Ortega swung the door open, relieved today more than any other to finally be home. "Now where!" he boomed, pausing for a moment to let his bag and keys clatter against the tile of his foyer. "Where! Are my girls!"
In a couple of seconds, the blur of tutus and giggling and glitter that were his daughters stormed down the stairs and with one in each arm, he swooped them up, laughing and burying his head into them and swinging them around haphazardly. Levaya and Genevieve yelped as they caught air before Ortega brought them back into a bear hug. This was their ritual, their little routine. Yet neither of the girls noticed that Ortega pulled them just a little closer today, held on just a little longer.
"Daddy, Mr. Melanthe said that I don't have to practice today because I already played everything really, really good," Genevieve mumbled against Ortega's shoulder, pulling away to deliver her most convincing and not-lying-at-all- please-don't-ask-any-questions smile and nod.
"Really, really well," Levaya corrected matter-of-factly, sticking her tongue out at Genevieve after her younger sister iced her with a glare. She paused and turned quickly to her father. "Mr Melanthe said the same thing about me. Actually, actually, he said I was sooo perfect that I don't need to practice for a week."
"Is that right?" Ortega squinted his eyes playfully at his little spawns, eyes twinkling. "So you wouldn't mind if I," he started, pulling his phone from the back pocket of his trousers, "gave Mr. Melanthe a little ring?"
Genevieve's face contorted in the fear of being caught red-handed, but Levaya simply groaned and pouted, knowing her father's antics and joking threats well (she was very mature, as she'd have you know - she was already seven and three quarters).
The younger girl squirmed, jumping to snatch her father's phone away. "No, no, no!" she squealed, her tutu spilling unicorn glitter all over their sleek, black carpet. Ortega grimaced, preparing himself from the lecture that his housekeeper Imelda was going to give the next time she saw him. "Don't call him - he said he's busy for the next YEAR!"
Ortega chuckled as Genevieve swiped his phone and held it as ransom behind her back. He looked at both of them in the eye, quickly switching between the two of them, putting on a serious face that neither his daughters nor he bought for a second. "You get one day off, alright? Today, only. Tomorrow, we're back to thirty minutes for both of you."
Levaya and Genevieve screeched - yes, screeched - in celebration and thanks, and Genevieve joyously discarded her father's phone onto the couch. After a quick showering of kisses on their father's cheek, the two girls stormed back up the stairs to whatever medieval fairy tale they were reenacting today. At least they had grown out of pretending to be tributes.
Brushing off the copious helping of glitter Genevieve left on his pants, Ortega jumped at the sound of her voice. "Sweetheart, they're never going to get better if you keep letting them cheat themselves out of practicing."
His wife, Elari, laughed musically at his little flinch as she took in the scheduled glitter dump on the floor. "Imelda - "
" - is going to kill me, I know," Ortega finished sheepishly, getting up and planting a kiss on the crown of her head before plopping down on their couch. Which was now also covered in glitter. A quick apology to Imelda flittered in his head.
"And I'm sorry, I just..." he started, pausing to find the right words. His jaw clenched before he finished. "I just want them to have a chance to just be kids."
Elari nodded sadly, fluttering her eyes shut as she sat beside him and curled her head in the crook of his neck, his arm naturally wrapping around her shoulder. "We're not talking about practicing piano anymore, are we?"
He ran the fingers of his free hand through his hair. "I never thought I'd be the guy that couldn't leave work at work," he said, laughing emptily. A cold shiver ran down his spine as the last hour of work today ran through his mind. The arena… the mutts...
"Just one more year, and they'll let you walk out," Elari whispered, silencing his wandering mind with a gentle squeeze of the hand. "You just need to lie to yourself for one more year. One last show."
He nodded into her hair, finding safe haven in the smell of her shampoo. This was the last time he was locked in, chained to the Games. For nine years, his sister had been locked up god knows where for doing god knows what and he'd been locked up in plain sight for knowing her and for having a knack of designing pretty functional nightmares for arenas.
And the thing with chains - they grew. Multiplied like bacteria. Quickly his chains became Elari's, Genevieve's, Levaya's. In the cars that followed Elari as she went to the optometrist. In the wire that Mr. Melanthe had to wear during his daughters' piano lessons.
"Just tell yourself… tell yourself it's what they want," Elari thought aloud. She shut her eyes once more, burying her head into his chest to avoid his eyes as the venomous words slipped past her lips. "They always mourn their old lives. They can't see that our praise, our love, our hero's welcome is better than any home they've ever had."
Neither of them found the strength to keep the charade going on any longer. Not in their own home. Not with each other. Ortega pulled his wife tight to his chest, praying that they could make it through one last year before these chains ripped them to shreds, or worse - apart.
howdy fellas! hope everyone's healthy and ballin at home. also hope that all of you will be a part of this quarantined journey with me :) i have SO much time on my hands now and am SO excited to put it to use in something fun! and quirky!
guidelines and form are on my profile! submissions close on may 1st, so we have a good minute before then but honestly i am so antsy rn if i'm happy with the list before and i might close it early so submit early if you can! tanks!
send me a message if you have any questions! and a review some things never change i'm still a whore for reviews
other than tat….. Welcome to A Hero's Welcome!