"Yeah?" She looked me over. "Are you selling something?" Next to this tall, perfect Moroi, I suddenly felt self-conscious and frumpy in my linen skirt and button-down top.
"Is Adrian here?"
"Adrian. Tall. Brown hair. Green eyes."
She frowned. "Do you mean Jet?"
"I... I'm not sure. Does he smoke like a chimney?"
The girl nodded sagely. "Yup. You must mean Jet." She glanced behind her and yelled, "Hey, Jet! There's some saleswoman here to see you."
"Send her out," called a familiar voice.
The Moroi opened the door wider and beckoned me in. "He's on the balcony."
I walked through a living room that served as a cautionary tale of what would ever happen if Jill and I lost all sense of housekeeping and self-respect. The place was a disaster. A girl disaster. Laundry piles littered the floor, and dirty dishes covered every square inch that wasn't occupied by empty beer bottles. A knocked-over bottle of nail polish had created a bubblegum pink splotch on the carpet. On the couch, tangled in blankets, a blond Moroi girl peered at me drowsily and then went back to sleep.
Stepping around everything, I made my way to Adrian through a patio door. He stood on a balcony, leaning against its railing, his back to me. The morning air was warm and clear, so naturally, he was trying to ruin it by smoking.
"Tell me this, Sage," he said, without turning back to face me. "Why the hell would someone put a building near the beach but not have the balconies face the water? They were built to look at hills behind us. Unless the neighbors start doing something interesting, I'm ready to declare this structure a total waste."
I crossed my arms and glared at his back. "I'm so glad I've got your valuable opinion on that. I'll be sure and note it when I file my complaint to the city council for their inadequate ocean views."
He turned around, the hint of a smile twisting his lips. "What are you doing here? I figured you'd be in church or something."
"What do you think? I'm here because of the pleas of a fifteen-year-old girl who doesn't deserve what you put her through."
Any trace of a smile vanished. "Oh. She told you." He turned back around.
"Yes, and you all should have told me sooner! This is serious... monumental."
"And no doubt something the Alchemists would love to study." I could envision his sneer perfectly.
"I promised her I wouldn't tell. But you still should've filled me in. It's kind of important information to have since I'm the one who has to babysit all of you."
'"Babysit' is kind of an extreme term, Sage."
"Considering the current scenario? No, not really."
Adrian said nothing, and I gave him a quick assessment. He wore high-quality, dark-washed jeans and a red cotton shirt that must have been slept in, judging from the wrinkles. His feet were bare.
"Did you bring a coat?" I asked.
I went back inside and did a search among the clutter. The blond Moroi girl was fast asleep, and the one who'd let me in was sprawled on an unmade bed in another room. I finally found Adrian's socks and shoes tossed in a corner. I rushed to retrieve them, then headed back outside and dropped them next to him on the balcony.
"Put those on. We're leaving."
"You aren't my mom."
"No, yours is serving a sentence for perjury and theft, if memory serves."
It was a mean, mean thing to say, but it was also the truth. And it got his attention.
Adrian's head whipped around. Anger glinted in the depths of his green eyes, the first I'd ever truly seen in him. "Don't you ever mention her again. You have no idea what you're talking about."
His anger was a little intimidating, but I held my ground. "Actually, I was the one in charge of tracking down the records she stole."
"She had her reasons," he said through gritted teeth.
"You're so willing to defend someone who was convicted of a crime, yet you don't have any consideration for Jill - who's done nothing."
"I have plenty of consideration for her!" He paused to light a cigarette with trembling hands, and I suspected he was also trying to get a grip on his emotions. "I think about her all the time. How could I not? She's there... I can't feel it, but she's always there, always listening to things in my head, listening to things I don't even want to hear. Feeling things I don't want to feel." He inhaled on the cigarette and turned to look at the view, though I doubted he actually saw it.
"If you're so aware of her, then how come you do stuff like this?" I gestured around us. "How could you drink when you know it affects her too? How could you do" - I grimaced - "whatever you did with those girls, knowing she could 'see' it? She's fifteen."
"I know, I know," he said. "I didn't know about the drinking - not at first. When she came over after school and told me that day, I stopped. I really did. But then... when you guys were over on Friday, she told me to go ahead since it was the weekend. I guess she wasn't as worried about getting sick. So, I said to myself, 'I'll just have a couple.' Only last night, it turned into more than that. And then things got kind of crazy, and I ended up here and - what am I doing? I don't have to justify my actions to you."
"I don't think you can justify them to anyone." I was furious, my blood boiling.
"You're one to talk, Sage." He pointed an accusing finger. "At least I take action. You? You let the world go by without you. You stand there while that ass**le Keith treats you like crap and just smile and nod. You have no spine. You don't fight back. Even old Abe seems to push you around. Was Rose right that he's got something on you? Or is he just someone else you won't fight back against?"
I worked hard not to let him know just how deeply those words struck me. "You don't know the first thing about me, Adrian Ivashkov. I fight back plenty."
"You could've fooled me."
I gave him a tight smile. "I just don't make a spectacle of myself when I do it. It's called being responsible."
"Sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night."
I threw up my hands. "Well, that's the thing: I don't sleep at night anymore because I have to come save you from your own idiocy. Can we leave now? Please?"
As an answer, he put out the cigarette and began putting on his socks and shoes. He looked up at me as he did, the anger totally gone. His moods were changed as easily as flipping a light switch.
"You have to get me out of there. Out of Clarence's." His voice was level and serious. "He's a nice enough guy, but I'm going to go crazy if I stay there."