Unwind / Page 20

Page 20

"You wait here," Lev says. "I'll go get some bandages." He knows he'll have to steal them. He wonders what Pastor Dan would say about all the things he's been stealing lately.

"Thank you, Fry," Cy says. "You did good, and I ain't gonna forget it." The Old Umber lilt is back in his voice. The twitching has stopped.

"Sure thing," says Lev, with a comforting smile, and he heads off to find a pharmacy.

What CyFi doesn't know is that Lev has kept a single diamond bracelet, which he now hides in the inside pocket of his not-so-white jacket.

* * *

Lev finds them a place to sleep that night. It's the best they've had yet: a motel room. Finding it wasn't all that hard to do— he scouted out a run-down motel without many cars out front. Then it was just a matter of finding an unlocked bathroom window in an unoccupied room. As long as they kept the curtains drawn and the lights off, no one would know they were there.

"My genius keeps rubbin' off on you," CyFi tells him. Cy's back to his old self, like the incident that morning never happened. Only it did happen, and they both know it.

Outside they hear a car door open. Lev and Cy prepare to bolt if a key turns in the motel room lock, but it's another door they hear opening, a few rooms away. Cy shakes out his tension, but Lev doesn't relax. Not yet.

"I want to know about today," Lev says. It's not a question. It's a request.

Cy is unconcerned. "Ancient history," he says. "Leave the past in the past, and live for the moment. That's wisdom you can take to the grave, and dig up when you need it!"

"What if I dig it up right now?" Lev takes a moment to let it sink in, then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the diamond bracelet. He holds it in front of him, making sure the streetlight spilling through a slit in the curtains catches the diamonds so they glisten.

"Where'd you get that?" CyFi's voice has lost all the playfulness it had only a second ago.

"I kept it," Lev says, calmly. "I thought it might come in handy."

"I told you to get rid of it."

"It wasn't yours to get rid of. After all, you said it yourself—you didn't steal it." Lev twists the bracelet so a diamond refracts a sparkle of light right into CyFi's eye. Without the room lights on Lev can't see much, but he can swear he sees CyFi's cheek starting to twitch.

Cy stands up, looming over Lev. Lev stands as well, a full head shorter than CyFi. "You take that outta my face," says CyFi, "or I swear I'm gonna pound you into pork rinds."

Lev thinks he might actually do it, too. CyFi clenches his fists; with the bandages he looks like a boxer, hands wrapped before putting on the gloves. Still, Lev doesn't back down. He just dangles the bracelet. It sends little twinkling lights flitting around the room like a lazy disco ball. "I'll put it away if you tell me why this bracelet and all those other things wound up in your pockets."

"Put it away first, then I'll tell you."

"Fair enough." Lev slips the bracelet back into his pocket and waits, but CyFi isn't talking. So Lev gives him a little prompt. "What's his name?" Lev asks. "Or is it a she?"

CyFi's shoulders slump in defeat. He crumples into a chair. Lev can't see his face at all now in the darkness, so Lev-listens closely to his voice. As long as it still sounds like Cy's voice, he knows that Cy's okay. Lev sits himself on the edge of the bed a few feet away from Cy and listens.

"It's a he," Cy says. "I don't know his name. He musta kept his name in another part of his brain. All I got was his right temporal lobe. That's only an eighth of the cerebral cortex, so I'm seven-eighths me, and one-eighth him."

"I figured that was it." Lev had realized what was going on with Cy even before he stole the bandages from the pharmacy. Cy gave him the clue himself. Do it before he changes my mind, Cy had said. "So ... he was a shoplifter?"

"He had . . . problems. I guess those problems are why his parents had him unwound in the first place. And now one of his problems is mine."

"Wow. That sucks."

CyFi laughs bitterly at that. "Yeah, Fry, it does."

"It's kind of like what happened to my brother Ray," says Lev. "He went to this government auction thing—ended up with ten acres on a lake, and it cost next to nothing. Then he finds out that the land came with a bunker full of toxic chemicals seeping into the ground. Now he owned it, so now it was his problem. Cost him almost ten times the cost of the land to clean up the chemicals."

"Sucker," says Cy.

"Yeah. But then, those chemicals weren't in his brain."

Cy looks down for a moment. "He's not a bad kid. He's just hurting. Hurting real bad." The way Cy's talking, it's like the kid is still there, right in the room with them. "He's got this urge about him to grab things—like an addiction, y'know? Shiny things mostly. It's not like he really wants them, it's just that he kind of needs to snap 'em up. I figure he's a kleptomaniac. That means . . . ah, hell, you know what it means."

"So, he talks to you?"

"No, not really. I didn't get the part of him that uses words. I get feelings mostly. Sometimes images, but usually just feelings. Urges. When I get an urge and I don't know where it's coming from, I know it's from him. Like the time I saw this Irish setter on the street and I wanted to go over and pet it. I'm not a dog person, see, but all of a sudden I just had to pet that pooch."

Now that Cy's talking about it, he can't stop. It's all spilling out like water over a dam. "Petting that dog was one thing, but the stealing is another. The stealing makes me mad. I mean, here I am, a law-abiding citizen, never took nothing that didn't belong to me my whole life, and now I'm stuck with this. There's people out there—like that lady in the Christmas store—they see an umber kid like me and they automatically assume I'm up to no good. And now, thanks to this kid in my head, they're right. And you wanna know what's funny? This kid was lily-sienna, like you. Blond hair, blue eyes."

Hearing that surprises Lev. Not the description, but the fact that Cy can describe him at all. "You know what he looked like?"

CyFi nods. "I can see him sometimes. It's hard, but sometimes I can. I close my eyes and imagine myself looking into a mirror. Usually I just see myself reflected, but once in a while I can see him. It's only for an instant. Kinda like trying to catch a bolt of lightning after you've already seen the flash. But other people—they don't see him when he steals. It's me they see. My hands grabbing."

"The people who matter know it's not you. Your dads . . ."

"They don't even know about this!" Cy says. "They think they did me a favor stickin' me with this brain chunk. If I told them about it, they'd feel guilty until the end of time, so I can't tell them."

Lev doesn't know what to say. He wishes he'd never brought it up. He wishes he hadn't insisted on knowing. But most of all, he wishes Cy didn't have to deal with this. He's a good guy. He deserves a better break.

"And this kid—he doesn't even understand he's a part of me," Cy says. "It's like those ghosts that don't know they're dead. He keeps trying to be him, and can't understand why the rest of him ain't there."

All of a sudden Lev realizes something. "He lived in Joplin, didn't he!"

Cy doesn't answer for a long time. That's how Lev knows it's true. Finally Cy says, "There are things he's still got locked up in my brain that I can't get at. All I know is that he's got to get to Joplin, so I got to get there too. Once we're there, maybe he'll leave me alone."

CyFi shifts his shoulders—not in a shrug but in an uncomfortable roll, like when you get an itch in your back or a sudden shiver. "I don't want to talk about him no more. His one-eighth feels a whole lot bigger when I spend time hanging around in his gray matter."

Lev wants to put his arm around Cy's shoulder like an older brother to comfort him, but he just can't bring himself to do it. So instead he pulls the blanket from the bed and wraps it around Cy as he sits in the chair.

"What's this all about?"

"Just making sure you two stay warm." And then he says, "Don't worry about anything. I've got it all under control." CyFi laughs. 'Tour You can't even take care of yourself and now you think you're gonna take care of me? If it weren't for me you'd still be chowing down on other folk's garbage back at the mall."

"That's right—but you helped me. Now it's my turn to do the same for you. And I'm going to get you to Joplin."

22 Risa

Risa Megan Ward watches everything around her closely and carefully. She's seen enough at StaHo to know that survival rests on how observant you are.

For three weeks she, Connor, and a mixed bag of Unwinds have been shuttled from one safe house to another. It's maddening, for there seems to be no end in sight to this relentless underground railroad of refugees.

There are dozens of kids being moved around, but there are never more than five or six at a time in any given safe house, and Risa rarely sees the same kids twice. The only reason she and Connor have been able to stay together is because they pose as a couple. It's practical, and it serves both their interests. What's that expression? The devil you know is better than the one you don't?

Finally, they're dumped in a huge, empty warehouse in a thundering air-traffic zone. Cheap realty for hiding unwanted kids. It's a spartan building with a corrugated steel roof that shakes so badly when a plane passes overhead, she half expects it to collapse.

There are almost thirty kids here when they arrive, many of them are kids Risa and Connor had come across over the past few weeks. This is a holding tank, she realizes, a place where all the kids are warehoused in preparation for some final journey. There are chains on the doors to keep anyone unwanted out, and to keep anyone too rebellious in. There are space heaters that are useless, since all the heat is lost to the high warehouse roof. There's only one bathroom with a broken lock and, unlike many of the safe houses, there's no shower, so personal hygiene is put on hold the moment they arrive. Put all that together with a gang of scared, angry kids, and you've got a powder keg waiting to explode. Perhaps that's why the people who run the show all carry guns.

There are four men and three women in charge, all of them militarized versions of the folks who, like Sonia, run the safe houses. Everyone calls them "the Fatigues"—not just because they have a penchant toward khaki military clothing, but also because they always seem exhausted. Even so, they have a high-tension determination about them that Risa admires.

A handful of new kids arrives almost every day. Risa watches each group of arrivals with interest, and notices that Connor does too. She knows why.

"You're looking for Lev too, aren't you?" She finally says to him.

He shrugs. "Maybe I'm just looking for the Akron AWOL, like everyone else."

That makes Risa chuckle. Even in the safe houses they had heard the inflated rumors of an AWOL from Akron who escaped from a Juvey-cop by turning his own tranq pistol against him. "Maybe he's on his way here!" kids would whisper around the warehouse, like they were talking about a celebrity. Risa has no idea how the rumor started, since it was never in the news. She's also a bit annoyed that she's not included in the rumor. It ought to be a Bonnie-and-CIyde kind of thing. The rumor mill is definitely sexist.

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