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THE PHOTO TRAVELER

By Arthur Gonzalez All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

CHAPTER 38

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

It can’t be. I’m only 18! There’s no way I can have a son who’s 12!

I collapse on my bed. But we used protection! Alanna ran over to her parent’s room when we realized we weren’t prepared. It must’ve had a tear in it. Or maybe it was old? My head is spinning and I have no idea what to do. I need help but I have no one to turn to. Definitely not Estelle. She’s barely hanging on as it is. Think, Gavin! I take a deep breath and run to my dresser.

I open the drawer and take out my parents’ album and grab a professional photo of them at Disney World. What are they going to say? But I don’t have any other choice. I sigh and recite my words.

I appear on Main Street next to an ice cream kiosk and whip around trying to spot them. They’ve got to be here.

“Hey, kid, how ‘bout a chocolate-dipped Mickey?” the mustached vendor asks.

“I’m good.” I dodge through the crowds of tourists. Inflated colored mouse ears are floating above their heads. Ahead of me I glimpse my mother and father walking toward the Cinderella castle.

I tear after them yelling, “Mom! Dad!”

They whip around when they hear my voice and hurry toward me. My mom looks more pregnant than she did last time.

“What’re you doing here, Gav?” my dad asks, obviously stunned.

I throw my arms around them in a nearly bone-crushing hug. I feel like a terrified 5-year- old.

My mom eyes me worriedly. “What’s wrong?”

I can’t look at them as I tell them, so I raise my eyes to the sky and the floating mouse ears. Even so, it’s hard to bring out the words. “I’ve done something bad.”

“What do you mean, ‘bad’?” my dad asks.

I look around and say, “Not here.” I grab my mother’s hand and pull her through the crowds and past the costumed characters to a bench next to a giant garden of character-shaped trees and flowers. I point at the bench and signal them to sit down. “Okay…don’t be mad.”

And then I plant myself in front of them and tell them everything about Alanna and Edwin. When I finally run out of words, I wait for their reaction. But they’re speechless.

“Do your grandparents know about this?” my mom finally asks.

My father shakes his head. I don’t remember ever seeing him angry at me before, but he is now. “We warned you! You don’t change the past!”

“I know. I messed up. And no, Estelle—I mean, Bud and Estelle—don’t... What am I going to do?”

Liam chews on his bottom lip for several moments. “There’s not much you can do. But you need to tell my parents. I’m sorry, Gav, but we can’t do much from this side. We would if we could, but we’re limited.”

“I know, but what do I do now?”

My dad eyes me up and down. “You need to face the consequences. You’re not a baby.”

“I didn’t come here for a lecture. I need your help.”

“Hey…” my mom frowns. “Honey, we want to help you. I think you know that. But what do you expect us to do? I don’t know what you were thinking.”

As much as I hate to hear it, she’s right. “I’m sorry.” I stand there silently, not knowing what to do or say. I’ve come running to them for help, but they can’t. I look around at the swarming of children and families around us. “I guess...” I shrug. “I guess I’ll go back, then.”

The sadness on their faces kills me as they stand up. I reach out, rub my mom’s belly. “Wish me luck,” I tell them, and give them one last hug before I turn away. I want to find a more private place for my return chant.

“Gavin!”

I stop as I hear my dad’s voice calling to me. He runs up to me and grabs the sides of my face. Looking me intently in the eyes, he says, “We all make mistakes, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I mean, we all make mistakes, but it’s not the end of the world. You can make things better. There’s never really an end, only if you allow there to be. And you won’t. I know it.”

I smile. “Thanks, Dad.”

“What does he look like?”

“He looks like…like me.”

He grins. “Wish I could meet him.” Then he hugs me again and drops a kiss on the top of my head. “Now get out of here. You’ve got some major explaining to do. Tell Mom and Pops not to be too hard on you.”

He takes a few steps backward and in seconds is lost in the crowd. I stand there sadly, breathing in the scents of caramel popcorn and cotton candy as the trolley rolls past me on the cobblestoned street. A young man and woman in their 20s pass me. Their little boy, who can’t be older than 3, is toddling between them holding their hands. I imagine myself as a dad. What kind would I be?

I follow behind them until I find an alley behind the Magic Carpet Ice Cream Shop. I step into it and chant myself home.

As soon as I’m back in my room, I yank my phone out of my bag and dial Yogi’s number.

“H-e-y-y!” she sings out. “Wh-a-a-a-t’s cookin’, good-lookin’—”
“I need your advice.” I cut her off, but I’m so relieved that she picked up. Now she’s the only one I can turn to.

She pauses. “Okay, shoot. By the way, how’re you feeling?”

“Not good. And it’s not because of Bud right now. Don’t judge me. Just let me explain.”

I tell her about Alanna and Edwin. In the days since we went to Costa Rica, we’ve spoken almost every day and she’s become a pretty good friend. She’s the only person I feel really understands me. I wish she was in D.C. and not in New York right now.

“You’ve got a kid?!” she exclaims. “Really?”

“Uh, yeah, I just told you. A son. A few years younger than me.”

“Wow.” She’s not usually at a loss for words, but it seems like she is right now.

“What’s his name? Where does he live?”

“Edwin. And he lives with my friend Mario’s family. Alanna’s parents... I am so screwed.”

“Ooh, I wanna see him! What does he look like?” she asks in her singsong voice.

“That’s not important right now! What should I do? Am I supposed to tell her family? Do I tell Alanna the truth?”

“Well, he is your son, right? So I’d say, go get him.”

I plop myself onto my bed and slam my head against the pillow. “Go get him?” I repeat. “I can’t image how I would even be able to make that happen. I’ll look more like a creeper than a dad, are you kidding me? Be serious!”

After a few moments of silence, Yogi asks, “Gavin? You still there? You haven’t killed yourself, have you?”

“Not yet...”

“Look, I’ll book the first bus to D.C. tomorrow morning and we’ll meet up and think of something. Deal?”

“Sure. Bye.”

I stare out the window at the dark skies and wonder if Edwin’s still up and looking out into the night right now, too. I wonder what he’s like. Whether he’s anything like me. I mean, even though I’ve been away from my parents for so long, there are so many similarities between them and me that I can’t help thinking that he and I may have some, too.

I flop over on the bed and let my head dangle off the edge. What would Alanna think? What am I supposed to do? For one, I don’t have any more photos of her. I’d have to go steal them from her room. And two, telling her about Edwin would mean I’d be forced to reveal her death. I’m so screwed.

How could I have been so stupid and careless?

I turn over onto my stomach and start talking to Bud. “Hey, Bud... if you can hear me, please help me out here. I know you’d probably be so disappointed in me, and I’m so sorry, but I’m so lost as to what I should do. I wish so much that you were here right now—”

I hear a sudden sharp cracking noise from downstairs, like a window or door being forced open. But I locked the door when I got home, and I’m dead certain that every window in this house is bolted shut. The same unease I’d felt in the park creeps over me. I jump off the bed and grab a dirty knife from the pile of plates I’ve had sitting in the corner of my dresser, from the short period of time I was eating alone. It’s not much, but it’ll have to do. I tiptoe to my door.

When I ease it open and peer out, I see that the light at the foot of the stairs is out. But I never turned it off. Someone’s definitely inside the house. I creep past Estelle’s room and check that it’s shut. I edge along the hall and peek down. Nothing. I pick my way down the stairs holding onto the railing with one hand and gripping the handle of the knife in the other.

I reach the bottom step and flip the switch. The living room’s empty. But as I turn around to check the door, I notice it’s ajar. I glimpse the flash of a heavy metal baton, then a sharp blow to my back knocks me to the floor. The knife flies out of my hand and slides along the floor out of my reach. I roll over just in time to avoid being struck a second time.

Axel is on his knees, trying to scramble to his feet after falling over when he missed me. I’m still on the floor when he jumps up and tackles me.

I struggle but can’t manage to push him off me—he has to outweigh me by at least 30 pounds. But I’m putting up enough of a fight that he’s grunting and cursing as he tries to overpower me. All I can think of is what Axel will do to Estelle if I can’t protect her. He and Naima have indicated they’ll do whatever it takes to get the vials. And that’s not an option.

I manage to pull one hand free, and as he reaches out to grab it, I rear up and head-butt him as hard as I can, screaming as my skull collides with his bald head. He rears back and I pull up my knees and kick him in the balls. He falls over and I army-crawl to the knife and grab it. I turn around quickly only to spot Axel still coming at me. I lunge forward and stab him in the shoulder. I yank it out and he clutches at it, finally collapses on the floor squirming like a hooked fish.

I curl up on the floor, sliding the knife away from me; leaving a streak of bright red trailing behind it. I just stabbed someone. Oh my God—who am I? I’ve never stabbed anyone in my life. His shouting pierces my ears, but then another sound takes over.

The sharp tapping of high heels.

I look up and see Naima standing in the kitchen doorway, her white pistol aimed right at my head. “I think it’s time we end this and talk like grown-ups. What do you say, Brown Eyes?” Her eyes are as vibrant and eerie as ever, and her raspy voice is a mix of persuasion and evil. “I’m not here to hurt you. You know what I want. Just comply.”

“I don’t have them.”

“I know you’re lying.” Her thumb slides over the hammer of the revolver and I see the cylinder rotate. “And I don’t like liars.”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“That’s your fault, isn’t it?”

This has to be the end. I’m totally at her mercy. Nowhere to go. I close my eyes, grit my teeth, and hold my breath. I can taste my sweat pouring over my skin and into my mouth. All I can think is that in seconds I’ll be joining Bud and Leyla, leaving Estelle to fend for herself.

I’m sorry Estelle. I’m sorry.

A deafening explosion flattens me against the floor and everything goes black.

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