So, as Delta has explained to me in great, juicy detail, Francis has a little sister named Taylor. She’s a few years younger than Francis, but much further along the path of life.
“Yeah, so, Francis was always the favorite child,” Delta had told me. “Taylor was sort of an afterthought. Not so good at school, not in any sports or clubs, didn’t really try much, and maybe her parents didn’t push her in the first place. But once she became a high schooler and entered her rebellious phase, things went way out of control. I remember it pretty clearly myself.
“Taylor was, and still is I guess, aggressively heterosexual. Let’s just say that.
“And so she got knocked up by some two-bit nobody at age 16, and instead of doing something sensible about her incoming motherhood, she ran off to Hollywood to enter showbiz. You know, like, the dumbest possible idea when you’re a teen mom?
“But by some sheer stroke of luck, it fucking worked. Her kid Victoria is just gorgeous for some reason, and so ever since she was a baby, she’s been a really famous model for commercials, and she’s even getting some film and TV roles every now and then. Crazy, huh?
“So you see why Francis is sort of the way he is? He works his ass off all the time and he’s pretty famous himself. But his little sister did nothing special, and now she’s a multi-millionaire living in Hollywood with a beautiful daughter, all at age twenty.
“Even I’m a little jealous...”
We enter the grand Bacall mansion, which is the kind of manor you would find out at the great beaver dams on Mystix. It’s laid out with magnificent high ceilings, a glass chandelier, and glittering items hanging from the walls or on staircases. There is so much shine in here that the chandelier provides the only light needed to sustain the entire foyer.
It is opulent, and yet I find it hollow to some extent. My soul is not enriched, and nothing here strikes me of beauty. It rather strikes me as a display of wealth, a signal to the price that some cunning architect was able to extract from this rich person’s finances.
The mansion is bright and dazzling, but why? To what end does all of this exist when it is not particularly pretty?
It tells me about as much about Taylor as her own words and appearance already have.
“I’m sorry this place is such a wreck,” Taylor said in a mockingly self-deprecating tone. “I hope next time you come down to L.A. I’ll have the house all spruced up.”
“Taylor, you say that every time I come to L.A.,” Francis says.
“Well, I’ve never said it about this house. It’s brand new, after all.”
“Yeah... How much did this place cost, anyway?”
Taylor looks at Victoria in her arms and brushes the hair out of her eyes. “Why don’t you tell everyone about the house for Mommy?”
Victoria speaks immediately with a well-rehearsed line. “Eleven million, two hundred thousand, four hundred and thirteen dollars and forty-two cents,” she says with the cutest little toddler lisp.
“That’s my line-memorizing precious!” Taylor exclaims. She turns and winks cheerfully at all of us.
I am starting to wonder if, as Delta explained, Taylor is a “bitch” after all.
“If only Uncle France could memorize his lines,” she continued, “he’d be able to graduate from that little streaming gig.”
Francis scowls but says nothing.
We continue through the house, and the faint sound of pop music begins to enter the scene, like a faint echo from another distant room.
I can’t make out the lyrics, but the rhythmic beat is already infecting my walking tempo.
“Hey Delta, you’ve always been a huge cutie, but you are looking positively radiant today,” Taylor says.
“Pretty lady,” Victoria spouts.
“We’re not doing this again,” Delta says. “Not in the mood.”
“Oh, but I am very much in the mood. I could just stare at you all day and soak in your absolute beauty.” She turns around, walking backwards through the house, and does exactly that. Victoria reaches out to try and play with Delta’s hair, but she swats the little hand away.
“You’re worse than Francis and Eryk.”
“I can’t help teasing my bestie!”
Delta’s aura darkens considerably.
“So, Delta, what’s the story of those two?” she asks, pointing at Francis and me, and speaking without any change in volume so that all of us can hear equally. “How’d they meet? How’s it going?”
“You can stop this right now,” Francis says.
“You know, this is MY house, and MY hospitality,” Taylor says, increasingly sharp but not losing her faux-friendly voice. “And I’m about to serve you MY dinner.”
“Dinner? But it’s hardly four in the afternoon,” I say (secretly impressed that I have adapted to understand the divisions of time despite some days ago not even knowing what a clock was).
“Well, it’s getting dark soon, and I always like to eat in the light,” she says.
“It doesn’t get dark until past eight...” Francis mutters.
The verdict appears to be in. None of us like Taylor, not one bit.
As we get closer to the dining hall, we pass a wall with a row of photos, all of them of Victoria and all of them professionally shot with high quality. Even in her smallest of baby photos, she still looks into the camera and smiles.
The music grows louder as well. “What is that?” I ask.
Delta looks at me and shakes her head. “Oh no, don’t—“
“It’s T-Swift!” Taylor exclaims. “My favorite artist and just an all around genius. Her music is so empowering and so lyrically stylistic. She inspired me more than anything to come out to L.A. and achieve my dreams, because that’s what she did so many years ago.”
I listen more carefully to the music. “I enjoy the beat, but the lyrics are... Isn’t she discussing the merits of summoning an army of demons to come and individually castrate each member of the male sex?”
“Yes, yes she is,” Taylor says. “It’s a metaphor for her latest break-up and the grief she feels.”
“Hmm... No, I don’t know about that. The steps she lists for the demon summoning ritual are extremely accurate, without censorship of even the most sensitive details. If one truly were to follow these steps, they would indeed summon a demon to this world. Does this Swift figure truly wish to invade the Earth?”
“Only with her next album!” she beams.
“I hope the title of this album is something other than ‘Let Us Conquer This Plane’ or whatnot.”
“Oh, nope, but close. It’s ‘Divine Retribution Against the Mortal Plane.’”
We enter the dining room, finally, and find a small table with just enough room for five or six guests. Everything is laid out perfectly, with a freshly killed salmon placed at the center, and many dishes of varying color around it. Also in this room are seven different butlers and servants running about or standing there looking pretty.
Two of the chairs at this table are lifted a lot higher than the rest. I assume one is for Victoria, and judging by his reaction, the other must be for Francis.
“Well, let’s dig in,” Taylor says before even sitting down.
Whew, this is a lot.
“Come on, the help I will show you to your rooms.”
Not a moment after dinner, we are already being escorted to our sleeping arrangements, which are up on the third floor and overlook the large swimming pool and minigolf course installed in Taylor’s backyard.
Delta gets her own guest room. It is apparently not designed as a guest room, per se, but actually as a relaxation chamber with a bed brought in. At the center of this room, there is a hot tub, and instantly Delta’s shoulders slump in relief.
“I know what I’m doing tonight,” she says.
“May we join you?” I ask.
And then next we go to a second guest room... One with bunk beds.
Hooray! Bunk beds, the most fun way to spend a night with companions rather than being forced to sleep in the same bed and be all cramped!
It’s two queen-sized beds bunked together, and before anyone has another word, I use my impressive jumping abilities and land on the top bunk. It is claimed and it is for me.
There is also a computer set up in this room, with three monitors and a fancy looking chair. Francis should love it in here.
Instead, though, he grumbles.
“Well, I built this in case you ever wanted to have anyone ‘over,’ if you know what I mean,” she says. “Maybe this’ll be what you need... Super duper love you! Goodnight!”
“It’s six o’clock in the—“ Taylor shuts the door behind her. “Oh, whatever.” He looks up at me in the top bunk. “Eryk, I was gonna take the top bunk...”
“I refuse to allow that.”
“Damn, fine. Well, I guess I ought to do some business stuff since there’s a computer thing. I got a big invitation and I’m wondering if I should accept it, so I’m going to do some research.”
“An invitation? What did you receive?”
“They’re doing a surprise launch for the next Dungeon Core Saga Series game in a couple of days,” he says.
“The game with Blaze Blitzer?”
“Yes, the dude who looks just like you, or at least he did when you still had your badass jacket in the beginning.” Francis sits down at the computer desk and begins setting up various programs so quickly that I can hardly comprehend what is going on with those monitors.
“I miss that item, even if my outfits now are much more ‘inconspicuous to the modern world,’ as you say.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say the pink skirt part is very inconspicuous, but anyway. The new game is Dungeon Core Saga Tactics II, and it’s going to be a free to play mobile game where you collect different characters from across the series, mostly the girls, and use them in battles. I don’t really know if it will be any good, especially if it’s just a ripoff of real mobile game classics like Boys Frontline or Star Wars: Girls’ Love Idol Team or Jelly Joy. But I guess I’ll be optimistic. The original Dungeon Core Saga Tactics came out like twenty years ago on the Nintendo Gamecube, and it was great.”
“I still do not understand many of the words you say when you discuss video games, but I enjoy hearing you when you are happy,” I say. “It warms my heart for my friend to speak about that which he is passionate.”
That flicker of happiness soon disappears, though. Francis has been notably down ever since we went to Santa Barbara, and possibly even before that. While the Simi Valley battle was a nice diversion, it seems like that negative feeling inside of him has swelled right back up.
Is it because of his sister Taylor? Is it because of something else? I know not, but more importantly, he seems extremely reluctant to discuss it with anyone. Even Delta is mostly unaware.
No matter. I want to help him feel better. I will make him feel better.
Tomorrow, in whatever adventures we have in this drab, ugly city, I will surely do everything I can to improve Francis’s mood, even at the cost of Destiny Points. For the time being, my true destiny has become... Francis.