"The grafting is going well," Mr. Schneider whispers to Cord. "Of course, we have no idea how a patient who has been beheaded for days will react. We won't know until she has the procedure done too."
He glances at me.
"I said, what the hell is going on here?" I'm out of patience.
Cord smirks at me. "Fuch, relax. We're just comparing notes on Grandma's procedure. Remember you wanted to know how it's done? Well, now you're going to see firsthand."
"Nice pun," Mr. Schneider offers him a dorky fist bump.
"It's a gift." Cord bumps in.
I'm losing it. "Look, bozos, I'm stressed enough as it is - what the hell is going on?!"
"Patience, Ma Lady." Cord grits his teeth. "After a beheading, the patient has to be treated with Arnica tribe blood (unless the victim is already an Arnica like Grandma). Then the patient drinks water with the highest mineral content possible within twenty-four hours of the beheading, to fight infection. After that, the victim's arm is cut at an angle and grafted to the neck. A grafting wax seals the area." He sounds like he's reading from a textbook.
Cord gestures at Mr. Schneider. "With daily injections of growth serum which Mr. S produces in the lab, it takes about a week for the grafted arm to grow a bud and the real arm to begin to grow back too."
This may be the creepiest conversation I've ever had. "Head arm?"
Cord nods. "I'm warning you, it's pretty gruesome to look at; try not to stare too much at Grandma's head arm, k?"
"What do you mean we'll see firsthand?" I've been set up. Why did I think to trust this guy?
"We're not going to try it on you. We're going to try it on Lemon. Mr. Schneider will take the serum to the hospital with you. If he can prove it works, his name will be cleared and, even more importantly, you won't have to donate nutrients."
This plan sounds too good to be true. I consider Mr. Schneider's sketchy situation. "How did you know my name that day I saw you in the lab?"
"Your parents are famous."
"So I've heard." I look him directly in the eyes. "Why did they fire you from Grove High?"
"Moonlighting on my own projects at school raised some red flags. This is a chance to prove that what I'm developing is worth it. Once we cure Lemon they'll see they were wrong about me."
"And they can't know what you've done to save Grandma because they think she's dead." That actually makes sense so I change the subject. "Can I see Bud now?"
Cord looks equally glad to move on from my interrogation. "Sure," he says. "But don't wake him. He needs rest for his journey. We can't keep him much longer, but there's a shelter down valley where he can go."
"I was there yesterday; it's no place for a Toadflax. Won't they execute him the minute they see him?"
"You were there yesterday?" Cord asks.
"Burnish took me. It's a long story."
"The Toadflax shelter is in a different place. It's -"
"Let me guess, secret."
"Yes." He gives me a weak smile.
I creep slowly and kneel by Bud's soil bed. His body is twice as long as it was yesterday morning, and his precious hair has started to turn from pale green to lemon yellow. If someone who only saw us for our color and not our species were to gaze at him, they might mistake him for Lemon's baby brother.
I lie down beside him and run my hand softly over his hair. He breathes in deep sighs and soon I'm slowing down too. My eyes start to close. I feel an arm around me and the soft press of Cord's shirt. He pulls another blanket over us and the lights go dim.
I'm in the river swimming fast with powerful, effortless strokes. As I pull up to the bank, a dark figure stands above me, his little clipped wings buzzing. He bends down.
"Fuchsia, I have a delivery for you." He holds out both hands. "You have to choose." In one are the violet spikes I recognize as Del's and in the other are yellow locks.
I wake and reach for Cord's hand. He's wrapped his arm around me and now I turn to face him. His lips are close and his eyelashes draped in sleep. I caress his cheek and he quivers and moans. He must be dreaming too. Do I dare wake him? I want to feel his lips on mine, to know what that's like.
I lean in and hover over the sweet breath escaping his mouth. I'm not promised; I can do this.
"Morning sleepy heads," a voice interrupts. Cord opens his eyes and I bolt upright to find Mr. Schneider hovering over our blanket. "We need to get you to the hospital."
"Right," Cord says, sitting up to check on Bud in his soil bed. "Morning Bud. Did you sleep well?" he asks.
"Yeah. How was your sleep, Cord?"
"Good, really good." He looks at me and we share a moment where our eyes flash before Bud jumps into my lap. "And how did you sleep, Fuchsia?" he asks. His ropy little arms tangle around my neck.
"Super good." I hug him. "Wow, you've grown. Do you even remember me?"
"Of course I do. You saved me." His lips turn in a smile.
"Bud, I'm going to take you down valley today," Cord says. "You'll meet all kinds of friends there."
"That's why I'm wearing a costume, for the costume party!"
"Right, you can wear a costume there."
"Moma? Will moma be there?" It breaks my heart to hear this. His mother was executed by the Columbine guards when they ransacked my property.
"She's not there, but when you see a Forever, you'll know it's her." Cord doesn't lie to him but makes things sound hopeful anyway. I like that.
"I know - you told me - but I still want to see her real body. Is Fuchsia coming?"
"Fuch is going to the hospital to help a friend and Mr. Schneider's going with her."
"Yes, we'd better get on. It's nearly daylight." Mr. Schneider checks his watch.
Outside the hollow, we prepare to go our separate ways as the singing of Morning Wings begins. The sky is a deep blue behind the silhouettes of Aspen trunks. Mr. Schneider pushes the ladder back into the hollow and closes the hatch, then covers it with dirt. Grandma's down there resting with her head arm.
"Grandma will be fine by herself for the day." Cord holds Bud's hand over his make-shift-mummy-wrap costume that will protect him on the journey down valley. "I'll visit you as soon as we get him settled," he says to me. "Don't worry. Mr. S is going to make sure they don't perform the nutrient procedure until after he's done the grafting on Lemon. If it goes well, she may not need your sacrifice."
"How do you know the doctors will go along with that?" I say. I'm shaking from the uncertainly of this plan.
"Because I trust the doctor scheduled to perform the nutrient donation."
"So I'm supposed to just trust this plan because you trust the doctor?"
"She's my mom." His stare is intense.
I breathe a sigh of relief, but clicking spurs break the peace."Put your hands up and stay right where you are!"
A/N: Thank you for staying with Fuchsia while she gets herself in deeper than dirt. Please don't forget to vote if you liked this chapter, and let me know what you think.
Dedicated to Voyageavecmoi who completely gets this story. I'm grateful for her continuing support and enjoy wandering vicariously through her Travel Dabbles, the best way to see Asia without buying a ticket!
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The Grove is a Wattpad Featured Story. Fifteen-year-old Fuchsia speaks like an average teen navigating the usual drama, but her community of tribes called The Grove is an even more terrifying place to be than the halls of high school. The two major...