1. Still have that great sense of humor
In secret we met —
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee? —
With silence and tears.
—George Gordon Byron, When We Two Parted
Jonathan Clement looks up from his desk at the sound of the squealing cart. “Good morning, Beaman.”
“Morning. Today’s shaping up to be another busy one.” Beaman scans the lofty stacks of books on Jonathan’s desk. The pop of his knuckles is concealed by the crackling fire. “That’s probably a good thing, now that the Elites have become Legacies.”
Beaman stretches his arms before shifting his attention to the purpose of his visit. Having done this hundreds of times before, transferring the books from Jonathan’s sturdy mahogany desk to his rolling cart takes less than two minutes, even though the middle stack is well above five feet tall.
When Beaman’s finished, he rubs his hands together like he’s removing dirt from them and bends close to Jonathan. “There’ve been rumors circulating about a rebellion of sorts brewing.” He lowers his voice to a whisper. “People are saying Grant Bradley wants to go up against the Schedulers.”
Jonathan’s focus stays on the open book as his feather pen waves through the air with each written word.
“Are the rumors true?” Beaman, asks when Jonathan doesn’t reply.
The feather pen stops dancing and stills completely when placed in the black ink bottle. Jonathan entwines his fingers while his eyes move along the books lining the walls of the ceiling-less, octagonal room. “I do not comment on rumors, friend.” After offering Beaman an amiable smile, he says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Beaman nods in acceptance of the not-so-subtle cue to exit and pushes his cart out the door.
When the squealing wheels can no longer be heard, Jonathan whispers, “Time will tell,” to the empty room.
1. Still have that great sense of humor
My door flings open and in comes Willow. After enduring these typical entrances from her, I don’t even spill my coffee.
Her ratty, brown bag thuds against the floor. “What’s up, kid?”
As she makes her way toward me in the kitchen, the metal charms in her dreadlocks clink together. Willow, along with everything she owns, is loud.
I move over as she helps herself to a mug from the cabinet over the sink.
Her eyes scan me up and down, certainly in effort to gauge my well-being. She’s such a mom sometimes. “You look decent, considering the Legacy news.”
“Wow, no sarcasm. What’s got you in such a great mood?”
She shrugs. “Troy and I just finished watching the baseball game.”
I almost choke on my coffee. “Baseball?”
“It was a great game,” she says like this shouldn’t be such a stretch to believe she’s into sports. “I’m becoming rather fond of the Red Sox.”
“You’ve always had poor taste, so I guess that makes
The knock on my door interrupts before she can shoot back a reply. By her feisty expression, I’m sure it would have been a good one.
“Come in,” I say over my cup.
A second later, Jonathan is stepping over Willow’s bag. “Willow, Grant, very nice to see you both.”
Willow’s mood sinks, along with her shoulders. “Jonathan.”
He reacts to Willow’s sour tone with a tired smile. “Grant, I need you to begin your reading as soon as possible. It’s imperative that we get you into Programming right away.”
“What’s the point?” Willow mumbles.
Oh, this should be interesting.
Jonathan raises his eyebrow. “Pardon?”
Willow balances the empty seashell coffee cup handle on her finger, making the mug sway back and forth like a clock pendulum. “What’s. The. Point?”
Jonathan’s voice remains calm. “The very same reason you went through Programming, of course. To recover memories.”
“No Jonathan, the reason is different, or have you forgotten? Grant isn’t reuniting with family. He, along with the other Elites, is only doing this because of what you made us do.”
“Let’s be clear: I did not force your hand, Willow.” Jonathan uses a kinder tone than I would choose if I were being so blatantly challenged. I want to interject and remind them both that this mess is all my fault, but Willow’s already running her mouth.
“Are you telling me if I would have said no, your little experiment would have never happened? Cut the crap, we both know if I had refused, you would have found someone to take my place.”
As if Willow hasn’t even spoken, Jonathan says, “Grant, please begin your reading as soon as possible.” He turns to Willow and nods once. “Goodbye, Willow. Please send my best to Troy.”
“Mmm Hmm.” Willow’s tone is flat, but her volume increases. “You must be pretty special, kid. Usually you’d just get a note to begin your reading,” she says before the door clicks closed.
“Way to go. You ran him off before I could talk to him about Meggie again. Every time I tell him how much Meggie’s kids were helping her, he ignores me. Why won’t he listen—”
“What’s he expect you to get out of Programming? More importantly, what the heck are you supposed to do with your time once you’ve completed the process?” She reaches over me and fills her cup with coffee.
Sometimes I wonder if Willow and I are even in the same room. “You should get over your beef with Jonathan. We could use his help right now.”
The bottom of Willow’s mug clinks against the counter and fresh coffee spills over the top. “I’d think you, of all people, would have the bigger problem with the guy. He’s the reason the Elites are all in this mess.”
“Him or me?” I mumble.
Willow squeezes my forearm. “You can’t really believe this is your fault?”
I hop myself up on the counter. “Billy would disagree.”
“The Elites are understandably upset. But if you’re going to say this is your fault, you could just as easily say it is my fault. We all went along with Jonathan’s plan.” Willow grabs her cup and slurps her first sip. “He should have never asked that of us. He put us all in a rotten position.”
“Look, I’m about as happy as everyone else with what’s happening, but to continue your wrath against Jonathan—I mean, come on, do you think he knew it would turn out like this? It’s Jonathan we’re talking about.”
“Exactly my point.” Willow stares back at me for a second before rolling her eyes.
“Stop pouting. You’re just looking for someone to blame. Use that energy to help me. Blame the Schedulers! We can fight them. Wouldn’t you love to see Ryder again?”
“Of course I want to see my son!” Willow barks back. She sucks in a deep breath and lowers her cup to the counter.
“So help me. We’ve got Elliot, Liam, and Clara.”
“Clara still wants you, so she doesn’t count,” Willow interrupts.
“That’s not true. We’re just friends.”
Willow’s narrow, doubting eyes force me to change the subject. “I think Anna’s got Owen talked into it. Plus all the Elites are in, even Billy.”
“Yeah, and what about your buddy Rigby? Why isn’t he as enthusiastic as the others to join your futile scheme?”
I hide how much the blow about Rigby affects me. Despite our misunderstandings about my feelings for Clara (or lack thereof) and how I knew his now-girlfriend, Whitfield, from sharing an assignment, Rigby was my first friend in Progression. I thought he’d have my back. “He says he has his reasons.”
“Reasons like, this isn’t going to work. I can see how you swayed the Elites. Without their blocking abilities, their futures as Satellites are over.”
She may as well punch me in the face like she did when we first met. The sting would be the same.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean…” Willow’s words trail off.
I pull away from her when she tries to rub my arm. “No. You’re right. I’m not a Satellite anymore. I get it. That’s not why I’m fighting for this, though.”
Willow’s expression remains sympathetic. “You’re a Legacy now. You’re still an integral part of this program. Being a Satellite is forever, kid.” Willow’s grin is forced. “Certainly I’ve shared this with you before.”
I shake my head. “Not when your ability is gone. I can’t even perform maintenance. At least you still have that.”
Willow turns away from me, using a coffee refill as an excuse despite her cup being three quarters full. “Maintenance doesn’t require blocking. Listen, what you’re proposing is career suicide for an active Satellite. Rigby’s not an idiot. He knows that.”
“So, you think our other friends are idiots for joining me?”
“No.” She turns back to me with her full cup. “But I think they’ll regret their decision.”
I glare at Willow and she mimics my expression. After a minute, she softens, but I hop off the counter and step away when she tries to hug me.
“I get why you’re doing this, I really do, kid. It won’t work, though. This program, the whole establishment, it’s bigger than you and me.” Her voice raises as my proximity to the sofa grows closer. “You can’t change something that has been working for centuries. It’s impossible.”
“Nothing’s impossible.” I can’t believe I just said that. When have I ever been the glass-half-full guy? It’s this horrid sofa. I know it. Not only is the thing too darn comfortable to part with, but now it’s turning me into Willow.
“I respect your passion and even applaud you for it, but listen, kid, you’re setting yourself up for failure and it pains me to watch. I love you, I really do, and if you were asking anything else of me, I’d stand by you with guns blazing.”
If she’s waiting for me to turn around, she’s wasting her time. I have zero plans of unlocking my eyes from the bookcase.
“But this—kid, you’ve got to give up on this.” Willow pauses. “You’re putting the others in a bad position. You’re messing up their careers. Please think of them. I know the Elites are done, but the others don’t have to be. They still have their ability to block. They have futures ahead of them, Tragedies whose lives are dependent on them, destinies they have yet to fulfill.”
“I have no intentions of ruining anyone’s future, but I disagree with you. There are other options for Tragedies, other options for us. We would all love to see our loved ones, to visit them after our deaths, to help them heal.” OK, fine, she wins. I’m only turning around to plead my case, though. “Willow, please, having you on board would mean everything. You know so many Satellites. People would listen to you.”
Willow belts out a long, dramatic sigh. “We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.”
I stare at the seashells on her mug, wishing she would change her mind, but knowing she won’t.
“You’d better start your reading. You wouldn’t want to make Jonathan mad.”
“You don’t have to go,” I say, wanting more time to plead my case.
Cut the crap, Grant, you just like having her around, my brain argues.
“I should get back to Troy.” She lifts her mug. “I’m stealing this, by the way. Actually, never mind, it was mine to begin with, so I’m just taking possession of what I already owned.”
Her shoes make the funny flip-flop noise when she comes towards me. “Please think this through, kid. If for no other reason than to consider how this will negatively affect the others.”
“Send my condolences to Troy,” is my reply when she leans down and hugs me.
Willow pulls back and smacks my head.
I can only force half a grin because I want her to join us so badly.
She returns my expression with a full-on smirk. “Still have that great sense of humor.”
“Oh, that wasn’t a joke.”
She flip-flops herself to the door and scoops up her dilapidated bag. “Please think about what I said. Thanks for the coffee.” She lifts her cup in a cheers motion before pulling the strap of the ratty bag over her head.
“Anytime,” I mumble as she’s closing the door.
I chew on the inside of my lip, missing her already. I settle deeper into the green cushion, wishing I had a diversion other than the black book staring back at me.
Is this really it, the end of my short-lived career? I spent most of my first assignment fighting against being a Satellite, and now I don’t want the work to end.
This isn’t the way things should be, the louder voice of truth says in my head, drowning out the other until every molecule inside me joins in. Just because we’re dead, even if there is a bigger purpose for ourselves or our loved ones, we shouldn’t be kept away from the people in our lives, the people we love who have made us who we are. We shouldn’t have our memories stolen from us. No one deserves that.
I put my focus on the book. Sitting there on the trunk, the thing looks innocent enough, yet reaching for it, my fingers retract like the black binding will bite me. I realize I don’t want to know what’s in those pages. I don’t want to know what the future holds for another Satellite—or what my future holds, for that matter.
The most disturbing reality yet hits me: someone is about to die, and someone’s family is about to suffer. A lot.
Breathe, Grant, breathe.
I scoot to the edge of the sofa cushion and lean my elbows on my knees. Still staring at the book, I bite my thumb knuckle. Why is this so difficult?
A minute later, I’m up and pacing. Instead of allowing visions of what the unfortunate future holds for an unnamed family, I tune in to the movie reels of my short Satellite career: meeting Willow, training, learning to block, protecting Ryder, becoming an Elite, fighting against other people’s blocks, helping Meggie, losing my blocking ability as a result of a supposed fiancée I don’t even remember—
I snap the book up from the trunk.
Why can’t I remember my life?
The word Legacy shines, holding my eyes there the same way I’m holding my breath. I want to remember my life.
Shouldn’t I be happy? I’m about to go through Programming. I will remember my life soon.
Nerves make my stomach muscles clench. A minute later, my anxiety mixes with anger and the book is skating across the hardwood floor. After a light thud, the book stills at the base of the bookshelf.
What is wrong with me? This is good news. I’ll complete this Legacy thing and be free to lead a rebellion against the Schedulers.
Yes. I’ll complete this Legacy thing.
A coffee run to the kitchen and a few deep breaths later, I return to the living room where the book has magically returned to the trunk. Figures. Like my regular assignment books, the gold text is bracketed by wings. Line one: Grant Bradley, line two: Legacy.
I reach for the book—still half-expecting the thing to bite me—and will my fingers to work. I manage to flip to the first page, which, like the cover, states my name above the word that is sounding more terrible by the second. Not because of what it means to me, but what it means to whoever is in this book. They will lose their memories and be separated from their family the way I was.
I swallow and turn the page, which displays a handwritten letter from Jonathan.
With enormous gratitude for your service as a Satellite and an Elite, I welcome you to the Legacy program. You have proven to be exceptional in your abilities. I trust you will continue performing increasingly amazing feats.
I am hopeful you have found the Satellite program to be a rewarding experience. The coming weeks will be challenging. Like many others before you, I realize the task of letting go of this life may be met with a touch of resistance. Let me assure you that your future will hold abundant happiness, and that this closing chapter marks the beginning of a life filled with exceptional possibilities. If you should need assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.
All My Best,
I look up at the ceiling. This is really happening, not just for me but for all the Elites. My teammates are facing this emotionally grueling task right alongside me, and I’m the reason why. Billy’s initial reasons for wanting to kill me when I became an Elite were unwarranted, but now the guy actually has a decent motive. If I were him, I’d want to rip myself in half also.
Thinking about Billy, along with Lawson, Reed, Jackson, and Evelynn—yes, even Evelynn—having to give up the only life they know, I slam the book closed and send the thing back on the familiar course across the room.
After an hour of fighting the sick feeling that whatever is about to happen cannot be undone, progress—at least where Jonathan is concerned—is about to be made. Staring at the instructions to place hand here, I swallow.
On the page titled The Present, I reluctantly place my hand inside the outlined, perfect-fitting glove.
A gentle tug fools me into relaxing because a second later, my arm is all but ripped from the socket. My stomach churns as I twist through the tight, black space of needles that was just a book moments ago. The painful pressure, combined with the thought that this may well be my last trip into a book, makes my gut feel worse.
When the yanking finally halts, I’m not in the stone well of doors. Instead, a five by five circle of thick, frosted glass imprisons me. A lone, glass door is my only escape. Even if the door was clear and showed a landscape as magnificent as the courtyard, I’d still rather be locked in this small space for eternity than face what—or rather, who— awaits on the other side.
“Welcome, Grant. Please hold while I configure your settings,” GPS Jeanette’s voice pipes into the room. “Locating Satellite Christopher Timothy Baxter.” After a short pause, three clicks like turning deadbolts echo in the glass room. “Please proceed through the door ahead.”
Not caring that my fingerprints are going to mar the clean, glass knob, I also leave a large handprint on the door when I push through. As soon as my foot is over the threshold, I’m propelled out of the glass room at a speed that makes my stomach tighten. My eyes lock closed until the sick feeling subsides and my body stills.
A gasoline odor assaults me, so strong that it takes a few seconds to register the bad sound system. The low bass vibrates the plastic dashboard of the dated car. Alone, I dart around to look out the back window, but my attention quickly shifts when the driver’s door creaks open.
A lanky teenager falls into the seat and the air rushes out of my lungs. He’s so young, much too young.
I can’t get my breathing under control.
Staring at him while he grips the steering wheel with one hand and turns the key with the other does nothing to help diminish my panic being fueled by adrenaline. My focus turns to the gas pump to my right in hopes of getting my emotions in check. The rattling music cuts off, but begins again with the start of the engine.
Slowly, when my breathing has dialed down a notch, I turn back to the kid. Yes, kid. He hardly looks old enough to drive. He has his whole life ahead of him. Or should anyway. His shiny, dark fingernails match his black V-neck tee and leather pants. When he rummages through the center console, his black-lined eyes hold my attention. My hand goes to my chest and I rub circles into my breast bone to relieve the tightening. Overlooking his makeup and clothing, I mull over the much larger problem I’m facing: this kid’s life is about to end.
We drive away from the gas station with him drumming on the steering wheel and bouncing his head along with the noise. The bass is not helping my nerves. Thinking of Willow, I remind myself not to judge anyone by appearance. She turned out to be pretty great, after all. Still, the word punk won’t stop bouncing through my head. Punk or not, this kid doesn’t deserve to die.
I force myself to look away from him while we drive through a town that feels both quaint and isolating. The majority of the license plates on the cars parked along the street are from Illinois. Turns out Chris and I were practically neighbors when I was still alive, though I don’t recognize this part of the state or the narrow river we’ve just crossed. Rows of historic brick buildings house a few gift stores, a coffee shop, a pizza place, three bars, and a mix of homes. About a mile out of the small town, an emptiness slides through my stomach. I want to grab a fishing pole and check out the river. I want to spend more time in a little town like this. Much to my disbelief, I’m homesick, I realize.
We turn into a neighborhood with mid-sized, well- kept houses, bringing me back to the mission at hand. Wouldn’t it figure? The nice, middle-class family gets stuck with the rebellious guy who blatantly refuses to wear color. Oh, and he’s about to die. To ice the cake of this unfortunate family, a hundred bucks says he hates his parents. Everything about him, from his eyeliner to his loud music, screams attitude.
Stop it, I scold in my head as a reminder to stop judging him.
I mimic his steps up the sidewalk and pause at the door, dumbfounded when he knocks instead of letting himself in. Guess this isn’t his house after all.
A woman wearing a haphazardly wrapped bun of brown hair answers a minute later. Her smock is covered in a rainbow of paint smudges. “Hi there, Chris. Come on in.”
“Hi, Mrs. Mackerly.”
She opens the door wider so he can pass through, but closes it before I’m all the way in. I shake out my arms to rid myself of the uncomfortable feeling. We’re greeted by a bright yellow foyer flaunting an eclectic collection of abstract paintings as bright as the walls. My eyes follow up the open staircase to the second floor above us.
“How was work?” the woman asks.
“Oh, you, know the usual. Saving the world one dish at a time.”
I don’t understand the comment, but Mrs. Mackerly’s laugh says she does.
“Is Liv upstairs?”
The woman nods and unties her painting apron. “Go on up.”
“Thanks. My parents said to tell you hello.”
“Please tell them the same for me. How’s your dad feeling?”
Chris pauses his game of two-at-a-time step hopping and turns to the woman. “A little better. They say he’s about over the infection.”
“I’m glad to hear that. He’s had bad luck this year.”
“His kidneys just can’t keep up with him.” Chris’s voice is humorously cheerful when paired with his death-inspired threads.
Mrs. Mackerly nods at his light comment. “Well, if your family ever needs anything at all, Liv and I are happy to help.”
“Thanks,” Chris says and bounds up the rest of the steps.
Where is all the emotionally tortured talk to match his clothing, I wonder as I follow him up the stairs.
Chris lets himself into the first door on the right. “Hey beautiful,” he says to the girl who must be Liv.
“Hey yourself. How is Benghazi Grill’s employee of the month, and more importantly, my favorite dish washer?” From her relaxed position on the bed, her too-sweet voice doesn’t match her look, which has come straight out of a Tim Burton film. Like her boyfriend, she’s clad in all black with the exception of her tights, which include thick white stripes circling her thin legs. The red yarn holding her two black braids in place below her shoulders is the only other piece of color she wears. Even her fingernails, eyeliner, and lipstick are the same coal hue. I’d probably find her attractive if I could see her face, and if she changed clothes.
Needing a distraction while they kiss—because by the looks of them, they won’t be stopping any time soon—I survey the room. The music choice isn’t my cup, but at least the female voice coming through the speakers is singing more than she’s screaming, and in a lower volume than Chris prefers.
When Chris and Liv conclude their greeting, Liv plops down on the pink bean bag chair. The pop of color seems out of place amidst the dark curtains, bedding, and posters adorning the room. I step closer to the dresser when Chris walks towards me. He stops at the bookcase and thumbs through the paperbacks.
Liv stands and straightens her extra-long, black T-shirt. “My dad called today.”
Chris’s finger stops on one of the worn books and he clears his throat. “What did he say?”
“How sorry he is that he’s been away so long, he misses me and wants to see me. You know, all the usual things.”
Unbeknownst to Liv, Chris makes a decent effort in putting away his sour face before he turns. “Yeah? What did you say?”
“Pretty much the same as I always do, that I’m really busy with school and my music. Seriously, what does the man expect out of me? He calls, what, every six months after avoiding my voicemails and then wants to be my best friend?” Liv’s voice picks up in pace and volume. “I wish he’d just go away forever. Doesn’t he realize popping in and out of my life only makes our relationship worse? Besides, he only sees me out of guilt anyway.”
Chris slides a switch on the radio and the music stops. He plops down beside Liv on the overstuffed bean bag, looking funny against the bright pink vinyl. “He’s missing out on more than he’ll ever know.”
She leans into him. “I’ll never understand how he could replace Mom with a girl who, by all rights, could be my sister. Oh, and get this: he asked if Jess could take me shopping! Can you believe that? I’m surprised she didn’t want to go clubbing.” Liv pauses and her anger morphs to sadness. “I just wished he loved me, you know?
“Liv, he loves you.” Chris plays with one of her braids until she smiles.
I shove my hands in my pockets and look at the strange jewelry on her dresser to avoid watching another lip-lock marathon. Not understanding who would wear a giant eyeball ring, I turn to the picture frame showcasing her and Chris. Liv’s laughter from the fish face Chris is making is so genuine the photograph seems animated. I find myself softening to the guy even more.
And then I can’t breathe. The horror sets in once again that he’s dying and this poor girl will be alone.
“I love you,” I hear Liv whisper through my panic.
“I love you, too,” Chris replies.
After an hour of Liv and Chris talking about an art class she’s taking and their concert plans next week, I’ve calmed down from my panic attack. Chris announces that he has to get home and my stomach does an uncomfortable somersault. If I wasn’t a ghost and he could actually hear me, I’d tell him to stay and spend as much time as possible with Liv. My pro-love stance proves I’m becoming soft. I don’t waste my breath telling him to stay, and instead, it’s off we go.
Before we make it out of the house, Chris stops and talks to Liv’s mom, who’s traded her painting smock for a wine festival T-shirt. She invites Chris to stay for dinner. He graciously declines, explaining he ate during his work break and his family is expecting him home. There’s no arguing that the guy is polite.
Flying behind Chris’s beat-up car on a clear afternoon like this would be my preferred method of travel to escape the rattling bass, but the smelly, white smoke from the muffler changes my mind.
After the ten-minute ride, we’re walking into another well-kept home, though this one is older and larger.
Chris slumps his shoulders and swings his arms until his backpack slides down his long body. The bag then greets the counter with a heavy thud. “Hey, Mom.”
”Hi, hun,” is the reply from the next room as Chris is nearly mauled by an excited, medium-sized, tan mutt.
As I follow Chris into a dining room taken over by piles of green fabric spread across the table, the dog’s interest has moved from Chris to me. The dog barks and it’s cropped, wagging tail makes the animal’s entire back side a moving pendulum.
“Rex! That’s enough!” Chris says over the barking and then grabs Rex’s collar and pulls him away from me.
The dog pulls against Chris in effort to get to me. He can see me!
I step towards Rex in hopes that he will settle down. Chris releases his collar and the dog goes to my jeans and frantically sniffs my knees. I try to push him away, but my hand ghosts through his floppy ears.
Thankfully, Chris overlooks the animal’s odd behavior and directs his attention to his mom. “You’re sewing.” His tone is one that says this hobby signifies something unpleasant. “How’s Dad?”
The dark-haired woman’s eyes are red when she lowers her glasses and looks up from the machine. “He has to begin dialysis.” When she fails at offering a sincere happy face, she turns her attention back to the sewing machine. “If you don’t mind, dinner looks like it’s going to be a free-for-all tonight. I’m not feeling up to eating. There’s cereal and soup in the pantry if you’re hungry. Your dad’s quite worn out from the doctor visit, but you should say goodnight.”
After a long sigh, Chris nods and kisses his mom on the cheek. “No worries about dinner. I ate at Benghazi’s. Let me know if your appetite comes back and I’ll make you something. Love you.”
“Love you, too, hun and thank you.”
I follow Chris up the steps with Rex’s oversized paws thundering behind us. Chris pauses before opening the door at the end of the hall. He looks older than he did a minute ago.
Chris, Rex, and I parade into the dark room. The blackout curtains are doing an impressive job at concealing the late afternoon sun.
“Hey, Dad.” How the heck does the kid muster such a cheerful tone? I’ll admit, his acting is award worthy.
The man under the covers squints against the hallway light cutting through the darkness.
Chris lowers his voice to a whisper. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
When the man tries to sit up, Chris hurries to help him.
“My water,” the man’s low voice croaks in the darkness.
Chris holds the glass while his father takes slow sips from the straw.
“Thank you,” the frail man whispers when he’s done and reaches for the lamp on the bedside table.
Chris beats him to it and clicks the light on. “Mom told me,” is all Chris says.
The dog follows me to the foot of the bed and sits beside my leg. When I move to the left because his tan fluff is ghosting through my calf, Rex scoots closer.
Chris’s dad takes a labored breath. “Doctor Graff says the dialysis can be quite effective in some cases.”
The conversation stops when a tall girl, maybe a year or two older than Chris, joins us. The dog leaves my side to greet her. She’s pretty with clear skin and defined cheekbones. The resemblance to Chris is strong, despite the fact that she wears less makeup and her clothes are earth-toned.
“I thought I heard you two in here.” The girl reaches down and scratches the dog behind it’s ears, prompting the dog to stand. The canine’s backside, once again, becomes a swinging pendulum.
“Hi Sweetie. Come in.” The pain of speaking is apparent in the man’s pale face.
“Need some water?” The girl crosses to the table beside Chris and reaches for the glass, but her dad declines by raising his hand.
The dog thunks to the ground beside me with his extra-long tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. He looks up happily and acts as if everyone else in the room can see me, too.
“You two better get your homework done. School night, you know.”
The girl leans down to give her dad a kiss and then switches off the bedside lamp. “You know we never have homework on Sunday,” she whispers in a humored tone like this is an old joke. “Night Dad. I love you.” She disappears into the rectangle of light and her footsteps quickly fade down the hall.
Chris follows the path of his sister. “See you in the morning.”
Chris’s silhouette in the doorway becomes motionless. “Yeah?”
His dark form instantly changes from a stiff posture to a more relaxed stance. “She’s good. She said to tell you hello.”
“I hope she’ll visit soon.”
“I’ll bring her by tomorrow.”
“Treat her well, son.”
Chris’s posture morphs back to rigid, probably because the order sounded an awful lot like a last request. “I promise I will.” Chris reaches for the doorknob. “I love you.”
A strange pulling sensation grabs me. In half a second, my vision blurs as I go through Chris’s body and the bedroom door. Through the sounds of the whooshing air, I swear I could hear Rex barking behind me.
When my boots feel braced on solid ground, I right myself and look around the glass room.
“Please return after break,” GPS Jeanette announces through an invisible speaker.
All too familiar with the next bit, I’m braced for the ride this time. I’m sucked out of the room and into needle-scrapping darkness with quick jerk. When the pressure releases, I’m flung out of the book, which hits the floor and flops closed.
After falling into the sofa cushion, I run my hands along the top of my thighs. My mind gets stuck on futile thoughts, like how Chris will die. He’s too young. Much too young.
The distraction of my calimeter is welcomed, forcing my mind off Chris, or rather, the awful scenarios playing through my head of what will become of his family.
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