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Strangers in a Strange Land -- Gen. 2.9
Published Dec 24, 2012


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spladoum

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Generation 2.9 ... Coretta.

Author's note: Updates may be slower than usual for a while. Work 'n all. Sorry for the delay ...

Generation 2.9 ... Coretta.

Author's note: Updates may be slower than usual for a while. Work 'n all. Sorry for the delay ...
Graduation day came bright and sunny, but the Shin Yi clan was dealing with an issue, per their usual. Very unexpectedly, Gastion Dutiel had keeled over in the garden, and the shock of his passing left his son Rémy a sorry shadow of his usual, cheerful self.

The family showed up to Étienne's morning graduation in somber black; the funeral was at 1 p.m.
Xiu sighed as they stood in front of the grave. Another funeral—another untimely death.

If she could have had her way, she wouldn't be here. But her son had begged for her to come, and so here she was. Her husband stood beside her, his graying head bowed.

She was sure that he was suffering more than he let on. She looked out at the swiftly-flowing creek, at the trees, at the sky—anywhere but at the grave.
"I'm sorry for the poor timing of this announcement," Étienne murmured as he leaned against a mouldering tombstone, hands jammed in his suit slacks. "But I think we need to have another family talk about what we're going to do about the house."

"You are right," Layla snapped. "This is a poor time to do something like this."
She began to wheel her chair away, but unexpectedly, found that the wheels had been locked. She glared at her daughter, who scowled right back.

"I don't want to be here either, but if Étienne wants us to listen, then we're going to listen. All of us. And no one is leaving until he's finished."

Once he had everyone's (unwilling) attention, Étienne began again. "I think it's high time we had an actual, proper home."

"This is what you want to discuss?" Layla said incredulously, and made to leave again. This time Xiu physically blocked her. "Listen to him, mother."
"Yes, grandma. This is what I want to discuss. Do you realize that for almost ten years we've been living in a half-built shell? The house isn't safe or secure. Anyone could break in, easily. I'm surprised we haven't been robbed yet. The second floor's never been completed, let alone floor three. We've never had guests over because we're all ashamed for anyone to see where we live. If we lived any further in town, the house would have been condemned by now."

He straightened up and looked at his grandmother sternly. "Maybe you've forgotten what it's like to live in a normal house because we've been in this half-built one for so long, but I'm telling you right now, I don't intend to live like this for the rest of my life. I don't intend to live like this by this time next year."
"What is your point?" Layla said, in a voice that most grandmas would not use on their grandchildren. She was watching her grandson warily, as if he was a venomous snake about to strike.

Xiu remembered the arguments that her parents used to have with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She only barely felt Rémy's hand on her back, holding her steady.
"I've already called a moving company to put our things into storage. They should be done by now. The demolition team will be on our old lot in the morning. Construction on the new house will start by next Friday." The silence directed towards him was deafening. His grandmother's face was a mask of rage. His mother's face by contrast was shocked, but submissive.

And his father? … his father was looking at him with a new, odd expression. One of great surprise … and respect?
Étienne continued on. "I've already booked rooms at the Starlight Inn. An accessible room for you, of course, Grandma, and a suite for mom and dad—it has a kitchenette, so you can cook. I worked out a long-term deal with the manager, since you'll all be there for a while—"

"Wait," Xiu interrupted. "Where are you going to be?"

"Living with a friend, and starting my new job in business development at Murchison & Yost. And keeping track of the house's progress, of course, so that costs don't go over budget." This last comment earned him a particularly nasty look from his loving grandmother. "I expect that we'll be back home in eight months."
There was more silence, as the adults struggled to absorb this news. Not only had the new heir effectively made them homeless, but now he proposed to complete a new home from the ground up in eight months?

Xiu was more glad than ever for Rémy's arm, tightly holding her from behind.
"Well," Layla said at last. "It seems as though you've been very busy plotting behind my back—"

"There's no plot, Grandma. I'm thinking in the best interests of the family. And of my future family."

"Of course you are," Layla said in a stony voice. "Please explain how you intend to pay for all of this? I am certain in your planning, you realized that people will not build houses for free."
"No, they don't. Which is why I've rented out Grandpa Kim Chong's paintings to an art gallery in Chicago. There are other galleries that were interested in displaying his work as well. I've even had a few offers for one of his paintings—"

Xiu gasped with horror.

"—don't worry, Mom, I turned them all down. All I'm saying is, they're popular enough for people to pay to see them. Also, I have a deal in place with Backyard Winery to begin distributing Grandpa Gastion's wines. My roommate and I will produce, the company will make sure that the wine is sold in the local bistros. We earn as much as they sell."
Étienne folded his arms again. "It's pretty simple, actually."

"Pretty simple," Layla repeated, and sneered. "I suppose it is pretty simple for you to take a dream and crush it."

"Whose dream, Grandma? Yours? You've had ten years to make good on your dream and it's gone nowhere. It's your dream to live in a pile of cinder blocks and call that your home? That's your dream?"
"Ungrateful!" Layla shrieked, and turned to the tombs of her dead relations. "Do you hear the child speak to me this way? When for many a month the only money coming into the house was the money I earned by writing until I could hardly move my hands? And now he plans to get rid of me by sticking me in a filthy motel room and knocking down the home that I have waited all of my life to have!"

With an effort, she kicked the chair locks and tried, again, to roll away.
But this time, Rémy himself stood in her path.

"Mrs. Layla," he said, his voice grave. "Consider our situation. Years ago, you proposed to rebuild my father's chateau. In ten years, it has not been done. If our son is prepared to build a home and finish it in one year, I think he should be given that opportunity, in the same manner that you were. And as he is the family's heir, I support him In his decision."

"I do too," Xiu quickly chimed in.

"Of course you do," Layla said in a voice full of scorn.
She looked up at Étienne with contempt. "Very well, brat! You will have your way. But this disrespect will come back to you, mark my words!"

***
"This is unbelievable," Xiu murmured as she looked over Rémy's shoulder at the newest round of photos that Étienne had sent. "I'm glad he's able to do this so quickly, but really, where is he getting the money?"

"He has borrowed the funds from the bank. My father co-signed for his loans," Rémy replied. "My father put a good deal of effort into making sure that everyone who knew him also knew of Étienne as his direct heir."

He pointed at her untouched dinner. "My dear, you really should eat."

"I will, give me a moment."
She left the motel room, shaking her head with a bit of disbelief. This was really not how she had envisioned her life turning out. Of course she knew that people sometimes had no choice but to live in motels, but that only happened to people on the run from the law, or when the house burned down. It wasn't supposed to happen to folks who had worked hard all of their lives. There was no real reason to complain; it was plain that their son had the situation well in hand. Despite the overall shabby appearance of the property, this room was really quite comfortable, and the staff had been very generous to allow her to paint on their property, even lending her dropcloths when she painted in the pool area. She had ample time to spend alone with her husband, which was something that had been sorely missing in their marriage practically since the day he returned.

… why was she so sad, then?
She went two doors down and knocked on the door. At first there was no answer. Then the bed creaked and a voice rasped, "What do you want?"

"I brought food if you're hungry."

"Leave it outside."
Xiu did so, with a sigh. The elderly woman had not come out of her room for days, and Xiu worried constantly, to the point that she offered her mother food morning, noon, and night to reassure herself that Layla was still alive.

The food was always gone when she returned, though.
"She is an adult," Rémy said when Xiu complained. "Treat her as one. If she does not want to come out, do not force her to."

"No, of course not." But she didn't sound convinced. Rémy sighed.

"Xiu, my dear. You cannot change her. Do not make yourself so unhappy about something you cannot change. I don't like it when you worry so much. It is not good for your health. You need to relax."
"Always a doctor," she sighed.

"And your husband," he retorted, smiling.

He pulled her into his lap and began to distract her, gently. Despite her state of mind, she couldn't help but respond to his kisses. They didn't do this often enough. Probably because she was always distracted. Like right now. Her husband was seducing her, and all she could think about was whether or not she had turned off the stove.
"Xiu," he chuckled in his deep voice. "The stove is off. Please, dear. Stop worrying, at least for tonight." "Sorry," she whispered apologetically, and let him lead her to the bed.

Though she enjoyed his touch, she couldn't sleep afterwards. She left him sleeping and got dressed again.
She went out to the pool patio and sat on the edge of the water, watching the moonlight, thinking.

***
It seemed like only a few days had passed, but quite suddenly Xiu got the phone call from Étienne that the house was ready, and that they needed to check out of the hotel in the morning.

Rémy laughed at her as she anxiously wandered the room for the sixth time, making absolutely sure that she hadn't left anything behind.
"Did you check the drawers?"

"They are empty, Xiu."

"What about the wardrobe?"

"It is also empty."

"Nothing in the bathroom cabinets?"

"No, dear, nothing at all. Come here, please."
She did, and he held her close. "My love, you worry so much. I wish you wouldn't."

"I'm used to it, I can't help it."

"But it is not good for your health, and I want you to stay with me as long as you possibly can."

"Yes, doctor."
They were up early the next morning. While Rémy packed the car, Xiu went to Layla's room to try to help her move her luggage. Not entirely to her surprise, not only did Layla refuse her help, she refused to leave.

She was comfortable in the hotel, she insisted; there was no reason for her to leave. It was perfectly fine if Étienne wouldn't be covering the cost of the room anymore—she was entirely capable of paying for herself, thanks very much.

No matter how much Xiu argued, Layla wouldn't be budged. She was staying put. And finally, Xiu was obliged to leave her behind.
They followed Étienne home by a different route. He had built on an open plot closer to the heart of Riverfront Meadows, but still in an isolated area, so they wouldn’t feel crowded. No one in the family except Mei had ever been fond of the heart of the city. The house, as expected, was beautiful. Neither Xiu nor Rémy had ever been allowed to see it in person before it was finished, so every room was a pleasant surprise. During the grand tour, Xiu found that some of her father's treasures had come home again. She could hardly hide her delight.

"Where's Grandma?" Étienne suddenly asked.

"She wouldn't come," Xiu said, sadly. She looked around at the kitchen. "Is anyone hungry? Should I be cooking?"

"Oh … would you, mom? I was going to have a housewarming get-together for a few friends. I mean, I could always order a pizza, but if you'd cook, that would be great."

"Of course I will," Xiu nodded, and headed into the spacious kitchen.
The friends showed up right at 7 p.m., and all of them praised Mrs. Dutiel's hors d'oeurves. Xiu was pleased by their thanks, though she couldn't help but look at her son repeatedly over the course of the night. One young lady was conspicuously absent, and no one was mentioning her. At all.

It was as if she didn't exist.
After snacking, most of the group moved to the family room to watch tv, but Étienne helped his mother gather dishes and glasses.

"I already know what you want to ask," he said. "But it's a long, sad story, and I'll probably need alcohol to get through it, so I'll just have to tell you later."

***
Étienne loved Coretta.

And Coretta loved Étienne. So much so that her mother fretted about it.
"Girl … I just worry about you," Mrs. Lyons said. "These boys … they say one thing, but let the wrong thing happen and suddenly you find out just how much they don't love you after all."

"Mama, what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about you and that Shin Yi boy. He hasn't even given you a ring yet! And if you turn up pregnant—"

"I won't, Mama. We've been very careful."

"I'm just saying," her mother retorted. "It's hard enough to find a man who actually wants to work for a living these days without bringing a baby into it right from the start."

"Well, thanks for the encouragement," Coretta said, dryly.
The problem was, no matter how rude Mrs. Lyons' comments might be, her sentiment was completely correct. Most of her classmates from high school were working menial jobs, or not working at all. Étienne, by contrast, was one of the lucky few with genuine drive and ambition. His position within Murchison & Yost was seen as a seriously lucky break. His side business of selling wine was beyond comprehension.

Everyone kept asking Coretta, How the hell does he do it? He's our age, isn't he? How did he become a manager so fast? Can he get me a job?

All Coretta could do was shrug. He worked so hard that she hardly got to see him herself.

Still, though, things were going smoothly between them—even though he hadn't proposed.

But one night her pleasant routine came to a screeching halt.
She and Étienne and some friends went over to the Honky-Tonk, per their usual.

She thought that she had just had one or two drinks. Maybe she'd had more, or maybe she just hadn't eaten enough.
In any case, she bumped into an old boyfriend …

… who had a new girlfriend …

… and said girlfriend clearly did not like her …
… and about five minutes into talking to the old boyfriend, there was beer all over her brand-new silk dress.

Then there was a fight that did not end well for either girl.

The new girlfriend limped away, holding a swollen cheek, and Coretta was mortified to find that not only was she soaked, but now she stunk of sour beer.
The old boyfriend offered to take her home to change, and though she initially declined, she soon found that Étienne was nowhere to be seen. Rather than stay at a party with a bruised cheek and stinking clothes, she agreed to leave. The next morning she woke up, not at her own house, but at the old boyfriend's place. She wasn't sure if he had taken advantage of her inebriated state or if she had somehow led him on, and she didn't want to find out.

She slipped out of his bed and out of his house and ran home, half-naked, weeping.
"What did I tell you?" Mrs. Lyons nagged, half-scolding, half-triumphant. "Well, you can kiss that Shin Yi boy goodbye now. No decent man is gonna be with a girl who goes home with the wrong man after two drinks."

Too upset to argue, Coretta kept to her room for weeks, too ashamed to see anyone, take any calls, or even leave the house.
Then she realized that she was late.

***
"My god," Xiu said, shocked. "Oh, Étienne."

For a moment she couldn't speak. She didn't know Coretta terribly well, but from what her son had told her of their relationship, this was very much out-of-character for the young lady. And as this was her son's first serious relationship, the events had clearly wounded him deeply. "Did you break up with her, then?"
Étienne looked at his mother with an expression full of pain.

"I didn't break up with her. I'd forgive her if she'd just talk to me. It's not like I didn't make a mistake too, I shouldn't have left her alone. But I lost track of her while I was talking to some old friends, and I couldn't find her again for the rest of the night. I didn't even know when or why she'd left. Other people had to tell me what had happened. I didn't hear a single word from her."

He began to drink again.
Xiu stared at the paintings that decorated the walls as she sipped some more of Gastion Dutiel's prized vintage. It was bittersweet, and very strong. She thought that she was only thinking, but quite suddenly she heard herself saying aloud, "I knew a girl who made a lot of relationship mistakes, too. She was young, and naïve, and scared as hell. And one day, after alcohol was involved, she found that she was going to have a baby, and she felt like her world was coming to an end. No matter what anyone said to her, she just knew that she wasn't fit to be a single mother." Étienne stared at his mother. If the expression on his face was anything go by, he was fully aware who the mysterious girl in this story was. "So what did she do?" "Fumbled through … made mistakes … kept trying … made more mistakes. But … her baby's father still loved her, and when there was an opportunity to reconcile, she took it. She didn't hold his mistakes against him, and thank god, he didn't hold hers against her." She set her wine glass down and looked directly at her son. "If she's like most other girls in that situation, she's probably terrified right now. But she needs you to keep loving her. Don't give up on her, Étienne." Étienne looked at his mother's face for a while before smiling sadly.

"… yeah. Well, I wouldn't give up, but I can't forgive someone who won't even answer the phone when I call and won't see me when I come by. She means everything to me, and apparently I don't even mean enough to her for her to take my calls.

"So … yeah. That's why no one mentioned Coretta tonight."

They finished the last of the wine and cleaned up the kitchen in silence before going to bed.
Xiu joined Rémy in the main master bedroom downstairs, and Étienne went upstairs into the attic to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. It didn't matter long he laid there, he wouldn't be able to sleep. He hadn't been able to sleep since that disastrous night, and tonight wouldn't be any different.

***
On the other side of town, in a cute little bedroom in a picturesque house, a heartbroken young lady cried herself to sleep—not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.



~ to be continued
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5 Comment(s) so far


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#1fabrizioammolloDec 24, 2012

Very interesting chapter, well done. It's worth of waiting. \;\)

#2fredbrennyDec 24, 2012

\:rolleyes: That Layla should get off her high horse... I HATE that woman
Etienne is too good to be true... What the hey? His girlfrined woke up in someone elses bed??? I would say"good riddance.
Great update April \:wub\: \:rah\:

#3martoeleDec 24, 2012

I love this update! Lots of things happened here. \:wub\: Layla is right! She'd better stay at the motel room and leave all the others in peace! :P
Wonderful chapter, April! \:rah\:

#4jadababy2003VIPJan 1, 2013

I am truly addicted to the story. You are an incredible writer. It places you in the story. I truly look forward to reading them and am often disappointed when they are over, simply because they keep me entertained. If you haven't done anything with your writing, I highly suggest you do...I would rate you a 10 if I could. Keep it up and don't quit writing!!!

#5staceface2009pMay 15, 2013

Aw, I really hope Ettie and Coretta can rekindle! They are too cute together.

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