"We talk all the time."
"I need to know something, Sage." He uncovered his face to look at me, and I suddenly realized how close I was sitting. For a moment, I almost didn't pay attention to his words. The flickering dance of shadow and light gave his already good looks a haunting beauty. "Did you get Lissa to talk to my dad?"
"What? Oh. That. Hang on one second." Picking up my cell phone, I texted Brayden again: Better make that thirty minutes.
"I know someone got her to do it," Adrian continued. "I mean, Lissa likes me, but she's got a lot going on. She wouldn't have just thought one day, 'Oh, hey. I should call Nathan Ivashkov and tell him how awesome his son is.' You got her to do it."
"I've actually never talked to her," I said. I didn't regret my actions at all but felt weird at being called out on them. "But I, uh, may have asked Sonya and Dimitri to talk to her on your behalf."
"And then she talked to my old man."
"Something like that."
"I knew it," he said. I couldn't gauge his tone, if it was upset or relieved. "I knew someone had to have prompted her, and somehow I knew it was you. No one else would have done it for me. Not sure what Lissa told him, but man, she must have really won him over. He was crazy impressed. He's sending me money for a car. And upping my allowance back to reasonable levels."
"That's a good thing," I said. "Isn't it?"
My phone flashed with another text from Brayden. The dance will nearly be over by then.
"But why?" Adrian asked. He sat down on the floor beside me. There was an almost distraught look to him. He leaned closer to me and then seemed shocked as he realized what he was doing. He leaned back a little - but only a little. "Why would you do that? Why would you do that for me?"
Before I could answer, another text came in. Will you even be back in time? I couldn't help be annoyed that he wasn't more understanding. Without thinking, I typed back: Maybe you should just leave now. I'll call you tomorrow. Sorry. I flipped the phone over so I wouldn't see any other messages. I looked back at Adrian, who was watching me intently.
"I did it because he wasn't fair to you. Because you deserve credit for what you've done.
Because he needs to realize you aren't the person he's always thought you were. He needs to see you for who you really are, not for all the ideas and preconceptions he's built up around you." The power in Adrian's gaze was so strong that I kept talking. I was nervous about meeting that stare in silence. Also, part of me was afraid that if I pondered my own words too hard, I'd discover they were just as much about my own father and me as Adrian and his. "It should have been enough for you to tell him who you are - to show him who you are - but he wouldn't listen. I don't like the idea of using others to do things we can do ourselves, but this seemed like the only option."
"Well," Adrian said at last. "I guess it worked. Thank you."
"Did he tell you how to get in touch with your mother?"
"No. His pride in me apparently didn't go that far."
"I can probably find out where she is," I said. "Or... or Dimitri could, I'm sure. Like you said before, they must let letters in."
He almost smiled. "There you go again. Why? Why do you keep helping me?" There were a million answers on my lips, everything from It's the right thing to do to I don't know. Instead, I said, "Because I want to."
This time, I got a true smile from him, but there was something dark and introspective about it. He shifted closer to me again. "Because you feel bad for this crazy guy?"
"You aren't going to go crazy," I said firmly. "You're stronger than you think. The next time you feel that way, find something to focus on, to remind you of who you are."
"Like what? Got some magic object in mind?"
"Doesn't have to be magic," I said. I racked my brain. "Here." I unfastened the golden cross necklace. "This has always been good for me. Maybe it'll help you." I set it in his hand, but he caught hold of mine before I could pull back.
"What is it?" he asked. He looked more closely. "Wait... I've seen this. You wear this all the time."
"I bought it a long time ago, in Germany."
He was still holding my hand as he studied the cross. "No frills. No flourishes. No secret etched symbols."
"That's why I like it," I told him. "It doesn't need embellishment. A lot of the old Alchemist beliefs focused on purity and simplicity. That's what this is. Maybe it'll help you have clarity of mind."
He had been staring at the cross, but now he lifted his gaze to meet mine.
Some emotion I couldn't quite read played over his features. It was almost like he'd just discovered something, something troubling to him. He took a deep breath and, his hand still holding mine, pulled me toward him. His green eyes were dark in the candlelight but somehow just as enthralling. His fingers tightened on mine, and I felt warmth spread throughout me.
"Sage - "
The power suddenly came back on, flooding the room with light. Apparently, with no concern for electrical bills, he'd left all the lights on when he went out earlier. The spell was broken, and both of us winced at the sudden brightness. Adrian sprang back from me, leaving the cross in my hand.
"Don't you have a dance or a curfew or something?" he asked abruptly, not looking at me.
"I don't want to keep you. Hell, I shouldn't have bothered you at all. Sorry. I assume that was Aiden texting you?"
"Brayden," I said, standing up. "And it's okay. He left, and I'm just going to go back to Amberwood now."
"Sorry," he repeated, moving toward the door with me. "Sorry I ruined your night."
"This?" I nearly laughed, thinking of all the crazy things I contended with in my life. "No.
It'd take a lot more to ruin my night than this." I started to take a few steps and then paused.
He finally looked directly at me, once again nearly knocking me over with his gaze.
"Next time... next time you want to talk to me about something - anything - you don't have to drink to work up the courage. Just tell me."
"Easier said than done."
"Not really." I tried for the door again, and this time, he stopped me, resting a hand on my shoulder.
I turned. "Yeah?"
"Do you know why I don't like him? Brayden?" I was so astonished he'd gotten the name right that I couldn't voice any answers, though several came to mind. "Because of what he said."