Photographs

Part 4
Winston deLeon


Tammy's first destination after leaving the coffeeshop was to head back to Ranger headquarters and clear up the story behind the lawyer's unexpected appearance - she knew they'd go nuts with curiosity if she didn't.

"Well, what happened?" Chip immediately asked, getting up off the couch and walking over to meet her when he heard her open the door.

"A family reunion is what happened, sorta." Tammy said. She held up the photographs she'd been given, one next to the other, for Chip to see.

Chip studied the pictures closely. "Wow! It's like you're twins or something."

"Yep, kinda looks that way." Tammy said. "It's not, though. This is my grandmother, on my father's side. I've always been pretty red-looking, but I guess the red squirrel quarter I got is even better expressed than I'd realized."

"I'll say! You're practically identical! Hmmm, except for the... uh... things. Up there." Chip reached up and flicked the tip of one of his own ears.

"Well... Yeah, I guess I didn't get the tufts." Tammy agreed.

"So... Anyway, where is this other branch of your family?" Chip asked. "And how'd they get that photo? It looks like the one the guy who stopped us that day we were donating blood took, but I never found the article he said he was writing in any of the papers around here."

"That's the weird part." Tammy said. "I'm sure it wasn't published in this area, but it made the Rodent Times for London, somehow. That's how my relatives saw it - I assume just by lucky accident. Maybe the paper's editors didn't want the article for this region. Maybe everyone knows who we are here, so we're old news. But way over in England, where no one's heard of us... Maybe they figured it was worth publishing there. Only theory I can come up with."

"Victims of our own success!" Chip grinned a bit. "At least... Regionally."

"Or something like that." Tammy shrugged.

"So... Are you gonna meet your newly found relatives?" Chip asked.

"That's the other weird part." Tammy said, sounding a little worried.

"You know, I don't think I like how many 'weird parts' are coming up in this thing." Chip remarked.

"I asked that lawyer if there was any way I could talk to them, and he said it wasn't probably a good idea, yet." Tammy said. "And when I told him that I had a little sister, he said something about that being a 'complication', and something about having to consult my relatives to find out what they want to do next. I don't know what he meant."

"Well, those two branches of your family are pretty well separated by time and distance, and all... Maybe they're just worried about meeting too fast, and everyone just getting too much all at once." Chip said.

"Yeah. I hope that's all it is." Tammy said. There was a trace of worry in it.

"What, you think there might be something else?" Chip asked.

"Well... When he found out that I had a sister, it seemed like he wasn't happy about it, for some reason." Tammy said. "He said that it 'complicates' things, somehow, but I don't know just what he meant by that."

"Maybe it's some sorta money thing." Chip pondered. "Like that time we had to find that will in that mansion. You read that casefile, didn't you? Inheritance laws are weird, sometimes. People get nervous about it."

"Yeah, I read the case." Tammy nodded. "But they shouldn't be worried about that. I don't want someone else's money, especially people an ocean away that I've never met."

"No, of course not, but they don't know that. They don't know who you are." Chip reminded her. "They're probably just playing safe. Once they actually get to know you, I'm sure they'll like you just fine."

Tammy thought about it for a few moments, trying to see things from their point of view, and couldn't help coming to the conclusion that Chip was right. She was starting to feel better about it as she did so - once they understood that any fears they had were unfounded, maybe any tension would go away. "We'll see what happens." She said simply, feeling a little relief at what seemed to be such an optimistic assessment.



* * *



The night following that day was another sleepless one for Tammy. She'd been sleeping pretty well, up until then, but the lawyer's sudden appearance and the unexpected news he'd brought, and all the mystery still wrapped around it, just weighed on her too much.

She couldn't stop wondering about what it was they really wanted in contacting her. Ironically, the thing that really got her the most was the thought that had lent her a little relief at first - that what they thought of her now and what they'd come to think of her once they actually knew her would be different. It unsettled her more and more, the more she thought about it.

It wouldn't stop bothering her because it brought her recent incident at the grave back to mind, and therein lay a hard question - did she really know what she thought of herself? She couldn't know what they were going to see if she couldn't see it clearly herself. Could she, though? An owl had once asked her that, and given her a way to find an answer... And she'd been working on it, ever since. It had illuminated so much, but not always exactly what she'd wanted. For all she'd put into it, all she'd discovered, her progress towards the original question was still something she found now to be in doubt with herself over.

She couldn't stop herself from helplessly thinking that sometimes you practice and practice, endlessly, and still seem to get nowhere that you'd meant to go.

In wondering that, she found herself, inexorably, back here, at this much too familiar gravesite. The faint pale rose glow of the still unrisen sun was starting to build on the eastern horizon, and here she was, again. Or near it, anyway. She wasn't quite at it, but rather sitting in a lower limb of a maple tree some distance away watching it. Regardless, though, the driving force was the same, so a minor quibbling detail like exact proximity seemed unimportant. It was the principle of the thing that was disheartening.

Didn't the owl tell her this, too? Didn't he say that until she could see herself, she'd keep doing the things she didn't like and never understand why?

He sure did, Tammy thought to herself sadly. He sure did. And he was right. He was...

What was that?

Tammy froze suddenly, tensed up all over. The light had been dim but as the sun slowly crept up it was getting better over the last few minutes, and now she was sure she saw movement, at the gravestone.

It was slight and distant, hard to tell what it might have been, but it was there. She sat totally motionless, her throat tight and blood rushing in her ears from the hammering of her heart, just watching. It stopped, then started again, random and intermittent. It wasn't (or didn't look) animal, just something moving in the breeze, mostly obscured by the plant cover that was also moving with the same wind.

In the aftermath of this shock response, there was a wake of the same self-conscious shame and guilt, like she'd felt when that rat had seen her here two weeks ago. Her first instinct, when she started getting around to thinking towards a course of action, was to go home, leave this place she shouldn't really be at anyway. But it wasn't the same, somehow - she didn't feel spotted. So she sat there, for a long time, watching clandestinely, while the light got better.

After a little while she could just barely make out that whatever it was, it was a light color, something pale. It was bobbing upwards and downwards, it seemed, in something of a rhythm that varied as little breezes picked up or slowed down around it. It looked flat, like a sheet of paper.

Curiosity got the best of her, though she didn't want it to. She couldn't help but wonder what exactly it was, regardless of whether that was even her business or not. After cautiously scouting out the immediate area, she came down from her tree, and crept around on the ground trying to get a better look, inching closer little by little over time.

The grass in this field was long, and interspersed with weeds, being mostly unmaintained and allowed to grow wild. Tammy weaved her way through this cover, quietly, working closer to the gravestone. She had a terrible sense of insecurity, feeling exposed, like she was being secretly watched doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing by someone who was waiting for her to get to a point of no return before they accosted her red-handed. She knew it was all in her mind, and that no one else was here, but it wouldn't go away. The maddening thing was, as bad as that sense of guilty exposure was, the draw of the gravesite was stronger. Oddly, maybe it drew all the more because of that.

She had a strange sense of sudden connection with moths, the ones who fly right into the flame of a candle and can't help themselves. Maybe, once the torture of the conflicting urges reached a certain point, there was, no matter how much a part of the conscious mind may try to dig in it's claws and kick and scream against it, no stopping from helplessly spiraling into it just to bring some finality, a resolution to the unending tension that gets worse and worse until it feels like it's going to rip it's sufferer in half.

And so, she came closer and closer to the gravestone. Every step was hesitant, every move from one piece of cover to the next was filled with doubt and a recitement of thoughts about why she should just stop, turn around and go home. But she just kept creeping closer, as time went by.

Finally, she was right there, staring at whatever it was that had been left at the grave. She was right, it was a sheet of paper - a folded note. It had been taped to the tombstone, but loosely, so that it fluttered around in the wind.

On the outside of it were written three words: "To The Squirrel".

Edgy as she already was, that only made it worse. Tammy's blood felt like it instantly dropped in temperature drastically inside her body when she saw that.

After glancing around, for the millionth time, she took the note from the tombstone, unfolded it, and read it.

I need to talk to you.
Are you going to run forever?

Please, next time you see me, just hear what I've got to say.
I think we both need that.

That was all that was there. Breaking her attention away from the paper, Tammy looked around nervously, knowing she was alone but feeling watched anyway. She stuffed the note in her pocket, then turned and walked home at a quick pace, fighting the urge to break and run in panic for much of the way.