“I’ve gone on and on about my life but I want to know how you’re doing,” Aleena said.
“I’m okay,” Darion responded, shrugging. He was doing his best to sound casual.
“Twin…” Aleena said, shaking his head at him. “I know you. You keep too much inside.”
She held Darion’s face in her hands, making him focus on her. He became more tense, knowing exactly what she was trying to do. In their childhood, when Darion had been particularly troubled but unable to vent, Aleena had done this. She had cried, making him watch, knowing that her sadness would get to him too. Darion clenched his jaw, trying his best to hide from his pain. Large tears now spilled out of Aleena’s expressive eyes and down her cheeks. Darion fought against mimicking her action, no matter how much he knew she was trying to help him.
“Stop pretending…” Aleena whispered. She smiled when a few tears finally rolled down her brother’s cheeks. “You’re as stubborn as ever.”
“I hate when you do that,” Darion grumbled, sniffling. His sulking expression only made Aleena laugh.
“I can reach you in ways most can’t,” she reminded him. “You must make amends with Tolrek. He should be here with you.”
“I think we’ve become too distant to reconcile; that’s as much my fault as his.”
“I don’t believe it’s ever too late.”
“That’s because you watch too many of those dramas,” Darion teased. He laughed and side-stepped Aleena’s attempt to smack him on his arm. “But I like that you’ve stayed positive for us.”
“Someone has to—”
Darion’s cell phone rang, interrupting the conversation. It was Halsam. Darion answered it, hoping that nothing had damaged the gift for Prymar. Halsam had agreed to pick up the item and bring it to the party. Darion had expected his assistant to call and let him know he was on the way with the present.
“Aiza and I just left her place. I know we’re running late,” Halsam admitted right away. Having succeeded in getting Aiza’s attention, he’d been with her at her apartment. A heated make-out session had come to an abrupt end, when he’d noticed the time. “I was uh, distracted, but I have Prymar’s gift. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Oh, by the way, I passed Tolrek when I entered the main gate. I’m glad he stopped over but I’m surprised he didn’t stay.”
“What do you mean?” Darion asked. “He wasn’t here.”
“Oh. Maybe he was visiting someone else. Anyway, I’ll be there soon.”
When the conversation ended, Darion closed his phone, still unsure what Halsam had meant about Tolrek.
“What’s wrong?” Aleena asked.
“Tolrek was apparently in the area,” Darion explained.
“Take that as a sign,” Aleena coaxed him. “Invite him here.”
“I don’t want any excuses,” his sister told him firmly. “Besides, Prymar would love for Tolrek to be here. Please call ‘your rebel.’ If you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your nephew. You know how he admires Tolrek.”
“I feel like a fool,” Tolrek admitted to his sister. He drove around the city, still trying to get the image of Darion and the pregnant woman out of his mind. Needing to talk to someone, he’d called Sheyla, trying to manage his pain. “I didn’t even know he was seeing someone. You’d think there would be news of it somewhere. How was he able to keep things quiet?”
“Are you sure he’s with someone?”
“She was pregnant, Sheyla, and far along too.”
“Did you get a good look at her?”
“No, they were standing face-to-face. I only saw them from the side.”
“Well, you did say that she was expecting. Maybe there isn’t any news about her because he’s quite protective of her.”
“Him and I aren’t on the best of terms but I would have hoped he’d let me know. I wonder how long they’ve been together.”
“Why don’t you just ask him? It might not be what you think.”
“I can’t talk to him now,” Tolrek grumbled.
“Well, if you’re going to be in a bad mood, don’t come home yet,” she teased him.
“Sisters,” he muttered. Then they both laughed. Not long ago, neither of them had cause to grumble about any siblings.
“Mother’s calling me,” Sheyla told him. “I have to go. I’ll see you when you return. I know you’re hurting but please don’t do anything foolish.”
“Yes, I understand.” Tolrek ended the call and headed towards one of his favorite parks. After settling himself on a bench, he looked out over the pond. Naj eagerly waded into the nearby pond. Tolrek wished he could be as carefree as she was. He sighed, wondering what to do.
I’ll have to get over him, he thought. I don’t have a choice now.
His cell phone rang and he ignored it at first, not wanting to be disturbed. When the caller tried several more times, he finally looked at his phone. Darion.
“Come to my place,” Darion stated right away.
“There’s no need for me to see you.”
“I want you here. If you don’t show up for me, show up for my nephew. He admires you. We’re having a gathering for him tonight. He’ll be leaving next week to go to an academy on Tildar.”
“Really, Darion? Those are the kinds of tactics you’re going to use?”
“What? It’s true. He’d be happy to see you.”
“And your lover?” Tolrek demanded, thinking that Darion was engaging in pretense. “Will she also be happy to see me? Are you inviting me there to show her off?”
A couple walked by Tolrek, glancing at him with questioning eyes. He lowered his voice, cursing himself for even caring what the two people might be thinking.
“What do you mean?” Darion asked.
“Why are you trying to torment me?” Tolrek pressed. “This isn’t some kind of game.”
“Tolrek, I don’t understand.”
“I saw you with her!”
“It’s not what you think. You have the wrong idea. I swear. Come here. Please.”
“You expect me to come to a party and pretend like I’m happy. I’m supposed to be there to entertain your nephew, while you have your arms around your woman. Your woman who is pregnant with your child! Your arrogance is incredible.”
“I am telling you again, things are not as you believe,” Darion said slowly. “Give me a chance to explain. After how long we were together, don’t I deserve that?”
“It’s Tolrek,” Aleena said, giving her brother a teasing look. “Should I answer the door or do you—”
“I’ll get it,” Darion said quickly.
“I’ve never met him in person. I want to let him inside.”
“Well, that’s just too bad. It’s my house!” Darion told her, making her laugh.
“I can handle this, while you bicker,” Fei offered.
“Be quiet, Fei,” Darion told the supercomputer.
While he was admonishing her, Aleena took the chance to dodge past him and head for the door. She laughed louder, as he gently swept her behind him. There was triumph on his face when he opened the door to see Tolrek standing there. He was looking slightly uncomfortable.
“Welcome,” Aleena said, cutting in front of her brother. “It’s wonderful to finally meet you.” She ushered the rebel inside, managing in the end to outmaneuver her sibling.
“I…Thank you,” Tolrek said. His eyes flicked to her stomach. “And congratulations. I hope your child will be healthy.” He believed it would be the most difficult things he’d ever have to say.
Aleena looked back and forth between him and Darion. Tolrek’s expression was pained. The negotiator was confused. Aleena summed up the situation, understanding what the cause of discomfort was.
“I’m his sister!” she corrected Tolrek.
“Oh…” was all Tolrek could manage. He looked down at the floor, feeling heat come to his face. He thought of what he’d said to Darion over the phone and his embarrassment grew. “I drove by earlier and you two were talking outside. You were face-to-face and I saw that you were pregnant. I thought…well, you know.”
“You two are incredible,” Aleena said, shaking her head. “There are so many things you could clear up, by just asking more questions.”
“I’m happy that you’re jealous,” Darion said, causing Tolrek to feel more self-conscious. Darion laughed loudly, when the rebel gave him a glare. It was pleasantly familiar.
“Tolrek, let’s me save you from Darion’s teasing,” Aleena said, linking her arm through his. “I’m really glad you could join us. And, I can’t believe that you’re even better looking in person.”
“Scandalous! I’m telling your husband,” Fei announced, as one of her holograms materializing beside Aleena. Fei then turned her attention towards Tolrek. “You don’t have to say it. I know you missed me.”
“Maybe,” Tolrek replied, giving the hologram a sly smile. The hologram reached out and Tolrek felt a slight pressure on his arms and back.
“That was me hugging you,” Fei said, pride in her voice. “I’m even more life-like now!”
“Ah, upgrades,” Tolrek stated. Then a teasing glint came into his eyes. “You must have been on your best behavior.”
“It’s easier, when you’re not around,” Fei quipped.
“Excuse me; I’m still right here,” Darion reminded the trio. “Aleena and Fei, go find something else to do.”
“You two can have that heavy conversation later,” Aleena assured Darion. “I’m monopolizing him, until after the party.”
“Aleena…” Darion began to complain.
“Don’t even try it,” she said, waving away his protest. She turned to the rebel. “I need your expertise. My son wanted a replica of your Krezka. I have to make sure it’s properly displayed. Will you help me?”
“Of course,” Tolrek quickly responded, glad to have a reason to postpone the conversation with Darion. He wasn’t sure what he’d say anyway. He’d arrived expecting very different conditions. He needed time to regroup; helping Aleena was the perfect opportunity to do so.
“Halsam and Aiza are putting together the machine but I doubt they’re as focused as they should be,” Aleena explained, as she walked Tolrek to the recreation room. “You know how that goes.”
“Well look who’s here,” Halsam exclaimed when he saw Tolrek. “Why don’t you make yourself useful and help?”
“Are you actually ordering me around?” Tolrek asked, with one eyebrow raised. He nodded towards Aiza. “Just because she’s here doesn’t mean I won’t embarrass you.”
“I was only joking,” Halsam said quickly.
“Did you know that the first night I met Halsam, he had to give me a bath?” Tolrek said to Aiza. Halsam looked mortified and Tolrek grinned, adding to his distress. “I also flogged him with a wet towel. Darion had to save him from me.”
“I really don’t like you right now,” Halsam grumbled.
“I can only imagine what happened in this house,” Aiza said, grinning.
“You don’t have to imagine,” Halsam told her. He zipped a glance to Tolrek, preparing to do verbal damage. “There’s a very special video.”
“Oh, that was cruel,” Tolrek replied, narrowing his eyes.
“I’ve seen it a few times,” Aiza replied, smiling slyly, her green eyes lighting up.
“That backfired on you,” Tolrek ribbed Halsam. “I bet she compared you to Darion and to me. No doubt you failed, miserably.”
Tolrek was about to tease Halsam some more when Aleena announced that the guest of honor had arrived.
For the next few hours, Tolrek enjoyed the festivities. Much of the time he was surrounded by Prymar and his friends, who were eager to hear about his career. However he was soon upstaged by his pet. Najrina received even more attention than Tolrek and she reveled in it, playfully chasing the children through the house and into the yard.
Darion had watched Tolrek interact with everyone, looking forward to the time when the two could be together. There was so much he wanted to say. Tolrek was well aware that Darion had focused on him. Despite this, when the party ended, he took his time in giving Darion his full attention. The rebel pulled Halsam aside to talk to him for a few minutes, before he could leave with Aiza.
“I see you’ve made some progress with her,” Tolrek said, nodding towards the young woman who was waiting near Halsam’s car. “All you needed was a little bit of motivation.”
“I asked her out, as soon as I left your office. And she said yes. Thank you for the encouragement.”
“I hope you feel that way after riding in a Krezka,” Tolrek teased him.
“Yeah, yeah,” Halsam replied, rolling his eyes with feigned exasperation. “Now, stop pestering me and go to Darion. Don’t keep avoiding him.”
Tolrek was finally alone with Darion. Everyone else had left, including Arjan who had made himself scarce for the night.
Darion relaxed in his study, as much as he could, while Tolrek paced the room.
“I feel awkward being here,” Tolrek eventually stated.
“Why’s that?” Darion asked quietly. “You’ve lived here.”
“Things are very different now, D,” Tolrek reminded him.
“More than I ever wanted,” Darion admitted. “I always worried about losing you. At times, I’ve spoken about you with my mother. She said that I could never have a true relationship, while you were a Pet. I didn’t like hearing it but somewhere inside, I’ve always known that was the case.”
“What if I’d never had the leverage of my status? What would you have done? Kept me?”
“It wasn’t really about owning you, Tol.”
Tolrek didn’t say anything for a while. He went over to Darion’s desk and picked up the negotiator’s reading tablet. He turned it on and went to a selection of poems. He chose his favorite one and read the last few lines. Darion watched him, wondering what he was doing, but he waited for Tolrek to break the silence.
“Halsam said that Vaironian Tides is the piece you like the best,” Tolrek finally remarked. “He says we’re like the subjects in the poem.”
“When did he tell you that?”
“Soon after I first came here.”
Darion looked down at the floor, smiling. A great deal had happened since that time. He thought of the things he’d done, right and wrong. Then, he shook his head clear.
“I’m not one to second-guess myself,” Tolrek said. “You’ve been quite a challenge. You’re the most difficult person I’ve ever known. I remember sitting across from you at that last negotiation. You looked so sure of yourself. I wanted you even then.”
“I like hearing that.”
“So…what do we do now?”
Darion was quiet, weighing what he wanted to share. Tolrek searched his face, wondering how far he would go, how much he would reveal.
“I’m not sure,” Darion finally said. He withdrew from the brink of the kind of conversation Tolrek truly wanted to have.
“I think you’re still angry with me for how I left,” Tolrek said. “I had to do that. I was losing respect for myself. I couldn’t be with you on terms I disliked. I had to know if we could make it without you having the kind of power you did. When it was us alone, we could usually forget the foundation of our relationship. Even so, it began to pull me down.”
“You didn’t have to break away like you chose,” Darion responded, heat in his voice.
“At the time, I didn’t know if I could trust you! I asked about my background. You weren’t straightforward with me.”
“I didn’t have all of the answers.”
“You knew enough! You knew about my family.”
“Not in the way you thought I did. I barely had details.”
“It was more than what I had.”
Darion had moved quickly, now standing a few inches away from Tolrek.
“You could have told me what you were planning,” Darion shouted. “I thought I could trust you!”
“Trust? You’re bringing that up?” Tolrek glared at Darion; his temper started to rise. “We’ve both hurt each other. I’m not letting you hide from your responsibility in this.”
“I’m trying to repair what happened!”
“Then start again. I’ll come back tomorrow night and—”
“You can stay here tonight. Let’s not put off this conversation any longer.”
“As I was saying, I’m going to return here tomorrow night. Then we’ll really talk and I want to know everything. Everything Darion, I mean it. There’s more you’re not telling me. I know there is!”