Disclaimer: This novella is the second exerpt from my novella circle called Cinderlight. You can find the fist part here and the third here. Since Tom and Alex like to share the episodes of their life in a nonlinear chronological order, they decided to show me an interlude now. The exerpts can be read as a stand-alone, but if you want the full picture of their lives I recommend to read the novellas in chronological order.
„I don’t want this” Alexander said to me.
And I understood perfectly what he did not want. He didn’t want to visit his family. We were back from the war for almost a year now, and he did not visit them since our return. Not even once. I didn’t blame him. He was not fit for human company, Hell, most of the days he wasn’t even fit for leaving our apartment we rented from an old couple.
„I know, you don’t” I answered.
„But you’re coming with me” he declared with a stony face.
Now, that was news to me. I didn’t do family visits because of the harsh reality, that I had no family except for him. My mother died when I was born, my father died as a hero in the first great war, and my grandmother raising me died during the great depression. So I rattled around in the world like a pea in a tin. Until I met Alexander.
„Am I coming too?” I parroted him.
„Yeah, I already told my mother that I’ll be bringing along a friend.”
„You did what?” I asked incredulous.
„You heard me. Tom, I need you there by my side. You’re the only one I wouldn’t hurt, or even if I tried you’ll be able to stop me, or keep me from attacking them if something triggered me… You know well, I can’t be left alone with others who don’t know how to behave around me… And my family wasn’t easy to deal with in the first place.”
I let out a troubled sigh. He was right, I knew, how could I not be when I was experiencing his fits day by day… His reasoning was clear as day and only logical, I couldn’t let him be alone with his family, especially with his father. So I nodded in my agreement.
„Okaaay” I breathed. „I’ll go with you.” And I observed as his face lit up with hope, that this visit could be anything more than Hell for him. So, I added. „What would you say, if this time – ’cuz we’ll be together – we were going for mildly uncomfortable instead of terribly awkward while visiting them?”
„Mildly uncomfortable would be really good for a change.” We were laughing now, as the burden of worry was off his shoulders.
So we went for dinner that day. I would have preferred to come home the same day, but knowing his family, I was almost sure that the dinner would well prolong into the night. So we prepared for sleepover even if it was the farthest from what I would call a good idea.
But no worries, we could always ask to be put in a remote bedroom, right? If we were far enough in the other end of the farmhouse, they wouldn’t be able to hear Alexander’s screams when his nightmares came to torment him… And thus everyone could further act like nothing was wrong… That would be a win-win in my opinion.
We arrived at five sharp in the afternoon. The dinner itself started from seven o’clock, but Alexander was requested to be present for a two hours family discussion with his parents and younger sister. His younger brother disappeared during D-day, and that might be for the best, the deaths could be unimaginable, but disappearances… you could think what you wanted about them…
I was certain that the family discussion would be boring, and I was a hundred percent right. Despite of all the dullness and boredom, I sat straight, right beside Alexander, hoping against hope, that I could deflect anything which would trigger him into an episode. The first two hours passed uneventful. There was no dangerous topic like his brother or his exploits as a soldier. The talk was easygoing, his mother and sister managed to put Alexander at ease.
Then dinner came. And his father started to speak about the family prospects and his plans for his son and daughter. He talked about weddings, future daughters and sons in law. A husband for Alexander’s sister making her a whole (valuable) woman again, and a wife for Alexander making his son return to the family home, father boys carrying forward the Noble name. Needless to say, that was the the last kick, and all hell broke loose.
Alexander’s father was an insensitive old bastard. Period. He had no consideration for his wife’s discomfort seeing Julie’s tears, she shedded for the late husband she lost to the war. Nor did he recognize the turmoil of panic he pushed Alexander into. He was still talking his shit totally oblivious of his son’s mental state and the others’ discomfort.
“It really is a shame, that the family of interest couldn’t come tonight. I wanted you to meet them. That girl. She’s perfect. No man could ask for more, she is well-mannered, entirely untouched by the frenzies of the new world. She knows, where’s the place of a woman is in a family or in the society. Equal rights, working women… Outrageous! You need someone normal, to show you again the world’s order. And she will. With her you can let go of this post-war melancholy.”
Alexander stiffened beside me. How could his father say that? It wasn’t some fashion trend, Alexander wasn’t caught up in some kind fancy poetic morale. He was deeply depressed and sometimes so lost in his head, even the thread of Ariande wouldn’t be long enough to lead him back into reality. Not with the Fay hunting his dreams torturing him with nightmares.
Alexander started to tremble beside me, and his father continued still oblivious. I put my hand on his thigh under the table out of everyone’s sight. I squeezed hard, trying to anchor him, but when I saw the tremors running up and down his spine, I knew it wasn’t working.
“… and I’m well aware it became really popular to call those basket-case soldiers neurotics. But in my opinion they were just unfit for protecting the country and order. I was fighting in the war before and even still in that time people started to idealize those mama’s boys. They are the reason we lost so many, they are the reason we almost lost the war on more than one occasion. They should be treated by court marshal not on fancy clinics!”
He was almost shouting at that time, and Alexander really had come close to a “non-existent” neurotic episode. He stood up abruptly, he was swaying slightly, and grabbed at the table’s edge to steady himself.
“Please excuse me, I need fresh air. It’s too hot in here” he excused himself, and I wasn’t sure, he heard his father indignant protest accompanying his abrupt interruption.
I followed him right away without saying a word to his family. None of them tried to stop me – I wasn’t even sure they realized I was there. They were freezing me out, seeing me as nothing. And they also were ignoring Alexander in a different way, but they were ignorant of him all the same. It shone through their disregard, their negligence.
None of them inquired to know what is happening with Alexander. He was clearly disturbed and distressed and none of them cared. His father was blind to others pure and simple, I had no expectations towards him. But his mother and sister? Even they didn’t want to know. I was so furious with all of them, I could shout all my resentment at the ladies and smack his father in the face. But I did neither of it. I turned on my heels and run after him.
I caught up with him in the garden. He was pacing furiously trying to calm himself. One glimpse on him was enough to know it wasn’t working. I stepped close to him and grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Hey. Look at me, Alex.” He tentatively did, and it really had hurt me to see the turmoil in his eyes. His breathing was ragged, fat beads of perspiration danced on his forehead near to his hairline. “You are okay, do you hear me? You won’t let anyone get in your head. Especially not that asshole father of yours.”
“I can’t…” he breathed. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go back and listen to his rumbling ‘bout soldiers and wars. I can’t bear it no more.”
I scoffed. His brain was certainly so focused on his war memories, that the fact that his father wanted him to marry someone has completely eluded him.
“It’s funny, you know” I tried to lighten the mood. “He’s just like a spoiled little boy, ruling over his toys.”
He looked at me incredulous.
“No one ever dared to say that about him.”
“Oh, believe me, I can say better things ‘bout the likes of him, if I wanted to. But it’s not my place, you know. I’ll tell you what. You’re not a toy, you’re life is not a game to be played on his terms. So you’ll go back in, and will stand up for yourself.”
“No” he shook his head, and I felt my heart sink. Was I asking too much of him? Was it too much to tell this despot of a father to take his bullshit and shove it? He must have seen my feelings shown on my face despite my effort to keep my mask of stoicism intact. He grabbed my face and kissed me in the dusk of the garden, not caring who might see us. In that moment he was again my brave soldier, unflinching and unbending. “I did not say no, because I’m a coward. I said no, because I won’t go back alone, and when I’ll tell my father to screw himself, I’ll do it in order to make both of us free from him and from his false concept of family.”
That was it. My man on a mission. I knew, he would carry it out perfectly. I followed him into countless battles and blood bathes, and I would do it again anytime, no questions asked. So I nodded my approval, and took his hand he was holding out to me. I laced our fingers together and I was ready for any battle he was determined to lead us into.
We went back in hand in hand, fingers tight around each other’s. When we arrived at the dining room’s door, Alexander pulled away from me, he let my hand go, and it was like a kick to the gut. But then his heated gaze met mine. And what I saw in there took my breath away. His determination and pure love for me burned through his irises.
“Are you ready?” He asked me, he was prepared for anything to come, and he needed to know if I was also willing to take whatever would be the outcome.
“Ready when you are” I assured him, and in we went.
In the dinning room Alexander’s father had just finished a phone call, he laid down the receiver and turned towards us when he heard us enter.
“Perfect timing, son” he flashed a smile at Alexander, and it wasn’t genuine, far from it. I couldn’t help the feeling that the expression on his father’s face was predatory at best. “You’re fiancee’s father just called” – not fiancee to be or possible fiancee, nothing conditional or pending in there, it was already decided. “They are willing to come to lunch tomorrow, so we can make this engagement official.”
He had one rude look at me and I was taken aback by his cruelty and the unfeelingness of his gaze. I glanced sideways at Alexander. He did not falter, he was imperturbable, like before each battle when he was giving orders.
“With all due respect, father” his voice was anything but respectful, he was annoyed, he was angry and he clearly resented his father for all his ignorance, appearance and prejudice. “As always, you’re missing the point. I’m not the same man I was before the war. I do not question your experiences in the first great war, but I’m sure as hell that you only saw the fraction of what I have been through. The point is, no one in their right mind would want me to marry their daughter. Not to mention I am not the type for marriage. I would never take a wife and father children for you to make them as miserable as you did with everyone around you.”
I cringed. Did I mention I had no family? So I didn’t know how to do things right in the same situation. I might not be brave enough to tell the truth this plainly right in their faces. But again, it was not my fight to fight until the end. My role in this was to provide unrelenting support, and I was hellbent to support him any way I could.
“Then what are your plans, son?” The father barely could contain his anger, it was clear as day. “Will you continue living in that ratty apartment you hadn’t had the decency to tell us about? Continue living hiding in the shadows with the likes of him?”
He cocked his head towards me and our gazes met for the shortest moment possible, but it was enough for me to read him completely. He knew about Alexander’s proclivities and guessed correctly who I was to him.
“You’re right father. With the likes of him.” Alexander stepped close to me. I mean, really close, our bodies was almost pressed together. He grabbed me, aligned our chests and limbs, his arms sneaked around me, and before I could utter a word of warning, he was kissing me.
I was swept away by that kiss, messy, full of passion. I faintly heard his sister gasp, his mother making a noise like she was close to fainting. And the oppressive silence from the direction of his father. But I did not care, not even a least bit. Instead of worrying about things I had no power over, I returned the kiss as much as I could. I hugged him close, and shucked his lower lip into my mouth before letting our tongues duel. It was the longest and the most thrilling kiss of my life. We did not broke apart for a long time, not until his father was snarling curses on us.
Then Alexander let go off me, he wiped his kiss-swollen lips, both rosy and sinful, and I needed all my strength to concentrate on the family drama unfolding before my very eyes.
“Now, you know, father. Every one of you knows. And before you say anything or try to threaten me with anything, know that I do not need your approval or your blessing.”
It was unbelievable, the venom dripping from his words all directed at his father, all dissolving a past life full of oppression and shame, but in the same time, I could hear his affection towards me. He was mine, just as much as I was his.
“If this is what you want” – not calling him son anymore, the father’s voice was menacingly calm – “I will prepare a statement of disownment first thing tomorrow.”
“You’ll do that” he nodded, and the same calmness he was certainly feeling came over me. He grabbed my hand again, ready to leave this God-forsaken house for ever. “We won’t disturb your dinner any longer.”
And we didn’t. We went to grab our coats, and left them in stunned silence.
We were walking toward to closest taxi station in the cool night, when he grabbed me by the elbow and dragged me in the black alley we were passing by. He was trembling when he crushed our bodies together and pushed me against the brick wall. I was holding him up, I was holding him together. Despite of his unwavering look and demeanor, it was no small step to get disowned by his own family. To tell you the truth, I never wanted things to come to this, but it might be for the best for everyone.
“I am so damn proud of you. Not many would have had the determination… no… the commitment to make this call.” I breathed on his lips. I couldn’t recall when I kissed him, but my lungs slowly started to hurt with the lack of oxygen. So we broke apart. He touched his forehead to mine before telling me.
“I did it for us. For our future together. God, Tom, I can’t describe you how much weight was this on my shoulders. I feel almost free… I can’t promise you an easy life with me, my nerves will continue torturing me, but what I can promise is my unrelenting love for you. From now on, my every breath and heartbeat officially belongs to you.”
“And I promise you to live up to all your sacrifices. I will be your anchor when your dreams wash you away from reality, I will be your rock to hold you up every time the world tries to drown you. I will never leave your side, I will always chose you over anything, as you did with me today.”
His beaming smile overshadowed the brightest stars. He took in all my words and reciprocated them with the sweetest kisses I ever received. I felt us truly blessed in that moment, and I consider ourself married from the last kiss shared in that dark back alley. If there is a God above, I am sure they accepted our vows to each other.