Chapter 25 - Dinesen

The dinner itself was festive and delicious. Kylen handled it all pretty well. She only made one gaffe at dinner when she rather forcefully told Ewan to 'Shut up and pass the fucking gravy.' The family paused for a split second then gamely ignored the remark.

Abby had selected Mozart for the background music. McQueen was thankful that it wasn't one of the Russian composers. The family shared memories and stories of their childhood. Even Amy and Dale joined in and offered stories. McQueen did not.

McQueen did have a favorite story from the evening, however. There was a particularly enlightening tale about Frank catching Kylen and Nathan and a group of their friends, who, as a result of a dare, were skinny skating. It was a side of Kylen that McQueen had not fully anticipated. A wild hair. A group of teenagers skating - stark naked - around the back pond in the middle of January. Evidently, Frank had discovered them before anyone sustained any permanent frostbite. The father had been somewhat limited in his meeting out of punishment. The dare had been the result of his own telling the tale of how he and his friends had gone skinny skating following a particularly vigorous pond hockey game. Anything to cool down, the breeze had been delicious and bracing. Sins of the fathers. The sheer foolishness of the escapade had achieved far more notice than the potential scandal of a half a dozen naked teenagers. But Kylen and Nathan had been grounded for a month.

Everyone was too full for dessert. McQueen had to admit that the little kid had been right. He had made the rookie mistake and was now uncomfortably full. The clean up went quickly. There were many hands to pitch in and everyone seemed to know what needed to be done with little or no direction. They had all done this before. Shortly people were staking out their places to relax and many were on the verge of sleep. Someone had set up a jigsaw puzzle on a table to the side of the keeping room. Amy explained to McQueen that it was an activity people could enjoy while still engaging in conversation. One of the Frat Boys had turned the television back on - low volume. The adults were to have brandy with their coffee. They would all probably have 'something sweet in an hour or so.'

McQueen identified something that had been bothering him on and off for hours. A missing link. A hole. Another lost sheep. "Where is Martin?" he asked Kylen.

"With Radford. Out west," she replied. "I did ask him."

The information filled in the blank but did not particularly give McQueen any comfort.

Most of 'The Grown-ups' were making their way towards the living room for rest and conversation when a promotion for a movie was heard from the television. To show support for the war effort and to build patriotism there had been a spate of jingoistic military movies produced. Not exactly typical holiday fare but nonetheless extremely popular. The promotion was for 'The Triumph of Dallas - The defeat of the Silicates.' Under the announcers voice, AI chatter spewed forth from the speakers. Kylen froze and before McQueen could reach out to stop her she was running up the stairs. Aislen and Christian were, thankfully, the only other people to catch her reaction. McQueen burned them both with his look.

"Go," he ordered to Christian. Neither he nor Aislen were in any shape to be running up the stairs but they followed as best as they could.

"She is going to try to get out of the house." McQueen called to Christian in a stage whisper - no need to get the whole house agitated.

"Aislen, how?" Christian asked, his head appearing over the railing above McQueen and Aislen.

"Mom's rose trellis." Aislen urged. McQueen was glad that he had two thinking people with him.

Christian ran to the end of the hall were Kylen had opened a window. She had crawled out onto the roof of the keeping room and was trying to make her way across the slippery roof to the trellis. Christian clambered after her into the darkness.

"Kylen," he called. "Be careful. Kylen."

Her eyes were wide in terror, Kylen wasn't about to stop.

"Make it an order." McQueen called from his place at the top of the stairs.

"Kylen Alexa Celina - Stop !" Christian called. A light seemed to go on in Kylen's brain. She hesitated and slowed but did not stop.

McQueen and Aislen had reached the window. Will I spend my entire life chasing after West and Celina? he thought. It was clear to him that Christian was unused to giving such orders and even more unused to them being obeyed by his own daughter let alone one of his sisters.

"Kylen Celina - NOW - SIT - NOW." McQueen ordered from the window. It was another familiar, more immediate, voice of comfort and safety to her mind and, more importantly, it was a familiar order. Kylen sat immediately and burst into tears.

Christian moved slowly towards his little sister. As he got closer he crouched down low until he was kneeling beside her. "Kylen ... Kylen .... Mouse?" he said softly.

"Christian?" she whispered. "Christian ... I kept waiting for you to come for me. I waited for over a year for you to come for me. Christian, I was so scared." Kylen looked up at him through her hair and slowly reached out to touch his cheek. "You are here," she whispered and smiled. She reached out with her other hand and cupped his face. "I missed you so much Christian."

Christian smiled and covered her hand.

Kylen threw her arms around her brother who rocked her back and forth.

McQueen exhaled deeply. He wasn't needed any longer. He turned from the window to join the crowd downstairs. The absence of so many people would create questions. Aislen stopped him mid turn. She reached out to touch his face but before he could stop himself McQueen was horrified to realize that he had grabbed her wrist to prevent her touch. Aislen at once understood his reticence - touching someone's face was an intensely personal thing - but it was also a gesture of affection and acceptance. She felt that it was a gift she could give him. She sweetly smiled and reached out her other hand which she gently placed on McQueen's cheek.

"Stick her in some water," McQueen gruffly suggested. He let go of Aislen's arm, embarrassed.

"I see, you know my little sister," Aislen said with infinite patience and affection. "The cure for anything is warm water, huh?"

"'Salt water _ sweat, tears, or the sea.' Isak Dinesen, I think," McQueen corrected quietly as he moved away from her.

"You do know my little sister," Aislen said knowingly.

McQueen turned and went down the hallway and the stairs.

Out on the roof, Kylen clung to Christian as he helped her to stand.

"I was so scared." She spoke into his shoulder.

"I know, Mouse" He comforted.

Kylen shook her head. "No. I meant just now. I thought that they had come for me again. Had come for everyone. I'm sorry I messed things up."

Christian could think of nothing to say so he just held her tightly.

"I'm so tired of being afraid," Kylen looked up at him.

Aislen followed McQueen's advice and put her sister into a hot tub. Christian went downstairs, got himself and McQueen stiff drinks and told anyone who asked that Kylen was, yet again, taking another bath and Aislen was with her doing the 'girl talk' thing.

The bath had been warm, fragrant, and therapeutic. Kylen was once again herself and she and Aislen were talking while Kylen dressed in a Greenbrier sweatsuit. Aislen was at the window.

"Where is Colonel McQueen?" Kylen asked.

"Out back by the pond," Aislen answered.

"Oh, checking out the scene of my crime?" Kylen asked.

"I think he needed to get away from all of us," Aislen said.

Kylen moved to the window and looked down at the pond which was illuminated by a lamp on a tall pole. McQueen was sitting on the bench just visible in the shadows.

"He seems so alone - more than just being by himself." Aislen remarked.

"Hmmmm" Kylen agreed.

"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." Aislen murmured.

"Not if I can help it." Kylen said softly matching her sisters volume.

"You don't think he has read either of the Brontes do you?" Aislen asked still looking down at McQueen.

"That was Fitzgerald not Bronte, Aislen, and I really doubt it. I hope not. I think that he already has a surprisingly romantic view of his place in the cosmos." Kylen considered the man sitting in the shadows. "He does kind of put you in mind of Rochester down there doesn't he?" She chuckled to herself imagining his reaction to the image. And thankful that the Bronte sisters seemed like a long shot at best. "Has he read them? Oh, I should think not. He would think them ridiculous. He is a very practical man."

"Should I send someone out there to fetch him?" Aislen asked.

"He's a big boy, Aislen. He can find his way home after dark."

Chapter 26 - Saint-Exupery

The sleeping arrangements were organized in less than three minutes. McQueen was beginning to see a pattern in the household. There always seemed to be chaos - barely controlled, but controlled nonetheless. If the chaos could be ratcheted down a bit more, as much as he hated to admit, it was a pretty well run unit that vaguely reminded him of the Corps - on a bad day.

There were six bedrooms in the old farm house. Plus one-third of the attic was taken up with a dormitory space known as The Fort. The family spread itself around as it suited them. Amy was to share what was now Kylen's room. Dale had been offered and accepted a tiny room next to the master bedroom that had, for years, been the nursery. Frank's study on the ground floor had been reserved for McQueen.

Frank gestured McQueen into the chair next to the fireplace. He handed the Colonel a glass of scotch and three slim volumes in a slip case that was engraved 'Antoine De Saint-Exupery.'

"I had to dig around for a while in the attic to find these. I remembered reading them years ago. They were my grandfather's. The author was a pilot in France during World War II. I gather that he is a national hero. Anyway, I thought - we thought you might enjoy them," Kylen's father said. "I'd like for you to have them, Colonel, as a gift from our family," he said.

Christian appeared at his father's side as McQueen gently pulled one of the books from the case and opened the cover. This was a special edition printed to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Saint-Exupery. The book he had opened was 'Night Flight.' There was an inscription. "Marcus Celina, Merry Christmas 2000, Love Mom and Dad.

"Oh, no ... These are family heirlooms. Thank you, but these should go to one of your children." McQueen protested and handed the small book to Christian.

Frank smiled. He had anticipated the protest.

Christian returned the book to McQueen. "Think of them as an early Christmas present. We can cross you off the list now. You'll be doing us a favor," he jested then became more grave. "They are family heirlooms and that is precisely why we want you to have them, Colonel."

Kylen popped into the conversation just in time to see McQueen blush and manage a choked 'Thank you' as he shook hands with Frank and Christian.

"Which books?" she asked switching the atmosphere of the conversation. " Ah, Saint Exu." She said using a shortened version of the author's name - like he was an old friend. "The pilot books?"

McQueen nodded.

"Good choice," she congratulated her father and brother and was off again. McQueen realized that the gift of the books and their selection had been a topic of discussion.

Kylen left the room deeply distressed - a different woman. She began to search throughout the house; a search bordering on the frantic - even enlisting Ewan and Eithne to help. There was a book they had to find and bring to her immediately. The offending book was finally found on Bridee's shelf. Kylen called Dale into a corner and showed him the little book.

"Do you have this book in your library?" she asked, her tone almost accusatory. "At the clinic or at The Barn?"

"Ah, I haven't seen this in years. 'The Little Prince.' What a charming book, Kylen. Yes, I think I have a copy at home, in French."

"Then find it as soon as you get home. Promise me. Hide it. Burn it. Lock it away someplace. At least until Colonel McQueen leaves. Promise me."

"Why, Sweetheart?"

"He is in there right now reading Saint-Exupery. The flying books. The ones about World War II. If he likes them - which we both know he will - you think he won't look for other books? This is 'The Little Prince,' Kylen said with emphasis. "The story of a mysterious little blue eyed boy with curly blonde hair and dignified bearing, who sacrifices himself for the little planet he loves - out of despair."

"For his rose in the bell jar and for his sheep," Dale said leafing through the book remembering the story. He finally caught on. The Little Prince asked questions but never answered them. The little Prince lived out among the stars. And The Little Prince had allowed the snake to strike. Kylen wanted to hide this story of self-sacrifice from a blue eyed man with graying but once blonde wavy hair and dignified bearing, who was perfectly capable of performing such an act. It amused and touched Dale. It also gave him the shivers. "I'll do it. I promise."

People began to slowly peel off for the night. Most would be leaving after breakfast or in the afternoon. About half were going to Boston to attend Eithne's opening night. Those who were staying at home to take care of the farm would attend closing night which would be December 30th. Eithne's run in the Nutcracker would be bracketed by family celebrations and the two biggest nights would have family in the audience to see her triumph as she was partnered in the Spanish Variations and danced in the corps de ballet. Dale had already called to get tickets. McQueen had quietly declined to go and was now almost a bit sorry that he had. Almost. It was easy to get swept away by the Celinas, but he had trouble picturing himself at a matinee of the Nutcracker. Let Amy and Dale go. It meant an entire day he would have to himself.

McQueen changed into a sweatsuit and was soon alone in the keeping room in front of the fire with a glass of good single malt and a reclining chair. All in all a good place to be. McQueen felt emotionally wrung out. The Celina tribe was a force of nature and the day had been exhausting. The quiet was wonderful. The solitude satisfying. He really began to enjoy the books. The translations were excellent. McQueen felt the camaraderie of a fellow pilot and a poet warrior. He was captivated by the fact that the effect of flying was so unchanged. That being a pilot and the challenges and joys it brought was much the same a hundred and twenty years ago. He would have had things to say to Antoine De Saint-Exupery. And things to ask.

McQueen had fallen asleep in the chair with the light on. It was about 0230 when he heard her steps. He smiled to himself. He had recognized Kylen's footsteps even barefooted. Getting the skills back. McQueen had half expected her. He opened his eyes. She didn't seem the least bit surprised to see him there.

"Nightmare?" he asked her.

"I don't think so. I don't remember one. I often wake up in the middle of the night. I fall asleep down here," Kylen began to tend the fire, bringing the embers back into life. "So, was it as bad as you thought?" she asked without looking at him. "You should have seen the look on your face when you got here."

McQueen was tempted to say 'worse,' but it wasn't the truth. "No, it wasn't too bad." But he thought: But once is enough. I feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet.

"What about Nathan's parents? Dad was pretty upset," Kylen asked.

"They are grieving and they are angry. They think that I have a hold over their eldest son and I was a convenient target. Put it together yourself. I don't want to discuss it," he warned.

"Well, you do have an influence over him, you know. And it is a good influence, I think," she then let the matter drop. "Can I get you anything?"

"I'll take more ice, thanks." McQueen held his glass out to her.

Kylen eyed the decanter. There was less there than she recalled. "Are you sure?"

"I'm not driving anywhere tonight," he teased her and she took the glass from him. Kylen momentarily returned with ice and two quilts she had conjured up in her brief absence.

"That's where I sleep," she said nodding at his chair.

"Not tonight," he quipped, startling himself with his unguarded and flip response. McQueen gestured to the couch. "There you go," he said as he poured more scotch.

Kylen tossed a quilt into his lap and immediately curled up on the couch with the other. McQueen turned off the light and drank his scotch by the light of the fire. He watched her fall asleep.

Frank, Connor and Christian entered the kitchen at approximately 0500. The 'Mamas' would be in the barn, waiting to be milked. Their internal clocks calling them in from the field. The brothers were going to take care of that for their father and Ewan. It was a family tradition. When you came home, you took over morning milking so Dad could sleep in. Only he never did. He was like McQueen - an infallible internal clock - up for the milking no matter how late he had stayed up the night before.

Kylen was still sound asleep on the couch in the adjacent keeping room. McQueen was at the far end of the kitchen area making coffee.

"I find her down here almost every morning," Frank spoke softly and rather sadly to the other three men.

"She is comfortable down here," McQueen offered. It seemed like it should be enough of an explanation for anyone.

"I would have thought her old room...with all her things..." Frank trailed off.

McQueen gave Christian an appraising look. Does he, at least, get it now? he wondered.

"It's the doors isn't it? More routes of escape." Christian asked the Colonel softly - for the man's ears only.

Bingo. thought McQueen as he nodded 'yes' as he sipped his coffee.

Christian poured the coffee and Connor grabbed two slices of pie, handing one to his brother on a paper towel. They wolfed down the pie, gulped their coffee and went to the entry hall to put on their boots and coats for the barn. In moments they were singing:

"There's a bright golden haze on the meadow. Yes, a bright golden haze on the meadow. The corn is as high as an elephants eye and it looks like it's rising straight up to the sky. Oh what a beautiful morning. Oh what a beautiful day," - a joke for their Dad to cheer him up.

McQueen shot a look towards Kylen who had jerked awake. He could see her eyes glistening. He was instantly furious, a white hot fury. He suddenly didn't care whose house it was. McQueen turned on the brothers.

"What in the hell is your problem?" he growled at parade ground volume. They were instantly silent. Frank was shocked and the tears spilled onto Kylen's cheeks.

"It's OK, Colonel," she mumbled.

"It is not OK, Kylen. I don't care who they are. It is NOT OK." he insisted.

"They don't know. I didn't tell them," she said apologetically.

"Why not," McQueen demanded. "What in the hell is your problem?" he repeated to her in a much different and softer tone.

"I ... I just couldn't," she said. Kylen hadn't had any concept of how to tell them. She gave McQueen an anemic gesture, rose and left the room. A feeling of defeat was palpable in the air.

"Tell us what?" Frank demanded.

"Not all torture shows," McQueen spat and scanned their faces for understanding. In a far more conciliatory tone he continued: "The Silicates sang that song every morning. Incessantly. They taunted Kylen and the others with it. She told me that they took part of her childhood away."

The family was dumfounded. "We had no idea. We would never..."

McQueen held up his hand to quiet them. " I know," he said wearily. "She knows." He was running out of explanation. "Just don't sing anything from OKLAHOMA," he added weakly. McQueen felt exposed by his own anger and outburst. Nothing like fragging the Celina Kitchen first thing in the morning.

Frank sensed the unease and put his strong hand on the Marine's shoulder. "Good man," he whispered.

It was not what McQueen had anticipated - but he realized it was what he should have expected. He adopted that particular and perfectly 'blank' expression common to most InVitros. The expression - or lack of expression that gave no information. In this household, there were far too many different waves of emotion, buffeting from too many angles for his taste. Undisciplined. He nodded his acknowledgment and left the room as well.

McQueen thought he would hide out in the study until the kitchen was again full of people. Dale had been right to a certain extent - when there was a crowd it was easier for McQueen to fade into the background. He laid down on the cot that had been set up for him the night before. He picked up 'Night Flight' again and began to read.

The French pilot from another war over a century earlier, had written: "We don't ask to be eternal. What we ask is not to see acts and objects abruptly lose their meaning. The void surrounding us then suddenly yawns on every side."

Saint-Exupery understood only too well. Unbelievable. If the book had been a paperback of no real value - McQueen would have thrown it across the room.

Next : Chapter Twenty-Seven

Previous : Chapter Twenty-Three

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