Jonah Kirk and the Automated Response


Tablo reader up chevron

Chapter 1

Summer days in Caltanissetta, Italy were divine. Even rain showers were warm and pleasant, though lately Jonah Kirk was not allowed to play in the rain. Today it wasn’t raining, and he was allowed to sit out on the porch to enjoy the warmth.

He had lived here in Caltanissetta for almost five years now. It had been a dream, come true for Jonah. The farm was perfect for a little boy to explore and learn about life. Jonah loved having the freedom to run in open fields and climb fences and pick bouquets of wildflowers. It felt to him like this place was far away from the rest of the world. When he had come here, he’d passed the threshold from one existence into a new one.

But these days, his freedom was limited. That was not because anyone wished to limit him, or because he was being punished for something. No, his family never had anything but his best interests in mind. Jonah was no longer allowed to go out in the rain, or wander too far from the house, because of an incident that had occurred a week prior.

It had been raining that day, and when it rained Jonah liked to go out to the fields and look for the interesting animals that came above ground. Like any boy, he was fascinated by frogs, and snakes and other such creatures. He liked to catch frogs and bring them back to the house, where he would keep them a couple days to examine before he released them in the wild once more.

Something had gone wrong. Out in the fields, Jonah had suffered a malfunction. It had started as a sharp pain in his chest and it caused him to pause and press a hand to his heart in confusion. Worried, he’d decided to return home, but when he turned to go back, he stumbled and fell. The pain in his chest grew as he lay there in the rain, but he couldn’t get back up and he couldn’t yell for help.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d lain there in pain before Norman and Alonzo had found him and carried him back to the house. Then he’d lain in bed, the pain still burning his chest, while Norman searched for an explanation and a cure. He found neither, but the pain eventually subsided.

So, he made do with the porch. Truth be told, he didn’t want to venture too far away on his own after what had happened before. That time spent in the field, in the rain, just hoping that someone would find him, had scared him badly. He wanted to be close to Norman and Sadie. Their presence made him feel safe.

Now, they were a proper family. They still lived here, with Flora and Alonzo, but that was only because the older couple wanted them here. Norman had found a really good job at a local university as a professor. He and Sadie had gotten married a couple of years prior. Jonah was happier than he’d ever been, here in this veritable Garden of Eden with the two of them.

Then again, maybe things weren’t so picture perfect. There was something that had been bothering Jonah. It shouldn’t have bothered him at all. He really should have been happy to find out about it. He should have been excited. But he wasn’t. The news just made him feel more vulnerable than he already did.

Sadie was pregnant. Before long, Norman and Sadie would have their very own child. Jonah really tried very hard to be happy for them, but it was hard. What if they decided they loved this child, the real child, more than they loved him? It was so stupid to even think like that, but he couldn’t help wondering about it.

Maybe this was part of growing up; this strange feeling of change and fear and trying too hard to belong. He just felt like lately he was trying to fit a square into a circle. He’d mentioned it to Norman once, and Norman had seemed to think that it was no big deal. Everyone felt like that sometimes, he’d said. And then he’d reassured Jonah that he was home here. Jonah wasn’t so sure anymore.

It was hot today. He’d only dressed in shorts and a tank top – he got too warm otherwise. From the porch, he could see the goats in the barn lot gathered beneath the roof of the barn for shade. They lounged there lazily, the mothers curled comfortably in the dirt, chewing cud, while the half-grown goat kids butted heads and performed acrobatics for fun that humans could only envy. Jonah rather liked to watch the goats. They had personality.

The door opened and Jonah looked up to see Norman come out onto the porch. He smiled at the man and shifted over on the porch swing to give Norman room to sit down.

“What’s up?” he asked. “Come to visit the invalid?”

“You have gotten cheeky in the last couple of years,” Norman remarked with a grin as he sat down next to Jonah. “Anyway, you’re not an invalid. I just came out here to hang with you for awhile. You looked bored.”

Jonah sighed and leaned his head back to stare up at the porch’s awning. “Sure, I’m not an invalid. And you weren’t watching me through the window, either.”

“So secretive and worried about privacy all of a sudden,” Norman teased. He put an arm around Jonah’s shoulders. “Chill, kid – I’m worried about you, but I don’t think we should be acting like this is the end of the world. We’ll figure it out.”

It wasn’t that Jonah didn’t have faith in Norman. It was just that he was scared and he didn’t like change. He’d finally found this perfect place and it was great, but all of a sudden things were getting all mixed up. It was only right to approach the situation with a degree of trepidation.

He rolled his head over to look at Norman. “What if I’m just reaching the end of my lifespan?” he questioned. “I’ve read about robots, you know. Some of them – most of them – were never designed to last forever.”

Norman arched an eyebrow. “You’re saying you think maybe you were only supposed to last a few years?” He chuckled and shook his head. “I’ve met Anselm. That man wouldn’t pour all his genius into something temporary. Now, stop overreacting.”

“Says the man who has me confined to the house,” Jonah grumbled. It wasn’t a fair accusation, but Jonah was feeling a little out of sorts. Maybe he was just tired and stressed.

Norman’s hand on his arm squeezed a little, and the man said nothing to that. For a while, they sat together, staring out at the scenery from the porch. Jonah liked the company, even though he was feeling a bit cranky. It made him feel a little less alone.

The last time he’d gone into town with Norman and Sadie, they’d gone to buy things for the new baby. It was going to be a girl, and Sadie was so excited that she was practically glowing with delight. For her sake, Jonah hadn’t let his bad mood show. He’d helped her pick out baby dresses and tiny shoes. When she’d asked him to, Jonah had even picked out a special teddy bear for the baby.

It wasn’t fair of him to feel any animosity towards the baby, or for him to be unhappy with Sadie and Norman. They were wonderful people and they deserved the chance to raise their own child, from start to finish. Nonetheless, Jonah felt inadequate and he didn’t like that feeling.

He wanted to tell Norman how he felt, but he didn’t want to make a mess of things. He didn’t want Norman to be upset with him. It felt strange to sit beside the man he so looked up to and hold in a secret at the same time.

“Does staring out at the sky make you feel small?” he asked, looking up at Norman curiously. The man glanced down at him in return with a puzzled smile and shrugged his shoulders.

“I guess it does, sometimes,” Norman replied. “If you let it, almost anything in this world can make you feel small. The trick is to look up at that huge sky and feel ten feet tall instead.”

That made Jonah smile, a genuine smile. It was so typical of Norman to say something like that, and for a minute it did make Jonah feel tall instead of small. But when he really thought about it, the person who was so big right now wasn’t him at all. Norman was the tall one, full of wisdom and wit, always armed with the right words to say.

A sudden pain in his chest brought Jonah’s thoughts to a halt. He froze for a moment in surprise, and then slowly lifted his hand to his chest and pressed it there. Another pain made him wince and grimace.

“Norman, I think something’s wrong,” he whispered urgently. “That thing that happened before is happening again.”

“Where does it hurt?” Norman was calm and collected, but Jonah could see the worry creasing the older man’s face. “Is it your chest again?”

Jonah nodded his head. “It really hurts,” he replied. His fingers clutched at his shirt.

“Stay calm,” Norman said. He stood and gathered Jonah into his arms, hurrying him back into the house and away from the great big summer sky.

As Norman laid him down on the living room couch, Jonah fixed his eyes on the ceiling. It was a perfect blank slate, completely white and devoid of anything to distract him from the feeling of his chest constricting and squeezing the life out of him. Someone should have painted something on there, he decided. Maybe it could have been an image of a god reaching out his hand to that of a mortal.

He lifted his hand from his chest and someone grabbed it up in a tight, fierce hold. Sadie came into his line of sight, her eyes teary already, as though she was afraid that this was the end. Jonah was scared of that too. But if it was the end, Sadie would be okay. She had Norman to look after her, and the new baby to love. She would be okay.

“I love you,” he mumbled to her. He tried to focus on her face instead of the pain. There were so many things about her face that fascinated him: her mouth, and the way the corners turned up in a beautiful smile, the crinkle of skin at the corners of her bottomless eyes. “I love you, Sadie.”

Sadie’s perfect face was streaked with tears and she clutched his hand like a lifeline. He felt Norman’s hand settle on the top of his head and then he heard the man speak.

“I’m going to shut you down, let you rest for a little while, and we’ll see if that fixes it,” Norman said gently. “Hang in there, okay? You’re going to be okay.”

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter 2

When Jonah woke again, he was in the basement. The basement had been converted into Norman’s workspace, and there was a couch that folded out into a bed because Norman sometimes needed to stay with his experiments overnight. This bed was occasionally also used by Jonah, like now, but usually Jonah woke up down here when he’d insisted on staying up late to help Norman with his research.

He remembered the spell he’d had on the porch, of course. Norman must have brought him down here to try and figure out what had gone wrong. Slowly, Jonah sat up and looked around. The room was empty for the time being but he could hear the coffee maker running in the corner, which meant Norman had probably only stepped out temporarily.

The main computer was on. Jonah climbed out of the bed and padded barefoot over to the desk to peer at the screen in hopes of discovering what Norman knew about the situation. To his surprise, it was a website that Norman had up. Jonah quickly scanned the page. It was an advertisement for a convention in Geneva, Switzerland. Inventors from around the world would be attending, the advertisement said, to celebrate the new wave of “human” Reality Bots.

Just as his eyes found a familiar name on the page, the door to the basement opened. Jonah looked up at Norman guiltily, but didn’t step away from the computer. For a moment, Norman stood in the doorway with a surprised expression on his face. Then he stepped into the room and walked over to Jonah, reaching over the boy’s shoulder to close the website page.

“I didn’t think you’d wake up on your own so soon,” Norman said with a thin smile. He placed a hand on Jonah’s shoulder. “You really shouldn’t be up yet.”

“What was that page?” Jonah questioned. He stared at the computer screen instead of looking at Norman. “Why did you have it up?”

Norman sighed and let his hand fall away. “It was nothing. Don’t worry about that. I was just trying to see if there was any information online that might be useful, and I stumbled on that website. It’s just a convention they’re having.”

Jonah hated it when Norman tried to keep things from him. It made him feel like a helpless child. He was not blind or deaf – he could tell when Norman wasn’t telling him the whole truth.

“Dad’s going to be there,” he said, finally looking up at Norman. “Didn’t you think I would be interested to know that?”

The expression on Norman’s face hardened. Norman didn’t like Anselm, even after five years, and he didn’t seem to like that Jonah still considered Anselm to be his father. He’d never said outright to Jonah that he didn’t like it, but Jonah could tell. Nonetheless, Anselm was Jonah’s father. There was no getting around that.

“Anselm is going to be there, yes,” Norman conceded with a frown. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it was important. You’re done with that part of your life, Jonah. I don’t think you should worry about what Anselm does now. He’s no longer any of your concern.”

“Don’t tell me that my father is not any of my concern.” Jonah stubbornly opened the internet browser again. “I want to know about this convention. And maybe Anselm knows what’s wrong with me. Maybe he can help.”

As he started to type the website address into the address bar, Norman suddenly reached over and clicked the screen off again.

“I don’t want his help,” the man replied firmly, clenching his jaw. “I’ll figure this out. There’s no reason to bring him into it.”

Frustrated, Jonah slammed his hands against the desk. “He designed me! He would know what’s wrong with me!”

“That’s not the point!” Norman’s voice rose, an indication that his patience had worn thin. “He can’t be trusted! He tried to sell you! He took that woman back after what she did to you! I’ll be damned if I ever accept help from that bastard!”

Jonah’s eyes widened and he ducked his head, staring at his knees. Norman had never yelled at him like this before. They seldom had disagreements. Maybe he’d pushed Norman too far; perhaps he could have worded things better, or not been so insistent. But he was scared right now, because he didn’t know what was happening to him, and Anselm might know how to fix it.

“But Anselm might know what to do,” he murmured. His lower lip trembled. “He might be able to fix me.”

He looked up at Norman, but Norman’s face was clouded with anger. The man only stood there, a scowl still in place, and said nothing. Norman was steadfast in his resolve. If he didn’t want to bring Anselm into this, there was nothing that Jonah could say that would change his mind.

“You’re being a jerk,” Jonah said, standing from the chair and pushing past Norman. “I can’t believe you’d rather let me die.”

“I’m not letting you die, Jonah,” Norman replied calmly. “I’m going to figure this out.”

Jonah stomped up the basement stairs and slammed the door shut behind him, just to make sure Norman knew exactly how angry he was. It wasn’t fair that Norman was letting his pride get in the way right now. Wasn’t Norman supposed to look out for him? It really felt like Norman wasn’t holding up his end of the deal right now.

Delicious smells were wafting out of the kitchen on the first floor, and Jonah followed his nose. The scent of fresh bread was soothing to his nerves. As he entered the kitchen, he spied the loaves of bread cooling on the counter. He ambled over to them, admiring their golden yellow hue and perfectly molded shapes. Lightly, he placed one hand atop a loaf and smiled at the warmth that he felt.

“Hey, Jo, what’s up?” Sadie passed by him on her way to the refrigerator and paused long enough to kiss the top of his head. “I heard a door slam. Did something happen?”

“Norman and I have had a disagreement,” Jonah murmured in response, letting his gaze turn from the bread to the woman who had taken him in. Sadie was always beautiful in a simple, perfect way. She loved without questioning, and always understood Jonah’s feelings, as though she was completely in tune with him.

He stared at Sadie’s rounded middle and tried not to feel jealousy towards the unborn child. It wasn’t the baby’s fault. She was completely innocent to Jonah’s fears, and he had no right to inflict judgment on her before she even had the chance to prove herself.

“You don’t usually fight with Norman.” Sadie took a carton of eggs from the refrigerator and turned back to him. She looked concerned. “Is this about the spell you had yesterday?”

“Yesterday?” Jonah had not realized that he’d been out of commission for so long. It was probably midday now. A shiver went down his spine. Why had Norman left him shut down for so long? The man could have woken him at any time.

Sadie nodded. “We were worried about waking you up before you were ready,” she explained, as though she had guessed what was on his mind. “Norman thought it was safer to just let you rest.”

“Oh.” Jonah reached out and gripped the edge of the counter, feeling a little weak in the knees. It had taken him an entire day to recover from that spell on his own. Something had to be horribly wrong. He really was dying, wasn’t he? But he didn’t even know what dying would mean for him. He wasn’t even really alive.

“What’s the matter, baby?” Sadie questioned, setting the carton of eggs aside and moving over to him. She placed her hands on his shoulders and looked at him questioningly. “Jonah, sweetheart, why are you so upset?”

There was a time when Jonah had been so completely confident that the world was a good place, and he’d thought he could live here forever, somehow, and never have to think about ugly, horrible things like pain and heartbreak again. It was terrifying to know that he wasn’t immortal. Sadie and Norman weren’t either. Eventually, Sadie and Norman would die. But now he felt certain that he would be the one who died first.

“What do you think happens when a person dies?” he asked hesitantly, looking up at Sadie. He searched her eyes for some understanding. “Are they just gone?”

“Is that what you’re worried about? Dying?” Sadie gently pulled him over to a kitchen chair and sat him down in it. “I don’t know for sure whether or not you’re dying, but I really don’t think you are. Don’t you think you’re jumping the gun on this one? It’s just a malfunction. Norman is trying to figure out what it is and then he’ll fix it. It’s going to be okay.”

Jonah did not share her confidence. She did not know what that pain felt like. She did not understand that being in that much pain scared him so much. How could she understand? She couldn’t understand. She was human, and alive, and perfect.

“Hypothetically, if I were dying, what do you think would happen to me?” he asked quietly. “Please. I’m scared, Sadie.”

The woman sighed and drew up another chair to sit in. She folded her hands around her belly and gazed at him solemnly.

“I don’t know what happens to anyone when they die, Jonah,” she spoke. “No one really knows. But if there’s a God and a Heaven, and if souls really do exist, then I would feel confident that your soul would go to Heaven.”

She reached out and took his hands in her own. “Let’s not speak of this anymore, okay? I don’t like to talk about people dying. And there’s no point in worrying. You’re not going to die. Everything will be fine, and soon we’re going to have a new addition to the family. A little sister, don’t you think that’s exciting?”

“Sure,” he agreed weakly. “It’s exciting.”

If she noticed his lack of enthusiasm, Sadie let it slide. She returned to her cooking, taking the time to prepare a mug of hot chocolate for him. Jonah sat at the table quietly, his fingers curled around the clay mug to feel the warmth emanating from it, the scent wafting up to his nose.

In moments like this one, Jonah loved life. This place was perfect in every way. It was everything he had hoped for, and more. He couldn’t complain about it, really, but he was anxious these days. Things were happening to his body that he didn’t understand, and a new addition to the family was about to enter the picture. The baby would change things completely, he was sure. And he was afraid of change.

His gaze strayed to the refrigerator, so covered in Jonah’s sketches that one could barely see the fridge itself. Drawing came to him easily, but he suspected it was because he had a keen perception of exact measurements more than any creative talent. Even his accomplishments would always be tainted with the knowledge that he’d succeeded because that was what he was programmed to do.

Sadie would tell him that there was more to a piece of art than lines and angles. She would be right, and Jonah had once been able to see that too. Things just seemed so grim lately. Was this how people tended to see the world? Jonah didn’t like it. He’d give anything to be that stupid, naïve kid again, in love with the Eiffel Tower and the idea of a perfect home.

Presently, Norman came up from the basement. He gave Jonah a wry smile as he walking into the kitchen and took a seat at the table across from him. Jonah was still mad at him, so he didn’t smile back. He just scowled at the man before he turned his gaze to his mug of hot chocolate, determined to avoid Norman’s gaze.

“I didn’t mean to upset you so badly,” Norman murmured. “You know how much I love you, right? I would never sacrifice you for my pride. But you were right. I was letting my emotions get in the way, even if I didn’t realize it.”

Jonah looked up at him, albeit reluctantly. “You’re apologizing?” he asked, arching an eyebrow. “Because you really should apologize for being such a jerk. I know you don’t like my dad. I don’t like him very much either. But he’s the one who made me, Norman. If anyone knows how to fix me, it’s him.”

“I know, I know.” Norman sighed and leaned back in his chair. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it. It worries me to ask that man for any favors. The last thing I want is to be in his debt. So I was trying to save that as a last resort. But the only way I could figure out anything else about how you work is if I got to see your blueprints again, and those are gone.”

His face still set in a frown, Jonah spared a moment to think negative, hateful thoughts at Karen Sanchez. If there was one person in the world that he was sure he actually hated, it was the woman who had stolen Anselm’s research from him. Five years wasn’t long enough to go without seeing her face. Though he’d learned a lot since then and now understood that her actions hadn’t actually cost him his soul, he still hadn’t forgiven her.

Sometimes, though, he blamed himself for losing Anselm’s research. He should have known that Karen was up to something, but he’d been so desperate to think that Anselm was trying to find him and wanted him to come home. As much as Jonah wished he could still see the world the way he used to, he never wanted to be that foolish again. He never wanted to let himself be that vulnerable again.

“Jonah, you’ve got to trust me when I say that I always have your best interests at heart,” Norman said, reaching across the table to touch his hand. “You’re scared right now. That’s understandable. But we’re going to fix this, I promise.”

“How?” Jonah murmured. “You’ve already tried. We just don’t know how I work, so there’s nothing we can do. But I don’t want to die, Norman.” He looked at the man who’d taken such good care of him and treated him with respect when no one else would, knowing that he was asking a lot but too scared not to. “Please, if there’s any way to stop it, I don’t want to die.”

Norman looked back at him and nodded. He took Jonah’s hand in his own and gently squeezed it.

“You’re not going to die,” the man promised. “So stop thinking about things like that. Do me a favor. Cheer up and put a smile on. If we want to get to Switzerland in time for the convention, we’ll have to start getting ready.”

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter 3

Norman couldn’t deny that he was nervous about bringing Anselm into this situation. For one thing, he just plain didn’t trust the man, no matter how much he respected Anselm’s undeniably genius work in the field of artificial intelligence. For another, Norman had lived the last five years constantly worrying that Anselm was going to want Jonah back. He didn’t think Anselm was the kind of man who would give up his own greatest achievement without a fight.

However, Jonah’s health was more important than Norman’s fears. He’d done everything he could think of to try and discover what was happening to Jonah, with no luck. And so, with great reluctance, he contacted Anselm to let the man know that he and Jonah would be attending the convention in Switzerland.

To Norman’s chagrin, Anselm was delighted that they were coming. He didn’t say anything about what might possibly be wrong with Jonah, but was much more interested in talking about his own contribution to the convention. He had a surprise for Jonah, he said. The way he talked, it seemed like he’d forgotten that Norman could barely stand to be around him. Anselm had always seemed a bit flighty in Norman’s opinion.

His wife was not happy that they were going to Switzerland. Pregnant and stressed, Sadie understandably wanted her family home where she didn’t have to worry about them. She trusted Anselm even less than Norman did, though she seldom vocalized as much in front of Jonah, as she seemed to think that Jonah didn’t need people reminding him that his creator was a terribly shallow person.

There were other reasons why neither he nor Sadie especially wanted Jonah at the Switzerland convention. Norman had heard talk, in the news and from his coworkers at the university where he now taught Physics classes. Anselm’s research had been leaked by a “mystery source” several years back, and the results were only just now turning up. This convention would undoubtedly bring out all the inventors who had taken advantage of the opportunity to make their own human robots. Maybe it was selfish, but Norman just wanted to keep his family away from the craziness he knew would ensue.

Jonah was still a very innocent child. He’d been hurt a few times, but that didn’t mean he really understood the darker side of life. Other robots like him would essentially be slaves. They would have no rights, and only a few people would even understand that they were sentient beings. Taking Jonah to this convention would basically mean showing him what was going to happen to the other beings like him.

In the end, the best choice was to go and hope that Anselm would actually help. If he wouldn’t help, there was always a chance that another inventor at the convention had the information that they needed, though Norman wouldn’t be telling Jonah’s identity to anyone else unless it was absolutely necessary. There was a good chance that some people would go to extremes to get their hands on the world’s first human robot.

Sadie and Alonzo saw them off at the airport; Alonzo promising that he and Flora would see to Sadie’s every whim while Norman and Jonah were away. It was with great reluctance that Norman left his wife and their unborn child to board the plane. He kept his hand on Jonah’s shoulder as they boarded, nervous enough to want Jonah where he could see him at all times.

Taking in Jonah had changed things for Norman. He’d been very bold before, and unafraid to say exactly what he thought about politics and war and religion. That was back when he’d had nothing to lose. Now, he had a family to think about. Jonah, especially, was his primary concern. Jonah was vulnerable to the outside world. There were plenty of people who’d love to have Anselm Kirk’s first robot, to use for their own purposes, and some of those people probably had the money to hunt Jonah down if they found out about him. What could Norman do to protect him? Not much. All Norman had ever had going for him was brains. What if there came a day when he needed more than that to keep Jonah safe?

Lately, he knew Jonah was feeling especially emotional. If Norman didn’t know better, he’d say Jonah was becoming a teenager, with all the drama and fear that being a teenager involved. Jonah, however, was permanently a child and was programmed to be such. Norman attributed the moodiness and rebelling to Jonah’s anxieties as of late. The poor kid had convinced himself that he was dying. Norman wasn’t sure how to dissuade him of that notion.

Jonah wanted to sit in the inside seat, rather than the one beside the window. At first, perhaps foolishly, Norman had thought it was because Jonah didn’t like being so high up in the air. He quickly discovered that it was really because Jonah liked watching the other people in the plane, and he liked to talk to the flight attendants as they passed by.

“What a lovely son you have!” one lady praised. People were charmed by him. Jonah always had that effect on people. There was something about the tone of his voice and the way he smiled that just made him seem genuine and caring. Jonah made everyone feel important.

When Norman and Sadie were married, they’d had a big wedding and all of Sadie’s family had come. Norman had even invited some of his old friends from college. That was almost three years ago now, and at the time everyone had commented that Jonah looked a bit young to be thirteen years old. They didn’t realize that Jonah actually looked old for his age. He was approximately seven years old now, if you wanted to be technical about it. Jonah maintained that he was eleven, as he remained stalled in that stage of development and would never exceed it.

By now, since Jonah was supposed to be sixteen, according to what they’d told friends and family, people occasionally asked questions. Their neighbors seemed to accept Jonah’s eternal youth easily, but when Sadie’s family came to visit, it was another story. Sadie’s oldest younger brother was fourteen now, and he maintained that “there was something weird” about Jonah.

Norman felt the same about Sadie’s family, personally. They weren’t bad people, or even selfish people, they were just completely intolerable. They all reminded him of Sadie when he’d first met her. Probably, if he got to know them he’d discover things about them that he liked. That was too much work, in Norman’s opinion, and he used the excuse that no one liked their in-laws to remain arms length away from them.

Jonah had been the ring bearer at their wedding. It seemed fitting that the boy who’d drawn he and Sadie together should carry the rings to signify the bond they shared. Norman remembered how excited Jonah had been to be given what he considered to be such an important role. And after the ceremony, at the reception, Jonah had proceeded to completely enchant all of their guests – even Sadie’s parents, who were outspoken about their problems with the marriage.

It still amazed Norman every day to know that the warm, caring boy was so much more than that. Jonah was the finest product of the human mind – the culmination of thousands of years building up and towards something. But Jonah wasn’t perfect. There was a chance that Jonah really had reached the end of his lifespan. It was hard to imagine life without him now, but it was a very real possibility.

Still, he didn’t want to think that way until he knew more about it. For all he knew, it was a small problem that required putting some little wire back in place, which Anselm would undoubtedly laugh about and rectify in a matter of minutes. He’d probably take the opportunity to point out how his brain was superior to Norman’s in the process.

“You’re being broody.” Jonah was looking up at him with narrowed eyes, his expression contrite. “You’ve hardly spoken this whole flight. Are you mad at me? Did I do something wrong?”

Norman sighed and turned his gaze up to the ceiling. This grumpy, moody Jonah was difficult to deal with. He’d always heard people complain about teenagers and how miserable they would make you – having once been a teenager himself, he’d always been a little affronted by such people. Now, he was starting to think he understood where those people were coming from.

“I’m in a bad mood,” he told his charge calmly. “It’s not your fault, but I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t worry about it.”

Luckily, Jonah was still far more reasonable than most teenagers. The boy looked away, shoulders slumping, and drummed his fingers against his armrest. He was obviously uneasy. Other peoples’ moods tended to affect him like that, like he took other peoples’ emotions and absorbed them somehow.

It wasn’t fair of Norman to let his own bad mood show so obviously. If either of them needed comfort right now, it was Jonah. Norman knew that Jonah was terrified of what was happening to him. He couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to know something was wrong with your own body and not know how to fix it. He wondered what was going on inside Jonah’s head.

“I’m sorry that I’m causing you so much trouble,” Jonah said after a while, his voice soft. He didn’t look at Norman as he spoke. “I know you’re worried about Sadie and the baby. You should be home with them. They’re your family.”

Norman reached over and ruffled Jonah’s hair. “Hey, kid. You’re my family too. Don’t ever forget that.”

There was no way to measure the worth of one loved person over another; not in Norman’s mind. How could he say that Sadie was more important to him than Jonah? No, he loved them both, and he never wanted to have to choose between them. Right now, Sadie was safe and in good hands. When he and Jonah came back, Sadie would be there waiting for them. Jonah was the one who really needed him right now.

A few years back, Jonah probably would have come right out and said whatever was bothering him. He’d been a very open boy back when they first met; craving human attention and understanding. But time had changed Jonah, and now he just leaned back in his seat, looking away from Norman, avoiding the issue.

“You’ve grown up a lot,” Norman murmured. “It makes me kind of sad.”

Jonah leaned forward in his seat again and hunched his shoulders defensively, making him look small and vulnerable. “I haven’t changed,” he replied sullenly. “I’m the same as ever. You and Sadie got older, but I didn’t.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Norman said. “It’s not physical, but you’ve grown. You’ve learned a lot since I met you, but I worry that the older you get, the more likely you are to end up like I was before. When I was young, I thought there had to be a perfect world out there waiting on me. Then I realized how terrible the world could be, and it sucked the life out of me.”

“Maybe the world really is terrible,” Jonah muttered bitterly. “Maybe I was wrong. Sometimes I think I was just a stupid kid back then who didn’t know what he was talking about. But I thought I had all the answers.”

Didn’t everybody think that when they were small? A young mind had a young view of the world. As a person grew older, they inevitably had to face the hardships too. Norman wished he could spare Jonah the hardships, but maybe that just wasn’t how things worked.

“You’re still a stupid kid, and that’s fine.” Norman gently gripped Jonah’s shoulder, trying to offer him a little reassurance. “It’s just that you’re going through a phase that everyone goes through. That kind of change is always scary. Believe me, I’ve been there.”

Really, Norman understood why Jonah was so worried. He just wasn’t used to Jonah expressing his anxiety in this manner. Jonah probably didn’t understand it himself. All kids had to grow up, Norman supposed, and growing up was never easy.

“Remember the Eiffel Tower?” Norman asked. “How you turned on all the lights?”

“You fussed at me for messing with someone else’s property,” Jonah grumbled. “You said I shouldn’t have done it, but I was too dumb at the time to understand why.”

“Well, I did fuss at you.” Norman couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips. “But the truth is I wish I could have been brave enough to do that myself. If you do something like that again, I’ll probably still fuss at you, but I’ll be proud of you too. I was proud of you then.”

Finally, Jonah looked up, and he looked a little more cheerful than before. “You were proud of me?” he asked softly, as though he couldn’t quite believe it.

“I’m always proud of you,” Norman corrected him. “You’re an amazing kid.”

A smile slowly spread across Jonah’s face. “Thanks, Norman,” he replied. “You’re pretty cool too – sometimes.”

Definitely a teenager, Norman thought to himself, though he had to chuckle about it. Jonah reminded him so much of himself as a teen. He’d never told Jonah as much, but they were a whole lot alike. It both worried him and served to set his mind at ease. His life had not been an easy journey, but eventually he’d found home. The same would be true for Jonah.

“I’m going to remember you said that.” Feeling a little less grouchy, Norman slouched down in his seat to get more comfortable.

Jonah reached over and grabbed his hand, holding it tightly. “Norman, whatever happens… It means a lot to me that you’re doing this for me.”

“You can always rely on me,” Norman promised him solemnly. “And we’re going to figure all this out, don’t worry. Then we’ll go home to Sadie and live like kings. We have our happily ever after, you know.”

He firmly believed that, but he could tell by the disheartened look in Jonah’s eyes that his charge was not so confident. There wasn’t much he could say to Jonah right now that would reassure him. Until they knew for sure that it was just a small, easily fixed problem, Jonah would likely continue to worry.

So then the only thing to do was get to Switzerland and fix this as soon as possible.

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

You might like Rachel Anne Parsons's other books...