Issue #32: Ahead/Behind

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 2

Silence settled over the room again. Melissa had been so concerned about her parents; she hadn’t really been able to think just how alien a situation it would be to suddenly come face to face with a brother she’s never had.

Both of them studied the ground. Finally, Melissa decided that it was her responsibility to be the first to say something. But all she could manage was a weak wave and a ‘hi’ to match.

Tim ducked his head and answered with ‘hey’. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something.

“Tim,” Mrs. Forrester said, having collected herself enough to take charge of the situation. “Why don’t you show Melissa the studio and you two can get to know each other. I need to close up so we can all go home once your father comes back.”

“Dad?” Melissa asked, realizing exactly what she’d felt was missing. He was the one she owed the biggest apology to. “Where is he?”

“A the bank, taking care of some things with the loan on this place.” Mrs. Forrester replied, unable to keep from smiling at her children. “He didn’t want to go, but he had to.” She explained. “But he should be back any minute now. Tim?”

At his mother’s nod, Tim gestured toward the back of the store, remaining mute as he started to lead the way.

“Have fun.” Laurel said after Melissa. She was now alone with Mrs. Forrester.

Before she could say anything, the older woman had a death grip on her hands, shaking them. “Thank you, Ms. Brant. Thank you so much for bringing my little girl back to me.”

“I’m happy to do it.” Laurel assured her. “And you can call me Laurel.”

“And you can call me, Gwen.” Said Gwen, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Of course, Gwen.” Laurel said. “There are some things I need to tell you though. On the phone, I promised to explain the whole thing and I intend to—“

“I’m just so happy to have her back.” Gwen said, completely ignoring what she was being told. “It broke my heart when they declared her dead and it’s been so long since then. “Did you get the people that did this to her?”

The question was one even Laurel’s superhuman intellect wasn’t ready for. “Excuse me?” She blinked.

“I mean your agency, or the police, whoever you’re working for.”

Hindsight being 20/20, Laurel realized that it would only be logical to assume that she was an official of some sort. She dispelled that quickly. “Mrs—Gwen, I’m not with any agency. Like I told you on the phone, I knew Melissa back in school; at the Academy. Did you… hear what happened with the Academy last year?”

The mere mention of the Academy caused the other woman to stiffen. “I knew it was them.” She muttered, suddenly intent on busying herself with clearing the register. “I should have guessed, you know? What kind of school tells you not call or write? All we got were letters and they were so general.” She wasn’t counting the money, so much as shuffling it.

“They fooled us all.” Laurel sympathized. “I was inside and I never thought twice. I thought Melissa got tired of us and went back home. Then when we…” The memory of the days surrounding the discovery was a blur, but the actual shock of finding the stasis cells, especially the stasis cell containing someone she knew, was crystal clear. Clearing her throat, she continued, “When we found her and the others…”

“I’m just glad it’s over.” Gwen slammed the register shut. “And now we can settle down and be a normal family again. Normal enough at least.” It was clearly a reference to Melissa’s powers, but Laurel couldn’t tell if it was disappointment, or a jest.

Of course, the truth was that it wasn’t over. The Academy was one limb of a much bigger monster. And the monster that was Project Tome was very much alive. It would be wrong to lie to Melissa’s mother and agree. But it wasn’t her place to tell the truth either.

Before Laurel could open her mouth, the bell above the door rang. Both women looked to see the broad shouldered, slightly slouched figure of Eddie Forrester at the door.

“Eddie!” Gwen burst out, “She’s home, Eddie! It’s all over now!” She ran to embrace and kiss her husband.

Feeling the weight of the situation bearing down on her, Laurel frowned at them and did all she had the right to do. “Mr. and Mrs. Forrester?” She said, interrupting the celebration. “I think you need to speak with your daughter.”

***

Instincts that hadn’t been needed in years told Ian to cover his ears the second Alexis’s sisters saw her. The Keyes sisters seeing each other after spans of time longer than a week or two was equivalent to standing in front of the speaker at a Ladies of Ragnarok concert, so it stood to reason that a multi year absence would trigger a sonic blast powerful enough to dig a miles wide trench in the moon.

All four were immediately out of their seats and crowded around their sister; demanding an explanation as to where she’d been, trying to tell her what she’d missed in their lives, and critiquing her makeup, dress and hair.

Somehow, Alexis managed to get all of it despite having it shouted at her in four voices. There was a lot to apologize and make up for. She’d missed her elder sister, Victoria’s graduation from medical school as well as her fellow middle sister, Nicole’s college graduation. Her baby sisters, Lydia and Kylie had both started college since she’d been gone, though twenty-two year old Lydia had taken the long path to that goal after spending some time in Australia. And to top it all off, Nicole was engaged!

Finally breaking away from the swarm, Alexis managed to take a seat and digest the information. This left Ian, still standing by the door next to Mrs. Keyes, completely open to Lydia sidling up beside him and throwing an arm over his shoulder. “Look who she bought with her!” she exclaimed like he was the catch of the day. That touched off more squeeing as the sisters finally recognized him.

“I bet Ian didn’t get ignored all this time.” Nicole pouted.

“Yeah, that’s a bet you would lose.” Ian replied, trying to shrug away from Lydia, but not being very successful at it. In fact, all it did was make the girls laugh harder and Alexis scowl a bit deeper.

“Aw, look at him.” Victoria giggled, throwing herself back into an arm chair. Her black hair was long enough to drape over the entire back of the seat. “I always told you, and here’s the proof; it doesn’t matter that you got cute after high school, you still act all awkward around women. How do you expect to get anywhere with a girl when you’re playing Watson for another girl?”

“Actually, that’s not why I’m—“Ian tried once more to escape Lydia and ended up backed against a bookcase.

“Don’t listen to her, Ian,” Lydia said with a smile. “I always thought you were cute, remember?”

“And he always thought you were eleven back then.” Kylie snarked, reaching for a cookie on a platter set out on the coffee table. While the others had dressed for an occasion, she was just in sweats and a ratty T-shirt.

“But I’ve really grown up since then.” Lydia gave Ian a lecherous look.

“Okay!” Alexis said, getting up from the couch she’d been sharing with Kylie. She quickly stepped in and separated Lydia from Ian. “That’s enough of that.”

Lydia responded by pouting. “You never minded before.”

Alexis glared down the pout. “Well things change.” Without thinking about it, she turned and gave Ian a deep kiss.

“You owe me fifty.” Kylie said to Victoria as the others, including Mrs. Keyes, actually applauded.

“It’s about time.” Lydia said, grinning at Alexis. “So where’s the rock?”

“Rock?” Alexis parroted dumbly.

“The ring.” Nicole clarified by displaying her own.

“Oh!” Alexis suddenly took a step away for Ian. “We’re not… I mean we haven’t…”

“Not just yet.” Ian tried to help out. It was too late though, the dismal air of disappointment was in the room. “Someday though.” He tried again to no avail.

“That wasn’t the news I was expecting anyway.” Victoria drawled. It was clear she’d had more than her share of wine for the day. “I would have thought you’d have told us yourself though. Hell, I’d have thought you’d have jumped at the chance.”

“Jumped at the chance to tell you what?” Alexis asked, trying to look innocent.

Victoria nodded to Kyle, who reached into the magazine rack and came up with a copy of the Mayfield Scribe. Just the sight of the logo put Alexis’s senses on high alert. The picture put to bed any hope that it wasn’t she feared it would be. It was Darkness carrying two small children up and away from the wreckage of a boat in the middle of the St. Anne River.

There was nothing for it but to confirm or deny. “Uh… you see…”

***

“Do you read comic books?” Melissa asked. It wasn’t an answer to the question put to her by her younger brother, but the only thing she could thing of was how Warrick probably broke this same news to his younger sibling.

Tim wrinkled his nose. “Na, they’re for old people.”

“Oh.” Of course it couldn’t be that simple. Melissa scolded herself. They were in a small studio in the back of the store. There wasn’t any finished or even partly finished work there at the moment, but Melissa found it easier to fiddle with the drop cloths than look Tim in the eye.

She tried again. “Did you see that movie– what was the name of it again? Attack… Taskforce?”

“Taskforce: Earth?” Tim asked, taking a seat, cross-legged, against a wall. “Yeah, it was okay. I don’t see what that’s got to do with what happened to you though?”

Melissa frowned at a paint stained cloth. “I’m getting to that.” She said, “But you know how they all had powers?”

“Is this about your powers?”

“Y—wait, you knew about that?” Melissa goggled.

Tim nodded. “Mom and Dad talk about it. You know, when they talk about you. They say I might have powers too. Do you think so?”

“I couldn’t tell you. Mine have only been a lot of trouble for me.”

“What can you do?”

Now there was a question. Scientifically stated, she subconsciously emitted a frequency that simulated a number of biological processes, mostly having to do with cell replication and endorphin release. Put plainly…

“I heal people and make them happy.” Melissa braced for the inevitable follow-up. How, everyone always asked, could either of those things ever be a bad thing?

People that asked that never actually had such powers. They’d never felt the frustration of not being able to hold a conversation with people because after twenty minutes of proximity, they were high as a kite. They’d never had to take pills that gave them cramps and practice meditation to shut it off and keep it off. And they’d never tried to garner sympathy when everyone they talked to about the major problems in their life grinned like an idiot jack-o-lantern.

Those were all before the shadowy, often violent organization had set out to use her as a guinea pig or worse because she had a power they wanted.

“I guess I see how that’d be annoying.”

Again, she’d been thrown a curveball. “Hmm?” she asked, not sure she’d heard it herself.

“You know, if you make people happy, everyone would want it all the time and they’d bother you about it a lot.” Tim said sagely.

Melissa blinked. She’d never considered it that way before.

“Yeah.” She agreed, finally meeting her sibling’s eye and giving him a slight smile. “That would be annoying.”

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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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