“Get yourself one of those,” Grady told her.
“Maybe later,” Jordan replied. She finished pouring coffee into his cup. The rush of lunch customers that day was the kind that came with an August Indian summer. The Gun & Rose had good AC. It had been all-hands-on-deck for an hour already, and would continue to be so for at least half an hour more.
Grady’s eyes scanned quickly across the room and his face settled into an ironic expression. He said, “Get yourself a coffee and sit down, Jordan.”
Jordan didn’t need to look around to know what he saw. She kept a running tally in her head: which patrons were Guard, and which were not. Was it safe, or was it unsafe. Right now it was safe; almost everyone present was Guard. Everyone in the Guard knew Grady: he brought home the ones born outside Haven. Even though she’d only been around for a few years, Jordan too was well known: she made the phone calls and chaired the socials.
“Give me a minute,” she told him and went to put the carafe back.
Grady wasn’t there for lunch. Jordan didn’t think this was the usual business of smuggling a Troubled person into Haven, either. She usually got the reports a while later when the watchers decided the new person had settled in well enough to be introduced around. But sometimes, Grady would give her an early heads-up. Usually that happened when whomever he was bringing in was a flight risk, or else really wanted for active duty in the Guard. However, even the flight risks weren’t the kind of emergency implied by Grady’s appearance. Whatever this was about, it wasn’t anything Jordan usually dealt with: as much as she didn’t like Grady, he was actually good at his assigned job. If he reached out about something, then she’d better hear him out.
Jordan put the coffee carafe back where it belonged, caught Nicole’s eye to indicate with a head-tilt that she’ll be a while, and returned to Grady’s table carrying a cup of tea and a scone. She put those down and pulled up a chair.
“Michelle Leibowitz,” he said. “Age eighteen. Knocked out two dozen people in her first hour of being Troubled, then went off the grid. That was yesterday. The people who got hit with her Trouble are still out cold. Either that, or they’re thoroughly paralyzed and locked in, there’s no way to tell. Not that it matters any.”
If this was what had happened in less than an hour, it wasn’t hard to understand why Michelle would have wanted to disappear. It was horrible, knowing that you were hurting people and there was nothing you could do -
Jordan pulled herself back from that path. If this was what had happened in less than an hour of Michelle being Trouble, obviously locating the girl and bringing her to Haven was a priority - even if this wasn’t so bad, as Troubled went: after all, nobody was dead yet. There was a chance that once the girl got a lid on her Trouble - or was safely in Haven - those affected would recover.
Keep your mind on the job at hand, Jordan. “What activated her Trouble?”
Grady took a sip from his coffee. “What would a 32-year-old man do in a remote corner of a zoo with an 18-year-old girl?”
Jordan forced her suddenly-shaking hand to unclench from the tea cup. So much for keeping her mind on the job. It took all of her focus just to breathe. “You bastard. That’s what you just had to talk to me about? The psychology of young adult women who’ve been raped?”
Most men - most decent men - flinched or at least looked contrite when Jordan used that tone of voice. Grady was made of fucking Teflon. “I screwed up with you. I figured you’d want better for her.”
It took her a second to understand what he meant and when she did, it knocked the breath out of her again. Jordan hadn’t left Haven since she first arrived in town. Outside of Haven she was a monster; outside of Haven it was an exercise in horror just to walk down the street.
But that wasn’t what mattered, now. There was a girl out there, and she was fresh to the double bind of the Troubles: first you went through something awful that you had no control of, then you discovered you had a terrible power that you couldn’t control either. And if what had set this girl’s - if what had set Michelle’s Trouble off was having been raped or harassed, then Jordan had to get out there. Grady was repeating her own words to him when he said that he’d screwed up with her. There were reasons that unlike the other Troubled that Grady had brought home to Haven, Jordan didn’t have instinctive trust in the man.
“Of course.” To her own ears, her voice sounded stable. Calm. Centered. “When do we leave? Where are we going?”
“Soon as you can get yourself packed. Luckily she’s from Boston. I’ll drive.”
Drive - Jordan didn’t quite realize that air travel was a possibility until it was eliminated as such. Airports were a bad idea for someone who had her Trouble. Extrapolating, Jordan realized that if they were reading the situation right they would be for Michelle too. Bad enough that Boston this late in August would be a sweat lodge of too many people and too much exposed skin.
Jordan pushed herself up. “I’ll punch out.”
Michelle Leibowitz had just graduated from high school. She was the kind of a nice girl from a nice home who decided to put off college for a year and do a volunteer program instead. She was also Jewish. Whoever compiled the background check found that noteworthy, as Jewish Troubled were apparently few and far between - Michelle made five in known history. Of the other four, the Troubled heritage of three could be traced to an ancestor who had converted to Judaism rather than been born to it; no clear line could be established on the fourth. So they didn’t know where Michelle got her Trouble from, but figuring that out remained a low priority while the girl herself was still missing.
The girl in the photo was pretty in the way all girls her age were and never realized. Jordan put a finger against the glossy paper. Michelle-in-the-photo seemed like she was all softness and honey - dark blond hair, hazel eyes and round, rosy cheeks. She wanted to be a veterinarian. She’d been volunteering with the Animal Rescue League since she was fifteen, and was presently fulfilling her City Year commitment by volunteering at Franklin Park Zoo.
It was morning, and Michelle was at the zoo. The trail of unconscious bodies led from the maintenance sheds that serviced the canine predators to the staff gate on Seaver St. Most of those affected were staff or other volunteers; the presumed rapist, the first victim, was paid staff. It looked like panic - get out get out get out now - and it also looked like Michelle had put some serious effort into avoiding the August crowds. Maybe she understood what was happening; maybe she was extremely quick on the uptake; and maybe she was just ashamed. The background check was good, very good: it was good enough that Jordan was developing a grudging respect for Grady and his ability to not let on what she now realized he had to know about the rest of them, being a regular handler of those files.
But good as the background check was, it couldn’t tell them what was going through Michelle’s head. It couldn’t tell them what she did or didn’t know, and it couldn’t tell them what her parents did or didn’t know, either. If Michelle’s parents knew that they had Troubled blood - well, it didn’t seem that way from the police report included in the folder. The background check’s compiler thought - and Jordan agreed - that the parents didn’t know: they wouldn’t have collaborated with the police so easily, so desperately, if they understood what their daughter’s Trouble spelled. What would happen to anyone who approached Michelle without due caution, if she wasn’t ready to be found. What the cops might do in response, without due understanding of the situation.
The Guard didn’t know what Michelle’s Trouble did, if it was a coma or deep paralysis. Jordan thought it was the latter. The unconsciousness of a coma was too clean for a Trouble. Inflicting on your attacker - on him and on anyone who came too close, too fast - the horror of being trapped in your body, dream-like and helpless… that was the sort of a thing that the Troubles did.
Michelle’s tracks vanished at the zoo’s gate. By avoiding the visitor gate, she’d also avoided the security cameras. The cops thought she’d taken the bus somewhere, but the cops didn’t know that Michelle was Troubled, didn’t understand what that meant. Had Michelle gone on a bus, they would have had an entire bus’s worth of paralyzed people. Michelle has been successfully keeping herself off the grid for over a day; therefore, she’d found somewhere safe to lay low.
Jordan closed the folder and put it down in her lap.
They were maybe one hour out of Haven.
“She’s with someone she trusts,” Jordan said. “She has to be terrified. There is no way she learned how to control this in maybe an hour. No way. If the trail of her Trouble stops at the zoo, then she found a way to keep herself and others safe. There is no way this girl is on the streets. She’s got someone sheltering her.”
“Agreed,” Grady said. “Look at the other folder.”
Jordan bent around to dig through the backpack on the back seat. The other folder wasn’t manila, but a full-blown ring binder. Jordan carefully pried it from the backpack, twisted back into a comfortable sitting position, and opened it. “What -”
The binder lying open in Jordan’s lap was full of information about the members of Michelle’s parents’ shul, the other Rescue League volunteers, school friends, school friends’ older sibling who were living in the area, zoo staff, other City Year volunteers - a distressing number of people, some of whom were barely even connected to Michelle.
“We could profile her, but given what we have it would actually be quicker to go through everyone she knows even tangentially and rule out anyone who doesn’t have the right living situation.”
Whoever Michelle was staying with was willing to hide her from both her parents and the police. It had to be someone she knew well enough, was comfortable enough with to call after what had gone down at the zoo - but also someone to whose door her parents didn’t send the police.
Some of the names were already struck off.
They weren’t wasting time, Jordan realized. This wasn’t something Grady could have done if he was on his own. Commercial airliners just didn’t have the privacy for this sort of work - and he couldn’t have taken a flight anyway: there were even odds Michelle wouldn’t be able to handle crowds and airport queues any time soon.
“Guess I know what I’m doing for the rest of the drive,” she said. It sounded halfway to a complaint, but it really wasn’t.
By the time they got to Boston, they’d have an idea of where to start looking.
“Please tell me we’re not involved in drug trafficking.”
“The local weed trade isn’t that profitable.”
By the time they got to Boston it was already dark. To Jordan’s surprise, they had a hotel reservation waiting. Grady shrugged it off and pointed out that this was Boston, and it was summer. That much was true. Whoever budgeted this extraction deemed it worthy to spend on a hotel that had a business center - and for Jordan to have her own room next to Grady’s, instead of having to share.
She was grateful for the latter and the former made sense given the work they still had to do, but it was at times like this that Jordan wondered how the Guard was funding its operations.
They were in Jordan’s room. The folders lay closed on the tiny hotel desk. There were a few people in the binder who had the right living situation, but none of those people seemed like a good candidate to Jordan.
Grady said, “I’m going to see if our package’s ready. I’ll knock on your door if it is.”
The binder wasn’t everyone they should be considering. During their last check-in call an hour and a half before, Jordan and Grady had been promised that the rest of it would be emailed by the time they made it to Boston. If Grady’s contact made good on that promise, Grady could print them downstairs. Now that he wasn’t driving they could split the work between them, which should speed things up.
“I’ll get the coffee started,” Jordan replied.
By the time they were done going through the files it was well past midnight. The final list of people Michelle might trust and who had the appropriate living situation to hide her was quite short: a schoolteacher, three women from the Animal Rescue League and one woman from the zoo. The schoolteacher and the zoo tour instructor were Jordan’s least favorite candidates, but that wasn’t to say that any of the ARL volunteers were any better.
Her favorite candidate to be hiding Michelle was a woman they had no information on beyond than a single mention in the police report. This woman’s name was Maya Moran. She was a cousin of some sort, close to Michelle in age; it was Michelle’s parents who had given Maya's phone number to the police.
“Are you sure about this?” Grady asked.
“No, Grady, I’m not ‘sure’. I can’t be, because we don’t know anything about her. But the teacher is practically a family friend, the co-worker hasn’t been around long enough to trust, one of the animal rescue women is the same age as her parents, another is married, and the third lives in Charlestown. Which, you said, has atrocious traffic.”
“And it’s the wrong part of Charlestown. In this case, the nice one.”
“This Maya person is 21, perfect if you’re a scared 18-year-old. The parents obviously trust her and from all we can tell, she’s a ghost.” This was the part Jordan didn’t understand: all they had on Maya Moran was a name, an age and a cell phone number. “We have police reports here, Grady. Don’t tell me that whoever the Guard’s source at the police is, they couldn’t get us so much as this Maya’s RMV record.”
“They can. If you’re sure. Which, for the record, you are.” Grady pushed himself up. “I’ll go send an email. On the bright side, maybe tomorrow morning won’t be such a rush.”
“You mean today,” Jordan replied sourly. She slumped back in her chair. “Because there’s a bright side to all this. Right.”
“There is.” The seriousness in Grady’s voice made her look up at him. “The last couple of days sucked for this girl. The next couple of days are also going to suck for her. But on the other end of this there’s Haven, and Haven is everything she must think she’ll never have again.”
It was true. Jordan knew it was true, because that had been her, once: not exactly but close enough. Not quite the same girl, but not a whole lot older, not much wiser about the world and the thousand ways it had to fuck you up. But after that there was Haven, and if it wasn’t perfect then it was still Haven, still somewhere you could be yourself and not a monster for 26 years out of every 27.
It was still so late that it was early and Jordan still had spent half the day in the car and eaten nothing but junk food since breakfast - which seemed like it was several days ago and not less than a day - and she really, seriously wanted a shower.
She made a shooing motion. “Go send that email, Grady. I need to sleep.”
With that girl still so close to the surface - a little bit older and not a whole lot wiser, but a hell of a whole lot more alone - Jordan was going to need that.
The next morning, Jordan gave the complimentary breakfast buffet one look and took to the street. She’d spotted both a Peet’s across the road and a Panera at the end of the block, and either would have better fare. She could probably find something that wasn’t a franchise within a ten-minute walk - Grady seemed to think that their police contact would’ve only gotten their query that morning, and that meant that she wasn’t in a hurry - but the city air was heavy with the heat even that early in the morning. Besides, Jordan hadn’t eaten at any sort of a franchise for years.
God, but it was humid down here. This wasn’t Jordan’s kind of a weather. Haven rarely got this hot, even in summer. The middle-of-nowhere town she’d grown up in got this hot, but never this humid. It didn’t help that Jordan was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, for all that it was made of light cotton and worn unbuttoned over her spaghetti-strap top. If anyone asked she’d claim it was for protection against the sun - she was certainly pale enough to make that believable - but the truth was that Jordan wanted to minimize the chances of anyone accidentally touching her. To that end, the less skin she exposed - the better.
It occurred to her that she’d grown to love Haven for reasons other than the Troubles.
When she got back to their hotel Grady was waiting for her in the tiny lobby, visible as soon as she stepped in through the sliding doors. There was no sheet of paper visible, but Jordan knew: their information had arrived, and it was good.
He didn’t stand until she got to where he was sitting; they were parked at the back.
“Looks like we’re going to Brookline,” he said as he got up. “Should be twenty to thirty minutes in this traffic.”
“Don’t Michelle’s parents live in Brookline?” she asked pointedly as they continued walking.
He grunted. “Different neighborhoods.”
“The Leibowitz’s live in Coolidge Corner,” he said once they got on the road. “That’s more city than suburb. Your Maya has an address in South Brookline. That’s much closer to the zoo. They also call in disturbances faster down there.” He took a turn. “House registered to Ted and Shoshana Steinhardt. He’s a professor at the Hebrew College in Newton.”
Grady shook his head. “He’s on sabbatical.”
What did that have to do with any- Ah. “Our Maya is housesitting.” That would explain the low footprint - particularly if… “She is not from around here”
“Doesn’t seem to be. Wherever she was born, it was not in the state of Massachusetts. She only got her driver’s license last month. New issue, not a renewal or a change of state.”
Jordan had actually been thinking about that angle. “‘Moran’ isn’t a Jewish name, is it? This family lives in a Jewish neighborhood, they’re active in the community, all the relatives mentioned in that binder have names just as Jewish as Leibowitz - but ‘Moran’, that’s Irish.” Or, well, it was as Irish as McKee was Scottish: Jordan wouldn’t ordinarily put much stock someone’s last name, but ‘Moran’ still a name Maya wasn’t likely to have inherited from a Jewish father.
“Could be her mother married out.” Grady’s tone sounded like agreement, but it wasn’t. “Could be the family didn’t like it that much back then.”
“You don’t think that’s what happened.”
“I think there are things about your Maya that don’t add up.” He took another turn. “And I don’t like it.”
It was easy to see what Grady had meant about South Brookline. The single lane road stwisted in all directions - Laid out by drunken cows, as Grady had been muttering from the moment they’d made the top of that hill on 93 that looked out across the Boston metro area. Power lines hung overhead; the houses - a mixture of colonials and split-level ranches - were large and in good condition, with manicured lawns stretching down to the road, and no fences anywhere that Jordan could see. The dead-end street they turned onto was quiet but otherwise more of the same.
Spread across Jordan’s lap was Maya Moran’s file, her RMV photo staring up at Jordan. Maya had lighter features than Michelle - blond hair, green eyes - but her skin in the photo seemed freckled, as if she’d been under harsher sunlight than her Bostonian cousin. There was something about the woman in the photo, something hauntingly familiar: it was in the set of her jaw, the way she regarded the world through eyes that weren’t cold but weren't quite warm either.
Something in Maya Moran’s photo reminded Jordan of herself.
“That’s it,” Grady said.
Jordan looked up. The house was on the other side of the street, half-hidden by the trees. “Do you think anyone’s home?”
“Only one way to find out.”
“Right.” Jordan unbuckled her seat belt. “You can’t park here, the neighbors are bound to notice.”
“Jordan - be careful.”
“This is what you brought me along for, isn’t it?” And on that, she left the car and crossed the street.
The curtains were drawn over the bay windows. Jordan rang the doorbell, and waited. She was considering whether to ring the bell again when there was a click and the door opened. Maya Moran was wearing a white spaghetti-strap top and jean shorts, showing off the still teen-perfect definition of her limbs. Her blond curls were pulled up in the world’s messiest French twist. Barefoot, she was 5’5” just like her RMV record claimed, but her eyes were a bluer shade of green than they’d seemed in the photo, and -
She can’t possibly be 21!
It was like seeing double: Maya looked as young as her RMV record said and she moved with a careless fluidity most people lost by their mid-twenties, and yet Jordan couldn’t believe she really was that young. She couldn’t be. No one that young had any business standing like that: so comfortable in their own skin, so - commanding, that was the word. Maya Moran radiated command in a way that Jordan wouldn’t expect of anyone younger than mid-30s.
She leaned against the doorframe, her body free of tension, but Jordan wasn’t fool enough to think the posture casual. Coming from that angle, Maya’s elbow could have made contact with Jordan’s ribs. Fast.
“Hi, my name is Jordan McKee. I’m -” Jordan took a deep breath, “I’m here to help Michelle.”
Maya’s expression closed off completely. “There is no Michelle at this address.”
Jordan had heard that tone before, that particular kind of dishonesty; she’d heard it recently, even - but she couldn’t place it, not on the spot. It didn’t sound like lying, not till you’d seen it done before.
“She called you two days ago from the zoo. She told you that something happened. Not that she was attacked, something else.” Her voice was calm: accusations wouldn’t help here but facts might.
“Leave now, Miz McKee, or I’ll call the police.”
Where the hell did that come from? Jordan thought. Maya’s voice lost its rough edge and sharp vowels. Maya was no Bostonian but that smooth, precise neutrality wouldn’t have been out of place on CNN. It was cold as a Haven winter, no anger or hostility in it, and yet Maya had still been threatening to call the cops.
Not that she was actually going to do it.
Like hell you’re calling the cops. Not with Michelle in there. The last thing you want after having already lied is to draw their attention back to you again.
“When she gets upset, people fall to the ground,” Jordan said in the voice she used to talk people into coming in for Guard meetups: low, warm and rich with emotion. Maya tensed, almost imperceptibly. Jordan continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “That’s what she told you, isn’t it? The reason she won’t leave this house. She begged you to not tell anyone. Maya, please - I just want to help her. Please.”
Maya considered her for a moment more, then said: “That shirt - take it off.”
The command didn’t make sense, but if it would make Maya let her through the door -
Jordan took off her overshirt. Slowly. Instinct made her move with the same care she would have used when reaching for her phone in front of a cop.
Maya’s eyes flicked over Jordan’s arms from the wrists up, before moving back down to her armpits, then her waist. “Step back, two paces. Turn around.”
The harsh quality was back in Maya’s voice. Jordan followed her instructions. It was a good thing her jeans were too close-fitting to hide anything in them. She was careful to keep moving slowly the entire time. Maya’s eyes on her were sharp, focused.
Where the fuck did she learn all this? Jordan wondered. Maya was acting like the situation wasn’t new to her, like she was used to assessing threats and to having her every word followed - and at the same time, she didn’t carry herself like any of the military persons Jordan had even known.
Maya threw the door open. “Come on in.”
Well, that was unexpectedly friendly. Or the words were - Maya’s voice betrayed nothing.
Jordan stepped in to the foyer from the landing. Behind Maya’s back were a stairway that led right and a doorway through which a breakfast nook was visible. Maya gestured Jordan through the doorway on the left which led to the living room and motioned her towards a couch with its back against the bay windows.
Maya followed Jordan into the living room, but she didn’t sit down. Rather, she went around the kitchen island and into the kitchen itself. “Can I get you some water?” she called out. The rough edges of her accent were back, and her tone lost its ice. It was brisk, neither hostile nor welcoming; she barely glanced at Jordan.
It was a moment before Jordan replied truthfully: “Yes, thank you.”
Maya didn’t say anything in reply, but from her vantage point on the couch Jordan could see her pull two tall glasses from the cupboard and fill each with half room-temperature water, half cold, then turn around with both glasses expertly held between the fingers of one hand. Jordan waited tables for a living; she knew exactly how strong a hand one needed to pull that off. The casualness with which Maya moved was unsettling, too. Not a moment before she had screened Jordan for weapons; now she’d turned her back seemingly without a thought.
Heading back into the living room, Maya grabbed two coasters from the island with her free hand, dropped them on the coffee table and slid one towards Jordan before angling her hand so that Jordan could take one of the glasses.
“Thank you,” Jordan said. Her voice resonated: warm, controlled, reassuring. This, she knew, was one of her best tools.
Maya sat down on the couch across from Jordan. The movement was the sort of careless tumble Jordan would’ve expected of someone Maya’s age. It had none of the sharp efficiency Jordan expected
Maya took a single, polite sip from her own glass, set it down, and said: “Start talking.” It was the same tone with which she had offered Jordan water.
Jordan took more than a polite sip before she set down the glass; she really was thirsty and the water was a good temperature, cool enough to enjoy but not too cold to drink easily. She’s used to this weather, Jordan realized. Out loud, she said: “My name is Jordan McKee. I’m - like Michelle. We call it ‘Troubled’. The Troubles are supernatural afflictions. They’re very difficult to control. They’re brought on by stress, anxiety, fear…” As she spoke, Maya’s face lost some of its neutrality. She leaned forward, watching Jordan closely. She’d looked the in the photo: not quite warm and not quite cold, openly engaged and harshly withdrawn at the same time.
Jordan’s mouth went dry. She picked up her glass and took a swallow, but didn’t bother to put it back down. She’s like me. This is what I’m here for, she reminded herself. This is why I’m here. She needs me. “My own Trouble showed up after my ex-boyfriend raped me.” He hadn’t been her ex until after, but it was easier to think of it this way.
Maya’s expression warmed up with a sudden empathy. For a moment, she looked every bit her age.
“Troubled,” Maya repeated, rolling the word around in her mouth. She continued, her voice laden with some sort of dark irony: “God bless the English language.”
“God has nothing to do with it,” Jordan said before thinking better of it. Thankfully, the statement didn’t seem to offend Maya at all.
“And what do the Troubled do? How do you live with it, if it’s so difficult to control?”
Cut straight to the chase, why don’t you. But the tone of Maya’s voice was the same neutral, efficient one as before. “There’s a town called Haven where the Troubles disappear,” Jordan said. “About once a generation, they come back. But the rest of the time, Haven is precisely that: a haven.”
“And where is ‘Haven’?”
“Off the coast of Maine not too far from the Canadian border.” Jordan smiled wryly. “It’s a real place. You can even look it up on the internet.”
It was still the same tone of voice. It suddenly occurred to Jordan that Maya hadn’t once ask Jordan how she’d known to seek her out. She’d checked Jordan for weapons - at least superficially so - and she’d put herself between Jordan and the door, but she hadn’t asked how Jordan knew any of the things she did.
Maya got up, went back to the island, and returned a moment later with a stack of sticky-notes and a pen, both of which she handed to Jordan. “Phone number.”
Jordan took the notes and the pen, careful to not brush Maya’s finger, and started writing her number down. Looking down was better than looking up, where Maya was standing over her, seemingly oblivious to being between Jordan and the door.
“What happens if I touch you?” Maya asked abruptly. She was still standing above Jordan.
She noticed. Of course she did. Jordan’s hand clenched on the pen. “Pain,” she said. “Worse than anything you’ve ever felt before.”
It wasn’t until she’d finished writing down her number that Maya said: “I’m sorry I made you take your shirt off.”
Jordan looked up at her in surprise. For the first time, there was real emotion in Maya’s voice. This was - a different woman. It was right there in the slight widening of her eyes, the parting of her lips: Maya cared now. She’d done the math, understood why Jordan was wearing an overshirt in August. This meant something to Maya, but Jordan still had no idea what that something was.
She peeled the note with her number off the stack and stuck it to the coffee table next to Maya, rather than try and hand it to her.
Maya’s expression thawed a little more. “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try to make this today.”
“Understood,” Jordan said.
Maya stepped back, tacitly releasing Jordan.
At the front door Jordan turned around and said, pouring as much sincerity into those two words as she could muster: “Thank you.”
Maya’s expression was unreadable as she said: “Hopefully, thank you.”
It was maybe a hundred yards walk back to the intersection where Grady was waiting for her.
“Well?” he demanded as she got back into the car.
“She’ll talk to Michelle. She’ll - she understands.”
“You didn’t actually see Michelle.”
“No,” Jordan admitted. “Honestly? I feel like it’s a miracle I even got through to Maya.” She’s as bad as one of us. Suddenly the nuances Jordan hadn't been able to pin down clicked into place. “Church men give this look to Troubled moms and their kids walking down the opposite side of the street. Maya? She looks right back at you like one of those moms.”
To her surprise, Grady smiled. “Sounds like exactly the kind of woman we’d want looking after a Troubled girl.”
True, Jordan realized. She had responded to that in Maya; she just hadn’t realized that in the moment. “I don’t know what she is,” she said, shaking her head as she did so. “But she’s definitely something.”
Grady snorted as he released the emergency brake and put the car in gear. “All the better that you were the one to go in there, then.”
She’d planned to stay in her room, but the idea was washed away under a wave of stubborn mutiny halfway through the drive. Yes, it would be safer for Jordan to stay in her hotel room, where there was no risk of anyone brushing against her by mistake - but it made Jordan angry, that this was her reason. If she wasn’t a monster when she was in Haven, then she shouldn’t be a monster outside of it. She was the same person. She wasn’t going to let this stop her. She couldn’t.
It’d been a while since she’d been this angry - No. She couldn’t remember if she’d ever let this kind of anger drive her.
It felt good.
“I’m going out,” she declared as they both got out of the car, back in the hotel’s shadow. Something of her emotions showed in her voice: anger, yes, and mutiny, but too much steel in it for her to be mistaken for a child.
Grady didn’t even look at her. “Don’t go far.”
Now he did look at her over the car’s top. His face held nothing of what she expected. “In case she calls,” he clarified. “We need to be able to move fast, if she wants to meet.”
Stay close, in case they made another drive to Brookline; not in case he had to extract her ass. Some of Jordan’s anger cracked and turned into something else. “Of course.”
She was sitting at a coffee shop, idly flipping through magazines, people-watching, and slowly sipping her tea; she’d ordered it mostly because it seemed fancy. She was still trying to decide if she liked it when her phone rang. After the past few days this was a number she recognized on sight: Maya’s.
“This is Jordan,” she said into the phone.
“Would you like to come over for dinner?”
The more welcoming Maya acted, the more noticeable her Bostonian accent got. She posed the question with a casual attitude that was almost friendly. Jordan had no idea where Maya got that from, but there was only one possible answer to the question. What Maya was really asking her was: Would you like to come meet Michelle?
“Absolutely,” Jordan said. Then she thought about Maya’s wording again. “You should know that I’m here with - a man from Haven.”
A beat of silence, as Maya processed her words, and then: “Yeah, he’s not invited.” Another beat. “How well do you know him?”
She looks like a Troubled mom, Jordan had told Grady. That hadn’t been entirely accurate, but it was close enough. Right now Maya’s voice held a mother’s conviction that she had the right to ask that question, a mother’s conviction that it was her job to make that assessment for her child.
“Pretty well,” Jordan said. “He handles most of the trips outside Haven.”
But that wasn’t what was going to make up Maya’s mind, and Jordan knew it - just like she knew what Maya was going to decide.
“But he brought you this time.” Definitely suspicious, now. It was what Jordan would’ve felt in her place.
“You’ve never done this before, have you.”
That tone again. Like the way Maya carried herself, it shouldn’t be coming from a 21-year-old. The way she’d asked it rankled, but Jordan forced herself to answer truthfully: “No, I haven’t.”
“Yeah, he’s not invited.” Maya said it like the foregone conclusion it was, but it wasn’t - the suspiciousness was hidden, again. Maya was back to her brisk neutrality. On her next question, she was back to her Bostonian accent, too: “Would half past seven be all right?”
Jordan exhaled slowly. “Should be fine.”
“Great. We’ll see you then.” The line clicked.
Jordan stared at her phone, shook her head, and called Grady.
Jordan rang the doorbell ten minutes early. She was surprised when Maya called out “Come in!” instead of answering the door.
Jordan pushed the door open. She could see Maya immediately: the other woman was setting the table in the breakfast nook. “ I hope you don’t mind but we don’t really do formal dining,” she said, as Jordan closed the door behind her. It almost, sounded like an apology but not quite.
“Not at all,” Jordan assured her. The table was set for three, with a large pitcher of water and a serving bowl of some sort of salad in the center of the table. The air also carried the scent of something else, something hot. A glance revealed a casserole dish cooling on the kitchen counter. “What is that? It smells delicious.”
“It’s -” Maya paused, as if she couldn’t find the word she was looking for. “It’s like a pie but without any crust. It’s nice and light, in this weather.”
“I’m not going to argue.”
Jordan was making small talk but for a moment she’d seen something other than just brisk efficiency in Maya’s face and posture. There had been a similar flash earlier when Maya apologized for having asked Jordan to take off her clothes, even if it had only been a shirt. Just like before, it was gone in an instant.
“If that’s cool enough could you bring it to the table? I'm going to go get Michelle.”
“Sure,” Jordan replied smoothly.
Maya’s gaze sharpened but she didn’t give Jordan a second glance before heading upstairs.
Jordan knew this move: this wasn’t about checking that the pie had cooled off. She went into the kitchen and found a pair of pot holders. If she timed it just so - Jordan waited. When she heard the soft sound of bare feet on carpeting she started back toward the kitchen nook. Movement in her peripheral vision as she set the tray down on the table confirmed her timing.
This was how Michelle first saw her: holding food, trusted by someone Michelle herself trusted, and wearing her You Are Not Alone smile.
Michelle didn’t glow the way she had in her photo. Though her hair was neat, this girl had obviously slept little and cried lots recently. She pressed against Maya’s side and Maya wound her arm around Michelle’s waist.
“Jordan, Michelle; Michelle, Jordan,” Maya said. “Now c’mon, I’m starved.”
Jordan wasn’t, but she knew they weren’t going to talk about Haven and the Troubles over dinner. They argued about pop music and whether the temperature had to make it to 90 degrees, or if 80 was enough to be considered hot. They didn’t have a good reason to argue about the weather except Michelle and Jordan were of one opinion and Maya of another.
“Right,” Maya declared. The three of them were in the kitchen, having just finished loading the dishwasher. “Jordan, do you want a beer, am I making coffee, or both?”
“Don’t take the coffee,” Michelle advised.
Or perhaps it was a deliberate serve because the way Maya said her cousin's name sounded utterly scandalized.
“I work at a diner,” Jordan told them, not even trying to hide the laughter in her voice. “I don’t touch coffee outside of work. But I’ll take a beer, thanks.” She didn’t want a beer, but she didn’t mind having one, either.
Maya opened the fridge. “Michelle?”
“She doesn’t get that I’m not legal,” Michelle explained to Jordan.
“If you’re old enough to sign yourself over to the Army you should be old enough to drink,” Maya said. She turned back to them holding two beer bottles with one hand, their necks caught between her fingers. Jordan recognized the practiced ease of the position.
“You tend bar?” Jordan asked as she took one of the bottles. It didn’t fit, but -
“No, just bored,” Maya replied. She opened her own bottle then tossed the opener to Jordan. “Speaking of, what do people in Haven do for entertainment?”
If Michelle was drinking anything, Jordan thought, she would’ve choked on it. “In this season? Boat parades and 10K races.”
“10K’s not so bad.”
“Don’t answer her,” Michelle said quickly. “She’s just baiting you.”
She’s baiting you to side with me, Jordan thought. Out loud, she said: “That’s okay. Anything you want to know about Haven, Michelle?”
Michelle hesitated; she was visibly anxious but apparently anxious alone didn’t trigger her Trouble. So long as she felt safe, they were fine. Eventually she asked: “Is there a college in Haven?”
“Only a community college,” Jordan admitted. “But - I don’t think you’ll be confined to Haven your entire life, Michelle.”
Michelle twisted the hem of her too-big shirt. “My Trouble -”
“- might not always be active,” Jordan said, very gently. “It happens sometimes. There’s no way to tell, not for sure, but the fact that it hasn’t been constantly active so far is a positive sign.” It wasn’t the only factor, but Troubles like Michelle’s were more likely to go into remission than Troubles like Jordan’s.
Michelle was still twisting her shirt. “But - but I have to disappear, don’t I? Like witness protection. I wouldn’t be able to -”
“Michali,” Maya said, very gently.
That wasn’t English. Jordan blinked. The middle consonant was strange, halfway between the German Ich and Russian Mikhail. Whatever it was, the word stopped Michelle.
Maya continued. “Your parents love you. They’re going to understand. One day, when it’s safe for you to come back - they’ll still be there for you, no matter how long it takes. This is the right thing. Going to Haven, that’s protecting yourself and everyone else. Sometimes life sucks, Michali, but this is really not so bad. Jordan came all this way just to find you. She’s not alone, and you won’t be either.”
Michelle’s eyes were fastened on Maya’s face throughout this speech. Jordan swallowed back the unexpected envy. This was supposed to be her pitch, but it was Maya that Michelle looked to, Maya who could put an arm over the trembling girl and pull her close, press a kiss to her hair. Jordan itched to do the same but she couldn’t, not yet; not here, so far away from Haven.
“Michelle,” Jordan said, pitching her voice low. Michelle raised her head from Maya’s shoulder and looked at her, eyes wide and bright with tears. “You’re never going to be alone. That I can promise you. Everything that needs to be taken care of, we know how to do it. We can help, Michelle. That’s what I’m here for.”
Michelle took a couple ragged breaths before nodding. “Okay.” It was barely a croak so she repeated it, more audibly: “Okay. So -” she swallowed “- when do we leave? I guess there’s no point -” She choked up again.
Maya held her a little more closely. “I was thinking we could follow you guys,” she told Jordan. “It would be easier than following a map. If we leave tomorrow morning, I could be back in Boston and out of your hair by tomorrow night.”
It was one of the alternatives Grady and Jordan had discussed. There wasn’t much of a margin of error on Michelle’s Trouble, and Maya had a proven ability to keep her safe. The schedule Maya suggested would give Michelle the entire drive to say goodbye, then force her to let go once they were in Haven. The Guard didn’t like trusting the unTroubled but, as Grady had pointed out, anyone who was willing to shelter a Troubled person from the police was probably an ally. Maya seemed to love Michelle and understand the necessity of the Guard’s actions. She was as good an ally as they were going to get.
“What do you say, Michelle?” Jordan asked. Her and Maya’s eyes met over Michelle’s head: maybe Maya was comfortable making Michelle’s decisions for her and then pushing her the right direction, but Jordan was not.
Even if Michelle choosing wrong would break her heart.
It was a long silence, long enough that Jordan began counting seconds, wondering when would Michelle answer.
The girl never lifted her head from Maya’s shoulder but eventually she nodded.
Jordan smiled at two of her favorite customers. “Good afternoon, Dwight, Lizzie.”
Dwight swung Lizzie high before plopping her onto a stool. “Say hi to Jordan, Lizzie.”
“Hi, Jordan,” Lizzie said. “Can I have cookies?”
“Yes, you can have a cookie.”
“No, cookies,” the little girl insisted.
“She wants to make a friend,” Dwight explained.
“All right, then.” Jordan removed two cookies from under the domed plate. “There you are.”
Lizzie reached for the cookies with both hands and said, unprompted: “Thanks, Jordan!”
Dwight set his daughter down on the floor. Jordan waited until the girl got at least a few feet away from the counter before asked quietly: “So who’s Lizzie’s new friend?” There were no other children present at the Gun & Rose.
Dwight pointed subtly. “Her.”
Lizzie approached Michelle’s table. Jordan’s eyebrows shot up. “Dwight, if you put your daughter up to this -”
“It was her idea. I swear.”
Dwight Hendrickson’s name had been floating in Guard circles for almost three years, but he’d been in Haven for less than one. At first all Jordan had known about him was that the Guard’s leadership badly wanted Dwight to be an active member. Dwight was wary and cautious, though. That was a far cry from the other ex-servicemen in the Guard, who were the most devoted; Grady’s full-time dedication was closer to the norm than Dwight’s reluctance. Ultimately it was Jordan’s idea to lean on Dwight’s wariness as a means for drawing him out. Sending him the Kevlar vest worked. Once reminded that the danger was still there, Dwight seemed incapable of not helping; and once that tendency awoke, it had latched on to more than just securing the traffic of the Troubled into Haven. It was endearing. If anyone managed to miss that in Dwight - well, they couldn’t miss the three-year-old with the winning smile.
Michelle had been in Haven for just under a month and was integrating rather slowly. There were kids from Troubled families who were roughly her age, but none whose Trouble had already been activated. Jordan was actually the next-closest age peer. Age wasn't the only difference between Michelle and the Guard that was making it difficult for her to fit in: Michelle was also Jewish. Most anyone Haven-born - and most of the Guard were - had never met a Jew before. Worse, Michelle wasn’t just Jewish, she cared about being Jewish. In Haven, where religion was synonymous with Reverend Driscoll’s church, the members of the Guard were apathetic to downright hostile towards religion. How much of a problem this was going to be hadn't occurred to Jordan until Michelle didn’t stop crying for three days in a row because it was Jewish New Year and that was apparently a family-centered holiday of the same magnitude as Christmas. Luckily, Jordan wasn’t the only person involved in Michelle’s case. Someone had the sense to get Michelle a part-time job at the veterinary clinic. Carol, the veterinarian, was Guard - one of those who had been rescued from outside Haven - but her association with the Guard was kept quiet. It was good for intel: all sorts of people came to Carol, including Church families. It was good for Michelle’s social exposure, too. Michelle’s other luck was Eleanor Carr. Eleanor didn’t have the tattoo, but her family had been Guard as far back as any of the Haven-born could remember; and being the Guard’s doctor earned her significant status. No one who knew what was good for them argued with Eleanor. And Eleanor had decided that for the time being, Michelle was going to live with her. Jordan had been resentful of that until Jewish New Year came around. Eleanor may have been Haven-born, but she’d spent almost fifteen years outside of Haven while studying to become a doctor. Michelle was far from her first Jew.
Michelle was not the first Jew Dwight had known either; he’d known Jewish men in the service, and you learned thing when living out of each other’s pockets. It’d been Dwight who warned Jordan against wishing Michelle a happy holiday on Atonement Day. But while Michelle’s outgoing personality covered up a lot of her fears, Dwight was a strong, tall man who looked older than his 25 years; and now, Dwight’s daughter was purposefully making her way across the Gun & Rose’s floor to Michelle, holding two cookies.
“This had better really be her own idea,” Jordan warned.
“I couldn’t talk her out of it. Michelle’s always sitting by herself. Lizzie thinks it’s sad.”
Jordan sighed. “Well, she’s definitely her father’s daughter.”
That got a rare smile out of Dwight. He shrugged it off, as if trying to pretend it didn’t matter.
Jordan swatted his shoulder. “Stop doing that. You should smile more.”
“You’re telling me that.”
“Are you saying I never smile?”
“You are now.”
Across the room, Lizzie’s plan of friendship-through-cookies was progressing nicely. Michelle had accepted the cookie and now had Lizzie in her lap, asking questions about the book the older girl was reading.
“One of these days you’re going to have to explain Stranger-Danger to her.”
Dwight shook his head. “She’s too young to learn about fear.”
“I was joking, Dwight. Stranger-Danger is a load of bull, anyway.” Most attacks are perpetrated by acquaintances. But that didn’t matter in a place like Haven, where everyone knew everyone else.
He pushed himself away from the counter.
“Dwight,” Jordan said warningly.
He glanced back at her.
“If you upset her, it won’t matter how much I like you.”
“I won’t,” he said, as if his words could make it true. “I have a plan.”
Jordan was still tense as Dwight approached Michelle’s table. Lizzie was doing a good job of holding Michelle’s attention; she didn’t notice Dwight’s approach until Lizzie bounced off her lap with a joyful cry of “Daddy!”
Jordan let out a breath. Dwight was already crouched down on one knee, ready to gather his little girl into his arms.
Michelle tensed a little, but she did meet his eyes.
Dwight had one arm wrapped loosely around Lizzie who’d climbed up on his knee. He was holding her toy pony in his other hand. It was - Jordan thought - like the way some men couldn’t think of a woman as a sex object when she was with a small child. Lizzie’s confidence was only part of the magic; the other part of it was Dwight’s ability to shed the typical masculine body language that Michelle might’ve found threatening.
She couldn’t hear what they were talking about, so Jordan grabbed a rag and started cleaning to a table nearby.
As it turned out, they were talking about gardening. Maybe. Jordan wasn’t sure what other reason they could have for talking about where to find myrtle bushes in the Haven.
Casually, Dwight asked: “You set for building a safe, warm shelter for next week?”
“Not really,” Michelle admitted. “It’s a pity - Eleanor has a great yard and I haven’t gotten to sleep in a sukkah since I was little, but September nights are colder here than what I'm used to, I don’t think I could sleep outside.”
What was this, the third holiday in as many weeks?
“All it takes is the right gear,” Dwight said.
“That’s what Eleanor said, but -” Michelle’s voice was frustrated. “I took a look through the hiking gear at Lowell’s and I don’t even know where to start.”
“I used to do a lot of camping. We could probably build you a great sukkah in one afternoon.”
Dwight offering to help with a holiday practice was an obvious ploy. Michelle was still visibly wary, but only a little. Dwight kept his tone casual, indifferent almost, and his body language relaxed.
He was good at this, but the winning ticket was - unsurprisingly - Lizzie. The little girl perked up at as one word caught her attention. “Camping?” she asked excitedly.
Michelle’s shoulders relaxed. “Yeah, I guess - I’ll have to talk to Eleanor.”
“Of course,” Dwight agreed.
Jordan returned to the counter as Michelle and Dwight hashed out the rest of the details - Eleanor knew how to get a hold of Dwight, he’d re-shingled her roof a month before.
He passed by the counter again on his way out. Before she could say anything, he asked: “Do you have Christmas lights?”
“Christmas lights?” she repeated.
“Yeah. Lights, ornaments, that sort of thing.”
“I do.” She didn’t but the Gun & Rose did, and it wasn’t like Christmas was around the corner.
“Great. Come to Doc Carr’s Wednesday evening and bring those with you.”
“Is this really a camping holiday?”
“Something like that. Ask Michelle on Wednesday.”
“Are we making it a surprise?”
“S’not a surprise, we’re camping,” Lizzie said.
Dwight just shrugged.
Jordan couldn’t help smiling. “You’re a good man, Dwight Hendrickson.”
“I try,” he said in all seriousness. “See you Wednesday. Say bye to Jordan, Lizzie.”
After they left, Jordan glanced at where Michelle was still sitting with her book. On Wednesday it would be a one month since she’d arrived in Haven. If she could come this far in just a month -
It’d been years for Jordan. She was better, but she was never going to be fine. Michelle, on the other hand, just might make it.
“You know,” Eleanor noted on one of the rare times when she’d come into the Gun & Rose for lunch, “I’m getting to be positively fond of the Shabbat candles.”
“I don’t know how you can do it.” Jordan set the pie down on the table and, after a moment, sat down in a chair herself. “I don’t know how she can do it.”
The look Eleanor gave her was sharp, but not unfond. “She’s Jewish, kid.”
“And obviously, I don’t get what that means.”
“Don’t you go thinking that way. That won’t do you no good.” Eleanor cut into her pie.
“So how should I think about it?”
Eleanor shrugged and swallowed a bite. “Beats me. I don’t know that she believes, not like you or I understand the word. But being Troubled and being with God, she sees no contradiction there. Michelle doesn’t understand why we think religion and the Troubles don’t fit together any more than you see why she thinks they do.”
“You said you don’t understand that, either,” Jordan pointed out.
“I don’t. But that doesn’t stop me liking those candles, and it definitely doesn’t stop me from trying to see things from her point of view. Being eighteen on the other hand, that could’ve gotten in the way.” Eleanor gave Jordan another one of those looks.
If anyone else had just called Jordan a child, she wouldn’t have taken it half so well. “All right, I hear you, Eleanor. I’ll try.” Jordan pushed herself back up. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Mm,” Eleanor said around a mouthful of pie. She swallowed. “Maybe some coffee.”
“I should switch you to decaf.”
“Do that, and I’ll spike your tea.”
Eleanor had sent Michelle to invite Jordan for Thanksgiving. As if Jordan was ever going to turn the invitation down; thanksgiving was something they all had in common. She did refuse to cook on the basis that she worked at a diner and was not going to spend her holiday in the kitchen. She also knew she would not be able to put up with Eleanor’s attitude for hours on end, and certainly not in the older woman’s own kitchen. Thankfully, Dwight swore that he really did like to cook and besides, nothing Eleanor could throw at him would top Army instructors.
It didn’t occur to Jordan until it was far too late that this put her on full-time Lizzie Duty. Dwight didn’t even try to hide his amusement. Eleanor eventually released Michelle from the kitchen to help, though not before openly mocking Jordan for needing help in the first place.
It was the best Thanksgiving Jordan had celebrated since becoming Troubled.
She’d skipped out on the cooking, so she volunteered to help clear the table. Jordan and Eleanor had the kitchen looking a whole lot less like a disaster zone when it occurred to her that she hadn’t heard a peep out of anyone else in a while. The same thought must have occurred to Eleanor because she caught Jordan’s eye over the open dishwasher.
Jordan went to investigate.
Dwight was leaning on the doorframe to the living room. Jordan stopped where she was, halfway between the kitchen and the living room’s entrance. This was the most relaxed she had ever seen him; it was obvious like this, seen from behind from the distance of several yards. The line of his shoulders where he leaned against the doorframe made his usual posture seem tense; maybe for him it was.
He didn’t turn his head or shift at all as she approached. The trust melted her heart.
So that was what he was looking at: Michelle asleep on the couch with Lizzie sprawled on top of her. Michelle had one arm securing the little girl; her other brushed the carpet. Lizzie’s face was turned towards them, relaxed in sleep in that way which children lost as they grew up. Jordan could feel her own spine soften and relax as she watched the two sleeping girls.
“This is what it’s all for,” Dwight said.
Jordan glanced up at him: his voice was quiet, filled with a rock-solid conviction. No, not conviction: this, Jordan realized, was faith. It wasn’t duty that drove Dwight; duty or obligation wouldn’t have cast that light on his face. Dwight believed in protecting people the way that a preacher believed in God.
His Trouble becomes him.
Jordan looked away. What did she believe in? It didn’t matter, she told herself. It didn’t matter, that something inside of her ached and snarled in the face of that light; it didn’t matter because she too would kill over this. Looking at Michelle and Lizzie asleep and so painfully vulnerable, Jordan knew that she would kill to keep them safe, without a thought, without a moment’s hesitation.
“This is all that matters,” she said, so quietly she couldn’t be sure if she really spoke the words outside of her own mind. Dwight didn’t stir.
This is absurd, she thought suddenly. It was only a single step, from the doorway to Dwight.
He put his arm around her as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Maybe it wasn’t a surprise that Christmas was when Jordan began to understand what was tearing Michelle up inside. On Jordan’s first Christmas in Haven she’d dealt with the pain by making sure that no one, no one in the Guard’s circle would be alone for Christmas. All these years later, it was still the only way Jordan could stand to deal with the holiday. Christmas hurt, but the alternative hurt even worse.
Only the week before, Michelle’s Hanukka candles had lit the Gun & Rose’s window. “On display for all to see,” Michelle had said, “like Hanukka candles are supposed to be.” As Jordan hung the lights around the diner, she thought: imagine what it would be like if everyone forgot that Christmas exists. It was the sort of thing that might even end up happening, the next time the Troubles returned. Jordan tried to imagine that. What if no one knew so much as the name itself, Christmas, the way that Jordan had never heard the name Sukkot until a few months before? How lonely would that feel? What if every Friday night Michelle's heart ached the same way Jordan's did at the thought of Christmas being gone from the world - Does it matter that I listen when she wants to talk, if I don’t care at all about why? If every Friday night Michelle felt so much as an echo of Jordan’s heartache -
“Jordan, you okay there?”
“Just fine, Earl.”
“Looks like you spaced out for a moment.”
“It’s just this season.”
Earl gave her a sympathetic look. “I know how that goes.”
Jordan stepped back from the lights and reached for her phone, intent on calling Clara and demanding to know whether she'd gotten lost on her way back from Rosemary’s.
You promised Michelle she would never be alone, Jordan. That didn’t end when you brought her to Haven, if anything, that was just the beginning.
“You,” Jordan announced as she cracked open Dwight’s beer and expertly poured it into a glass, “look like you’re in shock. I didn’t know that was even possible.” She slid the beer over to him and leaned her forearms on the counter. “So tell your bartender, what’s going on?”
“I thought I still had about a decade.” He drank the beer at his usual pace, so that was probably a good sign. “In retrospect, I really should’ve known better.”
“About a decade until…” Jordan made a go-on motion.
Dwight’s expression was the equivalent of what would be, on someone else, pure exasperation. “Until I had to consider the adoption of a pitbull, or the demonstrative cleaning of knives.”
That took a second to parse. This sort of behavior wasn’t Dwight’s style. Rather, it was the sort of a thing he’d scoff at as “teaching people to fear”. If he was thinking in those terms, then it was about someone who was already living in fear. “Someone asked Michelle out?” Jordan demanded. “Please tell me it wasn’t for -”
“New Year’s Eve,” Dwight confirmed.
“So, I take it the guy is already gutted. Who was he? Anyone we care about?”
“It was Clyde.”
“Clyde? Clyde Glendower? He invited her out there?” The Glendowers were wonderful people who would never harm a hair on a Troubled person’s head and they certainly knew how to throw a party; but even though after the past four months Michelle could usually deal with men, she still wouldn’t go into an overgrown yard, let alone anywhere near Haven’s woods. The Troubles would come back before Michelle would willingly go to the Glendower compound.
“To be fair, he had no way of knowing it’s a bad idea,” Dwight replied.
It was true - Michelle’s history hadn’t been broadcast any more than anyone else’s - but it didn’t make Jordan any less angry on the girl’s behalf. “So what did you do?”
“I called his uncle.”
Jordan snorted. She couldn’t help it; the man had Opinions in capital letters. Cole Glendower might look like he could break you in half and wouldn’t mind the job but Jordan wouldn’t have flinched if she’d been locked alone in room with him. “Cole is far more threatening than pitbulls and knives, where Glendower boys are concerned.”
Dwight hid the shadow of a smile behind his beer glass. “My thought exactly.”
It wasn’t that difficult, getting into Haven PD’s pathology suite. Smile at some cops, stand still enough that other cops will ignore you, and once you crossed some invisible line, anyone who saw you assumed that you had a right to be there.
Damn right Jordan had a right to be there.
Eleanor glanced up as Jordan strode into Eleanor’s workspace. “I don’t need to ask why you’re here, do I.”
“You knew,” Jordan snarled. “You knew exactly what she was doing and you didn’t -” Jordan slammed her palms down at an empty, clean dissection table and leaned on them. “What were you even thinking?”
“You can’t stop that girl from doing what she wants, Jordan.”
“Since when do you ascribe to that philosophy, Eleanor? You never let another person do what they want if you think differently about it.”
Eleanor’s face clouded and her expression shuttered closed. “She’s volunteering at a food bank because she’s that kind of a person, and you know how winter gets for far too many folks around here.”
“That place is crawling with the Reverend’s men. It’s run by his own daughter.”
“There are plenty of people not affiliated with the Church who help out there. Which you would damn well know if you’d ever set foot -”
“I help my own people.”
“Well, the food bank helps everyone. Winter doesn’t care if you’re Troubled or not.”
Winter didn’t, but the Guard did. The Troubled shouldn’t have to turn to Church aid. “The Church uses that food bank, weaponizes it to gain influence -”
Eleanor’s voice went cold. “That’s enough, Jordan.”
“You should be caring about your own people, too.”
“My father was murdered to spare me from our family’s Trouble, and it was a Guard man who arranged it. I am going to say the same thing to you that I said to him: I’m a doctor. I took an oath to help anyone and everyone it’s in my power to help, no matter who or what they are. If Edmund Driscoll himself walked through that door injured, I would do what I could to save his life. So don’t you go telling me who to help, Jordan McKee.”
“I’ll remind you that you said that when one of the Rev’s men -”
“You can’t lock her up to protect her.” Eleanor’s words were terse. “I learned that lesson with Julia.”
“Your daughter? She went to college.”
“Yes, my daughter, who volunteers in a country where men rape and pillage and murder in droves. What’s a Church-run food bank compared to that?” Eleanor waved her hand angrily, then shook her head, the anger bleeding away. Wearily, she said: “Let your girl go, and she’ll come to you when she needs you. Learn from my mistakes.”
“If anything happens to her there…” Jordan breathed.
“Then we deal with it then. If it happens. That girl was brought up to believe that serving her community is important. She was going to dedicate a year of her life to it, before the Troubles found her.”
“It’s our responsibility -”
“To support her, not to take her choices away from her. Is that what you want for her, Jordan?”
It was a low blow. Eleanor had no right to accuse Jordan of being like her father - Jordan swallowed. Her father had believed he was protecting her, too; but all he’d done was chase Jordan into Tobey’s arms by making it feel as if there was nobody she could turn to, nobody who would take her back, after -
Is that what you want for Michelle?
Heavily, Jordan said: “No, of course not. I’m sorry I -”
Eleanor exhaled sharply, shoulders dropping. “Forget about it, kid. I did no different, my first time on this ride. You know what they say about hindsight.”
“Yeah,” Jordan said, and repeated, more quietly: “Yeah.”
The Gun & Rose was so packed that Jordan only saw Michelle because she’d been scanning the room and noticed a new table in need of service. It was a few minutes before she could come over. Once close enough, she could see that there was a rose laying on the table in front of Michelle.
“I see somebody has a Valentine’s,” Jordan said, smiling.
Michelle blushed as if the rose was love-red, and not friendship-yellow. “It’s nothing,” she said quickly.
Definitely not Carol, then. “Come on, you can tell me. Who’s it from?”
“It’s from Justin.”
Justin was Justin Scott, a boy about Michelle’s age. Haven-born, he had roots in town several generations back. His family had no specific allegiance: some married into the Troubled, some joined the Church, some left town never to return, and some just carried on with their lives. Justin’s parents were among the latter. Jordan didn’t like where he volunteered, but Eleanor was right: Haven had no neutral options if you wanted to help.
“Today’s not your food bank day, though, is it?”
“No, he dropped by the clinic.” Michelle blushed again. “Embarrassed me in front of everyone.”
Public was good, actually. It meant Justin was aware that Michelle would feel safer that way, yellow rose or not. It also meant he wasn’t afraid of being seen or associated with Michelle. Those were all positive indications.
“And what did ‘everyone’ do?” Jordan asked, amused.
“Clapped. Mrs. Lund started it.”
“Sarah Lund was there? You should be grateful she didn’t throw confetti. All right, what can I get you?”
“Whatever the soup of the day is.”
“No problem. And I’ll bring some water for this, too,” she indicated the rose.
Once again, Michelle blushed.
Two hours after Michelle should’ve arrived, Jordan gave up and called. It was food bank day and she usually came by the Gun & Rose afterwards. It was the agreement they’d eventually worked out: so long as Michelle came to the Gun & Rose for a coffee and a chat, Jordan could be sure that everything was fine. Michelle didn’t understand why most everyone from the Guard was twitchy about the food bank, but Eleanor had been right: she’d been perfectly willing to appease their fears so long as she wasn’t made to feel pressured about it. But Michelle was late. She didn’t answer her phone the first time Jordan called. Or the second. By the third time, Jordan was ready to text Grady and Dwight if Michelle didn’t pick up -
“Where the hell are you?” Jordan demanded.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I know I should’ve called or texted or - but he was bleeding, it was awful, we had to -”
Jordan cut her off. “Michelle. Where are you? Who’s hurt?”
Michelle took a deep audible breath. “I’m at the clinic. We found a dog that’d been run over. I couldn’t just leave him there so we took him to the clinic and Carol needed my help. I totally lost track of time. I didn’t even think to look at my phone until now.”
Jordan let out a long, shaky breath. She was all right. Nobody was hurt. Just the dog. “Okay,” she said out loud. “It’s alright.”
“I should’ve known you’d worry, I’m sorry I didn’t -”
“Michelle, it’s all right. I get it.” And she did - picking up an injured dog from the street was the sort of thing almost anyone might’ve done, and this was Michelle. “Is the dog going to be all right?”
“It was pretty bad, but Carol thinks he’s got a chance.”
"That's good to hear." Jordan thought back to what Michelle had said earlier. “Who’s ‘we’?”
“Justin. Justin Scott, remember him?” Michelle sounded sheepish. “He was giving me a ride over. Good thing too, that's 50lbs. of mutt.”
Justin again. Jordan bit her tongue. “Are you still at the clinic?”
“Yeah, he ran over to the Rope Loft to pick up some dinner.”
“He going to drive you home?”
“Call Eleanor and let her know, all right?”
“I will, Jordan.” But there was a smile in Michelle’s voice.
Jordan wished the new stray a good recovery, and hung up. She stared at her phone. Justin Scott, again. Michelle had accepted rides from him not once but twice. He was buying her dinner, too, and she didn’t even notice. Though Michelle still sounded plenty distracted. Maybe they were splitting it. Or maybe Michelle would pay him back the next day.
It wasn’t actually worth stressing over.
Jordan texted Dwight anyway.
Eventually, Jordan threw Eleanor’s advice to the wind. Michelle had never been a regular at the Guard’s social meet-ups, but lately she hadn’t been showing up at the Gun & Rose either. Besides, Jordan wasn’t sure the diner was the right place for the conversation they needed to have. Hopefully Michelle wasn’t going to resent her for showing up at Carol’s clinic.
When she saw Jordan, she smiled. "Hey!"
“Looking good, Michelle.” It was true: she looked happier. But they had to talk about this, for Michelle’s sake. “Do you have a moment?”
“Sure. I could take ten.” Michelle glanced down the hallway. “Carol’s office is free, or do you want to go outside?”
“The office is fine.”
“What’s going on?” Michelle asked once the door was closed behind them.
“You really do look good,” Jordan said softly.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been around much, I just -”
“No, I understand. You have friends here now. That’s good.” Jordan took a deep breath. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually.”
“Okay,” Michelle said cautiously.
“It’s about Justin.”
“You’re going to be angry with me, and I’m sorry for that. I looked into Justin.” She’d asked Dwight to look into Justin, but there was no point in making Michelle angry with Dwight, too. “He goes to sermons on Sunday.”
“What?” It had been the last thing Jordan had expected Michelle to say. It hadn’t even occurred to her that I know would be an option.
“What, did you think we don’t talk?” Michelle asked defensively. “We’re friends, Jordan. We talk about things.”
“But if you know, then why -”
“Well, it’s not like there’s another church in Haven. It’s The Good Shepherd Church, or nothing.”
“Exactly. That church has been preaching that the Troubled are sinners who should have the sin burned out of them for centuries.”
“And I had Catholic friends in Boston even though their church preached that the Jews murdered Jesus. This is exactly why I didn’t tell you. It’s not all hate, why can’t you see that?”
Because it isn’t over. Because in a few years, the Troubles will come back and the Reverend and his men will try to kill us again, just like he did twenty years ago - There were many things Michelle was afraid of, but this wasn't one of them. Michelle hadn't hung out much with Haven's Troubled, hadn't seen the fear in their eyes when they spoke of Reverend Driscoll's church. She didn’t get it. And Jordan - raised in a town not very different from Haven with her chance at college cut short by Tobey - didn’t know how to explain. "
Jordan took a deep breath. “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t see him.” That you should stop hanging out with him and his friends. “I just wanted to make sure you knew.”
“You thought he must be lying to me, or why would I still be hanging out with him.”
“No.” Yes. “I just wanted to make sure you knew, because those things can be difficult to talk about, for the people who grew up in Haven.”
“You didn’t grow up in Haven.”
Jordan made an effort to smile. “Maybe I went a little bit native.”
“I’m not going to do that. Just because people have been doing something a certain way for a long time doesn’t make it right.”
“Maybe you’re right.” They should burn down the church; those people had somewhere else to go, whereas the Troubled had nowhere safe but Haven. Why did the church people covet the one safe place the Troubled had?
“I’m sorry I haven’t been around much,” Michelle said hesitantly. It was an olive branch. “I’ll try to come by more often.”
“No, it’s good. It’s good that you’ve found friends here.” Jordan had been waiting for Michelle to make friends in Haven. Just - not these friends.
There was a knock on the door. “I thought this was my office?”
“We’ll be right out, Carol, sorry,” Michelle called out.
“No rush, just finish my taxes while you’re at it.”
Jordan and Michelle smiled at one another. “I have to get to work, anyway,” Jordan said. “Come by, sometime.”
“Come join us for dinner, I’ll talk to Eleanor.”
“Or that.” It wouldn’t get Michelle away from Justin and his friends, but it was a start.
Jordan took one look at Eleanor’s face, and asked: “Highway pileup?”
“Nope. Just remembering why I swore off having any more children after Julia.”
That Eleanor’s harassed look was the result of a multi-casualty traffic accident was merely wishful thinking on Jordan’s part. It was only a little over a week since Passover, and the Seder night had been - bad. She picked up the coffee cup she’d just set down. “Let me spike this and bring it back to you.”
“Now that’s the spirit.”
Jordan returned to the table a few moments later, with a cup for each of them and a pastry for Eleanor - who huffed but bit into it and immediately made an appreciative noise. “Much better.”
“So what happened?” Jordan asked.
“Oh, the usual. There is nothing to do in this town and no one understands her - certainly not me. Or you, for that matter. We’re harsh, petty people and obviously we don’t want her to have any friends.”
“Justin,” Jordan spat.
“As much as I’d love to blame this on him, truth is; Michelle’s an angel next to what Julia put me through. No, this is just our girl remembering she was supposed to be getting acceptance letters right about now. Instead, she still can’t so much as think about calling her parents without bursting in tears.”
If Michelle Leibowitz wanted to go to college, she’d have to tie up her loose ends in Boston first. Michelle Berlin could go to college sooner than that - it wouldn’t be the first and far from the most complicated false identity the Guard had created - but that wasn’t the way Michelle wanted it to go. And so, until Michelle could confront her parents safely, the world outside of Haven was closed to her.
“True,” Jordan acknowledged, “but he’s still making it worse than it has to be.”
“You were a teenager a lot more recently than me, Jordan. Did your parents think any of your friends were good enough?”
Jordan snorted. No, they hadn’t. That just wasn’t the way of the world. “You’ve been seeing a lot more of him, from what I hear.” Justin had taken to showing up for the lighting of the Shabbat candles every Friday night.
Eleanor shook her head. “And they still claim it’s purely platonic.”
“‘Platonic’ is teenaged-boy speak for ‘biding their time’.”
“And you wonder why they’re both convinced you’re going to take a shotgun to him one of these days.”
Jordan rolled her eyes. “Come on, Eleanor, this is me. I don’t - you know how much I hate hurting people.”
“You realize you look at that girl the same way a mother bear looks at her cub.”
“Am I that transparent?”
Eleanor gave her a look.
“Yes, it was.” Eleanor paused. “Though it would also be silly to think you’d shoot the Scott kid with a shotgun. A crossbow, now that’s more likely.”
Jordan covered her laughter with a hand. It was the talk of the Guard: Dwight had taken to wearing the vest she’d given him even in town. It was completely unnecessary - the Troubles wouldn’t be back for at least three more years - but nobody was willing to have that conversation. “That’s not actually funny, Eleanor.”
Eleanor shrugged. “If it lets him sleep better at night.”
Jordan shook her head, then pushed up out of her chair. “I’d better get back to work. Anything else I can get you?”
“Peace and quiet,” Eleanor fired off, and then shook her head slightly. “No, I’m good, kid. Thank you.”
It was Friday night, and Jordan was enjoying a night off at the Rust Bucket. She only noticed her phone ringing because it was set to vibrate as well as use the ring tone. When she pulled it out of her pocket she saw that she’d missed two calls already. All three calls were from the same number.
Dwight’s expression shifted slightly, communicating a question.
Jordan shook her head. The number seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. It wasn’t local. “Hello?” she answered, plugging her other ear with her finger.
“Where the hell is Michelle?” demanded a female voice.
The question, the number and the voice all clicked together. Jordan hadn’t heard this voice in almost a year. “Hello, Maya,” she pointedly said for Dwight’s benefit. “At this hour, Michelle is probably home, asleep.”
Dwight’s expression turned to muted alarm at the mention of Michelle’s name.
“Did she go out tonight?”
Jordan’s back straightened. That wasn’t a question, it was a demand; an order, despite that the words were polite rather than military-clipped. The well-bred Bostonian was stronger in Maya’s accent than Jordan remembered, impeccable. It gave Maya the same presence and authority as Eleanor had when she was ordering men around, be they Guard or police.
Jordan shook herself mentally and replied: “Not that I know of. Why?”
“She calls every Friday after dinner. Today, she hasn’t called. She didn’t say that she was going out. She’s not answering her phone, I’ve been trying for the past hour.”
Jordan was tempted to dismiss Maya’s concern. Michelle had been acting more and more like a normal teenager, and this seemed entirely in line with her recent behavior - except that no, this wasn’t right. Barring another run-over dog -
Maya continued. “I tried the house line but there was no answer there either.”
Jordan pinched the bridge of her nose. Of course there wasn’t. “There was a bad fire this afternoon. I don’t think Eleanor’s going to be home before tomorrow.” And anyone who might want to target Michelle would have known, same as Jordan had.
Dwight signaled Otis the bartender.
“She’s probably just at a party or something,” Jordan said into her phone. She didn’t really believe it, but she didn’t want to further alarm Maya. “I’ve got a good guess as to where she is. I’ll let you know when we find her, all right?”
“You do that, otherwise I'll be on the road and headed for Haven by midnight,” Maya said, and hung up.
Jordan took her phone away from her ear and stared at it.
“Who’s Maya?” Dwight asked.
“Her cousin,” Jordan said. “Michelle’s -”
Dwight reached for his wallet.
“She’s missing. Didn’t answer the phone when Maya called.”
Dwight slapped a twenty on the bar and didn’t look back.
The Carr house was dark and silent. So was the Scott house. At least the neighbors were in. They were an unTroubled family but Dwight lied smoothly, claiming Jordan as his girlfriend and Michelle as her sister. Jordan was certainly worried enough to sell the role. The mother of the family gave them an approving look instead of a suspicious one and explained that Abe and Jocelyn Scott had gone away on vacation, leaving Justin alone for the week.
“First a multiple casualty incident gets Eleanor running late then it turns out Justin’s parents are out of town?” Jordan spat quietly as they headed back towards the car down the garden path. “That’s entirely too convenient.”
“Agreed. This late, with the house empty - they’d have no reason to go somewhere else.”
“No good reason,” Jordan muttered.
Dwight pulled out his phone as they reached the car. “Can’t go to the police,” he said matter-of-factly as he punched in a number “They can’t do anything until she’s been missing for 24 hours. Michelle is missing,” he continued into the phone - whoever he called must have picked up. “Jordan and I are going to Carol’s, see if she knows anything.” Pause. “Yeah.” He hung up.
“I should never have let her hang out with Justin,” Jordan muttered.
“For all we know, they had a car accident.”
“Because that’s encouraging.”
“Right now, it is.” Dwight pulled the car door open and got behind the wheel.
Jordan went around the front of the car and got into the passenger seat. “You know where Carol lives?”
He started the car. “I know where everyone lives.”
Carol said Michelle had left work at her usual time. No, there was nothing unusual; no, Justin hadn’t picked her up. Did anything happen? Why did they want to know?
Dwight got on his phone again while Jordan explained the situation to Carol.
Carol went to get her car keys and her coat.
She ended up on coffee duty. That wasn’t quite what happened, but it felt like that to Jordan: as if she’d been left behind - insignificant - while the men took care of things. Some of the women went out in the search groups too, but they were Haven-born and mostly older than Jordan. She knew why she’d been left behind: she had the best people-knowledge other than Grady. She knew everyone’s names, faces, where they’d come from, and what they were good at. It did make the most sense to leave her in charge of the staging area, coordinating between the parties already out and new people coming in, marking areas that’d been done off the map. She didn’t have to understand how Grady and Dwight determined and ranked search sectors in order to send people where they were needed. All she needed was three phone lines and some maps, and she had those. She wasn’t the one who called Janet, though. Janet just showed up with another one of the Friday night girls, and proceeded to lay out the coffee and sandwiches.
Come sunrise, Michelle was still missing.
Two hours after sunrise, a strange sedan pulled in. As it pulled closer Jordan recognized first the Massachusetts license plates then the driver: Maya.
I’ll call you when we find her, Jordan had told her.
I’ll be on the road by midnight, Maya had said, and there she was, pulling in. She stopped the car and stepped out, pulling a fleece over her sweatshirt as if it was late autumn rather than the height of summer. She ignored the stares and made straight for Jordan.
She stopped at four feet away. “What’s going on?” she asked. It was the same tone of voice in which Grady might have snapped: Sitrep. Before, it rankled. It didn’t anymore. Here on the outskirts of town in a makeshift staging area for a partisan search, Maya’s rough edges made her blend in.
“She’s still missing,” Jordan admitted.
Maya nodded, but she wasn’t paying Jordan any particular attention. Her gaze bounced all over the staging area, taking it all in. “Ideas?”
“My opinion: it was the boyfriend. I don’t care if she says he’s not her boyfriend. It was him.”
There was something in her eyes - something inside those sea-blue eyes that Jordan couldn’t read and yet, it still felt like looking into her own reflection.
“Do you know where he lives?” Maya asked abruptly.
“Yes,” Jordan replied cautiously.
Maya closed the distance to the back of the truck from which Jordan was coordinating the search. “Show me.”
Half past eight in the morning found Jordan back in town. She was in her car, parked on a side street off the waterfront road with Maya in the passenger seat.
“I’m not so sure about this,” Jordan said.
“You think he knows something?” Maya asked, just like she did before.
“Yes,” Jordan replied unhesitatingly, just like she had before.
“Then I’m sure,” Maya said.
They were waiting for Justin to show up for work. There was a small lot that the employees used. Jordan and Maya were parked within sight of it but a little up the street and off to one side where they wouldn’t be noticed unless someone was deliberately looking for them.
Maya knew just what sort of a place she wanted for the ambush.
“Are you sure you’re not a cop?” Jordan asked again while they waited.
“Yeah,” Maya said. She was staring out the window. “I just know boys his age.”
Of course you do, Jordan thought caustically. Maya barely had to think, to choose this spot. And that wasn’t the only convenient thing Maya seemed to just know.
Blame him for everything, she’d instructed Jordan earlier. Accuse him of the worst you think he might’ve done. Make it perfectly clear that you think he’s capable of all it. And then make it just as clear you think he didn’t do it because he’s not smart enough.
By the time she'd been Maya's age, Jordan had already learned that the ego was a man's real soft spot. But Maya's knowledge was different; there was a twist to it that Jordan didn't want to think too hard about.
A car pulled into the lot and Justin got out.
Jordan got out of the car and started down the street. “Justin!” she called out.
He stopped and turned around.
She didn’t even have to reach for the indignant anger; it was right there. “What did you do to her?” she demanded as she closed the distance. “What the hell did you do to Michelle?”
Justin’s eyes were wide and innocent, his expression of surprise pitch-perfect. “Michelle? I haven’t seen her since Wednesday.”
“Liar,” she accused. “You’ve been lying all along.”
His expression went blank. “And you’re jealous. And you’ve been jealous all along.”
“No, I’m not.” She loaded her voice with derision. “What do I have to be jealous of, you? You’re nothing but one of Reverend Driscoll’s dogs.” Something shifted in Justin’s expression, so subtle that Jordan would’ve missed it if she wasn’t actively looking for it. She ploughed on. “You don’t care about Michelle. You don’t have a single thought that you could call your own. I know your type, you were just biding your time.”
“You’re insane, you know that?”
She wasn’t insane. She also wasn’t wrong - and she was beginning to think that Maya wasn’t, either. “Well, you waited too long, coward,” she spat out. “She’s gone. You missed your chance. Michelle’s gone.”
“What do you mean, I missed my chance?” he demanded first. Only then his expression shifted into something more like the mask he’d been wearing for as long as Jordan had known him. “She’s gone?” Justin asked again. “How can she be gone? And what’s this about missing my chance, you’re nuts. Didn’t you just ask what I’d done to her?”
“I changed my mind.” Her voice was a weapon and Jordan had it primed and loaded, lush with fake softness and vibrant with derision. “I only wish I could accuse you of it. Whoever did this was smart, and you? You’re not-so-smart. You’re just somebody else’s mutt. You’re not even a hunting dog, you’re a lapdog. A coward and a loser.”
She turned on her heel and marched purposefully back up the street. Her gaze skittered to the car: Maya wasn’t in it.
Jordan didn’t get more than a few steps away before Justin called out: “I threw stones at the nests.”
For a second that didn’t make sense, and then Jordan remembered: Justin had been bringing Michelle baby birds to hand-raise all spring. They fell out of the nests, he’d said. None of them thought anything of it: bird chicks fell out of nests all the time. Particularly when someone had been throwing stones at them.
Jordan spun around, took a step back towards him. “You what?” she demanded.
Justin’s smile was triumphant. “That run-over stray made her so happy, I brought her more. Broken little toys, just like her. She wasn't happy anymore when she found out I'd been doing it on purpose. It was all for her and she didn't even like it. ”
Jordan took a step towards him. Her pulse thudding in her ears, in her chest. Her vision going black and sparkly around the edges. “You’re a monster,” she spat.
“No, you’re the abominations. I thought maybe you would be worth studying, but no, turns out you’re boring just like everyone else. You don’t deserve to live. The Rev’s right. I don't see why we shouldn't just shoot you all and let God -”
He didn’t get to finish before he crumpled to the ground. Maya stood over him, bloodied stone in her hand.
Jordan was shaking. “He -” she covered her mouth with her hand. “He -”
"Yeah," Maya said shortly, going down on one knee. She made fast work of the job; zip-tying Justin's wrists and ankles to each other then slipping his arms around his folded knees to truss him up in a ball.
"Where did you get -" The words died in her mouth.
Maya straightened. “Lifted them from the command truck while you were briefing that other woman.”
Jordan would have asked more but her phone rang.
She shut her eyes and pressed the phone against her ear. “What.”
“Tell me she’s fine, Grady.”
“Jordan, I’m so-”
“Tell me Michelle is fine.”
Maybe Justin had just stashed her somewhere, and Grady had called to say that -
“We found her bod-”
Jordan hung up on him. After a moment, she opened her eyes.
Maya had him gagged. She stood mutely, eyes locked on Jordan.
Jordan’s throat closed up on what she had to say. “Oh my god, Maya -”
“Get the car.” Maya’s words were clipped, Bostonian accent gone.
“Before anyone comes. Now, Jordan.”
Right. It was Saturday and they were in full view of the waterfront. Jordan forced herself to walk up to the car, get into the driver’s seat, start the engine and bring the car around. She set the parking brake then went around to help lift the body into the trunk.
Maya slammed the lid with a definitive, vindictive thud.
Now what? Jordan wanted to ask, but couldn’t. We found her body. She couldn’t think past those words.
Maya could. Maya, who’d known where to set the ambush, how to get him to talk, how to tie him up -
“You said the Troubles don’t work in Haven,” Maya said.
“Yes,” Jordan replied.
Maya met her eyes. “How far outside of town do we need to go?”
How far - oh. Oh. Jordan took a deep breath. “Don’t know. I’ve never tried.”
Maya nodded and stepped around her. “Let’s go find out.”
The Glendower compound was fifteen minutes outside of town, and their land stretched at least ten more minutes beyond that. All that land had to be within Haven’s protection, Jordan told Maya as they drove out of town. They drove for half an hour before stopping on the shoulder of the road. When Jordan opened the trunk and grabbed Justin he didn’t respond differently than when they had loaded him.
Maya slammed the trunk shut. “Ten more minutes.”
One hour out of Haven, Justin writhed when Jordan touched him, screaming against the gag. She stepped back instinctively, bile rising in her throat.
Maya shut the trunk again. “Good.”
They had to drive for a bit more before finding a turn-off onto a dirt road Jordan’s car could handle. Jordan maneuvered on the dirt road as far as it got, then stopped. Maya was out of the car before Jordan could even kill the engine. Jordan followed her.
Maya planted her feet shoulder width apart and grabbed Justin by one knee to roll his balled-up form out the trunk. He landed on the side, hard, and Maya had to bend down to pull him into a sitting position.
“Let’s go.” She grabbed the back of his shirt collar, glanced back at Jordan, then started dragging him into the forest. “Make sure you remember the way back.”
“Sure,” Jordan replied, her feet following Maya of their own accord. It was a few moments before she asked: “Are we going to kill him?”
“I’m thinking about it.” Maya inhaled deeply and rolled her shoulders. “This is great.”
“These forests. I bet if we got to the top of the next hill, we wouldn’t see a single sign of civilization. No antennas. No electric lines. Just wilderness.”
“I suppose it’s all right.”
“That’s because you’ve always had this. You don’t know what it’s like not to.” Maya grinned at her. The expression on her face was one of simple happiness, so genuine it almost covered what was underneath. Something of that innocence lingered as Maya’s expression twisted into disgust. For a split second, that seemed childlike, too. “Ugh, but you’re a heavy bag of dicks. Jordan, you want to drag his fat ass for a while? Get a head start?”
Jordan had been staring at the place where Maya’s hand carelessly touched the back of Justin’s head and neck as he bumped over the rough terrain. There was no way she could drag Justin along and not have her hand brush against his skin.
“I don’t -”
Maya glanced at her.
“I never -” Jordan tried again.
Maya blinked. “Okay.”
“No, you don’t understand, I never -”
“I said okay.” Maya switched her grip, grabbing Justin's collar with her other hand before she resumed walking. “Come on.”
By the time Maya stopped again, Justin had given up on his pride. He was whimpering, and with good reason: he was scratched, bloodied, covered in dirt. Good. The quick, vicious thought came on its own, surprising Jordan. But no. He should suffer. He had killed Michelle. He broke her heart, deliberately, and then killed her.
And he had the gall to call them monsters?
Maya removed the gag from his mouth.
“Cunt!” he rasped out. “You’re all cr -”
Maya slapped him, twice, swinging her arm down in a long arc and then up again for the backhand. Justin’s body rocked, his head swinging loosely on the second strike. “Threw rocks at birds’ nests, did you? Threw rocks at Michelle, too? Is that about your level of cultural development?”
“I didn’t throw anything at her, she threw he-”
We found her body. She threw he- Jordan lunged, grabbed tight so she could shake him. He screamed. She didn’t care.
“She was nineteen. She was just a girl. You -” She punched him, fist hitting bone with an audible crunch. She could hurt him more by just touching him, all she had to do was hold his face in her hand, but punching him was so much more satisfying. Bound as he was, the punch knocked him to the ground. She pulled him up.
She hit him again.
Her hand was numb.
How many times had she hit him?
His face was all bloody. So was her hand. Both of her hands.
“Jordan.” Step back. The command was explicit in the tone. Not Dwight's voice. Dwight’s tone, though. Maya’s voice.
The boy spat out blood.
Maya stepped past Jordan, grabbed his hair, yanked his head back hard. There was a box cutter in her other hand. She pressed it against his throat, her hand resting on his windpipe and the sharp tip just over the carotid. “How dare you.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“The person who’s got you by the balls.”
“Go to hell, bitch.”
“Did you just beg for mommy?”
He tried struggling against Maya’s grip, but she swung her hand up. The back of it slammed into his chin. His jaw snapped shut with a loud crack of teeth.
Maya put her hand and the knife over his throat again. “No one can hear you scream, get it? No one can hear you scream who isn’t making you scream. Nobody’s ever going to find you. You’re already dead. Understand?”
He spat out blood. “Maybe so, but y’re still -”
Maya’s hand tightened in his hair.
“- damned,” he spat out.
“You’re headed for a slow death.”
“Y’re ‘ll abominations, y’re steeped in sin -”
“I know your kind, ya achul manyuk ben elef zonot.” Maya’s voice was flat and cold. “You don’t believe a word you say, you just like power. You only follow your ‘reverend’ because he gives you permissible targets. Monster. Damned. That’s what you called Jordan here. Is that what you called my cousin that made her kill herself?”
“I killed h’r. Sh’just took the jump.”
Jordan lunged, Maya barely getting out of the way. Fresh blood came from a shallow cut on his neck, made in Maya’s hasty retreat.
Maya stepped around her, grabbed him by the collar, dragged him for a few steps, then knelt beside him. She yanked his hair - not as forcefully as before. This time she kept the knife away.
“You got it all wrong,” she said conversationally. “Jordan could hurt you a lot more, you realize that, right? You would’ve realized it by now if you fanatics weren’t all fucking morons. All Jordan has to do is grab your arm. She can kill you just by touching you. Pain can kill, ya mizdayen batachat”
Jordan startled. Pain can kill. It hadn’t even occurred to her.
“But it didn’t even occur to her,” Maya continued as if she could read Jordan’s mind. “Because she’s not a monster. She doesn’t get off on hurting people. Unlike you.”
“S’you gonna slit my throat?” He rasped.
“Maybe I will.” Maya’s voice was emotionless.
“Y’won’t. Y’re not Troubled, y’re just a scared litt-”
Maya moved her knife-hand to force his jaw shut, but she didn’t hit him. “Ever been dehydrated?”
She released his jaw, but he didn’t answer.
“Ever seen someone become dehydrated?”
Still, he didn’t answer.
“I have. I stood over a man and watched him beg for water for three days. And on the fourth day, he died.”
Jordan startled. Maya didn’t. “One of yours?” she asked.
“Yes,” Jordan forced herself to say.
Maya nodded. She stood up, located the gag and had it tightened into the boy’s mouth again by the time Dwight came into view. He looked between Jordan, Maya, and the bloodied, trussed-up boy on the forest floor.
“He killed her,” Maya said.
“Figured,” Dwight replied.
“He -” Jordan began. “She -” But she couldn’t get the words out.
“Her body was found in the water,” Dwight said, gently. “Under a wharf.”
“He might as well have thrown her,” Maya said.
“Yeah,” Dwight said, and repeated: “Figured as much.”
Maya kicked the boy in the face. She didn’t look at him so her aim was lousy and she didn’t put much force into it, but it still knocked him sideways to the ground.
“What’re you here for?” she demanded of Dwight.
No, not demanded, not quite - but Jordan didn’t know what to call that tone of voice. She couldn’t even breathe right.
“Clean-up,” Dwight said. His voice was perfectly neutral. “Go back to town. I’ll clean this.”
Maya regarded him. He shoulders weren’t raised anymore, Jordan realized abruptly - and her face wasn’t a mask of cold mockery anymore, either. Now it showed her grief, her fury.
“All right,” Maya said. “Jordan?”
“Yeah. Head back into town,” Jordan repeated duly. She forced herself to move.
“There’s water in the back of my truck,” Dwight said. “Med kit, too.”
“Kibalty,” Maya said, and then, in English: “All right.”
Maya poured water over hands, and then offered a gauze pad from a sterile wrapper. “No paper towels,” she explained in response to Jordan’s look.
Jordan couldn’t manage words quite yet.
She gingerly pulled the gauze from its wrapper and tried to scrub blood from her hands. Maya poured more water in little bursts. The blood wasn’t all the way dry yet so it washed off relatively easily. It still took a few pads of gauze before her hands looked more-or-less clean. The last remains of blood caught under and around her fingernails and where her own skin had split. Jordan stared at her hands. Something white waved in front of her eyes. She startled.
“Don’t touch me!” Jordan snapped.
Maya wasn’t really that close, but the sight of naked skin spooked Jordan. Maya didn’t respond in any way. She just held out the dry gauze until Jordan took it, and then gathered the trash into a medical waste bag. She pocketed a few more sealed gauze pads, a tube of disinfectant and a strip of painkillers then glanced back at Jordan before she reached on tiptoe to close the back of Dwight’s truck.
“We should get you some ice,” Maya said, and: “Might be better if I drive.”
Jordan patted her pockets. They were empty. Right. “I left the keys in the car.”
It was strange, sitting in the passenger seat of her car, but Maya was right: Jordan wasn’t fit to drive. She felt disconnected and vaguely sick, pain building up in her head and neck. She stared at back of her hands: turn up and swelling already. She really was going to need to ice them. She couldn’t be seen like this. There was no mistaking what she’s done.
What they’ve done. What -
“We should’ve killed him,” she put a slight emphasis on the first word, “not Dwight.”
“He’ll do what’s needed,” Maya replied. “Dwight.”
“He shouldn’t have to.” Jordan leaned her aching head against the window. “Dwight protects people, he doesn’t hurt them.”
“Sometimes the only way to protect your people is to hurt others,” Maya said. It was that voice that sounded like Dwight, again. “What is he?”
That wasn’t a question Jordan expected. She startled, lifting her head to look at Maya. “What?”
“What - oh. No, I figure he’s Troubled too. Obviously. I mean - where did he serve?”
“Oh.” Jordan leaned her head again. “He was a Ranger.”
It was a moment before Maya said: “Is. There’s no ‘was’ on that. It’s worse than being an officer.”
“Are you an officer?” Jordan asked, because there had to be a reason Maya went there.
“Yeah,” Maya replied. It was the same kind of voice in which someone would tell you their name.
That certainly explained some things, but - “You’re only 22.” Maya couldn’t be more than a recent college graduate, at most. There was no way that she already was - had already been an officer the year before.
“Tzahal drafts officer cadets straight out of high school, same as non-officers.”
So that’s where she’s come from. “I thought ‘Moran’ was Irish.”
“It’s Hebrew. It’s a kind of a flower. Can also be a first name - I’m lucky ‘Maya’ can’t be mistaken for a last name.”
What are you doing here, then? But Jordan already knew the answer to that question. Maya had already told her.
Maya turned the car into a gas station.
“What are you doing?”
“Finding a bathroom.”
Jordan stayed in the car while Maya went into the store. She came back out a moment later with keys to the washroom and a paper cup. She waved at Jordan to join her.
Blood on her hands.
The washroom out back was surprisingly clean. The soap was coarse and so were the paper towels but they got the job done, with some scrubbing.
Jordan stepped back and Maya took her place by the sink. Maya’s hands were clean. Jordan stared as she filled the paper cup with tap water. Who took a clean, empty paper cup?
“Netilat yadayim,” Maya said, as if explaining, in the stubbed language that Jordan now knew was Hebrew. Maya poured the water first over her right hand, then her left, and then right again. “I guess Bouli started it. He wouldn’t come in when they came back from patrol one night, wouldn’t go into camp, I mean.”
“Aboulafia. We called him Bouli, like the snow man, do you remember the cartoon? So anyway - whatever happened, he wouldn’t bring it into camp with him. Made one of the guys bring him a natla. He never heard the end of it after, but he put the idea in the rest of our heads. We’d stop before the fence and make netilat yadayim. Wash Gaza off of us before crossing the fence. Don’t bring it home with you. Leave death in death’s place.”
The gas station they stopped at was still outside Haven’s shield. They’d taken that guy outside Haven. Don’t bring it home with you. “Ritual hand washing,” Jordan said.
“I guess.” Maya filled the cup again and held it out to her.
Jordan lifted her arms and tried to step back in the small space. “No, I don’t -”
“Yes, you do. Today, you do.” Maya still held the cup out.
Jordan thought of Michelle, swallowed, and took it from Maya’s hands. Maya held it from the bottom, making it easy to keep their hands apart.
“No, with your left hand - pour over your right first, now that it’s clean you can pour over your left - but your left wasn’t clean when it washed your right the first time, so pour over your right again - yeah.”
It was funny; the ritual really did make Jordan breathe a little better, in a way that scrubbing with soap hadn’t. “This is for washing off - what, exactly?” Leave death in death’s place, Maya had said, but it was never as straightforward as that.
“Tum’aa. English doesn’t really have a word for it.”
Jordan could think of a few - sin, damnation, taint, all of Driscoll’s favorite words - but it didn’t really matter. None of these words quite fit, anyway. This was more like the way it had felt, to try and scrub Tobey off her skin. “Do you wash only your hands?”
“No, t’vila - you can do that in the ocean.”
“Good,” Jordan said, automatically. Michelle was in the ocean, the ocean would’ve washed Justin off her - “Michelle. Oh my god, Michelle…” She pressed her fist against her mouth, eyes screwed shut against the tears.
A moment later, there were two hands on either side of her waist, slim women’s hands, warm and open, the touch light.
Jordan forced her eyes open and blinked against the tears. Maya was standing so close, her hands on Jordan’s thin camisole. Her expression wasn’t blank, anymore. There were only inches between Maya’s hands and Jordan’s bare elbows, but Maya didn’t seem to care for it at all.
Jordan stared at the gap between them for a moment, and then forced her eyes up. First her eyes and then her shaking hands, which she put over Maya’s cap sleeves. Maya didn’t flinch. Her shoulders fell under Jordan’s touch.
It was startling to realize that though Maya looked solid, she too was shaking.
When Maya returned the keys she also got ice for Jordan’s hands, and coffee to wash the painkillers down with. By the time they hit the edge of town, Jordan was ready to take the wheel.
She was supposed to be on shift. Fuck that. Everyone who worked at the Gun & Rose was in the know, anyway. She could take a single fucking day off. If anyone missed her, they could call.
Jordan drove home.
When they got out of the car at Jordan’s place Maya reached for it, so quickly that Jordan almost missed the momentary loss of balance.
“You okay?” she asked. Maya was pale as a sheet but then, so was Jordan.
“Yeah - I just - I should’ve grabbed another water bottle from Dwight’s. I think I haven’t eaten since last night.”
Jordan took a deep breath. It was - lunchtime already, she realized. She was only two sandwiches ahead of Maya. The thought of food made Jordan queasy, but - this was not going to get better. “I suppose I’m making breakfast, then.”
Maya breathed deeply, too. It was the way you breathed against a sudden stab of pain. “I don’t suppose you have tomatoes.”
“There’re a couple bushes out back.”
Jordan made eggs and toast. Maya made a vegetable salad. Jordan wasn’t sure how Maya didn’t cut a finger off - her hands weren’t any more stable than Jordan’s.
After they’d eaten - after they’d somehow made themselves eat - they piled the dishes in the sink, and Jordan put the tea kettle on the stove. She didn’t know that the food helped at all. She still felt hollowed-out and aching.
She startled when Maya put an arm around her waist and pulled her in for a half-hug, but after a moment she relaxed into it. It was better than being alone, and Maya’s total unselfconsciousness was oddly comforting.
“Who was he?” Jordan asked. “What did he do - the man who…”
A beat, then Maya said: “I don’t want to -”
“Maya,” Jordan turned and grabbed Maya’s face between both her hands, made the other woman look at her. “You’re not a monster either. So tell me. What did he do?”
Maya licked her lips. It was a long moment before she started to talk. “My best friend from school - she served in the Military Police, at the checkpoints, in the Bank. Her name was Tamar. She hated it. Hated what it did to people. She tried - she tried to be better than that. So when a woman came in running, screaming, Tamar ran to her, pushed the guards out of the way. She thought it was an emergency but the woman stabbed her. Kitchen knife in the eye, Tamar died before the medics got there.”
A woman - didn’t she say the person she’d killed was a man? “What happened to the woman?” Jordan asked.
“She was shot dead on the spot,” Maya said, as it didn’t matter at all. Maybe it didn’t - Jordan could understand that: it was too late, Tamar was already dead. “My commander wouldn’t let me go to the funeral, he wouldn’t let me go to the Shiv’aa - it was stupid, I was just a welfare officer, I could be home and back in a day, my girls could manage that long, I begged, but -” She closed her eyes. “Two days after - the boys woke me up, happy like they brought home an entire litter of kittens or something. Dead of night, didn’t even bother to take off their patrol gear. Took me out by the sheds, the ones we didn’t use because they were right by the fence and because they were going to fall apart with the next shelling and we got shelled half a dozen times a day.” She opened her eyes. “I think he was an illegal, I never asked. They didn’t write it down that they had him. He didn’t exist. Nobody was going to hear, or care. ‘Here, have a gift, you can do whatever you want.’ I didn’t know what to do, I told them we’d let him freak himself out shitless overnight.” Maya’s voice became agitated near the end. Her eyes skittered everywhere, wild. Jordan sensed movement and kept her hands on Maya’s face, trying to keep the other women centered, with her. “Maya,” she repeated softly, “Maya,” until Maya’s gaze returned to her.
“And the next day?” Jordan prompted.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was their welfare officer. Nobody else was going to give a shit who knew what it was like there. That’s the one thing that matters more than anything: as Welfare you have to keep their trust. You can’t help them if they don’t trust you and it’s your job to help them. Not anybody else’s job. And I’d only been there for two months - I had at least a year to go, I couldn’t fuck them over like that -” Maya was breathing hard.
Jordan kept her voice soft and steady as she repeated what Maya had said before: “Sometimes the only way to protect your people is to hurt other people.” She understood, now. “You’re not a monster, Maya. You protected your people. You were their officer.”
Maya’s eyes were screwed shut, tears streaming down her face.
The kettle whistled at the same time Jordan’s phone went off. Jordan went to find her phone, leaving Maya in the kitchen.
It was Dwight.
“Hi,” Jordan said quietly into the phone, her voice suddenly sounding as weary as she felt.
“I’m dropping him off at the hospital.” Dwight sounded just as weary. “He won’t remember a thing.”
For a moment she was angry. Why didn’t you just kill him? Then her own words returned to her: Not Dwight. He protects people. He deserved to be protected just as much as everyone else - even more so rather than less, precisely because he was the one who always tried to take the bullet for everyone else. This time Dwight didn’t have to hurt one person to protect another. This time, Jordan had done the hurting: she’d taken the bullet for him. And she would do it again.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
Maya had just finished pouring hot water over the teabags when Jordan returned to the kitchen.
Jordan accepted one of the mugs. “Dwight didn’t kill him.”
Oddly enough, Maya’s face softened. “Didn’t think he would.”
No, no, she wouldn’t have. Maya had known what Dwight was just from looking at him, the same way - Jordan realized - she herself had known what Maya was right from the start.
“This funeral you’ll be able to come to,” Jordan said, before she realized: “We’ll have to arrange for a Jewish funeral -”
“You’ll need a Jewish cemetery - might as well bring her back to…” Maya’s expression twisted. “It’s the only permissible reason to hold back a funeral, anyway - so the family can be present. Her parents have a right.”
Jordan swallowed. It was the right thing to do but if they did that, no one from Haven would be able to go to the funeral. She wouldn’t be able to go to Michelle’s funeral. Jordan forced the words through her tight throat: “You’ll have to be there for both of us.”
Maya took the hand that wasn’t holding the mug and, eyes closed, kissed the back of Jordan’s fingers where the skin was bruised and torn. Then she opened her eyes.
“I’ll throw a handful of dirt for you, too,” she promised.
Jordan put down her tea, put an arm around Maya, and let the tears rush through her.