Exotic NightsBy: Abby Green
LEONIDAS PARNASSUS looked out of the window of his private plane. They’d just landed at Athens airport. To his utter consternation his chest felt tight and constricted—a sensation he didn’t welcome. He was curiously reluctant to move from his seat, even though the cabin staff were preparing to open the door, even though sitting still and not moving was anathema to him. He told himself it was because he was still chafing at the reality that he’d acquiesced to his father’s demand that he come to Athens for ‘talks’.
Leo Parnassus did not carve out time for anything or anyone he deemed a waste of his resources and energy. Not a business venture, a lover, nor a father who had put building up the family fortune and clearing their shamed name before a relationship with his son. Leo grimaced slightly, his face so harsh that the steward who had been approaching him stopped abruptly and hovered uncertainly. Leo saw nothing though but the heat haze on the tarmac outside and the darkness of his own thoughts.
He was Greek through and through, and yet he’d never set foot on Greek soil. His family had been exiled from their ancestral home before he was born, but his father had returned triumphantly just a few years ago; finally realising a lifelong dream to clear their name of a terrible crime and to glory in their new-found status and inestimable wealth.
Bitter anger rose when Leo remembered his beloved ya ya’s lined and worn face. The sadness that had grooved deep lines around her mouth and shadowed her eyes. It had been too late for her to return home. She’d died in an alien country she’d never grown to love. Even though his grandmother had urged him to return as soon as he’d had the chance, he’d condemned Athens on her behalf for breaking her heart. He’d always sworn that he wouldn’t return to the place that had spurned his family so easily.
Athens was still home to the Kassianides family who had been responsible for all that pain and sadness, and who were suffering far too belatedly and minutely for what they had done. They had cast a long shadow over his childhood which had been indelibly marked by their actions, in so many ways.
And yet, despite all that … here he was. Because something in his father’s voice, an unmistakable weakness had called to him, in spite of everything that had happened. It had touched him on some level. In short, he’d felt compelled to come. Perhaps he wanted to prove to himself that he was not at the mercy of his emotions?
The very thought of that made him go cold; at the tender age of eight he’d made an inarticulate vow never to let any intensity of emotion overwhelm him, because that’s what had killed his mother. Surely he could handle looking his ancestral home in the face and turn his back on it once and for all? Of course he could.
But first he had to deal with the fact that his father wanted him to take over the Parnassus shipping business. Leo had denied his inheritance a long time ago; he’d embraced the entrepreneurial American spirit, and now ran a diverse subsidiary business that encompassed finance, acquisitions, and real estate, recently snapping up an entire block of buildings in New York’s Lower East Side for redevelopment.
His sole input to his father’s business had been a couple of years before when they’d tightened the noose of revenge around the neck of Tito Kassianides, the last remaining patriarch of the Kassianides family. It was the one thing that had joined father and son: a united desire to seek vengeance.
Leo had taken singular pleasure in making sure that the Kassianides’ demise was ensured, thanks to a huge merger his father had orchestrated with Aristotle Levakis, one of Greece’s titans of industry. That victory now, though, when he was faced with the reality of touching down in Greece, felt curiously empty. He couldn’t help but think of his grandmother, how much she’d longed for this moment and never got a chance to see it.
A discreet cough sounded, ‘I’m sorry, sir?’
Leo looked up, intensely irritated to have been observed in a private moment. He saw the steward was gesturing to the now open cabin door. Leo’s chest clenched tightly again, and he had the childishly bizarre urge to tell them to slam the door shut and take off, back to New York. It was almost as if something outside that door lay in wait for him. Such a mix of emotions was rising to the surface, and it was so unwelcome that he stood up jerkily from his seat as if he could shake them off.
He walked to the cabin door, very aware of the eyes of his staff on him. Normally it didn’t bother him, he was used to people looking at him for his reaction, but now it scraped over his skin like sandpaper.
The heat hit him first, dry and searing. Strangely familiar. He breathed in the Athens air for the first time in his life and felt his heart hit hard with the intensifying of that absurd feeling of familiarity. He’d always felt that coming here would feel like betraying his grandmother’s memory, but now it was as if she was behind him, gently pushing him forward. For a man who lived by cool logic and intellect, it was an alien and deeply disturbing sensation.
He concealed his eyes behind dark shades as an ominous prickling skated over his skin. He had the very unwelcome sensation that everything in his life was about to change.
At the same moment on the other side of Athens.
‘Delphi, just take a deep breath and tell me what’s wrong—I can’t help you until I know what it is.’
That just provoked more weeping. Angel grabbed another tissue, a trickle of unease going down her spine now. Her younger half-sister said brokenly, ‘I don’t do this kind of thing, Angel, I’m a law student!’
Angel smoothed her pretty sister’s fall of mahogany hair behind one ear and said soothingly, ‘I know, sweetie. Look, it can’t be that bad, whatever it is, so just tell me and then we can deal with it.’
Angel was absolutely confident when she said this. Delphi was introverted, too quiet. She always had been, and even more so since a tragic accident had killed her twin sister about six years ago. Ever since then she’d buried herself in books and studies, so when she said quietly, after a little sniffly hiccup, ‘I’m pregnant …’ the words simply didn’t register in Angel’s head.
They didn’t register until Delphi spoke again, with a catch in her voice.
‘Angel—did you hear me? I’m pregnant. That’s what … that’s what’s wrong.’
Angel’s hands tightened reflexively around her half-sister’s and she looked into her dark brown eyes—so different from her own light blue ones, even though they both shared the same father.
Angel tried not to let the shock suck her under. ‘Delph, how did it happen?’ She grimaced. ‘I mean, I know how … but …’
Her sister looked down guiltily, a flush staining her cheeks red. ‘Well … you know Stavros and I have been getting more serious …’ Delphi looked up again, and Angel’s heart melted at the turmoil she saw on her sister’s face.
‘We both wanted to, Angel. We felt the time was right and we wanted it to be with someone we loved …’
Angel’s heart constricted. That was exactly what she had wanted too, right up until— Her sister continued, cutting through Angel’s painful memory.
‘And we were careful, we used protection, but it …’ She blushed again, obviously mortified to have to be talking about this at all. ‘It split. We decided to wait until we knew there was something to worry about … and now there is.’