Chapter 10: Emerson
By the time we reach the Square, I’ve heard all about Brian Agle and his unfortunate nickname. It partially distracts me from the horde of people in this tiny open area. Each one is a different scent and flavor until the whole taste palette is covered. A sweet little girl with rosy cheeks and an envelope bigger than her head. A bitter old man with deep creases in his skin and a scowl to rival Zofia’s. A salty young woman with a major attitude. She yells at the distributors with all the might of a god.
Aspen extends her neck, straining to see above the heads of people in the crowd.
“I’m not sure what to look for.” I admit. “I don’t know what Adelyn looks like.”
“She looks like you, but more civilized.” Aspen sees my deep blush of embarrassment and loosens her grip on my arm. “Sorry. That was mean.”
“No, you’re probably right.” I look like a barbarian from space in these leggings.
Aspen tries again. “Long, black, wavy hair. Squinty, pale blue eyes. Um…lips that look swollen even though they aren’t.”
I’ve never heard someone lay out my features in such a blunt way, but she’s not even referring to me. Adelyn and I are exactly the same in every possibly way save for the dimension we were born in.
“But I don’t see her…” Aspen says aloud. She’s talking to herself, furrowing her brows and searching the crowd with quick eyes and even quicker thinking. Adelyn didn’t mention that her best friend was incredibly smart, but I can see the intelligence shining through in her eyes and demeanor. She’s smarter than people give her credit for.
“Maybe because it’s so crowded.”
Aspen shakes her head fervently. “No. I’m used to picking out people in crowds. It’s always like this here. If Adelyn was here, she’s already gone.”
A deep disappointment blossoms in my chest, but at least Aspen knows where Adelyn lives. There’s still hope. I’ll just have to hold on a little while longer.
“So we go to her house?” I suggest.
“Nah.” Aspen waves me off with a hand. She suddenly starts pushing through the crowd, trying to get closer to the authoritative people calling out names. “Come on. We’ll see if she already got her letter. No point going to her house if she’s just on her way here.”
I start to lag behind. It’s difficult to swerve my way in and out of impatient people, but Aspen is a pro. Whereas I’m extremely uncomfortable to the close proximity of a million bodies inching closer and closer to mine, Aspen takes it in stride. She reaches behind her back and, without even looking, grabs hold of my wrist blindly.
Then I’m flying through the crowd as well. They part for us like we’re diseased and they’re scared to get it, but maybe it’s just Aspen’s conduct. She walks like a girl with a purpose, a formidable opponent for anyone, even an entire mob of people.
Soon, we’re at the front. A lady with thick curly hair and a gargantuan nose sorts through envelopes, putting them in drawers of a metal organizing dresser by last name. “Hi,” Aspen greets the lady. She releases my hand and composes herself. “Is there a letter here for Miss Adelyn Josephs?”
The lady glances up at us only once, a hint of annoyance in her squinted eyes. But she opens the drawer labeled “J” and digs through a pile of letters. “Here.” The lady produces an envelope and shoves it into Aspen’s hands.
Aspen looks shocked, but grabs the envelope regardless. “Oh, no.” She says. “I’m not…”
“NEXT!” The lady ignores Aspen, already looking behind her and beyond.
“Ma’am,” Aspen raises her voice. “I’m not—”
“I said next.” The lady glares daggers at Aspen. “You’ve got your letter. Now go.”
Aspen sighs and grabs hold of my wrist again, leading me away from the center of the Square and back towards the edges. It’s much harder to get out of this mess than it was to get into it. The flow of traffic is going towards the center, and we’re heading away from it. I’m shocked that they don’t have some better system than this. It’s much easier back at home to be the only ones Lee has to deal with.
Lee. I miss him already. I wonder how he would fare if his job was to deal with an entire population of disgruntled citizens looking for letters instead of a trickle of people scared of every alleyway or fellow survivor.
My breathing picks up about halfway through our journey. There’s people everywhere. A businessman in a suit. A woman with her hair done up in an elaborate string of curls. A burly man who looks like Cade, albeit angrier and without the heart-softening bunny tattoo.
I can’t see anything but people. I can’t breathe in this shared air; it’s stuffy and thick, not fresh and clean like the air I’m used to. Aspen turns around at intervals to check on me. When she sees the panic in my eyes and hears my labored breathing, she tugs harder on my wrist and picks up the pace.
We’re soon out of the fiasco and I’ve never felt such an overwhelming sense of gratitude. My breathing returns slowly. Aspen waits off to the side, watching me with a look of concern on her face while I calm down.
I’m hunched over, hands on my knees, gasping for much needed air. It’s cleaner out here, away from the people, but not by much. This is the first time I’ve realized that none of the air in this dimension even comes close to being subpar. It’s the worst quality air I’ve ever encountered. Every whiff of it is infected by something. Body odor, garbage, a weird metallic smell.
Finally, I stand up and put my hands on my hips. My breathing is almost normal now; my heart rate has drastically dropped. “I’m okay.” I tell Aspen.
She raises an eyebrow, silently asking, Are you sure?
I nod my head as an answer.
“Okay, then.” Aspen says. “I’ve been looking around for Adelyn.” Her eyes search the crowd. “But she isn’t here. And she definitely would’ve been here by now, so I’m kind of worried.”
I glance at the letter in her hand. Aspen’s eyes follow mine. “Oh!” She extends her hand with the letter. “Here. It’s yours, for now. I mean, you wrote it.”
I cock my head because…I didn’t write the letter. I never finished my letter for Adelyn on Monday night, and I certainly didn’t mail it. Did my family mail an unfinished letter from me?
Shoot! They’re probably panicking. We’ve never been apart before. None of us has ever gotten lost, mostly because we don’t go out alone. I can’t imagine how they feel. The uncertainty. The fear.
Aspen gives me a weird look as I rip open the letter and rush to read it.
Aspen…Emerson…whoever is reading this,
I’m in Emerson’s dimension. I went through a lake (portal?)…I don’t know. Grayson pushed me in and I ended up here. I’m also masquerading as Emerson right now (sorry, if Emerson is reading) because I don’t know these people and it’s a tad bit overwhelming.
So I’m pretty sure Emerson is in my dimension. It could be instincts or it could be just a delusion, but if Emerson IS in my dimension, I really hope you get this letter. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing here, but I know I can’t come back yet.
So Aspen, find out why the heck Grayson pushed me into the lake. It’s rude, quite frankly, and I’d like some answers.
And Emerson, sorry again for pretending to be you. Your family seems great so far, but I’m a little awkward and hopefully they’ll still take me in. I hope you don’t mind. They’re yours when you return from…wherever.
And if nobody is going to receive this letter because…well…I’m technically sending it to myself…then I have no idea what the heck I’m doing right now. Wasting time, I suppose.