THE TEAR CATCHERS

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Chapter 6: Ghost Rules

Guys just don’t look at you the same after they’ve seen you do an esophageal resection with an autoclavable tube, a pair of shoelaces, and an old soldering laser. The tattoo man will live, though solid food may pose a problem for him in the future. I didn’t have much to work with, so I had to take a chunk of his intestines to reconnect the stomach with what was left of the esophagus. Greymore has said little since we left the tattoo parlor. When I asked if he wished to stop for one of those powdered dough circles he favors so much, he pulled his sunglasses tight over his face and offered no response.

It’s getting crowded now as we walk along Broadway, and I have to double time it just to keep up with him. Is he mad because I keep breaking his ghost rules? I try to leave no trace of myself. I don’t post to Coexist anymore, I slip a second skin over my hand every time I pay for something, and the echo wand, I use it twice a day to cleanse myself of loose hair and skin. Still, it’s difficult to leave the world exactly as you found it. You’d think it would be easy for me, but truth speak, I was more of a ghost in my old life than I am in this one. There are just so many beautiful things here. So many different kinds of people. So many possible outcomes.

“I must be a great disappointment to you,” Greymore finally says, slowing his gait.

“No, never,” I say, sliding my hand around his.

“If I had just stood up to Phoenix, it never would have happened.” He yanks his hand away from mine.

“I’ve seen what Phoenix does to people who stand up to him. There was nothing to do. Stop thinking about it,” I say, squinting to keep the sunlight shimmering off the concrete out of my eyes.

“My first instinct was to avoid getting busted by my family, and yours was to save a man’s life. I wish I were more like you.”

“I have a medical background is all, you would have done the same.”

“No, I wouldn’t. I’m too afraid of them. When I’m back at my family’s estate, I wear a false skin. The things he does for them, the way he helps them get richer, I hate that skin. When I’m out here with you, I don’t have to act as I’m expected. That skin evaporates, and I can breathe again.”

I rest my head on his shoulder, sliding my hand along his back. I feel that fragile, restless energy stirring him back to life. He drapes his arm around me and pulls his shades off. “Here, they look better on you.”

I slide them over my face, and the world suddenly appears less harsh. Greymore plays his fingers through my hair. His skin is warm. Or mine is very cold. It feels too much like the number eight to be real, too much like the letter Q to be a dream.

An elbow bumps my back. And a shoulder brushes against mine. Angels and devils dance all around us. An angel and a goblin, to be more precise. A man wearing a skeleton costume presses a bony finger to his mouth, like he’s warning me to be quiet. Another wears a bag over his head, a double helix crudely drawn over the mouth. And they’re not dancing, they’re marching. They tote signs like DNA belongs to all of us, First drafts aren’t rough drafts, and Down with Dr. Franken-stingy.

“What is this?” I ask, following the crowd’s gaze to a skyscraper marked, PROOFSTOCK BIOMEDICINE.

“You’ve never seen a protest before?”

“What are they protesting?”

The answer, he whispers in my ear, “Us.”

Greymore pulls me close and maneuvers us through the crowd.

“What did we do?”

“It’s what we didn’t do,” he says, taking my hand and holding it up to the sunlight. “The enzymes in here, we could use them to create life-saving medicines for the first drafts. They could be like us. Live longer. Feel better. Access new parts of their brain. Instead, we get them hooked on our genetic scraps. We give them pills so they can think a little sharper, run a little faster, and make love a little longer, but it pales in comparison to what we could truly offer.”

In the middle of the crowd, flanked by two bodyguards, a handsome man with hair slicked backwards in perfect columns passes out stickers that say Redfair for Governor.

“Who’s that?” I ask Greymore, catching the man’s gaze as he presses his hand into those among the crowd. The intensity of his eyes makes me shudder a little, as if he were hiding something much darker in the rooms behind them, though the perfect arrangement of his hair and his easy smile is almost enough to make you dismiss it.

“You’ve never heard of Congressman Redfair? He’s a hero in the fight for genetic equality. Naturally, our families are pouring millions of credits into his opponent’s campaign.”

I stare down at the sidewalk. My sandals are stained with blood. There’s still so much to this world I don’t understand. The halls of Tearcatcher manor corkscrew through my head. The staircase. The dining hall. The recreation wing. The thousands of guest rooms. An empire built by hoarding what never really belonged to us. Greymore gives my hand a squeeze. He always knows how to shake me out of my thoughts.


D

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh

I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies

And I’m not proud of my address, in the torn up town

No post could envy

I wanted Greymore to hear the old tribal song I learned while he was gone. The way the sound keeps replaying in my brain, even after I’ve stopped listening, I want to know if it happens with him, too, or just me. Took a few minutes to get the strum pattern (D DU U UDU), but I think I have it now.

D

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom

Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,

Cadd99 G

We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.

D

But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.

Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.

Cadd99 G

We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.

D

And we’ll never be royals…

It don’t run in our blood

I lay down Greymore’s guitar and listen, expecting to hear Garret from next door banging on the wall, but there’s nothing. Garret and Regina, I don’t hear much noise from their apartment anymore. They used to argue from morning to night, and one time at the grocer, I saw Regina with a black eye, though she said she was involved in an accident. These days, they complement each other daily, they have friends over, and laughter is a common sound. Pretty sure Greymore had something to do with it, but I still don’t know how.

“Why did you stop?” Greymore asks, opening his eyes and propping himself up on the bed with his elbow.

“What happened to Garrett and Regina?”

“Nothing happened to them. I just talked with them last night, they’re better than they have ever been.”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. People don’t just change overnight.”

“You’ve heard of hypnopedia?”

“Sleep programming?”

“It’s hard, being awake all night, when the rest of the world is tucked behind their dreams. I get tired of walking through the park all the time. Sometimes I go over to Garrett and Regina’s, and we talk. I help them work out their issues.”

“While they’re sleeping.”

“That’s when the mind is most receptive.”

“What is it that you do for the Rivegans?”

Greymore rolls away from me and closes his eyes again.

“Why keep it a secret?” I run my fingers along the back of his neck, but he remains still. My hand closes, gently tugging a fistful of his hair. “I’m serious, I want to know.”

“Alright,” he relents, turning back to me and locking his fingers between mine. “I’m in mergers and acquisitions.”

“You’re a gene trader. I don’t believe you.”

“I’m a psycholinguist.”

“A shrink?”

“I go to meetings. I don’t say anything. I just sit there and watch the people on the other side of the table. Desire, conflict, weakness, insecurity – people wear it on their bodies like suits. My family uses the analysis to get the upper hand in negotiations.”

“And Phoenix, too?”

“No, his talents are more… physical. Every family needs someone who gets their hands dirty when no one else will. I’m sure yours is the same.”

Like a reflex, I slide my hand away from his and draw the sheets up to my chin.

“You’re disappointed in me,” he says.

“No, it’s just that… you see so much. I wonder what you see when you look at me.”

The corner of his mouth draws into a smile. “Put down the sheet, and I’ll tell you.”

“No, it doesn’t matter. Forget I said anything.”

“You don’t trust me?”

Greymore is perhaps the only one I trust. And I wish to tell him so, but my mouth has gone dry and swallowing has become quite the chore, so I’ll save my words.

“Put down the sheet,” he says again, in case I didn’t hear it the first time. I lower the sheets, letting them fall to the floor.

Stand up, he tells me. A lot of orders here, but he seems more determined than usual, so we’ll see how this plays out. I slide off the bed, keeping my shirt tucked carefully beneath me as I stand. And here I am, in the middle of the apartment, wearing only Greymore’s threadbare t-shirt. I don’t know what Foo is, or why it needs fighting, but that’s the business it’s advertising.

Now he wants me to turn on the light. I’m not reaching up and pulling the chain; my underwear is just too gross-looking. I slip across the room and twist open the blinds, letting light from the street lamps filter in around me.

“No, the overhead light,” he tries to correct me.

“You can see me just fine. Your turn, tell me what you see.”

He studies me for an impossibly long moment. “I see a flame. One they’ve tried to beat out of you, again and again, but it refuses to yield. I see a girl who tried to make herself a ghost, but she failed, because the fire inside burned too brightly. I see an angel with clipped wings, who fell into my world when I needed her the most and gave me the strength to be who I was meant to be. Others see it, too. You think they feel sorry for you, but truly, they envy you.”

Greymore jumps out of the bed and snaps on the overhead light. Taking me by the shoulders, he positions me in front of the mirror. “All you see are flaws, but I see only the doubts in your mind. You’re perfect, Tessa. I don’t sleep long enough to dream, but if I did, I’d dream of you.”

Um, okay. There’s nowhere left to hide now. No faraway rooms to retreat to, or false skins to conceal us. Just me and Greymore. There will be no secrets between us. He’s the mirror I don’t want to look into. I blink the tears from my eyes and take his hand. Our empathy tattoos stir to life, the tree roots at our wrists merging to become one, like we had planned.

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