“Oh, there they are. I was wondering if he was going to come through,” I heard Trace remark. Looking up, we saw a delivery woman push through the doors, darkly silhouetted against the bright, her face hidden behind the largest bouquet of flowers I’d ever seen in real life. Like something from the movies – giant tiger lillies, gorgeous peach roses and wild flowers, offset by greenery that spilled from a gold foil triangle almost too big for one set of arms. Someone had sent Trace a bouquet worth a few hundred dollars. She bustled by me to collect.
Trace seemed business-like, not starry-eyed at the romantic gesture. She took the bouquet and plucked the card. Her smile quickly transformed to scowl.
There was no mistaking trouble. Trix looked up, surprised, as Trace closed the distance between them, her feet hitting floor in time to emphasize her words.
Trace’s cheeks and lips blazed red with raised blood pressure – stunning. Not that I’d want to be on the other side of that, even to behold her glory. I shrank from her awesome wrath even on the sidelines. Trix, on the other hand, raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, alertly curious but not visibly bothered.
“What do you mean?” Her puzzlement seemed genuine. In good faith, she stepped closer, into the line of fire.
“I mean this.”
Trace flicked the card at Trix’s head and let the flowers drop unceremoniously to the floor. Trix’s hand flew up and caught the card between her thumb and index finger while her eyes stayed locked on Trace. She froze in that position, card plucked from mid-air, while they stared each other down in silence. Slowly, she lowered the card, her eyes slitted and jaw clenched. Trace smirked. I felt they’d had a conversation in those moments, that somehow Trace thought she’d gotten the better of Trix and Trix refused to acknowledge it.
Trix scrutinized the writing carefully, taking her time as though deciphering code. Eventually, a slow smile spread across her face, and she raised her eyes to find me.
“Mouse, I believe this is for you. ”
She held out the now well-traveled card, and I stepped in to pinch it fast, intensely curious. A scrawled note:
Mouse, who goes generally by Christine: Hoping for more refreshment soon. In the meantime, some sugar to stir things up – Bren
Trix scooped up the bouquet with a flourish.
“And these,” she offered from a formal bow. I accepted the flowers awkwardly, with a half-hearted curtsey, then quickly placed them on the counter. I felt a giddy grin spreading over my face, which could only inflame Trace’s ire. I fought for poker face but a single laugh escaped first – I caught Trix smile with me. I felt a blush rising and covered my mouth with my hand.These flowers were for me. And Trace had thought they were for her. I felt like the universe was sending me a personal sitcom moment of underdog glory. I straightened my features, biting the inside of my lip to keep from laughing again. I looked up to Trace’s hostile scowl and quickly averted my gaze. Never look a predator in the eye. .
Trace retook the scene with a scowl and fast-tapping foot.
“So, now, tell me you didn’t do anything.” Her eyes darted their hexing glare between between Trix and me, unsure where to place the greater portion.
“I didn’t! I don’t think…” But Trix looked sheepish, and her guilt filled in the blanks fast.
“I mean, sure, I took her to Tasha’s for like, ten minutes, hoping you were still there. I spun around the room and we left.”
Trix looked down, then up again, playfully sorry.
“Okay…maybe I brushed up on her a little, let him wonder. What’s the harm? You were gone, he was paying attention to her, it was so natural…” Her voice held some remorse, but mostly amusement. Trace did not share either sentiment.
“This was your idea. Maybe he needs a challenger, you said. You were supposed to be there, on time, to interrupt us. I was there. I flirted. You didn’t show.”
Trix sighed audibly. She bent her head and rubbed her left eye with her middle and index fingers. She looked up suddenly, no longer amused or remorseful.
“Give me a break, Trace. He’s not going to pick who he likes just because I lay a claim. Maybe you need to try a little harder with this one.”
“Maybe you need to stick with the plan! Where were you? Oh, I remember. Chasing tail when you were supposed to be catching money. Which you flaunted around town to let everyone ‘wonder’ about more than just you, don’t forget. Then you purposely dangle her as bait on my mark?”
Something shifted perceptibly in Trix’s body and bearing. I sensed her close her energy into herself, pull in any slack she’d been ready to give. I felt like I’d walked in at the climax of a movie, too late to piece it all together. I listened so hard my ears burned. Trix did not disappoint.
“You had your chance, first up by my calculations. I guess Mouse was just more captivating. It is what it is – deal with it, Trace. You’re a big girl.”
Trace’s lips pursed and her nostrils flared with deep inhalation like she would speak, but she clamped herself off. She breathed deeply, almost violently, then slower and more in control. Her words came slow and measured, her special combination of resignation and indignation striking me as nauseatingly familiar.
“I hope you’re happy. Now we’ve got a dependency, and we don’t even know her. We’re too far into this game and you’ve gone and changed the rules. Again. She followed you home and now you want to keep her – well, Trix, you better keep her leashed and get her paper trained. If she goes wandering, your pet mouse might just find her little neck snapped in a trap.”
Trace turned on her heel and stomped down the hallway. Trix shook her head, a smile playing at the corner of her lips, clearly not concerned about the immanent threat to my personal security.
“Ah, my Trace, Queen of the mixed metaphor,” she sighed, eyes glued to that perfect, departing back. Only when Trace disappeared into an office did Trix turn to me.
“Don’t worry, she’ll cool off. It just stings, and he knew it would. You’re caught in the middle. They’ve been playing cat and mouse for months, and Trace doesn’t like to be the mouse. Now she’s seeing what that’s like.”
“I don’t want Tyler Brendshaw. She can have him.”
“Oh, she will. Trace doesn’t take second after someone like you. Um, no offense.”
“Of course not.” My voice dripped umbrage. Trix laughed.
“Oh, you know what I mean. Don’t scrunch your eyebrows at me like I hurt your feelings. That only works on the boys, little sister. I’ve got enough drama in my world without you putting it on for show.”
I laughed. She made it so easy. Laughing with her about this situation felt like throwing off a heavy, wet wool blanket. Never in a million years would a guy like Bren want a girl like me if he could have a woman like Trace. It was a given, a fact of life, like physics and apple pie. But here was a big bouquet that said otherwise, at least for today, and I decided to love that for just what it was. I let my smile grow to my whole face. Trix’s eyes caught mine like they’d been holding space in wait. Her face looked naked, sleeping-soft wide awake, her real self. I knew she saw me, too. It was too much; in the same moment we both looked down. She shook her head.
“You’re something, all right, Mouse. You’re never quite what I’m expecting. I can’t wait to show you acrobat school – you’ll be like a kid at Christmas! Let’s go!”
“What about these? I don’t exactly have anywhere to put them.” I found myself surprisingly reluctant to let the bouquet go.
“Don’t worry about those. They’ll show up somewhere. Nothing sits still for long around here, and everything beautiful finds a home.” Trix had no more time for sentiment, so neither did I.
I thought maybe this time we might actually escape, but as we stepped toward the door, Bash walked in. He was finishing a phone conversation, and lifted his finger to pause our progress. We waited. He signed off, and beckoned Trix with a single finger-flick.
“Trix, a word?” She attached herself to his side without a glance at me. They moved down the hall into an office, and I stood alone again. My phone buzzed with yet another Timeless update. I realized I needed to change my settings – the phone was practically becoming a vibrator since >>>> set up direct Timeless feeds. No wonder Trix stopped reading her texts. I pulled out the phone and read the display.
I couldn’t breathe. My scar story on the internet.
He had told my secret. No one could be trusted, after all. My legs felt like water and I almost fell. My heart cracked and I hurried to fill the fissures with cement before the pain could spread.
Jamie had let me down.
As though I’d called him forth, Jamie wandered through the doorway from the theatre, headphones still draped around his neck and a cord dangling. I felt like I might hit him and I fought for control. He’s just a kid. He’s just a kid. He’s just a kid. Still, I found myself rushing him and drew up just short of a body-check.
“Take it down.” I hissed through clenched teeth to keep from yelling. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to my temper.
“My story. Get it off the site.”
He looked genuinely confused for a moment, and I almost faltered. But then his eyes widened with understanding.
“Oh no, Christine! No, it wasn’t me!”
I wasn’t in the mood to argue semantics. “Look, if it wasn’t you it was whoever you told or whoever they told. I don’t care how. Get it down. It’s the least you can do.”
Trix was emerging from the office, and I didn’t want to share this conversation. She called me over. “Okay Mouse, let’s roll.”
Jamie still stood silently staring at me, and I wanted to smack the sorry off his face. He should have thought of sorry before he ran his mouth off. I leaned in close and chose my tone to wound.
“Whatever, Jamie. Right? Whatever.” I walked away.
“What’s up with Jamie?” asked Trix as we finally exited the building.
“Nothing, he’s just feeling the pressure.” Trix glanced over, alert.
“Do you think he needs some help?” She watched me carefully. I thought about Jamie and whether he needed help. I expected to have a hard time with objectivity, but I found myself able to think of him as if he were any kid.
“Yeah, I think so, Trix. He’s a little fragile, you know? And you have him on a lot of stuff.”
“Okay, thanks for telling me.”