Family Life – Rituals

We took the subway to Brooklyn. Jason had gone to school with me since we were five years old, but his family was old school Southern. They owned a piece of land down home that provided fresh food to the Apex Unlimited compound and their other subsidiary businesses. They weren’t farmers who struggled – they were rich and well off and they had a large family and tons of employees.

He went home every holiday we had off and he drug me with him occasionally. The first time he’d asked me, we weren’t even friends – his parents made him.

Mrs. Hill was helping Jace pack the last of his things for winter break. And she asked, “You going anywhere for the holiday’s Nox?”

I shook my head no. “No, ma’am.”

Jason said in sing song, “He doesn’t have a family,” making fun of me.

Mrs. Hill gasped. “No family? Really?”

I only shrugged. I didn’t care. I was five, and I was still hoping my mother would decide I could come home, but she’d not responded to any of Dorian’s queries and I stayed at the Academy while everyone else was home with their folks, even if their folks lived in the same building they would be upstairs with them. But not me. I had no family. Mrs. Hill took pity on me. “Pack your things then, Nox. You are coming home with us.”

Jason groaned. But I knew better than to disobey. Obedience had been beaten into me since my first days there.

I went home with Jace and his family. At first Jace and I hated each other, we only hung out because his mother would mention it otherwise. I was more than happy to sit with my nose in a book or working on my control of the elements. But she insisted I have fun with Jace. And after awhile we became good friends. It took time away from other boys to find out we had a lot in common, and that we liked each other.

But Jace was a family guy. He wanted the whole deal – wife, kids, house and a white picket fence. And he had all of that in Brooklyn including the white picket fence and an in-ground swimming pool. Naya, their 9-month-old daughter, would be the highlight of my stay with them. I hadn’t seen her since her birth. Just so busy that I hadn’t got time to spend time with her or them.

So for my birthday they promised to take me out, if I promised to come home with them and cook breakfast on top of it. The whole family package except it wasn’t my family. One day we’d be able to do both our families together, but that required me to settle down or at least find a girl willing to make babies with me. I’d be happy even as a single parent, I don’t know if I could handle the stress alone, but I have help.

Once we were in Brooklyn, Jace drove his black SUV from the train station to their house. They lived in a tight neighborhood with a bunch of two story brownstones. A white picket fence surrounded his yard and was much larger than most houses in the neighborhood. He’d been smart and bought two properties and ripped them both down to build what he wanted including the in ground pool in their back yard. It looked out place in this Brooklyn neighborhood, but the Hill’s were a popular family with all their weekend pool parties in the summer.

Mia unlocked the door and a short brunette stepped out of the kitchen carrying a small fussing bundle with brown hair sticking up out of the blanket. “Hey, sweet thang. I missed you,” I said as I took the baby from their babysitter without asking. She squawked at me. “Hey! What the hell…”

Mia laughed. “It’s okay. Lynn this is Nox, he’s Naya’s godfather.” Which was as close as the human terms came to what I was to Naya, we called it pareses. If anything happened to Jace and Mia, I would become their children’s guardian but it was much more than that and hard to explain.

The little teenager stared at me as I lifted Naya above my head and the baby giggled. “Hey, baby.” I danced around their living room with the sweet little baby. I could feel the eyes of the teenager girl on me. When I looked up, I grinned at her and Mia frowned while she whisked her off to the front door.

Jace laughed. “You’ll flirt with anyone.”

I grinned down at Naya cradled down in my arms, “I only got eyes for you, baby.”

Mia came back in. “That’s not what you said earlier. Your blue-eyed mystery boy?” Mia giggled behind her hand.

I sat down on their faux leather couch with Naya in my arms. “Yes, Naya. There was this beautiful man with bright sapphire blue eyes.” I kissed her cheek and nuzzled my nose against her and she cooed back at me. “He gave me his number and I might actually call him.” I picked her up over my head and leaned back against the couch. She giggled. “What do you think of that?”

Mia sat down next to me. “I think, if you don’t mind me saying. I think you should call him. He was cute.”

I nodded. “He was.”

Mia smiled at me cuddling with her daughter. “You will be such a great dad. Naya loves you so much.”

“I love her so much.” My voice dropped into that baby talk voice. “I can’t wait to have my own.”

“I saw Dr. Silas bothering you. She your progeny agent?”

“I nodded. Yeah she apparently knows nothing about me. Hasn’t ready any of my files or spoken to anyone who knows me. We could have talked months earlier if she’d just scheduled an appointment like everyone else.”

“Nox, would you like me to schedule that appointment for you?” Mia put her hand on my knee. “I will let her know when I see her in the morning.”

“Why the hell not.” I said with a sigh, I didn’t want to talk about how ineligible I was or the fact I liked men or even I was half human, but it was all going to be a factor in everything this lady wanted. My obligation to have children is only a chore because I’m on a timeline. Being Venatori isn’t always a good thing.

Jace stood in front of me holding his arms out as if I would give him his child. I looked up at him with a grim smile and he pouted. “Aw, come on man. She has to go to bed. Don’t steal my one thing from me.”

“Your one thing? You mean this is the only time you help Mia out?”

Jace stammered, “Well, uh. No, but dude this is my baby time. Mine!”

I handed the small bundle of joy over to her father. “Fine. I guess I don’t want to change diapers just yet.” I stuck my tongue out at him as he did the same. Yes, we were childish, and we both loved it.

Mia giggled as she got up. “I’m going to grab a shower. You go swim and join us in the big bed Nox. We already discussed it. You sleep better when someone’s with you and you’ve not had anyone with you in a while. Call it a birthday gift, if you want, but you are staying in our bed tonight.”

“Yes ma’am.” I agreed reluctantly, which meant that Jace and Mia would sacrifice their comfort for mine tonight. Not what I came out here for but I wouldn’t argue with my hostess as she was getting ready for bed.

I stood up from the couch to do my thing. I changed into swim trunks in the small golden half bath off the living room. I stared at my self in the small mirror above the sink and sighed. Why did I do this if I wanted to be a serious candidate for fatherhood? Why did I still act the child? Honestly, I did what I did because I’d always done it. I didn’t know how to be anything more than what I am. And while I like to spend time alone in the comfort of my home or my family’s home, because that is what Jace’s family was. I still enjoyed being the guy everyone else knew me as. They say fake it till you make it. I think I made it. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I like who I am, and there is no doctor in the world who will change that.

I pushed away from the sink after removing the eyeliner now instead of later and I headed for the kitchen. The house was quiet and the moment I opened the sliding glass doors to the back yard in the kitchen I could hear the busyness of Brooklyn at night. It was still scorching out, but I was going swimming so it didn’t matter. The ground was rough against the soles of my feet but the water was refreshing.

I waded into the pool and then swam laps across the length of it. It wasn’t a huge pool, and it was only a few strokes long, but it was the perfect full body work out. It was the best feeling in the world focusing on one thing – the only thing that mattered in that moment was making each movement count. Pushing through the pain as I grew tired, I finished the allotted number of laps across the pool.

By the time I finished an hour had passed and my arms and legs both felt like jelly. I floated on my back staring up at the stars you could barely see with the city lights. I knew there were more up there. I’d see more in my life time. It was one of few memories I had of my mother that were good.

We sat outside our cabin high in the Rocky mountains laying on a large rock staring up at the stars. I was almost five then, we’d sit looking for shapes in the stars like we did with the clouds in the daytime sky. My mom tried to show me the big dipper, and other real constellations but I couldn’t see what she saw. So we made up our own. It was a good memory, and I pushed it away as I climbed out of the pool. My mother had hated me in the end, the memory was not worth remembering.

I grabbed my towel and dried off as I walked into the house. Everything was dark, the light were all out, Mia and Jace had gone to bed while I swam. I smiled as I pulled a dry pair of boxers and a t-shirt from my bag of clothes Jace always kept around. I could have a permanent room here if I wanted one, but I didn’t want to intrude. And besides they needed both rooms if they would have two kids in the future.

It wasn’t the first time I’d slept on the couch, and it wouldn’t be the last. It was almost my second home, and it was better than sleeping on the ground. There were pillows and blankets laying on the edge of the couch like Mia knew I wouldn’t come to bed. I hope she understood.

As I lay staring at the ceiling willing myself to sleep I knew the nightmares would come the moment I closed my eyes. It was a chore just to sleep to put myself at the mercy of my mind. But the body required sleep, so I forced my eyes closed and I began the soft rhythmic breathing I used for yoga. As my breathing and heart rate slowed, I counted – focusing on nothing but breathing and the numbers. It took effort to not let your mind wander in the depths of the darkness. The darkness swept me away into the expanse of my own mind.

The Last Phoenix (in order)

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