Humpty Dumpty's Onion
I hurried down the hallway towards the party hall. That unease settled, but my pulse and worry did not, and it felt as if I was being pulled by an invisible thread. The sensation was strange, yet familiar, which made no freaking sense.
Mind reeling I swerved past Belinski father and son, Victor and Andrey, as the two barreled towards the exit -I guessed for the same reason David was called to leave- the crisp white garb they wore shimmered, embroidered in silver in honor of Null, representing her frozen halls.
The massive opened wood and glass door of the party hall came into view, and I rushed to the stairs landing, scanning the room for a bright red dress. The color I praised now since it would have made her stand out.
My eyes roamed the crowd. From an array of dark colors of the offshoot families, over the white and silver of Belinski’s, emerald and gold of the Eurig’s -Luca’s filthy rich family, though the heir in question wasn’t in attendance, because a hot date and all- and the black, gold and blue of Constantinov’s family, but no red.
That weird pulling sensation pulsed in sync with my quickened heartbeat, slowing it down a notch, sharpening my senses and snapping my eyes to the far corner of the hall, near the buffet where a group of people gathered in a semicircle. And I was moving before my mind even caught up with my legs.
I barreled past the guests, shoving as I went. Disgruntled scoffs, and yells, followed in my wake, but my eyes were locked on Tara’s figure, sitting on the floor drenched from head to toe in wine, surrounded by shards of glass.
And blood. I smelled blood.
She got hurt, but her expression was in complete contrast to the state she was in. A languid smile stretched her lips, eyes shiny, glassy, cheeks flushed as she waved at me.
Bloody hell. What the heck is going on?!
With blood rushing in my ears, fists clenching, I gritted my teeth as I glared at people around her before I knelt in front of her, not caring for the shards biting into my knees.
“Tara, are you okay? What the hell happened?” I asked, grabbing her arms, inspecting small cuts and scratches on her skin, beaded with blood. Glancing towards the murmuring, whispering audience she had, their lips curled in distaste, I almost growled, but two soft hands cupped my cheeks, turning my attention to her. That languid smile widened, eyes closed. She leaned closer, nuzzling the tip of her nose with mine as she slurred, “Philip, you’re here.” She pulled back slightly to look at me, but her gaze seemed unfocused, sleepy.
“And there is two of you! Oh, well, more to love.” She tapped my cheeks, sighing, the smile on her face not faltering.
The pieces all came together, falling into place, and the anger I felt simmered down as I scanned again the so-called crime scene my girlfriend was leisurely sitting on. The wine, the glass, the apologetically annoyed server, clutching a tray to her chest, fingers tapping on it nervously, waiting for the opportunity to clean the mess. And I was certain, given Tara’s clumsiness, that she was the cause.
But one question, although the answer was grinning at me at the moment, remained to be confirmed.
Holding her wrists gently, I removed her hands from my face. “Tara, did you drink alcohol?”
Her brows knitted together, and she pouted, pulling her hand from my grip, placing it on her chest. She shook her head, tripping on her tongue in her denial as she gasped like the question offended her. “Na-ah! How dare ye, sir?! I drank the pink juice one.” She pointed her finger to the drink on the table not far behind her, then leaned in. “That’s a virgin.”
I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. “How many did you have?” There was nothing virgin about that drink. It was sweet as fuck. The alcohol easily missed, but it packed a mammoth punch.
“Um..” She couldn’t seem to decide on three or four, as she lifted her fingers, counting. “Oh... Four and three-ish. Because,” turning around, she clenched her jaw as she squinted at the gathered crowd, searching for someone. Disappointed, she clicked her tongue, returning her shimmery gaze to me. “He ran.”
“A Humpty-Dumpty guy in a navy suit. He said nasty, nasty things.” Humpty what? Who was it? What did he say to her? I swear to gods…. I scanned the faces again, but the crowd trickled away, and the few onlookers averted their gazes, stepping further from us. The server girl flinched as my eyes trailed over to her, but she only shrugged, shaking her head.
Tara’s hands once again cupped my cheeks, and with an angry pout not unlike that of an indignant puppy, she squished them. “He was mean to you.” Huh?
She leaned in conspiratorially, and in a voice deemed a whisper by her intoxicated standards, giggled, “But don’t worry, he choked on his words.” I blinked, confused.
She regarded me for a few moments, still giggling before her expression seemingly sobered, her smile turning to a rueful one. “These people are assholes, Philip. I don’t like them.” What the flying fuck did they say to her?! And who…
The tilt of her head, a soft look in her eyes, and a tender caress over my temple as her fingers brushed through my hair silenced my rampant thoughts. “So pretty and handsomer... I like you more, but don’t tell the other Philip.” She brought a finger to her lips, slurring away, “sshh... He’ll get upset with jelly. He likes me a lot, you know?”
“Does he now?” I raised an amused brow, chuckling, as she vehemently nodded, despite the fact that I knew I was so fucked right now. Lola explicitly said no alcohol, and even if it was by accident, Tara was my responsibility tonight and I already failed. Horribly.
But she was so gods-damn adorable even drunk of her ass, this girl, that I laughed, brushing away droplets of wine off her face as she closed her eyes, and with a smile leaned into my touch.
“Okay, my inebriated shrimp, let’s get you out of here.” I got up, pulling her to her wobbly feet, and she swayed where she stood, so I tightened my hold on her. That was when I saw her shoes were gone. I looked around and couldn’t spot them. Where did she leave them?
Not wanting for her to step on the glass, by how unstable she seemed, I swooped low, my back to her, and put her arms over my shoulders, telling her to hold on tight as I hoisted her up. She draped over my back, pressing her lips on the skin of my nape, nuzzling, prompting my heart to stutter in my chest as she loosened a sigh of contentment. “Tis the best… I like it here… smells nice. Goodnight.” She smacked her lips, mumbling as she wiggled in my hold, making herself comfortable, and in two seconds flat it was light’s out.
Shit. She’ll have one hell of a hangover.
I strode out of the hall, disregarding displeased and dismayed looks cast my way, even the one on Lydia’s usually impassive face as I passed by her.
With no other choice I settled on the idea of taking her to my old room in the manor, hoping she’d wake up soon and that the booze will lessen its hold on her, before I had to step in front Lola and Mina and explain what the fuck happened to their charge in my incompetent care.
More than that, I just wanted to make sure she was okay.
I climbed up to the second floor, bounding to the left of the landing of the massive wrought iron staircase, and down the familiar brightly lit hallway, my footsteps muffled by the dark blue carpet covering the marble floor. I ran down this hallway and this entire floor as a child so many times. Fooling around, hiding behind potted plants that littered the wall opposite of the tall stained-glass windows from one of the many babysitters who looked after me while mom was working at Anna’s bookstore in a reluctant game of hide and seek. Breaking many said pots, much to their annoyance.
As I stepped into my room, I turned on the lights, expecting to be greeted by stale air and a mountain of dust, but every surface looked pristine, as if the room was cleaned recently. I frowned. I didn’t intend to stay the night.
Since I moved out when I turned twelve, much to David’s chagrin and protesting, to which he only agreed by sending guards and babysitters around the clock, till I turned fifteen, I took to visiting every other weekend and staying over so I could spend time with Theo. But I haven’t visited in over a month now. The guilt gnawed at me, even more so after Theo pulled that stunt a few days ago.
Tara stirred on my back, mumbling something before she jerked violently grabbing at my shoulders, “Oh, no! I’m gonna…” She didn’t finish the sentence in words instead she painted me a picture, using my tunic as a canvas. I hurried to the bathroom, placing her back on her wobbly feet and she was hugging the toilet in no time.
“You okay there Shrimp?” I asked, rubbing circles on her back.
“I’m dying… Bring a pen and paper, I’ll put you in my will… I’ll give you all my fuzzy socks.” I laughed. She groaned, then clutched the porcelain throne as another wave of retching came over her. “I’m never having that pink devil juice again.”
As the heaving stopped, she reclined back, resting against the tiled wall. I got up, padding to the nightstand in my room, where a pair of glasses and a pitcher were placed, pouring water into one. Before taking it to her, I peeled off the tunic, satisfied the undershirt wasn’t soaked through.
“Here.” I handed her the glass, lowering myself on the floor as she rinsed her mouth a few times, then sipped the water slowly, looking at me through half-lidded eyes.
“Better?” She shook her head, brows creasing her lower lip in a pout as she glanced at the front of her now wine stained dress.
Her lip quivered and she sniffled. “It’s ruined…” she breathed out, voice breaking on a sob.
Nonono. Please don’t cry.
There was that painful tightness in my chest, the same one I felt when she told me what the battered mp4 player meant to her, before she returned my mother’s sahu to me. I slid over the tiles closer, tugging her to me, hugging her. Her arms snaked around my waist as she buried her face in my chest.
“It’s okay. I’ll get it cleaned, don’t worry.” I said, placing a kiss on top of her head, smoothing a hand up and down her back, and she nodded against my chest. “Okay.”
She burrowed even closer, sighing as she muttered, still tripping over her tongue, “You’re nice and kind Crabby.” Nice? Kind? I barely contained a laugh. No one ever used those words to describe me. I was neither, but to her… I wanted to be.
Her grip on my waist tightened, and she nuzzled into my chest. “Humpty meanie and his onion can go plow a lemon.” I chuckled, not entirely sure what she meant, but having a good enough idea from what I gleaned from her previous ramblings and this. And my deduction was that this Humpty in question said some crap… about me. It was nothing new. I was used to people having an opinion or an assumption about me. But the realization that she got mad on my behalf? That… That made me all kinds of warm, and I didn’t know what to do, so I held her tighter.
“You know,” she pulled away, sniffling, eyes still glassy and red, but the look she gave me had a glimmer in it, the one of a person ready to impart some secret of the universe, her mouth set in a resolute line. And I didn’t know why I waited for those words to fall from her lips with a bathed breath. “You… I… You know, Philip I’m… I lo…” Her eyes went wide suddenly, and she pushed me away as she turned, diving for the toilet, spilling her guts into it. I winced, resuming rubbing circles over her back, slightly annoyed and a bit disappointed puke interrupted whatever she tried to tell me, though it was probably more drunken gibberish. Not daring to fill in the blanks on my own, ignoring whatever weird fluttering was going on in my gut.
“I’m done... I’m dead.” Tara croaked, leaning her forehead on the lip of the toilet seat, looking ready to pass out again.
“Come on, let’s get you comfortable.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was pacing in the hallway in front of my room as I waited for Olivia to help Tara out of her dress and into some clean clothes. She was still out of it, and I wanted her to rest till her stomach settled before I took her home.
A door opened at the end of the hallway, snagging my attention. A figure I haven’t seen in a very long time emerged from the room. Her eyes widened as she met my gaze, gray and cold as they always were, steps faltering, almost making a guard behind her smash into her back.
Quickly she gathered herself, straightening her back as she ran a hand through her silver curls and smoothing down her silk blouse and long skirt. Without even an incline of her head to acknowledge me, she averted her eyes, pursing her lips as she stepped into the hallway and marched down another one on her right, disappearing behind the wall from my sight. Ah, always a warm welcome from my dear grandmother.
The guard locked up the room and hurried after her. For a fraction of a second, I wondered how grandfather was. He fell ill a year after David took over the mantle of the Alpha from him, and had been bedridden as far as I know for years. Grandmother took to taking care of him. The two rarely made any public appearances.
Truthfully, I didn’t really care. They made my mother’s life a living hell here. He got what he deserved.
The door behind me opened, and Olivia stepped out. “Varis,” she started, but upon seeing me cringe at the address, gave me an apologetic smile. “We are done. I removed her hair ornaments too. She drank more water and lay down. I noticed she has bad chaffing on her heels.” That explains the missing shoes.
“The bathroom should have a first aid kit. I will take the dress to get it cleaned. Now, I apologize, I need to go attend to my other duties.” She bowed her head, but I raised my hand to stop her. She was my mom’s ally in here. A friend.
“Please don’t do that.”
“Sorry. Force of habit.”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled, that warm, tender smile she had for both my mother and me, the one I remembered fondly, a soft wistful look on her face as she said, “She would be proud, you know.”
I swallowed through a pang in my chest, and she gave my forearm a gentle squeeze before she walked past me.
I took a deep, calming breath as I grabbed the doorknob. “Thank you.” I called after Olivia and she waved back.
When I entered the room I found Tara, now dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, sprawled in the middle of my old bed, eyes closed, her breathing even.
It was strange seeing her in a room that now bore no mark of my early childhood on its white walls, over the surface of the dark wooden furnishings, or the crisp navy sheets on the bed. None except the painted night sky and constellations over the ceiling that mirrored the one I had in my home. Both painted by my mother with little to no help from me. A comfort, for when sleep proved elusive, so I could count stars till I drifted off.
Strange, but… I liked the sight of her here. Her presence, a ward for the daunting and oppressive thoughts and memories that usually haunt and accompany my stay in this room.
I walked to the bathroom, rummaging through cabinets until I spotted the first aid kit, and pulled two band aids from it. She didn’t react when I sat on the bed. The mattress sank under my weight and I scooped her feet into my lap. I lifted, and turned her foot to inspect the chaffing, placing a band-aid over it when she kicked out her leg, snort-giggling, “Stop. Tickles.”
I laughed, squeezing her calf and her foot to stop her kicking. “Still in the land of the living Shrimp?” She responded with a groan. Not opening her eyes, she mumbled something about stars and room spinning before her breathing evened out and she was out again.
The girl was a complete mess. A disaster really. But the one I wouldn’t change anything about, the one I didn’t think I could ever get bored of. And the realization made my heart still for a moment before the chill set in. Creeping into my bones, into my very soul, taking root.
I traced the lines on her upturned palm, resting on top of the covers with my fingers. A thought came that those tiny hands wielded so much power over me. Slight fingers wrapped around firmly, gripping the thing beating in my chest, could easily rip it to shreds, and that should have terrified me. It terrified me, but also made me feel safe, which was an odd thing considering I was the “monster” in this scenario, though I hoped she’d never see me like that.
Thoughts swirled in my mind long after I took Tara home, avoiding death by glare and murderous aura from Mina as I explained what happened, while Lola laughed, finding it cute and endearing when I tried to give advice on how to help Tara with her hangover tomorrow morning. Thoughts still swirled wildly in my mind all the way home. While unlocking the front door, they got rudely interrupted as I sensed a presence behind me.
“You know this is trespassing and bordering on harassment. What do you want?” I turned, facing a cloud of golden curls, and big blue eyes blinking at me.
“We need to talk.”
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