Chapter 5: Suitors!
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
“The man we were told is our father is not your father.”
The shock from that statement causes me to drop my gaze, breaking my control over Agatha, who falls back into her chair. Agatha can’t be right. I mean, he’s our father.
But Agatha may be right. I don’t look like our father. For that matter, I don’t look like our mother, either. I sometimes used to wonder if I were adopted, until I considered the chances that my mother would adopt anyone else’s child.
Agatha interrupts my thinking. “Whew, sis, those eyes of yours, that’s a trip. Those things are dangerous.”
“Only because you let me,” I reply.
Agatha shakes her head. “No. From the instant you did whatever you do to get them going, I could not look away. For a moment, I knew I was losing control and couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it. It was frightening. It’s like you were stalking me. And then you had control.”
Interesting. But not as interesting as the other little matter you are trying to divert me from. “What do you mean, our father is not my father?”
Agatha thinks about that a bit before answering. “You know Mum likes men.” Agatha’s humor runs toward understatement.
“I’d caught on. Runs in the family, I guess.” Mine doesn’t.
Agatha lets that one go by. “Yeah, well, has she ever stuck with a guy for more than a year or two, excepting our dad, dear old Norman Derring?”
I review in my head. “No.”
Agatha looks me straight in the eye, thinks better of it, and looks a bit askew. “I think our dear ‘father’ was a beard Mum hid behind to conceal affairs she shouldn’t have been having. I don’t think he was your father. I don’t think he was my father, either.”
I chew that over. It would explain a few things. But . . . “Then who are our fathers?”
Agatha doesn’t answer at first. She gets up, walks around the yard a bit, sits down, and stares at me (although being careful to avoid direct eye contact), as if making up her mind how much of this she wants to tell me. Finally, she says, “I’d always kind of wondered what the truth was. Mum was cagey when I asked leading questions. ‘Dad’ of course was long gone, and good luck trying to find him. So I poked around, carefully. Not carefully enough. I got hauled before All-Father, who confirmed only that you and I did not have the same father, and ordered me in no uncertain terms not to discuss it with anyone.”
I understand. “No uncertain terms” means All-Father placed a spell on Agatha, compelling her never to talk about it. And that’s why she wanted me to take control of her mind, to override All-Father’s spell. “Why the hell is it his business?”
Agatha gives me a sad smile. “Remember I said incest runs in Mum’s family? Connect the dots, Daphne.”
Incest runs in the family. Mum must have committed incest. All-Father warned Agatha not to talk about it. All-Father is Mum’s father. The conclusion is obvious, but unthinkable. “You’re Mum’s child by All-Father?”
Agatha nods. “Inbreeding is not always a failure. Obviously, it’s not something either would want to acknowledge. Mum would be guilty of seducing All-Father, which would look like political meddling at the very least and would probably get her sanctioned by the Council, while All-Father’s marriage would blow up with horrible political repercussions. And there’s the incest angle, another nice scandal. But I’m pretty sure it’s true. Who do I look more like, Norman Derring or All-Father?”
That’s a no-brainer. But it’s the consequences that are enormous. “Then you’re not really a demigoddess at all. You’re a full-fledged goddess.”
“Which given the amount of power I have makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it, sis?” Agatha laughs. “Might even give me higher status than Mum. If my parentage gets out, I’ll be under enormous pressure to take a Council seat. And that is a headache I don’t need.”
Yeah, Agatha, that’s something I’ve never understood about you. Me, once the Council turned its back on me, I was happy to return the favor. But you’re popular and acknowledged to be unusually capable for a demigoddess. You could have political power if you want it. But you don’t. And if you’re actually All-Father’s daughter, you deserve power by every rule in the book. In fact, by not acknowledging you as his daughter, All-Father has cheated you of your rights. And yet I doubt you care at all about that.
So if Norman Derring isn’t Agatha’s father, then presumably he’s not mine, either. “Any idea about who my father might be?” I ask.
“That one I don’t know.” Agatha stares up into the sky. “It’s not Norman Derring, it’s not All-Father, and it’s probably nobody on the Council, but it’s someone whose role would cause a great deal of embarrassment.” She looks back at me. “At a guess? It’s one of the Exiles.”
And that opens a whole new can of worms if it’s true. Did Mum plot with All-Father’s enemies as well as have a child by him? Or did she somehow have access to Exile? I don’t know which is worse. And if I’m the daughter of an Exile, that makes me at least a demigoddess. So why am I so weak?
Seeing me thinking, Agatha pours herself another cup of coffee. I wave off a refill. She takes a sip and then says, “So, my dear Daphne, we may well embody all sorts of political conflicts among the gods, and no one wants us to know it. The obvious question this raises is whether the Council members pushing for your marriage know it. It would explain why your name was suddenly moved way up on the marriageable list.”
“Mum told me there had been some unanticipated deaths.”
Agatha is thoughtful before she responds. “Shit. Mum always was good at telling half the truth. Yeah, there have been some deaths. But you were jumped, sister. Someone wants you married off now that didn’t want it that way a few years ago.”
“I agree, not Mum. If she’s hidden your birth all these years, she doesn’t need anyone digging it up.”
And that, of course, explains why she’s been fighting to prevent my forced marriage: she doesn’t want my true parentage to come out. Pity, I was hoping it was just a regard for my welfare for a change.
We both sit there, contemplating the mess we’re in, or at least I’m in, with Agatha drinking coffee and me munching on a croissant. I have lived a normal human life since as far back as I can remember, with only occasional reminders that my mother is a goddess. True, that includes at least four times I was almost killed, which is abnormal in the United States unless firearms are involved. But I sense that my old life is now coming to an end, and I don’t even understand a lot of what might be going on.
I look over to Agatha.
“I’ve done my best to stay out of Council politics.” Agatha’s voice drops low and her look turns deadly serious. “But All-Father’s complicit in the lies about our parentage, and you can bet he’s not the only one. The Council owes us, or at least owes me, and if I have to go up against All-Father and take a Council seat for them to treat you straight, you just let me know.”
I’m touched. And a mite suspicious. Maybe it’s the paranoia I’m told afflicts people after they’ve been controlled by others, but Agatha’s offer doesn’t seem like her. As she says, she’s tried to stay out of politics. We’ve been close, despite the difference in our age, powers, and status. Normally, I’d trust my sister without reservation. Maybe she’s just honestly doing her sisterly duty as usual. Maybe she’s grateful I lifted All-Father’s spell and wants to go the extra mile for me. But maybe this is the job All-Father assigned her: being my trusted confidant.
I don’t know, and it makes me uneasy to think about it, so I drop the subject. We switch and talk about other matters, mostly about Agatha’s boys, who are living up to the Marshall family’s warlike nature. Our Mum arrives about a half hour later. She has my shoulder bag, intact, and all the clothes I discarded to have sex with Ed. Mum being Mum, she doesn’t comment on my one-night stand. But she tells me the Tarretti twins have been dealt with. How, she won’t say or doesn’t know. I doubt it was pleasant for them.
So far, so good. It’s the next topic she brings up that causes me a heartache. I’m supposed to get a list from the Council today, with the names and biographies of my suitors, and that I’m expected to date at least two of them every week until I decide. Left unstated is how long I have to decide. Mum is metaphorically grinding her teeth while she tells me all this. Whatever else she may be up to, she doesn’t like the Council interfering in my life. That’s comforting. Unless, as I now fear, the only reason is that she doesn’t want the secret of my parentage to get out. Which means there could be some ugly surprises down the road.
The list crops up in my e-mail just after seven. Twenty names, twenty bios. And a nice little note at the end of the list, telling me I should read the material carefully tonight, because my suitors will be able to call me up any time after 11 AM tomorrow to make a date. Oh, and that they’ll be given all my social media connections at the same time.
I don’t read the bios. Instead, I spend the evening scrubbing my social media. There’s very little to scrub, as it turns out. I don’t post nudie pictures, my selfies are innocuous, and the most sexual comment I’ve made to a lover in a place others could see it is a humorous reference to a giant-size vibrator. But it takes so long. I’m bushed at the end of the evening.
At one point in the night, I wake up from a dream in which I’ve pissed myself. It is only a dream.
The next morning is Monday. I have to get ready and go to work. When I get to the office, I rearrange my schedule to be free from 10:45 AM until after lunch. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but something even worse is going to hit me. Somehow I know it.
11:00:00: the number of my social media friends and followers jumps by 20 on all my accounts.
11:00:01: a previously unfamiliar person calls my mobile phone. His name is somehow already on my phone. I do not answer.
11:00:04: my office phone rings. I let it go to voicemail.
11:00:21: I get a text from another person I never knew before. I recognize this one. Yep, it’s from the list.
11:00:49: e-mail from a previously unknown person, presumably from the list.
11:01:17: my blog gets a comment from . . . you fill it in.
11:01:22: I leave my cubicle, and ask Monica if she wants to go get an early lunch with me.
11:08:17: I dodge a previously unknown male on the street outside the building by hitting him with my portfolio case.
11:26:19: an unfamiliar man claiming to be my old friend tries to sit with Monica and me in the restaurant. I suggest he go take his meds and then threaten to scream for help.
12:02:09: an unfamiliar man who tries to address me as I come out of the ladies room receives a vicious kick in the shins.
12:21:14: I come back to my cubicle to find six people have sent me flowers, and I have so much voicemail my phone is rejecting any more messages.
12:47:36: the delivery boy drops off three boxes of chocolates.
14:08:08: the office coffee break takes place at my cubicle, where everyone is helping themselves to chocolates.
16:17:56: a fruit basket arrives.
17:39:12: I use the pineapple in the fruit basket to drive off an unwanted admirer on the subway as I ride home.
I open my apartment door, drop everything on the chair, and fall onto the sofa. I am exhausted, annoyed, irritable, and ready to kill. And those are my positive qualities.
I look over across the room. There is an unfamiliar man sitting in the easy chair. He’s got coffee-colored skin, long hair pulled back into a braid of some sort, and wearing a dark blue business suit which somehow simultaneously looks good on him while definitely not being his usual style. He lights up when I look at him. “Rough day?” he asks. “Too many unwanted suitors making demands on your time?
“Oh, I think I can work up enough energy to get rid of one more,” I reply.
“Girl, you got it all wrong. I’m not one of the guys on the list. I’m here to make your life easier. Tell me what you want for dinner, and I’ll either make it or order out for it, your choice. I’ll even go buy the groceries, if I need to, just so you get what you want.”
“And if I tell you I want you to remove your presence to a nearby landfill?”
“I’ll do that afterward. But what is your problem, girl? Here you have me, your servant for the evening. You, too, can follow in the steps of rich white folk the world over and just sit back and make me do all the work for the evening. And you can watch me sneak into a nearby landfill afterwards, just to obey your orders. Life don’t get better than this.”
I’m not sure whether to laugh or punch this guy in the face. It’s the first time in my life a man has showed up and tried to befriend me by implicitly accusing me of being a racist. But I’m too tired to deal with this nonsense, whatever it is. So I say, “Okay, first test: get me a glass of an excellent Chilean white. Australian will do. But it has to be first-rate, or you dive into that landfill ahead of schedule.”
He smiles. “May I have some, too?”
I offer a negligent wave of the hand. “Fine. Sure. You can even try to get me drunk and seduce me. But if we run out of wine and I’m not satisfied, it’s the landfill for you.”
“Hot damn!” He stands up. “Pardon me while I change into my sommelier’s outfit.” He disappears in the direction of my bathroom.
Looking in the direction he vanished, I shake my head in wonder. If he’s one of my suitors, he’s insane. If he’s not one of my suitors, then who the hell is he?