Chapter 37: Calm Before The Storm

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December 31, 2357

Grand Victory Hotel

Valor, America

When Ari entered the room, she barely made it to the nearest chair before her trembling legs gave out. Her breathing was coming in gasps as she tried to laugh and smile at the same time. Burying her face in her hands, she sat there while her body shook uncontrollably.

"Ari? What happened? Are you okay?" Eila demanded, rushing towards her.

Raising her head, there were tears in her eyes as she reached out a hand to her friend. Without any thoughts of controlling herself, Ari gasped, "He knew me! Eila, he knew who I was. As soon as he walked into the room, we reacted the same way. Cai knows I'm his twin. I don't know how or when he figured it out, but he knows and I'm meeting him at twelve thirty and just..." Scrubbing away the tears, Ari was about to apologize for ruining the makeup when Eila's arms wrapped around her in a tight embrace.

"I am so happy for you, Ari! This is better than I could have imagined," her fair friend sighed.

When Ari was released, her eyes traveled across the room to where Jace stood by the couch. His hands were behind his back and he looked impeccable and imposing in his military uniform. Were there no smile on his face, she would have thought him intimidating. In that moment, however, he was just her friend.

"Congratulations, Ari. I'm happy for you," he said in a voice barely loud enough to reach her.

Unable to say anything coherent, Ari simply nodded her head to him in acceptance.

Eila was not so afflicted with speechlessness. "It wouldn't hurt to show it," she announced before returning her attention to her friend. Pulling on her hand, she wouldn't rest until Ari rose to her feet. "Come on, I know you're excited, but we've only got an hour before the party really starts."

"What more can be done, Eila? I look ... fantastic. You made sure of that."

Turning to her with an incredulous expression writ upon her face, Eila didn't bother to respond. Instead, she dragged Ari to the middle of the room and ordered her to stand still.

Then she did something Ari forgot was in style: she removed part of the dress. The shear layer that extended from her waist down to her ankles was suddenly gone and Ari looked at her bare legs in astonishment. She didn't even have time to notice that Eila had set the long skirt to the side and picked up a black sequined belt off the end table. Despite her protests, the belt was fastened in place and Ari stared at the large flower on the left side with a look of disgruntlement. Of course, she supposed she was just lucky that Eila hadn't torn the earrings from her ears and instead offered the trade almost as if she had a choice. She didn't, and soon the garnet teardrops were replaced by dazzling hoops that she thought would be out of place with her short hair. Which, of course, was rectified when Eila mussed her hair enough so that it looked more natural.

"Are you finished yet?" Ari grumbled.

"As soon as you change shoes, we can go," Eila said in a patronizing tone.

"I hope you're enjoying yourself. This is the last time I let you play dress-up with me."

"Don't be like that. The results speak for themselves. Don't they, Jace?"

"Oh no," he said, shaking his head. "You are not bringing me into this."

"Thanks for the back-up. You act as if you haven't been raving about her all the while she's been gone."

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