Livia stared at her roommate Whitney as she gushed about her Roman history class about the founding of Rome."I wish I could just...go back and be a real live actual Roman!"
Livia had to school her expression. First, being a woman in ancient Rome would suck. Second, a thousand words buzzed inside her, wanting to come out. Livia couldn't say- the next best thing happened to me! I found out my family came from an ancient Roman House and that's why I have a freakish amount of strength, can ignore the freezing cold and extreme heat, and keep going for days with little to no sleep. The sleep thing wasn't pleasant though-possible, but extremely unpleasant.
Livia had even moved to their little city, Caesarea, in an abandoned part of Montana after high school. The forum had been amazing and so had some of the festivals. Livia missed the ease of not worrying about people finding out about her abilities. She'd forgotten in the year she'd been there how much of a burden it was to hide her strength all the time. She had forgotten how often she had to playact growing up so that people thought she was normal.
Livia had assumed she could leave Caesarea and not miss it. She'd grown up hiding who she was from the world. It should feel natural to go back to living that way. It did not feel natural. It felt awful. Livia tried to tell herself she'd get used to it. But at moments like this when she had to bite down the words dancing on her tongue she was bitterly disappointed that there were serious downsides to leaving Caesarea permanently.
Whitney continued the enthusiastic recap of her Roman history class, moving on to the Kings of Rome. Her blue eyes shone with an eager light that Livia was sure she'd never manage. Livia was too jaded to show that much excitement. It felt like tempting the universe to strike her down. Better to keep a level head so when things went wrong, as they usually did, you didn't get disappointed. So it was easy to move on and start over again. When it was hard to start over-like it was right now...well, you toughed it out.
Livia repeated the maxim that was a source of comfort since she was a child. "The only guarantee in life is change." Livia wouldn't miss Caesarea forever. Her feelings would change over time. Things would get better. She'd moved to new places, adapted to new circumstances dozens of times. She'd get over it.
"What do you keep looking for?" Whitney asked.
Livia jerked toward her distracted. "What?"
"Whenever we leave or go into a place. You look for something," she said.
Livia turned red. "It's nothing."
Corvin. She was looking for Corvin.
Whitney frowned. "You're really quiet. Do you like it here?"
"It's better than a lot of places I've lived," Livia said, which was true.
"Oh?" Whitney replied with interest. "Where else have you lived? Where did you live before you came here?"
"I lived with my brother Hyrum and his wife in Montana," Livia answered. "We were all over the place growing up."
"Like where?" she asked.
Livia hesitated. "I lived in Italy for six months when I was six. We lived in several places in California. Lived in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania."
"Wow, you moved a lot. For your parents' work?" she asked.
Livia didn't actually know. They didn't technically have to move for work. If she asked her mom now, Livia knew she wouldn't answer. Mom didn't like to talk about the past. Livia had been too young to ask why they moved all the time back then. Now, Livia guessed that they moved because Mom hadn't wanted to be found. Not by Taurus house, nor Aquila house-Dad's family. She'd gone Rogue.
Livia shrugged, deliberately not answering. "What about you? Where do you come from?"
"I grew up an hour away from here," she said. "The first time I came to Cornelia I was in middle school. We were doing a language arts competition. I fell in love with it. When I got accepted it was my childhood dream coming true," she said.
Livia smiled. It was nice to be reminded that the universe wasn't always cruel. "Sweet."
"What about you?" she asked. "Why'd you come here?" she asked.
"Friend told me about it," Livia said. This was true. Tavian Hall from Rattus house had mentioned it. Livia had looked it up and decided to apply. When the school offered a half-tuition scholarship her decision had been made.
"Tell me about this friend," Whitney said.
Livia looked at her, startled. What could she say about Tavian? He was Rattus house, which made him an empath, but she couldn't mention that.
"He has a twin," Livia said.
"A boy?" Whitney wiggled her eyebrow.
"No, not like that-" Livia said. "He's only a friend."
"Ummhmm," she said, teasing. "So this boy has a twin?"
"Yeah, Tavian and Adrian."
"Yeah. We met in high school. I actually dated their younger brother, Arik. So, they're good friends. Very close to my other brother, Lucas."
"So, you just have the two brothers?" Whitney asked.
"Actually…" Livia said. "I have a step-sister. She's nine months old."
"Whoa! That's a gap," Whitney said.
"Yeah, uh, my Mom almost died," Livia said.
"Is she okay now?" Whitney asked.
"Better. Not back to how she used to be, but better," Livia said.
Whitney's face fell. "Oh, no. That must have been so hard for your family."
Livia nodded. "Very."
Livia had almost gone home to help but Hyrum wouldn't let her. He'd flown out with his wife Caecilia instead and stayed for eight weeks. That meant Livia had been in Caesarea completely alone. She'd had an internship with TARP-the Trauma and Rescue division of the Caesarean Security Patrol. When the chief director, Justin Aurelius, had become aware of her situation he'd taken her into his home. His wife Flavia was also Taurus house and had treated Livia like family. Livia missed Flavia way more than she thought she would.
Justin had already been an intimidating Aquila man before he'd married Flavia. He was tall and broad-shouldered and being in Aquila house had already gifted him with extremely swift reflexes. After they married and both taken on each other's house attributes, Justin had become truly formidable, his Taurus side making him able to endure extreme conditions and possess a terrifying amount of physical strength. He'd been put on the toughest criminal cases in his department. Instead of burning out, he'd thrived and adapted, learning everything he could about human nature. He was an endlessly empathetic friend, a shrewd negotiator, and someone you avoided crossing at all costs.
Flavia, in contrast, was soft where he was firm. She was universally known for her endless kindness. Slow to anger and long on patience Livia considered her saint-like. Livia was the complete opposite, which was why Flavia's presence was so comforting. Livia's relationship with her mother was full of tension and conflict. Flavia, however, made Livia feel comfortable and secure. Livia had learned interacting with Flavia that she could maintain harmonious relationships if she were treated reasonably.
When Hyrum had initially flown out at his mother and step-father's request, he had no idea that Honor was at that very moment in labor. Honor had kept it a secret up until the very last second. Hyrum's stay had morphed from a weekend trip into a two-month stay, as he watched their mother cling to life. Carmina had come healthy and robust and continued to grow like a weed. Their step-father dotted on her and showered her with love in a way that made Livia jealous. She didn't have any good memories of her real father and was glad when he was finally convicted of the attempted murder of their mother and put in prison for life.
Livia looked at Whitney and thought about trying to explain everything that had just passed through her mind and felt exhausted. Who would honestly listen to all this garbage she carried around in her head? Her life was so messed up. She didn't want to talk about herself anymore. It was time to change the subject.
"What's your favorite class so far?" Livia asked.
Whitney caught the hint and allowed Livia to change the topic.