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Chapter Twenty-Two: Natalia

I slipped into the mermaid style, purple dress Jesse picked out for me five days ago. It was slightly too large for me but that wasn't a problem I couldn't fix. I took in the extra material until it was the correct size and hugged each one of my curves.

I created a mirror out of a window in the room I was changing in and looked at myself. The royal purple made my emerald eyes pop against my auburn hair more than usual. There was beading on the front of my dress that cascaded from the top all the way to the edge of the dress. My legs were restricted since there was no slit in the dress, making it harder for me to move around. A limited range of movement wasn't ideal when going into the lion's den but adding a slid would compromise the design of the dress.

I pulled my hair up into a messy bun at the back of my head. I pulled out two long strands near the front to frame my face. The last touch was the emerald necklace my mother gave me before the last party I attended. I hadn't taken it off since then. It reminded me why I was joining this war after the years my parents spent protecting me from it.

I inspected myself in the mirror one last time. I looked like I was ready to go to the party at Anthony's tonight, but I couldn't make myself excited to go. Not even if it meant finding my family.

"You look ravishing." Jesse wrapped his arms around my waist, resting his chin on my shoulder.

I fidgeted. "I look like a TWA officer."

Jesse smiled. "Isn't that the point?"

I cleared my throat. "This seems like an unnecessary risk on our part. We could easily work among the shadows. No one has to know we're there."

Jesse spun me around in his embrace. 'Think of this as a date."

I couldn't help but meet his beautiful eyes. They always commanded my attention. "This is a terrible date."

Jesse chuckled. "Lighten up." He opened a portal next to us. "Ladies first." I stepped through.

Jesse and I popped up outside of an old plantation house that was remodeled after the war to restore it to its former glory. Telepaths, humans, and half-telepaths were pouring out of cars, and a couple of portals, all around us. Some were even hopping off clouds the way I had when Todd brought me here. I swallowed hard.

"We can still turn back now," I said under my breath.

Jesse offered me his arm. "Nonsense. Act like you belong here and no one will question it."

I looped my arm through his. "I hope you know what you're doing." We walked over the threshold of the house and into one of Anthony's famous parties.

The party was already booming when we walked in. Large groups of mingling Telepaths blocked the limited space in the room off the foyer. My chest tightened as my mind filled with thoughts of us getting caught. Jesse led us confidently into the middle of it all. I could feel Telepaths looking over at us wondering who we were. I was trembling in my heels, not playing the confident Telepath part well.

Jesse leaned his lips down to my ear. "You're doing fine."

I leaned against Jesse's sturdy body. He was the only thing keeping me up. "What if they remember me?"

Jesse chuckled. "No one pays attention to humans."

"Excuse me?" Someone clamped down on my shoulder and spun me around.

Anthony stood in front of Jesse and me smiling up a storm. "Natalia!" Anthony plucked me from Jesse's arm without so much as a word to him. "Where's Todd?"

I looked back at Jesse, to plead for his help but he wasn't there anymore. Coward. "That's what I was going to ask once I found you. He told me to meet him here, but I haven't been able to find him among the crowd."

Anthony paraded me around without giving anyone around us a second look. I hated all the attention fixated on me. "He's probably running late." Anthony led me to the dance floor where no one congregated. "I'll get him for you." Anthony opened a portal and stepped through, leaving me standing on the dance floor alone.

I reined in my Molecular power to the point I would seem human to other Telepaths. I morphed my emerald eyes back to the brown-green they were when I was around Todd. My eyes couldn't be the give away here among all of these TWA wannabes. I needed to be the human girl Todd and Anthony remembered.

I looked into the crowd for Jesse, but he abandoned ship. He left me to the sharks. I only hoped they weren't hunting for their next meal.

Anthony popped out of a portal with Todd in his navy blue tuxedo from the last party. "Can you believe I found him in his pajamas?" Anthony leaned toward me. "I made sure he looked presentable for you." Anthony clapped Todd on the shoulder before being swallowed up by the party guests.

Todd stood there with his hands in his pockets and his head pointed down at the floor. "What are you doing here, Natalia?"

I cleared my throat. What was I supposed to tell him? It'd been over a week since the Telepath came to our school looking for a rogue. I disappeared immediately after she threatened to find leverage against the Telepath without an explanation to Todd, let alone a single word. He was hurt and curious, a dangerous combination.

What does it matter? He ended it with you. You owe him nothing.

I fumbled with my nails. Maybe the voice in my head was right. Maybe I was dreaming the hurt body language he was presenting. "I...I came here to...apologize to you."

Todd looked up. "I don't want an apology. I want an explanation."

I nodded, pressing my lips together. "And you deserve one." I couldn't make eye contact with him. I knew my eyes would give me away. "I feared for my life after that Telepath came back to our school my parents thought it best to pull me from school without telling anyone."

Todd chuckled. "And I thought you'd be honest for once."

I could feel tears burning my eyes as they pushed to escape down my cheek. It was stupid. Why did I care that I hurt his feelings? He was a wannabe TWA officer out to get me. He wasn't on my side and he never would be.

"I'm trying."

Todd pushed past me. "You're not."

I couldn't leave it like that, not after he made me care about his perception of me. That first night at this party, I'd seen the real Todd, the Todd who was an amazing guy trying to fit in with the overly confident TWA crowd. "Todd." He kept walking. "Todd!" He stopped at the edge of the crowd. "I don't want it to end this way."

Todd pivoted on the ball of his foot. "How do you want it to end? You lie to me constantly and refuse to give me a straight answer as to why. Me walking away is the best option for us."

I closed the space between us. "No. That's the easier option. You don't want to try and understand where I'm coming from." This felt like a break up in so many ways, but we were never dating. We weren't even friends. I couldn't figure out why this hurt so much.

Todd's hands fell from his pockets. "Fine."

"There you are." Jesse reappeared as if he'd gone to the bathroom for a moment and told me he'd be right back. "I've been looking all over for you, sweetheart."

Todd pressed his lips together and nodded a few times. It was clear he recognized Jesse from the mall. The betrayal was written plainly on his face. "I should've known."

Jesse threw an arm around my shoulders, not helping the situation. "Do you have a problem with my girlfriend?"

Hearing him say that word for the first time should've made me jump for joy. I'd wanted to hear it from him since I met him. But today, it made me feel hollow inside. Maybe it wasn't what I wanted anymore.

Todd smiled. "No. Good luck with that one," he spat. Todd melted into the crowd to lick his wounds.

I smacked Jesse. "Where the hell did you go?"

Jesse grabbed my wrists. "To do some recon. I couldn't follow you and Anthony around the party, especially if he knew you were a fugitive."

I shoved him. "So you left me to the wolves?"

Jesse reeled me in. "You need to keep it together. We have a mission to finish." Jesse looked up and behind me; I expanded my senses to see what he was looking at. Telepaths were watching this little display as if it was reality T.V. "You're going to need to get close to the target. Slap me."

I reared back and made solid contact with Jesse's cheek without a moment of hesitation. It felt good, like he deserved it. He did deserve it. "I am not a toy for you to play with." I marched into the crowd, wanting to be swallowed alive. No such luck.

Not a single Telepath, human, or half-telepath dared to come near me. I was too volatile for the Telepaths and too much of a danger for the humans and half-telepaths. Everyone worked to avoid me at all costs like I was the plague. I grabbed a drink from a silver tray and downed it, not caring what was in it.

"Rough night?"

I placed the empty glass back on the tray. Anthony was standing beside me, dismissing the waiter with a single look. "You have no idea."

Anthony offered his arm to me. "It seems you and Todd had a falling out in front of my guests."

I forced a smile as I looped my arm around Anthony's. "I lied to you earlier."

Anthony perked up. "Oh?"

I looked away as if I was embarrassed. "I actually came here to apologize to Todd. I couldn't get a hold of him any other way."

Anthony led me over to his table. He ordered a girl to leave so I could sit down next to him. "May I ask what happened?" He pulled out my chair like a perfect gentleman.

I took a seat and he pushed me in. "I'd prefer not to discuss it."

Anthony nodded. "Of course."

I cleared my throat. Anthony obviously wanted more from me. I needed to give him something to keep him interested in only me. There could be no other distractions. "Todd was still upset about what happened, which was understandable. Then an overly aggressive Telepath thought I'd be his next rebound. Can you believe that?"

Anthony took his own seat. "Of course. You're quite the catch."

I blushed. "You're just saying that."

Anthony leaned toward me, lowering his voice. "What if I am?"

I leaned toward his ear, brushing my lips over the edge. "I'd say it's highly effective."

Dinner was the same as the last time I attended. We had a basic house salad for an appetizer with a homemade dressing that was to die for. Our main course was a medium-rare filet mignon with a beautiful char on both sides. Mixed vegetables sat off to the side, cut into perfect slices.

The dessert was just as delicious as before. The small chocolate cake was moist and sweet. The vanilla ice cream on top complimented every note perfectly as if the chefs made it fresh. I could get used to eating like this every night. Who wouldn't want to?

At the end of dinner, the waiters came over and picked up every single plate before taking them all back to the kitchen. Anthony was excited to drag me onto the dance floor. At his first opportunity, he had me out of my chair and in front of the DJ.

Anthony twirled me around before the music started. "I kept your suggestion."

I laughed as genuinely as I could manage. "Slow or modern song first?"

Anthony intertwined our fingers. "Slow."

A classical song boomed out of the speakers around us. Other Telepaths joined us on the dance floor but still remained at a distance from me. Even the house couldn't diminish the volatile label that was slapped onto my forehead. "Do you think you and Todd will ever repair what was broken?"

I rested my hand on Anthony's shoulder. "I doubt that will be possible."

Anthony grabbed me around the waist and pulled me to him until my stomach was touching his. "Have you ever considered moving on to another Telepath?"

I turned my head so I wasn't making eye contact with him. It would've been the natural response for a human...right? "I get the impression you're suggesting yourself as Todd's replacement." I caused a blush to form on my cheeks. I wasn't capable of producing it through emotion alone.

Anthony turned my head with a clump of molecules so he wouldn't have to drop my waist or hand. For some reason, it felt creepy. "That's because I'm suggesting it."

I made solid eye contact with Anthony's green-blue ones. "What happened to the player I've heard so much about?"

Anthony smiled. "A player has to settle down sometime."

The song ended, but Anthony's hands never fell. "I might be interested..." I replied. Another slow song started up. "...if we had somewhere more private to talk."

Anthony twirled me away from him before snapping me right back. "What're you suggesting, Natalia?"

I tried not to smack into Anthony. I didn't want to feel his body against mine anymore. Sadly, it was inevitable. "You'll just have to find out." I slipped from his hold and made my way across the dance floor. I had him hooked, he wasn't escaping me.

Anthony ran after me. "Wait up."

I pushed through a swinging door into a quiet living room. I could make out the back door from where I stood. "Catch me," I called over my shoulder before taking off running for the back door.

Anthony playfully chased me outside before pinning me to the vinyl siding of his house. "Gotcha."

I blew a piece of hair out of my eyes. "What now?" I asked.

Anthony leaned in to brush his lips against mine. My stomach did a flip. I wasn't interest in tasting whatever or whomever passed by his lips.

"Hey!" Anthony spun around as if he'd been caught red handed. "Hands off my girlfriend!" Jesse popped out of the shadows.

Anthony raised his hands in the air. "I didn't realize you two were a couple."

I pushed past Anthony. “We’re not.”

Jesse dragged Anthony to him with the help of the air molecules. Anthony dug his heels into the grass in a futile attempt to stop Jesse. "There's no reason to continue the show, sweetie."

I cleared my throat. "Sorry, force of habit."

Jesse opened up a portal beside him. "Good work." Jesse latched onto Anthony's tuxedo.

Anthony looked at me and then back at Jesse. "I am beyond confused."

"Natalia!" We all froze.

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