FANFIC: Silver

ROSWELL

Summary: Unlike the rest of the Royal Four, Tess Harding was raised by another alien, away from Roswell. What was her childhood like? How does it shape who she eventually becomes when she arrives in Roswell? Chapters alternate between the past and present.

A/N: This is a Roswell fanfic I started back in 2002.  I always felt that Tess had the potential to be a very interesting, nuanced character with a lot of layers, but the writers never did her justice.  I was also really curious about her childhood growing up with Nasedo.  This fanfic is my response to that.  It’s not really AU, but it’s not completely canon either.

Disclaimer: I do not own Roswell.

1. THEN: the leaving

She had been dancing.  She could remember that much, at least.  Practically all things from that cold November night eight, maybe nine, years ago were blurry, but not this.   She had been happy, too.  She had thought her life was perfect.


Things change so quickly.

* * *

“Tess.”  Ed Harding stood on his back porch, waiting for his daughter to respond.

“Daddy?”  Tess stopped spinning and squinted at the silhouette by the open door.  It was hard to see anything through all this rain.  She loved watching the rain, dancing in the rain, but suddenly she just wanted to make it all go away.

“Tess.  You don’t want to get really sick out there in that rain, do you?  Come on, we’ve talked about this before.”  Ed tried to keep his voice steady, but he didn’t succeed.

Tess ran up to her father.  “Daddy, what’s wrong?” she asked, concern filling her voice.

Ed cleared his throat.  “Nothing, Tess.  Nothing.”  He followed her as she entered the house.

“We’re leaving again, aren’t we?” Tess asked once they were inside.

Ed was alarmed.  “What makes you think that?”

“You’re acting all funny again.  Besides, it has been over two years.  I would be pretty worried if you hadn’t decided to leave again soon.”

“I’m sorry.”  So much for an apology, Tess thought.  He didn’t mean it.  He never did.

“I know you are,” Tess replied softly.  “I’ll go get my stuff.  You want to leave tonight, right?”

Ed smiled a brightly fake smile at her.  “Well.  You know me way too well.  Yes.  Go get your stuff.  Remember–”

“–No more than 2 bags.  I know, Dad.”  Tess rolled her eyes and ran up the stairs.

The coldness of the rain was finally dawning on her.  She could only imagine how much colder it would get in the next few years.

* * *

“Why do we always have to leave like this?” Tess asked her father as she threw her bags in the backseat of their car.

“Now, Tess…you know with my job…” Ed started.

Tess kicked the curb furiously.  “That’s a lie; you know it is!  I’m not a 5-year-old anymore.  I’m not blind.  Everybody here hates you!  Don’t think I haven’t seen it.  Everywhere we go, eventually someone gets mad, and the next second, we’re being driven out of the city!”

“Tess…”

“Why?  I just want to know why,” Tess demanded.

Ed looked around nervously.  “We just haven’t found the right people, that’s all,” he told Tess.

“The right people?  What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Tess.  Lower your voice,” Ed commanded.  “You’ll wake the whole neighborhood up!”

“I just thought–for whatever reason, I don’t know–that we were staying for real this time,” Tess mumbled, looking at the ground.  Her toes were beginning to hurt.  Why oh why had she kicked that curb?  “I can see now I was being stupid.  Let’s go.”  She got in the car and slammed the door.

Ed opened the door to the driver’s seat.  “I know how hard it must be for you.  I’m sorry.”

He still didn’t mean it.  Tess closed her eyes.  I am not here.  I am not here.  I am not here.

“I mean, just when you start to make some good friends at school, I just take you away from them, without letting you tell them where you’re going.  That must be pretty hard, right?”

There was no answer.

“Tess?”  Ed peered at the back seat.  “Tess?”  He looked out the window frantically.  “Tess, this isn’t funny.  Okay, so you’re upset with me.  But you have no right to just disappear on me like that.”

“What are you talking about, Dad?  I’m right here.”

“What?”  Ed looked at the back seat where Tess was sitting once again.  “Um…You’re there.”  He pointed stupidly at Tess.  “Less than a minute ago…  Where…?”  Realization dawned on him.  “Oh.  You already know how to…  Oh.”

Tess was very confused.  “I already know how to…”  She looked at her reflection in the rearview mirror.  She was sitting… “Uh, Dad.  I learned how to sit when I was like, a year old.”

“What?”  Now it was Ed’s turn to be confused.  “You learned how to sit…  Oh.  Hmm.”  He paused.  “I think it’s time to leave now.”  He retrieved the keys from his pocket.

“Why do you keep saying ‘oh’?” Tess wondered aloud.

Ed stared at Tess for a few seconds.  “No reason.  I just think it’s a very…”  He searched for the right phrase.  “…a very good word,” he finished.

Tess looked at him blankly.

He started the engine.

2. NOW: sorry I lied

“Tess.”  Ed Harding stood in the doorway of the living room, waiting for his daughter to respond.

“Where are we going this time, Dad?” Tess asked without looking up from the television.

“Tess, look at me.”

“How about Rumford, huh?  ‘Cause I noticed we haven’t touched the state of Maine yet,” Tess continued, her eyes still glued to the screen.

Ed stayed still by the doorway.  “I expected this from you before…well, you know…and right after I told you what was going on, but come on Tess, this is ridiculous.”

Tess shook her head.  “You just don’t get it do you?”  She finally looked up at her father.  You always twist around everything I say, you can’t even remember what you’ve told me and what you haven’t told me…”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Ed walked into the room and sat down on a chair.  “Enlighten me.”

“You kept my entire life hidden from me, your life…everybody’s.  I mean, I didn’t even find out I wasn’t human until I was what, nine years old?”

Ed forced a smile.  “Well, Tess.  The important thing is now you know.”

“I had to find out for myself!  And I could think of a hundred different other ways I would have prefered to find out!  Don’t you know that day still gives me nightmares?” Tess yelled.

“Tess, I’m sorry,” Ed said, bewildered.

Tess backed away, horrified.  “Stop saying that!  You always say you’re sorry, but you never are!  I mean, what if I hadn’t seen, what if I hadn’t demanded to know what was going on?  Did you ever plan on telling me?”

“Well, yeah.  When you were ready.  And judging from the way you ran into the house screaming that day, you weren’t exactly ready.”

There was a long period of silence.

Ed shifted in his seat.  “We’re not going to Rumford, Tess.  We’re going to Roswell.”  He pulled out a folded-up brochure from his shirt pocket and handed it to her.  “Tonight.  Two Bags.  You know the procedure.”

Tess looked down at the brochure in her hands.  “I meant it…what I said to you that day.”

“What day?”

Tess looked up from the brochure.  “You know perfectly well.”

Ed smiled.  “No, Tess.  I highly doubt you meant it.”

“I meant it.  I still mean it,” Tess insisted.  “And taking me to some alien-crazed city isn’t going to change anything.”

Her father just smiled some more.  “We’ll see, Tess.”   He left the room.

Tess took another look at the brochure.  “Roswell,” she said out loud, shaking her head. “Roswell, New Mexico.”  She laughed and went upstairs to pack.

3. THEN: Otis, Omar, or That Dead Guy in the Trunk

It had happened on a Saturday.

Tess woke up early that day, around 7:30.  At first, everything seemed just like an ordinary Saturday morning.  But as Tess walked out of her room, she noticed how strangely quiet the house was.  Usually her father would be in the kitchen eating his breakfast and shifting around the newspaper.  That morning…nothing.

Tess checked her father’s bedroom.  Empty.  She was about to call the police when she heard a car coming to a stop in front of the house.  Tess pulled back the curtains and peered out the window.  It was definitely their car.  What was he doing out so early in the morning?, Tess wondered, slowly letting the curtains drop.  She thought about running outside and flat-out asking him, but realized she would never get an honest answer that way.  Instead, Tess decided to go out the back door–quietly–and see what he was up to for herself.

As she side-walked slowly along the side of the house, Tess thought of all the probable reasons her father had been out so early.  Maybe we ran out of Tabasco Sauce and he just went to buy more, Tess thought, and she immediately felt silly for overreacting.

Ed Harding had opened the trunk of the car and was sifting through the contents of a black bag.  Tess was still too far away to see very well, but she thought she saw a striped tie hanging outside the trunk.  Suddenly nothing felt right.  Tess closed her eyes.  Tess, she told herself, calm down.  Everybody wears a tie.  A tie could be anywhere.  Maybe that isn’t even a tie.  Maybe it’s a…No, the point is, you have to stop acting like this.  You’re jumping to conclusions.  This is nothing.

Tess opened her eyes again.  Her dad was done with the black bag.  He was zipping it up and throwing it into the far corner of the trunk.  Tess took a deep breath and quietly started tiptoeing closer.

As soon as her view changed angles, she saw the body.  It seemed to be a man, maybe in his late twenties or early thirties.  Tess stared.  She didn’t know what to think.  Ed’s hand made it’s way the top of the trunk door and rested there for a few minutes, his eyes never leaving the body once.

Tess came out of her trance quickly and looked over the body once more, slowly this time.  The striped tie had belong to him.  It was draped around his neck, but not tied.  The top buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned, revealing what looked like spots of silver paint on his chest.  Tess hadn’t noticed it before, but suddenly it was so bright…

Tess suddenly felt a wave of dizziness wash over her.  What’s happening? “Dad!” Tess cried out in a strangled voice, looking at her father as he quickly turned around to face her.

“Tess!”  Ed looked at her.  He looked back at the body.  Tess knew what he was thinking: How long has she been standing here?  Should I slam the trunk door or will that make it worse?

Ed seemed very unsure of what to do.  He looked at Tess again.  “My, my, Tess.  You’re up early today!”  He slammed the trunk door in a trying-to-be-too-casual way.

“Dad, what’s going on?” Tess demanded.  Another wave of dizziness, worse this time.  She felt like throwing up.

Ed fake-smiled at her.  “Of course, sweetheart.  Just one question: How long have you been standing here?”

“As long as you’ve been here practically,” Tess answered.  “What does that have to do with anything?  Is the answer going to be different depending on how long I’ve been standing here?”

“No, Tess, of course not,” Ed assured her, obviously lying.  He looked at the now-closed trunk.  “I suppose you want to know about the, uh, guy in there.”

“How’d you ever guess?” Tess asked sarcastically.  The dizziness had left, but her head was really beginning to hurt.

“Oh,” Ed answered.  “-tis.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” Ed said, nodding his head calmly.  “That’s his name…Otis.”

Tess looked at him suspiciously.  “Otis?”

Her father continued nodding his head.  Sweat beads were beginning to form on his forehead, Tess noticed.

“Well, who is he?” Tess wanted to know.

“He’s my, uh…fishing buddy,” Ed answered quickly.  Tess worried his head might fall off if he kept up that ridiculous nodding.

“Fishing?”  Tess was skeptical.  “You always go fishing on Saturday morning?”

Ed nodded once again.  “Yup.  With ol’ Omar here.”

“Dad.  You said his name was Otis.”

Ed abruptly stopped nodding.  “Well, of course I did.  That’s his name.  But, you know, people have nicknames.  And…I prefer the name Omar.  So I call him that.”  He nodded again.  “And he’s perfectly fine with it too,” he added quickly.

“I see.”  Tess wasn’t so sure what to believe anymore.  “So, uh..if you don’t mind my asking…?”

“Oh, no, not at all,” Ed told her.  “Ask away!”

“Right, so, um, would there be a particular reason he’s in the trunk of our car…?” Tess asked.  Her headache was getting increasingly worse.

“Well,” Ed explained.  “Omar sometimes gets tired, you know, with all that fishing…it’s tiring right?”

“Of course,” Tess agreed, trying to hurry his story along.

“So today he was extra tired and he kinda…he kinda fell asleep,” Ed concluded.

It was a believable story.  Well, sort of.  At least, Tess really wanted to believe it…but why was her father acting so strange?  Why had he never mentioned fishing on Saturdays?  And ‘Otis/Omar’ hadn’t been breathing, right?  Maybe he was breathing, I just didn’t notice.  Especially with that silver paint distracting me… Thinking about the silver paint made Tess dizzy again so she tried to stop thinking about it.  I just need another look, that’s all, she reassured herself.

Tess cleared her throat.  “Do you think you could open the trunk door again?” she asked, loud and clear.

“What?” Ed pretended he was hard of hearing.

“Can. I please. take. another look. at the…uh, Omar?” Tess enunciated.

Ed’s hand came down on the trunk door.  “Tess, no…”  Ed shook his head.  “He’s really not interesting to watch when he’s sleeping…I can tell you that.”  Ed shifted positions nervously, and in doing so, took his hand off the trunk.

Tess looked at the perfect silver handprint on the car, right where her father’s hand had been.  She stared for several minutes without blinking.  No…the silver paint…

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Tess screamed.  She ran up the sidewalk, was reaching for the door, then stopped, frozen on the doormat.

“Tess!” Ed barked.  “I can explain.”

But Tess barely heard him.  She was staring at the doorknob.  All she could see in her head were the fingerprints, his fingerprints, every time he had open or shut the door in the last few months.  The mark he was leaving on their lives.  Silver.

Tess turned back to her father, who was staring Tess with concern.  Tess was too dizzy and confused and upset to figure out of it was genuine or fake.

“What’s wrong, Tess?”

She ignored him and pointed to the car.  “Who is that guy, really?” she asked him, trying to remain calm.  It wasn’t working.  “And, just in case I’ve missed something, who…what…are you?”

4. NOW: the Book

2 months later they had pictures.  Dozens of black and white photos of “Otis” and the silver handprint.

Police came in one morning looking for Ed.  They found me still sleeping in my room and literally pulled me out of bed. Are you his daughter?  Where is he?  What is he doing? 

Yes, I’m his daughter. But I couldn’t answer any of the other questions.  Dad, if I could still call him that, was gone all the time now.  I had no idea where he ran off too, and most of the time I was too scared to ask. I don’t know, I told the police.

That’s when they pulled out the pictures and lay them on my bed. Have you seen this man?

Looking at the pictures only made everything worse, but I examined them closely and tried to look like I was searching my memory.  I was so scared about what they might do if I told them what I knew–or thought I knew, since my father had still told me absolutely nothing.  If he went to jail, what would happen to me?

I shook my head.  I guess the police decided I was no use to them because they took the pictures and left.  I fell back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling.  I remembered two years ago, dancing the rain, when life was still so perfect.  I wanted to cry but no tears would come.

* * *

“Tess.  Tess!”

“What?” Tess opened her eyes and looked around the car, dazed.  Her father was looking at her strangely.

“You looked like you were having a bad dream,” Ed commented.

Tess rubbed her eyes and realized she had been crying in her sleep.  “Oh no, it was a nice dream,” Tess lied. She had wanted to forget that day.

“Are you sure?  I was pretty sure I saw some tears there.”

“They were tears of joy,” Tess said defensively, wondering why she was lying to him.  He lied.  She didn’t.  Why was she lying now?  Besides, he had done this to her.  Why wasn’t he hurting?

“Fine.  Whatever.  I was just asking,” Ed said.  “Come on, it’s getting late.  You’ll sleep better in a hotel.”

Tess hadn’t noticed where they were parked.  Actually she hadn’t even noticed they were parked.  “I slept fine,” she insisted, but started to get out the of car.

Ed stopped her.  “Wait.  I need to discuss something with you first.”

Tess pulled her hand away from the door.  “Okay.”

“Do you know why we’re going to Roswell?” he asked first.

“I always thought you picked these cities at random,” Tess said truthfully.

“Well, actually, I do.  But Roswell is different.”

“Oh really.”  Tess raised her eyebrows.  She did not like where this was going.

“Do you remember when I told you about Antar?” Ed asked, realizing it was a stupid question.

Tess just stared at him.

Ed went on.  “Okay, you most likely remember.  Anyway, I told you about the Royal Four that day too.  And I told you about the other three aliens.  I think I said they’re in Indiana or something…I don’t remember.  But the truth is, they live in Roswell.  I, uh, I kinda lied about that.”

Tess patted her dad’s shoulder.  “About time you admitted to your lying problem, Dad.  Or at least half admitted to.”

Ed sighed.  “I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you, Tess.”

“So am I.”

“Fine.  Later.  Anyway, I thought if I told you Roswell, you’d go and try to find them, and I wasn’t quite ready for that.  So, I had a good reason for lying.”

Tess shook her head but said nothing.

“I need you on my side, Tess,” Ed told her.  When have you ever been on my side? Tess wanted to say, no, yell.  She had no interest in meeting MaxIsabelandMichael.  In her mind they were just like her father.  Killers.  Liars.  Soulless.  Everything she hated.  But she was so cold and tired she couldn’t argue.

“What do you want me to do?”

Ed unzipped a blue canvas bag that had been sitting next to him in the passenger’s seat and pulled out a silverish book.  “The Book.”

Tess started to groan, but stopped herself.  “You want me to tell them about it.”

“I want you to show it to them,” Ed corrected.

Tess took the book and tried very hard not to protest.  She turned the book over in her hands.  It suddenly felt very heavy.

She tentatively reached out and traced the symbol on the front with her index finger.  Destiny.  The whole thing still sounded as ridiculous as it had five years ago when Ed had first showed the book to her.  The future is still to be determined. She had said that to herself that night when she couldn’t sleep.    It was reassuring somehow.

“MaxIsabelandMichael need to know their Destiny,” Ed was saying.  “They’re very mixed-up right now.  Although, having grown up with human parents, I don’t blame them.”  He looked back at Tess.  “So what do you say, Tess?”

“I’ll do it,” Tess said simply.  She got out of the car and slammed the door.  The future is still to be determined.


5. THEN: lie to me again

One night, Ed found Tess reading a book in her room.  About five months had passed since the picture incident.  Tess hadn’t talked to him since.

Ed walked over to the chair by Tess’ desk and sat down hesitantly.

Tess continued reading.

Ed looked around the room and sighed.  “I…I guess I have some explaining to do,” he said loudly and waited for a response.

Tess ignored him.

“Tess.”  Ed reached over and took her book away.  “Just for a second, could you please listen to me?”

Tess stared at him.  “I asked you what was going on.  I listened.  I waited two months.  You didn’t even try to explain, Dad.”  Dad. It felt so weird now, calling him ‘Dad.’

“Tess, I know.  I’m sorry, okay?  But I’m trying to explain right now, and I need your help.  This isn’t easy.”

It should be easy, Tess thought.  But she didn’t say anything.  She just kept her mouth shut and nodded.

“Okay, uh…” Ed didn’t seem to know where to begin.  “First I need to say that I am…”   He paused.  “Notfromaroundhere,” he finished in a rush.

Tess seemed confused.  “What did you say?”

Her father sighed.  “I’m..I’m Not. From. Around Here.”

“I heard that.  So you mean you’re like, an alien.”

Ed nodded and smiled.  “Yes.  Yes, you get it.”

There was a short silence.  Then, “Why are you lying to me?” Tess wanted to know.  “Why can’t you tell your daughter the truth once?  I mean, don’t you think I deserve to know the truth?”

The smiled disappeared off Ed’s face.  “So I might have been lying about the whole fishing thing.  But Tess, I was only trying to protect you.  I thought you were too young to handle the truth.  And I’m being completely serious when I say we’re aliens.”

Tess froze.  “Wait a second.  Did you just say that I’m a so-called alien, too?” she asked.

Ed nodded again.  “Yes.  Now you’re catching on, Tess.”

“You’re serious.”

“Yes.  I can, uh…do this.  Watch.”  Ed shape-shifted Tess.

Tess screamed.  Ed quickly returned to normal.  “I didn’t mean to freak you out,” he said.

Tess shook her head, trying to catch her breath.  “You didn’t freak me out,” she tried to assure her father.  “That was just really…really weird.”  And kind of gross, Tess thought.  But she didn’t say it.  Instead, “So I can do that too,” she said slowly.  I won’t do it.  I won’t.

“Well, actually no,” Ed told her.

Thank God, Tess thought.

“You kind of have another alien power,” Ed said brightly.  “Mindwarping.”

Tess groaned.  “I don’t even want to know what that is.”

“No, no, you do,” Ed said a little too excitedly.  “It’s a cool thing to be able to do.”

Tess looked straight at her father.  “I.  Don’t.  Care.  You lied to me.  You killed ‘Otis’ that day.  His name probably wasn’t even ‘Otis’ or ‘Omar.’  I can’t believe this.”

“Actually, his name was Kevin,” Ed told her.

Tess ignored him.  “You killed him.  How can you be so calm about the whole thing, huh?  Why?”

“Tess…”

“There were more weren’t there?  Stupid question.  Of course there were more.  That’s why we keep moving.  And where ever we go,  there are always going to be more.”

“Tess,” Ed said warningly.  “Yes, there were more.  But you don’t know the whole story.”

“I don’t have to know the whole story,” Tess told him angrily.  “I don’t care what you are.  Human…alien…you had no right to kill that man.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I understand perfectly.  And if this is what it means to be an alien, then I don’t want to be an alien!” Tess yelled.

“Calm down.” Ed demanded.  “First of all, being an alien doesn’t necessarily mean killing.  Secondly, you’re a hybrid.  So you aren’t completely alien.”

“That’s right.”  Tess looked thoughtful.  “My mother.  You told me she died in a car accident.  What really happened to her?”

Ed looked down at the floor.  “I told you the truth about her,” he said finally.

“You told me the truth,” Tess stated.

Ed nodded.

“You’re lying.  You’re lying.  What really happened to her?” The tears were threatening to spill over.

“It isn’t what you’re thinking, Tess.”  Ed tried to reassure her without much success.

“Really.”

“Really,” her father confirmed.

“Why should I believe you?” Tess wanted to know.

“Because I’m your father, Tess.  You have to believe me.”  Ed was getting desperate.

“Then tell me the truth about my mother.  You killed her, too.”  Tess looked like she was ready to run for the door.

“No,” Ed told her.  “Absolutely not.”

Tess didn’t know what to do.  So she just stood there.  A few seconds passed.  A tear rolled down her cheek.

“Tess, look at me,” Ed commanded.

Tess obeyed.

“Now listen to me: I. Did. Not. Kill. Your. Mother.”  Ed placed his hands on her shoulders.  “Okay?”

Tess tried to back away.  “Don’t touch me.”

Ed made no move to release her.  “Not until you give me an answer.  Okay?”

Tess hesitated.  “Okay.”  Tess broke away from him and ran out of the room.

6. NOW: Roswell coming

“MaxIsabelandMichael were careless,” Ed told Tess when they finally arrived in Roswell.

“Careless how?” Tess asked.  She picked at a scab on her arm.

Her father sighed.  “They told three humans about their real identity.”

Go MaxMichaelandIsabel!, Tess silently cheered.  Then she remembered she hated them.  “Um, why would they do that?” she asked out loud.

Ed parked the car in front of their new house.  “Max thought he was in love with a human girl, she was shot, he healed her, she demanded to know the truth…  To make a long story short.”  He glanced at Tess in the rearview mirror.

“Well, what about the other two?”

“The human girl couldn’t keep her mouth shut.  Max kept saying she was different, she wouldn’t tell.  Of course she did.  Could you hand me that gray bag?” Ed unbuckled his seat belt and turned around to face Tess.

She handed over the bag.

“I knew from the beginning something like this was going to happen,” Ed told her, shaking his head.  “Thank God I have you to straighten things out for them.”

“Right.  Of course.”  Tess shifted in her seat.  “Just one question though.  How do you know all this?”

“I know everything, Tess,” Ed replied darkly.  “Now, I say we go in.”

Tess grabbed her backpack and started to open the door.

“Don’t forget The Book,” Ed added as he opened his own door.

Tess looked at the book, which lay beside her.  “Right.  The Book.”  She held it up and laughed nervously.  “Of course I couldn’t forget The Book.”

Ed smiled.

Tess stepped out of the car and slammed the door.  She followed Ed into the house.

* * *

Tess stood right outside the courtyard, watching a girl douse her fries with Tabasco.  Had to be Isabel.  She certainly fit the description, anyway.  And the dark-haired guy sitting across from her was undoubtedly one of the humans who knew her their secret.

She should have gone right up to Isabel, interrupted their conversation.  Intervene, as her father had told her to.  Tess looked back at her backpack.  The corner of The Book was peeking out.  She quickly pushed it out of sight.  Might as well walk right up to Isabel.  It really couldn’t hurt.

She took a deep breath and started walking toward their table.

“Mind if I sit here?” Tess asked boldly once she had gotten closer.

Isabel looked up from her lunch.  “No, go ahead.”  She moved her books off the table.  “Hey, you’re the new girl, right?”

Tess sat down hesitantly.  “Yeah.  I’m Tess.”

“I’m Isabel,” Isabel told her.

Tess almost said, I know, but caught herself just in time.  She stared at her backpack.

“This is Alex,” Isabel added, indicating the guy facing her.  “So, how do you like Roswell so far?”

“It’s okay,” Tess replied hurriedly, taking her eyes off her backpack.  “I just moved in yesterday, so it’s hard to really say.”

Isabel nodded understandingly.  “So what classes are you taking?”

Tess pulled out her schedule and handed it to Isabel, all the while thinking that Isabel was actually pretty nice.  Maybe this won’t be so bad after all, she thought.  Although it’s probably just her cover, like with Dad, she reasoned angrily.  Tess stared daggers at the bottle of Tabasco Sauce.

“We have Phys. Ed together,” Isabel commented, holding the schedule out to Tess.  “Oh.”  She picked up the bottle and laughed.  “I know it’s weird, but I really like this stuff.  I put it on everything.”

“She’s not kidding,” Alex said.  Isabel fake-smiled at Tess, sort of like how Dad used to, Tess observed.  She suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

“I don’t think it’s weird,” Tess replied quickly.  Actually, I like the stuff myself.  I…I eat it with chocolate cake.”

“No kidding.” Isabel continued to grin.

Tess felt the sharp edges of The Book poking into her back.  She suddenly felt like she was doing something very very wrong.  “Well, I have to go.  I hope I see you around.”  She left.

7. THEN: these bare white walls

The kids stared at her as she walked in.  She stared back, refusing to let them intimidate her.  She was used to this.  It was the constant in her life, walking into an unfamiliar classroom, being the new girl.  She was sick of it, but she held her head high.

“Tess, honey, would you like to introduce yourself to the class?”  Her new sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Safford.  She said it like a question, but she meant it like a command.  Tess knew this by now.

She stood front center and pulled at her backpack straps, suddenly nervous.  “My name is Tess…”  Her voice faltered; she cleared her throat, paused.  She was remembering last night, staring at the bathroom mirror in the new, empty house and saying that.  My name is Tess.  My name is Tess. Trying to convince herself.  I am not Savannia.

“Yes?” Mrs. Safford prompted.

Tess remembered where she was.  “My name is Tess Harding.  That’s it.  I like Scranton okay so far.”  She took a seat.  She said that every time.  My name is Tess Harding.  That’s it.  I like (insert name of current city) okay so far. It was easier that way, not having to think of what to say next.

The desks there were the exact same as in Chapel Hill except the seats were blue instead of yellow.  That made it a little easier.  Tess sat back and relaxed.  At least Dad’s not here.  That’s something to be happy about. She wasn’t sorry for thinking it.

* * *

He was watching TV that night, some basketball game or the other; Tess never really paid much attention to sports.

“Humans,” Ed sighed, “They get so excited about someone throwing a ball through a hoop.  My God.”

Why are you watching it then? Tess shook her head and went to her room.

The white walls were bare, as they would always be.  She was secretly jealous of all those girls who actually had the opportunity to personalize their rooms with posters and awards and artwork.  Sometimes she fantasized about walking into a room like that, a room she could call her own and not just a cold, empty room with no personality at all.  But that would have been a waste of time.  Tess sighed and sat down on her sleeping bag.  She wondered–briefly–how it had been like for Savannia, if that story about their past lives was even true.  Dad has been known to lie, she thought and laughed shortly.  Was Savannia…was she like me?  Or was she like Dad? Tess cringed at the thought.  Heartless. It hurt too much to wonder; she stopped.

She hated her Dad.  “You did this to me,” she said quietly to the hollow room.  She saw Ed in the next room drinking his 20 oz. cherry coke, eyes glued to a game he clearly didn’t even enjoy.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  “Fathers are supposed to love their daughters.  Don’t you know that?”

“Tess?” Ed rapped his knuckles lightly on her door frame.

Tess turned slowly, looked at him.  “Yes?”

“Did you call me?” The TV was still on in the living room.  She could hear the unmistakable sounds of sneakers squeaking on the indoor court and buzzers going off, signifying time-outs.

She looked at his eyes.  It was clear he didn’t know that fathers were supposed to love their daughters.  He didn’t know anything about her–her hobbies, her favorite color, her favorite movie.  He spent so much time tracking down MaxIsabelandMichael, learning their strengths and weaknesses–their personalities–that he hadn’t bothered to learn hers.  “No.  I was just…praying.”  It was the truth.

“Don’t tell me you believe in God now.  Are you getting this from school?  I knew private school was a mistake.”  Ed rubbed his temples, like he was trying to make a difficult decision.  “Look, first thing tomorrow, I’m taking you out of that school–”

“What is so bad about believing in God that you would pull me out of a school I just started to go to today?”

“What?” Ed was caught by surprise.

“You heard me.  What’s so bad about God?”  She waited for his answer.

Ed paused, debating what to say to his 11-year-old daughter.  “Nothing, Tess.  I just don’t…I don’t think you need Him, that’s all.”

“You’re wrong.”  Tess looked him in the eyes, daring him to protest.  “I do need Him.  Everyone needs someone to believe in, even if she’s some sort of, say, hybrid freak, okay?”

He didn’t have a response to that, and she looked away.  “Your basketball game is still on.”

He left and she leaned back, laying on the sleeping bag.

8. NOW: the difference between you and me

Ed Harding knew what he was doing.  He always did.  Everything in life was a plan; there was no time for games, no time for spontaneity.  It was not that he was some sort of control freak or anything.  At least, he didn’t think he was.  He simply had a strong grip on life.  Yes, that was it.  He didn’t let emotions get in the way.  It was all about having strength, knowing what was right and avoiding everything else.

MaxMichaelandIsabel.  It was hard to believe sometimes that the day had finally come.  They were right at his fingertips.  But what was he going to do with them?  He hadn’t had the opportunity to raise them, and now they had made this terrible mistake of telling humans their secret.  Not like I did the perfect job with Tess, he found himself thinking.  She’s so screwed up she doesn’t know who she is. He shook his head.  Oh, shut up.

He looked around at the new house, still relatively empty.  They had traveled lightly, as usual, but the few boxes and bags they brought were still in unopened boxes in the foyer near the front door.  Ed made a mental note drive to some home decorating store first thing the next morning and buy some art prints to hang on the walls, potted plants to place on the windowsills.  Things that the average human would place in a home.

If Tess was going to bring MaxMichaelandIsabel over sometime, he didn’t want them suspicious from the start.  In fact, he’d told Tess a couple days ago to lay low for awhile.  Don’t show them the book quite yet.  They’ve been suspicious of people lately.  Let’s just earn their trust first, then decide where to go from there.  She had agreed.  Although that didn’t exactly mean much these days.

Ed sighed and got up to retrieve some Tabasco from the fridge.  It was going to be a long night.

* * *

“No, I’m serious,” Isabel was saying.  “Come over to my house after school today.  I want you to meet my parents, and then we can hit the mall and go shopping or something.  Transfering to Roswell High mid-semester and everything, you probably been so busy catching up with everything that you haven’t even had the time to explore.”

Tess could hardly believe it.  It would be great for once to be able to hang out with someone her age and forget about her life for the time being, but God, this was Isabel.  And what if that meant facing Max again?  It was bad enough they were in the same chemistry class and she had to see him everyday.  It was too weird, knowing what was in the Book and all.  “Tell me about it,” Tess said instead..  “I have Mr. Pollack for English, and you know how they’re in the middle of writing a research paper?”

Isabel nodded.

“Well, Pollack decides I should have to read A Tale of Two Cities, which by the way, the rest of the class read last month, over the weekend and turn in the paper at the same time as everybody else!”

“Yeah, I heard the guy is a piece of work,” Isabel said sympathetically.  “Completely unreasonable and stubborn as hell.  I have to hear Alex complain about him all the time.  But listen, I think I kept my notes from when we read it in Fitch’s class.  They’re probably in my room somewhere; I can lend them to you.”

Why was this girl being so nice?  Did she have a hidden agenda?  “Would you?  That would be really great, thanks.”

“No problem.  So, what do you say?  Hang out after school today?”

“Sure.”  Tess was used to forcing smiles.  She was surprised when this one came naturally.  “Meet you here after last period?”

“Sounds good to me.”  Isabel smiled back.  And hers wasn’t a fake smile either.  At least, Tess didn’t think so.  It was getting harder and harder for her to tell.

* * *

Later that day, she found herself sitting in Isabel Evans’ car, headed for her house.

“I should probably call my dad or something,” Tess said, reaching for her cell.  “He’s kind of overprotective.  He worries about me all the time.”  Liar.

“Oh yeah, my parents are the same way.  It probably comes from Max and I being adopted… or something like that anyway.”  Isabel made a face.  “We don’t really like to talk about that.”

“You two are adopted?” Tess asked, pretending to be surprised.

Isabel nodded.  “It’s not a big deal though.  I mean, I never really uh, I never really knew my biological parents, so it’s not like I could miss them.”  She pulled into the driveway.  “Anyway, I think you’re really going to like my mother.”

Tess felt like she was dreaming as she walked into the Evans’ home.  It was like something on TV, the framed family photos on the mantle, the lists and calendars hanging on the refrigerator, actual wallpaper covering the walls.  Completely unreal.

“Why don’t you two sit down and get to know each other, I’m going to my room to see if I can find those notes…”  Isabel disappeared down the hall, and Tess was left in the kitchen with Mrs. Evans.

“So, Tess, I hear you’re new in town,” she started.

Tess nodded.  “I’ve only been here about a week, but the people have been great.  I like it so far.”

“That’s good to hear,” Mrs. Evans said, smiling.  She looked like she was about to say something else when the front door opened and slammed.

“Isabel!”

Tess shrank back, startled.  Max.  Please don’t let him see me here.  Thankfully, Max passed the kitchen without so much as a glance inside.

“Isabel, I need to talk to you.”

“In here, Max,” Isabel called from her room.

Tess turned back to the conversation.  “So, um, Mrs. Evans…”  She reached blindly for a safe subject to talk about.  “Max and Isabel are adopted, aren’t they?”  Where did that come from?

Mrs. Evans was clearly surprised.  “Why yes, they are.  Did Isabel tell you that?”

“She mentioned it, yes.”  Tess didn’t know what to say.  Did the Evans’ know about MaxMichaelandIsabel?  Her father hadn’t said anything about that.

“Of course, it makes no difference to us,” Mrs. Evans added.  The same thing Isabel had said.  “We still love them like they’re our own.   As all adoptive parents should.”

“Of course,” Tess echoed.  She could hear faint yelling coming from Isabel’s room.  She wondered if Mrs. Evans’ could hear it, too.  “Listen, I’m going to go check on Isabel.  It was really nice meeting you.”

“It was great meeting you too, Tess.  I hope I see you around again.”

Tess stopped outside Isabel’s room.  The door was shut.  “I’m telling you, Isabel, there is something that’s not right about that girl…” Max’s voice.

“Max,” Isabel warned.  Clearly he was testing her patience.  “I’m not going to let your paranoid thoughts ruin my friendship.”

“So you don’t believe me?  I’m telling you, what happened today was not normal.”

“Well, so what, Max.  We’re not normal, okay?  Get used to it.  Just because something weird happened to you doesn’t mean Tess is an alien or something,” Isabel bit back irritably.

“I can’t believe you’re defending someone you’ve known for a week against your own brother!”

“Lower your voice or Mom will hear you,” Isabel warned,  “…among other people.”

“What?” Max asked.  “It’s not that girl, is it?  What’s she doing here?  I told you, Isabel, she’s trying to worm her way into our lives.  I don’t like this.”

“Would you just stop it?  I invited her.  She’s a genuinely nice girl.”

“Whatever.”

The door opened halfway, and Tess ducked into the bathroom just as Max walked out and entered his own room.  Tess waited a few beats before going back to Isabel’s bedroom, where she was greeted with a fake smile and Isabel’s car keys.

“Come on, Tess, we’re going shopping.”

* * *

“Dad?”  Tess approached her father that night while he was watching TV.

“Hmm?”

“Do you love me?”  She felt ridiculous saying it, but she needed to hear his answer.  Ever since that other night, so reminiscent of this one and vice versa, with her father watching basketball games he didn’t care about and she standing in an empty room with bare walls.

“What?”  He looked up at her.  “What kind of question is that?”

“Just answer it.”

“Well, Tess, it was never really something I thought about.”

The same thing he’d said four years ago.  And apparently he still hadn’t thought about it.  She didn’t say anything.

“Tess, it’s not something you need to think about, okay?  Love makes you weak; you’re not in control anymore…  You and me, we’re better than that.”  He hadn’t muted the basketball game and she turned her head to watch.  It was being broadcast live, she noticed, all over the country.  Somewhere out there tonight, people were living life, doing what they loved.  So what if it was all a game?  So what as long as you knew what love was.

“You’re right, Dad.  You’re absolutely right.  You don’t need to think about love.  You don’t need to think about love because it’s something you just feel.  And if love makes you weak, then you’re the strongest person I’ve ever known.  Congratulations.”

TBC

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