I pour vodka, orange juice, and cranberry into a mixer and clamp on the lid.
“The sun,” Leon murmurs, “It just shines brighter, doesn’t it?”
Even as I shake the canister, my eyes drift to the woman sitting beside the pool. The sunlight definitely seems to bounce off Tessa’s bare skin as if it reflects off diamonds. She holds out her fingers and Miley grasps her hand, admiring the nail polish. Meryl is in the pool, hooked to the wall and reaches up to admire the color of her bangs. Tessa laughs grasping her hand. The movement makes the ample portion of her chest impossible to ignore.
“That bathing suit is too small.” I chastise. Snatching the vodka, I add it to the mixer before reaching for the cranberry and orange juice. I slap on the lid, shaking it.
“She has to have Cs or maybe Ds.” Tristan acknowledges.
Eric rests his elbows on the tiki bar, “It’s a bit dodgy, yeah. She’s Asian, those knockers ain’t real.”
I add vodka, cranberry, and orange juice to the metal canister, watching as Tessa gets pulled into the pool. She’s screaming and laughing, darting around the water to escape from the girls.
Leon sips his beer. “She’s real, bro. The question is what is she doing here?”
I add vodka, cranberry—“Felix!” Tristan snatches the jug out of my hand, rushing it to the sink as it spills over. I grip the edge of the bar, hiding my embarrassment as the boys laugh, slapping a hand on my shoulder. Tristan calls me out, “It’s been a long time for you, bro.”
“Hell, when was the last time you chat up a bird?”
“Guys!” Tessa calls at the exact moment she pulls herself from the pool. Dripping wet, shining in the sunlight, cold from the water, I watch each bounce of her step as she comes toward us. “Come swimming with us.”
My response is instant. “We don’t swim.”
It’s not a particularly great response. The boys are in their bathing suits. Leon’s long dirty blond hair is still wet from his earlier bout in the water and he looks at me with a dubious expression.
I quickly justify my statement, “I mean, we just ate. Can’t go in an hour after eating.”
She giggles and even though the left side of her face is bruised and slightly swollen, she still manages a bright smile, “I think you’ll be fine.” She grabs Eric’s hand, “Come on.”
He looks back at me and shrugs, “It’s bloody hot out here.” He peels away the fabric revealing the grin on his mutilated lips. He throws the article at me as he follows, riding himself of his shirt before lifting Tessa up in his arms and jumping into the pool.
Tristan cackles, “Horny bastard.” He runs in, scaring Meryl, diving directly in front of her.
Leon looks back at me, “Tell me you are doing something about this?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I think we have enough strays, Felix. Don’t you have other things to worry about? The clan for instance? The Elders?”
“I don’t need a lecture from you.”
“Well, you need it from someone. If you lose this clan, I’m not the only one who won’t forgive you.” He slaps down his beer and undoes the towel around his waist.
“Wait, you’re going swimming?”
He adjusts the metal band around his ankle, scratching the red skin before he looks up smirking. “It’s bloody hot.” He mocks Eric and rushes to the pool.
Left alone, I feel stupid standing there and so I abandon the bar and slam the glass door to the kitchen, pacing the tile.
Am I so irresponsible that my own ward feels the need to give me a lecture about my duties? What does he think I’ve been doing for the last two weeks?
I’ve visited several houses, I’ve spoken to House leaders, I’ve gained their trust and their vote of confidence. I’m making a name for myself, a positive one, but it’s slow. It has to be slow. I can’t just wave my magic wand and have everyone love me.
Phil and his team of soldiers must organize every move I make. Each time I visit a house, it feels as if I’m placing them under quarantine. How can I make friends when I blatantly display signs of distrust? Tymician never did anything like that. He did not hide behind an army or guns. He bared his Soul so openly and directly, the very essence made him approachable. I want to be like that but I fear the Elders so much that I can’t do it.
It’s been so long since I stopped fearing the world. Why now does it bubble in my chest?
Footsteps descend along the kitchen stairs and Molly beams a bright grin. She showered and dressed in borrowed clothes from Eric. She is thicker than the twins but fits his depressingly dark clothes well. Despite their gloom, her jubilation brings out their colors in a positive way.
“We’re going to be taking off.”
“You don’t have to go.”
“I know and thank you for that. You’ve done enough. I don’t want you to worry about us anymore. We found a place and I already called a taxi.” She hugs me, kissing my cheek, “Thank you for not giving up. I know your clan mate, Kyla is out there somewhere waiting for you too. She’s going to be just as happy when you find her.”
Kyla. Always a distant little pin in the back of the head ready to jab me in the brain at any given moment.
She looks out to the pool deck, “You have a great family here. I hope you succeed in making the rest of Kio just like it.” Her eyes narrow on Tessa, leaning in to get a better look. “Who’s that?”
She looks back at me, a bit of panic in her visage, “Why is that girl here?” Molly points with apprehension, “That’s Isis’ doll girl. She keeps that child by her side like it’s a miniature poodle. Why is she here, Felix?”
I don’t remember anyone ever questioning Tymician. “She ran away.”
“And you just picked her up? Do you know how dangerous this is? If Isis finds out she’s here, she can build a campaign against you, you know that? She’d demolish you! No Elder will come to your aid. You need to get rid of her!”
“Thank you for your concern, Molly.”
Sensing my frustration, she pauses but doesn’t give up. “I don’t know if your compassion makes you weak and foolish or if it makes you remarkable. But it does put you in great danger, Felix. Please be wise in the future with what you do with your Soul. You are important now. You matter. Don’t fail us.”
As she walks out of the room, I listen to the laughter of my wards and wonder: Is this where my fear stems from? I haven’t cared about my Soul since my father locked me in a cage and told me how unimportant I was. Day after day I sat, a little boy worthless to those that should love him.
Now, I have a purpose. People care. My actions affect those around me. My inactions affect those around me as well.
Feeling like I’m in some sort of trouble, I call Misha. Explaining to her that I have Isis’ adopted daughter gets me an earful but she somehow turns it into an optimistic movement. Negotiate. I’m supposed to turn her over in an effort to become on good terms with the New York Council. It sounds nice, but I’m pretty sure aside from laying down dead on Isis’ doorstep is the only way she’ll appreciate me.
Now how do I explain to Tessa I’m going to bargain with her life?