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Parvenu 3: Otherland

By MultiMapper

© 2017
All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 15

Paul woke to the sensation of being tenderly held.

G was cuddled into his left side and Lucky was aligned along his right.

Although he had gotten out of the habit of wearing clothing to bed, he found that he wasn't bothered by it. It was a small price to pay to be able to have Lucky spend the night with them.

"Good morning." G whispered into Paul's shoulder.

"Good morning." Paul whispered in return, then stretched down to give G a quick, gentle kiss.

A movement on his other side alerted him that Lucky was also awake.

"When are we going to the cookout?" Lucky asked hopefully.

"We're leaving the house at noon. But there's going to be lots to do before we can go." G answered.

"I've never done anything like this before. You're going to have to tell us what to do." Paul cautioned him.

"Hey, I'm the alpha. That's my job." G said with a grin as he fought to achieve a sitting position.

Paul laughed delightedly at G's declaration as he realized just how 'freeing' it was to have G taking on the responsibility.

"Is it time for breakfast?" Lucky suddenly asked.

"Yeah. Get your clothes on and we'll go." G said easily.

"Let me hit the bathroom and I'll be ready." Paul said as he began gathering his clothes from the night before.

* * * * *

Breakfast turned out to be something of a hurried affair, followed by everyone rushing around like maniacs gathering different foodstuffs, both prepared and raw, and packing them into ice chests on the back porch.

Just when it seemed like they almost had the last of them filled, the doorbell rang, causing everyone to stop what they were doing.

"It's still an hour and a half before anyone's supposed to be here." Paul said, as though no one else had realized it.

"We'd better hurry and answer it before they decide that we're not home." G said as he led the way.

Paul and Lucky automatically followed.

* * * * *

The trio reached the front door just behind D, who arrived from a different hallway.

D opened the door and happily said, "Harper! Thank you for coming all the way out here! Please come in."

Paul looked to G to see if he had any idea of who the young man was.

"That's Harper. He's one of the tech guys." G quietly explained.

"From the tone of your message, I got the sense that time was something of an issue." The young man said simply.

"It could have been. But since you're here, everything's going to be fine." D said as he led Harper past the boys.

Paul, G and Lucky were unsure as to what was going on, but followed along anyway.

"If it isn't a bad time, I had a few questions about the requirements for the computer system that we're going to be installing." Harper said tentatively.

"Actually, I can't think of a better time. Paul's right here. The computer system's going to be for him." D said as he led the way into the parlor.

Harper turned to look at the three boys who had been following them and said, "It's good to see you again G. Would you like to introduce me to your friends?"

"Yeah." G said with a smile, then continued, "This is my new brother, Paul and our cousin, Lucky."

"It's a pleasure to meet both of you. I'm Harper Todd. My company provides technical support for Mr. Darroch, both personally and professionally. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to ask Paul a few questions." Harper said as he took a tablet computer out of his messenger bag.

"Sure. What do you want to know?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Mr. Darroch asked that we assemble the components of your new computer system and preinstall all the necessary software for you. I just wanted to take this opportunity to get some specifics about your software needs and also to prepare for the migration of programs or data from any existing systems." Harper said professionally.

"I don't have a computer. The only data I might have is for school. I have it on a stick that I borrowed from G." Paul said slowly.

Harper seemed to be surprised, but carried on with satisfying alacrity.

"Well then, the next thing we'll need to look at will be the integration of existing social media accounts into a magically secure system. It can be somewhat problematic if not taken into account from the very beginning." Harper said carefully.

"I have email. That's it." Paul said simply.

"Is it on a magically augmented server?" Harper asked cautiously.

"It's Yahoo." Paul said weakly.

"Oh? That's no problem. Yahoo is very witch friendly. All we'll have to do is make one little change in the depths of your privacy settings and your email will be magically secure. You won't even have to change your email address." Harper said as he made a quick note on his tablet.

"Okay." Paul said with surprise.

"What about Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of it? Do you have any established accounts that will need to be migrated?"

"Nope. Just the email." Paul said simply.

"This is going to be easier than I was expecting." Harper said frankly, then continued, "What about software? Are there any particular programs that you'd like to have on your new computer?"

"If you've got a list of what G has installed on his, that would probably take care of me. So far, I've been able to do everything that I've tried to do on his computer." Paul said thoughtfully.

"You sure do make my job easy. I guess all that's left is to ask you if you have any particular preference for a password charm. If you've been working on G's computer, I'm assuming that you already know what that is."

"Yeah. As much as I like his chicken foot, I think that I'd like something a little different." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Do you have any idea of what you'd like that to be?" Harper asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I think I'd like a little miniature kewpie doll or something like that. I think that would be every bit as creepy as G's chicken foot but in a totally different way."

"That shouldn't be a problem." Harper said as he made another note on his tablet, then continued, "I like the way you think."

Paul smiled at the declaration.

"Okay. I think that I have everything that I'll need for now." Harper said pleasantly, then looked to D and asked, "Are you ready for me to proceed?"

"It'll be just a minute." D said as he looked toward the door.

Harper nodded, then said to the boys, "Don't be surprised if you see me at your school sometime in the next few weeks. I've been asked to work with the new Technomage students during their specialty classes to give them some insights into the career opportunities available in the field and the realities of being a Technomage in the outside world."

"I might see you if you show up on Thursday. I'll be in that class." Paul said happily.

"Hold on a minute! The boy who doesn't even use Facebook is a technomage?" Harper asked dubiously.

"Not really. But Mr. Plaven thinks that I've got some good ideas, so he wants for me to have time to work on them."

"If Ned believes in you, that's all I need to know. I'll do my best to stop in on Thursday to see how you're doing."

"They're here." D interrupted. "You can go ahead whenever you're ready."

Paul looked around and discovered that his mom, Kyla and Star had joined them.

"Paul, why don't we start with you?" Harper asked as he retrieved a cell phone from his messenger bag.

"What do I need to do?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Just hold the phone for a minute while I enchant it and make it yours." Harper said simply.

Paul accepted the phone and held it out in front of him. He noticed that the phone was brand new, but didn't seem to be 'remarkable' in any way. It just looked like a fairly ordinary cell phone.

Harper tapped a few times on his touch screen, then waved the tablet over Paul's hand.

"That should do it. Now the phone will be bound to you. If you put it in your pocket, it will seem to disappear, but it will always be there when you need it. If anyone but you tries to use it without your permission, it will lock itself and go completely dead."

"Does it do anything magical? I mean, like stuff a regular phone can't do?" Paul asked curiously.

"A few things, but most of that happens in the background so you won't notice it."

"So it's just like a regular cell phone?"

"Yes. Except that you have virtually unlimited service coverage, memory and battery life."

"That sounds really great. But I guess that I was thinking that it would be more 'witchy' somehow." Paul said honestly.

"There are more flamboyant magical modifications that you can make, but most people tire of them quickly once the novelty has worn off. Click the 'app store' icon when you're ready and maybe you'll find something more in line with what you were expecting."

"Okay." Paul easily agreed, then hurried to add, "I didn't mean to sound ungrateful. This is really awesome. Thank you."

"You're very welcome." Harper said with a sincere smile.

"G, did you get Lenn's number? I want to call him before people start showing up for the cookout." Paul said quickly.

"Good idea." G responded, then looked to Harper and asked, "Is that all that you needed Paul for?"

"Yes. All I have left to do is give phones to some people named... Lucky and Star." Harper said after looking at his tablet for their names.

"Hang on, Paul. I want to see Lucky get his." G said seriously.

"Yeah. Me too." Paul agreed, then turned his attention to Harper, waiting for him to continue.

Harper looked at the younger boy, then asked, "Would you like to have your own phone?"

"Yeah. But I'm not sure my mom's gonna let me." Lucky said anxiously.

"Kyla. Is it okay?" D asked simply.

"You've really put me in a spot, D. If I say no, I'll be stuck with two kids who are going to absolutely hate me." Kyla said honestly.

"I wasn't trying to undermine your authority as their mother. But in the short time that Lucky's been here, he's become really close to G and Paul. It would be a shame if he weren't able to stay in touch with them, not only to let them know how he's doing, but also to ask their advice as he gets older." D said reasonably.

"Maybe so, but you should have asked me before you started making decisions that concern my children." Kyla countered.

"Okay. I'm sorry Kyla. I didn't mean to do that, but I suppose I did. Do you want the kids to have the phones or not? Whatever you decide will be the final word on the matter and if the kids end up hating you, I'll do my best to make them understand that it was my fault for promising to give them something that it wasn't my place to give." D said repentantly.

"I suppose that they are just about at that age where it might help with their socialization with their peers."

"So you'll allow it?"

"Yes."

"Go ahead, Harper." D said simply.

After tapping a few icons on his tablet, Harper said, "It's done. I've also added a mild parental lockout on what might be considered 'Hard R' rated materials. There might still be some materials that you'll find objectionable, so you should probably monitor their usage habits. But the lockout will filter out some of the worst examples of obscenity, so you won't have to worry about them stumbling onto the hardcore stuff."

"Thank you. I appreciate that." Kyla said honestly.

"Do you have any questions for me, Lucky?" Harper asked the younger boy gently.

"How can I use it to call someone, like Paul or G?" Lucky asked as he looked at the phone in his hand.

"You don't know how to use a phone?"

"I don't know how to use this one and I don't know anyone's number." Lucky explained.

"Come over here with us, Lucky. We'll get G to show us both and we'll exchange numbers while we're at it." Paul said with a smile.

"Thank you Mr. Harper." Lucky said sincerely before hurrying away.

"Just Harper, my last name is Todd." Harper called after him, but it was wasted effort.

* * * * *

After a few minutes to get their phones up and running, they each found their own phone numbers and, with a little guidance, were able to text them to G.

Once G had their information added to his phone, he in turn sent a variety of contact information to both of them, including D and Lenn's.

"Is there any way we can all talk to Lenn at once?" Paul asked curiously.

"Yeah. We can do a conference call. I do that with Nazzy and Vinda sometimes. It's not too hard." G said honestly.

"Can we do that now? I don't want to miss the chance to call him." Paul asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Let me call Lenn and make sure that he has time to talk. If he can, then I'll set up the conference call with you two." G said seriously.

"You're the alpha." Paul said with a grin.

G smiled with satisfaction at Paul's declaration.

* * * * *

Once G had made the initial call, he called Lucky and Paul on their phones to include them in the conference call.

"Lenn? Are you still there?" G asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. What's this all about? Is there a problem?"

"No. Paul just wanted for us to call you and see how you're doing." G quickly explained.

"I don't know how I'm doing. Things seem to have gone a wee bit strange since you left." Lenn said uncertainly.

"Is it anything we can help with?" Paul asked hopefully.

"I don't know." Lenn answered honestly, then explained, "My dad left us, like he said that he was going to. But a few days ago he called and asked me if I wanted to spend Sunday with him at his new flat. He talked about us going out and doing something together."

"What's wrong with that?" G asked curiously.

"It seems dishonest." Paul said before Lenn could respond. "It seems like he's going through the motions because he feels like he has to make up for something."

"That's right." Lenn confirmed. "If he wanted to spend time with me, why couldn't he have done that before, when he was living with us?"

There was a long moment of silence before Lucky finally said, "Maybe you should ask him that."

Paul smiled, then said, "Actually, that might be a good idea. Your dad may be able to tell you about his motivations so you'll understand what's really going on."

"Yeah. You probably won't do anything but make yourself miserable if you try to guess at what he's thinking. It's kind of a no win situation if you think about it." G added.

"You've got a real dad who's right there, who you can ask. I don't have that. I'd give anything to have that." Lucky said in an uncharacteristic firm voice.

"Is that really Lucky?" Lenn asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. Believe it or not." G chuckled.

"What happened to him?" Lenn asked cautiously.

"He's growing up, Lenn. I think you should listen to him. He's making sense." Paul said frankly.

"Yeah. I'll talk to my dad. With the way he is now, it's almost like he's a whole different person than the 'dad' who's been living with us all these years."

"Maybe he is. Get to know this new 'dad' and see how he is. Maybe he's someone you can talk to and learn from." Paul said honestly.

"Yeah. Maybe."

"So, besides that, is everything okay?" Paul asked with concern.

"Yeah. Mom's moodier than usual, but I guess that I can understand that." Lenn said unenthusiastically.

"Try to cut her some slack. It's a lot for her to adjust to." Paul said quietly.

"But the problem is that it's not just her who's going through it. I'm stressed out enough without her hysterics." Lenn said honestly.

"You're not doing anything... to ruin your reputation, are you?" Paul tried to discreetly ask.

"No. But I've thought about it a few times. I felt like if I could get that little thrill, even just for a minute, that it'd take some of the pressure off and make things better." Lenn quietly admitted.

"It wouldn't. Trust me. If you give into it, even once, it'll draw you into it that much more." Paul implored him to understand.

"I know. I haven't done it, I've just thought about it." Lenn said calmly.

"Good. Just remember that if it gets too bad, you can call and talk to us. We'll always be happy to talk to you and we'll do whatever we can to help you get through it." Paul said seriously.

"I know. You said that before... I guess that I wasn't sure you meant it until just now. I mean, you called just to see how I was doing, right?"

"Yes. That's the only reason." Paul confirmed.

"Paul wanted to call you last night, but Dad said that it would be after midnight there, so we put off calling until this morning." G informed him.

"And Uncle D got us new cell phones, he got me one too." Lucky added.

"That's right. Just as soon as Paul and Lucky got their phones, I called you so we could have a conference call." G explained.

"I'm still having trouble believing that Lucky is old enough to hang with us... I mean, I still think of him as a little kid." Lenn said honestly.

"He's starting to grow up, so G and I are doing our best to help him do it the right way. Maybe, if you wanted, you could help him too."

"How could I help him?" Lenn asked dubiously.

"We've all made mistakes and learned from them. We can give him advice based on what we've been through and help him deal with things the right way when he makes his own unique mistakes." Paul said honestly.

"Think about it Lenn, you'd be doing something for someone else who needs it. I can't think of anything better to help you get your mind off your own situation." G said thoughtfully.

"Well, I have made more than my share of mistakes... and I have learned some lessons." Lenn finally agreed.

"Good. I think G is the only one who has everyone's numbers. He can pass that around to all of us so that we'll all be able to keep in touch." Paul said decisively.

G nodded in his direction.

"We're going to have to go soon. D planned a big cookout today and we still have some things to do to get ready for that. But remember that you can call any of us at any time. That's not just if you're feeling like doing something stupid. You can call us when you're sad or... happy even. If you hear a good joke and you want to share it with us, that's okay. We want to hear from you."

"I understand what you're saying, but why do you care so much?" Lenn asked curiously.

"I guess it's probably because I've never had any family to care about before. You're my family. I care about what happens to you and I want what's best for you." Paul said thoughtfully.

"I don't think everyone has the same idea of family that you do, but don't worry about that. I like your idea better. Let's go with that." Lenn said with a smile carrying through the connection.

"You can count on it, Lenn." Paul assured him.

"Dad's giving us dirty looks, I'm guessing that there's work for us to do." G announced.

"Go enjoy your cookout. Let me know how it turns out." Lenn said wistfully.

"Expect at least one of us to call you tomorrow." Paul said warmly, then regretfully added, "Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

* * * * *

When Paul carried a flat of hamburger buns out to the back porch, he was astounded to find that it was empty, or at least devoid of ice chests.

"Stack them over there. Hurry, we've got about a hundred bags of chips too." G said as he followed with another flat of buns.

"Where did the ice chests go?" Paul began to ask when he was interrupted.

"Someone... take this..." Lucky gasped as he struggled onto the back porch with his arms more than fully loaded.

Paul and G both hurried to unburden themselves so that they could help their younger cousin.

Before Paul could ask any more questions, they were all hurrying away to get another load.

* * * * *

At the sound of the doorbell, the three boys shared an uncertain look, all silently asking the same unvoiced question. 'Did we remember to do everything that we were supposed to?'

G was the first to commit to an action, but the other two immediately followed his lead.

               'I guess that's why he's the alpha.'

Once again, D made his way to the door before the boys did.

"Nishith, I'm so glad you could make it!" D said delightedly as G, Paul and Lucky approached the door.

From the man's age and coloring, Paul made the immediate assumption that he must be Vinda's father.

"Nishith, Anaya, please come in!" D said warmly.

"It's always such a pleasure to visit. Revindra told us that your wedding was a lovely affair. Thank you so much for taking her with you. It meant the world to her for you to include her." Anaya said gratefully.

"I did my best to make the wedding not just about me and Beth, but to also include the boys. Having their closest friends there to support them seemed like the best way to do that." D explained, then said to the doorway, "Come on in everyone. Beth is in the parlor."

Paul watched as two young men walked in, followed by Vinda.

"G! Look at you! I swear you must have grown a foot since the last time I saw you!" One of the men said as he walked up to G and pulled him into an unexpected hug.

"That just means that you need to visit more often." G said as he happily returned the hug.

Paul looked at Lucky and was assured to see that he was every bit as lost as Paul was.

"Rohan and Jo Jo, this is my new brother Paul and our cousin, Lucky." G proudly announced as he released Rohan.

"Jo Jo?" Paul couldn't help but ask at the unlikely name.

"Go on through to the parlor and Beth will have some snacks for you to enjoy. I'll join you in a few minutes, I see another car pulling in." D announced.

"Let's see if I can remember where it is." Anaya said uncertainly.

"Don't worry. I'll show you." Vinda said easily and confidently led the way.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Paul quietly asked again, "Jo Jo?"

"His real name is Yakshit." G said simply.

Paul stood and stared for a moment before finally saying, "Jo Jo, got it."

G nodded, then turned his attention to the next group of people walking up to the open front doors.

* * * * *

"Oliver! I'm glad that you were able to make it. Please come in." D said invitingly.

"It's nice to see you again D, especially now that there aren't millions of dollars hanging in the balance." Oliver said happily.

Paul noticed that the woman accompanying him was carrying a strangely shaped case.

"I'd negotiate just as hard for a buck and a quarter." D said frankly.

"I believe that you would." Oliver chuckled, then said, "D, I'd like for you to meet my wife, Lyta, and from what I've heard, you've already met our son, Alexander."

"Yes. Although before now I only heard him referred to by his last name." D said frankly.

"Who knew that there'd be thirty-five other Alexanders attending school with him." Oliver chuckled.

Paul smiled at Karras and noticed that he had a guitar case slung on his back.

"I suppose that my son never had to worry about that." D said with a grin at G.

"They named me Gwayne." G said with an accusing glare at his father, then continued to their guests, "If you'd like to come in, I can show you were the parlor is. I've heard that we're going to have some snacks set out in there."

"Before we do that, Alexander mentioned that we'd be having some mundanes here today. Is that really true?" Oliver asked curiously.

"Yes. They haven't arrived yet." D confirmed.

"This should be interesting. I haven't socialized with mundane people in ages." Oliver said excitedly.

"Their son has befriended my sons, so I invited them. I hope that everyone will end up having a good time."

"The parlor's this way." G said to draw their attention, then turned back to Paul and said more quietly, "I'll be right back."

* * * * *

"You guys might have more fun in the parlor. All I'm going to be doing out here is welcoming people." D said quietly to the boys.

"You might need help." Paul said frankly, then explained, "What if someone needs help carrying something inside? Lucky and I will be here so you can stay here."

"Thank you Paul. I appreciate whatever help I can get..." D began to say, but his attention was drawn by a car pulling in. When he recognized the car, he said, "That's Nazareth and his family."

"I can't wait to meet his parents. With as great as Nazzy is, they must be really awesome." Paul said frankly.

"Jerrell and Regina are... unique, even among witches." D said diplomatically.

"D! What kind of an adventure do you have in store for us this time?" A large unkempt man asked jovially as he approached with his wife and son following closely behind.

To Paul's eyes, with his wealth of 'real world' experience, Jerrell appeared to be almost 'homeless'. He wasn't dirty, but he was so disheveled that it looked like he might have slept in the clothes that he was wearing... possibly for more than one day in a row. His hair was a wild mess that was a month or two past needing to be trimmed.

Paul had always thought of Nazzy as being laid back and easy going, but after meeting Jerrell, Paul had nothing but the utmost respect for Nazzy for being able to 'keep it together' as well as he did.

"Thank you for inviting us, D. With as much as Nazareth likes to eat, it should really be us inviting you over, to repay you in some small way." Nazzy's mother, Regina, said pleasantly.

She appeared to be nothing short of 'average'. Not thin or fat, not tall or short. Not beautiful or plain. Even looking right at her, it was as though she blended into the background and not in an exciting 'magical' way, like Lenn might do.

"His appreciation of the food and his good company are more than enough payment for everything. Speaking of which, if you'll go on through to the parlor, Beth should have some snacks set out for you to enjoy." D said warmly.

"Come on. I know where it is." Nazzy said quickly.

"If there's food laid out, that boy is like a bloodhound." Jerrell said before following his wife and son down the hallway.

"He's a witch?" Paul asked D dubiously.

"There are witches of all shapes and sizes." D confirmed, not having to be told to whom Paul was referring.

"He's big!" Lucky said quietly.

"Yes. But he's one of the most gentle, loving men that you'll ever meet. I'm willing to bet that before the end of the day you'll have had at least one of his 'bear' hugs. He especially loves children." D said with a smile.

"We're not late, are we?" A woman asked from the driveway as she stepped out of a car.

Paul hadn't noticed the car pull in and was surprised to see the family. They were some of the blondest, blue-eyed people Paul had ever seen. They were like the poster children for 'white'. It wasn't until the back seat driver's side door opened that Paul realized who they were.

Filipe spotted Paul in the doorway and waved enthusiastically.

"You're right on time. Please, all of you, come in." D graciously invited.

"I hope that this is okay. Filipe told us that we were invited to a cookout but... we're supposed to be here, right?" The woman asked uncertainly.

"Yes. That's exactly what's going on. We're all meeting here, then we're going to travel to the lake to have a cookout. If any of you have musical instruments, you might want to bring them in. We probably won't be coming back out here before we leave." D said pleasantly.

"Yes. We brought them." The woman said quickly, then turned to her husband and said, "Get the musical instruments out of the trunk.

He nodded once, then motioned for Filipe to go with him.

"We haven't been introduced. My name is Junette Beckingham. That was my husband Morgan, this young lady at my side is Sarah Anne, although she insists on being called Stevie, and I believe that you already know Filipe."

"I know of him. My son Paul..." D paused as he indicated Paul at his side, "...has a class with Filipe, and when we started planning a cookout, he asked that Filipe be invited."

"It's so wonderful that Filipe has started to make friends. It's been difficult for him being in a new town and starting a new school. Not that he'd complain, mind you, but I could tell that the pressure was weighing on him." Junette said regretfully.

Before Filipe and Morgan could make their way to the front door, another car pulled in.

"That's Curtis." Paul said when he spotted Curtis in the back seat of the car.

"He's the non-witch?" Junette asked in a whisper.

"Yes. I hope that isn't a problem." D responded.

"Not at all. I think it should be an interesting way to spend the day, and it'll be good for Stevie to have an opportunity to exercise her self-restraint." Junette said pleasantly.

"Mom!" Stevie said in offense.

Morgan and Filipe walked over to Curtis' family as they got out of the car and the group of them walked to the front door together.

"Hello. Welcome to my home. My name is Aloysius Darroch, please call me D. If anyone has any musical instruments, please bring them with you, we'll be leaving for the lake in a few minutes and we probably won't be coming back out here." D said to the group, half of whom were assembled just outside the door.

"We don't play any instruments, I hope that's okay." Curtis' father said uncertainly.

"That's fine. I just wanted to give those who played a chance to participate." D assured him.

"Mr. D, this is my dad, Steve and my mom, Kim." Curtis said carefully, obviously trying to correctly do a formal introduction.

"No Mr., just D. And it's a pleasure to meet all of you. Steve and Kim, this is Morgan and Junette and their children Stevie and Filipe."

Everyone started shaking hands and saying how nice it was to meet each other when another car pulled in.

"That's Dex!" Paul said happily.

"Unless I'm mistaken, these are the last of our invited guests. If you'll hold on for just another moment, we'll all go inside and get this party started." D said with a smile.

Paul couldn't resist the urge and ran past the people gathered in the doorway.

"Dex! I'm glad you could make it!" Paul said happily.

"When I told my parents, they kinda... well, let's just say that there was no backing out of it." Dex admitted shyly.

Paul laughed, then said, "Come on in. You're right on time and we're about to get started."

Dex looked to see that his parents had gotten out of the car, then reluctantly started toward the door.

"Did you bring your violin?" Paul asked suddenly when he noticed that Dex wasn't carrying anything.

"No. I forgot it." Dex shyly admitted.

"It's in the boot. I thought that you'd forget." Dex's father announced with a smile.

Dex sent a withering look in his father's direction, then dutifully walked to the back of the car to get his violin case.

"It's going to be great. I promise." Paul said quietly.

Dex shot him a dubious look, then collected his violin case and closed the trunk.

"Come into the house and meet everyone, then we can get going." Paul said happily.

Dex silently followed along with his family and looked distinctly uneasy.

* * * * *

"Dex, will you introduce your family to everyone?" Paul asked as soon as they were inside.

"Yeah. This is my dad, Jai and my mom, Pam." Dex mumbled.

"It's a pleasure to meet you." D said warmly, then continued, "Jai and Pam, I'd like you to meet Steve and Kim and their son Curtis. We also have Morgan and Junette and their kids, Stevie and Filipe. Everyone, this is Jai and Pam and their son Dex. Please come in. Let's get this party started!"

* * * * *

"You really live here? This place is incredible!" Curtis said as they walked down the hallway toward the parlor.

"Yeah, well I've only lived here a few weeks, so I haven't seen all of it yet. So far everything's been amazing." Paul said frankly, then noticed an arm tentatively snaking its way around his waist.

Paul glanced down at Lucky and could see the fearful expression. He automatically draped an arm around Lucky's shoulders and gave him a quick squeeze to assure him as they walked.

"Your house is so far off the road that I've never seen it before. I'm glad that we're finally getting to see it." Jai said casually.

"It's big. But there's not anything remarkable about it otherwise. If I were going to do it all over again, I'd probably seek out an up-and-coming architect with some original ideas." D said frankly.

"Where's G?" Filipe asked Paul quietly.

"I think he's probably in the parlor. Him and Nazzy and Vinda probably got to talking and forgot about us." Paul said with a smile, obviously not bothered by the idea.

"So is everyone here, everyone from our table in the cafeteria?" Curtis asked as he continued to look around, trying to absorb every detail of their surroundings.

"Yeah. Everyone made it. I think this is going to be great." Paul said as they walked as a group into the parlor.

* * * * *

"Everyone. I know that it might be awkward for a moment, being around so many people that you don't know, but we're going to have plenty of time to introduce ourselves on the trip to the lake. If you'd like a snack or a drink, please help yourselves." D said to the group.

"If you'd like to freshen up before we leave, the restroom is next door on the right." Paul's mom added helpfully.

Paul noticed that Curtis' mom, Kim, immediately took that opportunity to slip out the door and was glad that his mom had thought to mention that.

G, Nazzy, Karras and Vinda were grouped beside the snack table with Nazzy doing his best to snag bites to eat without looking like a pig about it.

Paul couldn't help but smile at the sight of Nazzy's father, Jerrell, sidling up to the snack table to do much the same as his son.

To Paul's surprise, it appeared as though Star had unabashedly approached Stevie and already struck up a conversation.

Although Stevie was a few years older, she seemed to be interested in what Star had to say and the two of them appeared to be on their way to becoming fast friends.

Paul glanced to D to see if he had any other instructions for them, but found him deep in concentration. The expression on D's face reminded Paul of D's contribution to the festivities at the family Halloween gathering, following the wedding.

Although he appeared just to be staring off into space, Paul was fairly certain that D was performing some intense and complicated magic.

"Where is your room? Do we have time to see it before we go?" Filipe asked Paul curiously.

"Not really. Normally it's not too far from here, but they're doing construction right now and they closed off the bridge, so we'd have to walk outside and around the house to get there. If you'll remind me, we'll stop by there when we get back."

"Bridge?" Filipe asked curiously.

Paul couldn't help but smile at his reaction, then said, "Yeah. You're not going to believe it."

When Kim returned to the parlor, D seemed to snap out of his magical daze and loudly asked, "Is everyone ready?"

There were uncertain murmurs, mostly because no one knew what was supposed to happen next.

"Parents, keep an eye on your kids. We don't want to leave anyone behind." D said as he led the way out the door.

"What are we doing?" Dex asked nervously.

"I guess we're all going to find out together." Paul said honestly.

* * * * *

As they passed through the back porch, Paul noticed that everything that they had loaded out there earlier was gone.

He had suspected as much, but was still resolved himself to ask about it later, when they didn't have guests.

When D led them out the back door and started across the expansive grassy field, Paul knew exactly where they were going.

Although it had occurred to him when D mentioned that they were going to the lake, Paul wasn't sure that that was what he had meant.

"How far is the lake from here?" Filipe asked curiously.

"I don't know. I've never been there." Paul said honestly.

"Do you think it's really far away? I don't think my host parents do a lot of hiking." Filipe said with concern.

"I don't think we'll be walking the whole way. If I'm right, we should only have to walk as far as that next rise." Paul said as he pointed ahead of them.

"Does anyone need help carrying their musical instruments?" G asked as he joined the group.

"I forgot my clarinet!" Paul said suddenly.

"Don't worry. I grabbed it and put it on the porch with my keyboard. It's packed in with the other supplies." G assured him.

"Oh, good. After D went to all the trouble of getting it for me, I didn't want to disappoint him." Paul said honestly.

"Don't worry. It's covered." G said with a smile as he gave Paul a quick hug.

"So you're like this at home too?" Curtis asked curiously.

"How's that?" G asked in response.

"You guys hug and stuff at school, but I wasn't sure if you'd be that way in front of your parents too." Curtis said honestly.

"Yeah. I mean, we tone it down in front of them, but we don't hide it." G said simply.

"I think that even if I had a girlfriend that I'd be shy about showing it in front of my parents."

"Practice makes perfect." G quipped, then added, "I think Paul was a little shy about it at first, but he got over it fairly quickly."

"I was kinda freaked out by everything happening all at once. I mean, the new dad, new house, new brother... I guess I needed someone to hold me. G did. It was worth working past a little shyness just to have him there to help me deal with everything."

"Somehow I got the feeling that you were so strong that you didn't need anyone's help." Filipe said honestly.

"I can be strong when I have to be. But when everything gets too big for me to handle on my own, I have G to face it with me. We're stronger together." Paul said honestly.

Before anyone could respond, they crested the rise and the 'Train Station' came into view.

The enormous building appeared to be closed up, and an engine was on the track with several cars hitched up behind. There was already smoke pouring out of the smokestack and from all appearances, the train seemed to be ready to board.

"You have your own train?" Curtis asked in amazement.

"Yeah. I couldn't believe it either." Paul chuckled.

"Before we go, I'm going to need a couple people to help me feed wood into the boiler. Do I have any volunteers?" D asked loudly and seemed to be mostly focused on Paul and his group.

"Go ahead. It's a lot of fun." G encouraged their friends.

"Yeah. I'll go." Filipe immediately volunteered.

"Me too." Curtis chirped.

Paul watched with a smile as the two boys hurried ahead to join D at the front.

"Lucky, I'm going to need you up front with me. You'll be my assistant engineer." D called out seriously.

Lucky smiled and immediately left Paul's side to join D.

Karras appeared to be torn by the decision, but after a quiet exchange of words with Nazzy, he gave Nazzy his guitar, then sprinted to join D's group.

"How much fun is it really to add the wood to the fire?" Paul asked curiously as they continued to walk.

"Let's just say that by the time we reach the lake, they'll probably be over it." G said with a grin.

"Thought so." Paul chuckled.

* * * * *

When the group finally reached the train, D took his group to the engine to get them started on their work.

As they approached the train, Paul couldn't help but notice that G's calliope was serving as a caboose.

G seemed to fall into the 'leader' role and led the rest of their group to the passenger car of the train.

"Climb aboard and make yourselves comfortable. It'll be a few minutes before the engine's built up enough steam to get us moving, so enjoy the peace and quiet while you can." G called out.

"This is incredible. When we were invited to a cookout, I never imagined something like this." Curtis' mom, Kim, said in wonder.

"We just live down the road from here, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that they'd have something like this." Dex's father, Jai, responded.

"Dad and I usually lead a simple life. This is the one big thing that he's done 'just because he can'." G explained.

"It's important to enjoy the fruits of your labors. When you think of all the excesses that one could indulge in, this is one of the more harmless and enjoyable options." Dex's mother, Pam, said thoughtfully.

"You sound knowledgeable on the subject." Nazzy's mother, Regina, observed.

"I'm a cultural anthropologist. I've seen several examples of the reaction to having access to wealth. It's natural for people to indulge in frivolous things and lose their impulse control. But I have the feeling that this is something more productive."

"How are you guys doing?" One of Vinda's brothers, Rohan, asked, breaking Paul's attention away from the mothers.

"This is as new to me as it is to everyone else. I'm just doing my best to take it all in." Paul said honestly.

"Just don't get so caught up in the train that you forget to look out the window. The scenery along the way is incredible. In fact, I brought my camera, just in case this is what we were going to do." Rohan said as he held up the camera hanging around his neck as evidence.

Paul noticed that the camera was of high quality and couldn't help but ask, "Are you a photographer?"

"Yes. But my professional work mostly involves models in a studio. Occasionally we'll go on location to do a shoot. But I don't often get an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate natural beauty like this."

"Can't you just put down the camera and enjoy it?" G asked curiously.

"With my camera, I'll be able to enjoy it in more than just in my memories."

"It kinda makes me wish that I'd thought to bring a camera... if I had one." Paul finished quietly.

"Your phone has a camera, and I'm betting that it's a little better than average. Maybe if you take a few minutes to figure out how it works, you could snap a few pictures along the way." G casually suggested.

"Yeah! I hadn't thought of that." Paul said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. "And I'd really like to take pictures of everyone so that later we can look back at when we were all able to get together at once."

"It sounds like you've got your plan." G said with a tender smile at him.

"Thanks Rohan. If you hadn't brought it up, I might have missed this opportunity." Paul said appreciatively.

"Glad to help." Rohan said with a genuine smile.

* * * * *

Once they were all aboard and waiting for the train to start moving, Paul turned to G and quietly asked, "Where's all the stuff that we packed?"

"In one of the box cars. We'll unload it when we get to the lake."

Paul nodded, then noticed that Vinda, Stevie and Star had formed their own little 'girls' group.

When G noticed, he quietly said, "Don't worry about Vinda. Even though she doesn't act like it, she can hang with the 'girly' girls when she wants to."

"Really? I'm so comfortable around her, I've just started thinking of her as one of the guys." Paul said honestly.

"Yeah. But I think it's good for her to get away from the guys every now and then. She's a complex person and it keeps her from getting into a rut." G said thoughtfully.

"That's something that I've noticed about Nazzy and Vinda, they don't fit into a mold. They're always themselves no matter what anyone else thinks about it."

"To a point. It's possible to take that too far. But I think they've found a pretty good balance."

"Where is Nazzy, anyway?"

"Talking to Dex." G said as he pointed.

"Should we rescue Dex from him?"

"Nah. Nazzy's like his dad. They might come off as a little pushy at first, but they're both very aware of it and won't push too far."

"Okay. And from what I've seen of Dex, he could probably use a little push." Paul finished with a smile.

Paul noticed his mother looking at them disapprovingly and got the feeling that she would appreciate a little help keeping their guests entertained.

               'Oh well. Sucks to be her.'

               'No adult's going to want a kid monopolizing the conversation.'

               'If the kids are all happy, my work here is done.'

Before Beth could find a way to draw Paul into the conversation, an incredibly loud steam whistle sounded.

G immediately stood and said, "We're going to be leaving in just a few minutes. Everyone needs to make sure that anything you brought with you is either put away, or somewhere it isn't going to fall over when we start moving."

A few of the musical instruments were moved off seats and onto the floor. Otherwise everyone seemed to be sitting and looking out the windows with anticipation.

"Vinda's told us all about you and says that you're adjusting to things pretty well." Jo Jo said conversationally, then asked, "Have you convinced yourself that it isn't a dream yet?"

"Yeah. In fact, I think that the first time I heard a steam whistle really did it for me." Paul said honestly.

"Because you couldn't dream of a sound that loud?" Jo Jo guessed.

"That, and because I wasn't expecting it. The shock of something that loud would have jolted me awake."

Two short blasts of the train whistle sounded, interrupting all conversation.

"That means that it's up to full pressure and that we're ready to leave. Take your seats!" G called loudly.

Jo Jo walked across the aisle and took a seat next to his brother, Rohan.

A few people looked around them to verify that their belongings were secure, but then settled into place.

G walked forward and hung out the door by one arm as he made a grand waving gesture with the other.

A moment later, the train started moving.

As G returned to Paul's side, he said, "I think Lucky was the one to blow the whistle the last time."

"How can you tell?"

"Dad usually sounds it in longer bursts."

"I bet Lucky's having a great time."

"Yeah. I'm glad that dad's paying special attention to him. It may not be as good as having a real father all his own, but it's still pretty good."

"Yeah. Even when he has to leave, he'll be able to carry this memory with him. I think it'll be enough to keep him on the right path." Paul said thoughtfully.

The train strained and lurched forward, struggling to gain momentum.

Everyone in the passenger car was silent as they looked out the windows.

"I love this." G said with a smile, then explained, "All the stuff we usually worry about doesn't matter here. There's no schedule or work waiting to be done. Today is all about relaxing with friends and family and just enjoying life for a little while."

"You're going to have to show me how to do that. I don't think I've ever done it before."

"Don't worry. I've got this. I'm the alpha."

* * * * *

Paul noticed that Rohan had his window lowered and was snapping picture after picture as the train ambled along at a comfortable pace.

The adults were beginning to talk to each other and seemed to be forming into groups.

Nishith and Jerrell seemed to have taken it upon themselves to keep the other fathers entertained. All the 'dads' had discretely moved so that they could talk quietly together.

Likewise, the women seemed to have formed their own little collective and were chatting amiably. Although Paul couldn't be certain, he got the sense that his mother's pregnancy was the primary topic of discussion.

Paul couldn't help but wonder what Vinda, Stevie and Star were chattering about. But they seemed to be happy, so he was just as happy to leave them be.

Nazzy and Dex had stopped talking and were just looking at the scenery passing by. It also appeared that Jo Jo had been left on his own, being significantly younger than the 'dads' but older than the 'high schoolers'.

"I see it." G said before Paul could even begin to form a plan.

"What should we do?" Paul asked, trusting that they were on the same wavelength.

"Let's just talk to them and see what happens. If we all end up talking together, great. If not, that's still okay."

"I'm on it." Paul assured him, then walked toward Jo Jo to do his best to make the young man feel included.

* * * * *

Paul ended up sitting by Jo Jo and talking comfortably.

Vinda's older brother was a quiet and evenly tempered young man.

When Paul showed interest, Jo Jo shared details about his life and expressed his passion for travel. He was currently enrolled in college, seeking his master's degree and had not yet been able to indulge his passion and see the world.

Although Paul didn't have the same aspirations, he could see the appeal of what Jo Jo had in mind. He also respected Jo Jo's level headedness in choosing to complete his education before striking off on his first adventure.

When the train started slowing down, Paul looked out the window to see if they had arrived.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful, but there was no indication of a lake nearby.

"We're just switching tracks. Give it a minute and we'll be on the move again." G announced loudly.

A movement drew Paul's attention and he just barely caught a glimpse of Karras and Curtis running at full speed alongside the track ahead of them.

Although he didn't know exactly what was involved in switching tracks, he could imagine that Curtis and Karras were probably having the time of their lives.

"I've got soft drinks and water here for anyone who's thirsty." G said as he pushed an old-style serving cart up the aisle.

Even though G pretended to be so laid back, when it came time for something to be done, he did it.

Paul watched as G went from group to group, handing out drinks.

The train whistle sounded in one long burst.

"We'll be moving again in just a minute." G warned as he increased his pace, handing out drinks, so that everyone could get some before they were once again underway.

Paul accepted a bottle of water from G, then watched as he passed by, determinedly making his way to the back of the passenger car.

               'Epic ass.'

               'Even if I didn't love him, I'd lust after him.'

               'I love my life.'

G had finished doing whatever he needed to do to secure the cart before the two short bursts of the whistle sounded.

Less than a minute later, they were underway again, chugging toward their destination.

* * * * *

Paul wasn't much of one for looking at scenery.

He would look, appreciate the view, then move on. He wasn't the type of person who could stand enthralled while watching a sunset.

For the first time in his life he could understand a little of what that type of person felt.

They moved through a stand of trees into a valley that was so beautiful that it was almost magical.

The train didn't stop, but did seem to slow, allowing all the passengers to take in the breathtaking beauty of the scene.

From that point on, there was little conversation on the train.

Everyone seemed to be more focused on each new scene of beauty as they proceeded.

Three short bursts of the whistle caught Paul's attention.

"We're here." G announced.

The train was still moving, but before Paul could question G's words, they emerged from a little canyon and were faced with an incredibly beautiful lake.

Paul was surprised to see a building in the distance and it took him a moment to identify it as a little train platform.

For some reason Paul had thought that when they arrived at 'the lake' that it would just be unspoiled nature.

Instead, there was the train platform and a couple other buildings nearby.

"The wind off the lake can make it chilly, so remember to take your coats with you. If you didn't bring one, we have plenty of coats and blankets at the stationhouse." G announced to the otherwise silent passengers.

"This is incredible." Morgan finally said.

"Yeah. From what dad told me, he had to decide between a train set or a racetrack. I think he made the right choice." G said with a grin.

"You're kidding." Jai said dubiously.

"Probably." G said impishly.

* * * * *

As soon as everyone was off the train and gathered on the platform, G loudly announced, "There are restrooms available in the train station. We'll have drinks and snacks put out in a few minutes in the pavilion, right over there. There are benches over by the fire pit and in the amphitheater, over that way."

Paul did his best to remember G's directions, but was overwhelmed by the astounding scenery surrounding them.

"Uncle D let me blow the whistle! Did you hear me?" Lucky asked as he ran up to Paul and G.

"Yes I did. And G said that he knew that it was you." Paul said with a smile at the boy's excitement.

"Uncle D was showing Filipe how to drive the train and even let him do it himself for a few minutes." Lucky said breathlessly.

"Really? I haven't had the chance to do that yet." Paul said playfully.

"Filipe's really nice. I gave him my phone number so that we can talk after I have to go home." Lucky said earnestly.

"That's a great idea. Hopefully you'll get a few more numbers before you leave."

Paul wasn't sure if Lucky had taken that as an order or just thought it was a good idea. Either way, he took off running to hurry and talk to someone else.

* * * * *

"What do we do now?" Paul asked uncertainly as he looked around.

"We wait for Dad to release the pressure on the steam engine. Once he's done that, there's no chance of the train lurching forward, so we'll be able to start unloading the boxcar." G said seriously.

"How long is that going to take?" Paul asked cautiously.

"It shouldn't take too long with all the help we brought with us. I figure that us kids can do it. Beth can probably organize anyone who wants to help with setting up the buffet while Dad gets everyone else to help him at the grill." G said seriously.

"Is there anything we can do right now?"

"Yeah. Start gathering everyone to help us unload. If you ask Vinda, she'll probably be able to talk the other girls into helping. Rohan and Jo Jo shouldn't need any convincing. And I think that if you'll tell Nazzy what's going on, he can help you recruit everyone else. Remember to tell them that the sooner we have it unloaded, the sooner they'll get to eat."

"Okay. Where are you going to be?"

"At the boxcar. As soon as Dad releases the pressure, I'll open the door. When I do, I'm going to be counting on you to help me. We'll organize stuff and scoot it to the door, then tell people where it goes as they pick it up."

"Okay. I'm on it." Paul said confidently as he walked away, going directly for the nearest group of his peers.

* * * * *

G's expertise at organizing and unloading proved to be invaluable. Every tray of buns, every sack of chips and many many ice chests were transported and delivered directly to where they were needed.

As G had said, Beth had assembled all those interested in helping in the kitchen and put them to work laying out a feast of snacks to tide people over.

As soon as D was finished settling the train engine, he took up his duties as grillmaster and enlisted the aid of any and all who cared to join him.

* * * * *

Once everything had been distributed to where it needed to be, people started visiting the snack buffet. Paul and G took their turns and talked to a few of their guests on general topics as they enjoyed their food.

"I think that now is a good time for us to get everyone together and go for a little hike." G said casually.

Paul looked at the beautiful scenery surrounding them and thought that it sounded like an excellent idea.

He walked with G as he stopped to talk to different groups to invite them along.

In the end, their little group consisted of all their classmates with the exception of Stevie and Vinda, who wanted to stay behind to talk with Star. Lucky wasn't available since he was being given expert instruction in the fine art of grilling by D.

Rohan and Jo Jo easily accepted the invitation and Rohan actually seemed to be somewhat excited by the prospect.

As they started walking, Nazzy and Dex made their way to the front of the pack so that they could talk to G for a few minutes.

Paul wasn't interested in their conversation, so he lagged behind a little so that he could talk with Karras and Curtis.

"So, what do you think? Are you having a good time?" Paul asked with a smile.

"Yeah. This is incredible. It's so beautiful out here." Curtis said happily.

"I think so too." Paul easily agreed.

"When did life get so complicated that going outside and going for a walk became impossible?" Karras asked thoughtfully.

"I can't speak for anyone else, but since I started at the Arcadia Academy all I've been able to do is try to catch up. I don't have time to do anything besides school work and studying." Paul said honestly.

"It's a hard school, but it's good too." Karras said seriously.

"Yeah. But there's something weird about it." Curtis interjected.

"What's that?" Paul asked cautiously.

"I'm not sure yet. It just seems like there's something going on... I don't know what it is, but it's like I can almost see it." Curtis said slowly.

Paul exchanged a wary look with Karras before carefully asking, "Have you noticed anything strange going on? Maybe we can help you figure it out."

"It's like... all the teachers are so nice. That's just not normal." Curtis fought to explain.

"I wouldn't call all of my teachers nice, exactly. Some of them are, but there are others who seem really passionate or dedicated. I like all of them because even if they're strict or formal, I know that they really care if I'm learning or not." Paul said carefully.

"Yeah. 'Nice' isn't exactly the right word, but I guess what I'm saying is that none of the teachers are mean or lazy or just so zoned out that they don't care anymore." Curtis said thoughtfully.

"That sounds about right. I think I could say that about all my teachers." Karras agreed.

"But I still think that there's something else going on. It's like they're up to something when no one is looking." Curtis persisted.

"Like what?" Paul asked curiously.

"I know it sounds silly, but have you ever watched X-Men?" Curtis hesitantly asked.

"I've seen it." Paul slowly answered.

"I don't know what it is, but you know how in those movies that the teachers are all secretly superheroes... it feels something like that." Curtis said with difficulty, having trouble finding an adequate way to articulate his idea.

"I know just what you mean..." Paul began to say when he noticed Karras' warning look.

Regardless, Paul continued on, "My science teacher, Mr. Hind, I'm pretty sure he's a ninja."

"Why do you think that?" Curtis asked curiously.

"I don't know if I've ever seen him walk into a room. He just seems to appear, out of nowhere, right behind me. He scares the crap out of me every single time he does that." Paul said frankly.

"You know, Mrs. Ka'ana'ana is like that too. She'll just seem to appear out of nowhere." Karras interjected.

"What does she teach?" Curtis asked curiously.

"Literature. The really cool thing is, she picks traditional stories from all over the world. There was this one thing she had us read where I spent almost as much time researching the different cultural customs and Polynesian words as I did reading the story. It turned out to be fascinating."

"I just don't know..." Curtis trailed off as his eyes got wide.

Paul followed his stare and was also reduced to a speechless state.

The unspoiled beauty of the scene before them had caused the entire group to stop in their tracks.

When Paul noticed Rohan snapping pictures, he hurried to get his phone out so he could take a few pictures for himself.

"That's a good idea." Curtis whispered as he took out his own phone.

"I never knew that places like this really existed. It's like something from a fairy tale." Karras said in amazement.

"Yeah. I spent my whole life never realizing that stories like that were based on someone's real life." Paul said as he turned his phone so that he could catch a picture of Karras and Curtis.

"How do you mean?" Curtis asked curiously.

Karras appeared to be one wrong answer away from jumping on Paul and holding his mouth shut.

"To me, those stories were always just fantasy. I thought that they were all completely made up. But looking at something like this, it makes me realize that those people were telling stories about their homes and their lives. Hansel and Gretel, the huntsman, the seven dwarves... even if there was fantasy in their stories, some of the elements of those stories were from real life. This little... I don't know what you call this, a glen? A glade?"

"Whatever." Karras said simply.

Paul nodded, then continued, "A place like this makes me understand that there's a whole world right in front of me that I've never bothered to see."

"Does this have something to do with what we were talking about with school?" Curtis asked cautiously.

"I don't know. Maybe." Paul said uncertainly, then continued more decisively, "But until I have a better answer, I'm just going to assume that they're all ninjas."

Curtis laughed at his answer, then said, "I guess that'll work until I have a more reasonable explanation."

Paul glanced at Karras with a smile of accomplishment.

* * * * *

As luck would have it, the hikers returned to the cookout just as the first hamburgers were coming off the grill.

Paul wasn't sure who had done it, but he was surprised to see that all the musical instruments had been relocated to the amphitheater.

All the moms and dads appeared to be in good cheer, talking and joking amongst themselves.

The mundane guests, the witches and those in-between had a great time enjoying the good food and good company.

All in all, it was magical.

The End
(of Book 3)



Editor's Notes (1):

Wow, it looks as if we might actually get to the lake soon.

I am sure this is going to be an exciting event, and I mean that in a good way.

I kinda suspect that Dex and Curtiss will most likely hit it off pretty well.

On a different note, I think that Lucky is indeed starting to show signs of growing up. What with G and Paul helping him with his magic and just generally becoming his friends, it is making him more willing to try to exert his own feelings, which, given his environment was certainly not an easy thing for him to do. I really do think Lucky has a very appropriate name, indeed.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher


Editor's Notes (2):

Oh dear, I see those two ugly words. At least they are ugly when they are written together like that, at the bottom of the page.

Please tell me there WILL BE a BOOK FOUR!

I'm going to have to have a long talk with MultiMapper to explain the dire necessity of keeping us informed about these people, now that we have gotten to know everyone better, we can't just leave it like that. Grin.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher