To Seal Our Happiness (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Tale
To Seal Our Happiness
Parents' Day 2007
E. E. Nalley
Her friends are so jealous
You know how bad girls get
Sometimes it's not so easy
To be the teacher's pet
The Police, Don't Stand So Close To Me
October 27th, 2007
Shuttle Stop, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mrs. Carson shook her head as she watched security escort the much offended 'Aunt June' off campus as she walked back to the courtyard, pausing to reassure a small clutch of gawking parents everything was fine. For a moment, she considered an early lunch, but recalled that Amelia and Fredrick had just headed to the Crystal Hall and someone should be out doing damage control and 'showing the flag' as it were. She nodded to several students as she passed and entered Schuster Hall, on her way to the stairway back up to her office, when, through the front doors, down by the shuttle stop she caught sight of a familiar blonde head.
Smiling to herself, Mrs Carson changed course and went back outside through the doors and down the steps to the little circular drive before the school's main building that the shuttle came through. “Where are you off to?” she asked, accepting and returning the hug her both oldest and youngest daughter gave her.
“Hey, mom!” Shelly greeted with genuine affection. “Just heading out to Berlin. Thought I'd catch a flick.”
Liz looked at her daughter sidelong. “You know, Shelly, Parent's day is for you too.”
The grin on Shelly's face widened. “Mom, seriously, what can I show you that you don't know about this school? You're busy, it's cool...”
“I am never too busy for you, Shelly,” her mother declared with just the right mix of sincerity and good humor to keep things from getting maudlin. “In point of fact, I have a tray of Chef Marcel's chocolate croissants just begging to be enjoyed over a mother daughter chat. There might even be hot chocolate.”
Shelly arched an eyebrow. “Will there be marshmallows?”
Mrs Carson's dismay was apocalyptic. “Hot chocolate without marshmallows?” she demanded. “That's...un-American!” The two women shared a giggle and headed back towards the offices on the second floor. “You know, you never told me how your summer was with your father?”
Shelly shrugged. “Well, kind of...weird to be honest, Mom,” she declared softly as they passed through the front doors. “I mean, yeah, I get the feeling dad was really creeped out by the whole thing. He was...older...and I guess he had put me and you behind him.”
Mrs Carson was alarmed as she picked up a decanter and a pair of cups off the refreshment table as they passed. “Shelly, why didn't you call...?”
“Oh, he didn't do or say anything, mom,” she added quickly. “He tried really hard to make it like things were just like before. But, to him, I had been dead for twelve years, he had mourned me and moved on and now here I was, looking more or less just like before I had started manifesting stone, like I had over a decade ago.” She paused as her mother's ID unlocked the administration door and let her in. “But...it did get me thinking, and wondering.”
“About what?” Elizabeth asked as she led the way into her office. Shelly settled onto the couch with her mother next to her and had a little battle as her mother poured out the hot beverage. Her Mom's hot chocolate had always been made from unsweetened raw Coco Powder, adding her own sugar, vanilla extract and used hot milk instead of water. She had given the recipe to the kitchen staff and it was now the way it was made for the entire school to rave reviews. Shelly took a sip and let the warmth of the rich taste remind her of things her new peers had never experienced, Saturday morning cartoons, boy bands and the oh so traditional family Christmas' her mother had insisted on.
“Mom, what was dad...like?”
Elizabeth Carson's eyes came up from over her mug. Shelly sighed and decided to continue. “I mean, my...my real dad.”
Mrs Carson sighed. “Shelly, in a very real way, Owen Carson was your father. You were still a toddler and Miranda was an infant when...when Hugh di...was murdered.” She took a bite from the pastry and chewed thoughtfully, her eyes far away. “If there was a mistake, it was mine, not your father's. He never once thought of you as anyone else's daughter.”
The younger Carson echoed her mother's sigh. “I...I don't remember him at all.”
“Hugh was the most stubborn man I have ever met,” Liz told her with a smile. “That's how we met. I was at this little bar down in Berlin and he was delivering a batch of his cider when our eyes met and he walked away from the owner, mid-sentence, strolled right up to me and declared, 'You're going to be my wife! You want to fight it or just come with me over to the Justice of the Peace now? I'm Hugh Wells by the way,' and he actually stuck out his hand to be shook!” Liz shook her head. “In all my years of being in the super hero business I have never met an ego to match Hugh Wells.”
Shelly's mouth hung open in shock. “He didn't!”
“Oh yes he did,” Mrs Carson laughed. “Oh, I imagine there might be some who would take issue with his style these days, and even back then it was remarkable, but for different reasons, of course.”
“And...you...liked that, Mom?”
Liz smirked at her daughter's shock. “Shelly, it's probably a little difficult for you to understand, but your grand mother and I are about the same age. I'm considerably older than Owen and, well, his definition of manhood and mine were a little...different. Don't get me wrong, Owen Carson was a good provider, kind, considerate and many other admirable qualities. But, Hugh...Hugh was a man, dear heart, and that's pretty rare these days.” She took a sip of hot chocolate and smiled at her daughter. “Well, if you don't know where to look, it's rare.”
Shelly's expression changed into a smirk. “Uh-huh. And how does Mr. Paulson rate?”
“He rates your respect as a teacher at this school and an adult,” Mrs Carson replied. “Beyond that is...”
“Not my business,” Shelly finished for her. She took a bite of her own pastry. “Just teasing, Mom. You know, I'm not sixteen.” Liz sighed and gave her daughter a one armed hug.
“You'll always be my little girl, Shelly,” she scolded her daughter. She mused for a moment on the complexities of Shelly's legal age, a single soft chuckle punctuating her thoughts. It had been over twenty-six years since Shelly's birth, but her new cloned body was physically one. Her awareness, however, was somewhere between sixteen and twenty-six, since her consciousness had slowly become aware of her surroundings and the goings-on around where she was trapped. But her consciousness was only sixteen plus a bit in their dimension since she'd been in a para-dimensional trap. Fortunately, long ago, the legal age issue had come up in famous case Jabolnski v. Delaware, which every mage knew. With some magic inter-dimensional travel that included physical age reversal and time dilation, there was a huge argument about Eileen Jablonski's legal age and an estate she was supposed to inherit. When all the dust settled and the smoke cleared, the Supreme Court had finally ruled that under those circumstances, the legal age was the age of Jablonski's consciousness in this dimension, unless there was a body of scientific proof to establish the exact duration of time in an alternate dimension and that there existed proof that the consciousness in said dimension possessed awareness. It was a hugely complicated decision that included criteria for awareness, and two later cases extended the precedent to include suspended animation and time warps.
The case was hugely important to Liz, Shelly, and Liz's friend Donna. With slowed aging, it would be tempting to give Liz's age based on her physical body, but that would have been an error. The same was true for Shelly and Donna and countless others. Fortunately, thanks to Jablonski v. Delaware, Shelly was legally seventeen, and Donna was legally twenty-two.
Liz snapped her mind from musing about legal age issues back to the conversation at hand. “But you're right, I do still think of you as a teenager, as much as I railed against that into my twenties and thirties!”
“I wouldn't have you any other way, Mom.” Shelly gave her mother an appraising look and shook her head. “I just never really figured you for the 'manly man' type.”
“Don't conflate boorishness with manhood, my girl,” Mrs Carson replied. “Hugh was the only baseline I have ever met that was not intimidated by who I was. He was confident, but not a braggart, he was strong and his strength wasn't challenged by mine. He was the most natural leader I have ever met, and yet he could listen and admit when he was wrong, which I must admit was actually pretty rare. He knew what he wanted and he would not be turned aside by anyone or anything but me. And he didn't want to sleep with me, he wanted to be my husband. That type of self-confidence, that type of manliness, has always been and probably always will be very ... interesting ... to women. Very attractive. It's ... arousing." She smiled at how Shelly flinched from her blunt description. "During the sleazy, opportunistic 'sexual revolution' of the sixties and seventies, meeting a man who wanted a relationship, not just a good time, was a breath of fresh air to be honest!”
Shelly cocked her head. “What's so bad about the sexual revolution? I mean, isn't it better now that we don't have fornication laws and the government is out of the bedroom?”
Liz sighed. “Shelly, the government was never really in the bedroom in the first place. Take it from me, laws don't stop human behavior, they merely define what is beyond the pale. Men and women have been...enjoying each other's company outside of wedlock for a while now. Look up the Romans some time if you want your eyes opened. While the laws criminalizing homosexual relations did need to be repealed, the people pushing the so-called 'sexual revolution' didn't want equality, or justice, they wanted sex without consequences. Now we have little boys, playing at being men, who want to use us, but not take responsibility for their actions. That isn't love, my darling, and it certainly isn't an improvement.”
Shelly squirmed in her seat. “Well, I guess I see your point, mom. I wish I could have known him.”
Liz looked away, her mind's eye in at her memory. “So do I, Shelly. So do I.”
October 27th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
“Do you know? I think your Grandparents are being absolutely swept off their feet?” Marissa commented to Tansy as they followed the Dawson's over to the elevator for their trip up to the top teir. Tansy kept in a giggle.
“Well, if they want to adopt her, she's available,” Walcutt told her softly. “Her parents died, and she's a ward of the school.”
Marissa's face took on a concerned expression. “I understand she's in Hawthorne, can she leave...?”
Tansy waggled her hand back and forth. “It all depends on the stress level. The more upset she gets, the less control she has. Don't get me wrong, Angie has made huge strides, but her going off the grounds might be an issue.” They arrived at the elevator and waited for the car to return.
“So, Tansy,” her grandfather asked as he pressed the call button. “Thanksgiving is coming up, do you stay the whole year or...?”
“Oh, a lot of the kids go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Grandpa,” she replied with a smile. “I was...well, mom and you guys are the only family I care about now, and I hear from mom you're headed back to Venice, so I was thinking of going to Georgia. My...best friend...invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving...”
“Won't the Nalley's be crowded with Marty going down too?” Marissa asked as the car arrived and they entered it.
“I don't know,” Tansy said with a shrug. “We can ask.” The car finished its short journey and the passengers followed Tansy around to the Alpha dais. There, they found several tables had been pushed together to form a long, single unit. Elaine got up and hugged both Tansy and her mother. “Grandma, Grandpa, this is my best friend, Elaine Nalley. She...well, she saved my life.”
“Well, welcome to the family, young lady!” Mrs Dawson exclaimed, hugging the surprised red head. “I'm Penelope and this is my long suffering husband Daniel.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Dawson, Mr Dawson,” Elaine managed around her blush. “Please, Allow me to introduce mah parents, Gene and JoAnn Nalley, mah fiancee Wyatt Cody and his mother, Dr Catherine Cody, mah brother Stephen, his girl friend Marty Penn, and her parents Mike and Virgina Penn.” The Dawsons were relieved of their food trays so they could shake hands with the small crowd of new children and parents.
“My word!” exclaimed Mr Dawson as he and Elaine's father shook hands. “You're having this crowd over for Thanksgiving?”
“My wife is a sadist and loves tormenting me,” the mechanic drawled with a wink at his wife. “We were just sorting through all that as you walked up, please sit down.”
“Much as we appreciate the offer, Gene,” Mike Penn remarked, picking up the old conversation, “I don't see how Ginny and I can get down to Atlanta and back, but I don't see any trouble with Marty going...”
“Oh, we can't have families split up for Thanksgiving!” Mrs Dawson declared.
Taking the cue from his wife, Mr Dawson stood and wiped his lips on his napkin. “Mr. Nalley, Mr and Mrs Penn, Doctor Cody, I must admit to being still a little sketchy on the details, but I owe your daughter, Mr. Nalley, a debt, a debt I would like to make a down payment on.”
“Sir?” asked Gene, slightly warily.
“My granddaughter tells me your daughter saved her life, and from what little I know, I do know that is not hyperbole,” Daniel replied gravely. “You all have a logistics issue, I have an embarrassingly large bank account and a somewhat empty house. My wife and I would be honored if you would allow us the pleasure of hosting all of you for Thanksgiving at our home in Boston.”
“Me too?” Angelina asked softly which brought out a tremendous grin from Mrs Dawson.
“Especially you!” she told the little girl who began to giggle excitedly as she accepted the hug from her adoptive grandmother.
“I...we...we couldn't possibly...” Started Mike Penn, but Mr. Dawson shook his head.
Holding up a hand he declared, “Please, I must insist, I will see to all the travel arrangements and our house can easily accommodate everyone.” He placed an arm around his daughter and beamed. “Suddenly I am reminded of how important family is, and how fragile. I have my daughter and my granddaughter once again and I feel a need to celebrate. So, it is settled. You will all spend Thanksgiving with us.”
Marty leaned over and whispered into her boyfriends ear. “Won't this be an adventure?”
Stephen arched his eyebrow and whispered back, “Do you know what J. R. R. Tolkien said about adventures?”
Marty smirked. “That they make you late for dinner?”
Stephen was not amused. “That too. He also said, “An adventure is reading about unpleasant things happening to other people.”
October 27th, 2007
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Kayda's phone buzzed as she kneeled by the window, soaking in the early mid-morning light and the beauty of the sun rising over the campus. It was bathed in warm, golden rays as the sun tried to break through the clouds like a painting or some kind of big budget Hollywood blockbuster. The sunlight gleamed off the glass walls of Melville Cottage sitting atop O Henry Hill. She turned the phone over to read the Text that Marty had sent to the entire cottage:
Buses on their way
Her parents would be here soon. She smiled as she thought of seeing her mother and father again, and how different the start of this school year was to last year. Her hopes and dreams were so very different now than they had been. More importantly, she no longer felt like she didn't fit in, or insecure about her friends. That had been a huge accomplishment, with lots of help from Tansy and Lanie.
“Life has a tendency to change our dreams,” an all too familiar voice purred behind her, sending chills down her spine. Kayda stood and turned, seeing Coyote sitting on the floor between her bed and Chou's, tail curled primly around his paws like a cat, muzzle partly open in a canine grin. “Well met, Ptesanwi.”
“How did you get past the wards?” she asked softly, never for a moment thinking the spirit would actually answer, and she was not proven wrong.
“Locks and bolts make no difference to me,” he replied and his head turned to see the new combat uniform Tansy had helped her make on its hanger in her wardrobe. “And look at the lovely ensemble the Princess has helped you make! With pants no less! Why, you'll be the darling of the tribal council!”
“What Tribal Council?” she asked with a hint of impatience, but the spirit did not take notice.
“Why, all of them, of course. All will want to hear the wisdom of the Ptesanwi, the one who knows better than they how to live their own life.”
Kayda frowned as the spirit's barbed wit found its mark. “You must have me confused with someone else,” she snorted, rolling her eyes and making a grand show of disbelief. “I barely have my own life figured out. Or didn't you notice at the start of the year how I rejected that very role when the Seven Councils of the Lakota pressed me to take it. I don't go telling others how to live. Unlike some others...”
The spirit's dark eyes narrowed. “Does the Ptesanwi wish to play word games with us?” he demanded. “Why, I am hardly worthy to count coup with the chosen of Wakan Tanka! Or, should I say that the other way around?”
“What do you mean by that?” Kayda demanded, her frustration with the trickster spirit very much displayed in her expression.
The innocence just dripped off the canine face and pooled on the floor like drool. “Why nothing to invoke the ire of dread Brandon, he who sought out to conquer Wakan Tanka and seized her power for his...oh, sorry...her own! Why, she must know what is best for everyone! She is certainly making decisions for everyone!”
“I am not!”
The ears rotated backward on the head of Coyote and he growled faintly. “Lie to yourself as you please, Ptesanwi, but to me speak the truth!” He cocked his head over his shoulder. “I sense the great Ptesanwi disbelieves us! Shall I call a witness to this tribunal?” His eyes rolled back to Kayda. “That would be the white thing to do, wouldn't it?”
“Oh, sheesh - there you go, like anyone with a flimsy argument, bringing racism into it!” Kayda said, shaking her head and frowning in disgust. “I'm not ashamed of my ancestors, of The People or of Europe! And what witness could you call that could say I am making decisions for other people?”
“So certain are you!” chuckled Coyote. “I wonder what the lovely Danica would say to such claims? She is mourning her manhood today, isn't she? Shall I call her to hear her tell us how well her sister looks out for her?”
“I didn't make Danny host Wihinape!” Kayda countered sternly. “And I surely wasn't going to inflict what I went through on a daughter I might have had with Lanie!”
“No, you wanted the power of Wakan Tanka for yourself!” the spirit accused. “You liked being important, being powerful!"
"So I'm human," Kayda shot back. "So sue me."
"And so you seized that power, wrapped yourself in a cloak of self-sacrifice and damn the consequences to anyone else!" the spirit continued as if Kayda hadn't interrupted. "What is your brother's manhood to you being the Ptesanwi?!” The grin got wider and a bit nasty. “But now you blame me for what you did to your own brother?”
Kayda walked over and set her hands on her hips and scowled at Coyote. “Why did you tell Danny I could have made him a boy again?”
The spirit blinked and cocked his head to one side. “A better question is why didn't you tell him,” he declared. “I gave you the choice that I could undo what Wakan Tanka had done to you because I could. Because punishing those who break their own rules is a part of my duties as the Trickster. I told you your choices would have consequences, and one of those consequences is the situation your half brother, half sister finds itself in now; two bodied but one spirit.”
“You had no right to tell him that lie!”
The room grew dark and thunder rolled in the distance. “I do not lie, Ptesanwi,” Coyote growled, for the first time in her interaction with the spirit, and Kayda could practically feel a dangerous temper just under that smug, self-assured bravado. “I told your sibling the truth! And now you know the truth as well, that sometimes the choices you make have dire repercussions on others!"
"I knew that," Kayda said, frowning angrily at the spirit but inside feeling a little uncertain.
"Then why didn't you tell your sibling? You chose to be Kayda, you chose to be the Ptesanwi and that choice means every spirit in heaven either wishes to curry your favor or plot your downfall! Foolish girl, did you think the power of Wakan Tanka was to be had without consequence? That it would not invite the wrath and envy of others? Are you so self-centered?”
“Do you get your jollies tormenting me?” Kayda snapped, wishing Chou had not gone to the library to be with Molly as neither of their parents were coming.
The spirit stood, it's eyes fierce and burning. “Torment? Woe to you should I wash my paws of your best interest, Ptesanwi, and show you the full measure of torment the Trickster of the Tribe is capable of.”
The obvious anger of the spirit sent a chill down Kayda's spine and pierced the self-righteous indignation that seemed to be her instinctive reaction to him. She sank to one knee and dipped her head. “You...you're right. I am sorry for my words spoken in haste and anger. I ask your forgiveness, Coyote.”
The spirit stepped forward, his breath hot and foul of carrion and rotting meat. “Know this, Ptesanwi, Kigatilik, Eater of Shamans, Warrior of the Claw People stalks your spoor. I, great liar that I am, helped your Cuwe and the Princess destroy his astral form, but he had manifested once more his physical form. Or were you and your wise teachers unaware that the freak snowstorm was a consequence of him pushing part of himself back into the physical world?" Kayda started at that new information; she'd have to relay that to Mrs. Carson and the magic arts staff.
"He is still in the physical realm, Ptesanwi, and if he can regain his strength, he will hunt you again. Beware.”
“Coyote, I...” she started, raising her head, but the room was empty and Coyote was gone. Kayda shivered, even though the room was warm. She had never thought that a spirit being plain spoken would be more terrifying than in riddles. There came a knock at her door that startled her.
“Kayda?” Danica's voice drifted through the door.
Scrambling to her feet, she opened the door and before her sometimes-sister could say a word, she gathered Danica into a hug and squeezed for all she was worth. “Oh, Danny, I'm so sorry...”
“Uh...awkward...” Danica muttered, gently pushing on her sister for release. Once free, Kayda smiled and flushed a bit, obviously embarrassed. “Uh, sorry for what, Kay?” she asked as the two girls entered Kayda's room and closed the door.
“I...uh...had it brought to my attention that some of the decisions I made, well...I guess they had some splash damage on you. And I'm sorry for any part I had in it.”
Kayda sighed and sank onto her bed, pulling her sister down with her. “Sit down. This will take a while.”
October 27th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
“Come on, Angie!” the raucous shout from across the terrace managed to pierce the din of hundreds of conversations as well as the soothing white noise of the waterfall. Angie turn in her seat and waved, then grabbed a hold of Tansy.
“Come on, Mommy!” she declared, jumping up from her seat. “I have to introduce you to my team!”
Tansy smiled indulgently at the other adults as she rose. “Please excuse us, duty calls,” she said with a roll of her eyes as she picked up her tray and Angies to follow the excited grade-schooler on her mad dash to the elevator. The trays discarded in the dish pit, Tansy was half led, half drug outside to the Fixer's Patio where Angie had joined her little clutch of friends, or as they had dubbed themselves, Team Awesome! “This is my mommy, Ms Tansy!” Angie proudly declared to the other kids, as well as the little clutch of adults.
“You're telling fibs, Angie Cromwell!” shouted an outraged male voice. Tansy turned to see Gene McDonald running over, hotly followed by a harrowed looking woman who shared his wild, russet hair.
The temperature on the patio rose several degrees. “I am not!” Angie shouted back. Tansy laid a hand on Angie's shoulder and found her burning hot to the touch. She sent soothing waves at her while directing her sternest gaze at Gene.
“Gene, what have I told you about picking on Angie?” she demanded in a fair approximation of Mrs Carson's Stern Voice of Supreme Authority. The ten year old got nose to nose with Tansy, no small feet as she was currently six foot two thanks to her shoes. On Gene, the effect was somewhat comical as his proportions didn't change and he looked like an enormous little kid, not a young man of six foot two.
“Gene,” Tansy repeated, her voice a better impersonation and just a hint of uncertainty and doubt washed over the boy.
“Sorry, Miss Walcutt,” he mumbled in a surly tone and shrank back down to his normal size. The woman arrived and offered her hand.
“Goodness, can you teach me that!” she asked with a harrowed smile. “Tammy McDonald.”
“Tansy Walcutt,” the senior replied. “And I'm sure you have more sway with him than I do, Mrs McDonald. Isn't that so, Gene?” From where she was hiding behind Tansy, Angelina stuck her tongue out at the boy.
“Yes, Miss Walcutt.”
“Come along, Gene,” his mother ordered with a parting wave. Angie's skin under Tansy's hand was cool once more and she breathed a sigh of relief. Team Awesome drug the little crowd of parents further out into the grass and began to demonstrate their abilities a short ways off.
“What about Angelina? You’re a bit young to be “mom,” one asked of the Senior who had hung back with the other adults.
Tansy smiled lightly. “A bit, but then Angelina’s parents didn’t make it. She doesn’t know, and every year someone plays surrogate parent for her. She’s a handful, but she’s a sweetheart.”
“She was the one who was being taught her powers on my son’s range, wasn’t she?”
“Your son has a one of the ranges?” Mr. Chatterjee perked up, suddenly more interested. Truth be told, he was bored out of his mind, and the thought of a proper firing range perked his interest.
“Had. My son was one of the Range instructors. I found out about him too late to make it to his service.”
Tansy’s eyes widened involuntarily a bit. “Miranda is Corporal Mahren’s little sister?”
Natalie smiled tightly, willing the tears to stay back this time. It hurt, but she didn’t want to hide from it. “Yeah. If you have things to do I can keep an eye on Angelina. It’ll keep my mind off other things.”
Like thinking about how Erik died. Tansy couldn’t help feel the thought pass as they got close to Hawthorne just as one of the Outcasts, the tall, cobalt-tattoed amazon that ran with the Hooligans was leaving.
“I honestly don’t mind tagging along. Angelina’s a sweetheart, and she could use a big sis if nothing else.”
“I think you’ll do well.”
Tansy saw, and Natalie did not, the agonized, thunderstruck expression on Caitlin’s face as they walked past her into Hawthorne. It was not an expression that the rager girl was known for and, for a brief instant, tansy felt real pain, and saw the tears forming before the tattooed girl snarled silently and stalked towards Arena 99. “Thank you,” Tansy replied, casting a worried glance at Caitlin's departing back. “I would like to get to spend a little time with my parents, if you're sure you don't mind?” Natalie nodded. “Alright, if you need me, just grab any of the teachers or the other Seniors, they can get a hold of me. Angie? Mrs Mahren wants to take care of you and Miranda for a little while, is that alright?”
“Sure, Mommy!” Angie declared brightly and jumped up to grab Tansy around her neck and pull her down enough to kiss her cheek. “You're the best Mommy ever!” Basking in the feeling of completely unreserved love and joy from the girl, Tansy swept her up into her arms and gave her a twirl before returning her to her feet. Giggling, Angie hugged her and then ran back to Miranda.
Tansy smiled as she watched the young girls play for a moment, then still smiling, left Hawthorne. It had turned into a lovely day, with sunshine and warm, but not hot temperature. She took in a deep breath of air and remembered the dream she had shared with Lanie and shivered. She was sure she wasn't up to being a mother now, but definitely it was on her to do list.
She gazed in the direction Caitlin had gone and for a moment considered going after her. You barely know her, Mustang whispered. She may not appreciate you inserting yourself, even if you are trying to help. Tansy looked for a moment longer, warring with herself, then nodded to concede her spirit's point and began to walk up the hill towards the Crystal Hall.
October 27th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Elaine turned from dropping her silverware into the stainless steel tub of soapy water for it in the dish pit window to see Marty Penn walking up, her own tray in hand. “What's up, Marty?” she asked as she returned to scraping her plate scraps into a huge, smelly trash can for them before putting the plate onto a rack of other plates that could be easily loaded into the industrial dish washer around the corner from the window.
Marty joined her at the window and began to sort her own dishes. “My, uh, my dad wants to meet you. It...well, it might get a little embarrassing. He...look, I never got a chance to say this, but NYPD changed their uniforms to a kevra weave last year, and...and my dad was the first officer that was shot in one, and it saved his life.” Marty dropped the tray and swept her friend into a hug. “You saved my dad's life, Lanie! Thank you so much!”
The peaches and crème complexion of the redhead flushed scarlet. “Oh, hey, Marty, Ah didn't...it wasn't...just better living through chemistry, right?”
“No,” Marty told her firmly. “It's not 'just' anything.” She sniffed to clear her sinus and forced a smile. “Sorry, it just hit me again how I almost lost him and...you did a good thing, Lanie. Thank you.”
The smile became natural and slightly embarrassed. “Mah pleasure.” The girls finished sorting their plates and returned to the collection of siblings and adults that were waiting on them just outside on the Fixer Patio. Marty led Elaine up to her father.
Mike Penn was a man just leaving his youth and stepping into middle age. His face had lines he was too young for because of his profession, and the butter yellow hair and blue eyes he had given his daughter. He was obviously a man who was normally confident, but there was a bit of sheepish hesitation about him, like a man who had to give a speech and hated giving them. “Dad, I want to introduce Elaine Nalley. Lanie, this my father, Sergeant Michael Penn.”
The policeman smiled with self deprecating humor. “Just call me 'Mike',” he instructed as he offered his hand.
“It's a pleasure to meet you, sir,” Lanie replied.
“I...uh...well, I wanted to say thank you,” the older man told her, his manner becoming more sure as he retold an old story. “That shi...stuff you made, kevra, well, the Department changed our uniforms last year to ones made out of it and a lot of the guys, me included to be honest, got kind of...uh...well, we complained that folks were just getting by and new uniforms were expensive. That was before I took a pair of shot gun slugs to the chest. That shirt saved my life.”
“Mr Penn, Ah...”
“No, hear me out, little lady, this is hard enough,” he replied with a somewhat roguish smile. “And not just my life. Twenty two guys have been shot so far since we went to the new uniforms. Guys with families they got to go home to because of you. We can't tell you how great it is to not have to shove a vest carrier under clothes with plates. Its hot, it doesn't let you move, it doesn't breath, they're a nightmare. A lot of guys wouldn't wear them because of it. Guys that aren't with us any more. But this thing of yours, it's just like a regular shirt! It's amazing!”
Lanie grinned and blushed, unable to take looking directly into the face of such admiration, she turned to glance at her parents and she could almost feel the pride that was glowing off of her mother and father. “Some of the guys found out my daughter goes to school with you and we put together a collection. The mayor wanted to make this a big deal, and the next time you're in town look out. Especially if it's an election year if ya know what I mean? Anyway, we, the fellas and I, got together and we had this made...”
Mike produced a small box and opened it. Inside was a perfect two inch replica of an NYPD sergeant shield in gold. A police shield was crowned with an eagle and embossed with the seal of New York City. A pair of banners crowned the seal emblazoned with City of New York and Police. Below the seal was the number twenty two and off to one side was a half carat ruby, fashioned like a bullet the shield had defeated. “Come to find out, the jeweler we went to, he owns one of those kevra Under Armor shirts and he was robbed and it saved him! He added the ruby, says that it represents him.” The shield hung from a delicate gold chain that caused Lanie to gasp as Mr Penn placed it around her neck. “I'm supposed to say something like 'with the heartfelt thanks of the City of New York' or something, but I will just say me and twenty two other guys say 'Thank you, Elaine, for saving our lives.'”
A tear escaped Elaine's eye and rolled down her cheek. “Ah...Ah am overwhelmed, Mr Penn! Ah have never been so honored in mah life.”
“It was the least we could do,” he told her firmly.
October 27th, 2007
Berlin Regional Airport 800 East Side River Rd, Milan, NH
Theodore Walcutt sat and stewed in the leather seat of his Gulf Stream, waiting for the pilots to finish whatever preparations they were making to take off. A glare at Amy told her silence was golden just then so she went to the minibar at the back of the plane and began to make herself a drink. How dare that blonde whore try this? He seethed as he took out his phone and angrily gave it his pass code. How did she get out of Ash Grove Assisted Living without my authorization? Once he had mastered his temper, he took a deep, cleansing breath and dialed.
“Theo? What are you up to on a Saturday you need me for?” demanded the voice on the other end of the line.
“My lovely first ex-wife has somehow gotten out of Ash Grove Assisted Living and served me with a slew of papers! Contesting our divorce, suspending my parental rights, giving the trusteeship of Tansy's trust funds to her school headmistress as well as making her Tansy's guardian and freezing all of my assets!”
The slow chuckle on the other end of the phone did nothing for Walcutt's temper. “Marissa always was a cunning little vixen!”
“Not to worry, Theo, I'm already texting my secretary to get one of the family law junior partners your contact information. Even with your assets frozen we have set up sufficient shell management corporations that you won't be inconvenienced. Is she out for blood, or would she consider a settlement?”
“We put her in a mental hospital for ten years,” Walcutt replied drolly.
“Never hurts to ask,” the other replied. “If I can get her to accept a pay off, are you happy with that?”
Theo drummed the fingers of his free hand on the armrest of his chair. He had not been blindsided this badly since his father had informed him of his engagement to Marissa in college, whether he liked it or not. Marissa had given him Tansy, and once she had been properly schooled in her place once more she would be an asset few could face. And for her age, Marissa was still a very attractive woman. He had very much enjoyed breaking through that 'good girl' facade of hers. Perhaps he was calling the wrong specialist? “See what the waters are, and let me know,” he said finally. “In fact, don't contest her motion to renounce the divorce decree. See what you can do about squashing her restraining orders and then get an order for counseling.”
“You want to reconcile?” the lawyer demanded, astonished.
“I want the bitch on her knees in front of me,” Walcutt replied. “Right where she belongs. I've invested too much time with Tansy to lose her now. I want them both under my thumb, Seigel. Make it happen and there is a very healthy bonus in it for you.”
“I'll keep you informed.”
Amy presented him with the drink she had made, her face in a pout. “But, Teddy, baby, what about me?”
“Shut up, whore,” he commanded in an off hand manner as he dialed a different number. “And get on your knees.” The woman had a war with her self respect and greed behind her eyes that Theodore Walcutt silenced with a glare. The line picked up as she sank to her knees and reached up to begin to open his slacks. “Mr. Lewis, sorry to bother you on a Saturday,” he greeted as the old, familiar thrill of absolute power ran up and down his spine. “I have a very special job for you. A job I need done by your absolute best.”
October 27th, 2007
The Fixer's Patio, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
While the Penn's had his fiancee's attention, Wyatt gently hooked a hand around his mother's elbow and led her a discreet distance off. “Divorce?” he demanded, once they could speak freely.
Catherine sighed and gestured to an empty table they both settled at. “Wyatt, you're not blind,” she declared softly, looking him squarely in the eye. “You must know your father and I haven't really been a married couple for years. We stayed together for you to finish school, which you would have last spring, were it not for this new wrinkle.” She clasped her hands in front of her and shook her head. “I have had enough of your father's alcoholism, living in the most desolate town on planet Earth, his...” She sighed. “Baby, I love you, and I am so proud of the man you have grown up to become. Nothing will change that.”
“Where...where are you going to go?” he asked.
“My parents have agreed to let me move back in for a little while until I get up on my feet. I have an interview next week at Mercy Hospital in San Francisco. I have so missed California. I would love for you and your fiance to join me, perhaps this summer? I should be settled by then...”
“Mom, I...” She reached out and squeezed his hand.
“Wyatt, I know this is a lot for you, but life never goes the way we think it will, son.”
“Mom...I...I have to think on this...”
Catherine's worn face managed a smile. “I know, son. I'll give you a few minutes, then let's not waste the time I have...” She rose and wandered back over to the clutch of parents around Elaine and for a moment he almost reached out to catch her arm. He almost stopped her, but couldn't. He was confused and his world was shaken.
Wyatt Cody frowned and started to think.
October 27th, 2007
Action Tactical, Inc. headquarters, Blue Ridge Mountains
Arthur Lewis hung up his phone and stood from his desk to look out the window that served as the wall behind his desk. It gave him an excellent view of the training grounds and the back of the hard points for the static pistol range. The Drills were checking out nearly a hundred new hires in preparation for the contract they had just won with Danish transport line H Folmer & Co to provide security for their Indian Ocean Cargo Routes. It was always a difficult decision for a mercenary company with they had competing offers from good clients. Most difficult was when the offers were with one good client against the other.
While Mr Walcutt had been good for business in the lean, starting out years, his daughter was certainly the more generous of the two. The bonus that had appeared after the Olympus Seven affair had been quite nice. Unlike her father, Miss Walcutt was content to hire professionals and allow them to be experts; she had a well visualized goal and then took a very hands off approach to allow him and his people to achieve that goal. She was also young, and the possibility of repeat business from her was certainly greater than the same odds from Mr. Walcutt.
What was more troubling was why Mr. Walcutt suddenly needed him to deal with his daughter. Something had changed the family dynamic in a major way.
Arthur Lewis needed more information.
He sighed and retrieved the phone from his desk and called the operative he had so carefully planted at the school. “What is the status of your principal?” He listened for a long moment to the summary then after a final weighing of his facts, made a decision. “I have new orders for you, listen carefully.”
October 27th, 2007
Room 334, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Marty curled up in her bed with her body pillow and desperately wished it was her lover. She felt so silly having worried so much about meeting his parents and winning their approval. Now that she had it, she had spent the rest of the day on cloud nine, blissfully daydreaming of the future that she was so certain was hers. She had not realized exactly when the young man from Georgia had become so important to her future, today had certainly shown her that he was.
Drop your shell, his voice whispered in her memory and she shivered. Yes, that had been it, that had been where attraction and lust and 'youthful exuberance' had turned into 'I want to wake up to your face for the rest of my life.' When he had held her and comforted her and made her know, that no matter what, come what may, his arms would be around her, his heart would be beating in her ear with her head against his chest. She shivered again and squeezed the pillow tighter.
“I swear,” came Naomi's voice from across the room. “If you keep me up all night again moaning his name in those pornos you call dreams, I will dump a bucket of ice water on you.”
“Don't be jealous!” Marty shot back, causing Freeze Frame to chuckle.
“Evie takes care of me just fine, thanks, he's all yours.” She rummaged in the bed to get a little more comfortable. “Like I would ever want to be related to Loophole!”
“Lanie isn't...” Marty started, then her brain processed the full statement and she got cross. “I do not moan...!”
Naomi's head turned to look at her across the dark room. “Are you for real?” she demanded. “I need to get a tape recorder! It's like a harlequin romance! 'Oh Steve! Take me! Take me!' I don't care if the boy is hung like a horse, even a train has to stop!”
Marty rolled over and narrowed her eyes at her room mate. “Oh, I'm sorry, Naomi, does Evie have stamina problems?”
“You are full of it, Penn!”
“My girl, you have no idea!”
“Argh! There's a mental picture I didn't need! Where's my brain bleach! Go to sleep, you nympho!”
Chuckling, Marty turned back over and cuddled with her pillow once more. “Good night, Naomi.”
“Good night, Marty.”
October 27th, 2007
Room 502, Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
With a soft 'pop,' the cork gave way and a soft wift of the aroma escaping from the bottle. Jadis held up her glass that Tansy filled with the sweet, gold colored liquid. She gave the wine a sniff as Tansy filled her own glass and returned the bottle to an ice bucket to keep it cool. “Checking the bouquet?” Tansy asked with a smile as she held up her glass. “Old friends!” The glasses clinked together and the girls savored the first sip. “I wouldn't have thought of you as a wine snob.”
“Oh, I'm not,” Jadis replied quickly. “Can't stand the pretentiousness of the breed to be honest! Why train your palate to the point that you can't enjoy an average glass of wine? Though I have to say, this is remarkably good!”
Tansy grinned as she took another sip. “Ms Hartford turned me onto it. I absolutely adore it.”
Jadis arched an eyebrow at her friend. “Ms Hartford?” she demanded. “The Assistant Headmistress introduced you, an under aged teenage girl, to a wine?” Tansy made a dismissive gesture.
“Oh, she's not half the ball buster she makes out to be,” the blonde declared authoritatively. “In point of fact, she did introduce me to auslesen at a bar. We had a very nice conversation, very grown up, and she's been an exceptional mentor to me. Her and Lanie both, to be honest.”
Jadis looked at her old friend, marveling at how much she had changed. Of course the pudgy, awkward nerd was long gone, and in a way, so was the breath taking high school Ice Queen. Tansy was wearing a pink night shirt with stylized horse logo of the Ford Mustang on it Jadis was sure wasn't hers, and that didn't leave many possibilities as to the real owner. She decided to grab the bull by its horns. “So...you and Elaine Nalley as the gossip goes?”
Tansy sat back and pulled the shirt over her crossed legs, making a tent of it. As Jadis watched, several different expressions marched across Tansy's face; shock, embarrassment, annoyance. “What of it?” she asked finally, looking up at Jadis in very much put on indifference. “Is it a problem I had to go to another girl to find out what love is?”
Her hands raised in mock defense, Jadis shook her head. “No, no, far be it from me to tell somebody else where to find love! I have plenty of issues in that department my own self. Just looking for verification.”
“Oh,” Tansy said, obviously relaxing a bit. “Well, yes, I guess there's no point in denying the obvious. I...well, we just kind of...happened...I guess and lord knows I haven't been shy about sex on this campus, but Lanie showed me a lot of things I had forgotten.” She sighed and looked her friend in the eye. “Yes, I love Elaine; and Wyatt, before you ask.”
The Super villian's daughter laughed and shook her head. “My own so-called Romantic Life is enough of a shambles, I'm not walking into that minefield! I do have to say I'm surprised, Tans, especially after the way you carried on about...”
Tansy shrugged and took another sip of wine. “Maybe it's true what they say about the link between suppressed desire and homophobia. I won't say I'm attracted to every girl, but Lanie and I have something very special. What about you? I hear young Mr Fields is very taken with you...”
Jadis frowned and held out her glass for a refill. “Do not get me started on Bobby Earl!”
The icy blue eyes blinked in surprise. “Jads, what's wrong with him? He's not a bad looking sort, and with that ability of his he will be rolling in cash and if there is anybody on this campus who could actually like you for you, not your dad...”
“No thanks!” Jadis growled. “I want a man with an IQ above room temperature!”
“Jads!” Tansy scolded her. “Just because he's southern...”
She took a sip and made a dismissive gesture. “Fine, fine, yes, he's not a brick, but...just...no, alright?” A knock on the door put an end to further conversation as the two girls shared a glance. Jadis took the ice bucket and Tansy's glass, quickly tucking them out of sight in her wardrobe while Tansy opened the door. Outside was an average looking woman, with brown hair and a slightly masculine build, but not so much that she wasn't obviously female. She came across more as a former athlete. She was wearing a school grounds keeper's uniform with its hat in her hands.
“May I help you?” Tansy asked, somewhat taken aback.
“Miss Walcutt,” the other woman greeted. “I'm Jill Harris. May I speak with you for a moment?”
Tansy stepped to one side and let the other woman into her apartment. Something about the way that she stood put Jadis on her guard. She had been around enough of her father's employees to know how minions, or soldiers, addressed their superiors. Her feet were apart at the shoulder level and the legs of the trousers had been bloused into the tops of her boots. The laces didn't hang loose either, but had been wrapped around her leg and the complete knot tucked into the boot top. “What can I do for you, Jill?” Tansy asked. “You can speak freely,” she encouraged, noting the other woman's eyes shift to Jadis and back.
Finally, Miss Harris nodded. “Miss Walcutt, I'm with Action Tactical, placed here to keep a protective eye on you.” Jadis noted Tansy's shoulders immediately square up and her weight shifted to present a blade angle of her body to the grounds keeper. Jill noted it too, confirming Jadis' opinion she was much more dangerous than she looked, as she deliberately stepped back a pace and kept her hands up, but in a gesture of submission. “I'm breaking cover, ma'am, on the express orders of my employer to give you a message.”
“Who is your employer?” Tansy demanded.
“Arthur Lewis, ma'am,” the veteran, for she could be nothing else, replied. “He told me to inform you that your father attempted to contract us to abduct you and return you to his residence in New York. Also that Mr Lewis is specifically declining that contract, and future work with Mr Walcutt and, if you and your friend, will keep this meeting discrete and my cover intact, that I am to continue to keep an eye on you for your own protection. In addition to warn you that as we have declined to accept this contract, it is likely your father will pursue other means of accomplishing this.”
Tansy considered this for several minutes, then turned to Jadis, keeping Ms Harris in her peripheral vision. “Jads, what is your rate for confidentiality these days?”
“This?” Jadis asked. “This is family business, Tansy, no charge.” The blonde nodded and turned back to the operative, so easily stepping into the role of superior to subordinate it was a little eerie to Jadis.
“Ms Harris, please give Mr. Lewis my thanks for his loyalty. Have him send me an itemized invoice for the service through his usual channel and please keep me in the loop of any developments you become aware of.”
“You strike me as a woman who can take care of herself...?”
“Marine Force Recon, ma'am,” Harris replied. “Two tours in Iraq.”
“Excellent,” Tansy replied. “I shouldn't need assistance, but I appreciate the eyes making sure. Get my phone number from Mr Lewis and we'll get together your next day off to set up a contact protocol.”
“If there's nothing else, Jill, have a good evening.” The groundskeeper nodded and left as Tansy began to dig into her purse for her phone.
Jadis shook her head. “You really don't want to know how much you remind me of my dad just now.” Tansy's smile reminded her too, in a very unpleasant way as she brought the phone to her ear.
“Ms. Hartford? Sorry to bother you at this hour. I have some news you need to be aware of.”
October 29th, 2007
Conference Room A, Administrative Offices, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Cyberkitty carefully opened the door to the conference room she had been directed to by Ms Claire. The conference room sat over the balcony at the precise center of Schuster Hall, it's windows looking out over the statue and round about of the central campus. In the room was a standard long conference table with comfortable leather chairs and on the wall a painting of Dr Alexander wearing full academic regalia, his pipe in hand as he stared calmly out at the viewer, a copy of The Annals and The Histories by Tacitus clutched against his breast in his left hand.
At that end of the table sat Ms Hartford, her laptop before her that she was working on, just looking up as the door opened. “You wanted to see me, Ms Hartford?”
“Come in, Paige,” she invited, gesturing towards the chair next to her. “Sit down. I have a new term, well, project I suppose would be the best word, a new term project that I'm assigning you and I thought we would go over it.” Paige padded softly into the room and sat down at the table as Ms Hartford produced a manila folder from her laptop bag and placed it on the table before her. “Frequently, we as hackers are given simple assignments or contracts, acquiring data from secure databases, monitoring networks or conducting intrusion or counter intrusion drills. While we have gone over a number of these so far, I'm introducing you today to one of the more interesting jobs as a Hacker. There will be times when your principal is targeting a specific person and has engaged your creativity to punish them for some transgression.”
Paige looked at the folder and back up at her mentor. “Creativity?”
Amelia nodded. “That's right. Many times a client will want someone to suffer, but leave the details completely up to you. Its important that you establish yourself as someone not only competent, but with a suitable sense of style that will enhance your reputation. Both as a dependable operator, but also someone with a flare for the dramatic who can accomplish your client's goals with the suitable...eh...Joie de vivre that the client is completely satisfied.”
After a moment of consideration, Paige asked, “So, not just say, emptying a bank account or ruining a credit rating, but making the humiliation public to sting a their pride and vanity?”
Ms Hartford beamed at her protégé. “Exactly! What needs to happen is that you have enough creativity that the public aspects are not just financially damaging or embarrassing, but there is sufficient drama to make sure the mark cannot recover and the client gets a warm feeling of satisfaction whenever they think back on your work. This is the dividing line between competent, but faceless hackers and those who become legends in our industry.”
Paige smiled. “Ok, so, what all is involved?”
“We're going to study a recent example of such a feat and then we'll conduct a practical exercise.” Paige picked up the folder and opened it, reading over the pictures there. “So, have you ever heard of James Melville Hooper?” Paige shook her head. “He was recently ruined in a tried, but ever popular manner, child pornography. We're going to examine this hack, what could have been done differently and then we'll move on to our project for the remainder of the semester.”
Donner turned the photograph and read the caption underneath it. “Theodore Darryl Walcutt?” She asked, mildly curious. “Any relation to Tansy?”
“Her father,” Ms Hartford replied. “You're going to destroy him.”
A smile spread across Paige's face. “Cool...”
* Finis *