seventy-five

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Nicholas wasn't sure how this would turn out. 

His parents were like ticking bombs, one wrong movement, and the world around them exploded. Nicholas was very aware of their power, very aware of their hot-headed tempers. His only worry was for Dina. 

Could she stand strong in the face of their scorns and disapproval? 

He glanced over at her, watching her fidget in her seat as unease washed over her expression, small, right smile straining her lips, not reaching her eyes.

He had to break the ice.

But how?

His father cleared his throat. "So, Nicholas," he started, "have you found a new profession?"

Here we go again. "I wouldn't say new, but it is a different company."

"I assume this means you won't be coming back to work with me."

"You already know the answer to that," said Nicholas, narrowing his eyes. "Is that why you invited us to dinner?"

Identical cerulean eyes met his, sadness lining his wrinkled eyes similar to hid own reflection of sorrow and heartache. His father's eyes reminded Nicholas of the same look he'd worn for years before his family noticed the darkness that engulfed him.

Now, it seemed that a different darkness swept across his childhood home. His gaze moved to his mother, witnessing crystal, evergreen eyes losing the flare they once held, her own smile faltering like ripples among a lake. Her fingers shook around the glass, and something shifted in Nicholas. 

The frigid glacials of his past melted down the mountains of torment, sun rising from the hidden corners of the Earth, expelling the nightfall and stormy weather, and chasing after the light of dawn. A fleeting dream of his was to have his parents' affections, yet the mirrors that surrounded him threatened to shatter the pieces all over again. 

He couldn't keep fixing himself together.

Dina's hand gripped his under the table, breaking his thoughts. The warmth from her touch traveled up his arm and filled his senses by her heavenly presence, by her unwavering love, her undying support. No matter the outcome of tonight, he'd always have Dina by his side, and he wanted his parents to understand that. 

All he wanted was peace. 

Nicholas's father placed his utensils back on the plate, exhaling deeply. "Can we... can we change things between us, Nick?" he asked softly. 

Nick, he thought. He never calls me that. 

Barriers rose from the depths of his mind, building layers of foundations to protect himself, a suit of armor shielding Nicholas even when outsiders pushed against them. He wasn't ready for them to insult him again, and he didn't want to take the risk. 

His heart longed to listen, but not at the cost of his small sliver of serenity.

"What do you mean?" he managed to croak. 

Nicholas's mother reached for her own husband's hand, grasping his attention for a moment. The two gazed at each other, silently confirming their own turmoils, a softness entering their eyes, endearing and gentle. 

Even if this moment was a fantasy, he couldn't tear his gaze away, nor could he simmer the bubbling anticipation. 

Neither could find the words that were locked inside their throats, love lost on the tongue like the sweet taste of what they could have had, a dream of the life people believed the wealthy thrived off. Wealth could not bring love. It could only mask the growing resentment that sorrow brought. 

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