“I want to understand, Mahmen,” she continued. “You have a story to tell, I know this. And I want to know what it is, from you, and I want you to know that whatever it is, I accept it. You had your reasons for doing what you did, but you have to come back to us so I can know them from you. You have to… come back to us so you and I can be as we were.”
Focusing on the closed eyes, she had no idea what to expect as she fell silent.
No, that was not exactly true. She knew what she wanted. She wanted the female to wake up, start breathing on her own, and resume life. Resume all their lives. Continue into the future that Therese had once taken for granted, but would no longer.
When nothing happened, when there was no response at all nor any recognition, Therese took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, Mahmen.”
And… that was how it went. They sat like that, on their vigil, with the machines beeping and staff coming and going silently, for God only knew how long. Every once in a while, Therese would repeat what she’d said in some form or another, or her father would tell an anecdote—like about the time Gareth had tried to paint the outside of the house as a Mother’s Day present—or Gareth would stand up and pace in front of the glass wall that faced the rest of the ICU.
As there continued to be no change, time took on a surreal, elastic quality. Therese couldn’t decide whether it was crawling… or flying… and that was because it was seeming to do both at once—
Except then, without warning, the scent of something absolutely not antiseptic in the slightest drifted into the room. And a second later, Trez appeared on the far side of the glass, a bunch of paper bags in his arms.
Therese smiled, her heart lifting in her chest. And as her father and her brother looked up, both males rose to their feet and Trez bowed out of respect.
“Is that…” her father started.
“Yup,” Therese said as she patted the hand she had been holding. “Dinner has arrived, Mahmen. I wish you would join us. It’s very good Italian, your favorite.”
“They won’t let us eat in here,” Gareth said. “But just outside there’s another sitting area. Right next door.”
“The family waiting room,” her father murmured as he sized up Trez.
“Come join us, Mahmen.” Therese got up out of her chair and leaned forward, smoothing back the graying hair from the pale, drawn face that was breaking everyone’s heart. “We’ll be just in the next room if you need us, and we’ll return very soon.”
The three of them walked out, and Therese stood up on her tiptoes to kiss Trez. As she put her lips to his, he seemed to stiffen, but then again, he hadn’t been properly introduced.
“This is my father, Rosengareth the elder,” she announced, stepping back. “Dad, this is Trez.”
“Quite a feast you have there,” her father said as he nodded at the bags.
“My brother made it especially for your family.” Trez transferred the bundles to one hand and put out his dagger palm. Switching to the Old Language, he said, “Sire, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Her father seemed dumbfounded by the manners. But then he snapped to it and shook what was offered. “And I, yours.”
“I told them all about you,” Therese said. “Mahmen as well.”
Trez cleared his throat and looked like he wanted to loosen the already unbuttoned collar of his silk shirt. Yeeeeaaaah, nothing like meeting the family under these circumstances.
“To the waiting room?” he said, indicating an open doorway.
“Right this way.” Therese took a bag from him. “Let’s try and eat before this gets cold. And then I’ll take you in to meet Mahmen.”
The family waiting room had no door, but plenty of space and lots of chairs to pull around a desk-like table in the corner. As Therese dove into the paper bags, she recognized the dishes that iAm served his best customers—and she thought about him turning on his stove just for them.
“Will you please thank Chef for us?” she said as she passed around the paper plates.
“I will,” Trez murmured.
There were a variety of containers with foil tops, and they ate family-style, sharing the servings of pasta with different sauces and meats, as well as a great selection of desserts.
“So, Trez,” her father asked between mouthfuls. “What do you do for a living?”
* * *
Across the makeshift dining table, Trez nearly choked on his chicken parm. God… how to answer that to anyone’s father? Probably best not to lead with pimp. Drug facilitator. Former skull cracker.
“I’m in… entertainment.”
“He has a club,” Therese said as she wiped her mouth with a paper napkin. “But it’s totally legitimate.”
Mostly legitimate, he tacked on to himself.
Okay, fine. Mostly illegitimate. But in a decent way. It wasn’t like he got aggressive as long as everyone followed the rules. And hey, there had only been one shooting there. Well, this calendar year, at least—twelve whole months!
“I’m thinking about getting out of the business,” he blurted
As he heard the words come out of his mouth, he surprised himself. Because it was true. But what the hell was his B plan? And weren’t fresh widowers discouraged from making big relocations and decisions during the first twelve months after the death?
Whatever, he thought.
Sitting back, he found himself starting to talk. “I want to do something different. I’ve been in the same…” Rut. “…business, you know, for a while. And I think it’s time for a change.”
Rosen, as Therese’s father went by, leaned in. “What are you thinking about?”
The older male was hard to look at, and not because he was ugly. Or mean. Or in any way unworthy. Instead, Therese’s father was the kind of steady, strong, humble person that you instinctively knew you could trust with your taxes. Your house. Your kids and your dog.
“I want to go back to school.”
“Education is very important. I’ve told my kids that all along.” As both Therese and her brother nodded, the male smiled. “I never had much, but I’ve lived an honest life and gotten both of these two through college without leaving them with any debt. Larisse and I put our money into them, and it’s the best investment we could ever have made.”
See, Trez thought. His instincts about the guy were right.
Gareth spoke up. “I’m going back to school, too.”
“You are?” Therese asked.
“I’m going to learn human law. There’s an executive program at the University of Chicago. I figure the race needs people who understand how that side of things work.”
Trez spoke up. “I think that’s a great idea. I’ve had to use some non-species attorneys for real estate purchases, and it’s a pain. I would have felt much better with one of us. Hey, you know, you should talk to Saxton, the King’s solicitor. He could really help you—and maybe get you an internship at the Audience… um, House?”
He stopped talking. The three of them were looking at him with wide eyes.
“You’ve been to the Audience House?” Gareth asked. “Holy shit.”
“Watch your language, son,” Rosen mumbled. “Ah… have you met the King?”
“I live with him—”
As all three started coughing into napkins, Trez thought, Well, crap.
Therese’s shock might have been comical. Except it was not. It was yet another reminder of how little they knew about each other.
“I guess I didn’t mention that, huh,” he said to her. “It’s not a big deal, though.”
“It’s not a big deal?” she said. “That you live with—with the First Family?”
“I’m moving out, though. Into that house I rented.”
Again, this was news to him. But hey, this was a surprise party for everyone, so to speak. So he might as well get in on the fun.
But yes, he thought. He was going to move out, and he was going to give the club over to Xhex. And then he had no idea what he was going to do with himself, other than the fact that he wanted to learn things. He wanted… textbooks to study, and tests to take, and things he had to focus on instead of what he had lost.
Surely school was like that? He’d never been to a formal one before. And he was smart. Anything he read he retained, and he liked words on paper. Hell, maybe he could take a page out of Gareth’s proverbial book.
Whatever he decided to do, however, he knew it had to be a fresh start. A new life. A new… way of operating.
And hey, at least he wasn’t suicidal. And with a niece on the way, a nice little house, and an open horizon? Things could be so much worse—
A nurse appeared in between the jambs. “Family, you’re going to want to come into Larisse’s room. Right now.”
As the four of them jumped up, Trez took Therese’s hand without thinking about it. But she was not going in there without him, that was for sure.
He was going to be by her side for what came next. God knew, he had plenty of experience with death.
Therese didn’t remember much about the race to her mahmen’s patient room. But she knew she had Trez’s hand, and was so grateful he was with her. Even though he was a new addition to her life, she needed his support. And he was there for her, their eyes meeting just as they ripped open the glass door and—
“Larisse?” her father cried.
Oh, God, she was—
Therese stopped dead such that her brother slammed into the back of her and nearly knocked her over. Except… wait, was she seeing this right? Were her mahmen’s eyes open?
“Larisse!” her father said as he threw himself down on the bedside. “My love!”
The nurse smiled. “Her vitals are stronger than they’ve been since she’s come to us. She’s back. And we’re going to give her a little time, but if things stay like this, we’ll try her breathing on her own.”