Family Secrets: Part One
The doorbell rang. Quite majestically, might I add. I had that rather dull tone that came with the manor replaced last month with the tone “Meridell Royalty.” Suits the house wonderfully, wouldn’t you say? I thought so. Father did too. At least, I think he did. Nothing he says anymore makes sense, I’m afraid.
“Eleanor, get the door, please,” I said absently to the red Xweetok maid who had been setting the table in the dining room with the pale blue placemats I ordered a few months ago. She paused.
“Now, Ms. Stepmore?” she asked, confused.
I looked up from the guild newsletter I was leafing through and frowned. “Yes, of course I mean now. When else would I mean?”
Meanwhile the doorbell rang again, twice in quick succession.
“But... I’m setting the table, ma’am,” she said. “How can I be doing both at the same time?”
I threw up my hands in frustration. “Never mind, Eleanor. Just continue what you were doing,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, ma’am,” she said quietly and the clink of silverware resonated through the halls once more. I tossed the newsletter to the coffee table and stood up, smoothing my periwinkle dress quickly. I adjusted my pink Aisha ear stalks as I hurried to the door. The guest on the other side was ringing the doorbell nonstop now, with an occasional command to open up. I yanked the door open and glowered at the adolescent blue Techo facing me across the threshold. The Techo, in mid-knock when I pulled open the door, stumbled forward, fist held out in front of him rather comically.
He quickly recovered and dusted himself off sheepishly. “Hello, Aunt Calydia,” he said, embarrassed.
“Fallan,” I muttered through pursed lips. He held out his hand, but I quickly offered to take his coat instead. Who knew what disgusting objects he had touched before coming here? With a half-smile, he peeled off his coat and handed it to me; as I was hanging it up in the closet, he took in the majesty of the front hall.
“Can I get you any refreshments?” I asked him as I led him into the parlor.
“A starberry juice would be nice,” he said casually.
I found it interesting that he would pick one of the most expensive drinks in our collection. I held my tongue and found the decanter, near the back of the cabinet.
“How’s your mother?” I asked politely as I poured him a small glass of the shimmering elixir. Although I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly five years, she was, after all, my sister.
“She’s alright,” Fallan replied. “She works long hours so I never see her anymore. Never see my father either, for that matter,” he said, more to him than me, I think. He frowned and became silent.
“Well, keeping busy is never a bad thing,” I said as I sat on the loveseat across from him. “It keeps you out of trouble, at least.”
He nodded, but said no more. He looked uncomfortable and unhappy. I bit my lip as I thought of something to fill the awkward silence. Noticing the newsletter still lying on the table, I grabbed it and flashed it at my nephew.
“Ever heard of the Neopian Riches Guild?”
He looked at the newsletter half-heartedly. “Do you belong to it or something?”
I smiled. “As a matter of fact, I’m Chief Events Coordinator, fourth on council. I take care of all the competitions, parties, and such. It’s a very demanding job, but somebody’s got to do it!”
He faintly smiled. “Sounds like it.”
Frowning, I wondered why I even invited the little snot to dinner. I remembered that it was not I who suggested Fallan to come over, but my father. With an odd bit of coincidence, my father, a shadow Eyrie, happened to hobble his way into the parlor at that exact minute.
“Father!” I said suddenly, glad for any excuse to get up. “Come see your grandson. Remember Fallan?”
It was heartbreaking watching my father squint to see the Techo seated on the couch only a few feet away. Watching his health deteriorate was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to endure. Well, second most painful. Being demoted to fourth on council was probably more hurtful.
“Eh?” my father wheezed. “Who?”
“Fallan,” I repeated, and motioned for the Techo to come closer. He stood and came forward, stopping about two or three feet in front of my father, who stood leaning on his crooked cane carved from a tree from Illusen’s Glade.
My father stared for a long while. He seemed to remember something; the look in his eyes grew more lucid, something I hadn’t seen in a while. But just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished, and my father was back to his old self.
“I need a banana,” he announced suddenly, and resumed his hobbling across the parlor towards the kitchen.
“Father, you know dinner will be ready soon! No snacks!”
“Banana,” he replied firmly.
I sighed. This was useless, fighting him. I returned my gaze to Fallan. “Shall we return to our conversation? There’s no stopping him anymore, I’m afraid. I’m sorry that he was so rude.”
“Don’t be. I understand,” he said, and for the first time I could see an emotion behind those rather cold eyes of my nephew.
“It’s been so bad lately. I believe this whole trauma started when Swin left on his expedition to the South Pole nearly two years ago. Swin’s my brother—your uncle,” I explained when I noticed the look of confusion on his face. “When Swin left, Father began a downward spiral. He so loved Swin. Sadly, we haven’t heard anything from my brother. It worries me, but I know wherever he is, he’s doing wonderful things. My brother is an amazing man.”
“Sounds like an interesting person,” Fallan said once again half-heartedly, the emotion that he had shown now completely gone. Did he care about anything I said?
His nose twitched. “Is dinner going to be ready soon?”
I was silent. He had no manners, did he? “I believe so, yes,” I sniffed. Glancing at the grandfather clock, I informed him dinner was scheduled for seven o’clock, about twenty minutes from now.
“D’you think we could get it pushed up a little? I’m starving,” he asked, rubbing his belly with a frown.
I was appalled. “Yes... of course,” I said, barely containing my anger. I excused myself and went to the kitchen, where the chef and three maids were busily preparing dinner.
“Perian, how close are you to finishing?” I asked the Kiko chef.
He continued chopping mushrooms without looking up as he replied, “Why, I thought you wanted dinner for seven on the dot?”
I clenched my teeth. “My guest would prefer it sooner.”
“I’ll have it done as soon as I can, ma’am,” he replied as he moved on to slicing cucumbers. I watched his lightning fast skills with the knife with awe.
“Thank you, Perian. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
“It’s nothing. Eleanor, grab that bread from the oven before it burns!” I watched the ditsy maid scramble to the oven and sighed quietly before leaving the kitchen.
I found my nephew inspecting the pictures on the mantelpiece when I returned. One picture in particular held his interest. As I got closer, I realized it was the painting of my siblings and me when we were children. In the picture, I was sitting on my father’s lap. Swin stood to the right of me, even then posing with an air of importance. Fallan’s mother was on my left. He was staring so intently on the image of his mother I don’t even think he noticed me watching him.
“That was taken when your mother and I were five, I believe,” I said quietly. He blinked, but stayed silent.
“Why did you abandon her?” he asked coldly without looking at me.
Stung, I quickly retorted, “It was the other way around. Your mother left us, though I see that she still twists the story to fit her needs.”
He turned to me, tears welling up. “My mother—”
He was cut off by a sudden frantic pounding at the front door. Anxious to escape from the situation, I hurried to the front door, where Eleanor was about to welcome the visitor.
“Go back to the kitchen, Eleanor,” I said, and she complied obediently. I grasped the handle and pulled on it, but as I did so the door burst in, and I was thrown back violently.
“Calydia!” a voice boomed happily. I looked up and found my brother, an enormous brown Kyrii, beaming at me from the threshold.
“Swin?” I said, disbelieving the very image in front of me. “You’re here? Why didn’t you tell us you were home?”
He leaned down, hand proffered. I took it gratefully and stood up. Dusting my dress off, I took in the image of my brother. He still wore the adventuring garb I had purchased for him all those years ago, though now it was tattered and dirty. His knapsack was bulging with who knows what, and he looked like he hadn’t bathed in at least a month.
“I returned to Neopia Central early this morning and had some things to do to properly complete the expedition. Plus, I wanted to surprise you and Father.”
“You definitely succeeded,” I said with a smile. “It’s wonderful to have you home again.”
I turned to call for my father, but Eleanor arrived instead.
“Dinner is served, ma’am,” she said, eying Swin. “Will he be joining you?”
“Yes, of course,” I said with a grin. “Set another place.” The Xweetok bowed and left to hurriedly set a fourth place.
This dinner party was at last going to be enjoyable.
To be continued...