ANDROCLES, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER
Androcles knew full well that patience was a highly prized virtue, but this was just ridiculous. Ophelia had been in the large walk-in blood fridge for what seemed like a thousand years, and he was hungry.
“Ophelia,” he called irritably. “Just because we are immortal doesn’t mean that we enjoy waiting all day for our meals!”
“Ah, yes, never come between a Hellenic and their food…Greece and gluttony always have gone hand in hand.”
“You’re only bitter because your people never learned how to cook anything.” Normally, he and Ophelia were relatively on the same page, but ever since that terrible incident at the school a couple of days ago, she had been absolutely insufferable to live with. The children had been bickering and Androcles had simply pointed out to Ophelia that if she had only spent more time helping Skylar adjust to being a new vampire and less time on her new, silly feminist hobby, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened.
Somehow the fact that Raymond wasn’t totally innocent in the situation seemed to have contributed to Ophelia’s rather overdramatic reaction. And perhaps also the fact that she seemed to get overly sensitive when it came to anyone calling feminism a hobby…
Unfortunately, things seemed to have escalated rather quickly from there.
And now, here he was, starving to death because being in the same room as one another was simply not an option worth considering.
There was a sudden, violent crash upstairs, followed by the sound of Raymond howling, “Stop throwing the damn furniture!”
“Bite me!” Skylar yelled back, and then a door slammed.
Parker walked in right about then and shook his head, glancing back towards the hallway. “Man, it’s total chaos out there. Glad it has nothing to do with me… But poor Juan hasn’t come out of his room since yesterday morning.”
And, as Androcles recalled, Juan had only come out to eat…and he had taken several day’s worth of blood with him when he retreated back to the safety of his room. Androcles shuddered to think about the state of the blood by now, since Juan did not have any means of refrigerating it in his room.
He was just about to impart Parker with some reassuring wisdom when Ophelia came strutting out of the walk-in fridge, blood still smudged next to her mouth.
“Oh, thank the gods,” Androcles muttered, “never leave a Brit alone for too long,” he said to Parker, “otherwise they might start trying to invade someone…”
Ophelia pretended to laugh. “Isn’t he just excruciatingly hilarious?” she asked Parker. “He seems to have forgotten that at least my people never waited in some ridiculous, wooden horse to invade anyone.”
“Oh yeah, that scene was totally awesome in the movie!” Parker exclaimed, looking from one to the other. “Am I right?”
There were many things that Androcles wanted to say at that moment. “That particular event was never actually confirmed, Ophelia.”
“Ah, well, you never know the truth with you Greeks…all your history is told in tall tales.”
“Better than forgetting our history entirely!”
Parker was glancing back and forth, looking slightly confused. Then he broke out into a grin. “Oh yeah, but at least the UK gave us One Direction!”
Androcles’ thought process was totally derailed. He and Ophelia both stared blankly at the boy, trying to make sense of whatever he had just said.
“Do you see?” he snapped at Ophelia, “do you see what your strongarming has done to the world?”
“He just means that we’re determined!”
“Um, yeah, determined to pick up on all the insecure hot chicks,” Parker answered enthusiastically. “They’re, like, my heroes!”
Ophelia smiled triumphantly, though she did look a little perplexed. “Heroes, Androcles. Heroes.”
Androcles could feel his patience fading away and was just about to point out the fact that it was the Greeks who brought the entire concept of heroes to the world, when there was suddenly a loud thumping noise coming from down the hall.
“Hey!” Parker exclaimed. “I didn’t know we were having company! I hope it’s a hot chick…” He glanced at his reflection in the stainless steel toaster and messed with his hair.
Androcles and Ophelia exchanged a glance. “Odd. I do not believe we were expecting anyone,” Androcles said uncertainly. Ophelia frowned and shook her head, looking just as confused as he felt.
They made their way to the door, Androcles and Ophelia fighting for the lead and Parker trailing behind.
Slowly, Androcles pulled the door open, and there stood Principal Bardsley. She was glancing around at the dilapidated exterior of the manor, looking somewhat apprehensive. As soon as she caught sight of them, she cleared her throat, smoothed down her long skirt, and flashed them a smile.
“Oh hello there! I do hope I’m not intruding.”
“No, not at all!” Androcles responded quickly as soon as he saw Ophelia opening her mouth, “do, come in! how can we help you?” he felt how rigid his own smile was, but this was not a woman it would pay to be rude to.
Principal Bardsley gave one last glance around and then nodded. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
She followed them inside and they all filed down the hall and into a large sitting room filled with mismatched old furniture that seemed to have been placed randomly throughout the space. She settled into a faded, yellow armchair and looked around. “So…how long has your organization been centered here?”
Again Androcles exchanged a quick look with Ophelia, and then he smiled at Principal Bardsley. “Oh, you know how these things are. Time doesn’t really matter when you are doing something so meaningful. It just seems to fly by, doesn’t it?”
Principal Bardsley blinked at him for a moment. “Right, of course…”
There was a long silence after that, where she did not seem to know what to say and Androcles and Ophelia did not know how to respond to her presence in their house. Parker just sat in the corner, grinning and enjoying the awkwardness.
“Well,” Principal Bardsley said after a time, “this is such a…well your home has a lot of character.”
Androcles beamed, “Why, thank you! Character is truly the greatest achievement for any of us in this life.”
Ophelia sighed dramatically. “Right, yes, apparently character and having an oversized ego…”
Principal Bardsley’s smile wavered as she looked from one to the other uncertainly.
Androcles tensed and tried to shoot Ophelia a look of warning without being too obvious to their unexpected guest. Then he forced out a laugh, “If you haven’t noticed, Ophelia can be quite apt at comedy. You should really hear one of her charming anecdotes one of these days.”
Ophelia opened her mouth to speak, but he continued quickly, “But we really shouldn’t take up so much of your time. How can we help you today?”
“Well, I was just coming to check in on Raymond and make sure he was doing okay. Not that I have any doubts, you see, but this is simply protocol. Have you been able to get him to a doctor?”
Androcles had to think quickly, and he was sure to keep the smile fixed on his face. “Oh, well, yes, of course. At least we attempted to take him. Unfortunately the doctor was unable to see him.”
Principal Bardsley was silent a moment. “I see. And… you didn’t try to take him to see anyone else?”
“Of course we did,” Androcles said quickly, trying his best to smile even more assuringly, “however, they were unavailable as well.”
The principal blinked in confusion. “All of the doctors were unavailable?”
Ophelia waved a hand dismissively. “Is it really any wonder with all of these children running around, constantly getting into mischief? Honestly, it’s a miracle any of them are still alive at all! And, what with Raymond being perfectly healthy, I don’t think anyone was taking us very seriously in the matter. Perhaps you should go have a talk with all of these so called professionals around here…”
“I understand,” Principal Bardsley said rather hurriedly, “it is not always easy to get in to someone on such short notice. This is a small community, after all. However, you must understand our concern for him, as well as the other children in your care. They have been through a lot, after all.”
“Certainly!” Androcles exclaimed. “But as you can see, all is well here, and they are doing just fine.”
Principal Bardsley looked somewhat uncomfortable. “I’m sure you’re right…however, it would really be best if I had official documentation for their files…”
This was not going quite as well as Androcles had hoped; fortunately, at that moment a wonderful idea came to him. “Dinner!” he boomed, grinning.
“Why don’t you join us for dinner? Tomorrow evening! You and all of the parents…and the sheriff, of course, and then everyone’s mind can be put at ease.”
Principal Bardsley blinked a few times, then smiled, “What a wonderful idea! I do think that would be the best course for you to take at this point.”
Ophelia clearly could not decide whether she should give a rigid but diplomatic smile or glare Androcles into the ground.
“Say six o’clock?” he continued.
“Perfect,” Principal Bardsley beamed, “I shall look forward to it.”
With that decided, they all ushered her quickly out the door, and Androcles couldn’t help but feel proud of himself for figuring out a way to show her just how well-adjusted the teenagers were.
There was only the sound of awkward silence filling the dining room as Androcles and fourteen others sat around the giant table. You would think that, if there were fifteen people together in a room, somebody would have something to say to somebody else. But that did not appear to be the case. Skylar was glaring off into the distance, while Raymond kept throwing anxious glances at her father, Michael, who was a very prominent member of the Kill Devil Hills police force. Parker seemed to have made sure that he and his parents were at the far end of the table, well away from the other two. Principal Bardsley and Sheriff McCoy were glancing nervously at each other from across the table. Renata was beaming over the whole gathering as if it was the most prominent of banquets. Ophelia was…just straight and rigid. Even her smile was rigid.
Androcles preferred to not even think about whatever Juan was doing at his little corner of the table. It seemed to involve a lot of whimpering and muttering in Spanish, though, and he was fairly certain the words “food poisoning” had been repeated a couple of times. Androcles just hoped he wasn’t under the table yet. There had already been a minor melt down earlier when Ophelia hadn’t sat by him, and he had thrown a fit until she moved beside him.
The ding of the oven timer went off and Androcles could practically feel everyone’s relief. “Oh good!” Renata cried, jumping up and looking around with enthusiasm. “Dinner’s ready! I do hope everyone likes it. I found some wonderful recipes just this morning and I was just dying to try them. And wouldn’t you know, it is just so simple to get all of the ingredients from one place! Well, anyway, I do hope–”
“Yes, we heard. And I’m sure everyone hopes that it is edible as well,” Ophelia broke in, looking completely bored.
“Yes, yes, of course!” and Renata practically ran to the kitchen.
“So,” Harmony Moore spoke up from the other end of the table, and Parker visibly tensed and glanced wildly over in the direction of Skylar and Raymond. “What does everyone do?”
Skylar rolled her eyes. “Well, obviously my dad is a deputy, and my mom is a professional gossiper and bridge player. She also makes a mean Bloody Mary.”
“Oh,” Harmony said quickly, “well, we all have our strengths!”
“I’m a tax accountant and my wife works as a teller at the bank,” Raymond’s dad spoke up quickly as Skylar’s mom whispered furiously into her ear.
“How nice,” Harmony cooed. And then the silence reigned yet again.
“And what do you and your husband do?” Raymond’s mother asked politely.
Parker suddenly looked incredibly agitated. “Oh! Well my mom is a nurse…which is totally normal, you know. A good job! And my dad is the DA’s assistant, which is totally awesome and normal too,” he said quickly.
“Oh, thank you my little Gingerbear!” Harmony cried, tossing his hair. “Always so sweet. But he forgot to mention how proud we are of Forrest…he is the most talented one in our Friday night drum circle!”
“Yes,” Parker growled through gritted teeth, “so proud.”
Both Raymond and Skylar were snickering now, and Androcles was fairly certain Skylar mouthed “Gingerbear” to Parker when his mother wasn’t looking.
“Speaking of proud,” Parker said loudly, glaring at them both, “The Holloway’s should be really proud of how good their daughter is at dodgeball. I mean, I’m pretty sure Raymond would agree…”
Androcles was beginning to think that perhaps this might not have been the best way to prove to Principal Bardsley that the children were adjusting well, and he jumped in quickly. “Yes, yes, we are proud of all of our achievements here at Revamp Manor. Which, Miss Bardsley, I’m sure you can imagine is doing wonders for their confidence.”
Principal Bardsley gave him a wavering smile before glancing over at Parker, who was grinning smugly at the other two. “Yes, I… can see they are not lacking in confidence…”
Renata came back in and began flitting around the table, piling food onto everyone’s plates. “Well if anyone can help them turn their lives around, it’s our Andy,” she trilled, beaming over at Androcles.
Androcles clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to snap at her. “Thank you, Renata,” he managed, his teeth still clenched.
“So, Andy, what made you want to set up this institution in the first place?” Sheriff McCoy asked, speaking up for the first time.
Androcles took another moment to remain calm. “It’s Androcles, if you don’t mind,” he said as politely as he could manage, “but, yes that is a wonderful question!”
“With a wonderfully long and tedious answer…” Ophelia muttered.
Renata glared at her viciously.
“I do not know if you are familiar with my military background,” Androcles began–ignoring the loud groan from Raymond–“but it was very influential in my decision. Most of my youth was spent in the ranks of Greece’s most glorious and respectable infantry. It taught me all that I needed to know of life, save that which I learned through the philosophy of the great masters. And when my injury tragically ended those golden years for me, I soon realized that I had no choice but to take that which I had learned and pass it on.”
Raymond rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, the infamous ‘injury’. You never have told us what happened…”
All eyes bounced between Raymond and Androcles.
Just then, there was a frantic banging sound coming from somewhere out in the hall. It almost sounded like it was someone knocking on the front door.
“Were we expecting someone else?” Renata asked.
“Juan,” Ophelia said, “do be a dear and go see who that is.”
Juan’s eyes went wide and he looked pleadingly at her. “But…what if…but…it could be…”
“Juan,” Androcles said calmly, yet somewhat forcefully. They probably couldn’t afford for Juan to have one of his nervous breakdowns at the dinner table this evening. “Everything will be fine.”
They were all about to find out, however, that everything was not going to be fine. A few moments passed and suddenly there was the shrill sound of a whistle coming from down the hall. This was followed by loud, rapid footsteps, and Juan came bursting back into the dining room, still clutching his bright orange whistle for dear life. He paused long enough to rattle some unintelligible Spanish to Androcles while pointing down the hall behind him, and then he bolted out of the room. Blowing his whistle the whole way out.
“He…” Raymond spoke up, much to Androcles’ relief, “has some PTSD issues…”
Everyone slowly nodded, though there were still many baffled expressions around the table.
“What a lovely dinner party,” said a voice from the direction of the hallway, and everyone turned to see Nurse Babcock standing there. “My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail…”
A look of horror flickered across Principal Bardsley’s face, but she immediately replaced it with a tight smile and stood up. “Tabitha! This is…a surprise.”
Tabitha Babcock’s face was unreadable. “Is it? Well, imagine my surprise when your assistant told me you were coming here and meeting with all of these wonderful people. And I, being the dedicated professional that I am, was very concerned for Raymond’s health and thought it a good opportunity to check in on him myself.”
“Yes!” Principal Bardsley burst out a little too quickly, “Professionalism! It is, indeed, a very important part of our jobs!”
Nurse Babcock smiled sweetly and took a seat in Juan’s empty chair. “Of course it is.” Then she started eating the food that Juan hadn’t yet touched. “Simply delicious.”
Androcles watched nervously as she ate a few more bites, worried she was going to mention the incident with Raymond.
But she didn’t. In fact, for the whole rest of the night, she didn’t say much of anything. She stared at each person at the table in turn, occasionally smiling to herself in a “just as I suspected” sort of way. And if that didn’t make Androcles nervous enough, every once in awhile she would scribble something down on a tiny notepad she had pulled out of her purse.
When Principal Bardsley finally hurried the woman out, the whole house gave a sigh of relief.
There was some scattered small talk and then a lot of polite thank-yous and comments on what a nice evening it had been. Overall, Androcles couldn’t help but feel that it had been a success. Not in the obvious sort of way, but a success nonetheless.
Perhaps the damage control had worked and there would be no more issues with the teenagers. Perhaps they could now integrate smoothly into society like they had always wanted.
Or, perhaps the nurse was not going to leave them in peace and they had just gained a new enemy.