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Is That... Normal?

That morning a very groggy Derek walks into the kitchen to find Lara busy at work. The once grime encrusted counters are now completely clean, their dark granite tops shimmering in the morning sun. The large round oak table has been wiped down and polished. The tile floor freshly swept and mopped to a high shine. Humming to herself, their new maid scrambles eggs in a heavy iron skillet. Bacon sizzles in another skillet close at hand, and a pot of black coffee is brewing away.

He lets out a yawn and stumbles toward the counter, “Morning. Do I smell coffee?”

Lara beams up at him while setting a mug of hot french roast in front of him, “Yup, and good morning to you too.”

Derek smiles back while ruffling his bed-hair, not sure if he believes his eyes, “You two cleaned all of this yesterday?”

“Last night. Would you like some breakfast?”

He gives another bewildered glance at the skillets sizzling away on the stove and wonders if he’s still dreaming, “Uh yeah, that would be great. When did you have time to do all this? The pantry was bare-boned last time I checked.”

“I went to the store this morning,” she tells him, handing him a white paper envelope.

Confused further, he tilts his head at her and takes the envelope in hand, “What’s this then?”

“The change and receipts from this morning’s shopping. I found the envelope on the kitchen table with more cash than I’ve ever seen, and a note with instructions to get what I needed for the house and then to give the rest to you.”

Derek stares at her dumbstruck.

She cocks her head at him, green eyes studying his flabbergasted expression, and asks, “You didn’t know?”

He lets out a small, amused chuckle, then says, “No, but I should have figured he’d do something like this. Ha, leave it to Old Man Fáelán to think of everything.”

Lara blinks at him, confused by his words, “Old Man Fáelán? I think I remember Dimitri mentioning him.”

“Our boss. He’s got a head for this kind of stuff. Still, he could have at least comedown and introduced himself, rude old bastard.”

He grabs his cup of coffee and sits down at the kitchen table to read the morning paper. Not long after he hears claws clicking on the tile floor and sees the wolf walks in, bleary-eyed and yawning.

Derek smiles at him and says, “Well, good morning! Wasn’t expecting to see you up and around so soon.”

The wolf ignores him and walks straight to the counter and peeks his head over. Licking his lips, he looks around for the source of the delicious smell that woke him up.

Lara looks down at their new arrival, “Good morn-Hey!”

The wolf stretches his head forward and steals bacon right out of its skillet, all the while ignoring Lara’s shouts of disapproval.

“That isn’t yours! Your food is over there,” she reprimands him, pointing to a bowl of dry dog food on the floor.

Grimacing at the thought of eating freeze-dried cornmeal bits, the wolf walks over to the bowl, sulking. Just when she thinks he’s going to eat, the wolf turns to smirk at the maid, then tips the bowl over so that all the dry food bits scatter across the floor. Frustrated, Lara goes on to scold him for the huge mess he’s made. The wolf continues to smirk at her, licking bacon grease off his chops.

Derek watches the two of them, laughing so hard he has to hold onto the table to keep from falling over.

The wolf then walks over to the liquor cabinet. He proceeds to muzzle open the cabinet door, takes out a bottle of brandy, pops the cork, and chugs it. Once that bottle is empty he takes out another for latter and struts out of the kitchen. Lara stares at the wolf’s back as he disappears through the door of the butler’s pantry, her mouth gaping at the beast’s audacity.

Derek wipes a tear from his eye, “Guess he disagrees.”

Lara’s attention snaps back to the laughing man at the kitchen table and asks, “Is that normal behavior for him?”

Suppressing his giggles, Derek shakes his head and says, “Nope. He usually skips the bacon.”

Hands on her hips, Lara stares daggers at him, “You think it’s funny that your pet is an alcoholic?”

“What can I say? I’m easily amused,” he tells her before going back to his paper, more so to hide his grinning face than to read it.

Lara stares at him in dumbstruck silence for a moment before throwing her hands up in defeat, “Okay then.” She grabs a broom from the pantry and begins sweeping up the dog food mess.

A loud explosion is heard, followed by clouds of black smoke billowing from under the basement door.

Lara quickly drops her broom and opens a window to fan out the smoke, “What on Earth was that?”

Derek just sits there and sips his coffee as if nothing unusual has happened.

Tara runs into the kitchen and grabs the fire extinguisher from under the sink, “What the hell? What’s burning?”

With a bang the basement door slams open and in pops a very excited, soot-covered Dimitri carrying a toaster.

Derek tries to hide his head further behind his paper, “Oh joy...”

“Derek, I did it! I’ve created the perfect toaster,” Dimitri exclaims as he rushes over to the kitchen counter.

Still armed with her fire extinguisher Tara gawks at him and asks, “That explosion came from a toaster?”

With the enthusiasm of an excited child, Dimitri turns his dirt-covered, goggled gaze to Lara and asks, “Do we have any bread?”

She nervously points to the loaf on the counter. With an excited smile spread across his face, the scientist skips over and plugs in his toaster. Whistling, he undoes the twist-tie on the bag of white Wonder Bread and pulls out a couple of slices. Derek puts down his paper and tip-toes to the kitchen doorway, motioning for the girls to follow. The three of them crouch down in the doorway to the butler’s pantry and watch Dimitri work.

Once he knows the girls a safely tucked away behind him Derek calls out to his friend, “If you need us, Dimitri, we’ll be over here.”

Dimitri nods, not once looking up from the unassuming kitchen appliance. He gingerly puts the slices of bread in and pushes down the lever. With a pop black smoke billows out from the machine, covering the young man in another layer of soot.

Derek lets out a little chuckle and says to no one in particular, “That turned out better than I thought.”

“I’ll be in the lab,” sullen, Dimitri tucks his toaster under his arm and goes back down into the basement.

Her eyes stinging from all the smoke in the air Tara blinks up at Derek and chokes out, “That’s what you do? Make toasters?”

Derek goes back to his seat and unfolds his paper, “Nah, that’s just one of Dimitri’s little quirks. He likes to improve things around the house.”

Darting over to the open window, Lara grabs a towel and attempts to fan more smoke out of the room, “ What else has he improved?”

He thinks for a moment then says, “I believe the vacuum and the electric mixer.”

“Good to know.”

Derek smiles at the flustered maid and sips his coffee.

Tara puts the fire extinguisher back under the sink, “You guys don’t have a meth lab or something down there, do you?”

He chokes, nearly spitting hot coffee all over himself and the morning paper, “W-What?”

She turns to glare at him, flipping a purple strand of hair out of her face, “Hey, if there is a chance that SWAT or something is going to raid this place, I want to know.”

Derek takes another tentative sip of his coffee before saying, “Don’t worry, we do not make, sell, or use drugs. No guns, no funny money, not even pirated DVDs.”

Tara leans against the kitchen counter, long arms folded across her chest, “What do you do exactly?”

“Well, Dimitri is an inventor and engineer. He’s actually quite good at it, despite most of his work blowing up in his face.”

With an uninterested shrug, Tara pulls out a ceramic mug from the cupboard behind her and fills it with coffee, “And you?”

Derek skims over the newspaper in front of him and tells her,“I’m an occult researcher and novelist. Mostly non-fiction stuff, but I have published a few short stories and such. My pen name is Arthur Turner, although my work is pretty obscure, so you’ve probably never heard of me.”

Tara stares at him in wide-eyed disbelief, nearly dropping her coffee, “Wait, you’re Arthur Turner?”

“Yup,” he tells her, turning to the next page while taking another sip of coffee.

The young woman begins squealing and dancing around the kitchen, causing the author to nearly choke on his coffee a second time.

“I love your books! I think I’ve read every single novel you’ve published, twice! This is awesome!”

Lara smiles as she sets three steaming plates of bacon and eggs on the table, “Tara is a huge fan of your work. She’s even composed a few songs based on your novels.”

Her dancing stops abruptly as she turns to look sheepishly over at Derek, “I hope that’s okay. I kind of did it without asking your permission. Sorry.”

Still reeling from all the girlish squealing, Derek chuckles at the young woman’s ever-changing demeanor, “It’s fine. I would love to hear them sometime. So, you’re a musician?”

Like a proud mother, Lara gives her sister a smug grin and says, “She’s great! And, she doesn’t just write the score, she writes the lyrics and plays most of the instruments as well.”

Tara blushes at the compliment, childishly shifting her feet around, “Although I still can’t sing worth a damn. Lucky for me our friend Victoria has an amazing voice, so I usually collaborate with her.”

Derek looks up from his paper at the two sisters, “That’s nice, having a friend you can trust with your work like that. What about you?” He looks over at Lara and smiles.

The older sibling blushes at suddenly having the attention turned toward her, “W-Well, I...”

Tara wraps her arm around her sister’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze, “She’s the artist in the family. Mostly painting, but she does some digital work as well. She makes all of the artwork for our demos and fliers. They’re wicked amazing!”

Derek puts his fingers to his lips and thinks for a bit, “That so? I have been looking for a new cover artist for my books. Maybe-”

Tara jumps up in excitement, “Really? Lara, you have to! You just have to!” She begins dancing in place again.

Unsure of herself, Lara smiles at her sister and says, “We’ll see.”

Tara squeals with delight, “This is so cool! We get to live under the same roof as Arthur Turner!”

Derek laughs at the young woman’s exuberance. Watching her dance and jump around the kitchen, she reminded him of a young kid who was just told they are going to Disney Land.

Stifling his chuckles he tells her, “Derek, please. Only strangers call me by my pen name.”

“No problem! Oh, I can’t wait to tell Vicki!” she continues to jump around the kitchen.

Derek picks up a piece of bacon, “So, this Victoria, will she be coming by often?”

Tara’s dancing comes to an abrupt stop, “Oh, I didn’t think about that. Is that alright? I can see if we could work at her place, although her folks are a little...uptight.”

Derek swallows his bite of bacon before saying, “It’s fine by me. I’ll clear it with the boss so that he doesn’t sic the dog on her or something.”

“That would be good. That beast could swallow her whole,” she tells him with a vigorous nod of her head.

“Don’t worry. Unless it’s alcohol, he usually doesn’t have much interest. What he took from the counter earlier is the first real food I have seen him eat in a long while.”

Lara puts her fork down with a clink, “Seriously?”

“Yup. You might as well toss out the kibble. He won’t touch the stuff,” Derek tells them, turning to the next page of his paper.

“Hmm, guess I better cook extra then. Is there anything he can’t have? I know chocolate is bad for dogs, but I’m not sure about anything else,” Lara asks while refilling her coffee. Never having a pet before was putting her at a serious disadvantage. Not one to do a job halfway, Lara wants to know all she can to care for this massive canine.

Derek ponders a minute before saying, “He can eat pretty much anything. Just keep him out of the usual poisonous plants and such, especially monkshood.”

The older sister looks up at him with confused green eyes, “Monkshood?”

Tara thinks a bit then shrugs, “Never heard of it. Sounds like something from a fantasy adventure RPG.”

Smirking behind his paper, Derek flips to the next page, “It’s a purple flower that grows around here. Very pretty, but highly toxic. Don’t go poking at it when you girls go out on the grounds.”

Tara gives him a nod, sending her colorful hair bobbing around her face, “Noted. Not much into gardening away.”

Confident that the two maids won’t be handling any deadly plants anytime soon Derek hurries to finish his meal.

“Well, I better be getting on with work. Thanks for breakfast.” Downing his coffee, Derek puts his empty dishes in the sink, then leaves to go upstairs.

Once her beloved author is out of earshot Tara lets out an excited squeal and cries out, “I can’t wait to tell Vicki the news! Wonder if she’s up. Maybe I should text her first.” She skips past her sister and out the kitchen door, her thumbs already typing away on the screen of her smartphone.

Lara calls out to her, “Hey wait! We to do...”

She knew it was no use trying. Her sister had a one-track mind when it came to these things. She would not see Tara downstairs again until after she finished talking with their friend and her excitement had waned. Lara shakes her head and begins to clean the dishes, making a mental note to scold her younger sibling for her lacking work ethic.

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