Chapter 20: Rejected

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Cord's strokes are powerful. We swim side-by-side in the clear water, immersed in none of the secrets and lies and problems. No past or future but only this present exists. We touch the side and look at each other, then lap again.

At the shallow end, he scoops me up and we bounce on the rocking current we created, breathing heavily from the exercise. His hair looks darker wet and his body fit. He doesn't have silly muscles just for show, but it's clear he's in good shape.

"You're pretty good," I say. "I didn't know you swam?" I wrap my arms around his neck. His eyelashes are dripping, and some freckles I've never noticed before cover the bridge of his nose.

"Used to. It's been a while; I missed the water." He pulls me in tighter. Our breath begins to slow.

"We could use you on the team." I look into his eyes that match the water.

"Then that Columbine Guard would really get a show. Mamma Mia, now I really know," Cord mimics our lucky escape with Bud.

"My my, I could never let you go!" I answer as we splash about like show-tune freaks. Then he pulls me to him and his smile becomes more serious. He touches his nose to mine and whispers, "Fuchsia." For the first time I truly like the sound of my name.

But someone else is saying it too.

"Fuchsia!" I look up from our watery world to see Del standing over the edge with his hands on his hips and a desperate look on his face. "They told me you were up here. I - I thought you were alone."

"Del," I say back. He looks so pitiful. Cord has released me and started to smooth back his wet hair. "We should go back down," he says, letting reality crush our day.

"Cord -" I don't know what comes next. I watch him hungrily as he gets out of the water; he is so fine.

Del doesn't even bother to say "Whas'up" to Cord like he does in the hall to strangers every day just to see their reaction that he's actually talking to low lifes. How could I have ever liked this guy?

I head to the chair where our towels are to hold on to my moment with Cord. "Thanks for the swim," I whisper. But he glances at Del and says, "Sure, I'll see you downstairs."

"Okay," I mumble into my towel as I dry my hair. There's so much I didn't get to say and now our time is gone.

"Fuchsia, have you seen Lemon?" Del sits in Cord's chair as soon as he's out of sight.

"I just did."

"She looks so different, I mean she doesn't even have any color left, not to mention a head."

"That's what happens when you get beheaded." This sounds harsh out loud so I try to soften the blow with something positive. "At least she's still alive though."

"I heard what you did; that you offered to save her. You are simply amazing," He looks at me like he used to, back in July when we walked to the bookstore together. I had thought that was ancient history. He continues without even letting me talk. "And then they told me what they're going to do to her today. I can't even, it's too awful to think about."

"You mean the grafting?"

"You know about that? They said it was a brand new procedure, but it sounds so risky. They're going to make her into someone with a - I can't even say it, it's horrific."

"A head-arm?"

"It's terrible. How can she possibly live a normal life after that? I had no idea what I was getting into."

"She'll heal from the grafting, Del. It's been done before."

"Oh yeah, on who? They won't tell me and I think they're making it up. Even if she survives, she'll be walking around like a freak. I don't want tribe members looking at her like that."

I won't spill Cord's secret for anyone, especially not Del. I stand up. "Come on, let's go see what we can do to help." I lead him to the elevator like he's a lost trout needing directions upstream.

Lemon may or may not live, but I know I've made the right choice not to be Del's underkiss. In the elevator, I daydream about my swim with Cord, our perfect moment, how he held me and said my name like I was his most intimate desire.

In answer to my thoughts, he is there when the elevator doors open. But he looks stressed, angry, and confused, all the emotions he didn't show me in the water. "Fuchsia, I'm so sorry, but there's no other way."

"What - what's wrong?"

"We're losing her. Lemon's neck rejected the first arm, and they're going to graft the other one when she's stronger, but she needs you; she won't survive without the nutrient donation."

I let him lead me like a zombie. Del hovers and tries to put his arm around me in comfort, but I cling to Cord instead. Eventually Del gets the picture and takes off. Cord and I sit in the closest chairs we can find. The waiting room is full of toys and books worn ragged by so many kids. I think of Bud; will I ever see him again?

"Fuchsia, I'm here and I won't leave. You can do this and you can survive, but you need to do everything I say."

"Okay." I'm already shaking. I had let myself believe it wasn't actually going to happen. Now I feel unprepared.

"Close your eyes."

I do as he says but it makes me feel even more scared. He takes my hand and the electric warmth helps.

"The most important thing is to visualize being strong and powerful, to really focus on protecting enough nutrients for yourself while sharing the ones she needs."

"How do I know how many nutrients I need?"

"Right, think of it like water. You have some and you want to share with those in need, but you still have to keep some for yourself to survive."

Okay, I can do that. I see my brook and picture the constant flow of water. I imagine scooping enough up for me in a jug and leaving the rest to flow to Lemon.

He must see me focusing. "Okay, good. Now, you need to ask God to help you. She will give you strength that is more powerful than you can imagine."

"She? I thought that was your god, not mine."

"Just try it."

So I do. I picture my stream again and She is this big rainbow lady in the water and I'm praying to her.

"Excellent!" Cord says. "Now, do that when you go under and you'll be fine."

"How do you know?"

"We talk to headless people and it works, right? Same applies to any of our patients. Healing is as mental as it is physical."

"There you are, honey." Dad is in the waiting room now and he looks so worried. I wish he wouldn't make it worse.

"Dad, I'm just trying to relax before I go in there. Can I have five more minutes?"

"Honey, take all the time you need." He rubs his hands together and his eyes are darting back and forth. His nervous energy is not helping. "There's something you need to know," he says.

"Okay." Like there could be any more revelations for me. Bring it.

"You don't have to do this anymore."

"But I promised. I can do this Dad."

"I know, but your mom - she took your place - she is Lemon's nutrient donor now, and there's nothing we can do to stop her."

A/N: Nothing can stop a mamma bear from protecting her cub, or a mamma Primrose Tribe Member for that matter!

This chapter is dedicated to @Bloodina_Cake , your cruise director of all things Anime who wrote this awesome book review for The Grove here:

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