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Spread My Wings

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Evelynn peered through the colonnades and across the lap pool and spa to the ocean. It was calm today, a mirror of the cloudless sky above as it stretched to greet it on the horizon. The air was still and would’ve been stifling if not for a pair of elegant fans overhead. They worked in tandem to keep the covered patio cool.

The ice in her grandfather’s glass clinked together and Evelynn caught him appraising her over its rim.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said.

Evelynn rolled her eyes good-naturedly. When she was younger, she used to believe her grandfather could read minds. At least, it seemed like he did. He spoke in such a self-assured manner that you couldn’t help but think he could, but with age came understanding. Evelynn’s grandfather was the most intelligent man she knew and could pick up on the most imperceptible of social cues, but he was not a mind-reader. He had his blind spots. And she knew she was one of them.

“Do you, now?” she asked. She refused to look at him, but a playful smile danced on the edge of her lips.

“You’re thinking about the future.”

“I’m graduating soon. Of course I’m thinking about the future.”

“Then I was right.”

“It was a well-educated guess that turned out to be right.” Evelynn finally made eye contact. Her eyes were carbon copies of her dad’s, an almost unnatural shade of blue, and she knew they always made her grandfather smile, albeit sadly. “But I’m thinking of a lot of other things too.”

Evelynn had friends, classes, exams, a bad grade she was in the process of refuting, tennis, a part-time job at student health, a boy she couldn’t quite figure out, some drama that had nothing to do with her and really should’ve been resolved before Spring Break—but the future was always there, lurking. It was like the ocean, in a way—constant, stretching on endlessly for as far as the eye could see.

“You should travel for a year or two, see the world,” her grandfather suggested. “I could go with you or you could go by yourself…though I insist you take Ben. I can always hire somebody else for me.” Ben was her grandfather’s bodyguard. “I think it would be a very valuable and rewarding experience for you.”

Evelynn knew she shouldn’t be surprised, but was still caught off-guard. “Grandpa, are you crazy!? No!”

“What? You have the money.”

You have the money.”

“I told you, whatever is in your bank account is yours.”

Evelynn blew her hair out of her face. She didn’t like to think about her bank account. Too many numbers she hadn’t earned. “Grandpa, we’ve talked about this.”

“It’s very commendable of you to want to make your own way,” her grandfather said quickly, patting her on the knee. He then leaned back as Sofia and Yolanda cleared the table of their lunch. “But I think that you shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to—”

“Thank you,” Evelynn told the women as she handed them her plate and glass. They nodded curtly and scurried away like always, but she shouted after them. “And tell Masahiko he did an excellent job! The tuna roles were fantastic.”

Her grandfather cleared his throat, acting as if he had not been interrupted. “As I was saying, not a lot of young women your age have the resources to travel, so you should take advantage of the opportunities afforded to you.”

“Or, I could get a job as a nurse somewhere and save up money to go on a one week vacation once a year like a normal person.”

The weathered lines in Evelynn’s grandfather’s face deepened as he frowned, but Evelynn pretended she didn’t see, returning her gaze to the ocean. He had never understood her need for normalcy. To him, she was selling herself short and throwing away opportunities. To her, she was seeking solid ground after her life was uprooted eleven years ago. Money, notoriety, even power—they weren’t any good to her. But who was she kidding? Her grandfather was a secretive billionaire, her current residence was the Beverly Hilton at his insistence, and he had given her a Maserati Spyder for her birthday this year, even if she refused to drive it.

She was not normal.

And she never would be.  

A single blink was all it took. Everything vanished from sight and Evelynn found herself weightless, maybe even without a body, floating in a silent, dark abyss. Before her eyes were a pair of square gold cufflinks. They screamed ’70s, with their basket-weave patterned faces and twisted rope design posts. They had dulled with time and lack of use, but then they were hit by a violet light and transformed. Now the cufflinks were a shimmering white gold, with five of the squares on the faces replaced with little amethysts. They faded into diamonds one by one before expelling the purple light and changing back to the way they were. Evelynn seemed to observe the cufflinks from multiple angles and distances as this happened, all at the same time. And the exact time and date was marked off in her head: Saturday, March 31, 2001, 1:05:34 PM PDT.

And then she was sucked back to reality, gasping for air. She felt like she had been squeezed through a hose.

Her grandfather was up and out of his chair, his age seemingly forgotten as he kneeled next to her and grabbed her forearm.
 
“Evelynn! What is it? What’s wrong?”

Seeing his watery eyes brimming with terror, Evelynn tried to take back control of herself, slowing her breathing until it was quiet and even. “I’m okay, I’m okay…” She stood but swayed dangerously until her grandfather steadied her. “I think I need to lie down.”

“Is it a panic attack? I can call the doctor—”

“No. I just need to…Please just let me…” Together, they shuffled towards the French doors. Whatever had happened hadn’t hurt, but exhaustion seeped into Evelynn’s bones as if the weight of the world was suddenly resting on her shoulders. “I’ll feel better after a nap.”

Her grandfather looked up at Yolanda, who hovered awkwardly in the doorway to the formal living room, feather duster in hand. “Don’t just stand there! Go turn down Evelynn’s bed.”

“No-no-no-no.” Evelynn pushed off her grandfather and stumbled over to the gold velvet couch, pushing aside decorative pillows as she collapsed on it facedown. “Here is good. Just let me sleep.”

A frustrated sigh issued forth from her grandfather. “…Fine,” he said after a moment. She heard him sweep over to an armchair and then felt the soft weight of a mink fur blanket on her back. “See to it that no one disturbs her,” he commanded Yolanda as the lights clicked off.

*   *   *

Evelynn awoke with a start much later, the sun low enough to see out the windows as it started its leisurely descent into the ocean. She sat for a moment, enjoying the stillness before stretching and padding off to find her grandfather.

She felt like a new woman after her nap, her strange and startling vision already fading from memory. It was probably just stress. She guessed the future was freaking her out more than she previously thought.

“Sofia?” she called through the cavernous kitchen, but it was dark.

Her grandfather’s home was 24,000 square feet, or, as Evelynn liked to think about it, about fifteen times larger than any house had a right to be. As a child, she used to wander the halls with a growing sense of panic that she was the last person on earth until she stumbled across someone. Nowadays, she just popped into the surveillance room. It was a cozy little closet off the foyer filled with computer screens that showed most of the inside and the outside of the house. Marco and Ed, the night guards who worked the weekdays and weekends respectively, checked it every day when they got to work at 9:00 PM to make sure nothing was amiss.

A quick scan of all the screens let Evelynn know her grandfather was in his office, meeting with Rodney.

Evelynn grimaced. Suffice to say, she was not a fan of Rodney Cadel. Being the granddaughter of a billionaire made her highly attuned to brown-nosers, and Rodney was off the charts. Unfortunately, he was also loyal, intelligent, and good at his job, so her grandfather really didn’t care as long as things at Omega Labs, where Rodney was President, ran smoothly. Even as Evelynn watched, Rodney presented her grandfather with a small gift. He was always bringing over fine wine and cigars, even though her grandfather partook in neither. But this time he was presenting her grandfather with a jewelry box, which was different. Maybe he had finally gotten the hint and brought him something useful, like a watch. Curious, she watched Rodney lay it on the desk between them and open it.

Evelynn blinked. Cufflinks. He had brought her grandfather cufflinks. And not just any cufflinks, but the same exact ones from her vision. She tried to reason that it was impossible for her to know that, that the footage was black-and-white and grainy, but it was a lie. She knew.

She took off for the other end of the house, but then slowed to a casual walk as she turned the corner. At the end of the hall were a pair of mahogany doors that sectioned off her grandfather’s office from the rest of the house. Evelynn was surprised to see them guarded by a brawny figure in a smart suit.

“Hey, Ev,” Ben said softly as she approached, his tough guy persona melting. “Heard you weren’t feeling well. Are you looking for Mr. Ende?”

Ben had been Evelynn’s first crush. Her chest burned at the thought now, but when she had been a lonely thirteen-year-old girl and her grandfather hired an Adonis of a former Marine to be his new bodyguard, it didn’t take long for her to start writing ‘Mrs. Benjamin Commack’ in her diary. The fact that they were fifteen years apart and he was engaged to his high school sweetheart did not deter her. He treated her like a normal person instead of his boss’s granddaughter and always cheered her up when she was feeling down. But then Garret Wyndam Price III started passing notes to her in class and Ben was promptly forgotten. Now Evelynn was godmother to Ben’s youngest daughter Lucy.

“Yeah, I need to—” started Evelynn, reaching for the doorknob, but Ben adjusted his weight to block her way.

“Sorry, Ev. Mr. Ende was pretty clear about not wanting to be bothered.”

“But…” Evelynn felt adrift in confusion. Something like this had never happened before. The door to her grandfather’s office didn’t even have a lock on it. “C’mon, Ben. What’s the big deal?” She raised her voice. “Grandpa! I’m up!”

Ben gave her a look that read, Did you have to do that? but said nothing.

“Just a minute!” her grandfather answered, so she waited.

The heavy oak door opened with a creak and Ben moved out of the way. Evelynn’s grandfather and Rodney crowded out into the hall.

“You seem better!” her grandfather said, putting an arm around her shoulders and giving her a squeeze. His face was beaming and she suspected it was more than just her improved health.

“Miss Ende, always a delight,” said Rodney, eagerly taking up Evelynn’s hand as if she were a princess. She escaped his grasp thanks to his sweaty palms. “Your grandfather mentioned you were home on Spring Break. When do you head back?”

“Tonight. Classes start up again on Monday, but I thought I’d give myself a day.”

“I was just seeing Dr. Cadel out,” said her grandfather quickly. He very well knew her feelings on Rodney. “Did you need something, my dear?”

Evelynn glanced over Rodney’s shoulder into the office, surreptitiously trying to see if the cufflinks were still on the desk. Her grandfather caught it and turned to look as well.

“Oh, your computer?” he surmised.

Evelynn latched on to the lie and nodded. Her laptop was charging on an armchair, a long cord connecting it to the only printer in the house. Her grandfather had bought her one, of course, but it was at school.

“Go ahead,” her grandfather said, putting a hand to her back and gently pushing her towards the office. He turned to his subordinate. “I’ll see you out, Rod.”

Evelynn waited until her grandfather, Rodney, and Ben were out of sight before speed walking into the office. The desk was bare expect for the computer and a phone. She opened a couple of drawers before noticing the panel, on which hung an original Mondrian and guarded her grandfather’s safe, was ajar. She contemplated this for a moment before pushing the wall closed and going over to her laptop. Now was not the time to be snooping around. Her grandfather would be back any minute.

Sure enough, she heard him whistling Camptown Races as he made his way back down the hallway. He leaned against the doorframe and watched Evelynn on her laptop, wistful and content.

“You’re in a good mood,” she observed. “What did the bootlicker want?”

“Be nice,” her grandfather warned. “He came by to tell me there was a breakthrough at the lab with Project Lionheart.”

Evelynn’s eyes lit up. Her grandfather owned lot of businesses, but Omega Labs had been weighing on his mind a lot lately. The labs were a private defense contractor, and their government liaisons had been disappointed with Project Lionheart’s lack of progress for a long time now. They kept on threatening to shut it down, which would put those working on it out of a job. Now it sounded like those scientists would be safe. “That’s great!”

“Why don’t we celebrate?” Her grandfather pulled out his ancient pocket watch, a gift from his own grandfather, to check the time. “How does the club sound?”

Evelynn chewed her lower lip. The club’s barrel-cut wet-aged steak fillets cut like butter and made her mouth water, but it was awkward being the only woman allowed at a men’s only social club. She was an exception due to her grandfather’s standing as a founding member, but she had to adhere to the dress code like everyone else and wear a dress shirt with a club jacket and tie. Every year, when she went to the club’s tailor for a new jacket, he would comment that she was his only female client. It showed. Her jacket always ended up as ill-fitting as a thrift shop find. It had been cute when she was younger. Not so much now.

But Evelynn knew that going to the club was really the only time her grandfather was social. Looking at his face, she found herself unable to say no.

“Sounds wonderful!” she said. “Let me go change and we can head out.”

*   *   *

Evelynn slammed the trunk of her car, and then again when it didn’t shut. Then a third time, the latch finally catching. Her grandfather watched with a quirked eyebrow. They had argued about the car before, a 1991 Ford Taurus the color of cheap champagne, but once Evelynn had her mind set, there was no changing it. She wanted a car that she had paid for with money she had earned and nothing else.

“I think that’s everything,” Evelynn said as she checked off her packing list in her mind—suitcase full of freshly laundered clothes, toiletries, crockpot, books for the new quarter…

“It’s pretty late. Are you sure you don’t want to spend the night and leave in the morning?” her grandfather asked, looking hopeful.

They had stayed at the club far longer than Evelynn expected, to the point where she rightfully got suspicious. Now it was almost 10:00 PM and her grandfather’s motives were as clear as day.

Evelynn laughed, a wheezy bray that startled most people, and kissed her grandfather on the cheek. “I’ll be fine. It’s only an hour and a half drive.”

“Can you blame an old man for trying?” he wondered, wrapping her up in his arms, lips brushing her forehead.

And then is happened again. One moment, Evelynn was hugging her grandfather, feeling his bones beneath his skin and wondering when he got so skinny, and the next she was surrounded by nothingness, was nothingness. She fully expected to see the cufflinks again, but they had been replaced by a silver watch.

Unlike the cufflinks, the watch had a timeless design, a simple white face with tick marks instead of numbers. The strap was a soft, light brown leather. It looked like new, the silver untarnished, which was confirmed by the date engraved on the back: 7-24-1999. Beneath it in minuscule words was written: “Between the Earth and the sky above, nothing can match a grandmother’s love.” It was soon enveloped in a white light though and transformed. The engraving vanished, the strap turned white, and the clock face changed to a countdown of one through five with the hour hand completely absent. The minute hand counted down the five minutes before the watch reverted back in a flash of light. The exact time and date was Saturday, March 31, 2001, 9:54:11 PM PDT.

This time Evelynn was prepared for her return to reality. It was jarring, but she gripped her grandfather harder and focused on keeping her breathing in check. Whatever was happening to her, she had to keep it from him. The last thing she wanted was for him to worry. Despite her best efforts though, he noticed something was amiss and pulled away.

“Evelynn…?” he said, his eyes searching hers, but he was thankfully distracted by his Blackberry ringing on his belt clip. Evelynn glanced at the screen to see who it was before rolling her eyes. Of course. Bootlicker.

Evelynn’s grandfather held up a finger to show he wasn’t finished with Evelynn as he answered his phone. “Rod, what—” he started, an edge to his voice. He normally didn’t accept calls this late at night unless it was an emergency. Rodney cut him off though, his words a harried burble. Evelynn’s grandfather listened in wide-eyed shock, stooping forward. He stopped himself by putting a hand on his knee. “An accident…? What do you mean, an acc—?” Whatever Rodney said next caused her grandfather to transform like the jewelry in Evelynn’s visions. He straightened his back, his countenance darkened, and any trace of Evelynn’s loving grandfather was gone, replaced by the shrewd business magnate. “Try to hold them off for as long as you can. I will be right there,” he said, already rushing across the sprinkler-soaked lawn to the closest garage.

“Grandpa?” Evelynn called after him uncertainly as he punched in the code. The garage door sprung to life, screeching like a pterodactyl as it lifted to reveal a sleek black sports car. Evelynn didn’t recognize it, not that she was surprised. Her grandfather bought and sold his vehicles so often that it wasn’t worth keeping track.

“I have to go,” he explained. “There was an accident at Omega Labs.”

“Oh my God! Was anyone hurt?”

But her grandfather was distracted. “Call me when you get back to school.”

He jumped into the car and peeled out, the front gate barely opening in time to let him pass. Ed poked his head out of the guardhouse to watch the taillights recede down Riviera Drive.

“What was that all about?” he called out to Evelynn, but she shrugged. “You heading out too? Should I lock up?”

Only then did Evelynn realize her laptop was still in the office. “In a bit! I forgot something!”

Heading back into the house, Evelynn crossed the foyer only to pause as she passed by the surveillance room. The cufflinks…now a watch…what was happening to her? Was she seeing visions of the future? Was she suffering from some sort of neurological disease complete with visual hallucinations? She felt that if she could just examine the cufflinks, everything would make more sense. She continued on since she had to head to her grandfather’s office anyway, but the walk took on a different tone. As she glanced at all the cameras as she passed, the old spy game she used to play when she first moved in started coming back to her. She would try to get from one part of the house to the other without being seen, then ask Herb (the night guard before Marco) or Ed if they had seen her. Sometimes she was successful. Other times, it was impossible.

Other than the three-story chandelier in the foyer, which was on a timer, the rest of the mansion was dark and empty. Everyone had gone for the day. Even though it was her home too, Evelynn felt like she was trespassing and half expected an alarm to go off the instant she entered her grandfather’s office. Only silence met her though. She couldn’t even hear her footsteps, the rug was so plush.

The white squares of the Mondrian seemed to glow in the moonlight, as did the power on her laptop. Life was full of choices, Evelynn knew, but this one seemed life-defining.

She chose the Mondrain.

Evelynn put a hand beneath the priceless painting and pushed. The panel popped open and swung out, revealing her grandfather’s expensive record collection and a mid-sized electronic safe.

Evelynn once pointed out how cliché it was that her grandfather had a safe behind a painting, but he asked her what the point of having money was if he couldn’t have a little fun every now and then. His fun touches were all over the house, including a tap at the bar that poured Arnold Palmers and a secret passage behind one of the fireplaces that led to a reading nook. He let her discover all these secrets on her own and she still wasn’t convinced she found them all, but the safe had been her first major discovery.

“What’s the code?” young Evelynn had asked him when he caught her trying to crack it with a stethoscope. She had gone as a doctor that year for Halloween.

“You know I can’t tell you that.”

“Wellllllllll….can you tell me how many numbers it is?”

“Eight.”

“Only eight? I’ll figure it out.”

“Are you so sure, my dear? With eight numbers, there are…” He did a bit of mental math. “40,320 possibilities.”

“What!?”

But if Evelynn’s grandfather had taught her anything over the years, it was that people were predictable, even someone like her grandfather. He was forgetful, so all the codes around the house were dates of personal significance to him. They weren’t obvious ones, like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but ones only he would know. The garage code was the 0513 because May 13th was the day he first saw Evelynn’s grandma at a dance hall. The gate code, 122477, was her parents’ engagement. The eight numbers to open the safe could very well be a date. She tried a few but stopped when she realized they were all too obvious. Which date would be ingrained in her grandfather’s head forever that few people would know about?

It came to Evelynn suddenly, in a stroke of inspiration. 1-0-2-0-1-9-9-1. It was burned into her memory as well.

The lock unclicked and the heavy door popped open. Inside, sitting among stacks of money and an ornate box she knew was filled with her grandma’s old jewelry, was the little black velvet jewelry box she had seen on the security camera. Hands shaking, Evelynn took it and opened it up. There, punched through a velvet backer board, were the slightly garish cufflinks.

Evelynn pulled one out and held it up to the moonlight. Her grandfather had an impressive collection of cufflinks, a whole drawer of them to choose from when going to the club or the rare gala, and they were all nicer than this pair. Yet, her grandfather had squirreled these ones away in his safe AND she had a vision about them. Why? Pieces of the puzzle began to arrange themselves in Evelynn’s head. Her grandfather’s good mood…Rodney bringing news about a breakthrough with Project Lionheart…

Were these cufflinks Project Lionheart?

It would all make sense. The only problem was, Evelynn had no clue what Project Lionheart was or what it did or why Rodney would remove Project Lionheart from the lab (if that were the case). As far as she could tell, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the cufflinks. They had transformed in her vision though—normal cufflinks did not do that. Somehow, she had to trigger their transformation.

Maybe by wearing them? she thought.

Though she had ditched her jacket as soon as they returned from the club, she was still wearing her dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, ironically so she wouldn’t have to wear cufflinks. She yanked them down now as she struggled to remove the other cufflink, accidentally dropping the box in the process. It smacked the wood just next to the rug, the cufflink still attached to the backer board flying out and skittering across the floor. Evelynn cringed even though she knew no one else was home. She knelt and gathered the pieces up, noticing something strange in the process.

The bottom of the inside of the jewelry box had been knocked askew.

“What…?” she reflexively whispered to herself upon discovering the false bottom. She peeled it away to find what looked to be a black SIM card underneath. She examined the electronic closely. She couldn’t tell for sure, but she suspected it was some kind of listening device. But who put it there? And why?

Evelynn turned her attention back to the cufflinks. They were the crux of this mystery. The sooner she figured out their importance, the more sense everything would make, she was sure of it. So she fitted them through the buttonholes in her cuffs.

The cufflinks turned warm when resting against her skin, then surprised her by producing purple beams of light. Evelynn jerked her arms away, but no matter where she moved them, the beams still crossed in the same spot, forming a sphere two feet in front of her face. When it reached about the size of a small watermelon, they stopped emitting light and the sphere faded, leaving a bright-eyed but bedraggled little creature behind. It was violet in color, with a tiny body and a bulbous head. Its eyes were black, but with gray sclera, and it had a tiny black beak. On its back was an explosion of feathers, some fluffy, some a single string, that curled back to a point that almost touched its back. It self-consciously brushed it down, revealing they were actually two feathered tails that wilted to either side when it noticed Evelynn staring at it. It swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing.

“W-who are you?” it said with a slightly nasally voice. “I-identity yourself!

It was such a simple question, but it opened the world to Evelynn in an untold way. Her synapses fired like a Gatling gun, sparklers before her eyes, filling her brain with knowledge. The past, present, and future converged upon her and she was swept away in a story with no beginning and no end. Kwami. Miraculous. Guardian. The words echoed and filtered down, took on a life of their own, died and were reborn. Reality tied itself into a knot and then slipped through, the same yet forever altered by the experience. And Evelynn stood in the eye of this storm, suddenly knowing impossible things because, in this moment, the world had conspired to make her its protector.

Floating before her was Ceeree the Swan Kwami, one of seven Kwami created at Omega Labs. He was made second, behind Mimmi and Wrekk, who were created at the same time, but he liked to act like he was the oldest. He was extremely Type A, highly-organized and motivated. Sometimes, he got a little overzealous with his helping. He was willing to do anything for others, good or bad, in hopes of getting them to like him. He gave his wielder the power of transmission, and the unique ability to read people’s intentions.

“I’m the Guardian, Ceeree,” Evelynn said, knowing somewhere in the back of her mind that she should be surprised by this information, yet couldn’t bring herself to question what was true. “Your Guardian.”

Ceeree gasped. He darted over and grabbed her cheek, shaking it as if it were a hand. “Of course!” he said, realization dawning on him. “Thank you, Gaurdian! Thank you for rescuing me from that…that villain!”

“Villain?” Evelynn asked through the cheek pulling.

“Yes!” Ceeree let her go and floated a little ways off, his back to her. “Dr. Cadel gave my Miraculous to him.” Evelynn took in a sharp intake of breath, realizing who the villain was, but the Kwami did not notice. “I read his intentions and they are evil. He plans to steal all of us and abuse our powers!”

“No…” she whispered, struggling to comprehend why her grandfather would do something like that, but Ceeree took it differently.

“I don’t want it to happen either! Please, let’s go to Omega Labs and rescue the other Kwami.”

“Omega…? Oh…oh, no…” Evelynn felt an emptiness bleed into the pit of her stomach. Ceeree spun around and squinted at her as if trying to decipher a code. Evelynn almost didn’t have the heart to tell him. “There was an accident at the labs.”

She watched the Swan Kwami molt a few feather, though it didn’t look like there were any less than before. “What kind of accident!? Are the others okay?”

Evelynn looked down, embarrassed about not having any answers, but then her eye caught her cufflink. She stared at it, and then at the other. They were both glowing brightly. Despite not knowing why, she actually did. They had deemed the intentions she was currently reading as pure. But she wasn’t reading anyone’s intentions.

No…wait…

It dawned on Evelynn that the cufflinks were picking up on her. Her intentions were pure. So pure, in fact, that she knew herself to be a suitable Chosen One for Ceeree. Maybe not the one she would’ve picked, but there were no other options at the moment. She put her arms out to her sides like a T.

“Let’s go find out,” she said. “Ceeree, spread my wings!”

The Kwami all but dove at Evelynn’s right cufflink, his light changing them so they were in line with Evelynn’s vision. The process spiraled out from there as Evelynn crossed her arms and curled up into a ball in midair, feathers of light growing all over her body, encasing her in a cocoon. As soon as she was completely covered, she burst free in a shower of feathers, transformed.

Evelynn now sported an ornate lilac gown with slightly puffed sleeves and a sweetheart neckline, the bodice bejeweled and embroidered with wing-like patterns. The full-bodied skirt split in the middle and swept back, allowing for mobility. Underneath, Evelynn wore lavender leggings and knee-high riding boots that matched her dress. Cascading down her back was a cape of violet feathers. It was attached to her white gloves and had a slit up the back—wings. The cufflinks were still in place, but the cuffs were attached to white gloves instead of a shirt. Glancing into the mirrored back of her grandfather’s curio cabinet, Evelynn also saw she wore a feathered masquerade mask in varying shades of purple, decorated with glitter, sequins, gems and pearls. Her hair was braided into a crown, a circlet of white gold inset with a single large amethyst sitting atop it.

But Evelynn wasn’t finished yet. She held her arm out in front of her and the feathers of light that fluttered about the room began to concentrate in her hand. She grabbed the scepter they created before it could fall. It matched the cufflinks, an ornate white gold with a facsimile of a crown on top, encrusted with amethysts and diamonds. Wings came off either side like a caduceus. She stood on one leg with her scepter pointed towards the ceiling to end her completed transformation with a heroic pose.

First things first, Evelynn had to cover up her theft of the Swan Miraculous. She shut the safe and then bashed it with her scepter a few times until it forcibly opened. Now it looked like someone had broken in with a sledgehammer. She then dumped out a wastepaper basket and filled it with the safe’s contents. She counted the money as it passed through her hands. There was about $100,000 in hundred dollar bills, or, as her grandfather would jokingly call it, pocket change. After a bit of thought, she left her grandma’s jewelry. A professional thief would know they would be too difficult to fence without getting caught.

She examined the suspected bug one more time too, this time getting a read on it. Much to her relief, she found that it had been planted with good intentions. Satisfied, she put it back in the velvet jewelry box for safekeeping and adding it to the wastepaper basket. She would have to deal with that mystery later. Right now, the Kwami were in danger.

The next stop was the surveillance room, where she deleted everything off the DVR. It was better to be safe than sorry.

“Fold my wings,” she said, Ceeree getting spit out by the left cufflink. She swiped him from the air before he could fully recover and shoved him into the wastepaper basket. “Hide.”

He nodded, working on smoothing his tails feathers again to make himself as small as possible.

Evelynn strolled out of the house to her car with the waste paper basket weighing down her arms, feeling as if all the world had slipped off its axis. She hastily shoved everything into her trunk and drove off, her and Ed exchanging waves as she passed. She refused to meet his eye though, hot guilt flooding her veins.

He was going to get fired when her grandfather got home.

*   *   *

Though Evelynn was familiar with Omega Labs, she had only visited the facility once, when she was sixteen and trying to log some driving hours. Almost all of her classmates had gotten their driver’s license by that point, but her grandfather actively prevented her from following suit. He kept telling her it was dangerous and she’d always have Jesús to drive her wherever she wanted to go. Then Jesús ended up in the hospital with a hernia. While he recovered, Evelynn was able to convince her grandfather to let her take his place.

She had no idea where they were going at the time as her grandfather directed her to get off I-5 and head towards Pomona. They eventually ended up driving through Carbon Canyon to the San Bernardino county line, and then along a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire until they came across a gate. Her grandfather used a remote to open it.

Once the gate was out of sight, a stately sign welcomed them to Omega Labs, the ‘O’ complete with little feet so it resembled the Greek letter. It stood outside of a checkpoint. Her grandfather handed her a visitor's pass to give to the guard—he liked to remain incognito when visiting his properties. After a thorough examination of the pass and a call to Rodney, the glaring guard allowed her to pass. Only then did Evelynn see a five-story horseshoe-shaped building, all concrete but with glass ends, butting up against a redwood forest.

Evelynn walked through that forest now, the loamy dirt muffling her footsteps as she crept forward. The moon was a waxing crescent and the light pollution from Los Angeles waned a little this far out, giving her just enough darkness to fly in and land unseen. In the distance she heard the chopping of helicopter blades, the distant yells. Wisps of acidic smoke drifted between the trees in shades of black and burnt sienna. Evelynn found herself thankful for the night and her new Miraculous. Otherwise, the sense of déjà vu would’ve paralyzed her.

A cough tickled Evelynn’s throat as she approached the labs, so she held her feathered cape to her nose and mouth. It magically filtered the air so she could breathe normally. Through the trees, she could just make out the beams of the helicopters’ searchlights as they illuminated mounds of debris and twisted metal. The sight made her heart speed up and she began to run.

The forest ended abruptly and mass destruction met Evelynn’s eyes. Some of Omega Labs still stood, but it was a sagging, empty shell. The rest of it had collapsed into a crater, a pit of smoldering wreckage. At first glance, everything in the vicinity appeared to be covered in a light dusting of snow, but, on closer inspection, Evelynn realized it was a thin film of fire retardant chemicals dropped by the helicopters to extinguish the blaze.

Despite the horrifying annihilation though, Evelynn sensed nothing.

The relief washed over her. She would know if the Kwami were dead or nearby, so they must’ve escaped, either on their own or with the help of someone else. She instantly thought about the bug she had found, but then she felt a little niggle in her mind, like an itch she could not scratch. She concentrated on it before recognizing it for what it was.

“Wrekk…” she whispered, her breath all but getting sucked out of her. She could feel him, prim and proper and polite. And in pain.

Evelynn took a step towards the pit, but noticed her cufflinks glowing again. That was odd. She was alone and not focusing on anyone’s intentions. But then she heard someone coming, and fast. Without much time to think, she concealed herself behind a tree, catching a brief glimpse of a tan jacket marked with neon yellow stripes. A fireman was rushing passed.

“Rodriguez!” came a distant shout. The firefighter stopped just on the other side of Evelynn’s tree, but there were heavy footsteps—someone was jogging with boots on. Another fireman caught up to the first. “What are…you doing? The general said…to hold position,” he wheezed.

“I’m telling you, I saw something move!” insisted Rodriguez.

“You heard the general—all the civilians were evacuated in time. It’s probably just some lab rat.”

“Then it’s a lab rat I’m going to save.”

“Manny…”

Gloves came off, a jacket unzipped a little. There was a jingle of something metal.

“Why do we wear these, Forsythe?”

“I don’t—”

“Why do we wear them?” Silence. Manny Rodriguez continued. “I joined the army to protect others. And if I think for one second there might be someone or even something down there, I’m going to risk disobeying orders and personal injury to help because that is who I am. That is what I do.”

Evelynn peered around the redwood to see Rodriguez suit back up, purposely leaving his dog tags out as if to make a point to his friend. He then flipped his face shield down, fit his breathing apparatus into his mouth, and gently slid into the pit. Forsythe watched him go, rubbing his face.

“Christ…” he whispered.

Evelynn looked up her tree and jumped, flying straight up to land on a high bough for a better view. Down below was a dizzying disarray of chunks of cement and rebar and shattered sparkling glass and blackened bits of who knew what. Rodriguez looked the part of an ant toiling away as he began to dig through the rubble, right where Evelynn knew Wrekk to be. She saw him stop, then wave at his friend, then gently cup his hands around something small and black.

“You there! 12M!”

Evelynn turned to see a line of soldiers, dressed in fatigues and armed with submachine guns, snake their way along the crater’s edge in the direction of Forsythe. Forsythe put his hands up and backed away.

“What are you doing out here? Why did you leave your post?” demanded the solider leading the pack.

Evelynn never heard Forsythe’s answer. Instead, everything went black as she was forcefully plunged into another vision. She hadn’t been expecting one, but she wasn’t shocked by what she saw. A pair of dog tags floating before her. The explosion left Wrekk severely weakened. He must have bonded with Rodriguez’s identification tags to recover.

The dog tags were made from a simple aluminum alloy, oval in shape and imprinted with block letters and numbers:

RODRIGUEZ MANUEL S
545-30-6184
B POSITIVE
CATHOLIC

Black energy rimmed with a noxious purple bubbled up and around them, replacing the chain with a purple collar, and the two tags turning into one. The current debossing changed to paw prints, five a piece. A sound like a typewriter key resonated and it lost paw print. It happened four more times until the tag was smooth and blank. It then reverted back to normal. The exact date and time was Saturday, March 31, 2001, 11:12:41 PM PDT.

Coming out the vision as abruptly as she went in, Evelynn felt a tad woozy. She tried to brace herself against the trunk of her tree, but was suddenly blinded by a helicopter searchlight and missed. She fell, breaking branches on the way down before smacking into the ground. Groaning, she tried to get up only to find Forsythe’s dark face looming over her.

“What the f—!?”

But before he could even get the word out, the soldiers who had found him surrounded them, cocked their guns, and training them on Evelynn.

“Get out of here!” the leader of the soldiers barked at Forsythe. The fireman didn’t need to be told twice. After giving Evelynn a wild-eyed glance, he put a hand to his helmet and hurried away.

Evelynn had never found herself looking down the barrel of a gun before, much less eight of them, but she knew two things. The first was that she reflected bullets. The second was that she reflected bullets. Someone could easily get hit. So she rolled her scepter away and put her arms in the air. The squad swarmed, one sweeping up her weapon and two others roughly grabbing her arms and forcing them behind her back, escorting her away.

*   *   *

General Taggart’s intentions were dark and muddled. Not evil, per se, but not trustworthy by any stretch of the imagination. He had seen too much, been made too hard by his life as a career military man. Evelynn knew she would have to tread carefully. She sat, handcuffed to a chair in a hastily erected tent. It would be easy enough for her to break free and escape, but she wanted answers. Also, it wouldn’t be very polite.

The General sat across from her, examining her with a critical gaze. He chewed on his toothpick in silence before his fingers sneaked up under his beret to scratch his bald head, some skin flakes falling on to the shoulder of his uniform. “I’m only going to ask this once,” he said, leaning forward into the yellow light of the camp lantern. “What did you do with the rest of Project Lionheart?”

“Not a thing,” said Evelynn. She tilted her head at the sound of her voice. She had affected some sort of slightly British accent. A royal accent, as it were.

Taggart slammed a big meaty hand down on the table, causing the lantern to jump. “Don’t play games with me, woman! We know you destroyed Omega Labs.”

“Me!? Oh, I would never!”

He ignored her. “Now, the real question is, did you destroy the rest of Project Lionheart or was the explosion to cover up your theft?”

“If I committed either of those atrocities, do you think I would still be here an hour after the fact, waiting to be captured?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you forgot something.”

“I swear to you, I only just arrived.”

“Really? Amazing how you have the Swan Miraculous, then.”

Evelynn frowned at this information. So Rodney had removed the Swan Miraculous from Omega Labs without anyone’s knowledge, not that she was shocked. Still, it was no wonder Evelynn looked suspicious.

“It honestly doesn’t matter to me how you got it,” Taggart decided when Evelynn didn’t say anything. “That Swan Miraculous is property of the United States government. Hand it over immediately.”

“I assure you, it is safer with me,” she said.

Movement outside the tent distracted them both and one of Taggart’s men whipped open the flap. The general refused to look at him, choosing instead to have his beady eyes bore into Evelynn’s skull, but that changed when the soldier leaned down and whispered something into his commanding officer’s ear. Taggart blinked rapidly as he stood. His height was a little below average, so not entirely imposing.

“I’ll be back,” he warned.

Evelynn didn’t have to wait long, nor did she have to guess about what was going on despite all the secrecy. She let Taggart know as much when he returned.

“So one Kwami has been recovered, and turned Manuel Rodriguez’s dog tags into a Miraculous, hmm?” she asked.

Taggart paused before taking his seat again. “Heightened hearing,” he said, more to himself than to her.

“Oh, not with the Swan Miraculous,” said Evelynn pleasantly. “But I digress. I actually think Manuel is the perfect choice to wield the Dog Miraculous.”

“What, you think we’re going to let an ordinary 12M use that thing?”

“12M…” One of Taggart’s men had called Forsythe that designation too. “Is that, perchance, a firefighter?”

“A military firefighter, part of United States Army Corps of Engineers. Someone like that isn’t going to be given the Dog Miraculous. It’s a weapon. It belongs in the hands of a highly-trained black ops specialist, not the random recruit who found it.”

Evelynn’s calm and collected manner cracked a little at this news. She ruffled the feathers on her cape. “I am most confused. You will not find a better Chosen One than Manuel.”

Taggart guffawed. “Chosen One? What a load of bullsh—”

“But I have read his intentions, and they are pure! He is a good man.”

“All the more reason to give it to someone else. A good man is a soft one. They aren’t going to make the hard choices needed out there on the battlefield.”

It wasn’t a vision per say, but Evelynn still saw it—the Dog Miraculous going to someone like Taggart, someone with pitiless eyes who followed orders rather than did what was right because that was what they were conditioned to do. They would do great things, great and terrible things, maybe even to benefit the greater good, but what of the cost of a single soul? If she allowed the Dog Miraculous to fall into the hands of someone like that, then she wasn’t worthy of the mantle of Guardian. It was bad enough that the other Kwami were missing, but she refused to fail Wrekk in this way. Manuel had to keep him at all costs.

“Do you know what powers the Swan Miraculous bestows, General?” Evelynn asked.

“Transmission, the dossier said.”

“Precisely. It is the movement of powers from its place of generation—me—to a location where it can be applied to perform useful work.” Evelynn gave her shoulders a little shake, a feather coming loose from her cape. It floated up and around, sort of hovering in front of her face. She pursed her lips and blew on it, turning it to hardened light. “Time for you to do something useful, General.”

Taggart didn’t seem impressed and predictably tried to swat the feather away, but it flitted around his hand and was absorbed into his toothpick. His body went slack and Evelynn established her connection, a neon purple outline of two wings appearing in front of both their faces. She saw what he saw: Herself, calm and powerful. It gave her strength to do what needed to be done.

“I have read your intentions and I know you are a military man who likes to get the job done, yet things keep getting in your way,” she said, voice like honey. She hated it. “How frustrating that must be! If you become my knight, you will blow everything away that keeps you from reaching your target and getting a bullseye. What do you say?”

There was no hesitation in his voice. “Ready, aim, fire, your royal highness.”

It was shocking to Evelynn just how easily the Swan Miraculous could be used for evil. All she had to do was knowingly gift powers to the wrong person. She had no intentions of allowing the General to use his superpowers though. She just needed to gain a little bit of control.

In a whirlwind of white feather, Taggart was transformed into General Target. His skin was now a green camo and his black fatigues had been transformed into green military dress. All his medals were of different kinds of targets—dart, archery, clay pigeons, human silhouettes. He kept his beret, but it was now bright red with white concentric bands. His toothpick was now a dart, which he took out of his mouth and stuck in his cap.

Before the General could make another move though, Evelynn took over. She had one motivator in her arsenal if her superheroes starting to stray from her commands or go off the rails and it was this: doing good felt good. It was more powerful than even pain. Whatever horrors the General had seen in service to his nation, whatever bitterness he harbored, whatever darkness he used to protect himself, Evelynn drowned it all out and replaced it with simple pleasure. General Target eyes slid out of focus and he smiled blissfully.

And then Evelynn let go.

Panic set it rather quickly as he scrambled over to her and knelt by her side. “Where’d it go?” he wondered, like a terrified child. “Bring it back! Please! I’ll do anything! Here.” He unlocked her handcuffs.

“You know what you have to do,” she told him, gentle and sad as she stood up and curtsied. The feather she had just bestowed tumbled out of the dart as if it had been shook loose by a gust of wind, and General Target began to glow white. When it faded, he was back normal.

Taggart stumbled back a few steps. He didn’t remember anything, Evelynn knew, but a psyche was a powerful thing. She silently bemoaned the fact that such a tactic would not work on everyone. True evil could not be redeemed. For someone like Taggart though, who once possessed pure intentions a long time ago, it was like restarting the core of his being.

“General?” she prompted.

He turned to her as if seeing her for the first time. His eyes traveled down to the chair Evelynn had previously been handcuffed to. “How did you…?” he said, breathless. Only then did Evelynn notice the wedding band he wore. She thought about Ben and Lucy and smiled. Maybe Taggart had a daughter too.

“Thank you for releasing me,” said Evelynn.

Taggart nodded, still a little fuzzy. “What were we talking about?”

“The Dog Miraculous.”

“That’s right…you want Rodriguez to keep it.”

“Because he’s a good man with good intentions.”

The General turned the thought over in his head before nodding, much to Evelynn’s relief. She honestly wasn't sure her little ploy was going to work. “I’ll see to it that he does. You know, he just put in to be an EOD Specialist—bomb disposal. I think that’s a good use for the Dog Kwami’s power of destruction.”

“I agree,” said Evelynn with a smile. Two Kwami down, five more to go. This Guardian business is easy, she thought as she sat back down. “Now, can you tell me what happened here? What caused this explosion?”

The General launched into a story about receiving a call from Omega Labs’ Head of Security concerning a hydrogen containment breach, as well as all the computers going down. Even though security staff were kept in the dark about the nature of the work being done at the labs, the Head of Security rightly suspected foul play. After calling for an evacuation of all personnel, he called Taggart. An explosion was imminent by that point, so Taggart mobilized a team to clean up the aftermath and headed out.

“So it was an inside job?” gathered Evelynn.

“It seemed like it was at first, but doors were being accessed right up until the explosion. Someone was in there, but no body has been found and all employees have been accounted for. That’s why I suspected you. Er…no offense.”

“None taken, General.”

Wheels started to turn in Evelynn’s head. A Miraculous wielder such as herself would be able to survive an explosion, and a watch had been turned into a Miraculous…

“May I have my scepter?” she wondered.

“Hold on.”

Taggert marched out of the tent and soon Evelynn heard the rumblings of a hushed argument. She wished she really did have enhanced hearing because she’d be interested to know what was being said. All she caught was the tail end.

“But sir!”

“I don’t want to have to repeat myself, soldier!” said the General. He appeared not long after and handed Evelynn back her scepter.

“Your phone,” Evelynn told him. “I must be going, but allow me to leave a way for you to contact me.” She stood, twirling her scepter around her fingers as Taggart did as she instructed, producing a little Nokia. She tapped it with the crown of her scepter and there was a flash of light. Curious, Taggart looked at the screen.

“Swan…Princess…?” he read.

It was her goddaughter Lucy’s favorite movie at the moment, and it only made sense with the crown and the dress and the proper words. Evelynn lowered into another curtsy. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“There’s no number.”

Evelynn pushed down the wings on her scepter. The top popped up, revealing a screen and some arrow keys. “Because this is not a phone. But I shall receive your call anyway.” She pushed her scepter closed with a snap and the wings popped back into place. “Please keep me updated on Manuel. I would very much like to meet him when he is ready.”

“Understood.”

Evelynn started to head for the back of the tent. Taggart didn’t stop her, but he did turn as she passed him. “Where are you going?”

“The other Kwami are out there, somewhere. I must find them and keep them from harm.”

She lifted the tent flap and looked to the sky, the stars faint and blurry. They reminded her of the lonely night she spent at child services, dreading the morning because she didn’t know what was going to happen to her. As far as she knew, she no longer had any family. Then a limo appeared shortly before dawn, packed with lawyers and an older man with thinning hair and watery, tired eyes. He was frantic. She watched him from the window as he banged on the front door. When he was finally admitted, he made a beeline straight for Evelynn and then stopped. Shaking, he kneeled before her and held her cheek, apologizing over and over again before enveloping her in a hug. She cried into his leather jacket because, even though she didn’t know who he was, she knew he had come to rescue her.

When Evelynn thought of her grandfather, she used to think of that moment. Now, she could only think of Ceeree calling him a villain.

“General?” she asked, a little tremor in her voice.

“Yes?”

“Do not trust anyone associated with Omega Labs, especially Rodney Cadel,” she said. The lump in her throat grew. She knew who else couldn’t be trusted, but she couldn’t bring herself to say his name.

So she didn’t. She ended her sentence there and flew away, never looking back.

*   *   *

At half-past midnight in the deserted parking lot of the Irvine Walmart, Evelynn found herself having a panic attack in her car. Her heart pounded, her body shook, and her face was damp with sweat. She couldn’t breathe, even though all the windows were rolled down and the air outside was cool and dry. Ceeree flitted around her, offering unsolicited advice.

“Close your eyes and breathe. Have you tried picturing your happy place? Maybe try some muscles exercises!”

Evelynn ignored him as she wrenched open her glove compartment. Meineke receipts spilled out, littering the passenger seat as she dug through them. She finally came up with a small bottle of Xanax she swore she would never use. She dumped two pills into her hand and shoved them in her mouth, washing them down with a sip of warm water. Gripping the edges of her seat, she waited for them to take effect. It was like that time in middle school when her friends convinced her to ride the Gravitron at the fair when she really didn’t feel like it. She spent the whole time wishing it were over.

“Don’t just sit here. You should get out and walk—”

“Ceeree!” Evelynn hissed. “Not. Now.”

The Kwami wilted and began to float sideways. “I’m only trying to help, Guardian,” he said meekly, but said nothing more.

Twenty minutes passed and the panic ebbed away, but it was still ten minutes more before Evelynn felt well enough to hold a conversation.

“Sorry about that,” she said, waving her hand as if she had simply sneezed instead of freaked out for a half hour. “Now what were you trying to say before?”

“How come you warned the General about Dr. Cadel, but not about that other man?”

Evelynn knew the panic would’ve returned if not for the Xanax. She felt the edges of it brush her conscience as she mentally prepared for what she knew she had to say next.

“Because that other man…is my grandfather.”

Ceeree molted again. “What.”

“You have to understand, Ceeree,” said Evelynn quickly. “He raised me after my parents died. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I wish I could tell you why he is doing this, but I can’t. So I think the best thing I can do, for now, is to track down the rest of the Kwami and keep them out of his hands.”

“Right. We should find Dr. Blaylock, then. She can help us.” Evelynn gave the Kwami a hard look that caused him to laugh nervously. “Have…have I not mentioned Dr. Blaylock…?”

Evelynn shook her head “Who’s she?”

“Only the best scientist working on Project Lionheart! Graduated from Mills College at the top of her class. Earned a PhD in Molecular Biology from Vanderbilt University, also at the top of her class. Carried out her postdoctoral studies with the one and only Professor Alfred Sturtevant at the California Institute of Technology. She technically wrote the textbook on cloning, but her manuscript got stolen. And it was through her tireless efforts that Caltech started admitting female undergraduates in 1970—though they always give credit to Ray Owen. She’s been up for the NAS Award in Molecular Biology, the Marjory Stephenson Prize, and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize. She didn’t win them because of politics, of course, but—”

“Ceeree!”

“Ah! Right! She can’t hold a candle to you, wise Guardian.”

“That’s not…” Evelynn felt like banging her head against her steering wheel. Of all the Kwami she could’ve gotten, it had to be the bootlicker. “So Dr. Blaylock made you,” she surmised.

“Actually, Dr. Marczak says he did, but I have my doubts.” Ceeree floated down and patted one of Evelynn’s cufflinks. “Dr. Blaylock did help me bond with my Miraculous earlier today though—er, I mean yesterday. Saturday. We had to do it in secret, when no one else from the team was around.”

“Why?”

“She wanted to bring a personal effect into the lab for me to bond with, but she couldn’t get approval for it, so she ended up smuggling one in.”

“The cufflinks.”

“Right! Project Lionheart was going to be shut down and she was going to lose her job if she couldn’t create a Miraculous, so she was willing to take the risk. And it worked! As soon as I bonded with the cufflinks though, I was kind of trapped in them because I didn’t have a human host. Dr. Blaylock gave me to Dr. Cadel, who gave me to that—er…to your grandfather.”

“Hmmm…”

Evelynn’s thoughts raced back to the listening device she had found. No one else had the opportunity to bug the cufflinks except Dr. Blaylock. And if Dr. Blaylock heard her grandfather and Rodney talking, what would she think? What would she do? Would she take the Kwami, crash the computers, and blow up Omega Labs? Maybe she even had another Kwami bond with a Miraculous for her to use since she knew the trick.

“Did Dr. Blaylock wear a watch?” Evelynn asked.

“Personal effects weren’t allowed in the lab.”

“Oh.” Still… “I’d like to talk to Dr. Blaylock. Where is she?”

“Uh…” Ceeree scratched his head. “I don’t know.”

Any energy Evelynn still had fled in that instant and she collapsed back into her seat with a groan of frustration. She just wanted to sleep. Maybe she would wake up to find this Guardian business had been all a dream. She’d never complain about expensive birthday gifts ever again.

Ceeree honked and zipped over. “Guardian! Just because I don’t know where Dr. Blaylock is, doesn’t mean we can’t find her! You are the wielder of the Swan Miraculous now. You are great and good and powerful. If you need help, all you have to do is ask someone to help you.”

Evelynn contemplated the Kwami’s words, gaining strength from them. How could she have forgotten? She wasn’t alone in this, and she never would be. A tentative smile graced her lips, and Ceeree beamed, radiating joy.

Their little moment was ruined though when Evelynn’s phone rang. She pulled it from her purse and flipped it open, seeing a private number lit up red on the tiny screen.

“It’s my grandfather,” she said, voice dead. Ceeree’s eyes widen and he looked from her to the phone and then back again. There was really no point in putting it off, so Evelynn took a deep breath, hit the pick-up button, and held her Samsung to her ear.

She tried to be casual. “Hi, Grandpa! You’re calling pretty la—“

“Where are you?” he demanded, voice rough.

Evelynn paused, not sure on how to proceed. “I’m…back at school,” she lied. “Why?”

“You didn’t call me like you usually do, and your computer’s still here. I was so worried.”

Shoot. Her computer! “I forgot—Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

Evelynn waited as her grandfather contemplated what to tell her. “There was a break-in at the house.”

It was easier than Evelynn thought it would be to pretend to be shocked. It was almost as if her theft was committed by someone else.

“Oh my God, Grandpa! Are you okay? Was anything taken?”

“...the cash in the safe. I’m just glad it didn’t happen when you were in the house.”

“You’re not having a very good night, are you?”

“No.” His heavy sigh spoke volumes. “I’m not.”

“The lab accident…”

“Don’t worry, my dear. No one was hurt.”

“That’s a relief.”

Her grandfather was silent.

“Do you want me to come home…?” Evelynn tried. “I need to get my computer anyway, so—”

“That’s sweet of you to suggest, but no. I’ll send your computer to you first thing tomorrow. You get some sleep. Early to bed and early to rise will keep you healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

“It’s one in the morning.”

“Good night, Evelynn.”

“Good night, Grandpa.” She paused, locking eyes with Ceeree as he hovered in front of her face. The poor thing looked so terrified, but then she saw herself mirrored in his eyes. He was only reacting to what he saw on her own face. “I love you,” she somehow managed to say, then hung up before her grandfather could repeat it back. She was afraid that, if she heard it, she would break.

Evelynn’s grandfather, the one who had taken her in at the age of ten, who made sure she never wanted for anything, who loved her more than his own life, was evil. But it made sense, in some bizarre way. There had to be some reason why her dad changed his last name and told her that his parents were dead. When she asked her grandfather when she was a child what happened between them though, he made it all seem so normal.

“He used to work for me, but we had a disagreement and he left.”

“What was the fight about?”

He had been reading her Redwall in her new room to help her get to sleep. Everything was powder blue or silver or white. It was like living in the sky.

Her grandfather put the book down and lowered his reading glasses.

“To be successful in business, you have to take risks. Your father didn’t like the risks I was taking. Thought they would destroy everything we worked so hard to build, weren’t ethically sound. He tried to stop it. I reacted…poorly. So he left. Took your mom with him. I never saw either of them again. Didn’t even know they had you.” He looked down at his lap, his speech barely audible. “Not a day goes by that I wish I had listened to him, because then he’d still be here.”

Evelynn’s vision blurred and she realized she was crying. Ceeree honked again and flew forward to wipe away her tears with his tails. He went from one side of her face to the other, back and forth, but the tears kept on coming, a never-ending surge. He realized it was hopeless and eventually gave up.

“Why is he doing this, Ceeree?” she asked, begged.

“I don’t know, Guardian.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. We can’t choose our family.”

“But I love him! How am I supposed to stop him?”

“It’s like you said…we find my friends first, then we keep them away from him.”

It was strange to hear her own plan echoed back to her. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes ago, but her call with her grandfather had shaken her to her core. From now until the foreseeable future, any time she spent with him would be tainted with his intentions and her lies. It would be like a game of cat and mouse that the cat didn’t even know it was playing. It wouldn’t be easy, but she guessed she would just have to get used to it.

Evelynn fumbled through her purse and found her car keys. She buckled up as she forced her car to sputter to life, wiping the last of her tears on the sleeve of her dress shirt, her cufflinks knocking against her chin.

“Where are we going?” wondered Ceeree. Evelynn watched in disbelief and then amusement as the Kwami flew over and buckled himself in as well. He settled into the passenger seat, ready for the long haul. If he so much as touched the radio dial though, he was riding in the trunk. She knew he liked classical. Too bad, she wanted to hear Gorillaz.

“I’ve gotta get back to college,” she explained as she checked her blind spots before backing out. She knew there were no other cars in the lot, but those errant shopping carts had a mind of their own.

“What about finding Dr. Blaylock?”

“We’ll find her. I just need to come up with someone who can help us find her first.” In her head, she was already running down a list of friends. The problem was, many people weren’t getting back to school until that afternoon, so that didn’t leave her with very many options. Good ones, anyway.

Maybe the drive would help her think.