Part 6 of 7
The clinking of utensils against plates filled the room. Cody picked at his food. His parents were already halfway done with theirs, but Cody couldn’t manage to swallow a single bite.
“Where’s Kenny?” his mother asked, not looking up from her plate. In his jacket pocket, Kenny shifted into a more comfortable position.
Cody put down his fork. However much he wanted to, he couldn’t keep this from his parents. He took a fortifying breath. “Kenny burned again.”
His parents’ eyes widened. It was not even two weeks since Kenny last burned, they were right to be surprised. “What happened? Is he okay?” his father asked.
“He’s fine,” Cody said. At least, he thought so. He didn’t know what Kenny was supposed to look like or even what kind of bird he really was. How was he supposed to know if he looked healthy? He couldn’t fully trust Kenny to tell him if anything was wrong, not yet.
He put his hand in his pocket and stroked his familiar’s soft feathers. “He’s not hurt or ill, he just-” He swallowed. The next part came out as a whisper. “I figured out why he burns every year.”
There was a clunk as his mother put her glass on the table none too gently. A scrape as his father pushed his plate aside to lean his elbows on the table. “And why is that?” his mother asked. Two pairs of eyes watched him intently.
This was it. The moment he would crush the last bit of hope his parents had in him. He tried to focus on the feeling of Kenny’s feathers against his hand, on the emotions steadily coming through their bond, reassuring him that Kenny was still there. Before he lost his resolve entirely, he blurted out the news.
“Kenny isn’t a phoenix.”
His mother’s previous intrigue stood frozen on her face, like his words had turned her to stone. His father looked dumbfounded for a moment, before a strained smile appeared on his face.
“That’s a joke, right?”
Cody shifted in his chair. He turned the hand in his pocket so Kenny could step onto it. Tiny claws dug into his fingers. He pulled out his hand and lifted Kenny above the edge of the table. His parents stared.
For the first time in seven years, his parents showed their true emotions. His mother’s face lost all colour, her breathing became noticeably shallow. Her eyes roved over the small chick, taking in all the wrong colours in growing horror. His father wasn’t much better. False cheer gone, the usual hero-worship vanishing in an instant. “Cody, what is this?” he asked, eyes never leaving Kenny.
“Kenny isn’t a phoenix,” he repeated. His voice sounded tired even to his own ears. It was like saying the words out loud had taken all his nerves and apprehension from him. He didn’t care at this point. He was just glad to finally acknowledge the truth.
“But what is he?” his father asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. His mother’s gaze snapped up to him. Her eyes, previously fixed on Kenny, had a wild quality to them. Cody nearly flinched at the intensity of her stare. He felt like prey in the gaze of a predator.
“You don’t know? Did you look in the books?” There was an underlying snap to her usually soft voice. It terrified him. He mutely nodded. Not a single book had made a mention of a bird with pink and green feathers.
Chair legs scraped over the floor as his mother stood up. Her face was contorted into something that wasn’t anger, but Cody had no idea what else she could be feeling. She looked like she was about to scream. For a moment, he thought she would. Tell him how angry she was, how disappointed she was. Instead, she stormed out of the kitchen without another word. His father rushed after her, a worried expression on his face. He didn’t spare another glance at Cody and Kenny. The door clicked shut behind him.
The sudden lack of tension was overwhelming. He didn’t know what to do, what to think. Tiny claws scratched over his fingers as Kenny turned to face him. His chirp was soft, but the sound rang in Cody’s ears. He shook his head, trying to clear it. It didn’t help. He put Kenny on the corner of the table and distracted himself by clearing it. The stack of plates chattered lightly in his shaky hands.
He wasn’t sure if that went better or worse than expected.
Cody never realised there could be something worse than the fake happiness that had filled the house for the last seven years. Now he realised that, maybe, the false cheer was the best way his parents could have reacted. In any case, this was worse. Being ignored, being avoided…
His mother’s eyes drifted past him like he didn’t exist. When it was her turn to cook, she only made enough for herself and her husband. She never said a word to him. Never acknowledged the third person in the house. He felt invisible.
His father didn’t try to stop it. He probably would have ignored Cody as well if he had the energy to keep it up. His emotions were too close to the surface to ignore though. There was a palpable tension in the air whenever Cody was in the same room as his father. The anger and disappointment roiled off of him in waves. He avoided Cody at all costs. Where his mother didn’t even twitch when he entered the room, his father would immediately leave.
Their behaviour weighed down on him. He missed their quiet dinners, missed being greeted when he got home from school, missed them nagging him about grades. He even missed the things he hated most about them; Like how they would ask how Kenny was doing, completely forgetting to ask how Cody was doing.
He missed them.
He spent even less time at home than he used to. Not even his own room was free from the heavy tension permeating the house. He contemplated moving out, but where was he supposed to go? At the moment, the village was his only place of refuge, but he knew that wouldn’t last long. The rest of the village would learn of Kenny’s true nature soon enough.
He couldn’t go to his grandmother either. She didn’t know about Kenny yet, but it was only a matter of time before his parents ran out of excuses to keep her from visiting.
On top of the emotional weight of his parents’ behaviour, Kenny kept feeling guilty about it all. The guilt streamed into Cody’s mind, colouring his moods with negativity. He told Kenny multiple times that his parents’ reactions weren’t his fault, that he’d honestly expected worse, but that didn’t make Kenny stop feeling guilty.
After two exhausting weeks, something finally changed; his mother’s eyes stopped on him. She looked at him. Actually acknowledged his existence.
She didn’t talk, didn’t say a word even when Cody initiated conversation. But he felt seen again. He hadn’t realised just how much it bothered him until he felt the rush of relief when they locked eyes.
His relief only lasted a day however, because the next day it became clear his mother was going overboard with this as well and now wouldn’t stop looking at him and Kenny.
Any time they were in the same room, her eyes didn’t leave them. She mostly stared at Kenny, studying his feathers, their colours, examining the way they glittered in the light of the sun. But she would watch Cody as well, and he couldn’t shake off the tension it put in his shoulders. He felt watched even when he wasn’t in the same room as her.
Three weeks after the incident, her silence came to an end. “I’ve never seen something like him before,” she said out of the blue. “I read every book I could find. I searched the meadows. I even went into the forest.” Cody’s eyes widened in shock. His mother hated the forest and everything in it. It reminded her of the fairy lands. Grandmother liked to talk about them, but his mother hated it. The actual fairy lands were far, far away from the village of course, but that didn’t stop her from feeling wary of the dark forest.
She continued: “He’s a very unique bird, I didn’t find anything with colours even close to his.” There was an odd quality to her voice that set Cody on edge. A far too gentle smile appeared on her face. “He’s beautiful.”
Kenny pretended to preen at the compliment, flapping his wings out to show them off, but Cody could feel his emotions not lining up with his behaviour. Kenny was as wary about her behaviour as Cody was.
He followed Kenny’s lead and faked a smile, not giving his mother and inking to his true feelings. Did she really only decide she still liked Kenny now that she’d confirmed he was ‘special’ and ‘unique’? It left a sour taste in his mouth. If Kenny had been any other bird, something more normal, would she have continued to ignore him?
Cody had the sickening feeling that she would have done much worse. There was a reason he’d packed up all of his stuff before he broke the news to his parents.