The Matchmakers

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Chapter 5

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I do remember watching Henry disappearing into our shared closet and coming out in only briefs.

With my cheeks red, I had dashed into the closet next and deliberately changed into a t-shirt and pajamas bottoms instead of my usual long shirt. I hadn’t realized how long I was looking in the mirror until Henry called out, “Are you okay in there? Do I need to come in?”

I reentered the bedroom as my silent answer and crawled into bed, being sure to leave a large buffer zone between us. Now, however, there is nothing but our clothes between us. Somehow, in the middle of the night, we both moved closer to the center of the bed and I started using his chest as a pillow.

I begin to turn away but his arm tightens around my waist. I look up and see that Henry is still asleep. Or, is at least pretending to be. I can’t tell which. Reaching down, I try to move his arm, but he doesn’t budge. I push his arm away with more force and finally succeed, only to be flipped over and covered by him.

“Henry,” I say, hoping he’ll wake up.

He doesn’t answer, but moves his face closer to mine until our lips brush against each other. And then he’s kissing me with as much passion as he did last night. I turn my head to the left and he seems to get the hint. After a few moments of complete silence and stillness, I look back at him to see him watching me with wide eyes.

“Rosemary—shit, I’m sorry.” He rolls off me immediately and I take the opportunity to swing my legs over the edge and sit up. “I don’t know what came over me.”

Looking over my shoulder, I see he’s lying down on his side of the bed again, his right arm thrown over his eyes.

Without a word, I grab a robe and exit the bedroom.

Dalia comes out from the kitchen. “Good morning, Mrs. Clark. Chef Marcel would like to go over the menus with you for the week.”

“I’ll do it over breakfast.”

She nods and comes back out with a full plate and drink for me. A man in his early thirties walks beside her. She sets my food on the marble counter rather than the dining room table and I sit on one of the stools. “Chef Marcel, Mrs. Clark,” she introduces us. “If you need anything else, please let me know.” Then she’s gone.

“It’s a pleasure to be working for the next President and First Lady,” Marcel says, extending a hand to me.

“Thank you. I look forward to eating your food. Dalia said that you had some menus to review with me.”

“Yes, I do.” He produces his tablet from his pocket and pulls up seven different files at once, creating a semi-circle around the projector.

I take a bite of the vegetable soufflé in front of me and he begins to describe the meals for each day.

Halfway through the process, Henry comes out of the bedroom wearing a robe identical to mine. He sees me, and silently sits next to me at the counter. Marcel stops and practically falls over himself to flatter his new boss. Henry politely receives him and then not so subtly tells Marcel to finish his conversation with me.

“But now that you are here, you can be part of the conversation,” our chef counters.

Henry says, “I defer to her decisions.” I don’t know if it’s his way of apologizing, but his acknowledgment of my authority is nice.

“Of course, of course,” Marcel says, before launching back into his impassioned explanation of the food choices. When I reach my final decisions, he leaves and I finish my food. Dalia brings another plate out for Henry and we sit in silence until he’s done.

Henry is the first to speak. “I’m sorry about last night—and this morning. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

“You,” he answers immediately.

“Oh.” I can’t stop the blush from spreading on my cheeks even though I should have guessed that answer. “Henry, it’s not that I don’t feel attracted to you—”

“You just want more time. I get it.” I believe him. His voice is devoid of bitterness, which is a relief. “But I also feel like you’re already closed off to the idea.”

“I’m not,” I protest.

“I have some meetings today I need to attend, but afterwards, we can go exploring. Or just hang out here. You decide. I’ll do whatever you prefer.”

“Exploring sounds nice,” I say. And it does, but that’s only half the reason I choose that. I don’t think I need to tell him that the idea of hanging out with him in closed quarters is a recipe for disaster. Or victory, I suppose, from his perspective.

“Great. I’ll be in the office until then. Can you find something to do, or—?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “I think I’ll try calling my parents again and let my friends know I’m okay. Charlotte and Jasper must be going crazy by now.”

For some reason, he winces. “Can you wait until I’m done with my meetings?” I’m about to protest when he says, “I want to introduce myself to your friends.”

His request surprises me, but I say, “Sure. They’ll be happy to meet you.”

“I’m sure everyone is ‘happy to meet me,’ but getting to know me is different.”

“Why?”

“It’s difficult for me to trust people who I don’t know.”

“That’s why you build friendship first,” I counter.

“You make it sound so easy.”

“And you make it sound so hard.”

His smiles at that. “I really should get to work.”

“Don’t work too hard.”

He doesn’t reply and disappears into the office.

Dalia appears. “I’ll take those for you, Mrs. Clark.”

“Thank you,” I say absent-mindedly.

She disappears and I am left alone in the living room. I make a quick circuit around the room, sit on the couch, and decide to try my parents again.

Unlike last night, I get through to my mother. When she answers, though, she is not wearing her usual work clothes and I can see our living room behind her even though she should be down by the courts.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t return the call,” she says. “I’m glad you and Henry are far away from this madness.”

My father comes into view. His expression is tight, but it relaxes when he sees me. “Where is Henry?”

Hello to you, Dad. “In a meeting. How are you doing?”

“Barlow has been caught and executed,” he says.

“That’s good news, isn’t it?” I ask. They nod. “Then why do you look so concerned?”

“Because during his testimony, he named more traitors,” my mother says.

“And?” I prompt.

My mother shakes her head, rests it on my father’s shoulder, and begins to sob.

“Mom? Did I say something wrong?” I look to my dad, who is currently rocking my mother back and forth. “Father?”

He shakes his head at me and I stop myself from asking another question.

After a few minutes of silence, my mother pulls herself together and sits up. “Kalliope,” she murmurs.

“What about her?” I ask, not following the sudden change in topic.

“Barlow named her.”

Silence detonates in my ears. “You can’t seriously believe what he said,” I say.

They don’t answer and I don’t wait for them to before I close the connection.

Someone clears his throat behind me and I turn to see Godfrey standing in the kitchen threshold, hands clasped behind his back. “May I get you something to drink, ma’am? Some tea, perhaps?”

I nod, not trusting my voice.

I hear the office door open and Henry’s soft footsteps on the carpet. The couch dips under his weight and I feel his body heat beside me despite the space separating us.

“Who was that?” he asks.

“My parents,” I choke out, my throat tight from unshed tears. “Did you know about my sister?”

He doesn’t say anything, giving me his answer.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I—” he clears his throat. “I only heard about it last night when you were napping out here. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but I didn’t know how to bring it up in conversation. How are they handling it?”

“They’ve abandoned her.”

“And you won’t.”

I shake my head. “She’s my sister.”

He nods, looking at the carpet. “Do you want to go out now, or call your friends first? Maybe they can take your mind off matters.”

I select Charlotte’s name first.

She appears and immediately says, “Wow!” when she sees Henry beside me. “You know, I was joking about you two ending up together, right?” she says. “But I’m also really happy for you! It must be so exciting! Where are you guys, anyway? You missed our lunch.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” I say. “We got Matched yesterday and then immediately flew to Basheart. I didn’t have time to tell you the change of plans.”

“Right, of course. And you’re on your honeymoon. I doubt you have a lot of time to be making social calls.”

I blush at her insinuation and turn my head toward Henry, who is smiling at me as if enjoying an inside joke. And in a way, I guess we are.

She clears her throat. “So… have you been in touch with anyone else?”

I can tell where she’s going with this and steel myself. “Yes. And I know about Barlow’s list.”

“Oh, Rosemary. I’m so sorry,” she says.

“Thanks,” I reply.

Henry squeezes my hand and I become even more grateful for his support.

The gesture doesn’t go unnoticed by Charlotte. “I should probably let you go, right?”

“I was planning on calling Jasper,” I say.

She squeals in excitement. “He’s going to freak!”

Henry stiffens beside me and I quickly close the connection. I pull up my other friend’s name, but hesitate, turning to him. “Are you okay?”

“Why will Jasper care so much about our relationship?”

“Because he’s my friend. And you’re the President’s son.”

“And that’s it?” Henry asks.

I furrow my eyebrows. “What else could there be?”

He shakes his head. “Nothing.”

As Charlotte predicted, Jasper goes slack-mouthed the moment he sees Henry at my side. “Rosemary, what are you doing with the President’s son?”

“I’m contacting you to let you know we’re Matched,” I say.

My friend goes silent again, but this time I don’t see admiration in his eyes. It’s something darker. I turn to see Henry wearing a similar expression.

“Congratulations,” Jasper says, using his detached voice he usually reserves for talking with adults. “I will say this is a surprise, though. Guess we won’t have one last year together, after all.”

“Well, not like we planned, but we’re still going to be friends. And once we get back from Basheart, we can all get together. Charlotte, too,” I say, forcing my voice to be lighter than I feel as I watch the two of them have some silent battle. “But it might not be for some time.”

“If I’m Matched by then, it won’t be for a while,” he says before disconnecting.

I watch the hologram collapse in on itself and disappear.

Henry squeezes my hand again and I turn to him. “What just happened?” I ask.

“He’s surprised,” he says, his voice still sounding tighter than usual. “If he values your friendship, he’ll come around.” He stands up and holds out his hand to me. “Now that that’s done, shall we go?”

I nod and rise with his help.

After telling Godfrey our intention to explore and meeting the members of our security unit, Henry and I leave the Embassy in another car. The one we arrived in is being repaired.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“It’s a surprise,” he says, ushering me into the car.

I get in and glance at the driver.

“It’s not him,” Henry says, sitting next to me.

The doors close immediately and we start moving forward. The windows are now so darkly tinted that I can’t see outside the vehicle.

Without the distraction of trying to guess our destination, I lean back into the velvet seat and turn to Henry. “Thank you for talking to my friends with me. I don’t think I could have held it together without you.”

“I’m confident you would have,” he says, “but I’m glad I could support you.”

“Are we flying again?”

He shakes his head. “It’s not that far. I thought we’d stay closer to the Embassy today, though we can fly the continent later this week as long as my schedule cooperates.”

“How were your meetings?”

“Stressful.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I hedge.

“Just a lot of details on our sojourn here. And more learning my father’s responsibilities.” He pauses before facing me. “Some of them were about Barlow and Malcolm… and your sister. Are you sure you want to hear it?”

I swallow and think about it. Then I nod.

“They want to Relocate her.”

I knew that announcement was coming, but it still hurt to hear it confirmed. I divert my eyes to the carpeted floor.

He surprises me by adding, “I voted against it.”

“You did?” I ask, looking up at him.

He nods.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t think it’s necessary.”

“Won’t they accuse you of nepotism? I appreciate what you did,” I hastily amend when he frowns. “I just don’t want them to question your authority.”

“My father wasn’t happy with me.”

“He was there?” I feel stupid for asking. Of course he was. He’s still the President. “Nevermind. So, what are they going to do?”

His voice is tight as he says, “The council is going to reevaluate it tomorrow.” When I slouch in my seat, he adds, “I will not be involved this time and cannot vouch for Kalliope more than I already have.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“So you know that I tried to help her.”

“You make it sound like they’ve already Relocated her.” It comes out harsher than I intend and I immediately regret saying it when Henry leans away from me.

We spend the rest of the ride in silence. One of these days, I’ll get him to voluntarily interact with me, but I can’t gather the energy to accomplish it now. He opens his tablet and I take it as a sign to do the same.

Two hours later, the car stops and the door opens. Henry closes his device and holds his arm out to me without sparing me a glance. I latch onto him and exit the vehicle. Immediately, I hold a hand up to shield my eyes from the sun reflecting off a giant body of water. The brilliant blue was stunning, but farther away I see darker splotches.

“What is this place?” I ask. “Are those… pools of blood?” Logically, I knew there were no carnivorous sea creatures in the area—there haven’t been for a long time—but the sight makes me queasy.

“It used to be called the Red Sea.” he explains, still not looking at me, “And that discoloration is from the trichodesmium erythraeum.”

“How did algae last the War?”

“Our scientists preserved it.”

“What does this have anything to do with progress?”

“Why not? We’re trying to improve society, not destroy what is naturally beautiful.”

I don’t have an answer to that and take the time to absorb the cool breeze. Though the Matchmakers rebuilt the Heartland, few nature reserves exist because of all the hits the continent took during the War. And it’s not just my home. Ironically, the only continent that more or less survived untouched was Basheart, even though it was here that the conflict broke out.

“What are you thinking?” I ask him when I can’t take the silence anymore.

“That the Matchmakers were wrong.”

His words cut me and I flinch. “About?” I dare to ask.

“Putting us together now. How are we supposed to build a relationship when we can’t trust the people around us?”

All I can hear is his doubt, but at least he said the word now. Maybe he thinks there’s hope for us. “Maybe they were hoping it would force us to confide in each other.” Or maybe I’m just projecting my own thoughts.

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