“We’re not doing this here.” Her father’s voice dropped. “In my study. Now.”
When he jabbed a finger to his open door, she picked up her backpack and headed in that direction. Behind her, tight on her heels, her father fell into a full march, and she was not surprised when the carved door clapped shut, closing them in together.
The room was lovely, a fire crackling in the hearth, cheery light flickering over the leather chairs, the first editions on the mahogany shelves, the oil paintings of hunting dogs that her father had owned in the Old Country.
“Sit down,” he snapped, though not loudly.
She knew exactly where he wanted her and she went to the chair across from his desk, lowering herself into its antique contours and being sure to keep her pack with her. The last thing she wanted was for him to take it away from her.
In the midst of this confrontation, the thing represented her freedom.
Felixe sat down and linked his fingers together as if he were attempting to control himself. “You know exactly what happens when a female goes out of the home unattended.”
Elise looked up at the ceiling again and was careful to keep her voice low. “I’m not like Allishon.”
“You’re out in the human world. Just like her.”
“I know where she went. It was not to university, Father.”
“I’m not going to discuss the particulars and neither are you. What you are going to do is swear to me, right here and now, that you will not violate my trust again. That you will stay here and—”
Elise bolted up out of the seat before she was aware of moving. “I can’t waste my life sitting here, night by night, going nowhere and doing nothing but needlepoint. I want my advanced degree, I want to finish what I started! I want a life!”
As he recoiled, he seemed as surprised by the outburst as she was. And to defuse the insubordination, Elise sank back down into the chair. “I’m sorry, Father. I don’t mean to speak rashly, it’s just … why can’t you understand that I want to be free to live?”
“That is not your station and you know it. I have been more than lenient with you, but that time has passed. I will be entertaining suitable males for mating—”
Elise let her head fall back. “I want more than that, Father.”
“Your first cousin is dead. After they already lost their son in the raids! You see the suffering of her parents nightly in this house! Do you want that for me? Do you care so little for me that you want me to mourn my only daughter after I’ve already lost my shellan?”
Swallowing a groan, she stared across the desktop. The objects upon it—the sterling-silver-framed pictures of her and her mother, the pens in their holders, the ashtray in which one of his pipes sat—were as familiar as the backs of her own hands, things that she had never not known. They were also part of the comfort of home, symbols of the security that she at once valued, but also wanted to escape.
“Well?” her father said. “Do you want that for me?”
“What I want is to talk about her.” Elise sat forward. “No one ever speaks about Allishon. I don’t even know how she died. Peyton came here and talked to the three of you behind closed doors—next thing I know, her room is shut up tight, Auntie has taken to her bed, and Uncle looks like a zombie. Nobody has told me anything. There’s no Fade ceremony, no mourning, just this shut-off void in the midst of everyone suffering. Why can’t we just come forward and be honest—”
“This is not about your cousin—”
“Her name is Allishon. Why can’t you say her name?”
Her father’s thin lips got even thinner. “Do not attempt to distract me from the real problem. Which is you lying to me whilst you put yourself in danger. What happened to your cousin is in the past. There is no cause for conversation.”
Elise shook her head. “You’re so wrong about that. And if you’re going to try to use whatever tragedy happened to her to persuade me, then you better tell me what really happened.”
“I don’t have to explain anything to you.” Her father banged a fist into his desk, making one of the framed photographs jump. “You are my daughter. That is a sufficiency unto itself.”
“Why are you so afraid of talking about her?”
“This conversation is over—”
“Is it because you think she got what she deserved?” Elise was aware of her body starting to shake as she finally spoke what had been on her mind for weeks. “Is nobody in this house saying anything because you all disapproved of the way she was behaving, and the fact that she died because of it doesn’t make you sad, but rather angry? Angry because you don’t want the potential social complications for our bloodline?”
“Elise! You were not raised to—”
“Allishon went out at night. She dated males who were not of our class and consorted with humans—”
“—and now she’s dead. Tell me, honestly, are you really worried about me getting hurt—or is it more about the potential embarrassment for you and the bloodline? One unconventional female with a tragic event may eventually be forgiven, but two? Never. Is that your truth, Father? Because if it is, that strikes me as far more ugly than my seeking an education.”
Axe left The Keys with the scent of the human woman on his skin. As he stepped out of the sprawling, interlocking series of buildings, he breathed in the cold, fresh air and felt his overheated body steam under his cloak. Flurries were falling from a heavy cloud cover, and all around him the city was alive, sirens sounding in the distance, music from the club thumping in a hush, traffic on the Northway rumbling along.