Saturday 7:00 p.m.
I sent her a detailed text about our father’s visit then closed the cafe for the rest of the day.
After learning about Saya’s disappearance and then our father’s reappearance, there were too many thoughts sloshing around in my skull. I began cleaning the apartment, organizing things I had put off for another day, dishes I hadn’t cleaned and laundry I hadn’t folded. I cleaned the apartment until I was too tired to care about the events from this morning.
When evening rolls in, I descend the steps and find Oriana sitting on the bench outside. I open the door and stroll out to join her. The sun is already beginning to set. The air is humid with the promise of rain. The clouds overhead are steady, fat and plump with raindrops.
Oriana breaks the silence, “You think they’ve changed their minds?”
“It has been a while.” I pull my attention from the clouds to her stony expression. “It’s only natural they finally come around.”
She snorts. “It’s been a hundred years.”
“A while,” I tease and toss my hands about. “For them that’s like, what, a hundred days.”
She crosses her arms and curls her fingernails into her skin. She fights back the shiver that rises, thoughts darkening her mind and her gaze. I can hear her soul’s dark comments echoing inside of her, repeating as if they’re a broken record.
I pull her hand into mine, forcing her to lean into my shoulder. “Just say the world. I’ll snap my fingers and turn him into a frog.”
Oriana chuckles. It’s loud and sounds like children riding a roller coaster in the midst of summer. “You don’t have that power.”
“I can learn.” I lean my head into hers. “I’ll protect you.”
She squeezes my hand in reply. Perhaps her throat is too tight to speak.
We both sense his presence at nearly the same time. She sits up and my gaze trails to where he’s standing. Oriana can’t look, however. Her head remains forward, her neck stiff with tension as if she’s waiting for his disgust and negative comments.
I get to my feet and pull Oriana’s hand. “Let’s get inside before it rains.” We walk together into the cafe with our guest trailing behind. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
She whispers under her breath, “I might need whiskey with mine.”
I chuckle as we step into the cafe.
Her hand slips out of mine and I give her a glance. She nods, knowing that I am nervous to leave her alone.
I reluctantly leave to prepare the tea. It’s quick as I rush to fill the kettle and turn the oven on. I scurry back into the foyer in case I’m needed, in case a fight has already unfolded. But the cafe is thick with silence.
Oriana sits at the counter, still refusing to look at our guest as he lingers at the door.
He clears his throat and finally strides a few steps closer. “You both look wonderful. Beautiful.”
Oriana cocks her head a bit. “You had some news for us?”
He huffs and tugs at his linen tunic, fixing his clothes and checking his appearance. “Is it so improper for me to greet my… children?” He clears his throat again and presses fingertips into his brows. “My daughters,” he corrects himself. “I do not wish to fight with my daughters.”
I can hear the kettle hissing behind me, the water roiling wildly against its metal cage.
He closes the distance and sits down at the corner of the counter, keeping distance between him and Oriana. “You have become a beautiful woman.” His voice trails away, it becomes weak and wispy. “I wish your mother could see you now.”
“Aren’t you too old to be quoting generic hallmark cards?”
I pipe in, an uneasiness in my chest, “What do you mean? Why did you refer to our mother in the past tense?”
“She regretted what she did.” He nods his head as if to try and confirm it. “I regret it.”
Oriana’s tone is sharp, “So you came here to tell us she died? After kicking us out of your little kingdom, you think you can crawl here and win our sympathy by acting nice?”
The kettle starts rattling on the stove. I hurry back into the kitchen as it whistles and cries. I set the kettle aside and strain my ears to hear their conversation. It’s quiet as I make the tea. I try to remember this morning’s Schisandra with its five distincts flavors, the tartness that lingered on my tongue. But it feels as if this morning was days ago rather than hours.
I carry a tray with the tea set to the counter.
Oriana is ridged in her seat. Anger is the loudest emotion spilling from her but it's tangled up with grief and hatred and underneath it all shame. I cannot hear her soul. There are far too many emotions and thoughts that they’re all clustered together into static.
I set the tray down and try to take her hand. Don’t be ashamed, I order her.
She looks at me, eyes fluttering.
I harden my tone at him, “Is that all you came here for?”
“I want to make amends. I want to fix things between us.”
“How convenient,” Oriana remarks. “You need your children back at court to keep your leverage.”
His eyes roll shut and he smirks a little. “No. I left court not long after you did.”
“How long?” she probes. “Fifty years? Ninety-nine years after?”
He shifts from Oriana to me. He tries to lean closer and appeal to something in me. He’s searching as he softens his expression. “Moonflower, my child, I did not come here to make trouble. I just want to make my family whole again.”
Oriana jumps up to her feet. “Then you shouldn’t have put so much effort into tearing us apart. You are the reason we left in the first place.” She gives me a nod before heading upstairs to the apartment.
He tries to lean closer but I put my hand up to stop him.
“Enough. You have said what you wanted. You have shared what you wanted.”
“That’s not all,” he pleads. “Your mother didn’t just die. She was murdered. There is descent in the kingdom, shifts in power, shifts in nature.” He looks over his shoulder at the clouds that seem to dim even the streetlights. “Perhaps even here something is changing.”
I round the counter and head for the cafe door. I hold it open and speak as calmly as I can, “Have a good evening, father.”
He sits dumbfounded in the stool but finally rolls up onto his feet. Again, he smooths out his shirt in a desperate attempt to keep up appearances. “I’m staying here in town. I’ll stop by tomorrow and--”
“It’s probably best if you don’t.” I keep my smile soft. “We heard your apology. And you told us about what happened to Mother.”
His eyes thin as his brows cave inwards. “I see. There’s no mending this, is there?”
“It’s been almost a century,” I remind him. “It took someone dying for you to crawl here and show your face. What did you expect from us? A warm hug?” I roll my bottom lip into my mouth, trying to contain my bitterness. It does me no good to fight and get angry with him. I swallow the rest of my words.
He turns and leaves. I close the metal gate then lock the door.
I head upstairs in search of Oriana. I can not imagine the turmoil that she’s feeling. I can not even begin to understand the emotions that are assaulting her. Her soul and thoughts, although I can read them, are not my own. Her pain is still separate from my pain.
I hurry into the apartment and removed my shoes in haste. In the living room, my eyes fall on the brown, wilting houseplants that are dying from Oriana’s rage.
“Can you believe him?” she shrieks and throws her hands up. She’s pacing back and forth in the living room, her hands balling into fists, wild like a pacing bull. “They kicked us out of their kingdom! We lived on the streets, Cassie. We ate food out of dumpsters!”
“I know.” I stride over to my houseplants and assess the damage. Perhaps, later, I can save them but it’ll take time to get them to return to full health.
“They abandoned us!” Oriana’s anger boils over and it seeps out to the kitchen where it spoils a bowl of fruit.
My lips pull back as I cringe. “I know. I was there.”
“They abandoned us and he just walks in here and acts like nothing even happened.” She slams her fist down onto the back of the sofa. “Remember when we had to steal clothes because it was so cold? It was snowing and we didn’t have a cent to our name.”
“I remember.” I hurry over and wrap my hands over her fist. “I was there with you. I know what happened. We don’t have to forgive him. We don’t have to do anything. But getting angry won’t erase it. It won’t fix it. It’ll only hurt you more.”
Her face is taut, the shadows beneath her cheekbones somehow seem more prominent. The red in her hair is sparking like wildfire. “I don’t care that she died. She cared more about court affairs than her own children. She only married him to increase her influence anyway. It’s all they ever cared about.” Her anger twists sharply to grief and it begins spilling from her eyes. Fat rivers of tears begin streaming down her face.
“Oriana.” I pull her into a hug. I wrap her in warmth and spin a small spell, gentle and warm the way the sun nurtures flower buds on a spring morning. “Don’t concern yourself with broken people. You are already loved by so many others. Including me.”
I can feel her face turn downwards into the crook of my shoulder, her tears soaking into my shirt. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” I plead.
She shakes her head a bit. “I’m sorry about your houseplants. They were beautiful.”
“It’s alright. I’ll just ask Saya…” My voice trails away as I remember her absence. “I’ll buy some more.”
Oriana pulls out of the hug and sinks into the sofa. “Saya. You heard, didn’t you?” She furiously shoves her palm across her face and wipes the tears clean. “I’m going to stop by there tomorrow and snoop around.”
“Be careful. We don’t know what sort of magic might be involved.”
“Sajja agreed to join me,” she admits. “Whoever or whatever took her is going to regret it.”