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Chapter 40

I trekked home feeling deflated. My attempt to warn Allison hadn’t gone as planned and then there was Number Nine’s ultimatum. I dragged my feet up the front stoop, walked in the door and noticed how strange it was to be home at this hour. Despite that small part of me that daydreamed of staying home from school, it just didn’t feel right. The grass is always greener on the other side or something like that.

The second thing I noticed was the silence. I glanced into the family room and saw my dad sleeping peacefully on his recliner. Strange, I thought, this is the second day his coughing had ceased. Maybe he was getting better, after all.

Then I zeroed in on the broken water glass next to his chair and a gun went off in my head. I rushed over and shouted his name, but he sat motionless, staring at the floor. He had done this type of thing before, but something was different. I don’t know if it was the way his head lay gently on his chest or his calm, motionless state.

“Dad, come on, let me get you upstairs,” I exclaimed, hoping more than believing this would somehow cause him to wake up. However, deep down I knew the reality of the matter: my dad had finally succumbed to death’s wish and most likely his own. My emotions swirled and worked furiously to take charge, but I fought them as I kneeled at his side.

He looked peaceful at last.

I lowered my head, fighting the welling tears and through a distorted lens, caught glimpse of my Past Lives Letter on his lap. The letter lay unopened and I wondered if this was his last message to me. Did he want me to open it and find out who I was? Was there something in that mysterious envelope that would ease my suffering and make life’s battles a little less intolerable? What did he know that I didn’t?

I blinked, allowing a few streams to make their way down and focused on the letter. It looked secure in his possession and I realized how lucky I was to have had him as a father. He had always protected me and did so to the end. That, I thought, was more telling than any letter could reveal. Beyond that, I also knew he was where he wanted to be, standing next to my mother, looking down on me and keeping vigil.

How could I feel so fortunate when I had lost both my parents in the last year? The answer was simple: they had done their best to prepare me for this and all the challenges to come. The tears flowed steadily now and I had that lump in my throat that burned. I hated that feeling. It made it impossible to swallow and even harder to fight back the tears.

Knock! Knock!

The thunderous sound brought me back to reality. I glanced at the door and noticed a couple of shadowy figures through the front curtains.

Knock! Knock!

I placed my hand over my dad’s eyes and gently closed them.

“Mr. Locke, is everything all right?” a familiar voice echoed from outside and my sadness suddenly turned to fear.

What was Ms. Petrovich doing here? The answer to my earlier question became clear. She must’ve been the person who visited Mrs. Montgomery this morning.

But why?

Was I in trouble? Were they here to formally press charges for the hacking incident or did she already know of my involvement with Number Nine? I really didn’t know and, quite frankly, didn’t want to find out. I just couldn’t deal with her now.

I grabbed my Past Lives Letter and scanned the room, turning my next move over and over in my head. My eyes landed on the window – the open window – the same one I had repeatedly told my dad to shut.

Teary eyed, I squeezed my dad’s hand and kissed his cheek. “You’re a lifesaver, Dad,” I whispered, quickly moved to the small opening and forced myself through.

“Mr. Locke. Mr. Locke!” I heard Ms. Petrovich yell as I landed and found my footing. I scanned the area and quickly moved down the side of the house toward the back. I jumped the fence into the neighbor’s yard and followed that act three more times before reaching a side street. I ran and was out of breath ten blocks down.

I bent over, heaving and hawing, with the letter still clutched in my hand. Now what, I thought, and scanned the area.

I tried not to think about my dad because the emotions might get the best of me and I would become paralyzed. I needed to suppress those feelings and the only way to do so was to focus on the task at hand. The ultimatum Number Nine had delivered was shocking and that government lady showing up at my door even more so. I couldn’t make this decision alone or at least not without discussing it with someone, but who? Allison was out of the question and so was Matt. I couldn’t ask one of my teachers without the chance of being caught trespassing. So who?

I roamed for a bit and then it dawned on me that I was supposed to see Dr. Marconi tonight for our second session. He was going to try deep regression and tap into my past lives ... or at least that was the plan. A part of me still wasn’t convinced it was possible, but he was the expert and I the guinea pig. I had the sudden notion that my whole life was one big experiment with no consequential end. Or at least that’s what I had thought before seeing Number Nine this morning. Now there was certainly going to be an end, but what type? I didn’t know and the prospects looked less than promising.

I decided to check Dr. Marconi’s house to see if he could spare a few minutes. I remembered how to get there and worked my way to the nearest Metro. However, a swift wind kicked up just before I stepped on the escalator and the hair on my neck stood up.

For a moment, I thought about not taking the Metro for fear the authorities would be staking out these types of places in hopes I’d be foolish enough to ride the train. Then another part of me argued aggressively that it was imperative to see Dr. Marconi as soon as possible – Allison’s life was in danger for heaven’s sake. That side won the debate and I watched the midday sun disappear as I slipped into the concrete portal.

Twenty minutes later, I knocked on Dr. Marconi’s door while scanning the street for any suspicious types.

No one answered.

I knocked louder.

I rang the doorbell several times…

No one came.

I peered through the front window, but the place looked shut down then a snapping noise echoed off to the side and my neck hair jumped again. Fortunately, it was just a squirrel, but when I turned back to the window a pair of green made my heart pound, courtesy of the doctor’s cat. I stepped back and nearly lost my footing.

The cat meowed, enjoying the effect and licked her chops as if I were a potential meal. Something told me if she’d been a couple of feet larger, she’d be sharpening her incisors on my butt.

I moved around the back of the house and found the window to his office where we’d last met. Unfortunately, the shades were drawn and I could only make out silhouettes of stationary objects. The doctor wasn’t home, I presumed, and wondered if I should pay a visit to his office in the city.

The answer was simple. In fact there wasn’t much to dwell on. If it was important enough to drop by his house before the appointed time, then it was okay to do so at his regular office. To hell with his policy and my offline status. I needed some direction and he was my best shot.

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