Chapter 9: Adelyn
I follow the ragtag group of people that Emerson calls a family back to a big house with room to spare. It looks like a farmhouse, outfitted with white-washed brick and stained wooden accents and shutters. Some of the white has washed off to reveal the customary red beneath, and the shutters hang at awkward and dangling angles, but I can see past that to the haven this house once was. Wide open fields, probably home to plenty of farm animals.
Now it holds the last survivors in a broken society. We walk straight into a living room with a flowery couch and blankets strewn about on the floor. The group wastes no time finding their designated spots and plopping down, tired after a long morning of searching for me. No—searching for Emerson, who I am pretending to be. This is immoral, sure, but it’s calming my racing nerves. At least I know that—for now—these people are on my side.
“So…” I say, glancing around the room and searching for an empty spot. The older woman and younger male—Kenzi and Porter?—sit on the couch. Cade has taken two blankets into a corner and Zofia is leaning against the wall across from me. “When are we going to deliver the letters?”
I ask this as nonchalantly as I can, but inside, my heart is beating hard against my chest. Tuesday is the day that Emerson always sends me my letter, and it should be heading to my dimension some time around now.
Instinctively, I glance down at my watch. The little elephant time-teller still sits on my wrist. How have they not noticed it yet?
On cue, Zofia’s eyes focus in on the watch. “What’s that?” She points to my wrist.
I look at it, too, holding up my arm for all to see. There’s a lie on the tip of my tongue. It’s loading…loading…
“Oh, I found it in this abandoned house before I went to the lake.” I say. “That’s where I brushed my hair. Plucked my eyebrows. You know.”
Zofia looks at me skeptically. I can feel all eyes in the room on me as well, but I can’t peel my own eyes away from Zofia’s. “Suddenly taking an interest in our appearance, are we?” She asks, eyebrow raised. Her eyes are impossible to look away from; maybe it’s the dark, dark makeup caked on around them. Come to think of it, there’s evidence of makeup all over her face. Light hints of freckles peak through layers of blush and bronzer. A coating of lip gloss makes her lips shine. Her long blonde hair is tied in an intricate braid.
“I just wanted to know when we were delivering the letters.”
Zofia snorts. “Oh! I get it.” She smiles slyly. “You just want to go see Lee.”
Lee? I have no idea who that is, but it sounds like she’s implying I have a major crush on him. For Emerson’s sake, I hope I don’t make a fool out of myself in front of him, but I’m desperate to find him and send a letter across.
“Go get your letter.” Cade instructs, speaking up for the first time. I turn to face him in his tight leather jacket. “Then we’ll go. Don’t let Zo get you down.”
Down a small hallway, I see multiple doors. Emerson’s room has to be hidden behind one of them, but I have no idea which one. If I walk through the wrong one, they’ll know something’s up.
With all their eyes on me, I head for the hallway. The first door is open, revealing a mess of brown blankets in the center of the room and an extra leather jacket thrown on the floor. It has to be Cade’s. I keep walking to the next room and see a mess of papers on the floor. The window is open, letting in a nice breeze.
I’m not sure what makes me do it, but I walk inside the room. It feels right. The blankets on the floor are a light shade of blue, so light and faded they almost match my eyes. But it’s the papers that really draw me in.
I walk over and bend down next to them. Emerson’s handwriting outfits a few of the pages, but each fragmented letter is scratched out with harsh black lines. The group of people in the living room thinks I’m grabbing an already completed letter, not writing a new one, but it’s what I need to do.
If my theory is correct, Emerson must be in my dimension. Her clothes were thrown on the small beach by the lake I came through, but she was nowhere to be found. And if she longed to be in my world with me, that’s where the lake took her.
It’s a longshot, but it’s the only chance I have at making contact with her. I can’t go back to my world, not yet. I just got here. I need to see the stars and feel the fresh air.
The scrap of paper on top of the pile hardly has any writing on it. The few words Emerson did manage to record have been scratched out. I take the pen off the floor and scribble down my own letter. My handwriting is rushed and messy, but readable.
“Are you coming?” Zofia’s voice calls from the living room. She sounds impatient and annoyed.
I stuff my improvised letter into the envelope I provided for Emerson and head for the living room. Zofia is standing in the doorway, arms crossed and tapping her foot irritably. I slide past her into the living room, where everyone else still sits in the same positions as when I left. The only difference: Porter is looking at me with a peculiar, questioning expression, as if I’m a puzzle he can’t figure out.
He knows something is different about me. He could even know I’m not Emerson, but I can’t let him entertain the thoughts, so I plaster on a smile. “Let’s go!”
It’s just Zofia and I making the short journey to town to deliver everyone else’s envelopes. The entire way there, walking down tree-lined roads with thick cracks in the pavement, she complains about their morning search for me.
“Do you know how many bug bites I got?” She asks at one point, outraged.
I try to play along as best I can, but I’m seriously about to pummel her. “How many?”
“Twenty-three!” She shrieks. “Twenty. Three. All for you.”
“And I had to deal with Porter freaking out the entire time.” She speaks the unbearable. Her voice turns deep and gruff, a horrible imitation of the boy back at the house with his patient countenance and kind voice. “’Oh! What if she got eaten by a bear!’ and ‘Oh! What if someone took her?’”
“There are bears in those woods?” My interest piques.
Zofia shrugs. “Who the heck knows? Who the heck cares?”
We finally reach a point in the journey where Zofia halts the conversation and alerts to her surroundings. We’re still on the same road, but I can see buildings in the distance. They line the road ahead, tightly packed together.
But this is nothing like central Resdon. These buildings must be archaic. Each and every one is a faded brick. The windows are dusty and hard to see through. The doors have all been knocked down.
The absence of people is haunting. I’m not used to this feeling of emptiness. The world is still, suspended in time.
We reach the buildings and I see that this isn’t entirely true. There’s one person, standing off to the side of the road by what looks like a little metal storage container. Its top is sloped and there’s a small, envelope sized slot.
The person is a boy. I can’t see much about him from this distance except for a dark mess of hair. When we get closer, something odd strikes me about the boy.
He turns to face us, and his eyes light up. We’re only ten feet away now, getting closer by the second.
“Hey, Zofia.” He says, nodding at my partner. Then his brown eyes turn on me again. There’s recognition there, but not for me. “Hey, Em.”
I know this boy. His hair is longer now, hitting his shoulders and bouncing off with every turn of the head. But it’s still brown with the same streaks of blond sunshine. His eyes are still deep enough to get lost in, the kind of brown that’s almost black. His greeting came from between two of the fullest lips I’ve ever seen. His features are chiseled, and none reveal his identity more than his crooked nose. It’s a flaw and a quirk, but a beautiful one. Jagged and strange but striking. Yes, I definitely know him. He might go by Lee now, but he’ll always be the boy I grew up with.