When her carry-on bag is accidentally switched with Elias’s identical pack, Clara uses the luggage tag to track down her things. At that address she discovers there is not one Elias Phinn, but two: the odd, paranoid, artistic, and often angry Elias she met on the plane, who lives in an imaginary world of his own making called Salem; and the kind, sweet, and soon irresistible Elias who greets her at the door, and who has no recollection of ever meeting Clara at all. As she learns of Elias’s dissociative identity disorder, and finds herself quickly entangled in both of Elias’s lives, Clara makes a decision that could change all of them forever. She is going to find out what the Salem Elias knows about her past, and how, even if it means playing along with his otherworldly quest. And she is going to find a way to keep the gentle Elias she’s beginning to love from ever disappearing again.
“Friesen’s writing is…stunning” – Kirkus Reviews
“Friesen’s storytelling is laser-beam sharp” – Booklist starred review
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|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||15 - 18 Years|
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Both of Me
By Jonathan Friesen
BLINKCopyright © 2014 Jonathan Friesen
All rights reserved.
The accent. Tell me where you're from." The young fool crumpled his McDonald's bag and leaned over the table. "I could listen to that all day."
I took aim and lobbed a chip at his nose. It bounced off his eyelid, and still he smiled. Quite the idiot. "It's the little things you miss, really. Little, like chips and a shake. Nepal had neither." I stuffed my mouth and eased back. "Is it cold in here? I'm thinner than when I left home, and it seems I'm always cold." I glanced around the terminal—after eight months and hundreds of layovers, they all looked the same. Even the faces blurred. Travelers, different only in age and size. Their voices long ago faded to white noise.
They drifted by me harmlessly, like so many clouds ...
Then he walked by, and my gaze fixed on him.
He walked between his 'rents. His proud dad. His watchful mum, eyes darting for lanes through the bustle.
The child carried a little Superman bag, and from the look on his face, he was happy. So happy he didn't notice the stuffed bear poking out his bag's zip. So happy he didn't notice the bear fall.
"One minute." I grabbed my own bag, jumped up, and joined the fray, weaving through the crowd. I reached the fallen bear, and a well-dressed loser distracted by his mobile stepped on the toy. I shoved him, and he stumbled and cursed, but he no longer existed to me. I bent down and gently picked up the loved animal, with its patchy fur and one eye.
Little T owned a bear like this.
I pushed forward. Toward the boy. He would want this, need this. I reached the family and placed my hand on Mum's shoulder. She reached for her son's hand and spun around.
"Your son. He dropped his bear."
The boy's smile widened, and I swallowed hard.
"This nice young lady found Pooh!" Mum knelt beside him, rounding his shoulder with her arm. "What do you say?"
He said nothing, but rather reached out his hands, and I placed the bear inside them. He squeezed the bear and I wanted to squeeze the boy. His almond-shaped eyes, the muted features. He had Down syndrome, and he was perfect.
I backed up slowly. "I just wanted to reunite the two of you. I once had a brother who loved a bear like yours." I turned and walked slowly back toward my new mate. A hundred nobodies parted around me.
Reaching the table, I slumped down into my seat and stroked the tiny number 3 tattooed between my left thumb and pointer.
"What was that about?"
I shook my head. The little boy had looked happy.
"Now, then. What were you saying? Oh, yes. London," I said quietly, glancing at the bloke across the table. "Born in London. Seems forever ago."
"Clara, it's been almost a year, right? I know we just met, so you can take this or leave it, but, nobody wanders forever. You've got to go home sometime."
I leaned back, and stared upward. "I know a man who never did. He was brilliant. His 'rents put him through university, and he became the most sought-after architect in his class. He had job offers across the United States. But one month before graduation, he packed his bags, left school, left his family and his country. He never went back. He wandered the world digging wells for the poor, building hospitals, churches. I carry a record of his route."
"So you're following in this guy's footsteps."
"No." I took a deep breath. "I don't dig. I don't build, and I will not rot penniless in prison. But his path keeps me safe. People remember him, help me on my way." I scooted nearer. "Have you ever followed what you're running from?"
"Last call, Flight 302 departing for Minneapolis."
"That's me." I rose, reached down, and gathered my bag. "Thanks for the meal. It has earned you a place in my diary, though I've quite forgotten your name. How would you like to be remembered?"
Young fool jumped up and grabbed my wrist. "Take the next flight, Clara. Let me show you New York City. Honest, if you'd just get to know me ..."
I pried loose his fingers, and patted his cheek. "We've already met. In Paris and Pakistan and Brazil. Accommodating lads like you are everywhere. If there's one thing I've learned these last eight months, it's this ... involvements equal pain." My voice fell. "Not that I've always remembered the equation."
I hoisted the strap over my shoulder. "And I've a mate waiting on the far end of this flight."
The last passengers boarded, and I sauntered toward the gate agent. She left her desk and moved toward the gate door. I raised my ticket high.
I would not jog. I would not shout. Those actions belonged to the responsible, to those who cared. The memory of my first flight returned and tugged at the corners of my lips. How early I had arrived. For five hours, I sat nervously inside Heathrow, checking and rechecking my flight's status. But that was before. Before the world reminded me there was always another plane, and revealed to me the wild joys of plan B, the spontaneous path the punctual never travel.
I peeked over my shoulder, blew a kiss to the young fool still watching from a distance.
He would certainly take me in if the agent would not.
She gave a final glance about the gate and our eyes met. She beckoned wildly.
"You on this flight? Get a move on, girl. You came mighty close to missin' the plane."
"Yes, I suppose I did."
She swiped my ticket and I wandered into the tunnel. Tunnels were the Great In-Between. Tucked between the leaving and the arriving, these bridges, these portals, existed on every continent. Inside, I always pictured myself back in London, slogging toward a bus. The same bus. Stuck in the middle.
I hated tunnels, but they were a necessary evil.
Planes—now, they were different. They held mystery and promise, and over the course of my Third World travels, a chicken or two. They also held the very real possibility of death.
I ducked inside and paused in first class, surveying my travel mates. The red-eye from New York to Minneapolis held nothing but the comatose. Self-satisfied businessmen, ties loosened and shirts untucked, returning to knackered wives. Beyond, a sea of the ragged and unwashed. My world.
I greeted the stewardess and slipped toward the rear of the plane, toward the one empty seat, a middle. I opened the overhead and pressed my bag into the compartment, and then paused to analyse my neighbours.
On the aisle, a tall, bald man. He winced and groaned, undoubtedly wishing for hinges with which to fold up his legs. His knees barricaded my row, but he quickly dislodged and stood, likely grateful for one last stretch. Beyond him, tucked into the window seat, sat a good-looking lad with a serious face, his gaze locked in a sketchbook and his pencil working feverishly. He was so absent, he almost blended into the plane.
I eased down in-between.
Neither spoke. I could do worse.
I removed Dad's journal from my jacket pouch, tracing the numbers 1–9–9–5 and the cross on its cover. I removed his shredded map from inside it and a marker from my pocket, and dotted Nepal yellow. A quick count: Eighty stars across five continents.
Dad, I will soon have you beat.
Minutes later, the plane taxied away from LaGuardia. Someday, I would experience New York, but not with an idiot I met at McDonald's. The cabin lights went dark. I yawned and Aisle Man groaned, but Window Boy reached franticly for his reading beam. He managed to turn on all three vents and hit and cancel the stewardess call twice, but his flummoxed fingers could not locate the light. Sweat formed on his temple, and he muttered about an imminent attack and a lethal threat and an insidious enemy.
All very poor word choices when seated on an aeroplane.
"Hush. Let me help." I reached up and flicked on his beam.
He peeked at me, and as our gazes met, I assigned to him, as was my habit with all handsome blokes, a Possibility of Entanglement score—POE for short. This involved four questions worth three points each, the outcome scored like a football match. The lower the score, the safer for me.
Has he shown himself to be needy? Yes. Three points.
Does he remind you of anyone from London? Oh, the eyes of Jordy Waltham. Three points.
Does he show any interest in you? No. Three points.
Is he an original?
Window Boy dug in his pocket and extracted a tiny pencil sharpener and a baggie filled with shavings. He popped the plastic sharpener lid and picked out three shavings, whispering as he went along, "One, two, three." He placed each minute fleck into the bag, one by one, as if handling the sacred, again whispering the count. Then he carefully sealed the bag, fought it back into his pocket, and gave his pencil precisely three turns inside the sharpener.
I frowned. Is he an original? Yes. Three points.
Total POE score: 12
I exhaled slowly.
I haven't met a twelve in months.
"What's your name, then?" I asked.
His jaw tensed, but he neither glanced up nor spoke.
"Right. Heading home or away?"
This time his hand paused and he double clutched his pencil. He wasn't answering, but he was hearing. An unusual lad.
"I've never been to Minneapolis." I leaned into his shoulder and felt him flinch. "Tell me about it."
"You talk too much."
Direct, emotionless ... flipping fascinating. I shifted in my seat. He was right, and I couldn't help but smile.
"Yes, I do. And you practice eye contact far too little."
"I look at visitors when I need to, and since I don't need to, and I already know what you want, I will ignore you."
"And what is it that I want?"
Here, on the outbound from New York, I had happened upon the most interesting bloke yet—a glorious breeze following five parched continents.
"Yes." I licked my lips, my goal only to extract him from his sketchbook. "I do want your secrets. Every single one—and since we have the time, let's start with your name."
His face tightened. "My name is not a secret. Elias. Elias Phinn."
"Hmm. A perfectly sensible name."
"Now you're trying to put me at ease with compliments." Elias stared down at the lights of the city. "Many stars fell tonight. But"—his voice hardened—"just like my name is no secret, it's also no compliment. Your schemes won't work." He paused. "I know where you're from."
"Horrid for me. You've uncovered my clandestine programme, and you know where I'm from. This places me at a slight disadvantage." I craned my neck to see what precious thing he could be sketching, but he raised the book's back cover and blocked my view.
He returned to drawing, and I bit my lip. I couldn't lose him, or this conversation. Though I had to act utterly dim, this nonsense was addictive.
"Did my accent give me away?"
"Your accent." He thought, and shrugged. "You're probably pretending to have an accent. Your dad doesn't have an accent."
I pressed back into my seat. He was right again, depending on perspective. My father, American by birth, never sounded like a Londoner. But Elias's guess on that point was the least of my worries. How had we traversed so much ground? Dad was a topic reserved for my inner circle. Elias was not in that queue.
"You know nothing of the man," I said quietly.
Elias slammed his book shut with a flourish, and stared into me. He was angry, or not—his face gave away so little. Suddenly, I felt very small.
"He's only the most dishonest, selfish, ruthless man in your entire nation. And don't try to deny it. His disgrace is the reason you're here."
I had wriggled free from many scrapes during the course of my adventures; I had only to be quick and clever. But Truth is inescapable.
"How do you know this?"
"You're not the first one he's sent. There was Kayla and Tessa. Both tried to seduce me with their words and discover what I know." He paused. "I never thought Rupert would risk his own daughter in this cover-up."
Rupert? Dad's name was Sean. Okay, Window Boy was certifiably deranged. But he had also come close, too close. I'd matched wits with blokes all over the world, and been jolted by a lad who belonged in a mad house.
Time soon took its toll, and Elias gave in to sleep. He clutched his sketchbook, clearly as dear to him as my diary was to me, against his chest. With a sudden and large slump, he melted against the window, arms limp at his sides, his holy book slipping to his lap.
I stared at his prize. Certifiable or not, Elias had pricked me, as nobody in eight months had. He had no business poking into my family, or dredging up pain from the deep. I decided to poke back.
Gently, I lifted the sketchbook from his thighs, took one peek at Elias, and opened to the first page.
"Not possible."CHAPTER 2
Miss, you really need to exit the aircraft."
Fifteen minutes had passed since I eased the sketchbook back onto Elias's lap, since Elias woke and grabbed his bag and pushed his way off the plane.
My gaze roamed the face of the stewardess, but it was the pictures from the sketchbook that remained, impressed in my memory.
Page one: A factory. Not maybe a factory, positively a factory, drawn from the inside, from the floor, where huge looms pumped and pumped the cloth. Workers bent, weary looks on their faces. They worked too hard, too long. Just like Mum.
Page four: A prison. Drawn from inside the cell. Through the eyes of a prisoner. To the right, a cell wall, scratched and worn by a million hopeless moments. And at the bottom, hands—guilty hands—upturned. As a younger man, these palms gloried in strength and promise. Now, weathered and wrinkled, they'd taken too much. A murderer's hands? A rapist's hands? A fighter's?
Page seven: Me. Not resembling me, or me from a distance. Me, up close and peeking around a corner. Hesitant. Running from something. Elias reflected my gaze, my vacant mirror gaze. He captured my longing.
These were no abstract drawings. Elias drew with firm, perfect strokes. More telling than a photo. More, just more.
"Miss, are you all right?" The stewardess laid her hand on my shoulder. I stared at her fingers.
I rose, squeezed into the aisle, and reached for my bag. It felt heavy slung over my shoulder. For the first time in months I felt weak and crumpled against a seat.
"How did that bloke know my life? In his sketchbook, how could he know it?" I asked, and glanced at the stewardess. "Did you tell him? Wait, how would you know?"
"Do I need to call someone for you?" She stepped out of the aisle to let me pass. "I was supposed to keep a watchful eye on Elias throughout the flight, but maybe you need—"
"A bit of sleep and I'll—I'll be fine."
I wandered off the plane and into a vacant airport.
He's gone. My chest loosened. A random meeting with a paranoid mentalist. Disturbing, but random nonetheless.
"All right, Clara. Gather yourself."
Money. It would be good to check on where I stood with that. I threw my bag onto a blue plastic seat, tugged on the zip, and took a deep breath.
My bag was not my bag.
"Stop!" I screamed, and raced back down the tunnel. I burst back into the plane and grabbed my stewardess mate. "My dad's journal!" Every caution and tip and all his contacts! Not to mention my own diary. Eight months of everything. Every thought. And photos, of Teeter and Marna and Mum. "This isn't happening!" Together, we executed a frantic search.
"I'm so sorry." She glanced at her watch. "You can fill out a report, and if your backpack turns up ..."
I would not fill out a report. Not when every moment spent with pen and paper was another moment farther from my bag. No, there would be no report. No paper trail. I would find the idiot who lifted my bag and make the criminal pay.
I hurried back into the terminal and spread the contents of not-my-bag out on the floor.
Men's clothing, bundled and balled on top. This, I expected. I was the only female thief I'd encountered thus far. Beneath the clothing, some personal effects and two medications.
Risperidone and Melatonin. Thieves are always blasted.
I set the drugs aside, and peered into the bottom of the bag.
Paper. Reams of it. Paper laying loose; paper gathered into tablets.
Paper in sketchbooks.
"Oh no," I groaned.
And crumpled among the pages of drawings I dared not examine was a small slip, worn and creased.
Contents of this backpack belong to Elias Phinn.
If found, please contact Guinevere Phinn at:
Phinn's Bed and Breakfast
1 Loring Parkway
Guinevere. So be it. I will not deal with Window Boy. I will sort this out with Guinevere and retrieve my diary and forget this flight.
My stewardess shut down the gate area and joined me.
"Find what you need?"
Excerpted from Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen. Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Friesen. Excerpted by permission of BLINK.
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