Jay rolled onto his back and sprawled his arms. He lay there like a starfish that got run over by a fleet of Jeeps. He didn’t move, didn’t think. He simply luxuriated in the moment of inaction and quiet.
A loud thud startled him out of his non-existent thoughts. Isellta let out a panicked cry.
Jay got out of bed and over to Isellta’s side so fast he didn’t even know how he did it.
Isellta was down on one knee, hyperventilating. His wings were flat on his back.
Maelin knelt beside him. “It’s okay, angel. Shh. It’s okay. We can do this.”
“What’s wrong?” Jay asked. “Mae, what happened?”
She looked up at him. “I was trying to get him up and moving, but he tripped and I lost my grip on him.”
Isellta bowed his head as he breathed in short gasps.
Jay knelt. “Isellta. Hey, kid. Look at me.”
He obeyed. Tears rimmed his eyes.
“Are you hurt?”
Isellta shook his head. “I can’t—can’t w–walk. I—Ro—Robin will be—will be disappointed.” His tears fell in a blink.”He won’t want me. He—My beautiful Robin. He won’t want me.”
“Is Robin really that shallow of a person?” Maelin asked. “Would he really give up on you because you have problems walking?”
“Why not? My mother…Sh—she…”
Maelin spoke to Isellta in Chinese. Jay didn’t know what she said, but it reminded him of chai tea – warm and cozily spiced.
Maybe it was the sound of her voice. Maybe it was the peace dragon magic of her touch. Either way, Isellta’s posture relaxed. His breathing became calmer. He sniffled, but he stopped crying.
“What did your mother do?” Jay asked.
“She didn’t want me because of my bad wings. So, she let our schie a kehn send me to Olessa.” Isellta tilted his head. “Did I already tell you this?”
Jay tried to remember him saying anything of the sort. “I’m sure you’ve hinted at it. I just…I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being tired and stupid.”
Isellta stroked the side of Jay’s face. “My dear Jay, you are never stupid.”
The guard smiled. “I wouldn’t say that. I’ve had my moments.”
“I don’t believe it.” Isellta lowered his hand. “My wings were slow to develop. When they broke out, I couldn’t pull them into my back. The skin there is wrong. It won’t let my wings through, but Momma didn’t know that. She thought I was being stubborn, but I tried. Jay, I tried. I just couldn’t do it. Momma…” His voice settled into a flat calm. “She was embarrassed by me.”
“You’re such a good kid. How could she be embarrassed by you?”
“People said mean things about her because of me. So, she let them send me away. She didn’t want me anymore. She didn’t want to see me anymore. She didn’t want to deal with all of my wrong—”
Jay hugged him. “You poor kid.”
“It’s…It’s okay, Jay.”
“No. It isn’t. She should have known. She should have figured it out.” He hugged him a little tighter. “She was your mother. She should have loved you. How could she have not loved someone like you?”
“It’s okay, Jay.” He grabbed the back of Jay’s shirt and whispered, “It’s okay.”