The Years Between

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Chapter I.XV

"Well, you see, Caterpillar," Tim started. "There are rules, alright? Do you remember when I was telling you about some large, anonymous donor we had? Do you?"

I stared at him like a newborn baby, eyes passing between his and Schut's.

"W-well," he continued without response, "they're not anonymous anymore. I introduced you two earlier, but, this is Captain John Schut. And he has some things he needs to… to say to you."

Tim stepped aside, or was pushed aside, as the captain walked past and through him like he was air. Schut made it very clear that personal boundaries meant very little to him, and though I am slightly above average in height, I still found myself having to crane my neck to look at him properly. I almost expected him to crouch down to make eye contact; he seemed like just the type of man to consciously condescend in that fashion.

"I'm captain of the Castaways, a group that helps your father with all manner of operations." Every word out of his mouth spat like an accusation or a threat. "But the Castaways are a gift from a bigger organization. We have many names. You will know us as the Supervisors, as that is our role with your family's organization. Think of us as supporters. And think of our conditions as requirements for our continued support."

He didn't change his posture or expression once. Every word sounded the same. Every sentence sounded the same. I would say he sounded like a robot, but if he did, it was an angry machine — not emotionless, but only capable of contempt.

"Our primary concern," he said, straightening his neck, now talking over me instead of to me, "is with the Veil. What you have seen today can not be allowed to leave this nexus — this town, Boring. And that means," he looked back down to me, "neither can you. That is, you can not leave with your memories of this day."

"What…?" I whispered.

"Do you doubt me?" Finally a question that seemed appropriate for his tone. "You have a week to make your decision. Here are the papers that you are to sign, or ignore." He reached into an unseen pocket under his thin jacket, and retrieved a sheaf of papers. In my daze, it felt like I took them in slow motion. "If you leave Boring, your decision has been made. I trust that Mr. Wilson can fill you in on any questions you may have."

Captain Schut turned and departed, disappearing around the bend of the redwood, leaving myself, Tim, and Feather alone outside of Henry's cage. Once I had finally accepted that Schut was well and truly gone, I was able to look back down to the papers in my hand. The stack was meaty — I could only imagine that a full day would go into reading through it, and unlike the many legal papers and waivers I had signed at a moment's notice before, something told me that I would have to absorb each and every word contained within.

A silence reigned for somewhere between several seconds and a minute, as I simply stared at the forms, and was stared at by Tim and Feather. I began to page through them, but I wasn't absorbing anything. "You didn't warn me against coming?"

"Would you have believed me any more than my stories about animals?"

That stopped me for a moment, but: "Then the Supervisors aren't so strong, are they?"

"No, they're…" Feather shut herself up, thinking she might be interrupting, but Tim motioned for her to continue. "They're selective. Special accommodations are made for family members and close friends."

"But you may remember that a good many pictures I mailed to you went missing, as well as some other letters entirely…"

I spaced out for a moment, turning around to take in my phone case again, laying on the floor of Henry's birdcage. "Tim, I never knew that grandma died. Did you send me anything about that?"

There was a pause, but I couldn't read anyone's body language. My eyes were fixed on that plastic, spirally reflection of myself.

"I sent an email that very same day."

Feather responded to my staring by unlocking Henry's cage.

"I know this visit hasn't started like how you wanted it to start, but…" Tim trailed off. "Where are you planning to stay? I'm certain Alice wouldn't mind taking you in — we have a guest room, it's yours if you want it."

"I wasn't planning on staying."

"You…"

"Might not have a choice, right." Feather stroked Henry's head as he leaned into her hand.

Now was not the time to have that conversation with Tim. Things had changed. In the blink of an eye, they had changed. This was entirely unaccounted for. My brain felt like it had entered a stasis — like someone had clogged the drain. My pipes were clogged with all this new information, all these new ideas, and I had yet to dislodge any of them. Questions without answers came one after the other. What did the rest of that day look like? What about the next day? What about the next week, the next month, the next year? Where was I going? I had so little momentum and direction to begin with, the slightest pebble might have sent me drifting into the great unknown, but just now an asteroid had knocked me full force into the stars.

It took Feather pushing the phone case into my arm for me to come back to reality. I grabbed it and nearly forgot to thank her, stuffing it into my pocket without bothering to put it back on my phone. In an overload, I could only make the simplest of decisions. With no idea of the future, I could only pick the easiest available options. With no possibility of recovering long enough for an extended conversation, I could only communicate the simplest of ideas.

"I'll take the…" I cleared my throat. "I'll take the guest room."

"W-uh, good, heheh. Ahh, do you know my address?"

Tim plugged it into my phone, explaining that he couldn't come home just yet. Today, they were finishing another aquatic enclosure, and the reason there were so few people in the main building or the "courtyard", as he called it, was because everyone was at their second location just ten minutes away.

"All hands on deck, you know, heheh," he said, and sent me on my way.

The walk from the Shelter to my car was from a different world than the walk from my car to the Shelter. As soon as Henry was out of my direct sight, I was faced with the curse of an unsure memory. If I'm not there, at that very moment, staring directly at that which breaks my world, can I be sure it wasn't a figment of my imagination? What had I really done beyond the front door? Could I trust my senses?

But Schut's papers were on my passenger seat, and Tim's address was still in my phone. My phone which now looked like some dug-up relic merely appropriated for modern technology. Once again, I felt that pressure in the pipes. No, thinking was not helping at the moment. It was all I could do, and I couldn't do it. Just drive, I told myself, just go and it might get better.


* * * * *


The Wilson household is nothing like I expected it to be. I know Tim had mentioned his neighbors' farms, but I could never shake the image of his house being tucked away between the trees, in some forest grove somewhere. But no. He lived in a modern-looking two-story house, painted a shade of salmon, surrounded only by grass and two poplars on the front lawn. The unpainted log-fence reminded me of a national park, and right by the gate there was a sign that read the Wilsons, in cutesy, curly font.

I parked on the street, and opened the car door, greeted at once by an easy breeze and a chilly world. Among the trees, you think it might be the shade, but it was cold in the direct gaze of the sun. On the front porch, leaning against the inside of the open door, was my stepmom. From a distance, she was recognizable by the bun at the top of her head, and the pointed chin at the bottom. She looked like if she walked through the park, squirrels would pounce on her and try to take her head.

"Faeowynn?" her nasal voice called across the yard as I pulled a suitcase from the trunk of my car.

"Yes. Alice?"

She didn't respond, and instead turned inside the house, disappearing from view. I didn't think much of it, and simply proceeded to grab as many bags as I could carry at once.

I opened the creaky gate, walked to the front of the house, and stepped through the open doorway. Their house's entryway is a long hallway, with rooms splitting off to either side. On the right, an archway goes into the dining room, and to the left a similar archway opens into a small lounge with a TV and a console. Straight ahead are stairs to the upper level. Within the hallway is a line of hooks to hang coats on and a myriad of pictures of the family. I put bags down by the door, and started to peruse the images. There are graduations of both Anders and Robin. There is Robin standing next to an art project; there is the family on the top of a mountain; there is Alice with a fencing trophy; there is a scholarship Anders won for writing an essay; there is a comically large pizza that Tim stands next to with a fat chef… all this and more line the inside of the hall, and I found myself unable to look away at all these snapshots of the family life.

"Do you want mac and cheese?"

"Huh?"

I walked into the living room, and saw that there is a kitchen just behind it. Alice was standing by a pot of water over a hot flame. "It's either macaroni or rice and chicken. Which do you want. I wasn't planning on making dinner for two."

I stood there dumbly for a moment. It was a stupid thought, but it occurred to me anyways: she looked nothing like Mom. Not her hair, not her skin tone, not her height, not her build. She didn't sound like Mom either. Her way of speaking, her tone of voice. Her eyes were a different color. Her lips had a different thickness. Her posture. What was the through-line? I had always thought that all people everywhere had certain "types" that attracted them. What possible similarity was there between Audrey and Alice?

"Hi, Stepmom."

She looked at me strangely. "Hi, stepdaughter. Are you vegetarian?"

I shook my head. "Mac and cheese, please."

"Mac and cheese it is. The guest room is actually in the shed."

"In the shed?"

"It's insulated, has electricity, its own bathroom; it's like a mini house, you'll be fine. But yes. It shares the same building as the shed."

"Alright," I muttered, and went through a door in the living room to the outside of the house. The yard had clear views of all the neighboring farms. Wheat, vines, animals. It smelled like the countryside; manure and fertilizer and pesticides and grains. The shed looked like how Alice described it; a tiny house, hidden from view of the road, right next to a little playground that I imagined wasn't really used anymore.

I opened one door and found a storage space, crammed with all sorts of unnameable knick-knacks. I closed that door and opened one next to it, to find what looked and smelled like a hotel room. Setting my bags down, I wondered if this was sold out to people; and then I remembered that there likely weren't that many tourists coming in and out. Not staying, at least. Not with the Supervisors around.

The papers went immediately into a drawer under the TV (the guest room had its own TV?), where I decided I would not think of them for the rest of the day. I had a week. And I needed at least twenty-four hours to myself.

Several trips between the car and the room, and all my bags were ready to be unpacked, although I wasn't ready to unpack them. Once I was done, I went to the dining room, and found a healthy serving of mac and cheese waiting for me, orange and creamy and smelling delicious.

"Thank you, Alice."

"I guess now that you're here, you're going to stay for a little bit, aren't you?" She sat down by her own bowl of macaroni, across the table from mine.

"I…" These were not the words I was expecting to share with my stepmom at our first meeting. To an outside observer, it would have appeared that we had known each other for ages. That this was another conversation. But I was still experiencing a kind of whiplash from the lack of introductions, of small-talk, of getting to know each other. "How did my mom leave?"

Alice finished a bite before speaking. "You can leave. You just need to sign the papers first. And stay a while. Two weeks I think."

"They said I couldn't leave with… my memories."

"They're intimidating you. You think I've never left this town? I've gone on vacations. You know what they're doing right now? I guarantee you that there are men inside your home in San Diego at this very moment, planting bugs and casing the joint."

"You think so?"

"They've done the same to this house, honey."

"How? How can they do that?"

Alice shrugged. "They supervise, I guess. I wouldn't worry about it. You have more freedom than you think, and, if we're being honest, just as much privacy as you've ever had. You're just aware of it, now."

"What do I do?" The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them.

Alice didn't respond for a moment, instead giving direct eye contact for a second and then eating several more bites of her pasta. "What do you mean what do you do? You stay for a visit, pretend like everything's fine, bond with your dad, and go back to your normal life."

"What if I don't have a life to go back to."

Alice looked up from her dish. She finished chewing a bite already in her mouth, straightened in her seat, and swallowed. "Well, in that case, I guess you could stay."

"Stay?"

"Why not?"

I looked out the open arch and into the entryway, just beyond Alice's head. On the wall was an image of Tim, with Anders and Robin on a little kayak in the middle of some lake. It was a deep, pure blue. Robin, soaked from top to bottom, was on Tim's back, hands in the air and mouth open wide, yelling into the surrounding nature. Tim was laughing and looking towards the camera. Anders' head was slightly turned outward, towards the opposite beach of the lake, looking into the hills and woods. Alice, then, must have been the photographer, on a nearby kayak of her own. I started seeing the scene as a living being; that Tim and Anders were in one boat, Robin and Alice in the other, and Robin had dove out and swum to the their boat, caused a ruckus, climbed on Tim's back, shouted to the heavens. And it was all too silly, all too picturesque, for Alice not to document it forevermore. To put it up in the family hallway, where each member of the household would walk by it on their way out. Maybe sometimes, they would stop in front of it and reminisce. Sometimes, sighing, wishing that every day could be that day. Hoping that such days might happen again; that the golden age is still upon us, that happiness is available under every rock and in every bush.

"Why not," I repeated. "I guess I will."


* * * * *


"I dug up all our financial information that we still have on file — it's years of numbers to me, but if you want it, it's yours." Old Albert placed a plastic file holder on top of my desk.

"Years?" Al nodded. "And it's never been put into the system?"

Al chuckled, hand placed firmly on the lid of the box. "Nope! Lots of stuff like that around here."

For how rich the facilities were, some of the internal mechanisms reminded me that it truly is a non-profit. But it still takes me by surprise, from time to time. "I guess I have my work cut out for me, then."

"You're living the Wilson's Wildlife life, now. Having our work cut out for us is a constant state of being, I'd say."

I took the box out from under him, opened it, and paged through. Sure enough, there were tax forms dating all the way back to 1997, back when the place was technically Wilson's Wildlife Shelter. There were also records of all received donations, of all monthly expenditures, of all fundraisers, of all salaries paid, and, starting in 2008, of all under-the-table transactions with the Supervisors. It was a complete data set. Despite its paper form, I was impressed at their not throwing anything away. I was afraid things would be missing. Well, alright, there was one thing.

"Around 2002, it looks like some of the typical forms that you can now get over email are missing. You have any idea where those went, Al?"

"I'm sure your dad has them somewhere."

"Alright, I'll ask when I can. Oh, and Al," I stopped him as he was about to leave, "thank you for helping me move in."

He smiled, though I saw it more in his cheeks than his mouth due to a large, billowy beard. "Thank you for joining us. We're glad to have you on board."

And with that, he was off to do some other large, demanding project. I turned, and beheld my new office.

It wasn't an extravagant thing. It looked a lot like one would expect — it had shelves, a cheap desk, some filing cabinets beneath the desk, a clock, a nice seashell-looking fixture in the ceiling which made me wonder if I should put my collection here or keep it at home, a cup full of pens and pencils and flash drives, a Rubik's cube (I learned that fidgets are a staple in each office), a desktop computer, and, of course, my name on a little plaque. Faeowynn Wilson, with the subtitle, Chief Financial Officer. Given that this was not a company, and did not have stockholders, the title wasn't truly accurate, but Tim felt bad that I had left my previous job for this one, and was caught on the idea that I had been on the path to become a CFO at some point in time, over ten years ago. I think he thought that by naming me as such, he was fulfilling some silent dream of mine. In all honesty, it felt slightly too formal, but I wasn't going to bring that up to him.

In any case, the first thought I had, after surveying everything, was that I would have to change the color. This green and brown did not do it for me. It might be a long while before I could get it repainted though. I was thinking something more along the lines of mauve. In fact, mauve might be my favorite color, along with one of my favorite words. I'd google my options once I got home. For now, there was filing to do.

"Hey," a familiar voice broke me out of my contemplation, and I turned around to see my half-brother Anders standing in the doorway. Of the two brothers, Anders looks significantly more like Tim than did Robin. He has the same round face, the same rosy cheeks, and the same contagious smile — whenever he decides to wear it. He'd shaved it by the time that I arrived, but pictures in the Wilson family home show that a bearded Anders can look almost indistinguishable to a taller, thinner Tim. (I certainly wondered, when I first saw those pictures, whether or not Tim had decided to become fit, and then subsequently wondered how that would have to work.)

"Hey," I responded, "I see we're finally coworkers."

We hugged, as we had become in the habit of doing.

"Here, I brought you something." He gave me a small box with a shiny purple exterior and yellow trim. "Tim said you like white chocolate, so I thought it would be a good welcoming present."

I smiled so wide I had to fight to keep from showing teeth. "Thank you, that's wonderful."

He smiled back at me. "Well, see you around, officer." He saluted, and was off. I sighed and sat at my desk. Alright, I thought, I'll have one before I start in earnest. I rotated the box and found that it was wrapped like a present. I would have to tear into it to get to the chocolates. With a smirk at the effort that went into its presentation, I began to rip a hole, then open the lid of the brown box inside, and then grab a small truffle from the revealed bounty. I popped it into my mouth, and widened my eyes.

These were the same chocolates that Tim had sent me one October — the leftovers from an unfinished box of Valentine's Day sweets that Tim must have rediscovered months later and sent my way. The taste was unmistakable, though without a deep knowledge of foods I lack the vocabulary to describe it. It bordered just on the edge of sickly sweet without passing over. It was creamy like no other chocolate I'd ever had. It was the most perfect confection I had ever consumed. I decided that I would have to ask where Anders got them, and I would also have to save the rest for only very special occasions.

I stowed them in a drawer and made a note not to forget about them. Any anxiety I had coming through the door to my new office had been washed away. Thank you, Anders, I thought to myself. I think I needed that.


* * * * *


"Here!" Anders shouted over the noisy morning birds and the trickling, streaming water. "I found another one!"

I clumsily danced over jutting rocks and the occasional bush or shrub, once catching a wet rock at an odd angle and nearly slipping into the river.

"Be careful there!"

I didn't respond, all my focus centering on the placement of my feet. The dim blue tint of everything at sunrise was just beginning to cover the surrounding hills and trees. Once I reached him, I turned off the flashlight that had accompanied us for the past two-and-a-half hours. It was finally bright enough to see without it.

"Here," he pointed to a leaf. I crouched down, and looked underneath, and sure enough, there was a gleam — little dots of light reflecting off of a thousand tiny black orbs.

"Alright," I said, standing back up and unhooking the clipboard from my belt, "that's another cluster."

"And the last of them."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," he motioned up the stream, "our jurisdiction stops here, really. There are probably more frog eggs up the way, but we've got enough data for an estimate."

"Headed back, then?"

Anders looked around, trying to see if there was an easier way up to the trail than all the way back from where we came. He surveyed the rocky hillsides, where the stone turns to dirt and the trees begin to grow. "Mmm," he grunted, turning a full circle, "yep. Headed back."

"Alright."

We began the treacherous path back among leaves and mosses and crags and boulders and dirt and creek and squirrels and birds and frogs. The air was cool, the sun was rising, though it could not be seen between the trees and hills. Our jackets were thick, our boots were muddy, and our eyes were just a little bit tired from waking up so very early that morning. Much of the journey back to the trail was silent; we simply breathed in the aromas and took in the sights. It was… odd, in all honesty. I had been in cities for thirty years or more. The world around me was one I always knew existed, but not one in which I partook. Not since I was very young.

"I think we're going to get back a little later than expected," Anders called from behind.

"That's alright," I stopped to say back, "this was nice."

"It was?"

"It was."

The responses were spaced out, as each of us had to breathe deep to keep the pace. "Robin loves doing this stuff. The rivers are sort of his space. Kind of a shame he didn't get to come this time. The sun rising, like this, is just about his favorite part."

"I understand why. It's pleasant. Or, it would be, if it weren't for the bugs."

"Aha," Anders paused. "You're right about that much."

"Oh hey, Anders."

"Yeah?"

"Do you remember those white chocolates you gave me, a few months ago?"

"Mhmm?"

"Where did you get them?"

"What?"

"I said, where'd you get them?"

"Oh, Dad gave them to me. But there's only one chocolate shop in town. It's gotta be from there."

"Dad got them?"

Anders took a moment to breathe. "Yeah, he said you'd like them, said I could give them to you. Sorry if that ruins a bit of the magic of gift-giving."

"Oh, no, the gesture still counts."

"I've also been meaning to ask," I breathed.

"Yeah?"

"Sorry, I've been meaning to ask, are you and Robin ever planning on moving out of the house?"

"Moving out?"

"Yeah."

"No, not really."

A particularly difficult descent required me to practically sit down and slide onto the rock below. I waited for Anders to come to the same drop, and helped him down. "Why not?"

"I don't know. We've just never thought of moving out. The house is big enough for all of us, we all work at the Shelter, minus Mom. It's convenience. Why move out?"

I paused, but for a new reason. "Huh, alright. I moved out as soon as I possibly could."

"Why'd you do that?"

"Because… I don't know. Change of pace, I think. San Diego was full of a lot. A lot of good, but a lot of bad. I just wanted to start again."

"Makes sense."

The rest of the hike passed in a comfortable silence.


* * * * *


I cracked my eyes open, at first unsure of what I was awoken by. The beams of light coming through my shuttered window told of a bright moon out that night. Then, a hum stopped, the existence of which I hadn't noticed until it was gone. A door opened, a door shut, silence, and then another, fainter door. Anders, Robin, and Alice were all at dinner that evening… it must have been Tim. I almost fell back asleep, but before I did, I turned on my side, and into focus came my alarm clock, with its dim red glow staring straight into my face.

11:00 PM

It was almost midnight. Really? I had noticed that Tim was rarely home before dinner, but 11:00 PM?

I would have worried longer, but before I knew it, I had slipped back into sleep, and by morning it had all but left my mind.


* * * * *


Eventually, Halloween rolled around. My favorite holiday, if it must be said. And every Halloween, Wilson's Wildlife Solutions puts on a fundraiser party that tends to bring the entire Boring community together — in a town of its size, there are really no good "trick-or-treating" neighborhoods, and someone at some point decided that the lack of Halloween spirit was simply not right and told the Shelter that they're basically the community center, and that they should put something on themselves. No one remembers who exactly brought it up, but whoever they are, I try to meet their spirit every 31st of October.

In preparation, roughly two weeks prior, I had already covered my office in a couple dozen pumpkins, and I had decided to paint the office orange, to keep Autumn year-round. Among the uncarved pumpkins, I had found several other gourds that I felt would be fun additions. During my break, I was taking turning cannonball pumpkins — a very small, spherical variety — into bats by painting them black and attaching googly-eyes and wings. I do not consider myself a silly person, but Halloween is a silly time, and when in Rome, you must do as the Romans do. I, for my part, had donned my metaphorical toga and sandals and was drinking deep of the reddest wine I could get my hands on.

100% of my focus was boring down on cutting small black wings out of foam paper, which I would then combo with both glue and tape onto toothpicks, which would eventually be stuck into the little pumpkins I was putting around my room. Tomorrow, I was thinking of making "sleeping" bats, and discovering some method by which to paste them to the ceiling. It was when I looked up to find the ideal spots on the ceiling for my vampire babies that I noticed Robin in the doorway.

If Anders is a copy of Tim, Robin is a copy of Alice. His pointed chin, rounded nose, brown hair, green eyes… the only real difference was that his skin tone was a bit browner, and was missing all but a couple freckles.

"Oh! Hello, Robin."

"Hey, Fae. Hard at work?"

"Heh, it's my break, I'm just spending it making decorations instead of socializing. Sorry." My own apology took me by surprise.

"No worries. Have you got your paper on the cost of the fundraiser ready or…?"

"Oh, yes, it's out by the printer, I hadn't picked it up yet."

"Uh-huh. Alright."

Robin began to leave, but: "Hey!"

He walked back in the door at my call.

"Do you guys ever… worry about T-uh, Tim?"

"Worry about him? No."

And before I could question further, Robin was gone. I'd never had him brush me off like that before. Maybe he's busy, I told myself. Oh well. More time to make my bats.


* * * * *


It was a pitch black night. I had set my alarm for 3:15, so I could meet a coworker, Alex, at 4:00, and watch the sunrise with him. It was his idea and I liked it. Getting up early had never been an issue for me; it has always been falling asleep in the first place. If my eyes even crack open, staying awake is as easy as counting. I flicked on my light, turned of the beeping clock, and walked into my bathroom to freshen up. After brushing my teeth, flossing, rinsing with mouth wash, and combing my hair, I hopped into the shower. It was while I was rubbing a soapy washcloth over my face that I thought I heard the starting of a truck. I stilled, turned off the shower, and listened. Yes, there it was. Someone pulled out of the driveway, and took off, that much I could tell.

I cut my routine short, dried off, clothed myself, and walked outside. Sure enough, Tim's car was gone. At 3:30 in the morning? I knew he was sometimes not around for breakfast, but that hour was simply unhealthy. What could possibly be pulling him out of the house this early?

I thought I'd ask him about it, but he wasn't home that night either.


* * * * *


The summer sun is even warmer without buildings or trees to get in the way. It heats the ground of all the farms around, and is accompanied by sprinklers and hoses and tractors. Well, more on other days than that day. That day, it was Easter. All of us, minus Tim, had stayed home and made colored eggs, a tradition that I was glad hadn't died as soon as Robin and Anders became too "old" for it. Though I rarely found myself reaching for it in my free time, my splurging at Halloween is a dead giveaway that arts and crafts have been a part of my life as long as reading and writing have, and I am glad to have come into a family that seems to carry the same torch. Alice and Robin are especially artistic in their egg-making; I have been witness to an "egg-off" where they tried to make the most high-quality eggs within thirty minutes. Without knowing who made what, Anders judged each egg individually, on a scale from one to five. Whoever got the highest total won.

But this Easter was not that Easter. This Easter was the Easter that Tim said he would come from home early. We were all eating chocolates (some of which had come from my saved stash of white), enjoying the sun in the front yard and sharing homemade drinks. This year, our "activity" was to concoct our own drinks (we had a week ahead of time), and then guess who made which (the family has a propensity for guessing-games). There was the classic pink lemonade, but also a sweet green tea, a classic iced chai, and my own Thai iced tea which I'd learned to make from a friend in New York.

"Hey!" Anders yelled from the grill. "There's Dad!"

His red truck pulled into the driveway, and Alice came forward to hug him. They shared some conversation that I couldn't hear while I tried some of the iced chai. I then noticed that something was moving in the back of his truck, and as soon as he had kissed Alice and pulled away from the hug, he was standing on the back tire to reach into the bed and pull it out. To the surprise of very few, it was a rabbit. An Easter Rabbit, actually, named Fern.

He was brought into the yard and set loose, allowed to explore a bit. There was nothing really special about him except that he laid eggs — he was definitely going to go back into the wild, but we had been waiting to see what his eggs hatched into. (It turned out later that they were completely unfertilized, and unfertilizable, so nothing really became of it.) In the meantime, he was a fun and sociable oddity, and I guess Tim had pulled his trump card and got him for our own little holiday, because here he was, bouncing around and being happy. It seemed everyone had congregated around the grill, but I was enjoying sitting by the outdoor glass table, and staring out over the golden field across the street.

After some time of spacing out, I felt fur under my hand, and began to scratch Fern behind the ears. Then, Tim sat in the chair next to me.

"How's it going, kiddo?"

"It's going. Yourself?"

"Ohh, the same." He breathed in deep. "Did you make the uhh, the Thai one?"

I nodded.

"It's really good," he said. "So, so sweet, but good, heheheh."

We both sipped in silence as the brothers conversed by the grill and Alice searched the house for something.

"Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you remember?"




I paused. The fan of my laptop was all that was audible. I stewed. My face was barely visible in the reflection of my computer screen. My hair was distraught, my eyes were baggy, my lips were cracked and dry. I couldn't bring myself to write anymore. I had hit the wall. I had reached the plateau. There is no higher, no further point. I had been writing for a while without one. There is just myself and the document, myself and Tim in writing. What I had been avoiding, of course, was this. The conversation I could not write. The conversation I did not have.

All those years ago — how quick they seemed to pass on paper — I had driven to Oregon with purpose. With one, single purpose. And it wasn't to stay. And it wasn't to visit. And yet I did both. For seven years, I did both. Should I have written of my slow warming up to my brothers? The awkward first dinners, when it wasn't clear how I was to interact and connect with the family. The feeling of being that odd one out? I was getting an awful headache, and so I reached over to take a big swig of water. My stomach cried out for food, but I wasn't going to get any. Here it was. That Easter, I remember sitting next to Tim. He looked much like I did — he looked haggard. He was laughing, he was smiling, but he was not the dad I had and didn't have. Here was the same man who left for Oregon when I was three, and failed to reenter my life for decades. Here was the same man who seemed to be making it a point to get my name and pronouns wrong — should I have written of all those times in the house, when a "Felix" would slip out of his mouth? Am I supposed to laud him for getting better at saying my real name, when I am from head to toe a woman?

Here was the same man who only decided to visit Mom once she'd already died of cancer, who didn't stay to help sort through her belongings, who didn't give a father to the daughter who was now motherless as well. What was I supposed to feel towards him? Where did my thoughts lay? And at that moment, I remembered that conversation I meant to have with him. What I had been rehearsing over and over on my way north. Had he made it up to me? Was there something I now understood that I didn't at first? Did magical animals excuse the behavior — did giving me a home make up for the adulthood I spent without one?

But in that moment, I couldn't bring myself to say anything. Could I feel it? My head was so full of questions, I just wanted it to shut up. What was I supposed to do? There was another. When would it end? Questions begot questions. My mind was crowded like Woodstock, but none of the music was worth listening to. I was tired. I knew that much. Was this project complete? What was I doing?

Shut up, I said to myself again. I closed the laptop, and I was at once in darkness. There was no alarm clock. There were no windows. There was no light. I sat on top of my blankets, and heard the buzz of a phone across the room. I wasn't willing to answer all my missed calls yet. I wasn't willing to answer any texts, either. I wanted to be alone, though I didn't know what it meant to me. What purpose it served. More questions.

The next memory came unbidden. It was nearing Thanksgiving, and I was helping Alice put up decorations at the library. We were talking in that way you have to talk with Alice, we were making little paper turkeys, we were talking about books we had read recently. We were talking about just what you would expect a mom and a daughter to be talking about, when the mom is in her 60's and the daughter in her 40's. And our talking was cut short by the phone, and I just went on, making those turkeys, while Alice went to pick it up.

And something in her voice caught my attention. And I looked up. And all I saw was Alice crying. And she put down the phone, and it sounded like she'd cut someone off in the process, and she was just standing there, supporting herself with one arm on the desk, and the other hand brought to her face, just wiping her eyes, and I couldn't move, and I couldn't speak, because all I could think was that I'd never seen Alice cry before. I'd never, never, seen Alice cry before.




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