“I kept that information from him,” Teague argued back.
The rip grew wider, going around us instead of flowing over us. I put my hand on the small of Hallie’s back. I needed to get her out.
“I tried to protect you, Hallie.” Teague’s voice trembled.
“Really?” Hallie laughed without mirth. “Don’t pretend like you have feelings for me. You’ve never cared for me the way a mother should care for her own child, because you didn’t give birth to me; you bred me.”
“I created you.”
The smell of manure blended with the sounds of livestock, all of it too close.
“Hal, we’ve gotta go. It’s growing too fast to—”
The rip world moved like lightning, swallowing Hallie, and then Teague.
I did the only thing I could.
Suddenly, I was staring up at a bright blue sky rather than the gray one that had been there ten seconds ago.
A crowd of rips gathered, staring at me, just like ones we’d encountered in the alley in the French Quarter.
Two seconds later, my mother appeared.
I took off running, keeping to the Saint Charles side of the park, dodging in and out of crowds. It might be impossible to outrun a rip, but I was sure as hell going to try.
I paused to look over my shoulder. My mother. The woman could move in heels, I’d give her that. “Enjoying the early nineteenth century? Because there’s a good chance it’s about to enjoy me.”
I took off again, but I’d chosen the wrong direction. The first rip caught me just outside the international exhibition.
The boy was Chinese. He sat beside a merchant, presumably his father, as they took items out of wooden shipping crates and cataloged them. He’d been crying.
“But I don’t understand why anyone would treat a human this way.”
He spoke a language that wasn’t my own, yet was. I understood it, and the source of the pain in his chest.
“There are slaves in China.” Father speaks with a discordant note, not to admonish me, but to teach me. “The number is small, and the practice is waning, but almost every culture has a race that they treat as half man, half thing.”
“I will never treat a human with anything resembling this contempt.” I make the vow to myself and to my family’s honor.
“I know, son of mine. This is why I brought you here, to America. To see the different ways people live, and so you can choose your own path. Kindness is always the answer. Turn your inner concerns outward, and live for others rather than yourself.”
My father grins and holds up a tiny golden Buddha. “It doesn’t hurt if you sell them a few things along the way.”
When I opened my eyes, I was on the ground, on my back.
My mother had seen the possession, watched it change my body, and she was afraid. “Your face …”
I didn’t have time to enjoy her fear. I was too busy anticipating an onslaught. What I saw when I looked around rocked me to the core.
The rips were watching us. Not me, us. Me and my mother.
Some held back, and others surged forward to stare. Even though they drifted closer to me than her, they still hovered, unable to keep their eyes in one place. Unable to make a decision.
“Do you see that?” I asked her softly. “They can’t decide if they want to pick me or you. You might not be activated, but you’re still an Infinityglass.”
“Maybe. But you’re the powerful one.” She said the words loudly, like she wanted to make sure they could hear. And then she pointed. “She’s the powerful one.”
The rips knew their best option, and now they were advancing. I felt the pull, but it wasn’t as strong as usual. I guessed I had something to thank my mother for after all, even if it was only a momentary distraction.
I moved closer to her. The rips followed me, and once again split their focus between us. My mind scrambled for a way to draw out the confusion as long as I could. Then I caught sight of Dune.
He approached us at a run, grabbing me and pulling me away from Mom and the rips.
“Don’t give in, Hallie.”
He put his body between the rips and me.
They were staring only at my mother now, and she gaped at them in horror. They began to circle her, and I held on to Dune instead of being absorbed into the lives of those already dead.
“Can you get us out?” he asked.
I’d have to make a choice.
I stared at my mother, who even now was trying to wave the rips in my direction.
I took Dune’s hand and closed the rip world.
I left my mother behind.
My hair was still wet from the shower when I climbed into his lap, which was my new favorite place. If we had to be vertical. “She’ll get out. She’s not activated. She doesn’t have enough strength to sustain them.”
He held me close, and his big hand ran slow circles over my back. “Are you okay?”
“At least I know the truth now.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
I wanted to call my dad, see if he’d known the truth, any part of it. “Not right now. Right now let’s talk about how you got this scar.” I smoothed my finger over his eyebrow.
“I fell off the kitchen counter when I was three.”
“Why were you on the kitchen counter?”
“I was trying to get glue off the top of the fridge so I could attach my Matchbox cars to the coffee table.”
“I bet you were a mess of a toddler.” And got away with everything. No mother would’ve been able to resist those eyes. “Do you have siblings?”
“Three. Two of them own a kick-ass resort on the Kona coast. Obviously, I’ve never been to visit. The other is in med school at USC.”
“You’re the baby?”
I tickled him, hoping he’d tickle back, because that got his hands near the places I wanted them. When he didn’t, I kissed him and slid my hands up the back of his shirt.
“Hallie. We need to talk about today. I don’t want you to swallow the truth. It’ll burn a hole through you.”
“Why can’t we act like everything is normal?” I removed my hands, put them in my lap. “Just for today?”
“Don’t think I wouldn’t rather be kissing you.” He laid one on me that made my toes curl for posterity. “Because I would. But I’d also like to be kissing you next week and next month and next year. If we can’t figure this out, that won’t—”
“Next year.” I leaned back to look at him. “You want to be kissing me next year?”
“Yes.” Straight and true. “But you have to be here.”
“You think there’s a chance I won’t be?”
When he didn’t answer, I pushed away from him to go to the window. To calm my breathing. So I didn’t have to see the truth on his face.
“You aren’t the only one who loses if this situation goes wrong,” he said. “I didn’t see you coming, and then you were there, and now … you’re everywhere.”
“I never wanted to belong to someone.” After Benny, I never wanted to risk loss like that again.