It’s kind of funny, really. You and I have not had a good relationship since you were very young; but my mother and I never had a good relationship. Not until very late in her life, I think, and even then it was quite strained.
Here’s how it was, plain and simple: I was embarrassed of her. I was embarrassed to be around her. We had plenty of family money, on top of the money she made from her… sex station (she, of course, called it a shop), and we didn’t live poorly, but she—and this is the truth, Jane Anne—she whored herself around for my entire childhood, like we were just barely scraping by and these men were providing for the next meal. Until Leo, it was a constant stream of men (and women, now that I think of it) in and out of our house. If it weren’t for your Uncle Apollo, I don’t know how I would have managed any sort of stability in that house. In essence, he raised me, and mother was fine—even proud, it seemed—to let him do so.
By the time my mother had settled down (that’s a relative term—she just took her booty calls elsewhere) with Leo and had your Uncle Leolin, during which time she gained some small amount of introspection, her wish to parent me and grow close to me was basically for naught. I wanted nothing to do with her. I didn’t want to be seen with her, much less deign to be parented by her.
All I wanted, ever since I was young, was a father and a mother—a mother that baked and a father that came home from work and swung me around and danced with me in the foyer—and a garden out back where we’d eat as a family in the summertime, and a fireplace for those cold nights, where we’d talk and play board games and be a family.
And, sue me, I wanted it to be a big house, dammit, and I wanted the father—now husband—to be a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist, and I wanted to be a princess, and I wanted a big kitchen where my mother—or I—could bake, and I wanted to go to parties in ball rooms with fancy women in big dresses and fancy men in tuxedos.
And when I was young, my mother taught me—indirectly, but taught me—that all of that was impossible, and that I would just have to be disappointed with my lower class life.
But then I met Alexia, and I knew it could be different.
Alexia’s early life was a bit like mine—not with the sex shop or the nympho mother, but with a similar sort of lower class life and the drive to go higher. The drive for that perfect, aristocratic family. And she succeeded. Really succeeded. Though she was just a ghost, we clicked—despite my mother and brothers’ worrying—and she taught me that all that I aspired to was perfectly possible, as long as I was willing to take her as my guide and work hard.
So, when I became a young adult, I already had it all planned out. And I knew that, if I should falter, I had Alexia by my side to guide me.
So, the day after my birthday, I knew exactly what my quest was.
Janelle: “I’m going out today?”
Hari: “Oh? Where?”
Janelle: “Nowhere important. Just getting some important matriarch things accomplished.”
Hari: “That’s going to go to your head, isn’t it…”
There was this one neighborhood in the region, up in Oasis Springs, that was populated by some of the most aristocratic people in town. The old money, at least. It was a single road, mostly, lined with towering houses and beautiful fountains and walkways paved to perfection.
And I was to find a man.
Not just any man, of course. He would not be qualified simply by walking on the road. No, Alexia and I had planned the set of requirements that I would aim to pursue. And, of course, Alexia would need to approve any man first.
Janelle: “Alright, here I am.”
Janelle: “In one of my best dresses. Dressed to impress.”
Janelle: “Bad habit, Janelle. No running. Ladies glide.”
Janelle: “Oh, wow. This is a nice house. Should I knock? I’ll run away after, so when the surely handsome, rich man emerges, I’ll appear all nonchalant. Only hooligans would ring and run; I’m just a lady out for a stroll.”
Janelle: “Damn. No one’s home. Let’s see if there’s anyone else.”
Janelle: “Um… hi?”
Just because it was nice street doesn’t mean that only the crème de la crème walked its manicured pavement. Plenty of people loved walking through the neighborhood, if only to see a slice of the life that they wished to have and yet could not.
Amy: “You from one-a these big houses?”
Janelle: “No, I’m from down the street. My friends live in…”
Janelle: “That house.”
I pointed to a random house on the street, one that looked fairly large and impressive.
Amy: “Weird. The richy riches hardly ever walk down this road, even if they’re just “friends.” They got cars and helicopters and drivers and shit for that. What’d you do to be exiled to the street?”
Janelle: “What?! I, uh, I—nothing, of course! I just like walking the road. Cars can get awfully stuffy.
Amy: I reckon that’s prolly true. Fair ‘nough. Hey, you wanna get some food?”
Janelle: “No ma’am, definitely not. As I said, I’m visiting friends. Things to do, people to see.”
It was close to the truth. I just didn’t know exactly which people I wanted to see. Certainly not her, though. I don’t have time to wrestle for courtship with a country bumpkin gold digger.
Marcus: “Hey, you! You B’s daughter, right? Whatchu doing way out here?”
And I absolutely didn’t have time, or patience, to deal with this pervert. If he knew my mother, he was either one of her harem or a customer at her store, and both were quite disgusting in my book.
Janelle: “You shut your mouth right now, good sir, or I’ll shut it for you. I am in no way related to that… establishment, nor that woman, and won’t have you spreading such atrocities around.”
Marcus: “Nahhhh, it’s definitely you!”
As caught up as I was in the anger and the fear in the worry—the realization that my mother’s reputation followed me beyond my family name, the fear that it would tarnish my reputation among the aristocracy before I could become one of them—I didn’t notice the newcomer to the scene. He had emerged out of his backyard, still in his office clothes, I assumed. Doctor’s scrubs. Normally, I’d be all over him. But I was seething, eyes flaring, trying to get this nutjob Marcus to leave me alone.
Derek: “Is this guy bothering you, miss?”
It wasn’t straight out of a fairy tale, but it was as close as I could ever hope. He was standing just in front of me, his arm gently pressed against mine, and I could smell his cologne—amazing, something with sandalwood.
It was even better, though, when he didn’t stand in the way of my stepping forward.
Janelle: “I think he was just leaving, wasn’t he.”
Marcus: “Yeah, whatever lady. Say hi to your mama for me.”
Ugh. The nerve.
I was steaming.
But no. Settle, Janelle. I had to keep myself together. Because Marcus had strode down the street, and what had Alexia been trying to drill into my head? Ladylike, gentile; subtle, demure, gracious. Ack. Too many adjectives.
I wasn’t ready for this.
Janelle: “Thank you, sir. He was harmless, but persistent; I’m so grateful for your aid.”
Alright, it was a little medieval sounding—I was no damsel in distress—but it was the day after my 18th. Expect a little less.
Derek: “It wasn’t a problem. It’s a gentleman’s instinct to come to the aid of a lady as lovely as yourself.”
Then again, he was a little medieval himself. Maybe he was just playing into my own tone, but there was something about it that just seemed to… click.
He couldn’t stay—something about preparing for a gala that his parents were throwing—but I barely minded. Derek was handsome, aristocratic, wealthy, a true gentleman. He ticked all my boxes.
And he said I was lovely.