Chapter 4: Awkward ApologyA Chapter by Raewyn Pierce
Sconces lit the dim hallway, casting a yellow glow over the textured paint. I traced my hand along the wall, feeling the imperfections beneath my fingertips. My gaze followed a line of abstract artwork. The images, set in antique frames, danced with color and emotion. The paintings looked familiar, but not in this setting. I stopped and puzzled at the illustration of a beach. I adored this view and not because of my love for the sand and salty air. This was my ocean. This was my view. I saw it every morning from my back deck in Ocean Crest.
Leave it to my father. He always had an unhealthy obsession with art. The same might be said about his obsession with my mother. Maybe it was love, but misplaced and unwarranted. I did recognize the works. I recognized them as hers. Her entire collection lined the hallway. I smirked, considering the nerve of Colton Preston, displaying her art after their painful separation. I remembered her gushing about a mysterious collector who offered thousands for the autographed pieces. He had his hooks in our life from the moment we left Borden Grove.
Taking a few more steps, a pale runner muted my footfalls. Orange sunlight spilled into the corridor from an open door at the end of the hall. I used to play dolls in the sunroom. My father ordered the porcelain variety from all across the world, spending a fortune on accessories and dresses. He always wanted the best for his little girl.
I rolled my eyes, landing them on the image of a young ballerina. I paused to admire the brush strokes. The little girl struggled to lace up her slippers, crisscrossing and tangling the ribbon. Colton insisted that dance built character, but I hated those stupid classes. He still saw me as his little ballerina, playing with dolls and harassing my big brother. I thought of finding another place for the painting, but reconsidered. My mom always loved the ones of me. She cherished them like any other mother cherished photographs.
Turning full circle, I stared down a solid door. I remembered the knots in the wood and the swirl of the grain. Fear seeped through my nerves. The sensation prickled through my fingers as they curled around the metal doorknob. I shoved into the bedroom, the air swirling with the smell of lilies. Another vase of flowers sat on the dresser, this one without a card. I smiled, walking across the plush carpet. My favorite dolls lined the walls. A contemporary bed replaced my old one, draped in fluffy blankets and magenta pillows.
I lifted my gaze, searching beyond a row of tall windows. Ribbons of orange twisted through the sky, tangling with lavender and crimson hues. They danced across the horizon, much like the little ballerina who struggled to tie her slippers. I sighed, folding my arms over my chest. The sun dipped behind the trees, casting them as an army of silhouettes waving in the breeze. I watched hundreds of sunsets from this very room, wishing to pause every one of them and live in the moments forever.
A loud thud prompted an involuntary tremor through my bones. I whipped around, discovering my brother in the doorway. My duffel lay at his feet like a submissive canine. “What do you want?” I snapped with an icy tone, trying my best to look serious. He saw through me and smirked, swiping at the switch on the wall. The room exploded with white light, sending stabs through my eye sockets. “Dad asked me to bring this.” He held up a blue dress and strappy heels.
“I am not wearing that.” I announced, loud enough for the entire mansion to hear. My brother seemed pleased by my rejection, knowing my options were either the easy way or the hard way. He wanted me to choose the hard way. His expression screamed revenge. As little kids, revenge meant squirting each other with a water pistol. Now, it meant mind melts and flying fists. I summoned my mental guard, straining against the barrage of exhaustion.
It was a stand-off. The designer garment hung between us on his outstretched fingers, the fabric swaying with every movement. I wore a dress two years ago, for the last time. I recalled staring into a spotlight at a crowded coffee house. I remembered hugging my guitar, my bare feet dangling from a barstool. That was for charity, to raise money for my best friend after the motorcycle accident. This dress was different. This dress was for my father to put me on display. He wanted a trophy daughter. I needed to fit the role, wear a costume and strut around in stilettos.
Snatching the dress from Stephen, I expected more of a struggle. The silk slipped from his fingers, billowing through the air. He trained his hazel eyes on me. The shoes fell from his grasp, colliding with the textured carpet. “I almost forgot.” He dug his fingers into the pockets of his dress pants, fishing around for a mysterious something. I imagined a can of silly string or a water pistol. He withdrew his hand slowly, clutching a gold chain in his fist. The tiny links looked fragile in his big hands. A crystal orb dangled like a tear drop, appearing to glow beneath the bright lights. He dropped the necklace into my open palm. “You only have an hour and a half to get ready.” He announced and abandoned my room.
I tossed the duffel on my bed and slammed the door. The noise reverberated through the manor. I smiled, pleased with the delivery. If my father insisted on purgatory, I would insist on making it miserable for everyone. Flicking the lock on the knob, I crossed the space and drew the sheer curtains. My room faced the front of the manor, acting like a grand stage. With the lights on, anyone could watch my brooding performance. It seemed appropriate. My father wanted an actress, not a daughter. I would give him both.
Shoving into the adjacent bathroom, I gripped the necklace and silk dress tighter. Stripes of robust color covered a single wall, replacing my mural of fairytale princesses. It felt like stepping into a home decorating magazine. My jaw dropped open in stupid surprise. I grumbled, swatting at the door. I wrung the designer garment and spun around. A girl stared at me from the mirror above the sink, burning through me with jade eyes. I thought of running hot water, flushing her out with a screen of condensation, but I turned my back instead and faced a glass shower in the center of the room. I was reminded of my eighth grade field trip to the museum. It looked like a display case, the kind that guarded ancient mummies and fancy dresses.
I ignored my roving mind, starting the water and stripping off my clothes. My body took time to adjust to the hot stream. I raked apple shampoo through my long hair and scrubbed the sea salt from my skin. The girl in the mirror disappeared before long, masked by more than a thin film of steam. When every trace of the ocean disappeared down the drain, I leaned against the glass and sunk to the tile floor. The water sprayed my face. I never backed down from a challenge. They always gave birth to adventure. I hoped this one would start soon. My willpower was bending and soon to break.
After wasting an hour and fifteen minutes in the shower, I stood behind a mirrored dressing screen. The angled reflections showed every fold and movement of the dress. The blue silk draped off my shoulders, dipping at the neckline and sweeping my thighs. I looked like one of the boutique girls in Ocean Crest, the brats that carried dogs in their purses and bought hundred dollar sunglasses. Miranda and I used to make fun of them from the crab shack, filling in our own dialogue. She would probably mock me now, if she even recognized me.
I palmed the necklace, pulling it around my neck and playing with the tiny clasp. The orb looked opaque against my sun-bronzed skin.
I pinched the pendant in my fingers, stepping back to twirl. The silk lifted with momentum, settling around my frame with a weightless effect. I almost looked the part of trophy daughter, but something in my eyes betrayed the role. My independence was still intact. I winked at the girl in the mirror, sifting my fingers through honeysuckle strands. My attention broke to the windows.
A series of headlights shone through the sheer curtains, announcing the arrival of guests. I cursed under my breath, stealing a glance at the stilettos. They frightened me. I hated walking in heels. I looked like a zombie in a bad horror film, stumbling around and bumping into furniture. On the bright side, a broken ankle might excuse me from social obligations. The thought was tempting, but I opted for the Converse sneakers. I laced them up, tossing a glance at the girl over my shoulder before unlocking the door.
As I stepped into the hallway, I noticed my brother propped against the opposite wall. He had traded his pinstripe suit for a formal black tux, slicked back his hair with scented gel, and shaved his five o’clock shadow. “What do you want?” I folded my arms over the silk dress and summoned my mental guard. My skull still throbbed form our earlier encounter and another attack would have knock me unconscious. With my walls in place, a painful pressure mounted behind my temples.
“I want to talk.”
“You want to talk?”
He nodded, smoothing back his hair and leaning off the wall.
“Stephen, we have nothing to talk about.”
“You misunderstood, Aria. I said, I want to talk. You need to listen.” He corrected me, dropping his gaze to the floor. He shuffled his polished shoes and sunk his hands in the pockets of his dress pants. I watched as he wrestled with words. He took after our father that way. Mom and I always blurted out whatever sprang to mind. “Kordelia is a b***h.” He finally spoke. For a moment, I thought maybe he did take after Mom.
A smirk stole across my lips.
“She is a b***h, but she is also our stepmother.” He clarified, finally lifting his gaze to meet mine. “She commands a certain…” He paused, the gears turning behind his hazel eyes. I could practically see the smoke billowing from his ears. “Respect.” He finished, filling his lungs with a deep breath. “I just, think you should be more careful.”
“When she starts offering me poisonous apples, you’ll be the first to know.” I broke my vow of silence.
He glared at me. “Aria, this is serious.”
“This is a waste of my time. I expected an apology, not a lecture. You almost melted my brain twice today.”
“Twice?” He quirked an eyebrow, confusion spreading over his features. His lips parted as if to coax words off the tip of his tongue.
I read the expression on his face and a chill rocketed down my spine. My entire body shivered. The tiny hairs on my arms stood on end. An image of the pale stranger flashed through my mind, delivering a raw dose of panic. “Outside the coffeehouse?” I clarified, hoping he would suddenly remember.
“I only used my telepathy on you once.” He must have noticed the color drain from my face. “Something freaked you out in the car, what was it?”
I closed my eyes, bringing the phantom to life from my memory. He clawed his way out of the pitch"the darkest recesses of my mind. I wanted to forget him. I wanted to forget his dangerous scowl, his towering stature, and filthy feet. “Xagen.” I mumbled his name.
“You saw Xagen?” His body went rigid.
“When we passed by the playground. He was standing on the edge of the forest, just watching.”
“Did he see you?”
“I"” I thought about it for a long moment, picturing him standing amongst the dark forms of the tree line and scanning over the bundled children. “No.”
Stephen moved forward and gripped my arms. With our earlier encounter still fresh in my mind, I twisted away on instinct. “Aria.” He spoke my name in a hushed tone, lacking the same bitter quality as before. He rubbed my bare shoulders and smiled, though I recognized the look of concentration on his features. Unlike in the foyer, he passed on a feeling of comfort and reassurance. The emotions channeled straight to the connectors in my brain, clearing away the fear and panic. Xagen retreated into the darkness, sinking into my mental swamp and vanishing beneath the surface. “Are you going to be okay?” He asked.
“Yeah, I think so.” I nodded and feigned a smile.
“You should probably head downstairs.” He suggested, retracting his comforting embrace and stabbing his hand back in his pockets. The rush of voices filled my ears, anchoring me back in reality.
“Yeah.” I agreed, the calming fog still clouding my mind. I took a few steps in the direction of the revelry and I glanced back over my shoulder. Stephen was leaning against the wall. “Thanks.”
He shrugged. “Consider it my apology.”
“In that case, apology accepted.” I beamed. My Converse sneakers propelled me down the corridor. The hallway seemed longer than before, but perhaps dread played with my perception. A chorus of unfamiliar voices spilled from the foyer, filling my stomach with a fluttering sensation. I may have been nervous, but never one to admit it. I took a deep breath before stepping onto the landing and descending the stairs.I recognized my father first. He stood by the front doors, greeting a man with a wooden cane. Two young-men flanked the stranger, looking almost identical. My gaze collided with violet eyes and a handsome smile"Paden.
© 2010 Raewyn Pierce
AboutSeven years ago, I started writing a little story about werewolves. A lot has changed, but I have continued to develop it. Characters have earned new names, the plot has evolved, and my writing has im.. more..