The next morning I decided to call Cedar City and see if there were any tickets left for the Shakespeare festival. Rann, you've seen some of the worst side of our world, I thought; I'd like you to also see some of the best before you go, so that you'll know we're not total savages. To my delight, I found that two adjacent seats were still available for a performance early the next week. I didn't tell Rann about it, resolving that it was about time to spring a surprise of my own for a change.
Speaking of seeing the worst, we spent that afternoon on the Strip. I remembered the comment he'd made on the way in about having never seen Las Vegas, and decided to show him just how rock bottom American taste can go when unleashed.
We passed by imitations of King Arthur's castle, downtown New York (conveniently minus the muggers), the Eiffel Tower (conveniently minus the French), and an Egyptian pyramid. I was after bigger game, though, and we finally pulled into the parking garage for a monolithic structure topped off with onion domes and featuring a huge statue of none other than Josef Stalin out front. "Welcome to The Kremlin Resort Hotel/Casino," I announced.
Naturally neither of us was allowed into the casino itself (no loss, certainly). However, more and more Vegas hotels are going after the "family" trade as well, with restaurants and high-tech games accessible to minors without having to thread through a maze of green baize tables for roulette, craps, twenty-one and all the other popular ways of separating tourons from their money. This particular establishment was especially well-known for its theme restaurant, the Lubyanka Room, featuring such delicacies as Beria Borscht and Gulag Goulash. "Too bad goulash is Hungarian," I sniffed, but it didn't keep me from devouring a bowl. Being minors (or in Rann's case a good imitation of one) we passed on the Molotov Cocktails.
"Your mother's really a pretty remarkable person," he said between spoonfuls of borscht. "I had a long talk with her last night after you went to bed." I looked at him in surprise. Somehow I would have thought he and my mother would have been--well, worlds apart.
"So what did you talk about?" I asked. I'm not sure why, but for some reason the idea made me nervous.
"She loves you, of course. But she also respects you tremendously," he informed me. "And I don't think she's quite as 'flaky,' as you put it, as she seems. I'm not sure that she really believes all that 'healing crystal' stuff she puts out."
I wondered at that. It was only during the past few years that I'd actually started to pay attention to the effect my father had had on her as he changed for the worse. Before that I'd been too wrapped up in my own reactions to see what was happening to her.
Not that she'd ever been the most stable person around. Like the moon, she had a tendency to pass through phases, of which the New Age one was only the most recent. Prior to that she'd been (traveling backwards in time) a Scully/Mulder fanatic, a Trekkie, and, according to reliable reports, one of the last certifiable hippies of the late seventies. (On the other hand, she hadn't cared at all for Babylon 5, saying it was "too realistic.")
Just the same, it hadn't prevented her from being one of the best all-around moms I knew. She'd always been there when I needed her, and in her own laid-back, lackadaisical way had managed to raise me as one of the few teens of my generation to still believe in doing what she liked to call "the right thing." Of course there were plenty of my classmates who made a big deal about being moral paragons, but in most cases they proudly announced that it was because they unthinkingly obeyed the prescriptions in this or that sacred textbook, not out of any inner compulsion. Anyone can be virtuous with their brain unplugged.
I'd begun to realize that at sixteen I was already a relic in my own time. Perhaps that was one reason why Rann touched such a chord in me; I found that I just couldn't imagine him doing anything other than "the right thing." As long as he didn't carry it too far, that is.
After lunch we checked out the Kremlin's high-tech virtual reality ride. This particular one placed you in the warhead of an ICBM traveling from just outside Moscow to Washington, D.C., complete with drop tables, surround video screens, and all the trimmings. As we returned to the car, Rann just kept shaking his head in disbelief. "Welcome to the 'Entertainment Capital of the World,' " I offered.
The days went by faster and faster. I'd known two weeks was a short time when I saw Rann's first email from Kiri, but now it seemed as though I were on a runaway time machine. Before I knew it I was looking at the day after tomorrow for Rann's departure, and I was afraid if I blinked twice it would be past and he'd already be gone.
"Mom," I said casually, "just so you know, I'll be gone for most of the next two days. I'll be taking Rann to the Shakespeare festival tomorrow. He's leaving for home the day after that, after the Empress fixes his ship." I wasn't at all prepared for what came next as she asked me to sit down next to her.
"Look, Hal," she said very seriously, "I'd really like to think that Rann was from Deshtoroon, or whatever it is, but don't you think you're getting a little carried away with all this? I know you're having a good time, but I don't want you to get hurt."
I could hardly believe my ears. "But--" I managed. "You--"
"Maybe I have taken some things too seriously," she admitted. "And it's been a lot of fun, and I've even managed to make myself believe it at times, just for the heck of it. But this thing with your father--we both really need to keep both feet on the ground. You know he's considering refiling for custody, don't you?"
I felt as though I'd been slapped in the face with an ice-cold towel. Somehow, hearing my mother talk about keeping both feet on the ground was profoundly disillusioning. At the time the comment about my father barely registered. "It is real, Mom," I insisted hotly, rising to my feet. "Believe me, it's real."
"All right, Hal," she said, but I thought she looked disappointed. "I've always trusted you, and you've never lied to me. If you say it's true, then it's true. Just remember that it's your interests I have at heart. If there's any way I can help you, don't ever be afraid to ask."
I practically stormed off, not quite in anger but upset nonetheless. As I headed up the stairs to my room it suddenly struck me: she thought I was having delusions and was inviting me to ask her for help if I'd accept it. I wondered if Rann would let me bring her along on Wednesday. I saw how ironic it was that my mother had said to me what I'd finally ended up telling Rann: that he'd never lied to me and that if he said it was true then I believed him. And then I stopped dead in my tracks and stumbled back down the stairs in a panic.
"He's refiling for custody!!??" I howled.
My mother, still sitting on the couch, nodded grimly. It was unusual for my mother to do anything grimly, and that only added to my alarm. "Where did you hear that?" I demanded.
She explained that one of the members of her psychic phenomena club worked in the county courthouse. Gossip traveled rather freely there, and apparently my father was quite chummy with the family court judge involved. My mother's friend had discreetly given her a heads up and warned her to watch her back. "I've seen some pretty slimy things go through that court," she'd said ominously.
"He can't do that, can he?" I argued desperately. "Is it legal?"
"In this state, anything's legal if a judge says it's legal," she said despondently. "We could appeal it, of course, but in the meantime--" She didn't need to finish. Being back under the same roof with him would be the First Circle of Hell, especially with recent rumors connecting him with one of the more fanatic underground Lucieite organizations springing up around the county. "But it's still just gossip, Hal. We can't do anything unless he actually files the papers. In the meantime, we have to sit tight."
Sit tight my ass, I thought. I'll run away. But then what would happen to my mother? A nice trap indeed.
"Are you sure Rann can't stay?" she was saying. With an effort I pulled myself back to reality. "You two like each other an awful lot. I wish there were some way you could stay together. He's such a nice boy."
"Don't think I haven't thought about that," I said dully.
"You two are just so alike," she observed.
"We're from different planets, Mom."
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|