Tyler set the form on the stack next to him and grabbed for his glass. He glowered at discovering it being empty and glanced around the room for his sister, more commonly known as ‘bartender’, ‘co-owner’, ‘operator’, and, every once and a while, as ‘Trina’, but she was in the back somewhere and the waitress of the week was dealing with one of the more flirtatious customers and apparently enjoyed that kind of thing.
He glanced at the glass then towards the door leading to the back, sighed and leaned over the bar to violate a couple health codes. It wasn’t as easy as it should’ve been, it was like they designed the bar to prevent guests from refilling their own drinks. After flailing for a few moments, he gave up and walked around. What was a few more health code violations? He poured himself another Coke while keeping an eye on the waitress’s new friend.
The door opened and a man staggered in. He took two steps inside before checking himself. He slowly turned full circle in place, appraising the building, before hesitantly shuffling over to the bar.
“What’s today?” he asked, leaning heavily against the counter, or at least Tyler was pretty sure that’s what he said. He had a thick accent, British maybe? One of the distant parts where even other Britons couldn’t understand what they were saying. Maybe it was Welsh. Since Tyler had never left Los Angeles in his life, and had yet to discover a reason to leave, the extent of his foreign awareness was confined to BBC America.In other words, he knew he didn’t want to live in the Middle East right now, but that was a given.
He pulled out his phone and rambled off, “July 28, 2028.”
The man nodded, “So, I haven’t been here in at least four years and you still haven’t redecorated.” This time his voice was clearer, like he knew he had been saying the words incorrectly and was trying to be more articulate. Still, ‘you’ came out sounding a bit like ‘ye’. Maybe he’d spent too much time at a Renfaire.
“What can I say, Josh is lazy.” Tyler replied, trying to remember this person who looked remarkably familiar. And the way the stranger looked him over it was clear he at least remembered Tyler. The funny accent should have been a dead give away, but he hadn’t had as much contact with Josh’s clients back then, and if the guy was just a regular at the bar there was no chance he’d have noticed him.
The man smiled, Tyler suspected he was aware of his inability to place him, “Mind if I borrow your phone? I need to call for a ride.”
“Sure,” Tyler said handing it over, “I really can’t place you. What’s your name?”
“Robin Reinhardt,” he replied absently, though he failed his innocent act, smirking slightly at Tyler’s stunned silence.
Rob had disappeared about three and a half years ago, with no sign of him anywhere. He’d been a friend, as much as a thirteen/fourteen year old can be a friend to a twenty something, and Josh, being a private investigator as well as a family friend, had been one of several hired to look far and wide for him with few results. Eventually they’d decided he was dead since Rob wasn’t the type to run away, or more specifcially, hide from the limelight.
It did explain why he hadn’t recognized him: Rob had been fourteen when he vanished.
But it was him, now that Tyler had a name to place with the face. He was an adult now, almost, eighteen, nineteen, but it was definitely him.
Trina walked back from the kitchen, jerked Tyler out from behind the bar. He didn’t resist as she shoved him back towards his stool, “Dammit, Ty, what’d I tell you about coming behind the bar?”
Rob frowned at the phone, handing it back, “They disconnected the number. Why would they do that?”
Tyler pointed at Rob, “Do you realize who that is?”
Trina looked him over, walking around the bar,”One of those hipster lead singers Josh likes? He almost looks like that guy from TV last night, but he’s too young.”
Rob smiled as he slowly shook his head, “Technically, I am a television star, though it would have to be a rerun. And you’d have to count reality television.”
She gasped, “Rob!? Where have you been?”
“You know, places,” he responded as she wrapped her arms around him, “Don’t suppose you have Eric’s phone number, do you?”
Tyler pulled up next to ‘Rob’s House’ and glanced over at Rob, “I know you were being sarcastic before, but who the hell changes their phone number that often?”
After Trina had calmed down, and more importantly, to her at least, fed Rob, Tyler got what were alleged to be current numbers for Rob’s family from his employer’s office. When none of those got them anywhere, they called Josh who tried undoubtedly the same exact numbers himself, only to discover he didn’t have any direct numbers for the Reinhardts any longer. Most of the numbers simply redirected to a law office somewhere in Los Angeles. The secretary was the opposite of helpful.
“Maybe he was receiving too many collect calls from the other side.” Rob joked, through his exhaustion was rapidly showing. While Trina had fed him, he’d let it slip out of he hadn’t eaten in a few days and he couldn’t remember the last time he slept. It was dangerous to survive off your own sorcery, even if they were now training soldiers to that do these days, but Rob refused to go to a hospital or a police station until he saw his brother. Tyler finally decided to just drive him out to the house, as they joked they’d probably moved too.
“Are you going to be okay going in there?” Tyler asked as Rob gingerly let himself out of the car.
“I should be fine.” he said appraising the house the same way he had the bar.
“You’ll call if you need anything, right?”
Rob glanced back, “Who are you? My mother?”
Tyler grinned, “Hey, I just want you to know you have friends ready to help.”
“I know. Thanks for the ride.” Rob replied, hitting his chest in what might have been a gang sign.
After a hesitation, Tyler drove off, leaving Rob to ponder his house. It looked about the same as he remembered it. New paint. Fresh flowers. He walked up to the gate and hit the keypad. The numbers were random, they didn’t actually matter.
A female voice, high quality, but clearly computerized, spoke, “Authorization required. Code: HG.”
Rob paused for a moment, “HG? Uh, oh. May the odds be ever in your favor.” he sighed, “and may your parents be the biggest dorks in the state.”
The pad beeped, “Authorization: Robin Reinhardt. Secondary authorization required.”
He wavered. The secondary authorization was due to his absence, activated whenever he wasn’t expected to be home. He cleared his throat and replied, “There are no endings, just new beginnings.”
The gates silently swung open, “Welcome home, Robin.”
He walked up to the house, blinking away tears. “Thank you, Mom.”
The front yard had nothing impressive in the terms of landscaping, though he’d never been allowed to play on it. Pissed him off, because it was massive, almost two acres. They’d always been worried something would happen to him, never expected him to just wander off of his own volition.
The front door was locked. Luckily, there was no key – or there was but it only granted access to one of the three locks, two of which had no visible keyhole. The other two either had to be opened from the inside or you had to know they where there to unlock. A gesture from his hand clicked all three, the door popped open, and he poked his head inside.
He felt a sudden weariness and fear as he took the first step back into his home. He stared. The walls were a slightly different shade of white and the furniture was all different.
“Hello?” he called, “Anyone home?”
“Mr. Reinhardt?” called a voice from the back, a slight tone of a Spanish accent, “I didn’t expect you back so early.”
Rob walked forward, deeper into his old house. The voice was coming from the kitchen. He turned the corner and saw an older Latino woman setting dishes in the dishwasher. She glanced up from her work and shrieked, dropped the plate and ran over.
She grabbed him and hugged him close, “Robin, Robin, Robin, where have you been!?”
“Around,” He replied, “Need to breathe. Otherwise, good to see you to Angie”
“I need to hold you more.” She said letting go, “I thought you were your brother. I was just thinking Alessa was being quiet for once.”
“Alessa and Eric are together?”
“Wasting money,” she rolled her eyes, as she patted them with a dishcloth she’d grabbed from the counter, “Apparently, I can’t make a decent lunch. You hungry? Can I get you anything?”
“I’ve already had someone demand to feed me. You’ll have to wait in line.” he said, “And, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a shower.”
“Of course,” she said, leading him down the hall, looking him over, taking in his unkempt hair, the state of his clothes, which were roughly designed to begin with, “You have any clean clothes?”
“No,” Rob answered, “I didn’t think to bring any.”
“Then, I’ll get you some clean clothes. We’ll steal some from Eric’s room. Christ knows he has plenty.”
Rob followed, noting the changes to the house. They’d barely moved in before he’d left, now the house was a home, one he was unfamiliar with. There were so many photos of his brother and stepsister, a few of his stepmother. One photo of him and Eric with their birth mother. It wasn’t hidden or small, it was given a place of honor. That would be Lisa’s work. She never wanted to replace their mother, just as she never would want to be replaced herself.
Eric’s room was different than he’d expected. It was bright and colorful while lacking personality. He’d never been much for decor, but the kid rarely left the room, which lead to the walls of their old shared bedroom being plastered with Eric’s drawings and etchings, a few of which caused a friend to suffer from nightmares.
Instead, this room looked like he’d thrown bright colorful paint over the entire room to make everyone else feel better. If Angela hadn’t been with him he’d have looked for the images on the walls he knew were there under the paint.
While he stared at the walls, she pulled out jeans and a t-shirt for him, “What color?”
“Red,” he responded automatically.
She grinned, “How could I forget.” She paused, rifling through the drawers, “Naturally, staying with tradition, Eric doesn’t own anything red.”
“Well, at least one tradition stayed alive.”
She laid out the clothes on Eric’s bed, “You know, I have to run some errands, I’ll pick you up something on the way.”
“That’s not necessary.” Rob said, picking up the clothes, “My shower still works, right?”
“Last I checked, which isn’t often. You should just use Eric’s, yours will be all dusty. I only go there every couple of months,”
“No, it’s fine.” he said, scooting out and across the hall.
His room was exactly the same as he’d left it. Only change was his bed was made, he’d bet money before they’d realized he was gone. Right now, it looked quite inviting. All he wanted to do was to lay down and go to sleep and wake up and maybe, it would be three years before. Before he tried to be a hero, before he missed out on everything. It was in the back of his mind all the things he’d missed. He’d dreaded coming back. But he didn’t have time to dwell on the past or sleep, so he did the next best thing. He took a shower.
He lingered and enjoyed the sensation of water running across his skin and reveled in hot water. He’d have waited for it to run out, but he doubted it would have. The tank was large and his weariness was continuing to fight him for domainace. How long had it been since he slept? He must have slept since he got here, somewhere along the road. He didn’t remember it.
He stepped out and dried off, and glanced in the mirror noticing the half a beard he’d grown. Automatically he pulled the draw open and found his razor. Three years and it was still sitting there right where he’d left it. He discarded the old blade and shaved, admiring the convenient waste his parents had gone through to keep his memory alive.
He finished and shivered. He didn’t recognize the man in the mirror. It’s been so long since he’d been near a mirror or even shaved properly, but even with the lack of facial hair he still had a lot of hair that would have to go. He wiped off the excess shaving cream and dressed himself. Another glance in the mirror confirmed he wasn’t himself. Okay, that made sense. Time had passed, things had happened, he wasn’t the person he once was.
He stepped back into his room and sat down on his bed. It was lower than he remembered. He woke with a start, hearing noises in the other room. He hadn’t even meant to fall asleep, but now that he thought about it, it’s been at least a week.
Stretching, Rob started out of the room, only realizing what those particular sounds implied as he stepped into the living room.
He really should have known this was going to happen.
His brother, Eric, was lying under a lovely young woman Rob recalled being his stepsister, Alessa. Her hands were under his brother’s shirt, and between she was slowly working it off him.
Rob coughed. They didn’t notice. He could help but chuckle to himself as he leaned against the wall, making sure he was in view when Eric came up for air.
Double takes are really funny when you’re mid-cotius and your first reaction is to shove your partner onto the floor, which is exactly what Eric did, reflexively throwing a blast of energy at Rob, which deflected off, hit and broke a mirror on the perpendicular wall.
Rob smiled and waved, “Hi.”
Eric lay there, staring and sputtering. It was Alessa who was able to say, “Rob!?”
“In the flesh.” he replied as Angela walked in with a few shopping bags.
“Thank heaven you caught them,” she said dropping a bag on one of the couches, “Now I don’t need to get the broom out to break them apart.”
“You could have warned me.” Rob replied, helping Alessa stand.
Angela looked at him blankly, “How do you warn someone about that?”
He laughed as Eric flung himself on him, “It’s really you.”
“Yeah, it’s me.” Rob said returning the hug. Eric disengaged quickly.
“Shit, you’re still a fucking toaster.” Eric cursed, trying to brush the extra heat off.
“And you’re still a snowman. Some things never change.” Rob said, looking between his brother and stepsister, “So when did…”
Eric blushed, “Uh…”
Alessa smiled, “A couple months after you disappeared. We got closer, one thing lead to another…” she grabbed Eric and pulled him over. He turned red as he grinned, covering his embarrassment by kissing her.
“Do Dad and Lisa know?”
“No” Eric said empathically, though behind him Angela was gesturing with her hand ‘Maybe’.
Angela pulled a red sweatshirt out of her shopping bag, “Here you are Rob, first new piece of clothing.”
Eric looked him over as Rob started putting it on, “Wait, are those my pants?”
“Your shirt too.”
“Are you wearing my underwear?” He asked.
“Nope. Gone commando.” Rob said an amused smirk as he watched Eric’s expression.
Angela raised her hands in surrender, “Not my fault. I offered.”
Eric nodded, “Right. Keep the pants.”
“Thanks.” Rob said gesturing towards the mirror, causing the pieces to fly back together and meld back into a single pane. He looked himself over, “Huh, I really am rugged and handsome, aren’t I?”
Eric clapped him on the back, “You look like a fourteen year old dressed you.”
“Least I don’t look like a yuppie douche,” Rob replied, “You look like you’re about to head out to a club and it’s not even five yet. Not to mention you shouldn’t be able to get into any clubs.”
“Depends on the club.” Alessa interjected, “We should to celebrate. Not right now, I know you probably want to rest, maybe find clothing that doesn’t smell of Abercrombie and Finch-”
“What’s wrong with Abercrombie and Finch?” Eric interjected.
Alessa edged towards the door, “Nothing,” she replied innocently, “it’s just, you know, not Rob’s style.”
“Right.” Eric looked at her, peeved.
“Anyway, I think we can set something grand up, call up some of your old friends…” she paused, “you want to see your old friends, right?”
Rob started, breaking his gaze away from the mirror, “Yeah, of course. No one cool got burned at the stake right?”
“Don’t think so, but I didn’t keep up with your friends much.” She said sliding through the door.
Angela gathered the empty bag up, “I’m going to start working on dinner. I think we might have everyone home tonight. ‘Cept your parents of course.”
Her departure left Rob and Eric alone in the room.
“So…” Eric said, “Where ya been?”
Rob shrugged, “You know. There and back again.”
“Yeah,” Rob shook his head, “I’m just kind of reeling from being home. I… can’t talk about it yet.” He shook his head, “I walked for six days before it occurred to me I could call? Not that I could get through to any number I could remember.”
“Where were you?” Eric repeated.
Rob ignored him, smiling, “I was worried about you when I left. I didn’t know how you’d deal.” he hugged Eric again, “I’m just so glad you’re okay.”
“Everywhere. Nowhere. There and back again. Second star to the right and straight on til morning. A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away. I’m not telling today.” Rob said, letting go of Eric. He turned to leave, but paused, sniffing the air.
“You’re going to tell me though, right?” Eric said, stepping closer to follow him.
“Someday,” Rob said shaking his head, he took another breathe and froze, turning to Eric.
“What is is it?” Eric asked.
Rob just shook his head slowly, “Nothing. I just. Thought I smelled something.”
“What?” He asked with honest interest.
“Nothing. Just my imagination.”