"Did he just say…?" I trail off.
"Yeah. He did. Lizzie, are you okay?" Chloe asks.
The spotlight goes out and I sit down.
"I don't even know what that means. Like, why didn't they ask me? What do I do now?"
"I don't know. But I think it's something pretty big since every eligible young man is coming this way."
I look and see 15 guys coming toward me.
Where were all these guys before dinner?
"Hi, Elizabeth would you like to dance?"
"Ms. Gent dance with me."
I try to focus on the faces but there's too many voices.
"Lizzie, come on." Cameron says, pulling me up.
"I thought I told you to dance with Miranda."
"I was going to. But you looked overwhelmed. So I'll dance this song with you."
"So what does one do as a ward?"
"No idea. I guess I'll find out."
He nods and we continue dancing.
My life isn't changing. I'm still me. I can deal with this.
'Ms. Gent, there's a photo shoot. Follow me." A woman says.
I smile at Cameron and he smiles back.
I see flashes ahead. We enter a conference room. I'm not speaking if someone asks me a question.
The woman motions me to stand between the Simm sisters and brothers. More flashes.
We do every combination possible. I take a picture with each sibling. Flash, flash, light and sound.
Just when I'm getting frustrated, someone asks a question.
"I'm sorry. This isn't an interview. We gave you the exclusive. Lizzie will answer questions at another time." Delilah says.
Lizzie will do nothing of the sort. But I take that as permission to leave.
I can't process any of this.
I enter the dance hall and look for Jenn. She's dancing with one of the guys I ran from.
I don't want to ruin her night. But I want to talk to someone familiar. Finn.
"Hello again, Ms. Gent." George says, putting his hand on my back.
No, this is wrong!
"Pretty big announcement. I'd like to discuss it while dancing."
"Look for gossip with someone who enjoys showy vacations and wasting away their semesters."
I walk away. I stop at my table and close my eyes for a moment.
I look up and see Finn. He smiles weakly. I walk across the dance floor.
“May I have this dance?” I ask.
Finn looks at Timothy and he nods.
“Of course.” He says taking my hand.
We begin waltzing and once again my feet know what to do. I look up from Finn’s suit and make eye contact with him. We hold eye contact until he looks away. The next time I look back, he’s staring at me again. The song changes and I pause.
“Just follow my lead, Eliza.” He whispers.
I nod and start dancing again.
I wonder if I should say something. People talk while they dance. Is this weird? Does Finn find this weird?
I look up and meet his beautiful brown eyes. I smile and forget what I was going to say.
“Thank you everyone for attending the benefit. Have a nice night.” The MC says.
I can hear people clapping but Finn and I keep dancing. The orchestra starts up again and we adjust our tempo. I look at Finn. Dancing with him is completely different than dancing with anyone else. I don’t feel like I have to pretend. Finn’s head turns and he meets my eye. I immediately look down.
The song changes. I still feel his eyes on me.
“Finn, why have you been staring at me?”
“Because I don’t want to look away. There’s no one I’d rather look at while dancing with you.”
“Why aren’t we talking?”
“Do we have to talk?” Finn asks confused. “It’s not like we just met.”
The song ends.
“Excuse me.” I say, curtseying.
I walk away before he even bows in return.
“What a nice couple. They look good together.”
“They do but the ward and the help? And she snubbed Charles Moore.”
“But what was she before? She is a SOS after all.”
I think I found Macey’s future friends. I let myself out on the terrace.
“You know, this is a dangerous place to be without service.”
I turn around and see Timothy Campbell.
“So I’ve heard, Mr. Campbell but I have yet to see anything scary.”
“You’d be surprised how people react to what they call privileged brats.”
I sway and put a hand on the balcony. But not before Timothy Campbell supports my other arm.
“I’m fine, Mr. Campbell. I’m just a little light headed from the excitement.” I say, so he doesn’t notice how his words affected me.
I can tell he doesn’t believe me.
“Well, I’ll turn you over to your security then. Or did you mean to run out while he’s frozen on the dance floor?”
I look through the doors and see Finn on the edge of the dance floor staring at the terrace doors. Michelle makes her way to him.
“Mr. Campbell, I respect your law of conduct.”
“My law of conduct? I take it Finn has told you the rules.” I nod. “I’m glad it made an impact on you both. However, that’s not the reason I’m against your relationship progressing.”
There’s something else?
“Lizzie, it’s the last song.” Caleb says.
“Well Mr. Campbell, I’m off to dance the night away.”
Timothy Campbell almost smiles and then shakes his head.
“Remember what we spoke of.”
I nod and take Caleb’s arm.
“What is her story?”
“I don’t know but I’m going to find out.”
Caleb puts his other hand on my hand on his arm.
“You’re a good dancer. Where did that come from?”
“I don’t know. I remember practicing the waltz with my mom. I guess I was taught the others at some point.”
“And you still remember?”
“I remember my mother in perfect clarity. It’s everything else that I’m missing.”
Caleb nods and we reach our place. The music starts.
“Speaking of your dance skills, you and your partner seemed to be in your own world.”
“Are you going to tell me the problems with dancing with him, too? We just met yesterday.”
“What can I say? Something makes me want to protect you.”
“You have two sisters to be brother to.”
“Yes, but they’re all grown up. They don’t need to be told where problems lie. Plus, Finn is like a brother to me.”
“You didn’t just dance with him. You danced four songs and didn’t even stop when the music did. You didn’t spare anyone else a single glance. You both need to be making connections, not strengthening previous ones.”
“Don’t hold yourself back. Tell me all the places the problems lay.”
“Everyone’s eye is on you. You’re the company’s ward and living in my sisters’ house.”
“I didn’t ask to be. I'm already upset about that. Now I’m being told how to live my life as well?” I whisper, narrowing my eyes.
“No. I’m just informing you of your new place. Finn doesn’t like attention. Keep that in mind.”
The song ends.
“Thank you, Mr. Simms, for your insight.” I curtsy and he bows.
“Lizzie!” Jennifer latches on to me. “Good night, Caleb.”
Mr. Simms waves and turns.
“He didn’t seem himself.”
“You mean he doesn’t seem like the man you met 24 hours ago?”
“Lizzie, are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry Jenn. I’m just tired.”
And beyond annoyed.
“Me too.” Jenn yawns.
“Let’s get my baby to bed.” I say as attendants help us put on our coats.
“I could get used to this. Hey, don’t call me that.”
Finn smiles at me from her other side. I smile back and he looks away.
One of the valets opens the back seat door. There’s about 6 other valets. I don’t have to look at Timothy, Caleb, or any of our audience to know I’m supposed to sit in the back.
I rode here in the front.
Jenn falls asleep within 5 minutes. Finn shuts down every attempt I make at conversation and won’t even look me in the eye. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more frustrating night.
Finn walks us into the house. He checks the living room and our bedroom.
“All clear.” He says.
“Night, Finn.” Jenn says going up stairs.
“Well, the adults are supposed to be back by 2.”
“Oh, right. The kids were kicked out at 10. They have an after party.”
“Would you have even wanted to stay, Eliza?” He asks, smiling.
He finally looked at me!
“No. I don’t like large crowds. But I still had a good night.”
He blinks and looks away.
“Well, I’ll be up until my dad comes home so text me if anything happens. Though, nothing should with the guards out front.”
“I will.” I promise anyway.
“I’ll see you Monday.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“I have homework and training. Stephan will be with you and Jenn. I thought I told you. It must have slipped my mind.”
“Okay, until Monday then.”
“Good night Eliza.” And he slips out the door.
I could have read while he did homework.
----- ----- -----
A knock sounds.
“Yes.” I croak out.
The door opens.
“Would you like some brunch? Jenn ordered it for you.” Allison says.
“Sure. Come in.”
Allison puts down the food.
“Where is Jenn? When I came back in the room this morning, she was gone.”
“I think she had plans with Nicole and some of the girls. Paul took them.”
“Okay.” I say, picking up my book.
“Are you hungry? Delilah said you’ve been up since 3.”
“Right. I talked to her when she came home.”
I slept from 11 to 2. I left my room so I wouldn’t disturb Jenn while I read. I took an hour nap at 6.
“It’s almost noon. Jenn said you’d want to eat breakfast for your first meal.”
“She’s right. Thanks Allison. Where are all the adults?”
“Misters Simms and Belle Simms had an emergency flight at 4. Delilah went to the office at 9.”
“Wait so I’m here alone?” I ask.
“Well the staff is here but yes, you are alone.”
I feel my headache coming back.
“Would you like to join me for breakfast?”
“Sorry, Lizzie. I’ve got to get back to work.”
Allison smiles at me sadly and I’m hit with dejavu.
I start eating and pick my book back up.
“Hello, Ms. Gent.”
I look up.
“Hello. You must be Stephan.”
“Have a seat.” I start cleaning up. “Right, I’m not allowed to clean. Time out, why are you here Stephan? I don’t need a bodyguard in the house?”
My phone rings.
“Sorry. Hold that thought. What’s up, Jenn?”
“Lizzie, turn on the news! They’re talking about last night's benefit.”
I turn channels. The estate is on screen. There’s about 20 reporters in front of the gate.
“Jenn. I’ll call you later. Be safe.” I say.
The pictures change to the benefit venue. That’s followed by Mr. Arthur Simms announcing me as the ward. And it ends with a picture of Finn and I dancing. Finn is blurred out.
“As the first batch of Simms Orphan Scholars prepare to graduate, the Simms have announced a ward among them. There hasn’t been any information on what that means or how many more wards there will be. The ward, Elizabeth Gent, is currently ranked 6th out of the four girls’ academies. She is the 3rd highest SOS. And it seems like someone else may be benefiting from her wardship.”
I wait for them to say Finn’s name but they don’t.
“I can’t believe this! I didn’t want this. How can they do this without asking me?”
“Technically, you all became wards of them the moment you tested into the academy. You're just the only one with special mention.”
“How is Jenn going to get home?”
“Don’t worry. Her chauffeur Paul is also a bodyguard. He’ll figure it out.”
“Why did the Simms all leave? This is their business.”
“Well you’re the ward. It’s more about you.”
“What about Finn? How long until his name is in this? Not that they’re right but he’s going to hate this.”
“Timothy is working on it. He won’t let his son be connected to this.”
“How’s that going to work? Finn is well-known. Someone’s going to tell the media.”
“You’re forgetting the powers behind the Simms’ name. They own shares in most mass-media.”
“You know, you are surprising reassuring even though you clearly don’t want to talk.”
“Bodyguards aren’t supposed to talk. We are here to watch, protect, and advise.”
“Well can you advise me on the best way to get out of here?”
I follow Stephan into an elevator. It takes us underground.
“Choose what?” I ask, as my eyes adjust.
“Choose a car.”
There are about 30 cars. They are of differing class levels and models.
I see the van Finn drives and choose the convertible next to it.
We get in and drive around the garage. We pass one exit and go to the next.
“What’s the difference?” I ask still in the tunnel. “And why are they so long?”
“One takes you to the drive around the house. That’s how Finn picks you up. The reporters would see that. This one lets out past estate grounds. It’s a secret.” Stephan states.
Finn would have made that a joke.
“There’s a secret tunnel to the garage?!”
“Now I feel like they’re just showing off their wealth.”
“It wasn’t the children. It was the mother Simms. They say she became a reclusive toward the end of her life. She had this tunnel built and never went to public events in her final 12 years.”
“She probably just liked her privacy. I know I do.”
“I understand. I was simply relating what they say about her.”
I know but it bothered me. I’ve always loved learning about her. There are no pictures of her from her final years. Her last public picture was Delilah’s 5th grade graduation. There’s a lot of rumors but I don’t believe them.
The wind hits my face and I lean back. I’ll forget about life for a while.