Chapter 18 - Raines
They fall against each other. Cal’s arms ripple with muscle defined in smooth shadows as he holds his mother close.
I’m glad her eyes are closed; I don’t know what to do as my heart fills with the sweet relief of their reunion.
As they part, I see the similarities between them. This must be his birth mother. They have the same almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones. There’s a fading glint of Cal’s gold in her whitening hair.
“Raines.” Cal’s hand is reaching for me. I reach for it and he draws me close, placing my hand in his mother’s. “Mom. This is Raines. My boyfriend.” There’s a gentleness in his voice that calms me. Cal turns to me. “My mother, Talia.”
She embraces me, thin arms surprisingly strong. When we pull apart, Talia’s eyes take me in. She smiles, then frowns, looking to her son.
“But...you’re - aren’t you?”
“A dancer, yes.” He rushes to explain. I hear the nervous breath in his words. “They - no one knows. Please do not tell. I could not leave him with the army.”
Talia’s eyebrows unfold in surprise. “The army?”
“I was drafted, too.” The words from my mouth are somehow calm.
“Come in,” she offers. I weave my fingers with Cal’s and we cross the threshold. Inside feels like home. The air smells of fresh bread from the kitchen across from us. Before us is a well-loved wooden table, rectangular, with just two tables.
“Where is Ama?” Cal asks. Talia smiles.
“She is upstairs.” As he releases my hand and makes for the steps, his mother catches his shoulder. “We’ve missed you. So much.” He holds her hand.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
With Cal upstairs, Talia turns to me.
“How are you, Raines?”
I almost start at the question. “Me? I….”
We find ourselves in the two wooden chairs. “I’m….okay,” I admit. “Better now that I’m out of the army. Swords…. I can’t tell which side is which.” A strangled sort of laugh escapes me.
“They let you go?”
“I was discharged. Cal was, um - I don’t know if you read - but Cal was hurt pretty badly near where my fleet was docked. I stole a horse to go to him. When they found out, they followed me. I convinced them I had just run, scared, trying to escape. They deemed ‘unfit to serve.’ Honestly, it’s been a relief.”
She smiles a little. “And, Cal. Is it true how he got hurt?”
“Yes. But he’s almost healed now. I really think he’ll be able to dance again.”
Talia’s smile is strained; years without her son, months of reading about his attack and injuries. None of the information in the paper was enough to satisfy her. Vague mentions and speculations of his recovery. My heart reaches out to her energy. “I’m so glad,” Talia murmurs.
I look over at creaks descending the stairs: another woman is at Cal’s side, looking weary, but happy. His smile melts my heart, and I can’t help smiling back.
“Raines,” he says, walking her over. “This is my ama, Helen.” I touch her shoulder in greeting and she, mine.
“I am Raines.”
“My boyfriend,” he adds, and I blush.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Raines,” Helen says.
“Thank you, and you.”
The rest of the evening is the sweetest and happiest I’ve had since the Natur Celebration in Caerini. Helen and Talia make us dinner, periodically rushing over to Cal to kiss his head, handing him a spoon to try this or that.
As time turns, I laugh with them, beginning to release my unease. Cal and I migrate to the small couch, scooting closer until we’re pressed shoulder to shoulder, holding hands. He tries to sneak kisses in, but I see his mothers glancing at us with kind smiles, knowingly. I don’t mind. We’ve had barely two weeks back in each other’s arms, and it’s not enough.
There is fresh bread and steaming soup full of herbs. Talia and Helen fuss over us both, kindly. Although Cal has been pampered both on the team and in the medical ward with fresh, ample food, my belly is contented for the first time in weeks. Leaning back in one of the extra chairs Helen found for us, my eyes close.
A murmuring conversation drifts over my ears. I am warm, Cal’s hand on my knee under the table. I like it here. I like his family.
One of them says something about bed. I open my eyes groggily. Helen and Talia lead us upstairs and into a cozy bedroom. Cal’s hand drops from mine as he takes it in.
“It’s just the same,” he murmurs. His mothers smile.
He embraces his mothers for a long, calm moment. “Thank you.”
“Goodnight, Raines,” Talia touches my arm, and they leave us.