Hey, honey. I see you’ve been trying to get a-hold of me. Your dad says you’re calling him as well. We’re both very busy at the moment. You should know that. We love you. You know that, too.
How long are you planning on keeping up this charade? I still mean what I said. We’re not interested in speaking with you unless you’re willing to come home. Can’t you see how worried you’ve made everyone? And money is right out of the question. I don’t know where in the world you are, but all you’ll get out of us is a ticket back to the city.
Oh, of course I would love to talk. I don’t mean to be so harsh, but we think it’s the only thing that will work. I’m sorry about what happened. I’m sorry about everything.
Nobody sees you in this way that you think they do. You have to know that. You’re not some supervillain roaming the streets. Come home, okay? Give me a call back, and tell me you’re on your way.
Henry hadn’t noticed how displaced he’d become, until he wanted to reconnect. He never realized how far he’d traveled from the rhythm of a normal life. The only thing he wanted to talk about was Tortus Bay. The only thing he wanted to do was make someone believe him. But nobody wanted to talk to the crazy, disheveled man on the street.
He wasn’t running away. To run away, he would have needed to intend to stay in the first place. To intend to stay, he would have needed to find something new. There wasn’t anything new there. Not really—not anything more than a fancy veneer on the same problems he’d been trying to escape. Every place in the world had a Howard. Not nearly enough Howards had a broken nose.
No regret there. Of everything he’d ever done, he was crystal clear on that point: He should have punched the man the moment he met him, instead of subjecting himself to the extended misery of his company. If that punch became his legacy in the village, then so be it. Hell, if that became the legacy of his life, so be it. And maybe by default it would be. There wasn’t much opportunity for notable deeds, in the confines of a hotel.
He sat inside, and looked out of the window. Passersby didn’t pay him any mind. They all looked like normal people, walking back and forth to work. Around noon they started carrying sandwiches, and chatting happily. In the evening the teenagers came out, milling on the corner or shouting out of their cars.
He sat inside, and scrolled through the endless reams of his contact history—imagining the conversations he might have if he reached out. Imagining the lives those people might now be living. Certainly they would all be living a life. None of them would be caught in a limbo, laying in a temporary bed on temporary sheets thinking temporary thoughts.
That’s what his life had felt like, since that day at Frida Middle School. Temporary.
Henry had never been afraid of danger. He had, in fact, always displayed an unnerving tendency to saunter head-first into the midst of it. There was nothing brave about it. The habit was stupid, if anything. There’s nothing heroic about walking into a busy intersection because you feel the need to get to work on time.
There was nothing heroic about wandering onto the scene of a school shooting.
He watched basic cable. There were channels upon channels upon channels of loud commercials. Game shows. People shouting at one another. And cooking. A man in a bright apron slapped a giant salmon down on a counter beside a grill, and walked through the steps of cleaning and preparing the fish. He transformed the animal into a slab of mouth-watering meat.
Then he added the spices. Lemon pepper, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, salt. Did anybody watching need to know those proportions? How many people watching a cooking show in the middle of the day on a workweek would attempt to emulate the recipe for themselves? Perhaps they just enjoyed watching the process of something being improved.
Because they can’t improve the conditions of their own lives? Two tracks of thought converged in Henry’s mind; the one attached to the cooking show, and the one that he had been trying to drown out with said cooking show.
He’d never been particularly scared of anything in his life. He still wasn’t scared of the things he should be: guns; schools; loud noises; and the crushing weight of the cruelty of mankind. That was what he told the therapists, and that was the truth. They told him he was deflecting, and that was also probably the truth.
What scared him was the thought that the entire world was painted with the same shitty brush—with the same little people and the same little problems—and that nothing and nobody was capable of rising above it.
There was nothing left to improve of his old life. Once he’d loved Ray, as a man can only love his first love. Once he’d loved his mother, as a man can only love a parent. But too much had come in the way. It was stagnant, now. Too large for him to hold or handle.
His phone rang. “Hello?”
“Ah, Henry Cauville’s… is that a chin?”
He pulled the phone away from his face to reveal Aria Bethel on his screen. She was standing outside of her office building, leaning against the brick wall. “We’ve traded places,” he said.
“Thought I could use some fresh air. And fewer prying ears. Don’t worry, I promise not to break out into a run.”
“Can’t say the same.”
Her eyes swiveled, right to left. “Where are you?”
“I take it that means this phone call to convince you to come work for me isn’t going to be a success?”
“I don’t know if I’m coming back.”
“You got something good out there in Greenfield?”
She didn’t know about Niles. She didn’t know about Howard. She had seemed to make it a priority not to know anything about anything inconvenient. “Magic is real,” he said.
“Yes, I know.”
“Mathas Bernard has come back from the dead.”
A nod. “I figured something like that was going on.”
Henry laid back on the bed, tossing his phone onto the pillow beside him. Aria could look at the ceiling for a while. “There’s nothing here in Greenfield. I don’t know what to do out here. Start a normal life? I tried that. Twice.”
“It takes plenty of people more than two tries.”
“Tortus Bay is the last place that I felt good. But it wasn’t because it was normal. It was because it felt impossible.”
“I know exactly what you mean. That’s why I could never leave. That’s why I run my tech startup from the actual middle of nowhere. Do you know what it took to bring decent internet out here?”
He was looking up at the ceiling as well. Orange, rapidly shifting light from the TV spilled over the bed. “You stayed, and you changed things.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“If I come back, it won’t be to chase a regular life. It’ll be to make people see the truth.”
She paused. “That Mathas is back.”
“All of it. Everything I know that everyone else refuses to see. Everything that makes the village so unique, but which nobody cares to recognize.” He picked up the phone. Aria was smiling broadly.
“I can help you with that.”
“Pay a visit to my office. The secretary is expecting you anyway. It’s not exactly what I had in mind for your employment, but I’d be glad to see somebody try to do it. Tortus Bay could use a little bit of education.”
It’s Kara again. Wasn’t planning on calling you back so soon, but I wanted to let you know that the exhibit went really well. Everybody loved it. I was rude to Niles. He seemed to get the picture. Surprised he even showed up, honestly. Maybe he was trying to run into you?
How am I always getting mixed up in the lives of the most dramatic boys? And stupid. Listen, I know we haven’t known one another for that long and I don’t know that much about you, but you’ve told me a thing or two. Maybe more than you realize you have. You might not want to hear it, but those people who haven’t contacted you since you left aren’t worth the time.
Your future isn’t in the past. It’s here. So come home, alright? Get back to it.