I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling. It was a very dull ceiling, just white and slightly bumpy. Then again, that was what ceilings usually were around here, weren’t they? It was almost soothing, actually. It had become a sort of morning ritual. I’d wake up from nightmares about fire and then proceed to lie on my back and try to calm down before I’d start the day.
It was getting frosty outside. Sparkling ice ferns grew on the ground, but then melted away quickly when the day got going. Soon the sun would lose against the ice again. For a few months anyway. I thought back to the winters before, when Rem would jump into the sticky snow to play, and how we’d make snowmen until our fingers were numb. Or how Jace would want to go sledding and Bree and I would go with him. And we’d laugh and scream when the icy slope took us down way too fast. I tried to get excited about it. Normally just the wait was enough to make me happy. Now it didn’t have quite the same effect. I sighed. Maybe it was because of growing up as well. Or maybe something inside my head was permanently broken because of the trauma.
I hoped it wasn’t the broken-thing.
I got up slowly and listened. The house was quiet. The rest were still asleep, but that was to be expected. I checked the time, and it said 5:34 in the morning. I had to get more sleep. It was a school morning, too. It had been a few therapy-filled weeks after I’d been let out of the hospital, and now they’d told us that Rem and I could get back to school if we wanted to. The police had given us the green light ages ago as well, seeing how there was no sign of anyone else targeting us. Rem had nodded mutely, and I’d said yes after some consideration. I couldn’t just hide in the house forever. School wasn’t scary. Well, okay, it was a bit. Mostly because that would mean more stares at my face. I wondered if it would be worse or better when it was someone I knew staring. Bree and Jace had tried to keep it to a minimum, but I’d seen them do it too mostly with sympathetic looks on their faces. Mum and Patrick had already learnt not to do it – not while I could notice at least. Rem stared, but he stared at nothingness, not at me.
That was another thing that worried me. Well, just the nothingness bit. Rem was taking longer than any of us to climb back into life. I mean, I couldn’t say I was on the most solid ground with my traumas right now, but at least I had managed to patch myself back together into some semblance of Lynn. But Rem… he was still the same husk he’d been ever since that horrible night. It was obvious he blamed himself, because Laketon had taken us because of him, or at least that was what he thought. According to the police Laketon hadn’t said much of anything about why he’d wanted to take us. Someone had told him to, but no one could prove it. He’d met someone in a bar. A pretty lady with curly hair. No one else in the bar remembered any ladies talking to him that night he’d been there. I figured that Laketon was just trying to worm himself out of trouble with his lies, but Rem apparently disagreed. Maybe that was why he was still taking this worse than any of us. I mean, mum and Patrick were shaken too, but they still pressed on. Though I think it had a lot to do with how they felt they had to be strong for us. It was what parents were supposed to do. To be.
I felt another sigh coming up. Right now, I just wanted everything to be normal. Like it had been before all this. I missed home. I missed the laughter in our house, and I missed Rem’s silly fairy tale interpretations of things. I missed my own more careless thoughts. Nowadays I could only feel careless when I was lost so deep in books or writing that I couldn’t even realise when I got hungry. I hoped time would fix that. Except time was always so slow with the maintenance. It mostly just made things wear out. Maybe it would wear the trauma out as well. Maybe going to school would speed it up. Make me feel normal again. Make me pretend nothing bad had ever happened.
Even as I wished it, I knew I could never really pretend it didn’t happen. And I knew it wouldn’t even be healthy to try. Sometimes I hated my reasonable side.
I reluctantly climbed back into bed, trying to focus on not letting the nightmares back in. I knew it was possible to train oneself to have some control over dreams. Or at least to know when one was dreaming. After that one could do anything in the dream. Rem had done it when he’d been in my dream – and that was something I should have questioned more, but it was also the last time so far I’d seen him anything close to what was normal for him. Maybe I could control my dreams too, even though I didn’t have weird pixie powers. I’d have to read up on it more.
I closed my eyes and focused. The nightmares returned.
We biked to school like we had done for some time now. There was no reason to start isolating us from normalcy any more than we already were. The streets that rolled by under the wheels of my bike felt unfamiliar, though. Even Twinbrook, which had been my hometown for so long, felt strangely alienating right now. It wasn’t enough that our house didn’t feel safe, apparently.
Our school was pretty close to us, and Patrick left at the same time so he’d get to the school he worked at. We reached Stary Community School and Rem and I stopped there, while Patrick waved us goodbye and continued on. I adjusted my sweater so that the long sleeves covered the burn scars on my arm and tried to smile at Rem, who barely smiled back.
“Have fun,” I said quietly. Rem didn’t reply.
I knew I should have talked with him. But I had to admit that I didn’t really know what to say.
We had geography, led by Mr. Deryl Franklin. He was a very no-nonsense kind of teacher, whose cold professionalism usually came as a surprise to new kids because the man seemed to have a naturally warm smile. Still, I liked him. He’d taught us in a few subjects, mostly science, and he was very good at it. And he didn’t ask questions when I changed my seat to the farthest corner and tried to be as discreet as possible when I piled all of my books on the table so I could hide behind them.
I heard my classmates whispering. They’d no doubt heard a lot about what had happened to our family because of those damn news people who’d wanted our story for the papers. At least they hadn’t got pictures. Mum had been adamant and furious at the reporters who’d tried. But now everyone was trying to get a secret glimpse at me, especially after someone actually realised that my face was burnt. I inched further back on my seat, catching probably a third of what Mr. Franklin was saying.
I felt awful. School was scary right now. But I didn’t want to go back to hiding in the house that was only barely home either. I’d just have to suck it up and get through the day. The next one wouldn’t be as bad. Or at least I hoped so.
I tried to keep my hands from clenching into fists and focused on Franklin’s lecture about our dwindling natural resources. Okay, at least it was a topic I was pretty well-versed in thanks to my environmental nut of a stepdad. I was free to zone out for a bit.
The breaks between classes were harder. Then there were no excuses not to talk to the other students. I knew they’d want to, sooner or later. They’d want to hear all about what had happened to us in that basement. And I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to revisit being locked up and scared, and I definitely didn’t want to revisit being on fire. They wouldn’t understand that, though. I had to admit that I probably wouldn’t understand how painful it was either if I hadn’t been the one to experience it.
I sat back in a couch that nobody usually sat in, because it was right next to the stairs and tucked away from the lockers and the more social sets of couches. I saw my classmates looking at me again, and tried to ignore it. It would only be fifteen minutes before the next class. If it got too bad, I could go downstairs and pretend I wanted to see Rem. To be honest, I was kind of worried about him. How was he dealing with school now? The psychiatrists had said he too was fine enough to go out, and that the presence of his friends should help him get out of his funk. At least it should be tried first, but to me it just seemed like a bad idea. Maybe the adults saw it differently, but to me it looked like Rem had closed all doors into his head, when before this they’d all been open, even if they did open up into a confusing maze. Out of the two of us, I’d never have imagined him to be the slower one to bounce back. Before this, it had been like nothing could really shake him for long.
I stared idly at the other students. They were talking and laughing. Bree and Jace were with them too, and I wondered briefly if I could scrape together enough courage to join them. I almost got up, but then my hands curled around the couch cushions almost reflexively. All right. So I couldn’t. That was fine. At least no one was coming here to talk to me either. Maybe I could do my geography homework right here and have more free time in the afternoon…
Bree and Jace got up and started walking right at me. I stiffened, but at least the others weren’t following them. I could handle Bree and Jace. They were my friends and they already knew what had happened. Well, at least as much as any of us had wanted to tell them. I kept telling that to myself to keep myself calm. It seemed my shyness had got a power boost from the fire.
“Hey, Lynn,” said Bree, “You’re not gonna join us? We were just talking about the school’s bake sale. I’m gonna be in the organising committee.”
“Well, of course you are, you’re pretty much the class president,” Jace said, “If we had one, anyway.”
I smiled with some effort.
“Sounds nice, but I’ll pass. Maybe you can tell me all about it after school.”
Bree’s face fell a little. I tried to act natural, but she noticed my discomfort right away. There was no hiding much from her. Darn.
“Hey, you okay?” she said, “I mean… of course you’re… not… but… I mean, sorry.”
I stared. For all of her speech skills, Bree seemed to be clueless about what to say right now.
“I’ll be fine. Eventually,” I sighed, “Right now, I just don’t want anyone asking questions because I don’t want to explain all… this.”
I gestured at my messed up face, and by extension, to the events behind said messed-up-ness. Jace nodded.
“Yeah, I guessed you wouldn’t.”
He smiled and sat down next to me.
“Well, how about we sit right here with you now? I mean, the bake sale thing can wait.”
Bree hesitated just for a second before she sat down to my other side.
“Yeah, he’s right. Maybe we should talk about… uhh… something you want to talk about.”
There were many things I didn’t want to talk about, but my mind kept pushing them to the surface anyway. Like fear. Like our home not feeling like a home. Like my little stepbrother being scarily silent. I took a deep breath and then smiled.
“So, is anyone going to bake a gooseberry pie for the bake sale? ‘Cause Patrick can bake a seriously delicious one.”
Bree looked unimpressed by my attempt at casual conversation, but nodded nonetheless.
“I’ll add that to the list. It’s gonna be great!”
“Yeah, it is. Hope someone brings cupcakes,” my fake smile shrunk, “And… I’m really glad you guys are here with me. Could you… could you tell the others that I don’t want to talk? Maybe they’d understand.”
I felt Jace’s hand on my arm.
“Sure. We’ll do that.”
“Thanks,” I whispered, “Maybe we should do something together again. Something normal. You know, after I get through this day.”
They both agreed, and I’d never felt so happy about having friends.
The day passed in a blur, mostly because I forced it into a blur in my mind. A couple of classmates asked me about my face and about what had happened, but I just mumbled something about not wanting to talk about it, and most of them understood. Or at least they knew it was bad to try to keep pressing me. Mostly they just acted like I was made of glass, and it was annoying but I tolerated it because it meant I would be mostly left alone. One kid said something mean about my face, but he was quickly silenced by both teachers and students alike. There were some lines even bullies shouldn’t cross here at Stary. We weren’t big enough of a community to completely shut out anyone.
The days after that blended together too. Bree and Jace always came up with something to talk about with me. Something to keep my mind off the more depressing things. It was like with mum and Patrick back at the hospital. It had helped then, and it helped me now too. Sometimes Bree would even follow me home so we could continue talking “girl stuff”, as she said.
The talks never ended up being anything girly, just the normal best friend talk that didn’t go into any deep psychological traumas, which I was really grateful of.
In a couple of afternoons the three of us got together to play video games, or a board game, or just to sit together in the park before it got too dark. The first weekend after starting school I’d wanted to go to see a film with them, but mum and Patrick were adamant about us visiting Patrick’s parents then. When the weekend approached, I wasn’t happy about it, but later I’d had to admit that the visit had been good for us all.
Patrick’s parents lived in a small house in Twinbrook, not too far away from us. Patrick joked that they lived too close for us to remember to visit regularly, but there was a hint of sadness in his voice when he said it. I had to agree with the sadness part, because I loved to visit them. They were the kind that I’d like to call cool grandparents. I’m pretty sure they’d been hippies at some point, and later they’d just wandered around the world together before settling down and starting a family. Now their travelling hippie days were over, but it was still showing in their compost, their herbal teas, and Grandma Brandi’s distaste for shoes – something Rem had clearly inherited from her. Their house was a cute second hand jumble that went more or less well together with souvenirs from their travels. I loved watching the samurai swords on their walls and running my hand across the backs of old books.
They told awesome stories too, even though they were also complaining about their aching bones in between the tales. I guess that was an elderly folk kind of thing.
This time was no different. After heartfelt greetings Grandpa Lórccan – they’d insisted that I’d call them Grandpa and Grandma even though we weren’t really related, and somehow it had become a habit even though some strange block still stopped me from calling Patrick “dad” – went to brew some tea that filled the small house with a spicy aroma. I took a quick look at the walls out of habit, even though I knew they hadn’t changed.
The adults’ voices started talking somewhere in the background. Grandma and Grandpa were asking questions about the basement and Laketon. Questions we wouldn’t answer to anyone other than Patrick’s parents and each other. Mum and Patrick kept their voices low, as if it would help in the small space. I tried to ignore it and sat down on a couch that had probably been recycled at least twice and repaired who knows how many times. I switched on the TV, and it flashed into an old black and white film. I changed the channels until I found something more interesting. Or at least something I could switch my brain off for. Snippets of the adults’ conversation got through the home décor programme host’s over-enthusiastic voice.
“…so what have you planned to do now?”
“…it’s still all kinds of confusing…”
“…and wow, I just love this cow print wallpaper!”
“…we don’t know… maybe we should… I don’t know.”
“You’ll do what’s best for all of you, Patrick. And you too, Margaret. We both know you’ll do right…”
I looked at Rem, who’d come along quietly and obediently like a timid puppy. He was doing the same rounds I’d been doing a moment ago, inspecting the walls and the bookshelves, the paintings and silly stuffed animals. He stopped at his favourite table, which had a model ship and an old music box on it. He softly stroked the model ship and then almost reverently opened the music box. It was so… normal of Rem that I felt a flicker of hope in my chest. Rem took forever winding the music box to life. Then he set it back down and watched the tiny gnome doing its slow pirouettes. He closed his eyes and began swaying with the old, plinking melody.
I stared, the serious conversation in the background and the home decoration on TV completely forgotten. There was a smile on Rem’s face, as if he’d forgotten everything that had happened lately. I had a feeling it would soon pass, but darn it, it was a start. I felt a smile on my own face too. Was that really all it took to get Rem back to us? A dancing gnome and a monotone jingle? In that moment I realised that despite my worrying, in all this time I had barely even tried to talk to him. I hadn’t even asked how he felt in a long time. I’d somehow assumed that mum and Patrick would take care of that, because they did. They talked to both of us before going to bed, read bedtime stories as if we were still five, and just held us when everything had been especially dark. But Rem had never sought any comfort from me, so I’d just let him be on his own, because I sure wasn’t one to take initiative in these situations. But now…
Now I thought that maybe I should really just stop worrying and do something about all this.
The couch shifted, and I looked to the side to see Grandma Brandi smiling at me.
“So, Lynn, how are you. You’re looking just as pretty as ever. You must be getting that from your mother.”
I stiffened, and if it had been anyone else saying those things, I’d probably have snapped at them. But Grandma Brandi’s voice was so gentle and her smile was so genuine that I believed her every word and blushed.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
“So, how are you?”
“That’s good. I heard you went back to school. How was it?”
Grandma Brandi chuckled. Her voice had been worn down by the years, but her laugh was still warm and almost musical.
“Don’t let anything anyone says get you down. Kids are curious and they can’t know how others feel. Not that most adults are much better.”
I stared. Sometimes I wondered if Grandma Brandi had got psychic powers from some of their herbal teas. Or if it was something she’d always had and Rem had somehow inherited them. Then again, all she did was read people really well, and nothing like what Rem did.
“I don’t know how you always do that,” I said, “But thanks.”
“It’s called life experience. Something you’ll get when you get older,” Grandma Brandi ruffled my uneven hair.
I smiled again.
I heard Grandpa Lórccan standing up as well and going to talk to Rem. Before he could speak, however, Rem asked in a very low voice:
“Grandpa, do you remember when I was born?”
Grandpa Lórccan didn’t miss a beat.
“Of course, sonny. You were a little trooper back then. I know you still are.”
He leaned over with a conspiratorial grin.
“In fact, your dad was quite the trooper himself. He got a fit every time when the nurses tried to take him away from Brandi for anything. Punched one of the nurses right in the nose with a tiny fist, although I’m sure that was an accident. My boy’s never been that violent after that.”
He had mirth in his eyes, and Rem couldn’t hold back a chuckle.
“No way! Dad really did that?”
“I swear, it’s true. Now you, Remmy, you just made my son here the happiest man on Earth when you were born. He had the silliest adoring smile on his face for days.”
“I did not!” Patrick said indignantly, “Adoring, yes. Silly, no.”
“Son, we have pictures,” Grandpa Lórccan said.
Rem just laughed harder, and there were tears in his eyes. I wasn’t sure if he was crying or just laughing so hard. Either way, it was the first laugh I’d heard him in what felt like ages.
We ended up all sitting in front of a TV, watching the news together. There was something about drought somewhere far away. Something about politics. And the weather was going to get steadily colder in the following days. I didn’t care much. I looked at the faces that surrounded me, and the spark of hope I didn’t dare believe was there started burning a bit brighter.
I’d have to talk to Rem. Soon. Maybe tomorrow. Right now I just wanted to bask in the moment.
My decision to properly talk to Rem didn’t hold for a few days. Somehow I didn’t know where to start. And he seemed a bit better. I’d seen him painting again. And according to what the teachers had said to mum and Patrick, he was doing well at school as well. So I left with him to school in an awkward silence again. We parted ways at the main doors and I climbed upstairs for my classes. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some of Rem’s friends. Which ones, I didn’t remember; Rem had so many of them. He said hi to Rem, and Rem said a shaky greeting back. Another of his friends scowled at him, and Rem didn’t seem to care.
I would have thought about it more, but I was then met by more discreet stares from the people upstairs, so I forgot about it for the rest of the day.
We’d agreed that whenever our school days were over at the same time, I’d pick up Rem and we’d bike home together. Today was one of those days. Our last class was art, led by Bree’s mum. Mrs. Vasquez’s sunny presence was pretty much the only thing besides Bree’s snippy comments that made the art class tolerable for me. I was, to put it simply, still pretty hopeless at putting colour on canvas or shaping clay or whatever was required. Okay, gluing stuff together was kind of fun, I guess.
“Okay, kids, time to wrap it up,” Mrs. Vasquez’s voice made me look up from the not-so creative mess I’d managed to put together, and I sighed in relief.
“Hey, it’s not that bad,” said Bree, “That almost… looks like a boat.”
“It’s supposed to be my inner darkness,” I replied dryly, surprised at my own words. I was almost carefree at that moment.
“Really?” Jace asked.
“No. It’s a blue panther. And I’ve got to pick up Rem.”
I waved goodbyes to my friends and to Mrs. Vasquez, who reminded us to wash our brushes before leaving. I did so and watched the watered down yellows and blues spinning down the drain. Somehow they painted a prettier picture into the sink than I’d managed on the canvas.
Maybe I could make a living selling custom painted sinks.
My hands were still colourful from paint despite my efforts to clean them when I left the art class and steered my steps towards Rem’s classroom. Most of the jackets were already gone from the hall, and Mr. Bob’s classroom was quiet. Well, mostly quiet. I stopped near the door for a while when I heard Mr. Bob’s voice coming from inside.
“Well, as long as you’re sure you’re okay…” he was saying, “When was your sister supposed to pick you up?”
“…now,” was the very quiet answer, “I’m fine. I just don’t want to go out in the hall.”
“Are the other kids picking on you, Rem?”
“You sure? Normally you’re always hanging with Alvin, and Ben, and the others.”
I chose that moment to enter Mr. Bob’s classroom. He greeted me with a nod, as if he’d known I’d been listening behind the door. Then he looked back at Rem, who was still sitting behind his desk even though everyone else had left.
“Lynn’s here,” Mr. Bob said, “Time for you to go.”
Rem stood very slowly. He looked so tired. Maybe he was having nightmares too.
“Go get your jacket,” I said, “I’ll catch up with you.”
Rem nodded and walked past me. When he was gone, I looked again at Mr. Bob. He was standing calmly near his desk, but I could almost hear his worry. I made a quick decision, then, one that had been brewing in my mind when I’d told Rem to go ahead of me. I walked over to Mr. Bob.
“Is he alright?” I asked.
Mr. Bob looked mildly surprised.
“I think you’d know that better than I,” he said.
I sighed, feeling my cheeks redden. Yeah. I probably should have known.
“We’re worried about him at home,” I admitted.
Mr. Bob nodded.
“I was thinking of calling your parents about him. He’s been quiet and distant from his friends.”
He wiped his hand over his face, looking pretty tired himself. It was probably some kind of weariness by compassion. Patrick got it sometimes, when he was feeling especially bad about the environment or about oppressed people, and mum got it when she was feeling too bad about other people’s smaller sorrows.
“I’ve just heard what the news said, and what little your parents told me. What happened to you… well, I’m sorry. Not that it helps any.”
“Thank you,” I said automatically.
“If there’s anything I can do, don’t hesitate to ask your parents to call.”
“I will,” I said, not sure if I meant it. Then I kept talking even though my rational side said it was none of Mr. Bob’s business, “Do you think it’ll be alright?”
“What? You? Rem? All of you?”
Mr. Bob sighed.
“What happened will never be alright. But you can be. I think you all have more strength than a lot of people do. Have you talked with people?”
“I’m trying. It’s hard,” I admitted.
Mr. Bob smiled a bit.
“You’ve still got your stories? Do they help?”
“Good. I knew they would. Sometimes tragedies make the most beautiful art.”
I really meant that.
Rem was waiting for me in the hall, the bright yellow jacket that had once been mine looking still a little too big on him. I tried to manage a smile. It was getting easier and easier every day.
“Let’s go,” I said.
Rem didn’t reply.
I really had to talk to him.
I did it that night, just before we had to go to bed. Mum and Patrick were talking quietly in their bedroom, and I was pretty sure it was a serious conversation too. They had those hushed tones they used when they were planning something that would affect all of us. I knew those conversations had been going on more often ever since Laketon. They’d be at it for a while before they’d remember to order us to bed. So I went up to Rem’s room and found him standing with Candinsky under his arm, his eyes staring into dark, cold space again.
“Hey,” I said, “Can we talk?”
Rem’s eyes barely focused, but he eventually nodded.
He set Candinsky to the bed and hopped to sit on it as well. I didn’t know where to sit, so I just stayed standing awkwardly. Rem’s room had always been a place I never felt perfectly at home in. It was his little kingdom of hand-me-down toys, and paintings that were almost too good to be painted by someone his age. Going into a kid’s room was always like intruding, even if it was just my brother. Now it was necessary, though. I’d put this off for too long. Any later and it could be too late. There was already a rift between us. We’d never been inseparable, but now we were drifting alarmingly in the sea of uncomfortable silences that would eventually land us in a place where we were strangers to one another.
“How’re you feeling?” I asked.
“’Cause you’re not really ‘feeling good’. Everyone can see that.”
Rem studied me, his eyes suddenly too attentive. And creepily enough, at the same time they were almost shimmering, like they were when he was in his little fairy worlds.
“Why do you care?”
“Why wouldn’t I? You’re my brother, and like I’ve said before, I like you.”
I frowned at the surprised tone.
“I repeat: Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because… because I’m not trying to make you like me.”
This was once again going nowhere, and this particular nowhere was a really confusing place. I put my hands on my hips.
“Okay, I can’t talk to you unless you at least try to make sense. What do you mean? I mean, sure, you haven’t been your usual chirpy self lately, but that’s kind of to be expected when we’re all… all… you know…” my voice faded into a hoarse whisper, “…messed up.”
“Yeah,” Rem admitted, “But you’re so strong.”
I thought about my nightmares. About my insecurities and my desire to start wearing a mask for the rest of my life to cover my scars.
“I’m really not,” I said.
“You rose from the ashes,” Rem paused and thought about it, “Well, you will, at least.”
Right now, I didn’t feel like rising from any ashes. Or that I could ever get over all this. I didn’t want to talk about it either.
“What did you mean?” I said again instead, “About not making me like you?”
Rem seemed to deflate, tuck his mind into a tiny ball. He looked even smaller than he usually did.
“I think that’s why everyone likes me. Because I make them. With… you know, powers. Magic.”
I stared at Rem for a long while.
“Rem. I think you’re a bit too old to believe in magic. Like, really believe.”
Rem’s eyes were wide. His fingers had entwined together at some point, and he was wringing his hands so nervously I thought some joints would soon start cracking.
“What else can you call it?” he asked, “I went into your dream. I see things. I can… I think I can make people see things too… maybe I just make them see me nicely. Now I’ve tried not to, and a lot of the others at school… they don’t like me anymore.”
He really believed it. And why not? He was right about the other times he’d done weird things I couldn’t explain. I took his hands when he looked like he was going to cry, because I didn’t know what else to do. I did not want my stepbrother bawling on me. I was terrible at comforting people.
“Or maybe they don’t like that you’re being really distant and staring into space,” I suggested and winced at Rem’s pretty offended expression, “Well, you are. All the time. It’s weird.”
“I am weird,” Rem said, “You always say that. And… I think you’re right. Remember when you used to call me a fairy? I think you were right then too.”
I squeezed his hands, not knowing what to say. It was all too bizarre. And it was all kind of making sense in its bizarre way.
“Rem, this is crazy…” I tried again, but then trailed off, because maybe it wasn’t too crazy in our crazy life right now. Rem looked at me steadily, hauntingly calm all of a sudden.
“Is it? I could make you see things right now, I think. But I won’t, because I don’t want to… I want to be just me. Someone who doesn’t bring bad things to our home.”
“What happened with Laketon wasn’t your fault,” I said firmly.
“Yes, it was! He wanted to take me somewhere. I think it was the Tree Lady who wanted me.”
I found myself staring again.
“The one who talked to me sometimes,” Rem said, “She wanted to take me home, but I told her I was already home. I don’t know who she was. All I know is I don’t want her coming here.”
“She’s not going to,” I said firmly, “Rem, this is stupid. You can’t blame yourself for some creep deciding to want to hurt you. You’ve never done anything to Laketon, or the tree-lady-whoever-she-is, right?”
“So stop all this guilt nonsense!” I snapped, sounding way ruder than I’d intended, “It’s just eating you up inside and you’re hurting for no reason… Well, not for no reason. I mean, it was awful, but it’s over now! We have to get through this!”
“That’s what daddy and mum keep saying. But I just… I can’t just stop feeling all this. I wish I could.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, “I wish I could too. But maybe we can make something good out of it.”
“See? You are strong. Phoenix.”
I smiled stiffly.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry.”
“It’s fine. Now stop sulking.”
Had it been a good talk? I had no idea. My thoughts were buzzing like flies when I went back to my room and clutched a pile of books I’d picked up on the way there. I’d have to go to mum’s computer to do some internet searches after mum and Patrick stopped their serious talk, but for now the books would have to do.
I changed into my pyjamas, sat on my bed and opened the first one. It was a tale we’d have to read for school… when? Too long ago. Maybe years, or just weeks. It was the changeling tale I’d barely paid attention to because I’d been too excited about the sleepover with Bree and Jace. Now it suddenly intrigued me much more. A baby taken by trolls and replaced with a troll baby that would grow up pretending it was human. It was a silly tale, but I tried to see it like Rem probably did. Like a true story. It was still silly. I couldn’t do it.
I sighed in frustration. What did it matter anyway? We were family. Rem was family just like I was. So what if he could do weird things and had tree-ladies after him. It wasn’t like what I’d left behind was anything better. Boogeymen that weren’t just in closets were not something I ever wanted at my doorstep. And yet one was my biological dad. Life sucked. We’d have to get over it. Rise from the ashes, as Rem put it.
Mum and Patrick were almost arguing. There was a decision hanging in the air; I could sense it. A couple of weeks later, it turned out I was right.
Mum and Patrick took us both to the gazebo, because it was probably the last warmer day of the year. They both looked serious, almost official. I sat stiffly in my chair and felt the cool, almost wintery breeze at my back. Rem’s eyes were wide, as if he was trying to figure out what was going on but whatever it was that made him sometimes almost see the future apparently wasn’t working right now.
“Kids,” Patrick started, but then cleared his throat, “Your mother and I have been thinking… this town… well…” he fumbled with the words. It was weird. Patrick was usually very good with talking.
“This town hasn’t felt like a proper home for a while, has it?” mum said.
I felt cold all of a sudden, because I had a hunch about where this was going.
“No, it hasn’t,” Rem said quietly, “You know that.”
“Right,” Patrick said, finding his words again, “So, we’ve been talking, and we’ve… well…”
“Are you saying that we’re moving?” I asked. It shouldn’t be that hard to say. Everyone stared at me, and finally, mum and Patrick nodded stiffly.
“Would you like to move?” he asked.
I opened my mouth to say something, but then I realised I had no idea what I wanted. All I wanted was to stay home. But this house hadn’t been entirely a home for a while. But how would running away fix that in any way? I didn’t know.
Rem spoke before I could get my thoughts in order.
“That would mean getting away from here.”
“Yes, it would,” Patrick said, “I know it’s not something we have to decide now, but with all that has happened, we-“
“I want to leave,” said Rem very firmly, “I don’t want the Tree Lady to find us.”
By the looks on mum and Patrick’s faces I knew he’d told them about the tree-lady as well. Patrick nodded gently, even though there was a look of surprise hidden behind the gentleness.
“Just like that?” I asked, and looked almost accusingly at Rem, “This is our life! We made this house. Before us it was just a rundown barrack with potential, as mum and Patrick called it. And now we’d just leave?”
“Yes,” Rem said, completely unfazed by my outburst, “I want to leave.”
“How about you, Lynn?” said mum, “You want to stay here? If you do, I understand. This… it’s not going to happen right away. If we decide this, there will be a lot to do. But we don’t want to make it all ready and then spring it on you when it’s too late to stop.”
I looked at mum’s sad eyes, and then at Patrick, who’d lived here all his life. Patrick had been born here, and now he was ready to leave it all. There was a sadness in his eyes that told me that he didn’t really want it, but he was still ready. I thought about it. I didn’t even remember the town where I’d been born, and that didn’t matter because Twinbrook was home for me anyway. And I’m sure it was home for mum as well. She was ready to leave her job, and her beloved house and gazebo she’d got married in, just because she thought it would probably be best for us.
And maybe it was.
Because despite the protests I’d forced to the forefront of my mind, I knew that our home here was lost. We could either try to paint over the trauma and pretend it was okay and always know that Laketon was sitting in jail just an hour’s drive from us. Or we could go somewhere else and try to make a new home. We’d done it before with mum, even though I didn’t remember it very well. And Patrick had done it with Rem, even though Rem really didn’t remember it.
I sighed and pushed aside all the parts of me that wanted to hold onto the past.
“I just want a home.”
“We all do,” Patrick said, “And we’ll build one.”
We sat in the gazebo until it got dark and cold outside. When we went back inside, arms around each other for warmth and comfort, we’d decided that we’d be moving in the next spring.