I glanced up at Roman. "Huh?"
"That pathetic look on your face is killing me." He turned his gaze downward, moving eggs around his plate. With a sigh, he looked back up. "I know where Seth will be today. But I don't know if Simone will be there."
My eyes widened. "Where?"
Roman hesitated only a moment later. "The art museum. He mentioned it to Maddie yesterday.... Some exhibit he wanted to see that she doesn't. He was going to swing by there today. I'm not sure of the time, but Simone might have overheard. If so, it'd be the perfect time."
I stood up, and my appearance instantly shifted, ready to go. Hair styled long and wavy. Jeans and a T-shirt. Makeup perfect. "Well, let's go. We need to stake the place out."
"Whoa there, speedy. Some of us can't get ready that fast. And some of us aren't done eating."
I sat back down, not bothering to hide my impatience. He ate on, pointedly ignoring me and chewing every bite with care. A thought popped up. "Can you hide my signature? I'll go invisible. Lure her in."
Roman shook his head in exasperation. "I was hoping you wouldn't think of that."
I expected him to refuse me, but to my surprise, he did indeed hide my immortal signature when we finally set out to the museum. After shifting invisible, I was as incognito as he was by my side.
It was a pretty day to be out in downtown Seattle. The morning clouds had burned off, and the sun had nothing to hold it back. It was deceptive, though. The sky was a clear radiant blue, but fall's chill was starting to finally take its grip. So while the weather looked gorgeous through windows, a coat was required once outside.
The Seattle Art Museum - or, as it was affectionately know by locals, SAM - was massive, and its regular collection held exhibits from every place and period imaginable. Roman had told me the exhibit Seth wanted to see was a special one, only in town for a few weeks. It was a display of Late Antiquity jewelry, and I would have wagered good money that Seth was there to do research for Cady and O'Neill.
But when we arrived, there was no sign of Seth. Plenty of tourists - even on a weekday - filled the place, wandering aimlessly and pausing to study or read about the pieces. This period of time was near and dear to me, and I couldn't help feeling a little uneasy. It was the era I'd grown up in, the era I'd spent my mortal days in. Seeing those items - rings, bracelets, and necklaces - was surreal. Many were from the Mediterranean region of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, when I thought about my past, it would make my heart burn. Other times, I felt removed, like I was watching a movie about someone else's life.
I'd been studying each piece in detail, intrigued at how some had been polished to brightness and others were corroded with time. A gentle nudge at my shoulder made me look up. I saw no one near me and realized it had been Roman. Turning around, I surveyed the gallery and found what - or rather who - he'd spotted. Seth stood on the opposite side of the room, face thoughtful and inquisitive as he studied one of the cases. A notebook and pen were in his hands. He'd come for research, as I suspected.
I studied him with equal fascination. As far as I was concerned, he was as rare and precious to me as any of the jewelry surrounding us. Shit, I thought. I was an idiot if I thought I was over him. Just standing there in the same room, I felt more drawn to him than ever.
I backed up to a wall near me, staying out of the way of patrons and simply keeping an eye on Seth, wondering if Simone would show her traitorous face. After a half-hour went by, my impatience grew. It was stupid, I knew. Seth would likely be here all afternoon, and she might arrive later. But...suddenly, talking to him seemed more important. I knew it was foolish, knew it was wrong...but, well, I'd done more idiotic things in the past.
I stepped out of the gallery and into a stairwell that was momentarily empty. It only took a second to go visible again. In my ear, I heard Roman's voice hiss, "Are you crazy?"
"Keep my signature hidden," I snapped back. "If she shows, we'll sense her before she sees me."
An elderly couple came down the stairs just as I finished my words, giving me an odd look. I smiled winningly and held the door open for them. They scurried through.
Seth was at a display of Byzantine diadems when I touched his arm. He flinched and turned around, though his shock immediately turned to pleasure when he saw me. Shit, I thought again. Far better if he'd looked dismayed.
"Let me guess," I said. "You're planning the perfect heist for Cady and O'Neill."
He smiled. "They're the good guys."
"They've been known to break the law," I pointed out.
"I like to think of it as bending the law. What are you doing here?"
I gestured around. "Revisiting my youth - or what's left of it. The sands of time bury most things, but a few remain."
"I never thought of that," said Seth, clearly intrigued. "This is your era. I should have been coming to you for research."
A vision of us having private study sessions came to mind. I immediately squashed it. "Better visual aids here. Anything catch your eye?"
He pointed at the case of diadems beside him. "I like these. It's a shame we don't wear stuff like this anymore."
I followed his gaze. "Not enough bling in the hair nowadays?"
He gave me one of those half-smiles. "No. There's just...I don't know. There's a beauty and skill we don't use. Look at that." He gestured toward one diadem, meant to resemble a crown of gold coins. Little strings of small gold circles hung down, draping through the hair. "Look at the imperfections. That was handmade, each one of those."
"Some would call that flawed." I loved it when Seth got caught up in these philosophical musings.
"That's what makes it great. And anyway, I kind of like the idea of adorning women in crowns and jewels. Call me sexist, but I think the fair sex should be worshipped." He paused. "And perfectly entitled to all the rights and opportunities of men."
I laughed and stepped away so that others could approach the case. "I think you're romantic, not sexist." A troubling thought came to me, recalling how Maddie had admired pearl tiaras and headbands at the bridal stores yesterday. Modern-day diadems. Would Seth like that?
"Call it what you want," he said, "but I just think our civilization has declined when scrunchies have become the prevalent form of hair ornamentation."
We wandered around the exhibits after that, commenting on and analyzing them. I tried not to overthink the situation. I didn't delude myself about whether we could be friends. I didn't wallow in guilt over carrying a torch. I just tried to enjoy the moment. During none of our time together did I feel Simone. Since Roman's senses were stronger, I had to assume he hadn't either. I also suspected he was rolling his eyes over my time with Seth.
Seth and I finally reached the last of the exhibit: Byzantine wedding rings. When I saw them, the warm, comfortable feelings that had wrapped around me suddenly turned to ice. I felt the change in Seth too. Most of the rings were of similar design, with a flat circle lying on top of the ring, the circle surface then engraved with some image. My troubled feelings had nothing to do with weddings or any other associations with Maddie.
Last Christmas, Seth had had a ring made for me in this style. He hadn't intended it as a wedding or engagement ring. He'd just done it as a gift, knowing the style was part of my past. It was beautiful, and I still had it. It was locked away in a box of treasures I'd kept over the centuries - items too precious to throw out and too painful to look at.
Neither of us said anything, and I wondered what he thought about. Was it just the awkward discomfort from memories of an ex-girlfriend? Was it stirring bittersweet feelings similar to the ones churning in me? When he and Maddie had gotten involved, I'd been convinced he'd moved on. Then, after our brief affair in the spring, I'd reconsidered. There were too many times now that he looked at me strangely, too many times that reminded me of when I was his girlfriend and the times he told me he loved me. But his wedding was still moving forward, with no sign of doubt on his part. I didn't know what to think.
I'm not sure how long we stood in silence, but Seth broke it. "Well...I guess that's it for the exhibit, huh?"
I glanced around as though attempting to determine if we'd seen it all. I already knew we had. "Yeah, I guess that's it."
He wouldn't meet my eyes, and his whole body radiated nervousness. "Thanks for the research help. I should get back to the store and put this to good use."