That’s the last real thought pushing through the narrow opening in my mind. My mother is now aware of the lies I disguised as facts just moments ago. And somehow, I think not trusting her was a wise idea.
I’m certain if I had stuck around longer, there would have been many different levels of yelling taking place. Luckily, right after she prompts the interrogation, my syndrome takes the reins in a most expeditious fashion.
Normally, I feel the tingle and have between three and fifteen seconds heads-up. In this case, my mother barely gets the words “Raymond Lord” out of her mouth, and I’m leaping. Still in the middle of apologizing, I’m delivered to my high school parking lot in the dead of night, wearing a thin coat of anxiety and nothing more.
I remember watching this classic movie called The Terminator with my mom last summer. I relate to the part where the gigantic cyborg shows up butt naked and walks up casually to the first people he sees. I don’t have the muscles or killer instinct of that character, but I have wit and a lack of bashfulness. Due to an endowment my father gave me, being ashamed is rather difficult.
Nudity isn’t the difficult part; it’s explaining why I’m nude that’s challenging. And by the look of it, I may get to test out another explanation, because there are a few kids my age hanging around outside their car in the abandoned parking lot. I need to find a way to the south entrance, where they have a keypad for students to use after hours in emergencies. They haven’t changed it since its implementation, and it’s one of the few well-guarded secrets of the school, known only to faculty and students. The problem is that those peers of mine are between me and the doors.
As I stand in the chilly air, I can’t discern the exact time of year. The deciduous trees still hold their leaves in various lush greens. The cold air could mean anything. I’m personally guessing late spring/early summer.
The school has a bus depot and newspaper portal close to the street. It gives any Leaper showing up near the school a base and a means of travel. The keypad at the school allows shelter from the elements and access to clothes.
The depot is about twenty yards behind me, and the people are ten yards ahead of me on the other side of a retaining wall. I have to get some warm clothes and double back with a plan before I can start figuring out the day and year.
As I take a deep breath and hop over the wall, I wonder how far I’ll get before one of the three long-haired individuals before me takes notice. I just hope they are the affable sort and not ones prone to violence. I fell into that situation once, and getting seventeen stitches was my reward when I leaped back.
As I approach the driver’s side, the three are all resting against the passenger-side quarter panel, talking, and it looks like they’re smoking. A whiff in the air, and I can smell a pungent mix of mowed lawn, burnt corn, and ragweed. It’s apparent what the teens are up to in the parking lot.
I get no more than a few feet in front of the slightly rusted, hail-damaged sedan before I hear one speaking in my direction.
“Duuuude! Is that dude naked?”
Dry giggles and offbeat affirmations of his discovery follow.
“Hey! Hey, buddy.”
Fantastic. Now, do I draw even more attention to myself and have them follow me, or pretend I’m a group hallucination and not look back. I decide to continue forward, since most stoners are not aggressive types, and I’d rather skip having a naked conversation with them.
They continue hashing out the details between themselves, and I take that as a cue to keep moving. That is, until one sentence stands out.
“No, dude, I’m telling you he looks just like Joshua.”
If I were wearing shoes, they would have squeaked with the brakes I put on. Instead, little bits of gravel are soon imbedded into my heels.
“Who did you just say?” I yell over my shoulder, not allowing myself to turn around just yet.
The din of their conversation stops as they have a lapse between organizing my question and formulating an answer.
He’s either offering his answer in a Jeopardy-style fashion or trying to verify if I am indeed Joshua, which, coincidentally, is my father’s name. I turn around to gauge their response on seeing me fully instead of at a passing angle.
“Dude, it is him,” the head dope smoker announces with a smile. Immediately, the smile gets confused, and he looks to his high council for confirmation. “Guys, I think I’m tripping bear balls here. Because it’s him,” he says, while motioning to my family jewels, “but it’s not him.”
That does it for me; checkmark the box labeled “unexpected.”
“Joshua is my dad’s name.”
If there were explosive devices planted into these kids’ heads, I think I just detonated them and blew their minds. Their mouths hang open, and their once-squinty eyes are wide as saucers.
“Dude, the fuck you say,” one stoner contends.
“Nope, I say it because he raised me.” That’s right, even naked and out of my element, I’m snarky. “So, when did you see him?”
“There’s, like, no way. He would have to have had you in grade school, dude. We saw him right after he got his tat last week.”
“He has a tattoo?” This is definitely not the man I knew. Humble, yes. Slightly boring, yes. Abandoning his family and everything to deal with his life since learning of his son’s condition, yes. Tattooed and hanging out with pot-smoking teenagers? My brain is going to pop.
“Dude, I don’t think you can really call a piece just ‘a tattoo.’ He has an entire chest plate.”
I’m not up to speed on the lingo, but I’m guessing that means he has a lot of them on his upper torso. One nagging thing I pick up on begs me to ask the next question, “How old is Joshua?”
I freak out inside and truly hope my question didn’t come out like the shrieking boy-band groupie squeal it felt like. My reaction is like this for two reasons. First, I haven’t seen or heard from my dad since I was twelve. Secondly, my dad is not a Leaper—at least, I don’t think he is.
“I don’t know, like tattoo age, I guess. Early twenties? It’s not like we hang out a lot; he just pops in once in a while. What’s with you guys anyhow? Are you like nudist colony runaways?”
That seals the what-if portion of this odd conversation. As he and his band of merry men laugh for no apparent reason to the nudist colony joke, I begin making my way toward them. I have one more question.
“What did Joshua talk about the last time you saw him?”
As abruptly as before, I’m pulled out of that timeline and popped back into my own. After a jump, it feels like a stomach cramp that releases slowly. My vision is always blurry, like I stepped out of a movie theater into the sunlight.
Still, I can’t help chuckling as I think of what those three potheads must have gone through after I vanished right before their eyes. I imagine the philosophical buzz that must have been killed for them at that moment.
“Something amusing?” The voice is coming from right in front of me, but I can’t make out exactly whom it belongs to. Judging by the soft carpet and smell of cinnamon, I know I’m standing in my room. I’m not sure how I ended up in a different location—usually the return is back to the same spot.
“Mom?” My eyes start coming into focus as I see her sitting in my desk chair facing me.
“You will dislike the fact that I have a good memory.”
Crap! We are just going to pick up where we left off, aren’t we? “How long was I gone?”
My mom looks away and gestures at me with the motion of her finger toward my nether region. I forget the nudity part, sometimes. In this scenario, I blush because I just flashed my mom, no pun intended, for God knows how long. Awesome job, Carter. I find a pair of sweatpants conveniently folded up on the end of my bed and throw them on, as my mom pretends not to notice my tiddly-bits.
“Carter, tell me about your run-in with Raymond Lord.”
The cramp in my stomach returns. This time in the new form of anxiety. I don’t even know where to begin, except to try and opt for a do-over. I abruptly disregard Lord Ray’s warning, since he called my house and decided to relay a message through my mom.
“Mom, I’m sorry. I got confused is all. And before I got more than a few moments to process what was going on, I made a hasty, split-second decision.”
“To not trust your mother.” It’s a statement, but also a question.
“Well, I am sorry. It was just difficult to understand, and I was already in the doghouse with the leap from days ago. I didn’t want to get into it, but I guess a part of me wondered and made me lie to you.”
After the words leave my mouth, I begin rotating the puzzle pieces to see what fits, exactly. So far, a few things haven’t, and it’s about time to turn the table around to get some truth of my own.
“Speaking of the leap report, is someone from the DCD here? I’d rather get it out of the way so we can get back to this.”
“There’s no need to rush. We’ll have time for that. Ray. Tell me what happened with him. What did he tell you behind closed doors?”
Something about the tone in my mother’s voice makes the hairs on my neck prickle. She is beyond any level of mad; she’s being cold. Usually, she has some degree of empathy for me, regardless of the circumstance.
“He only had the chance to tell me I would someday learn to control my powers. It wasn’t really clear. More like cryptic.”
“Why did he only have a brief chance to tell you that?”
“I started to leap.” Even recalling the moment is uncomfortable. Remembering how it felt to have a leap essentially corked.
“The room he had me in stopped me somehow.”
My mom’s expression hasn’t changed once in this whole explanation. This reminds me of the Terminator movie a lot more than I’m comfortable with. Regardless, I can’t stop my mouth from opening and allowing words to fall out.
“Mom, is there something going on that you aren’t telling me?” As the question is punctuated, her eyes squint but not into a full grimace.
“That’s the only thing he said?” Okay, disregard my question.
“What?” I’m not sure if we’re playing on the same sports field anymore, let alone the same team.
“Did he mention anything else? Anyone else?” my mom asks.
“No, but I’m curious, cause another name I just heard on my leap was Dad’s. A small group of stoners knew him, apparently.”
That sparks something, and suddenly she’s no longer sitting but standing, facing me. The ten feet away between us disappears, and she is whispering in my ear. “Never speak of that aloud again.”
A second later she’s back by my desk chair, standing.
“Jesus! That’s another thing—how in the hell is it that you can teleport?!”
“Carter, there are many things you will learn about. I had to speak with you first, before I felt good enough about going forward.”
“Forward with what? Please, you have to tell me something. I feel like I’m going nutty here.”
“Can I talk yet?” a husky voice asks, outside my room.
My mom purses her lips together in an annoyed fashion before answering. “Come in.”
Instead of opening my door and introducing himself like a normal individual, Lord Ray appears in a brief flashing glimmer within my room, not bothering with the handle or hinges.
“Hi, Carter. Sorry about earlier. I kind of jumped the gun.”
“What?” That’s becoming a cliché question in my vernacular, lately. And he can teleport, too?
“Carter, what Ray is meaning to say is that he was mistaken about me.”
“Mistaken?” I ask, frozen like a deer on a country road at dusk.
“He knew about your father’s abilities and mine. Once you developed yours, he was aware of what would happen. After your father disappeared, and I started working as a counselor, Ray thought I was overlooking what could happen to you.”
“Also, since your mom works indirectly for the DCD, I didn’t think she could be trusted with knowing that you met me,” says Lord Ray. “Turns out your mom was and is more aware of things than I am.”
“More aware?” What am I turning into, a parrot? And my dad has abilities?
“There are some things I have been keeping from you until I thought the time was right.”
“So, why were you grilling me just now, if you already knew?” I ask.
“Mainly to corroborate Ray’s story, to see if anyone else knew about what you two discussed. So far, he’s slowly gaining my trust. Even though he kidnapped you and nearly ruined everything I’ve been trying to do for both of us, because he was impatient.”
Ray is just standing there with his hands up as if to pantomime, you caught me. I’m still clueless as to what just happened in my room over the past fifteen minutes, besides flashing my bits to my mom and learning a series of confusing notions. Apparently, my miming skills are up to par as well, because she proceeds to give me a recap.
“Carter, hon, you leapt, and I knew when and where you’d be back. In the meantime, I confronted Mr. Lord, brought him up to speed on my involvement, made a few cursory jumps, and formulated a plan for what to do next.”
“How could you know when I’d be back?” It’s seriously the only thought I’m able to squeeze back out of my mouth. My brain is having an allergic reaction and starting to swell from all of this.
She actually smiles back at me like I’m a child asking if we can drive to Hawaii.
“There are many things people with our condition have the ability to do, Carter. Chrono-Displacement is simply the one the government is fully aware of. Beyond that, we have abilities such as teleportation, telekinesis, and time tracking. When Leapers depart, they leave a distinct and detectable wave pattern. One day, you will be able to follow them.”
I suddenly feel like I can become a super spy, and secretly, I feel a little sick, with a small amount of awesome mixed in. Apparently, I have super-secret powers, but as I’ve learned from movies and graphic novels, that crap is going to get me into some serious trouble.
“Alba, I have to leave. Dr. Phillips will be pulling around here in a few moments.” It’s always strange to me when someone addresses my mom by her actual name instead of her maternal title.
“Wait,” I interject. “How long was I gone for?”
Ray looks at me, a little worry in his eyes. “Nine days and ten hours.”
With that, the same flicker of light takes him out of my room, and I’m guessing out of my house altogether. It occurs to me that both Ray and my mom can teleport without losing their clothes. Granted, it’s minor, but I am putting a mental pin in that notion, and I plan on bringing it up promptly.
“Now, Carter. There’s not a lot of time, but I need you to try and clear away any thoughts or memories of your father. Keep the rest of the details accurate, but leave out whenever your father’s name was brought up.”
“Mom, I have so many questions right now.”
“We have time for two, but the answers will be brief.”
Well, this is difficult. I feel like the more I concentrate, the harder it is to settle for asking two questions. The first thing I think of isn’t the question I care about. “If Ray was trying to keep me from talking with you, why did he call here?”
“It wasn’t him. His idiot henchman was told to get a message to you to meet him. Ray wasn’t aware that instead of personally delivering the message, the guy called here.”
Hmm, I guess even street legends have idiots in their midst.
My next question is a muddled version of about eight separate questions I can’t formulate properly but somehow seems appropriate. “Where is Dad?”
She looks worried, and even though she smiles, there are tears hovering in the lids of her eyes.
“That is what we are going to find out.”