~ Parallels ~
Dawn had a fitful night of sleep. When she grew tired of trying for restful slumber, she rose from the bed and went down to the music room and tickled the ivories. As the sun rose in the East, the door opened and Nikolas entered. She stopped playing and beckoned for him to join her on the piano bench.
"I couldn't sleep," he said, stifling a yawn, "without you. Why are you up so early?"
"I couldn't sleep at all," she replied. She kissed his cheek and hugged him. "I'm sorry you woke up."
"Well, since we're both awake, you should tell me why you're so upset."
She frowned. "Am I so easy to read?"
"Not to everyone. The children didn't notice anything amiss at dinner, but perhaps they were too consumed with their own turmoil to notice."
Remembering their dinner conversation, she jabbed a finger into Nikolas' chest. "And you! I can't believe you suggested Dominik should speak with Ciarda. I wish you had run that one by me beforehand."
"Why?" he said, grabbing her finger and trapping her hand with his own. "Dominik has been friends with the twins for years. He cares for them. Maybe he can help."
"Nikky, our son is the last person to help with this." She shifted on the bench so that she could see his reaction better. "Haven't you noticed how the dynamics have changed the past year? There's a major love triangle happening between our Dominik and the girls. Thinking Dom can help is like thinking a lighted match won't do anything to a stick of dynamite. This could be explosive and make things worse for Ciarda instead of better."
Nikolas frowned and his mouth dropped open. "Why didn't you tell me?" he sputtered. "Why haven't I noticed?"
"Don't feel bad. It's not like Dominik wears his heart on his sleeve. I just noticed. I thought you had, too. Sorry."
"I suppose that's why Tommy didn't want Dominik to help, but I insisted." He released a low breath. "Is it too late to change last night?"
She nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"Enough about Dominik. I'll speak to him later. Speak to me, woman! What's caused the sparkle in your brown eyes to dim?" he asked, tilting his head and giving Dawn a look that turned her legs to jelly.
She almost swooned into his arms, but somehow, stopped herself just in time. She moved across the room to grab the offending folder and handed it Nikolas. "Take a look."
Nikolas smiled. "The script for your movie and photos. She's a pretty young woman. Is she their choice for Lark?"
"As if they possessed a clue." Dawn snorted. "No, she's their choice to play me."
"You?" He glanced at the photo again and frowned. "She looks nothing like you. She's Latina! What the hell are they thinking?"
"I suppose they are under the belief that African-American women aren't talented enough to act. Hmm...or maybe we're just not beautiful enough for the big screen." She folded her arms across her chest and looked at her husband. "Which do you think it is?"
"I think neither is correct." He stood and pulled her into his arms. "You can't seriously believe there's any credence to their decision. You're the most beautiful and the most talented woman I know. And your flesh's delicious hue which reminds me of finest Swiss chocolate stirs me from head to toe."
"Swiss chocolate?" Dawn repeated with a faint smile. She hadn't wanted to admit to it, not even to herself, but the studio's suggestions had struck her deeply. Just a glance at daytime or primetime proved that her suspicions were correct. If an African-American woman was cast, she certainly didn't have the same milk chocolate skin tone as Dawn. More like café au lait.
Nikolas cupped her face. "What are you thinking? I hoped that you would feel better now and not worse. What did I say that was wrong?"
She shook her head. "It's not you. You said everything right, but not everyone agrees with you. I certainly understand why Ciarda is upset. I always thought I had adjusted to the inequality and short-sightedness of our society. I was wrong. That photo," she said, pointing, "proved me wrong." She burrowed her head against the curve of Nikolas' neck. "It still hurts."
He brushed his lips across her forehead. "I'm sorry. What can I do to help?"
"You've always done it," she said. "I'll be okay. Just hold me for a little while longer."
"Consider it done."
The crisp morning air filled Dominik's lungs as he took Isis out for a morning ride. Noelle sat astride their father's Sheba II and shared the morning dew with him. He glanced at his sister, completely decked out in her riding outfit of riding pants, boots and hat. Smiling to himself, he marveled at Noelle's ability to rise to the occasion no matter what that occasion was.
"What are you grinning at?" she asked, giving him a sidelong glance. "I don't look ridiculous!"
"No one said you did! In fact, you look very ladylike."
"Oh, poo!" She grumbled. "You sound like Papa. As if I'd want to look like a lady!"
Dominik laughed. "Don't let him or Grandpapa hear you say that. You'll never see the light of day again. Well, not without an escort."
"That's true," she said. Noelle pulled Sheba II to a stop and Dominik did the same, giving her a questioning look. "You wanted to talk. We're far enough away from home to say whatever it is you have on your mind."
Dominik glanced around. Sure enough, the woods seemed to be secluded enough. "I suppose you're right."
"What's up, Dom? Are you feeling weird about what Papa asked you to do? I wouldn't think talking to Ciarda would be too difficult. I'd do it myself, but the age difference could cause a problem."
He rolled his eyes. "Only a year separates you."
"True, but I'm younger. She won't listen to me."
"I don't know what to say to her. She's pretty and can be intense, but she's no less than Alanna," Dominik reasoned. "Just because their skin tone is different… I mean who cares? So Ciarda looks more like Uncle Tommy and Alanna looks more like Aunt Gina. Is it really that big of a deal?"
He frowned. "How can you say that? I look like Papa and you look like Mama. There's no difference between us."
"There's a <I>huge</I> difference! Not in how they feel about us, but in how certain people respond to us. Don't tell me you've never noticed," Noelle said, staring at him as if he'd lost his mind.
"I haven't noticed," he declared. "Maybe you're making more out of this 'color' issue than there really is."
"Oh, brother," she groaned. "Let's go to the City and see what happens. See who follows me around in a department store and who breaks her neck trying to assist you."
"Well, I have noticed that happening a few times, but…"
"But what?" Noelle asked. "We have the same vast amount of spendable cash. Those people can't know that by looking at us, of course, nor should they assume I'm a thief and you're trustworthy. Do you know how many times I've seen old white ladies grab their purses when I pass them on the sidewalk? I bet that's never happened to you."
"Hey, it's not my fault that's happened to you!"
"Dominik, your head is unreasonably thick. Don't talk to Ciarda until you get a clue."
His sister's cutting dismissal hurt. Of course, he had a clue. He knew about race and different cultures. Their parents made sure of that. It wasn't like he didn't understand. But how could all of that affect Ciarda so deeply? Why would she want to leave? And just why the hell was she crying on Ben's shoulder and not his?!
Dominik grabbed his sister's arm to prevent her from racing off. "I want to help. Tell me what to do."
Noelle turned Sheba II around until horse and riders stood face to face. "The best way you can help Ciarda is for you to decide which of the twins you really want. That's the best thing you can do. Once you figure it out, come to me and we'll talk."
"Okay, what did I do now?" Alanna demanded of her twin. "What did I do that made you tell Mom and Dad that you want to move away?"
Ciarda rolled onto her side and faced the wall. She pulled her comforter up around her. "You didn't do anything," she mumbled. "It's just something I want to do."
"No!" Alanna exclaimed, plopping onto her sister's bed. "That's not good enough. Tell me!"
"This isn't about you!" Ciarda pushed off the bed in one fluid move. "Believe it or not, Alanna, but my world doesn't revolve around you! This is my decision and has nothing to do with you! Nothing!"
Color drained from Alanna's face. She slowly stood and responded in a tremulous whisper, "You don't have to yell at me."
Ciarda felt a smidgen of guilt at that, but refused to acknowledge it. She turned her back and started making her bed. Her emotions scattered all over the place. Talking to Alanna in her present mood could be disastrous. She just wished her twin would get the hint and leave.
"So, you're gonna just shut me out?" Alanna asked. "Whatever I did, I didn't mean it!"
The slamming door followed Alanna's outcry. Ciarda's knees weakened and she sunk to her bed. Tears flowed down her cheeks. Why was this so hard? She didn't want to hurt her sister. All she wanted was some distance, a place of her own. Ciarda sniffled and wiped her tears. Why did everything have to be so hard?
Gina winced as another door upstairs slammed. She glanced at Tommy as he poured coffee into mugs for them. "We have to do something."
He handed a mug to her. "What can we do? We can't force Ciarda to feel a certain way. We could try therapy who's to say that will work."
She arched an eyebrow. "Therapy helps."
"But what if Ciarda isn't the one who needs it?" he countered. "It's not her fault she feels this way. I channel surfed after you went to bed last night. Not once did I see a young woman who remotely resembled our Ciarda. There were plenty of girls who could be dead ringers for Alanna, though."
"That's not gonna change. Ciarda is gonna have to realize she's beautiful on the inside and out. Skin tone doesn't determine that."
"That's easy for you to say, Gina."
Sudden tension crackled between them. Gina didn't know how to respond. She never thought Tommy would say something like that to her. It hurt.
He lowered his mug to the counter and reached for her hand. "I'm not accusing you, Gina, but the truth is, you don't know what Ciarda is going through. I can relate to it, but I'm a man. Men are looked at differently. On all the shows I watched, men of all different colors were given prominent roles. That's not so for women. It never has been and from the looks of it, it will never be."
"So what are we supposed to do?" Gina asked. "Our daughter is hurting. I feel her pain, but you're telling me I can't help! There's nothing we can do to stop racism on a societal scale. I just want our daughter to be happy again. How can we make her be happy?"
Gina's shoulder shook as she sobbed. Tommy pulled her close to him, his hands stroking her back. "I think we should consider Ciarda's suggestion. If she wants to go to that boarding school in Connecticut, we should take a look at it and see if that will help."
She nodded and raised her head from his shoulder. He thumbed away her tears.
"If this will make her happy, we don't have any other choice, do we?"
Tommy shook his head. "No, we don't."