Chapter no 1

The Cabin at the End of the World

The girl with the dark hair walks down the wooden front stairs and lowers herself into the yellowing lagoon of ankle-high grass. A warm breeze ripples through the blades, leaves, and crablike petals of clover flowers. She studies the front yard, watching for the twitchy, mechanical motion and frantic jumps of grasshoppers. The glass jar cradled against her chest smells faintly of grape jelly and is sticky on the inside. She unscrews the aerated lid.

Wen promised Daddy Andrew she would release the grasshoppers before they got cooked inside the homemade terrarium. The grasshoppers will be okay because she’ll make sure to keep the jar out of direct sunlight. She worries, though, that they could hurt themselves by jumping into the sharp edges of the lid’s punched-in holes. She’ll catch smaller grasshoppers, ones that don’t jump as high or as powerfully, and because of their compact size there will be more leg-stretching room inside the jar. She will talk to the grasshoppers in a low, soothing voice, and hopefully they will be less likely to panic and mash themselves against the dangerous metal stalactites. Satisfied with her updated plan, she pulls up a fistful of grass, roots and all, leaving a pockmark in the front yard’s sea of green and yellow. She carefully deposits and arranges the grass in the jar, then wipes her hands on her gray Wonder Woman T-shirt.

Wen’s eighth birthday is in six days. Her dads not so secretly wonder (she has overheard them discussing this) if the day is her actual date of birth or one assigned to her by the orphanage in China’s Hubei Province. For her age she is in the fifty-sixth percentile for height and forty-second for weight, or at least she was when she went to the pediatrician six months ago. She made Dr. Meyer explain the context of those numbers in detail. As pleased as she was to be above the fifty-line for height, she was angry to be below it for weight. Wen is as direct and determined as she is athletic and wiry, often besting her dads in battles of wills and in scripted wrestling matches on their bed. Her eyes are a deep, dark brown, with thin caterpillar eyebrows that wiggle on their own. Along the right edge of her philtrum is the hint of a scar that is only visible in a certain light and if you know to look for it (so she is told). The thin white slash is the remaining evidence of a cleft lip repaired with multiple surgeries between the ages of two and four. She remembers the first and final trips to the hospital, but not the ones in between. That those middle visits and procedures have been somehow lost bothers her. Wen is friendly, outgoing, and as goofy as any other child her age, but isn’t easy with her reconstructed smiles. Her smiles have to be earned.

It’s a cloudless summer day in northern New Hampshire, only a handful of miles from the Canadian border. Sunlight shimmers on the leaves of the trees magnanimously lording over the small cabin, the lonely red dot on the southern shore of Gaudet Lake. Wen sets the jar down in a shady patch adjacent to the front stairs. She wades out into the grass, her arms outstretched, as though treading water. She swishes her right foot back and forth through the tops of the grass like Daddy Andrew showed her. He grew up on a farm in Vermont, so he’s the grasshopper-finding expert. He said her foot is to act like a scythe, but without actually cutting down the grass. She didn’t know what he meant and he launched into an explanation of what the tool was and how it was used. He took out his smartphone to search images of scythes before they both remembered there was no cell phone service at the cabin. Daddy Andrew drew a scythe on a napkin instead; a crescent-shaped knife at the end of a long stick, something a warrior or an orc from The Lord of the Rings movies would carry. It looked really dangerous and she didn’t understand why people needed something so large and extreme to cut grass, but Wen loved the idea of pretending her leg was the handle and her foot was the long curved blade.

A brown grasshopper, big enough to span the distance across her hand, with loud, rasping wings flies up from underneath her foot and bounces off her chest. Wen stumbles backward at impact, almost falling down.

She giggles and says, “Okay, you’re too big.”

She resumes her exploratory swipes with her scythe-foot. A much smaller grasshopper jumps so high she loses sight of it somewhere in its skyward, elliptical arc, but she tracks it as it lands a few feet to her left. It’s the same fluorescent green as a tennis ball and the perfect size, not much bigger than the clumps of seeds at the ends of the longer grass stalks. If only she can catch it. Its movements are quick and difficult to anticipate, and it leaps away the moment before the quivering trap of her hands is in place. She laughs and follows a manic zigzag around the yard. She tells it that she means no harm, she will let it go eventually, and she just wants to learn about it so she can help all the other grasshoppers be healthy and happy.

Wen eventually catches the miniacrobat at the edge of the lawn and the gravel driveway. Cupped in the cave of her hands, this is the first grasshopper she’s ever caught. She whisper-shouts, “Yes!” The grasshopper is so slight she can only feel it when it tries to jump through her closed fingers. The urge to open her hands a crack for a little peek is almost a compulsion, but she wisely resists. She sprints across the yard and deposits the grasshopper into the jar and quickly screws on the lid. The grasshopper bounces like an electron, pinging against the glass and tin, and then stops abruptly, perches on the greenery, and rests.

Wen says, “Okay. You are number one.” She pulls a palm-sized notebook out of her back pocket, the front page already gridded into wavy rows and columns with headings, and she writes down the number one, an estimate of its size (she writes, inaccurately, “2 inches”), color (“green”), boy or girl (“girl Caroline”), energy level (“hi”). She returns the jar to its shaded spot and wanders back into the front yard. She quickly catches four more grasshoppers of similar size: two brown, one green, and one a color somewhere in the spectrum between. She names them after schoolmates: Liv, Orvin, Sara, and Gita.

As she searches for a sixth grasshopper, she hears someone walking or jogging on the forever-long dirt road that winds by the cabin and traces the lake’s shoreline before snaking off into the surrounding woods. When they arrived two days ago, it took them twenty-one minutes and forty-nine seconds to drive the length of the dirt road. Wen timed it. Granted, Daddy Eric was driving way too slowly, like always.

The sounds of feet mashing and grinding into the dirt and stone are louder, closer. Something big is trudging its way down the road. Really big. Maybe it’s a bear. Daddy Eric made her promise she would yell for them and run inside if she saw any animal bigger than a squirrel. Should she be excited or scared? She doesn’t see anything through the crowd of trees. Wen stands in the middle of the lawn, ready to run if necessary. Is she fast enough to get inside the cabin if it is a dangerous animal? She hopes it’s a bear. She wants to see one. She can play dead if she has to. The maybe-bear is at the tree-obscured mouth of the driveway. Her curiosity shifts gears into becoming annoyed to have to be dealing with whatever/whoever is there because she’s in the middle of an important project.

A man rounds the bend and walks briskly down the driveway like he’s coming home. Wen is not a good judge of height as all adults exist in that cloud-filled space above her, but he is easily taller than her dads. He might be taller than anyone she has ever met, and he’s as wide as a couple of tree trunks pushed together.

The man waves with a hand that might as well be a bear’s paw, and he smiles at Wen. Given her many lip reconstruction procedures, Wen has always focused on and studied smiles. Too many people have smiles that don’t mean what a smile is supposed to mean. Their smiles are often cruel and mocking, like how a bully’s grin is the same as a fist. Worse are the confused and sad smiles from adults. Wen remembers presurgeries and postsurgeries not needing a mirror to know her face wasn’t like everyone else’s yet because of the crumbly, you-poor-poor-thing smiles on faces in waiting rooms and lobbies and parking garages.

This man’s smile is warm and wide. His face opens its curtains naturally. Wen can’t fully describe the difference between a real smile and a fake one, but she knows it when she sees it. He is not faking. His is the real thing, so real as to be contagious, and Wen gives him a tight-lipped smile she covers with the back of her hand.

The man is dressed inappropriately for jogging or hiking in the woods. His clunky black shoes with thick rubber soles piled beneath his feet stand him up even taller; they are not sneakers and they are not the nice dress-up shoes Daddy Eric wears. They are more like the Doc Martens Daddy Andrew wears. Wen remembers the brand because she likes that his shoes are named after a person. The man wears dusty blue jeans and a white dress shirt, tucked in and buttoned all the way to the top, squeezing the collar around his fire-hydrant neck.

He says, “Hi there.” His voice is not as big as he is, not even close. He sounds like a teenager, like one of the student counselors in her after-school program.


“My name is Leonard.”

Wen doesn’t give her name and before she can say let me go get my dads, Leonard asks her a question.

“Is it okay if we talk a little before I talk to your parents? I definitely want to talk to them, too, but let’s you and I chat first. Is that okay?”

“I don’t know. I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

“You’re right and you’re very smart. I promise that I’m here to be your friend and I’m not going to be a stranger for long.” He smiles again. It’s almost as big as a laugh.

She returns it and doesn’t cover this one up with her hand.

“Can I ask you what your name is?”

Wen knows she should say nothing more, turn around, and go inside, and go inside quickly. She’s had the stranger-danger talk with her dads countless times, and living in the city, it makes sense for her to be vigilant because there are so many people there. An unimaginable number of people walk on the sidewalks and fill the subways and live and work and shop inside the tall buildings and there’re people in cars and buses that jam the streets at all hours, and she understands how there could be one bad person mixed in with the good people and how that bad person could be in an alley or a van or a doorway or the playground or the corner market. But up here, in the woods and on the lake, standing in the grass, under the sun and the sleepy trees and blue sky, she feels safe, and she believes this Leonard looks okay. She says so inside her head: He looks okay.

Leonard stands at the border of the driveway and grass, only a few steps away from Wen. His hair is wheat colored and moppy, swirling in layers, swoops of icing on a cake. His eyes are round and brown like a teddy bear’s eyes. He is younger than her dads. His face is pale and smooth and he doesn’t have a hint of the beard-stubble shadow Daddy Andrew gets by the end of each day. Maybe Leonard is in college. Should she ask him what college he goes to? She could then tell him that Daddy Andrew teaches at Boston University.

She says, “My name is Wenling. But my dads and my friends and everyone at school calls me Wen.”

“Well, it is very nice to meet you, Wen. So tell me what you’re up to. Why aren’t you swimming in the lake on such a beautiful afternoon?”

That’s something an adult would say. Maybe he isn’t a college student. She says, “The lake is very cold. So I’m catching grasshoppers.”

“You are? Oh, I love to catch grasshoppers. Used to do it all the time when I was a kid. So much fun.”

“It is. But this is more serious.” She juts out her lower jaw, a purposeful imitation of Daddy Eric when she asks him a question with an answer that isn’t yes right away, but will be yes eventually if she waits long enough.

“It is?”

“I’m catching them and naming them and studying them so I can find out if they are healthy. People do that when they study animals and I want to help animals when I grow up.” Wen is a little light-headed from talking so fast. Teachers at school tell her to slow down because they can’t understand her when she gets going like this. Substitute teacher Ms. Iglesias told her once that it was like the words leaked out of her mouth, and Wen didn’t like Ms. Iglesias at all after that.

“I’m very impressed. Do you need any help? I’d love to help. I know I’m much bigger now than when I was a kid.” He holds out his hands and shrugs like he can’t believe what he’s become. “But I’m still very gentle.”

Wen says, “Okay. I’ll hold the jar so the other ones don’t jump out, and maybe you can catch a couple more for me. No big ones, please. They can’t be big. No room. Just the small ones. I’ll show you.” She walks to the stairs to retrieve her jar. She goes up on her tiptoes and peers through the cabin’s open windows that flank the front door. She looks for her dads, to see if they are watching or listening. They are not in the kitchen or the living room. They must be out on the back deck, reclined in the lounge chairs, sunning themselves (Daddy Eric will most certainly get sunburned and then insist his lobster-red skin doesn’t hurt or need aloe), and reading a book or listening to music or boring podcasts. She briefly considers going out back to tell them about catching grasshoppers with Leonard. Instead she picks up the jar. The grasshoppers react like heated popcorn, pattering against the lid. Wen shushes her charges and goes to Leonard, who is in the middle of the lawn, already hunched over and scanning the grass.

Wen sidles up next to him. She holds out the jar and says, “See? No big ones, please.”

“Got it.”

“Do you want me to catch them and you can watch?”

“I’d really like to catch one at least. It’s been a long time. I’m not fast like you anymore, so I’ll just move real slow to not scare them. Oh, hey, there’s one.” He bends and stretches out his arms on either side of the grasshopper that is hanging upside down from the tip of a dried-out stalk. The grasshopper doesn’t move, hypnotized by the giant eclipsing the sun.

Leonard’s hands slowly come together and swallow it up.

“Wow. You’re good.”

“Thanks. Now how do we want to do this? Maybe you should put the jar on the ground, let the ones inside calm down a little, and then we can open the lid and put this one in, too.”

Wen does as he suggests. Leonard goes down to one knee and stares at the jar. Wen mimics his movements. She wants to ask if the grasshopper is jumping around in the darkness of his hands, if he feels it crawling on his skin.

They wait in silence until he says, “Okay. Let’s try it.” Wen unscrews the lid. Leonard slides one hand over the other until he is holding the grasshopper in one mighty fist and then delicately tilts the lid open with the newly freed hand. He drops the grasshopper inside the jar, replaces the lid, and turns it once clockwise. They look at each other and laugh.

He says, “We did it. You want one more?”

“Yeah.” Wen has her notebook out and writes in the appropriate columns: “2 inches, green, boy Lenard, medeum.” She giggles to herself that she named the grasshopper after him.

Leonard makes quick work of catching another grasshopper and deposits it inside the jar without incident or inmate escape.

Wen writes: “1 inch, brown, girl Izzy, low.”

He asks, “How many do you have now?”


“That’s a powerful, magic number.”

“Don’t you mean lucky?”

“No, it’s only sometimes lucky.”

His response is annoying as everyone knows seven is a lucky number. “I think it’s lucky, and I think it’s lucky for grasshoppers.”

“You are probably right.”

“Okay. That’s enough then.”

“What do we do now?”

“You can help me watch them.” She puts the jar down on the ground and the two of them sit cross-legged and across from each other with the jar in the middle. Wen has her notebook and pencil out. A gust of wind rattles the paper held beneath her palms.

Leonard asks, “Did you punch the holes in the lid yourself?”

“Daddy Eric did it. We found an old hammer and screwdriver in the basement.” The basement was a scary place with shadows and spiderwebs in all the corners and angles and it smelled like the deep dark bottom of a lake. The cement slab floor was cold and gritty on her bare feet. She was supposed to put shoes on to go down there, but she had been too excited and forgot. Ropes, rusted gardening tools, and old life jackets hung from exposed wooden beams, the battered bones of the cabin. Wen wished their condo in Cambridge had a basement like this one. Of course, once they were back upstairs, Daddy Eric declared the basement was off-limits. Wen protested but he said there was too much sharp and rusty stuff down there, stuff that wasn’t theirs to be touching or using in the first place. In the face of the no basement allowed proclamation, Daddy Andrew groaned from the love seat in the living area and said, “Daddy Fun is so strict.” Daddy Fun was the mostly playful nickname for the family worrier and the one quickest to say no. Daddy Eric, ever calm, said, “I’m serious. You should see it down there. It’s a deathtrap.” Daddy Andrew said, “I’m sure it’s terrible. Speaking of a trap!” and he pulled Wen into a sneak-attack hug, spun her around, and gave her what he called his “face kiss”: lips planted on the space between her cheek and nose and he playfully smooshed the rest of his big face into hers. His beard stubble tickled and scratched and she giggled, screamed, and squirmed out of it. She ran to the front door with her jar and Daddy Andrew called after her, “But we have to listen to Daddy Fun because he loves us, right?” Wen shouted, “No,” back and her dads reacted with mock outrage as she closed the front door behind her.

Wen looks up from the jar and Leonard is staring at her. He’s bigger than a boulder, and his head is tilted and his eyes are either squinting in the bright sun or are narrowed like he’s trying to figure her out.

“What? What are you looking at?”

“I’m sorry, that’s rude of me. I thought it was, I don’t know, cute-” “Cute?” Wen folds her arms across her chest.

“I mean cool. Cool! Cool that you use your dad’s first name like that.

Daddy Eric, right?”

Wen sighs. “I have two dads.” Wen keeps her arms folded. “I use their first names so they know who I’m talking to.” Her friend from school, Rodney, has two dads, too, but he’s moving to Brookline later this summer. Sasha has two moms, but Wen doesn’t like her very much; she’s way too bossy. Some of the other kids in the neighborhood and at school only have one mom or one dad, and some have what is called a stepparent, or someone they call mom’s or dad’s partner or someone else without any sort of special name at all. Most of the kids she knows have one mom and one dad, though. All the kids on her favorite shows on the Disney Channel have one mom and one dad, too. There are days when Wen goes around at recess or the playground (but never at Chinese school) tapping kids on the shoulders and telling them she has two dads to see their reaction. Most of the kids aren’t fazed by it; there have been some kids who are mad at one of their own parents and tell her they wished they had two dads or two moms. There are other days when she thinks every whisper or conversation across the room is about her and she wishes her teachers or after-school counselors would stop asking her questions about her dads and telling her that it’s so great.

Leonard says, “Ah, of course. That makes sense.”

“I think everyone should use first names. It’s more friendly. I don’t get why I have to call people Mr. and Miss and Mrs. just because they’re older.

After you meet Daddy Eric, he is going to tell me to call you Mr.


“That’s not my last name.”




“Never mind. You have my official permission to call me Leonard.”

“Okay. Leonard, do you think having two dads is weird?”

“No. No way. Do other people tell you that having two dads is weird?”

She shrugs. “Maybe. Sometimes.” There was one boy, Scott, who told her that God didn’t like her dads and they were fags, and he got suspended and moved into a different class. She and her dads had a family meeting and had what they called a big, serious talk. Her dads warned her that some people won’t understand their family and might say ignorant (their word) and hurtful things to her and it might not be their fault because of what they’ve been taught by other ignorant people with too much hate in their hearts, and, yes, it was very sad. Wen assumed they were talking about the same bad or stranger-danger people that hide in the city and want to take her away, but the more they talked to her about what Scott had said and why others might say things like that, too, the more it seemed like they were talking about everyday kind of people. Weren’t the three of them everyday kind of people? She pretended to understand for her dads’ sake, but she didn’t and still doesn’t. Why do she and her family need to be understood or explained to anyone else? She is happy and proud her dads trusted her enough to have the big, serious talk, but she also doesn’t like to think about it.

Leonard says, “I don’t think it’s weird. I think you and your dads make a beautiful family.”

“I do, too.”

Leonard adjusts his sitting position, twists around so he’s looking behind him at their black SUV pulled up close to the cabin in the small gravel lot, and then he eyes the length of the empty driveway and looks toward the obscured road. He turns back around, exhales, rubs his chin, and says, “They don’t do much, do they?”

Wen thinks he’s talking about her dads and she is ready to yell at him, tell him that they do a lot and that they are important people with important jobs.

Leonard must sense the building Vesuvius eruption and he points at the jar and says, “I mean the grasshoppers. They don’t do much. They’re just kind of sitting there, chilling. Like us.”

“Oh no. Do you think they are sick?” Wen bends to the jar, her face only inches from the glass.

He says, “No, I think they are fine. Grasshoppers only hop when they need to. It takes a lot of energy to jump like that. They’re probably tired from our chasing them down. I’d be more concerned if they were bouncing off the walls like mad.”

“I guess so. But I’m worried.” Wen sits up and writes “tired, sick, unhappy, hungry, scared?” in her notebook.

“Hey, can I ask how old you are, Wen?”

“I’ll be eight in six days.”

Leonard’s smile falters a little bit, like her answer to the question is a sad thing. “Really. Well, happy almost-birthday.”

“I am having two parties.” Wen takes a deep breath and then says, rapid-fire, “One up here at the cabin with just us and we’re going to eat buffalo meat burgers not buffalo style like the chicken, and then corn on the cob and ice cream cake and at night we’re going to light fireworks and I get to stay up until midnight and watch for shooting stars. And then . . .” Wen stops and giggles because she can’t keep up with how fast she wants to talk. Leonard laughs, too. Wen regroups and adds, “And when I get back home me and my two best friends, Usman and Kelsey, and maybe Gita, are going to the Museum of Science and the electricity exhibit and the butterfly room and maybe the planetarium and then ride on the duck boats, I think, and then more cake and ice cream.”

“Wow. I see this has all been carefully planned and negotiated.”

“I can’t wait to be eight.” A loose strand of hair falls out of her ponytail and in front of her face. She quickly stashes it behind her ear.

“You know what? I think I have something for you. Nothing too great, but let’s call it an early birthday present.”

Wen knits her brow and folds her arms again. Her dads told her in no uncertain terms to not trust strangers especially if they offer you a gift. She really hasn’t been out here by herself for too long with Leonard, but it’s starting to feel a little long. “What is it? Why do you want to give it to me?”

“I know, it seems weird, and it’s funny, but I thought I might meet you or someone like you today and I was walking down the road out here and I saw this”-he starts fiddling with the breast pocket of his shirt-“and for some reason I thought I should pick it up, even though I never do that kind of thing normally. So I picked it. And now I want you to have it.”

Leonard pulls out a small, droopy flower with a halo of thin white petals.

As uncomfortable as she was a moment ago at the thought of a gift from a stranger, Wen is disappointed and doesn’t try to hide it. She says, “A flower?”

“If you don’t want to keep it, we can put it in the jar with the grasshoppers.”

Wen suddenly feels bad, like she is being mean even though she isn’t trying to be mean. She tries a joke: “They’re called grasshoppers not flower-hoppers.” But she feels worse because that sounds mean for real.

Leonard laughs and says, “True. We probably shouldn’t tamper with their habitat too much.”

Wen almost mock-faints into the grass she’s so relieved. Leonard extends the flower over the grasshopper jar, across the expanse of lawn between them. Wen takes it, careful not to brush his hand accidentally.

He says, “It’s a little squished from being in my pocket, but still mostly in one piece.”

Wen sits up straight and reshapes the curled stem that’s about as long as her pointer finger. The stem feels loose and will probably fall off soon. The middle part of the flower is a little yellow ball. The seven petals are long, skinny, and white. Does he expect her to stick it in her hair or behind her ear or run inside to put it in a glass of water? She has a better idea. She says, “It already looks kinda dead. Can we pull it apart and make a game of it?”

“You can do whatever you want with it.”

“We’ll take turns pulling off a petal and when we do we ask a question the other person has to answer. I’ll go first.” Wen plucks a petal. “How old are you?”

“I am twenty-four and a half years old. The half is still important to me.”

Wen passes the flower back to Leonard and says, “Make sure you only pluck one at a time.”

“I will do my very best with these big mitts.” He follows Wen’s instructions and carefully plucks a petal. He pinches his fingertips tightly together to ensure he only pulls out one. “There. Phew.” He passes back the flower.

“What’s my question?”

“Right. Sorry. Um . . .”

“The questions should be fast and the answers fast, too.”

“Yes, sorry. Um, what’s your favorite movie?”

“Big Hero Six.”

“I like that one, too.” He says it matter-of-factly, and for the first time since they’ve met, she wonders if he is lying to her.

Leonard passes the flower back. Wen plucks a petal; her hand is quick. She says, “Everyone usually asks what is your favorite food. I want to know what your least favorite food is.”

“That’s easy. Broccoli. I hate it.” Leonard takes the flower and pulls a petal. He quickly looks behind him and back down the driveway again and asks, “What is your first memory?”

Wen isn’t expecting that question. She almost says the question isn’t fair and is too hard, but she doesn’t want to be accused of making up the rules as she goes, which she’s been accused of before by her friends. She’s sensitive about being fair when playing games. “My first memory is being in a big room.” She spreads her arms wide and her notebook slips off her lap and into the grass. “I was very small, maybe even a baby, and there were doctors and nurses looking at me.” She doesn’t tell Leonard all of it, that there were other beds and cribs in the room with her, and the walls were green tiled (she remembers that ugly green vividly), and there were kids crying in the room, and the doctors and nurses were leaning in close to her and had heads as big as moons and they were Chinese like her.

Wen reaches over the jar, almost knocking it over, in a hurry to get the flower back from Leonard before he breaks the rules and asks a follow-up question. Another petal is plucked away and she rolls it up into a ball between her fingers. “What monster scares you?”

Leonard doesn’t hesitate. “The giant ones like Godzilla. Or the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies. Those movies scared the heck out of me. I used to have nightmares all the time about being eaten or squashed by T. rex.”

Wen has never been afraid of giant monsters but hearing Leonard talk about them and then looking at the trees stretching beyond where she’ll ever reach, and how they bend and wave easy in the breeze, she can understand being afraid of big things.

Leonard’s turn with the flower. He plucks and asks, “How did you get that tiny white scar on your lip?”

“You can see it?”

“Barely. Only a little, when you turn a certain way.”

Wen looks down and pushes out her lips in attempt to see it. Of course it’s there. She sees it whenever she looks in the mirror, and sometimes she wants it to go away, to never be seen again, and sometimes she hopes it’ll be there forever and she traces the slash with a finger like she’s darkening a line with a pencil.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m sorry.”

Wen shifts and adjusts her legs, and says, “I’m okay.”

The fissure in her cleft lip went all the way up to her right nostril so the two sets of empty, dark spaces overlapped and became one. Last fall, Wen begged her dads to let her see baby photos, the youngest ones of her that they had, the ones from before the surgeries and before they adopted her. It took some convincing, but her dads eventually acquiesced. They had a set of five pictures of her lying on her back on a white blanket, awake and her balled-up fists hovering next to her unrecognizable face. Wen was unexpectedly shaken by the photos and convinced she was, for the first time, looking at her real self and this real her was gone, forgotten, banished, or worse, that imperfect unwanted child was hidden, locked away inside of her somewhere. Wen was so upset her hands shook and the tremors spread throughout her body. After her dads consoled her, she calmed down and gave them an oddly formal thank you for letting her look at the photos. She requested they be put away because she would never look at them again. But she did look at them again, and often. Her dads kept the wooden box of photos under their bed and Wen would sneak into their room to look at them whenever she could. There were more photos in the box, including pictures of her dads in China; Daddy Eric looked weird with thin, wispy hair clinging to his head-which he has since shaved bald for as long as she can remember-and Daddy Andrew looked exactly the same with his dark, long hair. There were pictures of the three of them in the orphanage, too, with one picture of her dads holding her up between them. She was the size of a loaf of bread and wrapped up tightly in a blanket, only the top of her head and her eyes peeking out at the camera. She would look at the pictures with her dads in them first, and then the photos of just her. The scary the-realher-was-in-the-baby-photos feeling went away the more she looked. Yes, that was her little baby head with a shock of unruly black hair perched above the unmolded clay of her face. Wen traced the boundaries of skin and space of her cleft lip in the photos and then manipulated and moved her own lip around, trying to recapture what it must’ve felt like having the disconnect, owning all that empty space. Each time she slid the box back under the bed, she wondered if her biological parents gave her up to the orphanage because of how she looked. Eric and Andrew have always been open about Wen having been born in China and adopted. They have bought her many books, encourage her to learn as much about Chinese culture as she can, and this past January, they enrolled Wen in a Chinese school (in addition to her regular, everyday school) with classes on Saturday mornings to help her learn to read and write Chinese. She rarely asks her dads about her biological parents. Almost nothing is known about them; her dads were told that Wen was left anonymously at the orphanage. Daddy Andrew once speculated that her parents might’ve been too poor to properly care for her and only hoped she could have a better life elsewhere.

She says, “I had what they call a cleft lip when I was a baby. And they fixed it. It took a lot of doctors a long time to fix it.”

“They did an amazing job and your face is beautiful.”

She wishes he wouldn’t say that and so she ignores it. Maybe it’s time to get one or both of her dads. She’s not afraid or worried about Leonard, not exactly, but something is starting to feel off. She brings up one of her dads as though mentioning him is the same as calling him to come out here. “Daddy Andrew has a big scar that starts behind his ear and goes down to his neck. He keeps his hair long so you can’t see it unless he shows it to you.”

“How did he get it?”

“He got hit in the head by accident when he was a kid. Someone was swinging a baseball bat and didn’t see him standing there.”

Leonard says, “Ouch.”

Wen thinks about telling him that Daddy Eric shaves his head and sometimes he asks Wen to check his head for nicks and scars. There are never any scars like hers or Daddy Andrew’s and if she finds a little red cut, it’s always healed up and gone by the next time she looks.

She says, “It’s not fair, you know.”

“What isn’t fair?”

“You can see my scar and I can’t see anything wrong with you.”

“Just because you have a scar doesn’t mean you have something wrong with you, Wen. That’s very important. I-“

Wen sighs and interrupts. “I know. I know. That’s not what I mean.”

Leonard twists around again and stays twisted around, as though he sees something, but there’s nothing behind him other than the SUV, the driveway, and the trees. Then there’re faint sounds coming from somewhere in the woods beyond, or coming from the road. They both sit quietly and listen, and the sounds grow louder.

Leonard turns back to Wen and says, “I don’t have any scars like you or your dad, but if you could see my heart, you’d see that it’s broken.” He doesn’t have a smile on his face anymore. His face looks sad, like the real kind of sad and he even might start crying. “Why is it broken?”

The sounds can now be heard plainly and without them having to be quiet. Familiar sounds, feet tramping and stomping their way down the dirt road, like earlier when Leonard showed up. Where did Leonard come from anyway? She should’ve asked. She knows she should’ve. He had to have come from far away. This time it sounds like a whole bunch of Leonards (or bears? Maybe this time it’s actually bears) are walking down the road.

Wen asks, “Are there more people coming? Are they your friends? Are they nice?”

Leonard says, “Yes, there are more people coming. You are my friend now, Wen. I wouldn’t lie to you about that. Just like I won’t lie to you about them. I don’t know if I’d call them my friends, exactly. I don’t know them very well, but we have an important job to do. The most important job in the history of the world. I hope you can understand that.”

Wen stands up. “I have to go now.” The sounds are closer. They are at the end of the driveway but not quite around the bend and the trees yet. She doesn’t want to see these other people. Maybe if she doesn’t see them, refuses to see them, they’ll go away. They are so loud. Maybe instead of bears it’ll be Leonard’s giant monsters and dinosaurs coming to get them both.

Leonard says, “Before you go inside to get your dads, you have to listen to me. This is important.” Leonard crawls out of his sitting position and onto one knee, and his eyes brim with tears. “Are you listening?”

Wen nods her head and takes a step back. Three people turn the corner onto the driveway: two women and one man. They are dressed in blue jeans and button-down shirts of different colors; black, red, and white. The taller of the two women has white skin and brown hair, and her white shirt is a different kind of white than Leonard’s. His shirt glows like the moon, whereas hers is dull, washed, almost gray. Wen catalogs the apparent coordination in how Leonard and the three strangers dress as something important to tell her dads. She will tell them everything and they will know why the four of them are all wearing jeans and button-down shirts, and maybe her dads can explain why the three new strangers are carrying strange long-handled tools.

Leonard says, “You are a beautiful person, inside and out. One of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, Wen. Your family is perfect and beautiful, too. Please know that. This isn’t about you. It’s about everyone.” None of the tools are scythes but they look like menacing, nightmarish versions of them, with rough scribbles at the ends of the poles instead of smooth crescent blades. All three of the wooden handles are long and thick, perhaps once owning shovel blades or rake heads. The stocky man wearing a red shirt has a flower of rusty hand shovel and/or trowel blades, nailed and screwed to the end of the handle. On the other end of his handle, pointed down by his feet, is a thick, blunt, red block of dented and chipped metal, the head of a well-used sledgehammer. Now that he’s closer, his handle looks bigger, thicker, like he’s holding a boat’s oar with the paddle sawed off. Even as Wen walks backward, toward the cabin, she sees the tops of screws and nail heads haphazardly ringing both ends of his wooden handle like fly hairs. The shorter woman wears a black shirt, and at the end of her wooden handle is a pinwheel of raking claws, crooked metal fingers jammed together into a large ragged ball so her tool looks like the most dangerous lollipop in the world. The other woman wears the off-white shirt and at the end of her tool is a single blade head, bent and curled over itself at one end, like a scroll, and then tapering into a right triangle with a sharp point at the other.

Wen’s choppy, unsure backward steps become deep, equally unsure, lunges. She says, “I’m going inside now.” She has to say it to ensure she will enter the cabin and not stand and stare.

Leonard is on his knees with his great and terrible arms outstretched. His face is big and sad in the way all honest faces are sad. He says, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault. You haven’t done anything wrong, but the three of you will have to make some tough decisions. Terrible decisions, I’m afraid. I wish with all of my broken heart you didn’t have to.”

Wen fumbles up the stairs, still going backward, with eyes only for the confusing amalgams of wood and metal the strangers are carrying.

Leonard yells, but he doesn’t sound angry or distressed. He’s yelling to be heard over the expanding distance between them. “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. Tell them they have to. We are not here to hurt you. We need your help to save the world. Please.”

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