I must confess that I was nervous about your proposal when you wrote to me, but Trent turned out to be a very nice person. A bit odd around the edges, and he looks like he’s always sore, walking with a bent back, but really, he’s one of the nicest people in the city. Has to be. You don’t meet too many people in this city, let alone interesting ones who have stories to tell.
Such stories! Counting grass in the park, mythical boxes, hundreds of books. He talks about his old friends, calls them Followers, like he’s some kind of cult leader. My brother was in a cult, once, and had only nice things to say about it. I would never join one, I’d hope you don’t either. Think for yourself, Mallory.
The lack of rain today turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I met Trent just where you told me I should go, and he ushered me closer to the small pond in the park. He didn’t say a word until we got to the edge of the water and we started to feed the ducks.
“How did you know to contact me?” He skipped a stone across the pond, and it flew like a feather to the other side, bouncing only four times.
“Mallory sent me the clipping, told me what I needed to do to find you.”
“You know Mallory?”
“She’s my niece. She writes to me almost every day, tells me about her mother, her school. She’s mentioned you once or twice, but never with something this urgent.”
“Urgent?” He turned towards me, and I saw a couple of small bruises around his eyes. They looked purple and sore, like he hadn’t slept — or someone kept him from sleeping.
“She said she found your note, and the mention of the two-headed-duck. That’s how she knew where to find you.”
“But she sent you instead.”
“Well, she’s only a little girl.” (Mallory, you’re not a little girl. you’re a strong young woman. But at this point in speaking with Trent, things had become a little tense, so I downplayed it all a bit. Hope you understand. I’m doing the best I can to be honest with you.)
“I’ve seen things involving Mallory, no little girl should have to deal with. And her mother —“
“So tell me,” I cut him off with a wave of my hand. He was about to say some nasty things, about my sister, your mother, and that just wouldn’t do. Not if he was in trouble. “How do you think Mallory decoded your clue in the paper?”
“I’d rather like to know how she knew to look for it.”
“And a snoop. It’s obvious she went into my apartment, had a look around, and found my log book. But it’s been four days since my last entry.”
“You can’t blame her for being curious. And you did write that note so that someone should find it. Mallory gets, well, bored. A lot. And when her mother’s not home —”
“I don’t blame the girl. She has the same curiosities I used to have. Even today. I’m always finding things that spark an investigation, or a study that leads to larger things, broader reasonings. I’m beyond caring how Mallory figured it out. I’d rather know how she wrangled you into all of this.”
“When Mallory calls…”
He looked at me for a long while, and I could tell he was holding his breath. Do you remember, Mallory, when I told you about my cat Bumbles? How he used to mock me, and sit near me when I would eat, and lick his paws when I would shower? Bumbles would also sit close to my face, at night, when I slept. I’d wake up and he’d be there, staring at me wide-eyed. I’d gasp and not be able to breathe for a few seconds, and Bumbles wouldn’t breathe, either. He’d hold his breath, as if to mirror me completely. Maybe he thought I couldn’t see him when he did that.
In any case, that’s what this instance with Trent felt like. He took a breath, and wouldn’t let it out, so I did the same. I could feel him staring into me, searching for a reason not to trust me. But then, why would he have posted that signal in the paper if he were not in trouble?
“So,” he blurted out, scaring me so I released a small yell, “Mallory read about the symbol, saw it in the paper, and knew to send her Aunt Pam to meet me here. How, do you suppose, she knew where to send you?”
I pointed at the pond, where a stream of two-headed ducks were floating by. “Only place in the country you can find a two-headed duck.”
“I thought people’d forgotten about this place.”
“Not if you can read a text book or have grandparents who were around for the bombing. Tell me, Trent, what kind of trouble are you in?” I must’ve looked scared, because he shined me the biggest smile I’ve ever seen at that point, and put his arm around me.
“My dear, I haven’t the slightest idea what we’re in for, but the adventure we’re about to take, I can’t do it alone.” And with that, Trent leapt up into the air and flew to the top of the highest tree. And I sat right beside him, comfortable and in my element, as you remember.
“So,” I said, “tell me what was in this box.”
Mallory, I don’t know if you’re old enough to hear his answer, but I’ll include it in my next letter to give you the choice. If you’re ready…you can open it. I trust you know yourself enough to know if you’re ready.
Talk soon. Love,