'Childhood living is easy to do The things you wanted I bought them for you Graceless lady you know who I am You know I can't let you slide through my hands
Wild horses couldn't drag me away...'
- The Rolling Stones
“What if she hates me?” “She’s not going to hate you, Alina.” “How do you know that? What if she does?” “I love you, and she’s our daughter. She won’t hate you.” “Those aren’t reasons, Baelian.”
Alina Bellamantis sat in the car outside her daughter's apartment and tried to slow her pounding heart, her hands shaking slightly as she touched up her lipstick. Steely blue eyes caught her reflection in the rear-view mirror as the phone conversation she’d had with Baelian barely an hour earlier played over in her mind.
“What if I’m not what she wants?” “Impossible. How could she not love you?” “Seriously?”
-Calm down- she scolded herself -You're being ridiculous. It will be fine-
Taking another deep breath, she picked up her phone and sent a text to inform the girl that she was outside, spending the time that followed trying to steady her shaking hands.
Unbeknownst to Alina, Luna Lorelei Bellamantis-Black was inside doing pretty much the same thing, trying to breathe deeply as she too checked her visage in the mirror, running her fingers through her dyed hair and smoothing down her skirt. Her stomach fluttered as the phone on the bench buzzed and she stilled.
Turning, Luna took one last, steadying breath before slipping out the front door, her wide eyes studying the car that idled in front of the apartment. Alina gripped the steering wheel as the slight form of her graceful ballet dancer daughter came into view, her cool gaze following the young woman as she made her way slowly but steadily to the vehicle, finally opening the passenger side and slipping into the car beside her.
"Hi," Alina said, in what she hoped was a calm, composed salutation. She released the wheel with one hand, forcing it to sit in her lap, casual-like, and smiled at her daughter as her heart skipped a beat. Lorelei - or Luna, as she preferred to be called - was so pretty, and her blue eyes sparkled just her father's.
Luna looked at the dark-haired woman through her lashes. Though she seemed calm and composed, she noticed the skin stretched white around Alina’s knuckles.
-Well, at least I'm not the only one who's nervous-
The girl couldn't help but smile at the greeting. Alina's smooth black hair shone in the sunlight coming through the car window, framing her face with a strange glow.
-So this is where I get those dark roots from- Luna thought, amused.
Looking down at her lap, she considered all the things they had to speak about…it seemed silly to be thinking about her hair.
Her reply was soft but, glancing at her mother, Luna saw some of the tension leave her at her daughter's response. "Where are we going for lunch?" she added quickly.
-Best to make it to lunch before we start 'bonding'-
"To a favourite haunt of mine...make yourself comfortable, it’s a bit of a trip…I hope you like Stravinsky..." Alina told her with an indulgent smile, turning her attention a little gratefully from her daughter to the task of driving. She started the car and took off, heading down the freeway and out into suburbia, the trees becoming larger and more frequent as they neared the Dandenong’s. Alina had switched the radio on and classical music accompanied the not entirely uncomfortable silence between the mother and daughter, the former keeping her eyes mainly on the road while the latter watched the scenery go by – both of them stealing sneaking glances at the other when they weren’t looking but saying nothing.
The car winded its way up the mountain road until it got to a little stretch of art galleries and small cafes. Pulling over and parking, Alina sat for a moment in the silence, letting the surrounding trees and atmosphere seep over her senses. It had been a while since she had been in nature - Asinoe had traversed the small forests at the Black Family Manor, but it had not been the same for her.
-She doesn’t appreciate it the way I do-
It had been torture for Alina, being locked away from the scent and sensation of greenery, trapped behind the mind of her sociopathic alter. She scowled slightly.
-Now isn’t the time-
Not wanting to wait to be outside even a moment longer, Alina climbed out of the car, leaning back against it and breathing it all in...the birds, the rustle of the wind through the leaves and the scent of the rainforest and eucalyptus…
-I miss the greenery of England.-
Coming back to herself, she reached back and grabbed her bag.
"Ready?" she asked Luna with a happy smile.
Luna nodded. She had watched the myriad of emotions dancing through her mother’s face in silence, saying nothing as she sat there and wondering what she was thinking. Now, stepping out of the car and taking a deep breath herself, she too relishing the fresh mountain air, she thought she understood the sigh of relief that had fallen from Alina’s lips.
Daddy had taken Luna to the mountains a few times, and she'd loved it, but it had been a long time since she'd been out here. Looking around, Luna smiled at the quaint tea stores and what appeared to be a lovely little toy shop with hand-carved dolls and puppets in the window nearby. Looking at Alina, she blinked.
Walking around the car, she paused next to the tall, graceful woman that was her mother, her stomach fluttering once more.
-I remember how much I used to envy you your beauty and poise…-
Alina led the way into a small coffee shop, holding the door open so Luna could follow. A homely looking older woman gave them both a sunny smile as they entered, a smile that grew bigger as recognition filled her features, and she rushed forward.
"Alina! It's so good to see you, love...it's been almost a year! How are you?"
The woman pulled Alina into a warm hug, which Alina allowed with an indulgent smile over the woman's shoulder at Luna.
"Hi Alice. I'm sorry it's been so long. I've been working overseas for a while…"
The woman, Alice, released her and stepped back, waving a hand as if all was already forgiven.
"Not to worry, I'll tell Stan that you're here," she beamed, running off and leaving the two women to find a seat themselves. Alina smiled sheepishly at her daughter.
"They kind of adopted me when I first came in…” she explained with a blush, moving to her favourite table - a wooden two-seater in the sunlight with a full view of the mountains from a large bay window. Sitting, Alina waited for her daughter to join her, her nerves making her hands shake again.
Luna sat, blinking as she stared at Alina. Seeing Alice hugging her mother, the girl had tried to conceal her surprise - all those years of watching Alina in the Underground, before the DNA test had revealed their mutual bloodline, had left a formidable impression. Luna found it hard to reconcile the dangerous, sleek woman she had envied for so long with the smiling, tolerant and slightly embarrassed creature that had been folded into the arms of a coffee shop lady moments ago.
Luna’s gaze shifted to the window, watching the trees swaying in the distance and the sunlight making dancing patterns on the road, the motion of the breeze almost hypnotic. When she looked back again, she realised that Alina was watching her and self-consciously she pushed her hair behind her ear.
"I suppose you’re wondering what happened there?" Alina said, avoiding Luna’s eyes and pouring them both some water from the decanter on the table, "The simple answer is their kindness wore me down…"
Her lips twisted in a smirk, "They literally wouldn't leave me alone, and this place was the only one I could relax in for a long time…" She shrugged, her gaze flashing up to meet her daughter's…blue on blue of nearly the same hue. "It was easier to give in and let them smother me."
Luna smiled softly and nodded, biting her lip as she tried to think of something clever or appropriate to say. Coming up with nothing, she just nodded again, which seemed to make Alina uncomfortable. Her mother’s gaze shifted to the window.
"I wasn't sleeping you know," she said after another moment, slight hesitation in her voice. When her eyes returned to her daughter, it was with a predator’s focus. "I saw everything."
Luna blinked as those intense blue eyes met her own. The knowledge that Alina had been privy to all that had happened over the last year made her feel…a little better, actually.
"So you know that I was supposed to pretend to get closer to Nikolai and Lyra?” she asked, and waited until Alina nodded. “The truth is…” she went on, “I wasn't really pretending. Niki was fun…and I do honestly feel bad about what I said to Lyra that first night. I…I don't really know where I stand with Baelian, now..." Luna sighed and looked away, remembering the tortured look her father had given her when he had come back. "Although," she added after a moment, taking up her glass, "I'm glad I won't have deal with Niki telling me that I'll eventually want to sleep with him every five minutes. That was…uncomfortable." Shifting in her seat, she lifted her eyes to meet the cool blue of her mother’s once more as she sipped her water slowly.
Alina watched her daughter as she spoke, measuring the truth of her words with what she saw in her body language and expressions.
"Asinoe gave you sound advice," she said finally, "And I would have given you the same. It does not pay to be stupid in this family..." she sat back and crossed one leg over the other, lightly swinging her foot.
"Do you want to sleep with him?” she asked, perking a brow, “No one would blame you if you did. You would be one of many, let’s be honest..."
Luna almost choked on her water as Alina posed the question. Taking a breath, she felt her face flush.
"I have never wanted to sleep with him. He's…I mean…how could you even..?" Struggling to find words for her discomfort, she stopped and stared into Alina’s eyes, her expression becoming cold. "He's my father,” she said flatly, “And I've already had one twisted sexual relationship with a father figure. I don't intend to repeat the experience with another one."
"Don't get your panties in a twist," trying to ignore the pang of pain at the mention of Lorelei’s other ‘Daddy,’ Alina waved her daughter’s ire away airily, "It's a legitimate enough question in this family." Sobering a little, she smiled softly and nodded. "But I'm glad that you don't want to. He wouldn't touch you either, Baelian anyway, and that’s…” she paused, “That’s good. As it should be."
Looking at Alina with narrowed eyes, Luna pushed her annoyance away. The woman had a point…in this family, such desires were hardly surprising.
"So, when are our horses coming?" she asked, quickly changing the subject and eying Alina wryly. She still wasn't entirely sure she believed the woman when she said that she wanted to go riding together. It seemed too much to hope for…that they might share a normal mother-daughter hobby.
"Persephone's Folly and your as-yet-unnamed mare are already on their way. I made arrangements for them to be brought down last week…they should be here in another day or two," Alina said, "What are you going to name her?"
Smiling slightly, Luna tilted her head.
"I'm not sure yet. I'll need to meet her before I know who she is…" Judging it to be safe now that they were on a new topic, Luna sipped some more at her water. She was excited to meet her horse, it had been the one thing she had been holding onto throughout the tumultuous last few days. "Where will they be staying?" She asked curiously. Her last horse had been at her ‘Daddy's’ house. The thought brought a small frown.
-I wonder if she's still alive-
"They will be paddocked in Beaconsfield,” Aline told her, “I know it's quite far…but they will have better care and nicer facilities the further away they are from the city. It's only about a 45min drive from the CBD," she added, smiling slightly. "The stables I found offer full service and care - which means that they will be kept in excellent condition when we are too busy to ride..." her words trailed off as she saw the frown on her daughter’s face. "Tell me about your last horse. What was its name?"
"There were two I rode regularly,” Luna pouted and Alina suppressed a smile.
-So much like your father…-
“One was called Oscar. He was a 16-hand Clydesdale…he was the one I took clomping through the brush…” Luna smiled at the memory, “He was a gentle giant, and no amount of urging could make him go faster than he felt appropriate. But my other horse was named Amulet, and she was an Arab. Fast, sleek, and a fantastic jumper…I rode her most. She was just…beautiful…” Luna’s words trailed off, “I…I sometimes worry about her, but Daddy was never destructive for no reason so…I'm sure she's safe and looked after."
Alina frowned, averting her eyes and thinking back.
"Those are not the horses that I remember from my grandfather's estate…perhaps he got new ones…" she mused, filing the information away to tell Baelian later. Blinking, she lifted her eyes to her daughter and forced a smile. “But they sound lovely,” she told the young girl, not wanting to put a damper on the subject.
Suddenly, there came a commotion from the direction of the kitchen, and Alice returned with a very smiley and very tanned older man.
"Wellllll…look what the cat dragged in," he drawled at Alina, rushing forward to grab at her hands, "Give an old man a kiss love." Yanking the woman out of her chair, the man, whom Luna presumed to be Stan, hugged her mother tightly and gave her a big kiss on the cheek, releasing her just as suddenly so that Alina nearly fell back into the chair, catching herself and sliding into it with the grace of a cat seconds later.
"Stan," she laughed with real affection, "It’s good to see you." The old man beamed at her, then as one the couple turned to look at Luna. "Who’s this little whipper?" Stan asked with a grin.
"This is Lorelei, my daughter," Alina replied, leaning back in her chair instinctively.
Chaos reigned for a moment afterward, as both old people launched themselves at Luna for more hugs, drawing her from her seat. Standing with her shoulders up, Luna struggled to calm herself as she was enveloped in a tangle of arms. She wasn't used to people touching her – physical affection for her was rare. Slowly releasing the breath she held, she forced a smile at the couple and tucked her hair behind her ear again. “Pleasure to meet you both,” she said softly, glancing at Alina, who was smiling at her in amusement.
“Stan, you scared the little thing,” Alice scolded him, thwacking the man on the arm with a tea towel. Stan snorted and shook his head.
“Not likely, she’s got her mother’s backbone, this one has…” he peered at Luna, nodding to himself.
"I'm going to get your food!" Alice exclaimed in excitement, running off towards the kitchen. Stan gave Alina a wink and trotted after his wife.
"You didn't take their orders Alice!" he called after her. Alina looked at Luna.
"Thank you for allowing them to invade your space," she said sincerely. She’d bestowed a lot of trust in her daughter, showing her this, her sacred place, and the wonderful people she had hidden away for herself. She felt rather vulnerable, sharing her softer side with Lorelei…it was a side that she showed no one but Baelian.
She hoped her trust in her daughter hadn’t been misplaced.
"Sit," she gestured to Luna’s seat, taking up her water again and sipping, "They are a little unorganised here…but they’ll remember to come back and take orders in a moment."
Alina examined her daughter as she stood by the chair. She was lovely - lithe and graceful, with delicate features and her father's luminous eyes. She made a face as she studied Luna’s hair. If only the girl didn't insist on dyeing it blonde…the Monére's were not an influence that she wished for Lorelei to model herself on. Alina thought that the girl’s natural colouring would suit her much better.
"It's beautiful here, thank you for bringing me," Luna murmured quietly, slightly uncomfortable beneath her mother’s intense stare, but genuine in her appreciation. There were very few places that Luna could go now that she no longer saw her...previous family…and she would cherish this little café as a result.
Taking a calming breath, the young girl slipped back into her seat and took hold of her water. "Will...will Baelian still be living at your house? I know Nikolai was there for a while after he left Lyra’s…so I sort of stayed at the apartment a lot. I was just wondering if Baelian would be….you know…moving in?"
"I don't know," Alina frowned and looked out of the window, "I imagine that your father will stay with me as often as he chooses." She paused and pushed down the warm anger that always rose when she thought of sharing him with others. "I may not keep the house. It was Asinoe's…and I miss my apartment with the huge windows and light floors." Turning her attention back to her daughter, she tilted her head. "Where would you prefer to live?"
Luna sighed. The question had been going around in her head for a while now, bringing with it a well of anxiety. She was uncomfortable at the apartment she had shared with Opium…she hated the reminders of her ‘friend’ everywhere, but she wasn't quite sure how she would feel being in a house with Alina and Baelian all the time.
-Not with the way you two carry on…-
Lifting her shoulders, Luna shrugged slightly.
"I'm interested to see your apartment, but if there's no space, I'll stay at the city penthouse. Otherwise, it might be time to find my own space…" Looking up at Alina, she considered suggesting a set night for ‘family dinners,’ then thought better of it.
-I don't know that we're ready for regular family dates just yet- she thought wryly to herself. Alina nodded.
"Hm. Maybe it is time for your own space…if you want it. You’re an adult, after all. Though you are welcome to spend as much time as you choose with me…" Alina felt a little flutter of happiness at the prospect of having her daughter all to herself, then squashed it. Knowing her luck, she wouldn't have Lorelei for long before the girl decided to despise her for some reason or other. Showing a softer side of herself didn't mean that Luna would forget about the rest of her personality traits.
"I may keep both properties, for the time being,” she went on, “The house is beautiful and well furnished. Maybe when I want to be out of the city I'll go there…but I think I’ll spend most of my time in my apartment…" her words trailed off as Alice suddenly returned with a chagrined smile and a notepad.
"What can I get you?"
Alina gestured for Luna to go first. Luna looked up at the lady and smiled, her eyes sliding back to the woman across from her as she raised a brow. They hadn’t seen anything that even resembled a menu yet.
"I trust you, Alice, whatever you recommend…I'll try.”
The smiling lady tittered and looked toward Alina. Luna's mouth curled as she watched her mother order. She had seen a side of Alina she hadn't known existed, and she felt quite privileged. In all honesty, she was looking forward to getting to know this tall, elegant woman better, and hopefully seeing this side of her more often.
-Though it probably won't do to forget all you’ve seen before this, despite it being good to know that she's not always like that. She's actually quite...lovely-
Keeping her attention on Alina, Luna sipped her water silently.
"I'll have a steak sandwich, thankyou Alice…you know how I like it," Alina told the woman, who winked at her and hurried off back to the kitchen. Alina leaned back in her chair again and looked at her daughter.
"Tell me what you remember," she said suddenly.
-Oh. So we’re having that conversation now.-
Luna frowned, biting her lip and forcing herself to think back, speaking slowly as her eyes lowered to the gingham tablecloth.
"I remember you pulling Baelian around by his hair...a lot. I remember sometimes you screaming at him, and him doing the same to you. I remember...” suddenly she felt very small and very fragile, her eyes becoming damp, “I think I remember you hurting each other. Hitting each other. I don't know too much...I'm sure there were reasons, but I don't really...I tried to keep out of the way, like everyone else. The more I learned the more Daddy questioned me and I didn't feel...right, telling him about you." Running her hands through her hair, Luna kept her eyes down. She didn't like to think about the bad side of her parents, as glaringly obvious as it was most of the time. Especially in her father.
"Not us, silly," Alina laughed, "I meant tell me about where you were, and about your Daddy..." she frowned, her lip curling at the word, then added, "Lorelei, Baelian and I have our problems, we always have…but it's mostly a game. Our rough play is not serious...not really. We often hurt each other to show affection. It's the way we were raised…" she shifted slightly, her eyes darkening with memories as her mouth twisted downward…then it was gone and she was smirking wryly again. “It’s just foreplay,” she finished, and Luna blushed.
"Oh, right…” she muttered and Alina laughed.
"So let's hear your story," her mother prompted her, waiting.
Taking a breath, Luna thought back, chewing on her lip absently.
"My early memories are patchy. I remember Daddy, and I remember Uncle Lucien. I remember…ballrooms and people and parties and…blonde hair. And then I remember Daddy again…living with Daddy, and doing my lessons. I remember his quiet anger and I remember him hurting me when I got answers wrong on tests and then…the other things. When he had visitors, I would suddenly have a lesson in my room, except when he wanted to show me off to them. Mostly it was people in fine clothing….” Luna scowled, “I would be put in a dress, and he would give me a new ribbon, and…I would sit on his lap, and not say anything...” she caught the look on her mother’s face and decided to change tack, smiling tightly. “I started riding Oscar when I was young, and when he got too slow, I was given Amulet…and my riding coach taught me to jump. I've been doing ballet since I can remember. My Madame was a bitch -" she winced, sitting up straight, "My Madame did what she had to do because I didn't listen. I danced on glass not a few times, and I performed for Daddy and his friends sometimes….”
It was almost terrifying, watching the shifts and changes of moods behind Alina’s eyes. Her expression had become grim, her mouth set in a tight line as she listened to Luna’s words, but she said nothing.
“When I snuck out and went to the Underground for the first time, he was furious. I had heard some of his guests talking about this place where you could be anyone, and you didn't have to be you…I was fascinated. But then, when he realised where I’d actually been and who I’d met, Daddy encouraged me to go back. And then he bought the camera and I loved it and...that is pretty much it. You've been there for the rest..." she finished cautiously, watching Alina as she regarded her silently.
"Dancing on glass..." her mother mused finally, "Apparently a trick they taught us both…" She reached across the table towards her daughter, offering her hand. She didn't touch the girl, merely waited with an open and relaxed palm, and silent hope in her eyes.
Luna hesitated for a brief second before taking it, her cool fingers resting gently against Alina’s soft skin. She let her pale digits curl around her mother’s and she waited, her heart beating faster as she looked up through her lashes with a shy and small smile.
-I might actually have a Mother who wants something to do with me for once-
Alina's heart had flipped in her chest as she closed her fingers around her daughter's, her eyes misting with tears. They’d gotten off to such a bad start in the Underground, as most women did with her…and when it had been revealed that they were mother and daughter, they’d had no time at all to connect before they were torn apart.
-Just like when she was born-
The thought came like an icy pain slicing into her heart, and unbidden the memory of trying to touch her baby daughter for the first time as she lay in Baelian's arms danced through her mind. The adults had pulled him and the child away before Alina could reach her...the echo of her daughter’s strident screams and Baelian's frantic cries as he fought and struggled to get her back making Alina wince. The first tear fell as she looked at their entwined hands.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there to protect you, Lorelei…" she whispered quietly, looking up at the only person she had ever wanted more than Baelian, "I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that alone…and that I wasn't there."
Luna stared down at their locked hands, lifting her shoulders slightly and frowning.
"It's okay,” she murmured, “Well…it's not okay, but it's not your fault. I think...I know you would have been there if you could…" Raising her eyes, she met Alina’s cool blue gaze once more. Seeing the emotion in her face startled the girl slightly, particularly as she’d been looking into those same eyes with no hint of feeling in them for almost a year. Luna nodded slightly to herself, finally reassured that this was, in fact, her actual mother.
"You've had a tough time of it," Alina said, gathering herself a bit, "It's not fair that you've suffered because of who your parents are…unfortunately we don't choose the families we are born into. I am thankful that you weren't subjected to your parent's childhoods but…suffering is relative and I'm sorry you were born into this Family…" Alina squeezed Luna’s hand again, her thumb stroking the soft skin, "But I'm not sorry you we're born, and I’m glad we are here now."
Alice bustled out of the kitchen, carting their food along with her. The woman hesitated, clearly not certain whether or not she should interrupt what was obviously an emotional moment, but Alina let go of Luna's hand and welcomed the woman with a smile. Gratefully, Alice put the food down and left them to eat, sensitive to the fact that they were mid-conversation.
Drawing her hand into her lap, Luna smiled slightly, looking at her mother. For a long moment she didn’t say anything, then she nodded.
"I'm glad that I'm here too…" she agreed, tilting her head to the side, her blonde hair falling into her face before the girl tucked it behind her ear again in annoyance.
-Oh God. You too with the hair…-
Alina smiled at her daughter and picked up her knife and fork, blinking away her tears and nodding.
"Come on, let's eat,” she said, “And then I’ll tell you some more about your horse…what on earth is that?” she stared down at the unidentifiable mound of food on her daughter’s plate.
Luna looked down at it, picking up her fork and stabbing at it warily.
“That,” she said with an unimpressed stare that was wholly Bellamantis, “Is what happens when you tell Alice that you trust her to choose your food…”
Alina laughed, shaking her head as Luna chuckled in response, her brows lofting.
“I’ve eaten worse…” she said with a wry smirk, and Luna nodded, returning the look with one of her own.
“Oh, I know you have. I've heard.”
Written by Chastity De Vice and Katie Karandais.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.