Inquest Chapter 29

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Chapter 29

Cipher

Lance sitting next to Celia is out of the question. Lance sitting by me is absurd. Milo and Lance sitting next to each other is a recipe for disaster. But since I refuse to make Lance sit away from us, just in case we need him, Milo takes the least offensive of the three options and sits between me and Lance with Celia all the way on my right, as far away from Lance as possible. Celia frowns at the seating arrangement and peeks glances at Lance every few seconds. Milo wasn’t kidding about how boy-crazy she is.

Even so, between her and her brother, Celia is by far the better behaved. Outwardly both Lance and Milo are the picture of perfect manners. Inwardly, there is a battle between the two of them that I am the only one aware of. Milo is radiating frustration at being near Lance and having to depend on him for any kind of help. Lance bounces between feeling superior at being needed despite Milo’s blatant unhappiness about it and a mixture of jealousy and depression every time Milo touches me.

My blocks are up against them both, but they aren’t working as well as I would hope. I’m too close, physically and emotionally, to both of them. I love the ballet because it’s beautiful and peaceful and captivating. I seriously doubt I’m going to get much peace tonight. It’s going to be a long night.

I’ve never been so happy to be left in darkness as when the lights finally go out. Maybe if I go to sleep no one will notice, and then I won’t have to be inundated with their emotional overload. I almost give in. The audience falls silent in preparation. I honestly expect both Milo’s and Lance’s eyes to close as soon as the curtain rises given how little either of them enjoy the ballet, but they both shock me by focusing their attention on the patrons surrounding us in the dim room.

The ballet opens with a flare of music and light and closes the same way.

My head comes up off Milo’s shoulder two hours after the first curtain rose, and I applaud along with Celia. Milo takes my hand when I stop clapping and leans over to me. His lips touch mine briefly, and he asks, “Did you enjoy the ballet?”

“I did. Thank you for bringing me.”

“Thank Celia. I never would have thought to come on my own,” he admits. “It was kind of cool, though.”

I had actually been afraid I would miss seeing “The Nutcracker” for the first time in my life. I’d thought about suggesting it myself, but with everything else going on it seemed silly to ask for something so trivial. I turn toward Celia to thank her, but she breaks in before I can.

“Ooh, Milo!” Celia gushes. “Look, look! Isabelle Sanders is back on stage. I think she’s signing autographs!”

“Who?” Milo asks.

Celia rolls her eyes at him. “The Prima Ballerina! I’ve got to meet her. Please take me down to the stage. Please?”

“Celia…” Milo glances around at the hundreds of people milling about.

“Please, please, please?”

She is impossible for Milo to resist. His deep sigh admits his defeat. “Do you want to come down with us?” he asks me.

The long ramp leading down to the stage makes me shake my head. My foot throbs even thinking of trying to wade through the crowded slope without tripping. “Go ahead without me. I’ll wait here.”

Celia bounces up and grabs Milo’s hand away from me. He doesn’t stand right away, clearly not keen on the idea of leaving me alone. But of course, I’m not alone. Lance nudges Milo. Amazingly, his face shows no sign of anything but seriousness. “Go ahead, I’ll keep watch,” he says.

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