Broken Queen

Page 71

I’m not sure my brother or I can drag our eyes from her. “Emma’s on her way,” I tell her. They should be landing any minute now.
“Already?” She seems surprised.
I nod.
She smiles, but then her eyes darken. “Lucien,” she says.
“He’s dead.”
“Did he suffer?”
“He suffered.”
“Good.” She picks at the grass before turning her gaze to mine. “I want to ask you something,” she says, clearly anxious.
“What is it?”
She worries her lip with her teeth and doesn’t speak until I see a drop of crimson from where she bites through skin. “I want to bury my father properly.”
She puts up a hand to stop me. “He made a lot of poor choices. A lot.” Bastian snorts and she gives him a look but turns back to me. “But when it came to me, I think he was trying.”
Bastian glances at me and I at him. She shifts her attention to the grass again.
“He was afraid of my grandfather. My grandfather thought him weak. And I think ultimately, he was afraid of Lucien,” she finally adds then turns her gaze up to us. “What he did was wrong. He shouldn’t have let Lucien hurt your sister. He should have done more then. But he was punished through me.”
“Dandelion,” Bastian starts when her eyes fill with tears.
She shakes her head. “You don’t have to forgive him. I’m not asking that. But he was my father, and he was capable of love, and I think he regretted a lot of things.” Her forehead furrows and she looks at each of us in turn. She’s not done yet, I think, she’s just trying to muster her courage to say what she needs to say. “He behaved like a coward and so many of us paid the price for that cowardice. You have every right to hate him. I know that and I know I’m asking a lot, but I want to rebury him. Do it properly. Give him some peace in death because I don’t think he had any in life.”
Bastian stands, takes a deep breath in and exhales slowly. She stands too, captures his hands in hers when she thinks he’s going to walk away.
“Stay,” she says. “Please.”
“You should get dressed. You’ll want to be ready when Emma gets here,” he tells her.
“Please,” she pleads, looking first up at him, then at me.
My cell phone buzzes with a text and get to my feet to dig it out of my pocket. Saved by the text. “Go get dressed, Vittoria. They’re in the car on their way.”
“But my father—”
“Later,” I say after a glance at my brother. “Get ready for Emma. We’ll talk later.”
My reunion with Emma is more than I could have asked for and better than I imagined it could be. She walks toward the house cautiously at first, with her little pink schoolbag on her back, holding her stuffed pig in one hand and the other tucked safely into Nora’s. But the instant she sees me when I throw the door open, she stops, her eyes growing huge with surprise, then happiness. She drops Nora’s hand and charges toward me, hurling herself into my arms and nearly toppling me.
“Emma! Oh, Emma!” I cry into her hair, smelling a vanilla scented shampoo I don’t recognize, hugging her tiny body to mine as she hugs me with all her force for so long, it brings tears to my eyes to think of what this child, this five-year-old child has gone through, has seen. The evil she knows exists in the world she lives in.
I draw back, wiping my eyes and nose and look at her face, pushing her hair away. I look into her eyes and I’m so happy that I don’t see Lucien in them. I see nothing of him. Only Emma, my sweet little sister. And I hug her again, lifting her with me as I stand.