Hazel and Holly — …Will Bring You Back to Me
Previous: A Love Tempered in Death…
Ash put out his arms, as if to embrace Hazel, but she moved back.
All words escaped her. It had been so long. She hadn’t seen him since the day he left, close to sixteen years ago. He had changed very little from what she could remember, yet a spell was not at work here. His face bore lines she didn’t recall, his brown hair now liberally dusted with grey. But he looked healthy. Vibrant. Somehow that made her angry. Her mother had died and here he was, looking vigorous and full of life.
Ash put down his arms. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
Long time, indeed. Too long to stand there and chat as if more than a decade didn’t stand between them. Hazel clenched her hands and straightened her back, and reminded herself why she was there. “What did you do to Mother?”
A flicker of emotion passed over his features that she couldn’t quite read. Was it remorse? Anger? Or was it something else entirely? But a heartbeat later the look faded and he smiled. “You’ve come a long way. Let us first talk as father and daughter before venturing to less pleasant topics.”
Hazel scowled at him. “Father and daughter? We haven’t been father and daughter for sixteen years! I am not here to sit with you and hold polite conversation. I am here because you trapped Mother’s soul in a geas. I am here to make you undo it!”
He smiled at her again, but this time it was a knowing kind of smile that only made Hazel’s anger deepen. “You always were such an extraordinary girl. I saw it in you as soon as you began to speak your first words. I’m glad to see nothing has changed.”
Hazel’s voice turned cold. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know a great deal more than you think.”
Hazel opened her mouth to protest when Verrin walked up behind Ash, holding an empty silver tray.
“I’ve set some tea and refreshments out on the table. Will there be anything else?”
“No, Verrin,” Ash said. “Thank you.”
Verrin nodded and left.
“A considerate young man,” Ash said as he turned back towards Hazel. “And gifted, too. I’ve always liked to think that if I’d had a son, he would have been much like Verrin.”
Hazel stiffened her back and raised her chin. “Sorry to be such a disappointment.”
Ash gave her a saddened smile and shook his head. “Oh, you misunderstand me, Hazel. You were never a disappointment. And now, with you standing here…” he shook his head again as his eyes glittered with unshed tears. “I have never been so proud to call you my daughter as I am tonight.”
Hazel frowned, uncertain how to react.
“Shall we have some tea? The view is beautiful, but at this time of year it becomes too cold to stay out here for too long.” He swept an arm towards the inner portion of the room. “Please.”
Hazel tensed but remained still. She did not want to go inside and drink tea, even though the wind was harsh and cold, and she was more than a little hungry. She did not want to let herself get comfortable. She did not want to let this man think, even for a moment, that she had forgiven him. So instead she stood there, giving him a look cold enough to match the wind.
Ash gave her a wan, tired smile. “Well I, for one, am quite hungry. You are welcome to join me, should you so choose.” He turned and went into the room and to the table.
Hazel remained on the balcony, clenching her jaw at the ridiculousness of it all. She felt like a little child, pouting because she wasn’t getting her way. What was she supposed to do now? Stand out here and freeze? Leave? That, of course, certainly wasn’t an option. So, straightening her back, she walked inside and joined her father at the table.
He passed her a cup of tea, and Hazel said nothing as she took it. She also assembled herself a sandwich from the platter of bread, cold meat, and cheeses. She was hungry; she wouldn’t apologize for that. Them eating a meal together didn’t mean anything.
“How have you been?” Ash said. “And Holly?”
Hazel chewed a mouthful of her sandwich a long while. “I told you, I’m not here to chat. How I’ve been is none of your concern.”
“Do you blame me for caring about your welfare?”
Hazel had to keep herself from snorting. “You don’t care about me. You never have.”
“That is absolutely not true.”
“Then why did you leave? Why did you never show any interest in my life? You never came to check on us after Mother died—not once. You didn’t even send a letter! Instead you trapped her soul and left me and Holly to fend for ourselves. You don’t do that to people you care about!”
Ash’s expression tightened. “You don’t understand the situation.”
Now Hazel did snort. “Oh, I understand perfectly. You left your family behind to pursue necromancy instead. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, you trapped Mother’s soul in a geas, for whatever twisted ends, I’m sure I don’t know. I am wondering, though: did you kill her? Or was her illness just a convenient coincidence?”
“I loved your mother,” he whispered.
“You ruined her!”
Ash slammed his hand on the table. “I saved her!” He took a deep breath as he regained his composure. “You’ve spun quite an elaborate fiction. Is this what your mother told you?”
“Mother refuses to even utter your name. And I can’t say I blame her.”
He looked down at the table and nodded. “I see. So, then, you know that our arrangement, as she liked to call it, was her idea, and not mine? You know that I wanted us all to live together like a family, and she refused? You know of the other men she consorted with, despite our vows of marriage? She told you all of this, yes?”
Hazel’s heart hammered in her chest. “You’re lying. When you left, Mother was inconsolable.”
“Yes, because she no longer was getting her way. I loved Willow, more than you could ever know. And, in the beginning, I think she might have even loved me back. But as time went on, it became clear to me that she never wanted a husband so much as she wanted someone to father her children. And, once she got her two daughters, her need for me rapidly dwindled. She grew restless and increasingly difficult. She sought out other men, but I forgave her that. I of all people know what it’s like to be searching for something, for a sense of completeness. But I wanted more. I no longer wanted to be just one of her many diversions, to be a… convenient element in her life. I confronted her about it, and when it became clear that our aims in life were no longer compatible, then, yes, I left.
“But what she did not tell you—and I knew she would never tell you—was how badly I wanted to take you with me. We fought about it. Bitterly. Cruel words were exchanged that hurt us both deeply. But in the end your mother prevailed, and I left you and your sister in peace, as she wanted it.”
“I don’t believe you,” Hazel said. “If you had truly wanted to take me and Holly, you would’ve contacted us, somehow. Especially after she died.”
Ash shook his head. “I didn’t want to take both of you. Just you, Hazel. Holly was always your mother’s daughter. But you… you were always mine. And I did contact you. You know I did.”
A chill crept down Hazel’s spine. “What are you talking about? You never contacted me.”
“I suppose not in the traditional sense of written letters or messages, but I most certainly did contact you. How else could you have found your way here? Did you think it was coincidence? Luck?”
“You were always my daughter, Hazel. Always.”
Next: A Reluctant Ally