Brian W. Antoine
December 23, 1994
"Now remember, you promised to behave yourself" I whispered just as my aunt opened the door.
"Hi! You made it!" she exclaimed when she saw me standing on her doorstep. "We were afraid you'd gotten snowed in and missed your flight or something. Come on in!" and she opened the door to let me pass. Instead, I just stood there for a second and smelled the memories from my childhood as they drifted by me.
"Hummmmm... I smell turkey!"
"You better smell turkey" yelled my uncle from the kitchen. "If Joan goofed and bought chicken, I'm trading her in for a younger model next year."
"Unless you want to eat scraps tonight..." and my aunt and uncle continued an argument that had been going on as long as I can remember. Between the smell of the turkey and listening to them teasing each other, I was feeling more at ease than I had in years.
"Are going to move? I'm getting wet out here!" came the reminder from behind me. It was loud enough that my aunt caught it also and she poked her head out the door to see who was there.
"Oh, I'm sorry" and she gave me a puzzled look. "Why didn't you say you had someone with you?" she said as she pulled me out of the doorway to let Kalindra step out of the light snowfall dusting the porch. "Can I help you with that?"
Kalindra shifted the bundle she was holding and smiled. "No, I'm fine. I just need to remind Brian I'm around sometimes."
"Like I'm going to forget something like that" I laughed as I led the way into the kitchen. "Although I'll admit the smell of that turkey is real distracting." Like it had been for years, the table in the kitchen area was covered in dishes of snacks and as usual my cousin and uncle were busy eating anything within reach. "Hey, did you make one of those for me?" and I nodded at the chocolate shakes they were holding.
"And waste good chocolate on you?" grinned my uncle.
Both my aunt and uncle were exchanging glances and looking at me with a kind of amused curiosity. My cousin though was watching Kalindra like a hawk as she put her bundle down and waited behind me. "So, are you going to introduce us?" asked my aunt when the silence finally got to her.
"Oh yeah..." and I laughed as I drew Kal from behind me so she was standing at my side. "Uncle Ron, aunt Joan, I'd like you to meet Kalindra." The moment I mentioned her name, Steve made a small gurgling sound and I swear I saw milkshake coming out his nose. "Kal, this is the aunt and uncle I told you about. The ugly one over there making a mess is Steve, but I believe you've met him before."
"I'm please to meet you all at last. Brian has talked about you, but we've never had a chance to get together until now. He told me though that his mother was going to be here tonight also. Isn't she here?"
Kalindra was still busy talking when Steve circled around through the living room and came up behind me. "Come here for a minute" he whispered as he tried to drag me back into the foyer. Kal was holding her own, so I followed him to see what he wanted. "Who is that in there?" he asked as he tried to keep his voice down.
"That's Kalindra, who did you think it was?"
"The last time I saw Kalindra, she looked like a fox on steroids," he said in a whisper, "not like that."
"So? Think magic and remember what the word _Polymorph_ means. That's Kal, she just changed her appearance so she could finally meet the rest of my family."
Steve peered around the doorway and looked at Kal talking to his mother for a moment. "Poly... But... Oh shit... Why bring her here?"
"I told you, she wanted to meet my family, and this is a family dinner. We'd have been here for Thanksgiving, but we were too busy to get away. Now quit your grousing and try to act friendly." I peeked around the door to make sure everything was ok. "That's my mate in there and I don't need shit from you all evening. If you think you're worried, you ought to be standing where I am. Every time I think of the number of things that could go wrong, I sprout another gray hair. Besides, you and Jodi had no qualms about bringing your spouses into what was always our family Christmas dinner. Allow me the same privilege."
"You're kidding, right? How can you even compare her to them? At least they were human" he muttered and I grabbed him by the shoulder as he tried to walk away.
"That isn't what you called Kathy the last time I heard you mention her name. Also, I'll thank you to remember that Kalindra is as much a person as anyone else here tonight" I said in a low voice as I stared at him. "At least I found someone to spend my life with that won't screw me the moment I turn my back. How is Kathy anyway?" If I was going to jump up and down on a hot button, I decided to pick a good one.
"She's taking me back to court to get the support payments raised again." Steve looked at me, at Kalindra who was busy talking to his mom, and back to me again. "Is she safe?"
"No, and neither am I, so learn to deal with it. I warned her when she asked to come along tonight that if she didn't behave I'd kick her furry ass all over the spiral arm. If you don't, I'll let her teach you proper manners all by herself. Now, are you getting as hungry as I am?"
I watched him think about it for a moment, then resign himself to having an evening slightly more interesting than he'd probably planned on. "Yep, but your mom and Mike aren't here yet."
I closed my eyes for a second and did a quick check. "They are just pulling in the entrance to Fairwood. They'll be here in about five minutes" I told him as I nodded towards the front door. "There better be enough ice-cream left for me to make a shake" I said loud enough for everyone else to hear. "If there isn't, I'm taking uncle Ron's" and I turned to head back into the kitchen.
"Touch my shake and you can kiss your dinner good-bye" yelled my uncle as he clutched his glass and glared at me. I started to whistle off-key and slide his direction while staring out the kitchen window. He didn't buy it for a moment.
"It's not fair!" I cried as I stopped and looked up at the ceiling. "I'll starve without chocolate!"
"Not likely" laughed Steve as he ducked back into the kitchen in order to protect his own glass.
"Be that way then. Just see if I let you have any of the ham we brought!" Steve and my uncle exchanged glances then looked at the bundle Kal had set on the counter.
"Should we let him have a sip?"
They looked at each other for a moment and said "Naaaawww..." at the same time and went back to guarding their glasses from me.
"Are you going to need to heat it up before we eat?" asked my aunt as she laughed and opened the freezer to grab the tub of ice-cream. I was standing so close behind her as she set it on the counter that she backed into me twice.
"Hummmmm... Chocolate..." I moaned as I watched her mixing up another batch of milkshakes. "Actually, you need to ask Kalindra about the ham. She's the cook tonight, I'm just the official taster." My aunt looked over at Kal, who was looking just a tad lost as she watched me act like I'd lost my mind.
"If I could use a small space on your counter, yes, I need to finish preparing it and heat it back up." My aunt handed me the top to the mixer, which meant I was on my own, and started clearing a space for Kalindra to work on. When she tried to shift Kal's bundle though she grunted in surprise when she found out how heavy it was.
"Oh, I'm sorry, let me get that" and Kal picked it up and set it on the floor for a moment. I just snickered at the expression on my aunts face and turned on the mixer. "She stronger than she looks" I mentioned as I watched the ice-cream and syrup mixing. "We both get a lot of exercise tromping around in the back country."
"I thought you looked like you'd lost weight" answered my aunt as she watched Kal pulling stuff from her bundle. Curiosity got the better of her though and she ignored me to watch curiously as Kal started mixing the glaze for the ham I'd gotten. "What kind of spice is that?"
"It's something I grow in my garden back home" answered Kal as she passed the unlabeled bottle to my aunt. "I'm not sure what it's called, but Brian said it would go good with the ham."
"Then we're doomed" wailed Steve as he pretended to be hiding. "Brian douses everything in hot sauce to the point that none of the rest of us can eat it. If he likes something, he's the only one who can stand to eat it."
"Funny, I find his cooking to be just about right" answered Kalindra with a grin.
"Oh no, not another one!" yelled my uncle. "Joan, test that glaze before they kill us by accident."
My aunt though was holding the bottle to her nose and trying to figure out what she was smelling. "It's like cinnamon, but with orange or something mixed in" she muttered as she tasted a small bit with her finger. "Hummm... Not bad. You say you grow this in your garden?"
"Yes, it likes the shade beneath the trees near the edge of my garden."
Kal and my aunt quickly got to talking 'cooking stuff' and I tuned them out while I poured a glass full of milkshake. I was just enjoying the first swig when the doorbell rang. Since I was closest, and I knew exactly who it was, I yelled "I'll get it" and ducked by my aunt into the foyer.
"Sorry, we gave at the office" I exclaimed as I swung the door open just as my mother was going to knock.
She looked at me, blinked twice, and said "I told you to cut that hair." I stuck my tongue out at her and started to close the door. "Oh no you don't" she yelled and she ducked through it with my brother right behind her.
"I warned you I was going to let it grow" I laughed as she glared at me in disgust.
"And I told you not to let it go past your shoulders" she answered as she reached for the ponytail that now grew halfway down my back. "You look stupid!"
"But I like it that long" came Kalindra's comment from the kitchen doorway. "It makes it real easy to catch him when he's trying to run away." You could have detonated a bomb behind my mother and she'd have ignored it. She looked at me, then at Kalindra and I'd have laid money on wether she was trying to remember if Steve was seeing anybody at the moment.
"Mom, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine" and I put my arm around Kal's shoulders as she stepped up beside me. "Kalindra, this is my mother Glenna and my brother Mike. Mom, this is my friend Kalindra." My mom looked like she was in shock and she just stood there and stared at the two of us for a moment.
"Which one of you wants to talk first?" I asked to try to break the spell. "I refuse to believe that after the first time in 15 years that I introduce my mother to a female friend of mine, that she doesn't have anything to say."
"So, you finally found your redhead" laughed my brother. I wasn't sure whether to hit him or kick him in the shins, so I did both. While the two of us tussled for a moment, either Kal or my mother gave in to their curiosity because they were busy talking when I looked up from where I had Mike pinned on the floor. "Uncle!" he cried as I tried to catch what my mom had said to Kal. "You've been practicing."
"You might say that" I answered him as I let him up. When I got to my feet my mom was giving me a look that would have killed anyone else. She didn't intend to let me just walk away either because the moment I turned my back, she grabbed my ponytail and made sure I followed her down the hallway into one of the bedrooms. As I walked backwards, I grinned at Kal and threw my hands in the air.
"Who the hell is that?" she yelled as she slammed the door to the bedroom. "She won't tell me her last name, where she's from, or even how old she is!"
I stifled a laugh and tried my best to glare at her. "That's a pretty good range of questions for someone you just met. Are you getting worried I'll make you a grandmother or something?" Her sputtering was all the answer I needed.
"You've out of your mind!"
"Could be" I admitted.
"You quit your job without telling any of us why. You take off to Alaska doing god knows what. Now you show up with hair down to your butt and someone who looks like you found her on some street corner!" and with that she went dead quiet. Mostly because I think she spotted the way I was trembling and the way my hands had balled into fists. I'd lived a long time though around my mother without trying to _knock_ some sense into her and I wasn't going to start now.
"If you ever say anything like that to her and I hear about it, you can forget ever seeing me again! Kalindra has her secrets and I even have a few of my own. If she feels like answering your questions, fine. If not, I suggest you leave her alone!" I couldn't leave the evening to continue this way and I couldn't let everyone else see me this pissed. Standing there, I counted backwards from eight to zero in Pelline, and let my breath out slowly while watching my mom.
"What the hell is it with everyone around here? Is it that impossible for everyone to believe that I might have found someone I like? If this is the kind of reaction I'm going to get now. Next time I'll show up with a guy and let you all die of heart failure so I can collect the insurance!" The moment I said it, my moms' eyes flicked to the earring in my left ear, as I knew they would. I made sure she knew I'd noticed and snorted in disgust as I turned and left the room.
"Parents!" I muttered as I stepped through the door into the hallway. "You can't sell them for medical experiments, you can't trade them in for something that thinks, and they're too expensive to just dump in a nursing home!" This was not quite what I'd had in mind for an evening with the family. My aunt though had always been the most level headed of the bunch and she re-directed me towards the stairs that led to the family room the moment I entered the kitchen.
"You guys go play pool or something. I'll call you when dinner is ready" and she hustled my brother and cousin down the stairs behind me. "Ron's down watching TV..."
"You mean he's asleep in front of the TV" I replied from the bottom of the stairs and I ducked through the doorway to see him trying to watch the news. He wasn't asleep yet, but after dinner he'd be back down here and dead to the world within a half hour. Grabbing one end of the cover, I helped Steve fold it while Mike searched for the cues and dug the balls out of the end.
*Is everything ok?*
*Yes, but feel free to tell my mother to go fuck herself if she get too annoying.*
*I will not tell your parent any such thing!*
*Tell me that again in an hour* and I chuckled aloud as I grabbed a cue from my brother and _lagged_ for the break.
It was about an hour before my aunt yelled down that dinner was ready. The traffic jam in the doorway leading upstairs had the ladies in the kitchen laughing themselves silly. Each of us was determined to be first in line for the drumsticks and nobody better get in our way. At least this year we didn't break any plates as we jostled for position next to where my aunt stood with the carving knife.
When everyone had their plate piled high with food, we staggered into the dining room and picked out our place at the table. Just for safety sake I put Kal between my aunt and myself, away from my mom. When everyone was ready, we all stood around the table and folded our arms. All of us except for Kalindra.
"Steve, would you offer the blessing please" asked my uncle and I caught everyone at the table stealing glances at Kalindra.
*Remember what I told you, just humor them* I asked her.
*Ok* and she winked as she folded her hands behind her and waited.
Steve paused for a second when he saw her movement, but went ahead and gave the prayer. I'd known this moment was going to be awkward. This was the first time I could remember when one of the people standing here wasn't a member of the church that most of the family had chosen to join. Both of my cousins had married within the family religion, but now I'd brought someone to dinner that didn't take the whole mess any more serious than I did. At least with me though, the rest of the family knew how I felt and stayed quiet about it. When Steve finished, and everyone said 'Amen' except Kalindra, Steve just couldn't pass up the chance to make an ass of himself.
"I thought you didn't believe in God" he asked as he sat down and started to dig into the pile of food in front of him. I caught the expressions on my aunt and uncle's faces and wanted to dump my plate over his head. Kal though beat him at his own game.
"I don't, as you should remember from the last time you asked me. But, your family does and it would be dis-honorable to disrupt your dinner by ignoring or making fun of your beliefs." Score one for Kal I thought to myself as she made Steve the one who had disrupted things.
"It's your choice" said my uncle as he grabbed the butter I'd been reaching for. "If you don't believe in God though, what do you believe in?" From my uncle, I could except the question as legit. He might try to argue points, but he wouldn't just blindly attack anothers' beliefs.
"Honor" answered Kal as she watched how I was dealing with my plate of food. "First and foremost, I would have to say honor, and next in line would be my family and myself. Though I will admit that honor and family sometimes switch positions because of some of the things I have learned from Brian."
*Thank You* I told her silently as I argued with a slice of turkey.
"And what else has my nephew been teaching you?"
Kalindra was looking sideways at a cranberry as she answered him. "His version of honor would be the best way to describe it I think. To find something worth devoting your life to, and doing whatever it takes to make that dream come true. To be there when you're needed, to give of yourself without asking for payment and to laugh at jokes even when they are not funny."
I made damn sure I was busy looking for the butter as I caught everyone else at the table looking at me as Kalindra finished talking and asked my aunt what exactly went into the gravy she was taking a taste of.
"If you learned all that from Brian, it sounds like he's been learning a few things himself" said my aunt with a question in her eye.
"A few" I agreed as I argued with the slice of ham that hoped I hadn't seen it hiding beneath the mashed potatoes.
I put down my silverware and wondered whether I should give her a serious answer, and whether she could handle it, then I wimped out. "I've learned that there is nothing better after a long day then a nice backrub in front of a fire. That you should never turn your back on someone who is crazier than you are. That chili is NOT the perfect food I once thought it was and that the answer to some questions isn't as important as the journey taken to find them. Would you pass me the salt please."
"I prefer the hottub to a backrub" said my uncle as he handed me the salt shaker.
"You can't have as much fun or fall asleep in your hottub though" answered Kal with a grin as she reached over and tickled my ear. "Though the occasional spark does make life interesting for a few moments." I just pasted a smug look on my face and continued to work through the mountain of food in front of me.
And that was the way most of dinner went. Everyone was curious about Kal's background, but with the exception of a couple of questions from my mom, they didn't try to pry and were content to let her fill in the odd detail as we talked. The one thing we'd both known was going to be asked though was just what we were doing up in Alaska. We'd talked about it, and the story we told ended up being more truth than fiction, with the locations and characters being changed as needed.
When the last plate had been emptied, a collective groan echoed around the table as everyone slid their chairs back slightly. When my uncle stood up and headed towards the kitchen, Steve and I exchanged glances and made our bets. "Twelve minutes and you make the shakes" I said as I watched my uncle negotiate the stairs to the family room. "Fifteen and you bring me my pie first" answered Steve.
I caught Kal's puzzled look and snickered. "We're betting on how long it will take my uncle to fall asleep in front of the TV after he makes the fire." She grinned, closed her eyes for a second, and said "Twenty, and both of you have to wait until I finish my dessert before eating yours."
"And if you lose?"
"I make the milkshakes."
Steve looked over at me and whispered, "Does she know how?" I grinned and muttered something about chili pepper milkshakes, which caused him to turn slightly green for a moment. In the end though, we all lost the bet because my aunt reminded us that there were still a few _spare_ packages under the tree in the basement that needed attending to "before Ron falls asleep". It was a mad scramble all over again, but in the other direction, as everyone dropped their plates in the kitchen and headed downstairs to the family room. Kalindra and I arrived well after the others because we had to make a side trip out to the _car_ to pick up another bundle of packages.
"I'm sorry we didn't get anything for you," my aunt told me. "We weren't sure you were going to make it this year and I'm afraid I wouldn't have known what you needed."
"Don't worry about it" I said as I gave her a hug. "We're doing fine and this way I won't have to figure out how to return a shirt that doesn't fit me." It was something of a tradition that my aunt and uncle got me a shirt of some kind, that was always the wrong size or shrank the first time it was washed. I'd tried to convince them to stop, but they'd out stubborned me.
The gifts Kal and I had brought got more than a few puzzled looks when they were opened. My mother wasn't sure what to think of the carving of the wolf I'd given her. The fact that there was a small fox curled up asleep in the middle of its back just added to her confusion. My brother on the other hand really loved the painting I'd had made for him. He had always been at least slightly interested in Science Fiction and the painting I'd asked Sten to do was of the final battle between the Sunbeam and the Maal.
"Why do I have the feeling that painting is more than a fantasy" asked Steve in a whisper as Mike kept spotting little details in the painting.
"What is the cat supposed to be?" asked Mike when he started looking at the people that were visible through the forward port of the ship.
"That's Jab, he's a crotchety old Meenzel engineer" I answered with a wink at Steve.
When Steve opened his gift, he about had heart failure. It was a family portrait showing Kalindra, Lythandi, Naldantis, Lan Louis and I in front of a log cabin. What was going to drive him crazy was that everyone looked human, except when he was the only person who could see the painting. Then, everyone took on their normal appearance, and Jab, Bob, Karen, and 931 showed up next to us. I'd spent a week getting that spell working right and Sten had thrown several fits trying to get the two paintings to merge correctly.
When all the wrapping paper and ribbons were cleared away, Steve and I brow beat my uncle into starting a fire and everyone collapsed into the nearest chair to digest dinner and/or go comatose. With so much of my family in the same place at the same time, Kalindra took the opportunity to gently quiz them about me and my childhood. To my eternal embarrassment, they had no qualms about telling her everything they thought was funny. I just lay down in front of the fire and tried to relax as the character assassination began.
"You fell asleep" answered Kalindra as she massaged the back of my neck.
"Hummm... Did you find out everything you wanted?" I murmured as I relaxed again.
"Almost, but they weren't sure about that one time with your pet cat and the screen door. They couldn't decide ..."
"I can see I'm going to be years living this down" I interrupted with a chuckle.
It was several hours before the conversation died down. Everyone was caught up with each others lives for another year and my mom and brother were making noises about it being time to head home. My aunt tried to get me to commit to being back for our off and on again New Years Eve card game. I told her we'd try, but something else had already been planned for that night. That got a snort from Kalindra, who knew damn well just how busy we planned on being about then.
"So when will we see you again?" asked my uncle as we were getting our coats from the closet.
"Probably sooner then you expect" I told him. "I plan on being in town off and on a bit more next year. I've got some things cooking that should be quite interesting." The way I'd said it got me another dirty look from Steve. "Hey, keep an eye on the moon after the first of the year" I told him when no one else could hear.
"What are you going to do?" he asked with more than a little apprehension.
"Ring this world's doorbell, in a way that won't be ignored" I told him as everyone started saying their good-bye's.
"That was cruel of you" laughed Kalindra as I got into the _car_ beside her.
"Hey, he deserved it. Of everyone in the family, I expected him stay cool about my bringing you here tonight. He's going to drive himself nuts during the next week trying to figure out what's up."
Both of us were pretty quiet as I navigated our way out of Fairwood and through Mead towards the prairie. When I was sure nobody was around to see us, I let the illusion drop and we continued to fly along just above the surface in the shuttle I'd borrowed for the evening. Then, with the brilliant stars of the world of my birth, twinkling in the crisp Christmas sky above us, I smiled and laughed. With a small pull of the stick, the shuttle began to climb into the sky above Spokane and we headed home.
"Merry Christmas to all" said Kalindra after she gave me a kiss and then looked out the window at city shrinking below us.
"Peace on Earth, and good will towards Velan's?" I asked with a chuckle.
"Especially Velan's" she said with a grin.