Chapter Twelve

Engaged

Sunday brought a late start for everyone at Allender Manor. It was already near lunch time when Gale sauntered into the kitchen to make a much needed cup of coffee. Once she got it brewing she rested against the counter as she waited. Shade strolled lazily into the kitchen a few moments later with her usually lively dark eyes dimmed with lingering fatigue. She slouched next to Gale in order to wait for her turn to make a cup of coffee.

They acknowledged each other with weary smiles that rose and fell briefly, then Gale suffered a waking yawn that she covered with her left hand. Shade noticed a once familiar sight on Gale's ring finger, Ethan's engagement ring.

With a sudden gleam in her eyes as she stared at the ring, Shade shook her head with a consenting smirk. "Nice!" she remarked, giving her blessing for the second time.

Gale smiled sheepishly, then replied graciously,"Thanks."

Corbin rolled out of bed and went through the motions of starting a new day with a shower, followed by a quick snack before he and Shade headed to Ridgeville in the moving van to pick up his car at Angelo's, then return the van before its absence was noticed.

When they returned to the manor Corbin went back to his room, kicked off his shoes, and plopped down on his bed with deep thoughts about the nightmare he'd awoken with again. A period of heavy gloominess always overtook him when he succumbed to the dream's call. He stared blanlkly up at the ceiling with his hands clasped behind his head as he lost himself in a recollection of the dream. Always he was in the form of the Protector and always he ripped Derek, Shade's captor, apart; but that's not what really bothered him about the dream, that's not what made it a nightmare.

It was the brief, all-too real moment in his mother's caring arms that haunted him. The dream teased him with something he wanted badly, but could never have. It sunk his heart into a yearning void that dampened his spirit and tortured his thoughts. He struggled for just one tiny glimpse of a real memory in either of his parents' arms, but his mind could not reach that far back, to the time of being five years old or younger. He had only the pictures in the family photo albums to combat the dream's offering of a false memory.

Before he could delve much further into his painful study of the dream Lydia appeared silently in the doorway, snagging his attention from the ceiling when he noticed her out of the corner of his eye. She was standing with her arms loosely at her sides while her raven-black hair framed a saddened face, one that summoned Corbin's concern as he sat up on the bed.

"Lydia, what's wrong?"

She walked solemnly over to the edge of his bed, looking at him with such a melancholy burden in her brown eyes. "You tell me," she said softly, almost pleading.

"Wh...What do you mean?" he asked, a little confused.

"I was coming downstairs and I...felt this terrible feeling, this...hurting feeling that I knew was from you," she explained.

Corbin drooped his head with a sorrowful sigh when he realized his own personal grief had found its way into his little sister through her gift, which she was still learning to control.

"Lydia, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean..."

"It's okay," she interrupted. "But why are you so sad?"

He studied her genuinely concerned demeanor for a moment, wondering how he could reassure her and replace her frown with a much more fitting smile. Then he decided to ask her something he desperately wanted to know.

"Do you remember what you told me the first time I went to the mausoleum, about feeling Mother and Pappa's love there, and here at the manor?"

"Yes."

"Well sometimes, I want so badly to feel it to," he admitted openly, hanging his head afterward.

Lydia reached out and caressed his cheek with the back of her hand, raising his head with the meaning of her touch, then as he gazed appreciatively into her eyes she leaned across the edge of the bed and kissed him tenderly on the same cheek.

"That's what it feels like," she uttered sincerely.

A torrent of emotions welled up inside Corbin, showing themselves in his watering eyes. He rolled away to lay back down on the bed so that he wouldn't lose his composure in front of her, though he knew she of all people would understand; she who never knew Mother or Pappa either. He felt the bed sag a little as she climbed onto it and snuggled herself up next to him, laying her head on his chest while draping an arm across his stomach and hugging him. He turned his head to lovingly kiss the top of hers, then he rested the arm she wasn't lying against on top of the one she left across his stomach, caressing her forearm with his thumb.

Having her close, in his arms, comforted Corbin and lifted his heart from the gloomy void. Having him close, in her arms, made Lydia happy and sheltered in her brother's love. They laid like that, quietly relishing each other's presence until they both drifted off to sleep.

Later that day, near evening, Gale wandered into Corbin's room to let him know that supper was almost ready. She paused at the sight on the bed, observing her younger siblings curled up together in a nap with a warm smile all to herself. She hated to interrupt such a precious union, but with Shade setting the table supper would be ready in a matter of minutes, and she knew everyone could use a good family meal after all the chaos of Saturday.

She went to the edge of the bed where she sat down gingerly, then she softly stroked Lydia's hair to gently rouse her from her peaceful rest. Lydia's eyes rolled open, locking on to Gale's hovering smile which she greeted with a groggy smile of her own.

In a whisper, Gale said,"Supper will be ready in a few minutes. Wake Corbin and you two get ready." Then she rose carefully and left the room.

Lydia's head was still resting on Corbin's chest so she arched it back to see his sleeping face, then she raised herself up beside him on her elbow. The movement on the bed woke Corbin, who found himself under Lydia's sweet gaze. Delighted, he smiled up at her.

"Come on sleepyhead, supper is ready," she informed.

Supper brought everyone to the table in the dining hall, Ethan included. The dreadful events of Saturday night were pleasantly overshadowed by the announcement of Ethan and Gale's renewed engagement, which garnered a stirring round of congratulations and blessings to both of them. Then conversation continued to flourish during the meal under a flurry of questions and observations from Ethan to everyone concerning their heritage and gifts. The lively atmosphere generated during the hearty meal continued afterward when everyone regrouped to the living room for a more comfortable setting.

Sunset came and went with no end of Ethan's curiosity in sight. The Allender children were only too happy to entertain his queries, and soon Gideon and Amanda joined them after they emerged from the basement and presented themselves after cleaning up. Gideon was once again his stylishly-dressed self, wearing one of the many suits kept waiting for him at the manor for whenever such a need arose; while Amanda was her usual display of casual and carefree. Upon seeing her enter the room Corbin got up and went straight to her with a greeting kiss, one that drew a few ooo's and ahh's from Shade and Lydia, who were becoming accustomed to witnessing such terms of affection between them but still enjoyed poking fun at their brother.

Gideon took the floor once everyone settled back into their places after the evening greetings were exchanged with his sincere blessings on the renewed engagement that was the current headline amongst the household. He informed everyone that he and Amanda would be leaving in a couple of nights to begin a search for the Hand of Jarell and Colonel Merrick. He went on to strongly suggest fortifying the manor against any future threats by installing a few modern security components, to which everyone agreed unanimously with their concerns from Saturday's attacks being voiced in favor of his ideas.

Afterward, when socializing set in again amongst everyone with open conversation, Corbin got up to leave the room but stopped at the doorway and gestured to Gideon with a rather serious look for him to follow, which he did. They met privately near the base of the grand staircase, just outside the living room.

"Is there something troubling you?" Gideon asked.

Corbin wrestled with his thoughts for a moment, then replied following a hesitant sigh. "Gideon, do you think...do you think my being here has brought all this trouble to my family?"

Gideon's face grew stern. "Certainly not dear boy, certainly not!" he refuted passionately.

"But, if these men were acting on Jarell's behalf then..."

"Then your being here only helped to thwart their attempts," Gideon confirmed.

Gideon placed a firm hand on Corbin's shoulder. "I assure you Corbin, if Jarell is somehow involved in all this then the what fell upon you and your sisters last night would have come with or without your presence. I do not have to remind you of what a twisted schemer he was, and if there are people out there still following those schemes then we will find them and deal with them."

Corbin hung his head gratefully under Gideon's confident assurance.

Gideon stepped around to Corbin's side, sliding his arm across his back to grab his opposite shoulder so he could give him an assuring squeeze. "I know what your family means to you. I see it in your eyes, how you adore them and are devoted to them, and I see the same thing in each of them toward you. That is why I shall be able to dedicate myself fully to hunting down this threat, because I know you will be here to stand between your loved ones and whatever may seek to cause them harm," he said with stirring conviction.

Corbin looked at Gideon with appreciaition. His worries and doubts were crushed under the resolute consolation of Gideon's unwavering belief, and Gideon saw it in his face.

"Now then, let us return to the living room for a little while before Amanda and I must depart. We have a few messes to clean up before we can make preparations to begin our hunt for the Hand of Jarell," Gideon suggested, receiving an agreeing nod from Corbin.

"Do you want some help?" Corbin offered.

"Thank you Corbin, but we will take care of everything. You just tend to what is important here."

Gideon led Corbin to the entrance of the living room where he paused with him at his side. They both looked into the room and saw Lydia eagerly explaining something to Ethan as he was glued to her, as well as the huddled trio of Gale, Shade, and Amanda who were wrapped up in something Gale was telling them. It was an uplifting scene, one of family illustrated perfectly by those cared about and loved deeply by the observers.

Amanda turned her attention stealthily to Corbin with an alluring glance that both he and Gideon noticed. Gideon took his hand from Corbin's shoulder, gently prodding him toward her with it as he approved with a subtle smile. Corbin glanced back at Gideon with a thankful smirk as he made his way to across the room to her side.