‘Your father has flown free.’ The callous words from my uncle’s lips are supposed to fill me with abject terror. Numbness fills my body automatically deadening the pain such news should evoke. Checking his watch, he dismisses me easily with a wave of his hand. I watch him roll out of the room in his custom-made wheelchair.
Two guards take up posts inside the door of my apartment. Bowing my head, I pretend to appear torn up. Inside my emotions balance precariously between disbelief and fury. Premature death is an accepted way of life within our family.
Staring down at the brown carpet I know the dynamics of the hierarchy has shifted yet again. My father, Joseph, was the heir to Smythe house. He was not easily manipulated or controlled. His death makes me the new heir. It is a job I don’t want and yet this is the family I was born to someday lead.
Our family mantra has always been ‘Protect Charlotte Grace’. I was so young when we started planning for this day. Charli is our weak point. She is an invisible. We protect her from the cruelty outside the four walls of the family apartment. We protect her from herself when necessary.
The personal detail who surrounded my father like mosquitoes enter the room. Rubbing a hand down my face I stand. Mamma is standing out in the hall. Her face is streaked with tear tracks. Reading her message in her eyes I continue past her. She has hidden her pain deep inside.
She is flawless in her performance. The grieving mate of the late heir. Mother of the current heir. Not one misstep. Not now. Not ever. Deep inside I know what it has cost her to leave Dad’s body to the other Smythe females. She holds her head high. Dipping it slightly. She knows I want to stop and comfort her in a hug.
The new team of bodyguards keeps me moving forward. Children yell the news from street corners. Holding up people desperate for the sales. Desperate to help their parents keep their families together. The solid wall around me keeps me moving. Through the back entrance into Smythe Towers and into the private elevators.
Someone pushes up. When we exit they walk me past our family apartment where Charli is waiting. They crack jokes about being too old to live with females. We turn many corners before they let me into a new apartment. Fear slides down my back and dissipates almost instantly. I too must be flawless in my performance.
They have put me in a place where they can watch my most minuscule of gestures. Uncle John has put me in a place where no one can hear me scream if death comes swiftly. The first step in his rule of absolute control is always isolation.He has no idea that I find him predictable. I am Ethan Joseph Smythe. The board has been set. The game is just beginning. I will take this house apart piece by stinking piece before I die.
Tears slip down my face unchecked. No one can see them in the dark of my room. Pain surrounds me like a fog. The females who came to tell me fed me the platitudes to make me feel better.
My companion didn’t correct them. She is gone for the night. Mamma will come in soon. Ethan. I already know without being told that they have taken Ethan to new quarters. They think because I don’t speak I’m too stupid to understand the world around me. My family knows differently. I speak to them when I need to. I speak to them directly inside their minds.
My reflection stares back at me from the mirror on the table opposite me. I was supposed to be practicing my speech exercises again. I don’t see the point anymore. Daddy was the only one who insisted on it. Mamma wants me to be so invisible that I blend in with my surroundings.
If I could control my body’s movements, I would. Uncle John was here again today. His excuse was that our therapy room is the best in the entire tower. Ever since he had that fall at the high council last year he’s been watching me more. It’s getting creepy. He asks me random questions never expecting answers. At first, I thought he just liked to hear his own voice. A pattern is establishing. Daddy would have listened to me. Tears flow faster dripping off my chin.
Closing my eyes, I try to reach Ethan. I can’t reach him. His mind is preoccupied. I can’t break through the wall he’s raised. Not without causing him excruciating pain. Last time I did it by accident. Now I know better. The door opens, and the room is flooded with bright light. Mamma is wearing all white. The Smythe colour for mourning.
She crosses the room and takes a tissue from the box my companion left beside me. I can feel her arms slip around my body as she shudders. Her quiet sobs fill the air. Tears fall unheeded mingling with my own. Eventually, she straightens up. ‘No more tears.’ She decrees softly and says, ‘Ethan is counting on us.’
Wiping her eyes, she then turns to me and deals with mine gently. Her mind is receptive to my mind voice. ‘When will we see him again?’ I ask holding her eyes with my own hoping that the desperation I feel hasn’t bled through to her.
Mamma doesn’t answer.
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