Epilog: A party before I go
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
I had argued with Alex Bancroft, engaged in mental combat with Susan Knowles, and escaped being shot at, twice even. And yet nothing I experienced in Quasopon was more immediately trying than the two days I spent in discussion with Jezebel and Stacia about Jezebel’s future outside of the Children. Because it took two days to thrash through all the sexual issues with them.
I knew it was going to take a long time when Stacia started off by casually mentioning that Jezebel had received her sexual initiation from the members of Stacia’s new quad. Right from the start, I was up against the differences between the outside world’s sexual norms, the Children’s norms, and Stacia’s even more eccentric sexual standards.
That was bad enough. Worse, Abe Hunter was stopping by to see me every day, sweet guy that he is, and Jezebel had subjected him to relentless questioning until she’d wormed news of our one-night stand out of him. (Do not ever let yourself be questioned by Jezebel, unless you’re willing to spill everything.) So I found myself on the receiving end of questions about why I had sex with Abe, how it compared to my previous experiences, etc., etc.. To complete my discomfort, Stacia had an uncanny ability to explain male sexual behavior, and would sometimes supplement my explanations with a male perspective.
Maybe it was all helpful. Jezebel seemed to take it all in, even as she was aghast at some of the restrictions she was expected to observe in the outside world. But after two days of it, I went out and found Abe and spent the night with him, telling him I was the one who needed comforting this time.
Sonia won election to the High Council. Officially, vote totals are not released. But Hilda Strong told Sonia that it had been a blow-out for her. One Council member had seriously tried to propose annulling the election results, only to have Angus ask him if he wanted a full-scale insurrection on his hands. Good man, Angus. At least when he’s not chasing after teenage girls. Got to wonder how he’ll react to Hannah, now that she’s no longer Inspired.
I’d promised Sonia that I would bring our father to meet his other children sometime, and the night after Sonia’s election seemed propitious. Sonia was able to secure a small meeting hall in Milltown for our little party. Not that it was so little: the mothers, partners, and children of my half-siblings all attended. Many of these I was meeting for the first time.
I had wondered if Elsie would come. She’d been down in the dumps since Alex dropped her and vanished, and there’s only so much comfort a sister can give. (Especially after she found out about Abe from, need I say it, Jezebel.) But between Jezebel and Regina talking to her and spending time with her, she seemed to be recovering. And she came to the party with a smile on her face.
I hadn’t just wondered if my father would come, I was seriously worried that he might not. My father had agreed to the meeting, but he got cold feet repeatedly. Still, he showed up in the company of my mother, and if he wasn’t smiling at first, he gradually relaxed.
It should have occurred to me why he was so nervous. It was Penelope. In all the hubbub, I had never gotten around to discussing Penelope with my father, but somehow he must have found out she would be there with Hannah. And although I didn’t know it, he had never told my mother about Penelope. Given it happened after he and my mother married, he was probably not looking forward to explaining things to her.
Well, you think you know your parents, and then some event comes along that shows you a side of them you didn’t know existed. Penelope came in with Hannah after my father had been at the party for about half an hour and had begun to relax. She caught sight of my father, and immediately headed over to greet him, Hannah in tow. My father was puzzled at first, and then he realized just who it was bearing down on him. I could feel his discomfort all the way across the hall. It felt like he was going to try to get away from Penelope or, that failing, just pointedly ignore her. Thinking I should interfere, though dreading the prospect, I looked over to where he was standing. I was just in time to see my mother, who had been standing nearby, slip up beside my father and lock arms with him, pinning him at her side as she greeted Penelope. It was so smoothly done, I had to admire it.
Later during the evening, I caught up with my mother. “Ma, nice job there on forcing Dad to greet Penelope Wyatt. I’m sorry about that, though.”
My mother gave an uncertain laugh. “I always wondered when your father was going to tell me about Penelope. But he’s always had a problem admitting when he’s been drinking.” She saw the bewilderment on my face, because she added, “Really, Emily. We were raised here. Did you think we took monogamy seriously? No, we stay together because we like and enjoy each other. Your father’s had his flings. So have I.”
My mind boggled at the thought of my mother having an affair. Just whom had she had an affair with in Quasopon?
Again, I must have shown it in my face (or was my mother another empath?), because my mother picked up on my thinking. She said to me, “Get your mind out of the gutter, Emily. They were wonderful little romances that I cherish deeply . . . well, except for a couple of hot one-night stands where I got really down and dirty. You never knew about any of them because we didn’t want you to know about them. Have I asked you about all the men you’ve known since you left home? I presume it’s men. Or do you have something else to tell me, dear?”
After I extricated myself from that conversation, I stood to the side away from people a bit thinking over what I had here. With the exception of the long-dead Emma Fletcher, all the mothers of my half-siblings were here. All the older women in this room had been my father’s sexual partners at one time. I knew this was true, I accepted my half-siblings, but it was weird looking at this gathering as my father’s sex life and its consequences.
Stacia saw me and came over to where I was standing. “Something about this bothering you, Emily?”
I tried to dodge the question. “It’s hard to explain.”
Stacia giggled. “Since you were talking to your mother beforehand, my guess is that you’re just coming to grips with this gathering being due to our dear father’s tendency to scatter his seed.”
I was so surprised by her accuracy that I asked, “You read minds, Stacia?” (Made me wonder if that was how she understood the male perspective in sex.)
She shook her head. “I was just having similar thoughts, that’s all. In my case, it’s a bit more personal. As you know, I have some of Emma’s memories. One of those memories is of the night when I was conceived. If you think you’re having problems coping with Gabriel Fisher’s love life, imagine how I feel.”
I didn’t want to try. Like it or not, I didn’t have to. I could sense Stacia’s emotions. And it occurred to me that Stacia and I were probably the only two people in the room, except maybe Elsie, who would find our father’s sex life weird. It’s normal among the Children for a man to father children on more than one woman, if he fathers any at all. But I wasn’t of the Children, not really, not anymore. And Stacia . . . well, remembering the sexual intercourse that led to her own conception must qualify as the strangest form of incest I’ve ever heard of.
Stacia interrupted my disturbing thoughts before they got too weird. “That’s not why I came over, though. I was up on Sacred Mountain earlier today. The plaza seems to be slowly repairing itself, not that I set foot on it. Does this mean you’re coming back soon?”
I hesitated. “Eventually, Stacia, eventually. Sarah Priest told me I’d probably have to come back every so many months, at least for a little while. As for the long term, who knows?” And then a thought struck me. “I’ve never actually thought to ask, but will I be welcomed back here?”
Stacia frowned. “Even with Sonia on the High Council, the real answer is ‘no,’ Emily. Alex forced you on the High Council, and while they may be polite right now, they’re not going to forget it. And you’re not one of the Children.” And then she smiled and waved her arm to indicate the room of people before us. “We’ll want you here. But no one except us will, unless you want us to tell everyone you’re the Prophesied One.”
I shook my head. “Not going to happen, Stacia. Not my style. If I’m really the Prophesied One, I’ll earn it. And if I’m not, well, at least not many people will be disappointed. I’m not going to be another Alex Bancroft.”
Stacia giggled at that. “Don’t knock Alex too much. You might want to follow in his footsteps. I’m moving down to Lakeside myself with my new quad. It’s the place to be if you like free spirits. Hey, if you come back, we’ll be glad to put you up.”
Speaking of Alex Bancroft, a large sum of money mysteriously appeared in my bank account a few days ago. Looks like Alex kept his promise to help defray my expenses in taking care of Elsie and Jezebel, and then some, if you ask me. Maybe I have been too hard on him.
Another thing that surprised me about Alex: he didn’t just disappear from Quasopon, he vanished completely. Every trace of him has mysteriously disappeared. Birth certificate, his name on the title of the California house, all of it. Even the records the agency collected about him are no longer in our files. The next time I run into Sarah Priest, I’ll have to ask her about that.
And speaking of Sarah, I’ve still got her ring, although one morning I woke up and found the lettering on it had changed from “SDP” to “EF.” The ring still has some sort of magic on it, something else I will have to ask Sarah about someday. If that day ever comes. Because if she doesn’t show up at Halloween, I don’t know how to get in touch with her. It’s not like she’s another Alex. It’s easy to find traces of Sarah Priest, even just hunting on the Internet. Though some of the things I found when I went looking one evening surprised me. I’d hardly expected to see her face on an old FBI poster, with a long list of felony charges attached. And yet, in all the information I can find, once crucial piece is missing: any way to reach her.
The party is my swan song here, for now. I’m leaving with Elsie and Jezebel tomorrow. I’ve rented a car. We’ll drive down to D.C., taking a few days, so Elsie and Jezebel can see the country. I want to give them some time to see the outside world before they actually have to live in it.
Sonia says she can keep the Burns Cottage ready for me, no matter what the High Council thinks. (I sense a fight shaping up.) And I have offers from Stacia, and from Abe Hunter as well, so I’m pretty sure I could find a place to stay. The question is, do I want to come back?
No, that’s not right. The question is when I come back and why. Oh, the plaza will serve as a good excuse to come back no later than Halloween, if only so I can tell Sarah Priest what I’ve decided. But that’s what it is, an excuse. I took on some responsibilities here, and I need to see them through. I need to finish making peace with my parents, and getting acquainted with my extended family. I need to find out if Hannah is really reconciled to her role as an un-Inspired Instrument. I need to see what can be done for Bonnie, even though she’s still mad at me and probably hates me. I need to figure out what feelings I have for Abe, and what to do about them. And I really do have to wonder about the new Stacia. I keep expecting her to go haywire somehow.
Finally, much as though I’d like to dismiss it as an afterthought, there’s the plaza. And connected to that is my role as the Prophesied One, whatever that really means. Maybe on the ride down, I can get Jezebel to tell me exactly what is in the prophecy. It’s about time I learned.
The end of Prophecies and Penalties.