Chapter 40: Homecoming
I pulled into the Country Rose Café in Bennett about 5 p.m. Inside, I looked for my mother. If she were still alive and able to walk, she’d be working.
She was nowhere in sight, but I tried not to worry. She could be in the back.
Sam’s mother, Margie, who owned the diner, came from the kitchen. “Ian, where have you been?”
“Hey, Margie.” I hugged the petite woman. “I’ve, uh—” I hadn’t yet prepared an answer for that particular question. “I’ve been in Denver, working.”
“Denver?” She frowned. “Well, your mother’ll be happy you’re okay.”
A wave of relief washed over me. “She’s okay?”
“Well, of course.”
“But she was in an accident.”
“Oh, she was only in the hospital for a few days, Hun.” Margie patted me on the shoulder. “She gave us all a bit of a scare, but it was all for nothin’. She just had a little concussion. She’s doing fine.”
“Is she here?”
The kitchen door swung open and Mom came through with a couple of plates in her hands. She gasped and dropped them, then ran over and embraced me, leaving the shattered mess on the ground.
“You’re okay.” Mom sighed with relief. “I was so worried about you.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay.” I hugged her tight. “I was afraid you were dead.”
She pulled back and smiled at me, tears welling up in her eyes. She held my arms, staring at me. “Takes more than a car wreck to coax me out of this world.” She looked back at the mess she’d left in the floor and started to head that direction.
Margie cut her off. “I’ll take care of that for ya, sweetie.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Mom said.
“It’s no problem, really. Your shift’s over anyway.”
Mom smiled, her eyes creasing at the edges.
Margie gave Mom’s arm a squeeze, then walked over to a table, apologizing to the customers for the delay of their meal.
Mom and I sat in the nearest booth.
“Where have you been?” she said.
“Denver.” It wasn’t the whole truth, but it’d have to do.
She frowned. “Why on earth were you in Denver?”
“After Dad kicked me out, I couldn’t very well stay around here.”
Her lips pressed into a line. “I had nothing to do with that.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
The frustration vanished, leaving behind concern. “So, where were you?”
“I left town and managed to…” I hesitated, not wanting to lie to her. “Let’s just say I found a job in Denver and a girlfriend.”
Mom’s eyebrows rose. “What’s her name?”
“That’s a pretty name.” Mom’s lips tilted up at the corner, an eyebrow raised. “Do you love her?”
Mom always insisted that if I didn’t love someone not to waste my time with them.
“I think so.” I couldn’t admit the more likely truth that the answer was yes because it hurt too much to think that I might never see her again.
“Well, where is she? I’d like to meet her.”
“That’s kind of why I’m here.” I fidgeted with the napkin wrapped around my silverware. “It’s hard to explain.”
“How hard can it be?”
“Well,” I leaned in close. “She’s…different.”
Mom moved in closer, cocking an eyebrow at me. “Is she missing a leg or something?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.” I looked around to see if anyone was close by. “She’s different…like me.”
My mother’s expression shifted to surprise. “Is that right?”
“She’s in trouble because of it,” I said. “Someone’s going to kill her.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I’m trying to find her.”
“Denver seems like a better place to start looking.”
I shook my head. “That’s where I started, but the trail led here. She’s not here, but someone who may know how to find her is.”
“Elian Frost.” I looked at her eyes, hoping for some sign of recognition.
“Well, I thought I knew everyone in town, but I’ve never heard of an Elian around here.”
My attention drifted for a moment to the TV behind the counter. A weatherman warned about a severe storm headed our way and a chance of tornados.
“Have you ever heard of a monastery around here?”
Mom shook her head. “There are several in Denver, but none around here I know of.”
“A monk in Denver said Elian came to a monastery here in Bennett. That’s all I know.”
Mom shrugged. “I can ask around…see what I can find out.”
“Thanks.” I pushed the silverware to the side. “Is Sam okay?”
“Oh, he’s fine. That’s taken care of.”
I frowned. “What do you mean ‘that’s taken care of’?”
She had a guilty look about her, but she said nothing. What wasn’t she telling me?
I leaned in closer. “When’s the last time you saw Dad?”
The edges of Mom’s eyes sank, weighted with worry. She appraised me, searching for something. “Why do you ask?”
I grimaced. She definitely knew something. “I think I saw him in Denver.”
“Just where did you see him?” Her words were slow and calculated.
“On the highway.” It was like we were dancing around something we both knew, but couldn’t say.
“Your dad has been…away.” Her voice barely carried across the table.
“What do you know about his being…away?” I breathed slowly. Carefully. Did I want to know the truth?
“Soon after you left, your dad went to work with...” She paused. “…an old employer.”
I cocked my head. “And just what did Dad do for this old employer?”
“I think you know the answer to that question.” Mom gave me a knowing stare. “It’s the real reason you left town.”
“Hunters.” It came out subtle and cold like black ice.
Mom nodded slowly, confirming my fear—Dad was once a Hunter, and he’d gone back to them.
“Why would he work for them?” The question had an unsavory edge to it.
“There are things you don’t know about your past, Ian.”
Chills ran through me, and Mom took my hand in hers.
“Remember that no matter what, I am still your mother and your father is still your father.”
I stared at her, confused.
“Several years ago, the Hunters recruited him after he left the CIA.”
My face contorted with disbelief. “Hold on. Dad was CIA?”
“That’s the least of what you don’t know.”
I thought back to images of my house and the barn. I’d never come across anything that indicated he’d worked for the government. That’s how the CIA and Hunters wanted it, I guessed.
“Anyway, it paid well and we needed the money.” Her eyes were adrift, staring through the table. “One day, about eighteen years ago, his team was tasked to take out a family with powers. The family had a newborn, and your dad refused to kill it or let the other Hunters get a hold of it. He and I lived in California at the time, but that was our last night there. Your dad quit, and we picked up and left for Colorado to protect the child.” Her eyes lifted to meet mine. “To protect you, Ian.”
My stomach knotted. I was going to be sick. “So my whole life is a lie?”
Mom cocked her head. “Does it make your life a lie just because you didn’t know a few details from your past?”
I narrowed hard eyes at her. “Important details.”
She nodded. “Details, nonetheless.”
“But both of you lied to me about Dad’s past. About my past.”
“We didn’t lie, we withheld.” Her expression was like steel. “What we did was for good reason. You didn’t need to know, and knowing could’ve gotten you in trouble one day. I won’t apologize for it.”
“Trouble found me anyway.” I let out a long sigh trying to take everything in.
“Remember when your powers first came out?”
“Your dad once had to kill people with powers. He was taught they were a threat to national security. To freedom. To the world. And suddenly, his child was one of those people. Can you imagine how that made him feel?”
I shook my head.
“He managed to keep you safe all these years, but he’s always struggled with it. Why do you think he was so hard on you?”
I shook my head, not fully understanding.
“He didn’t want you to grow up and misuse your powers. Or use them at all. He’s seen what people do with these powers. They go power-hungry sometimes because of it and turn into psychopaths. It’s awful what some of them do.”
“So Dad killed my real parents?”
Mom’s gaze dropped back to the table. Her slow nod twisted my stomach.
“Who were they?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m not sure your dad knew either. But from what he says, they’d gone mad. They probably would’ve killed you.”
So that was all I’d ever know about my parents. That they’d gone mad and might have killed me. What kind of sick joke was this?
I pushed the subject aside, unable to process it at that moment. “Why did Dad go work for the Hunters again? Now that I’m gone, it’s just back to business as usual?” I fumed under the surface but kept it restrained.
My mother breathed deep, closing her eyes, then opened them again, unable to look at me. “I don’t know. He didn’t say.” She glanced at the clock. “I’m late picking up Jeannie from her hair appointment. I need to go.” She leaned in close. “It’s not safe for you at the house. Maybe not even here at the café. I’ll ask around tonight about the monastery and Elian. Meet me back here an hour after closing.”
“Be careful,” she said.
As if that were possible.
We stood and said our goodbyes. Mom gave me a hug, then headed for the door.
I sat for a long while thinking about what I’d just learned. How was I supposed to feel about being lied to by my own parents? It was like I’d lived in a home my entire life with concrete walls containing secrets. And now its walls were crumbling down.
Before long, the TV caught my attention again. The weatherman said the last time a storm cell like this was seen, it produced an F5 tornado more than a mile wide with winds exceeding 300 mph. It destroyed Joplin, Missouri.
I didn’t take the warning too seriously. Weathermen often blew things out of proportion. Besides, what were the chances?
I hadn’t noticed, but the café had cleared out in the past few minutes. No one wanted to get caught in the storm.
My muscles were tense, stomach churning. I needed to relax. Some fresh air would do me good.
I walked out of the diner and breathed deep. A warm, humid wind wrapped its arms around me. Goosebumps sprang up all over my skin. It didn’t get much more relaxing than this. It was my favorite kind of weather.
I let out a long sigh, releasing some of my tension. An eerie, green tint blanketed everything.
“Ian!” said a familiar voice.
When I turned, I saw Sam hurrying my direction. Thank God he was okay. He waved his hands at me, but it wasn’t a greeting. He was trying to tell me something.
A Ford F150 pickup smashed down in front of me, grill first. It crunched to nearly half its size and toppled to the side.
I jumped back, my relaxation abruptly stolen from me.
The western sky bubbled like a black cauldron. A rotating mass of clouds attached to it destroyed the land just outside of Bennett.
That’s when I understood why the weatherman made such a big deal out of the weather.