My dreams were dark and murky. I dreamed of the night my mother made me believe Elia had died. Except I was Elia, and Kagan was me. My mother kicked me, cursed at me, calling me trash while Kagan fought against the hands that held him down. He threatened my mother, begging her to leave me be. She produced a contract, waving for him to sign it. I didn’t know what he was signing away. But I knew it wasn’t going to end well again. I was screaming for him to not trust her, to run and save himself. He looked at me sorrowfully as he signed it. She snatched it from him, looking over it to make sure it was to her satisfaction. Finding everything in order, she waved towards me, telling the guards to continue. I thrashed at the hands holding me, turning to spit at the guard that approached me with a gun cocked, ready to end me. I looked up to find my father’s brown eyes looking down at me in disappointment.
“Daddy?” I whimpered in disbelief.
“We have a greater responsibility here, baby.” He raised the gun, and fired at me.
The sound of the shot echoing through me shook me from the dream. I was covered in a layer of sweat, my breath sawing through my lungs. Kagan still slept peacefully next to me. The sun had gone down outside. A sharp knock sounded again. Someone knocking at the door. That was what had woken me from the dream.
“Yes?” I asked loud enough to be heard through the door. Kagan stirred next to me.
“Apologies, mistress,” Gerard spoke through the door. “Dinner is about to be served.”
“Alright, we’ll be down shortly.”
“Very good, mistress.” I listened as his footsteps receded back down the hallway.
“Come on,” I climbed out of bed.
I fumbled bleary eyed for my clothes on the floor. I found them and went into the bathroom to dress and clean up. While brushing my hair, I saw a small, reddish bruise forming on my shoulder. I smiled thinking about the source of it. Yes, this one thing could last me for the rest of my life. Opening the bathroom door, Kagan was approaching from the other side, already dressed. I grabbed his face in my hands, and kissed him quickly before turning away to find my shoes.
“What was that for?” He asked.
“I just wanted to. Hurry up. My mother is impatient.” I said, tying my sneakers.
“So are you,” he smiled as he said it.
“Well now we know where I get it. My impatience and gray eyes.” I smiled, rolling my eyes.
“You really don’t look like her at all.” He said thoughtfully.
“I know. I’m told I look more like my father’s mother. But I’ve never met her.” Done with my shoes I sat up. He was still standing in the doorway, so I shooed him on. He disappeared inside for a few moments. When he came back out, his hair was slightly damp like he had run wet hands through it, and freshly brushed.
“Ready?” He asked, gesturing to the door.
“As I’ll ever be, I guess.” I laughed nervously.
He held a hand out for me. I took it, his callouses scraping against mine. We walked together to the door and through it. Kalea and Nakoa were waiting in the hall for us. They both looked us over, smiles breaking out across their faces. Kalea whooped, snatching me in a rough embrace.
“I feel like this is inappropriate.” I laughed, hugging her back.
“I knew it!” she pulled back, beaming at me. “You two are perfect for each other.”
“It’s kind of about time,” Nakoa said to Kagan.
“I swear it’s like everyone was in on a secret about me, except me.” I rolled my eyes at them. Gerard cleared his throat from the end of the hall, where he stood at the top of the stairs. “Let’s go.”
We followed him down the stairs, and across the house to the less formal dining area. I had almost expected my mother to make a big deal out of this dinner. I expected us to be in the formal dining room, with her breaking out her most expensive dishes. If only to show me what I had been missing out on. Even though she knows that none of the materialistic things she valued ever mattered to me. And I had expected her to be present. But none of those things happened. We were in the smaller, casual dining area, with the regular dishes, and she was nowhere to be seen. I raised a questioning brow to Gerard.
“Mother Marianne has asked me to extend her regrets. But she has some work she must attend to and will meet with you after dinner.” He waved to the table set for the four of us. “Please, be seated and we shall serve you.”
Despite this being the smaller, informal dining room, it was still rather large. The table was big enough to seat at least a dozen people. We were gathered on one end of it, Kalea and Nakoa facing Kagan and I. The room was dimly lit, and a few candles on the table between us. The champagne floors were recently waxed, and shone brightly in the light. Parts of the marble shone like there were flecks of gold in the stone. I had always thought it was rather beautiful, even with the stark contrast with the darker walls.
Once we were all seated, two staff members pushed out carts with covered platters on them. The scent of the food hit me then. It struck me almost violently, my stomach growling loudly in response. A similar sound echoed from my friends. We shared a look and laughed at the awkwardness of it all, realizing it had been nearly twenty-four hours since we had last eaten anything substantial. Gerard and his staff started pulling lids off and serving up plates. It was a simple dinner, with chicken, steamed vegetables and roasted garlic potatoes. But after having gone so long without eating, it was the most luxurious meal I could remember.
Once everyone had been served, the staff left us to our own devices. For a few minutes, we just sat awkwardly, picking at our foods. But after a few moments, our hunger won out and we gave in to it. Our conversation ceased while we ate. The quiet didn’t last though, as we tore through our meal. I looked up from my plate just as Kalea and I both were scooping a large bite into our mouths. They didn’t make it in as we started laughing at each other, Kagan and Nakoa catching on our infectious laughter. A tension I hadn’t realized was in the air released. My shoulders relaxed, and my breath eased. Despite the location, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my final evening with my friends, than eating and laughing together. Kalea looked at Nakoa with a spark in her eye that had her whole face glowing. His own face reflecting the love he had for her whenever he looked at her. Kagan and I shared a look, we had both noticed it. He smiled tenderly at me, sliding a lock of my hair behind my ear. I smiled back at him.
We fell into a more relaxed flow of conversation and eating. But it was over way too fast. We were finished, the staff coming to clear the dishes away. My heart broke a little bit as we walked out of the dining area. Knowing that this was coming to an end. Knowing that it wouldn’t be long before we were running for our lives, and I’d have to say goodbye. Kagan caught my hand as we walked behind Kalea and Nakoa, following Gerard back to the bedrooms that were our prison cells. The walk back was quiet, the laughter we had shared a few minutes prior had drifted away as the seriousness of our circumstances crept back in.
Reaching the hall where the rooms were, Kalea and Nakoa went to go into the bedroom across from mine, and I reached for the door to my old room. Gerard cleared his throat again, drawing my attention back to him.
“Yes, Gerard.” I asked, somewhat annoyed.
“Your mother would like for you to meet her in the office.”
“Of course she does,” I sighed, dropping my hand for the door handle. Kagan stepped close, ready to follow me.
“Just you, mistress.” His eyes cut to Kagan, and my friends behind him. His hands were clasped before him, his posture giving no room for negotiation.
“I’ll be fine,” I smoothed a hand down his arm. “I survived her for the first part of my life. I’m sure this will be no different.”
“You sure?” he looked back and forth between me and Gerard. I offered him a small smile, and nodded. He leaned down and planted a soft kiss on my lips before I turned to walk away.
I walked down the hall, the stairs, and to where the office was on the other side of the library, making no concessions for Gerard. I was a bit taller than him, my stride stretching further than his own. He wasn’t struggling to keep up. But I was a few steps ahead of him. I walked into the office and found it empty. I turned to Gerard, more than just a little annoyed now.
“Is this some kind of ploy? I really don’t have any patience for my mother’s games.” I asked turning back to him, my words sharp.
“No, mistress. The other office.” He was walking across the room, to a bookshelf on the far side. It was the shelf that my father had kept his special collection of books. Books I was never to touch. There was a section where the books had been moved, and he reached into that space, and pulled a lever.
“What other office?” I asked in disbelief, as the shelf pulled out with him.
He motioned to a lit set of stairs that lead down to a basement. There was a basement, but the stairway down there was on the other side of the house. This was completely new to me. There were recessed lights along the floor, illuminating the wood stairs that lead down beneath the house. A metal door was at the end. I looked at Gerard, who just raised a brow at me. I started descending, realizing that Gerard wasn’t following me. I looked back up to find him closing the shelf door on me. I took a deep breath and picked up my pace, reaching the door ahead of me as the door behind me clicked shut. I didn’t bother knocking when I reached it. I just pushed through.