Alibaba smiles at her, and she rubs her thumb around his small palm.
“What do you want to know next, my curious son?” she asks. “Why the sky is blue? Why people travel to Balbadd and nowhere else? Why do we breathe or sing or fish without stopping? What do you want to know, my dearest Alibaba.”
Alibaba scrunches his nose. Thoughtful in his silence, and Anise can’t stop herself from pulling on his cheeks gently. “Mamaaa,” he whines, and he presses his lips together like he’s holding back a frown. “...Mama what was f-father like?”
Alibaba squeezes his eyes. “You said I look a lot like him but what was he like?” he questions, leaning forward with tiny hands and sharp knees on her lap. “Was he a good person? A nice person?”
“Did he like you mama? Did he love you?” he demands.
Anise thinks of blonde hair and eyes shining with a childish wonder. Of warm hands and the feeling of safety in a place of coldness. Of the conflicted feeling in her chest each time she thinks of him because she loves and hates him in equal turns. “Your father was a good man,” she says, slowly. “I think he liked me, no, I’m certain he liked me once... He cared for me as much as he could.”
As much as a King could for a harlot.
She does not blame him for choosing duty over her. Perhaps, if she was young, but Anise is old and she knows better than to believe in happy endings. She knows better than to expect more than what is expected from an affair. She made her choice to leave... but sometimes it is hard for Anise not to feel a little bitter about it.
Anise feels something wet dip at her fingertips. She startles at the tiny droplets trailing down Alibaba’s soft cheeks. “Baby,” she whispers and her hand rubs his tears away gently. “Ali, what brought this up? Tell mama okay?”
“...Are you lonely mama?” he asks wetly, and he hides his face into her shirt.
Anise watches him cry into the fabric of her shirt, and she feels helpless, so soft and fragile that it almost terrifies her.
“Do you miss him mama?” he asks, then looks up at her with wet sunset eyes and it’s so easy to pull him into a hug. His small body fits perfectly into her arms, and she sinks her nose into golden strands. “Are you happy mama?”
“Of course I am,” Anise murmurs. “I’m already happy when I’m with you, Alibaba!”
Alibaba watches her quietly with all the focus only a child could give, as if you were their entire world and nothing else mattered. Anise does not remember the last time she has ever loved like that. His tears have dried up, hiccups dying done to nothing. “...really?”
“Am I your favorite person?”
“Yes!!” Anise kisses his forehead. “Who else would I love, you silly baby?”
“Oh,” Alibaba says, absolutely silly with wonder. “Okay mama,” he says shyly, small hands cupping the back of her head, small palms holding her heart. “If you say so.”