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THE PHOTO TRAVELER

By Arthur Gonzalez All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

CHAPTER 37

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

“Edwin, this is Mario’s friend, Gavin. Say hello,” Jeanie demands.

Edwin glances over at me, mutters, “Hey, Gavin.”

Ralph and Jeanie go upstairs to unpack while Edwin stays behind and rummages through the refrigerator for a snack. My heart’s pounding and I feel my chest getting tight. At any moment I’m going to implode. I can’t take my eyes off the amethyst. For a moment I forget to breathe. I watch him intently and analyze his every movement.

“So you’re Mario’s cousin,” I say.

“Uh-huh,” he answers without looking at me.

“So, his mom and dad...” I look around innocently at Mario. “Do they live around here, or does he come over after school to hang out, or...?”

Mario lowers his voice. “He lives here with us. He’s Alanna’s kid.”

My heart stops. I can barely speak. “Oh, got it. Wow... that’s so... sad.” I cough. “Uh, can I use the bathroom?”

I hurry past the kitchen and wall of photos that leads to the front of the house. There are dozens of photos of Edwin that I’d never noticed before. Because they hadn’t existed until I changed things by giving Alanna my MP3 player. I didn’t even think to look for something like this when I arrived. I guess I was so thrown off by all of the changes to the house.

My God—he looks just like me. This can’t be. She died! We were safe! But I know I’m just trying to convince myself. Because... what else can the necklace mean?

I open the door to what used to be the first-floor bathroom. It’s now an extravagantly decorated bedroom. I think it’s Delva’s because I spot a pair of tennis shoes that look as if they would only fit her tiny feet. I run back down the hall and open another door at random. Thank God—a bathroom. I lock the door and turn on the light. My face in the mirror is dead white, but I feel feverish. I splash cold water on my cheeks.

This can’t be real, I tell myself. You’re just thinking crazy—come on, relax. Then I bend over the sink and take a closer look at my eyes in the mirror. His eyes are just like my mom’s. And mine.

I slump down on the toilet sink. What am I going to do? After a while, I start thinking they’re going to wonder what’s wrong, so I go back out to the kitchen. Edwin’s nowhere in sight. Delva tells me that Mario’s up in his room.

I head up the new staircase and barge in, shutting the door behind me. “Hey… so you said Alanna was only 18 when—?”

“Yea... what’s the big deal suddenly, dude?”

I shrug. “Sorry. I was just... I had no idea that she’d had a kid.”

“Oh, yeah, he was kind of a miracle kid, actually.”

“So, he’s what, about 10 now?”

“Almost 12, actually.”

Kill me, right now.

“And what about his dad? Does he live here, too?”

Mario scowls. “His dad? Don’t even think about bringing him up. Nobody wants to talk about him, not Jeanie or Ralph, not my parents. Edwin’s father is like the dirty secret of our family. Because Alanna never told anybody who he was.”

Dying.

I’m on the edge of a complete meltdown and need to get away as fast as I can, but I also need to keep it together. Just for a few more minutes. “Wow. Poor kid...” I shake my head. “I guess he’s really lucky to have you guys.” I pull out my phone and look at the time. “Hey, I gotta head out. I don’t like leaving Estelle alone for too long.”

Mario gives me a concerned look. “You doing okay? Want me to drive you back?”

“Uh-uh, Metro’s fine.”

He walks me down to the door. As we go through the kitchen I say good-bye to Jeanie.

“Nice to meet you, Gavin.” She smiles, then wrinkles her brow. “Are you sure I’ve never met you before?”

“I’m sure. I just moved here a couple of weeks ago from a little town in Nevada.”

Mario holds the door open for me. “See ya in the a.m.” His expression is normal. No alarm bells seem to have gone off in his head. I force myself to leave at my normal pace, but all I really want is to run away and try to pull myself together and figure out what I’m going to do.

The ride home is a nightmare. My mind is reeling with fear and so many questions that thinking clearly is impossible. When I reach my stop, I decide to spend a few minutes in the park. I know it may not be safe, but I can’t face seeing Estelle until I’ve somehow managed to calm myself down.

There’s a rustling in the bushes. I stop and turn around to scan the path behind me and the trees and bushes that line it, but the noise stops abruptly.

Suddenly a horrific shriek erupts from a cluster of bushes right behind me, and a moment later, two enormous cats dash out and right across my path. They streak across the grass yowling at each other, and I almost pass out from the shock. Then I catch my breath and have to laugh at myself. I think I have literally just lost it.

The first thing I do when I get back to the house is check on Estelle. She’s already in bed dozing with the news on. I give her a soft peck on the cheek, fix her comforter, and go to my room. I’m too wired to eat. All I can think about is finding out the truth about Alanna and Edwin.

As soon as my browser loads, I search on “Alanna death 1999 Washington D.C.” A full page of links pops up. I’m almost too nervous to click on any of them, but I have to. I have to know.

I click on the first link, then yell at the screen when I get a 404 error message that the page can’t be found. I try another one, and this time pull up a page from the D.C. Daily archives. The headline reads: “Miracle Baby Saved on Thanksgiving.”

And I learn that Alanna died while she was driving to her parents’ home at dusk on Thanksgiving afternoon, during D.C.’s worst rainstorm of that fall. She was with a girlfriend when she apparently skidded on the wet road and crashed into a light pole.

And my absolute worst fear is confirmed when I read that she was 8 months pregnant. Her friend was killed on impact, but Alanna was still alive when the paramedics arrived. They rushed her to the hospital, where the doctors were able to save the baby. Miracle baby. But she died the next day.

When I sit back from the screen, I realize my keyboard is soaked with my tears. I can’t believe it. I scroll up to check the date of the accident. I’ve got to make sure. And there it is—1999.

I first saw Alanna in December of 1998. The last time I saw her was around March. Eight months later would have been... I count through the months on my fingers... November.

Oh my God. Edwin’s my son. What have I done?

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