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[2 of 5] Fire Keeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (2021) Chapters 11 - 20

Author: Angeline Boulley

Boulley, Angeline. “Chapters 11 - 20.” Fire Keeper's Daughter, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York, NY, 2021.

CHAPTER 11

My mother hands me a pill and a glass of water. Watches as I drink. Helps me into bed as I begin to shiver and my teeth chatter. She is the steady one now.

I have a faint memory of shaking like this during my coming-of-age fast at fourteen on Sugar Island. For two nights and two days during a cold and rainy October, I shivered beneath a wool blanket and a tarp on a boulder in the woods. Prayed and waited for my vision to come. I had to wait a month, until the next moon had passed, before I could tell Auntie about my experience. How no vision had come to me, but that every muscle in my body spasmed the entire time.

Cold and shivering is fine, Daunis. It’s when you stop shivering that you’re in trouble.

I blink and … it’s morning. Sunlight whispers against my eyelids. At some point, I fell asleep. Mom stirs at my side. Why is she …

Lily.

Something jolts through my body. Lily is dead. I see it all again: my best friend falling onto her back. The memory is painful; every part of my body hurts.

I get out of bed, still dressed in a ratty T-shirt and cutoffs, and head to my mom’s bathroom. I know the pills are in the medicine cabinet. I need to go back to sleep. To forget this. Forget last night. Lily. Travis. Jamie. TJ. Lily. Lily. Lily.

My hand stops short of the orange prescription vial.

Lily is … somewhere. By now, Auntie and Seeney Nimkee will have washed her body with cedar water. Even if Seeney didn’t work for the Traditional Medicine Program, Granny June would have asked her to prepare Lily for the four-day journey to the next world. It isn’t part of Auntie’s job as Tribal Health director, but I know she will assist Seeney.

Each day has a purpose. Today, Lily’s first day, she will mourn her family. Loved ones.

Me. She will mourn me. I can’t sleep through it.

I close the medicine cabinet and go to the table next to the front door. Gramma Pearl’s birchbark basket in the shape of a blueberry. A pine cone hangs from each point of its flared crown. I reach inside for a pinch of loose-leaf tobacco.

My bare feet touch cold concrete steps and then grass slick with dew. The bumps and dents of the lawn remind me of dancing in my moccasins. Drumbeats reverberating from uneven ground, up my legs and into my heart. I felt that same medicine yesterday, sitting in the bleachers.

I hold the semaa in the palm of my left hand, the one closest to my heart. Release it to the poplar where I always begin my day. After my introduction, I inventory the Seven Grandfathers—love, respect, honesty, humility, bravery, wisdom, and truth.

Which one will help with this unfathomable anguish? I don’t have the answer.

When I go back inside, my mother is pouring hot water into a dainty teacup.

“Want me to run a bath?” she asks gently.

If I say yes, Mom will set the kettle down and take care of me. She will skip visiting GrandMary to stay by my side. She has always put my needs first. Even before her own.

Whenever I’d complain about Mom smothering me with her unending questions and hovering, Lily would say, Cut her some slack. One time, she snapped at me. Some of us would love to have a mom who puts their kid first.

Lily adores my mother. Adored my mother.

“Thanks, but I need a quick shower before I go sit with Granny June at the funeral home. Can you drop me off on your way to EverCare?”

She opens her mouth. I know she will gently suggest I stay home.

“Mom, I need to be with Lily and Granny June. I need to help.”

That my mother understands perfectly.

When Granny June hugs me, I rest my chin atop her head. My nose stings. I visualize frost spreading inside my nasal cavity like feathery ice crystals on a window, overtaking the inferior turbinate, closest to the tip of my nose, traveling up the medium turbinate, and, finally, covering the superior turbinate. I’m grateful—the cold keeps the pins and needles at bay.

Granny June takes my hand. We walk to the simple pine casket. Its wood-burned etchings are in a traditional Ojibwe floral design that includes butterflies. I inhale deeply, numbing frost spreading to coat my lungs, and look down at Lily.

My best friend looks like she’s napping. She’s wearing her black regalia. Black is her spirit color. One time, Macy Manitou sneered about how Goth was so nineties. Lily joked, Black makes me look slimmer, hey. She weighed maybe ninety- six pounds.

The longer I stare at Lily, the less real she seems. A mannequin with bubble-gum-pink cheeks and lips. No black lipstick or heavily winged eyeliner. Nothing about this feels real.

I look around for Auntie. If she isn’t here at the funeral home, then she must be at the ceremonial fire Art will be tending in the woods behind their pole barn. My father’s family was named for its role in the tribal community for generations: Firekeeper. Auntie happened to marry a man from another Ojibwe community who was also taught firekeeper duties.

Firekeepers strike the fire for ceremonies, funerals, sweat lodges, and other cultural events where our prayers are carried by the smoke to Creator. A ceremonial fire is special; you don’t roast marshmallows or sing forty-niner songs at it. Firekeepers ensure that protocols are followed the entire time it burns: no politics, no drinking, and no gossip. Only good thoughts to feed the fire and carry our prayers.

Art must have struck the fire last night upon hearing the news. He will take care of the fire for the four nights and four days of Lily’s journey. At the end of the fourth day, as the fire goes out in this world, it is struck in the next world, where it will burn without end for Lily.

I am proud to come from people who served their community in this way. Auntie married a good man who continues this responsibility. The part I cannot fathom is Art tending a ceremonial fire for Lily, for her wake and funeral. She is only eighteen. Was only eighteen.

Granny June leads me to the food table at one end of the room. There will be another at Art’s workshop. Slow cookers filled with different versions of hominy soup, pork and beans, and macaroni soup. A cast-iron pot of wild rice mixed with tender chunks of venison roast. Foil-lined pans of fry bread. Trays of smoked whitefish, fried baloney, and venison sausage. A brick of commodity cheese sliced into cracker- sized bites. Deviled eggs dusted with paprika. Veggie trays. Bags of chips. Pans of blueberry galette. Homemade cakes and pies next to store-bought varieties. Bowls of strawberries and tiny wild blueberries.

We sit down with full plates and we eat. With each bite, I observe a different person at the funeral home. Do you know what is going on? Are you involved? Jamie’s strange warnings have me looking at everyone with new eyes.

Lily’s mother Maggie arrives on the second day. She repeats herself to everyone who hugs her: “I had to get the kids packed. Shop for church clothes.”

If it were me in that coffin, my mother would be fused to it like an anglerfish.

I remember once when Lily told me she was her mom’s practice baby. Same with the next kid—a half sister in Lansing. Auntie overheard us talking and sat us down. She talked about the boarding school that Granny June’s daughters had been scooped up and taken to. Years spent marching like soldiers and training to be household domestics. They had the Anishinaabemowin and cultural teachings beaten out of them. When they came back to Sugar Island, one of the girls had scarred palms that looked like melted plastic, and she ran into the woods at the sound of a kettle whistle. Her sister was afraid of men and had to sleep with her back against the wall. Auntie had told us, When you criticize Maggie, just remember she was raised by one of those sisters, the one who didn’t kill herself.

I spot Auntie now, holding Maggie’s hand while they both cry. I was quick to judge Lily’s mom, even today. My aunt’s words were remembered as an afterthought.

Maggie’s two little ones sit with relatives near the food tables. The toddler girl, in a pretty yellow dress, has a contagious laugh that’s bigger than she is. The boy, in a matching bow tie, is a year younger than the twins. He flashes a shy smile that is the same as Granny June’s, where one side claims more of the happy than the other. I continue watching as Maggie walks over to where they’re sitting. The little girl

reaches for her mom, who kisses her toddler’s forehead slowly. There is healing medicine in those kisses.

When Auntie spills coffee on herself, I offer to drive her car to the house for a clean blouse. On the ferry ride to the island, I think about the second day of Lily’s spiritual journey. It is for atonement. She will face every living creature she ever harmed during her lifetime.

I glance at the car next to me and recognize one of Travis’s cousins. The car to my right is filled with his relatives. The Flint family would have a fire lit for him at the lodge behind the Elder Center. Tribal members can use its community room for wakes and funerals. Anger flashes through me as I think about how it’s Travis’s second day as well. He will be unable to move on until he accounts for the harm that he is responsible for. Including taking Lily from us.

Time is a concept of our earthly minds. In the spirit world, his second day might last an eternity for him. As it should. My nails dig into my palms. I want Travis to suffer. To feel our pain. For his atonement to be a mirage just beyond his grasp.

I can’t be around the fire like this. Filled with such fury.

Only good thoughts for Lily.

I look down at my hands, expecting to see blood. The curved indentations resemble tiny scars.

CHAPTER 12

The third day is for Lily to learn about the next world. When I sit next to her casket, I keep going over everything I know about Jamie’s identity and the reason he’s here.

What I know for sure about Jamie: He used to be a figure skater.

What I know for sure about why he’s here: Two undercover cops are in the Sault working on a case. One is posing as a high school science teacher; the other is pretending to be a high school senior and a hockey player on a Junior A team.

What else I know for sure: Lily shouldn’t be here.

Jamie and his “uncle” show up at the funeral home. When Jamie asks to speak with me outside, I’m both curious and irritated. I follow them to a nearby bridge over the power canal.

Ron Johnson, or whatever his real name is, looks a few years older than my mom. He has a barely there mustache I recognize in Native guys whose facial hairs present as lone wolves determined not to get too close to one another. He is smack-dab in the middle of the Acceptable Anishinaabe Skin Tone Continuum. I’d bet my trust fund no one has ever told him, Oh, you’re Indian? You sure don’t look like one.

“Ron Johnson,” he says, shaking my hand. “Senior agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

“For real? Ron Johnson?” I scoff.
“It’s better not to provide actual names at this point.” I eye Jamie. “Let me guess, Jamie Johnson?”

“For your protection, Daunis,” Jamie says. “But I really am a law-enforcement officer on loan from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

The FBI and BIA … two federal agencies that tend to make things worse instead of better for tribes.

Ron asks, “Would it be possible for you to come with us so we could talk with you about the investigation?”

I wanted this. Answers. Truth. But how can I leave Lily now?

The purpose of the third day is suddenly clear: to gain new ways. Just as Lily is finding her way now, there’s a new world for me to learn. Lily would want me to do this.

“I’ll let my aunt know I’m leaving with you,” I say.

We pass the movie theater downtown on our drive from the funeral home to … wherever Ron is taking me. Denzel Washington in The Manchurian Candidate and Hilary Duff in A Cinderella Story.

“Oh look,” I point out. “Two movies about people faking identities.” Since Ron and Jamie have yet to say anything, I decide not to be the naive girl who accepts half-assed stories.

The corner of Ron’s mouth twitches. In the back seat, Jamie pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Fake identities are necessary for protection,” Ron says. “An operative’s cover is a shield with two sides. To protect the people he comes in contact with as well as the agent.”

He turns left at the corner with the Dairy Queen, toward the middle school and high school. I remember standing in a snowstorm with Lily last April when DQ opened for the season. I ordered my usual Buster Bar and she got a Blizzard with goofy combinations of stuff in it.

A few minutes ago, I was sitting next to Lily, racking my brain about how little I know about Jamie’s true identity and whatever this investigation is. Now I’m in a car with Jamie and Ron, but all I can think about is Lily. It’s as if Jamie and his investigation are lodged in my brain’s left hemisphere with facts, logic, and analysis. Lily is in my right brain, part of my imagination, intuition, and feelings. Between the two hemispheres is a divide as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.

I force myself to pay attention to Ron, who’s mentioning other cases he’s worked on. “My last investigation involved the BIA, local tribal police, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. High-profile case. It was over twenty-five years old, but last year we identified the people who murdered a Native woman. Her family got answers.” He pulls into the high school parking lot and turns to face me. “Answers can’t bring a person back, but a successful investigation can help loved ones grieve and carry on.”

I feel his words sink in as we get out of the car. Is that something I can do? Help Lily’s family now, because I couldn’t help her Saturday evening on Sugar Island?

It feels strange to walk back into the high school. Surreal. As if I was here only yesterday. And in the next step, as if I’ve been gone for years instead of months. When we pass the front office, the school secretary comes out with her arms widening for a hug.

“Daunis, I’m so sorry to hear about Lily Chippeway,” Mrs. Hammond says, embracing me. “And after what you’ve already gone through. First that terrible business with your uncle and then your grandmother’s stroke.”

Mrs. H. releases me. I remain in place. Gramma Pearl’s warning rings through my head. Lily’s murder was the third bad thing. I was supposed to be on guard. Watch for signs. But I didn’t stop it. I failed Lily. She’s gone and I was supposed to protect her.

“Hi, Mrs. Hammond, I’m Ron Johnson,” Ron says as he steps forward to shake her hand. “We spoke on the phone earlier.”

“Oh yes.” Mrs. H. looks at Ron. “You must be the new Indian science teacher.”

“I am the new science teacher, and, yes, I am Native American,” Ron says amiably. “Ron Johnson. This is my nephew, Jamie. He and Daunis are friends. Jamie’s on the Superiors team with her brother, Levi.”

“Okay, then.” Her voice brightens. “Any friend of theirs should do well here.”

Jamie asks, “Ma’am, is there a vending machine nearby? We need something to drink.”

Mrs. H. gives directions before chatting with Ron about the upcoming district-wide pre-service conference for all faculty. My mother won’t be there this year; she is taking an indefinite leave of absence to take care of GrandMary. The surreal part is that Ron sounds like any other new teacher having an ordinary conversation with someone. It’s like an iceberg—a minuscule amount of blah-blah chitchat above the surface, while deep below is a giant mass of secret info.

Jamie returns a minute later with a bottle of water, which he opens and hands to me.

“Thank you.” I take a sip before holding the cool plastic to my sweaty forehead. Jamie stays at my side, an echo of all the mornings we ran together. I remind myself that easy comfort wasn’t real. It was manufactured as part of an undercover assignment.

I move away from Jamie and walk over to Ron. I remain next to him when he heads down the dimly lit hallway, the linoleum amplifying the squeak of Ron’s shoe each time his right heel lands. It’s the opposite of stealth. I suppress a giggle that comes from nowhere and tickles like Pop Rocks fizzing against the roof of my mouth.

Is it normal for my emotions to go all over the place? Debilitating grief one instant, and giddy hilarity in the next? And sometimes abandon me completely?

When we reach Uncle David’s old classroom, the funny moment leaves as quickly as it arrived. Turning on the lights, Ron motions for me to sit at my uncle’s vintage steel desk at the front of the room. He sits next to me on the stool at the lab workstation. Jamie remains in the doorway: neither in nor out. He watches me.

I used to sit at this desk every day after school. Uncle David kept snacks in the bottom drawer. I open it, hoping to see protein bars and bags of trail mix covering the false bottom he once showed me, but Ron has already filled the deep drawer with file folders and textbooks.

“Why are we here?” I ask, as my legs begin to shake. I haven’t been back here since I collected Uncle David’s personal items after his death and right now, the persisting sadness compounded with my fresh grief over Lily is almost too much to bear.

“Jamie and I are part of an investigation involving multiple agencies, federal and Canadian. There’s been a significant increase in drug trafficking throughout the region—Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario.” Ron is calm and matter- of-fact, but he missed the point of my question.

I’d meant here. In Uncle David’s classroom.

“Okay, then why is he here?” My lips point in Jamie’s direction. “On the hockey team,” I clarify, so Ron won’t explain that Jamie is standing guard and listening for any sounds in the empty school.

“The substance we’re most interested in is methamphetamine,” Ron says.

Meth. A prickly chill travels up my spine.

Lily on her back, arms outstretched. Her fall reverses, as if I’m rewinding her final moments in my head. She is upright, eyes open. Startled. The bullet leaves her chest and is back in

Travis’s gun. The reverse action speeds up, Travis showing up at the powwow. Back at the ice rink. Years unhappen. When it halts, Travis is a chubby boy who burps the alphabet and makes Lily laugh until milk sprays from her nose.

“There’s a pattern of distribution,” Ron says. “Similar batches of meth show up in hockey towns and on reservations in the Great Lakes area. We’re trying to identify the manufacturers, the ones cooking it.”

Travis. In eighth grade, Travis and I walked together every day from the middle school to Sault High for chemistry. When we became official high school students, we took every Advanced Placement science class together: biology, physics, earth science, and physical science. Uncle David advocated for kids like us who tested out of the standard classes at the school.

My legs bounce dramatically. The prickly chill is itchy now too.

“You think the person making the meth is from the Sault?” I look from Ron to Jamie, who is still observing me from the doorway. “How do you narrow it down? My aunt goes to Indian Health meetings in Minnesota. Meth isn’t just here, it’s everywhere.”

“We identified hallucinogenic additives in samples of the methamphetamine,” Ron explains. “Mushrooms. Psilocybe caerulipes from near Tahquamenon Falls.”

I do a double take at Ron, at his ease in speaking the language of scientific classification.

He shrugs. “Undergraduate degree in chemistry.”

The other part of what he said registers with me. Tahquamenon Falls is only seventy-five miles away. Auntie and Art got married there, alongside the larger, upper waterfall.

As I struggle to keep up with what Ron’s telling me, I feel Jamie’s eyes on me, continuing his silent assessment.

Ron keeps talking. “Another batch included a variety of Pluteus from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.”

Our Tribal Youth Council went to a youth powwow there. Every tribe in Michigan had their tribal youth groups represented. Lily made me dance the two-step special with a guy from downstate. Go on! It’s a chance to kiss a Nishnaab you’re not related to.

“There was another sample that had a mushroom from the southern end of Sugar Island.”

Travis came from a large family that has always had family members on Tribal Council and were hired into the few good- paying tribal government jobs during the lean years. Practically the entire eastern half of the island is owned either by the Tribe or by the Flint family.

Ron and Jamie clearly suspect that Travis was the person cooking the meth that the FBI is interested in. But he did his deep dive into meth over last winter break, and meth has been a problem since long before Christmas. So who else could have been involved?

I inhale deeply. This classroom smells different from other ones. I don’t know if it’s the actual scent or just the memory of countless experiments. Bunsen burner gas flames. Sulfur.

“Okay, but you haven’t explained why we’re here? In my uncle’s classroom?” I ask.

But even as the words leave my mouth, my leg stops bouncing. Every part of me goes numb. Why did they bring me to this room I know so well to talk about the investigation?

Uncle David didn’t show up for dinner on Easter Sunday. No one could reach him. GrandMary immediately suspected he’d relapsed and was on a bender. Mom didn’t believe it. I would have sided with my mother if not for the fact that Uncle David had been acting strange for weeks—no, months— before he went missing.

Someone found his car two weeks later, on a seasonal private road near the county line. A fifth of bourbon next to

him. The toxicology report came back a month later, and the gossips had a field day. David Fontaine, the chemistry teacher, had died from a meth overdose.

I know why we are here.

“You think my uncle David was manufacturing meth?” I try sounding indignant, but there’s no heat in my words.

Ron’s jaw drops. He takes a minute to recover. “No, Daunis, your uncle was helping us. He was a CI—a confidential informant.”

I gape at Ron in absolute shock.

“His death was suspicious,” he says. “David thought someone he knew was manufacturing meth. A student. He refused to provide names or evidence until he knew for certain. After his body was found and the toxicology reports came back, the FBI green-lighted a UC—undercover— operation.”

“Oh my God.” Hiding my face in my hands, I cry tears of shame. Mom was right. She had faith in her brother and never wavered. I believed the worst. My uncle didn’t fail me. I failed him.

I sob until my palms are slick with snot, not caring if Ron or Jamie is uncomfortable. When I lower my hands, Ron has placed a box of tissues in front of me. I blow my nose and wipe my eyes and hands.

“Tell me more about the investigation.” I need to know everything now.

“Last February, a group of kids got really sick,” Ron says. “On a reservation in northern Minnesota, a few days after a Superiors hockey tournament in Minneapolis. The kids couldn’t eat or sleep; they just wanted more meth. And it wasn’t that they hallucinated … those kids had group hallucinations. Something about that batch was different. We call it meth-X.”

Uncle David was trying to help the Nish kids. I’m so sorry, Uncle.

Ron continues. “We’re focusing on distribution. From there we can backtrack to the manufacturers. We think Travis Flint was one of the students David Fontaine was concerned about.” His expression softens. “Daunis, you were a person of interest as well.”

“Seriously?” Me? Wait … are they going to arrest me? I sit back in my chair.

“Hear me out.” Ron puts his hands up, like, Be calm. “The person cooking the meth has been experimenting with batches. Adding different things—hallucinogenic mushrooms, mostly. We think there’s a cultural connection. It’s highly likely the person is Ojibwe and familiar with plants in the area.”

“You thought that I made the meth that killed my uncle?”

Jamie clears his throat. “Daunis, we read about your science-fair project. Junior year. Honorable mention in the state competition. You should have won, by the way.”

Wait, what? How long has this investigation been going on? I feel prickles on the back of my neck.

He continues, “You showed that traditionally prepared chokecherry pudding had cancer-fighting properties. The seeds —grinding up the seeds in the traditional way instead of filtering them out—that’s what had the medicinal value. You know science and you know your culture.”

How dare Jamie of all people suspect me of being a secret meth creator? A secret anything?

“I’m not the person pretending to be someone else.” My voice drips with acid. “You did win, by the way. Top honors in Guy Lies. No contest, you fake son-of-a—”

Ron cuts in. “Daunis, we know you’re not involved.” He rises and takes a half step closer. “You have the means and opportunity, but no motive. With your trust fund, there’s no financial incentive for you to risk so much. And while you’re

extremely competitive, you don’t seek the limelight, so you’re not motivated by ego.”

Ron meets my stunned expression with a shrug. “Master’s degree in psychology.”

“Then why bring me here and tell me all this?” They’ve brought me to Uncle David’s classroom. Told me about the investigation. Made a connection between Travis and the meth showing up in hockey towns and on reservations. The meth that turned Travis into a shaking addict who murdered Lily. The meth that was cooked with something that might be connected to Ojibwe culture. The meth that my uncle was investigating as a confidential informant.

You know science and you know your culture, Jamie’s voice echoes.

“You want me to take my uncle’s place in the investigation.”

“Yes,” Ron says.

CHAPTER 13

I jump to my feet. Jamie has been playing me. Every stride we ran together was one step closer to roping me into their plan. And I had actually thought … felt something for the person who was so kind, funny, and sympathetic. I am such a fool.

“Oh, hells no,” I say, voice rising. “I don’t want anything to do with yous.” Three quick paces and I reach the doorway and Jamie. “Take me back to the funeral home. Now. And stay the hell away from me. If you contact me again, I’ll blow my entire trust fund on lawyers to get you for harassment. I’ll blab …”

I expect Jamie to block my path. Instead he steps aside after giving me a look somewhere between pity and disappointment. How dare he? I stomp down the hallway, Jamie and Ron following close behind.

We drive in silence and they drop me off at the funeral home. As I undo my seat belt, Ron finally speaks.

“The investigation will give closure to your community. Healing to people who are grieving. Knowledge to people who need to know the truth about your uncle’s death and your best friend’s murder. Justice to the ones responsible for it all. Daunis, you have the ability to help your family, your loved ones, and your community. Please think about it and let us know if you’re on board.”

I slam the car door and don’t look back.

The next day, I’m still shaking with anger as I sit next to Granny June at Lily’s funeral. Granny has aged twenty years in the past four days. She rests her head against me, as if I am a sturdy oak. I can be that for her.

Today, the final day, Lily will come back to say goodbye and then cross over. Art will let the ceremonial fire go out tonight after the supper. Once the last ember fades, the fire is lit in the next world, where it will burn without end for her.

I haven’t run since the powwow. My body protests this Newer New Normal. I am exhausted and cannot think clearly. All I do is eat. I’m constantly grazing. Pants won’t zip over my distended stomach, so I wear the only thing that fits. A shapeless orange dress.

Mom and Auntie are in the second row, directly behind us. They pat our shoulders at random intervals. Maggie is on Granny June’s other side, along with Lily’s two youngest siblings. Does Lily’s other sibling even know what’s happened?

Throughout the past four days, whenever my mother has been at the funeral home, or here at the tiny Catholic church, she hovers. Every trip I take to the food table or even to pee, she’s two steps behind me. Asking if she can get me anything. Asking how I feel.

I caught myself drafting a text to Lily. ME: swear2god moms bugging the shit outta me

She won’t ever reply.

One of the Tribal Council members walks down the aisle and makes the sign of the cross beside Lily’s open casket. I look around for any other council members. Two out of ten leaders. Both women. One is a distant cousin of Granny June’s. The other is someone who travels frequently to Washington, DC, to represent the Tribe.

I’m not surprised by the lack of council presence. Lily is— was—a descendant, not an enrolled tribal citizen like Travis. Their funerals are both today, the fourth day, per the traditional

Ojibwe teachings. Travis is a murderer, but he’s also from one of Sugar Island’s largest families. Council members are paying their respects at the Elder Center with the Flint family of voters.

My aunt squeezes my shoulder before approaching the lectern near the open casket. Granny asked me to give semaa to Teddie before asking her to speak at the funeral mass.

Auntie clears her throat. She introduces herself and says a prayer in Anishinaabemowin. Then, she translates what she just said into English.

“Hello. My name is Teddie Firekeeper. Bear Clan. From the Place of the Rapids. We pray for Lily June Chippeway. Creator knows her by her Spirit name: Thunderbird Woman. We are thankful for the time we shared with her. We honor her gifts. We wish her a good journey. We keep her love in our hearts. Thank you most greatly, Creator. That is all.”

After the prayer, she adds, “The burial at the cemetery on Sugar Island will take place immediately after the mass. The ferry tickets are covered. On behalf of Granny June and Maggie, I invite everyone to my home for supper after the burial.” Her voice cracks. “Everyone who loves Liliban is welcome.”

I choke up at the sound of Lily’s new name, indicating she is now in a different time and place. We traditionally add “- iban” after someone has changed worlds.

The funeral mass begins with “Amazing Grace” sung in Anishinaabemowin. It is beautiful. Layers of sorrow and salvation.

Many tribal members, including Maggie, are Catholic. Others, like Auntie and Granny June, keep the Church at a distance because the churches operated some of the Indian boarding schools, along with the federal government. Granny June told Lily and me, They came for our ceremonies and then for our children. She didn’t say, They came for my children.

Why didn’t she tell us about her daughters? Did she want to protect us?

When we recite the Lord’s Prayer in Anishinaabemowin, the words stick in my throat.

“Miinshinaang noongom gizhigak inbakwezhiganinaan minik waayaang endaso gizhigag, boonigidetawishinaang gaawiin ezhi-nishkiigoosii’aan, ezhi-bonigedetawangidwaa gaa ezhi-nishkinawiyangidwaa. Gego gaye ezhi-wijishikangen gagwedibeningwewining, miidash miidaawenimiyaang dash maji-inakamigag. Ahow.”

Ron’s words about closure and justice come to mind. Does closure come from forgiving others and being forgiven for our failings? Do we resist temptation from evil by believing in a righteous justice? My thoughts and the words to the prayer swirl around me and continue outside.

As if following their path, I look behind me and see Levi standing next to Jamie. My brother catches my eye and gives a gentle smile. Emotion washes over me. He chose to be here, to pay his respects to Lily, instead of being at the Elder Center on Sugar Island. Travis was his longtime friend. Levi chose me.

A hundred tiny needles stab the inside of my nose.

It isn’t until the funeral director is closing the casket lid that it hits me. This is it. The last time I’ll ever see Lily. I want more. It isn’t fair. I want to shout for him to stop. Just one more look.

I failed her. That bird flying into the window was a warning. My chance to stop the third bad thing. Instead I spent time showing the new guy around town. Each time Jamie’s eyes sparkled and laughter tugged at his scar, I felt desire and guilt.

I’m so sorry, Lily. I wipe away hot, angry tears with the sleeve of my pumpkin dress.

Toward the end, the priest walks around Lily’s casket dangling a shiny gold vessel on a chain. Smoke rises from the incense. Church smudge, Granny has always called it.

We stand as six men in dark suits approach the casket. My brother is one. So is TJ. His black suit jacket is enormous. TJ was always a big guy, but he’s bulked up even more. Two years of college football will do that. He surprised everyone when he left Central Michigan University for the police academy. And again when he came home this summer for a job with Tribal Police.

How dare TJ come to Lily’s funeral? Pretend to be a good guy. A helpful pallbearer. Why do all the liars find their way to me? Because all men are liars.

Except Uncle David. He was good and tried to help the FBI. He didn’t lie; he just didn’t disclose the truth. He was trying to protect me and Mom.

I failed him, too.

They escort the polished wood casket past us. Granny June holds my hand so tightly I nearly cry out in pain. Lily’s family leads the recessional, but Granny and I remain behind. Her body shakes. I embrace her, absorbing her sorrow.

I am her oak tree.

A few people approach us to offer comfort to Lily’s great- grandmother, but she is still inside my sanctuary. Auntie accepts their hugs as proxy.

I help Granny June into my mother’s car. Mom sobs quietly at the steering wheel. I shut the car door and glance across the lot.

Then I see her and my blood boils.

Angie Flint, Travis’s mother, has the audacity to be here. She stands beside Travis’s rusted pickup truck at the far edge of the funeral home parking lot, looking lost.

I tell Mom I’ll ride with Levi, before stomping across the blacktop. I’m nearly to Travis’s truck when my brother intercepts me.

“Daunis,” Levi says cautiously. “Don’t do anything.”

Angie’s eyes widen when she sees me approach, but she quickly looks away, her eyes darting anywhere but at me.

“What are you doing here?” I snarl. Travis’s funeral must be later today or this evening. The cigarette in her fingers tumbles to the ground.

“I came to pay my respects.” The Meth Queen cries some Crocodylus niloticus tears.

Most of the cars have followed the hearse, behind my mother and Auntie, but a few stay behind, because a good fight—whether at a party or a funeral—is something not to be missed.

“Pay them in your own way, but don’t you dare show your face here.”

“She was like a daughter to me,” Angie says, steeling herself to meet my glare.

“Then it’s too bad your son killed her.” I start toward her, but someone grasps my upper arm, firmly but not painfully.

“This isn’t helping the situation,” Jamie says into my ear as he pulls me away.

I want to charge at Travis’s mother and watch her cower. I know she wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger. But she’s the one in front of me. And this rage feels so much better than grief.

Levi puts his arm around Angie, comforting her, and she looks at him gratefully. TJ stands next to his enormous red pickup truck. Watching the entire spectacle.

“Gawk much?” I shout at him. “You never should’ve come home. Protect and serve? What a crock of shit. We don’t need you.”

“Daunis, this is bigger than TJ,” Jamie urges in a low voice. “Bigger than Travis and his mom. Can’t you see this is gonna keep happening? Over and over. More funerals. More pain.”

Even as my heart pounds in my chest, I know he’s right. I don’t want anyone else to feel such heartache.

The most horrible thought comes to me. What if this ever touches the twins?

I couldn’t live with myself.

I take a deep breath and pick up the scent of the cedar bush a few feet away. Giizhik. One of our traditional medicines. The one we use for protection.

“Daunis,” Jamie says softly. “Let’s go to the cemetery. To Lily. You ready?”

“Just give me a second. There’s something I have to do first.” I kick off my black patent-leather stilettos. Shiny like polished onyx. Jamie frowns in confusion.

Lily made me buy them at the mall across the river. She called them fuck-me shoes. At first, I balked at adding four inches to my height. Her eyes danced as she handed me the shoebox.

Trust me. You need this.

What, the heels or a good snag?

Both!

I wore them today because anything connecting me to Lily felt like the right thing to wear to her funeral.

Auntie’s friends made tobacco ties for Lily’s wake and funeral, to use with our prayers. I take mine from my pumpkin dress pocket, untie the yarn, and release the pinch of semaa with my prayer. I give thanks for the giizhik before I break off two flat sprigs. I place one in each shoe before slipping my feet back inside.

Auntie does this before meeting with Council. Giizhik protects us from bad intentions.

I, too, need any help I can get, because I’ve made my decision.

I am going to be their confidential informant.
I’ll find out what led to Travis killing Lily.
What Uncle David found out, and who killed him.

I pull myself up to my full height. My spine is a steel rod. I tower over Jamie. I give one more glare at TJ across the parking lot. I will protect my community. Me.

The stilettos aren’t fuck-me shoes. They are fuck-you shoes.
“Yes,” I tell Jamie. “I’m ready.”

PART II

ZHAAWANONG

(SOUTH)

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES INTO THE SOUTHERN DIRECTION—A TIME FOR WANDERING AND WONDERING.

CHAPTER 14

The next morning, I step outside dressed in running gear. Heavy fog conceals the rising sun. I say my morning prayer and ask for gwekowaadiziwin. Honesty. Walking through life with integrity means not deceiving yourself or others. The prayer sticks in my throat. In this Newer New Normal I am living a lie as a confidential informant for the meth investigation connected to the deaths of my uncle and my best friend.

I can’t find my rhythm. Something feels off. It’s the same route. Same pace. It isn’t until I run past the Dairy Queen that I realize what’s missing.

Jamie. I shouldn’t have gotten used to him running with me. Or liked it so much.

Mrs. B. greets me at the front desk. I wave. The invisible cloud of roses itches my nose. I twist my back until I hear and feel the satisfying crack on each side. All my normal routines.

Mom sits at GrandMary’s bedside, reading Pride and Prejudice aloud. Jane Austen has mediated their tumultuous relationship my entire lifetime. GrandMary has always found passive-aggressive ways to convey disappointment in my mother—snide comments about Mom’s inability to lose the baby weight, and refusing to carry plus sizes in the dress boutique. Spirited discussions about Englishwomen of the early nineteenth century were the only time they could spar on equal footing.

I turned down their repeated requests to join them, offering Lily in my place. My best friend loved Jane Austen. Loved reading and taking deep dives into the classics. Lily basked in

my mother’s attention, while I was all too eager to escape it. I wonder if Mom has told GrandMary about Lily, or if she ever will.

“Too sweaty,” I declare when Mom rises to hug me. She holds me anyway.

“Are they doing anything special at the Niibing Program for Lily?” Her voice is gentle against my cheek.

I nod. “They have counselors doing activities with the kids all week. When I called Mr. Vasques for time off, he offered to have last Friday count as my final day. He asked if I could drop by between now and Labor Day Weekend so the kids can say goodbye.” I swallow the lump in my throat. “TJ’s cousin Garth is interning at Behavioral Health and can sub for me. Mr. Vasques said one of the counselors took Lily’s spot to help her kids with their grieving.”

“I’m glad the tribal programs work together like that to support the kids,” Mom says. “And that Mr. Vasques understands what you need during all this.” She rubs my back before releasing me.

“I’m gonna run errands today. Check on Granny. Buy my books for my classes. Try to add that biology seminar,” I say. Surprise deepens the creases in my mother’s forehead. I soften my voice. “Lily will be mad if I don’t follow through on our classes.”

I leave out the day’s biggest errand—a long day trip with Ron and Jamie to Marquette, where the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan is located.

Ron’s car pulls up while I’m still combing my wet hair. I grab a bottle of water for the road and slide the comb and a hair tie into the pocket of my sleeveless short romper. Uncle David brought the fabric—red cotton with white hibiscus flowers— back from a trip to Hawaii, and GrandMary had it made into a

romper customized for my flat chest, thick waist, and long legs. I couldn’t fathom any occasion I’d wear it to, but meeting federal officials seems to call for a dressier outfit than a T-shirt and jean shorts. And sandals rather than running shoes.

I open the car door, and the air-conditioning is a relief from the late August humidity. The romper is already sticking to my back. I fix my hair into a side braid that falls over one shoulder.

Jamie sits directly behind me. His audible sigh ticks me off. I’m the only person in this car who has a right to be irked. In fact, I want Jamie as far from me as possible.

There’s a scene in The Godfather, my brother’s favorite movie, where a character named Clemenza positions himself behind the guy he intends to strangle while they’re in the car.

“Hey, Clemenza, sit behind Ron,” I tell Jamie.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli,” Ron says without missing a beat.

I laugh. My own shield to protect myself from Jamie, the smooth liar.

Jamie pinches the bridge of his nose, as if it pains him to shift three feet over.

“Secret Squirrel training starts now,” I say, diving right in. “What do I need to know?”

“Secret Squirrel?” Jamie asks.

Ron answers. “Secret Squirrel … a cartoon squirrel. Wears a fedora and trench coat.”

“He was a secret agent in the International Sneaky Service,” I add. “I know my classics.”

“The car was searched for listening devices and is clean,” Ron says. “You should assume everywhere else is bugged and only speak about the investigation when we tell you it’s safe.”

I make a mental note.

Secret Squirrel lesson #1: I’m not paranoid, but the men listening to me are.

“I’m showing you a drop-off site,” Ron says, turning off the highway toward Dafter.

“Drop-off?” I imagine suitcases filled with meth, cash, maybe dismembered body parts.

“I’ll explain but first, let me say, we need CIs to obtain useful and credible information that will aid our investigation into criminal activities. Information you share with us might be included in future warrant applications, but your identity won’t be. That’s the confidential part of being a confidential informant. It doesn’t mean that we provide you with confidential information about the investigation. Only what is deemed necessary and appropriate for you to know.” He makes another turn down an unpaved road. “It’s important for you to understand these limitations, Daunis. If an LEO, meaning law-enforcement officer, directs you, as a CI, to do something—say, search the hockey team’s gear bags for disposable cell phones—you become an agent of the law. If you, as an agent of the law, obtain evidence illegally, then the information is inadmissible in court under the Fourth Amendment. It’s called fruit of the poisonous tree. It’s better for you to volunteer information and let us ask for clarification.”

Secret Squirrel lesson #2: Beware the fruit of the poisonous tree.

Ron turns down a gravel driveway next to a dilapidated trailer. The path snakes through pine trees to a three-car garage. He pushes one of two door openers, revealing a modern workshop.

“This is where you can drop off bags of trash from the hockey players’ homes. Including your brother’s,” he says.

The mouthful of water I just took sprays the front windshield.

“Trash hits are legal,” Jamie says. “Once it’s in the can, we don’t need a warrant.”

“Oh, hells no,” I sputter. “I’m not hauling my brother’s trash. You can’t be serious.”

“It would be helpful.” Ron pushes the gadget again to close the door. He hands me the second device. “But it’s not mandatory. Daunis, you have access that we don’t. Just tell us about things you see and hear. We’ll figure out the trash hits on our own.”

Secret Squirrel lesson #3: I am not my brother’s keeper … of trash.

I’m helping to investigate Travis and the other meth heads in the Sault. I won’t be snooping on Levi or any of my friends. The FBI won’t change who I am, I vow silently.

Halfway to Marquette, Ron mentions I’ll need to learn how to make meth.

“For real?” I squeak before realizing that, logically, it makes perfect sense.

Ron smiles. “Yes. You need to learn different methods of production, so you can identify any evidence you might come across. We’re asking you to figure out what Travis Flint did to create meth-X. You have to know the recipes before you start adapting them.”

“You want me to make meth and experiment with it,” I say, for my own confirmation.

“Well, the more you know, the better a CI you can be,” he tells me. “Before the season opener, you and Jamie will take a weekend trip together to a federal lab outside of Marquette.”

“Wait … what?” I glance back at Jamie, his head resting on a sweatshirt against the window. His eyes are closed. Probably taking a nap. I lower my voice to a whisper. “That’s not normal for new friends to take a trip like that. Besides, he has a girl …” I stare at Ron. “There’s no girlfriend, is there?”

“Easier to keep girls away if he’s being loyal to someone back home,” Ron explains.

“But … everyone will think I poached him from his girlfriend.” I don’t know which disturbs me more: being That Girl Who Steals Boyfriends or spending a weekend with Jamie.

But I do know that spending a weekend with Jamie is a more disturbing thought than learning to make meth.

Secret Squirrel lesson #4: All’s fair in love, hockey, and meth.

“It’s your choice, Daunis. Posing as friends or as something more.”

I see where this is going. The logical choice is to pose as the girlfriend. But after a lifetime of following the rules, I’m sick of logical. It felt good to shout at Angie Flint and watch her cower. And to tell TJ off. I want to be more like Lily: jump a curb and park in the grass.

“Isn’t there a better cover story?” I grumble, as logic refuses to take a back seat so I can jump the curb. “I mean, the whole romantic charade seems …” I grasp for the right word. Stupid. Torturous. “Basic?”

“Occam’s razor,” Ron says. “The simplest solution is easiest to believe.”

“That’s not what Occam’s razor means. It’s a problem- solving principle about competing hypotheses and starting at the one with the fewest assumptions.”

Ron stares at me with his jaw dropped. Then he chuckles. “Okay. I just mean it’s the most believable scenario.”

“But why can’t you come along on the meth weekend, like today?” I need Ron to be a buffer between Jamie and me. Even the sight of that smooth liar is irritating.

“Because we can get away with it once or twice for a fake college visit, but if the three of us keep going away together, it gets hinky. People accept normal patterns, Daunis. When

there’s a disruption in the pattern, people notice. Their Spidey senses go on alert, even if they aren’t consciously aware. You and Jamie need to establish relationship patterns for people to observe. He has to be your main point of contact.”

“Yeah, well, what about Murphy’s Law?” I mutter, shifting in my seat.

Secret Squirrel lesson #5: Whatever can happen will happen.

“Daunis, I have a feeling you’re gonna keep all of us on our toes.” Ron glances in the rearview mirror. “Especially him.”

We arrive in Marquette at an office building. I follow Ron and Jamie inside. Next to the elevators is a sign that reads: UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN. Ron leads us into an office where some big cheese’s name is engraved on a brass nameplate.

Big Cheese introduces himself and another attorney. Explains that ordinarily the field agents would review the confidential informant documentation with me. Due to my age, Big Cheese will read verbatim the official CI instructions. Little Cheese will serve as the witness.

It expands on what Ron covered on the drive this morning: My job is to provide truthful information. My help is voluntary. The government strives to protect my identity but cannot guarantee it if there are legal or compelling reasons. Any promises or considerations in exchange for my cooperation are at the discretion of federal officials other than the agent. Agreeing to serve as a confidential informant does not give me immunity from following the law, and I risk arrest and prosecution for any illegal activity I might choose to do.

But, hasn’t Ron already said I’m going to learn how to make meth?

Ron registers my confusion. “If you have any questions about legality, ask for clarification before you act.”

What if he isn’t around? What if there isn’t time to get an answer? I don’t know enough about what I will be doing to know if these are questions to bring up now or later.

Big Cheese finishes reading the document. I only catch every other word: Not employee. Can’t obligate government. Payments taxed.

“People get paid?” I scowl. “I don’t want anything.” It would feel weird to get paid for this. I’m just trying to make sense of what happened to Lily and protect my community.

Ron chimes in that they want me to provide information about the team, the Tribe, and the town. Any information that might reveal who was working with Travis Flint, and what traditional medicines he used to create at least one batch of something more powerfully addictive than even the purest meth.

When it’s time to sign the agreement, the pen is fancy, like the one I received as a graduation gift from one of Grandpa Lorenzo’s business partners. It weighs more than an ordinary pen. Maybe the U.S. Attorney’s Office does this on purpose: The heavy burdens begin with your signature.

This feels wrong. I’ve researched our medicines before, but for science projects like the chokecherry pudding. I wanted to show people that our traditional healers are—and always have been—scientists who use plants as medicine. But … this? Looking for traditional medicines to experiment with meth at the request of the FBI? It’s not right. In my heart, I know this.

What would Lily do? My brave friend’s last act was reaching for the gun to protect me.

What would Auntie do? My badass aunt would punch first and ask questions later.

Gramma Pearl also comes to mind. Her parents hid her and her sisters whenever the dogs barked. When she was growing up, dogs barking meant men might be coming to take the kids

to boarding school. I was with her once when she heard barking. Even though the last church-operated boarding school in Michigan closed two years before I was born, my nokomis grabbed Grandpa Ted’s rifle and put me into the hidey-hole beneath a trapdoor under the bed. Told me to stay quiet or the Zhaaganaash would get me. Gramma Pearl would have killed to keep me safe.

Maybe it isn’t about helping the FBI, but about protecting my community. Can I do one without the other? If I don’t sign on, they will find someone else to be their confidential informant.

Jamie is right—I know science and Ojibwe culture. I also know that I am strong enough to do this. There is one more thing I know … My definition of being a good Secret Squirrel is not the same as theirs.

Maybe there isn’t one investigation taking place, but two. Theirs. And mine.
I sign the agreement.

The car ride back is silent. I blink until the trees fade away. I haven’t played my daydream game in a while. Blinking to change the scene in front of me.

At hockey games growing up, I’d imagine my dad watching me in the stands with the other parents, getting high fives from everyone around him. When Levi was named team captain earlier this summer, the youngest one in the North American Hockey League, I blinked until Dad stood next to me. Hugging me and saying how proud he was of my brother and me.

My name is Daunis Lorenza Fontaine and my best friend is Lily June Chippeway. We are shopping at the campus bookstore. Lily needs to price her books so she can redeem one of Granny June’s coupons. I’m excited to shop for mechanical pencils and highlighters. Lily says every pen and

pencil writes exactly the same, but that’s not true. I feel smarter with certain ones. Calculations come more easily; words flow more smoothly on the page. She teases me about my magic-pencil theory. I am her favorite geek in the whole world.

I shop with Lily, even for groceries, because her dark brown skin means security personnel will follow her around most stores. She doesn’t need me to be her goon—Lily’s perfectly capable of calling them out for their bullshit shoplifter profiling—but having a witness is always helpful. The college bookstore should be different. More enlightened. We are two ordinary freshmen in a sea of people.

Ron and Jamie appear at the end of the aisle, next to the protractors. Why are they …?

Danger can turn up anywhere, Jamie says.

I turn to warn Lily, but she’s disappeared. They showed up. Now she’s gone.

As I wipe tears from my cheeks, I catch Jamie watching me. He looks away quickly.

We have an hour more to go. The turn for Tahquamenon Falls State Park is just ahead.

“Follow those signs,” I tell Ron. “Yous need to see this.”

There are two entrances a few miles apart. We go to the Upper Falls, instead of the one for the smaller series of Lower Falls. Outside the car, the temperature has cooled off. That’s the thing about living near Lake Superior; the winds can change without notice.

Jamie offers his sweatshirt, which I begrudgingly take. I’m surprised it fits me; it must be two sizes too big for him.

I lead them from the parking lot to the trail through the woods. The roar of the waterfall intensifies as we get closer. We glimpse the Tahquamenon River through the trees before

coming upon a set of one hundred steps down to an observation deck.

It’s a gorgeous day. Leaves are beginning to transform from lush green to faint shades of red, orange, and yellow. Not peak autumn colors yet, but the promise of a momentous change.

The frothy brown water of the wide river resembles root beer as it cascades over a fifty-foot drop that will continue to the Lower Falls downriver. Ron and Jamie look awestruck.

We have the deck to ourselves after a large group departs.

“There’s more to the U.P. than meth and hockey!” I shout over the deafening torrent.

“Why is the water that color?” Ron yells back.

“Tannins are leached from the cedar swamps upriver.”

I take pride in the spectacular beauty of this place. Jamie and Ron are here to investigate something horrible. To shine a light on the bad things. That’s not the entirety of our story.

“Giizhik is one of our traditional medicines. Cedar. One of the big four,” I say, deciding to volunteer information. “It’s a cleanser, a purifying medicine.”

“You put it in your shoes,” Jamie says. He doesn’t need to add at Lily’s funeral.

“You offer semaa, tobacco, to give thanks before you take any. Giizhik is protection. When you walk on cedar, you’re asking for help and goodness to surround you.”

We remain there for a few minutes. Or maybe it’s hours. Time seems to stand still here.

I need to tell them what I should’ve disclosed on the drive to Marquette.

“Ron, I don’t know if Jamie mentioned it, but I’m honoring my traditions—grieving my uncle and Lily. I can’t collect medicines for a year, because my grief affects them. It means I won’t be part of the gathering sessions, which is when a lot of

teachings are passed along.” I take a deep breath. “I’ll need to find other ways to get information, but I swear, I’ll figure it out.”

Ron nods. “I understand. But that brings up another subject I wanted to discuss.”

I tense my body and feel the familiar throbbing in my left shoulder.

“I know you’re not enrolled,” he continues. “But your tribe allows for you to apply for membership until your nineteenth birthday. That’s October first, right? Would you consider trying to apply for special consideration? It might help the investigation if you strengthen your connection to the Tribe.”

“No way.” The investigation and my enrollment status are two areas of my life I want to stay separate. Jamie the Blabbermouth must have repeated what I told him about my birth certificate. Or else Ron memorized dates when he researched me.

“It’s just a suggestion, Daunis. I didn’t intend any disrespect,” Ron says.

“What was in the case file about my uncle’s help?” I’m eager to change the subject.

As Ron recites it from memory, I keep my face an unreadable mask. I pinch my upper thigh when he gets to the part about mushrooms and Sugar Island.

“David Fontaine wouldn’t give the exact location, but we knew he was on the southern end of Sugar Island, near Duck Lake. He collected samples of mushrooms and fungi.”

Why wouldn’t Uncle David have told them his exact location? And if he didn’t, then how did the FBI know where he was on the island? Were they following him? Why would they?

Wait … will they be following me?

Assume everywhere is bugged. Did Ron mean the FBI will be checking on me? Is Jamie’s job to keep tabs on me?

Ron motions toward the stairs. “Let’s head back.”

“Secret Squirrel time,” I say with an empty smile.

I start climbing the mountain of stairs at a normal pace. Jamie quickens his steps, as if it’s a competition. That asshole! I take two steps at a time to surge ahead. He catches up. We reach the top at the same time, both huffing.

“What’s with all the cartoon stuff?” Jamie says between breaths. “This is serious shit.”

“You think I don’t know that?” The stitch in my side feels like a knife. I yank the sweatshirt over my head and throw it at him. “Here. I’m fine now.”

He catches it with lightning-fast reflexes and a scowl that pisses me off.

“Did you tell Ron what I told you about my dad not being on my birth certificate? And the stuff about my grandparents keeping him from getting a job? Because I didn’t share that with you to put it in one of your reports.”

“Keep your voice down,” Jamie says, looking around the empty parking lot.

“Here’s something for your next report,” I hiss, flipping both middle fingers at him. “We are not friends. Not even buddy and ambassador. Unless it has to do with the investigation, you don’t exist to me.”

Jamie’s tawny brown eyes blaze with something intense— anger, exasperation, defiance.

I serve it right back. It feels like a staring contest. No … a glaring contest.

“Don’t know why you’re both in such a hurry,” Ron says when he finally appears. He walks between us like a knife cutting the tension. “I’m the one with the car keys.”

CHAPTER 15

The next day, Granny June calls me to ask if I can bring her to lunch at the Elder Center on Sugar Island.

“Sure,” I say without hesitation. “I’ll let my mom know I need the car.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll see you at eleven, hey?”

My heart skips a beat when the Jeep pulls into the driveway. Granny June is the tiny figure behind the wheel. She hops out and gives me a wave before walking around to her usual spot as copilot.

If Granny can drive, then why does she need me?

It feels weird sitting in Lily’s seat. My head grazes the roof; my knees wedge uncomfortably beneath the steering wheel. I lower the height of the seat and move it as far back as it will go.

When I turn too quickly into the ferry parking lot, the tires call out for Lily. Granny smiles through tears. In that instant, I want to tell her about the investigation. Justice for Lily.

I stay quiet.

On the ferry ride, she takes a pouch of semaa from her purse and offers me a pinch.

“This constant flow means it’s a new river each time we cross, and we should honor the journey,” Granny tells me. “These are old teachings. I haven’t always kept them up, hey?”

I join her as she tosses the semaa out the window, where it and our whispered prayers are carried on the breeze to float downriver.

Granny June crushes my hand in hers when we walk into the Elders’ dining room. This is why she needed me. It wasn’t about the ride at all.

She takes a seat next to Minnie Mustang. Minnie’s actual last name is Manitou, but when she bought a Ford Mustang the color of a ripe tomato, Minnie got a new nickname. She purchased it when she turned seventy-five, telling everyone it was her midlife-crisis car.

Granny pats my hand when I bring her a cup of coffee.

“Miigwech, my girl. Mmmm … dark and bitter, just like my first husband.”

“Gets you riled up, too. Hot stuff,” Minnie adds. They both laugh.

I get in line behind Jonsy Kewadin, TJ’s grandpa. He used to be nearly as tall as TJ, but now he’s closer to my height.

“You call this a pasty?” Jonsy grumbles when the lunch lady hands him a plate with a baked meat pie, folded in half with crimped edges, filled inside with diced beef and root vegetables.

“What do you got to say about dis here pasty?” she asks in mock indignation.

“I don’t have enough years left to tell you what all’s wrong with it,” he yells.

She gives me a wink as Jonsy walks away. I fix a tray for Granny. Elders are always served first. I’ll come back for my own food after the line goes down.

I bring Granny June a salad, a pasty, and a bottle of ketchup. Minnie makes the sign of the cross at the sin of frosting a pasty with anything but gravy.

Minnie asks about my classes. I rattle them off.

“American Literature? That college better include Michener.” Granny says it like a threat.

Lily and I used to drive Granny and Minnie to garage sales in their quest for James Michener hardcover editions with pristine book covers. I once tried reading Hawaii, but never made it past the initial chapter describing the islands’ origins millions of years ago: lava eruption breaking the ocean surface and birds pooping out seeds from faraway lands.

I get myself yogurt and salad, thankful that my eating habits have returned to normal.

Auntie walks into the dining room and I’m wrapped in her arms a heartbeat later. Everything goes quiet as I inhale her wonderful Teddie smell: designer perfume, contraband cigarettes, and a scent that reminds me of the woods just after it rains.

My throat closes up the instant I think about telling her what’s going on. Granny June mentioned Auntie having felonies. Why neither woman can run for Council. If it’s true, would I be putting her at risk if I said anything about the investigation?

Auntie has a peaceful life with Art and the girls. She used to date hell-raisers. Bad dudes, she called them. Art taught her that love wasn’t supposed to be a roller coaster; it could be a walk in the woods. She told me there’s a phrase in our beautiful language for when you no longer walk alone on your path but are together for the journey on this earth: wiijiindiwin.

I stay silent.

From across the room, Jonsy shouts his usual greeting at her. The one he uses on every Tribal Council member and program director who drops by for lunch.

“Hey, Big Cheese, how much are we paying you?”

Auntie responds, “Not what I’m worth, Jonsy, but just enough so I’ll stick around.”

Granny June and I stay after lunch for the social activities. Some Elders speak Anishinaabemowin while they work on puzzles together. Others speak English, with Ojibwe words

added liberally like salt on bland food. There’s a book club and a tai chi group. Granny usually argues about tribal politics with a cabal of fellow dissidents who don’t care for most of the Tribal Council’s decisions but spar loudly over the alternatives.

Since today is Friday—euchre day—Granny and Minnie sit opposite each other at a card table, blinking secret codes to let the other know what suit they’re holding and if they’ve got any bowers. It would be an unfair advantage if their opponents weren’t doing the same damn thing.

Jonsy comes over and asks if anyone wants to go bottle collecting with him. I remember his obsession with finding collectibles down at the old landfill site south of town.

At a nearby table, Seeney asks Auntie about harvesting giizhik aniibiishan, cedar leaves, on the island. A group of Nish kwewag will be going this weekend.

“Gaawiin.” Auntie shakes her head. No. She speaks quickly in the language. I manage to catch two words: inigaazi and kwezan. Grief and little girl.

I fight the urge to run back into her arms and cry like a baby. Auntie is joining Granny June and me as we honor our mourning period for Lily. Not harvesting medicines for a year, among other protocols. The traditions I told Ron and Jamie about yesterday at Tahquamenon Falls.

I reassured Ron I’d find other ways to obtain information about traditional medicines, especially those that might induce hallucinations.

I should have prayed this morning for manaadendamowin, since to act without harm is to know respect. There is power in what I am going through; it’s my responsibility to observe the protocols and protect others during this traditional grieving period.

Jonsy walks behind each euchre player, checking out their cards. He grimaces at Minnie’s hand.

During the three months that I was TJ’s girlfriend, I spent a lot of time with the Kewadins. I always liked TJ’s family. Especially his grandpa. Jonsy was always telling stories. Sometimes I’d need to hang in there to find the teaching in his meandering, animated anecdotes.

Wait a minute … Jonsy is a talker. Full of teachings.

TJ didn’t like his grandpa going by himself to the landfill in search of antique treasures.

“Hey, Grandpa Jonsy,” I call out. “You still looking for someone to go collecting with you?”

CHAPTER 16

Jonsy struts over as if I called his ticket number on a fifty-fifty raffle.

“I always knew I liked you,” he says. “Let’s go, Sis. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“Can you follow me to Granny June’s? Then I’ll ride with you,” I say.

We arrive at Granny June’s house on the satellite reservation on the south end of town. Half the homes on the rez are cookie-cutter houses, part of a federal housing project funded by Housing and Urban Development in the 1970s. The other half are what everyone calls “per-cap mansions.” Ordinary but nice homes that, contrasted with the nondescript HUD homes, make the street look like a suburb where the moms take turns hosting Tupperware, Mary Kay, and Longaberger parties. The two neighborhoods are a Before and After of tribal economic prosperity. Granny June lives in the Before neighborhood.

Braking in the driveway sharply enough for the tires to shout for Lily again, I share a bittersweet smile with Granny June. I hold out the Jeep keys for her. Still clasping the tobacco pouch, she wraps both hands around mine. The key ring becomes a pearl in an oyster.

“I went to settle up for Binesikwe’s funeral and he said it was taken care of already.”

Hearing Lily’s Spirit name, I look down at my jeans.

She continues in a voice as soft as I’ve ever heard from her.

“You didn’t need to use your zhooniyaa for that. Miigwech. And for being her friend, chi miigwech.” She squeezes her hands like a hug. “I want to see this Jeep tooling around town. On campus. At the mall across the river. On the ferry. Can you do that for me, my girl?”

I nod. The lump in my throat bobbles as well.

Jonsy’s voice startles me. “C’mon, Sis. I’ve got women to woo and bets to place.” He taps his watch dramatically at my open window.

I laugh. He’s been married to the same woman for fifty- plus years and plays poker for dimes.

Granny waves me off when I get out to walk her to the front door.

“You be careful at that bad place,” she calls out.

I follow Jonsy’s powder-blue Lincoln Town Car with the FRYBREAD POWER! bumper sticker. The old landfill site, several miles south of town, is bordered by a small parking lot, a creek, and a forest of birch and black ash trees.

He opens his trunk to reveal a mini workshop of plastic storage bins arranged like a Jenga masterpiece. Each blue lid is labeled in TJ’s distinctive block lettering.

Jonsy retrieves the bin for his collecting adventures:

TREASURE HUNTING

BANDOLIER BAG • MAGNIFYING GLASS • STORAGE BAGS BACKPACK • DISINFECTANT WIPES • DISH TOWELS GLOVES & MASKS • ANTISEPTIC SPRAY • BOTTLED WATER

He slips the wide strap of a well-worn brown leather bandolier bag over his shoulder before putting everything else into the oversized backpack. I need to adjust the backpack straps from their maximum allowance to fit me. TJ must be his grandpa’s usual collecting buddy.

Jonsy rolls his eyes while handing me a pair of latex gloves and a breathing mask. TJ must have ingrained safety precautions into his reluctant grandfather.

“Stay here, good pony.” He pats the hood of his car as we begin our adventure.

The landfill is haphazardly arranged in reverse chronological order, with the newer junk toward the road. Mattress stains are still identifiable. Black garbage bags are shiny. Console televisions molt their veneer. A dollhouse with furniture inside. Why would anyone throw away … Nope. Not gonna follow that thought.

Jonsy has no interest in the easily accessible stuff. He must know every acre, because he quickly leads me through a trail visible only to him. Maybe time warps here, because he crosses the uneven terrain on nimble feet that align with the stories of his boxing days. Meanwhile I stumble like a toddler past the different decades of junk.

The silence should feel tranquil, since we are away from town and the highway. Instead it’s unsettling. Accompanying Jonsy was such an impromptu decision that I didn’t think to put any giizhik in my sneakers. I need to be a smarter Secret Squirrel going forward.

Maybe Jonsy doesn’t care for the stillness either, because he starts humming. Once we reach his intended destination, he gives instructions.

“Now, we’re looking for old glass bottles that have raised writing or designs. No broken ones. Colored bottles are good too. If they still have a hat, that’s even better.”

“A hat?”
“A cap,” he says in a tone that, if Perry had said it,

would’ve been followed by Duh.

Jonsy resumes humming and pokes around piles of junk. Soon his sounds grow lyrics. Finnish folk music from his mother’s side of the family. He grunts while lifting a huge piece of corrugated metal and heaving it aside.

“Grandpa Jonsy, I could’ve helped with that. And shouldn’t you check for spiders first?”

His look matches the Duh of his bottle-cap answer.

“Sis, do you think anything living stays around here?”

That is why it’s so eerily quiet. No birds in the trees. No insects. I haven’t swatted a no-see-um once. Not a single mosquito.

These birch trees, with their scars of fungus resembling burnt charcoal, will never be harvested for the medicine within the Chaga. The black ash trees will never be pounded with a mallet to loosen the layers that hold a story for every year. No one will split their bark into thin strips, soaking some in berry- or flower-dyed water, before weaving the black ash into exquisite baskets.

Instead, these trees absorb contaminated groundwater and breathe virulent fumes.

“The Sault is an old town, hey.” He resumes poking around for glass treasures. “Factories and farmers hauled their moowin here before the EPA and OSHA and whatever alphabet soup of laws said they couldn’t. People who weren’t thinking seven generations ahead ruined the ground. No bugs. Birds won’t stick around if there’s nothing to eat. Spiders, neither. The four-leggeds got the sense to avoid it too.”

“Um … if they don’t hang around here, maybe we shouldn’t either?” I say.

He swats the air in my direction. “Eh. Now you sound like TJ.” He stands, stretching his still-formidable wingspan. “You two were quite the pair. Didn’t last long, though.”

There’s no way I’m blabbing about his pride and joy dumping me. I’ve moved on.

“Silent about it.” He shakes his head. “Just like him, too.”

The bottom of a brown bottle angles from the ground like an iceberg. I use an old license plate to carefully excavate it. As I rub the glass with the wipes, bumps become raised lettering.

“Hey, Grandpa Jonsy, this one says ‘Warner’s Safe Kidney and Liver Cure.’ ” As I walk over to show him my find, I glimpse a stretch of grayish cloud in the southwest direction. The sky beneath the shelf cloud is dark teal.

“We need to get back to our cars,” I warn. “Squall coming in.”

He stands and sniffs the air. Nods his head. “Let’s get away from the trees. Walk back along the creek,” he says, placing the bottle inside his bandolier bag.

I feel like an owl, turning my neck to check our pace against the shelf cloud. Jonsy’s agile steps remind me of TJ on the football field. He sidesteps a single black garbage bag at the edge of the creek. I zero in on it.

Wasn’t the newer junk supposed to be closer to the road? This bag, still shiny, is fresh.

The hair at the nape of my neck stands on end an instant before my brain registers the whiff of …

Travis’s hand shakes, making the revolver jiggle. I follow the tip of the barrel pointed at my face. He stinks. Meth rotting his system from the inside out. Burning my nose.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Jonsy’s voice is like a phone call with a bad connection. His giant hand jostles my bad shoulder; the sharp pain jerks me from the memory.

“What’s going on?” He looks down at the bag, squatting to inspect it closer.

“Don’t touch that.” I push him away so quickly that he stumbles backward. “Sorry. Sorry. I’m so sorry.” My words rush as I steady him. “It’s just that … there’s bad stuff inside that bag.”

“It doesn’t stink like dead body,” he says, dusting off the back of his jeans. “Should we call TJ?”

“No,” I bark. I don’t know if the FBI is working with Tribal Police. Ron hasn’t shared that information with me. I didn’t think to ask. My mind scrambles for a plan. “Let’s just

leave it and get in our cars before the storm hits. We need to get home.”

Once I’m inside the Jeep, I wave to Jonsy and go through the motions of following the Lincoln Town Car. When it’s my turn to pull into the road, I wait for him to speed away. After he rounds the curve, I reverse and turn back to the landfill.

I want that bag.

CHAPTER 17

Lily keeps two blankets in the Jeep. Snag rags. One is a quilted moving pad, which I spread on the ground. I set the shiny garbage bag in the middle and use the moving pad to swaddle it. Squatting, I lift the meth garbage baby and gingerly place it in the back of the vehicle.

I race home for the garage-door opener Ron gave me yesterday. I’m back on the road when hail starts pelting the Jeep like shrapnel. I pull into a store parking lot along the business spur. Straight-line winds rock the vehicle from side to side. It’s darker than I thought possible in an afternoon.

Supes’ afternoon practice must be ending, so I call Jamie, who answers with “Hey.”

“Hey,” I mimic, as lightning flashes an instant before a boom of thunder shakes the Jeep.

“Where are you?” he asks. It must sound as though I’m at a battlefront.

“Kmart parking lot,” I shout over the cacophony. “On my way to haul some trash.”

He’s silent a moment. Did Jamie catch the significance of my trash reference?

“Are you in your mom’s car?”
“No. Lily’s Jeep.”
“I’ll meet you there. Don’t drive in this storm,” Jamie says.

“Wasn’t gonna … partner,” I say in fluent sarcasm. Does he think I’m an idiot?

“Don’t call me that.” He ends the call before I can swear at him.

Twenty minutes later, the rain eases enough for me to watch Jamie turn in to the lot and drive past the Jeep. I am about to tap the horn when I realize he’s parked close to the store so anyone who recognizes his car will assume he’s merely shopping. Okay … that’s smart.

I drive over to him, giggling as I imagine a spy-worthy intercept with Jamie making a slow-motion running leap. I reach for my phone to tell Lily, then slam the brakes.

She isn’t around to answer my calls or texts.

Jamie sprints the rest of the way to the Jeep. He’s drenched when he opens the door.

“What the—” he begins in a raised voice before shifting tone. “What is it?”

I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. He looks genuinely concerned. I focus on his tawny brown eyes.

“Switch seats,” Jamie says softly. “I’ll drive.”

I climb over to the passenger side as Jamie takes my seat. We sit, surrounded by lightning, rumbling thunder, and heavy rain. Gramma Pearl loved a powerful nichiiwad like this.

I blink until my head rests on Gramma’s lap and she smooths my hair, as she did whenever I wasn’t feeling well. It’s how she comforted me after pouring my pee into my ear to cure the earache. I researched it years later, discovering what she had known: Urine is sterile and a substitute for hydrogen peroxide.

What would my Firekeeper nokomis think about the surreal situation I’m now in? Could I even explain that I’m helping law-enforcement officers from the same government that tried taking her to boarding school? If I told her about Lily, and Uncle David, and the sick kids on a rez in Minnesota … would she know that I am trying to protect our community, and others, too?

Once the storm lessens, Jamie drives to the garage in Dafter. He places the meth garbage baby on the countertop along one side of the garage. I grab the other snag rag, a threadbare quilt, and stand at the open bay.

The air is a good thirty degrees cooler than it was an hour ago. Jamie stands next to me and runs a hand through his wet hair. He’s completely soaked. I sit down, positioning one half of the blanket under and around my right side. I motion for Jamie to sit next to me and wrap the left half around him. The soft blanket still has the wonderful smell of campfire smoke. We watch the last of the storm blow over. When I finally speak, my voice is scratchy.

“My gramma Pearl loved storms. She’d sit in the garage like this and talk about the thunderbirds that brought our loved ones, our ancestors, from the other world to check on us. She’d say, ‘Tell them how you’re doing, my girl.’ The thunderbirds blinked lightning, so every time it flashed, I’d wave and shout, ‘We’re doing good!’ The gigantic birds I pictured had rows of Elders, like in an airplane, waving back.”

I wipe away my tears and meet Jamie’s luminous eyes.

“Do you think Lily was with them today?” I ask.

He inches over until his shoulder touches mine. I focus on his damp T-shirt, warm skin, and calming breaths.

Jamie doesn’t need to be kind to me; I’m on board with the investigation now. We established that yesterday in the parking lot at the falls. We are partners and nothing more.

But … I relax my shoulders and don’t move away. I stay next to him. Just until the rain stops.

Ron arrives as the sun reclaims the late-afternoon sky. While searching through the workshop cabinets, he commends my quick thinking about the bag of trash.

“I wasn’t sure if you were working with any tribal cops. Or if that information is confidential,” I say. Ron is silent as he finds industrial gas masks and latex gloves in one of the workshop cabinets. It isn’t until he hands each of us the protective gear that Ron responds.

“You should assume no one knows about the investigation,” he says. “No LEOs. Not tribal, state, city, or even border patrol. Talk only to Jamie or me.” Ron opens another cabinet and reaches for a packing-tape dispenser with a thick roll of clear tape. My eyebrows raised quizzically prompt Ron’s explanation. “For lifting fingerprints.”

Jamie puts a small plastic tarp over a picnic table behind the garage, as if we are having a cookout. He sets the meth garbage baby on the tarp and pulls out one item at a time like Santa at a Christmas party.

The table fills with dented containers of brake fluid; individual pop bottles with gray, opaque residue; lithium batteries cut in half so their guts could be scooped out; drain cleaner; thin, white tubing bunched like spaghetti; and a dozen boxes of cold-and-flu tablets, the plastic sheets all having hatched their pills.

“How could anyone buy that much medicine without being noticed?” I ask.

“Michigan restricts pseudoephedrine sales. Canada doesn’t,” Ron explains.

I remember how Jamie laughed when I told him about buying stuff across the river. He had pretended to be surprised, but he’d been fishing for information. I don’t buy cases of cold medicine … but I could. It isn’t illegal, and you don’t have the hassle of showing identification and filling out a form for the pharmacist.

“I thought you and Jamie could go to Marquette in a few weeks to spend time at the forensics lab, but now I’m thinking we shouldn’t wait.” Ron makes up a plan as he speaks. “If I can arrange for the lab tech to work next weekend, can you

think of an excuse to get away? Labor Day weekend might be the best time to be in the lab.”

What would Gramma Pearl do?

I take a deep breath and hold it, remembering when the dogs barked and she had me hide. I watched her sit in a chair angled toward the door. Her hands were steady so her aim would be true.

She was smart, resourceful, and incredibly brave.

When I exhale, it’s a long, controlled release.

“My new boyfriend and I can have a romantic weekend in Marquette.”

CHAPTER 18

A last-minute spot opened up for a Labor Day weekend geology seminar at Michigan Tech that will transfer to Lake State. At least that’s what I tell my mother on Monday. She accepts the lie without question.

The lie is cover for Jamie and me having a romantic weekend in Marquette, which is a lie to cover my Secret Squirrel meth tutorial, so I can be a confidential informant and help the FBI.

Each lie is a fish, with a bigger fish swallowing the one preceding.

I call my aunt and tell her about the romantic weekend. Mom won’t check on me, but Auntie would. She isn’t happy about the lying part, but it’s not the first time we’ve deceived my mother.

“You sure you’re ready? Grief can make us do things we normally wouldn’t,” she says.

“Normal left town a while ago.” I brace myself for the half-truth I’m about to tell. “Spending time with Jamie is the only thing that makes sense right now. Can you understand?”

Please understand, Auntie. The investigation will help everyone.

“I do.” Auntie sighs as if she was the one holding her breath. “Can you promise you’ll be careful? Your Norplant doesn’t protect against STDs.”

“You think Jamie is a skanky puck fuck?” I giggle. “Girl, you don’t know everything about his history.”

Girl, you said a mouthful there.

She ends the call with “Be a smart kwe. Lust doesn’t last, but herpes is forever.”

On Tuesday, I make it as far as the parking lot next to the campus bookstore. I sit in the Jeep. “I’ll go in after the next song,” I say aloud. An hour later I give up. “Tomorrow,” I announce.

I drive to Chi Mukwa arena to spend time with my Niibing Program kids like Mr. Vasques had suggested. When we shoot baskets, I notice how TJ’s cousin Garth interacts with the kids. He chats easily and offers encouragement.

I miss shot after shot, even more than usual. My kids find it hilarious for a tall person to be so bad at basketball. I don’t mind; besting me brings them inordinate delight.

When I leave Chi Mukwa, I catch my smile in the rearview mirror. I coast on my good mood all the way back to the campus bookstore. This time, I decide to pretend I’m on a game show where I race against other shoppers to complete my mission the quickest. Sometimes pretending is good.

I keep busy all day to avoid thinking about the weekend trip with Jamie to Marquette. Pesky questions still manage to creep into my thoughts. What do I wear to a federal meth lab? Will Jamie and I spend every minute together? What if I’m bad at making meth and they fire me from the investigation?

Ron calls on Wednesday with details, asking if I would be okay with staying in the same hotel room with Jamie.

“Separate beds, of course,” Ron assured me. “Jamie will mention the trip to your brother. Sharing a hotel room is a precaution in case Levi and his friends make an impromptu visit.”

Levi will know about the trip? Everyone will think Jamie and I are dating?

On Saturday I park the Jeep in the Secret Squirrel garage and get into Jamie’s truck for the drive to Marquette. We’re halfway there when I ask how his conversation went with my brother.

“I told him I broke up with my girlfriend back home and was interested in you.” Jamie shrugs. “He was happy about it and said I’d better treat you good.”

I’m surprised to hear Levi’s reaction. He must really like Jamie. Levi’s overprotective and always gets kind of weird whenever I start seeing someone. Like, he can be a player, but I’m supposed to be chaste. Unless I’m with a hockey god, I guess.

“You told him we were spending the weekend in Marquette?”

“Yeah … he recommended an Italian restaurant. Said to make sure we’re back on Monday for some cookout at the lake?”

“Coach Bobby hosts a Labor Day bonfire. He’s the varsity hockey coach at Sault High.”

I shake my head. I still can’t believe Levi’s green-lighting this weekend. Is he really this eager for me to be fully immersed in Hockey World?

We arrive at the hotel, an elegant historic building on a hill overlooking downtown Marquette and Lower Harbor along Lake Superior. As Jamie checks in, I sneak a peek at his driver’s license and credit card, both with his fake name: James Brian Johnson. His address is the one he and his fake uncle are renting in the Sault. I’m not quick enough to eyeball his date of birth, but I figure it must be a fake one that says he’s eighteen.

“How old are you really?” I ask as he unlocks our hotel room door.

“That info is off-limits to you,” he says, stepping aside to let me enter first.

“You don’t think my knowing truthful things about you will help me live the lie better?” I toss my overnight bag to claim the queen bed closest to the window.

“Nope.”

He drives me to the federal crime lab outside town. I hope he will drop me off, but he stays at my side. Jamie is the herpes of my Secret Squirrel life.

We start with a documentary about the history of meth. I wait for Jamie to sit before taking a seat across the room. The video is an arms-crossed, detached chronicle narrated by what sounds like a combination robot-scientist-reporter.

“The ephedra plant was used in Chinese medicines for over five thousand years, as a tea to help open the lungs and ease breathing. In 1919, a Japanese chemist figured out how to reduce the essence of the ephedra plant, known as ephedrine, into a crystallized form, thereby creating the first crystal meth.”

History and facts aren’t what matters. This is hurting my community, I tell the robot.

“Meth was once a legal, medicinal product. In the 1930s, you could buy amphetamine inhalers to treat asthma. People liked the side effects—bursts of energy and euphoria—so pharmaceutical companies developed a pill version.”

Angie Flint was always a beautiful woman. But last week in the funeral parking lot, she looked as rough as her son did. At the powwow, Travis was nearly unrecognizable. Visible physical effects of meth. But what about the damage on the inside? The toll on them and their loved ones?

“During World War Two, troops were given meth pills to make them better soldiers: able to stay awake for long periods,

with hyperalert senses and an increased willingness to take risks.”

Is that how it starts, Mr. Robot? Lost Boys trying meth to play video games longer? Partiers wanting an all-night buzz? Dieters thinking it’s the answer to a prayer?

“The negative side effects also became known: paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, and heart irregularities, including heart failure.”

There are places in town everyone knows to avoid—the alley behind the seediest bar, and a bunch of small houses down a dirt road people call Dogtown. Even an area behind the fitness center at Chi Mukwa and the last stall in the second-floor bathroom by the sophomore lockers at school.

“Meth has become the most abused hard drug in the world. Over the past three years, from 2000 to 2003, the meth industry has grown from eight billion to seventeen billion dollars. It is on track to top that in 2004.”

Why can’t I stop thinking about those Nish kids in Minnesota?

When the video ends, the guy in the lab hops up from his seat.

“So, who’s ready to make meth?” Lab Guy is eager—like, meth-boner giddy.

“This isn’t fun and games,” I snap, recalling Travis’s jittery hands.

Lab Guy dials it back, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation. Blah, blah, blah.

The meth tutorial begins with us putting on protective jumpsuits with hoods closed around our faces, breathing masks, and goggles. I stay peeved during Lab Guy’s review of beakers, digital scales, flasks, and condensers. We’re starting with the most complicated process for making meth because it takes longer and needs overnight drying time.

As soon as I pick up a Kjeldahl flask, I’m transported to a familiar place. Science World has laws, standards, order, and methods. I’m fluent in its language. I immerse myself, grateful for the single-minded focus required of Science World inhabitants.

On the drive back to the hotel, Jamie glances at my legs bouncing anxiously.

“Where do you want to get dinner?” he asks.

I shrug and look out the window. My jittery legs continue.

When we finished at the lab for the day, we removed our masks. The off-gases, which smelled like nail-polish remover, a fish-cleaning shack, and cat pee, are embedded in my nose. I can’t un-smell them, and I forgot to pack anything to smudge myself with except semaa.

“Jamie, what can you tell me about the kids from the reservation in Minnesota?” When he doesn’t answer right away, I ask a more precise question. “What do you know about the group hallucination they had?”

“The kids were out of it when they were brought to the emergency room. They were aggressive and seemed paranoid. They wanted more of whatever substance they had been using. Their drug screens came back positive for meth. The kids were hanging out in the woods and they snorted crystal meth together. The medical providers noted the kids alternated between pleading for more stuff and being scared and not making any sense. Each one had the same hallucination of men coming after them.”

“Men chasing them in the woods?” I say. “Everyone saw the same thing?”

“Yes. Whatever was added to that batch of meth brought on a group hallucination. Once their parents arrived at the hospital, the kids wouldn’t say anything else to the medical

staff.” Jamie pulls into the hotel parking lot. He remains seated in the truck, so I stay put as well.

“The FBI had been investigating meth activity. The incident in Minnesota was unusual enough for the FBI to look into the different substances being added during production.”

“Do you know how the kids are doing now?” I hope their community has good resources to help them.

When Jamie admits he doesn’t know, it reinforces how different we are. The FBI is interested in learning what caused the group hallucination. I want to know if the kids are okay.

Back at the hotel room, I take a long, hot shower. My skin is bright pink and tingly when I dry myself. Mom always sneaks a travel-sized bottle of lotion into my toiletries bag. Lilacs are to Mom as roses are to GrandMary. Tonight I’m thankful for the sweet, cloying scent.

Smelling like a lilac bush after a gentle June rainfall, I emerge from the bathroom wearing stretchy knit shorts and one of my dad’s old T-shirts. My stomach comes to life a second before I register the pizza loaded with everything, waiting on the table.

Jamie ordered dinner and had it delivered to the room.

“I wasn’t sure how you like your pizza, but I figured it was better to have to pick stuff off than leave out something you like,” he says while flipping TV channels.

When the screen shows an early scene in The Godfather, I give a thumbs-up. He turns up the volume. We watch Levi’s favorite movie while I demolish half a pizza and a side salad.

While Jamie is in the bathroom, I call Mom and then text Auntie.

ME: In mqt. All good.

AUNTIE: YOUR PLEASURE IS EQUAL TO OR GREATER THAN HIS. MAKE SURE HE KNOWS THAT.

Shaking my head at Auntie’s shouty text, I shut off my phone.

After Jamie exits the bathroom, I go back in to brush my teeth. The scent of his soap lingers in the steam. When I agreed to be a Secret Squirrel, I had a hazy notion of what it might involve. I never imagined repeatedly inhaling the soap that makes Jamie smell like a surfer on a tropical beach.

I don’t know what to do with Jamie’s thoughtfulness. It’s easier for me when everything is black-and-white. He is my point of contact for this investigation. He’s not my friend.

I climb into my queen bed and stare out the window.

“You want to talk about today?” Jamie asks softly in the dark from the other bed.

“Nope.”

I am a frozen statue of a girl, standing in the woods. Unable to move. Carved from stone with my eyes wide open. The woods smell of earth, bark, and simultaneous life and decay.

Lily walks away from Travis, but he grabs her arm. She jerks away from him.

I can smell the chemical odor seeping from his skin.

He pulls a gun from the back of his jeans. Spins around to point it at me.

WD-40. Someone used WD-40 to clean the gun.

Lily is stunned to see me at the edge of the woods. Her mouth moves as Travis makes slashing motions with the gun at random points.

He aims at my face once again.
Lily reaches out for the gun. Brave hand demanding it. He shoots and she falls backward.
Acrid gunpowder.

His mouth moves, but there is no sound here. Only scents that don’t belong in the woods.

Copper. Acetone. Urine.
He raises the gun to his temple.

I wake up like a chased rabbit, shallow bursts of breath and heart skipping in its haste. Chemical odors are absorbed into the pores of my skin. They’re even on my tongue. I swallow, and taste the odors that burn like cheap whiskey.

It’s the first time I’ve dreamed the smells from that night.

Jamie snores softly. I count each loop of his respiratory cycle. The low rumbling happens when he exhales, followed by a gentle inhale. I make my breathing mimic his pace. It sounds like calm waves stroking the shore.

I become the sand and let his snores caress me back to sleep.

When I wake the next morning, I have an annoying headache, menstrual cramps, and dampness between my legs. The selling point of the birth-control implant is not worrying about missing a pill. The downside is the unpredictable periods.

Jamie is up by the time I finish washing the stain out of the sheet. We have an unspoken pact: I will not mention his morning boner and he will say nothing about bloody sheets.

“Can I run with you?” Jamie asks when he sees me dressed in running clothes.

Hells no. I can’t get used to running with Jamie again. Secret Squirrel World needs to be black-and-white.

“Jamie, I need time to myself. We’re gonna be at the lab all day.”

I look away from his dejected expression.

Since I’m on my Moon, I don’t set down any semaa with my morning prayer. Women are at their most powerful during menstruation, connected to life-giving forces. Auntie gave me teachings: The reason we don’t use traditional medicines and we’re not around ceremonial fires during this time is that we carry our own medicine and fire within. Others may act as if it’s something annoying or unclean, but even the way we refer to menstruation is respectful. Auntie said, None of this “being on the rag” or “the red curse.” Your Moon is a mighty time, Kwe.

I feel better after a five-mile run on a path along Lake Superior. Even more so after a shower and a quick breakfast with Jamie. We take a cab to the federal building, leaving his pickup truck in the hotel parking lot in case Levi and his friends decide on an impromptu trip to Marquette. If they see the truck, they’ll assume we’re having a marathon snag-fest.

We begin by donning our protective gear and checking on yesterday’s meth. Lab Guy sets up dehumidifiers to accelerate the drying process. Then I learn four simpler methods for making meth. Quicker and less complicated, these are the versions I am likely to come across.

Throughout the day, Lab Guy teaches us meth lingo, so I can pick it up in overheard conversations. I mentally catalog the slang into three categories: familiar, unfamiliar, and camouflage. The familiar ones are the obvious words like speed, crank, and ice. The unfamiliar words are weird ones like pookie, gak, and yaba, that would catch my attention. The most difficult slang words are camouflaged as common terms such as chalk, cookies, and quick.

“How do you know when ‘cotton candy’ means meth or, you know, actual cotton candy?” I ask Lab Guy.

“Context.” The succinct response makes me feel like there’s an exception to the saying: There are no stupid questions.

Jamie asks about gangs.

“The only gangs I know of ride snowmobiles and live for hunting and fishing,” I say.

Jamie laughs. The sound reminds me of that brief time when I thought maybe everything would be okay. When we were buddy and ambassador. Before Lily reached for Travis’s gun.

I can’t revisit that Before. It’s too complicated.

Lab Guy shows us meth paraphernalia to look for. I focus on holding it, smelling it, getting familiar with it. We look through photographs of meth lairs: closets, sheds, trunks of cars, motel rooms, remote cabins, a bathtub and toilet, a three- foot-tall plastic drum, and campers.

At the end of the day, Lab Guy inspects the results from our various batches and tells us what a teener of our meth would sell for. Teener is short for teenager, as in Sweet Sixteen, a sixteenth of an ounce. There isn’t much difference between our batches from today, but when Lab Guy checks our results from yesterday, mine looks like clear glass and would fetch a higher price than Jamie’s product, which is decent but slightly cloudy. It feels petty of me to take satisfaction in the comparison, but I ride that petty horse all the way back to the hotel.

At the hotel room, I take another marathon shower and slather myself with lilac body lotion. Jamie eyeballs my dad’s T-shirt, which serves as my nightgown, when I emerge.

“We really should go out to dinner. To that restaurant Levi recommended.”

I sigh. My brother’s behavior is confounding. I suspect there’s an ulterior motive for why he’s so pro-Jamie.

Jamie explains, “It’s called backstopping when you make sure your story checks out. In case anyone asks questions, you have something solid as proof.”

“Like your fake ID?” There is a hint of an edge to my voice.

Now it’s his turn to sigh. He also adds his signature pinch to the bridge of his nose. He never used to do that before. That must be the real Jamie, the one he hid from me.

I leave an exasperated Jamie in the room while I change in the bathroom.

Years of traveling to hockey games made me an expert in packing a weekend bag. We always had to dress nicely for post-game activities. For this weekend, I included a pair of black slacks, black clogs, and one of the many elegant blouses GrandMary gave me from the boutique. Tonight’s top is red draped stretch jersey.

Jamie is dressed for dinner when I exit the bathroom. He is wearing a button-down shirt, black pants, and smooth black leather dress boots. The cream-colored shirt contrasts nicely with his tanned skin. His hair is slicked back, which makes him look a little older. More sophisticated.

Is this Jamie’s normal image when he’s not posing as a high school senior? Should I tell him that he looks too polished? That messy hair suits him?

I say nothing.

The Italian restaurant has classic rustic decor: checkered tablecloths and tall candles melting over vintage Chianti bottles in wicker-wrapped holders. An elderly couple at the next table hold hands. Jamie’s left arm rests on the table just like the older gentleman’s arm.

I am unsure how far we take the backstopping precautions. Do I hold his hand? Or keep gripping my thighs beneath the table?

Jamie watches the couple next to us before meeting my eyes.

“I’m twenty-two,” he says.

It would be easier if I immersed myself in the fake- girlfriend role. I was able to be a good Secret Squirrel at the lab, learning about and cooking meth.

Why can’t I simply play along now?

Because I felt something for Jamie when I was getting to know him. It was real for me, but not for him. He played along too well.

“I think you had it right the first time,” I say, breaking away from his intense stare. “Probably best if I don’t know real things about you.”

Shields have two sides for a reason.

“Okay,” Jamie says quietly. A waiter brings crusty bread, still warm from the oven, and a plate of olive oil with grated Parmesan and a dash of balsamic vinegar. I rip off a chunk, dip it into the oil, and shove it in my mouth.

We eat dinner in silence. Anyone looking at us would surmise we are on a very bad first date. We appear to have zero connection. Ron said we needed to establish relationship patterns so people would buy into our cover story.

We have failed miserably.

CHAPTER 19

When you go on a trip, the drive there usually feels twice as long as the ride home. For Jamie and me, it’s the opposite. The drive from Marquette is agonizingly protracted.

Lily’s voice pops into my head, as clear as if she were leaning forward from the back seat and whispering to me. Your black-and-white shield keeps osmosis combustion from happening.

“So, tell me about Coach Bobby,” he says as we pass through Au Train.

“Coach Bobby? He’s been the hockey coach at Sault High forever. Teaches business classes. Always stood up for me when other coaches acted like I shouldn’t be on a guys’ team.”

“Did you get a lot of shit?”

I shrug. “Eh. Levi taught me some filthy smack if anyone messed with me.” He raises his eyebrows again, this time curious. “I’m not telling you,” I say with a small laugh that lowers my Secret Squirrel shield a smidge.

Somewhere along the Seney Stretch, a curveless twenty- five-mile portion of M-28 that cuts through the swampy wetlands of a wildlife refuge, I decide to take charge of the situation.

“Okay. We gotta come up with … relationship patterns, like Ron said.”

Jamie nods his agreement.

“We can hold hands,” I say. “And kiss on the cheek only. Not on the lips.”

“No tongue?” He flashes a grin that makes his eyes sparkle.

“Hells no.” I look away. Focusing on the jack pines that we pass, I take deep breaths until my voice can be casual. “I want to touch your hair. Smooth it down or ruffle the curls.”

“Okay. Then I get to touch yours.”

“No,” I blurt, as the ghost of TJ’s meaty paw strokes my hair. I don’t want any reminders of that liar.

“That hardly seems fair,” Jamie says lightly.

“Fairness isn’t one of our Seven Grandfathers … didn’t you know?”

“And the Seven Grandfathers are …?”

“Teachings about living a good life. Nishnaab way. Humility. Respect. Honesty. Bravery. Wisdom. Love. Truth.” I let out a half chuckle. “Levi calls them the Seven Godfathers.”

Jamie gives a half smile but doesn’t say anything until we reach the gas station at the edge of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Seney.

“Would it be okay to put my arm around you when we’re next to each other?” he asks.

“Yeah. That makes sense.” I add, “Now, all these rules are for when we’re around other people. When we’re alone like this, it’s coworkers only.”

He turns his head to give me a look, eyebrows raised like,

Duh.

“Well, I just wanted to put it out there. So there’s no misunderstandings,” I say.

When we reach the four-way stop at the intersection with M-123, I point to turn north.

As we drive through the tiny village of Paradise, Jamie makes the requisite crack about driving through Paradise. I roll my eyes. He smiles, twitching the tail of his red scar.

“How did you get your scar? For real. And don’t say car accident.”

He’s quiet as the road takes us along Lake Superior, past rustic cabins and the odd new, fancy vacation home.

“I got held down and sliced with a knife.” He shakes off a shiver. “In case you were wondering, yes, knife wounds hurt like hell.”

It’s somber in the truck for the last mile to Coach Bobby’s cabin. My thoughts spiral. Did Jamie get knifed on the job? How often do investigations result in injuries?

I don’t want us to show up at the party like this. Both of us glum. I motion for him to turn in to the next gravel driveway.

“Yeah, well … at least my dick is bigger than yours,” I say —to Jamie’s utter astonishment. I quickly add, “I swear that’s what Levi told me to say on the ice.”

He throws his head back and laughs. The sound is deep and reverberates all the way to my toes.

But the good stuff happens when worlds collide.

I roll my eyes at the echo of Lily’s voice before I give in and join Jamie.

Still laughing, we follow the music down weathered driftwood steps to the beach party. Nickelback singing about “Someday.”

When we arrive, three dozen people stop what they’re doing and stare at us.

“Lovebirds!” Levi shouts above the music.

Macy Manitou finishes a back walkover. Her mouth gapes like a flounder out of water.

Jamie reaches for my hand and squeezes it in tacit understanding. It’s showtime.

It’s a perfect Labor Day: one last glorious, cloudless day. As if the summer days when rain chilled your bones were in exchange for this.

Lake Superior is calm, with only minuscule waves teasing the shore. Some of my former teammates are roasting hot dogs around a large bonfire. Others play touch football on the sugar-sand beach. Levi is surrounded by girls enthralled by some story he’s telling.

I lead Jamie to a gazebo where Coach Bobby flips burgers on a large gas grill. When he sees me, my old coach sets down the metal spatula and holds out his fist so we can bump knuckles. I suspect we will greet each other this way forever.

“Hi, Coach, this is Jamie Johnson. He’s one of the new Supes.”

Jamie lets go of my hand to shake Coach Bobby’s.

“Robert LaFleur. Everyone calls me Coach Bobby.” He resumes his grill-master duties, adding cheese slices to half the burgers. Coach tilts his head my way. “Best left defenseman I’ve ever coached. You got yourself one hell of a girl there, son.”

“Yes, sir … Coach Bobby,” Jamie says.

“She should be headed to Michigan to play D-one,” Coach says with exaggerated gruffness.

I know him well enough to hear the kernel of true disappointment deep within the bluster.

“Time to try new things,” I say, reaching for Jamie’s hand.

It almost sounds true. Maybe Coach can hear beneath my bluster as well.

We sit at an old picnic table to eat cheeseburgers. I get two cups of lemonade from the large drink cooler. Jamie’s plate is loaded with tiny kosher dill pickles. I wonder if he actually loves pickles … or if he’s just playing the part of someone who loves pickles.

Levi sits with us, along with Stormy Nodin, who has fit three cheeseburgers on his plate. For all his voracious appetite, he’s scrawny—not slender-yet-lean muscled like Jamie. Stormy’s taken off his shirt, not at all self-conscious about his practically concave chest. Smooth cinnamon skin glistens under the bright sunlight. His hair is pulled back into a thick braid.

“So, how was Marquette?” Levi wants to know.

Answering for us, Stormy belts out a pervy-sounding “Bow- chicka-wow-wow.”

“Thanks for the restaurant suggestion, Levi,” Jamie says. “It was great.”

Mike Edwards swaggers over with military precision. His blond hair is freshly buzzed and gelled, which makes his big head look like a square porcupine. He’s kept his T-shirt on to keep from getting a sunburn, but his muscular Zhaaganaash forearms are already pink.

“So, the rumors are true. Dauny Defense plays offense, too,” Mike says.

“Where’s your girlfriend?” I ask, knowing full well of his hockey-season chastity vow.

“Gotta keep the hockey temple clean,” he says.

“Um … girls aren’t unclean and you’re not Samson. You don’t have to worry about some Delilah chick snipping off your power.”

“Delores who?” Mike eats his burger perimeter first, until there’s one perfect center bite left.

“Holy. Read something other than hockey magazines and computer manuals,” I say.

“Hey, Bubble,” Levi says in a gentle, unfamiliar tone. “I heard Granny June gave you Lily’s Jeep.” When I nod, he adds, “That was really nice of her.” He smiles kindly.

My shoulders relax. I hadn’t realized I’d been so tense.

He grins. “Starting tomorrow me and Stormy are seniors, Mike’s a junior, and you’re a lowly freshman.”

“College,” I say, pointing at myself first and then the guys. “High school.”

“I wanna run with you.” Levi looks at Stormy and Mike, his two best friends, and revises himself. “Us lowlies want to run with you tomorrow morning. Sound good? Jamie, too.” His voice is playful, but there is a seriousness behind his eyes.

Sometimes my brother drives me crazy. And other times, like now, he does something sweet and thoughtful. Our dad would be proud of Levi. Being supportive when I need it most.

I smile. “I’d like that.” I explain the sequence of events to Jamie. “You come by my place before seven. We’ll warm up, and swing by Levi’s before we pick up Mike along the way.”

“Welcome to Hockey World,” Levi tells me.

So that’s why he’s been so accepting of Jamie. Because I’ve blurred the lines between Regular World and Hockey World.

Guilt nibbles away at me. My brother doesn’t know I’m just acting the part of a hockey girlfriend. I hadn’t given any thought to what I might need to reconcile after Jamie and Ron leave. The whole aftermath. It’s their investigation, but it’s my life.

The rest of the afternoon flies by. We play touch football with the guys. When I throw a perfect spiral to Levi, Stormy makes a wisecrack about all the things I learned from TJ Kewadin. My stomach cramps from either the burger, which was pinkish red in the middle, or from my Moon. I ask Macy to sub in so I can go to the bathroom in Coach Bobby’s cabin.

It’s been a year since Coach’s last party. He’s renovated his kitchen. I’m impressed with the high-end finishes; he has the same brand of appliances that GrandMary has in the big house.

Sunset means a rapid temperature drop. Jamie and I go to the truck; it’s easier to change behind it rather than in the tiny cabin bathroom. When it’s his turn behind the truck, I glance at the side mirror as Jamie pulls up his jeans. I look away, but not before his trio of well-defined hamstring muscles— semitendinosus, biceps femoris, and semimembranosus—are etched in my brain.

Wait … was he able to see me when our positions were reversed?

We chat with the guys until I see two seats open up at the bonfire. I move quickly to claim the spots for Jamie and me.

I watch Coach Bobby supervise the fireworks setup. My brother always brings the good kind you can only buy on the rez. A blur moves next to me as Macy sits in the empty seat.

“That’s for Jamie,” I tell her.

“Aw … saving for Jamie.” Her syrupy voice mocks me. She leans closer. “Didn’t know you had it in ya to be a shark off the ice. His girl back home never stood a chance.”

Macy’s superpower is the ability to give a backhanded compliment.

“All’s fair in love and hockey,” I say, silently adding, And meth.

Heather Nodin, one of Stormy’s many dozens of cousins, leans across me. Her weed fumes overpower the bonfire smoke.

“You’re just mad Daunis got to him before you could. Now be gone before somebody drops a house on you,” she tells my nemesis.

“Fuck you, Heather,” Macy says without any heat. She leaves to chat with some other girls. They look over at Heather and say snarky things between giggles.

Heather is dressed oddly for a bonfire. Her red Roots hoodie is normal, but the skintight capri jeans are open at the side seams, an inch wide from hip to mid-calf, and held

together by oversized safety pins. Her black flip-flops are the impractical platform kind that I’d bust an ankle in.

“Thanks,” I tell Heather. “Or as they say in my village, miigwech.”

She laughs a little too hard at the way I echo stuff the Elders always say.

Heather’s eyes are half-shut. Her laughter is hollowed out. Paper thin, empty inside.

When guys do nothing but smoke weed and play video games, we call them Lost Boys. As in Peter Pan’s gang in Neverland. Never growing up. Never leaving home. Never holding on to a job. I suppose there can be Lost Girls, too.

“Hey …,” Heather says, pulling a clear plastic bag from the pouch of her hoodie. The pills look like speckled candy. “I got some Molly V. You and your new boyfriend can go all night long. Got other stuff too.” She holds out another sandwich bag, this one with a half-dozen rolled joints.

I stare at her.

“Heather, we just buried Lily. You remember my best friend who got shot through the heart by her meth-head ex- boyfriend? So, no … I don’t want any ecstasy boner pills.”

She stares back with eyes that are suddenly laser-focused.

“Fine, but you sure do have a strange way of grieving, Daunis. Showing off your new boyfriend at a party?”

Heather Nodin leaves me at the bonfire, where I seethe over truths I cannot tell.

After the fireworks, the crowd thins out. We all fit around the bonfire now.

“Tell us a story, Firekeeper’s Daughter,” Levi says to me from across the fire.

I shake my head. “There’s no snow on the ground.”

Auntie says we honor our traditions when we save stories for the wintertime.

Macy scoffs. “That’s just so snakes don’t overhear the teachings.” She glances around. “All clear,” she says with a grin before launching into a story.

“Creator gathered all the animals and birds, along with First Man and First Woman.” She lowers her voice to sound like her dad, Chief Manitou. “ ‘I’m Creator and I’ve got a gift for each one of you.’

People laugh.

“So Creator named a gift and waited for someone to claim it as theirs. ‘Who wants to fly higher than any other bird and bring prayers directly to me?’

Macy waves a hand toward the sky.
“Migizi says, ‘Me. Me. Pick me.’
“ ‘You got it!’
Everyone laughs more. She waits a beat before continuing.

“ ‘How about big teeth to cut down trees for a house that can purify a river?’ Amik nudges First Man, whispering, ‘You better not wait till the end and get stuck with a bad gift.’ Then Amik jumps up and shouts, ‘Creator, that gift sounds perfect. Please choose me.’

“ ‘You got it!’

Macy looks around the fire, pausing for dramatic effect just like her dad when he’s making a big speech.

“Now, First Man grew anxious as he watched the four- leggeds and the winged claim their gifts. He tried raising his hand a few times, but others were quicker. Finally, it was just First Man and First Woman left. Creator announced the next- to-the-last gift.

“ ‘How about the ability to pee standing up?’

The laughter is even louder.

“First Man pushes past First Woman. ‘Me. Creator. Me. Pick me.’

“ ‘You got it!’

Macy’s eyes glitter like the crackling embers at the base of the bonfire.

“First Man asks Creator, ‘Oh … by the way … what was the last gift?’

“ ‘Multiple orgasms!’

CHAPTER 20

The next morning, Jamie is in my driveway stretching his legs in the dawn twilight. I nod hello before whispering my prayer at the tree. I omit putting down any semaa because of my Moontime. When I begin my warm-up routine, Jamie aligns his stretches with mine. It is as if no time has passed since our last run. Before Lily flew away and I became a Secret Squirrel.

“Last night, Levi called you Firekeeper’s Daughter. What was that about?” he asks.

I put one foot forward to stretch my quadriceps and hamstrings in a lunge position.

“Well, there’s a teaching about the daughter of the original firekeeper,” I say. “She starts each day by lifting the sun into the sky and singing.”

We do lunges on the other leg. He looks expectantly at me, waiting for more info.

“My brother calls me that sometimes … our dad’s last name and all. He thinks it’s ironic because I’m a really bad singer.” I roll my eyes and continue stretching as the sky lightens. “I don’t like her story, because she doesn’t even get her own name in it. Her identity is in relation to her dad, Firekeeper, and then her husband, First Man, called Anishinaabe, and then her sons, named after each of the four directions. She gets stuck with the responsibility of lifting the sun every morning.” I do a few jumping jacks. “What if she was tired one day and said, ‘Screw it … I’m going back to sleep’?” I motion toward the street and begin jogging. “Just seems like a raw deal—all that responsibility and you don’t even get your own name.”

Jamie follows my gentle pace for the few blocks to my brother’s place. The houses get bigger the closer we get.

I think about the extra name I add to my morning prayer so Creator will know who I am. What if Creator knows exactly who I am? I’ve been the one tying my identity to my father. Telling Jamie her story brings out the contradiction in my prayers each time I introduce myself.

Ishkode-genawendan Odaanisan. Firekeeper’s Daughter.
I decide that from now on I’ll leave out that extra name.

My Spirit name is enough.

I should ask Auntie the word in Anishinaabemowin for the beams of light you can see when the sun hides behind clouds. In science, they’re called crepuscular rays. I think the word is zaagaaso. If I’m right, that’s what I’ll call Firekeeper’s Daughter from now on. Her own identity: Zaagaasikwe.

I make out the shapes of two guys stretching in a driveway.

“Levi lives in a studio apartment over the garage at his mom’s,” I say. “Stormy, too, most of the time.”

Jamie raises an eyebrow.

“Well, Stormy’s family is kinda messed up.”

Stormy used to hitch a ride from Sugar Island whenever his parents fought. He’d toss pebbles at Levi’s window until my brother woke up and let him in. It happened so often that Dana put a key under the garden-gnome statue by the back door for him.

Anything she did for Levi, she did for Stormy. Going shopping for school clothes or hockey gear, she’d buy Stormy his own stuff. Not hand-me-downs, either.

It’s what I like most about Dana Firekeeper.

She grew up poor and made sure Stormy didn’t feel the way she did. Levi told me that when his mom was a little girl, she shared a bed with her sisters, and they’d wake up to snow dusting their blanket from a hole in the roof.

Levi and Stormy fall in beside us.

“Hey, Bubble, wanna take a detour past the mansion?” Stormy attempts to rattle me.

I glare at him, but he keeps talking.

“Weren’t you at the party at the big house, Jamie? What did you think of it? Us per-cap Nishnaabs are new money. Bubble is old money. Trust-fund money.” He does a half laugh, half snort. “You could’ve bought a car anytime you wanted.”

“Geez, Stormy. Did someone piss in your oatmeal today?” I say.

Levi sticks up for me. “It’s all cool, Storm. She wants to earn it and not coast by.” He smiles my way. “I respect that.”

I have complicated thoughts about my trust fund. GrandMary explained it was for my education, a car, and a “good start in life.” She said it was a safety net so I would never be trapped in an “unfortunate situation.” I am conflicted about using it because I was my mother’s “unfortunate situation.” What choices would she have made if she’d had access to a trust fund?

Like me, Stormy’s weird about zhooniyaa. I can see why. Before Levi turned eighteen, Dana deposited his minor money —a monthly check one third the amount of an adult member’s per-cap check—into a joint account for him to access. Stormy’s mom doesn’t do that.

Shawna Nodin is Ojibwe, but from a band in Wisconsin. One time, she rented the Ogimaa Suite at the Superior Shores and threw a huge party that lasted the weekend. The Monday after, she filled out an application at Tribal Social Services for the Emergency Needs Program to pay her shutoff notices. Ever since, they call her Shawna Shutoff.

As we approach the Edwards’s house of steel and glass, Mike appears from nowhere, like a ninja. He immediately matches his stride with the group’s.

The guys blather, but I cannot manage any words. Their pace is halfway between my normal speed and a full sprint.

Mike farts loudly and everyone cracks up.

“Damn, Boogid, that one sounded wet,” Stormy says.

Levi tells Jamie, “Boogid is Mike’s honorary Indian name. It means ‘fart,’ but we should’ve named him Moowin, because I think he just crapped hisself.”

“How you know it wasn’t Bubble?” Stormy asks.

“’Cause GrandMary would disinherit her if she ever cut one like that.” More laughter.

The downside of hanging out with the guys is that they’re super gross. If I had a dollar for every fart that I’ve endured around them, I wouldn’t need a trust fund.

I tune them out, focusing instead on the sound of my breathing.

Their route takes us along the river to where it curves past the ferry launch and the country club. I catch a fragment of the story Levi is telling Jamie. About me.

“So, I’m walking on top of the climbing thing like a little badass. A few drops of rain make it slippery, and the next thing I know, I’m flat on my back looking up at it. That’s when Daunis comes running over, yelling not to move me.”

We cut through the southern edge of the golf course to reach a trail that will lead us to the powwow grounds. Levi keeps blabbing.

“My sister gets on all fours to keep the rain off my head. She orders the playground monitor to call for an ambulance.” Levi looks my way. “And we were, what, eleven?”

“Nine. It was right after that Superman actor fell off his horse and became paralyzed,” I say, able to manage words only because we’ve slowed down on the trail.

I don’t mention how scared I was that day. I nearly peed my pants at the thought of my brother being seriously injured.

Up to that day, Dana had treated me politely, though not warmly. I even thought she deliberately held Levi back a year so we wouldn’t be in the same grade together. But when Auntie and I arrived at the hospital to check on Levi, Dana hugged me for the first time. Between sobs, she repeated miigwech into my ear for what seemed like an hour. Our relationship changed, bonded by our love for Levi.

I look at my brother’s back as we run single file. For all the times he annoys me, there are many more times when I am profoundly thankful for him.

“Ball out,” Levi shouts over his shoulder to the rest of us.

The guys break into a sprint for the final quarter mile across the powwow grounds and along Ice Circle Drive to Chi Mukwa. I should’ve known that this was just a warm-up for them, and now their real workout will come from lifting weights at the fitness center.

By the time I catch up, they’re well into their post-run stretches. I collapse onto soft, cool grass, facedown and arms splayed. I want to lick the moisture from each blade.

Once the guys finish their cooldown, they shout their goodbyes. Jamie follows behind Levi, but at the last minute he says something to my brother and runs over to me. I roll over and flop onto my back. Jamie eases into push-up position, rising into a plank so his face is slightly above my raised head.

Jamie plants a quick kiss on my cheek.

“Is Levi watching?” he whispers.

I glance over to where my brother stands, grinning at us from an entrance.

“Yup.”

I walk slowly and stiffly to EverCare. The scent of roses fills the hallway outside GrandMary’s room. Pausing in the doorway, I watch Mom massaging lotion on her mother’s

toothpick legs. She exhausts herself looking after GrandMary, who wasn’t always kind to her.

What if it’s a strength to love and care for someone you don’t always like?

Mom was adamant that Uncle David hadn’t relapsed. I know now that he didn’t, but even if he had, she would have continued to love and support him.

What if my mother is actually a strong person disguised as someone fragile?

I walk over to Mom instead of plopping down on GrandMary’s bed like I usually do. Bending down, I kiss my mother’s cheek. I inhale a whiff of lilac perfume at her neck, gentle as a whisper in a room where the roses shout over one another. I kiss her again. Just because.

“It’s my first day at Lake State,” I tell GrandMary after a blink brings her back to us. She breaks into a huge smile. “I have class at nine, so I can’t stay long. I love you.”

After a quick shower and yogurt for breakfast, I race in the Jeep to the parking lot behind the student union. I run across the quad, past Fontaine Hall, to arrive at class, breathless and anxious. The only seats left are in the front row. I sit and glance at the empty one next to me.

You should be here, Lily.

The professor reviews the syllabus for Principles of Macroeconomics. Every other sentence is an admonition.

“This is not high school.”

“I don’t take attendance.”

“I don’t check on missed assignments or reschedule exams.”

“I don’t speak with parents.”

“You, and only you, are responsible for your academic performance.”

“If this is not what you signed up for, leave now or forever hold your peace.”

I don’t want to be here without my best friend. I get up and leave.
Now what, Lily?

Pinpricks stab my nose and a fist-sized lump swells in my throat. I struggle to take deep, gulping breaths. Water. Maybe water will help. I dig in my backpack but come up empty.

As I reach for the door of the student union, TJ Kewadin exits. Surprise flickers across his face before it’s replaced with a smooth, impersonal mask. He walks past, dressed in a plain white T-shirt, jeans, and rugged work boots. He smells clean and woodsy.

That asshole is still wearing the cologne I bought for him.

I grab the first item in my backpack. Macroeconomics: Understanding the Wealth of Nations lands with a thud two feet from TJ. He spins around, something angry flashing across his face before the mask returns. I don’t know which is more infuriating—that he’s pissed off or that he covers it up like a big faker.

Just then, Robin Bailey walks past TJ. She picks up my textbook. One hand passes me the book and the other hand firmly pulls me inside the student union.

“Girl, you gotta get over TJ,” she says while handing me a bottle of water from her backpack. “No guy should have that kind of power over you. No matter who he is or how much everyone adores him. Or how much you might still want him.”

“I do not want TJ,” I say, bristling.

She gives me a look verging on pity.

Robin graduated two years ago, with TJ. Class of 2002. Her sophomore year, she was the first girl in the Sault ever to make the boys’ varsity hockey team. I joined her the following year as a freshman. We were teammates for the two years we

overlapped at Sault High. She played one year at Cornell before transferring to Lake State last year.

“It’s just … he just happened to catch me in a low moment,” I say.

“Yeah, I know how that goes,” she says in sympathy. “You don’t have to be a superhero. Dauny, it’s okay to not be okay. I’m kinda surprised you’re even here.”

“I thought it was what Lily would want me to do.” I wipe away a tear.

Robin is content to sit with me in the café and let me be sad.

“How about if you pick two classes and drop the others? What class was Lily looking forward to the most?” She hands me napkins for my runny nose.

I smile. “American Literature of the Twentieth Century.”

“And what class were you most excited about?”

“Plant Morphology.”

“Of course.” She shakes her head in amusement. “When’s your next class?”

“Ten. American Lit.”

“Give it a try. No pressure. See how it goes. You like it, you stay. Same with plant class.” She takes my phone and calls herself before handing it back to me. “Call if you want me to go with you on Friday to the registrar’s office to drop anything you aren’t excited about.”

“Miigwech,” I say.

She stands to my left and raises her right arm in front of me. I grin and do the same with my left arm to make an X with hers. We used to do this with our hockey sticks when we skated onto the ice before every game. It was her idea. For all the little girls like us, who chose hockey skates over figure skates.

I walk to my next class, American Literature, and sit in the back row, closest to the door. Scanning the reading assignments on the syllabus, I look for one in particular.

Uh-oh … no Michener.

Granny June’s harangue on the literary underestimation of James A. Michener lasts from the time I pick her up for lunch until I bring her home that afternoon.

The following day, as I help her into the Jeep, Granny picks up where she left off.

“You better tell that Zhaaganaash smarty-pants that James A. Michener is the greatest American novelist of my lifetime,” she yells.

“The professor is Black,” I say. “And, yes, I will for sure tell her about your opinion.”

“Not opinion. Fact.”

After I’ve brought Granny June her tray of Indian taco with whole-wheat fry bread, I stand in line for myself. Jonsy Kewadin knocks over the coffee mug he’s just filled. I grab napkins to clean up the mess. When I hand him a fresh mug, he motions toward the sugar.

“But what about your diabetes?” I say.
“I’m not a diabetic,” he shouts. “I’m a Presbyterian.” I laugh. Jonsy’s a twice-a-week Catholic.

“Hey.” His tone changes to a conspiratorial whisper. “I took TJ back to the landfill after the storm, and that bag was gone … You didn’t take it, did you?”

“Hauling toxic garbage doesn’t sound like something a rational person would do, Grandpa Jonsy,” I say, leading him

back to his table of friends.

Jonsy’s brother Jimmer gets my attention. “Hey, Firekeeper. My grandson got me a iTunes card. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

“You can buy any song online for ninety-nine cents and burn a CD,” I explain. “Like making a tiny album of your favorite songs.”

“Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb?”

“As long as their stuff is in the iTunes catalog,” I say. “I’ll grab my laptop after lunch. We can use your gift card today and I’ll bring your CD tomorrow.”

I tell Granny that after lunch I’m helping Jimmer Kewadin buy songs online.

“That old gangster?” she says.

The Elder Center director makes announcements before they do the fifty-fifty raffle. Tribal Youth Council will be there Thursday afternoon to help anyone set up their cell phones.

“You can get emergency alerts. Or send a group text to your friends with ferry updates.”

“Holy wah,” Jonsy says loudly. “Modern-day moccasin telegraph.”

“Oh, and a young woman’s missing. Tribal citizen. Heather Nodin was last seen walking through Paradise on Monday night. Anyone with info should contact Tribal Police.”

Heather is missing? I don’t remember seeing her around the bonfire when Macy told the story about Creator’s gifts. Maybe she left right after offering me drugs and telling off Macy. I make a note to let Jamie know that I might have been one of the last people to interact with Heather Nodin.

By Friday, I’ve dropped down to two courses and have become an iTunes mix master. Granny and I spend most of the

afternoon on the island. She and Minnie rehash old arguments. I cannot imagine sparring for decades like that with Macy.

What I have decided, as a Secret Squirrel, is that while I’m helping an Elder buy songs from iTunes, I can ask about medicines and stuff. Good trade, as Jonsy would say with a wave of his hand, mimicking a scene out of Dances With Wolves.

Jimmer Kewadin tells me that Al Capone did, indeed, hide whiskey in a cave along Lake George. The east side of Sugar Island.

“Do people explore the caves looking for anything he left behind?”

“Every now and then a dead body washes up. That scares away most with good sense.”

Leonard Manitou—Minnie’s son, Chief Manitou’s dad, and Macy’s grandpa—reveals that when he was five years old, he went missing for two days, and nobody except his mom and grandma believed the Little People had kept him safe.

Bucky Nodin—who everyone calls Buck Naked—catches my attention. He is Heather’s great-uncle, I think, and might want to know when I last saw Heather. Instead, he seems scattered and asks how much it would cost to get every song Patsy Cline ever recorded. Before I can answer, Buck mentions the time he accidentally snared his own cat instead of a rabbit. Then he tells me he used to go picking mushrooms with his great-grandma on Duck Island.

“Mushrooms? On Duck Island?” I say before he can jump to another random topic. My heart beats so fast, I’m sure Buck can see it through my Red Wings T-shirt.

When Ron brought me to Uncle David’s classroom, he named three locations where hallucinogenic mushrooms had been found: Tahquamenon Falls, Pictured Rocks, and Sugar Island. On the drive back from Marquette, Ron provided an important detail about the location where Uncle David had

been—Duck Lake on Sugar Island. Duck Island is bordered on one side by Duck Lake.

“Yeah,” Buck says. “That little island within an island is full of them. Something about the soil and moisture. All them old trees ain’t never been chopped down.”

I look around, flush with excitement over picking up Uncle David’s mushroom research. Seeney Nimkee scowls across the dining room, as if she knows what I am thinking.

This Secret Squirrel is in search of a nut. A hallucinogenic mushroom of a nut.

DMU Timestamp: June 13, 2022 01:33