Chapter 99

                “Wow.” Vince sat in the black computer chair, eyes wide as he tried to come to terms with what Alice had just laid on him. “Are you sure about this?”

                “Sure as we can be in the situation,” Alice replied. After time to think it over, she’d decided that Professor Pendleton was right. There was never going to be a perfect moment, and the longer she delayed the harder it would be. How would Vince feel if she waited years to drop this bomb on him, instead of days? Curiously enough, it had also given her a small appreciation for why her uncles might have kept their identities secret from her. The deeper buried a secret was, the harder it became to unearth. That was why she’d decided to call Vince into her room and bring him up to speed, while she still had the option. “But Professor Pendleton more or less confirmed what Abridail showed us, so I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty certain.”

                “Our fathers were, are, brothers.” Vince leaned his head back and rested it on the top of the chair. “You know, as much as I probably should say this is a real shock, it actually puts a whole lot more stuff in perspective. His name, for example. I didn’t know who Globe or Charles Adair were as a kid, and we certainly weren’t exposed to the names in our travels. There was no real reason for him to hide his name from me, or not make up a fake one. Now I think he was doing it because he wanted to separate himself from his brother, whatever the reason might be. Explains why he didn’t give me the Adair name too. Any clue on where Reynolds comes from?”

                “Nothing from the dream visions,” Alice replied. “Maybe he picked it because it’s a common one, something that would be harder to trace.”

                “Anything is possible, but I doubt it,” Vince told her. “I always got the feeling this name was something special to him.”

                Alice gave a small nod of understanding, but otherwise said nothing. Strange as all of this was for her, she had to imagine the weirdness was compounded for Vince. He’d gone his whole life not knowing where he really came from, and the only man he’d considered family as a child was just as big of a mystery. Every piece he found that helped the puzzle take shape was probably opening up more questions than it was answering.

                “What does this make us, anyway? Relation-wise, I mean.”

                “Funny, I asked the same thing,” Alice said. “I’m not sure what the term for our connection would be considering that our parents seemed to have dissolved any association between themselves, but if you ignore that part then we’d be cousins.”

                “You forgot to factor in that I’m adopted,” Vince pointed out.

                “I didn’t forget a thing, I just can’t imagine how that matters to anyone in the equation. You’re Globe’s son, and that comes with a lot more trouble than usefulness, but it’s the truth so far as everyone is concerned. Which I guess also means Professor Hill and Professor Pendleton are technically your uncles too.”

                “And Shelby is my aunt.” Vince’s eye’s lowered down to his hands, like he was ticking off the new relations as quickly as his mind could form them. “I went from orphan to having a whole lot of family really quickly.

                “Sorry the Adair’s aren’t a more loving or connected bunch. I’m afraid if we ever actually manage to have a family reunion, there’s no way it won’t end in bloodshed.” Alice couldn’t quite bring herself to say the rest, even though she’d given Vince all the details. It was a little much for her to actually speak out loud that she was the reason everything was so messed up. If not for her, Shelby’s power would have never gone out of control, Charles wouldn’t have turned into such a bastard trying to fix her, and maybe he could have kept Globe from killing Intra. True, Vince wouldn’t have been part of the family without Globe finding him, but that just meant he might have had a chance to find people who could have given him a real life, not more chaos and uncertainty.

                “I won’t disagree with you that the last generation really messed things up, but that doesn’t mean the whole family is a lost cause.” Vince rose from his chair and crossed over to Alice in a few steps, wrapping his arms tightly around her. “All this means is that we have to do things better. Stay connected, and make sure whatever families we build from here on have love and support as part of their foundation.”

                “Well, it won’t be hard to do better,” Alice said, returning Vince’s hug. The shows of affection were still strange to her. Growing up with Charles had never been an existence full of kind words and reassuring embraces. Even Nick, who she’d gotten romantically entangled with, buried his adoration carefully, so one had to be really looking to find it. Vince was the only one she knew who could just blurt stuff like that out and pair it with a hug. It took some getting used to.

                But, the more she thought about it, Alice realized she wanted to get used to it. Her family didn’t have to be like the one she was born with. She could make it whatever she wanted. And perhaps mixing in a little of Vince’s open affection wouldn’t be such a bad addition.

                It seemed like the sort of family her mother would have wanted her to have.

*             *             *

                Mary sat quietly, listening to the thoughts of Alice and Vince as they came to terms with their newly discovered relation. In her lap was a worn, but well-cared for, stuffed bear. Once upon a time, it had been her only friend, the one creature she didn’t have to hear the thoughts of. Then there had come the procedure, and the control of her power, and Melbrook, and everyone who lived there. She’d moved well beyond needing her stuffed friend, but had always kept him around; just because it was nice to have a source of comfort during the hard times.

                Carefully, Mary wiped a small tear out of her eye. She was glad that Alice had come clean, the more support she had, the better. That was going to be important, soon. The first semester of their senior year was nearly over, which meant Mary’s meeting with Dean Blaine came soon after. She was prepared for it, had been for some time now, but that didn’t mean the prospect was an easy one.

                Running her hand over the soft fur of her bear, Mary tried to not let her mind drift to the worst-case scenarios. She trusted her friends, and she loved them, and she believed in her heart that they wouldn’t desert her, but that didn’t take away the shadow of fear that continually darted across her mind. It was there, reminding her of what things were like before, whispering that she’d end up alone, threatening that soon the bear would be all she had again. Mary knew that it was only lies, her own terror trying to deter her from taking the right path.

                But she still hugged the bear a bit closer all the same.