Heart de la Brache
The next couple days are filled with awkward silences and stolen glances. Kor dropped the bomb and left me alone to deal with the fallout.
To think that Calla just left her family, without regard to their well-being, just to run off with my father, makes me feel…
Like my very existence is forbidden on more than one level now. It’s not as if I’m ungrateful to be alive, but now I can’t shake the idea that I was marked at birth for something to atone for. As if the sins of my mother are now, somehow, my sins too.
Just thinking of my mother as a sinner at all is something I have yet to get used to. I didn’t think she was perfect, not by any means, but she was the perfect mother for me. She was just as entertaining as she was encouraging, thoughtful, and kind. The kind of person you think of as being genuine. Honest.
Now that trust is gone, and I’m thinking of my mother in the past tense.
I don’t blame Kor for running away after he told me the truth about my mother’s disappearance. It’s not as if I wouldn’t have done the same thing if I had to give bad news to a relative stranger. He’s probably just trying to give me space to digest the information, letting me deal with it in my own way and time. Although, his exits from rooms I’ve just entered are not at all subtle, usually bordering on comical. If it wasn’t kind of funny, the habitual action would get on my nerves.
It takes me a few days, but I finally convince myself it’s time to put the awkwardness behind us and apologize for my overreaction.
I find Kor putting laundry on a clothesline behind the house. Sheets swing wildly in the wind and beat up against his body as he hangs them in place of the children’s clothing.
I watch him through the window for a few minutes, contemplating how to break the tension, until Avias’ voice in my ears cuts into my thoughts and startles me out of what was becoming a creepy stalker moment.
“You’re aware your brother is the only one who can read your thoughts, yes?” He sips tea from a small cup and watches his father work outside.
“What?” I shift so I face him more than the window.
“If you wish to have a conversation with him,” he says, placing his tea cup in its saucer and taking a step closer to me, “I suggest you open your mouth.”
There’s a hint of a smirk on the Aérasian’s face. I feel my face getting hot and silently thank my father for his dark skin so my embarrassment isn’t so readily apparent.
“You don’t even have to leave the house,” Avias continues. “My father is excellent at manipulating sound vibrations in the air. He can hear from kilometers away.”
I take note of that interesting bit of information and make a point to ask more about it in the future. Now’s not the time.
“He’s upset with me, I think,” I tell him cautiously, taking a glance outside before returning my eyes to Avias. “He told me something about my mother, and I guess I didn’t react in the best way.” I stand up from my place on the window sill and try to look as natural as possible. “Do you… I mean, has your father ever spoken of her? My mother, that is.”
Avias arches a brow like he knows exactly where the question came from and exactly how our conversation will go. “Yes.”
“Really?” I miss my chance to play it cool entirely. “What did he say?”
“Enough,” Avias answers vaguely, eyes traveling to the window once more. He takes another sip of his tea. “If there’s something you wish to know, however, your best source for information is currently performing a puppet show with a pair of training pants.” He sips his tea with a knowing smile then turns away and heads back towards the kitchen. “Perhaps when he’s finished you can ask him.”
His words confuse me slightly, until I see that Cyra and Robin have joined Kor outside and are rolling around in the grass, giggling their little tummies off. Their father does indeed have training pants on each of his hands and is hiding behind a sheet, appearing to make the makeshift puppets tell jokes. The scene pulls an unexpected laugh from me, which I quickly stifle. Laughing just doesn’t seem appropriate right now.
Tirigan still isn’t speaking to me, and I recently learned our mother wasn’t the woman I thought she was, and we have no leads as to where she could be. I haven’t seen my father in a couple weeks now, a fact that is starting to make my body heavy with sadness. And, of course, there’s the ever-present threat of being found out and murdered in our sleep. You know, basic concerns.
I push myself towards the back door. If I don’t want to laugh, then I guess an uncomfortable, possibly homeless-inducing conversation is in order. I hear the children laughing wildly first, Kor’s high-pitched puppet voices only coming in once I clear the porch.
“I told you, the monkey was the baker!” Kor screeches, and the children fall into hysterics yet again. “You’ve just forgotten you’re a lobster!”
“Daddy!” Robin yells through laughs. “Make them sing! Make them sing!”
Another laugh pushes itself through my lips, just barely audible, but Kor still swivels in my direction. His expression doesn’t change, mirth spreading over his features in a way that makes me wonder why I was so worried about talking to him again.
“Ah another member of the audience!” Kor says in his puppet voice. “Do join us, Miss Charlie!”
This time I force a laugh, trying to make it sound as natural as possible. The quick pull between Kor’s brows tells me I’m unsuccessful.
When he speaks again, it’s in his own voice. “Or perhaps another time.”
He offers me a thin smile then pulls the training pants off his hands. Robin and Cyra protest, but Kor jumps around the sheet a second later, growling at them like a monster and making them laugh again.
“All right offspring, go inside and fill your bellies with something atrociously sweet. The goal is to be so full your mother will be incapable of getting you to eat any dinner.” The children scream in glee and jump up and down. “And remember,” Kor yells to their quickly retreating backs, “Your mission is top secret!”
“Vi will make you pay for that,” I tell him with a smile.
“Ah, but then who would she have to fold the laundry?” He holds up the training pants in his hands which are, in fact, in the process of being folded. He stoops down to place them in the basket when he’s done.
“So,” I start nervously. “I uh, wanted to say that I’m sorry, you know, for before...” I trail off, feeling a bit unsure about how the rest of my statement is going to go. “I know I upset you, bringing up the past like that and I just-”
“Charlie, no,” Kor cuts me off, stepping closer and putting his hand on my shoulder. “It’s I who should apologize. Thinking about Calla... talking about Calla, it’s not an easy thing for me to do, but I know you want to hear more about what she was like, and you deserve to hear it.”
It’s obvious there’s more he wants to say, so I refrain from responding and just wait for him to continue. After a brief pause, Kor pulls his eyes from me and back to the remaining bits of laundry to be folded.
With a sigh, he finishes his thought. “I just wish there was someone a little less biased for you to talk to.”
“Biased?” I ask, his emphasis on the word confusing me. “What do you mean?”
Kor takes in a deep breath then looks back to the house, carefully considering whatever it is he wants to tell me. When his eyes come back to me, they’re intense and unwavering. It’s a look I’ve started to get used to, as I’ve been on the receiving end of it quite a few times since I’ve met Kor. It feels like he’s inspecting me to some infinitesimal degree, like he expects to find the inner-workings of my soul written on my forehead. It’s a little unnerving.
Finally, after a moment more of his scrutinizing gaze, Kor smiles. “Would you like to go for a walk?”
A short while later, I find myself on a narrow walking path, surrounded by firs and wildflowers. Thankfully, Kor breaks the silence first. I wouldn’t know where to begin again.
“Your mother and I, as I’m sure you’ve inferred, were very close when we were young.” I nod, because I had assumed as much. Not just because of the way she wrote about him, but also because of the way Kor speaks of her. “We were practically inseparable as children, always going on adventures, usually avoiding detection.” His features shadow with his nostalgia as Kor’s hands slip into his pockets. I mimic the posture. It’s not exactly cold outside, but there’s a slight sting to the air. “I thought we might spend our whole lives doing just that.”
His admission is soft, like a confession. It takes me a moment to realize what he means.
“You were in love with her.” It’s not an accusation, and I hope it doesn’t come out that way.
“Yes.” Kor nods, still smiling, albeit somewhat sadly now. “I was.”
“So when you said she didn’t care about her mother—” I try to connect the dots of our last conversation to this one.
“Beatrice was not the only person Calla didn’t care about,” Kor finishes.
“She didn’t love you back.”
“I thought she did. She told me as much,” Kor replies as he pulls a flower from the ground. He begins picking its petals without using his fingers. “But I assume she wouldn’t have left if she saw a future with me.”
Something in me wants to ease Kor’s past heartache with pieces of the truth. That my mother fell in love with a strange creature who turned out to be my father, and could Kor really blame Calla for wanting to be with him? Maybe he could. Maybe Kor could blame my mother for abandoning her family to start one of her own. Maybe I could blame her too, even if that meant diminishing my own existence.
“Why do you think she left?” I ask instead, wanting to hear his ideas so they distract me from the truth.
Kor shrugs. “We weren’t enough. Her family. Her friends. Me. None of it was enough for her.” He seems to catch his nearly bitter tone and gives me a half smile. “Your mother was a wildly free individual, Charlie. No one could tie her down.”
“Funny, I wouldn’t think taking care of your family qualifies as being tied down.”
“It’s all right to be mad at her, Charlie,” Kor tells me. “The fact that she created you doesn’t make her infallible. I’m not saying you should hold ill-will against your mother, because even I don’t do that anymore. However, it’s never good to assume perfection.”
That resonates with me. Despite the lies I’m spinning to Kor, the perfect bubble around my mother has popped. She lied to me my entire life. It’s becoming obvious that I never really knew her at all.
“I cannot assume that everything worked out for the best, as I don’t have the power to look into alternate timelines, but I do know that I’m happy in this one,” Kor continues. “Your mother seems to have found happiness before she died as well.” He falters slightly. “Of course, I can’t speak for your mother’s family. I didn’t keep in contact after I left, right after your grandmother’s passing.”
“What made you go?” I ask, pushing down my feelings of betrayal at my mother missing my grandmother’s death.
For Anunnaki, death is a celebration of life. It’s a grand, day-long affair. Everyone who ever knew the deceased comes and pays their respects to the surviving relatives, and several ceremonies take place throughout the day. In the end, the deceased’s body is burned to ash, and then the ashes are spread over the dead person’s favorite locations. To miss the death ritual of a friend or family member is completely unheard of. Of course, we never had any friends or family members, so Tirigan and I have never gone to one, but I’ve read about them.
“I left for a combination of reasons. Pacoa’s emotional climate, my own family squabbles,” Kor replies solemnly. “But also, I finally realized Calla was never coming back. I couldn’t stay there, too many memories. Letting go is difficult if a piece of you is still connected.”
“That makes sense,” I reply hesitantly. It’s odd to be having such an intimate conversation with someone I just met a couple weeks ago.
There’s a rock on the side of the path, half buried under dirt and weeds, but it stands out to me. It’s translucent and devoid of color, somewhat familiar too. I bend down to pick it up and put it in my pocket.
“And then you met Vi?” I ask, purposely adding some manufactured cheer into my voice.
Kor nods with a smile. “A walking miracle.”
“She’s really kind,” I agree with a smile. “You guys are great together.”
Kor chuckles softly. He looks off into the distance, his eyes less focused. “It’s ironic really, that I should find someone to love me in spite of... well, in spite of everything.”
I almost comment on Kor’s odd statement, despite not yet knowing what I want to say, but I’m distracted by the rock I’ve just placed in my jean’s pocket. It feels like it’s pulsing against my thigh. I stop walking as I take it out and examine it more closely.
“Do you know what kind of rock this is?” I ask Kor. He bends towards me and looks into the stone.
“Quartz,” he says after a moment, and then he narrows his eyes at me. “You should already know that, though.” When I avoid his gaze and don’t say anything, Kor continues. “Quartz crystals are versatile blanks for Gyans. I’m surprised you haven’t seen one before.”
I think quickly. “Well, I- I mean with my mother gone and my father sick… and you know, we were on the road all the time. Plus there weren’t a lot of stones near the jungle. I mean there were some, of course, but not a lot. It wasn’t exactly easy to find the ones we needed. I’m sure we could’ve if we tried but…” I’m rambling. For some reason I’m finding it increasingly difficult to lie to this man.
“Hmm,” Kor hums thoughtfully, obviously thinking carefully over my rant. “You know, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a casted Quartz. Oleander is prone to using Jade or Jasper.” He pulls the crystal from my sweating palm and looks at it closely before offering it back to me. “Do you mind? I’d love to see what it looks like.”
It takes me much longer than it should to figure out what he’s talking about. He wants me to cast into the Quartz. Theoretically, I should be able to do this. If I can control all four elements, I should be able to cast all of them too, as long as I have the right kind of stone. Calla explained it to us in her letter. I just have to focus my energy, and some of the Earth’s power should channel through me and into the stone. Simple as that.
“Um, sure,” I answer as casually as I can manage, taking the stone out of Kor’s hand. He eyes me warily, like he’s trying to find the missing piece of a puzzle.
Just think Earth. Think Earth and I will cast Earth.
I repeat it like mantra, over and over again, as I close my eyes and hold the stone tightly between my palms. Earth. Earth. Earth. Earth. Earth. Feeling my power transferring, I have a quick jolt of excitement that it’s working. It feels like my hands are tingling, like the muscles inside had fallen asleep and are now coming alive again. After a moment, the feeling disappears and I’m left holding the stone between my palms.
I realize as soon as I open my eyes that this was probably a huge mistake. What if I didn’t cast the right color? They’ve seen me invoke Earth; they think that’s my element. If I cast another element into the Quartz, what will he say? It isn’t possible, is it? To cast one element into the stone used for another element?
I’m sure every one of my thoughts can be read in the crease of my brow and the thinly pressed line of my lips, but when I look at Kor he seems more concerned than anything else.
“Okay then,” I say slowly, preparing myself for the next step. “Here.”
I push my hand forward; the stone nestled between the fingers and palm of my right hand, still out of sight. Probably another mistake on my part. I should have looked at it first, that way I’d have a chance to think of a lie if needed. Too late now.
Now, Kor is reaching for the stone, forcibly pulling my fingers back because they’re apparently unwilling to move on their own. I see the glow between my fingers before I can register what’s happening.
“What…?” Kor questions absently, staring into my hand as I try to remember how to breathe. The quartz isn’t green. It’s purple, illuminating my hand in a soft glow that instantly reminds me of the stones my mother used to wear around her neck.
I have only a second to think.