oranges

We found Jasper on Saturday morning. I mean, he found us I guess, really.

The kid had been getting worse and worse. She was just sleeping in the back of the rabbit all day. Every day it’s a battle to get her to drink water. Every meal we buy her a whole series of things in hopes of convincing her to eat something, and nothing works. Yesterday a waitress sympathetically said, “She’s picky, huh?” as she was pouring our coffee. “My youngest was picky like that. Skinny as a finger bone and refused to eat anything. But when they get hungry enough, they always eat something.”

Yeah, we keep hearing that, and I feel like it’s got to be solid advice. The kid’s not going to starve herself to death. But it’s been nearly two weeks and I’ve seen her eat a few bites of random things here and there, and that’s it. The only time she actually ate something it was three baskets of tater tots and she spent the rest of the night throwing up.

So by the time Jasper found us we were seriously considering taking this poor kid to the hospital — which should give you an idea of how desperate we were getting, because in case you forgot, this child is KIDNAPPED. We HIGH KEY stole her from a government facility. And we can’t be certain, but Steva and Mulligan were only a few hours behind us last week. Hopefully they’re still trying to track that creepy ass interdimensional clown situation and not right on our tail, but who knows really.

We were sitting in a skeevy little truck stop Waffle House, all four of us too tired and disheartened to really say much, when all of a sudden Neal looked up, and his whole face changed, like the sun had come out and was spotlighting right on him, and I knew Jasper had caught up with us finally.

They had a whole greeting scene — Neal and Jasper seem to express their affection for each other via all-out brawl — but today, the attention was on the kid.

Jasper crouched down next to her, looked her in her sleepy, withdrawn face, and drew a big X on his solar plexus with his fingers and then held out his hands between them, like he was warming them on a fire. The kid’s eyes widened. She drew the same X across her own sternum and placed her hands in his.

“What’s that one mean?” I asked Neal and he explained, “It‘s an acknowledgment a shared homeland. Usually it means one hearth, but in this case…”

Yeah, in my experience, your definition of homeland expands depending on how far you get from it. I guess once you’ve jumped between universes, Jasper and the kid could have been born on opposite sides of the earth, and they’d still share a home.

It turns out they weren’t born on opposite sides of the world though. Turns out they came through roughly the same rift site.

This of course Julian translated for me while Jasper and the kid talked back and forth.

“She knows his family name,” Julian said. “But it sounds like it’s been a long time since he disappeared.”

“How long ago did he come through the rift?” I asked.

“Twenty years ago for us,” Julian replied. “But it sounds like it’s been a lot longer on her end. A hundred years, even. She’s his family’s neighbor.”

“She needs citrus,” Jasper said when the kid was at a break in the conversation. He flagged down the waitress. “You have any oranges back there?”

“She won’t eat any,” Neal told Jasper.

“She will,” he promised. Then he said a strange word in Fenecan that I didn’t understand. “Her family kept an orchard of [mystery Fenecan word I can’t even imagine spelling]. They’re a bit like oranges. Bit sweeter.”

The waitress brought back a sliced orange on a plate, and the kid immediately started throwing a temper tantrum.

“See,” Neal said, smirking.

Jasper rolled his eyes. “In Feneca,” he said, “sour plants are usually poisonous. Did she perchance eat a lemon?”

Oh.

Jasper laughed. “In Feneca, something as sour as a lemon would likely kill you in an hour. She’s scared.” He picked up an orange slice and though the kid protested, he took a big bite.

They exchanged a few more words, then the kid reached out, and went to take a bit out of the peel. Jasper laughed and stopped her, turned the slice in her hand, directed her towards the flesh. She took a small, tentative bite.

I watched her little eyes go round.

Half an hour later the waitress was telling us they were running out garnish oranges, and we were starting to attract an audience, so we left the Waffle House and googled the nearest 24 hour grocery store.

Neal and the kid both rode in Jasper’s ancient yellow pickup truck.

It’s been just Julian and I in the rabbit since. But that kid is doing so much better — yesterday, first thing in the morning, we brought her to a grocery store and bought like 15 naval oranges and a whole bag of California cuties. They’re all out of season, so they’re weirdly mealy and dry and not particularly sweet, but now that the kid’s figured out how to peel them — and that they’re not going to kill her — she’s doing a lot better. I mean, it seems like she probably needs some grains and protein, not just enough acidic fruit to burn a hole in her stomach lining, but listen this is an improvement.

According to Julian we’ll arrive at Palefish tomorrow morning.

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