Tom brought flowers. Probably he should have bought wine, but the liquor section of a QFC could still make him feel antsy eight years down the line. Anyway, he didn't care what the Tragers thought. He wouldn't even have accepted their invitation to dinner if it hadn't been obvious how much Kyle wanted him to come. He didn't like the Tragers.
"Oh, they're lovely!" Nicole said when she answered the door. "Let me find a vase. Kyle! Foss is here!" She turned back to him. "The children are in the living room, just make yourself at home." She pointed as if he'd need directions to the living room. He'd been in here before when he was their security guard, and he'd watched countless hours of surveillance footage. He knew where their living room was.
"See, I told you he had mutant ears," Lori was saying when he walked in.
"I did not!" Josh insisted. They were bracketing Kyle on the couch, a family album in his lap. Jessi was leaning over the back of the couch, laughing.
Kyle looked up with a smile. "Foss! I'm glad you could come."
Jessi came over and took his arm to tell him about her college applications, and he tried to stop feeling uneasy. But he couldn't. He didn't like the Tragers, with their smiles and their hugs and their warm welcoming home.
Erica would have liked them. That was part of the problem. And Kyle and Jessi seemed so normal at home with their family. They teased and laughed their way through dinner, reaching for the salt and the paper towels. He liked them better when they were lifting heavy objects with their minds.
When they went back to the living room after dinner, the family album was still on the coffee table. Tom surreptitiously turned a few leaves. Page after page of happy childhood memories, and he was so choked with envy he couldn't breathe.
He wondered where his own albums were. At the bottom of some box in storage, probably. He didn't want them. Didn't want to look at image after image of what he'd killed.
Someone was watching him. He took his hand away and looked up. Kyle. Their eyes met for a long moment, and then Kyle's fell to the album and stayed there. Their mutual grief and covetousness was like a current in the air. God knew Kyle didn't have any albums. How could he? He hadn't had a childhood.
"I brought you something," Kyle said, bouncing a little.
It was Sunday morning, and they hadn't had plans. "Is everything okay?"
Kyle pressed his lips together and nodded. He held something out. Tom took it. A scrapbook? He opened it.
What the hell? He turned the pages rapidly. It was...it was drawings. About twenty of Kyle's drawings, on a smaller scale than usual and carefully cropped to snapshot size. Drawings of him at Zzyzx, with Kyle's pod. The date was neatly printed under each one. Foss would bet his was the only album in the world that included timestamps.
Most of them were of him reading to Kyle. When you were stuck in a pod for the first sixteen years of your life, not much happened that made for interesting photo compositions.
He'd read him Sara's books, at first. He'd felt stupid sneaking in Ramona Quimby, Age 8 in his briefcase and reading it to a pod that everyone, including Baylin, told him couldn't hear him. But damn, there was a kid in there. Baylin's son, and he just looked so small and helpless and lonely. Nobody paid any attention to him. Nobody but Baylin even called him a "him."
He turned the page to a drawing of himself with one hand on the pod and his fist in the air, whooping. He looked happier in the picture than he could ever remember being. He couldn't figure it out until he looked at the date--April 11, 2001. The Throw. A baseball game that would go down in history. There wasn't any radio signal in Zzyzx, of course, so he'd taped the M's game and saved it to listen to with Kyle. Erica had never cared about baseball, and neither had Sara, although he'd been working on it. The game had been a good surprise.
That was a year of good beginnings and awful endings. The M's had lost the championship series to the Yankees after their best season in years, and he'd killed Erica and Sara.
After that Kyle (he hadn't called him Kyle, of course, hadn't given him a name at all--that seemed like something Baylin should do) had been all he had left. The only thing getting him out of bed in the morning. He'd probably talked to the kid more like he should have been talking to a shrink than like an eleven-year-old.
He wondered if Kyle had flattered him in the drawing from that first year after they were gone. He remembered reading Kyle that cheap Western, his cheek pressed up against the side of the pod, his voice a rough thread. He was pretty sure he'd been thinner than that, and shaved less. He'd looked at himself in the mirror and thought that no woman would ever want him again, which was fine because he'd never want another woman.
There was the cupcake he'd brought Kyle for his thirteenth podiversary. Tom didn't like frosting, so after the candle burned down he'd given it to one of the technicians. The book in the last picture was Slaughterhouse-Five. He'd left out the dirty parts, of course.
"It was a few days after that that I refused to process the strategic military scenarios," Kyle said. His voice was startling. For so many years he'd been silent.
"Coincidence," Tom said hoarsely.
"I like to read, and I like classical music."
"So did Baylin."
"So do you."
Tom laughed. "I hate classical music. I asked the woman at Tower Records what was good for babies to listen to in the womb and that's what she gave me."
Kyle tilted his head. "Do you know what day it is?"
"June 15th." It took Tom a minute, and then he remembered the display in the QFC when he'd bought the flowers. It was Father's Day. "Shouldn't you be home with the Tragers?"
"I had breakfast with them, and I'm having dinner with them too. I thought we could have lunch."
Kyle had never, ever used the word "family" to refer to anyone but the Tragers, ever since he'd been born. Even Baylin had never rated that. Tom didn't understand what had shifted. He didn't know if he could trust it.
Ten years of talking to his imaginary friend and wondering if that made him a candidate for the mental ward, and maybe he'd raised a kid. It was a mindfuck. "Do you really remember everything that happened while you were in that pod?"
Kyle considered. "Well, it's all stored in my mind. But it would take me sixteen years to relive it in real time, so only a small percentage is in my active memory. These were my favorite moments from what I do remember." He hesitated. "There aren't any pictures in the album from after I was born."
"Family photos are supposed to be relaxed and happy."
"We haven't had much of that, have we?"
"That's why there are blank pages in the album. I--"
Tom didn't understand how he could be so confident and so shy at the same time. "Yeah?"
"I bought us tickets for the Mariners game next week. If you don't want to go, I can give them to Declan."
"I want to go."
Kyle smiled, that goofy smile of his. The one he usually saved for other people. "Foss--"
The smile faded, and Kyle looked wistful and longing, like he had at the Tragers' album. "Sometimes Nicole tells Josh and Lori stories. About when they were children. Memories they've forgotten how to access."
"You want me to tell you stories?"
Kyle sighed. "Never mind. Probably I didn't do anything with any narrative interest."
Tom tried to think. "Well, I remember you always used to mix up two mathematical constants. E and--gamma, I think? It drove Kern crazy."
Kyle smiled again. "Oh! Because they're both named after Euler!"
Tom would take his word for it. "Once, when you were seven, they asked you to design a circuit for the Zzyzx electrical system. You fried the power grid for the whole city. Your first blackout."
Kyle's eyes widened. "Really?"
He nodded. "I always thought you did it on purpose."
"Why would I do that?"
Tom smiled. "Just a brat, I guess."
"Come on," Tom said. "I thought you were taking me to lunch."
Kyle nodded eagerly. "I analyzed your food preferences based on the security footage. How does Indian sound?"
"It sounds great."