Title: Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Fantasy/Pseudo Young Adult
Page count: 372 pages
Chapter 1: Wish upon a Star
The night was more than a little chilly as Sylvia made her way home after a long day at work. Her day had been particularly unremarkable and, seeing how all of her days were, almost by definition, quite unremarkable, that was saying something. She got up every morning at exactly the same time, got dressed, had a cup of coffee and two slices of toast for breakfast as she listened to the day’s forecast, went to work and then, after eight very long and boring hours, she went home, always walking the same streets and seeing the same people at exactly the same time.
She knew hers wasn’t the most exciting of lives, and every night she wished something would happen to her, something different, surprising and unexpected, but it never did… not until that night, and the truth was that even then it didn’t really seem all that spectacular.
Maybe that was why it took her so long to figure out just what had happened. After all, even though what she saw on that particular evening qualified as ‘slightly unusual’, it wasn’t anything anyone would have described as extraordinary… not even Sylvia, with her less than demanding standards. On that night, as she was walking past a deserted alley, she looked up and saw a shooting star.
Sylvia was not a superstitious woman but, remembering the stories her grandmother had told her when she was little, she found herself making a wish. She wished to have someone to go home to, someone who would make her laugh. Maybe it was precisely because she was thinking about those days she had spent with her grandmother as a small child that she imagined that someone as a little girl. It wasn’t much of a wish, and she knew it, but, seeing how she wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it, she figured it didn’t really matter.
Two days later Sylvia had forgotten all about that shooting star, and she had also forgotten all about her wish, when, as she was walking down the same street –at exactly the same time as she always did– she heard a soft sound coming from that same deserted alley. The alley was usually very dark, and kind of scary, but on that particular evening a strange, soft glow seemed to be emanating from it, a glow that felt almost like a beacon that was calling out to her. Even though she was more than a little wary, she decided to go in and take a closer look.
To her surprise, hidden behind some discarded boxes, she found a tiny baby who seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
Knowing that babies are not in the habit of turning up alone at night in deserted alleys that are to be found in the middle of nowhere –in fact they usually come with one, if not two, parents firmly attached– Sylvia looked around, trying to figure out just to whom did that baby belong, but it soon became apparent that there was no one there.
She was alone with it, and there was nothing to suggest that anyone had been around in quite a while either (except maybe a couple of cats, judging by some overturned garbage cans). Rather gingerly, Sylvia picked the baby up. It was wrapped in a thick deep blue blanket, decorated with beautifully embroidered stars that seemed to twinkle under the moonlight, and around the baby’s neck, hanging from the most delicate chain, was a tiny star-shaped pendant made of gold.
After a couple of futile attempts to call for help, and knowing that she couldn’t exactly leave the child there because it was likely to freeze to death, Sylvia decided to take it with her to her apartment. It was not an ideal solution, and she was well aware that she could end up getting in a lot of trouble, but as far as she could tell she didn’t really have much of a choice.
Once she got home, Sylvia was finally able to take a closer look at the baby, and she soon realized that ‘it’ was in fact a little girl, no more than a couple of weeks old, with a patch of black hair on top of her head and very pale skin. She didn’t seem to be a particularly fussy baby, not seeing how she had been sound asleep when she had been found and she was still sleeping peacefully.
As if hearing her thoughts, the baby chose that moment to stretch, yawn and open her eyes. It was only then, when she saw the unnaturally deep shade of blue that was to be found in the little one’s eyes –a shade of blue that could almost be described as ‘midnight blue’– that Sylvia remembered the shooting star she had seen a couple of nights before, and when she did she also remembered exactly what it was that she had wished for. She had wished to have someone to come home to after a long day at work… and she had wished for that someone to be a little girl.
It was impossible, or at least it should have been, and yet there she was, suddenly holding a nameless baby in her arms.
It took her almost five minutes to get over the worst of the shock (in fact it took a good wail from the baby to catch her attention). Unfortunately realizing that the little girl was meant to be hers was just the first step. The next one entailed choosing a name for her, and Sylvia knew that that was not a decision to be taken lightly. Most parents have several months to come up with a good name, and in spite of that sometimes they still manage to make a mess out of things and wind up with a daughter named Henrietta Wilhelmina Anastasia or something like that, but Sylvia knew she couldn’t afford to take too long to think about it. She knew that a nameless baby was almost certainly going to be more difficult to explain than one with a name firmly attached, and she knew that trying to explain a magically appearing baby was going to be difficult enough already. In fact she figured that she had to come up with a more believable explanation because this was one of those instances in which ‘the truth’ most definitely wouldn’t do.
Simply put, she knew that this time around ‘the truth’ was something no one was likely to believe… in fact she was having a hard time believing it herself.
Looking down at her daughter –because, even though she had just found her, Sylvia was already thinking of that little girl as ‘her daughter’– she wondered who the baby was supposed to be.
She didn’t look like an Elizabeth, or an Ashley, or a Laura, that was for sure, none of those names seemed to fit the little girl she held in her arms. For a moment Sylvia considered the possibility of naming her Stella, that sounded a little better, but it still felt off somehow, and then the baby’s name came to her, almost as if she had known what it was supposed to be all along. It was an unusual name, that was true, but maybe that was fitting for an unusual baby. Somehow she just knew that the girl’s name was meant to be Citlalli.
The following morning Sylvia found herself in a difficult position because, with the sun shining, her certainty that Citlalli was meant to be hers had basically flown out the window. For some reason magic always seems more believable at night, and Sylvia was horrified at the thought that there could be someone out there desperately looking for a missing little girl. In addition to that it was also apparent that she had a problem because, regardless of whether or not in the end Citlalli turned out to be hers, she had no one to leave her with. After all, it wasn’t like she had had a chance to look for a day care center that was willing to look after a magically appearing child the day before or anything like that.
Realizing that she had to tackle her problems one at a time, Sylvia called in sick, and with such a trivial phone call began what was to be a most remarkable day.
When Sylvia called, the first thing her boss did was ask her what was wrong, and then he went on to ask her if everything was okay with Citlalli, a question that gave her the perfect opening to get out of work for the day. She was so relieved by that particular development that it wasn’t until long after she had hung up the phone that she realized just how surreal the whole conversation had actually been. First of all, her boss had never asked her if she was okay before, in fact most of the time the man barely seemed to be able to remember her name. In the two years she had been working for him he had never shown the slightest interest in her as a person, and she couldn’t see a reason for that to change, however that was not the strangest thing that had happened during that call. No, the strangest thing had been the fact that he had asked specifically about Citlalli when there was no way for him to know what had happened the night before, when there was no way that he could, or at least should, have known of the little girl’s existence… and much less should he have been in a position to ask about her by name.
Still shaking her head in disbelief after that most bizarre conversation, Sylvia figured that she might as well get some shopping done, especially because babies need a lot of stuff –from diapers, to bibs, to bottles, to strollers and cribs– and Sylvia was woefully unprepared.
As soon as she set foot out the door the surprises continued. The first one came when her neighbors from across the hall–a young couple that had never bothered talking to her before because they were always in too much of a hurry, just as happens to be the case with most people– approached her and started cooing to Citlalli as if they had known her all their lives… or at least all her life.
It took Sylvia a couple more such encounters to realize that everyone seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the little girl hadn’t been there all along. That was definitely a relief, but it was also the first hint she had of what kind of a challenge bringing up that particular baby was likely to be.
Chapter 2: A Missing Manual
As Sylvia made her way home after yet another long day at work, she couldn’t help but to marvel at how much her life had changed in the past four years. Yes, she still had the same job and the same boss, but the man was no longer as distant as he had once been, and she no longer had to worry about coming home to an empty apartment, far from it. In fact now each evening she found herself making a small detour to go pick up her daughter at the day care center, where Citlalli would invariably make her laugh with her antics and her explanations of the world around her. The little girl clearly had her own ideas about how everything was supposed to work, and she was not about to let such a minor thing as a fact stand in the way of her convictions.
More than once Sylvia had been told that she was going to ‘spoil that child rotten’, but she had never paid much attention to those warnings. Citlalli was a smart kid with a wild imagination who was not above getting into some mischief, but she was also a sweet girl, and there was no malice in her at all, so Sylvia figured that she could always live with a little mischief.
Unfortunately the fact that she was not worried about the possibility of spoiling Citlalli rotten didn’t mean that Sylvia had no cause for concern at all, it just meant that that cause for concern was not the one everyone else thought it should be. Her main concern had to do with the fact that, as time went by, the differences between Citlalli and other children were becoming increasingly apparent, and Sylvia didn’t know what it was that she was supposed to do about that one.
The problem wasn’t so much that she was worried because of the things the child could do, as far as Sylvia was concerned those were just a natural part of who she was, but rather she was worried because she knew that her daughter was still too young to understand that some of her abilities were not quite ‘normal’, and she dreaded what would happen if someone else were to become aware of what the girl could do. Granted, the incidents Sylvia had witnessed up to that point hadn’t really been glaring enough to attract anyone’s attention, in fact she had only noticed them because she was almost painfully aware of just how it was that her daughter had come into her life, but they were undeniably there, and she feared that they would only become more noticeable as Citlalli grew older.
Sylvia knew, for instance, that it was not uncommon for the girl to run to the door to greet some of her friends before they could even knock, and she always seemed to be able to tell exactly who was to be found on the other side, but whenever her mother tried to ask her how she had known that someone was there in the first place, the girl would just shrug the whole thing off by telling her that she had seen them coming, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Another aspect of that same situation, one that Sylvia was actually grateful for, had to do with her ever vanishing keys.
Ever since she could remember, Sylvia had been losing her keys twice a day like clockwork, however Citlalli always seemed to know exactly where it was that her missing keys were hiding.
A far more puzzling example of the girl’s ‘uniqueness’ had to do with the way in which some of her favorite toys, which were left all the way across the room from her bed when she went to sleep, had a tendency to actually be in her bed with her by the time she woke up. At first Sylvia had tried to ask her what had happened, but unfortunately the girl’s explanation that the toys had come down from their shelves to keep her company hadn’t been all that helpful.
In time, however, Sylvia had grown so used to the whole thing that she would have been utterly shocked if she’d ever found that the girl’s toys were actually where she was expecting them to be.
Those were the most noticeable issues, but there were also other things about the girl’s behavior that were kind of odd, little things, like the way in which –unlike most four-year-olds, who are usually at least somewhat afraid of the dark– Citlalli absolutely loved the night. The girl was definitely a night owl, and she had never been the least bit worried at the thought that there might be a monster lurking under her bed, or in her closet, or anything like that, nor was she afraid of the things she could not see. In fact, more often than not, she would flat out refuse to go to sleep until she had finished telling the stars all about her day.
The girl was absolutely convinced that the stars were sad because they were not allowed to come out while the sun was shining, and that they wanted her to tell them everything she had seen and done while playing under the sun.
The rational part of Sylvia’s mind knew that those little comments were probably a byproduct of the girl’s wild imagination, an imagination that was almost certainly combined with a four-year-old’s natural inability to tell fact from fiction, but at the same time she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was more to it than that… that somehow there was a special connection between her little girl and the night.
By the time Citlalli was nine years old Sylvia was extremely worried about her grades, not that there was anything for her to be worried about, at least not as far as the girl’s teachers were concerned. According to her teachers, her daughter’s grades had never been a problem. Her grades had always been good, very good –great even– and that in itself was a problem because Sylvia knew that the girl was not particularly fond of studying.
Sylvia knew that getting her daughter to do her homework was anything but an easy task. It wasn’t so much that Citlalli had a particularly bad attitude when it came to school, or that she was a worse student than the average nine-year-old. It was just that she could always think of about a dozen things she’d much rather be doing, and as a result she was convinced that the whole thing was nothing but a huge waste of time.
Of course, it wasn’t that Citlalli disliked all subjects equally, far from it. Sylvia knew that her daughter enjoyed reading and making up stories almost as much as she disliked math. Science was definitely not her strong suit, and when it came to history… well, there the girl always seemed to have an answer ready, unfortunately it wasn’t usually the answer her teachers were expecting to hear.
That was the subject that seemed to give her the most trouble.
To be fair, Sylvia had to admit that it wasn’t so much that her daughter’s answers when it came to history were ‘wrong’, for the most part they were just slightly different. The basic facts were roughly the same, but her take on the details wasn’t usually the one her teachers were expecting to hear. At times it felt almost as if Citlalli were reading from a different book. The girl’s world was nowhere near as black and white as her teachers thought it should be, and she stubbornly refused to believe that the good guys always won, even if that was what her books seemed to suggest, and that in turn had a tendency to cause some friction.
Of course, the fact that Citlalli’s perspective was somewhat unusual was not really a problem, and at first it hadn’t raised any red flags in Sylvia’s mind. That had come later, when she had become aware of the fact that whenever she was confronted with a test, the girl always wrote down the correct answers according to her books and her teachers… even if those test-answers were nothing like the ones she would have given at any other time. That was unusual, and in time Sylvia had come to the realization that that particular situation was not confined to history.
Sylvia was well aware of just how often Citlalli managed to ace what she usually referred to as an ‘announced pop quiz’, that is, she knew just how often her daughter forgot all about an upcoming test regardless of how much advance warning she’d really had, and yet, in spite of her tendency to forget all about her upcoming exams, Citlalli never failed them. In fact she usually did a lot better when she forgot to study than when she remembered to do so.
While Citlalli had been in the first, second, and even third grade, Sylvia hadn’t really given much thought to that particular situation. Like most proud mothers she had just assumed that her daughter was an exceptionally bright little girl –and she was bright, just not that bright– but by the time Citlalli had started the fourth grade Sylvia had been forced to confront the fact that there was more to it than that.
Of course, there was a long way from her realizing that her daughter’s grades were a little too good for comfort, to her coming up with anything that could possibly be described as a reasonable explanation that could account for why her daughter’s grades were so good when it was all but impossible to get her to study for a test, though eventually history –where there wasn’t a single ‘correct’ answer to each question, and where the discrepancies between Citlalli’s normal responses and the ones her teachers were expecting to hear were most apparent– turned out to hold the key to the whole mess.
What was happening was that, whenever Citlalli got nervous and tried to focus her attention on a specific question really hard, her mind did its best to find an answer for it wherever it could, but, unlike what happens to be the case with most people, Citlalli’s definition of ‘wherever an answer could be found’ extended well beyond the confines of her own mind. The end result was that, more often than not, she wound up finding those answers directly in her teachers’ minds, and because of that her answers were always a perfect match for the ones those teachers wanted to hear.
Sylvia figured that in a way what was happening was a natural extension of what the girl had been doing ever since she was a baby. As far as Citlalli was concerned, her ability to ‘see’ the answer to a specific question in someone else’s mind was no different from her ability to see the person that was about to knock on the door, or where it was that her mother’s missing keys were hiding.
Sylvia’s initial reaction to the realization that her daughter had the power to enter people’s minds had been to try to get her to stop, to try to get her to understand that peeking into other people’s private thoughts was really bad manners. Unfortunately it soon became apparent that that particular skill was not one the girl could easily control. As was the case with most of her abilities, that one was deeply ingrained, and it seemed to respond more to her needs than to her will. The problem was that coming up with an answer to an exam question, especially when she had no clue as to what that answer was supposed to be because she had completely forgotten to study, qualified as something the girl felt she ‘had’ to do.
Yes, Sylvia knew that what her daughter was doing could technically be described as cheating, and that was not a notion she was particularly comfortable with, but at the same time she knew it wasn’t quite so simple because for Citlalli using her skills was as natural as using her eyes and ears. That meant that trying to get her not to rely on them was likely to be as much of an exercise in futility as trying to teach a seeing man to dismiss the input of his eyes in the presence of the light would be. Sylvia knew that, as far as her daughter was concerned, her skills were perfectly ‘normal’ and, more often than not, she didn’t even seem to be aware of the fact that what she was doing was unusual at all, not until someone else actually pointed it out to her.
Of course, that was not to say that there hadn’t been plenty of instances in which the girl’s use of her ‘unique skills’ had been far from innocent. Citlalli may have had no control over her ability to find the answers to her exam questions in her teachers’ minds, but that didn’t mean that she was totally oblivious to the fact that those skills were there, nor did it mean that she was above using them to have some fun if the opportunity presented itself.
In fact in the past couple of years there had been a number of strange incidents at her daughter’s school that Sylvia was fairly certain could be traced back to Citlalli. It had gotten so bad that a number of rumors had begun to circulate, each one crazier than the one before. Some were even saying, half-jokingly, that the school itself was haunted, with doors opening and closing mysteriously when there was no one near them and there was no wind blowing. Sure, almost everyone dismissed those rumors as nonsense, but no one had really been able to come up with a more believable explanation for what was going on either.
The whole situation had gotten so far out of hand that it was no longer even considered unusual for supplies to vanish into thin air, only to reappear later in the most absurd places, or for the food in the cafeteria to turn the most ridiculous colors, such as radioactive lime.
In other words, those incidents represented, for the most part, things that could be dismissed as childish pranks, but they still left Sylvia desperately trying to figure out where to draw the line… especially because she had never quite managed to get over the fear that her daughter would do something that would draw too much attention to what she could do.
Yes, over the years Sylvia had come to accept just how unlike other children her daughter really was, and she had also made huge strides when it came to accepting her daughter’s ‘uniqueness’, but it hadn’t always been easy. She could still remember how she had been scared almost out of her mind the first time she had seen the cookies she had told her daughter she couldn’t have until after dinner flying straight into Citlalli’s waiting hands, though the shock of that sort of thing was long gone. In fact, four years after that particular incident, Sylvia had already grown so accustomed to that sort of thing that she barely rolled her eyes whenever she saw something like a glass of water floating through the apartment on its way to Citlalli’s room, simply because the girl was thirsty, but she was also too lazy to get up and fetch her water the old fashioned way.
The way Sylvia saw it, Citlalli’s unusual abilities were one of the trickiest challenges she faced as her mother. On the one hand she knew it was her duty to encourage their development because those skills were an integral part of who the girl was, but on the other she knew she was also supposed to at least try to set some reasonable boundaries when it came to her behavior. It was an almost impossible balancing act, and because of that Sylvia often found herself wishing that her very special little girl had come with the appropriate manual attached. She certainly could have used it. It had taken her nine years, but in the end she had reluctantly resigned herself to the fact that the chapters dealing with telepathy and telekinesis were nowhere to be found in most traditional parenting books.
Citlalli was sleeping, dreaming the same dream she dreamed almost every night. She was standing in a forest under the stars. There was a woman there who was walking away from her, and Citlalli was desperately trying to follow her, but she could never quite catch up. Even though she couldn’t see her face, Citlalli could see that the woman was tall. She wore a dark tunic, and her hair was incredibly dark, yet it seemed to almost shine in the moonlight.
She knew she was supposed to know who that woman was, but she didn’t.
If anyone had asked her, Citlalli would have said that the woman in question was her mother, but that made no sense at all because she looked nothing like Sylvia. The place she saw in her dream was as strange and as familiar as the woman herself. It was nothing like any place she had ever been to, but it was not frightening in any way either. To her it felt like home, even though it was most definitely not the apartment.
Oddly enough, in spite of the familiarity she felt with everything in her dream, there was also an odd sense of detachment there. She felt as if she belonged in her dream, but she knew she didn’t. It felt as if the place she was seeing had once been her home, and would be again someday, but not yet.
Chapter 3: All Alone
Citlalli was trying to concentrate on her homework without much success one afternoon when all of a sudden she felt dizzy and cold… very, very cold. After a couple of minutes the dizziness went away, but the cold remained and, even after the dizziness was gone, there remained another strange, unfamiliar, and unpleasant, feeling left in its wake. For some reason Citlalli suddenly felt empty and alone. It was an awful feeling, one that went a lot deeper than anything she had ever experienced before, and it frightened her. She thought about the possibility of calling her mom at work for a moment, but what was she supposed to say? ‘Come home, mommy, please… I’m feeling lonely’? That would go over beautifully with her mom’s boss, and besides, it wasn’t like she was a baby.
It had taken her a very long time to get her mother to trust her enough to allow her to be home alone, and she was not about to do anything that could possibly jeopardize that trust. Knowing that there was nothing she could do about it without embarrassing herself, Citlalli tried to turn her attention back to her homework, hoping against hope that the empty feeling would just go away on its own, but it didn’t. In fact it kept getting worse and worse with each and every passing minute.
Less than half an hour later, and hoping for some sort of reassurance, Citlalli decided to at least try to find Sylvia’s mind. She couldn’t always do it. Her control was good, but not that good, and locating the mind of someone who was not in the same room with her was incredibly tricky, but it was definitely worth a shot. The problem was that there were always so many voices out there, overlapping with each other and clamoring for attention, that identifying the one she was actually looking for was all but impossible. Still, Citlalli figured she had nothing to lose. Sure, she knew her mom was not going to be happy about that one, not seeing how they had had the talk about the fact that Citlalli had to respect the privacy of other people’s thoughts more times than the girl cared to remember, but she figured that that empty feeling she was having justified making an exception. If nothing else, she thought that getting rid of it was definitely worth a lecture. She closed her eyes and focused her attention, but unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t find Sylvia’s mind, so in the end it didn’t really matter.
Citlalli tried to tell herself that everything was going to be okay, she tried to tell herself that her failure to locate her mother’s mind didn’t really mean anything, that what she had been trying to do was difficult enough to begin with, and that trying to pull it off when she was worried was downright silly, but it wasn’t working. The truth was that her inability to locate Sylvia’s mind had scared her more than she cared to admit, and it had also caused the feeling of loneliness to grow even worse.
The girl was not particularly surprised when, a few minutes later, she felt that her mother’s boss and a stranger were approaching the door. Even though she was extremely nervous, she somehow forced herself to wait and allow them to knock.
Seeing how she had been expecting him, Citlalli wasn’t exactly shocked to see Sylvia’s boss standing there, looking very uncomfortable, however she was curious as to the identity of the stranger she had felt with him. That stranger turned out to be a rather grim-faced policewoman and, before either one of them could utter a single word, Citlalli realized why they were there. She knew without even being told that her mom was gone. That was the absence she had been feeling all along.
Even though she already knew what they were going to tell her, Citlalli tried to force herself to listen and be patient as the two of them did everything they could think of to talk their way around the facts. They were trying to tell her what had happened without actually saying the words, as if not saying them would keep them from being something real. Under different circumstances, Citlalli would have found their attitudes to be almost amusing, but there was nothing remotely funny about it in the current situation. She just wanted them to get it over with, and tell her what had happened once and for all, but they seemed to be in no hurry.
Sylvia’s boss looked almost relieved when the girl finally decided to cut to the chase, and asked him point-blank if her mother was dead.
As it turned out, what had happened had been ridiculously simple: Sylvia had been coming back from running an errand when a car had run a red light. That was all it took, and now her mother would never come home… just because someone had been in too much of a hurry to stop for less than two minutes.
Citlalli wanted to ask so many questions, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She didn’t know what to say, and she certainly didn’t have a clue as to what it was that she was supposed to do. She was so confused that she couldn’t even figure out what it was that she was feeling.
Her mother’s boss asked her if she had anyone she could stay with, apparently realizing that he had never heard either one of them mention any other family. Citlalli thought about that for a moment. Did she have anyone who would be willing to take her in now that her mom was gone? Maybe her uncle, Peter. He was the only family she had left, she realized, but Sylvia had never been particularly close to her older brother. In fact Citlalli had only met the man a couple of times, and she had liked him about as much as he had liked her… meaning somewhere between ‘very little’ and ‘not at all’, with a strong emphasis on the ‘not at all’. Knowing that she didn’t really have much of a choice, Citlalli reluctantly gave them his name and phone number.
After that a call was made, and her future was decided, though no one bothered to ask her how she felt about any of the decisions that were being made on her behalf.
Peter had asked a couple of rather predictable questions, and then he had agreed, rather reluctantly, to take her in, ‘at least for the time being’. That sure was reassuring under the circumstances… not, but then again Citlalli had long known that, for the most part, grown-ups have a really annoying tendency to treat children as if they were nothing but human-shaped pieces of furniture, especially in a time of crisis. Sure, her mother’s boss had tried to sound comforting and all that, he had told her that everything was going to be just fine –even though it was pretty apparent that he didn’t really believe it himself– and the cop had ‘volunteered’ to help her pack a bag with some of her things, as if she were going to be able to fit her whole life into a single suitcase. She had also been informed that she was being taken to her uncle’s house, where his housekeeper would be waiting for her.
In other words, she was being packed, shipped and delivered to an uncle who hadn’t even asked to talk to her when they had told him of his sister’s death. She was being shipped to her uncle’s house as if she were merely a rather inconvenient piece of luggage that had accidentally been misplaced in the aftermath of her mother’s death.
When he first got the call telling him that Sylvia was gone, Peter was understandably shocked. Knowing that it was his duty, he had agreed right away to make the necessary arrangements for his sister’s funeral. They may not have been particularly close, but he knew that doing that was his responsibility, and he always did the responsible thing. That was also the reason why, rather reluctantly, he had agreed to take his niece in.
He didn’t like children, but he knew he didn’t have much of a choice, not under the circumstances. He could just imagine the gossip if he had refused, and he knew that, if anyone at the office had heard about it, his future in the company could easily have been compromised. After all, his boss counted on him to be reliable, and anything that could possibly tarnish that reliable image was likely to come back to haunt him the next time his name came up for a promotion. Unfortunately he also knew that, as much as he hated it, failing to take his niece in would have left him looking as someone who couldn’t really be counted on in a time of crisis. That was not a risk he could afford to take, so he was basically stuck with the kid, whether he liked it or not.
The truth was that Peter had worked hard all his life for the things he had, and nothing was more important to him than those things. In fact he lived for his work, and he was very proud of his numerous accomplishments. He was one of the company’s most valued employees, he was respected, and he even had a shot at being appointed as a division VP in the not too distant future. He had a wonderful house, full of beautiful things. He was happy, he was in control of his life, and all of a sudden his sister’s death threatened to destroy everything he had always worked for by saddling him with his niece’s guardianship. That was unacceptable.
Peter liked having order in his life, and he was absolutely convinced that children were too loud, too messy, too smelly and too unpredictable to fit into his carefully arranged schedule. He certainly wasn’t willing to put up with any kind of disruption, and he was determined to let his niece know who was in charge from the very beginning.
That meant that the first thing he was going to have to do as soon as the kid arrived was to set down some ground rules. He was well aware that his sister had never been fond of enforcing strict guidelines when it came to her daughter’s behavior, but he was not about to put up with any kind of nonsense from Citlalli. After all, he figured that the girl should be grateful enough that he was willing to take her in at all, but unfortunately he also knew that, even if he could get her to behave, that would barely solve half his problem.
The other, and probably more important, half had to do with the fact that Peter liked living alone, even if he did have a housekeeper to maintain his beautiful house. In his mind his housekeeper didn’t really count as a person. To him she was more like an appliance, one he needed in order to keep his beautiful house beautiful and running just the way he liked it. She kept everything clean and neat for him, but he never really saw her.
He knew Martha was there because he always found breakfast waiting for him when he woke up in the morning, and dinner when he came home from work, and he knew she was there because all of his dirty clothes vanished from the hamper, only to reappear clean and folded in his closet the following day. He wasn’t even sure if he would have recognized her if he had run into her on the street. He also knew the woman was there because he wrote her a check twice a month, and sometimes he gave her an order or two, but he did that mostly over the telephone because he was always too busy working to be there in person. Well, with a little luck, maybe she would be able to take care of the kid as well, so that he wouldn’t really have to see his niece either.
Of course, as if having to put up with a kid were not enough of a disruption, there was also the fact that, in the aftermath of his sister’s death, he was going to have no choice but to take a couple of days off from work. That was not because there was any real reason for it, at least not as far as he was concerned, but rather because it was what was expected of him. If only Sylvia had had the common sense to die on a Friday night he probably would have been able to avoid it, but no, his sister had never been the least bit practical in life, and apparently in death she was no different. She had died on a Tuesday, so his boss had suggested that maybe he should take the rest of the week off, and he hadn’t dared refuse, though he was far from comfortable with the idea.
Peter hated missing work. Whenever he did he couldn’t stop thinking of all the clients he wouldn’t be able to meet, and of all the deals he wouldn’t be able to close because of that situation, and, to make matters worse, on that particular case he knew he would probably end up having no choice but to spend at least some of that time with Citlalli. Citlalli, God, what a name! Not for the first time, Peter found himself wondering what on Earth could his sister possibly have been thinking when she had chosen it. It had taken him almost a full year just to be able to pronounce it properly!
With a resigned sigh Peter decided that, at least for the time being, the best thing he could do was to call Martha to let her know that the child was going to be dropped by the house, and then to focus on the arrangements for his sister’s upcoming funeral.
Making arrangements was something he was good at, it was something he was in control of, and, best of all, it was something that didn’t require him to take his niece along. It was also something that would hopefully enable him to put off going home until long after Citlalli had gone to bed.
The whole situation was absurd, and he knew it. It was his house, and yet he was being chased out of it by a twelve-year-old girl. He knew he couldn’t say ‘no’ to taking his niece in, but the truth was that he didn’t want to have anything to do with her. He definitely needed to find a more permanent solution to that particular problem, one that would hopefully enable him to both look good and get Citlalli out of his hair… or rather out of what little was left of it, because his hair had been falling off by the fistful for years. Maybe after a couple of weeks, once things had settled down somewhat, he would be able to look for a nice, fancy boarding school far, far away.
Doing something like that would not be cheap, and it would undoubtedly wreck some of his carefully organized financial arrangements by throwing his budget completely out of whack, but it would be seen as an acceptable solution by pretty much everyone, and it would also serve to get the kid out of his house for most of the year. Then, if he could send the girl away to camp during her school breaks, things would probably work out fine. It was going to be expensive, there was no way around that, but he could afford it, and he figured that, if it kept Citlalli away from him all year round, it would be money well spent.
Citlalli was thinking about the past couple of days as she watched the service unfold. She was sitting next to her uncle, who was impeccably dressed and playing his part with remarkable ease but very little feeling, while being careful to keep as far away from her as humanly possible. He was making absolutely sure that there would be no contact between them, and he was also careful to look down or up, but never quite at her, as if he could make her disappear just by pretending that she wasn’t really there.
Citlalli would much rather have sat closer to her own friends, but she knew such a thing would never be allowed. As far as her uncle was concerned, her sitting with her friends would not have been the proper thing for her to do.
She could see that Amelia and her parents were there, as were most of her mom’s friends and coworkers. They all felt more like family to her than her uncle did. After all, the man had hardly spoken to her at all since she had been moved into his house. In fact, since her mother’s death, she had only seen him three times, and in that time she had had a single talk with him, or was that from him? The man had gone on and on about how much of a disruption her presence in his life was going to be, how grateful she was expected to feel because he had agreed to let her stay with him at all, and how she was expected to behave to avoid embarrassing him. Apparently that was his greatest concern, as he seemed to be terrified at the thought that she might do something that would reflect poorly on him. Not once had he mentioned his sister’s name, except to say that her death was a nuisance because it interfered with his grandiose plans in life.
Those had been his words, but what her uncle hadn’t realized was that she could easily see past them… and she had.
She had seen that –even though he was a wealthy man, living in a beautiful house– in a way he was also incredibly poor, and, to make matters worse, he was unwilling to stop long enough to even acknowledge that there was something missing in his own life. He kept struggling to reach a goal that kept growing more and more distant with each and every passing day. Even in the aftermath of his sister’s death, he still insisted on living for tomorrow rather than today. He didn’t even seem to realize that it was not just that Sylvia had all of a sudden run out of tomorrows, but also that someday the same thing was bound to happen to him as well.
The whole thing made Citlalli incredibly sad. Peter was, after all, her mother’s only brother, but in the end she also knew that that was just a title.
He had never acted like her brother, even though Sylvia had made more than one attempt to bridge the gap that kept them apart. The problem was that Peter just couldn’t see anything but himself and his unattainable goals, and as a result he was not only unwilling to meet anyone half way, but he also chose to take a step back whenever he felt someone coming closer.
Oh, Citlalli knew where he was coming from. She knew her uncle had spent his whole life working hard to acquire more and more things, and as a result he was convinced that anyone who tried to approach him did so only because of those things. He didn’t own his belongings, he was owned by them, and because of that he lived in constant fear that those belongings would someday be taken from him.
In that regard living with him was bound to be very different from what living with his sister had been like, and Citlalli had realized almost from the moment she had set foot in his house that she would never be happy there. She had known all along that her life would never be the same as it had been before her mother’s death, and she had never expected it to be, but if there was one thing Sylvia had taught her, it was precisely that ‘different’ didn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
Unfortunately, when it came to living with her uncle, Citlalli couldn’t imagine it being anything but. He was a cold man, and he didn’t want her there any more than she wanted to be there.
That particular train of thought was causing the girl to grow more and more desperate with every passing moment and –seeing how funerals are not exactly nice gatherings to begin with, and how the one who was actually being buried on that particular day was her mother– that was saying something. The problem was that her uncle had been expecting her to act as a decoration all along, to be a mere prop in his big production, and that big production allowed no room for her emotions.
As far as Peter was concerned, the funeral was all about him, and even Sylvia was nothing but a footnote.
It was not a gathering to allow those who had loved his sister to say goodbye to her, it was merely a stage for Peter to show everyone what a wonderful brother he was. Citlalli had been carefully instructed on how to dress, how to act and what to say, and she knew she would find herself in a world of trouble if she were to do anything that could possibly compromise her uncle’s carefully crafted script. She was really hating the whole thing with a passion, and that passion in turn was causing her to have more than a little trouble keeping some of her more ‘unusual’ abilities to herself.
Yes, over the years their use had become almost instinctive for her, so much so that that was rarely much of a problem any more, but with her emotions battling against what was expected of her, and the stress of the past couple of days bearing down on her, she was really having to struggle to keep those abilities from bubbling over.
At last it was over. Citlalli had never been happy to see her uncle’s house before, but she figured that there had to be a first time for everything, and as far as she was concerned this one most definitely qualified. As soon as they crossed the threshold she asked to be excused and then, without even waiting for a reply, she went to the room that had been assigned to her, though it certainly didn’t feel like her room. Once there she closed the door, relieved to be alone for a while, and then she took a good look around hoping, as she always did, that something would have changed in her absence, but unfortunately it never did.
The whole room looked like it belonged in a museum, just like everything else in her uncle’s house. It was supposed to be beautiful, or at least she assumed that that had been the general idea, but it hadn’t worked out quite that way. It was big, more than twice as big as her room back at her mom’s place had been, and Citlalli hated it with a passion. It had everything she was supposed to want, but none of the things that really mattered to her, and there wasn’t a single thing in it to reflect the fact that it was supposed to be her room.
She was expected to keep it clean and neat, and she was most definitely not allowed to invite any of her friends over, seeing how her uncle was convinced that one child was more than enough trouble already. To make matters worse, she was not allowed to take the bus on her own, and she could just imagine how her uncle would have reacted if she had dared to suggest the possibility of actually walking anywhere, not that walking was much of an option… not when she was more than ten miles away from anything she knew. She was trapped in a rather suffocating gated community with rules about absolutely everything, a gated community that might just as well have been on an entirely different planet, and she had no way out.
Letting out a resigned sigh, Citlalli changed her clothes, sat on her bed, considered what she was about to do for about a minute, and then she reached down and pulled out her backpack. She had been thinking about the possibility of taking off almost from the moment she had arrived in her uncle’s house, and she finally decided that the time was right. She knew that running away was probably not the best idea she had ever had, but she didn’t really feel like she had much of a choice. Even though Martha had been nice to her, the fact remained that she knew her uncle’s place would never be her home, and home was where she needed to be.
Citlalli knew her mom would never have approved of what she was about to do, and at first that thought had bothered her, but then she had realized that, seeing how the whole mess stemmed precisely from the fact that Sylvia was gone, her potential objections could probably be overlooked. She was more worried about the fact that she didn’t have anything remotely resembling a plan when it came to such basic issues as where to go and what to do, but that still wasn’t enough of a concern to cause her to reconsider.
Oddly enough the one thing she wasn’t was afraid, even though at times she thought she should be. Yes, the thought of being on her own was kind of scary, but, the way she saw it, she was alone already, so running away wasn’t likely to make that much of a difference.
The bottom line was that Citlalli knew that there was nothing for her in her uncle’s house, and what was even worse, she knew that if she were to stay there, there would eventually be nothing left of her at all. She may have had no clue as to where she was supposed to go, or what she was supposed to do, but deep down she knew it was time for her to move on.
Citlalli couldn’t help but to worry that her uncle was going to walk in on her while she was packing. She knew that, as far as fears went, that one was pretty silly, especially considering the fact that Peter had been doing everything he could think of to avoid running into her from the moment she had been moved in with him, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t have to be careful. She knew that, even though her uncle didn’t want her there, he was still going to be furious about her decision to leave. He may have thought that having her living with him was a major pain, but at the same time he felt that taking her in made him look good and responsible, and she knew just how afraid he was of anything that could possibly tarnish that responsible image.
As she carelessly tossed a few of her belongings into her backpack, the girl couldn’t help but to marvel at how few things she really wanted to take with her. In addition to a change of clothes and all of her savings, there was a rather ragged teddy bear, a small tin box holding some of her ‘treasures’, and a bunch of pictures of her mom. That was it. When she had packed back at her mom’s place she had had the feeling that there was no way she was ever going to be able to fit her whole life into a single suitcase, now, having dumped her schoolbooks, she had room to spare in her backpack.
In the end getting out of her uncle’s house without getting caught turned out to be ridiculously easy. Unlike her mom’s place, her uncle’s house was huge, and that meant that several people could live there without ever really having to talk or even see one another. Citlalli knew Martha would probably be in the kitchen, more because she wanted to stay out of her uncle’s way than because she had anything to do in there, and she knew that her uncle would be in his study, working hard to make up for the time he had ‘wasted’ by attending his sister’s funeral.
For a moment Citlalli was tempted to go and say goodbye to Martha, but then she realized that she couldn’t do it, not without having the woman either try to stop her from leaving, or having her get in trouble for letting her go. Sneaking out on her felt wrong, but at the same time she knew it was the only thing she could do.
The next thing she had to do was make her way past the security guard at the gate. That one did pose a bit of a challenge but, using her powers to cause a minor diversion, Citlalli didn’t have much trouble sneaking past him without being seen.
After that the only thing that was left for her to do was to head back to her old neighborhood. She knew she couldn’t afford to stay there for very long, not without running the risk of getting caught and being sent back in a hurry, but she figured that being in a familiar place would provide her with something remotely resembling a starting point, and as far as she was concerned that was a necessary first step in any attempt to figure out just where it was that she was supposed to go.