This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Shelley @ her blog, The Veil Thins. Click here to read and share more great fiction!
Author’s ramblings: Well, I should have known this week would get crazy again and I’d be cramming too many details into one short post. I’ll make up for it next week-I think. lol. Enjoy the new character, Calvin and second appearance of the lovely “Dragon Lady” aka, Pearl. Rachel is shaping up and I soon hope to present her as the heroine you will love to cheer for, inspite of her human shortcomings. Happy reading and have a great weekend!
Calvin slowly descended the stairs with a set expression on his face, he moved stiffly, and deliberately avoided the pairs of eyes following his movements. He slouched on the sofa opposite of them, one hand curling tightly around a pillow, squeezing the fat tassel.
Thom stood at the head of the stairs, his gaze following the slow journey. His hand raised and he crooked a finger. “Rachel. Upstairs, now!”
An involuntary giggle spurted from Jeanette and she quickly slapped a hand over her own mouth, bugging her eyes out at the figure above the stairs. He offered a half-smile, then pointed. “Your turn next, kiddo.”
She wiggled her toes in response.
Thom smiled at her over Rachel’s shoulder, before turning to follow his niece down the hallway. The walk to his bedroom was silent and nothing was said until the door closed tightly behind them. He waited while she moved to the bed and slowly took a seat.
She peeked upwards at him from beneath lowered lashes. “Well? Aren’t you going start lecturing me?”
“Before you’ve had your say?” He teased, gently. “Rachel, your transparency has always been the one quality I admire in you the most, it is also the one at this moment that makes me wonder. There’s so many things written on your face right now, I don’t know which one to read first.”
“It’s that obvious?”
“Don’t they teach you how to keep and hold a blank face? The gray expression?”
“Actually, I skipped class that day.”
He chuckled. “I see…any particular place you’d like to begin?”
“Am I allowed to stay?” The words tumbled from her lips and her eyes pleaded with him, searching the face she knew by heart. “Please, Unk. I won’t get into more trouble…I won’t!”
“You won’t…but you also didn’t promise.” He said quietly. “You’re more than welcome in my home, Rachel-and so are those other two downstairs. Calvin’s had his share of…incidents and so has Jeanette. You three have a lot in common, if you’d care to look past your differences. If you are staying-I won’t force you to stay, but I will expect you to make an concentrated effort to get along with each other while you’re all living under the same roof.” There was a tired look to his gray eyes. “Promise me you will make an effort to do this?”
“I will.” Rachel held up her pinky finger. “Promise.”
He sighed. “Good. Now what exactly is it between a Cobra and a Viper, as you put it, that makes two normally level-headed, intelligent individuals suddenly chuck their common sense out the front window?”
Rachel closed her eyes. “We had a fight.” She said finally. “A sort of street fight.”
“Sort of? Care to elaborate on that for me?”
“I had…orders. I carried them out…there were some complications?”
“Let’s theoretically say there were a bunch of…Calvins.” Rachel opened one eye.
Her uncle was leaning against the dresser, one elbow propped up on the edge, listening. “Theoretically.” He repeated. “Okay.”
“And they were observing a…complication.”
“Pertaining to your mis-I mean, your orders?”
“Not exactly.” Her other eyes popped open. “It’s hard to explain.
“Then skip the politically correct phrasing and tell me the story plainly. I won’t repeat it, Rachel. I just need to understand what’s going on with you and if I should be worried.”
“You shouldn’t be worried about me.” Rachel muttered. “I don’t get why everyone has to be worried about me. Don’t they realize they’re the ones in trouble?”
“How so?” He held up a hand. “Don’t tell me, it’s complicated?”
“Yes!” The exclamation was more frustrated than she’d intended, but Rachel couldn’t help it. There wasn’t any way she could sensibly explain what had happened without having to give more details than she felt necessary.
“and somewhere between all of those complications, you and Calvin got in a fight?”
“So indirectly…you were in a fight?”
“Uncle!” She sighed. “Okay, look, there were some other people…they were picking on this guy, so I stepped in…and it was a stupid mistake.”
“I almost ended up the same way as the other guy, but then the Cobras jumped in.”
“And you were caught in the middle?”
“N-not exactly.” Rachel twisted her hands together. “While they were fighting, I went to…examine the body and then there was a confrontation.”
Thom sighed. “A body? Where?”
“It’s all taken care of by now, I’m sure.” Rachel hurriedly added. “Really. It’s organization business, don’t interfere…please, Unk?”
“Is it someone I should be worried about.”
Rachel frowned, her mind rewinding to the moment where she’d rifled through the jacket of the unfortunate victim. “N-o.” She said slowly, remembering the strange coolness of the skin and the funny texture when her fingers had touched his neck and wrist. “Actually…I don’t even think he was human.” There was a strangled sound from the corner near the dresser and Rachel immediately turned to look. “Unk?”
“Nothing.” There was another sigh. “And how exactly did Calvin fit into this?”
“I found a scrap of paper near the body and I picked it up.” Rachel shrugged. “He thought I found some brilliant piece of evidence or something and demanded I hand it over or else.”
“And you didn’t?”
“Of course not!” Rachel exclaimed, indignant. “I found it! And it cost me a great deal of trouble and effort!”
“That was also partially indebted to the assistance of these…Cobras.”
“I would’ve been fine on my own.” Rachel growled. “I found it and it was mine.”
“Why didn’t you give it to them? Just because it was yours?”
“Something like that…they’re Cobras, Unk. You don’t ever trust a Cobra!”
“That’s funny, because the young man sitting on the sofa downstairs also happens to be my nephew…and I do trust him.”
Rachel swallowed. “Okay, let me try again. Those people…that killed that guy. The Cobras were watching, okay? They could’ve stepped in. They could have prevented that, but they didn’t. I got in involved, but I was too late. I tried to interfere for the sake of a life, Uncle Thom, a life! I didn’t care who they were or what side they were on, I just didn’t think it was fair and I thought I could take them.”
“But you couldn’t?”
“I did.” She said quietly, turning away. “But my backup malfunctioned. I’ve been having some trouble…controlling…myself. And because of a momentary lack of self-control, I nearly subjected myself to an unpleasant situation as a result of rash thinking and poor judgment. I was lucky to survive that, but it was nothing more than that. A freak moment. I won’t put myself in such a position again. The point is, whatever that guy had on him that they wanted, I don’t care how trivial it was, he died for it, because they didn’t think it was necessary to intervene. They didn’t earn the right to…to have that.”
“And you did?”
“At least I made an effort, Uncle Thom. I didn’t stand in the window of a warehouse on the same street and stare down at the darkness below.”
Thom sighed. “This self-control thing…does it have anything to do with your strange sleeping habits or the way you randomly appear on people’s doorsteps unconscious?”
Rachel winced. “I wish you wouldn’t put it that way.”
“How can I put it any other way, when I distinctly remember that Ben-friend of yours saying something about blacking out the whole city? There was a major power outage in several districts that very afternoon, Rachel. Now I won’t ask you if you’re connected, but I will ask you to at least level with me.”
“I tried. Ben’s not a criminal.”
“But he is acting like one.” Thom frowned. “That’s another discussion for another day, right now, we’re focusing on you. Are you done now?”
Rachel hesitated. “Yeah. I guess.”
“And where’s this evidence or information that’s so important?”
Her hands traveled automatically towards her pocket and she stopped when her fingers wiggled freely. “I-it was in my pocket.” She shot to her feet, frantically checking her pockets. “I was right here! I didn’t-” She stopped, feeling the heat rushing to her face. “You said I turned up on the doorstep, didn’t you?”
“It’s too late.” She threw up her hands. “Mark’s got it.”
“Uh, yeah. Never mind. It’s in good hands.”
“It’s in good hands, but it’s too late because some Mark has it?”
“Could we please not go there?”
He studied her silently for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay. But take a seat again, now that you’re finished. It’s my turn.”
* * * * * *
Rachel slowly descended the stairs, shying to the side as a Jeanette bounded up them to her left. “Hey! Watch it!”
“My turn!” Jeanette chirped happily.
Rachel opened her mouth to protest and shut it at the sound of Thom clearing his throat. “Never mind.” She muttered, tromping down the last few steps and throwing herself onto the couch with a grunt.
She felt Calvin’s eyes briefly sweep over her and then return to his fixed object, a coat of arms above the old-fashioned fireplace. A slight glance out of the corner of her eye showed that he didn’t seem to have moved since his return or her arrival. He stared steadily at the metal shield, remaining almost perfectly motionless.
When the door upstairs closed, his head jerked around to her direction, a baleful glare directed at her. “Are you staying?”
Rachel returned the expression. “That depends, are you staying?”
“None of your business.”
“Then it’s none of yours either.” Rachel rolled to her side, turning her back to him as she stretched out on the sofa. A nap was seeming like a very good idea, but the thought of closing her eyes with Calvin in such close proximity wasn’t very safe.
She fished inside her jacket pocket for her cellphone and drew it out, hitting the speed dial for her mother’s phone. It ran several times before switching to her voicemail and then she left a short message.
Calvin snorted when she flipped the phone shut. “Is that who they’re holding over you?”
“Excuse me?” Rachel jerked upright.
“Your mother, of all people.” He chuckled. “At least our kind doesn’t do that. You hate your mother and she hates you, but with all the ridiculousness in this whole thing, no wonder you’re so tightly wound up. It must be your incredible sense of loyalty that makes you hop and skip at someone else’s beckoning to protect a person that disgusts you.”
“Hey! That’s my mother you’re talking about! You think you’re above everything? That no one can touch you?”
“I never said I was. But seeing as you’ve brought it up…”
“I didn’t bring anything up. I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ll thank you not to talk to me.”
“Didn’t Uncle Thom just finish his lecture on politeness? It seems your ears were plugged.”
“Not any more than yours were.” Rachel shot back. “Are you always just superficial to a-”
Thom cleared his throat from the head of the stairs where he stood with one arm around Jeanette’s shoulders. “I am going to pretend that I didn’t hear half of that.” He said quietly. “I’m not going to mention how mature a 14-year-old is in comparison to the whining from the both of you. I’m also not going to repeat that since there are more of us than there was to begin with and it’s rather late, that we’re going out to dinner and I expect you to be ready in twenty minutes. Think casual dining with a few tweaks.” He looked meaningfully at Calvin. “You, comb your hair-Rachel, complete makeover-Jeanette, go take your meds now, hon.”
Jeanette skipped down the stairs, heading straight for the bright pink duffel bag at the corner near the TV center. She fiddled through the pockets and retrieved a standard prescription bottle, heading to the kitchen in search of water.
Calvin slowly shifted to his feet, heading for the downstairs bathroom while Rachel examined her ruined outfit. Her attention now focused on the torn materials and various stains covering the expanse of Ben’s gifted creation. She groaned.
“Rachel?” Thom paused in closing the front blinds.
“Nothing.” She muttered, heading for the stairs. In the safety of the guest bedroom, she pulled out the cellphone and dialed Ben’s number. After exchanging a few pleasantries, she dutifully parroted a verbal report on the day’s activities, explaining her twenty-minute cap and her activities for the evening.
Ben typed the report for her and sent a package in the form of a glowing dresser drawer, with wishes to enjoy the evening and a mandatory warning to beware of Cobra agents. A relieved Rachel retrieved the contents, to find a pair of jeans and a dressy top. She smiled, disappearing into the bathroom to change.
She was the last one out of the house, skidding to a stop in front of Thom’s SUV and wincing at his pointed look. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
He didn’t answer, climbing into the driver’s seat as she found herself sharing the backseat with Jeanette. “Italian good for everyone?”
“Pizza?” Jeanette asked, hopefully. “Please say Pizza, Mr. C, Please!”
“No pepperoni or anchovies.” Thom smiled. “Deal?”
“Yes!” Jeanette pumped a fist in the air. “Can I have soda too?”
“That depends. Did your mother said you were okay to have sweets again?”
Jeanette sighed loudly.
Thom pulled out of the driveway, starting towards downtown. “I’ll take that as a no, but you’re allowed one glass and no more. No refills. If you get sick on my watch there won’t be a second chance for either of us.”
The rest of the trip reigned in silence and when they finally arrived at the Bella Vienna, Rachel felt her spirits lift as she stepped out of the vehicle and followed to the door. Once inside, they picked a booth in a corner and Thom suggested the buffet.
“Pizza?” Jeanette begged. “Please?”
Thom chuckled. “Okay. One pizza ordered, buffet for everything else.” His mouth twitched. “Please don’t make me remind you to take some vegetables.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t pizza toppings count? Make it a super-veggie special.”
Calvin grimaced. “That’s disgusting. Don’t you know it comes with pineapple?”
“And tomatoes.” Rachel said cheerfully. “What’s the matter? Can’t stomach it?” She couldn’t keep the triumph out of her voice as his expression turned slightly green. “It’s really delicious.”
“Actually, I want onions.” Jeanette interrupted, but there was now a hint of uncertainty on her face as she looked from one to the other and then back to Thom. “Mr. C?”
“Onions it is.” He shooed her out of the booth. “Go get your plate, I’ll be right there.” He shifted to his feet as she hurried off, pausing beside the two teens. “Am I going to have to separate you two or ask for a vow of silence?”
“Vow of silence.” They both chorused, and then mirrored glares at each other.
“What do you have against me!” Calvin demanded. “Good grief, I haven’t seen you in years!”
“Really? Oh that’s right, the last time you saw me, was probably my terrified face when you locked me in the basement of-”
“That’s what this is about?” His brow furrowed. “Wait a minute, that was you?” His expression brightened with a wicked smirk. “Don’t tell me you’re still afraid of the dark?”
There wasn’t a smart answer coming to mind for that, so Rachel turned away, crossing her arms as a flicker of pink caught her eye. Her jaw nearly dropped as she caught sight of The Dragon Lady and her entourage of six immaculately groomed and suited men flanking her on each side as she ate pizza with a fork.
“Of all the nerve!” Rachel fumed, her argument suddenly forgotten as she headed straight for the table. She grabbed a chair with one hand from a newly vacated table and plunked it down on the edge near the Dragon Lady, herself. “You owe me a sundae.” She neatly swiped a menu from the suit sitting on her left. “With whipped cream.” She opened the menu and buried her face in it, frantically scanning the dessert section.
There was a series of rustles, halted by a soundless gesture before the Dragon Lady spoke. “Pearl is very impressed.” There was a note of admiration in her voice. “What sundae does the little girl wish to order?”
Rachel tipped the menu backwards to catch a glimpse of the dancing golden eyes and neon pink lipstick. “A vanilla sundae with extra chocolate syrup…two cherries.”
She laughed. “Methinks I remember a strawberry sundae. With strawberry syrup…and two strawberries instead of a cherry. Would the little girl really settle for less than her heart’s desire?”
“It’ll have to do because they don’t serve strawberry sundaes here.” Rachel snapped the menu shut. “I’m not picky. It’s just that I had to pay five dollars out of my allowance.”
“Your allowance?” She repeated. “Not your salary?”
“If I’m getting a salary, no one’s ever told me about it.” Rachel frowned. “Just buy me the sundae, would you? I need the chocolate.”
“Pearl thinks the little girl should eat her dinner before her dessert.”
“And the little girl thinks that the Dragon Lady is out of her mind.”
Pearl laughed. “You have quite a temper, my darling. Please, do call me Pearl. The Dragon Lady sounds so….scary.” She nodded towards the suit on her right. “and they serve strawberry sundaes here.” Her wrinkled mouth curved upwards. “At least for me they do.” Her head tilted sideways. “Tell me, since when does a Viper have dinner with a Cobra, a detective and a child of an esteemed gray agent?”
Rachel visibly started. “C-could you not do that?” She swallowed. “I really don’t want to talk about it. And even if I did, it’s complicated!”
Pearl chuckled. “Pearl understands…however if I am going to buy you dessert, I cannot do so until you eat your dinner. Anything in particular you wish?”
A wave of temporary happiness spilled over her and Rachel smiled gratefully. “An ultimate veggie pizza, please.”
“With pineapples and tomatoes?” Pearl asked, a wicked gleam in her eye.
Rachel matched the penetrating look. “Yes…and some Dr. Pepper to wash it all down, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not at all, my dear, not at all.” The suit to Pearl’s right had caught the attention of a waiter now directed with whispers on what Rachel’s order was to be. It was quickly jotted down and the freckle-faced waiter offered a hasty bow as he nearly ran towards the kitchen.
Rachel stared after him, surprised. Her shoulders itched in a physical response to the looks she could imagine being sent in her direction. One of them had to be Calvin’s followed by that of her Uncle. Jeanette was probably happily stuffing her face.
Pearl studied her for a moment, then directed her gaze at the second suit down on her left. “Petroz, switch seats with Miss Banner…it seems some unwanted eyes are making her most…uncomfortable.”
The husky bodyguard immediately rose to his feet and offered a hand to a shocked Rachel who slowly switched chairs, beginning to feel as if her temper had landed her in a situation she wasn’t quite sure she ought to be in.
“You amuse me, Miss Banner. For a girl of your age and rank, you do truly amuse me. Enjoy your lunch and try not to talk with your mouthful.”
The first dish to arrive at the table was a steaming side plate of mixed vegetables. Rachel opened her mouth and shut it at the sight of the twinkling eyes from across the table. She took a small plate and scooped a third of the contents into the dish, deliberately taking a heaping mouthful.
Thankfully, it wasn’t as hot as it looked and she was able to chew and swallow with a neutral expression. “I suppose I ought to thank you for seeing a perfectly well-balanced meal.” She managed around mouthfuls.
Pearl simply smiled.
The meal went quickly and Pearl even attempted to try a slice of the exotic pizza herself. There was no expression after the first few bites, but halfway into the slice, she crossed the knife and fork across the plate, signaling the end of her meal. She had indeed ordered a strawberry sundae for Rachel and one for herself. Both desserts were quickly consumed and when the meal had ended, Pearl reached into her purse and drew out a blue credit card. “Rachel, darling, be a dear and purchase some mints from the counter for me?” The card was slid across the table. “My signature’s on the back, I’m sure you can sign it. I want the ginger mints, they help with digestion the best, they’re used to my order here, so you can simply tell them you want the mints for Pearl.” She smiled and tilted her head towards the hulk on her right. He stood up. “Blake will accompany you if you wish.”
“I do wish.” Rachel licked her lips. There was barely any comfort in his intimidating presence standing just a half-pace behind her, but her sense of politeness refused to allow her to deny the woman’s request. After all, she had replaced the sundae in addition to a full-course dinner. Rachel waited in line at the register and finally gave the table number when asked. “And um, some mints for Pearl? She wants the ginger kind.”
The bored-faced clerk looked her up and down, then his eyes narrowed. “You aren’t Pearl.”
“Uh, no. But she asked me to buy these for her….the mints, please?”
“I’ll need to see some ID.” He yawned. “Please hurry up, there are other patrons in line.”
Her fingers fumbled for the necessary square of plastic known as her driver’s license. “Here.”
Hawk-like eyes scanned it rapidly and then the narrowed eyes turned into a full-fledge glare. “You’re under-twenty one.”
“So?” Rachel resisted the urge to snatch the license back from him.
“So…you’re underage.” He flicked the license back across the counter. “Sorry. Can’t help you.”
“But I need them!” Rachel held up the card. “And I can pay for them.”
“You can’t sign for an unauthorized card.” He droned. “I’m sorry, next?”
“Hey!” Rachel twisted sideways to keep her face in his line of view. “The lady is right over there you can ask her yourself, you can also ask her bodyguard.”
“What bodyguard?” The fellow asked, loftily.
Rachel blinked. She turned halfway and then stopped. There was no one behind her and the table to where she’d pointed was empty. The credit card poked her hand as it clenched into a fist. “The invisible one next to me.” Rachel hissed. “Never mind.” She jammed the card into her pocket and turned away from the counter.
© Sara Harricharan