“I. Am. So. Confused.”
They looked at each other, and their laughter spilled out at the same time.
“I’m gonna flunk my first term here, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are going to flunk your first term here if you do not improve in time, but there are always supplementary classes to take during breaks—-”
Zari interrupted with a groan, “You’re almost as bad as my professors in LSL.”
“I will take that as a compliment, milady.”
Zari giggled. “Thank you, milady.”
“You may call me Soleil, you know.”
“I’d like that.” Zari nodded in relief. “And please call me Zari.” She bit her lip then blurted out, “Thank you for being so nice. There’s just something about you that makes me feel more…at ease.”
“That is my job, you know,” Soleil teased. “To make you feel right at home.”
Zari was looking at her in admiration. “You know, almost the whole time I was in LSL, I didn’t feel I was a proper fit. But you really are good at making people feel comfy – I mean, comfortable.” Unable to help it, asked curiously, “Do you never worry at all?” She could hear an imaginary Alexandru sighing in exasperation in her head. He had always told her off for being too curious for her own good, and even though she knew this was true, she just couldn’t help it.
“I suppose,” Soleil said slowly, “I worry like any other, but I also do my best not to worry about things I can’t control.” Like the curse that had been hanging over her head her entire life. “I’ve learned early on that the key to a happier life is to keep trying what you can do and what you think you can’t do. Because even if you fail, you would still be better off compared to where you would have been if you had not tried at all.”
Zari was grinning when she finished. “Do you know, I have a feeling we’ll be like Po and Master Shifu.”
Soleil paused, thinking the names were familiar, but she couldn’t quite recall who those were. “Are you speaking of Sir Edgar Allan Poe and…” Oh, but who was the other one? Perhaps a contemporary of Confucius?
Zari tried to keep her laughter from bubbling out. “Umm, never mind.” But then she thought about how her life would also be similarly restricted, without any access to technology, and she wasn’t that amused anymore.
When they reached Zari’s assigned quarters, Soleil took out a skeleton key and unlocked the door. “This is your room, and one of the staff will come shortly bearing your luggage, and of course the keys to your room, too.” At Zari’s nod, Soleil drew the girl’s hand, saying, “Anything you need, just let me—-”
The girl’s fingers tightened.
“Zari?” Soleil started to shake the girl’s hold off but it only tightened even more, and when she looked at the girl’s eyes, she went absolutely still.
Zari was no longer…Zari.
She was a soul seer now, and she was seeing.
The following evening, everyone was in a flurry of movement, with the Orpheline sisters in a hurry to hide unspeakable items from view. “Papa, go out and delay the marquis,” Fleur pleaded while she grabbed her pistol and quickly kicked it under the cushions. Oh, but why did the marquis have to pay an unplanned call now, just when it was Cleaning Day? All of their weapons were out, and with most of the staff given the day off, it was up to the three of them to straighten the living room.
For heaven’s sake, Soleil signed exasperatedly to her sisters. It was the only way to communicate without the marquis overhearing them. It’s like we’re living a scene straight from a Jane Austen novel, and it’s terribly silly—-
You say that, Aurora signed back in retort, and yet you’re also doing it, too. She glanced pointedly at the way her sister was quickly putting all their bullets in their father’s snuffbox.
Only because I can’t help panicking with the rest of you—-
Papa will kill you for what you’re doing to his snuff, by the way.
Oh, blast it, I had no choice—-
The door behind them opened.
“Daughters, le Marquis di Lunare is here.”
The Orpheline sisters turned to face the two gentlemen with overly bright eyes, flushed cheeks, and becoming smiles. They curtsied prettily and murmured their greetings in unison.
Soleil watched Ilie bow and wondered if it was just her heart that was beating madly. But if it were, how could her younger sisters not be similarly affected? He was so breathtakingly handsome it almost made her overlook the fact that he was no ordinary nobleman.
Almost, but not quite.
Ilie exchanged small talk with her sisters before going to her last. When he stood in front of her, she knew she should raise her gaze up to him, which was the polite thing to do. But she couldn’t. She was suddenly, unbearably shy, her gaze stuck at his perfectly knotted cravat.