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©2019 by Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Three

Saturday June 13

Andi's dad didn't call the night of the party, or the next morning. He didn't write back, either.  

As Andi and her mother jogged around the lakeside trail at Seward Park on Saturday, she tried not to dwell on it. There had to be a rational explanation for his silence. Maybe he hadn't checked email last night and was sleeping in this morning. Maybe he thought she was sleeping in, and would call soon.

Her thoughts kept drifting back to the party, to all the things she wished she'd said to Mark Williams. She should have asked whether her father was in the trial at SILO, or at least demanded more information. But Mark had made it clear he wasn't going to tell her anything. And he probably wouldn't help find her father either; the two of them had never gotten along, and going against Richard Caring could end Mark's career. 

         

Andi wanted to tell her mother, but was uncertain how she'd react, and afraid of where it might lead. The last thing she wanted was for her mother to end up in trouble, too. 

 

The lake stretched blue and calm beside them as they jogged, the sun illuminating wisps of steam rising from the wet asphalt. Andi cleared her throat and casually asked, “Mom, have you heard from Dad lately?” 

 

“Hmm, he emailed me... was it Tuesday? He said he was doing fine.”

 

“Did he say anything else? He hasn't emailed me since then either, but...” Andi wished she could confess how worried she was. “It just feels like a long time,” she finished.

 

“It's only been a few days. Don't worry, he'll get in touch when he has something to say.” 

 

This made Andi feel worse: her mom didn't seem at all bothered by his lack of communication. She was about to ask for more details about the last email she'd received, but her mom’s phone rang first. “It's your ah-ma. You can go on without me—I'll see you back at home,” she told Andi, before answering the call in Mandarin. 

 

So Andi kept going, alone. She jogged in silence, composing a symphony of the morning using the notes made by birdsong, by wind through trees, by waves lapping at the rocky shore. Odd mental diversions like this were pretty much the only use for her perfect pitch. She'd failed to become the musical prodigy her parents hoped for; her fingers tripped over piano keys, and she made violins—even, somehow, guitars—sound like yowling cats. Her voice wasn't anything special, either. Yet she couldn't avoid hearing music everywhere. 

This wasn't enough to distract her now, though, not with all the anxiety buzzing through her mind. What if he doesn't call? What am I supposed to do?

 

Andi stopped near the playground, deciding to try his cell phone. Straight to voicemail again. She checked her email. No new messages. 

 

Okay, time for some music. She scrolled through the playlists that she and her dad used to make, back when she used to help out at his record store. Between customers, they would fill the time creating song mixes to fit a certain mood or theme. They began with straightforward topics like Music for Road Trips, but soon craved more of a challenge, so they’d branched out to Songs for the Zombie Apocalypse and Soundtrack for Squirrels Who Wish They Were Human. Andi had been glad to discover this hidden passage into her father's world. Even if she was no good at playing music, she loved listening to it. And it was so satisfying when a mix turned out perfectly, when the right songs were strung together in the right order, somehow sounding better together than they had on their own. 

 

But the record store didn’t even exist anymore. Besides, everything was different now that Andi had to think about her future. The undergraduate selection committee would not be impressed by her Please Admit Me to Stanford playlist.

 

Andi couldn’t bring herself to listen to one of those mixes today. She pressed play on Thao’s “The Feeling Kind” and started to weave her way back to the main sidewalk, but the guy in front of her was walking right in the middle of the narrow path. He was dressed improbably in a white silk blouse, brown vest, matching breeches, and bright green sneakers. Annoyed at his slow pace and a little weirded out by his choice of clothing, she was about to try to squeeze around him when he dropped something.

 

He kept walking, fumbling with his messenger bag, so she bent to pick it up. It was a black composition notebook with a bunch of papers sticking out—a script, she saw as she tucked them back inside. 

 

“Excuse me,” she said, but he didn’t seem to hear, so she jogged closer. She was reaching out to tap his shoulder when he suddenly lurched forward. He cried out in surprise, and she realized what was happening: his feet were tangled in a coil of hose next to an ornamental garden bed. She reached out to catch him, but it was too late; he was already falling into the shrubbery.   

 

Half-stunned and half-amused, Andi approached him. She pushed the hose out of the pathway with her foot. “They shouldn’t have left that in the path. Are you okay?” 

 

“I’m fine,” he said, wiping bark mulch from his palms and chuckling to himself. “That was smooth.” He looked up at her, and her heart paused in its steady beat. Naveed. It was Naveed! 

 

His eyes, too, widened in recognition. “Hey—we’ve met before, haven’t we?” 

 

“I think so.” Andi hedged, trying to sound casual. “At the record store?” 

 

“Yes! That’s what it was. I thought you looked familiar.”

 

“Um… need a hand?” She reached down, and he placed his hand in hers. It was strong yet gentle, callused yet smooth. Heat flowed from his fingers into her skin, traveling up her arm and blooming across her cheeks. Luckily, he was focused on de-mulching his breeches, and didn’t notice.

 

Andi would never forget the moment he’d walked into the record store that December morning. She was getting over a cold, stifling sneezes behind the counter while Radiohead’s The Bends played from overhead speakers. He had appeared in the doorway, bicycle helmet in one hand, the other attempting to smooth the messy curls of his dark hair. His angular nose was large and striking, but it was the expression on his face that she remembered most. Like he had just discovered something amazing, and couldn’t believe his good luck.

 

Andi’s father, who had practically jumped out of the back room when the door chimes sounded, helped him find a few albums. As Andi rang him up, they’d started talking about music mixes, and he’d asked if they had time to help him make one for his girlfriend. Despite Andi’s initial pang of disappointment—of course he had a girlfriend—the three of them had spent a glorious hour compiling songs.

         

He liked all the tracks she suggested: perfect, he called them. Everything was perfect that morning. Andi had felt like she was tilting her face to the first sun in spring after months of rain.

 

Now, in the park, that same contentment returned. “Naveed, right?” she said once she had handed him his notebook and taken out her earbuds. She probably had the dopiest grin on her face, but decided not to be self-conscious about it, because he was smiling too. 

 

“That’s right! And you’re… Andi?”

 

He remembered. “Yep.”

 

“I'm so glad to see you! I kept meaning to go back, but the holidays were crazy. I was working a ton and… anyway, I was so sorry to see the store went out of business. It was an awesome place.” His tone changed to one of concern. “How's your dad doing?”

 

Andi didn't know how to respond. It didn't feel right to say the empty things she and her mother told everyone else: He's fine, ready to move on. But at the same time, she couldn't quite speak the truth: Actually, he did take it hard. So hard that he left us to participate in a potentially-dangerous clinical trial at Nutrexo.

 

Her silence seemed to give Naveed his answer. “I'm sorry. Hey, maybe sometime—”

 

To Andi’s dismay, he didn't finish the thought; he turned his head, listening to a distant melody that floated through the air. “Oh—that's my sister, looking for me. She’s playing my finding song.” He began walking away, but gestured for Andi to follow. “Do you have a minute? I’m sure Cyrus would love to see you again.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve got time,” Andi said, even though she didn’t think Cyrus would be that excited to see her. She had met him that same December morning; he’d joined them at the record store after finishing up his dishwashing shift at a nearby bakery. He had kept his distance from Andi and her cold germs, and was obviously impatient for Naveed to be finished so they could get lunch. She’d seen him in the halls at school several times since then, but he always breezed by without acknowledging her. 

“Great!” Naveed said. “He's probably up at the Amphitheater already. I’m in this drama troupe that’s putting on a play in about half an hour—A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hence, my attire.” He straightened his vest in mock seriousness. “You should come, if you can.”

Andi thought she would like that very much. Then he added, “I want to introduce you to Brooke, too—she’s around here somewhere. She thought the music mix was genius.”

Though Andi's joy deflated slightly at the mention of his girlfriend, she was too happy about his reappearance to let it bother her for long. 

As she followed Naveed, she realized that the melody of his “finding song” was familiar. She’d heard it before, coming from the small white farmhouse at the top of the street next to hers. Andi's neighbor Mrs. Rochester never wasted an opportunity to gossip about the family who lived in that house: their noisy chickens, their untidy yard, their little girl who was always risking a broken neck by climbing trees....

Andi almost laughed. After the record store closed, she’d been certain she’d never see Naveed again—but apparently he’d been less than a block away this whole time.

Naveed led her to a wide grassy lawn, where a barefoot young girl sat at the base of an oak tree playing a wooden flute. Dark hair framed her face. While her nose and mouth were small and delicate, her eyes were wide, giving her a look of perpetual wonder. 

“Hey, Roya, you called? This is Andi, by the way. Andi, this is my sister Roya.”

Roya clutched the flute, her eyes focused on her brother. “Where did you go?”

“I was just getting changed. Where’s Maman? I thought you were with her.”

“She's over there.” Andi followed Roya's gaze across the lawn, where three women were having what looked to be an intense discussion. 

“You want to come with us up to the Amphitheater?” Naveed asked Roya. 

“Yes! I’ll go tell Maman.” 

Roya skipped away. Andi didn’t want to waste her opportunity to find out more about Naveed, so she asked, “Hey, you just graduated, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Finished up last week, actually. I was in that Running Start program, taking classes at the community college.”

“That’s awesome—congrats. You have any plans for the summer?” It was a perfectly natural question, right? Not like she was stalking him or anything.

“Just working my ass off at the bookstore till I start at UW in the fall,” he said. 

Excellent—so he was staying in Seattle for college. Andi was about to ask which bookstore he worked at when Roya reappeared. The little girl slipped her hand into his, pulling him towards the trail to the Amphitheater. She chattered at him as they walked, and Naveed dipped his head to listen, casting frequent apologetic glances back at Andi. 

When they arrived at the Amphitheater meadow, he stopped to chat with a group of people setting up a potluck lunch on a long table. Roya stayed to help, and Naveed led Andi down to a wooden bench where Cyrus sat next to another boy. Both of them looked to be in deep concentration, tapping intently at their phones.

“Hey Kourosh! Look who I found,” Naveed called to Cyrus. Then, to Andi, “I’d better go, but it was good to see you! Enjoy the play!” He turned to leave, silk blouse billowing. 

 

“‘Kourosh’? What does that mean?” Andi asked once Naveed was gone. 

 

Cyrus looked up from his phone. “My family always calls me that—it’s how you pronounce ‘Cyrus’ in Persian. Remind me of your name?” 

 

“Andi. We met at my dad’s record store last winter.”

 

“Oh, yeah.” Cyrus pushed up his glasses. “This is my friend Dev. Sorry, we’re kind of busy at the moment, trying to finish a few things before he leaves on his epic family vacation.”

 

“We’re going camping,” Dev grumbled. “Camping! Off-grid! It’s going to be torture. Actually, my mom just texted—I’ve got to go meet her down by the playground. I’ll send you some stuff before we head out, Cy.”

 

After he’d left, Cyrus explained, “We’re submitting this video game we designed to a contest—if we win, it’ll get featured in the App Store. Just putting some finishing touches on it, fixing a few bugs. But it’s almost there. Want to give it a try?”

 

“Sure,” Andi said. 

 

He pulled up the demo on his phone and handed it to her. In the first level, she navigated a ferry boat across Puget Sound, dodging pods of leaping orca whales and water taxis brimming with pixilated tourists. She docked safely in Seattle, her first stop on the quest to Mount Rainier, where a blond, busty princess was trapped in an icy prison. 

 

Andi noticed her Nourishment Meter was dangerously low, but she was in front of a building labeled “Food Co-op,” and an apple hung in the air nearby. She jumped for it, smiling at the slurpy sound effects as it was eaten. The leftover apple core remained stuck to her hand.

 

“How do I get rid of this?” she asked.

 

“Keep going a little further…” Cyrus said. Soon enough, Andi arrived at three garbage cans, each with a unique symbol. She disposed of her core in the nearest one, but could tell from Cyrus’s sharp intake of breath that it was the wrong choice.

 

“Uh-oh,” he said. “You threw your apple core in the trash! The co-op hippies don’t like that… look, they’re bringing the worm bin!”

 

“I thought hippies were supposed to be laid-back.”

 

“Not when compostables get thrown away. Watch out!”

 

On the screen, two long-haired figures shook their fists and threw giant worms at Andi. The screen flashed and displayed, “Better luck next time!”

 

“Aww, why did I die?” Andi asked.

 

“Your Nourishment Meter was too low. You weren’t strong enough to withstand a worm attack.”  

 

Andi laughed and tried to re-start the game, but the screen was frozen.

 

“Yeah, it does that sometimes.” Cyrus took the phone back. “Working on it.” 

 

“That was awesome, Cyrus. I’m impressed,” Andi said.

 

Cyrus beamed. “Thanks.”

 

Roya ran over to tell them the food was ready, so Andi and Cyrus made their way over to the buffet table, still talking about the game as they waited in line, holding their compostable paper plates.  

 

A girl in a paisley dress walked down the line, handing out bright red flyers. She gave one to Andi. “Protest at Nutrexo Headquarters on Monday. Tell your friends!”

 

“Oh, what are you protesting?” Andi asked.

 

“Their genetically modified dairy cows. Have you heard about them?”

 

“Yeah, but I thought they were supposed to be better for the environment,” Andi said. Her chemistry class had taken a field trip to Nutrexo the previous month, spending the morning in the food science labs and participating in a focus group for several food products still under development. The EcoCows were mentioned several times as an example of the company's move toward better sustainability. Because they produced twice as much milk as regular cows, dairy farmers wouldn't have to keep as many, leading to fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

 

“That's what they want you to think,” the girl said, before continuing down the line.

 

Cyrus was looking at Andi quizzically. “Where did you hear that? Does your mom work at Nutrexo or something?”  

 

“No, my mom doesn’t, but my dad—” Andi stopped, flustered. It had almost slipped out.   

 

“Your dad works there now? He doesn’t seem the corporate type.”

 

Andi hesitated. She desperately wanted to tell someone, and wished she’d brought it up with Naveed when she’d had the chance. So she told Cyrus the truth, at least part of it. “He doesn’t work there. But he signed up to participate in one of their research projects.”

 

“Are you serious? Whoa, this is too weird.” Cyrus studied her. “Maybe you can help me, then.”

 

“Help you? With what?” Andi had a prickly feeling, like they were being watched, and glanced over her shoulder. But the next person in line, a well-dressed balding man, wasn’t even looking at them; his attention was focused on his phone, the red flyer crumpled in his left fist.

 

Cyrus leaned closer, practically whispering now. “Long story short, yesterday I opened this document that only my mom was supposed to see. Then I heard her coming, so I couldn't read it, and now I can’t find it anywhere—but it had something to do with research they’re doing at Nutrexo. So maybe you know more… have you ever heard of SILO?” 

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