Egypt, Valley of the Kings
Sixteen years ago
Who is my father?”
It was late. The oil lanterns burned low, casting flickering shadows against the walls of the tomb of Ramses IV. The air smelled of dirt and musty decay. Nothing met sixteen-year-old Harrison Standish’s question but the sound of a shovel steadily scooping sand.
Except for the armed security guards posted outside the pyramid, he and his mother, Diana, were the only ones left at the excavation site. The rest of the archaeologists, dig workers, and college students had long ago returned to their quarters at the university compound.
They were searching for the lost grave of Ramses’s oldest daughter, Kiya, and her lover, Solen, a Minoan scribe sold into slavery to the Egyptians. According to lore, Solen and Kiya had been separated by Ramses’s vizier Nebamun. The Egyptian title of vizier was a very important position, administratively just under the pharaoh himself. In fact, a vizier could even be elevated to pharaoh, often by marrying into the royal family.
For his loyal service, Ramses had promised Nebamun Kiya’s hand in marriage, but when the vizier found her in Solen’s arms, he poisoned them in a jealous fit of rage.
Nebamun had buried each lover separately with one-half of a magical brooch amulet in an attempt to avoid the curse Solen cast upon him with his dying breath—even though he’d been too superstitious to destroy the amulet entirely. Mythology held that if the two rings of the brooch were ever brought together again, Solen and Kiya would be reunited in the Underworld, and Nebamun’s descendants would be forever damned.
For months Diana had been working from dawn until midnight. She was immersed, focused, fixated on her goal. She glanced over at Harrison. Her eyes shone with a feverish light.
He pushed his glasses up on his nose and held his breath. Would she answer him this time?
She did not. Her jaw tightened and she returned her attention to what she was doing, squatting on the ground, meticulously sifting through sand.
“Was my father Egyptian?” he asked. “Is that where I get my coloring?”
Scrape, scoop. Scrape, scoop.
“He was an asshole,” Diana said. “You’re better off not knowing him.”
“What about Adam’s father?” Harrison asked, referring to his younger half brother.
“What about him?”
“How come he gets to know his dad?”
Diana groaned, rocked back on her heels, and lifted a dirt-stained hand to brush a lock of blonde hair from her forehead. “Because Tom Grayfield insisted on being part of Adam’s life.”
“And my father didn’t insist on being part of mine?”
It was a rhetorical question. The absence of a father was explanation enough.
“No. Your father was already married. Already had a son. Although I didn’t know that when I met him.” The bitterness in Diana’s voice echoed throughout the cloistered chamber.
He swallowed the ugly information. His biological father was married to a woman who wasn’t his mother. His father had another son. A son he obviously liked better than he liked Harrison.
Disappointment weighted Harrison’s shoulders. Slowly, he rose to his feet.
“Look, son.” His mother’s tone softened. “You’ve got to trust me. For your own good, stop asking questions.”
“But I need to know the truth.”
“Because everyone deserves to know where they come from,” he said.
“Does this have something to do with your little friend Jessica? Are her hoity-toity parents refusing to let you date her because they don’t know your heritage?”
His face flushed hot. He fisted his hands.
“I must be right,” Diana scoffed. “You’re blushing.”
He did not reply. He was too angry, too frustrated, too confused. He sucked his emotions deep inside his lungs, held them down with the indrawn breath, and stared at his mother. He couldn’t believe she had withheld such vital information from him for so long.
“I deserve to know. I’m sixteen now. A man.”
“Okay.” Diana relented after a long pause. “I’ll tell you this much. Your father was born of noble blood, and he holds a very powerful position.”
Harrison expelled his breath along with his emotions. He felt as drained as if he’d sprinted fifty miles without stopping.
And as empty.
“Did you ever love my father?” he asked.
Diana snorted. “Love is for suckers. What you’re feeling for Jessica is nothing more than raging hormones and teenage angst. Take my advice. Forget about her. Concentrate on your work, your schooling. Science will free your mind. Not love.”
It was as if his mother had sliced open his head, peered inside his brain, and voiced his greatest fear out loud. He loved Jessica with an intensity that scared him, but he didn’t like out-of-control feelings. They clouded a man’s reason, and he thought of himself as a reasonable man.
But his heart refused to stay silent. Something unexpected inside him rebelled against logic. Something wild and scary and exhilarating.
“You’re wrong. I love Jessica, and she loves me.”
Diana shook her head. “My poor, naive boy.”
“If you don’t believe in love, then how come you’ve spent your entire life searching for Kiya and Solen to prove the legend of the star-crossed lovers?”
“Is that what you think we’ve been doing?” She looked surprised.
He shrugged. “What else?”
“Harrison, all these years I’ve been trying to disprove the legend.”
“I don’t understand.” He frowned. For as long as he could remember, his mother had been consumed by the story. How could he have been so mistaken about her motives? “Haven’t you been listening?” Diana clicked her tongue. “There’s no such thing as soul mates and undying love. No such thing as love at first sight, or even second sight, for that matter. It’s all romantic bullshit concocted to entertain the masses. When we find Solen and Kiya and join the two pieces of their amulet together again, absolutely nothing is going to happen.”
He blinked at her, incredulous. “You dragged Adam and me to Egypt when we could be having a normal life, staying in one place, making friends, all to prove nothing?”
“Exactly! Now you understand.”
“Nihilism. How Nietzsche of you, Mother.”
“Don’t get smart.” “Why not? Apparently intelligence is the only quality you value.” Harrison pivoted on his heel and stalked toward the exit.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the campus. To see Jessica. To tell her how much I love her. Because I’m not bitter like you. I do believe in the legend of the star-crossed lovers. I do believe in love.”
“Don’t do it, Harrison. It’s a mistake,” she called after him, but he just kept marching.
Tonight he would take a chance. He would give Jessica the promise ring he’d been carrying in his pocket for three weeks. Waiting for the courage to speak what was in his heart.
In the illumination from the fat yellow full moon high in the velvet-black sky, he rode his bicycle into town. His stomach was in his throat. He wanted this. He did, he did. He was no longer afraid.
I love you, Jessica.
Thirty minutes later, he pedaled through the gates of the university, his pulse pounding in his ears. He parked his bike in front of the girls’ dormitory.
He intended to sneak around the side of the building and throw pebbles at her window to wake her up, the way guys did in romantic movies. He stuck his hand in his pocket, fisted his fingers around the delicate promise ring. The smooth feel of it gave him courage.
Jessica, Jessica, Jessica.
He started across the veranda, but then he spied a couple locked in an embrace on the porch swing. He shuffled to the right, giving them a wide berth, but a familiar scent caught his attention and stopped him in midstep.
Cherry blossom cologne. Jessica’s signature scent.
He froze, rooted to the spot, to that horrible moment in time. Harrison stared while the young lovers kissed.
They must have sensed his presence, because they raised their heads, and in the bright moonlight he saw clearly the thing he most did not want to see.
Jessica in the arms of another guy.
And not just any guy, but his half brother, Adam.
The emotions were too much to handle. Betrayal, anger, disappointment, bitterness.
He shut down his feelings. Shut down his heart and stalked away.
“Harrison, wait,” Adam cried out. “It’s not what you think.”
But it was. They both knew it.
At that moment Harrison realized his hand was still clenched around the promise ring. With a curse, he pulled it from his pocket and flung it into the darkness.
Mother had been right all along.
Love was for suckers.
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