Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
Thanks again for coming along," Mr. Richardson told the twins. "I know you take your duties out here seriously."
Tom shrugged. Brian had asked Tim and him them to escort the Richardsons back to the house, and they didn't really have any problem with that. As much as they enjoyed camping out, they enjoyed the civilized luxuries of hot showers and flush toilets too. An excuse to head in for a little while wasn't much of a problem, in Tom's opinion.
Still, the old guys were just plain woods-stupid, and that did annoy Tom. Tim had quickly taken the scout position, leaving Tom with the unenviable task of simultaneously trying to teach them the first basics of the hunter's craft and cleaning up their back trail so that it would take someone a bit more skilled than a five year old to follow it. A blind five year old, at that.
Tom winced as another branch broke and fell to the ground. A blind, deaf, stupid five year old. It was like the old guys weren't even trying.
Still, at least they were almost to the house. There was enough trail sign all over the place that the worst of it would be masked. Tim could clean the path up a bit better later, when he took some food out to Brian. Brian was improving as a woodsman, but his cooking was still atrocious. No, that wasn't fair. It was worse than atrocious. He'd already destroyed one pot, adding cold water to it after he'd set it on the fire for to long!
"All right, finally," Mr. Richardson exclaimed as they exited the woods. "Sunlight again!"
Tom sniffed in derision. Taking one last look around, he set off at a jog for the house. "Let's get in," he ordered. "Better if no one even knew you were out there, but at least we can try to hide how long you were out there." With a groan, Mr. Richardson let Jake Richardson pull him up into a matching jog. Tim popped up from some bushes, grinning.
"Don't worry about unfriendly eyes," he grinned, holding up his slingshot and a vial of artificial skunk scent. "There were at least three people watching the house when I came out, but they went to ground once this started landing near them."
"Well, that really helps hide our arrival time," Tom groused.
"Oh don't worry, this is the third or fourth time today that's happened to them," Tim grinned. "I asked a few friends for some favors. I wasn't the only one stinking them up."
"Oh joy," Tom laughed. "How much of our stock did you hand out?" He wasn't really annoyed, it was a good idea, but Tim could at least have mentioned it first!
"Enough," Tim grinned. "Don't worry, I set another batch brewing."
"Oh no!" Tom complained. "Last time you fucked it up and we had to replace the entire set!"
"Yeah, well, whose fault was that? You're the one who told me-"
"Boys!" Joe cut in as he opened the back door, "I don't think now is the time."
Tom glared at Tim before heading in. This was not over, whatever the idiot thought. Last time they'd only avoided a fire by pure luck, and Tom had no intention of risking the Mom's wrath by starting one now.
"Hello Jake, Mike," Mom said, smiling. "You want to head home and wash up, or do you think you could wait until after dinner?"
"I think we definitely need the wash," Mr. Richardson nodded, "but we actually need to have a discussion with your family. Perhaps we could borrow a shower? We keep a change of clothes in the car just in case, though I don't think a trip through the woods was what we were planning to cover for."
"Then Tim will show you to the restroom when you're ready," Mom ordered. "Sarah will help you carry your stuff in. No offense, but as dirty as you are, you should probably let her cart it."
"Not a problem," Mr. Richardson nodded. Tom took advantage of the moment to vanish. Thankfully, they had two separate restrooms, not counting the master bathroom, and the girl's bathroom was the designated facility for guests.
The hot spray of water sluiced dirt and grim away, but Tom attacked the worst of the dirt with a vigor his mother would approve of. She was an absolute terror on 'personal hygiene', and Tom had absolutely no interest in provoking her wrath. By the time he was done, half the dirt of the forest had probably gone down the drain, and Tim was waiting patiently on the other side of the curtain for his turn. Silently they traded spots, and Tom luxuriated in the feel of a fresh towel as he wondered about the Mom's silliness. However much they washed up now, they were just going to pick all that dirt back up in an hour when they marched back out. What did it matter if they didn't get every last spec of dirt?
Wrapped in his towel, Tom padded off to his room and picked out a new set of clothing for the day.
He walked out to the dining room, not expecting to be drafted as manual labor. Not that he exactly minded, but he had better things to do than set the table. Even if he was hungry.
By the time everything was set to Mom's satisfaction, both of the Richardsons were out of the shower and ready to sit down, with Tim right behind them. "You set a good table," Mr. Richardson commented as he dished himself some green bean casserole.
"Thank you," Mom smiled, serving herself a slice of ham.
"We certainly try," Mum agreed.
"I said we needed to talk to your family," Mr. Richardson commented as he spread butter on a role. "There's no real reason it has to wait until after dinner. Jake and I want you to buy our house."
"What?" Mom asked, somewhere between surprised and shocked. "I've seen your place, I'm sorry but we can't afford it." Tom slowly lowered his fork to his plate, a bite of potatoes still on it. Mr. Richardson could be serious. He couldn't! His house was, like, in the middle of town! No forest anywhere!
"If we charged you market value, that would be perfectly true," Mr. Richardson nodded. "There are no laws stating we have to charge market value, and it's important to us that you move in."
"What my husband is making his indirect way towards, is that we're moving," Jake Richardson cut in. "We have one of our boys 'free', but we can't bring him home. Not in this town. There's a good job opening for me out west, and Mike can always start another restaurant. And from what we've been able to find out, the state of California isn't interested in helping Ashwood out with his bigotry."
"The problem is, we only have one of our boys," Mr. Richardson said sadly. "We'd like to wait for both of them, but it was pure dumb luck that got us the first. I doubt you'll be able to find the other very quickly."
"Kevin is nearly eighteen," Jake added. "If it were a matter of weeks we'd be willing to wait it out, but we'd rather not make Brian camp out until mid-November. We'll move now, get him somewhere safe. But that leaves the question of how Kevin will find us."
"He has our email addresses, and he had our mobile numbers, which we plan to keep," Mr. Richardson continued, "but there's no guarantee they let him keep his phone. And if they did let him keep it, they almost certainly have erased out numbers from it. Deleting our email addresses from his contacts list would be harder, but it wouldn't surprise me if they've done it. It would be far too easy to set up a key logger to gain access to his password, unfortunately."
"There are two pieces of contact information they won't be able to destroy, however," he continued. "Our address, and our home phone. Kevin has both memorized. Unfortunately, I doubt they'll let us keep our home number when we move, so that won't help him. And if someone we don't know is living in the house when he shows up at the door, well, he'd be justified in feeling abandoned. We don't want to abandon him, but we want, we need, to do right by both boys."
"In the end, there's an easy solution to both problems," Jake Richardson told them. "Sell this house. Whatever you get for it, we'll take as the payment on ours."
"Furthermore, we&88217;ll help you afford the increase in costs associated with the move," Mr. Richardson smiled. "I've already lined up a buyer for my restaurant, but she doesn't have any experience running a restaurant. It's a tax shelter for her, nothing more. She'll need a day manager, Sarah. You'll find the position pays a fair bit more than your current salary, and the hours are flexible enough that you could pick the girls up from school yourself, if you're willing to trust Laura to get them to school."
Tim and Tom shared a long look, and Tom could see his own despair written there. Maybe, maybe, they could have fought the move on the basis of the woods alone. But Mum getting a raise, and better hours to boot? Not a chance in hell.
"What we would ask is that you keep our current number," Mr. Richardson continued. "Live there for at least three years, longer would be better, and keep our current number the entire time."
"The house is actually set up to handle two lines," Jake added. "One would be the home phone, but there's nothing to stop you from using our number for the second line. The mayor should probably have a business phone in her house, on top of her cell."
"No," Mom shook her head, "while I appreciate the thought I don't think any of us are so attached to our current number that we can't give it up. And if your son calls, he shouldn't have to wait until I get home to receive a reply."
"Thank you," Jake Richardson said. "My husband and I have said it several times already, but we just can't thank you enough, even as we dig ourselves even deeper in your debt."
"You've done quite a bit for us," Mom pointed out.
"You brought our son home," Mr. Richardson disagreed. "You're fighting to bring our other boy home. What is a house and a job compared to that? Our family will be eternally in the debt of yours. Don't try and argue, Brian already agrees."
"Well, in that case I guess we'll have to talk about it," Mom said. Tom closed his eyes in relief. She said talk, but she meant 'no way'.
"Don't be silly, Mum" Joe told her. "The girls would love that house. They could have their own bedrooms, instead of sharing. And since I doubt you'd get the twins to split up, that'd still leave you with a guest bedroom. It's still in the same districts, so the twins and the girls won't even have to change schools. And we all know that you hate this place."
Mom sighed. "Fine, fine. Laura?"
"If I'm going to take the job of mayor, I have to do certain things," she shrugged. "Having a better house is probably one of those. If they're willing to help us get a leg up on that, I'm not going to object. Especially if it helps them sleep better at night, thinking that they've done right by us. I get what they mean about being in debt. If this helps them sleep at night, makes them feel a little less guilty about taking advantage of our generosity, well, I can handle staying up a bit late worrying if the shoe just got moved to the other foot."
Mom sighed. "I guess I don't need to ask the girls their opinion," she commented, looking at their giant grins.
"Please, Mom?" Abi asked.
"Yes, please?" Ami agreed.
"That leaves the twins," she looked at Tom. Tom looked out in the direction of the woods, and felt embarrassed. He knew just how plain the longing on his face was, but he just couldn't stop it.
"I'll miss this place," he sighed. "Tim and I will just have to bike a bit to get to the woods, I suppose."
"It's only a few blocks from here, Tom, you can walk that far," Mom laughed. "Tim?"
Tim shrugged. "I dunno. This is home."
"No, no it's not," Joe said softly. "We're home. Wherever we are is home. If this family had a shack out in the middle of the woods, it'd be home. We make it home."
"Fine, whatever," Tim shrugged.
"We'll come by tomorrow, or the day after, to look at the place," Mom suggested. "For the moment, I think Joe needs to get ready. Officer Boyd will be dropping by soon to pick him up."
Joe pushed away from the table with a sad sigh. "It was a good meal," he moped his way out of the room. "Wish me luck. Maybe we'll get in an accident on the way there, and I won't have to work tonight."
"If the place burns down, just remember arson is a crime!" Mom laughed back.
"You sure you'll be alright?" Joe asked anxiously.
"Well be fine," Brian laughed. "Everyone is looking for Brian Richardson. Nobody is looking for Arthur Ortega, and naturally enough I look just like him, so I'll pass anything other than a thorough inspection. It's a domestic flight, they aren't going to pay that much attention as long as I don't try to bring a weapon on board."
"Keep in touch," Joe asked, holding out a hand.
"Count on it," Brian promised, ignoring the hand in favor of a hug. "I'll send you an email the second we touch down."
"You do that," Joe told him, blinking back tears.
It had taken nearly three weeks to set everything up, but the day had come. A shower, a shave, and some fancy cosmetics had gotten Brian ready to go on an airplane ride with his 'father', who just happened to have booked the same flight as the Richardsons had. With even a little bit of luck, Brian should be safely in San Francisco within ten hours or so.
Mum had used almost military precision in arranging matters. Other than the Richardson's flight, everything had been timed and scheduled and planned in advance, every last detail accounted for. And that gap was deliberate, various people deliberately throwing wrenches in the works from time to time until the details of their secret arrangements could be nailed down. Henry Ortega owed the Richardsons a big favor, one big enough to get him to not only front the forged documentation on his totally fictitious son but to fly out to San Francisco with them.
Joe watched as Brian walked away. He couldn't even see him to the airport. Arthur Ortega had to spring into existence, full blown from Zeus's metaphorical brow, and without anything linking back to Brian Richardson. It was the only way this could work. And it hurt.
"God be between you and harm in all the empty places you must walk," Joe whispered. The prayer seemed oddly appropriate, though he couldn't recall offhand where he'd first heard it. Brian walked out of sight, never looking back.
Joe waited a minute after he couldn't see Brian anymore, then turned and jogged home. 'Home'. What a strange word. Two days ago 'home' had been a well-maintained but old house on the edge of the woods. Today, 'home' was several blocks away, inside a newly constructed suburb.
Entering the house, Joe frowned at the twins. "Get back to work!" he ordered.
"Aaaah," they complained, but turned back to their assigned boxes. It was amazing how much effort it took to move. Joe would never have believed how much sheer stuff they had, not until they had it piled in one place, large enough to fill the moving van. It still seemed absurd, but they'd had to make two trips. They'd have had to made more if some of his friends hadn't come over to provide additional muscle for the heavier furniture. They'd helped transfer a few things in their cars.
Joe settled into the kitchen and began unpacking the spices. It was mind-numbingly boring, but it had to get done. Hours later he'd finished unpacking the kitchen, even with the need to wash every last pot and pan, fork and spoon, glass and mug, plate and bowl before putting them away. The Moms had ordered that detail last night. Moving kicked up a lot of dirt, and they didn't want to eat any of it.
Stretching, Joe looked at what he'd done and called it good, even as the Moms walked in. "Nice job," Mum complimented him fondly. "We were thinking about doing dinner out again, but maybe we'll go ahead and cook."
"Whatever," Joe shrugged. "Not sure I want to go out though."
"Worried about Brian?" Mum asked.
Joe shrugged. "I'm sure he's fine, I'm just not ready to head out. Go ahead and take the girls and twins, though. Isn't there a new kids movie out they'd want to see?"
Mom laughed. "All right, if you're sure. I'll order pizza in for you."
"Thanks," Joe smiled. "I'll go spend some time unpacking my room." Joe controlled his smile until he'd managed to walk away. Hook, line, sinker. Oh yeah. Tonight was gonna be good. He'd had to discard most of his 'collection' during the move, unfortunately, but Susan had more than happily helped hide certain parts of it. And she was going to be returning those parts, with interest, tonight.
It was strange. Three weeks ago he'd barely known her, but already all she had to do was crook her finger and he'd come running. His community service hours had been putting a crimp in his time with her, right up until she'd decided to volunteer beside him at the shop. The hospital administrator had been suspicious, but eventually he'd given into her large, puppy-dog eyes. Not that he, or one of his minions, wasn't popping in every five minutes or so to make sure they hadn't wandered off to some dark corner somewhere to 'canoodle'.
Joe played it straight, though, keeping it all business when he was on the job. Breaks, or lunch time, was another matter entirely. The hospital had several pleasant gardens, and he and Susan had already introduced themselves to several cozy nooks hidden away here and there in them.
Joe had his room half unpacked when Mum stuck her head in the door. "Pizza will be here shortly," she told him. "Money is on the mantle. You know our numbers if you need anything."
Joe nodded. "See you later tonight," he told her.
He kept an eye out his window until he saw the car drive off. Pulling his cell out, he sent a short, simple text message. 'Now.'
Within minutes Susan came walking up the drive, if you could call it a 'walk'. A sashay, a sway, a beautiful, lust-inspiring dance caused by high-heels and just a touch of cosmetics, would be Joe's preferred term. So pretty. So very, very pretty. And all his now.
"Hello tiger," she grinned at him when he opened the door. "Didja miss me?"
"Oh you'd better believe it," he told her, closing the door behind her. "The Moms ordered pizza," he added. "So I'll need to wait for that to arrive."
Susan laughed. "I'll even help you eat it."
"That won't be necessary, I can eat later," Joe told her. Then his stomach gave lie to the statement by growling. "Unless you're hungry, that is?" he added.
"Hungry enough," she told him, eyes filled with fire. "Hungry enough."
Joe could just barely hear a car pull up outside the door. "That's probably the pizza," he told her.
"Then maybe you should get the door," she told him, turning to make her way to his room. "See you soon," she promised. "I'll drop the goodie bag off in your room while you handle the food."
The doorbell shook Joe out of his reverie, and he opened the door. "Large pepperoni pizza, for Joe Bryant?" the delivery man asked.
"That's me," Joe smiled. "Let me grab the cash."
"No hurry," the deliveryman smiled. "Besides, I have a message for you too."
"A message?" Joe asked as he grabbed the cash, surprised.
"Yeah," the man said with a grin. "Don't often get asked to deliver messages, but the manager about laughed her head off at this one."
"And the message would be?" Joe asked, smiling back as he handed over the cash.
"Something about you can have the girl over, but if they catch you in any hanky-panky your dead meat," the delivery man told him, checking the bag for the receipt. "Ah, here it is. 'Joe, we know full well you're going to have Susan over. We don't mind, but try to remember the rules. Mum.' I gotta say, kid, I like your mother's style."
Joe almost dropped the pizza, but managed to take hold of it without embarrassing himself too much. "Yeah. Style," he agreed with a laugh. He could hear Susan laughing at him from his room. "I'd wonder about how they knew I was gonna have a girl over, but women have their ways. Don't they dear?" Joe raised his voice for the last sentence, provoking more gales of laughter.
"I'll leave you to it, kid," the deliveryman grinned, then turned to walk away. "Carpe diem," he added over his shoulder.
"What's that mean?" Joe asked.
"Seize the day!" the deliveryman shouted before getting into his car. "Or should I say, girl!" he added before slamming the door.
"So, I guess the Moms ordered for two," Joe commented, turning to take the food into the kitchen.
"I'm sure they did," Susan laughed, walking back into the room. "So much for hiding from the deliveryman."
Between the two of them, they finished the box pretty quickly. "You know, the Moms are going to be gone a while," Joe told her.
"I know," she smiled back. "So what are the rules, anyway?"
Joe shrugged. "For having a girl over while they're out? I don't think we've ever explicitly discussed that. I mean, having guests over without telling them might be something of a no-no, but they are the ones who told you to come over anytime. The fact that 'anytime' might be when they're out, well, I think they overlooked that."
Susan smiled seductively and stood, slowly. "Well, let's go see how much rule breaking we can get away with," she told him. A crook of her fingers and Joe ran after her.
"So, what are those rules again?" she asked. "Or rather, what are the rules they forgot to set?"
"Hrm, I think they started with necking," he told her, then suited actions to words. He already knew he'd catch hell for this, but, well, the Moms would forgive him.
And so, dear reader, we come again to to this familiar place. The Bryant family has faced an incredible challenge and endured it, and the town they live in may never be the same. This novel has several purposes. First, the RU as a universe has been incredibly dark. Most of the online writing I've read is incredibly light, almost sickeningly sweet. My usual reaction has been to write something dark, something to counterbalance that sweetness. Now that I'm in the RU, I find that in addition to writing dark, I can also enjoy a degree of sweetness as well.
This ties into item number two, that I wrote this story for the 2013 NaNoWriMo challenge. For those readers not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's sometimes called a contest, but I think I prefer the word 'challenge'. The goal is to write fifty thousand words during the course of November — an average of around one thousand six hundred and sixty-seven words per day. You aren't supposed to edit, or spellcheck, or do anything but write write write for the thirty days of November — and if you want to manage that word count, it's necessary to do just that! To compound the challenge this year, I came up with the idea for this story on October 30, leaving the 31st as all the time I got to outline in.
The tie in between the two points is that this was probably the easiest story I've ever had to write — apparently sweet agrees with me, which would explain my weight issues. The idea popped into my head and flowed out cleanly into an outline (not that I kept the outline very long before I began rewriting it), and the words almost flowed onto the page without effort at times. Some days I only managed a few thousand words, if that. Other days, I managed ten thousand words in a single day. Doing the math, I averaged over three thousand two hundred words per day. Believe it or not, that is a lot, and it's not an output I'm likely to be able to repeat, or sustain in any long term sense.
That said, the more mathematically inclined of you are probably jumping ahead to make the numbers fit, so let me help you out. I finished the primary NaNoWriMo challenge on Sunday, November 17th. It wasn't easy, but I persevered and managed to finish the secondary challenge of finishing the entire story on Wednesday, November 20th with a word count of sixty-four thousand, six hundred and eighteen words, exclusive of this author's note.
This novel also has a third purpose. One I hope that it's succeeded in. That purpose is entertainment. I hope you've enjoyed reading this. I'd appreciate it if you could email me and let me know it, but even if you don't I'm glad I entertained you. Any and all feedback is appreciated. If it's just a word of encouragement, that's great! Hearing from readers fuels my desire to write and helps keep the words flowing. If it's a bit of proofreading, thanks! I'll fix that nasty typo as soon as I can! If it's a criticism — a place where you think a character acted out of place, a way to tighten up a sentence, a way I should have enlarged a scene, then thank you! A thousand thanks to those who help me become a better author! I'm not a professional author now, and I probably won't become one anytime soon, but I really am trying to improve, and I think I am improving. Any help down that road is appreciated. It's going to be a hard one — I have a hard time letting go of myself to let the characters be 'who they are', for example — but I plan to at least give it my best shot.
With all that said, good friends, we've come to where we must part ways. Perhaps we shall see our dear friends again. Perhaps Joe or the twins will wave at us from another RU story, or perhaps I'll even write a sequel — though I wouldn't hold my breath on the latter. But for now, let us simply say farewell. Thank you reader, and goodnight.