How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

BOOK: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart
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J.C. Lillis

Published by J.C. Lillis
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Copyright © J.C. Lillis, 2012
First e-book edition: September 2012
Cover design: Mindy Dunn
Cover illustration of linked hands by Andrea Sabaliauskas
E-Book formatting:
Guido Henkel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Chapter One

Sim and Captain Cadmus huddled close in the crystal spider cave, their secret hearts thudding with untold passion.

I scroll down fast, my own secret heart thudding more than I want to admit. Plastic Sim shoots a plastic glare of judgment from his perch on the gooseneck lamp clipped to my bedpost. I know what he’s thinking, but I can’t help it. Replace “Cadmus” with “Brandon” and this fanfic graduates from terrible to tolerable in 0.3 seconds.

Abel doesn’t have to know.

Summoning all his courage, Cadmus gently touched the arm of the cerulean-haired android, his breath hitching in the eerie, dim light of the cave. “Hey, Tin Man,” he rasped. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but‌…‌I think I love you.”

My kneecaps tingle.

Sim’s smooth, impassive face betrayed no emotion, but his mechanical heart glowed blue in response. “Captain,” he intoned. “I would like to reciprocate, but my sensors tell me‌—‌”

“Screw your sensors,” said the captain, just as he had before, the day their ship first crashed on this red planet of terrors. His brawny hand massaged the android’s thigh. “Who cares what they think? Who cares what anyone thinks?”

“That is a useful perspective.”

I pull my laptop screen closer. I grab Plastic Sim and clutch him to my chest, like Gram with her blue moonstone rosary beads.

A crystal spider bayed in the distance. Cadmus knew it was now or never. Sim’s silver eyes glittered, the red sensors on his collarbone pulsing in the dark. Cadmus let his rough fingertips trail down Sim’s face, wanting to kiss him and be him all at once, and in their warm electric closeness the android smiled and murmured‌—‌

“Kathy! Get the door, willya?”

I slam my laptop shut. Plastic Sim clatters to the floor, right by the suitcase I packed and re-packed three times. Five words from Dad downstairs and I’m back to the real me: a dumbass on solar-system sheets, sneaking forbidden
Castaway Planet
fanfic and putting off leaving for a six-week trip I sincerely should have said no to. I wriggle out of bed and rescue Plastic Sim, slip the action figure in the pocket of my cargo shorts.

Then a different downstairs voice:

“May I come in?”

I freeze with my hand on the suitcase.

Footsteps shuffle; the front door whines shut. I hold my breath. It can’t be him. It was Dad doing an impression, or the hot new weatherman on Channel 12. If there’s a God and he still likes me even a little, he wouldn’t let this happen. Not when I’m already freaked about this trip.


Mom downstairs. I picture her peeking around the banister, still in the funny apron she wore to make our pancakes this morning.
If God wanted me to cook, why did He invent restaurants?

I clear my throat. “Yeah.”

“Come on down, okay?”

I hear the visitor again:
Oh Kathy, did you make this awesome wreath?
Greg, how’s that garden?
My mouth goes sandy. This is happening. If I were Natalie I’d find a way out of this; Mom would knock on my door two minutes later and I’d be halfway down the street with my earbuds in and my fists jammed in my pockets, the fire escape ladder still swaying from the windowsill.

I pull in a breath. It hurts.

“Be right there,” I yell.

I yank on my favorite
Castaway Planet
shirt‌—‌blue with red letters, freshly ironed with the Steamium I got for graduation‌—‌and trudge downstairs. My suitcase bumps behind me. The living room smells normal, like syrup and coffee, except there he is on the flowered couch with his wide white smile and the rumpled curls that make the girls check
The Thorn Birds
out of the library. My teeth clench. Mom and Dad perch on either side of him, like benevolent henchmen. A breeze from the open window ruffles Dad’s bonsai on the sill, three snowrose trees with tiny perfect leaves shaped like teardrops.

“Look who stopped by,” says Dad.


“Hi, Father Mike.”

“Congrats on graduation.”


“He was out here visiting Mrs. Trugman, and he came by to give you a blessing for your trip,” says Mom. “Isn’t that nice?”

Father Mike power-shakes my hand. “Bec’s mom mentioned it to me at the potluck, and‌—‌”

“She did?”

“Yep. Wow, so just the two of you‌…‌”

I unclench. Thank God. If my parents found out Abel was coming too, they’d lock me in a windowless tower. He met them once and the next day I heard Mom on the phone with Aunt Meg saying “I’m just glad they’re not in the same school‌—‌can you imagine?” They don’t know thing one about our vlog. When I disappear to record new posts with Abel, they think I’m strumming Coldplay covers at open mike night with a couple other guys from the Timbrewolves.

“Just the two of us,” I nod.

“And I think it’s great,” Father Mike says. “Nothing like a drive across the country to clear your mind, you know? Make you think about things a whole new way.”

“That’s what we thought,” Dad nods.

“You and Becky were always so close.”

“Still are. They still are,” Mom smiles.

Father Mike sips from Mom’s Grand Canyon mug. “And I understand you’re going to some‌—‌what, fan conventions, right?”

Castaway Planet

“Wow. Great show. I catch it now and then.”


“Sure, sure. Love its vibe. Sort of retro sci-fi, a little campy, but a really powerful allegory, you know?” He tilts his head and nods at me. “I think everyone feels lost on a scary planet sometimes.”

He wiggles his fingers to illustrate
. I think I’m supposed to smile.

“Father Mike, would you like some blueberry pancakes while you’re here? There’s leftover batter.”

His blue eyes crinkle. “That would be excellent. Thanks, Kathy.”

“Greg, can you help?”

“Hm? Oh! Yes, sure.”

Don’t leave me don’t leave me
I say with my eyes but of course that’s the point, and they vanish into the safe yellow kitchen. They have no clue. When I met with Father Mike before Christmas for an informal counseling session, they asked me how it went and I blushed and muttered
. I could have told them about the stuff he said, could have blamed my leaving St. Matt’s on the creepy “must-read” book he lent me. But I kept quiet. Because under their sweet candy shell, I know they’re bitter enough to agree with him.

I fix my eyes on the family-photo wall. Mom and Dad at senior prom, wedding at St. Matt’s, me and Nat mugging in pirate hats, the four of us on Sunset Beach in matching white shirts and chinos.

“How’ve you been, bud?” he asks me.


“Still miss you on Sunday.”

I nod.

“I see those great parents of yours in the pew all by themselves.”

I look at the floor.

“It’s been what‌—‌four, five months?”

“I guess.”

“That’s a long time.” He holds up a hand. “I’m not judging. I just think you must feel lonely. We miss that guitar of yours in folk group.”

My face burns. He steps up to me and puts his hands on my shoulders. He’s wearing a blue polo shirt tucked into khakis and he gives off a childish smell, like Wonder bread and school antiseptic.

“Brandon, I want to tell you something, okay? Something I maybe didn’t make clear enough when we talked. Can you look at me?” I can’t meet his eyes. I settle on his left nostril. “The Big Guy upstairs still loves you. He understands what it’s like to be a young boy, these swarms of strange feelings filling up your heart‌…‌” He knocks a fist into his chest. “He’s on your side, you know? And as long as you pray for the strength to live life the way he asks, he will give you that gift. I know he will. I kinda have an ‘in’ with him.”

He grins and nudges me, and when I don’t do anything he nods until I nod back. I hate giving in. I want to be casually profane like Nat is when she comes home from Bennington and tries to shock us with stuff from her Theology of The Simpsons class. I want to say
I left church for a reason, and I’m not coming back.
But when Father Mike walks in a room I’m ten years old again. I’m traveling the altar midway through Mass, lowering my brass candle snuffer over one, two, three flames while he watches from his big chair with a gentle smile, making sure I’ve got everything right.

“Can I give you a quick blessing?” he asks me.


He thumbs a cross on my forehead and starts in with this intense
Lord, defend Brandon
prayer. I wonder if this is a stealth exorcism. Plaid flashes in the kitchen doorway and I know Mom and Dad are listening in, hoping to God it does the trick but ready to set their jaws and keep loving me if it doesn’t. I don’t know which makes me feel worse.

“Amen?” he says.

“Amen,” I whisper.

“That was really nice, Mike.” My parents slip back in the room reverently, like he’s just made me a saint. Mom hands him a short stack of pancakes on my favorite blue plate.

“My pleasure.”

“You just worry so much. His first trip without us,” says Dad.

“Well, he’s a man now. He needs independence. He’ll make good decisions, I know it.”

He winks at me.

“I have to go,” I say.

Mom and Dad descend on me. Hug from Mom, shoulder pat from Dad, desperate last-minute directives from both:

“Call us every night.”

lock the door.”

“Be good to Becky.”

“Don’t let her drive on back roads. She’s not as experienced as you.”

“Remember what we practiced: slow down for trucks, conservative on turns‌—‌”

“He knows, Greg.”

“And don’t blow your savings on food, all right? Mom stocked the RV for a reason.”


“And can you do me a favor, sweetie?” says Mom.


Please rewire your brain circuitry so we can go back to normal.

Mom doesn’t say that, not out loud. Instead she goes to the lampstand and pulls out an old
TV Guide.
David Darras smolders on the cover in his Sim costume, the same picture I used to keep under my mattress and take out at night for inspirational purposes. Iconic white suit, pale silvery skin, ice-blue hair. Mom gives the cover a shy smile and tucks a blonde curl behind her ear. It weirds me out. I never thought she paid attention to
Castaway Planet

“If you do meet David Darras,” she says, “can you get this signed for me?”

“Oh, the perfect man.” My father does a dreamy sigh.

“Will you shush!”

“Brandon, it’s time you knew. Your mother has a crush on an android.”

They all crack up, Mom and Dad and Father Mike the loudest of all. Coffee sours in my stomach. If a nice little anxiety disorder wasn’t programmed into my motherboard, I’d say
So do I
and watch them implode. Instead I take handshakes and back-slaps, one more ten-dollar bill from Dad in case of emergency.

“Brandon?” says Father Mike.


“Remember everything I said.”

“I will.”

The Sunseeker’s parked at the end of the driveway, gassed up and gleaming like it’s waiting for Dad’s hiking gear and field guides, Mom’s plastic bin of nonperishable snacks, Nat’s heavy black boots and graphic novels. I lug my stuff down the walk and shove it all in. My suitcase, my guitar, the pouch with my savings and graduation cash, the Phillies duffel bag I’ve had since I was nine. When the RV door clangs shut, I hurry to the bushes at the edge of our yard, kneel down in the dirt, and throw up as quietly as possible under the lowest branches. Then I pop two mints and slip Plastic Sim in my shirt pocket, where I can see him. I have a twenty-minute drive to turn back into the person Abel thinks I am, and I need all the help I can get.

Chapter Two

Abel McNaughton lives in a house that’s like ninety percent glass. It’s across the river on the west shore, halfway up a mountain in a development where you can’t see houses from the road, just pine trees and gated driveways. The McNaughtons have custom-made redwood gates that are never closed; the one time my parents picked me up here, my mother said the gates were an awful waste of money and weren’t redwoods an endangered species? She had a lot to say about the house, too: so much glass, too hard to keep clean, and any lunatic could walk right up to it and see into all your business.

BOOK: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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