y grandfather had been right about his cooking skills. He even sucked at breakfast, which should have been the easiest meal to make. Who couldn’t scramble some eggs and pop bread in the toaster? My grandfather, apparently.
After the first couple of mornings of me politely trying to eat the burnt toast and runny eggs he’d prepared, he’d taken pity on me. We now walked to a nearby diner in the Presidio to eat each morning. My coffee addiction amused him. He loved to watch the whole process of me adding cream and sugar to my cup.
“How’s your coffee-flavored milk?” he asked.
I’d gotten surprisingly comfortable with him. We spoke the same language: smart-ass.
“Better than your weak tea. Real men drink coffee, Franc.”
“What about the British?”
I waved a hand. “They’re the exception, obviously. What’s your excuse?”
“Good taste?” he suggested.
I snorted. “Your shirt would argue otherwise.”
My grandfather laughed, knowing his shirt—another red-and-black checked button-up flannel à la lumberjack—looked perfectly fine. After finishing our meal, we stood, gathering our wrappers and plates to drop them into the recycling and compost bins.
We started the uphill walk to his house, our breath puffing into white clouds that blended with the gray skies. Every one of his giant steps equaled three of mine, but he slowed his pace so I could keep up. I screwed my courage up to ask him the question that had been weighing on me.
“Hey, Franc, Erin mentioned that you had a library with books about Healers?” At his nod, I took a chance. “I feel like I have these huge gaps in my education. There are all these things I should know, but I’m clueless because Mom didn’t want me to know about this world. Do you think maybe I could borrow some books?”
“Sure. I’ll get you a book to browse next time we’re in Pacifica.”
I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. It wasn’t access to the library like I wanted, but it was a start. Another question had been bugging me, but I wondered if I’d gained enough for the day. Except I could feel my time here running out, and the pressure of what I didn’t know crushed me more every day.
In for a penny, in for a pound,
“Something has been bothering me. Alcais mentioned something in passing about the Healers outnumbering the Protectors. What did he mean? I thought there weren’t many of us left.”
My grandfather’s lips tightened for second, as if in anger, but the emotion disappeared. “Have you ever wondered where you get your abilities from?”
I hadn’t really. I’d had too many other things to wonder about.
“Something to do with our very special double X chromosomes?” I guessed.
“We think it’s something to do with your brain chemistry. As far as we can tell, your brain waves are different. Every human has kinetic energy that enables us to move and think. We all have electricity in our bodies. But somehow Healers are able to control their energy. As you already know, you can manipulate that energy to heal others.”
I’m sure I looked confused. “What does this have to do with increasing our numbers?”
He smiled. “If we can isolate what makes you a Healer, maybe we can replicate it.”
I stumbled a little before catching myself. Replicate? This sounded too freaky to me.
“You’re going to make Healers?” I asked.
“Not just Healers, Remy. Male Healers. Why shouldn’t men have this ability, too? Think of everyone we could help if there were more of us.”
He finally noticed that I no longer walked beside him. Shocked, I stared at him when he turned about.
He frowned a little as if disappointed with my reaction. “You look upset.”
I bit my lip, trying to find the right words to explain what I felt. “Not upset, exactly. More like weirded out. What you’re talking about sounds like a midnight sci-fi flick. Brain waves? Replicate?” I shook my head at a loss.
He tapped a finger to his mouth. “When you look at it that way, I guess you’re right. I’m sorry I sprang it on you that way. But think about it from our perspective. Healers are being hunted into extinction. We need to come up with some way to protect our people. How do we do that when our enemy is immortal? When they gain power from murdering us?” He held his hands out, palms up. “We’re trying to survive here.”
I couldn’t process what he’d said, even though I could see the reasons behind it. After a long moment, my grandfather and I continued walking, both of us lost in our thoughts. Asher hadn’t wanted to come near me in the beginning because of the danger he represented to me. A danger I understood better after what had happened with Erin. But for Asher, his hunger had another dimension since he’d lost his senses. He’d worried he’d give in to his desire to feel human again, at the expense of my life. And maybe if I’d been like other Healers he would have.
As soon as the thought occurred, I felt sick. Asher would never hurt me. I knew that to the very core of me. To think it had been a possibility was a betrayal to him. He’d met other Healers, and he’d never harmed them. He’d only killed by accident when he’d tried to protect his sister from the Healer threatening her. A Healer who’d already gotten his brother killed.
At one time, the Healers had been the bad guys. Even my mother had admitted to that. Eighty years ago, their abuse of the Protectors had led to the War that had nearly wiped out the Healers. Even if the Healers increased their numbers, did they really stand a chance?
Eventually, I broke the awkward silence. “How close do you think you are to figuring out how to make lots of little mutant Healers?”
I tried to keep my tone light to bring us back to comfortable footing. I’m not sure I fooled my grandfather, though. Caution colored the edges of his words when he answered me.
“We have some scientists in our group who have been working on it for a long time. They could have the answer any day. In the meantime, we’ll do what’s necessary to keep our people safe. Every Healer is valuable.”
His ginormous hand rested on my shoulder to comfort me. I started to let myself believe that he could accept my Protector side if I ever revealed it to him. Maybe my value as a Healer would outweigh the side of me that he hated.
I didn’t know for sure, but I could feel hope uncurl inside me.
Some nights Asher and I raced through the forest and down to Fort Point at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. He listened to my stories with wariness whenever I could escape to meet him. Since he couldn’t follow me to Pacifica without raising suspicion, he often stayed in the city. I laughed when he admitted that he’d taken to surfing at Fort Point. The water temperature hovered around the high fifties in the summer and most of the surfers wore full body wet suits, including booties, to fight off the cold. I hadn’t yet been able to sneak down to the water during the day to watch him, but I loved the idea of him skimming the waves, all elegance and easy balance as he dodged the rocks scattered across the shoreline.
The day after my discussion with Franc, I mentioned to Asher that the Healers were looking for a way to increase their numbers, but he didn’t seem concerned. His eyes did light up when I told him that my grandfather thought they’d isolated what made our powers work and I guessed at the reason why. If they’d figured out what made us tick, maybe they could figure out how to reverse the process that made the Protectors immortal.
“They’ve heard the stories about me, Asher,” I confessed. “I don’t think they believe they’re true, but they have heard rumors about how a Healer could end Protector immortality.”
He frowned. “Remy, be careful. If they suspect anything . . . If you think they even have a clue as to what you are, promise me you’ll get out of there.” He tucked my hair my ear. “I know you like your grandfather, but remember, we can’t trust anyone.”
I didn’t agree. Every day, I was coming closer to believing that I could trust my grandfather with the truth about me. Franc wanted a family as bad as I always had. I could see it in the way he watched me with a mix of tenderness and affection. If he knew the full truth about me, maybe we could get to a cure for Asher that much sooner. At least, maybe Franc could help Asher and me figure out a way to be together without hurting each other.
I didn’t argue with Asher, though. He looked too upset, and I didn’t want to make things worse. In the end, I promised to keep my secret awhile longer.
“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever healed, Remy?” Alcais asked the next day.
He’d been playing darts alone at Delia’s house, while Delia, Erin, and I sat around a small card table. Franc had given me an untitled book that was really more of a diary that some Healer had kept long ago. So far, the author—a Healer named Maria—hadn’t revealed anything I didn’t already know. She spent most of her time listing the names of people she’d healed and how much money she’d made on each occasion. She’d even created a chart that listed what each type of injury or illness was worth. The more energy the healing required, the more Maria charged. The mercenary quality to her writings turned my stomach, but I kept at it, hoping she would eventually offer up something of value.
As I flipped through the pages, Erin and I chatted, while Delia stole glances at an indifferent Alcais. After he asked his question, he lined up a second dart and then let it fly at the dartboard Delia’s father had nailed to one wall of her family’s garage. Pausing before he sent a third arrow after it, he threw me another of his sly looks.
I had a feeling his question was another type of dart. For some reason, he’d been picking at me all day, asking me ridiculous questions. How many times had I cured the flu? Did I ever bump into strangers whose illness I couldn’t cure? Had I ever healed an STD? Despite his sister’s protests, he’d kept after me until I wanted to hit him.
I’d noticed an indifference in Alcais that I didn’t like. He took chances he shouldn’t. A lot of boys his age did, really, as if they’d sprouted stupidity hormones at puberty that they somehow mistook for courage. Unlike other boys, Alcais took his carelessness to a new level, using his sister and Delia as safety nets for whatever pranks he pulled. What did it matter if he burned his hand waving it through a candle for fun? Delia could fix him right up. And then there was the day he’d jumped off the pier for kicks. He’d broken his collarbone and come out of the water laughing like a freaking idiot. Erin healed him that time.
As far as Alcais was concerned, someone would always heal him, so what did it matter how recklessly he acted? At first, I didn’t understand why my grandfather or Alcais’s parents let him get away with it. Weren’t these people all about hiding their abilities so the Protectors didn’t find them? Then I realized that the adults had no idea what he was up to. Delia and Erin never told on him and, since they didn’t absorb his injuries, what did it matter if they had to fix him?
Except it did matter. These full-blooded Healers might not absorb injuries like I did, but using their powers exhausted them. When Erin had fixed Alcais’s broken collarbone, her skin had grayed and her eyes had taken on a sunken quality as if her life force drained out of her. I had to swallow my anger when Alcais took her sacrifice for granted, just as he did Delia’s when she healed his burned hand.
Both girls had claimed to feel fine the next day, but I still didn’t like Alcais. So most of the time, I dodged his pointed questions with sarcasm. When he asked about the worst injury or illness I’d healed, though, Erin and Delia’s heads lifted in curiosity and I felt pressured to answer.
I couldn’t very well tell them that I’d healed my sister, Lucy, when my stepfather had shot her. They didn’t know Lucy existed, and I wanted to keep it that way. And then there were the times I’d healed Gabe and Asher . . . Right. Like I could explain how I’d healed Protectors.
I faked a calm I didn’t feel and flipped a page in my book. “I healed someone with cancer once.”
The person had been a teacher at my school in Brooklyn. I wished I could say I’d meant to heal the woman, but it had been an accident. I’d only had my ability for a couple of years, and I hadn’t known how to shield myself all the time then. Sometimes my powers kicked in if I bumped into someone, and there was no stopping it. The cancer thing had sucked. I’d been in pain for weeks before I’d been able to heal myself completely.
A sudden quiet in the garage alerted me that I’d answered the question wrong. I looked up from another of Maria’s charts to find all three of them staring at me with disbelief.
Delia muttered, “Bullshit,” under her breath.
“What?” I asked, confused.
Erin leaned forward in her chair. “Remy, that’s impossible. Only the older, more powerful Healers can do that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We can only heal smaller things. Like mending broken bones, or helping that boy to breathe on the beach. Cancer, heart problems, third-degree burns, more life-threatening injuries can kill us. We just don’t have the ability to handle the energy they require. That takes more experience.”