4.3: Hospitality is King

Three days later, and I was losing hope.

c-8

I put on a brave face, I worked on my homemaking skills, I was doing everything I could do to distract myself. I’d been at the bakery 75% of the last three days, just trying to avoid thinking about my absent, hopeful-beau.

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Janelle: “…Wait, is someone in the other room? I thought I was home alone.”

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Janelle: “Derek? What—“

Derek: “Goodness, woman, you caught me off-guard.”

c-18

Derek: “You know, from as lovely a lady as I met the other day, I expected a far more gracious welcome.”

Janelle: “I’m—I’m so sorry, I—I’m sure you let someone know you were coming, but they failed to inform me.”

Derek: “I spoke to your mother. Not whom I expected to be addressing, but she informed me that she’d let you know of my arrival.”

c-19

Janelle: “She rarely does as she says. I apologize on her behalf, and on mine. How long have you been sitting here?”

Derek: “Not terribly long. I’m not a patient man, Janelle. You should know that.”

Janelle: “I never expected you to be. Please believe me, this won’t happen again.”

c-20

Derek: “I hope that’s the case. I’d hate to have to look poorly on such a beautiful face.”

Janelle: *blush*

Derek: “Now, as to why I’m here.”

c-21

Derek: “I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t still stirred by that man that accosted you the other day. I’ve had him reported to my security team, so if you’d care to resume walking your regular route, you won’t have need to worry about him.”

Janelle: “How gentlemanly of you.”

Derek: “I’d do no less for any of my ladies.”

Ah. That seemed a bit pointed.

c-22

Janelle: “You have… many ladies?”

Derek: “A few.”

Derek: “You seem unsettled by that. You’d expect something less from a man of my status?”

Janelle: “Certainly not. Indeed, I’d be disappointed if it were not the case. You wouldn’t be half the man I think you are if you were ill-liked.”

c-30

Janelle: “And I wouldn’t be half the woman I know I am if I weren’t up to a challenge.”

I didn’t say it loudly, but I’m quite certain he heard me. And though he seemed a little taken aback by my forwardness, he didn’t seem to mind it. Or maybe he was just laughing at me, or entertained by my lack of class. It was sure to be a change of pace from his usual interactions.

I needed to reign it back. Like, really reign it back. Alexia would be ashamed of me. But it’s not like the comment about other women didn’t bother me. It was a little weird, that he should just come right out with it. It didn’t give the impression of a proper, husband-worthy gentleman. Maybe that’s because he didn’t consider me wife material? Or maybe he was just being honest?

Could I be with a non-committal man? Could I marry one?

Honestly? Yes. I knew enough from Alexia’s stories that unfaithful men weren’t uncommon among the aristocracy. As long as he stayed discreet?

c-31

Derek: “You certainly do stand out as compared to those women, Janelle. For the most part, I’ve always found them a bit dull.”

Janelle: “Really? I’m sure that’s not the case. They likely just want to impress you.”

Derek: “By being placid, playing at unintelligence? Those are hardly admirable qualities.”

c-32

Janelle: “True. I’ve hardly interacted with them anyhow, I’m sure you know best.”

Derek: “That I do.”

Derek: “In case you’re wondering, while intelligence is attractive, the ability to concede defeat is more so.”

Janelle: “Oh… good.”

Derek wasn’t at all what I expected. I mean, I had obviously met him on the street before, but that had been under strange circumstances. He had come to my rescue; we hadn’t exactly been sitting down to talk.

Now, though, it was like a whirlwind of information coming at me. Alexia had told me about the way people spoke in her world—in Derek’s world. How everything was like tennis, or golf, or something even more complicated. A game. So when Derek spoke, all bold and flirtatious, it was a battle to figure out whether it was an invitation of my own boldness, or a test.

But everything was a test. That’s one thing to know about higher society—everything is a test.

This wasn’t the time to be bold. This was the time to be subtle.

c-33

Derek: “Truth be told, I was surprised to find that a woman of your elegance lived in a home like… this. It isn’t what I expected.”

Janelle: “Not by my own choice, I assure you. My mother has… her own taste. My brothers are working with architects now, planning to start renovations.”

Of course, that wasn’t the case—I was in correspondence with architects, my brothers none the wiser. I was sure they would disapprove.

c-34

Derek: “Is that right. And your family has the resources for such an endeavor?”

Janelle: “I’d hate to think, Derek, that you doubted my family’s resources. How is a lady meant to take such a question?”

Derek: “My apologies, I simply meant—“

Janelle: “I know what you meant, and no harm was done. I assure you, we have the resources. My grandmother was a well-renowned concert violinist in her time, and my great-grandmother a prolific author.”

That was a little abrupt. Take it easy, Janelle. He’s an ally—your only ally, your only chance. Don’t mess it up over a bruised pride; especially when you know he’s correct.

c-35

Derek: “So, you’re renovating. Have you seen the plans?”

Janelle: “Some of them, and I’ve been assured that they’ll be lovely. I should hope so, as we break ground in about a week.”

Janelle: “We’ll actually be—well, I’ll actually be—hosting a dinner party, sort of a goodbye to this ramshackle mess, just before. You should join us. I’m sure you know some of the guest list already. The Villareals? The Goths?”

Derek: “Is that right? Well, I’m quite a busy man, but I’ll check my schedule. I’ll see if I can stop by.”

Oh, Creator, what did that mean? Was that a yes? Was that a no? Was that a maybe-leaning-yes? A maybe-leaning-no?

There were too many layers to our conversation. I could barely keep up. While after meeting him in front of his house, I had felt swept away by tender emotions, now I simply felt swept up and without my footing.

c-43

Luckily, Derek had an appointment across town—he had only meant to stop by for a quick visit, and instead we had conversed for hours. It gave me a moment to catch my breath, before immediately beginning to plan for a party that I had only just conceived, and now had to convince the crème de la crème to attend.

c-44

Should be pretty easy.

c-45

The day of the party came far sooner than I had anticipated, though not without some welcome. I had not spoken to Derek since his untimely visit, and though I was mostly unconcerned about how I measured up against his other women, given his commentary to me, it still left me feeling a bit like I was up against the world. There would be many battles to fight in order to fully seduce him. Especially since he really didn’t seem like he would be eager to pop the question anytime soon—despite his solid career, he seemed more like a party boy and a man about town than a homebody husband. He’d need a little work and a lot of time.

Much like our yard, perhaps, though in the reverse. A lot of work, done in a miraculously short amount of time, had turned it into a lovely outdoor party space. The pavilion was magnificent, the antique furnishings divine, and it was quite a coup, I think, that I managed to scrounge up my grandmother Janie’s piano out of the basement. It all looked rather grand. And it had Alexia’s stamp of approval, so I was all in all pleased.

c-46

Janelle: “Derek! I’m so glad you could make it. All our guests are still arriving, but I’d much rather get some time to speak to you before I’m ushered away by the duties of a hostess.”

Derek: “I’d hate to think that I was taking time away from your other guests. Then again, perhaps I’m glad of it. I wouldn’t want them getting too much of your time when I’d rather it all be mine.”

He was just as bold as the other day, but this time I was ready for it. Rather than unseating me, it floored me, sent flurries of excitement through my veins. In my floor length gown and glam makeup, it was like I was dressed for war, and the games of conversation that Derek and I had just embarked on were far more thrilling than they were terrifying. The challenge was part of the glory of it all.

It wouldn’t be any fun if it were easy, after all.

c-47

Derek: “I see your mother is in attendance. She looks lovely.”

Janelle: “Oh, yes, she often goes where she pleases.”

Derek: “And your brothers? They’re quite dapper in their tuxes.”

Janelle: “Oh, yes, they were excited for the occasion. New suits and all.”

c-50

Derek: “And you…”

Janelle: “And me?”

c-51

Derek: “That thought will have to wait for later, my dear. Your other guests are arriving.”

Poo. Other guests be damned. Why did I invite them anyway? Oh, right, because this was meant to be a clever ruse, not merely a way to gain myself a chunk of Derek’s time. Plus, it was meant to highlight my expert abilities as a socialite. That, perhaps, were not quite so expert, given that they were widely untested—they were, however, well-studied. Alexia was certain of that.

c-67

Janelle: “I hope everyone is enjoying the evening.”

Lisa: “I certainly am, dear. This is a lovely party. An elegant goodbye to an inelegant home—hopefully it foreshadows the home to come.”

B: “Excuse you, lady, but—“

Janelle: “Please, Lisa, pardon my mother. Your well-wishes are appreciated, and I dearly hope for the same.”

c-71

Janelle: “Well, I think this is going rather… Mother?”

Of course. Of course my mother had to come up with a way to ruin my evening. It had been going so well, too. I had ensured that Leolin stuck close to Derek’s side all evening, so that Lisa Villareal might not slip too near to his attention, and Derek seemed to be rather enjoying himself regardless. The Villareals and the Goths had not sniped at each other more than five separate occasions, and that was quite the score considering their recent history at the time (oh yes, darling, didn’t I tell you? The one time those families try to forge an alliance through marriage, the younger sister of Lisa to the Goth heir, Marco, Lisa runs off with her high school beau to Oasis Springs, of all places, and leaves her husband to take care of their newly born child). Anyway, everything was going well, and Derek seemed impressed, even, until my mother attempted, as she inevitably and always did, to make the whole event about herself.

She went and got herself abducted.

c-73

c-74

To be fair, she was likely just called up for a chat with Leo’s relatives—they decided to bring her up every now and again, to check how things were going down below—but did she have to go now? In the middle of the bloody party? How selfish of her. She always pulled stunts like that, Jane Anne.

It wasn’t so much of a problem that she got abducted in the first place. Rather, it was when she chose to return that caused problems.

c-75

Derek: “Does your mother get abducted… often?”

Janelle: “Not often, per se, but it’s not her first time. Par for the course of being married to an alien, you see. I’m sure Leolin will be pulled up there sometime soon as well—they’re his blood relatives, after all.”

Derek: “So, we’re not worried?”

Janelle: “I’m not, no.”

Derek: “And you won’t be abducted?”

Janelle: “Quite unlikely. I’m rather mundane compared to my mother and step-father. They don’t tend to do things traditionally, and it invites unsavory attention. I, on the other hand…”

c-79

Derek: “Oh, my dear, you are anything but mundane.”

Derek: “That being said, I am glad I won’t have to worry that some alien gentleman is going to steal you away from me.”

Janelle: “As if anything could steal me away from you. I may be a lady, but I don’t yield to those who get in the way of what I want.”

c-80

Derek: “A lady, you say? You could have fooled me. I’ve never yet been addressed with such boldness by a proper lady.”

Janelle: “Perhaps you’ve spoken only to the wrong sort of ladies, then. I find that those who shy overmuch from boldness are quite boring, don’t you? There is a time to be subtle and demure.”

Derek: “And there is a time to be direct? Bold? Fascinating?”

Janelle: “Precisely. “

Derek: “I think I am quite glad that you are not a bore, Miss Janelle.”

c-84

Derek: “May I? It’s not what a lady would do.”

Janelle: “But I do not think, sir, that a gentleman would tease and fail to follow through. Don’t let me down now.”

And, of course, Mother chose that moment to return.

c-83

He had been on the verge of kissing me. Halfway through the motion. But mother distracted him, I think, the sudden swoosh of her landing behind us, and we still kissed, but it was far more the case that I kissed him than that he kissed me. And that really was not what a lady would do, even a direct and bold and fascinating lady. That’s what a plebian would do. What someone like my mother would do.

c-85

Derek: “Thank you for the lovely evening, Janelle. I have thoroughly enjoyed it, but I really must be going.”

Janelle: “Thank you ever so much for attending, Derek.”

c-88

And Derek, I was certain, thought just that.

c-98

The kiss hadn’t even been that good. It had been okay, sure, as far as kisses went, but there were no sparks. There was no chemistry. How could there be, when both parties were only half invested in what was happening with their mouths? It’s hard to have sparks between lips when the sparks of a tractor beam are going off behind you.

Derek, despite his non-committal nature, was thoroughly a romantic. Of that I was sure. Chemistry was of utmost importance to him, even beyond finding someone who he perceived as “appropriate wife material.”

I had, I was sure, thoroughly blown it.

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