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Authors: Jeff Stone

Lion (5 page)

BOOK: Lion
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I don’t know how long I lay there before I opened my eyes. The pain was so great, I lost all track of time, but my mom hadn’t shown up yet.

I was lying flat on my back, and the first thing I saw was Hú Dié’s face. She had tears in her eyes, but she smiled at me.

I smiled back.

“Look!” Hú Dié said. “His mouth works!”

I surprised myself by laughing.

“Sounds like his vocal cords are working, too,” Uncle Tí said. “Ryan, can you speak?”

“Yeah.” I coughed. “My throat is really sore, though.”

“Your whole body will be sore for several days,” Phoenix’s grandfather said. “Do not let it stop you from exercising, though. You
must
continue to fight the dragon bone.”

“I will,” I said. “After this experience, I wish I could just flush it from my system.”

“Can you move yet?” Phoenix asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

I tried to move my arms and legs, but couldn’t. I did manage to lift my head, though.

My voice began to quiver. “Am I … paralyzed?”

“Only temporarily,” Phoenix’s grandfather said. “I am not finished with the procedure. You should regain the use of your limbs shortly.”

I glanced down at my bare chest. More than a hundred thin needles protruded from my torso. They waved like miniature flagpoles with the rising and falling of my chest as I breathed.

I blinked. “What the—”

“Acupuncture needles,” Uncle Tí said. “Grandfather is gifted in their use. Chinese have been using them for thousands of years to stimulate the flow of
chi
through various parts of a person’s body. So far, it looks like what he’s doing is working.”

I felt my right shoulder begin to warm, and I rotated it slightly. I smiled.

Phoenix’s grandfather returned the smile, but said nothing.

The door leading to the house suddenly burst open, and I saw my mother.

“Ayeeee! Stop right there! What are you doing to my boy?”

I raised my
head and watched my mom struggle across the soft wrestling mats in her high heels. The fact that she was overweight didn’t help. Even so, she raised her purse over her head like a warrior and rushed forward.

“No!” I said. “He’s helping me. I could end up paralyzed if he messes up.”

“That’s right,” Uncle Tí said. “Ryan is in good hands.”

She ground to a halt. “Paralyzed?”

“He won’t become paralyzed,” Phoenix’s grandfather said calmly. “I promise. What Ryan is experiencing is severe muscle cramps. The paralysis is only temporary.”

My mom appeared to calm down a little. She lowered her purse. “Is that acupuncture? You endorse this medieval practice?”

“Yes, I do,” Uncle Tí said. “Only we don’t consider it medieval. We call it traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM.
Chinese have been doing this for thousands of years. Medieval times were six hundred years ago.”

“Whatever. Couldn’t you just give him some pills instead? Or maybe a shot? One needle instead of, what is that,
hundreds
of needles? My God. Doesn’t that hurt, Ryan?”

“No,” I said. “I actually feel better than I have in weeks.”

“You look like a life-sized voodoo doll.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” Phoenix’s grandfather said. “One more needle, and I am finished.” He looked at me. “You should rest your head back on the ground. This last one will act as a switch, connecting the remaining needles that have yet to take effect. You should feel a rush of energy, and the balance of your cramping will subside.”

“Oh, dear,” my mom said, “I can’t watch this.”

Phoenix’s grandfather removed a plastic-wrapped needle from his acupuncture bag. He unwrapped the needle and tossed the plastic into a large pile of other wrappers. With steady hands, he slowly pushed the needle into the skin of my abdomen.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” my mom said.

Phoenix’s grandfather rotated the needle clockwise, then counterclockwise. I felt a
whoosh
of heat wash from the needle’s tip outward. It was like sinking into a warm bath.

“Ahhhhh,” I said. “That feels so good.”

“How is the cramping?” Uncle Tí asked.

“Gone, one hundred percent.”

“Can you sit up?” Phoenix’s grandfather asked.

“I think so.”

“Show us.”

I hesitated. “What about the needles?”

“They are not going anywhere,” Phoenix’s grandfather said. “They need to remain in place a bit longer. You will be fine.”

I pushed myself up onto my elbows; then I sat upright. Row upon row of needles shimmered up and down my torso.

My mom shuddered. “I can’t believe you don’t feel them. You remind me of a porcupine.”

“I don’t think porcupines have quills on their stomachs,” I said, smiling.

“Are you dizzy?” Uncle Tí asked.

“Not at all. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. Seriously.” I looked at Phoenix’s grandfather. “Thank you so much!”

He bowed his head slightly. “It is the least I could do. If I may make a suggestion, you should stop learning kung fu until the dragon bone bond is broken.”


You
were learning kung fu?” my mom said. “I’m going to lock you in your room until summer vacation ends.”

I sighed. “Don’t be so dramatic, Mom. You can’t do that. I have to exercise. Besides, children’s social services will be all over you for child imprisonment.”

“Fine. I’ll drive you to the trail park a couple times a week. Otherwise, you’ll stay locked in your room.”

“Stop embarrassing me. That won’t work, either. The trail is closed because of the rain. It probably won’t reopen for a month.”

“What are you going to do, then?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I thought kung fu would be the answer.”

“Can’t you just wait it out? Maybe a month of rest will be good for you.”

“Mrs. Vanderhausen,” Uncle Tí said, “it is critical that Ryan exercise.”

“I’m sorry,” my mom said. “This has all been very hard on me. I should have known better than to send Ryan off to live with his uncle in the first place. My brother-in-law had a history of experimenting on people without fully disclosing possible side effects. I just never dreamed he’d do it to a child.”

“Is that a fact?” Uncle Tí said. “I looked into Dr. Vanderhausen’s past, but I could find nothing of the sort. No formal complaints were ever filed.”

“It was all handled informally. The victims were paid off in lieu of suing him. A lot of money changed hands. How else do you think we could afford a house like ours?”

My voice caught in my throat. “You mean
Dad
was tricked by his own brother? Is that how he got cancer?”

“No,” my mom replied. “I was.”

“Huh?”

“Your weight,” Uncle Tí said.

My mother nodded. “I was part of Dr. V’s very first diet drug trial. The concoction he gave me ruined my pituitary gland. No matter how little I eat, I continue to slowly gain weight. I’ve been meaning to tell you for years, Ryan. I suppose I’ve been too embarrassed at my own stupidity for trusting him.”

“Oh, man,” I said, “I had no idea. That stinks!”

My mom took my hand. “Let’s not dwell on the past. We need to figure out how to deal with the present. You have to exercise, but the trail is closed. Can you ride somewhere else?”


All
the mountain bike trails will be affected by the rain, Mrs. Vanderhausen,” Phoenix said.

“Well, do you have to ride a mountain bike, Ryan?” she asked. “What about a cyclocross bike?”

“A cyclocross course would stay open for a day or even a weekend in heavy rain,” I said, “but not any longer. The ground would get too torn up.”

“How about riding a road bike? Like your father?”

I frowned. “I don’t know. Those tires are awful skinny for someone as big as me, especially on wet pavement.”

“Ryan,” Hú Dié said, “your mom might be onto something. Road bikes handle pretty well in the rain. Have you ever ridden one?”

“Not since I tried my dad’s when I was little.”

“You would not have noticed, then, that they are actually quite rugged. I know you’ve watched the Tour de France. Those riders torture their bikes.”

Phoenix chuckled. “
Rugged? Torture?
As soon as those guys get a speck of dirt on their bike, they swap it out for a new one from their crew following behind in a support vehicle.”

“It is not like that at all,” Hú Dié said. “You should consider giving road biking a try, Ryan.”

I shook my head. “Maybe if the weather was better. And I had a coach. I’ve seen stages of some of the cycling tours
on TV and the Internet. Road riding is a lot more involved than mountain biking or cyclocross.”

“That’s what makes it more interesting,” Hú Dié said.

“No, that is what makes it
less
interesting,” Phoenix countered. “It’s too much work.”

Hú Dié looked at me. “See, I told you he was lazy.”

“What do you mean by that?” Phoenix asked.

“Nothing,” Hú Dié said.

I glanced at my mom. She hadn’t said a word. That wasn’t like her at all.

“What are you thinking, Mom?” I asked.

“My cousin in California,” she said.

I grinned.

“You mean the one who … you know?” Phoenix asked awkwardly.

She frowned. “Yes, Peter, the one who used to race with Ryan’s father. The one who went on to race at an elite level and coach other riders. Maybe Ryan could spend a little time with him.”

“It sounds great, but do you think he’d do it?” I asked.

“In a heartbeat,” she said. “He adores you. I think you remind him of himself when he was young.”

“He is awesome,” I said. “His arms look like anacondas.”

“Let me make a phone call,” she said. “Excuse me.” She began to totter toward the door.

“Take your shoes off, Mom. It will be easier to walk on the mats.”

She laughed. “Oh, right. Thanks.”

After she had gone, Hú Dié said, “The more I see of your mom, the more I like her.”

“She can be a little embarrassing,” I said, “but I couldn’t ask for a better mom. I had no idea about her … um … condition.”

“It happens,” Uncle Tí said.

“Your mother cares deeply about you,” Phoenix’s grandfather said. “Now lie back down. Those needles have been in you long enough.”

I lay down, and Phoenix’s grandfather quickly removed the needles. His hands were fast and steady, the complete opposite of the shakiness I’d seen in him earlier. He must have noticed me watching because he leaned forward and whispered in my ear. “I had a small amount of dragon bone in my acupuncture bag. I took it to steady myself in order to do this properly. I will go back to my previous half dosages tomorrow. I do
not
condone this behavior. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

He nodded. A minute later, he was done. “See if you can stand,” he said.

I stood without any problems.

“Dizzy?” Uncle Tí asked.

“Nope,” I said. “I feel great.”

“And look at your side.”

I twisted around and examined my left side. There was no sign of any previous injury. Even the scrapes were gone. I shook my head.

My mother entered from the house. “Ryan! Good news! How would you, Phoenix, and Hú Dié
all
like to go to California for ten days?”

Hú Dié’s eyes lit up. “California! Sure! To ride?”

“Yes,” my mom said. “Peter said that Ryan would learn
better with additional riders. We’ll even invite Jake. The more, the merrier, according to Peter. He’ll be able to free up his schedule. How do you feel about that, Ryan?”

“It sounds like a riot!” I said. “Did you ask what the weather is going to be like?”

“As always in July, dry as a bone.”

“Where exactly does he live?” Hú Dié asked.

“Carmel. Or technically, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Funny, isn’t it? We live in Carmel, Indiana, and he lives in Carmel, California. We pronounce it like the candy, though, and they don’t. I guess we’re sweeter than they are.” She grinned.

Phoenix hadn’t said a word.

“What about you, Phoenix?” my mom asked. “Don’t you want to go, too?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a road bike.”

“Ryan doesn’t, either,” my mom said. “I plan to buy road bikes for all of you! Jake, too, if he wants to go. You’d be doing Ryan a tremendous favor. Paying for your expenses is the least I could do.”

“The flights and everything?” Phoenix asked.

“Of course.”

Phoenix shook his head. “I can’t accept all that from you.”

My mom turned to Phoenix’s grandfather. “The money would come from my settlement with my brother-in-law. In a way, it’s like he’s financing the trip. I should tell you, though, that I won’t be able to go. I have to finalize a few things with his estate. But the kids will be in safe hands
with my cousin. He’s a great guy. In fact, I met my husband through him.”

“I will allow Phoenix to go,” he replied, “but the decision is his to make.”

“Please come, Phoenix,” Hú Dié said. “We need a sprinter. You would be the one we would set up to win a race.”

“I’m not sure …,” Phoenix said. “What do you think, Ryan?”

“I think it will be awesome,” I said with a grin. “The more, the merrier. For real.”

BOOK: Lion
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