July 9, 2010

Artwork & Muffins by Lauren T. Hart

Jennifer pretended to ignore Anna as she entered the kitchen the next morning, watching her out of the corner of her eye as she huddled over a book on the table. Iona was frying bacon at the stove.

Anna's thoughts were on the wooden box that was once again locked away inside a hidden cupboard, and on all the things she'd learned last twelve hours. They were on the journey that lay before her and on a memory that had come to her that morning just after waking from a brief moment of sleep she had unintentionally fallen into. It was a memory that came with a question, one she hoped Iona could answer for her. But a cursed man who later became thought of as an angel - despite his propensity to kill people - and his immortal offspring hardly seemed Sunday morning brunch with the family appropriate.

She forced herself to remain nonchalant. "Can I help you with anything?" she asked.

"Good morning," Iona turned. "No thank you, I've got everything under control. Jennifer," Iona scolded. "Put the book away. It will still be there after you eat."

"I'm not even hungry," Jennifer sighed, rolling her eyes and taking a quick glance up at Anna.

"Do as your mother asks, Sweetheart." Mark said as he came into the kitchen and helped himself to a piece of bacon Iona had just plated.

Jennifer rolled her eyes as she closed the book and put it under her chair then she folded her arms slouched in her chair and glared expectantly at Anna.

Her behavior was curious, but Anna wasn't in the mood for games, so she turned away from her, intentionally ignoring her.

"Good morning Anna," Mark smiled at her, "I hope you slept well." He winked at her.

"I did," she replied. "Thank you. Are those apple cinnamon muffins I smell?"

"You have to try these," Mark said as he handed Anna a basket full of warm apple cinnamon muffins. "Iona is the best cook around."

"It's true what they say," Iona said casually. "The key to a mans heart is through his stomach."

Anna took the basket from him and helped herself to one of the muffins. They were still warm. She took the basket to the table and offered a muffin to Jennifer.

As Jennifer eyed the muffins and Anna with what seemed like an inordinate amount of suspicion, Anna couldn't help but wonder what it was that made her so terrifying to teenagers. "I don't bite," she said leaving the basket of muffins on the table.

Jennifer's eyes became wide, her face offended.

Anna sighed and continued her tactic of ignoring Jennifer. She wandered over to Iona's china hutch to admire Grace's tea set. She briefly wondered if it had ever actually held tea. She wondered what it was all those many years ago that had prompted Grace to tell her about her real father and how he had killed Lyle and Frank.

From the writings she had gathered that Grace had supported his decision, even though it broke her heart. "I knew the choice I was making," she wrote, "I had been betrayed. Fate sent us a champion and I gave her my protection. I knew in my heart that if he survived their days were numbered."

Maybe that was when her tea had turned to whisky.

Anna loosed her immortal vision and eyed the kitchen in the reflection of glass on the china hutch. She smiled as her eyes caught sight of Iona surrounded in a halo of blue, and she remembered again, an autumn day, thirty-six years earlier.

It was October, nineteen twenty-four, about a month before Jonas came into their lives. She and Meline were almost four and Emily was just six months old. It was raining. Their mother had been trying to put Emily down for a nap and while Anna played with her doll on the floor, Meline looked out the window with her immortal eyes and watched the rainbows fall. Then something in the distance, cutting through the wash of rain caught her eye. A flash of blue that could only mean their Aunt Iona was paying them a visit.

As the bright blue light approached, Meline ran to the front door opened it wide and bolted out into the rain.

"Meli wait!" Anna shouted after her, catching just a glimpse of Meline's vision in her head.

"Girls," their mother called after them.

They were both already outside, standing frozen in the downpour as they realized that neither the massive figure standing next to the large black car nor the person still inside was Iona. He wore a blue ring, and carried a cane decked with another large blue stone.

They heard their mother's panicked gasp in shock from the doorway, and Emily began to cry.

"Girls," their mother's voice cracked, much the way it did after their stepfather, Lamont, had been on one of his angry tirades with her. "Come in the house girls. Now."

Anna took hold of Meline's hand and pulled her back to the porch where they hid behind their mother skirt.

"Don't look at him," their mother whispered, with panic in her voice. She put her hand over Meline's face, her other hand clutched tightly to Emily, she tried to step in front of Anna and direct them back into the house, but Anna kept an eye on the stranger from behind her mother's skirt.

The man came to stand at the center of the walk. He stared at them for a long moment, but he did not speak.

"Have you come to break another promise?" Elizabeth asked, her voice on the edge of tears. "Or are you here because you have lost your trust in me?"

"Elizabeth," the man said as he took a step toward her.

"No!" Elizabeth shrieked desperately, placing her hand in front of her as if willing the stranger to stop. "Please."

The terror in her voice carried to Anna and Meline who started to cry as well. They couldn't explain the reasons for their tears, only that the atmosphere required it.

"Is this your life then?" the stranger asked.

Elizabeth nodded. "My children are my life. They are everything that I am and everything that I love," she cried.

He nodded. "Forgive me," he said. "I am here on orders," he turned as if he were going to leave, but then turned back again. "I will not go back on my word to you again. I am happy to see you content. You are free of me, Elizabeth and I wish you a long and happy life." And with that he returned to his car and left.

Elizabeth backed into the house and closed the door, almost immediately collapsing to the floor as she did. She pulled the girls into her arms and cried.

Anna wasn't entirely sure what they were all crying about, but she herself felt hopeless, helpless, and very afraid.

She had often wondered who the man had been, and had on occasion even pondered the possibility of him being their father, but now she was almost entirely sure. The only doubt that remained was in the misinterpretation of a child's point of view.

But Iona would know, Iona could tell her. She just had to be patient and wait for the most opportune moment.

She set her vision back to its natural state and turned back toward the kitchen.

Iona and Jennifer were setting the table. Mark was discussing his plans for the day with Iona.

"I have a twelve o'clock match with Jerry." He said reaching for another slice of bacon as she set it on the table. "And you know Jerry, he'll find a way to make a day of it."

"Who plays tennis in the middle of winter?" Jennifer scoffed.

"Lots of people do, Sweetheart, that's why they have indoor courts." Mark explained.

"You'll be sure to give Jerry my love," Iona smiled.

"Of course," Mark grabbed a couple of apple cinnamon muffins and held them up as proof then he picked up his tennis bag and said his goodbyes.

Iona followed him out with a brown lunch sack in her hand for the muffins.

"I know who my mom says you are," Jennifer said the moment the front door closed, "But who are you really?"

"What an odd question." Anna said then took a bite out of her muffin. It brought back pleasant memories from her youth, from a time when the world seemed small and safe because it didn't exist beyond what she knew of it. "I've missed these," she sighed then took a seat at the table across from Jennifer and poured herself a glass of orange juice. "You're seventeen now?" she asked.

"That's right." Jennifer said, taking the seat across from her.

Anna nodded. "What exactly did your mother tell you about me?"

Jennifer pursed her lips, linked her hands together and scowled. Her eyes darted momentarily towards Anna's locket then she shook her head and looked out the window.

"Do you like it?" Anna glanced to her locket as she took a sip of her orange juice. "It's a replica of the original, but both were a gift from the immortal who taught me their ways. He's avoiding me as of late, but the fact that he replaced the first one should count for something I suppose."

Jennifer rolled her eyes and scoffed. "Really. I'm much too old to believe in fairy tales and hokum Miss Parker."

"Are you now?" Anna laughed. "Oh do tell, if this is a fairytale, which character am I?"

Jennifer glared at her, wide-eyed.

"Do I wear a fancy dress and live in a tower? Or do I have horns and live in the dungeon?" she smiled. "No. Not horns. Fangs." Anna took another bite of her muffin. "Razor sharp ones."

"How are you two getting on in here?" Iona asked on her return to the kitchen.

Jennifer huffed and turned her head back to the window.

"I used to think, living the way I did, I'd missed out on my youth," Anna sighed. "In retrospect I don't think I was missing out on as much as I thought I was."

"It's not easy to be young," Iona defended. "You must understand that better than most."

"There are worse hardships in this world than a youthful appearance," Anna sighed. "Take men for instance."

"May I please be excused?" Jennifer scowled.

Iona sighed. "Yes, you may."

Jennifer grabbed her book from under her chair and practically bolted from the kitchen.

"She doesn't believe," Anna stated.

"She will in time," Iona said. "Unless she doesn't and then she won't, and times have changed, perhaps it's just as well.

"You think it would have helped if I'd flashed her my teeth?" Anna snarled.

"You're not a parlor trick," Iona said.

"Iona," Anna changed the subject. "I need to know something. I need to know if a man from my memories is..." her voice trailed. "It was about a month before Jonas came along."

"I remember," Iona said.

"Was that him? Was that my father?"

Iona nodded.

"Why did she send him away?"

"I don't know. After a time, I'm not sure she even knew exactly why, but I believe that at the time she thought she was doing what was best for you and your sister."

"Why did he leave?"

"Because he made a promise to your mother." Iona said. "And because he doesn't know that you are his. According to John - Jonas - your father believed that your mother had simply... moved on with her life. It wouldn't have even occurred to him that he was your father, birth is not how immortals... carry on their line. He only came back on orders then defied his ruler - your ruler, the king of the immortals - in order to keep the original promise he had made to your mother to stay away. He must have really loved her and it must have broken his heart. He won't even see us anymore. You read the letter."

"Argus sent Jonas." Anna shuddered.

"Argus?" Iona asked

"King of the immortals." Anna explained.

"Jonas only ever said that he was sent. That he was someone who could teach you their ways, their laws," Iona said.

"How horrible it must have been for him to be tasked with such a responsibility. No wonder he wants nothing to do with me."

"Stop it," Iona scolded. "Don't you believe that for even a second. I know for a fact that Jonas loved you." She lifted Anna's locket between her fingers. "This is proof of it right here if you don't remember all the times he told you." Iona said. "The three lilies, there was only one lily on his symbol before you and your sister. If Jonas is avoiding you, knowing him, it's because he's following orders."

"Do you think... that he - that my father - would want to know me?" Anna asked.

"Oh Anna," Iona took hold of her hand. "Of course he would. As much love as there is in his heart, he already loves you, he just doesn't know it yet?"

"Do you think it's a good idea for me to try and find him?"

"After all these years," Iona sighed. "I had hoped you already had."

"The world is a big place and our kind are somewhat reclusive," Anna said. "But if what I read is true, and if I can decode the riddles and runes, I think I might be able to find him - or at least his refuge. Do you think he still goes there?"

Iona nodded, "I believe he does. Why else would he have provided a way for us to find him." Iona helped herself to an apple cinnamon muffin. She took a large bite then sighed, "You know it used to be so much easier. We used to be able to simply send up a signal and he would come, but not now, maybe not ever again. I do wish it were easier. I would love to be the one to introduce you."

"But, you are," Anna reasoned.

As Anna helped herself to another muffin, and Iona dished her up a plate of eggs and bacon, she wondered what it might feel like to see her father again, to meet him for the first time.

She helped Iona clear the dishes and clean the kitchen after they ate then she called her messaging service. She had only a couple of messages. They were both from David. The first was to inform her that he had enjoyed reading her letter and her latest postcard, and that Judy had decided to confiscate what wardrobe she had left behind. The second was to tell her that he had a package for her, nothing critical, but next time she was in town, or when she had found a place to stay for longer than a couple of weeks, he would send it to her.

Iona had invited her to stay through the holidays, and she was tempted by the offer, which is why her next call was to the airport and then a taxi service.

She packed quickly and had her bags at the door before Iona could even say a word. The next flight for Europe wasn't for another six hours, but she could use the extra time to think, and to plan her trip.

Shortly after one, she said her farewells and hugged Iona goodbye for the last time.

"Good bye Jennifer," she said. "It was an experience meeting you. I must say, I think it's very wise of you not to believe in fairy tales and hokum. It's very practical. I'm a very practical person myself, and I've never been fond of that sort of nonsense. If you ask me," she flashed her reflective eyes at Jennifer. "There simply aren't enough practical minded people in this world."

Jennifer stared at her, wide-eyed and offended, as if Anna had just slapped her across the face and the insult was still sinking in.

"Anna. Parlor tricks?" Iona's tone mocked scolding as she shook her head. "Goodbye my young angel," she said.

"Goodbye Aunt Iona," Anna said, she kissed her Aunt on the cheek and hurried out to the waiting taxi.


Chapter 28 - Crossing Lines

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart