Chapter 2: Nothing More
Darkness was already creeping in when Nanna finally served dinner. The candles she had put on the big oak dining table cast the room in a gentle, shimmering light. A vague smell of honey was floating through the air.
Nanna, who was carrying a silver tray full of lamb meat, turned around as the glass sliding door to the salon opened quietly.
"Ah," she said when she saw Ceri. "You're just right, cherie. Can you please call for dinner?"
The blond girl nodded and took the leather mallet hanging next to a Tibetan gong on the wall. Seconds later, the metallic sound was ringing throughout the whole mansion. When it ebbed away and they could once again talk without raising their voices, Ceri turned around and sniffed.
"That smells delicious. What is it?"
"Moroccan lamb in honey sauce and vanilla pudding with fresh strawberries for dessert. Can you get the salad, please?"
Guests always seemed to think it odd that multi-millionaires kept just one steady household employee. Sure, they engaged a cleaning company on the weekends and after big events, but that was about it. Normally, the kids gave Nanna a helping hand when all the household chores became a little too much for the sprightly, older lady.
As Ceri returned with the stained-glass bowl she asked, "Do we have enough? Dani, Luca and, eh, Damien, I think, Lio's friends want to stay for dinner."
Nanna arranged the cutlery. "Bien sure. If they're clean then I have quelque chose to stuff these black holes with. Provided they have called their parents."
Ceri smiled. "I tossed them into the bath. Lio knows that we won't be going to the park tomorrow if they aren't clean when they get out."
It was a tradition for Lio and her to visit one of the city parks on the weekend, just the two of them. Sometimes they played ball or watched the animals in the little zoo or just talk. Lio loved these moments when the older girl, who was more of a mother figure to him than anything else, took time to concentrate just on him.
Ceri, meanwhile, had learned to take advantage of this from time to time when he was acting stubborn.
"Shall I go get Dee?"
"Non, non. She is with Caden, he will bring her down eventually." She paused while she lit a few more candles. "He is especially quiet, today."
Ceri noticed that Annelie looked at her from the corner of her eye. She didn't know why but suddenly she felt abashed. As if she had to excuse Caden's reclusive behaviour.
"He is angry at me."
"Ah, cherie. Because of your accident?"
Ceri shrugged. "I think so. Nanna, I just don't understand him."
Her Nanna sighed. "Who does, these days? You have to be patient with him, cherie."
"That's what you always say."
Nanna patted her protege's cheek. "And I am always right. And now fetch me those glasses, s'il-te-plais."
Dale Adams put his glass down with an audible thump.
Instantly, the room grew quiet, even Lio's friends, who had been chatting noisily with each other, closed their mouths and looked at the unquestioned head of this unconventional family with wide eyes.
"Should I ask what happened or must I force you separately to spill the beans?"
Dale slowly raised his already greying eyebrows when no one answered.
"Would you be so kind to explain to me why I got a call from my insurance company due to, I quote, 'tires worn beyond recognition' less than half an hour ago?"
Caden made a sarcastic sound which reminded Ceri of an oddly mutilated laugh. Dale looked at him, irritated, but the boy just shook his head with an amused expression on his face.
Ceri swallowed hard. "I might have had an accident?"
"An accident? Is that what I'm supposed to tell the insurance company?"
"Like it fucking matters what you tell them." That was Caden. "They just want your money. They don't care what actually happened."
"Caden!" Alexander Morrow sent a disapproving glance in his son's direction. "Watch your mouth, there are children at the table."
Caden's face clouded over and he bent down to Delilah, who sat next to him in her high chair staring at him with big, round eyes. He whispered something to her and she raised her small, chubby fists to put them over her ears. Caden tousled her hair.
"Good girl. Lio, Luca, Dani, Damien cover your ears."
"What?" protested Lio, who didn't like that idea at all – after all he was already seven and not a little kid anymore. "Why?"
Caden's eyes narrowed into slits. "Do what I say."
Helplessly, Lio turned to Ceri, but she just shook her head.
"Just do what he says, honey."
"But this is stupid," Lio huffed, "I'll hear everything, anyway."
She narrowed her eyes at him, though he did have a point. "Lio."
Still frowning he slammed his hands over his ears and slummed down in his seat. Giggling among themselves, his friends copied his actions only seconds later.
Caden leaned back. "I'm all ears, Father. What do you have to say?"
Instead of Lex, it was Dale who answered. "As much as you're spoiling for a fight, Caden, this is not between Lex and you, but between Cerilia and I. The way I see it," he turned towards his daughter, "you're pale and quieter than usual, Caden is acting up and I get a call from my insurance company. Either one of you tells me what happened this time 'round, or I have to employ more drastic measures than lowering your allowance." His eyed became hard as stone. "I'm quite fed up with your 'accidents,' Cerilia."
"So what?" Caden's voice had a hard edge and his eyes were black as night. "She almost died, that's what happened. And all that you care about is that damn insurance company!"
"Caden!" Ceri stared at him. "You promised not to…"
He glared at her. "I didn't promise anything and stop trying to protect every-fucking-body. I've had enough of this."
His chair shook and almost fell over as he stood up abruptly.
Lex had shot up as well and his angry gaze pierced the retreating back of his son.
"Caden Ethaniel, you get back here right now!"
Caden whirled around, his eyes alight with black fire.
"You have nothing to say to me, old man!"
The glass door slammed shut behind him.
Delilah's big eyes were filling with tears and she raised her childish high voice to loudly express her discomfort.
Ceri put her napkin on her barely eaten lamb. "Can I be excused? I'm not feeling too well."
Dale turned his shadowed gaze towards his oldest daughter. "We are going to talk about this later."
"Sure. The dinner was lovely, Nanna, like always."
She picked Dee up and bounced her slightly as she was leaving the room.
"It's okay, Sweet, it's okay, it's okay."
Nanny gazed worriedly after her but leaned towards Lio, who looked at her with uncertain, shocked eyes.
"You can put down your hands now, cheri."
"Do you want to tell me what that was all about?" Ceri asked Caden's back. He didn't acknowledge her presence. "It's all right if you don't wanna talk to me. I can understand that. But you really scared Dee."
Caden looked up then. His hair was messier than normal, as if he had run his hands through it - repeatedly. His gaze fell on the baby in her arms, who was still sniffing quietly. Ceri couldn't say for sure if the brief flash of emotion she saw in his eyes was regret, but something in her liked to believe it was.
He reached out with his arms and wordlessly took the infant from her. Instantly, Delilah snuggled into the warmth of his body. He murmured something into her hair which Ceri couldn't quite understand. The little scene was so intimate that she felt as if she was intruding.
She had turned and was about to leave the room when Caden's voice made her steps falter.
"He is only worried, you know."
Ceri blinked. "What?"
"Your father, he…come here, I can't talk to you like this." He patted the couch cushion next to him.
Ceri hesitated, feeling a bit uneasy.
No, that wasn't quite true; she did feel comfortable. His room radiated a warm aura, which its owner only too often lacked, and she liked it here.
But she was nervous and didn't know why. He had this effect on her, always had.
She sat down. "What about my father?"
Caden smiled slightly and her cheeks grew warm. "I said, he is only worried. He doesn't know what is going on with you anymore and that frightens him. You should really talk to him."
He was silent then, knowing it wasn't Dale she was talking about.
Delilah shifted on Caden's lap trying to look at both of them at the same time. Her little foot connected painfully with Ceri's wounded knee. Ceri winced.
"What is it?" Sounding worried, Caden bent over her. "Is it your knee? Let me see."
"It's alright, Caden…"
But Caden had already pushed her skirt up an inch or so and was looking at the scrapes.
"Do they hurt?" he asked as he was softly touching the hurt skin.
"No … I mean," warmth was coursing through her, a tingling sensation coming from the places he was touching and pooling in her lower belly, "not too much."
"You should really put some band-aids on them before they get inflamed."
"Nanna already did that… but…" It wasn't easy for her to concentrate on anything when he was this close.
"But you don't like bandages," he said, finishing her sentence.
"They suffocate me, somehow." Ceri wished he would let go of her skirt, or take that hand from her knee, or just stop staring at her like he did. Maybe then she would be able to breathe properly again - maybe.
Delilah moved on his lap, grabbing at his hair with both of her fists. Ceri had to laugh involuntarily and wasn't sure if her voice was shaking with nerves. Caden released her and turned to her little sister.
"She is pretty jealous." It sounded wrong even to her own ears.
The silence that followed was awkward and Ceri noticed that she was fidgeting nervously.
"So…" she began. "… I gotta go to bed. I'm tired, I mean. Eh, will you take her …"
"…to bed, sure." Once again, he was finishing a sentence for her.
She didn't turn around as she slipped out of his room.
Ceri knew why she was feeling so nervous and self-conscious in his presence.
She had learned to deal with that, just as she had learned to deal with the attraction she felt for him.
After all, it was nothing but a simple crush.
AN: I know, I know, it took me longer than promised to edit this one, too. My only excuse is that I've been rather busy lately, but I'm sure you've heard that one before. I will try to get the next chapter done by next Sunday, but I can't promise anything ...