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First pages

1

 

Havilah Hunt

Salalah, Oman

 

The sound of screaming shocked me awake.

The piercing cries just about made me pee on myself, because they were coming from the living room of my apartment. I fell out of bed and tripped on the edge of the wooly rug, then fumbled towards my bedroom door, closer to the feral screams.

Sunlight peeping through the blinds in the living room revealed the piercing ruckus was just Zara, my new friend. I totally forgot she’d crashed here after we worked on my visa paperwork last night. Zara had planned to take a taxi back to her apartment and her kids in the morning, when it would be safer for a woman alone to be on the streets.

I scanned the living room and realized that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No masked robbers or cobras were in here, and I knew none of my kids had suddenly died because I saw them in the kitchen area, gawking. But Zara was still shrieking, thrashing around on the turquoise vinyl couch under the blanket I’d given her, like she was having some kind of attack.

“Mirza! Mirza!” she screeched. “Mir---zaaaaa!”

I had no idea what that meant in Arabic, Zara’s native language, because even after six months here my Arabic still sucked. It was why I needed Zara to help me fill out the Arabic paperwork for my work visa to stay here in Oman.

Zara left Arabic behind and started to shriek in English: “Peacock Angel, save him! Was it so terrible that I loved him? You as good as killed him yourself. Did we deserve that, for love?” Zara wailed, low and keening. “Oh God, but we couldn’t let them have it. Not after what they did to us.”

Her eyes flew open, wild with whatever horrifying nightmare she must have been having. The moisture drained right out of my mouth. Zara rolled off the couch and took up a fiery-eyed fight position, her long chocolate hair free now and frizzing around her head and shoulders like a snarly mane.

Slowly, she seemed to become aware the rest of us were there, watching. And that there really, honestly, wasn’t anyone here who appeared to be a threat. She slapped one hand to her heart and sank back onto the crooked couch cushions, shaking visibly. Zara’s cheeks tinted the color of cherries.

“Was I screaming?” she finally asked. Her eyes were glued to the flesh-colored Persian rug under the couch.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “You were. Everything…ok?” I tried my best to keep my voice light, but my heart was doing the conga against my ribs.

“Yes.” Shame steamed off Zara in waves. Her shoulders curved down toward her belly button. “God, I’m so sorry.”

“Please, don’t worry about it,” I said. Really, I was the last person who was going to judge anyone for having issues. I was pretty sure that living in war-torn Iraq, like I knew Zara had before coming here as a refugee, would be enough to give anyone nightmares. “Everything’s good, kids.” I waved at my offspring, who all stood clustered around the other side of the breakfast bar like sleek meerkats around a watering hole. “Good morning. Get yourselves some breakfast.”

My kids and I lived here in the Golden Sands Hotel in Salalah, Oman. The hotel gave me one of their apartment units as a perk of my job, running the English kids’ club the hotel offered to guests. Our apartment was a two-bedroom, so I had the two girls in one bedroom, the two boys in the other. With the four of them all between the teen/preteen ages of 12 and 14, they were pretty much like a big group of quadruplets, anyway, and used to spending lots of time together. I used what was supposed to be the office as my bedroom. It was tight, but the kids and I had been enjoying ourselves very much since moving to Oman at the beginning of this year.

“I should go,” Zara said. She snapped up from the couch and tried to flatten her wrinkled pumpkin-colored dress over her plump midsection. She wore wide black pants under the dress and glittery plastic sandals, her usual uniform. Zara’s striking hazel eyes were still wild behind green tortoise-shell glasses. She snatched her mammoth purple purse with rhinestones the size of grapes from the floor by the couch and jammed it onto her shoulder, then started compulsively folding the blanket and stacking my Bazaar fashion magazines on the coffee table.

“No, don’t go!” I said. “We should go out, with the kids. It’s raining.”

Gunner’s eyes went wide at my big reveal.  I grinned, pleased I had been the first to notice the rain, when I got up at midnight to make a trip to the bathroom. Finally, the deserts of Oman had given way to the much-awaited monsoon season. Rain was sluicing down the side of the hotel in silver sheets, transforming all the brown sand outside into a verdant jungle wonderland.

“It’s actually raining?” Gracia gaped. “Ohmygosh! Everybody said it would rain a lot, but I didn’t believe them!”

“Yea!” Salome bounced on the soles of her bony feet. “I thought, like, it was just way too hot here and it was never gonna rain again!”

I couldn’t believe the kids hadn’t noticed the rain sailing across the window when they woke up. The four of them ran in a tangle of scrawny legs and arms to the huge picture window at the side of the living room, the one with a view of the palm-lined street outside the hotel.

“OMG, it’s raining! For real!” Salome shrieked. “Can we go out? Please?”

“Please?” Blade echoed sloppily around a mouthful of Cheerios and yogurt. He was clutching the little yogurt pack so tightly I thought the thing might implode.

“Of course we’re going out,” I said. I was sick and tired of the blazing desert heat and had been waiting for this monsoon for months. I walked into the kitchen and poured myself cold, whole milk into a mug, then dumped in four big spoonfuls of chocolate poweder, stirred and took a sip. Ahhh…sickly sweet goodness. Every time I mixed all those sugary crystals into my hormone-laced, store-bought milk, it made me feel like I was free now. To do whatever the heck I wanted.

And I was free now. From all of it. Wasn’t I?

I pulled my focus back to the here and now. “Well, how about we pick up your kids and go to the mall? Unless you’d like some milk first?” I held up my mug and grinned.

“No, thanks,” Zara said sadly.

“Then let’s go get your kids,” I said. I’d never met Zara’s kids, but was very interested to see what they would be like. After all, Zara and I got along so well. You’d think we’d have nothing in common, me from Iowa and her from Iraq, but honestly, we were sometimes eerily alike. “We could get breakfast at McDonalds. Their sandwiches are tasty.” Well, at least they didn’t require any cooking.

Zara pushed her glasses up sharply on her nose. “It’s Saturday. Don’t you have to prepare for a date tonight or something?” She said it under her breath, eyeing my children to make sure they couldn’t hear.

I snorted. “No. Absolutely no date tonight. I don’t date.”

Zara blinked. “But you are American. Isn’t that how your people meet their spouses.”

“I’ve actually…never dated.” I said. The sweet milk in my gut threatened to curdle a bit. “Not ever. Not even once.” Zara’s eyes wandered to my four children plastered against the picture window. I mean, yeah, how the hell could anyone pop out four nearly-identical babies without even having dated? “They’re not adopted.” I put that idea right out of her head. “And I guess I’m not a normal American, then. I’m thirty-three years old, and I never dated So, should we go to the mall?”

My voice had become brittle. Zara’s knuckles turned white on the strap of her purse and it looked like she was going to say no. Finally, she nodded crisply. “Ok. Sure.”

Salome and Gracia whooped in tandem. “We’re gonna get soaked!”

Gunner wiggled around the living room, bare feet squeaking on the tiles, not at all embarrassed to be thirteen and doing a geeky dance in front of Zara, our guest.

“Can we get ice cream?” Blade begged. He was, at twelve, still my baby.

“First breakfast. Then maybe ice cream,” I promised. Any excuse not to cook. I’d done enough of that already for a lifetime.  “We’re going to pick up Zara’s kids. While I’m gone, get dressed and clean up the kitchen. Seriously, guys. When I come back, pants on, shoes tied, teeth brushed.”

Everyone complained, because they wanted to come with me to get Zara’s kids, just so they didn’t have to wait another minute to get out into the rain. But I left them whining in the kitchen and ran to my bedroom/office/sewing room to get dressed.

My teeny closet was so stuffed with color-coordinated clothes that it was hard to see what I actually owned. I loved clothing items that were different and unique, and saved up to buy special items on clearance whenever I could on my tight budget. Now, I grabbed black skinny jeans, always a struggle to get on over my large butt and hips. Thank God, at least my waist was still pretty small. Honestly, after having four kids, it could be a lot worse. I choose a soft burgundy and black flannel I’d been dying for it to get cold enough outside to wear. The long shirt covered my butt, as per cultural requirements here in Oman. The most exciting thing about the rain still pouring down outside was that I finally got to try out my wine-colored Via Spiga boots with a chunky heel. Heels were miracle-workers for a 5’2’’ individual like myself.

She in her pumpkin dress and me in my new boots, Zara and I rode the elevator from the fifth floor where my apartment was to the lobby and the Golden Sands’ rain-splattered parking lot beyond. The rain felt amazing on my desert-scorched skin, and I wanted to stand out there in the downpour all day. It would be bad to show up at the fancy Salalah mall dripping all over the marble tiles, though, so I forced myself to keep moving towards the van.

Millicent sat in my allotted parking space, soaking in the rain. Zara and I unlocked the ancient, olive-green minivan and dived in. I flipped down the visor and the mirror revealed fat rain drops clinging to my eyelashes, making my gold eyes look even larger. People always stared at the eyes, and I had learned that the golden color really was not that common. My mouse-brown hair with caramel highlights hung limply to brush my shoulders. I loved wearing wool beanies, like the black one I’d put on today, because I rarely had time to do my hair.

“This rain is very nice,” Zara said, fastening her seat belt. She was right; it was pure heaven out here, misty, green, and refreshing. I never wanted the monsoon to end. It was like the silver rain drops were feeding every cell in my desert-baked body, bringing them back to life.

Plus, I got to wear my new boots.

“What did you mean before, that you should have just let them have something?” I asked Zara as I threw the van into park. “When you were talking in your sleep.” Maybe I’d catch her off guard, distracted by the rain, and she’d tell me something. I’d only met Zara recently, and I could never get her to talk about her past. That intrigued me.

She blinked at me, scattering rain drops across her lap. “Nothing,” she said bluntly. I got the clear impression she really didn’t want to talk about Iraq. It was the same the other few times I tried to bring it up since I’d met her here at the hotel a few weeks back. Zara cleaned rooms. She crossed her arms tightly in front of her. “I have nightmares, because of ISIS.” She spat the last word, then glanced at me narrowly. “They’re the ones who are taking over my country. Now, they are my mortal enemy.”

“O-kay…” I said. Did people still have mortal enemies? This was a good start at getting information, though. “I mean anyone would have nightmares, being in a war,” I said. It was totally understandable. I guided Millicent into a hard right and peeled out of the parking lot towards Zara’s apartment. I’d dropped her off there a couple times, but had never been in. With my driving, it would only take like seven minutes to get to Zara’s cookie-cutter apartment building. Omani drivers liked to speed, and I fit in well, even though I still hadn’t figured out all the traffic rules.

I was just reaching for the radio to put on music when Zara said, “Plus, I took something they want. During the war. And I’d rather die than let them have it.”

My hands flexed on the steering wheel, startled that she was volunteering so much information. “You did? What?”

Her lips pressed into an invisible line. I guessed that was the end of our conversation. Maybe Zara was just talking nonsense. What could a mother of six like Zara have that ISIS would want? I frowned and just kept driving.

Salalah, it seemed to me, was shaded mainly in neutrals. The tones of buildings varied little: beige, cream, bone white, sand, or khaki. We turned off the wide, palm-lined road of the Golden Sands onto a quieter commercial street. All the shops were connected, forming a strip of green metal garage doors, rolled up now and ready for Saturday morning business. The second stories above the shops were all Arabic-style windows and balconies in shades of vanilla or white chocolate.

We got to Zara’s apartment in no time. She invited me to go up with her to meet the kids while she checked her email, and we climbed a set of concrete steps to the third floor. I waited while Zara produced a keyring from her faux-croc purse and unlocked the door. Spicy air hit me from inside the apartment, exotic scents that I couldn’t even identify, much less imagine how they would taste.

As I followed Zara inside, I slipped out of my now-soaked wine boots by the door as was Omani custom and peeked towards the kitchen. There wasn’t a dish out of place, not even a single cereal bowl and spoon languishing in the sink. I was impressed. By now, my apartment kitchen must look like an inner-city crack house. Or at least how I imagined that would look.

“Havilah, please, sit down,” Zara told me, motioning towards a long row of Omani-style red and gold cushions along the living room wall. I was totally loving the red, my favorite color for anything. A cheap red carpet spread between the two rows of cushions. A hulking crystal chandelier presided over the living area, and there was a tiny flat-screen TV sitting on a shelf in one corner. A giant stack of X-Files DVDs rested under the TV: obviously someone’s favorite show. There wasn’t much else in the living room.

I padded across the carpet to the cushions in my damp socks.  The cushions felt stiff and brand new when I sat down. I was just crossing my legs and settling my hands onto the knees of my jeans when a whole crew of kids showed up from what I assumed was the bedroom area. She must have started popping out babies young like I did, to have six already. Zara was thirty-one, two years younger than me.

There were two teenage boys who looked about the same age as my fourteen-year-old daughters. Zara introduced them as Hamish and Willis. Next came three really pretty girls with huge hazel eyes, constellations of freckles, and nutmeg curls. “Iris is eleven, Arabella is eight, and Poppy is three,” Zara explained quietly. Iris was holding a very fat baby that couldn’t be older than six months.

“Oh, cute,” I said. The baby was cute, but he had something that looked like curried squash dried all over the side of his face and was wearing only a soiled diaper. “Wow, I’m impressed that you can leave your kids alone overnight and they all take care of the baby,” I said.

“That’s Hansel,” Zara told me, and I saw the side of her nose wrinkle up a little bit. The baby reached for his mother, but she turned her back to him and bustled back towards the bedrooms, apparently disgusted that he was so dirty. “Arabella, I’m going to change,” Zara called to her daughter in clearly-enunciated English. “Could you please get my friend a glass of watermelon juice? We’re going to go out, in the rain. To the mall to have McDonalds.”

This news was exciting to everyone. “Yes!” Iris pumped her tan fist in the air, still holding the baby on her skinny, eleven-year-old hip. Baby Hansel looked like he might burst into tears and was still staring down the hallway where his mom had disappeared. All of a sudden, I heard something crash from down the hallway.

“Damn it, Hamish! Willis!” Zara screeched. “You boys have been using Facebook again?”

The two teenagers exchanged an annoyed glance. “Yes, Mother, but we’re being careful.” They looked back at me and Hamish cleared his throat. “Our mom makes us answer her in English when she talks to us in English. So we can practice. She hopes we will someday be able to live in the United States.”

“That would be great,” I said. The raw hope in the boys’ eyes made me sad, because I knew that in the current political climate, not many war refugees were getting visas to live in the US. If moving to the United States was their dream, it wasn’t likely to come true.

“I don’t care if you’re careful,” Zara’s voice echoed back down the hall. “I told you that Facebook is not secure. I don’t ever want you using it. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mother,” Hamish and Willis said in unison, eyes fixed on the carpet.

I was a little nervous because Zara was being so grouchy about Facebook, but hey, having teenagers was not a walk in the park and Zara had the right to not allow her kids to use Facebook, even if everybody was using it nowadays.  I smiled at Arabella, who handed me a very full glass of salmon-toned juice. Watermelon juice was one of my favorites, and I took a long sip. Outside, I could still hear blessed raindrops splatting against the window of Zara’s apartment.

Zara stalked back into the living room, ignoring Hansel reaching for her with his pudgy fists. She had changed quickly, another strapless, knee-length dress in black with grapefruit-sized violets, a long-sleeve black shirt under it and wide purple pants. She’d tamed her hair into a caramel-and-white-blond highlighted braid and was wearing clear plastic flats with glitter instead of sandals. Hamish and Willis stepped out of her way.

“Mom, we’re always careful!” Willis insisted.

“I hope so,” Zara snapped. She turned her eyes to me. “Sorry. I just want to check my email quick. See if there’s any news about Jenny…” At my blank look, she added, “My case worker, who’s missing. I didn’t tell you last night?”

“No.” Honestly, Zara told me very little. Seriously, I knew like nothing about her, except that she spoke a ton of languages, was from Iraq, and worked at the Golden Sands.

“Jenny was our case worker when we got resettled from the refugee camp over in Turkey,” Zara said. “She helped us start over here in Oman, away from…everything. She’s the only one who knows where we are now.”

“Jenny’s missing, Mother?” Hamish frowned.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Zara snapped. She turned back to me. “She just didn’t answer my emails for days. And her coworkers said she missed work.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “No problem.” I was fine here with my juice and listening to the rain. For a little while more. Then I wanted to get back out into the cool water.

Arabella kept asking if I’d like more juice, very polite, but I hadn’t even finished the first glass. Since Zara was checking email, I decided this might be a good time to see if her kids were more interested in talking about their former life in Iraq than Zara was.

“So, question,” I said to the kids, who had positioned themselves across from me on the cushions. “Your names…are they names a lot of people have in Iraq?”

I mean, Hansel? Willis? Arabella? I admit I didn’t know a lot about Iraq, but I hadn’t expected names right out of Downtown Abbey.

I wasn’t about to make fun of anyone’s name, though, because after all my name was Havilah, a strange and awkward name if there ever was one.

Hamish’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “No. They’re not Iraqi names.” He glanced over at Willis, who nodded nervously. “When we had to leave Iraq because of the war…we had to leave all our papers behind. We had to get new papers with the refugee organization. Jenny was really nice. She said we could get new names. Mom also changed our last name to Anderson.”

“Hmmm. So did you guys have Muslim names before?”

All of the kids started fidgeting. Hamish wouldn’t meet my eye. “We’re not Muslim,” he said. Willis elbowed him, and Hamish winced. “I mean, we aren’t religious,” Hamish corrected. “At all.”

I felt really dumb for assuming this family was Muslim, just because they were from Iraq. God, I would be mad if people assumed I was all religious and Christian just because I’m from the United States of America. I really shouldn’t assume anything, because I honestly didn’t know anything about Iraq, except that it was in the Middle East and there was a war there. “Oh. Ok. Cool.” I wondered what had happened to these kids’ father. When Zara woke up screaming, she’d been asking some kind of god why he had punished her for loving her husband. Why would she even think that?

Whatever. I sure wasn’t about to ask what had happened to the husband. If I asked Zara, she would just ask me the same thing about my kids’ father. I was pretty sure we would both need some serious alcohol to feel like talking about it. And I was pretty sure neither of us were experienced drinkers. If Iraq was anything like Oman, alcohol was mostly illegal.

Zara came back to the living room, and I was startled to see she was pale and walking unevenly, like a zombie in a dress. “Kids, go get a coat. It’s raining. Hurry now!” she ordered. Everyone jumped up and hustled back to the bedrooms. Iris and Arabella dragged the baby between them.

“Are you ok?” I asked. First the screaming this morning, and now Zara looked like she was about to puke. She squeezed her eyes shut, then glanced back towards where the kids had gone to get coats.

“I was right,” Zara said. Her accent was stronger now. “Jenny wasn’t ok at all.”

“You heard something?”

“She’s dead,” Zara whispered.

I choked on the last sip of my watermelon juice, spit out a stray seed into the pulpy glass. “What?”

“I finally got an email back from some co-worker of Jenny’s over in Turkey. Someone killed her.”

“I…that’s awful. They’re sure it was murder?”

Zara’s knees trembled and she leaned against the wall. “Very sure. There was blood everywhere. She was missing her ears. And several…limbs.” Zara planted a palm against the plaster to hold herself steady.

I was too shocked to speak. Maybe Zara was used to stuff like that after living through war. But I had certainly never known anyone who was murdered violently like that.

“Oh my God. Was it…a robbery?” I asked.

“No. All her money was still there in her desk drawer, right by where the body was found. You can’t let the kids know,” Zara whispered. “They loved her. Jenny was so nice.”

“I’m…sorry,” I said, inadequately. “That’s terrible news. Is there anything I can…do?”

“Let’s get out of here,” Zara said.

“You still want to go out?”

“I need to get out of here.” Zara pushed her glasses up on her nose and her hand was shaking, badly. “I really, really need to get out of here.”

“Ok,” I said. Behind Zara, her six kids appeared. Zara eyed me gravely, reminding me not to say anything about Jenny the case worker. I would gladly remain silent about all of that, no problem at all.

This was all so…like some spy movie. One that was totally freaking me out.

When Zara told me in the van how ISIS had destroyed her country, it had made me feel sick. Extreme religion, laws that hurt people…all of it dug at some place deep in my gut, somewhere already so scraped and hollow that even touching it made me want to scream. After dealing with that, Zara had come all the way here, six months ago, to start over. Cleaning hotel rooms to make ends meet, trying to give her kids a better life.

I respected that. I did. And I really wanted her to be able to escape all the chaos of war and be able to have a peaceful life now with her kids. I wanted the same thing for myself, a new life, peace, freedom.

But seriously, was it safe to hang out with this woman? Hopefully, all this cloak and dagger stuff was just residual paranoia left over from the war.

God, I really hoped so.

I noticed that the kids all had jackets on to try to stay dry in the downpour, and little Hansel had been stuffed into a red corduroy romper and boots. One of the kids must have scrubbed his face, and I hoped they’d changed his diaper.

“Poppy, honey, please put on something a bit warmer.” Zara patted the three-year-old girl absently on top of her glossy braid. “I don’t want you to get sick, ok?”

The entire time we walked downstairs to Millicent, Zara’s eyes darted around, like she thought someone was going to be waiting for us in the stairwell. It was a little disconcerting.

She’d said the case worker was the only person who knew where she and the kids were, after they’d left Iraq. Zara had looked really worried when she said that, like it was important.

It made me wonder if she’d had a better reason for changing all her children’s names than just liking anything British.

It made me wonder if her name was even Zara.

2

Havilah

 

“Mommy!” Iris called to Zara from the rain-drenched garden outside the mall. Iris held her arms out at her sides and the rain streamed off her in jagged drips. “I think his diaper exploded!”

“Shit,” Zara muttered and got up off the bench, clutching her faux-croc purse. She marched out into the rain towards where I saw Hansel rolling around in a little puddle, utterly soaked.

I was so, so glad my kids weren’t in diapers anymore. I stretched my short legs out and leaned back into the bench under the picnic shelter, watching Zara bend over and snatch Hansel up from the ground while volleying an angry stream of Arabic at her older kids. Then she marched off towards the mall entrance with the baby under one arm like a woolly red football. Hansel’s diaper was so fat that it looked like he was wearing an old-fashioned bustle under his sweatpants.

When I was the age that most girls were still taking college classes, I’d had four kids in diapers at once. Cloth diapers, at that. Now, I could sit here and enjoy the rain and the Salalah Garden Mall in peace. It was freaking wonderful.

I’d spent a lot of time at this mall since arriving in Oman, because it had amazing air conditioning inside and tasty little places to eat that I recognized from back in the States, like Tollhouse Cookies and the McDonalds. There was a play area for kids that had a fort and slides so big that even my kids could still go in there. Also, outside the mall, there was this amazing garden area with palm trees and waterfalls.

My kids had just met Zara’s this morning, but so far everyone was getting along great.

“Should I bring the rest of the kids in to dry off so we can have sandwiches?” I called after Zara. “While you change Hansel?”

Zara didn’t even hear me. Her daughter Iris plopped down on the bench next to me and beamed. “His name’s not Hansel,” she said in clear English. “Mommy forgot she changed his name, when you met him this morning.”

“What?”

“My little brother. His name is Archie.”

I squinted. “It’s not Hansel?”

“We changed it yesterday,” Iris went on. “Mama changes his name all the time. I just didn’t get used to it yet.”

“Really? But…what’s his real name?”

Iris shrugged. Maybe this was some Iraqi custom?

I got up and called all the kids so we could troop into the restroom and spend some time under the industrial hand driers. Inside the bathroom, I saw that Zara had finished changing the baby formerly known as Hansel and she chucked his diaper into the trash bin. The soaked diaper was so heavy that the trash can banged against the bathroom wall. Three Omani women in black head-to-toe robes turned towards us, startled.

Out in the food court, I watched Zara as she ordered breakfast for her kids at the McDonalds counter. It surprised me to see her mumbling to the man behind the counter and refusing to look him in the eye. I’d done the same thing a minute ago when I ordered all those cardboard pancakes and a large hot chocolate with a croissant sandwich for me. Both of us obviously had trouble talking to men.

We found a row of cheery red plastic tables, and after devouring their breakfast all the kids raced off to the large play area, taking the baby and his large plastic bottle of formula with them. As soon as they were gone, Zara dug her cell out of her purse. “Sorry to be rude,” she said. “I need to make a call.” Within seconds someone answered on the other end, and I heard Zara asking about the status of her American visa application.

Zara had asked me for help with a few English terms last week, but she’d filled out the application online herself. I on the other hand had needed her help with almost everything on my Arabic visa application and had been so grateful Zara made time to come over and help me last night, even though she and I hadn’t known each other long at all.

“Well is there any way to speed things up a little?” Zara snapped into the phone now. She stabbed her plastic fork into a puddle of syrup on the Styrofoam platter. Three of the prongs broke and flew onto the floor. “As I explained before, it’s urgent. Now it’s even more urgent.” Zara exhaled loudly and pushed her glasses up on her nose. “Please, see what you can do. It’s life or death.”

Zara stabbed the button to end the call. “What happened with Jenny…it made you really nervous,” I said.

Zara dropped the fork onto the plastic table. Her hands were shaking, and she grabbed the curved edge of her coffee cup with both hands to try to hide it. “It’s the same way he died,” she said. “The way they found Jenny.”

“Uh, who else died?”

Zara shook her head curtly. “No one.” She dug uneven nails into the Styrofoam cup. “But…they killed her, to find me. I’m sure of it.”

I took a thoughtful sip of hot chocolate. The stuff was so sweet it tasted sickly, even to me. “You really think someone is trying to find you? Someone who would kill Jenny?” I remembered what she’d said before, about having taken something during the war. I didn’t want to think Zara was lying or a bit crazy, but all of this sounded like paranoia to me.

She just looked away, ending our conversation. I tried to relax my shoulders and enjoy the hot chocolate and the sound of rain on the glass roof overhead. I startled, though, when Zara’s phone rang again. It was still on the table, and vibrated loudly across the hard plastic.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I'm a girl from South Dakota who ended up living in a city high in the Andes Mountains, marrying a hot Latino man, and raising three kids with him. Sometime I take him back to South Dakota to visit my family and shiver in the head-high drifts of snow. I've tried really hard to like movies and television like a normal person, but usually I'm just waiting til the show's over so I can go back to reading my book.

Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because I feel like my characters and their worlds depend on me to tell their story!
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
One day I read about the discovery of the ruins at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey. This site is 12,000 years old or more, and turns theories about human history on their head. I was hooked!
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Travel excites me, and I love to describe places I've been and others I've only researched, to make readers imagine the world a little better. Also, in today's world, so much tragedy takes place. I'm impacted as I imagine how people can live through such difficult situations and still stand strong.

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