The chilly air dissipated over the next few days and finally, it felt like summer–birds, sunshine, even sandals–all made their way out from hiding.
Oliver had received a rock polisher kit and a small telescope on his outing into town, two things he’d hinted at for months. He was certain his grandma had taken pity on him, but he wasn’t one to complain. A gift was a gift.
With his birthday over, however, packing began. Immediately, Grandma Pamp put Oliver to work, bubble wrapping so many things they barely had time to talk. He suspected this was part of her plan, but as he started sorting through his parents’ stuff, he soon forgot all about the other day. Instead, his mind lingered over warm memories of his parents.
Christian and Mina Pastorius. Two people he never fully knew; two people he would never fully know. At just one years old, Oliver became entrusted to his grandma after his parents died in a freak accident. They had gone out walking, to celebrate their sixth year anniversary and were struck by a car. From then on, the only face he knew was Grandma “Pamp” Pampian. Without any aunts, uncles, cousins, or even other grandparents (Grandma Pamp had outlived them all), Oliver lived a very quiet life. He loved his grandma. She filled their home with lots of laughs, hugs, and food, but there was a place in his heart he knew would always feel empty.
His heart tweaked every time he wrapped a framed photo of him held by his mom. Or of him bouncing on the knee of his dad. Seeing their faces always surprised him of how much he looked like them both. Oliver had tan skin and thick black hair like his mom and grandma (who’s hair was now grey), while his bright blue eyes he inherited from his dad. Both his parents were petite in frame, so Oliver succumbed to the fact that he’d be small. Even for a nine-year-old, he was short.
He remembered asking every year when mommy and daddy were coming back. It wasn’t until his fifth birthday when Grandma Pamp fully explained. That mommy and daddy loved him very much; that they were waiting for him in heaven; and she would take care of him as best she could. He stopped asking after that.
Oliver’s curiosity about his mark soon returned one afternoon after splattering ink all over his hands. As he scrubbed them clean, he caught sight of the mark. His mark. He had been so preoccupied with packing, he’d forgotten all about it.
Yet every time his grandma left another box for him to pack, he’d either find her on the phone or in the bathroom, conveniently unable to answer any of his questions. One afternoon, she dropped lunch off at the entrance of his door, knocked, then said, “I’ll be back in an hour, sweets. I need to collect some supplies from town.”
What could she possibly need more of? thought Oliver, jumping up to open the door and finding her already gone. Something seemed off. Quietly, he hurried out the front door to follow her. She was already several feet ahead, moving like she had when she dragged him on his birthday. Every now and then she’d glance to her right and Oliver would duck behind a mailbox.
The sky had turned grey and threatening; he shivered as he crept along the road. The air smelled fresh–ready to rain. Wherever she was headed, he hoped it was indoors. Several blocks later, rain now spitting down on them, Grandma Pamp stopped outside a cafe on an unfamiliar street. Her tiny figure, wrapped in a bright red shawl, hesitated at the door. But as Oliver watched her from behind a large potted plant, she seemed to regain her confidence; squaring her shoulders, she gripped the doorknob and dipped inside. Waiting another minute, he sidled up to a boisterous group about to enter and slipped in behind them.
Immediately, the dim lighting forced Oliver’s eyes to adjust. He bumped into a woman, who grumbled under her breath, as he struggled to maneuver his way inside. He found a pocket in the wall and surveyed the cafe to find his grandma but was quickly distracted by the bustle and noise around him.
The place was packed. Tiny tables were jammed in the center of the cafe and black booths hugged the outer walls. Lights hung low from the ceiling, giving customers just enough light to recognize the face of the person sitting across from them. Black floor-to-ceiling drapes adorned every window; an espresso bar, off to the left, wrapped the wall in an S shape, where vases with tall windy branches stood among clear containers holding coffee beans and pastries. The espresso machine whirled loudly and filled the air with an aroma of coffee. And behind the bar hung a huge chalk board menu with today’s specials scrawled across it.
He scanned the room and found a tuft of grey hair pilled high on a woman’s head, and he knew it was her. She sat at one of the tables near the back. Oliver squinted. She was with someone. Slowly, he snuck along the outer wall, close enough to see it was a man. He ducked into a booth where a couple was just leaving, scrunched down low and listened.
“If you would just consider what I’m asking you,” said Grandma Pamp with a note of desperation in her voice. “Please.”
“He’d find out.”
“Not unless you told him!”
The man paused for several seconds. Then, in a low, even cadence, “That’s really none of your business what I choose to tell my boss.”
“What’s going to happen to him,?”
Oliver strained to hear over the baristas shouting orders. His heart rattled inside his chest. Somehow he knew she was asking about him.
“Don’t put me in that position, Sylva–” Oliver almost gasped at the mention of her first name but bit his tongue. “I have no ties to you. My allegiance is to Declant and Declant alone.”
Someone suddenly stood, a chair screechingagainst the wooden floor. A sharp intake of breath was made, followed by a small sniffle. Oliver was desperate to know what was happening. He braved a peak over the booth and nearly yelled. The man at the table, who’s eyes were in thin slits as he stared down at Grandma Pamp, was the man they had seen on the bus.
Oliver ducked just in time as the man passed the booth, his black jacket fluttering behind him as he hurried out. Another chair pushed back. Oliver peaked again and saw that his grandma too had gone.