Defining Us (Book 2 of Discovering Me Series)

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Chapter 32: Empire - Of Monsters and Men

[Milo]

My mother insisted that I get a haircut while I was in Greece. It was styled in a way that made it impossible to muss up to appear more casual. Believe me, I tried everything and it still kept springing back into place. I settled for slouching up my uniform. Two of my shirt buttons were left undone and my tie was loose. I wore shorts and trainers instead of slacks and loafers. I did, however, need to wear my school insignia blazer in order to stay warm in cold classrooms.

I never put that much thought into what I wore to school. I was regarded as ordinary. I was treated the same way as everyone else. I knew my title would cause people to perceive me differently. I wanted to remind them that I was still the same person, that I was still one of them.

“Milo, we will be unable to stop by Hepburn Hall prior to going to the dining hall if we do not leave now.” Adam warned, glancing down at his watch.

“We can’t have that. I need Iz.” I fetched my backpack from the floor.

“You might want to wear those until we get to her.” He pointed to the sunglasses on my dresser.

“You’re quite helpful. And falling into your role rather quickly, I might add.” I slid them onto my face.

“Your friends have been aiding me in my transition. I am actually excited about today.”

“I’m glad. The first day of school can be scary.”

The two of us left. I forced confidence in case anyone recognized me. Inwardly, I was self-conscious.

I had to answer to my past mistakes and live up to my name. It was the pressure I had run from for years.

I knocked on her suite’s front door. I took off my glasses and put them into the side pocket of my backpack. She answered shortly there after.

She leaned up and kissed me. “Hi, Adam.” She smiled at him as she walked out to join us in the hallway.

“Good morning, Izzie.”

She locked up their suite. I held my hand out for her to take. Our fingers were intertwined before we began walking.

“I like your hair. I told you it looks like your dad’s when it is parted and brushed over like that.” She caught on to why I was fidgeting.

“You and Elle need to leave my father alone.”

“You know she has a thing for older men. I am perfectly content with my younger model. You have nothing to worry about.”

“You called me old only months ago.”

“I recall. We also devised a plan for me to ride around on your lap as you drove a jazzy scooter. That proves my dedication to this relationship, old timer.”

“You have the strangest conversations.” Adam reminded us of his presence.

“Yes, we do. That’s what makes this fun.” She smiled over at him.

I kissed the top of her head when we were outside, not wanting to fall down the steps. “I love you.”

A girl lifted her phone and snapped a picture of Iz and I together. I tried to walk back in the direction of my dorm, but she grabbed my arm and put her foot on the side of mine for more leverage.

“If you don’t go to class, your parents will pull you out of this school. Do you want to stay here with me?”

“You know I do.” I stopped resisting.

“It’s bound to be uncomfortable at first, but we’ll fight through it. We pinky swore on it.” Her crooked little smile made my heart rate pick up.

“I thought we vowed never to speak of that.”

“I’m a bit of a rebel. I thought you knew that.” She kissed my cheek. “Let’s go to breakfast.”

The natural bounce in her step caused the scent of her conditioner waft into my face.

“Your hair smells nice.” My face gravitated in her direction.

“What did I say about sniffing me, you little weirdo?” She nudged me with her shoulder but continued to hold my hand.

“I’m a bit of a rebel too.” I made a point to bury my nose in her hair. She shook me off, giggling.

“I love it when you leave your hair curly.” I fixed it for her.

“You have been showering me in compliments for the past three days.” She accurately pointed out.

“I missed having you at my side. I kept thinking about what you would say or do during difficult situations. It calmed me down.” I decided to be honest with her.

“I do it too.” She ran her thumb over mine.

“Prince Milo, can we take pictures with you?!” I was bombarded by a group of sophomore girls.

“Sure.” I smiled through my discomfort. Izzie let go of my hand and stood on the sidelines with Adam.

They talked as I allowed the girls to get the photographs they wanted.

“Is it true you are related to Everett Woods?” One of them asked Izzie once we were done.

“He is married to my sister.”

“Can you invite him to campus? We would die if Fleeting Moment came to visit.” Another joined in.

“I can’t ask that of them. They love their fans, but they can’t drop everything each time a group of them wants to meet them. It is rare for them to not be working. When they are off, they deserve to have the ability to spend time with their families.” She dismissed with ease.

“She’s kind of a bitch.” The girl that asked scoffed as she turned to her friends.

“Thinks she’s better than us.” I heard the other one that spoke say as the group walked away.

I returned to Izzie.

“I’m not going to be very popular.” She held out her hand for me to take.

“At least you’re assertive. At this rate, I will get nothing done.” We walked in to the dining hall, hand in hand.

“Say the word and I’ll be brave for you.” She smiled in my direction.

“The word.”

We put our bags down in the wooden cubbies when we were in the dining hall. We walked up to the line to swipe our identification cards. When I was recognized, the line parted like the red sea, giving me access to the front.

“No, I –“

“After you, Your Royal Highness. They insist.” Alex gestured me forward with sarcasm.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “I am fine right here.”

“You know that’s the only reason they want to get with you, right?” He taunted.

I attempted to step forward, but Izzie grabbed my arm. “No.” She growled loud enough for only me to hear.

“You have your guard bitch looking after you now?”

Izzie was holding my left hand. I balled my right one into a fist, though I knew it would impossible for me to get a good hit in with my subordinate hand. Before I had the chance to attempt to do it, Sami ran into Alex, making a point to stomped on his foot in her combat boots. He had a knee jerk reaction to bend his head and reach for his foot. She shot her knee up and clocked him right in the nose. It started gushing blood. He grabbed it immediately.

“I am so sorry! I really need to watch where I am going. I hope you’re okay.” She feigned sympathy, holding her hand over her mouth. “It is all my fault. I feel so bad--” She reached out for him. Finn escorted her away as she continued to pretend to be distraught.

Lex pushed me with his shoulder on his way out of the door and to what I presumed was Nurse Miller’s office.

“Are you alright?” Adam asked immediately after the altercation.

“Do not report. I can handle him.“ I shook Iz off my arm.

I reaped the benefits of my new fairweather friends and went to the front of the line. Adam followed me despite angry looks. I had my identification card swiped. The staff member in charge of it bowed to me as she returned my card.

“You do not have to do that.” I smiled as I inserted it into my wallet, recalling my manners.

I picked up a tray and plate and joined the buffet line.

“Prince Milo.” A girl touched her hair and batted her eyelashes.

“Milo is substantial.” I kept my eyes down and spooned scrambled eggs onto my plate.

“Are you still with Isabella?” She slid her tray as the people in front of her moved forward.

“Yes.” I put turkey bacon on my plate, utilizing tongs.

“I am sure she expects you to need more. I mean, you are who you are. She must know how you get. The evidence is everywhere.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I turned my head in her direction and made eye contact. “I am not interested in anyone other than her. She expects me to remain faithful and I fully intend to do that.” I walked out of the main line to go to the fruit station.

Izzie was there. She was concentrating too hard on creating a fruit salad to notice me.

“Hi.”

She looked up. I could see her sadness with perfect clarity. I immediately felt guilty.

“Hi.” She returned her eyes to her bowl.

“Iz, I –“

“Today’s bound to be hard for me too. At least you’re mostly getting good remarks and gestures. I’ve been called a bitch twice in the past ten minutes. And you just ran away from me when things got a little difficult for you.”

“I --.”

“You can’t just walk away. It’ll make me want to stay away to respect your wishes.”

I watched her back as she walked away, wondering what else was going through her mind.

“Are you ready to sit down?” Adam stood at my side.

“Let me get strawberries and juice and I will be.”

We sat down at a table with my friends. I sat down across from Iz and noticed that someone was missing.

“Where’s Elle?” I looked around the room.

“With the first year actors. She volunteered to do an acclimation thing. If I knew it allowed her to be ten minutes late to all of her classes, I would’ve done it too.” Ryan lathered his toast in butter.

“Milo and Adam do you have Tuesday/Thursday/Friday life skills on your schedule?” Morgan asked.

“Yes. What do we do in that class? We already learned how to cook in home ec.”

“Change tires, jumpstart a car, file taxes, basic sewing, and raising a child.” She answered.

My eyes widened. “They are passing out infants?”

“No, robot babies. They track how well we do at caring for them and catering to their needs. Everyone gets a partner.”

Sami busted out laughing. “He’s going to get so many mishandles. Try not to break the thing’s neck day one.”

“You have no room to talk. You literally just asked Finn if it was possible to sell your uterus to science.” Ryan pointed to her and him with his butter knife.

“I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. I am willing to admit that. Cash for something I’ll never use would be nice.”

“You also have plans to name your robo baby after the X-men’s first archenemy.” Morgan added.

“Magneto is a fantastic name. Watson and I agreed on it.”

“Are we allowed to choose partners?” Iz picked up a piece of pineapple with her fork.

“Yes. They are trying to get us to care.” Finn replied in the affirmative.

“Will you be my partner?” I asked Izzie.

She cringed. “They’ve got a point about the clumsiness. Elle and I would be great mommies together. She’ll probably buy it outfits. Make me a better offer and we’ll talk.”

“She’s with Nicky. I tried to scoop her too. She said and I quote, ‘I will not co-parent with someone that has no intention of putting in the same amount of work I do’. It’s undeniable that he’s daddy material – all kind and helpful. She asked him last night.” Ryan interjected.

“Do I still need to make an offer?” I smirked at her.

True to her stubborn self, she turned to Adam. “How are you with kids?”

“I have three younger sisters. Zoe is ten and Febe and Flora are six. I help out with them when I am home.”

She flickered her eyes to mine. “Prime candidate.” She pointed to him.

“Are we allowed to hire a nanny? I am sure a first year--”

“Adam, would --“ She interrupted my proposal.

“Okay, new offer: I’ll let you name it AND I’ll take it most nights so that you can sleep.”

“You’ve got yourself a partner.” She winked at me.

I shook my head at her, unable to resist a smile.

“I am already Morgan’s partner, anyway. I didn’t mention it earlier because I wanted to see what kind offer he would make.” He admitted as he cut his sausage.

The table laughed.

“I like your style, Step-dad.” Sami praised.

“Why am I step-dad?”

“You’re paternal like mom and dad, but you’re not comfortable with us in the way they are. You behave like a step-parent.” Finn answered.

“They wanted Dam, but Morgan and I discouraged it.” Nick added.

“We’re nickname people.” Sami concluded.

“Ry, who are you with?” I asked.

He finished chewing his bite of toast. “I’m thinking Misha. She’s cute, smart. She’d be solid baby-mama.”

“You do know you’re not making a kid, right? “Sami finished up the last of her oatmeal.

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone I like as a person be the mother of my fake child.”

Senior dance block was first up on my schedule. I changed into my dance clothes and went into the studio. It felt all eyes were on me when I emerged from the locker room. I held my head up. Adam was seated on the bench with his camera, already playing his role.

“Hi, Milo, how are you?” Anna’s friends swarmed me.

She stood in the background with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes. “You are being pathetic, hanging off of him like that. You weren’t in his face last year or the one before that. Let’s go.” Her annoyance was audible.

“Because you called dibs.” Layla turned her head to look at her.

“We always thought you were cute.” Kimber said to me.

“It has nothing to do with the prince thing.” Heather rubbed my bicep. I stepped back and out of her grasp.

“Or the money. You’re crazy hot.--” Layla returned to their harmonious conversation.

“They are bonuses.” Kimber finished for them.

Anna’s friends always spoke as a chorus and I never understood why.

“He has a girlfriend. You’re embarrassing yourselves. I repeat: let’s go!”

They groaned and walked to their usual warm-up spot.

“Anna, --“ I called after her.

She turned around. “What?” Her resting scowl was still in place.

“Thank you.”

“I promised Elle, but now that we’re talking: way to branch out. You came all this way to find an Upper East Side princess to cozy up to. She’s working out oh so well because she’s one of your kind.” She spat, sizing me up.

I walked closer to her. “How can you say that? I—“

“You were on her tail a day after you broke up with me. I see you for what you are now that everyone knows. You’re her over-privileged problem now.”

“She was just my friend. You’re the one that slept with Alex while we were still together. I took care of you the countless times you were drunk or strung out while we were together. I was hardly the sole problem.” I snapped in a hushed tone.

She looked over her shoulder to ensure no one heard. “At least I didn’t use my bottomless pile of money and power to screw anyone I could get my hands on, get kicked out of school for drugs, and have my parents pay my way into a new one on the other side of the world. You’re on a level all your own. Nothing you say or do will fix it. That’s why you feel so alone. Have a nice life, Your Highness.” She curtsied sarcastically and left to be with her friends.

I once again needed to close my eyes and take a deep breath. I opened them when my hand was picked up.

“Let’s sit.” Iz urged, nodding over to the wooden floor.

I allowed her to guide me.

“Do you think you’re limiting yourself by being with me?” I worked up the nerve to ask as we stretched.

“No. What makes you ask?”

“Curious. I have a reputation that is impossible to shake off. Your association pigeon holes you a bit, don’t you think?”

She looked up from her stretch position and studied my face. “No. Who told you that?”

“No –“

“Don’t lie to me.”

I looked down and off to the side, embarrassed. “Anna.”

“Then you obviously know she doesn’t know you and never will. What did she say to you?” She pointed her toes and bent forward to reach for them.

“My power and money have gotten me far. I can afford to have my past because of them. I feel as though I am guaranteed to have a good life, which is why I throw tantrums whenever it does not go my way. I am self-centered and scared of being alone.” I did the same.

“You listen to my thoughts and indulge my silly dreams. You try so hard to make me happy, especially when I feel as though I don’t deserve it; I love who you are now. We’ve already addressed the past.”

“I keep letting you down; making promises and not following through. I said I would always be respectful.”

She looked up at me from her stretch position. “Lex was being an ass. I would’ve stormed off too if I were in your position and being honest with myself.”

“Why were you cross with me earlier?” I sat up completely

“Like I said, I am exclusively being treated like dirt because speaking my mind is something my meanie boyfriend makes me do. I was feeling down on myself and jealous of you.”

“Way to point out that I’m being a hypocrite.”

“Eh. It happens.” She lifted her leg and held it over her head.

“You need to hold more things against me.” I smiled softly.

“That offense isn’t substantial enough to call for a full fledged fight. I spoke my piece. It’s over. We have a normal amount of arguments. This is a healthy relationship.”

Each time she spoke, she gave me another reason to love her.

“Velcome back, class. Dis is my last year with you marvelous dancers. I know all of you will go on to do great things. Most of you have jobs next year. Ballet vill not be our main focus this year. You vere asked to purchase movement and tap shoes because we vill be exploring other styles ranging from valtz to modern. Today we vill began vith valtz.” Mrs. G’s thick accent cut through the room.

I inwardly groaned.

It was what I grew up doing, the reason I was asked to take up dancing in the first place. I knew someone would have something to say about it.

“Find your pas de deux partners and convene on the floor.”

“We’re back in business, buddy.” Iz patted my shoulder. She crawled off the floor. I did the same, catching myself when my eyes gravitated to her rear end.

“Pervert.” She whispered when we were close.

“Like you don’t do the same thing.”

“I’m more into the front half of your body.”

I looked down.

“No, not that.” She pushed me playfully. “Your torso and arms. They are nice; very fit.”

“We vill began with the fundamentals.” Mrs. G began to explain them.

I zoned out but appeared attentive.

When we were called to try it, I clasped Izzie’s hand, put my hand on her waist, and she allowed me to lead her around.

“Of course he knows how to do it.” Someone in the group murmured loud enough to be heard over the music.

I closed my eyes and geared up to take a deep breath. “Hey, look at me.” Iz breathed.

I opened my eyes.

“Look at me, only me and block out everyone else.”

“I don’t know if --”

“That’s what got me through my testimony. He was there, looking at me, everyone was. I was ashamed and scared. I couldn’t bear to look at my family as I admitted everything. You already knew the story. I looked at you and you were so calm – your eyes were confidently resting on mine and you gave me my favorite smile, the one that lets me know that you see me, the unfiltered version. It was like you knew I could do it.”

“I did know. You were brave enough to speak up in the first place and able to take care of Eliza when she did the same. I was too proud of you not to believe.”

”Maybe I will too once you gain the courage to try.”

“This is hardly comparable.”

“Humor me.”

I focused all of my attention on the warm caramel orbs that were her eyes.

“Good intensity. Beautiful form.” G complimented on her rounds.

I kept time in the back of my mind and my eyes on my anchor.

The snide comments from others that followed her praise were cancelled out completely. That is how I made it out of dance block in one piece.

I showered, changed back into my uniform, and waited outside of the locker rooms for Iz to finish doing the same.

“You dance exceptionally well.” Adam sat down beside me on the bench.

I kept my elbows on my knees and rubbed my hands together. “I got into this school the way everyone else did, believe it or not.”

“I did not mean to -- ”

“I try all the time. I worked to get clean. I worked to develop a better relationship with my parents, to repair my reputation within the kingdom. I work hard for my grades. I had to put forth effort to get the great friends I have. And I fought like hell to get Iz and still do to keep her.”

“I apologize. I had no idea.”

“The moral of the story is, don’t flatter me to make conversation. I want you to get to know me as you would anyone else, perhaps tell others I am a real person.” I turned my head in his direction with a small smile.

“I think I can do that.” He vowed with a smile of his own.

Izzie came out of the locker room. “Sorry, I lost track of time in the shower.” She straightened her skirt.

“It is okay. We have lunch now.”

Lunch was uneventful for the most part. Most of us sat together. Elle was still tending to her first years. Every once in a while, someone would say something to me, but it was handled simply. After lunch, we had math. We were in Anatomy after that. I was elated to see familiar faces.

“The dream team is back together.” Ryan greeted as we joined him and Sami at a lab bench.

Adam sat at the one next to ours with people we didn’t really associate with.

“Collins still hates us.” Sami chuckled and waved as he eyed us with distain.

“Prince Milo, if you need someone to ‘help’ you with your homework, I volunteer my services.” Ollie approached with his hands behind his back.

“I can manage. Thank you.”

“If you’re jonesing for extra HW, mine is up for grabs.” Sami rested her hand beneath her chin.

“I’m okay.” He walked away, frighten by her.

“Has that been happening all day?” Ryan gestured to him with his thumb.

“Yes and worse.”

“The jock strap tried to get into his face earlier. Get this: all I did was bump into the guy and he broke his nose. I don’t know, freak accident or something.” Sami stuck to her official story.

Izzie giggled. “Accident or not, you are my hero.” She clasped her hands and batted her eyelashes at her dreamily like a comic book hero’s damsel in distress.

“It’s what I do, ma’am.” She saluted her with two fingers.

Our final class of the day went smoothly. Being back with my friends and talking as we always did made me feel normal again. I walked Izzie to her dorm and continued on to mine.

Adam was required to call the palace advisors as soon as we arrived at ours. He detailed most of our day, but allowed my altercation with Alex to remain off the record. Sami had more than dealt with it in everyone’s opinion.

I changed into casual clothes. I walked over to Ryan’s room and knocked on his open door. He looked up from his laptop, as he remained seated at his desk.

“So Misha?” I perched myself on the edge of it, crossing my arms.

“Door.”

I pushed it closed. “I thought you were still somewhat interested in Elle.”

“Thinking I liked her was one of my dumbest notions to date. We talked about it. She thinks I read into our relationship too much and I have to agree. I love her as a best friend. She’s number two, right after you. We’re basically brother and sister.” He resumed typing.

“When was that?”

“The day I partied with Sal. Elle’s the one that turned me on to Misha.”

“How did that conversation go?”

“After my less than classy interaction with Dafne, she told me she’d help me straighten out my dating/hook up life. You sorted yourself out. I figured it must not be impossible. She told me to detail what would attract me to someone. She pointed out that Mischa fit what I was describing.”

“What is she like? I have only seen her, not met her.”

“She was in my Spanish class last semester. She is in the art department. She’s a sculptor. She’s an independent girl with a sweet smile, active mind, and beautiful body. She gets all the wins.”

“Have you asked her to be your partner?”

“Yes. She said yes. I am telling you, Miles. This is a giant leap in the right direction. I gave her my number. She has only texted me twice – once to make sure she had the right number and the other to remind me of her last name, which I need to put on my partner request form. She said, ‘just in case we’re not sitting near each other.’”

“She did not get mad at you for forgetting her name. That is a good sign.” I joked.

“You’re mocking me, but you should know that it’s nice not to be globbed onto for simply showing interest for once.”

“I have been there.” I tried to ruffle my hair.

“So, how bad was today?”

“It hurt the most when Izzie was brought up. Girls tried to get me to break up with her or cheat. Anna accused me of using her. Alex called her a bitch to pick a fight with me.”

“You swung on him, right?”

“Iz was holding onto my arm because I tried to walk up to him earlier in the conversation. Before I had time to shake her off, Sami was on him.”

“I have had girls coming to me, asking about you, all day long. I was almost offended. Then my groupies showed up, noticed I bulked up this summer, and balance was restored to the universe. Have you checked on her?”

“We have been talking all day. She does not seem mad at me.”

“She probably isn’t, but it can’t feel good. Telling her she’s your number one is one thing, but you have got to show her in situations like this.”

“Do you think I have time to run to the store and buy her some form of sugar before dinner?”

“Any guy can walk up and buy her something. They’ll do it too because she’s a quirky brand of cute and has connections. --”

“Quirky?” I interrupted to ensure he wasn’t insulting her to my face.

“She has doe eyes, freckles, and a ballerina’s body. If you gave her bangs and an instrument, she’d be a hipster magnet. They’d all be begging her to be their manic pixie dream girl. They’d initially think they’d found one too with her love of sugar, small animals, and inside jokes she holds near and dear. Her humanistic qualities would destroy everything and she’d settle for you.” He ended with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes with one of my own. “What were you going on about before?”

“Forgetting Everett and her pops, her uncle Tony is a big time producer and the head of Rouge Records. I guarantee that she’ll have a bag full of demos and gifts the moment the music department figures it out.”

“She will hate that.”

“You are right, but she might indulge the attention if she feels isolated from you.”

“She is in the dance building training right now. I can give her a massage later. Is that enough?“

“Yeah, it’s intimate and thoughtful. Elle says that –“

“Is she giving a seminar on how to be reputable boyfriend or something?”

“More like private tutoring and I am educating others.”

“I appreciate the help.” I stood up straight.

“What I am here for.”

I left his room and went back to mine. I did the small amount of homework I was given. By the time dinner rolled around, I was free of all obligations.

“After dinner, I am going to go over to the girls’ suite. I need to be kind to Izzie after the day she had. You can come over too to work on homework or stay with us. It is not an intimate affair.” I put my foot into my shoe.

“I will feel like a third wheel if I remain with you. I will see what her roommates are doing.” He packed his backpack.

“As long as you are content, I don’t mind what you do. I think this will work out well. You seem to be genuinely trying to befriend me and my friends.”

“I am. You are an entertaining lot. You are good people.”

“You handled Sami’s ‘accident’ exceptionally well.”

He grinned. “I was warned. The advisors said ‘watch out for the little one’ on many occasions, but my mind exploded when I saw it. She may be better suited to protect you than me and all of your far guards combined.”

“You are probably right about that, but her time is very limited. She is always up to something.”

I was once again at Hepburn Hall to retrieve Izzie. Morgan let me into their suite. Adam stayed in the main area and conversed with her. I knocked on Izzie’s closed door.

“Who is it?”

“Me.”

“Alone?”

I glanced down the hallway and say Adam still talking to Morgan. “Yes.”

She opened the door a crack and I wormed my way inside, shutting it behind me. She was only wearing a bra and yoga pants. She was vigorously towel drying her hair.

“Just get out of the shower?” I sat down on her bed.

“Yep. I had a good workout. Showering right after makes me tired, but I missed being clean even more.”

“Are you sore?”

“I know I will be. I slacked too much when I was in Listonenia. I should have done more than dip my toes in the water and watch as you swam laps in the pool every night.” She turned her hips and torso in opposite directions in hopes of removing pressure from her back.

“You also controlled the music on the sound system.”

She groaned and scrunched up her face as she looked at herself in the mirror. “Don’t joke about my inactivity. I am going to be in pain for the next two weeks.”

“A few days maximum. You are not accounting for the core and cardio work you did. I will give you a massage later.”

“I guess. Are you talking an actual massage?” She lifted her arm and applied deodorant.

“Yes.”

“As in rubbing my sore muscles?” She moved on to the other one.

“Yes. Why do you sound surprised?”

“It sounds like a euphemism. When you’re upset you seek escapes. I’m one of your favorites.” She slipped on a shirt. “But not tonight, Babe. I’ve been stomped on all day.” She smoothed down her tank and turned to observe her backside.

“I know. I want to compensate for how selfish I have been by giving you a legitimate massage -- back shoulders, whatever else needs to be done.”

“Okay.” She smiled in the mirror.

“You’re not supposed to agree with me!” I pretended to be offended.

She giggled.

My arm was across her shoulders on the walk to the dining hall. The special treatment returned once we were inside. All of my friends were around to witness it. They made declining easier. We went through the lines at a normal pace and found a table that could accommodate all of us. I was under the impression the worst was finally over. That was until I noticed the amount of people with their phones out and angled towards me during a lull in my table’s conversation. I slouched in my seat and lifted the hood of my jacket.

Sami moved her tray and pushed back her chair. Finn assisted her as she climbed up onto the table. She blew the whistle she kept in her always-useful satchel. Everyone in the great room was immediately silenced.

“Listen up! Milo – “ She turned to look at me. “God, Milo, lift your head and raise your hand really quick. This is about you. “ She took a sidebar.

I did as told. She cleared her throat and returned to the crowd.

“He –“ She pointed to me. I waved.

“Is the exact same person who attended this school last year. He trips over things, skateboards, and loves his girlfriend a little too much. In other words, he’s a human freaking being, not a god. And for those of you who are all ‘OMG, he’s such a bad guy, he did…’ get off your high horse and take a hit of reality. We’ve all screwed up; difference is his mistakes were published. “

Elle shot up from her chair. “Be aware that the same applies to Izzie. She’s the cute ballerina with the curly hair and freckles.” She gestured to Iz as if she were a prize on a game show.

“Ellllleee” She whined under her breath.

“What? You are cute and you do have curly hair and freckles, Babydoll.” She sat down and guided her head to her shoulder.

“Stop taking pictures of them. Stop asking for pictures with him. And knock it off with all the special treatment. He’s not your prince. You’re making assholes of yourselves and irritating us – well, mostly me, but he doesn’t like it either. If you do not heed my warning and do it anyway, I will deal with you. If you continue to take pictures, I will break your phone or camera. If you manage to get past me and post said pictures online, I will track them back to you and do the aforementioned damage. And you all know Watson can do it with ease.” She pointed at Finn. He lifted his hand.

“--If you try to fall at Milo’s feet, he will ignore you and I will reap the benefits of your ass kissing. This is your one warning. I suggest you listen. Enjoy the rest of your dinner.” She concluded her threat and hopped off the table with Finn’s assistance.

“Why do you always end up on the table?!” Morgan scolded when the volume in the dining area picked back up.

“Mom, I did it for the good of the team this time. “

“Just like Lex’s nose?”

“That was an accident.” Sami raised her voice and looked around, making sure everyone nearby heard to avoid rumors of the contrary.

“What did you mean you said Milo loves Izzie too much?” She moved on.

“When was the last time he went thirty minutes without mentioning her?” She pulled her tray back to its rightful position.

“You’re with Finn --”

“I don’t talk about him or say romantic things to him.” She spooned lentil soup into her mouth.

“Because you’ve evolved past the need to speak!” Elle shrieked using exaggerated hand gestures.

She looked over at him, continuing to eat her meal.

“That’s neither here nor there. We only discuss business matters. Please remind us of the last time we orally articulated the way we feel about each other to any of you.” Finn posed the question to the entire table.

“Never. We’ve just hypothesized.” Elle conceded, frowning.

Sami held up her hand and Finn hit it perfectly without needing to look.

“You are not offended about what she said?” Adam asked.

“Why would I be? I am not ashamed of how much I love her.”

“You should be, just a little.” Izzie smirked in my direction.

“Is that so?” I played along.

She nodded. “We don’t want to be ‘that’ couple.”

“What if being ‘that’ couple makes us happy?”

“I have only been around you for a couple of days, but from where I am standing, you are not publicly obscene.”

“Then I guess I’ll let you love me as you please.” Izzie sighed, pretending to be giving up. How hard she was fighting a smile told me she loved it.

“She is kind of my hero.” Adam leaned in my direction.

I cracked a smile. “Who?”

“Sam. She is rugged, but effective. She doesn’t put up with anything from anyone. Scrappy is a term that could easily be applied.”

“I asked her once why she started doing it. She said, ’with a name like Samilla and bisexual orientation, you’ve got to be able to put up your dukes and hold them there.”

“The matter is settled. She is doing my job for me.” He returned to his meal.

“True. Just sit back and enjoy the school year.”

Back at the girls’ suite, Izzie and I went to her room. “Are you hands cold?” She held her hands out. I put mine on top of them.

“Not bad. We’re going to make this official, lotion and everything.” She walked to her bathroom.

I removed my shoes and sat down on her bed. I accepted the lotion she offered to me upon returning. I pushed up my sleeves. She turned on music, stripped out of her shirt, put it on the bed and laid on top of it, face down.

“Undo the strap and get to work. I don’t want to flash you. You’d like it too much.” She folded her arms and rested her head on top of them.

I unfastened her bra, but left the straps on her shoulders. I lathered my hands with lotion and began rubbing her back.

“That feels nice.” Iz sighed, relaxing beneath my touch.

It took me close to an hour to remove all of the tension from her back. She returned her shirt to her body and attempted to excuse me from my duty. She made herself comfortable on the pillows stacked against the wall at the head of her bed.

I picked up one of her feet and removed the sock.

“No, you know I hate my toes!” She squealed, trying to shield them from me.

“Do they hurt?” I looked into her eyes to gauge her honesty.

“Yes, I’m breaking in new movement shoes, but I’ll get over it. –“

“Beautiful, I both seen and touched your toes before. The first time I did it was the day I met you.”

“Don’t judge them.” She frowned.

“I never have.”

“I love you, Milo.”

I smiled softly. “I know.”

“Keep holding on, okay? For everything that is to come.”

“I could never turn my back on you.”

She guided my face to hers. I shifted upward to get closer. Our lips moved reactively, picking up the cues of each other. My hand moved to her waist on instinct. Her t-shirt rose and my fingers grazed her bare skin. She opened her mouth then and we fought for control. She ended it by turning her head. She exhaled. I kissed the space between her ear and the start of her jawline. I moved down her neck.

“I only allowed you to stay because you fearlessly offered to rub my feet. Get to work or get out.” She swallowed hard.

“As you wish.” I pecked her once more and moved back to my seat at her feet.

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