By Berneta L. Haynes and Lornett B. Vestal
Valerie rode with Bradford, who regaled her with details about Grand Teton and the area’s natural history. She surmised he was a geologist, but as he went on, he mentioned working as a plumber twenty-five years ago before the Great Turn.
“Those were simpler days, weren’t they? Before that woman…what’s her name…?” He paused and snapped his fingers. “Eve Cooper. Before Eve Cooper exposed that agency and told the world about us. The world ain’t looked the same since 2020, has it?”
Valerie remained quiet.
“I guess I was stupid enough to think the world might accept us. Some did. For a minute, until they decided we were a threat.” Bradford shook his head. “Man, Eve Cooper’s face was all over the TV back in those days. The most famous fader activist and advocate, until they almost killed her reality TV star friend…what’s her name?”
“AJ Taylor,” Valerie answered. “Her show was pretty good. I was mad when it ended.”
“Yeah. Eve Cooper dropped off the face of the earth soon after that. Nobody’s heard anything from her in twenty years.”
Valerie kept quiet, not daring to whisper a peep about Eve Cooper or the fact that she was very much alive and still helping faders. In fact, she still couldn’t believe she’d spent months staying with Eve Cooper. It amazed her how well Eve had hidden herself from the world, tucked away in the middle of the abandoned Indiana countryside, how she’d established a clandestine safe house to offer faders passage out of hostile areas. Through a combination of her fader abilities, including telepathy, Eve had managed to stay off the radar.
“I figure she’s dead at this point,” said Bradford.
Valerie glanced at him. “Probably so.”
After a moment of silence, he transitioned to a description of the estate and how he’d found peace there, “thanks to my new family.”
They soon arrived at a massive estate, and Valerie checked the side mirror to ensure that Grayson and Mia were behind them with Nattie. A mansion sat in the middle of the most expansive lawn Valerie had ever seen. She noted the giant marble columns decorating the front entrance as they reached the driveway. Bradford stopped near the end of the driveway and turned off the truck as a heavy-set blond woman with a big smile approached him.
Grayson and Mia exited the Jeep and helped Nattie to her feet. Valerie joined Mia and Grayson and watched Bradford hug the blond woman, while Nattie wrapped her tiny arms around the woman’s waist.
Bradford turned to Valerie, Grayson, and Mia. “This is my life partner, June.”
June smiled at them and scooped Nattie up. “Welcome, friends.”
Valerie and Mia exchanged uncertain glances.
“You three live here by yourselves?” said Grayson. “This place is huge.”
Bradford laughed. “No, we all live here.”
“All?” asked Mia.
“Like I said, it’s a safe place for faders and their loved ones.” He glanced at the vehicles. “We can leave the cars here, and I’ll move them later.”
“We have new visitors! Oh my God!” A woman with pigtails emerged from the front double doors. Wearing a big grin, she rushed down the front steps to meet them.
Valerie surveyed the woman’s unusual attire, a flowing white robe with bright jewels lining the collar.
The woman hugged Bradford and kissed his cheek before turning to Valerie, Mia, and Grayson. “I’m Bom. Welcome to Eden’s Paradise.”
Grayson extended his hand to the woman, but she pulled him into a hug. The uncomfortable look on his face amused Valerie. He cleared his throat when Bom released him and muttered a greeting.
When Bom approached Valerie with open arms, Valerie took half a step back. “Nice to meet you, Bom.”
Bom’s smile faltered for a second, but she nodded at Valerie. After hugging Mia, she looked around at them and grinned. “What a beautiful day for visitors.”
Something is off about these people. Valerie’s mind raced, and she wondered how long it would take Bradford’s people to fix the Jeep. She looked around for the garage he’d mentioned. But Mia’s excited scream startled her and snapped her out of these meandering thoughts.
“You’re Bom Hayoon from Girl Six,” Mia exclaimed.
“Girl Six? You mean that South Korean girl group that was super popular twenty years ago?” Valerie asked.
Bom smiled wider. “Yeah, that’s the one. But that was ages ago. My K-Pop days are far behind me now.”
“I used to listen to you all the time. It annoyed my mom so much,” Mia added, beaming. “I’d sing all your songs. “Boy Don’t Go,” “I Want You Back,” and “Never Let Go.” But “Last Kiss” was my favorite.”
“Maybe you can give us a tour of your place, Bom,” said Grayson.
Bom giggled. “Oh no, this isn’t my place. It belongs to all of the wayward faders and their friends who don’t have a home. But I’ll gladly show you all around, and maybe you’ll meet Sage at dinner.”
Valerie studied the woman and glanced at Bradford and June. The sooner they got back on the road the better, she decided. “We appreciate the hospitality. But we just want to get our Jeep fixed so we can hit the road. We have maybe ten hours of driving to reach the border of Washington in the Coalition West.”
Mia looked at Valerie with disapproval. But she turned to Bom and grinned. “Did you say Sage? Sage, the singer?”
“We all live here with her in this safe place she’s created for faders. Two thousand acres of peace and tranquility. Most people left Jackson and Jackson Hole long ago. We’re grateful for Sage.”
Mia’s face lit up and she turned to Valerie and Grayson. “Can we please stay the night? I have to meet Sage.” She turned a pouting face to them.
“All right,” said Grayson, draping his arm over her shoulders.
Valerie groaned. “Only until we get the Jeep fixed. Once it’s fixed, we head out.”