Kiss of Twilight
Book II: In the Absence of Light
When I was young, my mother took me to a strange place. It was a castle, but it was cold. The people inside were cruel to me and my mother…and to each other. In this castle, my mother told me something that would shatter my heart: she wasn't my real mother, and my father was really my uncle. Ignorance was bliss, and my bubble of innocence suddenly popped. I was left in the cruel, painful world beyond the bubble.
The woman Mama introduced to me as my mother frightened me with her indifferent disposition. Blonde hair flowed down her back, the same as mine, as were her nose, lips, and facial structure. My blue-green eyes seemed to be the only difference from her. Her eyes were a blue color, beautiful and unmarred by other colors. But I found that I was overjoyed by that one small difference.
My real father wasn't much better, really. He stared at me, scaring me more than my mother. Surely, there must've been some mistake. I was so young, only six years old, and I missed my four-year-old brother. But he wasn't really my brother. He was my cousin.
My real sibling was a sister about the same age as Chris. But she didn't like me because I looked like our real mother. Her nanny, old and pliant and not like Melissa, who was young and bossy, tried to look after me as well. But Aurora would throw tantrums and horde all her toys, so I'd be left to wander the castle while Mama tried to make my real mother show some kind of interest in me.
The servants avoided me unless I spoke to them directly. Then, they addressed me as "Princess Helena". Even the nobles addressed me with the proper title. When I asked them why, they said that anyone who didn't address royalty properly was showing disrespect. To not call a royal child "prince" or "princess" was the same as spitting on them. Only royalty could speak so informally to other royals, and only when they were close friends or family.
No matter how much I begged them to play with me or address me casually, they would only fawn over me and repeatedly call me "princess". The only one to call me "Helena" was Mama. Aurora called me "her", my real mother called me "that thing", and my real father wouldn't speak to me directly.
I hated that castle so vehemently; I began to regress inside myself. Slowly, I stopped speaking to the nobles of the court and their children. I stopped bothering the servants. Mama became concerned and took me home.
I remembered very little of the days that passed. Mama said that I refused to eat or leave my room. I didn't play with Chris or Vinny, Eric, Cordie, and George when they came to visit to cheer me up. But Vinny and I had been close at that time. It was before he became cold and disillusioned. Perhaps I had something to do with his change.
He entered my room, but I didn't acknowledge him. "Helena, what's wrong?" he asked me softly, sitting on my bedside and grabbing my hand in his. His eyes were watching me with a worried gaze.
I stared at him blankly for a few moments before I finally spoke. "Nothing is wrong, your highness."
If anything could have shocked him, it was that. He dropped my hand as if it had burned him and stood so quickly, he knocked over his chair. His eyes were wide in shock.
Somewhere in my mind, I made the decision that if I had to choose between being a princess or a mere noble, I'd rather be a noble girl. The words that those nobles had spoken: they had shaken me to my core. After being subjected to such a horrible experience, I wanted someone to feel my pain, to understand. I wanted someone else to hurt like I had.
So, I hurt my best friend—who really had understood exactly what I went through. His relatives were the only people who addressed him casually, even though we weren't royalty. It was his escape from the stress of being a royal, of being fawned over and formally addressed everywhere he went. None of the other children would play with him, and Eric was four years younger than him, not his age. Hearing those words hurt him far more than anything else I could've done.
"No!" he shouted. "What happened? Where did you go?" He backed further from my bed.
I smiled at him coldly. "I went to a castle. They were so mean, and they wouldn't call me by my name. They kept calling me "highness" and "majesty". When they said my name, they put a "princess" in front of it. Nobody would play with me. Nobody would talk to me. Nobody cared about me." I surveyed him coldly. "And nobody cares about you, either, because you're a prince."
He gaped at me, his seven-year-old brain trying to grasp why his playmate was telling him these things. "W-where was this castle?" he asked.
"Exultia," I replied. "Why did Mama take me there? Doesn't she love me anymore?"
"She does!" Vinny cried, so sure.
But I wasn't. Why would she let them hurt me?
"We love you, Helena! You're my best friend! And Chris loves you too! He's been crying, thinking that you're going to die."
"Maybe I am. It'd be better than going back to Exultia."
"Don't die!" Tears slid down his face. "Please don't die! I don't care if you never call my name again. Just don't die! Aunt Dru says that you won't eat, and if you don't eat…you'll fade to nothing. So…just forget about that castle."
"I can't. I can't forget about the woman who looks like me or the man who stares."
"Yes, you can! Anytime you feel sad or hurt…I'll feel it for you, alright?"
"No…" Somewhere inside of me, I felt that it was wrong. Vinny understood. He always understood, but I didn't care. "Just go away. You're just like them…like her. You think I'm a monster, too."
"I'm your friend! I'm right here!"
I regarded him evenly before I turned away from him. "You keep backing up closer to the door. You're afraid too, just like them, aren't you…your highness? Maybe I'll eat you…if I'm a monster, you're the first person I'll eat because you're just like them!"
"No, I'm your friend, your cousin!"
But he wasn't. He wasn't related to me at all. He was related to Mama, but she wasn't related to me. Only Papa was. He was my uncle. When Vinny realized all this, then he'd hate me and leave me too. He'd leave me in that cold, evil castle. Oh, how I feared going back there!
"You're not my friend!" I shrieked. "You'll never be my friend, never again! Because you're…a prince…"
I heard the door open and close. Sobs tore at my throat as I buried my face into my pillow. I didn't want him to hate me! I really didn't! But I couldn't help the words that left my lips, no matter how much I regretted them. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, I cringed and willed myself to die. If I died, then Mama and Papa would be relieved. I'd never have to return to that castle ever again.
A hand brushed against my hair hesitantly. The hand was trembling, and I heard Vinny's voice. "Chris loves you, Helena. You're his beloved big sister, and he's refusing to eat now, too. If you die, he will, too."
My eyes widened in surprise, and my tears stopped suddenly. I lifted my head from my pillow and looked up, but Vinny had already left the room. Things wouldn't be the same between us. I knew that, but I had to get better for Chris. I wouldn't let him die. No, I loved my baby brother. He was my brother, no matter what anyone said, and I had to protect him.
So, I built a wall around those horrible memories. In order to protect him, I had to. And the next day, I was back to my usual self. But when I saw Vinny, everything returned full-force, and I couldn't help the words that left my lips every time I saw him. Although he saved me, he lost himself. With each passing year that they came to see me, he grew more and more cynical and buried himself deeply in books.
Slowly, the pain ebbed away, and I forgot why it was that I didn't call Vinny by his name. By that time, I had become used to his sarcastic nature, and I just assumed that it was some argument that we had. He must've been angry with me for a long time, must've wanted me to feel a deeper, more profound pain than that which I had felt. Why should he have had to go through everything alone? Surely, he must've asked himself why he didn't just let me die.
Author's Note: Welcome to the prologue for the second book! I wanted to delve a bit deeper into why Vinny is the way he is. The next chapter will be in the present. Oh, and if you're new to this story, please read Kiss of Twilight: Prelude to an Evening. This is the second half of that story, and you may not understand what's happening right now unless you read that one. Thank you!