- Part Three -
I was muttering to myself as I left my sister's
hospital room. There was no doubt in my mind that I'd done the
right thing in asking my family to stay with me. Yet, at the
same time I was also equally convinced that I'd just made one
of the biggest mistakes in my life. If it had just been Chris
then everything would have been fine but my mother and father
as well. I saw bloodshed at the end of this but I was committed
now. I'd just have to get along as best as I could.
Melythra was waiting for me in the lounge. She saw me instantly but I was still to intent on my new familial arrangements to notice anything. My companion was up and at my side in a heartbeat.
"What has occurred?" she asked calmly but for her clearly concerned.
"I'll tell you on the way to the car."
Melythra knew better than to push me for answers at that moment. She also realized that probing my mind would be the absolute wrong thing to do. So, she waited until I was ready to speak. That moment came when we reached the Land Rover.
"You'd better drive," I said handing Melythra the keys. "I don't think I can concentrate right now."
"Where should I drive?" she asked when we were both inside.
"The store. We're going to have house guests. So we'll have to stock up on a few things."
"Yes, Chris and my parents."
"Why should you invite them into your domicile?" asked a truly shocked Melythra.
"It was the only way the doctor was going to release Chris. The doctor wanted someone to keep an eye on her. I couldn't very well tell the doctor that Chris would be fine because I'd healed her with some alien technology. It was the only way."
"I can understand that. But your parents . . ."
"If I hadn't invited them they would have camped out at my place anyway. Chris is their darling daughter after all. And knowing my folks like I do they'd spend the whole time bad mouthing me for not asking them to stay with me. This will just give them a chance to complain about something else."
"Very well, it shall be as you say," said Melythra in true Companion fashion. "I shall endeavor to render what assistance I can."
"I'll need all the help I can get. I just hope that I can get through this with my sanity and without taking a swing at Dad."
"You cannot. Your oath as a Wanderer forbids it," Melythra reminded me.
"Yeah, I forgot."
"I, however, am not bound by such an oath."
That was what I needed at that moment. I burst out laughing releasing the tension which had been building inside from the moment that my parents entered Chris' room. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks and all the time Melythra waited patiently for me to regain my composure.
"Come on," I said when I'd stopped laughing, "we've got shopping to do. You and I may be able to survive on coffee and doughnuts but Chris and my parents can't."
Melythra and I spent the rest of the day shopping and getting the house ready for Chris and my parents stay. By the time I turned in that night I was as ready as I was ever going to be to face what was about to happen.
I called the hospital early the next morning to see when Chris could check out. I was told that it was 10 AM and so at ten on the dot I arrived outside Chris' door. Mom and Dad were already there. Mom was looking a little pensive and when I looked at dad's face I could see why. The vein on my father's neck which was an accurate gauge of his mood was up and throbbing. It didn't take a genius to tell what had brought out this bleak aspect. It was me. Dad wasn't happy about accepting the hospitality of the son whom he wished not to acknowledge. My assessment of my father's mood was confirmed the moment that I stepped into my sister's hospital room.
"Where the hell have you been," he snapped.
"All ready to get out of here?" I asked Chris ignoring my father's offer of an argument.
"Couldn't be readier," Chris replied quickly. "We're just waiting on the doctor."
As if on cue the doctor appeared and after consulting Chris' chart signed her discharge papers. She left the room once she had instructed Chris to get plenty of rest. A minute after the doctor left an orderly with a wheelchair. Chris protested automatically and was given the pat response. She looked and me and with a shrug of her shoulders sat down.
The trip back to my house was made in silence which is not surprising considering the fact that Chris rode with our parents in their rental car and I drove my land rover. This was not an unexpected development but I had secretly hoped that Chris would come with me. I would have enjoyed some time to speak with Chris in private but I was also thinking of her. Chris hated it when our parents fussed over her and right now I was sure that Chris was on the receiving end of some world class fussing. Funny, there were many times while I was growing up that I would have loved to have been fussed over by my folks. Yet, I suppose if I had been fussed over as much as Chris had then I, too, would have come to hate it as much as she did.
After I parked the land rover I went to help with the luggage. I found Chris and my mom and dad standing next to the rental car looking at my home. It is a three story shingle style Victorian house on five acres of land. It's an impressive house and the looks on my folks and Chris' faces were very much like mine when I first laid eyes on the building.
"Welcome to my humble abode," I said breaking the silence.
"It's great," said Chris.
"How can you afford it?" my father asked.
"Grave robbing," I replied with an absolutely straight face.
Chris gave me a wink and my mother looked at me oddly. My father, however, appeared to believe everything which I said. At that instant I realized just how little my own father knew about me. The gulf between us was wider than the Grand Canyon and I didn't know if it could ever be bridged.
Nothing more was said as I grabbed a couple suitcases and the process of getting Chris and my folks settled in began. Chris' bags were put in her room first and then my parents went to theirs to unpack. I stayed with Chris. This was the perfect opportunity to speak with my sister alone.
"Chris," I began, "about the house. It was owned by an elderly lady who was nuts about Egyptology. Her father was a friend of Lord Carnarvon. She was on the board of the Exeter and for some reason took a liking to me. When she passed away she left me this house."
"You didn't have to tell me that."
"I know but I wanted to."
"You can tell Mom and Dad if you have to."
"Ross, about Mom and Dad . . ."
"Chris, if you're going to start apologizing you can stop right now. I've known for a long time that there was nothing you could do which would change Mom and dad's opnion of me. There were times in the past when I resented you and the way they treated you but that was in the past, the distant past. I don't feel that way now and deep down I never really felt that way. I have only one real regret and it is that their opinion of me should keep me away from my sister. I just hope that it's not too late to correct that mistake."
"Of course it's not too late little brother," Chris said quickly. "And don't place all the blame on yourself Ross. There are two of us after all. We're both to blame and we'll both have to correct our mistake."
"I've missed you."
"Not as much as I've missed you," said Chris taking me in her arms.
I decided to stick around my house that day. I wanted to there in case someone need help but at the same time I didn't want to put myself in my parent's line of fire. So, I puttered around the outside of the house. That helped kill a couple of hours but after I had done what I could I had no real excuse to stay outside and so I went back in.
I was on my way upstairs to grab a quick shower when I heard voices coming from my study. It was my mother and Chris. Curious, I stopped and listened.
"What are you doing?" asked Chris.
"Just looking around."
"Oh, that should be okay. I don't think Ross would mind."
"It is his house after all."
"Yes, yes of course," Mom responded distracted.
"Is something the matter Mom?"
"I'm just looking at this picture."
"Oh, that was taken when Ross was 15 and got his black belt in karate."
"He got what," said my incredulous mother. "How could he do that."
"What he couldn't afford with his after school job Great Aunt Maureen took care of."
"But what about a permission slip. Didn't he need one?"
"Of course. Ross stuck it front of Dad one Saturday afternoon. He signed it but didn't read it. As usual."
"How do you know all this?"
"Mom, who do you think took the picture."
"Oh, I see."
There was something in mom's voice, something that I had never heard before. I wanted to go into the study and talk to her about it but if I did then I would have to admit that I was listening at the door. So, much as I did not want to I went upstairs and took a shower.
The rest of the afternoon went without incident. Mom found a book to read. Dad sat in front of the TV with a beer watching college hoops and Chris spent the afternoon using my computer and its high speed phone line to catch up on some paperwork. Melythra was, as usual, at the library. As for myself, I spent the afternoon doing odd jobs around the house.
Dinner was a bit of a strain. Dad only spoke to Chris or Mom. For him it was if Melythra and I didn't exist. Mom was unusually silent. Every once and a while she would give me an enigmatic look and I would wonder what was on her mind. Melythra was her normal quiet self. Chris tried to fill in the silences but was only marginally successful.
As soon as Dad finished his meal he pushed his plate away and reached for his traditional after dinner cigar. Don't get me wrong. I have no objection to cigars per se. In fact, a friend at the ROM occasionally sends me a box of Cubans. The cigars my father smoked, however, were not of that quality. They could best be described as smelling like a pair of smoldering sweat socks. I knew from past experience that the smell lingered. There was no way he was going to smoke one in my house.
"Don't smoke that in here," I said flatly.
"What did you say?"
"You heard me."
"Do you know who you're talking to?"
"I know exactly who I'm talking to."
"Then you had better show me a little respect."
"I am but you should remember that this is my house and I make the rules."
One of my father's favorite expressions when I was growing up was, `This is my house and I make the rules.' I didn't quote him by accident. It was a deliberate choice on my part. I wanted to set the ground rules right from the start. I couldn't let him run over me any more. The look on dad's face told me that he, too, knew that my choice of words was deliberate. He stared at me for a minute and I didn't look away. My father broke first. He grumbled under his breath before he left the table.
After Dad was gone Chris leaned toward me and whispered, "Thanks little brother. I can't stand the way those things smell.
I gave Chris a wink by way of response.
Later that night I went looking for Melythra. I found her in the study reading.
"How may I be of assistance Chosen?"
"Have you seen Chris?"
"I believe that she has gone for a walk. She mentioned her desire for `fresh air'."
"Oh, okay. I'm going back to the warehouse. Hopefully they are gone and I can do some snooping. There shouldn't be any problems. Mom and Dad usually turn in early but if anyone should ask I've gone to the museum to catch up on some work."
"It shall be as you say."
After changing heads I translocated to the rooftop which I'd used the other night. I made sure that no one was in the area before I jumped into the center of the blast sight.
The first thing that I noticed was the lack of smell. My super sensitive canine nose could detect no trace of Terran explosives. To make sure I picked up some fragments of the former warehouse and had a really close sniff. When I could still smell nothing I tried reading the fragments energy signature. It was right there in a scarlet aura. This explosion was not caused by any explosive device produced on this planet.
I continued to poke around the rubble looking for any clue as to who set the explosion. I was near the very center of the blast sight when I saw it. From under a charred beam I spotted something gleaming in the streetlight. I brushed away the ash and debris and uncovered the corner of a metal plate set into the concrete floor. I knew instantly that the plate was made of Vendorian steel and from what I could see was quite thick. I began to clear off the remainder of the plate.
I was so intent on uncovering the steel plate which I had found that I was oblivious to everything else. The first clue that I had that wasn't alone was the sound of a hammer cocking. My ears twitched and so did my nose. I caught a familiar scent on the night breeze.
"FBI. Freeze or I'll blow you away."
Great! Busted by my own sister.