Issue #32: Ahead/Behind

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

Part 3

It took nearly a full minute of fidgeting on Alexis’s part before Ian stepped in to try and field the accusation. “What makes you think Alexis has anything to do with Darkness?” he asked.

Lydia returned to her seat on the couch. “Oh please, Ian, don’t try that. There’s only three people we know that can do the black heat thing and Daddy and Aunt Rosalyn really don’t have the figure for this get-up.” She gestured toward the picture.

“There could be other people with powers like yours.” Ian retorted, having already seen that response coming. “Lord knows that’s plenty of wind and water manipulators like me and Isaac.”

“Wasn’t your nickname or whatever when you went to the psionic school ‘Darkness’, Lexy?” Victoria asked slyly.

“Yes.” Alexis said hesitantly, “But it isn’t like those names are required to be unique and—“

“One of the people on her team is called Chaos.” Lydia added, and then gave Ian a bemused look. “And that was what your handle was, wasn’t it, Ian?”

He and Alexis shared a look. “Oh my god, we’re so stupid.” Alexis palmed her face and shook her head in disgust. “Wait, no, our super intelligent best friend is so stupid, she’s the one that told us to go by those handles.”

“Well it’s pretty obvious even without the name.” Victoria said. A victorious look settled on her face. “I mean look at this picture, when you don’t have your heat up, you can totally see those Romani features under that cowl. You think we don’t know out own sister?”

“We thought that would be the first thing you’d talk about when you came home.” Mrs. Keyes said with disappointment in her tone. “I didn’t want to ruin your surprise though, so I didn’t mention it.” She sat down heavily on the arm of the couch and idly fussed with Nicole’s hair.

“Yeah,” Kylie chimed in, leaning back and gesturing lazily at Victoria, “I was really looking forward to seeing you top ‘The Great Doctor Keyes’ with Super-Lexy.” Victoria reached over a playfully batted at the gesturing arm.

Alexis held up her hands as a signal of defeat. “Okay, okay. You guys found out.” She gave them all an apologetic look, especially her mother, “But I wish you hadn’t. I had good reason to try and keep this from you, its danger—“

Out in the hall, the front door opened and a male voice called out, “Hello, can someone give me a hand here? I’ve got catering bags here for a party of fourteen.”

Mrs. Keyes rolled her eyes at her husband’s spoiling of the girls. “There are only eight of us, Alejandro.”

“Yes, but I know that all my girls get their appetite from my side.” Came the reply, which was followed immediately by an exhausted grunt. “Someone please, come on, these things are heavy.”

Kylie smacked her lips dramatically. “I’m coming, Daddy.” She said, getting to her feet.

“I’ll help too, Mr. Keyes.” Ian said, swiftly falling into his old role as the adoptive son of the Keyes family. He shared a silence glance of thanks for the interruption with Alexis before ducking into the hall.

Alejandro Keyes had aged better than his wife, still looking as fit and strong as Ian had known and idolized when he was in high school. His close cropped, black beard was the same and the only hint of age was in his graying and thinning hair.

“Ian!” the older man exclaimed upon seeing the other man. “The boy I never had! Come ’ere.” He sat the two cloth packages he’d been wrestling in the door down and motioned for a hug. As he always did, he greeted Ian by squeezing the air from his lungs, then thumping him on the back hard enough to make him fear bruising.

“Good to see you too, Mr. Keyes.” Ian tried not to show how much Alexis’s father’s exuberance had taken out of him.

“If you’re here, that means, Lexy’s here.” He told Ian rather than asked. “Which means that I’ve got all my favorite women under one roof again. That is cause for a celebration.” He hefted one of the heavy bags and handed it to Ian. “Go put this in the kitchen, okay? We need to catch up.”

“Oh, you have no idea.” Kylie said, finally making her appearance with Alexis right behind. She turned a wolfish grin back on Alexis as she accepted the other bag.

Mr. Keyes raised an eyebrow at this, but reached out to pull Alexis into a far less crushing hug. They didn’t need words, Alexis had not only inherited his powers, but she was named after him; clearly her father’s favorite.

With a playful tossling of his daughter’s hair, he inclined his head toward the retreating figures of Ian and Kylie. “So what was that about? The Descendants thing? ‘Cause I told your mother, if that’s why you’ve been gone, that’s a damn better reason than we could’ve dreamed up, Lexy, and—“

Alexis stopped him by shaking her head. “It’s not that and… I’ve got a lot of explaining to do about that too.” Taking a deep breath after her initial rush of words, she said more slowly, “But that was because Ian and I… well we’re a couple now.”

Eyes flashing, Mr. Keyes looked up to where Ian had already frozen in place upon hearing Alexis’s revelation. “Ian!” He said loudly and forcefully.

Very slowly, holding the catering bag like a shield, Ian turned around. “Yes, Mr. Keyes?”

“Ian, why didn’t you tell her mother when you called?” Mr. Keyes asked, visibly perplexed, “I would have bought some wine. This is great news, better than the Descendants thing even, ‘cause this is about love.” He glanced back at the door. “Maybe I can go down to—“

“Alejandro, if the girls don’t get some food in them now, they’re going to start eating the drywall!” Mrs. Keyes called from the living room. “And I swear Lydia was eyeing the golden retriever next door out the window.”

Mr. Keyes frowned. “No wine then.” He said, “But I’ve still got my girls, my lovely wife, and my future son-in-law.”

Victoria came to stand in the archway between the living room and the front hall. “And we know how much you love good conversation during dinner, Daddy, so we’ll let Lexy’s explanation of why she didn’t tell us what she was doing wait until it’s served.”

***

Laurel felt the guilt of causing this scene eating away at her deep inside. Academically, she knew that this was the best course of action. Directly confronting Melissa on it would keep her from agonizing over how to tell her parents and how they would react.

But her heart went out to the entire family, so recently reunited, as they were forced to face the reality that there was a group of people waiting to tear them apart once more, possibly with even worse results.

They were in the studio; Mr. And Mrs. Forrester sitting side by side, gripping one another’s hands. Mrs. Forrester was half leaning on the equally unsteady shoulder of their husband while he refused to let got of his newly found daughter’s hand hand. Tim was sitting off to the side only by command of his mother. He had the look of an extremely bored child.

Melissa was trying to calm her parents down, while looking to Laurel for help. It was a situation of her own making. The first words she uttered when her father had finally worked up the courage to ask why Laurel had told him to ask her about it being over were ‘I’m not sure if I can stay.’

“No, baby, no.” Ms. Forrester was repeating over and over as Melissa tried to regain her attention. “You’re back. You’re safe. No.”

Mr. Forrester was in stunned silence. He hadn’t even had the time his wife had gotten to believe his daughter was back for good before it was stolen from him.

“No, listen, please.” Melissa was on the verge of tears too. Before, she hadn’t cared what nasty things she said to them, now she was feeling guilty for telling the truth. “You’ve got to understand, I want to stay. I really, really do.”

“Then stay.” Her mother replied, “That’s all you have to do.”

Melissa shook her head. “It’s not that… Mom, Dad; maybe Tim shouldn’t be here for this.”

That brought Mr. Forrester back to his senses. “No. ‘Lissa, we haven’t been a family together before. And if this is all the time we’re going to get to be a family, then we’re going to take it.”

“It’s not that.” Melissa ignored the use of her hated nickname and fumbled for explanation. “I mean that the reason I may not be staying—may. May not.” She said for the benefit of her mother. “It’s something a kid shouldn’t have to hear.”

“He should know this time.” Ms. Forrester managed, “Why he’s losing his sister.”

“He’s not losing—you’re not losing me.” Melissa struggled. “Even if I can’t stay, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to call or visit… or that you can’t visit me… some of the others…”

“What others?” Ms. Forrester half sobbed. “Melissa, please tell us what’s going on here.”

Melissa tried to center herself with a deep breath before launching into her best explanation of what had happened. For her brother’s sake and to reduce her parent’s worry, she skimped on the details of what TOME had done to other captured psionics like Kareem. She also skipped the more harrowing parts of her role as team healer with the Descendants.

“So that’s the problem.” Melissa finally said in conclusion, “They still want me and the others just as bas as that wanted that girl in Virginia Beach. And they were willing to do anything it took to get us. If I stay here, they’ll eventually find me and… and…” She couldn’t.

The gravity of the situation silenced everyone else as well, save for Tim, whose eyes glittered upon mulling over what Melissa had just said, “Bad guys like that really exist? That’s amazing!”

“Tim.” Mrs. Forrester said sharply. Then she locked eyes with her daughter. “I don’t care. Let them send their invisible man, their mind controller, those evil dogs—“Her tone grew more forceful with each word. “I don’t care. You’re mine. My child. Not theirs.”

A tear escaped Melissa’s eye. “Mom, I… you can’t fight them.”

“But you have powers!” Mrs. Forrester said. She turned to Laurel, “And you do too! The two of you could stop them, couldn’t you?”

“Mom, I can heal people and make them feel good. If I work really hard, I can make someone pass out. I can’t fight a private army.”

Laurel almost shrank from Mrs. Forrester’s desperate gaze. “My power isn’t combat ready either, Gwen.” She apologized with her eyes. “Plus, there are other kids that need to be looked after. I can’t stay here either.”

“But I can visit.” Melissa pointed out. “Warrick and Cyn went to his place in New York for Christmas. And you can visit me.”

“That’s right.” Laurel said, “And I’ll even pay your airfare and hotel. The best in the city.”

This didn’t seem to placate Ms. Forrester though. “But you only just got here.” She said to Melissa, tears in her eyes. “I just got you back! I can’t let you go so soon.”

Laurel brushed a stray hair out of her eyes and gave this some thought. “I know it’s not much…” She said, “But school doesn’t start back in Mayfield until the third. That’s ten days from now. I need to get back at the end of the weekend, but there’s no reason you have to come back with me, Melissa.”

Ten days to reconnect with a family ten years removed. It was an impossible task, but it was one that Melissa was more than ready to accept.

***

Dinner with the Keyes family was exactly as Ian remembered; the first few minutes was essentially a feeding frenzy with Mrs. Keyes alone trying to maintain some level of decorum as her husband and daughters acted quickly to dole out rice and potatoes and fish and skewers of vegetables onto their plates before they had to pass the bowls and platters on.

True to his word, Mr. Keyes had made up a plate especially for his son from another father and made sure it alone escaped the predations of Kylie in particular.

Once everyone had helped themselves, had taken their first bites and expressed their appreciation to the family patriarch, if was surprising to see that it was normally quiet Nicole that started the conversation by tapping her glass with the edge of her spoon.

Evidently, the others were also shocked that their shrinking violet was asking for attention, because they quickly became quiet for her.

Nicole blushed and clasped her hands nervously. “I just wanted to say that even though we’ve been giving her a hard time and some of us may be upset that she’s been gone so long, I think I speak for all of us when I say I’m glad to have our sister back.” She quickly sat down amid her family’s agreement.

“And she’s finally got her a man.” Kylie added, raising her glass.

“Here, here!” Victoria and Lydia raised their glasses as well before dissolving into giggles.

“And a good man too.” Mr. Keyes thumped Ian on the back again, making his teeth rattle. “Not like what’s his name, the guy with the—“he made a sweeping gesture over his own thinning hair, indicating a huge hairdo. “You know, the hair?”

“Lewis?” Alexis shook her head, “Daddy, I wasn’t even going out with him, we were project partners in my biology class in college.”

“That’s not what he thought.” Ian said, echoing Kylie who said it at the same time. “He was very much into you.”

“Or wanted to be.” Kylie added with a lecherous grin.

The conversation became livelier after that, until the mother of the brood, who didn’t seem to be amused finally broke it all up. “Lexy, I’m glad to see you getting along with your sisters again, but don’t you think it’s time to explain all this to us? Like why you said you wish we hadn’t found out about Darkness?”

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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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