I spun around. Though the voice had been familiar, it had come from around the corner. “Don’t do that to me,” I said, catching my breath.
Javis laughed. He tilted his head. “You seem tense. What’s wrong?”
“Besides being snuck up on? Nothing,” I promised. I’d buried the mixed emotions from my visit with Madeline for the time being, and was ready to visit with more of the residents.
“Yeah. I already stopped by Madeline’s room. I’m making my way around the perimeter, and then I’ll check on anyone in the gymnasium.”
Javis nodded. The gymnasium was located at the center of each of the hospital’s two levels, surrounded by the residents’ rooms and offices. This way, everyone had easy access from its north, south, east, and west entrances. The layout was Mother’s idea, and it was brilliant.
Since Javis wasn’t a Healer, his daily tasks at the hospital were different than mine. But he often followed the course I took on my rounds. He opened a door, disappearing a moment before he rolled out a trash bin. He looked over the bin’s shelf attachment filled with cleaning supplies and tucked a dusting cloth inside his back pocket. His uniform was a darker shade of blue, but like mine, it had a patch on the sleeve, bearing the teardrop emblem of Edgar, a symbol derived from the teardrop moons of Chascadia that represented Mother’s Chascadian heritage.
After knocking on a few doors to rooms whose residents had already gone elsewhere, I paused in front of another bell-spangled door. This one belonged to my favorite resident, Katrina. From what we could tell, she was an Aborealian with the ability to change her language and accent to match wherever and whenever she traveled. The TSTA or Time and Space Travel Agency, called individuals with this talent Babel Decoders. Not only could she blend in better in different times and places, but anyone who traveled with her had the benefit of a translator.
Katrina fussed with her frosty white hair, which was much like Ivory of Aboreal’s, with the same flat and even hue. But her name wasn’t quite right. I suspected she’d either forgotten or changed it because Aborealians, traditionally, had first names that represented either the black or white color of their hair. Perhaps the more obvious giveaway of her heritage was her eye color, a deep pink, making her appear albino at first sight. But as one neared, the luster of her eyes gleamed like two pink sapphires. Aborealians had eye colors that mimicked the colors of gemstones. Pink was one of the least common colors across all known worlds, possibly rarer than the lavender eyes of the guy at Grandpa Plaka’s funeral.
Javis rolled the trash bin into the room and busily got to work emptying Katrina’s wastebasket and making her bed.
“Thank you, Javis,” she said with a small smile playing across her lips. Like most of the younger female residents, she had an obvious interest in my brother. But she had a way of making me feel like I was still present in the room.
“Do you need anything, Katrina? I left a cake in the east kitchen. You’re welcome to have a slice if there’s any left.”
She smiled, causing a dimple to form at the lower left edge of her chin. “That sounds nice, but I already ate breakfast in the south kitchen.”
I toyed with the idea of telling her Javis had made the cake to see if that would change her appetite. Maybe it would help wipe that smirk off Javis’s face, too. He shook back stray curls from his face, slyly checking himself out in the mirror as he fluffed pillows. Um, yeah, maybe not.
I stifled a laugh by focusing on my work. Katrina was visibly calm today, so I completed the routine tasks of recording her blood pressure and temperature. Her test results confirmed she was quite well. But, like most of our residents, recovering from being Lost was less of a physical ailment and something intangible. Advanced Healers who wrote papers I’d studied referred to an individual’s emotional and mental states, and some considered the effects to be spiritual. Grandpa Plaka had agreed to some degree, though he refused to read any paper I put in front of him.
Mother explained that he was too stubborn to change his thinking on the matter; he felt his time was better spent healing and trusting his instincts—a deep and accurate sense of what was helping and what was not, something he and Mother had called Insight. Even though I had some understanding of this type of awareness, by having felt it myself, the test results captured inside books and papers spoke to me. Something about the fixed words, charts, and diagrams made them seem more believable, more official, somehow.
These thoughts carried the image of Madeline staring at a screen, searching for something captured—fixed—inside her mind, a copy of information she’d seen or heard with her own eyes and ears.
“Javis,” I blurted, before we reached the next door, “did you know Madeline was a Detail Technician?”
He smiled. “She might have mentioned it.”
I pressed my fists to my hips and raised my voice so it could be easily heard over the rolling of the trash bin. “That would have been useful information to tell me, you know.”
“I thought you’d figure it out sooner or later. And you did, so what’s the problem?”
“Do you know who or what she’s been searching for?”
“No, but I’m sure that will be something you’ll uncover, eventually.” He shrugged. “It could be an ex-boyfriend for all we know.”
“Interesting thought,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Though, she’s waiting for you to visit her.”
His eyes bugged out of his head. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether he truly cared for her or not—whether he was nice for the sake of humoring a sick person or if he was oblivious to her admiration.
He paused to rearrange a couple items on the bin shelf. “What did she say?”
“Not a whole lot, as usual, but she has a surprise for you and is waiting for you to stop by for a visit.”
I grinned as he turned about-face and rolled his bin down the hallway.
When Javis caught up with me later in the day, we entered the gymnasium’s west side from the first level. I looked up to the second floor where residents made their way around the track that overlooked the main level. Metal bars filled in with safety glass lined the outside of the track. The goal was for the open layout to have everyone there feel more connected and to be active together.
Some of the recovering Lost walked, some jogged. I waved up to Mrs. Pentlemeyer, a sweet older lady who’d stayed on to help with the cooking. She’d recovered years ago, only to find that her husband, the person she’d been searching for, was no longer living. She loved life on Edgar so much that she wanted to stay. We couldn’t turn her away.
Javis dragged his feet as he walked, a sure sign that something was on his mind.
I broke my gaze from Mrs. Pentlemeyer and tilted my head toward him, then blinked. Javis’s lips were creased in a deep frown. His eyes were fixed on the honeycombed mats covering the floor.
“Uh oh. What happened?” I hoped it didn’t have anything to do with his visit to Madeline. My shoulders tensed while I waited for his response, wondering whether I would need to console a lovesick girl.
“Father’s locked himself up in his office. When I knocked to ask if he needed anything, he grumped at me to keep an eye on you, instead.”
My chest tightened. “He said that?”
“No, but it was obvious that’s what he meant when he said I should be farther along on my rounds. He never says that. What did you do to upset him, Silvie?”
“I didn’t do anything.” My words sounded angrier aloud than they had in my head before speaking. I crossed my arms as I scanned the room and thought about how to explain.
The weight machines were empty, but several of the stationary bicycles and rowing machines were in use. The thud, thud, thud of someone bouncing a basketball could be heard across the room.
With a sigh, I told Javis what happened with Mr. Calcott—how he’d practically begged me to use my travel talents to help him find and heal his sister.
Javis hung his head. “I see.”
“What would you have done?” I glanced at him through the side of my vision. “Would you have accepted?”
“Sure.” He shrugged. “But no one asks me to use my travel talent for anything.”
“Seriously, Javis? You’re going to make this problem about you?” I loved my brother, but he moped for the stupidest reasons sometimes. He had an extraordinary travel talent. He was a World Builder, someone who could create entire worlds by filling blank spaces, using only his creativity and his mind.
“You could have taken a few weeks off and left immediately,” he said. “You don’t need to obtain a permit from the TSTA every time you want to use your talents, which, you know, requires a discussion with Father every single time. So, yes, I would have helped the man, like Mother would have.”
I caught my breath, not only at the impact of Javis’s words but at his expression. His curls shook as he peered at me with dark eyes. Javis was more like Mother than I was—confident and guided by the heart, which meant he was often reckless. It also didn’t help that he was physically the male version of her. But he was right. Mother would have gone. No wouldn’t have been an option.
“I’m taking my break now,” I said, keeping my voice low and even. I could feel my ears burning.
“Silvie, I’m sorry—”
Yeah, you’re sorry—for yourself, Javis. It always amazed me how readily everyone was to offer hypothetical help when faced with someone else’s reality. Advice flowed freely where there were no consequences to the adviser.
I grabbed a resistance band someone had left on the floor. Stretching the rubber tubing with my fists, I aimed it above a bin of medicine balls and let go. The band snapped and flew forward, hitting the wall with a smack before it landed inside the bin.
“Um, nice shot.” Javis’s eyes were opened wide, his attempt at a snicker forced and uncomfortable.
I glared, as long as I could still see him, on my way out of the gymnasium. I’d never been happier to complete my rounds for the early shift.
I stopped in the kitchen where’d I’d left the cake before going back to the house. A few crumbs were left sticking to the plate. Well, that went over well. At least the recovering Lost were able to enjoy my birthday. I was glad they’d taken every slice. I had no taste for cake at the moment.
I crinkled the outer packaging before disposing of it, and scrubbed and dried the plate before exiting the kitchen and the hospital.
The suns had begun to fade by the time I made it outside. Outlines from millions of tinier stars were starting to appear. Mother would have called this time of day Afternoon, but Edgar didn’t have a Noon, much less a Before or After. Instead, all the stars, including the three suns, brightened at intervals, replicating day and night.
I walked past the sea of flowers, inhaling their scent and hoping they’d improve my mood.
My feet ached slightly from having walked almost nonstop during the early shift. I looked forward to resting.
Our three-story home stretched up from the flowers and into the sky. The suns’ light glimmered off roof tiles, built from a shining material and tiled in a style similar to those of Aboreal. Father didn’t visit Aboreal as often as he had before Grandma Sable passed away. He’d said that once he’d settled his mother’s estate and sold her parents’ home, there was little left for him there. He’d kept his birthplace, his home-world known as the White Tower, but left its maintenance to someone else. As a child, I liked to play there when Father took us to visit. I remembered running through the hallway and opening silver doorknobs from rows of doors that never seemed to end. Now, Father used the White Tower as a training place for Javis. Many of the white doors were empty inside—the perfect place for a World Builder to create and shape and fill with contents. But, as Javis said—as if he needed to remind me—each of these training sessions required a permit from the TSTA, and Javis’s creations were closely supervised by Father.
I pressed my lips together, squinting at passing lilies and bluebells, as I considered how Father monitored Javis’s talent. I suspected it had something to do with guarding Javis from being charged with a TSTA infraction. Even though Father readily admitted how many times he’d been accused and convicted for breaking the travel agency’s rules, so much so that he seemed proud of it, he was adamant that Javis follow the rules perfectly. What happened today with Mr. Calcott reinforced something for me. What Mr. Calcott had said was true: Father was afraid of losing me. But he was likely more afraid of losing Javis.
I twisted the knob to our front door and sighed. The front room was open and round. A podium at the room’s center held an enormous glass teardrop etched with three suns. A metal plate affixed to the base of the sculpture held the following caption: In loving memory of Edgar Hall. Next to it hung a photograph of an old man with wisps of white hair and round glasses that framed droopy gray eyes. His smile was bright, almost childlike, as if he couldn’t decide whether he was happier about having his picture taken or who was there with him, on the other side of the camera.
Something about the photograph wrapped me in a bittersweet sadness each time I looked at it. Instead of being brightly colored—true to life—the way most photographs were that I’d taken or seen. This one was faded and pale, as if the ink forming the picture was far away.
Mother told me she’d gone back in time to capture this photograph of her mentor and friend, something she wished she’d done while he was still alive. This meant the photograph was of Edgar’s silhouette, and not a living, existing version of him that hadn’t already been fixed in the past. His portrait was a memory of a memory. No wonder it seemed so far away.
I glanced to the left hallway that led to the kitchen, family, and dining rooms. The air still smelled of cake and frosting, sugar and spice. It was as if Javis had somehow planned to make me not be able to stay mad at him. But that wasn’t necessary. It was difficult to stay annoyed with him in general, and I was already feeling better—enough to start thinking about what kind of peace offering I could come up with and have ready for him before my late shift.
Past the sculpture, there were two staircases, one that led to three bedrooms: mine, Javis’s and Father’s, and one that veered off to the east side of the house with four more bedrooms and a shared bath. Sometimes, when the recovering Lost were particularly frightened we let them stay with us before moving them to the hospital. Our house helpers, Kade and Milleg, traveled to our world each day using their travel talents. I smiled at the thought of inter-world commutes as I stepped upstairs to my room.
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