Here’s another example of my writing not being for anybody but me. My faith is important to me; would you keep it away from children that came into your care? In a case like this, how would it work at all? I contemplated on the idea of Lenn returning to the village to teach the gospel to his fellow Iatili, but I thought he would be too skeptical.
The kids, on the other hand, would have taught by Eliza. With two years of living with her, how could they not? Xande would be just as skeptical, of course, perhaps more so. I still think faith in family is more important than no faith at all.
That night, now that the frightening ice had been broken between everyone, the three kids and I relaxed together in Ian’s room. Instead of cartoons, we watched some fascinating show on the television about vehicles called “sports cars” that raced along on black roads at alarming speeds; the drivers wore helmets, certainly, but if they crashed, I questioned whether they would survive at all.
Charsi and I sat beside each other next to the edge of Ian’s bed as Ian lay on his stomach with his head resting on his arms. Every so often, I would look over at Charsi; she seemed a bit bored of the television show (I could only imagine since she’d had two years of experience watching such boyish things). But she would look at me with a small smile, and every so often share glances with Ian when the Iatvi boy “wowed” at the spectacle on the screen. Juni, on the other hand, once again stretched out over Ian’s shoulder, mirroring Ian’s own position and acting just as mesmerized by the action. When the advertisements for fancy cars, restaurants, and power tools came on, Juni would stand to his feet, wobbling to balance on the bony shoulder, and hold Ian’s hair to remain in place. When Juni did this, Ian gently rocked his head side-to-side, and Juni would make funny noises, telling Ian: “Ve mani! Stay still!” The third time, Ian grabbed Juni around his middle as if to hoist the Iatili boy up and away, but he did this just to make Juni shout. I almost scolded him, but when Ian laughed and let Juni go, Juni’s fear evaporated and he laughed right back.
Just before the show ended, we all heard a knock on the door. The kids froze, but Ian and I waved as Catherine stuck her head into the bedroom. A wide smile appeared on her face.
“Look at you all…” she gasped, placing a hand to her cheek. “You are so adorable together! Is everything okay in here?”
“Yeah, Mom, we’re good,” Ian said.
“That’s because Ian hasn’t gotten into trouble yet,” I replied, shooting a glance at him.
“Aunt Catherine?” Juni asked. I grinned. She was already ‘Aunt Catherine’. “Yoduis kia noordi?”
“Mine too?” Charsi peeped.
“What does that mean?”
“Eh, finished, complete,” I translated. “Are their clothes done?”
“Oh, right. Sorry, kids, I’m not quite that fast. It might take me a few days to make them perfect. Is that all right?”
“Uh-huh,” both kids said.
“Where are we going to set you up to sleep?” she asked us.
“They can sleep in the guest room with me,” I said.
“Or I can make a place for them here in my room,” Ian added. “What do you guys think?”
Juni hummed, and Charsi looked around her with unsure concern.
“It stays pretty warm in here,” I said, patting Ian’s bed. “The guest room gets a bit chilly during the night. But Ian snores, so I’m not sure which one you want.”
“You sure do,” I replied with a grin.
“Angia lai eilir unlo,” Juni said, patting Ian’s neck. He’d taken to the Iatvi boy with incredible confidence. “Vah ehr sulm, Ian?”
“English, Juni,” I said.
“Oh. Um… Is it okay… if I sleep? In here?”
“It’s fine with me,” Ian said, patting the entire upper half of the Iatili boy.
“Can I sleep in the guest room? With Lenn?” Charsi asked.
“Certainly,” Catherine said.
“I don’t snore,” I whispered, leaning over to her and holding my hand over my mouth. “Ehh, much.”
“Nuh-uh! Neh wendia!”
“Neh vah dakasi!”
“Okay, kalkani, no more Iatnasi. Eliza may know what you’re saying, but Ian and Catherine don’t.”
“Okay,” Charsi said, a bit down. “Sorry.”
“Sia, dev.” Juni said. I gave him a look. “Um, y-yes, sorry.”
“Don’t be sad,” Catherine said. “If you teach us, we’ll be able to understand you better. We can help with English if you help us with your language. Okay?”
“Iatnasi,” Ian said to his mother. “It’s called Iatnasi.”
“Iatnasi,” Catherine repeated. “I hope I’ll remember.”
Catherine turned her head to look at someone else behind her, then stepped into the room and took a seat in the chair. Another figure then entered the room, and this made Charsi hide behind me and Juni drop off of Ian’s shoulder to join his sister.
“Hi Dad,” Ian said with a wave.
“Hey,” I said, patting their shoulders to get their attention away from their fear. “This is James, Ian’s father. He’s the doctor who’s been helping me recover.”
“Hello everyone,” James said quietly, kneeling down next to his wife.
“Don’t be afraid,” Ian said, patting Juni’s back with two fingers. “He won’t hurt you.”
“That’s right,” I added, and Charsi looked up at me. “He’s the kindest Iatvi I’ve ever met.”
“Well, serdi, Lenn, ladalia.” James said with a grin. “Did I say it right? ‘I try’?”
“Yup,” I said.
The two kids looked up towards him.
“Hey, you’re learning, too,” Ian said.
“Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of my Iatnasi,” James said. “Perhaps I could pay Lenn to write a language guide. I’m sure I could find a keyboard small enough for him to use.”
“Keyboard? What’s that? For a phone?”
“For typing on a computer,” James said. “Oh, Ian, you’re slacking, all this time and you haven’t shown him the computer yet?”
“I’m going to show him when I write my history paper. I’ve got lots of good info.”
“Sorry, James,” I said, holding Charsi’s hand. “Introductions? This is Charsi, and this is Juni. They’re both great kids.”
Juni and Charsi both gave timid waves.
“Nice to meet you, Juni. And Charsi. I’m sorry I didn’t come say hello earlier, I didn’t want to scare you with everything else going on. Are you settling in? Have Ian and Lenn been treating you okay?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a smile, looking at the two. “How are we doing?”
Charsi’s expression stayed nervous, but she offered a nod as she looked up at me. Juni looked back at Ian.
“I only scared them a little bit,” Ian said. “But we’re friends now.”
“Yeah,” Juni said. “Ian’s fun.”
“I’m only kinda fun today, though,” Ian continued. “I’ve had homework. We only barely got to watch something interesting.”
“And Lenn is nice like Catherine and Eliza,” Charsi said. “Um. And Ian, too.”
“Thanks Sisi,” I said with a grin. She smiled back.
“Well, I wouldn’t expect less from either of them.” James wiped an eye. “I haven’t been very fun today, either. I work too hard.”
“But if you didn’t,” I said. “You wouldn’t have all these wonderful things and be able to raise a family. It’s like I told you and Catherine: I don’t know if there’s any work I could do to repay you for keeping me alive. And Eliza does the same for Charsi and Juni. Your work is important, you care for other people, like you care for me.”
“But work is just work, Lenn,” James told me. “It puts food on the table, but it keeps me away from Catherine and Ian. And family is the most important thing, isn’t it? I have to remind myself of that every day.”
“That’s why we have to find Aria.”
I’ll admit, he surprised me.
“You mean… you really want us to be here? Aria and I, and our child…?”
“Absolutely,” James said. “That is, unless you have other plans. We would never force it upon you.”
“No, we…” I swallowed. “We don’t have any plans… we never had a plan at all. That’s why I feel so guilty-”
“Nuh-uh, Lenn,” Ian said, reaching over Charsi. His thumb pressed against my back, his index finger pressed upon my chest, and he gently shook me back and forth. “No ‘guilty’. I want you to live here. And I want to be an uncle.”
I put on the strangest face I could and looked at the boy, pushing his finger off of me.
“Seriously? That’s what you want? I think you’re stretching the definition of ‘family’ here.”
Ian’s smile grew wide.
“I don’t think so,” he said with sincerity.
“Whatever we would be,” Catherine said. “We want to offer you a place here. Of course, it depends on Aria as well. We’ll find her, and you can make your decision together.”
I told them about my dream. It was a short dream, but something I won’t forget for the rest of my life. I described it as clearly as I could, as if I had been back in the school with you. I described life with you to everyone, from our frustrating arguments to our special moments together. Had you been there (and I wish you had been at that moment), you would have blushed and told them all about my dumb ideas and silly habits that drove you crazy just to even the field. Looking back, I know I was wishing for another miracle. Another Iatvi miracle. None of this mattered at all if I couldn’t find you.
“That settles it,” James said. “I think your plan to start hiking is a good one, at least as a start. And Ian, your idea isn’t too bad… although I don’t think heat vision is something we can afford. What I can do, though, is ask Robert Benson if I can borrow his night-vision binoculars. He’s a friend of mine, and he goes hunting for elk every season.”
I had no clue what tool a Iatvi would use to bring down an animal so large, but I figured I could ask that question later.
“What are night-vision… binok-u-lars? Is that how you say it?” I asked.
“Yep,” James said. “They’re a tool that can help you see far away things as if they were very close, and night-vision makes it possible to use the binoculars even in complete darkness. This may be revealing a lot of information about your people, Lenn, but… does your village keep any lights on during the night?”
I thought about it for a moment.
“Not many. We use candles in our homes, but large fires were off-limits. Any smoke would rise into the air and show any Iatvi for miles where we were. The warriors sometimes used electric lights while they patrolled, but they keep them very dim.”
“Electric lights?” Ian asked. “How?”
“Batteries,” I answered. “Strapped to their backs and wired to a colored bulb. At least, they were colored if the gatherers couldn’t find white. Your holiday… is it… Christ-mas?”
I made a sudden connection.
“You mean… the holiday is about Christ? Jesus?”
“It certainly is,” James said.
“Oh, uh, anyway… “ I said, getting back to the point. “The gatherers would collect electric lights during the summer and store them for use later in the year. If there’s any way your night-vision… bin-ock-u-lars…”
“Binoculars,” Ian said.
“Yeah, your night vision binoculars. If there was any way you could see where the village moved, you should look for those lights near the ground at night.”
James pursed his lips.
“If you had to guess a direction,” he said. “Any direction at all, where would you say your old village is?”
I filled my cheeks with air, and blew it all out with a sigh. I tried to wrap my mind around my week-long journey towards the city, crawling down cliffs, walking through brush, and finally floating down the cold river…
“As I walked and swam, I… I always had the morning sun on my… “
I paused, looking over at Charsi. She watched me patiently, no longer afraid.
“…over my left shoulder. By sundown, it was off to the right. As much as I could, I traveled straight towards town, and even the river aimed right at it… for the most part.”
For a moment, James did mental and geographical gymnastics trying to figure out where I’d come from.
“So… Morning over your left shoulder… Behind it, then to the side?”
I nodded. James rotated himself.
“So you would have been walking… southeast? So, northeast. I imagine the ‘river’ followed a trail?” James asked.
I nodded again.
“Sometimes. I saw quite a few Iatvi cars and trucks, and I did most of my walking at night.”
“Cheyenne Creek?” James said, looking at Catherine. “Ian, you found him near the clinic, right?”
“Pretty close, yeah.”
“This sounds tricky,” Catherine said. “A lot of different streams flow into Cheyenne. If you remember, Lenn, did you live in a very rocky place? Up on the cliffs?”
“Yes,” I said. “The village was up on a pretty high mountain. Water became scarce about a year ago… and, I know this may sound silly, but I may as well mention it… it became a lot easier to breathe as I floated down the river. I only say it because a lot of the gatherers say the same thing.”
“No, that’s good to know,” James said. “So. High altitude, northwest, up on a mountain.”
“And far away from Iatvi trails,” I said.
“Well, it’s the most obvious mountain, then.”
“Mount Rosa,” Catherine said with a nod. “That’s not an easy hike.”
“No it isn’t. Especially if it’s far from established trails.”
“Getting down was the hard part,” I said. “Once I was off the steep angle and next to the… creek? I suppose it’s a river to me… but once I was off the mountain and floating, it became much easier.”
“How long did the ‘getting down’ take you?” James asked me.
“A day and a night… Although, I could be wrong. I was… pretty distracted after… everything.”
“I can only imagine,” Catherine said.
Then the crucial detail came to my mind.
“Oh, oh…” I said. “I do remember something odd. It wasn’t long after I found the river. It was the first time I had to cross a Iatvi trail after the ground became a little flat, and off to my side… my left side… was a tunnel. It wasn’t natural, dug right out of the rock, long enough that I could only see a small light at the other end. I imagined a vehicle driving straight through it, so I hurried as fast as I could further downstream.”
“Excellent,” James said. “Northwest near Mt. Rosa, next to Cheyenne Creek, at least close enough to a tunnel that we might be able to use that as a starting point. That seems pretty specific to me.”
“Fantastic,” Catherine said.
“But… the hard part comes after,” I said, looking down. “Once we find the old village, who’s to say we find which direction they went?”
“You said they were looking for a place with water, far from human roads and trails? Catherine’s right, that might be tricky, considering how popular it is up there for hikers. But it may be as easy as finding the closest water source from where your old village was. Don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. I never heard what Elder Ordi had in mind, but moving the whole village, with men, women, and children… They would have avoided animal trails, or crossed them only at night. If they wanted to, they could be miles away from the village in any direction. But traveling with everyone, carrying everything…”
“They wouldn’t actually go that far away, right?” Ian said. “It would be dangerous with animals, or hard to find food.”
“I just don’t know.”
“Don’t give up hope right away, Lenn,” Catherine said. “We’ll find them. We’ll use as many tools as we can get our hands on. And with Eliza and all of us, we’ll hike up there as often as we can.”
“Oh boy,” James said, grinning and stretching his arms. “Hiking! Hah, I’m not young anymore.”
“Me neither,” Catherine admitted with a laugh.
“But I am!” Ian said. “And Eliza is, too!”
“I am, too!” Juni said.
“And me,” Charsi added.
Catherine and James both smiled.
“If we have to go camping, we go camping,” James said.
“Can you take time off work?” Catherine asked.
“I’ll have to check my schedule. I’d say I’m due for it. Tyler will have to take over for a few days.”
“Or a week,” Catherine said, placing a hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“Or two weeks?” Ian said.
Everyone looked at Juni. He withdrew and turned red.
“Um… sorry,” he whispered.
“It sounded good to me,” Ian laughed, patting Juni’s head.
“Whatever it takes,” James said with a sure nod. “Right, Lenn? Whatever it takes to reunite you and Aria.”
I closed my eyes and shook my head.
“This is… unbelievable. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have help…”
I fell silent.
“It’s what family does,” Ian said. “Right, Dad?”
“You bet, kiddo,” James said, and James held up his hand in the air above us. Ian leaned forwards and slapped his father’s hand in a high five. It made the kids jump, but I looked their way and they didn’t appear fearful. In fact, Juni lifted his own hand, and Ian offered his finger for him to hit.
“We’ll make a plan,” Catherine said. “We might wait until Eliza comes back from her trip, but that will give us time to set everything in order. I’ll call her and let her know what’s going on.”
“Aunt Catherine?” Charsi said. “Um… can I talk to Eliza, too?”
“You sure can,” she said. “Do you want to go right now? See if we can reach her?”
Charsi nodded, and stood up to be raised away.
“We’ll find her, Lenn,” Ian said with a smile. “I know it.”
“Ven noviken devi,” I said, looking at Juni and then up at Ian. “Serditol. You’re all amazing.”
Juni pointed at me.
“No Iatnasi. Only English.”
“Silly kani,” I growled with a grin on my face. I stuck my tongue out at him and all he did was laugh.
Ian’s family weren’t the only ones that had been taught about this ‘gospel’. Apparently, Eliza had been teaching Juni and Charsi about it as well. Much earlier than I would have preferred, Ian knocked on the guest room door and announced to Charsi and I that it was time to have a lesson before the Iatvi went to church. My mind was still fuzzy when I looked at the clock: 7:45 AM. Charsi was also fairly disoriented, but we both obeyed and wandered through the kitchen to Ian’s room.
I crutched over, and expected to see Catherine and James inside. Interestingly, they were not. I asked Ian where they had gone.
“They went to a teacher’s meeting at church,” he said, taking a seat on his bed next to a sleepy, bare-chested, and hair-tangled Juni. Ian himself still wore his flannel bottoms and a sleeveless shirt. “But they wanted me to ask you if you wanted to have a quick lesson before I go at nine. That way, you can go back to sleep, and when I come home, we can eat lunch and play.”
“Or write your paper,” I said.
Ian’s shoulders fell.
“Oh… dang it. I forgot.”
I looked at Charsi, who shivered from the air conditioning in her loose-fitting pajamas.
“I know I’m complaining,” I said to Ian, yawning. “But aren’t you the one who said it’s a bit early to learn anything?”
“This is what Eliza and us do,” she said. “Only… her church is at ten-thirty.”
“Aww, lucky,” Ian said, yawning from my infectious example. “I think we’re changing to noon next year. At least, I hope we’re changing to noon next year.”
“I like church,” Charsi said as we walked towards Ian and Juni. “It’s nice to listen to the Iatvi talk about Heavenly Father.”
I frowned, and Ian frowned with me.
“Wait…You go to church? How?” I asked. “Eliza doesn’t… stuff you in her purse, does she?”
“The green backpack,” Juni said. “It’s comfy… unless it’s really hot. Eliza lets us bring bread and water so we can pretend to take the sacrament.”
“Really?” Ian said, his eyes all lit up. “That’s so cool. But… how do you bring water? You don’t have tiny cups, do you?”
Juni pointed over to Ian’s bedside table.
“Sure,” Ian said, leaning forward and reaching clear over Juni. He picked up the plastic bag in his hand and set it next to the boy, who then crawled inside to grab a grey fabric satchel. Unfastening the front flap from the single blue pearlescent button, he opened and rummaged through it until he produced the smallest glass bottle I’d ever seen. Topped off with a cork, Juni could easily hold it with both hands. He popped the top and took a big gulp of the bottle’s clear liquid.
“Ah. Bodlan?” he said. “Er, I mean… See? Eliza got us these.”
“Can I see?” Ian asked. Juni nodded and handed him the bottle. Unlabeled and clear, Ian held it between his thumb and forefinger. He stirred it around, then tilted it sideways. A large droplet of water fell onto his lap.
“Yulda!” Juni said, standing and pointing at him. “Neh se yode!”
“Oops,” Ian said, making a face. He quickly handed the bottle back to Juni. “Sorry. It came out faster than I thought it would.”
“Ange lai se yodir?” Juni asked.
“Juni,” I growled.
“I don’t know the words!” Juni responded by palming his forehead in frustration. “Sorry, I can’t… neh angia lai aerir fade.”
I scratched my forehead.
“Sorry, I’m probably being too hard on you. You want me to translate?”
“Um… sia, kaldi…”
“Don’t worry, Juni, I’ll fill it back up after we’re done,” Ian said. “Kaldi… what does kaldi mean?”
“Oh yeah. It’s too early for remembering.”
Charsi and I took a seat on the floor in front of Ian as he turned and produced a book from behind him. The front page read: “Come, Follow Me”.
“I don’t think I’ll read the whole lesson, they can be kind of long. Maybe just the first chapter. Sound good?”
“Is it okay if I read the rest of it later? That book isn’t in your phone, is it?” I asked. “Like the Mormon book?”
“Book of Mormon,” Ian whined, lifting his foot and pointing his toes at me. “When are you gonna get that right?”
I took my crutch and poked the middle one.
“You know I say that just to bother you,” I said with a smile.
“Uh-huh,” Ian replied, smiling back.
Ian’s phone spoke the chapter from the Bible, something called Acts. Whose acts this book referenced, I didn’t immediately understand. The complex scripture talked about a myriad of places that I had never heard of before: Lystra, Iconium, Phrygia, Galatia… on and on and on, I had no clue. Two men, Paul and Silas, I supposed were prophets that went around to all of these places and baptized people. They were whipped (the book called them “stripes”) and beaten, put in jail… and then, by some incredible coincidence, an earthquake made the entire jail crumble around them. But they didn’t just escape and run away. The guard was ready to kill himself for failing to do his job (as if he could have expected an earthquake to happen). Paul and Silas said all he had to do was believe in Jesus, and he and his house – not the house itself, but his family – would be saved.
“Are prophets put in jail today?” I asked.
Ian shook his head.
“No. They’re really important, and they do service for all sorts of people, like helping the poor and giving food and water to people in natural disasters. I think everybody in the world likes them too much for all the good they do.”
“Natural disasters… like earthquakes, floods?”
“Um-hmm,” Ian said.
“Well, you helped me in a flood, so that makes you as good as a prophet,” I said with a grin.
“Nah, I’m not all that good,” he replied. “Maybe one day.”
“I wish I could be baptized,” Charsi said, looking at me. “Eliza says that if you’re baptized, you get to have the Holy Ghost to help you for the rest of your life.”
“If you stay good,” Juni said.
“Right,” Ian replied.
“Well, why not?” I asked. “All you need is water, right?”
“Not exactly,” Charsi said.
“Yeah,” Ian continued. “You can only get baptized by someone with the priesthood. Dad does, and he baptized me.”
“It’s like God calling you to do what He would do,” Ian said. “It’s something someone gives you. When I turn twelve, Dad will give me the priesthood and make me a deacon.”
“I wish I had priesthood, too,” Juni said. “Then I could baptize. I think.”
“But you have to do things like go to church. And you have to have permission,” Charsi said, pointing. “Right, Ian?”
“Permission, huh. So I guess James can’t just baptize us.”
Charsi shook her head.
“That’s what Eliza worries about. That we can’t go to see a bishop and stay hidden at the same time. She keeps saying she’s thinking about it, but… I don’t know if it will happen. Xande keeps telling Eliza no.”
“Hmm,” I said, itching my nose. “I get that. But… is it really that important to be baptized? It’s not like repentance, is it? Where you have to be baptized again and again?”
“Nah, just once,” Ian said. “But it’s super important. It’s the first thing you have to do to follow Jesus. He was baptized too, so we follow His example.”
“And we can’t be a family forever if we don’t get baptized,” Charsi said, her brow furrowed. “It makes me scared… that I’ll never see Eliza again if we die. I want to be part of Eliza’s family for real.”
“What?” My eyes went back and forth from Charsi to Ian. “But… how does that work? If we all go to heaven, that won’t matter, will it?”
“I don’t know,” Ian said. “Dad knows more than me. But that’s why you go to places called temples to be sealed together as a family. I was sealed to Mom and Dad when they adopted me; that’s what the picture you saw in the hallway was about. But, if you wanted to be part of our family… that would mean more people would know about you.”
A terrible thought struck me.
“What about Aria?” I whispered. “And our child? If we’re not… what is it? ‘Sealed’?”
“Then I won’t see either of them again after we die?”
Ian’s expression turned somber.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t like that,” I said, looking down at the floor. “Not at all. If Heavenly Father is so good, then he wouldn’t do that to Aria and I. We’ve already suffered so much. Why would a Heavenly Father do that?”
“Don’t give up,” Charsi said, taking my hand. “Heavenly Father is good to everyone, even us. Maybe we’ll be able to be one big family for real someday.”
“But when Aria comes,” Juni said. “We can start being a family, right?”
“Yeah,” Ian said.
“I guess. I’m not sure I believe all this, but… I just hope everything turns out okay.”
“It will,” Ian said with a nod.
“Yeah, it will,” Charsi agreed.
“Li angah Ian lai viar lia indiata cadastol, anganem rundi!” Juni said cheerfully. “Um… right?”
“What did you say?” Ian asked.
“Uhh…” Juni pushed his tongue behind his cheek.
“He said that If Ian can be in a forever family, we can too,” Charsi said. “And I believe that.”
Sunday went on in a very peaceful and quiet way. I really enjoyed Sundays in the Petersen home, actually. In the village, every day was filled with work and more work, always something to clean, always something to organize, always something to teach and to gather. But Sundays in the Iatvi home – what Ian referred to as “keeping the Sabbath day holy” – were days of rest and study, and even Juni and Charsi seemed to enjoy the low-key energy of their new environment.
After he came home from church, I helped Ian write and complete his paper on his family’s computer downstairs in the TV room. While Juni and Charsi watched television and bothered each other like all brothers and sisters do, I watched Ian’s fingers dance across a keyboard, a large field of letters and numbers that seemed arranged in the most complicated rows imaginable. Despite this, Ian had little problem speeding through all of his words, organizing everything in the same way I kept notes. I told him not to rely too much on me, as he wouldn’t learn anything if he didn’t explain everything in his own way. Come to find out this was better advice than I anticipated, as Ian’s teacher had deducted a few points from his previous papers because it sounded like “his parents had helped him write it”. What did this teacher expect? A badly-worded paper where Ian would struggle and learn very little? My opinion of his teacher went down a peg after that.
If I had Charsi and Juni in my English class at the village, I would describe them both very differently. Charsi was very studious and loved reading and writing almost as much as I did. Juni, on the other hand, was very physical and hands-on. I guessed studying would be difficult for him, if his abilities to speak English were any indication. I was eager to help them both, though, if speaking and writing English was truly what they wanted. After all, how long did it take me to speak English as well as you did?
After Ian’s paper was finished, we all returned to Ian’s room and separated into our own activities. Up upon Ian’s cluttered desk, I studied more of the Mormon book (hah hah) and Charsi used graphite to draw on a few of Ian’s white postcards. The two boys dove headfirst into Ian’s video games, with the little one sitting in the chair and the big one upon the ground. Juni’s excitement was very apparent, and their collective laughing and shouting at the frantic action on the screen made Charsi and I chuckle to each other. When I had finally reached the next book called Third Nephi (of four, apparently), Ian turned and called me over.
“Lenn!” he said. I looked up, and in his hand was a familiar gray controller waving at me. “Come on, we need you! This guy’s hard!”
“Yeah Lenn! Keme lodsa!”
I peered at Charsi, who noticed my pained expression.
“I think you have to,” she said with a grin.
“Hey guys,” I called to them. “Charsi says she’ll come play instead of me!”
“No way!” Charsi shook her head rapidly. “I didn’t say that!”
“Nope, it has to be you, Lenn!” Ian said, standing to his feet. Ian crossed his room in a heartbeat. Charsi and I hesitated when the boy’s shadow overtook us, and we both slid backwards. He recognized what he was doing, and his mischievous grin disappeared.
“Uh-oh,” he whispered, shrinking himself to sit on his bed. “I scared you again.”
I gathered myself.
“Just a bit,” I answered, rubbing my nose. Beside me, Charsi’s eyes were wide as plates.
“I don’t mean to…” he said quietly. He growled at himself. “Why am I not good at this?”
“Because you’re a monster,” I said, which would no doubt have brought a frown to the boy’s face if I hadn’t had a pleasant one on mine. “But a kind monster. And a quick one. It’s my fault that I panic… ”
I turned and held out my hand to Charsi.
“Sorry, Ian,” she said. “I panic, too… Even Eliza scares me sometimes.”
“Come on, you big Iatvi,” I said, standing. “If we’re gonna play, let’s play. Though I can’t promise I’ll be useful.”
“Yay!” shouted Juni. I could see his long blond hair and green eyes peeking around the corner.
“You sure?” Ian asked. “I mean, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
“Don’t worry. Let’s play. And then Charsi will play after me.”
“Nope, nope!” she said cheerfully, descending into her drawing again.
“Come on, Sisi!”
“Nope!” she repeated, not even looking at her brother.
That night, the kids decided to change sleeping spots. Specifically, Juni. He didn’t say why at first, but when I got them settled in the guest room, he sadly reported that Ian did indeed snore, and his nerves kept him up all night. He asked me not to tell Ian, and I smiled as I promised I wouldn’t. The room was dark, save for the dim light of the kitchen ceiling fixtures outside. When I finally turned to lay myself down, a great shadow appeared, peering through the door.
It was Ian.
“…can I talk to you?”
I looked at Juni and Charsi, who appeared unsure as they laid beneath their blankets.
“Yeah,” I answered. “In here, or…?”
“In my room,” he said. “I can pick you up if you’re tired.”
I decided he had better, and the boy placed me in his arms before departing the room, leaving an inch of space in the doorway and allowing the Iatili to fall sleep. He took me into his room and laid down on his bed as he placed me next to him. My surroundings were warm as an electric blanket, as was the human boy before me; he wore a light-blue shirt, and his scent had returned; at least he had remembered to brush his teeth. I looked at his face as he laid sideways, once again folding his arms around himself.
“I did it again,” he said.
“Did what again?” I sat down before him.
“Bothering you and scaring you. And Charsi and Juni. I’m too big. I hate this. I don’t like scaring everybody.”
“I know, I know,” Ian said, closing his eyes shut. “I don’t mean to be sad. I haven’t really had friends before, and I don’t want to mess it up.”
“It’s when you get excited,” I told him. “But that’s not a bad thing. Everything’s new for everybody. I just get a little nervous. You’re fast for something so big. It takes me a while to cross your room, but you take two steps and you’re there.”
“I guess I’ll go slow from now on.”
“But you remember how you grabbed me when you thought Eliza would see me? I knew exactly what you were doing. I thought you were being silly, but to you, it was life or death. You protected me. That’s when speed is useful.”
He frowned, itching his shoulder.
“How do I know what one I should do?”
“I think you’ll get it,” I said. “It just takes practice. I trust you.”
“But I don’t trust me.”
I laughed, which I think caught him off-guard.
“That’s not even the point. If you think you’re going to push me away by scaring me, little boy, you’ve got it all wrong. A few months ago, you would have sent me screaming just by looking at me. But now I know you.”
Ian nervously adjusted his position on the bed.
“You know me?”
“Come on, give me some credit. Just because you’re a monster doesn’t mean you haven’t become special to me.”
Ian whined, drawing a finger upon his mattress. “I don’t like it when you call me a monster.”
A pit formed in my stomach. I did say it a lot.
“Oh.” I said, sitting forwards. “Sorry, I won’t say that anymore. Promise.”
Ian said nothing in response.
“I’ll tell you what I told Charsi. You’re afraid you would lose us if you scared us badly enough. If you scared me bad enough. Right?”
“Or if I hurt you, or worse… you’d never forgive me.”
“You believe that?”
Ian didn’t hesitate to give me a nod.
“Well, too bad,” I said. “You can’t get rid of me.”
I expected him to grow more confused, but instead he looked at me with an innocent kind of pain.
“Help me up,” I told him, raising my arms. I took the hand he offered me, balancing on the weak legs that had kept me upright all day. His hand floated away, and I stepped towards his chest with a smile. I put my hands against his soft skin and pushed. “Roll over, kani.”
“Just do it, come on.”
He followed my command, laying on his back. I then stepped over and above his shoulder and clambered up, using his collarbone as a wobbling handhold. To say this was difficult for me would be an understatement, but at least I had his shirt to cling to. I managed it as I heard and felt a nervous laugh emerge from the Iatvi.
“This is weird,” Ian said, peering at me.
“You don’t have to tell me,” I grunted back, finally up enough that I could scuttle on my bottom. I reached the center of his chest as Ian’s eyes focused directly at me, his neck all scrunched up.
“I dunno,” I said. “You tell me.”
I scooted forwards and pushed my bare feet against his chin. He threw his head back.
“Eww!” he said. “Don’t do that! Your feet are cold!”
“Yeah. What are you going to do about it?”
Ian looked back at me as well as he could without lowering his head. But then his entertaining smile faded and he looked away.
“I… I don’t want to do anything.”
“Nope, nope,” I said, lifting myself. My knee bent backwards a bit, and I hissed, but I didn’t allow myself to stop. Now limping, I walked down his chest towards his stomach. Without explanation or excuse, I “jumped” off the stability of his sternum and landed front-first onto the squishy surface. I heard an “oof” behind me. For a moment, I laid there unmoving, listening to his stomach blurbling beneath me. Everything in me told me this was the strangest thing I’d ever done.
“What are you going to do about this?” I asked.
I attempted to scratch him through his shirt in a vain attempt to tickle him. I’d never been able to do it, exactly. And I didn’t seem to succeed here.
“Stop it,” he growled. “Don’t tickle me.”
“I’m supposed to,” I said simply. “It’s what older brothers do.”
Then, before I could continue much longer, I felt a set of powerful fingers grab hold of me. They dragged me backwards along the surface of the shirt until I felt myself float upwards. And upside-down. Blood rushed into my head immediately as I looked downwards at Ian’s face.
“You’re so weird!”
“You gonna put me down, kani?” I asked, my voice squashed like rubber.
“Just so you can try it again? No.”
“So I’m just going to float here until my face turns purple?”
Ian’s smile turned into a frown. His securing hand then descended and I felt myself drape back down onto Ian’s chest. The fingers fell away, and I rose to see Ian’s eyes looking away from me, off to the side.
“Ian…” I grunted.
I rose to my feet again, now certain that my left leg was going to fall off.
“You’re standing on my throat,” Ian gurgled. I certainly was; it felt like balancing on a cylinder that didn’t stop wobbling.
Everything was now within my arm’s reach. Both my hands played Ian’s upper lip like a drum. It grabbed Ian’s attention, but he pursed his lips and continued attempting to ignore me. I was determined. My drumming moved to the tip of Ian’s nose, and I hummed to myself. He refused to be amused, and the air that blew through his nostrils rushed outwards as if he could sneeze me away.
“Ian, stop acting this way.”
Out of slight frustration, I grabbed the inner edges of the curved nose, each hand to a hole, and yanked upwards.
“Ow!” Ian said, his entire head fighting away. The edge of his hand pushed me sideways, and I lost my balance, nearly rolling off his neck. He recovered me and hauled me back onto his chest. “Ahh! Lenn, I’m sorry!”
“Ian,” I growled, grunting to my feet again. I bent down and looked straight at him. “That’s enough. No more ‘sorry’.” I waved my arms. “Olem, I’m trying to make you laugh!”
Ian’s gaze floated away.
“I may be crooked,” I continued, “But I’m tougher than you think I am. What do I have to do to convince you that I’m not going to stop being your friend?”
He didn’t answer me.
“Well,” I groaned. I fell backwards. “My legs are dead. I can’t stand up on my own.”
Ian’s hand curled around me again, lifting me above his face and placing me gently on top of his forehead. My legs couldn’t help but drape over his eyes, my feet pressing against the upper edges of his cheeks.
“Uh. Sorry. I don’t quite fit up here.”
“You know I can’t fold my legs.”
“So, what. You gonna answer my question? What do I have to do to convince you?”
“This isn’t a yes or no question.”
“So now you’re joking with me?”
I sighed, folding my arms.
“What am I going to do with you?”
“Be my big brother,” he answered. “For as long as you can.”
“As long as I can? What happened to ‘families are forever’?”
“I don’t think it counts.”
“What do you mean? Of course it counts. You want James and Catherine to adopt me like they adopted you? Would that make it count?”
“But without being baptized… What if I don’t see you again if I die?”
“Come on, kid,” I said, patting the bridge of his nose. “You’re thinking too far ahead.”
Ian remained silent.
“You saved me from dying. That means my life is basically yours. Did you think about that?”
“I guess not,” Ian said, slightly shaking his head back and forth. I rode it like the edge of a teeter-totter.
“If heaven exists, then I know you’re going to be there.” I said. “Then Heavenly Father will know how much you’ve done for me. I’m sure He’ll know right where you are. If I make it somehow, I’ll search for you. I’ll bring Aria, too, she’s already perfect anyway.”
Ian let out a short laugh.
“If I make it there,” I said. “We’ll still be brothers?”
From my seat, I could feel the furrows in Ian’s brow relax.
“You’re still going to scare me sometimes, you know.”
“I won’t do it on purpose.”
“Even if you’re teasing me?”
“I’ll try not to.”
“Good enough. It’s bad for my poor heart.”
“I don’t want to give you a heart attack.”
Fingers again lifted me into the air, this time with both hands, spinning me around with dizzying dexterity. The thumbs then became a loose belt, cushioning me as best they could. Illuminated by the lamp on the table, I looked into the boy’s eyes that watched me back with the same amount of wonder that he always showed.
“I’ve never met a boy quite like you,” I told him, bending forwards. “Never mind the whole ‘saving my life’ part. Yul, look at me, I am tiny…”
I looked over Ian’s thumbs to see my feet dangle. Ian saw my face, and gently rocked me and my legs back and forth.
“And you don’t weigh much.”
“I weigh more than when I showed up. You probably saved me from starving to death, too. So that’s two I owe you.”
“Did I ever tell you why I headed towards town when I left the village?”
“Nuh-uh,” Ian said, shaking his head.
“I didn’t want to be eaten by an animal like I thought Xande had. I didn’t want to be run over by an Iatvi car, though I guess that would have been quick. I absolutely did not want to drown.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“You know what I wanted instead?” I asked, ignoring him. “I heard from the gatherers that Iatvi had a special gas that you can’t see, can’t really smell or taste, but if you breathe enough of it, your head would get dizzy, you’d fall asleep, and you’d just die. Completely painless.”
“Lenn!” The belt around me tightened. “Why would you kill yourself?”
“Ian, I was hopeless. I would never see Aria again, so I would find a way to fall asleep and just stop being. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You wouldn’t have asked somebody for help?”
I shook my head with vigor.
“I didn’t dare. I wasn’t brave enough. I’m… still not brave enough, since you can still… what’s the phrase…? Get the drop on me? Is that what it is?”
“Huh?” Ian tilted his head.
“You can still take me by surprise, frighten me. Even you.”
He looked away.
“It’s really not your fault. Gatherers have been killed or injured in so many ways. You wouldn’t believe the stories I was told as a child. Have I mentioned how glad I am that you don’t own a dog or cat?”
I nodded, finding Ian’s hands a relaxing place to hang.
“You know what?” Ian asked.
“I need to tell you something.”
“When I was really little,” Ian said. “Like, four or five… I kinda remember something that happened that scared my mom and dad really bad. It was night, and I don’t know why, but I went outside and got lost. I didn’t recognize my street in the dark, so I just sat down on the sidewalk and cried. That’s when someone talked to me, out of the bushes behind me. He had a really deep voice, and he told me that everything was going to be all right. I couldn’t see who it was, but I knew it wasn’t a regular person. I thought it was an angel or something.”
“You mean… a Iatili?”
“It had to be. I didn’t see him, but he told me to go and sit underneath one of the lamp posts on the corner, and that my mom and dad would find me soon. I did what he told me, and it only took a few minutes for Dad to see me under the light and take me back home. I was too young to think about it again until now. But I know it had to be a Iatili.”
“Huh,” I said. “That’s amazing. I wonder who it was.”
“I dunno. I wish I had said thank you.”
“Maybe it’s like Catherine said. Maybe Iatvi help Iatili more than we think. And Iatili help Iatvi. Maybe I should have gone to find a boy or girl, or someone like Eliza. Maybe someone would have helped me like you do.”
“But then you wouldn’t be my big brother now.”
I gave Ian a soft smile.
“That’s true.” I traced the crease between Ian’s thumb. “Having my throat torn open was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Ooh, no… Don’t say that.”
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
“No way.” He actually laughed. “Maybe Aaron or Chris would have found you anyway, in a bush or something.”
“Maybe,” I said. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to limp into a bush in time.”
“Did you even have crutches to help you get down the mountain?”
“No, I didn’t. Elder Ordi never gave me a chance to get anything.” I pointed down. “I had ugly shoes, but I lost them in the river. It’s a miracle I didn’t get sick after all of this, either. I drank from the river. And I didn’t have food. I almost went without any, until I became so tired that I had to eat moss as I went.”
Ian’s face withered and he stuck his tongue out.
“Oh, why?! Why moss? Wasn’t it disgusting?”
“Very much yes. Raw is awful. You have to cook it first.”
“Cook it? But why would you eat it at all?”
“There wasn’t anything else,” I said. “I wasn’t about to eat bugs.”
“No wonder you were so skinny.”
“Uh-huh. No gross-or-ruh stores for us.”
“You mean grocery stores.”
“That makes me think of times when Mom would go to those fancy food stores where everything is healthy and expensive. She had us try these things called, um… ‘bean sprouts’. It looked like a pile of white worms, and tasted like grass. It wasn’t my favorite.”
“I’d probably like them.”
“Yeah, you would.”
We both laughed and fell silent as Ian studied me. I maintained a contented look.
Ian blinked a few times.
“I don’t know. I just… I don’t want you to leave. That’s all.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I replied with a chuckle. “Where would I go?”
“What about when Aria comes? She won’t make you go, will she?”
“Where would we go? Up the mountain with the foxes and the hawks? Behind a dumpster somewhere? Once she meets you, Ian, she’ll feel the same way I do. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
“I hope so. I just-”
Ian rose upwards, and we both looked towards the door. Upon the floor were a pair of Iatili kids, both very dressed for sleep but both shivering in uncertainty.
“Hi guys,” Ian said, placing me back down to sit on the bed. “Do you need anything?”
They remained quiet for a moment, Charsi hiding behind Juni.
“…we didn’t… do anything wrong, did we?”
I smiled up at Ian, and he did the same for me.
“Nope,” Ian said. “I just wanted to talk to Lenn about stuff.”
“Iliam qa umov. Ian ys ke karanis odanetol,” I told them. “Vis hostai.”
“…you do?” Charsi asked.
“What did you tell them?”
“I told them that we have a lot of fears just like them. But we’ll work it out. Won’t we?”
Ian nodded, looking at Juni and Charsi.