"Well, why do you have to?" Part of me also wanted to ask what Rose had to do with this, but Jill had told me numerous times that for Adrian, everything came back to Rose.
"Because I wanted her," Adrian said.
"Do you still want her?"
No answer. Rose was a dangerous topic; one I wished we hadn't weirdly stumbled into.
"Look," I said. "You and Dimitri are two different people. You shouldn't compare yourself to him. You shouldn't try to be like him. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and rip him apart or anything.
I like Dimitri. He's smart and dedicated, insanely brave and ferocious. Good in a fight.
And he's just a nice guy."
Adrian scoffed. "You left out dreamy and ruggedly handsome."
"Hey, you're pretty easy on the eyes too," I teased, quoting something he'd told me a while ago. He didn't smile. "And don't underestimate yourself. You're smart too, and you can talk yourself out of - and into - anything. You don't even need magical charisma."
"So far I'm not seeing a lot of difference between me and a carnival con-man."
"Oh, stop," I said. He could make me laugh even with the most serious of topics. "You know what I mean. And you're also one of the most fiercely loyal people I know - and caring, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. I see the way you look after Jill. Not many people would've traveled across the country to help her. And almost no one would have done what you did to save her life."
Again, Adrian took a while to respond. "But what are loyal and caring really worth?"
"To me? Everything."
There was no hesitation in my answer. I'd seen too much backstabbing and calculation in my life. My own father judged people not by who they were but by what they could do for him.
Adrian did care passionately about others underneath all of his bravado and flippancy. I'd seen him risk his life to prove it. Considering I'd had someone's eye cut out to avenge my sister...
well. Devotion was definitely something I could appreciate.
Adrian didn't say anything else for the rest of the drive, but at least I didn't get the impression he was brooding anymore. Mostly he seemed thoughtful, and that wasn't so concerning.
What did make me a little uneasy was that I often caught sight of him studying me in my periphery.
I replayed what I'd said over and over in my mind, trying to figure out if there'd been anything to warrant such attention.
Adrian's father was staying at a sprawling San Diego hotel with a vibe similar to the resort Brayden and I had eaten breakfast at. Businessmen in suits mingled with pleasure seekers in tropical prints and flip-flops. I'd almost worn jeans to breakfast and was glad now for my choice of a gray skirt and short-sleeved blouse with a muted blue and gray print. It had a tiny ruffled trim, and the skirt had a very, very faint herringbone pattern. Normally, I wouldn't have worn such contrasting textures together, but I'd liked the boldness of the look. I'd pointed it out to Jill before I left the dorm for breakfast. It'd taken her a while to even find the contrasting textures, and when she did, she'd rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Sydney. You're a real rebel." Meanwhile, Adrian was in one of his typical summer outfits, jeans and a button-up shirt - though of course the shirt was untucked, with the sleeves rolled up and a few top buttons undone. He wore that look all the time, and despite its casual façade, he often made it appear dressy and fashionable. Not today, however. These were the most worn-out jeans I'd ever seen him wear - the knees were on the verge of having holes. The dark green shirt, while nice quality and a perfect match for his eyes, was wrinkled to inexplicable levels. Sleeping in it or tossing it on the floor wouldn't achieve that state. I was pretty sure someone would have to actually crumple it into a ball and sit on it for it to look that bad. If I'd noticed it back at Amberwood (and hadn't been so distracted getting him away from Brayden), I would've insisted on ironing the shirt before we left.
He still looked good, of course. He always looked good, no matter the condition of his clothing and hair. It was one of the more annoying things about him. This rumpled look made him come across as some pensive European model. Studying him as we took the elevator to the second floor lobby, I decided it couldn't be a coincidence that the most disheveled outfit I'd ever seen Adrian in had fallen on the day he had a father-son visit. The question was: why? He'd complained that his dad always found fault with him. Dressing this way seemed like Adrian was just providing one more reason.
The elevator opened, and I gasped as we stepped out. The back wall of the lobby was almost entirely covered with windows that offered a dramatic view of the Pacific. Adrian chuckled at my reaction and took out his cell phone. "Take a closer look while I call the old man."
He didn't have to tell me twice. I walked over to one of the glass walls, admiring the vast, blue-gray expanse. I imagined that on cloudy days, it would be hard to tell where sky ended and ocean began. The weather was gorgeous out today, full of sun and a perfectly clear azure-blue sky. On the lobby's right side, a set of doors opened up onto a Mediterranean style balcony where diners were enjoying lunch out in the sun. Looking down to ground level, I caught sight of a sparkling pool as blue as the sky, surrounded in palm trees and sunbathers.
I didn't have the same longing for water that a magic user like Jill possessed, but I had been living in the desert for almost two months. This was amazing.
I was so transfixed with the beauty outside that I didn't notice Adrian's return. In fact, I didn't even notice he was standing right beside me until a mother calling for her daughter -
also named Sydney - made me glance aside. There, I saw Adrian only inches away, watching me with amusement.
I flinched and stepped back a little. "How about some warning next time?" He smiled. "I didn't want to interrupt. You looked happy for a change."
"For a change? I'm happy lots of times."
I knew Adrian well enough to recognize the sign of an incoming snarky comment. At the last second, he changed course, his expression turning serious. "Does that guy - that Brendan guy - "
"Does that Brayden guy make you happy?"
I looked at Adrian in surprise. These kinds of questions were almost always a setup from him, but his neutral face made it hard to guess his motives this time.
"I guess," I said at last. "Yeah. I mean, he doesn't make me unhappy." That brought Adrian's smile back. "Red-hot answer if ever there was one. What do you like about him? Aside from the car? And that he smells like coffee?"