Chapter Eleven: Hearth and Home

Aaron lay on his bed, fighting the worst headache he’d had in weeks.

The vision was still a jumble in his head, but he’d sorted out the gist of it. The girl from the school needed his help. He’d seen her hiding in dark places, fleeing from shadow to shadow. An overwhelming aura of fear drenched every image, every sound and scent. That, and a sense of loneliness so intense it burned like a physical pain.

What he didn’t know was how to find her.

In the next room, he could hear Carter and Mom, speaking in hushed voices like he was on his deathbed or something. Maybe they thought he was asleep, or that he couldn’t hear them through the walls.

“You’re sure nothing happened? Nothing triggered it?”

“No,” Carter said. A little too quickly, and with enough guilt that Mom must have expected he was lying.

“Was he worried about something? Did he overexert himself?”

No, Mom. Everything was normal. It just happened.”

She sighed. “He hasn’t had an episode this badly in a while. It must have been triggered by something.” Then, much more tenuously: “Are you sure he hasn’t been hiding them from me?”

“No,” his brother said. “No, I don’t think so.” There was a note of uncertainty in his voice, like he was starting to wonder whether Aaron was keeping things from him.

“You would tell me if he was, wouldn’t you? I know he tells you things he wouldn’t tell me. He’s kept secrets before.” Was that a note of accusation? Accurate, if so, but it still stung.

“This is different,” Carter said. “He’s been better, Mom. You know he has. Not just the seizures, but everything. So why is this happening now?”

“I don’t know, kiddo. Maybe it’s everything that’s happening right now. Stress can be a trigger. Maybe something else has been bothering him. Maybe there is no reason. Nothing’s going to be a cure all.”

Aaron sighed. Things had been so much better. He’d gotten his power under control. The visions had caused fewer side effects. Even school was going well.

He tried to cut out the chatter from the next room, focusing through the pounding in his head to the images he’d seen in his vision. The girl’s face, smeared with dirt. An abandoned warehouse, lit with a dying dirty lightbulb. The shadows of the graveyard, stones poking through the grass like teeth. A hole in the roots of a tree, where she dug in like a stray animal, covered in dry straw. A room with a red door, shattered windows taped shut. A flashlight over a metal door, a green sign, plastic packaging being ripped…

Aaron’s eyes snapped open. He knew where she was.

He swung his legs off his bed and started pulling his shoes on, mind racing. Should he tell Carter? Caution had been his only advice of late, and Aaron couldn’t afford to be cautious right now. If he waited, she’d move on.

What he really needed was support. Someone who wouldn’t lose control. Someone who could help a girl who was frightened and alone, and probably incapable of real trust. Aaron pushed up the window and swung a leg over the windowsill. He hesitated and glanced at the wall between his room and his twin’s. He could still hear them talking, although the subject had shifted to the more mundane subject of his dirty laundry.

Sorry Carter, he thought, slipping out of the window. He shut it silently behind him and headed out.

* * * *

It had been a long day.

Selena yawned as she stepped into the foyer of her parents’ house. She pulled off her gloves and stomped her boots on the doormat to shake loose the caked on dirt and gravel.

“Mama? Papa?” she called. “Anyone home? Diego?”

Her voice echoed through the empty house. Well, it was still early: only a little after seven. Hungry, she crossed the foyer and bypassed the cold, clean-swept dining room for the gleaming kitchen, shaking dust out of her hair. After riding around town all day and then tromping through an overgrown cemetery, she felt like she needed a couple of showers to really feel clean.

But first—

She opened the refrigerator and scoured the contents for something to eat. Sure enough, her mother had left a stack of containers on the middle shelf. She found the one labelled Selena and pried it open. Pasta salad and sweet potato. How delightfully suburban. She threw it in the microwave for a minute, leaning against the counter as she watched the turntable spin in slow circles.

“Hey.” Her brother Diego slouched into the kitchen and started to rummage through the fridge. Next to the marble and stainless steel model kitchen, he looked even scruffier than usual. Selena had long suspected that her youngest brother had chosen to rebel against their parents by being as lazy as possible. Her other brothers had gone to college, but Diego had graduated high school and bounced from job to job with no clear direction.

“Mom left dinner,” Selena said, just as the microwave beeped.

“Yeah, pasta salad,” Diego said, still staring into the fridge. “Not really feeling it. You think any pizza places are still delivering?”

“With the roads closed? I doubt it.”

Diego sighed and snagged a box from the stack. Selena noted that the label said Martin, and wondered if he’d even noticed. She retrieved her own dinner from the microwave and dug in, still standing by the kitchen counter.

“How’s the nerd squad?” he asked, pulling a piece of beef jerky out of his pocket.

“The…what?”

“You know, all those nerdy kids you hang out with when no one else is looking?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Your not-boyfriend is calling,” he said, nodding to Selena’s phone on the counter. She glanced at it to see Aaron’s number on the screen. Furious, she snatched it and shoved it deep in her pocket. She glared back at her brother, who had an obnoxious grin on his face.

“He is not—it’s probably not even—stop smiling at me.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell your cool friends,” Diego said, pulling his dinner out of the microwave. He pointed his half-stick of jerky at her. “But you owe me.”

“Fine. What do you want?”

“Mom took away the wifi password. I want to stream my shows, Sis.”

“It’s Dad’s birthday backwards,” Selena said.

“Knew I could count on you.” He raised the bowl in a toast. “Later.”

“Jerk,” Selena muttered when he’d left. She stabbed her sweet potato in vengeance and scooped a huge, steaming chunk out of the skin. She already had the whole thing in her mouth when she heard the front door open. There wasn’t quite enough time to chew it up, and her mother breezed into the kitchen to find her trying to swallow as much of it as she could.

Gabriela halted midway through the door, hands on her hips. “Was it too much trouble to walk to the table to eat?”

“Hi, Mama,” Selena said, her mouth still half full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s disgusting.”

Selena finished swallowing. “Sorry.”

Her mother took a long moment to appraise her. Her nose wrinkled. “And what have you been doing? You look like you’ve been working in a stable.”

“I was helping with the relief efforts,” Selena said. “I haven’t had time to clean up yet.”

“You just got home? Why were you out so late?”

“It’s only seven.”

“And it’s been dark since five.” She wet a paper towel and started rubbing at a smudge on Selena’s cheek. “I hope you at least had a boy drive you home.”

“Mama! I don’t need an escort to get home!”

“Young ladies shouldn’t be out at night alone,” she said, carrying her paper towel crusade to the other side of her daughter’s face.

“Your mother’s right,” her father said as he walked past, scrolling through something on his phone. Absently, he pulled a box of food out of the refrigerator and carried it to the table without heating it up.

“Thank you, Martin. See? Your father agrees with me. Is this engine grease?” She rubbed viciously at another spot before Selena grabbed the paper towel away from her.

“I can clean my own face!”

“Please at least tell me you weren’t riding that infernal motorcycle all over the place. The roads are too dangerous right now, especially at night. I don’t know why you let her buy that thing, Martin. It’s so….” Apparently, she couldn’t find a word bad enough to describe it, because she just cut off there, throwing her hands up in despair.

“It’s her money,” was all her father said. He took a bite and blanched, seeming to realize suddenly that the food was still cold. Grumbling, he picked it up and carried it to the microwave.

“I like my bike,” Selena said. “And no one else seems to think there’s a problem with it.”

“As long as you remember to act like a lady,” Gabriela said, straightening her blouse. “You represent our family, Selena, remember that. Don’t ruin your reputation just because you feel a sudden urge to rebel.”

Selena found she’d lost her appetite. “Of course not,” she said. “My reputation is very important to me.”

Gabriela smiled. “Good girl. Now, if you’re done eating, go wash up. All that dirt and grease can’t be good for your complexion.”

* * * * *

Lucia came home to a dark house. Or at least, she thought it was dark, until she jimmied open the front door and found her sister Sonia sitting at her desk, lit only by the dim glow of a computer screen.

“Hey, sis. Did someone turn you into a vampire while I was out?” Lucia said as she flicked on the living room light.

Sonia blinked, looking owl-like in her round reading glasses and fluffy grey scarf. “Oh,” she said, which only reinforced the illusion. “I didn’t notice it get dark.” She stretched and yawned.

“It’s not that late,” said Lucia. “About seven.”

“I see.” She readjusted her cardigan and bent back toward her work, peering at the screen.

“I didn’t expect you to be home. I thought you’d be working late.”

“Well, I am working late,” Sonia said, gesturing to the piles of files clumped on her desk. “My boss sent me home with extra work tonight. He’s got this big case coming up, and he wants to be ready for it. So I’m having to go through and organize all his files, since he has the organizational skills of a….um…something that has bad organizational skills.”

“Sounds like you’ve been working a little too hard,” Lucia said, rounding the kitchen counter to rummage through the refrigerator.

“Sorry I haven’t made dinner,” said Sonia. “I didn’t realize how late it was.”

“As previously established. It’s okay. Your cooking sucks anyway.” She pulled out the sad remains of the refrigerator stores—some withered carrots, potatoes that had started to sprout and loose broccoli florets in a plastic bag. “I’ll pull something together.”

“I’ll have money for groceries tomorrow,” Sonia said. With a dry smile, she added, “If you can find a store that’s open.”

“They said Forrester’s will be opening tomorrow. They got power back on and most of the main streets are cleared away. Of course, it will be a madhouse with everyone rushing to get the last milk, bread and eggs.”

A few quiet minutes passed. Lucia hunted down broth, potatoes and rice, and picked through the spice rack. Sonia huddled back over her desk, shifting through the piles of paperwork with her brow knit tight together. Even without focusing on it, Lucia could tell she was more tense than usual—and for Sonia, that was saying something. After a minute, she pulled off her glasses and sighed.

“I’d say it’s time for a break. Want some help?”

“Sure. You can chop the carrots.”

“On it, boss.” Sonia took up her station on the narrow space of counter by the stove. “Cooking I can’t. Cutting I can.”

“There’s no one better,” Lucia said. “You always get the carrots the exact same size.”

“My perfectionism is what makes me such an excellent paralegal,” Sonia said. “So you can stuff the sarcasm, little sister.”

2ch11

With exaggerated carefulness, she began cutting the carrots into precise tiny chunks. Lucia laughed, but she could still sense the sadness underneath. No, not sadness. It was something more potent than simple sadness. Now that Sonia was standing right next to her, Lucia could feel it, like an open sore or a cold wind.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Hmm? Nothing. I’m just worn out from work.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Lucia said. “You know better than that.”

“How do you do that?” her sister wondered. “I thought I was putting up an excellent front.”

“You were,” Lucia said. “I just know you too well.”

Sonia sighed. “It’s this custody case I’m working on. It reminds me of…” She broke off.

“Mom and dad?” Lucia guessed.

“Yes,” she said, in a soft voice. “When they…when we…after they died…” She swallowed back whatever was threatening to escape. “I fought so hard to keep us together. You were still young, so you don’t know—”

“I do know,” Lucia laid a hand on her sister’s shoulder and sent a pulse of reassurance through the contact.

“It just makes me mad.” Sonia’s chopping grew aggressive, so much so that Lucia considered taking back the knife before she accidentally sliced through a finger. “This woman—she’s been raising her child on her own ever since her jackass boyfriend ran out. And now he’s decided he wants the kid back? Claims he has more money so he’d be better at it? He’s got his family harassing her, calling social services on her day and night. These…people…they don’t even care about the kid. They just want to win.”

Lucia understood how that could be upsetting. After their mother had died, their father had gone into a paranoid spiral, wasted all their money trying to prove it wasn’t accidental, and eventually… She stopped herself from thinking of it. It had been painful enough the first time. And to make things worse, her powers had developed in the middle of all of that, and she’d had to be hospitalized after a “mental breakdown.” They were still paying off the medical bills and the funeral. And the legal fees from the custody case. How her sister had managed to keep her sanity through all that, Lucia had no idea.

“I’m sorry I was such a little snot back then.”

Sonia managed a smile. “You’re still a snot. You’re just taller now.”

“I’m also cooking your dinner, so watch it,” Lucia said.

“I’m sure it will be delicious.” Sonia put down the knife and wrapped her arms around her sister. She took a long whiff of the pot. “You might have been a little snot, but it was all worth it to have a live-in cook,” she said.

“Well, someone has to make sure we don’t starve,” Lucia said, sprinkling the soup with an extra dose of cayenne pepper.

“I’m going to go set the table,” Sonia announced.

“What table? I thought the table was your desk?”

“Tonight it’s the table!” Sonia called as she started to scoop the file folders into her arms. “We can have a real dinner on a real kitchen table. No couch and TV tonight.”

“But I love the couch and TV!”

“We’ll watch after. But only one episode. I still have work to do.”

Lucia’s calming influence turned out to be a bit too much for her sister. Halfway through Young Frankenstein, she’d passed out on the couch, snoring so loud Lucia had to nudge her to stop during the quiet bits. Briefly, she wondered if she should wake her sister up. It seemed like she had a lot of work to do. But she also knew Sonia hadn’t slept for days, and probably wouldn’t get much tonight. So she just turned up the volume, settled in, and stole her sister’s half-eaten bag of popcorn.

She’d almost dozed off herself when a quiet knock at the door roused her. Grumbling, she dragged herself off the couch to answer it with a grumpy, “What?”

Aaron blinked back at her. “Hey,” he said uncertainly. “Uh…Can you sneak out for a few minutes?”

“Hi, Aaron, lovely to see you, too,” Lucia said, stepping back to let him inside. “How’s the temporal hangover treating you?”

He halted as he spotted Sonia snoring on the couch. “Oh,” he said. “I figured she’d be working, or asleep in her actual bed or something. Is she sick or something?”

“Just overworked,” Lucia said, pulling a blanket over her sister’s shoulders. “If you’re not loud, you won’t wake her up.”

“Okay.” He frowned at Sonia’s slumbering form again and then shook his head. “I need your help,” he said.

“This about your vision?” Lucia asked, motioning him away from her sister. Sleeping or not, it was better if they had this conversation out of earshot.

“Yeah.” Aaron glanced at the couch one more time and bent in to whisper: “It was about the girl. I think I know where she is. But if I’m right, she won’t be there for long. If we’re going to find her we have to go now.”

“Did you tell Carter about this?”

Aaron pursed his lips. “No.” Before Lucia could object, he said: “Carter is scared. I mean, all of us are. But his instinct is to wait and think things over, and if we do that, she’ll be gone again. I may not be able to track her down again if I don’t find her tonight.”

“What about the others?”

“I don’t want a crowd,” Aaron said. “She’s scared; she’ll be skittish. If we frighten her off, she may cause another quake.”

“You want me to come so I can calm her down,” Lucia surmised.

“I want you so you can help me find her. You’ll be able to sense her with your power. And yeah, it will be useful if you can talk her down. Lucia, I don’t know what else to do.”

Lucia didn’t know what to do, either. On one hand, keeping secrets from each other hadn’t done anyone favors. But Aaron seemed desperate, and weirdly confident, which was unusual for him.

“Where are we going?”

“Okay,” Lucia said slowly, trying to think through it. “Where do you think she is?”

“The drugstore on Wells Street. She’s been moving every night. Stealing food and hiding out in abandoned places. I saw her going through the emergency supplies that were delivered today.”

“It could be tomorrow, or even the day after.”

“None of the packaging had been touched. It has to be tonight.”

Lucia frowned. “It’s not going to be dangerous, I guess,” she said, drumming her fingers on the counter. “We’re just going to check it out. If she’s there, we can talk to her.”

“Yeah.”

“So why aren’t we telling anyone?”

“Because I don’t want an argument. We’ve got to go now, Lucia.” He turned away and stalked toward the door. “I’m going whether you’re coming with me or not,” he said.

“Okay, okay,” she said, hurrying after him. She snagged her coat from the hook by the door. “I hope I don’t regret this.”

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