The rest of their time together seemed to fly by for Lizzie; both she and Monty took their designated seats in the four-door sedan that sat in his garage. Monty made a comment about how her friends seemed fun, and Lizzie agreed and admitted how much she had missed the court.
“You’ll get to see them more often,” he told her. He reached over and took her hand, molding their fingers together. “I promise.”
They pulled into Mona’s driveway, and Monty escorted her to the door. She had recognized this as a romantic gesture colonists made when they were dropping their dates off at home. Her face was burning as she recalled what was expected to happen when they reached the door. However, her imagination was in vain; Monty simply squeezed her hand affectionately, kissed the top of her head, and wished her a good night. She barely reciprocated the wish when his eyes became unfocused; he turned to head back to his car, his hand already fishing in his pocket for his sketchbook.
Lizzie frowned. What’s so important that he needs to call upon an animal?
Then she used her key to enter the home, surprised to find the living room light on and her guardian awake.
“ ‘Bout time you showed up!” Mona squealed with delight. She had been lounging on the sofa drawing in her own sketchbook when Lizzie entered; she hopped up so fast that she nearly stumbled from the dizziness. “Whoa! Head rush…”
“I thought you’d be in bed by now,” Lizzie remarked. “Don’t you work the early shift at the laundry depot?”
Mona waved off her concerns. “It’s only, like, ten P.M. right now. I can work on as little as seven hours of sleep. Besides, it’s not every day you ask someone out on a date!”
“I-It’s not that big a deal,” the teenager shrugged off her guardian’s excitement. Mona’s shoulders slumped as her green eyes darted between Lizzie and the door.
“Did something happen, kiddo?” she asked. “Where’s Monty?”
“He walked me to the door, but I think he had to go,” Lizzie explained. “It looked like Alexa called him away.”
It was Mona’s turn to frown. “What the hell could have possibly happened on the night of his coronation?”
“I don’t know, but it must be pretty bad for him to leave without breaking from Alexa to give me an explanation.” The teen joined Mona on the loveseat, slumping into the cushions with a hefty sigh. “I think there’s something wrong with me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Chris dropped us at Monty’s house instead of here, you know? So Monty could keep his promise to give me a ride home,” Lizzie recollected. “But when I asked him for a tour, he turned me down. And when I suggested this weekend, he turned me down again.”
“Maybe he’s embarrassed by how messy his place is?” Mona suggested. “I mean, he’s never really been a slob, but he does currently share the place with Tony.”
Lizzie’s eyebrows furrowed. “Wait, really? Is it normal for the royal advisor to live with the prince?”
Mona chewed on her cheek for a short moment. “Liz… Do you know why Monty moved out when he did?”
The teen offered her a half-shrug. “I mean, I always figured it had something to do with the court finding out about me and your dad wanting to keep me separate from the court for appearances.”
Mona’s eyebrows rose. “Wow. I mean, that was Dad’s reason for suggesting it, but that’s not ultimately the reason why Monty went along with it. You know, he’s our Dad–you’ve met him. He isn’t exactly someone either of us willingly listens to.”
“Okay, then why did Monty leave?”
“It…” Mona sighed. “It’s complicated, kiddo. It was our eighteenth birthday, which meant that we were both legal adults in the eyes of humans–a-and you were just fourteen. It wouldn’t have been good for either of you if Monty told you how he really felt.”
The butterflies fluttered around in Lizzie’s chest again. “So I was right–Monty does like me. He always has.”
Her guardian nodded. “Yeah, he has. Do you remember your first night with us?”
“Yeah, of course,” the teenager said. “Monty found me in the park, then he, you, and Chris brought me back here. Chris went and got Kris, that healer, while you were showing me how to bathe…”
She buried her face in her hands, embarrassed. “Holy crap, I seriously forgot that there was a time when I didn’t know what soap or hair products were. I bet I smelled horribly.”
“Yeah, you did,” Mona snickered. “But what’s most important about that night isn’t that we found you, but that Kris healed you… And part of Kris’ ability is he can see a person’s injuries. All of them.”
Lizzie dropped her hands from her face and blinked, her eyes lowered. “I don’t see what you’re getting at–”
“Lizzie.” Mona spoke softly, as if she were trying to wrap her words around the teen in a soothing blanket. “Because of Kris’ power, we–Monty, Chris, and I–have an idea about what you went through in Jesup. With your family.”
Lizzie’s heart sunk. “You and… And Monty?”
“How–” Lizzie hesitated. Tears were already brimming her eyes. Her fingers of her left hand dug into her knees, and she started tapping her right thumb against the tips of its adjoining fingers. It was a nervous habit she had picked up following her enrollment in the colonial school. When she finally spoke again, she spoke slowly, carefully. “How much do you guys know?”
Her guardian placed her right hand on Lizzie’s left in assurance. “All we have are guesses based on the injuries you arrived with. It was obvious that someone had intentionally hurt you, and we knew it was bandits based on the way you talked about other humans. It wasn’t until Kris told us what your brand meant and you told us who your parents are that we put some pieces together.”
“My brand…” Lizzie unconsciously halted her nervous habit to reach over her left shoulder. She hadn’t noticed that her drawl had returned. “I’m surprised it wa’n’t infected by the time y’all found me. Clint must’ve timed it like that, ’cause they only just marked me the day before.”
“Can you tell me why they marked you?”
It was a simple, honest question, but it was one she hated the answer to. “It meant my training was done, an’ I was up for grabs.”
Her fingertips were dancing again, tapping against her thumb to the rhythm of her erratic thoughts. Mona’s eyes watched, apologetic.
“What do you mean, ‘up for grabs’?”
A tense silence filled the room. Lizzie felt suffocated by the line of questioning, overwhelmed by the memories. “I-I-I wanna go to bed now.”
Mona nodded with a sigh. ” ‘Kay. I’m sorry for bugging you with all of this, kiddo… And for being a little overbearing this past year. I’ve never had a little sister before, but if I did…”
She frowned. “No, that’s not right. I may not have had a little sister before Monty found you, but you’ve become every bit the sister I’ve always wanted. I’ll always be here for you, whether you want to talk about school, or drama, or Monty… Or even Jesup. Okay?”
Lizzie tried to smile, but she was sure it didn’t look right. The two young women stood, and Lizzie made her way toward the stairs.
“Oh, right! I’ve been wondering, how did you know that Aunt Desi was the one who sent you that stuff?”
A smile crept on the teen’s lips. “The first journal Monty brought for me had a note on the front page. She told me she hoped to meet one day.”
Mona frowned again. “Wait, so she signed it?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
The two bid one another good night and went their separate ways. Lizzie climbed the stairs, desperate to shower and push aside their conversation. Mona was still downstairs when the teen had entered the second story bathroom with her fleece sleepwear, and the living room light was off by the time she emerged fifteen minutes later. Guess she went to sleep.
Lizzie tiptoed back to her bedroom, letting out a quiet sigh as she shut the door behind her. Her shower was spent far too preoccupied with thoughts of Monty, of Jesup, both swirling together as she finally recalled what Mona had asked her.
“Do you remember your first night with us?”
Of course I remember, she grumbled internally. She hopped onto her king-sized bed, threw her thick down comforter over her body, and snuggled up to Perry the stuffed platypus. That’s a day I’ll never forget. It was the first time I looked into someone’s eyes and saw good things–happiness, flirtation, bravery…
It was the first time I looked into someone’s eyes and found love.