At least Divine knew why the house served enough food to feed an entire city. Several people descended on that food-topped table.
Blae smacked his back. Divine jerked forward. Divine hadn’t noticed he stopped at the door. He walked in. His gaze found Royal. It was so easy. He didn’t search. His eyes knew where she was. She stood on the other side of the room, away from people.
“I wonder if she always looks like someone insulted her,” Blae said following Divine’s gaze.
“Most of the time,” Divine responded.
It was true. How did he know that? He didn’t need any more unexplained things.
Blae wasn’t helping. Blae meandered towards the table and gently pushed the crowd away from the plates. Divine followed. Royal shifted from one leg to the other. She tried to tuck a loose strand of white hair behind her ear. She sipped from her mug. Damn the Darkness, he needed to get her out of his head. He wasn’t looking at her and knew every little move she made.
The others acted like he and Blae had been with them for days.
Blae tapped the shoulder of the male leaning over the chair to get sausage.
“What’s on the schedule for today?”
“A couple of workshops on finding your bonded partner and I’m giving a presentation on managing personal finances.” The man smiled and walked away.
“Sounds like some sort of personal retreat.” Blae turned to Divine. “Does stuff like that exist?”
Divine shrugged. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“Sounds like a load a night soil.”
Divine choked on his orange juice. He didn’t know what that meant, but it must be bad. He sat down.
“So,” Blae said smiling.
Divine didn’t like that smile. Blae was about to say something annoying.
“Since you aren’t in any hurry to return home, I’m assuming you don’t have a job. Since we are kind of similar, I’m assuming the reason you don’t have a job is entertaining.”
Divine could’ve strangled him.
“What is it you’re asking?” Divine stretched his mouth in a fake smile.
Blae merely stuffed battercakes into his mouth.
How could one person be so entertaining and so exhausting?
“People contacted me when they wanted to build elaborate housing complexes or turn a mansion into expensive apartments. A few times, some moron wanted me to build a one-family mansion in an impractical location.” Divine said. “This curvy female, I never knew her name, always came to work wearing tight, low-cut clothing. She acted like all men weren’t drooling over her. I never cared about her. Every day, men talked about all the dirty things they would do to her. She walked around oblivious to all this. It was annoying.”
Divine ate eggs as he let the pieces fall together. He never told this story. He still didn’t know why he said those things to her. He knew all the whispering and eye batting were getting on his nerves.
“It was cold and raining one morning. By the time I arrived at work, I was wet and well passed annoyed. Men were gathered around a desk, whispering while glancing at her. She wore a short skirt with bare legs and a thin shirt with a steep neckline in the middle of a De’Ray winter. I walked to her and said, ‘If you’re going to exhibit the goods, you should at least charge admission for it’.”
Blae choked on his coffee. Royal covered her mouth, coughing as if something had gone down wrong. She was listening. How was that possible? Too many questions, too many impossible things.
“What happened?” Blae asked.
Divine didn’t want to finish this story. He wanted to go back to his miserable life where all he had were simple questions.
“If you leave it hanging like that I’ll beat your skull in,” Blae threatened.
His dangerous voice shook off Divine’s hostile feelings. He liked Blae more than he wanted to. If nothing else, this unwanted trip had given him two friends.
“She blushed,” Divine continued. “The men looked at me as though I’d grown a horn. I walked to my office and started working. Later I was talking to the assistant about some file I wanted when that woman called me to the conference room on the pretense of discussing some project. When we were alone, she pounced—”
The sound of glass shattering rose above the chatter. Royal had gripped her mug so hard it broke. She shared his anger. It warmed his chest. It shouldn’t please him. How could she hear him? Why did she care?
“What did you do?” Blae asked.
“I wanted to peel her skin off for touching me,” Divine felt Royal’s pleasure at those words. “Instead, I politely extracted myself from her and took a long lunch. When I returned, my boss called me into the office. The woman claimed I assaulted her. I knew things about both of them, which I was more than happy to reveal if they wrote down I was let go for assaulting someone. I lost my job. On paper, it says the agency ran out of kroll to pay me.”
His plate was empty. Divine was still hungry. He got more food. Blae did the same.
“How do you get materials for houses?” Blae asked. “I heard most cities stopped building houses years ago. My hometown, Korleen, has problems with overcrowding. Aliceanna and I grew up in a house with three other families. The place was barely large enough for two. In school, three children shared one desk. Some worked on the floor. Most Korleens lived on the street.”
Divine nodded. That was why wealthy people and businesses called him.
“Most of my clients spent kroll tearing down old houses or squeezing new buildings into tight places. There’s no law against it. I just charge them more. The materials have to be imported. Fortunately, the Walls don’t block the ocean. Ships can safely come and go from our ports. I went to university in Ena, T’sya and made contacts across the province. I know who to contact when I need materials.”
Blae cut his eyes at Divine.
“In a world where cross-province interactions are loaded with threats and shady deals, you managed to study in T’sya and live?” Blae asked.
Managed was overreaching. Divine had been thrown in jail at least once a month for absurd offenses like staring at someone too long. He was robbed so often he had to hide everything of value. Finding simple books turned into a treasure hunt. He suffered through six years of bullying. The ship ride to and from T’sya still gave him nightmares. His home school paid for his study abroad only because they wanted him to steal useful information and supplies from T’sya. His overseas university knew why he was there. Students across the world were sent to other provinces for the same reason.
Damn the Darkness that was hell. He was tortured once of month by Authorities. He spent most of his funds on acquiring technology and medicine then smuggling them out of the province.
For what? The contacts he made across T’sya were responsible for his comfortable lifestyle. He made 300,000 kroll a year, well above the average wages. Did that matter now, stuck in this mansion?
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