Everyone likes to think that their life is perfect, that it is how they want it to be, albeit with a few bumps and twists in the road. I think that about my life, a lot. But before I got to the stage where I was happy with my life…
… it was a train wreck of mass destruction.
May 22, 1994
"What have we got?"
"Looks like a burglary gone wrong. Mother, father and younger son dead."
"And the burglar? Was he caught?"
"Yes - by the M.E."
CSI Banks frowned in thought. "Any witnesses?"
"Neighbours said they saw, and I quote, 'a light of red, blue and white flashing through the windows. No gunshots fired.' Claim they didn't even see the burglar."
"It could've been the light of the t.v they saw…" He frowned again. "Only the neighbours saw this light?"
"Apparently not. The only survivor in the house is the daughter, and she's not talking."
"Roberts, family of five. The eldest son arrived home from work and called it in."
"Where's the daughter?"
"Hiding in the house. No one can get her to come out."
"Alright, fetch the brother. Maybe he can coax her out of hiding."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I'm just saying, the sight of a family member who's not dead might comfort her."
"I don't understand. Jodie has always been sociable."
"She just saw her family murdered, Kevin. You are all she has left."
"I'm only 16. My job gives me pay, but not enough to support both of us. No, it is better if she goes elsewhere. With me she will have no life and no happiness."
"Would you prefer she spends her life unhappy in an orphanage?"
"If it means she is safe and supported there, then yes. Apart from our cousin and his family, the closest family we have are in Hawaii. I'm not going to move her all the way out there."
CSI Banks adjusted his glasses and peered at the scrawny teenager before him. "Kevin… It's her 8th birthday, and everyone in the room except for her drops dead with no explanation. Apart from the burglar there is no sign of forced entry, there is no evidence suggesting how your family died, son. Your sister is the only witness and she's not talking."
Kevin's eyes looked doubtful. "All I can do is comfort her, but I cannot force her to speak. Jodie is… rather stubborn."
"Not to mention probably frightened, but I don't think it's stubbornness that's keeping her quiet, and you know it too. Either guilt or distress is causing your sister to shut the world out."
"Are you accusing her of murder? She's 8 years old!"
"I'm not accusing her of anything, but she is a valuable witness to this investigation. If you don't help Jodie, then we will never know how your family died." CSI Banks paused and let that sink in. "Can you live with that?"
"Jodie? Come on out." The little girl shook her head, blue-grey eyes wide with fear. Kevin crouched down and held out his arms. "The fort has been captured, sis. You can come out, Josephine." After a few minutes, the girl slowly crept out and rushed into her brother's arms, shaking violently. "It's a game we used to play," Kevin explained at the confused expressions of the men behind him. "Jodie, this is Detective Smith and CSI Banks," Kevin told her quietly, turning to face the detective and CSI. "They're going to find out what happened to Mama and Papa, okay? But for them to do that, you're gonna have to tell them everything that you saw, okay?"
Jodie looked up at the two men standing in front of her and Kevin. One was slightly chubby with stormy green eyes, and Jodie was immediately intimidated by him. But the other man… His brown eyes were filled with sympathy, kindness and a spark of curiosity, as if encountering strange things were an everyday activity in his life. Whatever it was about him, Jodie trusted this man.
She wanted to tell them, she really did. But she wasn't stupid; she knew what would happen if she spoke out. Either she would be in big trouble, or the wrong people would put her life in danger because of their interest in her.
Jodie squeezed her brother's hand for comfort, her shaking subsiding slightly. CSI Banks took note of this and relaxed his posture. "Can you tell us exactly what happened?" he asked quietly, kneeling down to her eye level.
The small girl watched him cautiously, before giving a barely visible nod. "We had just finished eating dinner," she began quietly. "Papa was watching t.v with John, and Mama asked me to open my presents. I opened one, it was Mama's necklace, and she put it on me. Then the man burst into the room, waving a gun around. He asked for our money and any jewelry, when Mama and Papa and John suddenly fell to the ground, and bubbles were coming out of their mouths. Then the man… he just collapsed beside them. I didn't know what to do, so I hid."
Kevin pulled out a tissue from his pocket and wiped the tears from his sister's cheeks, pulling her into a hug. Smith and Banks exchanged a glance. "Do you know of anyone that would want to hurt your family?" Smith asked.
"Heaps of people," Kevin replied. "Detective, you must understand this: Our Papa's job meant he had heaps of enemies, many of whom threatened him. He wouldn't tell us everything; he said the less we knew, the better."
"And what kind of job did your father have?"
"Like I said, the less we knew, the better. All we know is that he was an agent of some kind."
Jodie tugged on her brother's shirt and beckoned him close, whispering something into his ear. Kevin nodded and planted a kiss on her forehead. He turned to the detective and CSI, who were waiting patiently. "If we're done here, I'm taking Jodie to our cousin's house. If you need us, here is his number and address." He scribbled something down on a piece of paper and handed it to Smith.
"Thank you, Kevin. I promise we will find whoever did this."
"Don't make promises you can't keep."
Smith seemed slightly surprised. "Then you have my word --"
"I don't trust words. I trust actions. Goodnight." Kevin bent down and picked Jodie up in his arms. Nodding goodbye to the two men, Kevin walked through the house, stopping by Jodie's room to grab her black labrador toy dog before walking to his mini motorbike parked outside the house. He ignored the persistent questions being asked of him by reporters and caught the eye of their neighbour, Mrs. Barton, who nodded at him. Kevin nodded back, hoping she had understood what he was trying to say. She hurried away back into her house, taking her 14 year old son Clint with her as Kevin started up the engine, sitting Jodie firmly in front of him and strapping his helmet on her.
Kevin knocked frantically on the red wooden door, hugging Jodie tightly to him as she wrapped her small arms around his neck. "You're started to get a bit too big for this, you know?" he chuckled quietly, and Jodie merely smiled.
"Kevin! Jodie!" The door opened, and a solid-built young man with shoulder length brown hair combed back and a light stubble on his chin embraced his younger cousins in a hug. "I heard about it on the news. Don't say anything, just come in. Quickly." He took Jodie from Kevin and ushered the boy inside, locking the door behind him.
"Alvin, I cannot thank you enough for this," Kevin said as he helped his older cousin shut the windows and draw the curtains. "I didn't know where else to go."
"You did right by coming here, Kevin," Alvin said as he sat Jodie on the couch and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. "Your parents organized with me that if you were ever in trouble, you were to come here." He sighed and ruffled Kevin's short brown hair. "But I admit, I wasn't expecting this to happen for another few years."
"I couldn't help it…" a voice behind them whimpered.
They turned to Jodie, who had tears streaming down her face. They sat on either side of her, wiping away her tears. "Don't cry on me now, Jodie," Kevin soothed. "You know what happened last time."
"Her tears are explosive?" Alvin frowned.
"Only if they touch the ground. If they touch something or someone but not the ground, then they're neutral." Kevin tucked a loose strand of hair behind his sister's ear. "It's not your fault. What happened to Mama, Papa and John is no doing of yours. It sounds like they were poisoned."
"You think I don't know what this means?" Jodie stared up at her brother with round eyes. "The police will find evidence of their poisoning, yes. But what about the burglar? I could feel the weight of his thoughts and emotions. There is no way a man his age and as healthy as he was just dies with no clear explanation. I saw it in CSI Banks' eyes. He knows I'm not telling the whole story because I'm afraid. But once they figure out that it wasn't an accident, what will happen to me? I will not allow them to ruin my life for something I cannot control."
"And we won't let them, trust me."
Shaking her head, she stood up and paced the room, hugging her toy dog tightly to her chest. "Detective Smith's emotions were negative when you told him you don't like promises. He is suspicious not only of me, but you as well, Kevin. He knows you're hiding something, and you'll be in serious trouble if you run."
Alvin looked at his younger cousin curiously. "For someone who's just turned 8, you're speaking like an adult."
"When your life is controlled by the power of emotions and thoughts of yourself and others, you have no choice but to learn to plan ahead of the consequences." She curled up on the floor, wailing in despair. "Just… his thoughts - the burglar - they made me so angry and protective I --" She wiped her eyes hurriedly. "I didn't mean to. I was doing it to protect them, but instead he ends up dead, and they die of poisoning as well!"
"Again, it's not your fault."
"You don't understand, Kevin! I smelled the poison as they died. It was one that was supposed to kill them in their sleep, just like Papa taught me! My powers made it react faster, so it's my fault they're dead!"
Kevin went over to her and tilted her chin up. "24601," he said. "That's what you told me. Not only is that a prisoner number used in Les Miserables, it's also Papa's code for your life. Jodie, you must follow the procedure. Everything that Papa told you, everything he trained you for… this is it."
"I don't wanna go. Not without you."
"Jodie, you have to. I won't be able to follow you, but I assure you that we will meet again someday."
Her bottom lip quivering, Jodie hugged Kevin tightly, sobbing into his shoulder. "I'll leave at midnight. Detective Smith will probably come looking for me in the morning. I'm sorry, but you and Alvin will have to cover for me."
"But what can we say?" Alvin butted in. "He'll think we helped you escape."
"I'll leave a note and a trail behind. It will make me look guilty and I may be running for the rest of my life, but at least it mean you guys are off the hook."
"Except for the press," Alvin said. "They'll be looking for answers."
"Then they'll have to wait. I know you won't tell everything to the detective, so then he won't be able to give answers unless he discovers them for himself. Even if he does, I'll be long gone."
Kevin swallowed, and Jodie could see he was fighting back tears. He finally let them spill. "Where will you go?" he sniffled. "It will be everywhere that you're wanted for questioning."
Jodie gave him a cheeky smile. "Papa also trained me for that, how to change my face, change my life. This is not the life I would've chosen for myself, but there are some things we cannot help."
She stood up and walked into the bathroom. Alvin and Kevin followed, their eyes widening as she pulled out the scissors from the drawer and brought them up to her hair. "Jodie…" Kevin warned. "… don't do anything that you will regret."
She turned to him. "The only thing I will regret is not being able to keep you both safe."
"By cutting off your hair?"
"It's the only way I can go into hiding. If I go in disguise, there will be no need to suspect a little kid with short blonde hair in an orphanage or living under a bridge."
She shooed them out and closed the door, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She hummed a lullaby her mother used to sing while snipping off her shoulder length brown hair. She then raided the cupboards until she found what she was looking for: blonde hair dye. Putting on latex gloves she applied it to her short hair. Not all of it, but enough. Dumping her pink shirt and shorts on the floor she stepped into the shower.
Kevin knocked impatiently on the door just as it opened. He smiled weakly but felt tears stinging his eyes. He hardly recognized Jodie as she walked past him, wrapped in a towel, and approached Alvin. He held up his hand before she could say anything and handed her a green shirt and brown shorts stained with dry mud with holes here and there.
"I figured you'd need different clothes. These belonged to Samuel," he explained. "He grew out of them, but I guess Nicole and I never got around to throwing them out."
Jodie took them gratefully, pulling them on and smiling at her reflection. "Don't need shoes," she said. "But I do need dust and dirt."
Alvin frowned, then beckoned her outside with Kevin following. He scooped up some dirt and rubbed it between his fingers before smearing it all over Jodie's face. She grimaced but didn't pull away. Kevin then handed her a small duffel bag. "There's enough food and water in there to last you at least a week. After that, I'm afraid you're on your own. There's some photos in there from home, and a key. Always keep this key on your person, do not lose it."
"What's the key for?" she asked as she also stuffed her toy dog in the bag.
"You'll know when the time is right."
Jodie left it at that. She walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a pen and paper, writing a quick explanatory note on it:
Dear Alvin and Kevin,
Sorry I couldn't stay. This has become too much for me, so I've left to go elsewhere. Kevin, at least you don't have to worry about supporting me anymore. Alvin, take care of him please. I promise I'll come back, one day.
When she was done, Alvin and Kevin took turns in hugging her tightly. All through this, Jodie held back her tears. Swinging the bag over her shoulder and going back outside, she hugged her brother and cousin one last time before climbing the tree and vaulting over the back fence. She wandered into the surrounding bush, glancing over her shoulder once before breaking into a run.
In the warm Wisconsin night, the moon was her only company as she quietly sang the words of a song from her parent's favourite musical, Les Miserables.
"I'll escape now from the world. From the world of Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean is nothing now. Another story must begin!"