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©2019 by Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Five

Monday June 15

On Monday, Andi stood in her shower-fogged bathroom, fixing the collar of the fitted blue blouse her mother had ironed, smoothing the dark gray slacks she'd dug out of her closet. She doubted it was the right look for an anti-corporate rally, but it couldn't be helped. Her mother had no idea she was going to a protest this morning.

 

Andi hadn't mentioned it, because she doubted her mom would be nearly as enthusiastic if she knew the real reason Cyrus’s family was heading downtown today. But Andi had to go with them. She and Cyrus had a plan.

 

When he had first mentioned SILO in the buffet line, Andi told him she'd never heard of it. She didn't want to talk about it in public, and wasn't sure if she should get Cyrus involved. But as they'd walked to their seats, temporarily alone, she'd decided he might be able to help. So she whispered that she did know something about SILO, but they couldn't discuss it there.

 

Cyrus, intrigued, invited Andi over after the play. Once upstairs in the bedroom he shared with his brother, Andi swore him to secrecy and told him what she'd overheard. Then she showed him what she'd already discovered online. The company’s research activities were run by the Nutrexo Research Institute, but no clinical trials listed on their website sounded like the one Andi's father had signed up for; none required the subjects to live away from home. 

 

Andi tried calling the phone number given on the site, but it led to a maddeningly circuitous phone tree, and they hadn't been able to glean any information from it. 

 

“Couldn't we just ask your mom? She might be able to help,” Andi asked. Cyrus had taken the only desk chair, and Andi was trying to act like it was no big deal that she was sitting on the corner of Naveed's unmade bed, that she'd inadvertently touched the threadbare shirt he'd slept in.  

 

“No,” Cyrus said. “Definitely not. She doesn't want any of us to know what she's up to. Even if you asked her, all casual-like, I guarantee she wouldn't tell you a thing.”

 

After more sleuthing, Cyrus found that NRI's main offices were located on the ground floor of the company's headquarters, around the corner from the protest he'd be attending on Monday. He asked Andi if she wanted to come along. “We could go right to the source and ask about the studies they have going on,” he suggested. “Not that we'd say anything about SILO, but we might find something out that way.”

 

Andi doubted that would get them anywhere, but it gave her an idea. “Oh, I know! Nutrexo has this internship program—they mentioned it when I was on that field trip last month—and my mom's been bugging me to get some volunteer work lined up for the summer. Maybe I could see if they have any more openings for interns at NRI. They're probably filled by now, but at least that would give us an excuse to go in and talk to them.”

 

“Yeah!” Cyrus spun to face her. “And if they did have an opening... then you could try to get some information from the inside. I'll come with you, to help scope it out.”

 

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but while Andi worked on her application packet over the weekend, her mother suggested listing Mark as a reference. Andi wrote him in, but deleted his name as soon as her mother left the room. She wondered if this could get back to him somehow, if their plan was too risky. But after their last encounter, she was certain Mark thought of her as a meek Asian girl who wouldn't give him any trouble. Besides, Nutrexo was a huge company. Even if she did get an internship, he'd probably never know.   

 

One more idea had occurred to Andi, so while her mother did the grocery shopping on Sunday evening, she searched through the stacks of paper littering the desk in the corner of her parents' bedroom. Eventually, she found what she was looking for: the flyer her father had been given at the unemployment agency.

 

Volunteers needed, it read. Healthy men and women, ages 18-60, willing to stay at our state-of-the-art research facility for an 8-week clinical trial. Room and board provided. Participants will receive generous compensation for completing the study.

 

Andi took the flyer back to her room and called the phone number listed at the bottom, hoping it would lead to a message with more information. She reached a generic voicemail recording: “You have reached Dr. Snyder's lab at the Nutrexo Research Institute. If you're interested in participating in our research, please leave your name and number, and our study coordinator will contact you.”

 

Thrilled to be getting somewhere, Andi hung up and navigated back to the Nutrexo website, then typed “Snyder” into the search box. The top result was a profile page for Dr. Tara Snyder, DVM, PhD.

As soon as she saw this, her excitement vanished. Tara. That was the name Richard Caring had mentioned, the person who led the human subjects research at SILO. 

 

Even though her father hadn't contacted her all weekend, Andi had been holding onto the slim hope that he was involved in a different clinical trial, one that was unusual, maybe, but not harmful. 

But now she knew. Her father must be at SILO.

 

Dr. Snyder's profile page said nothing about SILO, of course. In her photo, she looked about Andi's mother's age; she was pretty, and blonde, with pale skin and thin eyebrows and flawless white teeth. The page summarized her areas of interest (“Genetics and biotechnology; bovine reproduction and lactation”) and included a lengthy list of honors, awards, and publications. Andi scanned their titles, noticing that most focused on cows, a few on rats, but not a single one mentioned humans.    

Andi followed links to a few scientific papers, but they were incomprehensible. So she returned to the profile page and studied Dr. Snyder's photograph again, searching her face for some hint of hidden malice. But her blue eyes gave nothing away. She looked disconcertingly normal.       

 

Before turning off the computer, Andi checked her email one last time—still no reply from her father—and stuffed the flyer into her desk drawer. She peeked into the kitchen to say goodnight to her mom. Andi was tempted to tell her everything, until her mother started chattering on about how she'd run into a friend at the grocery store whose son did a Nutrexo internship a few years ago, and it was such a great experience, and he'd made some amazing connections, and now he was going to Yale. Andi couldn't bring herself to ruin her mother's good mood by confessing the awful truth. 

 

Besides, she wasn't sure her mom wanted to talk about her dad at all. For the past few months, her mother had been stressed out and grumpy after long days at her office job. Meanwhile, her dad drifted in a perpetual gloom, unable to find work. But ever since he'd left to participate in the clinical trial, she'd seemed more lively, cheerful even. 

 

Sometimes Andi worried that her mother preferred life without him. After all, it wasn’t the first time they’d been on their own. Sixteen years earlier, just before Andi was born, her father had left them to go on tour with Mile Seven. In his absence, Andi became a Lin, not a Powell, and they moved in with her grandparents in Berkeley. Andi's ah-ma raised her while her mother finished college. 

 

But reflections of her father kept surfacing in Andi: he could be seen in her fair complexion, her innate understanding of music, the small cleft in her chin that became more pronounced as she grew. Occasionally, he’d show up without warning, taking Andi and her mother on extravagant outings to theme parks and ice cream shops where they all shared eight-scoop banana splits. When they came home he’d strum sweet, hilarious songs he made up on the spot. Andi always begged him to stay, but he always vanished just as suddenly as he’d come, without ever telling her when he’d be back.   

 

When she was six, he’d returned for good, and the three of them had moved to Seattle. But it wasn’t until years later, when Andi finally searched for answers in online interviews, that she learned the real reason he’d been gone for so long. It wasn’t just that he’d been on tour and recording albums, like her mother had told her. In fact, he’d been on a long downward spiral into heroin addiction and alcoholism, until one of his band mates died of an overdose and he realized he needed to get serious about recovery. He’d checked into rehab the day after the funeral. 

 

Andi had confronted him after reading this, angry that he’d never told her these things, yet at the same time sad for him, too. He’d embraced her, apologizing as she traced the outline of the tattoos in the crook of his left elbow, the Chinese characters that spelled out her name, noticing for the first time how they covered up the constellation of small scars dotting his arm. “Getting sober was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he told her. “But it was worth it. Because I’m here now, with you, and that’s worth more to me than anything else in the world.”

 

While the record store had been open, he’d been happy enough. But ever since it closed, he’d just seemed so lost, and the dreary mood at their house hadn’t helped. Andi wondered, now, if her dad had been so eager to sign up for the study because he was looking for a sense of purpose again… but what if he was also conducting his own experiment, testing whether his family was better off without him?

 

No. They weren't, and now that Andi knew he was involved in the research at SILO, she was even more determined to find him.

 

So, this morning, Andi had let her mother iron her clothes. She had choked down a breakfast shake and printed her application. And now she stood in front of the mirror, brushing her hair one last time, looking at that dimple in her chin, that small feature that linked her unmistakably to her father. 

 

She had to do this. She had to try. At best, she might find another lead. At worst, they would take her application and show her the door. 

 

Andi picked a stray black hair from the shoulder of her blouse, slipped on her flats, and climbed into the passenger seat of their idling Nissan. Her mother had insisted on dropping her off at Cyrus’s on her way to work, but Andi had dragged her feet long enough to ensure that her mother wouldn't have time to chat with Sam and Mahnaz. 

 

It seemed more than a little ridiculous to arrive by car, considering she lived so close, and Andi hoped Naveed wouldn't see her. But he was nowhere in sight as they pulled up. Instead, Sam was outside, closing the trunk of the minivan. He waved, waiting for them to come to a stop before he approached the car.

 

Andi held her breath as her mother rolled down the window.

 

“Good morning,” he said. “Andi, glad you can join us today. Joyce, you're sure it's all right that she comes along?”

 

“Of course,” her mother said, and Andi started opening her door, hoping to make her exit before Sam elaborated further, or her mother registered anything odd about the question.

 

From the front doorway, Cyrus hollered, “Hey, Baba! Roya needs your help finding the cooler!” 

 

“Can't you help her?” Sam called, but he excused himself and turned towards the house.

 

Relieved, Andi leaned over to hug her mother. “Bye, Mom. Wish me luck,” she said, waving the envelope containing her application.

 

Zhù nǐ hǎo-yùn,” her mother said. “Text me after you talk to them.” 

 

“I will. Love you.” Andi exited the car and followed Sam through the front gate. She turned to wave goodbye, but her mother had already pulled away.

 

Andi was eager to fill Cyrus in on Dr. Snyder, but he was assembling sandwiches in the kitchen, slapping bread slices together with force, and his parents kept bustling in and out of the room. When he asked her to fill their water bottles with ice, she noticed a drawing atop a messy stack of papers at the edge of the counter. 

 

“That's cute,” she said. It was definitely Roya's work: a cluster of stick figures, a triangular mountain, a stripe of green grass and blue sky.

 

“Cute. Yeah.” Cyrus sniffed. He stepped closer, gesturing at the picture with his almond-buttery knife. “It's a family portrait Roya drew. See, there’s Naveed—that’s a crow on his shoulder—and my dad’s in the background, hiking at Mount Rainier. There’s my mom, and that”—he pointed to a golden orb in the figure's belly—“is Roya, before she was born.” He stopped, because there were no other stick figures: Cyrus, for some reason, hadn't been included.

 

He returned to his work on the sandwiches. Andi had no idea what to say; she was completely unqualified to offer any advice on sibling relationships. So she mumbled, “Oh,” and turned her attention to the clinking notes that sounded as she dropped ice into the steel water bottles.  

 

When they were full, she handed them to Cyrus, and was about to tell him what she'd found when Naveed wandered into the kitchen.

 

“Hey Naveed, can you help with lunch?” Cyrus asked. “We could use a few carrots, if you'll go find some that are ready.”

 

“No time for carrots. Just looking for my phone,” Naveed muttered, nodding in greeting when he noticed Andi. She said hello, but he drifted out of the room again without reply.

 

“Don't mind him,” Cyrus said. “His precious girlfriend left for the summer, and he's been pining for her all weekend.” 

 

Mahnaz called from the front door that it was time to go, so they packed up the sandwiches and climbed into the back seat of the minivan. 

 

The ride downtown was uncomfortable. Sam stopped at a nearby house to pick up Kelly, whom Andi recognized as one of the women Mahnaz had been talking to at the park on Saturday. She stuffed another box into the already-full trunk, and one of her protest signs kept sliding forward to poke the back of Andi’s head. 

 

Next to Andi, Cyrus bickered with Roya, their argument eventually growing loud enough that Mahnaz admonished from the front, “Kourosh! Roya!” She said something else in Persian that probably meant something like Behave yourselves, and they were consigned to reluctant silence. Andi spent most of the trip staring at the back of Naveed’s head, trying to divine the song blaring from his earbuds. She was tempted to take out her own phone and escape into music too, but figured it would bother Cyrus, who seemed easily offended.   

 

They arrived in back of Nutrexo Headquarters as another car pulled away, and Sam parallel-parked in the vacant space against the curb. The glass-and-steel Central Library crouched across the street, partially shadowed. Its sharp angles glinted in a slice of sunlight.

 

Roya leaped out as soon as the door slid open. “Can we stop by the library first? Please?” 

 

“Sorry, Roya-jaan, I don’t think it’s open yet. Besides, we need to get to the protest.” Mahnaz and Kelly unloaded their signs from the trunk (“EcoCows = FrankenCows!”) while Sam fed the parking meter. Andi listened to the music of a downtown Seattle morning: the intermittent squeal of car brakes, the purposeful click of high heels on pavement, the distant whine of sirens, the relentless chant of a homeless man selling newspapers in front of the library (“Real Change, ma’am? Have a great day, ma’am, have a great day, sir.”). Roya gazed wistfully across the street, until Cyrus called, “Roya! Come on!”

 

As they walked along the steep sidewalk, which sloped down toward the waters of Puget Sound, they passed the NRI entrance. Andi slowed, but there wasn't much to see: just a glass door down a short flight of stairs. 

 

She followed Cyrus around the block to the pristine front plaza. Red petunias dotted stone planters, and a thundering, two-story-high waterfall nearly—but not quite—drowned out the shouts of the protesters.

 

Sam gathered them around and gestured for Naveed to take out his earbuds. “Stick together today. All four of you—no one goes off on their own.” He kneeled down to look Roya in the eye. “If you’re lost, azizam, play your flute and we’ll find you.” Roya patted the knit carrying case slung over her shoulder.

 

Naveed steered them over to a group of his friends. Cyrus fell into step with Andi, behind Roya and Naveed. “Don’t worry,” he told Andi. “I’m sure we can lose them. Wait for my signal.”

 

“What’s your signal?”

 

“You’ll know it when you see it.” Andi could tell he hadn’t quite worked out that detail yet. 

 

Most of the protests Andi had seen consisted of a few people with signs trying to get the attention of passing pedestrians and cars, but those were nothing compared to this. A large crowd had already assembled, even this early on a Monday morning. Sam, with his bushy beard, and Mahnaz, with her ponytail and clogs, fit right in, but there were all kinds of people here: some in dreadlocks, some in business suits, even a few dressed up as cows. Their energy seemed to electrify the air, as if a thunderstorm were brewing. 

 

As time went on, newcomers continued to arrive, and Andi noticed a few Nutrexo security guards in the crowd. Most of them wore black uniforms, but one, a tall, muscular man with a buzz-cut, wore beige. He stood on the periphery scanning the scene, and once, Andi could have sworn he was looking right at them as he spoke into his radio. She was probably being paranoid, but she resolved not to say a word to Cyrus about her latest SILO findings until they were back at his house.

 

Soon, the plaza was so crowded that Roya clutched Naveed’s hand, and Naveed insisted that Cyrus and Andi walk in front of him so he could make sure they all stayed together. Perhaps sensing that his sister needed a break from the crowds, Naveed led them toward another Real Change newspaper vendor standing on the street corner. 

 

Andi hung back. She’d always been taught to ignore homeless people. It was easier to pretend they weren't there than to wonder how they'd ended up in that situation, or to think about how it would feel to sleep outside every night, with only a slab of cardboard to keep the chill of the sidewalk from seeping into your bones.

 

Apparently, Naveed noticed her hesitation. He smiled at her encouragingly. “I love this newspaper—it's just so… honest. Not afraid to tell it like it is.” 

 

As he turned his back to buy the paper, Roya still holding his hand, Andi felt three quick taps—poke poke poke—between her shoulder blades. She turned to see Cyrus grinning, and there was only a second to make her choice: stay with Naveed, or go with Cyrus to investigate her father’s whereabouts. 

She laid down her sign and ran. 

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