My Maid laces the ties in the back of my pink dress. I don’t really like the color pink, but Mother insists to wear it today. It’s Valentine’s Day and purple just won’t do. She’s wearing red for the occasion, but she can. She’s Coupled.
I glance over to her. She’s standing next to my bed, flipping through the papers in her hand and mumbling. And even though she’s obviously upset by whatever she’s reading, she’s beautiful as always. Her blond hair is down and brushes her shoulders in soft waves. Her eyes are especially blue today and her skin has the perfect dewy look to it that I envy. The lights outside my window cause the water to lay a wavy shadow over her face.
I gasp when the Maid pulls the ties too tight, then hiss out a breath when Mother glances my way over the top of her papers. She purses her lips. “Now, now, Evelyn. Stop squirming. You’re not a child any longer.”
I straighten my back and try not to let it bother me that I can’t really breathe. “Yes, Mother.”
She watches me carefully, her eyes narrowed before she turns to the Maid pulling little pots and brushes from a case. “Darken her eyes and lips. She’s of age now. She needs a more mature look.”
“Yes, Mother,” the Maid says and starts working on my face.
A few minutes later, Mother’s lady’s Maid pokes her head. “The guests have arrived, Ma’am.”
Mother smiles and waves the woman away and turns to me. “Meet me in the ballroom when you’re finished. I have a gift for you.”
My stomach churns in anticipation, but I only smile my acknowledgement.
Ten minutes later, my hair in an intricate up-do that has my curls in a riot over the top of my head. The symbol of my rank sits on top of them like a tiara. My rose necklace rests in the hollow of my throat and I run my fingers over it nervously.
I stand outside the ballroom, my heart in my throat. This is my first event after coming of age. I’ll be expected to entertain the Suitors Mother invited. I’ve practiced and practiced what I’m to say and when and to whom, but I’m terrified my condition will act up and they’ll realize how strange I am.
The room is decorated in pink and red hearts and the cupids that are so synonymous with the holiday. Pink and red streamers crisscross the ballroom and the chandeliers sparkle like diamonds. The roses from my garden are on each of the tables lining the wall and their smell drifts to my nose calming me.
I step through the doors and the Guards nod at me as I pass through. My plan is to go straight to the hors d’oeuvre table. The petit fours are so cute with their pink and red frosting and shaped into tiny hearts. But Mother sees me instantly and waves me over. She’s standing next to a fairly tall couple. They’re both taller than Mother, which definitely makes them taller than me.
They both smile when I step up to them. I return it with one of my own.
Mother introduces them as Scientists from Sector Three. I curtsy. “It’s wonderful to meet you. I’ve always had a fascination with Sector Three,” I say as I was trained. It’s true. I’ve always been fascinated by the new things that the Scientists come up with. So it comes out with an excited appearance that I don’t have to fake.
The woman starts talking, but I stop paying attention. Coming up behind them, his hands carrying two plates of hors d’oeuvres, is a young man my age. At least I think he is. He’s just as tall as the man in front of me, and despite the fact that almost everyone in Elysium looks the same, he looks remarkably like the couple. His eyes are the same light blue and, when he stops behind the woman, he holds himself just like the man. His dark blond hair—the same color as the woman’s-- is slightly longer than usual and has dripped into his eyes. I know it’s wrong, but I have the sudden urge to brush it away. And I can’t stop myself from staring.
I start and blink quickly, trying to pull my attention from the boy to Mother. From the slightly frustration in her tone, it sounds like this wasn’t the first time she’d said my name.
She purses her lips, but only says, “I was introducing you to Timothy.” She flutters her hand toward the young man. “He’s the Whitworth’s son. He’s just passed Suitor exam.”
The young man bows. “It’ll be a pleasure to be one of your Suitor’s, Miss Evelyn.”
Our eyes lock together and my belly flops around as I stare at him. He’s my Suitor? I’d be lying if I didn’t say the thought pleases me. He’s perfect, I think, giving him the once over. Tall. Gorgeous. Perfect. I repeat in my head.
His lips--perfectly symmetrical lips, I notice--lift in the corners to smile at me. It’s not hard to see he’s amused at me. I bite my bottom lip, and turn, my face burning in embarrassment at being caught staring.
“Evelyn!” Mother hisses.
With an inward wince, I force myself into another curtsey. “My pleasure, Sir,” I say.
Mother narrows her eyes at me, her reprimand clear. “Why don’t you too, get to know each other, while I talk business with the Whitworths’.”
The band switches to a waltz and he offers his arm. “Would you care for a dance?”
Instead of answering, I take his elbow with my gloved hand, allowing him to lead me to the dance floor. Even though we’re careful not to touch skin-to skin--Un-Coupled peoples aren’t allowed to touch skin-to-skin--we lean close to each other so we can hear each other as we talk.
He smells like a mix of oil from Sector Three and soap. It’s an interesting and nerve wracking mix. I never would have thought I’d enjoy the smell of oil and soap on someone so much. We spend the entire night talking and even when another Suitor cuts in, it isn’t long before I find myself dancing with Timothy again. Each time we join each other in another dance, he holds me in a slightly tighter embrace. Never too much. Never enough for the Enforcers to notice, but some part of me—the part that’s obviously lost her mind—wants him to take me in his arms and hold me close. Place his lips against mine in a kiss. But he never does, which is just as well. It’d be suicide if he did.
But each time one of those other Suitors comes, Timothy looks like he’s going to argue. And as foolish as I know it is, I can’t help but feel excited about the prospect that he doesn’t want to share me.
Finally at the end of the night, exhausted with my legs and head aching, I smile as he says goodnight, bowing, then watch as he leaves a mixture of emotions flowing through my blood.
Mother joins me almost the instant he’s out of sight. “What do you think, Evelyn?”
I smile, thinking of how perfect his hands felt in my gloved ones. “I think I would be honored to have him for a Suitor.”
Mother smiles at me, running her hands over the curls on my head and staring in the direction Timothy left in. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Evelyn.”
In case you didn't know, surprise number 1 is that A DARK GRAVE (Gavin's short story) is free today and tomorrow. If you want to give me a Valentine's gift in return, I'd love to get it under 100 on the free kindle store, so please feel free to share the link with everyone. :)
BTW, for those that have been asking, A DARK GRAVE is not on anything other than Kindle right now. I do apologize for the inconvenience of that, but stay tuned because that may change.
I do have a few more surprises planned for today, so stay tuned, 'K?