CHAPTER THREE (draft)

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CHAPTER THREE

The amount of joy and relief I feel, the moment I learn that my family on Earth is going to be saved, is so crazy that the rest of the evening becomes a happy blur.

The first thing I do is throw myself around Aeson's neck and hug him so tightly that I actually surprise him.

"Aeson! Oh my God! Oh, thank you . . . thank you . . . thank you!" I exclaim, then continue to mouth the words silently over and over, with my face pressed against his chest, and my arms encircling him, hands clasping his strong back.

He brings his own arms around me. His one hand gently strokes my hair, so that I begin to shiver again with electricity. And then I feel his lips against my forehead.

"Let's go inside," he says. "The evening is getting cold and you are shivering."

"That's not why I'm shivering." My words come muffled against his chest, and then I look up at him with a glorious smile.

We return indoors, and he tells me that tomorrow he will take care of so many things, but for now, I need to get to bed early and rest well, because in the morning will begin another tough day.

"Okay," I say, giggling like a complete dork. "I'm exhausted, but I am also so worked up! I don't know if I can even sleep I'm so happy!"

"You need to try," he says, looking down at me with amusement, as we walk back through the many grand rooms to the smaller quarters—his and mine—adjacent to each other.

Here, he first carries some supplies from his food storage box to my bedroom, including a bottle of qvaali, a pitcher of water, and some fruit and other light snacks. "That's in case you get hungry in the middle of the night."

"Oh . . ." I say. "I probably won't, but water is good!"

He glances at me almost shyly. "The door between our quarters can be locked from both sides. Please feel free to lock it at any time if you need to do so to feel more comfortable. Normally it's always open—Manala comes and goes in the middle of the night for food in my pantry, so I leave it open out of habit. Tomorrow I will order a similar food storage cabinet to be installed in your quarters, on your own side—"

"Oh, no need!" I interrupt him. "I can just use yours, same as Manala. And I don't want to lock the door, that's silly. As long as I won't disturb you if I need something from that fridge."

"You won't," he reassures me. "I sleep soundly, so make all the noise you need. Even if you wake me, I'll fall back asleep easily."

"Okay." I purse my lips. "Lucky you. . . . I'm a very light sleeper, so tend to over-worry about disturbing others."

Aeson smiles and just looks at me.

I smile back. "What?"

"It's just that—it pleases me so much to talk about these things with you," he says softly. "We're discovering each other, and there is so much to know."

"Oh yes. . . . It's the little things!" And I blush slightly, because the intense look in his eyes does that to me.

Then he tells me the general schedule for tomorrow. We are supposed to expect a breakfast summons from the Imperator, so that means we should be up early, ready to be called any minute. By early he means approximately 7:00 AM, because his Father is an early riser and has his first meal no later than 8:00 AM. "You will learn the Palace schedule soon," he says. "But for now, one thing at a time. Especially since you have to get used to a 27-hour day and four major meals instead of three."

"I can't wait," I say in a giddy voice, because I'm still floating on a cloud of warm and fuzzy joy, thinking about how Mom and Dad and George will be rescued.

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