He shouldn’t be here. The music burst forth with vibrant color from the hired orchestra though the atmosphere the strings and violins created was one of vigor and life—the music seemed to paint everything sunset orange, a stark contrast to the cobalt black sky and thousand paper lanterns strung about every which way. The trees were intertwined with fairy lights and low hanging glass lanterns; picnic tables were set up in one area of the Kadar’s massive 20 acre backyard while the carnival took center stage. Two ferris wheels, a merry-go-round, bumper cars, and various other games and booths dotted the premises while food stands and makeshift restaurants scattered themselves between them.
It was an annual tradition. The August Moon Festival was held yearly by the ridiculously wealthy Soma Asman Kadar, an Indian scion who could trace his ancestry to the great and mystical days of Bengalese princedom. His father, a ruthless businessman of great caliber and questionable morality, had built up a massive fortune for himself and his various offspring and as a result, viewed interacting with his children as an unnecessary and tiresome burden. By the time Soma was seven years old he’d learned to book an appointment to see his father five weeks beforehand and, just four years after that, was bundled off to boarding school in New York like a respectable son of the blue blooded aristocracy.
It was at Archibald Bluewer—the most elite private preparatory high school on this side of the east coast—that Soma met and befriended Ciel Phantomhive, an heir almost as rich as he was who also wore a perpetual scowl on his pale face. Back then the boy had smiled on occassion but the death of his parents ten months ago (a freak change in the earth’s atmosphere that’d caused the entire plane to spontaneously combust midair) had sealed him off from all human contact. The first few months were terrible—temper tantrums, incredibly creative and disturbing threats, the destruction of property valued at over $30 million, and a catatonic look that etched itself into Ciel’s eyes with disturbing ease.
After that, he became colder than an Arctic storm. Just being around him was uncomfortable—as if he were salt and ice being pressed onto your skin—but Soma endeavored. Endlessly engaging and effortlessly cheerful, the young Indian prince (as Agni affectionately called him) not only viewed Ciel as a friend but also a mentor and younger brother—a paradox that was built shortly after Soma arrived in New York. Pompous, overbearing, self-centered, and narcissistic, it’d taken a few plays of deception and some of Ciel’s cold hard rationalism to force Soma back into reality. And, much to Ciel’s annoyance, Soma also stuck to him like glue—particularly during times when he was trying to shut the whole world out.
And this, Ciel decided, was one of those times.
It’d taken Soma nineteen days of pleading, cajoling, plying, and straight up ordering to get him to drag his ass to the Kadar mansion (which, in actuality, was just Soma’s mansion since his father had all but forgotten it’s existence) for the August Moon Festival.
At the thought of the party’s title, Ciel couldn’t help the cynical little smirk that curled onto his mouth. As dreamy and foreign as the name sounded, it had nothing to do with the moon and was only held in August because that was the month most everyone was free to eat, explore, and down copious amounts of alcohol with minimal regret. Soma insisted this holiday had a purpose but Ciel had developed a profound dislike of all things celebratory after his parents were shot down from the sky by Mother Nature herself.
In the end, cynicism was a far more reliable form of philosophy than hope.
Walking along the party’s edge, Ciel managed to avoid the gleaming neon lights advertising inane rides and pre-rigged games (but knowing Soma, he probably had Agni fix all the machines so everyone got a prize in the end). His head was throbbing and his feet—encased in $2,000 Alexander McQueen loafers—felt like they’d gone through a meat grinder though he welcomed the sensation. Ciel knew firsthand that his closet was built for aesthetic purposes, not comfort, and he figured Soma might let him off the hook if managed to give a viable excuse.
Up ahead Ciel could make out a few empty picnic tables and figured everyone must have already left to try and get a good spot to watch the firework display. As a child he found the whole concept exciting but as he grew older and the harsh pragmatism of business administration, finance, and corporate law began to overwhelm him, childhood fantasies dissipated and the starry-eyed wonder of childhood was left in the distant background as something to be derided and cast aside as all useless things were. And Ciel had very little patience for useless things.
Making his way to a picnic table Ciel scrutinized the wood as best he could given the evening sky and dim paper lanterns floating up ahead. Wrapping his hand with a clean napkin, he gingerly felt the wood for any traces of discarded food, soda, or children’s vomit and, after seeing that was clean, took a seat.
“Hard day, huh?”
“What the actual fuck—“ Ciel nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of an admittedly sweet—but still unwelcome—voice. By now nearly all the picnic tables were empty (save for two mothers talking quietly to each other while their children played with miniature frisbees) and nearly all the partygoers had cloistered around the nearby hilltop, waiting for the fireworks to spark and implode.
“Down here.” The voice spoke again and sure enough, Ciel peered down to see a golden haired girl lying on the grass, an expression of cheerful delight writ all over her pretty face.
At that thought, Ciel bit his tongue because really, he must be tired as shit if he thought some whack-job girl, who was currently lying on the grass (there goes her lacy white sundress), was pretty.
“Hello.” She beamed brightly, flashing him a brilliant smile that seemed to sparkle even though the lanterns were far above her.
Ciel’s expression was neutral. “Hi.” He replied. And, after giving her a disinterested secondary glance, Ciel turned back around to observe the flashing carnival lights and the sounds of children laughing as they went from booth to booth.
“You’re not going to get a very good view of the fireworks from over here.” She said matter-of-factly.
“That’s because I don’t plan on watching them.”
“Oh, so you’re here to watch the fireflies too?” She exclaimed brightly, suddenly getting up with such enthusiastic force that Ciel wondered if she’d gotten whiplash. His question was answered when she gave him another bright smile. “I’ve always loved fireflies and they’re the prettiest on summer nights—little candle flames perched on evening’s soul.” She recited poetically.
Ciel didn’t respond. He didn’t even look at her. Had Cheslock not commandeered his phone (“Fuck the fucking Uber and at least pretend to enjoy yourself.”) and Joanne—with his deceptively angelic face—not conned him into relinquishing his car for the night, Ciel would’ve been long gone.
“Sorry was that a little too sappy?” Her voice interrupted and she sounded mildly apologetic. “I apologize. I tend to get a little overeager sometimes.”
Is this girl mentally stable? He snarled. Who says “I apologize” these days? What is she—a Victorian debutante?
“I wanted Edward—that’s my brother—“ she clarified, as if Ciel cared, “was supposed to come with me but he got an internship at Spears & Associates instead.”
A streak of vindictive cruelty shot up Ciel’s spine. “Did he?” The question was punctuated with venom and derision but the girl seemed oblivious to it.
“Yeah, Mr. Spears was one of his professors at Harvard and he took a liking to Edward.” She replied simply, without a trace of anger or sarcasm.
At that, Ciel felt just the tiniest bit bad about the venomous edge in his words but it’s not like he asked her to start conversing with him. This was a fairly one-sided conversation to begin with and he intended to keep it that way.
Until she gave a soft, wistful sigh that sounded like a breath of the cosmos.
Ciel blinked, forcefully pushing those thoughts aside.
Breath of the cosmos? I’m going fucking insane. He was going to mutilate Cheslock after this. Fucking phone stealer.
“Did you know they have galaxy cotton candy here?” She asked and the question was just so…childishly pathetic that Ciel deigned to look at her.
The second he did, he knew it was a bad idea.
His first cursory glance had yielded few details and his second inspection was done with the express purpose of deterring her from talking. But considering that she’d ignored his blatant disregard for conversation and was now continuing to talk with that same stupidly bright innocence, Ciel couldn’t help but look at her.
Really look at her.
And holy fucking hell was that a bad idea. Because she was pretty, dammit. Too pretty, with her rosy pale skin and romantic features, looking like a wide-eyed seraph who’d just stepped out of a Boucher painting. The simplicity of her white lace sundress (which ended right above her knees) combined with her bare feet and—fuck, were those daisies in her hair?—made her look far too innocent, far too good, for this shitty world around him.
So Ciel did what any 17 year old might do.
He turned away.
“Oh,” she smiled—Ciel knew she was smiling, “they’re lavender colored and they’ve got pink and white sugar crystals sprinkled on top to look like stars and planets. Would you like one?”
Ciel half expected her to pull one out of thin air but then realized she’d probably have to stand up and move closer in order to give it to him. He was in danger with her just lying there. He didn’t need her getting up.
“Well alright then. Say, you don’t talk much do you?”
“I don’t know you.” Ciel responded flatly.
She perked up instantly and Ciel heard the rustling of fabric and before he could even blink, the girl had arranged herself in front of him, hands in her lap and a wide, beatific smile on her lips. She stuck out her hand. “In that case I’m Lizzy Midford and it’s really lovely to meet you…?”
Ciel looked at her hand, and then at her smile, with an expression of disgruntled amazement. When will she go away? Will she leave if I tell her my name? It couldn't hurt.
“Ciel.” He consented at long last, reaching to press the tips of his fingers against her palm. For a brief moment he was worried she might’ve been ill considering how hot her skin burned. Sure it was summer but it was near midnight and the temperature had dropped to the low seventies.
“It’s very lovely to meet you Ciel.” She smiled and a dimple appeared on her left cheek, sending a wave of irrational anger through Ciel’s veins.
A dimple. She had to have a dimple. Was the universe trying to conspire against him? This was exactly why he never left the house—Ciel Phantomhive didn’t care about anything or anyone. The only things that were even worth his time was his future career running The Funtom Corporation and showing up his classmates at Archibald Bluewer. He’d long passed the threshold of Jean-Paul Sartre and decided that if hell was other people then he’d just mosey along with his plan of existence until death claimed him and he could fall into a dreamless rest.
So why the fucking hell did she have to have a dimple? He disliked people on principle but found that he could tolerate the aesthetic beauty of a few. And Lizzy Midford, with her long sun-gold hair and rosy cheeks and guileless dimple was just far too pretty.
And Ciel liked dimples. He thought they were cute. (Not that he’d thought about it consciously or ever considered a basic genetic mutation cute but Lizzy Midford had just reminded him that he did, in fact, like dimples.)
“Ciel? Are you alright?”
It took him a good minute to realize he’d been staring at her for the past forty seconds without having said a word.
He must have been more tired than he first anticipated.
“I’m fine.” Those words left his lips far too quickly and Ciel realized, after having said them, he had nothing to continue on with. Not that I care, his mind was quick to backtrack. The sooner she leaves the better.
“Do you live around here? Or are you friends with Soma?”
Her eyes gleamed with a sort of emerald vivacity that had him wondering if she’d drunk one too many energy drinks before coming. “Same here!” She grinned. “I mean, not the first part—I live pretty far away but I am friends with Soma! We go white water rafting sometimes and I’ve never met a better saxophone player than him.”
That certainly caught Ciel’s attention. “Saxophone?” Soma played the saxophone?
Lizzy nodded vigorously. “He’s really good at it too! He’s got a love for Cannonball Adderley but I’ve always preferred John Coltrane. He’s got so much energy and rhythm pent up in him that when he plays you feel as if you’ve been plunged smack dab into the cacophony of some grand city, very late at night, with all the sounds and lights of the world swirling around you. It’s hypnotizing.” Her cheeks and lips were flushed, as if the ardor of her words had somehow stained them red with passion.
Ciel felt a faint flush creep on the back of his neck but he steadily ignored it, all but commanding his body temperature to remain cool. “I don’t like jazz.” He returned brusquely, knowing full well he was being inexcusably rude but something about this girl just screamed danger. She was too pretty—too engaging—and Ciel didn’t need that in his life right now.
But Lizzy, sweet girl that she was, merely ignored his surly attitude with an amused smile and leaned in a little closer. “Some like it hot but don’t worry—I understand. You remind me more of Chopin anyway. All elegance and selective vice.”
Now that, Ciel smirked, was amusing. “Selective vice?”
“I don’t mean to come off rude—“
“Enough deference.” Ciel snapped. “Say it already. We’re not trapped in 1889 anymore.”
Lizzy paused for a moment, biting her lower lip before a mischievous smile crept onto her face. “So how’s about it? 1920 work for you?”
Ciel rolled his eyes. “If it means you’ll say something worthwhile then sure, it’s 1920 suffragette.”
“It does.” She replied with a firm nod. “And selective vice—it’s rather archaic I know but you’re…well you’re distinctive. You’re shades of blue and you’re poised as ever, giving off this vibe of sharp intellect that could cut people clean through if they’re not careful. But at the same time, you’re not a depraved madman. You’re methodical. Clinical. Untouchable. Very Chopin-like in brilliance.”
Despite his distaste for crude psychoanalysis—for some reason or another, girls just loved trying to decode an ice cold bastard like himself—he was mildly impressed by her choice of adjectives. It certainly fed his ego. “Are you suggesting I’ll die at age 39 from tuberculosis?” There was a slight teasing lilt to his voice—one that rarely made an appearance nowadays—and he briefly wondered why he was indulging her.
She shrugged with a careless sort of grace that made the strap of her sundress slip off her shoulder.
Her skin was pearlescent under the lantern glow and Ciel nearly missed her reply.
Blinking, he moved his gaze from her shoulder to her face and, with a seriousness that wasn’t serious at all, gave her a small smile. “I also don’t play piano. And I’m not Polish.”
Lizzy’s nose wrinkled in a way that was not entirely disagreeable. It was almost cute. “Now you’re just nitpicking.”
“Perhaps I am.” He agreed airily.
“Just where are you from?” He interrupted suddenly, surprising both Lizzy and himself. He cleared his throat. “For clarification.”
“Oh.” She began to pick at the wildflowers growing near her. “Here and there.”
Ciel scowled. “Now you decide to shut up?”
“How about this then,” she offered, “we’ll do it Hannibal Lecter style. Quid pro quo.”
At least she’s got good taste in films, he mused silently before giving a slight nod.
Lizzy beamed. “Alright, I’ll go first—“
“Hang on a minute—“
“Strawberries or blueberries?”
Ciel blinked. “You’re not being serious are you?” He half expected her to try and do what most people did—fake depth and attempt to contrive some sentimental bullshit out of him.
But Lizzy, who was now sitting Indian style on the grass with her skirt fanned out around her, just laughed. “Anything else would be a terrible way to start a conversation. ‘Hi, I know we just met but would you care to tell me your opinion on the balance between necessary good and necessary vice? Don’t leave anything else and feel free to reference Thomas Paine if you so wish!’ I don’t think so.” Lizzy shook her head, feigning indifference but Ciel caught onto a trace of reluctant sadness seeping into her tone. A sadness that didn’t match Lizzy, who was far too golden to be feeling so blue.
“Well why not?” He prompted, causing Lizzy to tilt her head up in surprise. “Asking intelligent questions is a skill that’s dying out in this day and age.”
The girl bit her lip and began fidgeting uncomfortably. Her jade green eyes weren’t looking at Ciel anymore but were darting to and fro between the various paper lanterns calmly swaying in the breeze.
And Ciel—who was not renowned for his patience, not by a long shot—waited for her answer.
Slowly, Lizzy put down her bundle of wildflowers and began braiding their stems together. “I don’t…I’m not trying to,” she mumbled a few unintelligible words before taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, this time looking Ciel right in the eye. “People think I’m presumptions when I ask questions like that. They don’t like it.”
“Well I don’t like pointless chatter.” He shot back, uncrossing his arms. “Words tend to lose meaning when people prattle on about nothing because they don’t have the mental capacity to talk about something. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll want to because people these days have reverted to a way of thinking that’s akin to the 16th century—women talk about nothing, men boast of nothing, and children see and hear everything. It’s a shame, really. We don’t even live in a totalitarian state but people can’t seem to converse about anything other than the latest celebrity scandal or whatever inane crap they’re putting on film screens these days. Philosophy has no place in a modern society even though we need it more than ever.”
Lizzy studied him for a brief second, eyes bright with wonder. “I’ve never heard anyone talk that way before.”
Ciel shrugged, moving a little closer to the girl. “I told you. I don’t like useless things.”
“So with you, everything has to have meaning? A purpose? Things can’t just happen because they do?”
“No. I don’t like false acumen either,” he admitted, “so it’s a constant struggle between the two—giving meaning to meaningless things and ignoring the importance of what has been.”
A calming zephyr blew their way, almost reminding Ciel to lower his heart rate and take a few deep breaths. It’d been months since he last felt so…alive, as cliche as it was.
“You’re a walking paradox of rational thought aren’t you?” Lizzy finally decided, looking at him with a thoughtful expression.
Ciel gave a small smirk. “You give a better diagnosis than most professionals I know.” As soon as he said that, he wanted to bite his tongue. Great, his mind seethed mirroring Ciel’s own frustration at his carelessness, why don’t you tell her all about your therapy sessions and sleeping pills and see how quickly she rejects you? No one wants to be seen with a weakling—especially one as pathetic as yourself. Clenching his fists, Ciel forced the feeling to subside and once he was sure that his mental cognition wasn’t intent on poisoning him with self-doubt, he turned to look at the young lady in front of him only to see that she’d finished braiding a flower crown. “Are you thinking of becoming a professor?” She asked curiously, completing ignoring Ciel’s slip of the tongue.
“What?” Her question left him dazed—mildly confused even—because wasn’t it human nature to want to pry into other people’s lives? Why wasn’t she prying? Why wasn’t she like the million and one other people who’d swarmed on him seconds after his parents had been lowered into their graves? Why was she being so—so…his mind struggled to conjure up an adjective to describe the girl’s behavior but the only one he could decide on was considerate.
Kind, considerate, and such manners! It both comforted and irritated Ciel to know there was someone out there with so much innate goodness stored inside them. How was he supposed to hate the world and everyone in it when he couldn’t hate her?
He was Ciel Phantomhive, he didn’t make exceptions.
“Ciel?” The girl asked and he inwardly scowled. He had to stop thinking about her like this before he blurted out something completely stupid. (Though the task might prove slightly difficult since she was sitting right in front of him.)
“No,” he took a shallow breath, “I’ve never considered academia. Business is much more preferable.”
“Pays better too.” She laughed lightly, wearing a few more wild violets into her near complete flower crown.
“It wouldn’t matter.” He shrugged. “Money’s not the issue.”
“Just a measure of success, right?”
Ciel nearly fell out of his seat at that because how did she know?
“Well you seem like a fairly level-headed guy,” (he suppressed a smile at her massive failure of an understatement) “and pragmatism rules the world around you. You need to be the best but how do you measure success when it’s such a relative thing? You use money. Cash flows, yearly accruals, various investments, stocks, and bonds—those are your ways of measuring success. Instead of gold stars and stickers, you use multibillion dollar deals to ruminate over how you’re faring and with you, it must seem the most rational method because throwing money at yachts and gaudy pieces of real estate certainly won't help account books.” She finished matter-of-factly, her voice never losing its convivial manner or charming edge.
Ciel was momentarily stumped before realizing he’d asked that question out loud.
Good lord, he had to get out of here before this girl laid his entire life bare. She was far too pretty and now, far too clever for him to be around for an extended period of time. But then again, a pesky little voice murmured, wasn’t this the first real and decent conversation he’s had since his father died? Wasn’t this the first time he’d smiled since his mother passed away? And hasn’t it been ten months since he last felt something other than anger and a cold mass of hate?
Ciel took another minute to consider, just looking at the girl as she cradled a newly finished flower crown interwoven with daises, violets, and strands of lavender blossom.
“Here,” she moved over so that she was standing right in front of him now. “Lean over!” She commanded childishly and Ciel wanted to roll his eyes because not only did she sound like a spoiled little girl but it was…endearing, in a strange sort of way.
In a very rare show of benevolence, Ciel bent down ever so slightly and allowed her to put the flower crown on top his head.
He felt like an utter idiot but as he leaned back, he caught sight of Lizzy’s smile—her bright, beaming, effusive smile and decided what the hell, he could make an exception.
Just this once.
He walked Lizzy to her car after the fireworks faded and guests began to disperse. Cheslock had appeared out of nowhere while they were passing by the cotton candy stand and threw Ciel’s phone at him. “Told ya you’d have a good time if you abandoned this piece of shit!” He called over his shoulder while Ciel scowled at how his iPhone now smelled like a disgusting mix of whiskey and lime.
They continued walking but it wasn’t until they reached the gravel’s edge that Ciel remembered Lizzy didn’t have any shoes on.
“Shit, do you want me to—“
“I’m fine, Ciel.” She giggled lightly and he looked down to find a pair of pale pink flats on her feet. When did she…? “They were right next to me, by the daisy patch.”
Ciel flushed. Had he been so intent on watching Lizzy that he’d completely missed the shoes that were lying not three feet away? Instead, he managed to give a stiff nod. “Right.”
“Thank you for walking me back. You really didn’t have to.” She dimpled and Ciel forced himself to remain objective, to ignore her sweet smile because he’d already made an idiot of himself twice already.
“You never did tell me where you live.” He pointed out as they passed by rows and rows of luxury cars—Mercedes, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, a few vintage Jaguars, and gleaming Rolls Royces lined the Kadar’s private parking lot but neither Ciel nor Lizzy seemed to notice.
So she comes from money as well, he observed silently.
“You really want to know where I live?”
“I don’t expect an address.” He returned smoothly, knowing full well she was half-joking, half-serious.
They paused in front of a beautiful Maybach Landaulet in mint condition (most likely brand new) and Lizzy dug out her keys from the small clutch she’d kept by her shoes. “I don’t live around her,” she repeated.
“New York’s a big place.”
“It is.” She agreed. “I’m from LA.”
Ciel was quiet.
“I was just visiting my brother over summer break and Soma heard I was back so he invited me to the festival.” She bit her lip. “I can’t believe he fell asleep midway through.” They’d seen Agni, Soma’s guardian and friend, carrying the young Bengal prince inside at around 1 AM.
“How long before you have to go back?”
Lizzy looked away, eyes fixed on a distant Porsche a few yards away. “Tomorrow.” She admitted and felt wretched. Coming to the August Moon Festival was supposed to lift her spirits and make her feel better about leaving for LA the day after but she hadn’t expected to meet Ciel and she certainly hadn’t been prepared to like him as much as she did. I mean really, she berated herself, they’d only know each other for a few hours.
“Well that’s troublesome.” Ciel sighed, causing Lizzy to glance up. Her eyes looked like water lilies and he felt a tiny sliver of affection run through him. “My jet won’t be ready for another three days but I’ll visit you then.”
“My jet.” Ciel repeated calmly. “It’s a Gulfstream G650, fastest plane in their collection. I can reach LA in a little over three hours.”
“You mean…you’re willing to visit me?” She sounded so small as she asked this question—so full of wonder that it made Ciel want to comfort her. Reassure her, even though the best he could do was give a nod and slight smile but that was enough for her. Lizzy launched herself into his arms in a matter of seconds, arms firm around his neck while he stood there in shock for a few minutes. “Oh Ciel, I can’t believe you’d come visit me in LA before the semester starts—“
“I’m not visiting you before the semester starts.” His chin was tucked over Lizzy’s shoulder and he felt her stiffen.
“Oh I didn’t meant to imply—“ she began, sounding slightly frantic and a lot apologetic and Ciel was glad he couldn’t see the very real smile that was now appearing on his lips.
“I’m visiting you every weekend from then until graduation.” He clarified, arms finally coming to wrap around Lizzy’s waist. God, she was warm he thought as he leaned in closer, wanting to sink into Lizzy and her sweet, sunshine-citrus scent.
“Ciel I can’t ask that of you,” she mumbled into his shoulder and he could just picture her squeezing her eyes shut as her hands tightened over his shirt. “That would be unfair.”
“Alright.” He agreed and Lizzy felt a wave of disappointment run through her. He sure was quick to give her up. “We’ll take turns. You visit me every other weekend here in New York.”
“I’ll send the jet to you.”
Lizzy pulled back, looking Ciel right in the eye. His sapphire eyes were sparkling and how long had it been since he last felt…hope? Since he last wanted to smile just because?
And seeing Ciel like this—seeing him look down at her with an expression that was halfway between exasperated affection and eager anticipation—Lizzy laughed. “Yes!” She threw her arms around him again, this time cuddling into Ciel’s chest. “I’ve never seen New York in the fall before.”
“To be honest neither have I.” Ciel chuckled. “I’ve never been particularly fond of sightseeing.”
“Well I’m very fond of sightseeing.” She teased.
“Then we’ll compromise.” That there was a word Ciel didn’t even know he possessed but for Lizzy, he smiled inwardly, he’d be willing to make quite a few exceptions.