She felt like she was going slowly mad.
Water dripped into the sink with an irritating slowness. It had always been leaky, but Drina had never paid much attention to it. Now, crowded by relatives she didn’t really want to see and dressed and acting like a puppet in kid’s theatre – all bright colours and laughter – she felt dead inside.
It wasn't the bright colours, really, nor the chattering voices twisting through the air in sweet, shrill giggles. It was not so much the people or the parents or her... it was... it was what wasn’t there. There was a missing piece in this puzzle, one that was constantly being misplaced and ignored.
It was like kid’s theatre, really, all well intentioned adults and their naive children – Drina wasn’t a child. She hadn’t been for a very, very long time.
However, everyone else pretended that she still was a – naive, gullible, energetic, day-dreaming sweetheart– child.
She was too tired to correct them. Besides, Drina thought, they came to see a show – why disappoint them?
Despite this, Drina was on edge. She tried to be civil, but it had never truly been in her nature to mask her emotions so fully. The jaded bitch – that was a fine facade. The girly-girl birthday-girl... not so much.
Yeah, birthdays weren’t really her thing. Even when they were for her.
All these people came here for her, to give her presents, to make her happy, to see her laugh. To Drina, it seemed more like a reunion for old people than a party for a teenage girl.
However, who else could she spend this day with? Her chubby-floating-would-be Apprentice? The not-mentors-not-friends-who-knew-whats at Ghumno? The idiot-saviour, maybe?
With a huff, Drina placed the last cup of black coffee on the tray – which she spilled like all the others. Damn it! Man, her mother got so irritated when she spilled the coffee. But it was okay, she’d just place the cups on the table – it was glass, for crying out loud, glass was easy to clean – and she’d just dump the tray in the sink, where that annoying drip drip drip could wash it off slowly.
The kitchen was adjunct to the living room, separated by three walls and the small space between the two rooms where an old, long table stood surrounded by embroidered chairs. The set had previously been that of Drina’s late grandmother, with whom her mother shared a loved of antiques.
Drina looked at it like a cleaner would a scrap-yard. Perhaps she should have respected her elders a bit more, or people in general...
...perhaps they should have earned that respect first.
Drina crossed the room with a steady pace, ignored everyone and anyone who was not about to be poisoned by the espresso she’d just prepared.
The table at the far side was low and the perfect set-up for gossip exchanges between her many, many aunts. Well, let’s hear what they had to say this time.
Please don’t let it be about me.
“Oh,” the woman closest to her, Aunt Olga, and coincidentally the “auntiest” one of them all, said “thank you dear.”
So far, so good.
“You have such a pretty daughter, Jelena. Though she looks rather boyish in those cloths. Why don’t you change into a dress, dear?”
Mission impossible: failed.
“I don’t like dresses, Mrs.” Drina declared point blank and stopped there because she couldn’t remember the other’s surname.
The woman frowned, blinked and smiled – all in a split-second. “You’ll learn to love them as you grow.” she assured, as if it was as natural a procession as the shift of night and day.
“I doubt that.” Drina couldn’t help but bite back.
The woman gasped, eyes going wide and a hand coming up to cover her mouth. The action was so ridiculously theatrical Drina had a hard time holding back her laughter.
Her mother sent her a side-long glance. “Drina, sweetheart,” the matriarch called, seemingly benign “could you get us some Turkish Delight?”
“Sure, mom.” Drina shrugged, but accepted her mother’s request more as a chance to escape than an actual reprimand.
The reprieve was short-lived, the would-be party only at the beginning. Drina felt like jumping through a window – even more so when her mother stood up and said to the crowd of adults:
“Thank you all for coming to my daughter’s nineteenth birthday party. I know this gathering is rather atypical for this day and age, but I still think it’s wonderful that we’re all here on this joyous day. Family should stick together and celebrate its small victories.”
Drina’s father raised his glass in approval. “A toast!” he exclaimed.
“To Drina!“ the crowd answered.
“To my brother.“ Drina answered – quietly, so no one else would hear. Her eyelids drooped, face going lax, and for a moment she was lost and wishful and young.
A voice called back the illusion suddenly.
“Drina, dear.” a bisected woman beckoned the girl. Drina approached warily. “You’re in fourth grade now aren’t you? Started one year late, if I remember correctly? Have you thought about which faculty you’re likely to join? Medicine would be good – it’s a good school and you’ll always find a job with a degree – unless you want to study abroad?“
Drina blinked at her. She wondered how someone she didn’t even recognize knew her school, grade and most-likely future destination. She decided to humour the woman, just because the other had made an effort.
“Sure, why not?“ her voice was as ironic as she intended, her counterpart frowned.
“Don’t act so nonchalant, young lady, this is your future we’re talking about.” the woman advised seriously. Drina thought she was absolutely hilarious.
“Yeah, and some future I’ll have in this country.” A few heads snapped towards them – aghast or agreeing, it didn’t really matter to the teenager. “Maybe I should just finish something stupid like hair-styling and end the delusion.”
“Drina!” her mother snapped, wide-eyed. She looked surprised – she shouldn’t have been.
Madame Witch rolled her eyes “What? Like you’re a fan of the life-style of being broke and terrorized by our own politicians.”
“Are you always so open with your opinions?” Aunt Olga demanded, condescendingly concerned. Drina had never liked her, for she was a well intentioned prat. “Such a big mouth will only cause you problems.”
A condescending, arrogant prat who thought she was queen of the world.
“So I’m not allowed to speak my mind? Why?” Drina was angry – she’d been angry for a while, but now she at least had someone to be angry at. “What tyrant wants to brain-wash the world?”
The shadows danced under her feat.
“Drina!” her mother’s voice had taken on a hysterical edge. Jelena, however, wasn’t looking at the floor. She was looking straight into her daughter’s enraged eyes. Drina cringed away from that desperation.
What tyrant condemns me to silence?
Pain replaced anger all too quickly, an old friend in a harsh world. Drina cursed herself for letting it get to her, but welcomed it none the less.
“You all forget too easily.” she bit out, fist clenched – as if ready for a brawl.
“What was that, young lady?” Aunt Olga inquired in her unnecessarily theatrical voice.
Drina bit her lip hard – wondered why she was holding back, wondered if she should say something already – and uttered “Nothing, ma’am.”
She turned around, then, and disappeared down the hallway.
I never wanted this dumb party anyway.
Drina felt like her head was about to explode – or her heart. She sighed and waited for her breathing to even out.
The apartment was still lively outside her lonely bedroom, but Drina had no desire to venture out again. This was her sanctuary – and sometimes, being alone was better than being sociable. This didn’t really qualify, but it wasn’t an exception either. Drina didn’t know what to do and sheer stubbornness alone couldn’t solve all her problems – so she retreated, too tired to argue.
She’d spend the night beating herself up about that. It wasn’t like she needed any more initiative to do that. Rolling onto her stomach on her unmade bed, she reached out to grab one of her notebooks. It was one of those notebooks that she used for her extra-curricular activities. Drina threw it on the blanket next to her and it fell open on a random page.
She started to read: Petar Blagojevich is the first self-pronounced King of all Vampires. In the present day, there are Five Vampire Kingdoms divided by continents. Eurasia is an exception. It has one ruler. Information about the forming of the First Vampire Kingdom is heavily restricted by the Vampire society, which fall under the category of both Undead Beings and the Immortals – otherwise known as the Stilled. As almost all of these races, Vampires are neutral to the dealing of humans and other “fickle” beings...
She stopped, then read another passage on the opposite side: Lady Blagojevich, also known under the age-old alias Aveolem, her name has been lost to the outside world. The Family, which currently consists of Lady Blagojevich, her five born children and adopted son is rumoured to live in a place where time stops. The implications are unclear, but historians have gathered that beings, animals and even inanimate objects that enter this space do not age or alter their state of being in any way. The cause of this is...
This time she flipped it a few pages back. Species that fall under the category of Stilled beings are: Elves, Vampires, Dragons, most Asian Youkai and Spirits. The Ever-changing are: Demons, Dwarves, Giants, Lamiae (even if their technically Undead, they do cease to exist at some point), Humans, Werewolves. Almost all hybrids fall into this category as well. Spirits are divided into...
No use. By this point she was up on her feet and pacing.
Drina cradled the notebook in her hands, read: A name is the most valuable thing you can trust another with. Your real name is what can bind you in deals, whether willing or not, and can seal, curse or do a multitude of unpleasant things to your person and psyche. A name, in some forms of Magic, is almost equal to an essence – thus, when you give someone your essence, you give them your life.
She plonked down on her chair and held her head in her hands.
“You’ll make it next year, won’t you, brother?” she asked without raising her head. There was a picture on her desk, framed with lilac-coloured, engraved wood. Next to the picture was a small packet, the size of her palm, wrapped in colourful, faded wrapping-paper. There were some spots that were more bleached than others, where the pattern faded out of existence and emerged in small flakes – where her fingers had held on too tightly for too long and rubbed and rubbed and rubbed. She still didn’t know what hid in the embrace of the damn wrapping-paper. She didn’t know if she wanted to know either. She’d had a lot of time to think on that, after all.
The package was exactly nine years old, today. The picture was somewhat older. Four people stood huddled in a forest – two adults, a teen and a child – and sometimes, Drina wondered who they were.
Drina knew these two things by heart – the picture and the present – saw them every time she closed her eyes.
“I miss you.” she said to herself, to the picture – to anyone who was listening.
No one answered.
That was okay. She was used to being alone.
“Drina,” her head snapped up at the sound of her mother’s voice, calling beyond the locked door “sweet-heart, could you open the door for me?”
Drina was used to being alone –because being around other people hurt.
“Listen,” her mother began, as if saying the word would make it so “I know you haven’t been feeling very social these past few weeks – but sulking isn’t good for you. Be happy, okay? There’s no reason to be sad.”
There is, there is, you ignorant woman, she just didn’t want to name it.
“We could throw a real party, if you want – invite your friends from school...?”
They both knew Drina didn’t have any – but Drina never explicitly said this to her mother because that would make the older woman too sad. Jelena didn’t say anything because she was a mother and to smother a girl such as Drina would mean to drive her even further away.
“Talk to me, please...” Despite this, Jelena tried her best. “I can’t... I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
What could she want for that wasn’t already given or wouldn’t to be earned in the future? What could possibly be missing in a world filled with so much nonsense? They wondered. That was the problem, wasn’t it? No one knew what was wrong. Nobody realized something was missing in their not-so-perfect lives.
No one but Drina herself, and the boy in their family portrait whose name none of them could remember.
She felt like she was going slowly mad.
Morning broke slowly, sending rays of light through the cracks of old buildings and zigzagging streets. It brought with it a murmur of discontent, the clinging chill of the dark.
An air of finality settled over one house-hold. Drina’s heavy-footfalls echoed as she entered the living room, all even breath and half-lidded, steely eyes.
„Hey, mom, dad – can we go on a trip? Spring break is in a few weeks.“
It was not exactly a peace offering, but Drina refused to call it a plead.
Her parents looked at each other.
I want to escape this world of uncertainty.
„Sure, sweetheart.“ Sweetheart – sweet heart, as if a heart was something to be tasted, something that might rot and bleed bitter over time.
I want to start living again.