“It’s okay! It’s me!” Shree said. She embraced Ellie, then pulled back and scanned her face intently. “You didn’t kiss him, did you? Please tell me you didn’t kiss him.”
“What? No, I… No. You kind of stopped that. What’s going on? Doctor Jorseen?”
He stood from where he’d been examining her unconscious suitor—poor, sweet, Jirek!—and said. “He’s fine. He’ll come around in a few minutes. In the meantime, young lady, give me your arm.”
“My arm?” She couldn’t stop looking at Jirek. When she didn’t act fast enough, Shree grabbed her arm, and the doctor pressed an instrument against it. She felt a prick. “Hey!”
“Listen to me,” Shree said with desperate intensity. “These feelings you’re having? They’re not real. That flower—omigosh, you put it in your hair?—that flower is a powerful aphrodisiac. They laced all the food at the party with it.”
“That’s why I feel like this? I’m love-high?”
“And if you’d kissed Jirek, you and he would have been bonded like this for life.”
Her brows knit. “So I’d feel like this all the time?”
She looked back at Jirek. Even with the medications pulling her down from the high, she could see he was still pretty hot.
Shree shook her. “You’re human, Ellie. It would wear off. Then you’d be miserable and stuck. You’re meant for more than this. And he’d be miserable, too. You’re not his True Love.”
“No,” she mused. “No, Ester is. Omigosh! Ester is still in there. If she picks someone else… I gotta go get her and bring her here. Revive him. Make him see reason. I’ll be right back!”
She threw her wig and mask into the fountain and ran, pulling at buckles and straps as she went to loosen the corset so she could breathe and to change the line of her dress so no one would recognize her as the mystery woman. It didn’t matter. The people in the garden were too intent on each other to notice her anyway. If it hadn’t been for Shree’s phaser, that might have been her and Jirek, too.
When she got there, there were still a dozen people talking, mingling, dancing…
And in a chair at a back table, Ester was tearing at her flower and sniffling.
Breathing a sigh of relief and ignoring the pangs of guilt, Ellie rushed up to her. “Ester. I’m so glad I found you.”
She had to have noticed Ellie’s wild hair, streaked make-up and lopsided dress, but all she said was. “What do you want, Pinch Eyes.”
Ellie bit back a sarcastic retort. “It’s about Jirek. He’s in the garden by the fountain. He’s waiting for you.”
Her laugh was a breath away from a sob. “Don’t be cruel. He left with that mystery woman.”
“I know! I… was watching. I mean, I was at the fountain, but when I saw them coming, I hid. And He was going to kiss her, he really was. But then he stopped. And he said. ‘I can’t do this. I want Ester.’ And then she hit him, hard, and she just stormed off.”
Ester straightened and turned to Ellie, grabbing her hands. “He said what? She, she did what? If this is a trick, it’s the cruelest ever, and I will tell the queen.”
“I’m serious. I know how important this night is. I went to check him and came running to find you.”
“My Jeri!” She rose and ran out the porch doors.
Ellie grabbed a couple of tarts and followed.
* * *
Personal Log of Ensign Ellie Doall, early on the twenty-second day of Neemsat
I caught myself just in time to prevent myself from kissing Jirek. Ew. While we convinced him that pursuing Ellie was a bad idea he should forget if he wanted a happy life, my younger self brought Ester to the fountain. We left the two lovebirds to talk. Ellie gave each of them a tart and told them to enjoy it. The way they were kissing when we left, I think they did.
Overall, mission accomplished. Now I just needed to make my exit.
Ellie younger sighed and kicked a stray stone in a move that was younger than her years. They were escorting her back to the ambassador’s quarters, because even though she’d doffed her wig and changed her dress and the antidote seemed to be working, they didn’t want to leave her alone tonight of all nights.
“Did you really have to call the castle guards and my parents? I’m going to be grounded for the rest of my life. And everyone will be going on and on about their True Loves. It’s going to be unbearable. I may have to run away from home to escape the tedium. Maybe since you saved me from ruining my life, my parents will let us hang out.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be around much longer,” Ellie said.
“Then, we’ll have to make the most of the time we have,” Jorseen said, and he put his arm around her.
Ellie rolled her eyes and shook her head at him, but she smiled. She did not move away.
Ellie younger, however, eyed them with suspicion. “You guys didn’t take any love-drug, did you?”
“No,” the doctor replied. “I’m afraid this is all on Shree.”
“You’re so sweet,” Ellie said. “If I had more time.”
“Okay! Impressionable young lady who has had enough trauma for a night. Hey, what’s that?”
Between a copse of trees, a shimmer had started to grow. From beyond it, she heard the distant voice of her captain calling, “Ensign!”
“That’s it. They found me!”
She hugged her younger self. “You have an amazing future. Go grab it. But… if anyone dares you to eat pastalola, refuse. It looks like spaghetti, but it’s entrails.”
She turned to Jorseen. He gave her a sad smile. “Too soon.”
“You’re sure you’re not love-high?”
“Good!” She took his face in her hands and kissed him with enough passion to have made her have to retake the entire Common Mistakes course all over again.
“Forget me,” she told them. “Seriously. I’m a blip in the sensor sweep of time.”
Then she ran to the shimmer and was gone.
“What’s pastalola?” Ellie-restored-to-her-proper-teen-life asked.
The doctor shrugged and put his arm on her shoulder as he escorted her home.