1.3 Respect, pt 2

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Cherise doubted that sweet Mrs. Hollander, who rescued orphan children, wanted anyone dead. She treats you better than anyone in the group home, she silently thought, picking her way over the cluttered floor. The rest of us aren't allowed to keep a mess going.

Every shelf and surface overflowed with papers and binders. A riot of posters covered the walls and door, interspersed with Cherise's drawings. Everyone in the Hollander Home wanted to clean up his room, but Thomas forbade it. His capacious memory allowed him to keep track of every lost bread crumb. He would know if anything got shifted, or stolen, while he was gone. 

People tended to overlook his memory. They focused on his other traits, but Cherise thought that his memory was even more spectacular than his telepathic power. He could flip through a book and then recite the entire thing, word for word.

"If you could hear her thoughts," Thomas said, "you'd know what she really thinks of me." He gestured to himself. "She thought, 'God help us all if he lives to adulthood.'"

Cherise winced.

"She loves you, though." Thomas reached for his NAI-12 briefcase, fumbling the latches open. "Time for an injection."

Hundreds of tiny vials lined the interior, full of pale green liquid. Cherise pulled out the injection pen. Before she could do anything else, Thomas took it in his bony hands. "I need to get used to doing it myself."

So she watched as Thomas popped an empty vial out of the pen, and inserted a fresh one. He was definitely more energetic.

"As far as Mrs. Hollander is concerned, my welfare is bottom priority, after everyone else's." Thomas painstakingly rolled up his sleeve. "She only allowed me to keep this medicine because she cares about you."

That's hard to believe, Cherise thought.

"People are more honest in the privacy of their minds. You only see her public face." Thomas pressed the pen against his twig-like arm, and winced as the needle pierced his vein. "We're all clothed in mirrors. Most people take a look at others and see their own reflection. Criminals see everyone as a potential criminal. To someone who's obtuse and timid, like Mrs. Hollander . . ." He placed the injection pen back in its cradle. "Everyone is a potentially dangerous mystery." He closed the briefcase, trembling from the effort. Once he'd caught his breath, he went on. "I actually look dangerous to Mrs. Hollander. She thinks I need more limits. As if I'm not limited enough."

Cherise wished she could have a conversation with Mrs. Hollander. For a second, she considered going into the kitchen, but she couldn't imagine trying to carry a serious conversation while her foster mother was distracted with cooking. 

She rolled down Thomas's sleeve. Soon enough, he would be old enough to live on his own. Maybe he would even gain enough strength to stand up and walk.

"I'll never walk." Thomas leaned back against his headrest. "I would need a new body. Look at my legs."

Cherise didn't need to look. She'd seen his underdeveloped, skeletal limbs often enough. Without muscles, they grew uneven, the joints atrophied into permanent positions.

"NAI-12 can't repair damage that's done," Thomas said. "All it does is prevent further deterioration." He touched the briefcase with satisfaction. "If I could have taken this since infancy, I'd be able-bodied. At least future infants born with SMA will have that chance."

Cherise smiled, sure that he must have given up on the blond woman and her map. They'd spend a typical evening in his room, with him working on NAI-12 while she relaxed on the beanbag chair, doing her homework and drawing in her sketchbook.

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