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©2019 by Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Two

Friday June 12

While rolling out pastry dough, Cyrus Mirzapour thought about bugs. Not insect bugs, which definitely wouldn't be appetizing in this context, but the stubborn, elusive errors in his video game code. The program wouldn’t stop crashing, and he was running out of time. The contest deadline was less than two days away. If he couldn’t get it to work….

Not an option. He’d figure this out. Somehow.  

Cyrus let his mind wander as he assembled cherry turnovers, hoping that an epiphany would come if he focused on something else for a while. As he slid the tray into the oven, he heard his little sister calling from the garden. 

“Maman! Maman, come!” 

Cyrus stepped onto the back patio. As usual, Roya was perched high in the walnut tree with her flute. “She’s busy. What is it?”

“Oh. Is Naveed back yet?”

“No, not yet.” Their older brother had stopped by earlier to drop off a bag of cherries from Pike Place Market, hinting not-so-subtly that Cyrus should bake a pie for later. Cyrus had retorted that he wasn’t Naveed’s personal pastry chef, but the temptation was impossible to resist. School was finally out for summer, and even though his family would have their official celebration for Naveed’s high school graduation the following day, it was never too early to start. Cyrus soon found himself in the kitchen pitting cherries. For turnovers, not pie.

“Come look, then. I think it’s dead,” Roya was saying. 

“What’s dead?” Talking with his sister often felt like following a winding path in the dark.

“A crow.” 

Cyrus most definitely did not want to see that. “Okay, fine. I’ll go find Maman.” 

He stepped through the dining room and peeked into the closet-like nook they used as an office, surprised to find the desk chair empty. Even though his mother always nagged him about spending too much time on the computer, she'd been glued to it lately.

Cyrus sat down, thinking he’d check whether anyone had responded to the plea for help he’d posted in a developer forum. It was a last-ditch effort; even Dev, his best friend and co-creator of the game, was stumped. 

The screen was locked, which was a little weird. They’d used this as their family computer for years, and usually left it logged on. He knew the password, though, so he typed it in, and immediately forgot about checking the forums when he saw the document on the screen. 

The file was titled “SILO Research Progress Report.” He would have written it off as another one of the boring papers Maman was always reading for work, except that each page was stamped with a “CONFIDENTIAL” watermark and headed with the Nutrexo logo: a red heart enclosing a stalk of golden wheat. 

The floorboards outside the office creaked. For once, Cyrus was thankful for their ancient house. He quickly locked the screen again and turned to the bookshelf as Maman entered.

“What are you doing in here?” she asked, her eyes flicking to the computer. At the sight of the empty screen, her shoulders relaxed. “I thought you were in the kitchen.”

Cyrus was relieved he hadn’t been caught. His instincts were right: whatever the document was, she obviously didn't want him to see it. “Just looking for The New Persian Kitchen. I was thinking of making sour cherry syrup later.” 

“It’s right in front of you,” she said, pulling it off the shelf.

“Thanks.” It was a little sad, Cyrus thought, that he had to rely on cookbooks instead of old family recipes for certain Persian dishes. Both of Cyrus’s parents had been born in Iran but had come to the U.S. as children, and while Baba could make kickass kebabs and perfect tahdig, his repertoire was a bit limited. “Oh, Roya wanted me to tell you she found a dead crow in the garden,” Cyrus added.

“She didn’t touch it, did she?”

“I don’t think so. She’s still up in the walnut tree.”

“Okay, I’ll take a look. I just have to finish a couple things first.”

Cyrus noticed that she waited for him to leave before turning back to the computer. He wondered what was going on, and whether it had anything to do with the sustainability conference the day before. She went every year and usually came back excited about new projects to tackle at the Coalition for Food Justice, the nonprofit she co-directed, but she hadn't even wanted to talk about it last night. And now she was downloading confidential documents, acting all secretive....

Intriguing. But he’d have to investigate later. Fridays were his night to make dinner, and he'd wasted most of his prep time on dessert. Though he was tempted to suggest they feast on turnovers, he knew it would never fly. Maman might be hopeless at cooking, but she did have standards for what constituted a healthy meal.

Cyrus surveyed the contents of the fridge. Pizza sounded good, but he hadn't started any dough rising yet, and they were out of cheese anyway. All he had to work with was a jar of garbanzo beans and a leftover chunk of roasted lamb. Soup, then. 

And maybe a salad to go with it. Outside, Cyrus pulled on his boots and grabbed a basket. As he made his way to the fenced vegetable garden, he spotted Roya near the fire pit with two of their chickens. She knelt close to them, head cocked, as if listening to their clucked conversation.

Cyrus scanned the raised beds. He filled his basket with a head of lettuce, several sprigs of mint, a couple of carrots, and one baby beet, and returned to the vine-covered patio as rain began to fall.

“Roya! It's raining, come put on your jacket,” Cyrus called.

“In a minute,” she yelled back.

Once inside, Cyrus cracked the kitchen window open and cleared space on the tiny counter for the cutting board. While chopping onions, he tried to mentally run through his code again, but his thoughts kept returning to the mysterious document instead. Maman had worked at Nutrexo when Cyrus was younger, but she was totally opposed to them now. Maybe she was organizing some new boycott or petition against the company? 

The oven beeped, and Cyrus was presented with another problem: whether to test one of the turnovers. That dilemma was easily, and deliciously, resolved.

The rain grew heavier as Cyrus worked. Soon all he could hear was the dull roar of raindrops, so he was startled to see Roya behind him when he turned to refill the salt bowl. Her big eyes peered out from under her bangs, which were plastered to her forehead.

“Maman never came to see the crow. Did you even tell her?”

“Of course I did.” Cyrus bristled at Roya’s accusatory tone. “She said she'd take a look.”

 

“Well, she didn’t.” Roya inhaled deeply and glanced at the stove. “Hey, you made turnovers! Can I have one?”

 

Cyrus opened his mouth to say no, that dinner was almost ready and she'd spoil her appetite. But, after all, he'd just eaten one. He broke a turnover in half. “Careful. It's still hot inside.”

 

Roya grinned. As she ate, she noticed the basket of vegetables. “Can I help with the salad?” 

 

“Sure, you can wash the lettuce.”

 

“I want to do the grating.”

 

Cyrus reluctantly agreed. Roya was only eight, and her “help” often resulted in spectacular messes. Her grating technique somehow defied the laws of physics, flinging bright flecks of carrot and beet onto the walls. At least it was Naveed’s turn to clean the kitchen tonight. 

 

Around six, Baba opened the front door. “Wow, it’s stormy out there—what a squall!” Droplets of water dripped from his beard, and he shook off his coat as Maman appeared from the office and kissed his wet cheek. 

 

“Baba!” Roya abandoned her grating and ran to the door to hug him. “Did you build any roads today?”

Roya never seemed to get that Baba did very little actual building in his job as a civil engineer at the Department of Transportation, but he laughed anyway and kissed the top of her head. “No, not today, azizam.” 

He took off his shoes and made his way into the kitchen. “Congrats, you two! Last day of school—just in time for Juneuary. Where’s Naveed? Is he working today?”

Cyrus opened the oven to take out the flatbread warming inside. “No, he’s over at Brooke’s house. Said he’d be back for dinner, though.”

“I hope he’s not biking home in this weather,” Maman said.

“I’m sure he’ll be here any minute,” Baba said. “Let’s eat. I’m starving.”

Cyrus sent Naveed a brief text—Where are you? Food's getting cold—even though he didn't expect an answer. Naveed was weirdly oblivious to his phone, rarely noticing when it rang, often going hours without checking it. 

As Maman ladled out soup and Roya garnished the bowls with fresh mint, the raindrops began to harden. Soon, beads of hail flung themselves to the ground. Maman closed the kitchen window.

They gathered around the dinner table, lit the candles, passed the salad. Cyrus sat down across from Roya and Maman, noticing how similar they looked in the flickering candlelight. With their dark skin, thick eyelashes and curly black hair, both Roya and Naveed resembled Maman. Cyrus looked more like his light-skinned dad; he was on the pudgy side, with pale skin that was occasionally—okay, often—pimply. His hazel eyes verged on green: his one redeeming feature. Not that anyone ever noticed them, thanks to his glasses.

Maman sipped her soup. “Roya-jaan, I’m sorry I never made it outside to see the crow. Will you show me after the storm clears up?”

Roya nodded. “That’s okay. The other crow needed to say goodbye, anyway.” She launched into one of her rambling stories, but Cyrus only half-listened. His mind wandered back to his coding problems. Maybe he could bring some turnovers to Dev’s house after dinner and they could look at it together….

Cyrus was helping himself to more salad when the door opened. Naveed entered, out of breath, looking like he’d taken a swim in the lake while fully clothed.

“Sorry I’m late! My bike got a flat.” He stepped out of his wet shoes and unzipped his dripping rain jacket.

“You’re soaked!” Maman said. “I’ll dish up your soup while you change into some dry clothes.” 

When Naveed returned, he started devouring his meal. After he tasted the soup, though, he pushed his chair away from the table. He returned with a jar of torshi from the fridge and spooned a generous portion into his bowl. Cyrus was briefly offended by this implied criticism of his cooking, but the tang of pickled vegetables was exactly what it needed. He reached across the table for the jar. 

Between bites, Naveed apologized again. “I meant to leave Brooke’s house earlier, but I lost track of time. It started pouring right after I left, and a few minutes later, my front wheel blew out, so I decided to walk—well, run—my bike home. I was waiting for a light on Rainier, and this bus came barreling through the intersection”—he swooped his hand in demonstration—“and splashed into a huge puddle. My jeans got totally soaked. Then it started hailing!” He laughed. “How’s that for timing?”

“You could have called. I would've picked you up,” Maman said.

“Nah, it was faster to walk. And besides, it was kind of exhilarating.” He paused to chew a bite of flatbread. “Hey, Maman, so Brooke's mom was telling us about that presentation at the sustainability conference yesterday.”

Maman set down her spoon. “What did Kelly say?”

Naveed turned to Cyrus. “I guess some lady from Nutrexo gave a talk about how their genetically modified cows are going to save the planet. Apparently Nutrexo was the main sponsor of the conference! Even though they're responsible for tons of environmental damage. Brooke and I are totally going to that protest downtown on Monday.”

Maman studied her soup. “I'm not sure it would be appropriate for you to go. Your father and I need to discuss it.”

“Why not? You're going, aren't you? Kelly said that CFJ’s one of the organizers.” 

“I have the day off work—I thought we were going. Right, Mahnaz-jaan?” Baba said, but she didn't answer. 

“I want to come, too,” Cyrus said. First, a confidential document from Nutrexo, now a protest there? Something was up. He couldn’t miss this. 

“Me, too!” Roya always hated being left out.

“Your father and I will discuss it,” Maman repeated, this time with finality. 

“I found a dead crow today,” Roya began. Naveed listened to her story with interest, but Cyrus’s attention drifted to his parents, who spoke in voices so hushed they were barely audible.

Maman was saying, “Saman-jaan… I’d rather not go back there. I’m not sure how Roya would do at a protest anyway.” 

“It’s been years. No one remembers,” Baba said. “And Roya will be fine. You worry too much.” 

“You’re probably right,” Maman said, but she sounded unconvinced. She was definitely hiding something. And Cyrus was going to figure out what. 

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