Chapter 06

"Bitru, are you nervous or is it just cold out here?" Brandton asked as they walked up to the front door of a cozy little house.

"It's December in Pennsylvania. I don't think we can hang this on Bitru." Warren said fondly as he stepped onto the front porch.

"Okay." Brandton said to his father, then turned to Bitru and quietly said, "But if you get nervous, just let me know and I'll do what I can to help you."

"Although it may not appear so, I can be strong when I need to be." Bitru assured him.

Warren knocked on the door and waited for it to be answered.

"I didn't mean for it to sound like you weren't. I just know that if I were about to meet a bunch of people who were supposed to be my family and I didn't know if they'd accept me or not, that I'd probably be pretty nervous about it." Brandton said frankly.

After a moment, Bitru quietly said, "I wasn't nervous, until you said that."

Brandton slung an arm around Bitru's shoulders and gave him a quick, affectionate hug as the front door opened.

* * * * *

"You need to visit more often." An elderly woman said as she pulled Warren into a firm hug.

"We'll come over this weekend, I promise." Warren told his mother as he returned her hug.

After releasing her son, the woman immediately swooped in and hugged Brandton as she said, "You're growing up so fast, I can hardly believe it."

"Hi, Grandma." Brandton said as he hugged her.

When she released Brandton, she turned to look at Bitru and asked, "And who do we have here?"

"Mom. Don't act like you don't already know. I told you on the phone. This is Bitru Rechin. He's a distant cousin of ours." Warren said impatiently.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ma'am." Bitru said hesitantly.

"Bitru? That's an interesting name." She said before engulfing him in a hug. As she was hugging him she continued, "Don't you even think of being formal with me. You are to call me Grandma, or Grandma Keller. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am... Grandma." Bitru quickly corrected.

"Now come on in out of the cold. The boys are in the living room, why don't you go join them and I'll be right in with a snack." Grandma Keller said, then dashed away without waiting for a response from them.

"I like her." Bitru said quietly.

"I think she likes you, too." Brandton assured him, then guided Bitru to walk with them.

* * * * *

Bitru was fighting to contain his nervousness as they walked into the living room.

"What's the big emergency?" A man said as he stood from an easy chair.

"Can't a guy just stop in to visit with his mother and his brother?" Warren asked with a teasing grin.

"Not when that guy is you." The man said before stepping forward to pull Warren into an enthusiastic hug.

"That's Matthias." Brandton whispered to Bitru as he pointed at the young teenage boy sitting on the floor by the Christmas tree, who seemed to have all his concentration devoted to the smart phone in his hand.

"He looks older than I expected." Bitru said honestly.

Matthias looked up from his phone with surprise, obviously having heard Bitru's comment.

"This is our cousin, his name is Bitru." Brandton said cautiously.

"Hey." Matthias said simply, then turned his attention back to his phone.

Bitru looked at Brandton with question, confused by Matthias' response.

"He likes you." Brandton said with a smile, then guided Bitru to walk with him to the couch.

* * * * *

After taking off their coats, both Brandton and Bitru took seats on the couch and waited for whatever was going to happen next.

Bitru looked around the moderately sized living room and took note of the amount of Christmas decorations. There was a decorated tree, of course. But there were also ribbons, bows, garlands, streamers and a few other decorations that Bitru didn't have names for. The majority of the decorations seemed to be either red or silver, but there were enough examples of other colors interspersed throughout to keep it from being intimidating.

"So, how are things going with Margy?" Warren asked his brother cautiously.

"Let's just say that I'm not one of her favorite people, right now." Rance said quietly.

"Let me know if there's anything that I can do." Warren said regretfully, knowing that there wasn't.

"How are things going with Liz Anne?" Rance asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject.

Warren smiled, then said, "When I told her that we were coming over here, I suggested that she take the opportunity to pamper herself for a little while. I have no idea what she gets out of soaking in a tub with scented candles set around the room, but if it makes her happy, I'm all for it."

Rance chuckled, then said, "Yeah. I never got that, either."

Bitru glanced across the room at Matthias and found that he was typing on his phone with his thumbs, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him.

"Warren, clear me a spot on the coffee table." Grandma Keller said as she carried a heavily laden tray into the living room.

Bitru watched carefully, in case there might be something that he could do to help.

"I know that you came over for other reasons, but I couldn't help but look on this as a holiday celebration." Grandma Keller said as she carefully placed the tray on the table.

Once everything was in place, Grandma Keller picked up two mugs and handed one to each of her sons.

"Warren, make sure you take it easy on the eggnog, since you're going to be driving, later." Grandma Keller said firmly.

"Just how much 'nog' are we talking about?" Warren asked cautiously.

"Between the brandy and the rum, I'd say that you've got about a shot in there." Grandma Keller said as she picked up two more mugs and handed them to Brandton and Bitru.

"I added a little fresh vanilla bean, to yours." Grandma Keller said warmly.

"Thank you, Ma'am." Bitru said as he accepted his eggnog.

At her expectant gaze fixed on him, Bitru quickly amended, "Grandma."

She smiled sweetly at him, then turned toward Rance and asked, "Do you think that Matthias is old enough for a 'Grown Up' eggnog?"

Bitru glanced toward Matthias in time to see his head pop up.

Rance gave his son a long appraising look before answering, "Yeah. Let's see how he handles it."

Grandma Keller gave her son a satisfied nod, then carried a mug of eggnog to Matthias before saying, "Don't drink this too quickly."

"Thanks, Grandma." Matthias said with an excited smile.

Grandma Keller then turned and addressed the whole room, "As it turns out, I made a batch of pfeffernϋsse this afternoon."

"It wouldn't be Christmas without Grandma's pfeffernϋsse." Brandton said as he reached forward to take one.

Bitru smiled and he, too, picked up one of the light brown cookies.

Although he was cautious about getting his hopes up, Bitru carefully took a small bite of the cookie, then waited for the flavor to register.

It turned out to be everything that he had hoped for, and then some. The cookie was fresh and soft. But the thing that made Bitru's tastebuds sing was that while the cookies had a certain amount of sweetness to them, it was just enough to accent the delicate spices and round out the overall flavor.

"They're not real sweet, but they're good anyway." Brandton said happily.

Bitru was slowly chewing, imprinting the exquisite flavor on his mind, happy to finally have found something in his new home that actually tasted 'good'.

The next thing that Bitru knew, Grandma Keller was walking back into the living room, with yet another plate of cookies, these being iced sugar cookies.

"I suppose that we should get to the reason behind your visit, before it gets any later." Grandma Keller said as she took a seat in a large overstuffed chair.

"Well, I guess what brought this all about was a phone call that I received from Bitru's father. I have to admit, looking back at it, that it was a funny conversation." Warren said with a smile.

Bitru looked at Warren with surprise. He could recall his father being called many things, both to his face and behind his back, but 'funny' wasn't one of them.

"He explained that Bitru wanted to come to America and go to a public school, so that he could, I don't know, feel normal, I guess." Warren said with a quick smile at Bitru, then he continued, "But the whole time he was asking these little questions about me and Brandton, asking without really asking about our bloodline."

"It's a difficult thing to bring up in casual conversation." Grandma Keller said with a nod.

Warren chuckled, then said, "After dancing around it for nearly half an hour, we finally got down to it and he told me that they didn't have any family close to where they were. So he asked if it would be possible for Bitru to stay with us so he could be around others who were also coming to grips with... things."

"Dad! Can you just say it, already?" Brandton blurted out.

Warren turned to his brother and quietly asked, "Have you told Matthias, yet?"

Rance shook his head, then said, "But it's past that time."

"Do you want to do it, Mom? You're the one with experience talking about this." Warren asked hopefully.

"Talk is cheap. What we need is a demonstration. Why don't you go ahead and show your son what we're talking about?" Grandma Keller asked seriously.

Warren nodded, then looked toward Brandton and asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Fine." Brandton said simply, then quickly added, "But I want to know what's going on."

"This is what's going on." Warren said seriously.

Brandton felt a sudden wave of dizziness wash over him and his mind fogged over, as though he'd just spent twelve continuous hours studying.

Bitru quickly rushed to catch Brandton as he slumped on the couch.

"How are you feeling now?" Grandma Keller asked seriously.

"Huh?" Brandton asked weakly as he tried to focus on her voice.

"Tell me how you feel." Grandma Keller said firmly.

"Tired. I feel absolutely hammered." Brandton said slowly, having difficulty putting his feelings into words.

"How about now?" Grandma Keller asked with a smile.

Just as suddenly as the fog had overtaken his mind, it cleared away. All of a sudden he felt awake, aware, alive and filled to overflowing with enthusiasm.

"What was that?" Brandton asked in amazement.

"Your father's ability seems to be to sap the mental energy from the people around him and use it to replenish himself." Grandma Keller explained carefully, then added, "Mine is something similar, except that I tend to redistribute the energies in the room so that everyone is relatively the same."

"All of our abilities are like Mom's since we're her kids and grandkids. Well, except for Bitru, since he's from a more distant branch of the family." Warren explained.

"Yes. Would you mind showing us your ability, Bitru?" Grandma Keller asked hopefully.

"I would be honored to do so. But I haven't learned how to make it work when I want it to. It only seems to happen when I don't." Bitru admitted quietly.

"Things get cold when he's worried about something, or afraid." Brandton explained.

"Bitru, would you try to use your ability? I might be able to help you with it." Grandma Keller said encouragingly.

After a moment to look around the room, Bitru spotted his eggnog sitting on the edge of the coffee table. "I'm going to try to focus my ability on the eggnog."

"Tell me what you're doing, or what you're trying to do, as you're doing it." Grandma Keller said carefully.

"I have focused on my target and I'm trying to make it become colder... but I don't feel anything, I don't think it's working." Bitru finished regretfully.

"How are you trying to make it colder?" Grandma Keller asked slowly.

"I don't know how to explain... I'm trying to force it to become colder, but it isn't cooperating with me." Bitru said with frustration.

"Don't blame my eggnog." Grandma Keller warned playfully, then quietly said, "I get the sense that you're trying to 'push' it to become cold. And if your ability is anything like mine or my kids, then what you should probably be doing is 'pulling' the warmth, instead."

"Yes. Of course. Cold is an absence of heat, not a tangible thing, of it's own." Bitru said in realization.

"Go ahead and try pulling." Grandma Keller said encouragingly.

After a moment, Bitru quietly said, "I don't think I can do it."

"Of course you can. You're hardwired to do this. All you have to do is figure out how to turn it on and shut it off." Grandma Keller said with absolute conviction.

Bitru focused his attention, as he had done before, but this time he willed himself to draw the heat from the eggnog before him.

"Bitru, you're doing it. Although, you may need to work on your aim." Grandma Keller finished with a chuckle.

"I'll throw another log on the fire." Rance said with a smile at Bitru.

As he looked around, Bitru suddenly understood that all those around him were hugging themselves for warmth.

"The good news is, once you get a little more practice at consciously controlling your gift, then it will become far easier for you to recognize when it's getting away from you. You'll get used to how the flow of it feels." Grandma Keller said as she wrapped herself in an afghan that had been draped over the back of her chair.

"That was great, Bitru!" Brandton said excitedly, then turned to Grandma Keller and asked, "What's mine?!"

Grandma Keller turned to Warren and raised her eyebrows in question.

"As near as I can tell, your ability is just about the same as mine." Warren said seriously, then added, "When you get anxious or afraid, everyone around you becomes not only mentally weary, but also physically exhausted and hungry."

"Really?" Brandton asked slowly as he tried to think back on instances when that might have happened.

"If you want to give it a try, just focus on me and try to pull the energy from me. Don't worry, you won't hurt me." Warren hurried to assure him.

"Okay." Brandton said cautiously, then focused on his father for a moment before closing his eyes and imagining a pool of energy around him, flowing toward him.

"You and Bitru are going to both need to learn to aim." Grandma Keller said quietly.

Brandton opened his eyes and, at first, didn't notice any difference. But as he looked from person to person, he could see subtle hints that they all seemed to be drained. The looks in their eyes and their slightly wilted postures told him that he had, in fact, been able to drain all of them to some small degree.

"No matter." Grandma Keller said as she looked around the room with a warm, loving smile.

Brandton felt his own energy level reduce slightly and noticed as everyone else in the room seemed to perk up a little bit.

He also noticed that almost everyone present had taken another cookie from the plates on the coffee table.

"When you learn to control your gift, you should be able to draw energy from everyone around you, when you need a boost. Although I have no way of knowing for sure, I think that you'll probably be able to draw energy from plants and animals, as well." Warren said speculatively.

"Why would I want to do that?" Brandton asked cautiously.

"I don't know if you will. I'm just saying that you probably can." Warren answered simply.

"Do you want to go next, Matthias?" Rance asked his son curiously.

"What's yours?" Matthias asked his father challengingly.

"I make things slow down." Rance said simply.

"Huh?" Matthias asked dubiously.

Grandma Keller reached into a large bag beside her armchair and took out a ball of yarn. She handed it to her son, then waited.

"Go ahead and roll this toward me." Rance said as he tossed the yarn ball to his son.

Matthias didn't seem to be entirely on board with the demonstration, but dutifully rolled the yarn ball toward his father.

The ball came to a complete stop after about three inches.

"Come on. You can do better than that. Roll it over to me." Rance said playfully.

Matthias looked toward his father with aggravation, then rolled the yarn ball hard enough that it should have been able to roll all the way across the room. However, after about five inches, it stopped dead.

"The people in our bloodline all have an ability to absorb energy, from the look of it, my ability is to absorb inertia." Rance said frankly.

"Do you know what mine is?" Matthias asked cautiously.

Rance laughed aloud at the question, then asked, "Don't you remember what happened at school last year? It got so bad that you ended up moving to a different class."

"You mean when the crap computers at school kept going out?" Matthias asked cautiously.

"Son, when you get nervous or afraid, you absorb electrical energy from around you. In a few extreme instances the lights have dimmed. But usually it's the more sensitive electronics that have suffered your wrath." Rance said frankly.

"You mean all those 'Blue Screens' were my fault?" Matthias asked in surprise.

"Most of them. I'm pretty sure a few of them were just crappy programming." Rance said with a smile.

"Do you want to give it a try, Matthias?" Grandma Keller asked him expectantly.

"What do I have to do?" Matthias asked in a small voice, seemingly overwhelmed by all the new information.

"Focus on the lights and see if you can draw them down, absorb some of their energy into yourself. Don't take too much, just pull enough power that you can feel satisfied." Grandma Keller said seriously.

"That's right. With your ability, you might be able to take too much. So be careful." Rance warned.

"Okay." Matthias said anxiously, then looked at the wall sconces.

Everyone watched and waited, not wanting to do anything that might distract Matthias from his task.

Ever so slightly, the lights on either side of the fireplace began to dim.

"That's it. You're doing it. But when you've had enough, make sure that you back off." Rance told his son quietly.

After a moment, the lights returned to their full illumination.

"I really did it!" Matthias said in amazement.

"You did exceptionally well, Matthias." Bitru said seriously.

"Yeah! That was GREAT!" Brandton said with a grand smile.

Matthias blinked, then muttered, "Thanks."

"That went better than I expected. I was worried that this would take longer and that the boys might not be well rested for school tomorrow." Grandma Keller said happily.

"Speaking of school. I got the weirdest call tonight." Rance said as he picked up his eggnog from the coffee table.

"Yes. I meant to ask you what that was about." Grandma Keller said seriously.

"Someone called and said that Matthias had been recommended to this international school project... he said it didn't cost anything and if it's for real, it sounds like it could be the chance of a lifetime for him." Rance said frankly.

"It's for real." Brandton said simply.

When he realized that everyone was looking at him, he quietly continued, "Some stuff happened when Bitru went to my school. Let's just say that it was bad enough that they decided to not let him go back there. And, I guess, since there wasn't a really good place to send him instead, they decided that it would be a good idea to set up a school for kids who could probably do great things if they got a decent education."

"Me?" Matthias asked dubiously.

"Well, to be honest, we asked that they include you because you're our cousin." Brandton admitted.

"So, it's for real?" Rance asked to be sure.

"Yeah. It's totally for real. Bitru and I are going to be going to school there, tomorrow. They said that we might be the only two students until they can recruit the others. But they also said that we might have the kids of foreign diplomats and dignitaries from all over the world taking classes with us." Brandton said happily.

"Mr. Silverstone promised that they would recruit the most experienced teachers from all over the world to give us the best possible education." Bitru added quietly.

"I talked to Mr. Silverstone right before we came over here. From what he told me, quite a few people have been unhappy with the offerings not only in our public schools, but also with the private schools in the area. By setting up a school on the grounds of a foreign consulate, the school would, in essence, be on foreign soil and not subject to the state and federal requirements governing education. The boys are actually going to get the opportunity to learn the things that they'll need to know when they're released into the world." Warren said seriously.

"Matthias does okay in school..." Rance said as he looked at his son.

Bitru followed Rance's gaze, then quietly said, "I had hoped that Brandton and I would have our older cousin with us, so that we could go to him if we were having trouble. Since he's almost an adult, he could probably do a lot more than we could."

Matthias looked at Bitru with surprise at the statement.

"I wouldn't want for Matthias to have to leave all his friends." Rance said in a conflicted tone.

"You don't have to worry about that, Dad." Matthias said frankly. "Me and my friends spend all our time texting and tweeting. Even if we were in the same room, we probably wouldn't say two words to each other. Me being at a different school wouldn't change anything."

"So, you want to go?" Bitru asked hopefully.

"Sure. It sounds like it could be good." Matthias said with a shrug.

"I'll call Mr. Erikson and let him know that we're going to accept his offer." Rance said decisively.

"I'm glad. But we probably need to be going. Since the boys are going to be starting a new school in the morning, they'll need their sleep." Warren said as he stood.

"Remember, you said that you're going to be coming over this weekend." Grandma Keller said as she pulled her son into a hug.

"We'll be here." Warren promised.

"And you. Make sure you practice with your ability so you aren't making everyone in your new school tired and hungry." Grandma Keller said as she switched to hugging Brandton.

"I'll try my best." Brandton said warmly.

"Bitru, the next time I see you I want to see that you've put on some weight. You're too thin." Grandma Keller said before also engulfing him in a hug.

"If I'm going to be seeing you again this weekend, I don't know that I will be able to fulfill your request. However, if I were to have some more of your pfeffernϋsse, I would be more than happy to try." Bitru said shyly.

Grandma Keller gave Bitru a quick kiss on the forehead, then said, "It's a deal."

* * * * *

As Warren, Brandton and Bitru were putting on their coats, Grandma Keller ran up to them with a sealed plastic container.

"Drive safely. If you were to have an accident after drinking my eggnog, I would take it very personally." Grandma Keller said to her son seriously.

"I'll be careful, Mom." Warren assured her.

"Here you go, Bitru. This is all for you. I'll make another batch tomorrow." Grandma Keller said warmly.

Bitru carefully opened the top of the plastic container and was delighted to find that it was completely filled with pfeffernϋsse.

"Thank you, Grandma Keller. I promise that not one crumb will go to waste." Bitru said happily.

"Go on. I'll see you this weekend." Grandma Keller said as she made a shooing motion toward the door.

Warren laughed at the action, then herded the boys to walk with him out of the house.

* * * * *

Once they were in the car and on their way, Brandton quietly said, "I guess from the way you were talking in there that you like Matthias."

Bitru considered the statement for a moment before responding, "I don't know him well enough to say that I like him. But I believe I understand at least some of the turmoil that he is feeling."

"How's that?" Brandton asked curiously.

"There have been times, usually just after we had moved to a new area, when people would encounter me and automatically treat me condescendingly, due to my age. They would disregard my thoughts and have the temerity to make decisions on my behalf without consulting me. I believe Matthias is struggling with a similar situation." Bitru said thoughtfully.

"So you want for us to stroke his ego and let him think that he's our leader?" Brandton asked cautiously.

Bitru smiled at Brandton's assessment, then said, "I believe that we should treat him with all the respect due to someone who is our senior. When circumstances allow it, we should encourage him to accept adult responsibilities and encourage him to succeed."

"Yeah. That sounds nicer." Brandton said quietly.

Suddenly, the deep pitched sound of organ music began to fill the car.

"Excuse me." Bitru said as he took his phone out of his pocket.

Although Brandton didn't feel comfortable listening to Bitru's side of the conversation, he really didn't have any other choice.

"Father." Bitru said in greeting.

"Yes. Mr. Silverstone discussed matters with us and we approve of the arrangements that he suggested." Bitru said carefully.

There was a long moment of silence as Bitru listened, then he said, "It is too early for me to say that I have made 'friends', but I have met some kind people whom I believe I may be able to form that sort of emotional connection with."

"Yes. The matter of our bloodline has been discussed. I thank you for anticipating my need to be with others to discover the permutations." Bitru said carefully.

There was a longer silence, and Brandton looked into the back seat with concern.

"Yes. Should circumstances allow, I would like that very much." Bitru said with a smile.

"I understand. Thank you, Father. Sleep well." Bitru said quietly, then disconnected the call.

"Is everything okay?" Brandton asked cautiously.

"My father has been up all night making arrangements. It is almost morning, there. I have never known him to go to such lengths for anyone." Bitru said honestly.

"I think that the best way you'll be able to thank him is to do everything that you can to make his arrangements worth it." Brandton said frankly.

"It is such a great responsibility. I don't know if I can." Bitru said quietly.

"Don't worry. I'll help you. And I bet that Matthias will, too... at least, as long as we make him think that he's in charge." Brandton finished with a smile.

"Do you think that the other students will be willing to come to our school?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"I think so. Matthias was going to a private school, so it was different for him. But all the others are going to our school. If their parents care anything about them at all, then they're going to jump at the opportunity to send their kids to an 'international' school to give them chances to succeed that they wouldn't get any other way." Brandton said thoughtfully.

"Yes. From the way Uncle Rance spoke of what he had been told, it sounds as though they're presenting the school as an unprecedented opportunity. I just hope that the school will deliver on the promises that it is making." Bitru said anxiously.

"We'll make it deliver. Remember, when you dig all the way down to the root of this thing, it's us. We caused it. Yeah, Mr. Silverstone and your dad did most of it, but if it weren't for us, none of the rest of it would have happened. So, like it or not, we're responsible for what happens next. If things start going the wrong direction, then it's up to us to set it right." Brandton said seriously.

"We will remain diligent to make our school a success." Bitru said calmly, just beginning to sound a little more confident.

"There's just one thing I'm kind of sorry about, leaving my old school." Brandton said thoughtfully.

"What might that be?" Bitru asked curiously.

"You never got to try the cafeteria pizza. I really wanted to see that." Brandton finished with a teasing smile.

"I believe that I have experienced more than enough of the school's cuisine." Bitru said seriously.

"Yeah. But I still think you should've tried it. Cafeteria pizza is classified as a vegetable." Brandton said with a grin.

After a moment for that to register, Bitru quietly said, "Since the 'burger' was classified as food, I do not give much credence to their classification system."

* * * * *

"Boys, we'll be home in a few minutes and there's something that I need to tell you." Warren said quietly.

"Sure. What?" Brandton asked curiously.

"Liz Anne doesn't know anything about our bloodline. Don't talk about it in front of her and don't use your abilities around her." Warren said seriously.

"Is that just for Mom, or is that everyone? I mean, is there anyone outside our family who knows?" Brandton asked carefully.

"Not that I know of. The few times that I know of when someone has found out, it's gone badly. And it usually resulted in one or more of our deaths." Warren said frankly.

"Is it a gift or a curse?" Brandton asked thoughtfully.

"Both. Neither. I guess that's up to you. Once you've learned a little better control, you can choose never to use it again, if you want." Warren said seriously.

"But we have to walk around every day, keeping this big secret about ourselves." Brandton said slowly.

"Yeah. That's life. You've got no choice but to play the hand you're dealt." Warren said simply.

"Brandton, I believe that Uncle Warren is correct. In the hand that you have been dealt, you have an extraordinary ability. In the hand someone else was dealt, they might have received an inoperable birth defect or a genetic predisposition for cancer. In the long view, I find that I have no reason to despair." Bitru said carefully.

"Yeah. Okay. I'll give you that one." Brandton said with a grin.

"Good. Just try to keep a lid on it around Liz Anne. Let me know if you need to talk to me about it and we'll find an excuse to go and do something together." Warren said seriously.

"Yeah. We'll do that." Brandton agreed.

"Thank you again, Uncle Warren. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for all that you have done for me." Bitru said sincerely.

"Your father is paying us." Warren said simply.

"Excuse me?" Bitru asked in surprise.

"We're living on the edge. There's no way that I could have taken on another mouth to feed with my income. When your father figured out that we shared a bloodline, he offered to pay me to let you live here with us. I mean, if money weren't a concern, I would have been happy to do it, just to help out. But things being as they are... well, I just didn't want you to find out later and think that it was all an act." Warren said seriously.

"So, if I may ask, which things are part of the service you are paid to provide and which are because you care?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"Bitru, it's getting cold in here." Brandton whispered.

"Sorry." Bitru said as he fought to get his ability under control.

"I can't really answer that, Bitru. You're staying with us because your father arranged it. But as far as everything else, you're being included as part of my family, like another son. I don't keep a list of which services are covered and which aren't. I care, alright? I'm sorry I brought it up. I just didn't want for you to get hurt later, if you found out." Warren finished quietly.

After a moment, Bitru slowly said, "Thank you for telling me. And thank you for allowing me to stay here with your family... including me in your family. Whatever my father is paying you can't be enough for what I am receiving."

"Should I ask for a raise?" Warren asked with a grin.

"I would not recommend it." Bitru said with the beginning of a smile.

* * * * *

As Brandton and Bitru walked into their bedroom, Brandton quietly asked, "When we were talking about religion and stuff, were you asking about that because of our... gifts?"

"Yes. On one of the few occasions when my father spoke to me about it, he mentioned that some look upon our gifts as being supernatural in origin." Bitru said carefully.

"Yeah. I guess it's easier to explain things that you don't understand as being 'from God' than to really think about them." Brandton said seriously.

"So, you do not believe that our gifts are mystical in nature?" Bitru asked curiously.

"No. Even if we don't know exactly how they work, I'm sure that there's a scientific explanation. Just because we don't know what it is yet, doesn't mean that we should automatically call it 'magic'." Brandton said seriously.

"I concur. It pleases me to know that you believe as you do." Bitru said warmly, then continued, "Although I could understand it if a person were to jump to that conclusion, at least in the beginning."

"Yeah. I guess." Brandton said thoughtfully, then quietly asked, "How did you get here, yesterday?"

"I flew." Bitru responded cautiously.

"No. I mean, from the airport." Brandton said seriously.

"My father had a car waiting." Bitru said simply.

"Oh. Okay. But what about the rain? When you got here you were all wet." Brandton said thoughtfully.

"When I arrived, I stood in front of your house for... an unspecified amount of time, trying to work up my courage to knock on the door. I believe that there might have been a slight cloudburst during that time." Bitru said quietly.

"Oh. Okay." Brandton said before starting to get undressed.

"You do not have more questions for me?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"Nope. Not right now." Brandton said simply, then quickly added, "But if you have any questions about me, you can go ahead and ask them."

Bitru thought for a moment, then quietly said, "I cannot think of any."

"Okay. Well, I didn't get enough sleep last night, so I'm going to bed." Brandton said as he pulled on his sweatpants and a tee shirt.

"Yes. I still haven't adjusted to this time zone. I should sleep now, too." Bitru said as he started undressing.

As Brandton climbed into bed, he suddenly said, "I thought of another question. When you were younger, did you ever want a brother or sister?"

"Yes. There were many times that I thought that I would enjoy having a sibling." Bitru said honestly, then asked, "And you?"

"Yeah. I always wanted a little brother. I guess it kinda ended up working out that way, didn't it?" Brandton asked thoughtfully.

"I suppose that it did." Bitru said warmly.

"Don't forget to charge your phone." Brandton said with a smile.

"Oh! Yes. Thank you." Bitru said as he retrieved his phone from his pants pocket, then thought to ask, "Do you need for me to turn off the light?"

"No. I can reach it from here. Just let me know when you're ready for it to be off." Brandton said as he relaxed.

"You can turn it off whenever you like." Bitru said from the bed above him.

"Goodnight, Bitru. Sweet dreams." Brandton said as he reached over to the switch cord on his nightstand and turned off the lamp on the desk.

"Yes. Sweet dreams, Brandton. Goodnight."

To Be Continued…

Editor's Notes:

That turned out pretty well, didn't it?

I really like Grandma. She seems to have a really good head on her shoulders.

I'm glad that everyone accepted Bitru so quickly.

I get kind of a kick out of the fact that the gifts are not all that spectacular.

When the story started, I got a few ideas in my head, leading me to come to some conclusions that were completely wrong. I actually suspected that Bitru had some supernatural traits. I thought about all the weird beings we have come to learn about of late, such as Vampires, Werewolves, etc. I didn't think he was a zombie. That one didn't fit in at all, for some reason.

Obviously, we are not talking about your movie version of MUTANTS. There is no one sprouting claws or other sharp objects out of various parts of their bodies.

Honestly, I find it hard to conceive of anything practical that any of the various powers can provide. You can't even use them at parties to show off. But you know what, I am willing to bet that if something can be found to put those powers to a good use, I suspect our now friends will find a way to do just that.

I am certainly ready to find out more, so I hope it won't be too long before we see the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher