Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter 28: Reunion

The rain has stopped as we arrive at the Winton mansion.
Mister Modest opens up the door for me and tips his hat before stepping back into the motorcar and driving off. Undoubtedly heading to the garage that used to hold horses and carriages not too long ago.
“Are you ready?” Abel asks me.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Then let’s go.”
“Hey kid, took you long enough to come home.” The potted tree next to the gate sneers mockingly.
“Is it even home anymore if he got replaced already?”
“Maybe they struck a deal.”
“Of course, we saw your return coming from miles away.”
“It’s in your sign. Ants don’t like to cause trouble-”
“Even though they’re really good at it.”
“Shut up, both of you,” I tell the scarecrows.
The scarecrows chatter in response “Oh the kid has claws now, that’s new.”
“I don’t believe it. I think it’s a phase.”
“Like the moon.”
“Just let them talk Inquiry. They’re just jealous because you can walk” Abel explains matter of factly.
“Low blow Mister, low blow.”
I scoff “Well at least I’m glad they hate not just me.”
“I think they hate everyone. Now come on, mother should be in her office still.”
Well, that’s surprising “She’s working on Sunday?”
“Yes, didn’t she do that back when you were young?”
I shake my head “She’d use the Sunday afternoon to spend time with my father and I. I always thought she was against it.
“Well if she was she has loosened up on the conviction.” Abel laughs jovially as he lets me into the house and shows me to the office.
Mother’s office.
He knocks on the door “Mother it’s me, I’d like to speak to you about something.”
“Can it wait till dinner?” her voice hasn’t changed, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up instantly.
“I think our guest will want to go home again before then.” He looks to me to say something I don’t know what so a small “Uhm…hello?” is all I can muster.
There’s the sound of a chair being pushed back hastily, then the clack of short heels and a door opening with a gust of wind.
And then she’s there.
Staring at me with big eyes and mouth hanging half-open. She aged, of course she aged, it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve seen her last.
“Inquiry?” She almost sounds hesitant, as if she can’t believe what she’s seeing.
“Yup…it’s me.”
Her arms move out from her body and for a moment I think she might try to hug me. Ten her eyes flit back to Abel saying “My office isn’t big enough for the three of us. Able please take Inquiry to the parlour. I’ll ring for some tea.”
“Certainly mother.” He then tells me “This way please.” Abel says as he leads the way.
“I know where the parlour is…” I cross my arms, attention still going back and forth between Abel and the mother who locked herself into her office again.
“Do you now? Well by all means lead the way.”
As I stride down the steps and through the endless corridors the place feels awkwardly alien. The wooden stalks and leaves that used to decorate the doors and window frames have been replaced with sharp geometrical angles and the stained glass went from the kaleidoscope of tertiary colours to bright primary colours captured in squares and triangles.
The floors.
The walls.
It all feels different.
This isn’t my childhood home anymore.
And I don’t know where to go from here. “They redecorated,” I note dryly.
“Multiple times by now,” Abel assures me.
“And they moved the parlour?”
“They have indeed.”
I sigh, giving up that rebellious need to know better than my supposed counterpart “All right, lead the way.”
The man slaps my shoulder amicably “With pleasure. It’s this way actually”

“Took you long enough to get here.” Mother tells me while stretched out on the sofa. I wonder if she changed her dress because she’s wearing a tea gown that I don’t recall having seen before or if I just weren’t paying. She definitely did fix her hair, however.
“We did an abridged tour of the house,” Abel explains patiently.
Mother scoffs “I was talking about the ten years it took you to come home again.”
Well, here we go.
“It’s eight years.” I correct her while trying to keep myself calm.
“You think that makes a lot of difference?” she challenges.
I puff up my chest to counter but there’s something about her stance and tone of voice that makes it hard to find the words. I deflate, feeling like a child again “I guess not.”
She nods seemingly satisfied with my subordinance “Now sit down, the butler brought tea.”
Abel points me to a chair across the table, then sits down next to mother.
“Now how was your day moth-”
Mother waves Abel’s attempt at small talk away and directs her attention straight at me like a predator focusing on its prey “Where have you been all this time?” her voice is cold, accusatory.
Which doesn’t surprise me.
“It’s a long story.”
“I don’t know about you but I have time.”
“I ran away from university to learn alchemy.”
“Alchemy!? Are you a murderer?”
“A modder?”
“Then why alchemy?” She draws out the last word like it’s a foul flavour stuck at the back of her tongue.
“I wanted to make dolls.”
“Dolls? Again?”
She sighs “I knew hiring that doll to take care of you was a mistake.”
“Really? I think it’s the only thing you did right.”
“Tea! How about we have a nice relaxing cup of tea.” Abel cuts in as he dives towards the teapot.
Mother crosses her arms “Thank you, Abel.”
“I’m not thirsty.”
Mother shoots me a glare calling me an ungrateful brat with her eyes.
I pretend not to notice and keep my eyes on the better son as he managed endless patience with my insufferable mother.
“I’m going to propose something, and if the two of you rather not that’s completely fine by me. I’m only trying to help.”
“Really?” Mother asks suggesting she already knows what’s coming.
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“What mister Winton is trying to achieve here is borrow some money-”
“Why am I not surprised? You didn’t come here for the tea.”
I huff but before I can fire back a flaming retort Abel cuts me off.
“Because this is ultimately a business deal, I suggest we treat it as such.”
“Look my son just came back after eight years of leaving us to believe he’s dead-”
“I sent a picture.”
“I can’t raise a picture.”
“You couldn’t raise a child either.”
“How dare-”
“Enough! Both of you.” Abel sets down the teapot and takes a deep breath “Mother, will you call father to come here for a bit tonight? I think he should have a say when it comes down to the family fortune.”
Mother scoffs at the notion “He wouldn’t be much help, he knows his gears apart but not his coins.”
“Call him anyway. If only to prevent a fight between you and father later on.”
“Oh all right.” She walks off to the telephone in the hallway with a huff.
Abel sighs.
“I warned you.”
“Yes, yes you did but I’ve been in separation-courts that were friendlier than this.”
“You’re a lawyer?”
“Used to be.”
“What? You think I just sat on my ass until the Wintons came a knocking?”
“No, but it explains some things.”
“Nothing bad I hope.”
“No, not at all.”
“Good.” He gets up from his chair “I think I’m starting to understand why you wanted to stay away at least.”
“Some things aren’t meant to be fixed.”
“Perhaps not. But for now, I should probably go to mother about now and prevent her from throwing the telephone out the window.”
I pause for a second to listen and sure enough it sounds like there’s some arguing going on there as well.
“Good luck.”
“I can ask Pretty to sit with you in the meantime?”
“Thank you but there’s no need. I could do with some peace and quiet right now.”
He kindly nods and leaves the room.

I’m not quite sure what would feel worse, being in a house that looks exactly like the one I had my childhood in. Or the knowledge that they went and changed it so readily.
Well, in their defence I wasn’t supposed to come back. I’d never have noticed if it weren’t for…everything.
I doubt I’ll be able to leave here without giving up something or other to satiate my mother’s twisted need for control.
I’m not moving in.
I know that much.
“Hello, sir?”
I’m shocked away from my thoughts as I look at the door, then I look slightly lower and spot an angelic-looking girl wearing a sweet pink dress.
“Oh, hello there?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Inquiry.”
“I’m Vitrue. Are you here because you need daddy’s help?”
“I think I am…” I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to pull any of this off without him at least.
“Sometimes daddy helps bad people, are you bad or good?”
“Virtue what are you doing outside of the nursery?”
“Justice has started a debate with miss Gentle again and I got bored listening to it.”
“I’ll ask them to stop. Now up you go, the grown-ups are talking.”
“Okay.” She curtsies to the room at large and says “Good night everyone.”
“Good night Virtue.”
She then looks at me and says “You seem nice, I hope you don’t go to prison.”
“Uh, thank you.”
She darts off.
Abel sits down again “Apologies for my daughter, she isn’t used to the new arrangement yet.”
“It’s okay, is father coming?”
“Modest is on his way to get him. It’ll take about fifty minutes.
“Thank you, for arranging all this.”
“You’re welcome. But I’d be remiss to say I didn’t have my own ulterior motive.”
“Isn’t it obvious? Your wanting to denounce the family status would take away all the uncertainty in my children’s future.”
“Right, that’s good. “
“But I need you to understand that doing so would lock you out of the family fortune permanently as well as any of your offspring…biological or not.”
“I understand.”
“Good, so…now, as you can imagine you walking away with a loan for a hundred lodis and a renouncement of the rest of the fortune would be very beneficial to me. But I like being able to sleep at night so instead I like to propose a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“You mentioned a school you wish to build. Those don’t build themselves for free. If the hundred lodis is already reserved for the heart you’ll be back to scrap so my question to you is how much do you think you’ll need, not just to solve this conflict you’re embroiled in, but to last you until you start making your own money again.”
“You want to write me out with transfer pay?”
“I think it’s the polite thing to do.”
“Even if it means cutting into your children’s inheritance.”
“My fortune will grow again. And besides, Virtue thinks you’re nice, even if you don’t want to interact with your parents that doesn’t mean we can’t remain friends, right?”
I take a moment to think “I guess not.” But it does make me wonder. “Do they know you’re plotting this?”
He shrugs “I’ll make sure they’ll be just as informed about their decision as you are. I want what’s best for us all.”
“Thank you,”
The door blasts open and a man enters.
He’s tall but less tall than he used to be.
Dark haired but there’s white sprinkled in by now.
The lines pulling around his lips and eyes betray the passage of time.
He’s my father.
And yet.
He’s no longer the big imposing man I’ve learnt to be intimated by.
He strides to the sofa.
I get up to shake his hand.
He wraps his arms around me instead.
And cries.

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