Fallen grace, p.7
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       Fallen Grace, p.7

           Jessica Cartwright
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  Alex, Katherine and Lucas were already seated when I arrived for dinner. I looked down, ensuring that I did not meet Alex’s stare, even though I could feel his eyes burning into me. Katherine and Lucas thankfully did not pick up on the tension and continued talking about their days’ as though nothing had changed.

  I focused my attentions on Katherine and Lucas, asking questions about their day, much to their surprise. Alex remained silent for most of dinner until we were served dessert. Only then did the conversation turn to our days.

  “So Alex,” Lucas began. “How is Grace fitting in to Creswick?” I cringed at this question. I knew why Lucas had asked it, to gauge my effectiveness of fitting in, but given the days events, I was concerned about Alex’s response. I looked at Alex silently pleading for him not to mention my passing out at school or what had happened this afternoon. Alex met my eyes and seemed to understand my desperation.

  “Great. You’d think she’d been there her whole life,” Alex replied smiling. I thought Alex laid that on a bit thick but I was glad he had played along. I started to relax when I realised Alex wasn’t quite finished.

  “I mean apart from refusing to go to the Fire and Ice Ball, even after Tristan asked her to be his date, I think she is fitting in quite nicely.” Alex finished, smiling at me smugly. I could not believe he had just done that. I had no idea why he would find it necessary to inform Lucas and Katherine that I didn’t want to go to a stupid school dance. I didn’t have to wait long however, to find out the reason why.

  “Oh,” Katherine sighed, the disappointment evident in her voice “The Fire and Ice Ball is the event of the year at Creswick. I remember when I went. It was a magical evening filled with dancing and music. The great hall was transformed into a wonderland.” Katherine reminisced wistfully.

  “Well, she won’t be moved,” Alex chimed. I glared at him darkly but he just continued to smile at me from across the table.

  “Why don’t you want to go dear?” Katherine asked me, honestly unable to understand why a girl would not want to go to a dance. I held my real thoughts back, feeling that it would not be appropriate in this circumstance, and turned to Katherine.

  “I just don’t really fancy Tristan, that’s all,” I stated through gritted teeth.

  “Well, I’m sure he is not the only boy left who you could go to the dance with?” Katherine asked her question directed to both Alex and I. I tried not to be insulted by her comment as I could detect no malice on her face or in her tone. Of course there were other boys and realistically I could have any boy I wanted from Creswick if I put my mind to it, but the fact was I did not want to go. I could not believe that Alex was making such a big deal about this.

  “Oh, don’t worry about it Mom,” Alex replied, his tone filled with a smugness that could only come from having a plan. I looked at Alex suspiciously, a sense of foreboding settled in my stomach. “I don’t have a date to the Fire and Ice Ball either so I guess Grace and I will be spending Saturday night at home together.” he finished with a sigh. If I hadn’t been so angry, I would have laughed at his over acting.

  “Well that’s perfect!” Katherine cried excitedly. “You two can go together.” My face must have conveyed the shock I felt at this suggestion. Of course, to Katherine it was the perfect solution. Her son got to experience a normal high school event, with the full protection of the most dangerous killer in our race.

  “What a wonderful idea!” Alex agreed his tone full of mock surprise “I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that.” I looked at Alex outrageously. Today at school he had been on my side for not going to the dance together and now he had turned against me and was doing everything he could to get me there. Alex just smiled at me, obviously quite pleased with the night’s events. I looked at Lucas for support but he only shrugged his shoulders with an amused look on his face.

  Alex began asking Katherine inane questions about when she had attended the Fire and Ice Ball, completely ignoring my stare through which I was trying to bore holes into his skull.

  “Alex?” I said lowly through gritted teeth. Alex turned to me mid sentence, and then looked to Katherine and Lucas.

  “I’m sorry Grace,” he said “that was rude of me I just got so caught up talking about the Ball I never gave Lucas the chance to ask how you thought you were fitting in to Creswick. Did you want to tell him about your day?” he finished smiling sweetly at me.

  I looked at him shocked. I could not believe that he was going to use that over me. I had honestly believed that he would keep my behaviour a secret and it now seemed clear that he would, providing I went with him to the Fire and Ice Ball. I glared at him before turning to Katherine and Lucas.

  “My day was fine. I’m settling into Creswick but you know how it is just trying to understand how they play the game there.” I said directing my last comment to Alex who did not appear to be able to take the smile from his face.

  I excused myself from the table while Alex and Katherine were still talking about the Fire and Ice Ball. Alex looked bored but now that Katherine had found something she thought he was interested in, she wouldn’t be deterred. Good, I thought as I left. I hope she keeps him there all night. Katherine had informed me that she would purchase something for me to wear tomorrow, while I was at school. Great, I didn’t even get to pick out my own outfit. I understood her reasons for this. It was not as if I could leave Alex at home and go shopping but if I was going to have to go to this stupid thing, I would have at least liked to have picked out my own dress.

  I returned again to my black running suit and exited the house via my balcony, jumping from the rail and landing softly on the ground. I didn’t trust myself to pass by Alex on the way out in case I tore his head off for the stunt he pulled at dinner. Or worse we had another moment like in my room this afternoon. I was all keyed up and couldn’t find a good outlet for my energy, so I ran laps around the perimeter of the estate, carefully keeping tuned into the conversations that were occurring around the manor to ensure there was no danger. A small part of me wished that something would happen to give me an outlet to channel my anger but I knew that was not the smart way to look at it. I had been running for about three hours when I heard my name being called. I stopped dead and looked around me but could not find the source. I listened more carefully and realised it was Alex’s voice who had spoken my name. I kept still and zoned in on his voice.

  “Grace, Grace what am I going to do about you?” he was asking to no one in particular, apparently.

  “Nothing, that’s what I am going to do,” he answered himself firmly. “I am with Olivia and that’s that I just need to get over it.”

  I felt guilty listening in on a conversation that was obviously not meant for me to hear but at the same time I could not help but be excited that Alex had feelings towards me. Alex was clearly having the same conversation with himself that I had had earlier tonight, whilst in my room. Part of me was relieved that he had come to the same conclusion but another part, which at this point seemed larger and more dominant, was disappointed. I stopped myself as my mind began to wander into possibilities. I had to remain in control. There was no way that anything could happen between Alex and I and I wouldn’t let it. There were rules against this type of behaviour and they were for the safety of the protector as much as they were for those they protected. I just needed to get through these next few months and then I could put an ocean’s distance between Alex and I. I was sure that as soon as I had distance, these feelings would go away. I could do this, I could be strong. This was not the hardest assignment I had faced and I would not let it bring me down.

  I resumed running and ran until my body did not feel as though it could go on. I dragged myself back to the manor and up the stairs; confident that by now Alex would be long asleep. In my room, I did not bother changing and fell straight into bed. I had a deep sleep, unfettered by disturbing dreams.

  I rose early the next morning. The run last night had allowed me to sleep solid
ly and I felt rested. I fed again, returning to the manor just after 7:00am. I was headed up the stairs as Alex exited his room. There was nowhere that I could turn. He had seen me coming up the stairs so I braced myself and continued up to the top of the landing where he stood staring at me.

  “You run?” he said more of a statement then a question.

  “Yup I run,” I said and started to make my way down the hall.

  “Hey listen,” Alex called running after me. I stopped and turned to face him. “I’m sorry about last night. It wasn’t fair of me. I just… I don’t know, I thought we might have fun together at the Fire and Ice thing but I don’t want you to have to go if you don’t want. I’ll let mom know this morning that we aren’t going,” Alex said looking at me hopefully.

  I looked at Alex. I knew he desperately wanted to go to this ball and I also knew how happy it would make Katherine. But mostly now, I knew how much I wanted to go with Alex and how much I enjoyed feeling wanted. I knew it wasn’t right but looking at Alex, I knew there was nothing else I could do. I took a deep breath filling my lungs with his scent and met his intense gaze.

  “Don’t worry about it, Alex. We’ll go to the ball. It will make your mom happy and besides it’s been a while since I’ve had an occasion to wear a dress.” I replied smiling.

  Alex’s face lit up, his smile beaming. “Great!” he said and looked to be coming closer to me for a hug.

  “Yeah well, I’ll see you after breakfast.” I stated quickly stepping back and opening my door. Alex looked at me suspiciously, his body betraying the awkwardness of his half completed attempt. “I asked the kitchen to pack me something because I wanted to have a run,” I said hoping that Sienna would hear that and have something waiting for me. With that I stepped into my room quickly shutting the door. From inside I heard Alex let out a quiet “Yes!” as he walked towards the stairs.

  I showered and dressed in my uniform. My body felt warm from the constant supply of fresh blood it was receiving. Looking in the mirror, I noticed green and topaz flecks had returned to my eyes. I stood staring into the mirror for a long period of time. It had been a long time since my eyes had shown their previous colour. Even during my last retreat, my eyes had failed to regain the same amount of colour they were now displaying. I smiled at my appearance. I had begun to regain some of the beauty I had when I was human. How happy William would have been. He always said that his biggest regret about my turning was that I had lost some of my beauty. It was true. After our parents were killed, a part of my soul was taken over by blackness. After William, my soul was consumed. I no longer cared about my appearance. There was no one who cared how I looked as long as I completed my assignments. But now, Alex cared. He cared if I looked tired or sick and not because he wanted me to be beautiful but because he cared about my well-being.

  I sat on the sofa in my room to gather my thoughts. I needed to find a way to put an end to this infatuation of Alex’s. It wasn’t right for me to be enjoying this attention. I had a job to do and I needed to focus on it. Once my three months was up, I would leave this place and never see Alex again. It wouldn’t help him if I allowed him to develop feelings towards me. Lord knows it would only get us both into trouble if I had to defend him against an Acelades attack. I remembered the last time I fought with someone who let their feelings get in the way. William and I had tracked five Acelades assassins throughout Europe and finally confronted them in a snow drift outside a small Russian village. I knew from the moment I saw the woman that she and her party were the ones we had been searching for, the ones who had killed our parents. She stared at me with her cold, calculating eyes, her lips curled up in a snarl as she appraised William and me. She called out in Italian to the others in her party. I could not understand the words but I knew she was calling them to action.

  I looked at William, his face had hardened and blackness consumed his eyes. He was no longer my brother but a man consumed by hate and rage. I knew that William had suffered terribly at the hands of the Acelades during his transformation and I could only imagine what he must be feeling.

  “We need to kill them all!” he growled through gritted teeth.

  “I know,” I replied placing my hand on his arm and looking into his eyes. “We will. I will follow your lead.”

  William and I removed our knives from their sheaths and walked towards the group. They started to disperse in an attempt to circle us but William was too quick. He lunged at the man to his left. The man charged 100 meters into the snow. William took off after him. Two men followed him, one I remembered from the night I was transformed. I felt my stomach tighten. I knew William could take them; he was the strongest protector I knew. His rage made him dangerous, I only hoped that he would be able to keep his emotions under control and fight as we had been taught. I did not have time to focus on him for long as the two remaining members of the party came towards me.

  “So we meet again,” sneered the woman whose voice thick with an Italian accent.

  “This time it will be your blood spilt.” I replied as I watched her and her male counterpart separate. I knew that they would attempt to rush me from opposite sides.

  “Oh I don’t think so,” she stated. “I did so enjoy it when it was yours last time.”

  “Francesca, do let us get on with it.” The male interrupted his accent was different but I could not place it. His voice was closer to me than I had expected. I turned quickly lunging towards him. His reflexes were slower than mine and I managed to land a blow to his chest. He stumbled backwards. I guessed more in surprise than actual pain but it gave me an opening. I rushed towards him pouncing on him with all my might. I landed two more blows before I was pulled off him by Francesca. She tossed me across the snow drift like a rag doll, my body crashing into the trunk of a tree. I pushed myself up and ran towards the pair. Their fighting skills far exceeded any that I had faced from other Acelades protectors. They must be ancients, who had perfected their craft over many centuries.

  The battle was bloody. I landed as many blows as I sustained. Francesca and the man circled me, each taking turns to lash out against me in an attempt to take me out. The fury in me kept up my rage. I was attacking the male when Francesca grabbed me, pinning my arms behind my back.

  “Take her” Francesca ordered. He lunged at me, baring his fangs, his eyes full of wrath. I leaned back into Francesca and sprang off the ground, landing my feet either side of his head. In a split second I tightened my legs around his head and twisted to the right. I felt his neck snap and twisted again to the left ripping his head from his body. I threw his head as his body fell to the ground. Francesca let out a small cry and I took this momentary lapse to struggle free from her stone grip. I turned to face her, my knife in one hand wiping back my hair with the other.

  “Now it’s your turn!” I spat, readying myself for our clash. She lunged towards me and I stepped to the side, landing a blow to her back before she had time to recover. She swung her leg around and landed a kick into my side knocking me to the ground. I landed on my back and my knife slipped from my hand. Francesca pounced towards me and I rolled away just in time to miss the full onslaught of her landing. I pushed myself up and met Francesca’s gaze. I saw her eyes travel towards my knife that was quickly becoming buried in the snow. She knew I was unarmed and I could see the confidence in her grow. She lunged towards me, her arms outstretched, knives directed at my chest. I looked to my left and saw a tree less than one meter away. I moved quickly to the side, running up the trunk of the tree I jumped landing on Francesca’s back. My hands grasped her head and tore it from her body. She fell to the ground, taking me with her.

  I ran and retrieved my knife using its handle to spark a fallen tree branch. I set their bodies and their heads alight and ran into the direction I had seen William go. I could hear the sounds of battle as I made my way through the constantly increasing snow fall.

  “I can see a fire. They must have finished her!” I heard one of the men yell.
  “No!” William released a strangled cry.

  I ran towards the sound of their voices with all my speed.

  “William!” I screamed. “I am coming for you!”

  I came to where they were fighting. I could see that William had landed heavy blows against all three but had been unable to finish them. I joined William’s side, ready to fight. The three men leered at me, the one I remembered licking his lips as though I was a meal he would enjoy. I rushed at him knocking him to the ground and just like that, the temporary rest was over. The battle raged again. These men were stronger than those I had just killed, even weakened by their injuries. They were incredibly fast and appeared to be made of steel. I focused on taking down the one I had seen before. He would pay for what he did to my family and to me. The scar across my stomach tingled in the memory of when he had made it. I lunged towards him with my knife and he countered with a swift right hook. I dodged and swung out my leg to knock him down but he was faster and grabbed my leg twisting it hard, forcing me off balance. I landed on the ground and he was on top of me before I knew what had occurred. His weight was crushing my chest and I knew that I would die.

  “William!” I cried. I heard him rush towards me and the action gave me a brief moment to act. With all my might, I swung my arm and sliced through his neck with the knife. His head and body fell in opposite directions and I leapt up to meet William. I saw one of the men chasing him and the body of the other laying on the ground near the edge of the woods. I heard a noise behind me and turned to see four figures coming through the snow at a lightening pace. They reached us in no time. Two of them grabbed my hands and feet and plunged a knife into my abdomen. The other two headed towards William. He looked at me with fear in his eyes.

  “William, you need to fight. Don’t worry about me, just protect yourself!” I yelled, struggling to get free. I could see the battle raging in William’s eyes. His instinct was to protect me but his training told him to save himself. His instinct won out and William rushed towards me. This lapse in judgement gave the Acelades protectors the opportunity to grab him, knocking him back hard with a swift blow to the head. I let out a scream and struggled against their grip.

  “Leave her,” one of the men snarled, his face hidden by the hood of his coat. I could only see his eyes. They were emerald green surrounded by red. I would always remember those eyes. The men holding me began to bind my arms and legs. They threw me to the ground, the one holding my legs landing a hard kick into my spine. I grimaced with pain, refusing to let a scream escape. The other man grabbed my shoulder and rolled me onto my back. He removed his knife and plunged it into my abdomen again, running it along the old scar. I looked to William who was struggling helplessly against his captors.

  “This time, we’re not leaving her for you to find.” My assailant laughed, looking at William.

  “The wolves will enjoy her.” the other man said, as the both walked away from me toward William. The pain consumed me. I held William’s gaze for as long as I could until the pain caused me to black out. That was the last time I saw William alive.

  I shook my head and was back in my room at the manor. I would never go through that again. I would not be the reason for the death of another innocent person. Taking a deep breath, I stood up and shrugged my shoulders, tilting my head from side to side to stretch my muscles. Remembering my last battle with William had caused the sadness buried deep within me to come to the surface. I swallowed hard, forcing the tears back down. I knew one day I would have the opportunity to face the men who took William from me and on that day I would avenge his murder and find my peace. I retrieved my bag and headed down the stairs with a new resolve. I would protect Alex. I would complete my mission and I would not allow myself to become distracted.

  Alex was waiting in the hall for me when I reached the bottom of the stairs. Sienna was with him holding a brown paper bag smiling at me.

  “Your breakfast, Miss Grace.” she said.

  ‘Thank-you Sienna,” I replied taking the bag from her hand. I turned to Alex who was resting up against the wall. He wore grey pants, a pale blue shirt and a burgundy sweater. His navy blazer was slung over his bag that was resting at his feet.

  “Let’s go,” I said to him as I walked past and headed towards the door. Alex appeared surprised by my abrupt greeting. He grabbed his bag and quickly followed me. I was almost at the passenger door when Alex reached my side. He reached out and opened my car door. As he leant over me my head filled with his scent and I felt the poison building up in my fangs, the urge to taste his blood was very strong. I swallowed hard and turned my head away from him as I stepped into the car. Once inside I exhaled heavily trying to clear my head before Alex got into the car. Alex looked at me strangely as he got into the car. I am sure my bi-polar moods were causing him whiplash but I knew it was for his own good. I needed to keep my focus and discourage him from developing any stronger feelings towards me, as well as keeping my own in check. I was suddenly very glad for the breakfast Sienna had packed me. It provided me with an excuse to limit our interactions all the way to school.

  When we arrived at school, Lauren and Daniel were already waiting by their car. Lauren waved at us as we pulled in and I prepared myself for the inevitable over reaction that would ensue when she found out we were going to the Fire and Ice Ball. I waited for Alex to open my door and as I stepped out I came face to face with him. He gently placed his hand on my arm again, sending a voltage surge through my body. I tried to keep my reactions neutral and met his gaze.

  “Grace, are you sure we’re ok?” Alex whispered his eyes full of concern and worry. I felt a rush of sympathy for him I knew how irrational I was being but Alex didn’t know what was at stake here.

  “We’re fine Alex,” I replied reassuringly carefully slipping my arm away from his hold. “Now let’s go make Lauren’s day and tell her we will be joining them on Saturday night,” I continued with as much enthusiasm as possible.

  I could see relief wash over Alex and a smile began to creep across his face. We walked together over to Lauren and Daniel. I kept a little more distance between Alex and I to dilute his scent, allowing me to focus more on my surroundings. It was ironic to me that Katherine and Lucas were so worried about the Acelades threat, when the trained killer they had hired thirsted after Alex’s blood. I smiled as we approached Lauren and Daniel. Lauren was rambling on about their outfits for Saturday night, trying to convince Daniel that he would not be wearing his favourite sneakers with his suit. I could see the grin on Daniel’s face. He was clearly enjoying riling her up and the more flushed she became the harder he stuck at it.

  “Grace, please tell Daniel that there is no way he can wear his old sneakers to the Fire and Ice Ball on Saturday Night!” Lauren greeted me, glad to have some female back up.

  “Daniel, there is no way you can wear your old sneakers to the Fire and Ice Ball on Saturday night,” I said to him smiling “You really need to buy some new ones to wear maybe with red laces!” I finished, laughing.

  Daniel and Alex both fell to the ground in hysterics at the murderous look that came across Lauren’s face. I looked at her and shrugged before Daniel regained some composure.

  “Come on babe,” he said consolingly to Lauren placing his arm around her. “You know we are just kidding with you. I will wear whatever you want me to as long as it makes you happy.” Lauren seemed consoled by this and rested her head against his shoulder as we started to walk up to the school.

  “I wish you would change your mind Grace,” Lauren said as we walked. “The four of us would have a really good time together.”

  “Well Lauren,” I said with a dramatic pause to gain her attention. “You should really consider Alex to be your lucky charm, because he has convinced me to accompany him on Saturday night.”

  At this, Lauren let out a high pitch squeal of excitement and threw her arms around me. I looked helplessly at Alex and Daniel who were standing back watching the event unfold. I fo
und it strange that having Lauren this close to me did not give me the same reaction as when Alex was nearby. I could smell her scent and whilst it was pleasant, I did not feel the urges I did when Alex touched me. Finally, Lauren let go and stared from me to Alex with a huge grin on her face.

  “Oh my God! We are going to have the best time!” she said, her words rushing out so quickly it was hard to tell when one word finished and the other began. I could see Daniel nudging Alex in the ribs and a faint blush crawl onto Alex’s face. As we began walking back up to school, Lauren switched into organiser mode listing things off on her fingers. “So, you need to get a dress, shoes, bag, book in to get your hair done hmm maybe my hair dresser can fit you in. I am going at 2:00pm. I will call her when we are on lunch. You will need to get your nails done. What about a pedicure?”

  “What about a what?” I replied feeling suddenly very overwhelmed by the whole event. Flashes of attending dances many centuries ago started filling my head and I did not treasure the thought of going through all of that hassle again. Thank god corsets were not longer in fashion.

  “A pedicure,” Lauren restated looking at me incredulously. “You know… to make your feet look good?”

  “Um, I don’t think so. I really don’t think I need any of that. Alex’s mom is buying me a dress and accessories today and I will just do my own hair, I always have.” I replied.

  “You cannot do your own hair!” Lauren replied looking shocked. “This is not just a high school dance Grace, it’s a ball.”

  “I know Lauren,” I sighed. “I have been to a lot of balls and I have done my hair for every single one of them. Trust me, I learnt it from my mom.”

  “Ok,” Lauren conceded, suspiciously. My guess was that if I called her hair dressers tonight there would be an appointment made for me on Saturday just in case.

  We reached the school buildings and parted ways to head to class. I walked with Daniel, as my gym class and his science lab were in the same direction. We walked in silence and I could feel Daniel looking at me. He started to say something several times but stopped himself.

  “So, you and Alex are going to the ball,” he finally said.

  “Looks that way,” I replied.

  “Alex said he kind of forced you into it.” Daniel said. I could see what was happening here. Alex was afraid that my weird mood had to do with the stunt he pulled last night and he’d sent Daniel to check it out. I knew I had every right to be angry and annoyed with him but I wasn’t. As much as I was trying to deny it, I was actually looking forward to going with him.

  “Yeah, he did, but it’s cool. We’ll all have a good time together.” I said emphasising the all.

  “For sure!” Daniel said obviously satisfied with my response.

  The rest of the day went quickly. It was a blur of Lauren’s obsessive talk about the Fire and Ice Ball, avoiding the stares of Tristan and his friends and trying to keep my distance from Alex without making him suspicious. By the time the day was ending, I was edgy and ready to feed. Thankfully, Katherine was home when we arrived saving me from an afternoon alone with Alex in his room. I was trying to stick to my earlier resolve but I knew being alone with him could easily make me forget that, especially in my current state. Katherine was surrounded by packages when we entered her parlour. Michael announced our entry and Katherine looked up distractedly. She greeted us with a smile and motioned for us to come in and sit on the lounges. Alex selected the chaise and I sat opposite him in a rocking chair, curling my legs up under me. I looked at Alex, raising my eyebrows and glancing at all of the bags. He returned my look shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.

  “Gee mom, is there any thing left at the stores?” he teased.

  “Hmm… a few things but I could always go back and get them if you like,” Katherine replied. She was in her element surrounded by her new purchases and making preparations for a grand ball.

  “Ok. Let’s get this over with. Show me what you bought for me to wear,” Alex said trying to sound casual about it but his body language betrayed his excitement.

  “Well, I decided that you would be the ice part of the duo and Grace would be the fire,” She winked at me. “So I bought you a navy Armani pinstripe suit and an ice blue Marc Jacobs shirt.” Katherine waved her hand towards the suit and shirt that were hanging on the coat stand next to her. Alex nodded and walked over to inspect the items more closely. He appeared pleased with his mother’s selection and took the suit and shirt off the coat rack. Alex disappeared behind a screen that was in the far right corner of the room. I saw his school uniform being thrown over the top of the screen. I looked away from that direction and caught Katherine’s eye. She smiled at me and I could see her eyes processing the scene in front of her. I felt uncomfortable sitting there under Katherine’s stare. I didn’t want her jumping to conclusions and thinking there was anything going on between Alex and me, when I wasn’t even sure what was going on. I needed to distract her and quickly.

  “So Katherine, what else did you buy?” I said looking at the substantial number of bags that still surrounded her.

  “Well,” she started, her attention immediately diverted back to her shopping accomplishment “I also got this gorgeous navy silk tie with silver snowflake embroidery on it and these matching snowflake cuff links.” She held the items out for me to inspect. The tie was stunning. The snowflakes looked like they were falling down the tie and there was a small collection of them at the bottom.

  “They’re great,” I replied stretching out my arm to hand them back to her.

  “I know I just fell in love with them. Would you mind running them over to Alex so he can put them on while I find the jewellery I bought for you? I want to see his whole outfit.” Katherine said with her head buried in a large Saks Fifth Avenue bag.

  I got up from the rocking chair and walked towards the screen. I was nervous at the thought of being near Alex when he was in a state of undress. I tried to make my footsteps loud so he would hear my approach but the carpet absorbed most of the noise. I reached the edge of the screen and cleared my throat.

  “Um Alex, your mom wanted you to try these on as well,” I said holding the tie and cufflinks in my outstretched arm, so much for trying to keep my distance from him. Alex stuck his head around the screen and I could see his bare chest. I felt a rush of poison flooding my mouth and butterflies raging in my stomach. He smiled at me and grabbed the items before vanishing behind the screen again. I stood there for a moment, collecting myself, before returning to where Katherine was with an ever increasing pile of purchases stacking up in front of her.

  “You have no idea how much fun it was to shop for you again,” Katherine said smiling at me. The again she mouthed, obviously not wanting Alex to know she was responsible for my current wardrobe as well. “I mean, men’s clothes are great but there is so much more variety for women and I just love dress shopping. Although I fear, I may have gone a little overboard,” she conceded looking at the bags surrounding her.

  I smiled at her knowing full well that she did not plan on returning any of the items she had purchased and, given the opportunity again, she would indulge just as much. Katherine was every part a lady and had no real concept of how irrelevant these purchases were in the grand scheme of things. To her, this ball and our attendance were the most important things on her mind. I could appreciate Katherine’s outlook on life, for I had been much the same when I was human.

  “Well, come on then, the suspense is killing me.” I joked “What did you buy for me to wear?” I said with far more enthusiasm then I felt. Katherine was so excited and I didn’t want to ruin her fun by being ungrateful or uncaring.

  Katherine smiled at me and pointed to a black dress bag that was hanging on the coat hook opposite to where Alex’s clothes had been hanging. I walked over to the bag and Katherine followed. I removed the bag to reveal one of the most stunning dresses I had ever seen. The dress was scarlet satin that became a deep claret towards the bottom. I looke
d at Katherine stunned and her face filled with obvious joy.

  “Do you like it?” she asked. “I know it’s a bit dramatic but how often do you get to dress up?” I understood what Katherine meant. Being a protector was not a glamorous job and, apart from my recent return to school, I could not remember the last time I had worn a skirt let alone a ball gown.

  “It’s beautiful,” I assured Katherine, unable to take my eyes away from the dress. Katherine returned with a pair of scarlet satin pumps that matched the dress perfectly. In her other hand, she a stunning ruby necklace that looked like it had flames running along each side of the centre pendant. The pendant was a mixture of rubies and diamonds intertwined together to look like they were two flames meeting.

  “Try the dress on with these,” Katherine said with the excitement in her voice like that of a girl with a new Barbie.

  “Sure,” I replied, taking the dress from the rack and the shoes and necklace from Katherine. I walked to a door in the side of the room. It led to a smaller powder room.

  The dress looked even more amazing on that it did on the hanger. It was figure hugging along my torso and flowed out slightly from the hips, falling softly to the ground. The top of the dress had a sweet heart neckline and thin capped sleeves that added elegance to the dress. The shoes were a perfect fit. I rarely got the opportunity to wear heels and I admired the way they elongated my legs. The necklace sat perfectly across my collar bone. I looked in the mirror and hardly recognised myself. I looked feminine and elegant.

  I opened the door and stepped back into the parlour. Alex had his back to me when I entered. Katherine was fixing his tie and she smiled at me.

  “It’s definitely dramatic,” she gushed. “You will definitely set the ball on fire.”

  Alex turned around to face me and his mouth literally fell open.

  “Wow!” he blurted. If I had been able to blush, I am sure I would have. Instead I did a small courtesy and walked towards them. Katherine was glowing, looking at her fashion accomplishments.

  ‘You two look fantastic. You’re going to be the talk of the ball!” Katherine cried clapping, her hands together with pleasure. We spent the next half hour being primed and preened by Katherine whist she gave us tips and suggestions about our outfits. Alex and I allowed her this indulgence. It was great to see her so joyful and completely enjoying the time she was spending with her son. Eventually, Martha announced that dinner would be served in 30 minutes and Katherine allowed us to head up to our rooms to change. Alex and I chatted about our day and what homework we had on the way to our rooms. I lied, feigning that I had none, any excuse not to have to spend any more time alone with him than absolutely necessary.

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