1. And so it begins...
I softly creep down the hall and peer into my brother’s room. He sits, legs crossed, on the tiny mattress, watching his hands as he slowly knots them together.
“Isa?” I murmur, poking my head in, “Shouldn’t you be in bed by now?”
“I don’t really see the point.”
“Of sleeping?” I laugh.
“No. Of going to bed,” he mutters, looking away from me. “I can’t sleep.”
“Are you having nightmares again?” I ask gently, sitting beside him.
He doesn’t answer, but I know what his silence means.
“You’re safe now, Isa. You’ll never have to go to school again. You’ve completed your two years.”
“That doesn’t mean I still don’t see Danny…” his voice trails off.
It’s a government requirement that all kids get some schooling, but schools are more of a way to keep tabs on insubordination, then to actually teach. During Isa’s second year, his best friend got beaten in front of the class because his parents were supposedly Rebels. They weren’t.
“I’m so sorry…” What can you say to fix something like this? “I’ll sing to you if you think it’ll help?” He nods half-heartedly, climbing into bed.
I feel so uncomfortable singing when people can hear me. My voice cracks in weird places, and I can’t reach any high notes... but I try for Isa. His eyes slowly close, and I sense him starting to relax. I stop singing.
“Why do you have nightmares?”
The question surprises me. I know nightmares have filled my head for the last month, making me dread sleeping…but I never thought he’d notice. He’s my little brother. I have to protect him.
“Nightmares? I don’t have-”
“Quin, I’m not a baby anymore. I’m ten years old. Last night… you called out for Dad.”
He pauses, waiting for me to admit it. I don’t. Am I really so terrified about Dad?
“I know it’s hard with him being gone and all but...He’s often been on business trips before. I can tell there’s something else worrying you.”
Isa tries to make me look at him, but I can’t meet his gaze. I desperately want to let it all out… to drop this burden on a listening ear, but I can’t. Isa can’t know anything.
“I know you’re getting big, and I know I can trust you. Dad just has been gone for a while, and the longer he’s gone...” I pause, “Don’t worry, though. Everything’s going to be ok.”
“You can’t promise that. You don’t even believe that. If you did, you wouldn’t be having nightmares.”
He has me there. I close my eyes, hoping my tears won’t escape.
“It’s ok if you can’t tell me...just know you can.”
I open my eyes and look down at him. A smile spreads across his face.
“I’m here for you, Quin.”
“Thank you, Isa. I’m here for you too.”
“And don’t think I don’t notice. Don’t think I don’t feel the need to be strong too. I’m the man of the house while Dad is gone.”
I stare deep into his sweet, brown eyes, shocked at the depth I find there. I wish I could protect him from the world outside, but it’s too late. He’s already growing up so fast. I stretch out and grasp his hand. Squeezing my eyes shut, I desperately try to hold onto the moment forever.
How do you tell a ten-year-old boy his Dad is working against the government? How can you tell him his family is smuggling illegal...stuff... into the country? How can you tell him that if his family gets caught... horrible things will happen to them? You can’t.
“I know. I’m proud of you, Isa. Things may not be perfect, but when I say everything’s going to be ok, I mean... no matter what happens, I’m going to be with you. Understand?”
He nods, his face glowing. “I got it, Sis!”
“Now, get in bed before I send you to Derevitle.”
He laughs and hops beneath the covers. With one last glance at his peaceful face cradled in the pillow, I turn off the light.
“Dad! Where are you?” I call out poking my head out our little, dirty window. I sigh, frowning at the pouring rain. I haven’t seen the sun in what seems like forever. Out back, the garden plants are looking sickly and frail. If the weather doesn’t change, our food will disappear.
Closing it again, I turn back into the house. Dad had said he was going to work in the garden this morning, but with this weather…I turn back and head to the living room. Mom is crouched in the corner, busily working. Her fingers deftly thread the needle and continue flowing in and out of the cloth. .
My mother amazes me. From dawn till dusk she sits bent over her work. Whether a fancy dress or a pair of socks, beauty seems to form around her. I try to help her, but most often she just sends me away to cook or clean.
I want to ask her where Dad is, but I decide not to disturb her. I check the kitchen, their bedroom, and the hall. It’s not like there are many places he could be. Finally, I check the water closet. I try the door, but it’s locked.
“Dad? Are you in there?”
“Shhh…” I hear him whisper. Two seconds later I hear the latch drop.
I quietly slip inside. Dad is leaning over a bucket with a small lighter. Ripped up sheets of paper are strewn across the floor. I watch as he slowly burns a piece and drops it into the bucket. He then pauses to waft the smoke through the vent before picking up the next one.
“What on earth are you doing?
“Destroying evidence.” He whispers, not looking up.
I reach down to examine one of the fragments.
“No. Don’t look. It’s best not to know.”
I pause, desperately wanting to know. “Ok. But can I stay with you?”
He smiles and nods, lightly blowing smoke out the vent.
“Rainy days are perfect for this. The rain covers the smell.”
“And makes it hard to see,” I add.
It’s hard watching him. I miss him so much when he’s gone, but even when he’s here he seems in a different world. I know he loves us. I have so many memories of us having amazing times in the garden... or washing clothes together. I just wish that since he became a Rebel footman, he hadn’t forgotten about us.
It takes forever to burn everything up, but I wait. Even just sitting next to him makes me feel safer.
“Can you take this out for me?” he asks, pushing the bucket of ash in front of me. “Work it into the soil by the edge of the garden.”
I check to make sure Isa is busy doing the little reading assignment I gave him, and then I dash out to the garden. The pouring rain bites my back. Grabbing the shovel I bury the ashes, watching it turn to a heavy sludge. By the time I’m inside, my hair is plastered to my face and my hands are filthy.
Mom immediately notices and stokes up the fire. “Change before Isa’s finished, then warm up here.”
I nod waddling down the hall, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind me.
Soon, the whole family is curled up in little balls before the fire. I sigh, letting the warmth seep in. My eyelids feel so heavy. Isa is lightly snoring, and... though Mom is sleeping, she still looks exhausted. I start to drift off when I suddenly feel a warm hand on my shoulder. Flipping around, I see Dad crouching next to me.
“Shh...it’s ok, Quin. It’s just me, but I need to go again. Tell your Mom I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Dad, you have to leave already? Why? You’ve only been home for two weeks!”
I know I sound like a whining child, but I can’t help it.
“Don’t worry, Sweetie. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“You can’t just leave us. When you’re gone…” I feel my cheeks getting hot.
“I know...I know...but, Quinlyn, this isn’t just about us. It’s about how to live normal lives despite this government we’re under. We can’t keep that joy to ourselves. I can’t go to work every day and see people in misery and not do anything about it. Please…”
I lower my head, there’s no use arguing.
“I understand, Dad...really I do, but...are people really miserable? Some people actually seem happy. Is it worth the risk? ”
“I’m sorry I’ve laid such a burden on you, Quin. It isn’t fair. All I can tell you is our happiness is being bought by the suffering of others, and I’m not going to let that happen. I love you, Quinlyn, and I will do everything in my power to protect you. You never know how the government could tear our family apart if it continues.”
I nod my head, trying to keep in the tears. “Be safe, Dad.”
A smile flickers on his face. “Of course, Quin.”
I quietly sketch out a pattern for Mom, keeping an eye out the window. It’s been three weeks since Dad was home. We still shouldn’t suspect him for another month, but I can’t help but hope.
Suddenly, I spot a cloaked figure sprinting down the street, heedless of the rain. My heart jumps into my throat. Could it be?
I dash outside, the rain immediately sending shivers down my spine. It looks like the figure is coming here.
“Dad?” I call out just as the figure approaches.
The hood drops. A young face grins back at me.
“Nope. Definitely not Dad,” he laughs.
I flush. I have never seen this man before.
“I am so sorry…I-“
“No need. My family and I just moved to the top story on the other side of the street. It’s nice to meet you, neighbor.”
He stretches out his hand, and reluctantly I shake it. He seems so friendly and happy. Most people around here are frightened, hiding behind curtains and fearful of their neighbors.
“Where’s your Dad off to on a day like this?” he asks, continuing on before I can answer, “I typically try to stay in on these rainy days, but I had to check the mail for the tax call.” He lifts up the corner of his cloak, showing an envelope tucked under his arm.
“Oh, that’s a wise choice. My dad is a businessman,” I respond, hoping he doesn’t ask more questions.
“Wow, you are a lucky family then…well. I’m soaked, and I have a cloak. You should head inside.”
“Yes…thank you…have a good day!”
“You too! And I hope your dad comes home soon!”
With that, we dash back inside, and it’s then I realize I never learned his name.
Today it is still raining, but the neighbor encounter reminded me we need to check the mail. A tax call can come from the government at any time, but if you are late in paying by even a day…you can be labeled as a Rebel. That’s what happened to Danny’s family. I don’t even know where they are now.
I don’t have a rain jacket, but I pull on a wide-brimmed hat and brave the storm. I walk past the grey houses on our street, dancing in the puddles of water on the grey pavement, that reflect the even greyer sky. I honestly don’t think any place could look quite this dreary, but thankfully, I have red rain boots. I’m very lucky. Most people only have one pair of shoes, and they aren’t red rain boots.
By the time I reach the mail, I am shivering and wet. I can feel the water dripping down my pants and into my boots. Stepping inside, I involuntarily shake, sending a shower of droplets from my hair.
“Welcome. How can I help you?” the employer growls.
I show him my ring. “Mail. Box 125A”
“Rob! Box 125A!”
A few seconds later a young man pops up behind the employer and hands him a stack of envelopes.
“Here you go, Sir. That’s a wrap for my shift.”
“Your mail, Miss.” The employer holds the stack out to me.
The young man…that has to be the one from yesterday…our neighbor. The employer had said Rob. His name is Rob.
I suddenly realize the employer is waving the letters in front of my face.
“Oh! I’m so sorry!” I grab the stack, tuck it in my sweater, and prepare to head out.
I turn to see Rob plowing out the employee door with his cloak over his arm.
“Wanna walk back together?”
I don’t. I mean, it’s not like I’m rude. I just can’t become good friends with anyone. My dad is a Rebel. Unfortunately, Rob’s question was completely rhetorical.
“Here let me get the door for you. I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself yesterday, but I also couldn’t keep you out in the rain…” his voice trails off for a moment, “Take my cloak.”
“What?” I squeak. This guy has got to be nuts.
“You have nothing but a hat. Your mail is going to get all wet.”
“I’m not taking your cloak.”
“Then let me carry your mail for you. That way I can keep it dry under my cloak.”
Now I can’t let that happen. A letter from Dad is on top of the stack. I can’t let anyone else handle it. It could have classified information. Rob senses my hesitation.
“Cloak it is!”
Before I could protest, he had gently wrapped it around my shoulders and was happily leaning into the rain
“But now you’re getting soaked!”
He laughed, shaking his head back and forth.
“I love the rain…but you do have a point. Ready?”
“For what?” I don’t think I have felt so turned around before…ever.
“On your mark…get set…go!”
Next thing I know, we are both sprinting down the street, splashing through hundreds of puddles. By the time we get to our houses, we are both laughing and breathless.
“So may I ask for your name?” Rob asks as I hand him back his cloak.
“It’s nice to meet you, Quinlyn. I’m Robinson.”
I wave goodbye and then head straight for the front door.
“Productive?” Mom asks as I slam the door behind me.
“Hopefully, nothing from the government though,” I respond, quickly shuffling through the mail.
Collapsing by the fireplace, I quickly open Dad’s letter. Only four words were scrawled inside.
“Make sure it’s ready”
I lightly trace the words with my finger before tossing it in the fire with a sigh. It was smart not to send much in the mail, but I want to hear from him so badly. I haul myself up and trudge down to my room. Walking to the window, I close my blinds. Though I can’t see anyone on the street, I must be careful. My hands rub up and down the windowsill till I find the one small flaw. Curling my finger, I spring open the top of the windowsill revealing the cavity beneath. I quickly rearrange the packages inside to make room for a new one and then close the sill. The hiding place is perfect.