the back of his head. For once, he was speechless – no witty, arrogant remark, no smirk, nothing. I laughed, earning me a very confused look. I shook my head.
"Nothing," I said before he asked. Impulsively, I walked towards him. He stepped back when I got too close.
"Easy there, I'm just fixing your tie, idiot," I said laughing, reaching up to grab the messily done tie. I unwound it, evened out the lengths and proceeded to tie it. I could tell he was staring intensely at my face. I tried ignoring it but it's kind of hard when a guy had more-or-less confessed his feelings for you.
"How do you know how to do this?" He asked me, his gaze still trained on my face.
"You mean tying a tie?"
He nodded in response.
"Well if you have a best friend who is utterly hopeless at tying ties, it's kind of a given that his two best friends learn for him," I said, smiling as I finished up the tie for him, straightening it out.
"He's kind of resorted back to clip-on ties and bow ties now since Amy refuses to help him and I've just been… busy…" I continued, absentmindedly tugging on the already finished tie. I could see the smirk on his face now. I blushed, embarassed for lingering too long. I took a step back and let him examine the tie.
"Pretty good. I thought it was just an excuse to get close to me," he said winking. I laughed. It sounded a little strained and I think he could tell. I excused myself to go and get shoes from my closet. Once I was ready, we headed out together to the conference room.
"How you feeling?" He asked me.
"I've been better. Thanks for that hangover fix by the way. It actually worked."
He simply shrugged.
We finally arrived at the conference room. Almost everybody was seated then I noticed that Peter was missing. I pulled Alek quickly well away from the conference room door before anyone can see us through the window.
"Hey, hey you alright? Peter's not in the room," Alek asked concerned.
"That's the problem. I think that he might've sort of kissed me last night," I whispered to him, keeping it low enough that only he could hear. He went silent.
"Do you think I killed him?" I was panicking again, I promised myself that this wouldn't happen again.
"Look, look, calm down. Don't come to conclusions so fast, maybe the bewitcher took him or maybe he's still knocked out in that alley. Even if he is dead, it's not your fault," he said, trying to reassure me. He pulled me to his chest. It didn't feel awkward, it didn't feel romantic or too forward. It was just comfortable and at this point it just felt right. I buried my head into his shoulder but I didn't cry. I focused on my breathing and his heartbeat until I could feel myself calm down. I pulled away after a while.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," I said, more to reassure myself than him.
Alek just nodded and led me cautiously into the conference room. The whole room practically turned to see the entrance of the Uniter, or well me. Unfortunately, I'm probably not what they are looking for in a Uniter. I felt myself getting nervous, not that I wasn't before. I scanned the long conference table for somewhere to sit; the only three places left was one on the right and left of the head and one in the middle. Honestly, I would prefer the less conspicuous seat but I was fairly certain that that was Alek's. They were still looking and for some reason I felt like I should introduce myself. Fear gripped my throat and I could feel my heartbeat reverberating throughout my whole body. I could practically feel it in my toes and fingers already. Djokovic stood and shook my hand.
"Uniter, nice to see you again," he said. He pulled out my seat for me. I managed a thanks. The table's attention was now on Djokovic.. The empty seat next to him stared back at me. I scanned the faces around the table, Valentina caught my eye and gave me a small, reassuring smile. I returned the smile. Alek was next to her, his eyes trained on me. A few officials I recognized but didn't remember their names.
"I am very pleased to welcome and introduce the Uniter, Chloe King," he said, gesturing to me. I froze. Am I supposed to bow? Stand up? The only thing that I managed to do was a pathetic little wave at all the officials. I gave myself a mental face-palm for that.
"If anyone has any questions for our Uniter, feel free to speak up," he said then turned to me, "I speak for everyone when I say that we do wish to get to familiarize ourselves with our Uniter and get to know you more intimately."
I suppose that it was the change of atmosphere or the fact that more than two dozen Mai officials sat before him, which made him appear more civil and welcoming. One female official towards the back of the conference table raised her hand, commanding the attention of everybody. Without needing to be called on, she began to speak.
"I realize that you are relatively new to the ways of the Mai and our culture, seeing as you were brought up by a human parent in a human society. However, how do you think that has influenced you in your stance concerning the relationship between humans and Mai."
I could feel hands tremble as I frantically tried to think of something sophisticated or intelligent to say. The pressure really is on when two dozen Mai officials from around California and from around the world have their eyes trained on your every move.
Really having been a member in a high school debate team hasn't prepared me for this in the least.
"Though, as you've pointed out, I'm still in the process of familiarizing myself with the culture of the Mai. It's probably not only that but I have difficulty sometimes accepting the fact that I am, in fact, Mai, and not human – mostly because of my upbringing. I still am close to my human friends as I am now to my Mai pride and companions. Frankly, if I may be so bold to say, I don't see much of a difference between the two races."
A few murmured comments made its way around the table. I gulped, scared that I might say the wrong thing. Then I realized. I'm the Uniter, not them.
"Sure we have perhaps more knowledge in some respect, superhuman endurance, strength, and abilities but it doesn't change the fact that we feel as humans do. We all form relationships, we all try to find our purpose in this world. From what I've seen so far, this war between humans and Mai is non-existent. I think that it's about time that the human race and the Mai reestablish that connection we once had for each other and make peace."
That was probably the cheesiest conclusion that I've ever come up with in all my speeches but it did earn me some applause from around the table. I made eye contact with the woman who addressed me.
"I hope this answers your question."
She smiled lightly and nodded, jotting notes down on paper.
"If in fact this war is non-existent, why are we still faced with persecution by the Order?" Another official asked.
"The Order is only a minority of the human race. Most of the population isn't aware of our existence. Our feud, at most is between us and the Order."
"Some may say that this is an impossible task, made much more difficult by the fact that you are still young and naïve. How do you suppose you will be able to bring about this change?"
"Not quickly, that's for sure." I replied, smiling. This earned me a few chuckles
"I have much to figure out and I don't have a concrete plan at the moment, and I doubt that I ever will. Hopefully, one day, I am able to slowly and gradually change this perspective that so many Mai hold. Humans are not to be feared, loathed or disdained collectively as a race and that's what I want to make Mai realize one way or another."
"Unfortunately, we shall save this discussion for another time as we have other pressing issues to attend to," cut in Djokovic, "Thank you, Uniter for sharing your opinion with us and indeed they were very bold statements to say. Courageous to for a teenager to share in front of a room of officials here today, that surely must have been a nerve-wracking task." He smiled at me as if sharing an intimate joke. I returned the smile. Involuntarily, I turned towards the door as it just swung open to allow Peter through the door.
"Sorry for my tardiness, everybody. I seemed to have been caught up in all the traffic."
Reviews make me so so so happy so please do. Even anonymous ones are greatly appreciated, I know that clicking that review button just below me is such a hassle but please, please take the time to give me some feedback. Is this plotline too cheesy, too simple. Would you like to see more Amy, Paul, Jasmin? I know a lot of you were asking for more Jasmin but sorry I couldn't incorporate her as much here but I promise not to have too many Alek appearances as they may get a little overused. So guesses anyone? Did Chloe really kiss Peter? If she did, why did he survive? Who's behind all this?