Chapter 5c

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Dedicated to Wattpad user Kerrie Salsac, because I think she'll enjoy the character introduced below...

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The rest of the day inched along without any further word from Nadine. I did my best to stay awake during my classes, but by the time I reached my last class, my mind was fuzzy and my eyes felt scratchy. 

At least the class was an easy one—an in depth study of Sir Francis Bacon, with special focus on his tragedy plays. We would be soon studying his most renowned tragedy, Hamlet, but for the past several class sessions, we had been studying the controversy surrounding our empire’s most famous playwright. Some people claimed Sir Francis could not have possibly written all the plays he was credited with—including the one our apprentice company was rehearsing, As You Like It. There were lots of conspiracy theories. The most absurd one was that an obscure glover’s son, William Shakespeare, was the true author of these great classics. There were all sorts of supposed “evidence” for it, but most of us considered it a terribly silly idea.

However, our assignment was to conduct a debate about it. We wouldn’t know which side we were arguing until the day of the debate, so we had to be ready to argue convincingly either way. I had already volunteered to be the spokeswoman for our team—I excelled at debate, regardless of whether I actually believed our given position or not. Our team had arguments for both sides ready to go, so we had little to do during class. 

Raymond Carrew slid into the wooden desk next to mine. He was on my team for the debate, so we pushed our desks together and spread out our debate notes to make it look like we were working. He shoved his round-framed spectacles higher on his nose, and tucked a stray lock of light red hair behind his ear. 

I sneaked a glance at him as he bent over his notes. I would never admit it, but I liked looking at him nearly as well as I enjoyed ogling Presul Wolff. He was slim and broad shouldered, with a self-confidence I didn’t think he was even aware of. His lips were graceful and full, and usually set in a secretive, sensual half-smile. His hair was golden red, swept off his face in lustrous waves. His eyes, behind his spectacles, always reminded me of mist at twilight. They didn’t probe into my soul like the presul’s did, but I suspected they saw much more than he let on. 

“You’re such a good friend,” I mumbled. “Remember how I used to scream at you? When I first came back?” 

He darted a sharp look my direction, but didn’t speak. 

Being this tired was rather like being tipsy. It seemed to have done away with any inhibition I had. The words just tumbled out. “It was only ‘cause I was scared, you know. But you didn’t give up.”

“Hmm.”

“Dunno why you stuck with me, but I’m glad.” I had no idea why I was saying all this, other than that it was too much work to hold it in. My brain felt soupy and melodramatic. It was like my arms and legs had turned into taffy, languidly stretching and draping over everything. 

Raymond’s face grew pink. He looked down at the papers on his desk. “You really are tired.”

I gave him a loopy, sideways glance. “You’re the only chap I’m not afraid of.”

At this, he met my eyes. I flinched a little because, whether or not he could see into my soul, for the first time I felt like I was seeing into his. Deep tenderness. Hope. Wariness. Amusement. Even sorrow.

For a heartbeat, the classroom faded away. His eyes wrapped me up in their gentle depths. 

Muted giggles across the room broke the moment. I blinked and looked away.

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