An Unfortunate Reunion
This was it. The finale of my debut performance for the Royal Ballet Company. It was the opening night of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera house, and I was dancing the white and black swan. Tonight had been perfect. I felt as if I floated from act to act, never missing a step. Now it was all coming to a frenzied end. I threw myself into every motion gazing at the handsome prince. He was tall with dark hair that had been slicked back, high cheekbones, a hard jawline, and a defined chin. Despite his hard cruel features, his brown eyes seemed kind. He was easily the most handsome man I’d ever partnered with, and I felt my cheeks flush in spite of myself. I had to force my focus back on the performance.
I thrilled at the ache in my muscles and the heat radiating from the lights. I tried to look out into the audience, but the lights were too bright to see anything. Focus, I scolded myself. The ballet was almost over, and I had to make sure every step was absolutely perfect.
The man who was dancing the sorcerer ripped me away from the handsome prince. For a moment, I was startled at the striking resemblance between the prince and the sorcerer. Still, upon closer inspection, I realized that besides being handsome, they shared little resemblance. The sorcerer was blonde with blue eyes. While they both share the same high-defined cheekbones and strong jawline, the resemblance stopped there.
This sorcerer had a kinder face than the prince, but his eyes were hard and cruel compared to the prince’s eyes. As the music sped up in time with my heartbeat, it began to feel unbearably hot. I did my best to stay in the moment and stare lovingly at my prince as each time embraced, we were interrupted by the sorcerer.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flames closing in around the stage. I panicked and tried to scream, but I couldn’t force my voice to work. As much as I wanted to run, I couldn’t stop my feet from going through the steps. The air became almost unbreathable with thick smoke, but no one seemed to notice. I ran to the prince and embraced him one last time.
Then reluctantly letting go of the handsome prince, I ran towards the sorcerer, leaping into his arm. The prince rushed forward to save me, distracting the sorcerer. I ran onto the fake rock on stage and reached for my prince, distracting the sorcerer from his fatal blow. I looked out to where a mattress had lain for me to take my final leap, but now there was nothing but flames.
Hurling myself into the fire, hearing nothing but the flames and the echoing cries of the prince and the sorcerer drowned out by thunderous applause.
“Miss, Please wake up. It’s just a nightmare,” a voice urgently called, shaking me awake.
I glanced around, gasping, trying to slow my heart rate. I was no longer on the burning stage of the royal opera house but in the back seat of a black escalade that was pulled off to the side of a deserted Louisiana road. I swallowed a sob in an effort to maintain control.
I was always in control, and right now, I needed that control more than ever. The driver had pulled over to the side of the road and looked as terrified as I’d felt just a moment ago. I guess I couldn’t fault the guy. I’d be pretty shaken up if the person I’d been hired to drive started screaming and convulsing in the back seat of my car. Because even though he hadn’t said it, I knew that that’s what had happened.
That’s what always happened. I’d started having this dream about two weeks ago. In the beginning, it wasn’t so bad, but each time the dreams came back, they became more vivid. Now, even though I’d woken up, I still felt like I had been about to burn on that stage just moments ago.
Exactly five days after the dream first appeared, my parents had been killed on their annual visit to the English countryside. The papers said it was a car accident, but I had no idea whether or not that was actually true.
Over the years, I’d read many things about my parents in various papers, and I’d come to realize that only about half of what they said was true on a good day. Unfortunately, the news of my parents’ death was one of the few things the papers had gotten right. I’d called my sister Charlotte a couple of hours after I’d heard the news to see if it was true. All Charlotte would say is that our mother and father had died on their annual trip to the English countryside and that the funeral would be held the following Saturday, giving me two days to get home. So I packed up all my bags and hopped on the next flight home.
I’d spent the last several years in New York studying Ballet at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. I hadn’t been back home or talked to my parents in almost a year. It had been even longer than that since I had talked with any of my siblings.
I stared remorsefully out at the Louisiana countryside as the driver shakily pulled back onto the road, and we drove back to my childhood home. Part of me wanted to feel guilty for not talking to them for as long as I did, but I couldn’t forget that they never made an effort to talk to me either.
As soon as they had an opportunity, they’d sent me as far away as possible and didn’t bother to keep in touch. And now they were dead, and no one would remember that I was the unwanted, imperfect child. To everyone, I would just be the ungrateful child who ignored her parents.
I groaned as we pulled onto the long driveway that led up to my gleaming white childhood home. It was an old plantation-style house with a porch on both levels of the house wrapping around and columns outside that. I glared at the elegant old house; There might have been a time where this house stirred feelings of warmth, but now all it reminded me of was the loneliness and neglect I had faced at the hands of those who were supposed to love you the most.
Today the house was overflowing with staff, caterers, and florists presumably preparing the house for the wake after the funeral. I spotted my twin, Carver, standing on the porch looking stately in a white suit.
He smiled and waved as he spotted the escalade, and I had to fight the urge to tell the driver to turn around and floor it. It had been so long since I’d seen my twin I’d almost forgotten what feeling completely inadequate was like. While Carver and I were twins, he’d always been the perfect golden child and our parents’ favorite. It hadn’t mattered what I’d done; Carver always managed to do it better.
The car rolled to a slow stop, and I saw my two other siblings exit the house. Charlotte managed to look elegant even while trying to wrangle her two children with her husband’s help.
Charlotte and Channing both took after our mother, tall with thick brown hair and delicate features. Channing was ruffling Carver’s hair affectionately, and I suddenly felt like an outsider who was about to intrude on a tight-knit family during their time of grief. They looked so much like her that I couldn’t see any resemblance to our father.
I reluctantly got out of the car as the driver fetched my bag. The hot, muggy Louisiana air enveloped me, and I was suddenly glad that my parents had insisted people wear white to their funeral rather than the traditional black.
“Cordelia, it’s good to see you,” Charlotte said warmly, giving me an awkward hug. At the same time, her children took advantage of the momentary distraction and ran off. Charlotte gave an apologetic smile before chasing after them laughing.
Channing laughed and cheered on the kids before giving me a hug and a kiss on my cheek. “Cordie, it’s been too long,” he said pointedly. I gave him a weak smile, unsure of how to respond. Growing up, I’d actually gotten along really well with Charlotte and Channing despite the age difference. They’d been the ones who had comforted me when I was ignored by our parents or shown up by Carver.
Since I’d been away, though, we hadn’t talked much. For me, any reminder of home was too painful, and Charlotte and Channing had their own busy lives that didn’t leave much time for their discarded sister.
Finally, I faced my twin. There had been so much history and bad blood between us that I wasn’t quite sure what to do. On the one hand, the rift between us had been caused by our parents, so perhaps their death meant that we might be able to mend our relationship, also; as much as it killed me, I missed my brother. On the other hand, there was so much built-up resentment between us. I wasn’t sure if we would ever be able to overcome it.
He gave me a weak smile that I took as a sign of forgiveness, and tears pricked at the corner of my eyes. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed my family until now. I’d built up a wall between us when I realized that I would never live up to Carver in my parents’ eyes, but that didn’t mean that I hadn’t missed him all these years.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and the tears I’d been holding back spilled over onto my cheeks. I hugged him, unable to hold back the sobs I’d been bottling up since I’d gotten the call about our parents.
“Group hug,” Channing said, joining in as did Charlotte, who was now also crying.
We stood there for a moment, finally united in our grief, and for the first time in a long time, I truly felt like I was part of a family.
Charlotte was the first to pull away, wiping her eyes. “People are starting to arrive for the walk to the cemetery,” she said, her voice wavering unevenly.
I nodded, sniffling, glad that I’d decided to wear waterproof makeup today. I ran upstairs, changing out of the sweats I’d been wearing into a white dress for the funeral. The dress was cut to fall just above the knees on the bottom, and the top was tight with a v neckline in both the front and the back with ribbon bows for the sleeves. I left my strawberry blonde curls alone and put on a white wide-brimmed hat.
I checked in the mirror to make sure that my makeup wasn’t smudged. While my eyes were red and puffy from crying, my makeup was still intact. Throwing on a pair of white heels, I headed outside again.
The hearse had arrived, and there was a crowd of people gathered to walk behind it to the cemetery. I joined the rest of my family at the front of the procession. I was surprised at how many people were gathered.
“I thought you said this was supposed to be a small event,” I whispered to Channing.
“Compared to all the people who had wanted to come, this is small,” He said, grimacing. “Dad was a successful, well-known businessman,” Channing said, looking at me like I was an idiot.
I flushed in embarrassment. It was easy to forget how powerful our family was in the south at school because no one there cared. All anyone cared about was how well you could dance unless, of course, your parents were dancers or choreographers who might be able to give you a leg up in your career, which mine weren’t. I hadn’t had time to watch the news, so I hadn’t seen any stories about our parent’s untimely demise.
Luckily it was a short walk to the cemetery shaded by several large weeping oak trees. We reached the burial plot, which had been lavishly decorated with white flowers, candles, and a large picture of my mother and father.
It was a large black and white photo from a trip to Hawaii we had taken when I had five. They were holding hands and gazing at each other adoringly. That trip was the last truly happy memory from my childhood. Before then, I was equal with my siblings, loved and happy. Then the incident had happened. After that, my parents had always looked at me with a mixture of shock and fear.
The night we’d gotten back from that trip, I’d woken up to a fire blazing all around mine and Carver’s shared room. Carver had grabbed my hand, and we’d managed to make it out. Carver only had a couple of minor burns, and I was untouched by the flames. The firemen had called it a miracle once they’d found out that the fire had started in our room. They’d never actually been able to confirm how exactly the fire had started, only where it had started. Still, it was clear my parents had blamed me.
Although they had never said as much, I knew that my parents had somehow believed that I’d started that fire. Somehow Carver had known too and had hated me for it.
That was it, I realized. It was my parents’ death that must have triggered these bizzaro dreams I’d been having. I sighed in relief; I wasn’t going crazy. Though, there was a small nagging part of my brain whispering that the dreams started before I knew about my parents’ death remember. Still, I quickly stuffed that voice into a box and moved it to the back of my mind. This was a rational explanation for something that had had me worried sick. Why question it any further?
Charlotte approached the grave, and the crowd fell silent. Somehow it had been decided that only Charlotte would speak because it was too traumatic or something along those lines, and she didn’t want to put us through that. It was probably a good thing, too, because I honestly couldn’t decide how I felt about it. There was a large part of me that was angry. I was mad at them for resenting me for most of my life, angry at them for abandoning me first in life and now in death, and royally pissed off that now because they had died, I didn’t get to be mad anymore. I wanted so much to continue to hate them, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it.
Carver reached over and squeezed my hand. I realized that the time had come for us to say our final goodbyes before laying our parents to rest. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes as each of us threw a handful of dirt onto the casket. Then the four of us took a town car back to our childhood home, where the wake would occur.
Our house’s first level had been tastefully decorated with white bouquets of flowers with a long table full of food and an impromptu bar stocked with top-shelf liquor. Carver handed me a glass of something from the bar, and I frowned.
“What is this,” I asked, crinkling my nose. As a rule, I didn’t drink, not out of moral opposition, but because I was an athlete in training, and I didn’t want anything to jeopardize it. I sniffed the drink, wincing at the harshness of it.
“Relax, it’s an apple martini,” Carver said, downing one of his own. I sighed, following suit. If I was going to make it through this, I was going to need every bit of help I could get.
Before I could thank Carver, a tall older looking man walked up to us. If I had to look at him, I would guess he was in his fifties, but something about him seemed much older. Almost ancient.
He was handsome enough if you were into older guys with his grey hair fashionably gelled back and piercing green eyes that looked familiar.
“Carver, Cordelia let me look at you,” He said with a smile revealing a posh British accent. Something was off about his smile; maybe it was just weird to see someone smile too warmly at a funeral. We were, after all, at a wake for our dead parents; he could at least try to look slightly remorseful.
“Um, who are you?” I asked, feeling bolder even after only one martini.
The man frowned, looking disappointed. “I’m your grandfather.”