Vibeke wakes up from a dreamless sleep as someone pokes her cheeks with a sticky finger. Enthusiastic four-year-olds don’t have a concept of waking a grown-up in a pleasant way.
“Hey, hey, stop it young man. I’m awake.”
The little boy giggles and runs to the kitchen. “Mom, Vibby is up!”
“Didn’t I tell you to let her sleep?”
“She woke up!”
“Yes, I bet she did.” Mary’s voice comes closer and Vibeke fights with her sleepiness to sit up. Mary places a cup of coffee on the couch table and sits down. “How did you sleep?”
“Alright I guess.”
Mary looks around on the couch and the floor. “Wasn’t there a beige blanket?”
Vib feels her face heat up. “Yeah, I was outside and must have left it there?”
“You were outside? At night? What in the world for?”
“Just needed some fresh air.”
Mary shakes her head. “What kind of crazy thing is that with you? Are you nuts? We may not live in the city but this is still no place to wander around alone at night.”
“Even bad guys sleep at night,” Vib says, not very convincingly.
“Maybe where you come from but not here.” Mary shakes her head again. “And who knows, that freak storm could have come back.”
“Naw, it was a clear night, not a breeze,” Vibeke says. She takes a big gulp from her coffee cup and thinks back to the night. The memory is clear in her mind; there is none of the haziness she feared before she finally fell asleep. She can see him in her mind, with his wings and his tail and his wonderful eyes. Vib shakes her head and takes another sip. Getting infatuated with a lizardman sounds like a profoundly bad idea.
Justin eats his cereal at the table, driving his favorite toy car around the bowl. Vib watches him over the rim of her cup. She has to protect him, that much she knows — but from what?
She strains her neck to look over the back of the couch. “Mary? Remember how you asked me to move in with you a while back?”
Mary comes out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Yes?”
“Does the offer still stand?”
“You mean it just needed a freak storm ripping my house in half to convince you to leave your moldy apartment?”
“I guess. Sorry, this may not be the best time…”
Mary sits down next to her and pulls her into a hug. “Girl, we would love to have you here. That room’s been waiting for you for months. You already have a key, just get your stuff and move in. I even had the shower fixed in the small bathroom, just a few weeks ago.”
“Vib will live here?” Justin calls out with milk dripping from his chin.
“Yes, Honey, she’ll have the guest room and the small office.”
“Then she can play with me every day,” Justin says, beaming at her.
“Now Honey, Vib is not here for your entertainment; she has to work and she needs time for herself too.”
Justin hops down from the chair and comes over to sit on Vibeke’s other side. “Will you always sleep on the couch?”
“No, I’ll have my own bed in the room.”
“Okay, then you can stay.” The subject seems to be done for Justin and he runs up the stairs to get his backpack. Vib hides a chuckle. She had not been aware that she needed Justin’s approval to stay in the guest rooms but apparently she has it now.
She turns to Mary. “I have to terminate the lease on the apartment first before I can pay you the rent but I would like to move in right away if possible.”
Mary raises her eyebrows. “You’re in such a hurry? Did the mold get too bad now?”
Vib nods. It’s not a full lie, her apartment really is moldy but she had been living with that for a while now. She takes a breath to start a lengthy explanation why she has to move in right away but Mary’s attention is pulled to the TV on the kitchen counter. The tone is turned down low but the display shows a picture of a small brown boy and a white girl with the words “Amber Alert” over their heads.
“Another Amber alert? That’s the third one this week,” Mary says.
“Three already? And all around this area?”
Mary nods, her eyes wide in fear. “I’m not letting Justin out alone anymore, not even in the driveway.” She turns to Vib and her hands are shaking. “You have to watch him all the time, okay? I know you’re not his nanny but if you happen to watch him, you don’t let him out your sight, okay? Okay?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Vib promises. She loves the boy, she would never want anything to happen to him. Something gnaws at the back of her mind, something about what Leelan had said.
“I have to call Kim and remind her of that too. I didn’t take this seriously at first,” Mary continues, getting up and pacing between the living room and the kitchen, picking up things and placing them elsewhere all the while. “When I had my hair done last week, Latisha said that she heard about three teenagers where the police say they’ve run away but she didn’t believe it and now all these other kids are missing…” she desperately looks at Vibeke for answers. “What do you think is going on?”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence,” Vib says to calm Mary down. She doesn’t believe it for one second of course but she sees no point in adding to Mary’s fears. “Some kids decided to run away together and it just happens to fall in a week where the media has nothing to report so they make it all sound worse than it is.”
She needs to talk to Leelan about this. She doesn’t quite know why but she is sure that it has something to do with him.
“Maybe you’re right,” Mary says and shakes her head. “Still, I’m not letting Justin out of my sight.” She picks up the lunchbox and calls for him to come down. Mary will drop him off at the Kindergarten on her way to work and Vib realizes with a start that she has to get home for a change of clothes before she can go to work.
“I better get ready,” Vib mumbles and hurries over to the bathroom. Thankfully she has slept here often enough to have her own toothbrush sitting under the mirror.
“Okay, Justin and I are leaving. Don’t forget to lock the door, okay?’
“Okay. I’ll be around tonight with some of my stuff,” Vib says.
“Bye, Vib!” Justin calls, running out to the front door. “See you.”
“I’m glad you finally made up your mind,” Mary says and waves from the door before she pulls it closed behind her.
Vib stares at her reflection in the mirror while she brushes her teeth. Her short hair is a tangled and dark mess and the bandaids on her face don’t look white anymore. They start peeling at the edges. She sighs. She needs to get home and take care of her face before she turns up in the office.
After putting on her clothes from the day before and sending a text message to her boss that she would be late, she drives to her apartment. Traffic is not bad this morning and she drives without really paying attention, her thoughts turning back to Leelan. She recalls their conversation and she almost drives against the curb when she finally remembers that he had said that the other creature had probably come for Justin.
“They steal children!” she says out loud in the safety of her car. Creatures that could hide with magic, stealing children. That’s what is happening.
“Fuck!” she yells, hitting the steering wheel. “Leelan, if you can hear me, we really need to talk and I promise it’s not the kind of talk they always make fun of in romcoms.” She holds her breath for a moment, hoping against her better judgement that Leelan could somehow materialize in her car just from calling him.
She curses some more under her breath until she can turn into the parking lot of her apartment building. She runs upstairs and into her apartment and is somehow disappointed to find it undisturbed. There is no logical explanation for it but some part of her had hoped to find the dragonman waiting in her apartment. She looks towards the landline phone.
“I can’t even call you, lizardman. You should have given me a sparkly magical phone.”
Because it’s important. And I would love to hear your voice again.
Talking to herself is a disturbing habit of hers. Soon she will turn into a crazy cat lady, muttering to herself. “Excellent idea to move in with Mary and Justin, excellent idea. Will stop the crazy,” she says and swears for talking out loud again.
Removing the bandaids reveals the cut as an angry red line going diagonally over her face. It starts right under her right eye, goes over her nose and ends below her left cheek. It stays red after washing her face but at least the swelling has receded. But even her best make-up can’t cover the red. She shrugs and decides to ignore it.
Her office day is so unremarkably normal and boring that it cures her of any magical ideas. By the end of the day she has told the story of the freak storm and a branch hitting her face so many times that she starts to believe it herself. It makes so much more sense than the idea that a man with wings whipped his tail across her face while fighting with another man with wings.
Her story only holds the attention of the gossip train for a short time. One of her co-workers gets a call that his son has not come home last night. A cold silence falls over the office hallway and the gossip train disperses with worried whispers.
Vib has accumulated enough extra hours from working on weekends that she can go home early and her boss is surprisingly understanding about it. He tells her to take a day off and take care of her injury. While he says that he looks at her as if the ghastly injury is a personal affront to him, ruining his pretty outlook on his day.
She files that observation away as another “could you be even more stereotypical shallow?” point on her list regarding her boss and happily leaves the cold glass building. The wind is blowing dust from the freeway over the parking lot and she runs to her car to escape it. It’s cold today, she’ll need a warmer coat soon.
Her apartment is cold too. It’s a nice enough place, she put up colorful curtains and placed red pillows on the couch but somehow it still looks drab and cold. It only takes her thirty minutes to put most of her things into a suitcase and a bag. She didn’t have much when she moved here and the only things she added to it is books and kitchen utensils. Mary will probably question her invitation once Vibeke brings all of that stuff over to add to her bookshelves and kitchen.
Before she locks up the place, she picks up an empty box and fills it with her newest books and a few of her favorites. Who knows when she’ll be able to return to this place?
Mary’s house is cold, too, but it’s a different cold. One that is easily fixed with making a cup of tea and snuggling up with a blanket on the couch. She has brought a blanket from her own couch as a replacement for the one she gave to Leelan. She manages to store her stuff away in her new room and make a cup of tea before she collapses on the couch.
Her thoughts turn to cancelling the lease, rerouting her mail, when to get the rest of her stuff but those thoughts slowly fall back and away. The empty space they leave in her mind is soon occupied by a dark face with yellow eyes and a smile. She wonders where he is now and what he does. Is his wing still hurting? Is he among friends? Is someone waiting for him and taking care of him?
She groans loudly at that last thought.
Why worry about that?
To distract herself she types a message to Mary, offering to pick up Justin from Kindergarten today. Her phone rings soon after.
“Hi Vib, it’s Mary. Are you in our house?”
“It’s still your house, I’m just a guest who doesn’t leave.”
“Don’t be silly. Listen, I had a message from the Kindergarten and you can only pick up Justin if you’re registered there with ID. Only Kim and I are registered there yet.” Kim is the Nanny that picks up Justin from Kindergarten on weekdays.
“Oh, that a new policy?”
“Yes,” Mary lowers her voice, “They had the FBI there, advising them because of all the children disappearing.”
“The FBI? Did they say anything else?” The hairs on her neck are standing up like a warning.
“No, but it must be serious if the FBI is involved don’t you think?”
Vibeke hesitates to answer. She doesn’t want to make Mary more worried than she already is but she also doesn’t want to lie to her. “I’m sure the FBI will get to the bottom of this, whatever it is that is happening.”
Mary sighs. “I have to go, Kim will pick up Justin for his Teakwondo class and when I get home, I’ll bring Chinese. You want anything special?”
“Just something with duck.”
They hang up and Vib’s thoughts are swirling in her head like a swarm of bees. That the FBI is involved means there really is something going on. But she could hardly walk up to the next good looking FBI agent and tell him about lizardmen fighting over children.
“Leelan, I seriously need to talk to you,” she says out loud into the empty room. “Not just because I want to ask you so many questions and also look at you again and make sure that I didn’t just dream all of this and I really should stop talking to myself. I hope nobody put microphones in here; hello people, I’m not crazy…” She lets her head fall in her hands and groans. “Leelan, why the fuck don’t you have a magic phone?”