Home > Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(9)

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(9)
Claudia Gray

With that, Paul buried his head in his hands, and I leaned against his shoulder. I don’t know whether I was trying to give him strength, or take some from him. Either way, it didn’t work.

My parents didn’t emerge until nearly one in the morning. The light washed them out, highlighting every wrinkle and gray hair, but that’s not why they seemed to have aged ten years in three hours. Fear had hollowed them out.

My voice cracked as I said, “How is he?”

“Not good.” Dad sank into a chair across from us. “Theo’s in no immediate danger, but his vital signs, his blood work—the doctors have no idea what to make of it.”

Mom started counting off points on her fingers as she paced between the rows of chairs. “He’s anemic. His lungs show signs of damage, as if he’d been suffering from untreated tuberculosis for years, which of course he hasn’t. And the muscles in his feet and lower legs—the degeneration made one physician suggest Theo might have early-stage distal muscular dystrophy.”

I bit my lower lip, hoping the pain would keep back any tears. Paul’s voice sounded thick as he said, “He doesn’t, does he?”

My mother shook her head. “Possible, but doubtful. We all know the most probable cause.”

Nightthief.

“Whatever negative effects the drug had on Theo’s body didn’t end when he stopped taking it,” Mom said. “Apparently the damage had already reached a point of no return.”

Her meaning was obvious, but I didn’t understand. I wouldn’t let myself understand. Something in my brain refused to take in the words. “He’ll get better, though. Right? Now that he’s finally seeing a doctor?”

Dad spoke gently. “At this point, we don’t know. The medical team doesn’t understand his condition, which means they can’t form any meaningful prognosis. But the fact that his condition has continued to worsen this long after his final dose of Nightthief . . . well, that worries me.”

Mom made a small sound in her throat—the sound she makes when she won’t let herself cry out in pain. I’d heard that sound from her only once before, when she opened the door to see a policeman standing there, his hat in his hand. It was like she’d known she was about to be told that my father was dead, but she refused to believe it until the moment she had to.

That night, she believed the worst about Theo.

He might die because Wyatt Conley sent a spy to drug him over and over and over again, for months. Because of Conley’s power play. Because of his grandiose dreams of dominating the multiverse.

I hadn’t thought it was possible to hate Wyatt Conley more than I already did. I was wrong.

I beat myself up about it that whole night.

Why had I acted so stupidly around Theo? He accepted that I’d chosen Paul, and he never once tried to make either of us feel weird about it. If I’d taken Theo at his word, believed him that he was okay with Paul and me being together, maybe we would’ve spent more time with him. Then maybe I would have noticed things going wrong.

The next day, after Josie arrived, I told her as much, but she didn’t buy it.

“Listen, Marguerite.” Josie stood in our kitchen, drinking her third cup of coffee. The caffeine was supposed to make up for the fact that she’d changed her flight to 6:30 a.m. to get home ASAP. “You didn’t know because Theo didn’t want you to know. He hid his symptoms from everyone, and that’s on him.”

“It’s not like Theo to keep that kind of secret,” I protested. Paul? Sure. He locks his feelings and his fears inside, sometimes for too long. But Theo likes to gripe about everything from hockey teams to parking in Berkeley. “If he didn’t feel strange about being around me and Paul, he would’ve said something.”

Josie put down her mug and placed her hands on my shoulders. “I know it’s been easy to lose sight of this lately, what with Triad treating you like the Holy Grail, but not everything is about you, okay?”

That stung. “Then why did Theo stop telling us everything all of a sudden?”

“Honestly? My guess is the symptoms scared him. Probably he was trying to deny anything serious was going on. He couldn’t tell you guys what was happening until he admitted it to himself.”

I weighed what she said, and sensed there was truth to it. No, it wasn’t the whole story. But at least I felt like I could breathe again.

“When can we see Theo?” Josie asked. “Gotta be visiting hours already, right? When do his parents get here from DC?”

“Didn’t Theo tell you? They’re not in DC anymore.” The Becks work for the US Foreign Service, which means they move all around the globe. Most of the time they’re in Washington—learning new languages, doing diplomatic work there—but Theo was born in Chile, went to kindergarten in the Philippines, and attended middle school in Iceland. Sometimes I think that’s why he’s such a hipster; he’s trying to prove he’s mastered American culture, that he’s even better at it than the rest of us. “Two months ago, his parents got transferred to Mongolia. It’s not exactly a quick trip back. They won’t be able to get here for a couple of days.”

“His mom and dad have got to be freaking out.” Josie sighed and rubbed her temples. “Well, we can take care of Theo until they get here. So where’s loverboy?”

“Please stop calling Paul that.”

“Why?” Josie smiled for the first time since we picked her up at the airport. “He’s not your loverboy yet?”

The pacing of my sex life is none of Josie’s business. Although I can tell her pretty much anything, Josie doesn’t understand the need Paul and I have to take it slow. She’s always gone for brief, intense romances herself.

So that morning I said, “You’ll embarrass him. He’s still figuring out how to navigate—this.” I made a vague gesture meant to take in the house, the tangled interrelationships we have, all of it.

“Paul never went out with anyone before, did he?” Josie asked.

I shook my head. He’d confessed that he’d kissed only two girls before me, and one of those was a single-second, closed-lips kiss that hardly even counts. This is what happens when a guy goes to college before he even hits puberty. Paul spent most of the past decade surrounded by girls five to ten years older than him.

That said, Paul got extremely good at kissing very, very fast.

Josie nodded, her expression overly innocent. “And you and Paul—you’re good?”

“Yeah, we are.”

Paul drove me up to Muir Woods once, where we held hands while he explained the origins of the cosmos. I took him into San Francisco to see the Golden Girls Drag Show, which confused him nearly as much as it would’ve puzzled an extraterrestrial visiting Earth for the first time. We ride the bus into Oakland so we can watch movies at the elegant old cinema at Grand Lake, then have coffee and doughnuts at this cool old bakeshop nearby. So we have our special occasions. But in some ways the best part is that Paul and I can just be. Some evenings, I’ll paint for hours while he reads or works with equations, and by now we drift in and out of conversation easily, naturally. We’re good together—better than I would ever have dreamed possible six months ago.

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