Issue #68 – One Week

This entry is part 9 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures

Part 7 – Monday
“Tea?” Kareem offered as he set up the electric kettle on the counter in his family’s kitchen.
“No thanks, I should head out soon.” said Melissa.
They had just finished a psychic training session and Melissa was slumped in her seat, as physically drained as she would have been had she spent the last half hour pumping iron.
Kareem nodded and only added enough water to the kettle for one cup. Then he came to sit at the kitchen table across from her. “Do you have anymore classes today?”
“Two. But one is at four and the other is seven-thirty.” said Melissa. She reached into her purse, hanging from the back of her chair, and pulled out her palm-top. So did you get Laurel’s email this morning about her plans?”
“Life Savers, Inc.” Kareem said, tilting his head skyward as if looking for inspiration from heaven. “I’m rather excited about it. I did not get to participate in the first one.”
Melissa shrugged and made a non-committal noise. “I just kept their secret and patched them up. Either way I don’t think this is going to be anything like that, seeing what Laurel is planning right from the start. Offices in major cities? Merchandising and likeness rights? Our own, private internet? It sounds like an actual corporation.”
“She’s trying to help prelates all over the world with resources and free information.” Kareem noted. “That takes money because not everyone is secretly backed by Brant Industries. Imagine how many live will be saved and improved just by providing ballistic material uniforms?”
“They would save more if we gave the police ballistics cloth uniforms.” Melissa said sourly.
Kareem frowned. “I agree; and I brought it up with Miss Brant. She told me that the ballistics cloth we’ve been using for our costumes came from the first and only batch delivered to Brant Industries before their contract with the military to provide it fell through. That batch is the only in existence and no more is being manufactured.”
This did not remove Melissa’s sour attitude. “If her father was really serious, he would put it back in production.”
Again, Kareem looked unhappy. “Again, I thought of the same thing… though I phrased it more diplomatically. The problem there is that he wouldn’t be able to justify that to his company. The best he can do, has done, is to re-open the development of the science behind it in hopes of creating a less costly, more budget friendly version that is marketable.”
Melissa deflated. Though it was terrible to know that life saving materials were rotting in warehouses because they couldn’t be turned into profit, it did explain things. “Makes you wonder how many other things like that are on the shelf because you can’t make money on them.”
“In Miss Brant’s words: ‘You don’t want to know. Hearing all the nice things we can’t have would make you cry.” The orange light on his kettle went out and he got up to make his tea. “Are you sure you don’t want any?”
She shook her head. “No. Thanks.”
A buzzer sounded from a panel by the front door.
“Expecting company?” asked Melissa.
“No…” Kareem left his tea steeping and went walked across the kitchen, through the living room, to the panel. Touching a button brought up a color image feed from the camera situated above the residential elevators. A smile played on his lips. “It’s Desiree.”
He held down another button. “Desiree! I thought you had class today.”
The gray-skinned girl looked up at the camera and smiled her shark-toothed smile. “My professor’s sick and I knew you had a few hours to kill between classes…”
“I do indeed.” beamed Kareem. “Come on up. I was just making tea—would you like a cup?”
“I’d love one, thank you.”
Kareem tapped on the screen to grant her permission to ride the elevator up. “See you in a bit.” He switched off the image feed and turned to find Melissa pulling on her jacket. “You’re leaving?”
Melissa fumbled for her purse as pretense not to look him in the eye. “Yeah, I said I had to get going. Errand to run and stuff.”
He didn’t need his powers to notice something wrong. “Do you not like Desiree?” his eyebrow rose a millimeter, “Come to think of it, Cynthia and Lisa don’t seem to either. And you can never tell with Juniper…”
“No, of course we like her.” Melissa said quickly. “Well, except Cyn. Cyn doesn’t like new people as a rule.”
“But Desiree is hardly ‘new’ anymore.”
Melissa shrugged. “Who knows what goes on in her head? But like I said, I’ve got to go. Call you later?”
Kareem nodded. As always, there was a temptation to use his powers to find out exactly what was going on in her head, but he resisted it as he always had. People deserved privacy, and mind reading constituted the worst kind of violation of that privacy. He only used it when the need overrode the moral qualms.
Still, he wished sometimes that he could bring himself to make exceptions for curiosity.
Melissa closed the door behind her and huffed out a relieved breath. She wasn’t even sure why, but she didn’t like being caught in the same room as Kareem and Desiree if she could help it.
The odd thing was, she didn’t think she actually had a problem with the other woman. At least she didn’t until there were face to face. Then it felt like everything Desiree did rubbed her the wrong way, from the timbre of her voice to that cloying, orange blossom perfume she seemed to douse herself in.
What it wasn’t, she swore to herself, was jealousy. True, she had a bit of a crush on Kareem back when they first came to Freeland House. At the time, he was the only one she felt she could relate to; her emotional and perceived temporal isolation being similar in a way to his physical isolation. It didn’t hurt that he was naturally understanding and non-judgmental.
But that time had passed. Kareem was no longer trapped on the astral plane, tethered to an unresponsive body, and she had acclimated to the modern world and the realities of her situation after some precipitous pitfalls. She couldn’t justify her crush anymore.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t still there on some level, but that was beside the point. Kareem was happy and Desiree was making him happy. And try as she might, even Cyn couldn’t come up with an actual reason to hold any of that against her, much less Melissa.
The elevator door opened. Melissa’s nose twitched to the scent of orange even before she looked up to find Desiree standing there.
As always, the gray-skinned woman dressed as if she wasn’t aware that nature (and possibly World War II super-science) had given her the skin and teeth of a shark. A pink halter top made of some sort of soft-looking material strained to contain her generous chest, and a tight skirt of a slightly darker shade of pink barely covered her legs. Red sandals showed off her red painted toes. The whole thing was topped off with a beret the color of blood.
Despite her mode of dress, Desiree remained conscious of her teeth and smiled at Melissa with her mouth closed.
“Oh, hi, Melissa.” she greeted without a hint of jealousy. “Kareem didn’t mention you were here.”
It never seemed to phase Desiree that Kareem had so many female friends who were (and Melissa couldn’t think of a charitable way to put it) ridiculously more attractive than her. Maybe that should have been a refreshing alternative to shrewish jealousy, but Melissa was now wondering if the other woman simply didn’t see them as competition.
Really, Melissa found herself kind of wanting to punch her in the face.
But that wasn’t the way of things, so she smiled back .”Oh yeah, I had some time between classes and here is a lot closer than my dorm.”
“Same reason I stopped by.” said Desiree, stepping out of the elevator and holding it open for Melissa.
“You go to Dayspring? I’ve never seen you around campus.”
Desiree spread her hands and shrugged. “Big campus I guess. We should link up and have lunch sometime.”
It might be a great way to lose weight, seeing as how I lose my appetite when you’re around, Melissa did not say. “That would be great. There’s all kinds of good places to eat. How about sometime this week at Okara’s? They have great sushi.”
“Sounds like fun.” Desiree said.
A moment of awkwardness passed as they just stared at each other and Melissa’s stomach heaved at Desiree’s perfume. “So… I have some things I need to do before my next class. See you later.”
“See you later.” Desiree let go of the elevator door and it slid closed on Melissa.
Someone knocked on the door as Kareem was turning on the kettle for Desiree’s cup of tea.
“Come in. It’s unlocked.” He called.
“You shouldn’t do that, you know.” Desiree said, sidling into the apartment. “I could have been a burglar or a serial killer. Then what would you have done?”
If his parents were home, he would never do something so dangerous, but alone in the apartment, he had no fear. Anyone who wanted to rob or harm him would quickly find themselves in jail, missing a few hours of their life, wondering what went wrong, but not being able to put two and two together.
Kareem might have had a strong moral philosophy when if came to using his powers, but he knew when to let loose with them and just how much damage he could do.
He laughed at her insinuation and held up his tea cup. “People tend to cease stealing and killing once they take a cup of scalding tea to the face.”
“Can’t argue with that.” Desiree closed and locked the door behind her before crossing the living room. She came into the kitchen, gently took the cup from his hands, and slid into his lap to deliver a hello kiss.
Kiss arms circled her automatically and he leaned into the kiss. When the separated, he smiled at her. “I’m glad you got some time off from class. I missed you this weekend.”
She shifted into a more comfortable position and leaned on his shoulder. Her protomorph physiology made her slightly heavier than more women her size, but not so much that it was a bother to him. “Sorry about that. My dad again—always insisting on bonding time. We went camping on Skyline Drive.”
“Maybe next time you go, I could go with you two.” Kareem suggested. He still hadn’t met her father.
“Probably not. The camping I mean.” said Desiree. “He really, really has to like you to let you in on that.”
Kareem let out a small sigh. “He cannot get to like me if I never meet him.”
She matched his sigh. “I know. It’s just that… well he’s very, very over protective. That’s why I’m living at home while going to school, after all: he’s got serious separation issues—probably because his work calls him away so often.”
Leaning close, she trailed kisses up his jawline to his ear. “I really like you, Kareem. And I just want everything to be perfect when you two meet. Just give me a little more time, okay?”
He responded by pulling her closer to him and kissing her neck. The scent of her filled his nostrils, soothing his earlier disappointment. “Of course. He is your father, after all, and you know how best to approach him.”
“Thank you.” she replied, then sat back so she could take his head in both hands and draw him into a deep, passionate kiss. The heat between them rose. Her hand traveled up the side of his face until she was threading her fingers through his hair. And all the while, his hands were stroking her; along her back, up to her shoulders and down to the curve of her hip.
Eventually, they had to stop and catch their breath, Desiree resting her forehead against Kareem’s; her slightly luminous eyes staring into his.
“I…” he started. Desiree stiffened.
The light on the kettle went out. Upon hearing the nearly inaudible click that came from it, Desiree sat up and looked way as if demurring. “Ah… ha. The water’s ready. Let me get that.”
Getting off him, she went to the kettle. Kareem cleared his throat, scrubbing his fingers through his own hair as he tried to catch his breath. He took a long pull on his own tea to make sure his next words didn’t come out in a croak.
Instead of saying what he wanted, however, he merely said, “The tea is Oolong. From a sampler pack they sell in the cafe downstairs.”
“It certainly smells good.” said Desiree. She finished making her tea at the counter and came back to the table, sitting opposite Kareem. Her face didn’t betray a hint of the awkwardness Kareem was feeling. “So: I bought my costume for Warrick’s party last night when we got back.”
Kareem relaxed. If she wasn’t going to make a big deal of it, he wouldn’t have to either. “Oh? What are you going as?”
“You’re going to laugh at how uncreative it is, but I promise: It’s going to look amazing.”
“Sometimes ‘uncreative’ is another word for traditional.” Kareem pointed out. “Especially if you do a good job. So what is it?”
She sipped her tea before speaking. “Well there’s this steampunk club a few blocks form my apartment with an attached boutique. They’re having a clearance sale to coincide with Halloween and I found this amazing Victorian dress for next to nothing. So I think to myself: I’m already gray, and here’s a beautiful period costume, so I’m going full-on vampire with it.
“Very nice.” Kareem was already imagining her in a bustle dress with a corset. He wondered if and how she would wear false fangs over her rows of teeth, but the possibility was intriguing. “I can’t wait to see you all dressed up.”
“Thanks. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. What about you?” she asked.
He smiled enigmatically. “I gave a lot of thought to it this year and I’ve decided that Halloween is treated as an opportunity to come as you aren’t: to play a person who you can’t or wouldn’t be at any other time.”
Desiree leaned forward, arms resting on the table. Her eyes flickered with intrigue. “And just who can’t or won’t you be, Mr. Utt?”
“Oh, there could be many things.” Kareem said, taking a sip of tea. “But don’t forget: it doesn’t have to be someone or something I want to be. Otherwise, we might have to question all those zombie, monster and politician costumes.”
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
Kareem winked at her, relishing being the one teasing her for once. “I actually really want to see your face when you get a look at it.”
End Issue #68
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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. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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