He reacts to the name that I always used to call him, the one I used to think was his true name when I couldn't pronounce it. It used to annoy him so, and he'd chase me around the streets threatening to drown me in the river by my toes. But there was none of that between us any more, not now that I'd chosen the path of a Muse...
"Netty - Netea?" He slips up and his face fills with self-chastisement as I slow to stand opposite. His eyes are wide with disbelief, blue like summer rain, and there's joy in their depths, trying to burst through him but held back by his status, below mine. Still, if Akantha wasn't in sight, I swear those arms that had been rising from his sides would have embraced me.
"Lady Akantha," he says, holding the door open by the cord as he snaps to attention, bowing respectfully. Akantha stands next to me, easing her breaths and readjusting stray strands of hair. He suddenly ignores me, as if my visage will drive him to impulse.
"Are we too late, attendant?" my mentor asks, and I ball my fists.
His name is Thaddeus and he's my brother, not "attendant".
In moments like this, I realise how much he’s changed, there were times when he’d never let himself be addressed so lowly, and I still don't understand why my big brother wanted to lose all of his respect just to keep an eye on me.
"They are about to begin, my lady. Go with haste, I am sure Mistress Calliope is expecting you." He pulls the door open wider and gestures Akantha past, who nods with murmured thanks, and she ushers me along. I pause in the doorway, however, unable to not acknowledge him, even if I am horrendously late.
"You look well," I say meekly, finding my own words pathetically inadequate. I promised Thaddeus before I became a Muse that I wouldn't stop talking to him just because my mentors tell me not to. Look at me now. "How are you?" that was all I could manage now without wanting to cry at our situation.
"Worrying about you, as always," he smiles, revealing none of his true feelings. "You should be there for Marissa now. We'll talk maybe later."
I nod, gesturing in an indifferent way for him to close the door, and as I hear it seal shut behind me, I think back to the day when Thaddeus took me up this mountain when my name was drawn from the winter fruits of Ideón, like a terrifying dream come true, and had refused to leave me. He'd asked then and there to become an attendant to be around me and watch over me, even if it meant degrading himself to serving me and being touched up by rich sponsors.
I had repaid him rottenly, but I shake the thought from my head. As much as I want things to change, it can't be now.
I cannot let grief cloud my best friend's special day.