(To read the entire chapter, click on the title)
Vesta sulked, her usual reaction to fear, as she slouched down in the passenger seat of the car as Cen turned through the tall iron gates and continued along the winding tree shrouded drive. Cen hadn’t been here in years, but it was all very familiar. And if she were to admit it, the familiarity, the trees, the rich grasses and even the sweet air were quite comforting. She hadn’t liked being chastised by Deena, but she would be eternally grateful that Deena was willing to help Vesta. Cen sighed and relaxed her arms; her arms and elbows had been stiff and tense and her fingers were damp on the steering wheel during the drive over, but the closer she’d gotten to the mansion the less anxiety she felt. She could trust Deena to give Vesta the care she needed. Cen looked over at her daughter who appeared much younger than she was as she sat scrunched down in the seat next to her. She wanted to say something soothing, but she couldn’t think what.
“Deena was my mentor,” Cen said.
“Yeah, you said,” Vesta murmured.
“She’ll explain everything to you. She’ll help you through. I know it’s all probably a little scary, but . . .” Cen tried.
Vesta huffed and said, “I really don’t . . . I mean . . . can’t we just not talk about it for a minute.”
Cen nodded and continued up the drive. When they finally pulled up in front of the large gray stone edifice Vesta sat up and took a good look.
“It looks like it should be on one of those old English estates, like somebody just picked it up and plopped it down here. I didn’t even know there were houses like this here,” Vesta said as she peered out of the window.
“It’s a replica of one we held in England years ago. The original has long since been destroyed, some war or other. This one is better; it has running water, electricity, heat and all the things that were absent in the other. At least that’s what the elders say. It’s very different in the back, quite modern, two pools and more glass than you might imagine, but few get to see the back of the house.”
Vesta unbuckled her seat belt and moved to open her door.
“I can leave you here while I park the car over there,” Cen said pointing to a small paved clearing a short walk ahead of them. There were five or six cars already parked there.
“No, no, I’d rather walk back with you,” Vesta said settling back in her seat, but before Cen could drive on Deena appeared at the top of the broad stairway.
“You’re here,” Deena said. Her voice wafted through the open car windows.
She sounded genuinely happy to see them. Vesta looked up at her but couldn’t bring herself to return Deena’s smile.
“Go on,” Cen said, “I’ll park the car. It’ll only take a few minutes and you’ll have a little time to get a sense of Deena on your own.”
Deena was getting closer. “Go on,” Cen spoke more softly, “she only means you well. I wouldn’t have brought you here otherwise.”
Vesta looked a little mournfully at her mother as she pushed the button to unlock the door.
Cen placed her hand over Vesta’s fist as she moved to get out of the car. “I love you very much and I would never let anyone or anything hurt you,” Cen said as she blinked back a tear that was threatening to fall.
The younger woman nodded and stepped out of the car.
Va couldn’t concentrate on work. He sat back in the large desk chair, his thoughts a jumble as he considered ways to tell Aileen, things he might say that would help her believe, a way that he could tell her without telling her too much. It was all so precarious. How had he gotten himself into this? He’d been angry with Cen, had wondered how she could be so cruel as to sever the bond even if temporarily. How could it have happened, and then how could she be so careless as to breed with a human, and now he’d tripped and fallen over the same branch.
He could imagine the heated Council gatherings when the elders got wind of Cen and her daughter Vesta, and now he had broken the same taboo. Although the common belief was that these crossbreedings never happened, Va had heard tales that told another story. True, they were rare, Reveler bindings were strong and for most they were more than fulfilling, but over the centuries there had been a few who had strayed and mated with humans. Early on, in the first few centuries when the Revelers were still establishing themselves on Earth, the faux pas that resulted from these matings were simply stolen and given swift, painless deaths and then burned in secret. Often times not even the parents knew what had become of them. Va had heard rumors of two that had occurred in the last century. One had shown no evidence of the gift and had been allowed to live out his somewhat elongated life among his own kind, and the other who did exhibit the gift had been taken in by an elder’s family and “encouraged” to take employment with the Council which severely limited his interaction with the outside. He became a trusted advisor and was greatly responsible for sizable increases in Reveler’s fortunes worldwide.
Va understood the need for strict adherence to tradition; it was a matter of survival, after all. And he respected the efforts of the Council and the elders to protect them all, but with his current dilemma plaguing him he was afraid of how their decisions might affect people he had grown to care about. But it did seem that attitudes and outcomes were evolving, that his fellow Revelers were capable of assessing each situation individually. He truly hoped so. He had to think of a way to make this work because it didn’t appear as though Aileen would budge.
He stood up and slipped his cell phone into an inside jacket pocket. He’d get no work done today. Instead, he’d stop by the grocer’s and pick up something good and fresh to cook for Aileen, and then he’d take a long shower so his head would be clear when she arrived.