The Peters sisters had followed the road about a third of a mile before they hooked a left per Matteo’s instructions. They had originally planned to meet Clyde’s forces head-on, but the consensus was that Lizzie and Lori would take an alternative route and surprise their dastardly uncle. They knew him well enough to know that he never thought far enough ahead; when he sent that SUV of bandits down Graham Street, he did so while underestimating his enemy. Remiel would have the remaining captives out of harm’s way before backup would reach the stadium, and by then, Clyde would be staring down the barrel of a gun belonging to one of his nieces.
As she quietly ordered Leah to scout ahead, Lizzie realized that the market was suspiciously silent. She’d never been to one after hours, but she assumed she would hear laughter, sobs, roughhousing, and so on. She heard no such ruckus, and the silence had her on edge.
“Relax,” Lori grumbled. “All the captives were at the stadium, an’ since Remi took out the guys watchin’ ‘em, that means the only ones left are with Clyde at the middle of the market. People don’t actually live here when it’s shut down.”
Lizzie frowned. “How d’you always seem to know what I’m thinkin’?”
Her accent was beginning to slip out, and for once, she didn’t fight it. It came out after spending long periods of time with her mother and siblings, and as much as she hated sounding different from Monty and her friends, she also liked having something that connected her to her family.
“Your forehead’s wrinkled to all hell an’ I’d think you were in pain with all that frownin’,” her sister rationalized. When Lizzie absentmindedly relaxed her face and rubbed her forehead, Lori admitted, “Plus, I was thinkin’ the same. It’s too damn quiet.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right, though,” sighed Lizzie. She could see Leah at the intersection up ahead; the fox slunk around in the shadows, sniffing and peering down every direction before settling on her haunches. This told the scouts that there was no danger awaiting them, at least at the intersection ahead, and that made her relax, if only a little.
Well, since we’ve got the time… “So, I’ve been thinkin’–”
“Ugh. Can’t this wait?”
“I think we’ve established that we got time an’ privacy,” Lizzie noted, gesturing around them. Lori grumbled unintelligibly but did not reject the notion, allowing her sister to continue. “Anyway, I want everyone to start goin’ to therapy.”
Lori cocked an eyebrow. “To what?”
“Oh, right. Therapy is sorta like medicine, but instead of helpin’ with broken bones an’ colds, they treat mental disorders an’ psychological trauma. Y’know, the kind that builds up in people like us with fucked up childhoods.”
“There’s medicine for havin’ a fucked up childhood?”
“For some people. Usually the medicine isn’t an actual pill or herb, an’ it’s just a therapy session where you talk through all the shit you went through.”
Lori took a deep breath and let it out through her nose. “You want us to talk ‘bout what happened.”
“Nah, not really. I’ve been doin’ a lot better since we got here; I’m a scout, I got a life an’ an almost boyfriend–”
“Yeah, when’d that happen?” Lizzie perked up. “I saw you an’ Fin gettin’ real cozy back at camp.”
Her elder sister rolled her eyes. “Girl, I am so not talkin’ to you ‘bout my love life.”
Lizzie gasped excitedly. “So there’s love involved?”
“Ugh! The point is that I don’t needa sit-down to pour my heart out to you an’ Mama an’ the others. I’m removed from all that shit, y’know? I’m fine.”
“Right,” nodded the younger of the two, her lips pursed. “An’ those nightmares don’t mean nothin’, right?”
Lori’s jaw clenched. “Right.”
“Uh-huh. Well, we ain’t all as put-together as you, an’ I really think therapy will help the rest of us move forward. You should come even if you don’t participate–to support me an’ our family, I mean.”
There was a short pause. “I guess I can do that.”
With that out of the way, the silence that followed was less tense, and the sisters managed to meet with their fox guide and turned right down another street. They had to travel another quarter of a mile before changing direction yet again, and Lizzie had to admit that she was enjoying the time she was spending with her most abrasive sibling. Sure, their night began with them killing a truckload of bandits, but everything seemed to be heading in the right direction.
“So, what’ll happen after this?” asked Lori, surprising her younger sister.
“We go home, rest up, an’ plan our attack on the next stronghold,” Lizzie relayed.
“I know that. I meant, what’s gonna happen after we finish up with all this bandit bullshit?” she clarified. “Like, after the tribe heads off to Florida an’ we get Nat an’ the others back.”
“Ohhh.” Lizzie hadn’t thought that far ahead–she didn’t see the point when any one of them could die before their mission was complete. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll go back to defendin’ the border an’ lookin’ after the halfway house. Might take a week or so to chill at home, that way I can spend some time with my kids.”
Lori smirked. “They’d like that. Those rugrats are crazy ‘bout you an’ Monty.”
Her response elicited a giggle from her little sister. “They ain’t babies, Lori. They’re all ‘round Addy’s age, some a bit younger.”
“What about you?” asked Lizzie. “What do you wanna do once the Jesup Gang is gone for good?”
Lori chewed on her bottom lip. “Don’t freak out or nothin’, a’ight?”
Lizzie’s eyebrows rose. “I’ll try.”
“Fin an’ I been talkin’ ‘bout travelin’. He wants to visit K.C. an’ other colonies to see how they run shit, an’ I wanna go out west an’ down south. I wanna see Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama–”
“Whoa!” Lizzie cautioned her elder sister, her mind spinning. “You wanna leave? Central an’ South America are supposed to have it worse with bandits than we do. Are you sure you wanna go there?”
Lori rolled her eyes again. “Ugh! It ain’t like we gon’ live there. I just wanna see the sights.”
“What sights are there to see that you can’t get here?” scoffed Lizzie. She didn’t know much about anywhere beyond the southeastern region of their continent, but she couldn’t imagine life being that much different. The people there still had to live their lives day-to-day, fending off bandits and protecting their loved ones.
Her sister chewed on her bottom lip again. Lizzie had never seen Lori like this before, but between her weird habit and the resurgence of the dark-yet-transparent green in her aura, she realized that this was a sign that Lori was apprehensive about something. She was debating whether or not to provide her with the assurance that nothing she said would be met with judgment, but Lori spoke before she had the chance.
“You remember Gram?”
Lizzie scrunched her face and did her best to conjure up an image of their maternal grandmother. While Kitty Shaw had been born into the bandit lifestyle, her mother Karah was a colonist who had been taken captive by their grandfather when she was barely seventeen. They were never allowed to leave Jesup unless they were part of a raid, and the Shaws almost never made the trip down to see them. Reunions and family visits weren’t exactly commonplace in bandit clans.
“Yeah, Mama showed me a photo once. She was really pretty.”
“Yeah,” Lori sighed. “We got word that she died a year after Jesup went up in smoke. Apparently, Pappy was a lot more lax than Daddy with the whole, ‘don’t educate your daughters’ bull, so Gram taught Mama everything she could. How to read, write, do math, basic survival skills–she learned it all an’ then some. An’ Gram’s favorite book was this big one with pictures of butterflies in it. They were called somethin’ like ‘metalmark’ butterflies, or whatever. Anyway, after Gram died, the book was left for Mama with one of those notes we were tellin’ you ‘bout that were bein’ left by someone on the inside. There was a letter inside for Mama from Gram, tellin’ her all ‘bout how happy she was that her baby got away. That book’s all Mama has left of Gram Karah, an’ she let me look through it a couple times…”
Her words trailed off as she mulled over something–Lizzie presumed her sister was recalling her memories of either the book, its reunion with their mother, or even their grandmother, but she couldn’t be too sure. She did not have to wait long to find out.
“They’re the prettiest things I ever seen, Liz. Those butterflies have wings with colors that shimmer an’ shine in the light, an’ they still manage to hide in plain sight from predators. Some of ‘em travel to Mexico, but that’s as far north as they go. I wanna see ‘em in real life.”
Then Lori switched her pistol to her off-hand and pulled her smartphone from the pocket of her leggings, and it was another moment before she handed the phone to her sister. Curious, Lizzie took the device and gazed down at the screen with wide eyes. The image displayed was of a tiny little butterfly on a green leaf. Its small rounded wings were a smooth sand dollar shade that darkened to hazelwood and then soot brown along the edges. Deep brown oval patches marked the wingtips, separated from the rest of the wing by lines of dark rose and sparkly fuschia. Two of the patches were filled in with a beautiful shade of cobalt; one on the upper wing, and the other on the lower.
“Holy shit!” Lizzie gasped, captivated by the sight. All the flying insects she had seen around Georgia were fairly bland, so to be presented with one sporting such unique colors was beyond what she had known to be possible. “Is this even real?!”
Lori let out a small laugh. “I asked the same thing when I saw that one. That’s the Euselasia perisama, or the lilac-banded euselasia. Swipe to see my other favorites.”
Lizzie swiped at the screen, amazed by the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of the insects. She saw a few whose markings mimicked the faces of predators, one or two with cute fuzzy legs, and even one with transparent wings that looked as if it were expertly crafted from lace and mesh.
Then she swiped to the final image, and her breath caught in her throat. The butterfly pictured looked simple enough–dark wings with even darker spots, and dashes of shimmering color here or there–but upon closer inspection, the insect was anything but. Its side-spread wings were a deep soot with black spots that gave off an indigo tint. The top of the forewings were lined with shimmering lapis blue with hints of periwinkle, which gave way to random splatterings of vibrant parakeet green sparkles. Hints of blood red could be seen deep within the scales along the top, and the layer of coffee brown that marked the bottom of the hind wings was outshined by a dusting of lemon yellow. It was a fascinating sight to behold, even if it looked as if someone had created a beautiful dark butterfly and then let their grade schooler paint glitter onto it. There were so many colors, deep and murky and bright and shiny, and Lizzie had a hard time figuring out which part of the butterfly was her favorite.
Lori craned her neck to peek at the screen of her phone and let out a chuckle as she shook her head. “Yeah, you would like that one.”
“What’s it called?” asked Lizzie, her russet eyes glued to the screen.
“It’s the Caria trochilus, or the rainbow metalmark butterfly,” Lori revealed with a smirk. “An’ with that freaky aura vision of yours, I thought you’d be over seein’ so many colors. Good to be wrong for once.”
Lizzie blinked as the name rang in her ears, and she threw her elder sister a suspicious look. “Caria? That kinda sounds like Gram’s name. Did you name it?”
Lori laughed again. “Nah, I didn’t. It’s the name it was given by lepidopterists a couple hundred years ago. I never realized how much it sounds like Karah ‘til you said that, though.”
Lizzie stole another glance at the winged insect before returning the phone to her sister, her thoughts consumed by the existence of such a vibrant creature. The name “Caria” echoed in her mind, reminding her of how it felt to have the word roll off her tongue. It was pretty and pure and untainted by the memories of their father.
“Have you ever thought ‘bout changin’ your name?” she blurted out, catching them both off guard.
Lori recovered with exceptional timing and a half shrug. “Not really. Mama still calls me Loretta, so I don’t totally hate it, but I prefer Lori.”
Lizzie nodded as she was struck with guilt. “Sorry for usin’ your name like that back there. I was just upset that Clyde’s here.”
“How the hell you think I feel?” Lori grumbled. There was a short pause before she sighed. “An’ me too. I know you hate your name more than any of us do ours, an’ I’m sure it’s probably ‘cause you didn’t get to spend the last few years hearin’ just Mama say it. Don’t no one else call you that, though?”
“Nah. Monty called me it once when I first got here, an’ there were teachers that said it here an’ there when I enrolled at the school, but everyone kinda picked up on how I feel ‘bout it.”
Her sister slid her phone back into her pocket and switched her gun back to her dominant hand. “Well? You gonna change your name?”
“I wouldn’t even know what to change it to,” she replied honestly.
“Is that all that’s holdin’ you back?” pressed Lori.
Lizzie sighed. “I guess I’m worried that no one will take my new name seriously–or that they’ll constantly forget an’ get frustrated over the change.”
The elder Peters girl sucked the air between her teeth. “That’s bull.”
“If you wanna change your name, change your name,” Lori insisted. “You wanna go by Princess or April or Tameeka or Maria? Then do it. It’s your damn name, an’ anyone who won’t call you by it will have to deal with me an’ your man–’cause you know damn well Monty’ll do anythin’ to make you happy, an’ callin’ you a new name ain’t a problem if it helps him do that.”
Lizzie’s expression brightened at the idea of Monty calling her by a different name, though she wasn’t even sure what she would choose. Her face fell again when she considered those who might take issue with her decision. “But what about Mama?”
Lori let out a snort. “Ain’t like she the one who named you. I bet she had names she wanted to call us before Daddy took that from her. Hell, she hates bein’ called Kitty.”
For the second time in their conversation, Lizzie felt her eyes grow wide. “Wait, really? What’s Mama prefer?”
“From us? Mama. To everyone else, she’d rather be Katherine. I heard Ainslie call her Kathy once, though, an’ I swear her face turned red.”
The sisters erupted in giggles at the thought of their mother blushing over a small interaction with her partner. Ainslie ran the colony’s power plant, and as Tawni and Benji’s mom, she somehow managed to encompass Tawni’s passionate reactions and Benji’s level-headed demeanor into one fantastic package. She and the former bandit had also entered a relationship within recent months, which surprised Lizzie. She couldn’t imagine her mother dating anyone, and Ainslie had seemed perfectly content to remain single after she separated from Sylas, her husband. To learn that two of her favorite people had found something special in each other only added to the warmth that persisted over their winter trials.
“That explains why Monty an’ Mona call her Katherine,” she realized with a smirk. “That’s awesome. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I gotta introduce her to someone new.”
“Who the hell we gon’ introduce her to? She got a partner, a job, a home, an’ she’s met Monty’s family.”
Lizzie wiggled her eyebrows in Lori’s direction. “She’s still gotta meet Viv an’ Fin’s families.”
If there had been more light on them beside that which shone off the surface of the full moon, Lizzie was confident that she would have seen her sister’s face turn the shade of bricks. Lori had been on board with her younger sibling’s statement when she thought it ended with Maggie’s girlfriend–only for her expression to contort as she registered her own partner’s name. A range of emotions flashed through her eyes; excitement, fear, sadness–
Her aura, which had been a battle for dominance between various colors, had settled on shades of pink that ranged from dark magenta to smooth fuschia to bright bubblegum. “Yeah, she does.”
They met up with Leah and hooked a left on Caldwell when Lori asked, “You got a name picked out yet?”
Lizzie mulled over some possibilities, but only one name sent a flurry of butterflies loose within her. “Yeah, I think I do.”