Her fist hit hard enough to bruise. The heavy bag barely moved, and she punched it again, funneling her frustration into the rhythm of her fists and the solid thwack thwack as each blow connected.
“You could show him a little mercy,” Sensei Roberts said. “He can’t fight back, you know.”
Molly ceased her assault and wiped a hand across the beaded sweat on her forehead. “When he taps out, I’ll let him go,” she said.
The others had all quit, and were busy changing, or packing up, or just hanging out along the benches of the dojo. Molly glanced toward them with a twinge of jealous regret, and gave the bag another half-hearted punch. Her teacher slowed as he crossed the mat behind her.
“Is everything all right?” he asked. Hesitant, like he wasn’t sure he should ask.
“I’m fine,” she lied, avoiding his eyes. Lying had become a habit, lately. A necessary one, but she didn’t like doing it. Molly retrieved her water bottle from its spot on the bench, twisting the cap with fingers still tingling from the impact. “A little thirsty, that’s all.”
“Have you given any more thought to the tournament?” he asked. “You still have a few days to sign up.”
She thought about the last time she’d competed. It had been fun. Exciting. And the challenge had driven her, helped her focus, even helped her reign in her volatile temper…right up until she had lost control and nearly broken someone’s clavicle.
No. Competition wasn’t a good idea. “I don’t think so,” she said.
“Let me know if you change your mind,” he said. “Or if you need anything else.” His attention lingered, accompanied by a slight frown. Then he moved on, speaking quietly to another student.
By the time Molly changed clothes, the dojo was almost empty. Marcus and Brianna were idling by the door, and judging by Marcus’s grin, he’d finally started to win her over. They looked up at her approach.
“Hey, Molly,” Brianna said. “We’re gonna head down the street for some frozen yogurt or something. Want to come?”
She almost said yes. Part of her desperately wanted to. But the person she was and the person she wanted to be…
“I’ve got to get home,” she said. “Dad wants me in by nine-thirty.” It wasn’t strictly a lie. He expected her home immediately, but he would be fine—ecstatic, probably—if she actually chose to do something social instead of getting in trouble again. “Maybe next time?” she said.
“Yeah, definitely,” Marcus said. Bells jingled as he pushed the door open, and a rush of cold, humid air billowed inside. Marcus ducked his head through and peered at the sky. “Looks like it’s finally starting to rain.”
As they watched, the light drizzle became a downpour, drenching the sidewalk and blowing stray droplets through the door.
Be careful, her father would say. The rain makes you reckless.
“Wow,” Brianna said, blinking in surprise. “Do you need a ride, M? It’s coming down pretty hard.”
But Molly smiled, throwing her hood over her head. She stepped into the torrent and resisted the urge to laugh.
“It’s just water,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
* * * * *
Halfway down the street, her phone buzzed. Molly fished it out to see a half-dozen missed messages. All were from her father: variations on call me and where are you, even though he knew perfectly well she was in class until eight-thirty and it was barely nine.
She tucked the phone under her hood as she called him back, pressing it against her ear to tune out the onslaught of rain.
“Where are you?” was his greeting.
“Hi, Dad,” she said. “I’m fine, how are you?”
He ignored the sarcasm. “I’ve been trying to call you,” he said. “Class was over half an hour ago, M.”
“It ran late,” she said. “I’m on the way home, okay?”
“What’s that noise? Are you…oh, great. It finally started raining.”
“It’s just water. Don’t tell me you’re worried about me getting wet.”
“You know exactly what I’m worried about, Molly Young,” he said. “The rain makes you reckless.” He paused a moment, and let out a long sigh. “Stay out of trouble, okay?”
“The station’s right around the corner.”
“It’s just…” He hesitated. “The police are out. Looking for Azure.”
Molly looked up, sharply. That explained it. Dad had more cause than most to worry, even when he wasn’t listening to the police scanner. They’d blamed some break-in downtown on Azure, looking for an excuse to waste extra manpower on finding her. And if Dad had been listening to a manhunt and worrying where she was…
Ahead, she could see the subway station, two police cars parked out front. Lights off, but she could see a uniform questioning people on their way down. Molly halted from a safe distance, fear tightening her chest. Relax, she told herself. They aren’t here for you. But she turned away, shoving her hands in her pockets and hunching her shoulders to hide herself from view.
“Just don’t do anything reckless, M,” her father was saying. “Promise me.”
“Sure,” she said. “Promise. See you at home.”
“See you at home,” he said.
Molly thrust the phone back into her pocket and stalked down the street, frustrated all over again. It wasn’t as if any of it had been her fault. Except… her Dad was right: the rain made her reckless. And she had that secret, the one she wasn’t supposed to talk about, the one she couldn’t show anyone. And it itched at her, built up inside her like a restless wave of energy. Sooner or later she’d give into it.
A police siren sounded behind her. Molly whirled as a cruiser hurtled past, lights flashing. Water sprayed over her shoes as it turned. Only after it sped around the corner did she realize she had drawn the rainwater to her hand, and it swirled around her clenched fist in an orb.
Relax, she told herself, releasing the water. It splashed into the gutter. They were after Azure, not a teenage girl. No one had ever gotten a good look at her. Besides a few vague descriptions, they didn’t know who they were looking for.
Still, it was better to be cautious.
She started walking again, at a brisker pace. There was another subway station three blocks down. It wouldn’t take long to walk, and it wasn’t as if the rain really bothered her.
* * * * *
She didn’t make it there before she ran into trouble.
The streets were empty except for the occasional pedestrian hurrying for shelter. Molly kept her hood up and her arms huddled across her jacket. She was so concerned with her anonymity, she almost didn’t notice the dark figures skulking just off the sidewalk. It was only as they moved—a furtive motion that caught the corner of her eye—that she saw them. Molly tensed for a fight, but they broke out of the shadows before she reached them, flanking a narrow figure a few paces ahead.
Molly hung back, feeling absurdly disappointed that they hadn’t tried to pick a fight with her. The rain makes you reckless, said a voice in her head. Molly took a deep breath, quelling the instinct to challenge them. This was exactly the kind of thing that got her in trouble.
But they turned a corner a few blocks from the subway station, and Molly hesitated, staring down both paths while the rain soaked through her jacket. She glanced toward the subway, sighed, and trailed after the suspicious pair.
They were young: late high school or college. Both were tall, but one was lean and muscled and the other was just large. The large one had cut the arms of his jacket, and the frayed edges of a red t-shirt stretched across his bulky arms. Classy, Molly thought. Either might have passed for a casual pedestrian, except for the aggressive hunch of their shoulders and their too-fast stride.
Their target was a lanky, awkward looking boy a few years older than her, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a backpack stuffed so full the zipper was tearing free. He must have sensed his pursuers, because he sped up, gripping the straps of his backpack with both hands.
Redshirt reached him first. He collided with the boy’s shoulder, shoving him bodily toward his partner. His buddy caught the kid’s shirt and threw him hard into the alley. The boy stumbled to the ground, his overfull pack ripping open. Textbooks spilled across the wet pavement.
Don’t get involved, Molly thought. Call the police. The rain makes you reckless.
She realized she’d slowed to a halt just short of the alley. The boy’s plaintive voice mingled with the heavy spatter of rain on pavement.
Molly edged forward, slipping her fingers into her jacket pocket. The cold edges of her phone pressed against her palm. Just call the police. She’d pulled it halfway out when she drew level with the alleyway.
Redshirt had the boy in a headlock, laughing as the skinny boy tried to break free. His friend rifled through the backpack, throwing aside the contents with a sneer. Notebooks and dog-eared paperbacks scattered the ground, soaking in the rain.
Call the police. The rain makes you reckless.
A surge of anger and adrenaline flooded her, drowning out the litany of restraint and reason. Molly dropped the phone and reached for her power.
She touched the raindrops around her, halted them and dispersed them. A dense fog billowed around her, cloaking her in cold mist. She pulled her hood low over her forehead and tucked her chin down to hide her face as she stepped into the alley.
“Is there a reason you’re harassing my friend?” she asked.
Redshirt tightened his grip on the boy and turned, shielding himself with his victim. His friend dropped the backpack as he whirled, clenching his fists. When he saw Molly, his aggression melted into a mocking smile. “This loser a friend of yours?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And I’m asking you to leave him alone.”
“Back off,” he said. “This is between us, okay? I don’t want to hit a girl. Keep walking.”
“Just let him go,” Molly said. “You’ve messed with him enough.”
“I said this is between us. It’s personal, okay? Get lost.”
“The police are all over tonight,” she said casually. “I already called them. Let the kid go before they get here.”
Redshirt looked worried, but his buddy laughed. “Yeah, right. Like the police would care about us. They’re too busy chasing Azure.”
“Funny you should mention that,” Molly said. “And you’re right about one thing: the police aren’t who you should be worried about right now.” She shifted into a fighting stance, and reached for the rainwater pooling around her boots. “I’m not asking anymore.”
A brief silence met her demand.
Then the smaller guy lunged at her Molly flung the water at him in a wave, and he spluttered as the spray hit him in the face, leaving him blinded long enough for her to land a solid punch in his stomach and shove him aside.
With a growl, Redshirt shoved his victim aside and rushed at her, both fists up. But there was more power than precision in his attack, and his wild swing was easy to dodge. She pivoted under his arm, swept his leg out from under him, and brought her elbow hard against his head. He fell hard, hitting the pavement with a wet smack.
By the time he’d fallen, Number one had recovered from her first attack. He shook the water out of his hair like a dog, and came at her. Molly caught the glint of a pocket knife as she whipped out of the way. Before he could swing at her again, she grabbed his arm and threw him over her body. He hit the ground hard, and she delivered a quick kick to his head, keeping him from getting up.
Their victim was watching, wide-eyed. “You—you’re—”
Before Molly could answer, she heard shouting from the road. She froze, and glanced toward the road to see a cruiser pulled half onto the curb. Two officers rushed out of the car, firearms drawn. “Don’t tell them what I look like,” she said to the boy. “Please.” She shoved past him, running down the alley toward the opposite street.
Okay, this was definitely my fault.
Sounds of pursuit followed her, but Molly was a practiced runner and didn’t have to worry about slipping in the rain. The river was only a mile away. She could escape in the water if she didn’t lose them before she reached it.
One mile, she thought. No problem.
Just like riding a skateboard.
Wind tore past her, pelting her with cold rain, and adrenaline surged through her. She felt alive; she felt powerful; she felt unstoppable.
Right before she heard sirens behind her.
Thrill turned to alarm. She pushed harder at the water under her feet, crouching low as she reached breakneck speed.
At the corner, she skated into a turn, taking a narrow side street down the hill. Molly zig-zagged through the narrower, darker streets, avoiding as much exposure as she could. Hopefully, the fog and rain would keep any witnesses from noticing she didn’t have a skateboard under her feet.
The river was close: a huge, slow presence about a quarter of a mile away. She risked a detour onto a wider street, one that led directly to the bridge. In this weather, traffic clogged all four lanes. Any cars searching for her would have trouble chasing her through that mess.
Not far ahead, she could see the first arches of the bridge, its silver sheen washed to iron-grey in the rain. She dashed across intersections, dodging through gaps in traffic without slowing. Sirens sounded all around her, and red light flashed through the mist ahead.
The cops must have guessed her destination, and gone around to cut her off.
Molly ignored the resistance in her legs, and pushed for one last burst of speed. She careened across the last intersection just ahead of the squad car. She glanced back as it veered around the corner to pursue her. Another cruiser approached from the opposite side of the bridge, skidding across both lanes to barricade her. Molly halted too quickly. Her foot twisted out from under her and she fell hard on her palms. The sudden pain jolted her out of her adrenaline high.
Molly, what have you done?! the voice screamed in her ear. She realized suddenly
that it was her father’s.
You’re right, Dad, she told it, backing toward the edge of the bridge. The rain makes me reckless.
The cold railing pressed against her back. Far beneath her, the river surged. She climbed over the rail and turned to face it. The water was very, very far down. Molly took a deep breath. Behind her, someone yelled at her to stop.
* * * * *
Molly made it home around ten, soaking wet and freezing. By the time she’d climbed out of the river, she was too tired to drain the water from her clothes. So she trudged the three miles home drenched and smelling like fish and sewage. Her hands itched from the scrapes on her palm. All she wanted to do was take a shower, eat a million slices of pizza, and sleep for five or six days.
And Clarissa’s car was parked in the driveway.
Molly contemplated climbing through a window. No. Too tired. She tiptoed up the porch stairs to peek through the door. Clarissa was in the kitchen, talking to her father while he sliced fruit on the counter. Her head bobbed animatedly while she talked, her cropped black hair bouncing in rhythm with her wild hand gestures. It’s like watching a Barbie talk, Molly thought.
Dad glanced up and saw her at the door. His mouth twitched, but he didn’t betray her. Very slowly, he laid the knife down and wiped his hands, saying something she couldn’t hear to Clarissa. He gestured to the living room—away from the back door—and she followed him out.
Molly opened the door silently and slipped through. She dropped her muddy shoes on the tile and hurried upstairs.
Twenty minutes later, her dad knocked on the door. Molly had showered and changed, and was cleaning the scrapes on her hands. “Come in,” she said. He stepped over the piles of dirty clothes and into the bathroom, watching her dab peroxide along her thumb.
Toby Young was a big man, and even though he’d lost some of the muscle from his years on the force, he could lend substantial gravity to a situation just by standing still. “What happened?” he asked.
“I fell,” she said. “Scraped my hand on the concrete.”
“That’s not what I mean, M,” he said, crossing his arms. “You were supposed to go to class and come immediately home.”
“I know! I did, kind of. I meant to! It’s not like I went looking for trouble.”
“It’s one block to the subway station. How do you get into trouble in one block?”
“I—” Molly set the peroxide down and took a deep breath. “There were police cars at the station. I panicked, decided to take the long way around—”
“They wouldn’t have stopped you.”
“They might have if I acted nervous,” she said. “And I didn’t think it would be a big deal. And then I ran into these idiots assaulting this kid, and—”
“And you should have called the police.”
“And I should have called the police, but I didn’t.” She sighed and ran her hands through her wet hair. Her father waited, patiently, as she paced past him and started gathering laundry from the floor. “I didn’t think there was time for that, so I took care of them. And then the police found us anyway, just after—” She sank to the bed, staring at her knees. Her hands were shaking. “I panicked. I ran. I had to run. There were witnesses.”
He was quiet for a moment. “Did they get a good look at you?” he asked at last.
Molly shook her head. “I don’t think so. It was dark and rainy, and I had my hood up. The kid might have seen my face, but he had rain all over his glasses, so I doubt he can give a good description even if he tries.”
Another long silence. Then he shifted a pile of books from her bed and sat beside her. “You know this means we have to move again.”
“It won’t happen again—Dad—”
He raised a hand to silence her. “You can make all the promises you want, but I don’t trust them anymore. You’re reckless, M. You can’t stop yourself.” He let loose a long, exhausted sigh. “I don’t know what else I can do. You know I love you, M&M, but this—this has gotten so far out of hand. When you were rescuing tourists from the river and putting out fires, that was one thing. Now you’re attacking criminals? Running from the police?”
Molly had no defense. Helpless, she picked at the scrapes on her palm. “So what do you want me to do?”
“Not you. Us. We’re going somewhere different this time. Out of the city, somewhere you’ll be safer.”
“What do you mean, somewhere?”
“You remember your granddad’s place? The one by the lake?”
“In the town time forgot?”
“That’s the one.”
“You aren’t serious.”
“He left the property to your mother when he died.” Molly started to protest, and he held up both hands to forestall her. “This is my last resort, M&M. We can start over one more time. It this doesn’t work…” He pursed his lips together: she recognized him trying to control the urge to shout at her. “It’s a quiet place, a quiet town. It’s the best chance you’re going to get to start over. Stop looking for trouble. Make friends, be a normal teenager for a while.”
“But I’m not normal.”
“But you’re going to pretend you are. Otherwise you’re going to get yourself in too much trouble for me to get you out of again. Promise me you can do this.”
“What about Clarissa?” she asked. “Her job—”
“She’s a blogger, M. She can live anywhere.”
“And until we move, you don’t leave the house alone. I will drive you to school and back, and no going out without a chaperone. Consider yourself grounded for the foreseeable future.” Unexpectedly, he leaned over and put his arm around her shoulder. “This will be good for you,” he said, and squeezed her into a tight hug. “And maybe by the time we moved, you’ll have earned your freedom.”
“Yep. Early parole for good behavior. You can start by cleaning your room.”
“You never make me clean my room!”
“Well, I’m starting. This place is a health hazard.” He made his way across her room, stepping over the mess with exaggerated care. At the door he stopped. “Don’t forget to eat something,” he said. “And do your homework. You’ve still got school in the morning. Night, M.”
Molly groaned and fell backward on the bed. Exhaustion seeped over her like a tide. Just a minute, then I’ll get up. She still had to eat dinner. She closed her eyes. Moments later, she was asleep.