The Seventh Hour(6)

By: Tracey Ward

“I won’t lie to him,” she replies stiffly.

“No one asked you to. If he never asks about it you never have to lie about it.”

She glances at me, looking me up and down from my bare feet to my loose, disheveled hair. I expect her to snap at me again. To tell me for the millionth time to act like a lady or remind me how important our family’s image is, who my father is, but she doesn’t do any of that. Instead she stares me straight in the eyes and her face softens, turning almost sad.

“I can’t protect you like I did when you were a girl,” she tells me tenderly. She touches my arm lightly, her fingers covering the ink on my skin. “You’re a woman now. You’ll have to fight your own battles.”

“I can take care of myself,” I promise.

Her lips purse tightly. “I hope to God that’s true.”

Gav takes her hand in his and squeezes it warmly. “Everything will be alright. Don’t worry.”

She smiles up at him gratefully. Her face glows golden as the east horizon when she looks at Gav. He’s her pride, her joy, her success. A bright boy bursting with manners and kindness and the unmistakable, unfakable ‘it’ that belongs to all great leaders. He’s destined for everything, for the head of every table of every house in our tribe, and she couldn’t be prouder.

She couldn’t wonder more where she went wrong with me.

“We’ll keep it quiet,” my mother agrees, deftly plucking the ornate necklace from Gav’s hand. She brings it to me, holding it out to wrap around my throat. “Your father doesn’t have to know. Not if you promise me it’s the last time.”

“I promise,” I vow stiffly.

“Good.” She clasps the jewels around my neck where they sit heavy like a yoke against my collar. She takes my shoulders in her hands to hold me steady. “You’ve been out of sorts lately, Livandra. Missing meals, avoiding your studies. I really hope this isn’t about that boy.”

I hold statue still, willing myself not to cringe. To shudder.

‘That boy’ was a beautiful sixteen year old carpenter with elegant hands and an ear for the piano. I caught him playing it one day on our Dasher when he was supposed to be fixing a broken chair in the dining room. He was embarrassed to be caught but when I sat down next to him and begged him to keep playing he smiled and humored me. He was wild and unpracticed. A natural with so much talent it burst from his fingers in angry low notes and delicate, fluttering high notes, running then slowing in a frolicking refrain that left me breathless. I sat with him for only ten minutes listening to his song and in that time I felt something so vivid and real, untamed and unstructured, I could barely speak. I had never known chaos could be so breathtaking. Even as he stopped, as he leaned toward me and pressed his lips to mine, I couldn’t find words to describe the connection I felt to him in that moment. To his music and his emotion. Even now I can’t say what it meant to me.

My father caught us. He pulled me from the piano bench, cornered the boy, and beat him with a leg from the broken chair. I cried and screamed for him to stop, but he never hesitated. He didn’t slow, not until the boy collapsed on the ground at his feet. He was in the hospital in the city for months recovering, and even though I never saw him again I heard he would never look the same. He’d probably never play the same either. He’d gone all but deaf in his left ear.

“No, Mother,” I reply coldly, “it’s not about—“

Lightning crackles across the sky behind us, reflecting across the water like flames on a fractured mirror. A boom of thunder drums inside my ears, rattling my bones until I’m trembling.

I look to Gav anxiously. His face is on the sky before it lowers to find mine, and in his gaze I find everything I’m feeling. Fear, anxiety. Acceptance. We’ve been running from these storms for weeks, falling farther back into the dark than we’ve ever done in our lifetime, and the fact that they’ve caught up to us is not a surprise. It’s our worst fears come to life, but it’s like we’ve been waiting for it.

“The Moles are running,” Mother whispers, her hands tightening on my arms.