It was a miracle, waking up beside her. Ida still had her arms around me, her head pressing into my neck. Soft sleeping sounds left her lips, buzzing against my skin. I smiled, realizing that I’d gotten through the night without nightmares or tears. I’d slept soundly for the first time since losing my father. I felt deliciously awake and alert.
I turned in Ida’s arms, bringing us nose to nose. She stirred and I kissed her lightly. Her eyes opened and focused on me. I smiled at her and she kissed me, profusely and full-mouthed. I pulled away.
“Don’t,” I said. “I have morning breath.”
Ida laughed at this and her laughter was a shocking sound. I realized that I hadn’t heard it before. It was deep and hearty, soothing my fears. She leaned over me and kissed me again.
“I’m starving,” she said, rolling out of bed and picking her phone up off the night table. She sent a text, then jumped back into bed.
“Then we should get dressed and have breakfast,” I said.
“Unnecessary,” she said, kissing my cheek gleefully. “It’s on its way here.”
“I see there are some perks to your status,” I said, only half joking. She seemed to catch something in my voice, because she just studied my face, a hesitant look on her features. After a moment, she let it go and changed the mood back to one of cheerfulness.
“We’re having a party in three days,” she said. “A big party with fancy dresses and weird appetizers and everything. You’ll come, right?”
I nodded. As much as I loved parties, I didn’t particularly want to go to this one. I had no idea how Ida’s people would react to me. However, I felt that I couldn’t contradict Ida’s wishes. I knew she was asking out of courtesy. I was sure that I had to go no matter how I felt about it.
“It’ll be fun,” I said, trying to sound sincere. Ida snorted.
“Right. It’ll be nothing short of torture, but I know you’ll make it better. We’ll find a way to have some fun.” She winked at me playfully and collapsed into the pillows behind her. “I’m going to go into town today to pick out our outfits,” she said wistfully. “How do you feel about blue?”
“I’m fine with whatever you choose,” I said. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“Normally, I would,” she said. “But I have to do this one on my own. Besides, I think you need some time to yourself. I can’t be taking up all your time. You’ll go crazy for sure.”
I took her hand and said,
“On the contrary. You make me happy, keep me sane. I wouldn’t have dealt with this so well without you.”
Ida shook her head.
“You’ve got it wrong. You’re the one helping me. You’d be fine on your own, I’m sure of it.”
We sat side by side on the bed, reveling in the morning light and in each other’s company. We stayed that way until there was a knock and our breakfast came through the door.
Lily and I spent a few quiet days together. We filled them exploring, teaching each other things, and talking. Every hour I spent with her just made me love her more. Every story she told or secret she uncovered made me want to hold her for all eternity. I had never met someone so compatible, so beautiful, so strong, and so wise. She had a radiant, pure heart and a wicked good sense of humor. I couldn’t get enough of her. I spent every waking and sleeping hour with her and it wasn’t enough. I was addicted and I didn’t want to be cured.
She let me take her to bed every night. I don’t know if she felt obligated to or if she worried that I’d get angry if she refused. I told her time and again that she didn’t have to comply, but she did anyway. I made sure to be respectful and caring. She deserved no less. We kissed and slept and sometimes my fingers got lost in her hair, but I never made a more serious move.
On the day of the party, I bothered her while she was getting ready.
“Come in,” she said when I knocked on her door.
She was already in her party clothes, wearing the lace, midnight blue dress that I’d bought her. The hem kissed her leg mid-calf and the transparent lace straps on the pretty v-neck showed off her shoulders and collarbones beautifully. The cut was suggestive but classy, making my heart pound when my eyes wandered over her skin there. Two bows ornamented the front skirt and another sat at the valley of the v-cut on the dress’ back. The dress showed off her figure superbly, reminding me of one morning when she’d stepped out of bed and the sunlight had pierced right through her nightgown, offering me a teasing silhouette.
“You look beautiful,” I said. She blushed, making her even more attractive.
“Thank you,” she said simply.
“Turn around,” I said.
She seemed hesitant, and the tiniest bit confused, but she did as I asked. I reached into the box I had with me and took out a shimmering necklace. Without her seeing, I fastened it around her neck. She turned in surprise and looked up at me, her fingers on the necklace. She rushed over to her mirror, admiring herself with the necklace on.
“Oh, it’s gorgeous!” she said. The silver and blue necklace fitted her and her dress just as I’d hoped.
She ran toward me and kissed me, saying,
“You’re welcome,” I said. “It suits you.”
She went back to the mirror, looking at the necklace. I followed her slowly, standing behind her and watching us both in the reflection. There was something in my eyes that I’d never seen before. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it.
“You don’t have to buy me things, you know,” she said.
“I like to,” I said. I took her shoulders and turned her to me, saying the thing that I’d been thinking for days.
“Lily, you know that you don’t have to stay here with me. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. I place no obligation on you, no expectations. You can live your life out in your own place and still remain under my protection. I will always take care of you. You don’t have to repay me in any way. If you don’t want this,” I gestured to the two of us, “then you can tell me. I’d understand.”
Lily’s lips fell into a small frown, her eyebrows pressing together.
“I truly love you,” she said. “I want to be here with you. Please don’t think otherwise.”
The words seemed too good to be true, but I knew that she meant it.
I gathered her to me, smiling into her hair.
“I love you, too.”
I held her a moment before letting her go and saying,
“Well, I should let you finish getting ready. I’ll send my hairdresser to you, since you’re dressed before me.”
“What are you wearing?” she asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I said. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
With a mischievous smile, I left her to wonder.
The ballroom teemed with people, jostling and chatting like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. I tucked a piece of hair behind my ear, hoping the movement would calm my pounding heart. The hairdresser had done a beautiful job, curling my hair and pulling it up in an intricate masterpiece. A few loose ends tickled my shoulders.
I searched for Ida among the crowd, walking slowly in my heels. I smiled at anyone who paid me attention but didn’t dare to stop to talk. I’d hoped that Ida would take me to the party herself, but she’d sent me a note to meet her there. I felt safe enough, but I was uncomfortable around all the strangers.
Finally, I saw her. My heart stopped in my chest at the sight of her. She wore a long, black dress with a huge slit up one side that exposed her endless, muscled leg. Black heels added to the effect. The dress fit snugly, the top a crisscross of black straps that wrapped around her neck and waist. Her hair framed her face, straight and severe, amplifying the lines of her cheekbones and the dark beauty of her eyes.
She caught sight of me and came toward me. I stood there, waiting as she wove through the crowd. When she reached me, she slipped an arm around my waist and pulled me to her, leaving a kiss on my cheek and whispering,
“You are beautiful.”
I wanted to say, “You’re stunning,” but the words caught in my throat.
The live band suddenly got louder and a voice, fuzzy through the microphone, announced,
“Welcome everyone! Let’s kick off this celebration right. I’d like to invite the guest of honor to come onto the dance floor with the partner of her choosing.”
Ida’s eyes lit up and she said,
She put out her hand and I took it. I felt small and scared as she led me out onto the wood floor in the middle of the room.
A man, decked out in a shimmering purple suit and smiling insanely, stood on the floor already. He glared expectantly at Ida and she stopped in the middle of the dance floor, her hand still in mine. I felt her entire body tense up beside me. I wondered if this was Orestes. He looked me up and down before focusing on our joined hands. The smile on his face disappeared, replaced by a look of angry surprise.
“What are you doing?” he asked Ida, his voice high and strained.
“Give it up, Orestes,” she answered. She turned away from him, drawing me close as though she intended on dancing. Orestes came toward us, putting a hand on Ida’s shoulder and pulling her from me. She turned back in his direction and I could see anger boiling behind her dark eyes. My heart started to race and I could acutely feel the gaze of the party-goers.
“I won’t give it up,” he insisted. “You’re to be my bride and I won’t take no for an answer.”
“Don’t make a scene,” Ida hissed.
“I’ll make any scene I want to,” he shouted. “We’re to be married, Ida!”
“No,” Ida said sternly. “For the last time, I will not marry you. Please, get off the floor and leave me alone.”
“This is all her fault!” Orestes said, pointing at me. “That Trojan whore has bewitched you! Can’t you see that?”
A new level of anger rolled through Ida and she took a deliberate step toward Orestes. They were nose to nose, her lip curling with restrained words.
“How dare you,” she said slowly, her voice aching with barely controlled rage. “She has nothing to do with this. You will apologize.”
“I will NOT,” Orestes spat back, squeaking on the last word. “You will marry me, or I’ll KILL myself. I’ll put a dagger right through my heart!”
He breathed heavily, pressing close to Ida. She didn’t back down, didn’t soften in any way. She stared right into his eyes and said in her dark voice,
“You don’t have the nerve.”
With that, she turned away from him and, in front of everyone, kissed me.
I heard Orestes shriek and I broke the kiss, moving to see him. He stomped off, pushing guests and servants aside. I clutched Ida’s arms, allowing her tall form to protect me.
“He won’t come back,” she said to me. “You’re safe from him. Deep down, he’s a coward.”
I almost pitied Orestes. Then, I remembered that he’d called me a whore and I didn’t feel so bad.
Ida smiled at me and said,
“I think it’s time we danced.”
She pulled me in as the DJ started a slow song. Her body moved hypnotically against mine, rocking me into a sense of complete security. In that moment, all the pressure of the guests, all the anxiety of my arrival in Greece, and all the grief of loss melted away. There was only Ida, only her warmth pressed against me, only our bodies moving with the music, only the promise of a bright and fearless future.
After the song, we vacated the floor to polite applause. Ida was well-liked, that was obvious, but I wasn’t sure how they felt about me. I suppose it didn’t really matter. I knew that I could win them over, eventually.
Ida brought me through the crowd, exchanging a few words with various couples. She always introduced me with pride and not a hint of shame or reluctance. Her strength made my worries dissipate.
After a half hour of useless chatter and too many introductions, Ida leaned down and asked,
“Want to get some air?”
I nodded vigorously. Ida made a hand motion at the servant guarding the door to the gardens and then led me out of the room into the summer night.