“Lucy,” said Andre, holding a teacup full of espresso, “she was my teacher, and I fell in love with her.”
“So you hung around her party and tried to make her run off with you,” said Rob.
Andre looked at Rob strangely, then said, “No, that’s not what happened. I was there.”
Andre clouded. “But it wasn’t there. It wasn’t Whistler.” He shook his head. “I’m confused. But I thought it was—?” They all looked at him. He said, “Endweith.”
They all looked at each other, all five of them, and then they looked at him.
“So let’s start at the beginning,” said Lilah. “Where did you grow up?”
“I was born in Olaren, the capital city. My parents came from away, before my sister and I were born. We were from Groria originally, but things were getting hot there, there was this war, all I know about it is that the strongest people I had ever known didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Well,” said George, “are we talking about the wars of Antor and so on?”
“I guess so,” said Andre.
“Take it from me,” said Rob, “you were better off in Olvar.”
“So what led you into Lucy’s life?” asked Lilah.
“Doctor Lucy,” said Andre. He sighed. “Of course I went to the Institute in Olaren. My kid sister did after me. Our folks never got back to where they had been before, apparently, they were sort of barely making ends meet, but they got us to the Institute. My sister’s still—!” He stopped. His eyes filled with tears.
“What?” asked Lilah after a moment wondering what was going on. “Is your sister—did your sister, did something happen to your sister or something?” He didn’t respond. “Did Lucy and Henry have something to do with what happened to your sister?”
“Nothing happened to my sister,” he said, tears running down both cheeks.
Lilah wanted to shake him, but she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t fall apart like he was made of cookie dough. George said, “So what happened then?”
“I don’t know,” said Andre.
Lilah looked at Zinnia Rose. “What’s the deal here?” she asked. “Why’s he got a problem all of a sudden? Is he really here? Is he fading or something?” She looked at Andre, but he was still just as there as ever. The tears got to his beard line and disappeared. His eyes still glistened, but no new tears came. “What??” Goddesses, she wanted to shake him.
“It’s okay,” said Annelise, leaning to put her hands on Andre’s hands, which were loosely wrapped around his cup. “It’s okay, take your time. Just tell the story.”
“I, uh,” he said. She took her hands back and he took a drink of his espresso. He met Lilah’s eyes. “The problem is,” he said, and tears sprang out again. He put his cup down on the table and buried his face in his hands.
“The problem is, you don’t remember what happened exactly,” said Zinnia Rose, leaning back, gazing at him over her glass of red wine.
“No,” he said. “Not exactly.”
“Just tell us approximately, then.”
“Well, I, uh,” he said. Annelise gave him a napkin and he wiped his face with it. “I, uh,” he said, “I wanted to be an alchemist, of course. Everyone wanted to be an alchemist.” He laughed.
“I bet your parents wanted you to be an alchemist,” said Annelise. “I can see why. It’s a good solid job, not too risky, chance for some gold, mobility even.”
“You’re an alchemist,” he said. She nodded. He almost smiled. “Your parents must have—?”
Everyone looked at Annelise, whose eyes were glittering dangerously. “Let’s not go that direction,” said Lilah. “You didn’t really want to be an alchemist.”
“I was in general magic.” He sighed. He took a sip. His tears receded. “It’s a good program,” he said. “They only let in eight people per year. Eight in general, six in alchemy, in the advanced program.”
“But she was in alchemy,” said Lilah.
“My parents really wanted me to take at least a few classes. They always hoped I’d change my mind. I was, I was into some causes by then, some radical causes. I was thinking about how to, you know, challenge the powers, take on the system.” He laughed ruefully.
“You can’t take on the system.”
“Oh, it’s bad,” he said. “It’s bad, Lilah Bay. I thought it was bad, the system, the, um, thing about power and who’s in control and all that, but it’s worse, it’s much worse than I thought.”
Lilah sighed. “Well, tell me something I didn’t already know. I know. Just—!” She shook her head and sighed again. “Just tell me about how you met Lucy.”
Andre said, “I had to take this class. I didn’t want to. But I would have to if I ever wanted into the school of alchemy, and my parents were very, you know, they kept on it, they were insistent, they never made a big deal of it so I could rebel and argue and all that, they just kept it up, so I would always find it easier to just take the classes and, you know—!” He glanced at Annelise, who had calmed somewhat. “Or maybe you don’t, I’m so sorry, I never—!”
“It’s fine,” said Annelise.
“So I took the class. It was the one after Intro, it was Lab Procedures. And she was the teacher.” And Andre put his head down again, behind the cup he held out in front of him in both hands, and wept a little while the others waited. Then he raised his head and challenged Lilah with a look. And then he downed his second half of a cup of espresso, put it down on the table and said, “Wine, please.”