Uncalled For Actions (9/?)
Days 57 – 63 of the experiment.
“He should probably loosen up.”
Anevka removed the glass of disputed wine, handing it to the waiter pouring new glasses of red wine. “Tarvek has been loose enough today, don’t you think?”
“I’m sure he could be looser; he used to be a lot of fun when we were kids,” Gil said without thinking.
“Wait,” said Seffie, “Tarvek was fun? I find that hard to believe–old stuffy-pants wouldn’t know fun if it smacked that annoying, smug look he always has off his boring face.”
Gil nodded, taking a sip of his new glass of wine. “Oh, yeah, we used to have tons of fun.” He scratched his head with a frown into the red liquid. “I wonder what happened?”
Tarvek growled; his grip on his fork turning white while his face flushed darker than his hair. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, jaw clenched tight. “Might have something to do with being betrayed and sent home in disgrace after just nine months.”
A sudden burst of shame shot through Gil. “Right,” he mumbled. He felt sick to his stomach that had nothing to do with his foggy brain and sudden lack of taste buds. Had he really just said that out loud and in front of Tarvek? What was he thinking?
Gil slid his arm from around Seffie, setting her back on her own chair. She glanced between the two of them, a hungry look in her eyes. “Ooh, this sounds juicy–what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing,” Gil said while Tarvek just looked away.
“Come on, Gil,” she prodded. “You can’t drop a bomb like Prince Stick-Up-His-Butt had a life and not explain–I am the information gatherer, you said. I need to gather this information.”
“Just drop it, Seffie,” Anevka said softly. “It’s obviously none of your business.”
“Pff, such an amateur mistake, cousin. Now I must know what happened.”
Yeah, never going to happen, Gil thought as he stuffed his mouth full of vegetables and finished off his wine before he even finished chewing.
Seffie poked him in the ribs. “Come on, Gil, you can tell me.”
Gil swallowed down the tasteless food, shaking his head. “No way,” he said, except what actually came out of his mouth was, “well, this one time we were wandering around Castle Wulfenbach when we found this room full of naked mannequins. I have no idea why they were naked or why there was a room full of them, but Tarvek just had to-”
“Stop it,” Anevka said, looking nervously between Gil and her brother.
“But this was just getting interesting,” Seffie said as she leaned forward, her chin propped on her hand. “Tell me more.”
Gil fought back the urge to continue the story–what was wrong with him? The more Seffie cajoled him, the less resistance he seemed to have and the more the fog seemed to fill his mind.
“Enough, Seffie,” Tarvek finally said, slamming his hand down between them, rattling the silver, “or I’ll start telling stories about you.”
“There are no stories about me; I’m perfect–Grandmama told me so.”
Anevka rolled her eyes. “Grandmother tells everyone that.”
“But she really means it for me.”
“She tell you that, too?” Tarvek grumbled. “I do seem to recall this one time when you were five-”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Seffie screeched, once again getting the attention of the entire room until Anevka kicked her under the table. “You said we’d never speak of that again.”
The table grew suddenly silent, sending a shiver down Gil’s back. A stern looking woman with a pinched face and severe gray bun strolled over to stand behind Anevka.
“Is there a problem, Master Tarvek,” she asked, voice low and threatening.
The standoff with Seffie lasted a moment longer before Tarvek looked away, sitting ramrod straight, eyes staring right past Gil. “Everything is fine, Frau Heinlein.”
The woman considered the three–now Anevka and Seffie were sitting straight, hands in her laps, eyes distant–then nodded, walking stiffly away.
The silence at the table grew until the woman disappeared then it was if everyone let out a sigh of relief at the same time and went back to their conversations like nothing happened.
What just happened?
* * *
Tarvek remained completely still long after Frau Heinlein exited the room, leaving behind a chill over his flushed skin. He forced the lump down in his throat–she always had that effect on him, like he was drowning in his own terror.
Gil glanced around the group–none of them making eye contact with him or each other. “Who was that?” he asked, keeping a wary eye on the door she’d exited through.
“That’s the nanny,” Seffie whispered. “She’s scary.”
“That’s your nanny?” Gil asked Tarvek a little louder than he’d intended. “And I thought von Pinn was terrifying.”
Tarvek finally met Gil’s gaze, a moment of familiarity flaring between them, bringing a wistful smile to Gil’s lips until they both seemed to realize at the same time what they were doing and looked away in opposite directions.
No, nothing like von Pinn–she actually cared. He didn’t voice that thought, instead reaching across the table for Anevka’s wine; she didn’t stop him, only signaled a waiter for another glass.
After that, things calmed down some as Seffie launched into a one-sided conversation none of them paid any attention to. Across from him, Gil picked at his quail, took a small bite then dropped his fork onto the plate with a look of disgust.
“You don’t like fish and you don’t like quail,” Tarvek said. “Is there anything you do eat?”
Gil didn’t look up. “I like fish just fine; this tastes like-” He pushed his entire plate away, frowning. “-nothing.”
“Gil, are you well?” Seffie asked, placing her hand against his cheek.
Tarvek had to admit he looked a little pale and was listing slightly towards Seffie, but then Gil turned that guileless smile towards his younger cousin making Tarvek nearly gag on his food.
“I’m fine, thank you, maybe, I’m not sure I think okay,” Gil said all in one breath before shaking his head. He focused on Seffie. “I’m okay, just not that hungry.”
If Tarvek didn’t know any better, he’d think those words were almost painful for Gil to say considering how forced they were and the tension in his set jaw.
“What?” Gil said, eyes narrowed at Tarvek.
Damn, he’d been staring, but now he couldn’t very well look away or he’d look suspicious so he just continued to stare, matching Gil’s expression.
“Boys,” Anevka warned, “don’t you think we’ve had enough drama this evening.”
“Yes,” Gil answered, “I’ve had plenty of drama. Here and here and here.” He pointed at the bruises and cuts covering his face while still staring pointedly at Tarvek until Tarvek admitted defeat and ducked his head, cheeks flaming.
Anevka sighed and returned to her meal. Tarvek could feel Gil’s gaze scalding his skin until he felt completely naked, his soul bared–how did he even have that power? Disgusted with himself, he downed the rest of his wine.
What is wrong with me? Holzfäller is back in my life for one day and I’m reduced to a drunken sod with a broken heart.
The thought stopped him cold. His heart was not broken–not by Gilgamesh Holzfäller for sure. He just had a lot of buried trauma he’d yet to unpack from his childhood that Gil was nice enough to trigger by showing up at his own house, in service to the Baron, no less–the person that had destroyed Tarvek’s young life with a swift dismissal bereft of any explanation on Tarvek’s end.
That’s all it was–displaced anger over the cruelty he suffered as a child. It had nothing to do with Holzfäller himself.
“Why are you staring at me?” Gil demanded suddenly, startling the people sitting around them.
Or maybe it was just Gil he was angry with.
“Why are you even here?” Tarvek asked, annoyed with himself for caring.
Gil’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What did you say?”
The stare-down lasted several moments until a chime sounded the beginning of the next course. Tarvek let out a relieved breath as waiters poured out of the kitchen, replacing half-eaten entrees with fresh radish-onion salads much to the chagrin of many of the children at the table.
“What is wrong with you?” Anevka asked, leaning close while Gil and Seffie whispered to each other.
She glanced from him to Gil then back. “I thought you said you weren’t hung up on him?”
“Well, you’re not acting like it, and you’re being rude to our guest. Quit antagonizing him or I’ll let Seffie tell some of her stories,” she finished with a satisfied grin.
“What will you let Seffie do?” Seffie asked.
“Nothing,” Tarvek muttered before Anevka could answer.
Seffie obviously didn’t buy it which meant she’d keep needling him until he snapped again–she was good at getting information when she wanted it, and Seffie always wanted information. He needed to be more careful.
The salad did nothing to improve anyone’s spirits at the table. Many of the younger children made a game of hiding bits of it in napkins and skirts before their nannies and caretakers could catch them. Others simply threw it at each other. None of them ate any.
Even Tarvek didn’t have the appetite for radishes and onions drizzled in some kind of too-sweet vinaigrette. How does one even make vinegar sweet?
Tarvek sighed, sipping his wine that Anevka had stopped protesting probably because she knew if she needed it that much to get through the night then he probably needed it more.
Or she just got tired of fighting him.
And Seffie because she was on her third glass and listing slightly despite Anevka watering it down drastically–Grandmother was going to kill them if she caught Seffie drunk.
Across from him, Gil frowned at his plate, blinked a few times then rolled his eyes into the back of his head like he was having an annoying conversation with his salad. Tarvek wondered what the hell he was thinking but knew better than to ask. That would look to Anevka a little too much like he cared when really he was just bored out of his mind.
And curious. Damn him for being curious about what Gil had been up to the last five years. How did he get to be an apprentice? Of the Baron, no less.
He wanted to know why and how Gil could go from being nobody to such a prestigious appointment. Did it have something to do with what happened that night–what they found in the vaults? Or what they didn’t find? Why couldn’t he just let it go?
Gil and the mystery of his family and why he was here after all this time. He hated to admit Anevka was right–he was hung up on Holzfäller and needed to find a way to get over him or this week would be an even bigger disaster than he’d first predicted.
“You’re being rude again,” his sister whispered into his ear then tousled his hair.
Tarvek smacked her hand away and took another sip of wine, noticing Gil had finished his already. In fact, by Tarvek’s count, Gil had more wine than the rest of them but seemed sober enough, ignoring the dopey look on his face that was currently directed at Seffie.
“ Holzfäller,” Tarvek said, startling the other boy to nearly falling off his chair, “are you flirting with my cousin?”
“So what if I am?” Gil said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“She’s eleven and off limits.”
“Tarvek,” Seffie shouted, facing blazing red, “mind your own business.”
Anevka took a deep breath, holding a hand up to stop Seffie’s growing outburst. “No, I’m on Tarvek’s side here–Gil is too old for you.”
“I’m almost twelve.”
Tarvek crossed his arms, matching Gil. “And he’s almost fifteen.”
Gil’s eyebrow shot up and Tarvek wanted to kick himself for giving away that he knew even the smallest intimate detail of the other boy’s life. After a moment, Gil looked away with a sigh, picked up his wine glass, and seeing it was empty, set it back down.
“I wasn’t flirting–or I didn’t mean to.”
Seffie let out an indignant huff which Gil answered with a mumbled apology to the table before Seffie stomped off. Other diners sitting close to them stopped to watch but then went back to their own conversations at Anevka’s threatening stare.
Tarvek shook his head. “You’re not very good with girls, are you?”
“Leave him alone, Tarvek,” Anevka said just as their father stood at the head table, tapping his wine glass to get everyone’s attention. Both Tarvek and Anevka groaned getting a questioning look from Gil.
“And now we enter the parental embarrassment portion of the evening,” said Anevka, getting a giggle from one of their cousins sitting next to her.
As their father began droning on about what an honor it was to have the Baron at their family dinner table, Gil twisted in his seat to watch. Tarvek tried to pay attention, but he could only see the back of Gil’s head from his position and could only hear the rush of blood between his ears as he methodically took in every inch of the other boy.
Gil had gotten bigger, of course, but he looked stuck somewhere between boy and man that unnerved Tarvek–his shoulders were broader than Tarvek’s own, but Gil was much thinner with arms and legs that seemed a little too long, but after their fight, he knew they hid powerful muscles.
With them, he filled his suit out well or maybe the suit was tailored for him. If he was officially the Baron’s protege than it would be expected, but despite how well the suit fit, Gil appeared completely out of sorts in it–like he’d rather be in a lab coat or naked than dressed up.
Tarvek shivered at that thought and downed the last of his wine; he did not want to be thinking about Holzfäller naked. He must have made a face because it got his sister’s attention and a smug smile that sent vengeful plots bouncing around his head.
She knew he was thinking about Gil and would never let him live this down, but trying to divert his thoughts elsewhere just circled back around to the other boy and how his hair curled around his ears and stuck up at odd angles just as it did when they were children. Did he even own a comb? Or how Gil still held himself like he was ready to bounce off his chair and into their next adventure–barely contained perpetual motion and raw power.
As if he also knew Tarvek’s thoughts, Gil turned to give him a questioning look, head tilted in such a familiar way it nearly took Tarvek’s breath away. How the hell did he do that still?
The two stared at each other, and Tarvek found himself again wondering what Gil was thinking because he was sure he could see the wheels in his mind turning in his eyes.
“What?” Gil asked again but without the derision of earlier–more like he was just as curious about what Tarvek was thinking, so naturally, Tarvek just looked away feeling more like an idiot.
He was saved any more uncomfortable moments with Seffie returning, plunking down in her seat with her arms crossed and a look like the world owed her everything her heart desired and she wasn’t getting it–in other words, her normal look.
“When will this ever end,” Seffie moaned, reaching for her glass and realizing with obvious distaste that it was already empty then eyeing everyone at the table like they were responsible.
* * *
Gil flipped open his pocket watch, the little hands blurring together then popped it closed without actually looking at the time. “It’s only been seven minutes,” he said, frowning at the closed watch that had told him nothing of the sort.
“Well if no one stops him, Uncle Aaronev will keep this up for hours–he loves to talk about himself like he was the king of the universe.”
“So that’s where you get it from,” Anevka said, eyes twinkling with mischief Gil remembered from their adventure through the castle.
Seffie wasn’t as amused as Gil at the remark though, instead, kicking her cousin under the table and apparently striking a table leg instead by the yelp of pain and growl across the table at Anevka’s smirk.
The Prince was now carrying on about his family which included pretty much everyone in the room in some way. Then he moved on to his pride in his children and how amazing they were, making even Gil cringe as everyone turned their way and reluctantly raised their glasses.
“Oh, geeze,” he muttered once the attention moved back to the prince, “parents are so embarrassing.”
“Tell me about it,” Seffie grumbled with a nod.
[ Part 10 ]