Paivi wove Torsten through the maze of backyards and alleys, avoiding the main streets until they reached downtown St. Andrew. They needed to cross the river, unfortunately there were only three bridges across and each of them was extremely busy, being the only way over the Fox River for miles around. There was also no chance of hiding in much of the downtown area. They would be completely exposed. Paivi decided they should just act natural, like they had full rights to be out walking around. This wouldn’t have been true even if they weren’t subject to EOS rules, they were still out past the city curfew.
They had some advantages, however. Paivi and Torsten were both tall for their ages, and what with being bundled up, their young faces were hidden. Also, downtown was also home to the train station and the bus depot, and it wasn’t unusual for people to be walking around that area so late at night.
Paivi took a deep breath as they began to cross the bridge. Fat flakes landed on the cement in front of her, adding a clean layer to the pavement. She glanced over the side of the bridge, watching as the snow landed on the swirling water and disappeared as it hit the surface.
Paivi jumped slightly as Torsten whispered her name. She turned to the street and felt her heart drop into the pit of her stomach. Through the snowflakes she could make out the front end of a black car that was driving quite slow as it approached them.
“Keep going,” Paivi hissed back at Torsten.
As the car pulled slowly towards them, she was slightly relieved to see the car also had a white stripe and the St. Andrew Police logo on the door, marking it as a police cruiser instead of an ATC vehicle. The car reminded her of her father. She thought back to how he used to give her rides in the police cruiser when she was younger. She thought it was cool to sit behind the bars back then. She pulled herself away from those thoughts—she had to stay focused. The police were far from friends. They could still ask to see identification, which neither of them had.
The police cruiser paused next to them, and the young officer in the passenger seat caught Paivi’s eye. Not sure what else to do, she nodded in a polite greeting. Behind the glass, the officer did the same, and they picked up speed, driving up the hill on the other side of the river and out of sight in the now heavy snow.
Paivi sucked in the cold air, realizing she had been holding her breath.
“That was close, Paivi,” Torsten whispered.
“It’s okay, we’ll be there soon.”
Paivi and Torsten trudged up the street, the bridge behind them. They passed Al’s Café, Armand’s and Nora’s Dress Shop. The holiday decorations glittered in the snow. Paivi shivered as she surveyed the scene. She had loved this town. And this would be the last time she would see it for a while. Maybe forever. Torsten was right—St. Andrew wasn’t home any more. That had been made that quite clear.
They had reached Jason’s neighborhood, however Paivi wasn’t as familiar with the backyards and alleys, so they had to go much slower. She wanted to avoid being seen by any of the neighbors. Their efforts were hampered by the thick snow building at their feet.
They finally made their way to Jason’s backyard, parking themselves behind the shed. Paivi gave a great sigh of relief and leaned up against the metal wall. They made it.
“Now what, Paivi?” Torsten plopped down in the snow, sitting on his backpack. “How are you going to get lover-boy’s attention?”
“Funny. And anyways, there are still plenty of lights on in the house. His room is that one, there, at the back. We can always throw snowballs at the window.”
“Wait, look!” Torsten pointed to the back door. “Someone’s coming!”
They pressed up against the shed, trying to hide themselves while still attempting to catch a glimpse.
Paivi was immediately relieved to see it was Jason. He had a shovel in hand and was clearing the patio, and oddly enough, some of the grass, of snow. She threw a few snowballs in his direction, all of them falling far short of where he was standing. Before she could get his attention, he disappeared back into the house.
“You missed him, come on!” Torsten whispered angrily. “Just say something!”
Jason returned a minute later, with two dogs on leashes that Paivi had met earlier that night at dinner. A large brown bulldog named Peanut wore a fuzzy pink sweater. The other dog looked like a hamster next to Peanut. It was a tiny Chihuahua named Beast. He wore a black sweater with a skull and crossbones printed on it. Jason walked both dogs to the yard, not fifteen feet from where Paivi and Torsten stood.
Paivi took a deep breath and stepped out from the shadows that hid her.
“Whoa!” Jason jumped back a step. Beast started growling and barking while Peanut tried to drag Jason back to the house, whimpering.
Paivi took another step forward.
Jason squinted, trying to see her clearly in the thick snow.
“It’s okay Jason, it’s just me, Paivi. Oh, and my brother.”
Torsten stepped out from behind Paivi.
“Hi,” Torsten offered.
“Oh my god, Paivi! You scared the crap out of me! I thought I might have to tussle with someone!” He took a few jabs at the air with his fists.
Paivi and Torsten moved closer to Jason and the dogs, who had relaxed and ran forward to greet them, jumping on their legs. The light from the porch brightened everything around them.
“Paivi, what happened?” Jason looked closely at her face as they moved into the light. She had tried to clean the blood and makeup off the best she could with a few swipes of a towel before they left the house earlier, but clearly it hadn’t done the trick. “Were you in a fight? Are you okay?”
She dropped her eyes, trying to fight the emotions that were welling up inside. Anger, rage, horror, sadness. She pushed them all to the back of her mind.
“They took our parents. We had to leave, and we had nowhere else to go.”
“They took your Mom and Dad? Those bastards.” Jason’s eyes narrowed in anger.
“Look, we don’t want to get you or your family in any trouble, we can go. We could just wait out in the shed until morning, if that’s all right.”
Jason stepped forward and wrapped Paivi in a hug. “You’re not going to stay in the shed!” He put his arm around Paivi and patted Torsten’s back while still trying to control the dogs as they danced around his feet. “Let’s get inside.”
Paivi could feel the warmth as they entered the kitchen and due to the layers of clothes, she felt like she was going to suffocate. She slipped her feet out of her wet boots, unwrapped her scarf and took off her hood. She was suddenly embarrassed that she looked such a frightful mess. Paivi and Torsten sat down at the kitchen table after removing their heavy winter coats.
“Do you guys want something warm? I could make some tea or coffee?” Jason offered.
“Maybe just some water please?” Paivi noticed that her throat ached.
“Ma,” Jason called down the hallway, “could you come here please?”
He filled two glasses with water from the faucet and set them down in front of Paivi and Torsten. Paivi took a look at her brother as he eagerly downed his glass of water. She hadn’t realized how bruised his face was. He looked terrible.
Mrs. Santos entered the kitchen and noticed Paivi and Torsten right away. She looked slightly embarrassed, as she was already sporting a pair of red flannel pajamas and a pink robe. She looked up again and noticed their faces, and appeared to forget all about her mismatched wardrobe. She crossed the room in one long stride and took Paivi’s bruised face in her hands.
“Oh! Honey, what happened?”
Paivi could feel a lump forming in her throat. Her own mother would have reacted in the same way.
“They took our parents,” Paivi whispered, fighting back the tears that began to well up. “We didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Well, I am not surprised. Look what’s on the news.” Mrs. Santos grabbed a remote and turned on the television set that sat on the kitchen counter.
A news anchor sat behind a desk, a picture of a man over her shoulder.
“In addition to the mass round-ups of EOS criminals that have been in progress nation-wide, there has been a shocking development. Peter Farmington, head of Vantage Tech was arrested earlier this evening at his home in Seattle, Washington on charges of murder and fraud. Let’s go to Olivia Krakov for more on this story…”
Mrs. Santos turned the television off. “Even the richest man in the world couldn’t save himself. And by the way, you are welcome to stay here as long as you like.” Mrs. Santos threw her arms around Paivi.
Paivi took a deep breath.
Mrs. Santos released Paivi and sat down next to her at the kitchen table. Jason took the chair opposite, next to Torsten.
“Thank you for your offer, but we can only stay until tomorrow.” Paivi played with her glass of water. “We have to get to Duluth—as soon as possible.”
“Duluth Minnesota?” Jason looked surprised. “Why would you want to go there? It’s freezing!”
“I know. My parents were talking about sending us there right before they, uh, left.” She hesitated. “Torsten and I decided it’s where we should go.”
“How will you get there?” Mrs. Santos looked concerned. “If you need us too, we could drive you.”
“I don’t know, but it’s too dangerous for you to take us. We’re sort of illegal now. We left our EOS badges behind.”
Mrs. Santos and Jason looked at them for a moment and then at each other.
“Well, if they’re illegal Mom, couldn’t we just hide them here?” He looked at them encouragingly. “Come on, what do you say? We have a really nice basement! You could stay down there.”
Mrs. Santos nodded her head in agreement.
Paivi thought about it for a moment, her mind drifting to scenes of her and Jason talking late into the night, watching movies and eating popcorn. It would be like an endless slumber party.
But she had seen the ATC, seen what they could do to a family. The scene in her head changed, to one of Jason’s mother being beaten by an ATC guard while Jason looked on, unable to help. She didn’t want that for them, however small the possibility. She had not been able to save Mrs. Brown, or her own parents. She would do whatever she could to protect Jason’s family.
“No.” Paivi was firm. “We appreciate the offer so much, but if they found us here, I know what they would do.”
“Well, that still doesn’t solve the problem of how you will get to Duluth.” Mrs. Santos looked perplexed.
At that moment, Paivi’s necklace heated up, burning her neck and chest. She wanted to grab the locket, but she hesitated, unsure what to do. She didn’t know if they would understand. But it burned so badly.
Torsten could see her gritting her teeth across the table and grabbing at the chain.
“Just look at it Paivi,” he encouraged.
Jason and Mrs. Santos looked at Paivi curiously as she pulled the locket from under her layers of clothing and flipped it over. The words began breaking apart into the strange alphabet soup. The letters pressed themselves slowly against the lockets surface.
“It says ‘Christian.’ I don’t think it’s safe to call him though. Does it mean Christian will get us to Duluth?” she asked aloud, not quite sure to whom the question was directed.
The letters on the necklace stirred around, producing a new word.
“Ask it when,” Torsten piped up from across the table.
The letters rolled—some closer to the surface, some floating off into the distance.
“Well, I guess that’s that, then.” Paivi watched the letters swirl back to their original places. She looked up hesitantly.
Paivi was surprised to see Mrs. Santos looking at her calmly.
“May I see it?” she asked, gesturing towards the locket.
“Oh, uh, sure.” Paivi pulled it over her head and handed it to Mrs. Santos.
Mrs. Santos turned it over in her hands, admiring it.
“It’s beautiful. My grandmother had one similar to this.”
Paivi looked at Mrs. Santos, shocked.
Jason stared at his mother, bewildered.
“Of course, hers wasn’t in Gaelic, it was in Spanish. How does this one work?”
Paivi was confused. “I didn’t know it did anything at all until it burned me tonight. And then the words started to move all over the surface. It turned into an alphabet soup and started sending us messages.”
“Grandma told me she could send messages to people. Not letters or anything, but some other kind. She never really explained, but she always seemed to know if they were received or not.” Mrs. Santos handed the locket back to Paivi.
Paivi pictured all of the messages she had gotten. Tater tots, cookies, sticks, signs along the road. She remembered seeing a chain around Christian’s neck that disappeared under his shirt. That’s how he had bothered her all those months. She wondered if he could look at her locket and see what else it was capable of.
“So, Mrs. Santos, your grandma was special, like my sister?” Torsten asked.
Paivi blushed and looked down at the locket in her hands. She had never told Jason about her abilities. She hoped he wouldn’t see her as some kind of freak.
Jason still had a dazed look on his face. He listened, trying to grasp just what he was hearing.
“Oh, yes, grandma was special. I don’t know what your talent is, Paivi, but she could move things, just by looking at them. She showed me once. It was wild! Her brother, Pépé, had a unique gift. He could speak any language in the world. He was like one of those electronic translators.”
“Wait, slow down! Your grandma could move things with her mind?” Jason interrupted.
“That’s nothing! Paivi blew out all the windows on our block before we left tonight.” Torsten was excited to finally meet someone he could talk to about it.
Paivi was mortified and sank a little lower into her chair.
“Wow, that’s impressive!” Mrs. Santos looked thoughtful. “No wonder you need to leave town. Grandma just showed me some small things, moving cups and spoons, things like that. She told me I had to promise not to tell anyone. My mother later told me that once there was an earthquake in grandma’s village, when grandma was a young girl. Many of the houses collapsed, including the home of her aunt and uncle, who lived next door. They had three small children, my grandma’s cousins, whom she loved dearly. The children were trapped under the collapsed walls and would have died if my grandma hadn’t used her power to lift the walls and free them. She was only eleven at the time and didn’t realize her gifts were special.”
“She was able to save her cousins! That was a good thing,” Jason said, as he focused intently on his mother’s words.
“You would think so. But remember, grandma lived in a small village in Colombia. As far as the townspeople thought, talent like my grandma’s was either a gift from God or a curse from the Devil. So they sent her to a convent until she was eighteen to ensure the townspeople thought it was no more than a miracle and she was spending her time thanking God for it.”
“So why don’t any of us have these abilities, Ma?” Jason asked.
“I’m not sure dear. As far as I know, the family gifts died with my grandma and her brother. My mother still has the necklace, the one that’s similar to Paivi’s. We’ll have to have her show us sometime.” Mrs. Santos got up from the table, clearing the glasses away. “It’s getting late. You kids could all use some sleep, especially if you plan to travel tomorrow. Come on Jason, grab their backpacks and we can show them to the guest room.”
Paivi and Torsten followed Jason and Mrs. Santos up the stairs to a small room on the second floor. There were two twin beds. The Santos’ said goodnight and closed the door. No sooner did Paivi’s head hit her pillow than she fell into a heavy sleep, her exhaustion finally catching up to her. She dreamt no dreams that night.
She woke to the smell of eggs and bacon. She pushed herself up onto one elbow, and fell back, groaning. Her muscles were sore and her face felt swollen and stiff.
“Are you awake?” She heard Torsten’s voice across the room. He sounded hoarse.
“Yeah.” Hers didn’t sound much better.
“I’m starving and something smells good. Let’s go eat.” Torsten rolled over, attempting to get up. “Ugh, everything hurts!”
They headed downstairs, entering the bright, sunny kitchen. The sun reflected off of the newly fallen snow. It was absolutely blinding if one looked at it too long.
Jason and his sister Jessica were already in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Jason was stirring eggs in a pan on the stove, while Jessica loaded bread into the toaster.
“Good morning!” said Jessica brightly. “Have a seat—we’re just about done here.”
Paivi and Torsten took seats at the table, which had already been set for breakfast. Jason brought the pan of eggs to the table and Jessica arrived as well, carrying a plate each of toast and bacon.
“Ma!” Jessica shouted. “Breakfast is ready!”
They began passing the plates and the pan of eggs around, filling up their plates. Mrs. Santos joined them at the table, already dressed for the day.
“So, they told me what happened,” said Jessica, as she spread jelly on her toast. “I hear you’re leaving today?”
“Yeah, at four, I guess.” Paivi picked up a forkful of eggs and took a dainty bite.
“I was thinking about it…since you are trying to travel ‘incognito,’ shall we say, that perhaps we should change your look.”
“That’s a great idea!” Torsten looked excited.
“What do we need to do?” asked Paivi.
“I’m thinking of giving you both a haircut and a different color. I’ll run to the store after breakfast. I need a few supplies.” Jessica took a bite of her toast. “Oh, we should make a list, too. You will probably need some things for your trip. I am going to guess you didn’t have time to pack properly.”
“You’re right,” Paivi said thoughtfully. She looked around the table. She didn’t want to leave. The Santos’ were so friendly—they made her feel almost normal. She just had to keep reminding herself that it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t safe.
After Jessica returned from the store with the necessary supplies, they got right to work. Torsten was up first. He suggested shaving off his dark, curly hair. Jason grabbed some clippers and Paivi and Jessica followed them down to the basement, where the laundry room became a makeshift hair salon. Jason finished clipping off the giant curls rather quickly. Jessica then stepped in, applying bleach to what was left of Torsten’s hair, which wasn’t much. He had to sit and wait for his hair to finish while they started on Paivi’s new look. Jessica spritzed her hair with water and began snipping.
Paivi was glad there wasn’t a mirror in the room. She knew the hair had to go, but she had quite liked her long, blond hair.
Oh well, she thought, it’s not like I can’t have it that way again someday.
Snip. Snip. Snip. Locks of blond hair were flying all over the place. Jason was attempting to keep it under control with a broom and dustpan, but was quickly losing the battle.
Paivi squeezed her eyes shut. She trusted Jessica not to make her ugly.
“Okay, done.” Jessica stepped back from her masterpiece. “Do you want to see?”
“Nope. I want to see the whole package, so show me after it’s all finished,” Paivi answered.
“Suit yourself!” Jessica began applying the hair dye. It was thick and cold. She massaged it through Paivi’s hair like shampoo and piled what was left of her hair on top of her head. Jessica then led Torsten to the sink where she rinsed the dye out of his hair. The stubble on his head was light blond, almost white. He could’ve passed for Christian’s brother.
Torsten ran down to the bathroom to inspect his new look in the mirror.
“Nice! I look tough!” Torsten stood up straight and folded his arms over his chest as he entered the laundry room.
“Sure you do!” laughed Jason. “And so does Beast!”
“Let’s go Paivi, your turn to rinse.” Jessica dragged her by the arm to the sink. “It’s going to look great!”
Paivi leaned back in the chair, hanging her head into the laundry sink as Jessica rinsed the dye out. A quick shampoo and she was done. Jessica roughly dried her head with a towel and then quickly combed her hair. Out came the blow dryer and five minutes later, the masterpiece was complete.
Jason and Torsten admired the finished product while the hairdresser beamed at her handiwork.
“Wow, Jessica, it’s amazing! I didn’t know you were such a talented hairdresser! Maybe you should think about dropping out of college and going to beauty school!” Jason said.
“Very funny. I can’t help that I’m multi-talented. Don’t be jealous!”
“Paivi, you look totally different. It’s pretty cool!” Torsten added.
“That’s it, I’m going to look!” Paivi jumped out of her chair and ran down to the bathroom. They were right—it was amazing. Her hair was cut into a short bob, falling just below her chin. A sweep of bangs fell across her forehead, nearly covering her left eye. The newly-dyed black hair accented her coloring, leaving her face looking like fine porcelain, with the exception of her battle scars from the previous night. Her eyes sparkled such a bright green that they looked unnatural. This was definitely not the old Paivi. No one would recognize her, which was exactly what she needed. For the first time in awhile, she smiled confidently at herself in the mirror.
They spent the remainder of the afternoon preparing to leave. Paivi and Torsten repacked their bags, adding in a few necessities that Jessica had picked up for them at the store. Mrs. Santos added a bag full of sandwiches and chips for the ride, as well as some bottles of water.
Promptly at four, a black SUV pulled up into the Santos’ driveway. Jason went out to meet Christian, and had him pull the SUV into the garage. They had decided that it would be too dangerous to drive to Minnesota with Christian’s original license plates. The Santos’ had an old set of plates in the garage and Mrs. Santos felt it was best if they used them instead. Jason switched them quickly and they joined everyone in the warm kitchen.
Christian stood in the doorway, looking very uncomfortable. His face was more pale than usual, almost blending in with his white-blond hair. There were large dark rings under his eyes—he clearly had a rough night as well. He was fidgety, continually looking out the back door.
“Alright, we should get going. I’ve got maps in the car. I don’t want to use any electronics, because everything can be traced these days. I understand we’re heading north?” Christian nodded towards Paivi. “I got the message in my Cheerios.”
“Yeah, Duluth. Hope you brought a heavy coat.” Paivi began to put on her own coat, pulling up the zipper.
“Christian, you do have a license, don’t you?” asked Mrs. Santos, her brow furrowed.
“Not quite. I was supposed to get it this month, but because of certain EOS policies, I was no longer allowed to get it,” Christian answered. “But if it makes you feel better, I was the best driver in my class.”
“Ma, seriously, his license doesn’t matter anyways, right now he’s not just driving illegally, he’s pretty much living illegally. I’m thinking if he gets caught, the ATC won’t be so concerned with the fact that he’s driving without a license.”
“Did they get your parents too, Christian?” Torsten asked.
“Yep, they came storming in around nine or so, right before my parents went to bed. Dragged them out of the house in their pajamas, wouldn’t even let them get their coat or shoes.” Christian’s eyes narrowed in anger, his hand gripped the chair in front of him, knuckles white.
“Oh, you poor kids! I just can’t handle this. These ATC people are animals! How can they go around treating people like this! It’s just not right. Are you sure you don’t want us to go with you? I feel like we’re abandoning you!” Mrs. Santos began to cry, tears sliding down her cheeks, and dropped into the nearest chair.
Paivi tried to fight back tears, but lost the battle. She looked around the room at the people who had showed so much love for her in such a short amount of time. She sniffed, wiping her eyes. It was time to go, before it got any more difficult.
“We should go. Thank you so much for everything. You really don’t know how much this meant to us,” Paivi said, trying to get the words out between tears. “We’ll really miss you guys and we wish it was easier, and that we could just stay.”
Mrs. Santos rose from her chair and walked around the table, holding first Paivi and then Torsten in a tight hug.
“Please call us if you need anything. And let us know you are okay, if you can,” said Mrs. Santos between hugs. Christian even found himself on the receiving end of a hug, which he awkwardly accepted. Jessica made the rounds next, beginning to cry as well. Jason shook Torsten and Christian’s hands, and Paivi and Torsten grabbed their bags as the group moved towards the back door to head to the car.
“Paivi, hold on a second.” Jason pulled her back as everyone exited through the door. He gathered her into a big hug, holding her close. “I just want you to know that I love you, and I will miss you so much. I, uh, I …”
He broke off, pressing his forehead to hers as tears sprang from his eyes. She cried harder and threw her arms around his neck. Seeing him cry made it all the worse. Through the tears, he pressed his lips to hers, a salty, bittersweet kiss.
“It’s so unfair,” he whispered through his tears.
“I have to go.” Paivi pulled back from his embrace, but caught his hand, and led him out the back door. They ran across the yard to the garage, where Christian and Torsten had already claimed their spots in the car.
“Hey, who said you get shotgun?” Paivi punched Torsten in the arm as she climbed in the back seat.
“Ya snooze, ya lose, big sis. I called it, and you weren’t out here,” Torsten answered smugly.
“Goodbye and be safe!” pleaded Mrs. Santos one last time before the doors were shut.
The garage door opened and Christian pulled out, carefully making his way down the driveway. The Santos’ waved a final farewell.
Christian maneuvered the car out onto the street and they made their way through St. Andrew as the early winter evening fell. They occasionally saw an ATC vehicle but they didn’t have much to worry about—the streets were crowded with rush hour traffic. After about twenty minutes, they found themselves safely out of town without any problems and on the open road. They decided it was best to keep to the local roads, and stay off the interstate. Christian was concerned that there would be more ATC agents patrolling on the main roads. This route would take them longer, but they would come across less traffic and smaller towns, where the ATC weren’t so concentrated.
They drove all night, passing through one farm town after the next, stopping at the occasional gas station to fill up or take a break. As they drove further north, the landscape grew in around them. Thick forests of birch trees closed in on the road on each side and it sometimes seemed like they were driving through a tunnel. Sometime after midnight, Paivi dozed off, the warmth of the car and the lull of the drive rocking her gently to sleep. She dreamed of Jason, they were holding hands and sitting close together on a beach. Palm trees swayed in the breeze. The sun shone brightly overhead and the sea lapped gently at their feet. She looked out over the scene in sadness—she knew this must be a dream, because it was near impossible that it was a vision of the future.
She awoke, finding herself in the SUV as it bumped over an uneven road. The sky was still dark, the stars and moon covered with clouds. There was no sun, no sea, no sand, no Jason. She sat back in the seat and sighed, looking out at the dark, snow covered forests that seemed to stretch on to infinity.