Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Golden Lily Chapter 24

BECAUSE THIS DAY couldn't get any weirder, I decided to stop by Adrian's. There was something I was dying to know but hadn't had a chance to ask. He opened the door when I knocked, a paintbrush in hand. â€Å"Oh,† he said. â€Å"Unexpected.† â€Å"Am I interrupting anything?† â€Å"Just homework.† He stepped aside to let me in. â€Å"Don't worry. It's not the crisis for me that it would be for you.† I entered the living room and was happy to see it filled with canvases and easels once again. â€Å"You've got your art studio back.† â€Å"Yup.† He set the brush down and wiped his hands on a rag. â€Å"Now that this place is no longer research central, I can return it to its normal artistic state.† He leaned against the back of the plaid sofa and watched me as I strolled from canvas to canvas. One of them gave me pause. â€Å"What's this? It looks like a lily.† â€Å"It is,† he said. â€Å"No offense, but this lily is kind of more badass than yours. If the Alchemists want to buy the rights to this and start using it, I'm willing to negotiate.† â€Å"Noted,† I said. I was still smiling from Brayden's breakup, and this only added to my good mood. Although, admittedly, the painting kind of lost me a little – as the abstract nature of his art often did. The lily, despite being more stylized and â€Å"badass† than the prim one on my cheek, was still clearly identifiable. It was even done in gold paint. Splashes of free-form scarlet paint surrounded it, and around the red was an almost crystalline pattern in ice blue. It was striking, but if there was some deeper meaning, it was beyond me. â€Å"You're in an awfully good mood,† he observed. â€Å"Was there a sale at Khakis-R-Us?† I gave up on my artistic interpretation and turned to him. â€Å"Nope. Brayden broke up with me.† Adrian's smirk faded. â€Å"Oh. Shit. I'm sorry. Are you†¦ I mean, do you need a drink? Do you need to, uh, cry or anything?† I laughed. â€Å"No. Weirdly, I'm fine. It really doesn't bother me at all. But it should, right? Maybe there's something wrong with me.† Adrian's green eyes weighed me. â€Å"I don't think so. Not every breakup is a tragedy. Still†¦ you might be due for some kind of comfort.† He straightened and walked over to the kitchen. Puzzled, I watched as he pulled something from the freezer and rifled through his silverware drawer. He returned to the living room and presented me with a pint of pomegranate gelato and a spoon. â€Å"What's this for?† I asked, accepting the offering out of shock alone. â€Å"For you, obviously. You wanted pomegranate, right?† I thought back to the night at the Italian restaurant. â€Å"Well, yeah†¦ but you didn't need to do this†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"Well, you wanted it,† he said reasonably. â€Å"That, and a deal's a deal.† â€Å"What deal?† â€Å"Remember when you said you'd drink a regular can of pop if I didn't smoke for a day? Well, I calculated the calories, and that's the same as a serving of this. If you can believe there are four servings in that tiny thing.† I nearly dropped the gelato. â€Å"You†¦ you went a day without smoking?† â€Å"Almost a week, actually,† he said. â€Å"So you can eat the whole thing if you want.† â€Å"Why on earth would you do that?† I asked. He shrugged. â€Å"Hey, you laid out the challenge. Besides, smoking's an unhealthy habit, right?† â€Å"Right†¦Ã¢â‚¬  I was still stunned. â€Å"Eat up. It's going to melt.† I handed the gelato back. â€Å"I can't. Not with you watching. It's too weird. Can I eat it later?† â€Å"Sure,† he said, returning it to the freezer. â€Å"If you'll really eat it. I know how you are.† I crossed my arms as he stood opposite me. â€Å"Oh?† He fixed me with a disconcertingly hard look. â€Å"Maybe everyone else thinks your aversion to food is cute – but not me. I've watched you watch Jill. Here's some tough love: you will never, ever have her body. Ever. It's impossible. She's Moroi. You're human. That's biology. You have a great one, one that most humans would kill for – and you'd look even better if you put on a little weight. Five pounds would be a good start. Hide the ribs. Get a bigger bra size.† â€Å"Adrian!† I was aghast. â€Å"You†¦ are you out of your mind? You have no right to tell me that! None at all.† He scoffed. â€Å"I have every right, Sage. I'm your friend, and no one else is going to do it. Besides, I'm the king of unhealthy habits. Do you think I don't know one when I see it? I don't know where this came from – your family, too many Moroi, or just your own OCD nature – but I'm telling you, you don't have to do it.† â€Å"So this is some kind of intervention.† â€Å"This is the truth,† he said simply. â€Å"From someone who cares and wants your body to be as healthy and amazing as your mind.† â€Å"I'm not listening to this,† I said, turning away. A mix of emotions churned in me. Anger. Outrage. And weirdly, a little relief. â€Å"I'm going. I never should have come by.† His hand on my shoulder stopped me. â€Å"Wait†¦ listen to me.† Reluctantly, I turned. His expression was still stern, but his voice had softened. â€Å"I'm not trying to be mean. You're the last person I want to hurt†¦ but I don't want you hurting yourself either. You can ignore everything I just said, but I had to get it out, okay? I won't mention it again. You're the one in control of your life.† I looked away and blinked back tears. â€Å"Thanks,† I said. I should have been happy he was going to back off. Instead, there was an ache inside me, like he'd torn something open that I was trying to ignore and keep shut away. An ugly truth I didn't want to admit to myself, which I knew was hypocritical for someone who claimed to deal in facts and data. And whether I wanted to agree with him or not, I knew without a doubt he was right about one thing: no one else would've told me what he just had. â€Å"Why did you come by anyway?† he asked. â€Å"You sure you don't want to make my awesome painting the new Alchemist logo?† I couldn't help a small laugh. I looked back up at him, willing to help him with the abrupt change in subject. â€Å"No. Something much more serious.† He looked relieved at my smile and gave me one of his smirky ones in return. â€Å"Must be really serious.† â€Å"That night at the compound. How did you know how to drive the Mustang?† His smile vanished. â€Å"Because you did,† I said. â€Å"You drove it without any hesitation. As good as I could have. I started to wonder if maybe someone else had been showing you how to do it. But even if you'd had lessons every day since you got the car, you couldn't have driven like that. You shifted like you've been driving manual your whole life.† Adrian turned abruptly away and walked to the opposite side of the living room. â€Å"Maybe I'm a natural,† he said, not looking at me. It was funny how quickly the tables had turned. One minute he had me backed into a corner, forcing me to face issues I didn't want. Now it was my turn. I followed him over to the window and made him meet my gaze. â€Å"I'm right, aren't I?† I pushed. â€Å"You've been driving one your whole life!† â€Å"Not even Moroi give licenses to infants, Sage,† he said wryly. â€Å"Don't dodge this. You know what I mean. You've known how to drive stick for years.† His silence answered for him, telling me I was right, even if his face was hard to read. â€Å"Why?† I demanded. Now I was nearly pleading. Everyone said I was so exceptionally smart, I could string random things together and make remarkable conclusions. But this was beyond me, and I couldn't handle something that made so little sense. â€Å"Why would you do that? Why would you act like you didn't know how to drive?† A million thoughts seemed to cross his mind, none of which he wanted to share. At last, he shook his head in exasperation. â€Å"Isn't it obvious, Sage? No, of course it isn't. I did it so I'd have a reason to be around you – one I knew you couldn't refuse.† I was more confused than ever. â€Å"But†¦ why? Why would you want to do that?† â€Å"Why?† he asked. â€Å"Because it was the closest I could get to doing this.† He reached out and pulled me to him, one hand on my waist and the other behind my neck. He tipped my head up and lowered his lips to mine. I closed my eyes and melted as my whole body was consumed in that kiss. I was nothing. I was everything. Chills ran over my skin, and fire burned inside me. His body pressed closer to mine, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. His lips were warmer and softer than anything I could have ever imagined, yet fierce and powerful at the same time. Mine responded hungrily, and I tightened my hold on him. His fingers slid down the back of my neck, tracing its shape, and every place they touched was electric. But perhaps the best part of all was that I, Sydney Katherine Sage, guilty of constantly analyzing the world around me, well, I stopped thinking. And it was glorious. At least, it was until I started thinking again. My mind and all its worries and considerations suddenly took over. I pulled away from Adrian, despite my body's protests. I backed up from him, knowing my eyes were terrified and wide. â€Å"What†¦ what are you doing?† â€Å"I don't know,† he said with a grin. He took a step toward me. â€Å"But I'm pretty sure you were doing it too.† â€Å"No. No. Don't get any closer! You can't do that again. Do you understand? We can't ever†¦ we shouldn't have†¦ oh my God. No. Never again. That was wrong.† I put my fingers to my lips, as though I would wipe away what had just happened, but mostly I was reminded again of the sweetness and heat of his mouth against mine. I promptly dropped my hand. â€Å"Wrong? I don't know, Sage. Honestly, that was the most right thing that's happened to me in a while.† Nonetheless, he kept his distance. I shook my head frantically. â€Å"How can you say that? You know how it is! There's no†¦ well, you know. Humans and vampires can't†¦ no. There can't be anything between them. Between us.† â€Å"Well, there had to have been at one point,† he said, attempting a reasonable tone. â€Å"Or there wouldn't be dhampirs today. Besides, what about the Keepers?† â€Å"The Keepers?† I nearly laughed, but no part of this was funny. â€Å"The Keepers live in caves and wage campfire battles over possum stew. If you want to go live that life, you're more than welcome to. If you want to live in the civilized world with the rest of us, then do not touch me again. And what about Rose? Aren't you madly in love with her?† Adrian looked way too calm for this situation. â€Å"Maybe I was once. But it's been†¦ what, nearly three months? And honestly, I haven't thought much about her in a while. Yeah, I'm still hurt and feel kind of used, but†¦ really, she's not the one I'm always thinking about anymore. I don't see her face when I go to sleep. I don't wonder about – â€Å" â€Å"No!† I backed up even further. â€Å"I don't want to hear this. I'm not going to listen to any more.† With a few swift steps, Adrian stood in front of me again. The wall was only a couple inches behind me, and I had nowhere to go. He made no threatening moves, but he did clasp my hands and hold them to his chest while leaning down to me. â€Å"No, you will listen. For once, you're going to hear something that doesn't fit into your neat, compartmentalized world of order and logic and reason. Because this isn't reasonable. If you're terrified, believe me – this scares the hell out of me, too. You asked about Rose? I tried to be a better person for her – but it was to impress her, to get her to want me. But when I'm around you, I want to be better because†¦ well, because it feels right. Because I want to. You make me want to become something greater than myself. I want to excel. You inspire me in every act, every word, every glance. I look at you, and you're like†¦ like light made into flesh. I said it on Halloween and meant every word: you are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen walking this earth. And you don't even know it. You have no clue how beautiful you are or how brightly you shine.† I knew I needed to break away, to jerk my hands from his. But I couldn't. Not yet. â€Å"Adrian – â€Å" â€Å"And I know, Sage,† he continued, his eyes filled with fire. â€Å"I know how you guys feel about us. I'm not stupid, and believe me, I've tried to get you out of my head. But there isn't enough liquor or art or any other distraction in the world to do it. I had to stop going to Wolfe's because it was too hard being that close to you, even if it was all just pretend fighting. I couldn't stand the touching. It was agonizing because it meant something to me – and I knew it meant nothing to you. I kept telling myself to stay away altogether, and then I'd find excuses†¦ like the car†¦ anything to be around you again. Hayden was an asshole, but at least as long as you were involved with him, I had a reason to keep my distance.† Adrian was still holding my hands, his face eager and panicked and desperate as he spilled his heart before me. My own heart was beating uncontrollably, and any number of emotions could have been to blame. He had that distracted, enraptured look†¦ the one that he held when spirit seized him and made him ramble. I prayed that's what this was, some spirit-induced fit of insanity. It had to be. Right? â€Å"His name is Brayden,† I said at last. Slowly, I was able to quiet my anxiety and gain some control. â€Å"And even without him, you have a million reasons to keep your distance. You say you know how we feel. But do you? Do you really?† I pulled my hands from his and pointed at my cheek. â€Å"Do you know what the golden lily truly means? It's a promise, a vow to a lifestyle and a belief system. You can't throw something like that away. This won't let me, even if I wanted to. And truthfully, I don't want to! I believe in what we do.† Adrian regarded me levelly. He didn't try to take my hands again, but he didn't back away either. My hands felt painfully empty without his. â€Å"This ‘lifestyle' and ‘belief system' you're defending have used you and keep using you. They treat you like a piece in a machine, one that's not allowed to think – and you're better than that.† â€Å"Some parts of the system are flawed,† I admitted. â€Å"But the principles are sound, and I believe in them. There's a divide between humans and vampires – between you and me – that can never be breached. We're too different. We're not meant to be†¦ like this. Like anything.† â€Å"None of us are meant to be or do anything,† he said. â€Å"We decide what we're going to be. You told me once that there are no victims here, that we all have the power to choose what we want.† â€Å"Don't try to use my own words against me,† I warned. â€Å"Why?† he asked, a slight smile on his lips. â€Å"They were damned good ones. You're not a victim. You're not a captive to that lily. You can be what you want. You can choose what you want.† â€Å"You're right.† I slipped away, finding no resistance from him at all. â€Å"And I don't choose you. That's what you're missing in all of this.† Adrian stilled. His smile dropped. â€Å"I don't believe you.† I scoffed. â€Å"Let me guess. Because I kissed you back?† That kiss had made me feel more alive than I had in weeks, and I had a feeling he knew that. He shook his head. â€Å"No. Because there's no one else out there who understands you like I do.† I waited for more. â€Å"That's it? You're not going to elaborate on what that means?† Those green eyes held me. â€Å"I don't think I need to.† I had to look away, though I was unsure why. â€Å"If you know me so well, then you'll understand why I'm leaving.† â€Å"Sydney – â€Å" I moved quickly toward the door. â€Å"Goodbye, Adrian.† I hurried toward the door, half-afraid he'd try to hold me again. If he did, I wasn't sure I could leave. But no touch came. No effort at all was made to stop me. It wasn't until I was halfway out on the lawn in front of his building that I dared a peek back. Adrian stood there leaning against the doorframe, watching me with his heart in his eyes. In my chest, my own heart was breaking. On my cheek, the lily reminded me who I was. I turned from him and walked away, refusing to look back.

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