Tahno visited home at least once a week, always when he knew his mother would be home (and usually when he knew his father wouldn’t be).
He let himself in the front door, waved a stargazer lily to their chestnut-haired maid Ginger (twenty-six, didn’t look a day over twenty-one, and she’d been his patron goddess when he was sixteen). They shared a secret, appreciative smile and he knew he’d be sending her an anonymous bouquet of pink roses before the week was out, and her fiancé would wonder who it was from. She’d say “just an old friend,” and her fiancé would remember not to slack off. In his small ways, Tahno liked to do right by his own.
He walked up the stairs, took a left to what his father liked to call the North Wing of the house, a right towards the rear of the house, and let himself in to his parents’ room (what his father called the Master Suite because he’d paid to have a wall added the opening to the room to make it a very dark separate room lit by buzzing amber electric lights, because separate rooms made a suite, and a Master Suite made a Town House a Manor). He opened the double doors of the anteroom (barely enough room to get the doors open with the others open at his back) and strode over to his mother’s vanity table to lay down the three stargazer lilies he’d brought his mother. He smiled at his reflection in the mirror and readjusted his forelock before turning around to search for his mother in her greenhouse.
There really wasn’t room for the greenhouse in the courtyard at the rear of the house. It could have been smaller, but his father reasoned that if he was going to be paying for a greenhouse, he would be paying for a big greenhouse. He hadn’t figured in the cost of filling and maintaining a large greenhouse, and that was one of the reasons why Tahno always enjoyed visiting it.
The other reason was to see his mother in her natural habitat. She had been a florist before marrying his father (“saved her from a life of poverty” was how his father liked to refer to it), and while maintaining a career was out of the question for a well-off merchant’s wife, she could still keep flowers and had adopted the art of painting decorative tiles and plates.
He found her fertilizing some orchids, the sickly sweet odor of the fertilizer mixing with the thick-as-syrup smell of the rest of the greenhouse. He waited until she stood up and stretched to give her a surprise hug, and smiled as she cried out.
“Tahno! Why do you always sneak up on me?” she said with a laugh in her voice.
“Because it amuses me,” he answered and let her go so she could face him. She placed her hands on either side of his face as she studied it, like she always did, whether he was gone for a few days or a month.
“How did my boy ever turn out so skinny?” she asked, smiled, and turned back to her plants. He liked her smile, the deep laugh lines on either side of her mouth that had formed long before any wrinkles had taken hold. He felt his default smirk forming as he thought that he’d never have her smile.
“I read about you in the paper the other day,” she mentioned as she moved on to a planter of magenta geraniums, and Tahno was still convinced there was a pink cast to his mother’s thick brown hair. Tahno tensed as he tried to remember what he’d done recently to get in the papers. “You’re in the championship again."
“Well, besides getting in trouble, what else am I supposed to do with myself these days?” he drawled with a shrug.
“I also saw that the Avatar is pro-bending! That’s a bit incredible, isn’t it?” Her hands moved deftly as she measured the blossoms against one another, deciding which ones to cut for an arrangement to paint.
“She’s only with the Fire Ferrets. Second rate team, only gotten as far as they have by luck.” He knew it wasn’t true, but he was Tahno—he couldn’t speak of another team without trash talk.
“Well, they do seem to pull off a number of hat tricks from what I’ve read, but they’re steadier than a number of the other teams . They’re not disappearing anytime soon, if I’ve learned anything.” She finished with the geraniums and moved on to wash her hands while Tahno examined his nails.
His mother smiled at him. “Come on. I’ve got some of your favorite leechee nut bread in the kitchen.”
“Mother, you spoil me,” he said with a grin as he followed her out of the greenhouse.
“No, you spoil you. I just treat you like a human being, which you seem to have convinced most other people on this planet not to.”
“What can I say?” Tahno replied. “It’s a gift.”
His mother laughed and left her work shoes and greenhouse apron by the back door (Servants Door according to his father) and walked into the kitchen. She turned on a gas burner on the stove and lit it with a match. Tahno sat down and propped his feet up on the kitchen table, and his mother immediately ordered his feet down. Tahno enjoyed the routine. She lit a couple hickory briquettes from the stove burner and placed them in the basin beneath the toasting rack with a pair of tongs and then turned off the stove burner.
“You know, they have electric toasters now. You just slice your bread and push a button and a couple minutes later you have toast,” Tahno said. He was often fishing for things to buy her. The toasting rack had been a gift, because it was emblazoned with bright bronze lilies on green copper vines. Expensive, but worth it.
“You know I like things the old-fashioned way,” his mother said. “Besides, electricity? Imagine your father—Lien, do you have any idea how expensive it is to keep this house? We can’t go using the things we own! They’ll cost me an arm and a leg! Granted they won’t be my own, but all the same!”
Tahno snorted. His father could always spend all the money he liked, but he was a miser when it came to anyone else using family funds. It was probably why Tahno had decided to live large and expensive pretty early on.
“So, since you know her team, are you familiar with the Avatar?” There was excitement in her voice. Normal people always were excited at the idea of meeting the Avatar.
“Eh,” Tahno said with a shrug. “Ran into her at a noodle shop the other night. She’s certainly…” You wanna go toe to toe with me, Pretty Boy? “…interesting.”
“Oh, interesting, is she?” His mother grinned at him.
“Mom, why do you always assume that when I notice a woman it’s because I’m interested in her?”
“Because I know my boy and that’s the way you are,” she answered with a grin. “Good luck in the championships. I’ll be there rooting for you.”
He could hear the sound of his father’s Satomobile outside.
“Thanks, Mom,” he said, standing to kiss her on her forehead. “It’s been nice seeing you, but I’ve got to head to team training.
“Be careful. You’re fighting the Avatar soon,” his mother said, quickly spreading butter over the toast to hand to her son as he left.
“That’s one toe-to-toe match I’m looking forward to,” Tahno said, giving his mother a salute as he stepped out the Servants door to avoid his father and questions about how he was putting all those expensive bending lessons to work.