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The time had come.
Stanley was prepared, as his former master had provided everything that he needed. Oh yes, there had been some research involved on Stanley's end, but he'd led another life before his current one, and this task was no trouble.
And so, Stanley poured himself a cup of coffee to enjoy with his morning paper. Stanley was a man of tradition, and an actual newspaper with a morning coffee was still his. He knew his day's work would be trying, and the anxiety filled him in a way that the coffee could not.
Esther cowered. She was always cowering. She'd hate herself for it, if she ever took a moment to think of herself. But she saved all of her thoughts for Ray. How could she please him? Did he need something? What could she do to avoid him getting angry again today?
Ray had a way of communicating with his fists. When they were first dating, Esther thought that this was nice. A powerful man, standing in her corner, keeping creeps off her back. Now? Now she hid, slumped down when she heard a car pull in to the driveway.
"Michael Bellanova to the office, please."
The squawking of the announcement over the classroom loud-speaker jarred Mickey from a daydream. Now he was alert, feeling the eyes of his classmates turn to him. No one ever noticed him, not really. But now they stared, teenage indifference giving way to curiosity. He froze.
"Go on, Mickey!" said an urgent whisper of a voice. He snapped around to see Corryn giving him a look that said, "What are you doing?!"
Without taking anything, Mickey rose from his desk and approached the front of the classroom.
Washing dishes is June's favorite chore, certainly more fun than picking up her toys. Probably this is because daddy is really doing all the work, and June just hastily wipes down the plates and carefully sets them in the dishwasher, eagerly awaiting the next one.
Jacob was blessed. He often took time to thank the Lord for his wife and two beautiful children. June was four now, and Lisa was not planning on having any more children, so these two would be the full family. Ever since he'd been adopted at the age of six, he'd wanted family.
Vodka polluted the air. Some woman clumsily scuffled about the apartment, or Peter would still be asleep. Rubbing his eyes, he wished she'd just left.
"Whatcha lookin' for?" he asked. His words reverberated around his head like it was an empty vessel. Each time the words bounced, he felt a little more pain behind his eyes.
He could vaguely remember bringing her home, filling her with booze both at the bar and here. She wasn't classy, but he wasn't exactly picky. And she'd gotten him to forget Maureen and Candice, so he'd consider her a success.
There was a ring of the doorbell. Mitchell had almost forgotten that their small studio had a doorbell. If it weren't for groceries and doctor's appointments, he'd honestly forget that there was a door.
Cooper gestured over his shoulder at the source of the sound, but remained silent. Cooper rarely diverted his attention from the task at hand, and the doorbell proved unworthy of special consideration.
Mitchell retired the puzzle piece he'd been toying with, crossing the room to the door. When he opened it, he expected a person. But only a marked envelope awaited him.
She eased open the door, hastily wiping the tears from her cheeks. To her surprise, there was no one at the door though. Taped to the storm door was an embossed envelope with an old-fashioned wax seal across the opening.
"Who is it," called Kristina from upstairs.
As she reaches around the storm door to grab the envelope, Paula doesn't know how to respond. What if it's some sympathy card or something like that? She can't handle that right now.
"No one is here, just an envelope," she says back. "It's for me."
It wasn't Ray. She hears the car door quietly close, and the car crunch down the gravel drive.
Withdrawing from her hiding place, Esther cautiously creeps around the furniture. Her eyes never waiver from the back of the solid oak door, watching the light from the peephole. If the stream of light breaks, even for a second, she'll be ready. But it doesn't.
Glare unflinching, Esther gradually finds herself right in front of the door. This is when she steps on something. Looking down, she discovers that mail was pushed through the slot and awaits her.
It was a question that worked for Mickey on many levels. His parents looked so torn and serious, but Mickey also had never heard of any Lucas Stone, and was genuinely curious about this person.
"You've been invited to the reading of this man's will, son," his dad said through pained eyes. "We believe he--he may have been your father."
"My...what?" Mickey sputtered.
"Your biological father," broke in Mickey's mother.
A wrecking ball crashed into Mickey's chest. He staggered back, as her words collided into him.
As she read the words printed on the letter, her mind glazed over with a million micro-thoughts. Was it just her imagination, or had this paper been artificially made to look old? Who was this dead person, and why did he leave something to her? What if it was millions of dollars, or a mansion in the hills?
As she pondered, Kristina came downstairs at last, toweling off her wet hair.
"So, what is it?" she questioned, shaking some water out of her ears.
"I'm not sure yet.." Paula pondered, her thoughts wild.
"What does it mean?" Lisa asked.
"I suppose it means that we are going to California," Jacob said.
"Disneyland?!" exclaimed June. Her face flushed with excitement at the thought of Mickey and Minnie dancing with her in a parade like she'd seen on TV.
"If there's time," Jacob smiled.
"We can't afford to go across the country if this will amounts to nothing," Lisa said.
"Then maybe the Lord will provide at the reading. I don't have any idea what to expect , but I suspect we could use a vacation."
The actions had been taken, and the pieces were in motion. Stanley imagined momentarily the looks on the faces of strangers, opening the golden envelopes with the red wax seal of his former employer's family. The shock that they had family, that they had inherited something from the abandoner of their infant selves. The corners of his mouth curled, remembering each one taken away.
He banished the thoughts back to memory, moving on to the new task at hand. Preparation was key. There would be many new faces in his domain soon, and there was much to do.
A dark girl was the first to arrive, her pale complexion hidden behind a cascade of raven hair and self-loathing. The girl approached the large, ornately carved doors that allowed entry to the vast mansion. As she did, the door to the right slid open, and a somber-but-smirky man slid in the opening created there.
"Miss Olivia?" he questioned, seeming to already know the answer.
She hesitated, eerily uncomfortable in the face of someone who was so seemingly the opposite.
"Yeah," she mumbled.
Stanley glided right, welcoming her within.
Olivia looked around the room the old man had escorted her to. It was dark, soaked in deep mahogany on the floors and furniture, and yet was also oddly bright. The curtains had been pinned back, allowing the morning light to spill in through the windows. Olivia noted that the entire room looked freshly cleaned, but still dank. The mood of the room suited her, and she it.
A few minutes later she was joined in this chamber by a family of four. The father was a tall, stout man, Olivia observed, and he walked straight and proud.
As the family broached the doorway, they burst through it like clowns mass-exiting a clown-car, Olivia thought. She smirked at the image in her mind, but she did not laugh.
Two children, June and Nathan, galloped around like ponies, oohing and awing at the room's treasure trove of untouchables. The mother looked ordinary, unremarkable by most any standard. Her passive nature was only upset by her children's abandon. She hushed them into more respectable demeanors before greeting Olivia with a sheepish apology.
"Do you know the man who passed?" asked the oaken father figure.
Outside, a boy on a bicycle rolled to the gate outside of the massive property. Mickey stopped at the threshold to the entrance, completely stunned at the size of this home. The gargoyles leering from atop the pillars on either side of the gate challenged him to enter with their mischievous looks. Filled with wonder at how he had ended up here, Mickey settled his resolve and placed his right foot back onto the pedal, crossing over the property line. There was no looking back now.
The mansion loomed over the nearby landscape. It was once beautiful here.
With the room of strangers gathered, Stanley glanced at his watch. As he looked down, the second hand ticked upright so that all hands pointed to twelve. With that, he removed a golden envelope from his breast-pocket, and proceeded to the far end of the room.
"Greetings to you all. I am very pleased that you all could make it to the reading of the last will and testament of Lucas Stone."
Mickey's ears burned, hearing the name for the first time aloud since he'd fought with his parents. Or, whoever they are, he thought.
Stanley pulled a scrawled page from the envelope and read out these words:
"I, Lucas Stone, being of sound mind do hereby proclaim this to be my last will and testament."
Jacob could feel a growl in his stomach trying to lurch forward, but suppressed it. The air crackled with electric excitement.
"I do hereby leave my entire estate to the children of my wife Estelle and I. Due to circumstances beyond control, those children have no idea who we were. But in death, I may finally claim them, and announce their extraordinary gifts."
A light bulb overheard exploded. Several more could be heard following in quick succession. Lisa screamed and squeezed June a little too tightly, who began to cry.
Peter and Jacob rose to their feet, going instinctively into protector mode.
"Was that a power surge?" asked Mickey.
Nathan also cried now. Children are so empathetic to the emotional climate, thought Olivia. Paula sat scrunched over, her head between her knees, feet up on the edge of the chair.
"This is an old house," Stanley started. "Things like this happen from time to time."
"You have been left an equal share of the entire estate of Lucas and Estelle Stone, including all holdings."
Stanley cleared his throat. "And lastly, you have each been--altered."
"What the hell does that mean?" asked Ray. "Ain't nothing 'altered' about this old bag of bones."
"Ray..." Esther weakly admonished.
"Shut up," he snarled. "We're done. How much? What do we get, so we can get the hell back out of here and leave you Froot Loops in the rearview?"
Peter bristled, but couldn't beat Cooper to a response.
"Froot Loops were introduced in 1962 containing just red, orange, and yellow colored loops, and are made with no actual fruit."
All eyes turned to Cooper for a moment, except Mitchell's. Cooper went back to fiddling with the zipper on his coat, while Mitchell put his hand over his face and drooped his head.
"Freak," mumbled Ray.
"Your wife receives nothing without being with her brothers and sisters, Mr. Tucker. Everything is contingent on them being together."
"Aw, that's bullshit!" Ray was mad now, jumping from his chair and clenching his fists.
"Sir, please let the man finish." Jacob stood as he said this, towering over Ray. Intimidated and frustrated, Ray mumbled beneath his breath, but plopped back into his chair. He roughly bumped Esther as he collapsed, eliciting a tiny yelp from her.
"Please, continue." Jacob settled back into his seat on the sofa next to his family, pushing Nathan's hair back as he did so.
"The reason that you must be together," Stanley began, a strange look crossing his face, "is related to your father's alteration. Henceforth, you will be tied together by more than blood."
"What is this 'alteration' already?" Mitchell startled himself with the exclamation, but he had reached his breaking point. "What is going on here? I'd like to know now, so that I can get my brother home."
The consensus in the room seemed to lie with Mitchell, though. Everyone had had enough of the cryptic hints, and was ready to know what was really going on.
"Your father was a brilliant biologist and engineer. He developed a serum that would bestow gifts upon those treated with it. But not all was well with your father, Lucas Stone."
"Lucas Stone was mad. He developed a serum along with his lab assistant in his early twenties. He had already made a fortune off of various patents and copyrights. But this was to be his masterpiece."
"Mr. Stone had married during his college years to a woman named Estelle Barbeaux. She was breath-taking, and they began to try and conceive a child shortly after his fortune became apparent. But there were problems."
"The lab assistant and Mr. Stone were able to pioneer some genetics work while searching for a solution, and then it happened. Magic!"
"Lucas tested the serum on lab creatures, but never began the next phase until the birth of his son. He wanted to make his progeny special, so he did something unthinkable. Lucas Stone made his son the first human subject of his experiments."
"To his disappointment, nothing extraordinary happened to the young Mr. Stone, however, and Lucas was so crushed that he shelved the work altogether."
"Years went by before the birth of he and Estelle's next child, a daughter. And shortly thereafter another daughter, then a second son. Their family grew, along with his unrest."
"In a moment of sheer insanity, Lucas stole his young children from their nursery. He locked himself in his lab alone. No Mrs. Stone. No lab assistants. Just him, the children, and his foolish brain."
"He injected each of the children, so that now they all became experiments." Stanley spat out these last words, getting visibly red-faced.
"He had no value for their lives. He only wanted test subjects for his latest hare-brained theory!"
Stanley began shaking violently, and Lisa jumped to help him into a seat.
"I'm so sorry."
Reaching to comfort the older man, Jacob inadvertently brushed against Paula's leg. A loud pop of static electricity crackled when they made contact, startling both.
On a dime, Jacob's face turned hot. "Watch out, you stupid twit!" he shouted into Paula's direction.
"I--I'm sorry," Paula began, stuttering.
"Jacob, what has gotten into you?" Lisa stood and intervened.
Her husband swiveled on his back foot to face her, rage in his eyes. And then he saw June and Nathan. On the couch behind Lisa, the children cowered. They were scared of him.
Seeing their frightened expressions gave Jacob that pause, and the heat drained from his face. Suddenly, he was horror-stricken.
"Lisa--Miss, I am so sorry!"
"What's gotten into you?" Lisa demanded.
"I--I don't know. Excuse me."
Jacob rushed from the room. The gathered crowd heard a door to the home close in the distance.
"Perhaps we could all use a break," Stanley suggested.
Wandering outdoors was not something Olivia enjoyed, but she needed a smoke, and she thought the "butler" might bust her inside.
As she walked the premises, she discovered herself in a garden with high hedges. Intrigued by the idea of a possible hedge maze like in
, Olivia proceeded even after she'd finished her cigarette. Only after she'd ventured deep into the garden did she hear the others.
"I swear, I don't know," she heard a man say. Jacob, she thought.
"You looked like you wanted to kill them. I've never been so embarrassed, and so scared in my life." The wife, Olivia thought.
A rustling noise came from behind, alarming her.
"Sorry to interrupt your eavesdropping," said Mitchell.
Relaxing only slightly, Olivia fired back. "You're one to talk, creepy stalker. Where's your twin?"
"He wanted to stay put in the room, so the blonde lady offered to keep an eye on him," replies Mitchell, sheepishly.
"So you're just trusting some stranger to watch out for your retarded brother?"
"He's not retarded, he's autistic."
"Whatever. Shut up or leave. I'm trying to hear this squabble."
For a moment they both fall silent, catching a few words from the couple's argument.
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