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[4 of 5] Fire Keeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (2021) Chapters 31 - 44

Author: Angeline Boulley

Boulley, Angeline. “Chapters 31 - 44.” Fire Keeper's Daughter, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York, NY, 2021.

CHAPTER 31

That is more money than we’ve ever kept in our shared account.
A sick feeling washes over me.
Is Levi involved?
It’s ludicrous. There must be a plausible reason why Levi would keep so much money in our account. I’m certain of it.
The bank lady asks if I’m still there.
“Uh-huh,” I manage.
“The statement for September’s activity will mail out on Monday. Would you like to change the address back?”
“No. Keep everything the same.” I’ll get the statements from Levi, along with answers about the unusual activity. I ask, “Is it possible to put two addresses on the account?”

“No. Our policy is to mail one hard copy.” A beat later she adds, “But you could give your email address and authorize monthly statements to be sent electronically also.”

After I follow her suggestion, I end the call but remain standing in the kitchen. Herri rubs her head against my leg.

I do the math on Levi’s per capita payments. He turned eighteen in January, which means he’s been getting the adult amount for almost nine months now. Thirty-six thousand dollars a year means three thousand each month, minus taxes. Last year, as a minor, he got twelve thousand dollars, which probably worked out to around nine hundred dollars a month after taxes. Plus, he’s reimbursing his mom for payments on the Hummer she financed for him.

When the bank lady said the current balance, my first thought had been to question whether Levi was involved somehow. I feel ashamed. I had believed the worst about Uncle David. Haven’t I learned anything about jumping to the wrong conclusions about a loved one? But I’m supposed to follow clues wherever they lead. Aren’t I?

It feels like a battle raging between my brain, gut, and heart. In the Before, I usually relied on science and math. Linear thinking. But does that mean I should ignore my gut instincts? Is it like a pie chart where making one slice larger takes away from the other slices?

Herri bites my chin, annoyed by my leg jiggling under the covers. I push her away.

“Go bug Mom, you pest.”

I put her in the hall and close my bedroom door, only to toss and turn. I try pushing away every troubling thought from today by thinking about Jamie. His kiss in the elevator and, later, in my hotel room. I imagine what Someday might be like with him, and slide my hand under the blanket.

But … why did Jamie’s kiss feel different this afternoon? Right before the storm hit. Storm. Stormy. I’ve got to figure out how to question Stormy. Stormy’s dad … I know the sour look GrandMary gave Mr. Nodin’s grandfather. She had given me the same look when I told her about Gramma Pearl fixing my earache with my pee.

Pshhhhhh. The moment is ruined.

I’m left with no choice but to recite the periodic table of elements: Hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon …

“Do you even know what I did to prove my love for you?”
Travis pulls an old revolver from the back of his jeans.
He follows the sound of my gasp ten feet away. Aims the shaking gun at my nose. Cheek. Mouth. Forehead.
“Don’t shoot. It’s Daunis.” Lily gapes at me. “What are you doing here?”
Each scent finds me: WD-40, pine, Travis’s stink, damp moss, decaying bark, ammonia.

I’m gonna die. Lily will watch me die.

“She’s for real?” Travis asks. “’Cause the Little People won’t leave me alone. They’re out here. All around me.”

He slashes diagonally at invisible enemies as if his gun has become a machete. He isn’t paying attention to me. I can grab Lily’s hand. We can run from him. Or get into Jamie’s truck.

Travis aims at my face again. I’m terrified. I don’t want to die. I want my mom. This will kill her too.

“Travis, the Little People aren’t tryna get you. Just gimme the gun,” Lily says.

She reaches for it. Insistent. A steady palm with fingers outstretched. Give it. Now.

He holds it out for her to take. His hands are twitchy to the point of spasming.

“Travis, give me the gun before you hurt Dau—”
“I can’t do this without you.” His hand steadies. “I love you.”
POP!
Lily falls backward, landing on her back, arms outstretched.
Travis stares at her before turning to me.
“They’re so mad at me,” he whispers. “The Little People. I just wanted her to love me again. She’s the only person who ever loved me. Believed me when everyone else ditched me. If only she just tried it, Dauny. But she wouldn’t. So I added it to my cookies. She didn’t want those either. This was the only way.”

He raises the gun to his temple.

I snap upright. Grateful for the noise beyond my bedroom door, pulling me away from that dream. No, not just a dream—a memory. The horrible moment when Travis steadied his aim and shot Lily.

I’ve known Travis practically my whole life. How could he do that to Lily? Travis killed her, all while saying how much he loved her.

Wait. I dreamed the words. Lily’s last words were to protect me. Travis said something about … the Little People.
Am I unlocking memories? Or just inventing them?

One of the Elders had mentioned the Little People. It takes me a minute to remember: Leonard Manitou. Macy’s grandpa. He doesn’t eat lunch at the Elder Center every day. I want to ask him about the Little People. Asking the right way means bringing semaa to him. I’ll need to pick up more pipe tobacco today before I get Granny June. Just in case he’s there.

I hear the noises outside my bedroom start up again, the squeak of the mop wringer. Water splashing back into the bucket. Familiar pine scent drifts beneath my door. Mom’s midnight cleaning frenzy.

“He loved me. I know it, David. Even after what I did.”

My brain automatically translates the spoken mishmash of GrandMary’s French, Grandpa Lorenzo’s Italian, and the language Mom and her brother invented together.

“I should’ve told the truth. No matter how angry I was at him. Everything could’ve been different. My baby would have her dad.”

Mom must be dipping the mop in the bucket, sloshing water with frantic motions.

“David, he promised we’d have everything after he made a team. He thought Mom and Dad would accept him then. ‘Be patient, Grace; we’re on Indian time is all.’

My mother’s laugh is a delicate giggle as she compresses the mop wringer again.

“I said, ‘Doesn’t that mean always late?’ But Levi said, ‘Indian time really means that things happen when they’re supposed to.’

She begins to cry.

I usually pull the covers over my head at this part. Tonight I slip from my bed, open the door, and tiptoe down the hallway.

“Why can’t Indian time let you go back in time? Change the things that weren’t supposed to happen? We never should’ve gone to the island. I shouldn’t have looked for him. Never should’ve opened that bedroom door. He said she got him drunk. Well, I was at the party too, and no one was twisting his arm to do all those shots.”

As I move through the living room, her words are unintelligible between raw, choking sobs. My brain fills in the gaps. This is not my first time hearing her heartache.

“Why did he jump in the truck at the last minute? He should have just let me go. Why did I drive so fast? Why didn’t I just hit that goddamn deer instead of swerve? Why did I lie and say Levi was driving? Why?”
I answer from the kitchen threshold. It’s the first time I’ve interrupted her confessional.
“Because that night you wanted to tell Dad about me, and instead you found him in bed with Dana,” I say as gently as possible.
She rushes into my arms, still weeping.
I continue, “Because you were shocked and angry that he cheated and broke his promises to you. Because you were a sixteen-year-old girl who was scared about what your parents would do when they found out you were three months pregnant.”

I lean down to kiss her forehead, the way she did to me every night after a bedtime story. The way she still does whenever I have a fever. There’s healing medicine in these kisses.

“Because you panicked when the police showed up and when you tried to tell the truth later at the hospital, no one believed you. Then your parents sent you to live with family in Montreal. By the time you came back with me, Dad was married to Dana. And Levi was born.”

Her voice is a resigned whisper. “It’s so unfair. Dana got everything he promised to me.”

My heart breaks for her, for her life altered by secrets and scandals. By wounds so deep the scar tissue keeps building up. Layers of bulging, dark red keloids encasing her until she cannot move. Leaving her stuck somewhere in the past.

Scars made by the broken promises of Levi Joseph Firekeeper Sr. The king of Guy Lies.
Maybe my first wound was so deep that it never healed.
My mother wasn’t the only person he made promises to.

My dad was the first guy who ever lied to me. I was seven years old.
It still hurts.

CHAPTER 32

Three days after her heart seized from too much meth, Robin Bailey’s family and friends fill the church at St. Mary’s. Her parents are Catholics who don’t follow Ojibwe traditions about the four-day journey.

Some Nishnaabs blend their religious faith and traditional Ojibwe spirituality, like adding semaa to the incense during mass. Others, like the Baileys, maintain a clear division.

I sit in the pew closest to the stained-glass window that has the engraved plaque honoring GrandMary’s parents and Grandpa Lorenzo’s as well. My grandparents unofficially claimed the pew as theirs. Mom sits alone here on Sundays now.

I stopped going to mass when I was a sophomore. One Sunday, GrandMary likened Catholic Indians to converted Catholics, claiming that organized religion was something brought to Indians by French missionaries, so people who converted to the faith were somehow less than “original” Catholics.

“Where do I fit into that hierarchy?” I asked her.

“Don’t be obstinate, Daunis Lorenza. You’re a Fontaine, not one of them.”

Every Sunday from then on, I joined Uncle David in a booth we unofficially claimed at our favorite restaurant. He’d realized long ago that, as GrandMary’s gay son, he wouldn’t be admitted to the VIP section of her heaven.

The God I pray to is here with us, Daunis. With you, me, and our pancakes.

I’m surprised when the familiar Catholic prayers and responses come so easily from me. I’m even more surprised to find them comforting.
My mind goes back to sitting with Robin in the student union after I threw my textbook at TJ Kewadin. She was so helpful that day.

You don’t have to be a superhero. Dauny, it’s okay to not be okay.

I only wished she had taken her own advice. I knew about her broken clavicle; it happened the same time as my first shoulder injury. The last home game of my sophomore year, Robin’s senior year, an opponent slammed into the two of us like we were bowling pins and he was going for a strike. He got ejected from the game, but not before receiving high fives from his teammates. Robin and I ended up at War Memorial Hospital.

Auntie was with me because Mom couldn’t handle seeing me in pain. When my aunt looked at the prescription the new doctor had written for me, she handed it back. I’m not giving oxycodone to my sixteen-year-old niece. The doctor puffed up in indignation. I assure you it’s safe for short-term use. Auntie wasn’t having it, telling me, Girl, you’re sticking with Tylenol and ginigiinige tea.

Is that how it started for Robin? A ten-day prescription for oxy and no hypervigilant auntie? Maybe her parents believed the doctor about it being safe.

Maybe she didn’t think she could ask for help.

It’s hard to let people down, and harder still when your expectations for yourself are even higher. Especially knowing that some people enjoy pecking at your mistakes and flaws.

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.

Who had Robin given her power to? There was something bone-weary in her sigh that day on campus. Which guy had made her feel the opposite of powerful? Had she felt there was no one on her side? Not even the guy she still wanted?

Would Jamie and Ron see Robin only as an addict or—if my suspicions are correct—as a meth dealer? They don’t know her story. I don’t know her story either, but I know she has one. Had one. I can try to find out and share the stories that might help the investigation.

I need to be part of the investigation.
The community needs to be part of the solution.
The funeral home director closes the lid of the casket. Robin’s mother makes a sound that is an amplified version of the one I made when I saw Lily’s body. The horrible bleating that I hadn’t realized came from inside me.

How many more loved ones will know this anguish before the investigation ends?

After the funeral mass, Robin’s uncle invites everyone to the grave site for the burial and Rite of Committal, followed by lunch at Chi Mukwa. He also announces the benefit hockey game on Friday, three days from now, for the Robin Joy Bailey Memorial Foundation.

Mrs. Bailey looks my way and smiles through tears.

I’ve agreed to play on the Sault High team. Coach Bobby first asked those of us who had been Robin’s teammates on the boys’ varsity team to participate before filling out the rest of the roster with current varsity players.

The entire town is pitching in. Call-me-Grant donated his services to set up the nonprofit foundation. Dana pledged a huge donation on behalf of the Firekeeper family. The Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe donated the full billboard in town, advertising the fundraising event with Robin’s senior picture in her Blue Devils hockey jersey and leaning against her stick.

It had to come together quickly, because this coming weekend is the only one without a Supes game until the league pauses for Thanksgiving break. The Superiors always take the first weekend in October off for Shagala Saturday. It’s the biggest weekend all year for the town.

Not just the town—it’s special for me, too. My birthday is on Friday.

I skip the funeral lunch so I can take Granny June to the Elder Center. Passing the little convenience store on the way to the ferry, I remember the semaa for Leonard Manitou. I am relieved when they have a decent variety of tobacco. Auntie says the kind for rolling cigarettes is harsh on the lungs and it’s better to get the good pipe tobacco for gifts. I purchase a few pouches.

When we arrive for lunch, I eagerly scan the room. A few weeks ago, Leonard mentioned the Little People. Just like Travis did on that terrible night. Leonard’s story had something to do with being lost in the woods.

Maybe he was hallucinating from the freezing cold.
After a minute, my heart sinks. Leonard isn’t here today.
Minnie makes the sign of the cross at Granny slathering ketchup on a pasty. I eat my lunch while scrambling for a backup plan. Minnie might know what her son is doing today. But … how to ask her? My mind goes blank.

Granny June and Minnie talk about how to determine if someone is fluent in Anishinaabemowin.

“When you can say, ‘There’s a man sitting on a horse, eating a slice of apple pie.’ If you can get through that, you’re fluent,” Granny says.

“Eh,” Minnie counters. “It’s when you know which words are animate or inanimate because you just know which ones are alive.”

Jonsy and Jimmer pause while passing by to chime in.
“You’re fluent when you can tell the difference in dialects,” Jimmer says. “It’s when the language teacher says you passed the test,” Jonsy says in fluent smart-ass.
Seeney speaks up from the next table over. “You’re fluent when you dream in the language.”
The room falls silent with a consensus of nodding heads and pursed lips. Right then, Leonard Manitou walks in. I sit up, blinking in case I’m daydreaming. He comes over to our table and drops off Minnie’s prescription medicine refills. After he kisses her cheek, Leonard gets a cup of coffee but nothing to eat. He joins a table of friends. If Leonard ate somewhere else, he might not stay long.

As soon as Granny June and Minnie finish, I rush to take their trays to the dishwasher area.

“What’s your hurry?” Granny asks. “Minnie didn’t get any better at pinochle overnight.”

“What you don’t know about cards could fill a book,” Minnie retorts.

After dropping off the trays, I cross the dining room. I’m nearly to Leonard’s table, when Auntie comes in. Jonsy shouts across the room, “Hey, Big Cheese, how much are we paying you?”

Ignoring him, she grabs my arm and drags me outside. Holy shit. Auntie is pissed.
“Is it true you’re playing hockey on Friday?”
“Yes. It’s for Robin.” I glance around the parking lot. “Bullshit. She wouldn’t want you to risk—”

“But she’s not here,” I snap. “That’s why there’s a game.”

Auntie narrows her eyes at me. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I’m gonna find out. You can count on that.” She pokes a finger at my chest.

I expect her to walk away, but my aunt is just getting started.

“You’re making stupid decisions. You’re running around with a different crowd. You don’t come around and play with the girls.”

She’s right. I’m such a bad auntie. But she doesn’t understand that I’m doing this for our community. So the twins never have to lose a friend … or each other. I shudder at the thought.

I can’t tell you, Auntie. I know I’m hurting you, but it’s for your protection.

“You return maybe one in four texts. Your ma says you’re never home.” “Classes are—”
“Daunis Firekeeper, don’t you dare lie to me!” Auntie shouts. “Is it that

Supe you’re snagging? You’re really gonna be one of those girls who forgets herself as soon as she’s in some guy’s bed?”

Does my aunt think so little of me? That I am capable of losing myself over a guy?

“I’m not—”
“TJ said he doesn’t trust Jamie.”
What? I’m too stunned to respond immediately; we just stare at each other.
“You talk with him? After what he did to me?” I hate the shrillness in my voice.
Auntie takes a deep breath, but before she can say anything else, I cut her off.
“TJ Kewadin has no right to speak to me or about me, ever again.” “There’s more going on—” she tries to interject.
“No. There isn’t.” I take a few steps backward. Before I turn away, I leaveher with “Auntie, I thought I could trust you to always be on my side.”

I wait for Auntie’s SUV to leave before returning to the dining room. The Elders make a point of not looking at me. All they know is that Auntie yelled at me and that, knowing her, I probably deserved it.
But I had yelled back. Something is shifting between my aunt and me. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. Maybe it’s both. Hadn’t Lily told me I had black and white thinking?

They go about their normal activities. Granny June and Minnie play pinochle with Jonsy and Jimmer. Seeney works on a puzzle but glances up periodically.

When Leonard Manitou returns from refilling his makade- mashkikiwaboo, I am sitting next to his seat. I slide the pouch of semaa onto the dining table next to his coffee mug.

“Mishomis, would you please tell me about the Little People? If now isn’t the best time, we could meet up whenever works for you.” Auntie taught me that when you gift semaa and ask for something, it’s good to give the person an option in case they need to think about your request.

Please be ready now, I silently plead. My leg bounces beneath the table.

Leonard puts a hand on the pouch of pipe tobacco and gives a single nod. My relief turns to eagerness.

“You said you were lost in the woods?” As soon as I offer a starting point, I feel ashamed for taking it from him. My impatience got the best of me. I can hear Auntie scolding me: You know better than that, Daunis!

His eyes look up and to the side. Accessing his memory files.

“I was five. Chasing a rabbit with my slingshot. That was good eating then. Still good eating. What I wouldn’t give for some waabooz-naboob.”

As he swallows the memory of rabbit soup, I say a quick prayer that it’s savory and warms him through and through.

“The snow came down heavy. Snowflakes big as my thumb. Got turned around, but I kept walking. Figured I’d reach home or the next house. I was a quick little guy. I’m sure my mom called for me, but I was too far away.”

He looks out the window. Lost in thought.

“Didn’t get scared till dark. I tucked my arms into my shirt beneath my coat, like this, hey.” He crosses his arms and tucks his hands into his armpits. “Looked for a pine tree to crawl under and lean next to her trunk. But it got so cold. You ever know cold like that?”

I think of shivering on the fasting boulder, with my thick wool blanket and plastic tarp. Stormy’s dad drumming in the distance. If I had needed to, I could’ve shouted to him. Someone would have come for me. My experience was not like Leonard Manitou’s. I shake my head.
“Pretty soon the Little People were there. Smaller than me, but not young like me. The stories I heard about them weren’t nothing to be afraid of, hey. Little mischief makers, enjoying some shenanigans. Tying my mother’s laundry on the clothesline into knots. I always like a good shenanigan, so I followed them. Came to a boulder. One of them old grandfather rocks that have always been here. I was at the rock and then I was passing through it. Traveling on a stream beneath the island. Like a highway. Crisscrossing I don’t know where.”

His face lights up.

“We took Macy to a water park when she was a kwezan. She rode down the tunnels. Fearless. Laughing each time she shot into the pool where her dad waited for her. Made me think back to them underground springs. My granddaughter’s like me. I wasn’t afraid.”

I wait for him to say more, but not with a sense of urgency. It is enough to sit with Leonard Manitou and hear whatever he wants to share, whenever he’s ready. We are on Indian time.

“They led me back through the rock. I heard my dad shouting for me. I called out and he found me. Gone two nights and two days, hey. I told my parents where I was. My dad said that couldn’t be. But my mom and my nokomis always left gifts for the Little People. A copper thimble. Tiny knitted toques. Semaa. Bear-grease medicine.”

Gramma Pearl left items like that outside. When Art takes care of a ceremonial fire, Auntie always fixes a small plate of food and sets it at the edge of the woods. I’ve always heard about the Little People, but I’ve never paid much attention to the stories.

Left your boots outside and now they’re by the outhouse? That’s the Little People.

Shoelaces tied in knots? Them Little People are playing a trick on ya.

Firewood scattered on the ground instead of stacked? Must’ve been the Little People.

I never heard anyone say anything bad about the Little People … until Travis.

“Do you think they have it in them to be malicious or get mad?” I attempt to be casually curious rather than heart-poundingly, did-Travis-provide-a- clue, Secret Squirrel inquisitive.

He thinks awhile. Long enough that I wonder if he forgot my question.

“I had a cousin who used to sniff gasoline. We’d find him passed out next to the car. One time, he said the Little People yelled at him. But he kept on sniffing. I asked if they still came around to yell at him. He wasn’t always there, know what I mean.” Leonard Manitou taps the side of his head. “He told me, the last time they came ’round, they cried for him. He never saw them again.”

“This was your cousin?” I say.

He nods. “Skinny Manitou. Only his gramma called him Elmer. He could draw an idea and you’d swear it was a photograph. Damn shame. He caught himself on fire—gasoline on him and he lit a cigarette.” He shakes his head.

“Chi miigwech,” I say.
“Someone you know sniffin’ gas?” I nod. “Something like that.”

CHAPTER 33

Like everything about the investigation, Leonard Manitou’s story leaves me with more questions than answers. I wake up the next morning no closer to resolving any of yesterday’s questions. What was Travis messing with, and why did he think the Little People were so mad at him? Did he really see something, or was he hallucinating? Do any other Elders have stories about Little People or mushrooms that I could try to learn?

Is it possible to solve one riddle without tumbling down more rabbit holes?

I head to the ferry with my scattered thoughts. Leonard Manitou was nearly the same age as the twins. The Little People took him through a stone? Fearless Macy launching off the end of a waterslide. Knowing her, she’d strike an action pose—fist raised in the air, Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls cartoon I watch with the twins.

Auntie’s words still sting. How can she think I’m acting foolish over a guy? Ditching her and the twins for the new guy in town. Telling me that TJ Kewadin claims he’s no good. It’s none of her business, and it’s definitely not his.

If TJ wants to look for bad guys, I’ve got a mirror he can eyeball.

Crossing the river, I make an offering from a new pouch of semaa. I give thanks for Leonard Manitou’s story before asking for help.

“I really need a win today,” I say aloud.

I check the time. Last period at Sault High. The guys will be headed to Chi Mukwa for Supes practice. Now’s the perfect time to ask Levi about the joint bank account and hopefully clear everything up.

The quiet lobby at Chi Mukwa feels unnatural. It’s the calm before the convergence of hockey practice, city volleyball league, drop-in basketball, dance classes, after-school programs, moms pushing strollers around the

indoor walking track, and satellite courses for the Tribal College.
There is a SUPES FUNDRAISING bulletin board next to the concession window. Today’s newspaper takes up most of the space, with small photos of Robin tacked around the front page. The headline announces: SAULT SUPERIORS VS. BLUE DEVILS ALL STARS ON FRIDAY! There is no mention of Robin. Team captain Levi is in the main photo, along with both coaches, Call-me-Grant, Dana, and other big cheeses who’ve donated. I scan the article and finally spot Robin’s name in the fourth paragraph.
She is already an afterthought.
I distance myself from the bulletin board, walking backward until I am in the hallway leading to the volleyball courts.
The lobby doors open. Guys laugh. Mostly familiar voices. Boasts about girls they’re snagging or hope to snag soon. Sighing, I decide to remain hidden. I don’t feel like joining Hockey World just yet.

“Who’s that pretty Indian girl with nice tits?” asks a voice I don’t recognize.

“Macy Man-Eater?” Mike says. They laugh.
“Wait up,” Levi calls out. Footsteps approach as he catches up with them. The unfamiliar voice asks, “Well, who’s the Incredible Bulk that

Johnson’s boning? She’s got a nice ass.” My hands ball into fists.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Levi shouts a second before there is the crunch of a fist connecting with bone. “Don’t you ever talk about her like that. She’s worth ten of you.”
“Dude, that’s his sister,” Mike tells the clueless guy.
I peek around the corner, torn between being grateful to Levi and being upset that he resorted to violence. Stormy and Mike pull my brother away from a guy catching blood in a hand cupped under his nose.

“You so much as look at her and I will end hockey for you,” Levi seethes, while flexing his fingers to assess any damage.

I react as if jolted by an electric shock. I’ve never seen my brother so enraged. His voice and coiled stance are unrecognizable.

Mike notices me and quickly nudges Levi.
“Hey, Daunis,” Mike says with exaggerated friendliness.
“Go on ahead,” Levi tells them. “Not you.” He gets in the bleeding guy’s face. “You apologize to her.”
His teammate makes the briefest eye contact with me. Enough for me to see his shame and fear. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice muffled by his hand.
Levi watches the guy hurry away while I observe my brother. I don’t like the glint in his eyes. Because it isn’t from anger but, rather, satisfaction. It’s gone from his face by the time he wraps me in a massive hug.
“Did you see me go all goon on him?” Levi lightens his tone, jostling me before he lets go. “Dad would be proud of me, defending your honor, hey?” “Levi, you were beyond goon. It was … disturbing, to be honest,” I admit. “Hey, nobody disrespects my sister.”
“But guys say stuff about girls all the time. You talk about girls like that.”

My shock finally crystallizes into thoughts. “If you’re that provoked when the comments are about me … maybe you should think about the comments you and your friends make about any girl.”

Dumbfounded, Levi stares at me. It takes a half a minute before my brother has a LIGHT BULB ON moment.

“I never thought about it like that,” he says. When Levi hugs me again, I’m filled with hope. He’s not a violent goon; he’s my brother. Not perfect, but capable of growth. I hug him back, even more tightly.

Then, for some reason, we both laugh like little kids sharing a private joke and Levi playfully shoves me away.

“What brings you here anyway?” he asks. “Waiting for Loverboy?”

As if on cue, Jamie enters the lobby. His smile reaches his eyes. In one fluid motion, he grabs my waist, twirls me once, and continues on his way.

Holy wah. That was hot.

“Smooth moves,” my brother calls out as Jamie heads to the locker room. Then Levi looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to answer his question.

What did he ask me? For a second, I can’t think of anything except imagining Jamie and me on the Shagala dance floor. And today’s appointment at Mrs. Edwards’s store, which I’ve been dreading. I haven’t been there since it was GrandMary’s boutique. It might not be so bad. A fitting for a dress when I have no idea what it looks like. Or how much it will cost.

Money. Bank. Eureka. I laugh.

“I called the bank across the river to make sure there was enough money to cover dinner. Why are you keeping so much in the joint account?”

Levi looks momentarily confused before he has his own eureka moment. “Oh, that.” He laughs too. “I’m buying land near Searchmont. Sweet investment, ya know? Figured it’d be easier using our Canadian account.” “Holy Tycoon,” I say, giddy with relief. I got my answer, and that’s that.

“Why Ontario? Coach Bobby’s always looking for property here.”
“None of Coach Bobby’s businesses ever take off in a big way,” Levi says. He tilts his head. “Can I ask you something and you promise not to get pissed?”
“Okay,” I say hesitantly.
“GrandMary’s not, like, getting better … right?”
I stare at my shoes.
“If she passes away, will you transfer to U of M? Or stick around now that you got something going with Jamie?”
It feels good to show genuine surprise. “I don’t know. I had a plan for my life, but everything is different now.”
“Maybe you need new plans,” Levi says. “Remember, Coach Bobby always says, ‘Failure to plan means planning to fail.’
I smile. “How come you’ve spent half the time I did with Coach, but you quote Bobby LaFleur’s wise words more than anybody?”
He shrugs and flashes his perfect smile. “What would you think about

investing with me?” Levi asks, suddenly boyish in his earnestness. “A business opportunity where we could work together? Your genius brain plus mine? We’d be unstoppable.”

“Um … GrandMary always said not to mix business with family or friends,” I say.

He raises an eyebrow. “Why not?”

“Because they’ll think it’s a democracy, but a successful business needs one leader who can make tough decisions and be an asshole.”

“GrandMary said asshole?”
“I translated it for you,” I say.
We laugh.
“Seriously, though,” he says. “It might be good advice for everybody else, but we’re special, hey? We look out for each other and keep it real.”
Levi’s right. When the shit goes down, we’ve got each other’s back. “Speaking of failing to plan, what you gonna do for your b-day?” he asks. I mimic his exaggerated shrug from earlier. “Play hockey for Robin. Go to Shagala the day after with Jamie.”
“Mike’s parents are doing their usual Shagala after-party in the Ogimaa

Suite. We could throw our own all-nighter at his house. Is there anything special you want?”

It comes to me immediately, something I want. No, something I need.

“Dad’s scarf. You always say it has to be somewhere in your house. Can you look for it?”

My eighth birthday was the first one without Dad. Levi tried cheering me up, but nothing helped. Until one day my brother gave me a photo of us with Dad. Levi and I were wrestling him tag-team-style. I had just leaped off Grandpa Ted’s recliner onto Dad’s back. Levi was supposed to tag out, but he kept attacking from the front. The camera captured Dad mid-laugh. I’d been so afraid of forgetting things about him, until I looked at the photo. That’s what Levi’s gift was on my eighth birthday: Dad’s deep, rumbling laughter.

He’d laugh like that pulling us around the rink with his extra-long scarf. Although I know now that it must have been so painful for him to skate on mangled legs, Dad was happy to be with us on the ice.

Levi hugs me. “For you, absolutely.”

I show up early for my dress fitting.
“My, my,” Mrs. Edwards says. “I half expected you to be a no-show and thought I’d need to send a search party for you.”
I follow her to what used to be Grandpa Lorenzo’s office overlooking

Ashmun Street. The windows are now draped in sheer curtains that puddle on the floor. Her desk is a fancy glass dining table in front of a huge, ornately framed bulletin board covered in fabric swatches. On the opposite exposed- brick wall, she’s mounted a trio of matching oversized mirrors. The outer two are hinged to create a dressing-room area complete with a small raised platform.

“Oh, Mrs. Edwards, it’s beautiful,” I say in genuine awe.

“That’s right, you and Grace haven’t seen it since we renovated. I’m expanding into bridal gowns. Even trying my own designs.” She pauses before asking, “Will your mother be okay with the new look?”

“Mom doesn’t do well with change,” I say, in the understatement of the year. “But it doesn’t matter, because this is amazing. GrandMary would have loved it.”

Mrs. Edwards gets a little misty-eyed before collecting herself and waving in the tailor she inherited from GrandMary. The tailor displays a red gown with a flourish. I force a smile, because they’re watching me. Dresses have never been my thing.

My first surprise is that I have to step into—rather than dive into—the garment because it’s pants. Silky wide-legged pants with a fluttery transparent overlay. When I step onto the platform, the elegant pants flow like a skirt. There is a deep pocket along each side seam.

“Bra off,” the tailor says.
“Really?” I glance around. “But what about my top?”
“You’re wearing it.”
I stand topless on the platform and twist around to stare at multiple angles of myself in the red pants, before noticing a weird train attached to the back of my waist.

With a grin, the tailor bends to lift one panel of the train and drapes it over my shoulder. She does the same with the other before pinning the ends of the red silk into my waist.

The sleeveless top exposes skin to just above my belly button. “Holy,” I say.
Mrs. Edwards laughs. “Is that good or bad?”
“I don’t know. Um … it’s all out there.”

“Listen, you’re the only person who can carry this off,” she says, appraising me in the mirrors. “Anyone with cleavage would be too exposed. Oh, don’t look at me like that. We’ll fix you up with some double-sided fabric tape so there are no wardrobe malfunctions.”

No one can forget seeing Janet Jackson’s boob during the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl.

“Now, do you have hot rollers?”
“Um … no?”
Mrs. Edwards tsk-tsks. “Stop by tonight and you can borrow mine. You’ll want to blow-dry your hair, spritz it with setting spray, and roll small sections until your head is a helmet of rollers. When you take the rollers out, you pull up the front half into a high ponytail and wrap your mother’s strand of pearls around it and pin into place. Not the real pearls but the good fake ones. And ask Grace for your grandmother’s ruby-and-pearl drop earrings.”

I only have pierced ears because Lily made me do it. She said I could

either get it done at the mall across the river or she’d make me drink grappa until I passed out and do it herself.

Mrs. Edwards scrunches her nose. “I’m not going to get makeup on you, am I?”

I shake my head, already overwhelmed by her hair tutorial.
“Indulge me with some red lipstick. For your grandmother.”
I sigh and nod.
As I pay for the dress and the golden tube of red lipstick that Mrs.

Edwards insisted was perfect for me, my BlackBerry vibrates. AUNTIE: Come over tomorrow night. 8 pm. Important.

I mull a response, still hurt that she would listen to TJ over me. But it doesn’t feel right when Auntie and I aren’t on the same page.

When my mother returned to the Sault with baby me, it was Auntie who told her about my dad and Dana and Levi Jr. It was Auntie who brought me to Sugar Island to spend time with my dad and Firekeeper grandparents. She was the one who told us the horrible news when my dad died.

I’ve always been a Firekeeper. Auntie made it more than a name. She made me family.

ME: Ok. 8

Mrs. Edwards tries opening the top drawer of the antique dresser that serves as a checkout counter. It’s where the smallest paper shopping bags are kept.

“Daunis, this piece is gorgeous, but each drawer has a mind of its own. Either they stick when it’s damp out, or the drawer guide won’t stay in place.”

GrandMary had me behind that counter for so many hours; I know every inch of it. I laugh. “I know, I always searched for a hidden treasure. I was convinced I’d find a secret drawer in the dresser, but I never did.”

“So many lovely childhood memories here,” Mrs. Edwards says with a smile. “The alterations will get done tonight or tomorrow morning. Stop by anytime tomorrow after lunch,” she says. “You know we’ll be open late tomorrow and Friday, but it’s only going to get more chaotic.”

I practically float all the way to the Jeep. I’ve never been this excited about going to Shagala. The way Jamie led me in that one spin at Chi Mukwa …

Oh, Lily. I wish you were here. How can I be so happy and still so sad?

GrandMary … I should stop by EverCare with Jamie on the way to Shagala. Maybe she will have a LIGHT BULB ON moment. She won’t approve of the low-cut top, though.

I wish Dad could see me.

Uncle David, too. My uncle would have helped Mom get over how much skin I’ll be showing on Saturday. He always helped her through all the secrets and scandals.

Secrets.

My heart skips a beat.
It was Uncle David’s desk at school that had the secret drawer.

CHAPTER 34

I am relieved when Ron’s car isn’t in the staff parking lot at Sault High School. If there’s nothing to be found, I don’t want him witnessing my disappointment and embarrassment. And if my hunch is correct? It means Uncle David wanted me to find it.

After I read his research, I’ll know whether he intended for me to share it with the FBI.

Part of me wishes I could ask Jamie to come along. I want him to be with me whether there is a hidden notebook or not. But … if it’s there, Uncle David meant for me, and me alone, to read it.

The secretary makes me sign in even though it’s the end of the school day. As I do, she asks about GrandMary and Mom.

“My grandmother is the same. Thank you for asking, Mrs. Hammond.” A plausible lie comes to me in a flash. “But my mom has been having a hard time lately. She’s still grieving. I wondered if I could go to Uncle David’s classroom. We left some of his things there. Framed posters and stuff. It might help her to have them now.”

The day I boxed up his belongings, I had an odd mix of feelings. Devastating grief. Surreal disbelief. A sliver of doubt as I replayed his inexplicably distracted behavior over the weeks and months prior to his disappearance. It was just enough to spark fury and, then, deep shame that I was angry at Uncle for abandoning me to hold Mom together without his help.

“Of course, dear. You go right ahead. I’ll be here until five.”
I sprint to the science classroom.
Breathless, I sit at the desk that looked like a gray military tank. Mom was supposed to arrange for movers to haul it to the big house, but it was still in his classroom. Three drawers on the left side; two on the other. The bottom right drawer was where he kept snacks for me so I could power through hockey practice. Sometimes Levi would stop by after school to mooch snacks for himself and the guys. Uncle David never minded. He would say, “Plenty for all. That’s why I keep the biggest drawer full.” I remember the third day of Lily crossing over: the day for learning about new worlds. When Ron and his squeaky shoe brought me here. I’d pulled out the snack drawer, disappointed by the sight of file folders hiding the false metal bottom.

Uncle David showed it to me only once. I was ten. He was so excited for his new job.

The dissecting kits are across the classroom in the storage case next to the microscopes. He kept his more elaborate dissecting kit on the top shelf. I remove two identical tools from the zippered case. A mall probe and seeker is a six-inch chrome rod with an angled tip on one end. It’s like a dental pick but less delicate.

I extend the bottom drawer fully and kneel next to it to begin my task. The folders are filed alphabetically, so I make neat stacks on the floor, in order. My fingers touch the barely visible holes in each corner of the metal bottom. Focusing on two corners diagonally across from each other, I slide the bent tips into the minuscule openings before straightening the tools. Heart pounding, I lift the probes’ angled ends to hoist what resembles a metal lid covering a hidden bottom two inches deep and just a hair smaller than the width and length of the drawer.

This could be it. The most important clue so far.
I can’t look. I have to. But what if …
I look down to see an ordinary blue spiral notebook. There. It’s right there.
I knew it. Uncle David documented everything. I do know my uncle.
I set the metal lid against the wall. It promptly slides and clangs loudly. “Daunis? Are you still here, dear?” Mrs. Hammond calls down the hallway.
“Yup.” I slide the notebook into the back of my jeans.
Her footsteps approach as I quickly put the false bottom back into place and return the file folders. I nearly drop one stack.
I close the drawer three seconds before she reaches the doorway. It’s enough time for me to spot the probes on the floor. I sit back against the wall and cover the tools with my leg.

“It’s harder to be back here than I thought,” I tell her.

Channeling any bit of stealth, I scoop up the probes as I rise. Mrs. H. takes a step closer and I fear she might try to comfort me. I hold up my left hand to keep her at bay.

“I’m fine,” I say, sitting on the edge of the desk. I pretend to compose myself, which requires a stellar performance because I’m shaking for real. It’s possible the secret that Uncle David took to his grave is in the notebook pressed against my sweaty back. My body provides cover to slide the probes into the dissecting kit and zip it shut.

I glance around the room for anything that belonged to my uncle. I spy the shadow box with his collection of Lake Superior rocks and minerals.

“That was Uncle David’s.” I point to it before going over and carefully lifting it from its multiple picture hooks. “This case and his dissecting kit on the desk are all that’s left. Well, besides his desk. Thank you so much, Mrs. Hammond, I know my mother would want to have these. I’ll make sure she arranges to move the desk during Christmas break. And I’ll tell my mother you said hello.”

She offers to carry the kit for me, and I let her. I am riding a wave of Secret Squirrel satisfaction, fueled by jittery nerves and the secret tucked against my back.

We walk to the Jeep. I thank her again while loading the two items. She reaches to hug me. I pretend to misunderstand her movement, quickly clasping her hands in mine. I squeeze gently in a gesture of appreciation as if words fail me.

“Once your mother is feeling better, I hope you’ll rethink staying home. I know Indian kids struggle in college because they’re not prepared academically or socially, but Daunis, you’re not like them.”

Words truly do fail me. All I can do is gape at her in disbelief.

“Well, I don’t mean anything bad about Indians.” Mrs. Hammond looks around anxiously. “You know I’m not prejudiced.”

As I attempt to put Mrs. Hammond’s Bigotry Bingo out of mind, I run through possible locations where I can read Uncle’s notebook undisturbed. Definitely not home, because Mom will be there fixing dinner. Nothing on campus, because I know too many people. Same goes for coffee shops. Maybe the big house? Or what about EverCare?

That’s it. I’ll sit with GrandMary and tell the nurses I’m studying. I send identical texts to Mom and Jamie.

ME: Studying for exam. Shutting off phone. Will be home late. Talk tomorrow.

Walking down the hallway, I crack my back out of habit. The muscles in my neck and shoulders feel like guitar strings tightened one turn too many.

I enter my grandmother’s room to find Mom crying in the recliner. Next to an empty bed.

“What happened?” My mouth is the only part of me that can move. The rest is numb with icy fear.

Mom looks up, surprised. “GrandMary’s okay,” she says, rising quickly. “There’s an issue with the plumbing. They needed to move some patients around.”

I study her, and she doesn’t avoid my eyes. Hers are puffy and bloodshot from crying. Her face is open, unguarded … drained.

“Did you have a rough day?” I ask gently.

“No, sweetheart, I had a good day. GrandMary too. It just caught up with me.” Next to the recliner, the blink notebook is on the bedside table. The closet is empty. She found it while moving things to the new room.

“I didn’t mean to upset you with that,” I say, collecting the notebook. When I shove it into the back of my jeans, I feel Uncle David’s spiral notebook. Uncle David’s secret.

“I know,” she says. “I really did have a good day. I ran into one of my students at the store. Such a happy little girl.” Mom glows. “It felt like a roller coaster when I looked through the notebook.” She considers her words before asking, “Do you ever have days where every different emotion seems to cling to you and it’s just … too much?”

As if to prove that I do, indeed, have those days, I smile and feel the pre- cry pinpricks in my nose.

“I’ll leave the Jeep here and hop in your car. Let’s rent a video and get takeout,” I say, pleased when Mom nods happily.

The two notebooks at my back will need to wait. Because it’s been one of those days.

On Thursday, I finish my run, check on GrandMary in her new room, and drive the Jeep home. My day includes the usual: shower, class, Granny June, ferry, Sugar Island, lunch, and listen to Granny’s tirade du jour. Today she’s mad at the Elders’ book club members. They shot down her James A. Michener book suggestion. But what got Granny even more riled up was Seeney Nimkee saying, “If we read a story about Hawaii, I’d rather support Native Hawaiian authors.”

As usual, Seeney is spot-on.

I thought I’d be excited for my afternoon plans to pick up my outfit for Shagala and then go to the big house and read Uncle David’s notebook. It’s what I’ve been hoping for—information that might help the investigation. My uncle’s last communication.

Instead, I take the scenic route back to Granny June’s house. I offer to run errands with her. When she declines, I make my way to the dress boutique. Mrs. Edwards tries to rush me in and out, but I insist on letting others check out before me. All the while, a growing sense of dread builds until I find myself sitting in the Jeep, with the engine shut off, parked in the garage at the big house.

What if Uncle David’s final thoughts reveal what happened to him? What if he was scared or hurt? What if his notebook raises more questions than it answers?

What if? What if? What if?

I shake my head. What if it helps someone? What if it could bring comfort to Mom?

I repeat those two what-ifs as I make my way to the library and sit at Grandpa Lorenzo’s desk in his leather chair. My entire body trembles. I stare at the blue notebook.

Should I start at the last page? I run my hand across the back cover, tempted to jump into the deep end.

No. I turn the notebook over to start where he started. In the Before. I need to earn Uncle David’s story.

His first entry was on September 2, 2003, the first day of my senior year. My uncle wrote in English, mostly. Nearly every school day had an entry. He enjoyed jotting down the more intriguing questions asked by students, leaving room for follow-up notes, which were often in a different color of ink.

Instead of students’ names, he mostly used initials and a class period. A few students were assigned a symbol instead. I pick out mine right away—a heart. When Uncle David spoke in code with Mom about me, I was N’Coeur. The French word for heart, with the Anishinaabemowin N’ in front to make it possessive. My Heart.

My uncle loved me and trusted that I would find the clues he left for me. When my nose stings and my throat tightens, I decide not to fight what my body wants to do. I reach for tissues and let myself feel however I feel.

He included ideas we’d discussed for my senior-year science-fair project. I forgot about my plan to compare resting heart rates before and after smudging with sage and sweetgrass. The goal was to identify whether there was a significant difference in Nishnaabs who used traditional medicines compared with a control group of those who did not use the medicines. His side notes included Reduce variables? and Likert scale for cultural identity?

We’d had a heated debate about trying to quantify cultural identity. I wasn’t comfortable asking participants to assign a number value to something like How Nish are you? Uncle David challenged me to come up with a research question that might work with a Likert rating scale.

I believe smudging (a cultural practice of burning and breathing in smoke) with traditional medicines, such as mashkodewashk (sage) and wiingashk (sweetgrass), will improve my overall physical and mental well-being.

Strongly Agree
Agree
Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree
Strongly Disagree

In the end, I didn’t do any project my senior year. I was eating, breathing, and dreaming hockey at that point. When Uncle David didn’t question my decision to opt out, I thought something about his behavior was odd.

In October, Uncle David began writing more about one student in particular. Their symbol was a light bulb with a face, including a full smile like a watermelon slice. The student—Light Bulb—asked many clever questions.

Ryan Cheneaux was known to the entire school as someone who always asked questions. But his “questions” didn’t always end with an actual question mark. They were more like stream-of-consciousness exercises or monologues with a lengthy buildup that ended with, “Isn’t that so?” Which isn’t an inquiry; but rather, fishing for validation.

Question: Could Ryan Cheneaux be Light Bulb?
Answer: No. Ryan Cheneaux fails to meet the threshold for “clever.” When it came to “clever,” Macy Manitou was all that. Probably even

more so than Levi. I remember how once, Uncle David asked me what the difference was between cleverness and intelligence. I’d figured out that a person could be intelligent without being clever, but not clever without also being intelligent. Cleverness also required a measure of shrewdness and creativity, neither of which were necessary to be intelligent. No doubt that Macy could ask a clever question, a bold question, a snarky question … if she wanted. But I’d been in a few classes with her and she never raised her hand. If called upon, she would give the correct answer. Macy plays offense everywhere except the classroom.

Question: Could Macy Manitou be Light Bulb?
Answer: No questions = No Light Bulb.
I think back to Travis asking endless questions, even in middle school. He

would jabber nonstop the entire time we walked over to the high school for chemistry. Sometimes he and Levi would get into deep discussions just with one or the other starting off with, “Riddle me this …” Travis was in every AP class with me until he started skipping and then dropped out our last semester before graduation. Travis made classes fun. Even when Mike or Levi or any of my brother’s friends were in an AP class with me, Travis was always the one I sat next to. He was intelligent as well as clever, and he asked smart questions.

I can’t imagine the brilliant and smiling Light Bulb as anyone but Travis Flint.

A month later, around Thanksgiving break, Uncle David wrote down, verbatim, a question from Light Bulb:

If a poisonous plant got tossed into compost, would it poison the whole batch of compost?

Would it kill crops grown with the compost, or could the crops survive the poison? If they did survive, would poison remain in their roots or leaves?

I stretch my legs while mulling over what I’ve read so far. Was Light Bulb’s question actually about the origin of meth-X? I do a set of deep lunges from the library to the kitchen and return with a bottled water from the refrigerator. Was that when it all started … with a precocious student’s inquiry?

When I resume reading the notebook, I sit on the edge of the seat. My legs bounce with jittery tension as the entry dates approach the holiday break.

In early December, Uncle David tried helping Light Bulb develop a research methodology for testing plant toxicity and its spread into surrounding organic material. Light Bulb became impatient. Instead of a carefully thought-out plan with sequenced steps, Light Bulb wanted to jump ahead. Soon after, the daily entries mentioning Light Bulb were crossed out and a comment added in the margin each time: No-show.

I recall multiple instances of Travis skipping class, only to show up the following day and ace an unannounced quiz.

On December 8, 2003, Uncle David wrote one word. Champignons.
The French word for “mushrooms.”
Uncle David’s entries from then on are in the code he and my mother

invented. It takes longer to get through his notes because I need to translate. I’m used to hearing—rather than seeing—the hybrid of French, Italian, and quirky made-up words.

One of the next entries references canard isola. Canard is the French word for “duck”; isola is the Italian word for “island.” Canard isola means Duck Island. He doesn’t abbreviate it as DI; instead he uses CI, which is confusing at first because I keep thinking it means “confidential informant.”

It was in December that he must have picked up on Travis’s increased drug use. He wrote in code about his growing concern that Light Bulb was messing around in things he shouldn’t.

That was around the time that I noticed Travis skipping school more and looking really out of it when he was in class. Lily and Travis began arguing —and not their normal cute spats, like whether Zamboni was a cooler name for a boy or a girl.

Lily found out over winter break that Travis was cooking meth. She tried

talking to Angie Flint about getting help for him. Lily fumed to me about moms who made excuses for their sons. It’s so fucked up, when a mom enables her boy instead of raising a man.

I resume reading. In January, an entry mentions Cheelegge. I don’t recognize it as any of Mom’s and David’s nonsense words. I try enunciating different parts of the word, like when Lily would say SHAG-ala instead of Sha-GAH-la.

“Cheel-egge. Cheel-eggy. Chee-leggy. Chee-leg. Chee-leh-jeh.”
That’s it.
C-h-e-e is a phonetic way of spelling the Anishinaabemowin word chi.

Big. Legge is Italian for “law.” Big law. Cheelegge was David’s word for the FBI.

CHAPTER 35

Uncle David started working with the FBI in January. They told him about the hallucinogenic mushrooms in the meth that was showing up in different hockey towns and Indian reservations. Maybe that’s when David realized that Light Bulb’s research question about poisonous plants was actually about fungi.

Spring had come early, and Uncle David could forage for mushrooms. He wrote an entry reminding himself to research growing seasons and made a plan to return each month. There might be new growths once it became warmer and the days were longer. Rain was another variable; a heavy rainfall might produce something that had not been around a month earlier.

He began with land owned by Travis’s family on Sugar Island. His entries become a log of his exploration of Duck Island. He foraged for mushrooms in cross sections just like I did, except he started at the north end and worked his way south. He used orange biodegradable seedling pots to mark his boundaries instead of yarn.

I smile. His lessons are part of me. I really am the best person to pick up the investigation where Uncle David left off.

He documented each specimen of mushroom or fungi he came across in the unusually early spring. He left room in the margin to list its scientific name once he had identified it using his guidebooks. There were no blank margins—every specimen had a name in the margin.

With one exception.

On April 4, 2004, Uncle David found a variety of parasitic mushroom that wasn’t listed in any guidebook or online directory. He drew a picture of the culprit. It looks similar to Asterophora parasitica. His notes indicated it grew on a documented variety of mushroom that was hallucinogenic. The parasitic mushroom was nourished by a decaying, or composting, hallucinogenic host and was likely hallucinogenic as well. An anglerfish of a mushroom. He added a row of alternating question marks and exclamation points, which was his signature indication of being excited about this unknown specimen.

My own heart quickens at the possibility of discovering Uncle David’s discovery. This could be a previously unknown hallucinogenic mushroom that might have been added to a batch of crystal meth—which found its way into the hands of a group of thirteen kids on a reservation in northern Minnesota.

I turn the page.

My heart sinks as I read the results of Uncle David’s analysis of the anglerfish mushroom. It did not share the same hallucinogenic qualities as its hallucinogenic host.

He wrote: There is no connection between champignons and cattiva medicina. He had given an Italian translation for meth, calling it “bad medicine.”

I think about what he has just told me. The mushrooms are a dead end. Uncle David knew and withheld the information from the FBI. And he wanted me, and only me, to know both of these details.

Uncle’s last entry was April 9, 2004. On Good Friday. He wanted to talk to Light Bulb’s mother.

He hid the notebook in the false bottom of his desk.

My mother reported him missing two days later when he didn’t show up for Easter Sunday dinner. I cry again. This time it feels as if my sorrow has settled in my lungs—heavy, raspy, shallow breaths. I am so sorry for pushing my grief away to make space for the anger. I wish I could remember my last conversation with Uncle David beyond saying hello and helping myself to snacks from the desk drawer.

If you knew it was the last time you were going to see someone, would you say something profound? Would you share how much they meant to you? Would you ask any burning questions? Would you ask for forgiveness? Would you thank them?

The library is dark when I push away from the desk and go to the formal dining room. I sit in my usual seat and remember that last Easter Sunday dinner. GrandMary at the head of the table. My mother next to me. Uncle David’s seat empty. I blink away my tears until I hear him come into the house, apologizing to GrandMary before he even sits down. Traffic was backed up on the International Bridge all the way into Canada. It’s never taken over two hours to cross back into the U.S. He winks at me.

“Uncle David,” I say across the table. “Thank you for leaving the clues for me to find. And for giving me the skills to decipher them. I am so grateful for you.”

I drive to Jamie and Ron’s rental house. Jamie answers the door. Ron grades papers at the kitchen table. JAG is on TV.

“Do yous wanna go for a walk?” I say.
They do.
We walk a few blocks away to Project Playground, by the ballfields. It’s

one of those gigantic wooden structures like the one Art built for the twins. This one was built by community volunteers, with the Tribe providing most of the materials.

I need more information before deciding what to do with the notebook.

“Well, I finished my mushroom research project on Duck Island.” My words in the cold night are visible puffs that dissipate after a few seconds, as if truly cloaked in secrecy.

Their faces light up.

“I didn’t find anything,” I say quickly. “But I was wondering when the FBI started working with Uncle David, like what month?” I already know, but I need them to do most of the talking.

“January,” Ron says. “The kids in Minnesota got sick the last week in February. Is the timing important?”

“It could be. There are so many different varieties and growing seasons. It was a mild winter; maybe it grew only then, during a fluke early spring. Unless we can replicate the conditions from February, we aren’t collecting from the same sample Travis had.”

Ron’s frustrated sigh lingers in the air.
Okay. What other information can I mine from them?
“It might help if I knew more about what was in the file about the kids.

Which community? And how are the kids doing now?”
Ron won’t name the reservation and doesn’t know how they’re doing. I keep my face a smooth mask to hide my anger at being stonewalled.

“Jamie told me they hallucinated men coming after them in the woods. Did they mention any other details about the hallucination? Was it visual only or did it involve other senses too … and maybe cross the senses? Doesn’t that happen sometimes? I forget what it’s called but it’s where people see music or taste colors?”

Talk less and listen more, I scold myself.

Ron shrugs. “It didn’t make any sense. The kids were scared one minute and pleading for more meth a minute later. They told the ER staff that men came after them. Most of the kids wouldn’t say anything else, especially after their parents arrived. Maybe that stuff happened, what you said about jumbled senses, because their vision was distorted. One boy mentioned that the men chasing them were small men.”

Little People.

The Little People found the kids in the woods and scolded them.

The FBI assumed whatever had been added to the meth-X was a hallucinogenic mushroom, because the Anishinaabe kids who tried that particular batch of meth saw something that didn’t make sense. The team working the investigation was alarmed by the group aspect of the hallucination and thought it was an unusual side effect of an unknown variety of mushroom.Whatever was added to the batch of meth-X, it didn’t cause hallucinations.

Because the Little People are real.

Travis said the Little People were mad at him. But what if they were warning Travis, like they had with Leonard Manitou’s cousin Skinny?

What was so bad that the Little People went after the kids in the woods to warn them?

If the meth-X additive wasn’t a hallucinogenic mushroom, then what was it?

I’ve got to go somewhere to think about what I still need to figure out. There are connections that I’m on the verge of making, but I need to go through the information again, uninterrupted and undistracted.

Step 1: Don’t show any reaction that might tip them off that you’re on the verge of a eureka moment.

Step 2: Think of an excuse to make an exit. Step 3: Go home and think.
I sigh the way Ron did earlier.

“Well, what should I work on next? Because I’m all out of ideas.”
Ron starts to say something, but I keep talking.
“I know, I know. Fruit of the poisonous tree. You’re not supposed to

direct me.” I smile at Jamie leaning against the tube slide. He’s letting Ron do all the talking so far. “But couldn’t you be sneaky and drop a clue, like ‘Whatever you do, Daunis, don’t buy drugs from the Boosters’?”

I turn sharply to Ron.

“Wait … you did. Ron, in the car on the way to Marquette you said, ‘We can’t tell you to search the hockey team’s gear bags for disposable cell phones.’ ” I shake my head and give Ron a begrudging smile. “I see what you did there. You’re a clever one.”

We head back to their house. Ron says good night and goes inside. Jamie leads me behind the Jeep. I put my arms around him, already hungry for his kisses.

Instead, Jamie places one gentle kiss on my forehead like my mother does.

I pull back, puzzled. He leans in to kiss my cheek.
Except he doesn’t.
“I see what you did there. You’re the clever one,” Jamie whispers in my ear.

I drive away, mind racing. What did he mean? What does Jamie suspect I’ve done?

Turning onto my street, I notice Auntie’s vehicle in the driveway.

Shit. I forgot I promised to come over tonight. It’s ten o’clock and I said I’d come over at eight.

I park next to her. Before my hand touches the key in the ignition, she’s already slamming her door and stomping around the front of the Jeep.

“Auntie—” I begin, intending to explain my exhaustion. My sentence halts in my throat.

My aunt has the same Do not fuck with me look from the blanket-party night.

“The only choice you got is whether your ass rides shotgun with me or in your own ride to the island,” she says. “But, make no mistake, Daunis Firekeeper, you are coming with me.”

CHAPTER 36

I decided to take my own car. Our vehicles are next to each other on the ferry. I look straight ahead, not turning a single degree. I feel for the pouch in the drink holder and toss a palmful of semaa to the river.

“Help me with what’s coming next,” I say.

Auntie’s timing is the worst. I need this time to put together all the clues, not spend it getting yelled at by my aunt. Plus, Jamie’s parting words still linger on my mind. What does he think he knows?

She follows me all the way to her house. There is the glow of a fire in the woods behind the pole barn. It’s not a full moon tonight, so it can’t be a ceremonial fire for that. Perhaps someone passed away and I haven’t heard about it yet.

When I pull up to the house, Josette’s car is there. She must be babysitting the twins if Art is tending a fire. I park next to her car.

My aunt walks beside me to the clearing, which overlooks the First Nations reserve across the river’s north channel. Our breaths appear and disappear together.

Art stands next to the fire, stoking it with a shovel. There are several large rocks in the pit. We call them grandfathers because they have been here forever, seeing and hearing all.

I glance over to the madoodiswan. The curved dome of the sweat lodge is covered in old blankets and tarps. The entrance blanket is flipped above the eastern opening.

“What’s going on, Auntie?”
“Intervention sweat,” she announces.
“Can you even do that?” I’ve never heard of it before.
“I’m a modern Nish kwe and I just invented it, hey?”
She holds out a floral gathered cotton skirt for me. Her unwavering hand

is like Lily’s, demanding Travis’s gun.
I reach for the skirt. After stepping into the skirt, I pull it over my jean before taking off everything underneath. I remove my toque, coat, Red Wings sweatshirt, socks, and shoes. Although I’m barefoot and wearing only a T- shirt and skirt, I am not cold. The fire is strong.

It should be. It had an extra two hours to strengthen.

Auntie holds a small round bundle of mashkwadewashk. There are different varieties of sage, as well as male and female versions. Mashkwadewashk is for clearing negative energy. She lights one end from a glowing ember that Art holds out on an old shovel. We smudge ourselves with the smoke from the female sage to prepare for the sweat.

Auntie crawls into the madoodiswan.

Art waits for me to enter so he can use the shovel to place one of the glowing grandfather rocks in the center of the lodge before lowering the blankets over the entrance.

There is ceremony inside the madoodiswan. Healing. Returning to balance. Madoodiswan means “Mother Earth’s womb.” You enter your mother and leave reborn.

I lower to all fours, like a baby, and follow my aunt’s lead. Crawling forward, I pray. Not asking for help with one of the Seven Grandfathers, but acknowledging the Grandfather instead. Dabaadendiziwin. Humility: the knowledge that I am part of something larger than my existence.

I give myself up.

Afterward, Auntie and I sit at the fire, fully dressed once again. When I couldn’t find my toque, she handed me a spare knit cap to pull over my damp hair.

We gulp cold spring water before tasting the hominy soup and blueberry galette that Art brought us before retiring for the night. We enjoy our small feast while watching the glowing embers. Salty broth and mushy kernels of hominy nourish something deep inside me. When I bite into the galette, the tang of the wild blueberries mixes with the faint sweetness of the biscuit-like cake, taking me back to my berry feast.

I got my first Moon when I was thirteen. Mom alerted my aunt. If I chose

to do a berry fast, Auntie explained, I wouldn’t be able to eat any berries for one whole year. No fresh strawberries in early summer. No tart raspberries or fat blackberries to fill my mouth. And, hardest of all, no blueberries—my absolute favorite.

Auntie even took me wild-blueberry picking, testing my resolve. In the woods north of Paradise, which felt like a secret from the intense August sun. She wandered off, leaving me with a bucket for collecting the tiny, ripe blueberries. I had to constantly remind myself of what I couldn’t have, for fear of forgetting and popping a blueberry into my mouth without thinking. At the end of the day, Auntie eyeballed me as if with X-ray vision. I met her strong gaze with my own. I resisted temptation, knowing I’d never be able to hide any dishonesty from her radar.

Sadly, I now know that I can.

My year-long berry fast ended with a feast. Auntie, Mom, Gramma Pearl, and my Nish kwe cousins and aunties gathered to honor my passage into womanhood. My mother held a plump strawberry for me. I had to refuse it three times, but on the fourth offer, I leaned forward and took it into my mouth. Its sweetness reached the tips of my fingers and toes. When I took a handful of my beloved blueberries, I marveled at each one, appreciating the nuanced range of tart to sweet. It was like experiencing them for the first time. My entry to womanhood was filled with joy, pride, belonging, and seeing ordinary things with new eyes.

I am overcome with deep gratitude as I sit here next to Auntie before the fire. Auntie has shown me how to be a strong Nish kwe—full of love, anger, humor, sorrow, and joy. Not as something perfect: She is a woman who is complex and sometimes exhausted, but mostly brave. She loves imperfect people fiercely.

Her eyes open; she smiles tiredly at me.

This is when I should tell her what’s going on. But I know it’s not safe to involve Auntie. The stakes for her are different. It’s not just her. She is not alone on her journey. Wiijiindiwin.

Instead, I focus on a plate of food Art placed on a stump at the edge of the woods. Next to the plate is the bundle of female sage, a copper spoon, and my toque.

“Offerings for the Little People,” Auntie explains. I quickly shove more galette in my mouth to hide my surprise.

“Art heard them in the woods while we were in the madoodiswan,” Auntie says. “They check on us, like Animikiig during thunderstorms. Hoping to see us living Anishinaabe minobimaadiziwin.”

“And maybe getting angry if they see us messing with stuff we shouldn’t be around?” I hold my breath and watch Auntie’s face, all shadows and light from the glowing embers of the dying fire.

“I suppose so. But most who know about bad medicine aren’t going to leave it lying around unprotected. In the wrong hands, people can do harm by not knowing what they’re messing with.” She holds my gaze. “Those who know the old teachings, the medicines on the opposite side of healing, they respect its power.”

We sit in silence for a long time. Uncle David and Auntie used the term bad medicine. So had Lily … the day she went all goon on TJ after he dumped me. My uncle stated clearly in the notebook that there was no connection between the mushrooms and the bad medicine—his code for the meth-X. Auntie said bad medicines were the opposite of the healing kind.

“You need to be careful, Daunis, when you’re asking about the old ways.” She looks at me the way Seeney Nimkee does sometimes at the Elder Center. “There’s a saying about bad medicine: ‘Know and understand your brother but do not seek him.’

Auntie reaches over to a birchbark basket filled with semaa. Taking some in her left hand, she says a quiet prayer.

I rise, repeating her actions. Releasing the semaa into the last embers of the fire.

Auntie’s voice wraps me like a blanket. “Please be careful. Not every Elder is a cultural teacher, and not all cultural teachers are Elders. It’s okay to listen to what people say and only hold on to the parts that resonate with you. It’s okay to leave the rest behind. Trust yourself to know the difference.”

My aunt hasn’t been around lately, because I’ve engineered it that way. But she seems to acknowledge my forging ahead without her. Something changes between us as we watch the fire simmer into ash. As if I’ve crossed over from a place where I was a child and am now a grown woman.

“I trust you to know who to share yourself with, and when not to,” she says. “I love that you are figuring it out so much sooner than I did. I’ve made so many foolish choices. Messed up so badly and so often in my life. I gave too much of myself to men who didn’t deserve me.”

As I listen to Auntie, it begins to snow: big, beautiful flakes. Softly floating all around us like tiny feathers.

“I met Art a long time ago. Met him at ceremonies. Didn’t think of him in any romantic way. Art was too mellow. Not my type.” She smiles to herself before sighing.

“I used to be with this one guy. I thought the sun rose just to shine light on him. He was handsome and smart and the life of the party. But oh, when we fought … it was so bad.” She shivers and pulls the coat around her more tightly. “He consumed all the oxygen in the room and left nothing for me to breathe. If the sun dared to shine on me instead of him, it was my fault. The only way to keep him happy, to see the version of him he was when other people were around, was to make myself small.”

Her voice cracks. “It’s hard when someone says they love you, but they need to contain and control the things that make you you.”

She pauses to put semaa onto the ashes. “So I left him. I came back to the sweat lodge. Stayed sober for ceremonies. It felt like Creator breathing air back into me. I ran into Art again. Saw him clearly this time.”

Auntie closes her eyes as the snowflakes land on her cheeks.

“Oh, I still managed to screw up plenty. I used to start fights with Art to see what he would be like when he was angry. I’d say hurtful things … and then turn away quickly. He asked me why I did that.” Tears roll down her cheeks. “I told him I was bracing for his punch. ‘That’s not love,’ he told me. ‘Love honors your spirit. Not just the other person’s but your own spirit too.’

When she looks at me, my aunt seems at peace.

“I found my way back to minobimaadiziwin, our good way of life. I love and am loved. I am true to Creator and to wiijiindiwin.” She points her lips to her home, where her husband and babies sleep. “Honor your spirit. Love yourself.”

I gotta focus on school. You focus on yourself. We gotta stand on our own feet separately. Don’t you see? I can’t stand on my own if I’m always holding you up.

When Lily told Travis that she was done for good, he pulled out a gun. Love is not control. If he had truly loved Lily, he would have wanted her to have a good life. Even if it wasn’t with him. Instead, he did the opposite of love. Travis steadied the gun in his hand and thought only of himself.

As we head back from the fire, Auntie invites me to sleep on the sofa, but I decide to catch the last ferry back to the mainland. As I drive, the snow lets up.

At the launch, I park under the light pole. Mine is the only vehicle waiting. I wrap myself in Lily’s quilt and page through the notebook.

The ferry horn signals its departure from the mainland. It will be here in five minutes.

I open the notebook to my uncle’s entry on the fourth of April from his mushroom search on Duck Island. That page and the four pages that follow are his notes from when he found the previously undocumented parasitic mushroom and analyzed it for hallucinogenic qualities, as well as his questioning whether there even was a connection between hallucinogenic mushrooms and meth-X.

I tear the five pages so there is no trace of anything regarding the dead end. Anyone reading the notebook will assume Uncle David’s efforts were incomplete, rather than unsuccessful.

The Nish kids in Minnesota didn’t have a shared group hallucination. They had a shared encounter with the Little People warning the kids to leave the bad medicine alone.

As long as the FBI continues their wild goose chase in search of a hallucinogenic mushroom, they will leave our other medicines alone.

I gather any torn-page remnants left inside the spiral binding, along with the matches Lily kept in the glove compartment. All the evidence of Uncle David’s additional research goes up in flames on a flat rock off the shoulder of the road. It burns quickly, and I am back inside the Jeep when the deckhand motions me to drive forward.

The ferry is all mine for the last trip of the night. Stepping from the Jeep midway through the crossing, I release a pinch of semaa over the railing. It carries my prayer of thanks. Miigwech for trusting me with the information about the mushroom. And chi miigwech for the responsibility of protecting my community by not sharing the information with the FBI.

Because I think I know what Travis did to create meth-X.

CHAPTER 37

After Lily broke up with Travis over Christmas break, he kept trying to win her back with romantic gestures. Travis had a heart-shaped pizza delivered to her during AP English class. He spray-painted her name in the snow outside her homeroom. He stood in the parking lot at the end of the school day holding a boom box above his head, blasting their official love song as if he were John Cusack in the movie Say Anything.

Sometimes his efforts worked and The Lily and Travis Saga would get picked up for another episode, but it always ended like the previous seasons.

Travis was no longer the class clown. His handsome looks disappeared along with a shocking amount of his body weight. Yet even as he was wasting away, there were still girls who told Lily how romantic it was when he did one of his Give us another chance routines.

She and I wondered what grand gesture Travis would do for Valentine’s Day. He’d been building up to something that had all indications of being epic. There were the deliveries of floral bouquets. Her locker filled with her favorite candy. When it snowed all day long, Lily’s Jeep would be the only one in the parking lot that had been brushed off and shoveled out. I could feel Lily softening more toward Travis with each grand gesture.

Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday. We thought Travis might make his romantic declaration on Friday, because he wasn’t welcome at Granny June’s, and his grand gestures always took place in or around school.

On Friday the thirteenth, Travis followed Lily onto the ferry after she dropped me off at Auntie’s for the weekend. He darted from his truck to her unlocked passenger door before she realized what he was doing. He made his grand romantic gesture: offering her love medicine. No details of where or how he had come into possession of it. They could make plans to take it together, on Valentine’s Day.

Lily exited her Jeep, leaving him inside, and went upstairs on the ferry to the small waiting room. She called and asked me to come get her. When I met the ferry on its return trip to the island, my heartbroken best friend told me what he had done.

Then one day a few weeks later, I was running errands with my mother’s car and saw Travis at the gas station on the rez. My heart sank. Travis looked horrible. He was deep in the throes of meth addiction.

By then, Travis Flint had created meth-X and been its first customer.

The night he killed Lily, Travis told me that the Little People were mad at him. I just wanted her to love me again.

Somehow, Travis had come across a love medicine. The kind of bad medicine that Auntie warned me against asking too much about.

When Lily refused to try the love medicine, Travis must have added it to a batch of meth, also known as his cookies. What he thought was a love medicine was actually the opposite of love. Real love honors your spirit. If you need a medicine to create or keep it, that’s possession and control. Not love.

A couple of weeks later, on a rez in Minnesota, a group of kids tried it while they were hanging out in the woods. Every single one got sick. Not lovesick for some girl they’d never met, but infected with an insatiable desire for more meth.

I can do my part to protect our medicines, while trusting that there are those in the community who are doing their part to preserve and protect many different medicine teachings.

On my drive home, I stop at Jamie and Ron’s again. This time, I slide the spiral notebook through the mail slot in their front door.

When I walk back to my Jeep, my steps grow lighter. It feels as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I shared only what Ron and Jamie had a need to know.

The following morning, I rush through my bathroom routine, throw on running clothes, and practically burst out the front door. Each sunrise is a minute or two later than the prior day. Even in the darkness, I see the familiar figure stretching beside my Jeep.

“Happy birthday, Daunis,” Jamie calls out.

It may not be visible to him, but I flash my widest smile anyway, unable to contain my excitement. I’m glad his first words are not about the investigation. Today is too special.

My whispered prayer is for zaagidiwin. Love is the first Grandfather teaching we receive as babies—even before birth, as new spirits traveling while our bodies are forming to the cadence of our mother’s heartbeat. Love from our parents, family, and Creator is with us as we draw our first breath in this world.

I wonder what Dad felt and thought the first time he held me. Mom said Auntie reached out two weeks after we returned from Montreal. Asked if she could give Mom and baby me a ride to Sugar Island. My Firekeeper family wanted to meet me. My father wanted to hold me.

After our warm-up stretches, Jamie and I run toward Sherman Park. Our invigorating pace makes it a silent run. When we reach the park, Jamie halts instead of turning around like we usually do.

“Gotta take a leak,” he says, walking to a nearby tree.

I stretch my legs while staring across the river. Marveling at the way the sunrise behind me lights up the Canadian horizon.

“Ron won’t be at the benefit game tonight,” Jamie says, coming up beside me. “He’s going to Marquette, to enter the notebook into evidence and analyze its contents with another agent.”

I nod but say nothing. The investigation continues. The FBI has their work and I have mine. The truth about meth-X was one part of the investigation. I still need to find out who is distributing the meth and who has taken over production with Travis gone.

“What are you doing today for your birthday?” he asks, changing the subject.

“Run, EverCare, class, lunch with Granny June, and spend the rest of the afternoon with my mom before heading over to the game.”

“Could I take you to dinner after the game? To celebrate your birthday?” “I’d like that,” I say.
“You didn’t tell me what color your dress is. I wanted to get one of those corsages like Mike’s mom did for Macy.”
“It’s red, but I don’t like corsages. I think they’re kinda weird. It’s not a big deal.” I decide to dive into what is the bigger deal. “What did you think was I being clever about last night?”
“You were interrogating the interrogator,” Jamie says. “Getting information but not giving anything significant in return. And then there was the whole thing with your body language.”

Apparently, my attempt at a poker face last night failed.
“What did you learn?” I say, both eager and hesitant for his analysis. “You are a passionate person. You love deeply. You have flashes of anger and sadness. You can be silly. Even dorky at times.” I hear the smile in his voice.

After a few paces, he continues. “Last night, Ron was telling you details about the investigation that killed your uncle. And you were too calm, Daunis. You asked about what happened to the Nish kids in Minnesota and when Ron didn’t have an answer, you didn’t get irritated like when you asked me about them in Marquette. You care deeply about them and what’s happened since their group hallucination. The only time you reacted was when you remembered what he said about burner phones.”

Could I be any less stealthy? I must be the squeaky shoe of spies.
“You’re going rogue. Hiding things,” Jamie says.
“I’m not—”
“It was a hundred-fifty-page notebook with one hundred forty-five pages.”
Shit. There it is.
“Does Ron know?”
“I counted the pages while he was taking a shower.” Jamie looks at me. “I think they’ll figure it out soon. Probably today.”
I don’t respond until we are doing cooldown stretches in my driveway. “Can you trust me, Jamie, that what I removed wasn’t meant for the FBI?”
He answers with a question of his own.
“Can you trust me?”
Jamie leaves me to ponder whether both questions share the same answer:

I don’t know, and the stakes are too high for uncertainty.

CHAPTER 38

It’s late afternoon when I walk into Chi Mukwa with my large duffel bag of hockey gear slung over my good shoulder. Once I enter the women’s locker room, the oddly intoxicating aroma brings back the thrill of every great play I’ve ever made. The whiff of industrial cleaning products mixed with the skunky stink of sweat smells powerful.

“Happy birthday to me,” I whisper before practically skipping to my old locker. One glance at Robin’s locker next to mine wipes the smile off my face. I figured today would be a mixture of highs and lows. Playing hockey one more time … but for the worst possible reason.

My phone buzzes while I’m changing into my gear. AUNTIE: Not sure I can watch you play. I get why but it is still foolish.

I swallow the lump in my throat. Auntie has never missed a home game of mine.

“You still remember how to play? Been a while.” Macy laces up her black hockey skates, which are adorned with acrylic-painted flowers.

“Yup. Starters have good memories,” I shoot back. Just a little reminder about which one of us started the game on the ice and which one watched it from the bench.

Once we are ready, Macy and I leave the locker room together. The bleachers are already filling up with people who want to watch our warm-up. We step onto the ice side by side and automatically cross our sticks for all the kwezanswag who feel alive the moment their hockey skates touch the ice.

When it’s game time, my body feels the delicious tingle of battle. My stomach clenches, my legs are jittery, and I feel like puking. Classic adrenaline rush. On the ice, it is music to my ears, feast to my hunger. Coach Bobby puts me in as left defenseman, and it’s like my second skin. I breathe it, I transform, and everything that is not a tenacious beast falls away.

I join center ice, waiting for the referee to drop the puck for Levi and my teammate to fight over. Levi will aim the puck to Stormy on my right side. Sometimes they operate as a single-cell entity, as if Levi’s brain controls two sets of arms and legs. Levi as host and Stormy doing his bidding without independent thought.

Just when I think my body will explode from adrenaline overload, the ref releases the puck and something magical, yet familiar, happens. Time slows for an instant, enough for a quiet calm to wash over me. I watch the puck drop, as if in slow motion, not even touching the ice before Levi’s superhuman reflexes have responded and his stick smacks it to Stormy. I intercept and pass it to Quinton, my high school teammate, who rushes to the Supes’ net.

Time now races and I am the Terminator. With laser focus, I instantly compute actions into strategic countermoves and proactive aggressions to force opponents into changing course.

My team quickly finds its rhythm, defending the puck and setting up plays. We know Quinton will be halfway to the net, ready for the pass. We won the state championship my junior year and made it to the quarterfinals last spring. We are fluent in playing as a cohesive unit.

The Supes, individually, are better players. But they haven’t gelled as a team yet. Or as my brother would say, they aren’t reading each other. Levi loses his temper, swearing at a teammate for not sharing the same hive mind as Stormy and Mike. Although both are rookie Supes, they’ve been on the ice with Levi for ten years.

In the final period, I take a hip check from Stormy and keep going. That goon ain’t getting in my way. I back-check and steal the puck. Macy, who subbed in a few minutes ago, is waiting on the periphery. We’ve danced this number before. Stormy bounds back for another go at me, but I pass behind my back to Macy, who chips it to Quinton. She races to the net, where, three seconds later, she gets it back and fires the puck. Mike’s arms seem elastic, stretching to reach the upper corner of the net to block Macy’s shot.

Damn. She nearly had it in.

Stormy crashes into me. I’m thrown into the plexiglass and boards, bouncing off and landing in a heap on my shoulder. I gasp at the pain.

N’Daunis, bazigonjisen!

I quickly get up and roll my left shoulder to assess the pain.
It stabs. No. No. No. Maybe I just need to shake out a kinked nerve. Coach Bobby pulls me out. My sub and I fist-bump with our right hands as we cross paths. I sit on the bench, moving my left shoulder in circles. It hurts like hell.

A minute later, Macy subs out and sits next to me.
“Stormy got you good,” she says.
“Eh,” I reply, as pain radiates from my bad shoulder. Keeping my eyes on the puck, I fight the temptation to look anywhere else. If Auntie is here watching, I am absolutely certain she is glaring at me from wherever she is seated. I bounce my legs, dreading the inevitable confrontation.

“Your guy is pretty smooth,” Macy says. It takes a few blinks to realize she means Jamie.

“Eh.” Truthfully, I haven’t paid him any notice. She laughs. “Holy, you’re a supportive boo.” “Screw him. He ain’t on my team,” I say. “All’s fair in love and hockey?”

“Off ice, he’s mine. On ice, he’s theirs.” I point my lips toward Levi.

The part about Jamie not being on my team—I don’t think it’s true anymore.

Can you trust me? His voice echoes.

I watch as the guy who replaced me does a crappy job on defense. Crappy Sub was a year ahead of Robin, so he has never played with Levi. My brother sees every opportunity and weakness. The only way to beat Levi is to stay at his side and strategize your best countermove if he ever lets down his guard.

If I’ve figured out Crappy Sub in two minutes, then Levi has as well.

“Put me in,” I shout to Coach Bobby, standing so I can jump over the boards.

“Sit down and shut up, Fontaine,” he yells back.
I grumble and stew in the burning pain.
Macy laughs. “You only got one good arm. What’re you gonna do?” She imitates a penguin, keeping her arms pressed to her sides and flapping her hand next to me.

Crappy Sub leaves an opening for Levi to skate through, receive a pass from Jamie, and take a shot. The blast of the Supes’ goal horn—from an actual freighter—confirms my brother’s aim.

“I would’ve skated into Levi. Drawn a penalty and made a sacrifice for the greater good,” I shout over the deafening noise to Macy.

We lose, but just barely. Although my team played better, we couldn’t get anything past Mike. One look at my brother during the post-game handshake line and it’s clear: He is pissed. Levi knows we handed the Supes their sloppy asses.

Jamie’s face lights up when we meet in the handshake line. My stomach somersaults at his touch.

Do you trust me?

In the locker room, I check to make sure Auntie isn’t waiting to give me hell. Once I know the coast is clear, I text my doctor. Then I peel off my jersey sideways and wince in pain.

“You want me to get Coach?” Macy offers while helping me out of my gear.

“Nah, I just texted Dr. B. to meet me at War Mem after I shower.”

“Yeah, good thinking on that shower. You’re really ripe.” She scrunches her nose as if we are trapped in a Sugar Island outhouse in July.

“Bitch,” I say, without any heat behind it. I walk toward the showers. “Bigger bitch,” she replies, following me.
“The bigger the better.” I turn on the water and wash with one hand,

keeping my left arm glued to my side.
“If you say so,” Macy laughs.
Petty bitch always trying to get the last word in.
“I know so,” I throw back at her, letting our smack talk distract me from

the pain. I towel off gingerly and get dressed. As I attempt to zip my jeans, she huffs a tortured sigh and helps me.

When we reach the lobby, the packed crowd cheers. The roar feels familiar, like a real high school game. I’d forgotten how great this moment is: all the community love.

Hockey brings my community together. Native and non-Native. All ages. All neighborhoods. Here in Chi Mukwa, a community recreation building funded by the Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe, everyone stands united for our teams. I just hope they remember today was for Robin Bailey.

With my duffel bag slung over my unhurt shoulder, and my jacket over the bag like a saddle blanket, I push through the crowd. Jamie stands a few feet behind the other guys. When I touch his arm, he stares at me in astonishment.

“What?” I check to see if I put my sweatshirt on backward.

“I figured you were a decent player.” Jamie’s hushed voice reaches me through the surrounding chaos. “But, Daunis, you’re incredible.”

I don’t know what to do with his admiration. I shrug my shoulders, wincing in pain.

He takes my duffel bag before I can protest.
“You okay?”
“Eh, took a hit,” I say, faking nonchalance. “There she is,” Mike interrupts. “Dauny Defense.” “We kicked your asses,” Stormy declares.

“That’s not what I saw.” I ignore Stormy’s glare.

“It’s all good,” Levi says, bumping into Jamie robustly enough to dislodge my gear bag. “The point was to start playing better as a team.”

The point was to do something for Robin. I scowl at my brother, who helps Jamie with my bag. How could this be just another game? Levi took Robin to Shagala her junior year.

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.

Robin’s words ring in my ears. Did she mean Levi? He does have a reputation for loving and leaving. Or, as the guys say, Snag and brag.

“What’s with the stink eye?” Levi asks me. “Ya mess up your shoulder when Stormy bodychecked ya?” He tells Jamie, “She’s got a bum shoulder. Always popping its socket.”

“Really? How long has it been an issue?” Jamie asks Levi while looking at me.

Mike’s parents join us. I avoid eye contact with Call-me-Grant; I haven’t been near him since the bus ride back from Green Bay.

“Happy birthday, Daunis,” Mrs. Edwards says. “How did it feel to play for the Blue Devils one more time?”

“Great,” I say. It feels good to let my true feelings show. Tonight, Secret Squirrel is taking a break.

“One helluva birthday,” Call-me-Grant says. “Hockey and becoming a tribal member.”
I gape as he puts his finger to his lips like he did from the doorway of his hotel room.

Shhhh. Your secret is safe with me, Daunis Fontaine.

He continues, “You didn’t know? Tribal Council met today instead of next Monday because Chief Manitou and a few other council members are traveling to Washington, DC, that day.”

“Woo-hoo!” Levi shouts, reaching to hug me and spin me around. I keep both arms glued to my sides, mimicking Macy’s penguin impersonation from earlier.

It feels like I’m in a centrifuge. When he stops, I am nauseous, only partly from the spin. The other reason is Call-me-Grant being so interested in Tribal Council business.

My heart lifts when the twins shout for me from across the lobby. They sit on Auntie’s and Art’s shoulders. Pauline chews on a section of her ponytail. Mom is with them as well. I check Auntie’s face for any indication that she is upset with me, but all I see is a big smile.

I wave back with my good arm and head over. Jamie remains at my side.

“Please don’t say anything about my shoulder,” I tell him before we reach my family.

I hold hands with Jamie, keeping him close to my left side so I won’t need to move it. The twins, now hopping around, get side hugs from me with my right arm. Mom kisses me and whispers how proud she is of me.

“Happy birthday to our newest tribal member!” Auntie’s voice cracks as she leans in to hug me. I hide my wince and pretend that Call-me-Grant didn’t hijack this special moment.

“Oh, Auntie, this means so much. Miigwech for helping me.”
Mom wipes away her happy tears. I know she always wanted this for me. “Jamie wants to take me out to dinner to celebrate,” I announce.
“Have to spoil the birthday girl a little,” he says.
Mom gives Jamie a huge hug, and I can tell she means it. Jamie laughs at

Art’s jokes and nods when my aunt tells him something I can’t hear. The twins want to do a simultaneous high-five clap with him. Jamie encourages them with each attempt to sync their leaps in the air to reach his raised palms. He laughs when the girls intentionally smack each other and, again, when they finally perfect it.

Our eyes meet. His are sparkling with pure joy as an incandescent smile tugs at his scar. It feels like we are in the zone together. Where we are here with everyone, but also somewhere else that is entirely ours.

In that place, James Brian Johnson is eighteen years old and hoping to get scouted by U of M or Michigan Tech. Any school with an excellent premed program for me. We make plans to stay in the dorms for our first year and move off campus after that. His hockey schedule works well because I need to come home often to check on Mom. Waking up tangled in each other’s arms is the best start to our day. He joins me in offering semaa each morning, giving thanks because every day feels like a gift.

It is a beautiful dream.

You are fluent in a language when you dream in it. I assumed Seeney meant nighttime dreams. I didn’t think about the ones that sneak up on you during the day.

A tear falls down my cheek without warning.
He isn’t eighteen; he’s twenty-two.
He has a different name. A past. A life beyond this assignment.
I try to imagine a place for us to be together in the After of the investigation. But that dream, the one based in reality, is too murky and too far away to see.

We walk to my Jeep. He loads my duffel bag into the back.
“Where would you like to go to dinner?” he asks.
With my good arm, I reach to touch his damp curls. My fingertips trace his scar and settle on his carotid artery. Each pulse is an affirmation that he is a real person. Here with me in the Now of the Newer New Normal.

I kiss the pulse on his neck. Each heartbeat throbs against my lips. I inhale deeply, holding it in as if it might stay with me. His familiar soap and natural scent fill my lungs.

Can you trust me?

“Jamie, would you drive me to the emergency room?”

The nurse tells me to change into a gown and that Dr. Bonasera will be right in. She instructs Jamie to tie my gown in the back and to leave my hurt shoulder free.

As soon as the door closes, I turn my back to him and try wriggling out of my oversized sweatshirt, retracting my unhurt arm through the sleeve. Jamie lifts the sweatshirt over my head. He moves my hair over my right shoulder, exposing my bare back.

I didn’t bother with a bra after the shower. I would have had to ask Macy for help, and it was easier to freestyle.

He kisses my hurt shoulder with lips soft as a whisper.

From behind, he holds the gown in front of me, arms over my shoulders, and I put my uninjured arm through the armhole. He drapes it carefully over my hurt shoulder and ties it loosely in the back.

“You smell like strawberries,” he says simply, sniffing next to my head. There is a knock on the door a second before Dr. B. enters.
At the sight of Jamie, my doctor greets him. They shake hands. Jamie introduces himself as my boyfriend. I tell Jamie that Dr. Bonasera’s wife is the head nurse at EverCare.

“Okay, Daunis, let’s see what’s going on here,” Dr. B. says in a soothing tone.

I steel myself as he touches my shoulder. It’s painful, but I’ve known worse.

“It’s not dislocated,” he says to my relief. “But you did bang it good.” “So, no sling. Just be gentle with it?” I prescribe my own treatment plan. “Hold on. Not so fast, Daunis,” Dr. B. says. He takes a pen from the pocket of his white coat and presses one end into the back of my upper arm. “Do we need to do this now?” I ask Dr. B., focusing on my hands resting on my lap.
“He doesn’t know?”
“Doesn’t know what?” Jamie asks, instantly alarmed. I remain fascinated by the ulnar artery threading along the back of my hand, a faint blue river barely visible beneath the skin.

“You didn’t tell your boyfriend?” Dr. B.’s voice is gentle, though disappointed.

I want to remind Dr. B. about doctor-patient confidentialit, but when I look up, his eyes are kind and filled with concern. I give a half shrug with my one good shoulder and make a decision.

“It’s okay, he can see,” I say. I keep my eyes on Jamie now, as Dr. B. slowly drags the pen down my arm. I only know what my doctor is doing because I’m familiar with the sensory test. It isn’t until the pen reaches just above my elbow that I say, “There.”

I spell it out for Jamie.
“That’s where I feel the pen on my skin. Everything above it is numb.”

CHAPTER 39

Dr. Bonasera pulls a small retractable tape measure from his pants pocket. He measures up from the bony knob of my elbow and makes a notation in my chart.

“You were extremely lucky today, young lady. You risk further nerve damage every time you reinjure that shoulder.” Dr. B. looks at Jamie. “A complication from the surgery she had last summer to treat her chronic shoulder instability.”

The summer before my senior year, when everyone thought I was at Marie Curie camp at Michigan Tech, I was in Ann Arbor with my aunt. The surgery was supposed to fix my shoulder. I didn’t want to risk any injuries in my last year of varsity hockey. We had a shot to be repeat state champions. The University of Michigan wanted me to play on their women’s hockey team. Auntie paid for the surgery so it wouldn’t show up on my mother’s health insurance and used the medical power of attorney Mom had signed years before just in case anything ever happened to me while I went somewhere with my aunt.

The surgeon explained the risks, but I was so certain that my surgery would take care of the problem. I was Levi Firekeeper’s daughter. Hockey was in my blood.

“Seriously?” Jamie looks at me. “Why did you even play tonight?” He sounds mad.

I feel like an ant under the glare of a magnifying glass.
“My team lost because Levi got past my crappy sub,” I say.
Dr. B. looks over his glasses at me before telling Jamie, “She’s a pistol, isn’t she?”
“She’s something,” Jamie says, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Back in the Jeep, Jamie asks where I’d like to go for my birthday dinner. “How about cheeseburgers at the drive-in?” I say.
He laughs. “I was expecting something more … celebratory?”
“You ever have one of their bacon cheeseburgers?”

When we get our food and my celebration strawberry shake, I give directions for Jamie to drive past the golf course and follow the river.

“Turn here,” I say, a few miles downriver.
“It’s a trail in the woods,” he comments.
“I know. Just follow it.” A branch scrapes the top of the Jeep. “My aunt and Art almost bought this lot instead of the property on the island. It’s still for sale.”

“Whoa,” Jamie says when the trail ends at a clearing with Sugar Island across the river.

“Right? It’s even prettier in the daylight.” I hand Jamie our bag of burgers, his iced tea, and my shake. I grab Lily’s blankets from the back, thankful I washed the smell out of the one I’d wrapped around the meth garbage baby. “C’mon. Dinner and a show.”

We walk past a stone fireplace and crumbling chimney, all that’s left of the house that used to be here. At the end of the lot, I spread the moving pad on the grass at the edge of a steel breakwall with a small swatch of beach beyond. Still favoring my injured wing, I ease onto the pad. I take off my clogs and sit cross-legged. Just as I did the day of the squall when we sat together in the garage bay, I wrap half the soft quilt around me and hold out the other half for Jamie. The blanket still smells like campfire. He sits next to me and we tear open the bag with my birthday dinner.

“The first sip of strawberry shake is the best,” I declare, offering the white Styrofoam cup to Jamie. He drinks from the straw.

“You are correct,” Jamie says, and leans over to kiss me. It’s so sudden my smile is captured in his mouth.

My birthday dinner continues as we alternate kisses with bites of bacon cheeseburgers and a shared strawberry shake, listening to the gentle waves lap the shore.

Several hundred feet away, a freighter silently passes by.

“Here comes the after-dinner entertainment,” I tell Jamie. “You know how ducks leave a V-shaped pattern that fans out when they move across a pond? Boats do that too. It’s called a Kelvin wake. In a few minutes, the waves from that freighter out there will hit the shore.”
“Well, then, let’s make good use of the time,” he says.
This kiss feels urgent, our tongues meeting and retreating. When Jamie

moves his lips to my neck, I look up at the stars. My good arm rises so I can rake his curls with my fingers.

“Daunis, can I do that to you? To your hair?” he asks at my neck.

Jamie remembers the rules we made up on the drive to Coach Bobby’s bonfire.

Smoothing my hair had been TJ’s move, and I didn’t think I could bear to have anyone be close to me like that. Especially someone faking it.

Jamie is asking for real.
“Yes,” I say to the stars.
Rising to my knees, I sit on my heels and face Jamie. He follows my lead.

The blanket slips from us as the waves grow louder.
Jamie kisses my lips softly as his hands brush against my temples. His kisses grow more urgent as his fingers tangle in my hair.
I move my left hand to test my injured shoulder. It is sore, rather than painful. I rest my left palm against Jamie’s chest, my good arm slides around him. I reach beneath his jacket and shirt to feel the lean muscles of Jamie’s back.

The waves increase in intensity, strong enough to reach the breakwall. A succession of crashes that align with Jamie’s deepening kisses as he follows the length of my hair from the top of my head to the middle of my back.

As the waves recede, I push against Jamie’s chest.
“Lie back, please,” I say.
He does, stretching out and reaching for me. I lie in the crook of his arm and pull the soft blanket up to our shoulders. We look at the stars. “You missed the Kelvin wakes,” I tell him.
“Worth it,” Jamie says, hugging me closer.
We laugh.

“Can I ask you something, Daunis?” His voice is gentle but no longer playful.

It’s an odd feeling for me, dreading his question while also wanting to open up. Maybe I’ve been so good at being guarded that it’s my default reaction?

I nod.

“Why would you risk more nerve damage to play in the game today?”

I wait for my first response—telling Jamie it’s none of his business—to recede. The pause allows me to dig deep and truly consider his question, as well as what I feel ready to share.

“Being on the ice is where I feel closest to my dad,” I say, starting with the easiest truth. “I pretend he’s at my games. Something about the smell of the rink and having a stick in my hand … it opens up a memory portal, I guess.”

We are quiet as the blinking lights of an airplane cross the sky. I like that Jamie doesn’t rush to fill the silence and I can think about what I want to say next.

“Surgery was supposed to fix the problem. Instead, the upper part of my arm went numb. It was a small portion, so I kept playing. I reinjured my shoulder once during regular season and again during playoffs. Each time, the numbness traveled further down my arm.”

I sit up and face Jamie.

“Can you understand how hard it was to give up something I loved so much? Does it make sense now, my giving into temptation—just this once— to imagine my dad cheering for me?”

I trace the length of his scar. Jamie traces my face, as if I have a scar there too.

“I want to be with you,” I say.

“I want you, too,” he says. “But we need to think it through. We’re in the middle of this situation and we don’t know how it will end.” Jamie’s comment cuts at me. It’s a painful reminder that as much as he seems to fit into my world, he can’t stay in it.

I’ve been left behind before, but I was always caught by surprise. I thought it would hurt less if I saw it coming. But now I realize that knowing doesn’t lessen the pain, it just gives it a head start.

Tonight, I would choose not knowing.

“For tonight, Jamie, can it not be about that? Can it be you and me, in the eye of the hurricane? Tomorrow, we’ll be back in the storm. But tonight, it’s just us.”

The stars have nothing on this guy when his eyes sparkle.

I bring up the necessary details. “No STDs and I have a progestin implant for birth control. But you still need a condom.”

“I don’t have any STDs either,” Jamie says. “We need to swing by a store, though.”

I kiss his cheek. “Box of condoms in the glove compartment, courtesy of Lily.”

“I really liked her, Daunis. She was a good friend to you.” He kisses me back.

I nod. “The best.”

He runs to the Jeep and a blink later is next to me. It takes athletic maneuvers to manage the logistics of removing items of clothing while remaining inside the blanket sandwich. We laugh each time the top layer shifts and cool air touches skin. I keep my lips on his, even swallowing our laughter.

His warm hands reach underneath my sweatshirt. I tingle from the feathery strokes of his thumbs working in unison.

He looks up at me. “You sure this is what you want, Daunis? We can stop anytime.”

“I know,” I say. “I want this.”
I shift myself until I find the perfect angle. Nothing beyond us matters. When Jamie groans, I silence him with my fingers flat against his mouth.

He chuckles softly and kisses my fingers with such tenderness. He tries holding me in place, but I keep moving until I cry out, and, for once, the Newer New Normal makes perfect sense.

“I love you,” he whispers.
No. No. No. Please. Not this.
I scramble out of the blanket cocoon, gulping crisp air while pulling on my jeans and fumbling with the zipper. My feet slide back into my clogs. Jamie jumps up as well. He follows me, zipping up his black dress pants. His maroon shirt is open. Shadows dance along his chest and abdomen; hispanting makes his muscles ripple.
“Daunis, is everything okay? What’s wrong?”
I bend over as if punched in the gut. Drawing in a deep breath before shouting at my feet, “You had to ruin everything by saying that.”
“Wait … you’re upset because I said I love you?”
My nose tickles and my throat constricts.
“Telling you I love you is ruining it?” he repeats. He makes it sound like I’m messed up.

“I know all about Guy Lies,” I say, rising to face him. “It’s okay. We can pretend this never happened.” I scoop up both blankets and hurry to the Jeep.

Behind me, Jamie inhales deeply like he has to steady himself, then rushes up behind me.

“Guy Lies … that’s what you call it …” His voice rises. “Did that tribal cop lie to you?”

“Shut up. This isn’t about him.” I climb into the passenger seat and turn up the heater.

“Who else lied to you?” he says, walking around to the driver’s side. “Everyone.”
I’m fishing with Dad. His favorite spot on Duck Lake. My feet dangle in the water.
A leech on my pinkie toe. Dad sprinkles salt to make it release. Pretends to eat it.
We laugh. Dad and me. His face changes as he looks across the lake. “Therefore I must be lying when I say I love you?” Jamie shakes his head, as if he’s sorry for me. His pity pisses me off.
“You’re the biggest liar of all,” I say. A tiny voice from somewhere deep in my heart reminds me: That’s not true. You know who the biggest liar is. “Your lies sound so believable because you don’t know what’s true. You don’t even know which parts of you are real and which ones are bits and pieces you invented for this assignment.”

It is quiet except for the engine and the heater.

“Daunis, I don’t know what just happened.” His voice is soft. “Why are you pushing me away?”

“Take it back,” I whisper. “What you said about loving me.”
“Please tell me why.”
“He took me fishing on Duck Lake,” I say. “I dangled my feet in the water and ended up with a leech on my pinkie toe. He kept a saltshaker in his box of fishing tackle. Sprinkled salt and told me he was seasoning it. He plucked the leech from my toe and pretended to eat it. We both laughed. Then he looked across the lake at the sunset and got sad.”

When I repeat the words to Jamie, it’s not my voice that I hear.

I have to go away, N’Daunis. Just for a little while. When I come back, everything will be different. We’re gonna have such a good life together. Ninde gidayan, N’Daunis.

“ ‘You have my heart, my daughter.’ That was the last thing my dad ever said to me.”

I’m sick of the quivering in my voice. I make up for it with volume.

“Don’t you know, Jamie? Love is a promise. And promises you don’t keep are the worst lies of all.”

CHAPTER 40

We are silent on the drive back to Chi Mukwa, where we left his car. When I walk around to the driver’s side, Jamie wraps me in his arms.

“Daunis, it’s okay if you don’t say it or feel it or are too scared to consider it. There’s the investigation and then there’s you and me. I love you and I’m not going anywhere except to that dance with you tomorrow.”

I close my eyes. How can he even say that he’s not going anywhere? It might be true for tomorrow, but he can’t promise anything beyond that.

“Anytime you feel sad or worried, squeeze my hand. I’ll squeeze back so you won’t feel alone.”

He breaks away and takes my hand. Squeezes it with each word. “I. Love. You.”

The next evening, I’m in the middle of the living room when Jamie knocks on the door and Mom lets him in. The instant he sees me, his jaw drops. He stands there—in a black suit and with his hair slicked back—and doesn’t move. It feels as if we are in the zone together again, except with my mother dabbing away bittersweet tears. Jamie doesn’t need to say anything; it’s all in his eyes.

I give silent thanks to Mrs. Edwards and her tailor. My scandalous jumpsuit fits perfectly. The double-sided tape is doing its job. The lipstick is in a side pocket so I can reapply as needed. GrandMary’s ruby-and-pearl drop earrings have replaced my starter studs. The only instruction I didn’t follow was the hairdo. I left it natural so something will be the same when I look in the mirror tonight.

Mom laughs and hugs Jamie when he’s still fumbling for words by the time we are heading out. It isn’t until we are both in the truck that he manages to speak.
“You look incredible.”
Jamie hands me a small present.
Inside is a bracelet of beaded strawberries against a black velvet band backed in black leather. I instantly know it’s cousin Eva’s beadwork. She varies the shades of red glass beads so that each strawberry looks as if it would actually taste sweet. It is exquisite.

“I know the investigation can change things in a heartbeat, Daunis. But there are things that are certain in the world. The way I feel about you. And what happened last night.”

Jamie’s fingers tickle against my inner wrist, where blue veins show through my ivory skin as he connects the jewelry clasp. I hold out my arm, marveling at his gift.

I hold on to the memory of last night. The certainty of his touch. And the way my heart opens a sliver to allow trust to enter and take root.

We stroll through the Superior Shores Resort as if it’s a parade and each couple is a float. The crowd cheers along the entire length from the hotel entrance to the grand ballroom.

Levi and his date are ahead of Jamie and me. Stormy and his date follow us, with Mike and Macy behind them.

People ooh and aah over the kaleidoscope of dresses. Macy’s strapless ball gown, an explosion of rhinestones, is a crowd favorite, a showstopper. People gawk at my jaw-dropper—their mouths gaping like trout on a dock. I just laugh and wave with the hand that isn’t holding tight to Jamie’s.

Auntie and the twins shout for us, so all four couples break away from the parade. As Jamie and I walk over, we come up to a slow-moving couple in our way. Jamie squeezes my hand twice and leads me around the obstacle.

“Well, I know three squeezes means ‘I love you.’ And I’m guessing two squeezes means to speed up?” I ask.

He squeezes once and halts. I laugh when he pulls me back to kiss me. Then he gives a double squeeze and continues on.

We pose for pictures on the grand staircase leading to the second-floor conference level. The vibrant floral carpeted steps and polished mahogany banister make for a beautiful backdrop. Teddie directs the photo shoot as if we are on America’s Next Top Model. I just focus on Perry’s and Pauline’s excited faces.

Finally, Auntie says, “Last one, I promise. Daunis and all the guys.”

The twins grab Jamie’s hands, so he begs out of the picture to twirl them like ballerinas.

“C’mon, Bubble,” Levi says.

My brother is on top of the world, standing a few steps up on the staircase and surveying the crowd below. His family, friends, team, town. He beams.

“Pose like a superhero, Auntie Daunis!” Perry shouts.

“Yeah!” Jamie says, lifting Pauline as if she is the prima ballerina in Swan Lake.

Putting my hands on my hips and trying not to laugh, I stare into the camera. Levi, Stormy, and Mike pretend to cower at my feet. Once again, Jamie looks at me with something that mixes awe and reverence.

When everyone is seated in the ballroom, the festivities begin. Call-me-Grant welcomes everyone to Shagala 2004. Chief Manitou gives a blessing in the language. Macy trills a lee-lee for her dad.

Coach Alberts introduces my brother and praises his leadership as team captain, then calls Levi to the stage to give the keynote address. He pauses to hug me on the way.

“I am so proud of you,” I whisper. “Me and Dad. I know he’s here too.”

As Levi walks past them, people comment how handsome he looks in his tuxedo. Everyone smiles as the hockey god steps to the podium. He begins by apologizing to his ancestors if he says any of our Ojibwe words incorrectly. He introduces himself in Anishinaabemowin, then translates what he said. When Levi continues with his speech, I raise my eyebrow. The voice I hear is not his normal one.

My brother speaks with exaggerated inflections and dramatic pauses. The more Levi talks, the more I hear him doing that forced I am but a humble Indian routine. A nearby Zhaaganaash lady wipes tears from her eyes because she is so touched by my brother’s words, his story about what hockey means in his life. When he mentions being a hope for his people, I actually wince. The only thing missing is mystical flute music in the background and an eagle landing on his shoulder.

Levi sounds like a few cultural leaders who make a big show about being capital T Traditional. They’re quick to judge others, but bristle and turn mean when anyone points out their own shortcomings.

My brother finishes, and the audience roars their admiration. He shakes hands with people and high-fives the other Supes as he returns to his seat.

Levi grins at me. “So, how’d I do?”

“Um … It was kinda … fake. Like you were performing for the Zhaaganaash.”

Levi laughs, as if my stunned reaction was his entertainment for the evening. “Just giving the people what they want.” He begins eating his salad.

“Holy. Who are you to call out anyone?” Macy laughs across the table. “You got in by one vote.”

I flush with anger and embarrassment. Even with the familial paternity test and twenty-six Elder affidavits and all the other paperwork, it still wasn’t good enough for some council members. They still let me know that, to them, I will always be on the outside looking in.

Macy’s superpowers are snarky insults and teasing comments with just enough truth to sting. Some Nish kwewag have the ability to convey that they aren’t laughing with you; they are very much laughing at you. It bugs me to no end when Macy Manitou scores a direct punch.

My brother waves his white napkin cease-fire.

“C’mon now, Mace. That’s what siblings do.” He smiles warmly at me. “They tell the truth. Dauny’s just keeping it real. Besides, it’s time for her birthday present.”

Levi sets a wrapped shoebox on the table.
My heart races. He must have found the scarf.
Opening the gift, I remove layers of white tissue paper to reveal … not a scarf. It’s a man’s choker, with beads carved from bone, solid and timeless.
I stare at Levi with an unspoken question. He smiles and nods.
“It’s Dad’s choker from his regalia. I found it when I was looking for the scarf.” Levi looks down at the slice of cake placed before him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find it, but I wanted you to have this.”

I can’t speak or else I will cry. My dad wore this. He wore it when he danced.

When I hug my brother, he whispers in my ear.
“I left a surprise at your house.”
My voice cracks when I tell him, “Chi miigwech.”

After dinner, Call-me-Grant and Mrs. Edwards take turns introducing each player and his date. They start with team captain Levi and his date, who head to the dance floor. The players are then announced in chronological order of when they made the team. It takes a while for them to get to the rookie Supes.

“From Rockville, Maryland, Jamie Johnson, and our very own Daunis Fontaine.”

There is applause, along with shouts of my name and various nicknames.

I grip Jamie’s hand as he leads me to a spot near Levi and his date. He squeezes back three times. My breath quickens and my stomach tumbles in the most pleasurable way. I am not ready to squeeze back, but I am ready to enjoy tonight.

When the music begins, I put my arms around his waist, admiring my beautiful bracelet. We sway to a slow song. Jamie inhales my hair and sighs contentedly. I’m glad I didn’t use any styling product that might have covered up the scent of strawberry-scented shampoo.

“Chi miigwech, Ojiishiingwe,” I say for his ears only.
He raises an eyebrow.
“Ojiishiingwe. It means ‘He has a scar on his face.’ ” “Oh-JEE-sheeng-weh,” Jamie says slowly. He repeats it until the name flows smoothly. Then he adds, “Miigwech … Do you have an Indian name?” “A Spirit name, yes.”
He waits for me to tell him what it is.
I gave away too much of myself to men who didn’t deserve me, Auntie has said.
Jamie and I are in a good place right now. We have so much to learn about each other. I don’t know his real name. Until I know it—and much, much more—I think that I am comfortable with what I shared today. But not anything else.

“Not yet, Ojiishiingwe,” I say. “Once we’re on the other side of this. Someday.”

“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” he says. We both smile.

The next song pulses with energy, bringing a swarm of people to the dance floor. Dancers form two lines, couples facing each other, spaced far enough apart for the couple at the start of the line to dance their way down the aisle. I look across at Jamie as we sidestep our way to the front of the line. I am curious if he will be as good a dancer as I suspect.

Levi is next to me. When it’s his turn to dance, he tries to pull me to dance with him.

I yank my hand back and laugh. “Holy. Dance with your date, clueless guy.”

He laughs too and joins the girl with the frozen smile who is waiting for him.

Levi shows off vintage moves like the Electric Slide and the Running Man. Granny June was right: My brother is the dancer in the family.

When it’s our turn, I meet Jamie at the start of the dance line. “I apologize in advance for my dancing. Be gentle with my shoulder.”

“I’ve got this,” he says with a wink.

Jamie twirls me and everyone cheers. He stands behind me, holding my hurt arm close to my side, bent at the elbow and with his hand atop mine at my stomach. He extends the other arm out with a firm grip. He leads me down the dance line. Jamie dances the same way he skates, grace and skill blending effortlessly.

When Levi imitated him in international waters, it was a comic exaggeration of Patrick Swayze. Jamie’s moves are as smooth as skate blades, hot off the sharpening machine, slicing through the ice. Every few steps he spins me by my good arm, always protecting my clipped wing. We finish to thunderous applause and hoots.

We looked fantastic. It was all Jamie.

Mike and Macy are up next, his robotic moves contrasted with her slinky belly-dancer gyrations. Her parents follow, and everyone goes wild when Chief Manitou and his wife do a variation of a powwow two-step.

Then TJ dances with Olivia Huang. She graduated the year between TJ and me. He is surprisingly light on his feet for a big guy. He smiles at her as they make their way down the dance line. His forehead is shiny, and sweat trickles from his temples.

I don’t feel my insides churning. It’s more like, I used to know that person, and now I don’t.

Jamie and I smile at each other. He motions for us to go back to our table. “All good?” he says.
“Yes.” I plant a kiss on his cheek. “And I’ll be even better after I hit the ladies’ room.”
The line is out the door at the restroom closest to the ballroom, so I run up the floral staircase to access the restroom by the conference rooms. Halfway up, Ron calls my name.

I wait at the landing for him to catch up. “We need to talk. Now,” he says.
This is not good.

We find an empty meeting room next to a loud private party. I don’t want to stand close to him, but we can’t have anyone overhear what is going to be an unpleasant conversation.

“What happened yesterday?” He waits for my answer, not rushing to fill the awkward space with additional chatter.

“What do you mean?”

“Cut the crap. Don’t answer my question with a question. What happened last night?”

I am not about to snag and brag. It’s not any of his—

“And before you tell me it’s not any of my business, let me remind you that everything he does is my business.”

“You know about the benefit hockey game last night. Well, I hurt my shoulder and Jamie took me to the emergency room so my doctor could make sure I hadn’t damaged anything. And now we’re here.”

“And now you’re here. Doing what exactly? I saw you two on the dance floor. What was that?”

I say nothing.
“Did he tell you how he got his scar? His first UC assignment. A drug bust goes bad and someone decides to slice him. If backup hadn’t come through, they were going to keep cutting.”

Stunned, I try to reconcile what Ron is telling me with the smooth dancer waiting for me downstairs. What else has Jamie been keeping from me?

“Now this assignment,” Ron continues. “He’s getting emotionally entangled with a CI and it could jeopardize the entire investigation.”

“I’m not just some emotional entanglement,” I say. “Jamie and I can handle being part of the investigation and having something that’s not so neatly defined.”

Ron shakes his head. He’s frustrated, I think, but what else can he say about it?

“Daunis, you do get that there is no actual Jamie Johnson, right? There is just a rookie officer who will do anything it takes to redeem himself after his first UC assignment went to hell. Including using you.”

“What do you mean?”
“Jamie was the one who proposed that he get close to you.”

I stare at my reflection in the ladies’ room mirror, Ron’s words echoing in my ears.

It was Jamie’s idea to start something with me? How could that be true and last night be true also?

My BlackBerry chimes and I’m thankful to be pulled out of my trance. ###-###-####: Its TJ. Outside bathrm. Coming in.

I have just enough time to go into the nearest stall as the door opens. “Daunis?” My name sounds strangely impersonal coming from TJ.
I sigh. “What.”
He checks the stalls to make sure we are alone. His big feet plant themselves outside my locked stall.
“The guy you’re with is no good.”
Wow. People do not like Jamie tonight.
“Go back to your date,” I say tiredly.
“I will. This isn’t jealousy. You moved on; I moved on. It’s just that he’s bad news.”
“How do you know.” My voice is a monotone.
TJ is silent for what feels like five minutes. He takes a deep breath and blows it out. “If he’s new best buds with your brother, then he’s bad news.” That does it. I slam open the door and glare at him.
“How dare you say that? You of all people criticizing anyone.”
“I figured we’d get into that eventually,” he says. “Look. I dumped you because Levi and his goons threatened me.”
I shake my head. “That makes no sense. You were a senior. The biggest guy in school. They were, what, freshmen? Mike was an eighth grader.” “They said they’d find a way to get me.”
“Oh, come on. Because we started dating?” I shake my head. “Because we started having sex.”

“That’s crazy.”

“I told Levi to piss off. He got mad I wasn’t afraid of him. Scary mad. Said he’d find people to hold me down so he could slash my Achilles tendon and end football for me.”

You so much as look at her and I will end hockey for you.

My head begins to swim. I push past TJ and walk unsteadily to the sink. The bathroom has a basket of cotton washcloths instead of paper towels. I dampen one with cold water and wipe my face.

TJ continues. “I went to Tribal Police. The officer said good luck getting anyone to believe me against Golden Boy.”

He tries to lock eyes with my reflection in the mirror.

“I am many things,” he says. “The worst was being a coward for breaking up with you without a word. But I’m not a liar.”

I look in every corner of the mirror, never finding his face. “You’re wrong, TJ.”

“I’m not wrong about your brother. I feel a responsibility to make sure you know who you’re with and what your brother is capable of. Just thought you deserved to know—that you’d want to know.” TJ shakes his head. “Turns out the person I was wrong about is … you.”

Returning to the ballroom, I catch my breath next to a speaker blasting dance music. Grateful for thumping bass beats pushing all bathroom revelations from my throbbing brain.

The song ends as someone sidles next to me. “Ahh. Daunis Fontaine.” Gramma Pearl always said that bad things happen in threes.
I brace myself.
“That was a nasty hit on the ice yesterday,” Call-me-Grant says. “How’s your shoulder doing today?”
“Much better,” I say.
“Oh, that’s great.” He sounds overly relieved. “Let me know if you need anything for it.”
“Thanks. I’m good.” I keep my face a polite mask.
“Wonderful.” His voice is now a purr. “I have an interesting video. Comeup to my room. I’ll tell you all about it.”
I’m about to tell his old pervy ass to go snag himself when he continues,

“A security video from my home office.”
My blood turns to ice as Call-me-Grant’s grin stretches wider. “What a curious cat you are, Daunis Fontaine.”

CHAPTER 41

I glance over my shoulder on the walk to the hotel. Call-me-Grant is ten steps behind, greeting someone. My legs tremble. I’m an ant on a sidewalk; his laser focus is the magnifying glass.

Think of a plausible explanation, Daunis. You’re a smooth liar in your own right. Calling out every guy who’s ever lied to you, but never holding a mirror to yourself.

Call-me-Grant takes the lead as the conference center connects to the hotel. I follow when he detours down a smaller hallway. Another turn reveals a service elevator. I feel my insides twist as I realize we’re bypassing the main elevators because Call-me-Grant doesn’t want us to be seen together.

He presses the call button and the door slides open. As he motions for me to enter first, his smile is pleasant. Normal. The one he uses with the other parents.

I release my held breath and stride forward on steady legs.

You got this. He likes talking. Let him tell you what he knows. If there’s any hint he knows about the undercover investigation, you need to alert Ron and Jamie.

Jamie. He never mentioned the fake relationship was his idea from the start.

Can you trust me?

The spot warms where his soft lips kissed my bare, injured shoulder in the hospital. A memory tattoo. Last night, being with him.

Ding.

The elevator opens on the top floor. When did it shut?
Forget about Jamie. Focus. Be like Gaagaagi, the problem-solving raven. An idea sparks as I walk toward the Ogimaa Suite, where the Edwards family hosts their annual Shagala after-party. It gains strength with each step.

Because it’s rooted in truth.

You were in his home office to take pictures because it was a chance to be around Grandpa Lorenzo’s furniture. Mom found refuge from GrandMary’s boutique in her father’s office upstairs. Where he hid treasures in the shelves —books for her, Uncle David, and you.

Maybe he will let you buy back the furniture for her. Because when someone you love dies, you find comfort in things connected to your memories of them.

Entering the room, I blink my surprise. It isn’t a suite. Just an ordinary hotel room.

“Why—”
I land face-first on the bed. Question still in my throat.
Grant. He shoved me. I feel the weight of someone pressing down on me, but this time it’s not Jamie. There are no firecrackers.
This can’t be happening.
“Why so curious about me, Daunis Fontaine?” His breath is hot on my neck. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Just ask real nice.”
My arms and legs flail as I reach around, trying to grab or scratch him. Unable to kick behind me. I scream in frustration, but the sound is muffled by the bedspread.
“You hockey girls are my weakness.”
Hockey girls. Did he mess with Robin? Is he the man she was talking about?
I channel my white-hot anger and fight harder. Try to dig in my elbows and knees so I can flip over, but I can’t get any leverage beneath Grant’s wrestler’s pin. “All that vigor and skill. Grit and curves,” he says.

His hand finds the zipper at my lower back. I freeze. His hands keep going.

It’s not supposed to happen to me.
The bedding smells clean. Like a fresh sachet. Lavender.
An instant later, I watch from high above. What he does to her.

Alone in the elevator, I catch my reflection in its mirrored walls. The girl in the mirror takes shallow breaths. She combs her tangled hair with shaking fingers. She blinks repeatedly.

Blink.
Blink.
Blink.
Ding.
By the time the door slides open, her hair is no longer a tangled squirrel’s nest.

See? Nothing happened.

I return to the ballroom, music growing louder. Jamie sits at the table, along with Stormy and his bored date. Shagala is in full swing.

“Holy,” Stormy says. “Didn’t think you were one of them girls who takes forever in a bathroom.”

Ignoring Stormy, I shine my widest smile on my date. “Let’s dance.”

We are so unevenly paired. Jamie is all smooth moves. Baryshnikov and Denzel in a black suit and polished dress boots. Jamie Johnson, dancer and actor.

Don’t think about it, Daunis. Nothing happened. Just dance.

So I dance.

There’s an awkward pause when the song ends and the DJ cues the next one. The instant a drumbeat thunders from the speakers, the ballroom fills with cheers and lee-lees.

I giggle at Jamie’s wide-eyed reaction to the pandemonium. Every Nish rushes to the dance floor for an honor song. Most Zhaaganaash flee; a few look scared. I laugh even harder.

Hands on hips, I stand in place and bounce on the balls of my feet to the drumbeats. It’s the closest I can get to dancing while still honoring my grief.

Jamie stands off to the side, watching my favorite part of Shagala as if he has never seen anything so magnificent.

Stormy dances next to me. I always forget he’s a wolf dancer like his dad. Their regalia includes a wolf’s head and hide worn like a hooded cape. He hunches forward with arms bent at elbows as if holding a feather fan in one hand and his tomahawk in the other. Jerking his head from side to side, Stormy raises his tomahawk fist in the direction of the nearest round table. A

Zhaaganaash man at the table does a double take before mimicking the movement to his friends and adding a war whoop.

The people at the table don’t see that Stormy’s dance honors Ma’iingan. Wolf is part of Bear Clan. We are protectors and healers.

I reach into my pocket for Levi’s gift just before the four distinctive honor beats in the song. When they come, I raise my dad’s choker to give thanks. I use my left hand, holding the gift as high as I can. The pain stabs my shoulder. When I lower my arm, the spasm reverberates through my entire body.

Levi makes his way over to me. His hip-hop dance moves synchronize to the drumbeats. When our eyes meet, I kiss the choker and raise it once more to Creator. My brother’s smile radiates brighter than ever before.

I’m the luckiest kwe to have such a great brother.

After another fast song, the DJ gives us a breather. Acoustic guitar strumming slowly. Keith Urban singing about making memories.

Jamie kisses my shoulder. I jerk back.
“Is it still tender?” Beautiful tawny eyes full of concern.
“No, it’s not that …” I look away. Retrieving the choker from my pocket,

I hold it out to Jamie. “Would you help me put it on?”
He lifts my hair, letting it cascade over one shoulder. My hands press the

straps of my top, so he won’t attempt another kiss there. His fingers brush the nape of my neck as he joins the leather ties, and I force myself not to flinch away.

We sway wordlessly, my head on Jamie’s shoulder. He won’t see me blinking Call-me-Grant away.

It works.

I’m six. A happy little kwezan, wearing the dress GrandMary picked for me. My dad lifts me so my feet can be on top of his shoes and our steps will be the same. I look up in alarm, remembering that his legs hurt even more when it’s rainy like tonight. He smiles. Full of love.

Gizaagi’in, N’Daunis.

I tell Jamie I’m ready to go home.
“You sure? Levi said something about an after-party.”
“No,” I snap, before catching myself. “Sorry, I’m just tired. Day caught up with me is all.”
We leave hand in hand. He squeezes three times.
We pass Macy exiting the ladies’ room, looking beautiful and flushed from dancing all night. Letting go of Jamie, I rush to Macy and push her back inside. She knocks my hands away.

“What the hell are you doing?” she yelps.
I growl into her ear. “Don’t ever be alone with Grant Edwards.”

Jamie and I continue walking in silence; our words are to others. I tip and thank the coat-check lady who hands over my mother’s wool shawl. He does the same to the valet with his truck. It’s only after we leave the Superior Shores Resort that Jamie speaks to me.

“What was that back there with Macy?”
“Nothing.” My shawl hides how tightly I’m hugging myself.
“Well, it looked like you were gonna fight her or kiss her,” he says lightly.
I shrug my one good shoulder. “Just needed to tell her something that couldn’t wait.”
“Is everything okay, Daunis? You seemed so happy on the dance floor.”

He looks over. “But it’s like seeing Macy set you off.”
“Jamie, I told you it’s been a long day.” My exhaustion is no act.
He follows the river back through town. I focus on a freighter entering the

Soo Locks.

You hockey girls are my weakness.

An aftershock ripples the length of my spine.

Grant Edwards messed with Robin. Robin was addicted to painkillers but died from a meth overdose.

Mr. Bailey’s broken voice. We were trying to get her into rehab, not college.

Grant Edwards’s remark about my shoulder injury. Let me know if you need something for it.

Jamie’s route home cuts through campus.

You’re supposed to tell us stuff instead of waiting to be asked, Jamie scolded.

“Park behind the student union,” I say before I can change my mind. “I want to talk.”

Jamie gives me a look, but drives through the empty lot to its edge overlooking the International Bridge. If he floored it, his truck could baja the curb and go airborne.

Can you trust me?
Oh, how I wanted to, Ojiishiingwe. I play out how it will go.

ME: Grant Edwards might be involved with the meth cell. For sure he had something to do with Robin’s addiction to painkillers.

JAMIE: How do you know?
ME: He asked about my injured shoulder today. He said he could help if I needed anything for it.

JAMIE: That’s not enough evidence.

ME: Well, how’s this for evidence. Grant Edwards sexually assaulted me tonight in his hotel room. He held me down and, when he was done, squeezed my bad shoulder. Said he could make the pain go away. When I didn’t respond, he laughed and said I’d be back for more … just like Robin. Is that enough for the FBI to go after him?

JAMIE: What possessed you go to a hotel room with Mike’s dad? How could you make such a stupid mistake? You’re supposed to be so intelligent, but all I see is a shit-ton of book smarts and not one ounce of common sense. Why didn’t you scream for help? And how in the hell could you just go limp like that?

Odd how Jamie’s scolding voice sounds exactly like mine.

We walk toward the ledge. I halt, shaking and dizzy, while my bravery tumbles down the hill. Away from me.

I can’t tell Jamie.

Ron’s FBI-agent confessional replays. Daunis, you do get that there is no actual Jamie Johnson, right?

I turn to him. “What’s your real name?”
Startled, Jamie collects himself before answering. “I really want to tell you. But I won’t.”
He stares at the International Bridge for a long time. Probably buying time counting the lights of the double arches on the U.S. side.
“Daunis, if something goes wrong in this investigation, it’s safer for you to know as little about me as possible. Once we find out who’s running the drug ring, if they thought you had information of use to them … you’d be in danger. Telling you could get you hurt.”

I’m the one who’s dumbfounded now. Staring at him as cold fury courses through my veins. When I speak, my voice is ice.

“Because confidential informants risk getting injured. Or killed. Right?” “Daunis, what’s going on?”
“When you joined the investigation, you read all the materials. Got up to

speed, hey?”
“Yeah …,” he says cautiously. Aware of a conversation land mine somewhere nearby.
“So you knew that a CI, my uncle, had died under suspicious circumstances.” I take his grim expression as affirmation. “And you researched me. Learned about my science-fair project. Knew I had one parent who was Native and one who was white. Something we could bond over.”

Jamie takes a step toward me, reaching out to embrace me.

I hold up my hand to keep him at bay. “Who had the idea for an undercover cop to get close to me? Whose idea was it to recruit the grieving local girl as the next CI?”

Surprise and guilt wash over Jamie. I wait for him to pinch the bridge of his nose, but he only stares at me. I make it a contest. He blinks first.

“What you need to understand …,” he begins, stepping closer.

My fist connects with his face. The crack of his nose and Stormy’s goon advice from long ago register simultaneously. Aim beyond his head. The power’s all in the follow-through.

“What the hell!” he shouts, hands rising to protect his nose after the fact.

That’s my girl! My dad’s deep voice is as clear and strong as if he were beside me. Pride eclipses my anger momentarily. Levi Joseph Firekeeper Sr. was more than a hockey god; he was the fiercest goon on either side of the International Bridge.

A car barrels through the parking lot. Headlights capture us in its high beams.

“That’s for coming up with the idea in the first place!” I yell.

Rushing toward him, I raise my fist again. “And for going through with it, knowing I could get hurt. Even after you met me.”

I swing and miss as he moves just beyond my reach.

With nothing to break my momentum, I stumble and land face-first on the ground. Instead of smelling grass, it’s lavender that fills my nose. Terrified, I roll onto my back. My arms and legs swing at air. All the punches and kicks I couldn’t deliver earlier.

Ron bolts from the car. In an instant, he’s crouched by my side. “Are you okay?” He helps me up.
My lungs hurt from huge gulps of crisp October air.
Ron looks over to Jamie. “What the hell’s going on?”

Jamie freezes, aghast.
“Ron, something’s hap—” Jamie begins in alarm.
“You’re done,” Ron interrupts. “I’ll get you removed from this case.

You’ll be lucky if anyone lets you write parking tickets.”
Jamie must not have heard his partner basically fire him, because he’s still

eyeballing me.
“What happened to you, Daunis?” His voice cracks.
I really want to tell you … but I won’t.
Ron walks me to his car. Opens the passenger door.
I glance over my shoulder. Jamie stands ten feet away. Arms at his sides.

Bloody nose dripping onto his white shirt. Still waiting for my answer. I give it.

“What happened to me, Jamie? You did.”

CHAPTER 42

Ron assumes I’m shaking from the temperature. He grabs a blanket from the trunk and wraps it around me like a burrito. He eases me into the car before clicking my seat belt.

We speed away.

“I’ll drive wherever you want to go,” he says. “Home? Sugar Island? June Chippeway’s?”

“Home,” I say without hesitation. For once, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

“If you’re able to tell me, I’d like to know what happened between you and Jamie tonight,” Ron says, turning in to my driveway. Mom left the entry light on.

I remain seated. Sitting with him as the car idles. It feels familiar. Comforting, even. Like when Coach Bobby drove me home after away games. I half expect my mother to check on us.

Why am I upset with Jamie, but not with senior agent Ron, for putting me in danger? A hypothetical that became very real tonight?

Ron’s focus has always been on the investigation. He’s kind to me. I’m a helpful CI. But when this investigation is over, Ron Johnson will get up the following day and open the next case file. His professional compass always points north; at the first sign of an issue, he’ll recalibrate to stay focused on the mission.

Jamie made me feel like I might be more important to him than the job.

There’s a story about Original Man, who was given the name Anishinaabe. He was on a journey to find his parents and twin brother but became distracted by a beautiful song in the east.

Maybe that’s what Ron observed. The reason why Jamie might not be cut out for undercover work. Jamie isn’t good at recalibrating.

“I confronted Jamie about the fake relationship being his idea from the start and … may have broken his nose. My second punch missed completely, and that’s when you showed up.” I add for clarification, “It was a one-sided fight.”

Ron takes a minute to gather his thoughts.

“He’s had two undercover assignments. First one leaves him with a scar. Now a broken nose. His face is literally a road map of bad decisions.” With a slow shaking of his head, he adds, “That guy better make a career change before he ends up looking like Quasimodo.”

I surprise myself by laughing, then snort while attempting to rein it in. Ron joins in and I lose it completely. Our belly laughs fill the car as I wipe tears from my eyes.

Finally, I say good night. Ron waits until I unlock the front door and wave to him before he backs out of the driveway. I brace myself for Mom wanting a Shagala recap, but the house is quiet. She left a note next to the key dish.

I’m sleeping at the big house tonight.
Hope you and Jamie had a nice night.
See you tomorrow after mass. Love you—Mom

She hasn’t stayed overnight at the big house since GrandMary’s stroke. Why tonight? Unless … Mom was giving me privacy? Did she think I’d invite Jamie inside?

Maybe Mom—who had to sneak around with my dad—wants to be supportive in a way her parents never were.

I get ready for bed and lie under my comforter, exhausted but unable to settle myself. Instead of reciting the periodic table of elements, I reach for the choker still around my neck.

My fingers touch each bead as if it were GrandMary’s rosary. Instead of a Hail Mary or Our Father, I say my Spirit name. The name that begins my prayers to Creator. The name I will only reveal to someone worthy of me.

The strange day leaves me before I reach the end of the choker.

Travis stares at Lily on the ground before turning to me.

“They’re so mad at me,” he whispers. “The Little People. I just wanted her to love me again. She’s the only person who ever loved me. Believed me when everyone else ditched me. If only she just tried it, Dauny. But she wouldn’t. I added it to my cookies. She didn’t want those either. This was the only way.”

He raises the gun to his temple.

My eyes squeeze shut, to make this all go away. The words he is saying now.

“The whole town wrote me off when I said I shot that BB gun. Glass nicked that lady’s eye. Damaged her cornea. One more person sacrificed to the hockey god. Levi swore he’d be so grateful if I said it was me. He was the only freshman hockey player to make the varsity team. Everyone loved him. On the ice. Off the ice. On the rez. In town. Levi was supposed to be the best of us. I said okay. I told Coach Bobby it was me. Lily believed me when I told her the truth. She just couldn’t hurt you with it. She’s the best. Don’t you see? I had to take her with me.”

I open my eyes in time to see his head snap sideways.

One hand touches my choker while the other muffles my sobs. I stay like that until Zaagaasikwe dutifully lifts the sun to begin another day.

When sunlight fills my bedroom, my eyes are drawn to the red outfit draped over the desk chair. I never want to see it again. Instead, I focus on the gift-wrapped box on the desk. Green metallic gift wrap. Silver ribbon and bow atop the shoebox-sized present.

I left a surprise at your house.

Levi’s whisper brings back the incandescent glow on his face as I kissed Dad’s choker and raised it during the honor beats.

My fingers flutter at my neck. Each bead is a memory from last night. Jamie. Grant Edwards. TJ. Stormy. Macy. Ron. And … Travis.

Levi was supposed to be the best of us.

I bring the gift back to bed, where I unwrap the shiny package.

It’s a framed picture of Levi, Dad, and me. As I pore over it, I feel the stretch of my wide smile. My brother and I each sit on a knee. Dad has an arm around each of us. Levi and I are four years old. My smile is a copy of

Dad’s. Levi’s face is his mother’s but the laughter in our eyes is the same.

Levi swore he’d be so grateful if I said it was me. Everyone loved him. On the ice. Off the ice.

I love my brother. But what if he is less than who I thought he was?

I dress in my running clothes—leggings and layers of shirts beneath a hoodie.

My morning prayer begins with my Spirit name, my clan, and where I am from. Which of the Seven Grandfathers should I include?

What if I ask for something I shouldn’t? I could be a bird asking Creator for love, only to be so enamored of my new mate that I fly into a clean window and break my neck.

Everything has strings attached. Unintended consequences. The shove from behind that you never saw coming.

Flakes of semaa flutter from my trembling hand.
My prayer ends with a confession: I’m scared.
I run as if chased by something menacing. Hot breath at the nape of my neck.
It isn’t until I reach the wooded lot that I take in my surroundings. Sugar

Island across the river. The grass still flattened from the Jeep tires.
Two days ago, I was happy. Kissing Jamie. Sharing myself with him.
It seems a lifetime ago.
Yesterday, my brother was on top of the world. Team captain. Hockey god. The prince of Shagala. The pride of Sault Ste. Marie and Sugar Island. TJ called him Golden Boy.

What if the terrible things about Levi are true?

Creator, I can’t take any more. I just want to be a clueless girl living in her own bubble.

Retracing my steps, I jog back. My pace slows the closer I get to home. Exhausted and with dread growing inside me.

Mom hasn’t returned from Sunday mass yet. A hot bath might ease the tension throughout my body. While waiting for the water to fill the deep soaking tub, I go to my bedroom and stare at my laptop.

It’s October 3. The bank lady said monthly statements are sent after the first of the month. Of course, maybe they wait until the following business day, and September’s bank statement won’t show up till tomorrow.

All I have to do is check for an email from the bank in Canada. If it’s not there, I can soak until my fingers are pruney before getting on with the rest of my day.

And if it is there? I want it to confirm Levi’s explanation about investing in land near Searchmont. Because, just like with Uncle David, I’ve allowed a tiny seed of doubt to germinate.

I hold my breath while logging into my email account.

It arrived Friday afternoon. Right after Mrs. Bonasera’s email titled Read this to your mother. Mrs. B. always sends medical-journal articles pertaining to GrandMary’s condition. I’m supposed to translate them for Mom.

I click on the attached bank statement.

The starting and ending balances for September are what the bank lady told me on the phone: $10,856.77. But over the course of the month, my brother deposited $20,000 and then wired it to a bank in Panama.

My heart breaks with a thud. Levi is the mule.

The water drains from the tub. I don’t remember changing my mind about taking a bath.

Levi is the mule.

I stare into the vanity mirror. Questions multiply exponentially in my mind. Grabbing ahold of one question to steady myself, I ask my reflection:

“For how long?”

I halt at the painted brick house with its indigo shutters and the studio apartment over the two-car garage. The driveway is empty. I peek in the garage window. It’s empty. Dana Firekeeper always stays at the Superior Shores Resort for the entire Shagala weekend. Levi and Stormy should be at Mike’s parent-free house.

The back entrance to the garage is unlocked. I enter, and Waylon growls from behind a door leading to the house. When I call his name, his tone changes from protector to friend. A set of narrow stairs at the farthest garage stall leads to a second entrance to Levi’s room. I try the door. Locked.

Figured as much.
I stand in the backyard, looking up at the three dormer windows above the garage. My empty stomach somersaults. I shiver from hot skin gone clammy in the crisp October morning.

The spare key is still kept underneath a garden-gnome figurine in the flower bed next to the back entrance. I unlock the door and return the key to its hiding spot.

When I enter the house, Waylon drops a stuffed bear at my feet. I toss his toy, and the German shepherd dashes down the hallway.

Levi’s school pictures run the length of the stairwell, beginning with his brand-new senior portrait. My brother becomes younger with each step. Middle school photos show a confident preteen with zero awkwardness. His charming smile never changes, but his face softens during his elementary school years. At the top of the stairs, he is a round, sweet, three-year-old preschooler.

Waylon nudges my hand with his toy. I fling the bear, which lands in front of senior-year Levi. French doors at the top of the stairs open to a small wrought-iron balcony overlooking the wooded backyard. The stair landing leads either to the main house or to the garage apartment. I try the door to Levi’s space. Also locked.

I take a deep breath and blow it out in an exaggerated sigh.

A few years ago, I watched my brother break into his bedroom. He had lost his key and Dana hadn’t hidden the spare yet. Stormy, Mike, Travis, and I were in the backyard, watching Levi scale the trellises framing the back entrance to reach the balcony. Mike led us in chants of “Spi-der-man” to cheer on Levi as my brother jumped to the garage roof and slid open a dormer window. As with everything, he made it look effortless.

Waylon races up the stairs to join me. I wrestle the slobber-damp bear and throw it back to senior-year Levi. It feels like a race between the dog and me … who can reach our goal first?

I turn the handle on one of the French doors and step onto the shallow balcony. I shut the door behind me. My fatigued quads twitch in anticipation and I hear the guys shouting, Spi-der-man. I only have time for two deep breaths before I jump the short distance to the garage roof.

I land on all fours, my shoulder screaming in protest. The peak of the roof didn’t seem this steep from the ground, or in my memories. The instant I tell

myself not to look down, I do and feel an urge to pee myself.
This was stupid. Does it really matter how long Levi’s been distributing meth? What more proof do I want?
Waylon barks from the other side of the French doors as if agreeing. I force my breathing to slow down and lie there until my heartbeat matches. Moving sideways in tiny increments, I reach the nearest window. When I looked up at the windows, each was open slightly to let in fresh air. Dana blasts the heat like a sweat lodge from October through April. She doesn’t care how high their heat bills run; Levi will never wake up shivering.
My heart beats double time as I pry the screen from the window. The plan, which I am making up as I go along, is to put the screen back once I’m inside the room. The screen takes more effort, coming loose all at once. I teeter off balance. Dropping the screen, I grip the windowsill.
The screen hits the fieldstone patio below and I register the time it took to reach the ground. If I fall off the roof, it will take approximately two seconds until I splat.
I push the window up until I can fit through the opening. I land clumsily inside while Waylon barks from outside Levi’s bedroom door. I stand. Now what?

I start with the nightstand beside the queen-sized platform bed. Next to the lamp is a large bottle of ultra-moisturizing hand lotion and a box of tissues. Gross. I brace myself. Searching my brother’s bedroom means I can’t ever un-see stuff.

Moving to Levi’s desk and dresser, I go through every drawer in the bedroom. I pull out each one to look underneath and behind for any secret documents.

Levi doesn’t have a wall of bookcases like Mike, just a set of bunk beds along one wall. The bedding on the lower bunk is messy. Stormy sleeps there, further confirmed by a half-empty bag of Cheetos within reach on the floor. The top bunk is perfectly made, as if made by someone in boot camp. Mike stays over, though less frequently than Stormy.

I look under each mattress, careful to leave each in its pre-search state. Outside the door, Waylon paws at the door, reminding me he still wants to play.

An enormous plasma screen takes up the wall above a rectangular coffee table with precise stacks of video games next to Levi’s PlayStation 2 and

Mike’s Xbox. Facing the screen are a trio of video-gaming chairs, low to the floor like a cross between bean-bag chairs and children’s car seats. A fourth chair is banished to a corner. Travis’s chair. But maybe Levi will let Jamie be their fourth.

I slide the closet door open to view half of the contents. Clothing, shoes, and plastic totes filled with hockey gear. I quickly go through each box. Most are filled with hockey tournament program booklets, hockey magazines, and hockey playbook drawings on graph paper: Xs and Os in formations with dotted lines.

This is stupid. What am I doing here?

I am sweating from the heat and understand Levi’s need to keep windows open. A glance out the screenless window reveals a squirrel squawking from a nearby tree, also agreeing with my stupidity.

Returning to the closet, I move on to the other side, where my brother keeps his clothes. The shelf above has smaller boxes and a black ash basket. I go in order. There is a shoebox, the same brand as the one Levi wrapped Dad’s choker in. Inside are bank statements from our joint account.

He hasn’t received the statement from September yet, so I start with August. I check the beginning and ending balances before eyeballing the activity during the month. He wired $10,000 to the same bank in Panama. The month when Lily was killed.

I go through July’s statement. Another wire transfer. And again for June.
And May.
In April, the amount wired was $15,000.

It was $20,000 per month for March, February, and January. In 2003, he wired the same amount for December, November, and October.

Hockey season runs mid-September through mid-April. He wired more money in hockey months. But he was still running money through our account during non-hockey months.

How could he be a meth mule year-round? Is that why he’s always using Dana’s boat for trips to Mackinac Island in the summer?

There was no unusual activity in September 2003. It was a partial hockey month, but the statement shows nothing but normal purchases at stores at the mall across the river. Same for the summer months before that.

What was so special about October last year? Why did Levi start being a meth-mule then?
The common-sense realization comes far later than it should.
The wire transfers began when Levi became a Supe. But how could a minor authorize wire transfers from a Canadian bank to one in Panama? Levi was a junior when he made the team. He wouldn’t turn eighteen until January.

Meanwhile, I was a senior. Turned eighteen in October and …
My brother was a minor; I wasn’t.
I am frozen on the floor next to the shoebox. More than a year of bank statements are laid out around me.
Could Levi have made the wire transfers in my name?
The floor rumbles as the garage door rises. Waylon rushes downstairs, barking.
Someone is home.

CHAPTER 43

I quickly refold the statements as a vehicle enters the garage. It sounds like Dana’s Mercedes rather than the behemoth Hummer. I finish just as she enters the house from the garage.

Waylon barks persistently.
“What’s going on, big guy?” Dana calls from the bottom of the stairs. He’s ratting me out is what’s happening.
Waylon runs upstairs as I finish putting the statements in order in the shoebox.

Squawk.

I jump at the noise. A squirrel shouts at me from the windowsill. I reach for the nearby bag of Cheetos and toss one wrinkled orange stub toward the window. The squirrel is supposed to flee. Instead, it comes further into the room and protests more.

Squawk.

Waylon dashes upstairs. His barks set off the squirrel, which does a frantic lap around the room, too scared to retrace its steps back to the window.

“What the hell is going on?” Dana shouts, running up the stairs.
What if she can unlock the door?
My hands shake so badly that I knock the black ash basket while returning the shoebox to the shelf. It slips through my fingers.
Dana tries the door handle.
When I turn to scoop up the basket, its matching lid is a step away. I pick up the basket by the opening. Something soft brushes against my fingertips. My heart skips a beat.
I tip the basket upside down. Staring at the floor where Dad’s scarf lands. Green, like my mother’s eyes.

Levi kept it from me. He had it all along.
Heart racing, I shove the scarf into my hoodie pouch.
Waylon goes crazy on Dana’s side and the squirrel dashes around on my side.
“This is Judge Dana Firekeeper.” I think she’s talking to me until she says, “I live at 124 Hilltop Court. Someone’s in my house. My dog’s going crazy and someone’s in my son’s room.”

Dana called 911.

I put the lid on the basket and return it to the shelf. Please, Waylon, bark louder so it masks the closet door.

BAM.

Dana kicks at the door while I dash to the other one, leading to the garage.

BAM.

I turn the dead-bolt latch and grasp the doorknob with the push-button lock in its center. Opening the door, I push the button to relock it. I can’t do anything about the deadbolt.

BAM.

I reach the top step and close the door behind me.

CRACK!

Dana bursts into Levi’s bedroom as I practically ski down the stairs. While I race to the back door of the garage, Dana shrieks at the squirrel running around the room. Waylon loses his damn mind.

I stay close to the garage. Beneath the overhang of the roof, in case Dana looks out the window. Then I tiptoe along the side of the garage. Listening for footsteps chasing me. Eyeballing my target: the street beyond the trees at the end of the driveway.

The barks grow fainter, like Waylon is tearing down the hallway. There’s the shattering of something delicate—a crystal vase, maybe—and Dana swearing.

I take my chances and run like hell.

Mom’s car is gone, but I still lock myself in the bathroom. My heart thumps like Waabooz after a narrow escape. Something sour churns in my stomach an instant before I violently heave greenish-yellow bile. It leaves me exhausted and hunched over the toilet.
The emptiness inside me is replaced by something far worse. Nibwaakaawin. Auntie told me the translation, breaking down each part of the word so it made perfect sense: To be wise is to live with an abundance of sight.

My whole life I’ve wanted to be like my aunt. The way a person dreams about being a ballerina, but not of broken toes and years of practice. I wanted to be a strong and wise Nish kwe, never considering how that abundance of sight would be earned.

I wanted to find out who was involved in the meth madness that took Lily and Uncle David. Robin and Heather, too. And the kids in Minnesota who got so sick from meth-X.

The person I was searching for this whole time was Levi.

Wisdom is not bestowed. In its raw state, it is the heartbreak of knowing things you wish you didn’t.

Mom comes home while my stomach heaves. I turn on the fan to muffle my retching. Her feet make dark shadows at the bottom gap of the door, next to Herri’s paw reaching underneath for invisible prey.

“Are you okay, honey?” Her soft voice is full of concern.
“Yeah. Just ate something bad.”
I wait for her to move away from the door. She does, but returns a few moments later.
“I’ve got some Gatorade for you.”
Once she mentions it, my dry throat wants nothing more.
“Can you leave it by the door?” I croak.
Mom can’t help with this situation. I try to dry-heave more quietly, so she will leave.
I don’t hear her anymore; she must have stepped away. I slide the pocket door. Herri bursts in as soon as there’s clearance for her fat body.
“Are you pregnant?” Mom sits with her back against the wall opposite the bathroom door.
I shudder while reaching for the neon yellow drink. “No, um … I’m on birth control.” Thank God for Norplant.

Mom looks away. I watch for clues to her reaction.

“I’m glad you have Teddie.” Mom doesn’t seem glad, more like disappointed. “But you have me, too. You … you can bring your problems to me instead of keeping secrets.” She takes a deep, steadying breath. “If you ever get into a situation … I will always help you.”

“If I robbed a bank, you’d drive the getaway car?” I say, smiling weakly. She nods. “I’d make sure you wore a seat belt, too.”
I crawl to her. She kisses my forehead. Leaning against her, I rest my head on her shoulder.
The weight of my secrets is exhausting. My whole life has been filled with them. Even as a zygote, I floated in an embryonic sac of secrecy.
If I tell Mom one secret, will I vomit the rest of my secrets all over her? And which one would I open with? Do I start with the earliest one and work forward? Or last in, first out? Uncle David would have me tackle the highest priority first, and list all the rest in descending order.
I decide to begin with the secret that provides the foundation for all the rest.
“It’s hard to tell you things because I don’t want you to worry or to let you down. I’ve already caused you so much pain.”
“Pain?” Her surprise is genuine. “Daunis, you’re the greatest joy of my life.”
“But … I’m the reason your life is stuck in limbo now. If I hadn’t been born, maybe everything could’ve been different for you and Dad.”
Then I say the worst thing I’ve ever heard about myself. “I was the first of all the bad things for both of you.”
She looks at me in astonishment, until an epiphany flickers in her eyes. It lights up her face.
“Children are never to blame for their parents’ lives. Parents are the adults; we are the ones responsible for our choices and how we handle things.” She sits taller at the revelation. “If I’m in limbo, it’s because I chose to remain there. Even inaction is a powerful choice.”

Mom rises with an abundance of sight. Holds out her hand for me. I take it. She lifts me into a tight embrace that flows through me. Continues through the Earth’s crust and mantle, making its way to the solid inner core.

“My life. My choices,” she says. “Not yours.”

My second attempt at a bath goes better. Mom runs the bathwater for me and adds her favorite bubble bath. When my thoughts go to Levi and what I need to do next, I turn on the bath jets and disappear beneath a mountain of lilac- scented bubbles.

An hour later, I zip my black jeans with pruney fingers. The sports bra I grab is also black and has wide straps to cover the purple bruise branding my shoulder. To hide the evidence. As I pull on a black Henley, there’s one moment when my raised arms are immobile. And I feel his words on the back of my neck.

The hallway cameras recorded you coming here willingly.

Will it be like this from now on? Flashbacks? A scent? Remembering things he said that I hoped to forget? A bite-shaped bruise I’ll still see long after it fades?

I wish I’d never agreed to be a CI.

“Daunis, honey. I just remembered—Levi stopped by yesterday on his way to Shagala. So handsome in his tuxedo.” Mom’s voice travels down the hallway ahead of her footsteps. “You haven’t said a word about last night. How was everything?” I quickly check my appearance in the full-length mirror next to my bedroom door.

“It was fine,” I say. Fine. Fine. Fine.

Mom continues from the doorway. “Just fine? Did you and Jamie have a fight?” Her brow furrows.

“Something like that,” I say.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m good, Mom.” I smile so the crease at the top of her nose will smooth out. It does. She looks around my bedroom, zeroing in on the unwrapped gift. “What did Levi give you?”
I reach for the framed photo already on my nightstand. Turn it toward her.

Mom’s first smile is for the overall image. Her second is for my father. After twenty years, she remains besotted with him. I’m torn between seeing her devotion as a triumph or as an anchor weighing her down. Can it be both? I don’t see how.

Reluctantly, she tears her gaze away from him. “Didn’t Levi give you another present?” she asks. I look around.

“I think this is it,” I say.

“But he walked in with two boxes, one gift wrapped and one plain. He said he’d leave them in your room.”

I shrug, feeling my sore left shoulder. I must be imagining it, but I can almost feel the clenching of his fingers.

Mom tells me it’s time for her to head to EverCare. Do I need anything before she leaves?

I want answers.
No. I don’t. Curiosity killed the cat. Doubt tore her into pieces.
Mom leaves. As soon as the front door closes, I look for Levi’s second box. My brother gave me the choker at Shagala last night and the framed photo for me to find today. Where is the other gift?

It feels like déjà vu from searching Levi’s bedroom earlier today. I check beneath my mattress, under my bed, each desk drawer and dresser drawer, every bookcase shelf. I pause to ask myself, aloud, if I am losing my mind. I get no response. I continue to the closet. Top shelf. Second shelf. Boxes of shoes. My Fuck-You pumps. I slide hangers of outfits GrandMary hoped I’d wear. The bottom of my closet has a laundry hamper and my hockey gear duffel bag. My stinky uniform will rot if I don’t wash it. I pick up my bag to drag it into the sunlight.

There is a cardboard box beneath the gear bag. Is this what my mom saw? Why would Levi hide a birthday gift for me?
I forget about my smelly undershirt, clingy shorts, team uniform, and socks.
When I open the box, it’s filled with plain hockey pucks. I don’t understand why this would be a gift for me. I claw my way to the middle of the box, grab a random puck, and raise it like buried treasure.

It’s a smeared dream catcher hockey puck. The same kind from the weekend in Green Bay.

Things That Make Me Angry About the Damn Puck:

1. Dream catchers … seriously.
2. Substandard printing of said dream catchers on pucks going to Nish kids.

3. Donated by Grant Edwards, Coach Bobby said. 4. The pucks aren’t even regulation weight.

I only realize the last item on the list when the puck is in my hand. It’s slightly lighter; most people would never notice. But as someone who played for years—and slept with a puck under her pillow the night before every game—I can tell.

My thumb slides along the bottom of the puck, feeling a hairline crack. Yet another complaint for my list. Eyeballing the bottom of the puck, I see that the crack runs just inside the perimeter. Not a crack. The puck has a lid. I use the rubbery underside of my mouse pad to hold the bottom of the puck in place while I twist the lid.

A folded paper towel nests in the partly hollow middle. I peel back its corners to reveal the hidden treasure that has devastated my community and countless others.

The crystals resemble uncut, raw diamonds. Cloudy, lesser-quality specimens. Made haphazardly, without regard for precise protocols. My meth was so much better. Even Jamie’s would score a higher price than this crap.

The hidden treasure is the answer to a question I hadn’t thought to ask until now:

How does Levi, the mule, distribute meth to other communities? The question I don’t want to ask myself: Why would my brother leave a box of these hockey pucks in my bedroom?

Mathematics, like science, has a language. Although I’m not passionate about math the way I am about science, I am functionally fluent in its numbers, letters, notations, symbols, and jargon.

Scientists and mathematicians approach problems differently. Scientists collect data in order to disprove a null hypothesis—the absence of a difference or relationship. In contrast, mathematicians seek to prove a theory, rather than disprove it. A proof is a set of conditional statements that build logically to a conclusion, thereby turning a theory into a theorem. A deep theorem is a proof that is particularly lengthy or complex, or includes unexpected connections.

Right now, I need both approaches to work through this. I sit on my bed with Dad’s scarf draped over my shoulders, the paper towel of crystal meth in one hand and his choker in the other. A fierce battle is being waged in my head.

The Null Hypothesis that Levi Firekeeper Has Nothing to Do with the Meth Devastation versus
Daunis Fontaine’s Deep Theorem of Her Brother’s Involvement in All the Bad Things

If the FBI is investigating meth activity aligning with the Supes team schedule, then people of interest include players, players’ families, coaching staff, and fans.

If Uncle David hid his notebook where only I could find it and wrote in a code he knew I could decipher, then he clearly wanted me to know that the new mushroom he found was not connected to meth-X and did not cause the group hallucination.

If the Nish kids weren’t having a mushroom-induced group hallucination, then what they saw was a shared encounter with Anishinaabeg spirit beings.

If my uncle chose not to reveal the dead-end information with the FBI, then he intended for them to continue on a wild goose chase.

If Uncle David went missing after sharing his concerns about Light Bulb —the bright student involved in meth—with Light Bulb’s mom, then the parent—Angie Flint—needs to be questioned about my uncle’s suspicious death.

If the fake pucks were how meth was being distributed, then the person donating the pucks—Grant Edwards—is involved.

If bank statements showing foreign wire transfers were found in the team captain’s bedroom, then that player—Levi Firekeeper—is part of the meth operations and laundering his share of the profits.

If the wire transfers were made in my name to an offshore account and the pucks were planted in my closet, then that player—my brother—is setting me up.

If Levi has been setting me up, then he is part of the meth cell, and he is connected to the devastation meth has caused in our community and everywhere else it has been distributed.

If Levi has been weaving this web around me, tighter and tighter, then what will he do next?
My BlackBerry buzzes with an incoming text at the same time as I hear urgent knocking at the front door. I react like a guilty person, hiding the scarf inside the pumpkin dress at the back of my closet. The puck fits in the dress pocket.

I grab my phone while rushing to the front door. Ron: Have you heard from Jamie since last night?

My first thought: Hell no!
My second: That must be Ron at the door.
My third: Why would Ron be texting and knocking at the same time? At the door is the last person I expect to see.
Dana.
Fear grips me. Did she see me running away from her garage?
She’s shaking and crying. Not angry. She’s scared.
“Can you help me?” she pleads. “It’s Levi. I think he’s in trouble.”

CHAPTER 44

A frantic Dana rushes inside before I can react. She’s hyperventilating so badly that I automatically usher her to the nearest chair in the dining room.

Brown paper bags—Mom keeps some in the pantry for student treat bags.

I’m back in a flash with one. Guiding Dana to bend over and breathe into it.

“Um … when you hyperventilate, your body expels carbon dioxide too quickly,” I say. “Recycling your breath restores the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.”

She coughs a laugh into the bag.
Embarrassed, I look away from her. “Sorry. I’m rambling.”
I bounce on the balls of my feet, anxious for Levi’s mom to calm down enough to let me know what the hell’s going on.
Dana rubs her throat. Must be dry.
Tea—Mom and both my grandmothers would fix a cup in this situation.
I dash back to the kitchen and fill half a kettle from the tap. After I turn the gas burner to its highest setting, I return with a teacup and basket of assorted tea packets.

“Please,” Dana says, looking up from the bag. “You too. I have a lot to tell you.”

Can I really turn in my brother to the FBI?

I grab a teacup for myself. When Dana selects chai, I do the same. By the time the teakettle whistles, Dana’s breathing has returned to normal. I pour the steaming water into our dainty china teacups and return the kettle to the cooktop. On my way back to the dining table, I bring a carton of milk and the sugar bowl.

My hands shake, along with Dana’s. Neither of us can wait for the tea to steep properly. We use milk to cool it down. I sip it and realize Mom must not have rinsed all the dish soap from my cup. I grimace and add sugar to make it drinkable.

Whatever it is that she wants to tell me must be truly awful, because I finish my tea waiting for her to begin.

“Levi is mixed up in something bad,” Dana says finally.
“What is it? How bad?” I hope I’m doing a decent job of looking shocked. “It has to do with that Travis mess. I’m so sorry about your friend Lily.”
I blink at the mention of her name, surprised at how fresh the grief still feels.
Dana continues. “Travis was bad news, but my boy is a loyal friend. He’d

go to Sugar Island to talk sense into Travis. Even Stormy knew when to cut his losses, but Levi kept trying.”

My brother goes to the island often, but I’ve always thought it was to take Stormy to his house. Stormy doesn’t like going alone because he never knows how his parents are doing until he steps inside.

“My boy used to think goodness was stronger than darkness.” Dana taps her teaspoon as if sending an urgent message in Morse code. “But my nokomis always said you can’t be around that much darkness without some of it touching you.”

Dana thought Levi was spending time with Travis for well-intentioned interventions. When in fact he was the mule for the meth that Travis was making. At what point did Dana catch on?

“The darknesh—I mean, darkness touched him?” I ask.
One corner of her mouth twitches before she nods.
“He used to confide in me. Most boys don’t tell their mothers much, but

Levi did. Once he made that team, became a Supe, I noticed him shutting me out. Just a little at first.”

As Dana continues talking about Levi, her voice sounds far away. Like it’s coming from the end of the hallway instead of across the table. I concentrate on her words.

“I tried talking him out of getting the Hummer. It was too much for a sixteen-year-old boy. He got so angry. I ended up buying it for him. I know I shouldn’t have, but I wanted things to go back to the way they were between us.”

Levi can be relentless when he wants something. He pestered me to be Stormy’s date for Shagala last year when that was the last thing I wanted.

“I went to Shagala with Stormy …” I trail off. Unsure what point I was trying to make.

That’s odd.

Dana’s mouth is moving, but all I hear is Ron’s last text. Inside my head. His voice repeating it. Growing more urgent each time.

Have you heard from Jamie since last night?
Have you heard from Jamie since last night?
Have you heard from Jamie since last night?
“… one of Levi’s teachers noticed it too. Came to see me.” Have you heard from Jamie since last night?

“Would you excuse me? I need to text someone,” I say, but I’m not sure if the words actually make it out of my mouth.

I push away from the table. My hands touch the rug before I realize that I’m on the floor.

Get up! N’Daunis, bazigonjisen!

Herri boops my nose with her tiny, cold one. I laugh.

Dana coos as if I’m a baby. A wobbly baby deer. She helps me stand. So good to me.

I recognize her perfume. Same as Mom’s. Did they smell the same to my dad?

She walks me to the front door. We slowly ease down the steps. Everything spins.

“Whish teascher?” It’s important, I think.
Dana sighs wearily. Helps me into an old pickup truck. “All you Fontaines ever do is mess things up.”
Uncle David went to see Light Bulb’s mom.
It wasn’t Angie Flint.

DMU Timestamp: June 22, 2022 03:58