I crossed my arms over my chest, just in case she wasn’t getting the hint that I wasn’t open to an affectionate, teary farewell. “Do you have any promises you’d like to make me before I go off into Faerie, potentially never to be seen again?”
She blanched, and I knew I was being unnecessarily cruel. But, dammit, I was the one who was plunging headfirst into danger. It wasn’t my responsibility to try to make her feel better about it.
My mom stood up a little straighter and tried to look stern. “My life is my business,” she told me firmly. “You don’t get to make the rules, and I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep.”
I ground my teeth. Couldn’t she hear herself? If she couldn’t keep a promise not to drink, didn’t that obviously make her the alcoholic she claimed she wasn’t?
“Well, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t bother me,” I told her. “I’m through with that act.”
I’m sure this wasn’t the sentimental send-off she’d been hoping for. But if she thought we could fix this thing between us in the few minutes we had standing out here surrounded by all these people, she was nuts.
Mom reached out and touched my shoulder briefly. “I love you, Dana,” she said, her voice low enough I could barely hear it, her eyes now swimming with tears. “I hope you know that.”
There was a time in my life when the minute my mom turned on the waterworks, I gave up whatever fight we’d been having and tried to get her to stop crying. My mom had aced Emotional Manipulation 101 and was now on to graduate studies. But whatever else had happened to me since I’d come to Avalon, I seemed to have become immune to the magical effects of her tears.
I didn’t reassure her that I knew she loved me, nor did I reassure her that I loved her. Even though I did. No matter how angry I was, no matter how scared I was of what she would do to herself, she was still my mom, and her drinking wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I didn’t love her. But I didn’t tell her, despite the little voice in my head that said I should, just in case this was the last time we ever saw each other. I told that little voice that it was being morbid and should shut up.
Mom bowed her head, then nodded. Accepting reality, I guess. Now there’s a shock!
“Be safe, baby,” she said, and she let loose the tears she’d been trying—not very hard, I suspect—to suppress.
Moving faster than I could dodge, she threw her arms around me and hugged me tight. I could feel her body shaking as she cried, and I knew I’d have a damp patch on my shoulder before she let go.
With a sigh of resignation, I put my arms around her and gave her a brief squeeze before squirming out of her grasp. “I’ll see you soon,” I said, which was about as close as I was going to come to giving her the reassurance she’d wanted.
“I won’t let anything happen to her,” my dad said.
“I know,” she responded, then gave him a hug, too. He was taken by surprise, but he hugged her back with more enthusiasm than I had. They fought almost all the time, as far as I could tell—mostly about me—but I guess they had loved each other once upon a time, and they didn’t hate each other now.
“I’ll bring her back safe and sound,” my dad said, though I doubted phrasing his reassurance a different way was going to make my mom any more convinced.
She nodded, still clinging to him.
Mom held on to Dad for a moment, then let him go and took a couple of steps back. Her eyes were still shimmery, her cheeks wet with tears. I had a nasty suspicion that the first thing she would do when we were gone was find a liquor store. But there would have been nothing I could have done to stop her even if I weren’t running off to Faerie, into what was, as far as I was concerned, enemy territory.
Dad put an arm around my shoulder and steered me toward the bridge. My friends fell in behind us. I looked over my shoulder once and saw my mom waving forlornly. I thought about waving back, but didn’t.
When we reached the parking lot, one of the prince’s men was waiting for us with an expression of impatience on his face. He looked like he was about to say something about us being late, but my dad gave him an icy look, and he thought better of it. Instead, he motioned to some guy dressed like Robin Hood, who led a bunch of horses our way.
By “led,” I don’t mean he held on to their halters and guided them toward us; I mean he beckoned to them with a wave, and they perked up their ears and followed. I tried to tell myself that meant the horses were easygoing and well-behaved, and I would have no trouble trying to ride one.
“These are the mounts your Knight chose for the children,” Robin said, and my dad was the only one who didn’t stiffen up at the word children. Yes, I know, to thousand-year-old Fae, we were infants, but still …
Robin Hood introduced each of us to our horses by name as if they were people. I half-expected them to offer to shake hands. My horse was an enormous white mare named Phaedra. Being a Fae horse, she was a thing of beauty, with sleek lines, intelligent brown eyes, and a mane and tail so white they practically sparkled. She was also about half-again as tall as I was. My palms began to sweat.
“Is this a good time to mention that I don’t know how to ride?” I asked my dad as Robin Hood, or whatever his name was, left us to our own devices. Was it my imagination, or was Phaedra giving me the stink eye?
Dad smiled at me and stroked Phaedra’s nose. She seemed to like that. “You’ll do fine,” he said. “She knows where we’re going better than you do. All you have to do is sit in the saddle, and she’ll take care of the rest.”