Monday, April 15, 2019
As sneakily as I could, I slipped my phone out of my pocket, and hid it between the yellowing pages of the absolute monster of a book Lydia had handed me to read. It’s not like I was really reading it anyway; books and I had come to a bit of an agreement, —we were both better off not bothering each other— but I wasn’t about to shirk Lydia’s help. That, and even if I didn’t like books much, she clearly did, and I didn’t want to open that can of worms with an Elf of all people, so I tried to look interested in the dumb book whenever she looked away from the shelves.
I’d taken to watching her (again). If she noticed, she didn’t seem to care, and I was just about sure there was nothing the Elf didn’t notice.
It wasn’t even like she was doing anything particularly interesting, just reading down the backs of some old books, occasionally taking one off the shelf, examining the cover and some random pages if she was so inclined, and if she was really interested in it, she’d add it to the small (and I use the term loosely, she had like four massive books there already) hoard she’d made next to me.
Anyway, my phone had vibrated and there were only four people that had that power. (And one of them was still poking her nose into an ancient looking brick of a book.)
I rolled my eyes when I saw the message was just a link Laurel had sent me to more reading.
“Have you finished that book already?”
I was starting to think she made me jump on purpose.
“Have you ever asked me a question you didn’t already know the answer to?” I frowned up at her, but she didn’t turn around.
“Yes, I believe I have.” Her voice had a teasing, languid feel to it, like honey or syrup. “Did you find anything interesting before you gave up on reading entirely?”
“Uh,” I looked down to try and find some interesting thing to share so it wouldn’t look as incriminating. “Wait, what the hell?”
Taking the time to actually look at the random page I’d turned to, I realized I’d been duped into staring at some stupid segment about gnomish pottery for the last ten odd minutes.
I heard a light laugh from the Elf and looked back up at her. Now, she was staring right back at me; she wore an almost smug smile that made her eyes a little squinty and a lot glittery. And yeah, I knew she probably heard my heart miss a beat, or my lungs doing some weird hiccup thing, but it didn’t show. Stupid, pretty Elf, with her stupid, pretty smile.
“No, you didn’t strike me as the reading type.”
“You, you gave me some random ass book and what? Just waited to see when I’d notice?” I choked on a little huff that seemed to leave my lungs involuntary as I gaped, incredulous, at the Elf and her stupid little grin.
“You seem surprised.” She made that almost-purring laughing sound in her throat again, moving the book pile over and sitting next to me; as she did, I became hyper aware of the earthy, green smell that followed her. It was subtle, but unique, and I tried not to lean into her just to try and figure out what it was. My hands felt like an electricity show.
“I thought, uh,” that train of thought completely evaporated when she looked at me. Because she was so god awfully tall, I’d never gotten the chance to see her face so close. Here, I could almost count the individual flecks of color in her eyes, and I definitely noticed that there was an otherwise almost imperceptible ring of deep aqua around both her pupils, and separating her irises from the rest of her eye.
Her eyes were slanted a little, and at the far corners some lines had started to set in.
There was a very small stud in her nostril; I don’t really know how I had missed it before, but now that I knew it was there, it made me itch with curiosity.
And god, her lips.
“Hi,” and I imagined how I must have looked, like I’d just stepped outside into too cold weather; eyes wide and breath caught in my throat, leaning back just a little, trying to give myself room to think.
“Hey, yourself.” The Elf chuckled back, calm and collected as ever, with her lips pulled unevenly to the sides, deepening the creases around her eyes and revealing a bright, toothy grin. She had an absolutely breathtaking smile. “Now, what did you see on that phone to make you look so offended?” I think it was her proximity that was causing my brain to short circuit, and take a painfully long time to process the really simple question.
“My sister sent me bookwork.” For all I honestly tried, I really couldn’t stop staring at her mouth. I was fascinated by the movement of her lips, even how when she’d tense them, they’d get paler until they relaxed.
“Oh?” Lydia’s eyes flickered in my peripheral vision. I didn’t dare try to follow them, in case she looked right at me. This close, I think eye contact with her would literally kill me; freeze me over like Medusa.
“Mm.” I know she knew what sort of effect she was having on me; she didn’t seem to mind it a bit, though, which was honestly more of a relief than I’d like to admit. Really, the fact that she was entertaining me at all when she knew how I felt was a whole new type of overwhelming; a dizzying combination of incredulousness, curiosity, embarrassment, and hope.
I caught myself wondering if it was just that famous Elven politeness that kept her quiet about it; Elves tended to keep to their own, so they were pretty much a mystery to most other Fae races, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that couldn’t tell you three things about them: they’re all god-awfully attractive, they live unimaginably long lives, and they’re polite to the point of snobbishness, even condescension. (Though I’d probably have to change that last bit after meeting Lydia.)
“You, uh, did you like have anything else planned today?” I cleared my throat, admittedly a little obnoxiously, and tried to look even a bit in control of myself. “Not like, I mean, asking if you’d be able to like clear your schedule, I’m just like wondering if you just wanted to hang out here or if like, if you had anything else you wanted to do?” I could hear myself talking, and I knew I was doing the stupid nervous thing again, but I think of all people, I had the hardest time trying to shut myself up sometimes.
Lydia, because she’s either too polite, or was amused by my babbling, didn’t say anything about me suddenly being so nervous again; I don’t really know which of the two I’d prefer. She also said nothing about how I was trying to look at her without actually looking at her, sort of trying to look through her, and there was no shadow of a doubt that she could see it, if not also feel it.
“Hm,” she hummed slowly. Because she wasn’t nervous at all, she laid back coolly, leaning against the arm of the bench, and folding an arm almost messily across her stomach.
And damned if I didn’t take a mental pause and just enjoy the view.
Lydia Adams was all sharp lines, soft angles, and unadulterated elegance.
She didn’t even have to try.
She was wearing a long trench coat the color of coffee that’s mostly cream, a loose white tee shirt, and skinny blue jeans; a soft looking knit infinity scarf was draped around her neck; and her hair was up in a tight, clean bun that left her ears visible; they were rounded at the tips, and I was almost sure that had to’ve been an enchantment.
I found myself thinking again that it should have been absolutely impossible for anyone to look at her and just see a human. Sitting there, just sitting there, appearing to everyone else as poised as any queen or king, she was the kind of image that wrote epics and myths, and could have altered the course of civilizations.
It was hard to wrap my head around her having any interest, professional or not, in me. The fact that she was entertaining me at all was an anomaly.
But there she was.
“To be perfectly honest with you: no. I didn’t think you’d be so... call it willing, to participate in my study. At the very least, I thought you would want to take some time on your own to decide. It didn’t cross my mind that you would still be here afterwards.” I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’d ever seen an Elf shrug; I added it to the list of things Lydia did that Elves generally didn’t seem to normally do, and also to the list of things she did that I was attracted to for literally no good reason.
“I don’t get why though. It didn’t seem like that big a deal to me. Should it have?” I laughed, maybe a bit nervously. Lydia pursed her lips. Her eyebrows furrowed just for a split second like the motion had just been a lapse of control.
“I suppose not. I suppose that because it is so important to me, the arrangement seems all the more fragile; that and I found my phrasing painfully lackluster.” Her lips parted into that small, relaxed grin that made my stomach twist. She looked so completely at ease with everything and it’s got me torn because I really enjoyed seeing her squirm (probably too much), but I was also absolutely taken by how damn cool she looked; always in control, always poised and relaxed like she’d memorized the script and choreography of any scenario long before it happened.
“You say it like you haven’t asked much before.” I tried to calm myself down to have a normal talk with the Elf. My heart ignored it though, and kept up an inappropriately fast beat.
“I haven’t.” She regarded me with casual interest but also a definite level of softness that made her stare feel less icy, more like the warm fog that comes off of asphalt after it rains; I wanted to wrap myself in it.
I shoved that thought down as soon as I caught it.
“I’ve only been in the field for some forty years.” Her tone was quiet, but not in the way she was usually calm about everything; this sounded curiously like embarrassment.
“She says like it isn’t longer than I’ve been alive.”
Her smile turned just a bit rueful, maybe even sour at the corners.
“It’s not much time at all. I’ve been lucky enough to have contacts in the regional Night School, but that only goes so far; a lot of Fae take much longer, and much more luck, to find.”
“May be a Fairy thing, but I’ve never had any trouble finding other Fae.” Lydia’s eyes sharpened and her brow twitched; she rearranged her arms over her chest, cocking her head a few degrees to one side and leaning back toward me attentively.
“Is that right? I’ve heard that Fairies tend to keep the company of as many Fae as possible, but I’ve never heard anything about it from a Fairy.”
“Oh, absolutely. Fairies are like —what’s that animal that collects things to show off? It’s like a crab or something. We’re like that. We like knowing as many races as we can get our hands on. It’s a pain in the ass, really. We also get inappropriately annoyed with people who know more people than we do.”
Somewhere during my short speech, the Elf’s smile had grown and she was beaming. Damned if I knew what exactly made her do it, but I wanted to do it again. Pretty, smiley Elf.
“You’re a treasure.” She laughed, shaking her head to herself like she couldn’t hear my heart turning itself off and on again. I tried to rope myself in and take it in stride, especially because I was sure she meant it objectively.
“I think you actually got the short straw here; Fairies are a dime a dozen. Any Elf under five-hundred is practically a mythical creature in their own right.” The acute attention in her eyes didn’t exactly fade, but it was muted by something that looked hauntingly like affection.
“Rose, I assure you it’s not just because you’re a Fairy.”