What Lies Ahead
Chapter 7

The next week was filled with non-stop packing. Besides members of the family, we roped in many of our friends to come out after school and help us pack up. The only person who didn’t show up to help was Vicki, who had started becoming more distant from us even at school. Not in a way that made me think she was upset with me or the other girls, but just withdrawn into herself. I was starting to get very concerned about her, but she rebuffed my questions on what was happening and except for school we never saw her.

Zoe was taking it particularly hard, since she and Vicki had become incredibly close. It hadn’t gotten too bad yet, but I attributed that more to the distraction of the move. Once we were in the new place, I had a feeling Zoe would start putting the full court press on Vicki.

By Friday we had everything packed away and the movers showed up. It was weird to leave from the old house for school, and come back to the new house. Mom and the girls had done some serious shopping ahead of time, and a lot of new furniture had already been delivered to the new house to fill out all the extra rooms.

Of course, all the furniture and boxes being moved was only one step. We still had to unpack everything, and that would take a while.

Late Friday night, Mom, Zoe, Tina, Emily and I were sitting in our new living room with its high arched ceiling.

“So, what does everyone think,” Mom asked as we relaxed.

“It’s weird,” Tina said. “I’d gotten used to the old house and now this feels kinda like someone else’s house.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Zoe said. “I like my room though.”

I nodded in agreement, “Me too. Although I still think Mom should have taken the Master bedroom.”

“Cas, we talked about this,” she said, “We all know what’s going to end up happening most nights. No matter what I try, I know Zoe will end up in your room, and if they’re here, Tami and Vicki, too. No, you need the bigger room.”

We spent the rest of the night relaxing and chatting, just spending time together. Sometimes things get so crazy in our lives, it’s rare when we can just have a simple night with the family. Emily even seemed more relaxed, laughing several times at some of the stories that were being told.

It was cozy and extremely relaxing, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. For me however, there was a shadow hanging over everything. I had already determined to go and see Vicki once the move was done, and now that it was, I was working through what my plan would be.

I got up the next morning and was vague with everyone about where I was going. I think most of them believed I was going to work, and that was for the best. I wanted to take a shot at figuring out what was up with Vicki on my own, at least initially.

Pulling up to Vicki’s house I saw her parents’ cars in the driveway. Her dad opened the door when I knocked, and he looked rough.

His eyes were completely bloodshot, with dark bags under them. He squinted at me through slit eyes, trying to block out the sun.

“What do you want?” he asked.

We had always gotten along well when I had visited them many times in the past. This was definitely not his normal greeting.

“I was hoping to talk to Vicki for a minute.”

He didn’t say anything at first, just looking at me. Finally, he stepped aside, letting me in. Once the door was closed he wandered off to another part of the house where I knew his office was. I knew where Vicki’s room was, but that was also not usual.

I headed up to her room and knocked on her closed door.

“What,” she shouted from the other side.

Something was definitely off around here. She got along with her parents fairly well, and if I had to describe how they treated her, it would be doting.

“Vicki, it’s Cas.”

The door opened after a minute, to reveal Vicki in a bathrobe. Her eyes also had bags under them, and her hair was a mess.

“What are you doing here Cas?”

“I’m worried about you. We all are. You haven’t been yourself. I wanted to come check on you.”

“I’m fine,” she said shortly.

“Vicki, I know that’s not true. I saw your dad. What’s going on around here?”

She stared at me for a moment, and then collapsed in my arms, breaking down. Picking her up, I carried her into her room and sat in a chair, cradling her in my arms.

For a long while I let her cry it out, saying soft words of reassurance and love to try and soothe her. Eventually her sobs turned into sniffles, and then stopped entirely.

“Can you tell me what’s happening?”

“Things are just ... bad around here. Something’s wrong at my dad’s work. He gets these phone calls and drinks a lot after. Then he starts getting mad at everything. Mom and I have been trying to stay out of the way, but he and mom end up yelling at each other most nights.”

“What are they fighting about?”

“He is just yelling at her, about little stuff. The house is a mess, when it really isn’t. The staff is spying on him, which is crazy. She’s spending too much money, which she’s always done.”

“Do you know what’s happening at his work?”

“No. I’ve overheard a few things, but only his side of the conversation.”

“What was he saying?”

“He was apologizing, but I’m not sure about what.”

I tried to think if there was something we could do, but nothing readily came to mind. I didn’t know enough about her father’s work to draw any conclusions. I had always thought that he made a little too much money for a CPA, but I had nothing really to back that up with. I needed more information before I could actually do anything to help them, and considering his state of mind and the hangover he was clearly sporting this morning, I wouldn’t be getting that information directly.

“Is that why you’ve been staying here?”

“Partly, but also dad said he didn’t want me or mom out by ourselves. He said he wanted to keep me where he could protect me.”

“Protect you? He thinks you’re in danger?”

“I don’t know. I asked him that, but he wouldn’t explain. So it’s just school and back, that’s it.”

“You need to get out of here. The kind of stress around here isn’t good for you. Let’s go talk to him.”

“Cas, I don’t think that’s...”

“Trust me, Vicki.”

We went down to his office, finding the door closed.

“Daddy, can Cas and I talk to you?” she said after she knocked.

After a second the door opened. He had a drink in his hand. He didn’t say anything, just turned and walked back into his office, sitting in his big, expensive chair.

“Mr. Hollabrand, I’d like to take Vicki to hang out with our friends today. She mentioned you didn’t want her going out by herself.”

“I want her to stay here,” he said.

“I’ll keep her with me at all times, and usually with several of us. I won’t let her drive by herself, and I’ll bring her back here and walk her to the door. I don’t know why you think she’s not safe, but you know what happened last year. I can protect her.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“But Daddy...” Vicki started to say, but stopped when I placed my hand on her arm.

“Mr. Hollabrand, I don’t know what’s going on, but I can see things are really tense around here. This isn’t a great atmosphere for her to be cooped up in. Look at her.”

He looked over at his daughter, and the man I had met previously peeked through. I saw concern on his face as he recognized the stress that she was clearly under.

“I don’t know.”

“My house is pretty secure. We had our security company put in a high end alarm. It’s top of the line stuff. No one is getting to us.”

“Fine,” he said, letting out a sigh. “You can go, but I want you home before it gets dark.”

“Really?” she said, her face finally breaking into a smile.

“Yes.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said hugging her father.

She turned and ran upstairs to get dressed, leaving me standing in her father’s office.

“Just keep an eye on her, ok?”

“I’d never let anything happen to her,” I said

He grunted and turned back to his desk, effectively dismissing me.

I waited by the front door until Vicki came trotting down the stairs. Her hair had been combed out and was in a ponytail and, although the bags under her eyes were still there, she was looking much better than just a few minutes ago.

On the way back home we talked about everything she had missed over the last few weeks, purposely avoiding talking about her father. She needed a break from the stress of home.

I did start making plans to call Carter when I got back and have him start looking into her dad. I hoped he could figure out what was going on. I may not be able to fix it, but if there was anything I could do, I would. And even if there wasn’t, this felt better than just doing nothing.

The rest of Saturday was spent just hanging out. Tami came over and all of us just lounged around the house. Zoe was ecstatic that not only was Vicki hanging out with us again, but she seemed to be more like her old self. While no one was happy to have Vicki go back home before it got dark, it was best if we abided by her dad’s wishes, at least if we wanted her to be able to come back again.

Once she was home I stopped in a parking lot before I got back to the house and called Carter. I didn’t want to have this conversation in front of Zoe, and worry her. Especially if there wasn’t anything specifically wrong.

“Carter, I have a new job for you,” I said when he picked up.

“Yeah?”

“I need you to check out Vicki’s father, Richard Hollabrand. Somethings going on at his work that’s pushing him over the edge and it’s becoming a problem.”

“So he’s having tough days at work. What’s there to look into?”

“It’s a feeling more than anything. He seems to make a lot more than a CPA should, and I’m not aware of any family money to explain it. I’ve always given it a pass, but now he’s worried about Vicki being out alone, saying it’s not safe. Putting it all together, it doesn’t feel right. It may be nothing; but, better safe than sorry.”

“It’s your dime. I’ll do some poking around and get back to you.”

With that he hung up, abrupt as usual. I hoped I was over-thinking things, blowing this out of proportion, but given the last year, I wasn’t willing to chance it.

My visit did have some positive effects however. At school the next week Vicki seemed to stay more upbeat. Getting her out of the house definitely seemed to be helpful. I didn’t feel any better about what was going on with her dad, but that would have to wait until I heard back from Carter.

Things were progressing in other areas too. On Wednesday afternoon, Jonathan, Mom and Alex went and rented some office space that they could turn into a lab, moving their venture to its next step.

I hadn’t been able to go with them, since it happened during school hours, but they were excited to get things moving forward. Not that I was really needed. Jonathan had things well in hand and, since they were set up as a division of the company, Ted was setting it up so all their back office needs were taken care of.

That was the one thing that had made Mom nervous. She was a scientist, and never had any interest in running a business. With this setup, she and Alex could focus on the science and let Ted and the operations team deal with all the other details.

Other parts of the business did need my attention. Specifically when Douglas tracked me down when I stopped in the office Wednesday after school.

“Caspian, good, I was hoping you’d come in today.”

As much as I had tried, he wouldn’t call me Cas. It actually unnerved me a bit, since the only people that called me Caspian these days were substitute teachers.

“What can I do for you, Douglas?” I said.

“Things are looking good on the solar project, but the lab here isn’t cutting it.”

“Talk to Ted, see if he has space you can expand into. If not we can look at renting something better.”

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Story tagged with:
Coming of Age /