The Box

H. Lovelyn Bettison

Copyright 2010 Lovelyn Bettison All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced ithout ritten consent of the author.

Nebulous Mooch Publishing 2010


Chapter One
!" need you to do #e a favor$% &o# said. He slouched back in his chair and looked around the coffee shop. His eyes darted fro# one table to the ne't. (hen they focused on #e he s)uinted a bit. !"t*s kind of a big favor$% he continued. !(hat is it+% " asked. " couldn*t i#agine hat he could be up to. &o# lived on the first floor of #y apart#ent building,a beaten up looking brick building ith a royal blue front door and only curbside parking. (e used to ork together giving people insurance )uotes over the phone. &o# sat at the desk ne't to #ine. (e did the sa#e -ob$ but he as a lot better at it because$ unlike #e$ he see#ed to actually like orking there. He as a people person. .veryone in the office loved hi#. He as able to #ake you feel like you*d kno n hi# all of your life. He #ade even the shyest person feel co#fortable ith hi#. "t as a talent that " envied and so#e/ thing that$ like everyone else$ dre #e to hi#. &hat as seven years ago no . 0o hen he #oved into #y building t o years ago$ " as surprised to see hi# to say the least. (e eren*t e'actly friends. " #ean$ " didn*t kno &o# very ell. (e kne each other ell enough to say hello by the #ailbo'es$ but our con/ versations never really got beyond polite s#all talk. " kne he as honest. "t as -ust the feeling " got fro# hi#. " kne he ouldn*t ask #e to do anything dangerous. " atched his cat$ (ilbur$ for hi# once hile he as a ay on a trip. "t as a large hite to#cat ith one black ear. &he cat asn*t friendly and so#eti#es ouldn*t let #e near his food dish. "*d -ust leave a pile of food in the #iddle of the kitchen floor for hi#. &o# reached into the book bag ne't to his chair and pulled out a cardboard bo'. "t as a si'/inch cube. !" need you to deliver this for #e.% He slid the bo' across the table to ard #e. 3

" slid #y #ug of hot cocoa to the side and reached for the bo'. 1n the top as a prin/ ted address label. As " read it$ " reali2ed that it as an address in 0t. 3etersburg$ 4lorida. !4lorida+ 5ou*ve got to be kidding #e.% " laughed. He didn*t e'pect #e to drive all the ay fro# 0an 6iego to 0t. 3etersburg$ did he+ (hen &o# didn*t laugh$ " kne he asn*t kidding. He leaned in$ placing his pal#s flat on the table$ and said$ !"*ll pay for all your e'penses and give you t o thousand e'tra for your troubles.% !(here are you getting that #oney fro#$ &o#+% " couldn*t i#agine anyone living in the sa#e crappy apart#ent building as #e had that #uch lying around to spare. !Ho *ve you been paying your bills for t o #onths ith no -ob+% he replied. !" have so#e savings.% !7aybe " have so#e too.% He slouched back into his chair ith a satisfied look on his face. !(hat*s in the bo'+% !5ou don*t need to kno that.% " picked it up. "t as light like it could have been e#pty. " shook it gently and felt noth/ ing #ove inside. !6rugs+% !No. "t*s nothing like that. Nothing illegal.% !(hy don*t you #ail it+% !" can*t risk it getting lost or stolen.% " put the bo' do n on the table. !(hat is it+% " asked again. &o# started s#oothing the rinkles on the front of his shirt ith his hand. He as si/ lent for a #o#ent and -ust concentrated on running his hand across the crinkled section of shirt on his belly. He looked up at #e and said$ !"ndy$ hen you trust so#eone —" #ean$ really trust so#eone$ you don*t need to kno all the ans ers.% He #ade one #ore s#ooth/ ing pass over the crinkled section of his shirt and then dropped his hand into his lap. !" trust you$ "ndy. 5ou did such a good -ob taking care of (ilbur. No one else ever did. He hates everyone.% !He hates #e$ too.% !5eah$ but you kept trying and didn*t give up. 7ost people give up.% 4

!5eah.% " nodded. &he hole conversation see#ed so ridiculous to #e. " felt like all " could do as nod and s#ile. !" need you to trust #e. "8# not asking you to do anything dangerous. " never ould. " -ust need this done and " don*t have the ti#e to do it #yself. "t ould #ean a lot to a lot of people.% His face as serious. He ran his hand over his black bu22 cut. !&rust #e$ "ndy. 5ou have no reason not too.%


Chapter Two
&rust #e. &hat*s hat &o# said$ and " decided to do -ust that. " drove ho#e fro# the coffee shop ith the bo' on the passenger*s seat. (as it desperation+ " didn*t think so then. " ould find a -ob soon enough. &o be honest$ at the ti#e$ " still asn*t really looking$ but " liked the idea of having a little e'tra #oney in the bank. & o thousand dollars for taking an all e'penses paid cross/country trip—that sounded like a good deal to #e. (hen &o# offered to pay for #e to get #y car checked out and cover the cost of any repairs$ " really couldn*t say no. 7y car as a 19:; <olvo =>0 and it al ays needed e'pensive repairs. ?? " sat in the Blue 7oon Caf@ aiting for .ve to arrive before " ordered #y breakfast. 0he as often late. "*d eaten #any #eals in this caf@. &hey had an incredible breakfast and it as right across the street fro# #y #echanic*s shop$ so it as a convenient place to sit and ait. "*d spent a lot of ti#e there. &he caf@ had a nice feel—shiny hard ood floors$ oak tables$ chairs ith )uilted cush/ ions$ and high ceilings ith pieces of blue fabric draped across the#. " liked to sit near the indo $ so " could see #y #echanic*s shop across the street. "t*s not that " didn*t trust hi# or anything$ " -ust liked to keep tabs on things. "t al ays #ade #e feel better. 7y car as at the shop$ getting checked out for the trip hile " aited for .ve. Her ha/ bitual tardiness put a strain on our friendship —"*ve al ays hated aiting for people. " flipped through the #enu. (hen she still hadn*t sho n up$ " busied #yself looking out the indo at the clear$ blue$ ide/open California sky. (hen " #oved here #ore than ten years ago that*s one of the first things " noticed. &he sky see#ed to take up #ore space than it did in 4lorida.


" sa her drive up and park her ne $ green <( Beetle al#ost a foot fro# the curb in a parking space in front of the caf@. 0he sat in the car for a fe #inutes$ " assu#ed searching for change for the #eter$ before getting out. (hen she finally ca#e inside and sat do n across fro# #e at the table all #essy hair and patch ork dress$ " said$ !7aybe you should consider buying a atch.% !Co#e on "ndy$ "*# not that late$% she said$ pulling her curly blonde #ane back into a ponytail holder. !& enty #inutes$ .ve. & enty #inutesA "*# so hungry " al#ost started che ing on the corner of the table.% .ve laughed. !5ou could*ve ordered ithout #e.% !&hat ould*ve been rude.% " opened #y #enu and scanned the pages. " already kne hat " anted to order$ but thought "*d look again to #ake sure #y #ind as really #ade up. .ve didn*t bother looking at her #enu. 0he al ays ordered the sa#e thing,blue corn pancakes. .ve and " #et at a poetry reading. " didn*t rite poetry. " asn*t into that kind of thing. " as -ust there to support #y cousin*s first atte#pt at reading her poetry aloud. &o be hon/ est it as terrible$ but " didn*t tell her that. Any ay$ .ve as one of the poets reading that night. 0he didn*t read anything really. "nstead$ she got up and sang a song that she*d ritten. &he song as a ful. "t as long and boring$ and affled on and on. Absolute garbage in #y opinion$ and " think the opinion of #ost other people in the roo#$ but her voice as a#a2ing—absolutely a#a2ing. " #ean as a#a2ing as her song ith no real #elody as garbage. " spoke to her after the reading and told her that " liked her voice. &he ne't day$ hen " ent to The Health Hut to buy a bottle of -o-oba oil$ .ve as the o#an behind the counter. "*d thought " recogni2ed her the night before but hadn*t #ade the connection. 0he as the flaky cashier ho al ays #essed up #y change. " ondered ho she as able to keep her -ob. 0o#eho e beca#e unlikely friends. &hat as t o years ago. 0urprisingly$ she still had her cashier -ob at The Health Hut and still fre)uented local poetry readings. 7

By the ti#e our food arrived$ "*d already told .ve about &o#$ the bo'$ and #y plan to drive cross/country. !" can*t believe you ould agree to do so#ething like that$% .ve said$ before putting a forkful of pancake in her #outh. !" don*t have anything better to do right no . "B# une#ployed after all. 0o#e e'tra #oney ould be nice.% !Ho do you kno it*s not drugs+% !" trust &o#.% " left out the part about not really kno ing hi#. !C#$% .ve put do n her fork and looked out the indo . !0o$ you don*t approve.% " pushed the sal#on hash around on #y plate. !" guess that #eans you on*t go ith #e.% !Do ith you+ " can*t believe you’re goingA% &hrough the indo " could see #y #echanic pull #y forest green car out of the gar/ age and park it in the parking lot. !"*# leaving in t o days and " as hoping you ould co#e along. " thought it could be fun—a free cross/country trip. " don*t really ant to go alone.% !5ou*ll have to find so#eone else. " have to ork.% ?? (hen " called Eo-i$ it as out of desperation. " kne " ould probably regret it. (e had a co#plicated relationship$ but everyone else had said no. Eo-i as #y old standby. " didn*t ant to drive through &e'as alone. !Hello.% His voice as gruff hen he ans ered the phone. !Hey Eo-i. "t*s "ndira.% !"ndy+ " didn*t reali2e you still kne #y nu#ber.% " hadn*t called hi# in a hile. !5ou kno the phone orks both ays.% He hadn*t called #e in a hile either. !" ant to ask a favor.% !1f course you do. (hy else ould you call #e+% !0top it. " call you all the ti#e.% " as annoyed because it didn*t sound like he as -ok/ ing. 8

!5eah$ yeah. 0o hat*s the favor+% " felt e#barrassed e'plaining the situation to Eo-i. 0urprisingly$ he -ust listened )uietly to #y entire story about &o# and the bo' and the trip. " ad#itted to not really kno ing &o# ell. " told hi# about atching &o#*s cat$ (ilbur. " e'plained the package the sa#e ay &o# had e'plained it to #e. Eo-i listened$ saying$ !Ch/uh$% in all the right spots$ until " finished #y story. !(ell+% " asked hi# for a response. !"*ll go$% he replied. Fust like that. "t as easy. !Are you sure+% " asked$ shocked. !5eah. (hen are e leaving+% !&he day after to#orro .% !&i#e+% !" don*t kno . &here*s no hurry really.% !"t*s your trip$ #ake up your #ind.% !" don*t kno . .ight+% !"n the #orning+% !1f course not.% Neither of us ere #orning people. " kne Eo-i didn*t usually get up until ten. Being out of ork allo ed #e the lu'ury of sleeping late too. !(hy so late+% !" don*t kno . " thought if e drive all night e*ll #iss the traffic.% !" guess that #akes sense. .ight sounds good to #e. "*ll plan our route and see you then.% !1kay.% (hen " hung up the phone$ " still couldn*t believe it. "t as -ust too easy. No " had a co#panion for the trip.


Chapter Three
Eo-i thre his cigarette out the indo . " atched the orange sparks bounce do n the road and disappear into the darkness. !"*# going to )uit$% he said. He cleared his throat and spit a ball of phleg# out the indo . !5eah right$% .ve said. 0he sat in the back seat$ riting in a purple spiral notebook. .ven though " asn*t looking at her$ " could tell by the tone of her voice she as rolling her eyes. &he day before$ .ve had finally gotten fired fro# The Health Hut—so#ething to do ith her dra er being short al#ost one hundred dollars for the second day in a ro . 0he called the day e ere leaving 0an 6iego to tell #e she ould co#e on the trip after all. Eo-i ad-usted the #irror so he could see her. !Geally$ " ill$% he said. " believed hi#. " al ays believed hi#. He*d talked about )uitting a #illion ti#es before$ but each ti#e he said it$ his eyes see#ed so intense that " believed hi#. 7aybe that as #y eakness$ #y need to believe people ere telling #e the truth. &hat*s ho " ended up on this trip. !" kno you*ll )uit$% " added. !" ill$% Eo-i hispered as if pro#ising hi#self. " used to say that his s#oking as the #ain obstacle in our relationship$ but truthfully it asn*t. &he obstacle as #e. " could see in hi# all the )ualities " thought " anted$ but " still felt unsatisfied. " anted to keep #y options open$ -ust in case there as so#ething better out there so#e here. " as greedy and anted to hold on to hi# hile still looking for so#eone else. (e*d driven all night. 0treaks of orange ere -ust appearing across the hori2on announ/ cing the co#ing sun. "*d only seen a fe sunrises in #y life. " liked to be asleep hen the sun 10

ca#e up. " never kne ness.

hat " as sleeping through,streaks of light chasing a ay the dark/

"*d slept for a fe hours$ but " needed a fe #ore. (e ere all on the edge of e'haus/ tion. At night the high ay can hypnoti2e you. &he hite lines and yello dashes that #ark the road dull your senses. &he repeated patterns can put you to sleep. &hat*s hy e decided that one of us should al ays be a ake ith the driver hen e drove at night. " turned on the radio. &he knob as oily fro# the chips "*d been eating earlier. &he ra/ dio antennae as stuck do n$ so usually e couldn*t get a station at all$ but so#eti#es e*d get lucky. &he volu#e as up hen " clicked it on and the loud static of hite noise blasted into the car. !Fee2$% yelled Eo-i. " turned it do n )uickly. !0orry.% " started fiddling ith the buttons$ looking for a sta/ tion. " found nothing,-ust station after station of static. !" as hoping to find the ne s$% " said$ as " s itched the radio off. !&he ne s$% Eo-i said. !(e don*t need to listen to the ne s. " can tell you the ne s. .verything is really #essed up$ it keeps getting #ore #essed up and it ill be #essed up for a long ti#e. Ho *s that for ne s+% He scratched his eyebro read-usted the rear vie #irror. !&hanks$% " said sarcastically. &he light had al#ost co#pletely pushed the darkness out of the sky. &he sky as clear blue ith isps of thin hite clouds. !"t*s good to kno hat*s going on$ even if hat*s going on isn*t good. "t*s good to kno $% .ve chi#ed in fro# the back seat. 0he as still riting. !.specially if hat*s going on isn*t good$% " added. !"t*s -ust so depressing.% Eo-i slo ed do n to avoid getting ticketed by the state trooper parked on the #edian,his radar gun ai#ed at passing cars. !(ars and #ore ars. (ho ants to hear about it+% !" do.% " loosened #y seatbelt$ folded #y feet up under #e and t isted so that " as fa/ cing Eo-i slightly. ith his right hand and then


!Ho can e change our orld if e*re not infor#ed+% .ve had stopped riting. 0he held her closed notebook in her lap. Her sparkly$ silver pen as shoved into the #etal spiral binding of the book$ her hands folded on top. !Believe #e$ "*# not looking to change the orld.% Eo-i had a hard enough ti#e trying to change hi#self$ but didn*t e all+ !Ho about you$ "ndy+% !" don*t kno .% " shifted a little in #y seat. &he desert passing around us as flat and bro n. No life as visible any here but e all kne it as thereH li2ards and snakes hiding under rocks$ spiders aiting again for the night after having )uickly devoured their ebs at sunrise. 7y knees had already begun to ache fro# being bent. " slipped #y legs back out fro# under #e. !" -ust anted to listen to the ne s.%


Chapter Four
(e decided to stop to eat at a diner on the &e'as border. Eo-i convinced .ve to lock the bo' in the trunk$ even though she as reluctant to leave it in the car at all. !(hat are e going to do$ alk around every here ith it+% he asked. !(e don*t kno hat it is. 7aybe the heat ill da#age it$% .ve said. !" don*t think it ill. "f heat ould da#age it$ ouldn*t he have told us that+% Eo-i*s bald head glistened ith s eat. He iped it ith his hand then iped his hand on his deni# shorts. !Fust put it in the trunk so e can go eat.% He tossed her the car keys. .ve reached up and caught the#. 0he didn*t even ince as they hit her pal#. !1kay$ but if anything goes rong$ "*# not responsible.% !6on*t orry$ "*ll be responsible$% Eo-i said as he turned and alked to ards the diner. "f anyone should*ve been responsible$ it should*ve been #e. " as the one ho agreed to transport the thing. &hey ere -ust along for the ride$ but " let the# take charge because " really didn*t ant the responsibility. ?? &he aitress ho seated us ore a pink unifor# ith a ketchup stain on her frilly ap/ ron. Her dirty blonde hair as pulled back into a tight ponytail that hung -ust belo her shoulders. (hen she brought us our ater$ " noticed that the sole of her right shoe as about a half inch thicker than the left and she alked ith a slight li#p. (e sat silently sipping our ater. &he first t elve hours of our trip had already drained the conversation fro# us. 1ld country #usic played fro# a speaker in the corner. " recog/ ni2ed the #usic as 3atsy Cline but dared not ad#it it to Eo-i and .ve. &here ere only a fe other custo#ers in the place. An older #an in a co boy hat and blue -eans sat at the counter eating bacon and eggs. " found the deep rinkles in his face in/ 13

teresting and caught #yself staring at hi# several ti#es. A #iddle/aged couple sat at the booth opposite ours. &he o#anBs black eyeliner enhanced the circles beneath her eyes. Her lids ere painted ith sparkly blue eye shado . Bright pink lipstick s#udged the edge of her ater glass. Her co#panionBs black polyester pants strained around his #idsection. He talked ay too loudly and the o#an see#ed to ignore everything he said. &he aitress li#ped out ith a large bro n tray and sat it on the table ne't to us. 0he had been laughing. Her face flushed slightly. !(ho ordered the pancakes+% she said cheerfully holding a plate aloft. !Gight here.% " held up #y hand like a grade school student. !Here you go$ honey.% 0he sat the plate in front of #e. "t hit the table a little too hard. !0orry$% she said. !5ou #ust have the fruit salad and yogurt$ and that leaves the o#elet for you.% 0he gave each of the# their orders. !&hanks$% Eo-i said. !5a*all need anything else.% !No$ e*re good$% " said. !Let #e kno if you do.% 0he li#ped back to the kitchen and disappeared behind the s inging ooden door. .ve pulled her curly blond hair back and ound it into a bun at the nape of her neck. 0he tipped her bo l and looked at the bright pink yogurt. !" kno this isn*t organic$% she said picking up her fork. 0he stabbed a honeyde #elon cube fro# her fruit salad and popped it into her #outh. " dipped a sausage link in syrup and said$ !" don*t care if it*s organic or not$ it*s good.% &he co#bination of sausage and syrup as al ays #y favorite. !"t*s okay to eat -unk food every once in a hile.% !5eah$% Eo-i added. He had already inhaled half his o#elet. !"t*s not okay. 0o#eti#es it*s unavoidable$ but it*s never okay.% .ve e'a#ined a spoon/ ful of pink yogurt. !Fust eat it$% Eo-i said. !"t*s not going to kill you.% !Not right a ay at least$% .ve added before putting it into her #outh. " laughed and took a bite of #y sausage link. 14

?? Eo-i finished eating first. He pushed his plate a ay fro# hi#$ leaned back in his chair$ stretched and ya ned. !&hat as good.% " as only half ay through #y pancakes. !" ish "*d gotten an o#elet$% " said. !7y pancakes are too dry.% !(ith all the syrup you put on the# ho can you tell they*re dry+% .ve asked. 0he had finished her fruit salad and only eaten half of her yogurt. &he old #an at the counter had finished eating and turned on his stool to face us. He*d been staring at us for a fe #inutes before he finally got up. His boots struck the tile floor hard as he alked over to us. He got up really close so that he as standing bet een .ve and #eI all of his attention as focused on Eo-i. He cleared his throat and said$ !Ho you kids doing+% !Dood$% Eo-i said. !5ou on a trip or so#ething+% !5eah.% .ve and " re#ained silent and let Eo-i do the talking. He only see#ed to be in/ terested in hi# any ay. !5ou going through &e'as+% !5ep$ all the ay over 10 to 4lorida.% &he #an narro ed his eyes looked first at .ve$ then #e$ and then back at Eo-i. !5ou be careful. 6on*t speed or do anything stupid.% !1f course.% !5ou kno J% He paused for a #o#ent then looked back over his shoulder$ like he as e'pecting so#eone to be behind hi#. !" fought in Eorea. &hose co##ie North Eoreans and red Chinese ere #erciless. " sa #y buddies get holes blo n in the# the si2e of tennis balls,ar#s and legs blo n clean off$ dead bodies left to free2e in the cold.% He took his focus off Eo-i and looked at the back all of the diner. " thought " sa his lip tre#ble. !But " don*t have anything against the#. No there are so #any Chinese they*re li/ able to take over the orld.% !"*# Fapanese$% Eo-i said. His voice as stern. 15

!1h J% He looked at the three of us again. !" don*t #ean any har#. "*# -ust trying to say that an 1riental and a colored girl need to be careful driving through the 0outh$ espe/ cially ith a hite girl in to ... even no . Lots of people ill deny it$ but " on*t. 0o#e people pretend to have changed$ but they haven*t really. &hat includes the cops. &hat*s all.% He ad-usted his hat and turned to alk a ay. Eo-i said nothing. 7y heart sank into #y sto#ach. " had never been called colored be/ fore$ but " didn*t think that such a thing ould #ake #e feel so unco#fortable. (e ere all silent until the #an left. (hen he opened the door a chi#e sounded and the aitress peaked out of the kitchen. .ve as the first one to speak. !CnbelievableA " #ean can you believe hi#+ " feel asha#ed. " #ean J "*# so sorry.% !(hy are you apologi2ing+ 5ou didn*t do anything$% " said. !" kno $ but " #ean seriously hat year does he think this is$ 19K2+% !" don*t kno .% " pushed #y plate to ards the center of the table. " didn*t feel like fin/ ishing #y pancakes. !He as trying to help us ... in a strange kind of ay ... " think$% Eo-i said. !"tBs no big deal so donBt go trying to #ake it a big deal.% &he aitress li#ped back over to our table. 0he picked up Eo-i*s plate first. !5a*all fin/ ished+% 0he directed her )uestion at .ve and #e. !5eah$ e*re done$% " ans ered for both of us. !5ou ant a bo' for your pancakes+% !No thanks.% !5ou need anything else+% she asked$ stacking the plates. !Fust the check$% .ve said. " dug into #y oversi2ed canvas purse looking for #y allet. !6on*t orry about it. "*ll pay for it$% Eo-i said. !6on*t be silly. &o#*s paying #e back for all the e'penses. " don*t e'pect either of you to pay for anything.% " pulled #y allet fro# #y bag. "t had fallen to the botto#$ buried un/ der the t/shirt and deodorant "*d taken fro# #y duffel bag in the car. " handed Eo-i a crisp hundred/dollar bill. 16

!&hat*s too #uch.% He refused to take it. !Det #e so#e change then. " told you " as paying$% " dropped the bill on the table. !"*# going to the bathroo# to get cleaned up.% 7y chair scraped the tile floor as " stood. !5ou co#ing ith+% " asked .ve. !7aybe in a #inute. " need to get so#e things out of the car$% she said searching through her bag. !1kay.% As " alked a ay Eo-i as looking at #y hundred/dollar bill like he had never seen one before. &he ladies* roo# as surprisingly clean for a roadside dive. " used the hand soap to ash #y #usty ar#pits and put on deodorant. " splashed so#e ater on #y face and changed into a fresh t/shirt in the stall. 7y hair as hopeless. 7y tiny fro as all s)uashed flat in the back fro# leaning on it in the car$ and it as so dry. " had been trying to gro it out$ but it as taking a long ti#e. " regretted cutting it so short in the first place. " took out a s#all bottle of -o-oba oil " had in a plastic bag in #y purse and put so#e on #y hair. &hen tied #y bright orange scarf around #y head. (hen " pulled the bathroo# door open$ .ve as standing on the other side ith a backpack draped over one shoulder. !4inished already+% she asked. !5eah.% !5ou*re not going to change out of your -eans+ "t*s hot out there and it*ll only get hot/ ter.% !" kno $ but "*# al ays free2ing in the car ith the air/conditioning on. "f " need to "*ll change at our ne't stop.% !(ho kno s hen that*ll be+% 0he sat her backpack on the counter ne't to the sink. " let the bathroo# door close again and atched .ve study her freckled face in the #ir/ ror. 0he asn*t e'actly pretty. "f you passed her on the street you probably ouldn*t notice her. Her face as interesting thoughH her nose as a little too big$ her #outh a bit too s#all$ brilliant blue eyes$ and a ild #ane of iry blonde hair. 0he as thinner than #e$ bordering on being too thin. !6id Eo-i pay already+% " asked$ pulling the door open again. !5eah$% she ans ered. !He*s aiting outside.% 17

?? " crossed the parking lot to the car. !(here you going hot stuff+% a voice fro# behind #e said. "t as Eo-i. He as leaning against the all at the edge of the diner*s large indo s#oking a cigarette. !" didn*t see you there.% He dropped his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it as he alked over to #e. !Ho long do you think .ve ill be in there+ " ant to get on the road.% !" don*t kno . Not long.% He used his hand to shield his eyes fro# the sun. !Have you driven through &e'as be/ fore+% !No.% !(ell " have and it takes a long ti#e. "t see#s like it*ll never end. " -ust ant to get star/ ted as soon as possible.% He alked a little closer to #e—a little too close. (e ere the sa#e height. Not that Eo-i as short$ "*# -ust tall,taller than #ost o#en. !(hy*d you invite .ve+% !" don*t kno . (hy*d " invite you+ (hy do " do any of the things " do+% " stepped back$ to put a #ore co#fortable distance bet een us. !"*# still trying to figure that out.% He stepped closer again. !Let #e kno hen you do.% Eo-i brought his hand do n fro# his eyes and lightly gra2ed #y ar#. !Fust stop it.% " turned to alk to the car. "nviting Eo-i on this trip as a bad idea. " already kne that. At the ti#e$ " couldn*t find anyone else to go and " didn*t ant to go alone. He as a freelance riter$ so " kne he could take his ork ith hi#. 5ou can take a laptop any here$ right+ "f " had kno n that .ve ould loose her -ob at the health food store$ " never ould*ve invited hi#. Eo-i and " dated in college. Back then$ he had an electric blue 7oha k that as about a foot high. He used hite .l#er*s glue to #ake it stand up. He didn*t s#oke then$ and con/ sidered hi#self an anarchist. " as a conservative girl ith a straightening per# and pastel polo shirts. " as on the dean*s list and al ays follo ed the rules. He barely attended classes and didn*t believe in rules. (e ere an unlikely pair. But it lasted for years. 1nce e gradu/ 18

ated$ e dated on and off. " got a little less conservative and he got a little #ore conservat/ ive. "t*s hard to break things off ith so#e people. .specially so#eone you have so #uch history ith. (e had been through a lot together. " couldn*t i#agine not having hi# in #y life. No didn*t kno e ere trying to be friends and that*s all,at least that*s hat e had said$ so " hat he thought he as doing.

!4riends$% " said as " alked a ay. " thought he needed a re#inder. !5eah$ " kno .% .ve ca#e out of the diner dressed in a shear$ purple$ paisley$ peasant*s shirt and cut off shorts. &he shorts ere very short and you could see her black bra through her shirt. " never co##ented on her clothes though she often ore things " thought ere tacky. "t as none of #y business really. !Geady to go+% she said$ as she alked )uickly to ard the car$ keys in hand. 0he un/ locked the trunk$ dropped her backpack in and took out the bo'. !5ou can leave that in the trunk$% " said. !" ant it on the seat ne't to #e for safe keeping.% !"t*ll be safe enough in the trunk$% Eo-i agreed. !(hat*s the difference+% .ve sla##ed the trunk closed$ opened the back door$ cli#bed in$ and set the bo' ne't to her. !" guess that #eans you*re not driving$% Eo-i laughed. !"*ll drive.% " took the keys fro# .ve and pushed her door closed. " unlocked the pas/ senger door for Eo-i and got in the driver*s side.


Chapter Five
7aybe e should open it$% .ve said fro# the back seat. 0he held the cardboard bo' in her lap and ran her fingers along the taped top sea#. !(e could open it and then tape it up again. No one ould kno .% !"*# not going to open it$% " said. Eo-i as snoring loudly in the seat ne't to #e ith his head as pressed against the indo . !(hen he gave it to you$ did he tell you not to open it+% !No$ but he didn*t tell #e to open it either.% " looked in the rear vie #irror and could see her hold the bo' up and shake it gently. !A $ co#e on. (e could cut it open neatly and then tape it up. 1nly the three of us ould kno .% !No$ .ve.% !(hy not+ 6o you think it*s so#ething illegal+ 6rugs or so#ething+% !Not drugs$% " said. !Ho do you kno +% !(hen &o# asked #e to do this$ he told #e it as nothing illegal.% !And you believed hi#+% .ve turned the bo' over and e'a#ined the other side. !5eah.% (hen &o# gave #e the bo'$ he didn*t give #e any instructions really. He -ust told #e to deliver it to the address on the label. "t as an address in the to n " gre up in. (hen " told hi#$ he didn*t see# surprised. !6o you transport #ysterious packages for your friends on a regular basis+% .ve asked. !No.% " rolled #y eyes. 20

!"*# -ust asking because you*re good at it. "t*s driving #e cra2y. "f it ere -ust #e$ " ould*ve opened it before " got out of California.% !&hat*s the difference bet een you and #e.% !5eah$ one of the #any.% .ve set the bo' back on the seat ne't to her. 0he picked up her purple notebook$ hich had slid onto the floor near her feet and started riting again. !.ve hat are you al ays riting in that book+% !" don*t kno . Fust stuff. 7aybe "*ll let you read it hen you let #e open the bo'.% !" guess " on*t be reading it then.% !Duess not.%


Chapter Six
(e stopped at a 6ays "nn -ust outside of Houston at about si'. (e*d -ust eaten at a 3i22a Hut up the road and decided e all needed so#e real sleep. 1riginally$ e planned to drive straight through to 4lorida taking turns driving and sleeping along the ay. " *d never done anything like that before and didn*t reali2e ho tiring it ould be. !" hate these du#ps$% Eo-i said as e alked to our roo#. He put his ar# around #y shoulder. !Let go of #e.% " riggled out fro# under his ar#. !5ou s#ell.% He as pretty ripe. He hadn*t #ade an atte#pt to ash up since e started this trip. He s#elled of stale cigarettes and onions. !5ou can put your ar# around #e anyti#e$% .ve said. 0he s)uee2ed bet een us. Her duffel bag bu#ped against #e. .ve had been after Eo-i ever since " introduced the# last fall$ but he as having no part of it. &hough " hated to ad#it it$ it #ade #e feel a bit unco#/ fortable. " as secretly glad that Eo-i asn*t interested. Eo-i ignored her advances and continued alking. &he #otel as s)uare$ ith a courtyard and pool in the center. 0o#e roo#s faced the courtyard and others faced out to ards the parking lot. 1ur roo# faced the courtyard. !&his is it$% Eo-i said. He slid the key card into the lock and the green light lit up. &he roo# as hat you*d e'pect— hite alls$ t o double beds covered in bro n and orange paisley bed spreads. &he s itch by the door turned on a standing brass la#p ith a dull bro n la#pshade. " dropped #y duffel bag and the bo' on the round table by the in/ do . "ts la#inate top$ #eant to look like dark ood$ as chipped sho ing particleboard be/ neath. !"t*s hot in here$% .ve co#plained. 0he as right. 22

" flipped up the door covering the control panel$ turned the te#perature knob all the ay to its coldest setting and pushed the black button that had high ritten under it. At first the air conditioner coughed out a burst of hot air$ but it )uickly gre ice cold. !"t*ll be too cold for #e in here in no ti#e.% !&hanks$% .ve said. !5ou can turn it do n once it starts to cool off.% !1r you can.% Eo-i pulled so#e clean clothes fro# his bag. !"*# going to take a sho er.% !3lease do$% " said. !" kno $ " kno " stink. 5ou already #ade that clear. "*# going to take care of it so e can snuggle up tonight.% !0nuggle up+ 5ou*ll be sleeping on the floor.% !He can*t sleep on this filthy floor.% .ve ran her sandal along the gold carpet. !(ho kno s hat*s been on it+ 5ou can sleep ith #e.% " could tell fro# Eo-i*s face that he as getting ready to re-ect her offer$ so " interrup/ ted. !.ve and " can share this bed.% " pointed to the bed closest to #e. !And you can have the other one all to yourself.% !1kay.% Eo-i looked relieved. !" thought you didn*t ant to share ith anyone$% .ve said. !" don*t #ind$% " responded. Eo-i picked up his clothes and ent into the bathroo# to sho er. &he ater striking the botto# of the cheap plastic tub #ade a loud hollo sound. " picked up the &< re#ote and started flipping through channels looking for the ne s. .ve pushed Eo-i*s bag onto the floor and lay out on his bed. Her knees ere bent ith her feet touching the floor and her ar#s spread out to the side. !7aybe e should get a #ovie.% !(e should -ust see hat*s on &<. " don*t ant to spend any e'tra #oney on a pay/per/ vie #ovie.% !"t on*t be that #uch$ "ndy. &o#*s paying for it any ay.% !(e should probably get as #uch sleep as possible so e can get out of here early to/ #orro .% 23

!"*d like to have ti#e to rela'. 5ou kno $ the three of us having a good ti#e together.% .ve closed her eyes and started s inging her legs. " finally settled on a channel sho ing local ne s. &he eather o#an stood in front of a local #ap covered ith lines and blobs of color that #eant nothing to #e$ talking about high pressure and lo pressure$ blah$ blah$ blah. &he seven/day forecast sho ed that it ould be hot and sunny all eek$ not a cloud in the sky. " as hoping for so#e rain$ or at least a little so#ething to cool off the road. " didn*t kno if it as true$ but hen " as in eighth grade #y uncle told #e that if the road gets too hot it could #elt the rubber on your tires and cause a blo out. "*d seen an accident caused by a blo out before$ " as about nine at the ti#e. &he car spun around and hit another car. &he back door of the car it struck popped open and a #an and o#an fle out$ and spun around on their butts like break/ dancers. "t had happened on the other side of the road$ #y #other -ust continued driving$ " turned around to atch the terrible scene through the rear indo . " had recurring drea#s for a hile after that in hich " ould see people spinning and spinning on the road like tops. "*d never been in an accident. 7y friends had$ but " hadn*t. " as terrified of getting into one. 7aybe the e'perience of actually being in one ould*ve helped #e get over #y fear$ but " ould rather have avoided the situation all together. Any ay$ " ould*ve felt #ore co#fortable driving in cooler eather. &he anchor#an as talking about a o#an ho as kidnapped$ raped and tortured in the ne't to n over hen .ve sat up on the bed. !(hy do you like to atch this stuff+% !" thought you liked the ne s. 5ou -ust defended it ith #e in the car.% !&hat as different.% !Ho +% !(orld ne s is different because it*s about the orld. 5ou need to atch it to kno hat*s going on. Local ne s is stuff in your neighborhood that #akes you not ant to go outside.% &he sho er turned off$ and the ne s suddenly see#ed too loud in the ne ly )uiet roo#. " turned it do n. !"t*s scary$ but " ould still like to kno of.% 24 hat " need to be scared

!"*d rather alk around in happy ignorance$% .ve said. Eo-i ca#e out of the bathroo# dressed in light blue basketball shorts and a dark blue t/ shirt. (hen he opened the bathroo# door$ a cloud of stea# follo ed hi# into the roo#. He balled up his dirty clothes and stuffed the# into his backpack. !6o you ant to sho er ne't+% .ve asked #e. !No$ "*ll ait 8til the #orning. 0ho ering at night doesn*t do onders for #y hair. "t needs the ater to re/curl.% !7ine is cra2y no #atter hat " do.% .ve took her duffel bag into the bathroo# ith her. Eo-i sat do n ne't to #e on the bed. " ran #y hands along the rough bedspread$ tra/ cing the paisley bro n and gold pattern. !0o$ hat*s the plan+% he asked. !3lan+% " scrunched up #y face. !5eah$ hat*s ne't+% He as staring off in the other the direction. !" don*t kno $ e get so#e sleep$% " sighed. !(hat do you #ean you don*t kno + &his is your trip$ "ndy.% !(e get so#e sleep and then e get going early. "*d like to drive the rest straight through.% !6id &o# give you a deadline+% !No. "*d -ust like to get this over ith$ you kno +% !5eah$ but it*s good to spend the ti#e together. (e haven*t done that in a hile.% " could feel Eo-i looking at #e$ but " kept #y eyes on the &<. &he ne s as over and a celebrity gossip sho as on. " pretended to be interested$ to avoid getting involved in here the conversation as al ays headed ith Eo-i. Detting no response fro# #e$ Eo-i stood up and alked over to his bag on the floor near the bathroo#. He pulled out his sli# black notebook co#puter and alked over to the table. He took #y bag off the table and set his co#puter do n ne't to the bo'. 1ne of the table legs as shorter than the other$ so the it obbled a bit. !(hat you orking on these days+% " asked hi#. 25

!"t*s an article for a riting #aga2ine about ho to turn one idea into several different articles.% Eo-i didn*t look at #e hen he spoke. He as al ays easily hurt. (hile e ere dating " had to be really careful about hat " said. !5ou kno "*# glad you ca#e on this trip ith #e$% " said. " had to say so#ething. " didn*t ant hi# to feel hurt and re-ected for the hole trip$ but " didn*t ant to encourage hi# either. !Are you+ Because it feels like you anted it to be -ust you and .ve.% He kept his ga2e fi'ed on the co#puter screen. !(hy ould " ant that+ .ve is #y friend$ but she can be kind of annoying at ti#es.% &his as partially true. .ve started singing loudly in the sho er -ust as " said that. !0he*s a good singer$% Eo-i co##ented i##ediately. And he as right$ she as. .ve*s voice as full$ e#otional$ and very une'pected because her speaking voice as such a nasal hine. !5eah but she*s a terrible lyricist$% " laughed. !0he rites songs+% !5eah$ "*# surprised she*s not singing one of her originals no .% 0he as singing I’ll Be There. &he ords drifted over the thunderous sound of the sho er. Eo-i said nothing else to #e$ engrossed in his ork$ he stared at the co#puter screen. " pulled a pillo out fro# under the co#forter and laid do n. &he pillo s#elled #usty and the co#forter #ade #y ar#s itch. (hen " as a child$ staying in a hotel as the #ost e'citing thing in the orld. "t #ade #e feel i#portant$ like " as going so#eplace spe/ cial. No it as a drag. " al ays felt kind of out of sorts sleeping in an unfa#iliar bed. &ry/ ing to use a strange toilet al ays #ade #e constipated. 7y fa#ily didn*t go on trips very of/ ten. (e didn*t have a lot of #oney. (hen e did go$ e usually ca#ped. " closed #y eyes and thought about fa#ily trips$ hotels$ ca#ping and that special feeling traveling used to give #e. " ished " could have that feeling again no . " didn*t re#e#ber falling asleep. &he last thing " re#e#bered as .ve*s singing$ the sound of the sho er$ and Eo-i*s fingers tapping out a steady rhyth# on the co#puter keys.


Chapter Seven
" oke up because " as cold. " didn*t open #y eyes. "nstead$ " rapped #y ar#s around #yself in an atte#pt to ar# up. " cursed #y t/shirt for being too thin and short sleeved and folded #y knees up to ard #y chest in an effort to gather up all of #y body heat. " as too tired to get under the covers. " opened #y eyes slightly. &he &< as off and so as the sho er. " as alone. &he roo# as di#ly lit. "t as like a la#p had been left on so#e here be/ hind #e$ but the light see#ed too soft and gave off a bluish glo . "t could*ve been the light of a neon sign shining through a gap in the curtains$ but " didn*t re#e#ber there being any neon signs outside. " could hear the roar of the air/conditioner behind #e. "t as still on high. "t forced out cold air at a rapid pace that ble against #y back. " tensed #y #uscles against the cold. " didn*t kno hat had happened to Eo-i and .ve$ but " could tell they ere no longer in the roo#. 7aybe they had gone out despite #y protests. &he roo# had a strange drea#y )uality to it,like a ha2e had been cast over everything. " thought about getting up to turn off the air/conditioner but didn*t ant to loose #y sleepi/ ness. " rolled over. 1n the table ne't to Eo-i*s no closed laptop as the bo'. 4ro# its sea#s$ it glo ed a blue light. " could tell that the light as bright but not enough of it could escape the bo' to light up the roo# co#pletely. there as -ust enough to cast a bluish glo over everything. " felt strangely rela'ed. 7y brain kne that " should be afraid$ but #y body felt no fear. " eased #yself up on the bed and placed #y bare feet on the stiff carpet. &he glo ing bo' as right in front of #e$ casting shado s around the roo#. !Eo-iA .veA% " called out to 27

#ake sure " as alone. &his see#ed like so#e kind of prank$ but " kne that neither of the# ere pranksters. &he roo# felt like a free2er. " shivered and even #ore goose bu#ps rose up on #y ar#s. " stood up$ reached over$ and pushed the black off s itch on the air conditioner. As soon as " did$ " could hear a lo /pitched hu# co#ing fro# the bo'. " reached out #y hand and placed it on the bo'. Don’t do that! Don’t touch it! " thought$ but " ignored #y thoughts and did it any ay. " didn*t kno hat it as$ hat #ight happen. &he bo' vibrated in ti#e ith the arble of the hu#. (ar#th #oved fro# it through #y hand and up #y ar#. "t as a pleasant feeling$ like getting into a tub of ar# ater. &he feeling crept up #y ar# to #y shoulder$ then ashed over #y neck$ releasing the tension in the #uscles there$ then it #oved up over #y head. 7y thoughts beca#e fu22ier than they already ere. " fell to #y knees. 7y hand slid off the bo' and onto the edge of the table. " gripped the cold table edge$ and the roo# ent black. ?? (hen #y eyes ad-usted to the darkness$ everything had changed. " as in bed$ under the blanket. 7y bare legs slid back and forth on the s#ooth sheets. Eo-i as snoring in the ne't bed. " as facing the back of .ve*s head. Her hair as plaited in a single braid do n the back. " closed #y eyes and opened the# again revealing the sa#e scene. 0lo ly$ " rolled over$ trying not to disturb .ve*s sleep. &he air/conditioner as no longer on high. "t bu22ed but didn*t roar like before. &he bo' sat on the table. "t looked like an ordinary cardboard bo'$ carefully taped across the top. It must have been a dream, " thought$ and closed #y eyes to go back to sleep. " lay there for hat see#ed like forever$ trying to sleep. " as tired. " had the ache in #y forehead and behind #y eyes that " al ays got hen " felt very tired but couldn*t sleep. 7y face started to hurt fro# being pressed against the pillo . " have difficulty sleeping in hotels. "*# sure a lot people do. &his bed as too hard. &he sheets ere too tucked in at the botto#$ s ashing #y feet. " as cold but as too concerned about aking .ve to retrieve the blanket fro# the floor. " opened #y eyes again. &he roo# re#ained unchanged,dark and )uiet. 28

" lay there until " could see the first hints of yello light peek through the crack left here the t o curtains #et. " )uietly slid out of bed and took #y duffel bag into the bath/ roo# ith #e. " didn*t ant to ake .ve and Eo-i ru##aging through it$ although " kne the sound of the sho er ould probably ake the# any ay. 0till$ " didn*t ant to see# too inconsiderate. " felt different. " didn*t notice it at first$ but the longer " as up and #oving around$ the #ore " noticed. " felt good—#ore centered. &hat*s not the ay " ould nor#ally describe so#ething,a bit too yoga and ne age for #e—but " have no other ay to describe it. " felt #ore grounded$ centered$ confident. " felt #ore like #yself. " -ust felt #ore like " as the person " as al ays #eant to be. .ve and Eo-i ere a ake hen " ca#e out of the bathroo#. .ve as sitting cross/ legged on the bed ne't to Eo-i. Her long t/shirt pulled up to her hips$ the crotch of her purple panties out for the orld to see. Eo-i didn*t see# to notice. He as lying on his back tangled in a sheet. &hey ere talking )uietly. (hen " entered the roo# they stopped. .ve looked around unco#fortably. Eo-i sat up. !Ho *d you sleep last night+% he asked #e. !4ine$% " lied. !Geally+% He pulled the sheet off and scooted to the edge of the bed. .ve got up and started taking clothes fro# her backpack. !Ho *d you guys sleep+% " asked. !1kay$% .ve said. Her voice sounded eak. !" could*ve slept better.% Eo-i stretched. !5ou kno it*s hard for #e to sleep in a ne place. " should*ve brought #y pillo ith #e at least.% He cleared his throat. !"t sure sounded like you ere sleeping to #e$% " said. !(ell " asn*t.% Eo-i got so#e clothes out of his bag$ ent into the bathroo# and shut the door. !"ndy e have to open that bo'$% .ve said. " had turned the television on again and as flipping through the channels. (hen .ve spoke$ " looked over at her and sa that she as changing. 0he stood there in only her panties$ her back to #e. .#barrassed$ " looked a ay. !" kno $% " responded. 29

!5ou kno + All of a sudden your ans er is " kno . (hy the change+% (ith the volu#e turned do n on the television$ " could hear the rustling of fabric as she slid into her clothes. !"*# transporting it. " should kno hat*s in it.% " heard her 2ip her bag closed and kne it as okay for #e to look over at her again. .ve as earing the sa#e cut/off shorts she had on yesterday and a black t/shirt ith the ord hemp ritten on it in cracked hite letters. Her hair as still in the sa#e #essy braid she*d slept in. !(e should open it before e leave.% !" ant to call &o# first.%


Chapter Eight
(hen " called &o# the reception asn*t very good. " strained to hear his phone ring. " as considering hanging up and calling again$ hen his voice#ail picked up. !Hey this is &o#. Leave a #essage. 7aybe "*ll call you back.% Nervous$ " couldn*t hear the beep and -ust hung up. !No ans er$% Eo-i said. He as typing a ay on his laptop and didn*t look up. !No.% .ve sat on the bed holding the bo' in her lap. !(e should -ust open it.% !" ant to talk to &o# first.% !5ou didn*t even leave a #essage.% Eo-i stopped orking$ alked over and sat do n on the bed ne't to #e. !" kno . " don*t kno hat to do. (e probably shouldn*t open it.% !Co#e on.% .ve held the bo' up and gave it a good shake. !"*ll call again.% " redialed &o#*s nu#ber. &his ti#e the connection as #uch better. "t rang t ice before he picked up. !Hello$% he said. !Hey$ &o#. "t*s "ndira.% !6id you -ust call #e+% !5eah.% !"*# kind of screening #y calls.% !1h.% !"s so#ethingJ rong+% he hispered like he as afraid so#eone ould hear hi#. !Ch$ no not really.% !Not really+% 31

!" anted to kno if " could open the bo'.% !"ndy " thought you trusted #e.% He sounded disappointed. !" do. "t*s -ust that so#ething strange happened to #e last night andJ% 7y voice )uivered. !(hat happened+% !Nothing really.% &he ne confidence " had a oken ith slipped a ay. Eo-i took #y hand and s)uee2ed it gently. !"t as probably -ust a drea#. "t as probably nothing$ but " think " should see hat*s in the bo'.% !"t was nothing. 4orget about opening the bo'$ "ndy. 5ou*re supposed to trust #e.% !" do. " -ustJ% !5ou -ust hat+ Gight no it sounds like you don*t trust #e at all. Here*s the ne deal. "f you open the bo' you don*t get paid.% His voice as stern. !Do ahead and open the bo'$ but if you ant the other thousand dollars$ don*t.% He hung up. &o# had paid #e half of the #oney before the trip began. &he deal as half no and half later. !(hat did he say+% Eo-i asked. !"f " open it$ " on*t get the other half of #y #oney.% !5ou said so#ething strange happened to you last night.% .ve put the bo' do n on the bed ne't to her and turned to face #e. !5eah.% !(hat+% Eo-i asked. !Nothing really.% !"t #ust have been so#ething to change your #ind about opening it.% .ve said. !"t as -ust a drea# J% !About the bo'+% Eo-i asked. !5eah$ about the bo'. &here is so#ething special inside it.% !&here #ust be$ since this guy is illing to pay you so #uch to take it to 4lorida$% .ve interrupted. !(e should get on the road. "t*s already getting late.% " glanced over at the digital clock on the nightstand. "t as seven thirty. 32

!0o e*re not going to open it+% .ve asked. !" guess not.% Eo-i stood up$ ent back over to the table and started packing up his co#puter. .ve sat still. 0he stared at #e like she e'pected #e to do or say so#ething else$ but " didn*t have anything else to say. 7y head ached fro# lack of sleep and orry. " looked at the bo'. &here it as$ looking like an ordinary bo'—nothing special about it$ no glo ing light. " picked it up and held it on #y lap. !(e can open it$% .ve said. !(e could open it and then pack it up again. No one ould ever kno .% " ran #y fingers along the s#ooth clear tape across its top. &he address label as upside do n. " turned the bo' to right the label so " could read it. "t as a hite label ith the ad/ dress clearly typed in bold$ black$ capital letters. " read the na#e of the person it as ad/ dressed toH 3rophetess Fackson. !5es they ould$% " said. !.veryone ould kno .% " heard the sound of 2ippers being aggressively 2ipped behind #e. " turned to see Eo-i slinging his bag over his shoulder by the door. !Are you ladies ready+% !5eah$% " sighed. " alked across the roo# to turn off the &< and pick up #y duffel bag. !" have to use the bathroo# first$% .ve announced$ then disappeared behind the bath/ roo# door. Eo-i and " both put our bags do n. He alked to ard #e and before " kne hat as happening he as giving #e a big hug. Nor#ally$ " ould*ve pushed hi# a ay$ but " as so tired and confused. " tried to rest #y head on his shoulder$ but it didn*t )uite ork. 0o e stood there holding on to each other$ a fe seconds too long. 7y cheek pressed against his ear. !"t*s going to be alright$% he hispered. !" kno $% " said. " felt a tear escape fro# #y eye and slide do n #y cheek. !(e*ll deliver the bo' and go back ho#e and everything ill be back to nor#al.% !" kno .% " held hi# a little closer. He hadn*t had a cigarette yet so his shirt didn*t s#ell of s#oke. He s#elled like soap and laundry detergent. "*d al ays liked that s#ell$ it re/ 33

#inded #e of ho#e. &he drier sat outside on the porch right near #y bedroo# indo gro ing up. " breathed deeply to try to get in all of the good laundry s#ell. Eo-i al ays #ade #e feel better. He had a knack for that. (hen he said things " be/ lieved hi#. "t as the sincerity of his voice and the earnest look in his eyes that let #e kno he as al ays telling #e the truth. About three years ago$ #y little brother$ Charles$ died in a car accident. He as street racing his souped up Honda Civic hen he lost control of the car and hit a pole. He as go/ ing ell over a hundred and the car burst into fla#es on i#pact. "t as terrible to say the least—shocking and terrible. Eo-i and " eren*t dating at the ti#e. (e ere at an off/again stage of our on/again/off/again relationship. "t see#s like e*re usually at the off/again stage. He as the first person " called once " #anaged to pick #yself up off the floor and get a co/ herent thought in #y head. He offered to go ho#e ith #e ithout hesitation. " as glad he did. Neither of #y parents or " could do anything but sit around the house staring at each other and sobbing. Eo-i #ade all the funeral arrange#ents ith the help of one of #y aunts. 7y brother had -ust turned t enty/one the #onth before he died and still thought of hi#self as invincible. &he funny thing as his luck as al ays so good that " as starting to believe he as too. &hen this happened. 7ortality struck and hat could " do+ Nothing. But Eo-i as there to help out$ ans er the phone$ #ake arrange#ents and say all of the right things. Like he as no . !"*# glad you ca#e ith #e$% " said and this ti#e " #eant it. &hen " reali2ed that the hug as lasting a little too long and " started to feel unco#fortable. " pulled a ay and patted his shoulder a k ardly. !"*# glad " ca#e too.% .ve ca#e out of bathroo#. !Gefreshed and ready to go.% 0he picked up her bag and alked outside. Eo-i and " grabbed our bags and follo ed her out.


Fust hen " thought e*d never get out of &e'as e crossed the state line. Gelieved$ " read the Welcome to Louisiana sign out loud. !5eah$ elco#e.% .ve as driving. " sat in the front and Eo-i do2ed in the back seat. &he bo' as on the floor bet een #y feet because .ve insisted on al ays having it in sight. !(hat*s that all about+% " asked$ noting her sarcastic tone. !" got #ugged in the 4rench Luarter in Ne 1rleans$ so " have a bad feeling about the place.% !5ou got #ugged in the 4rench Luarter+% !"*d never been #ugged before. "t as trau#aticA% (hen .ve talked$ she had a tendency to look at the person she as talking to #ore than the road. &his #ade #e reluctant to start conversations ith her hen it as her turn to drive. !(hat happened+% !(ell it asn*t really a #ugging.% !"t sounds to #e like you*re changing your story$% " teased. .ve as kno n to e'agger/ ate. !(hat as it really then+% !" as alking around the 4rench Luarter. &his is hen " ca#e to 0an 6iego for the first ti#e fro# Alaba#a.% !" al ays forget you*re fro# Alaba#a.% !&hat*s because " donBt have an accent.% !7aybe e should stop off and visit your fa#ily on the ay to 4lorida.% !"*d rather not.% .ve see#ed annoyed at the suggestion. !" -ust thought J since e*re going that ay any ay.% 35

!Na .% .ve didn*t look at #e that ti#e hen she spoke. "nstead$ she stared straight ahead$ concentrating on driving. Her hands gripped the steering heel fir#ly at the t o o*clock and ten o*clock position. !Any ay$% she said$ regaining her usual ani#ation and lack of concentration on the road. !" as alking around the 4rench Luarter —you kno $ -ust doing the sight seeing thing— hen these t o guys co#e up to #e and the one says that he ill shine #y shoes. " as earing #y Birks so there as nothing to shine. 0o " tell hi# no$ but they on*t go a ay. Ne't thing " kno $ this guy is iping a dirty rag across #y feet and "*# -ust standing there$ shocked. &hen the other guy starts telling #e " o e the# t enty bucks for the shoeshine.% !Cnbelievable$% " said. !5eah$ " kno . 0o " say that " don*t o e the# anything and try to alk a ay$ but they on*t let #e by the#. &his is the #iddle of the day ith lots of people aroundA " didn*t kno hat to do. " ended up -ust giving the# the t enty bucks so they*d leave #e alone. " !" don*t bla#e you.% " as looking #ore at the road than listening to her story. .ve let the car drift a bit onto the shoulder a couple of ti#es hile she as talking$ but e #ostly stayed in our lane. !5eah$ so " asn*t really #ugged$ but it felt like it. "f " stayed #uch longer$ " ould*ve been #ugged. " -ust kno it.% (hen she finished her story she turned her attention back to driving. (e didn*t say anything for a hile. " could hear Eo-i*s deep breathing in the back seat. " longed for the radio. " -ust anted so#e noise —#usic$ ne s$ anything. 7y tape deck as broken too. "t had che ed up #y 3rince*s Dreatest Hits tape. " as listening to Little Ged Corvette and the tape suddenly started flipping over fro# side A to side B over and over again. (hen " tried to e-ect it a strea# of bro n shiny tape ca#e out along ith the cassette$ so#e of it as still stuck in the player. " pulled it hard and the tape -ust snapped. "t hadn*t orked since. (ho has a cassette player any#ore any ay+ &hat*s hy " as going to get it replaced ith a C6 player. " ished " had included that in the car repair costs for the trip. " could*ve gotten &o# to pay for that too. 36 left after that. " didn*t really ant to sight see if that*s hat it as going be like.%

!(hat*s that sound+% .ve said. " strained #y ears and could hear faint chi#es. !" think it*s #y phone.% " put #y purse on #y lap and started searching through it. (hen " found it$ " ans ered it up ithout look/ ing at the screen to see ho it as. " -ust anted to ans er it before the person hung up. !Hello.% !Hey$ it*s -ust #e.% "t as &o#. !(hat*s up+% !" as -ust calling to #ake sure you didn*t open the bo'.% !1h.% !0o did you+% !No.% " said softly. &he ay he spoke to #e #ade #e feel e#barrassed. "t as like he as speaking to a child. " as glad that .ve could only hear #y end of the conversation. !Dood. 6on*t$ okay+ "t ill be best for everyone if you don*t.% !(hat does that #ean$ best for everyone+% !Fust don*t$ "ndy. Fust don*t.% " didn*t say anything. " could hear &o# breathing on the other end of the phone. !(here are you no +% !Crossing Louisiana.% !Ch.% !(e*re probably going to get there a day later than " anticipated.% !(hy+% !1ne of #y friends that ca#e ith #e$ .ve$ " think you #et her once before in the hall ay.% !" don*t re#e#ber.% !Any ay$ her fa#ily is in Alaba#a and e ere going to stop there and spend the night. (e can*t -ust leave first thing in the #orning. (e*ll have to visit for a hile$ you kno .% .ve as gri#acing at #e and not looking at the road again. " #otioned to ard the road $ but she ignored #e. !1kay. " don*t care if it takes a little longer. Fust don*t open the bo'$% &o# said. 37

!5eah$ " kno .% !0orry if " as rude to you on the phone before. "t*s -ust that this is i#portant. "tBs really i#portant to #e.% !" kno it is.% !Have a safe trip.% !&hanks$ " ill.% !Call after you*ve delivered the bo'.% !" ill.% !Bye.% He hung up. !" can*t believe you said that$% .ve said as soon as " took the phone a ay fro# #y ear. !0aid hat+% Eo-i asked groggily fro# backseat. !" said that e ere going to spend the night at .ve*s parents* house in Alaba#a.% !0ounds like a good idea$% Eo-i said. !" could use so#e southern ho#e cooking.% !(e are not going to #y parents* house.% !(hy not+ Are you asha#ed of the#+% Eo-i asked. !No.% !&hen you*re asha#ed of us$% " added. !No. " -ust haven*t talked to the# in a hile.% !(hy not+% Eo-i asked. !" don*t kno . &i#e J difference.% !&he ti#e difference bet een Alaba#a and California isn*t very big$% " re#arked. !&hat*s not hat " #eant$% .ve said. !" think you should call the#$% Eo-i said. !" don*t have anything in co##on ith the#.% !&hey*re your parents. (ho has anything in co##on ith their parents+ 7y #other )uilts and atches the Ho#e 0hopping Net ork all day. 7y father collects electric trains. He has a hole roo# of the#.% !Hey$ " think that*s cool$% " said. (hen " as little " loved electric trains. " al ays anted an electric train set. (e used to go to this restaurant ith a #odel train that ran 38

along the ceiling. 7y brother and " ould al ays point it out hen it ent by us. (e never tired of it. !5ou kno hat " #ean$% Eo-i continued. !&hey*re your parents. 5ou donBt stop call/ ing the# because you don*t read the sa#e books or like the sa#e #ovies.% !5ou should call the#.% !" ill.% !5ou should call the# no . 3ull off at that rest area.% " had noticed the blue arning signs for a rest area a little ays back. " really had to use the toilet. ?? .ve as leaning against the side of the car hen " ca#e back fro# the bathroo#. !6id you call the#+% " asked straight a ay. !5eah$ they*d love for us to stay ith the#. 7y #other said that e*re #ore than el/ co#e.% !&hey ere happy to hear fro# you$ eren*t they+% !&hrilled.% .ve rolled her eyes. " spotted Eo-i co#ing fro# the vending #achines ith a soda and a bag of chips in hand. !(ell$% he yelled out. 0o#e other people in the parking lot turned to look at hi#. !&hey said e could stay$% .ve yelled back. !" kne they ould$% Eo-i said. !(here do they live+% " asked .ve.


Chapter Ten
"t only took us si' hours to get to .ve*s ho#eto n. "t as a s#all to n that butted up against the 7obile Bay ith only t o traffic lights and a couple of #o# and pop shops. &he #ain street$ lined ith large oak trees$ led to the ater. (hen e pulled into the drive ay of .ve*s parents pale yello one/story ho#e$ .ve took her ti#e getting out of the car. !" haven*t been here in so long. "t -ust see#s eird$% she said$ sitting in the passenger*s seat clutching her al ays/present notebook. !5ou said they ere happy to hear fro# you. &hey*ll be happy to see you too$% " said. "t as about seven o*clock. &he sun had co#pleted its trip across the sky and as be/ ginning to sink on the hori2on. " as starved and anted to get inside and get so#e food in #e as soon as possible$ but " had to be sensitive to .ve*s feelings. Being sensitive to feelings asn*t #y strong point$ especially hen " could hear #y sto#ach gro ling. Eo-i lit a cigarette. !"f e*re going to be out here for a hile$ " #ight as ell s#oke.% He alked to the edge of the drive ay and stood looking do n the street. !Co#e on$ .ve$ let*s go inside.% " started alking to ards the door hoping to #otivate her to get out of the car. Before " got to the front steps$ " heard the car door close behind #e. .ve as #aking her ay slo ly to the front porch. Eo-i put out his cigarette and started alking to ard us. !" love #y parents. "t*s -ust J% Before .ve could finish her sentence$ the front door s ung open and there stood .ve*s parents$ and they ere e'actly hat " e'pected. !(e thought e heard so#eone in the drive ay$% her father said. He as a tall #an ith a sli# build. His angular face rese#bled .ve*s. Her #other as short. 0he only ca#e up to her husband*s chest. !Are you co#ing in or ere you planning on sleeping in the drive ay+% 0he said ith a slight 0outhern lilt. 0he 40

stepped do n off the porch and alked to ard .ve ith her ar#s open ide. !" haven*t seen you in so long$ Baby.% 0he caught .ve in her ar#s and s)uee2ed her tightly. !5eah$% .ve said. 0he hugged her #o# back. (hen they stopped hugging they -ust stood there silent face to face staring at each other. !Drab your stuff and co#e on inside$% her father said. Eo-i and " got our bags out of the car. .ve continued to stand there staring at her #other. !5ou too$ .vie$% her father said. !Det your stuff and co#e on inside.% .ve grabbed her bag fro# the trunk and got the bo' off the back seat. Her #other looked at the bo' and said$ !Baby$ did you get your #a#a a present+% !No$% .ve replied flatly. !"s it for your daddy+% her #other asked. !No. "t*s "ndy*s. " -ust don*t think she should leave it in the car.% !" think it*ll be fine$% " called back to her. !" think e should take it inside$ -ust in case.% .ve shut the car door. !"n case of hat+% !" don*t kno . &heft+% !.ve*s right. 5ou shouldn*t keep anything valuable in the car$% .ve*s #other said. !(hat is it+% !Nothing special really$% .ve as )uick to ans er. !(ell if it*s nothing special$ " guess it doesn*t #atter here you keep it.% Her #other turned and alked to ards the house. As e stepped up onto the porch Eo-i put out his hand to shake .ve*s father*s hand. He looked at his hand hanging out there and #id air and didn*t respond ith an out/ stretched hand in return. !" don*t shake hands$% he said. " could tell this asn*t said in a ay that as #eant to offend. He stated it as a si#ple fact$ like telling so#eone that he couldnBt dance or didn*t kno ho to play tennis. !1h$% Eo-i said and dropped his hand to his side. !"*# "ndy$% " said )uickly trying to defuse his e#barrass#ent. !And this is Eo-i. "t*s so nice to finally #eet you 7r. 4uer.% 41

!Call #e 4red$% he responded. !&here*s no need for for#alities.% !He*s right$% .ve*s #other said as she follo ed us up the porch stairs. !"*# Brenda. Not 7rs. 4uer to you.% "nside$ they sho ed us ere e ould be sleeping. (e left our bags in the bedroo#s. .ve and " ould be sharing her old roo#$ hich " had assu#ed looked e'actly the sa#e since she as in ele#entary school. &he alls ere painted sky blue ith puffy hite clouds. A rainbo as carefully painted on the hite closet door. !" painted it #yself$% .ve told #e. &hat surprised #e. !Ho old ere you+% !0i'teen.% " didn*t think that rainbo s and clouds ere things a si'teen year old ould be inter/ ested in$ but$ apparently$ that as hat .ve liked at that age. At si'teen$ " as too interested in boys to even notice a rainbo . !" didn*t kno you painted.% !Fust stuff like this. 6u#b really.% 0he rolled her eyes and left the roo#. Brenda and 4red sho ed Eo-i to the guest roo#. .ve and " aited in the living roo# for the# to e#erge. &he furniture as all rapped tightly in thick plastic. 3lastic runners crisscrossed the carpet in the living roo# and hall. &he cushions on the sofa creaked as " sat on the#. " s#irked$ and$ as if reading #y #ind$ .ve responded. !6irt. 7y father is terrified of dirt and ger#s. &hat*s hy e have the plastic on the furniture. &hat ay he can ipe it do n every night.% !&hat*s hy he doesn*t shake hands$% " continued. !5ou*ve got it$% she said. A collection of glass dolphins sat on the end table ne't to #e. " pick one up. "t as #ade of s#ooth blue glass. !6olphins+% !7y #other*s.% !" figured.% .ve see#ed as unco#fortable in these surroundings as " did. 0he stood in the #iddle of the living roo# looking at the atercolors of seaside scenery on each all. &he house s#elled of roasted pork and baked potatoes. " could hear the chatter of Eo-i$ Brenda and 4red as they ca#e do n the hall$ their voices slo ly getting closer. Brenda rushed through the living roo# to the kitchen. 42

!5ou need any help in there+% " called out as she passed. !Nope. 0upper*s all ready$% Brenda said. !&he only thing you can do is have a seat in the dining roo# and be good and hungry.% (hen e entered the dining roo# the first things " noticed ere the place settings. &o be #ore specific$ the first things " noticed ere the plates. At each setting$ along ith the usual fork$ spoon$ knife and napkin carefully arranged on a )uilted$ flo ered place #at$ as a yello $ plastic$ rectangular plate divided into si' sections. "t as like a &< dinner tray ithout the dinner. !"nteresting plates$% " caught #yself saying aloud. !7y dad doesn*t like the different foods to touch,not -ust his but anyone else*s at the table.% .ve pulled out the chair in front of her and plunked do n in it. !"t*s -ust one of those things$% 4red said. !" hope it doesn*t bother you.% Brenda alked in holding a platter ith carved pork and potatoes. !" put out our real plates last year because e -ust never used the#. " hate seeing things going to aste like that so " gave the# a ay.% 0he set the platter do n in the #iddle of the table. !Cleared up a lot of space in the kitchen too. 5ou can never have too #uch storage$% she said as she alked back into the kitchen. !"t doesn*t #atter to #e$% Eo-i said. As long as Eo-i got to eat it didn*t #atter hat he ate fro#. !" don*t care either.% " gestured to the chair ne't to .ve. !"s it okay if " sit here+% !1f course$% 4red responded. !0it here ever you like. (e don*t care about that here.% " as surprised that 4red didn*t have a special chair to sit in that as co#pletely off li#/ its to everyone else. Brenda e#erged fro# the kitchen again carrying a large ooden salad bo l. !" hope you like salad. " #ade a lot. " anted to #ake green bean casserole$ but 4red said that as holiday food. "f you ask #e$ anyti#e our .vie is ho#e is a holiday.% 0he s#iled at .ve and placed the salad bo l on the table ne't to the platter of #eat and potatoes. !5ou*re right about that$% 4red bea#ed. !Dreen bean casserole is good any ti#e of the year.% Eo-i had already picked up his fork. !0ee 4red$ " should*ve #ade it.% 0he slapped her husband playfully on the shoulder. 43

He -u#ped back e'aggeratedly and shielded his head ith his hands. !(ho eats green bean casserole in August+% !5ou can eat good food any ti#e of the year.% Brenda slapped his shoulder again and sat do n in the chair ne't to hi#. .ve had already started helping herself to the salad. !(ait 8til your daddy blesses the food$ Baby$% Brenda said. !5ou probably don*t bother to bless your food here you live so you*ve forgotten$ but here e ait.% .ve put the salad tongs back in the salad bo l. !"*# sorry. 5ou*re right$ " forgot.% 0he see#ed so #uch like a teenager in this situation. !&hat*s okay$ Baby. (e all forget things. Heaven kno s "*# getting pretty forgetful these days.% Brenda closed her eyes and folded her hands in her lap. .ven though " don*t consider #yself to be particularly religious$ " never had the prob/ le#s that a lot of non/religious people see# to have ith saying grace. " see no proble# ith giving thanks for the food "*# about to eat. " looked across the table to check Eo-i*s co#fort level. He often co#plains about people forcing their religion on hi#$ but he see#ed fine. 4red said a short prayer that see#ed like so#ething he had #e#ori2ed. " had only -ust closed #y eyes hen he said$ !A#en.% &he food as delicious. .ve only ate salad. Brenda apologi2ed for not re#e#bering that she as a vegetarian. !7o#$ "*ve been a vegetarian since " as si'teen.% !"*# sorry$ .vie. " can fi' you so#ething else. Fust give #e a #inute.% Brenda stood up fro# her chair. !No. 6on*t orry about it. 0alad*s fine.% !(hat about a potato+ 5ou can eat potatoes can*t you+% 4red in)uired. !"*ll -ust have the salad. 6on*t orry about it.% !3otatoes are vegetables aren*t they+% !&echnically they*re a starch$% Brenda said. !But they still gro out of the ground. " #ean nobody had to slaughter the#. &hey didn*t cry out before you put the# in the oven$ did they+% Brenda laughed. !Leave her alone$ 4red.% 44

!0alad*s fine$ 6ad.% " as beginning understand the proble# .ve had ith her parents$ although they see#ed like nice people—nice well meaning people. 3arents often have a ay of #aking their adult children feel like kids$ " kno #ine do. But$ they should have kno n that .ve didn*t eat #eat. (e ere all starving and it as great to have a ho#e cooked #eal. " had a little diffi/ culty eating off of #y sectional plate$ though. &he sections ere really too s#all for the a#ount of food " had$ but " did #y best not to let the different foods touch. Eo-i fielded #ost of the conversation as usual. &hat as another thing " al ays liked about Eo-iI he as so good at conversation. "n these situations$ " as al ays a nervous #ess$ but Eo-i as cool$ cal# and collected. .ve sat )uietly #unching on her salad. Her entire de#eanor had changed. 0he see#ed to have shrunk. " noticed$ no #ore than ever$ the thinness of her ar#s. Eo-i and 4red ere talking about hurricanes hen Brenda put do n her fork$ leaned across the table and asked .ve$ !Baby$ hat*s rong+% !Nothing.% 0he looked at her #other and put on a eak s#ile. !" assu#e you*re en-oying your ti#e in California$ since e don*t really hear fro# you any#ore.% !5eah$ California is great$% .ve said looking do n at her plate again. "t as nearly e#pty. !Dood$% 4red said. !"*# glad you*re en-oying it. "*# glad something #akes you happy.% &his state#ent shocked #e because the .ve " kne as happy #ost of the ti#e. 0he as happy and upbeat,al ays looking on the bright side of life. 0he painted a rainbo on her closet door for goodness sakes. "f that didn*t spell out happiness$ hat did+ .ve rinkled her forehead$ sighed and looked up at her father. !(hat do you #ean+% !5ou ere al ays #oping around here.% !" asn*t.% !5es you ere$ .ve.% !5our father*s right$% Brenda chi#ed in. 45

!5ou ere al ays #oping around here$ uninterested in anything. (e -ust anted you to be happy$% 4red continued. !"f you anted #e to be happy$ ho co#e you never supported #e+% !(e*ve al ays supported you$% Brenda said. !(hat about #y singing+ 6id you al ays support that+% " felt unco#fortable. " tried to get Eo-i to look at #e$ but he continued to eat ith his head do n. None of the 4uers ere eating. &hey had all given up the appearance of having a #eal. Brenda*s voice re#ained )uiet and subdued hen she spoke. !.ve honey$ e only anted to point you in the direction that ould be best for your future. <ery fe people ever #ake it in #usic. Doing to college is not an unreasonable thing to consider. "t can help you get a good -ob ith good pay and benefits.% !5eah$ a -ob in a stagnant office that*s too cold$ ith boring people that " can*t stand. A -ob earing a suit and staring at a co#puter screen.% .ve as obviously upset. Her lips tre#bled hen she asn*t speaking. .ve as eight years younger than #e,so#ething " usually didn*t notice—but no her youth really sho ed. 0he as younger than #y younger brother ould have been by t o years. 0itting here ith her parents she see#ed incredibly young. !"t ouldn*t have to be a -ob like that$ .ve$% 4red said. !5ou could be a teacher$ or a nurse. &hey don*t sit around in offices staring at a co#puter screen.% .ve sighed again and hunched over in her chair even #ore. !(here do you ork no +% 4red continued. .ve rolled her eyes. " ondered hether she #ight #ake up so#e #ore i#pressive -ob than The Health Hut$ but she didn*t. !"*# a cashier at a health food store.% !Not a professional singer$% 4red said. !6o you like that -ob+% Brenda asked. .ve looked at #e for support$ but " didn*t kno !"t doesn*t #atter. " got fired.% !(hy+% Brenda asked. !7y dra er kept co#ing up short.% 46 hat to say. " kne she hated that -ob.

!5ou ere never a hi2 at #ath$% 4red said. !4red.% Brenda shot hi# a look. !0he asn*t. "*# not saying anything e don*t kno .% !He*s right. "*# not.% !"s anything happening ith your singing+% Brenda asked. !" go to a fe open #ic nights. "*# still riting songs$ but " have no paying gigs ith a band or anything.% .ve*s honesty surprised #e. 7y first instinct ould have been to e'aggerate #y suc/ cesses and ai# to i#press. As she talked honestly about things her posture changed. 0he began to gro up again. !0he*s an e'cellent singer.% " spoke before " reali2ed hat " as doing. !(e kno she is$% 4red said. Brenda s#iled. !0he used to sing around the house all the ti#e.% !"f you learned to play the guitar you could get so#e solo gigs to start out.% " as giving adviceA " didn*t kno ho to stop #yself. !&hat*s a good idea$% .ve said. !"t is.% Eo-i decided to speak. !Dirl singers ho play the guitar ho are kind of folksy like you are popular. 5ou should be able to get so#ething. "t ouldn*t pay #uch$ but it ould be so#ething.% Eo-i had cleared his plate. !"f you anted to take so#e classes at a college out there$ e*d help you pay for it$% 4red added. !(e*d even pay for you to take guitar lessons or ...% !" don*t think " ant to go to college.% !(e -ust ant hat*s best for you$% Brenda said. !"f not college$ ho about trade school. 5ou could do #edical billing or be a paralegal. 0o#ething to pay the bills hile you try to get your singing career off the ground.% !" think " #ight like #assage therapy.% !1kay #assage therapy. &hat*s an up and co#ing trade.% 4red*s face lit up. He felt like he as finally getting so#e here. !&hat ould be a good idea. 5ou should look into that hen you go back to California$% Brenda said. 47

.veryone as finished eating and Brenda started clearing the table. " offered to help but she refused. .ve as helping her and " thought they needed ti#e alone. " left Eo-i and 4red to talk in the living roo# and ent to the bedroo# to lie do n for a #inute. "*d eaten too #uch and needed to sleep. " liked .ve*s old roo#. &he color of the alls and the puffy clouds re#inded #e of #y o n childhood. 1ne of #y first childhood #e#ories as of playing ith a tea set in a roo# painted very #uch like this one. According to #y #other it as #y preschool. " alked around this roo#. &he hite shelves near the indo contained a collection of books .ve #ust have read hen she as young$ !tuart Little, The Littles, an assort#ent of Fudy Blu#e books. A fe paint/by/nu#bers paintings of ani#als hung neatly in fra#es on the all over one of the beds. &he bo' sat inconspicuously on the desk ne't to the closet—the sa#e bro n cardboard and clear packing tape. "t had a presence to #e no $ ever since that night at the 6ays "nn. 6o you kno the feeling you have hen so#eone is in the ne't roo# and you*re ait/ ing for the# to co#e in+ &hat*s the feeling it gave #e—an anticipation$ like so#ething living as inside and it anted #e to let it out. " alked over to the bo' and picked it up. " shook it and felt nothing #ove inside. " held it to #y ear. " thought " could hear so#ething faintly$ the hu# "*d heard the night be/ fore. A knock on the door startled #e and " dropped the bo'. 3anicked$ " atched it fall. "t see#ed to drift to the floor$ like a feather carried on the ind. "t landed on the pale pink car/ pet softly$ label side up. &here as another knock. !Co#e in$% " called$ bending over to pick it up. "t as Eo-i. !" -ust anted to #ake sure you*re okay.% !"*# fine. Fust sleepy. 6riving really ears #e out.% !5eah.% He looked at the bo' in #y hand. !&hinking about opening it+% !No. " as -ust looking at it$ trying to guess hat*s in it.% !(hat do you think it is+% !&o tell you the truth " have no idea. "t*s strange though. "t*s so#ething strange.% 48

!"*ll tell you hat it is.% Eo-i alked into the roo# and shut the door a little$ leaving it open -ust a crack. !"t*s drugs. &hat*s all it could be. 5ou*re getting paid to run drugs$ "ndy. " -ust hope e don*t get caught.% !"f you*re so sure it*s drugs$ hy ere you so illing to go ith #e+% He stepped closer to #e. !Because " kne you ere going to do it no #atter hat. " didn*t ant you to do it on your o n. &hat*s hat friends do.% Eo-i as so deadly serious so#eti#es that " found it difficult not to laugh. " could feel the giggles creeping up$ but " held the# back. !"t*s not drugs$ Eo-i. "t glo ed the other night at the #otel. "t oke #e up because it glo ed and hu##edA (hat kind of drugs do that+% !" thought you said that as so#e kind of drea#+% !"t glo ed and hu##ed. " oke up and there as all this blue light and noise. 5ou and .ve had gone and " as alone ith the bo'.% !"t sounds like a drea# to #e. (e didn*t leave the roo#.% !"t asn*t a drea#A% " felt angry suddenly. "t surprised #e$ Eo-i too$ "*# usually pretty cool te#pered. !1kay "ndy$ hatever. Det so#e sleep. "*# going outside to s#oke.% Eo-i left the roo# and shut the door behind hi#. " could hear so#eone else in the hall. "t as 4red. !"s everything all right+% " heard hi# ask. " didn*t hear Eo-i*s response. A rush of adrenalin pu#ped through #e. " as still )uite angry. " couldn*t put #y finger on hy. "t asn*t that Eo-i didn*t believe #e. "t as so#ething about Eo-i -ust being there$ trying to be all reliable. 4or so#e reason$ this ti#e it #ade #e angry. " put the bo' do n on the desk again$ took a fe deep breaths and as able to cal# do n considerably. &hough " didn*t ant to ad#it it$ " as starting to doubt #y e'perience in the #otel. " lay do n on the bed that " assu#ed ould be #ine for the night. " didn*t bother to change #y clothes or pull do n the pale pink bedspread. " didn*t even put #y head on the pillo but lay ith it -ust belo the pillo . As soon as " closed #y eyes " fell asleep. (hen " oke up again$ #uch like in the 6ays "nn$ the roo# as filled ith a blue glo . " as alone. " could see the bo' on the desk$ blue light bleeding fro# its cracks. " lay still and looked at it. As " stared$ " noticed that " could see it )uivering ever so slightly$ in ti#e to its 49

hu#. 5es$ it as hu##ing again$ this ti#e #uch louder than before. " kept thinking that there as no ay " could be the only one in this house ho could hear it. " aited for so#eone to co#e bursting into the roo#$ but no one ca#e. " stood up slo ly —di22y and disoriented fro# a hard$ heavy sleep. " alked over to the desk. As " approached the bo'$ the hu# see#ed to get louder. " reached out and laid #y hand on top of the bo'I a ar#th rushed through #e like a cleansing fire. " felt hot ind blo against #y face. 1n the alls around #e the painted$ puffy$ childlike clouds began to shift. &he hu# gre louder and louder until the tone felt like it as vibrating #y hole body. " tried to take #y hand off of the bo' but couldn*t. 7y ears rang. Fust as " thought #y eardru#s ould burst " blacked out. (hen " a oke$ " as lying on the floor. " could see the legs of the desk. &he right side of #y face ached like "*d been punched. " sat up slo ly and tried to get #y bearings. "t as totally dark in the roo#. &he other bed as still e#pty. "t as eerily )uiet. " got up and opened the door. &he hall ay as dark$ but " could see light co#ing fro# the living roo#. " didn*t hear any noiseI no one as talking. " padded do n the hall ay to/ ards the light. As " got closer$ " could hear s)ueaking. "t as like that sound a s)ueegee #akes against glass. " tried to look into the living roo# ithout being noticed. 4red stood in front of the plastic sofa ith a bottle of spray cleaner in one hand and a paper to el in the other. He sprayed one of the sofa cushions and then iped it do n ith the paper to el. &he paper to el s)ueaked against the plastic as he iped. " could tell fro# his straining face and neck that he as iping )uite hard. 6eciding that the scene as too strange and not anting to bother hi#$ " turned to head back to the bedroo#. !5ou up+% His voice startled #e. " turned to look at hi#. He as standing there ith the cleaner and paper to el$ his face and neck no rela'ed. !5eah. " as -ust looking for .ve.% !0he ent for a alk ith her #other.% !A fully late for a alk$ isn*t it+% !&hey al ays ent for alks late at night before.% !"sn*t it dangerous+% !&his is a pretty safe to n J " #ean$ nothing*s happened to the# yet.% He leaned over and vigorously scrubbed a spot on the cushion he had #issed. 50

!6id Eo-i go to bed+% !About an hour ago.% He stopped and looked up at #e again. &here as so#ething in his eyes that " didn*t like. "t as like he as looking through #e$ at so#ething do n the hall. !&hanks. " guess "*ll go back to bed then.% !5ou don*t have to. .ve and Brenda should be back soon. "n the #ean ti#e$ you could -ust keep #e co#pany$ "ndira.% He s#iled$ but it see#ed forced. !&hat*s all right. " need all the sleep " can get.% !<ery ell. Dood night then.% " turned and alked do n the hall ay. " felt like he as atching #e. "t took all of the self/control " had not to run do n the hall and lock the bedroo# door behind #e. " didn*t ant hi# to kno that " as scared$ so " took #y ti#e,one careful step after the other. As " entered the bedroo#$ " heard the s)ueak of the paper to el against the plastic begin again. " closed the door$ cra led onto the bed and )uietly fell asleep. " a oke again to shaking. .ve*s face as over #ine hen " opened #y eyes. " could see that she as s#iling in the darkness. 0o#e light strea#ed into the roo# fro# the hall. 0he had left the door open a crack. !"ndy get up$% she chirped. "t as good to see her happy$ but " as tired and aching. !Det up before you #iss it.% 0he shook #y shoulder hard. !(hat+% " #oaned. !&he -ubilee.% !(hat+% !"t*s a#a2ing and you*ll probably never see it again so co#e on.% 0he tried to shake #e again$ but " stopped her. " got up$ slipped on #y sandals and follo ed her out into the hall. Her cheeks ere flushed pink and she as panting for breath. " heard a s)uishing sound hen e alked. (hen " looked do n " noticed that her shoes ere et. &hey s)uished out ater ith each step. &here as dirt and thick blackish grass stuck to her hite legs. !(hat*s going on+% " asked. !5ou*ll see.% .ve grabbed four large buckets fro# a closet in the kitchen. 0he gave #e t o to carry. !Hurry or e*ll #iss it.% 0he ran through the front door$ hich as already 51

standing open—her shoes s)uishing all the ay. " follo ed her$ being sure to close the front door behind #e. 1n the street$ people ere running fro# their ho#es ith all kinds of containers and nets. " kept .ve in #y sight$ her ild curly #ane bouncing in front of #e. !(hat*s happening+% " yelled after her. A #an in blue striped pa-a#as ran up ne't to #e. !FubileeA% he ans ered #y )uestion. He as s#iling ear to ear and took off fast in front of #e. (e ran to the ater. "t asn*t far$ but hen e got there #y chest as burning. " couldn*t take in air fast enough. &here as a cro d of people on the beach$ so#e o#en in nightgo ns and so#e #en in pa-a#as. &hey ere all bending do n feverishly picking things up and tossing the# into buckets. As " got closer " could see that they ere fish and crabs. Brenda ran up to #e out of no here and took the buckets. !6on*t -ust stand there$ get so#e fishA% she yelled disappearing back into the cro d. " spotted 4red standing on the edge of the action$ his feet not even in the beach sand. He stood on the side alk$ his ar#s folded supervising the action. " couldn*t see .ve any/ here. " thought " sa a gli#pse of Eo-i$ but hen " tried to locate hi# again$ " couldn*t find hi#. " alked over and stood ne't to 4red. !.ve got you up$% he said. He didn*t look at #e but continued to gla2e for ard. !5eah.% He nodded$ unfolded his ar#s and put his hands in his pockets. !(hat*s happening+% !5ou*ve never heard of a -ubilee+% !No.% !"t*s hen the fish in the bay start suffocating so they co#e to shore to try to get so#e air.% He spoke in a #atter of fact #anner. Like he as e'plaining to a child the reason the sky as blue. &his e'planation didn*t #ake #uch sense to #e. 4ish suffocating and s i##ing up on shore to breathe$ it sounded like cra2iness. " didn*t kno hether " should pursue the #atter or let it lie. " decided to pursue it. !(hat #akes the# suffocate+% 52

!" don*t kno . A bunch of the# #icro/organis#s get into one spot and suck up all the o'ygen. &he fish all start gasping and panicking and end up on the beach. (e gather the# up$ clean 8e#$ free2e 8e# and have enough fish to last the year.% !6oes it happen often+% !.very year$ but not usually this early. Fubilee season doesnBt start Btil Fune.% !(hy do you think its happening no +% !" don*t kno about that$ "ndira$ but "*# thinking that #aybe your bo' has so#ething to do ith it.% 7y heart nearly stopped hen he said that. " looked at hi# and he as still atching the cro d thro ing live fish into buckets. His face re#ained stern. " didn*t kno ho to re/ spond. &hen he looked at #e. His face softened to a s#ile. !5ou didn*t think " ouldn*t notice$ did you$ child. Bringing that into #y house. 1f course$ " kno . "*# a sensitive.% He reached over and s)uee2ed #y shoulder. " tensed up because it as so strange. " thought he never touched anyone. !6o you kno !6on*t you+% !No.% He dropped his ar# again and stuck his hand back in his pocket. !5ou*ll figure it out soon enough.% He looked back at the cro d. !0hould " open it+% !5ou don*t have to open it to kno hat*s inside$ do you+% !Ho +% " asked. " had no idea hat he #eant. 4red s#iled at #e and inhaled deeply as if he ere going to say so#ething$ but Brenda$ .ve and Eo-i ca#e up to us. .ve and Brenda each had a bucket full of dead and dying fish. Eo-i had t o buckets. &he live fish on top s)uir#ed$ so#e -u#ped out of the buckets. !(e*ve got all e can handle.% Brenda said. 0he sat the bucket do n on the side alk ith a thud. A couple #ore fish leaped out. hat*s in that bo'+%


!Dood$% 4red said. He grabbed the handle of the bucket and lifted it up ith a groan. (e all alked back to the house. " tried to get Eo-i to let #e help hi# carry one of his buck/ ets$ but he insisted that he could #anage. (e took the buckets of fish into the garage. Against the back all of the garage as a #etal table that looked like the kind of table you #ight use for autopsies. At the end of the table as a large deep sink. &here as also a faucet under the table ith a green garden hose attached. Fust under that faucet as a drain in the floor. !(eBre the best prepared in the neighborhood.% Brenda bea#ed hen she noticed #e checking out the set up. !Al ays have been$% 4red said. He sat the bucket of fish on the floor ne't to the table. Eo-i and .ve did the sa#e. !"t*s going to take forever to clean all these fish$% .ve said. !6on*t orry about it$ Baby. "*ll clean hat " can$ and "*ll put the rest in the deep free2e$ guts$ scales and all.% Brenda #otioned to the long hite free2er in the corner by the door that led into the kitchen. !"*d be happy to help$ Brenda$% Eo-i said. !" orked in a fishery in Alaska one su##er during college. "*# the fastest fish gutter in the est.% Eo-i #i#ed so#ething that " assu#ed as supposed to be gutting a fish. Brenda laughed. !5ou need to get so#e sleep. 5ou have a long drive ahead of you.% !5eah$ she*s right$ kids.% 4red as ashing his hands vigorously in the deep sink. !"t*s late. Do get so#e sleep.% ?? " couldn*t sleep. " lay in bed listening to .ve snoring$ #y eyes ide open looking around the darkness. " could #ake out the silhouette of the bo' on the desk. "t looked like a nor#al bo' sitting there in the dark—un#oving$ silent. .very ti#e " closed #y eyes " felt a rushing all around #e$ like the bed as falling through space. 0pots of red and green sho ed on #y eyelids. " lay there a ake all night. " as grateful to see the da n,light seeping through the slits in the blinds. " got up and got in the sho er before the rest of the house oke up$ but by the ti#e " got out$ Brenda as already cooking breakfast. " could s#ell fried fish. " ent into the kit/ 54

chen and she as standing in front of the stove in a red t/shirt and deni# shorts that ca#e to her knees. & o pans si22led on the stove before her. 4red as reading the ne spaper at the kitchen table. !Dood #orning$ "ndy$% Brenda said. !Dood #orning.% !6id you sleep ell+% 4red asked$ peering over the ne spaper. !1f course$% " lied. " didn*t really think of it as a lie though$ because " had slept ell be/ fore the -ubilee. !" thought e could have so#e of this fish for breakfast. 4ried fish and ho#e fries$ doesn*t that sound good+% 0he t isted her upper body to s#ile at #e enthusiastically over her shoulderI the spatula in her hand dripped grease. !6oes .ve eat fish+% !No$% " ans ered. !"*ll #ake her so#e scra#bled eggs. 0he eats eggs doesn*t she+% !0he has to eat eggs$% 4red chi#ed in. !(here else does she get protein+% !Beans$% .ve said. 0he entered the kitchen in a nightshirt ith a teddy bear in a pink nightcap on its front. !" eat eggs$ 7o#$ but no fish.% 0he alked over to the table$ pulled out a chair and sat do n ne't to her father. !.ggs$ but no fish$% Brenda repeated$ as if #aking a #ental note. 0he alked over to the refrigerator and got out a carton of eggs. !(hat*s the difference+% 4red asked. He #otioned ith his eyes and a nod of the head for #e to -oin the# at the table. 7y sense of uneasiness ith 4red re#ained. "*d felt unco#/ fortable ith hi# ever since e*d arrived$ but last night had #ade #e feel particularly un/ co#fortable. (hat is a sensitive+ " felt like he kne so#ething. 0o#ething " never told hi#. 0o#ething about the bo'. 0o#ething about #e. 0o#ething I didn*t even kno #yself. . " pulled out a chair. &he legs s)ueaked on the tile floor. .ve see#ed #ore rela'ed than she had last night at dinner. 0he leaned back co#fortably in her chair. !(hat do you #ean+% .ve asked. !.ggs and fish$ hat*s the difference+ .ggs are baby chickens$% 4red said$ looking very pleased ith hi#self. 55

!" kno $% .ve responded. !" had to dra the line so#e here$ and " decided to dra it at eggs. "f " didn*t eat eggs there ould be all kinds of things " couldn*t eat.% !Like cake and cookies$% " added. !5ou aren*t illing to give up cake and cookies for your principles+% 4red asked$ the s#ug look still on his face. !"t*s #ore about health than principles for #e.% !4ish is healthy$% Brenda said$ taking a breaded fish fro# the pan and laying it neatly on a paper to el covered plate. !Not like that$ 7o#. And the pollution in the ater is cra2y. &he fish consu#e that stuff and then e eat the#. "t -ust doesn*t see# like a good idea to #e.% !0o you*re not an ani#al rights person you*re a health nut$% 4red said. &he ne spaper lay folded in his lap. !"f #y proble# ith eating #eat had to do ith being into ani#al rights$ ould " have helped out ith the -ubilee last night+% !" guess not.% 4red turned his attention to #e. !0o " guess you*re neither.% !.'cuse #e+% " said. !Ani#al rights nut or a health nut$% 4red added for clarity. !" #ean you really packed a ay that pork at dinner last night.% !6ad ...% .ve said$ e#barrassed. !" did eat a lot last night. "*# not asha#ed. 3ork is #y favorite #eat$ so " guess "*# neither.% !Dood.% He laughed. !6o you ant to read the paper+ "*# not going to ask .vie be/ cause " already kno she doesn*t.% !No thanks$% " said. !.vie$ could you set the table+ Breakfast is nearly done$% Brenda said. 0he had a pile of fish on the plate and as scra#bling eggs for .ve. !"*ll get Eo-i up$% " said. " alked do n the hall. &he plastic runner as rough under #y bare feet. " passed the bathroo# and ent to the guest roo# here Eo-i slept at the end of the hall. (hen " knocked on the door " got no ans er. (hen he slept$ he really slept. &here as no aking 56

hi#. 1nce he told #e a story about being in an accident ith so#e friends. &hey had been driving for a hile and Eo-i had fallen asleep on the back seat. Any ay$ they s erved to avoid hitting a deer and the car ent out of control and crashed into a ditch on the side of the road. His friends -u#ped out of the car in shock. Eo-i as still in the back of the car$ but laying on the floor. &hey thought he*d been in-ured until they heard hi# snoring. He*d slept through the entire incident. " knocked again$ a little harder. Nothing. !Eo-i$% " called. 0till nothing. " slo ly turned the doorknob and silently opened the door. As soon as " opened the door$ " could hear the hu#. " kne that hu# ell already. &he roo# as lit up like a sunny #id/afternoon. &he light as shocking$ and it took #e a fe #inutes to ad-ust. " didn*t call out or yell. " cal#ly searched the roo# ith #y eyes for Eo-i. He as lying on the floor face do n ne't to the bed. 1ne of his feet as under the bed. His ar#s ere outstretched at his side like he as floating in a body of ater. (hen " entered the roo# the door shut behind #e ith a hoosh. "t shut )uickly$ but so#eho #ade no noise. &he hu##ing sound rang in #y head like it as causing #y brain to tre#ble. " could feel a #illion prickles on #y skin like ants cra ling all over #e. " knelt do n ne't to Eo-i to try to shake hi# a ake. " didn*t kno if he as sleeping or had passed out or hat had happened to hi#. All " kne as that " had to do so#ething to help hi#. " tried to block the distractions of the noise and light fro# #y #ind so " could think clearly. " used both of #y hands to shake hi# hard. He didn*t respond. " did it again$ and still there as no response. .ven though " kne about Eo-i*s #ystical sleeping pro ess$ " kne that this asn*t sleep. " tried to turn hi# over$ but his body as heavy like lead —heavier than it should have been.!Eo-i$% " called out over the noise. How could they not hear this in the rest o" the house# " ondered. " tried again to turn hi# over but couldn*t. " leaned over and yelled in his ear. !Eo-iA% &hat*s hen " noticed the bo' glo ing ith an intense hite light that hurt #y eyes. "t as under the bed. Eo-i*s fingertips ere touching its edge. " shook hi# hard$ but there as still no response. " scanned his body. " as looking for so#e kind of clue as to hat " should do ne't. " could see that he as breathing. !HelpA% " called out. !HelpA% 7y #ind as racing. " needed to do so#ething. " grabbed one of Eo-i*s ar#s and tried to 57

drag hi# to ards the door$ but again he ouldn*t budge. 7y heart pounded. " tried to scratch the prickly feeling fro# #y ar#s$ but it did no good. No one heard #y call. " rapped #y ar#s around Eo-i*s #iddle$ took a deep breath and used all of the strength " had to pull his body to ards #e. He #oved a little$ #aybe a )uarter of an inch. As he did$ his fingertips lost contact ith the bo' and everything sud/ denly stopped. &he noise and light vanished. (e ere in the di# guest roo# ith yello curtains and the sa#e beige carpet that ran through the rest of the house. Eo-i #oaned. " still had #y ar#s rapped around hi#. !Are you okay+% !Agh$% he #oaned again. !Eo-i.% " let go of hi# and sat up. He turned his head to face #e. !" feel like so#eone hit #e in the head ith a ha##er.% !(hat happened+% !No " kno hy &o# told you not to open the bo'.% He pushed hi#self up slo ly and sat on the edge of the bed. " reached under the bed and grabbed the bo'. 1n the top of the bo'$ -ust above the ad/ dress label$ " could see here he had started to pull the clear packing tape a ay. !" can*t be/ lieve you did this.% !6on*t orry. " definitely regret it. " on*t be doing it again.% !Dood.% " tried to s#ooth the raised tape back do n$ but it had lost its stickiness. !(hatever is in that bo' is not natural. (e need to get rid of it as soon as possible. (hat you said before about it doing so#ething to you—no " believe you. " think e should -ust du#p it so#e here$ cut our loses and go ho#e.% Eo-i as visibly shaken. He crossed his ar#s and rocked back and forth like he as trying to cal# hi#self. !" can*t do that.% !5es you can. "t*s not good. "t*s not good at all.% !" pro#ised &o#. " need the #oney. " don*t think delivering it ill hurt anyone. (e can*t open it.% " sat on the bed ne't to hi# and put #y ar# around hi#. " could feel hi# shaking. 58

!Fust keep that thing a ay fro# #e.% He directed his eyes to the bo' in #y lap and stood up. !(e*d better get out there. &hey*re aiting for us for breakfast.% " put the bo' do n on the bed and stood up too. Eo-i as #oving #ore slo ly than usual$ like he had to carefully think about every action before doing it. " hurried past hi# and opened the door. " -u#ped back a bit and al#ost fell over back ard hen " sa 4red as standing in the hall ay so close to #e that the tip of his nose #ust have been touching the door before " opened it. His face as blank. &he fine rinkles around his eyes and #outh all pointed do n. !"s everything okay+% 4red asked. He blinked his eyes slo ly. !Ah$ yeah$ fine$% " ans ered. !Dood. (e*re aiting for you for breakfast. 6id you sleep ell$ Eo-i+% He peered over #y shoulder at Eo-i suspiciously. &hen his eyes #oved to the bo' on the bed. He sighed and ran his hand through his thinning gray hair. " aited for hi# to #ove out of the ay so e could leave the roo# but he continued to stand there staring at the bo'. !.'cuse #e$% " finally said. !0orry.% He stepped aside to let us pass. As " passed 4red$ " got a cold feeling. " reached #y hand back to grab Eo-i*s$ but he as too far behind. "nstead$ 4red caught #y ar# and pulled #e back. !None of you can open that bo'$% he hispered in #y ear. 0pit sprayed #y earlobe as he said bo'. " turned and looked into his blue eyes. &hough he sounded angry$ his eyes sho ed no hint of e#otion. " pulled #y ar# fro# his grip. " ondered hy Eo-i didn*t say or do any/ thing. " looked into the roo# for hi# and he as standing there$ ith his back turned to us$ looking at the bo'.!Eo-i$ co#e on$% " said and turned to alk do n the hall. .ve and Brenda ere already seated at the kitchen table. A platter piled ith fried fish and potatoes sat in the #iddle. .ve had scra#bled eggs on her plate. !.verything okay+% Brenda asked as soon as e entered the kitchen. !5eah fine$% " said. Eo-i$ 4red$ and " -oined Brenda and .ve at the table and started to eat. (e #ade polite conversation over breakfast. 5ou kno $ the/thanks/so/#uch/for/letting/us/stay and it/ as/ 59

no/proble#/ e/en-oyed/having/the/co#pany kind of conversation. (ell all of us did but Eo-i. Eo-i said hardly a ord. He devoured the food like he hadn*t eaten in days. His hands tre#bled slightly the hole ti#e. At one point$ Brenda laughed and said$ !And " thought "*d #ade ay too #uch food. "t looks like e on*t have any leftovers.% " think she took Eo-i*s voracious appetite as a co#pli#ent. " took it as a sign that so#ething as rong. " #ean he can really pack it do n$ but " had never seen hi# eat like that before$ and after hat " had -ust seen in the bedroo#$ " didn*t kno the table. !Let #e get that$ Honey$% Brenda said$ taking the stack of dirty plates fro# .ve*s hands. !5ou go sho er and get dressed so y*all can leave before it gets too late.% !"t*s a lot to clean up by yourself$% .ve said. !0he on*t be doing it by herself$% " said. !0ee that$ Honey. 5ou go get ready to leave.% !1kay. &hanks for breakfast$ 7o#. "t as great.% .ve padded out of the kitchen. " busied #yself helping Brenda ith the dishes. Eo-i sat at the table$ staring at the e#pty place here his plate used to be. 4red sat staring at hi#. 4inally$ he leaned to ard Eo-i and said$ !(hy don*t e go for a alk and chat+% " didn*t like the sound of that. !Eo-iA 5ou have to pack all of your stuff up first.% !"t*s packed$% Eo-i said. !A alk sounds good. " need to get out of here for a #inute.% hat to think. " lost count of the nu#ber of fish he ate. He didn*t stop until every edible thing on the table had been devoured. (ith the food gone$ .ve started clearing

$urchase The Bo% on &ma'on (indle here)