So here ends Chapter 1/Act 1/whatever. Which is not to say this project is over, just that you’ll be seeing a different subheading moving forward, but it’s the same story. We’re still following Rilla and Marius as they figure out what in the hell is happening between them, and other supernatural influences insert themselves.
Lightning on the Sea, concluded
Approximately thirty feet away, through two walls, a painting, and a mirror, Rilla washed her hands and took a deep breath. The night wasn’t going badly, per se, but she had stuck her foot in it with the glove question and now didn’t really have a clue how to pull back out. From next to her, she heard Karin sigh.
“It’s not that bad,” Karin said after a minute as Rilla shut off the water. “Though honestly, and I’m not sure how to say this, but I don’t know that he’s on the market as it were. Even if the woman he came to the show with really is just a friend, he’s seemed distracted all night.”
Sighing in return, Rilla’s shoulders slumped. “You’re probably right. Damn it all. I just – I don’t know, I guess I thought – well, I guess it doesn’t matter.”
Tossing the towel in the waste bin, Rilla straightened herself up and took a deep breath. Nodding to Karin, the moved out of the bathroom and headed back to the table. They sat down to a friendly enough greeting that Marilla tried very hard not to read anything into, and she lifted her hand to call the waiter over for another drink.
Small talk reigned at the table for a moment, though it was more relaxed than it had been prior to Rilla’s sojourn to the loo. It was with some surprise, given everything, that Rilla came to realize that Marius was studying her in much the same way she had been observing him earlier. She smiled a little, hesitantly, and cocked her head to the side.
“Rilla,” he started after a moment, and she fought to mask not only her surprise that he knew her name but how delightful it seemed to sound when he said it, “may I now ask you a question?”
“You may, but I might not answer,” she replied with a quirky smile.
“Why do you dye your hair that color?”
Grinning, Rilla twirled a curl around her finger. “I usually stare blankly at people and tell them it’s natural when asked about my hair. However, I’ve had a few drinks and I’m feeling magnanimous, so I’ll indulge you. I dye my hair this color because it’s pretty, and because I can.”
Marius grinned in return, and Rilla could hear Karin giggle again though she didn’t look in her friend’s direction. “You’re right, it is pretty,” Marius said after a moment. “I was just wondering if there was more to it than that.”
Rilla shook her head. “No, I’m just shallow. I like pretty things.”
Choking on his drink, Chris set the glass down and laughed. “You’re anything but shallow. Which I’m guessing is why you said it.”
Turning towards Chris, she gave him the same soft smile she had earlier, and made a mental note to endeavor to stop calling him a whore all the time. She wasn’t sure where this new attitude of his had come from. Granted, he had always been nice to her, but it felt very much like he was on her side in a manner that was both touching and completely unexpected.
“You dye your eyebrows to match your hair,” Karin observed, and Marilla nodded. However, Karin wasn’t done. “Do you dye anything else to make sure it matches?”
Rilla managed not to spit her drink and turned a gaze that could have frozen lava on Karin, who just grinned a little fiendishly with a decided sparkle in her eye. Chris couldn’t help laughing, and neither could Marius though the boys both had the courtesy to at least turn their heads.
“That’s privileged information,” Rilla managed after a moment.
“And how does one become privileged,” Karin asked, apparently not having learned her lesson.
Rilla smirked. “An intense series of trials that are not for the faint of heart.”
“That’s a touch poetic,” Chris said with a grin as he set down an empty glass. He motioned for the waitress and ordered a coffee before looking back to the conversation. “Rilla, are you perhaps a bit of a romantic?”
Turning pink, Rilla shot Chris another glare. “Oh, Sherlock Holmes. However did you figure that one out? Look, I’m quite sure no one at this table is interested in my ideal relationship dynamics, so can we move on to something else?”
There was a touch of vehemence in her tone, and faint traces of bitterness. Rilla bit her tongue and mentally cursed herself for drinking as much as she had. Chris held up his hands and apologized, not really sensing the nerve he had struck. Karin looked a little confused. A quick flick of her eyes in Marius’s direction revealed that his face had gone a touch still, and his eyes were thoughtful. She had no idea what this meant, and focused on stifling her embarrassment as the waitress returned with Chris’s coffee.
“I should probably get going,” Rilla said after a moment, picking her head up with a smile. “I do have to work tomorrow. I don’t want to make anyone rush off, though, so I’ll just call a cab.”
Shaking his head, Marius motioned for the waitress. “Nonsense. I’ll give you a lift home. After all, I imagine our plans to go out are what robbed you of your transportation to begin with.”
A strange rush of trepidation mixed with a small amount of hope flashed through Rilla, and she viciously told the hope to go soak its head. Karin seemed equally surprised by the offer, and glance from Rilla to Marius and back again. Chris, however, didn’t seem surprised at all.
“You really don’t have to,” Rilla said after a moment. “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.”
Marius smiled in that manner that make hearts flutter. “I insist, and it won’t be at all inconvenient.”
A little at a loss and wishing she was less excited by the prospect of being alone with him, Rilla simply smiled and thanked him. The waitress came by, and the tab got settled, with minimal argument. Rilla fought down her growing sense of confusion as Marius, ever the gentleman, came around to help her with her coat and carry her costume bag. Rising to her feet, she exchanged brief looks of cluelessness with Karin, then smiled brightly and said a quick goodbye before allowing Marius to escort her out.
“Actually, if you want to wait a minute, I’ll bring the car around,” Marius said as they reached the door. “I’m not far, but it’s pretty cold out.”
Rilla was prepared to protest, but an evening of wearing higher heels than she was completely comfortable with was choosing to catch up with her. “Well, if it’s not too much trouble –“
Smiling reassuringly, Marius set her bag down. “None at all. I’ll be right back.”
Quiet and a touch awkward, Rilla watched him run out the door and around the corner. She checked her hair, smoothed her dress, and then sighed and called herself an idiot for bothering. She didn’t have long to fester in her embarrassment though as Marius pulled up in front of the place relatively quickly. Fetching her bag, she stepped outside as he hopped out of the car to come around and open the door for her, taking her bag and putting it in the trunk.
It was an awfully nice car. Rilla didn’t know much about luxury vehicles, but it was sleek looking with two doors and she was willing to bet it went very fast if given the opportunity. Rilla leaned back into the heated seats with an almost blissful sigh as Marius pulled away from the curb and turned down the street.
“So where am I going,” Marius asked as they paused at the light, and Rilla found herself turning pink again.
“Ah, yes, sorry. You want to head to Fremont.”
Nodding, Marius turned left instead of right, and they rode in silence for a moment. Rilla felt ridiculous and awkward and rather in touch with her twelve-year-old self. More so than she ever wanted to be after leaving the age of twelve. The silence stretched for another moment and it occurred to her that exhaustion was hampering her communication skills just as much as shyness and alcohol. The heated seats were amazingly comfortable, and the drowsiness that had been held at bay for so long began to seep into her slowly but with certainty.
“Rilla,” Marius began just as she was about to nod off, “do you think you might be interested in dinner on Friday.”
That woke her up. “Friday? Dinner? I – I don’t think I have any plans. I’d be happy to.”
“Good,” Marius said and glanced at her briefly while endeavoring to mostly keep his eyes on the road. “Would seven be all right?”
Fiddling nervously with her hair, she nodded then realized he wouldn’t be able to see. “Seven is fine. Oh, turn right here and then left at the second light.”
Following the directions, Marius got her to the house in record time. Putting the car in park, he hopped out and came around to open her door again, also retrieving her bag from the trunk. Rilla bit her lip as she accepted his hand to help her out of the car, and they stood rather closer to each other for a moment before he released her hand and gently returned her bag.
“I look forward to seeing you on Friday,” Marius said in a voice that was soft and quite genuine.
Smiling softly, Rilla nodded. “I look forward to it as well.”
Fishing into his jacket for a moment, Marius withdrew a business card and handed it to her. “Here. This has my cell phone and email, so if anything comes up by all means call me and we’ll reschedule.”
“Thank you,” Rilla replied, taking the card and tucking it away. Taking another breath, she then turned away and stepped quickly up to the front door as she heard him close the car door and move back to the driver’s side. Getting the door unlocked, she glanced back over her shoulder to see him still there, making sure she got inside unmolested. Smiling again, the slipped inside and closed the door, listening as the car drove away. Pulling out his card, she examined it in the light.
“Marius Tamarelle,” she read aloud. “Naval Historian and Consultant.”
She stood in the silence of the foyer for a moment, continuing to stare at the card. Leaning back against the door she sighed, and reached up to turn the deadbolt. If Karin made it home tonight, she would have her own key. Tucking the card away again, she picked up her bag and headed up the stairs, doing her best to move quietly as she knew most of her fellow boarders would be sleeping already, or at least trying to.
Once up the stairs, Rilla ducked quickly into her room and gently closed the door behind her. Dropping the bag by the door, she resolved to put everything away after work the next day and kicked her shoes off in the direction of her wardrobe. Pulling the card out again, she moved over to her dresser and set it down, sighing.
“Marius Tamarelle,” she murmured into the empty room. “What in the devil do you want with me?”