When I finally wake up, I reach for my cell and find a half-dozen missed calls from the same number. I have no idea whose number it is, but somehow it seems familiar. The battery is almost dead, but just as I plug in the phone to recharge it, it rings again. My eyes are still blurred with sleep, but I see it’s the same number. Usually I don’t pick up unknown numbers, but they’ve called so many times I figure it may be something important.
“Hello? Is this Gavin?” A woman’s urgent, desperate voice asks.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I found your number in Virge’s room and I didn’t know anyone else who might know... who else I could ask.”
I almost fall out of the bed. That’s why I remember the number. I saw it yesterday when I was searching Yogi’s parents. Plus, it’s the same area code as Yogi’s number. “Oh,” I answer. “Hi…”
“My name’s Samantha. I’m Virginia’s—Yogi’s mom. Have you heard from her? I’ve been calling her and her phone’s not on. She hasn’t returned any of my calls.”
Can’t say I saw this one coming.
“Uh… I spoke to her a few nights ago. We were supposed to meet in D.C., but she never showed.”
“I’m really worried.”
“You know her, she never sticks to her plans anyway,” I say, trying to make my lie more believable. “Look, how about I take the bus to the city and try to help you find her?” It’ll probably be a waste of time, but maybe I’ll be able to find out exactly what Yogi wanted to tell me.
“Oh, I don’t want to be a bother.”
“It’s fine. I... have some things I needed to do in the city anyway.”
When we hang up I call in sick to work and book the earliest ticket out.
When the bus pulls into New York, I can’t help wondering if Martin survived to see the city as it is today. He’d have to be in his 70s by now...if he’s still around. When I met him, the city was a freezing, muddy wasteland and its people were surviving solely on dwindling hope that was turning to desperation. It reminded me of a dangling button to an already worn-out jacket.
Now the city is thriving and alive, with skyscrapers piercing the clouds wrapped around their highest stories, and blossoming tulips, cherry trees, and daffodils colorfully dotting Central Park. I raise my face to the golden sun and let it warm my skin as I take in the oddly refreshing sound of honking cars and impatient footsteps.
The musicians and dancers at the subway stop bring a smile to my face. It seems that no matter what New York’s faced with, its people are always determined to survive. When I arrive at the Bronx stop, I navigate the arrows until I find the right exit and then hit the streets, where I have to ask several old ladies for directions.
Eventually, I find myself standing in front of a rust-colored brick building. I scroll through the digital screen on the intercom for apartment #204 and dial out.
Above the static, a woman’s voice crackles, “Hello? Hello?”
I freeze, then slam the # button to hang up.
I tear down the steps and into the alley next to the building. What am I doing here? What am I even supposed to say? “Hi… I killed your daughter, but would you happen to know what she might have wanted to tell me”? I really need to start thinking these things out more.
But then it hits me. I didn’t exactly think things through the night I packed my bags and got on the bus for D.C. to find Bud and Estelle. And that ended up changing my life forever. Isn’t that what I left Saddlehorn for in the first place? I shake off my nerves and march back up the steps stamping my sneakers on each one to vent my determination as I approach the intercom.
The same woman answers again, but she sounds more annoyed than last time. “Hello? Who’s there?”
“Uh. … Gavin from D.C.? Yogi’s friend?”
She goes silent. “Hello?” I ask.
“Knock, knock,” she says.
“I’m sorry, who?”
“What? I said it was Gavin.”
“Oh forget it! You’re no fun. Come in already!”
I hear the door click open. I have to hold my nose to make it through the lingering stench of cigarette smoke oozing from the faded wallpaper and carpeting as I walk up to the second floor. I knock gently but loud enough for Samantha to hear me. I wait for several moments and am about to knock again when I hear the rattling of locks and chains.
The woman who opens the door looks nothing like what I was expecting. She has to be in her late 80s, skeletally thin, with dry, patchy skin. Her scanty frosted hair is spread across her shoulders and hangs halfway down her back. Her sparse, brittle eyelashes do nothing to flatter her sapphire-blue eyes, which are the only remaining evidence that she had to’ve been beautiful when she was young.
She waves me inside and then raises a stubby yellow pencil to her mouth and inhales as if she’s smoking a cigarette. “Yes?” she says, exhaling loudly. “Are you here for me, sonny?”
I’m a bit confused, but I ask, “Is Samantha here? I’m supposed to meet her.” I try to peer over her shoulder to see if anyone else is around.
She swipes her tongue across her dentures and turns to walk back into the apartment as if I haven’t earned her attention. “I’m Samantha.” She leaves the door open, which I assume is her invitation for me to come in, so I follow her in but leave the door ajar. She sits down on a brown microfiber recliner and begins staring at the blank screen of the TV set. “I love this show,” she beams.
“I... but it isn’t turned on—”
“Will you take me to the dance? I have a date, you know, but Papa won’t let him pick me up. I hope you brought me a corsage. If not, you better march on back and get me one! My favorite color’s pink, you know.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Samu! What are you doing out of your room?”
Startled, I whip around and see another woman in the doorway. Her eerily recognizable smile tells me this is obviously Yogi’s mom, but she has “Samu’s” sapphire eyes, wavy auburn hair, and a small waist above thick thighs.
“I’m sorry,” she smiles. “Don’t mind my mother. If you haven’t figured it out already, she’s not very well. I had to run downstairs to check the mail. I take it you’re Gavin?”
“Yea.” I hold out my hand, but suddenly her face changes and she eyes me intently, as if I’ve somehow surprised or even offended her. She keeps scanning my face and gripping my hand until I pull it away.
“What is it?” I ask. But I’m thinking, this was a bad idea.
“Oh my God…” she says. “I have to show you—”
She grabs my hand again and tugs me down the narrow hall and into a bedroom, where she runs to a tall armoire and begins ransacking it until she pulls out a silver 4 x 6 photo frame. She holds it out to me.
It’s a photo of her and my father.
“You’re Liam’s son!”
“Yeah... but how do you know him?”
Her eyes drift to the floor. “She must’ve figured it out.”
“Who? Figure what out? What’re you talking about?”
She sits on the bed and pats the spot next to her. I join her.
“Gavin,” she says. “You’re a Photo Traveler, right?”
I hesitate by default. I mean, obviously she knows that Yogi and Marcus were photo travelers, but I’m not used to speaking to anyone about it.
“Uh-huh. But I still don’t understand how you knew my dad? I thought our side of the photo travelers knew nothing about the Hoytts?”
She gently takes the frame from me and a slow smile comes over her face as she looks at it, but I see tears in her blue eyes. “Your father and I were very close once. I loved him very much.”
I don’t like this one bit. I don’t like anything about how she’s said that. I’m starting to feel scared, and that makes me angry. “What do you mean ‘very close’?” I snap accusingly.
She looks away, then sighs. “We were lovers. He was everything to me, but unfortunately he was married to your mother. And when she became pregnant with you, he ended our affair.”
I spring to my feet. “You’re lying!” I shout. “My dad would never have done that to my mom. Never! You guys are all a family of liars!”
She turns the photo over and unclips the backing. Inside is a folded letter. “I know it’s hard to believe. But Liam was human, too.” She holds it out to me. I think Virge found this. You can read it yourself.”
I snatch it from her hand and unfold it. She’s crazy! She has to be! My dad would never do that. It’s impossible. I know it. Then I begin reading:
Samy, You know that what I feel for you is unlike anything I’ve ever imagined. When I’m with you, I’m in a different world. Because of you, I’ve discovered an unknown part of me. A way to love that I knew nothing of. In a different time and a different place, we could run away and be together, jumping from cloud to cloud and laughing endlessly like we always said we would.
But Amy’s pregnant with our baby, and I must be the man and husband I vowed to be. And now I must be that father as well.
Know that I’m always thinking of you and that my heart will ALWAYS be yours. And that I will die with a piece of me that has grown cold and lonely without you in it. Meet me in my dreams, just like always.
Forever yours in my heart, Liam
My throat is as dry as the hottest day in the Nevada desert. My heart’s pounding louder than a million drums in my ears.
“Did my mom know?” I don’t really want to know the answer, but I don’t know what else to say.
“I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. We never spoke again after he sent me the letter. He was a good man and I wasn’t going to interfere with his family. Besides, I was married too. But—”
My eyes have turned to balls of flames. “Oh, there’s more? Please! Please tell me what else you guys decided to screw up!”
“I never told him was that I’d just found out that I was pregnant, too…”
I’m so stunned that my legs almost give way. They feel wobbly and I’m not sure I can go on standing up. I totter over to the bed and collapse on it and start gulping air.
She jumps up. “I’ll get you some water!” She runs out, and all I can do is try to catch my breath until she comes back, but it’s hard because thoughts are ping-balling all throughout my head. This is way more than I think I can take.
When she returns with the water, I slap it away. “I don’t want anything from you!” I shout. But then I have to ask. I can’t avoid asking the one question that’s flasing in my mind with bright, Las Vegas-style lights. “Was my dad the father?”
Her face answers it all. “Yes.”
“And you had a daughter?”
Is that what Yogi wanted to tell me? That she is... was... my half-sister? Maybe she thought that telling me would stop me from leaving her behind… from killing her. Then it really hits me, like a sudden blast from a raging fire.
I killed my sister, and she… she killed her own grandfather.