A Meeting of the Utmost Eminence

OOC Date: July 12
IC Date: July 12

Kensington-Blackwell Household

A pretty, sizable split-level on a cliff facing the water, the Blackwells have dipped more than a little into their considerable savings to afford this piece of property. While the house itself isn't extravagant, the view is absolutely spectacular.

July 12
7 PM

The Kates family was in their make-an-impression clothes, driving their make-an-impression car - European, the size of the engine only matched by the size of the hood ornament, a glossy black that managed not to hold prints or dust - likely because it was driven with exceptional rarity and painstakingly washed by hand before and after each time. Gold trim - real gold, much of it - and chromium accents broke the midnight black of the car's body into pleasing sections that didn't draw one's eyes too much onto any one detail, instead allowing a viewer to drink in the full glory of the vehicle itself.

The suit Carson Kates wore was as black as the car, but far less glossy. It was, however, accented - buttons made of some incredibly expensive material adorned the garment, and he wore an austere tie in a blue just far enough from black that the difference could be seen under light far brighter than any which he intended to be exposed to today. Katherine Kates's dress was long enough to be impressive and short enough to be practical. Her shoes - which cost more than an average public university education in the 1990s - rested on the floorboard before her. Shoes that cost that much were meant to impress at the cost of all else, including comfort, and they would be replaced when the car was closer to its destination.

Angelia, the pride of her family - certainly more-so than her absent brother, at any rate - was alone in the back seat, staring at her uncharacteristically quiet cell phone. Her clothes, while also quite costly, were far less formal than those worn by her parents. The blouse and skirt were cut to show off her attractiveness to the same way her parents' showed off their wealth, and her shoes were well-made - in America! - but quite practical.

The car rumbled down the street.

Nothing happened.

“Watch it, there, Vic.” John Carter Blackwell, Sergeant Major (Reserve) U.S. Army, chuckled softly as he reached down, grabbed the baseball out of the net he’d set up a few yards down the hill from his new house and threw it back to his daughter under-handed with the natural grace of a man in one of the most demanding athletic professions know to man - if not one that was often seen by spectators. “You get a little wild with one of those knuckle-balls and you could take your old man’s head off.”

His daughter laughed softly, tossing her head slightly and catching the ball smoothly in her old, well-oiled glove with a clean, audible knock. “Never happen, dad. Besides, even if I did, your head’s probably hard enough that we’d just break the ball.”

“Maybe, but what a shame that would be. Good baseballs shouldn’t go to waste.” He swung the heavy wood bat back up to his shoulder and tried another test swing or two, then settled into his stance and gave her the nod.

Victoria tugged down the Nationals baseball cap that went so well with her hard-used jeans and the old Annapolis Naval Academy t-shirt she’d picked up from one of her mother’s staff retreats, then put it and the past and everything else out of her mind to start her wind-up. Up and back and down and lunge… the ball left her fingers with a low whistle, fast and low, and she could see her father start his swing at the edge of her peripheral vision just as the rising curve started to cut up and in. The ball hit the net hard enough to rattle the frame, and her father matched it with a low grunt of good-natured frustration as he bent down to grab the ball out of the dirt. “You, young lady, are developing a low and evil habit of trickery that is not at all in keeping with the traditions of the service.”

“I thought the tradition of the service was ‘Swift, silent, deadly’?’” She grinned at him, taking a hint from the fact that he hadn’t throw the ball and walking over to slap his shoulder lightly with her glove.

His chuckle rumbled deep in his chest, and he slung the bat over one shoulder while he squeezed his daughter firmly against the other in a tight, affectionate hug. “I knew you were hanging around with those damned Marines too much. Good thing we got you out here to the free Western air and away from their wretched influence.”

“Guess so.” The ache was still there, but Victoria found herself smiling up at him anyway. That’s Dad - always ready to make you laugh when things get rough. “Think Mom’s finished her work enough so we can talk her into some cards before bed?”

“Ah-hah!” He gave her a gentle shove as they mounted the last of the front steps onto the porch. “Not enough to have shown up your old man’s rusting batting skills, but now you’re going to tempt fate by trying to win more allowance off your mother? You know what they say goes before a fall, Vic.”

“Dunno, dad. A cliff?” She winked at him, pulled the door open, and vanished inside with a bob of her ponytail.

“Children.” John stepped in and opened the hall closet to put the bat away, then strolled casually into the living room where his wife was settled on the couch in front of the long picture windows with a pencil between her teeth and her fingers poised over the keys of her tablet. “I swear, that girl gets taller and mouthier every year.” He weighed walking over to give Margaret a kiss, but if he interrupted her train of thought … well, a man could stand to temper his valor with a little discretion now and then. He went to put the kettle on instead.

The Car arrived at its destination, with Katherine’s shoes already on her feet. Carson was the first to leave the Car - that was the way it was done in the Kates house, the way it had always been done - and he made his way around to open Katherine’s door, bypassing Angelia’s in the process. Angelia waited until her mother was standing in those horrible, wonderful shoes before slipping from the vehicle herself, walking precisely one and a half meters behind her parents toward the door of the Blackwell home.

Carson rested a hand chastely on his wife’s arm as they walked, and Angelia fought the urge to pull out her cell phone again. Once the couple reached the door, Carson reached out with his free hand and knocked on the door three times with even firmness.

The door took rather longer to open than either of the Kates’ had been kept waiting for a number of years, and when it did the man who opened it was more than a slight surprise. To begin with, he didn’t look the least bit intimidated to find Carson Kates looming over him - though far less so than was usually the case, considering that he stood a solid six feet and two inches himself and was broad enough in the shoulders that he probably needed to have his suits tailor-fitted. Not that he was wearing a suit at the moment; he seemed perfectly comfortable in the neatly pressed black slacks and light blue shirt rolled up at the sleeves, his sandy blond hair cut loosely enough to invite someone’s hand to run through it. There was a moment, looking over the unexpected guests on his porch, when John Blackwell’s face was perfectly blank while something sharp-edged and cold moved behind his eyes. Then he smiled, an expression of such open and genial warmth that it seemed impossible for anything else to have been there in its place. “Well, you’re either the welcoming committee or the best-dressed funeral I’ve ever seen. Since I don’t think I know anyone who’s died lately, I suppose you’d better come on inside.”

Carson Kates stepped into the door, followed by his wife and, a moment later, his daughter. “Thank you, Mr. Blackwell. My name is Carson Kates. This is my wife, Katherine, and my daughter, Angelia.” Carson smiled - a tight smile that didn’t reach any further than his lips - and took from his wife a binder. “We are here to welcome your family to the neighborhood, and to deliver the final paperwork for the Homeowners’ Association.”

Angelia looked past her father at the house. Not bad… and in the best part of the neighborhood view-wise. Dad wouldn’t ever let me dress like that around the house… but it’s not rare these days. By this time, her parents had reached the table of the Blackwater house, and her father was beginning to point out various minutia of the neighborhood’s rules, and Angelia turned her attention once more to other things. Do they have any children, I wonder? He seems like the sort who would.

John Blackwell had pasted a blandly interested smile on his face by the third or fourth utterly insignificant point, and it would probably have been an interesting test of his otherwise tolerant nature to see just how long he lasted before his good humor gave out. Fortunately, his wife turned out not to be so thoroughly ensconced in her work that she couldn’t come to his rescue.

“I think you’d better introduce me to our guests, dear.” If her husband gave one an impression of a genial, ambling - if rather large - bear, then Captain Margaret Kensington-Blackwell was far more reminiscent of a stooping hawk or a particularly elegant shark. Her uniform jacket was unbuttoned and slightly loose around her shoulders, leaving the distinct rows of ribbons and the rank insignia visible on the spotless white uniform beneath, but they were simply accents to the sharp gray eyes and searing intelligence she turned on the four people seated around her table.

“Margaret, these are Carson Kates, his wife Katherine, and his daughter Angelina.” If there was a certain wicked enjoyment in John’s eyes as he took in the subtle hints of irritation in his wife’s severe expression, he had the good sense to keep it off his face. It didn’t do to tell the Christians too much about the lions before you put them, after all. “Mr. and Mrs. Kates, Captain Kensington-Blackwell. My wife.”

Katherine Kates managed a genial smile for the far more intimidating Mrs. Blackwell. “It’s wonderful to meet you, Captain Blackwell. Maybe one day you can show me your ship. We have a wonderful yacht at the Monterrey harbor; I would love to have you aboard.”

It was absolutely amazing to see a man of the size and confidence of Carson Kates turn ghost-white and appear to shrink two inches as quickly as he did at hearing the words from his wife’s mouth. “Katherine…” He was reminiscent, for a moment, of a squirrel caught in a cage with a cat gazing into it - eyes darting everywhere for cover that would not be found. Finally, fully aware that there was little he could do to salvage the situation, he sighed softly and turned his most apologetic look on Margaret. “I am sorry, Captain Kensington-Blackwell. I am certain that my wife did not mean to… I am sorry.” He drew in a breath, composing himself, before speaking again. “Do you have any children? We have two… our son is off in San Francisco, studying economics and spending far too much of our money. Angelia attends Seaside; she’s doing quite well there.”

It was ironic, John Blackwell though to himself as he watched the subtle tick at the corner of Maggie’s mouth which told him she was close to seriously losing her temper, that nobody had been able to make man-killing lasers practical by this point. If they just had an opportunity to examine his wife’s eyes at a moment like this, he was absolutely certain they’d have the system reverse engineered in about a year. As tempting as it was, though, Mr. Kates did seem genuinely apologetic - or at least embarrassed - and it probably wasn’t a good idea to let his wife start their new life in the Bay area off by incinerating guests in their dining room. Fortunately, the man had done at least one intelligent thing so far today by bringing up the subject of children. “We have a daughter, as a matter of fact - Victoria. She’ll be starting her junior year as Seaside in the fall, so I imagine the two of them might run into each other.” He smiled the pleasant, easy smile of a man who isn’t in the spiked pit with you but is assuring you that the walls aren’t closing in that quickly, then turned to Margaret and cleared his throat slightly. “In fact, she’s upstairs right now. Maybe the girls could have a few words while we go over this information from the Homeowner’s Association together?”

“Perhaps.” Margaret bit off the word with a smile that was probably pleasant if you didn’t mind feeling as though it had a few too many teeth in it. “I’m sure Victoria would like to meet someone from the neighborhood.”

Carson nodded. “I am sure that Angelia would prefer that over standing about watching us handle paperwork.” Katherine opened her mouth to add to that, but fell silent as she realized that everyone else in the room got colder at the hint that words might emerge from her.

“That’s settled, then.” John smiled, then reached over and pulled out a chair for his wife with a smile that could have warmed the cockles of a particularly vicious devil’s heart before glancing over at the bored, blond-haired girl in the expensive dress. “Angelia, would you mind if we went on without you?”

Angelia smiled, taking the opening. “I wouldn’t mind at all, sir.” She was as aware as anyone else just how badly her mother had messed up, and she kept her tone as respectful as she was able.

“Right up the spiral stair on your left. I imagine she’ll be through the first door on the right.” He gave her a final, surprisingly friendly smile before clearly returning his attention to keeping his wife from doing more than singeing her mother.

Angelia moved from the room and to the stairs, making her way up them. I can’t believe Mom said that… actually, I can, and that’s even worse. Everything I do for the rest of the night is going to be an apology for that… She stopped at the indicated door then knocked softly.

“Almost done!” A warm, melodic soprano came through the door, though the effect was slightly spoiled by the fact that the last word was punctuated by a soft grunt. There was a solid clank, and then the door opened and Angelia found herself face to face with a girl about her own age. That, for the most part, was where the resemblance stopped. Where Angelia was tall, slender and graceful, the girl in front of her was at least four inches shorter and built with a wiry strength that was clearly and visibly accented by the muscles she’d obviously been working with the arm-weights racked on the wall behind her. Blond and brown-haired, blue eyes and brown, designer skirt with blouse and jeans with a t-shirt and ball-cap. Though they had at least one more thing in common - neither could have told you which one of them was more surprised.

Angelia found her tongue first. “Hey… I’m Angelia. My parents came by to give your parents some information on the neighborhood, and… well, hi.” For someone as good at most of the teen social game as Angelia was, she was actually not great at all at self-introductions - hence her having other people to introduce her.

If you give this kind of welcome to all the families, I bet the boys never want to move out. Victoria fought down a rebellious giggle at the thought and forced herself to stick to a warm smile as she offered her hand. “Victoria Blackwell. It’s nice to know that it isn’t just military bases where people remember how to come by and say hello when someone moves in. Let me guess - we’re supposed to keep each other out from under foot while the grown-ups talk serious business?”

I’m quite certain it’ll be dinner table gossip anyway; might as well get it out. She’s got spirit; glad I get a chance to get a measure of her. “I think they sent me off to keep me from being too embarrassed by my mother, really… she said something… well, pretty awful… to your mother without realizing just how bad it would be, or that it would be bad at all.” She sighed softly. “My mother’s not a bad person, or even unintelligent, just… painfully sheltered, and it came out. So… sorry for that.”

“That’s okay. If anything, I feel bad for your mom.” Victoria’s grin was a crooked echo of her father’s smile. “I’ve only been on the wrong side of my mother’s temper a few times, and I can tell you it’s not much fun. I think I’d rather do double PT for a month.” She threw in a dramatic shiver, but her eyes twinkled. “So, now that you’re out of the line of fire, you want me to show you around or just get you something cold to drink and somewhere with nice thick walls just in case the shelling kicks off again?”

“A soda sounds great.” Angelia managed a smile, forcing herself to relax. So she uses military acronyms and walks around like she’s ready to storm Normandy; that doesn’t mean she’s going to eat you. “Do you have anything in diet?”

Victoria shook her head and laughed. “Isn’t that a little like wearing a bikini over your shirt? I mean, what’s the point?” She slid past Angelia with casual ease, walking down the hall two doors and opening it into a compact den overlooking the water with a modestly large flat-screen LCD on the wall and a couple of couches crammed against the parts of the walls that weren’t occupied by windows or bookcases. She crouched down in front of a small metal box-fridge and opened it, studied the contents for a moment, then pulled out a glass bottle of half-tea/half-lemonade. “Best I can do for you, I think. Want it?”

Angelia regarded the bottle doubtfully then shrugged. Only live once. “Sure.” She extended her hand to reach for the bottle. At least she’s got some fashion sense, and… wow. Once the bottle was in her hand, she made her way over to the window without opening it, gazing outside. “Lived here my whole life… still it finds ways to amaze me.”

“I just got here, and I’m already beginning to get that feeling.” Victoria helped herself to a root beer and kicked the door closed, walking over to lean on the other half of the widow’s frame next to Angelia as she looked out over the setting sun over the bay. “I used to live a few miles from the National Mall, and I think this still may be the prettiest place I’ve ever seen.”

“In DC?” Angelia smiled. “I think one of the best days I’ve had was when we went to the Smithsonian. My father didn’t leave enough time to see everything - we had a very strict schedule; we always do - but everything I saw there was just incredible.” She sighed. “We skipped the Washington Monument entirely…”

“Damn, and I thought it was just the military that had a heartless thing for schedules.” Victoria reached over and gave the other girl’s shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. Still, I can’t imagine having missed the Monument, schedule or no schedule. If anything’s worth lingering over, it has to be the Mall. “On the plus side, I’ll bet you it’ll still be there when you go back.”

Angelia smiled. “After graduation. My father’s got a strict new-place-every-vacation policy, but we’re going anywhere I want when I graduate. I think he expects Disney or Rome or something; I’m seeing the rest of Washington.”

“Be sure you can ditch him for a while.” Victoria dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I hear I’m not much of a party girl, but I still say you haven’t lived until you’ve partied in a D.C. club. ‘Off the hook’ doesn’t even start to describe those people.”

Angelia grinned, speaking quietly in return. “I’ll have to check that out, then. You might not be a party girl; I definitely am. Oh… there’s a party in the works around here in the next couple of days; if you want to meet some of the locals, that’ll be the place to do it.”

“I’ll try to rise to the occasion.” Grinning in answer, Victoria gave the bay one more long look before jerking her head toward the TV. “We’ve got more on-demand than we know what to do with. Think they’ll be at it long enough for us to get through a movie?”

“Knowing my father, he’s just now started on the rules for hedge-trimming…” Her voice dropped again to a conspiratorial whisper. “No one follows those; not even us.” She laughed softly. “They’ll be at it for a while.”

“Oh lord.” Victoria’s eyes sparkled, and she covered her mouth to hold in another of those giggles that always drove her crazy. I swear, I sound about seven. “If you hear the sound of heavy objects being dragged and then a splash, you may want to think about which relatives you have you’d rather live with.”

Angelia laughed quietly with the giggle. Okay, so… she’s cool. Completely unexpected. “We should watch something that doesn’t require too much thinking… I finished my summer homework in the first week and I’m still a bit burnt out from that.”

“I don’t even know what the summer homework is yet. For that matter, I don’t know what classes I’m going to have.” Flopping down on the couch with a disgusted sigh, Victoria threw Angelia a long-suffering look. “I hope Seaside is more organized during the school year than it is in June and July, or well be doing the keel-aft march all damn year.”

“They’re not, but we get by.” Angelia shrugged. “The key is to not sweat it too much.”

“If you say so. At least you know your class schedule.” Victoria shook her head, then threw the thought away with a wave while she reached for the remote. “Forget it. So, tell me about this party.”

“Don’t really know what’s going to be going on there myself, yet. Charlie’s hosting it; it’s open-invitation, so even he probably doesn’t know what to expect. Probably music. He’s got a pool. Someone will sneak in some booze; someone always does. People being people.” Angelia shrugged. “Might be fun, might not, but don’t know ‘till you’re there, right?”

Victoria crooks a sideways grin. “Isn’t that always the way? No way of knowing what a place is like until you’re there. So, we talking club clothes or jeans and halters?”

“I’d go comfortable but upscale… not really club, but show some of what you’ve got.” Angelia smiled, looking the other girl over. “Definitely show some of what you’ve got. And pack a swimsuit; like I said, there’s a pool.”

“Gotcha.” Victoria chuckled, then threw Angelia an impish wink. “Long as you’re there doing the same, it won’t be a total waste of time. So, what’s your pleasure? Action, laughs, heavy drama?”

“Action, no thinking.” What did she mean by that? Angelia shrugged off her confusion and started looking over what was available. “Oh… no Mel Gibson. That guy’s fallen so far off the cool list he’s got no shot at ever getting back.”

“No argument. Lots of boom, no thinking and absolutely no suck.” Victoria flicked through the list, picked a title and then kicked it on as she settled comfortably back against the couch. Brad and Angelina, you never let me down.

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