tagMind ControlA Remembrance amongst Equals Pt. 02

A Remembrance amongst Equals Pt. 02


"Ooh, I've been wandering round.
But I still come back to you. (Still come back to you.)
In rain or shine, you've stood by me, girl.
I'm happy at home. (Happy at home.)
You're my best friend."
-Queen, "You're My Best Friend"

(This chapter takes place in the morning hours on the day of "A Conversation Amongst Equals.")

"TROY!" Julie shouted as she emerged out of the gantry from the plane and into the terminal of Ted Stevens International Airport. The bleariness of the redeye flight cleared from her head at the sight of him, and she ran into his arms for a power hug, nearly knocking him backwards. Troy Medina held her close, tilted his head back and gave her a brief smooch on the lips, then resumed the hug. Julie thought it unusual for a fraction of a second, and then stopped caring as she squeezed her lifelong best friend some more.

"I thought they didn't let people this far into the terminal anymore if you're not flying," she said after almost a minute of hugging.

"They don't," Troy replied, casually looking around. "But, you know, What We Do and all. Also, if anyone asks, you're my 10-year-old daughter. And it'd still be wise to get out of here and down to Baggage before anyone does ask."

They broke the hug and started walking toward the baggage claim.

"I wouldn't have expected you to be first off the plane," Troy told her.

"Advantage of being in the first seat in first class," she replied, looking off to her side as a flight attendant emerged from the doorway. The woman adjusted her skirt and waved to Julie, mouthing the words "call me." Julie winked and nodded before turning back to face Troy. "Seen any of the old crowd since you've been back, Master?"

Troy smiled. It had been a couple years since he'd heard her call him that except via email, phone, and Skype. He'd still missed it.

"Haven't had much time for socializing, dealing with the house stuff, Mistress. Some of the old crowd are still around, though." Julie nodded.

"I'm guessing most of the cool people followed your advice." It was Troy's turn to nod and put on a British accent.

"It is the sworn duty of every Alaskan child to escape. Failing that, it is their duty to confound, confuse, and harass the enemy at every turn."

"Well, anything new?"

"Oh, you know how it goes when you leave Anchorage for an extended period: Friends leave and come back, but apart from a couple new buildings, everything tends to be the same as you left it."

They talked a bit more about friends who were still in town and what they wanted to see and do while waiting for Julie's bags. Thanks to some further use of their ability, her bags had been the last loaded, and so were the first off the plane. As they walked out into the light blue of a 3AM sky in June in Alaska to the parking garage and Troy's car, they unconsciously reached out for each other's hand.

* * *

Troy sat at the breakfast table at Julie's parents' house. A small TV was on in the nook between the dining room and the kitchen, and Julie's father was catching up on international news while she helped her mother clean up the breakfast dishes.

On the screen, Contessa Helena de San Finzione stood on a platform in an Uongoian refugee camp, giving a speech as soldiers handed aid packages out to the refugees. She spoke to the crowd in Swahili as an interpreter translated.

"When the warlords drove you from your homes, you were in need. You needed food. You needed medicine. You needed shelter. You needed to survive. You looked to America, the land that I am by turns proud and ashamed to call the land of my birth, and you told them of your needs. And they gave you 'their thoughts and prayers.'" She gave a small chuckle before continuing.

"Yes, their thoughts and prayers. And so you tried to treat your injured with thoughts. And your children went to bed with bellies full of prayers. You then looked to the European Union for aid. And they gave you words of condemnation for those who sent you from your homes and 'their concern for your struggle.' And so you treated the ill with words of condemnation, and your children ate nothing but their concern.

"And then you looked to San Finzione. And as I speak, our doctors are seeing to the sick amongst you, and our soldiers are handing out the food and water for your children. The warlords tried to blockade your camps, stand between us and you; and we stared them down until they blinked." She gestured toward the news camera.

"And now the world's eyes are upon you. They are seeing the truth of what you have suffered, of what you have lost, and what still is to be overcome; and they are learning. They are learning that when you seek empty words, you turn to the so-called 'superpowers.' But when you seek a friend who will give all they can, you turn to San Finzione!"

The refugees cheered. Julie's father turned off the television.

"I always knew that little bitch was going to be trouble, coming from that family and all," he said to Troy, picking up his coffee. "But I figured she'd just get into drugs or crime or something."

"She got into something far worse than any of that, Colonel Andrews," Troy said, taking a drink of his own coffee. "International Politics."

"Troy, son," he replied. "When your parents needed a sitter, my wife changed your diapers. If you're not comfortable with 'dad' by now, 'Tom' will do."

"You earned the rank, sir. You're entitled to it."

"Ok, call it a fuckin' order, then," Col. Andrews said, taking both their cups and walking into the kitchen to refill their coffee. "You ladies all right in here? I could use Troy's help in the den."

Julie looked over her shoulder at him with a smile.

"They're called man caves now, Daddy; and yeah, we're good here."

"Yeah, I ain't gonna call it that." He held Troy's cup out to him and gestured for him to follow.

Tom led him into a room with a couple of big recliners flanking an old leather couch with a coffee table in front of it, closing the door behind them. Moving boxes were in packed and half-packed states all over the room. Empty bookshelves lined two walls, and a spot where a big-screen TV once sat opposite the couch was now bare. Discolored spaces on the walls marked where pictures, display cases, and multiple guns once hung, though there were still a few yet be removed.

Colonel Andrews set down his coffee and took down an M1 Garand rifle and several pistols that were still up on the wall, setting them on the coffee table before removing a couple of cleaning kits and a bottle of whiskey from a desk drawer.

"Little something stronger in that," he asked Troy as he sat in the recliner and poured a bit of whiskey into his coffee. Troy nodded negatively and sat close to him on the couch.

"Bit early for me."

"Well, one of those retirement benefits they don't tell you about," he said, taking a drink. "There's no 'too early' anymore."

He pulled the op-rod back on the Garand and inspected the chamber before loading a cleaning patch onto an obstruction remover, attaching it to a cleaning cable, and pushing it down into the bore.

"Well, Troy," The Colonel said as he slowly pulled the cable from the muzzle end of the gun. "I wanted to have a little word in private with you. You and my daughter have been close friends forever, haven't you?" Troy took a sip of his coffee.

"I think it'd be safe to say that we haven't ever NOT been friends, Tom." Col. Andrews nodded as he flipped the cloth patch over and repeated the process.

"Mm-hmm. And she's a very beautiful young woman, isn't she, Troilus?" He dropped some oil onto a cleaning brush and sent it through the bore as well. Troy nodded back, admiring one of the pistols on the coffee table; a Walther PPK.

"I know I'm biased, sir; however, I'd be inclined to say that Julie is the most beautiful woman I know."

"Then dammit, boy, why the fuck haven't you ever made a move," Tom asked, handing Troy the Walther and a pistol cleaning kit. "Shit, you two got that apartment together the summer after high school, still don't know how you talked us and your parents into that. I figured you two'd be goin' like rabbits together, but it never happened!"

"It's like we explained, Tom," Troy said, staring into his eyes. "Two 18-year-olds just out of high school, having one big summer blast before college? There was GOING to be partying and loud music and being up all night, better to have it happen there than in your home."

"Yeah, see, always made sense when you talked about it, son. Well, I've seen some of the jackasses she's brought in my door before and since. I've always respected her privacy as long as she didn't get herself knocked up or thrown in jail. And I know all that jewelry hasn't come from being a sweet kid. But all those boys, and during what I hope was a phase, a couple girls; came and went, and my daughter never even talked about most of those pieces of shit again."

Troy checked the Walther to make sure the gun was empty and couldn't resist pointing it at the wall with his left arm raised and his palm outstretched and rocking back and forth a little before reaching for the kit to begin cleaning it.

"I've just never thought of her like that. I guess she's like my sister at this point."

"Well, like I say, we almost never hear a word about those losers. But she's never shut up about you. Her school was a thousand miles from yours, but every time we called to see how she was doing, she made sure to give us an update on you, too. You kids still talked most every week, if not every day. Lemme ask you: How many of those calls were the 3 AM 'just need to hear your voice' kind?" Troy took a drink and thought about it before responding.

"Oh, every couple months. Most of the time, she wouldn't give me details and I wouldn't push, just ask if she was ok, and she'd just say 'I am now.' She seemed all right after that. I'd have been on the next plane if I thought she wasn't."

"Well, I know some of them were just Julie being Julie, but every once in a while... well, she still gets the nightmares sometimes, you know."

Troy set down his cup and closed his eyes with a deep sigh.

"I have to have told her I forgave her a million times now."

"So has everyone. You two were six, it was a dumbass kid mistake, and you lived; but she still looks back and thinks what might've happened. You know my little girl walks between the raindrops, but shoving you into the pool twenty years ago; that's what wakes her up at night. And you've always been a good kid, son. Your parents were our friends for five years before either of you were born. Losing them both was hell for me and Vanessa; I can only imagine what it's been for you and your Propappy. Oh, he always had a big smile on except when he went round and round with that Helen girl's dad; but the man fought in the first big one and buried a son in the second, and then a grandson too. That's enough to wipe the smile off anyone's face, but he kept going and kept that smile up to raise you right."

"Well, with Propappou gone too, and you and Mrs. Andrews retiring to Arizona, I figure there's no need to keep the house. I'm going for my doctorate in Seattle; I'll sell it and find something there."

Tom finished with the Garand, got up, and packed it into a case before returning to his seat. He put his hand on Troy's shoulder.

"Well, that's neither here nor there. My point is, you deserve to be happy, son. And so does my daughter. And the happiest I've ever seen either of you is when you're together. And I know you're gonna get that Ph.D. Hell, every time we've let the boy next door do our taxes, we got money back; and what you did with Julie's savings got her through college without having to turn to Uncle Sam. Now she's looking at Seattle too; gonna be a new phase in both your lives. I'd feel a lot better knowing she's going into it with you." Troy reached for the whiskey and poured a little into his coffee before responding.

"Is... is that another order, Colonel," he said with a half-smile as he took a drink.

"Of course not, son. I'm just trying to say that if some day, you ever DO want to ask for my daughter's hand, don't bother. You can consider yourself pre-approved."

"Thanks, Tom. I'll give it some thought," Troy replied in a way that made it clear that he'd never given it any real thought before that moment.

Tom took the bottle and his now empty coffee cup and poured himself a finger as well.

"To that, then. Or something. I dunno, it's early." He clinked his coffee cup with Troy's. "Now, that Walther's looking real nice; a Bond nut like you's probably gonna want the Beretta next, right?"

* * *

Julie and Vanessa Andrews watched the men disappear into the den. Julie loaded the dishwasher as her mother handed plates to her.

"You know, Mom," Julie said. "They CALL this thing a dishwasher. As in 'a machine that washes dishes so you don't have to.'"

"Oh, you know those things are more like dish-polishers. They don't get the job done."

Julie closed the dishwasher and started it.

"Technology's come a long way since the 70s. Why they've got these new-fangled phones here..." She took out her phone and held it like she was introducing it to her mother for the first time. Vanessa walked over to the coffee pot and poured the last two cups before refilling it.

"If we can cut the sarcasm now, sweetie, I promise to look into a new one in Arizona." Julie smiled and grabbed the hazelnut creamer from the fridge.

"It's just gonna be so weird not calling this place home. Going to see you at Christmas and not seeing snow on the ground. Shit, seeing you any time between October and March and not seeing snow on the ground." They took their cups into the living room and sat on the couch. Julie looked out the side window at Troy's house. "Not seeing that door out the window." She looked out the front window at the shared yard with two For Sale signs flanking the mailboxes. "Fuck, even that sight bothers me."

"Things change, hon," her mother said, seeing what Julie was looking at and letting the profanity slide. She'd accepted that she'd lost the war to make her daughter speak like a lady long ago. "People get old, they retire." She looked over at Troy's door as well. "Sometimes, they die, too."

"You're not allowed to talk about that, mother." Julie took a drink of her coffee. "Especially now that Troy needs parents too."

"Well, like Daddy said, I changed his diapers alongside yours. He still has parents." She took a drink and decided to change the subject. "So, are you two moving in together again in Seattle?"

"We haven't talked about it yet, but it seems like a good idea to me. He'll be there for grad school, and it's a good place for an artist to get a start, so it'd make sense."

"Mm-hmm. Probably save money too if you got a one-bedroom place," Vanessa said, punctuating the statement with a sip of her coffee.

"Mom! Eww, gross! He's my brother!"

"He really isn't, dear. I'd think I'd remember that."

"Yeah, but, you know..."

"What I know, dear," she said, taking a photo album out from under the coffee table. "Is that when you used to have bad dreams, you didn't crawl into bed with us. You'd leave the house in the middle of the night." She opened the album to the first page, showing a newborn Julie. The next two pages showed her being held by younger versions of her parents and neighbors. The page after that showed pictures of her in a crib with another newborn. The last picture on the page was of the two of them sleeping, an arm around each other. "We were terrified the first time. Your father drove all over the neighborhood while I talked to the police." She flipped through the next few pages of Julie and the other baby getting older and learning to crawl, then walk.

"And then we got a phone call, telling us where you were." The two children in the pictures now both had hair and were identifiable as a boy and a girl. A big picture that had its own page showed Troy and Julie at age 4. Troy was asleep in his big boy bed, and the sheets were muddy. Julie was snuggled next to him, her bare feet dirty. "We stopped worrying after that, and whenever we'd wake up and not find you in your bed, we'd call the Medinas first thing." Similar pictures to that one were scattered throughout the rest of the album, slowly showing the two children getting older. "Eventually, we stopped waking them up in the night, because we always knew where you'd be."

Vanessa Andrews looked up from the album and saw her daughter staring back out the side window at the front door of the house next to theirs. They finished their coffee in silence until the silence was broken by the door to the den opening. Troy and Tom entered the living room.

"Well, we got most of the guns packed," Troy told them. Julie saw the smile on his face.

"He let you clean the Walther, didn't he?" He struck a pose and slipped into his bad Sean Connery impression.

"Why, yesh he did, Fellatio Conshtant." Everyone laughed at the joke that the two of them had started when they'd play James Bond before either of the kids knew what that word meant. He dropped the impression, then turned to Julie. "I was gonna go home and get started on Propappou's room, then maybe get a nap since I've been up since midnight. I was thinking after that, we could make some calls and see who wants to go meet us for drinks."

"Sounds good," Julie said with a smile. "I'll help, they've got movers coming next week to help them, and I'm sure there's some Propappou stuff I'll want." She got up and the two of them walked to the front door. Julie grabbed the smaller suitcase that was still by the door. "I'm gonna need a shower too before going anywhere."

"Have fun, kids," her dad said. "Don't do anything we wouldn't do."

"Like what," Julie said with mock anger and a smile. "Have a daughter and make her go through life with the name Julie Andrews? Don't worry." Troy waved and the door closed behind them.

Colonel Tom Andrews sat down on the couch next to his wife.

"What'd you talk about," she asked him. They both watched as the two climbed the porch stairs and went into the house next door.

"Even odds, the same thing you two did," he responded.

"Think we got through to them?"

"Hope we did. Be about fuckin' time."

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