A/N: Here's the second chapter! Firstly, I'd just like to say thank you for all of the positive feedback. It was a pleasant surprise, and I'm very grateful for it.
This important chapter was confoundedly difficult for me to write, what with the off-kilter flow of it, as it's a bit unorthodox, and also with the liberties I've taken with their personalities. If you get the impression that they're too different, be sure to stick around a while, as I do think it all fits the story nicely. Some parts of this may seem repetitive relative to the first chapter, but it all serves a purpose.
I'd also just like to say, good smut to me is never rushed, so I intend to take my time with it and develop the relationships naturally. I will not rush this story, so please be patient. Also, I have a very busy schedule with school, work and life, so these chapters may come out slowly, but as long as I keep having fun with them, they should keep on coming, so we'll see. My last story was a particular project of sorts— definitely different than this one. I purposely speed wrote those chapters and didn't put much prior thought into them, as a challenge to myself. It was fun and interesting in that way, but that's not the case with this story. I'm taking my time with this one.
Another thing: I'm admittedly not very good at tagging stories with the appropriate genres, so I just thought I'd let you all know that I might change one of them at some point. If I do, I'll inform you.
That's all I have to say. I hope you enjoy the chapter, and have a nice summer.
Chapter 2 - I'm an Architect
Beat the Clock
Lincoln stands outside in the cold, having just walked up the porch steps, and having yet to once again reenter the first home he ever knew. He looked out into his surroundings, at all the familiar, neighboring houses— the street looking like nary a day had passed since he'd last stood where he stands now. He moseyed over to the left side of the vestibule, scuffing his boots on the aged wood, and leaned his arm on the white beam.
He, Chucky and Denise had already filmed the pre-interview introduction outside, in front of the house. Working the camera is pretty easy, surprisingly, and Chucky helped him get the hang of it quickly. Denise did her whole spiel about the family, without getting into specifics of course, and without any mention of him.
Now he waits. Patiently, might I add.
He looks at the large blue van in the driveway, as it ever so slowly gets sheeted with a snowy blanket. Hard to figure, but Vanzilla actually does look older than he remembered. He didn't think it was possible, but seeing it now, it's clearly true. Then he looked up to Mr. Grouse's house just over the roof of the car. Lincoln wondered if the grumpy old somebitch was even still alive. Back in the day, Mr. Grouse was sort of like the Mr. Wilson to Lincoln's Dennis the Menace, always being a hard stick in the mud for his sisters and him. Those were good days. The complex moue Lincoln wore turned to a slight smirk upon thinking of that. It helped to calm his incandescence.
Yeah, Lincoln's still pretty vexed. It's odd for him— being a, normally, very stoic person, he's accustomed to hiding any emotion he feels, usually effortlessly. It's what he learned to do over these past nine years to help him survive, but far, far underneath that tough exterior, there's a very solid foundation of acrimony.
Maybe that's partially why he tries so hard to repress his feelings most of the time. He's hurting, and he hides it well. Maybe he even hides it from himself on occasion.
But not today.
Lincoln's not only angry about Pop-Pop though, he's just angry about a little bit of everything, nowadays. He's angry at life, and simply being here is bringing it out of him. He's still a determined person, maybe even more so than when his family knew him, but now he carries a chip on his shoulder everywhere he goes— only inevitable, after seeing the things he's seen and doing the things he's done. His mind is also altered in another way— one much... umm.. worse way, in his opinion, but he successfully keeps that under wraps most of the time. It's much more subtle. And even though that all may be the case, Lincoln has no interest in showing his family how different he's become. Not until he's good and ready, that is. These changes are not ones he's proud of. They're not things he wanted. But how can you hide that? How is a person supposed to emulate their former self— arguably, their better self, and hide who they've become?
Lincoln doesn't have the answers to those questions, but he's going to try anyway, as best as he can.
He's been trying to relax out here, while Denise and mainly Chucky set everything up in the living room inside. Denise said they'd come tell him when it was time for him to come in, and he's just fine waiting outside for the moment. He's glad he hasn't gone in yet, to be honest. He'd rather see his whole family at once, wanting to rip off that initial prospect like a bandaid. They won't know who he is at first, not until he finds the right time to reveal himself to them anyway, but he rightfully thinks there's actually never going to be a good time for a thing like that, is there? It's just another bandaid to tear off.
Lincoln raps his fingers on the chipped paint on the wood. Shit, they all probably think I'm dead, Lincoln thinks. That's something he's thought of before, hundreds of times over the years, in fact, but it's always daunting, nonetheless. It's part of what makes planning this so hard. It's part of why you can't.
Damn, I could use a cig right about now, he thinks. He fills his lungs with the bracing, cool air and exhales slowly.
This should be a happy experience. It's supposed to be this big, grand reunion, isn't it? He gets to see his sisters and his parents again, after such an achingly long time. The many flushing memories of his rough past make his mind fuzzier than it should be. This is an emotionally confusing time for him, that much is obvious, and his reaction has yet to be salubrious in the slightest. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Chucky comes outside wearing a black t-shirt, and wipes the sweat from his brow. "We're ready to get started, kid," he says. It's just another day of work for him.
Lincoln turns around to face him and nods. He tries to look casual as he follows the man inside. The first thing he does is grind the sludge on the bottoms of his boots off on the floor mat. Without looking up, he turns back around to face the now closed front door. He removes his long coat, and hangs it on the coat rack right next to the entry way. His grey, three-buttoned, long sleeve shirt is tight on his strong physique, and he leaves his beanie on, not yet wanting to reveal that oh so obvious part of who he is.
He takes a breath, and turns around quickly, leaving no hesitation in his movement, and immediately he notices most of his family members looking at him, some even staring, and with odd expressions to boot.
He stares back a moment with an expression equally as odd. What he doesn't realize though, is that they're staring at him the way they are because he's... well, he's quite handsome. Notably handsome. Not like a pretty-boy though, more like Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford used to be. Rugged and alluring. The girls took notice, as many of them are now beating red with blush because of it. The twins are the most notably flushed, what with teenage hormones and all.
In this packed living room, each of his ten sisters sat on either the couch or on one of many kitchen chairs surrounding it, in a collage of vibrancy, from oldest to youngest, left to right, and their parents stood behind them all, next to many impressive looking accolades. His parents were both wearing smiles, no doubt proud and excited something like this is even happening. How could they not be? Four of their children are world famous. That's just incredible.
They are incredible. Lincoln can't take his eyes off of them.
He recognizes each one of them and their drastic differences, and tries his best not to stare back at them longer than a normal stranger would. He walks behind Denise, who's sitting in her fold out chair, to grab the bulky tv camera, practically stifling his breathing the whole time from unsettled nerves. His body is tense under their many eyes, and he feels them watching his every movement as he gets into position, only trying to remember what Chucky had instructed him to do. Lincoln gulps, his face begins to flush, and his hands shake, until he finally breaths again. Silently, he successfully hides the smoothest breath he can muster, in an attempt to ease his rapidly palpitating heart, and he scolds himself because of it. Why the fuck am I getting all worked up? This is bullshit! What am I some kind of pussy? Fuck that. I'm a man.
He sits in his own fold out chair to the side near the fireplace, stationed intricately between Denise and his aberrantly relaxed family, for easy view of them all on the camera. Denise has her clipboard in her lap, no doubt filled with her many well researched questions, and Chucky stands behind her, holding the fuzzy microphone overhead of them all. Lincoln turned on the camera and began to record. It really is that easy— not to downplay camera work, but as far as what they told him to do, it's as simple as that. Especially because of all the editing they're going to do to it afterward.
His nerves quickly start to fade and he manages to pass actual glances at his family, analyzing them with scrutiny and intrigue atypical to him, as Denise begins to ask her questions.
"Alright, is everyone ready then?" Denise asked the large bunch.
Each of the family members looked around and all said various versions of "yes."
"Great!" Denise was excited. She clapped her hands together once, then adjusted the placement of the small microphone on her business coat— something she does habitually and mindlessly.
Lincoln's family is different, too, of course. He was right, as he knew he would be.
Getting good looks at them now, and though mostly the same, he can see they look hardened, not unlike himself. He wonders why that would be though.
Damn, mom and dad look terrible, he thinks. Lincoln's father had developed a bit of a temper, that came along with his frequent drinking some years ago. It was how he coped, and as stupid of a decision as it was, drinking so heavily for a few years probably took a few off his life, to be blunt. He's put on a couple pounds, and lost all of his hair now, besides the evenly trimmed sides, peppered with grey. His mother looks relatively the same, just with heavier bags under her eyes and a more sluggish posture, like someone who's tired all the time.
The first question Denise asked was to Lori, so that's who he looks to first; his eyes moving slow as molasses.
As Lori begins to talk about her work, and what it was like being the oldest sibling in this exceptional family, Lincoln studies her features as one would an amoeba through a microscope. She definitely looks older, but not too old. Her hair is a bit longer than he recalls, she's wearing more makeup, but not too much, and she's dressed like a professional— a politician or someone else important like that. She's also, on her left hand, wearing an engagement ring or a wedding band, Lincoln can't tell which.
He looks around, out from the camera lens and at each of them. They all look older, and at least as drastically different as Lori does. He obviously knew they would, yet it's still somehow a surprise.
They're all so bloody different, he thinks. He continues to look at them though, through his anger and scrutinizes them accordingly as Denise moves her attention to each one of them in age order for the interview. He studies their features and their clothing choices. You can learn a lot about people by how they dress. Lincoln's learned that lesson well, over time.
Leni, as Grace Kelly-esque as ever, is wearing an equally as beautiful, turquoise top over white jeans, no doubt all of her own design. He'd found out she'd made it big, beforehand, and how could he not? He literally saw people on the streets wearing clothes with her name on the tag. What a surprise that was. Anyway, her left ear has two piercings now, and she looks a bit thinner than he would have expected. She's developed a fantastic figure, no question there, but she looks like she doesn't eat much, or at least didn't for quite a while. Lincoln really knows what that looks like, first hand. He also notices that the ageless twinkle she always had in her eye, has now apparently faded away.
Luna's skin is paler than before, but not clammy. Still, it looks smooth. Her hair is a bit shorter than he recalls and it's buzzed on the left side, but he knew that already from when he saw her on TV one night last year. Talk about caught off guard. She has two tattoos that he can see: a small number on her wrist, that he can't make out, and one small broken heart behind her ear. She's wearing a tight purple shirt, baring her midriff, with "Pigeon Song" across the breast, along with black jeans and combat boots. Her breasts finally came in, not to mention, and so did her ass. Lincoln cracks his neck quickly.
Luan looks relatively the same, although with perfect teeth now and generally much more developed than before. She also kept her pony-tail, and wears a yellow and white thin-striped shirt with black jeans. She's wearing a small, novelty squirt-flower on it still, pinned to her ample chest, and apparently, in this case, some things never change even if the foundation it's on does. The flower, I mean.
Lynn, Lincoln notices, seeing her up close, is fit as fuck. That said though, she's still pretty womanly. He twists his lip upon sight of her again. Although most of his grown sisters seem the same height, even sitting down, Lynn is by far the shortest at probably 5'4. She probably hates that. She's wearing a white sweat suit with red stripes down the sides, and has her ears pierced now. Her right foot is insistently and rapidly tapping in its Nike Free-run, he also notices. Her hair is still long, same as before, and she's wearing it up in a messy bun. If Lincoln could guess, she's actually wearing a small amount of makeup too. Maybe it's just because of the interview though.
"Hey, do you mind moving back towards me a bit. I want to change the angle slightly." Denise broke Lincoln's train of thought, but he did as instructed. He picked up his chair and moved back toward her. Denise gave a nod, approving of the new shot angle, and looks back to her clipboard. "Alright then, lets get back to it. Lucy, you're up."
Back at it and closer to Denise, Lincoln looks towards the quiet Lucy, darker than ever in aura, but with skin still fair as a ghost. She's apparently blossomed through puberty and genuinely resembles this actress... he can't recall the name of at the moment. She has an Italian name though, he remembers that much. Anyway, she's much taller now, obviously, and Lincoln notices, even though she's lean, her behind is perked firmly on its wooden chair, and is big relative to the rest of her frame. He shakes his head at himself and blinks. She's wearing a tight, black and white striped dress with black nylons underneath. Her hair is in a ponytail, but her bangs are still quite shielding, as for her wild eyes, he still can't see. She sits motionlessly as she answers Denise's questions, as coyly as her literary reputation admits.
The younger ones are all so different, just as Lucy is. Far more significantly than the older ones, that's for sure.
The twins are in high school, same as Lucy, Lincoln surmises based on their ages. They both kept their long blonde hair, though one's is unkempt and with double ponytails, while the other's is pristine and shimmeringly clean, and they both have all their teeth now. Lana is speaking with her gruff voice still, sitting lackadaisically on a kitchen chair faced forward, and is still wearing that same red cap as before, now faded and backward. She's also wearing a tight, grey-blue long sleeve shirt with "Fix it Yourself" bolded on the front and with the sleeves rolled up, while also wearing loose, tan work pants with hanging suspenders. Lola, on the other hand, sits with the posture of royalty, and is wearing a tight pink shirt with, "My, My Bartertown" on the front in small white print, and a hot-pink headband with a small tiara on it, and navy blue jeans with pink converse shoes. They look about how he had guessed they'd look. But it pinches at his chest to think so. The veins in his neck begin to constrict from the stress he's putting on himself.
More and more questions are asked, and Lincoln quietly absorbs all the answers his many sisters give Denise, hearing the majority of their admirable stories each for the first time, with the exceptions of only seeing a few of them on screens before today. They are mostly mature now, he can tell from each of their explanations, and he can't help it, call him a fool, but it makes him angry again. They're all so damn successful, and they accomplished it all without his help. Without his even being here. Then what good was he when he actually was here? Didn't they need him? Didn't they give a shit that he was stolen from them?
Fuck. This is pretty weird though. Lincoln feels uncomfortable, too, on top of his rage. He thought this could be interesting, but it's just odd. He'd originally thought they'd all be reintroduced together and at the same time, but him learning about them first, without them even being aware of it? It seems creepy, in a way. Not right. It's the same way he felt this morning with his grandpa— their grandpa with alzheimers, they left alone to rot in his hospital bed, damnit. It's not what he wanted. This is surreal, and it's making his currently choleric self, simply irate.
"So, Mr. and Mrs. Loud, how do you two feel about all of this? Being so commonly called the forbearers of the modern American Dream, and to be the parents of such wonderfully accomplished people— you must be very proud," Denise asked.
The aged parents look at each other and at their kids, softly, with lipped smiles. "Oh, of course we are. We couldn't be more proud of the wonderful things they've been able to do." Rita said.
"We're very proud that they're celebrities and so successful and all that, and people can call us what they want, but we're still just their parents, and we'll never stop being just their parents, first and foremost. We feel we have to remind them of that every now and then," Lynn Sr. said.
Denise cracked a smile at the sight of the parents' genuine fondness of their kin. Their love is palpable and apparent to her. It's touching.
"And what about your son?"
They all spun their heads on a swivel to look at the cameraman.
Lincoln couldn't help himself. He asked it confidently, too, and it seemed like it just flew out of nowhere. His eyes aren't as clear and separated emotionally from these people as Denise's are, but he knew that already.
Not just his entire family, but Denise and Chucky stare at him, all utterly appalled. The interview was almost finished, it was nearly over, and here this random guy just goes and ruins it out of the blue.
Focused, Lincoln sits vigorously— expectantly, and looks at their faces and gaping mouths, waiting for an answer. It seems he simply caught them all too off guard, so he continues, "Remember? Your son, Lincoln. How do you feel about what happened to him? Or did you forget?" His cadence comes off as hostile and bitter, but he doesn't mean it to. He just couldn't wait anymore, and he's downright pissed. It was bothering him too much, so he ripped off that last bandaid... but some blood trickled out of the wound.
Finally, someone says something. "Hey, you'd better watch your mouth, buddy." Lynn points at him threateningly, deciding to speak for and defend the group. She's pissed now too, that much is obvious. Lily started to whisper something to Lisa, no doubt curious about the sudden, peculiar tension in the room.
Lincoln was about to add on and respond to his pugnacious sister, but Denise leaned towards him before he could, quite peeved herself, "What the hell are you doing? I thought we were clear on this, you sit there, stay quiet and record, and there'd be 50 bucks in it for you." She held the clipboard up over her face to block her words, embarrassed about the lack of professionalism.
Lincoln glanced at her for only a moment, but immediately looked back to his family. His focus is honed. He saw how mad Lynn was, and he got a sick thrill out of it. It stirred something loose in his insides, and his adrenaline began to release. His fingers are itching for more. With narrowed eyes, he stands up firmly, drops the camera, and his chair falls over behind him. He thinks of his grandpa. "Why should I watch my mouth, Lynn? What are you going to do about it if I don't?"
Lynn stands up immediately and squares up with him despite being nearly a foot shorter and freshly pregnant, but Luna and Lana get up to hold her back just before she could do something serious and elevate this situation.
Lincoln leans forward slowly, slightly towards her— Lynn still being restrained by their sisters. "You want to hit me, don't you? Because I talked about your wittle bwuther," he teased her harshly, but that one hit them all. He can see the ferocity in Lynn's eyes, and the mixed shock and horror in everyone else's. He snares ever so slightly. He raises his voice this next time, passionately, as he stands back up straight, "Yeah, well you're not going to hit me, do you know why?"
But there's a lull in the room, letting his throaty yell reverberate in their many perked ears. They look back at him, indeed, wondering why.
He looks at them all, their puzzled and complex expressions rapidly passing back and forth, but primarily aimed at him. His mind, God only knows why, brings him back to the park— the last place he saw them all, and the last place they were all together. The last place they were all truly happy. Where they were innocent. He blinks a few times, and swallows. With clarity now, he can see that his family isn't just looking on at him, they're actually looking on at him... in fear.
Oh... Oh fuck, Lincoln thinks.
Suddenly, and just like that, he's becoming very aware of how severely unkind he's being. He's being cruel, and now he knows it. He'd finally just heard himself speak in his terribly harsh tone, and a vibrant wave of reality crashes upon his bleakness, waking him up, in a sense, as if from a nightmare. He visibly flinches, and looks at each of their expressions, clearly this time, and he knows he's right: the younger ones and his parents do look very concerned, and only now he remembers how he didn't want to show them this new— this worse version of himself... and he now also realizes that he'd already just failed at that. He was about to keep it going too, and elevate this situation further. His heat cooled before things went too far, luckily.
He looks into Lynn's eyes; hazel as they are, and familiar. Behind that acute, mature rage she harbors towards him as just some random, trialing stranger at the moment, he sees her for who she once was. He sees her eyes as they were that day in the park, still thinking of that sunny afternoon, and he remembers how he reached out for her, and called for her, and when he was just her little brother. That fear... it never left her. In this moment, he sees she's still that vulnerable, little girl laying on the rough cement, derelict and left a forsaken witness. He sees now, how he was blind to the possibility that she actually might be in pain too, just as he is. Just as they all may be.
Since he paused and the challenging flame in his chest began to fade and dwindle, Lori stood up and walked firmly to match him, indignation in her glare and with her shoulders back. She looks up into his blue irises without blinking and without breaking contact. She speaks low and slowly, as if she didn't want to accept that she had to at all— her lips nearly quivering, "What right do you have?" The low, scolding intensity in her voice drew his and everyone else's sharp attention. She continues, louder, "What right do you have... to come into our home, and mock us about our own brother?" She seethes air through her teeth, "..A- are you some kind of asshole, or are you just so stupid, that you actually wanted to put yourself in danger like this?" Lola too, had gotten up and stood next to Lori, equally as angry, and with her arms crossed. Her cheeks were still aflame, but with a different kind of heat than before.
Lincoln looked around and realized the whole room was now standing, all eyes still on him: some with concern, some in contempt and one pair with hidden amusement, but that, he didn't notice. No one would.
Trying to find the words, he opens his mouth to reply to Lori. Despite their respective trade in height, he still crumbles under her stare, same as he did as a boy, and as if not a day had passed since the last time it had happened.
She cuts him off first, taking another step forward and shoving him in the chest. "Well?" She expects to be answered.
Not wanting to continue though, Lincoln sighs, and his defensively taut shoulders slump. His whole demeanor visibly turned from inculpation to a mix of sorrow and shame. He blinks again and looks away from his oldest sister, abruptly feeling like he needs to sits down. This isn't what he wanted.
He takes a heavy, unsteady step back from her, and opens his mouth again, letting it hang open as he folds his tongue. It's dry, like he were buried in sand. He quickly walks around the couch toward his parents, but stops midway. Their eyes follow him. Denise and Chucky are still incredibly embarrassed, and quite frankly, don't know what to make of any of this.
"Look... I- I think I may have gone about this all wrong," Lincoln said, rubbing the back of his neck. There was a noticeable lack of assuredness in his voice, something freshly, but apparently common for him today.
Lincoln clears his throat. His usually well carried body language being so suddenly and noticeably less baleful, lets the rest of his unsure family ease up a bit as well. "I'm, uhh... I'm sorry I said that, Lynn... everyone. This... this isn't how I wanted you to see— it's not how I wanted this to go... it's not how I wanted to meet you again." He shakes his head once, sharply, mad at only himself now.
The stillness of the room hangs heavily and stagnantly. They all look at him and at each other, and wonder what to make of this.
"If I may, what exactly do you mean by 'again'?"
Lincoln looks up from the carpet, and looks at Lisa; her ever curious eyes distorted by her glasses, which are now in smaller frames than they were when he last saw her. She also now spoke without a lisp. He really looks at her for the first time today. Her hair is long now too, and in a ponytail, but it's up and to the side. She's thin, and wearing an overly loose green sweater, dipping down her shoulder a bit, along with interesting, tight brown corduroys, that only go down just past her knees. It looks like Leni did her shopping for her.
"Hold on a second." Denise steps forward and talks through the awkwardly tense situation, baffled and still peeved her days work was halted. She holds up a finger and speaks with her hands. "Do you mean to tell me, you knew who they were this whole time, and you planned to come here? ...You let me think-" she stops talking and groans, furiously. "Okay, you know what, I don't need to deal with this kind of low brow, bullshit. I work for 60 Minutes, God damnit." She began to grumble harsh slurs to herself about rednecks and what have you, as she grabbed her coat, walked out to the front and slammed the door.
Chucky sighed apologetically, and followed her with his head slightly hung. He grabbed his own coat, and passed one more look at the family again with an unreadable look on his face, though no doubt out of annoyance and a mix of many other things. He must be used to Denise's impatience and haughtiness by now.
After the door closes, the family looks back to the man before them. Their expectant eyes pierce him, immediately.
Lynn tore her arms out of her sisters' grips. "Are you going to explain yourself? Or are we going to have to throw you out into the snow?" She said that angrily, and with a scowl. She's eager for either that option or some other more violent one.
Performing under pressure is something a lot of people struggle with. Often, they get nervous, sweaty, and think they're going to fail, even if they end up doing fine. Lincoln is not one of those people. He wasn't before, and he's certainly not at this point in his life, but standing here now... today, and at this moment— this tense juncture is starting to eat away at him. His palms are becoming slick, his knees wobbly, his muscles limp, and his head light. He struggles to find the words, already having dug this hole he's in quite deeply.
Lincoln hesitated to respond. "Look.. maybe you should sit down. All of you." He gestures to the couch, as he slowly walks to the front of the room himself, near the tv, and stands waiting for them to do what he recommended.
Some annoyed scoffs are voiced from a few of the girls, and one of them even mumbles a "This better be good," as they all reluctantly find their seats. The Loud parents pull up chairs as well, and so now the entire clan patiently expects some form of an explanation.
Lisa, though, didn't sit down. She stood straight as an arrow, anxiously twiddling her sticky fingers, while looking at this man before her. Lincoln looked back at her, curiously, noticing that not too dissimilar to himself, Lisa is actually— visibly nervous.
She walked up to him— her serious expression unchanging, much to her effort. She paused, very briefly, once she was close enough to touch him, and with one swift motion, she swiped his beanie from his head and stepped to the side like a matador.
He could have sworn it was sewn to his scalp the way it felt as she tore it off him, but he had no real time to react. It's not what he expected her to do, Hell he honestly didn't know what to expect right then, but he should have expected her to figure it out sooner or later.
He opens his eyes wide, feeling suddenly naked, as all their mouths hang open and they tried to figure out what they're seeing.
What feels like hours goes by— everyone silently waiting for someone else to be the first to say something. That is until Leni rushes him. It startled everybody.
She leapt over the coffee table, grabbed him by the cheeks with two loud slaps, and stared intently— her eyes mere inches from his own. The family tensed up, and the many sisters got up from their seats and warily surrounded the two.
Lincoln looks back down to his big sister, his memories of her being so soft and lovable. Her hands warm and steady on the skin of his face. This Leni isn't the same as the one he remembers, not at the moment at least. At the moment, she's aggressive, serious, and even primal, in a way. If looks could kill, he'd be long gone.
She practically throws his face from her hands, and cups her mouth, backtracking and bumping bodies with Luna and Lucy. She makes a high pitched wail as she covers her face and her gushing tears.
Lincoln finally speaks up, "Leni, I- I'm sorry. I didn't want it to go that poorly." He said that second sentence in strain, aiming his emotions more at himself this time though. "I should have planned something. I should have- shit! You all deserved better than that from me." His palms were upturned like a downtrodden beggar as he looked to the floor.
"Wait, wait, wait, now just hold on a second here, dude," Luna held up her hands to calm everyone, but her eyes stayed honed on Lincoln. Leni still cried freely— the main source of sound in the room. "Do you mean to tell us, that you're... that- that you're-" her raspy voice began to scrape against her increasingly dry throat, as she welled up with tears herself.
Lincoln looked back at Luna. He nods ever so slightly and speaks in a tone just above a whisper— just loud enough so they all can hear. "Yeah, Loons. It's me... I'm Lincoln." Even he struggled to compose himself, in an odd epiphanic moment of acceptance in what he just said. It almost echoed.
Each sister begins to react to it. Leni, Luna and Lana quickly embrace one another, Lucy and Lisa attempt to hold back emotional lurches in their chests and freshly budding tears, Lynn, Lola and Lori all curdle in slight embarrassment and ire, Luan stands stiffly in the back biting her lip, with her arms crossed and contemplating, and Lily stands wide eyed and glowing in sudden amazement, in contrast to her simultaneous curiosity as to why everyone is so sad about what should be so happy.
Lincoln sees it fit to explain a bit now. "I'm, uhh..." He clears his throat, "I'm really sorry I did it that way, girls. I guess.. I guess I don't know what came over me," he chuckles and lies self-preservingly. He still doesn't want them to know about that side of him, if he can help it. He looks at each of them, trying to understand what they're thinking. He was about to speak some more but-
Lynn threw a clobbering right hook at his jaw, connecting solidly, and catching him off guard. He wears it, taking only one stabilizing step backward. He blinks twice and looks back at her. Everybody stopped. Some cupped their mouths, some gasped, but they all stood and watched in shock. Lynn and Lincoln looked only at each other, Lynn snaring with tear-wetted cheeks, and Lincoln with an untimely smirk— one of consideration and expectance. This smirk isn't of the rage the ones he wore earlier were, no, this one's of a knowing acceptance. He stands unfazed.
Lynn growls at his smirk despite that, but Lori grabs her arms and throws her backward to cool off, many of her siblings chiding her about the sudden violence. "WHAT THE FUCK?" Lynn screams at him, ignoring all of her other sibling's remarks. "Why would you- why would you do that? I- I don't-" she stammered and grabbed her face, starting to cry, but then surprisingly rushed forward through her sisters and hugged him tightly, in a tackling embrace. Leni, Luna and most of the rest of the girls follow suit to do the same, and Lincoln smiles, engulfed in the immediate, long familiar warmth, easily overlooking the hit he took.
Lori moves away from them, unsure. Out of habit, and rightfully so, she twitches a worried look to Luan in the hug, but remembers she's on her meds. She gets back on target, "Hold on, hey, hold on here, everyone!" Everyone looks at her, even her parents who had rushed up to the group. Lori looks back at them. "I'm sorry, but how do we even know this is Lincoln?" She holds her hands up, and feels a deep desire to believe, but an even deeper one to know. Someone needs to be the voice of reason here.
Lisa, already on the outer edge of the group hug, shuffles back and moves toward Lori, rubbing her chin. She clears her throat, "Fair point, Lori." She adjusts her glasses, and is obviously attempting to right herself of her very preemptive emotional displays.
"Wait, Lisa!" Lily talks at her. "But you're the one who took his hat off!"
"That's true, Lily. I had a hunch and I needed to consummate it, but the fact that this possible Lincoln's hair is white, is no more evidence of him actually being Lincoln, than the fact that they're both male. It's confirmation of only the possibility, but not of the certainty," Lisa explained. She sounded like she was hiding some disappointment. "I apologize, if my overtly flamboyant actions mislead anyone."
Now the rest aren't so sure either, as most of the girls and their parents slowly move away from Lincoln— some, like Lynn though, confused as a mouse in a maze without cheese, move away slower than the others. Everyone did move though, all except Leni. She clutches to him like a vice grip, insistent of her intuitive stance on the matter.
Leni speaks up. "This is Lincoln. I know he is. I know it," she repeated, her arms still wrapped around him, defending him as if her life depended on it.
Lincoln stands, craning his neck to look down at his desperate sounding sister, with his hands slightly raised to his sides. He gently brings his arms down and around her shoulders and rubs her back. "No, no, Leni, thanks for believing me, but it's okay. I kind of expected you all to be doubtful." He scratches his increasingly scruffy chin, "Alright. Well, I need to prove myself somehow then." His placid features told the girls he was confident that he really would. "What do you want me to do?"
Some of the family members huddled together loosely and murmured ideas, while others thought on their own. Lily ran around and between them, listening and asking them questions, obviously not having any to ask this possible Lincoln, herself.
Lynn just went and sat on the coffee table, resting her head in her hands, worn out from overly abundant hormones and the confusing stress of the preceding mayhem.
Lisa spoke softly to Lori, "If it's not really him, this man could have information on Lincoln, on literally any and all aspects of his and our lives from nine years ago. If we ask him a question, say, a question that Lincoln and only Lincoln would know, we have to be as precise as we can possibly be, otherwise we'll never really know for sure... That is, unless I do a DNA test."
Lori looked at her questioningly. "Lisa, you don't just test a stranger's DNA." She rubs the back of her neck and crosses her other arm over her chest in thought, "But I guess if we ask him, it wouldn't be-"
"Oohhh, damn." Lincoln said gruffly, like he had just thought of an idea he should have had sooner. He breathes a bit of laughter, and says "I think I know what to do about this."
He manages to detach Leni from his body, much to her disappointment, so she follows his every move with her hands at the very least caressing his sides, as he walks to the front door. The family watches him as he reaches in and digs around inside his coat pocket for something that's apparently proof of who he is.
What he pulls out is a small, black book. A journal really, faded, torn and used. Unrecognizable to even those who'd priorly be thought of as the most familiar to it.
He walks back to the center of the room, Leni still on his tail like a newborn duckling. He stops in the spot he was in a moment ago, and Leni hugs him again, as if nothing had even just changed. Lincoln flips open the journal, and skims through the many pages, just for show, until he's at the very front, on only the second page.
He clears his throat once again.
Tired, aged and withered,
My steps faltered, but now I'm in it.
Once blind, now nesciently untethered,
Safe from the road, and my spacious fit.
Silk red hands smote me down,
At the end of a gold-less rainbow.
Yet something's still behind my frown,
My chiseled longing with Calypso.
A warmth ensues my suffered spirit,
Though in the place for I've sought so well,
The dark and futile is what I've known, see it,
And it's plagued to the gracious arms of hell."
Everyone stood in contemplation and bewilderment. They tried to understand the words read to them, or why they, or it as a whole has any relevance here. Lincoln looked at them, still through his currently narrowed eyes, and coyly upturned his lips.
Lucy was standing alone near the fireplace. Everyone turned to look at her once they heard her, but she payed them no mind, and was just staring at this man's light blue eyes from behind her bangs with her mouth hung open.
Having been interrupted for this, Lori's curiosity for the poem raises and now she passes glances between Lucy and this white haired man with Leni still hooked on, and Lori sees this man smile a genuine smile. She can see a spark in his look that tells her he does know Lucy knows what that poem is or what it means, but it's one she doesn't know herself. None of them do, besides them two, she'd guess.
There were some mixed reactions in the rest of the personal crowd, like they wanted to scoff at him or at even the thought of why they would ever recognize something as obscure as that. Some thought the absurdity of it was evidence enough of him not being the real Lincoln— that is, until they saw Lucy slam him with a hug on the opposite side of Leni and cry profusely. It was the most emotion they'd ever seen her show. She shoved her face in his shirt and didn't move it out, but that still couldn't hide her sobs. Lincoln put one arm around her and pulled her in tightly. He looked up to the group after a moment, with a slack smile. "Is that good enough for you?" He teased them sagaciously, feeling this was more than necessary.
Lincoln hesitates to say anything but does speak to her, looking down, lingering in his grin, and even Leni looks up at him, curiously. He speaks with a certain contentedness. "You dropped it that day in the park, Lucy. I picked it up to bring it to you but, well, I haven't really had a chance until now," Lincoln told her directly, waving the grayed and frayed journal around loosely for all others to see and understand. He looked up and spoke to them now, "There were only two poems in the book, and she'd read me the first one that morning. I didn't know about the second one when I picked it up, but I'd had plenty of time to get familiar with it over the years."
Lucy responded by burying her face in his side and letting her tears wet his shirt. They transitioned from silent to heart wrenching. The whole family listened on.
They all looked at one another— rapid tears spouting from their ducts as well, and Lily, then Lynn, Lana, Lola, Luna, Lisa, Luan, the Loud parents and even Lori quickly joined the hug. She embraced them, hoping to feel his body heat from the border of the hug, crying, confused, and tired. All that doubt the family held was practically gone now. Just... gone. They know that over these past nine years, if losing Lincoln wasn't enough to make Lucy cry openly and freely in front of them, the only thing that could actually bring her to this sort of reaction, would be getting him back. That's enough proof for them.
A cacophony of vocal cries are sounded from the flock of teary-eyed Louds, as the realization and acceptance of their long lost boy and brother, Lincoln, really— finally being home begins to sink in, only he's not a boy any more. He's as big as he told them he'd grow to be, so many years ago.
Their bodies almost fall to the floor, embraced in their animalistic group hug. They don't need anything but what they have right now: each other. Their forms meld together like a puzzle that found its missing piece. Lincoln moves his attention to each one of them, hugging his sisters and parents each, giving them each the silent, unbridled affection he knows they've been starved of for so long. He of all people can empathize with that. He knows a thing or two about... affection.
Instead of talking, they mob him again, together. Who could blame them?
After a literal half an hour of ugly crying and group hugging, on their knees and on the carpeted floor, Lincoln realizes he hasn't even really, officially greeted them yet. Not since the apparent confirmation, anyway.
He sniffles. "Okay, okay," he quickly, finally said, "Everyone, please let me look at you again."
A feminine, group groan is heard, but after a short time they relent and give way. He slips the poetry journal into his back pocket.
Lincoln runs his numb fingers through his damp hair, pushing it out of his face, and sighs contentedly. "Jesus, I'm sure glad that's all said and done now." He chuckles a bit, feeling that fuzziness in his chest you get after you cry a good cry, only he didn't shed a tear. "I'm sorry I made it so complicated..." Lincoln confessed.
"...I'm sorry I punched you."
Some of them laugh at the rare jest from Lynn, while some wipe away more tears and rub their sore cheeks. She looks embarrassed about it, even though he may have deserved it.
Lincoln walks towards the couch and sits down with a relaxed huff, and his family follows like a school of fish, drunk on the very water they're swimming in.
"Hi, Lincoln! I'm Lily." Unexpectedly, Lily stands forefront with her shoulders back, her chin up and a wide smile across her face. Her arm is stuck out straight, and her hand is eager for his. Her sisters and parents look on with knowing expressions.
Lincoln stops shifting and looks at the confident young person standing before him. He offers a cheeky smile in return, caught off guard but genuinely pleased by his youngest sister's forward attitude. He engulfs her small hand in his, matching the light but firm strength she shakes with. "Hi, Lily. I'm Lincoln," he replies. It is like meeting her for the first time.
For a moment, things seem to pause as he continues to look at her, seemingly unable to break away from her entrancingly familiar green eyes. She's so big now. She's wearing a lavender skirt with a black shirt, obviously still draped in her favorite shade as when she was an infant. Reminiscent in color to the Mother of Dragons, Lily's hair is down just past her shoulders, with a small bundle of strands braided and tucked behind her right ear, and there's a small tuft in the back that just won't go down all the way, just like he used to have at that age. Her few freckles and large front teeth, yet to be grown in to, remind him of his childhood reflection. Looking at her is just like looking into the past. It warms his heart to see her like this.
He lets go of her hand and moves his own to his knee. Looking at them all again, they seem to not know what to do, as they're all just sort of standing around him, ceaselessly enthralled and awkward, all the same. They look like they're biting their tongues, holding back from berating him with nine years worth of questions. He sees the sweat bleeding from their foreheads and off their arms like marbles. He also feels that since he essentially spied on them during the interview earlier, he probably already knows near everything they'd actually want to tell him about themselves, at least for the time being. Also, as much as he wants to ask them about that hardened look he still sees they have, and about why they seemingly left Pop-pop alone with only nice old Myrtle to help out, he holds back, returning the favor they're doing him. Although, now he does feel he may actually be at least part of the reason why. That's something hard to accept.
He opens his mouth and looks back to Lily, and then to the clock. 4:32pm. He's been here longer than he thought.
Most of them look to the front door. Lynn Sr. walks over to it and opens it up, allowing a blizzards worth of snowy air to sweep through the halls of their home and wind tunnel the hot air wafting around from the vents, to flow outside. The pizza man is standing, shivering in his hoodie and work wear, and is holding a large stack of boxed pies. "Delivery for the Loud family," he says, teeth chattering and all. He's lucky the doorbell didn't shock him.
"Oh, I completely forgot!" Lynn Sr. said, putting his palm flat against his forehead. "Rita, I placed that order for the pizzas this morning so we wouldn't have to worry about dinner tonight. Remember? We talked about doing that because of the interview." Lynn Sr. announced that, while grabbing the four large pies from the young man.
"Yes, Lynn, I remember, and it's perfectly fine with me. Kids? How does pizza sound?" Rita asked them enthusiastically at first, but then quieter this second time: "Lincoln? Is pizza fine with you?" She asked it as if she didn't remember her own son loved pizza.
For the entirety of the human species, in each practiced culture, there's some form of an inherent, special inclination to bond over and share meals, in one way or another. Whether that be because of some psychological fixation developed during evolution, or by mere happenstance, it is true nonetheless. It's a profoundly valued experience to us all. Tonight, Lincoln sees a shared meal with his family to be a good way of bonding over lost time, and to spare them all of the awkwardness currently lingering in the air.
Everyone looks to him. He gives her a firm nod in reply. "Sounds great, mom," he said, reassuringly.
That same lingering air started to clear like the breeze that blew in moments ago had finally swept it all away. The entire family looked as if they wanted to literally jump for joy on the inside— a jovial reaction to something so simple. Lincoln looked on at them, realizing he's feeling more and more relaxed. He's beginning to feel comfortable already. Odd.
He stands up and starts following his parents into the kitchen, practically feeling his sisters hounding breaths on his neck from behind him. As they walk through the door frame, Leni and Lynn grab onto him and pull opposite ways. Lincoln stands still, unmoved. Lynn and Leni look back at each other, then see Lola and Lana grab hold of his shirt, and everyone else try to pull him to their own seats. They begin to bicker and argue, and Lincoln can't help but smile.
"Girls! Enough with the tug o'war. Let you brother sit where he wants to sit," Rita scolded, as she sat at one head of the table across from her husband at the other.
After a moment they relented, again, and knowing what would happen, Lincoln quickly chose the chair right in front of him, in the center of this side of the table.
Immediately, they all jump forward on both sides of him, and begin their bouts of strength and acrobatics over the chairs. After some fierce tussling, Lynn victoriously sat to his left with Luna to her left, one over, and Lily sat to Lincoln's right, having slipped between her much larger sisters' grasps like butter, and Lola sat to her right as well, having claimed that for herself. Everyone else scattered around the table, but Lori had, instead of fighting, prudently claimed the seat directly across from him.
The lids to the pizza boxes flew open for their first supper together, but instead of scarfing it all down, they sat eagerly, with their arms flat on the table, looking to him as if for a sign of it being okay. Picking up on it, he chuckled once and shook his head, "Come on, don't wait for me. Eat." He reached out his arms and grabbed a few slices for himself.
Lincoln's father had apparently wandered out of the room a moment, but came back in holding two Budweiser's, freshly cracked open. He walked around and placed one in front of his son, then went and sat himself down, smiling to his own pleasure. He acted as if it were nothing, but it's probably something the man's always wanted, like most fathers, he imagines: to share a drink with his son. He'd given Lincoln sips of beer and whiskey as kid on occasion, but this is a whole different thing.
Lincoln grabs the cold bottle and takes a swig, enjoying the taste quite a bit. He looked to his mother, and then to Lori, both of whom were looking at his father with questioning expressions. He acted normally though, like he was trying to pay them no mind. He took a bite of pepperoni and a quick slug of beer to chase. Lincoln did the same, and wondered what had just gone over his head.
Over the next few hours, even after they finished their food, they remained at the table and carried on with their conversations, slowly but surely becoming more and more rhythmic and natural with one another— what with the readdition of one more head in the room. Lincoln though, for the most part, stayed quiet, as he now normally does, only cutting into conversations about the memories they discussed to ask questions every now and then and to clarify things. They were surprisingly focused on doing that instead of asking him questions instead, not that he'd complain about that. He actually quite enjoyed it, just sitting, watching them all happily talk to one another, pointing at him and laughing about things they did together as children. It was just like they were back there again, in those good old days. He can honestly say he hadn't expected today to go from so chaotic to this smooth so quickly.
After a long dinner of sharing memories, they were now discussing what to do until bed.
"We can play a board game," Leni suggested, happily.
"Nahhh, too mundane," Lola denied.
"We can have a tackle pillow fight," Lynn suggested, eagerly.
"No, not mundane enough," Lisa replied.
"How about we watch home movies?" Lily suggested.
A positive murmuring spread throughout the living room. Lynn Sr., whom the girls had gotten used to being in consistently foul moods over the past near decade, sprung up from his leather chair. "I'll get them out of the closet," he said, with a bit of excitement in his voice.
A minute later, he walks out with a box full of old CD's, small enough to fit in a cam-quarter. He dumps the contents on the coffee table and lets his kids sift through the debris.
All the CD's have some title or date written on them in black sharpie, indicating what they are. There are videos like: "Luna's 4th Birthday Party," "Lynn & Rita, Hawaii, 1997," "Lucy's 1st Poetry Recital," "Lincoln's Promise," "Lynn, UoM v Stanford," etc...
"Hey, how about this one?" Lana held up a CD that said "Lincoln's 11th Birthday Party."
Everyone seemed to like the idea, and Lincoln didn't voice any opposition. They watched and enjoyed the video, and a bunch more until well into the night, reveling in one another's company without any need of talking or catching up. They all know they've lived hard lives, that needs not be said, and their curiosities have still yet to get the better of them. Though, one could argue that not talking about an issue or problem is just a means of increasing the tension built up to the moment when the discussion finally takes place. The longer people sit on and ignore the frictions separating them, the harder and harder they are to overcome.
After a few hours, the Loud parents began to fade, against their wills. They both started yawning repeatedly, and, as direly as they want to spend more time in the mere presence of their long lost son, they reluctantly, but wisely elected to get up and go to bed. All they had to do was look at each other to know what the other was thinking.
They're getting older.
They both push themselves out of their seats, Rita from her cramped spot on the couch and Lynn Sr. from his leather chair.
"Alright, kids, your mother and I are going to bed."
"Goodnight," the girls said, casually, dismissively, and not tiredly in the slightest.
"Now, now, just hold on a second, girls." Rita shakes her finger at them, making even the older ones look at her and her well knowing tone. She wouldn't be petty enough to voice her envy at her daughter's ease at staying up late. She knows she'll get to spend more time with her baby boy tomorrow, but actually feel good doing it. She gets back on topic, "It's late, and even though your brother is- even though Lincoln is finally, actually... really sitting right there," still in disbelief, she gestures to him sitting in the middle of the couch, practically buried underneath his sisters, but she reaffirms her tone, "but," she clears her throat, "but even though we're fortunate enough for that to be the case, I don't want to see you be too tired to function tomorrow."
She puts her fists on her hips, and her husband walks up to her and puts his gentle hand on her back with his head pointed down at their room, but she continues. "What I mean is, we're going to let you young ones stay up with your brother, okay, but don't make us regret it in the morning. Lori, can-"
"Don't worry, mom. I'm on top of it." Lori replies, evenly.
"Alright then," Lynn Sr. says, and then, "Goodnight, loves." He said it tiredly though. Rita says the same to their kids, in her own words.
Lincoln climbs out of the couch before his sisters know it, and stands up reactively— covetingly. He takes two steps towards his parents and holds his arms out wide.
They both exhale, touched by his thoughtfulness and his apparently ever affectionate being. In the back of their thoughts, they wish they could lay claim to raising him as such, but they know they can't. Not for all of it, at least.
They hug him back, tightly and passionately, and tell him they love him and missed him as if the world were on fire, but stop before letting themselves cry again. They then walk into their bedroom and close the door for the night, but do lose a few more tears behind it.
Lincoln looks back down at the couch and his many sisters. They smile at him meekly, and pat the middle cushion of the couch, indicating they're not done with him yet. He grins and feels flattered because of it. He's not used to this anymore, and he's going to have to work on that.
As he goes to sit back down and re-submerge himself in their abundant love, he notices the laptop Lisa is on. Right when he turned around, she changed the tab, but he could have sworn the tab she closed had a picture of him on it.
"Hey, Lisa, what was that?" He's open about his suspicions with no reservation, feeling it easiest to be open about it now.
Lisa looks up at him, dumbfounded at his quick and astute vision. She was about to rebut, but gives in for some reason. How he noticed it, she'll never know. She sighs. "Well, if you must know," she reopens the tab she had closed, and there is a picture of him at around ten or eleven on screen. The other girls all look as well. "I tested your DNA," she said flatly.
Some of the girls groan at her, and act annoyed she would still do that at this point, but not Lincoln.
Lisa responds to her sisters noises, "Yes, yes, reprimand me, say what you will, but a simple poem is not enough proof for me. I had hoped you all would feel the same, but evidently not... That poem and Lucy's reaction were very touching and telling, I admit, but now that my emotional high is wearing down, erhm," she rubs her throat as she clears it, "I can think logically. If it's any consolation, this is the real Lincoln. Our Lincoln."
Lincoln chuckles at her attempts of defending he and herself. He defends her right back, "Girls, Lisa is right. As much of a coincidence of me having Lucy's old journal was, it really wasn't proof. Lisa's right to want to know. She's just being herself, so you all shouldn't scold her for it."
Lisa is also surprised and honestly, a bit taken aback by his response. It was thoughtful and very defensive. She feels it necessary to say something. "Well, I'm glad you see it my way, Lincoln," she responds.
Lincoln nods to her, then sits back in his crevice of the couch as if nothing had happened, completely taking this moment back to the new house normal. The sisters, some of them at least, still have furrowed brows of annoyance, but make themselves move on because of their brothers words. It does make sense though, in her defense.
A few more hours go by, sitting quietly and contentedly, until all that's good on tv are reruns of Seinfeld, MASH, and Married with Children.
Eventually, Lincoln lifts his head off the back of the couch, and looks around the room. Everyone here is asleep, he notices, and with ease in the pores of their skin. All of them except for Lily. She looks wired and somehow wide awake.
He looks at her a few moments, longer than he realized, he guesses, because she looks back up at him. She's holding an iPad or some other type of tablet, and the screen is dimly reflective on her face. He suddenly feels out of place, but doesn't react before she reaches her tablet out to him in an offering. He looks at it, and hesitates, but he does reach out and take it. He turns the screen upright in his hands, and looks at what's on it.
Not just him though, she actually drew them all, picturesquely, in the time they've been sitting here. The image is of each of their profiles from her view on the end of the couch, and how they must look facing the tv. They're smiling, and are wrapped around one another. It's drawn with thin, vibrant lines on a black background, and their favorite colors they each normally wear, make up their outlines. Lincoln doesn't know too much about art, besides comic books, but from everything else he's seen, this must be pretty damn good for a ten year old's sketch.
He looks up admiringly. "This is fantastic, Lily," he whispered, baffled, and her cheeks blush as she smiles in the darkness.
Luna stirs in her place, probably from the new soft noise, and she reaches up and down, stretching her tight back and core. She moved enough to rustle Lucy, apparently, which then caused an inevitable chain reaction. And suddenly the Louds were all made awake again. Groggy and half asleep, but awake.
Lola's the first to stand up in her doziness, probably wanting proper beauty sleep in her bed. She helps Lana stand, pulling her up by the hand, and Luna and Lynn stand as well, then they all follow suit.
Lori looks at her phone and sees it's 12:47am, and she also has four missed calls from Bobby. Much too late to drive all the way back to the city, and too late to call her workaholic fiancé, she simply texts him. 'sorry i missed your calls. everything is...more than fine. we have to talk tomorrow. i have big news...' That'll suffice for now. She speaks up to her siblings. "Where's everyone going to sleep tonight?" She asked.
Lisa rubs her eyes under her glasses. "Well, two of you can take the couch. Mom and dad decided to buy a fold out, two months ago, after aunt Shirley popped the air mattress."
Lori rubs her eyes as well. "Okay, that works. Luna, Lynn, if Leni and I share the couch, where will you both sleep?"
Luna looks at her. "Don't worry 'bout me, sis, I'm cool. Our old bunk bed is still in Luan's room," she said, pointing behind her with her thumb. She yawns, "Where is she, anyway?" She then walks up the stairs, and is the first one of them to do so, though smacking her brother with a sloppy kiss on the cheek first, making him flinch away and chortle. He used to hate when she did that when he was a kid. Now he doesn't so much mind.
"Lynn can sleep in my bed. I recently bought a new coffin, and I've been sleeping in it since it arrived," Lucy kindly said. She apparently hasn't grown out of that yet. Guess it's not a phase afterall.
Lynn, in her own daze, patted Lucy on the back and thanked her, appreciatively. They both then begin to head upstairs too, first hugging and kissing Lincoln as Luna did, too, not caring in the slightest at the moment about showing genuine affection. Normally, they still both would care, but it just feels right, right now.
Lori looks around the room, as they head upstairs, followed by Lola, Lana, and even Lisa, who all did the same to Lincoln as their older sisters. Leni already took the cushions off the couch, and began unfolding it. She's humming to herself in apparent glee. That's something Lori definitely notices. It's rare these days.
Lori turns to Lincoln. "I guess.. would you be fine in your old room? It's probably too small for you now, but I think it's pretty much the same as it was." She said that in an almost motherly tone.
"He can sleep with us, down here!" Leni nearly yelled at them, excitement clear in her voice.
Lori smiled sheepishly at her innocent sister.
Lincoln chuckles again, and says "Thanks, Leni, but this bed's just a bit too small for the three of us." He looks back to Lori. "I'll be fine upstairs, Lore. Thanks for the concern though." He looks around, trying to spot Lily but doesn't find her. She must've gone upstairs already, he thinks. "I'm going to head up too, I guess," he tells his oldest sisters.
Lori walks to him and hugs him tightly— lovingly, her cheek pressing against his collar bone. She inhales and recognizes his faint, familiar smell; not something she anticipated remembering. She moves up and pecks him on the forehead, making him bend down so she can do so. He smiles at her and feels a certain twinge of happiness from it. Then, Lincoln walks over and hugs Leni too, or more accurately, Leni hugs him like an anaconda, berating him with affectionate kisses, and never wanting to let him go. "I knew it was you," she whispered into his ear, standing on her tip-toes.
Lincoln smiles fondly at her. How she knew, he doesn't have any idea.
He tells them both he loves them and missed them, and they then watch him as he ascends the stairwell, heading up to his old room he hasn't seen for nine years. Nine years. That's something the girls thought they'd never see again.
As Lori begins to put on the covers, she still can't help but be a little worried. She accepts that's Lincoln, she honestly does thanks to Lisa, but they don't know a thing about him. Nobody asked him about where he's been, nobody asked him where he came from, and that's cause for alarm as it is. Saying he's different would be the understatement of the century. Despite his apparently ever remaining kindness... he's big, and intimidating, and not to mention... sort of disconcerting. She doesn't quite know why that is yet though. As she gets in bed, she grows concerned for her younger siblings. He's going to be right there: with easy access to any one of them while they sleep. Shit, he could be a lunatic now for all Lori or the rest of the Loud's know.
It makes her want to have a talk with him tomorrow.
Upstairs, Lincoln looks down the hall once he reached the top. He looks around at the open doors and wonders how the rooms have changed for their new inhabitants. The hall light was off, so the only light was emanating from the bedrooms and the bathroom nightlight. He turns and looks at his own door. It shouldn't be so daunting. After all, it's just a closet, though he does feel hesitant to go in.
Just then he notices some music. It comes from Luna's and Luan's old room. Maybe Luna still listens to music before bed. That is something she would do. Not surprising to him at all, since she is a literal rock-star. The music carries through the hall.
Beat the clock. Try to make it stop
Before time can draw the line
And cut you down to her size
He takes a few steps forward, and stops at what he remembered to be Lisa's and Lily's door. It was open, and some lights were on inside, but he knocked anyway. They both look, Lisa swivels in her desk chair, and Lily was flipping through a sketch pad.
Beat the clock. Try to make it stop
Tell me how long will it take
Before you finally realize
That the carnival is over
And you've seen much better days
Lincoln holds up the iPad. "Hey, Lily, you forgot you left this with me." Lincoln looks at her and the wall behind her, and all around her bed. It's completely covered in all sorts of paintings, colored drawings, and sketches, even on the ceiling for her half of the room. Lisa's half was more like a bedroom than the giant chemistry set it was years ago. She probably expanded her lab under the basement and moved everything there.
You have wasted too much time
Into many different plays
Lily jumps off her bed, already wearing her pajamas, and walks to him quickly. "Thanks, big brother!" She speaks with her eyes too, reminiscent of her as a baby.
You deny the possibility
Of growing old
You are filled with false humility
You're much too bold
Lincoln smiled at hearing that and seeing her. It's still such a pleasant sound, and it makes him remember how nice of a ring it used to have when he was Lily's age. It still does ring like a church bell. He missed it.
Beat the clock. Try to make it stop
Before time can draw the line
And cut you down to her size
Lily tossed her iPad onto her bed, and quickly ran back up to him, grabbed his hand and lead him into the hall, Lisa observing all the while. Lily closed her room door behind them, so Lincoln knew something was obviously about to happen. She looked to his closed door and then to him. "Lincoln, can I ask you a question?"
Beat the clock. Try to make it stop
Tell me how long will it take
Before you finally realize
"Sure, Lily," he replied, wanting her to like him. He knelt down to be eye to eye with her, curious of what it is she's about to say.
That you're in this game same as me
Although you think you're not
Lily looked to all the bedroom doors, and listened carefully for a moment. She spoke in just above a whisper, "I just- I just really want to know where you were all this time." She said that pleadingly, looking at the ground, like she felt bad about it. "Nobody would tell me, and they told me not to ask you about it before dinner, and I'm sorry, but I really, really want to know. I'm sorry." She genuinely seemed to be.
When you try to rise above it all
You get just what you got
Lincoln wetted his lips, and exhaled slowly. He had expected someone would ask him at some point early on, but he figured it would be Lisa or his parents or one of his oldest sisters— not his youngest, ten year old sister. He started to think about how to answer her, with tremendous difficulty. He has to be careful. He looked at her, and made an impulse decision. "I... I traveled. I traveled across the entire the world, Lily," he managed, and hid his solemnity, only misleading her.
It seems to me you're slipping
You seem slightly unnerved
When you finally see yourself
You get what you deserve
Lily's eyes opened wide, and she voiced a fragile gasp at his words. She began to smile a large, toothy smile— one that could make your cheeks cramp.
Beat the clock. Try to make it stop
Before time can draw the line
And cut you down to her size
He could tell that she was about to ask multiple follow up questions but he cut her off first. He gently put one hand over her soft lips, and one finger up to his own. He looked back down the hall, then whispered some more, thinking quickly, "But, Lily, that's going to be our little secret for now, okay? Just for a little while. I'll... I'll tell everyone where I went at some point soon. Okay?"
Beat the clock. Try to make it stop
Tell me how long will it take
Before you finally realize
Lily nodded eagerly, and gave her brother the OK sign with her right hand, probably trying to play it cool to her cool new big brother. She's ecstatic she finally gets to know him. Just finally being in his presence makes her whole body tingle like never before.
That the carnival is over
And you've seen much better days
You have wasted too much time
Into many different plays
Lincoln nodded, extremely relieved. Then he stands up, gives Lily a wink, and gets one back from her, then he finally heads to his room. He quickly opens and closes the door behind him, turns on the light and goes to sit on his bed. He runs his fingers through his hair, and sighs with one hand pressed against his chest, as he looks about his things, as if he's in a very small museum. Everything is exactly where he left it, as far as he can remember, but a bit dusty now. Looks like they never changed a thing. He shifts his gaze to the book on his dresser— the gift he got from Lisa for his eleventh birthday. He picks it up and brushes off the dust, then slips Lucy's old poetry journal out of his pocket and puts it down in its place. The Count of Monte Cristo. He lays back on his bed and opens it to the first page. He'd never had a chance to read it before.
You deny the possibility
Of growing old
Luan was the last one awake tonight. She stood idly in her door frame, after remaining speechless and distant all evening, and just wondered. She wondered what would happen if she went in Lincoln's room right now. What would he say? What would she say? He hadn't hardly looked at her all day, besides their sole hug, hours ago. Ugh it felt so good. She wonders if he'd noticed her not being there, if he missed her like she missed him. She flicks her sights at Lily's and Lisa's room, then right back to Lincoln's. She looked back down to the hard floor, her eyes now dimming like a candle. She exhaled slowly, unevenly, then went in her room, and closed the door behind her.
You are filled with false humility
You're much too bold