Chapter Seven

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A few more Love Hearts were shared between Maude and Zach. Terry's mouth began to water, but it felt stupid to ask for one now.

"Okay," Maude started, "Ms. Bernard said this was worth half our grade this semester. She gives extra marks for originality, so I was thinking we could do a mock-up article, like you see in a fashion magazine."

She held up one of several magazines she'd brought with her as an example. "But we could make it from ancient Egyptian times, you know? It would be beauty tips from Cleopatra." Maude finished by holding open the Cleopatra book to a famous painting of Egypt's last pharaoh.

"Like with a cover and everything?" Zach said. His expression was sincere as he waited for Maude's answer. Terry wasn't sure if he was asking or adding to her idea. He didn't sound convinced, but he acted curious. Terry studied him from behind her long bangs. In class the other day, he'd doodled the whole time. What made the project more interesting today?

"Exactly," Maude said.

Zach reached across the table for another candy. "That'd be cool," he said. With Zach's approval, Maude's other ideas began to gush. Terry stared at the bust of Cleopatra. She imagined the mysterious coffin making its way across the Atlantic guarded by Egyptian officials at this very moment. What if it really was Cleopatra?

Her mother's lifetime of work had accumulated into solving one mystery: to find Cleopatra's final resting place. Except in the end, the quest had claimed her life instead and left Terry scarred, inside and out. She'd never forget her mother's excited whispers, suddenly cut off by the crushing roar and flash of light. The memory became too big for Terry and her chest grew tight, like an expanding balloon threatening to burst.

Maude's voice hit a high note, breaking through Terry's haze. "She invented milk baths!"

Terry snapped back to the present. All at once the magazines and beauty tips seemed surreal and ridiculous, insulting even. "You want this report to be about makeup?" Terry's voice sounded harsher than she intended.

Maude's expression crumbled, but she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, inviting Terry to plead her case.

Terry looked down, realizing she had to at least back up her outburst of a challenge. She played with a frayed thread on her sweatpants. "Cleopatra was more than a charming woman. She was a shrewd politician and a genius at warfare." Terry wrapped the thread around her finger a few times and pulled tight, then she released it and started over again. "When her father died, he left the welfare of Egypt to Cleopatra and her younger brother, but the brother forced her out, keeping all the power for himself."

Maude's arms were crossed, still unconvinced. Terry let out a breath. She wasn't used to being the expert. "A year later Cleopatra had formed an army of mercenaries, but she still wasn't ready to overthrow her brother. When she found out Caesar was visiting Alexandria, she had herself rolled up inside a carpet and smuggled into the inner sanctum of his palace." Terry paused and swallowed. "She seduced him that night."

Zach and Maude had grown quiet. "He not only became her lover," Terry explained, "but a powerful ally as well. He helped her build an even stronger army, and they easily defeated her rivals, giving her back the throne, making Cleopatra the sole ruler of Egypt."

"What about Mark Antony?" Maude sounded deflated.

"He came later," Terry said, a little embarrassed she'd snapped at Maude.

"I don't get it," Zach said. He leaned forward and planted his elbows on his knees. "Why would she have to smuggle herself in? If she was so hot, why didn't Caesar jump on the chance to make out with her?"

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