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THE PHOTO TRAVELER

By Arthur Gonzalez All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER FOUR

I’m about to give it one last try when I spot a blurry form approaching the door. The outline gets sharper as the figure nears the glass pane. A chain lock rattles as the door slides open three inches and a man peers through the crack. He’s taller than I am, with silvery hair, but that’s about all I can see.

I’m having trouble breathing again and my palms are beginning to sweat. “Uh... Ed Greene?”

He looks at me questioningly with his tight, hazel eyes with hints of yellow to them. Before he has time to answer, someone does it for him.

“Bud? Who is it?” An old woman’s voice asks. The voice that picked up when I called. A second shadow appears in the frosted glass. A small face peers out from under his arm, and a tiny old woman pops up beside him, her arm linking around his.

Bud? I wonder. That name sounds so familiar somehow, like an old memory, but my heart’s racing again, I lose the thread. I look the old woman in the eye and she sends my daunting stare right back at me. For a moment, we just look at one another without saying anything. I don’t think we have to.

“Gavin?” Her voice is a whisper. There’s surprise and joy in her question. And...fear.

  My throat tightens so much that the only sound I can make is a half-whimper.

Is it them? Have I really found my dad’s parents? My only relatives?

  The woman blinks repeatedly, shaking her head. She looks up at the man. I can’t decide whether she’s surprised, scared, or what.

He says to me, “Just a minute,” and gently moves her back a step from the door. Then he eases it closed. The flashing thought “It isn’t them!” stops my heart.

But the next moment I hear the chain rattle again, then the small thud as it hits the door jamb. And then the door opens wide and the two of them are standing there smiling at me.

The man has broad shoulders and a great build for his age. She’s half his size but also in great shape. He wraps his long arm around her and a raw smile breaks over his thin, cracked lips. He beckons to me. “Come inside.”

My legs are shaking. I secure my camera bag over my shoulder, scoop up my duffle bag, and fumble past them into a baby-blue hallway. There have to be more than thirty photos hanging on the wall. Mostly shots of them in places they’ve apparently visited, which seems to be everywhere in the world.

I freeze in front of one photo that’s centered among the others as if it’s been given the place of honor. My parents. My mom’s wearing a narrow band of fabric with tiny intertwined tulips resting on top of her flowing brown hair, and my dad’s wearing a light-gray linen suit. They look so happy. So peaceful. Jet tore up the only picture I had of them during one of his drunken attacks. I haven’t seen a photo of them in forever. But I remember their faces perfectly.

The photo fills me with emotions I thought I’d resolved long ago. I thought that, since I’d been so young when they died, I’d dealt with losing them, that I’d moved past it, but I was wrong. I feel nauseated. Drained. Ed and Estelle must notice this because Estelle murmurs, “This way,” and gently guides me past the photos into the dining room.

They gingerly take seats at the antique, white dining table. I collapse in the chair across them and begin silently picking at my fingernails like I always do when I’m anxious. I glimpse the other rooms and take in the array of rainbow wall colors—green kitchen, purple living room, orange half-bathroom. It’s so different that it actually calms me down a bit. At one corner of the living room is a stack of unsealed, half-filled moving boxes.

“Would…you like some water? Or something to drink?” Estelle asks.

I don’t even think twice. I just blurt it out. “Why did… you give me up?”

  It’s the only thing I can think about, the only question I can possibly ask.

Ed’s wrinkled hand glides over Estelle’s. They exchange glances, trying, I assume, to decide who’ll speak first. But I don’t allow them. Seeing them excites me, but it also ignites and awakens a pain from deep within me. A different kind of pain, deeper and more crippling than Jet’s iron fist against my face. The sort of pain that ice packs can’t soothe.

I have to swallow a couple of times before I can get any words out. And then my voice sounds so harsh that I scare myself. I want to reel back but my shattered heart has taken control. “What did I do? Why would you... Why?... ” My voice trails off and I softly mutter, “Why didn’t you want me?”

Estelle straightens her neck and slowly adjusts the thin strands of snowflake-white hair that she has massed into a loose bun at the back of her head. Her coffee-bean eyes seem to be welling up, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just an effect of the light shining down on us from the iron chandelier above the table.

“Gavin… please, let us explain,” she says. “We did it for your protection. It was the only way we could save you. Trust us... you were better off with your new family.”

That stings.

“Better off?” I echo. I stand up and allow my camera bag to slip off my shoulder. I lift up my shirt and show them the swollen, purple bruises that are still throbbing from Jet’s brutal kick. “Better? You consider this better? Look at my face. This is the ‘better’ that you left me behind with.” 

Estelle buries her face in Ed’s shoulder. He puts his arm around her again. “Gavin, buddy... kiddo… please let us explain—”

No. You don’t get to call me that.” My voice cracks. My hands are shaking and my toes have turned into grains of sand. A flash of green light flickers in the center of my sight, and I know I’m borderline panic attack. 

“I’m sorry… I need to get out of here... a moment... to myself...” I grab my camera bag and rush outside, breathing in all the air around me. I squeeze my eyes shut and start counting backward from one hundred, the way Leyla used to teach me as a child whenever I felt I was out of breath. Though that was for my asthma, something tells me it’ll work now. Listening to the thundering of my heart pounding in my ears, I launch my eyelids open and glimpse a small park just two houses away.

Without any thought, I dart over to it, stretch out on the soft grass, and nerve myself to face the realization that my first impression probably wasn’t the best. Dammit, Gavin!

But how can they blame me? All I want to do is scream, but instead I sit up and pull out my camera. Or at least all the pieces to it. I wish more than anything that I had my Canon working. It’s the only thing that could calm me down at this moment. It always does.

Still, just holding the pieces in my hands and feeling the texture of the focus ring helps ease the tension in my body. Like helium slowly hissing out of a balloon. 

“So, what kind of camera you got there?”

Startled, I whip around and see a short, chubby girl wearing studded yellow shorts standing a few feet away. She can’t be much older than I am. By now it’s late twilight, but I think her gel-frozen curls are dyed a pale pink. 

“Canon. 7D. At least it was.”

“Nice! Good choice. You mind if I ask what the hell happened to it?” she asks in a super-animated voice, then giggles, tugs at the hems of her shorts, and plops herself down next to me.

I’m about to answer, probably in some rude way, until I catch a good glimpse of her camera. My eyes lock on the red body and the giant circular rim that surrounds the flash. “Is that a Kodak Brownie Starflash?”

“Uh-huh. Sure is.” She smiles smugly, but I know she can tell how excited I am to see it and that she’s teasing me.

“How’d you get your hands on one of those? They’re like from the ’50s, early ’60s... I think my dad used to have one just like that.” 

My dad gave it to me as a gift. He got it from an auction or something. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yeah. Can I see it?” 

“Daddy always taught me not to lend my cameras to boys. Especially not strange boys.” She grins wildly.

Her faces make me laugh. “I’m Gavin.”

“And I’m Virge. Most people call me Yogi, though,” she announces loudly, almost singing it. 

“‘Yogi’? What kinda nickname is that?” 

She squints at me, probably trying to figure out my humor. “Oh, like ‘Gavin’ is s-o-o much better?”

I grin at her. “So, can I see it?”

She hands it to me, and it’s still light enough out that I can take a few shots of the park. The plastic body’s practically the size of my whole skull. But I love it. I’m kind of jealous, actually.

Thanks to her, though, my heart rate’s no longer borderline heart attack. I move in near a family of ducks and grab a few stills of the two chicks running after each other. Priceless.

We talk for a few minutes. I find out that she actually lives in New York, about a five-hour bus ride away. She’s in D.C. visiting a friend. Probably a boyfriend or something.

“So, you live here? I’ve never seen you before.”

  “That’s to be determined. My… grandparents live over in the house with the yellow shutters.”

“Oh!” she squeals. “Bud and Estelle? I don’t know them personally, but I know of them. Heard only good things of them.”

“Bud”? I wonder to myself, but all I say is, “Yeah. Again, to be determined.”

An awkward silence passes while we sit on the grass. Virge, or Yogi, or whatever I’m supposed to call her, actually showed up at the perfect time. The camera talk has eased my nerves. “So... I’m gonna head back now,” I finally say. “Nice to meet you, though. I guess I’ll see you around.”

She stands up and gives me a look, sort of as if she’s analyzing the fading bruises on my face. “Sure. I’m sure I’ll see you around. Hope you manage to fix your camera.”

I walk back to the house feeling her eyes following me the entire way, but I have to stop for a few moments before I can go back inside. I have to will myself to finally face the truth, whatever it might turn out to be. I have to understand why they left me behind like a stray dog.

I’m still angry enough that when I get to their door, I swing it open without knocking and explode through it. They’re still seated at the dining room table. But I can tell that they’ve moved because in front of them is a photo album and some papers... that I can only assume hold the answers to my exile.

“I want…answers. I need to know everything.”

Ed—or is it Bud?—sets his glasses down on the table, stands up, and makes his way to the chair I’d sat in earlier. He pulls it back. “Have a seat, buddy. We’ve been waiting for this day for a very long time. There’s a lot you need to know. And I think it’s time.”

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