"Did you really just invite Adrian to your room later?" asked Lissa. She spoke teasingly but had been secretly wondering if something was going on between them. And yeah, that made two of us who wondered.
Avery shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe. Sometimes we hang out once you guys are all tucked into bed. You aren't going to get jealous, are you?"
"No," laughed Lissa. "Just curious. Adrian's a good guy."
"Oh?" asked Christian. "Define 'good.'"
Avery held up her hand and began ticking items off with each finger. "He's devastatingly handsome, funny, rich, related to the queen..."
"You got your wedding colors picked out?" asked Lissa, still laughing.
"Not yet," said Avery. "I'm still testing the waters. I figured he'd be an easy notch on the Avery Lazar belt, but he's kind of hard to read."
"I really don't want to be hearing this," Christian said.
"Sometimes he acts like a love 'em and leave 'em type. Other times, he mopes like some heartbroken romantic." Lissa exchanged a knowing glance with Christian that Avery didn't catch while talking. "Anyway, I'm not here to talk about him. I'm here to talk about you and me busting out of here." Avery threw her arm around Lissa, who nearly fell over.
"Out of where? The dorm?"
"No. This school. We're going off on a wild weekend to the
"What, this weekend?" Lissa felt like she was three steps behind, and I didn't blame her. "Why?"
"Because it's Easter. And her royal majesty thought it would be 'lovely' if you could join her for the holiday." Avery's tone was grand and high-pitched. "And, since I've been hanging out with you, Dad's decided I'm on good behavior now."
"Poor oblivious bastard," murmured Christian.
"So he said I can go with you." Avery glanced at Christian. "You can too, I guess. The queen said Lissa could bring a guest-in addition to me, of course."
Lissa looked into Avery's radiant face and didn't share her enthusiasm. "I hate going to Court. Tatiana just goes on and on, giving what she thinks is useful advice for me. It's always boring and miserable now." Lissa didn't add that she'd once found Court fun-when I'd gone with her.
"That's because you haven't gone with me yet. It'll be a blast! I know where all the good stuff is. And I bet Adrian'll come too. He can push his way into anything. It'll be like a double date."
Slowly, Lissa began to acknowledge that this might be fun. She and I had managed to find a little of the "good stuff" that hid underneath the polished surface of Court life. Every other visit since had been just as she described-stuffy and businesslike. But now, going with Christian and wild, spontaneous Avery? That had potential.
Until Christian ruined it. "Well, don't count me in," he said. "If you can only bring one person, bring Jill."
"Who?" asked Avery.
"Jailbait," explained Lissa. She looked at Christian in astonishment. "Why on earth would I bring Jill? I just met her."
"Because she's actually serious about learning to defend herself. You should introduce her to Mia. They're both water users."
"Right," said Lissa knowingly. "And the fact that you hate it at Court has nothing to do with it?"
"Christian!" Lissa was suddenly getting upset. "Why can't you do this for me?"
"Because I hate the way Queen Bitch looks at me," he said.
Lissa didn't find this convincing. "Yeah, but when we graduate, I'll be living there. You'll have to go then."
"Yeah, well, then give me this small vacation first."
Lissa's irritation grew. "Oh, I see how it is. I have to put up with your crap all the time, but you can't go out of your way for me."
Avery glanced between them and then stood up. "I'll leave you kids to work this out on your own. I don't care whether Christian or Jailbait goes, as long as you're there." She peered down at Lissa. "You are going, right?"
"Yeah. I'll go." If anything, Christian's refusal had suddenly spurred Lissa more.
Avery grinned. "Awesome. I'm going to head out of here, but you two had better kiss and make up when I'm gone."
Avery's brother Reed suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Are you ready?" he asked her. Every time he spoke, it always came out as sort of a grunt.
Avery flashed the others a triumphant look.
"See? My gallant brother, coming to walk me back before those dorm matrons start yelling at me to leave. Now Adrian'll have to find a new and exciting way to prove his chivalry."
Reed didn't look very gallant or chivalrous, but I supposed it was nice of him to come walk her back to her room. His timing had been eerily perfect. Maybe she was right about him not being as bad as people always thought.
As soon as Avery was gone, Lissa turned on Christian. "Are you really serious about me bringing Jill instead of you?"
"Yep," said Christian. He tried to lie back into her lap, but she pushed him away. "But I'll count the seconds until you return."
"I can't believe you think this is a joke."
"I don't," he said. "Look, I didn't mean to get you all worked up, okay? But really... I just don't want to deal with all that Court drama. And it would be good for Jill." He frowned. "You don't have anything against her, do you?"
"I don't even know her," said Lissa. She was still upset-more so than I would have expected, which was odd.
Christian caught hold of Lissa's hands, face serious. Those blue eyes she loved softened her anger a little. "Please, I'm not trying to upset you. If it's really that important..."
Like that, Lissa's anger diffused. It was abrupt, like a switch. "No, no. I'm fine bringing Jill-though I'm not sure she should be hanging out with us and doing whatever Avery has in mind."
"Give Jill to Mia. She'll look after her for the weekend."
Lissa nodded, wondering why he was so interested in Jill. "Okay. But you're not doing this because you don't like Avery, are you?"
"No, I like Avery. She makes you smile more."
"You make me smile."
"That's why I added on the 'more.'" Christian gently kissed Lissa's hand. "You've been so sad since Rose left. I'm glad you're hanging out with someone else-I mean, not that you can't get everything you need from me."
"Avery's not a Rose replacement," said Lissa quickly.
"I know. But she reminds me of her."
"What? They have nothing in common."
Christian straightened up and sat beside her, resting his face against her shoulder. "Avery's like how Rose used to be, back before you guys left."
Both Lissa and I paused to ponder that. Was he right? Before Lissa's spirit powers had begun showing, she and I had lived a party girl lifestyle. And yes, half the time I was the one coming up with the crazy ideas to find a good time and get us into trouble. But had I been as out there as Avery seemed sometimes? "There'll never be another Rose," said Lissa sadly.
"No," agreed Christian. He gave her a brief, soft kiss on the mouth. "But there will be other friends."
I knew he was right, but I couldn't help but feel a small stab of jealousy. I also couldn't help feel a small amount of worry. Lissa's brief spurt of irritation had been kind of out of the blue. I could understand her wishing Christian could go, but her attitude had been a little bitchy-and her almost jealous worry over Jill was weird too. Lissa had no reason to doubt Christian's feelings, certainly not over someone like Jill. Lissa's moodiness reminded me too much of the old days.
Most likely she was overtired, but some instinct-maybe it was part of the bonding-told me something was wrong. It was a fleeting sensation, one I couldn't quite get a hold of, like water slipping through my fingers. Still, my instincts had been right before, and I decided I'd be checking in on Lissa more frequently.
Being with Lissa left me with more questions than answers, and so without a course of action, I simply continued to stay with the Belikovs for the next few days. I fell into their normal routine, again surprised by how easy it was. I tried hard to make myself useful, doing any chores they'd let me do and even going so far as watching the baby (something I wasn't entirely comfortable with, seeing as guardian training hadn't left much time for after school jobs like babysitting). Yeva eyed me the whole time, never saying anything but always looking like she disapproved. I wasn't sure if she wanted me to go or if that was simply the way she always looked. The others, however, didn't question me at all. They were delighted to have me around and made it obvious in every action. Viktoria was especially happy.