Lounging on the sofa was not really a very dignified way of relaxing, and certainly not while still in a skirt. If her parents had seen her they would have expressed disappointment. If her brother had seen her, he would have probably given her a thumbs up, which was much more embarrassing than anything her parents could say to her. Nonetheless, today Esther had the house to herself, and since she had returned from school she had been abusing that privilege viciously.
At least today she had something to do. Her parents had insisted that â€˜business was big in Japan,â€™ or something silly like that, so here she was, studying Japanese, as she had been since middle school. Sheâ€™d managed to achieve fluency, though she was well aware she would fool no native speaker. That was alright. Her parents were pleased, so that was good enough.
The noise of the front door opening and a conversation muffled by distance met Estherâ€™s ears, and based on the way the conversation did not subside, Esther guessed it was Isaiah, and not alone. That meant heâ€™d brought friends home, which means they were going to be noisy and possibly a bit messy. That also meant that, unfortunately, she was going to have to actually sit up. Suppressing a sigh, she sat up, flattened out her skirt, and returned to her study just in time to pretend not to notice Isaiah burst in.
â€œHey Es,â€ he called over the laughs of his friends and past Estherâ€™s obvious cold shoulder. â€œWeâ€™re downstairs, if anyoneâ€™s looking for us!â€ Then they pounded down the stairs and disappeared, leaving the room quiet again. Esther sighed and laid back again, murmuring phrases. At least sheâ€™d have some warning before they came back upstairs. He was so undignified, and no one in the family approved. Esther couldnâ€™t understand how he could just brush off the looks their parents gave him, or even the personal talks, or any of the things they tried to build up the traits they wished he had. She supposed he was the â€œwild child,â€ that it seemed appeared randomly in any family every once in a while. Enough concerns over his affairs, though. Esther had her own problems, as limited as they might be for the day.
There was, of course, a paper due in a few days for the business class. A class her parents had, of course, insisted she take. They had gotten rich in business and they fully intended for their children to do the same. It wasnâ€™t the worst thing Esther had to take, but it wasnâ€™t exactly her favorite class, either. Calculus was probably the worst, actually, but that was a tangent. The paper was going to take some time, and since she didnâ€™t have a private home anymore, Esther figured she might as well set to work on that.
As she began moving toward the stairs, however, there was another bustle at the door. This time Esther identified the voices as belonging to her parents themselves. They did not sound pleased. That meant it was time to make an expeditious retreat to her bedroom before she heard -
â€œEsther, we need to talk!â€ Oh, dear. That was her father. Esther froze, grimacing while she could without being lectured for it. She took a moment to compose herself, then turned to face the oncoming storm, whatever it might be.
â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ Esther asked, moving from the living room to the foyer.
â€œBefore we start, I need Isaiah up here, now,â€ her father told her urgently. He was clearly upset, but he didnâ€™t seem to be upset with her. In fact he seemed to be upset with Isaiah, which of course wasnâ€™t going to bother Isaiah in the least.
â€œHeâ€™s in the basement with some friends,â€ Esther replied. â€œIâ€™ll get him for you.â€ Esther turned and moved away rapidly, escaping the feeling of her parentsâ€™ eyes on her back as quickly as she could. Okay, they were frustrated, but then again, they didnâ€™t seem to be fuming. He wasnâ€™t angry, just upset. That was rather unusual, and was generally reserved for when something had gone awfully wrong at work that day. Why, then, did Father need to speak to Isaiah? It didnâ€™t follow any of the normal patterns.
Unsurprisingly it was noisy downstairs, and after a quiet conversation Esther managed to separate Isaiah from his friends. â€œWhatâ€™s the issue?â€ he asked.
â€œI... canâ€™t say, but Dad sure seems unhappy. Not at you, just... generally,â€ Esther replied.
Isaiahâ€™s face grew unexpectedly grim. â€œI hope itâ€™s not what I think it is...â€
In silence they returned to the foyer, where their parents still stood. Mr. Arkwright had begun pacing, which was a terrible, terrible sign. As soon as they spotted their children, both Mr. and Mrs. Arkwright drew themselves to attention. â€œIsaiah, it did get out.â€
â€œYeah. Okay, thatâ€™s... thatâ€™s what I had hoped wouldnâ€™t happen,â€ Isaiah replied, sighing heavily and placing a hand on his forehead. â€œDo we have any idea how?â€
â€œNone at all. If the Occulutus Magica finds you here, I donâ€™t know exactly what will happen. If we can keep you isolated for long enough to straighten things out, though...â€ Mr. Arkwright grew pensieve.
â€œUhm. Excuse me, but what?â€ Esther asked. Clearly sheâ€™d missed something.
â€œYou donâ€™t think theyâ€™ll hunt me down?â€ Isaiah asked, evidently feeling that her question was unimportant. â€œI mean... if I hop oceans, yeah, thatâ€™ll buy time, but then itâ€™ll devolve to city-hopping if weâ€™re not sure on this course of action.â€
â€œI wonâ€™t have a child of mine convicted this way of a crime he did not commit,â€ Mr. Arkwright replied. â€œWhatever they do, weâ€™re going to have to get you out of the States.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Esther asked again, trying to be patient with this train of conversation and failing outright. Crime? Non-crime? What in heavenâ€™s name had Isaiah done?
â€œDo you think theyâ€™d... stoop to assaulting...?â€ Isaiah glanced at Esther, and that was enough for her.
â€œWhat in the name of all that is good and holy did you DO, Isaiah?â€ she snapped.
â€œHe did nothing,â€ her father told her. â€œThereâ€™s been a misunderstanding of a sort. Thatâ€™s the best I can explain it to you. And I would not be surprised if they did grab her, despite the questionable legality. The crime is supposedly quite serious, and theyâ€™re looking for a conviction. If they think she knows where you are, theyâ€™ll hunt her down first.â€
â€œThen we split the two of us up,â€ Isaiah said. â€œShe goes on the trip sheâ€™s been wanting to, to Japan, and I go... wherever I go. Somewhere different.â€
Esther had managed to collect herself. This was a bit different. Yes, her parents had some affairs with the Occultus Magica - with magic-capable children, they had little other choice - but they chose to keep them at armâ€™s length, and as often as possible prevented them from interfering. Indeed there were instances before in the which the OM had wished to take some action against one or the other, but through a little bit of strong-arming and money-flaunting, the Arkwrights had shielded their children quite successfully. Evidently this time there was to be no such thing. What that meant for her was apparent a quick and immediately necessary trip to a foreign nation.
â€œI suppose. Weâ€™ll have the servants start packing for you immediately,â€ Mr. Arkwright told them. â€œIsaiah, weâ€™ll just cover your credit expenses. You know how to handle yourself, I believe. Esther, you shouldnâ€™t have to go anywhere once you get there. So long as itâ€™s clear youâ€™re not informed on where your brother is, then yes, we can just send you away, I believe. I can make arrangements.â€
â€œHold up now.â€ Esther frowned. â€œYouâ€™re just going to send me off? Just like that?â€
â€œYes, we are,â€ Mr. Arkwright told her. â€œThis is not a light matter, Esther. It will take some time before we can convince the OM to back off, and until then I do not feel safe having you here. We will arrange for a nice apartment and a school to transfer to, and hopefully youâ€™ll be back before the end of the school year. If not, there are colleges in Japan.â€
â€œThatâ€™s how long Iâ€™m going to be away?â€ Now this was getting ridiculous. â€œA year? Two? Several?â€
â€œI have absolutely no idea.â€ Her father sighed, his expression apologetic. â€œI am truly sorry to do this to you, but I suppose something like this was inevitable.â€
â€œInevitable? If itâ€™s a misunderstanding - what did you actually do, Isaiah?â€ Esther growled, turning on him.
â€œHe did nothing,â€ her father repeated. â€œI know how you feel about his conduct, but no recklessness on his part brought this upon us. It was simply bad luck. Donâ€™t blame him, please.â€
Esther ground her teeth but could think of no further argument. Well, sheâ€™d wanted to go somewhere, and now she got to. Japan was still not her first choice, but evidently it beat staying here.
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