SAYING GOODBYE to Calbert was harder than she expected. Vivienne had already packed up a few bare necessities inside of a designer bag. It was a canvas bag with a smiling green fox painted on it. She decided she might give it to Janun as a souvenir if she made it back home alive.
Calbert was out walking his uncle’s pack of hound dogs. Vivienne made a show of petting them even though she thought their toothy faces were bloodthirsty like their elderly owner.
“Girls love dogs,” Calbert told her with a nod. “They just don’t normally like their walker.”
“Oh shush,” Vivienne said and planted a kiss on his cheek. She wished that he didn’t smile so widely in response to it. She was grateful when the impatient dogs interrupted his soulful gazing into her eyes by tugging him across the lawn.
“You’re finally feeling better,” Calbert observed. “I was worried about you.”
“It was nothing. I must have caught a cold from being out all night,” Vivienne assured him. “I’m much better now.”
“Sallen says you’re homesick,” Calbert continued. “You’ll get used to it here, eventually. I hated it here at first too. My first week here, one of our guests stole my pants.”
Vivienne had to laugh at that. She could imagine that pants were a pretty hot commodity among the homeless psychos that littered the Henton house. Then she imagined the large meaty Calbert stamping about in his underwear, and her laughter died. The vision grossed her out. It was unfortunate that he might actually have feelings for her. She was sad to say that she didn’t feel the same in return.
“I saw Prince Mars at Gambit Castle,” Vivienne explained as she dug her hands deep into her jacket pockets to keep Calbert from trying to hold her hand. “I think he lied to me. He told me he could bring me home if I wanted to go. I’m done with him now.”
“That’s for the best,” Calbert told her with a relieved smile. “Prince Mars always struck me as a bit cold-hearted. I know you had feelings for him so I didn’t want to say anything.”
“I don’t have feelings for him!” Vivienne snapped back. “He’s a monster.”
Calbert delivered a pained smile in return. He changed the subject. “You’re ready to start training as my Orlin? We’re going to be brain buddies. We don’t have to keep any secrets from each other.”
Vivienne took a step back. She wasn’t sure why but she suddenly recoiled at the idea. She forced a smile.
“Tomorrow,” she promised him. “I’m tired now. I’m going to sleep early.” There was going to be a cab waiting for her after nightfall to take her back to the city proper. She was never coming back here.
“You don’t have to be scared. I’m not a prince, but I promise, I’ll make you like me.”
Vivienne reached out and playfully punched him in the arm. “I chose you, Calbert. Don’t forget that. I turned the prince down for you.”
“Do you ever regret it?” Calbert mumbled that question while staring at the ground. It was obviously a thought that had been nagging at him.
“No,” Vivienne leaned in close. “The day after the Midnight Masquerade, Prince Mars met with me. He offered to help me break my bond with you. I turned him down. I chose you.”
“You did?” Calbert asked with a sudden glee in his eyes. He took her hand in his and played with it. She hadn’t intended for the friendly punch to turn into something more. Now she was stuck. Vivienne wondered if she should just kiss him and get it over with it. Then she could escape. Calbert interrupted her. “He lied to you, you know. There’s no way to break the bond once it is made. Not unless you want the Pearl Tower to hunt you down and bury you in the ocean.”
Vivienne swallowed hard. So it had all been lies from the beginning. Her eyes were suddenly very hot. She clenched her fists. She would not cry, not over Blake Thorne. She had known all along that he was a liar and a fiend. Why did Calbert’s words hurt her so much? Maybe it was because she had been hoping that the magical ball had been real and that for a second he had been as enchanted with finding her again as she had been with him. It was so ridiculous that a man like Blake could love a girl like her. She was just a servant in his magnificent life, and it became clear to her now that he would never let her forget that.
“Don’t cry,” Calbert whispered. He tried to brush a tear out of her eye clumsily but only managed to poke her in the nose. Vivienne wished that he would stop trying to be her friend. She suddenly wanted to be alone. “Don’t cry, V. I promise, I’ll never lie to you.”
Vivienne hugged Calbert if only to hide her teary face from him. “Cal,” she whispered. “I love your honesty, dear, but now isn’t the right time for us to talk. I need to go.”
“Go to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Calbert exclaimed. “I love you too.”
Her stomach dropped at those words. She didn’t mean it that way. Vivienne nodded and fled.
That night, when Vivienne boarded the limo that had come to take her away from the Hentons forever, she was surprised that she had a guest. Lady Maglania had come personally to pick her up. This must be an important event for her to come all the way personally to the waste-dump that was the city of Cosel.
“The necklace,” Maglania said, holding her gloved hand out.
“Why is this necklace so important?” Vivienne asked as she took the cameo necklace off her neck. “I know it’s a symbol of our bond but doesn’t that just mean our minds are connected?”
“It’s nothing, just an old toy you should get rid of,” Maglania said sweetly. She gestured again for Vivienne to give her the necklace. Vivienne stared at the shimmering necklace and slowly placed it in Maglania’s hand. Allison’s face broke out in a wicked smile as she sighed in pleasure. “I have waited for this moment for ages, child,” Maglania said. The whole encounter was making Vivienne extremely uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt a sense of intense discomfort after handing over the necklace.
“I want you to send him a message,” Lady Maglania instructed as soon as the car began to move. “Tell him to meet you at the library and that you have a decision for him.”
Vivienne pulled out her phone, but her fingers were shaking too badly to dial the number. Lady Maglania showed her a slip of paper with a phone number written on it. Perhaps it was because she was wearing cashmere gloves lined with mink that she didn’t seem to share in Vivienne’s trembling.
“He’s going to know something is up,” Vivienne snapped back. “For instance, how I got his phone number.”
“Tell him you found it in Lord Henton’s record books,” Lady Maglania replied. “You can tell him you were desperate to reach him. You can’t stand to stay in Cossel another second.” Lady Maglania gestured to the dark and gritty city before them. “It’s the truth, after all.”
“I’ll text him,” Vivienne finally concluded. “I don’t think I can bring myself to talk him right now, much less ask him for a favor.”
“As you wish,” Lady Maglania said with a roll of her eyes. Although she was a ghost princess, she still looked very much like Allison. That was the expression Allison used to make when a girl came to school wearing purple tights with pink sweatshirts.
Vivienne texted a message to Blake. She wasn’t sure what was the appropriate way to invite someone to their death, so she started with “hey.”
“Hey, Blake,” the message began. “Meet me at the library. I’ve changed my mind. Please, come meet me tonight. I have nowhere else to go.”
Vivienne showed the message to Lady Maglania right before she pressed send. “There it’s done,” Vivienne said and turned the phone off. “Now, your end of the bargain, please.”
“It’s not done yet,” Lady Maglania hissed. She handed Vivienne an object wrapped in velvet. “You deliver him to me, and I’ll let your friend Allison go.”
Vivienne didn’t like the heavy feeling of the wad of velvet in her hand. As she unwrapped it, she liked it less and less. It was a pistol.
“It’s not loaded with bullets,” Lady Maglania replied, wearily. “It will shoot a dart made with Strigoi wood that will put him to sleep. It’s harmless to humans but will paralyze demons. My guards will be close by but keep this close for protection.”
“You want me to talk to him face-to-face?” Vivienne asked, swallowing hard. She imagined that giving Lady Maglania a name would be enough. She never imagined that she would have to face Blake in person. Lady Maglania must have noticed her reluctance because she reached out and patted Vivienne’s hand.
“I’ll be close by. Don’t worry; we won’t let him harm you.”
“I want to make him answer for what he did to Wisteria.” She wondered if she had the courage to confront Blake in person for his betrayal. That’s the thing with the way she felt about Blake; it was so hard to let go. She still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that the boy who she laid beside under the willow trees wanted her dead.
She was still in the denial phase of letting go. She was still trying to hold onto the memory of his arms wrapped around her in the sunlight, the sight of the arch of his nose and his slightly parted lips from where she laid beside him. There was the memory of his beating heart under his grass-stained dress shirt that smelled vaguely of candle wax. She remembered whispering to him once that he had a rather distinguished nose. To which he laughed and told her not to mock him, he said knew he would never be considered handsome. How wrong he was, he had grown up into a dashingly handsome monster.
She had to take those memories and let them go. The second phase of letting go was accepting that all those bright shiny memories needed to be placed in wood caskets and buried in the dark depths of one’s unconsciousness. It was too much for one week, Vivienne wasn’t ready to see him again, especially not now.
As the car gained speed outside of Cossel’s borders, Vivienne’s phone vibrated. She had a new message. For a second, she almost prayed it was from Calbert or Sallen, asking where she had gone. But there was no luck of that. It was Blake.
The message was a short one. It said simply - “I’ll be there.”