Chapter Twenty-Two

Home at Last

The outside lights of Allender Manor burned vigilantly as they awaited the return of Shade's car Monday night. Inside, Lydia sat patiently waiting in a chair that she had scooted over to a window in the living room, one that offered a lit view of the driveway. Gale strolled by the room and caught sight of her young sister keeping watch. Amused, she walked over to Lydia.

"Lydia dear, watching for them won't bring them here any faster," Gale said with a little smile.

Without breaking her watch through the window, Lydia replied with an eerie certainty,"They're close now, I can feel them."

Struck by the sure conviction of her statement, Gale pursued the meaning. "What do you mean you can feel them?"

Lydia turned her head to Gale with squinted eyes and a drawn bottom lip that helped her search her thoughts. "I don't know, I just...feel them."

After her honest answer Lydia returned to her dutiful stare out the window. Gale considered the matter as she observed her little sister, being mindful that Lydia's gift was still in it's early stages of manifestation, and that it's full range of abilities might not be known for some time.

"They're here!" Lydia excitedly announced, her words being followed by a distant, signature growl from Shade's car as it turned onto the drive.

Lydia hopped out of the chair, making a dash for the front door while Gale trailed behind her at a more reserved, graceful pace, though she was brimming with eagerness for their return as well.

The coupe made a spirited thrust up the drive with Shade pushing it along with a heavy right foot. She brought it to a quick stop near the front door of the manor with a signaling rev of it's robust engine. Corbin looked out at the big house, whose gothic lines faded into a dark silhouette above the brightness of the outside lights. The mere presence of the manor filled him with a tingling serenity, but that was overcome by something far greater when he saw the door open and Lydia standing at the threshold.

Gideon and Shade climbed out of the low car with Corbin crawling out of the back seat after them. Lydia watched eagerly as everyone but Gideon stretched wearily to loosen up from the long trip in the cramped car. He made his way up the steps of the pillared stoop, receiving a big grin from Lydia as he passed her, patting her affectionately on the head as he went inside where Gale was waiting.

Lydia rushed down the steps, bolting toward Shade who caught her in an endearing hug that Corbin admired with a happy gleam in his eyes as he got ready to be next. The sisters separated with mutual smiles, then Lydia threw a quick glance at Corbin before assaulting him with a smothering embrace that nearly took his breath away upon impact. Shade gave a smirking nod to Corbin, approving the sentiment she was witnessing, then she walked off to the manor to give them their moment.

Corbin wrapped Lydia up tight, lifted her off her feet, and rocked her side-to-side in a hug full of love and gratitude. She kept her head planted on his shoulder, smiling broadly under her closed eyes which teared up at the corners. Both would have been happy to remain in that hug, absorbing one another's affection, but the fleeting minute it existed in soon gave way to the need they both felt to see each other face to face.

Corbin put her back on the ground then bowed his head to meet the upward gaze of her shorter stature. He wiped away the tears from her smiling cheeks, then gently caressed one with the backside of his hand, a gesture she mirrored on his happy face.

"Come on, let's go inside, we've got a lot to talk about," he suggested.

Lydia was about to nod in agreement when she noticed his eyes. "Corbin, your eyes...they've changed," she said, astonished.

"Yeah, so what do you think?" he asked openly.

She studied them even more closely for a moment, then grinned and said exuberantly,"They're wonderful!"

Corbin chuckled at his little sister's response, then Lydia took him by the hand and together they entered the manor, finding the others assembled in the dining hall where Gale was finishing up a healing melody on Shade to remedy the lingering soreness of her injuries that Gideon's blood didn't quite eliminate. When Gale finished with Shade, she welcomed Corbin back with a heartwarming embrace, then everyone settled around the grand table which was covered with refreshments prepared earlier by Gale.

Over the next couple of hours everything that happened in Torrell was brought to light with all the grim and triumphant details. There was barely a speechless breath to be had at the table as they went over the events again and again, trying to grasp a complete account of the whole affair from all angles. As the night aged and the subject meandered to a close, Corbin excused himself from the table for the sake of a good night's rest in the guestroom, but before he left he walked over to Gideon, extending his hand to him.

"Forgive me Gideon, but in all the commotion I've failed to properly thank you for your part in my rescue, and I'd also like to thank you for all that you've done for my family," Corbin said, standing very stately with his right hand out for Gideon as the girls looked on.

Gideon rose from his seat, bowed humbly to Corbin as he turned to face him, then took his hand in a solid, honored handshake. "My dear boy, it has and always shall be my great pleasure to be of service to the lineage of Hayden and Emma Allender," he proudly admitted.

Corbin smiled gratefully at Gideon's gracious response, then after bidding all a good night, he retired to the comfort of the guest room. Gideon remained standing as he watched Corbin leave the dining hall, then he turned to the girls with a delighted expression on his pale face.

"Well, it appears that there is once again a man in the house of Allender," he said, pleased with Corbin's behavior that seemed to indicate he was accepting the role that was rightfully his.

"Indeed," Gale remarked, matching Gideon's pleased tone and radiating with her warm smile.

In the week that followed Corbin's days were full of shopping with his sisters in order to replenish his wardrobe, since he left everything but his duffel bag in Torrell. There were no shortage of opinions as to what look suited him best, since each of his sisters had their own ideas for his image. Ultimately he compiled a versatile assortment of clothing from Shade's taste in dark, rugged pieces, Gale's push for suave suits, and Lydia's knack for stylish yet casual clothes.

Shade also made good on her word, teaching Corbin how to drive a stick-shift when they found time between shopping jaunts; though her rumbling coupe often objected to his inexperience with harsh lurches and chirping tires as he struggled to gain a better feel for the relationship between the gas pedal and the clutch. Still, he enjoyed every waking moment with his sisters and found the beginning of his new life more joyful, more fulfilling than he ever imagined during his countless dreams for such in the past.

At the end of that first week, on Saturday, Gale had a photographer come to the manor to take the latest family portrait, and the first ever of all the Allender children together. After a good bit of horsing around between her three younger siblings, Gale finally managed to assemble them properly; without funny faces aimed at making each other laugh, or childish rabbit ear gestures hovering above someone's head, or striking ridiculous poses. The finished product was an elegant display of three sisters and one brother clothed in their finest apparel before the mantel of the stone fireplace in the living room. The photo was printed out on site, and Gale hung it proudly in the hall of pictures, near a portrait of their parents.

That night, as planned earlier in the week, the manor received guests in the form of Gideon, Amanda, and two children. Corbin was in his room reading when he heard the manor's doorbell announce their arrival. He marked his place in the book, then headed off to welcome them at the door, but was beaten by Gale who was already exchanging greetings with Gideon and Amanda by the time he got there.

Gideon saw Corbin coming at them and he slipped past Gale to meet him, stopping him a little ways from the door. "Corbin dear boy, how has your first week home been?" he inquired.

"Wonderful Gideon, absolutely wonderful," Corbin replied, smiling happily.

"Good, good. I am very glad to hear it." Gideon turned and gestured for Corbin to follow him. "Come with me, I have brought along someone very dear that I wish for you to meet."

Corbin complied with a mannerly nod, then followed Gideon to the door, where Gale and Amanda were finishing up on their greetings. Corbin stood patiently beside Gideon, waiting for the introduction that would come shortly. The time he waited gave him a polite opportunity to take a good look at Amanda, who shared the same pale complexion and gray eyes as Gideon, sure traits of their vampire nature. She was close to Lydia's size, a full head shorter than Corbin and her long black hair rose and fell in waves down the side of her delicate, unmistakably feminine face until it was parted by her shoulders.

Unlike Gideon, whose image was the very definition of dapper, Amanda's choice of clothing was more casual. With a comfortable blouse and worn jeans, she was nothing less than a stunning vision in Corbin's eyes, which had unintentionally locked onto her.

"Corbin Allender, I would like you to meet the lovely Miss Amanda, my most revered companion of the night," Gideon introduced once Gale and Amanda turned their attention to him.

Corbin was caught off guard in his dreamy gaze of Amanda. He lightly cleared his throat, hoping no one had noticed, then offered his hand to Amanda for a careful, mannerly handshake.

"It's a pleasure Amanda," he greeted with a gentlemanly bow.

"It certainly is," she returned with an almost flirty smirk, revealing her notice of his admiring stare.

There was an unmistakable attraction between them that struck them both without warning. Amanda kept her alluring eyes on Corbin after the introduction, turning him slightly bashful as he tried not to notice. Gideon and Gale exchanged private, amused glances after witnessing the frisky exchange. Then Corbin found an escape through a question.

"Um, where are the children?"

"They shot off to Lydia's room as soon as I opened the door," Gale answered, grinning at the recollection.

Amanda stepped up to Corbin with an invitation. "Would you like to meet them?"

"Sure, I'd love to," he answered, regaining his usual composure.

Amanda offered him her arm in a courtly fashion and he turned to her side to take it, escorting her away toward the grand stairway as Gideon and Gale watched.

"Ahh, I think they shall get along marvelously," Gideon remarked.

"Yes, I saw the spark between them too. Do you think it's wise, letting him go off with her like that, unsupervised," Gale replied playfully.

Gideon turned to her with his debonair grin,"My dear, if Corbin is half the charmer his father was, I would be more concerned for Amanda than for him."

The two patrons of the Allender family shared in a humorous laugh at the proposed predicament of the pair walking arm-in-arm to the stairway, then they left the manor's entrance for the living room's more accommodating surroundings, while Amanda initiated small talk with Corbin to sample his nature, and test his willingness to flirt with her as they made their way to the stairs.

"So, I hear you can be quite the animal at times," she said as they approached the stairway.

Leaning his head toward her, Corbin responded harmlessly with a cocked eyebrow,"Only when the mood is right."

"Mmm," Amanda moaned playfully, delighted in his frolicsome response, then Corbin steered the conversation in a different direction as they began their ascent up the stairs.

"So I'm curious, these children, who's are they?"

"They are no one's. They belong only to each other."

"I...don't think I understand. Who takes care of them?"

"Oh, they are quite capable of taking care of themselves, but they stay with Gideon and myself from time to time."

The vagueness of Amanda's answers was enough to end Corbin's line of questions as he was becoming even more curious about the two children who'd caused such an excited stir in Lydia when she'd heard they would be visiting. When he and Amanda drew near to Lydia's room, they could hear the mirthful sounds of children's laughter escaping through the half open door. Corbin was about to knock and enter when Amanda tugged him back. She whispered through a sly grin for him to take a peek first.

Amanda released him and Corbin snuck up to the door, then eased his head around to steal a look into the room. Lydia was sitting on her bed while the children were sitting cross-legged on the floor near her. At first, Corbin noticed the charming accents that both children spoke with as they asked Lydia questions about him, then, as he studied them more closely, he was shocked to find their complexion and eyes the same as Gideon and Amanda's. He turned back to Amanda with a stunned, gaping look. She simply grinned, nodding her head to confirm what he'd discovered.

Looking back into the room, beyond the surprising truth of the children's blood driven nature, Corbin took a better look at Lydia's guests. One was a golden haired boy with an angelic face and the other was a very pretty, but seemingly frail girl with hair as black as Lydia's. They both appeared to be younger than Lydia, if by just a couple of years, but despite realizing they could be much older than him, Corbin saw only the demeanor of children at work in their giggles and animated conversation with his little sister.

Easing back to Amanda, Corbin whispered,"Where are they from?"

"They're originally from Sverige," she whispered back.

Corbin was about to ask something else, but Amanda motioned him toward the door. "Go in and meet them, they'll be thrilled to answer your questions themselves," she prodded, with an assuring smile.

Corbin went in after a brief knock and was immediately corralled by the children, who informed him they were just discussing him with Lydia, who they eagerly boasted of knowing since she was a toddler. Amanda stood at the door, keeping her presence hidden as she watched Corbin escape from the children to join Lydia on the bed, then after learning the children's names, he fell seamlessly in with the youthful gaiety that filled the room. Amanda kept watching, pleased to see Corbin selflessly losing himself in the presence of others that were held dear by his sister; a trait that reminded her very much of his mother's kindness toward her many years ago.

The rest of the night became quite the social event at Allender Manor when everyone eventually filed into the living room. Corbin was enclosed by Lydia and the children on the couch, while Gideon and Amanda filled the air with tales from their incredibly long lives, most of which had been told in the manor before; yet never for Corbin's ears; but the stories were favorites often times requested specifically by Shade and Gale, who never tired of them.

Corbin was surrounded by what he'd always wanted, family; and even the fire burning in the stone fireplace couldn't be warmer. As he shared in the laughter of Shade's witty remarks prompted by Gideon's humorous anecdotes, listened reverently to Gale's occasional inclusion of Mother and Pappa's part in the stories told, felt the nearness of Lydia beside him, marveled at the children, and stole glances at Amanda, who almost always caught him because she was thieving too; he realized more than ever how blessed he was, not that he would be taking any of it for granted anytime soon.