Luis’s trip back home passed without incident. Though there were far fewer people on the streets now, the onset of evening made Luis weary of each person he passed. As he carefully avoided making eye contact, he was relieved to find each person was doing the same. It wasn’t until he reached 4th Avenue that he truly felt safe.
Luis was paralysed for a moment by indecision. He had been walking as quickly as he could without running, his calves burning slightly. He could either wait for the bus, or he could try walking home. Deciding to take a chance with New York’s public transit, Luis checked the timetable at the bus stop and saw that the last one for half an hour would have already passed five minutes ago.
‘Shit,’ he said, under his breath.
Luis began half walking, half jogging in the direction of his house. When he was fifty feet or so from the bus stop, the bus itself trundled along the road beside him.
‘Shit!’ he said, louder this time, and increased his speed.
When he’d finally arrived home, he was sweating, panting, and his feet felt sore. He glanced at his phone, and saw that it was 9:36.
After he’d caught his breath and generally tried to compose himself, Luis crept through the front door and down the hallway, but if his mother couldn’t be deafened by the vacuum, then the TV that she and her husband were watching had no chance.
Luis swore silently again. Out loud he only said ‘Yes?’
‘Come sit with us.’
Luis swung open the door to the living room, as casually as he could. His mother and father were both sat on a small couch, his mom laying her head on his dad’s chest, his dad’s arm around her. Their tiny television was flickering in the corner of the room. An animal documentary was playing, with a calming voice talking about wolves and the elk that they were hunting.
The ancient armchair was unoccupied. Trying to casually avoid making eye-contact with his parents, Luis walked up and dropped heavily down into it with a dry chorus of protesting creaks.
‘Did you remember the things I sent you to buy?’
Luis immediately stood back up again.
His mother sat up on the sofa, pushing Eduardo’s arm of her, ‘One thing. One thing I ask you to do today, and you don’t do it.’
‘Sorry,’ he said again not meeting her gaze.
‘Don’t apologise – just do!’ she said, her voice lashing at him with every syllable.
‘I’ll go get them now.’
‘No, not on your own,’ she said, shaking her head and furrowing her brow, ‘Not at this time of night.’ She stood up from the couch and turned off the television.
‘Are you going to get them?’ Luis could already feel his guilt building.
‘”Am I going?” he asks! As if if I’d had the time to go in the first place, I wouldn’t have gone! No, my shift in the hospital starts soon. Your father will take you.’
Luis’s father stood up and stretched leisurely.
‘Can’t he just go on his own?’ said Luis, his practicality overtaking his prudence. The quick change in his mother’s expression made him realise that this was precisely the wrong thing to say. Her mouth tightened to a hard line of fury, and her eyes burned.
‘Don’t talk back to your mother. We’re both going.’ If Regina Guerrero’s voice was a flamethrower, then Eduardo’s was a blowtorch. His voice carved through what little was left of Luis’s resolve.
Luis’s mother was staring fixedly at him, and he struggled to meet her gaze. When he finally looked up at her, he caught his mom’s eyes glancing briefly at her husband. Luis looked at his dad just in time to see him give a small nod back to his mom. It was one of those intimate, adult gestures that Luis never understood.
She turned back to Luis and pointed a slender, nut-brown finger at him, ‘You’re getting awfully close, young man.’ It was what she always said when Luis had done something wrong. Luis had never dared to find out what he was getting close to.
She kissed them both on the cheek and went upstairs to get ready for work. Luis and his dad grabbed a few reusable shopping bags from the kitchen, and headed out to the car without saying a word. The first few twists of the key, it didn’t start, and Luis saw his father silently mouthing a curse, a habit that everyone who lived with Regina picked up.
They drove down to the late night supermarket in near silence, but a comfortable one. Once there, they entered and began circulating up and down the fluorescent aisles, collecting the ingredients.
Luis had been in this supermarket a thousand times, sometimes with his parents and sometimes without. He knew each aisle, each checkout, every square foot of the building. Luis even knew a few of the cashiers by name. His parents had taken him here since before he could remember. Luis had ridden in the shopping carts, carefully taking food his parents handed him to place in the cart with the reverential delicacy of a toddler. Once, his mom had threatened to leave him behind in one of these aisles when he’d thrown a tantrum, because she wouldn’t buy him cereal with a graphic from a superhero film. On the rare occasions he’d been out with friends, they’d hung out in these aisles, killing time, until they’d been asked to leave by an employee, making Luis feel guilty behind his bravado. He knew this place as if it was an extension of his own home.
Now it was different. Something felt off, or less than real. It was a movie set of the place, instead of the place itself.
Twice, while searching for ingredients on his own, Luis turned down the wrong aisle, and once he found himself looking bewildered at the deli of the store where he’d expected to find the cashiers. Everything felt turned around.
There was a tone somewhere in the back of his head, he realised, and it had been present since he turned the machine in the river on. He realised now that somewhere, deep inside him, he knew the position of his other body. Could feel it, only a heartbeat away. The sense of orientation, of knowing where that body was, was redefining his orientation inside the store. Reversing directions he’d known all his life.
Luis tried switching it off, but there was no way. He was stuck with it. It made him feel a loss for something he hadn’t even realised he’d had.
As they reached the end of the list, Eduardo turned to his son. ‘What kind of ice cream do you want?’
‘That wasn’t on the list,’ said Luis.
‘I know. But which one?’ he was very nearly smiling, and just like that, Luis realised that he hadn’t lost everything familiar.
They picked up a huge economy sized tub of Rocky Road and placed it in the cart alongside the vegetables and cans they had actually come for.
After they’d bought everything and returned to the car, they drove in silence for a few minutes. After a while and without prompt, Eduardo spoke.
‘Luis, there’s something we need to talk about.’
Liquid ice crawled down Luis’s spine. For a moment, he wondered if the implants in his nervous system were malfunctioning, but the thought was dim and distant. What did his dad know? What did he suspect?
His dad continued, ‘Me and your mother have been talking recently. You were out tonight on your own. Last week, you were out late at night with friends.’
Luis’s could feel acid rising in the back of his throat. His dad knew, he knew about the powers. The ringing in his mind, the tiny channel between him and the machine under his control that hadn’t vanished since he’d first activated it, somehow became more intense. He could feel information run back and forth, as though the machine was somehow feeling his emotions too. He felt something move beneath distant water.
Eduardo kept his eyes fixed on the road, driving diligently. ‘It’s not been so long since your accident. You’re still getting better,’ he said, ‘But you’re old enough now to go out on your own.’
Eduardo pulled up to a red light, and as he did he went silent. The silence stretched longer than the time since before the accident for Luis. Finally, he fought down the bile in his throat long enough to say ‘Dad?’
Luis’s dad didn’t respond. Luis glanced at the road and realised that his dad was just waiting for an opening to pull out. He did so, and when he was driving smoothly again, he spoke.
‘Me and your mom have been speaking,’ he said, ‘And we think that since you’re old enough to go out on your own, you should be old enough to visit your sister without us having to take you.’
Luis had expected his father to reveal that they knew about the powers, that they would stop him from ever using them, prevent him meeting up again with the other eight. This however was much worse.
‘Oh,’ said Luis, a very different kind of anxiety building up inside him now, all mingled guilt and a sick feeling in his stomach. ‘Okay then. I will.’
Distantly, Luis felt the other body react to the feeling. It calmed slightly, threats evaporating, something like sleep overtaking it. Luis’s body in the car still felt sick to its stomach though.
His dad nodded, and then fell silent. A silence which continued as they arrived home, put away the groceries, and each went to bed.