A Change of Pace – Chapter 43

Kyoshi still had trouble getting used to it. She’d flown into JFK Wednesday morning with Mason, surprising him with tickets. He’d naturally protested, he didn’t like her to spend lots of money on him, but she won the argument in the end. It just didn’t make sense to spend most of their trip driving the entire length of the east coast.

“You doin’ ok?” Mason asked as they strolled hand in hand around Times Square.

“It’s just the buildings. There are so many,” Kyoshi craned her neck around to see the man made marvels stretching toward the heavens.

Kyoshi knew she looked like a gawking tourist in the big city for the first time. That was ironic since she was from San Francisco, the thirteenth largest city in the country. San Francisco was very different from New York. Sure they had the Golden Gate Bridge and a handful of impressive skyscrapers downtown, but it paled in comparison. New York was an island of steel and glass leviathans that were packed together like sardines. There was no open space in New York City beside the parks, and even they were patches of green among cold metal.

“This is one of the biggest cities in the world,” Mason chuckled, leading her away from the bumper to bumper traffic encircling and bisecting the square.

They hopped on the subway and headed toward Mason’s neighborhood. Mason decided they should get most of the sightseeing done right when they arrived. Kyoshi said she could wait, it was a lengthy flight up, and they were still recovering from the last few physical training classes; but Mason insisted.

“Grandma’s not going to let you go until she knows everything about you,” Mason stated, and Kyoshi picked up the deeper meaning in his thoughts.

“Am I the first girl you’ve brought home?” she giggled as her boyfriend blushed.

“Umm…yeah.”

“Well I’m honored,” Kyoshi smiled, stepping aside as a policewoman walked past them.

Mason and Kyoshi were easily the biggest people in their subway car, and if that didn’t draw attention to them, then Kyoshi’s hair and eyes did. The policewoman gave them a good stare and then continued on with her patrol. Kyoshi’s brow wrinkled at the action.

<You’re a Super headed into Brooklyn,> Mason filled her in telepathically. <My town has a Super gang problem. I’m sure they’re already running you through facial recognition, and determining if you’re a threat or not.>

                Kyoshi had experienced prejudice before with her clearly Super features, but nothing to the degree Mason was describing. Mason noticed the look on her face and pulled her closer.

<You have to understand that thousands of people were killed by a Super only four years ago, a lot more than 9/11. On top of that, we lost nearly all of our Hero team. People here are automatically suspicious of Supers now, but as long as we don’t give them a reason to be afraid then they won’t be.> Mason practiced what he preached by smiling at a middle-aged couple across the car from them, and waving to the little girl who was sheepishly looking at them.

Kyoshi couldn’t help smile when Mason wasn’t looking. He might look big and intimidating, but he was just a gentle giant, a big teddy bear. The little girl smiled back and waved. The parents soon smiled at their child’s enjoyment, and the tension that was present moments before vanished.

<Boy do I love him,> Kyoshi kept the thought to herself.

It was a long ride to Mason’s neighborhood. The city had taken the negatives of the recent attack and turned it into a positive. A new transit system linked all the boroughs with state of the art transportation, and even extended out into Long Island. A tech genius was to thank for the green, non-polluting subway system; and he’d done it all free of charge. Strongmen and other physically enhanced Supers had helped with the construction, and the whole project was completed in record time. Sure, the construction unions had thrown a fit because they couldn’t extend the contract; but overall it had done a lot to mend the relationship between Supers and humans in the community.

Slowly, the car began to empty as people disembarked. They’d missed the rush hour, so they only had to stand for half the trip. For the other half, Kyoshi laid her head on Mason’s massive shoulder and just soaked in the moment. Everything was great.

“Home sweet home,” Kyoshi didn’t even notice she’d dozed off until Mason’s words woke her.

The scenery was different now. Everything was a little more rundown, a little decrepit, where it used to be nice or at least cleanly utilitarian. As the subway slid into the station Kyoshi saw the platform was overrun by graffiti.

“Gang tags,” Mason pointed out a few. Kyoshi instinctively drew closer to Mason. “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me.”

San Francisco was no stranger to gangs, or even Super gangs; but Kyoshi had never stopped and got off the bus in those parts of town. She was a little apprehensive when Mason took her hand with one of his, grabbed their luggage in another, and then led her into the chilly afternoon air. She shivered, half from the cold and half from the environment she wasn’t used to.

<Get a grip, Kyoshi,> she chided herself for her preconceptions, and her reactions. <You can’t be scared to walk into a bad part of town if you want to be a Hero.> She straightened up, and walked with a little more confidence after giving herself a firm talking to.

Mason notice it too, but didn’t say anything. She could tell from his thoughts that he was just happy to be walking down the streets with a beautiful woman on his arm. He was sweet like that, but he was still alert. Neither of them had forgotten the incident in the park.

No one bothered them until they were nearly to Mason’s Grandma’s apartment.

“Damn that has to be Jackson, nobody else I know is such a bigmotha…”

<You’ve got to be kidding me,> Kyoshi could feel the mental eye roll as Mason turned to face the voice, deftly sliding himself between the speaker and her.

“Sup, Mario. How it hangin’,” Kyoshi noticed the subtle changes in her boyfriend pronunciation. He was usually more articulate, but now he sounded rougher. She actually thought it was kind of hot. It gave a bad boy spice to it all.

“Long and to the left my brotha,” Mason exchanged a combination of hand slaps and shakes with the smaller Latino who’d stopped them. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” Mario looked past Mason at Kyoshi.

She got the impression he was undressing her with his eyes, but she pushed down the revulsion and instinctive shiver. Instead she stood tall and stared him down. After a minute the man looked away.

“That you’re woman?” Mario asked pointing at her.

Kyoshi was about to go Rambo on his ass. She wasn’t anyone’s “woman”.

“Yeah, that’s my woman,” Mason’s answer caused her mouth to drop.

“Damn son,” Mario and Mason exchanged another round of hand slaps.

<YOUR WOMAN!> Kyoshi’s telepathic outburst caused Mason to wince.

<Kyoshi, shut up and listen,> the harshness in his tone surprised her, and forced her to hold her mental tongue. <It does and doesn’t mean what you think it means. Me saying you’re my woman says to him, and the Street Side Supers, that you’re under my protection. They won’t harm you, sell you anything, or try to recruit you without pissing me off. And they know better than to try that.>

                Kyoshi felt a little ashamed that she’d jumped to the wrong conclusions. <Fine, but can we go? This guy gives me the creeps.>

                “Just back for a few days,” Mason answered a question Kyoshi didn’t hear. “Then I’m off again.”

“Yo, hit me up when you back in town again. We ain’t chilled in a while.”

“Sure,” there was another round of handshakes, and then Mario disappeared right through the wall of the building next to them.

Mason and Kyoshi didn’t speak about the encounter for the rest of their walk. Primarily because Kyoshi knew she’d overreacted, and secondly because there were more important things to be worried about. She was about to meet the woman who raised such a kind, gentle, but powerful man.

“Do I look ok?” Kyoshi wanted to make a good first impression.

Mason pressed the button on the box outside the building, and a returning chime unlocked the door. “You look beautiful,” Kyoshi knew form the look in his eye that he really meant it. “Don’t worry; she’s going to love you.”

<I hope so,> Kyoshi took a deep breath and ascended the stairs behind him. They didn’t even make it onto the landing before a voice called out to them.

“Is that my Mason,” all Kyoshi saw was a head poking out of a door at the far end of the hall.

She felt the blossoming warmth in her boyfriend’s heart as he heard the voice. She could tell it was something he’d missed during his months away at school.

“It’s me Grandma, and Kyoshi,” Kyoshi followed Mason to the door, able to hide behind his bulk until they were right in front of his grandmother.

“Let me get a good look at you, honey,” the elderly woman waved for her to come into view.

Kyoshi did as she was instructed. She felt like a model on a runway being scrutinized as Mason’s grandmother’s eyes passed over her. The few moments of silence was uncomfortable for her and Mason, but finally his Grandma’s analyzing gaze split into a smile.

“You’re a gorgeous thing, aren’t you,” she beckoned her and Mason into her apartment.

“Yes she is, Grandma,” Mason took the lead in answering. Kyoshi never felt comfortable in complimenting her own beauty.

“But you’re too thin, you both are. Are they feeding you enough at that school?” Mason and Kyoshi couldn’t help but laugh.

“We get a lot of exercise, Grandma,” Mason quickly explained.

“You’re both growin’ people, you need some good home cookin’,” she pointed at a tray of freshly baked brownies on the table. “But don’t spoil dinner.”

Mason went straight for the sweets, but Kyoshi wasn’t hungry. Instead, she was led away by Mason’s grandmother into the kitchen.

“Here’s what I’ve got planned for Thanksgiving, honey,” she handed over a list. “Is there anything else you want me to make. I want you to feel at home here.”

“This looks great, Ms. Jackson” Kyoshi’s previous holidays usually involved some dishes from her parent’s homelands, so it would be good to go straight American this year. “And thank you for allowing me to stay with you.”

“Nonsense, dear,” the older woman waved the compliment aside. “You are special to my Mason, so you are special to me.” The acceptance brought a smile to Kyoshi’s lips. “And don’t call me Ms. Jackson, it makes me feel old. You can just call me Grandma.”

“Ok…Grandma,” Kyoshi hesitantly tried it out, and it felt right. “Do you need any help with anything? I know Thanksgiving isn’t until tomorrow, but I’m not terrible in the kitchen. I can help with the prep work”

“We’ll figure all that out later. Let’s get you settled first.” She led Kyoshi into one of the two bedrooms. “You can stay in here, I’m in the room next to you, and Mason can have the pull out couch.”

“I can just stay in here with Kyoshi, Grandma,” Mason appeared in the doorway, a brownie in each hand.

“Hell no you won’t,” the older woman replied with fire in her eyes. “There will be none of that in my house. This is a Christian household, Mason. You better not forget that.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Mason looked properly abashed.

“Yeah, Mason,” Kyoshi put her hands on her hips and stared him down. “Behave yourself,” she turned to Mason’s grandmother with an apologizing look. “I’m sorry about him, I’m working on it, but he’s a man after all.”

Mason had to watch as his girlfriend and Grandmother laughed at him.

“I like you, honey,” Mason’s grandmother surprised both of the Supers by giving Kyoshi a hug. “I think we’re gonna get along just fine.”

 

***

 

 

“I got to Auntie Daisy first…”

“No I did!”

“No you didn’t; you’re a liar!”

“Am not…”

“Are too…”

Daisy had spent two seconds in the McMillian house and she already had no clue what she was supposed to do. The Hero, Reaper, had faced down some of the most blood-thirsty, sociopathic, and maniacal supervillains in the past half century. All it took for her to freeze, and feel completely helpless, was a pair of pre-teen speedsters.

“Stop being a poop-head…”

“You’re the poop-head!”

“That’s enough girls,” Chrissy appeared in the foyer with her hands on her hips. She brought with her the aroma of freshly baked bread, and traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. “Go find your father and bother him.”

“Ok!” they screamed in tandem, and vanished in twin red blurs.

Chrissy eyes followed the fading streaks of color, and then turned to Daisy with a smile. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t want at least one of them to get my power.” The food manipulating Super made the statement in good-humor, but there was still desire buried beneath it.

<Can’t blame her. Having kids is hard; having Craig’s kids must be damn near impossible,> the look on Daisy’s face conveyed her sympathies.

“Where are my manners,” Chrissy brushed the moment aside. “Please let me take your coats.”

Thanksgiving break had arrived with an unanticipated cold spell. It was still nothing compared to what Daisy was accustomed to back in the Northeast, but Orlando dropping into the high forties was enough to have people freaking out. To Daisy, Thanksgiving wasn’t Thanksgiving without a little chill in the air.

“I brought some cider,” Topher stepped up behind Daisy, placing a hand on her hip as he ogled the foyer.

Craig had a steady paycheck through the HCP, and a decent flow of royalties from his days as a Hero; but that was nothing compared to Chrissy. Chrissy’s restaurants were famous throughout the city, probably the country, and Daisy was sure there were chefs around the world who knew the name Christina McMillian. Correspondingly, Craig and Daisy’s house was huge. Daisy was fine with the small home the HCP set her up with, but she was sure she could have fit her entire house inside Chrissy’s foyer.

The foyer was tiled with expensive Italian marble; which Chrissy informed they’d imported from Tuscany after she spent some time there perfecting several dishes. There was an oak spiraling grand staircase across from the front door. There was heavy carpet laid down on top of the finely carved wood, and even from a distance Daisy could see that it was worn.

“I have to replace it at least once a year,” Chrissy followed Daisy’s eyes. “You’d think it was the girls, but you’d be wrong.” As if to prove a point, Craig blurred down the stairs to stop in front of them.

The close combat instructor was dressed in grey sweatpants and a football jersey; a sight that greatly displeased his wife. “Crap,” Chrissy didn’t have to say anything before Craig disappeared. Ten seconds later he was back in tan slacks, brown loafers, but he was still wearing the football jersey.

“Do-able,” Chrissy smiled, and gave him a peck on the cheek.

“Welcome…welcome to my humble abode,” Craig waved his hands at the thousand square foot foyer.

“Don’t be a smartass,” Chrissy’s smile got bigger as she smacked him on the back of the head.

“Mommy said a bad word!” twin shrieks echoed down from the top of the staircase.

“Girls…kitchen…now,” Chrissy yelled, and the girls sprinted to obey. “Excuse me.” She hurried after them, depositing Daisy and Topher’s coats in a closet large enough to hold everything Daisy owned.

“Now I see why you make a good teacher,” Topher said as their hostess vanished into the kitchen. “If you can get two young girls to follow orders like that you can do just about anything.”

Craig just smiled proudly as he accepted the bottle of cider from Topher. “Good to see you again Chris,” the two men shook hands, and Daisy followed them into the living room.

The earliest of the three football games was just coming to an end. Craig had on regular football, not an SSA game. The retired speedster could have gone and played for Chicago if he wanted after finishing his hero career. He would have made a ton of money, but Daisy was glad he’d decided to teach. For all the pranks, crap, and unprofessional behavior he exhibited, she couldn’t think of teaching with anyone else.

Topher and Craig soon started a heated discussion on the finer points of the game, their favorite teams, and personal philosophies when it came to the sport. Daisy never cared for football. She had enough full contact in her day to day life; so she didn’t need to spend three hours on a Sunday watching people do it with less skill than her. She left the two men to their discussion, and headed into the kitchen. Her mouth nearly fell to the floor when she stepped through the door.

Daisy had expected Chrissy’s kitchen to be the most important room in the house, but she never expected this. The kitchen was huge. A kitchen this big belonged in a restaurant that served a thousand people a night, not a family of four. While the large space was equipped like an industrial kitchen, everything was exquisite, even if it was a little gaudy for Daisy’s taste. Where a restaurant kitchen would have stainless steel, this room had granite and marble. Expensive looking paintings of food hung on the wall, and there was an honest to god five foot, upright sculpture of a cornucopia dominating a corner of the room. In the center of the culinary decadence was Chrissy, flitting between the various dishes with experienced proficiency; while giving orders to her daughters.

Then there was the feast.

Daisy had been to large gatherings before. She’d been to big parties with her entire family back when she was younger, she’d been to events where entire Hero teams were present; but nothing prepared her for the sheer mass of food sitting on the ten foot long granite countertop island next to Chrissy. Daisy saw turkey, stuffing, rolls, cornbread, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and freshly mixed salad. Those were just the dishes Daisy was able to touch from where she stood.

“Rosemary…I need rosemary,” there was a flash of red, and the spice was in Chrissy’s hand. “Thank you, Rosalie.”

Another short burst of red, and the child was standing in front of Daisy. “Hi, Auntie Daisy, I’m Rosalie. I hope we can call you Auntie, like Auntie Maria. Mommy and Daddy said we could, but we can call you something else if you don’t want us to call you Auntie.” It was the most adorable thing Daisy had ever seen.

“Auntie Daisy sounds great,” Daisy smiled down at Rosalie.

“Yay!” Rosalie completed the moment of happiness by hugging Daisy’s thighs. “You’re tall,” the tiny speedster giggled and ran away.

Daisy couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she turned to Chrissy. “That was so adorable.”

“You think that was adorable? You just wait,” Chrissy’s pity grin caught Daisy by surprise, but not as much as the second red blur that appeared in front of Daisy.

“Hello,” the two L’s were pronounced like a W, by the younger of Craig’s two daughters.

Craig’s daughters looked like they could be twins. Rosalie was taller and older than the little munchkin currently standing in front of Daisy, and the older sister also lacked the breathtakingly cute freckles that went flawlessly with their fiery red hair. Daisy wasn’t sure where they got it from, Craig and Chrissy’s hair was dirty blond and brown respectively; but wherever the recessive gene came from it worked.

“Hi, what’s your name?” Daisy squatted to bring herself closer to the young girl’s eye level.

“My name’s Claire,” the little girl replied shyly. “You’re really pretty.”

Daisy couldn’t stop the laugh that spilled out of her mouth. “No, you’re very pretty. I love your freckles.”

“Me too,” a red blush filled the girls face. “Bye,” and just like that she was gone.

“And they’ve got you,” Chrissy hadn’t broken stride in her meal preparations. “They’ve got their cute little daggers in you, and you won’t be able to say no…ever.”

“Probably,” Daisy found the seven to ten age group much more tolerable than the students she had to deal with every day. “But you and Craig seem to do just fine.”

“Years and years of practice,” Chrissy tossed a utensil in Daisy’s direction without looking. Daisy snagged it out of the air, not quite sure what she should be doing. “Start whipping those potatoes. If we can get the meal on the table before the next game starts then we should be able to hold the cavemen’s attention for a few minutes.”

Daisy did as she was told. She knew better than to argue in Chrissy’s domain. Although Daisy was the farthest thing from the homemaker type, that didn’t mean she didn’t enjoy preparing the last of the meal with Chrissy. Mostly, it involved her taking the three dozen platters of delicious smelling food to the table large enough for an entire Army to sit at; and then fighting off Craig and Topher when they tried to sneak a bite before it was ready. When the thief was a speedster it became quite a challenge.

Finally, they all sat down to the wondrously prepared meal. The mouthwatering aroma of the feast had Daisy’s saliva glands working in overdrive. She wanted to dig in and never stop. Craig, Rosalie, and Claire fidgeted noticeably in their chairs, but Daisy wasn’t sure if that was anticipation or just a speedster thing.

“Before we begin,” Daisy went around pouring the cider Topher had brought. “We always like to say what we are thankful for.”

“Ohhh…me first,” Rosalie jumped on the opportunity. “I’m thankful for mommy, daddy, my IPhone 6S, my laptop, my two thousand Facebook friends, my XBOX, my PS4…”

“The food is getting cold, honey. Wrap it up,” Craig interrupted with a smile.

Rosalie did, and then Claire muttered a few things she was thankful for; half of which involved stuffed animals she’d recently acquired. Craig and Chrissy were both more practical in what they were thankful for. There was no doubt Chrissy had been through sleepless nights when she knew Craig was out risking his life; so she was most grateful for their safety and security. Craig started off by thanking God that his football team had won today, but then became more thoughtful. He might be a goofball that Daisy wanted to kick in the balls at work, but there was no doubt he loved his family very much. That was what he was more thankful for.

“Another day breathing is always something to be thankful for,” Topher had lost a fellow officer earlier in the year, and it was weighing heavily on his mind. “And of course I’m glad I met Daisy. It’s been interesting,” Daisy blushed and Craig chuckled. “But I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going.” Topher gripped Daisy’s hand under the table and gave it a comforting squeeze.

“Best for last,” Craig pointed at Daisy. “Be thankful and then we can eat.”

There was a lot Daisy had to be thankful for this year. She didn’t even remember any recent Thanksgiving. Odds were that she was passed out in a bar, or hooking up with a random guy and then wallowing in self-pity. In the past year, with the help of new friends, and highly trained medical professionals, she’d been able to pull herself out of her rut. She was back doing something meaningful, and she was one step closer to doing the thing she loved again. She told everyone this, in a more PG version, and got smiles and support from everyone around the table; even the children who didn’t know anything about her.

“Good food, good conversation, and good company,” Craig raised his glass in a toast.

“And to a calm holiday season,” Daisy echoed, although she knew there was nothing calm about what her freshmen would face in the next few weeks.

 

 

***

 

The Abney family estate was tucked away just outside the state capitol of Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the oldest of the family’s many properties, and the one Seth liked going to the least. The main building was a ten thousand square foot plantation house that had originally been built back when the American South supplied a lot of the world’s tobacco and cotton. If Seth looked hard enough he could probably find “Cotton is King” etched into the original woodwork somewhere.

The building had been updated and renovated half a dozen times since its original construction, so it currently held every luxury and convenience money could buy. The same was true of the carriage house, which had been converted into another smaller home for visiting guests, and the original slave quarters. With the latter being so far away from the main building, they’d converted them into rental properties.

If there was a way to make money off of something, Seth’s family knew how to make it happen.

“This place is fucking beautiful,” Liz gasped when they’d first driven up the winding asphalt drive to the main building.

It was a good half mile from the main road, and the short drive led them through a forested area before they hit the open space at the center. Since it was late November, the leaves were just finishing their transformation and were beginning to fall; which allowed them a short drive through a landscape of cascading color.

Seth and Liz made the nine hour drive in his Porsche, hitting triple digit speeds on I-95 just for the fun of it. It had taken most of Wednesday to make the drive up, so they didn’t have to indulge his parents when they finally arrived. The parental Abney’s were too busy sketching out the finishing touches for the party to deal with their youngest son’s arrival. That was just fine with Seth. It allowed them to retire for the evening, and to prepare for the next day.

The Abney Thanksgiving Party was THE party of the fall season. Anyone who was anybody in the state government or business community would be present. Thanksgiving for the Abney’s was a mockery of the holiday. It wasn’t a day to give thanks, but a day to vie for leverage, put others in their debt, and claw their way higher into the social hierarchy. Family didn’t really factor into the equation aside from how they could best be positioned for gain.

Seth had been to one too many of these parties for his liking; even being used as a pawn on more than one occasion. This year, it was about introducing Liz to his family and making sure she had a good time. He couldn’t care less what else happened during their short visit.

“This is a great spread,” Liz and Seth were moving through the crowded Great Room where dinner was being served buffet style.

Seth hadn’t eaten yet, so he wouldn’t know. He was having a hard time taking his eyes off Liz. His girlfriend was dressed in a red gown that sparkled like the setting sun. It was tight, just like he liked it, with a neck line that plunged below what his mother would consider decent.

<Hell if I care,> Seth grinned, he was enjoying the show.

Most of the well-spoken young southern gentlemen present suddenly found themselves tongue tied when Liz was present; while the southern belles accompanying those southern gentlemen politely tried to hide their glares. Even a few of the older, married men had a wandering eye that followed his girlfriend’s exquisitely crafted backside. Thanks to Liz, the humdrum of Thanksgiving was finally bearable.

Seth was busy watching Liz’s sparkling rump when he heard his name called by two familiar voices. “Baby brother,” it was a taunting call. “There you are.”

Zeb, short for Zebadiah, and Iris Abney approached Seth with confident grins. Zeb and Iris were the oldest of the Abney children. Zeb and Seth could have been twins if they weren’t nine years apart. He was same height, with the same black hair and green eyes as Seth. He was leaner than Seth, with more of a runner’s frame, but he held himself with the same confidence that every Abney was endowed with.

Iris was shorter than her two brothers, but only by a couple inches. She was thin, but curvy, with the trademark Abney black hair and stunning blue eyes. She had a classic, elegant beauty that she mercilessly teased men with. She was seven years older than Seth.

“Zeb, Iris,” Seth replied diplomatically. “Nice to see you.”

“I wish the same could be said by us,” Iris brushed aside any veneer of pleasant conversation. “What is this I hear about you attending West Private University?”

“I don’t know how much you can misunderstand about where I’m going to school,” Seth rolled his eyes to annoy her. “If you checked in more than every few months you might be more informed.”

Iris’s cold blue eyes could have sliced through flesh, and as she sneered the wind picked up around them.

“Calm yourself, Iris,” Zeb put a hand on her arm to get her to calm down. “Don’t let the baby get you all riled up.”

Iris was an air and water manipulator who had a tendency to let her emotions influence her powers. Conversely, Zeb was a fire and earth manipulator. Like the solidity of earth, Zeb was harder to work up than Seth’s impulsive older sister.

“Iris is just disappointed that you aren’t a Yale man,” Zeb gave Seth a sad, disapproving look. “The least you could have done was go to Duke; even UNC Chapel Hill would have been acceptable. Instead you break family tradition and throw away your future at a second rate school in the middle of Florida.”

“What can I say,” Seth shrugged, ignoring his siblings’ barbs. “I didn’t want an ivory tower stuck up my ass for the rest of my life.”

Both Iris and Zeb had gone to Yale for their undergraduate degrees. Zeb had then gone to University of Pennsylvania for business school, and Iris had graduated to Harvard Law. Zeb worked in the upper ranks of a big investment firm in New York City, and Iris was just about to graduate. Seth was sure she had a job lined up with some big firm with a lot of important names on it. Their father would have seen to it.

“You’re embarrassing yourself and the family,” Iris spat.

It said a lot that neither of Seth’s siblings even considered that he was in the HCP and training to be a Hero. The Abney’s always looked out for number one, and it had taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to break Seth of that mindset.

“Please…” Seth waved his drink in front of him like a shield. “I doubt you’re getting by at Harvard without a little felacio on the side, and I know a generous donation helped you get through Wharton,” Seth chastised his siblings. “So don’t fucking talk to me about embarrassments.”

Iris face was already fire engine red, but this time Seth’s insult struck home with Zeb as well. Seth half expected to have to fight off his two siblings when a blond bombshell came to his rescue. Good thing for the older Abney’s because Seth would have wiped the floor with them.

“Seth there you are,” Liz’s tone feinted civility, as she leaned heavily into him and nearly drowned him with a kiss. “I’ve been looking all over for you.” They were both a little out of breath when they came up for air. “A bunch of these old pervs have been asking me to dance, and I can’t take them up on that if my man hasn’t gotten the first one.”

Liz had completely ignored Iris and Zeb until now. “Oh,” she looked like she hadn’t even noticed they were there. “Who are you two?”

“Liz, these are my older brother and sister, Zeb and Iris,” Seth introduced them.

“Oh yeah, the cock gobbler and Mr. I Need Daddy’s Money To Pass My Classes. I remember now,” Seth hadn’t told her any such thing about his siblings, so she must have been close enough to hear the end of the conversation. Whatever the circumstances were, Iris and Zeb’s reactions were priceless.

The two older Abney’s just stared open mouthed at Liz while she smiled viciously back at them. “It’s a pleasure to meet both of you, but I need to borrow your little bro for a few minutes; Toodle-loo.” She pulled him away as Zeb and Iris muttered words like “trollop” and “whore” behind her back. Seth had half a mind to defend her honor, but she pulled him close to her on the dance floor, and their proximity melted all his resentments.

“Thanks for that,” Seth whispered into her ear as they turned in slow circle. “My brother and sister are Grade A jackasses; sorry you have to deal with them.”

“Sorry,” Liz actually laughed at the apology. “I love it. I feel like I’m in one of those housewife shows. I find the whole situation to be a perfect opportunity to test my people skills.”

“It’s entertaining?” Seth couldn’t help but be shocked.

“Sure,” Liz looked like it was the most natural response. “You take me to a stuck-up, rich person party, and now I get to fuck with everyone and disrupt the master plan. I couldn’t ask for a better Thanksgiving.”

Seth had trouble processing the information, but the bottom line was that Liz was happy and that was all that mattered. <And the look on Iris and Zeb’s faces will be seared into my memory forever; cock gobbler…brilliant.> Seth was all smiles for the next five minutes.

“Seth, I need to speak with you,” Seth jumped as his father was suddenly standing beside him.

Seth’s father, Albus Abney was a large man. He was easily six and a half feet tall, but his build was average if not a little on the pudgy side. His pitch black hair had a few strands of silver around the temple, but his emerald eyes were piercing and as sharp as ever. His face was stern. Seth couldn’t remember a time when his face wasn’t firmly fixed like that. It wasn’t hostile, disapproving, or angry; it was just stern.

“Dad, I’m in the middle of…”

“Now,” there was power in his father’s statement. The elder Abney was someone who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed.

“Ok,” Seth turned to Liz, who was trying to hide a worried look on her face. “I’ll be fine,” he smiled. “How about you grab some drinks and we’ll get smashed when I get back. I think two drunken teenagers wandering around is exactly what this party needs.” Her answering smile said that she had much naughtier things on her mind.

Seth followed a few paces behind his father. The older man led him up to the unoccupied second floor. After walking the length of the house they entered the study. It was a room designed to convey power and opulence. There was lots of gold, expensive crystal, precious stones, and exquisitely carved wood.

Seth’s father didn’t stop to take any of it in. Someone else had decorated it, and he couldn’t care less as long as it conveyed the proper message to anyone meeting in the room with him. Albus walked straight to the chair behind the massive desk and took a seat. Seth took one of the smaller, simpler chairs in front of the desk, and waited for his father to begin. It didn’t take long.

“You are a disappointment.”

“Wow…tell me how you really feel, Dad,” Seth shook his head, unable to keep the glare out of his eyes.

“You are supposed to attend West Private University to attain contacts within that world,” his father didn’t want to advertise out loud that his son was in the HCP. He might be angry with his son, but he wasn’t stupid. “I expected you to return home with a respectable young lady. Instead you come to our annual party with that…girl,” it was a good thing that Seth didn’t hear his father talk bad about Liz. There were just some things he wasn’t willing to let slide, even from his own father.

“Our idea of “respectable” obviously differs,” Seth kept calm as he replied.

“She is lewd, callous, and lacks the proper respect and etiquette that is required at an event such as this,” Seth’s father continued. “I won’t even mention what she called your sister.”

“It was cock gobbler, and sometimes the truth can hurt,” Seth didn’t regret the comment, but that didn’t stop him from jumping in surprise when his father’s large hand smashed down on the top of his desk.

Every piece of metal in the room shook violently at the older Abney’s outburst of anger. His ability to manipulate all types of metal was on full display due to his emotional surge.

“I will not have you speak about your own blood like that,” Seth’s father growled.

Seth held up his hands in surrender, but he didn’t apologize.

“You will stop seeing that girl immediately and begin a relationship with a proper woman at once,” there was no mistaking the statement as anything less than an order. “I’ve made contact with several influential families, and have learned that a Scarborough is attending West Private University as well. You will get close to her, and solidify a relationship that will benefit both our families.” Seth didn’t say a word, because telling his father to go fuck himself was probably going to get him disowned. “Do you understand me?”

Seth gave his father a level stare, and didn’t utter a word before leaving without being excused. He didn’t even listen to the angry shout behind him. Flames licked around his palms as he struggled to control his rage. <Where the fuck does he get off saying who I can and can’t date. And then he wants me to ask out Emilia over Liz. Fuck that noise.> He managed to quench the flames before he got back downstairs.

<He doesn’t know anything about anything,> Seth continued to fume. People noticed and got out of the way. <Mom’s probably sitting alone in the bathroom popping pills, and he has the nerve to tell me what’s wrong with my relationship!> The ground trembled slightly, but only a few people noticed. <Liz is one of the best things that has happened to me. She witty, funny as hell, smarter than she lets on, knows how to handle herself, knows what I like, and is the sexiest person alive…> Seth went on to accolade a few of her other assets and aspects until he nearly walked into her,

“Hey…” Liz was polishing off a glass of champagne, and was reaching for another before she saw Seth’s face. “What’s wrong, babe,” in an instant Liz transformed from the flirty party girl to the girl who’d punched out a drug dealer and saved Seth from getting shot.

“My dad’s an asshat,” Seth didn’t feel like getting more colorful with his adjectives until they were someplace a little less crowded.

“That was my initial impression,” Liz picked up four champagne glasses, and handed two to Seth. “Let’s double-fist these bad boys while you tell me all about it. Then we’ll find a bathroom and have loud crazy sex that everyone hears. Sound like a plan?”

“You’re the best,” Seth felt his bad mood recede.

Seth wasn’t sure about much in his life, because a lot of his plans had been turned on their heads in the last few months; but he was sure about one thing. There was no way in hell he was going to get rid of Liz because his parents didn’t approve. <Tough shit, they’ll just have to deal with it.>

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