The Expected Hungers

With November comes the wind and the season’s first lasting snow. Kam’s late to McDougall’s one morning, a Thursday, after rehearsal the night before. It’s not that he didn’t wake on time, but that the battery in The Starfighter was dead. Someone left the center console’s lamp on after rehearsal. Maybe it was him.

When Reese, en route to another day of tutoring, pulls into the shopping center lot, Kam leaps with his backpack from the passenger seat and shuffles toward the standalone McDougall’s. He slides on purpose across an ice patch on the sidewalk, palms braced to stop his forward motion against the glass door. Laney, the big-bodied manager with her long brown hair bound up beneath a company ball-cap, glances at him from behind a register but speaks not a word.

Putting breakfast sandwiches together is basic, a process that never changes. By 10:30 a.m., orders for burgers start to color the overhead monitor. Customers request extra cheese, or no onions, or only ketchup, or ketchup plus mayo. Kam has grown absorbed by a chicken sandwich to which he must add bacon and ranch salad dressing—a banana-nut granola bar is all he had for breakfast this morning—when Clark, the assistant manager, appears on his periphery.

“Morning, Kam!” says Clark.

“Yeah, hey.”

“Just how are things proceeding over here?”

“Fine, I think. What do you say, Gwen?” He nods to his sandwich assembly- mate, a McDougall’s long-timer. Clark has angled himself halfway between them, hugging a clipboard to his chest.

“Oh, happy days!” says Gwen. She preps another bun with the requested sauce before passing it to Kam on her right.

Clark is middle-aged, red-haired, and pot-bellied. Kam can’t tell if he uses the clipboard to tally up some scorecard or if it’s only a prop.

“Laney mentioned something about your being a wee on the late side this morning? Now, is that true?”

Kam straightens up and nods as if assessing a multi-faceted philosophical question. Clark hugs the clipboard more tightly and pushes his chin into his neck.

“There were extenuating circumstances,” says Kam. “It won’t happen again.”

“Be that as it may,” says Clark, “As long as you’re a McDougall’s employee . . . and you are a McDougall’s employee, aren’t you?”

“I believe, yes?”

Clark huffs. “You . . . ‘believe’?”

Kam nods his head. “I am, yes.”

“As long as you’re a McDougall’s employee, we must have you on time. This isn’t a first.”

With that, Clark lets fall one hand from the clipboard. His falling hand pats Kam’s back and lower down still. Then he’s gone.

“Clark just grabbed my ass,” says Kam to Gwen. She’s under fifty, black curly hair, a cigarette-deepened voice, thin-limbed. Undoubtedly someone’s mother. Nobody’s idea of a sunny disposition—tired of the world’s nagging. One reason, no doubt, given her level of experience, that she’s working sandwich assembly and not drive-thru.

“It really looked like more of a pat to me,” Gwen says.

“What?” says Kam.

“A pat, not a grab.”

“A pat?”

“That’s what I saw.”

“Still. You know. That’s my ass.”

“No, I don’t know, honey. It was a pat like you do on a sports club! Don’t go thinking you’re special. He does that to all the guys.”

“Do I look like ‘all the guys’ to you?”

“Honey,” says Gwen in a scratchy voice, “I been here a while and, believe me when I say you boys come and go.”

Is that what he's been up to this past month?

Michelle, a junior, whom Scotty hooked up with last fall when he and Deana were on the rocks, surprisingly open to Kam’s advances; Tova, the best friend of one of the girls Reese hangs out with, just breaking up with some guy and looking to make it official; then, finally, Catilynne, an ex-skater girl Tyler grew up with in town— they’d been mind-bendingly high on Tyler’s weed and in the morning Kam couldn’t think of anything to say as he slipped back into his long underwear and bundled his parka.

“We’re part of a team here, you know, don’t you?” Gwen says.

My team, Kam wants to answer, has a name. But it’s at this moment he notices from the corner of his eye how she’s squirting mustard out of the industrial dispenser. Not on to the bun lying open before her but directly on to the metal countertop. With the bun she then wipes the countertop spotless before placing the mustard-smeared thing inside a nest of open wrapping and passing it over to Kam.

He doesn’t want to stare or let on that he’s even noticed until, yes, she does it again. Gwen curls one side of her upper lip. Yeah, hi, hello. There is a fighting spirit inside Gwen, kicking at the gate of her age.

Some customer will bite into a sandwich whose condiments were applied first to the countertop. Even if, as countertops go, this does rate as fairly clean. Sprayed shiny early in the morning and at regular intervals during the day, per Laney’s instruction. Still—it’s gross. And Kam feels a deepening shame. A revulsion even. To just rub against that and go on like nothing at all were awry.

“Are you going to keep doing that?” he asks without making eye contact.

“I don’t hafta,” she says as she squirts another burst direct to the countertop. “Like I was sayin’, though . . . we’re all part of a team. If you catch my drift.” She smears another bun and pushes the nest of wrapping over to him while attempting to meet his eye.

Kam scans the room. The open-mouthed guy at the grill lowers its lid on another array of hockey puck patties, their collective sizzle audible. Laney is giving pointers to a girl who’s new to the front registers. Clark’s checking on the shake machine—who’d want a shake on a day as cold as today? Everything’s so normal-looking, everyone doing a normal thing, nobody aware of how exactly the normal-looking sandwiches get made. Except for Gwen. And him.

“Sure,” says Kam. He meets her eye. There’s intensity to her gaze. Her mouth turns up at one corner. That is a smile.

On his smoking break, huddled by the garbage bins and leaning as close as he can to the McDougall’s building, Kam is joined by Magnolia. She’s probably seventeen, a short- time employee like him: blond hair, glasses, and a silver hoop in her left nostril. Her mother works at McDougall’s too. Her mother is a long-timer.

Kam can’t help feeling for Magnolia, as she lights a cigarette, mitten-less. In no time at all, her fingers redden, the skin behind her lacquered nails purpling. But she’s smiling, and standing proudly with her chest out, and brandishing the cigarette at eye level.

“My mom says you sing in a band.”

“That’s true,” says Kam.

“She was talkin’ with Clark about it earlier.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Said she saw a flyer with your name on it. Posted by the ATM in town. Did you guys do that?”

“What’d Clark say?”

“Said he’d believe it. You always seem like you’re somewhere else, he said. Was he givin’ ya any trouble earlier?”

Kam takes a drag, surveying the wide-open parking lot to the supermarket. A normal-looking day. There aren’t many trees nearby.

She smiles. “You gotta just let that roll off. He acts like it’s his job to breathe down people’s necks.”

Isn’t that his job?” says Kam.

“Ha, not even really if you think about it. He’s not even the one in charge. Laney’s the one in charge. You weren’t even, like, that late, or anything, I don’t think.”

Kam tastes the heat from what’s left of his smoke. He asks, “Do you like working here? Do you like McDougall’s?”

In his mind, it’s his chance to get the real scoop. Maybe he’ll write a song.

But Magnolia brightens as if she’s taking the question to be a test of her readiness to show a positive attitude.

“Yes,” she says. “I love working at McDougall’s.”

“For real?”

“I do, I do. Don’t you?”

And maybe she does. Maybe working alongside her mom is a dream come true.

Or maybe she’s performing for him, the guy from the college up on the hill.

This moment, this exchange: Magnolia’s love for McDougall’s is kind of what it means to remain in Vermont! She doesn’t see there’s a whole country out there, New York City with its towers racing to the sky and Los Angeles where palm trees coolly bob over the array of convertibles, lives of real meaning in the limelight, the kind that Kam can practically taste. Real impact that reverberates across the tuning board of cross-continental yearning, a life with something crushingly urgent to say. Not to mention a whole lot of other McDougallses.

Yeah, Magnolia doesn’t see that. Or she does?

And the greater challenge, the one Kam’s struggling with himself, is how to set roots down somewhere, anywhere, how to stay in one place. How to say ‘I love you’ and mean it. Like, really mean it.

She’s standing well away from the wall and the garbage bins where Kam hunkers from the wind. She’s acting as if she’s impervious to it. She can’t be impervious to the wind.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asks.

“Nope,” she says.

“You’re a sweet kid, Magnolia,” says Kam, opening the back entrance and flicking his cigarette on to an ice-topped snow bank. “Don’t freeze.”

“I’m not a friggin’ kid!” she calls after him.

It’s at this point, returned to sandwich assembly, that Kam hits on his big idea.

“Was there a problem with your order?” he hears Laney ask. Kam tenses at the sandwich assembly table. His stomach rumbles. Gwen passes another condiment-topped bun to him. This one she has prepared entirely in the company-prescribed manner.

“Not a problem,” says a male voice projected with practiced theatricality. “The opposite, in fact? We really wanted to thank—well, my dear friend and I,” his tone drops, more confiding now, “we really wanted to express our gratitude to whoever prepared our Chicken McDougalettes!”

“There was no problem, though?” says Laney.

She turns around to glance at Kam and Gwen. Clark, alert behind an adjacent register, eyes Kam with suspicion. Magnolia, at the drive-thru window, smiles.

“Absolutely not. M’am, those McDougalettes more than met our expectations. I mean I had to convince my friend—who was, well, a little resistant to stopping here after our ski-day, OK?—but let me tell you not one of us was disappointed. So. I wanted to express my thanks to, um, not the chefs, none of those around, are there? But whoever prepared our order. That person did a wonderful job.”

Laney can’t shake the look of suspicion from her face as her head pivots from the guy at her register to Kam and Gwen at the sandwich assembly table behind the heat lamps. Noticing where Laney is looking, the young guy expands his practiced smile and waves.

“Hi!” he says. “Hello! I wanted to say thank you. To you!”

“What’d you do?” Gwen says under her breath at Kam’s side.

“May I speak with him?” the guy asks Laney. “Here, and you know what? I totally don’t want to waste your time. I’ll order, let’s see, how about a milkshake for your trouble? Chocolate. Please. A small. Thanks.”

“Kam,” calls Laney. “Come up here. Would you prepare a milkshake for this customer? Like Clark showed you last week.”

Kam meets Gwen’s eyes, which are open as wide as he’s ever seen them. She beckons with both hands. “Git up there,” she says.

With his head down, chin tucked to his chest, he slips past Laney and Clark, and plucks a small cup from the appropriate stack by the milkshake dispenser. Only after he mechanically bags the milkshake-in-its-cup, remembering at the last second to include a straw, does he look at the guy, whose appearance is like that of a star anchorman, a welcoming smile plastered there, lines engraved around his mouth.

“May I shake your hand?” the guy says.

Kam now feels a wariness of his own, mainly that he’s being patronized—which, OK, obviously he is—although he knows full well what has brought this guy here. He sets the bagged milkshake down on the counter. Laney’s going to figure it out, he thinks. She’s going to run the numbers at the end of the day and figure it out. Do they do that each night: tabulate order totals versus what’s left in stock? Fuck it, anyway.

“Glad you enjoyed your McDougalettes,” Kam says, ready to duck away.

The guy licks his upper lip, hand extended despite Kam’s lack of reciprocation, and says, “They were—holy shit, it’s you.”

Kam is as startled as the guy looks. He’s never experienced this blurring of modes, or whatever, never had to answer for his nights as a performer while decked out in the threads of McDougall’s. But he knows right away that he’s been recognized. Yeah, a few of his co-workers, like Magnolia just did, ask about the band, but there’s always a tone of ‘so let me know when you do something actually worth talking about, which obviously will be never since you’re standing here.’

Kam glances back at Gwen, who has not stopped watching him. He moves to return to his station, aware of Laney’s expectation—he’s standing right next to her—that he will do as much.

“Thank you for choosing McDougall’s,” says Kam with what he hopes is the right amount of irony in his voice: enough to be noticeable to this college kid but not so much as to irritate Laney.

The guy runs the hand he was extending through his already perfectly parted blond hair, then keeps it planted on his forehead. “You played at the Rathskeller a couple of weeks ago! That was you. And you guys are called . . . what are you guys called?”

Kam looks at Laney. “Sorry,” he says.

“Next customer, please,” she calls, nodding, as if to direct that Kam take the conversation away from the register.

The guy laughs. From the opposite side of the counter, he mirrors Kam’s steps, then removes the milkshake from its bag and pierces the lid with a straw. “I really can’t believe it’s . . . and it was you who . . . I mean, get out of here, you work at McDougall’s?” he glances from Laney, who has engaged the next customer, then back to Kam. “Just let me say again, thank you for your generosity this afternoon.”

Kam glances at Laney too. She’s definitely not paying attention, even as Clark peers over her shoulder.

“No problem at all, man,” Kam says. “The fat of the land, I guess.”

“Yeah. Like, literally. Look, I don’t want to waste any more of your time. But my name is Caden—hi—and my friend, Sylvie, is going to flip out when she realizes who you are. I mean, that you’re right here. We’re hosting a party at Elder House this Saturday, in fact. We’d love it if you, and um, the other guys . . . or just you, or whatever, OK, perform some songs for us?”

“If you guys can pay, we’re interested,” says Kam. He extends a hand. “I’m Kam. My band is called The Outliers.”

It’s not really his band, though. He knows that. It’s Scotty’s if it’s anyone’s. It was Scotty’s decision to perform with his two friends that first gave their act its punch. Scotty’s the one who can make everyone’s hair stand up with the sounds he strings out of his Gibson, that tingly, nerve-ends feeling. And Reese ain’t no slouch either for having taken up the drums only about two years ago, practicing nightly like a true obsessive.

When his shift ends an hour later, Kam goes to the freezer door and removes his McDougall’s-issue collared shirt emblazoned with a giant D over the heart. He stuffs it in his ragged backpack and puts on what passes for a fresh-smelling t-shirt. Parka wrapped around him, he ventures out under a gray sky with his hoodie up and advances along the slushy road from the shopping center where McDougall’s sits and down the hill into town. He crosses the bridge over the waterfall, scoots past the cement-filled, snow- filigreed cannon on the town green, a symbol of war from a quainter yet somehow more momentous era, before circling the roundabout partway and opening the door to Mario’s Tavern. The time’s nearly six o’ clock, the sky outside darkening fast, and Scotty has another hour left on his shift behind the bar before the twin bartenders, curly white-haired guys from Los Angeles, replace him. Tyler’s slouched there at the end of the bar, and on one of the overhead TVs, a movie from a few years ago is playing. It’s warm inside.

“There he is!” says Scotty, beckoning from Kam to the TV.

“Yeah, hey, here I am,” says Kam, smiling, and reaching across the bar to snap fingers.

Kam raises his eyebrows at the group, bunches his mouth, and says nothing. He looks at the TV screen, but it’s just that actress up there, and even though he saw this movie a couple of years ago, he can’t make the faces on the screen into characters or a story.

There’s no story. It’s just people, like people do, falling from one thing to another. It’s just life, it’s just happening.

It’s just a letter on the dining room table, an object someone made, doesn’t necessarily mean anything, anything at all. Even if it’s his ex-girlfriend’s handwriting. His ex. In Los Angeles. Wherever that is.

“I’m fucking blazed,” Kam hears himself say as he blows by the letter and the table, then flops down on the sofa next to Reese, who’s sitting crossed-legged and reading a book by someone named Ishiguro.

“Good stuff, right?” says Tyler, entering through the kitchen after Kam. He plops down at the sofa’s far end. “This shit’s been . . . popular. I mean it.”

“Kammer, tell ’em what you did at McDougall’s today!” says Scotty from the portal between kitchen and den, a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cupped in one hand with a freshly peeled banana sticking out. His dark hair is parted down the middle and rubber- banded in a ponytail. He has baby-soft cheeks, a sharp chin, and big lips. His thin goatee is spotted with milk. He slices at the banana with his spoon while speaking through his chews. There are spill marks on the belly of his purple button-down, the one he wears to bartend. “Tell ’im, Kammer. Reese, you’ll love this.”

“He’s fighting the global regime, man,” says Tyler.

Reese lifts an eyebrow. “What’d you do?”

“I liberated some food that wanted to be free.”

“You stole a meal from Mr. McDougall?” asks Reese. He smiles at his own joke.

“Not for me. You know I can’t stand that shit. No, I . . . well, when a customer ordered a Daddy McDougaller, I added another quarter-pound patty. When someone ordered a Double Daddy McDougaller, I gave ’im three patties. And when someone else ordered a twelve-piece Chicken McDougalette, I must have stuffed about thirty in there. The box would barely close.”

“Stealin’ from the rich to give to the . . . fiending,” says Tyler.

“H’oh! I love it,” says Scotty, shoveling another spoonful into his mouth.

Tyler rubs the top of his head. “You know what you’re gonna do is . . . you’re gonna put the rest of us honest dealers outta business, giving away product like that.” He pulls a cigarette from his jacket, looks around, and appears to recall Reese’s asthma. He keeps the cigarette between his fingers, unlit.

“And guess what else?” says Scotty.

“OK. What else?” says Reese.

“We got a gig out of it.”

Reese lifts his arms above his head: yes! Tyler stands to go outside for a smoke.

Scotty pats Tyler on the shoulder as he passes by, pointing to the sofa where Kam sits. “That’s our boy,” Scotty says.

“It’s clear you boys want to have some special time,” says Deana, opening a rear door of The Starfighter to the cold. “Be good, and I’ll see you inside.”

“Come back and warn us if they look like cannibals,” says Scotty.

She pauses halfway out of the car and adjusts her tinted John Lennon glasses: “They’re environmentalists. So we’re probably safe.” The door slams shut. The lights go out.

It’s been tough for Kam to decide whether his pre-show fasts ought to extend to smoking weed. It definitely doesn’t help sedate his appetite. But it’s near impossible to turn down the boon Scotty offers. In the darkness the lighter sparks and pipe bubbles, the molten core for a moment silencing them all.

Reese’s chuckle sweeps all four of them into laughter. Scotty breaks out singing the notes he means to play: “Ba-DAH-ba-da-DAH-ba-da-DAH-ba-da-DAH-DAH.”

Tyler’s talking from the backseat next to Scotty.

“Why am I hoarding rice? Look, I don’t totally buy it, not every detail, OK, but you see when the century mark hits, right, it’s this glitch written into the systems. Like of course you know nobody was planning for this back then! Back when it started it was a bunch of hippies, you know, trying to keep tabs on other hippies, and not, like, about total control . . .”

Reese leans back on the driver’s seat headrest with his eyes closed. Without opening them, he says, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying this Y2K thing happens . . . and then Clinton and the United Nations take over the world?”

“That’s, uh, simplifying, but yeah, yeah.” Tyler laughs nervously.

Kam glances at Tyler’s dark silhouette against the rear window glass, the row of snow-coated oaks creaking in the stillness behind the car. “I know it sounds crazy,” says Tyler, “but—”

“Look,” says Scotty, “the United Nations is an institution meant to keep the peace.”

“Of course they say that,” says Tyler’s voice.

“They try,” says Reese. “‘Results may vary,’ some would say.”

Scotty goes on: “What possible incentive do they have to—you gotta tell us, Tyler—what possible incentive does the United Nations have to, um, conspire to overthrow the government of every fucking country in the world? It would be . . . expensive.”

Tyler shakes his head. It’s clear he feels they just aren’t getting it. “It’s the One World Government?”

“The ‘One Fuck What Now’?” says Scotty.

“Dude, I’m sorry I brought it up, but you guys asked about the rice. If you did the reading, you’d know more what I’m talking about.”

“What you’re talking about sounds a lot like some conspiracy shit, and, you know, I’m sorry I don’t got much patience for it.”

Tyler’s staring out the window. He turns and his lips part to speak again but as he does Kam throws open The Starfighter’s front-passenger door, the car’s interior illuminating. Kam steps out into the cold. Reese opens the driver’s side door, then Scotty reaches for his black cowboy hat. The three of them are a few steps from the entrance to the house before they hear Tyler open his door.

“We’ve, like, totally wanted to have a band out for a while. This is a big deal, it’s gonna help us make this place a scene, not to mention rally more students to our cause. Cuz like, um, ‘blah blah blah ice-caps’ . . . The message only goes so far, you know? But we get you guys in here and then . . .”

Caden is assessing Kam in some way, possibly a flirtatious one, attempting to gauge what’s going on in his head. Kam’s not sure what it is about how he’s responding—looking over Caden’s shoulder, more or less, to see that no one’s stepping on or tripping over the cables from the amps to the wall sockets—that leads Caden to a decision. “Let me—Sylvie,” Caden says. “Sylvie? Sylvie, get over here! The rock star guy wants to meet you.”

The girl who peels off a standing huddle of students looks full of caution, like she’s wary of Kam’s type. She’s cherub-cheeked but has drawn in her breath, hollowing her face. She wears a yellow dress with scarlet tights. Her eyes go big with hesitation as she steps nimbly toward the pair.

“Hi,” says Kam.

Her brown hair, parted on one side, flares out at the tips along her shoulders. She has painted her eyelids in such a way as to give her irises an even more translucent quality. Her brows are teased thin. She wears a silver necklace containing a green gemstone. Where the yellow dress cuts low a frilly blouse emerges from underneath it. She looks at Caden, who animates in a blink.

“This is that guy I was telling you about,” he says. “The one who gave us that ridiculous box of McDougalettes—”

“I thought you were trying to poison us,” Sylvie says. “Like there had to be some kind of trick?”

“No trick,” says Kam. “I aim to please, or . . . well, yeah.”

“I ate most of them,” says Caden. “What we didn’t finish, we left for the small foraging animals. Let me say again if I didn’t already: I was very pleased.”

“I do what I can,” says Kam.

“You’re here to play some songs for us tonight?” Sylvie asks.

“Well, we are. Our band. My friends.” He waves toward the corner of the living room where they set up an hour ago, where Scotty now chats with Deana as he tunes the Gibson, where Reese practice-runs on the Pearl kit for their song “Local Honey.” Tyler’s in his leather jacket talking to two dudes and a dread-lock-headed girl over by the closed window curtains. It looks like he’s giving them his number.

Kam meets Sylvie’s hazel eyes. “I hope we don’t disappoint.”

Then adds: “I hope I don’t disappoint. They might. I can’t completely vouch for them.”

“But aren’t you guys a band?” she says.

“Yeah,” says Kam.

“Isn’t the idea of a band like, all-for-one, one-for-all?”

“In theory.”

Caden leans in again. “When did you graduate?”

“They gave me a diploma last spring. But as you can see . . .” Kam starts to walk away. “I’m still here.”

“That’s crazy,” Deana is saying once Kam crosses the floor.

“I know,” says Scotty under his breath. “It’s nuts, he’s nuts, but look, he’s getting us gigs. Next week, we hit Burlington—Nectar’s.”

“Still, that’s crazy,” Deana says. “Can’t he book you guys gigs without spouting off with crazy-talk?”

“He’s our friend,” says Kam, turning his back on them as he retrieves the Rickenbacker. “And it’s a free country.”

Free to be you and me,” sings Scotty, slightly out of tune.

“What about therapy?” asks Deana.

“Yeah,” says Scotty, sarcastically, “For the country boy.”

“His parents are both college professors!” says Deana.

“And we’ve seen how wildly he embraces their values!”

“Listen,” says Kam. He plugs the Rickenbacker into the amp. “I want to start with that Shea Milton cover we played a few times last summer.”

“‘Moonlit Wavery Eyes’?” says Scotty.

“That’s the one.”

Scotty searches for the chord progression, locates it, then sidles over to Reese on drums.

Kam stands front-and-center, facing the crowd. His heart thrums, the appetite in his belly ravenous. He feels a little light-headed, truth-be-told, the Rickenbacker heavier than normal against his abdomen. Before a show, it helps him to zoom in on one audience member: the one—he pretends in his mind without being too obvious about it— that he’s playing for. Tonight . . . does he feel a more desperate need tonight than he has in the past? There is Sylvie in her scarlet tights and he zooms in on her guarded expression that he wants to draw pleasure out of, and, oh who knows, but if he has read her correctly she’ll turn out to be a Shea Milton fan, like, she’s probably a girl with deep musical knowledge, or at least that’s how she looks, how she carries herself. She’s not intimidated to express herself to musicians, clearly, no, it was just his musician’s hunger, the expected hungers, that wild heat inside his belly and lower still, that gave her pause in speaking to him, and she’s not wrong about that, no—in fact she can’t know how right she is—and as Scotty strikes the first chords of “Moonlit,” the crowd comes mostly to attention, and there’s Reese on the drums and there’s Kam’s own fingers working out the bass-line and with one hand across the strings, he darts the other toward the mic in the way he might touch Sylvie’s cheek—the same way he touched Michelle, Tova, and Catilynne—which is to say . . . he can’t remember how, exactly, but he wants to remind himself, and that’s the last thing he remembers before opening his eyes to a shadowy ceiling glaring down.

Someone has a hand on his shoulder.

“Dudes,” Kam says.

There are faces above him, faces he knows.

“Holy shit, Kammer—you just got zapped. By the mic stand. Should have seen yourself drop!” says Scotty.

Kam looks at Reese, who has released his grip. “Is that . . .?”

“Yes,” Reese says. Reese looks grave, no trace of joy in his expression. Unlike Scotty.

Caden watches anxiously over Scotty’s shoulder, a hand plastered to his own forehead. It’s then that Kam feels a breast against the back of his head. Someone is helping prop his upper half up.

“Are you sure you’re OK?” says a girl’s voice.

Kam nods at his questioner, who appears upside down from his perspective: Sylvie, a strand of her hair dangling, deep concern in her hazel eyes.

“Deana’s warming up The Starfighter,” says Scotty. “We’re gonna get you to the hospital.”

“No,” says Kam from the floor. He reaches up to squeeze Sylvie’s hand and her expression—it’s like she’s the gentlest guardian of vulnerable things, he her latest find. “I’m OK.” He can feel the fever inside him running from lips to his toes. “Let’s play this one acoustic.”  

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