Scene 9 – March 24th
Exterior April Park, Afternoon
I squinted at the flash card Holly held up to me. “An autoimmune disorder which results in the degradation of the nervous system… multiple sclerosis,” I said, confidently.
“Correct. And lastly…”
I blinked, coming back to myself.
“Are you okay, Quinn?” Holly asked. “You haven’t done that in a while.”
I sighed. “Yeah, Dr. Wagner has helped me get better, but… it’s just, that’s what my dad has. Had. It… that’s what killed him.”
“Oh.” Her eyes were infinitely kind, her voice gentle, as she said, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m doing better, I promise, it just… sometimes, when I’m not prepared…”
“Yeah.” She paused for a moment, then ventured, “at least that’s one chronic disease you know you won’t forget?”
I chuckled. “Imagine forgetting what disease killed your father. You’re at his eulogy and you’re all, ‘my father was a brave man. He fought for years against a deadly progressive illness, one which few can survive against, called… shit, was it cancer? It wasn’t cancer, was it?’”
Holly laughed. “I’m glad you’re doing well enough to joke about it, at least.”
“Yeah… I think dad would have wanted me to be able to.” I leaned back from my cross-legged posture and extended my legs, which ended up in Holly’s lap. She absently began kneading my feet, and I decided to change the subject – even though I was finding myself able to joke, finally, it still made my heart ache a bit. “Thank god it’s Spring Break next week. I’m really looking forward to getting a little time off from school.”
“Me too.” There were a few moments of companionable silence, the two of us enjoying just being together in the lovely spring afternoon – and in my case, enjoying the foot massage – before Holly said, a little hesitantly, “…you’re not going anywhere for the break, are you?”
“You know I’m not. Hell, I have two patrols scheduled, I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
She flapped a hand dismissively. “You know Abe would give you time off if you asked, the man dotes on you.”
“I don’t have anywhere to go anyway. Why do you ask?” I said, sitting up again.
“Well… I talked to my parents.”
“…how’d that go?” I asked. “Do I need to murder them for you? Because Shepard wouldn’t want me to say I will, but…”
She chuckled. “No, it… well, it could have gone worse, anyway. They’ve been asking about my life, what I’ve been doing, and… um…”
“That sounds like good news. What’s the ‘and’?”
“Well, I told them about you, since you’re my best friend, and… they somehow got the idea that we were dating?” she squeaked.
I blinked. That hadn’t been what I expected. “And here I thought you might be trying to escape them during the break,” I said after a moment.
“That isn’t the worst idea, but no. They, um.” Holly had one of those moments she sometimes had, where I could have sworn she was blushing heavily, but her face was perfectly composed a moment later. “They want to meet you – to have you over for dinner.”
I propped my chin up on a hand. “You told them that we aren’t dating, right? I mean, I do realize what it looks like when we sit under a tree and you rub my feet, but whatever Simone says about us…”
“I tried to tell them that, but father just winked and said ‘I understand’, and mother keeps talking about how she’d need to approve of anyone I spend so much time with…” She sighed. “I’m sorry to ask, but…”
“Are you asking me to pretend to be your partner and meet your parents?”
“…yes. It’s. Well. I, um, I kind of tend to fold if I’m facing them alone, as it turns out that hasn’t changed, and I would appreciate it you would – um. I don’t know. I shouldn’t have asked. Sorry. Just forg-” she babbled.
I leaned forward to take her hands in mine, silencing her. “Holly. Would this be helpful for you? Would having me there to support you help you confront your parents?” I hadn’t missed her mention of folding when she faced them alone, and I had a suspicion that the attempted confrontation hadn’t gone well, even if Holly claimed otherwise.
“…yes,” she whispered.
“Then I’ll be there,” I promised.
Scene 10 – March 26th
Exterior Mansion, Early Evening
I tried to avoid stressing out about meeting Holly’s parents. It wasn’t easy – meeting the family was an important step in a relationship, and while Holly and I weren’t actually in one, I wasn’t unaware that what we had was close – and might, once I was more confident about my emotional stability, become romantic rather than platonic. Or I hoped so, anyway.
Still, I was going to be there to support Holly when she spoke with her parents about the way they treated her, and being an anxious mess wouldn’t make me a good rock for my best friend to lean on. For her sake, I had to pull it together.
So when I met her outside her mansion – and it was still insane to me that my best friend lived in a mansion, when I hadn’t thought New Venice even had mansions – I was dressed casually but nicely, wearing a suit jacket over a light blouse, and had even pulled my hair into a ponytail. And no matter what I had been doing in the privacy of my own room at the Compound, here and now I was not shaking and sweating, but was instead calm and composed.
I texted Holly to let her know I had arrived and was waiting outside the main gate, and in just a minute or two she appeared, wearing a long black skirt and a red top. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey.” She absently tucked her hair behind one ear and looked me up and down, a red bubble shimmering into view around us as she created a privacy screen. “That works, I guess.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You guess? Way to make a guy feel special, Holly.”
“Sorry. You look great, Quinn.”
She sighed. “It’s just… my parents are kind of the worst, and they’re going to be super judgmental – mother especially – and… I’m sorry to drag you into this.”
“Hey.” I caught her hand in mine and gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “Remember how you supported me after my dad died?”
“I told you back then, I would do the same for you.” I shrugged. “This is that.”
“My parents aren’t dead, though.”
“They could be. Director Shepard wouldn’t like it, but they could be.”
She giggled involuntarily, then forced herself to calm. “Okay, last-minute stuff.”
“Go for it.”
“They’re typical mages,” she informed me, “so any magic talk is a good way to get them to open up. Just don’t challenge their knowledge. Or opinions. Actually, just don’t challenge them, it doesn’t go well.”
“Isn’t that what you’re here to do?”
She bit her lip. “…habit, I guess. They… don’t like it when I argue with them.”
“What do they do?” I asked, worried. If they…
“They… they don’t do anything, they just… barrel right through the problem, I guess. They talk right over you and just completely ignore that you ever said anything against them until even you forget that you disagreed. That’s how you ended up here even though I tried to tell them we’re not dating.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad…”
“It’s nowhere near actual abuse,” Holly insisted. “They’re just… overbearing control freaks. That’s all.”
“…I saw how you reacted when Anima was being influenced by Excalibur,” I pointed out. “Maybe it’s not physical abuse, but that doesn’t mean it’s not abusive.”
She sighed, turning away from me. “It’s not nothing, but… I just want to confront them about it and then leave. Make them understand what they’ve put me through, and then never see them again. Ever.”
“Well… I guess I can understand that,” I said. I wrapped my arms around her waist, standing on my toes to put my chin on her shoulder. “And then you’re leaving?”
Holly nodded. “I’ve been moving more of my stuff into the Compound over the last month – I brought the last box over a few days ago.” She turned to face me again, putting her arms around my waist but leaning back so we could see each other properly. “There is one other thing.”
“What is it?”
“We talked about this once, I think, but this appearance isn’t any more natural to me than the one I wear as Loki,” she said, and I nodded in remembrance – she had painted a self-portrait that related to the subject and presented it as part of an art show the MLED had put on a few months ago, and had been thinking about dropping the illusion after she graduated. “My parents, uh, don’t allow me to wear this kind of magical construct in the house.”
I frowned. “Do they have a reason for that?”
“None that they’ve ever given me,” she said, shaking her head.
“Control freaks for sure.”
“Yeah. But, uh, that means I’ll need to show you what I really look like.”
Holly pulled away from me and took a deep breath. I waited patiently as she put her hands together, still psyching herself up. After a moment she simply breathed out, and…
As Loki, Holly was unrealistically handsome in the androgynous way that I tended to be most attracted to, in both men and women. Perfect skin, sharp bone structure, dark eyes that pulled you in, and artfully-tousled hair that could never be maintained in that shape without some kind of superpower. He was tall and thin and graceful, and fell just a little into the uncanny valley at times, just a little too perfect to be real.
In her blonde form, Holly was unrealistically beautiful, in a Nordic princess kind of way that I wasn’t usually into, but which she pulled off with aplomb. The same perfect skin and sharp jawline, but with baby blue eyes as bright as my own and long blonde hair, never a single strand out of place. She was tall and curvaceous and graceful, and fell just out of the uncanny valley of perfection – but it was a near thing.
Her natural form was none of these things. Her face was rounder than she let it appear, her complexion a little darker and a little splotchy. Her hair was neither flaxen blonde nor as dark as the void, but a curly mess of simple brown not too different from my own – her eyes the same warm, chocolate shade. Not as thin as Loki, not as curvy as her blonde form, more muscular than either. She had freckles splattered across her face, and an asymmetrical smile that revealed a single dimple as she shyly said, “Well… this is me. What do you think?”
I smiled back at her, knowing that my eyes were probably shining with admiration and not caring. “You’re beautiful.”
Scene 11 – March 26th
Exterior Mansion, Continuous
“Mother, father, this is Quinn,” Holly said, introducing me to her parents at the door. “Quinn, these are my parents, Jacob and Delilah Koval.”
I smiled at them and offered a hand. “It’s very nice to meet you both.”
“A pleasure,” Jacob said, giving me a firm handshake and locking eyes with me for a moment. “Nice to meet the fellow – person? – that my daughter is spending so much time with,” he said with a wink. Holly seemed to have inherited his hair, which was a similar curly brown.
“‘Person’ is fine.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Delilah, although it didn’t sound like it. Her eyes matched Holly’s brown, but lacked Holly’s warmth – her voice, too, was cool and unimpressed. “Please, come in.”
If you enjoy my writing, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. If you can’t afford a recurring donation, you can make an individual donation through Paypal, or purchase one of my books. You can even support me for free by voting for Paternum on TopWebFiction every week. The more I make from my writing, the more time I can devote to it, which will improve both the quantity and quality of my work.