Chapter One: Monday: A Gift, a Trip, and a Painful Truth
I’ve done a lot of redecorating recently: I got a new bedspread, swapped out my rather juvenile cushions for some that are a little more cutting edge, and even set up some mannequins around my room. I was really into the pink and frilly for a while, but I don’t know, maybe there’s a new side of me coming out. Every time I’m at the drawing board, I’m seeing that slowly but surely every polka dotted blouse and A-Line skirt is getting a shade darker and a tad more sculptural. It must have something to do with all the stuff that Adrien’s been telling me. He’s been big into the more avant garde side of fashion lately, and I can see his influences written all over my latest designs whether I initially realize it or not.
While I’m on the subject, that might be the biggest and most noticeable change about my room’s recent revamp-the pictures on my wall. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still of Adrien, but they’re not all clippings of magazine covers and chopped up perfume ads. Because now I’m in them too: there’s that picture of us from when Adrien’s dad actually dished out the money to let us go on that boat ride. Then there was our first date to go see Andre the ice cream maker (I wish I could express just how terrified I was that our flavors wouldn’t match up). Oh, and of course that amazing time when I got to fly. With. Adrien. To. New. York. Fashion. Week. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. He had to keep me from practically hyperventilating myself into a coma on the plane.
It’s been a little over four months now, and I still can’t believe it sometimes. Not since New York Fashion Week-I mean me and Adrien. It’s so weird to think about now. Like, for the longest time I felt like I couldn’t even talk to him. Sure, we were “friends,” but I was such a clutz, and I stuttered and babbled and basically lost all semblance of sanity any time I so much as spoke to him. But I don’t know, when I found out he was Cat Noir, it’s like something just clicked for me. Everything fell into place. I didn’t have to feel nervous around him because I’d already stood by his side through thick and thin, seen him at his most vulnerable, and been to hell and back with him for lack of a better example. When I thought of it that way, it’s like all my fears and reservations fell by the wayside.
And he took notice of it.
Still, I guess I figured that maybe dating a supermodel would come with perks-that maybe some of his good omens would rub off on me. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since stepping into the limelight, it’s like I’ve been under more criticism and pressure than I’ve ever had to deal with as a superhero. I always thought I’d end up on the cover of a magazine for one of my designs or something heroic I did as Ladybug-not because my red carpet dress was “nearly unwearable and an embarrassment to fashion.” I cried like a little girl and wouldn’t even be seen with Adrien for a whole month after that (much to his dismay).
He knew that the whole breakthrough designer gig I was going for would be a trial and error process. It wasn’t even something I necessarily felt ready for, but it was something that Gabriel required of me if I wanted to be seen with his son. And so Adrien’s been very lenient with me as I’ve tried to step up my game and hold my own with the Agrestes. But he’s so wonderful that I’m not even sure he really cares if I’m on the cutting edge of fashion or not. He just wants to be with me.
“Marinette,” he’d taken my hands into his own only moments after I first saw that awful article on my news feed, “They really don’t know what they’re talking about-that dress was gorgeous and totally you.”
“Thanks, Adrien,” I said, “But I know you’re just saying that to make me feel better. The article’s right: my design was way too literal and after seeing it in these pictures, I know that that shade of red was harsh and not flattering at all. I’m really still not good enough to design my own dresses. I should’ve just listened to your dad and gone with the Gabriel brand one he’d tailored specifically for me.”
“Don’t say that,” he insisted, “I don’t care what my dad said, you would’ve looked overly sexy and out of your element had you stuck with the Gabriel dress. It was a red carpet event, not a nightclub and, frankly, I don’t like the idea of my father sending my girlfriend out into the public eye in something like that. Besides, fashion has always been and will always be subjective. It’s all a matter of taste and opinion. Just because this one fashion critic wasn’t a fan doesn’t mean that other people didn’t love your dress.”
“But this wasn’t the first time. I totally screwed up the suit I was supposed to make for the fashion show at the Eiffel Tower. Even your dad lost faith in me after that.”
“No, Little Bug, he didn’t lose faith in you,” he shook his head, “Trust me, if he had, you wouldn’t still be interning for him and we definitely wouldn’t be able to still be together right now. He understands that you’re young and still learning, and you know that better than anyone. It’s good that you’re humble and understand that you still have a lot of room to grow as a designer. That just means you’ll continue to get better and better over time until that critic who came for you will feel like a complete idiot for ridiculing one of the most skilled designers in the game.”
“You really mean that?” I probably sounded ridiculously insecure when I said it.
But he gave me that same adoring look he likes to give when I’m feeling down and wiped the teardrops right off my cheek-and I immediately felt 800% better.
“Of course, Super Marinette,” he kissed me on the forehead, “Now how can we make you feel better? I happen to recall you saying that you’ve always wanted to try a New York cheesecake. So how about it? And if you’re not feeling that, there is always that pet store we passed on our drive to the hotel,” he playfully stroked his chin like he was deep in thought, “And I bet they’ve got all kinds of animals. Parakeets, ferrets-probably hamsters.”
“Hamsters,” he mimicked the gleeful shock on my face, “And maybe this time we can actually convince Gorilla to let us get one. So what do you say, M’lady?”
“Yes, please!” I could barely contain my excitement. “Thank you so much, Adrien. You always know how to make me feel better.”
It’s true, he did always know how to make me feel better. But there’s this one thing that’s been bugging me lately that not even he can fix. Something deep, something personal. Something all the girls at school-even Alya-have kind of been badgering me about.
You see, it only took a couple of weeks for Alya to be so comfortable around Nino that they were hooking up every other day after school. Not that I’m trying to judge Alya-I mean, she’s always been so headstrong and confident in herself, especially about the way she looks. It makes sense why she was able to do it so soon and so casually, too. Like it was normal and not even a big deal.
And I guess I thought that, since I’ve loved Adrien so much and for so long, I’d want to do it pretty much as soon as we got together. But actually, the totally embarrassing truth is that it’s been three whole months and we’ve barely even tested the waters yet. I don’t know how to explain it, but even though I know he loves me, I somehow feel so small and unworthy of him. I mean, he’s the most sought after guy in Paris. He could be dating a literal supermodel, or at the very least someone who’s as amazing, rich, and beautiful as he is. Instead, he went with lame, ordinary little Marinette. Some people have even congratulated him on his bravery for dating a “normal girl” instead of someone in his league.
Of course, he’s met those comments with disdain and snark. It’s like he has to defend me from these people left and right (you’d think he’d see it as a red flag, but he’s stuck by my side nonetheless). And those comments just make me feel even more like I don’t deserve to be with him, and he knows this. It kills him.
So in light of all that, we’ve kind of mutually agreed that we’re not going to get physical until I feel 100% ready and 100% confident enough in myself to do it. Adrien swears he’s totally fine with it, but I don’t know, is he saying that just to make me feel better? Here he’s got thousands of girls in the city who would drop their skirts for him in an instant, and he can’t even get any from his own girlfriend. Oh, the bitter irony.
I was starting to feel relatively okay about it, too, until I ran into Lila in the locker room the other day.
She’d been leaning back against the wall smacking on some gum, almost like she’d been waiting half an hour just to make me feel like garbage.
“So, has the time finally come?” she batted her eyes.
“Has the time come for what?”
“Marinette,” she shook her head and grinned the way only someone as evil as her can, “Don’t play dumb with me. Are you still keeping our little Adrien like a dog on a leash, right in front of a bowl of food, but never able to actually eat?” she snickered, “Are you starving him?”
“That’s none of your business, Lila.”
“Maybe not,” she shrugged, “But it’ll become yours once Adrien realizes what a sour hand he’s been dealt. Do you really expect him to want to stay with a girl who won’t even put out for him? When he could have any woman in the whole world? Maybe even more than one?”
“Gross,” I recoiled at the thought of someone seeing the loving Adrien I knew as the playboy type. “Adrien’s not like that, Lila. You clearly don’t know anything about him. He’s actually so kind, and patient, and he’s willing to wait with me however long until I’m fully comfortable and ready. Maybe your diabolical brain just can’t comprehend how someone with his looks could be anything other than a total asshole.”
She knew I was taking a jab at the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel guys she'd slept with in the past, who were hot to be sure but way too pushy. I almost felt bad for her. And in that moment I knew I’d stung her at least a little bit.
“I just hope you realize how utterly ungrateful you are,” she inched closer, prompting me to cower back, “Kagami, hell-even Chloé would be a better girlfriend to him than you’re being right now. Guys are physical creatures-they need sex and intimacy to survive. Like, that should be the bare minimum requirement that needs to be met in a relationship and you can’t even meet that,” she rolled her eyes in disgust.
And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel bad.
“You’re lucky Adrien is as amazing and patient as he is,” she went on, “Because any other guy would’ve realized by now what a selfish and entitled girl you are and hit the road. It’s only a matter of time before Adrien does the same. So out of the kindness of my heart, I’ll offer you a bit of advice,” she was so close to me now I could practically feel her blood boiling, “We’ve got that senior trip coming up at the end of the month. We’ll be in a big, fancy hotel with swimming pools, jacuzzis, and beds so soft you’ll never want to leave them-what could be more relaxing and romantic than that? If you can’t give it to Adrien sometime while we’re on that trip, then you’ve got no excuse. Then you’re not actually nervous and insecure like you say you are-you’re just pathetic. And I guarantee that once that happens, Adrien will wake up and realize what the rest of us have known all along.”
She turned and left almost as immediately as she confronted me, and then I was alone again.
Normally I don’t let Lila get to me too much. After all, she is just what her name implies-a liar. But this little encounter hurt more than usual. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure anything she said was actually a lie. And she seemed to be saying all that stuff not out of jealousy or hatred, but because she genuinely cares about Adrien and believes that I’m doing him more harm than good.
“What if she’s right?” I ask aloud.
It’s now the morning we leave for the trip, and instead of packing I’ve just been laying in bed for hours imagining every last one of the worst possibilities.
“What if she’s right about what, Marinette?” replies Tikki. She’s taken it upon herself to get my smaller travel things together while I vent and complain.
“About me being ungrateful. And a bad girlfriend to Adrien.”
“Marinette,” she shakes her head in that loving but reprimanding kind of way, “How could you even think such a thing? Don’t you know that Adrien loves you and that you make him the happiest guy in the world? He even said so himself!”
“Well of course he said so, Tikki,” I sigh, “Adrien’s one of the sweetest guys out there and he’d never want to hurt my feelings. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s not frustrated with me for making him wait so long.”
“Are we still on this? He’s not frustrated and he’s not waiting for anything, Marinette.”
She drops the travel-size shampoo bottle she’s been hurling around and sinks into the palm of my hand, as she often does when she wants to get my attention.
“Listen,” her giant eyes get even bigger, “I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve helped my other Ladybugs with all kinds of things like this-it’s just a part of growing up. I’ve watched my Ladybugs fall in love with all kinds of selfish and manipulative guys who only pretended to care about them so they could use their bodies for a little while.”
The thought of it sends a shiver down my spine. Imagine if I didn’t have Adrien-would I fall prey to some jerk’s tricks like that too?
“But Adrien is not that kind of guy,” Tikki shakes her head, “I’ve seen it for myself as the three of us and Plagg have all spent time together like a little family. He so genuinely cares for you, Marinette. In ways I’m not even sure you can understand yet.”
“Yes. And the kind of guy who can experience a love like that is not the same kind of guy who will leave their partner just because they’re not ready to go all the way just yet. Adrien knows that you guys have a lifetime together to figure it out. What’s a couple months going to hurt?”
“Wow Tikki,” I’d hide my face in my hands if she wasn’t already in them, “A lifetime… do you really think Adrien’s going to want to spend a lifetime with me?”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” she giggles, “But based on the way things have been going so far, I’d say it’s definitely a real possibility.”
“I hope you’re right.” It sounds almost too good to be true, and even just thinking about it is enough to make my toes curl. “Thanks, Tikki.”
“Feeling better now?”
“I think so.”
It’s at that moment that I can hear the doorbell ring from downstairs. Some stuff clatters and clangs then plummets to the ground-Mom probably dropped some pots and pans while she was trying to open the door.
“Shhh,” I motion to Tikki and hold my head over the edge of my bed. I can't help but listen to what they all all have to say about me while I’m not there.
“Adrien,” Mom’s sweet voice echoes through the bakery, “How are you this morning? Are you feeling ready for the big trip?”
“I’m doing just great, and I couldn’t be more excited to get away for the week, Mrs. Dupain-Cheng.”
“Right, Sabine,” he laughs, “Is Marinette upstairs?”
“Yes-still in bed I think.”
“Marinette? Still in bed at 11:45? I’m shocked,” he teases, “Well I got up extra early to buy her these. Do you think she’ll like them?”
“Adrien… these are absolutely gorgeous! She’ll love them, I know she will.”
“I’ll love them?!” I mouth to Tikki, “What will I love?”
“Great, I hope you’re right. I’ll be back down to help with the suitcases in just a second.”
And I roll back into bed when I hear footsteps stomping up the stairs.
The hatch on the floor of my room opens, and I pull my covers up over my face so he doesn’t have to see my horrendous bed head-and also so whatever the surprise is will be that much greater.
“I know you’re probably really tired after yesterday’s fight, Bugaboo” he says, “But sleeping in until noon on the day we leave for a school trip? That might be a new low even for you.”
“It’s not my fault Hawk Moth just had to go and make Sandman a thing again,” I groan and all my limbs go limp. “I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks.”
“Oh come on, Marinette. You would’ve slept in this late regardless of who we faced yesterday.”
He laughs before kicking off his shoes and crawling over me until he gets to his side of the bed.
“Anyways, I brought you these.”
I sit up and let the sheets fall from my face, and I can barely contain my excitement.
“Adrien…” I twirl them between my fingers in sheer disbelief, “You shouldn’t have. These are just gorgeous. I mean I heard you telling Mom that you got me something, but I was thinking something more along the lines of a bouquet.”
“Oh, but flowers are so predictable,” he reminds me, “And they haven’t exactly fared well for me in the past.”
He just loves to tease me about all the times I rejected his roses because I was “in love with another boy.”
“Necklaces are much more up your alley. I also saw these really cute earrings and was this close to buying them for you… well, you know, until I remembered,” he steals a glance at the ones already on my ears.
“Right,” I laugh, “How sad. I guess you’ll never be able to buy me earrings.”
Tikki’s been hiding behind my shoulder (she always wants to make sure we’ve had our alone time before she intrudes), but even she has to come out to admire the necklaces.
“Wow, Adrien!” her face lights up. “These necklaces are really something else, and I know they’ll look great on Marinette! It’s nice to see you by the way!”
“Thank you, Tikki-I’m so glad you like them. And it’s nice to see you too,” he says before kissing her forehead.
I just love when he does that.
“Well hey there, Sugarcube,” and Plagg comes tumbling out of Adrien’s pocket with a huge slice of cheese in his mouth.
“Plagg,” Adrien scolds him, “How many times do I have to tell you that Tikki doesn’t appreciate it when you call her that?”
“Only because she hasn’t fallen for me yet,” he shrugs, “But if there’s one thing you’ve taught me, it’s that terrible nicknames and persistence works wonders on the ladies.”
It sounds awful, but we can’t help but laugh.
“Okay, maybe you have a point.”
“So let’s get down to business, everyone,” Tikki announces, “We’ve got five days of being five hours away from Paris ahead of us. That’s five days that Hawk Moth can use to akumatize another victim and wreak havoc on the city.”
“Right,” I say, “But don’t forget-Max will be coming on this trip with us. I’m taking the Miracle Box with me, so if we need to we can give him the horse Miraculous. That way, we can use his horse shoe to get back to Paris in plenty of time. And if something goes wrong, we can always look for Luka in the city, and he can second chance us.”
“Great idea, Marinette,” Tikki nods in approval, “I have to say, I was really nervous about the four of us leaving the city. But I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be ready to handle whatever Hawk Moth throws our way. Besides, you two almost never get a break.”
“Sugarcube’s right,” Plagg says as he finishes off his cheese, “We are in dire need of a vacation.”
“Right. Speaking of which, I should head downstairs, Marinette,” Adrien reminds himself, “I told your mom I’d help load up the suitcases.”
“Don’t forget about all of Marinette’s smaller bags,” says Tikki. She struggles to lug a paper sack full of who knows what to the center of the bed, “Because she’s got a lot of them.”
“Hmm, packing an unnecessary amount of jewelry and other accessories just to go on a week-long trip?” He picks up the sack and then smirks at me, “What a very Agreste thing to do.”
I’m not entirely sure what he was implying that, but I won’t pretend it didn't affect me on a physical level.
So while Adrien helps my parents load things into the car, I run into the bathroom to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Mascara? Check. Moisturizer? Check. Concealer? Check.
“Marinette,” Tikki whispers for some reason even though we’re the only ones in here, “Don’t forget about these.”
She nods to the pack of yellow pills I keep hidden behind my succulent.
“I thought you said it would be fine for me to wait,” I laugh and give her a little flick on the head.
“Well yeah, but that doesn’t mean you’ll want to wait,” she giggles, “And besides, they’re good for your hormones. Just take them just in case. But there’s absolutely no pressure.”
“You’re right. Good thinking, Tikki.”
And I slide them into my purse before heading downstairs to catch up with the others.
The town we’re headed to is this place called Annecy, which is about five hours away from Paris. I went a couple times with my dad when I was much younger, but I really don’t remember too much about it-just that it’s on a lake and has a really old fashioned vibe to it. Of course, Adrien has been to the town multiple times in the past few years for photo shoots and stuff and he swears I’m gonna fall in love with it all over again once we get there. I really hope he’s right.
Gorilla agreed to drive us to school this morning since we both have so much luggage. I still feel kind of bad calling him that because it sounds so offensive, but apparently it’s what Adrien’s been calling him since he was young, and Gorilla doesn’t seem to mind it much. And it’s not as though I’m a stranger to him either at this point; he’s taken us on almost half of our dates, and we’ve made being inside the car with him an activity in and of itself.
“I know what we should ask him today,” I whisper to Adrien as we both slip into the backseat.
“Well, I loved learning more about his love life, but I’m dying to know what he was like as a kid. We should ask him about his parents and what his life was like growing up.”
“Good idea. And timely too-I’m pretty sure he grew up just an hour away from Annecy.”
“Yeah. Maybe he can tell us more about the town’s history.”
So only moments after Gorilla starts up the engine, I ask him.
“Hey, Gorilla? We were wondering if you could tell us anything about your home life as a kid.”
“Really?” He looks back at us in the rear view mirror, “That’s today’s million dollar question? Nothing about summer flings, or drugs, or embarrassing things I did in college?”
“Well we love hearing about that stuff too, obviously,” says Adrien, and we both crack up for a second, “But our questions have to be wholesome at least some of the time. What was your home like? Did you get along with your parents?”
He stares dead ahead at the car in front of us for a second, as he often does when he has to figure out what to say.
“We lived in a cottage out in the country-only a little ways from where you two are headed today actually. The house was made of white bricks and had the shiniest red tin roof-I can still feel the sun bouncing off of it and blinding me to this day. And we had animals living in the backyard too.”
“Really?” I ask, “What kind?”
“Mostly goats and chickens. And the occasional sheep. Although my mother did get me a potbelly pig for my eleventh birthday.”
“Yep,” he laughs and his face turns red, “His name was Pierre and he was really kind of too much to handle sometimes, even for my parents. We had a little dog door for him out front, and he’d track mud in the house a lot. My father tried to talk my mother out of getting him for me, but she knew how badly I wanted one and my father finally agreed to it.”
“Wow,” I say, “That sounds really thoughtful of your mother.”
“Oh, it was,” and he reclines in his seat like he has an infinite amount of things to say about her, “She was a very thoughtful person-incredibly thoughtful. She used to ask me every day after school how my day was, and if I didn’t have a good day, she’d take me to a local bakery and let me pick out a pastry, and then we’d drive to the lake and spend the rest of the day fishing.”
I can’t help but notice that Adrien has gotten uncharacteristically quiet, and I wonder for a second if asking Gorilla this question was such a good idea.
“Anyways,” Gorilla continues, “Here’s your stop up ahead. You guys stay safe out there, okay? It’s a crazy world we’re living in today.”
He doesn’t specify what he’s referring to, but being Ladybug and Cat Noir, we know better than anyone that he doesn’t have to.
“Thanks Gorilla,” I say, and we both step out of the car while he unloads our stuff.
The schoolyard is empty-people must have already gone inside and are probably listening to the safety lecture Miss Bustier always gives before we go on any kind of school trip. Unlike me, Alya’s usually early, so she and Nino must have already loaded their stuff up on the bus.
Adrien heads for the door, but I stop him.
“Hey, is everything okay?”
He turns back to face me and smiles.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. I guess just hearing Gorilla talk about his mother like that… It reminded me of how much I miss mine. I don’t know, I used to think about her everyday, but lately I’ve found that the easiest way to move forward is to try my best not to think about her at all. Not because I don’t love or miss her, but because I do so much and sometimes it feels like I’ll never truly move on until I let her go. I know that’s probably so selfish of me.”
“No, it’s not selfish at all, Adrien,” I try to convince him. It kills me when he beats himself up like this. “I know that this isn’t nearly the same, but in a weird way I’ve kind of felt like I’ve had to deal with losing Master Fu. I know he’s not really gone, but my relationship with him is. For so long he was the only other person I could talk to about being a superhero. He gave me so much amazing wisdom and advice about being Ladybug and, when I least expected it, he vanished from my life. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before, but you’re right. Sometimes it really is easier to just try your best not to think about them.”
I know he appreciates me trying to cheer him up, but I can tell that he’s only pretending to feel better.
“I’m glad you know what I mean, Marinette. And maybe you’re right… maybe I’m not being selfish.”
He starts running his fingers through my pigtail. It’s something he does when he’s deep in thought.
“I don’t know. I really wish you could’ve met her. You two would’ve gotten along so well, I know you would’ve.”
“You really think so?”
“Most definitely. She was a very sweet and outgoing person, and she always used to joke around with me about how much she couldn’t wait until I got old enough to start dating. I think it was mainly because she wanted to dress me up and give me relationship advice and stuff. But I also know that a huge part of her just really wanted to watch me fall in love. And I know she would’ve been so happy and relieved to finally meet you. She would’ve wanted to make you dinner, and take you on shopping trips, and be your friend. And the three of us could’ve done things together too.”
“Like what kinds of things?”
“Well, she actually really liked to play video games with me sometimes,” he chuckles.
“She did. The three of us could’ve played together. Or you two could have designed some outfits together and I could’ve modeled them. There’s literally so much we all could’ve done together. I don’t know… sometimes it really hurts knowing that none of that will ever be able to happen.”
His eyes were so full of life when he was listing off the possibilities, and now he looks like he might cry. I sure do wish I was better at comforting him.
“Anyways,” he feigns a smile, “Let’s go inside. They’re probably waiting for us.”
“After you,” I give him a quick peck on the cheek, and to my heart’s content, that does get a smile out of him.
Upon entering the classroom we can see that, as usual, we’re the last ones there (I seemed to have rubbed off my inability to be punctual on Adrien, and boy do you know he teases me about it). Alya and Nino are in the back of the crowd, and they flag us down the moment we make eye contact.
“Oh, thank God you guys are finally here,” Alya sighs when we walk over.
“What’s up?” asks Adrien.
“Nothing much. Unless you don’t mind Chloé blabbing for twenty minutes about how many hotels her dad owns in Annecy.”
“You’re kidding. Miss Bustier is really just letting her take up our time talking about that?”
“I know right,” Nino rolls his eyes, “And now we’re already leaving twenty minutes later than we were supposed to. It’s like, totally unfair. And you know since she’s the mayor’s daughter she’ll have dibs on which room she gets. And she’ll abuse that power to do all kinds of other unfair things too.”
“That may be,” I wink, “Although if she gets too out of line I can always send Queen Bee on a special mission.”
“Oh, good, you’re bringing the Miracle Box!” says Alya, “I was hoping Rena Rouge could get a little lake diving and mountain climbing action this week.”
“Yeah, but hopefully not too much, thanks,” Nino stretches out his arms, “I could use a little relaxation and nap time.”
“Well, obviously there will be time for that too.”
Chloé goes on yapping for another several minutes, and as I look around, I can see that even Kim looks bored out of his mind. Mylène and Ivan are whispering amongst themselves in the corner, and Marc and Nathaniel are literally sketching out an entire storyboard as we speak.
It would seem that Chloé’s wealth isn’t as interesting as she seems to think it is.
“Alright, Chloé,” says Miss Bustier, “We’re very thankful that you’ve informed us all on just how your father was able to convince that old couple to sell their land to him so he could build his five-star resort and casino. But we really should be loading up the bus now.”
“What?” Chloé outbursts, “You didn’t even let me get to the part where they cried when he bulldozed their house down!”
“I’m afraid we really must be going.”
“Ugh… this is ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.”
And she stomps off.
Everyone pretty much storms into the bus as soon as we get outside-Chloé and Sabrina rush to the back so they can gossip to their hearts’ content without Miss Bustier being able to do a thing about it. Alya and I nab a seat in the middle back, and Adrien and Nino sit behind us.
“So who’s up for a game of 20 questions?” Alya turns to face the boys.
“Dude, I am!” says Nino, “Me! Pick me!”
And so the bus ride ends up being about as entertaining as any boring old bus ride can be. We cycle through our typical selection of games-20 questions, the alphabet game, the picnic game, and truth or dare. There’s also that new mobile game Alya found and posted about on the Ladyblog. She gets a kind of thrill from playing as herself in a superhero game, but I always find playing as Ladybug to be rather uncanny.
A little over four and a half hours later, we’re jolted awake by the sound of Max’s voice (we’d all fallen asleep somewhere along the way).
“If I could please have everyone’s attention,” he clears his throat, “Miss Bustier told me to inform you all of the fact that we have arrived at our destination and should dismount from the bus in a calm and orderly fashion. Once you collect your belongings, please proceed to the lobby to check in. Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Well that went by faster than expected,” Alya yawns while scouring the floor for her purse, “Thanks for being my cuddle buddy, Marinette.”
The moment my feet hit the rough cobblestone, it’s like all the memories come rushing back to me. The place really is lost in time, the buildings and houses looking like something out of a Disney movie. Everything is so colorful and vibrant, especially the walls, and there are flower arrangements practically exploding out of every window.
“Isn’t it awesome?” asks Adrien as we head to the trunk to grab our luggage.
“So awesome,” I say, “I always remembered it looking like something straight out of a fairy tale, but I figured that was just the nostalgia talking.”
“You would think. But it really is just that special.”
It’s a rather large place we’re staying in this week-the biggest building within a mile, probably, standing at six stories high. The minute we step inside, everyone starts gawking about how cool and fancy everything is.
“Oh sick,” says Kim, “They’ve got a sick work out room right out front! You know I’ll be spending plenty of time there.”
“And everything’s so pretty!” exclaims Rose, “Look, Juleka, they’ve got a garden out back!”
“Cool, let’s go check it out.”
“Not so fast everyone,” says Miss Bustier, “you need to check in first and take your luggage up to your rooms. Upon Mayor Bourgeois’s request, Chloé and Sabrina will get first pick.”
“See, what’d I tell you?” Nino whispers, and the three of us roll our eyes.
The line to the check-in desk gets long fast: it’s another fifteen minutes before we get to the front.
“Can I get a name, please?”
“Alya Cesaire, and she’s Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”
“Great. You two take your pick.”
And he shows us on his computer which rooms Miss Bustier called in to reserve.
“Hmm… what about this one?” Alya points to one on the fourth story, overlooking the alley, “Looks like all the front-facing ones are full, but at least we’ll still get a view of the river this way.”
“Ooh, good idea. We’ll take this one, please,” I point it out to the man.
“Alright, wonderful. Here are your keys, and I hope the two of you enjoy your stay.”
“Oh, we will,” says Alya. She winks back at Nino and Adrien as we head to meet up with our other friends, “We’ll catch up with you boys later.”
Alya and I agreed earlier this week that we wouldn’t spend this trip neglecting the girls. Since we both have boyfriends now, it’s easy to do everything with just the four of us. But it’s still so important to maintain those other friendships.
“Can you guys believe it?” asks Rose as we roll up with our suitcases, “I know Miss Bustier said this place would be amazing, but I had no idea it’d be THIS amazing.”
“We’re in for a fun time this week for sure,” Alya assures, “Just in this neck of the woods, there’s apparently a museum, a five-star restaurant, and a designer boutique.”
“Yes, way. And tomorrow we have pretty much the whole day to ourselves.”
“We should go on a big shopping spree!” insists Myléne, “I know it might be kind of pricy, but I’ve been saving up a lot of money for this trip.”
“Same here,” says Alix, “It definitely wouldn’t hurt to treat ourselves.”
“Let’s do it then!”
We spend the rest of the hour meandering around the hotel-we cross paths with Ivan and Max and Marc and Nathaniel several times, and it’s amazing to see how chill the latter seems after a conversation with the former.
Upon Rose’s request, we head for the gardens first. It’s not a huge area out back, but it’s decked out and elegant-looking for sure. There are all sorts of flowers from roses, to tulips to daffodils.
“Gosh, there are so many beautiful flowers that it’s hard to decide which ones are my favorite,” says Rose, “Which ones do you like the best, Juleka?”
“I’m not sure… I’m not much of a flower person,” Juleka’s voice is barely audible over the sound of a nearby fountain, “But I think I like the daffodils best.”
“Really? And why’s that?”
She picks up a handful that have fallen to the grass and holds them up to Rose’s ear.
“Because I think they’d look pretty in your hair.”
“Aww, that is so sweet, you really think so?” She spreads them out around her head like a flower crown, “What do you guys think?”
“Oh, for sure, the daffodils look great.”
“Aww, thanks, you guys!”
Here’s to hoping that Juleka finally tells Rose how she feels on this trip. That’s what we’re all thinking.
A little later on, we find that there’s a complimentary spa, a sauna, and two different pools-one indoors and one outdoors. Both have jacuzzis off to the side.
“If you’re looking to show Adrien a good time this week,” Alya whispers to me, “Then let’s just say you’ve got lots of options as to where.”
“Oh gosh, Alya, stop it you’re embarrassing me.”
I know she means well, but does she really have to say it so not-subtle-at-all in front of everyone?
After a game of pool and a quick dip in the jacuzzi, we decide we should go in and rest for a while. Even though I slept on the bus, I’m still so tired I could pass out. I wasn’t kidding when I told Adrien that Sandman wore me out yesterday.
Speaking of Adrien, I’m not sure what all he’s been up to this afternoon. I’m assuming he and Nino might have left the hotel to take a look around. Either that or they’ve been playing video games on the big TV in the common room.
I’ve sent him a couple texts but he hasn’t answered. He’s probably asleep.
Alya heads back to our room, and I decide to check in with Adrien and Nino just to see what’s up.
“Just a sec!”
It’s Nino. I can hear him stumbling around inside, and he meets me in the hall with wet hair and boxer shorts.
“Oh, hey, Marinette. You can come in. Adrien’s here.”
“Cool, thanks, Nino.”
We walk in and I turn to my right to find that my suspicions were correct.
“Oh, no wonder he didn’t answer my texts,” I laugh.
“Yep. Dude’s been out of it practically all afternoon. You’re welcome to stay and join him if you want. Did Alya tell you we’re going out to the town square?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll want to hang out with you guys some more later-but you know she is.”
“Oh, I know,” I roll my eyes playfully, “Mildly questionable and always in a hurry to check out that hot new place.”
“Right,” he laughs, “Anyways, I’ll leave you guys to it.”
“Tell Alya that I said to have fun and stay safe.”
And he shuts the door behind him.
The second he leaves, it’s like I get butterflies in my stomach. Miss Bustier never explicitly told us we weren’t allowed to be alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex, but it’s kind of an unspoken rule. If she knew I was in here, she’d probably tell me to leave.
But how can I leave when Adrien’s just lying there looking adorable? I’ve noticed that he kind of scrunches his nose up a little when he sleeps, and he always looks like he’s in his happy place, even if he’s having a bad dream. He’s such a good cuddler too.
There’s barely enough space to his right for me to slide under the covers. I have to push him to the left just a tiny bit to squeeze into place. But as soon as I do, my head sinks naturally down onto his chest, and I snuggle up close to him.
He doesn’t wake up at first. And when my eyes get heavy, I figure that he probably won’t and we’ll just fall asleep here and now. But he does end up waking up when I try to shift positions.
“Oh, hey,” he smiles sweetly and kisses me on the nose as soon as he sees me, “When did you get here?”
I don’t answer right away. Just shut my eyes and lay right back down where I was, where my nose and forehead are snug against his neck.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t been here long. Why didn’t you tell me you were planning on taking a nap?” I smile up at him, “We could’ve taken one together.”
“I knew you were probably having fun with everyone, and I didn’t want to interrupt. But I won’t say I’m disappointed that you’re here now,” he sits up just enough to gather up some of the covers on his side, “Here, are you cold?”
But I don’t even have time to answer. He just swaddles us both up together in blankets and sheets until we’re so warm that our cheeks get red. Then he guides my head back down to his neck and my hand to his hand.
When our fingers interlock, I can feel the tips of his nails traveling up and down my skin. When we’re together like this, everything he does is so gentle. He whispers to me even though we’re alone. He treats every little touch and kiss like a treasure-like something that’s really special and important to him. And sometimes he likes to play with my hair or just look into my eyes.
It’s my favorite kind of time that we spend together.
“Is it okay if I play with your hair for a while?” he asks, kissing my forehead gently.
By that he means he wants me to take it down.
I decide to indulge him. I don’t know what it is about my hair specifically, but he acts like it’s some precious artifact, always sifting it out and twirling it between his fingers.
“I can’t believe how pretty and soft it is,” he says, twisting it into tiny braids while I nearly fall back asleep.
But as he works on my hair, I can feel the softness of his touch: the gentleness with which he weaves the strands in and out of each other, and how much time and effort he’s putting in.
It’s making me feel impulsive. I go in for a kiss on his neck.
Just one isn’t enough to garner much of a reaction, but I can feel his muscles tense up when I start moving my lips. I’m pretty sure he even makes the tiniest moaning sound, like he was caught totally off guard and didn’t know how to react.
“Marinette,” he pulls away and says my name like he’s disappointed in me. But the sly grin on his face tells me that he’s not. “Going for my neck when you haven’t even gone for my lips yet?”
He doesn’t realize it, but it’s that kind of effortless flirtatious banter that causes me to shrink back a bit.
“I’m sorry,” is all I can think of to say.
“What?” his tone changes really quickly, from that overtly seductive cat to the selfless, loving Adrien he is the rest of the time. “M’Lady, you don’t have to apologize about anything. We’re just playing around, remember? I’m just trying to get you excited.”
“I know,” I say. I want to sound confident, but my voice is shaking. And I know he can feel my whole body quivering.
And after a few seconds of that, the look in his eyes changes from one of desire to one of deep concern.
And I know I’ve failed again. But of course he doesn’t want me to believe that.
“Forget all that, then,” he smiles, “We don’t need all the flirtatious stuff to have a good time together.”
“We can’t have a good time together at all,” I can already feel my eyes doing everything they can to hold back the tears. “I keep messing everything up.”
I know it hurts him so badly to hear me say that. It’s like he can’t even think of what to say next.
“Marinette, you’re not messing anything up.”
“But yes I am,” I cover up both of my eyes.
“How?” he pleads with me, “How do you think you’re messing anything up?”
“Because,” I roll to the other side of the bed and face away from him so I can bury my head in a pillow, “I can never match you. We’re never on a level playing field. You’re so confident in yourself, and I’m just not. I get nervous, and babble, and completely ruin the moment.”
“You don’t though,” he insists, “How many times do I have to explain this to you? Your nerves and uncertainty are part of what makes you who you are. I happen to find it incredibly sexy. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Stop talking about it like it’s some quirky, desirable trait,” I get madder than I usually do, and I can tell by the way he cowers back that I’ve surprised him, “I don’t want to be this way. It’s not something to praise or congratulate me for. It’s embarrassing.”
I’m such an idiot. Any sexual tension that may have been there has dissolved or been replaced by heated feelings and awkwardness.
He’s still under the covers. And I’m sitting now with my feet dangling over the side of the bed almost like we’re a bitter married couple instead of young lovers.
We sit there in silence for nearly a minute longer, and I think that most of the anger and confusion has melded away into sadness and regret. As I dry my eyes, I regret freaking out on him. I regret stopping the whole act altogether instead of just bouncing back when I had a small misstep. And I especially regret making him feel like my misstep was his fault. I want to apologize.
But I’m not the one who ends up apologizing.
“Marinette,” he reaches for my hand, “I’m so sorry.”
I turn back around to him, but in all honesty, I’m extremely confused.
“What are you sorry for? I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
“No, you’re not,” he shakes his head and squeezes my hand tighter, “I feel like a lot of this is probably my fault. I always go into things like this with full force, and I never hold back for you.”
“You shouldn’t have to hold back, Adrien.”
“Holding back isn’t quite what I mean… maybe, approaching things from a different angle?” he’s just thinking out loud now, “Like, I’m so inexperienced with this kind of stuff. And I think I might be subconsciously trying to achieve what I’ve seen in tv shows and movies instead of just letting it come naturally. I’m trying to act overly confident and dominant because I think that’s what girls like.”
“Well, shouldn’t they?”
“Maybe, but I think it’s more nuanced than that. Every girl likes different things, and every girl needs something different. And I don’t think I’ve been giving you what you need.”
“What do you mean?”
I like where this is going, but it’s a foreign concept to me. Something I’ve never even considered before. Because he’s right-girls are supposed to like headstrong, confident guys, aren’t they? I’ve seen the movies and tv shows he’s talking about.
“Well, correct me if I’m wrong,” he shrugs, “But I’m not sure you need a guy who challenges you and dominates you and makes you feel small. At least not right now,” he shrugs, “I mean you’re still gaining your confidence. How is me being all up in your face supposed to help that confidence grow at all?”
It’s so mesmerizing hearing him talk like this. I think I’ve left all my fear and sadness behind me because I’m entranced.
“Well, what do you think I need?”
I patiently await his answer. I can practically feel my knees knocking together, and I wonder for a second if he’ll turn the question back around on me. Or give me a half answer.
“You need a guy who will level with you,” he looks at me, finally, and I get a chill. “Someone gentle who will make you feel held. Someone who will love you in a raw, passionate kind of way, and who won’t make you feel pressured.”
It’s such a mouthful that I don’t even have time to digest it before he keeps going.
“I mean, don’t you think there’s a reason you fell in love with Adrien way before you fell in love with Cat Noir?” his voice gets softer like he’s onto something, “You fell in love with the side of me that you seem to think is kind and compassionate. Not the side that was overbearing and badgering all because you never gave me a straight answer.”
“But I love that side of you too.”
“I know,” he insists, “And you can have as much of it as you want, later on. But right now, I think it’s best if I do everything in my power to help you feel comfortable and secure when we’re together. Especially when we get intimate.”
“I don’t know what to say, Adrien.” I really don’t. I can’t believe how much thought he’s putting into this, and how much he cares. “This really means a lot to me. Although I’m not quite sure I’m ready to get too intimate yet.”
“And that’s okay, too,” he swears, “We don’t have to go there until you’re ready. We don’t even have to test the waters if you don’t want to.”
“Are you sure you won’t be disappointed?”
“I won’t be disappointed, Little Bug,” he wraps his arms around me again, and I could stay here forever. “Because that’s not why I’m in this. I’m in this for you. If I want mind-blowing sex, then I can get it elsewhere,” he rests his forehead against mine, “But I can’t get my Ladybug elsewhere.”
I can’t help but tear up again, but not because I’m embarrassed or frustrated with myself. I can’t help but tear up because I can’t believe how sweet and understanding he is. How patient he is.
Without even thinking about it, I cup both hands around his face and kiss him on the mouth.
I think he’s a tiny bit surprised, because it takes him a second to touch my neck and tip up my chin like he usually does. But his lips start moving, and so do mine.
“So are we testing the waters?” he boyishly whispers against my lips.
“I think we are.”
I stammer. I try to hide my face in embarrassment.
But I should know better, because he loves my embarrassment and finds it adorable.