Tia Alexandra, before the System, was the girl who at 16 was creating plans to sleep with the 40-year-old musicians at the concerts her father took her to. By the end of the concert, her father was far too intoxicated to pay attention to her, so she would worm her way to the front of the crowd and wait.
There was a very specific way to get the attention of an older man, Tia knew. The first and most important was to be attractive. Thankfully, her mother had blessed Tia with overly large eyes and an expressive mouth. Her other assets weren’t particularly notable, but Tia had played soccer and volleyball since she was a child. Her limbs were long, toned, and tanned.
The second thing was to have the man look at her with a suggestive eye. Most of the time, this was the simplest part. The only trick was that the man had to be the initiator of the look. It was very important not to be caught looking.
Once the man looks, you catch him. You maintain eye contact.
Then, instead of looking away, you smile.
Which was how Tia lost her virginity in a tour bus, probably not 100 feet from her father.
As she grew older, Tia became more adept at utilizing this technique. It had never failed her. Until she met Randidly Ghosthound. Even now, her stomach did flip-flops as she remembered the way they met.
Not that Tia had truly considered this strange, pseudo-political figure an object worthy of her affections. Not at the beginning. He was attractive in a serious way, Tia originally thought, but that image was shattered when you saw his almost childlike grin.
At the insistence of her manager, Tia performed for some newly rescued refugees from the borderlands. It was part of an initiative to make them feel more in control of their lives, and also to prove that the government-sponsored refugee camps were fun too. The young people they were vindicating had been leaving for the relatively similar Unity Church refugee camps in droves; mostly, this was due to the attractive young men and women who came to the government camps to promote it.
Tia was the answer to this problem.
When she encountered him there, he was speaking to some of her techies before the concert. The group of men and women didn’t even notice Tia’s arrival, so enthralled were they in Randidly’s story. One of them appeared to be laughing so hard she was crying. As she casually approached, Randidly looked up. She caught him looking at her.
She held his gaze and smiled.
He smiled back.
He turned back to the techies and continued to tell his story.
Now, Tia didn’t want to say that she obsessed over the fact he hadn’t shown her any real attention, but it remained in her mind through the concert. And afterward, the next day. Through sheer force of will, she had charmed her way into meeting Senator Firefly, knowing that he was a close friend of Randidly. Unfortunately, he was on his way out as she arrived.
But for some reason, even know she couldn’t understand, Randidly stopped as he was leaving and approached her.
“Hey. You’re that singer, right?” Randidly said, his emerald eyes blazing. There was an easy smile on his face.
Tia smiled back. “That’s me! Are you a fan?”
“No,” Randidly said, shaking his head. “But I’ve always wanted to sing. I just think… my throat is the wrong shape. My singing makes people… well... Anyways, you should teach me sometime.”
“Are you free for dinner?” Tia said, just as surprised as Randidly seemed that she asked in such a direct manner.
Randidly simply smiled back.
The rest was history.
The history of Randidly absentmindedly forgetting about their plans and Tia growing increasingly infuriated. But for some reason, the more that he blew her off, the more Tia couldn’t help but throw herself at him.
For fuck’s sake, they hadn’t even kissed yet! And she had agreed to marry him! What sort of move was that, if not crazy?
Today was a private celebration they were having, just to enjoy the relief with several close friends. Randidly was finally hers; she didn’t need to chase him any longer.
But the party had already started below, in Senator Firefly’s grand ballroom at the Orchard and Randidly was nowhere to be found. The butler assured Tia that Mr. Ghosthound hadn’t left, but Tia wasn’t sure how reliable that information that was. For one thing, the butler’s family had been rescued by Randidly and were now staying at the Orchard, so the man worshipped Randidly.
Also, Tia was surprised to discover how capable Randidly was at moving through locations without being detected. It was almost impossible to keep track of the man unless you were looking directly at him.
As she had expected, Tia heard the sound of him working in the stone room. She rolled her eyes at her soon to be husband. He truly was a workaholic in every sense of the world. Whoever had taught Randidly about work ethic should start a clinic. They would revolutionize the industry. When he wasn’t helping build housing for refugees, Randidly was creating sculptures. Some of them were of monsters, while others were humans, but everyone assured Tia they were extremely captivating.
To Tia, they just seemed like rocks, but she wasn’t much into modern art.
But as she was walking down the ornate hall to Randidly’s workroom, there was a strange popping noise. Then she heard her fiance’s voice, but it made her freeze on the spot.
“Neveah, what the fuck are you doing?”
What stopped Tia was the coldness in Randidly’s voice. She had seen him display a lot of emotions, but anger was never one of them. Instantly, her heart started hammering in her chest. Could it possibly be that the Randidly she knew… was just a front? What if he wasn’t the gentle spirit that was her soul mate? And all that raw anger… from just that one line with a different tone, Tia could envision a man who was a disciplinarian. In the bedroom, he was rough and callous. It wasn’t that he wasn’t good at sex; he simply viewed the woman’s body as a tool to his own pleasure.
...why was she getting so turned on....?
Then, there was another voice, and Tia’s entire world shattered.
“Sculpting, do you like it?”
“... you know you are good at working with stone. What I mean Neveah, is what are you doing here? All this stuff? I thought-”
Randidly was alone in his workroom… with a woman. And in his voice, there was fury, gentleness, frustration… and also affection. This was a woman he cared for. A woman who had-
Instantly, Tia could understand the truth of the situation perfectly. An ex-girlfriend from the other Zone had seen the news of their engagement. Driven wild by jealousy, she had traveled to the Orchard and snuck into Randidly’s quarters, lying in wait for him to be alone. But from Randidly’s tone, it wasn’t a clean breakup, and perhaps there are even lingering feelings-
“You know I’m getting married right? Isn’t it fun?” The woman spoke again, and once again everything settled into place in Tia’s mind
This woman, Neveah, was here not to because she truly wanted Randidly back... But to inflict emotional pain on him! Perhaps her marriage to this unknown other man was even the reason that Randidly Ghosthound had left his Zone. Many people had speculated as to his motivations, and finally, Tia had gotten to the heart of it.
Neveah even carried not for her new husband; he was just a tool to hurt Randidly. Her childlike glee when saying ‘isn’t it fun’ clearly displayed her vast ocean of malice that she harbored in her chest. What sort of tumultuous relationship did these two have?!?!
“That’s exactly why I’m here. Do you even know what marriage is?” Randidly asked. And as he asked it, Tia’s heart healed at a rapid pace. His righteous indignation seemed to say, ‘I understand what love is due to my life-changing happiness with Tia. Do you?’ It filled Tia with hope.
Resolving herself to accept whatever she found in the workshop, Tia stepped forward with confidence. But during those last few steps, she produced a mirror from her interspatial watch and checked her makeup. If she was going to meet this slut, she sure as hell had better look better than her.
“Well-” The woman began, but Randidly cut her off.
“Wait, someone is outside.” There was the sound of footsteps, and the door opened.
Randidly, with a furious scowl on his face, looked out at Tia. His eyes scanned her quickly. Tia threw herself into his waiting arms.