Issue #61 – Higher Education

This entry is part 1 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures
Part 3
“All I’m saying is that you didn’t have to live on campus.” Robert Greycloud was saying as he stepped out of his truck in the parking lot of the Jackson Center for Music and Art. “It isn’t that far from home.”
Kay got out of the passenger side and smoothed down her serious navy skirt. The skirt, crisp, white blouse and matching jacket were the only formal clothes she owned and had seen wedding,s funeral and commencement. Today it was out at her father’s insistence, so her hair was red with yellow tips in protest.
“Dad, there’s no bus stop near the house and that means commuter pods, which mean money. On the other hand, ‘full scholarship’ in this instance also translates to a free room.” She frowned, remembering that for the first time since a disastrous summer at camp, she would have a roommate. “Half a room. Which means you only have to pay for meal plans. I’m really thinking of you here.”
Robert was, as Cyn pointed out to her, possessed of the ‘standard gym teacher body’: wide shoulders, strong torso, but proportionately narrow hips and skinny legs. Aside from lacking a gut, he had the same basic shape as their own Coach Bevilaqua, which was fitting, as he coached at another school on the other side of the city.
He shrugged those massive shoulders and locked the doors the moment his daughter closed hers. “You could have eaten at home for free, so I’d say it breaks even.” A weak smile crossed his face. “Though I’m sure financial matters aren’t the biggest reason you want to live on campus.”
Kay lowered her head, slightly guilty as he fell into step with her on the way to the Center. “Maybe…”
“Maybe nothing.” He said with a forced chuckle. “I remember going off to college. I wanted to get as far away from my parents as possible. That’s how I ended up in Nebraska. How I met your mother.”
Looking up at her father, Kay rolled her eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to start missing me on move in day? We’re just getting my class list and meeting my adviser.”
“Every man is entitled to get a little sentimental when he first realizes his little girl is becoming a grown woman.” e insisted.
“That just now set in?” She smiled at him. “The extra bras and hygiene products around the house weren’t’ a clue?”
“I try and ignore those.” He smiled back, a more genuine smile. “And there’s a difference between puberty and growing up, you know.”
“I know.” She agreed, then smirked. “Of course, if this is the first time you realized I’m ‘becoming a woman’, I think we need to have a long talk about that ‘no boys until college’ discussion we had.”
He scratched his chin self consciously. “I might have overreacted a little. But you can’t blame me. I had just found out that you had kissed a boy. In the eight grade!”
“In a play!” Kay argued.
“I just thought I should nip it in the bud. Is all.. I’m just surprised you stuck to it. Your mother was sure it was going to make you rebel and fall for all sort of skeevy guys.” They paused on the wide stone steps leading up to the doors.
“No offense dad, but you can’t take all the credit for that. I watched all the stuff Lisa and JC went through: all the breakups and rebound dates and drama and I figured I wasn’t ready to deal with all that. Besides, even back then, what I really wanted was to play music—even before my powers showed up.”
Robert leaned on one of the railings, “And now?”
Kay blushed, uncharacteristically. “Dad! You can’t ask that kind of stuff!”
“Just asking because it’s better knowing than having it be a surprise when you come home one day with a guy you call your soulmate.”
She rolled her eyes and started up the stairs. “Well if you need to know so bad, it’s a definite maybe. It seems like everyone I know has someone and… and I feel kind of left out. Like I’m missing this amazing thing that everyone else has now. But at the same time, I actually have free time to write music and experiment and just think… and I’m not sure I can give that up for just any guy, you know?”
Robert pushed off the railing to follow her. “It better not be ‘just any guy’. You deserve much better than that, Kimeya. He got to the stair below her and wrapped his daughter in a hug. “And you deserve to do what you want with your life. When the right person comes along, they’re going to understand that. Don’t you give anyone the time of day if they don’t, got it?”
Kay hugged her father back. “Got it.” Thanks dad.”
“And if you just want to stay at home forever and spend time with your mother and me, that’s okay too.”
“That’s pushing it.”
“Worth a shot.” He laughed and let go. For the first time, he really looked at the building they were entering. “You know, it took me way too long to realize that the music, the band any everything? It wasn’t a phase. I might not have said it enough when you could have really used it, but you’ve got a lot of talent, Kimeya and it’s got nothing to do with your powers: those just saved us money on instruments.”
Kay smiled at him as they reached the glass double doors to her future. “You know dad? I think today counts as a time when I really needed it.”
“I’m just sorry I won’t be there to see you off.” Tatiana Farnsworth pondered the melting ice cream cone in her hand. It was her favorite: pistachio, and she and Lisa were in one of her favorite placed to visit in Mayfield, a small, out of the way park in Riverside.
Aside from the stone benches and matching circular table they set at, there were two more like them as well as two traditional wooden picnic tables and a barbecue pit. From where they sat, they could see the river, but not reach it thanks to a chain link fence blocking access to the steep, rocky incline between the park and the water below.
The air smelled like summer and in the bright sunlight, birds fluttered and squirrels scampered about. They all looked ever so slightly different. More clear. She never even knew she was starting to lose her eyesight until she found herself in the body of Elise of Halfren, who had been in her mid-twenties when her soul was pulled out of her and sealed in a painting. Elise had perfect vision, so now Tatiana did too.
Across from her, Lisa tried t mask her disappointment behind a huge bite of Vanilla-Orange Sunburst. “It’s okay. I mean, it can’t be helped; they might wonder who the heck you are and all.” She sighed, “Then again, maybe they wouldn’t even notice, since they’re all so extra excited about Zach heading off to Mary Washington next weekend.”
Tatiana reached over and touched her favorite (and only) niece’s hand. “You know they love you just as much as they do Zach.”
“I know, I know. No one is worried about me because I do what I want and have lots of friends while ‘poor Zach’ is so shy and introverted and he needs all the self esteem her can get. That doesn’t make it fun when I do things like our success with the band, writing songs for Sonja Remington, or moving away to college and it’s not special, it’s not amazing, it’s just… expected. “
She sighed and crossed her legs under her on the bench. “I get that maybe some of that was expected, but I’m taking calls twice a week from a celebrity and the response is pretty much the same as the one I get getting a ‘B’ in History. I mean, even you can’t say you’ve got, like, Glenn Holiday on your friends list.”
“That I can’t.” Tatiana laughed. “I know it’s hard. And believe me, I was in the same boat as you, only instead of my twin, your mom was the baby and your aunt Lita and uncle Pablo were the oldest. I started out trying my hardest just not to be lost in the shuffle and once mom and dad saw how hard I tried at everything, they stopped being surprised by it too. Try and take it as a complement, mi linda.”
Lisa smiled at the term of endearment. “I will. Sorry to come here and dump all of this on you. Just needed to vent, I guess. So how are things going for you?”
“They’re… going.” said Tatiana, making a face. “I’m starting to regret turning down the extra help the Descendants offered, but I’m managing. Thank your friend Juniper for helping me get that job at Devil’s Own.”
“Don’t mention it.” Lisa chuckled. “I think she’s just trying to make sure she has as many people as possible there to give her their employee discount.” Her face became serious. “I know it isn’t what you’re used to…”
“No.” Tatiana said softly. “But at least it’s honest work. And realistically, this is about the same place I was when I was twenty.”
“You’re not thinking of…” Lisa trailed off. It had gone unspoken for a very long time, ever since her initial possession by Morganna. The real source of her aunt’s comfortable lifestyle. Her real career, not as a globetrotting archeologist, but as a tomb raider and thief called Lady Nightshade.
Tatiana looked away, not even noticing as her ice cream started to drip down her fingers. “No. I promise. Even if I wanted to, it took years to get into the kind of shape that required. But I won’t try now. I won’t make you choose between who you are now and keeping me out of jail.”
“Do you mind if I ask how it started?”
“Exactly what we were talking about. I wanted to stand out, to make my mom and dad notice me. I shoplifted as a teenager just to get caught, but then I realized how easy it was for me not to get caught. From there, I started charging other kids in school for stealing things, or breaking into places for them. And then, in college, I had an opportunity to got to Greece.”
As she spoke, her expression grew nostalgic. “I met a guy there. Thought I was in love, but in reality, he just wanted me to steal this coin from a museum for his boss. I figured out I was being used and went over his head and gave the coin to his boss myself. From there, there were always jobs and they came with free airfare and hotels.”
Lisa listened in rapt attention. She knew she was talking about highly illegal and immoral things, but for a moment, it felt like old times; the days when they would sit in her aunt’s kitchen and talk about her latest trip. Even though it was now clear that a lot of it had been fabricated or altered to hide how she really came away with all those artifacts, there was still something enchanting about them, a feeling from the happiest moments of her adolescence.
“So…” she said at a lull in the story, “Did it work?”
“Did what work?”
“Did it make you stand out?”
Tatiana smiled. “I would be a bad role model to tell you I did, mi linda. But you’re already your own woman… so yes. I was… the fun sister. The interesting one.” Another more gentle smile followed the first broad one. “The favorite aunt.
“Maybe I should be ashamed of it, but it made me happy. It made me feel special. It’s wrong, but that’s’ the truth.” She took her hand, the one dripping with green ice cream, and held it up. With some focus and a murmured word, the droplets began to roll toward one another, forming larger and larger drops until a bead of formerly frozen treat sat in her palm.
She ate it. “But maybe this all happened for a reason. I’ve got a second chance to make up for what I’ve done before the end.” An apprehensive look appeared on Lisa’s face. “not anytime soon of course. Just like your friends from the college, I need to take my time and learn. That and I just got my life back, and time to spend with my favorite niece. I’m not going to go risking that for a good long while.”
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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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