Except he’d left her hanging out here, and no matter how much skipping town seemed like a plan worth serious consideration, he was not going to do that to her.

She deserved an explanation.

And sure enough, as he stood here like a zombie, she had just asked him for one.

To give himself some more time—even though he could have used a year or more, maybe eighteen months, preferably—he went over and sat on the foot of the bed. Planting his elbows on his knees, he was aware that he was pulling a classic The Thinker pose.

Maybe it would help.

Nope. It did not. Words continued to fail him.

Especially as, when he finally did look at her, it was Selena staring back at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a voice that did not sound like his own.

“It’s okay.” She shook her head. “What I mean is… whatever it is, I understand.”

He wasn’t so sure about that.

“Trez,” she said, “I want you to know that you can tell me anything.”

It was as he stared into her eyes that he realized… of course he could explain himself. She had been separated from him as well. She had lost him… as well.

His female truly would understand—

For a split second his brain latched on to those details about her past—the one that didn’t include the Chosen, the Scribe Virgin, the things he knew about her. The one that involved things like Michigan, and Led Zeppelin, and Raisin Bran.

He was too spent to go far with all that, however.

Shifting over to her, he knelt down on the carpet. As he reached out and stroked her face, he thought that he loved her so, and it was impossible not to speak those words. Say those syllables. Release the revelation that was no secret at all, and nothing to fear—

“I lost my parents,” she said. “And what’s more, I lost them even though they’re still alive.”

Her words made no sense so he played them back in his mind. And then did it again. In spite of the numb aftermath of him having lost it, he returned to the refrain that Chosen did not have parents. They had a sire in the Primale, and then a female who birthed them, even as their mahmen was the Scribe Virgin they served. How could Selena—

“I found out about it all when they decided to move.” His female pulled the rug closer to herself, and her eyes drifted away. “I was helping them pack up, you see. They were leaving the home we lived in outside of Ann Arbor. The house I had grown up in. The place where they had raised me… and the male who I thought was my blooded brother. The papers about my adoption were in a box.”

Trez tried to catch up with what she was communicating to him, but it was like translating a language that was only partially related to the ones he knew.

“A box?” he parroted.

“They were moving to a warmer place. Michigan is so cold in the winter, and my mahmen—the female who raised me, I mean—has a heart condition. I was packing up her things, and I found the shoebox way up on the top shelf in her closet. I didn’t intend to be nosy—but I thought it was fancy shoes she never wore because she was like that.” A shadow of a smile tilted his female’s lips on only one side. “She rarely bought anything for herself, but when she did, something like a bag or a coat, she would never wear it because it was the ‘good’ one. She saved things like that for special occasions that never came.”

There was a silence. “The box slipped out of my hands as I was bringing it down. What was inside went everywhere. It wasn’t shoes. It was paperwork. About me.”

He forced himself to get involved in what she was revealing. “They never told you…”

“No, they didn’t. And I can remember reading the documents like… five times. I couldn’t seem to understand what they were saying. And then… I couldn’t understand that they were about me.” She pointed to herself. “Me. I mean, surely… they had to be about somebody else.”

As her brows tightened, it seemed as though she was still trying to come to terms with the news.

“It changed everything instantly for me.” She cleared her throat. “One moment, and all the moments leading up to it, I was a daughter. And then just like that… I was a stranger.”

“It was like a death, then,” he said.

She looked at him. “Yes. Exactly. You understand.”

Not really. Not… at all.

At least when it came to the details. Her pain, on the other hand? Yes, he recognized that for what it was, and he did not want that for her. Ever.

“I died,” she said. “Who I thought I was, who I thought I belonged with, and to, died. And a ghost was left in my place.” She brushed her face as if she expected tears to be there. As if there had been tears before. But there were none. “A ghost is still in my place. And that’s is why I’m here in Caldwell.”

“Did you ask your… the people who raised you about it?”

“I took the papers out into the living room and put them on the coffee table in front of my ma—the female who raised me.”

Trez pictured the scene, conjuring out of no specific details about the house, the rooms, that box, or the other female, some approximation of the confrontation. And meanwhile, the other half of him was protesting the attempt. The story itself.

This wasn’t part of their history.

Yet he could not deny that it had been part of hers.

Trying to reconcile the two versions of her life distracted him, and with force of will, he forced himself to focus on what she was saying.

In the midst of his breakdown, she had honored him, and he would do the same for her. It was the only decent thing to do. Later… he could try to sort it all out.

Although how much more luck was he going to have with that?

“She froze,” his female murmured. “And it was the stricken expression on her face that told me it was all real. I said to her… something like, ‘Well, this was unexpected.’ Then my brother and me had a showdown in front of her and my dad. She didn’t say much. She just sat on the sofa, while the male who raised me and the male who I’d been raised alongside did a lot of talking. They didn’t get where I was coming from. They didn’t understand that it was a violation of my history. Does that make sense? I tried to explain the betrayal to them. The hurt. The anger. Things grew even more heated and I left. I just had to leave… my brother and I were at each other’s throats and she was upset and it was a mess.”

“And then you came to Caldwell.”

“As soon as I left the house, I realized I had nowhere to go. Who could I stay with? My cousins? They were not my cousins.” She shook her head. “My people were not my people. My own brother knew, and I didn’t—so how far did the secret go? Who else knew? Who had known all along? It was like being stripped naked and everyone seeing it but yourself. Lies that are fundamental hurt fundamentally. Imagine if between one second and the next… all of the people in your life were replaced with actors. Or maybe it’s more… the parents I assumed were real were being played by actors.” She shrugged. “Maybe someone else would have felt differently—”

Trez cut in. “It doesn’t matter what someone else would have felt. It’s you.”

“That’s what I tried to tell my brother. He was too busy protecting them to hear it. And you know, losing him was just as hard as losing… well, what I thought of as my parents.” She shook her head. “I mean, families tell the truth, right? They’re the only people in our lives who can really do that even when we don’t want to hear it. Because blood makes us stuck with them.”

He thought of iAm and felt uneasy. “Yes, but they can also be wrong.”

Trez had to say that. For himself. He had to believe that… Fates, he didn’t even know what to believe anymore. He was so damned wrung out, his thoughts totally disjointed, his body weak, his head starting to ache.

Meanwhile, she wasn’t having such a great night, either. With a curse, she put her own head in her hands and shuddered. “I hurt her. That’s the fucked-up thing. My ma—that female—looked ruined as I walked out that door. And as I dematerialized to my apartment and packed up some stuff, I blamed myself. Like it was my choice, though? I got the fallout of her decision to stay silent. Not the other way around.”

When there was a long pause, he felt like he had to say something. Do something. But he couldn’t seem to form anything coherent for his mouth to speak.

Grasping at straws, he mumbled, “Why did you choose Caldwell?”

She frowned. And then looked at him once more. “You know, it’s funny… I don’t have a good answer for that. I remember so many things about all of it with unbearable precision. But as for what brought me here? That… I don’t know. I guess I was just called to Caldwell.”


Therese tried to flex her tired brain and access the piece of information about exactly why she’d ended up where she did. But there was nothing. No context for Caldwell. No contacts here. No reason to head east instead of south or west.

’Cuz God knew it was harder to get more north, unless she wanted to land in Canada. Which, granted, was a very nice place, but a change of currency and partially of language? She’d had enough to deal with.

But why this particular town? And why with such unquestionable determination? It was as if Caldwell had popped into her mind as a destination like it had been implanted there by another source—and hey, at the point she’d left home, having some direction, any direction, was better than none at all.

“So yeah,” she concluded. “That’s why I understand where you are. Even if I don’t know the details.”

During the period of silence that followed, it was Trez’s opportunity to jump in the Share Pool. But he remained quiet as he sat on the floor. And it was interesting, in another era in her life, before she’d had her own awful reshuffle of things, she might have felt shut out. It was hard, though, when your emotions were strong, to plug into even yourself, much less someone else.