The ride home was quiet. Hyrum was too nervous to carry on even a one-sided conversation; I listened to the sound of his pedaling instead, the smooth cadence, the clicking when he switched gears, and I heard confidence in his effort. He no longer had to think about what he was doing, and no longer had second thoughts about riding up steep streets or worried about losing control on significant downgrades.
The bike slowed as we approached Union Square. Hyrum shifted gears and rode the brakes until he was barely rolling along. I heard swearing from one of the guards behind us, a particular grumbling that grew louder as he neared, and then faded as he shot past us. He stood on his pedals, trying to regain control, but he was almost to the cable car turnaround before he was able to stop.
I don’t think he’s been riding very long.
Hyrum glanced over his shoulder when he heard an air bike approaching.
“You all right?” the guard asked. “Gut feeling. Is something wrong? Someone bothering you?”
“My mom’s coming today.”
“All right. I understand. I can direct you to Alcatraz. Surely Prince Zealand has work for you today. Would you like me to call?”
Hyrum allowed himself a tiny grin. His guards knew how he felt about his mother; this guard had listened to Hyrum complain about her before, one who embraced the new rules about interacting with the royal family. He often engaged in real conversation with Hyrum and didn’t simply tolerate the wild ride his train of thought could take.
“I have to go home. My real home. Not Florida.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” the guard said.
There wasn’t anything any of the guards could do unless Valerie Munson attacked her son, and verbally didn’t count.
Securing the bike under the stairs, which required no actual locking of the bike but instead making sure it would not fall over and block the way down, took twice as long as usual, and then he trudged up the stairs, pressing me to his chest. He passed Vicat halfway up—she’d probably been checking Rhys’s schedule for the day—but she was clearly in a hurry and only had time to say hello. Once at the landing in front of the entry, he hesitated again. Aubrey was in the living room picking up toys left by the small sticky people; he sighed and then stepped in, asking if she needed help.
“Sweetie.” She smiled and dropped the metal truck she’d picked up into a basket. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon. How was your night out?”
“It was fun. I had pizza with Sean. Did you know his grandpa owns the restaurant across from the hotel?” When she shook her head, her went on. “It’s really good and he has a girlfriend now and she works there with him. And he has his own apartment. I think he moved on account of kissing things.”
“Probably,” she chuckled.
“Anyway, I was good, and I made my bed this morning, and I took a shower last night and said my prayers. I didn’t leave a mess for anyone to clean up. Will showed me where to put my dirty dishes.”
She had no doubt that he’d behaved, though he pointedly did not mention jumping on the bed.
“I’m glad you had fun, Hyrum. But next time, please tell me before you decide to stay out all night, all right?”
“You’re not mad?”
“Of course not. But if Will hadn’t told me where you were, I would have worried—the same way I worry when Oz and Drew stay out and don’t tell me they’re going to be late.”
He promised to let her know, though I felt a disappointed breath escape him.
He wasn’t sure there would be a next time.
“When’s Mom coming? I woulda stayed out longer but that woulda been rude.”
She glanced at the clock. “Half an hour. Would you like to go with me to pick her up? She took the shuttle to Oakland and is coming across in the ferry.”
His eyes lit up. “She’s really riding on the boat?”
“She said you made the ferry sound fun.”
“It is! Drew took me to Sausalito a few times and we got lunch and cupcakes, and he made me tell Oz we ate all the cupcakes over there. But he was teasing, and he brought her some. I think she really likes them.”
“Ask Oz to tell you about the time she ran away. She rode the ferry there to look for cupcakes when she was six years old.”
“By herself?” His eyes went wide. “You let her?”
“Oh, no. She never asked permission. But Will saw her slip out and he followed her to make sure she was safe.”
He peppered her with questions all the way to the Ferry Building; by the time we reached the pier, he didn’t need to ask Oz anything because he’d heard the entire story twice. I thought Will was the one he needed to ask; he had a much better take on Oz’s runaway story, though it probably had less impact without the details of why he’d followed her.
It was a lesson in the effects of changing time; Will learned that the memories go with you, and you remember the things you change. He lived with the agony of having seen six-year-old Oz’s lifeless body pulled from the water and felt every horrible minute of it despite having altered her personal narrative.
He didn’t want to examine it too closely; he knew he could change things and live in the new reality, yet if he went back more than a week or two and changed something, nothing in his own timeline changed.
Aisha thought Old Drew, the one they frequently visited thirty-five years in the future, could explain it but Will wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
Hyrum’s dread over his mother’s visit faded in his excitement over seeing her ferry slide up to the dock, and he bounced excitedly on his toes as she made her way down the ramp. There was no hiding where he and Aubrey waited—they were surrounded by uniformed guards and other people were kept at a fair distance—but he still waved his arm in a wide sweep and called out, “Mom! Mom! We’re over here!”
Valerie Munson moved slowly, leaning heavily on a cane she gripped tightly in one hand while trying to carry a small suitcase in the other. She smiled when she saw Hyrum jumping up and down and was visibly relieved when one of the guards ran up the ramp and took the bag from her and then offered his arm.
He gave a short bow when they’d made it to where Aubrey waited. “Your Majesty,” he said before turning to Valerie. “Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Graden!” Hyrum blurted. “She mighta fallen without you.”
The guard managed to keep the grin from his face. “Hyrum. Wick.”
“Oh,” Hyrum breathed out as Guard Graden turned and went back to his post. “He’s working. He won’t get into trouble on account of me talking to him, will he?”
Aubrey promised he would not as she bent forward to kiss her mother’s cheek. “You’re allowed to converse with the guards, Hyrum.”
“But Will said—”
“Jax has given the guards a bit of flexibility with you and the kids. Mom, how are you? How was the trip?”
Valerie lifted her cane and tapped it on the ground. “Too fast. You barely have time to open a book, and already the shuttle is landing.” She leaned into Hyrum as he hugged her. “The ferry was fun, Hyrum. Much more enjoyable than your brother’s boat.”
“Who has a boat?” Hyrum asked. “Joe? Spencer?”
“Joe,” she said with a heavy sigh. “He speeds around the lake like a damned fool. Can you imagine?”
Hyrum could imagine, and it made him giggle.
She reached up and touched my chin. “And how are you, Wick?”
Ready to bite your finger off if you take Hyrum away from me.
“Wick,” Hyrum giggled.
You heard that, didn’t you? You’re hearing me more and more. I like that.
Any conversation I might have been tempted to have with him needed to wait. Aubrey had arranged for lunch at Sof y Z’s; it was not officially ready for customers, but Sophia was eager to have a soft opening and jumped at the chance to serve the Queen and her mother.
Granted, to Sophia Aubrey was less the Queen and more like her own mother, but this was a ready-made photo op suggested by the Queen herself and could be used in launch advertising. No one asked Valerie what she thought about it; like it or not, she was having her picture taken a few hundred times while dining on enchiladas and freshly made tortilla chips.
Sophia hovered in the background, directing two photographers who kept their distance as they shot pictures, and she allowed her employees to interact with Aubrey instead of hovering over them herself. If not for the other vacant tables, it would have seemed like a typical lunch out for three people eager to catch up with one another.
Hyrum held chairs for his mother first and then his sister, ignoring protocol that demanded Aubrey be seated first. He understood it was the way things were supposed to be done in public; he simply didn’t care. His personal hierarchy suggested that mothers come before sisters, at least when being a gentleman mattered, and he was damn well holding his mother’s seat first.
When they were comfortable, he pulled a highchair from a spot near the host’s stand and covered it with a large dish towel procured from a busboy. I didn’t argue; I hated highchairs on principle, but he was showing that he was still a gentleman, considerate with the women around him, and careful with Sophia’s brand-new café furnishings.
He helped Valerie navigate the menu, steering her away from the spicier things he knew she wouldn’t like, pronouncing names of foods she was unfamiliar with. I kept an eye on Aubrey as the words rolled from his tongue as if it were his native language; she had a half-smile playing about her mouth, and her eyes glittered with pride. When Hyrum had first arrived in Pacifica, dirty, disheveled, with a matted beard and hair that had been cut at odd angles, he couldn’t have done much more than point to pictures of the foods he liked most, and would have eaten crayons if given a chance.
“The green sauce is really hot,” he told Valerie when she asked him about the enchiladas. “Sophia likes smoke to come out of her nose when she eats it. But the red sauce is good and not too hot. Just ask for the red sauce without the little pepper next to it. That won’t burn your tongue.”
She handed the menu to him and asked that he order for her. Aubrey did the same, and when the server stepped up, Hyrum sat up straighter and spoke confidently as he asked for three orders of shredded beef enchiladas with red sauce, two without the red pepper next to it and one with, and then asked for chopped shrimp for me.
“Sophia said she would have shrimp for Wick anytime he wanted to eat here,” he said when the server headed for the kitchen. “He can’t have the steak on account of it soaks in things that would make him sick. Onions, I think. She also said if he ate the steak it would make flames shoot out his a…butt.”
She also said there was fish I could eat. But I’m happy to have the shrimp.
He was mostly quiet while Valerie talked about the things going on at home, allowing Aubrey to have a conversation with their mother. He laughed when Valerie expressed surprise that Bree was playing basketball—basketball! There are girls’ teams all over the place now!—and when she told Aubrey that Red expected his youngest daughter to get a part-time job over the summer.
“Imagine that. A girl with a job. I can’t fathom why he wants her to, but he expects it.”
“Her world is different than yours was,” Aubrey reminded her. “Red is trying to set an example for the church. Women in Pacifica typically work, and Florida is now part of Pacifica.”
“Well. If they just find the right men, they won’t have to.”
“That’s not the point,” Aubrey said, lightly as to not start an argument.
“Do people like me get to work now?” Hyrum asked. “Daddy said we weren’t allowed to before. Did Red say it was okay? Can everyone work?”
Valerie scrunched her nose. “Why would they want to? Their families should support—”
“I have two jobs,” Hyrum said. “People here don’t treat me like a baby. I go to work like everyone else.”
She reached over and patted his hand. “I’m glad you have something to keep yourself busy. But if you were at home, you could still do volunteer work.”
Hyrum opened his mouth to protest—that’s not home anymore—but Aubrey bristled at the implied criticism of his work.
“Hyrum’s jobs aren’t busywork, Mom. The things he does at Ozoo require incredible patience and concentration, as well as attention to detail that most people simply don’t have.” She gestured in the direction of the space station. “Look at Elysium. There are essential operations that wouldn’t function if not for Hyrum’s work, and he takes a tremendous load off Drew’s shoulders.”
“I keep track of lots of things,” Hyrum muttered.
“And his work with Zed brings a spiritual edge to how the dead are cared for. Zed needs him to provide comfort with a bit of religious spark to family members coming to the island to see their deceased one last time. Hyrum prays with them all, and his strength in spirit, never breaking down, is what they need most. There’s no one else who can do it as well as he can.”
“I pray with the people who want me to. Sometimes people don’t. And I read stories and sing to the little ones,” Hyrum said. “Zed says it matters on account of their spirits might still be hanging around for a little bit, and it might help them feel better.”
Valerie blanched. “You sing to dead children?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes I tell them about Jesus and that he’s going to help them. Father Dan said to be sure I know their moms and dads are okay with that, though.”
“Father Dan,” she repeated.
“I met him when I went into his church to see what it looked like. It’s the prettiest church ever.”
“Dan is one of my spiritual advisors,” Aubrey said. “Hyrum has been speaking with him quite a bit lately.”
“He’s Catholic?” she asked, not expecting an answer. “Hyrum, no. We do not offer praises to the Pope.”
“I’ve met the Pope,” Aubrey said. “He’s a wonderful gentleman. But before you get upset, Father Dan is very respectful of Hyrum’s beliefs, and he’s well educated on the doctrine of the Church of Florida.”
“He knows Red, too,” Hyrum offered. “They met a couple times when he was here for meetings and stuff and talked about churches and history. Red told me. Father Dan is gonna help people from Florida start a piece of the church here if they want.”
“I don’t want you associating with Catholics,” Valerie hissed, staring at Hyrum.
“How do you feel about the Jewish?” Aubrey intentionally poked at her. “Hyrum has met with Rabbi Joan a few times, as well.”
The mention of the rabbi caused Hyrum to brighten and bounce once in his seat. “She’s really nice. She said if I wanted, I could be a helper on the Jewish sabbath, doing stuff like turning on light switches. I can’t remember what it’s called.”
“A Sabbat goy,” Aubrey offered. “She currently has one, but he’s heading to college soon and Hyrum may take his place.”
“You’re going to help a Jew turn on her lights,” Valerie sighed.
“Jesus would want me to,” Hyrum said. “And Red said it was okay. He said, ‘Hyrum, the Christian thing to do is to offer help to those who need it.’ And he said that even on the Sabbath, people need light. Like, maybe they want to read the old testament and pray. I probably have to turn on her stove, too, so she can cook dinner. She has little kids and they gotta eat. Or I could cook something for them. Like grilled cheese.”
We were spared a religious rant by the arrival of food. The conversation shifted to grandchildren and the kind of parents Oz and Zed were turning into, though Valerie thought it was far too soon to know anything about Oz’s mothering skills. Eli wasn’t even old enough to get on his hands and knees to rock back and forth; save the declaration of her skills for when he became mobile and was into everything.
“You,” she said to Hyrum. “You were into everything and then some. I’d never seen a baby so fast on his knees. One minute you were asleep on a blanket by my feet, the next you were in the kitchen licking the floor.”
Hyrum snorted. “I never licked the floor.”
“Hyrum, you licked everything.”
“Including the Bishop’s shoes,” Aubrey said lightly. “He was amused. Dad, not as much.”
“I don’t think there was a square inch of that house you didn’t lick,” Valerie said. “Even the outlets. Though we had no idea then that electricity wouldn’t hurt you.”
Bet he didn’t lick the ceiling.
“Will says we all have gifts. We just have to find them and then learn to use them.”
“The Emperor says a lot, Hyrum. Not all of it is true.”
“Speaking of the house,” Aubrey said, changing the subject before Hyrum felt personally attacked, “why are you moving back into it? I thought you were happy living with Spencer.”
“Oh, I was. But his mother-in-law is ill, and she needs to be close by. It’s better if she takes the cottage out back.”
Red and his brothers remodeled the family home to suit her tastes and needs, expecting that one day she might want to return. Spencer’s mother-in-law sped up the decision when it was clear she needed help after having a stroke. Valerie swore she didn’t mind; they’d gotten rid of that awful space under the stairs and there was now a bedroom off the living room, which meant she wouldn’t have to worry about climbing the stairs as she aged.
“There’s a room upstairs for you,” she said to Hyrum. “It even has its own bathroom.”
“Any room upstairs has its own bathroom if no one else lives there,” he said. “But I like the room I got here. My toys are here. And I have lots of books. And a computer tablet, and it has lots of books on it, too.”
“What else did they do to the house?” Aubrey asked.
There was a new kitchen, new floors, new everything. Her boys had removed every trace of Levi, replacing his cheap plastic cabinets with stained wood, trading out thin windows for triple-pane wood-trimmed wonders. There was new, bright paint on every wall, inside and out. She had never imagined the house could be as beautiful as it was; she’d argued against the expense, until Red reminded her it was an investment and if she chose to sell the house one day, they would recoup everything.
Yeah, when she dies, they get their money back.
“Please tell me you’ll visit and see it,” Valerie said.
Aubrey promised she would, but Hyrum eyed his mother warily.
You have jobs, dude.
“I might come,” he finally said. “I gotta see if I can get time off.”
“Surely you can get a few days.”
He shrugged. “Drew is getting ready to go to space, and we’re working on a new space suit for him. There’s a lot of work we gotta do on account of Oz said if he dies in space, she’s gonna kill him.”