Drip Drop Teardrop - Chapter 11
She admitted it only that once and then pretended it had never happened.
Caroline had taken to sleeping longer in the mornings. The rain lashing against the windows outside were kind of a lullaby and Avery drew her aunt’s door closed, wishing she could keep her there forever. The apartment was cold, damp. Avery made herself some herbal tea and, feeling maudlin – but what was new, right – she pulled out Aunt Caroline’s photo albums and snuggled onto the sofa with a blanket. She’d chosen the album of all the photos when Caroline was younger. There were ones at college; the kind of photos that made you long for your own college experience. Somehow it was never quite as great as the photos made it seem. Caroline had had so many friends though. There were photos of her with a couple different guys over the years; all cute, sporty types. Avery’s hands trembled over the pictures of her aunt rock climbing. Biking. Rollerblading. Playing baseball. Ice skating at the Rockefeller Center. She was like an advertising campaign for LIFE.
Her chest tightened and Avery struggled to draw breath. She clutched at her t-shirt and gulped at the air, tears streaming down her face.
“Baby,” her Aunt Caroline’s soft voice called from behind her, but she couldn’t turn around. She felt her aunt’s warm body ease next to hers, her safe arms coming around her. Like a panicked dog abandoned at the side of the road, Avery pleaded with her aunt with her eyes. Caroline brushed her hair off her face. “Breathe, baby, breathe.”
She sucked in a deep lungful of air and the inhalation caught on a sob. She allowed herself to be pulled into her aunt’s chest and she soaked her with tears; an entire season’s worth of rainfall that had been weighing down the clouds for quite some time.
It’s Not Murder
it’s an Act of Faith
There was relief in admitting her grief to her Aunt Caroline. It was what Caroline needed from her, so she gave it. Somehow Avery managed to get through the funeral talks and financial discussions, holding herself together by the tips of her tremulous fingers.
It was weird… but she felt closer to her aunt than ever.
That was why, on club night, as Caroline watched Avery get ready from her perch on the sofa, her blankets all around her, the latest Charlaine Harris book in her lap, Avery unconsciously let her obsession take to the fore.
“Aunt Caroline?” She asked hesitantly as she pulled on some bangles.
“Did you ever date a bad boy?”
Caroline raised her eyebrows questioningly and smiled. “Should I know something I don’t?”
Avery blushed and shook her head. “No, just hypothetical.”
“Yeah right. How bad are we talkin’?” Her New York accent thickened with the query.
“Well what do you consider a bad boy?”
Caroline gave her a look but conceded the question. “I dunno. A bum. A cheat. A drug addict. An alcoholic. Abusive. Lazy. A commitment-phobe who pretends to be otherwise. A thief. A criminal… should I go on?”
Those were all the obvious, weren’t they? Avery stiffened, turning her back on Caroline as she pulled on her stilettoes. “What about… different?”
“Different? Different how?”
She shrugged, turning back around but not really looking at her. She fiddled with her earring nervously. “Maybe a little older?”
“How much older?” Caroline snapped up, showing a little of her old energy.
Avery grinned. “Not that much older. Early twenties.”
Caroline frowned. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“What if he had money? A lot of it.”
“Depends how he came by it.”
Caroline grunted, “Honest or not?”
“Well it’s not the best but it’s not a crime. Unless you like him for his money, then we have a problem.”
“No, no. No. But what if your friends thought he was kind of creepy because… he might not be the best looking guy in the world. What if he seemed kind of harsh and cold but he wasn’t always like that?”
Her aunt was watching her with narrowed, perceptive eyes. “What is he like?”
“Kind. Warm. Funny. Loving. Imperfect. Arrogant. Superior. But right…”
Caroline smiled slowly, her eyes suspiciously bright and shiny. “Then I’d tell my friends to go to hell.”
Avery felt the breath whoosh out of her body. “You would?”
“Avery… stop asking me what I would do.” Caroline shook her head. “I’m not going to be here, sweetheart, and you need to make your own mind up about things. Important things. And you need to do that without fearing something bad is going happen because it was your decision.”
Her aunt might as well have shot a steel pipe into her backbone. Avery stiffened and instead of crying like she thought she would, she felt heat. The heat of relief.
“I’d tell them to go to hell too,” she whispered.
Her aunt’s answer was a triumphant grin.
Now that her mind was made up, Avery couldn’t wait to get to the club. Surely Brennus would turn up this time. He had to be missing her as much as she missed him. And it wasn’t just him she missed. It was his weird, abstract world. It was fragmented. She was fragmented. But somehow it fit. She liked who she was in that world.
Sarah and Jemima kept tugging on her and asking her what was bugging her as she drew on to her tiptoes and tried to see over the crowds. She wanted to tell them but the truth was she knew they would never understand. Maybe they were still too young. Maybe life needed to happen to them more. Shrugging them off with a soft mysterious smile, Avery pushed through the dancing throng on the floor and swept the room for Brennus. Surely she would feel him if he was here. God, she wished he’d come. She wanted to dance with him so badly.
“Looking for someone?”
Avery whirled around, her heart stuck in her throat as she gazed up into the fiercely beautiful face of Anonna. “What are you doing here?”
Anonna sneered at her. “Correcting a mistake.”
Avery flinched as the woman reached for her, her slender fingers wrapping around Avery’s arm in a painful grip. The room blurred and spun around them and Avery stumbled out of the sensation and into a dank basement. Her heart was thumping so hard she felt sick.
“What do you want?” She backed away from Anonna. But the Ankou stalked her right into the cold brick of the basement wall. Her chilled hand slid up Avery’s throat, circling her neck gently but menacingly.
“I was going to let you live, you little fool,” she whispered, her eyes bright with anguish. “But you had to change your mind. You had to come to your senses…”
“How did you…?”
“I’ve been watching. Just in case. I knew you had to fall in love with him.” Her eyes brimmed with emotion, her lashes growing damp with tears. “He’s exquisite darkness.”
Remembering what Brennus had told her about this woman, Avery glared at her. “You didn’t used to think so.”
Anonna’s face sharpened. “I was a stupid, shallow mortal. I know what love is now. I know that you and Brennus can never be, because he and I are linked.”
Avery shook her head. “You’re wrong.”
“You think a silly little girl like you can have what we have? You can never understand Brennus like I do.” She wrenched back from Avery and Avery watched in confusion as Anonna turned, giving her, her back. And then she lifted the hem of her black shirt and drew it up so Avery could see her damaged flesh. Deep lashes, hundreds of them crossing over one another, marred Anonna’s pale flesh. The lines of those lashes reached down past the waistband of her trousers and Avery could only guess that her body was covered with them.
Anonna spun back around, her eyes black with hatred. “I gave myself to a man who brutalised me. Despite what I had done to him, Brennus came for me and saved me from that existence. That’s the kind of man he is.”
Avery crumpled inwards. “You really do love him.”
“Yes.” For a moment there only silence, and then a tear slid down Anonna’s cheek. “When I first saw him, I was thrilled that’d he be mine. Other girls, my so-called friends, had married old, fat, rich Roman men and still Papa had not arranged a marriage for me. Instead he took me away from Rome when I was fifteen. I despised Londinium; but soon I began to enjoy the superiority of my high birth among many of inferior origin. At first when Papa told me I’d be marrying a non-citizen I was furious, the other girls would have sneered at me behind my back, so happy to see my downfall. They’d always been jealous of me. But my husband was young and handsome and rich. I thought I loved him just because… we were beautiful together.” She shook her head, a bitter smile curving her lips. “And then he was attacked in the street by that mad man and I wasn’t even frightened that he could have been killed. All I cared about was the hideous scar that took my beautiful husband and replaced him with someone people didn’t want to look at. I hated the thought of him touching me. And Brennus… oh my sweet Brennus, he was so patient. And all the while he pandered to my selfishness I was sleeping with his father.”
“Why?” Avery asked hoarsely, trying to keep the anger out of her question.
Anonna shrugged pitifully. “Because… he looked very much like Brennus. The Brennus I wanted. Not the Brennus that was. And then I fell ill and I couldn’t remember what happened, only that I had awakened to find Brennus was gone. I was angry. Angry and relieved. I was a hateful person, Avery. Hateful. I made many more foolish mistakes after that. And one of them brought me to where I am now. By the time Brennus came to me and explained what he had done for me, who he was, I was so damaged by what had happened to me I would have gone anywhere to be away from that vile man I had given myself over to. So I became Ankou. Brennus didn’t just leave me to stumble through life as an Ankou. At first he visited with me, helped me come to terms with what had happened to me. With it came perfect clarity, and I could see past that scar and into the soul of a man who had given everything for me. It took dying for me to finally love Brennus the way he deserved.”
Avery could feel the waves of pain rushing and undulating out of Anonna and hated the pang of anguish she felt for her.
This woman wanted to take Brennus from her.
“I am sorry, Anonna,” she whispered, “But I think for Brennus, it’s a little too late.”
A strained silence fell between them until Anonna made an odd choking sound. “This is terrible.”
She shook her head, her light brown hair seeming black in the darkness of the basement. “You’re a sweet girl, Avery. It makes this so much worse.”
With the same intuition that had told her what Brennus was, Avery understood why Anonna had brought her to this basement; that there would be no talking her down.
The fear came back in air-crushing floods. “Anonna…”
Anonna shook her head. “He loves you. He’d choose you. I have to… I’m sorry.”
Avery had always imagined that if she found herself facing death she would be dignified. Stoic. Like Aunt Caroline. Chin up, eyes blazing with strength and resignation. That’s not the way it was. Avery was so scared her legs buckled and her chin trembled. Knowing you were going to die was terrifying. The helplessness was unbearable. She wasn’t ready. There was no peace. They lied. There was no peace.
“P-please,” she whimpered, shaking her head as tears streamed out of her eyes. “Please d-don’t,” her teeth chattered.
Anonna shook her head and looked away. “I love him.” The knife slid out of the sleeve of her shirt in a practiced motion.
“Oh god,” Avery beseeched, choking on hard sobs. Her legs gave way and she slid down the wall to the floor, watching as Anonna approached her slowly, the knife gripped hard in her hand.