Xan scooted his chair closer, and hunched over the small desk in his bedroom, thumbing through his results for the fruit fly lab. The last thing he wanted to do was homework. His shoulders slumped and he let out an exasperated breath. What he wanted was to be at Lacey’s house, making sure she was safe, but the school had called about his unexcused absence. His parents, thinking it was for his own good, cut his curfew on school nights. Xan told them he left school because he was worried about Lacey’s health. Not exactly a lie. A trained killer was prisoner at her house, roaming around her lab. But, Xan let his parents think her recent flu that troubled him. His mom covered for him, but at a cost. He had to study at home and limit his time at Lacey’s house. She told the attendance secretary they had a family emergency and she forgot to notify the school about it.
Xan unzipped his backpack and pulled out his textbook flipping to the chapter on genetics. The sooner he was done, the sooner he could leave. He scanned through the first few pages, on the lookout for information that could support the findings in his conclusion. On the left side of one of the pages was an ink diagram. The caption read, “Autosomal Recessive Inheritance in Muscular Dystrophy.” The name sounded familiar. He wondered if he knew anyone with the disease. The question ate away at him like a scratch just out of reach.
He decided to ask Lacey about it. Then a realization hit him and he shot up in his seat. Lacey. Her mom, she had muscular dystrophy, and that was why she was in a wheelchair. He slid the text book, still open to the page of the diagram, over his notes and studied the picture again. According to the diagram Lacey was a carrier, and possibly had the disease herself. Why didn’t she tell me about this, he wondered.
Xan dug through his memories, trying to recall every word of his conversation with Lacey after he'd met Mrs. Smart. He asked Lacey if her mother’s condition was hereditary. Lacey sidestepped the question, and said with absolute certainty that she did not have the gene. According to his text book her answer defied the laws of nature. She had to be a carrier at least.
There was something she wasn’t telling him. He picked up his pen and chewed on the end. Jamal had said something too. He had some kind of theory about Lacey. Xan focused, sifting through hundreds of crazy conspiracy theories he’d heard. He stopped gnawing and set his pen down on the desk. Jamal thought Lacey was genetically enhanced. Could it be true? She was so smart. Was her brilliance just a coincidence? Or was she designed that way?
He scribbled down the last few lines of his conclusion. It was horrible, but he didn’t care. He needed to see Lacey and ran down the stairs two at a time. His mom raised an eyebrow. Before she could ask he yelled, “I’ve finished my homework and I’ll be back before curfew.”
“Xan are you going to…?”
The front door slammed behind him before she could finish her question.
He sped down the highway. One way or another he would learn the truth. She knew everything about him, right down to his dirty little secret. He had a right to know Lacey’s.
After a rushed drive, Xan parked in his usual spot behind the Smart mansion. He’d become such a regular, no one bothered to stop him as he moved quickly through the house. He reached her door and plowed straight in without bothering to knock. She wouldn’t be there. Lacey spent all her waking hours, when she wasn’t at school, in her lab. He jetted up the winding, narrow staircase. His feet couldn’t move fast enough.
His fingers curled around the handle, twisting it without a sound, and pushed the door open. The hardwood banged against the wall announcing his entrance. Lacey flinched and glanced up from her computer. “I’m glad you’re here. I finally found a difference in yours’ and Beta’s DNA”
Xan waved his hand signaling for her to stop. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to her prattle on about genes and chromosomes.
“Lacey, why didn’t you tell me?”
She raised an eyebrow, giving him a quizzical look. “I didn’t find the discrepancy until this morning, and we both decided it would be safer if we didn’t talk about the whole cloning thing outside of the lab. You even said yourself ‘You never know who is listening.’”
He shook his head, impatient. “I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about you.”
Her face paled, and she gasped. She turned around, facing her computer screen in order to avoid his gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She's lying. Well, he wasn’t going to dance around the subject. She knew his dark secret, and it was only fair he knew hers.
“Why don’t you have the muscular dystrophy gene?”
No answer. She opened up a new image on the computer and began analyzing it. Ignoring him wasn’t going to work. He wasn’t going away.
“Why don’t you have the muscular dystrophy gene?” he repeated the question, more forcefully this time.
She looked up this time, one hand grasping the edge of her desk for strength. Her knuckles tightened, turning white. Then he noticed the tears pooling in the corners of her dark eyes.
Xan staggered backward out of breath. He felt horrible, like he had just stabbed his best friend in the back.
“I’m sorry, Lacey, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” he said, guilt seeping into his voice. He moved closer and put an arm around her.
“It’s not you.” Lacey pressed her hand against his chest to push him away, wiping her cheek with the edge of her finger. “You finished the fruit fly lab, didn’t you?”
She sniffed, and her lips curved up into a weak smile. “I thought you might figure it out. You know, you’re pretty smart—for a regular guy.”
Xan was half-pleased, half-distressed that she considered him normal. “How is a clone a regular guy?”
Lacey was quiet for a few moments, obsidian eyes unfocused, far away in her memories. “My parents didn’t even tell me.”
Another empty minute passed as Xan debated whether or not to push her. “What didn’t they tell you?”
Her whole body convulsed with a round of violent sobs.
Xan wrapped his arms around Lacey, letting her lean against him. . His face hovered over the white cotton fabric of her lab coat and he inhaled a whiff of laundry soap. Xan wanted to slug the guy who made her cry, even if he was the guilty one.
Xan secured his arms around her and he breathed softly against her neck. This time she didn’t push him away. He spun her around and let her bury her face in his shoulder. He gently rocked her back and forth, until her sobbing stopped and the sleeve of his blue t-shirt was soaked.
Xan hopped onto the counter and pulled Lacey up next to him. She leaned into him, resting her head against his chest.
“I found out when I was eleven.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
He ran his coarse fingers through her hair and peeled a tear soaked strand from her cheek. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
She sniffed again. “I want to, really. I’ve wanted to tell someone for so long.”
He gave her a light squeeze.
“Lacey, I love you no matter what.” Xan’s eyes widened, and he gasped, surprised. He did care about her—maybe even loved her—but he never intended to say the words aloud, or even admit them to himself. When it came to Lacey, it felt different, and he didn’t understand why.
“Thank you.” She squeezed him back, snuggling into his chest. “My mother’s condition worsened and, as naïve and inexperienced as I was, I was determined to find a cure. I had just gotten my first professional microscope, and thought I could do anything, I ordered all of the books and articles I could find pertaining to muscular dystrophy.”
Xan glanced in the direction of the three custom-built bookshelves pressed together crammed with books on genetic diseases. The individual shelves bowed slightly under the weight; some of the volumes were a good five inches thick. He couldn’t imagine combing through each one for answers.
“Then I learned if my father had the gene, I’d get sick like my mother. I read somewhere that Asians were less likely to have the abnormal gene. My chances looked good, but I still wanted to know for sure. See, my dad isn’t full Japanese. My great grandfather was actually English, which is why my last name is Smart. I took a genetic sample from my parents and searched for the mutated gene.” Fresh tears rolled down her face and her breaths became uneven once more. “They both had it.”
He hugged her tighter, pressing her body against his. “It’s okay,” he said with the most calming voice he could manage.
“I checked my DNA, sure that I would find the mutated gene. It wasn’t there, so I took another sample and checked again, thinking that I must have mixed up my specimen with someone else’s in the house. My results didn’t make sense, so I mapped out my DNA, comparing it against my parents’ DNA. I noticed there were other changes too, not big ones, but subtle ones. A little change here to make me more intelligent, another change there to increase my memory, even the speed at which I process information has been augmented. I discovered that my parents were still my biological parents, but I had been altered and enhanced. I always felt different from other kids because of my intelligence, but after those tests I realized just how different I really was.”
She broke away from his grasp, adjusting her position to face him. Her eyes met his this time they seemed lighter. “Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m human.”
Xan knew the feeling all too well. Since Lacey told him the truth about what he was. His gaze lingered on her figure and the empathy he felt for her faded. If Lacey wasn’t human, what was he?