When Emma got the news that her daughter was arriving in St. Claire in just two days, she wasn't exactly as thrilled as a Mother who has not seen her child in years should be.
"Oh ... why honey, I had no idea you would be coming so soon, that's all!" then stammering a quick cover up apology, "No ..no, it's fine Izzy - I'll find a place for you. I know someone who owes me a favor."
Emma listened to Isabel's plans, forcing a smile and trying not to sound patronizing. She still thought of Isabel as just a little girl. The same defiant little girl who ran away from boarding school and refused to live with her long ago. It wasn't that she didn't want Isabel to come to St. Claire, its just that she was so busy and hadn't had time to find a place for her daughter to live.
But, being a small business owner did come with a great many networking opportunities, and Emma knew well how to call in a favor.
"Thanks for meeting with me on such notice Cicero, I'm really in a bind here and I knew you owned a couple of these old buildings," Emma gushed. She could turn on her charm with ease.
"No problem doll, anything for you. Of course, since we're even now on favors, how about that date you denied me months ago?" Cicero's large white smile didn't quite reach his eyes, and Emma wasn't fooled. A Euro-Sim investor, Cicero was always looking for another bargain and she didn't intend to be his bonus on the sale.
"Maybe another time Monsieur Gavalda. I'm so busy with my daughter's arrival and the tourist season is fast approaching. My restaurant is in such sad shape - I have tons to do you know!"
Emma's casual airs and emphasis on his foreign title gave Cicero the 'not interested' message and so he gave a formal little bow and handed over the keys, reminding her that this was technically an investment property so he could not vouch for the heating and cooling or electrical system in the townhouse. Emma assured him she could secure contractors to help her daughter renovate the place. She'd just made a steal of a deal on the sale for Isabel. Vintage townhouses in historic Bradford neighborhood were being snapped up fast now that the economy was starting to get better. This one, just two doors down from her own, was definitely a 'fixer-upper' but had great potential.
Isabel had assured her Mother she was ok with a 'fixer-upper' - she didn't intend to be there that often.
Nathan wasn't as optimistic about the place, however.
|"This place is a dump, and it smells like old people."|
Isabel had bought him a laptop for the trip, and a touch-pad tablet for herself. The only things she'd splurged on outside of the high cost of the move and the new place. Technology was a welcomed addition to their new lives.
"How do you know what old people smell like Nate?" Isabel asked jokingly while busy reading some higher logic IQ tests she'd downloaded.
But Nathan had plenty of other things to say about the new place over their chinese takeout dinner.
|"There's no fire alarm Izzy and this place is like a billion years old. I'm not sleeping in here."|
Not too terribly concerned, Isabel asked, "Well where else do you want to sleep lil' bro?"
|"I miss Mom and Dad ..."|
Isabel had gotten used to Nate's quirks and fears which were aggravated by the tragedy. He no longer slept anywhere upstairs or with wood flooring or walls and constantly checked the stove. Isabel had specifically asked her Mother to find a place with a privacy fenced in yard so that he could be out there instead. It wasn't much of a 'yard' ... just a small patch of grass next to the steps and a gated wall around the back side of the old brick townhouse.
But that's exactly where he set up his 'camp' that night.
|online auction web surfing and the baking report channel AM2780, pure joy.|
Isabel, being the outdoorsy, brave type herself, didn't really think there was any danger in letting him sleep out there. Of course, she's never lived in a big city before either.
Besides, this new game was just so addicting, she couldn't put it down to worry right now.
|"Just ten more donuts ... high score ... must keep tapping!"|
The next morning, Isabel got up bright and early, and made an effort at cooking breakfast to try and help Nate feel more at home. She rarely cooked so it was definitely an effort.
|"Oh yeah, one handed egg cracking ... I'm a pro ... oops did eggshell just get in the batter?"|
Nate was a lot more chipper this morning, so apparently sleeping in his tent went ok. He even remarked that it was good to have a new home in a new town ... along with some typical weirdness thrown in.
|"The way I figure it, they won't get the tracking devices installed here since you gave them your Mom's address next door, right?"|
"Who's this they you refer to Nate?" Isabel focuses on her pancakes. They'd turned out well all things considered. "And why are you doing your old homework again? You haven't even started school here yet."
Isabel tries to change the subject as sometimes Nate's neurotic ramblings were a little unsettling. Especially since she'd had that cryptic talk with Dr. Midden before leaving Appaloosa Plains. Paranoia was contagious.
Isabel's mind was distracted by her desire to travel again soon. She pushed the worries aside, for now.
|"Traveling keeps me focused. What use is dwelling on sadness and loss?" The mind of an intellectual in denial.|
After breakfast, they headed next door to meet the S.M.U. (Sim Mother Unit) as they had jokingly decided to call her. She wasn't related to Nate and he wanted no maternal reminders. Not that Isabel really did either for that matter.
Emma certainly wasn't going to push any contrived affections.
"Hello there Nathan, nice to meet you. You look a little like your Father," she forced a smile.
Nathan tested her. "Greetings SMU, can you identify yourself as a biological organism and prove there is no access panel on the back of your neck please?"
|"Isn't he hilarious Mother? He inherited some of Dad's humorous ideas ..."|
Emma didn't play along, so she failed the test. Nathan wandered off to check out her big screen television while Isabel and Emma chatted politely about all the pleasantries more distantly related families would probably engage in.
But if you remember from long ago, Emma's got a knack for being conversationally brilliant. She finally cuts through Isabel's frosty reserve and gets her to open up about Simon's death, which Emma feels twinges of regret and sadness about. A marriage failed, even long ago, is still a painful reminder when a loved one is lost.
|"It's alright Isabel, I loved your Dad too and I'm so sorry you have to suffer this pain."|
Bonding obligations done, Emma and Isabel work together on the plans for renovating the townhouse and where Isabel intends to send Nathan to school. Emma suggests a meeting arranged by her own Mother, Isabel's Grandmother. She's on the board of directors for the well-known girl's boarding school Isabel had run away from and can recommend some excellent schools for Nathan since he's now far behind in his current grade and will need private schooling help especially with Isabel's plans to travel again so soon.
Isabel reluctantly agrees to the meeting as her Mother makes the phone-call. She already knows she will most definitely not be putting Nathan in boarding school. You would think her Mom would remember her own long ago bad reaction to that idea.
|Meeting Grandma Wilson was awkward.|
"So you're my daughter's little wild-child, eh? Grew up in that hippie town and ran away from school. I knew no good would come from her running off with that addle brained boy she met from college. Sorry to hear he's dead though, no sense in that, nope, no sense at all."
Isabel realizes there's thinly veiled insults about herself peppered liberally in there, but she grits her teeth and tries to remain polite.
Nate seemed determined to make the meeting with the school counselor as difficult as possible too. His helmet and goggles were apparently part of his radiation deflection preparedness armor.
"Oh hello there Nathan, nice to meet you!" Ms. Bingham's sing-song voice was overly cheerful and forced.
|Nate mutters under his breath "I didn't realize they made the human skin suits in XL size ..."|
Isabel laughs nervously and tries to quickly avert a disaster if Nathan was going to go into another covert alien-invasion tangent.
"Nathan Twist, that's enough - be polite please. We're here to meet Ms. Bingham and discuss your enrollment at some private schools here."
|Isabel gives Nate the evil eye. Nate eyes the large woman wearing curtains for a jacket.|
"Well actually Ms. Twist, that's what I was going to tell you," Ms. Bingham cleared her throat and talked over Nathan as if he wasn't even standing right there.
"Nathan's scores and, err, his psychological evaluations sent up here from the counselors in Appaloosa Plains indicate a somewhat ... hmm ... more difficult progress than we're able to handle locally. I do, however, have some very nice brochures for "special education" schools, a couple of them are full-time institutions where he can remain under psychiatric care while regaining his academics and ..." she was suddenly cut short by Isabel's indignant interruption.
"Are you seriously suggesting my little brother needs to be institutionalized simply because he's suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and a little behind in his school-work? Give me a break lady!"
|Nathan: "Can we go now, this specimen isn't even funny..."|
"I'm sorry, but he's just not going to work out in our school, and would be better off sent away for serious rehabilitation," Ms. Bingham looks away in exasperation.
Nate has his own opinion and though he's been ignored thus far, he feels its time to state his own defense in the matter.
Nate gives his best angry psychotic child impersonation.
"You promised me you would NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN IZZY!!"
"Woah, ok ok Nate, it's ok!" Isabel calms him down, but then she kinda just lets him go at the counselor lady without interference.
|"Your shoes - are made - of human skin. And. Way too small. Your disguise fails, lizard in ill fitting human suit!"|
Isabel finally takes his hands and holds him close, stroking his helmet and pleading with the woman to forgive them, as the stress of losing their parents was clearly causing a great deal of anxiety and outbursts. (This was all for the drama of course)
Poor Ms. Bingham is only too happy to march away in a huff, her dignity bruised by that insane little rude monster.
Not surprisingly, a baby crying reveals that Ms. Bingham, in fact, hates children. All children.
|Why on earth these types of people get into the education career is quite mystifying, isn't it?|
And that is how Isabel found herself buying another ticket out of their household budget for Nate to go along to Al Simhara for her return trip. She enrolled him in an online homeschooling program that he could do from his laptop and bravely considered the trip to be a 'learning experience' for him.
Oh he learned alright.
He hung out in the shops of the market square and read dusty old travel journals.
|"Meena, who is this boy in our shop?" -- "I don't know Hassan, he's been here all day reading..."|
He learned about book keeping and accounting from the shop merchants.
This is where he learned to remain quite as adults always forgot you were listening.
|"Ahh my beautiful desert rose. I cannot wait to get you alone in our tent tonight ..." -- "Oh Hassan, you naughty man!"|
He learned to play chess (everyday, required by Isabel for logic skills) and discuss grown up things with his cool sister, who never treated him like a kid.
|"Nope, I'm never getting married either - way too much risk for the buy-in price" (Isabel giggling at him)|
Nate's careful paranoid suspicions also taught him that something was seriously wrong with the local food trucks. They kept getting stuck in the sand trying to get across the bridge and piled up, then abandoned.
|The food trucks were definitely out of place in Al Simhara ... where did the drivers go?|
Even better, all of his hanging around and eavesdropping made it possible for him to intercept some business talk between Isabel's local contact and the relic merchant.
|"I want a full report on how many relics she bring in, their value and what she leaves here with, understood?"|
Nate was learning what the underbelly of the relic black market looked like and what shady deals were all about. This was fascinating to him, but he kept quiet about it to Isabel. For now.
|You can see Nate in the distance. He just overheard the reason she's smiling so deviously.|
He also learned that the desert was really hot, and boring. And Isabel took forever to dig things up.
|One more meticulously recovered relic found ...|
"Izzy, how much longer? I'm thirsty."
Isabel sighed and kept digging, "Where's your canteen of water?"
"I drank that hours ago."
But the best part about being out in the field with Izzy was how much time they spent together talking and just being together while she worked. This, more than anything, helped Nate talk out his feelings about losing his parents. Isabel was a great listener, and she's the only one who believes him about Mom and Dad's ghosts...
|"Izzy, did you know Mom and Dad visited me the night before we left?" -- Isabel pauses, "Really? Tell me about it..."|
Nate smiles happily, remembering what seemed like a dream but was very real.
"Yeah, they came to the new place, they were looking for us. I was outside in the tent and I, uh, sorta just 'felt' them there. So I went out front and there they were..."
|"Mom? Dad? Is that really you?"|
"They said the had come to say how much they loved me, and you too, but they only had a few moments before they had to go away into the spirit world.
Mom even gave me a ghost hug, which felt kinda funny.
|"I love you too Mom"|
"They said you were going to be fine, but they were so afraid for me that they came back to reassure me that everything would be ok and best of all, that they would be watching over us, and protecting us both."
|"We'll be right here watching over you..."|
"And after that, they just sorta floated away and vanished. It made me sad to see them go, but somehow, it made everything better too. I know I get kinda crazy, but this was not in my head. They were really there Izzy ... and they really love us."
Isabel had stopped clearing the dirt from her relic and was listening to Nate's story with tears in her eyes. She wondered why they hadn't come to see her too, but she knew how much little Nathan had needed that and was glad.
Suddenly, everything seemed right again.
She and Nate are going to be just fine.
|"I love you Izzy." -- "I love you too Nate."|
Read Ch. 2.5 - "Risky Ventures" HERE.