Chapter 29: Persuasion

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December 20, 2357

Residence of Ari Keir

Genesis, America

Ari had just finished packing her vacation bag when Clara stumbled into her bedroom. The teenager didn't even look at her, though she hiccuped loud enough to be heard through the paper-thin walls two apartments over. Propping herself up in the doorway, Clara's half-lidded gaze studied her charge with an expression that almost bordered on curiosity.

"Going to Eila's again?" Her tone was almost suspicious.

"Where else would I be going on a weekend?" She wasn't going to bother telling Clara that she wasn't returning anytime soon. The immature adult had survived a whole month without her. A couple weeks during the holidays wasn't much for her to wonder about.

From the corner of her eye, Ari could see Clara shrug. "Just wondering if you were gonna lie to me again, is all."

Ari was more annoyed than affronted. When Clara was this buzzed, outrageous accusations were usually thrown around. She knew when to shrug off her guardian's attitude.

Having not responded to the statement, Clara's face paled in drunken fury. Her next words were bit at the ends, one after the other. "Tell your boyfriend I don't appreciate him skulking across the street all the time. Makes the neighbors nervous. And even though you've got that minor edge now, why don't you stay away from those who are legitimately dangerous? I'm sure my brother wouldn't approve."

With dark eyes wide, Ari turned to her aunt after the first sentence and barely heard the rest. After a moment, she shook her head and began to focus. "Is he still there now, Clara? Can you show him to me?" she demanded in the next instant, striding across the room and wrapping her hand around the tan woman's upper arm in a tight grip.

"Ow! Of course he's still there. He's waiting on you, isn't he?" she grumbled.

Without releasing her, Ari dragged her out into the living room and to one of the two windows available in the apartment. With a simple brush of her key, she ordered the glass to magnify—giving her at least a view of the tops of people's heads. "Where? Who is he? Show me."

Clara wrenched her arm free, her features twisted in even a pretty scowl. "Don't play stupid with me, Ari!"

Her jaw clenched as her eyes scoured the individuals passing below them on the street. There were too many for her to notice any individual, much less rightly guess which one had apparently been following her. Turning from the window, Ari stepped toe-to-toe with Clara and took her shoulders in a gentler grip.

"Clara, please? This is important. I need to know who's been here. Do you know what he looks like? Why he's there?"

Bowing her head a little, Clara began shaking her head. Ari cursed inwardly as the alcohol continued to flood Clara's system, making her act like a young teenager instead of a thirty-seven year old adult. Without persuasion, she would get nothing out of her.

As if she were spitting venom, she threw out the only words that would get Clara's attention. "Is he cute?"

On cue, Clara's head rose and her eyes locked on Ari's. There was still suspicion glittering in her dark eyes, however, and so she answered, "You would know. He's been following you everywhere."

Ari's blood froze and her breathing hitched. "Well, I don't know. And I've never noticed. Maybe all he wanted from me was an introduction to you. Guys can be shy, too, you know." The words came out breathless and without conviction. Almost as if she were rambling. She actually couldn't believe it when her words seemed to work.

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