Monday the 12th
Lunar 9, Cascade 33 — Sixteen Years Ago
The Trinity Celeste Vacation Resort of the Lumerian Royal Family
My sisters Lianna and Eugenie were chasing a squawking seabird further down the shore, laughing and screaming in their child ways. With my head pounding less that morning, it was almost a pleasure to hear the two of them enjoying life, being kids. My body ached and shook, nervous flutters crawling through every fiber of my being. How much of it was my vices or anxiety about being back home, I don’t know. I was not used to being around my family anymore. I had not seen them in a few years, and I was convinced I would somehow ruin everything — again — like always.
I dug my feet down into the cool, damp sand, past my ankles and fins, and took a shallow breath of the now-foreign air. Each time the nausea came I lost grip of who and where I was, but it was getting easier. Everyone told me it would, but it was never actually easy. Nothing was, or would be ever again. Not even breathing, or laying down to bask in the sun…
Watching the girls dance in the waves made the time I lost all the more surreal. When I last saw them they were both wee beasties, losing teeth and the like. Now, the two of them were both close to heading off for intermediate school, still children, but old enough to catch hints of the truths that lay outside their protected world… including that their big brother was a lowlife. And I was. And I couldn’t have cared less about it, either… until it changed the way they looked at me.
Our parents told them I was off at school, about to finish my last year before coming home to university in Lumena. There was some truth to that — regardless of my records, any college back home would have welcomed me when the time came, for my name alone before my father even got out his pocketbook. And sometimes I was at school. Other times it was whatever I did to get kicked out this time, and whenever I went after that, or rehab, or parties, or the arms of the brother of a young lady I was supposed to be wooing, or whatever powder or pill or drink I could find to make it all go away for a while.
But there was no making any of this go away. Not here.
Here on this private beach of ours, such things were hardly an option…which was probably why my family asked me to meet them there, of all places. All in all, I had few complaints. If you had to pick a place to be sick for the summer, it might as well be a pretty one, right? Not that I picked. None of this was my choice.
None of it was ever a matter of choice.
Just thinking about it made my stomach turn again. I rolled over and clutched myself, trying to avoid another vomiting episode. I was successful.
“Quiet down, girls!” My mother’s handservant Eddy called, her voice stern, but soft, as to try not to wake the baby sleeping in my mother’s arms. “You’re bothering your brother.”
My mother, Eddy, and the baby were nearby, laid out on the beach in their summer clothes, preparing for a picnic later on. I was sprawled out in a less dignified position.
“No they’re not,” I muttered, turning back to her. “Let them be for once, will you?”
“Be nice, Eliseo,” my mother said, flicking some sand in my general direction. “She’s trying to help.”
“Well, I don’t need any help,” I growled, to the servant. Lowering my speaking voice made my stomach lurch.
“Sorry Leesee,” Eugenie called, waving to me with her sunhat in hand.
“Come on. Come swim!” Lianna added, before the two of them marched back into the water.
I waved to them, hoping that from a distance neither one of them would sense the effort it took me, or how it made my head spin a bit to try. Swimming was out of the question.
“Eliseo, do you need us to call for the doctor again?” My mother asked me.
“You are looking positively pale, Your Highness,” Eddy added.
“No. It’s not so bad. Being back here is just…” I paused, not wanting to upset my mother. “Lots of old memories.”
My mother nodded slowly, a wince of pain evident in her face. She turned to Eddy. “Could you give us a moment, dear? I’d like to speak to Ellie in private.”
Eddy bowed to both of us. “Of course, ma’am,” she said, and trotted down to play with the girls in the water.
I groaned, putting my head in my hand. “I’ll apologize later. I’m sorry.”
“Right you will,” Mother snapped. “You know Eddy’s been worried sick about you. We all have.”
“I know,” I muttered. “And I am… sorry. I am.”
“Well, you have one less thing to be nervous about now. Your father’s staying home after all.”
That was hardly a surprise. “I kinda figured you were the one who wanted to see me if anybody, Mum.”
My mother leered at me. “He does care, Ellie. He does. He just…has duties to attend to, is all.”
Duties, yes. So many duties that even the servants and security forces made themselves scarce when I was around, just to make sure as few people saw me as possible. Not surprising. When my father’s Admirals and their goon squad found me this time, my doped-up ass was underneath the still-warm body of a much older senator of the Majority Party. His now-widow was not pleased, and tried to blame me for it, as if I was the one who made her marry some closeted old geezer, or I got him into drugs. Listen: I’m not saying she should be grateful or anything, but not only did I take one for the team, there, and I also saved her a lot of money on a divorce and got her the whole estate. Oh — and it was his drugs.
My father must have been reluctant to share all the gruesome details with mother. Even if he did, she was the type of parent who they write about in the stars, the sort the old myths tell us the Gods are supposed to be. She would look past any indignity and extend an open hand of love, always. That was just who she was…the kind of woman who deserved better, especially from her son. My father, on the other hand? He hated me before this, and he would hate me after, too. The old bastard hadn’t spared a word for me in years except to express his profound disappointment — a mutual feeling. We only fought when we saw each other, so we made it a point not to. The only downside was that avoiding him made it more challenging to see the others, too.
Needless to say, I was surprised when my mother asked me to come home. Somewhere along the lines, I thought my father convinced her that she had to let me go, that no matter how much she loved me, I was beyond saving, and if she didn’t, I’d somehow ruin the others, too. I don’t think she ever really believed that, but she had to put on a good show about it to keep peace. For the years when I didn’t come home, she came to visit me wherever I was instead, and sometimes brought one of the girls along, too. My father put a stop to her travelling when she was expecting, however, so I hadn’t seen her for some time. Then, out of the blue, she called one day to ask me to come home and meet my new sister. I figured no matter how unwanted I was, social niceties warranted that I pop in to say hello to them both before being sent off to another school in Fall — unless they just paid one to give me a diploma and be done with it.
Even though my mother had told Eddy she wanted to speak to me, she was quiet for some time after Eddy went down to be with the girls. Her hesitance was worrying; it wasn’t like her to hold her tongue or spend time putting words together like delicate strings of pearls. More often than not, she spoke without thinking, and didn’t care if she insulted anyone in the process. I was like her in that way.
“Your brother is… sick, Eliseo,” she said, seeming distant and far away, though she was sitting right beside me. The baby fussed in her arms, reaching out of her blanket and toward my mother’s face. “You haven’t asked about him. I take it you’ve heard?”
“What’d the poor guy do?” I laughed. “Get crushed under a stack of library books?”
My mother watched me closely, as if she were looking for some trace of something in my eyes–deception, perhaps–but whatever it was, she never found it. “So you haven’t…kept in touch?”
“Well, what is it?” I blurted, anxious now. “What’s wrong with him?”
My mother took off her glove as if to palm swap. I flounced back, hiding my hands in the sand. Swapping would have been too risky; there was too much I couldn’t bear her seeing.
She seemed to understand, and slid her glove back. “It’s his mind, Eliseo. He’s… not well. Our doctors have tried a great deal of medications, therapies, even new experimental treatments… he’s just not the same as he once was.”
“Wait, what?” My jaw dropped. “What do you mean, not the same?”
Mother took a deep breath before going on. “He’s trapped in delusions almost all the time when he’s awake, but usually he just sleeps for days on end.”
I blew out a breath of air through my teeth. Right. That did sound different. “Okay. Well… when did all of this start?”
“About five weeks ago. Eliseo, if it keeps up much longer, the Senate will vote to remove him from the line of succession.”
“The succ–? Oh, forget the damned succession! What happened to my brother?”
My mother’s eyes faltered, as if there was something she wasn’t sharing. “There’s no answer I can give to that, dear. Grief, loss, sadness… we’ve all endured many things as of late.”
“But grief over what?” I asked, a rush of fear running through me. “W-wait, about me?”
“You can’t blame yourself, no more than any of us can. Lucien has always been a gentle soul, and always carried burdens more than anyone should bear. I made my fair share of mistakes, too. It was the pressure, I think.”
Oh Gods, that meant I’d driven him crazy, didn’t it? It was me. The association was too much to bear. I was on the other side of the galaxy and somehow… somehow I’d still ruined things, just by living my life as I chose.
My stomach lurched. “How can I–”
My mother stuck a finger over my mouth, to hush me. “Get yourself well. That’s all I ask. No more drugs, drinking, sex… I don’t care if you’re gay, many in our World are and cope as they can in private. It makes no difference… and perhaps, as King, you could–”
“As w-what?” All the air left me, and horror filled my lungs instead. “Are you serious?”
She shushed me. “Now, don’t be so dramatic, Ellie. Your father and I aren’t getting any younger, you know.”
I panicked. “You’re hardly old enough to be planning an exit strategy, mother.”
“Oh, come now. You know our position necessitates such things. There are the girls, of course, but… as you’re aware, the succession laws are a mite bit trickier for women, and there is the issue of whoever they might marry. There’s no promise the Senate would allow it, in any case. And my primary concern as a mother is that they’re so much younger than you boys, too…”
Hearing the amount of thought she put into this gave me pause. This was no strange passing fancy. “Does father know about this? What you’re…suggesting?!”
“It was his idea, Ellie. A lot of changes would have to happen, but he thinks that perhaps that’s what’s meant to be. Perhaps it was your destiny, all along.”
Destiny? Hah! No. No. Being King of half the galaxy was Lucien’s destiny. And I was supposed to… be as quiet of a collapsing star as possible, so as not to distract any of the others. I wasn’t even doing that sufficiently.
My mother reached out and cupped the side of my face, so I couldn’t hide from her. “For what it’s worth, I’m certain you would be great, Ellie.”
“You’re my mother. You have to say that!” I said, a mix of laughter and anguish escaping me. “You know I could never…I’m… Gods, you know. I’m hardly leadership material, mother!”
“We all feel that way at times. Maybe that’s your strength — the way you can relate to the people of our galaxy, my dear. You know what it’s like to look through the eyes of another. You’ve struggled, and you’ve triumphed. Isn’t that more impressive than to have never struggled at all?”
She was serious.
She truly believed that I had it in me — that I could do this. Being King wasn’t something I wanted–ever. It was nothing I was ever jealous over, or envied Lucien for. I was happy he’d been born first, if only by a few minutes, just to spare myself that life. Truth was, there were parts of being a fuck up that did attract me. Keeping whoever I wanted as company, doing whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and yes, sleeping with whoever I wanted… those kinds of things made life worth living. The other stuff might not have if I wasn’t addicted to them but, well, I was. The thing I wanted most was a place in my family — to feel loved. Needed. I wanted to help, not harm. And if this was the way then… I could cope.
“I’ll have to talk to Lucien about it first,” I murmured. “I couldn’t just…”
“I know. And when we get home, that’s our first stop. Your father was hoping to speak to you both there. In fact, that’s what he’s working on now. The last thing we want is for this to be perceived as a scandal…”
I didn’t know what to say. I could hardly believe it.
“But it has to end now, Eliseo. You have to get yourself right,” My mother added. “And even if you don’t like it, for at least the time being, you’ll need to play by all of the rules. Am I understood?”
I nodded. “Of course.”
“Good,” my mother said, reaching out for my hand once again. “One day soon, I hope you’ll feel comfortable sharing whatever it is you want to hide. I’ve longed to feel your heart again.”
Again I pulled away from her, forcing down the urge to get sick again. I glanced away, a little embarrassed at the prospect. Most people my age dreaded doing that kind of thing with their parents, but in my case…? There was a lot that was better left unshared.
“Would you mind looking after Louie a bit?” My mother asked, as she held the baby out for me to grab. “Eddy looks like she could use some help down there.”
Back on the beach, Lianna had jumped on Eddy’s back and was covering her eyes, while Eugenie was stomping around in the sand pools around her. Before I could respond, mother pushed the baby at me and ran down toward the beach, tossing back her sunglasses and shorts behind her, stripping down to her swimsuit as she went. Instead of helping Eddy like she said, she took the opportunity to heave an unexpected splash of water at her. Even I smiled at the sight.
The baby blew spit bubbles at me, her face all scrunched and wrinkly as though she hadn’t decided if I was worthy of her presence or not yet. She didn’t know me like she knew the others, which was fine, seeing as I also knew nothing about babies, apart from that she was indistinguishable from what my other two sisters looked like at that age, too, and that I still wasn’t a fan of holding them.
“Lucasta, huh? There, there, Princess. She’ll be back,” I said to her, as I tried my best to make her comfortable, falling short despite my efforts. The racket down on the shore seemed to be bothering her more than it ever bothered me, or maybe it was just because our mother had gone. Not sure what she had to be cranky about — not like anyone was going to ask her to be King. “We all come back eventually.”