Even though it was late, the lights were still on when Brennan pulled into the driveway. He switched the engine off and sat in the dark car, staring at the living room window with indecision. The revelations of the evening had left him shaken, but the relentless worry about it hadn’t left him with any clarity about what to do.
We’re going to need help.
Selena’s suggestion that they approach Dr. Haley for help had gone over as well as he’d have expected. The tense discussion had quickly turned to argument. Molly left angry, Lucia had barely kept Carter from punching a tree, and it was only after he’d insisted they had to consult Ivy before he did anything that they agreed to take the night and think things over.
He hadn’t expected everyone to be awake. Tomorrow was Tuesday, and Mom and Dad would leave for work early. He’d have time to talk to Ivy and get back to the others before he had to face them at all. Right now, all he wanted was to go upstairs and crash, and deal with things in the morning.
He had a sudden urge to turn the car around and drive away. Spend the night at the cabin with Lucia. Even dealing with Tara wasn’t this terrifying.
But running away hadn’t ever solved anything. With a sigh, he yanked the keys from the ignition and shoved open the door. He trudged across the yard, the ache and exhaustion growing with each step.
Music greeted him at the entrance, joined by a chorus of laughter and barking. Brennan followed it to the living room to find his parents, Ivy, and his dog Rocket entertaining the whole litter of abandoned pups. Mom had broken out hte ukelele, and Ivy sang along as she played chase around the room. Meanwhile, his father the rocket scientist was cross-legged on the rug, making cat noises to rile them up. Despite himself, Brennan felt himself grin a little.
“What’s all this?” he asked, tossing his keys on the end table.
“We’ve got new puppies!” Ivy exclaimed, holding Marzipan up with both hands.
“We’re not keeping them,” Dad said, but his firm tone was undermined by Sugarcane knocking his glasses crooked as she licked his nose. He cleared his throat as he straightened them, attempting to look serious. “This is temporary.”
“We can keep one,” Ivy insisted. “Look how much Rocket loves them!” The dog in question was currently besieged by two of the little ones. She huffed and shook her head as Midnight Fudge tried to climb on her head via her eyes socket.
He sat cross-legged on the rug and leaned against the couch, careful not to wince at the sharp pinch in his side, and picked up the soft speckled puppy that Lucia had dubbed Butter Fudge. We have got to give them new names, Brennan thought.
“It’s only until we find them permanent homes,” Mom explained. “Does Lucia want one? They really took to her earlier.”
“I know she would,” he said. “But I don’t know if Sonia would be okay with it.”
“Bet I could convince her,” Ivy said. She plopped on the floor beside him and reached for her sketchbook.
“How, by annoying her to death?”
“Persistence is a virtue,” Ivy said. “And I can be very persuasive. Ms Hawkins said I’m going to run the debate team after Ravi graduates.”
“Oh, wow! Do you get a medal? Maybe a little badge that says ‘know-it-all?’”
“At least I’m not a chemistry nerd.”
“Yeah, but you’re a book nerd.” He flicked a dog treat at her, and she deflected it with her notebook.
“We’re very proud of you, Ivy,” Mom cut in. “And Brennan is, too, even if he won’t admit it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Dad cleared is throat. “Speaking of Lucia, how is everyone?”
Brennan caught the tense undertone in his voice, and he paused for a second before saying, “Everyone’s fine.”
“Good, good.” Dad frowned at something on the carpet for a moment, and cleared his throat again. “I, uh, brought home some donuts from the cafe at work,” he said. “If you want a snack.”
“I’m fine,” Brennan said. Just leave it there. Don’t say anything else. But the doubt was there, now, and a morbid kind of curiosity. So, trying to sound casual, he asked: “Everything okay there? At work, I mean.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, but that note of worry was still there. “Busy, of course. Especially with all the disaster relief, and so on. We’re quite lucky no one was too badly hurt. An earthquake like that, in this area? Unheard of.”
“Yeah, it was weird,” Brennan agreed. “So they’ve got people working on that? Figuring out what caused it?”
“Oh, yes, yes, um,” Dad said. He fidgeted with his glasses for a moment. “It’s not really my area, you now. Geology. Weather, and so on. I’m sure they’ll release something to the press when they have more.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He glanced at Ivy, who was watching the exchange with that wrinkled up expression she got when she was trying to work out someones’s secret. Mom had gone back to her ukulele, and she was humming along with it, occasionally singing a few words, pausing, and replaying a strain. Keeping secrets from her was the worst part. He’d always felt closer to her than dad. Sure, he loved them both, but Mom was the one he connected to. She’d sang to him when he had nightmares, and taught him to play the violin and the guitar. His powers were the only secret he’d ever kept from her. Telling Dad meant telling her, too.
A part of him couldn’t help wondering if they already knew. What if his abilities were the reason they’d adopted him in the first place? That part of him had held onto the sense of abandonment, even after those early memories had faded. He’d never shaken the fear that they’d abandon him too, if he did something bad enough. And now he had to wonder if his Dad was mixed up in all this; if his involvement with the Resson field wasn’t as innocent as it seemed.
“I think I’m kinda hungry after all,” he said, dumping the puppy from his lap. He fled to the kitchen and sank down on a barstool, head spinning The pink donut box was open on the counter, and he spent a minute debating between the strawberry glaze and the jelly filling.
“Just have both.” Ivy slid into the seat beside him, plucking free a sprinkle-encrusted donut. “You look like you could use a little sugar rush.”
He sighed and picked one at random.
“So? We’re alone. Spill.”
Brennan ran a hand through his hair. “You’re not going to like it.” He told her everything as succinctly as he could, keeping one eye on the doorway.
She took it better than he expected, but when he was done, she exhaled and said, “That sucks,” in a shaky voice.
“Yeah,” he said. He wasn’t stupid enough to tell her everything would be okay.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.” He slouched over the counter and picked crumbs of glaze off his donut. “Selena’s right about one thing. We’re in deep, and we could really use an ally. Especially if we’re going to have to work with Avalon. We still have no idea what she really wants.”
“We do know one thing she wants,” Ivy pointed out. “Molly. It’s not much, but it gives you a little leverage.”
“Not enough,” he said. “That might keep her from turning on us for now. But she knows so much more about us than we do about her. And if she’s telling the truth about the suits—But I don’t know if going to Dad’s the right decision. What is he going to do? How do we even convince him to help? What if he tells the Marquezes or the Lighthearts, and one of them is involved?”
Ivy frowned and reached for another donut. “Do you think Selena’s right? About her parents?”
“I don’t know. She seemed pretty sure of it. Upset, even, and you know Sel doesn’t get upset easily. And… I don’t think Mr. Lightheart would want to hurt anyone, but good people get involved in bad things all the time. I mean, look at what Tara’s done, just because she was scared. And the kids we fought tonight didn’t seem bad. One of them was just a little girl. What if—”
Ivy interrupted him, tapping his hand and glancing toward the door. Brennan shut his mouth quickly and turned to see Mom strolling into the kitchen.
“It’s okay,” she said with a smile. “I won’t tell anyone I saw you getting along.”
“That’s a relief,” Ivy said. “I would lose so much street cred.”
“Can I have a minute with Brennan, please?” Mom asked.
Ivy glanced at him quickly—warning him to keep his mouth shut, maybe—and hopped off her stool. “I’m just going to take one of these for the road,” she said, snatching another donut before she waltzed out of the kitchen.
Mom smiled as she took the empty seat, tucking her long, dark hair behind one ear. “It’s good to see her smiling again,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“You two are lucky to have each other,” Mom said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve always been so grateful that we got both of you.”
Brennan focused on his donut.
“You know that we love you.” It was a statement, not a question. “The last couple of months have been hard on all of us. The thought that we could have lost you—” Her voice broke, and he glanced over to see her wipe quickly at her eyes “—We’re glad to see you feeling better. We’re glad to see you getting back to normal, spending time with your friends. But you need to check with us next time you’re going to be out late. We didn’t know when to expect you home, and it was almost eleven when you texted Ivy.” She clasped his hand in hers and squeezed it gently. “We want you to have your independence. And we trust you, Brennan—”
That was like a knife in the gut.
“But we need to know you’re safe.”
And that was the knife twisting.
He wished he could reassure her that he’d be fine, that he’d be careful, but it was just too big a lie. Instead, he took a bite of his donut. They’d always stayed by him after he’d gotten in fights or set accidental fires, even that time he’d run away and the police had brought him home. If they’d been mad, they hadn’t even shown it; they’d just hugged him and told him they were glad he was safe…
He looked to see Mom gazing back at him, her dark eyes open and sincere.
“I’m sorry you were worried,” he said. “Next time I’ll call.”
Mom smiled and brushed her hand through his hair. “I’m going to go get these puppies in their crates. It’s late and we all need to get some sleep.”
“Yeah, I’ll be right there.” He picked at his donut a while longer, letting thoughts brew in his head. Finally, he pulled out his phone and sent Lucia a text.
I don’t know if I can do it. Too much is going to change.
Her reply came back almost immediately. Too late for that. He could almost see the sarcasm in the text. But she was right. He finished off the donut and headed to bed.
* * * * *
Molly got up early the next morning, mostly because she hadn’t really slept. As soon as dawn started to creep up her window, she dragged herself out of bed and went down to the basement to “work on her issues.”
She hated winter. The lake was too cold for swimming and the closest indoor pool was twenty minutes away. Once a week was not enough to keep her calm. She had to resort to less fulfilling activities, like punching things.
As she pummeled the bag, she tried to focus on the problem instead of the anger. Therapists had always suggested this, but it was more satisfying to picture someone’s face and hit that. Like that obnoxious metal-skinned girl. She was bruised all over from that fight, and the impact had really messed up her wrists. But the pain was worth the satisfaction of beating the hell out her punching bag, even if it didn’t really solve any problems.
But seriously, what was Selena thinking? Teaming up with Avalon? Going to parents for help? And Aaron had actually sided with her! Molly gave the bag another vicious punch, and winced as pain lanced through her arm. She rubbed at it, glaring at the bag like it had injured her on purpose.
Then she sighed. The last thing she needed was a stress fracture. Besides, it was late enough now that she could have breakfast and then go for a run. It wasn’t as good as swimming, but it would be easier on her wrists than this was. She unwrapped her hands and trudged upstairs, wiping the sweat from her face.
Upstairs, Dad and Clarissa had breakfast in full swing. Since his broken leg had him chair-bound, he had to settle for propping up his leg and directing Clarissa around the kitchen. “Morning, M,” Dad said. “You’re up early. Don’t forget to flip the bacon!”
“Got it, sweetheart! Just relax! I’m making pancakes,” Clarissa added, looking toward Molly. “Want some?”
“Uh, maybe later,” Molly said, pouring a glass of orange juice. “I’m going to go on a run.”
“Take your phone with you. And stay out of town,” Dad said. “It’s still a mess over there.”
“I’m just going to run by the lake. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Blueberries, hon!” he called. “And don’t forget to grease the pan!”
“I’m on it, sweetheart,” she said, with uncharacteristic annoyance in her voice. “Molly, dear, while I’m thinking about it, that faucet in our bathroom is still leaking. Could you take a look at it?”
I’ve got superpowers, and she wants me to use them to fix the sink. Well, at least she wasn’t afraid of them anymore. “Sure.” She downed the rest of her juice. “I’ll do what I can, but I’m meeting Carter and Aaron later to hang out.”
“You kids are being careful, aren’t you? Town is—”
“Dangerous, I know. I won’t get in trouble,” she said.
“Now where have I heard that before?”
“I thought we were trusting each other now. I’m passing all my classes and I haven’t gotten in any more fights.”
“I just don’t want you falling into old habits,” he said. “Speaking of which…” he glanced at Clarissa, who was carefully pouring batter into the frying pan, and lowered his voice, “have you spoken to your grandmother again?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Dad,” she said. “You cut her out for a reason, didn’t you? You didn’t want me getting involved in her problems? Why do you trust her all of a sudden?”
“I don’t,” he said. “I just… I’ve done what I can to help you, but there’s only so much I understand. She knows things I don’t. I don’t want you to close this door before you’ve had a chance to see what you can learn from her.”
Molly sighed. He didn’t know what he was asking.
“Just think about it?”
“Sure.” She could give him that much. “I’m going to get going,” she said. “If the pancakes are done before I leave, I’ll never get out of here.”
* * * * *
The early morning air was brisk, but not cold—at least not for Molly, who spent the last couple of winters much further north—and it felt good after the sweat she’d worked up in the basement.
Molly headed for one of her favorite spots—a low cliff overlooking secluded crook of the lake. As she settled into her pace, her thoughts started to churn up again. Even the presence of the lake nearby didn’t do much to calm her down. But she was glad of the quiet, anyway, and more thankful than ever that Dad had come here instead of shuttling her of to some other city. Not that she’d ever admit it, but she kind of liked being in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes.
As she neared the bluff, Molly slowed. She had the sense that someone was nearby, and as the top of the hill came into view, she saw she was right.
But it was Carter, leaning against a tree as he stared over the lake. Wherever he’d come from, he didn’t look winded or even sweaty, and he stood with that quiet restlessness that no one else ever seemed to see. He turned when he heard her jog up the hill.
“I got your text,” he said with a grin.
Once, she’d have felt self-conscious about the sweat from her run, but it didn’t bother her so much now. It didn’t even bother her to let him help her over the rocky lip of the bluff.
“I didn’t expect you to come,” she said. “I just—”
“I wanted to see you too.” He took her other hand and pulled her a little closer. “You okay?”
She laughed. “Of course not. Nothing about this is okay.”
“I’ve been up all night,” he said. “I didn’t even know what to say to Dad when I saw him this morning. It’s like he’s a different person. Everything he says seems to have some kind of double meaning. I hate being so paranoid.”
“Do you—do think Selena might be right? Even Aaron seemed to think it was possible. They’ve never been that close, but this is…” He just let out a long breath, like he couldn’t even think of a word for it.
She squeezed his hand. “I don’t know him that well, Carter,” Molly said. “I know he cares about you and Aaron. But people are complicated. There’s a reason we didn’t tell Clarissa about it, even after Dad got engaged to her.” She leaned against his shoulder. “She almost left him for it.”
“But it’s easier now, isn’t it? Now that she knows?” He clasped his hands around her waist. “Do you wish she hadn’t found out?”
“Some things are easier. Not having to think up crazy lies when I accidentally bust a water pipe is definitely a plus. And… I think we kind of understand each other better. But she was terrified of me for a long time, and honestly, she’s still nervous around me. We won’t ever be close. I think that’s what hurts Dad the most.” She swallowed against a sudden tightness in her throat. “Besides, she’s always trying to get me to fix leaks and things. It’s annoying.”
“Well, you can’t really blame her. Plumbers are expensive.”
“Ha, yeah. At least I’ll have a future if I fail school, right?”
She pulled away and looked out over the lake. She couldn’t see the dam from here, or the lab, or anything but trees and houses along the far shore. “Do you want your parents to know what you can do?”
“No,” he said. “God, no.”
“Really? I mean, I knew Aaron was against it, but—”
With a sigh, he leaned against a tree, kicking at the dirt with the toe of one shoe. “You know, everyone assumes that.”
“That you wanted to tell?”
“That Aaron convinced me to keep our powers a secret. The truth is that he didn’t want to hide it, to start with.” He crossed his arms tight around his chest. “I talked him into it.”
“Why do you think? I wanted to be normal,” He nudged a rock out of the dirt. “I liked the way things were. If we told them what we could do, that would change.” He looked away. “I always felt guilty about it. With everything Aaron’s gone through, maybe it would have been better to tell them. Better for him, anyway.” He bent down and picked up the rock, tossed it in the air once, and then chucked it across the lake with a grunt. She didn’t watch to see where it landed. “I never told anyone else that before.”
“Not even Selena?”
“So why are you telling me?”
“Maybe because I like you.” He reached for her hand. “Maybe because I trust you.” She let him pull her closer. “You asked me before if there was anything between me and Selena. There wasn’t.”
“Do you know what it’s like for me? My power?”
Molly shook her head.
“I’m stronger than other people. Faster than other people. Yeah, I have to concentrate to do it, but—the ability’s still there. And I love sports, Molly. I love playing. I love competing. But I always have to hold something back. And I’ve always been afraid of…losing control.”
“Well, I know what that’s like.”
He twined his fingers in hers, with an urgency that was somehow still very gentle. “I didn’t want to be with anyone like that. Holding part of myself back. Selena didn’t want to date and the attention she got from other guys just annoyed her. So we pretended. It meant that I didn’t have to pretend with anyone else.”
“But I don’t have to hold back with you.” He moved closer, circling his arms around her waist. “And I know that if I lose control, you could kick my ass.”
Despite herself, she laughed a little. “That’s not what most people want in a girlfriend.”
“Well, it works for me.” He gave her a crooked smile.
And despite the fact that she was drenched in sweat and trail dirt, she didn’t mind him leaning in to kiss her. She let her hands slide up his back, tangling her fingers in his curly hair.
When he pulled away, she felt slightly breathless. And flushed. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and sucked in a deep breath before looking up at him.
“Too fast?” he asked, uncertainly.
“No,” she said, fighting the urge to laugh. “No, it was good.” She reached up and kissed him again, a light, lingering brush of lips. “It was perfect.”
“Good.” He circled his arms around her and rested his head against hers. A moment of contentment passed, and then a cold breeze passed over them, and the brief elation faded.
“I don’t know what to do,” Molly said.
He sighed. “Aaron and I spent all night talking about it. I know you don’t like it, M, but I think we’re going to have to meet her, even if that’s as far as it goes. She knows too much to ignore her.”
“I don’t want to see her again. I don’t want to talk to her, I don’t want to fight her, and I definitely don’t want to help her.” She clenched her eyes shut. “I can’t do it, Carter.”
“Even if its the only way to protect ourselves? She can help us, Molly.”
“If she wanted to help, she wouldn’t have waited until she needed something. She wouldn’t have—” She broke off as she realized what she was about to say. Her heart beat loud in her chest.
“Wouldn’t have what?” Carter said, very gently.
“She wouldn’t have left me,” Molly whispered. “She would have helped me when I needed her, when I…” She swallowed. “When I thought I was alone.”
He hugged her tighter, and she burrowed into the embrace, feeling small and vulnerable in a way she hadn’t in a long, long time.
“You aren’t alone now,” he said. “And all of us are with you. We’ve got you, M. You don’t have to face this alone.” He didn’t say anything for a long time, and they just stood there, holding each other against the cold.
“Do you want to walk back together?” he asked eventually. “We’ve still got a lot to talk about.”
“In a little bit.” She leaned against him. “All that other stuff can wait.”