Home > Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(6)

Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(6)
Author: Elizabeth Hunter

“Come on, you can’t hold a guy to the shit he says when he’s a seventeen-year-old kid,” he said. “I live here now. I have a place in SoHo.”

“No!”

“Yeah. I gave in and headed home. Kinda. How are you doing? You took off and left everybody wondering. What are you doing?”

She shrugged. “The same.”

“Are you dancing?”

“Trying.” She looked down and bent her leg up; a thick black brace was wrapped around it. “I tweaked my knee a few months ago, but I’m mostly healed now. The doctor says it’s nothing permanent.” Her smile was a little bashful. “No one back home really thought I was going to walk onto Broadway, did they?”

“I was hoping.” He flicked her nose. “I tried emailing. You dropped off the face of the planet. What happened?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it. She let out a laugh. “Oh man. This is not a conversation to have when I’m dead on my feet after dinner service. Can we meet for coffee when I’m not half-asleep?”

He couldn’t help it. Ben hugged her again, picking her up off her feet and making her laugh. “I missed my girl,” he said into her hair. “I know you had to break up with me because you were too smart to stick with your high school boyfriend, but did you have to disappear afterward?”

“Ben.” She hugged him back. “You’re taller, but you smell the same. Did you know that? I missed you too.”

He put her back on her feet. “Give me your phone.”

Smiling, Chloe reached into the heavy shoulder bag she carried. “Don’t trust me not to disappear again?”

“Maybe.” He took the phone she held out and put his number in, dialing and hanging up so he didn’t lose her again. “I tried getting your number from your mom when I knew I was moving here, but—”

“They try to pretend I don’t exist.” The forced cheer was brittle. “They harassed me for about two years to come back, but I think they’ve given up now.”

“They’re idiots.”

“They’re not.” She shrugged. “They’re my parents. You know.”

“Yeah, I know.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Damn, I needed this. I need a friend here.”

She bumped her shoulder against his arm. “You got one, Benny. Always. We promised.”

Ben was actually fighting tears. He’d been afraid he’d never see her again. Chloe had been his first love. His first everything when it came to girls. Two misfits in their private high school. Two kids who’d never fit in and always wanted bigger things. By the time they’d graduated and broken up, they were more friends than lovers. When he’d lost touch with her, it felt like missing a limb.

“I missed you,” he said again.

A cautious look came to her eyes. “I’m not… I have a boyfriend, Ben. I hope you’re not thinking—”

“No.” He smiled and put a hand on her cheek. “That’s not it. Not anymore. I’m just… really glad to see you, Chloe. It’s hard to meet people you can trust in this city.”

A knowing look came to her eyes. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

A yawn overtook her, and Ben yawned in reaction.

“Okay,” he said. “Clearly we need to pick this up when we’re more awake.” He looked in the direction she’d been walking. “I’ll walk you home.”

She put a hand on his chest. “It’s cool. I’m over by the Delancey Street station, so we’re in opposite directions. It’s close.”

“Don’t care.” He hooked his arm through hers and steered them south. “We can catch up a little while we walk.”

She looked like she was going to protest but thought again. She knew him well enough to know it was useless to object. Letting a friend—especially a small female friend who didn’t have fangs—walk home at three in the morning through the Lower East Side was not going to happen.

“Fine,” she said. “But you have to tell me why the heck you’re here when you told me once you’d seen everything you ever wanted to see of New York City.”

“Did I say that?” He scratched his chin. “I don’t remember saying that.”

“Dude, it was one of the reasons we broke up.”

“Dude.” He smiled fondly. “You can take the girl out of California…”

“Ha ha.” She started down the sidewalk. “I know. They tease me about it at work.”

Ben pried cautiously as he walked her home. Like most struggling performers, Chloe also worked other jobs. She had a waitressing position at an Italian Restaurant in Little Italy. She worked as a theater usher at one of the bigger venues in Midtown. She’d been dating the same guy for two years, and they’d been living together for over a year.

“Tom?”

“Tom.”

“Is it short for anything?” Ben asked. “Tom seems so… boring.”

She frowned. “Says the guy named Ben?”

“It’s all in how you wear the name, gorgeous.” He winked at her. “Seriously though, I can’t wait to meet him. I’m sure he’s great. Well… not as great as me, but I know you must be resigned to that.”

Chloe sighed. “We’ll have to shield Tom from the truth.”

“I’ll try not to rub it in.”

“What can I say? I caught you on the upswing. I probably couldn’t keep up with you now. It’s better this way, Benny.”

“Couldn’t keep up with me,” he muttered, bumping her shoulder. “That was never the problem.”

 

Tenzin paused midform, her sword lifted over her head. “Chloe?”

“Yeah, Chloe.” Ben moved deliberately into the next form, and Tenzin followed his lead. “My girlfriend through most of high school. You don’t remember her?”

They were practicing slow tai chi forms with jian, hiding from the midmorning sun in the lower level of the penthouse. The windows in the lower floor were completely blocked, so Tenzin always had access if she wanted to work or train. Ben had started tai chi at age thirteen. Tenzin had started training him on the sword a few years later. Though both were proficient, they practiced regularly to keep up their form.

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