Persistence of Memory by Annie O. hetsmut annie single cyril ryan

Persistence of Memory

by Annie O

Cyril had a bad dream.

He woke with his t-shirt clinging wet to his chest and the tail end of the dream slipping away from him like a little mouse under the floorboards.

There was his usual, brief moment of cold panic when he would wake up from one of these dreams. He blinked his eyes into focus and the grey walls of his pod began to take shape. He sighed with relieved recognition, and his shaking body began to ease. Strange that he could take comfort in the realization that he was in prison, but it was an irony that was lost on Cyril.

He only knew he was safe. With Ryan.

He lay in his bunk, rubbing his creased forehead, chasing after the dimming dream like a dog chasing its tail to exhaustion.

*Something about a girl. A red-haired girl. I know her.*

He woke up only knowing that he had been doing a Bad Thing in the dream. He could never quite make out the girl's face, but he was lying on top of her with his hands up near her neck, and he thought that he might be trying to smother her. He had dreamed it before since coming to live with Ryan in Em City. He would wake up each time with a vague sense of un-ease, and it frightened him.

At least it wasn't as bad as the other dream. The one about the bald-headed man with the voice as soft and soothing as Mr. Rogers. That man had hurt him. He had promised to take him to see Ryan, but he had hurt him instead in that tiny, closed in little room. They had all hurt him, and then they had laughed at him while he whimpered in pain on the floor.

Afterwards, he stuffed his blood-stained underwear underneath his bunk in shame and cried himself to sleep, partly from the dull pain that throbbed up into his belly. Partly because they had lied to him, and his brother Ryan was as far away as ever.

He sat up and pulled his pillow to his chest. Cyril didn't like to think about that time. Ryan had promised him it was over, that the man would never hurt him again, and he believed it. Still, the memory of that man had been stirred tonight, and Cyril was afraid to fall asleep for fear that he might come to him again in a dream, taking his hand and luring him into that room with his honey-sweet voice.

He shivered and fell back onto the bed, staring wide-eyed up into the underside of Ryan's bunk. He became aware of the soft, even creaking of the springs, and then a little moan from above. Cyril pulled himself up on his elbows and listened. There was another moan, a little louder, and the insistent sound of the bedsprings.

He slipped out of bed and pulled himself up next to Ryan's bunk. He could see him in the light that spilled in from outside their pod. Ryan was stretched out on his back, eyes closed, with his scratchy wool blanket pulled mid-chest. One hand was tucked behind his head, the other was underneath the blanket. His whole body seemed to be trembling. He had his head thrown back against the pillow, and another heavy moan escaped from his slightly opened mouth.

He was having a bad dream, too.

Cyril seemed to remember, *somehow*, that it was bad to wake someone up from a dream, but seeing Ryan shudder that way frightened him. He leaned down with his mouth pressed closed to his brother's ear.

"Ryan? Are you okay?"

Ryan's eyes snapped open suddenly. Both arms spasmed outward, and the heel of his left hand smacked against the bridge of Cyril's nose.

"Jesus Christ, Cyril!" The words erupted from Ryan's chest.

Tears had sprung to Cyril's eyes, and not just in an involuntary reaction to the blow to his nose. Ryan watched him, the way he drew his shoulders up to his ears and his bottom lip began to quiver when he cried.

"Aw, hey, Cyril, I'm sorry." He reached out, his fingers just brushing against the front of Cyril's wet t-shirt as he retreated into the darkened corner of the pod.

Ryan swung his legs over the side of his bunk and sat with his elbows on his knees. He took a breath and spoke in the gentle tones he reserved only for Cyril. "Hey, I'm not mad at you, Cyril. You just scared me, that's all."

Cyril was crying, though Ryan couldn't see him. He had told Cyril that it was bad to cry in Oz, and he shouldn't let anyone see him that way. So, he hid in the corner now, sniffling and trying to talk through great gulps of air.

"I thought you were having a bad dream." Cyril's voice shook, and he sniffed once, loudly.

Ryan sighed and ran his hand over his new-grown stubble of hair. He gave out a small, embarrassed laugh and shook his head. "No, Cyril, I wasn't having bad dream. I wasn't even asleep, and there was nothing *bad* about it."

Cyril took one uneasy step in toward the center of the room, the shadow falling in a soft line across his face. "Then what was happening?"

Ryan almost shot off one of the colorful phrases he and Cyril used as boys to describe this most intense physical pleasure, but as Cyril stood hunched with that frightened, quizzical look on his face, Ryan was aware that Cyril would have no memory of it. He dropped his chin to his chest and gave Cyril a sad, dismissive wave.

It was just one of Cyril's many questions that Ryan couldn't answer, as they came in eager little whispers from over Ryan's shoulder throughout the day. Cyril hovered there, always a step or two behind, and Ryan had to resist the urge to shoo him off like a big, none-too-bright St. Bernard.

They were apart only when Ryan would send him off to his "job" emptying trashcans in the administrative wing. "Don't talk to anybody, you hear me?" he would say, and Cyril would nod rapidly with that little pink lower lip tucked out. It occurred to Ryan in some small part of himself that his younger brother had become the child that he and Shannon had never been able to have.

It was a Monday when Cyril backed his way into Warden Glynn's office with his enormous green trashbin that he pulled along on wheels. The warden's stout secretary Edna wasn't there, as she usually was. He quickly emptied the wastebasket beside her desk and headed into Glynn's office.

The warden was sitting at his desk signing a stack of papers. But something wasn't right. There was a woman standing next to him handing him the papers one by one, but it wasn't Edna. This woman was small and young with delicate, silky white hands that flitted gently back and forth like two little butterflies. And her hair--it fell softly in a braid against her neck. It was the hot-red color of a glowing coal.

He shifted nervously and waited for the warden to wave him in with a grunt. The girl kept her face turned down, but Cyril could see that she had lifted her eyes to watch him empty the warden's waste basket.

He wondered if he should speak. Ryan had always told him not to say anything to anyone, but he hadn't always listened to Ryan. He didn't like it when things were out of place. Edna was nice to him, and now she was gone. Sometimes, she would let him take a piece of candy from the jar on her desk and say how he reminded her of her grandson. She always seemed a little sad to Cyril when she would talk about her grandson, and he was glad to leave the office when his name was mentioned.

He cleared his throat a little and moved in closer to the warden's desk. "Where's Edna?"

The warden looked up as if he had noticed Cyril for the first time. Leo frowned and started to speak, but then his features softened, and he managed a small smile of patience. "She hurt her back. Molly will be filling in for her while she recovers." He turned to Molly and said in a softer voice, "Cyril comes by to empty the trash for us every day."

The girl lifted her head finally and nodded. "Hello," she said and then smiled at him, and Cyril felt a warmth spread from somewhere inside his chest that seemed to ooze from his fingertips as he lifted them with a small wave before stumbling back out into the hallway.

*Hello. Molly. Molly.*

"What's wrong with you, Cyril?" Ryan asked that night at dinner as Cyril left his sandwich untouched on his tray. Cyril shook his head and sat with his hands tucked under his knees.

Ryan watched him for a moment then shrugged.

"You gonna eat that, Cyril?" Before he could respond, Timmy Kirk had snatched the sandwich from the tray in blissful disregard of any discomfort at the table.

They walked silently back to Em City, Cyril a step or two behind with his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his jeans.

*Molly*…She had lifted her eyes to his and stood up just a little straighter. Then she broke into a smile after she said it: *Hello*. And as she turned to face him, the long, red braid had slipped from her shoulder and draped with a sweep across her back.

Ryan had looked over at him once or twice with concern as he they went to the shower room together, *always* together, but Cyril hadn't noticed.

Two men were already there, pressed against each other in the farthest corner of the room as the shower stream fell across their intertwined bodies. Cyril watched curiously as the bigger man bent his lips to the smaller man's and ran his fingers softly up his water-beaded back. He knew what they were doing. He knew what kissing was.

He knew he wasn't supposed to do that to anyone, even if he couldn't quite remember why. Shannon had told him not to. But he knew that what these two men were doing was especially bad. Ryan had said so.

He had called people like them fags and said that Cyril shouldn't let anyone do that to him. He sat Cyril down one day after he had come to live with here in Em City and stood over him with his hands pressed down onto Cyril's shoulder. He spoke with such an intensity that it had frightened Cyril.

The speech hadn't really been necessary. It was hard for Cyril to remember most things, but he associated these two men and what they were doing with what the bald man and his friends had done to him. He couldn't forget that. He had tried.

Still, there was something about the way the bigger man was holding the other man's face in his hands and running his lips across the line of his jaw that was somehow familiar. And not unpleasant. The sensation was there, like a lost word on the tip of Cyril's tongue, and then it was gone, skittering the way of his dreams.

He closed his eyes and then there was that small quiver of warmth again as there had been when Molly had spoken to him earlier that day.

He had done that. Not to another man. Not like the bald man had done to him. To a girl. Like the red-headed girl in his dream. Like Molly.

"Quit staring, Cyril. People are gonna thing you're a fag." Ryan shut off the stream of Cyril's shower with a sharp yank and tossed him a towel.

Later, they stood shaving side by side at the mirror. "Ryan, did I know a red-haired girl? From *Before*?" he asked softly. "Before" had become their word for the time pre-accident. Cyril's memory of that time was dim, and when they spoke of it, it was always in hushed tones.

Ryan didn't answer right away, but he put his razor down and stood with his hands on the sides of the sink for a moment. "Yeah," he said finally and nodded slowly. "Yeah, you knew a red-haired girl."

Cyril paused, not daring to speak at first. Ryan still hadn't moved, and he seemed to be concentrating very hard on the swirl of water that was draining out of the sink.

"How did I know her, Ryan?"

There was another pause, and then suddenly, Ryan wiped his face clean and began to jam his things back into his shaving kit. "She was a friend of yours. Come on, Cyril, let's go.

He thought of Shannon that night before he drifted into sleep. Shannon's sister, Sheila, had come to visit one night for dinner the year before. He couldn't remember very much of the time before his head got hurt and he was in the hospital for such a long time, but he could remember Sheila, and he could remember that he liked her.

His eyes lit up when she came in the room, and it had seemed natural to him that he should kiss her and hug her. She drew back in horror and flattened herself against the door when he pulled her eagerly into his arms and pressed his lips to her cheek. Shannon yelled at him and told him it was bad to do that.

He suspected that Shannon was doing a Bad Thing, too. In the months before he had come here to live with Ryan, a man named Nick would come to their apartment a few times a week, and Shannon would send Cyril out for cigarettes or milk. Once she had forgotten to give him money. He had remembered halfway down the block and hurried back upstairs.

It was dark and still in the apartment, and he rapped softly on Shannon's bedroom door. There was no answer, and he pushed the door open and whispered her name. They were in there; he could see them. Shannon jumped from the bed with a shriek and slammed the door, nearly taking Cyril's nose off.

A minute or so later, Nick came out and left the apartment without a word. Shannon stood in the door of her bedroom with her hands on her hips. She called Cyril some bad names and then went back into her room, slamming the door again behind her.

It had made him mad. The way it did when someone wouldn't explain one of the big words in a book. It made him mad like he was now. He didn't know things. Just enough to know that once upon a time, he *had* known things. Tears of frustration rolled down his cheeks and across the tips of his ears as they did most nights since he had come to Oz.

Cyril liked Edna, but he found himself hoping with a growing excitement each day that week that Edna would still be out sick when he reached the warden's office. That second day, Molly was sitting with her hands folded neatly on top of the desk as If she had been expecting him. She smiled and nodded toward the glass jar, which she had filled with Hershey's Kisses.

His eyes fell down to floor, and a warm pink blush crept up his cheeks. He traced invisible little circles on the carpet with his foot and smiled shyly up at her through a fringe of blonde hair as he fished a kiss from the jar.

It was on the Friday of that week that he came into the office to see her standing on a chair trying to lift one of those heavy blue lawbooks that the warden kept back onto the top shelf. She had taken her shoes off and was balancing on the tiptoes of one bare foot. When she raised her arms toward the shelf, her blouse untucked from the waistband of her skirt. Cyril found himself at eye level now with the soft, bare roundness of Molly's belly.

She jumped a little when she saw him, and the book dropped from her hands and onto the floor with a thud. It made Cyril jump, too, and the trashbin rolled away from him and upended itself.

She hopped from the chair with a laugh and crouched down next to him as he struggled to upright the trashbin. His eyes fell onto the little shell-pink toes of her naked feet as she scooped the book off the floor.

"You startled me, Cyril," she said with another ripple of a laugh to let him know that she wasn't angry.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. It seemed to him that they stayed like that, toe to toe on the floor, for a very long time. He crouched there stuffing the crumpled papers that had spilled out back into his trashbin. He knew she was watching him, but he didn't dare look up. The warm pink blush that filled his cheeks whenever he saw her had begun to burn a hot red.

She leaned forward and picked up a piece of paper just behind him that he had missed, and as she did, her hair brushed across his arm. He turned his face toward her, then, and drew in his breath. She smelled of everything good, Cyril thought. She smelled like oranges and fresh air and springtime flowers.

Molly sat back and drew her feet under her. She handed him the crumpled paper, and for just a brief moment, her fingers brushed against his open palm. He was looking at her so intently, so curiously, his head slightly cocked to one side, his eyes flitting across her face, that she found herself giggling out of embarrassment.

It seemed to break the spell, and he quickly, awkwardly backed away from her on his hands like a crab.

There was a tumble of words as they scrambled to their feet and Cyril offered up another litany of apologies. He took the book from her and reached up with one long arm and slid it onto the shelf. Then, he was gone without having emptied the trash from the warden's office.

He was shaking in confusion as he stumbled back to Em City. Ryan and Timmy were playing cards and called out to him as he staggered in, but he swept past them up the stairs into his pod.

He threw himself on the lower bunk, faced the wall, and pulled himself into a ball to calm the tremors that were rocking him. He had recognized the feeling: that dull, sweet ache in *that* part of his body when Molly's hand had brushed against his, and for just a moment he had wanted to reach out and kiss her on her mouth and bury his face in her ember-red hair.

But that was bad. He had been told so, and he shook now with the shame of what he felt.

Some time later, he heard Ryan come into the pod, and Cyril's bedsprings sagged and squeaked a little as Ryan sat gently on the bunk next to him.

He put one hand on Cyril's arm and was silent for a moment. "What's the matter, Cyril?" he asked finally. "Did somebody hurt you? Did somebody call you a bad name?"

Cyril pulled his legs tighter to himself and shook his head. Ryan sat there for a moment, absently patting Cyril's arm. The bed squeaked again as he rose with a sigh. Cyril listened as Ryan hoisted himself up onto his own bunk.

They stayed that way in still silence through the dinner hour until lockdown. Ryan's breathing was deep and even, and it comforted Cyril.


Cyril's two nightmares crashed into each other that night with a cold, sweaty terror. He was in the suffocating little room in the other place with that sour-smelling t-shirt stuffed into his mouth. Those men were there. He could hear them cackle, and he could feel their foul breath on the back of his neck as they hunched over him. They were doing the bad thing, and they were hurting him.

And then suddenly, the men were gone, and the faceless girl from his other dream, the one he knew before, was there with him in the little room. He had his hands that way, up near her neck, and her fingers were caught up in his long blonde hair.

He was naked in the dream, as he had been after the bald-headed man made him take off his clothes. The girl was, too, and their limbs were wrapped around each other like the men in the shower room.

It all seemed so real, so immediate when he jerked awake from the dream. That sharp, sweaty taste of the filthy shirt in his mouth and nose, and the feel of the girl's soft skin still tingling on his fingertips.


He was restless that weekend, waiting for Monday to roll around again. He danced in anticipation all morning until he could speed down the hall pushing his green trashbin ahead of him into the warden's office.

He didn't see her at first, and he scanned the outer office with a growing feeling of heavy disappointment.

And then she appeared from inside the warden's office struggling with an armload of files. She smiled back when she saw him and the stack of files began to totter. He covered the expanse of the room in two leaping strides and took them from her.

Cyril tucked the stack under one arm, and he stood that way for a moment, his face earnest. "I've got them," he said solemnly.

She broke into a grin, then, which bubbled into her light, airy little laugh, and Cyril found himself smiling, too.

In the days that followed, he rearranged his usual route so that the warden's office was the last stop of the day. If the warden was out, which he usually was, he could spend a little extra time there, eating away happily at an apple or some cookies that Molly would save him from her lunch.

She would ask him questions, and he would tell her about Ryan and Em City and how he got to eat his favorite foods like meatloaf and macaroni since his brother was in charge of the kitchen. Sometimes, from the way she would smile at him or nod in complete understanding, he would lose all train of thought and have to start over from the beginning.

He told her once how he got to watch as much cartoons as he wanted and how Ryan was teaching him how to play cards and checkers. She smiled and said, "Sounds like you've got it made" in an off-hand kind of way.

His face clouded over, and he said in a small voice, "Sometimes, it's real bad."

She looked away and cleared her throat, and it was a moment or two before either of them spoke again.

Ryan noticed the turn in Cyril as he came bounding with puppy-dog enthusiasm into Em City every night. He couldn't imagine the cause, but at least it was a welcome change from the week before. Ryan was relieved that Cyril's emotional state was one less thing that he had to worry about.

Cyril would replay his visit with Molly over and over again in his mind as he settled into his bunk at night. Then one night as he lay waiting for sleep to creep over him just after lights out, the name came into his head like a lightbulb popping. *Kate*.

"Her name was Kate, wasn't it, Ryan?"

The voice drifted up to Ryan on the upper bunk. "Yes, it was Kate." He waited for the inevitable questions that would follow. He wondered if he should tell Cyril about the girl who had come to see him in the hospital once after he woke up. Cyril probably hadn't recognized her then, but there was no way of knowing, of course. He hadn't been able to speak or chew or swallow for that matter. Kate never returned.

But Cyril seemed to be content with just the knowledge of her name, and for that, Ryan was grateful.


On Friday of that third week, he eagerly opened the door of the warden's office, and his whole world suddenly seemed to crumble away from him.

Molly stood at the desk, carefully loading her things into a small box: a coffee mug, a framed photo, a little stuffed animal.

He couldn't speak, and he suddenly felt his knees begin to wobble beneath him. She looked up at him once, sadly, and continued packing her little box.

"Molly..." he started but found he didn't have the breath to continue.

"It's my last day, Cyril." Her voice was sad, and Cyril wondered if she would cry. He knew that *he* was about to cry, despite all that Ryan had told him.

"You're sad, Molly."

She nodded and dabbed at her eyes with a kleenex. "Edna will be back on Monday. I was really starting to like it here. I was hoping maybe she would retire, and they would hire me full time, but..." Her voice trailed off, and she crammed the lid down onto the box with finality. "I'm getting so tired of the agency moving me around," she said, her voice rising in frustration. "Just when I get used to a place. Just when I find people that I like."

There was an emptiness in him that he had never felt as he watched her tidy Edna's desk in numbed silence. She seemed all of a sudden to be a hundred miles away, and he couldn't reach her or make her hear him. He knew nothing now but the bitterness of his inability to even begin to tell her how he felt at this moment.

She looked up at him, and her eyes were red-rimmed. "I'll miss you, Cyril," she said as if she, herself, were surprised for saying it.

She slid the box across the desk. Cyril saw what was about to happen, but before he could speak, Edna's candy jar had tipped over the edge and shattered on the floor below.

She groaned, and they knelt together to pick up the larger shards of glass. "This really isn't my day," she said and attempted a laugh. It suddenly seemed to stick in her throat, and she sucked in her breath in pain as a sharp corner sliced into her hand.

She watched for a moment in stunned silence as the blood bubbled to the surface of her hand. And then Molly began to cry heavy, noiseless tears. Not so much, Cyril knew, from the pain in her hand, but from the anger and frustration and loneliness. He knew why she was crying.

"Hey, don't cry, Molly. Don't cry." He reached out for her impulsively and brushed at her cheeks with his broad hands. She stopped for a moment as he did and looked up at him.

He realized suddenly what he had done, and he became aware of the feel of her soft, dampened cheeks underneath his fingertips.

It was unbearable.

He reached out for her with both his hands at the side of her face and kissed her on the mouth. It was as if the long dormant memory in his muscles had been stirred, and they knew what to do, where to put his hands, what would make her feel better.

Her parted her lips slightly with his tongue and flicked it softly against her teeth. He ran his hand down the curve of her neck and down her back. There was that strange, somehow familiar feeling of aching fullness in his groin, and it was dizzying.

Cyril felt the clap of her hand in the center of his chest, and she pushed him away. As their lips broke, there was a sweet, liquid surge inside of him, and his body shuddered once. She was looking at him, wide-eyed, and shaking her head. "No, Cyril..."

He blinked hard, and a tide of shame washed over him. He jumped up, nearly tripping over his own feet as he did. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry...." he began to keen in mounting hysteria.

She reached her hand out to him as he backed into the hallway. "Cyril, wait…"

But he was gone, stumbling half blind with ashamed tears back into Em City.

He had hoped to avoid his older brother, but Ryan was there, in the pod, reading a magazine on his bunk. He knew something wasn't right, and he slipped out of bed as Cyril flung himself on the lower bunk and began to sob.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Ryan crouched down beside Cyril's bunk.

"Nu-nu-nothing," Cyril said, drawing his breath in hitches.

"Come on, you gotta tell me. Did somebody hurt you?" Cyril was aware of Ryan's hand tugging urgently at the back of his shirt.

He rolled onto his back and looked up at Ryan with that heart-breaking quivering lip. "I did a bad thing, Ryan. I did a bad thing."

Ryan's face fell. He had a quick flash of a memory from the lunchroom just after Cyril had come to Oz--*I think I did a bad thing*--and all the air seemed to drain out of him.

"Christ," Ryan said, his voice a whisper. "What happened? Was it Schillinger? Was it the bald man? One of the C.O.'s?" He offered up more names, but Cyril shook his head back and forth rapidly. "Who, then? You gotta help me out here, Cyril."

Cyril sat up and thought to himself for a moment. Elaborate lies were beyond his capabilities, but something told him that Ryan didn't really need to know the whole truth of this. "I had bad thoughts," he said deliberately. "About a girl."

Ryan's eyes narrowed, and he took a spot on the end of Cyril's bed. "And?"

The corners of Cyril's mouth began to droop again, and the words spilled out of him in a rush. "I wanted to touch her. I wanted to kiss her, Ryan. I know it's bad. I know I'm not supposed to. And then something happened to me. Something bad." He drew out the vowel of the last word for emphasis.

"What? What happened to you, Cyril?" Ryan put his hands on Cyril's shoulders to steady him.

"Something…*here*." He gestured with one finger below his belt buckle so briefly, as if it were too awful to even point there.

The realization of what Cyril meant came to Ryan with guilt and sadness. He suddenly felt sympathy for Shannon, who had bathed and diapered Cyril during his first weeks of recovery. While Ryan had been in jail.

It would have been funny if it weren't so awful. Like a bemused father soothing his son's panic after his first wet dream. But Ryan wasn't his father, and Cyril was a grown man. He had been living with Kate before his accident. Now, he sat shaking in fear and shame inside Em City over a pair of soiled jeans.

Ryan coughed and shifted his seat on the end of Cyril's bunk. He lifted his shoulders in a shrug and looked as if he might speak. But then he slumped forward again, his hands between his knees, and was silent for a moment. Finally, he took a deep breath and spoke.

"It's okay, Cyril," he said patting him on the cheek. "That's not a bad thing. That's a good thing."

"But you said…"

"I know what I said. Never mind."

Ryan had stood again. He was at the entrance to their pod, one hand on the door, ready to leave.

"Tell me, Ryan. Why did that happen to me?" Cyril called after him, his voice rising with agitation.

Ryan turned slowly and leaned against the metal frame of the bunk with his arms folded in front of him. He lowered his head, and Cyril could see the flush of pinkness washing up his chest and neck. Ryan laughed once, a small, uncomfortable laugh that Cyril recognized from a week or so earlier.

He pictured Ryan in the bunk above, eyes squeezed tightly shut, and then a dim memory from the time Before began to appear in his mind like a developing photograph: Cyril's own head, arched back onto a pillow, one hand below the sheets. Then the vivid sense memory of the same warm release he had felt in the warden's office.

"You know what I think? I think it's got something to do with that time I thought that you were having a bad dream. Remember? I remember."

"Just forget it, Cyril." He had started toward the door again, sounding almost angry.

"*Tell* me. Tell me about it. Please?"

He stopped in his tracks and stood rigid for a moment with his back turned to Cyril. Then his shoulders sank, and Cyril watched as Ryan began to pace around the pod. He did that when he was upset or nervous, and Cyril knew he was the cause.

He looked up beseechingly at Ryan, following his brother's uneasy movements across the room, and silently pled with him for some words of comfort.

Finally, Ryan let out a defeated sigh and collapsed on the bunk next to Cyril. Cyril looked across at him tearily, and Ryan slipped his arm around Cyril's shoulder.

"Okay. I'm going to tell you some things. I don't want you to get upset, okay? You're not bad, understand?"

Cyril nodded once. Ryan took a deep breath before speaking.

He told Cyril about Kate, and he could see the face of the girl in his dream now. He told him what Vern had done to him and finally have the Bad Thing a name. At one point, Cyril clamped his hands over his ears, but Ryan brought them gently down and let him cry for a bit before he went on. He told Cyril what he had been doing in the bunk that night and what had happened to Cyril down below. Cyril's tears had dried by now, and he giggled a little at the words that Ryan had used. Ryan laughed sheepishly, too, and for an instant, it was as if everything were all right.

He told him what it was like to make love and to hold someone close. Ryan's voice had grown soft, and Cyril closed his eyes and drew in the scent of citrus and flowers that still lingered.

Cyril remembered some of it now, and the bad things seemed miles apart from the good. They talked that way until lights out, then Cyril drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

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