Chapter One

Lydia's Request

Winter was in full effect outside Allender Manor, but inside it's spacious four car garage Shade and Corbin were sweating. One of the end bays had long been serving as Shade's own personal gym, complete with a punching bag, treadmill, weight machine, and even a makeshift boxing ring. In the ring Shade danced around like a boxer in sweatpants and a tank top, loosening up for the match; her hands in padded gloves and her head protected with padded gear as well.

Corbin was preparing for the sparring contest that always ended their bi-weekly workout by adjusting his head gear in the opposite corner of the ring. Once he was ready he shook his arms for looseness, then butted his padded fists. In a tank top and sweats too, he approached Shade who met him in the center of the ring.

"Okay, none of that speedy stuff this time," he playfully warned.

Shade feigned an innocent, hurt look then shrugged and said,"Who, me?"

They reached out to bump gloves, then Shade advised him with,"Just remember those moves we've been workin' on and you'll do fine."

The two stepped away from each other then began to bob and weave as they raised their padded fists in readiness. Corbin found Shade's shimmering brown ponytail, which snuck out of the back of her headgear and swung between her shoulders as she danced around, to be a little distracting; but he tried to calculate her first move by staying glued to her dark eyes, which were full of eagerness for round one of their match.

Shade tried to catch him off guard with a left jab, but he dodged it as he countered with a right hook that barely grazed her headgear as she snapped back. She smiled at the glancing blow, enjoying immensely the thrill of sparring with her brother, especially since he was getting better. Corbin focused on his breathing to remain poised and ready. Since he wasn't quite sure enough of himself yet to go on the offensive, he stuck with a strategy of defense and counters.

The bout between the two went on and on. Punches were thrown, blows landed, and sweat fell in bucketfuls. Finally, after several rounds, when both Shade and Corbin's limbs were starting to become like noodles, Gale strode gracefully into the garage with a tall water bottle in each hand.

"Ding, ding! I hereby declare this match a draw," Gale announced near the ring, to bring an end to the session as well as their attention to the much needed water in her hands.

Breathing heavily, Shade and Corbin met once again in the center of the ring to bump gloves, this time with heavy fists and tired arms. Shade gave Corbin a double tap on the head for his improved efforts, and to remind him of her appreciation for joining her in the ring, then they walked over to Gale and took the water bottles from her with appreciative nods since they were breathing too heavily for words.

After a couple of deep swigs from his bottle, Corbin climbed out of the ring and made his way over to a waiting fold-out chair where he sat down in an exhausted slump. Shade did the same at the opposite side of the ring. Corbin took another deep gulp from the bottle, then he slid the sweaty headgear off his head and began to work at removing his gloves. Gale wandered up beside him.

"You've only been with us for two months now, don't let Shade wear you out too soon," Gale jokingly remarked.

In between heavy grasps for breath Corbin replied,"Oh no...I'm fine...I really enjoy...training with her."

"And I assure you she loves every minute of it. In recent years Gideon hasn't had as much spare time as he once did, so Shade has been sorely lacking someone to spar with," Gale disclosed.

"I'm sure he...made for a much more suitable...opponent," Corbin said, getting closer to a normal rate of breathing.

"He could almost match her speed, almost; but don't sell yourself short. Shade has boasted to me of your quick learning," Gale encouraged.

Corbin accepted the praise with a modest grin before taking another swig from the water bottle. Setting it down on the floor beside him, he noticed the time on a plain, round clock mounted on the wall near Shade's training equipment.

"I guess I'd better get going if I'm gonna shower and be on time to pick up Lydia from the academy," he said as he watched the second hand march around the clock.

Gale glanced up at the clock, then turned back to Corbin with a slightly amused expression. "Yes well, I feel it only fair to warn you that she has something to ask of you today," she hinted with a restrained smile.

"Something to ask of me?" Corbin inquired curiously.

"Yes, but I shouldn't ruin it for her; just know that she's been hesitant to bring it up sooner because she's afraid you'll say no," Gale revealed on Lydia's behalf.

Corbin shrugged with a brief chuckle, scoffing at the very idea that Lydia, the one to whom he was so gratefully indebted, should ever be afraid to ask anything of him. He would gladly dress up as a clown and parade the streets if she wanted him to, so the very thought of saying no to her, despite being clueless to her request, was humorous to him.

"Don't worry, I'll try not to disappoint her," he said wryly, mocking Lydia's misplaced doubts.

Gale's elegant features brightened with a smile under her noble blond hair, knowing Lydia's request she was pleased to know the certainty of Corbin's answer, which she suspected all along. Corbin gathered himself from the chair, then headed off to the guest room, which he'd chosen as his own since moving in with his sisters. Everyone had agreed that his old room, with the painted testimony of a father's love so clearly evident on all it's walls, should be left as is. It would remain a tribute to the man whose last name was borne proudly by his children, and also the house he'd built for them.

Soon after Corbin had showered he was on his way in Gale's sedan to pick up Lydia from the academy which was in Ridgeville. Taking her to and from the academy each day was a duty he'd happily assumed since moving into the manor, one that he looked forward to each morning upon waking, and each afternoon when the hour came. On this day, a Friday, the leisurely drive under the cloudy, grey winter sky was filled with curiosity as to what Lydia's request could possibly be.

Corbin reached the academy a few minutes later than his usual routine time, but found Lydia huddled together with a few of her friends who were themselves waiting for their rides under a covered walkway between buildings. The heavy clouds above had begun to make their presence known with a light, but steady mist that dampened everything it touched. He pulled the silver sedan up next to the curb, getting as close as he could for Lydia's upcoming trek through the falling mist. One of her friends noticed the familiar car, then pointed it out to Lydia, who was busy talking.

Lydia turned to see the car, then after a quick goodbye to her friends, she began a trot from the dry walkway through the wet grass to the car, and the weekend it would take her to. Corbin reached across and opened the passenger door so that Lydia could escape the chasing mist that had her rushing to the car. She hopped in with a quick closing of the door behind her to seal off the wetting mist.

"Hey kiddo, how was your day?" Corbin greeted with a cheerful smile that the sight of Lydia always seemed to bring to his face.

"It was Friday, that's all that matters," she replied with eagerness for the weekend ahead as she fastened her seatbelt.

Corbin chuckled at her comment as he eased the car away from the curb, remembering exactly how good Fridays felt when in school. "So, I guess our plans for tomorrow are still good, right?" he questioned.

"Yep," Lydia chirped.

"Good," he confirmed.

Corbin didn't follow with anything else, allowing the air between them to grow unusually silent and thick. He sensed an inner conflict with Lydia, whose fidgety hands and restless stare at the boringly familiar road ahead told of the burden that her secret request was putting on her thoughts. He decided to give her courage a little push.

"So um, Gale tells me you have something you wanna ask me," he said casually, as he turned on the windshield wipers to streak away the gathering mist.

Lydia gave a harmless huff at her sister's breach of their confidential talks, but was also somewhat relieved by it too, since she now had an opening for he request. "Um, yeah, I do," she answered, gathering her courage.

"Well, shoot," Corbin prodded enthusiastically, ready to crush the silliness of her fear to ask him anything, as well as having the gnawing of his curiosity relieved.

Lydia turned her head to the fidgeting hands in her lap, where she could hide from the rejection she dreaded if Corbin did not favor her request. He glanced over at her as he waited and was taken by how fragile she looked under the weight of her dilemma. With her head bowed slightly between her small huddled shoulders, her streaming black locks fell down beside her face, shrouding it almost completely from view. If not for driving he would have assured her with the stroke of a cheek that she need not be so worried about asking anything of him.

Finally Lydia, with her gaze still down at her lap, said,"Well, you see...there's this dance coming up at the academy, it's the winter formal and it'll be my first one...and well, my teacher says that we still need some chaperons to volunteer, and I thought...that maybe..."

"That maybe I would volunteer?" Corbin finished, rescuing Lydia from her uncharacteristic timidness.

She looked over at him with pleading in her brown eyes, then confirmed his assumption with a nod. Glancing at her again he covered her with an affectionate gaze that he finished off with a warm smile before returning his attention to the road.

"I would love to be a chaperon at your dance," he said with such conviction that Lydia's fretful mood vanished instantly at the arrival of her beaming smile, which he couldn't help but return when he noticed.

Corbin understood that while being a chaperon at a dance might seem small to him, it was obviously huge to her, as evidenced by her struggle to ask and her unrestrained smiling joy at his answer. He laughed within himself, marveling that he could make someone he cared so deeply for so happy simply by agreeing to such a benign request. He wanted to dive off into a speech about how she need never be afraid to come to him with any burden, any request, any problem; but he didn't want to quicken the absence of her smile, or dampen her lifted mood with what would surely become strings of very solemn words.