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The Dorm Guard 52 Chapter Fifty-Two: Dinner With The Family

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Neglect: fail to care for appropriately.

*

"'Come with me fair, maiden,'" someone, somewhere droned, "'Come from thy willow bed.'"

The voice seemed so far away, yet so crystal-clear. I couldn't see anything, picture anything, just hear the sweet, little voice that described a small scene. "'She said she'd wed him never, not here nor far nor soon. Her soul was with the forest, her life matched its gloom.'"

I stirred, aware I was somewhat asleep.

"'A young man disheartened, disappeared from the canopy reach. Returning only with an axe sharp as a knife.'"

I couldn't suppress a yawn as I stretched my arms above my head and fluttered my eyes in drowsiness. My eyes managed to focus on the ceiling, the living room coming to life as I saw I had fallen asleep on the lounge.

I rubbed my eyes and sat up, the only sound in the room the ticking of the wall clock and the hushed muttering of Mia's antique radio. Mia sat at the dining table, aggressively stabbing some paper with a paintbrush.

I groaned as I considered the radio on the coffee table, a narrator regaling old Nordic myths and legends. Beside the radio was a book with a similar t.i.tle.

"Changed reading tastes, Mia?" I asked, considering the book.

Mia ignored my question, plunging the paintbrush back into whatever paint pot she had set on the table.

I wandered over to her and peered at what she was painting: the dozen of dogs in the circus act.

I couldn't suppress my smile as I messed up her hair and walked into the kitchen. "Do you want juice?" I asked scanning the fridge for a drink. Without checking, I pulled out an apple juice box and tossed it at Mia. Mia caught it, examining the colourful boxing before drinking it.

I pulled out one of my own protein-based drinks and gave it a quick shake as I closed the fridge. By the time I had looked back, Mia had gotten up and left.

I ducked down to a lower cabinet to pull out a bowl when I straightened Robyn was standing on the opposite side of the counter, giving me a heart attack. "G.o.d, Robyn!" I pressed a hand to my chest and leaned over, I grumbled before I straightened, "Where're those dumb bells? Everyone moves like a b.l.o.o.d.y ninja around here."

Robyn tilted her head at my ramblings, likely because she misread my lips. When I had calmed down, she signed to me. I blinked, asked her to repeat, to which she grabbed some paper Mia left at the table and quickly scribbled down what she wanted to say:

Are you busy this evening?

I looked at the wall clock to check the time; 5:30pm. How long was my nap? I shook my head, "Not that I know of. Why?" I rubbed under my eye and blinked away any further drowsiness.

She pushed the paper towards me:

Would you be willing to have dinner with my parents?

I considered making a joke, but I doubted Robyn would laugh. "Why?" I asked simply.


She flipped the page and quickly scrolled down an explanation:

My parents are in town and want to have dinner with Ava and me. They expressed an interest in meeting the Dorm Guard. I don't want the only able hearing people there to be my parents and Ava.

"Just me?" I asked, "They don't want to meet the rest of the dorm?"

Robyn didn't write anything to answer this time, only shrugged. I pursed my lips in consideration. I didn't have any real reason not to go, but the whole dinner thing sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. Which I supposed is why I must go.

"Sounds great. I would love to go," I signed.

Robyn smiled, shaking her head slightly as she patted my shoulder. "Don't try to lie, Landon," she signed before leaving the kitchen.

*

The Penrose's house was fancy, even for a rental, temporary home.

After some fuss about what I would wear, which involved three wardrobe changes, a limo came to pick the three of us up. The closer to Robyn's parents we got, the quieter the three of us became. The weight of the situation and who we were having dinner with blanketed us by the time we pulled into the driveway.

The Windmill Lake area was full of temporary and summer homes available for the rich and powerful. These were buildings my family could never even dream of renting for a day, let alone owning.

The driveway was white cobblestone lined with precisely trimmed trees, surrounded by short, recently cut gra.s.s. The house itself was just too small to be a mansion, but not by much. The brick building was three levels high, with each window casting light on their respective balconies. When the car pulled up near the door, despite the darkness I could see ivy stretching up the brickwork and tangling itself on any metal frames, be them from windows or balcony, to give the house a strange further elegance that could've easily made it look abandoned.

Before I could open the door, someone unlocked the car and opened it for me. "I'm never going to get used to that…" I muttered as I climbed out of the car.

Robyn and Ava had fitted me in a more expensive looking outfit then I was used to; the trousers and belt were too tight. I had tried and failed, several times to undo the top b.u.t.ton of the s.h.i.+rt, only for either girl to fix it back up.

The limo driver closed the car behind Robyn and drove the car off before we had even knocked on the door.

I didn't know what to expect with Robyn's parents. From what I knew about them, they were higher ranking politicians or lawyers from England who hired Ava because translators at the different schools Robyn went to weren't as reliable as they could be.

As Ava knocked on the door, I examined their clothes as well. Robyn was dressed as if she was attending a dinner to a wedding but didn't want to be noticed. Her red dress was cla.s.sy enough to be formal, but not to stand out. While Ava was dressed like she was going for an interview, black and white dress, dress shoes, not a hair out of place.

This didn't have any semblance of a family dinner.

In my travels, I could always tell how well-off someone was by the front door. In Europe and Spain, the doors would have unnecessary etches and fancy window work, or perhaps have statuettes to ward off certain energies or even plants. This door was an oak brown, with rose stain gla.s.s and a bronze knocker depicted as a demon that snarled at visitors.

I saw the blurry outline of someone approach the door. An elderly butler, with a slightly hunched back and a drooping white moustache, opened the door and offered us a tired old man smile as he gestured for us to come in. His black uniform was pristine and wrinkleless, unlike its wearer, and hanging from his arm was a polish rag.

When we entered the house, the stairwell that led to the rest of the house dominated the whole room, declaring that its purpose was to just connect the rooms, like the dorm. Despite this, there was a lot of atmospheric items littered about the room; a set of golden knight armour, expensive looking artworks hanging from the red and gold wallpapered walls, s.h.i.+ny black and white checker tiled floors, tall plants in small pots, and even the over-the-top extravagance of the stairwell's patterns and woodwork.

"Shall I take your bags, Missus?" the butler offered, holding hands out to the girls.

Ava half-heartedly signed what was offered, to which Robyn pa.s.sed the butler her handbag. Ava held onto hers.

"I shall go let the Master know you're here," he informed, "Please, the dining room is this way when you're ready."

It was so agonising watching the butler almost stagger away from us. Despite my worry, the girls didn't comment on it. "Wow," Ava breathed as she walked to the centre of the s.p.a.ce, "We haven't been here in ages…" She ran her hand over the back of a small lounge propped in the corner of the room. "And not a single speck of dust," she commented.

Robyn signed something slowly. Her hands were almost pressed against her stomach as she made the small movements.

Ava sighed, "Robyn," she signed, "I can't understand you when you mumble."

Robyn blushed as she lifted her hands and signed with more clarity.

Ava nodded at the signs I missed. "Makes sense, I guess. Seems like such a waste to only have this house be used whenever your family comes to use it." She folded her arms as she sighed. "Let's just get this over with."

Robyn signed something that I managed to catch, "Please try to have a nice time."

Ava scoffed. "No promises," she sang as she approached the dining room.

I nudged Robyn, "Hey, it should be nice to have dinner with your folks, right? I mean, you haven't seen them in a while," I said.

Robyn made a sombre nod as she signed, "It'll be nice to have dinner with everyone one last time."

I paused as Robyn followed Ava.

We walked into the dining room, which was almost as large as the front room. The dining table was able to seat twenty and had been set for twenty, with beautiful gold candelabras decorating the white tablecloth. At any other time, the windows showing the outside, the open floor plan, the cozy warm colours, would've been perfect for a Thanksgiving get together or a Christmas gathering.

I gulped when I approached the table, "Where are we supposed to sit?" I asked.

"Damien Penrose sits at the head of the table, the wife sits on his right, daughter sits on his left, we sit one on each side of the table," Ava explained.

I blinked, not expecting to have such a straight answer. "Oh, okay."

The way this worked out, I was to sit next to Mrs Penrose when they showed up. Before I could grab the chair, a maid came forwards and pulled the chair out for me. Fighting to not be annoyed by this, I sat down. The girls copied across from me.

The three of us sat in silence as I stared at the array of cutlery available to me, in which I prayed I didn't have to use all of them until we heard an obnoxiously loud door creak.

I had accepted that the parents of my dormmates in my head and what they were in real life were utterly different. I was expecting business looking couple, uptight, clean, prim, proper, all the things I'd expect from politicians or lawyers. I expected them to be gorgeous and elegant and graceful.

For once I wasn't that far off.

Robyn's mother won the gene battle out of the two of them, as the woman was an old version of Robyn's face. Her hair was darker, and she wore smart-looking square gla.s.ses, but her cheekbones were high, and her jawline was precise. She was dressed in a white blouse and fas.h.i.+oned navy grey pants and matching jacket. She was very businesslike.

Meanwhile, her father could've easily been anyone else's father. His hair was as black as tar, and his face was unnaturally square. His chin and jaw almost had corners, and the shape travelled up the side of his head. He had grown a precise black moustache but otherwise had a clean-shaven face. Like his wife, he looked like he had come from work as he was dressed in a navy suit and a bright red tie.

What caught me off guard however were their voices. They were each talking into phones, mid-intense conversation. From what I understood, her Father was talking about some trade agreement, and the Mother was speaking regarding a settlement deal.

I frowned at the sight of them and raised an eyebrow when I watched another man and woman rush in after them, one holding a folder, the other checking their phone and barely managing to avoid running into the woman.

At the sight of their phone calls, to which neither sounded quite ready to hang up, Ava rolled her eyes and stood, nudging Robyn, who upon seeing her parents dropped her eyes to stare at her plate. With Ava's encouragement, the pair stood up and walked down the table towards the parents. I hastily followed the two.

Even when we approached them, the adults didn't sound close to ending their calls. At first, Robyn stood with some pride, her chin was raised, her shoulders were back and there was a twinkle in her eye when her mother almost seemed to end the phone call, but slowly, as the seconds turned to minutes and she had yet to be noticed, her posture faltered, and her attention started to dwindle.

After a while, it got ridiculous, and I nearly voiced this when Ava took Robyn's hand, and gave it a quick squeeze, before loudly clearing her throat. Her noise cut through whatever cloud had formed around the parents, as, within ten seconds, each finished their phone calls.

The Father immediately turned to his lackey to give an instruction, while the mother beamed a smile, opening her arms as she said, "Darling." She approached her daughter, Ava stepped aside for Robyn to hug her. The whole moment was very posh, the hug extended onto the arms and they gave each other quick kisses on the cheeks like French people greeting each other. It looked very robotic.

In one motion, her father dismissed his lackey and the mother's secretary looking lady. "Robyn," he acknowledged approaching his daughter with a louder gesture. He grasped her hand and planted a kiss on her knuckle before embracing her, the motion just as awkward looking.

The mother seemed to remember Robyn wasn't alone. "Ava," she acknowledged, clasping her own hands together.

Ava offered a fake smile. "Madame."

"And you must be Landon Becks," she immediately said after the final syllable left Ava's lips.

It took me a tremendous amount of time to understand what the woman just said to me, her accent from the phone to now had switched to French, and it was such a jarring change.

I hesitated, "Yes… Madame."

"Oh please, call me Grace." She greeted me the same way as Robyn, taking my arms and kissing my cheeks. I tried not to recoil in surprise.

The Father immediately turned to me and greeted me in the same overconfident gesture as he threw his arms out when approaching me. "We've heard so much about you," he boomed as he slapped his hand into my hand into a hearty handshake. This motion was also followed by a strong pat on the back. "Call me Damian."

I felt winded from such a small action.

It was then he acknowledged Ava with a polite greeting.

Moments later, we all made it to the dining table. At first, everything seemed relatively normal. We sat at the table, the parents tried some idle chatter, asking me about my time at the school and how I was finding everything. "We've heard some interesting things since the start of the year," Grace said.

"Indeed. The kidnapping attempt a few months ago. What happened at the Platform," Damien praised, lifting his champagne gla.s.s, "Quite impressive."

"It really was nothing," I a.s.sured as the maid started clearing the entrée plates. At the memory of it, my chest felt tight, and my skin tingled at remembering how bitterly cold the water was. When I went to try and explain how stupid my actions were in both situations, Grace attempted to speak to Robyn.

"Robyn, how about you dear? Feels like we haven't spoken in ages," she said.

Robyn hadn't been paying attention to who was talking to who. She had rested her head on her hand and stared blankly at the design of the tablecloth, that similar absent gaze I had seen too many times taking over. Grace didn't appreciate it.

Like the type of bell Ava had given me at the start of the year, Grace produced a smaller bronze bell and chimed it to get her daughter's attention.

"They don't work anymore," Ava informed when Robyn didn't notice.

"Pardon?" Damian asked.

Ava cleared her throat, this time trying not to sound so harsh. "They don't work anymore. Robyn can't hear them at all, and the vibration isn't strong enough in a bell that small," Ava explained. Despite her efforts, it still sounded like an accusation. Ava nudged her friend, gaining her attention as she gestured to her parents. "Your mother is talking to you," Ava signed.

Robyn turned her attention to Grace across from her, blinking away the absence to pay attention to her lips. "How are you, dear?" her mother asked.

Robyn considered the question for a moment, giving a quick glance to Ava before she attempted to answer. Just as she started to sign, a phone went off.

"Oh, hold that thought, sweetheart," Damien said, taking out his phone and answering the call. He rose from his chair, patting his daughter's head on the way past.

Damien's phone call seemed to squash the conversation because Grace didn't repeat, and Robyn didn't try to sign. Instead, she placed her hands under the table.

After a few more moments of silence, Robyn started signing again, aimed at her mother. "Pardon, dear?" she said as Robyn repeated the signs. She shook her head, "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"She's asking if she's still attending White Winter Prep," Ava informed.

Grace nodded in understanding. "We're not quite sure yet, sweetheart. We're still going over our other options," she explained. Robyn looked to Ava for confirmation. "At this point in time, you'll likely stay for another week or two, then perhaps we'll take you back to England."

Ava's hands froze at the mention of England, but after a moment she continued signing.

Robyn pursed her lips but didn't object.

I watched Ava's demeanour change upon Robyn's, and I recognised a glare forming behind her eyes.

Don't say anything, don't say anything, don't say anything, I pleaded.

"Robyn doesn't want to go back to England," Ava informed.

I mentally cursed.

Grace raised an eyebrow, "Excuse me?"

Ava repeated. "Robyn doesn't want to go back to England," she looked between Robyn and Grace, "She wants to stay at White Winter Prep, where her friends are, where her life is."

Grace smirked, not in a nice way, in an I'm-too-polite-to-just-straight-up-disagree-with-you' way. "She'll make new friends in England. Her life is also there," she reminded.

Ava shook her head. "I've been here for most of her life, Madame, and I can a.s.sure you, you haven't allowed her to have a life in England," Ava informed with remarkable calmness. "I have seen said life in England, and homeschooling, supervised outings, and dinners with business a.s.sociates is not a life."

Grace took her gla.s.s, running her fingertip over the lip, as her smile persisted. "Strange she hasn't said that herself," she stated.

"Well, how could she?" Ava countered, "This is the first time you've spoken since the incident. And even then, you haven't even asked about it."

"There's no sense in getting worked up over things that we have no control over," Grace said, "We've come to an agreement with the parents and with the school already."

"Robyn isn't some settlement case!" Ava's voice rose, "She's your daughter!"

"Ahh, there's that temper again," Grace pointed out, adjusting her gla.s.ses and lifting her head, "We should've noticed your short fuse earlier, dear. We could've helped you with it before it got this bad."

"Don't patronise me," Ava snapped.

"It's hardly patronising, dearie," Grace informed returning her gla.s.s to the table, "Not a lot of families would have kept you on with that temper."

Ava sighed a shaky sigh through the nose. "My work up until this point is satisfactory," she informed.

To which Grace agreed but commented on how her mannerisms were hardly up to scratch for such a family with their lifestyle. "I mean you were there, Mr Becks," she said, dragging me into the conversation, "Is threatening another student with a pen really the proper way for anyone to react."

My brain had to buffer before I could even consider figuring out how to answer. "Well… no, but-"

"Don't drag him into this," Ava said, leaning forward in her seat. "Have you even found someone else to replace me? Someone else who can understand and translate Robyn for you? Or have you and Mr Penrose finally gotten around to learning it yourself?"

Grace held up a hand, "That is none of your concern anymore."

"Bull it's not my concern! I've been Robyn's translator for almost a decade, she's my friend, you can't expect me to just stop caring because you fired me for reputation purposes!"

"I will not have you squander Robyn's name because of the things that follow your name," Grace continued with a level head, "Do you even know what our family has had to cover up because of your tantrums? Miscommunications, incidents, charges?"

Robyn widened her eyes at the word charges, as did I.

"Yeah, there have been charges laid against you, but we've had to make them go away because up until this point we believed your relations.h.i.+p with Robyn had been beneficial, if not potentially an ill-fitted influence." Grace straightened her back, "And we can understand that some you've done in her name, such as the Platform incident, but attacking fellow students in her honour is something we cannot have a.s.sociated with her."

"How can you say that when you don't even know what's going on?" Ava snapped.

"Tell me then, Ava, do you know what's been going on?" Grace countered, "Like truly? Because I've known you for a while now as well, and I know that if Robyn were truly comfortable with you, she would've told you about the incidents and her friends. You could've done something about it before it came to this." She gestured at Robyn as a whole, mildly startling her. "You've accused me in the past of not knowing my daughter, and in a way that's true. But if you claim to know her so well, to be her closest friend, then why on earth didn't you know?" Grace's voice cracked at the final accusation, and the words were the only thing to linger in the air.

Grace partially blamed Ava for what happened to Robyn.

I could see Ava's arms tensing, could visualise her hands scrunching into fists under the table, but her eyes were what gave away how distressed she was at that kind of blame being cast on her by someone else.

Ava somehow spoke with a smooth voice. "I didn't pursue it, because Robyn didn't want to me," she confessed, "Because I let Robyn make her own decision. I decided not to dictate who her friends could and couldn't be. And when I found out, I went to talk to them, but they called her a liar." Ava started to profusely blink, biting the inside of her cheek before saying, "I do care about Robyn, Grace. Arguably, much more then either of you does."

Ava had braced herself for backlash, and a tongue thras.h.i.+ng she did receive. Grace's outburst was scary, being next to her when in this state increased my heartbeat. Robyn's head was darting between her mother and her friend in a panic, her hands occasionally making signs, but in the argument, her mother didn't notice, and her friend didn't listen.

The argument lasted only a few moments as Damien managed to calm both girls down.

Ava couldn't hide the tears streaming down her cheeks. "I know I've screwed everything up," she admitted, "But none of what I've said is untrue, and you know it. I already hate myself because I let this happen. I let this happen because I didn't want to take what ounce of freedom she had left, what ounce of choice she could make in her own life." Ava wiped her cheeks, nudging off an attempt of comfort by Robyn. "So, take her England, don't take her England, but how about you ask what she wants? Even just give her the illusion that she has a choice, h.e.l.l, has a voice in any matter you decide for her."

Ava breathing hitched, but she managed to finish her argument, "Because she is not just some quiet little girl to parade around to your peers or to the public. She likes to bake, and sew, and feel the base of G.o.dd.a.m.n garbage metal music and rock'n'roll! She loves to dance and pleasing people and wants to be a world-cla.s.s pastry chef and go live in Paris with the greats! She doesn't like being ignored but has made this entire world in her head where she goes when she doesn't feel like anyone will notice her absence! But do you know any of that?" Ava sniffed, pressing the napkin to her face, somehow forcing herself to laugh. "When Robyn was younger, she fantasied about getting her hearing back, and hearing what she sounded like so that she could talk and surprise you guys." Ava looked to Robyn, who in the whole speech had slowly become as distressed as Ava.

"I'm so sorry, Robyn," Ava managed to voice, "I'm so sorry I let them do that to you."

Robyn's eyes filled with tears, but she managed to blink them away and reached a hand out to her friend, somehow managing to maintain a calm expression despite her reddening eyes.

Robyn's parents, like me, were speechless.

Ava caught her breath, squeezing out the last of her tears before standing, placing her napkin by her unused plate, and said, "Thank you for the invitation, but I think I should leave." She bowed her head to everyone, "I'm sorry if I've spoiled your evening. Excuse me."

Ava marched out of the room before anyone could counter anything. Robyn watched her go, took brief looks to her parents, before rising to her feet to follow. "Robyn!" Damien demanded.

Robyn looked at him, his face alone halting her from pursuing her friend.

My mouth felt dry as I cleared my throat, slowly getting to my feet and saying as respectfully as I could, "I'm gonna need to make sure she's okay." I held my hand out to shake, "Thank you for the hospitality. I hope next time it's not so… tense."

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