Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 18

"Sonny?" prompted Jamila. "I know silence is to be expected, but… Sonny? Are you there?"

"I'm here," he replied hoarsely.

"Do you want me to stay on the phone with you?"

"Yeah." He sat down on the grass.

"Again, I'm so, so sorry to have to be telling you this now."

"It's okay, Jamila. It's not like you can help it."

"I'm sorry it's happening at all," she continued after a pause to determine if he was finished speaking. For another second she stopped, torn. "I'd come down if it would do any good, but someone has to be here."

"I should probably call Mom, shouldn't I?" He asked, feeling suddenly tired.

"She…" Jamila paused, apparently unsure if she should continue.

"What?" Sonny snapped. He didn't mean to sound rude, but… this should not have been made harder than it already was.

"She isn't here," she admitted quietly. "I called her, but there wasn't much of anything I could do except say that Jin wanted her there."

"Why are you talking about him in the past tense?" Sonny asked quickly, voice rising in unsettlement. "Is he—?"

"No," Jamila quickly assured. "But he isn't… he's been in and out. Right now, he isn't conscious."

"Shit," Sonny rubbed a hand over his face.

"It's so sudden. You knew he's terminal. He has been. But he's outlasted all the estimates, so none of us really knew when he'd finally start going—"

"Why isn't she there?" Sonny asked, cutting her off. "Is she really that selfish?"

"No. She doesn't know how she feels. She didn't admit that over the phone, but I could tell. A lot of her speech was halting."

"Then what the hell is she waiting for?"

"She's waiting for you."

He inhaled sharply.

"You need to call her when we're done talking. She'll listen to you. She knows how much he means to you. She'll go after talking to you."

"I don't know if I can get out of this. I mean, I know I have to get out of there before the diplomats come and blow our cover and everything goes to shit, but even that'll be too late, won't it?"

Jamila didn't speak.

"I'll try," he added quickly, suddenly determined not to hear her response. "I'll try really hard. But the only thing I might be able to do is wrap all this up really fast. And it's not a matter of inconvenience. It's a matter of survival. I think they might not let me leave while I'm working here. But even if they don't let me leave I can still find a way—"

"Sonny," Jamila said. "I know. Jin wouldn't want you to leave right now. You can only do what you can."

"Mom won't forgive me if I don't come back. But," he closed his eyes. "But I don't know if I can."

"Chin-Sun thinks you hung the moon. She doesn't say it, but you know how she feels about you. She calls me when you don't call her. She worries constantly. You could never let her down."

"But this is Jin for her all over again," Sonny said, his voice beginning to waver. "He was absent for all the major things. And she's going to think the same thing about me. And I deserve it."

"No you don't, Sonny. She loves you. Jin loves you. They both understand."

"But I was supposed to have a conversation with Jin," Sonny continued, "one last one. He said he had things to tell me in person in a letter last summer, the one that sent me to New Zealand. He never went into those when I joined him in Norway. He said the time wasn't right. I think he thought he was going to live or something. But now the time is right and I'm not there—"

"Sonny," Jamila barked. "Listen to me. That's still possible. As I said, he's in and out. And his out periods aren't longer than his in ones. Don't fall apart just yet."

"The summer solstice still?" Sonny asked, a tiny ray of hope entering his voice.

"Yes." He could hear her smile. "The summer solstice."

Sonny sighed, trying to keep his breath from hitching as he did so. "I really, really, really hope I can get back in time."

"Sounds like you doubt you can."

"Yes," he said simply, no longer trusting himself to be able to speak in longer sentences.

"Do you not have faith that you will make it back in time?"

"No," he said. "It turns out the wrong way, doesn't it?"

"And then it turns out the right way. That's what you always tell me."

"So if the chips are down, it isn't the end?" he scoffed. "No. This is it. This is the end. And he's there, and I'm here."

"You know how willful Jin is. He will find a way to talk to you. His faith always is. And if it comes to a phone call, I will arrange that."

Sonny took a few deep breaths, waiting for some courage to burst out of nowhere for him to ask the next question. "How long does he have?"

"I don't know. The doctors say anywhere from tomorrow to next week."

His head fell to his chest.

"Knowing Jin, it won't be tomorrow. And I don't think it'll be the day after that."

"But I have to hurry."

"You have to do things the way they're meant to be done," Jamila replied calmly. "That's all you can do. Follow the course of events and adapt accordingly. And things will happen the way they happen."

Sonny ground his teeth until his temples became sore. "Who said that? Patrick? That sounds like a Patrick quote."

"I know it sounds wrong right now, but you have got to keep thinking that to yourself. Otherwise how are you going to get through the next few days?" She paused. "Jin said it, by the way. There are things that happen outside of your control. It's hard to believe sometimes."

"I know it's hard to believe." He stepped back, arching his back and stretching his head upwards. "Fate's kind of stupid when you think about it. A person's center. If it were real I wouldn't have had all those stupid jobs trying to find out what my purpose was."

"I know that one was kind of hard for you to swallow. I believe you've made your own life, and I believe you believe that, too."

Sonny paused, smiling.

"And it's okay. That's not going in the pamphlet."

"How is it okay to keep lying the way we do?"

"First of all, you're barely lying," Jamila said right away. "You believe most of it. Second of all, everybody needs this. Look what we're doing to the world. To ourselves." Then she paused. "I want you to listen to me about something."

"That's never good," he joked quietly.

"How do you feel about taking some time off?"

"No," he barked.

For a second Jamila was silent. He could almost hear her blink. "You don't have to devote your life to this before taking the time to figure out who you are."

"I know who I am. I've always known who I am."

"You're still young. There may be some things you missed."

"Is this about you thinking I'm crazy? Because I'm telling you, I'm not going to change."

"Please. I resigned myself to your certifiability years ago. You know what this is really about."

"I do?" Sonny asked, growing heated. "Because you're the one who sounds crazy right now."

"You've been following Jin's orders and his work almost all your life."

"And what would he think if I abandoned his work?"

"He wants you to be happy. Sitting and holding the hand of a boy nearly dead of peritonitis, he'd want nothing else. He told you all those stories to make you happy."

Sonny tried not to remember and pushed forward in the argument. "Who will take over when I'm gone?"

"I will."

"You believe in literally nothing we teach."

"But I believe in what you stand for."

"No," he said flatly. "I'm not going to let you spend the next few years on something you don't believe in. It's a waste for you."

"So you are thinking about finishing school," Jamila said softly. "I knew it."

A few seconds passed before Sonny spoke. "A few years could mean anything," he said.

"Maybe," she said. "But it wouldn't be a waste for me."

"You don't want to be the head of S.P.I.E.D."

"Why don't I?"

"Let me spell it out for you." Sonny lowered his voice, eyes spinning around the lone hills. "You don't believe in aliens."

"Well that's rather discriminatory, isn't it?" Jamila replied. "I don't see anything about people needing to believe in order to be members or to take leadership roles. And I've gone over all of the paperwork."

"Yes, you'd be a better leader than I would," said Sonny. "You're better for that stuff. But it won't be good for you. You have your own life."

"What life?" Jamila scoffed. "You know my life and that to which it was devoted. I didn't plan on much of anything afterward except for surviving. Do you honestly think I have everything figured out?"

Sonny stopped short at this.

Maybe this was something she needed.

Still… "There are so many better fits for you in terms of your life values," he said. "Honestly you'd be settling if you took head of S.P.I.E.D. for a few years. I don't see you happy doing it."

"Are there better fits?" Jamila asked. "I don't see them."

"That's because you have to, you know, explore. Go out and find them."

"I'm perfectly happy where I am right now."

"No, you're perfectly stubborn where you are right now. You think you're happy now, but there are a million different things you could try that would make you happier. I'm not telling you this to make you mad. I'm telling you this as your friend."

"Well, too bad, I'm mad," her voice rose. "You are acting like a child."

"And you're acting like my mother," said Sonny, beginning to grow impatient.

"Are you going to keep me from it? I will fight for the position."

Sonny believed it. What he didn't know was why. So he asked.

"I want to grow," she said.

"So you are thinking about that résumé."

She began to litter the conversation with all sorts of excuses, but he just grinned.

"You've got the job," he continued, "on one condition. After I come back, you leave."

Silence. "You don't want me there?" she asked.

"You know the position is open for you anytime you want to take it, if you really want to come back. And let's face it. As long as no one asks what the acronym stands for, head of S.P.I.E.D. looks pretty good on a résumé."

"Fine," Jamila agreed reluctantly. "I'll take at least one odd job afterwards."

"It has to be a real job. One that needs qualifications. Not the kind I kept taking."

"Okay. I can agree to that."

"Tell me honestly, would it make you happy?"

"Yes," she said with exasperation.

They smiled into the silence that followed. In his head Sonny thanked her for bringing in such a painful topic so smoothly, determining how the dynamic of S.P.I.E.D. would change and shift with Jin's passing. It did have to change, at least certain things. They both knew it. While Sonny didn't have to go back to school, it would make things better in the long run. And Jamila would do a better job of running S.P.I.E.D.; of that he was certain.

And it was only then, in the relief, that he started to cry.

Silence sat thick on the other end of the line. This wasn't something Jamila was comfortable with. She did not like dealing with emotions.

Then the grief snuck back up on him before he could put up a guard against it, and he cried harder, lowering his head to his knees and tugging at his ankles.

"What should I do?" Jamila asked him. "What should I say?"

"Everything's going to be all right, right?"

"Of course," she said.

Then nothing after that. He continued to cry.

"I'm so sorry," Jamila said. "I don't know what to do."

"It's all right," he said, voice trembling as he laughed a little. "I don't, either." Ever since being diagnosed right before giving Sonny orders to bring everyone together in New Zealand, Jin had been worried about his time running out. Sonny stayed with him as much as he could. Right before this trip, Jin had gotten sick. They all thought it was a cold. It had been so long since the doctor had given his estimate that they'd happily forgotten. It had added to the illusion that time could be bought. That time was never stolen, even just by ignoring it in all of the seconds that slipped by.

"I can't do anything for you over the phone," said Jamila, sounding frustrated with herself. "Go find Nancy."

"Why Nancy?" he sniffled.

"What do you mean, why Nancy? Don't be stupid. You know what I'm talking about."

Sonny wiped his eyes then looked around. running his hand through his hair. "She isn't here right now."

"What do you mean she isn't here right now?"

"This other woman came to the site and dragged her off to talk."

Jamila didn't speak for a little while. When she did, she sounded worried. "That might need some looking into," she said.

"Yeah," Sonny laughed nervously. "I agree."

"She's capable. She can take care of herself. Don't worry too much."

"But an extra hand always helps, you know?" Sonny said, craning his neck to peer through the side of the hill that hid him. "Don't worry. I'm keeping an eye out for her."

"I'm not worried in the least. Between you and her, you've got this site completely covered."

"Glad somebody thinks so." He sighed again. "I don't know what I'm going to do without Grandpa Jin."

"Try not to think about that just yet. Focus on the site. He's in there with you." She began talking more quickly. "You've got that time pressure, but you've also got the diplomats and the dig overseers. That should ensure you get out of there soon. Find Nancy. I have to go. Be careful."

The line clicked as she hung up.

Sonny ran his hand over his face one more time, took several shuddering breaths, and stood. He walked out from behind the hill, first checking for Beltrán and José. Both were gone. If they kept leaving like this, he thought, the whole site would fall apart. This was starting to look like the beginning of the end, he noted hopefully. Although, he frowned, Nancy was still nowhere in sight.

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