At the end of the school day, Andre picked up Davi and they drove to the Flaco farm. They found the house empty with Demi gone to Kentro to work at the Koinonian Press and Laken busy with business elsewhere. The boys changed into their chore clothes and walked to the barn as Davi blabbered endlessly about the Brazilian National Soccer Team. Once Andre showed him how to access the world soccer records and match statistics, Davi took full advantage of his new research abilities at Agoge. Since he had recently turned fourteen, all sorts of new doors were opening for the boy. He had made the squad at Energy Field and would begin regular training every day after school in the spring. He was also learning to drive, something Davi also couldn’t stop talking about.
Andre didn’t mind the incessant chatter. The topics interested him and it kept his mind off his Enlightenment exercise that afternoon. Though his classmates had been shaken by talk of what they should expect once they left the island, they also seemed reassured by whatever Ackers had told them during their individual sessions. Reassured wasn’t exactly what Andre was feeling. He was unsure how prioritizing his hang-ups was going to make them any less of a problem.
Placing a willful check on his annoyance, he nodded at his brother to pass him the soccer ball as Davi tried to mimic an attack maneuver he had seen on a Brazilian highlight clip.
Davi flicked the ball off the tip of his shoe and stepped within the shade of the open air barn. The sheep were grazing in the meadows leaving the stalls empty and in need of cleaning. It was the boys’ job to rake out the old straw and lay down new, power wash the concrete floor, and shovel away the muck. The hen house built into the west side of the barn also needed a good cleaning. Andre decided to tackle that first, dribbling the ball on his knee before tossing it back into the yard so they could get to work.
“I got first forward for the match on Saturday.” Davi handed a rake to his brother before reaching for one of his own. “Grade eight against grade nine. If I do alright, I might get the permanent position next spring.”
“Buen trabajo, hijo,” Andre praised him from the recesses of the dark coop stinking of chicken dander and feces.
“So I’ll be late coming to Mama’s,” Davi let him know before slipping into a sheep pen across the barn aisle. “I’ll probably miss supper. I’ll get a ride out after.”
“You should call the staff so they can let her know.” Andre pushed limp straw out the coop door into a refuse pile.
“Why can’t you?” Davi paused his raking and looked at his brother over the edge of the pen gate.
Andre hesitated to explain, knowing Davi wasn’t going to like what he had to say. “I won’t be there,” he admitted finally.
Davi’s eyebrows nit under his confusion and waited for a reason.
“I’m not visiting Mama anymore,” Andre explained. “I probably won’t go out there much at all until after Therapon.”
“I can’t, Davi.” He should have known that, and Andre had hoped he wouldn’t have to have the discussion with his brother. “Next week they’ve got us visiting Kaluma. Next month we’ll be participating in a fishing trip. Between now and when we leave, my class will be on and off the island several times. I don’t want to mess up her healing. It’s just easier and safer if I’m not around.”
Davi stared at him across the barn without speaking. Andre could see the anger build up behind his eyes and was proud of his brother for keeping it in check until it subsided. “What am I supposed to say to her?” he asked. “I don’t want to go there by myself.”
“You have to,” Andre told him. “Avoiding her isn’t going to help either. One of us has got to go, and if I can’t, you’ve got to.”
The darkness flared up once again and was harder to control. “You get to leave the island, see everything, fight beside spirits, and I get to sit by Mama’s bed like a kid? What do I say to her?” he asked again. “You’re the one who knows what to talk about.” Hitting the end of the rake on the concrete, he lowered his voice in an ungracious mutter and turned away. “Not all of us are as great as the Agabus—”
“Look at me,” Andre demanded sharply. “Davi!”
“Can I just be upset about something without you telling me off?” he snapped and aggressively handled the rake as he stubbornly refused to meet the Agabus’ eyes. “You’re not Dad.”
“Go to the house,” Andre commanded. “Get your head right and get over it. This is the way it’s got to be. That’s it.”
Davi swallowed a retort, his jaw tightening in a mixture of fury and embarrassment at being called out for his attitude. Doing as he was told, he dropped his rake in the dirty straw and crossed the yard as Laken pulled up in his truck and parked near the house. He stepped out and walked to the barn while watching Davi with a frown.
“Where’s he going?” Laken asked.
“To clear his head,” Andre mumbled before returning to his work.
“Good,” his uncle replied shortly. “His recent moods are becoming insufferable.”
Andre moved the watering trough from the coop to clean around it, glancing at his uncle briefly.
“You hadn’t noticed?” Laken helped by rolling out the hose and using the spray nozzle to rinse the aluminum tray. “The boy turned fourteen and decided not to be happy anymore.”
Andre glanced at the house with a grimace, annoyed with himself for not paying more attention. “He’s into soccer,” he pointed out. “He’s happy enough talking about that.”
“And he wants to play it over and above his responsibilities at home.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll talk to him.”
“That’s not your place,” Laken disagreed. “That’s a father’s job. I’m just not very good at it. How did yours handle moments like these with you?” He posed the question rhetorically, frustrated with his short-comings as a replacement parent.
“He didn’t,” Andre responded anyway. His mother had been the one to hand out lectures on his adolescent issues. And then she didn’t either. “I sort of just figured it out on my own,” he admitted without sounding proud.
“Well, he needs to put his aside and get back to work on his chores,” Laken concluded before moving the clean water trough back into place with the toe of his boot and filling it with fresh water.
Andre shook his head. “That’s alright, I’ll do them.” He walked away to retrieve a load of fresh straw and finished the work on his own.
On the morning of the day trip to Kaluma, Andre woke with a severe headache. His eyes ached and were bloodshot and dry. The pain ripped into his sinuses, down into his jaw like a jarring nuisance without letting up. “I don’t have time for this,” he muttered at his reflection in the bathroom mirror behind the steam from his shower. “I can’t have this today.” He pressed his palm to his forehead and closed his eyes, thanking Theos for the healing he had no doubt would come.
When he stepped into the kitchen from the hall, Demi was setting down a steaming cup of mint tea before a bowl of warm granola and milk. The sun was not yet up and the kids were still in bed. Laken had already left to start morning chores in the barn. Andre thanked his aunt for breakfast and sat down.
The kitchen was warm from the coal burning stove in the corner and the lighting was low with only one bulb burning above the sink at the window. Demi buttered a piece of toast and added strawberry preserves. Pouring her own tea, she joined Andre at the table, taking the seat opposite and watching him with a penetrating gaze.
“I’m nervous,” she admitted and absentmindedly rubbed the arms of her wool pullover.
Andre glanced up from his granola while spooning in a mouthful.
“Do you think he’ll be waiting for you as soon as you leave?”
“Abaddon?” He hadn’t really thought of it in that specificity. “No,” he responded after a moment. “No, he won’t.”
Demi nodded but did not appear any less anxious. “Did you write to your mother?”
Andre confirmed that he had written with a nod before downing half of his tea in one gulp. His head was already beginning to clear. The pain had receded to a dull ache hardly worth noticing. “I sent it with Davi. As far as I know, she got it.”
“Perhaps you should check. Just to be sure.”
“I will.” He excused her mothering without comment. It was not an easy habit for her to break.
Demi pushed away her toast and leaned in over the table, “When I visited Imani last, we talked about you.” She looked at her nephew to ensure he was listening. “I know it seems like she’s not really there. It’s hard to tell she’s improving, but she is. She is guarded with you boys because she doesn’t want to show you things you may not understand.”
That he wouldn’t understand? Andre was almost insulted.
“You don’t know everything yet, Dre.” Demi read his expression correctly. “She has pleaded with Theos to protect you from certain things as Agabus. Now she worries that this protection will no longer be in His will. I’m glad you decided to keep your distance from her.” She leaned back in her chair and picked up her mug of tea. “Her fears for you have set her back a bit.”
She did not say it to cause him guilt, but Andre felt it just the same. Abandoning his half-finished breakfast, he rose from the table and picked up his car keys from their hook by the door. “Thank you,” he told her again for the food. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“Wait, Dre.” Demi stood from her chair with an internal struggle evident in her soft features. A thought faltered on her lips and she cut it off with a lame effort at smiling for his sake. “Be careful,” she warned with a pained grimace. “May Theos be by your side today.”
Andre met her eyes which were exactly like his mother’s. Nodding once, he thanked her and stepped out into the predawn mist.
The dock at the marina held small groups of interns and family huddled in the cold waiting for Elder Ackers. The transport ferry sat at the end of the pier ready for them to board as soon as he arrived. Andre found Declan in the crowd standing with his parents and older sister, Shauna. Looking like a height comparison pattern, Declan stood beside his average-sized father who was next to his little person wife speaking to Shauna who was nearly the same height as Mr. Mallory.
“Agabus!” Alroy Mallory greeted him with an outreached hand to shake. He was a broad-shouldered man conditioned from many years of construction work. His wife, Gail, was similarly strong with an animated face and spectacular sense of humor.
“Did you come alone, then?” she asked him, covering her eyes from the glare of the sun as it rose over the island behind the roof tops lining the marina.
“Yeah,” Andre said. “Demi had to get the kids ready for school and Laken had work.”
“Nice day for it though, eh?” Mr. Mallory asked lightly.
“For spiritual oppression?” Declan shared an incredulous expression with Andre who withheld a laugh.
“He meant for us, son,” Mrs. Mallory returned the jest. “It’s a fine day to be rid of you for once.”
“We only waited sixteen years,” Shauna shared her mother’s humor with a broad grin.
“Having you around is tiresome enough, I expect,” Declan responded wryly.
“That’s well enough.” Their father put forth an intermediary hand. “I see your instructor, boys. Ready yourself for the crossing. It’s no laughing matter.”
Declan sobered up with a nod at his father and accepted a hug from Mrs. Mallory. He reached for his father’s hand before the large man pulled him in for a hearty embrace, lifting Declan clear off the plank board floor. He endured it only a moment before getting irritated. “Alright, Dad, put me down.”
Ackers arrived with his wife, and Andre caught sight of the Kirkebys stepping onto the dock ahead of them. As they approached, he caught Jora’s eye and smiled in response to her wave. She looked excited and nervous, much like all the interns on the pier. The crowd shuffled aside to allow Elder Ackers through.
“Welcome, welcome!” He greeted several families warmly but with a sense of harried insistence to meet their schedule. “Thank you all for coming. A great day, yes a very important day. Now!” He clapped his hands together and turned to face the congregation with his back to the waiting ferry. “We will board momentarily, so interns please make sure that you have everything you need for the day. Make sure that you are ready and have said your proper goodbyes as you will not be able to get off the boat once you have boarded. Understood?”
A chorus of positive responses rang out from the interns on command. Ackers nodded, looking pleased. “Alright, take a moment with your families and form a line at the end of the gangway.”
Murmured conversation resumed as the interns hugged their mothers and fathers before stepping away and trying to look brave. The Kirkebys managed to work their way up the dock and greeted the Mallorys and Andre with broad smiles and warm handshakes.
“Ready for this?” Andre asked Jora aside.
“I think so.” She released a lung full of air and passed him a timid smile.
Kylan stepped into their conversation to give his sister a hug before she left.“I think we’re the only people who live on an island who aren’t used to crossing water. How ya doing, Agabus?”
“Fine, you?” Andre responded.
“I’ve a mind to jump on and come with you just for something to do. Maintenance on the ventilation fan has things at a standstill in the mines this week,” he explained. “I’m going out of my mind with boredom.”
“There’s plenty for you to do around the house,” his mother assured him before kissing Svana on the cheek and reaching for Jora. Their father was away on his fishing vessel and unable to see them off for their first trip off the island. “I’m so proud of my girls. Do well and be safe.”
“Ja, momma,” the twins responded in unison.
The Agabus turned at the sound of his name to see Laken shouldering his way through the crowd to reach him.
“I didn’t think I would make it.” He grinned and pulled his nephew in for a rough embrace before slapping him heartily on the back and holding him at arm’s length. “Your grandfather was at my first Leaving Day. He said there is no difference between Koinonia and Kaluma. They are both pieces of the earth we walk on. The only change is us, and only if we allow it.”
Andre acknowledged the words gratefully, thanking his uncle with a nod and accepting the rapid last-minute hug Laken threw at him.
“Your aunt is making your favorite for supper, so don’t be late.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
Laken stepped back with the other families as Komer Turay moved forward and said a quick prayer. Andre’s class was then released to climb the walkway onto the ferry. Before he crossed the Hupsoma, the prophet looked up to his left and caught the burning eyes of the Warrior at his guard. “Stay alert,” he beseeched the Panoplia.
“Same to you, Agabus,” he replied.
Andre stepped into the ferry and left Koinonia. Fear like an icy wave crashed upon him and the prophet stumbled slightly on unstable ground. Breaking into a sweat, he glanced over his shoulder at the pier. It looked as it always had, as if there was nothing standing in the way.
“You alright, mate?” Declan watched him carefully.
“Yeah.” Andre swallowed back a bad taste in his mouth.
“Take this!” Ackers shoved a small pill into his hand and pointed at a crate of plastic water bottles on a nearby deck table. “The rocking of the sea takes time to get used to.”
Andre ingested the pill and accepted an open bottle of water from Declan, chugging half of it in a few gulps.
“Slow down,” Svana warned him and reached for a bottle of her own. “You’re going to make yourself sick.”
He didn’t care. Andre already felt sick.
“Everyone, find seats!” Ackers called above the ruckus. “As soon as you’re settled we’ll be on our way.”
Falling heavily onto a bench in the center of the ferry, Andre didn’t join his classmates as they waved and called to their families on the dock. Clutching his plastic bottle, he closed his eyes as the boat finally began to move in the direction of the neighboring island. Not until they had crossed half the span of distance between the two did he open his eyes and look up. Kaluma looked as it always had from a distance. The same but for a dark film which seemed to cling to the fjords and rounded peaks of the highest points. Yeah, I’m here, he sent his thoughts into the darkness like a threat. I see you, and you see me. What now?