“Yum! That smells absolutely delicious!” The heavy scent of pumpkin bread literally seemed to ripple through the air of the small kitchen of Nana’s flat. Lex loved being here. It was the only place in the world he actually felt at home.
“Alexander, you’re home! Just in time too, I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.” She was the only one who called him by his full first name–the only one allowed to–but he didn’t mind. He’d probably let her call him “Kitten” if she liked, and he hated cats.
“Well, I’d be an utter fool to miss Sunday brunch with my favorite Nana in the whole of England!”
She smiled at that, and he was glad. He wished he knew better how to thank her for taking such good care of him.
“You know, there was a day when my grandson showed up early enough to help his old Nana fix the food as well as eat it, but I’m sure you’re far too busy these days for that, now aren’t you?”
“And too wise,” Lex added. “I can’t imagine how I was ever gullible enough to actually work for my breakfast.”
With that, she rolled her eyes dramatically and said, “Well, as long as my eggs and bacon keep bringing you back, I’ll keep fixing them. Here, dear, have some of this pumpkin bread. You know it’s your favorite.”
She was right; it was. “Thank you, Nana,” Lex mumbled, feeling a bit embarrassed by her doting.
“Now, tell me how things are. Are you still taking good care of that dear Daina? She’s a good girl, you know. ” She pressed, eyeing him more seriously now, “You haven’t brought her with you in a while. I’m beginning to wonder about you two.”
Lex had grown to dread this question a little more each week–even from Nana. He realized this was probably because he wasn’t too sure of the answer himself. He still liked Daina, and knew she was getting fed up with him, but he just wasn’t sure of where things were going with her. Their’s was becoming one more relationship in which he felt increasingly out of control and terrifically uncertain. There were too many of those in his life. As always, this thought sparked others, and he was quickly running back through the same nightmare of memories he couldn’t seem to stop reliving in his mind.
Lex had been moved out of his parents’ home when he was five to be sheltered from his mother’s neglect. Since he’d been old enough to turn on the TV, she would leave him alone at the flat from morning until just after dinner most days. Lex would never know here whereabouts, or when she would return. She never bought groceries, but would bring home scraps of leftovers from whatever pub she’d had dinner at that night.
His father would only come home long enough to sleep most nights–some not at all. He was too addicted to his job. Lex still knew very little about what his father did, aside from handling the business handed down to him from his father–Nana’s deceased husband. As Lex grew older, he became increasingly aware of the secrecy associated with his father’s job, and was now almost completely convinced that it was probably illegal.
Lex remembered that on Sundays–which became his favorite day–sometimes they would walk through the park together. He loved having his parents together and with him, like a real family–like the ones on the telly. When they were all together, he would dream for a few fleeting hours that they were just like the American Brady Bunch, but with fewer people. He just knew that if they all were together more they would be happy.
It didn’t take long for his dreams to die, between his parents’ arguing and the fact that Sundays together were a rare occurrence at best. By the time he’d moved in with Nana, Lex couldn’t remember the last time they’d done anything as a family.
On Lex’s fifth birthday, Nana–she was his father’s mum–had stopped by to see him. When she discovered that Lex would go all day without eating, and hadn’t had a change of clean clothes in weeks, she’d nearly set the house on fire. Never the confrontational type, though, she’d quietly left a note for his parents and took him with her. Taking his small, bony hand, she’d spoken softly, “It’ll be better this way.”
He hadn’t seen his parents since. They hadn’t tried to retrieve him either. After experiencing life with Nana for one, blessed week, Lex stopped caring if he ever saw either of his parents again.
Now that Lex was in his twenties and lived on his own, his father would stop to visit Nana. Sometimes she would tell Lex how his parents were. “Still together,” she would say with a sigh, staring out the window, “I’ll never understand what’s become of that mother of yours. She was the complete downfall of my son. The poor girl doesn’t even seem to know she’s completely wasted the two best things that ever happened to her.” She would look at him then and smile gently, “That’s what you are, you know, dear…your father was the best thing that ever happened to me, and you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to any of us.”
She willingly chose to overlook much about his father’s crookedness, he knew, but she sure knew how to make him feel like he was worth something. Despite her faults, Lex loved his Nana, and didn’t like to differ with her. After what she’d done for him, he could certainly afford to be tolerant.
Looking up at her now, across the table from him, Lex mumbled a response to her question about Daina, “Things are fair enough, I suppose. Daina’s fine. I’ll have to bring her with me next week.”
Had he said that last week? Probably.
Nana looked at him knowingly, and caught him off guard by speaking plainly, “Alexander, you don’t have to avoid the truth with me, dear. I know you too well for that.”
He nodded and looked down at his food. It didn’t look as appetizing anymore.
“Daina discovered the secret, Nana, and I can’t seem to figure out what to do about it.”
Nana’s eyes grew wide, very wide. Then they grew dark. No one was to know the secret.
Lex expected Nana to ask how Daina knew, but she didn’t. Instead, she simply wiped egg yolk from her upper lip with a white cloth napkin and said, “I’ll take care of it, dear. Don’t worry about a thing.” Forcing a smile, she assured him, “You won’t need to bother yourself over that girl any longer.”
Lex wanted to defend Daina, but he knew he wouldn’t. The secret must stay hidden, and that was definitive.
As he’d done so many times before, he reminded himself now, “It’ll be better this way.”