This is the second part of a freebie story for my Work in Progress Lift Your Gaze to the Stars, inspired by the prompts of P.T. Wyant at ptwyant.com…
“Indeed, Ilona, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-bred your children are, judging from how muddle-headed and ill-mannered Dylan can be.” Evelyn nodded in Marchen’s direction. “I suppose I can blame Gino for some of that.”
“You insult your own flesh and blood in front of these strangers and have the nerve to accuse Dylan of being ill-mannered?” Aunt Illya let go of my hand, rose to look my mother right in the eye.
They were almost the same height, Evelyn and Ilona.
Aunt Illya leaned a little closer to my mother. “You’re making it obvious to everyone, Evie, just who Dylan gets any ill-manners from!”
“Not that you’ve done anything to discourage those manners.” Evelyn didn’t flinch or move away. Her lips were inches from her former lover’s. “Not that I’m ungrateful. You’ve taken care of my son, even if that care was questionable. For that I’m grateful.”
My mother took a step back, raising her voice. “All things, however, must come to an end.”
Evelyn turned to me. She looked me up and down as if I was an unruly space beast she was considering buying. “Now that the war with the Ambience is over, I’ll be taking Dylan back.”
“What?” I’m not sure if it was Aunt Illya or me who barked out that single word.
I rose to my feet. I was a little taller than Evelyn. Only Marchen was taller than me, although she was doing her best to hunch her shoulders, making herself unseen.
“I’m almost legally an adult.” I crossed my arms, standing next to Aunt Illya. “You can’t take me back as if I was a child.”
“Until you’re legally of age, you are a child.” Evelyn wasn’t cowed by my height. A tiny smile played across her thin lips when she turned back to Aunt Illya. “I do appreciate the care you’ve given my son, Ilona. I truly do, but it’s over.” She gave me a little sideways glance. “It wasn’t as if I wasn’t paying for that care to begin with.”
Aunt Illya backed away. Her shoulders slumped. She wouldn’t look at me.
“What?” I glanced from my mother to Aunt Illya.
“Who do you think paid for your clothes and education, Dylan? Gino?” Evelyn shook her head, the corner of her mouth twisting at the mention of Gino. “Not to mention that of Ilona’s own children. Along with all the booze Ilona has managed to consume over the years.”
Aunt Illya flinched at the cruelty of those words. Too often when she drank heavily, it was when she’d been reminded of close she and “Evie” used to be. When she’d just seen a news clip or gotten a message from my mother. The latter were always cold and abrupt.
For the two of them had been very close. Aunt Illya had never taken the pictures of my mother down from her home.
Those pictures were from a time before I’d been born. A time before Evelyn Stuart got a taste for power and started discarding everyone she regarded as dead weight. Including Ilona Gambretti.
She’d broken Aunt Illya’s heart, just as she’d broken my father’s. Only Gino Bodacci could at least talk about it or rant to St. Cecilia of the Stars about his feelings. I wasn’t sure if Aunt Illya had ever found a way to purge herself of the pain besides the bottle.
This was just another one of her wounds I’d never dared to probe too deeply.
Deep probing had never bothered Evelyn Stuart.
She marched forward, seized Aunt Illya’s chin, forcing her to meet my mother’s eyes.
“Look at you. Once I thought you were stronger than anyone. Only when the chance came for you to shine, you hid. You crawled into the bottle.”
“Some chances aren’t worth the devil’s glitter they give off!” Aunt Illya slapped Evelyn’s hand away from her face.
A shocked murmur ran through the crowd.
Aunt Illya seemed oblivious to them. Her attention was completely focused on my mother. “Some things are just wrong, Evie! No matter how well they turned out!”
“You’re the one who’s wrong.” For a moment, a hint of softness came over my mother’s lips, reaching her eyes. “I’m going to prove it to you. Dylan is going to prove it to you. You’re relieved of the burden you’ve been carrying for too long. Crawl back into the bottle. No one will disturb you, least of all my child.”
Evelyn gave Aunt Illya a tiny shove. She stumbled. I caught her before she could fall.
“Be prepared to pack up and leave this sorry life behind, Dylan.” Evelyn flicked a contemptuous glance at me. “You’re still my son. You’re meant for greater things than being your drunken guardian’s caretaker.”
She turned her back and stalked away. Her lackeys and would-be lackeys stumbled over each other, trying to follow her.
All except for Marchen. She glanced at me. Concern, worry, and sorrow sparkled in eyes the same gray as her mother’s. Until those eyes moved to her mother, hardening.
The look in them reminded me of the ice which sometimes clung to our home on Juno 4.
I wondered how much Marchen agreed with what Evelyn had said. Too often had she found her mother passed on the kitchen floor. Too often had she helped me carry her mother to bed. Even though it was I who usually cleaned the vomit up.
I found my free hand reaching for the cross around my neck. God help me, I understood Marchen’s anger.
Don’t be that person, Dylan, I told myself sternly. You promised not to give into your anger. Not toward Aunt Illya. Not toward your mother. Regard weakness with a forgiving eye. Remember, you’ve got plenty of weaknesses of your own.
Aunt Illya looked up with wide eyes and trembling lips at her daughter. She smoothed the lapels of her uniform. “Marchen-“
Marchen turned her back on both of us with an abrupt violence which startled me. She walked after my mother.
“She hates me.” Aunt Illya stared miserably at her daughter’s stiff departing back. “I can’t really blame her. What a sad excuse for a mother I am. What a sad excuse for a soldier.”
She reached into the lapel of her jacket. Of course her silver flask was there. She uncorked it. I could smell the whiskey.
She tipped the contents of her flask into her quivering mouth.
I wanted to take it from her and empty it, but there was no point. She would just refill it. Or buy another flask.
Aunt Illya lowered the flask with some reluctance, gazing at it. “I’ve turned my little girl against me.”
“You could go after her. You could talk to her. Try to talk to her.” I didn’t look at my reflection in the silver.
Aunt Illya didn’t resond. She screwed the cap back on the flask, hid it within her lapel. Only then did she attempt to smile at me.
“You’re too good for the Gambretti family, Dylan. Definitely too good for me.” She folded her trembling hands in her lap. “Evelyn is right to take you back. A smart, capable young man like you will have opportunities at her side I could never give you.”
“I was planning on going to the Academy.” Only my education would be paid for by Evelyn’s money.
Nor had I been sure if I’d be able to leave. Not if it meant leaving Sasha or Aunt Illya on their own.
“Child, you’ve got to stop thinking of everyone else and think of yourself.” Tired gray eyes fixed upon me with especial tenderness. “You’ve only got one life unless those crazy experiments Evie is funding work. No one can live your life other than you.”
I smiled. I took her hand again. We sat in silence.
I wasn’t convinced Evelyn’s reasons for taking me back had anything to do with my life or any opportunities for me. For herself, yes. They might have everything to do with the experiments Aunt Illya mentioned.
I didn’t trust my mother, but it didn’t look like I could resist her. At least not too directly. Plus I was worried about whatever hold she might have over Marchen.
This was my chance to find out.
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Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/kstrenten
Nine Star Press Author Page: https://ninestarpress.com/authors/k-s-trenten/