Broken Path, Starless Tail - 4. Chapter 4
“Mom, Dad, you back from the store yet?” Colby was yelling the second they walked through the door. Beckett winced. His head was throbbing, and Colby’s voice pierced through his brain like a hot-red spike. The nap hadn’t helped at all.
Worse, when he’d opened his eyes, Colby had been staring at him and there was something off about the expression on his face. A mix of fear, awe, and something Beckett couldn’t pinpoint but made him super uncomfortable. “What, was I drooling?” he’d asked.
“No, but you were mumbling a lot.”
“Oh.” Beckett shrugged, wincing when the movement pulled the skin on his chest. “Dunno about what.” He couldn’t remember the dreams he’d had that time. Just lights and something so cold he could swear it was invading his soul.
He still felt cold, even if they’d been laying outside in the sun.
“In the kitchen putting away groceries.”
They walked to the kitchen and stopped in the open area of the dining room by the table. Mr. and Mrs. R were moving around each other in the kitchen, putting away groceries from the bags without saying a word. They didn’t even need to talk about it or look at each other, they just moved around putting things where they went without bumping into each other.
The connection they had always made Beckett want to sigh with romantic envy. Then blush with embarrassment. He’d never admit it to anyone, but he wanted a boyfriend, hell, even a date. Not in this town, though.
“Mom, uh, Beckett needs you to check something out.” Beckett wanted to elbow Colby but moving his arms was starting to hurt more because of the healing inflammation, so he didn’t.
“Hey,” he hissed instead. “It’s not that big of a deal,” he said louder. “Colby is just being paranoid.”
“Parallax clawed him. Now he’s cold, not sleeping, and they look pretty bad.”
“They’re not that bad,” Beckett said defensively. “And Parallax is just a cat. He didn’t do it on purpose.” He didn’t want to lose his permission to come to Colby’s house if his parents thought he was blaming the cat—or them.
“Of course, hun. Just a moment.” Mrs. R folded up a bag, glancing at Mr. R. He’d paused with a jar of sauce in his hands, exchanging a look with Colby. What was it with this family? Something about the way they wiggled their eyebrows or something; it was like they had a whole facial language. “Let’s go to the bathroom. I have some disinfectant and gauze in there.”
“Um, okay. I did wash them with peroxide and have used soap each day in the shower.” Beckett didn’t want her to think he hadn’t done anything.
“I’m sure, I’m sure.” Mrs. R. patted him on the back, guiding him toward the hall bathroom off the living room even though she was so much shorter than he was. Tiny, she was tiny, but they didn’t say that in fear of incurring her wrath which was not tiny. “So, not sleeping, huh? That’s got to be rough on a teenager during summer vacation. Isn’t that half of your daily schedule?”
Beckett smiled. He liked how casual she was about it, not giving him a hard time about being a teenager or wanting to sleep in, even if he’d graduated high school. “Not according to my dad. I’m supposed to have a job and be an adult who faces reality head on.”
“Oh, there’s plenty of time for that. Seems to me too many people in this world forget the magic and freedom of not being mired in so-called reality.” She said it with a touch of disgust, and Beckett laughed.
“Well, I’m free for now.”
“Hmm,” Mrs. R had him sitting on the edge of the tub so she could see his chest and not have to lean too far down. “Take that shirt off while I get all this out.” The brown bottle she pulled out didn’t even have a label, but the gauze came out of a normal red and white package.
Beckett slowly took off his shirt, and it hurt so much that he was still pulling his arms down when she was already soaking the gauze with the smelly brown fluid. He grimaced.
“Oh damn.” She paused with the cotton halfway in the air between them. “Lowell, come here!” Feet came trotting down the hall, and Mr. R and Colby both stopped in the doorway.
“Those are worse than they were before.”
“How long ago?” Mrs. R said quietly.
“Less than two hours.”
“I’ll get Parallax.” Mr. R turned and left.
“What can I do?” Colby asked.
“Come help me.”
Beckett watched, his forehead wrinkled, when Colby laid his hand on the back of his mother’s neck. She touched one of the punctures on Beckett’s chest and he winced, biting back the yelp.
Her disinfectant burned. She swiped the first mark, then the second, third, and fourth. Sweat was beading on all their brows before she turned to the other side of his chest. “Damn him,” she hissed. “Why now? Why him?”
“I think we all knew it would be, Mom.”
His head was swimming, stomach churning, and Beckett’s mouth was watering with the urge to vomit so he kept swallowing over and over. Nothing they said made sense, and he wasn’t sure why these damn cat scratches were so bad. Had he gotten a blood infection?
“Do I need to go to the hospital?”
“No,” all three of them said in unison. Oh. Mr. R was back. Parallax was in his arms, his body limp. Was the slug asleep? Probably. Usually you could tell if his tail was up or hanging limp, but Beckett couldn’t see his tail. He looked strangely… faded.
“Put them together,” Mrs. R ordered.
“Huh?” Beckett didn’t know what she wanted put together until Mr. R leaned over and pressed Parallax into his arms and up against his chest. Beckett braced for the pain, but it was like the usually heavy cat weighed nothing at all. He nearly melted against Beckett’s chest.
Looking down, Beckett saw the moment Parallax opened his eyes and he gasped as he fell inside.
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