I realized everything has been fairly action-heavy lately, so I decided to put something else out here. This isn’t a chapter. I write a lot of little asides and character moments that don’t make it into the main work. Mostly, I just do them to help me get a feel for certain characters. If I write any that I think are good enough, I’ll start putting them on the site. This is one of them.
Wes had few early childhood memories of his father. Braedon stayed in New York City and Wes stayed at the mansion in upstate New York with his mother. Even then, he didn’t have many real, tangible memories of that time. He was, after all, very little, and what came after… Well, that was all more solid.
But he had flashes. Feelings. He remembered walking in the garden with her, helping her pick ripe tomatoes and peppers. He remembered being in the mansion’s huge kitchen, watching her make dinner. There were people there to do that for them but Claire helped more often than not. She liked to work with her hands. He remembered watching her hands as she chopped an onion or peeled a potato. And he remembered the little sleight of hand tricks she would do for him. Small things would disappear, only to reappear moments later, ready to go in the pot, and it was all for him. She never drew attention to it. He didn’t think the others in the kitchen noticed or cared. It was all for him.
His mother was very beautiful. She had dark auburn hair that refused to stay in the pins that held it and large, luminous pale green eyes. He had inherited those eyes from her. Not the shape - that was all his father - but the color. He didn’t inherit much else from her, though. His hair did have a touch of red in it, but it was closer in color to the dark, dark brown of his father. In nearly every way, he looked like his father and that had always disappointed him. His father never performed sleight of hand tricks for him or woke him in the morning with kisses or went into the garden with him to pick ripe vegetables or helped him find wild raspberries in the woods.
And his father never read to him. He had many clear memories of his mother reading to him. “If you’re not going to go to a proper school,” she would say, “You’re going to get started learning very early.” She read children’s books to him but she read other things, too. Things he couldn’t even begin to understand. He liked the poetry. He liked the way her voice sounded when she read it.
He loved when she read epic poems, in her smooth, accented voice (he knew she had an accent because no one else talked quite like her and she was most definitely in the minority). “Its benches rattled, fell to the floor, gold-covered boards grating as Grendel and Beowulf battled across them.” Something in him changed when she read that sort of thing. He could imagine his name to be Beowulf, hero of the Geats, battling the monster, battling any monster.
And then one day, they had a visitor. He was a tall man, and Wes thought he might even be taller than his father. He wore black leather gloves that were new enough and stiff enough to squeak a little sometimes when he flexed his hands. His mother seemed very happy to see this man, but it was all very strange. She never once touched him, and when they hung his coat up in one of the two front hall closets, she moved every item of clothing from one into the other so his coat hung there alone.
Then he knelt down to Wes’ level (as best he could, for even kneeling he towered over Wes) and said, “My name is Robert Ainsley.”
Wes did not quite remember what happened after that, but he knew that somewhere along the way, he took to calling the man Robby. He had a chair in every room they spent time in, and no one sat in that chair or dusted it but Robby.
At first, Wes resented the man. He was there all the time. But then, somewhere along the way, Robby began to teach him to read, which was awful. It was difficult and Robby, though not impatient, was demanding. But then he began to learn, and then he could read to his mother, which was wonderful. It made her so happy.
And then one day, Robby instructed his mother to take a book down from a high shelf. This memory was clearer than the others because Wes saw the way his mother’s eyes narrowed. She said, “This is your father’s favorite.”
Wes found that he couldn’t help but be especially attentive. What book could possibly be his father’s favorite?
“Wes is six years old,” Claire said sharply. “He’s too young for such a book.”
Robby arched a brow. He had the ability to arch one single brow and Wes deeply envied him. He practiced it in the mirror every night before his mother came to tuck him in. “You’ve never worried about that sort of thing before. And there is a valuable lesson in there. Wes will have to learn it soon enough.”
“Not yet,” she said, starting to put the book back.
“It was the one thing Braedon asked me to do,” Robert said. “I’m entirely your servant, but this was his price.”
Wes watched the way his mother’s back went rigid. Then she said, “He’s got a bigger plan.”
“Of course he does. But he has to.”
Claire stood still for a long time, hand on the slim book’s spine, and Wes had his first jolt of knowing. He couldn’t see her face and of course he knew she was angry, but he could feel her anger. It radiated from her like heat from an oven. He felt Robby behind him, a cool, quiet, calm presence. It was such a sudden jolt of knowing that it almost knocked the breath from him, but he smothered the impulse to react. He did not wish to make the moment worse, to make his mother angrier. He understood suddenly that it was wrong to know what another person was feeling in this way, and that his mother wouldn’t like it.
But then she sighed and brought the book down and sat on the floor near the ladder. Wes curled up against her side to get a good look at the pages and followed along with the words as best he could.
“Chapter one,” his mother said. “The sound of the shell. The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.”
It was a dark story, thrilling at first, and then terrifying, and then something else. A feeling Wes had never before been exposed to but later understood was sadness. He could not understand why his father meant for him to read such a book.
Until the day his father came and took him away.
“Ainsley tells me that your mother read you Lord of the Flies,” he said.
His mother’s shouts of anger, words Wes couldn’t understand because she spoke them in a different language, still rang in his ears, drowning out the low hum of the limousine's engine. He couldn’t understand her words but he felt her thoughts, or something like thoughts. It was a desperate, near mindless rush of rage and desperation. His mother had not wanted him to go. She feared what would happen to him if he went with his father.
In the end, Robby went with them. It was the only thing that stopped her yelling at Father. And Robby, as usual, was a cool, calm presence, though Wes could feel a hard knot of anger deep in him.
He could feel nothing from his father. His father was an empty space in the world.
“You remember what happened to those boys when left purposeless to their own devices,” Father said.
Wes nodded. He didn’t really understand why they had turned out that way. But they had, all the same.
“That can happen to us without purpose. Ainsley also tells me that you’ve begun to show your powers.”
Wes could only nod again.
“What are they?” his father asked gently.
Robby said, “Go on, Wes. Tell him.”
“I know what people are thinking,” he said. “And feeling.”
“That’s good,” his father said, and he looked pleased though Wes could not feel that emotion from him. “That’s very good. You’re showing your powers early. I should’ve taken you for training before.”
Robby said, slowly and carefully, “We can just train him for his natural gifts. His gifts are so strong and-”
“No,” his father said. He reached out across the space between them and put a hand on Wes’ small shoulder. “You will be a great warrior,” he said. “Your gifts will become something else. And it will be very difficult and you won’t like it right away, but trust me. You will be a warrior.”
“Like Beowulf?” Wes asked. He knew the question was very childish even as the words escaped him.
But his father smiled, his dark blue eyes lighting up. “Better than Beowulf by far. No dragon will ever be competition for you.”
Wes trusted his father. After all, Robby came with them. And in the end, his mother had let him go. Wes trusted his father.
But the memories he had after that… They were solid memories. And he did not like them at all.