“I come bearing an extraordinary gift for everyone,” Ellie announced in full “Elspeth” mode. “I hope you accept my tokens of affection for you. Unfortunately, they’re nowhere near as lovely as all of you here today. I tried my best to find something that would rival all of your beauties, but that proved to be an impossible task so I hope you’ll forgive me for falling short.”
Zinnia Trotter couldn’t let her inner-cringe bleed onto her face. She had to keep her cringing to herself. Her teeth ground her bottom lip as she did her best not to comment.
Ellie, of course, had failed to mention what she was going to do for her grand entrance to the social. Originally, she was just going to show up a little bit before everyone else and greet them in a normal, amicable manner. While what she was doing was amicable alright, it also made Zinnia want to roll her eyes so hard that they’d fall out of her skull.
Ellie had shown up with a bouquet of flowers bigger than her head. She handed them out to each guest one at a time. The sequence went as follows: stand before a girl, lean in, compliment her, and then present her with a flower. For some of them, Ellie would go as far as planting a kiss to the back of her hand. Ellie was working the crowd in a way that Zinnia had never seen her do before and, frankly, never wanted to see again.
Every girl was beautiful, a gift from the stars. Ellie made that clear to each one of them. She spewed poetry and overwrought lines admiring their figures. The lines got worse as she went on. Sometimes, she even illustrated her points through gestures. Yes, it wasn’t enough to see that a guest had a nice waist. Ellie had to trace it all while heaping on her admiration for the feminine form.
Zinnia couldn’t help but liken the whole thing to a swineherder examining his pens and appraising the swine within.
One of the girls clunked to the ground. Ellie stood over her, her arms empty. She’d tried to dip the girl low, like one of those partner-leaning dance moves, but she’d failed. Her arms were too weak to bear the other girl’s weight, hence the clunking that probably wrecked that girl’s back. No one stepped in to help her up, possibly for fear of embarrassing Ellie.
The guards standing at the door started clapping. The servers caught on and started clapping, as well. And soon, everyone was applauding what wasn’t a performance but a blunder. Ellie blew kisses at the girls. The dropped girl finally got back up, giggling about the whole thing and holding the back of her head.
“This can’t be serious,” Zinnia said.
“It’s rather kind of her to do,” Wilhelm said. “I never thought of her as being the charming sort, but I think it’s working for her.”
Ellie took her time dazzling her guests. Thankfully, she didn’t attempt to dip any more of them. She opted for holding their hand and twirling them in place, like they were music box girls. A fine curtsy from the spun guest, then Ellie wuld be on to next with a flower and a line ripped from a romance novel. It wasn’t like it was a terrible way to say hello to everyone; it was just gag-inducing from its over-the-topness.
Eventually, she made her way over to Wilhelm and Zinnia. She presented them with the last two flowers she had.
“Thank you for attending,” Ellie said. She kept it short and simple.
“You’re not going to dazzle us with one of your speeches?” Wilhelm asked.
“I’ll pass on that,” Zinnia said. She brought the colorful flower to her face and sniffed it. The scent was cloyingly overpowered, like someone had dunked it into a perfume bottle. She wouldn’t have been surprised if Ellie had arranged something as ludicrous as that. “The flower wasn’t special enough on its own?”
“It needed more pizzazz,” Ellie answered. “Are you guys enjoying yourselves so far?”
“Be careful not to enjoy yourself too much. I think you’re laying things on too thickly,” Zinnia warned her. “Try not to get carried away.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You have to be mindful of the way you come off tonight. You can’t give people special treatment or they’re going to get the wrong idea.”
Wilhelm inserted himself into the middle of Zinnia’s lecture. “I don’t see anything wrong about what she’s doing. I like her personable approach.”
Ellie smiled as sweetly as the flowers. “Thank you, cousin.” To Zinnia she said, “I don’t think you’re aware of the nuances of gatherings like these. They require a level of sociability.”
“And a level of tact. You dropped someone to the floor,” she replied.
“Everyone clapped about it. She was okay.” Ellie shrugged. “I think you’re exaggerating how big of a deal this is. You’re getting worked up for no reason. Relax your shoulders, laugh a little, and start meeting people. You shouldn’t stay in one place all night.”
“I can’t relax. I’m supposed to—” Zinnia thought better of what to say. “I just want to make sure that nothing happens tonight that anyone’s going to regret. This feels like a bad beginning to a series of unfortunate events.” She patted Ellie’s shoulder. “You need to keep a hold of yourself. Think with your head.”
“Oh, Zinnia. You wound me. You’re always thinking I’m going to do the worst things. Why don’t you try thinking the opposite for a change?” Ellie asked.
Glass shattered near the front entrance. A man had stumbled against a server, knocking the drink tray out of his hand. The server scrambled to pick up the glass shard. Zinnia heard some of the guests scream, but her attention was focused squarely on the man who had wandered in and caused the crash.
His clothing indicated that he was a guardsman.
The knife sticking out of his chest indicated something had gone wrong outside.
Zinnia put her arm around Ellie. Wilhelm moved to Ellie’s other side.
“Hide behind the counter,” he said.
“Let go of me,” Ellie said, squirming to free herself.
“No one moves,” the stabbed man called out with a surprising amount of strength for someone suffering from a chest wound. No struggles for air, no gasping of any kind. “It’s the bandits! They’re coming.”
The other two guardsmen that were already in the room threw up their hands. “Bandits! What are we going to do?” One of them asked in a terribly exaggerated manner. The other one started making motions with his hands to herd the groups of guests against the back wall. Guests huddled together out of fear, torn between following one guard’s direction (“no one moves”) or the other (“go back there”).
Ellie broke out of Zinnia’s hold. “Yes, everyone to that wall over there. And make sure you’re all lined up side-by-side so you can see everything.”
“Ellie…” Zinnia huffed out.
Ellie charged forward, heading straight to the man struggling on the floor. She crouched down in front of him. Around them, servers raced to get out of the hall and back into the kitchen through a secondary door. For what was supposed to be an intense event, there was a definite lack of panic on the part of the waitstaff. It seemed less like they were running for their lives and more like they were clearing out of the room. It was too organized.
Meanwhile, one of the guards continued to corral the guests. Zinnia and Wilhelm stayed back at the tea and juice counter. When it looked like Wilhelm was about to leave, Zinnia asked him to stay back.
“I don’t think we’re the ones she wants having front row spots for whatever this is,” Zinnia said.
“Heiress Elspeth Navarrete,” the wounded man said, his hands in hers. “I did all I could to stop those bandits. They insisted on coming here.”
“You did your best, Pierre. Now, it’s time to rest.” Ellie put her hand on his face and turned him against the floor. She stood up. Then, she addressed everyone in the back of the room. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect everyone.”
Ellie grabbed a long stick that had been leaning next to the door. Zinnia hadn’t noticed it when she first entered. It had done a good job of blending in with the decor.
The guests’ faces ranged from a mixture of confusion, terror (for the ones who hadn’t caught on yet), poorly masked anger over being tricked (kind of like what Zinnia was feeling), and anticipation over what was going to happen next.
Ellie rotated the staff, one hand over the other as she spun it. “Bring in the bandits! I’ll defeat them all.”
The idle guard at the front peeked his head into the hallway.
“I said, ‘bring in the bandits! I’ll defeat them all.'” She then turned to address the rest of the crowd. “And remember everyone, stay put. I don’t want any of you getting hurt.”
This elicited some laughter. In Zinnia, however, her words only added to the pressure building in her forehead. Everything that was happening, whatever this joke was, was so terrible that it was literally piercing into her head.
“You can do it!” Wilhelm shouted.
“You knew about this?” Zinnia asked, her glare set to scorching.
“No. I’m just being supportive,” he said.
In poured the bandits, finally listening to their cue. As expected of fictional bandits, they looked like they’d be run through the dirt. Their faces were covered in masks, their clothing was in tatters. Their outfits looked like they’d been recycled from a theater performance that never took off. Conveniently, every bandit was wearing pretty much the same thing. The last time Zinnia had checked there was no such thing as a bandit uniform, but if there was one, these peple were sporting them to the nth degree.
Each bandit held out a curved knife, because that’s apparently what bandits did. They wore matching uniforms and carried the exact same matching weapons. Perfectly normal and perfectly reasonable.
Zinnia poured herself a drink from the counter.
Ellie tapped her staff against the ground. “You think you can come in here and ruin this party? I think not! Let’s do this.”
She lifted her weapon and swung it in an arc as she stepped forward. It smacked into a bandit’s shoulder. He toppled over. A second bandit attempted to run at her. Ellie leaned down, snapped the staff low, and swept his feet out from under him.
When his knife fell out of his hands, it sounded nothing like metal.
That left two bandits for Ellie to defeat. Ellie motioned for them to come and try her. The braver of the two thrust out with his knife. Ellie knocked it away with the fighting stick, a swing to the left. Then she hit the other bandit on the return swing. Wham, down he went.
The bandit howled. He clutched the side of his head.
“Get out of here, bandits. Go back to where you whence came,” Ellie said.
“You hit me in my ear,” the bandit said. When he brought his hand away, it shone red.
“Um… That’s what you get for trying to disrupt things here. All of you bandits run out of here and get that one some help.” Ellie looked unsure of herself as she said her lines. “I would say I’m sorry but was only defending this castle.”
If the banquet hall was supposed to be like a castle, no one had gotten that note. The decorations didn’t evoke that kind of feeling. It was just simplicity and floral explosions. Ellie hadn’t mentioned wanting a castle-like theme, but she hadn’t mentioned anything else, either. If she had, Zinnia would’ve shot down the bandit idea.
The bandits got up, some of them attending to the bleeding one. They hustled out of the room. The stabbed man who had “died” got up and left with them. Ellie turned around to the crowd of girls in the back of the banquet hall. She took a bow.
The guardsmen still in the room started up the applause for her. Again, there was a bit of laughter sprinkled in among the clapping.
“Now that those people have been gotten rid of, we can proceed with the next planned event.” Ellie hammered her weapon against the floor to create an ill-timed rhythm. “We shall dance. Guitar player, play us a lively tune. Ladies, I see that you’re all lined up already. That’s perfect. That makes my job so much easier. All right, you and you, you two dance together. And then you and…yeah, you over there, you dance together.”
Ellie walked down the line of girls, pairing them together as she saw fit. She said, “when you get your partner, hurry up and go out there and dance. It’s supposed to be a fun song so have fun with it. Now, you and you, you’ll dance together.” She ushered them where they needed to go.
None of the girls protested against Ellie. They simply did as the word just as they were instructed. Zinnia was hoping that at least one of them would put up a fuss and say something like Ellie didn’t have the right to force random people together, but, technically as the Heiress, she did have the authority to. She could get away with telling any of these people what to do.
She was done sorting out the girls and forcing them to dance (some of them simply swayed, not really knowing what to do), Ellie strolled over to where Zinnia and Wilhelm stood. She used the staff like it was a walking stick, beating the ground with every stride she took.
“Pick out any one of them that you like and I’ll resort them for you,” Ellie said. “I know you had your eye on a few of them.”
“There’s blood on that.” Zinnia pointed at the staff.
Ellie grimaced. “Yeah, minor accident. Whoops.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Zinnia asked.
“Getting people to have a good time. I think they’re having fun.”
“I suppose pairing everyone off cuts down on the awkwardness. I wouldn’t have stuck Evangeline with Brioni, though,” Wilhelm said. “They have a long history of being at each other’s throats. You should probably swap Brioni with Mathilde.”
“I don’t care who has a history with who. I’m going for the aesthetics,” Ellie said.
“Did you forget that these are people? They’re not toys you can rearrange as you see fit. Do you even know any of their names?” Zinnia asked.
“Why are you so pent-up about this? I’m making things interesting,” Ellie said.
“There’s a difference between inviting people to dance and assigning them to dance. ”
“You’re acting like I’m making them fight to the death,” Ellie replied. “It’s a dance!”
Wilhelm said, “as long as everyone is having a good time, it’s all all right.”
“But the way you’re treating them, it’s like you’re appraising them. It’s weird. And then the flowers and that weird fight scene? What was that about?” Zinnia couldn’t help but ask.
“Well, I wanted them to understand what they’d be getting if they ended up with me,” Ellie said with a shrug. “I’m a lover and a fighter.”
Wilhelm laughed. “Don’t tell me that this whole party is about you rounding up potential girlfriends. I was suspecting as much but I thought that this was about eye candy for you. I didn’t think you were walking into this with a strategy.”
“There’s a strategy for everything. Zinnia might’ve already told you this, but I’m looking for my future Chieftess. Maybe she’s here; maybe she’s not. I don’t know. I’m going to cull out anyone that doesn’t match what I’m looking for.”
Wilhelm’s eyebrows quirked up. Maybe he was reviewing everything that Zinnia had been worried about. Maybe now he would take her cause for concern more seriously rather than brushing off Ellie’s behavioral changes as something good.
“I wouldn’t recommend rushing into finding one here. It’s not the best environment for that. It’s better for you to relax and not worry. I wish you luck, though,” Wilhelm said.
“Whatever,” Ellie said.
“Someone in the short term is understandable, but I don’t think you need–”
Ellie cut him off. “You don’t know anything.”
“Is something going on?” Wilhelm asked. “This feels a little bit…abrupt.”
“Why do you think it’s abrupt? I could’ve been thinking about this this whole time. You don’t know me.”
“When we had dinner together, you acted like girls were the furthest thing from your mind. Now, you’re holding a party to find your future wife. You have to admit that that’s quite the jump.”
“Eh,” Ellie grunted. She backed off. “I’ve got to get back to my guests. I think it’s a good time to test their slow dancing skills.” Ellie walked off towards the guitarist.
Zinnia squeezed her hand around her drink glass. Calm. She needed to remain calm. She was supposed to be Ellie’s advisor, helping to keep her out of trouble. She wasn’t supposed to remain on the sidelines like this, even though a small part of her wanted Ellie to face the consequences.
The guitarist switched her song according to Ellie’s demand. Ellie walked around, making sure everyone was dancing as close as she wanted. For the ones that didn’t know how to slow dance, she showed them.
Zinnia was torn between staying and and leaving. It wasn’t like Ellie was heeding any of her advice. She wasn’t taking anything under consideration. It wasn’t like things that happened in the banquet hall would stay secret. Ellie was the Heiress. She could make news just by leaving a food wrapper on the street. If anything bad happened here, it would surely find its way outside.
That bad thing Zinnia was scared of happening? It reared itself in the form of Ellie kissing one of the guests. Zinnia screamed so loud in her head that she thought the sound would leak out of her ears. Wilhelm let out a little choke.
Damage control. They both needed to do some fast.
Zinnia stormed over just as Ellie unhanded the girl. Wilhelm chatted up some of the guests, many of who had stopped their swaying to stare at the commotion kicking up. The random girl blushed, then excused herself from the conversation to run back to her dance partner. She’d been one of the commoners, someone Zinnia vaguely recognized as a fruit seller.
“What are you doing?” Zinnia asked, trying her best to keep her voice low but failing miserably.
“I asked first,” Ellie said like there wasn’t a problem at all.
“See, this is why I tried to stop you earlier. This is what I was talking about,” Zinnia said. “You’re like a rock rolling down the side of a mountain, collecting all kinds of things and getting bigger and bigger. You have to stop. You’re starting to lose your mind.”
“Maybe I’m trying to catch up to you. You haven’t had your mind all night. Standing over there with Wilhelm and judging everyone. You’re acting like you’re so much better than everyone, but you’re not.”
“This isn’t some open-market gathering where you can do whatever you want to people who are too scared to say no to you. This isn’t what you should be using your position for.”
“If there’s a problem, then someone’ll stop me.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do. You need to get a hold of yourself.”
“How about you? You’re the one yelling at me in front of everyone.”
Zinnia glanced around at the eyes that were feeding on their argument like it was the next part of Ellie’s stage show. She ground her teeth, not saying anything back. She hadn’t intended to make a scene.
Ellie smirked. “I think it’s time for us to be seated for dinner.” She put on her loud announcement voice. “Everyone, take your seats. I’ll be at the head of the table and Zinnia Trotter here will be at my right hand. My cousin Wilhelm may sit wherever he pleases. Go on now. No need to keep standing around.”
One of the guardsmen helped direct the young women to the dining table. It was long and wide, with enough room to accomodate everyone. Servers streamed out of the kitchen door, balancing platters for the dinner service. The guitarist switched to a different slow song in order to provide a warm ambience.
As their audience left them, Zinnia stepped in close to Ellie. She whispered, “did you even know her name before you kissed her?”
“Of course I did. We introduced ourselves.”
“Then, what is it?”
“Ask her if you want to know. Now hurry up and sit down before the food gets cold.”
How the food would get cold in the span of less than a minute, Zinnia didn’t know. She decided to let go of the fight for now and took her seat where Ellie wanted her. She hoped that sitting close to Ellie would mean that she’d be able to stop her from saying/doing anything too outrageous. She had to do her best to stomp down any potential scandals.
Further down the table, right near the middle, Wilhelm seemed to be doing a decent job on that front. He was joking with the girls seated around him. He was probably taking their minds off of what had just happened between Ellie and that girl.
Zinnia tried to do her part, too. She turned to the girl she was seated next to, someone from a shoemaking family whose last name was Tartt with two T’s. She remembered the spelling from the sign outside of their business. The girl was pretty in an unassuming way, her body sculpted out of a blend of mousy and delicate features. She lacked the edge that a certain woodsdweller had, so Ellie had probably invited Tartt for her unlikeness.
“Are you liking the party so far?” Zinnia asked, leaning in slightly so no one would overhear them. She needed the girl’s honest answer.
“It’s been fun,” Tartt said. “Heiress Navarrete is so funny.”
“Was she funny when she kissed that fruit seller?”
“Cynthia has the biggest crush on her. You should’ve seen her afterwards. She almost fainted.”
Zinnia felt her eyebrow twitch. “So you don’t find this whole thing to be a disaster?”
“No. I like it.” Tartt fidgeted in her seat.
“Then would you like it if Ellie—I mean, Heiress Navarrete asked you to do something like that? You wouldn’t feel at all like you’d have to say yes to her?”
“No! But I wouldn’t want to anyway. I’ve got a boyfriend.”
Someone dropped their knife onto their plate, the noise startling Zinnia’s side of the table. Ellie’s hand tensed around her fork. She made a loud, grumbly sound deep in her throat. The table chatter died down as people redirected their view over to the Heiress. Wilhelm helped to quiet down the girls he was talking to.
“What was it that you just said?” Ellie asked. She’d been eavesdropping without Zinnia realizing.
Tartt stammered out, “W-what?”
“Did you say that you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, I do. His name’s Gottfried Turner.”
“Guards, escort this girl out of here. We don’t need her here wasting everyone’s time. Actually, if anyone else has a boyfriend or girlfriend that we don’t know about, get out. Just leave.”
Wilhelm forced out a laugh that didn’t get anyone else laughing along. “Ellie is joking, everyone. Guards, you don’t have to get involved with this. This is like a continuation of the bandit thing. Ellie’s showing us her acting range. The Heiress would never kick someone out of her event for no reason. That’s discriminatory.”
Ellie cleared her throat. “I am kicking people out for a good reason. They’re not supposed to be here. They really are wasting everyone’s time. Anyone who’s got a boyfriend, girlfriend, date mate, anything like that, just leave.”
“You are such a jokester, cousin,” he replied.
“Hey, guards, when you take her out of here, I want you to take him out of here, too.”
“Ellie. Think about what you’re doing,” Zinnia said.
“I’ve thought about it. Wilhelm, you can get out of here. Just walk on out of here so you can maintain your dignity,” Ellie said. “And the rest of you that need to go, just go.”
“Ellie, you need to stop,” Zinnia whispered.
“I think your joke’s gone on long enough,” Wilhelm said. He smiled. “I think I’m going to go. I forgot that I have an appointment that I must attend to.” He rubbed the side of his neck.
“We’ll be going, as well,” said one of his uppercrust friends. She and the others of her group stood up in solidarity with him.
“Go, then. None of you are that fun anyway,” Ellie said. “This isn’t a loss to me.”
“You can come with us, too,” Wilhelm said to Tartt. “I actually have a question to ask you about my insoles.”
With that, Wilhelm was able to direct the shoemaking girl out with the rest of his friend group without it being a total embarrassment for her. Zinnia watched her only partner in keeping Ellie stable walk out the door. That cut the party attendance number down to about a dozen. Who would survive the rest of the night?
Silverware clinked against plates as people helped themselves to the food laid out across the table. Serving dishes of greens, quail, tubers, and other edible assortments were passed along. Zinnia’s appetite was shaky so she opted for the smaller dinner plate loaded up with meat and bread.
“Now that that is over with, we can finally enjoy a normal dinner in peace,” Ellie said, her voice loud enough for everyone to hear. It helped that no one was talking to each other. Wilhelm getting kicked out put a damper on things.
They were probably trying to mind their own business. Zinnia would’ve been doing the same if she was one of them she was one of them. Keeping your head down and avoiding Ellie’s ire was a good tactic to employ.
“And you guys should move down,” Ellie said. “We don’t need all those empty seats spoiling the fun.”
The girls shuffled down, carrying their plates along with them. The new girl who replaced Tartt’s placed next to Zinnia accidentally slammed her plate down so hard that Zinnia jumped.
“Sorry about that,” she said around a mouthful of bread. She swallowed. “I’m Florence Coal. We met in the Square when you are handing out invitations. You’re Zinnia Trotter the pig farmer. My family used to farm pigs, too, until that thing happened.” She talked without pausing for breath. “We switched over to being goat farmers. I like it a whole lot better. We never got the hang of raising pigs. I think it was that whole anthrope thing.”
“I’m sorry about the, the thing that happened.” Zinnia appreciated that Florence wasn’t calling it by its worst name—Trotter’s Slaughter.
“It’s okay. I don’t hate you for it. It’s not like it’s your fault.” Florence smashed her fork into a pile of quail. “This is amazing. Do you think the Heiress will let us take any home with us? There’s gotta be extras because of all those girls that left.”
“Probably. I’ll have to ask her for you.” Zinnia turned to do that, but discovered Ellie in the midst of a conversation—complete with handholding and eyes staring—with the girl sitting on her other side. Zinnia said, “I’ll have to ask her later. She’s a bit preoccupied.”
“I never thought that I’d get to be in the same room at the same party thing as the Heiress. I feel like I’m living as a queen for the day,” Florence said. She stopped talking long enough to fork some more food into her mouth. Florence was all dimples when she smiled.
Zinnia borrowed a line from something Wilhelm had mentioned to her earlier. “Are you planning on getting your party invitation framed?”
“Nope. If I do that then I won’t be able to hold it,” she said, “and my friends are going to have to hold it to believe it. What’s it like knowing the Heiress, by the way? She seems so interesting.”
“But it’s gotta be rewarding in some way, right? You got to sit next to her at the table. That has to count for something.”
“Anyone could’ve sat here.”
“But she picked you out by name, because… I don’t know why.” Florence bit into another slice of quail.
“It’s okay to not know,” Zinnia said. “And don’t mind what I said about everything with the Heiress being taxing. I don’t mean for you to take that statement seriously.”
“I figured it was a joke. This whole night has been full of them,” Florence said. “I guess.”
Ellie clinked her knife against her glass to get everyone’s attention. “Hey, people!” She yelled her greeting even though a glass banging had done well enough on its own. “Let’s get some questions going so we’re not all just staring at each other and eating our food.”
“Some people were talking,” Zinnia said.
“How do you know when someone is being entirely honest with you?” Ellie posed her first question. “How about you give us an answer? I’m talking to you, the redhead in the blue dress.”
She took a moment to gather her thoughts. “With some people, it’s easy to tell. They look you straight in the eyes when they talk to you. That’s them being honest.”
“Anyone else? You, there. I’ve been meaning to tell you that I love your outfit. That suit wouldn’t work on anyone else, but it’s perfect on you,” Ellie said. “What’s your answer to the question?”
“Thank you.” The girl brightened up. “I think that it’s a feeling that you get about the other person. You can tell when someone’s lying to you. It’s like what Mabel said… Liars are bad with eye contact.”
“Practiced liars can do it. Sociopathic liars can, too. I’d say most liars can do it,” Ellie said. “So does anyone else have any good answers? Because I’m going to tell you, that there’s no way to see through a good liar. Some people act like they’re the very face of honesty, like they belong onto the face of an honesty coin. But they’re lying.”
A girl wearing a butterfly hair clip on the side of her head spoke up. “Heiress Navarrete, what do you think should happen to liars?”
“I’m the only one that’s going to ask questions here,” Ellie said. “Anyway, liars are rotten people. There’s something wrong with them at their core. They’re terrible people, so terrible things should happen to them.”
“But lying isn’t the worst thing that somebody can do,” Florence said. “What if they had a good reason to lie? Yeah, they might be a little dishonest but maybe they did what they did to help other people. I don’t know. Without any context, it’s a weird question to answer.”
“Here’s your context. Imagine getting to know someone for months and then they suddenly revealed to you that they’re not who they said they were. They made everything up. Because of that, you have to wonder about everything else they made up. If they couldn’t be honest about who they were, were they honest about anything ever?”
“Sorry, Heiress Navarrete, but that’s still pretty vague.”
“How much more do you need? That was as clear as day.”
“Maybe a stormy day through a foggy window, sure.”
“I think,” Zinnia interjected. “I think that Florence has a point. Anyone who doesn’t know the situation won’t give you worthwhile answers. The only person who can give you what you’re looking for is the person who lied to you.”
“I’m not talking to her ever again. So, why don’t you go and ask her?” Ellie asked. “You find her and you go figure everything out.”
“Maybe she’ll actually tell me something. Why are you digging your heels in about everything? I’m trying to help you.”
“She’s not going to tell you the truth. We’re talking about a liar here.”
“Do you have another question asked everyone?” Zinnia tried changing the subject.
“No. No more questions. I think I’m done, actually,” Ellie said. “This dinner is over with.”
“So suddenly.” Ellie set aside her silverware. “You can take your time eating. I’ve lost all my interest in this.” She got up, then pushed her chair into the table. “This was a stupid mistake.”
“I’ll go with you,” Zinnia said. “The guards can watch everyone. We should talk about this.”
“Guards, make sure she doesn’t follow me,” Ellie said.
“Guards, don’t listen to her.”
“Oh, wow, I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all night. They’re not going to listen to you.”
“I thought it was worth a try.”
“You all can leave whenever you want. Take as much food as you’d like. Tell the servers to bring more out. It doesn’t matter. They’re paid to be here the whole time. So, yeah, enjoy yourselves. Goodbye.”
If it wasn’t for the guard who came over to accompany Ellie on the way out, Zinnia would have given chase.
Florence coughed. “Well… At least that answers my question about the leftovers. I’m good.”
Zinnia put her head down into her hands.
A/N: Poll results! Will Ellie have a good time at the party? 8 said yes. 24 said no. Will this actually turn out to be a disaster? 23 voters said yes. 9 said no.
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