Tarin turned and flopped onto his bed, shoving his books out of the way.
“Your chemistry project is due in three days,” Tarin warned Jabril.
Jabril shrugged. “I know. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
Tarin watched his friend and roommate carefully, noting that Jabril didn’t look as if he were going to do anything about the chemistry project any time soon.
“Why don’t you analyze the chemical makeup of tears,” Tarin suggestion, picking up his chemistry book and flipping to the next chapter.
The elite boarding school was tough and they all had to study hard to keep up. In fact, Tarin was only one of several children of various world leaders attending this boarding school. Jabril was heir to the neighboring country and, although Tarin had been prepared to hate Jabril, the guy wasn’t a jerk. In fact, against all odds, they were friends. Go figure! Their countries had been fighting for years, but now Tarin was sharing a dorm room with the enemy-turned-friend. They stayed up late most nights, studying and talking, laughing and debating all of the issues that faced their countries.
The silence was loud and he turned his head, laughing when he caught Jabril’s horrified expression.
“The chemical makeup of tears?” Jabril mocked.
Tarin laughed. “What? The makeup of tears after crying versus while cutting onions is different.”
Jabril rolled his eyes and sighed.
Tarin leaned back against the rough, wooden headboard. They might be future world leaders, princes and aristocrats, but the school didn’t spend a great deal of money on dorm room furnishings.
Shoving a stack of books to another place on his bed, he looked at his textbook as he answered Jabril’s unspoken question. “Hey, don’t judge. You’re the one who hasn’t even started your project.”
There was a commotion outside their doorway and both teenagers looked up. A moment later, Jabril jumped up from his bed, standing as if he were poised for something dangerous.
“Jabril!” a beautiful woman in her mid-forties stepped through the room.
“Mom!” Jabril exclaimed and Tarin chuckled, but stood up as well out of respect.
The woman pulled back, putting a hand on her son’s cheeks and Tarin smothered a laugh. Jabril hated these kinds of motherly gestures, but put up with them because he loved his mom so much. But before he could snort or make some other noise, another girl stepped through the doorway. She was young, maybe about five or six years old with dark hair and huge, startlingly beautiful eyes.
Immediately, Jabril accepted the girl’s hug, then turned. “Tarin, this is my sister, Princess Zuri. Zuri, this is Prince Tarin bin Linar of Catare,” Jabril formally introduced them. He didn’t bother introducing his mother, since Tarin had met her several times in the past.
But turning to the little girl, he took her hand politely. “It is a pleasure, Princess Zuri,” he replied.
Jabril chuckled, slinging an arm around his mother’s shoulders. “What do you think, Mom?” he teased, winking down at his little sister. “Should we betroth them now or later?”
Jabril’s sister snorted, then turned to glare up at Tarin.
But it wasn’t the little girl’s reaction that caught his attention. It was Jabril’s mother’s! “That’s not a bad idea!” she laughed. “In fact, a union between the two countries would be…”
“I’m kidding, Mom!” Jabril stepped back, his hands in the air, trying to halt the progress of her comment. “Totally kidding!”
His mother laughed and kissed Jabril’s cheek again. “I know that, dear.” She sighed and turned to hug Tarin. “You’re a good boy, Prince Tarin!” She moved back, placing a hand on the little girl’s shoulder. “But there is no way I would betroth this little tormentor to even my worst enemy!”
Tarin smiled politely, but his gut tightened for some odd reason. Looking down at the girl, he wondered what she was thinking. She was cute and he predicted she would grow into a true beauty, but to be spoken about in that manner? That was harsh!
Seven year old Zuri stared up at her brother’s friend. He was just as big as Jabril, but there was something in his eyes that…the look told her that the boy was nice. She stayed back, shy for some reason she couldn’t explain. Her mother was saying something to Jabril, but Zuri couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away from the other boy. Tarin? Or was it Turin? Zuri wasn’t sure, but she needed to know. She didn’t understand the urgency, but…her eyes watched, waiting for someone to say his name again.
And then she heard those horrible words! “Betrothed” and “Tormentor”. Huh? Why would they say that? Then she looked up and found the handsome boy staring down at her. Betrothed to him? To Tarin? Oh, please, that would be so…!
Zuri stopped, looking up at him, wishing she could hide behind her mother’s wool skirt. The boy was staring right back at her, an odd look in his eyes, and she wanted to apologize. But for what? For her mother’s ridiculous suggestion? Or maybe apologize because she was only seven years old?
Or because, for the first time since her parents had started discussing who she would marry, Zuri wanted this boy to be ‘the one’. Why, she couldn’t really explain, but there was something about this boy that just…called to here in a strange way.
He was nice, that was all, she told herself later as she climbed into the limousine that would take them all to dinner. She sat on the opposite side, pushing her frilly dress down over her knees. She’d scraped her knee yesterday while climbing down off of her pony. Unfortunately, her dress was too short to cover the ugly scrape. Zuri glanced over at the boy, wondering if he’d seen the scrape.
Of course he’d seen it, she berated herself mentally. Hard to miss, since her knee was such an ugly mess right now.
Wanting to impress the boy, she sat very still, trying hard to remember all of the rules her mother had been trying to teach her about etiquette over the years. Be still. Be polite. Be courteous. And be silent. That last one was the hardest to follow. She wanted to curl up so that she was on her knees, making herself seem taller. She wanted to ask questions and participate in the conversation, even though she had no idea what they were discussing. Something about tears? Onions versus sadness versus happiness? Sounded very complicated to Zuri! But that only increased her interest in the big man!
Jabril looked at her strangely during dinner and it took all of her concentration not to stick her tongue out at him. She was trying to look older and more sophisticated. But no way would she tell Jabril that. He’d tell Tarin and she’d never get to see the handsome boy again.
Goodness, this “being good” stuff was hard!