"I remember you coming over for Christmas one year but," Riley shrugged, holding the mug of orange juice between her hands, "not much other than that. I don't think you were there either." She said, nodding towards her uncle.
The older man shook his head, sitting in one of the chairs across from her at the table. Kathy sat next to him, holding onto her husband's hand as if still trying to ground herself from the shocking reunion that afternoon. "I was on a business trip that year, so I couldn't come down and see you."
"On Christmas?" Riley asked with raised brows. "Where did you work?"
"Enron." He said with some bitterness, before coughing a few times. "Glad those bastards went bankrupt when they did. Wasted 8 good years of my life with them. They had the worst employee treatment I've ever seen."
Kathy leaned forward towards Riley, smiling warmly. "And don't worry. Jim got out of working with them before any of that scandal business, so we weren't in any trouble there."
"That's good." Riley smiled, glad they hadn't faced hardship because of that. She leaned back in her seat, shifting so she was more comfortable.
Jim took a sip of his coffee and shook his head again, eyeing her sadly. "It was one of my biggest regrets, not seeing you when Kathy went down to visit. Up until now, it would have been the only time I'd ever get the chance to meet you, and I didn't even have that."
"He was a wreck, after your mother…well…" Kathy trailed off, a slanted, sad smile on her face. "We both didn't know what would happen to you. He contacted private investigators, and even a few lawyers to see what we could do to locate you."
"We looked all over Syracuse," Jim continued, naming the town Riley had grown up in until her father died, "but then we realized that she must have moved far away. At that point, we weren't sure we would be able to find you. This went on for years."
Riley glanced between the two of them. "We moved to Brooklyn." The brunette explained, seeing a clarity and dawning cross their eyes. She couldn't imagine how long they'd wondered the answer to that question.
"Mom wanted a fresh start somewhere else, away from anything that…reminded her of dad." She finished sadly, looking to the side. "I didn't want to leave, but it wasn't like I had much of a choice. I left friends behind, and never really made new ones in Brooklyn."
"That must have been difficult for you, sweetie." Kathy said with a sympathetic furrow of her brow. She reached out and touched Riley's hand affectionately. "How old were you when your father passed?"
"Bless your heart." Kathy muttered, giving her hand a gentle pat before leaning back in her chair. "So young…"
"Which makes you about…" Jim mused aloud, cocking his head to the side as he calculated in his head. "23, is that right?"
Riley smiled. "Yeah. 24 in November."
"You've grown into quite the young woman." Kathy complimented, eyes skirting over her face to see her features. "I can see so much of your father in you. That same brown hair, that same confident smile. You have your mother's eyes but…I can see you obviously took after Grant."
"He was a good man." Jim nodded wistfully, eyes somewhere else as he spoke. "Only met him a few times in my life, but he was a good man for sure."
"I know." Riley smiled, recalling the memories she had of him. Then, another thought crossed her mind. Something she'd always wondered but her mother would never discuss. Even before her mother had gone completely off the rails and started her downward spiral. And after that point, Riley knew better than to even ask. "Do you know how my parents met?"
The brunette saw her uncle glance at Kathy, obviously giving her the chance to explain. Perhaps she knew it best, being her sister and all. She cleared her throat, nodding.
"Well, you'd have to understand how she was when she was younger." She began sighing with a shake of her head. "Jocelyn and I were very close growing up. We were nearly the same age, barely 10 months apart, and did almost everything together. Nearly inseparable."
Kathy gestured with her hand. "Now, it wasn't until we started getting older that Jocelyn started to change. I preferred to stay home and read my books, but it wasn't uncommon for her to sneak out at night and party with her friends. Not the best types of people, either." She added with a meaningful look.
"Really?" Riley asked, unable to imagine her mother as a party girl. She hadn't shown any sign of it before her dad died. In fact, she'd sometimes seem more mature and responsible than her dad. Well, sometimes.
"Oh, yes." Her aunt gave a big nod. "Smoked and drank way before she should've. And it got even worse when she got old enough to date. Why," Kathy scoffed with a toss of her hand, "I got to know the very worst boys in town because of her. Half the time, they were over at the house when our parents weren't home. Heard the worst noises coming from her room, too…"
Riley grimaced, not wanting that visual.
"Now, now, dear, she doesn't need to hear all the grisly details." Jim chastised. "I doubt she wants to know about your sister's escapades as a teenager."
Kathy gave her husband a look that told him to shut his mouth, with love of course. "I'm telling the story here, not you. It just might be important."
"Important?" Jim shook his head, obviously not seeing how it could be. He turned to the brunette, who was holding down the grin and laugh that threatened to spill over at their gentle bickering. "Riley, do you really want to hear all of that?"
Put on the spot like that, Riley shook her head, setting down her mug and holding up her heads defensively. "I don't know. Don't drag me into this."
"Smart girl." Jim chuckled. "Kathy, finish telling her already."
Her aunt turned a sharp eye onto her husband. "I will if you don't interrupt me again."
Jim wisely said nothing, gesturing kindly for her to continue, and Riley let out a small chuckle despite herself. Watching the older couple bicker was funny. Kathy nodded, satisfied that she could finish the rest of the tale without any more talking from her husband.
"Now, as I was saying, your mother didn't date the nicest people when she was younger. All the bad boys, you know?" Riley nodded along, listening intently. "Now, all that changed when she met your father."
"How did they meet?" The brunette asked inquisitively.
Kathy chuckled, shaking her head to whatever she'd just thought of. "Oh, I convinced your mother to actually go to the library with me one day. Told her she might find something she'd like to read. Jocelyn scoffed at me, but after complaining that I didn't get to see her as much as I used to, she begrudgingly went with.
"I dragged her around for a little while, and your dad was reading in the library. I kept seeing Jocelyn staring at him, every time we passed by the table he sat at. I told her how I saw him there nearly every day."
"He liked books too?" Riley asked, frowning. She didn't remember him as much of a reader. Mostly, he focused on work, or his collection of baseball cards. It had always been her mother reading the bedtime stories to help her fall asleep. However, Kathy shook her head.
"I'm pretty sure I saw him with a textbook every day, so he may have been studying. Not much of a reader, if I remember right."
Riley nodded her understanding, and Kathy continued. "Of course, at the time, she didn't say much about it, but the next day Jocelyn asked to go back to the library again."
"And they hit it off from there?" The brunette guessed, and her aunt gave an affirming nod.
"Yup. I'd never seen Jocelyn study so much in her life after that. She was always at the library, spending time with your father. He was really studious, very focused on graduating with high marks, so that was how they first started bonding."
That sounded much more like him, Riley thought, smiling in amusement.
"After that, Jocelyn didn't sneak out or drink. Grant really helped her straighten her life out. Even encouraged her to become a physical therapist. Up to that point, she hadn't known what she wanted to do with her life."
Jim cleared his throat, shifting in his seat.
Kathy gave him a side glance. "Something to say, dear?"
He glanced up, brows raised. "Hmm? Oh no, not at all. Just listening intently. Carry on."
"Hmm." Kathy hummed with a little grin, not quite believing him, before turning back to Riley. "But that's about all I know. The rest is history, I suppose you could say. They dated through the last bit of high school, then got married after your father graduated from university with his finance degree."
Her smiled turned sad, and she shrugged minutely. "I guess when your father died, Jocelyn didn't know how to keep her life on track. He was her rock, her support through everything. Maybe she resorted back to the way she used to be, because she didn't know any better. I'll never really know…" Kathy trailed off, leaving a long silence at the table as no one really knew what to say.
Riley was reminded of something Jocelyn had said at the prison. Then, realizing that they might not even know about her, she spoke up.
"Do you know where she is right now?"
Kathy shook her head slowly. "I haven't heard anything about her since she moved you two away."
Riley nodded slowly, pushing away the apprehension that came up in her chest. "Well, if you wanted to know…I actually found her."
Both Jim and Kathy perked up, a bit in disbelief. "We were worried she'd be dead by now. Is she alright?" Her aunt asked in concern.
Riley tossed her head back and forth, not quite sure how to answer. "Yes and no. She's imprisoned in the Brooklyn House of Detention under a long list of felonies. She'll be locked away for a long time."
Both older people immediately looked downtrodden, no doubt disappointed that Jocelyn had fallen so low. Riley had her own reasons for not ever wanting to associate with her mother again, but she knew Kathy was her sister. Surely a part of her still loved her deeply.
"In fact, the entire point of traveling was to visit her in jail." Riley admitted, fidgeting with her cup again, just to keep her hands moving. "I saw her yesterday."
"I'm not one to question what you decide to do. You're a grown adult who can think for herself," Jim started, hands laying flat on the kitchen table, "but I'd understand more if you never wanted to see her again. Especially after what she did to you. Why would you want to have anything to do with her?"
"Jim, she's her mother." Kathy chastised gently, and not in an unkind manner. Riley smiled sadly and shook her head.
"That's not entirely why, but a part of it. There were a lot of questions I didn't have the answer to. Ones only she knew. And I wanted to determine if there was any chance that she could go back to the way she was before dad died."
The brunette felt a wave of disappointment, and her eyes averted from theirs. "I really help out hope that there was a possibility of bailing her out but…I don't think there's any help for her now."
There was a long silence, before Riley brought up her original point. "She mentioned that you'd turned her away when she came to look for help."
Her aunt grimaced, nodding in shame or…guilt. "She did. Just once."
"Why?" It wasn't accusing her of anything, but she just genuinely wanted to know the circumstances.
Kathy's hands folded in her lap, and Jim reached over to touch her shoulder supportively. Obviously it weighed on the woman's mind. "Jocelyn did show up out of the blue once, but she was manic. Could barely understand what she was saying half the time." She gestured to the front living area. "I kept her on the porch because my kids were still living at home, and I didn't want them being around that."
"She was causing quite a racket." Jim supplied, turning to Riley sadly. "Had a few neighbors later that day ask if everything was alright because of the noise."
Kathy nodded a silent agreement, continuing on. "She asked if I had any money to give her, but I had a feeling it was just going to go into whatever substances she was taking. I didn't want to be an enabler, so I turned her away. I offered to have her stay once she cleaned herself up. I wouldn't ever turn my back on her entirely. But for the sake of my kids, I wasn't going to tolerate the things she was doing."
"That's understandable." The brunette said.
"Obviously she didn't feel the same way. Broke a few of my windows and front porch ornaments. I threatened to call the cops on her if she didn't leave, and that seemed to get through her anger. Didn't see her again after that." Kathy concluded, shaking her head slowly. Her eyes were faraway, as if seeing the scene in her subconscious.
The table went silent for awhile. No one really knew what to say from there until Jim cleared his throat and spoke up, looking at Riley expectantly. "Enough with our sad stories though, tell us a little about yourself, Riley. We'd love to hear a bit about the person you've grown up to be."
Gladly taking the offered conversation change her brows raised briefly, before she cocked her head. Smiling nervously, she gave a huff of a laugh. "Well…where to start, heh."
"After you moved to Brooklyn, what happened then?" Kathy suggested, settling in her seat again. She looked a lot more composed, no doubt trying to shake the memory of confronting her mother.
Riley stared down in her cup, now empty of orange juice. "Well, like you said. Mom slowly broke down. Started drinking more and more. Started getting abusive." She could tell talking about it only made Jim and Kathy feel guilty, so she skipped over all of those details. They didn't need to know them intimately anyway, and it would only drag the conversation back to something depressing.
Shrugging, she continued. "When I couldn't take anymore, I left for another city. I got a job as a waitress to help pay for tuition and went to a community college in New Jersey to get my journalism degree. After graduating, I started searching for jobs out of state, and there was an opening in California. I liked the idea of moving as far away from mom as I could, so I took it and went there."
"So you write for the newspaper?" Kathy asked innocently, and Riley couldn't help the awkward laugh that followed.
"Oh, so what do you do now?" Jim leaned forward, his elbow propping up his head with a hand. His interest was obvious.
Well, how to answer this question? Was honesty best in this moment, or should she just pretend all was exactly how it should be? Before she could even begin to formulate a response, Jim reached over and touched her shoulder reassuringly.
"Oh, come now. We want to hear everything about your life, the good and the bad. We'd be proud no matter what you were. We're just happy to have you in our lives, Riley." Was his encouraging reply.
"If journalism is a cover for exotic dancing, we won't judge." Kathy agreed with a sagely nod, and the brunette's eyes widened in a panic. Her hands waved in front of her defensively.
"No, no…it's nothing like that. I wouldn't ever do something like that." She could feel her cheeks heating up as they chuckled at her embarrassment.
"We don't have much of a filter." Jim confessed through his smile. "Probably should have warned you beforehand."
"It's alright, just wasn't expecting it." The brunette said in a huff, smiling despite herself. Their easy-going nature and high tolerance for anything she could possibly tell them made telling them the truth more comfortable. "But just for clarity's sake, I'm not an exotic dancer. I was an investigative journalist at a news station, but just recently I quit."
"Oh my, that sounds a little dangerous." Kathy said, holding a hand to her chest. "But perhaps you're the type of person brave enough for the job."
"Of course she is, just look at her." Jim said, gesturing to the brunette without any doubts. "Riley's more than capable. But, why'd you quit? You must have enjoyed it if you got a degree just to do it."
Riley grimaced, remembering her conversations with Bill, and how deep the bite of betrayal had felt. "I was in the middle of an investigation, and they pulled my funding. I'd been working on it for over a year."
Jim tossed his hand dismissively. "Don't you just hate that? Big business screwing over the middle class." He growled. Riley was glad he thought similarly to her own values.
"Later on, I found out that they'd sold out and taken a bribe to stop my investigation." She continued.
"Ooh, a scandal." Kathy's concern turned into intrigue, and her eyes sparkled with curiosity and interest. Somehow it made her look younger. "What became of it?"
"I put in my two weeks, and…exposed the company." She finished. For as honest as she wanted to be with Jim and Kathy, admitting that she technically stole $500,000 wasn't something she was willing to do quite yet. Better to keep that under wraps. "Hopefully they'll think a little longer next time they try taking a bribe."
"So, you're looking for a job now? If you get the inkling to move here closer with us-" Kathy started to suggest, but Jim interrupted her again with a gentle slap on her shoulder.
"Kathy, now you let her be. She's a grown woman, and she can make her own decisions. Don't start putting your nose in her business like that."
The woman turned to her husband and reciprocating his slap with one of her own on her arm. "Don't start with me, Jim. I was merely throwing out the suggestion if she ever got the idea." Then, turning back to Riley with a knowing look. "I wouldn't ever tell you what you should do, especially seeing you all grown up and mature like this, but you're always welcome around here if you're looking for a change of scenery."
"I appreciate that." Riley said politely. "But I'm not currently looking for a job right now."
"Oh, you've found a new one already? What do you do now?" Kathy questioned, and Riley looked away again. Her hands played with the empty mug, still unsure of telling the full truth.
It wasn't a question of trusting them. Even having knowing them for less than a day, Riley had no problems with trusting them. Ah, what the hell? They were miles away from San Francisco, and she doubted any gangs or government figures were going to come after them all the way in Georgia.
"I'm actually…part of a hacker group." She admitted with a carefree shrug. It felt sort of freeing being able to say that aloud. "We target corrupt business and expose injustice to the public."
"Oh, like one of those, uh…anonymous folk right?" Jim scratched at his chin, eyes narrowing. "So you're like a freedom fighter almost."
Riley tilted her head, thinking about it. DedSec had never been described in that way before, but she supposed it fit. "Yeah, sort of. We try to inform people of how better to protect their personal information, especially with all these city-wide technological systems in place. It's getting harder not to be dragged into some company's scheme or another."
"There's no better purpose than fighting on someone else's behalf. That's really admirable, Riley. I couldn't ask for more." Jim gave her a genuine, toothy smile, and she couldn't help but return the gesture.
"You don't have any financial troubles, do you? I hope for all that risk you'd get paid fairly well." Kathy fretted, a kind concern etched into her face.
"Oh, I'm fine, don't worry." Then, deciding that she could be a bit more honest about some of the morally gray things they did, she admitted, "A lot of the time, we have access to the executives' bank accounts. If we transfer money to someone more deserving, we might take a small portion as payment. So, sometimes we aren't entirely honest about what we do."
They did say they wanted to hear both the good and the bad, after all. But Kathy waved her hand dismissively.
"Oh, nonsense. That's just a modern day Robin Hood situation. Nothing dishonest about that. As long as you're careful." She warned with a pointed finger. "I'm not gonna meet you properly after all these years just to lose you again."
"I plan on sticking around for awhile." Riley smiled in relief. She'd been a bit afraid they'd think she was some sort of criminal. Well, technically, the government could label her that, but she was glad they seemed to understand the value behind what she did.
"So you've made lots of friends there?" Kathy questioned expectantly, and Riley nodded. "Good. As long as you enjoy what you do, and you've made some friends, then I'm happy."
"I have." Riley reiterated, just to make sure there weren't any doubts. "I've never been happier than where I'm at now."
"What is San Francisco like anyway?" Jim butted in curiously. "We've never gotten around to visiting. Been all around the country for vacations, but not that area."
Riley went in depth, explaining what the culture was like, and the people, and the weather. She wanted to paint it in a way that perhaps the two of them would want to visit one day. It wouldn't be a hassle or an inconvenience to travel to Georgia a few times per year to visit for special occasions, but the brunette wanted them to see her home, and her lifestyle, to share in her happiness with them.
Just sitting down to talk like this was amazing. She wanted them to meet Pants. And see the Golden Gate Bridge just before the sun sets. Plus, if Riley's intuition was correct, she had a feeling Jim enjoyed fishing—there were various trinkets and wall decorations that had something to do with fishing. She was willing to bet he'd enjoy seeing the pier and the bay. Maybe she could rent out a boat for a day and go sailing with them.
There was Chinatown and Alcatraz. She wanted them to see the sea lions sunbathing on Pier 39 too. And try the Chinese food place right near her apartment complex.
And meet Wrench.
She still wasn't sure how that would work with his mask, if he'd be willing to have it off to meet them at that point or not, but she could cross that bridge when it came down to it. Maybe after some time had passed, he would consider it. She'd never want him doing something that made him uncomfortable.
"Oh, let me give you tour around our house." Kathy said suddenly, standing from her chair and waving her to follow. "This is your home too, you know. Best to get familiar with it for visits in the future."
"Ok." Riley agreed, standing from her own seat and heading down the hallway Kathy walked down. Before she got too far, Jim turned around and called after her.
"Since you haven't been to Georgia before, Riley, I can give you a tour around town tomorrow if you'd like, just you and me since Kathy is seeing her little group of friends. Course, that all depends how long you planned to stay with us." He suggested.
"Oh, definitely! I'd love to." She said, and he flashed her a wide smile. Jim wasn't quite as talkative as Kathy was, and maybe some time spent alone with him for awhile will give them the chance they needed to really bond.
"Here, come see the master bedroom. I've got some old pictures lying around somewhere." Kathy called from down the hall, and Riley hurried to meet up with her.
A vibration by Wrench's head on the couch in his garage startled him out of sleep. Groggily cursing under his breath because did people have any sense of courtesy when it came to letting people get some goddamn sleep around here?, the hacker blindly grabbed for it, the angle awkward with his wrist. Finally latching onto the corner of the device, he dragged it closer and held it up to see who was trying to message him.
Yo, you up for a job?
Biting back the irritation because a) it was from Marcus, and b) he couldn't have known that Wrench had taken a nap in the middle of the day and he was now tired after being rudely waken up, he tapped out a quick reply. In all honesty, he'd been bored, so a mission might just be what he needed.
What have you got in mind? Please tell me I'll get to blow something up.
He'd been itching to watch something explode for days now, but just couldn't think of anything he'd want to see do so. Maybe this would be his opportunity. Plus, he'd get to spend some time with Marcus, who'd been by Sitara's side for a majority of his free time.
Most definitely. Grab some of those bombs of yours and meet me in front of the old concrete factory in Oakland. I'll tell you about it there.
Anything for you, Marky Mark. ~.^
That nickname's off limits!
The Dark Stranger?
Nope. No way.
I'll think of a better one on the way over. You'll be astounded and awestruck!
Uh huh, sure I will. Just get your skinny ass over here already.
Wrench's fatigue began to slip away as he stood from the couch excitedly, fingers tingling with the thought of how much destruction he could cause. It'd been a hot minute since the last exciting mission. All of Sitara's leads recently had been purely crypto-hacking without any real infiltration action. While Wrench could bear with those on occasion, he truly shined when he could unleash his anarchist tendencies. He was glad Marcus understood that well.
Time to shake off the dust and do something fun.
After spending some time being shown around the house, it had settled into the evening, and Riley found herself sitting on the floor in the space between the two armchairs. In her arms was a thick scrapbook, filled to the brim with pictures and little inscriptions for each. Kathy was a thorough scrapbooker, capturing every little event and special occasion from the past if she could help it. Of which the brunette was thankful. It gave her plenty to look through and learn about.
Kathy leaned down from her chair, pointing to a group of pictures in the top left corner of the page. "And this here is David's 5th birthday party. He refused to blow out the candles on his cake. Nearly threw a fit when one of the other kids did it for him, too." She recalled with a hearty laugh.
David was one of Kathy's sons, the middle child. All in all, Riley had three cousin, all older than her. There was Ricky, the oldest, who lived down in Savannah. He was an architect, and worked on rebuilding and renovating older homes. He had two children of his own, both less than the age of 3.
The middle son, David, worked as a bank teller. He'd moved out of state to live in South Carolina. Charleston specifically. Jim lamented the fact that he lived so much farther than the rest of the family, but he'd always known David had been eager for new places and adventure. They were just happy he didn't live halfway across the world, taking what they could get. They also hoped he'd get married soon.
And lastly was the youngest, Austin. He was only a year older than Riley, but already had a chain of restaurants to his name along the Georgian border. According to both Kathy and Jim, his brand was considered one of the best in the state, often winning recognition and awards for their high quality and unique cuisine. Part of her wondered if half of that claim was familial support, but she didn't doubt it was good food. Someday she'd have to try it.
He had a kid of his own, born just a few months ago.
"Everyone promised to come down for Christmas this year, so you'll have to come back and meet everyone. I know they'd be excited to see you for the first time. They were always complains about the lack of female cousins." Jim said ruefully, shaking his head with a grin. "I think they get tired of all the testosterone sometimes."
"I'm sure." Riley said neutrally. She was a little nervous about suddenly seeing her cousins. Surely they'd come down with Kathy to see them for Christmas that year, but she honestly couldn't remember them at all. Had there been other children around? Suddenly she wasn't sure. Kathy was the only one she remembered.
Riley turned to the next page, seeing a picture of two similar looking women sitting side by side. It was an older photo, grainier than the rest, and Kathy tapped it excitedly. "Oh, that's of me and Jocelyn. We weren't more than about 6 years old here. I'm on the right. She's on the left."
The brunette tried fitting the faces to the person, but even knowing who was who, she honestly could see any sort of distinguishing difference. They were too alike to tell apart, flashing the exact same smile, eyes both intelligent and sharp, and hands folded neatly in their laps. Their hair was puffed up and fluffed, with the tips of large bows behind their heads.
"You can't tell each other apart at all." Riley commented, and Kathy nodded.
"It wasn't until we were about 12 or 13 that we began looking different from each other. Jocelyn liked styling her hair up, and I liked mine down. Plus, she got interested in make up much earlier than I. She always looked older than me after that."
Riley's eyes skirted over the pages, taking in pictures and the handwritten notes and passages that covered the empty spaces. Kathy's handwriting was neat and even, easy to read.
The next page was had a single picture. Riley stopped, seeing her own eyes staring back at her. It was a photo from the visit at Christmas. her mother was knelt on the ground, holding Riley around the middle, smiling brightly into the camera. She looked so happy and unburdened.
"That's the only picture we have of you." Jim said softly, slowly rocking back and forth in his chair like the elderly tended to do. "It's a good thing Kathy likes taking pictures, otherwise we might not even have had that one."
"Your mom was always camera shy. Didn't like me coming in there with my camera demanding to take pictures of everything." Kathy said with a small chuckle. "So, I settled for just this one to make her feel better."
"I'm glad you took it." Riley said, trailing her finger along the edges where it had been pasted in. There was a rather lengthy passage underneath it, and she began reading.
I went to visit Jocelyn and her family in 1999. It was my first time meeting little Riley. She's six years old in this photo, and she was the sweetest bundle of sunshine! She wanted to help bake all the cookies and decorate the tree, and you'd catch an earful if you told her she was just a kid. 'I'm a grown up girl!' she'd tell you in her little huff.
Riley smirked, knowing that sounded a lot like her. She kept reading.
She got to meet the kids, and even though she was the youngest, Riley lead them to great adventures around the house, showing them all of her favorite toys and spots to play. The boys loved her, and followed her around everywhere. It was the cutest thing, seeing a troop of kids running around, off to cause trouble.
Grant had a hard time relaxing, but Riley was the biggest help. She asked him to dance around the tree with her, and he obliged. You can't say no to a smile like that. After that, he slowly started to enjoy the holiday with us a bit more. We even convinced him to have a glass of wine! Imagine that.
It snowed Christmas Day, and little Riley was of course the first one up, sitting by the tree excitedly once we'd all wandered out of bed. I have a feeling she'd been the ringmaster to wake the boys up too, because they were right beside her, bouncing in excitement to open presents. They were so excited, they almost skipped breakfast to start opening presents. Jocelyn got them some cereal, and we all gathered around the tree after that.
Riley got the tricycle she'd asked for, and lots of coloring books. Her favorite was the stuffed cat plushy that her dad had bought her. She gave it the cutest name: Socks. She carried it around with her the rest of the day. Those two were inseparable.
Riley raised a brow, wondering where she'd gotten the penchant for using clothing items as names for pets. Hmm.
It was a wonderful Christmas, as I got to spend time catching up with Jocelyn too. It's been too long since we last spoke. Jim couldn't come with me because of a business trip, so it was just me and the kids this time around. Hopefully he'll be here to go back down for a Thanksgiving or two in the future.
Riley smiled as she read the last paragraph, finally turning the page to see the next few photos. Reading over what her aunt had written was heartwarming, because she'd almost completely forgotten about dancing around with her dad, and toting around Socks the Cat. She still didn't have a recollection of having her cousins there, but the other little bits of memory in between were welcome refreshers.
"Come get me, motherfuckers!" Wrench shouted out the open window, foot pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Marcus just barely managed to strap his seatbelt on before the van shot forward through the chain link fence and plowed onto the main road.
Behind them, two black vehicles began pursuing after them, no doubt filled with members of the 580's. Very pissed off 580's. Even further back, thick black smoke was still billowing out of the open windows and doorway of the cement factory where Wrench's explosives had been planted.
Marcus twisted in his seat, watching as a few gang members in the van directly behind them leaned out the windows, holding up assault rifles. When the loud banging of gunfire began, he pressed further down in the seat, hunching low to avoid any bullets. The rear window and a few of the sides one broke with a shatter, letting the swoosh of the wind as they drove faster into the cabin. Wrench started evasive maneuvers to avoid most of the shots, the tires squealing with each turn of the wheel. At these high speeds, they'd be lucky if they didn't roll the van.
The nearest enemy van was approaching quickly, and before long they'd be neck and neck. "Can't this thing go any faster?" Marcus yelled, glancing over at his masked friend who looked entirely too enthusiastic about being in the middle of a dangerous, high-speed car chase. Sometimes it was concerning just how insane Wrench could be, especially when he had that happy expression marking his mask, focused on the road and where they were going, but also looking back to see the enemies chasing them.
"Well, if we'd had time to get this baby hooked up with nitro, then yes! But as it stands, nope! We're capping at 95 right now." He said, gesturing to the speedometer.
His friend shook his head, still concerned about flipping the whole damn vehicle. The other van was still coming closer so Marcus rolled down the window and reached in the seat behind him for his own weapon. Letting out a breath, he popped out the window and fired a few unfocused shots, just to stall them a bit.
It had the desired effect, and the driver backed off, putting more distance between them and the van. Marcus ducked back into the inside before they could return any fire, and he looked over at Wrench.
"You'd think they'd be a little more understanding about having all of their smuggled cocaine shipments destroyed!" Marcus quipped with snark, and Wrench howled with laughter, sounding robotic and tinny with his mask in place.
Police sirens grew louder, and two cop cars joined in the chase, taking up spots behind the 580's vans. The gang members noticed too, because a few of their people started popping shots at the cops now too.
"Brace yourself!" Wrench yelled, and Marcus grabbed onto something just as the hacker sent the van careening down the freeway exit. It was miraculous they hadn't hit any of the other cars in traffic up to the point, and even more so that he managed to squeeze the van past the waiting cars at the bottom, sending them in a screeching left turn to try shaking their pursuers.
The 580's van that had been closest to theirs followed after them. The other, along with the police, continued down the freeway. Now that it was down to just one van, things were a bit more manageable. Wrench zigzagged through traffic, taking random turns to try getting rid of the 580's chasing them. They still took shots at the van, but luckily hadn't hit the tires yet.
Thanks to Wrench's excellent evasive skills, they were all to lose line of sight with the following van. They ditched the van in an alley, then broke into a nearby sedan, hiding down in the seats to avoid detection.
They watched as they passed by the alley, seeing the abandoned car and started slowing down, searching the area for them. Wrench waited until they were out of sight before starting up this new vehicle, slowly easing them out of the parking lot and back towards the hackerspace.
"So, did that satisfy your need for chaos?" Marcus asked in a breathless manner, just lucky to be alive with the anarchist's driving. The man in question flashed hearts at him.
"Fuck yeah! Did you see the beautiful destruction? The flying debris and screaming? Absolute…perfection." He drawled out, relaxing his grip on the steering wheel as they cruised at an easy pace.
"Sometimes I wonder how you're still alive, man." Marcus admitted with a shake of his head, chuckling to himself under his breath. "You're a crazy mofo, you know that?"
"Ah, but I'm your crazy mofo." Wrench emphasized with a playful wink, holding out a fist to bump. Marcus returned the gesture, leaning back in his seat for the rest of the drive home. Then, all of a sudden, Wrench perked up again. "Oh, yeah I almost forgot. You were right. The Dark Stranger is too…bleh. Not anything special. I figured out a new one.
Marcus was curious, only to see what new ridiculous nickname he'd have to bear hereafter. "Oh yeah? What's that?"
Wrench laughed under his breath, then turned to him with a wink. "Sexual Chocolate."
Marcus couldn't hold back the groan, or the bewildered laugh that followed, and both hackers were cracking up the rest of the way back to the hackerspace, another mission successful.ns 126.96.36.199da2