Tobias asked me when he was only six, right after I was done with occupational therapy, and ready to raise a child again.
“Mommy? Why don’t I have a Daddy?”
I could have told him the whole truth. Children are able to accept things that are hard for adults. It would have been easier on both of us later, if I had.
“Your Daddy had a calling, Tobias. Do you know what a calling is?”
“No. What is it?”
“A calling is something you have to do, no matter what. Something more important than anything else. Not everyone has one. But when you do…” I stopped to wipe furiously at my tears.
“Daddy’s calling made him go away?” Tobias said.
I nodded, mute.
“I don’t like a calling,” Tobias muttered, as he wrapped his little arms around me. “I never wanna have one.”
I was sitting in front of the TV listening to the local news about the “fireworks” at the construction site when Tobias came in and said, “Hey, Mom. Jake invited me along to check out the Sharing meeting at the beach later. Can I go?”
Cold dread trickled into my veins. I had hoped the war would never touch us. It wasn’t our war to fight; we didn’t have the weapons. But finally, it had come to my doorstep. “No,” I said firmly. “I need you help to me clean the house this evening. You’re staying in.”
“What if we start now?” Tobias said. “We could finish early and then I could catch up with Jake?”
I hit mute on the TV. “Tobias. I know some of your classmates have gotten into the Sharing. But I’ve heard about this group through my church friends. They look harmless, but they’re a dangerous cult. Has anyone ever told you what you have to do to become a full member?”
A pause. “Jake’s brother Tom says there’s a minimum number of hours of service, and then you go to a couple of special meetings and you become a full member.”
“But did he tell you what the initiation is like?” I insisted. “The ‘initiation ceremony’ is full members only.”
“No,” Tobias said, a frown in his voice. “He said it was secret. He just said that it totally changed his life.”
“I don’t trust an organization like that and neither should you,” I said firmly. “I won’t allow you to go there. Stay home and help me clean.”
Then there was the news story about the man who found a piece of metal on the beach with strange writing on it. I asked my church friend Mary to describe it to me. It took a while for the image to form in my mind, but when it did, it was unmistakable. Andalite writing. Elfangor had taught it to me.
That night, I dreamed of a thought-speak voice calling to me from the sea.
I woke up in a cold sweat. An Andalite ship had crashed somewhere off the coast of California. There was an Andalite trapped in there, using the ship to broadcast his thought-speech. And somehow, I’d heard his call. My heart ached. There was nothing I could do for him.
I got up and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I found that Tobias was already there. “Tobias?” I said. “What are you doing up?”
“Bad dream,” he said.
Oh no. Had the message reached him too? Because of his heritage? Because Elfangor had touched both our lives? “What was it about?” I said, tentatively.
“There was a voice,” he said. “Calling to me from the ocean. It sounded scared. Desperate.”
Part of me wanted to tell him, after a lifetime of keeping the truth to myself. But what good could it possibly do? There was nothing he could do to help the doomed Andalite, either. So I said, “Hey. Why don’t you read to me from the book you’re reading?” It was an old ritual of ours. We went to his bedroom, and he read to me until he yawned between every word, and went back to sleep.
A month or so later, Tobias came to the house with a new friend in tow. “This is Philip, Mom. He’s here to borrow some books.”
“Yes, my name is Phil-up-puh,” the other boy said. “Puh. I am here to read book-suh.”
Playing with sounds. Just like Elfangor did in the first couple of weeks being human.
Then the boy added, stiffly, “I am sorry to intrude, intrud-ud-duh, on your solitude. Tude.”
“Come on, Philip,” Tobias said, and took him to his room.
I sat and frowned over that remark. It took me a minute to remember Elfangor’s distaste for the disabled that I’d had to train him out of, the way he insisted that they should be secluded from society. It probably didn’t mean anything. It was a coincidence. There were autistic humans who played with sound, and plenty of humans who acted weird around a blind woman. But there had to be a way to know. To be sure.
When Philip and Tobias came back out of his room, I was ready. If I was just being paranoid, I could say I’d gotten the phrase from a fantasy book. But if I wasn’t…
“Nice to meet you, Philip,” I said. “May your blade stay sharp, and the four moons guide our paths to cross again one day.”
Dead silence fell. Then I heard a sound I thought I’d never hear again – of bones grinding against each other, organs liquefying.
“Philip,” Tobias said, a little hysterically, but not hysterical enough for the morph to be a surprise. “What are you doing?”
“He’s demorphing,” I said, sounding calmer than I felt. “Tobias, close the curtain on the window of the back door. Just in case.”
“Do it,” I said. “What if someone walks through the backyard and sees?”
I heard the whistle through the air, and the lightest press of the edge of a tail blade against my throat. «Demorph.»
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m not an Andalite. But I had a child with one.”
I told them everything. I gave enough details that they even believed me.
“You never told me,” Tobias whispered. “I met my dad, and I didn’t even know. I would have known if you’d told me.”
“And you’re fighting a war I swore to myself you’d never have to fight,” I whispered back. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Mom.”