Robert was confused. “What? Why?”
“I saw Kate!” I cried out. She was out of view now, image burned into my memory. “Had that reporter stalled us a minute longer...”
“I didn't see her.” He frowned at me worriedly. “Cory, are you feeling alright?”
I nodded. The vehicle began to turn in on its path, so that she was visible again. I pointed, barely keeping myself from leaping from the car. “There she is! Robert, we must stop this vehicle immediately! Please, she's standing right there...Do you see her now? I can see her crying...”
Robert nodded. “I see her, but we can't stop. I don't think it would be wise, especially with how much you've already been through today. I want to get you to a calm, stable environment.”
“What?!” I hissed unintentionally, my claws catching on the seating. I paid no mind to them, vision blurred. She was gone again, lost to me. “No, this was a random happenstance! It cannot be so perfectly lain out again, nor will I allow her to slip between my fingertips when I feel that fate is handing her back. I say again, stop the car!”
“No,” he sighed tiredly, shaking his head. The cloth made a sharp ripping sound as my claws tore through it. My chest felt as though it was cracking in two as we drove farther from her. “For reasons like that seat. You're obviously wound tight and distracted, so things like that are more likely to happen. I won't allow that to...For Katelyn's safety and your better interests, I don't want to tempt fate. If she's so close, we'll find her in the phone book or she'll find us again. If she's really coming back to you, nothing can stop it.”
I stared out the window longingly, my tears falling to my lap. I nodded blankly and spoke in a whisper to keep from breaking, “Yes...I understand. I will manage myself more closely around your family, so as to not injure them. And I apologize for defacing the furnishings.”
Robert shrugged. “Don't worry about it.”
I nodded to myself silently, continuing to gaze out the window. The drive stretched on in time quietly while an odd tension settled about us. I hoped that Robert's romantic idea could be true, although I strongly thought otherwise. The universe as it had been presented to myself of late was cold and unkind. Kate was too precious an angel to be allowed near me, I supposed.
Eventually, the greenery outside melted away to buildings of earthy monotones that dulled my mind. I lost track of where one place ended and another began, apathetic of the matter altogether. Why would it be any of my concern what the outside world looked like? If I stepped out the front door, I was likely to be trampled by a mob. I had rights, yes, but respect or human treatments were things I could not hope to receive until an oak was given enough time to dig its roots into my grave. Then, I may be enough to have a small myth written about me.
Oh, but I was being dark, and only barely managing to keep myself from acting macabre. How could I return so easily to brooding on my day of freedom? The day I discover that I am legally a person, no less. I should have been smiling and humming a merry tune, as I would have when I was not yet twenty. Even after twenty, but before thirty. That was the year my optimism died.
Could I regain my innocent belief that all things ended well? I mulled over the thought as the car began to slow. Looking around in confusion, I saw that we were on a rural, dead road with not another soul around. I scowled in confusion.
“Robert, why—?” I began to ask.
“We're switching cars. It's just a precaution. This car is going to be driven elsewhere while we take the car that wasn't on TV back to my house,” he explained, unstrapping himself and opening his door. He slid out, then ducked back in to retrieve the envelope. I smiled and thanked him before exiting as well.
I groaned and sighed, stretching my wings to their fullest. As the joints were pulled out, relief made me smile. The feeling was wonderful, and to have the space to spread my wings completely made me want to laugh again. Too many years, I had sat in a small room with limited movement.
The chauffeur said nothing, though his eyes were wide with surprise when I pulled my wings back in. I followed Robert to the next vehicle, a simple white van with dark windows. He opened the back door and motioned for me to enter. I stared at it hesitantly.
“Ah...Must I?” I asked uncertainly. A forgotten, buried memory struggled to resurface with rain and horror. If I entered, where would I exit?
Robert was frowning. “Don't worry, I checked everything myself. It'll be safe.”
I paused a moment longer before clambering in. The seats within were wide and much more suitable to my size. To my relief, Robert followed me into the van and sat across from me. He smiled as he buckled himself in. My returning expression was tentative.
The vehicle began to move and I tensed, tail smacking the floor loudly. Robert frowned. “Whatever's wrong, Cory, there's no need for it. This is just so that no one is suspicious, for safer transportation. We don't want anyone following us home.”
I nodded in understanding. “No, of course not.”
Again, my tail hit the floor. “Alright...So, tell me a bit more about everything. How are you doing?”
“I am very overwhelmed. There are so many people,” I murmured thoughtfully. “So many sounds...”
He was nodding. “Yeah, I know. You're safe, though.”
“You seem very certain of your words,” I noted, easing slightly with the distraction of conversation. He noticed, smiling again silently.
“I am,” he agreed, grinning now. The vehicle turned left, making me lean. I was only glad that the sky outside was blue and sunny, not dark or stormy.
An awkward silence settled between us; I was not eager to break it. Rather, I enjoyed that it was silent. It was a lull, a peace in the stormy sea that was this day. I was gripping my seat nervously, nearly choking on my pounding heart. Questions whirled through my mind mercilessly.
Where was the house that I would be staying in? Did Robert's family know that I was coming? More importantly, did they know what I was? How would they greet me? Weapons or smiles? Could it be that they would smile and then find some way to rid themselves of me? My eyes widened at that thought, and I considered that my customary caution was approaching the line of complete paranoia.
Surprisingly, the van stopped not ten minutes later, the silence breaking as the back doors were opened loudly. I started, taking a slow breath to steady myself. Robert left first, patting my hand reassuringly on his way. I made to climb out but hissed and retreated as soon as my eyes were in the sunlight.
My skull throbbed sharply, eyes burning from the sudden brightness. Outside, Robert and the chauffeur were staring at me in surprise. Then Robert's shock melted to pity. I focused on the floor of the van, waiting for the pain in my head to cease.
“Are you alright?” asked Robert after a moment.
I nodded. “Yes, the sun only hurt my eyes. I will be fine once I recover.”
“Take your time.” Again with those words? Did he genuinely mean them or were they trained? The chauffeur certainly seemed impatient, but Robert's face was calm.
I was glad when my head no longer pounded after a few minutes, and I attempted to exit again. This time, the sun was bright but it did not attack me. I blinked while my eyes adjusted, enthralled by the odd sight before me. A row of similar houses lined either side of the street. They were dull or earthy in color with a black, white or silver vehicle in the drive, if there was a car there. Otherwise, they all seemed empty. No one was outside, save for on the front lawn of the house we were parked in front of.
When I saw the people on the lawn, I jumped back skittishly and eyed the weapons they were equipped with. I counted seven men, all fully armored in black. Two of them held their weapons drawn. The guns were familiar, as well as their suspicious glares.
Robert looked from the men to my wide eyes, glaring at the ones who were ready to shoot. “Put those away, will you!”
They seemed surprised but lowered the weapons sheepishly. Robert sighed and smiled at me apologetically, motioning for me to follow him down a small cement path to the door of the house. He opened the door and entered.
“Come on in, Cory, it's alright,” he said, and I relaxed a mite.
I ducked through the door, sighing quietly in relief that the ceiling was tall enough that I could stand erect. Robert led me through the foyer to the kitchen, where a small red-haired woman was working by the stove. I was brought into the spacious room, much to my discomfort.
“Honey? This is the patient I told you would be coming to stay with us,” said Robert gently. “We've had an exciting day.”
The woman turned, blinking in surprise when she saw me. By her otherwise cool manner, I assumed that she had been prepared for my appearance. She smiled uncertainly at me.
“Right, um...Cory, was it? Congratulations,” she said awkwardly with a glance at her husband.
“Ah. Thank you,” I mumbled, feeling awkward as well. We stared at each other in silence before Robert graciously cracked the icy stillness.
“Right, so, the girls should be home from the party in a few minutes,” said Robert slowly, looking at his hands for focus. “When will dinner be ready, Anne?”
“Five-thirty,” she replied quietly, looking away from me with relief. It was nothing I was unaccustomed to, anyway.
“Great,” sighed Robert, clapping his hands and startling us all. We fell back into the silence for a moment.
The front door opened loudly.
“Dad! You'd better say that it wasn't you I saw on TV at Cindy's today!” shouted an irritated, youthful voice. I glanced behind me to see a young woman who looked very much like Anne glaring between me and her father. She huffed a sigh. “Okay, that's it. I'm going to get emancipated, because this—” she thrust a finger at me “—is the last of your stupid straws!”
He stared at her patiently, asking quietly, “Vanessa, what's that button for?”
“It's 'Humans Forever', an anti-demon activists group that was formed at school last year,” she replied coolly. A girl I presumed was her sister, though she did not look like either of her parents, stepped up behind her.
“Yeah, you have to have a crippling case of rectal-cranial inversion in order to qualify for entry,” she added, making Vanessa roll her eyes. The new sister then appraised me and took a step back. “Whoa.”
I looked between the two, incredibly confused and somewhat stunned by their whirlwind entry and presence. It was much to my grief that I realized a peaceful first day would be out of my grasp, and was rudely relieved when Vanessa stalked away.
Then the sister took her place.
“Hi, I'm Bailey, my dad's non-bitch daughter.” She smiled at me serenely.
“I do beg your pardon, but your verbiage is incredibly vulgar for a young woman like yourself. Such language is far beneath your capabilities, I am certain,” I replied, keeping my words polite and mindful.
She blinked in surprise and looked at her father. “Is this guy for real?”
“Yes, now go clean up, please,” replied Robert. When I looked at him, he appeared reserved and deathly calm. I frowned in concern. “And tell your sister I would like to speak to her before dinner.”
“Weather's predicting hurricanes. Gotcha,” sighed Bailey, following the direction of her sister.
Anne sighed quietly. “Be nice.”
“Yeah. Look, Cory, I'm sorry for Vanessa's bluntness.” Robert seemed to choose the word carefully, saying it slowly.
“Ah,” I muttered, worried more for what may happen to his family than myself. I shook my head slowly, struggling to clear the turmoil from it. I sighed in defeat after a moment when a sudden wave of exhaustion made my head heavy and knees weak. “I hope none of you would mind if I passed on supper and rested instead? If there is a place where I could rest.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” replied Robert, as though it had not occurred to him that this was a possible ending to the day. He glanced at the clock and laughed, “Well, four hours outside would be more exciting than—Anyway, let me show you to your room.”
Four hours? My, I had forgotten just how differently time moved on the outside. What had happened in four hours I could have been fooled would happen in four days. Freedom, an interview, that long time in the van. Meeting Robert's family even seemed like a task for a single day.
Robert led me from the kitchen to a half-flight of stairs just past the foyer and kitchen. At the end of the first half-flight was a landing, then another partial flight. When we arrived on the second floor, we strode down a small hall with a door on either side into a room that appeared to be a study. There was another hall on the left wall to us, so we traversed still deeper into the complex that was top floor.
The next hall was longer with four doors, two on either side. Bailey was standing in the doorway of the first room on our right, talking with a smirk on her face.
“...told you not to join that stupid club.” She glanced over and saw us, straightening abruptly. “Gotta go. Later, Van!”
“Stop calling me that!” yelled Vanessa from within the room as Bailey hurried down the hall, slipping into the second door on the left.
Robert sighed. “Going at it again. Okay, this is the bathroom for this floor, which you're welcome to use,” he said, motioning to the first door on our left. “You already see which rooms are the girls', I hope. And the final one up here on our right was the guest room, but it's yours now as long as you need or want it.”
“Thank you,” I said gratefully, stepping into the room. There were two made beds lined against one wall, pushed together at the head and foot to create something long enough for me to sleep on comfortably. On the opposite wall there was a small dresser, a desk and a door to what I assumed was a closet. Above the bed, there was a broad window with curtains pulled back, a gorgeous and full view of nothing but sky making me feel welcome. It was everything I needed and more that I had not considered asking for.
I smiled to myself and turned to Robert. “Again, thank you. This is very welcoming and gracious of you and your family to house me.”
“It's the least we could do.” He waved it away, pausing a moment to think aloud, “The kitchen's open all hours, but dinner's generally around five-thirty or six, breakfast at seven or eight. If you need anything, you can find Anne or myself or, if that fails, you can just holler. The walls are a little thin and the acoustics could make a DJ jealous.”
I did not understand what he meant by his last sentence but continued to smile. The feeling of acceptance he was emanating was warm, making me think that we could have spoken entirely separate languages and I still would have understood that he was being kind.
“Thank you.” I repeated the only thing I could think to say.
“Right, well, I'll leave you to rest now and see how Vanessa's doing,” he said, smiling tightly before leaving. I closed the door gently behind him with a relieved sigh. Solitude was something I knew all too well, and now I craved the comfort of having no one near while yearning to see or hear other people. Nothing but confusion could greet me when I set the envelope I had been holding—for what I realized was near an hour now—on the desk. Then I went to the bed to lay myself down, body relaxing tiredly.
It was not a moment later when sharp, angry words came from through the opposite wall.
“...how you could support something like this when you knew that he would be coming here!” said a voice that sounded like Robert.
Vanessa was quick to reply, “I joined when the group was founded four months ago, and protested against it having rights and being unleashed on an unprepared public. How do you know it won't eat us while we sleep?”
“Because he's the most respectable man I've met, and I have thirty years on you, Vanessa.”
“Fine, but if it's staying here, I demand a steel lock on my door and pepper spray.”
“No. You will quit this disgraceful phase along with that group, and you will behave as if Mr. Lawrence is...”
The conversation quieted so that I could thankfully no longer hear. Guilt settled heavily on my chest. Was my presence already creating catastrophes among this innocent family? I only had a brief moment to wonder before fatigue drowned my mind in sleep.