From Far Beyond

by Jade Dawn

Chapter 2: Homecoming

From Far Beyond

A “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” Fanfiction

Written by Jade Dawn

“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is owned by Hasbro. I own none of the characters except the ones I have created for this story.

Chapter 2: Homecoming

Home sweet home, Fizzlepop thought as she and Twilight made their way up to the entrance of the Castle of Friendship.

After the incident at Coco Pommel's apartment, the two had booked a room in one of Manehattan's many hotels, and spent the night there. Or at least Fizzlepop had. Twilight had gone to the city library from the time they had gotten the room to around 3:00 in the morning. Fizzlepop could only assume that she was trying to to research into whatever had happened to Coco. They'd had breakfast a little later, then managed to catch the train back to Ponyville.

Twilight had been uncharacteristically silent through the whole ride back. Fizzlepop could almost see the wheels in her head turning in vain to rationalize what had happened. And it kept going like that even after they had left the train and made their way back to the castle.

As they crossed through the entrance, Spike came running up to them.

"Welcome back, Twi! How was the–WHOA!" He was practically knocked off his feet as Twilight bolted past him.

"Yikes," Spike said as Fizzlepop helped him up. "What's with her?"

"She's been like this ever since last night," Fizzlepop said.

"Really? What happened to get her so riled up?"

Fizzlepop explained what had happened the night before. The urgent summons, Coco Pommel's disappearance, the locator spell failure, all of it.

"Well, that would explain it," Spike said when she had finished. "Sounds like she's heading to the library to do some more research." He shook his head as the two began to follow Twilight's path. "Coco Pommel, huh? Gee. I wonder what the motive was?"

"We don't know," Fizzlepop replied. "The whole thing is like a dead-end. No leads, no clues, not even any hoof-prints. And as for that locator spell...well, I'm not too knowledgeable in magic, but just from looking at Twilight's reaction, I can tell this is much worse than we thought."

"So, other than that, how was the rest of the trip?"

Fizzlepop shrugged. "Eh, it went about as well as one could expect from this sort of thing."

Spike's voice took on a tone of seriousness. "Nopony gave you any trouble, did they?" he asked.

"No," Fizzlepop answered. "I got a few odd glances, but that was it. Although the fact that Princess Twilight was there probably had something to do with why I actually lived to get back on the train." She gave him a glance. "I still can't get over how I could do so much to you and everyone else, and yet here you are, asking me how I'm doing."

"It's because you're a friend," Spike said, as casually as though he were talking about the weather. "Friends look out for each other. Yeah, you've made a couple of mistakes, but at least you've turned over a new leaf. Besides, it's not the first time it's happened. I mean, look at Starlight Glimmer; she almost wrecked the timeline, and yet here she is today: formerly Twilight's first student, and now she's working in the Crystal Empire with Sunburst."

"The only reason no one wants her arrested or banished or anything like that is because only the Elements and the Princesses know about that," Fizzlepop noted. "They never made an official statement to the public about it."

Spike's smile dropped a little. "Fair enough. But the point is, if Starlight could come from those depths and get a life as good as the one she's got now, then I don't think you've got anything to worry about. Ah, here we are," he said, as they had finally reached the entrance to the castle library.

As they went through the doors, the stared at it's sole occupant prior to their arrival. Twilight was sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by a large pile of books, all on magic or magical anomalies. She was holding up several with her telekinesis, flipping through the pages at a rate to boggle the mind, and muttering to herself all the while, clearly in a kind of frenzy.

Fizzlepop and Spike looked on in amazement.

"Wow," Spike said. "I think she's beaten her record for most pages turned in a second."

Fizzlepop gave him a quizzical look. "Is that even a thing?"

"Oh, trust me, there were a lot that we discovered were a thing once we moved here."

"Oh, come on," Twilight murmured to herself as she read. "Gotta be something, gotta be something, gotta be something, NO!" She dropped all the books and sank her head. "There's nothing in there at all! Literally nopony has seen this kind of phenomenon before! Oh, how can I help find Coco Pommel if I don't even know–" Her head popped up as she suddenly became aware of the other two occupants in the room. "Oh. I, long have you two been standing there?"

"Only a few seconds," Spike replied.

Twilight stood up and straightened her mane a little. "I'm sorry about all that. I just...well..."

"You're nervous," Fizzlepop finished. "You've found something completely out of anypony's experience, and you're disturbed by it."

"Yeah. Me in a nutshell." She took a deep breath. "Spike. I'm going to need to send a letter to Princess Celestia. Maybe she and Luna can help us out." She picked up a quill and parchment from a nearby table, and began to write.

Dear Princess Celestia,

I am writing this to inform you of a very disturbing circumstance that has come to my attention.

Last night, a mare in Manehattan named Coco Pommel was abducted from her apartment by as-of-now unknown assailants. Little-to-no evidence was left at the crime scene, and the police are totally baffled.

More disturbingly, I cast a locator spell on one of Ms. Pommel's personal effects, only for the trail to somehow abruptly end on the rooftop of the building. I do not believe this means that she is dead, but I can't offer any further theories other than that.

Do you know of anything that might cause this particular effect in a locator spell? If not, is there any books in the Canterlot Archives that might lead to some clues?

Thank you in advance,
Princess Twilight Sparkle

Twilight finished the letter, wrapped it up, and gave it to Spike, who sent it off with a small puff of green fire.

Fizzlepop watched the parchment vanish in the emerald flame. "I still can't understand how that works," she said.

"So now what do we do?" Spike asked.

"Well, we can't do much right now," Twilight replied. "We'll just have to wait until she sends a response." She looked over at the chaotic assortment of books on the library floor. "And maybe clean up this mess of mine," she added with a sheepish look.

Eric Colby was usually pretty good at paying attention in class, even if the topic wasn't at all interesting to him. Like right now. He was sitting with about fifteen other students in twelfth grade statistics, and he could barely understand it to save his life. He still tried his best to pay attention, though. At least, he usually did.

But today, he had other things on his mind.

It must've shown, because he was suddenly yanked from his inner thoughts when Mr. Mauchik suddenly called out, "Mr. Colby! Are you paying attention to what I'm saying right now?"

Eric jumped in his seat a little, before collecting himself and answering, "Uh, yes, sir."

Mr. Mauchik nodded slowly, as if unconvinced. "We'll see about that on the next test." He turned back to the smart board to continue the lesson. As he rambled on about some complex statistics equation, Eric kept his eyes and ears focused, trying as best he could to let the information soak into his mind, with a varying degree of success.

At an initial glance, Eric Colby seemed to be fairly ordinary for a boy of 17. His hair was dark brown in color, and his eyes were a lighter shade, almost hazel, masked by a pair of glasses due to an unfortunate case of near-sightedness.

But beneath all of that, Eric had quite an inquisitive mind. Especially when it came to the science. Eric had an almost irresistible love of how the Universe around him operated, and he could probably spit out facts on everything from orbital rotations to dinosaur fauna if you just asked him. He also dabbled in fanfiction writing, and he planned to take a course in authoring and screenwriting in college.

Of course, like most people, he had his quirks. He occasionally struggled with topics that seemed foreign to him. Like statistics. Sometimes he got stressed with things that were new or hard to understand. But he was pretty bright overall.

To sum him up, he was a bit of a nerd. And proud of it, he would occasionally joke.

His thoughts were once again interrupted when Mr. Mauchik suddenly turned away from the smartboard to make an announcement. Klaus Mauchik was an older man with a pointed white beard and a strict, no-nonsense attitude. When the students had first heard his name, it became the private joke of the class. Some of the kids had even taken to calling him "Mr. Moochick", or sometimes just "the Moochick". At least, they used to. Some idiot had made the mistake of calling him that directly to his face. The death glare he had given the students had frightened them all into vowing never to call him that again. At least around him. They still did it when they felt confident he wasn't watching.

"All right, class," he said. "Now as you all now, we were supposed to have this assembly yesterday during Career Day, but since our guest speaker couldn't make it due to business reasons, so they have moved it to next period."

The class collectively nodded.

"Now," Mr. Mauchick went on. "I want you all to be on your best behavior. Our speaker gone to a lot of trouble to take time out of his schedule to talk to us here, and I don't want to see any of you goofing off. Do you understand?"

A multitude of "uh-huhs" arose from the students.

"Good. Now, they'll probably be calling us up in about, oh..." he raised up his arm so he could check his watch, only to discover that it was not present upon his wrist. "Um, hang on." He checked his pockets, coming up fruitless. He then turned to his desk and started lifting up papers and documents. "I say, you haven't seen my watch, haven't you?" he muttered to no one in particular. Behind him, a few of the rowdier students were beginning to giggle, and Eric himself couldn't help but crack a smile.

At that moment, the intercom clicked on, saving Mr. Mauchik from any further humiliation. "Attention all teachers in grades nine through twelve; please bring your students to the auditorium for Mr. Brant's Career Day speech in five minutes." The intercom went silent with a brief burst of static.

"Well, there you go. Alright class," Mauchik said as the students made their way to the door. "Let's make our way to the auditorium in an orderly, non-pushing or shoving fashion."

As the class walked out into the halls and merged with the other high school groups, Eric caught snatches of some of the conversations between the kids.

"The Moochick lost his watch again."

"Again? That's like the fifth time this week!"

"Why doesn't he just check his phone?"

"Does he even have one?" Eric interjected. "I'm pretty sure he's one of those guys who still thinks that TV comes from the Devil."

There was a chorus of laughter from the other students, and Eric laughed along with them.

He felt a sudden tap on his shoulder, and he turned to see a red-haired girl in a black leather jacket coming up alongside him.

"Hey, Eric," she said. "How'd Stats go?"

"Oh hi, Megan," Eric replied. "About same as usual."

"Didn't understand it?"

Eric shook his head. "Not at all."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I have a tough time with it too. Does that make you feel any better?" Megan replied, smiling a little.

Eric smiled back, and shrugged. "A little."

If someone asked who Eric's closest friend was, Megan Williams would almost invariably be the answer. The two had first met during their latter days in middle school, and had been close friends ever since. Megan had shared Eric's interest in science, although not quite to the same degree. Either way, the two were very close, and in school they were rarely seen apart except when classes demanded it. Of course, there were always those rumors from the rowdier kids that they were more than just friends, but Eric and Megan didn't let that bother them.

Besides, they might have been true.

As the line of students entered the auditorium, Eric and Megan continued their conversation while they found seats. Already, the hall was filled with students, all chatting excitedly. On a large screen on the stage in front of the hall were the words "Today's Guest Speaker: Charles Brant, President of TechnoCorp Enterprises". Underneath this was the all-too familiar TechnoCorp logo, written in bright blue and green block lettering, and below that was the company slogan: "Moving Humanity Forward".

"I feel a little bad for not understanding it, though," Eric continued after they had found a place to land. "If what the kindergarten teachers said about 'math will be a part of everything in life' or whatever is true, then I'm gonna be in trouble."

"I don't think they meant it like that." Megan assured him. "And besides, how many people do you see doing statistics equations on the average day?"

"Good point." He sighed. "Of course, I did kinda have other things on my mind during class," he admitted.

"Oh, like what?" Megan asked. "Is it that Lion King fanfic you've been working on?" Her voice took on a note of concern. "Did it get a lot of downvotes or something?"

"No, no," Eric replied. "It's getting good reviews so far. I just finished writing part where the space shuttle crashes in the Pride Lands. I'm still trying to figure out a way to foreshadow the alien parasite that they accidentally brought with them."

Megan smiled. Only a kid like Eric could take The Lion King, add in astronauts and alien monsters, and somehow make it work. "But seriously," she continued. "What's on your mind?"

"Well..." Eric paused, as if the truth would be somehow embarrassing to admit. "Today's the day Dad is coming home."

"Oh, yeah." Megan replied. "I forgot he went away for work." She nodded at the TechnoCorp logo at the front of the auditorium. "He works for TechnoCorp, right?"

"Yeah. He's one of their computer programmers. He usually works from home, but every once in a while they'll have him come down to their research facility at Midnight Island for some 'top-secret company business' or whatever." He made little quotation signs with his fingers for extra effect. "This time around, he's been working there for almost a year."

"Yeah, I remember you telling me about that," Megan said. "Midnight Island, huh? A lot of people would kill to get a glimpse at what they're cooking up in there."

Eric was about to respond, but his attention was drawn away when they noticed Principal Quinn, a tall, gray haired woman in her mid-sixties, beginning to take the stage. She tapped the microphone mounted on the podium a few times, and began to address the now crowded auditorium.

"Students, may I have your attention at this time? Thank you. Now, as you're teachers have probably already mentioned, we had hoped to have our guest speaker come in yesterday for Career Day. Unfortunately, he had some unexpected business to attend to which delayed him. Fortunately, he has managed to find time today to come and speak to you all, with a message that I hope will spawn inspiration in the hearts of all of our students. And so, without further to do..." She gestured to the right of the stage. "Mr. Brant, will you please come up at this time?"

Off to the side of the stage, a tall man with light brown hair and a slight bit of stubble stood up and began walking up to the podium. As he came under the glare of the stage lights, the audience went wild, clapping and cheering as if they had just seen a home run for their favorite baseball team.

Brant shook Ms. Quinn's hand as he made his way to the podium, and straightened his tie a little before addressing the assembly.

"Good morning, kids," he said. "First of all, I'd like to apologize for not being able to make it here sooner, but, as Ms. Quinn said, there was some business I had to check on. Secondly, I'd like to thank Greenwood High for allowing me to come and talk to you for a little while."

He cleared his throat a little and smiled. "Now, by this point, quite a few of you will be making preparations for college and all of that. And even if it's not exactly an impending thing for you, I'm sure you're parents have already begun discussing it. Believe me, I know what it feels like. The stress of finishing up high school, finding the right college, signing this form and that form and all of me, I've been there. Needless to say, it's pretty nerve-wracking. Isn't it?"

There were a lot of answers in the affirmative, and Eric even heard someone say something along the lines of "you don't know the half of it".

Brant smiled back at the kids. He leaned forward a little, and with the utmost sincerity in his voice, he continued. "I also know what it feels like when you think it'll be too much. That you're not going to make it. All those thoughts that you'll end up as a hobo if you flunk out or fail or something. As unbelievable as it may sound to you, I've been there myself."

As he spoke, he continually looked around at all the students. And when he spoke next, Eric felt as though the statement was directed right at him.

"But I wanted to tell you this. Maybe you've heard it before, but I'm gonna tell you it anyway: You. Can. Make it."

Eric thought he felt something akin to encouragement beginning to well up in his chest.

To say that Charles Brant was a man of great wealth would be the biggest understatement of the 21st Century. As of 2018, Brant was officially the richest man in the world, with only Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates coming in close second and third, respectively. And the majority of that wealth had been gained through Brant's company, TechnoCorp Enterprises.

No one knew much about Brant's past life. The world barely even knew that he existed until the mid-90's, when he and a group of former college friends got together to build a fledgling programming company, attempting to capitalize on the growing computer craze. At the time, they had used the name TechnoCorp as just a fun little moniker. None of them could have predicted how much it would come to mean.

From these little seeds, TechnoCorp began to grow. They went from about a dozen people to five dozen, then hundreds, then thousands. They started expanding their interests, beginning to produce home appliances and other electronics. By 1999, TechnoCorp was one of America's leading technology developers.

And it just kept growing from there. They began dabbling in more ambitious interests. Everything from oil to prototype space planes was in TechnoCorp's roster of projects, and they were all done with excellence. And rumor had it that they were producing devices far beyond even the wildest dreams of military and industrial science. They quickly rose to become one of the world's most wealthy companies. In short, they were doing incredibly well. By the early 2000s, they were officially more financially successful than even Microsoft.

But the biggest boon to the company occurred in late 2007, with the purchase of SynthX Industries. SynthX was a bio-engineering firm that had been pushed to Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a near-disaster involving a genetically engineered malaria cure went terribly awry. The company might have gone out of business if TechnoCorp hadn't bought it out. And suddenly, TechnoCorp was dabbling in genetic engineering on top of everything else, and it was still one of their most-discussed fields of research. Already, they were putting their new products into stores; new breeds of dogs, cats, and fish were being created, as well as new species of household plants. The most famous of these was something they had called the Eternal Autumn, a hybrid tree whose leaves retained their fall colors all year round, and could survive extreme temperatures both hot and cold.

Now, almost 20 years after its inception, TechnoCorp had firmly cemented itself as the most wealthy and prosperous company in all of the world. They had trade deals all across the planet, and several military and research contracts to boot. Of course, their competitors, such as Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft were still around; they still did what they did best. But TechnoCorp had long since left them in the dust with their accomplishments. Their company headquarters was actually located in New York City, about 15 miles up from Eric's hometown of Greenwood.

But it wasn't just their wealth or size that made TechnoCorp so famous. Brant was a man of integrity, and he saw to it that his company took good care of its employees. The pay was excellent. Wage gaps were non-existent. To have a job in any of TechnoCorp's many departments was to be pretty much set for life.

It was in this industrial supergiant that Eric's father worked. Dr. Jonathan Colby was a somewhat minor computer programmer, but he had been involved in some of TechnoCorp's most famous and ambitious projects. His most recent project (at least as far as his non-disclosure agreements would allow him to tell to his family) had been designing a training simulator for the company's V-147 Prowess V-TOL fighter, which was becoming rapidly popular with the United States and Royal Air Forces. Better yet, his job occasionally brought him to Midnight Island, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic that served as TechnoCorp's main research and development facility. It was where they tested their most secret, experimental, and sometimes dangerous projects, away from public scrutiny and potential harm.

The Colbys were, of course, very proud of their father's accomplishments. But they were even happier that he would be coming back home for a month to spend time with them. Eric was no exception in the slightest.

Brant took a deep breath as he began to wrap up his speech. "I hope you all take what I've said to heart," he said. "Trust me, I know what it's like to worry about the future, probably more than you ever will. But if you truly want to make your dreams come true, then you don't quit. You push on. You move forward. And as long as you keep making that effort...then nothing can stop you if you don't want it to." He gave a bit of a smile. "End of lecture. Class dismissed," he added with a small chuckle.

There was a loud and enthusiastic round of applause.

As everyone began filing out to go back to their scheduled classes, Brant stood by the exit, occasionally shaking hands with one or two of the students. As he reached out to shake Eric's as he walked by, he suddenly did a double take.

"Hey, wait a minute," he said. "I think I've seen you somewhere before."

Eric froze. " do?" he asked.

At least, that was what he said out loud. In his mind, he was going absolutely bonkers with the fact that Charles Brant was talking to him.

Brant suddenly snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah! I remember you now. You're Dr. Colby's boy, right?"

"You mean Jonathan Colby?" Eric asked.

"Yeah, that's him. Works in the programming department?"

"Yeah. He's my dad. I'm his oldest. Name's Eric."

"Yes, I remember him telling me about you. Wonderful guy. Good at what he does, too. Nice to meet you, Eric," Brant said as he shook Eric's hand.

By this point, Eric was thoroughly awestruck. Not only was Brant talking to him, but he actually knew who he was.

Best day ever.

"Do you mind if we talk a little while you head back to class?" Brant asked.

It suddenly occurred to Eric that the others had probably long since went back to the room. "Uh, yeah. Sure."

Brant nodded, and the two stepped out into the hall.

"So...when did Dad tell you about me?" Eric asked as they walked.

"A while back, actually. He's told me all about your family. He's coming home for a vacation this week, if I remember correctly."

Eric nodded. "Uh-huh. He's actually arriving today."

"Really? Well, tell him I said hello when you get the chance." He cleared his throat. "So, Eric. What do you want to be when you grow up."

"Well..." Eric paused. "I was thinking of going into the writing business. You know, screenwriting, novels, that kind of thing."

"Good to hear. Heaven knows we need some good writers these days."

Eric smiled a little. "Thing is...I'm a little nervous about it all. I mean, going into college and getting a job and all that."

Brant looked at him, his face betraying a hint of concern. "Oh? Why is that?" he asked.

"There's just a lot. One of my classes this year is financial math, and there's like a million different expenses and taxes and mortgages and..." He trailed off, and shook his head. "I'm just not sure that I'm gonna be able to keep on top of everything."

Brant nodded. "I know how that feels. Believe me, I do."

Eric nodded. "Yeah, you told us about that."

Brant smiled. "I think you're gonna be alright, Eric. Your Dad is always talking about how smart you are. And you know what? From what I've heard, I think he's right. You're gonna do alright, Eric. I can feel it."

They stopped in front of one of the many doors that lined the hallway. "Is this your class?"

"Yeah. Participation in Government," Eric replied.

"Well, you'd better go on in," Brant replied. He took a look at his Apple Watch. "I've actually got to get back to New York." He suddenly noticed Eric's confused look. "Something wrong?"

Eric pointed at his wrist. "You use an Apple Watch?"

"Yeah. What about it?"

"An Apple Watch?"

Brant finally got what he was getting at, and he chuckled. "Well, it's not like TechnoCorp is gonna steal their idea and make our own, right? Wouldn't want to be accused of making a knock-off."

Eric laughed. "Yeah, I guess not." He started to head into the classroom, but then paused. "Thanks for the chat, Mr. Brant."

Brant smiled. "It was a pleasure talking with you, Eric."

Eric smiled back, and he went in.

As he took his seat, he felt a light tap on his shoulder, and turned to see Megan looking at him, her blue eyes wide with awe.

"You were talking to Mr. Brant," she whispered.

Eric couldn't keep the grin off his face. "Yeah."

"Charles Brant was talking to you."

"Something wrong with that?" He knew there wasn't. He was just kind of relishing the moment.

"No. It's're a really lucky guy, you know that?"

"Oh, please..."

"No, really. You're Dad works at TechnoCorp, and now you got to meet his boss! Wait'll you tell your Dad about that!"

Three hours and a couple of homework assignments later, Eric found himself sitting in the waiting area of Greenwood Airport with his family.

"When is he coming?" Asked his little brother, Benjamin. He was four years younger than Eric, with light brown hair that bordered on blonde, and had a rather enthusiastic, if a little impatient, personality.

"Just wait a little longer, Benjamin," Sarah Colby replied. "He'll be here soon enough." Their mother was a woman in her late-forties, with long hair that had once been black but was now taking on an ever-so-slight hint of gray.

"You gonna tell Dad that you met his boss?" Benjamin asked Eric.

"Yeah, why wouldn't I?"

"By the way, I was planning on taking us all out to dinner tonight," Mrs. Colby said. "You two don't have a lot of homework, do you?"

Benjamin shook his head. "Nope. We kept asking questions right up 'til the bell rang, and she didn't have time to give us any."

Eric grinned a little. Pretty slick, he thought.

"What about you, Eric?"

"Hm? Oh. I got a short project for financial math, but that's not due until next week. It won't ruin any plans for tonight."

Benjamin suddenly stood. "Is that him?" he asked, pointing to a group of passengers just getting off one of the terminals.

Sure enough, one of the passengers suddenly stopped as he noticed them. He looked to be around Mrs. Colby's age, perhaps slightly older, with piercing blue eyes and gray hair that once had been brown. He dragged a roller backpack behind him as he walked. As his eyes came to rest on the Colbys, he started to walk toward them with a joyous smile on his face.

"DAD!" Benjamin shouted, leaping off the couch and charging headlong at his father.

"Benjy! Long time no–OOF!" He was almost knocked off his feet as Benjamin smacked into him and gave him a massive hug. "Well," he began again "Somebody's not too happy to see me. Holy cow...have you grown a little since I last saw you?" He glanced up to see Eric and Sarah catching up with them. He got up to his feet and accepted his wife's embrace. "Sarah...oh my goodness, it's been way too long."

"You've got that right, Jonathan," Sarah replied with a smirk. Mr. Colby smiled, and she gave him a light peck on the cheek.

"Oh, come on, honey...not in front of the whole airport," he said.

"Aw, let 'em look."

"What about me?" Eric asked. "Don't I get anything from the Dad I haven't seen in almost a year?"

"Well, that all depends," Jonathan asked. "Do you want a hug or a handshake?"

Eric chuckled a little.

"So," Mrs. Colby asked as they neared their minivan in the airport parking lot. "Do you want to drive, or do you want me to drive?"

"Do you think you could drive?" Jonathan answered. "I'm a little tired from the flight."

It wasn't until everyone had gotten themselves seated in the van that something clicked in Eric's mind.

He actually wanted Mom to drive this time, he thought.

Almost any other time their Dad had come home from a shift on Midnight Island, he had insisted on driving them all home himself, usually with a remark along the lines of, "I haven't seen a non-company car in months; let me enjoy myself a little", or something like that.

But this time, he hadn't.

Maybe it was nothing. Maybe he really was a little tired, and Eric was making too big of a deal over it.

But still...

Eric shook his head. Probably nothing. He's just tired, and there's nothing else to it.

"So," Jonathan began. "What's been happening since I was away?"

"Eric and Megan are dating," Benjamin said, in a voice that annoying voice that only little brothers use.

"Benjy!" Eric hissed.

"Oh, really?" Mr. Colby asked. "You and Megan? Since when?"

Eric knew there was no backing out now. "Well, we're not dating. I mean, not exactly, but..."

Mr. Colby was nodding. "I see. Well...I'm glad to hear that you two hit it off so well."

Eric breathed a mental sigh of relief. At least he didn't joke around about it this time...

Except now that feeling from earlier was back in Eric's mind.

Almost any other time that the subject of Megan Williams came up, his Dad would kind of tease him about it. Not in a mean or cruel way; his father would never make a remark that would seriously offend his family, at least not intentionally. He would just joke around. It still got Eric blushing a little, but everyone knew he wasn't trying to put him on the spot.

Only this time, he had just kind of went with it.

Now Eric was starting to get concerned. This was now two instances of things Dad usually did, and he wasn't doing any of them.

In fact, now that he noticed it, his father seemed to be acting a little...different. More jittery than usual. More than once on the ride to the restaurant, Eric saw him looking out the window or through one of the rear-view mirrors in a way that did not evoke sight-seeing at all. Almost like he was nervous. Like someone was following him.

Eric hoped his Mom would notice. If she did, she was probably not making a big deal out of it to keep everyone calm and not ruin the otherwise happy moment. And Eric certainly didn't want to ask.

All he could do was lean back in his seat and wonder what was going on to make his Dad so nervous...