127.

DD – On the plane we had a row to ourselves because Paul wasn’t with us. Between us. As soon as the plane reached the sky, Aunt Axi slid into his empty middle seat and took my hands in hers. Her fingers were light but strong.

“They think me dead, they think you locked in the safe house. I believe this gives us time to reach my home and safety. If I am wrong, we are running to our deaths. Forgive me.”

The flight attendant interrupted us. Aunt Axi ordered orange juice for us and the flight attendant moved along. Aunt Axi leaned close and spoke calmly. I heard her words and I heard the crying and screaming that most other people would have added to that story.

What had happened. They left Paul and me at the safe house and hurried back to Martin’s office for the sudden hearing to discuss Alcatur’s sentence. But that hearing was bogus, an excuse to re-open a wide connection among Everweer. Through the connection, Alcatur’s supporters attacked, killing his guards. He used the connection to escape the courtroom. He was somewhere unknown, with his supporters – other Everweer who agreed that all Mere are threats and deserve to die.

The attack came to Martin’s office, also. Two of our group were secret supporters of Alcatur. They tried to kill Aunt Axi, left her for dead. Would have killed Paul and me if we had been there. They attacked then used the Everweer connection to join Alcatur. They. Ezra and Natalie. The nicest ones.

Before they got away, they killed Martin. They killed Mr. Colvant.

Hearing that is the last thing I remember about our trip.

Aunt Axi guessed right about fleeing to safety. We made it. We’re back in the sub, in the Trigg house. It would be weird to be here, if I could feel weird.

Aunt Axi says no one can enter unless she allows it. So we are safe here.

I helped her move a second bed into her bedroom and she plugged in a nightlight and now I’m laying in the almost dark, near her but I don’t hear her breathing. I think she’s awake too.

Tupac. – sE

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126.

DD – Paul and Grayfast are gone. I don’t understand how I can feel so hollow but so full of sadness.

When my family died, I couldn’t feel at all. Right now I felt worse, because I believed I would see Paul and Grayfast again, so I didn’t go numb.

I wandered from floor to floor of the safe house, remembering the night before.

A door slammed open and Aunt Axi called, “Paul, Ella, come now.” She ran upstairs as I came downstairs. “Where is Paul?”

Strange – she was alone. “He had to leave.” I made sure no one was behind her. “He’s turning.”

She reacted like we were in a car and the front tires just went off a cliff. “Take care. That is not a thing to speak about,” she said.

“Could it be? Of all times, must this be his moment?” she said to herself, then noticed me again. “Come, quickly. Where is your – backpack?”

She meant Grayfast. “With Paul.”

She touched her stone necklace with the same gesture that she and the other Everweer made when they heard me say “Other Ones”. Like it was part of a prayer. She waved me toward the door. “These are wonders but we have no time for wonder. We must run. I will explain when I can.”

I already had my stuff in a pillowcase. I grabbed it and followed her outside, where a taxi waited.

We made blah blah conversation on the way to the airport then waited in the terminal without talking much at all. After all the weeks of hiding out with Paul and Grayfast, mostly sticking to ourselves. Now they were gone and I sat in a giant lobby packed with strangers. Too weird. I kept pinching my arm but it never seemed real. I was watching myself in a movie.

Aunt Axi sat us against a wall next to an emergency door. She looked around with a light calm smile like she enjoyed people-watching. But I suspected she was watching for danger. The way she acted when she got me from the safe house. Something was very wrong. What could have happened? She must have bad news. Alcatur got a super light sentence. Another Everweer hurt a Mere. Her request for a hearing about Paul’s parents got denied.

Everything kept changing so suddenly. I didn’t even get to thank Ezra for all the pizza. Maybe I could mail him a note.

Which distracted me from worrying, until I asked, “Do you know Ezra’s mailing address?”

“I do not!” Aunt Axi said with so much anger. But not at me.

This waiting needs to end. I need to hear what the Tupac is going on. -sE

125.

DD – After dinner we took a cold beautiful walk back to Martin’s office. The building lights were glittery twisted reflections in the river.

Ezra stepped away to answer a phone call. He came back looking excited and called to the group, “By quorum, the hearing is reopening now, to debate the length of Alcatur’s sentence.”

Everyone walked faster. Until Aunt Axi stopped and said in her most queenly voice, “We’ll drop the children at the safe house first.”

“But they’re all waiting for us to begin,” Ezra said.

“Ella left something this morning. She’ll have no time to search later, as our flight departs tonight.”

I didn’t know why she was lying but I joined her. “A book of poems my dad wrote. He was going to make a book. It’s a set of loose papers. I’m missing a few.” I was rusty, telling alibis. But they accepted my lie and detoured to leave us at the safe house.

Suddenly we were alone in our hideout, Paul Grayfast me. Nothing like last night because the others could return any time.

And because Paul made a decision. He grabbed me into a tight long hug and talked into my hair. “I have to leave, Ella. I’m turning. I don’t know how long that will take or what it will do to me. I have to get somewhere alone, away from all of them.”

“And me,” slipped out. I didn’t want to make him feel worse. Somehow, somewhere inside, I had known – I wasn’t surprised.

“I’ll find you again. Afterwards. You might not want to know me then but I’ll find you and you can decide.”

I hugged him back until I couldn’t feel anymore. “You’d better go before they can stop you.” We kept hugging as we walked to the door.

“Don’t tell them my reason. You won’t be safe if they know you know.”

“Don’t worry, I’m good at lying to grownups.”

“Be extra careful. The way Aunt Axi was acting – she senses betrayal.”

We hugged at the door. His heartbeat vibrated through me, strong and even now that the Trigg family book couldn’t hurt him anymore.

Finally we let each other go. Paul opened the door with a phew – we were afraid it might be locked from the outside.

“Grayfast! No!”

The cat ran outside but stopped. I hugged him while Paul walked down the steps. Grayfast squirmed away and ran to Paul again.

“He wants to go with you,” I realized. “Yes. Wait.” I dumped my stuff from the backpack and set it on the steps. Grayfast slipped inside.

I put fingers on Paul’s lips to block his arguments. “He can let me know you’re okay.”

“Wow,” Paul said, and took the backpack.

He walked slowly at first but by the time he disappeared up the dark street his steps were running.

And now they’re gone. – sE

124.

DD – It’s over! We won! Alcatur is going to Everweer prison and from the way everybody’s acting, no one ever gets out of there. In the trial room, it took four huge guards to control him even with all his chains. He kept yelling, so angry he slobbered. Except for a moment when he whispered at Paul, “I should have culled you years ago. Worthless. Traitor.”

Paul gave Alcatur a little wave. Bye bye. And Mr. Colvant shut the book, and just as the connection with the trial room broke I heard the creepiest sound. Icy laughter. Everweer observing the trial were laughing at Paul’s wave.

Everyone in our office was talking at once, super cheerful, planning to celebrate. But I had trouble getting into their mood. I couldn’t drop my fear.

They hadn’t acted confident about how the vote would go. The vote for Alcatur going to prison or going free. When Mr. Colvant got the book out to connect our office, all of our Everweer stood in front of Paul and me, like they might have to protect us. Even Ezra seemed tense.

But then somehow Everweer voted from all over the world, and somehow the votes got counted in the trial room. I couldn’t see the somehows with everybody standing in front of me. But I heard the same verdict, twice. “Murder unjustified.”

And now we’re going out to dinner, walking past buildings so amazing they have special lights at night so people can keep admiring them. Almost everyone is in a great mood. But I keep thinking how they had to protect us. How the vote could have gone the other way, most of the Everweer siding with Alcatur.

Did he get a lot of votes? From those Everweer who know who I am now?

Aunt Axi is not celebrating, either. She is getting more and more serious.

I wish I could talk to her. Or Paul, who is at the other end of the table, between Natalie and Mr. Colvant.

Ezra says this restaurant serves the best pizza in Chicago and the smells say he’s right but I’m not hungry. -sE

123.

DD – Ezra can be a pest. When he and Aunt Axi arrived, Paul kept trying to get Aunt Axi alone to discuss his weird photo drawings. Because she recognized the place he was drawing. I asked Ezra about cool stuff around the hideout, but I couldn’t distract him away from Aunt Axi and Paul. He kept popping back like they were magnetized.

When we got to Martin’s office, the other Everweer were waiting. Nobody smiled or mentioned winning the trial.

Today Paul and I got to sit at our table. No chairs in a diamond.

Mr. Colvant opened the book and the room went icy. Every wall and window swirled with the white smoke of Everweer connection. I felt them. Hundreds? Thousands?

The trial room appeared, like looking through a window at it. Not like yesterday when it joined our office. “It be time for the final persuasions,” a voice said.

Alcatur spoke from his box. How terrible it was to have to kill, even a couple of Mere. But he had done his duty to protect Everweer secrets. He remembered times when Everweer died because they trusted a Mere or acted with lenience. “I hope to never be required to kill again. But if I am, so I must. Duty first.” He stared at Paul and me.

Aunt Axi circled our room and spoke to unseen people. “Alcatur says lenience is weakness. No. It is our greatest strength and best protection from annihilation. We Everweer are the most powerful, yet least plentiful among all the peoples. We cannot vanquish all others. Moreover, Alcatur’s victims were ill-chosen. One Mere had not an inkling of our existence. The other had long friendship with our kind. The deaths, predictably, attracted attention of diverse predators, unbalancing our precarious harmony with the creatures of blood. Also predictably, the murders brought attention from Mere police and media whose scrutiny so often exposes secrets.”

She sat like she was too tired to stand. “This is not the first time that Alcatur’s misguided rage has brought destruction to my family. I demand a second hearing to investigate his role in the disappearance of my sister and her mate, the parents of my nephew Paul.”

At which Alcatur lunged and Mr. Colvant slammed the book shut and the Everweer rushed out of our office, probably to talk where Paul and I couldn’t hear.

Paul had been listening until Aunt Axi mentioned his parents. Then his fingers began to jerk around – sketching a weird photo drawing without paper or pencil.

I reached into the backpack for the comfort of Grayfast’s silky fur and I whispered a hope that Paul will come back before the Everweer do. – sE

122.

DD – I don’t have to live my entire life to know this is the best night of my life.

Was the best. The tiny windows above the staircase already turned pink then pale so it is morning. Paul fell asleep a little while ago, curled inside a big chair with Grayfast. As usual I’m still awake, but not because my thoughts are zooming. If I go to sleep this night officially ends.

I wish I could do weird photo drawings, then I could save every bit of the view of them sleeping together. I’ll have to rely on memories to bring back the whispers of Paul’s breathing and the mix of smells – old damp cement, dusty wood, sweat, cat food.

I need to memorize every moment of this night. Which scares me. My feeling that I will need these memories. That none of this will be again.

When we finished running and exploring, we put food and water out for Grayfast and watched him empty both bowls. Paul said, “He hasn’t gone inside your head for a while. Is it because I know about that?”

“I think he’s trying to avoid detection by Everweer.”

“Maybe!” Paul’s expression went sad to happy so fast he could have been a cartoon.

“Grayfast likes you now, how do you not know that?”

For the first time we legitimately looked at each other. And then we were kissing and stuff. Until a giant crashing noise brought us upstairs. Nothing fell, nothing broke. Grayfast stood where the noise had been.

And that’s how it went all night. It was like, we’d get too TMI for Grayfast and he’d do something that interrupted us. Temporarily.

Eventually he stopped interrupting. Or maybe we stopped noticing. Sometimes it seemed like too long since we saw him, then we’d go hunt for him.

He moved around. So did we. We spent time in every part of our hideout, except the floors that had beds. Those were awkward.

We didn’t talk much. Words brought the world in.

When we sat in the soft chairs Paul tried to stay awake because he knew I would. But his eyes kept closing. They closed one time more than he forced them back open.

I’m watching him sleep and smiling so much my cheeks hurt.

Sometimes I baffle me. Paul is so funny and smart and confident and he’s not just cute he’s Tupac amazing. So I don’t understand. How I can be comfortable around him. How I can know he loves me back.

Upstairs. Eminem, is that the door? Ezra’s voice. – sE

121.

DD – “You’ll be safe here overnight,” Aunt Axi told us.

Here: tall round cement room, thick wood floor. A cement staircase curled up and down to other thick wood floors. Rusted gears chains dials stuck out of the wall.

“What is this place?” Paul asked.

Ezra sounded proud. “This was the control house for a river drawbridge. Now it’s an Everweer safe house. Nothing goes through, any direction.” He patted the walls.

“Neither thoughts nor matter can penetrate,” Aunt Axi said. “No one can reach you here. Only Ezra and I can enter while you are here.”

“And you’ll be cut off when we leave, but that’s okay for a night, right?” Ezra didn’t wait for our answers. “You’re completely safe, unless Axi and I are secret enemies.” Only Ezra laughed. Interesting to meet a grownup who made awkward happen as often as any kid.

He laughed at our nervous reactions. “Too soon? On the other levels are amenities. The best the nineteenth century had to offer. Explore! Partake!”

“We shall return in the morning before the trial resumes.” Aunt Axi said.

“How much more?” I only made a small groan.

“Closing arguments, then deliberation and with all good grace, a verdict.” Aunt Axi replied.

“Who decides? Those nine who asked questions?”

“All over the world, Everweer observed. The Everweer community shall judge Alcatur.”

“They all saw me testify?”

“They did. Didn’t you know?” Ezra gave Aunt Axi a frown.

“Too late now,” I said. Oh well wasn’t what I felt. Chased by invisible hunters is what I felt. But it wasn’t fair to blame Aunt Axi.

As soon as they left, without discussing it, we pretended the trial – tomorrow – didn’t exist. Grayfast popped out of the backpack and sprinted upstairs. Claws scraped cement and echoed above us… closer… below us … Grayfast sprinted downstairs next.

Paul and I shouted laughs and headed for the stairs. We ran all the way up then down. We passed Grayfast more than once as he sprinted around. Such a relief to be moving and safe and alone.

We checked out every item on every floor. Bathroom. Sleeping areas. A library with relaxing chairs and no scary books. A kitchen with no refrigerator. No electricity, based on the candles everywhere. But lots of delectable munchables. We sampled most of them.

We’re cut off. No way to connect to the Everweer. So we can touch each other. We haven’t yet. Pretty sure that’ll be a one-way road. Once we start…

I can’t wait but the wait is exciting.

Paul is doing weird photo drawings, three at once. I’m somewhat writing and somewhat exploring with Grayfast and somewhat waiting for Paul. -sE