Sunlight glowed through the window, glinting off the cutlery and creating sparkling patterns to play across the white tablecloth through the glasses. The clink of cutlery against plates and the low hum of conversation filled the restaurant. Valerie glanced around at the leaf-patterned walls, reflecting on the other times she’d been in this restaurant, hung-over and eating breakfast.
This time she was joined not by her roommates, but by Darren, Lyel, Erramun, Isaac, Claressa and her sisters. As if her stepmother sensed her thoughts, Claressa turned her head and regarded Valerie with a sharp glance. “Now I haven’t asked what you did last night and I’m not going to. I don’t want to know. But I am going to ask that it doesn’t happen again,” she said turning to include Isaac and Darren in her disapproving look. Their injuries had not improved after a night’s sleep.
Lyel half bowed over the remains of his meal. “I assure you mistress, myself and Erramun will make sure it does not happen again.”
Darren ignored his friend’s glare. “Valerie, may I speak to you in private for a moment?”
She nodded and stood. “We’ll just step outside for a moment.”
“Please don’t break him Lady Valerie. We don’t have a spare,” Lyel called after them as the pair walked out into the bright sunshine.
Val winced as the light invaded her eyes and moved into the shade of a nearby tree. The street was the quietest she’d ever seen it, the town empty as most of the students had returned home for the summer and most of the graduates had already left as well. Across the street, an older man walked slowly across the shaded lawn of the church while farther up a tinkling bell announced the entrance of a customer to the pharmacy. Valerie wondered if this would be the last time she ever saw this place.
“Valerie…” Darren began.
She turned to look at him. He was fidgeting with the heavy ring on his left index finger, turning it around and around. He glanced at her then away, staring up at the puffy white clouds, then down at one of the trees lining the street.
“Valerie,” he tried again, rushing through as if afraid if he stopped, he’d never start again. “I know it’s only been a year and that you don’t want to leave your family but I have to ask if you’d be willing to come back with me to Armith.”
She studied him for a few moments, taking in the changes since the first time she’d seen him. His hair was longer, the tips of it touching the tops of his ears and the back of his neck. His clothing was more relaxed, today he was wearing black jeans, white sneakers and a blue t-shirt, making him indistinguishable from the other young men his age. It was only little things, like the ring she’d never noticed before, that showed he wasn’t quite like everyone else.
She looked into his blue eyes, bright with hope as he held her gaze. She continued to stare at him as she considered her answer. She’d come to a decision before her final exam but she wanted to go through the possibilities one more time to be certain that her mind was set.
Possibility one, she could tell him to go to hell and never come near her again. Her life would return to normal and she could live as she’d always planned. Rejected. She liked Lyel and Erramun, and Darren…well she’d miss them all so that option was out of the question.
Possibility two, she could go with him permanently. She would eventually become queen and live her life in fairy tale land. Rejected. She’d probably never be able to see her family again and she had no idea what Armith was like. Not to mention the responsibility of being queen made her shudder a bit.