I closed my eyes long enough to envision the shimmering golden veil that would lead her to Summerland, the bridge, and the world just beyond where she would join Theocoles.
And once that was done, once I waved her right through, I set off on my own journey—crossing the room to where Dacian stood.
The moment I stood before Dacian, the first thing I thought was: Wow, he’s changed even more than I thought!
The second thing was: But he’s still cute. Like, super, bigtime cute—and he looks to be my age as well—what a relief!
So what if he wasn’t as confident?
So what if he wasn’t nearly as noble and old-fashioned as he was when I met him?
I, for one, was glad when instead of taking my hand and bowing to kiss it—he just gave a little wave and said, “Hey.”
But that’s probably because he wasn’t really the son of a Roman senator who hung around the last several centuries unwilling to let go of his old life. That was just a role he’d found himself playing.
Turns out, he was a Soul Catcher like me.
“Seriously?” I could hardly believe it, could hardly contain my excitement. I didn’t know any other Soul Catchers beside Bodhi, and I couldn’t help but be thrilled by the news, knowing it gave us something in common.
He nodded in a way that caused his hair to fall into his eyes, looking more than a little embarrassed to admit it. “Did you really believe I was a bona fide toga wearer?”
I nodded, laughing when I said, “Yeah, or at least at first anyway. Later I decided you were a fake.”
He squinted, unsure what to make of that.
“You know how Messalina manifested all of those party guests? Well, I thought you were one of them. I thought you were soulless. I was sure she whipped you into existence just to keep me occupied.” I shrugged. “Anyway, how long were you stuck?”
He sighed, looked away, shoved his hands deep into his pockets, and said, “A really, really long time. Or at least it feels that way, it’s hard to be sure.”
“And, what was it that unstuck you?” I asked. I hadn’t seen it happen, and I truly was curious.
Had the world been dissolved when Theocoles and Messalina left it—or did it continue? Were other Soul Catchers still roaming around that sad, horrible place, lost in a long-ago past? Now that I’d completed my mission, I may never know.
My thoughts interrupted by the sound of him saying, “You.”
I cocked my head, thinking surely I hadn’t heard him quite right.
But before he had a chance to repeat it, Bodhi joined us and said, “A bunch of us are going for gondola rides, you guys interested?”
I looked at Dacian and he looked at me, the two of us blurting, “Okay!” at the exact same time, in the exact same way, and we couldn’t help but burst out in laughter.
Bodhi glanced between, his eyes containing a glint of something I couldn’t quite read. “Great,” he said. “You guys can share with us, the gondola should easily fit five, including Buttercup.”
And though I was still excited by the idea of a gondola ride, I couldn’t help but stare at him with suspicion.
Bodhi never wanted to spend time with me.
In fact, it was more like the opposite. He was always trying to ditch me so he could be with his girlfriend. And with my birthday party winding down, I had a hard time believing that he really wanted to hang around with me, and Dacian, and my dog, when he could be exploring one of the most romantic cities in the world with Jasmine.
“I just thought it would be fun,” Bodhi said, his hand waving before him, reacting to the skeptical look on my face when he added, “But, maybe not. No worries, we’ll just grab our own.”
He turned, started to leave, when a new thought occurred to me: Maybe Bodhi wasn’t trying to supervise me, spy on me, or keep tabs on me. Maybe he was just trying to be friendly, get to know me, spend a little time outside of Soul Catching to have a little fun, now that I was a teenager and we were closer in age. Maybe I’d gotten so used to not having friends, I didn’t know how to act when I did.
“Wait!” I stepped forward, grabbed ahold of his sleeve. “I’d love to share with you guys—I think it sounds fun.” I nodded, anxious for him to know that I meant what I said.
Turning to Dacian, making sure it was okay with him, a flush of heat rising to my cheeks when he nodded, grasped my hand in his, and laced our fingers loosely together.