“How exactly are you all related again?” I asked Sept. He’d traced the strings of connection between the guests we were expecting to arrive on the noon ferry, but in my mind, the relations tangled in a bird’s nest.
“Emmanuel is my skogoto,” he said. “My root brother. The individuals we were cloned from were brothers, so, genetically, we are brothers. Whisper is his girlfriend, Octy’s cousin and Xirra’s niece, and the daughter of Situ.”
“Is she like her mother?” I asked.
“I think so,” Sept said, “in all the best ways.”
I noticed the genetic resemblance between the two brothers instantly.
They seemed psychically connected, too, as they settled directly into conversation.
“I am happy you have found someone that sees your soul, mogoto,” Emmanuel said. “Most happy. I have to ask: did you drop the enchilada?”
“The enchilada dropped me, brother!” Sept joked back.
Emmanuel chuckled. “You know, I would have to agree with that sentiment! Perhaps the enchilada itself always does the dropping.”
Emmanuel seemed to want a private chat with his brother, so I headed upstairs where Whisper sat reading on the bed.
“How’s the book, Whisper? You look engrossed!”
“Have you read any of Baxin’ivre’s poems before?”
“Baxi-who? Was he Greek? ”
“Baxin’ivre! He’s no Ancient Greek. He was an an extraterrestrial. A very famous one who helped found the rebellion. Sept’s mentioned the rebellion?”
By then Emmanuel joined us, and I felt myself to be a third wheel again.
I moved to the other side of the loft and picked up a book of my own. I tried to focus on reading, while I could hear every word they spoke.
“Beloved, I hate to admit,” Emmanuel confessed, “I’m feeling immensely inferior to my brother in seeing him with Mallory. He truly inherited everything in our first life, and our second. He’s suave, dramatically striking, and exudes sexual confidence that I simply do not possess. He subliminally urges me to feel as though I need to improve my game, merely by existing in the way that he is.”
My cheeks flushed. I wanted to give them privacy, but I couldn’t head downstairs without walking past them, so I stayed put and stuck my nose deeper into The Secret Life of Dust, trying not to attend to this first introduction of what I learned was a lifetime theme between these two brothers.
“You should give yourself more credit,” Whisper said. “Your game is beyond entertaining and satisfactory.”
“That’s what it will be,” he said. “How were Baxin’ivre’s poems anyway? Are there any I could understand?”
“They’re beautifully composed. You should read one of the ones written for Batuotuo.”
“He wrote poems for Batuotuo? Of course I’ll read it… again. Perhaps my cells will remember something Emmanuel doesn’t know.”
Whisper handed him the book and joined me on the other side of the loft.
“I’ve never lived in a house before,” she said with a bright smile, “and, maybe I never will. If I do, I think I’d like for it to feel like this. It’s so homey. You and Sept have managed to foster an environment so full of love.”
“You feel it, too?” I asked. “Oh, God! We’re both so love-drunk! I hope we don’t get arrested for under-age supplying!”
“Oh, you won’t!” Whisper laughed. “Emmanuel’s soul often feels this way. I do find it amazing that the soul-feelings have filled the house!”
The way she and Emmanuel spoke felt odd to me–formal, intellectual, so very spiritual. I wasn’t accustomed, at the time, to hearing everyday talk that referenced souls.
Whisper went downstairs to try our piano, and Sept came up, trailing Octy, who had just arrived with Sebastion.
“Look who’s here!” Sept said. “The little grape himself!”
“Greetings, pagoto.” Emmanuel set down the book of poems and followed them.
“There you are, byu,” Sept said, drawing me into an embrace.
“Peoples!” Octy yelled. “Little kid here! Not in front of the kid!”
Emmanuel whistled. “You are slick! I certainly never anticipated moves like that from my contemplative mogoto. Perhaps I should engage in logos more often.” He snapped his fingers before pointing at me with both hands.
“You know the mind is the shortest route to a thinking-woman’s heart!” I joked.
Whisper rejoined us.
“Some women are more captivated by theories concerning aesthetics, I’ve found,” Emmanuel said with a smirk. She acted like she didn’t hear.
“Hi, Octy!” she said. “You’ve grown quite a bit since I last saw you.”
“I have a puppy. Your aunt gave him to me. He hasn’t grown. Not one inch.”
When talking to Whisper, Octy always referred to his mom as “your aunt.” I thought it was an idiosyncrasy. I learned later it was custom: Xirra was Whisper’s aunt before she became Octy’s mom: out of deference, she was, in conversation with Whisper, “Whisper’s aunt.” If he had been able to talk with Situ, he would have called her, “your sister.”
The brothers trotted downstairs to join Sebastion for a walk along the boardwalk.
The quiet that descended carried a hint of relief to me.
“Those two,” Whisper said. “Sept and Emmanuel. They’re always like that. They’re connected and, when they get to see each other in person, it’s like everything else fades away. Their world is consumed by the fact that their souls are in the same physical place at the same time.”
“I noticed,” I replied. “He seems closer to Emmanuel than to Octy, even, which I wouldn’t have guessed, since he was present at Octy’s birth and helped raise him. How do they feel a soul connection, when they’re connected by DNA?”
“Good question! I believe that the shared DNA draws two souls together. If circumstances permit, the souls will latch onto each other. They needed each other, and they chose to be brothers again.” She paused to smile. “Of course, this is all a theory. I don’t know the answer.”
“Has Manny described memories of past lives to you? Were they connected before, then?”
“I’ve seen Manny’s memories of his life as Batuotuo, and they were connected then, too.”
I didn’t know what that meant or how Batuotuo fit in. I had so many questions that afternoon, but I let them slide. There would be another time for answers.
Whisper looked as if she could see into me.
“When I first witnessed the bond, I felt as if I was intruding. I didn’t feel like I belonged near them, so I certainly didn’t think I belonged with them. I understand if you feel like an outsider looking in. Sometimes, I still do.”
I wanted to hug her. “That’s exactly how I feel.” I said. “We’re so new as a couple. When it’s just the two of us, I am slowly beginning to allow myself to believe that I belong in this life. But around others, it’s harder. I feel a little shaky today, to tell the truth. I’m not exactly like you, am I?”
“Are you referring to the differences in our species, or in how we fit into the many relationship dynamics that exist between us?”
“The whole package. You’re a family, with shared history, and you all come from the same place, and you think and talk alike, and here I am, stepping in from the outside. I only hope there’s room.” I felt, more than anything at that moment, the sting of my parents’ rejection.
“I believe that family is chosen,” Whisper said. “It has much to do with shared love and connection. If you and Sept have chosen each other, then there’s room! Soon, we’ll have shared history with you.”
“When I asked Sept why he loved me,” I said softly, “do you know what he said?”
Whisper shook her head. “I don’t. Will you tell me?”
“He said it was because I reminded him of Situ. She was your birth-mother, wasn’t she?”
“So maybe, if this thing works out in the long run, we can be family.”
“If he chose you because you reminded him of Situ, that means you’re already family and much more than that, I think. It means you’re home.”
“That’s exactly what he said!”
Through the years, I thought back on this conversation more times than I can remember. Every challenge, every danger, every time the rebellion separated us, every time I felt so tired I just wanted to give in and give up, every time it looked, to me, like Sept was putting everyone else ahead of me, ahead of our children, ahead of Mojo or any of the other scores of earth and space critters that found their ways into our family, I returned to this conversation. Home stays put. Home is what’s waiting when the wanderer and warrior return. Home is what brings life meaning. Home is the new sexy.
Sept called to us through the open window. He and his brothers had grilled up veggie burgers in the picnic area.
Walking to them, Whisper and I fell into an easy rhythm. I didn’t know at the time, but we would, through our lives, find ourselves countless times, shoulder to shoulder, matching strides, in companionable conversation and equally companionable silence.
“OK, peoples!” Octy shouted. “Everybody having fun?”
“One of my favorite things about visiting gotogo is being able to eat hot food with them,” Emmanuel said, taking a big bite of his veggie burger.
“What about cold food? Don’t you like ice cream, bagoto?” Octy asked.
“I ate cold food all the time at home: salad salad and fruit salad. Dreadful, huh? Would you believe me if I said I’ve never tried ice cream? Should I, pagoto?”
“Yes,” replied Octy, “because Pops says that a life without ice cream is not worth living!”
“I’m in trouble then,” Emmanuel laughed. “I’ll try some as soon as I can!”
The moon rose above Lighthouse Island. My heart opened at the sight of the moon, the silver clouds, the white cowslips shimmering in moonlight. But to see that beauty matched in a person! Whisper in the moonlight took away my breath.
“Living so close to the beach must be wonderful,” she said wistfully. “I don’t think I would ever get tired of watching the waves crash, the sun set, and the moon rise.”
“If that is what you desire, then that’s what will be.” Emmanuel looked around us. “The climate here is certainly appealing.”
Manny began to share his daydreams with Whisper about setting up a home base for her. In those early cocoon days, part of me worried at the prospect of Sept’s family becoming our neighbors. Sebastion was already looking for a house nearby for him, Octy, and Mop. If Manny and Whisper moved here, too, we would be surrounded by family. When would we ever get time to ourselves?
Sept and Sebastion joined us.
“Pops! I’m so glad you found a house you like!” Sept said. “And on the cove, too! Will you make an offer?”
When Sept turned to join his brothers for a walk on the beach, Sebastion lit into me.
“Mallory! Octy reported that you and Septemus made out in front of him! What did I tell you about PDA? Not in front of me, and not in front of my youngest son!”
“Just a minute, Mr. Sevens,” I said. “We were in our house, in our loft! I can’t help it if your youngest son happened to come up when we were doing what any engaged couple would do!”
“All right, all right!” Sebastion said. “You have a point. Just. Please. Not around me, and not around my little boy.”
Whisper watched the exchange with an amused, conspiratorial grin.
When Manny joined us, she shot a flirtatious glance his direction.
“I’m enthused you had time to come visit mogoto, Beloved,” Emmanuel said to her. “My soul has missed the presence of yours in my immediate vicinity.” He blew her a kiss. “I do hope you’re adoring school thus far, but I believe you and I should meet on a more frequent basis henceforward.”
“That’s what couples do!” I said to him, under my breath.
“I will always have time for you and Sept,” Whisper giggled. “And I definitely will not oppose meeting on a more frequent basis henceforward.”
“I do mean what I’d offered earlier,” Emmanuel said. “If you enjoy this place, I’ll find a way to get you here. Anywhere, for that matter.”
Sept and Octy returned from the moonlight walk. Sept gave his dad a big hug, as if it had been months, not minutes, since they’d last seen each other.
It hurt, just a little, to see the affection between father and son. I tried not to remember that my father chose not to be my dad anymore. Even when he had been my father, he had never hugged me like that.
“Octy says if you guys move here, he wants to have lots of sleep-overs,” Sept said.
“We can have movie nights,” I said. “Popcorn, ice cream, and zombies.”
Sept wandered off to look at the stars, just peeking out behind the clouds.
“Did I hear you right, Emmanuel?” Sebastion asked. “Are you thinking of moving here, too, with Whisper?”
“Only if she wishes it, Pops. Though I do quite enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the idea of living near mogoto. I believe we are opposite sides of the same magnet. He is my positive pull, you see, and where he goes I will always go, at some point. It’s where I feel I’m meant to be.”
I rose from the table, feeling Sept’s magnet-pull exert its force on me.
We looked at the stars in silence while his family talked of setting up new homes here in this town by the bay.
“Quick,” I said. “Your pops isn’t looking!” I snuck in a kiss on the cheek. “I love your family,” I whispered. “I think I’m beginning to feel at home.”
“Wherever you are is home for me,” he replied.
Author’s note: This chapter is set a few years ahead of where Ny and Ally’s stories are as of date of publication. Think of this as a preview for Whisper and Alienated , rather than spoilery!
Thank you to Ny275 and Allysimbuilds for co-writing this with me! They contributed Whisper and Emmanuel’s dialogue, insights into the characters’ psychology and relationship dynamics, and ideas for future plot developments.