I hear voices as soon as I come through the door. My dad’s study is just ahead, right off the entry. The sounds are muffled, but I can make out snatches of conversation. I know that voice but I can’t place it. Deciding to play Nancy Drew, I knock on the door.
The man standing by the fireplace is the first thing I see. He’s darkly handsome with copper tinged black hair that frames a strong face. My own eyes stare back at me. They are the same shade of midnight blue, faintly tinged with another color no one has ever been able to identify.
There’s no mistaking who this man is.
“Hello, Alexandria. I’m your uncle…”
“Sabien,” I finish for him.
“You remember me?”
“No, not really. There are pictures of you in the family album though.”
He smiles sadly. “I wish I were here under happier circumstances.”
A strangled sound draws my attention. My dad sits hunched over his desk, his face buried in his hands.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, concerned. Dad’s…crying.
“It’s your mother, Alexandria,” Sabien’s voice is quiet, gentle. “She died a few days ago in Paris. There was a car accident.”
A deep, wrenching sob is torn from my father. I stand staring at him, wanting to go to him, to try and help him, but I can’t.
Dead? She’s dead? She can’t be dead. Not yet.
“I’m sorry, John,” Sabien’s voice is soothing. “The hospital assured me she didn’t suffer. They said she died instantly.”
Dad mutters something, his shoulders heaving.
Sabien turns to look at me, his eyes full of sadness.
“Look at you,” his smile is off. “The last time I saw you, Alexandria, you were all of five years old. Alecia told me you and I looked alike, but I just never realized. You do favor our side of the family, the Deveraux’s. Judging by his picture, I have to agree with your mother that Jason is the image of his father. He has our eyes, though. There wasn’t a day that went by she didn’t talk about all of you.”
“My mom talked to you a lot?” How dare she?
“Yes, almost every day. Her family was very important to her. You were all she ever talked about.”
His next question is directed to my father.
“John, I brought her back with me from Paris. I knew she would want to be put to rest here with her family,” he pauses. “Would you like to me help with the arrangements?”
“Don’t worry, Dad. Jason and I will help Uncle Sabien make the arrangements.”
Sabien looks at me curiously.
“Where’s Emma?” I ask.
“She’s at Marion’s,” Dad whispers, his voice hoarse. He still loves my mom, even after all these years. I know he loves Emma, too, I just never realized how much he still loves my mother. She left us and he still loves her. He needs Emma right now, though. She’ll be able to help him get through this.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to go fetch Emma.”
“Alexandria?” Sabien stops me.
“Are you alright?”
I can hear the concern in his voice.
“Sure, I’m fine,” I shrug. “If you’re worried because I’m not crying hysterically, don’t. I decided the day my mom left that crying wasn’t going to change anything. It was true then and it’s true now. I’ve shed all the tears over her I’m going to.”
“Despite what you may think, Alexandria, she loved you.”
“Really?” I ask in a mocking tone that could rival Devon’s best. “Doesn’t matter. That won’t bring her back either. Now, I need to get Emma.”
Closing the study door, I leave the house.
God, how I hate her.
It has been eight years since I’d seen her. Eight years since she left us. Pain turned to anger, anger to hate, and hate to rage.
I remember very clearly, even now, the day she walked out of our lives. She put her bags in the car and kissed us all good-bye like she was going on a trip. Jason stood stone-faced and Dad worked hard to keep a forced smile in place. I cried and begged my mama to take me with her, not to leave me. I remember running after the car as it pulled away until I fell down so hard I bloodied both knees, all the while screaming for her to come back.
It was my brother who picked me up and brushed the dirt off my clothes. He told me not to cry anymore, that he loved me and would never leave. We would always have each other.
Neither one of us have cried a single tear since that day over the woman who so callously abandoned her family, her children.
I open the door to Marion’s house without knocking. Marion is seven months pregnant and Emma always goes over and lends a hand with the chores that requires a lot of heavy lifting.
“I’m in the kitchen, Alex!”
She’s standing on a chair pulling everything out of the kitchen cabinets. The table is covered in a mixture of plates and papers. Marion is nowhere to be seen. I figure she’s probably resting.
“What are you doing?”
"Mark didn't have time to deposit his paycheck yesterday. Why his company doesn't use direct deposit I'll never understand. He said he tossed it in the cabinet. He failed to tell Marion which cabinet. This is the second time, I've gone through them and I still can't....Aha! The little rascal was hiding behind a bowl." She steps down off the stool and turns to look at me.
I wonder what my expression looks like as I watch the concern start to grow on her face.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I’m fine. It’s Dad who needs you.”
Even I heard how cold and empty my voice sounds.
“Why would your father need me?”
“Uncle Sabien’s up at the house. Mom died a couple days ago in Paris. There was a car accident or something.”
“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”
I shrug. I wasn’t.
“It’s okay to be upset,” she tells me in a gentle tone.
“Upset?” I cock my head. “Why would you think I’m upset?”
“Because your mother just died, sweetheart,” she frowns, staring at my eyes, unsure of what I am thinking.
I decide to tell her.
“I really don’t care.”
“What?” I ask. “She left us, Emma. She left Us. We didn’t leave her. She made her choice a long time ago. So why should I care now when she didn’t care about what happened to any of us?”
“That’s not true, Alex. Your mother loved you.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Yes, she did. No matter what choices she had to make in her life, she loved you.”
I sigh. I can see from the look on her face that she will never understand.
“Don’t worry about me, Emma. I’m okay. I always am. It’s Dad I’m worried about.”
“Of course I’m worried about you. You’re standing here telling me your mother is dead and acting as if nothing’s wrong. Something is wrong. Don’t you feel anything?”
Oh yeah, I feel something. My voice burns with the force of my rage. “Yeah, I’m disappointed I’ll never get the chance to tell her how much I hate her.”
Emma stepps back, responding to the anger in my voice and on my face. I don’t think she’s ever realized the full extent of my feelings towards my mother before, but she’s seeing it now.
“You’re wrong,” she says at last. “You don’t hate her. If you did, you wouldn’t be so angry.”
I turn, seeing my reflection in the shiny silver of the toaster. My face wears a harsh expression and my eyes flare with that strange color. I watch, fascinated, as they almost glow.
Emma distracted me from my reflection. She can’t understand. It’s too hard of a concept for her to grasp because she’s such a good mother. I’m not going to try and explain it to her. No way am I up for that.
“I just wanted to come and get you. Like I said, Dad needs you. He’s a mess.”
Emma’s lips thin into a straight line.
“I suppose you’re right,” she nods. “Alecia probably didn’t love you.”
I flinch, not expecting that.
It’s hard to hear someone else say what I’ve always known.
“But what if you’re wrong, honey? What if she really had no choice? What if leaving broke her as badly as it did you?”
I frown. What is she getting at?
Emma forces me to sit down and she takes a seat opposite me.
“I knew Alecia was leaving even before she told John.”
Well now, what is this? I’d forgotten Emma and my mother were friends.
“She asked me to come over to help plan your father’s birthday party. It was supposed to be a surprise. I found her in the kitchen crying hysterically and thought at first something had happened to John or you kids. She wasn’t making much sense. Once I’d gotten her calmed down, she told me she had to leave. I didn’t understand and tried to make her explain. She wouldn’t tell me very much, only that her past caught up with her. She said she had no choice but to leave.”
“No choice?” I laugh bitterly. “There’s always a choice.”
“Yes, Alex, there is always a choice but sometimes the right choice isn’t the easy one. In your mother’s case, the right choice cost her everything, including her family. She told me it tore her apart, but she had to go. Leaving would keep her family safe.”
“Safe? Safe from what?”
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t explain it, but she was terrified. That much I could see. She made me promise to never say anything about it, that it might put everyone in danger. I’ve kept that promise all these years, but now it’s time you knew the truth. It wasn’t easy for her. She loved all of you so much and knew her decision would hurt her children and that not being able to explain would make it worse. I know how deeply it hurt her to go. I saw the pain in her eyes and held her while she cried. Hate her if you must, Alex, but never doubt for a moment that she loved you or that she wanted to leave.”
I look at her uncertainly. If all of this is true, why had Emma never said anything before? I am confused. I had thought for so long that she’d left us because it was something she’d wanted to do. Now, Emma is painting a different picture. Could it be true?
“Alex, you’ve been angry with her for so long. Don’t you remember anything besides the anger?”
I remembered everything. That’s the problem. It was why I’d hurt so much in the beginning. Compton had helped me realize that. My mother had been wonderful. She was kind and loving, with never a hurtful word for her children even when she scolded us. She would read to me every night and listen with patience as I told her of all the grand adventures I was going to go on. She always knew just what to say when I was afraid or hurt to make everything better.
I had felt like the most loved little girl in the world until the day she left me crying and broken in the middle of the street.
Tears prick my eyes at the remembered pain. It washes over me with a force I don’t expect. It crashes into me as fresh and real as the day it happened.
It’s too much.
It hurt too much and I can’t stop the tears once they start.
“Shh, honey,” Emma pulls me up and wraps her arms around me. “It’s okay. You can let yourself feel grief and pain and still be angry.”
“Why did she leave me?” the words tumble out, unbidden. “Why?”
“Shh,” she croons, crying herself.
I don’t know how long we stood there like that. It didn’t matter really. She’d accomplished what she’d set out to do—making me remember my mother as she used to be. She eventually led me home and settled me into my bed.
I hear her mumble something about having to tackle Jason. Emma is well aware of the fact that he feels the same way about our mother as I do.
God help him when she gets a hold of him.
My eyes close and for once, I fall asleep to blessed silence. The nightmares leave me alone.