"Daddy? What's wrong with Channing?"
I was startled by her voice and snapped my head up from my hands. My eyes felt weary and blurry but I tried to blink it all away, "What honey?" I pressed my thumb and forefinger into my aching eyes and then sniffed to pull back all the emotions I had displayed openly on the table. Her face was full of concern and worry. She gripped the chair tighter in her tiny hands while her eyes watched me, large and young and innocent.
"Channing." She pressed with a look, "What's the matter with him? He's been," Her eyes widened to look as though she were telling a very upkept secret, "Crying." She glanced back over her shoulder where we could hear the TV making noise from the other room then focused back on me, setting her jaw.
I sighed. I felt too drained and empty to deal with Venka. I was too tired to deal with all of it. But I had an obligation to my only daughter- I had perfection in the palm of my hand, a small fragile being who trusted in my ability. I motioned her closer and she slowly and hesitantly slid over in her boots until I sat her against my thigh.
"Channing has been doing naughty things." I started, staring deeply into her forest eyes. They blinked with more worry, eyelashes displayed sweetly against her rosy cheeks. "And I'm well aware that you know what the worst thing to do to someone you love is."
She nodded. "Lying." She grew rigid in my lap, leaning against my shoulder, "Daddy, Channing hasn't been lying has he?" Maddie demanded, distraught with the idea that her new best friend was breaking rules. I brushed her hair from her face, barely managing to contain the sympathetic crease my brow pushed against me to furrow into. I wanted to protect her from everything because she was the most brilliant thing I'd ever brought to the world. I didn't want anything to soil her white dress, I didn't want to see her feet ache with the walk.
I couldn't protect her from the truth though. I took in a deep and heavy breath, looked away and sighed, "'Fraid so, honey."
She stiffened and then stumbled to stand. Her hair spiraled about her gorgeous little angry face. I could see the determination tightening her fists and the flame in her eyes. "Then ya jus' gotta spank him and be done with it! Teach him the lesson, Pa!"
I fumbled with my own fingers and shook my head once. "It's...just not that easy." I found myself twisting my beloved ring on my finger, an old habit I thought I had broken. Before she could protest, I added simply, "If this was that easy, I would a spanked him a long time ago." I glanced up to her, saw her hurt and couldn't keep from attaching my eyes back down to my hands.
"It doesn't got to be difficult." She murmured, tone fresh with pain and sadness and breaking wishes. "It doesn't got ta be, Pa." Her eyes built up the dam of frustrated tears. Her nose wrinkled while she tried to keep it from running and instead wiped her arm underneath when she realized sniffing was inadequate. I could feel her emotions rolling off her small body, wave after wave after wave. Pure and real emotions that explained the frustrations of life. She was beautiful and upset. "I jus'-" Voice cracking, she squeezed her eyes shut, "don' like seein'- him cry- Pa."
I ushered her closer once more, pressing her body close to mine, holding her and willing the sadness to leave. "I know, sweety, I know." I soothed, putting my hand to her soft head. She buried her tears into my shoulder and attempted to smother her pain with a hug.
Her quiet, almost silent sobs and tremoring body tore at my heart until it was nothing but shreds. I let her cry until exhaustion had eaten up her energy and then I carried her upstairs. She was delicate in my arms, fragile as a bird with a broken wing. I made sure to tuck her in tightly leaving behind a kiss to her forehead. I didn't close the door. I didn't want to be separated from the most precious being my arms had ever carried.
Venka was exactly where Maddie had told me he was. Curled on the couch with a blanket, Venka sat before the TV quietly sniffling and fidgeting with his fingers. I found it strangely compelling and horrible and fantastically odd. He could have just left without a second thought, the angel who had fallen down into my barn with bruises on his body could have spread his wings and taken flight once more. But he hadn't.
I stood behind him for a period of time I can't say I knew exactly how long and watched him. He was still for the most part, oblivious to the flashing lights of the screen before his eyes. Venka. I blinked once, slowly. Venka, what did you do before you came here? I took a step forward, moving to walk around the couch. Where is your real family? I grabbed up the remote, pressing the power button which flicked the screen off and threw us into mild darkness. Do you like it here? He barely gave me a second glance as I slowed down to stand before him. Venka. But when I reached down, opening my arms to him, he immediately returned the gesture. His arms looped around my neck tightly, as though his life depended on his hold. The blanket pooled down around his waist and then down to the couch. I lifted him into my arms completely and I carried the trembling boy upstairs.
Oh God, Venka.
Venka was silent when I placed him in the guest bedroom on the bed. His ember eyes burned into my cheeks, scarring my emotions. I avoided their gaze while I pulled back the covers. My heart was growing heavier with each second, pulsing with the ache, burning with the whirlwind of my thoughts. I smoothed out the pillow and sighed. He watched me, face a mask of the ghosts. I could hear the silence laughing at me from behind him.
But I couldn't say a goddamn thing, not one little thing. I brushed his hair out of his eyes when he laid his gorgeous blond head on the pillow. My thumb slid across his smooth cheek and his eyelashes fluttered closed, shining with water. They were focused on my face when he opened them, eyes brimming with nothing. Nothing at all. He was full of nothing.
I broke our contact, fingers slipping away from his skin. I stared deep into that nothingness, so deep I hadn't noticed his hand rising. He pulled my calloused fingers to his mouth and left the sweetest, lightest kiss on my skin. Eyes drifting closed, the tears I had never seen but heard came pouring from his heart. Silent tears of pain and sadness and hurt and loneliness.
I choked. His brilliance was something as blinding as hers had been. How could such a boy break such a defense like mine? He was just a boy. He was just another person. His eyes drifted open and I could see, it was as if a great curtain had been pulled back. I could see everything. I could see the pain and the need begging from inside those burning orbs. His muscles shivered beneath his face, growing weak with promise.
I was holding him before he let out his first sob.
"You didn't leave." I said after we'd had our fill our heavy quiet. I had carried him away from the guest room, closing the door to my bedroom after us. He was laying across the bed, posed fantastically, like he was some sort of model. Gorgeous deep curves followed by sweet, sweet skin, he was perfection masked in flesh. His fingers roamed along the stiching and his eyes followed his fingers.
"No." He agreed.
"You could have." I pressed, also finding myself fingering the simple fabric of the pillow cover. The lights were off around us, save the one bedside lamp. It fancied a yellow gleam, something like a fire's light.
I glanced at him, hoping he would open his words and spill them upon the bedspread for me to understand. Venka said nothing. I laid my head back with a heavy intake of breath. "But you didn't. You..didn't leave." I repeated myself and tried not to seem too eager for his reply. But I was staring hard at his pale features and I knew I wanted the reason like food to a starving man. I was desperate and furiously anxious and I was willing the words, those secrets, to come tumbling from those beautiful lips of steel.
Venka said nothing and when we slept, he curled himself very close to the edge and very far from me. It was as if he wasn't even there, and he wasn't. Not in mind at least. Venka had disappeared into the realm of dreams and I couldn't possibly chase after him in his own world.
I slept fitfully and woke to discover I was once again alone in my bedroom.
Taking care of the horses while Maddie was at school was enough work to keep my mind away from Venka. It would stray every other moment or so but I pushed the pain away and continued onward. He was beginning to become a distraction. Furious thoughts burned in flame of madness at him. How dare he drop into my life and fumble it all up like a cat to a ball of yarn? I barely knew him, I reminded myself angrily, tossing hay around with a snap to my movements.
I slowed to a baffling stop. I wanted to know him though, against all odds. I wanted to hold his secrets in my heart, next to my own as though they were cans of soup. Shelves upon shelves of life's many lessons and my many experiences lined upon my memory. My eyes wandered off onto the house, the quiet and lonely, distant house. I, naturally, couldn't see him but I felt myself search for his presence. Could it be possible that I would feel him leave the house, I didn't know. But I had a twisting sensation in my gut that told me I would be quite aware the moment he left me.
I hurried through my work and told myself that everything was fine. Over and over I heard pulsing through my thoughts, "Everything is fine. Everything is fine. He's right there. He's right there. He didn't leave out the back door. Everything is fine. Everything-"
Wild and heaving with breath, I burst forth through the front door. My eyes darted from place to place, over and around the darkness of each of my rooms. The cold of the doorknob stung my palm and burned into my skin so I couldn't pull away. The silence screamed freakishly in my ears, howling to it's silent moon. A wolf to its finished prey, the silence panted with victory. Tearing my hand free, the door slammed shut behind me, I rushed into the room.
He wasn't on the couch and he wasn't in the kitchen. Venka was absent of his favorite chair and seemed to have lost interest in his favorite blanket. My footsteps up the stairs made sounds of a stampede, violent and unpredictable. I slammed my bedroom door open to the boney figure of a teenage boy fingering my clothes. By then I was completely breathless and couldn't muster any words only a relieved sigh and half smile. This was becoming twisted but being freed of the anxiety relieved me of thinking through my actions.
He was holding gently onto the sleeve of one of my plaid shirts from the open closet. "Smells like you." He murmured, brushing his fingertips over the material sweetly, admiring its existence. His coy smile pulled me into the room by an invisible string. Ember eyes flicked up to me and even though I could see the child inside them, I embraced his body. His grip was tight but weak at the same time. As though his strength was drifting from his body day by day. I pushed the hair from his eyes and, shakily, cupped his pale cheeks.
"Venka." His name, it stirred something deep inside me. "Venka. Venka." Every single time it would coil and then burst up into flames that licked my very insides. I hadn't felt this roaring sensation in such a long, long time. "Venka."
He began to laugh after a moment's notice. He called back, "What! What!" And let me take him and flatten him along the sheets. "What!" He cried with laughter. His skin tasted of youth and freedom and love.
For God's sake, he tasted like love.