TUNE - Chapter 9

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CHAPTER 9

         Andy read the words over and over again. Surely, he must have misread it. He turned the book upside down and tilted it in multiple ways to make sure the angle wasn't playing tricks on his eyes. No, the words were there, as real as the swampy smell of his armpits. Yumi actually thought he was cute...

         His pulse raced. His mind reeled. All manner of blinding thoughts came flying at him. Could it be...? Did she actually... like him?

         Andy shook his head, sending greasy locks of hair slapping like dead fish against his forehead. You're jumping to conclusions, Pepe Le Pew, he thought to himself. "Cute" could mean anything. Yumi thought Baby Godzilla was cute too, but that didn't mean she wanted to date it. After all, she had never said anything to Andy or made a move!

         Andy slid down to the floor onto his back like an invertebrate. He gazed up at the ceiling in a daze. His heart was pumping like a piston. He could almost hear the rush of blood surging through his veins. He didn't know what to think. His brain was spinning like a pinwheel.

         However, one thing was clear. He had to look through her phone now... An uncouth move like that would surely send him to Hell, but he was already in Hell so he figured there was nothing to lose. Yumi had shown him the combination to the nine-dot lock screen on her phone when he had helped navigate on a road trip once. It was the shape of a 'Y'. Her phone was dead when he pulled it out of her bag, but they both had Android phones so Andy used his charger. The electric sockets were duplicated in his cell just like all the other details of his parents' home, and luckily, they were functional.

         Andy cradled the phone lovingly in his hand. His conscience made one last bid for Yumi's privacy, but it was no match for his crushing loneliness. He took a big breath, prayed for Yumi to forgive him, and pressed the power button.

         He spent the next couple of hours like a pig in mud. First, he looked through her photos. The tears came immediately, hot and gushing, as soon as he saw her beaming face again. Roger, Tony, and himself were in many of her photos as well, further stoking his emotions. And a woeful grin cut across the clear tracks of tears and snot streaking down his dirty face when he reached a bunch of goofy selfies Yumi and he had taken together. Like the collapse of a dam, memories came flooding in until Andy thought he would drown.

         When her photos had been exhausted, Andy moved onto her texts and devoured them. Her voice sang in his head when he read her words, as clear as if she was speaking beside him. For the next hour, Yumi was with Andy in his cell, chatting with her friends while he sat by and listened hungrily. Yumi's little quirks and neurosis were emotional comfort food for Andy; her unreasonable fear of spiders, her love of bad puns, her spite for the misuse of "literally"... For a brief, blissful period of his incarceration, Andy wasn't alone anymore.

         Stinging guilt bit into him whenever the texts got too personal, but Andy couldn't help himself. Every word was a link in a chain which kept him from dropping into a bottomless pit of despair. But even after all the shocks life had thrown at him in the last month, he was ill-prepared for what was unearthed in a text exchange with Alicia, Yumi's best friend and roommate. This was the conversation, buried in a long thread...

 

Alicia: hey, could I get andy's phone number?

Yumi: Andy Go?

Alicia: yeah

Yumi: Sure Just a sec. Ok just forwarded to u. Why, what's up?

Alicia: he borrowed a book last semester and i need it back. but i couldn't find him on facebook. what the hell?

Yumi: I know. I think he deleted his account

Alicia: Oh... i wonder why

Yumi: yeah me too

Alicia: u don't know? i thought you guys were buds

Yumi: I haven't seen him since he dropped out! He's been out of touch with everyone lately

Alicia: weeiirrrd

Yumi: Yeah, I know. I keep thinking maybe he's mad at me or something?

Alicia: u miss him, don't you? >;)

Yumi: Jeez. well yeah he's like one of my best friends

Alicia: u know what I mean

Yumi: I do?

Alicia: oh, come on. it's so obvious lol

Yumi: It is?

Alicia: duh lol

Alicia: u still there?

Yumi: Yeah

Yumi: Shit. Do you think he likes me?

Alicia: i knew it!!! O__O;;

Alicia: hm i don't know! he's really hard to read. sometimes it seems like he has no interest in relationships at all, like he's asexual or something... r u sure he's not gay?

Yumi: haha yeah I'm sure. That boy is so frustrating sometimes. He's always whining to me about not having a girlfriend while I'm sitting there just waiting for him to make a move

Alicia: UGH. i hate that!! lol

Yumi: I don't know, I feel like he would've said something by now if he liked me. I guess he just likes me as a friend

Yumi: But I don't know why... we get along so well. We have really good conversations and we're always making each other laugh. n he's always so sweet and supportive of my work. I can tell he means it

Yumi: and he's the first boy I've had a crush on at school who doesn't make me listen to his terrible band ;)

Alicia: LOLLL

Yumi: Maybe I'm just not his type physically? I guess I can't blame him for that...

Alicia: omg

Alicia: listen, if andy doesn't think you're cute, he really is gay. or blind. or both. that dork would be SO LUCKY to have u. if he doesn't realize that, he's not worth it >:(

Yumi: We would be lucky to have each other. :) It's not often you find chemistry like we have...

Alicia: why doesn't he see that? it's so obvious. what is wrong with these nerdy art boys??

Yumi: Sigh... I don't know. Sometimes I wish I didn't love that nerdy art boy...

 

         Andy wasn't looking at a cell phone anymore, he was staring into the eye of a nuclear explosion. A flash of white engulfed his eyes and sucked the sound out of the world. His face must have been melting because his jaw was dangling open near the floor.

         When his senses finally came staggering back to him, Andy pored over those words again and again, he didn't know how many times. Gradually, the words began to sink in and every atom in his body exploded into tiny heart-shaped candies with "Yumi Loves You" printed on them.

         "She loves me," he muttered in a daze. Then he erupted like an exploding volcano. "She loves me!"

         Those incredible, alien words engulfed his entire being. They chased away every other thought, every other feeling like a sudden blast of sun sending cockroaches scattering away from a kitchen floor. And bathing in that long lost sunshine, he unfolded from the floor like a flower.

         He danced through every room in his habitat screaming those wonderful, unbelievable words, tumbling down the stairs, flipping over chairs and tables, kicking off the walls like a flailing parkourist. He was laughing and crying and farting all at the same time. He raced up to the observation window and punched the force field in the face of the astonished Praxians.

         "Yumi loves me!" he squealed, spraying the force field with spit. "She doesn't love you! She loves me!" He laughed maniacally and ran back to his bedroom. The Praxians looked at each other in stunned bemusement.

         Andy dove onto the floor and screamed into the vent. "Mo! Yumi loves me! She loves me!" He rolled back and forth on the carpet like it was summer grass strewn with daisies in the Swiss Alps.

         Mo chuckled. "And you're never going to see her again," he said.

         Andy halted on his back like an invisible giant had just stepped on his chest. Slowly, the intoxication of Yumi's loving words were pressed out of him. Mo was right, of course. The warmth of reciprocal love, the first he had ever felt, was twisted into a blistering fire iron and thrust into his heart. Knowing how Yumi felt about him without the means to do anything about it was fresh kindling for his raging misery. Now he had to live the rest of his life knowing what he had thrown away. He should have never looked into her phone, he thought with fierce anguish. Although justice seemed to have been served for the heinous breach of privacy Andy had committed against Yumi.

         The tears came like battery acid. Andy split his cell with a piercing, agonizing howl and pulled on handfuls of carpet until the fibers ripped from the floor. Then he pounded the bare plastic backing underneath until his knuckles bled. He whirled on the Praxians at the viewing window laughing merrily at him. Cursing them with obscenities to make even Mel Gibson blush, he grabbed his desk chair and flung it at the Praxians. But he wasn't nearly strong enough to propel it all the way to the force field; it fell heavily out of his room and landed with a clatter onto the grass. The Praxians cackled.

         Andy wept great sobs into the floor until his throat was raw and his eyes had gone dry. Like a fish spent and dying, he flopped onto his side and gazed at the wall. Everything turned blurry and the crunch of pebbles reached his ears. He looked down and saw his feet treading over a trail of colorful pebbles. Carefully trimmed cedars and bonsai trees crowded close on either side, ushering him toward a bridge arched like a rainbow. Across the "moon bridge," he saw Yumi seated prettily on a stone bench, doodling in her sketchbook. Tiny breaks in the seaside clouds overhead dappled the Japanese garden with spears of sunlight, casting a golden glow upon Yumi and the surrounding cherry blossoms. The salty air was crisp as cold apples and echoed with the singing of seagulls.

         As the crunch of Andy's steps drew nearer, Yumi look up at him and smiled. A smile like music, beckoning him. With his heart aflutter, Andy rushed to the end of the colorful path and bounded onto the moon bridge. But with each step he took, the circular bridge rotated the same increment back in his direction so he was always in the same spot. No matter how fast he tread, the bridge would move against him in equal measure. Like walking on top of a watermill. He trotted faster and faster as his desperation grew, and soon he was sprinting madly, dripping with sweat. But no matter how hard he raced, Andy couldn't reach her. He ran until the muscles in his legs burst though his skin. Bright blood ran down the bridge and spread into the sparkling pond below. Koi fish bubbled around the blood in a rippling frenzy. With tears streaming down his face, he called for Yumi at the top of his lungs. But Yumi sat unmoving, staring blankly back at him with the same warm, inviting smile resting on her face. Finally, her lips slowly parted. A callous laugh issued from her throat, hollow and distant.

         "Wait a minute," she said in Mo's voice. "I know what's going on here."

         Yumi faded from Andy's eyes like rising steam, and the vent in his bedroom swam into view. He awoke with his face streaked with tears, desperately reaching for Yumi with an outstretched hand.

         "You're a virgin!" Mo shouted triumphantly, like Columbo cracking a case.

         Andy whimpered and dropped his hand onto the floor.

         "Aren't you? That it, isn't it? You're a virgin! Now it all makes sense!" Then Mo burst into a raucous cackle. Andy's silence was answer enough for him. "Andy, how old did you say you were?"

         "Twenty-two," Andy muttered.

         "Bwahahaha!"

         Andy wiped the tears from his eyes. They stung with the oily grime of his unwashed face. "Thanks, Mo. You're a real comfort..."

         "Kid, listen, it's no big deal. A lot of people lose their virginity late. It's nothing to be ashamed of." Then after a pause, he burst into another barrage of laughter.

         "Mo, I don't want to die a virgin," Andy moaned.

         Mo snickered. "Well, you won't have to worry about that, kid."

         "Mo, for the last time, I am not humping anything in the refrigerator!"

         "Forget the refrigerator. You're going to have a woman in there soon."

         Andy froze.

         "What?" His voice climbed a couple of octaves. "What're you talking about?"

         "Are you really this dumb? Haven't you ever been to a zoo? They always like to have both sexes in an exhibit. It's only a matter of time before they nab a chick from your dimension to throw in there with you."

         Andy pushed the side of his face off the floor with arms quavering like noodles. He was dizzy. "Wait, so there's a woman in your cell?" he gasped. "How come I've never heard her talk?"

         "Nope, I'm blissfully alone. They tried a few times, but none of the women could stand living with me. I kept driving 'em crazy. The C.I.S. always ends up having to return them back to my world." Mo laughed.

         "You know, I'm seriously starting to reconsider out friendship..." Andy was also wondering what his callous neighbor looked like, more than ever.

         "Ahh, you don't know what you're talking about," Mo said dismissively. "Women are nuts, man. You just don't know it yet because you've never been with one." He snickered again.

         "Hey, I've had a girlfriend before!" Andy retorted hoarsely. "We just didn't...do...it."

         "You should've seen the nutjobs they tried to throw in here. They were driving me up the wall. It was like being in an arranged marriage. And I don't even want to be in a regular marriage! Just hope you get someone you can stand, kid."

         Andy reeled. There was so much to process. He felt like he was being stretched over a drum. First the revelation of Yumi's feelings, now this. A million possible outcomes of a stranger suddenly joining his cell flew at him at once. Andy shuddered, from excitement or terror, he couldn't tell.

         "Well, at least I won't be alone," he whispered with bated breath. A tremor of hope trickled into his voice.

         "Be careful what you wish for, kid," Mo chuckled. His words crept out of the vent like spiders.

 

 

         6pm rolled around and Dash poked her head into Andy's bedroom on the dot.

         "Hey, Andy Go! Hope you're hungry because--" Her hand flew up to her nose. "Hoo boy, it's stinky in here!"

         Andy kept his eyes away from her and continued dabbing a tissue at the frayed skin on his knuckles. He had been ignoring her ever since his life-long imprisonment had been revealed to him. Moreover, he was completely drained from all the emotional outbursts earlier in the day.

         "Still not talking, huh?" she asked woefully. "I was really hoping you'd talk to me today, Andy Go..." She reached into the room and placed the tray of food on his desk. "Okay, well, enjoy your dinner." She turned to go, shoulders drooping.

         "Can I ask you something?" Andy muttered. He wobbled up to his feet and stumbled over to the desk.

         Dash whipped around breathlessly, her eyes twinkling with excitement. "Yes?"

         Andy dropped into the desk chair. "Why did you even bother with the contract? You were planning to hoodwink me from the get-go anyway. Why bother going through all the pretense? You could've just tossed a net over me and thrown me in here."

         "Andy Go, that would be illegal!" Dash huffed. "You're an intelligent animal! We have rules about that, you know? We're not barbarians."

         Andy dropped his head into his hands and grumbled. "Why did I bother opening my mouth?"

         "Well, now that you're speaking," Dash spoke in a hush, "there's something else I'd really like to talk to you about..."

         "What is it, Dash?" Andy sighed and crammed a spring roll into his mouth.

         Dash looked nervously over her shoulder several times, like a fearful rabbit about to make a dash across a freeway. Then she leaned in through the service window and whispered, barely audible. "I want to show you something."

         Andy slurped on some Tom Yum soup. "What? Speak up!"

         "Shh!" Dash shushed him with an index finger over her lips. "Come here, I want to show you something!"

         She stared with imploring eyes wide as saucers, and gestured for him to move close to her. There was such urgent desperation in her orange eyes, Andy couldn't help but take pity. He dropped his spoon and huddled in front of her.

         "What is it? Why are we whispering?"

         After scanning the corridor behind her one last time, she reached into a pocket and slowly pulled out a folded piece of paper. Then she put it into Andy's hands like a mother handing over her baby. It looked like an ordinary letter-sized piece of paper folded several times. Andy looked up at Dash quizzically.

         "Go ahead, unfold it and take a look," she urged. "Quickly! But turn your back to the observation window so the other Praxians can't see."

         Dash continued to keep watch as Andy unfolded the paper and took a peek. The inside of the paper was covered from corner to corner with childish drawings that a bright three-year old might produce. But rudimentary as they were, the energetic scrawls were still recognizable as D86, Dash, the sun, a crowd of buildings and flying cars.

         "What do you think?" Dash whispered anxiously.

         Andy looked up at her, astonished. "You did these?"

         "Yeah!" she squeaked. "Can you believe it? Oh my gosh, Andy Go, it was so much fun!" She could barely contain her excitement. She held her breath and bounced up and down, like five packs worth of Pop Rocks were crackling in her mouth.

         "Wow," Andy breathed. "Dash... This is great... You're drawing! And hey, considering this is your very first piece of art, it's not bad at all."

         Dash squealed breathlessly, clutching her hands to her heart. "Really? You think so? For reals?"

         "For reals!"

         "Wow," she exhaled in wonder. Her face lit up like a Ferris wheel at night. Then she turned serious and fixed her eyes on Andy. "Andy Go, I need to ask you for a big favor."

         Andy's geniality evaporated with a puff. He was so entranced with the prospect of Dash drawing, he had forgotten for a moment why he had been so cross with her. He blew up. "Oh, this is rich! After what you've done to me, you have the gall to ask me for a favor?" He tossed the sheet of paper over his shoulder with a spiteful flick. Then he grabbed the tray and stormed over to his bed.

         "Shh! Keep it down!" Dash hissed fretfully. "If my dad finds out what I did, he'll kill me. Which is why I need to ask you for this favor. Can I keep that piece of paper in here with you? It's the only safe place I can store it. If my dad found it somehow... I don't know what he'd do! But I'm scared out of my mind!"

         "Forget it," Andy barked. Chunks of food shot out of his mouth. "I'm way too petty for that!"

         Dash looked bashfully down at her feet and continued. "Also... I was wondering if maybe... you could... you could teach me how to draw?" She clasped her hands together and stared back at Andy with shimmering, beseeching eyes. They were like two swimming pools floating in her helmet.

         But her fawning plea only enflamed Andy's indignity. "You just imprisoned me for life and you expect me to help you?" he screeched. "Are you nuts?"

         "But--But I was just doing my job," she whimpered.

         Andy opened his mouth, but whatever retort he had chambered evaporated on his tongue. A lightbulb had gone off in his head. He dropped his spoon onto the tray sitting on his lap and turned to Dash. He could hardly get the words out fast enough. "Okay okay, fine! How about this then? I do you those favors, and you get me out of here and smuggle me back home! Huh? It'll be a fair exchange! What do you say?"

         Andy stared at Dash with bated breath, his eyes bulging from their sockets.

         "I can't do that," Dash moaned. "Even if I wanted to, I don't have the authority! Getting you out of the zoo would be hard enough, but there's no way we could get past all the paperwork and security around using a tuner. It's not like I can just take one out on a joyride anytime I want. The tuners belong to the C.I.S."

         The lightbulb in Andy's head burst and showered shards of glass on his hopes. He fell backward onto the bed in a miserable heap.

         "Damn it," he groaned.

         Meanwhile, Dash shut her eyes, clasped her hands even tighter, and begged like her life depended on it. "Please, Andy Go? Please? Please? Pleeeeeease?"

         Then as Andy lay there holding back bitter tears of disappointment, another revelation came to him.

         "Wait a minute," he muttered to himself. His eyelids snapped open and he shot up like a rocket. He turned to Dash and spoke very carefully. "Okay, okay. I'll do what you want..." Then he took a deep breath. "If you let me choose my cell mate."

         Dash blinked at him. "What?"

         "Aren't you planning to put a female human in here with me?" Andy asked eagerly. "Isn't that normal in a zoo?"

         "Yes," she said slowly. "We've already been back to your dimension a couple of times to do some scouting actually."

         "Well, you can stop looking. I want to choose who I live with," Andy said solemnly.

         Dash cocked her head and stared at him like a dog seeing color for the first time. Andy had caught her completely off guard. Then she gazed down at the floor and pondered.

         "Hmm," she said at last. "You do realize we can't actual force anyone to sign up, right? I could seek out this human and ask her for you, but there's no guarantee she'll take the job."

         "Got it. But do me a favor. When you're giving the recruiting pitch, be sure to tell this girl who she'll be sharing her habitat with. Be sure to tell her who I am."

         Dash rubbed her neck, deep in thought. But after a short while, a wide grin appeared in her helmet. Luckily, Dash was very impulsive. "You know what? I think I can arrange this," she chirped. "Okay, fine! You got yourself a deal!"

         Andy sprang up onto his feet and threw his fists into the air. "Yes!" His dinner flew off his lap and splattered across the floor. He crossed the room in a flash, kicking through all the spilled food and neglected clutter which had accumulated over the last month. After reaching the window, Andy fervently shook hands with Dash to seal the deal. That's when he discovered, first-hand -- literally -- the Praxian girl's formidable strength. Imagine shaking hands with a pair of vice grips.

         Andy yelped. "Ow! Not so hard!"

         Dash released her grip and apologized profusely. "Whoops! Sorry about that! I keep forgetting how weak you humans are."

         As Andy turned and shook out his aching hand, the surveillance camera mounted above the observation window caught his eye. He pointed at it.

         "Hey... Isn't someone watching us right now?" he asked warily.

         "Don't worry, I got it covered," Dash answered proudly. "I snuck into the surveillance room this morning and hacked the holographic video feed from your cell. I took the footage of the past week and set it up on a loop to the monitors. No one will see what's happening in this cell after closing hours from now on!"

         Andy snorted. "Well, unless someone happens to walk by that enormous observation window into my cell, right?"

         "True, but when the zoo is closed, the halls are usually empty. Except for the occasional janitorial and maintenance drones, no one will be wandering by."

         Andy nodded in relief. Utmost privacy would be necessary if he was going to teach her how to draw without the rest of the Praxians finding out.

         Dash leaned into the room on her elbows and peered slyly at Andy. "So who's this female human you want me to recruit?" she purred.

         Andy's voice quivered with heart-thumping anticipation. "Okay, so there's this girl named Yumi Kwon..."

         "Who is she?"

         Andy was about to say she was a friend, but at the last moment, he raised his chin and proudly proclaimed, "She's my girlfriend."

         He was flush with an unusual burst of confidence. The potent combination of knowing how Yumi felt about him and the prospect of seeing her again before he died, spread like morphine inside his body.

         A crooked grin spread inside Dash's helmet. She cooed, gazing mischievously at Andy with hooded eyes. "I see!" Then she reached into the room and playfully poked him in the ribs with her elbow. Of course, playful for Dash meant her elbow dug into Andy’s side with the force of a jack hammer.

         "Hey hey, enough with the ribbing!" Andy winced, jumping back out of her reach. "Seriously, you're going to bust through a couple of ribs before you're done."

         Her ribbing jostled him to his senses however. He sobered up and realized what he was doing. He mumbled to himself, his voice dark with self-loathing. "You selfish bastard...!"

         "Andy Go?" Dash asked, mystified.

         "First you read through her diary," Andy continued, "and now you want to imprison her for the rest of her life just so you'll have someone to play checkers with?" He breathed a painful sigh. "I can't do this to her! What was I thinking?"

         Andy slumped onto his desk chair and dropped his head into the salad.

         "But... I miss her so much," he moaned pitifully into a bed of shredded papaya. A baby tomato worked its way into his nose as he clawed at the desk with splintered fingernails. "I need to tell her what she means to me..."

         Then something else Mo had mentioned hit him like lightening. He bolted up, blew the tomato out of his nose and caught it in his hand. Like a mad man, he scrambled over to Dash and grabbed her by the shoulders.

         "Wait! If you bring someone here and we end up fighting constantly, the C.I.S. will send her back, right?" He stared at Dash like a wild animal, scraps of papaya dropping from his face.

         "Yes," Dash answered slowly. "We would prefer it if our animals didn't kill each other or wrecked our habitats." She seemed surprised by Andy's in-depth knowledge of their procedures, but didn't say anything else.

         Andy popped the tiny tomato into his mouth and broke out into a victory dance -- the Roger Rabbit, to be precise. The tomato burst between his teeth, juicy and cold.

         "Yes! That's it!" he shouted exuberantly. "This way I'll get to see Yumi one last time, but she won't be trapped here forever like me!"

         He whirled on the floor into a backspin. So full of glee, he thought he might backspin right through the floor. He was going to see Yumi after all! He was going to see Yumi!

         "Oh, I get it," Dash said, her orange eyes sparkling. "Once she's here, you guys are going to pretend to hate each other! Okay, but you better make it convincing. It has to be an extreme case for the C.I.S. to actually take a specimen back."

         Andy's euphoria waned with the slowing of his backspin. He got up and brushed the remaining shreds of papaya off his face. "Don't worry. There's a good chance she'll actually hate me for pulling this on her," he muttered quietly to himself.

         While he was distracted, Dash detached a small pen-like device from her belt and jammed one end against Andy's forehead. He felt a cold numbness at the point of contact, a sensation similar to that of licking a battery. She finally detached it after a couple of seconds, when a light at the top of the device deepened from yellow to red.

         Andy gasped. "What the hell was that?"

         Dash held it up in front of him. It was made of polished aluminum, about the size of a Sharpie marker, only it ended in a bulbous top which encased a small eyelet of light, slowly pulsating a red glow. "We call this a 'brain drive.' It extracts memories." Dash grinned and clipped it back onto her belt. "Now I have all your memories at my fingertips. This way, I'll be able to see exactly what she looks like, where she lives, and anything else I might need to find her."

         "Or you could've jotted her address down on a Post-It note like a normal person," Andy muttered, rubbing his forehead. There was no pain or any other lingering effect, he simply massaged it reflexively.

         "How do you think we made such a perfect replica of your home environment?" Dash continued. "Or knew all your favorite dishes? We extracted your memories once before when you were unconscious from tuning. Sorry I had to do it again, but the other day I was forced to erase your earlier scan to make more disk space on the brain drive."

         "I love that you guys can carry around a 'brain drive', but not an Etch-A-Sketch.”

         "Oh, we only use this on animals. We would never use it on intelligent beings!"

         Andy forced himself to let that slide. "Hey, I'm curious. When you have to return an 'animal' back to their dimension after living out their contract or they're found to be incompatible with their cell mate, do you guys ever worry that the 'animal' will blab about all this to the rest of their world?"

         "Nah. No one ever believes them. The rest of their people just think he or she is crazy. Eventually, the former captives either convince themselves that they dreamed the whole thing, or they end up in an insane asylum. Don't worry, we've done it lots of times!"

         "Fabulous," Andy muttered in horror. "Hey, um, just how much of my memory are you planning to look through? Shocking as this may seem, there's a lot of personal stuff in there."

         "Andy Go, it would take us the same amount of time that you've been alive to look through every one of your memories. Believe me, we don't have the time or the interest. We use keyword searches to find what we need and dump the rest."

         That was a relief. It had just occurred to Andy that his contact with Mo would have been revealed if she looked through all of his memories. He prayed she wouldn't accidentally stumble onto that.

         "Okay, fine," he said. "Just do me one favor. Don't do any searches under 'Beyoncé' and 'Slip 'N Slide', all right?"

         Dash turned to go with a spring in her step. "Well, granted everything goes according to plan, I should be back with Yumi Kwon tomorrow morning!"

         Andy's heart skipped a beat. "Great!"

         "Don't forget to keep my art hidden, okay?" Dash's large eyes softened with gratitude. "Thank you, Andy Go," she said warmly over her shoulder. Then she bounced away like a pogo stick. "I can't wait for my first art lesson!"

         She hit the switch and left Andy grinning like an idiot in front of the sealed wall. He was bouncing inside himself. His body was still trapped inside this godforsaken cell, but his mind was far away, on a shore of clouds where Yumi lay waiting for him. He floated over to the bed and dove on it.

         Just then, the square service window opened up again and yanked Andy back to reality. Dash poked her head through. "Oh, and Andy Go, you might want to take a shower before your lady friend shows up. Just a suggestion."

         "Okay, mom!" Andy huffed.

         Dash giggled and disappeared behind the wall. As soon as he was alone again, Andy hugged the pillow deep into his chest and rolled around on the bed rapturously. He couldn't believe it was actually happening. He was going to see Yumi after all!

         "Oh, Yumi," he murmured softly to the pillow, tears stinging his eyes again. He gave the pillow a tender caress, as if he was running his fingers through Yumi's hair. "My darling... I missed you so much too..." He gave the pillow a feathery kiss. "Oh, your lips are so soft, Yumi... I... I..."

         "Stick it in already!" Mo's voice bounded into the room.

         "Shut up!" Andy shouted, and hurled the pillow onto the vent.

CHAPTER 10 >>


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