The mood in Ancora seemed a bit tense as I went past the main cluster of buildings. Something had happened. Perhaps a death? I hoped not. I decided to make the Wings my first stop, so I could talk to Rosalba. I had her birthday present in my bag, and wanted to give it to her.
Fourteen now, I thought, brushing some hair from my face and looking up at the sky. She seemed as sweet as ever and I hoped that when the triplets were that age that they’d be just as sweet. Not that they’re all sweet now, I thought, shaking my head. My babies were seven years old now, and in just another six years they’d be teenagers. But six years was a lot better than, say, four. Or two. Or one.
I got to the Wings’ farmhouse and knocked at the door. Rosie answered the door, looking up at me with big eyes. “Oh! Miss Danevbie!” she squeaked. “Come in!” She stepped back, allowing me to enter the house. Almost immediately she shut the door.
“Hey Rosie. I brought this for you.” I handed her the three books and she took them with only a small smile. “Is… everything okay?”
“Hmm?” She held the books against her chest and nodded. “Oh. Yes. Everything is f-fine! Cam I get you something to drink? Some tea? We have the stove on for lunch.” She quickly headed into the kitchen before I could reply.
Mrs. Wing was in the living room, staring at the fireplace and looking nervous. “Excuse me,” I said, stepping over to her. “Is something going on today?”
“Oh, Mrs. Danevbie…” She stood up quickly and put a fake smile on her face. “Why would you think something is going on?”
“Everyone seems so tense and nervous,” I said with a slight shrug.
“Oh…” She turned to look out the window. “Well that is simply because someone has made the decision to leave Ancora.” She touched the glass and shook her head. “It’s always so strange when someone chooses life outside this place. I guess it’s because I love it here. I couldn’t imagine ever leaving.”
Rosie came in, without any drinks. Her face seemed a bit pale but, since she was a white rainbow, it was hard to tell. “Our cousin,” she said rather quietly. “Lloyd Chambers.”
“I didn’t know you were related,” I said, while trying to remember who that was. I knew who it was but there was something about him that I knew was connected to something else. What was it?
“Distantly,” Mrs. Wing said, a bit sharply. “Grey and White are close enough to call each other kin, so he is a sort of… cousin, though only through my grandmother. Rosalba, why don’t you go see if the chickens need feeding?”
Rosie stomped her foot. “Mom! I want to talk to Miss Danevbie!”
“Later, dear. Later.” Mrs. Wing waved her hand and Rosie ran from the house, scowling like a typical teenager. “I’m sorry about that. Rosalba is a bit… upset about this. Lloyd’s been a good friend to us but for years now he’s been acting so strange.”
Suddenly I remembered. Lloyd Chambers. He had been the guy Verna Hart mentioned. I assumed he was the father of her baby, and–and if the Wings weren’t told about Bianca’s death then I doubted anyone was told about Verna’s death. “Ever since Verna Hart left?” I asked, rather boldly.
Mrs. Wing’s eyes went big. “Why… yes. Actually, that’s it. And he keeps talking about her. At first he said she’d come back but as the years went by, it was obvious she wouldn’t… now for the past year he’s been talking about leaving us and today he decided that this was it, and he was going to leave.” She sniffled rather loudly. “It’s just bringing back memories of Bianca…”
“Did Bianca talk about leaving?” I asked quietly, suspecting the answer.
She shook her head. “No! That was the thing, she seemed to like it well enough here but… I guess when she had her baby she changed her mind. Now, please excuse me. I don’t think I want to discuss this any longer. I’m sorry. I need to lie down.”
“I understand,” I said, patting her arm. “I’ll see you later.” I grabbed my bag and left the farmhouse, going over to where Rosie was sulking by a small pond. She looked up when I approached and then stood up.
“Why do people leave us?” she asked as soon as I got close. “Why did Bianca leave? And now Lloyd is going, too! It’s not fair!”
I bit my bottom lip, feeling horribly guilty about her sister. “Well,” I began carefully, “some people just… find it hard to continue their lives as it is. Some people are happy in the same place for many years but others need a new place to live. New sights to see.”
She snorted loudly. “He just wants to find his old friend, Verna. I dunno why. I mean friendship is nice and all but why would someone leave this for an old friend they haven’t seen in years?”
I figured by the way she said ‘friend’ that their relationship hadn’t been public; at least, not to Rosie. I rubbed my chin, smiling. “Maybe he and Verna were more than friends.”
Rosie’s eyes got huge and she stepped away from me. “How–how could you say such a thing? They were just friends! What’s more than that?”
“Sometimes people who are friends start to become more than friends,” I explained. “They fall in love, and–“
“No!” she yelped. “But that doesn’t… but they…” She stopped and spun around, looking out at the pond. “That doesn’t make sense,” she mumbled. “Why would they risk…?”
I cocked my head to one side and moved closer to her. “Risk what?” I asked, then covered my mouth as I realized something. I had been snooping. I hoped Jay wouldn’t find out but she had known about conversations here at the farmhouse before. “Never mind,” I said quickly as Rosie’s face fell. “Why don’t you go see if your mother needs anything?”
“Okay,” she sighed, pushing some loose strands of hair away from her face and then took off for the house.
I quickly began walking back towards town, my head spinning. I had been snooping, asking questions. I hadn’t done anything like that in ages. But Jay wouldn’t catch me. She was hardly around, anyway. I hadn’t seen her in over ten months, and I hadn’t even seen Kay in about four. I was being paranoid.
I got back to my office and leaned against the desk, drifting in and out of a sort of stupor. The words from the Wings kept getting to me, though I wasn’t sure why. Risk what? I forced that into the back of my mind, leaving my office and going to check in on some of the projects I was attached to, thought in a slight daze. The answer was just out of reach. I was so close to knowing what was wrong, why I felt this way, what happened…
Maybe Lloyd is here right now, I wondered as I walked through the halls. Surely they didn’t just let them out to wander around? Logically they kept the villager here for a day or so, briefing them on the real word, helping them find somewhere to stay. Of course, Jay wasn’t exactly the most logical of people. Still, it was worth a chance. And this wasn’t snooping. It was just checking up on things.
I found the living quarters and sure enough, Lloyd Chambers was staying in one. I went in and found him pacing around, looking anxious. He glanced up at me and frowned, trying to remember who I was. “Luna Danevbie,” I said, offering my head. “I work at Acinert. I was just checking up on you, see how you were doing.”
“How much longer do I need to stay here?” he asked bluntly.
“Oh! Ah, I’m not sure,” I admitted.
“Do you know where someone named Verna Hart went? It was a couple years ago,” he said, waving his hands around. “She was pregnant. I knew it was wrong, but I loved her, see, and nothing could keep us apart. And she came here to give birth and–well, she left.” Now he stopped and his face went stormy. “She promised never to leave me.”
“I don’t know where she is,” I lied. “I’m sorry.”
“Could you find out?” he asked, hope filling his eyes.
“I–I’ll try,” I said, gulping and wondering if maybe I should tell him the truth. “Goodbye.” I quickly left, hurrying back to my office. My head swam and I felt as though I was going to throw up. That little meeting had pushed the answer closer but it was just just at my fingertips. What the heck is it?
I barely talked at dinner, and asked Kellen if he’d read to the kids tonight. I left the bedroom door open a bit so I could hear his murmuring voice in the other room as I changed into my pajamas and climbed into bed. I stared at the ceiling, working out the problems in my head. Connecting dot A to dot B. Forming a picture, forming the answer.
Risks, Rosie’s voice said. I knew it was wrong, Lloyd’s voice repeated. What risks? What was wrong? Why was…?
A thought struck in my head and suddenly it was clear. No. But yes! But no. Surely I was wrong. That couldn’t be what was bothering me so much… was it? No. Yes? I sat up in bed, pressing my fingertips gently over my eyes as I thought hard. Ancora. Was what I was thinking fit? I thought about everything, all the villagers, the buildings, and–yes. It made sense. I think. There was just one more thing I had to know and when Kellen came in for bed, I got up.
“Sweetie, I need to ask you something,” I said, trying not to sound urgent or anxious. “About Ancora.”
He lifted his eyebrows in surprise. “Ancora? What about it?” he asked as he changed into his pajamas.
“Weddings, and marriage,” I said. “When the villagers get married… do they often marry each other? Or are new people brought in? I mean, are there new villagers often brought in? Ever? Surely there’d have to be, else they’d be inbred.”
Kellen choked slightly when he heard that then laughed, putting his hands on my shoulders. “Yes, new villagers are brought in often. And yes, they usually are the ones to marry the other villagers. Why?”
“What happens when a villager leaves Ancora?” I whispered.
He shrugged. “I’m not sure, not many people leave. I–I guess they’re just… sent off or something. Why? Why are you so curious all of a sudden?”
I kissed him quickly then changed into my pajamas. “Because I think something is going on there, and I think I know what.”
“Wh–what? What on earth do you mean?” he asked as we both climbed into bed.
“I need to know something, and I’ll find out tomorrow,” I said. “If my suspicions are correct then… well…” I hesitated. What would I do? There was nothing I could do. “I’ll work it out when I know for sure.”
“You’re not talking much sense buuuut okay,” he drew out, reaching over for his book.
I settled back, chewing at my bottom lip. No, I wasn’t talking much sense. But I knew I was right. There weren’t many families in Ancora, and only about two families of each color. No mixed colors. The only ones that might be considered mixed are the greys, purples, oranges, and greens. But there were two families of each of those colors–and they were completely grey, purple, orange, or green.
Ancora was a village of color separation. Rosie talked about risk, Lloyd said he knew it was wrong. The villagers were not permitted to interbreed for some reason. Lloyd was grey, Verna was green. She was panicking because she knew she had done something wrong in the eyes of Acinert. Had Bianca done the same?
A horrible thought struck me at that. If Bianca did the same thing as Verna and broke the possible rule of being with someone of a different color… and they both died the same way, and their babies died…
No. That thought was too sickening. I had to be wrong about that.