I stood outside the front door and took in a deep breath. I stared at the four paned window, contemplating whether or not I should go in and tell Octavia. She needed to know something was coming, something bad. Everything was coming down on us in a way that it never had before. I sighed, wishing this wasn't something I had to do.
The door opened and I quickly stepped back with wide eyes. Octavia was smiling back at me as she held it open and waited for me to step in.
"Well, what are you doing out here? Come on, birthday girl," She crooned. There was a little of her old self left in her after all. I smiled nervously and rubbed my arm. She jerked her head towards the kitchen as I walked in. I sighed, loudly. I didn't know how I was going to tell her.
She walked past me with a wide grin. She must have been waiting for me all day, otherwise why would she be acting so happy to have me home. Coming home is a rule, it's routine. Birthday or not. If there's one thing that makes her unhappy, even angry, is to break her rules. The ones she set for me, as if she feared for my life in harmless, well, once harmless, little Illusionate.
"Something smells good," I said. I pulled out a wooden chair and took my place at the end of our little table. I didn't have anything else to tell her yet except for the bad news. I simply folded my hands and watched her put on red mittens as she happily bent down to open the oven.
Fresh fumes and the thick smell of strawberries filled the air as the smoke rose from the stove. She made my favorite, strawberry surprise. Farm fresh April strawberries made into a sweet preserve and sandwiched between three round layers of vanilla cake covered with vanilla and cinnamon flavored frosting. It always tasted perfect.
"You were gone a long time," She said. "Where'd you run off to?" She closed the lid to the oven with her leg as she held the steaming cake in her hands, looking at it with pride.
"I told you. I went to see Mum and Dad and...." I paused and quickly caught myself. I didn't mean to say it, 'and.' Now, I have to tell her the truth whereas otherwise, she was none the wiser. It wasn't going to slip. She missed nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"And?" She said. I cringed inside at the word. She set the cake down and threw her ovens off across the table. Our eyes met and we stared at each other blankly as she waited for me to give her an answer.
"And there was a boy there," I said, slowly and carefully. I didn't say 'and.' There was still a chance in the few seconds after answering that we could leave it at that. I met a boy. I met a very nice boy. That was it, right?
"And?" She said. Her smile slowly faded, her hands came to her hips, and her breaths grew shorter. All signs that I did something I wasn't supposed to do. Strangers are out of her control, the jurisdiction of where she can protect me from everything, and they only led to trouble. I lowered my eyes to the table before saying anything else that might petrify her. It would be easier if she wasn't right. I was led to trouble in the end.
"And...I don't know what he was doing there. I was just sitting there, having a moment with Mum and Dad, and he just appeared. He's never come there before." I looked up to meet her eyes again. They were narrowed and more fraught with worry, hanging on my every word. I was hoping what I said to her would be enough, but I don't think it was going to be until I either eased her fears or gave her the whole story where she would have more reason to be afraid, at least justly.
"And." She said. It wasn't a question anymore or a pleasant curiousity. It was a demand. It was her asking me to give her a reason why I should be justified, innocent, about our encounter. I'm in too deep. I know, too, that I can't lie to her. She sees right through me like glass.
"And. And he took me to see this burning rubble. I was only going to go for a minute and leave. You know, then he'd leave me alone and that would be the end of it..." I paused and sighed. It wasn't a lie, but it was something I wished I had really wanted to do by the time I did make it there with him. I lowered my eyes to the table and played with my fingers, "And when we got there, there was this earthquake, right? We fell to the ground and this huge castle rose into these storm clouds as high as the eye could see. It was raining---"
She raised her hand to me. She hissed, "Why did you go off without my permission? After what we talked about---"
"Let me finish," I said. This was the first moment in our talk where I actually wanted to tell her what happened. I finally got to the part she needed to hear. "Then these guys showed up, black shadows. They made me cold and blind and I couldn't see them."
"Wait. Let me finish," I said. She wasn't growing angry, anymore. Her eyes softened into fear, deeper fear than moments ago when something happened that she didn't need to be afraid for. "And this guy...not a guy, this black thing named Leviticus, told me to stay out of his way because the castle was his. He also said he was the one who sent Brian. Which means he's the one responsible for getting my parents killed. And now, I think he's after me. Everyone. He's---" My voice started to break. I think he's coming because of me, to destroy everything because of me. We're all going to be destroyed and it's my fault. Isn't it?
I curled my lips and avoided looking at Octavia as my tears fell to the table. My fingers danced and intertwined together. I was unsure of what else to do but sit there and wait for something to happen, anything. I had nothing else to say.
"Look, I know this is my fault," I said, softly.
"You could have been killed. You disobeyed me. You know you aren't allowed to talk to anyone and I need to know where you are at all times---" She said.
"I just told you it was my fault. What do you want?" I said it, even quieter, and met her eyes which were also filled with tears. She was so dissappointed in me. I'd be lying if I said that it broke my heart. She trusted me.
She said, with a heavy sigh, "If anything ever happened to you...Sterling, these things killed your mother and father and I can't believe you're dealing with them!"
"I AM NOT!" I stood up and shouted. I scared myself there. I've never shouted at her, not ever. I've never stood up to her like this.
I took in deep breaths. We both breathed in deep. We both had acted completely out of line. I was deeply angry, yes, but I wasn't going to yell another word at her. I could already see that even she knew that what she said went too far. Her mouth opened and she squeaked. She can't say a word, anymore.
I bit the inside of my lips and looked down at the table. Even if she said it by accident, it still didn't mean that she didn't think it somewhere inside. You don't say something like that if you don't believe it just a little bit. She just didn't want me to know that it was exactly what she was thinking.
The seconds went by in a painful silence. I slowly nodded and grazed my hands across the table, still looking down at it just so I didn't have to see her.
"Sterling, I'm sorr---" She started.
I stormed off, crossing my arms as I rushed up the stairs. My nose started to tingle, and the tingling rose to the back of my eyes, and burned them whole. I sobbed between quivering lips as I slammed the door behind me.
She called after me again and again from the bottom of the stairs. I sat in bed, with crossed arms over my knees as I leaned my head against the wall. I had absolutely nothing to say to her. I tightened my lips and breathed deeoply through my nose. My tearful eyes narrowed to the wall on the other end of the room.
After some time, I finally rolled over on my side and curled up in a ball. I pulled the black fleece over my eyes as I laid my head on the pillow, feeling sick. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I couldn't believe she said it. She's never talked to me like that. What got into her? I know I'm right. I'm not helping them. Just because they approached me doesn't mean I want anything to do with them. Yet, she had the nerve to say I would deal with the ones who killed my sainted parents.