I’d been ignoring him. I’d forced him to come here and I’d dived so deeply into life here, I didn’t know as he slipped away, that he didn’t fit, didn’t belong.
It was my fault that everything would fall apart.
“You shouldn’t punish yourself,” Eric said, “we all trusted each other and you had no reason to believe Randolph wasn’t honest with you.” I nodded, but I didn’t hear him. “Talk to me, tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”
“What if I’m wrong?” I said. “What if everyone here is wrong and everyone at home is right, and I’m broken and dangerous and,” he exhaled. “She’s calling to me Eric. Amina, and right now, what she’s offering me is tempting.” He nodded.
“I can’t make you feel like you aren’t broken,” Eric said, “I certainly can’t stop you from going to Amina, I don’t have nearly the power,” Raymond looked at him. “But I’d miss you, Ray, I’d miss you terribly.” He swallowed. I stood up and we stood in silence for a while before I walked back into the palace. I wanted to talk to Marina, to explain himself but she wasn’t anywhere.
“Sir Raymond?” I swallowed and looked at Evan Allred standing behind me. He joined us on the ride down from Dovetail. He looks like a lot of the midlanders, pink skinned and freckled and hair somewhere between red and brown. He was ostensibly supposed to be courting Annalise, but I’m not one hundred percent sure she even knows his name. “Are you alright?”
He’s also my age, and enrolling in the university when we go back to Dovetail as well, so we’ve been talking quite a bit.
“Hi,” I stumbled. He smiled. “I um,” I exhaled, “I think I will be.” He nodded. “You?” He shrugged.
“My father is going to be overly pleased,” he sighed and ran his hands through his hair, “if it gets you lot gone.” I laughed. “I’m waiting to tell him of course that it’s hopeless and I couldn’t be,” he cleared his throat, “I mean, she couldn’t be less interested in me, regardless of The Prince.” I looked at him. “Are you going home?”
“No,” my throat was dry. “No, I’m staying.” I looked down. “They won’t want me at home.” He frowned at me.
“Well, then they’re incredibly stupid,” he said, “who wouldn’t want you?” I really hope my eyes weren’t actually the size of my entire face because they certainly felt it.
“I um,” I swallowed, “ah, thank you?” He nodded and walked away, his face flushed. After another talk with Athena where she hugged me, which felt baffling. And then in my continued desire to find Athena, instead I found Randolph.
“You could have just told me you were unhappy,” I said walking up to him. He stared at me.
“When?” He shrugged. “Between mapmaking with the witch and your social calendar,”
“I wanted you to be a part of all of that,” I said, “I thought that was why we came here, instead of staying,” I exhaled. He took my hand.
“I thought that too,” he said, “but I don’t want that life anymore and I couldn’t,” he choked. I nodded. “I miss home, Ray, don’t you?” I blinked oddly at him.
“No,” I said, “no I don’t, at all. Well, except maybe my nieces.” He laughed and kissed me. I knew it would be the last time. “You don’t think you’ll what you’re looking for back home,” I whispered as our foreheads touched.
“Maybe not,” he said, “but I’ll know who I am, and can you say the same?” I frowned. I tried to think about how Marina or Annalise would answer that. Squaring her shoulders and ranting about The Goddess and being the most beautiful woman alive. Annalise is a Queen and that question is answered.
For once my cousins were not exactly the best models. Instead we just squeezed hands and he walked down towards the beach and walked inside. Marina walked over to me and smiled gently.
“Don’t do that,” I said. She sighed. “Athena’s being nice to me, it’s weird.”
“Before Brayton fell, Athena’s fiance told Brayton where resistance camp was and outlined some of the main hierarchy of the leadership and it lead to Martin being banished and running for his life,” she explained. “So I think she understands how you’re feeling right now.” I stared at her. “And I am sorry, Raymond.”
“I know,” I sighed. “But please don’t pity me.” She frowned.
“I’m not pitying you,” she laced her arm through mine, “I’m concerned, I care about you. It’s different.” I looked at her. “And I’m not the only one.” She nodded to Evan, who was animatedly discussing something with one of the sisters. I blinked.
“He’s, we’re, I’m,” I stuttered, “it’s not like that.” I managed. She shrugged.
“He likes you,” she said, “I’m not a particularly gifted aura reader, Lisette is better at it, but that’s patently obvious. He tries to hide it because he knew about you and Randolph. But I have a feeling things will become more plain now.”
“Maybe I’m not ready,” I said and shrugged. She smiled.
“Then you aren’t,” she said, “but just know that there are more people who care about you than you realize.” I smiled.
I came here to make a new life. I thought with him. But new does mean change. I guess I can be ready for that.