Family Ties - (Book 3 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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2 - New Student

“I’m sorry for disappearing on you like that,” Kiara said, jotting down a few notes on a chart.

“It’s all good. What happened to you?” Mikey asked. He adjusted his recovering leg on the hospital bed.

“I uh... ran into a little mishap while... helping another patient,” she said slightly confused. She was still having a hard time wrapping her mind around what had happened herself. Elijah had dropped her off back at the hospital once he felt she was well enough to stand on her own.

“You bump your head or something?” Mikey asked, motioning to the bandage on her forehead.

Kiara touched her forehead, trying to remember. “Yea... I can be a little clumsy at times.”

“And you’re my nurse? Nah, fam,” Mikey joked.

“Excuse you,” she laughed, playfully slapping him on the shoulder. “You’re recovering well. A few more hours with the IV and you should be good for release.”

“Aight, coo. Thanks, Kiara,” he said gratefully. She nodded to him with a smile.

~*~

Kiara packed her things, getting ready to leave after a long shift. She spotted the head nurse Patricia walking toward another room. “Hey! Patricia!” Kiara said, jogging after her.

“Yea? What is it? I’ve got things to do,” Patricia said impatiently.

“Do you know what happened to that injured paramedic?” Kiara asked.

“What injured paramedic?”

“The one who got attacked outside trying to help me,” Kiara explained.

“There was no injured paramedic,” Patricia said exasperated.

Kiara looked at her confused. “That’s impossible. He was nearly mauled to shreds. How is he not here?”

“Kiara, I already told you. There was no one outside. There was no injured paramedic. Now stop wasting my time, I have to go.” Patricia turned on her heels and briskly walked away.

Kiara watched her completely stunned and even more confused than before.

~*~

The next couple of days flew by as Kiara excitedly prepared for her first week at Excalibur University. She stepped onto the campus feeling a range of emotions: excitement, anxiety, apprehension, and determination.

She looked up at the large university building, taking in its old Gothic architecture, typical of the small New England city. “Beautiful,” she said to herself. As she began walking down the pathway, she glanced at the college students sitting on the front grass and on the steps, talking and reading. Some were tossing around a ball while the others listened to loud music.

She shifted her bag on her shoulder as she scanned the area. She landed on a familiar pair of blue eyes looking her way before the person disappeared into the building. She tilted her head to the side in confusion. “Alexander?”

“LOOK OUT!”

She looked up just in time to be knocked to the ground by a guy wearing a plain white t-shirt and a jean jacket with a football tucked underneath his arm. She let out a squeal as she tumbled to the ground. The guy quickly maneuvered her out from underneath him so that he didn’t land on top of her.

“Oh, shit! Sorry!” the guy said, holding her on top of him.

“It’s okay,” she groaned. She looked down to see who tackled her and her eyes widened in shock. “LEO?!”

The guy underneath her squinted his light blue eyes before a huge smile painted his face. “NO FUCKING WAY! ANGEL?!”

“LEO!” She screamed again, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly as he embraced her back. “Oh my gosh, Leo! I haven’t seen you in years!”

“I know! What the hell?! I didn’t know you were attending Excalibur,” he said. He smiled up at her once she released his face from her death grip.

“I just started today-” Realizing she was still lying on top of him, Kiara quickly scrambled off of Leo. “Sorry...” she said embarrassed. She briefly looked over his physique. With large broad shoulders, a firm chest that showed through the sheerness of his shirt and large biceps that flexed every time he moved, Kiara almost didn’t recognize him. The short dirty blonde beard especially threw her off. It was his signature goofy smile that complemented his light blue eyes and dark blonde hair that brought back her nostalgia of the goofy kid she went to school with long ago. “It’s so good to see you, Leo,” she said fondly.

“It’s good to see you too,” he said, sitting up. He stood to his feet and reached his hand out for her to grab. As he pulled her to her feet, he looked her over, taking in her casual hip-hugging jeans, black tank top, and unbuttoned red and black flannel. Her hair had grown longer, down to her shoulders, since he had last seen her. And her dark chocolate brown eyes shimmered with excitement. She looked as beautiful as ever. “You look good, Kiara,” he said softly.

She felt flustered under his blue gaze, and he cleared his throat to regain composure. “I mean... I haven’t seen you since we were kids,” he said, trying to recover.

“I know, dude, look at you! Lookin’ all big, bad and boujee,” she said, pinching his firm bicep. He practically towered over her. “You play football now? I don’t remember you being this buff when we were kids.”

“It’s been a long ass time, Angel,” he smirked at her.

“‘Angel’...” she repeated softly. “Dang. I haven’t heard that nickname in a while,” she smiled fondly.

“Hey, no amount of time or distance can keep you from being my angel,” he said, draping his arm over her shoulders.

She rolled her eyes and shoved him in the side. “Ya big dork.”

He stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep himself from touching her as he watched her pick up her book bag from the ground. “I can carry that for you,” he said quickly.

She looked up at him surprised and then smirked. “I’m a big girl, Leo. I got it,” she grinned.

“What classes are you taking?” he asked as they headed to the doors’ entrance.

“Well, I’m on this specialized, accelerated MD track so... Biochemistry, Physiology, Neuroscience, my rare disease practicum, aaaaand I still need to pick an elective,” she said, counting on her fingers.

“Sounds... fun,” he said sarcastically.

“Tons,” she said, rolling her eyes. “And what about you?”

“AYO, LEO! WHAT THE FUCK, BRO?!” They both looked up to see a group of guys waving their arms in the air, beckoning Leo over.

“Oh shit... I forgot I was in the middle of a casual game with some friends,” he chuckled nervously. He tucked the football underneath his arm.

“It’s okay,” she giggled. “I don’t wanna hold you up.”

“Let’s ah... let’s catch up later, yea, Angel?” he said, walking backward. “I’ll come find you.”

“Sure!” she waved. He gave her a warm smile before turning around and jogging in the direction of his friends.

~

Kiara stood in line at the Admissions Office waiting for her name to be called. She scanned the large office area, taking in the many school posters, the academic calendar, and advertising for sports and clubs. When she heard a door open, she looked over and noticed a strikingly beautiful dark-skinned older woman coming out of an office. Her unique buzzcut greatly accentuated her remarkable features, including her adorable wide nose and regal thick lips. The woman warmly hugged a younger brown-skinned female student with large kinky hair that swallowed her small face.

“Make sure you follow up with me after that exam, alright Rhea,” the woman said.

“Yes, ma’am,” the girl smiled. The girl walked past Kiara, giving her just a quick glance before she hurried out of the Admissions office.

“Ms. LaFleur?” Kiara quickly looked over at the woman who called her name. “I’m ready to see you now,” the woman said.

Kiara shifted her book bag on her shoulder and walked towards the woman with her hand extended. “Hi! Professor Toussaint?”

“That’s me,” the woman smiled, taking her hand. She shook her hand and led her into the office. “But you can call me Marshala.”

“That’s a really beautiful name,” Kiara said.

“Why thank you,” Marshala said, taking a seat at her desk.

“And you are really really beautiful!” Kiara blurted.

“Oh! Wow, aren’t you forward!” Marshala laughed.

“I’m so sorry!” Kiara said, quickly covering her mouth. “That was honest to God supposed to be a thought bubble!” she said, feeling embarrassed.

“Hey, listen. I respect a sista who can acknowledge another sista’s skills, knowledge, and of course beauty. We all we got, right? And you’re a very beautiful girl yourself, Kiara,” Marshala smiled, showing her pearly whites.

“You’re right, you’re right... Thank you, Marshala. Honestly, I was really nervous about attending a predominantly white school and especially going into the field that I’m in. Not a lot of us brown faces present, you know?” Kiara sighed.

“Oh, I know. That’s why I specifically requested to be your guidance counselor,” Marshala said.

Kiara perked up. “You did?!”

“Well, of course. You know we have more in common than just the fact that we’re both black women,” Marshala smiled.

“You have a French last name as well,” Kiara added.

“Right. I also specialize in healing sciences.”

“Healing... sciences? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before,” Kiara said curiously.

Marshala smirked knowingly. “In time, you will... Now, let’s go over your class schedule.” She adjusted the glasses on her face and scrolled through her computer screen. “Biochemistry. Physiology. Neuroscience. One elective. And the rare disease-study practicum. You’ve got a packed schedule.”

“Yup,” Kiara said, already feeling overwhelmed as it was read aloud.

“And you still plan on working at the hospital?”

“Well, yea. I gotta pay my rent somehow. Plus, I can’t really imagine not working with patients, you know? I feel... incomplete if I’m not doing something to help others...”

Marshala looked at Kiara fondly as she fiddled with her fingers. “You know... only 5 minutes into talking to you, and I already see so much of myself in you,” Marshala said suddenly.

Kiara’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really?!”

“Ambitious. Self-sacrificial... empathetic... all wonderful traits to have and fitting for someone going into the field that you are. Just be careful not to let people take advantage of that,” she warned. Kiara considered her words and nodded. “You probably didn’t know this, but you get free room and board if your research expands to real-life patients,” Marshala said, grabbing a piece of paper and pen.

“Woah! Wait, really?! No, I didn’t know that. But the disease I’m studying is... so rare. The only people who might have it would probably be in like... Cameroon or Côte d’Ivoire or something.”

“Let’s look into it. We can always check the local hospitals,” Marshala said, scribbling. “What’s the name of the disease again?”

“It doesn’t really have an official name per se, but it is known to go by ‘mort de l’âme’.”

Marshala quickly looked up at her. “You’re researching the mort de l’âme disease?”

“Or ‘soul death’ if you prefer English. But I like the French name better... sounds less... morbid,” she chuckled.

“Interesting...” Marshala said, continuing to write. “What made you choose that disease to do your research?”

Kiara pondered the question, trying to think back to her decision-making moment.”Well... I’ve been an orphan for as long as I can remember. I went from foster home to foster home for a while until my estranged Aunt took me in when I reached junior high. She and I don’t have much of a relationship, so I still don’t really know much about my family or where we come from. Just that we all populated New Orleans, Louisiana a while before migrating up to New England. I was rummaging through some of her old stuff in the attic when I was cleaning up her house, cause you know... gotta put in some work for her to let me stay. And, I came across some really old family pictures and documents. But when I brought it to her, she didn’t really want to talk about it. I get the sense that the memory is either really uncomfortable or really painful for her.”

“What makes you say that?” Marshala asked.

Kiara furrowed her brow as she recollected back to the moment. “I just remember her getting really tense when I showed her the box of stuff. When I showed her this old black and white picture of what I thought was my grandmother, she got teary-eyed before she yelled at me to ‘stay out of her shit’... yea... My aunt is not very friendly...”

“I’m sorry to hear that...”

“It’s okay. I don’t know much about her, but... she seems like she’s been through some hard times. Nevertheless, she took me in...” Kiara trailed off and then shook her head with a chuckle. “Sorry, I swear I’m getting to the point,” she chuckled nervously.

“It’s okay...”

“So, anyway, one of those documents listed some plague or disease that took place during the time my family was in New Orleans. A disease so deadly it wiped out 3/4 of the town... taking most of my family with it... And it’s weird because this disease didn’t always bring immediate death. The symptoms are weird. How it paralyzes the heart and slowly decays the brain but keeps the victim alive long enough to feel that entire process. Like literally... your heart is purposely slowed just enough to keep you alive and feel your mind decay. It’s crazy! Anyway, I looked it up and came across ‘mort de l’âme’.”

“Soul death...” Marshala said softly.

“Right. I decided to put my research into that. There are others around the world who show symptoms and there’s no cure. I want to join the fight to stop it and also possibly learn more about my family.”

“That’s really brave of you, Kiara..”

“Eh... I don’t know about that..”

“To learn how your family possibly died? It can be painful... You sure you want to go that route?”

“I never really knew my family anyway, so it’s okay. I’m not attached. Besides, it’s for the greater good,” she said, perking up. “Oh God, I sound like a freaking Avenger ‘FOR THE GREATER GOOD, CITIZENS!’“

Marshala chuckled as Kiara covered her face in embarrassment. “Well, you still need to choose an elective. Here are a few courses I recommend in line with what you’re studying. Let’s follow up on how you’re doing after the first week of classes.” She handed Kiara the paper.

“Thank you, Professor. And ah... thanks for listening to my life’s story,” she chuckled as she stood to her feet. “I’ll see you around!”

Marshala waved and watched as Kiara rushed out of her office. She picked up her phone and dialed, waiting until someone picked up on the other end. “Hey... she’s here… she’s beautiful... looks just like her mother. Almost sounds like her a little too. She’s clearly got her head on her shoulders, brilliant girl. I expect nothing less from the LaFleurs though...right... mhm… no, she’s not ready yet... but she will be... in time...”

~*~

Kiara rushed through the hallways, trying to get to the 3rd elective on Marshala’s list of recommendations. “‘Mythical Beings in History.’ Room 809,” she read the paper Marshala wrote the information on. “But where are you?”

She quickly opened a door, thinking it was the right classroom. But her eyes widened in shock at what she saw before her. “Oh! Yes! Cole! Fuck, baby!” a woman’s voice rang out.

“AH!” Kiara quickly covered her face and slammed the door shut. “Was that... Cole was... okay, hell naw,” she said, rushing down the hallway. She finally made another turn to find her class. She could hear the professor already speaking. She cussed under her breath as she slowly opened the door to the lecture hall.

“The Hunters can be found in almost every civilization throughout history,” the professor spoke loudly.

Kiara quietly closed the door behind her and tiptoed towards an empty seat in the far back. The class was crowded to full capacity. She knew that was only because it was the first day.

She sat next to a pretty brown-skinned black girl with large kinky curls that framed her face. She looked vaguely familiar. Kiara set her book bag down on the floor and pulled out a notebook, anxiously searching for a pen. “Seriously?! No pens?!” she whispered angrily to herself.

“Here,” the girl said, handing her a pencil.

“Oh! Thanks!” Kiara said, taking it from her.

“My name’s Rhea. Rhea Moreau,” the girl said.

“Kiara LaFleur,” she smiled at her. She finally recognized her by her name as the girl who left Marshala’s office earlier.

“Are you okay? You look a little flustered,” Rhea chuckled.

“Well, in addition to being late to class, I walked into the wrong room and caught someone I think I know screwing another student. I think I’m a bit traumatized,” Kiara chuckled nervously.

“Yikes!” Rhea giggled. “And it’s only the first day!” The two girls giggled together.

“Ladies! I hope I’m not interrupting,” the professor called from the front.

“Uh... no... sorry, Professor,” Rhea said apologetically.

Kiara looked at her professor curiously. He was tall, with large broad shoulders, and ruggedly handsome with short, brown curly hair on his head that matched the large smooth beard that decorated his face.

“Crap... that’s our professor?” Kiara whispered.

“Yup! Professor Nicholas Volkov. But everyone calls him Professor Nick.”

“Zamn zaddy... he’s hot!” Kiara said, looking him over.

“Don’t say that too loud. He’s known for having great hearing,” Rhea smirked.

“Oh, come on. We’re way back here. There’s no way he can hear us if we whisper.”

“Girl! I am telling you! He hears everything!” Rhea whispered back.

“Oh please, Rhea! What is he a wolf or something,” Kiara teased.

Suddenly, Professor Nick’s sharp blue eyes flickered up as they landed on her, imprisoning her in an intense gaze. She sat there stunned for a moment until he looked away to continue his lecture. “Crap... you weren’t kidding about that super hearing,” she whispered nervously.

Rhea chucked. “Told you. He’s a really nice guy, though. He really cares about his students. Just don’t get on his bad side,” Rhea whispered lowly. Kiara nodded as she sat back in her chair still analyzing her professor. Something about him seemed familiar that she couldn’t place.

“Now that I’ve given you a rather brief introduction,” Professor Nick smirked as everyone chuckled at his sarcasm. “Let’s get down to what this class is really about, what I expect from you, and what you can expect from me.” Everyone seemed to lean in as they listened to him intently.

“This is Mythical Beings in History. Meaning it’s a class about legendary creatures that may or may not exist as seen throughout history. For some of you, this is just some random elective that you won’t give a shit about. You just want to get your credits and call it a day.” A couple of the students snickered. “I get it. I won’t judge. And for others... you take this subject seriously. It’s important to you. It means something to you. And you’re expecting to get something out of it. I promise you that if you put in the work and you truly use your mind to comprehend the content I teach you, you won’t be disappointed.”

“What I expect from you,” he continued as he paced the front of the class. “Be here on time. Don’t interrupt my lectures with your tardiness, your small talk, or your drama. Complete your assignments by the deadline. I don’t give extensions unless you’re dying.” He grinned as the class snickered again. “What you can expect from me... you can ask me anything about the subject, whether within these lecture halls or more privately if you don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of the class,” he said.

“Ooh, private lessons,” Kiara teased as Rhea stifled her giggle with her hand.

“You will only ever receive honest and open answers and feedback from me. I will always take your questions seriously. No question is stupid,” he said to the class. He finally walked to the center of the lecture hall and faced them all. “You get from this class what you’re willing to put into it. How much you learn is completely up to you.” His eyes once again landed on Kiara. His stare made her feel unnerved. She wondered if he heard her ‘private lessons’ joke and didn’t take to it too kindly.

“Your first assignment is to read the first 2 chapters of your textbook on mythical animals. I expect a 2-page summary analysis on at least two creatures due for our next lecture. Class dismissed.”

The students immediately got up from their seats as they started to shuffle out of the lecture hall. “What did you think?” Rhea asked Kiara as they packed their things.

“It sounds interesting. I do need another elective. It’s a weird class, but I think it’s a nice break from all the science and medical classes I’ll be taking,” Kiara said, pulling the straps of her bag over her shoulders.

“Good idea. I’m definitely taking it. We should be study partners,” Rhea said.

“You really think we’ll need to study for this class,” Kiara smirked.

“You never know,” Rhea shrugged as they walked out of the lecture hall together. “Still, it’ll be fun to talk about together.”

Kiara nodded as she turned the corner and walked smack into someone’s broad chest. She stumbled backward before she felt a hand quickly grab her to keep her from falling. “Oh! Jeez, what the hell! Is this a trend with me bumping into people today?” she said, trying to find her balance. She looked up to see who she bumped into this time and immediately lost her words as she stared at the familiar pair of melancholic blue eyes.

“A-Alexander? H-hi...” she stammered.

“Hey,” he said softly, looking at her. His gaze was so intense that she felt herself starting to sweat.

“Were you... were you just in that class?” she asked him.

“Yea...”

She bit her lip, not knowing why she had such a hard time talking to him. She thought she could talk to anybody but he made her nervous. She glanced over at Rhea who seemed to be giving Alexander a tense and disapproving look. “Oh, Alexander, this is my new friend Rhea.”

Alexander looked at Rhea and she only narrowed her eyes further before she glanced at Kiara. “Nice to meet him. Um... I’m gonna go,” she said coldly.

Kiara was surprised by Rhea’s sudden change in demeanor. From sweet to sour in 5 seconds flat. “Oh... okay. Did you wann-” Kiara started.

“I’ll catch up with you later, Kiara,” Rhea said, cutting her off. She turned on her heels and quickly walked away from them.

Kiara stared bewildered by Rhea’s behavior. She felt Alexander’s eyes on her again and turned to look at him. “So, do you think you’ll take that class?” she asked, trying to continue the conversation.

“Don’t really have a choice,” he sighed.

“Oh. Is it like a requirement for your major or something?” she asked.

“No.”

Kiara deflated, feeling discouraged by his short answers that left little room to continue the conversation. It didn’t help that he just kept staring at her not saying anything at all.

Alexander analyzed all the details of her face like he was looking at her for the first time. He didn’t know why he felt so lured to her. He had to watch his behavior around her as he could tell from the way she shifted from one foot to the other that he was making her feel uncomfortable.

“Um... I should probably head to my next class,” she said, not looking at him.

“Okay.”

Kiara wanted to roll her eyes. Again with the short answers! “I’ll see you later, Alexander,” she said, walking in the other direction.

His blue eyes followed her as he watched her walk away. He felt a familiar, unwanted presence and looked up to see Professor Nick staring at him from the doorway of the lecture hall. He narrowed his eyes threateningly before turning around and briskly walking away.

~*~

“Hi! My name is Clare! I’m Professor Marshala’s assistant! It’s so nice to meet you! She’s told me SO many great things about you!”

Kiara looked at the bubbly blonde woman a bit overwhelmed by her overly-excited personality. “...she did?”

“Totes mcgoats! Please have a seat! She tasked me with finding you a patient for your disease study practicum!”

“Oh! Wow! I didn’t expect her to go full force with it so soon. I really appreciate that,” Kiara said, taking a seat in front of Clare’s desk back at the Admissions office.

“Marshala cares about all of her students! And even better news, I ACTUALLY FOUND YOU A PATIENT!” Clare said excitedly.

“Woah! What?! How? Here? In New England? Seriously?” Kiara said in shock.

“Yes! Isn’t that fantastic luck? Couldn’t believe it myself considering how rare the disease is. The patient’s name is Evangeline Blackbourne. She’s actually not too far from the school.”

Blackbourne... why does that name sound so familiar… Kiara asked herself.

“Now, I’ve already spoken with the patient’s family and they’re more than happy to give you their guest room. You can share all their amenities including their kitchen, bathroom, and study room. They’re a rather small and private family who care very deeply for the patient in question,” Clare explained.

“This is unreal. I can’t believe my luck!” Kiara said excitedly. “I never would have imagined I’d have the opportunity to work on an actual patient with this disease.”

“Yes, ma’am. Now, if you’ll just sign these non-disclosure and confidentiality papers, the family is actually prepared to meet you and move you in tonight. Is that enough time for you to pack?”

Kiara’s eyes bulged with excitement. “Yes! Yes! I can’t wait to meet Evangeline!”

“Perfect!” Clare smiled.

~*~

Kiara anxiously fiddled with her fingers as she sat at the back of the cab, riding to her new home-stay family. She was so excited and couldn’t believe how fast things were moving on just the first day of school.

I’m one step closer... one more step closer to finding out the truth… she thought to herself.

“We’re here, ma’am,” the driver said, breaking her out of her thoughts. She stepped out of the car and looked up at the large manor. Her face immediately fell when she realized where she was.

“Oh snap... I knew that last name sounded familiar!”

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