The Dornez Hotel had, over the past few years, ingrained itself in the histories of both The Descendants and descendants in general.
Laurel had put the Kaines, Utts and McAllisters up there during the group’s first Thanksgiving in Mayfield; when it was more of a reunion than just a holiday. Much later, Laurel and Vincent Liedecker would broker a deal with hotel management to give generous discounts to students at the Liedecker Institute and their families during move-in weekend and holidays.
Suites 18-3 and 18-5 at the Dornez Hotel would be playing host to the Kaine family Thanksgiving thanks to Tammy Kaine’s enrollment at the Institute.
Warrick was glad to be spending some quality time with his parents and sister except for one thing…
“Tammy! Gah! You cannot just hang your bra on the shower rod!” Warrick shouted from the bathroom.
…Suite 18-5 was to be shared by the Kaine siblings, who hadn’t shared a room since a family trip to Yellowstone when Warrick was twelve.
“If I it them up in the closet, you would have freaked out when you put your coat way.” said Tammy, who was sprawled out on the room’s couch, watching a rerun of a very old Halloween special about a little boy and a great pumpkin.
The toilet flushed and her brother emerged from the bathroom, shooting a glare in her direction. “This isn’t your room at school you know? This isn’t an all-girl’s suite.” He complained as he washed his hands.
“It is a co-ed dorm though.” she pointed out. “And none of the boys have ever freaked out just from seeing a bra. Sounds like someone is just being immature.”
“Someone just doesn’t want his sister’s underthings in his face while he’s in the bathroom.” said Warrick, then did a double take. “Wait—you’ve had boys in your room? It wasn’t the scruffy kid with the goatee, is it? I don’t trust him; he’s got shifty eyes.”
Tammy snorted. “You mean Eddie? He’s ‘not’ going out with Maya.” She used finger quotes to set off ‘not’.
Warrick dried his hands on a guest towel and wandered into the room proper. It wasn’t that different from the room he’d lived in at Freeland House. There were two beds instead of one, the TV was bolted to the dresser , and the vanity was in an alcove instead of in the bathroom itself, but the size was just about right—and much bigger than the dorm room he shared with JC.
“How do you ‘not’ go out with someone?” Warrick copied his sister’s gesture.
Tammy tore her gaze away from her show and sat up to relate the gossipy tidbit. “You know how sometimes two people hang out with each other alone a whole lot, act super-cute with each other, but was still really dense about the fact that they actually like like each other?”
“People act like that in real life?” Warrick unzipped his bag and started pulling clothes out to put them away for the weekend.
“I know, right?” Tammy laughed. “But you’ve got nothing to worry about for now. None of the guys at school are all that interesting… you know, that way. I mean Jacob’s pretty hot, but he’s not all that fun or anything.”
Warrick groaned, tossing some shirts in a dresser drawer. “I’m not sure how we strayed into you talking about what guys are hot, but I’d like to back slowly away right now.”
A smirk played over Tammy’s lips as she lay back down on the couch. “It’s your own fault for being all over protective.” She threw and arm over her eyes and stretched. “By the way, I’m thinking of going by my real name from now on.”
It had been so long since he or anyone else called her anything but Tammy, it took Warrick a moment to catch on. “What, Talia? I thought you hated being called that.”
“I hated being called than when I was like eight, but maybe it’s time to try something new, ya know? Besides, the whole Tammy thing was because I acted so much like Dad—it was like calling me ‘Tommy Jr.’. I’m thinking I should just be, you know, me now.”
Warrick raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you even like the name Talia?”
“Maybe I will once people start calling me that.”
A laugh shook Warrick’s shoulders. “Yeah, this is going to go really well, I’m sure.” He closed the drawer and shot a look at the door connecting their room with their parents’. It was unlocked, so he had to make sure there were no prying ears. “Hey, so have Mom and Dad mentioned what we’re doing for dinner?”
It was only when it was their surviving grandmother’s turn to spend Thanksgiving with them that the family had a homemade meal for the holiday and even then, it was in the form of an Old Country Italian dinner that had been passed down for generations instead of the usual turkey and dressing.
Other years, they instead plowed the money typically spent on Turkey Day food on an elaborate, multi-restauraunt take-out order where everyone got exactly what they wanted. The only deviation had been two Thanksgivings prior; the same year Laurel had called Sandra and Tommy Kaine and their daughter to Mayfield to explain that their son was not, in fact, studying abroad but had been kidnapped by a shadowy organization bent on harvesting his genetic secrets. Dinner had been catered on Brant Industries’ dime that year.
Tammy shrugged. “No, why?”
Sitting heavily on the edge of his bed, Warrick leaned forward, speaking low in case his parent might catch a word or tow through the connecting door. “Well this year, I’ve actually got some money instead of just whatever I could scrounge working the front desk at the museum. I figured I’d surprise them and make the big order for them.”
An evil grin spread across the younger Kaine’s face. “So you’ll be paying?”
“Don’t get any idea of getting diamonds as a side dish, squirt. Most of my money’s going toward making sure I don’t have to get a student loan.”
“But still, you’re paying. That means the gloves are so very off. I’m thinking Peking duck—a whole Peking duck, just for me. And that’s just for starters. There’s a place the delivers to the school, won’s China Palace; they have the best vegetarian steamed dumplings. I stole some from Steampunk’s order once and I was totally hooked!”
Warrick held up his hands. “Fine, fine. You can order whatever you want, get huge and I don’t ever have to worry about your bras on the shower rod again because you won’t fit into the bathroom anymore.”
“…but I was asking you because I wanted to know what to order for Mom and Dad. You always get Chinese, I always get barbecue, but they get something different every time. I wanted to know if you had any ideas.”
The evil grin turned sheepish as Tammy considered the question. “Normally, I’d know, but I’ve only been around them as much as you have. I think we’d better put our heads together on this one.”
She grabbed her tablet off a side table and pulled up a list of local take-out places. And with that, the Kaine siblings set to work on their task.
“You look like you’re going to face a firing squad.” Laurel said using the same sort of tone someone would use with a nervous cat who was hiding beneath the furniture.
Beside her, Cyn was trying to tamp down her own case of nerves by watching the Chicago skyline slowly sink around her as the elevator rose up through it’s clear tower to the top of Brant Tower. It really wasn’t helping her mental state that she was in a building named after someone she was about to meet.
“I’m fine.” She said unconvincingly. Subconsciously, she was rapidly cycling through slight variations on her hair.
Shifting the cloth tote bag to one hand, Laurel retrieved a packet of energy bars from her pocket and passed it to the distressed shapeshifter who took it eagerly. “No you’re not. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t be.”
“If they don’t like me, I’m calling this whole thing off.” Cyn said through a face-full of granola. “I’m not sure how I even thought this was a thing that could be done. I just saw it in my textbook and…”
A placating hand patted her on the arm. “It was a great idea. I’m sure I didn’t think of it myself, considering. As for them not liking you, I’m more concerned about you not liking them. They’re not the most exciting people and they’re a little bit… I don’t want to be smothering, but I did end up going to the Academy in the first place just so I could be on my own for once.”
Cyn’s eyes tracked the windows on the neighboring tower. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“We’ll see if you’re saying the same thing by the end of the weekend.” Laurel chuckled. “Oh, and I know that living at Freeland House is nice and all, but Daddy is very, very proud of how his father built his company and fortune up from so little and how much farther he managed to take it, so they’re really showy with their money.”
The elevator doors opened behind them. When Cyn turned around, her internal clock almost stopped out of confusion. Being past seven in late November, it was dark outside. When she was facing the city, this was true and all was right with the world. The moment she turned around, however, things were… wrong.
The elevator opened onto a what, for all intents and purposes, was a garden lawn about twice the size of the downstairs commons at Freeland House. A stone path ran across honest-to-god grass, past beds of well-kept flowers, hedges, and actual trees.
And it was day time. The kind of daytime that made May a wonderful month.
“Yeah.” Laurel said, answering the unspoken words she gleaned from Cyn’s slack-jawed expression. “Daylight UV flood-lamps and a holographic sky projection on the glass panes overhead. It’s actually really bad for the plants.”
Across the lawn, a door Cyn hadn’t even known was there opened and Mr. and Mrs Brant arrived.
Cyn had met, or at least seen William Brant before. He was tall with close cut hair with the gray only just starting to overtake the black. The only times she’s seen him, he’d been dressed for business though, so it felt a little off to her seeing him wearing a relatively simple white button-down shirt and slack.
Mrs Brant, however, shad long been a mystery to Cyn. Laurel never mentioned her mother. In fact, for the first year that she’d known the older woman, Cyn had been fairly sure that Laurel was the daughter of a single father. Now there were other theories spinning in her head, as the woman rushing to greet them looked nothing like Laurel.
“Laurel!” said Mrs. Brant, crossing the distance so quickly that she left her husband far behind. She arrived like tidal waves arrived on unprepared shores, grasping Laurel by her upper arms.
“Tabby.” Laurel said, tightly as she was almost lifted off her feet.
“My girl. It’s been such a long time.” Up close, ‘Tabby’s’ differences from Laurel were more pronounced. Where Laurel was slim and fit, Tabby had the sturdy build of a woman who might start her morning juggling boulders or maybe live bears. She wasn’t fat, but she wasn’t exactly fit either. She was also several shades lighter than Laurel and Cyn guessed that she had some Middle Eastern or East Asian heritage that clearly Laurel hadn’t inherited.
Seemingly unaware of her own strength, Tabby squealed and lightly shook Laurel. “And look at you, you’ve got some muscles on you now!
“The side job does keep me in shape.” Laurel said, standing a bit unsteadily after being put down. She sounded that special kind of slightly embarrassed Cyn had seen in all of her friends when their parents did something embarrassing. “It’s great to see you too, Tabby. I missed you.”
Steadying herself once more, she nodded to Cyn, but before she could make the introductions, Tabby was already leaping to it. “And you’ve gotta be Cyn.” She looked the girl over like she was watching a puppy through a pet shop window. “I’m Tabitha, Laurel’s mom.”
It would have been rude to point out her doubts on that subject, Cyn decided. Usually, that didn’t stop her, but this visit was important and so was the first impression she intended to make. So instead of asking the obvious question, she just smiled. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Tabitha must have known what she wanted to ask though, because she chuckled to herself and added, “Well, step mother. But we’re close enough that I hardly ever think of the ‘step’ anymore.”
With Cyn otherwise preoccupied, William was free to greet his only child. “Kitten! I’m so glad you decided to come.” Instead of the warm yet profession greetings, Cyn had seen between the two before, this time the elder Brant enveloped Laurel in a hug that lacked the sheer physical strength of Tabitha’s affection, but not the enthusiasm.
“I’m glad I was finally able to, Daddy.” said Laurel, returning the hug, but being careful of her tote bag. When they broke apart, she offered up the bag. “I know you told me not to bring anything, but I did bring some champagne.” She smiled fondly as she looked at Cyn already being fussed over by Tabitha. “I’ve got some news you might want to celebrate.”
Cyn’s eyes widened with alarm. “Now?!” She asked. “I thought you might tell them over dinner, you know, after they get used to me and stuff.”
Laurel met the panic in the girl’s eyes with a serenity that Cyn rarely saw in anyone she knew and a surety that was uniquely Laurel. It might have had something to do with her hypercognition, but Laurel was just as good at social situations as she was with math problems and scientific pursuits. The look she was giving Cyn now was telling her ‘yes, everything will be okay’.
Faced with that kind of promise, Cyn relaxed by a fraction. “Okay… go ahead.”
“Something to celebrate?” asked Tabitha, whose exuberance might have led people to believe she found something to celebrate in everything. “What’s there more to celebrate than you finally coming back to visit after all this time in Mayfield?”
Laurel shifted subtly, taking the same stance she took when she pitched the Liedecker Institute to perspective parents or a new project for Descendants Rights World Wide. Somehow, she made her posture convey ‘I am about to tell you something good and you will thing it is good. Therefore, ti is in your best interest to prepare yourself to be happy with what’s coming’.
“Well.” She started. “Remember last time we talked, Tabby? How you asked me when you were going to be a grandma?”
“Oooo!” Tabby was on the verge of jumping up and down. “You found a man and your pregnant!”
Having expected this, Laurel didn’t flinch. She hadn’t really had any relationships worth gossiping about that didn’t take place entirely in cyberspace (where it was notoriously difficult to get pregnant), and Tabitha had to know that on some level because she hadn’t heard of any guys in her life and certainly that Laurel was not going to get pregnant on anything but her own terms.
“No. I’m not pregnant.” She said and moved on without elaborating on the subject of ‘finding a man’. “But you are going to be a grandma.” At this Tabitha looked confused, but Laurel already saw her father’s proud gaze shifting to Cyn. He’d heard her talk about the girl and both working with and counseling her. It wasn’t hard for him to guess.
She’d worked up the little speech on the flight over and launched into it immediately. “You’ve both heard about how Ian, Alexis and I had to take care of the kids at Freeland House. We all knew we weren’t their parents, but we had to act the part in some ways quite a bit and they all grew on us more than we first expected. It’s most true with Cyn and I though. We’ve bonded through a lot of strange and trying times.
“Cyn is already eighteen, and she’s an adult, but we’ve talked about this and… She’s decided that she would much rather I be her parent than the ones she was born to and I, well I can’t imagine wanting anything else in a daughter than I have with her. As it turns out, adult adoption is neither that rare, nor that difficult, so by this time next year, we plan to have the papers filed for legal adoption. So I’d like you to meet your future granddaughter.”
Everyone looked at Cyn, who took a step back under the combined gaze at her new (prospective) family. “Um…” She said, eyes on the ground. “Hi?”
Since she wasn’t looking up, she never saw Tabitha coming until she was already off the ground in a hug that would have hurt much more if she wasn’t a shapeshifter. “Well I didn’t know you are my grandkid too! Oh my god, we are going to have to make up for eighteen years in a weekend!”
William, meanwhile stood back, watching his wife nearly crushing the life out of the girl with a smile on his face. He looked to his daughter and laughed. “You were completely right about the champagne, Kitten. I can’t think of anything I want to give thanks for more this year.
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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