Vignette: The Whole of It

Who: Jet and Arlet
Where: Arlet and J’skon’s Cothold, Bitra Territory
What: Jet visits her daughter to ask her what to do about her grandson.

“I suppose it would be unkind of me to wonder why you’re here, if it’s not to check up on the business?” Arlet arched a brow as she set a mug of tea down before her mother at the kitchen table. “Sorry if you wanted anything stronger. We don’t keep it in the house. I don’t drink now that J’kson doesn’t… Feels as if it would be cruel if I did. He doesn’t need the reminder.”

“No,” Jet replied, shaking her head. “Tea’s just fine. I actually game here to talk to you… about Aadi.”

Arlet froze, the stillness overtaking her for several seconds before she lifted a box of biscuits down from a cabinet. “What about him? I asked the nannies about him last week. They said there was nothing to be worried about.”

Taking a deep breath, the greenrider broached, “But… you didn’t actually see him, did you?”

“I don’t need to see him if I know he’s happy and healthy.”

“When he was very little, you told us that you wouldn’t go anywhere without him. That you would take him with you if you were to leave. I’m not saying that we want him to go – that’s exactly not what I’m here to suggest. But you have left. And you have left him.”

Arlet set the box of biscuits down on the table and yanked out a seat with visible frustration. “There are no children here for him to be friends with and no-one to look after him when J’kson and I are working.”

“You and I both know that the business is making enough money that you could employ your own nanny for him fulltime,” Jet argued, lifting her mug to her lips.

“You really do sound as if you want him gone.”

“No,” she insisted. “I’m here, having to have this conversation with you, because he’s not a baby anymore. He’ll be learning his letters and numbers soon and he’s more and more able to understand the world around him. He hasn’t seen you in months and, frankly, I’m convinced he believes that M’tan and I are his parents—“ Jet held up a hand as her daughter sought to interject, “—Which is fine, if that’s what you want. If this is how it needs to be, you can be his sister, just as you are to the others. It’s not fair to him to keep dragging this out, Arlet.”

In a rare show of temper, Arlet slammed a palm down on the table. “It’s not that simple, Mum!”

They stared at each other, neither willing to speak and acknowledge the first time that she had addressed her as her mother.

Retreating into herself, it was the brownrider who was the first to back down. She dragged her mug close and stared down into her tea, drawing her feet up onto the edge of her chair to sit there curled before it. “…Every time I look at him…” she started to murmur. “…Every time I look at him, I see everything that I’ve done wrong and everything that could go wrong.”

Rather than press her, Jet maintained her silence.

“…I didn’t know whether I wanted him when I kept him. I only kept thinking how ungrateful it would be to… do otherwise… when I know there are women like my Mama who struggle to have children, or can’t. And by the time I felt something either way about it, it was too late. And half of what I felt about it…” Arlet closed her eyes. “Everything I did at Fort, I did wrong. I didn’t manage to change any of it. I didn’t manage to make any of it better. And they hated me. I just… I thought it was my duty to try and that running away from it would mean they’d never trust a woman with anything like being a Weyrleader ever again, when we’re just as capable as any bronzerider. But none of it worked…”

“You still did what you thought was the right thing.”

“…I wanted to forget, as much as anything. Honshu, Rori, home; all of it. I didn’t want to be the person someone had used to try out going to bed with a girl. I didn’t want to be in love with someone who did that to me when I’d begged them not to.” Arlet swallowed hard and exhaled a deep sigh. “And… the Weyrwoman was infatuated with me and it was… nice to be… wanted… and being with her and her weyrmate made it all go away. I wanted to forget that I was in a place where everyone else hated me and I couldn’t go home and I was messing everything up. I didn’t see that I’d… walked right into what I was trying to get away from…”

“They used you,” Jet said softly.

Arlet nodded. “I guess they found being with me too more exciting than just being with each other. She had more affection for me than he did, but he definitely… liked the rest. I don’t know whether she couldn’t have children, but they both seemed happy when I told them I was pregnant.” Her lips twisted in a wry, bitter grimace. “Except it made me considerably less exciting as time went on and I was sick and tired and I wasn’t thin, just awkward, and less willing to entertain what they wanted as often as they wanted.”

“They didn’t want you because your body had changed?”

Another nod. “They were bored with me. I wasn’t interesting. It was all… over and done with, I thought, when her queen rose and you took me from Fort. She’d lingered during meetings and tried to find excuses to spend time with me, but they didn’t invite me to their bed again.”

Jet glowered at the box of biscuits in an effort to direct her anger at something and most definitely not at Arlet.

“What am I supposed to say to Aadi when he’s older? I was a plaything for your father and his weyrmate, and he’s dead now and she’s probably lost her mind along with her queen? That I regret those months? That I wish I’d had a child because I wanted one and not because I didn’t know what to do?” Arlet briefly wrapped both arms over her head and tucked her face to her knees, taking a moment to breathe. “That he just reminds me of my failures? That I failed at being his mother from the very start?” She pressed her knuckles to her lips. “And if
J’kson wants children… What if it happens all over again? What if I fall pregnant and he thinks I’m… revolting? What if I am. And he doesn’t want me anymore. What if he’s been saying what I want to hear all this time and thinks I’m an awful person for not bringing Aadi with us? What if he’s already decided that I’m a terrible mother? He’s not wrong!”

Getting up from her seat, Jet rounded the table and knelt beside Arlet’s chair to haul her into her arms, setting aside her fear of being rebuffed.

“He’ll get bored of me, Mum. Either because I try to give him a family or because I can’t do it. They all get bored. I’m failing my husband and I’m scared of my own son.” Arlet dropped her feet to the floor and turned to hide her face against her mother’s shoulder.

Jet just held on. The worst of it was knowing that there was no quick solution to any of it; nothing she could do to fix it all.

There never was.

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