ELLA HAD NEVER SEEN the boys so nervous before. They were all seated around the table, her mother at the head, she and Sebastian beside her. Her mother had cooked traditional Venezuelan dishes, even serving small arepas beside them, and Ella was glad for it. If she hadn't approved of the boys it would have been clear, but until now it didn't seem like a lot could go wrong.
"Ella doesn't bring her friends home often," her mother said," I was curious to see who she met at the camp. Especially seeing as she got kicked out of it."
"It's really nice to meet you as well, ma'am," Will beamed," Ella really made our trip so much more fun."
Her mother sipped from her water, the crystal glass glittering between her slender fingers, voice tinged with an uncharacteristic gentleness. "She has always been quite lively."
"I wanted to thank you for the hospitality, ma'am," Alex said," we'll try to help around the house, if need be."
"No need," her mother said, waving it off with a hand," you're guests. I have a perfectly healthy son and daughter who now have nothing to do. I'm sure they can help me out just fine."
Ella groaned internally, but just flashed her mother a smile. She was glad about how polite the boys were being, if only because her mother had zero tolerance for disrespect. For a woman of her ethnicity to have gotten so high in the world Ella knew she had been through a lot, but that strong spirit of hers had never wavered. Now too it was lying in her eyes like sunshine glittering on still water, as clear as ever.
"You can give me your parents' phone numbers after dinner," her mother said," I can contact them if you want, to explain where you are right now."
If Ella hadn't been paying attention, she almost would have missed Levi stiffening beside her. Alex too seemed uncomfortable at that, scraping his throat, but it was Levi who spoke first.
"Thank you for the consideration," he said," but we wouldn't want to impose too much. You're already giving us a place to stay, we'll let them know ourselves."
Him being so well mannered checked another of Ella's boxes and she wondered if she could find a fault in him. Whatever crush she was developing it was becoming bigger with the second, settling in her heart like warm honey. She pushed those thoughts aside for a moment, focusing on her mother's face. Levi's parents were a sensitive subject and from what it looked like, Alex' were too, so she was just hoping her mother wouldn't push it too much. The woman took one look at Levi's face though and nodded, changing the conversation easily. Gratefulness flashed in Levi's eyes, but he hid it within a second, instead moving his gaze towards the food.
"So," her mother said," how are you all enjoying St Joseph?"
"A lot, actually," Will beamed," the people there are so fun."
"We were just telling Sebastian last time that we were disappointed not to have been in the same year as him,"Alex added," so it's such a weird coincidence to be in the same year as his sister now."
"Treat her well, will you?" Sebastian grinned," she's still a baby for me."
"We literally are a year and a half apart," Ella said as she raised an eyebrow at him.
"Are all of you hearing that too?" Sebastian said, holding a hand beside his ear," it sounds like a child talking."
"Mamá, permission to hit him," Ella said.
"Permission granted," her mother said.
"Wha –" Sebastian began, offendedly, before Ella kicked his leg and caused him to yelp out.
"Mother!" Sebastian exclaimed.
Her mother didn't even react, instead continuing to ask questions about their education. Dinner passed quickly like that and Ella was glad that nothing weird happened. Sebastian was off to call Faiza after washing the dishes with her, Ella making her way upstairs with the guys. They stopped in her room, all three of them looking around as she sat down in the middle of her room.
"So this is your room," Alex remarked. "With the amount of rumors you carry I had expected it scarier. I don't know, littered with switchblades or something."
"I really wanted one," Ella said, before adding," my mother said no."
Sebastian's room was bigger than hers, but she had the balcony, the curtains as white as the fading clouds behind them. Levi and Will sat down beside her on the cream carpet, Alex still snooping around, but she could see Levi's eyes wandering as he took it in. Once he noticed her looking at him he locked gazes with her. The remaining rays of the sun clung to his long eyelashes and traced his sharp jawline, the top buttons of his blouse unbuttoned. A fine scar ran right above his collarbone and she wondered how many he had from his fights. In the evening light she wanted to count them like stars.
"You're not going to walk around as well?" Ella smiled at him.
"There's no rush," he drawled," I'll be seeing your room for quite some time when we start dating."
"Scandalous," Alex gasped," are you proposing in front of us, Levi?"
Levi didn't bother reacting to that, but the door opened before Alex could even continue. Faiza walked in with Sebastian, Alex' attention immediately on the girl. It didn't stay that way for long though, Ava right behind her, her cool smirk causing Alex' smile to drop. He didn't have time to linger on that, Faiza introducing herself to him and Will, Sebastian closely behind. Ella glanced at the last two entering the room, curious to see who Faiza's friends were.
They were both stunning, that she noticed quickly, though they were a stark contrast next to each other. The Asian one was smaller, with a sheet of dark hair and doll-like features, lips pink and a soft blush coloring her cheeks. She reminded Ella of hushed whispers in forgotten library halls, honey tea and starlight conversations. The one beside her was just as fair-skinned, but with golden curls framing her face, the cyan blue in her eyes matching with the flowers on her fluttery summer dress. Her jewelry was full with colorful beads and her smile wide, the seemingly self-made tote bag she was carrying filled with dark swirls forming side profiles and hands. There was something far more reckless and bubbly in her, the two of them like the moon and the sun.
"Hope we're not too much of a bother," the dark-haired girl smiled shyly," but it's nice to meet you all. I'm Mi-Ja Ryder, but you can just call me Mia."
"Elisabeth Jacobs," the girl beside her beamed," call me whatever. I've heard all the nicknames in the book already."
When Ava smiled it seemed less sincere and more scary though, Alex almost flinching.
"Most of you know me already," she drawled," but I'm Ava. I'm here because Alexander here stole my phone."
"Don't kill me, Ava," Alex said as he held up his hands in a pacifying gesture," I just wanted to talk."
She just kept looking at him until he stood up and fished her phone out of his pocket, handing it to her. Only then did she she sit down, though she was glaring daggers at him. When everyone had introduced themselves to each other Sebastian began placing plastic cups and bottles of liquor in the middle of their circle. Ella had positioned herself between Levi and Ava, Alex sitting opposite them between Faiza and Elisabeth. Will was beside her and Mia, talking happily with the two new girls as he tried to make them feel at home, Sebastian watching Alex carefully as he flirted with Faiza.
"Okay, the time for talking is over," Sebastian said abruptly," time for the game."
"Fun," Elisabeth smiled," I haven't played never have I ever in a very long time."
"Do we drink when we have or haven't done it?" Ava said.
Sebastian poured the drinks in the glasses, handing a cup to her with a smile. "When you have."
Ava's gaze wandered to Alex and she held his for a moment, before looking back to Sebastian. "I can't wait to get to know all of you better."
Her brother nodded happily, not seeming to have noticed the obvious tension between Ava and Alex. He got up one last time then and after he had checked if their mother was downstairs he closed the door, flashing them all a wide grin.
"Well then," he said," let the fun begin."