I'm not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. He happens to be a friend of mine. Well, the human he turns into during the day is my friend. I'm still working on the Wolf. It would help our friendship if I didn't have to keep him chained to a tree in the middle of the Oregon forest all night long. But seeing as how he'd probably try to eat me if I didn't, I'll have to work with what I've got.
“I'm not sure how much more of this I can take, Liam.” Todd sinks to the ground as I lock the shackle around his neck. The collar is so big he could slip it right over his head, but once he turns into the Wolf, it'll fit just right.
“There has to be another way.” Dry leaves crunch beneath him as he settles cross-legged into the dirt and drops his head into his hands. The sun sinks deeper behind the mountain, sending a chill creeping through the air. Goose bumps pop up all over my body, but Todd doesn’t even react to the cold. He doesn’t react to much of anything lately.
I zip my jacket and shove my hands in my pockets. “It'll be all right. We'll figure something out soon.” I take a deep breath and fill my senses with the woodsy aromas of pine and fir and earth. It's peaceful out here in the forest. Quiet. It won't be for long. “You've managed to control him for over a year now, so it's getting better, ain't it?”
Todd leans against the beech trunk he'll be chained to for the night and lets his head fall against the smooth bark. “I haven't done anything to control the monster. Once my body transforms, my mind is useless.” He rubs his forehead and squeezes his eyes shut. “Full moons always make it worse. Maybe I should go in the cage tonight.”
“Nah. You'll be fine.” I double-check the chain, making sure everything's secure. “I can see his soul better in the moonlight, so I'm betting it'll be easier for me to talk to him out here. Especially with the full moon since he'll be more powerful.”
“If you say so.” He runs a hand through his matted black hair and fiddles with the collar. “If I could kill myself and end this now, I'd do it. I'd have done it a long time ago, after what I did to your mom.”
A sharp pain shoots through my heart as I rest my hand on his shoulder and give it a squeeze. “Hey, now. You didn't do anything to my mom. I know that, and I think you know it, too.” I can’t imagine what it's like to live with all that guilt. To be forced to go along for the ride as the Wolf tears people apart. I shudder thinking about it. But it's not his fault. He killed the Wolf in self-defense, and he sure didn't ask to be possessed by it.
“Besides, if you die, his spirit will just move on to another body. The soul of the Wolf can never die, no matter how hard we try to kill it.”
“That's why I'm still here.” He lets out a long, frustrated sigh and closes his eyes. “But you're seventeen, Liam. You should be out with other kids your age, having fun, flirting with girls. This is no life for you.”
“Well, the only way for me to find other kids my age would be to go back to New Portland. And seeing as how I'd be killed on the spot if I stepped foot inside the walls, I'd say living here in the woods is the only life for me.”
“We're quite a pair, aren't we?”
“That we are.”
The sun dips behind the mountain, so he'll be shifting soon. I picked the strongest, thickest tree I could find to chain him to. We're far enough away from camp that even if he did get loose, everyone there would be safe. He'd head toward the city if he could break the chains anyway.
But he can't break the chains. I’m sure of that.
And the people in the city will be all cozy in their apartments, protected by the giant concrete wall surrounding the borders. There's nothing to worry about. Nothing to be afraid of.
I settle on the ground a good distance away—close enough to talk to him once he shifts, but far enough away that he can't eat me. Not that I think he could eat me. I've been working with the beast for two years, ever since we found Todd passed out in the woods near the mountain, and he hasn’t been able to eat me yet. Then again…I suppose there's a first time for everything.
Darkness creeps into the forest as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The moon hangs huge in the sky, a massive red coin floating above the mountain. Todd gasps as the Wolf takes hold, his body becoming a shimmering mist as he transforms from human to animal. The change never ceases to amaze me, the way the magic molds his body, taking the dormant soul on the inside and bringing it forward, into control. Thick gray fur rolls over his massive body, and wicked-sharp claws extend from paws the size of dinner plates. He inhales deeply—his canine senses sharpened like razors—and flares his nostrils as he blows out a hard breath.
“Good evening, Makkapitew,” I say. “How are you this glorious night?”
The Wolf locks eyes with me and snarls. He lunges toward me, and my heart gallops, but I don't flinch. As soon as he reaches the end of the chain, his head snaps back, lifting his front legs off the ground. I laugh because he looks like a dog that's run to the end of its leash. A really big dog with huge, sharp teeth, but a dog all the same.
Makkapitew is a powerful spirit, and his soul glows an intense gold, even brighter today because of the full moon. Todd's soul is still in there, but it's a dim silvery light at the base of the Wolf's skull—silver because it's not active now. Once Todd becomes human, and in control of his body, his soul will be the gold one.
“You seem extra agitated tonight, Makka. Wanna talk about it?”
A growl of warning rumbles from his chest, probably threatening to kill me, though I don’t understand Wolf speak.
“Ya hungry? I brought you a rabbit.” I toss the carcass of a hare in front of him. Normally, the Wolf is starving and gobbles up whatever I give him. Sure, he wants human flesh, and he'd prefer to hunt than to be fed, but this will have to do.
Tonight, he paces back and forth, back and forth, ignoring the dinner I laid out for him. His lips are peeled over his massive teeth, and saliva drips from his incisors. He snarls and lunges for me again, only to be yanked back by the metal collar and chain.
Makka's soul glows so bright I have to avert my eyes. He strains with otherworldly strength against the chain, causing the tree to crack under the pressure. I’m afraid the old trunk might snap in half if he pulls much harder,
My heart pounds a little harder. “Calm down now, Makka. You're going to hurt yourself.” Or me.
A creaking sound reverberates when he lunges again, the metal groaning against his strength. Lead weakens magic, but it's not strong enough on its own, so I used it as a coating on an iron chain. The two metals together should be enough to contain his magic. They've always contained him before.
He stops lunging and starts straining, using his body weight to pull on the chain, the collar cutting into his flesh as he leans into it. He spins around and ducks his head, trying to slip out of the shackle, but it's too tight. His nostrils flare as he blows out a hard breath and goes back to straining against the chain.
Another clanking sound, and I'm on my feet, my back pressed against a tree. A creak and a groan, and my heart lodges in my throat. This isn't right. His bulging eyes are fixed on me, his gaze piercing my heart like I'm sure he longs to do with his teeth. His paws slip on the dirt as he strains toward me, but he regains his footing, digging his claws into the earth for traction.
He lets out a strangled growl. The collar snaps at the hinges and drops to the ground with a thud. My body flushes with ice, freezing me to the spot as he leaps toward me, paws outstretched, and swipes his massive claws across my face. Searing pain shoots through my head as he slices through my cheek. I let out a garbled scream and hit the ground, knocking the breath from my lungs. My filleted face burns like it's melting off the bone, but I manage to scramble to my feet.
Makka's sudden freedom and the surprise of reaching his prey throw him off balance. He stumbles, and I have just enough time to grab a branch and swing myself up into the tree before his teeth tear me apart. I scramble up the limbs as far as I can go, my palms bloodied from the bark embedding in my skin. My fatigued muscles tremble as I grip the branch. He jumps, swiping his paws and snapping at the air.
Blood drips from my face, and a drop lands on his nose. His tongue flicks out, tasting my life force, and he leaps into the air, snapping his powerful jaws again. But I'm too high up, and he knows it. He prowls around the trunk, lips pulled back over teeth, gaze locked on mine, growling as I cling to the tree branch. My arms and legs shake with exhaustion as I lie on my stomach, resting the good side of my face against the bark. Dizziness forces me to squeeze one eye shut—I can't see anything through the other one—and sweat pours off me like rain.
As my strength weakens and my grip slips, the Wolf lets out a huff and bounds toward the city. As much as he seems to hate me, I suppose I'm not worth wasting his time when there are plenty of humans waiting to be devoured in town.
With Makka gone, I dare to reposition myself on the branch before my arms give out. But I still wait an excruciating half hour longer—just to be sure he's not coming back—before I shimmy down the tree and limp to camp. The world spins, and my stomach roils as I try to breathe with iron lungs. I'm heavy. My whole body is numb, probably from shock, and I collapse at the village entrance.
Gravel crunches under shoes, and people are talking, but I can't make out who they are. I try to push myself up, but my elbows buckle beneath my weight and my head hits the dirt.
“Help me get him inside,” a soothing voice says, and I’m lifted and carried to a room. “Stay with us, Liam. Where is Todd?” Her voice is melodic with a hint of panic under the surface.
Pain shoots through my face when I try to open my eyes, and I let out a garbled shout. She rubs something cool on my cheek, and the slicing sting subsides to a dull ache. She tugs on my chin and places a few drops of warm oil on my tongue. I open my good eye and blink at the woman through my tears as her image swims into focus.
Missy has always been like a mother to me. She smiles warmly, but worry furrows her brow. “If only you could heal yourself.”
“Rowan. Little Dove, wake up.” My mom's hushed voice tickles my ear, coaxing me from my dreams. My eyelids flutter open, and my vision tries to adjust to the dim lamplight in my bedroom. As the world comes into focus, I notice my lamp is the only thing still standing in place.
My mom hesitates in the doorway and looks around my room. Everything I own has been thrown from the shelves, knocked over, or shattered on the ground. “Rough night?” She rights a chair that lies on its side.
I groan, kicking the covers off and rolling out of bed. I never asked for the Sense. I was born with it. So were my mom and countless other people, most of whom are dead now. Technically, none of us should be alive. The government has labeled us Infected, and if they ever discover we possess magical powers, we'll be killed on the spot.
“Bad dreams,” I mumble as she helps me turn my dresser upright.
I do my best to keep my powers hidden, but sometimes I unwillingly use my telekinesis at night. It's kinda like sleepwalking, but I tend to throw stuff around. Sleep-throwing.
A picture has fallen off the wall, the soft carpet the only reason it didn't shatter on the floor. My mirror wasn't so lucky. A dent in the pale green sheetrock marks the spot where it collided with the wall, splintering the glass, turning its reflections into a distorted mosaic of color. My stuffed bunny and a notebook lie in the hallway, and my mom picks them up and sets them on my dresser. I've had claustrophobia since I was a small child, and I can't sleep with my door shut. I start to pick up the rest of my things, but she stops me.
“We'll have to clean this up later if you want to have your morning run before we pick the elderflower. There was a full moon last night, so it will be extra potent.”
I rub my eyes and look at the clock lying on the floor. It's six a.m. “Or I could go back to sleep for an hour, and then run while you pick the flowers.” My head is groggy, my body a lead weight, and my cozy bed beckons me to curl up under the covers.
She looks down, pretending to examine her fingernails, and inhales deeply. “I used to love gathering herbs with your grandma. I thought maybe…maybe you would enjoy doing something like that with me?”
I look at the clock again and sigh. I'm already awake, so I might as well help her. “All right. I need to get up anyway. Seth is waiting for me.”
Her brow furrows in disapproval.
“You don't have to say it again, Mom. 'It's dangerous for someone with the Sense to be so close to an Enforcer.' I know. But Seth's different. He didn't ask to join; they recruited him. And even if he did know about my powers, he would never do anything to hurt me.”
She purses her lips like she wants to say something else, but thankfully she lets it go.
I sigh and fall onto my bed. “I'll go with you, but you have to promise not to talk about healing outside. We're just picking flowers for the vase in the living room.”
A smile brightens her face, bringing the sparkle back to her eyes. “I promise. Meet me on the landing in an hour?”
“Okay.” I honestly don't see how she can be so brazen with her Sense when the punishment is so harsh.
Death doesn't seem worth it to me. She feels otherwise.
My mom says she was born to heal, so that's what she does. In a hidden room in the back of our apartment, she sees her patients, using energy and herbs to heal wounds and cure diseases. Somehow, she's kept her practice a secret all these years, even though I accidentally used my powers in public once when I was little. The Enforcers “cured” me of my Infection—or so they think—and as soon as the whole mess blew over, my mom went right back to healing. I don't share her trust in the people of our community, though. I've chewed my nails down to nubs worrying about it.
Dragging myself out of bed, I throw on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt and head for the park. Gravel crunches under my sneakers as I jog the trail behind our apartment. The sun has barely risen in the overcast sky, a fiery red sphere piercing the gloom. A morning fog rolls across the ground, casting the day in an eerie shade of gray. Though it's early, plenty of people still bustle about, getting ready for the morning. Joggers dot the running path, while men in suits stop at the coffee stand and rush off to work in their offices. A group of Enforcers, in their standard gray uniforms, stand under a light pole, smoking cigarettes and watching people pass by, their presence—and their guns—a not-so-subtle reminder that laws are not to be broken.
Not that my mom cares about laws.
A woman pushing a jogging stroller smiles at me as we cross paths, and I wave in return. I spot a homeless man huddled on his usual bench, clutching an upside-down newspaper and muttering to himself. Strands of silver streak his tangled, chin-length brown hair.
“How's it going today, Mr. Strahan?” I stop, fish the dollar I was going to use to buy water out of my pocket, and stuff it into his hand. It isn't much, but at least he can buy an order of fries or something to ease his hunger pangs. He stops muttering to look up at me, his blood-shot eyes fixing me in a piercing gaze.
“It's still here.” His voice is husky, like he hasn’t spoken in more than a whisper in a long time.
I smile. “What's here, sir?”
He points to the sky. “It's the moon. Power.”
“Yeah. There was a Blood Moon last night. It was supposed to be really pretty, but I couldn't see it from my window.” City-wide curfew starts at dusk, and we aren't allowed outside our living quarters until morning. “Could you see the moon from the shelter?”
He's already muttering again, so I continue on my way. As my muscles warm up, I can already feel the energy inside me calming down, no longer threatening to tear my life apart. Since I never use my magic, it tends to build up and then comes out in an explosion like it did last night. But running helps. I have to get outside to fill my lungs with fresh air and sprint until my legs burn and my heart feels like it's going to burst. I need to jump and climb and use my body to exhaustion. Exercise is the only thing that keeps the boiling mess inside me at a simmer. The only way I can keep my powers hidden.
As I get ready to sprint, a pair of boots pounds the gravel behind me. Seth. I grin and pour on the speed, taking off before he can catch up. The running track bends left, but I hurdle a park bench and dart down a trail through the trees. The scents of pine and fir dance in the air as the canopy of branches dapples the rising sunlight.
I dash between the pines, and my shoe catches on a root. I go down, tumbling over myself until I skid to a stop just short of knocking my head against a tree trunk. Seth slows his pace slightly but doesn't stop.
“You okay, Red?” he calls as he approaches. A mischievous grin fills his face when I wave my hand to dismiss him. He winks as he passes and picks up his pace.
My elbow burns, and blood drips down my arm, the crimson liquid turning black as it mixes with dirt. The cut hurts, but it's nothing compared to the sting of that nickname. Especially coming from Seth.
I scramble to my feet and sprint ahead, trying to salvage what's left of this race. I can't let him beat me, even if it's on a technicality. Seth may be strong and fearless, but I'm faster. My muscles burn as I pump my legs and carefully scan the forest floor for roots. I'm gaining on him, but he's almost reached the finish line—the shore of a small lake a mile west of where we started.
I pour on one last burst of speed, but it isn't enough. By the time I reach the lake, Seth is bent over, his hands on his knees, panting. “Not too bad, Red,” he says between breaths. “But I did beat you this time.”
That's the second time he's called me Red. My hands vibrate with the urge to smack him with my energy. I tackle him instead.
I plant my shoulder squarely in his stomach, knocking the wind out of him as I take him down. With the element of surprise on my side, I'm able to wrestle his stocky frame to the ground. I pin his thick arms under my knees and press his shoulders against the dirt with my hands. He could easily toss me off, but he lets me have this little victory.
“First of all, you only won because I fell. And second…” A bead of sweat rolls down his forehead, and I release his shoulder to wipe it away. Staring into his chocolate puppy dog eyes, I almost forget why I’m mad. Almost. “Don't ever call me by that name. You know I hate it. And you of all people should know how offensive it is.”
He smiles, the glint in his eyes turning devilish. In one swift movement, he frees his arms, grabs me by the waist, and plants me firmly on my butt in the dirt. Then he kneels in front of me and tucks a stray strand of hair behind my ear.
“First of all,” he attempts to mimic my voice and chuckles when he fails miserably. “First of all,” he says in his own velvety tone, “a win's a win.”
I open my mouth to protest, but he holds up a finger. “And second, you know that nickname has nothing to do with your skin and everything to do with that stupid cloak you wear all the time. Your mom's a seamstress. She could've at least made you a nice jacket or something not so…medieval.”
I've worn a red cloak of some sort since I was a small child. When I'd outgrow it, my mom would sew a new one, secretly stitching four stones into the hem—coral, opal, onyx, and turquoise. Those four stones together form a circle around me and—according to Apache legend—have a sacred power on their own. But my mom enchanted them to make what she swears is the perfect Wolf repellent. I suppose the cloak was cute when I was little. People called me Little Red Riding Hood, and I kinda liked being compared to a storybook character.
But as I got older, the nickname eventually shortened to Red, and it stuck. I hardly ever wear the cloak in public anymore. It's usually stuffed in my backpack when my mom's not around. But the name is mine now, and my blood boils when I hear it.
Seth stands, crossing his arms over his chest, and grins down at me like he told a hilarious joke and expects me to laugh. “Come on.”
I shake my head and rise from the ground, dusting the dirt from my pants. “I know where the name came from. I just don't expect to hear it from you, Seth.”
He turns to face me, sighs, and pulls me into a hug. His chin rests on top of my head, and I press my ear to his chest. The rhythmic thud of his heart, his strong arms wrapped around me, his musky scent…this is the Seth I know.
The sun rises behind the mountains, turning the sky shades of gold and pink, making the lake sparkle like a million diamonds dance on its emerald surface. The only sounds are Seth's beating heart and the breeze rustling through the trees. My Sense has settled to embers, glowing slightly beneath the surface. If I try hard enough, I can forget it's even there. I feel normal. I can get lost in moments like this.
Seth brings me back to the present. “I need to get back to my shift.” His chest vibrates as he speaks, tickling my ear, and I reluctantly pull away from our embrace.
“Do you have to?” I lace my fingers through his. “You're almost a full Enforcer. Surely you're allowed a little break?”
He jerks his hand from mine and rakes his fingers through his buzz-cut hair. “That's careless, Rowan. William said he spotted the Wolf outside the walls last night. We're patrolling the area to look for signs.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Did you see the Wolf yourself?”
“No. But William saw a dark mass in the trees. That had to be him.”
“Come on, Seth. You don't seriously believe the Wolf is still out there, do you? It's been years since anyone has seen it. In fact, I heard they rounded all of them up, that they've all been captured and are imprisoned in Washington. I doubt they left our Wolf behind if they caught all the others.”
Anger flashes in his eyes, and he marches toward me, taking me by the arm, gripping me tighter than necessary.
“Ouch.” I try to keep my voice calm as I gaze at his fingers digging into my flesh. A fresh bead of blood rolls down my elbow, leaving a red trail on my forearm.
He widens his eyes in surprise and releases his grip, stroking my arm as if to take away the anger he just expended on me. “I'm sorry, Ro. But you have to understand…In Enforcer training, I've learned things. Things I'm not supposed to share with anyone.” He looks around like he's afraid we're being watched before stepping in closer. He places his hand on my cheek as if he's about to kiss me, and my heart does this weird fluttering thing.
Instead, he leans in and whispers in my ear. “There are five Wolves left. They've managed to capture all the rest, but these five…they're strong and tricky. Wolves are territorial. They won't roam far from their homes, so we know where each one is. One of them is here, there's no doubt.”
“Wolves are territorial, but shape shifters aren't normal animals. They used to be people.”
“Maybe so. But since they can't control the Wolf spirits that possess them, we're treating them like the monsters they are.”
I shudder. Hundreds of these shape shifters—humans by day, Wolves by night—used to roam the country, massacring thousands. Most of them have been captured now, but because of them, the government has banned all use of the Sense, moved everyone into the big cities, and built walls around them to keep us secure.
“If we can capture our Wolf, we'll be safe.” He wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me closer, and my heart starts to pound. “No more curfews. Maybe we can even extend our borders; there hasn’t been a wild fire in years. But until then, we have to follow the rules. It's for everyone's safety.”
He kisses me on the cheek, a small grin masking the concern in his eyes. “Go home. Okay, Red?”
A flush of icy anger washes away the warmth in my chest. I push him away. “Don't call me that!”
He lifts my amulet by the chain. “It would help if you didn't always wear the color.” Another peck on the cheek. “Go home, please.”
He turns and sprints up the path. He's probably expecting me to follow, but I’m too flustered. He called me Red three times in a span of thirty minutes. What's gotten into him? Ever since he joined the Enforcers, he's been…different.
My amulet warms my skin, and I'm glad he didn't touch the stone. Would he have known it was enchanted? The two-inch, teardrop shaped, red coral stone is set in sparkling silver, and my mom enchanted it to protect me from the Wolf. I don't mind it too much, since it looks like pretty jewelry. Of course, she would prefer if I wore the stupid cloak all the time, but the necklace was her compromise. She says the Wolf is attracted to my Enlightened blood. I say she's overprotective.
Seth doesn't have the Sense, and I have no idea what he would think if he found out I'm Infected. It’s a question I've pondered many times since we started dating, but since he joined the Enforcers, it's best he never finds out. Now, part of his job is to make sure not an ounce of magic exists in our community. In our entire country. Not even a magic necklace.
This stupid amulet. The stupid Wolf. Stupid Sense. Why can't my life be normal? I unclasp the necklace and hurl it toward the lake. But as soon as the amulet leaves my grasp, panic sets in.
What have I done?
My mother's energy created it. I can't throw it away. I race to the edge of the lake, frantically searching the rocks. Where is it? Where is it? I rake my hands through the moss-covered stones, causing mud to cloud the shallow water. Her heart would break if she knew I threw it away. How could I be so stupid?
As the muck settles, a glimmer of silver beneath the water's edge catches my eye, and I dive for the pendant. Relief washes through me as I pull the necklace from its place, wedged between two rocks. I wipe it on my pants and feel the warmth pulsating from the stone. Thank goodness, I didn't lose it.
Shoving the amulet into my pocket, I start the mile and a half run home. I don't understand why people are so scared of that stupid Wolf. No one has seen it in ages, and it's been years since it killed anyone. I'm way more afraid of what the Enforcers will do to me if they ever find out I still have the Sense. That their sick attempt at a cure didn't work.
I'll have to go straight to school after my mom's flower-picking session, so I throw my running clothes on my bed and take a quick shower. My cut has stopped bleeding, so I rub a bit of enchanted salve on the wound to close it up and pull on a clean pair of jeans and a blue T-shirt.
I don't have much time for primping—not that I ever bother with makeup or anything—so I throw my hair into a quick braid and fasten the end with turquoise beads. Since no one close has died in several years, my black hair hangs down to the small of my back. My mom taught me hair is sacred to the Apache, and it's one of the few traditions we're still allowed to honor. The death of a loved one is the only occasion for a haircut. Luckily, there are no laws controlling hairstyles yet.
I lock the door behind me and trudge down the stairs. My mom waits for me on the landing, holding an empty basket. “Are you ready to go pick flowers for our living room?” She stresses the “for our living room” part a little more than necessary. She winks and laces her arm through mine, and we walk to the park.
With her head held high, my mom smiles at anyone who will make eye contact. Few will. I wonder how many of these people know she's a healer? How many of them would turn her in if they found out? Do they still suspect me of having the Sense? I can drive myself crazy with suspicion if I let my thoughts go, so I try to rein them in.
We make our way to the edge of the park and turn down a small trail into the trees. A nice patch of elderflower grows just over the hill, and my mom secretly tends to it, pulling weeds and fertilizing the land to keep the crop healthy. As we reach the clearing, my breath catches at the beauty of the field. Hundreds of white flowers blanket the landscape, peeking out of the fog, their delicate petals opened wide to reveal soft yellow stamens. My mom traipses into the blooms, stooping to pick the best ones. I try to commit the picturesque scene to memory—my beautiful mother picking flowers, the hood of her crimson cloak slipping over her head as she bends down.
I instinctively reach for the amulet she gave me, my heart racing when I realize it's not around my neck. It must be in the pocket of the pants I went running in, lying on my bed. Apprehension slickens my palms, and a prickling sensation causes my neck hairs to stand on end. Surely the Wolf isn't around. It's daytime. Even if someone did see it outside the walls last night, there's no way it could possibly be a threat at seven in the morning. Still…
I grab a bunch of flowers and yank them out of the ground. Wolf or no Wolf, my mom will kill me if she discovers I'm out of the house unprotected.
“Here you go.” I shove the blooms into her basket. “I think that's enough now, don't you? We should probably get going. You know…school and all.” I let out a nervous laugh.
“What's gotten into you, Little Dove? We have plenty of time.” She smiles, shaking her head, and goes back to flower picking.
She's right. We do have plenty of time, and if she hasn't noticed I'm not wearing the amulet by now, she probably won't. I take a deep breath, filling my senses with the sweet aroma of the blooms, and relax. There's nothing to be afraid of.
“Did elderflower grow on the reservation?”
She pauses, her eyes shining like she's considering a fond memory. “No, it was mostly desert where I grew up. We used a certain cactus flower to help with—I mean to decorate our houses.” A conspiratorial grin lifts the corners of her mouth. I smile in return and continue harvesting flowers, more gently now, my mind at ease. My mom grew up on an Apache reservation in New Mexico, but when they moved everyone into the cities, she came to New Portland, far away from our ancestral home.
“I wish I had my photo album. I'm sure there are pictures of the flowers in it. And pictures of Grandma and Grandpa. You have his eyes.” She's mentioned the album many times before. Each person was only allowed one suitcase when they closed the reservation, and she didn't have room to bring it with her.