I splashed my face with water and rubbed away what was left of my eyebrows. The spaces above my eyes worked the same way I imagined real eyebrows did, with muscle twisting skin over the brow bone. But the skin was hairless and smooth.
The skin above my eyelids warped and pinched as I tried to wriggle absent brows. I scowled at the grotesqueness that made me look like an alien from science fiction movies watched by the Earth-born.
Javis and Father both had eyebrows, and so had Mother and Grandpa Plaka. How was I the only person in my immediate family to have manifested this Chascadian gene? The trait was exclusive to females, which made it even less fair.
I opened a jar of face paint and dipped my brush. With sweeping strokes, I drew a fresh pair of arches along my brow bone—full and thick, and tapered at the outside edges, the way Mother’s used to be. She smiled at me from inside a picture frame I kept in the bathroom, where I could see her every day. I painted my skin to match hers as closely as possible.
The dark arches emphasized green eyes, the color Father’s once were. This time, when I wriggled my “brows,” I almost looked normal. But, as uncomfortable as I was without them, I felt I was hiding part of myself.
I twisted my long, dark hair in a messy bun and slipped on my uniform, a blue shirt and a matching pair of pants that Mother used to call scrubs. Even though I grieved the loss of Grandpa Plaka, there was work to do at the hospital. There were recovering Lost who needed me. And there was no way I was going to let them down. I packed up my healing kit and made my way downstairs.
Smells from the kitchen made me pause, and my mouth began to water. Vanilla and cinnamon. Mixed together, they reminded me of a flavor of cake Mother used to make for my birthday. My stomach twisted, both out of hunger and regret. Grandpa Plaka’s funeral had been on my birthday, but the closest thing to a birthday cake had been the funeral cake. The taste of lemon still lingered; I wasn’t sure I’d ever eat it again. Worse than that, I felt selfish for being disappointed no one had said happy birthday.
I stepped inside the kitchen. Javis sat at the table, drumming his fingertips against the wood. When he looked up, a smile stretched across his face, ending in the faintest of dimples.
“Good morning, cupcake,” he said.
I rolled my eyes.
“Who said I was talking to you?”
I frowned. “If you weren’t talking to me, then who were you talking to?”
He curled his upper lip and stared at me. “Did something happen to your ears? Didn’t you hear what I said?”
Crossing my arms. I scowled back at him. Javis was my best friend, but his sense of humor was maddening.
“I blame your lack of maturity on having been born later in time than me,” I huffed.
He scratched at the curls that covered the back of his shirt collar. His dark eyes sparkled. As much as he looked like Mother, his mischievous grin was all Father’s—the way he’d smiled before Mother died.
Javis touched a finger to his lips and closed his eyes, presumably instructing me to listen.
“I don’t have time to stand here all day.” I slouched forward, indicating my uniform. “As you can see, I’m on my way to the hospital. I stopped by for a snack.”
His finger stayed pressed to his lips, the sides of which curled at the edges.
A bell rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin, and then audibly sucked in a breath. “You set that up!”
Laughing, Javis opened the oven door and removed a round baking pan. He set it on the table.
“No!” I screeched, scrambling through cupboard drawers. “You need to put a cooling rack or trivet down first or the pan will burn the table top.”
He chuckled. “I would have, if the pan were hot.”
I wrinkled my nose and looked over my shoulder. “What are you doing, Javis?”
“The pan already cooled. When I heard you stomping around upstairs I hid it inside the stove and set a timer.”
He dragged a knife along the inside edge of the pan and tipped the cake forward before setting it on a plate. It was a single muffin the size of a dinner plate.
Smugly, he walked past me to the refrigerator and returned with a bowl of whipped frosting. My jaw dropped and mouth started watering again—not a good combination if you’re trying not to drool all over yourself—as he mounded spoonful after spoonful of fluffy white frosting on top of the cake and smoothed it with a spatula.
With a finishing swipe, he stood back and admired his work. So did I.
“It looks great, Javis. What’s the occasion, and why the secret?”
He gave me that look again, the one with the curled lip, as if he couldn’t believe I was this stupid. His fingers pointed at something in the air like he was calculating figures. He shrugged.
“Okay,” he said, a little too seriously. “Earlier I said, good morning, cupcake, and now here it is. Happy Birthday, Silvie, one day late.”
Tears prickled my eyes. “You did all this for me?”
He hung his head and handed me a paper napkin. “I felt bad about how we spent your birthday.”
I dabbed at my eyes, letting the napkin soak up the moisture before it had a chance to ruin my brow paint.
I stuck a fork in the edge of the frosting and dug until I captured a small amount of the cake, too. I popped the forkful into my mouth and chewed. The vanilla and cinnamon shot waves of flavor through me, along with memories of Mother.
“Does it taste bad? What’s wrong?” The space between Javis’s perfect brows creased.
“No, nothing,” I said, though I’m sure my smile was bittersweet. “It’s delicious. If the hospital cafeteria ever needs more staff, you should apply for the job.” I winked.
His eyes were serious, thoughtful. “I miss her, too,” he said, seeing through my attempt at humor.
The cake left in my mouth turned to dust. I nodded, blinking.
Javis handed me another paper napkin, then looked away. I wondered whether he was fighting back tears, too.
“Thanks again,” I said, pulling myself together. “I’m guessing Father’s already at the hospital, so I’ll wrap this and take him some. I bet Madeline would love a slice.”
Javis smiled when I mentioned the girl’s name. She was one of the recovering Lost, a teen girl from Earth, with fiery red hair. Her eyes were gray now, but she told us they’d been blue at one time, before her travels through time and space. Before she’d become Lost. She was a special case, but only in the sense that Javis spent so much time with her.
“I’ll see you later?” I said. “At the hospital?”
He nodded with smiling eyes and a grin that was once again mischievous.
I opened the front door and stepped beneath a sky filled with golden light. Three suns hung in the sky. A path of bricks led from our house to the hospital. Flowers flooded the ground along both sides, such that the path was effectively a bridge between both buildings. On other worlds I’d visited, the ground was covered with patches of grass, rock, and soil. But, here, the flowers had outgrown the grass long ago.
Father built the world of Edgar—our world—for Mother. Something new blossomed each day, adding to the air’s fragrance, a mixture of honeysuckle, jasmine, rose, gardenia, freesia, and my favorite, the stargazer lily. The rainbow-studded fields looked and smelled delicious. The flowers and the warmth of the suns lifted my spirits.
I hugged the cake Javis made close to my heart and smiled at the sign above the hospital door. Center for Recovery of the Lost. After taking another, deeper breath of the fragrant air, I opened the door.
A few of the recovering Lost walked through the hallway, holding on to hand bars along the walls. Mother insisted on them being available for those that had been weakened by Uproar attacks while traveling through time and space. Uproars were ethereal beings of white light that attacked their victims by knocking them to the ground. Their impact sapped the life out of the travelers until they became sick and ended up in our hospital. But only if we were able to find them.
A woman smiled at me as I passed. Her hair was neatly combed and gathered beneath a headband. She wore a red dress with stripes that matched the silver gleam of her shoes.
“Good morning, Chelsie,” I said.
She glanced at the cake I held in my arms.
“Would you like some? Javis made it.”
Her smiled broadened as she followed me to one of the kitchens. I unwrapped the cake and set two slices aside, one for Father and one for Madeline. I chose a larger slice and set it on a plate.
“This one’s yours,” I said holding it out to Chelsie.
Her murky eyes watered. She carried the plate to a table and broke it into smaller pieces. When I offered a fork, she shook her head and proceeded to eat the sticky gobs of cake with her fingers.
I scooped up the slices I set aside and headed to Father’s office, leaving the rest of the cake behind. Each of the recovering Lost had their issues, but they were not selfish. I expected the cake to slowly disappear throughout the day. The thought made me smile.
I greeted each of the recovering Lost by name as I slipped through the hallway. Father’s office was past the gymnasium and a block of empty rooms. Empty in the sense that he hadn’t reached out with his World-Builder talent to fill them yet. He could create more than rooms behind the doors; he could build what some would consider entire worlds—lands and skies filled with plant life, suns, moons, and stars. It was a talent the Time and Space Travel Agency, or TSTA, still had under its control.
Father’s office door was wedged open, allowing for the mumbling of voices to pass through into the hallway.
“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Calcott,” said Father. “Before your sister can be admitted, someone will need to find her. We cannot begin the process of healing the Lost before they are found.”
“How long will it take for someone to find her?”
Father’s frown could be heard in his silence.
“Please, Mister Hall, we’ve looked everywhere.”
“I will send a traveler to locate her, but I cannot guarantee she will be found, or that, if found, she will be ready to join the center. The safety of our current residents remain our priority.”
I cringed at the defeat in the man’s voice. More extraordinary than the healing that took place at the hospital was how the recovering Lost arrived there. Until now, Remnant Transporters found and brought them to our world. Healing was a special gift, but there could be no healing until we found those in need of it. And the healing began long before the Lost were brought to Edgar.
My stomach twisted. Now that Mother and Grandpa Plaka were gone, there was no one to begin that process, except for me.