"Charlie?" ?Wren said.
"My little brother's in a wheelchair," Charlie said quickly. "He's fine, but stuff comes up. Like, we were here at the beginning of the year, because"
He broke off abruptly. He picked back up with, "So, yeah. That's life. Who said life was easy, right?"
He forced a laugh. It was the stupidest laugh of all time. "Just shoot me," he said. "Do you have a tranquilizer-dart gun? A pill to make patients shut up?"
"You don't need to shut up," ?Wren said. She paused. "Why were you here at the beginning of the year? Does your brother have a chronic illness or something? ?You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, obviously."
But he did have to tell her. She sounded so worried. She was doing so much for him; he owed her an answer, even if he couldn't give the full answer.
"No chronic illness," he said. "Dev's paralyzed from the waist down, but not from a disease. He's elevendid I tell you that? He's a sixth grader. He goes to Ridgemont. He's not, like, in some special school or anything. And in January, he . . . got burned. That's why we were here."
"I'm so sorry," ?Wren said. "How?"
Charlie went inside himself. How? Because two eighth graders cornered Dev in the bathroom of Dev's not-special school. They held a cigarette lighter to his leg. Dev couldn't feel it, but he could smell the burning. He could hear the laughter of the two eighth graders. Dev hadn't shared those details with Charlie, but Charlie had imagined the scene too many times.
"Charlie?" ?Wren said. She was waiting for him to answer.
"At school," he said. Then he closed himself off. He wanted to talk with Wren, but he didn't want her pity. He didn't want her to pity Dev, either.
She exhaled, then pushed the needle through the skin near the base of his thumb, knotted the thread, and clipped it off. "Now I have to do a row of stitches the opposite way." She peeked at him from beneath long lashes. "You doing okay?"
"I'm fine," he replied. "And Dev, he's doing better these days, too. He's a great kid."
"Is he your biological brother?"
"Nah. He was in the system, like me, until Chris and Pamela said, sure, they had a spot for him. They're going to officially adopt him." They'd wanted to adopt Charlie, too, but Charlie, for reasons of his own that had little to do with Chris and Pamela, had said no.
"Pamela's your foster mom?" ?Wren said.
"Yep, she's Chris's wife."
"But you call them your foster parents. How come, when you call Dev your brother?"
"As opposed to foster brother?" Charlie said. He thought about it. It wasn't that he didn't love Chris and Pamela. He did. And they'd done so much for him. It was a debt impossible to repay.
But Dev was different. Though Dev was no more connected by blood to Charlie than Chris and Pamela were, he brought Charlie out of himself in a way that few people in the world ever had, possibly in a way that no one ever had.
"I don't know," he finally said. Dev was his brother. Period.
Wren nodded, seeming to absorb and accept this. "Cool. I think you guys are lucky to have each other." She tied off another stitch. "And in the name of fairness, I should tell you I'm an only. I'd hate to be accused of ?withholding dangerous intel."
An only? Oh. An only child. As for "dangerous intel," Charlie didn't get the joke. He knew enough to know it was a joke, or was meant to be, but he'd learned over time that normal kids spoke a language particular to normal life, the subtleties of ?which didn't make it into state-run facilities or foster families.
"So 'only' kids are dangerous?" he asked, keeping it light.
Excerpted from The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle. Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Myracle. Excerpted by permission of Amulet Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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