One half-hour later, Aretta arrived. "I'm so sorry for being late," she exclaimed, the moment she stepped through the doorway.
Casady was not feeling particularly forgiving but did not want to ruin his chances of getting what was needed. "Oh, it's alright," he said sweetly, motioning to the table. "The table is ready. You're going to love what the servants bring for us to eat."
Aretta laughed and batted those fake eyelashes coquettishly. "I'm sure I will," she said, her voice lower than usual. She took her place across from Casady and shrugged. "I've had a long day, filling out paperwork for the competition. Do you realize it's only one more week, and then, we get to Sing? The days have flown by!"
"I don't know how I'll be ready," Casady said.
"What do you mean?"
"Haven't you heard? Vinnia is gone. Nobody knows where she went." Casady studied Aretta's eyes, which darkened. Clearly, she had heard. "She left me in charge, instead of Trace."
This was a shock to Aretta, for she sat back and blinked, confused. "Why would she do that? You're a student!"
"I know, and it's more responsibility than I can handle," Casady said, shaking his head and trying to seem as discouraged as possible. "I don't know how to do much of anything. So many things are swirling around in my mind, so many responsibilities, and I just don't now how to be what I'm meant to be."
Aretta leaned in and reached across the table to pat Casady's hand. "I'm sorry," she said, and she almost sounded sincere. "It's a huge undertaking. I don't know why she left it to you. It's not fair."
"Maybe Trace isn't feeling well or something."
Aretta's tone was guarded. "Maybe."
Casady leaned back and shook his head. "In any case, I'm in deep waters." He watched as servants brought forth the meal. Selecting a biscuit from one of the baskets, he smiled warmly and thanked the servant nearest him. He buttered the bread, then placed one delicious morsel in his mouth.
Sighing, Aretta smoothed her napkin across her lap. "So what are you going to do?"