Dís Eadmund’s grip tightened slightly on her four-year-old son Fili’s hand as she watched the first shovel full of earth dropped onto the lid of her husband’s coffin. On her other side, her friend, Celebrían Peredhil, wrapped a comforting arm around Dís’ shoulders. Brían, as her friends called her — had been Dís’ best friend since college. They were Godmothers to each other’s children, had been maid and matron of honour at their respective weddings. Brían’s husband, Elrond had first introduced the two women, and Dís was happy to have Brían beside her now.
Standing a little away, Dís’ older brothers, Lt. Col. Thorin Durin, US Marine Corps, and Capt. Frerin Durin, US Air Force, waited for their turn to comfort their youngest sibling and only sister. Dís nodded, acknowledging Brían, and turned towards her brothers. They came forward and hugged her and Fili, then, Thorin picked up his nephew.
“Dís, you know that I really liked Garin. He was a great guy, and he really loved you,” Thorin told her softly.
“Yes,” Dís agreed softly. “I know he did.”
Frerin offered his sister his arm, and led her back to the limousine. Dís stared pensively out of the window all the way back to the house. Their mother had stayed behind to prepare food for their guests, and Dís wasn’t looking forward to having to entertain, even if it was a few friends, and only for a few hours.
Fili followed his mother around the house when they got home, though his friends, Elrond’s seven year old twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir, were there. He seemed to need reassurance that his mother wasn’t going to disappear. After dinner, the children were put down for a nap, and the adults settled in the living room with coffee.
“Dís,” Elrond asked. “Do you want me to cancel the launch party on Tuesday?”
Dís shook her head. She didn’t even need to think about that one. Growing up, Dís had always been the short, chubby kid. She loved clothes and fashion, and spent far too much money on fashion tomes from every place she could get them. At first, Dís’ ambition was to be a model like the ones in her favourite magazines. She kept a notebook, full of poses and she spent a great deal of time practicing in the mirror. However, to her dismay, the weight that she was hoping she would outgrow, merely grew with her. Durin women had always been solidly built, but she prayed God might have taken pity on her at least.
Dís began to feel her dream slipping away. She started to wonder if there was such a thing as a market for plus sized models in the fashion industry. By the time she got to high school, Dís, had given up searching for magazines with plus sized models, and her dream of being a model herself, and set a new goal: start her own fashion magazine for girls like herself. After a crushing class load in college and in grad school, three years of internships, and nearly a decade at other firms, Dís was ready to launch her own publication, Goddess.
“No, no matter what, I must get Goddess in the public eye.” She gave her friend a sad smile. “Garin was one of my biggest supporters. He wanted this to succeed as much as . . . I need it to.”
Elrond nodded. “Alright. Everything will go ahead, as planned.”
Dís’ eyes dropped to her lap. “Thank you, Ron.”
“Father, I told you I wasn't going to be happy with that woman,” Thranduil Lasgalen shifted gears as he raced down the beach road towards the city, his black Bugatti Veyron convertible eating up the miles. His father, Oropher, snorted in his earpiece.
“That's because you're a stuck-up asshole,” his father said bluntly. “Eril is a perfectly nice woman.”
“Then you should have married her yourself,” Thranduil countered. “I don't like blonds, you know that.”
Oropher sighed deeply. “Did I also mention that you are a narcissist of the first order? I'm glad that you at least seem to care for your son, but I worry for him.”
Thranduil scoffed. “Please. Legolas is the only reason I didn't sic the full measure of my legal team on Eril. I want him to know his mother, but there is no reason on earth for me to have to endure another second of her. Five years was long enough. And she doesn't like me, either.”
“Yet you have a child?” Oropher asked.
“Father, sex and love have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. They are mutually exclusive. You and Mr. Lhain wanted a dynastic union, and you got it. Legolas has a brilliant future ahead of him. He'll have more money than Croesus, and will die before he makes a dent in the interest of his first trust fund.”
“And what will become of Eril?” his father asked, sounding tired. Thranduil shrugged, even though his father couldn't see him.
“I don't know. Legolas is staying with me since she travels so much with her job.”
Thranduil and Eril Lhain had known each other for years, and had disliked one another from their first meeting as toddlers. Their fathers had refused to admit that they didn’t get along, and forced the pair into marriage. While he did not care for Eril, Thranduil made the decision to uphold his vows; he would not cheat on his wife. The next two years were spent ducking their father’s demands as to why Eril wasn’t pregnant yet. Finally, in a desperate bid for peace, Thranduil and Eril had decided to give medical science the responsibility of providing their child. When Legolas was two, they set about annulling the unhappy union.
He easily navigated a hairpin turn that was almost too narrow for the width of the Bugatti, and smirked at the driver of a tiny Smart car in the other lane, that was forced to pull all the way onto the shoulder as he passed. Since no-one who actually lived on The Hill would be caught dead standing next to one of those cars, much less driving one, he could only assume it was one of the environmentalist hippies from in the Valley, that had gotten lost on his way to the outdoor cannabis and organic vegetable market.
He sped down the hill, enjoying the feel of the wind in his hair.
“Listen, Father, I'm nearly at the office. I'll talk to you later.” He tapped the earpiece, disconnecting the call before his father could reply. Almost at once, his phone rang. “Yeah,” he answered casually, recognizing Elrond's ringtone.
“Hey, I'm going to be a bit late this morning. I have a few more things to wrap up here.”
Thranduil didn't bother to ask where 'here' was. “I'm not your boss, Ron. I'll see you when you get there.”
“Yeah, but we have clients coming in this morning.”
“I know. I can handle the consult.”
Elrond agreed and they hung up. Thranduil arrived at work a few minutes later. As he parked, he couldn't help but take a moment to enjoy the sweeping ocean view, and the clean lines of the building he and Elrond had designed together during grad school, that housed their architectural firm, Lenhil Designs. He got out, and made his way into the mostly concrete and glass building. Inside, despite almost 360 degrees of windows, the self-tinting, triple paned glass made the building cool and comfortable.
Their secretary was ensconced at her desk as Thranduil walked in.
“Good morning, Mr. Lasgalen. Mr. Peredhil will be late this morning. But it doesn't matter, the nine o'clock consult you both were on called, and asked to be pushed back to two.”
Thranduil nodded. “Good. Thank you.” He disappeared into his office and settled at the drafting table to finish tweaking the concept house he had been working on for over a week.
He was rather startled when Elrond put a hand on his shoulder several hours later. He looked up at his friend in surprise, then down at his watch. It was one thirty.
“Hi,” Elrond said. “I thought you might like lunch before our clients arrive.”
“Yeah, actually, I would.” He tossed the pencil onto the table and stood up to stretch and pop his back. Elrond winced and grimaced at the sound.
“I hate it when you do that,” he muttered, turning to head out the door. Thranduil laughed.
“Yes, I know. That's why I keep doing it.” In the conference room, the secretary had already put out lunch for the two men and they sat down to eat. “What were you finishing up this morning?” Thranduil asked. Elrond looked surprised.
“Oh, I thought I mentioned it. Dís' husband was killed in a car wreck last week. The funeral was on Saturday. She's a bit of a mess herself right now, but she's doing her best to keep it together.”
Thranduil froze for a moment. Dís. That was a name he had not heard in a long time. He knew Elrond must recall the scathing remarks he had made about her when they were in college, giving that he had not mentioned the woman to him once in the last seven years. He looked blankly at Elrond, and tried to react the way his friend would expect.
“Who?” he finally asked. Elrond put down his sandwich.
“Oh my God, why are you such a jerk!? You remember Dís! I introduced the two of you just after the start of junior year, and you bitched because she's curvy. And she was the maid of honour at my wedding! You had to dance with her!”
Thranduil recalled her just fine. He had been discomforted by the fact that he had started to like the pint-sized woman, and had deliberately been abrasive enough to her at Elrond’s wedding to insure that she would turn her back on him, since he knew he didn’t have it in himself to pull away.
“Oh, yeah! Her,” he said, sounding disinterested. “She got married?”
Elrond rolled his eyes. “Yes, she did. A year before you did. She has a son who's about to be four. And she just found out there's another one on the way.”
Thranduil nodded. “And her husband just died last week? That's very sad. Please give her and her son my condolences.”
Elrond nodded, slightly pacified. They continued eating in silence for a few minutes while Thranduil thought about Dís, and wondered what she looked like now.
“She wanted to start a fashion magazine, right?” Thranduil asked. Elrond nodded.
“Not just wanted to, she's done it. The first issue hits the newsstands tomorrow.”
Thranduil nodded, impressed. “Well, I hope it sells well.”
“I'm sure it will,” Elrond said. “And you'll get a chance to see it, because I added it to the magazines we order for the office.”
Thranduil sighed, but didn't reply. Elrond took care of most of the marketing, and he knew what their clients would read and what they would not. He glanced into the tastefully decorated reception room, and at the coffee table that was already groaning under the weight of Elle, Vogue, and Cosmo, as well as several architectural digests. Besides, it wasn’t as if she would be modelling in her own publication, but he couldn’t help wondering again what she looked like now.
The post lunch consult took up most of the afternoon, and it was late before the two men were able to go home. Their secretary had already gone for the day. After they locked up, Elrond and Thranduil made their way to their cars.
“Oh, Ran, before I forget. Brían and I are hosting a launch party for Dís tomorrow. We were going to cancel it, considering, but she insisted that we have it anyway. The press will be there, and we could use the extra exposure as well, so I expect you to be there. It's at eight. Wear a tie. And be nice.”
He climbed into his car and drove off. Thranduil didn’t reply, and drove home faster than he really needed to. When he arrived, Legolas came bounding out the door to greet him.
“Daddy!” Thranduil picked up his son and carried him back inside, while Legolas recounted his entire day to him. Thranduil loved his son, and found the child’s often mindless chatter soothing. He hugged the toddler and Legolas giggled happily. Thranduil smiled at his son, and allowed the problems of the day to remain outside, where they belonged.
Dís took a deep breath and smoothed her hands down the skirt of the black dress she was wearing and turned to look at Brían.
“I don't look like I've been crying, do I?” she asked. Brían hugged Dís, being mindful of her hair.
“No, dear. You look like you are about to take the fashion world by storm.” She grinned at Dís. “I can't believe you've been invited to Fashion Week already.”
Dís nodded. “It might just be a sympathy toss, but I'll take it. Goddess will take the world by storm, if I have anything to say about it.”
“That's the attitude,” Brían cheered. “Come on. Let's do this.”
The two women left the room arm in arm and started down the stairs towards the reception room. In the hallway outside the room, reporters, photographers, magazine executives, and a few celebrities that Elrond and Brían knew were milling about, talking and waiting for Dís' arrival. When she appeared, the reporters pressed closer, asking questions about her hopes for the magazine and about Garin's death.
She felt smothered by the press of people, but tried to answer most of them as coherently as she could. Once through, the reception room was also full of well dressed people, and Dís recognized some of the models from the Goddess photo shoots. She made her way over to them, and was soon chatting amiably with a few of them. The photographers that were following her took loads of pictures, and Dís' face hurt from smiling so much.
Elrond finally located her almost an hour into the party. He dropped a fond kiss on her cheek and looked over the room.
“This is a pretty good crowd,” he said, giving her a quick squeeze around the shoulders. “How are you holding up?”
Dís sighed, and they turned to pose for another picture. “Okay, I guess. I'd kill for a drink right now, though.” She held up her wine glass. “But I must be contented with carbonated juice instead.”
Elrond laughed and tugged her across the room. “Come over here and sit down for a minute.” She sat down gratefully on a couch that was placed near the wall. Elrond glanced over the room, then waved. Dís followed his gaze and groaned.
“Ron! Why did you invite him?!”
Elrond laughed. “I think it's funny. You remember him, but I had to remind him who you were.”
“I always remember the jerks,” she muttered. 'Especially when they look like they just stepped out of the pages of GQ.'
Thranduil arrived at his friend's side and greeted him. Dís sighed. As usual, Thranduil was dressed in a suit that looked like it was made for him. She frowned slightly as she studied him, then nodded mentally. Of course. He was wearing an Ozwald Boateng, so it was indeed custom made.
“Ran, you remember Dís,” Elrond prompted his friend when Thranduil didn't seem to notice her. He looked down at Dís.
Thranduil didn't know what he had been expecting, but the nervous girl in the K-Mart skirt was long gone. Sitting before him was a confidant, professional woman, dressed to the nines in a black cocktail dress that complimented her figure, subtly emphasised the narrowness of her waist and made her legs look a mile long. Her thick black hair was carefully pulled back in a French braid, the ends left loose to curl over one shoulder. Tiny curls artlessly framed her face, and her make-up made her eyes seem more blue than he recalled them being. She rose and inclined her head, drawing his eyes to the onyx and pearl drop earrings she wore. The three inch peep-toe heels she had on brought the top of her head to his chin.
“It's been a long time, Thranduil,” she greeted him blandly. “I understand you've married and have a son now.”
Thranduil was still staring at her. This could not be the same girl Elrond had introduced to him in college. It just couldn't be. Elrond was watching Thranduil with amusement as his brain finally re-engaged, and he blinked at Dís.
“I . . . yes. No. Eril . . . and I are getting divorced,” he stuttered.
“Ah,” Dís nodded. “Well, I hope that you do not forget your son in the mad rush to escape one another.” She offered him a politely blank smile. “Thank you for coming tonight.”
She started to walk away and he whirled around and grabbed her wrist to stop her. Dís made a small mew of displeasure, and he quickly released her, more shocked by the spark of awareness that went through him than by her surprise.
“I'm sorry. I . . . just . . . wanted to say how sorry I was to hear about what happened to your husband. I hope that you and your son will . . . have a lot of good friends around you during this difficult time.”
Dís nodded and her face relaxed into a real smile. “Thank you, Thranduil. I believe that we do.”
She walked away and Thranduil stared after her, in vaguely awestruck wonder, until Elrond clapped his hand down on his shoulder, startling him.
“Forget it,” he told the blond man. “That ship has sailed. She hates you.”
Thranduil glanced at Elrond for a second, then looked after Dís. “She didn't look like that when you introduced her to me in college.”
“No,” Elrond agreed. “She was fifteen pounds lighter and willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
Thranduil watched as Dís made her way through the crowd, pausing to talk to various people until she reached Brían's side. She glanced around, then pointed in his general direction, and whispered to her friend. Brían followed Dís' gaze, a smile flitting across her face. Dís finished talking and both women began laughing hysterically. Thranduil winced and Elrond nodded.
“Sorry, my friend. You had your chance. And you blew it. Big time.” He walked away, and Thranduil snagged a full wine glass off a passing tray.
He drained it in one swallow and tried to find something else to look at. Anything else but Dís, who was easily working the room, stopping for pictures and to talk to everyone. Several of the women in attendance tried for a little while to get Thranduil's attention, but he was so focused on watching Dís that they soon despaired, and turned their attention to easier targets.
When he got home that night, Thranduil went in to say good night to his son, even though the toddler was already asleep, then went to his office and searched the book shelves for his copy of Elrond's wedding album, which had been presented to all the members of the wedding party. He finally found it, and sat down at his desk to flip through the little book. The first picture was of the whole party, but he skipped past it, recalling that he and Dís had a picture together. He looked over the book twice before he found it. It was near the back, stuck together with another page. He held up the book and looked Dís over.
Elrond was right. Dís had been thinner then. And just as pretty, though there was still a little bit of girlishness to her that made her more cute than beautiful. The two of them were standing together and smiling for the camera, but it was quite obvious, even at a glance, that they couldn't wait to get away from each other's presence. Thranduil sighed and tossed the small book onto the desk.
“Oh, my God, I'm a fool.” He looked at the book and stood up. Elrond was right. He had refused to see past the end of his own nose, and really look at Dís Durin, and now, any chance that she might see him as anything other than a pretentious prick, was lost. She wouldn't even acknowledge him if she passed him in the street.
[10 years before]:
“I can't believe I let you talk me into this,” twenty year old Dís Durin moaned, as she followed her friend, Elrond Peredhil into the Venus de Milo, an expensive, high-class restaurant just outside of the town that housed their university. Even without opening a menu, she could already hear the meagre, hard earned funds in her wallet protesting their impending abuse, and subsequent separation.
Elrond scoffed. “Talked you into this? Dís, I’ve only been begging you since the end of last semester!”
She sighed and glanced down at the knee length black pencil skirt, white peasant blouse, and sensible black flats she had finally settled on, and knew without a shadow of a doubt, that she was under dressed.
“Ron, you know I’m not that social,” Dís said softly.
He patted her hand in a brotherly fashion. “That is your only fault my dear, which is why we are here.”
The glass double door was opened for them by a red uniformed doorman. The doors led directly onto a black and white speckled marble floor, and a pair of sweeping, wide marble stairs, carpeted with red velvet, and edged by gold railings. Ensconced between the stair cases was a tuxedo clad maître d', and off to the right was a ballroom, where women in cocktail dresses and more tuxedoed men were being announced by a doorman in a blue coloured uniform. To the left was a coat check, packed with fur wraps and Burberry overcoats.
Dís glanced over her shoulder at Elrond. “Are we going in there?” she asked worriedly, glancing towards the ballroom. Elrond shook his head and tucked Dís' hand into his elbow so that she couldn't escape as they approached the maître d'.
“No, we're going upstairs,” he patted her hand again. “Relax. Everything will be fine. Brían will be there, so you can talk to her if things get awkward.” They reached the maître d'. “Two for Peredhil.”
The man, who had been looking down his nose at them as they approached, dropped his eyes to the leather reservation book lying open before him. He nodded once, and spotting the name, drew a careful line through it with a fountain pen, then offered Elrond a polite smile.
“Good evening, Mr. Peredhil. The rest of your party has already arrived.” He gestured towards a woman Dís hadn't noticed before. “Maria will escort you to your table. Enjoy your evening.”
Elrond nodded and they followed Maria up the stairs. The hallway at the top of the stairs was carpeted in red, and looked totally deserted except for two sets of solid double doors, and a marble table decorated with a small copy of the statue the leant the establishment it's name, and a crystal bowl of real roses. Maria opened the doors on the right, and Dís bit back a gasp. The dining room was just as breathtaking as the entrance below them. Enormous crystal chandeliers provided soft mood-lighting, as did the candles on the tables. The carpet in this room was wine red, and plush enough to muffle their steps as they walked through to their table.
The patrons were talking quietly, and black clad waiters moved about with near silent efficiency. Even the clink of silverware on the plates seemed to be soft, despite the overall quiet of the room. Dís felt as if she were totally exposed, and sure that everyone around her could see that she was not One of Them, and would stop her and throw her out for the presumption of entering their exalted space, and daring to breathe their rarefied air.
Elrond squeezed her hand. “Relax,” he said again. Dís finally spotted Brían, and tried to focus on her as they got closer. Elrond's girlfriend, Celebrían Falmari, was a tall, soft spoken woman, with silver-blond hair and kind, green eyes. Sitting across from her, to her left, was a tall man with long, pale blond hair, pulled back in a neat queue. Maria stood aside when they reached the table.
The blond man rose as Brían smiled at her boyfriend, and Dís felt her stomach clench. The man was gorgeous. His piercing blue eyes were nearly the same colour as the tie he wore, and his dark suit looked as if it had been tailor made for his tall, athletic frame. The man nodded to Elrond, and went around the table to pull out the chair beside Brían for Dís.
Dís murmured her thanks and the man resumed his seat. Elrond sat across from Brían, and the blond man glanced at Maria.
“Bring the wine,” he told her. Dís liked the timbre of his voice, and wondered if he could sing. It was a silly thought, but she managed to hold back the nervous giggle that bubbled up because of it. Maria nodded and disappeared. Elrond looked at the man.
“Ran, I'm glad you could make it. Dís Durin, this is my friend, Thranduil Lasgalen. We have a lot of the same business classes this semester, and are PBK Brothers.”
Thranduil was looking Dís over with cool disinterest. He inclined his head. “Nice to meet you,” he said finally, and Dís' gaze dropped into her lap. She was overwhelmed by his good-looks, but it was obvious that he was totally unimpressed by her.
Dís had found over the years, that her black hair and blue eyes, while a striking combination, were overshadowed by the fact that she had always been a bit heavy, and to make matters worse, short. Once she had begun college, Dís had put forth every effort to get and keep her weight down, and for the most part, she had succeeded. But even as she was preparing now for her third year, she knew that last ten pounds that added a slight roundness to her face and hips, was never coming off.
She sighed and after a moment, she looked up at Thranduil, and gave him what she hoped was an indifferent smile.
“And you.” She looked at Elrond. “Is he in your House on campus?” She had a feeling that if he had been there, she would have noticed him long before now.
Elrond laughed. “Yes —” he started.
“I moved in this semester,” Thranduil interrupted his friend. Dís nodded.
“We only have one friend in common, so we had no reason to meet before now,” he continued, sounding bored. Elrond and Brían exchanged uneasy glances as a waiter appeared with their wine, in an ice bucket. They fell silent as he poured, then nestled the bottle in the ice bucket. He straightened and looked at them expectantly. Elrond glanced at Dís.
“Is chicken alright with you?”
She nodded, slightly horrified that there were no printed menus, meaning that she could not even ballpark how much this evening was going to set her back! Elrond nodded and waved the waiter away. She looked at her wine glass, slightly afraid to touch it. Thranduil's thick, dark eyebrow rose.
“So . . . Dís, was it? You're a student as well? What are you studying?”
She glanced at Brían, who gave her a reassuring smile, then clasped her hands in her lap. “I'm a triple major in English, textile arts, and fashion design, with a double minor in business and marketing.”
He seemed genuinely surprised by her reply. “Interesting combination,” he said, taking a sip of wine. “To what end?”
“I will either be a designer or the editor of a fashion magazine. My goal is to start my own magazine firm in the next ten years,” Dís tried to keep the excitement of her goals out of her voice. Such a petty plan would never impress a man like him.
Thranduil nodded. “There is already a glut in the market,” he pointed out. Dís looked up, forcing him to make and hold eye contact with her.
“Not for my target audience, there is not,” she said firmly. Thranduil frowned slightly for a moment, then his gaze slid away as understanding dawned.
“Ah. No, I suppose not. Well, your plan is ambitious, but eminently doable. I wish you every possible luck with it. Have you already settled on a name for this publication?”
Dís shook her head. “I have a few thoughts,” she said. “But I still have to get through grad school, so there is no rush to settle on anything just yet.”
Their food arrived, and the already stilted conversation flagged. As they ate, Elrond and Brían did their best to keep the conversation flowing. For her part, Dís tried to find interesting topics to raise, but Thranduil only offered her one word, mono tone replies, so after a few tries, Dís gave up, and fell back into her usual habit of simply watching. Thranduil was content to chat with Elrond and Brían though. When dessert was served, the rest took their time going over the choices, but Dís declined it, and settled back to watch her “date”. The others indulged in cheese cake, and the blackest chocolate she had ever seen, while she fiddled with her napkin.
With his height and colouring, education, and from what little Elrond had told her, family background — Thranduil more than fulfilled Dís' criteria for the ideal mate. Thranduil reeked of old money and privilege. The women in his universe were 5”11' at their shortest, mostly blond, and likely came to America on the Arc. She, however, was on nobody's list, was no-one’s' ideal.
The Durins were decidedly middle-class, and had likely come to America to escape the Potato Famine, clinging to the outside of the ship for dear life, since they couldn't even afford to be on it. Her older brothers, Thorin and Frerin, were ten and five years her senior respectively, and after high school, they had both enlisted. Thorin was in the Marines and Frerin was in the Air Force. Dís had been the brain of the family, and studied hard, a task made easier by her lack of friends.
She had secured several scholarships that were the only things putting her through school at the moment. Over the summer, she had found a paid internship that held her over the summer, and she hoped that they had liked her enough to call her back the following summer, and maybe even after graduation. She sighed and looked again at her still full wine glass. She hadn't tasted it yet, and sweat had beaded on the bowl of the glass as it warmed. Thranduil followed her gaze.
“You're not a teetotaller, are you?” he asked mockingly, pouring himself another glass. Dís shook her head.
“I am not.” She looked at Elrond. “Please, excuse me.”
Both men rose as Dís and Brían stood and made their way towards the lavatory. In the rose marble tiled room, Brían dragged Dís over to the sitting area, and pushed her down onto one of the plush white love seats.
“Well, what do you think of him?” Brían asked, eagerly. Dís sighed.
“He's gorgeous,” she answered after a long moment. “And stuck-up. And bored out of his mind. He was sneering at my clothes, my weight, and my future plans. What the hell was Ron thinking?”
The men resumed their seats once the girls were gone, and Thranduil drained his glass before turning to glare at Elrond.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded. “I distinctly remember telling you I don't like fat girls.”
Elrond scoffed. “Dís is not fat.”
Thranduil waved away Elrond's words. “Fine. Full Figured. She's still too big for my liking. And too short! Where did you unearth her, anyway?”
Elrond shook his head. “Dís and I met during Orientation. She looked as lost as I felt, so I went over to talk to her. She's shy, but once I got her to start opening up, I realized that she's a keen observer of people and situations. She's smart, funny, and driven — all things that you demand from the women in your life. Her only flaw, if you can even call it that, is that she doesn't count the crowned heads of Europe among her ancestors.”
Thranduil snorted. “No, indeed. That skirt looks like it came off the clearance rack at K-Mart.”
“Why are you being such an asshole?” Elrond demanded. “You asked me to introduce you to someone who was well-educated, capable of challenging you mentally, wasn't likely to spend you into the poorhouse, and attractive. Dís ticks every one of your boxes.”
“She's short and fat. And poor,” Thranduil glanced over his shoulder at the patrons sitting behind him. “You see that girl over there, in the blue dress?” He asked.
Elrond glanced at the willowy brunette and shrugged. “Yeah, what about her?”
“If your Dís looked like her, you might have scored a home run.”
“If Dís looked like that, the chances that she was intelligent drop by a good fifty percent,” Elrond said dryly. He noticed that their dates were returning, and the two men rose. Brían sat back down, but Dís remained standing.
“Ron, Brían, thank you for inviting me this evening.” She looked up at Thranduil. “It has been most . . . instructive. Thranduil.” She inclined her head at him, and walked away. Elrond and Brían stared after her in open-mouthed shock, and Thranduil resumed his seat.
'She’s way too short,' he thought, reaching for Dís' still full wine glass and draining it in one go.
Dís returned to her dorm room, and spent the weekend alone, dwelling on the Evening Gone Sour with Mr. Perfectly Wrong, ignoring Elrond and Brían's calls, and working on the dress she was designing for her textiles class. By Monday, she had rather hoped that she had put Thranduil out of her mind, and she was even feeling gracious enough to consider forgiving her friends for orchestrating this whole situation. However, when she walked into the cafeteria to get her morning cup of coffee, He was standing at the coffee machine. Dís sighed softly, and moved quietly up behind him, hoping, despite her shorter arms, to reach around his taller frame, and snag a cup. He noticed her hand, and stepped to the side, reaching up to hand her the 32 ounce cup that was just out of her reach.
“I'm sorry,” he said politely, glancing at her as he held the cup out to her. He paused as he recognized her, and stared. Dís was surprised at the level of hauteur that spread over his handsome face. Dís reached for the cup at the same time he started pulling it away, and caught it.
He frowned slightly. “Oh. It's you.”
He turned back to the coffee machine, and retrieved his slim, silver travel mug. Thranduil finally stepped aside, and Dís took his place. She was annoyed that he didn't move farther away than the cream and sugar station a few feet away, and stopped to watch her. Dís filled the cup, and turned towards the cashier, glad that she preferred her coffee black. Thranduil followed her. She paid in cash, unwilling to start using her school issued Cafe-Cash so soon in the semester. She hurried outside, and trotted across the campus' narrow main street, towards the main academic building.
“If you are running late, you should consider getting up earlier, or investing in your own coffee machine,” Thranduil told her, easily keeping pace with her short legs. Dís sighed and scooted her messenger bag farther back on her hip.
“I'm not late,” she told him shortly. She stopped walking in the middle of the deserted sidewalk, and so did he. Dís frowned and gestured towards the building.
“Please, go ahead,” she invited testily. Her good mood was quite gone, and she was feeling irritated with Elrond again for introducing her to this pest.
Thranduil smirked at her. “When is your first class?”
Dís rolled her eyes. “Who wants to know? Why are you even talking to me?”
Thranduil didn't reply for a moment, then moved ahead of her to open the main door. “You seem to be in a hurry. Please, ladies first.”
Dís stormed past him, and tried to ignore his towering frame as she made her way towards the stairs. Thranduil stayed with her all the way to the fourth floor, and he followed her down the nearly empty hallway to the lecture hall. Dís moved towards the back of the stadium-style room to sit in the back row, as she usually did. Very few people sat in the back of the room, so Dís often had half of the room to herself. It also enabled her to see everyone and everything, without drawing undue attention to herself. Thranduil stopped at the foot of the steps to watch her sit in a middle row seat, and begin pulling out paper and pens. She set these items just so on the desktop, then pulled out a thick novel, and took her first sip of coffee.
He blinked, and looked over the otherwise empty room. “Why are you hiding up there?”
“I'm not,” Dís told him, turning a page. “I always sit back here.” She dropped a pen into the book to hold her page, and reached into her bag, pulling out a pair of headphones. She put them on, selected a song from her phone, and resumed her book. Thranduil smirked, irritated and unwillingly amused that she was ignoring him. After a moment, he mounted the steps and took the seat to her left. Dís sighed and turned another page.
It was going to be a long day.
Having never seen him in this class before, Dís was surprised that Thranduil was easily keeping pace with the lecture. Thinking about it after the class began, Dís decided that he must be using this earlier class as a make-up for a later one that he would be wilfully skipping. Pleased that she would only have to tolerate him for a short while, Dís threw herself back into the lecture. When it was finished, she had five minutes to race across campus to the Art Building for her design class. Away from Thranduil's overwhelming presence, Dís felt her good mood returning. By the end of the day, Dís had texted her friends, and was considering studying outside in the late summer sunshine. It was warm enough, and while having dinner with Brían would be fun, she elected to enjoy the nice weather instead.
She took a blanket and her art pad out to the Quad. She settled on the grass, and began sketching the other students who had the same thought. Most of them were in groups of three or more, and most of them were either sleeping or sunbathing. A few of the boys were playing football. Dís was using them to practice drawing figures in motion when a shadow fell over her paper. Dís raised her eyes to look at the pant legs before her, but not her head. She sighed. While most of the students here were exceptionally well off, and dressed accordingly, she personally only knew of two men who would wear designer khakis the way the rest of the world wore blue jeans.
“What, Thranduil?” she demanded testily. “You're blocking my light.”
He didn't move. “We do seem to keep encountering one another, Ms. Durin.”
Dís raised her head and looked around. The closest people to her were over 50 yards away. She was in the near exact centre of the Quad, as far away from the sidewalk as she could manage. Her eyebrow rose.
“Really, Lasgalen? Try the other leg; it’s got bells on it.”
He smirked, and dropped down onto the grass beside her, leaning back on his arms. “Very well. I sought you out. I need to speak with you.”
Dís glanced around, hoping that no-one noticed Thranduil sitting beside her. When it was clear that they were being ignored, she dropped her eyes back to her art pad.
“Why?” she asked.
He remained silent for a long time, hoping to make her uncomfortable enough to look at him. It didn't work, and he finally sat up. “I—”
Elrond sprinted over, clearly surprised to see the two of them together. “Ran! Hey, Dís.” He stopped in front of them. “Ran, we need a fourth for Ultimate Frisbee.”
Thranduil rose, and glanced at Dís for a second, then nodded. “Lead the way.”
Dís breathed a sigh of relief as the two males moved away. She had no desire to talk to Thranduil, though she was amused by his attempt to discomfort her.
Two days later, Dís was disheartened to see Thranduil in her early class again. She tried to ignore him as he sat beside her. She focused on her coffee and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.
“Ms. Durin, we have been introduced. Ignoring me is most rude,” Thranduil chided.
Dís compressed her lips, but refused to look at him. Thranduil smirked.
“Ms. Durin, we will be seat partners for the rest of the semester.”
Dís frowned. “Why? We should have no classes together.”
“Well, for the first week of class, I was taking this class online, but, then I decided to matriculate.”
‘Great,’ Dís thought, suddenly wishing for a chocolate bar. ‘My life just became hell.’
“Since you are the only person in this room to whom I have been introduced,” Thranduil continued. “I have selected you to be my partner for the proposal project.”
Dís shook her head in denial. “I got permission to do that alone, since I was the odd — dammit!”
His smirk was unpleasant. “I have not settled on a topic as yet, so on whatever you are working, I will simply join you. That way, we don’t have to start over. I will do my share of the work, rest assured.”
Dís’ head dropped to the desk top. “I hate you,” her voice was muffled.
“I assure you, the dislike is mutual,” Thranduil told her blandly, as several people made their bleary way into the room. “However, circumstances have conspired to force our interaction, and one cannot always have what one wants.”
Dís huffed and sat up. She rummaged into her messenger bag, took out a paper, and dropped it onto Thranduil’s desk. He picked it up and glanced over the notes she had made for her business proposal. He nodded once and handed it back.
“I may have some thoughts on this,” he told her. “You are on the right track. I have . . . connections . . . in the publishing industry, so I can help you with the language, and the presentation. And I have Photoshop for my art classes.”
Dís nodded, having just intended to use the programme in the school’s computer lab, but if he had it already, that meant less restricted access at the hours she usually studied.
“Very well. I am free after 8 PM. We can use the second floor study rooms in the library.”
Thranduil agreed and Dís pointedly ignored him for the rest of the class. Eight o’clock arrived far sooner than Dís wished, though she was already in the study room when Thranduil arrived, exactly on time, a designer messenger bag across his shoulder. His eyes registered a brief flash of shock that she was already there, but it was gone in a second. He offered her a nod and took a seat at the table. He pulled out his laptop and booted it up.
“Have you added anything to your proposal since this afternoon?” he asked.
Dís shook her head. “I wanted to see what you had to offer.”
“I have a title,” he said, opening a file. “And a cover. A couple of them, in fact.”
Dís was prepared to dislike any and everything Thranduil had in mind. He turned the computer to face her, and Dís was surprised. The first cover design was of a tall, Rubenesque brunette, professionally dressed in a dark suit, with just a hint of a red, laced edge cami peeking out from the top of her closed, three button jacket. Down the left hand margin, in bold, drop relief letters was the title, Diva.
Dís eyebrow rose. “Why her?” she asked. “Why not a toothpick blond with huge boobs?”
“I do not find blonds attractive,” he told her imperiously. He reached around the monitor to tap the right arrow key. “And you already informed me of your plans for a Rubenesque themed fashion tome.”
The second cover was a voluptuous, curvy red head, standing on a white sandy beach in a sky blue, one piece bathing suit, with a diagonal green stripe across the body. Dís nodded, and glanced over the other two covers Thranduil had designed.
“All of the models are lovely. And I appreciate that you took the time to find well dressed ones as well.”
Thranduil shrugged and turned the computer to face him. “So, which do you prefer? We can still make changes. I saved the working files.”
Dís scoffed ruefully. “Honestly, I like them all. But I don’t like the title font.”
He agreed, and scooted his chair around the table so that they were sitting side by side, and both could see the screen.
“Let us see what we can do about that then.”
Elrond and Thranduil had breakfast in the school cafeteria every Saturday morning. Elrond watched his friend without speaking as they got their food, and chose an out of the way table. After they were seated, Thranduil looked squarely at his friend.
“Ask away. I know it’s killing you.”
Elrond smirked. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Ron, I’ve known you from the crib. Just answer me.”
Elrond considered for another moment. “I thought you hated Dís. But you transferred into her class and now you’re doing the project with her?”
“Her class was the only one with an opening and she was the only one without a partner. The professor told me to work with her.”
“So, this is all against your will?” Elrond asked, pulling the ceramic butter dish across the table towards him, to add the toping to his pancakes.
“Completely and utterly,” Thranduil agreed flatly. “An additional three days in her company has shown me that Dís Durin indeed possesses a modicum of intelligence. And that I could never go out with her. Unless —”
He paused and took a sip of coffee. “No, I shant say it. I have been rude enough to Ms. Durin’s character. When the semester is over, I have no reason to speak to her ever again.”
Elrond shook his head. “Ran, why are you being so stubborn about all this? There is nothing on earth wrong with Dís.”
Thranduil’s eyebrow rose slightly, but he refrained from saying more. Elrond sighed and shifted the topic.
That afternoon, Thranduil met with Dís again in the library study rooms. He was annoyed that she had insisted on meeting on a weekend. Unlike her, he did have an active social life. Dís was writing when he arrived with his laptop. She didn’t look up as he shut the door harder than necessary.
“You took your sweet time,” she slid the paper across the desk towards him. “I’ve been working on the “articles” for the front cover. Also, the background colours need to be different. Lighter, I think.”
Thranduil sighed and sat down, plugging in his laptop. “Is this all you have been thinking about?”
Dís shook her head. “No, I spent the morning tweaking the dress I’m designing for my textiles class, I finished the landscape I have to turn in on Monday for my art class, and I did the reading for this class. I still have to finish the research for my creative writing class, and I have a quiz in history to make notes for.”
Thranduil stared at her for a long moment, as his laptop booted up. “No wonder you don’t have a social life.”
Dís shrugged. “I don’t need one. I have come to the conclusion that that is not for me. Others may waste their time.”
Thranduil pulled the paper over and skimmed it. “Ron introduced us in the hopes that we would be interested in going out with each other,” he pointed out.
“I know. And thanks to that . . . experience . . . I have seen the error of his ways.”
Thranduil scoffed and turned back to the paper. “So, how will a camera help you dress better?”
Thranduil circulated the press of bodies in the dorm lounge, keeping his beer aloft for safety from the gyrating bodies around him. After leaving Dís in the library, Thranduil had returned to his room to change into a navy blue polo, blue and red chequered board shorts, and boat shoes. He was scanning the dimly lit, overly warm room, looking for Elrond and his girlfriend. Dís had a dozen things that she wished to add or change to their business proposal, and she wouldn’t let him leave before she had listed them all, in agonizing detail. The party he wanted to attend was well underway by the time he arrived, and he was having a hard time not feeling annoyed with her.
Just because she had nothing better to do than study all the damn time didn’t mean that he didn’t. He had been intending to scope out the party goers, searching for a new companion for the next few weeks. However, after an hour, everyone was drunk, and he wasn’t interested in chatting up a drunk girl. They were boring and not thinking clearly. The last thing he needed was a sexual assault charge or a pregnancy scare to spice up his semester. He sighed, and took a sip of his rapidly warming beer. Elrond and Brían were sitting on a couch in the corner, watching the rest of the guests with bored disinterest. He joined them.
Elrond looked up at his friend. “Well, I see you have finally arrived. We were just about to leave.”
Thranduil sighed. “Ms. Durin wouldn’t let me escape. It seems that all she thinks about is school work.”
Elrond smiled and nodded. “It can seem that way. Perhaps you need to listen to what she’s not saying. She has almost no friends, so she fills her time with class work.” He sighed. “We invited her along tonight, but she turned us down. To meet with you.”
Thranduil drained his beer, and looked away. “I left her in the library nearly an hour ago. She was . . . knitting something.”
Brían sighed and exchanged a speaking glance with Elrond. “Ran, please try and be nice to Dís. She really needs someone to be there for her. I know for a fact that she really likes you, quite a lot.”
Thranduil shuddered with disgust. “I did not need to know that. Look, I already told Ron that I can see that she’s intelligent. But beyond that, I see nothing to recommend her.”
He cast his eyes over the party goers, then turned back to his friends. “Come on. Let’s hit the Pub and then FlashBulb,” he said, naming a popular local club with the college set.
Brían rose and nodded. “Yes, let’s do that. I’ll call Dís on the way and see if she will at least join us at the Pub.”
Dís started to ignore her phone when it rang, but she recognized Brían’s ringtone, and knew that her friend wouldn’t stop calling until Dís answered the phone. She sighed and put aside her knitting.
“What, Bree?” In the background, she could hear the sound of a jukebox playing. The crispness of the sound told her that it was a cd player.
“I’m at the Pub with Ron. Would you care to join us?”
Dís shook her head, even though she knew Brían couldn’t see her. “No, I don’t think so. I have—”
“No you don’t,” Brían interrupted her. “That knit project isn’t due for another eight weeks. You’ll be done with it in another six hours, and then be at a loose end for the rest of that time. Put down your needles, get into a pair of jeans and a clean shirt, and get your fanny out here. If you aren’t here in the next half hour, I’m coming back to your room to get you.
The library is closed, all the classrooms are locked. You belong to no clubs, and even after living here for three years, you barely know your way around town since you hardly leave the campus. There is no-where for you to hide; I will find you.”
Dís stared at the handset, torn between irritation at Brían’s demands, and depression because it was true. She sighed, and put the phone back to her ear. “Very well. A half hour.”
When she saw Thranduil’s blond ponytail through the window as she approached the Pub twenty-five minutes later, Dís was sorely tempted to turn around and go back to her room. She should have known that Brían would leave out the fact that Thranduil was with them. She stopped outside the door. If she went back to her room, Dís knew that Brían would keep her promise and drag her back against her will. She sighed and pushed open the door.
The Pub was small, with maybe eight tables scattered the length of the square room. A pool table stood in one corner, a group of men in their thirties playing and drinking after work. The TV over the bar was tuned to ESPN, and a few older patrons sat at the bar, having their drinks and ignoring the TV. On the far side of the room, away from the noise of the pool table, Elrond, Brían, and Thranduil were sitting at a booth. Dís paused to allow her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room, and to study the group. Brían’s pale, delicate features and willowy figure made her the talk of the school when she arrived. Everyone wanted to know her — the boys wanted to own her, and the girls wanted to be her. When Elrond first introduced them, Dís was braced for Brían to be cold, ultra formal, and dismissive. What she got was a warm, good natured woman, with a bright smile and a genuine interest in getting to know her. She thought Dís was perfect, and envied her curves.
“I bet all the guys are falling over themselves to go out with you,” Brían had gushed. “I mean, look at you! I’d pay for those curves!”
Dís had stared at her in confusion, then looked to Elrond for help. “What is she talking about?” Dís asked. Elrond laughed.
“Bree, Dís thinks she’s fat.”
Brían’s face had gone pale, then red. “What? No, you don’t! How many boyfriends have you had since high school?” she challenged.
“None,” Dís told her, feeling a perverse pleasure in this odd conversation. “Before, during, or since. In high school, the boys called me The Weeble. They wobble, but —”
“I know what it is,” Brían cut her off testily. “Boys are stupid.”
After that, Dís would have walked over hot coals for Brían, and her friend in turn had set herself on a crusade to improve Dís’ self-esteem. She attempted to revamp Dís’ wardrobe, and setting her up with Thranduil was also a big part of that push. Dís sighed. Except, neither Elrond nor Brían had counted on Thranduil taking such an instant dislike to her.
Dís crossed the room and slipped into the booth beside Brían, putting her between Dís and Elrond. “Well, I’m here,” she said. “And under your time limit, as well.”
Brían nodded. “And for that, I thank you. You need to get out more. I know its dark now, but the pale vampire thing really isn’t a look I’d recommend for you.”
Thranduil scoffed. “No. I think Dorothy of Kansas is more your style.”
Dís started to reply, but Brían beat her to it. “Judy Garland was quite the beauty in her day. Thank you.”
He looked away, and Dís smiled at her friend. “I really can’t stay long. I have so many projects due—”
“Dís,” Brían interrupted her. “We have been back for three weeks. Relax. You and I know that nothing except your art is due any time soon. Chill out.”
Dís sat back in the booth. She had nothing but her classes. When there were no projects, papers, or assignments, Dís generated extra credit projects to keep herself occupied. She loathed not haveing something to focus on, and at the moment, if she stopped, she’d start dwelling on how handsome Thranduil was, and how unfair the universe was to allow a man like him to even cross her horizons. Seeing him made her wish for things — a dangerous habit to get caught up in. She looked down at the table top for a moment, then reached over Brían and Elrond to pull over the music selection card for the jukebox cd player.
“Any requests?” she asked.
Thranduil strode into his father’s office without knocking, and carefully placed a thumb drive on the polished surface of the older man’s desk. Oropher looked at the tiny device, clearly confused for a moment, then up at his son.
“You drove three hours from school to give me a thumb drive?” Oropher asked. Thranduil sighed.
“No, Father. I could have e-mailed this to you, but frankly I felt its contents warranted a personal explanation.”
The elder Lasgalen went pale. “It’s not ultrasound photos, is it? You’re twenty years old now, and are basically an adult, but I’m not ready to be a grandparent just yet. And neither is your mother.”
Thranduil laughed and dropped down into the seat across from his father. “No, sir. They are pictures, but not of a zygote.” A frown flitted across his face. “In all honesty, it’s because of these pictures that I have not had the opportunity to secure a proper female companion this semester.” He sat forward. “For my marketing class, the one I dropped online — well, in the classroom, I was assigned to work with — of all people on this earth — the girl I told you Ron set me up on a blind date with.”
Oropher nodded. “The smart girl, that you decided was too short to warrant your attentions?”
“Father! I don’t think she’s even five feet tall! Anyway, she wants to be a magazine publisher, and surprise, surprise, that’s the topic of her presentation. Anyway, I kind of figured that’s what she would be doing, and I saw no reason to change ores mid-stream, so I told her I’d help. Anyway, long story short — we will be giving our presentation in a couple of weeks, and I want to punch it up. If we do well on the project, the professor said we can skip the final. And I want to be out of this class ASAP.” He gestured towards the thumb drive.
“So, I — we need posters of the pictures on that drive.”
Oropher nodded and plugged the thumb drive into his computer. “I don’t see how that required . . .” he trailed off with a low, appreciative whistle. “Well, now!” He glanced at his son, and Thranduil flushed and looked away.
“I know,” Thranduil moaned. “I’ve been stuck, this entire God-forsaken semester looking at fat girls! I just . . . ugh! I want to be finished with this project already! Please print the posters, so I can go back to school, and face the end of this humiliation.”
Oropher was still looking at the computer screen. “Ran, these girls are smoking hot. What are you complaining about?”
“They’re fat!” Thranduil protested. “I . . . just can’t!”
Oropher shook his head. “Ran, no-one likes cuddling with a coat hanger. These are real women.”
Thranduil wrinkled up his nose. “I don’t like cuddling, period.” He rose. “Can you get them done by this afternoon?”
Oropher nodded and watched his son depart with a terse ‘thank you.’ He closed the picture folder and glanced over the PowerPoint that was also on the drive, making a mental note as her read to keep his ears open for any news regarding one Dís Durin. He knew his son’s writing style, and this was not it. The young Ms. Durin was knowledgeable and passionate about her subject. With a very little bit of help, she could go far in the industry.
Thranduil knocked on Dís’ door and shifted impatiently as he heard her crashing around. She opened the door, clutching a towel around her damp body. His eyes grew wide, and she squeaked when she saw him, then slammed the door shut.
“Uh . . . just a second!” she called.
He closed his eyes and leaned against the door jamb with a sigh. After a few minutes, she reopened the door. Now, she was swathed in a dark green, plaid robe.
“Yes?” she said, her voice annoyed. Thranduil held out the poster tube he was carrying.
“I come bearing gifts.”
Dís smirked. “So did the Greeks. It didn’t work out so well for the Trojans.”
A real smiled flickered across his face. “Well, this is our project. I told you, I have some publishing connections.”
Dís frowned slightly. “But I thought we were using the PowerPoint.”
“We are. This,” he waggled the poster tube. “Is just for extra punch. Everyone else will be using tri-fold boards and glue. We will be approaching this as if we were talking to real editors and sponsors.”
Dís nodded and stepped back, inviting him into her room. Thranduil hesitated and she sighed. “All of my neighbours are out on the town. No-one will see you entering my room. Or leaving.”
Thranduil smirked. “That is not why I hesitated, my dear Ms. Durin. You are not dressed.”
Dís tugged the neck of her robe open, giving him a glimpse of her ample cleavage and the spaghetti strap pyjama shirt she had on underneath. He nodded and stepped over the threshold. Dís watched him, feeling as if she just invited a vampire into her home. She glanced up and down the deserted hallway and shut the door. As she turned, she nearly ran into Thranduil, who had stopped in the short entrance hall that housed her closet, and the door to the bathroom she shared with the girl in the next room.
He was staring over her room, clearly appalled by what he was seeing. One wall was dominated by a long desk top. Half of it was covered with stacks of textbooks, notebooks, and pens, and the other half housed her sewing and knitting machines. The two shelves above the desk top were full of sewing and knitting paraphernalia, her microwave and a few random cans of food. On the floor, nearly hiding a fuzzy, purple rug, were stacks of pattern books and fashion magazines, art supplies, and a few pillows for sitting on. The wall directly opposite the desk had two plastic storage totes of yarn and fabric stacked against it, her bed — currently covered in discarded clothes and her bath towel, and a small dresser with clothes hanging out of it haphazardly. The window in the centre of the wall between the desk and the bed was cracked open, causing the neon green and electric pink drapes to flutter in the chill breeze that was coming in.
Thranduil looked down at Dís. She was always so organised with her work, and for some reason, he had pictured her living in a much more tightly managed space.
“I . . . never would have pegged you for a slob,” he commented. Dís pushed him into the body of the room.
“I live alone. I have had exactly three visitors in the last three years. Including you.” Dís was annoyed that she felt the need to justify her use of the space. “Also, I’m working on several projects at the moment. Remember—triple major, double minor?”
He nodded and popped open the poster tube. He pulled out the posters and handed Dís the tube. She took it, and he carefully unrolled the posters. They had finally settled on three of the five covers — one for the PowerPoint, and the other two as visual aids. The posters were huge, nearly movie theatre sized. On was the professional woman in the dark suit and the other was the redhead in the blue bathing suit.
Dís whistled. “Well, if nothing else, the class will remember this,” she gestured towards the red head. Thranduil was inclined to agree.
“I have the stands in my room. We can set them up before class starts and keep them covered with dark cloth until it’s our turn.”
Dís nodded. “Great. Then I’d say we are as ready as we’re going to be.”
He rerolled the posters and carefully slipped them back into the tube. “I have somewhere else to be in twenty minutes. I’ll see you later.”
Dís turned to open the door for him. “Bye.”
He left, and she leaned back against the door. She should not have let him come in. Her room suddenly felt smaller, even with him gone. While he could easily ignore her, Dís still found him attractive. Working with him so closely these last few months had just amplified it. When he relaxed a bit, and let his guard down, allowing his personality and wry sense of humour to show through, Dís almost felt as if they could be friends. And in those few minutes, he seemed to be enjoying her company as well. Then, something would distract him, and he’d suddenly remember who he was — who she was, and become cold and aloof again.
She sighed. Thinking about it made her want a giant cookie. Dís pushed herself away from the door and went to rummage in her freezer, looking for a sugar-free, soy frozen yogurt bar to snack on.
Thranduil returned to his room and stored the posters in his closet. He hadn’t been totally truthful with his father about Dís. He had managed to stay single this year because he had stopped looking for a girlfriend. It was true that Dís Durin, and her obsession with this project was taking up a good deal of his time, but not so much that he couldn’t get a girl if he really wanted to. He brushed his blond hair out of his face, and plopped down on his futon, in front of the TV. He was starting to actually like Dís, and that thought made him disgusted with himself.
He had teased, insulted, and irritated her a lot the first few weeks they were working together, but then, it had just petered away. He didn’t like the distress in her eyes when he made a cutting remark about her clothes, or how much time she spent with her face buried in a text book. Elrond had already told him that Dís was the first Durin to attend college, and that was a coup any family would be proud of. She had gotten into college with sheer will, and was staying in with hard work. After that, he stopped commenting about the cost of her clothes, the fact that her cell phone was four years old, and teasing her for not having a laptop.
He had actually come to her defence at a party not two weeks before when one of the guys he usually hung out with commented that Dís Durin was the frostiest virgin on campus.
“I mean, come on! She’s got a cute enough face, and I suppose with the lights off, you won’t care about the stretch marks.” The other boys laughed, but Elrond frowned and Thranduil had sent him a quelling look.
“Ms. Durin is, I believe, quite selective about with whom she chooses to associate. She does not give you the time of day for fear of confusing you. After all, small minds tend to struggle with even the most basic details. It is a kindness, really.”
The silence that fell over the group was short, but awful. Elrond cleared his throat and changed the subject. Later, on the walk back to their House, Elrond kept giving his friend appraising looks, but never voiced the question that was obviously begging to be asked.
‘I am not interested in Dís Durin!’ he thought, feeling irritated with himself. It was just the affects of a dry semester. She was the only female had been seeing with any regularity, and in desperation, he was starting to obsess over her. ‘I just need to get her into a small, dark room, kiss her a few times, and then I can move on with my life.’
“Ugh!” he picked up the remote and turned on the TV. He most assuredly did not want to kiss Dís Durin! Not in a small room, not in a dark room, nor any other sort of room. He powered up the video game he had been playing earlier. Shooting zombies was the perfect way to keep Dís out of his mind.
“—Such publications, have, in the past, been public relations gems. However, miss handling and ignoring the needs and wants of the target market have negatively affected sales, and driven them out of business.”
Dís paused and looked over the classroom. The professor was sitting in the front row, listening intently to her. The rest of the class was listening and taking notes as they had been told to do. She glanced up at Thranduil. He was standing beside her, immaculately clad in a dark, pinstripe suit and a tie striped in the school’s colours. His long blond hair was held back in a neat queue. She was wearing a knee length black wrap dress, with a white shirt collar and white cuffs on the three-quarter length sleeves. Her hair was caught back in a braided bun, and she had kept her jewellery simple — a single strand of pearls, and the watch her brother Thorin had bought for her when he learned that she had been accepted into college.
She and Thranduil were among the last of the class to make their presentation, and were the only ones to dress up for it. Thranduil nodded at Dís’ words and picked up her speech.
“Knowing and understanding the needs and wants of the target audience is key. Once upon a time, brick and mortar, ink and paper meant the difference between success or failure. But no more. We are living in the 21st Century. Online shopping and social media are the keys to success. These new mediums allow us to reach our clients, and know what they think, need, or want in a heartbeat.”
He pushed a button and the slide behind them changed. Dís glanced at the computer screen, then reached over and tugged the covering away from the first poster of the professional woman. The class murmured and the professor smiled slightly.
“This is the new Diva of the 21st Century. A beautiful, professional, woman, with a dozen places to be, at once. She has no time to thumb through a magazine. She does, however, have a few minutes between soccer games and ballet class to check her e-mail on her phone. She wants to see this,” he gestured towards the poster. “She wants to know how much it is, does it come in her size, and can it be overnighted.” He paused for dramatic effect, and Dís watched him move towards the second poster. She picked up where he left off.
“But, she will also be going out of town with her husband for a weekend at the shore—no kids allowed.” Thranduil tugged down the second cover and Dís watched the guy’s eyes widen. A few catcalls went around the room and the girls began glancing at each other.
“With the power of digital media, she can have both,” Dís gestured towards the posters. “She can have her magazine, place her order with the touch of a button, and rate the publication. What becomes of that feedback? Do we store it in File 13, never to be seen again?”
“No,” Thranduil picked up. “We release this suit,” he pointed towards the work outfit. “In red. And this one,” he gestured towards the bathing suit. “In black. Or silver. Or gold. What the consumer wants, when and how she wants it.”
“We do not,” Dís continued solemnly. “Feature the newest incarnation of Twiggy, in a silver lycra cat suit. That you can get anywhere. Here, we only cater to the Real American Woman.”
Thranduil followed Dís to the cafeteria after class. Neither of them had stopped for coffee that morning and now that the adrenalin had worn off, they desperately needed it now. Dís was going to be late for her art class, but the teacher had already given her permission to do so, since she wanted to change out of her good suit. Thranduil graciously paid for their drinks, and escorted Dís back to her dorm.
“I think we passed,” he told her. Dís shrugged.
“Like I said, it would be memorable, but I’ll withhold judgement until I see the numbers.”
“Ms. Durin, we were the only ones who dressed for the occasion, we were the only ones with visual aids, and we were the only ones to take questions afterwards. We passed, I’m telling you.”
Dís stopped outside of her door and sighed. “Maybe.” She unlocked the door. “I need to change. I’ll see you later, Lasgalen.”
She started to step into her room, but Thranduil put a hand on her shoulder, stalling her. He turned her around to face him, and bent to kiss her. Dís was startled, but didn’t pull away. It was hard, fast, and desperate, and Dís could only stare after him in shock as Thranduil abruptly turned away from her and disappeared down the stairs. She raised a shaking hand to touch her lips, then rushed into her room, slamming the door shut behind her.
On Sunday night, Dís’ cell phone buzzed, startling her. She flipped it open. It was a text message from Thranduil.
I told you we passed, he wrote. Prof. says to have a good Christmas. We don’t even have to come in for the last four lectures or the final. Win!
Dís huffed out a breath and slapped the phone shut. She never had to see Thranduil Lasgalen again. She looked down at the phone sadly for a moment, then slowly tipped over onto her pillows, hugging the phone to her chest.
“Get over it, Durin, It’s not like anything was going to happen between us anyway.” She closed her eyes, hoping that would stop the burning sensation she could feel growing behind them.
Thranduil tossed his phone on the futon beside him. He took another long look at the e-mail he and Dís had gotten from their professor and rose, closing the computer. He had texted Dís since he knew she didn’t have a computer and was not likely to see the e-mail before class started the next morning. He was, at long last, free of her and her relentless pursuit of academic perfection. It was supposed to be a good feeling.
‘I really shouldn’t have kissed her, though’ he thought. ‘That was foolish.’
Several weeks after the spring semester began, Thranduil stood in the lobby of the main academic building, staring at the snow covered sidewalk in dismay. Around him, a small group of fellow students were murmuring as well. None of them had walked to class anticipating snow. It had been grey and cloudy for weeks, but dry. Several people were looking at their shoes as the white fluff continued piling up rapidly outside the window. Finally, Thranduil decided that fortune only favoured the bold, and pulled up his hood, preparing to brave the cold and fast vanishing sidewalks, when something small pushed past him.
The door opened, blasting everyone with cold air. A few girls squealed in protest, but the small person continued out the door, their hood cinched tightly around their head. Thranduil frowned, recognizing the walk, then darted out of the door after them.
“Ms. Durin! What are you doing?!” The wind pulled his words away, and Dís kept marching on, towards the art building. He followed her, catching up with her surprisingly quickly. She looked back as some of the wind around her was suddenly blocked. Her eyes widened in astonishment, not having expected to see Thranduil again before they marched for graduation.
“What—” she started, but he couldn’t hear the rest. He glanced around, unwilling to remain where they were. He turned her towards her dorm, but she resisted.
He shook his head, and pushed her towards her building. They fell inside the doorway and gasped as the warmth of the building hit them. Dís pushed back her hood.
“I have to get to class!” she repeated, glaring at him.
Thranduil dug his phone from an inner pocket and handed it to her. “Check your e-mail every now and then, stupid! Everything has been cancelled for the day!”
She read over the e-mail and sighed.
“Well, that’s . . . disappointing,” she said handing it back. She popped up on her toes and looked out of the window. “I’m not sure you can make it back to PBK House in this mess.”
Thranduil followed her gaze and was inclined to agree. “Then, may I beg leave to take temporary shelter in your lounge, Ms. Durin?”
Dís shook her head. “No. Mom bought me a coffee machine for Christmas. Come on up. I’ll make you a cup, if you don’t care that it’s not designer.”
“If it’s hot, I’ll take it,” Thranduil told her gratefully.
Much of the organized chaos that had held sway in her room the previous semester was still in evidence, though her text books were different, and Dís had added two posters – one of a Marine officer and another of an Air Force officer, both in full Dress Blues. She followed his gaze.
“My brothers, Thorin and Frerin,” she told him, hanging their dripping coats in the shower to dry, and putting their wet shoes on newspaper she spread over the bathroom floor. Thranduil nodded, finally noticing the resemblance between them.
“Next time you speak to them, please pass on my thanks for their service.”
Dís beamed at him, and Thranduil had to ruthlessly quash the desire to kiss her again. He sat in her desk chair while she made them coffee. Honestly, he thought he had moved past all this nonsense over the holiday. Dís finally finished making the coffee and handed Thranduil a mug. He took a cautious sip, and his hair nearly stood on end.
“Christ! This stuff is strong enough to degauss an engine!”
Dís laughed and settled herself on the floor pillows. “Just the way I like it. I do have cream and sugar if you want some, though.”
“No,” Thranduil took another sip. “I’m good.” He looked at his mug. “The stuff they serve in the caf must taste like dish water to you.”
Dís shrugged. “It served its purpose.” She pulled back the curtain and looked outside. “I can’t even see the parking lot for the next building anymore,” she told him. “And it’s less than 100 yards away.”
Thranduil settled more comfortably in the chair. “Then I hope you have a TV, because we may be in here for a while.”
Fili followed his mother through the fabric warehouse as she chose cloth for her next design project. He was so used to coming here with her now that he pouted when he found out she had gone without him. He fingered the cloth as she did, asking her questions about what things were what, and she named the colours and fabrics, and gave him examples of things made from them.
Goddess was already on its sixth issue and while sales were still a bit slow, they were starting to pick up as designers and advertisers were realizing that there was a market they were pointedly ignoring. Dís had already been interviewed twice by The Today Show, and Good Morning, America, once on The View, and had been spotlighted several times by Style, E!, and had been seen at Fashion Week. Fili enjoyed travelling with his mother, though now that her pregnancy was starting to show, she had pulled out of the spotlight a little bit.
She stopped in front of a roll of embroidered navy blue Chinese silk and sighed. “Fili, isn't this pretty?”
He dutifully studied the fabric and finally nodded. “I like the dragons, Mama. What if you made a wrap with this?”
She giggled and patted his head. Like his father, Fili's thick blond hair was curly, but Dís had been reluctant to cut it, and the weight of it had started pulling the curls into gentle waves. He looked like a little Cupid and she prayed he would never want to cut it.
“You're so smart, my little lion. I think that's an excellent idea.” She added the bolt of silk to her list and nodded. “I think that was the last thing I needed. Let's go pay and then get some lunch.”
Fili nodded and held the door for his mother as they left the warehouse. Dís looked up and down the street for a moment, then took her son's hand.
“I know a place nearby that we can go,” she told him. “We can get a lot.”
Fili grinned. “I like a lot,” he agreed. She got him strapped into his booster seat, and they sang silly songs all the way to the restaurant. They were still in a good mood when they got inside, and Dís saw the length of the line. She sighed and looked down at Fili.
“I'm sorry, honey. It looks like we'll have to wait a bit.” Fili nodded and looked around.
“There's a seat, Mama.”
“Okay, go wait over there for me while I talk to the hostess.”
He nodded and hurried over to the empty seat. He climbed up and looked around the room. Nearby, another blond boy was waiting with his father. The two children made eye contact and offered one another hesitant smiles. Fili glanced around for his mother. She was coming towards him, so he looked at the other boy again. The other boy got up and approached Fili.
“Hi,” he said. “I'm having dinner with my Daddy.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Daddy hates coming here, but I like the food.”
Fili laughed. “I'm here with my Mama. We both like it here.” He pointed at Dís as she came over. He hopped up. “You sit here, Mama.” He looked at the other child.
“Mama has a tiny, kicky person in her belly, so she needs to sit down a lot.”
Dís laughed. “Fili!”
The other boy nodded. “How did it get there?” he asked. “Did she eat it?”
Fili shook his head and stood up taller, pleased that he knew something this boy did not.
“No. Grown-ups have sex. That makes a baby inside the Mama. It takes nine months, and then a new person comes out,” Fili declared proudly. “I can't wait. Mama says I have to wait two more months, but that seems like a long time.”
“It can indeed,” agreed a deep, male voice. Dís flushed without looking up as she recognized the voice.
“Hello, Thranduil. What brings you down from the mountain to mingle with the proletariat?”
Thranduil reached for his son's hand, but the child pulled away. “Legolas, this lady is an acquaintance of Daddy's. Her name is Ms. Dís.”
The boy nodded. “How do you do, Ms. Dís? I'm Legolas.”
She smiled at him. “Nice to meet you, Legolas. You look like your Daddy. This is my son, Fili. Fili, this is Ron's friend, Mr. Ran and his son, Legolas.”
Fili nodded. “Hello, Mr. Ran.” He looked at Legolas. “There are crayons over there,” he pointed towards a small table, strewn with colouring books and crayons. The two children ran over and sat down, flipping through the books, looking for a page on which to scribble. Thranduil looked down at Dís.
In the months since the party, Dís had plumped up more because of her pregnancy, but she seemed to be glowing just the same. She put a protective hand over the baby when Thranduil moved closer to her, so he stepped back.
“Legolas likes coming here with his mother. Eril is out of town for work again, so he asked me to bring him.”
“Ah,” Dís nodded. “I knew you would have never come here of your own volition.”
“Lasgalen, party of two!” the hostess called. Thranduil nodded and she approached him. “Your table is ready, sir.”
“Is it a booth?” he asked her. She nodded.
“Good. Add two more to my table.” The woman glanced at Dís, who started to say no, then her stomach growled. She flushed.
“Yes, you can cancel the table for Eadmund.” The hostess nodded and Thranduil called the children over. They were seated and the waitress took their drink orders. The two parents then spent the next few minutes settling with the boys what their dinners should be, before choosing their own meals. The boys chatted and coloured on their placemats after the waitress departed for the second time, sparing their parents the chore of talking to one another.
Thranduil took the time to study Dís. He had hoped his reaction to her at the party was a fluke, but seeing her walking in that afternoon, with her hair pulled back in a careless ponytail, and wearing casual clothes, he had the same heart-stopping reaction. Dís Durin — 'Eadmund,' he mentally corrected himself. Dís Eadmund was a beautiful woman, no matter what she was wearing.
'And I'm the fool that let her get away,' he thought, watching her reach across the table and pluck the salt shaker from Legolas' hands as he prepared to dump it on his placemat. She put it back, and began telling the boys about the history of salt and why it was bad luck to waste it.
Thranduil grinned as the boy's eyes grew wide as they listened, then turned to look at the salt shaker with new respect.
“So let's not play with that, okay?” Dís asked. The children nodded and began chatting excitedly about how they were great sea captains, about to strike it rich from finding the biggest salt mine in the world.
Dís settled back to listen to them, an amused smile flitting past her lips.
“Nice save,” Thranduil said quietly. She shrugged.
“I only told them the truth. It's easier than explaining later why I felt the need to lie in the first place.”
Their food arrived, and Thranduil was shocked that Legolas sat still at the table the entire time, and ate all of his food. Normally, Legolas would grab a bite here and there, between standing up in his seat to look at the people behind them, jumping across the table, crawling around on the floor, and complaining about his dinner being cold. Dís didn't seem surprised that Fili calmly ate his meal, like a normal person. Thranduil sighed, and wondered if Dís might be willing to take Legolas for a few months, and turn him into a normal person as well.
When they were finished, Dís insisted on separate checks. She took the boys to the bathroom before they left, and Thranduil waited for them in the waiting room, that was now almost bereft of people. He fiddled with his shades, and an elderly couple that had been sitting near them in the dining room, paused in front of him on their way out the door.
“You have a beautiful family,” the woman told him. “Your sons are very well behaved.”
Thranduil managed a coherent reply, and they continued on their way and Thranduil stared after them in shock. He studied Dís as she reappeared with the boys a few minutes later. Fili and Legolas looked nothing alike. Fili had inherited his mother's build, but he had the potential to be built like a linebacker, not stout like his mother. Legolas had taken the willowy fragility of both of his parents. He would be thin all his life, and could easily be a runner or a model. Their hair was even different shades. Fili's curly hair was closer to old gold and beside him, Legolas' ruthlessly straight hair was so pale as to be almost white.
He rose, and slid his shades on. “Shall we go?” Legolas took his father's hand when it was offered this time, and they moved out into the sunshine. Dís dug her shades out of her purse, then looked down at Fili.
“Say good-bye, honey. We have a few more errands to run before we head home.”
Fili smiled at Legolas. “Bye!” He put his hand in his mother's.
“Nice to meet you, Legolas,” Dís said to the child and they continued to their car. Legolas watched them get in, then looked up at his father.
“Daddy, Ms. Dís didn't say good-bye to you.”
Thranduil nodded. “I know. Come on, let's go home.”
[10 years before]:
The arrival of actual spring, a few weeks before the end of the semester, finally drew the warmth starved students outdoors. The snow was finally gone, and with the promise of warm afternoons, most of them were willing to endure chilly mornings, inadequately dressed in light jackets and shorts. Dís was not. She pulled her knit hat down tighter over her ears and trotted into the Art building. The delays caused by the snow had extended the due dates on several projects, but she had chosen to stick with the original dates, and therefore had a few things to turn in.
She rounded a corner, juggling the dress bag she was carrying while trying to remove her gloves, and nearly slammed face first into Thranduil’s chest. She flailed, but he snagged her and the bag, keeping then both off the floor.
“Ms. Durin, surely you have not come so soon to the juncture of your life where walking is now foreign to you?”
Dís stepped back with a huff. “I’m sort of in a hurry, Lasgalen.”
She started to move around him, then noticed the tall, dark haired girl at his side. She was watching Thranduil curiously, her hand tucked into his elbow. Dís stared at her for a long time, then looked at Thranduil. His eyebrow rose slightly, daring her to say something. She lowered her gaze and moved around them, hurrying away.
That first snowfall had trapped Thranduil in her room for nearly 14 hours. Dís had done her best to entertain him, and everything seemed alright until it was time for him to leave. A simple ‘thank you’ might have sufficed, but as Dís reached for the door knob to let him out, Thranduil had pulled her into his arms and kissed her for the second time. He had given her the long, slow lingering sort of kiss that invited old loves back into a familiar embrace, and encouraged new friends to amend their arrangements. Dís was caught off guard, but didn't pull away. She wondered briefly what had possessed him to kiss her a second time, but instinct took over, briefly banishing that thought and all others.
When he finally drew away, Dís closed her eyes. “Why are you tormenting me? I know you don’t really like me—”
Thranduil gazed down at her for a moment without answering, then yanked the door open and marched out. Dís made every effort to avoid him after that, and until today, she had succeeded.
‘I knew he was full of it,’ Dís thought, hurrying towards her professor’s office. ‘Don’t let him get to you. It’s all a game to him.’
Thranduil watched Dís hurry away, then offered his arm to the female beside him. “Sorry. She’s one of Ron’s projects.”
The girl nodded, and they continued on their way.
Dís knew enough not to totally ignore the twinges that started in her back as she waved Fili off on his play date with Elrond’s children. She sighed and looked down at the bulk of the baby.
“So, we meet at last, my child. Just wait until Fili comes home. He will be so disappointed if you come sooner.”
Dís shook her head at her own nonsense, and headed back into the living room. Her laptop was open on the coffee table, and several sketches and photos were scattered around it. She had been working on the layout for the next issue of Goddess, and Fili had finally begun showing her that he was indeed actually only four years old. He was getting into everything, and making it almost impossible for his mother to work. After telling Fili to get off the counter in the kitchen for the third time, and remembering that he could not go out and play in their currently unfenced yard alone, Dís had texted Elrond and begged him to take the boy away for a few hours.
Elrond agreed and had arrived within the hour. Fili was happy to see his friends, and since Elrond lived on almost 15 acres, she wasn’t worried about his safety as he played with Elladan and Elrohir. She picked up the few scattered toys he had abandoned when she told him he was going to his friends’ house, and retook her seat.
When Elrond brought Fili back, long after dinner, Dís was still in the living room, but she had put away her work. Her small suitcase was out of the closet and waiting by the door. As soon as he unlocked the door and saw it, Elrond half dragged Fili into the living room behind him.
“Dee? Are you alright?”
Dís gave her friend a strained smile. “I’m still good. They are fifteen minutes apart.”
Elrond pulled out his phone and pushed a couple of buttons. “It’s time. I’m taking her to the hospital. I’ll let you know.” He hung up and let go of Fili. “Fili, it’s time for Mama to have the baby.”
Fili, who was drooping with tiredness, tried to perk up. “Really, Mama? Now? Can it wait until in the morning?”
He frowned as both adults began laughing. Elrond helped Dís to her feet, and pulled up the long handle on Dís’ suitcase.
“I am sorry, Fili. Babies come when they want to. It’s one of the only things we are allowed to do on our time in this world.” He glanced around the room. “Is there a toy you want to bring along?”
Fili frowned slightly and Dís pointed to her purse. “His toys are in there.”
Elrond tossed the bag over his other shoulder. “Then we’re off.”
[Five Years Ago]:
Dís watched Garin race about the living room in a frantic quest for his car keys. She was perched, as best as she could manage, on the arm of the sofa, timing her contractions. Garin passed the key rack by the door — and his keys — for the fourth time and Dís rose.
“Garin, stop. Your keys are there,” she pointed. “Where you always put them. Now, can we go, please?”
Garin turned to follow her finger, and rushed over, yanking them down. “Okay, yes, let’s go. Don’t panic, everything will be great.”
Her eyebrow rose. She was calm, all things considered. “Of course. Don’t forget my suitcase. I’ll be in the car.”
Garin arrived in the garage, slightly out of breath. “I hope I have everything,” he said, placing it on the back seat.
“Maybe I should drive,” Dís suggested. Garin shook his head.
“No, no. I can do this. I’m totally calm.”
Dís prayed they wouldn’t get pulled over on the way to the hospital, as Garin broke nearly every traffic law in his anxiety to get them there. When they arrived, Dís’ OB/GYN was waiting for them, Dís having called her on the way. The hospital staff took over, in a jovial manner, taking Garin away to get a hospital gown, and Dís to be settled in the delivery room.
By the time Fili arrived, almost four hours later, Garin was much calmer, and had been able to coach Dís through the delivery, as they had been taught in their Lamaze classes.
When the nurse finally handed him his son, Garin pulled the tiny child to his chest, and cried.