Livadia hadn't changed much in the past five years, Face thought to himself. At least the war hadn't touched it so badly. Of course, there were the holo signs spouting propaganda about the war, signs offering directions to the nearest refugee lodgings and signs asking people to Support the War Effort.
He pulled the slouched cap over his forehead, making sure that the rusty-hued wig he wore beneath it was still in place.
"Now, where you say you wanted to go, Sir?" the driver of the air taxi asked. The driver was an aging male Bothan with a slight hearing problem. Face rolled his eyes and scratched at the false beard he had applied over his own close-cropped mustache and goatee.
"The Lorekaneg estate, sir." He grinned to himself. 'Lorekaneg' being a combination of his and Erinn's surnames and initials.
The driver grunted. "It'll take about four hours to get there."
"WHAT? Four hours?! It should only take two-"
"Nope. Fuel's being rationed. On account of this here war now. Besides, what you want with the Lorekaneg estate? You tryin' to court that widder lady what lives there? She's supposed ter be pretty dang wealthy, some says. Still, 'spose you should let her mourn her husband, for a spell." The driver turned and gave Face a look of disapproval.
Face thought to himself it was a good thing he was trained as an actor. Otherwise, he might have revealed that Erinn certainly wasn't some "widder lady", and the husband she was supposedly mourning was sitting right in the back seat of the cab. Then it hit him that perhaps Erinn and the girls were mourning him already. Well, he'd put a stop to that.
"Um, no. I'm an old family friend. Madame Lorekaneg will be expecting me." He settled back against the seat, and sighed. After arriving on Livadia, Kell had taken off, deciding that he might as well go and catch up with his wife, Tyria and their son Doran.
And now, after months away from his family, the next four hours seemed more like four years. He could hardly wait to see his family, to hold his wife and daughters in his arms again...
Erinn Loran was not a beautiful woman-and many would say she wasn't at all pretty, either.
True, she was not without her charms. A thick mane of wild black curls and large aqua-hued eyes were her best features. But her skin was almost snow white and thin-one could see the ripples of veins beneath and she bruised easily. Since the birth of her second child, her eyes seemed circled by smudges of black. Her face was round, childlike, with a turned up nose and pouty lips. She was also short, with generous curves that many would call "plump."
Now, the delicate white flesh was creased with thin lines at the corners of her eyes. And her eyes themselves were bloodshot from long, sleepless nights and endless tears.
It was with incredible difficulty that she had finally had to admit to herself that her husband was not likely to come back. While the Wraiths were one of the toughest commando units in the New Republic, Erinn knew it would take a miracle for Face to have made it off of Coruscant alive-if he hadn't by now. She had held out hope that perhaps he had made it to Borleias-but with word of the defeat of that planet, her hopes had been crushed.
And now, here she was, taking her anger out on her children. It pained Erinn to think of how close she had come to striking Mardi. Despite the harsh words the girl had thrown at her mother-and she knew that Mardi didn't mean it. Anymore than she had meant to hit her.
Erinn didn't like to think of herself as weak. She wasn't the type of woman to fall apart the minute her husband was gone. Her grandmother had brought her up to rely on herself-and not have to depend on a man for anything. But Face wasn't just a man-he was her husband, her lover and her best friend. She felt as if her heart had been pulled out of her chest and replaced by a large weight that pressed down painfully and made it difficult to breath.
A teenage girl's relationship with her mother is rocky in normal circumstances-this was anything but normal. And Mardi was far too much like Erinn for the two of them NOT to clash on occassion.
After lunch, Erinn and Tonya continued to make headway through Face's closet, without incident. Wisely, or perhaps out of her own sorrow, they avoided any serious personal items-such as the carved trunk at the foot of the bed. The bed she used to share with Face.
When Erinn had had enough she sent Tonya on to look in her own closet-to find things she had outgrown that could be included in her latest donation to the refugee committees. Then she went to look for Mardi.
It wasn't hard to find the girl-Erinn figured that her eldest would be hiding out in the treehouse. Sighing, she drew on a heavy tattered blue robe and headed outside.
The r'ark tree loomed up against the fading autumn daylight, the multi-hued leaves shaking gently in the breeze. Erinn shivered. It would be getting colder soon-and the leaves would be falling off. She reached the base, quickly jogging up the stairs to find Mardi asleep in the hammock, shivering.
"Mardi?" Erinn gently shook her daughter's arm, then slipped her robe off and draped it over the girl. Mardi's eyelids fluttered and she yawned, looking up at her mother.
"Mom? H'uh?" She looked groggy and disoriented. She pulled Erinn's robe around her shoulders and shivered. "What are you doing out here?"
"Coming to find you," Erinn said, sitting down beside Mardi. "I wanted to appologize-for today and for the way I've been acting lately." She paused to push a dark lock of hair out of her daughter's face. "I shouldn't have raised my hand to you. I've never hit you or your sister, and I don't want to start now. Will you forgive me?"
Mardi blinked. "It's okay-Mom? I didn't mean it. About Dad not being here because of you. I just...just...Mama!" she started to cry and flung her arms around Erinn, burying her face against her mother's neck.
"Oh sweetie." Erinn slid her arms around her daughter, stroking Mardi's long black hair. Tears streaked down her own cheeks and for once she didn't brush them away. "I know, I know."
She hadn't held Mardi like this for a long time, and resisted saying anything more, lest the teenager suddenly become sullen and aloof. Mardi shook with her sobs and Erinn didn't even realize she was also crying until she noticed tears dripping into her daughter's hair.
"I wish Daddy were here," Mardi mumbled against Erinn's shoulder. Neither of the girls had referred to Face as "Daddy" or her as "Mama" for a few years now-especially Mardi. They were regressing.
"So do I, Mardi. So do I." Erinn stroked her daughter's long, silky tresses and kissed the top of her head. "I do love you, Mardi. Even though we fight."
"I love you too, Mom." Mardi pulled away and wrapped her mother's robe around her shoulders. "What time is it?"
Erinn laughed. "Time for dinner, I'd say. You've been out here all day-it's getting chilly! C'mon, let's go eat."
Strolling back to the house, arm in arm, Erinn felt as if someone had begun to chip away at the rock sitting over her breast. She squeezed her daughter's hand. Mardi squeezed back.
"You know, Mom, I was thinking that-" Mardi stopped dead. Her eyes narrowed. "What the hell is that?"
Erinn followed her gaze. "H'uh? Who could it be at this hour of the evening?"
Someone was making his up the tree-lined drive way. Of medium height, he wore a faded grey cap pulled down over his face.
Then she heard an unmistakably joyful yelp. "MOM!!! MARDI!!! It's DAD!!!"
To be Continued...
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