There was something not quite right about Thomas Stokes – reflected twelve-year-old Victoria – which was rather odd in itself really, because by all appearances he seemed to be a very average sort of boy. It was only after you’d been looking at him, really seeing him, that you’d begin to notice little things that were just off, like the way the features on either side of his face didn’t quite seem to line up, or the way his flat blue eyes would always appear to be looking about a quarter inch to the right of whomever he was speaking to, or the way all the dogs and cats on the neighborhood avoided him – for animals are perceptive – yet these indications were so subtle, so barely discernible that you could almost think that you were imagining things. It was for this reason – this sense of off-putting-ness – that you always felt compelled always to address him using his formal name “Thomas” and never the more familiar “Tom” (“Tommy” of course being completely out of the question) and never, ever, spend more time in his company than was absolutely necessary.
Perhaps it had something to do with his upbringing. Thomas's father was an itinerant Jesuit preacher, constantly traveling to communities all over the world to spread His Word, doing odd jobs along the way to make ends meet, never living in comfort or staying in one place for long. By his side through it all were his wife and their only son. Thomas grew up in Bangkok, Manila, Lagos, Accra, Durban, Yangon, Salvador, Jakarta, Tal Afar --- to name but some of the better known cities. Most of them you had never heard of, let alone been to, for your had lived your entire life in a small city in western Iowa, of which, if memory served, you never set foot outside.
All these of course were just rumors. No one knew where the family had come from, actually. It was like they’d just shown up suddenly, out of nowhere, about four weeks ago.
The Thomas Stokes question had been weighing on Victoria’s mind for some time, ever since the family moved in next door.
“Dad,” she said one morning at breakfast, “have you ever noticed anything about the people next door?”
“Mmm?” her father responded absent mindedly from behind his newspaper. She couldn’t see his face, only the fat black headlines on the front page. The president was scheduled to give a press conference about some regional conflict in the Middle East. A movie actor she’d never heard of was caught dealing drugs. In local news, a second child had gone missing in town. “Did you say something?”
“It’s just – oh, never mind.” He wouldn’t understand. It was her impression that adults didn’t pay nearly enough attention to kids anyway.
“If you’re sure,” he said mildly, not looking up fro