Chapter 19: Resilient

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"Cord was beheaded?" I can't believe it. He once had no head, just like his creepy grandmother and Lemon.

"Last year - nasty experience, but his family was there when it happened, so he was instantly healed." Mr. S. says this with crossed arms like he's an authority on the subject. I guess he is.

"Just like Lemon was?" When she was beheaded at the Bloom Fest, Cord and his family immediately swooped in to donate blood.

"Well, yes, except Cord does have the slight advantage of being from Arnica tribe himself. His recovery was quick, given the factor of healing blood running through his own veins. And with the grafting, his head grew back by the end of the bloom season. His family didn't have to wait a whole year for the results."

"Thank God," Mom says. "So you think Lemon will have the same success with the grafting?"

"There's no reason why not, unless" - Mr. S. glances at me - "Unless the nutrient donation is equally important. We don't know how another species will respond."

My palms sweat with the thought of needles going in.

The nurse interrupts the sickening chills running through me. "Okay, you can visit Lemon, one at a time," she informs.

"Fuchsia, you first, she's your friend," Mom says.

God, I do not want to go in there. It was awkward enough having to stare at Cord's grandma's headless body, let alone someone my age. But they nudge, reminding me that if Cord was once headless and now looks so unheadless, Lemon can be herself again someday too. I suck it up and walk behind the nurse.

Down a long hall, she stops at a door marked restricted access. I take a breath like I'm about to plunge into my lane, and I'm in. The room is dark and heavy with whirring machinery. Lemon's body looks limp and tiny, her yellow hair gone. She's a stump without the brilliant colors of her tribe.

I sit in the chair next to her. I try to pray since that's what's expected, but instead I end up getting too many distracting thoughts. More like questions. Why didn't we stay friends? Why did Del flirt with me when he really wanted her? Why did he ask me to be his Underkiss should she not live?

The last question burns. I'm second rate and everyone knows it. I stare at my hands and realize Lemon can't do this small task. She can't see. She can't move her muscles. She is completely dependent on others now. How embarrassing would that be?

I say a prayer that she will grow her head back, and then I leave as fast as possible.

My shoes make too much noise in the long hall. I tip toe back to the room and Cord is there with Mom and Dad, making them laugh with a joke. I try to picture him without a head, and then with a head arm, and I look away.

I glance back as his chin rises with the laughter and there is no way to tell what he's been through. I need to get closer and see the scar that's got to be there.

Cord's dad enters. They look so alike - sunny, charming, confident. "Fuchsia," he says. "I've heard so much about you. My, you are brave."

"Oh, you too - I mean nice to meet you." I shake his hand too eagerly.

But he returns the shake just right. Some dads can break your hand and make you feel like a dead fish in a death grip. Dr. Arnica bows at the same time as our hands part. I can't help the thought that invades my mind. Did he have to graft his own son's head-arm?

"She won't need to perform the nutrient donation, will she?" Dad blurts out. Dr. Arnica rushes Mom and Dad into a huddle of whispers. Cord and I are left staring at them together.

"You didn't tell me." I say.

"Tell you what? How lovely you're looking today?" he smiles and that's all I need to forget what I'm saying.

"You - you know. About your - um, head."

"Oh, that." He shrugs like we're talking about a broken leg that's long since healed.

"What - what was it like?"

"I don't remember. You want to get outta here?"

I want nothing more, but my persnickety upbringing wins. "Now?"

"Just to the roof for some sun, and maybe a swim. They'll find us." It's so enticing I follow without realizing my feet are moving.

"Sure, you kids take a walk, we'll be right with you." Mom gives me the grownups-are-busy look and I'm grateful.

The rooftop is bright and healing. I stretch my arms out to catch as many rays as possible. Cord lounges on the pool chair next to mine. He turns his face up to the sky. I lean closer, until he brings me into his chair with him and we become one big lump holding on to whatever we can. His arms feel safe around me and I nuzzle into his chest. I look up to his throat and there is the faintest sketch of a line where his other head once was. Without asking I trace the jagged scar with my finger.

Cord is silent, but he pulls me in closer with a deep breath. I can ask my question without worrying about spies. "How's Bud? Does he like his new home?"

He nods, but doesn't speak. I look up and see tears rolling down his face. I've never seen a male tribe member cry before.

"What?" I ask.

"Nothing," he says mopping the tears with his other arm.

"Why, did something happen to him?"

"No, Bud's great. He's in good hands, it's just, now you know about my past. It's kind of - weird. I wanted people in the Grove not to know that about me."

"That's okay, I mean, you didn't do anything wrong. It happens - and you lived. I would be proud of that."

"You won't tell anyone, please? It will be our secret." He holds me tight.

I whisper into his beautiful scar. "Yes, ours. And I will be secretly proud and infinitely glad that you healed completely."

He squeezes back, and then shakes me gently. "Let's go for a swim. Race you!" He's already hoisting me off of him. I follow and we dive into the forgetful blue where no one can see his tears.

A/N: Isn't Cord a keeper?

This chapter is dedicated to @Barnrat who writes some cool Riordan fanfic. Check out Children of Heroes and see what's in store for the next generation at Camp Half Blood.

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