“Every time I come here, it seems less and less like it all really happened.”
“I know what you mean.” A gust of wind tossed Naomi Tucker’s hair over her shoulder and bent the backs of the blades of meticulously groomed grass growing between the graves. The modest bouquet Naomi had just rested at the base of a headstone rolled over in the wind. A few flower petals came free and drifted onto the next grave over, brushing past the etched name on the otherwise identical slab: Fiona Petzschner.
Griffin Hamels put his hand on Naomi’s shoulder and squeezed gently. It was a warm touch, a kind touch. That was all, and that was enough. Over the past two years they had spent a fair amount of time together, supporting each other as they processed the insanity they had gone through, even sharing a therapist. All the while, there had always been a hint of something else in the way Griff looked at her. At first, Naomi had misinterpreted his lingering glances as romantic interest, and had even pursued the option a little, dropping a few hints and returning his looks with some meaningful eye contact of her own, but she had figured out pretty quickly that she was wrong. She hadn’t been disappointed by the discovery; instead, she was simply curious: how was she supposed to interpret his appraising glances?
“Sometimes I wonder if she wanted this,” said Griff, bending down to wipe a scuff off of Francis’s headstone. “To be with her sister, I mean. They were never very… I guess you could say ‘expressive’. They argued a lot, back at the safe house. But if anyone disagreed with one of them, the other one was right there, backing her up. You think Francis was intense? You should’ve seen it when they teamed up on someone. Scary stuff.”
Naomi smiled. “I can imagine. Come on, let’s go.” She led the way back to the gate of the cemetery, and they headed down the sidewalk towards the nearest bus stop.
“The way she threw herself into that pursuit,” Griff continued while they were walking, “after they killed Fiona… Well, Francis didn’t seem to care what they did to her. She only cared what she was going to do to them. I think she knew it was them or her.”
“Too bad we couldn’t get them for her,” said Naomi.
Griff shrugged. “It was her revenge, not mine.”
“They’ll get caught,” said Naomi, “eventually. Detective Callahan told me they got another lead last week.”
“You still talk to him?”
“I bump into him every now and then. We both happened to visit Miguel in the psych ward at the same time last week.”
Naomi ignored the comment. “Miguel’s still pretty much the same, by the way. Doesn’t recognize anyone, doesn’t talk… They told me a specialist came in and said it’s kind of like when they used to do lobotomies and people would lose the use of half their brains. But there’s no physical damage, so they can’t explain it. Callahan said it’s like Miguel is a body without a soul. Seemed as good a way to describe it as any.”
Griff opened his mouth to say something, but apparently thought better of it.
“What?” prompted Naomi.
“Nothing.” He sighed. “You know how I feel about Callahan.”
“You don’t trust him, I know. So what? Neither do I. That doesn’t mean he isn’t on our side. He’s got his own reasons to track down Innis and the rest. Innis betrayed him and left him for dead…”
“I know. I’m the one who found him and pretty much saved his life, remember? That’s not what I’m worried about.” Griff turned his head and looked down at Naomi, that familiar inquisitive gleam in his eyes.
Naomi stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and glared back at him. “Then what are you worried about, Griff? Why do you always look at me like that?”
“Like what?” protested Griff.
“Like… Like there’s a bug crawling on my forehead, or I’m growing a third eye. Like there’s an alien about to burst out of me. Like you think I’m hiding some deep, dark, terrible secret.”
“Well,” said Griff pointedly, “are you?”
Naomi rolled her eyes and heaved a deep sigh.
“Let me tell you what I think,” said Griff. “Let me tell you what’s been nagging at me for the past two years, every time I look at you, every time I come within two kilometers of you. Something happened to you that day, Naomi. You changed. I don’t mean your personality or anything simple like that. I mean the way you feel. You know how I can sense the people and animals around me, right? Well one way to describe it is that I see everyone like a little light on an old-fashioned radar screen. The closer I am, the ‘brighter’ they are. And you know what, Naomi? Your ‘light’ is three times as bright as anyone I’ve ever come across. At first I thought there was something wrong with me; I thought I was just sleep-deprived, and my mind was playing tricks. Like when we met Miguel on the side of the road, and you left him and got in that cop car, I thought I could sense another person in there with you, even though I could see you were the only one in the back seat… It was the strangest thing. When I got back in range of you, you were brighter than you had been, about twice as bright, and that ‘other person’ was gone. Then I saw Innis disappear from the middle of the street, and your light vanished with his. When you came back, you were even brighter still.”
Naomi could hardly breathe as she looked up at him. “…What are you saying?”
“I don’t know how it makes any sense,” said Griff, “and I wish I could be sure I was wrong, but I don’t think Innis somehow escaped with the rest of them, like everyone else thinks he did. I don’t think he just inexplicably slipped away. I think he’s inside you. And I don’t think he’s the only one.”
There was nothing to say. Naomi’s chin trembled. She shook her head slowly side to side. “I… I don’t…” Not the only one!?
“You know what really scares me, though?” said Griff. “You know what gets me so on edge whenever you tell me you’ve been talking to Callahan? I don’t think I’m the only one who could figure it out.”
“Griff…” said Naomi. Her eyes were beginning to mist over. For two years she had held on to this secret, never letting even the barest hint of it show, all the while feeling the weight of what she had locked away in that other place, and now somebody knew. “Griff…” She blinked away the tears that were forming and leaned into a hug, resting her head on Griff’s shoulder. Her knees felt weak. Somebody knew. It was both a terror and a relief. Three times as bright!? What could it mean? She reached up to wipe her eyes,
and found herself suddenly staring through the windshield of an onrushing pickup truck as it leapt up onto the curb, swerving straight towards them.
She didn’t have time to think; she didn’t have time to decide; she barely had time to scream: “GRIFF!!”
And then she skipped.
THE END of HIDE AND SEEK
The Story Continues in: Change