Issue #13: Another Kind of Homecoming

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Pressure built up until the bottle cap erupted into the air with an overly loud popping sound. Ian caught it before it reached the apex of its flight and took a sip of the newly opened beer. With a nod of approval for Laurel’s taste in microbrewery, he took a longer pull.

“That was pretty impressive.” Alexis looked up from the cutting board where a stalk of celery was quickly being deconstructed by her slow but methodical knife work.

“Only works on this kind of bottle cap.” Ian smirked. “You don’t want to know how many bottles with twist on caps I’ve blown up over the years.” He was taking another swig when he suddenly became aware that she was regarding him with an appraising eye. “What?” He gestured to the refrigerator. “Want one?”

She shook her head, “Nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you drink. You didn’t do it at the Academy.”

“I was under eighteen while we were at the Academy.”

“That never stopped Laurel and me.” Alexis said with a mischievous grin. She picked up a bell pepper and began subjecting it to the same fate as the celery.

“I was the good, quiet slacker, remember? Hiding booze from the RAs would’ve been too much work.”

Alexis smiled, scrapping a combination of chopped celery, pepper and onion into a skillet to sweat. She wiped her hands on a rag and came over to drape an arm around him. “Don’t overdo it though,” She gave him a light hug. “Today of all days, we don’t need your breath smelling like…” she sniffed, “coffee?”

“Coffee flavored beer.” Ian put down the bottle to let his arms circle her waist. “Laurel orders it from Cleveland – even when she’s getting depressants, she can’t stay away from caffeine. Don’t worry though; I’m just having the one.”

“I suppose every little bit helps when you’re getting ready to tell someone that their kid—“she was silenced by a gentle finger placed over her lips.

“Pretty much,“ Ian said quietly, “but keep your voice down so the kids don’t hear.”

“Why not tell them?” Alexis asked, keeping her voice low for his sake. “I know Laurel’s super smart and this was her idea, but it doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Notice how little drama we’ve had in the last couple of weeks? And I don’t mean from the lack of evil Academy operatives, cybernetic dogs, dark wizards and well meaning but dangerous visitors from another planet.”

“That last part didn’t happen.” Alexis pointed out.

“Just covering the bases.” Ian assured her. “Anyway, what were we supposed to tell the kids? ‘There’s a chance your parents might be showing up for Thanksgiving?’ Can you imagine how tense everything would be around here?”

Alexis nodded, hesitantly. The past two weeks were as close to normality as it came for the residents of Freeland House. The uncertainty of when or if their parents would arrive and what that would mean for their status and friendships would have made Freeland House a very uncomfortable place. At the very least, it was a kindness to offer the kids this last bit of normalcy before things were turned upside down.

Ian smiled at her and inclined his head toward the stove. “I’m not the only one that’s a little on edge about this, I see.”

“What?” Alexis asked, walking over to check on a boiling pot of rice. “I figured that a nice, homemade meal would be good for… today.” She finished lamely.

“Well,” Ian took another sip of beer. “for one, this may well be the first time we’ve really used the range here. If it hasn’t been re-hydrated and/or microwaved, it generally doesn’t get eaten in this house.”

“We had toast and eggs this morning.” Alexis defended.

“Doesn’t mean that the stove’s been used. We never really cook in the non-scrambled eggs sense. Hell, I’m not sure Laurel knows how and I sure as hell don’t. You’re the only one who does and you’ve been busy.” Ian concentrated his power to float the beer bottle to the table as he came over to offer help as she pulled pre-made seafood stock out of the refrigerator. “Which brings me to the second point; you cooked for all three of us in school and whenever you were nervous about a test or some guy,” He smirked at that part, “We knew because you fixed yourself your favorite comfort food: your dad’s gumbo.”

“I’m not nervous.” Alexis sniffed, dumping the stock into a pot. “I just thought this would be a nice meal to have with… our guests. I could have done a Sunday dinner with chicken or something, but Thanksgiving is tomorrow and they’re going to see enough of poultry then.”

Ian shrugged and stirred the simmering holy trinity of Creole cooking with a few inexpert swipes of a fork. “Okay then. You’re not nervous. You’re all business. If that’s the case, then I’m free to be nervous enough for the both of us.”

Alexis gave him a wry grin. “Thanks for that.”

***

Laurel took a deep, hopefully cleansing breath. She had gotten off the couch and dashed to the door before the last tones of the bell had died in the air. People called her a genius and assumed that she always knew what to do in a given situation. The reality was that she really had no idea how to face the parents whose children she had rescued and sheltered for months. She couldn’t hope to project what this day would hold.

Her hand was grasping the handle and opening the door before she could think better of it. Cold, November air wafted over her, the chill helping her mind focus on the task at hand.

Five people stood on the front porch, arrayed in a rough semi-circle behind a sixth. An Iranian woman shivered in cold she was not accustomed to, her flowing purple garb bunched up under a heavy wool jacket, which in turn was covered by a man’s overcoat. The owner of the coat, an Iranian man with a wiry physique, stood beside her, one arm over her, rubbing her opposite arm as if they would keep her warmer than the layers she was covered in.

Beside them, a tall man with black hair, matching mustache, and dark glasses turned around from looking over the grounds. His overcoat flared out as he turned, showing a store brand suit and tie beneath. He regarded Laurel with suspicion even as a short, kindly looking woman with dark, reddish-brown hair gave him a look that told him to hold his tongue. Concern lined her features even as she delivered the non-verbal waning. A girl in her early teens with shockingly red hair regarded the adults with a bored, sleepy look.

In front of all of them was a tall black man in a dark, tailored suit and overcoat. The first touches of gray gracing his close cropped hair. He saw Laurel’s pensive glance around the assembled group and gave her a reassuring smile that seemed to tell her everything would be okay.

“Daddy!” Laurel smiled, embracing him. She had always been close to her father and eight months of separation made her temporarily forget the ‘all business’ manner she had hoped to assume.

“Kitten.” William Brant returned the hardy hug with enthusiasm. “It’s so good to see you again in person.”

The clearing of someone’s throat brought them out of their familial reverie. Laurel snapped back to her business persona immediately, backing up from her father a few steps. She didn’t have to look to see who had interrupted them.

“I’m so sorry. It’s just been a while… and you don’t want to hear that.” She said quickly. “Can I assume that these are Raimi and Atalaya Utt and Thomas and Sandra Kaine and their daughter Talia?”

“Tammy.” The girl offered.

“I’m sorry, Tammy, “Laurel corrected. She glanced up at her father. “No one else came?”

Mr. Brant shook his head. “I couldn’t locate the Taylors. The Forresters declined Brant Industries’ offer for a special holiday weekend in Mayfield because they had prior engagements.”

Laurel nodded. “That’s understandable. We only had two weeks notice to give. What about…”

“The McAllisters came to Mayfield, but they won’t see their daughter.” Mr. Brant’s face darkened.

Laurel grimaced. She knew Cyn had no love lost toward her family, but didn’t know it was mutual. More importantly, her father indicated that the families knew what was going on now – that would make things easier. “So, they know why they were asked to come?”

“The Kaines already put enough together.” Mr. Brant explained.

“That’s right.” Thomas Kaine stepped up. “My daughter saw her brother – who is supposed to be at an Academy workshop in Los Angeles, fighting a pair of comic book rejects in Mayfield/ Then two days later Brant Industries is sending us on a vacation we ‘won’ from a contest we never entered. It doesn’t take a genius.” Anger made his voice shake. “But Mr. Brant only told us we’d be coming here for our kids.” He inclined his head to the Utts. “We want the whole story.”

“Of course.” Laurel said, steadying herself. The concerned expressions on the Utts’ faces had almost driven her to tears herself. “Please, come in.” She stepped back to offer ingress just as a din arose from the upstairs commons.

There was a riot of laughter, followed by Warrick vaulting over the stair railing with Isp’s help. Something in a red and white wrapper was clutched in a triumphantly upraised hand. “Sorry, Cyn, last one!” he called over his shoulder. He only looked up as he reached the bottom of the stairs. At the sight of his parents and sister, he froze in his tracks. Isp and Osp likewise ceased their activity upon recognizing their host’s loved ones.

“Big mistake!” Cyn shouted with glee. She didn’t know why he had stopped; she just assumed he was trying some stupid trick. Before he could do whatever it was he intended, she pounced him, knocking him onto his belly. They fell together with Cyn landing on his back. Unwrapping the fruit pie she’d recovered from her quarry during the fall, she taunted. “Ha Ha! I wi— Ow! “

She found herself flat on her back as Warrick shrugged off her weight and sat up. “Mom? Dad?” He blinked in disbelief.

“Warrick.” Sandra Kaine said softly. “My boy, my boy…” She started forward only slightly ahead of her daughter.

Mr. Kaine took a deep breath as his wife and daughter descended upon his son before turning to Laurel. “Now would be a good time to start explaining what’s going on here. We’ve gotten letters every month saying our son was In Los Angeles. This isn’t Los Angeles and this doesn’t look like an Academy facility.”

“Believe me, that’s a good thing.” Ian said, coming in from the kitchen with Alexis hot on his heels.

“And who are you?” Mr. Kaine demanded, “Who are any of you?”

“They’re good people, dad.” Warrick said, managing to get a word in over his mother’s fussing and his sister’s stream of questions, most of them involving Alloy. The tentacles, being just as happy to see them, were trying in vain to converse via a series of frantic gestures. “Ms. Brant, Mr. Smythe and Ms. Keyes saved us from…” He thought about how best to explain everything that had happened. “Ms. Brant can say it better, dad, but the Academy is the bad guy.”

“So it’s true?” Mrs. Kaine asked. “All the things that man, Tyler was saying on TV?” She gave her husband a pointed glance, “Oh my god, Tommy, we sent our son to those monsters! We may have even sent Tammy!”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Mrs. Kaine.” Alexis offered. “They had us all fooled. I was a teacher there and I only happened to stumble upon what was really going on.”

Atalaya Utt had heard enough. “Where is our son?” She asked loudly. “Mr. Kaine’s son is here and in fine condition, but where is my Kareem?”

Laurel, having had her spirits bolstered by the Kaine reunion suddenly felt her previous case of nerves rising. “Mrs. Utt, Mr. Utt. Kareem is here… upstairs. Please, come with me.”

“You cannot call him?” Raimi Utt asked, lips pursed. “Why are you suddenly filled with such apprehension? Is something wrong?”

“Please, do not hide this from us.” Mrs. Utt implored, “We only wish to know what has happened to our son. After the news of what happened at the Academy, we were fearful of the worst. Then Mr. Kaine was speaking of his son and we felt that there was hope…”

“There is hope.” Laurel assured them. “A great deal. Please, come with me. You can speak to Kareem yourself.” She turned to her father. “We’ll talk later, daddy.” As she led the Utts upstairs, she looked to Ian and Alexis. “Could you two explain things to the Kaines?”

“Of course.” Alexis nodded.

Aside from Tammy asking Warrick if Alloy ever fought Dr. Vicious from Taskforce: Earth, silence fell on the group downstairs as they watched Laurel disappear upstairs with the Utts. Mr. Kaine was the first to speak. “I don’t want to intrude on them, but why do they need to go upstairs to speak with their son?”

“The short answer?” Ian asked, “The Academy hurt him. Bad. And we’re still trying to figure out how and why.” He glanced at Warrick and his sister. “I’d rather not go into the long answer with kids around.”

Warrick got the hint. “Yeah… Hey, squirt, wanna got upstairs and check out the games I’ve got here? Ms. Brant gets all kinds of imports.” He was more than glad to avoid hearing another painful recounting of Project Tome’s still nebulous aims and the possible fate he narrowly dodged. “Is that okay, mom?”

Mrs. Kaine looked between he reclaimed eldest child and the two people who had apparently been caring for him. She nodded cautiously. “Yes, honey, go on. Your sister missed you more than anyone. You two need to spend some time together.”

Warrick nodded. “God, it’s so great seeing you all again. I missed you all so much.” He looked down to where Cyn had pulled herself into a sitting position on the stairs. “Coming, Cyn?”

The last few moments of chaos had given Cyn’s brain cells time to hold congress and confer on the vast amount of new information that had just been imposed upon her. Warrick and Kareem’s parents had arrived. It was almost certain that they wouldn’t consent to their kids being cared for by four people under thirty in an abandoned bed and breakfast. That meant Kareem and Warrick would be leaving. And once they were gone, how long would it be for Melissa and Juniper to follow? How long would it be until Freeland House, the Descendants and everything else she’d found in the past year, were gone?

She shivered just before a new thought came into her head. They wouldn’t call just Warrick and Kareem’s parents. For all of Laurel’s talk of not forcing things onto her, Laurel believed strongly in family, even in the face of clear evidence that not all families were created equal. Peering through a curtain of white hair, she looked past Warrick to the man she was certain was Laurel’s father by virtue of his face being plastered on Brant Industries promotional material for as long as she could remember. “The McAllisters.” She asked him. “You called them too?” It took an incredible effort and a bit of shapeshifting to keep her voice even.

Mr. Brant slowly nodded. “We did. They came to Mayfield. But… I’m sorry, Cynthia.”

“That’s such an awful thing to do to your daughter.” Mrs. Kaine huffed, giving Cyn a motherly look of concern. “Are you alright dear?”

Cyn nodded, and stood up with Warrick’s help. “No problem, Warrick’s mom. I’m not surprised, really. In fact, I’m really glad I didn’t have to see them.” She ducked her head to Tammy. “Come on, I’ve got a ton of embarrassing stories to tell you about your big bro and I bet you can share a bunch too.” With that, she bounded upstairs, followed closely by Tammy.

Warrick followed slowly, noting his mother’s worried look. “S-she’s fine mom. Really. Cyn’s my best friend and… yeah, I understand why she feels the way she does.” With that, he disappeared upstairs. Mrs. Kaine shot Alexis and Ian a questioning look.

“Cyn never talks about her family life to anyone but him.” Alexis admitted, “And he won’t break her trust. But whatever it was, it made her really dislike them.”

“And you still called her parents?” Mr. Kaine asked, putting an arm around his wife.

“We aren’t her parents, they are.” Alexis said, “It may seem like a bad idea, but we don’t have the right to do otherwise – it’d be kidnapping.” She motioned to the kitchen door. “But you need to hear the whole story. Please, come into the kitchen. You too, Mr. Brant.”

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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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