The Vanders

Sat. 12/07/2250 – By Nicole Adams

Adrian really wasn’t looking forward to meeting Deirdre and Jericho again. Not like this- Rhea injured, limping still on the leg that had received the awful wound, and with the knowledge that his sister had been the one to deal the blow. He’d thought he was free of her- and yet she’d shown up, a ghost of his past, and she’d done her best to kill him and Rhea both. Was it too much to ask, to be rid of her for good?

He was driving again, since Rhea was hurt, but relying on her directions to the bookstore. It was in a busy part of Chicago, shops of all kinds lining both sides of the street. The sidewalks were crowded with people and cars took up most of the available parking.

“There it is,” Rhea spoke up, sitting straighter and barely hiding the wince as the wound brushed against the edge of the seat. Adrian slowed the car and slipped into a spot, pleased to find one within easy walking distance to the bookstore; cutting the engine, he got out and glanced over at Rhea as she found her footing.

Her mother was not going to be happy. The school was supposed to be safe, and she’d been hurt twice now in the course of a month- and on the same damned leg. It was healing, but too slowly, and she’d been tempted to put off this visit, but she knew that if she didn’t, Deirdre would hunt her down and she’d still find out. Besides, Rhea wasn’t the sort to run away unless she had to, and Deirdre might be unhappy, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as times Rhea’d suffered injuries as an agent.

“C’mon, best to get this over with. And, fair warning, we’re not going to get the warmest reception. My sister-in-law, Jericho’s wife, doesn’t think much of me.” Shamelessly taking the man’s arm, Rhea guided him forward to the little store, a sign next to the few steps giving the name.

“Why?” Adrian inquired, making no comment on the woman’s grip, glancing to the door and the wide bay window to the left of it.

“Because I’m a werewolf,” she replied, frowning at the steps for a moment before climbing them, gritting her teeth as she took her weight on the injured leg. “And so are you. Besides, she’s probably heard all about what happened at Thanksgiving. As if she needed another point to her argument that I’m too dangerous to be around normal people.”

“She can’t hold it against you. It was a mistake…”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s enough that it happened at all. And she’s right, in a way. It shouldn’t have happened.” Reaching for the knob, Rhea pulled the door open, glancing up at the bell that announced their entrance and bracing herself. She was either going to have to deal with Natalie or her mother, and she wasn’t looking forward to either extreme.

A woman’s voice sounded from out of sight, bright and cheery over the sound of several books set down. “Welcome to Verily Written! How can I…” The question abruptly cut off as a blonde woman rounded a shelf one row over from the wall, and the smile on the woman’s face dropped as her eyes darkened. “Oh- it’s you.”

“Hello,” Rhea replied, pulling a fixed smile onto her face, dropping her arms from Adrian’s and gesturing at the man as she made the introductions. “Adrian, this is Natalie. Natalie, this is-”

“Don’t care,” the woman cut in, waving a hand dismissively. “If you’re here to see Deirdre, she’s upstairs.”

With a tick of annoyance, the forced smile faded from Rhea’s face. “There’s no need to be rude,” she responded, trying to keep her tone neutral in the face of Natalie’s icy demeanor.

“No?” Natalie replied, one eyebrow lifting. “I see. So tell me, attacked any more students because of your lapse in attention? Or are you going to stick to the story that it was an accident?”

“Oh yes!” came a new voice from the back of the store, “So much love in this place, I can’t stand it!”

Adrian was glad to see Deirdre appear, her eyes flicking between Rhea and Natalie. He’d been standing by himself, unwilling to break in and draw attention from the blonde woman; Deirdre’s presence quickly ended the rapidly escalating quarrel. Natalie glanced away with a ‘hmph’, busying herself with a list of new items they’d ordered, while Rhea turned to her mother, eyes still flashing with annoyance.

But Deirdre was eyeing Adrian, a grin lighting up her face. “So, you two are getting friendly?” she asked her daughter. “Not bad. Rhea, I will be very disappointed in you if you lose this one.”

“Mom!” Rhea hissed, pink coloring her cheeks at the audacity of the older woman- a blush that paled in comparison to Adrian’s. “Do you have to do this?”

“Of course!” Deirdre replied, stoutly unashamed. “What fun am I supposed to have if I can’t even embarrass my children in front of their significant others? Jericho got it; don’t think you’re immune, dear Rhea.”

Rhea gave a low groan, clapping a hand over her face. She should have expected it. It had been nothing but amusing when Adrian’s grandparents had shown off his baby pictures, and she was smart enough to know that she was headed for that same embarrassment now.

“Mom, for crying out loud, we’re not dating. We hardly know each other.”

“So you say, and yet I’ve been seeing you two together a lot.” Ignoring the shake of the head her daughter gave, Deirdre pushed on doggedly. “So, to what do I owe this visit?” Deirdre asked, glancing back at Natalie, who was still leaning over the list of books and steadfastly ignoring the two werewolves.

Rhea stared back at her mother, hesitating for a moment and then wincing when Adrian spoke. “Didn’t… you tell her?”

“Tell me what?” Deirdre demanded instantly, fixing her blue eyes on Rhea, who noticed that they had drawn Natalie’s attention.

“It’s nothing,” Rhea replied, doing her best to ease into the explanation. “Just… I had a bit of an accident is all.”

“An accident?” Deirdre repeated, her eyes scanning her daughter and catching the way she was standing, her weight leaning more toward her left leg. “An accident?” Emphasizing the word in disbelief, she pointed toward a table with chairs set around it. “Sit! And tell me exactly how this accident happened.”

“Lunette?” Natalie’s voice added on as she left her task, staring at Rhea.

There was no point in refusing. Rhea sighed as she moved to one of the chairs, settling down as her mother and Adrian followed. “Lunette’s fine- it had nothing to do with her. I made sure she’d be safe.” It wouldn’t be as easy to explain away the attack itself and she could feel Adrian’s gaze burning into her. The man was silent- kicking himself, if she knew him, but as much as he blamed himself, the attack itself had had nothing to do with him. Only bad luck that he was related to the person who’d taken on the hit.

“Some woman- I don’t know who. Came after me, we fought, she had a knife. That’s it; she was scared off before it escalated further. I’m fine, I swear.” She watched as Deirdre pulled her skirt high enough to look at the wound, covered with a bandage, a spot of blood showing through the layer of gauze. Standing close, Adrian glanced away after a brief glance, disliking the blatant evidence of Rhea’s injury- and knowing just who was to blame for it.

“Fine?” Deirdre echoed, her fingers pulling the bandage off and staring at the wound. “You were attacked! Did you tell Murdoch?”

“Of course I did,” Rhea retorted as her mother marched off to fetch a first aid kit from behind the counter. “When she ran off, we alerted the staff. They looked, but she was already gone.”

“Hmm,” her mother replied, giving little evidence to her thoughts as she replaced the bandage over the wound and then straightened. “There. Can you manage the stairs? We can talk where it’s more private. And I have cookies that I’ve been making. You can take some back with you, for Lunette.”

“I can manage,” Rhea sniped, pushing the skirt down once more. “Coming, Adrian?” Half tempted to throw in a comment about how he could stay, if he’d prefer Natalie’s company to hers, and cutting herself off because it wouldn’t be a smart idea to antagonize the blonde woman.

“Yeah, coming,” Adrian replied, following Rhea to the stairs at the back of the shop. Deirdre was just behind them, leaving Natalie to hold down the shop on her own- not that it was that busy. In another moment they were above the shop, standing in the living room- small, but homey. Deirdre slipped past, heading for the kitchen where the cookies were resting on the table. Rhea settled onto a couch, stretching her legs out and glancing over the back of it toward her mother.

“Where’s Jericho?” she asked, the atmosphere more peaceful than it had been downstairs. Adrian, after a moment of glancing around the room, sat in a free chair.

Deirdre answered as she returned, the plate of cookies in hand. “Meeting someone about a new release. It’s supposed to be the finale to a series and he’s trying to get the lot of them. Good addition to the store. He hasn’t been gone long, though, and I’m not sure when he’ll be back. You’ll see him some other time.”

“Mhm,” Rhea agreed as she took a cookie, biting into it as the older woman held out the plate to Adrian. He took one too, taking a bite. He was pleased at the taste; it was still just a bit warm and quite good, as much as his grandmother’s had ever been.

Deirdre set the plate down on the table, settling on the couch next to Rhea with a glance at her. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten. I swear you get into more trouble than anyone else- I don’t know how you manage it. Most people don’t go looking for trouble, but you…” Shaking her head, with another glance down at the leg that had suffered the wound, before she turned to Adrian.

“So how have you been? Were you involved with this at all? I know you’re both insisting that there’s nothing between you, but nobody who’s just a colleague would go to so much trouble.” Smiling, she rolled her eyes as both Rhea and Adrian glanced away from her, the man speaking towards the television set along the wall closest to him.

“I’ve been okay- thanks. And, uh, not really. I just… heard the fight and went to see what was going on, just as they made it to the hallway.” Hesitating, he was unwilling to mention much more, taking the cue from Rhea, who hadn’t mentioned that he and Veronica were related. Would Deirdre think less of him if she knew his sister had attacked her daughter? He wouldn’t blame her if she did.

“So, Adrian,” Deirdre began again, and Rhea eyed her mother warily. “We’ve already talked, but I never asked what you did before coming to the school. You did attend the Academy as a student, right? And that’s how you got your foot in the door to be a librarian. Did you live in Chicago? Any hobbies? Pets?”

“Mom, give him a break. He just drove me here, okay?.” An annoyed tone to the words, Rhea’s eyes fixed on Deirdre, but the older woman only kept her gaze on the man, politely waiting for his reply.

“Uh- yeah, I went to the school, me and my sis… my sister.” Half tripping over his words, beginning the sentence, and trying to stop himself, but then going on because she would know what he was saying. “We did live in Chicago; the house is probably empty now. I played soccer, a bit, but not for any teams, and no pets. Not without a fair bit of pleading, but my mom said she had enough to look after with two kids.”

“Shame that you don’t know where your sister is. Even if you’re not close, you’d know if she was still alive and happy.”

“Yeah…” Adrian replied. “Shame.” He wasn’t sure what else to say- where he wouldn’t give too much away. And thankful when there was a cry; confused for a moment before remembering that Lunette wasn’t the only child of Jericho and Natalie. Deirdre was up in a second, slipping off to a short hallway leading to three bedrooms, two of them opposite of each other and the third at the end. She was gone for a moment, her voice soothing the child.

Rhea gave a sigh and slumped further into the seat, glancing over as Adrian spoke, the man reaching forward to take another cookie. “Who’s that?”

“Oh, that’s Fred. He’s still pretty young, just over a year. Miracle baby, given Natalie had trouble with Lunette and they never expected another. Fred wasn’t much easier. Probably their last, but two’s enough for them, with the small space.”

The man nodded, his eyes caught by Deirdre as she emerged once more, carrying her grandson. Rhea straightened, and the three adults smiled as the boy reached for her, cooing. His hair was as red as the rest of the family, except for Natalie. With his childish demand to be held by Rhea, his grandmother was setting him in her lap, careful to avoid her injured leg, and Rhea shifted the boy so he was out of range of the wound.

“He’s cute,” Adrian spoke with a smile and Deirdre beamed.

“Of course he is!” the older woman gushed. “Just turned one and he’s the sweetest baby ever. And I can already tell he’s going to be tall, just like his dad.” Flashing a grin at Rhea, who rolled her eyes in return while lightly bouncing the boy on her knee.

“Don’t even start,” she warned, even as she smiled at the boy, and reached a hand to block him from grabbing at her hair.

Undeterred, Deirdre turned to Adrian. “What about you?” she asked. “Want kids?” Smiling at him, a touch of deviousness underneath the seemingly curious question.

Blinking back at her, Adrian hesitated- unsure of what to say, or if he should say anything. It felt like a trap and both women were staring at him. “Um… maybe? One day, when I find the right person…” Unable to help a flick of his eyes toward Rhea and then back to Deirdre. Her smile had widened, but she was turning away in the next minute, back to her daughter.

“It was lovely to see you both. And next time, Rhea, do not withhold information from me. If you’re hurt, I want to know about it.”

“All right, Mom- I didn’t tell you before because I didn’t want you to worry. I wasn’t trying to keep it from you, I just wanted to tell you in person.” Lifting Freddy higher, she passed the boy to his grandmother. Deirdre eyed her with a touch of disbelief, but said nothing more to argue as she took her grandson and picked up the plate, turning toward the kitchen.

“Right. Wait there a moment, I’ll put these cookies in a container and you can take them back, and make sure to give some to Lunette.”

“Sure thing, Mom,” Rhea replied as she got to her feet, followed by Adrian. She took the tin as Deirdre passed it to her, hugging the older woman tightly and following her back down the stairs. “I’ll see you again soon, Christmas isn’t far off. Love you, Mom.”

“I love you too. Sure that leg’s okay?” she added on as they paused by the store counter.

Rhea waved off the question, speaking to assure her mother. “It’s fine. I heal fast, you know that. In a week you won’t even know it’s there. I’ll keep you updated, okay?”

“Yes, do that. Drive safe. It was nice seeing you too, Adrian. Maybe Rhea will bring you back for Christmas this year. It must be lonely, without any family of your own to spend it with.”

“I’m used to it,” Adrian replied with a shrug. “But sure, if she’s okay with it- you’ve got a nice home, and a nice family.” Barring one person, who was no longer in sight, and he wasn’t going to let her bring down his opinion of the rest of them. “I’d love to come back sometime.”

“Good!” Deirdre replied, a bright grin on her face. “We’ll set something up, then. Dinner, perhaps, between now and Christmas? Let me know and we’ll meet. For now, it’s goodbye, and be careful on the roads, there may be ice. Call me when you get there, okay?”

“Okay. See you later, Mom.” Rhea replied with a last hug and turned to the door. Carefully navigating the steps and the sidewalk, they got into the car and started the drive back to the school once more, a companionable silence falling between the two as they set off.

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