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THE PHOTO TRAVELER

By Arthur Gonzalez All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

After school the next day, I head over to Mario’s house. He’d left early for some dentist appointment, so I’m stuck taking the Metro again. When I reach the stop closest to his house, I decide the walk the remainder of the way.

But when I get there I do a double-take. I don’t recognize the house. It’s in the same location, but it’s been painted a different color and it looks a lot bigger than before.

Delva opens the door and startles me by giving me a big smile followed by a hug and kiss. “Hola, Gavin! How are you feeling, papito?”

Is this actually the same gruff lady I met last time? I’m too surprised and confused not to hug her back. “Uh, good. Thanks. How’re you doing?”

“Good, good. Please, shoes off,” she orders. “Come in, I have food ready.”

The inside of the house is also completely different. The basic architecture is similar, but the furnishings are more lavish—Carrera marble floors throughout, imported statuary accents... Even Delva looks different. Her hair’s longer and lighter, her skin looks fresher, and she just looks younger.

I pull Mario aside and whisper, “When did you guys change the house?”

“What’re you talking about? It’s exactly the same since the last time you were here.”

We follow Delva into the kitchen, which has been expanded into the living room, which is now part of an addition at the back of the house. This is bizarre. I was just here the other day. I remember the kitchen perfectly, and it was nothing like this. Now there are gold-toned appliances and an amber-colored crystal chandelier with what look like giant teardrops hanging from it. Even the glass staircase is different. It’s now a flight of marble steps flanked with gold-colored railings.

I don’t know what to make of any of this, but I hold it together and accept Delva’s offer of food. I’m starving, and what she brings out are some of the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted. “Wow, Delva. These rock.”

She steps behind me and rubs my shoulder blades. “Good. I’m glad you like. They are my special baby veal burgers. I made just for you.”

After our feast, we race up to Mario’s room and pull our project out of his closet. “Boom!” he exclaims. “We did a pretty bang-up job. We better get an A.”

I have to admit that it does look great. We spend an hour working on the statement that we want to submit along with it.

“Dude, I think we’re really done,” he says.

“Finally.” I reply, and we give each other a high five just as the doorbell rings downstairs.

Mario runs to the window. “It’s my aunt and uncle, back from that business trip. They always bring me something back—come on, I want you to meet them.”

As we clatter down the stairs, I say, “Hey, you never told me what they do.”

“No? Well, after Alanna died, my uncle found this sort of musical device in her stuff. Like an MP3 player. They ended up selling it and whatever technology it had to one of the biggest electronic manufacturers. That’s pretty much how all music turned from CD to MP3. Made a hell of a killing.”

I stop in my tracks. That’s it—the reason everything in the house is different. It’s because I gave Alanna my MP3 player. I broke the rules. I changed something, and that changed everything. At least here in Mario’s house. But what else might I have changed? The possibilities come at me fast.

Mario gestures for me to follow him down to the living room, where I immediately recognize his aunt from the Christmas party. She looks the same, only older. As for his uncle, I don’t remember seeing him before.

“Tia Jeanie, Tio Ralph, this is Gavin.” He turns to me and adds, “I wish you coulda met my parents, but it’s their anniversary and they’re in Fiji celebrating.”

I’m stunned. “Your parents?” I almost exclaim, “They’re alive?” but I catch myself just in time.

Jeanie looks at me thoughtfully and says, “You look so familiar. Have we met before?”

What have I gotten myself into? I give a laugh that I hope doesn’t sound as awkward as I feel. “Not that I know of.”

She smiles. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you.”

“Ditto.” Ralph shakes my hand, then turns and calls down one of the hallways. “Edwin! Get on out here! Time for your cough medicine!”

Confused, I ask Mario, “Who’s Edwin?”

“You are out of it today, aren’t you? My little cousin. He’s cool.”

I hear a swooshing sound and a few moments later, a boy who looks about 12 years old comes sliding into the kitchen in his socked feet.

“Do I have really have to?” he complains. “This stuff tastes like barf!”

My eyes lock on his face. Light brown hair, brown eyes...

And Alanna’s heart-shaped mouth.

The resemblance is uncanny.

And then I see the braided silver necklace with the amethyst hanging around his neck.

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