Another one so soon, really!? Yup! But don’t get used to it, haha. Hope you enjoy and as always please feel free to comment! I love getting feedback on how the generation is going =O Thanks for reading! ^_^
“Where is she?” I asked as soon as I flew through the door of my house, the door slamming into the opposite wall. “Where’s Catherine?”
“Tamara, relax. You ca-”
“I ASKED WHERE SHE WAS!” I shrieked, spinning around to yell at whoever dared to tell me to “relax” at a time like this and literally pulling at my hair in my frustration. I found myself face to face with my father, who looked pale and drawn, his forehead creased with worry and his hands up to calm me. My mom soon came up behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder as she too met my gaze.
“She’s upstairs,” Mom said quietly. “Just laid down for a nap. Chandler is quite the handful,” she added, a ghost of a smile on her face.
My eyes welled up with tears and my breathing suddenly became ragged. Despite the neutrality of her words I was slowly being reduced to a frantic, sobbing mess. In fact, I even felt like I was losing touch with reality until a gentle hand took hold of mine, comforting and soft. I glanced over only to see Jiang, who merely responded with a squeeze to my hand. Jiang…my anchor in this turbulent sea of despair. I’d never be able to properly express my gratitude to him for coming with me.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” I finally managed to whisper, holding onto Jiang’s hand desperately. I felt that if I let go I would be swept away. My parents exchanged brief, curious looks, probably about the strange man holding onto me, but they held their tongues. Now was not the moment for casual conversation about my personal life.
“Here, why don’t you sit down?” my mom suggested, moving forward to guide me to the sofa.
“No,” I said, surprisingly calm now. “I don’t want to sit down. I want to know what the hell’s happened to my sister!” Okay. So perhaps not entirely calm. Mom and Dad exchanged looks again and suddenly I felt guilty for snapping. This wasn’t their fault. This was just as hard on them as it was on me, if not more so. They hadn’t been gone up until now. They hadn’t been blissfully oblivious, like me up until now.
“Sorry,” I quickly said, my throat tightening now. “I just…I just want to…to know.” My eyes burned with tears again. I focused on the hand holding mine. If I just focused on that hand, I would be okay.
“Catherine had been suffering from headaches lately,” Mom continued after another brief glance at Dad, who seemed unable to speak. “We didn’t think much of it at first, because it was just a headache…and let’s face it, having a toddler around can cause more than the occasional headache.” She gave a half smile which I didn’t share and then continued, averting her gaze.
“But they started getting worse. She’d have to lie down for a long time…and sometimes she’d even get woken up by a headache and end up getting sick in the bathroom. That’s when she decided to see a doctor. We thought it might have been migraines she was getting because of stress. But…but,” my mom cleared her throat, but seemed unable to continue. Her eyes grew watery. Even though she might have been putting on a show of appearing calm and strong, I could tell she was falling apart as well.
“They found a tumor in her brain,” my father supplied in a voice that didn’t quite sound like his own, hoarse and quiet. “They said…they said it’s malignant.”
My dad said something else then, but the only reason I knew that was because I could see his lips moving as I finally broke down into such heavy sobs that I even startled myself. I was hysterical from that point on. I just remember crying and screaming and crying some more as I fell to the ground in an inconsolable heap. I also remember Jiang falling to his knees beside me, trying to console me as my parents tried to comfort me, but that was all.
I barely knew what happened afterward.
And to be honest, I really didn’t care.
I woke up later curled under the covers of my bed, the lights off and the feel of a warm body next to mine. I shifted slightly to gaze at Jiang sleeping, his face peaceful, and for a moment I just laid there…not caring about the time, or how I’d gotten here…just listening to the soft, soothing sounds of Jiang’s breathing.
The house was quiet. It must have been late.
Attempting to make as little noise as possible, I slipped out of bed, my bare feet sinking into the carpeting. It was then that I realized I was in my pajamas. I hadn’t even remembered changing. Pushing this thought from my mind, I walked determinedly toward my sister’s bedroom. I just had to see her. To talk to her.
I knew Riley would be there, but I didn’t care.
Just as I was thinking this though, I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, soothing a small toddler in his arms. I paused, staring through the ajar nursery door, completely unable to speak. Chandler had grown so quickly. Why had I stayed away for so long?
As if sensing my presence, Riley glanced up and gave me the tiniest of smiles before nodding toward the door to their bedroom. He knew exactly why I was up. I responded with a small nod in return and then took a deep breath, turning and disappearing into their room. As soon as I saw Catherine lying in the bed curled up in a ball, tears sprung to my eyes again. It was the exact position I’d been found sleeping in just moments ago and it only served to remind me just how much I loved her. I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes and padded over to the bed, slipping underneath its covers and turning toward my twin.
“Catherine,” I whispered, the sound overly loud in the silence of the night. At first she didn’t stir, but as soon as I moved my hand to nudge her, her eyes opened. For a moment we just looked at each other, my eyes moist and her eyes shining…and then we both began to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” Catherine whispered shakily, clutching at the covers around her.
“What are you sorry for?” I asked. “This isn’t your fault.”
“I know. I just mean…for making you come back. I…I almost didn’t want to tell you. I knew you were having such an amazing time in China and everything was going so well for you and I just…I didn’t want to bother you,” she finished, sitting up.
I sat up as well, feeling suddenly annoyed. “Bother me? God Catherine, this isn’t a ‘bother.’ You should have told me the minute you even suspected something was up!” I hissed.
“I know, but…I mean…it’ll all be okay. I know it sounds really bad, but they caught it fairly early. I’ll go in for surgery soon to remove the tumor…maybe some radiation too or at least strong meds, depending, but…but it’s not that serious, considering.”
“It’s brain cancer! How could it not be serious!?” I asked hysterically. Had she gone completely INSANE? Catherine’s vividly green eyes filled with fresh tears as she met my gaze, her face pale. I wasn’t sure if she was pale because of my reaction, or because she felt ill. I forced myself to calm down and shakily reached out to touch a lock of her long, soft curly hair. That’s when I broke down into tears once again. Soon all of that hair would be gone. I couldn’t believe—no, no, no, noooo. Catherine must have noticed that I was falling apart though, because she took me into her arms, holding me close. I felt like I could barely breathe.
“You just have to have faith,” Catherine whispered, smoothing back my hair. “Please. For me.” I took a shuddering, painful breath and wiped my eyes, not feeling any better but suddenly feeling guilty that she was the one comforting me. Some sister I was. I opened my mouth to apologize, but closed it when Catherine suddenly spoke again. “Wait, is that a ring?” she asked, clearly trying to change the subject as she grabbed up my hand to get a closer look.
At first I found myself unable to even answer her simple question. The joy I had previously felt about getting married had turned to ash with the simple ring of a phone. It felt stupid to announce it now. Inappropriate. Evidently my silence said it all though, because suddenly Catherine was beaming.
“Tamara!” she cried, lifting her hand from my hair and looking as happy as I’d ever seen her. I didn’t understand. Couldn’t. I blinked, my eyes trailing to the ring on my finger, and then the huge smile on her face again. I raised my gaze to her eyes, which always gave away her inner thoughts. Instead of fear though, which is what I was expecting to see, I saw only a desperate plea. Please, Tamara. Just drop it.
And I tried to. I really did. I forced a smile, took a shuddering breath and began to stammer out a response. “Yeah. Jiang and I, we…we got married…just…just the other,” and then my throat tightened, and my stomach lurched, and suddenly I had the worst taste ever in my mouth…and then I was flying off the bed and running, running, running….
…all the way to the bathroom, where I heaved up my last meager meal (3 crackers and some water Jiang had forced me to consume on the plane) and felt like I would never be able to get up again.
I couldn’t- I didn’t-
I lost myself to my tears once more.
I’m not sure how long I was like that—constantly getting sick, crying, or just wandering around the house like a zombie. It got worse as the days grew closer to Catherine’s surgery, until finally the day arrived and I was torn between being a nervous wreck and catatonic. I’d woken up at 4 AM feeling nauseous and making multiple trips to the bathroom, until I was completely convinced that I’d die from dehydration…or at least be unable to accompany my family to the hospital. In fact, they even tried to get me to stay home, but one look from me and they hastily abandoned that argument.
It was the longest day of my life by far, but by the time evening rolled around, Catherine was in the recovery room, still knocked out, but very much alive and stable. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t leave that hospital the entire time Catherine was there. I refused to. Even when I wasn’t feeling well, I stuck it out. My argument to my family was that if I was feeling sick, there was no better place to be in but in a hospital. They stopped trying to convince me. Jiang stayed with me most of the time, but he often had to leave to attend to things overseas, or simply just get some more clean clothes for me, or actually sleep in a comfortable bed.
I had to admit, on those days when I felt horribly sick, a bed did sound nice, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave Catherine’s side, no matter how much she insisted that she “felt fine.”
The only time when I actually left her room was to go have some tests done. Catherine’s doctor wanted to check all of us for any signs of the same, considering we were all obviously closely related. It was an intelligent, safe thing to do of course, but I felt anxious the whole time I was away.
To say it was a relief when Catherine was finally released to return home was an understatement, even though it’d been less than a week that she was actually in the hospital. To celebrate, Riley took her out for a laid back picnic at the park. They didn’t come back until late, which stressed me out to no end, but as soon as I saw my sister, here, finally, I really didn’t care anymore.
As long as Catherine was okay, I was happy.
But that calm and relief was interrupted after just a couple of weeks when Catherine’s doctor, Dr. Slate, called with news. It was during a party to celebrate Laura and Andrew having found their own place—a studio where Laura could work on her paintings and Andrew, his sculptures. At first, they were going to delay their plans and stick around, but as soon as Catherine found out she had a stern talking with both of them, and now they’d be moving out within the week. So, of course, we had to do something to say our goodbyes, even though they’d be visiting often.
And actually the party had been a pretty good success with everyone in attendance. Daniel announced that his wife, Georgia, was pregnant and I actually felt more lighthearted than I had in days, but then there was the phone call. Again.
At first, everyone was afraid that a problem had been found with one of our samples, my heart jumping with fear for Daniel, Andrew, Laura, and Lynn, but no, the news was actually about Catherine.
“She’s what?” my dad asked, his face paling as he spoke into the phone. My heart dropped about 30 feet in my chest. “I see. …is there…err…is there anything that we can do?” My dad was quiet for several long moments, just making occasional ‘mmmhmm’ noises. “Okay…thank you. …yes, we’ll be in tomorrow. …I know. Okay. Thank you. Good- …hmm?” My dad got a funny look on his face and glanced over at me, causing a cold sweat to break across my skin.
“Oh? No, no she…she doesn’t know. T-…thanks.” I watched as a slight smile appeared on my dad’s face, but it quickly disappeared as it seemed another thought just as quickly took his focus. “Yes. Yes, I will. Okay. Goodbye.”
It seemed like it took forever for my dad to hang up the phone, but maybe it was because everything seemed to be going in slow motion at this point. “What did they say?” I asked anxiously, hands ringing. My family stood around me, equally as anxious, but there was probably no one else who looked as nervous as Catherine and Riley, who were sitting on the couch stiffly.
“Well?” Riley asked, looking as if he regretted letting my dad take the call.
“They said…they said that…” his voice trailed off for a moment and then his face twisted with fury and pain as he finally shouted, “DAMN IT!” and smacked the television with such intensity that I was sure the fragile bones of his hand must have shattered. “FUCK!” he cursed viciously, shocking all of us except perhaps my mom, who already had tears streaming down her face.
“It’s not completely gone, is it?” Catherine asked quietly, the knuckles on her hands white as she clutched Riley’s hand in hers.
“No,” my dad whispered hoarsely, shaking his head. “They said…they said it looks like it might be spreading. That that wasn’t the only tumor. They…they need to take more images.”
No, no…no god no this wasn’t happening no god, no, no, no.
This was a nightmare. It just had to be. Tears fell down Catherine’s face as Riley took her into his arms, pale and shaking, Dad looked shattered, Mom looked like she was about to collapse, and the rest of us just cried. There was nothing for anyone to do but cry.
“There was one other thing,” my dad finally whispered, although just toward me. It looked as if it were taking him great effort to speak.
“I don’t want to hear anything else!” I shrieked, feeling my grip on reality once again begin to loosen. “I can’t stand it! I can’t! I can’t!”
“Tamara,” murmured Jiang, reaching out to touch my arm.
“Tamara,” Dad said almost simultaneously, but much more firmly. I forced my own attention back to him, my eyes asking why. Why was he torturing us further? Wasn’t this enough?
“Your test results…they came out fine, the doctor said. It’s just…well. He said…you’re…he said you’re pregnant.”
The floor reached up to smack me over the head.
Behind you! Don’t you hear it?! It’s coming up behind you!
The sound of slow shuffling—old cloth dragging across ancient sandstone. Ragged, putrid breaths of the long dead. The hiss of the torchlight as its strength falters….
Turn around! What’s wrong with you? TURN AROUND!
Told you. We told you. You have to listen. Are you okay? Sleep. It’ll heal you…make you feel better. At least it didn’t curse you…could be worse. At least. At least.
“And you’re sure you weren’t cursed?”
“Yes, silly girl! Cursed! Mummies can do that you know. Do you feel alright? Not clammy or sick or anything, right? If so you’ll have to go…to the sphinx…yes…”
There’s things…things you don’t understand, Tamara. Don’t you see? You have to listen….
Listen to what?
I lay on the bathroom floor after puking my guts out for the umpteenth time, my skin cold and clammy, my body shivering. In addition to the nightmarish news that I had recently heard, now it seemed like I was having my own nightmares at night too. ….would it ever end?
You have to listen.
To what? God, I didn’t understand! I didn’t understand at all! My twin was dying and my parents were falling apart and my brother-in-law was inconsolable and Chandler was going to lose his mom and I was going to be a mom and god no, no, not right now, not right now. Please no, not right now!
If I had any moisture left in my body, I was sure I’d be crying right now.
Was any of this even supposed to make sense?
I groaned, getting off the bathroom tile and peeling off my pajamas. There was no way I’d get back to sleep now. I lumbered into the shower, turning the water up hot and reveling in the feel of it against my aching back. I breathed in steam and closed my eyes, willing myself to wash the dream away, but it just kept repeating itself, as if in slow motion. It wasn’t the first time I’d had this nightmare this week.
There’s things…things you don’t understand.
“Well obviously,” I muttered bitterly to myself as I scrubbed my hair with lilac-scented shampoo. The hot water and strong fragrances overwhelmed my senses. My muscles slowly began to relax.
I had no idea how long I’d been standing under the water, only getting jarred out of my thoughts when I heard the door to the bathroom open. I closed my eyes, waiting.
“You disappeared,” Jiang whispered into my ear, pulling the shower door shut behind him. His arms wrapped around my waist. “That dream again?”
“Just…everything,” I whispered, turning around to face him. My eyes stung, but it wasn’t from getting shampoo in them. I really was falling apart. “I don’t want to lose her,” I cried, hot tears burning a trail down my cheeks. “And I’m not ready to have a baby. Not here. Not now.”
“We’ll be fine. I promise,” he soothed quietly, but firmly. “And you won’t lose your sister.”
“How do you know?” I sobbed, crumbling into him. Jiang tightened his hold on me and kissed the top of my head. I loved how firmly he held me…as if he were holding the crumbling pieces of my very being together.
“Because she says so,” Jiang said with a small smile. “And if your sister is any bit as strong-willed and stubborn as you, there’s no way she’d let this overcome her.” I smiled slightly, but then frowned again as dark thoughts re-entered my mind. Jiang lathered up some soap and began washing me with it, attempting to massage away my tension.
“You should be in China,” I whispered, the thought suddenly floating into my mind. …as if I didn’t already have enough worries on my plate right now. “You have your own issues to deal with, and here I go dragging you into mine.”
“Being there won’t help much,” Jiang answered quietly, lathering my back with soap now. “The children are in school now…and I won’t see them anyway until their next break. …Besides, my place is with you…you and this baby,” he murmured, his soapy hands moving to my stomach. They faltered though, his own attempt at cheering himself up failing. The truth was he loved those children to death and being away from them was hurting him more than he let on. I turned around and wrapped my arms around him. The court had recognized that neither Jiang, nor Jiannan were unfit parents, but Jiannan was still granted the most time with them anyway. Another thing to feel horrible about.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, averting his gaze.
“It’s not your fault,” Jiang murmured, his soapy hands resuming their charted path. I kissed his chest softly, and he kissed my forehead. Closing my eyes, I tilted my head up to claim his lips, warm and wet from the running water of the shower. My heart began to race, but my throat still clenched painfully. So much was so wrong right now. Jiang carefully pinned me against the wall, his hands brushing over my stomach, lingering for a moment before moving around to my back…the heat and pressure of the water swept the suds away. I forced my nightmares out of my mind as I intensified the kiss between us. My arms wrapped around his neck…he lifted me up…and together we lost ourselves to the rivulets of steaming water, the scent of lilac, the feel of each other, and the exultant sound of our muffled gasps and cries.
Sometimes, for brief moments, we could both forget.
“‘Susan, Eve’s Daughter,’ said Father Christmas, ‘these are for you’,” and he handed her a bow and a quiver full of arrows and a little ivory horn. ‘You must use the bow only in great need’ he said, ‘for I do not want you to fight in the battle. It does not easily miss. And when you put the horn to your lips and blow it, then wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you,” I read in a low voice, trying to imitate what Father Christmas might sound like.
Chandler giggled, smiling up at me and moving his little arms to tell me to continue. I couldn’t help but give him a small smile in return and then began to read again—his favorite book: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I didn’t know if he understood much of it, but he always chose it whenever we asked what he’d like to hear.
“Last of all he said, ‘Lucy, Eve’s Daughter,’ and Lucy came forward. He gave her a little bottle and a small dagger. ‘In this bottle,’ he said, ‘is a medicine made from the juice of the fire-flowers that grow in the mountains of the sun. If you or any of your friends is hurt, a few drops will heal them. And the dagger is to-”
You have to listen.
I paused, my head suddenly hurting and my stomach swirling. Not again. “Hey…Auntie doesn’t feel so well. Can we continue tomorrow?” I asked quickly, setting the book down. Chandler frowned at me, but didn’t yell. He just looked confused. “Nightie, night, baby,” I murmured, leaning down to give him a quick kiss and then racing out of the room before he could protest.
Don’t you see?
I closed my eyes, resting my head against the cool tile of the wall as I waited to see whether my stomach was settled or not.
“In this bottle is a medicine made from the juice of the fire-flowers that grow in the mountains of the sun. If you or any of your friends is hurt, a few drops will heal them.”
My head felt so heavy. I felt so ill.
…collect something called “flame fruit.” It seemed to thrive off the intense heat of the tomb…it even felt warm to the touch….
…with growing fruits that looked like pears, only with strikingly white halos around them…this plant didn’t die on me though…unlike the other…which had a flower that I could have sworn had the face of a skull….
So off to the Nectary I went to sample as many different nectars as I possibly could….
“…a medicine made from the juice of the fire-flowers…if you or any of your friends is hurt, a few drops will heal them…”
My eyes snapped open. I knew what I had to do.
Taking a deep breath, I got up, damned all possible repercussions to hell, and then reached for my phone. It rang twice before it picked up.
“Hello? Yes…I’d like a ticket for your earliest flight to France.”