Unwind / Page 19

Page 19

Lev keeps his eyes closed and doesn't move.

"Well, I was storked," Cy says. "My dads got me on the doorstep the first day of summer. No big deal—they were ready to have a family anyway. In fact, they were so pleased, they finally made it official and got themselves mmarried."

Lev opens his eyes, curious enough to admit he's still awake. "But . . . after the Heartland War, didn't they make it illegal for men to get married?"

"They didn't get married, they got mmarried."

"What's the difference?"

CyFi looks at him like he's a moron. "The letter m. Anyway, in case you're wondering, I'm not like my dads—my compass points to girls, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah. Yeah, mine does too." What he doesn't tell CyFi is that the closest he's ever been to a date or even kissing a girl was the slow dancing at his tithing party.

The thought of the party brings a sudden and sharp jolt of anxiety that makes him want to scream, so he squeezes his eyes tight and forces that explosive feeling to go away.

Everything from Lev's old life is like that now—a ticking time bomb in his head. Forget that life, he tells himself. You're not that boy anymore.

"What are your parents like?" CyFi asks.

"I hate them," Lev says, surprised that he's said it. Surprised that he means it. "That's not what I asked."

This time Cy isn't taking silence for an answer, so Lev tells him as best he can. "My parents," he begins, "do everything they're supposed to. They pay their taxes. They go to church. They vote the way their friends expect them to vote, and think what they're supposed to think, and they send us to schools that raise us to think exactly like they do."

"Doesn't sound too terrible to me."

"It wasn't," says Lev, his discomfort building. "But they loved God more than they loved me, and I hate them for it. So I guess that means I'm going to Hell."

"Hmm. Tell you what. When you get there, save a room for me, okay?"

"Why? What makes you think you're going there?''

"I don't, but just in case. Gotta plan your contingencies, right?"

* * *

Two days later they find themselves in the town of Scottsburg, Indiana. Well, at least Lev finally knows what state they're in. He wonders if maybe this is CyFi's destination, but Cy hasn't said anything either way. They've left the railroad tracks, and CyFi tells Lev they have to go south on county roads until they can find tracks heading in that direction.

Cy hasn't been acting right. It began the night before. Something in his voice.

Something in his eyes, too. At first Lev thought it was his imagination, but now in the pale light of the autumn day it's clear that CyFi isn't himself. He's lagging behind Lev instead of leading. His stride is all off—more like a shuffle than a strut. It makes Lev anxious in a way he hasn't been since before he met CyFi.

"Are you ever going to tell me where we're going?" Lev asks, figuring that maybe they're close, and maybe that's why Cy's acting weird.

CyFi hesitates, weighing the wisdom of saying anything. Finally he says, "We're going to Joplin. That's in southwest Missouri, so we've still got a long way to go."

In the back of his mind, Lev registers that CyFi has completely dropped his Old Umber way of talking. Now he sounds like any other kid Lev might have known back home. But there's also something dark and throaty about his voice now, too. Vaguely menacing, like the voice of a werewolf before it turns.

"What's in Joplin?" Lev asks.

"Nothing for you to worry about."

But Lev is beginning to worry—because when CyFi gets where he's going, Lev will be alone again. This journey was easier when he didn't know the destination.

As they walk, Lev can tell Cy's mind is somewhere else. Maybe it's in Joplin. What could be there? Maybe a girlfriend moved there? Maybe he had tracked down his birth mother. Lev has worked up a dozen reasons for CyFi to be on this trip, and there's probably a dozen more he hasn't even thought of.

There's a main street in Scottsburg trying to be quaint but just looking tired. It's late morning as they move through town. Restaurants are gearing up for the lunch crowd.

"So, are you gonna use your charms to get us a free meal, or is it my turn to try?" Lev asks. He turns to Cy, but he's not there. A quick scan of the shops behind him and Lev sees a door swinging closed. It's a Christmas store, its windows all done up in green and red decorations, plastic reindeer, and cotton snow. Lev can't imagine Cy has gone in there, but when he peers in the window, there he is, looking around like a customer. With the weird way CyFi has been acting, Lev has no choice but to go in as well.

It's warm in the store, and it smells of artificial pine. It's the kind of scent they put on cardboard air fresheners. There are fully trimmed aluminum Christmas trees all around, displaying all sorts of holiday decorations, each tree with a different theme. In another time and place, Lev would have loved wandering through a store like this.

A saleswoman eyes them suspiciously from behind the counter. Lev grabs Cy's shoulder. "C'mon, let's get out of here." But Cy shakes him off and goes over to a tree that's decorated all in glittering gold. He seems mesmerized by all the bulbs and tinsel. There's the slightest twitch right beneath his left eye.

"Cy," whispers Lev. "C'mon—we have to get to Joplin. Remember? Joplin."

But Cy's not moving. The saleswoman comes over. She wears a holiday sweater and a holiday smile. "Can I help you find something?"

"No," says Lev. "We were just leaving."

"A nutcracker," says Cy. "I'm looking for a nutcracker for my mom."

"Oh, they're on the back wall." The woman turns to look across the store, and the moment she does, Cy picks a dangling gold bauble from the glittering tree and slips it into his coat pocket.

Lev just stands there, stunned.

Cy doesn't even spare Lev a glance as he follows the woman to the back wall, where they discuss nutcrackers.

There's a panic brewing deep down in Lev now, slowly fighting its way to the surface. Cy and the woman chat for a few moments more, then Cy thanks her and comes back to the front of the store. "I've gotta get more money from home," he says in his Cy/not-Cy voice. "I think my mom will like the blue one."

You don't have a mom, Lev wants to say, but he doesn't because all that matters now is getting out of the shop.

"All right then," says the saleswoman. "You have a nice day!"

Cy leaves, and Lev makes sure he's right behind him, just in case Cy suddenly has a phantom urge to go back into the store and take something else.

Then, the moment the door closes behind them, CyFi takes off. He doesn't just run, he ejects, like he's trying to burst out of his own skin. He bolts down the block, then into the street. Then back again. Cars honk, a truck nearly mows him down. He darts in random directions like a balloon losing air, and then he disappears into an alley far down the street.

This is not about a gold Christmas bulb. It can't be. It's a meltdown. It's a seizure, the nature of which Lev can't even begin to guess. I should just let him go, Lev thinks. Let him go, then run in the opposite direction, and not look back. Lev could survive on his own now. He's gotten street-smart enough. He could do it without CyFi.

But there was that look about Cy before he ran. Desperation. It was just like the look in Connor's face the moment he pulled Lev out of his father's comfortable sedan. Lev had turned on Connor. He will not turn on CyFi.

With a pace and stride far steadier than CyFi's, Lev crosses the street and makes his way down the alley.

"CyFi," he calls, loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to draw attention. "Cy!" He glances in Dumpsters and doorways. "Cyrus, where are you?" He comes to the end of the alley and looks left and right. No sign of him. Then, as he's about to lose hope, he hears, "Fry?"

He turns his head and listens again.

"Fry. Over here."

This time he can tell where it's coming from: a playground to his right. Green plastic and steel poles painted blue. There are no children playing—the only sign of life is the tip of CyFi's shoe poking out from behind the slide. Lev crosses through a hedge, steps down into the sand that surrounds the playground, and circles the apparatus until CyFi comes into view.

Lev almost wants to back away from what he sees.

Cy is curled, knees to chest, like a baby. The left side of his face is twitching, and his left hand quivers like gelatin. He grimaces as if he's in pain.

"What is it? What's wrong? Tell me. Maybe I can help you."

"Nothing," CyFi hisses. "I'll be all right."

But to Lev he looks like he's dying.

In his shaking left hand CyFi holds the ornament he stole. "I didn't steal this," he says.

"Cy . . ."

"I SAID, I DIDN'T STEAL THIS!" He smashes the heel of his right hand against the side of his head. "IT WASN'T ME!"

"Okay—whatever you say." Lev looks around to make sure they're unobserved.

Cy quiets down a bit. "Cyrus Finch doesn't steal. Never did, never will. It's not my style." He says it, even as he looks at the evidence right there in his hand. But in a second the evidence is gone. CyFi raises his right fist and smashes it into his left palm, shattering the bulb. Gold glass tinkles to the ground. Blood begins to ooze from his left palm and right knuckles.

"Cy, your hand . . ."

"Don't worry about that," he says. "I want you to do some-thing for me, Fry. Do it before I change my mind."

Lev nods.

"See my coat over there? I want you to look in the pockets."

CyFi's heavy coat is a few yards away tossed over the seat of a swing. Lev goes to the swing set and picks up the coat. He reaches into an inside pocket and finds, of all things, a gold cigarette lighter. He pulls it out.

"Is that it, Cy? You want a cigarette?" If a cigarette would bring CyFi out of this, Lev would be the first to light it for him. There are things far more illegal than cigarettes, anyway.

"Check the other pockets."

Lev searches the other pockets for a pack of cigarettes, but there are none. Instead he finds a small treasure trove. Jeweled earrings, watches, a gold necklace, a diamond bracelet— things that shimmer and shine even in the dim daylight.

"Cy, what did you do . . . ?"

"I already told you, it wasn't me! Now go take all that stuff and get rid of it. Get rid of it and don't let me see where you put it." Then he covers his eyes like it's a game of hide-and-seek. "Go—before he changes my mind!"

Lev pulls everything out of the pocket and, cradling it in his arms, runs to the far end of the playground. He digs in the cold sand and drops it all in, kicking sand back over it. When he's done, he smoothes it over with the side of his shoe and drops a scattering of leaves above it. He goes back to CyFi, who's sitting there just like Lev left him, hands over his face.

"It's done," Lev says. "You can look now." When Cy takes his hands away, there's blood all over his face from the cuts on his hands. Cy stares at his hands, then looks at Lev helplessly, like . . . well, like a kid who just got hurt in a playground. Lev half expects him to cry.

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