In this excerpt from Chapter 6 of Kate’s current work-in-progress Eidolon, two rival families settle in for a cozy meal. But in such a charged atmosphere, what buried scandal might emerge?
By the time I descend, voices carry from the front room. Miccolo and Erina Drezda have arrived and exchange aloof pleasantries with my parents. The conversation might take place in an oversized freezer for all the warmth in the room. The Drezdas typically occupy a political stance opposite of my parents, and rumors point toward Miccolo running for president in the next election.
If word of this meeting gets out, those rumors will only mushroom.
I linger in the hall, reluctant to join the frigid gathering. The bell announces more arrivals: Jen and Dima, with Kiran on their heels. My sister has changed her casual clothes to a stylish blouse and slacks, her hair pulled high so that her undercut reveals her writhing scar in all its glory. Her husband, polished in a dress shirt and pants, helps her remove her jacket as though he’s always lived such a refined life. Kiran, too, has exchanged his ratty shirt for a button-up, though his jacket and pants are the same.
He moves toward the front room but stops short. His face contorts. “What are they doing here?”
“Hello, son,” says Mr. Drezda, who then turns his back and looks out the window like a king surveying his country.
Kiran whirls on my sister. “You never said they were coming.”
“I wasn’t told,” she replies, and she looks to my parents for an explanation.
Mom twitters. Dad motions toward the dining room. “Dinner’s ready. Shall we go in?”
Kiran opens his mouth to protest, but his mother latches onto his arm and smiles up at him. “You’re looking well,” she murmurs, which nicely shuts him up. He allows her to lead him to the table.
No one even bothered to check that I was here. I file into the room last of all, hardly a matter of notice, and settle between Miccolo and Dima for what might be the most awkward dinner I’ve ever attended.
We have full service from the presidential staff. The attendants have barely finished ladling soup into our bowls when Kiran bursts.
“What are you two scheming?”
His father clicks a rebuke and glances toward the retreating help.
“I don’t care if people overhear. What do you want?”
Miccolo lifts his spoon toward his mouth, one elegant eyebrow raised. “Is it too much for a pair of anxious parents to check on their wayward son?”
The scoff that cuts from Kiran’s throat effectively communicates his feelings. He flips away his own spoon and slouches back in his chair. Jen and her husband both sip their soup, their eyes alert.
Erina leans close to her son and whispers, “Let’s have a pleasant evening, shall we?” She focuses her attention on her food then and leaves him to sulk.
Across the table his eyes meet mine, and his face twists into a sneer. With a huff he sits up and starts into his first course. His father introduces a political topic, and Dad responds, and they talk back and forth while the rest of us eat in silence.
A passing observer might mistake it for a pleasant night.
By the time the main course comes around, Miccolo and Dad have run into a philosophical standoff. Dad shifts the conversation elsewhere. “How are your tests going, Tana?”
So he’s been paying as much attention as Mom. I fix a tight smile to my face. “I’m done.”
“And you soared through them, I’m sure. Tana was always a quick study,” he says to the Drezdas.
Kiran snorts. In the wake of this ungraceful response, his mother leans toward me. “Have you recovered from your difficulties, then, now that your sister is back safe and sound?”
My spine straightens. I fight the urge to glance at Jen. In my periphery, she reaches for her long-stemmed water glass and takes a sip.
“I’m fine,” I say, forcing an upward curve to my mouth.
Erina hums, as though my sudden stiffness amuses her. “Everyone was so worried about you, dear. And of course we worried about Anjeni as well.”
Jen, her water glass still aloft, meets the woman’s gaze with a flat stare. The livid scar proves too much for Erina Drezda. A dark blush floods her cheeks as she averts her eyes to her plate.
Miccolo addresses my sister. “Rumor has it you won’t tell anyone about your little adventure.”
“Precious things become trivial when discussed among strangers,” Jen says. My mother unsuccessfully attempts to catch her eye, doubtless to warn her to civility.
But Jen is civil, despite the inherent set-down in her words.
Dad taps his fingers against the tablecloth. With a wry smile he asks, “You rank your own parents as strangers, Jen?”
“You can’t expect your children to tell you everything.”
Dread plunges through me at the hidden barb. Jen glances toward me, meets my gaze, and glances away again, her expression unreadable. Surely she wouldn’t expose me here. I force a breath into my lungs.
“She hasn’t told even you, Rayvi?” Miccolo asks across the table. “If a child of mine disappeared for a year and a half, I’d insist on a complete explanation.”
“A child of yours can’t disappear,” Kiran says. “You keep freakish track of all of us.”
His mother tuts, and his father arches a brow in silent rebuke.
“You should try the Eternity Gate,” Jen says as she lifts a bite of greens to her mouth.
My parents both hiss and the Drezdas bristle. Dad issues a swift rebuke. “The Gate is off-limits to everyone. It’s dangerous and unpredictable.”
“Then why haven’t you torn it down?” Jen asks.
His expression turns squeamish. It’s a national monument, far older than Helenia itself. The public outcry would obliterate the legacy of any politician who undertook its destruction.
Kiran leans forward with an eager light in his eyes. “How did you activate it?”
“You don’t need to know any such thing,” says his father quickly.
Jen ignores the hint. “I didn’t. It activated on its own.”
A satisfied grunt escapes Kiran’s throat. “And you just waltzed right through.”
“Hardly,” she says. I clench the napkin in my lap, but she doesn’t even glance my direction.
“Let’s talk about something else,” says my dad, his voice tight. “Tana, what classes are you taking when the next semester starts?”
As if my only purpose is to act as a conversational distraction. “I haven’t decided.” I keep my focus on my hands, wringing my napkin like a wet sponge. My heartbeat pounds in my ears.
“I’d much rather hear about how Jen passed through a portal to another world,” says Kiran.
I snap my eyes up to his face, but he’s not looking at me. Instead he lolls in his chair with a lazy smile upon his lips. My sudden movement catches his attention, though. A furrow wrinkles his brows.
“We’re not discussing it,” Dad says, his voice as hard as stone. “She’s returned, so there’s no point in dwelling on how she left.”
The thud in my ears escalates. Jen studies him with a curious frown. My dad’s gaze flits toward me and away again, and that telling movement plunges my soul into a sea of ice water.
He knows. Somehow, he knows. Did she tell him? Did she give a full report, and he’s played it close to the vest this whole time?
Kiran, ever a troublemaker, presses the issue. “There’s no point in discussing anything else. Aren’t you at least curious, Tana?”
My breath hitches. Does he know as well? Jen must have told him while he sparred with Dima, and they all sneered at me and laughed at my downfall afterward, and—
“She’s not curious,” Dad says. “None of us is.”
Miccolo Drezda smells blood, a family scandal he can use for political gain. “I’m curious. Why do you keep the story to yourself, Anjeni?”
She drags her fork across her plate. “Because it’s not my story to tell. It never was.”
I jerk in my chair. Jen doesn’t look at me, but everyone else hones in on the reaction. Kiran opens his mouth, but I fling away from the table. “I have to use the bathroom,” I blurt. Before anyone can question me, I bolt.
The first book, Namesake, is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.