I realized within minutes after I arrived that my father wasn’t at the house. His absence gave me the courage to step through the doorway and reclaim both my past and my brother without his interference. Is it really courage, though, if you know there is nothing to fear?
Vasilis returned in the night. Kieran shook before him when I stumbled down the stairs the following morning. Whatever conversation they were having, I interrupted. For the first time in years, fear of my father dissipated. Maybe my time away had given me a kind of clarity for what my father truly was. Maybe my new family and friends had introduced me to the kind of person I could be.
“Cyril,” Vasilis said with a nod when he saw me behind Kieran. No surprise colored his tone or expression, as if I hadn’t run away eight years ago and ignored any attempt at contact since. He spoke with such a casual demeanor that I almost believed he was innocent of my mother’s murder, that it had been an accident like Raven suggested.
Maybe they were discussing me. Was Kieran in trouble? “Welcome home.” He walked toward me with a large smile and his arms spread wide, open as they never had been.
I took a step back, determined not to give in. Everything about this man was false. It always had been, and I’d stewed in the consequences of it since the night I ran away. My mother was dead because of this man, and I could never forget that. Distance–physical, mental, and emotional–was important. If I didn’t make a conscious effort to keep as far from him as was possible, maybe I could…
He stopped short of me and held out a hand, a tentative business transaction, offering a silent truce. What kind of truce? What was the trade? If I traded freedom for acceptance, was that fair? No. I came back with goals: free Kieran, fix my past.
As I stared at my father’s hand, wondering about what kind of trade he offered, the thought entered my mind, What if I can’t do either of those things?
I’d accepted that maybe nothing I did could fix what had been broken with my mother, but in only one moment before my father, I doubted myself entirely. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to fix the past or save Kieran.
His will was dominating, even when he didn’t force it. What was he like without my mother to temper him? I shuddered because I truly didn’t know, and that terrified me.
My father’s hand still hung between us. I stared at it in indecision until he withdrew it in a slow, precise motion. When I still did not reach for his retreating offer, my father let his hand fall to his side. It remained open but out of reach. Anyone else might think this a good sign, but as all good illusionists do, my father disguised his true intentions with his dramatics. I noticed his other hand was closed in a tight fist, partially hidden behind his pant leg.
Vasilis Wharton was the kind of man who coveted control in and above all things. I’d witnessed it a thousand times as a child in a hundred small ways. He had never been abusive, but he was manipulative. My mother was smart and strong enough to hold his manipulations at a distance from Kieran and me. She was the only person who could change his mind or offer alternatives.
I’d decided a few years back, when I realized this about my mother, that her death was likely the result of straight defiance. But I’d been eight, and I’d only seen the result, not the cause. I couldn’t know what happened without asking my father, and that was unlikely to happen. He couldn’t be trusted to give an honest answer.
“Still independent, I see,” Vasilis said to me. His grin unsettled me. I glanced at Kieran behind him, but my brother stared at the ground. What had they been discussing? I couldn’t imagine Kieran could stand up to my father on his own after years of being alone with the man. My brother had never been one to stand up for himself, even before my mother’s death. He would take whatever Vasilis gave him.
I returned my gaze to my father and replied, “More so, I think.”
Vasilis’s grin disappeared too quickly to be deliberate. It returned a moment later with an edge to it that made me think of the knives my father used to cut his meat. He’d made his decision about me, then. Fear returned in a rush, but I couldn’t look away from my father’s face. Only Kieran behind him kept me from lunging at the man and getting over all this bullshit of a show. Illusions were never my strong suit.
Vasilis laughed at me and my ill-disguised violent thoughts. He took a quick step forward and clapped me on the back before I could think to move.
“You are your mother’s son.”
He made to walk me forward, but I remained resolute in my place. His comment was a poison dart, meant to startle and incapacitate, but instead it shot adrenaline and anger through me.
I pinned my father to the ground in a moment. The Ameses were right: wrestling had been a good sport for me. My grip loosened a fraction after I caught a glimpse of my father’s expression: pure, unfeigned surprise. It had been too quick for him to react otherwise. Satisfaction rushed through my veins and my grip tightened again.
In another moment–I’m still not sure how–Vasilis had me pinned facefirst to the floor. He growled into my ear while my sight was still black and yellow coalescing stars, “Are you sure you want to play this game?” His laugh was just as low and savage. “You still don’t know how to play the first game. This one is much harder.”
I growled back at him against my better judgment, “I disagree.”
He laughed again. “That’s because you don’t know how to play.” In one swift and painful movement, my father broke my arm.