Courtesy of Nathan Burgoine
“We’re going to be late for the bus,” Derek called, ducking back into the bedroom. “You know how I feel about being...”
Kenny sat on the bed, slender shoulders curled forward, staring down at the open box.
“...late.” The word died on Derek’s lips.
Kenny held up the book. “What is this?”
“This book,” Kenny said. “These papers... The... is this an iPad?” He held up the tablet. “Is it for one of your stories or something?“
Derek closed his eyes.
“Don’t do that,” Kenny said. “You only do that when you’re going to lie.”
“Open your eyes.”
“I’m on this,” Kenny said. He’d turned on the tablet. “And I’m in this book.” He was turning the pages of the textbook now, frowning at it. He scowled as he flipped forward, then backward again.
“It’s page fifty-six.”
Kenny looked up. His eyes were wet. Worried. Afraid.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
Derek stepped toward the bed. Kenny shrank back.
“Why would you write that?”
Derek shook his head. His throat was aching, and he had to blink quickly. This shouldn’t have happened. How stupid was he? “I didn’t write it. It was written...” He shook his head. “I didn’t write it.”
“That was the night we met,” Derek said. He looked down again, and found page fifty-six. “There’s a picture of me. Right here. And it says... It says that the night we met, the two men who assaulted me left me quadriplegic. And then, apparently, before I could continue my ‘pioneering work on the B.C. Offshore Wind Turbine Project’ I died of complications from a spinal infection.”
Kenny’s eyes rose. Not worried now. Not afraid. Angry. “In your story, not only do I apparently get the job offer tomorrow, I’m a big hit right up until the point where I die. But that isn’t sad enough, right? I apparently need to be paralyzed before you do it?”
“What is the point of this?” he snapped. The cover of the book mocked Derek. Pioneers of Energy. “The iPad, the newspapers... Why did you have them made? Is this a joke? Because it’s a sick joke and it’s not at all funny.” Tears were spilling down his cheeks now. “I... I think I should go...” He rose, and slid off the bed. He was so slim, so graceful, even in this.
“No!” Derek’s heart was thundering in his chest. He reached out for Kenny, but the slender man dodged his hand. But he paused. “I can explain. I can. I just... How did you even..?”
“You talk in your sleep,” Kenny said. “It was adorable.” He shivered. “Then you kept saying... ‘I will never show anyone what I keep in the box beneath my bed.’ Every night since I first stayed over.” He sighed. “I looked. I’m human. There was nothing there, but you had that rug under the bed and this morning, while you were in the shower, I just... looked under it. Loose boards, the box...” He held up the newspapers. “These are all stories about people dying. Cancer, murders, accidents... They’re all fake. What is wrong with you?”
The last words were the hardest yet. Not angry now. Disgusted. Kenny threw the pages onto the bed.
There was no protocol for this. Derek had had the rules drilled into him so hard he heard them like a constant mantra in his head – and apparently spoke them in his sleep. It wasn’t like he could ask for help. His next opportunity for recursion was months away...
Kenny was staring at him. Derek breathed. In. Out.
He was going to get in so much trouble for this.
“They’ll call and offer you the job on Monday. You accept – and this time there won’t be any delay for your rehabilitation. You’re whipcrack smart, Kenny. You’re going to do amazing things for the energy industry. Better than you would have been able to do the way it would have been.”
Kenny crossed his arms over his bare chest. Derek could see the gooseflesh as Kenny considered the words. Tried to digest them. Considered them – just for a second – at face value.
“All these other people,” Kenny said, jerking his chin toward the newspapers on the bed. “Who are they?”
“Candidates,” Derek said. “For a change for the better.”
“How..?” Kenny shook his head. “This is insane. Impossible.”
“They would have broken you. I showed up to make it different.” Derek watched as Kenny remembered that evening. Remembered how Derek had – in Kenny’s own words – ‘come out of nowhere just at the right time.’
“And then you seduced me, because..?” Kenny’s eyebrows rose high on his face.
“I take it that wasn’t part of the plan,” Kenny said.
Derek shook his head. “No. I’m supposed to be a complete recluse and stay away from people, other than... Other than the candidates.”
“So that’s why you said you were a writer?”
“It’s a credible cover.”
“Why me?” Kenny said.
“Because you had so much more to offer than you’d given.” Derek paused, considering. “This project... My group... We’re building something better.” He looked at Kenny. “And all the quanta show the world is better with you.”
“If that’s a line, it’s pretty much the best line.” Kenny bit his lip. “Like, ever.”
“It’s not a line.” Derek smiled. “It’s the truth.”
“Okay, see, that’s even sexier. God! I thought you were too built to be a writer. Are you like some sort of soldier?” His eyes brightened. “Oh! Is your name really Derek? Are you sure it’s not Kyle?”
Derek frowned. “What?”
“Not big on movies where you’re from, eh?” Kenny frowned. “Or, I guess, when you’re from is more correct.”
“Are you okay?” Derek asked.
“I just found out I was supposed to die. You may have to give me a few more minutes.” He flinched when he realized what he’d just said.
“That’s my job,” Derek smiled.
“Okay, seriously... That’s an even better line.”
Courtesy of Timothy Forry