Some of my peppermint tea spilt over the rim of the cup, dripping down my fingers which clutched around the outside of it. I didn’t meet Xerxes’ eyes as I cleaned up the mess, wiping my fingers with a napkin, scrubbing the skin a bit too hard when I heard him move closer to me.
I raised the cup to my mouth when I faced him, taking in his still sleepy eyes and tousled dark hair. When he had joined me in bed last night, he had known that I was still awake, had questioned if he had done something wrong because of my silence. It seemed as though he knew my reasoning for keeping quiet, but he wanted me to say it.
The overbearing actions that he had done last night, getting right into my face and demanding I understand him, had instantly reminded me of the ways he talked to me throughout the couple weeks after we first met each other.
And although I could understand his anger towards me because I had not told him beforehand that Mathew would be coming to the house, the way he had spoken to me last night after everyone had left, was unnecessarily intimidating.
I had told him this after he questioned me in bed. No words were spoken after that, at least not that I remembered. I had fallen asleep soon after.
“Where are you going?” Xerxes’ eyes ran over my clothes as I finished off my tea and washed the cup clean. I began to sweep my long twists away from my face, using a hair tie to keep it in place, silver eyes watching every movement of my hands.
“On a walk.” I said, taking a bottle of water from a fridge, smiling at it’s coldness. Xerxes released a breath, akin to a noise of annoyance at my statement. Closing the fridge door with my hip, I wasn’t surprised to see Xerxes’ frown. “I’ll see you in an hour.”
“An hour, Xerxes.”
The front door shut loudly behind me after I left, my feet moving slowly against the pathway. I waved at the guards patrolling, who nodded politely.
I had made it down the edge of the pathway when I heard soft footsteps behind me. A look over my shoulder showed Sissy running to meet me, her cheeks red and flushed. She grinned excitedly when I paused to wait for her.
“Good morning.” She said after catching her breath. “Where are you going?”
I looked ahead, gazing at the houses and the long road ahead. The sun was beginning to rise and I was surprised that Sissy was up so early. She still had bed head hair and her eyes were red, as if she had shot out straight from her bed without washing her face or anything. “Not sure yet. Just walking I guess.”
“Can I come?” She asked, knowing that I wouldn’t refuse her anyway. I nodded, beginning to walk once more. Her hand found mine, her fingers warm against my icy cold ones.
People were beginning to leave their homes, heading to work, the faces of some slack with tiredness and others clearly morning persons, shouting good mornings at neighbors and humming.
“There’s a lake nearby,” Sissy told me when I thought we were reaching the end of the neighborhood. “They’re some geese that swim along it.”
She began to direct me to the area; grass was what we walked through for long minutes and more than once I wondered if this lake was something Sissy had imagined. We passed many trees, walked through countless high bushes.
Grass stains were beginning to appear on the bottom of my yoga pants, the soles of my sneakers becoming muddy as I searched for this lake.
Sissy was unbothered by the dewy wet environment, her focus completely ahead of her. Minutes passed and I began to think that we were lost. However, after a few twists and turns, a large, beautiful lake came into view, along with a guard standing nearby.
I smiled at him; I would definitely ask him for a shorter route back into the neighborhood.
Sissy released my hand, walking to the edge of the lake where the grass was low. She crouched slightly as black and white geese swam elegantly along the water. Her fingers dug into her pockets, roaming inside of it until she brought out small pieces of bread.
“Feeding the geese isn't permitted ma’am.” The guard called from where he stood, stopping Sissy immediately. She pouted at the man, who remained unmoved by her pleadful expression. After a moment of awkward silence, with her staring up at the man and the man watching her with a blank, and rather bored expression, I stepped in, nudging Sissy towards a bench.
She dropped the pieces of bread onto the grass, leaving it for the ants and followed me to the wooden and what looked to be painted recently, bench.
“Why can’t I feed the geese?” Sissy asked, frowning as two of them swam in the rippling water, a gosling following not far behind. A large male gander paused as a wind swept along it’s dark feathers, a loud honking noise coming from it.
“It’s not healthy for them. It’s best that they find their own food themselves.” I told her gently. She was silent and with a sigh, eventually accepted my answer. I rested back on the bench; the quietude of the atmosphere was so calming.
The chilly wind even helped somehow with how relaxing it was and I began to lower the coat I wore, exposing my bare shoulders to the breeze.
Sissy however, didn’t look as at ease as I was, and instead, her slim body was stiff, her back straight and eyes not truly focusing on the lake before her. Worried, I angled myself to her, resting a hand over her’s.
“What’s wrong, Sissy?” I said, noticing the way her eyes began to tear up.
She searched my face for several seconds, as if she was having some sort of inner conflict in her mind. Her dark brown hair fell over her eyes when she lowered her head, staring down at my hand touching hers.
“It’s just,” She began. “I haven’t seen my mom in a while. I miss her.”
My eyes widened and I sucked in a breath. Sissy had seldom brought up the subject of her mother and I had assumed that she didn’t mind Idina’s absence. Unsure of what to say, I watched as tears began to trickle down her cheeks, dripping on the shirt she wore.
“I know she isn’t a really nice person,” Sissy said, moving her hand from under mine and wiping her face with her fingers. “But she’s my mom and I love her.”
“Have you tried getting into contact with her?” I asked after watching her tears cease. She groaned, letting her head hang back, her eyes rising to the grey clouds above.
“I called her a lot of times. She only answered once, and told me not to call her back again.” Her eyes glistened, her body shuddering, as if the memory caused her physical pain. “Sometimes I wonder if it was something I did that made her not want to talk with me.”
I moved closer to her. “I doubt that, Sissy.” I said sharply. “No, I know that you haven't done anything to make her stop talking with you."
“That’s what Xerxes told me.” She wrapped a curly strand of her hair around her forefinger. “He once said a month or two ago that he could try to arrange to have my mother speak with me whilst being supervised. But I can tell he doesn’t think that’s a good idea...the hate she holds towards many has damaged her.” She tapped her head. “She’s not all the way there, if you know what I mean. Hasn’t been for a long time. But, I still love her.”
“She clearly doesn’t care for me though. She doesn’t love me like I love her,” Sissy looked towards a goose as it flapped it's wings. She smiled as it swam near the edge of the lake, her voice lowering to a soft murmur as she said absent-mindedly, “And I’ll just have to somehow accept that.”
Waffles dripping with syrup and hash browns were on the dining table when Sissy and I had arrived back home. My stomach immediately tightened at the sight of the display, mouth becoming dry as both Sissy and I ambled to the table. Without hesitation, Sissy plucked a hash brown into her mouth, groaning in delight at the taste.
I took off my coat, eyes darting around for Greta, who I assumed made the breakfast. It was only when Xerxes entered, sleeves rolled up to show his tattooed forearms, carrying a tray of muffins, that I realized it was actually him that made this breakfast.
“Enjoy.” Xerxes said, after putting down the tray he carried and sitting beside me by the table, turning on a laptop which had been already resting on it. His arm brushed mine and I swallowed, lifting my eyes from the platter before me and looked at him.
His black curly hair was slightly damp with water, probably because he had taken a shower recently, and the white shirt he wore looked free of any creases, moulding his upper body perfectly. His face was tight with concentration, his jaw working furiously as he stared ahead at the laptop’s screen.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Sissy asked her older brother, speaking around a mouthful of hashbrowns.
Xerxes’ eyes flickered to her briefly. “I’ve already eaten.” He murmured, fingers tapping away at his keyboard. I slid some of the waffles onto my plate, took up most of the muffins, since Sissy looked like she was just going to eat the hashbrowns and settled back down in the seat.
I was hungry, since I hadn’t eaten dinner the night before and I enjoyed each bite of the food I ate, pausing mid way when I felt Xerxes watching me, frowning when I saw the look of amusement on his face as I chewed hungrily on the soft waffles, my mouth too full to quip something to him.
Sissy had managed to finish before I did and had left to go upstairs and sort out some of her homework. My stomach was full because of how much food I had eaten and I placed a hand absent-mindedly on it.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed that Xerxes had paused his work, setting the laptop aside. His thumb wiped at my bottom lip, swiping away a drip of syrup that had came from the waffle. “How was your walk?”
“It was nice, for the most part.”
His eyes narrowed. “For the most part?”
My eyes trailed to the stairs that Sissy had walked up twenty minutes ago. “Sissy brought up the topic of her mom.” I gave a brief detail about what we had talked about by the lake.
“Idina chose to send Sissy here,” Xerxes said after a moment of silence. “She had packed her a suitcase and forced her to leave the home which they once lived in. She sent a letter soon after, wanting me to take custody over Sissy, basically saying that she would be unable to care for her any longer.”
My heart hurt for Sissy. She didn’t deserve such a horrible mother. “Did Sissy read the letter?”
Xerxes shook his head. “No. But I explained to her what it was about.” He paused at the sound of feet moving on the wooden floor above, and a door slamming closed. “I am Sissy’s legal guardian now.”
I nodded, my fingers clenching and unclenching around a metal fork. “It’s probably for the best that Idina isn’t around Sissy. She’s very toxic.”
Xerxes’ thick dark lashes lowered, the look of revulsion hardening his features. “Indeed she is.”
I had just finished off a conversation with Penelope on the phone later that evening when I heard the front door open.
A familiar voice boomed down the hallway followed by a deep rich laugh, and I could hear Xerxes speaking. I stood slowly in apprehension and shock, ignoring Greta’s bewildered expression and walked to where their voices came from. My smile was uncontrollable as I took in the familiar face, calling,
His already broad smile became wider as I approached him, his arms pressing me into a hug. "Nice to see you Becca." He stepped back when Xerxes made a low grumbling noise, releasing me. Leo's eyes skimmed my figure. "I heard you got in an accident."
I nodded, gesturing for him to follow me into the living room, Xerxes not far behind us. Leo glanced around the house, appearing impressed by what he saw. Greta's eyebrows lifted in surprise when she saw him, her cheeks immediately becoming red as her eyes darted to the floor as Leo passed.
"Does someone have a little crush?" I whispered as I passed her, earning me a scowl. Leo was an attractive man, who exuded confidence and looked to be in control even if he wasn't. I wasn't surprised to see Greta's blushing.
Xerxes watched from a sofa opposite us as Leo and I conversed, a look of boredom on his face.
"So you and Xerxes huh? You are actually trying this...relationship thing." Leo chuckled loudly. "I would've never imagined that happening."
I smiled, eyes straying to Xerxes, who chose to send me a sly wink.
"How is everything with you and your girlfriend?" I asked, diverting the topic. I remembered Leo mentioning his girlfriend the first time I met him.
"Tiffany? Oh yeah, we recently relocated to a neighborhood nearby. I got a great job offer and would be dumb to not take it. I'm gonna be paid twice the amount that I was given in the job I previously had."
I propped my elbow on an armchair, rested my chin on my palm. "Really? What offer is that?"
Leo glanced to Xerxes, who nodded. White teeth shone as Leo leaned forward to me. "How do you feel about me being your driver for about six months?"
I frowned. "What do you mean? I already have a driver."
"Brad has decided to take a couple months off work," Xerxes told me. "He's been working daily for me for many years and he deserves the time to relax."
I nodded, deciding that I would visit Brad sometime this week and see how he was recovering from the crash. Leo and I talked for hours more, until our words became slurred with tiredness and he departed. Xerxes had left the living room during the first hour of us talking and I began to climb the stairs, the sounds of soft crying as I passed Sissy's bedroom immediately making me pause.
I slowly opened the door, confused as I watched her sleep, with tears falling down her cheeks, damping the pillow under her head.
My stomach twisted when I stepped inside, walking over many books and clothes which were strewn messily across her floor. My hand lifted to her forehead, lifting tendrils of her soft hair away from her face. She was sweating and I walked to a window, opening it partially and standing there, watching as she continued to cry silently, unaware that I was in the room or that she was even crying.
Mother had told me that I had done somethimg similar to what Sissy was doings months after my father had died. Apparently, I cried and whimpered a lot throughout my sleep as a child, frequently causing my younger siblings to wake up from the noises. Eventually, my distress would calm down before I awoke, or I would wake up, eyes puffy and face wet with my tears.
I perched myself on the egde of a chair, slowly becoming concerned as she continued to cry. It was only when I stood, to wake her up, that her cries softened into small whimpers. Her tears had stopped and I sighed in relief.
For several minutes, all I did was listen to the wind blow gently through the open window, listened to the sound of Sissy's soft breaths. I left when I saw the grimace which had once been on her face disappear, softening in a relaxed manner instead.