Monday, September 14, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 22

< Chapter 21                                                                                                       Chapter 23 >
Quite by accident, Matt learned his power could allow him to remain unseen even when in plain sight.

I patted Cassie’s head and said, “I wouldn’t say I’m ready for the search team yet. I’ve only pulled this off once and that was by accident.”

“Quite right, Matt,” Zav said. “Now we have to see if you can do it on purpose. Ladies, let’s go back down the hall and try again.”

Michelle, Cassie, and Kristin left the room. As Zav turned to go, he added, “Remember, if you fail it will probably end up costing all of us our lives.”

“Gee, that helps ever so much, Zav.” My voice dripped with irritated sarcasm. “There’s nothing like doubling down on the pressure to make a guy feel relaxed.”

“Good, because it’s evident your abilities work much better when you’re overwhelmed with negative emotions.” Zav looked down the hall after the retreating girls and a grin split his face. “Or, in certain cases involving Michelle, extremely positive emotions. But somehow I think it would be best if you and she were clothed and less…active…when the search team arrives.”

I couldn’t help laughing but quickly sobered again as Zav followed after the others. Over the next hour, he sent the girls down the hall in ones and twos. At first, success was fleeting. Sometimes I simply failed. Sometimes, I succeeded in making whoever came into the room look around in disinterest for a few seconds before my exultation at success ruined my concentration and they saw me. Still, my success rate increased and I found myself able to maintain the right frame of mind longer than a few seconds.

Zav called a welcome break and took the opportunity to send the boys out into the station to see what was going on. He also sent Kristin off on her daily sensor sabotage mission.

As the others cleared out, Michelle said to Cassie, “This is as good a time as any to clear off the walls in your room.”

Zav’s eyebrows shot up. “My God, I’d completely forgotten about that!”

Cassie asked, “What’s wrong with my walls?”

Michelle tousled Cassie’s hair. “They’re covered in sketches of the two people those search teams will be looking for, silly.”

“Oh yeah,” Cassie said. In a small voice, she asked, “We don’t have to throw them away, do we? They’re my first real connection with you and Da- Um, with you and Matt.”

Michelle stared at Cassie for a second, an odd expression on her face, before asking, “Did you almost call Matt ‘Dad’?”

Abashed, Cassie looked down at the floor and fidgeted as she answered, “I… That is… Well-”

Cassie’s face clouded up and she dashed down the hall and slammed her bedroom door.

Zav shook his head in dismay. “I’m sorry, but I told you how heavy her emotional investment is with you two.”

Michelle hugged me, blinking rapidly in an attempt to stem the flow of tears. Her emotions blazed brightly to my empathic ability though I’d have known what she was feeling even without my ability. Pulling her tight, I said, “Of course.”

My wife leaned her head back and looked into my eyes. “Of course, what?”

“Sometimes emotions speak far more clearly than words, hon, and yours are shouting so loudly I don’t even need empathic abilities to understand you.” I kissed her gently. “Why don’t you go tell Cassie?”

“We should tell her together,” Michelle said.

“Cassie’s emotions are fragile right now. It will be easier for her if just one of us goes down there.” I turned her toward the hallway. “And who better to talk to her than the most beautiful girl in the galaxy?”

Michelle headed down the hall, her steps lightening as she went. She knocked gently on Cassie’s door, exchanged a few quiet words through the door, then opened it and went inside. Looking back at Zav, I found him staring at me with incomprehension written all over his face.

“I fully trust you and Michelle will not purposefully do anything to hurt Cassie,” he said, “but please tell me what the two of you are planning.”

“It wasn’t clear?” I asked, surprised.

“Young man, I am neither an empath nor your wife,” Zav declared. “Your exchange with Michelle might as well have been gibberish as far as I’m concerned.”

“Oh, right. Sorry about that, Zav.” I took a deep breath and said, “When all of this is over, Michelle and I are going to adopt Cassie. We’ll adopt all four of the kids if the other three are willing.”

Zav’s mouth opened and closed several times as if he couldn’t quite find the right words to express what he was feeling. Finally, he said, “My boy, you and Michelle are so young! Are you ready for the financial burden—”

I ruined his speech by laughing out loud. “God above, Zav, I’m a billionaire! None of these kids could ever be a financial burden. And don’t worry, we have more than enough room for a beloved uncle, too!”

A high pitched shriek sounded from down the hall, followed by a wave of emotion so strong it briefly swamped my empathic senses. A few seconds later, Cassie’s door flew open and the girl charged down the hall at me. Her brown eyes shone with tears and her brunette hair flew behind her as she ran. Realizing she wasn’t slowing down, I braced myself and caught her as she leapt at me. Cassie’s arms wrapped tightly around my neck and held on with such ferocity I wondered if she’d ever let go. Down the hall, Michelle leaned against the wall, her arms crossed and grinning at me.

I grinned back. “I take it Cassie was amenable to the idea?”

“Does amenable mean I want you to adopt me?” Cassie asked through her tears.

“It does.”

“Then yeah, I’m amenable.” She kissed my cheek then laid her head on my shoulder. “Am I too old to call you Daddy?”

“Honey, you can call me Daddy until you’re a hundred and three.” Still carrying Cassie, I started down the hall toward Michelle. “Now, let’s get your room cleaned up. We don’t want company finding a messy room, do we?”

“No, Daddy,” Cassie murmured.

We took our time clearing the walls, removing the drawings carefully so none of them tore. I sorted the drawings meticulously, making sure each timeline’s drawings were arranged in chronological order, and then gathered the timeline stacks so they were also in the proper order. Michelle carefully stayed out of my way, sometimes shaking her head as she watched me. Cassie looked back and forth between the two of us, a bemused expression on her young face.

Finally, she turned to Michelle. Jerking her thumb in my direction, she asked, “What’s his deal?”

“Your soon-to-be father can be very…particular…about how some things are arranged,” Michelle replied.

“Ask your soon-to-be mother about organizing her blasters, power packs, and hand-to-hand weapons,” I said. “And don’t even get me started on arranging the furniture for optimal lines of fire!”

“Those things you disparage could save your life someday!” Michelle retorted.

“And my organization methods can save time, which means having more time to spend living life,” I shot back.

“Wow, you two are so weird I’m going to seem like the normal one in the family!” Cassie exclaimed, her eyes dancing.

I put Cassie’s drawings into a box and asked Zav where we could hide it. Telling us he had a place outside of the apartment which would be perfect, Zav took the box.

“Keep practicing while I’m gone, Matt,” Zav said, then left.

I absolutely nailed my ‘ignore me’ broadcasts once we started up again. Perhaps the break helped me concentrate better or maybe it was the euphoria I felt about having Cassie join the family—I prefer crediting the latter—but Michelle and Cassie only noticed me when I wanted them to do so. After I remained unnoticed for five minutes while both of them were in the room, Michelle declared me ready for the next step—keeping her hidden as well.

And that’s where it all fell apart. No matter what I tried, I could not extend my power to cover Michelle. Time after time, Cassie came into the room and immediately focused on Michelle. Cassie couldn’t see me standing right next to my wife, but Michelle was always right there. After thirty minutes of continuous failure, I was even having trouble masking my presence from Cassie.

I finally called a halt to it and, dejected, dropped onto Cassie’s bed. Cassie and Michelle settled on either side of me, offering supportive hugs. I pulled them both close and whispered, “I’m sorry. You’ve put your faith in the wrong man.”

How can Matt keep everyone safe if he can only hide himself? Find out in Chapter 23, coming Wednesday!