original here. dated 2012-08-29.
[A/N: okay… if I’m going to be extremely honest, this started out as an SI!OC Teen Wolf fanfiction. And then considering how divergent from the series I wanted to make it I just readapted it into “original fiction.” So… I guess I’ll tag it as both? Obviously Zim Szymanski = Stiles Stilinski.]
She does not get the letter in her mailbox. What is this, the fifties? The only thing people get in their mailboxes nowadays are bills and coupons for grocery stores. No, she gets the letter on top of the very short paperwork stack her PA is allowing her take home during her mandatory three week vacation. It’s a sad anemic pile, it’ll hardly last one day in her enforced boredom. It goes in her bag anyway.
When she asks what it is, why is he doing this to her, can’t he just let her spend her vacation in the office and just tell HR she didn’t, he makes emphatic eyebrow movements but doesn’t actually say anything in response. Patrick had tried planning an itinerary for her. Ha! As if trips to the museum or spa days or hiking of all things organized in a similar fashion to her normal work schedule could lull her into accepting via familiarity.
Striding gracefully, not marching petulantly no matter what Fred the receptionist will later report back to Patrick, she heads to the elevators and makes her way out of the building for the last time this month. Flying Spaghetti Monster, she won’t be back until August! That’s an entirely different page on the calendar! She can’t do this, she can’t do this, she can’t–and Ann, head of security, is standing just on the opposite side of the glass doors with a look that somehow manages to be simultaneously stern and amused. So she completes the turn, a full three-sixty instead of a one-eighty back inside, as if she had planned that entirely. A playful twirl, people do that all the time, right? Patrick will still probably hear of it.
The journey back to her apartment is off-putting, mostly since the sun is still up, and she has likely convinced at least three passersby of her impending psychotic break. The experience is so harrowing and exhausting she immediately faceplants into bed. No, that’s a lie. She does in fact take the time and effort to change into pajamas and brush her teeth clean. Then she closes the blinds, because Lost Island of Atlantis, the sun is still up. Then she faceplants into bed.
She doesn’t think about the paperwork, and by proxy the letter, until a full sixteen hours later. Fifteen of those were spent unconscious. She will never tell this to Patrick, but he may still find out anyway.
After polishing off the scant amount of food in her apartment, she sits on her mostly unused couch in a daze of confused ennui. She has no idea what to do now. She’s debating with herself on whether she should do all of the paperwork now, leaving her with a gaping hole of unproductivity to look forward to, or to save it for the end as a sort of constructive reward for making it through, or even to create a daily ration of work, though there’s a part of her cringing at the inefficiency of only doing two and a third pages per day. This is sad. That her life has been reduced to this is pathetic.
She’s about to call Patrick and complain, because at least that’s something to do, when she spots the letter. And then stares. It is weirding her out. The addresses are handwritten for one, badly so and to such an extent that they’re nearly unreadable. She just barely knows it’s intended for her, and only because her name is unique enough that legible or not she will always be able to recognize it. How the post office was able to deliver it to her, she has no idea. Also, why would Patrick even let this through? There’s no way this is for business, and anyone she knows beyond that would never send her a letter. It’s the age of email and text messages and social networking, who is sending her a letter? Not even her mother, quirky and elderly woman that she is, sends anything through the post.
The return address does, if she’s reading this correctly, come from California. Which doesn’t narrow it down much. Given she was born, grew up, and went to school–kindergarten to master’s–in California, this could mean anyone she’s met in the first twenty five years of her life. Also, most of her family lives in California. And her family is huge; on her maternal grandfather’s side alone she has so many relatives that they keep track of each other through numbers–she’s 110103 and proud of it.
She opens it. Because there’s only so much apprehension one can have about an envelope before finally biting the bullet and opening it. There is a single page; the writing is the same though more carefully penned, she doesn’t want to gouge her eyes out. She skims it first, then stops halfway through, goes back to the beginning and reads slowly, focused. When she gets to the end, she reads it again. She tries to read it one more time and gives up. She grabs her phone, wallet, shoes, and coat, then walks to the grocery store down the block. Yes, still in her pajamas.
She waits until she’s inside the store before she calls Patrick, because that way she’ll be forced to keep her voice at a reasonable level or otherwise suffer the awkward and annoying glares of employees and other customers. She grabs a cart still, since she does actually need to get food, and goes to the very last aisle. She intends to work her way backward, until either her cart is full or she gets to the first aisle; she intends to keep her rant at Patrick civil.
It just gets to the second ring when he picks up. “I thought you would at least get to tomorrow before you called,” she knows he means for it to be teasing, but right now all she can hear is condescension.
She doesn’t angrily hiss ‘how could you’ because that is stupidly cliche and also wouldn’t make much sense within this context. “You couldn’t have warned me?”
But he’s always been very good about understanding her without context, anyway. “I would never open a letter from your long lost nephew without asking you first, that’s an invasion of privacy.”
“Don’t give me that. You’re practically paid to invade my privacy,” She’s already at the cereal aisle. She wants to get Lucky Charms, but her doctor’s been on her about hereditary diabetes and proper nutrition and all sorts of nonsense she doesn’t really understand but feels obligated to obey anyway.
“You should get Special K, instead. The strawberries ought to make it up to you,” She has no idea how he does it, but it figures he’d be in cahoots with her doctor and her grocers. Or they’re in cahoots with him. How do cahoots work? “I booked you a flight home, it’s on Monday. Helena misses you.”
Her mother too? “Don’t bring my mother into this, we have weekly phone calls. Stop trying to guilt me into going. It won’t work.” It will totally work. She cracks easily, like overly bleached eggs at the bottom of the stack, placed carelessly into the cooler by a bleary eyed teenager. On the topic of eggs, she grabs a carton of twelve; it’s one of the few things she can actually cook. “Anyway, you know how much I hate going home.”
She loves her family. That’s probably a bad way to start, because leading with that just begs for it to be contradicted and that shouldn’t have to be stated but she will anyway. She loves her family. She just hates being at home. It’s why she’s moved to the entire other side of the country, on the coast of an entirely different ocean, three entire time zones away. She talks to Mama at least once a week, and not just a perfunctory ten minute minimum, but full hours of updates and emotions and inside jokes. It’s much easier with her sisters, they have an email group and spam each other’s profile pages daily with pictures and random comments.
Well. Not all of her sisters. Not the one who has apparently given birth within the past seventeen years since they’ve lost contact. It’s part of the reason why she doesn’t go home that often, though she has to admit that she never really liked it even before then. It used to be the four of them; the few times they weren’t a united group, they had the tendency to split into pairs in a variety of combinations. The gaping hole in their quartet is less obvious if she stays away.
“Grunting, excellent. Your eloquence is impressive as always,” There was once a time when her PA was not so snarky, did not know her enough to manipulate herself and the world for her benefit. She doesn’t remember that time. She wouldn’t choose to go back, his concern is as comforting as it is irritating.
“I’ll only have tomorrow to pack,” The well lit rows of fruity yogurt cups are tempting; but she probably shouldn’t buy any dairy products right now, since she’s apparently agreed to go home for vacation.
“I’ve also booked you another flight for Friday.” In that case, the yogurt will still be good when she gets back, “It’s to Belleview. Well, the nearest airport, it’s not large enough to have it’s own.”
Belleview? What’s Belleview? Why–oh.
“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” He sounds understanding and sincere, which means that he will be horribly disappointed in her if she doesn’t. She ends up with salads for lunch when Patrick’s disappointed. They don’t even have chicken in them.
She sighs. She cracks so, so easily, “They better be window seats,” She puts the yogurt back.
“Of course,” He responds immediately, as if he actually were a subservient PA, but she can hear the laughter in his voice, pleased as punch.
The items in her cart aren’t so quickly perishable. They’ll keep until she gets back, and there’s no need for this shopping trip to go to waste. She heads to the check out line, “I’ll probably end up calling you again at some point during this… vacation.”
The reply is a quick and noncomittal, “I’ll see you in August,” and Patrick hangs up. She stares at her phone in betrayal.
Sean, her usual cashier, absently says, “He worries about your health. You need to relax. And eat healthier, of course.” She stares at him in betrayal, too, as he sets aside her chocolate bars without scanning them in. Cahoots!
She’s not a nervous flier. She’s been hopping on and off airplanes since before she was a teenager and her parents separated and her father moved to Canada while still demanding her presence during summer breaks. Flights are not bad at all. Her voice is high enough and her face round enough that flight attendants still sometimes assume she’s a minor; they ask if this is her first flight alone, which is annoying, but they give her extra snacks so it all balances out. The point is: she’s not a nervous flier but she just happens to be nervous while she’s on a plane. The well-meaning, but misinformed flight attendants are looking at her worriedly. Her fellow passengers are obviously annoyed, which in turn makes the flight attendants annoyed at them. She makes an excellent helpless puppy face.
A nephew. Abominable Snowman, an actual nephew. Not just the son of a distant cousin. But a son of one of her sisters. Paul Bunyan’s Blue Ox, that’s weird.
She has nieces. Her eldest sister Daphne has two daughters, Tiffany and Audrey. When she flew home during her first week of vacation, they had also been visiting her mother. It helped fill what she had feared would be tense secret keeping–because she sure as pecan pie wasn’t going to spring a long-lost grandson on Mama. The girls are both bright and noisy. It works since they’re still in their cute years. She shudders to think what they’ll be like as teenagers. She speaks from experience; all of her sisters were unabashed extroverts and there was always drama happening. Always. Well, until her most dramatic sister pulled the most dramatic act in their shared history; running away and burning bridges willy nilly.
To be honest, she’s not all that clear on the details; she had been studying abroad that year. It was as if to her everything was normal, then she went to school, came back, and suddenly only had two sisters instead of three–everyone obsessively avoiding the topic of her missing sister. She’s only ever heard bits and pieces of the tale, from her mother and sisters when they’re tired or drunk or forgetful, and even then she thinks she only has one side. She had thought the other side would forever be lost to her.
She wonders if her mysterious nephew knows the other side of the story. What this version must contain for him to put effort into finding her. Or perhaps finding her was never an issue–perhaps her sister had always kept him informed of his family. Their family. She should be wondering why now. Why has he contacted her now?
The plane lands in Cadmium City. It’s not a big city, but it’s decent-sized and she appreciates the design–the roads are neatly arranged and the buildings uphold a sense of efficient yet tasteful aesthetics. The airport is similarly well organized and it takes her no time at all to find the loading bay for taxis. It takes her much longer to find a taxi driver willing to bring her to Belleview, but she does eventually. Mostly because Emma, the driver of the hilariously lime-green taxi (why didn’t she choose this one first?), lives in Belleview and is going home for the day.
“We don’t get many visitors. The town is self-sufficient. Me having a job as a cab driver in Cadmium is practically rebellion; even then I would never move there, Belleview is home. It’s not terribly exciting, but home shouldn’t really be. Why are you going there anyway? It’s not much of a vacation spot, but then again, I can’t really imagine anyone going there for business purposes,” Emma is friendly and talkative, sincere in a way that makes her want to reciprocate.
“Family…” Is it union since the ’re’ part of ‘reunion’ is invalid?
“I know how you feel–family, not exactly business but definitely more effort than leisure. Do you know where you’re staying for the night?”
“I… huh,” She must be really jet-lagged, “Did I not specify where I was going beyond Belleview?”
“No, but it’s a long enough drive that I figure you’d have enough time to say. Are you not staying with your family?”
“No?” Emma prompts, because that’s how conversation works.
She can’t expect a total stranger to understand her tone, the nuances that say she hasn’t seen her sister in seventeen years, that she doesn’t know what kind of welcome she’ll get, that she wasn’t even really invited, that her PA took a vague ‘hope to meet you’ from her surprise long-lost nephew as an excuse to book her a plane ticket to some tiny town apparently in the middle of nowhere.
“I haven’t seen my sister in a long time, this is sort of a surprise visit. I wouldn’t want to impose.” Close enough.
“Maybe I know your family; the town isn’t that large.”
“They’re the Szymanski family?” The name fits oddly in her mouth, she’s unsure how to pronounce it. She’s trying out the softer ‘sh’ sound, like her pre-journey research says, but perhaps she’s still mangling it.
“Your sister’s a Szymanski?” Emma pronounces the z, sharper and further from the original Polish, “I only know of one Szymanski family, but it’s just… well, maybe it’s a different one.”
It doesn’t seem like it’d be that common a name, but maybe Belleview has a lot of Polish descendants. Regardless, she has a somewhat more pressing matter to attend to, “Can you recommend a hotel in Belleview?”
Emma bursts out in laughter, through the rearview mirror she can see it’s with crinkled eyes squinting almost closed. It’s not mean. “Sorry,” she apologizes anyway, “it’s just that, if I hadn’t decided to be a cab driver in Cadmium, I’d have gone into the family business.”
She waits for the punch line.
“We own the only inn in Belleview.”
She waits until the next day before navigating her way to the Szymanski household; she’s fairly good with maps but she couldn’t have done that without getting lost before a good, solid rest. Her sleep hadn’t been quite as lengthy as her first day of vacation, but long enough to worry Emma’s kindly mother. The bonus home-cooked brunch was delicious, but she could have done without the matronly patronizing… matronizing?
The return address on the envelope leads her to a cul-de-sac near the edge of the woods–because apparently Belleview is surrounded by forests and hills and her life is steadily becoming more like a fairy tale or soap opera each day. Regardless, the houses along the road are charming two-story structures, identical in their layout, no doubt, but each having individual personalities through unique paint jobs and competitively distinct gardens. One, with a utilitarian grass-and-tree only front yard, has the most disastrous looking car she has ever seen parked in the driveway. It’s an old SUV, colored an unfortunate brownish yellow, with more dents and scratches than a vehicle not in a warzone should have.
Yup, matching the number of the house with the number on the envelope, that’s the house. Figures, she thinks to herself as she heads towards the door and thus the SUV, her sister’s taste and relationship with cars had always been awful. There are windchimes on either side of the porch steps, intricately carved wood ornaments hanging alongside metal bells; she has a similar one in her apartment, reminiscent of the ones they grew up with as children. Besides that, she doesn’t really sense anything else that reminds her of Iris. But seventeen years can change a person.
She rings the doorbell and waits. She doesn’t give herself time to hesitate or backtrack. What happens next is out of her hands.
And really confusing.
The door is opened by a teenager holding a hockey stick who immediately drops a length of rope between them, “I don’t know how you did it, but you definitely can’t get past this. Also, what is your plan, even? Coming alone in the middle of the day. Sure it’s just me right now, but it’s not like the others aren’t capable of getting here in an instant. Is this some kind of psychological power play happening? Go after the weakest link? Trying to offer me something so I’ll betray my friends? Yeah, well, not gonna happen, so you can just turn around right now and go. I may not be a canine, but I am loyal.”
“That’s… good? Loyalty is good.” Seriously, what does she say to this? “Sorry, I was looking for the Szymanski residence; is this not the right address?” She holds out the envelope, it’s creased where she’s kept it folded in her pocket and it wasn’t exactly pristine when she first got it, but the address is still visible.
He doesn’t take it from her, but he seems to recognize it. “No, that’s here. That’s me, us, I mean, the Szymanskis. Are you…” He alternates between looking at the envelope in her hand and her face, getting less angry and skeptical, more floundering and confused.
Ok, they’re on the same emotional page at least, “I’m R Chacone. Well, Arke Rayniero Michalis Chacone– my full name is terrible, I have no idea why my parents named me that. So I usually just go by R…” She clarifies, “I’m your aunt?”
Good, progress is–
He shuts the door, then opens it again slightly, the rope snaking along the ground as he drags it inside with his foot, then shuts it again.
Never mind then.
She’s not really sure what to do now. Why didn’t she just call ahead? Or write a letter back instead of springing up all uninvited and awkward. Family interaction is difficult. Even more so when you don’t have a routine to fall back on.
Poking one of the windchimes, she sets off a tiny chorus of bells. Should she ask to see Iris? But the letter was from him and she’s pretty sure curious nephew would react better than estranged sister, so extrapolating from his reaction… Maybe leave a message?
The other windchime has darker stained wood and more rectangular bells, overall a deeper sound. This was a terrible idea. She should just leave. She tried, her efforts fell flat, it’s not on her anymore.
The door opens for a third time.
They’re seated across the kitchen table, set with a glass for each of them, water for her, milk for him. She lets her eyes wander around, categorizing what is, isn’t, and could be hints of her sister. The wallpaper could have been from previous owners, but the whale shaped cookie jar is obvious. She’s not sure if the bone structure of his face is different from teenaged Iris because he’s male or because he takes after his father, but his ears have that slight Chacone tapering that she sees in the mirror and in family photos.
It’s been six minutes. He is pointedly staring at his own hands, as if mesmerized by the tiny landscape of knuckles and veins. She can’t tell which is more nerve-wracking, the hum of the refrigerator or the arrhythmic pattern of their breathing.
“Sorry, this is–” Frustrating, awkward, disastrous. Her fingers can’t stop tapping against the glass, “I should have–” Written instead? Called ahead? Never come? She makes to stand, but her legs are too far under the table; the back of her knee jostles the chair, the grating sound of wood against wood.
“Why are you even here?” He’s scrubbing his hands across his face, eyes squeezed shut. He has constellations of moles and freckles across his skin, just like his mother and his grandmother, entire galaxies it seems.
“You wrote to me.”
“And that’s it? It’s as simple as that?”
And she had vacation time coming up. And she needed something to do. And her PA booked her flight for her. And she’s curious. And…
“You’re family.” Family is important. Family may be frustrating and awkward and disastrous, but it’s important.
His groan is muffled, head bowed into his hands.
They don’t know each other well enough that she can reach out and touch him, drag his hands out of the way so that he’d look at her. She… apple pie à la mode, she doesn’t even know what his real name is, just that he prefers to be called Zim, “We may not have the same name, and I know I’ve missed out on basically your entire life because I didn’t even know you existed until last week, but you found me. You found me and reached out to me and you’re family. So I’m here. Because you wrote to me.” She repeats, “And you’re family.”
The refrigerator buzz is back. It’s practically disdainful. Judgemental.
She drinks her water. There are copper molds in the shape of fish hanging on the wall above the sink. Mama has roosters and suns, Daphne has grapes. Zoe’s home address is technically Mama’s, but only because her job requires her to travel so much that having her own place is impractical; perhaps the suns are actually Zoe’s. There is nothing in her own apartment besides what is necessary; she’s pretty sure all of her walls are white.
He looks up at her with a huff, it could have been a chuckle if it were not so forced, “We do share names, you know.”
“I go by Zim for the same reason you go by R,” They share a timidly commiserating smile; she knows where this is going and there’s a blooming warmth in her chest at this tiny bond. “I always wondered why Mom would give me a name so easy to make fun of. I also wondered why Dad agreed because, you know, aren’t second opinions supposed to prevent bad ideas? But I guess she named me after you. Well, not completely, my first name isn’t Arke but we have the same second name, and third name, too. Why do you have a guy’s name–Rayniero, that’s not a normal girl’s name. Not that it’s a normal name to begin with, but it doesn’t fit gender norms. I mean, not that I’m saying you have to, conformity is evil and all that; but mostly I’m just wondering what your parents, er, my grandparents were thinking? Because that decision seriously trickled down. Consequences, they exist.”
Her grin is shaky now, because she’s trying not to laugh–not at his rambling, because it’s nervous and heartfelt and it doesn’t remind her at all of Iris or herself or anyone else; it seems uniquely Zim, and she’s glad that he’s not just an amalgamation of familiar traits. She’s relieved and she feels lighter than when she woke up this morning, than when she was on the plane, than when she read that letter. She’s so happy and she wants to laugh because it’s either that or hug him and that’s not an option either. They’re not at that level yet, but they could be. They’re both willing to work at it, and that’s fantastic.