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Return of the Prodigals
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Return of the Prodigals
by Twig

Hotchkiss Mansion

"No…" Rebecca held up her hands weakly as people flooded towards the gates to the Hotchkiss estate. She had fled home shortly after regaining consciousness, and yet people were still showing up for the wedding reception. The worst part, was that most of them had actually BEEN at the wedding, and were merely arriving to take advantage of the free food. She felt her heart drop to her feet as she saw Ethan run in, holding Theresa's hand. They were both smiling and laughing, and he was more animated than she had ever seen him. And for the love of god…that Chad Harris boy was actually playing music. Dear lord…people were dancing. ETHAN was dancing with Theresa. And her Gwen was nowhere in sight.
"A Lopez-Fitzgerald…" Rebecca muttered to herself, "Oh…this has GOT to be a bad dream!" When she pinched herself to no effect, her eyes rolled up into her head and she fainted for the second time in two hours. This time, no one paid her any attention.

"I honestly do not understand what we are doing here," Paloma grumbled, looking around at her surroundings, "No one actually got married."
Stephanie Crane handed her a glass of punch, "Any excuse to torture Rebecca Hotchkiss…"
Paloma started at the voice, "Who are you?"
"Stephanie Crane. The often-forgotten child of Julian and Ivy. I'm currently plotting my father's demise. Would you like to help?"
Paloma stared at her oddly, "Um…no, thank you."
Stephanie suddenly spotted Gabriel, standing off by himself, looking forlorn.
"Excuse me," she said with a grin, "I've got some business to attend to." She hurried off, leaving Paloma alone once again.
"Dear lord, the world has gone mad," Paloma muttered, holding her full cup of punch gingerly as she attempted to navigate her way through the crowds. As she congratulated herself on a deft move to escape the path of a fat man on a rampage towards the buffet, she turned a corner and smacked right into someone, splashing the red punch all over his white dress shirt and dark suit pants.
"HEY!"
Mortified, Paloma raised her gaze to look into a pair of piercing blue eyes. Her gaze traveled further to note locks of blond hair that peeked out from beneath a baseball cap that was worn backwards on his head.
"Watch where you're going," he said sourly, glaring at her.
Paloma crossed her arms, "I'm SORRY. But there's no need to be rude."
"You just ruined my suit!"
"And you just ruined my punch."
"YOU crashed into ME."
"YOU were in the way!"

"Just…Get me a napkin or something," he said, annoyed.
"Get your own damn napkin! What do you think I am, your personal servant?"
"Now it's MY fault that you can't look where you're walking?"
"LISTEN, backwards baseball cap boy—"
"I am a rebel."
Paloma raised her eyebrows, "All right, REBEL, let's get a few things straight. First of all, I have spent my ENTIRE LIFE being ignored, but I am not SO starved for attention that I'm going to just let you walk all over me. And second of all, you are making a big deal out of NOTHING! You spilled a bit of punch, and now you're trying to bite my head off over it—"
"YOU spilled the punch."
Paloma shrugged, "A mere technicality."
William made a disgusted noise, "You know what? This is not worth it. I have better things to do with my time than waste it on you."
He stomped off, wiping at the large stain on his shirt.
Paloma glared after him.

Theresa, who had been watching the whole exchange, hurried over and grabbed her sister's arm. "It's fate!"
Paloma stared at her as if she were crazy, "What's fate?"
Theresa grinned knowingly, "You and William belong together…"
"William? Is that his name?"
"Yes," Theresa nodded with a smile, "And you two are destined to be together."
"I don't even KNOW him!"
"It doesn't matter. It's fate."
"Not only do I not know him, but I don't particularly like him," Paloma snorted, "he's obnoxious."
"He's just showing off."
"WHAT does he possibly have to show off?"
"He's a Crane," Theresa shrugged, "Ethan's brother. He probably feels the need to impress you, but that doesn’t mean—"
"He's RELATED to that idiot you're in love with?!"
Theresa frowned slightly, "Ethan is wonderful."
"Oh yes, he's just a doll. And William is even more pleasant," Paloma's voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"You'll see," Theresa said with a smug smile, "Fate has plans for you."
Then she hurried off to find Ethan.
Paloma watched her go with a scowl. If William Crane was the best fate could do, then fate really had a few screws loose.




"All right," Elizabeth said, having to yell to be heard over the music that Chad was playing, "Are you ready to leave?"
She had changed into a pair of jeans and a sweater, and was holding a small backpack filled with various things she had deemed necessary to their little excursion.
Miguel, who had also changed into comfortable attire, nodded his head, "Yes, I'm ready. Let's go."
She nodded and the two of them walked purposefully off towards the exit to the Hotchkiss Estate.




"Kay, what are we doing here?" Simone sighed, looking around at all the unfamiliar people.
Kay scanned the crowds, "We're here so I can grab Miguel while he's free. I plan on showing him just how much I love him."
"Kay, I haven't even SEEN Miguel since the wedding."
"You're right," Kay frowned, "I don't know where he went."
"Maybe he's with Elizabeth," Simone said with a smirk.
"That's not even funny," Kay glared at her, wishing that she could find Miguel somewhere amidst the crowd.
"Wow…" Simone suddenly said.
"What? Do you see Miguel?" Kay asked excitedly.
"No…" Simone shook her head, "Someone else."

Joshua Hotchkiss and Bradley Hotchkiss were scanning the crowds.
"I guess Elizabeth left," Joshua said with a dispassionate shrug.
"Oh well…" Bradley sighed. Suddenly he spotted someone across the courtyard.
"What are you looking at?" Joshua asked him.
"I think I just saw the girl of my dreams…" Bradley headed through the crowd, his twin brother in pursuit.

"Excuse me," Kay glanced up in shock at the handsome young man who stood in front of her.
"Yes?" she asked, somewhat startled.
"Would you like to dance?" Bradley Hotchkiss asked with a suave grin.
Kay nodded slowly, taking his hand.
Simone beamed as her friend and the rather handsome, if sullen, Hotchkiss boy began to sway to the music. Suddenly, someone grabbed her hand, and she found herself gazing into an identical face.
"Dance?" Joshua asked her.
Simone grinned and followed him out onto the dance floor.




Somewhere Outside Harmony

"Maybe if I held up a sign that identified me as a Crane, people would stop," Elizabeth muttered as another car sped past them without even so much as slowing down.
Miguel continued to hold his thumb out in the classic hitchhiker's pose, "Either that or they'd shoot you. Cranes aren't exactly popular around here."
"Gee, I can't imagine why."
Miguel shrugged and looked up hopefully as a car came roaring down the narrow road.
"They won't stop," Elizabeth said with a sigh.
"Maybe they will," Miguel continued to watch the car. It wasn't slowing down…
"They're not slowing down—"
Suddenly the car screeched to a halt in front of them, kicking up dirt.

Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief, "Of all the cars…the one that stops is a HEARSE!?"
Miguel rubbed his forehead.
The dark tinted window rolled down to reveal a skeletal, pallid man with wispy gray hair, "You kids need a ride?"
"I am NOT getting into a hearse," Elizabeth hissed.
Miguel weighed his options, then turned to the driver, "We'd love a ride, thank you."
"Next thing you know, we'll be dead bodies in the back of this thing," Elizabeth grumbled, pointing to the door, "YOU can get in first."
"It can't possibly be that bad—"
"Spending a six hour trip on the road in a hearse with a man who looks like he just crawled out of one of those coffins?! Tell me Miguel, where does the good part come in?"
The old man leaned further towards them, "Where you kids goin?"
Elizabeth sighed, "Bwizville."
He scratched his chin, his bony fingers seeming to poke through the papery skin, "Ah…Bwizville…yes, I know where that is. Ya, I think I'm passing through there, so long as you kids don't mind taking a brief trip to the morgue."
Miguel gave a start, and backed away from the door, "Excuse me?"
"I have to drop off the body," the man pointed to the back of the hearse. "Get in, you two."
Shooting Miguel a murderous glare, Elizabeth shoved him towards the hearse.

Moments later they were driving down the road in silence, only the sound of the old man's harsh breathing breaking the quiet that hung over the car's interior.
"So," the old man said finally, "What's yer names?"
Elizabeth leaned her head against the window, "Elizabeth Crane."
"Miguel Lopez-Fitzgerald."
The old man scratched his head, ruffling up the thin, sparse wisps of hair, "Crane…Crane…say, you wouldn't be related to them Cranes in Harmony, are ya?"
Elizabeth went to reply but Miguel clamped a hand over her mouth.
"No, she's not," he said quickly.
Elizabeth shot him a questioning look.
"Ah…that's good," the old man nodded slowly, coughing once with a loud bark, "Nothin in the world worse than them Cranes. I can't wait 'till the day I got the whole damn lot of em in the back of this here hearse…"
Elizabeth's eyes widened.
"Yep…that'll be the day," the man chuckled dryly, "Eh, I'm not too good with names. What did you say yours was again, young lady?"
"Elizabeth," she said weakly.
"Libby, eh?"
She wrinkled up her nose. Never in her life had her name been shortened into a convenient nickname. Always being called the distinguished-sounding Elizabeth. She knew the same went for William, he was never known as Will or Bill or Billy.
"I don't believe I caught your name," she said finally, looking pointedly to the old man.
His thin, pale lips pulled into a smile that revealed a set of crooked yellow teeth, "Eh…you want to know my name?"
"That is generally how introductions go," Elizabeth said snippily, before she could stop herself.
"Fair enough," he said with a nod, "Fair enough. The name's Lucius. I've been driving this here hearse for long as I can remember."

After another moment of silence, the old man said, "So Libby, are you and this young lad here on the run from something?"
Elizabeth let out a laugh, "on the RUN?! What could we possibly be on the run from?"
"I never pick up hitchhikers," Lucius said softly, "Never can tell what they been up to. You two could've been off on a murderin' spree, for all I know."
"I assure you," Miguel said, amused, "that we haven't killed anyone."
"So where you headin? You two getting married?"
Miguel and Elizabeth exchanged glances before laughing, "Um, no."
"We're heading to the Bwizville Center for Mental and Emotional Welfare," Miguel finally said.
"You got problems?"
"No," Elizabeth corrected, "We're going to…ah…visit a friend."
Lucius nodded slowly, "Ya, the old crazy house. They can make it sound all pretty and modern and nice, but inside it's just the same as it always was. Padded walls, stark white floors, the sounds of the mad drifting from room to room…" his voice trailed off as if he were remembering something.
"Pardon me for asking," Elizabeth said delicately, "But have you ever BEEN to this place?"
"Been there?!" he scoffed, "Hell, I called it home for more than twenty years."
Elizabeth and Miguel exchanged horrified glances.

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