Chapter 16- Tides turn
“The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.”
I stood at the ticket booth with Kealie waiting for Thomas to arrive. It’d been nearly half an hour and Kealie was getting restless. The colorful balloons and sweet aroma of roasted pecans called to her cheerful heart.
Thankfully, the weather had warmed considerably in time for the fair. Hundreds of people had shown up to support the orphanage and its venture to open another one a few cities away. Never had I imagined my idea would do so well and I knew it was in no small way due to Tobias’s monetary support and guidance.
“He said he would come,” Kealie whined, stomping her feet on the ground, pulling me out of my thoughts.
I lowered myself to meet her gaze. “Something must have come up because I know for a fact that Thomas wanted to spend the day with you. He’ll make it up to you,” I said, hoping to appease her.
She nodded dejectedly. “Okay.”
I stared up the hill, in the direction of the palace, and hoped Thomas head a good reason for disappointing the little girl who idolized him.
I sighed. “Ready?” I asked, pasting a smile on my face, determined to show Kealie a good time. She nodded eagerly, already forgetting Thomas’s broken promise. “Great, let’s go,” I said, grabbing her hand in mine. My undercover guardians kept a casual distance from us as we bought our tickets and headed to the nearest booth.
We were on our third try at attempting to win a stuffed mermaid when Tobias found us. “I quit,” Kealie cried, tossing her milk bottle rings on the ground. She crossed her arms and stuck out her bottom lip.
The woman manning the booth was about to hand over the mermaid, recognizing us, but I shook my head. It wasn’t a lesson I wanted Kealie to learn. She had to work for what she wanted.
“Kealie,” I began but was interrupted by Tobias.
“Mind if I talk to her?” he asked.
His blue eyes begged for me to say yes.
I nodded and anxiously watched the two. Their relationship was strained at times. They’d spent some time together since Tobias returned for the game and I knew it was trying for Kealie at first. She blamed him for holding her back the night Thelonious killed George and not being able to say goodbye to her father. Her screams and tear-stained cheeks still haunted my dreams. Thankfully, she seemed to have forgiven him.
“Hey, Keals,” Tobias smiled, getting down on his knee to catch her gaze. “Don’t give up, okay, you almost had it. Wanna try again?”
Her wide brown eyes watered as she agreed. “Will you help me, Toby?”
My heart nearly melted at the nicknames they had for each other.
“Of course,” he replied. He picked up the tossed rings and place one in her hand. “Ready?” he asked, standing behind her.
“Yes,” she nodded, wiping away a tear.
He took hold of her wrist and whispered something only she could hear. “On the count of three,” he said as he guided her toss.
On three she let the ring fly and it landed perfectly around the glass bottle. She smiled so big my cheeks hurt just watching her.
“Two more to go, Keals,” Tobias said, nodding approvingly. By the time her third ring landed around the jar, the nail on my thumb was nearly nonexistent.
She squealed happily while jumping from one foot to the other. “I did it! I did it!”
“You sure did, kid,” he smiled.
After Kealie got her mermaid, she buried her face in the plush material of the tail. “Thank you,” she said shyly.
I mouthed a thank you to Tobias which he winked in return.
A girl Kealie’s age was waving her over from several booths down.
“Can I go spend time with my friends?” She pleaded.
“Sure, Keals,” I grinned. “But a guardian will be going with you.
She wrinkled her nose.” Call me Kealie, okay?”
Tobias chuckled and winked at her.
I laughed. “Sure thing, Kealie. I’ll see you in an hour to head home.”
She raced over to her friend and showed her her prize.
“Should I be offended that I was abandoned twice today?” I asked jokingly.
“Twice?” Tobias asked.
“Thomas didn’t show up today and Kealie left.”
“Well, kids grow up to leave their parents behind. It’s natural. As for Thomas, that’s his loss.”
It was hard not to swoon when Tobias stared at me like I was the answer to his prayers. His bright gaze electrified every neuron in my body.
“Well, if you insist,” he joked.
“I really do,” I said, playing along. My heart thumped heavily against my chest, as he offered me his arm.
We ended up at most of the same booths as Kealie. So my day with her wasn’t a complete loss. We were able to get a caricature drawing of the three of us and we laughed a little too hard at our big heads and exaggerated smiles. We even had the chance to feed the ducks and got our faces painted. The day hadn’t turned out how I had expected but I cherished my moments with Kealie and Tobias.
Tobias and I sat on a wooden bench, eating cupcakes, as we waited for Kealie to say goodbye to her friends. The fair was coming to an end so there weren’t many people around, only a few stragglers still playing at some of the booths.
“Thank you, for today, Tobias. You single-handedly saved our day. Kealie was so disappointed that Thomas didn’t make it, but you swooped in and brought a smile back to her face.
“I’m glad I was able to spend the morning with you guys,” he smiled.
I took a bite of my cupcake, throwing Madame Lorrelle’s etiquette training out the window, and ate while speaking. “She’s really taken with you. A huge difference from last year.”
“It took some work and I didn’t want her to hate me for what happened. She’s a great kid.”
“I think so too.”
“What?” I asked.
“You have a bit of frosting on your lip,” he pointed.
I licked my bottom lip. “There?”
I ran the tip of my tongue over my top lip. “Did I get it?”
“Hmmm,” he said, leaning forward as if to wipe it off. Instead, he quickly dipped his finger in the frosting of his uneaten cupcake and smeared it along my chin. “Definitely not,” he chuckled.
“You did not just do that,” I said, wiping away the frosting.
“I’m pretty sure I did,” he smirked, licking the remaining frosting from his finger.
“You’re dead,” I said, launching myself at him, but he was already gone.
“You’re going to have to be faster than that, baby, if you want to catch me.”
I had no cupcake left to assault him with. It was safely being digested in my stomach.
Instead, I chased him around the small duck pond like a crazy woman, but he was too fast for me. I ignored the chuckles and blatant gawking of the people around us and kept at it. My guardians kept a steady pace behind me. I stopped mid-stride.
Tobias looked over his shoulder and stopped, noticing my withdrawal. “Everything okay?”
“Get him,” I ordered my guardians, who to their credit, wasted no time in obeying.
Tobias quickly took off but they caught him easily and led him to me. He was laughing so hard he was bent at the waist holding his stomach. “That wasn’t fair.”
“Life isn’t fair,” I grinned, shrugging.
He straightened, attempting to loosen the hold of my guardians. I motioned for them to release him. They moved a few steps away.
“Now that you have me, what will you do with me?”
His questioned burned my cheeks while my guardians shuffled their feet and looked away.
Every step I took closer to Tobias, my guardians took five steps away. By the time I stood in front of him, they could no longer hear my words.
“Dare to find out?” I asked seductively, although I had no intention of following through.
His eyes twinkled mischievously.
Instead of acting on the lust-crazed thoughts that ran through my mind, I tackled him. It was my go-to move. We rolled around on the ground until I was beneath him, fingers against his sides, trying to get him to laugh.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” he breathed roughly from above me, “but I’m not ticklish.”
And just like that, the tides had turned and I was a prisoner to his fingers until I was begging him to stop through bouts of tortured laughter.
Someone cleared their throat from above us. I opened my eyes to find an amused Kealie and an annoyed Thomas, who looked in the opposite direction of us. Tobias removed himself from me, pulling me up with him.
“Thomas,” Tobias said, as he cleared his throat.
“Tobias,” he echoed.
“I found him looking for us as I was leaving my friends. He came, after all, Penny,” Kealie smiled.
“He sure did, Kiddo,” I agreed.
“Can I walk you both home?” Thomas asked.
“It’s a bit far for Kealie,” I answered.
“I’ll go back with Toby in the car,” Kealie added, trying to help.
She looked up at Tobias,” That’s okay, right Toby?”
“Of course, it is, Keals,” he said, grabbing her hand. He turned to me. “I’ll see you for dinner tonight?”
I refused to look at Thomas. “Yeah, I’ll see you later.”
I waited for Tobias and Kealie to disappear before turning to face Thomas. His hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his wrinkled jeans. His messy, uncombed hair, fell into his eyes as he continued to look at the ground. He wasn’t as put together as he normally was. His button-up was slept in and slightly stained at his shoulder. As if he noticed my inspection of his state of dress, he said, “I overslept.”
“You’re upset?” he asked.
“Yeah, you let Kealie down. You promised her.”
He grimaced. “I know.”
“How did you oversleep? You’re usually up at the crack of dawn.”
“I stayed up too late last night. I was at the stables helping a friend.”
My stomach dropped. “The stables?”
“Yeah, we ended up talking early into the morning and I lost track of time,” he said, ashamed.
My mind drifted to the conversation I had with Viktorya the night before.
“I didn’t know you and Viktorya were friends,” I said, dropping her name into the conversation.
Thomas’s brows lifted. “How did you know it was Viktorya?”
“She mentioned something about the stables yesterday and I just put it together.”
Was Thomas the guy Viktoraya had been talking about? Was he the mystery man she had feelings for? Was that why she refused to give a name when I asked?
“I’m sorry about today, Pen.”
It was as if I hadn’t heard his words. My mind was solely focused on my conversation with Viktorya and Thomas’s admission of spending time with my right hand. I wasn’t feeling the wave of jealousy I expected from the revelation but betrayal.
And not by Thomas, but Viktorya.