Wednesday the 14th
Lunar 9, Cascade 33 — Sixteen Years Ago
The Trinity Celeste Vacation Resort of the Lumerian Royal Family
As the days passed, the change-related terror in me began to subside. A sense of comfort set in. I could feel my mother and Eddy striving harder than they ever had before to understand the trauma I had been through and where it all came from. We laughed and we cried together at times, rehashing ancient stories and old mistakes from my long-forgotten childhood, then we sang around the piano and celebrated things I missed. Calling it therapeutic was an understatement. I felt then for the first time that maybe, just maybe, I could really heal — I could move past it all. Maybe I could be the man my mother saw in me, the one Lucien and all the others needed. Maybe it wasn’t some fantasy after all.
Although there were no official announcements yet regarding either my brother or I, the family grapevine was ripe with news and well-wishing. It felt, at least for the moment, as though the wind was at my back, and I was being propelled forward with the hopes and dreams of dozens of people who I thought hated everything about me. Gifts arrived from all corners of the galaxy. Some were for my mother and the baby, but a surprising amount were for me; notes, books, statues, art, regional delicacies. I seldom had the time to look through them with how busy the girls were keeping me, so most were left to pile up.
The girls and I swam through the late afternoon and until dinner time and collected pieces of petrified wood and bone on the shore. The girls took me for a walk to show me all of their secret hiding places. Eugenie related all of her little life updates along the way, about her teacher and her tutors and all of the things that Eddy made her study at home, too. Lianna was less interested in sharing those details as she was examining the treasures we found along the beach and diving deep to uncover more, and what she might make them into later. She was good with her hands like our father; she made herself some little dolls and things out of them and left them all over the house.
“The only thing that would make this more splendid is if Luci were here,” Eugenie said, leading me down the beach by the arm. She linked me to her with a band of threaded orange wild flowers, and although I held on tight, I let her think her flowers were doing all the work.
“Have you seen him?” I asked. “Since, he…”
Eugenie nodded back to me over her shoulder. “Oh, yeah! He was fine one day and then he wasn’t.”
“Just like that, huh?” I asked.
“Well, kinda,” Lianna said, lagging behind us with a trove of treasures in her arm. “This whole year he was different though.”
“Different?” I asked.
Lianna shrugged. “Not like normal Lucien. Sadder, except for when he was happy — then he was really, really happy. But that was kinda weird, too.”
I decided to press a bit further. “Weird how?”
“Just not like him,” Eugenie said, innocently. “Y’know. All over the place.”
“You should’ve seen him before mum took him to the hospital. He kept calling out for someone who wasn’t there,” Lianna added. “Someone not real.”
Eugenie nodded. “And he screamed and cried all night. Like ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’” she imitated, in a wispy, raw voice. “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”
I arched a brow. Perhaps it was best not to press any further on the topic. Based on what the girls shared, it sounded to me like Lucien did up and lose his mind one day. Could it be? Maybe he was under a lot of pressure, but… something about it still didn’t sit right with me. I had to see him at once, the moment we were home…
ψ ψ ψ
Eddy called us in for dinner not long after, and by then we were all hungry and chilled, the suns setting not long before. By the time we changed and sat down to dinner as a family, I was hungry in a way I hadn’t been for a long time–hungry for food, not something else. It was the first time I could remember when I actually craved food. Maybe my body was finally starting to remember the difference. Eddy and my mother had done away with most of the formalities of dining at home, allowing us to scoot up closely and act like a family. At the center of our table was no fancy centerpiece, but rather, a simple clear vase of water holding six stalks of Lily of the Valley that Lianna had picked that afternoon, one for each member of our family. Even if our father and Lucien had to be far away, we could be together in her heart.
Our meal came preceded by an exotic herb salad and a pungent herbal tea, one I was not familiar with. It smelled strongly of lavender, although it contained other ingredients, too. Some sort of little berries and cinnamon sticks were in the bottom of my cup, too.
“From your cousins in Lumena,” Eddy said, to me, raising her glass to toast us all. “Your Aunt Regina and her daughters send their regards…apparently it pairs well with the salad.”
Eugenie’s face was puckered with disgust after a sip. “I bet it pairs well with the garbage.”
My mother glared at her for all of two seconds but broke down in laughter before she could get through reprimanding her. “Isn’t it just abysmal? You don’t have to have any, dear.”
“It is a rather…acquired taste,” Eddy admitted, though she continued to drink hers. “Miss Luka has a rather sophisticated palette for such a young lady.”
Being that I was already thinking ‘what would a King do?’ in this situation, I drank my full glass. My father mentioned that to me over the years — how important it was to never reject a gift, and how he struggled through many dinners on faraway planets, the likes of which I’m sure must’ve been worse than whatever my aunt grew in her garden back home. It was weird and pungent, but it did pair decently with the salad — that or I was just hungry. My appetite was finally coming back after weeks of not caring much for any food at all, so I ate and drank more of it than I might have otherwise. The others were more inclined to fill up on the main course of reigndeer, or our dessert of chocolates — another gift to me, from some second cousins of ours I’d only met once.
Afterward, the girls and I played hide and go seek well into the evening. My full stomach left me more sleepy than expected. Once or twice when they found me, I was starting to nod off in place. It must’ve been the combination of our dinner and varying activities, both coming at the end of a lengthy vacation, as both of the girls were a bit more tired than usual, too. When my mother and Eddy came to put them to bed, I readily retired to my own quarters — partly because I was that tired, and partly because from there, I could listen in to the bedtime story Eugenie got next door without admitting that I wouldn’t have minded one myself.
Falling asleep to my mother’s soft voice reminded me of times long ago, before the girls were born, when it was just Lucien and I. We shared that room next door once, and each night, after our story, we would pretend to sleep just long enough for our mother to get out of earshot before we woke up and continued acting out her stories, ones of daring heroes, monsters, and the great Maritinian pioneers of long ago. Lucien and I were about the age that the girls were now when we found out Lianna was in the works, after nine years of it just being the two of us. My parents’ marriage was typical of people in ‘our life,’ or so they each said. They had no love for one another. They’d spent most of my formative years separated in secret, figuring, I suppose, that given they’d gotten two boys on the first try, they were free to pursue more desirable affairs discreetly. Somewhere along the lines, however, things changed between them. First came Lianna, and then Eugenie not long after. And after that? Well, after that I wasn’t welcome on these trips for much longer…
But after such a nice day, I hardly wanted to think about that.
Still dressed in my day attire, I laid down in bed. I didn’t even pull back my sheets. The last thing I overheard was my mother and Eddy in the hall:
“Oh, are you sure, my lady? You won’t need me?”
“I’d prefer you have a taste of vacation yourself, Eddy. It’s just one night, and then we’re off in the morning…”
“Yes, yes. Very well, then. I’ll be waiting to welcome you home–welcome all of you home– at the Palace!”
The palace. Home. We were–I was–I was really going home. That was what was on my mind as I fell asleep…
From there, what was real and what was a dream became difficult to determine.
Vivid, unpleasant dreams were common for me, ever since I was quite young. That night was no exception. I tossed and turned quite a bit despite how tired I was, and felt abnormally present in my surroundings. There were strange sounds. Voices. Something heavy rolling across the floor in the night, or on the roof, maybe? A loud crash. The smell of lavender, like that odd tea. Coughing. The baby crying, her cries growing ever more distant. Sirens wailing in the distance. Heavy footsteps.
There is one thing that I knew was a dream.
I was back on the beach with the girls. They were running from me, laughing and giggling, playing like they usually do. Both of them were leading me and calling me to hurry up and catch up with them, but try as hard as I could, my legs would never get me close. There were moments when I would get within reach, but each time, they would slip away, further and further away. I held my arm out, but I could never catch them, and they could never reach me, either…
When I regained consciousness, my arm was outstretched in the air for real, though I could hardly see it in the depths of the darkness. It was pitch black, then–odd. There was no light even from the hall, and the scent that filled my nose was…smoke? And lavender? Whatever it was, it was so strong it made my eyes water and my skin burn.
As I got up from bed, another thing struck me as odd. The area rug I was expecting to be there wasn’t, and my once-bare feet were dressed with shoes I had no memory of putting on, in a room that wasn’t mine but was familiar all the same. It was my mother’s.
It clicked all of the sudden — the sirens, the smell. There was a fire. We were in danger.
I ran to the door and grabbed the knob, but it burnt my hand so badly I had to let it go. Instead, I threw all my weight onto the door, but it had been locked. I ran back to try to find something to break it with, and ran past the mirror. There I saw myself for just a split second — my face, my hands. I was wounded somehow in my neck and chest–burns, I thought–but my focus was on getting out, and getting to anyone else who might still be there.
Then on the floor, she caught my eye. My mother. Her arm was extended out toward me, reaching. She needed help. I had to get help.
Again I rammed back to the locked door. The wood splintered and I fell through to the smoke-filled hallway, in the darkness. I tried Lianna’s room first; I could hear her screaming inside, pounding at the door. I pounded back and tried what I had before, but it didn’t work this time, and I was growing weaker all the same, but I got myself up and tried Eugenie’s instead, to the same result.
On the other side of the door, Eugenie was wailing, crying. She shouted something to me in the middle of her cries, but I couldn’t understand her.
“You’ll be okay!” I shouted back. “Help is coming. I hear sirens.”
Her knocks on the other side of the door grew weaker, and mine, too, slowed. My chest grew tighter. With the blood and sweat pouring from my body, it was clear I would die, but I had to hold on a little longer for Eugenie. If I could keep her going, that was enough.
I accepted my fate. The last few days were good enough for me. I wanted to go home but…maybe it was better I didn’t. Lucien would probably get better eventually, and he was more the type, anyways. Eventually I’d just get in the way.
Just when I felt myself starting to let go, help came. I didn’t see who it was — any detail — just saw a pair of legs in some kind of fire-proof suit and boots walking toward me. I knew I was dying, but at least I could give them some direction, so I motioned toward the door I broke through.
Whoever it was walked past me and broke down the rest of the door to the room I thrashed out of. That was the last thing I saw.