Bonnie & Lola by Stephanie Hans

THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING is a prose novel by Kelly Thompson that is being self-published and funded through a Kickstarter beginning on Monday, June 25th, 2012. All of “Part One: Break Away” will be available for free on this blog, releasing in four chapters a week, two every Tuesday and Thursday for the duration of the Kickstarter.

*UPDATE – THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR THE SUPPORT! WE FUNDED AT AN INCREDIBLE $26,478.

You can click here to download ALL of “Part I: Break Away” (Chapters 1 -24) in PDF form:  The Girl Who Would Be King – Part 1 – Break Awayor just read below!

Berks County, Pennsylvania

The car hits the tree going at least forty miles an hour and I go through the windshield like I’ve been tossed gently by a hurricane.  I land thirty yards away from the car on some bright green grass, barely missing the tree directly in my path.

Everything is black for a while.

When I open my eyes again all I see are these vivid green leaves floating casually above me, and I wonder for just a moment about their casual ways, trying to understand why certain parts of life just don’t care about the other parts.

And then the smell hits me.

It isn’t gentle like the leaves, but assaulting and violent.  It fills my nostrils with the same metallic flavor that fills your mouth when you suck on your thumb after cutting it way too deep, when the blood is dark and black, not pinkish like a party.  My head rolls back under me as my chest heaves up, toward the green leaves above me, and I turn my head to the side to throw up.  Spitting into the grass and leaning up on my elbow I squeeze my eyes closed as tightly as I can, afraid of what I’m going to see when I finally have to open them.  Tears leak out the sides of my eyes, hot and wet on my cheeks.  The smell of my parents’ blood makes me throw up again and again until there’s nothing left and I’m just coughing and breathing hard, my small ribcage ready to break with the pressure.

I stand up and look at the bodies, still trapped in our new car.  My mother’s skull is crushed as if she has fallen from hundreds of feet in the sky and hit the ground with only her head, her bright red hair somehow still shiny where it’s not matted with blood.  They have both been thrown through most of the windshield, but the front of the car is so crumpled that their broken bodies are both in and out of the car at the same time.  The car looks like an accordion, my mother’s pale twisted arm lying right where some glossy keys might have been, her silver i.d. bracelet and the broken headlight glistening in the summer sun.

I look from my mother’s no longer familiar body to my own.  Some of my clothing is torn and there’s blood all over my clothes and skin, but no matter how I pull at my clothing and check my limbs I can’t find any cuts.  My left arm hurts though, and it’s twisted strangely.  I try to face it forward and it obeys me.  It makes a terrible snapping sound and I cry out a little bit, but it stays put when I let go of it and moves like any normal arm.  I look up as three big black birds walk around awkwardly in the trees above me.  They stare at me as if expecting me to speak to them.  I don’t.

I start to walk away from the car, toward the road, but I turn back and reach for my mother’s arm, gently sliding the silver bracelet off her crushed hand.  Under the bracelet there are some small black marks on her wrist that I’ve never seen before, some tiny circles and a bird.  The image pulls on me deep in my belly, twisting and aching for just a moment before I put the bracelet in the front pocket of my shorts and walk away.  The road is dusty and dry and seems extra lonely to me now.  I look east, the way we had been driving, the way home, and then turn west and start running.

I always wake up at the part when I’m running, and I never remember where I am for whole minutes before it all comes rushing back.

I’m seventeen, not six.  I’m in a home for girls.  My parents are dead. My brother Jasper never came to get me.  And my name is Bonnie Braverman.

I never scream when I remember these things because I haven’t spoken in eleven years.

Washoe County, Nevada

Dragging my mother’s body to the car is harder than I thought it would be.  She’d never looked like much lying around in that threadbare robe on our worn out couch all the time. I guess I’d always imagined she’d be light, like husks of corn bound together into a person shape.  Of course she isn’t dead yet, so maybe that’s part of the problem.

The good news is that, though it takes me a good half hour to get her out the door of the trailer and into the passenger seat of the car, we live in the middle of freaking nowhere so there’s nobody to witness my first bumbling attempt at murder.  I try to imagine that if I could see the first murder for any would be serial killer it wouldn’t look unlike my attempt today, stirring up dust and leaving obvious drag marks everywhere.  The bad news is that the longer it takes, the more likely it becomes that she’s going to wake up from the deadly cocktail I’ve fed her.  I’ve given her enough botulinum in her daily bottle of Jack to kill a person twice over, but Delia is not a normal person, and I can feel her struggling against me already underneath the paralysis.

Worrying that the drugs will wear off sooner than expected, I pull an old Dodgers baseball cap over her head, covering her eyes so that I don’t have to look at them.  She has a look that can almost kill, and even under the poison it might be enough to at least kill my resolve.  But there’s no stopping now.  If I stop now she’ll kill me herself, or worse, live forever, and then I’ll never fulfill my destiny.  I’m not quite sure when I figured it all out, that Delia has power trapped inside her and that it really belongs to me, but I did.  And really?  Part of me feels like I’ve always known it.  That’s how the power feels, like it belongs to me, that even if it once was hers, it’s mine now.  Whatever.  I don’t know how I know, I just know.  It’s taken me a while to get up the guts to actually try to take it though.

Delia has more control over her limbs than I’d like by the time I get in the car with her, but she doesn’t have much more time if she’s going to do anything about anything, so I’m pretty sure it’s all going to work out.

But when we get to the spot I’d picked out, I realize I don’t have time for my full speech.  I’d planned to take a moment at the edge of the cliff; a moment to remind myself that I’m doing the right thing, a moment of introspection if you will, followed by a long speech.  I’ve seen it in some movies and it always seems pretty cool, but the way things are working out I don’t have time for anything like introspection.  Instead I immediately head to the other side of the car and start shoving her over toward the driver’s seat.  I’m not sure it matters for it to look like she was driving as nobody is really going to come looking for her, but I figure it might be a good idea, just in case.  I grab a big handful of her robe and push with all my might, shoving her toward the left side of the car.  She manages to wrap a couple fingers around a chunk of my curlyish dark blonde hair and I scream and pull away from her violently.  She takes a little piece of me with her though.

Her breathing is labored.  I go to the driver’s side so I can look down on her.  I put my hands on my hips defiantly.  I’ll just give her the cliff notes of my speech.  “Delia.  You are a total failure.  As a mother, as a provider, as a girlfriend, as an employee, as a human, and more importantly, as a god.  You have been a really crappy example for me, and I only hope that I can go on to the greatness I expect of myself despite the pathetic standards you’ve set for me.” I breathe out a heavy sigh.  “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”  There’s silence except for her ragged breathing.  “Good.” I say, after a long pause.  I’ve always thought the best speeches are ones that have no interruptions or counterpoints, so I’m pleased with this result.

It could also be that her tongue is too swollen to speak, which is okay too.

I dodge Delia’s last wildly inaccurate swinging fist as it comes through the open window and then lock her arms down with a click of the seatbelt.  I jam a piece of wood between the seat and the gas pedal and slam the driver’s side door, which has a lovely final sound.  I lean through the open window and take the hat off her head so that I can kiss her on her sweaty forehead.  I toss the cap onto the seat next to her before shifting the car into gear.  I barely get my arm clear of it as it takes off for the edge of the cliff.

I stand, hands on my hips, watching the car careen off the cliff, waiting for the inevitable sound of the crash, or the explosion, I’m not sure which I’ll hear first.  Strangely, I don’t hear either, because before I have a chance to notice any explosions my body is filled with an incredible fire. A burning, rotting, then cleansing fire that makes me gasp for air, clutching my chest.  But when the agonizing pain passes, a strange warmth takes its place, a warmth that I know I will never have to be without again. A warmth I know I’m right to have killed my mother to get.

I had every intention of burning our old trailer to the ground, but when it comes time to pour the gasoline and light the match it all seems overly dramatic and less interesting than I’d imagined it would be.  Plus, if I leave everything alone who knows how long it will be before anything is discovered?  Maybe someone will see the flames from the car, maybe not.  Certainly nobody will be wondering where my mother is anytime soon.  She left such a small mark on the world I doubt she’ll be missed by anyone at all.

Maybe I’ll miss her.  Sometimes.

I’m only 16; it’s okay to maybe miss your mother sometimes I think.

I stash the gasoline back inside the trailer, lock it up tight and grab my duffel bag off of the dusty ground.  I tie the bag to the back of my motorcycle and I put on the helmet, not because I think I need it but because I don’t actually have a license and I figure the fewer flames I throw up the better off I am, at least for now.  Besides, it’s a badass helmet and I look cool in it.

With my helmet on, my long legs straddling the machine, and my new power humming through my veins, I take off into the sunset.  This part does feel like the movie, like what I’ve imagined.   I feel like screaming at the sky, telling the world to watch out.  Giving it fair warning that Lola LeFever is finally on her own and coming to get it.

The world doesn’t stand a chance.

I run.

I run anytime the world will let me.  If I had my choice I’d just run through everything I suppose.

I run as close to the fence at the home as I can.  Over the years I’ve worn a pretty impressive path into the yard.  Until two months ago I’d actually taken pride in it, my running path.  I never realized there was anything weird about running by a fence, the same path, the same way, day in and day out.

But then we took a trip to the zoo.

The tigers had this beautiful enclosure, there was even a little lake, and I was thinking it looked pretty nice, considering, until I noticed one tiger in the enclosure, just walking very fast back and forth through the space.  After watching him for a minute I realized he wasn’t just walking, but pacing the exact same route over and over again.

He’d worn a similar path into his cage that I’ve worn into mine, and suddenly I was a bit sad for both of us, but I also knew I wasn’t going to do anything about it.  There’s something about following rules that’s very important to me.  I can’t really understand it yet, but I hope I will someday.

Even though I know in some way my running is like that tiger and his pacing, it’s still good.  It makes me feel calm.  And it keeps the loneliness away.  Maybe it’s the same for that tiger.  I mean, it’s lonely to run. It’s a singular activity, but it’s supposed to be that way I think.  And I don’t know, the way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with feeling lonely when you’re supposed to be alone.  It’s when you’re standing in a crowded room and feel lonely that it’s really sad I think.  Sometimes feeling like that makes me want to tear off all my skin.

So yeah.  I run as much as I can.  And running neurotically by a fence all the time hasn’t made me so popular with the other girls, but it was kind of a lost cause with them anyway.  They’re never mean to me, rather they just don’t seem to understand me, and they just seem to kind of wish I’d stay away from them, so I do.  It doesn’t help that I don’t speak.  The not speaking thing really seems to bother them.  I can’t blame them.  It would probably bother me too.  I’ve tried to find things to say sometimes, but nothing comes.  It’s just empty inside.  Hollow where the words should be.  It’s felt like that every day since the accident.

That’s really how it all started.  I just didn’t want to say anything for a while after the crash, and then I couldn’t think of anything to say, and then I just forgot that I was supposed to be thinking of something to say.  And so I was quiet all the time.  But that’s yet another reason for running I guess.  Nobody ever expects you to speak when you’re running.

A big splashy drop of rain hits me on my wrist and I look up at the sky.  It’s crazy cloudy out of nowhere.  The sky looks ready to let loose on me.  More cold drops hit my skull and seep into my hair.  Running in the rain is even better than regular running, but I know I’ll be called in immediately.  Sure enough, before I can even finish the thought I look up and see Alice motioning me in from the front door.  It’s good that it’s Alice though, because she likes me more than most, and she almost always lets me get another lap in.  I hold up my pointer finger as if to indicate ‘just one more lap’.  Even from this distance I can see her roll her eyes, but she smiles too.  She yells out across the quad. “Okay, but hurry up!” before going back inside.  I smile up at the sky and stretch out my legs, really laying into my long strides.  I go faster, but never too fast.  Never faster than I’ve ever seen anybody else run. Some of those runners in the Olympics I’ve seen on TV run really fast.

I can run much faster than any of them.

But I never go that fast, how fast I know I can go deep inside.

I almost laugh out loud in sheer joy at the feeling of the rain pelting my skin, and my muscles humming underneath.  It’s times like now that I really feel how different I am from everyone else.  It’s times like now that I feel like maybe I survived the car accident for a reason.  That maybe my destiny is for something great.  How someone can simultaneously wish to be extraordinary and also wish to blend in and never be seen is something I don’t quite understand yet, it’s like two parts of me battling it out for unknown spoils.  One side yearning to be more than I am, calling to something deep inside me that I don’t understand, while the other hopes to disappear into the wallpaper, to be the same as everyone else and never have to say a word.  Because if I’m the same then the car accident can’t be my fault, then it can just be one of those horrible things that happen everyday.

Usually the quiet side wins. But not today. Today I have to push down the yearning side as I step into each long stride.  I bury that side in the repetitive sound of my feet on the damp ground, saying ‘the same’ in my head as loud as I can.

The same.  The same.  The same.  The same.  The same.  The same.  The same.

I come in a minute later, soaked, my feet covered in mud from my quickly eroding path.  Alice sighs dramatically like I have just killed her.  “Ack!  Bonnie!  Get upstairs and change now, before anyone sees you.”  I shake off the extra water next to her like a dog, splattering her with dozens of icy drops.  She screams and runs away in mock terror.  “Get, Bonnie!” she says.  I laugh soundlessly and bound up the south stairs to the sleeping quarters.

It isn’t until I’m changed into clean jeans and a new t-shirt that I realize our trip to the library will surely be canceled because of the rain. I throw myself onto my bed frustrated and pull out the books I’ve been re-reading since our last trip.  Without a trip to the library this week, I’ll be stuck with the same three books I finished almost two weeks ago.  I put the books back under the bed and head over hopelessly to the ancient pile of community books and comics in the corner bookshelf, hoping I’ll find some gem that I have somehow missed in years of poring through the pile that rarely changes.  With the exception of the few comic books, I’ve read each book on the shelf at least half a dozen times.  I frown at the comic books, something I’ve had little interest in over the years.  A handful of Archies and a Betty and Veronica Double-Digest.  I’ve read most of them, but get bored with the stories quickly, and with Betty and Veronica in general, who I want to like, but who both somehow seem exactly the same but with different hair color.  There are also some comics “classics” that are mostly illustrated comic versions of books, like Moby Dick, Crime & Punishment, and Treasure Island, but having already read the real things I can’t drum up much interest in the faded pictures and word balloons.

But while digging through the books in desperation today I come across a handful of comics I’ve never seen before.  It seems impossible to me that they could have been there all this time and I wouldn’t have noticed.  Because when I look at them there’s this beating in my chest that cannot be ignored.  How would I have missed the tremble in my hands where they touch the vibrant pages?  Maybe someone added them to the community pile.  It’s possible.  It happens sometimes.  I can’t think of an explanation, and I no longer care.  I grip the handful of comics to my chest and take them to my bed, face flushed, heartbeat pounding in my fingers and toes.

And my world just breaks wide open as I read the pages.  SUPERHEROES!

I read all the superhero comics one after another and then start again, feeling more unity with the brightly colored images than I ever would have imagined possible.

For the first time the voice inside me changes its tune.  Maybe I’m really not ‘the same’ and maybe that isn’t so bad after all.

 

I don’t make it to Los Angeles.

I head there by way of Las Vegas since I’ve never seen Vegas before, but once I see Vegas there’s no way I’m going to keep going. The lights get me from go – like some crazy carnival for grown ups.  Coming over the hill on my bike in the dark and seeing those lights, like a bright sexy mirage, lighting up the whole sky and pounding back the blackness of the desert, I’m already hooked.  It’s as if the lights alone can help make me into something new and exciting.  And that feeling makes it pretty easy to give up on heading further west, which is funny because L.A. is like all that’s been in my head since the very beginning, since I’d begun to know there was anything outside of Reno (which had basically sucked balls).   But I forget L.A. the second I see those lights.  Maybe it’s destiny.

Starting over somewhere always sounded really intoxicating to me, and really easy, but I have to admit that despite the power I’m holding onto inside me, I’m a little nervous when it actually comes time to make my move.  I’ve been stealing from Delia (God knows who she’d been stealing from) for years, and I have a huge wad of cash, some of it stuffed in my bra and some buried in my bag, so I know I have plenty of time to figure things out, but I’m shocked to find myself almost afraid.  I killed my own super-powered mother less than nine hours ago, what on earth is there to be afraid of?

I check into a cheap motel and I’m not even asked for my fake i.d., which I’d gone to a lot of trouble to get, including letting a creepy guy feel me up, pre-powers of course; there’s no reason to have to let anyone do that to me ever again.  I’m annoyed now that nobody cares to see it.  Once in my room I don’t have a goddamn clue what to do.  I have this new feeling coursing through my veins, and being on the motorcycle on the highway has allowed my wild mind to wander into awesome fantasies, which, when I step off the bike and into the real world, seem less likely.

Sure, I have all this new power, but what can I really do with it and still stay under the radar of the cops?  The last thing I want is to land in the hands of some rent-a-cop morons, or worse, end up in some secret government lab being experimented on.  I totally believe that shit happens.  I’ve seen the movies to prove it.  So what can I do with my power, which I am literally itching to use, without drawing too much attention to myself?  I figure there are plenty of things I can get myself out of; a locked police cruiser for example, maybe handcuffs, but I didn’t bother to take the time before hitting the road to figure out what my limits might be.  What will happen to me if someone shoots me with a gun?  Had Delia ever been shot before?  I have no idea.

Whatever.  I’m not looking back anymore.  I’m going to experience life like Delia never did, I’m going to eat it all up, taste everything, and spit out what I don’t like, and I’m not going to wait.  I’m starting tonight, nerves and second guesses be damned.

I unzip my duffel and rifle through it until my hands hit the silky fabric I’m looking for.  I pull out the cat suit and hold it up in the dingy light.  It glistens like a snake even under the cheap bare bulb.  Instantly I feel better.  I consider unpacking the bag and then decide it’s better not to get too comfortable and drop it on the floor, still full, and kick it under the bed.

I strip naked, pull on the skintight black suit, and zip it up from my navel all the way to my neck.  The sleeves reach past my wrists and onto my hands, leaving just my thumb and fingers free.  I pull on my knee-high black combat boots and lace them up, wrapping the excess lace around my calf and double knotting it at the top.  I look at myself in the mirror.  I look like the goddamn Catwoman.  It’s awesome.  I pull my long dark blonde hair back into a tight ponytail and then knot it at the back of my neck under the suit before pulling on the hood, which fits nicely and leaves only the oval of my face visible.  I feel amazing.  I walk around the room a couple times in front of the mirror, practicing.  I even try a funny little prancy Catwoman-like walk, but it looks ridiculous and so I just go back to walking normally.

I still look awesome.

I unzip the suit a bit and put my hotel key inside a small hidden pocket just above my breastbone and zip it all back up.  I sit in the suit on my bed and wait for it to get later; it’s not even midnight.  I’m about to turn on the TV when I see the flimsy folded piece of paper sticking out of the back pocket of my jeans on the floor.  I reach down and pull the soft paper from the pocket and read it again.

Delia,
I know you’ll kill me to get it.  I thought maybe I’d be angrier about it – but somehow it just makes sense.  I can’t really blame you – I did it too – killed my mother to get it – and she fought me, as I’m sure I’ll fight you, and you’ll fight your own daughter someday.  But I just thought I should say, I forgive you.  It’s not your fault.  It’s the disease calling out to you like a siren – the same way it called to me more than twenty years ago.  You can only resist it so long – and once it has you – well, I hope you deal with it better than I did.  I love you anyway, though I suppose I was terrible at showing it.  Try to forgive yourself.
Aveline.

I’d found the letter three days ago while digging through Delia’s dresser looking for a push-up bra.  I’d looked for push-up bras a zillion times before though and had never seen it.  I don’t know if she put it there for me to find, or what.  Maybe she knew this thing…whatever it is…was coming and couldn’t bear to write her own letter to me.  That’s f’ed up if it’s true, but whatever the explanation, the words knocked me on my ass the first time I read them, if only because I realized with certainty, my eyes drifting over the letter, that I was planning to kill her.  It didn’t seem like a reality until I saw the letter though.  I’ve read it dozens of times since then.  The paper, already old and worn where Delia probably held it hundreds of times herself, is almost smooth like the silky cat suit fabric under my fingers.  And now, sitting in a hotel room in Vegas three days later, I have killed her.  And I’d gotten her power, just as she had from her mother, my grandmother that I’d never met, Aveline.

The disease Aveline called it.

I’m not wild about that word.

I fold up the letter, which seems to absolve me, and put it on the dresser.  I don’t feel very absolve-y.

I sit on the bed thinking about everything that’s happened in my life until now, and wait for it to be late enough to go out.  It’s a long time and I’m not sure how much I like being alone with my thoughts like that.  A few days ago maybe it would have been easier to be alone with my thoughts, but now, it almost feels like I’m not alone…certainly a lot of my thoughts seem new and strange.  Next time I’ll just turn on the TV.

I slip out of the motel room door as quietly as possible.  Ironically, the lights that had seemed so appealing now seem like a horrible idea, as despite the late hour it’s lit up like freaking noon outside my room.  I make for the darkness of a back alley, hoping I’ll blend in better there.  Once in the alley I relax a bit, but am disheartened to realize that any antics I pull will need to be in the less exciting neighborhoods of Vegas and away from all these bright lights and crowds.

I have no big plans, but I still want to have them.

At first I just walk around the quiet deserted streets away from the strip trying to think of an epic idea.  But nothing comes, and so after another hour with no ideas I decide to rob the first decent looking jewelry store I see.  As luck would have it the first shop has a ridiculous blingy diamond necklace on display.  It has no business being left out and not covered up; even I know this with my tenth grade education.  Someone’s getting fired for leaving it out, because that necklace is mine now.  I know it like I know my own name.  I stand at the window for a few minutes making sure there’s no cage that is going to trap me inside once I break in, because I’ve totally seen that happen in movies.  I check the street like a thousand times, making sure nobody is around, and once I’m sure, I pull on the metal security gate, snapping it open with ease.  Once the glass is exposed I send my elbow through it as hard as I can.  The window comes crashing down all around me as the store alarm breaks into the quiet night air.  I reach into the window and pull a second set of metal gates open, snapping the padlock in the process.  It’s taken less than ten seconds.  I jump inside the window and hop out onto the store floor.  I keep my head down in case any cameras are looking my way and snatch the necklace off the neck of a headless mannequin.  The necklace still in my hand, I dive out the window and roll onto the pavement like a freaking Olympic gymnast.  I almost wish for crowds.

And then I hear the sirens above the store alarm.

While visions of powerful superheroes dance around behind my eyes, and my imagination flies out of the room and around the whole world, yelling in the backyard interrupts my thoughts.

At first it sounds only like teenagers chatting but it ramps up suddenly and something about the tone sends a chill down my spine.  I roll off my bunk and lean against the open window nearby.  The only staff is far away, out of hearing distance, and a small cluster of girls are near the house, shouting.  At first their cluster is so tight I can’t tell who is who, or what’s happening, but then a dark haired girl named Jenny comes flying backwards out of the circle and lands on her back roughly.  The group gets eerily quiet and two girls go to her aid, but she brushes them off and stands up on her own.  Her defiance ignites a spark of admiration and respect in me.  She walks back to the group, and two of her other friends are still standing there, mouths open, stunned.

I think briefly of going down, but am intrigued and even impressed by Jenny’s backbone.  Sharon looks to be the one that pushed her.  She’s new and has been making trouble since day one, but I’m glad to see someone’s over it and not afraid to stand up to her.  Unfortunately Jenny is rewarded for her bravery with a slap.  The slap shocks even me.  It seems like the kind of thing an adult would do, a parent, not kids in a schoolyard still working their way up to that.  Jenny is still recoiling from the impact when Sharon tears a silver chain roughly from her neck.  Jenny shrieks and her friends spring into action.  Watching them is the first time I’ve ever really longed for friends.  There’s something so passionate about their loyalty.  They’re no match for Sharon though.  Hannah is tiny and delicate and goes down easily with a hard shove; Margaret, a little taller and sturdier takes a punch to the abdomen and ends up catching her breath on the brown grass.  The other two just get mowed over as Sharon runs from them, shoving Jenny into the side of the building as she escapes.  Then they’re out of my sightline and so I race down the stairs barefoot to see if I can help.

Before I can get there however, Jenny comes running into the building in tears, her four girlfriends closely on her heels.  She dashes past me into the sleeping room, her friends whispering as they follow.  When they get to the room they’re talking all at once and so fast and through so much screeching and tears that it’s hard to understand what has happened.  Sharon has apparently tossed the locket onto the roof of the building, which seems like some kind of backwards miracle, as the roof is quite high – very high actually.  It would have had to catch some horrible fateful gust of wind to land on the roof.  My heart sinks.  I know there’s no chance the staff will get it back.  The one ladder in the shed is far too small to make it to the roof.  I sit on the bed quietly watching Jenny, wishing I had acted faster, sooner, more bravely, as she had.

Her grief probably seems indulgent to some, maybe even to her friends trying to comfort her, they’ve all had tragedy and hard lives, or they wouldn’t be here, but sitting on my bed I can’t help putting my hand in my pocket and feeling my mother’s silver I.D. bracelet that I’d taken the day she died, and ache for Jenny with my entire being.  I feel the letters of my mother’s name, which are now hard to make out from years of me touching the engraving in my hand unconsciously, as if it will help connect me to her.  I know I have to do something for Jenny, even if it means breaking the rules.  A superhero would behave this way; a hero helps whether the problem is great or small, even if it breaks the rules.  And maybe some rules are different than others. Who says the rule about curfew should be more important than a rule about stealing? My mind hammers at the question and I feel deeply, alarmingly confused by it. But if I’m honest, my heart is racing, telling me there’s certainly one that is more important.  The women in the pages of the comic book speak to me in the same way I imagine my mother sometimes does, whispering at my greatness, a greatness that I can’t believe in, let alone conceive of.  But today, today something has clicked and I feel different.  I feel sure that I’m the only one who can help Jenny.

That it’s almost my destiny.

I wait until almost three in the morning.  Jenny’s muffled crying had died down into an exhausted sleep hours ago, but sometimes the staff stay up well past midnight and so I lie here, eyes wide open, plotting. Finally I throw back the covers and creep to the door in my t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes.  It’s raining outside, which is both good and bad.  It will make it easier for me to go unnoticed with the sound of the rain, and with the cloudy sky obscuring the moon, but everything will be wet and slippery, and it will be very dark.  I edge down the stairs and past the sleeping woman at the front desk.  They’re always asleep.  I go out the side kitchen door, which is where the girls always go out when they aren’t supposed to.  By the time I get to the shed in the yard I’m soaked to the skin.

I try the door handle but it’s locked.  I rise up on my tiptoes and peek into the dusty window on the side and try opening that, but it’s locked as well.  I look back at the building, looming over me in the rain, all the windows dark, water falling off the roof in huge sheets.

It looks big.

I jiggle the handle again.  And then I try something I’ve never tried before.  I push on the handle with all my strength.  The metal comes snapping off in my hand and the door swings open.  I gape at the handle sitting there in my hand, my mouth half open in surprise.  I lay the handle in the grass and mud, positioning it in such a way that it could have conceivably just broken and fallen off.  Inside the mildew-scented shed I grab the ladder.  If I’m lucky it will get me at least to the first floor, cutting a quarter of the distance.  On the way out the door, with the metal ladder tucked under my arm, I take a flashlight, checking quickly that it works by accidentally shining it in my eyes and then seeing multi-colored spots for a full minute afterward.

So far I’m terrible at this.

When the starbursts of light clear from my vision I stand in the rain looking back at the building, it looks enormous to me now.  Foreboding and dark and just, huge.  I’d always thought of it as just some rather unimpressive stocky brick building.  A little sad and run down, but not overly impressive.  It’s only four stories tall, but now it looks epic.  It looks like the hardest thing to climb on earth, and I feel tiny, wet, and powerless.

I leave the ladder on the grass and head around to the short side of the house, where there are only two windows on each of the four floors.  I had thought this would be the best place to climb since people are less likely to hear or see me, but looking at it now I realize that once I run out of ladder I will have absolutely nothing to grab hold of.  The brick face is almost completely smooth, and in the rain, slick with wet, it’s impossible.

As I head back to the ladder, my mind racing as to what my options are, I notice the corner of the building, which has bricks set out slightly from the wall.  I don’t know what they’re called or why I’ve never noticed them before, but they are set almost like the tiniest of steps on the corner of the building.  The lip is little more than half an inch, and wet like everything else, but at that moment, to me, it looks like a built-in brick ladder reaching all the way to the roof.  I break into a huge smile, but rain hits me in my teeth and eyes and so I shake it off and get back to business.

I position the ladder next to the corner, along the short side, where I’m less likely to be heard, and climb up.  Climbing the ladder takes two seconds and part of me wishes it took longer so that I won’t have to start the hard part now.  I push the flashlight deeper into my pocket and creep to the edge closest to the house corner.  The ladder shifts in the mud under my feet.  Damnit.  I reach out with my right arm before the ladder can send me flailing into the yard, and position my fingers along the edge of the brick lip.  I do the same with my left hand until I’m just hanging there about fifteen feet up, my feet dangling.  I try to put my feet on the brick lip, but it’s far too small.  It occurs to me now that I should have taken off my shoes.  With my toes perhaps I could have gotten some grip on the tiny edge.  I think about trying to get back on the ladder and taking my shoes off, but no sooner do I think it than the ladder starts to fall.  I squint my eyes shut and grimace, anticipating the inevitable crash, but with everything so wet and mushy the sound is muffled, and the ladder, blissfully, doesn’t close up on itself, which would surely be loud.  Instead it just lays there ineffectively on its side.  I think how lucky I just got, and then chide myself for celebrating while I’m hanging off the edge of a building, fifteen feet in the air, in the rain, by my fingertips.

In a way I’m not sure what to do now, as the task I’ve set for myself seems impossible, but all of a sudden my arms pull me and I’m going up.  I’m pulling myself up! My arms do all the work as my legs dangle uselessly below me.  I marvel at my arms, which seem to be on autopilot, just moving me up brick by brick.  The next time I look down I’m at least three floors high and passing a bank of windows.  It’s funny because my arms feel like they belong more to me than I’ve ever felt in my life…kind of the way my legs feel when I run, and so I just let them do it.  My arms and I are at the roof edge in no time, one hand in the metal gutter.  Both my hands grasp at the gutter and pull me up and over the edge.  The gutter gives a little, but holds.

I stand up on the roof as the rain bathes me and I feel like a whole new person.  Like a person I always knew was lurking inside, but hadn’t known how to talk to until now.  It’s amazing.

So now I just have to find a tiny silver locket in the rainy dark.  No problem.

I turn on the flashlight and decide to just start circling the roof in concentric circles working towards the center. But just as I begin I slip on a loose shingle.

When the first one breaks free several more join it – sliding out from under me and taking me with it.  I shoot off the edge of the roof and toward dark oblivion.

If I hadn’t spent the last eleven years not speaking I know I would have screamed.

Instead I reach my hand out instinctively as I go over the edge, and I catch a couple more crappy shingles that crumble under my grasp.  The gutter is my last hope, and I manage to snag it, but the weight of me falling is too much for it and it pulls away from the edge of the house with surprising speed.  I think there’s no way not to go down, but my body tells me otherwise.  My weight swings with the motion of the detaching gutter and when the gutter bends back toward the building again I leverage myself up and back onto the roof, barely.  Holy.  Shit.  That’s the only thought in my head, about a thousand “holy shits.”

The flashlight has rolled into an intact part of the gutter and when I slide over to retrieve it I see the locket and chain, further down the gutter, glistening in the flashlight’s beam.  I reach out and pocket it like a kid that just found the freaking Holy Grail.  But as I stand up and survey the damage I’ve done I realize there is no way to get out of this without raising serious eyebrows.  Part of the gutter is torn away from the building and at least two-dozen shingles have either broken or fallen off the house entirely.  The damage will be visible from the yard.  I look around for a solution.  There’s nothing.  The building is like a lonely island in the yard, the nearest tree at least a hundred feet away.  As I stand there, knowing I’m screwed, lightning strikes a warehouse down the street.  I see it and am transfixed.  Both because I’ve never seen lighting hit anything before, and also because it seems like something ridiculous out of a cartoon…lighting striking…like a light bulb suddenly appearing over my head.

I walk with to the chimney on the south side of the roof.  There’s a direct line between the chimney and where the shingles have crumbled and the gutter has torn.  I position myself behind and slightly above the chimney.  I bite my lip in horrible anticipation and strike my fist out at the bricks.  It hurts like hell, but it does break apart.  My hand is torn up and bleeding a little but I hit it a few more times anyway, trying my best to make the chimney look ‘struck by lighting’.  I then position some of the bricks on the roof in a random falling pattern towards the gutter.  I even jam two of the bricks into the gutter to make things look more feasible.  Then I drop a few to the ground, making sure they hit the grass quietly and not the concrete loudly. Satisfied with my cover-up I head back to the side of the building where I came up, only to realize, like an idiot, that I have no way down.

I look around helplessly. I don’t think even my amazing “auto-pilot” arms have the hand strength to get me back onto that lip. Would I survive the jump?  It’s four stories.  If I survive, what would I break?  Everything? Nothing? I sit down in the rain on the roof and draw my knees up to my chin. I bury my head against my knees for a moment, breathing deeply, trying to be smart. After a few minutes I stand up and carefully walk around the roof edge. The south side of the building is the softest, and wettest.

I’ll jump from here.

I can’t decide if I should run and jump off the roof, putting distance between the building, and myself or if I should just jump from a standing position on the edge.  I chew my lip and then turn to the middle and before I can talk myself out of it I start running for the edge.

When my feet leave the roof it’s the most alive I’ve felt since the accident.

I’m six blocks away and moving at a speed even I thought impossible when the police cars finally screech to a halt and I hear car doors slamming and guns being drawn. Now at a safe distance I put the necklace on and tuck it safely under my cat suit.  I decide to run some more. It feels good, almost like I think flying might feel.

I fall asleep that night feeling more alive than ever before, my skin humming and my mouth smiling even when I don’t want it to. I think I’m even smiling as I drift off, the necklace still around my neck even though it’s frighteningly uncomfortable.  My last thought is that everything is going to work out fine.

In the morning I wake very early, because Delia hated it when I did that, and throw on a sweatshirt over my cat suit before heading out for a celebratory breakfast.  I realize halfway to the diner a few blocks away from my motel that I still have the diamond necklace on underneath my sweatshirt.  The feel of the silver and diamonds grazing my neck is exciting and I smile like a kid with a giant lollipop.  I slide into a big cushy booth and order a coffee.  I’ve never had one before but it seems like the right thing to do – the grown up thing.  I also order a juice and the “super grandest slam” breakfast.  I’m not kidding, that’s what it’s called.  Some play on Denny’s I guess, but changed just enough to not get sued.  Halfway through gorging myself, a waitress, not mine, but another one whose nametag reads Felice, comes by to refill my coffee.  I nod even though I’d kind of hated the stuff, and as she pours it to the top I wince.

“Nice necklace,” she says casually.  I look down and see that it has partially slipped out of the neck of my sweatshirt.  I gulp down some pancakes.

“Uh.  Thanks.  It’s my grandma’s.”

“Uh-huh,” she says, walking away.  Just as I’m getting ready to leave, the same woman, but now in street clothes, slides into the booth with me and drops a newspaper onto the table in front of me.  She puts her finger on a front-page story, which appears to be an article on my robbery, complete with a small picture of my new necklace.

“I think we should talk,” she says, all steely-eyed.  I try to remember I have superpowers and look right at her but say nothing. “You want to explain?” she asks.

“Not to you, bitch.”  I’m happily surprised that this response shocks her.

“Bitch?  You really wanna go there?” she asks, raising her voice.  I decide that while I know I can kill her and maybe even everyone in the restaurant without breaking a sweat, I had warned myself just last night to be careful about these kinds of situations.  It’s best to stay away from the authorities as long as possible.  At least until I know what I’m really capable of.

“Sorry,” I mumble, choking on the words.  “I’m leaving.”  I throw a ten-dollar bill on the table to cover my meal and the tip.  She grabs my arm as I get up and I sling it away from her powerfully.  She’s more shocked at this than my ballsy comeback of a moment ago.  “Don’t freaking touch me,” I hiss and walk out the front door.  A block later I have practically forgotten about her when she sidles up beside me.  She’s got dark hair and eyes and now that I’m standing I can see she’s shorter than me by nearly a foot and having trouble keeping pace with my long legs.

“You got the wrong idea honey,” she says, catching her breath.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah.  I’m impressed.  I mean not so much at your crappy choice of words and your obvious temperament issues, but you’re just a kid.  Who are you working with to manage to snag that necklace…or did you just luck out and find it in the street somewhere…?” She lets her sentence dangle there in the air like a challenge and I turn on her, crossing my arms.  I know the smart thing is to admit I found it, but what can I say, I’m pretty proud of my first score.

“What do you think?”

“I think maybe you’ve got some talent and I should introduce you to some friends of mine,” she says.  I look at her hard, trying to read whether or not it’s a trap, but I can’t really tell.  I’m not sure if it’s a good idea, but I’m also not sure I have anything to lose.  I’m trying to figure out what I am, what I want to be doing, and what my life is going to be about, and if she and these friends of hers mess with me or double-cross me, I’ll just kill them and move on.  As Delia always used to say, you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Actually it had always annoyed the crap out of me that she said that since she never freaking cooked and I would have happily eaten an omelet, but I’m starting to understand that maybe she wasn’t talking about cooking.  Felice hands me a card with the name of some Spanish restaurant I can’t pronounce on the front. There’s an address and a phone number. I raise an eyebrow at her and turn it over. On the back is her name and 10pm written in black ink.

“Just come,” she says, turning and heading back to the restaurant as if she’s in no hurry whatsoever.  I watch her go and then crumple up the card and toss it over my shoulder.

But I’ve already memorized the address.

I hit the ground and go into a crouch, my hands and feet sinking slightly into the soft ground. The feeling of being alive doesn’t leave me. In fact, as the mud seeps into my shoes and through my fingers I feel somehow deeply connected to not just the earth, but to everything. The world feels big and I feel a part of it in some important unspoken way.  I stay there for a long while, just feeling.

When I finally move again I put everything back to how it was and sneak back in the kitchen door and lock it up.  Upstairs I take off all my clothes, careful to put both my mother’s bracelet and Jenny’s locket on the sink edge, and rinse the clothes and my shoes in the sink, so that they are only wet and not dirty.  I wash my busted up hands, wincing as the water runs into the tears where the bricks cut into my knuckles.  I clean off my body and then both my bracelet and Jenny’s locket.  Looking inside of Jenny’s locket I see what was more important to her than anything.  The locket has two pictures that are by some miracle barely damaged.  They look like they could be her parents.  I think of all the things I would do if only I could have a picture of my parents and Jasper.

I look up and catch a glimpse of myself in the dark mirror.  I’m always shocked by how much I look like my mother – the same long arms and legs, broad shoulders, red hair, pale skin, and smattering of freckles.  My eyes are dark blue like hers but my mouth is a little wider and if I grow any taller I think I’ll be taller too.  I guess if I can’t have a picture it’s nice to carry her around on my face.  I just wish there was some of my father in there too.

When I go back into the sleeping room I put my clothes under the bed, hoping they’ll dry a little before morning, and the last thing I do before I crawl into bed is place Jenny’s locket in her sleeping hand, cupped perfectly, as if waiting for it.  I think I won’t be able to sleep with all the excitement of the night and worry about having to hide my damaged hands from the staff, but my body takes over and I’m asleep almost instantly.

I dream of my mother.

It’s the first night since my parents died that I don’t dream about the accident and I’ve never been happier to have a different dream.  But the dream is confusing.  She’s just as I remember her, looking like me, but far more beautiful.  The same deep red slightly gold hair and dark blue eyes, the same long strong bones that I’ve been slowly growing into these past years.  She’s tall and slim, but built strong, rather than delicate.  Her skin seems delicate though, like clean sheets of paper sewn together.

I’m pushing on her in the dream to hold me, to keep me, to love me, but she keeps slipping away from me; gently, like a loving mother to an impatient child, but there’s an insistence in it that worries me.  It feels like there’s a purpose behind it, rather than just some casual thing my head would imagine.  She’s shaking her head at me softly, and she looks, not sad, but concerned.  She puts a hand on my shoulder, as if to steady me, to link us; I don’t know why because I’m too busy drinking in her smell.  I ask her dozens of questions that all sound like ‘why.’  She cannot hear me, or she chooses not to answer.  Her eyes become wild, frantically searching blank horizons around us for something.  Occasionally she looks back at me as if to comfort me, but there is no comfort in the worry that lines her face.

Finally her distance gets to me in the dream, the blind happiness of seeing her before me is overrun with the frustration that she will not hold me, will not take me in, will not speak to me.  My face starts to crumble, emotion breaking through, despite my efforts to contain it, and my eyes flush wet with salty tears.  I haven’t cried since the last time I saw her.  It angers me that I’m incapable of crying without her around, and that she should elicit such a reaction in me.  I don’t want tears to be what I feel when she is here; I want it to be love, and maybe peace.

But there is no peace here.

She leans down to me, taking my shoulders in her hands, as if sensing my frustration.  Believing I have finally gotten her attention I begin to pout, frustrated by the dream, and for my role in it all, but convinced that my childlike behavior is finally forcing her to acknowledge me.

But then I see.

I see what it is that is causing her face to knit up with worry. Behind her a giant pulsing river threatens to overflow and there is a car on fire.  On the horizon at the very edge of my vision I see wolves running in a long silvery line and a lonely cow with big soulful eyes stares at me from beneath a charred tree.  The images make no sense.  The wind kicks up, dust and dirt swirling around our feet, rising and stinging my arms in its frenzy. A storm builds all around us.

She tries to speak to me, but no words come out, just her lips moving, with no sound, as if someone has forgotten her soundtrack.  One of the words lost on her lips looks like ‘coming’.  She looks behind her and turns back to me and mouths it again.  COMING.  I look behind her to better see what might be coming, but all I see is desert and the strange thunderstorm building.  Cracked barren ground stretches for miles, darkening fast with the clouds. Lighting strikes, light up the sky like day for moments in disorienting blasts.  They come one after another with a relentlessness that makes me wince.  The sky seems to cry out as it pulls itself apart, breaking into thousands of storms.  Even the storms themselves seem confused and unsure. The wind blows strands of my mother’s hair into her face.  She turns to me again in the wind and screams at me without sound.

Behind her, from the clouds above us emerges a giant black bird – a crow maybe – and she flies above me, nearly swiping my face with her inky black wing.  I watch her transfixed.  The lightning in the distance causes a glistening flicker on her thick body.  I watch her, almost unaware of my mother’s presence now, and she splits into three birds with a crack of thunder.  They circle above me as if preparing to feast on my limbs, alive or dead.  The rain begins in earnest now, drops falling into my eyes as the storm intensifies.  The sky darkens another shade and the crows split again, and again, and again, until they are hundreds, flying above me like a jet-black undulating carpet.  It looks like something from a horror movie, but I’m unafraid.  I feel my mother’s fingers taking my hand and I look at her finally, but she’s as transfixed by the bird sky as I am.  I look back to the birds and feel part of them – part of something I don’t understand as we fly with great purpose toward the desert storm.  Me linked with the birds, the birds linked with me.  I don’t want to fly into the storm but I don’t get the feeling I have a choice.

I wake to the sound of crying.  Not my own, even though the tears and blown sand from the dream are still choking my throat.  I look at Jenny to see her crying quietly, the locket pressed to her chest.  She looks up at me suddenly, her eyes wet with relief and happiness.  She knows.  I don’t know how she knows it was me, but she does.  I smile at her, silently confirming her suspicions.  She smiles back as if to assure me that my secret is safe with her.  Eventually her friends wake at her sniffling and come to see what’s wrong.  They see the locket and their chatter begins.  Jenny keeps looking at me through their crowding bodies.  I know I’ve made an ally.  I don’t think it will change how my life is here, but it’s comforting in some small way.  And my chest swells with an emotion I’m not familiar with…happiness?  Pride?  Comfort?  I’m not sure what it is, but I suddenly feel compelled to do things that will make me feel this way all the time, which gives me pause, as that seems a little dangerous too.  Surely it is no coincidence that the dream of my mother has come only after my good act.  But what about the storm on the horizon she’s clearly trying to warn me about…does that come only if I keep doing these things…or does it come regardless?  What is it that’s coming?  For the first time in my life I have a true sense of something greater than myself, a larger picture that I never imagined existed.  I feel like I’m getting just the tiniest taste of it, and it’s both thrilling and frightening.

I come in wearing street clothes, but with my sweet cat suit on underneath, just in case. I left my new necklace in my motel room this time.  Felice motions me over to a table with four other guys. Two of them are old; one Spanish looking and one an average white guy with a big gut, the other two have dark hair and their backs to me.  I walk up to the table and Felice smiles at me.  “This is her,” she says to the four men, who seem not the least bit impressed.  The two who had their backs to me are younger than the other two, and the youngest is surprisingly cute, which makes me oddly nervous.

“What’s your name?” the white guy with the gut asks.

“Lola,” I say.  The entire group chuckles.  I really don’t know what the hell people think is so damn funny about my name, but I get this reaction a lot.  “You got a problem with my name?” I ask, crossing my arms.  Felice stands up.

“No, no,” she gestures to her seat.  “Sit down, I’ll get you a drink, what do you want?”

“A beer is fine,” I say, pretending I drink beers everyday and not taking the offered seat. She leaves and I look at the white guy that asked me my name.  “What’s your name?”

“Melvin,” he says with a straight face.  I crinkle my nose.

“And you’re making fun of my name? Jeezus.”  This causes everyone to stop smiling and the entire tone of the table changes.  The older Spanish fellow breaks the silence.

“Felice tells us you have a pretty impressive necklace that you stole from that jewelry store last night…you got a crew that help you with that?”  Felice returns to the table and gives me the beer.  I take a drink before answering.  It tastes bitter; it’s actually kinda terrible.

“No.  I work alone.”

“You’re a pretty young thing to be working on your own, don’t you think?” asks the less cute of the two younger guys.

“No.  I don’t think,” I say wiping my mouth.  This causes the youngest and cutest one to chuckle again.

“I’ll bet,” says Melvin looking me up and down.  I look at him with the hardest look I can come up with and then shrug my shoulders like I don’t care what he thinks.

“It seems to be working out pretty well so far,” I say.  The table gets silent. I drink the rest of my beer as fast as I can.  “Actually, I don’t even know what I’m doing here.  I don’t need to be grilled by a bunch of nobodies.”  I walk away while the rest of the table argues, Felice asking why they are such morons and rambling on about something involving me and decoys, which I don’t like the sound of.  As I walk back into the Nevada night, the cute one follows me.

“Wait up!”

“No,” I say, not easing up on my pace.

“Lola, c’mon…hold up.”  He jogs the rest of the distance between us and I roll my eyes and sigh heavily so he knows he has inconvenienced me greatly before slouching my shoulders and stopping.

“What the hell do you want?” I ask.  Looking directly into his eyes though I suddenly regret throwing the ‘hell’ in there, he’s exceptionally cute.

“Don’t take them too seriously, y’know they just don’t love outsiders.  I think you should come back in there.  Felice thinks you’ve got some talent.”

“And why do you care what Felice says?”

“She’s my sister, and she’s pretty smart too.  Been playing the game longer than me. She got me into it actually…she’s not so bad.  She thinks you’d be an asset.”

“I don’t think so; I’m not too into being a decoy anyway, not my style,” I say, looking off into the distance, trying to seem detached.  He does a double take.

“How did you hear – ?” he trails off looking at the restaurant and then back at me.

“Let’s just say, your sister isn’t wrong, I have some talent,” I cross my arms over my chest trying to look tough and then change my mind and put them on my hips.  “What’s your name anyway?”

“I’m Adrian.”

“Alright, see you Adrian.  Good luck.”

“Wait,” he says.  I stop, again.

“What already?” I ask, exasperated.

“We won’t go back in there, but come get a coffee with me,” he says, flashing a lopsided and crazy charming smile at me.  This softens me a bit.  Nobody has ever asked me to coffee before.

“Alright.  But just coffee.”  It seems like the right thing to say.  He smiles the cute crooked smile again and we walk side by side towards a coffee shop a few blocks away.  My hand brushes his once and the electric feeling that pulses through me is new too.  It is a nice kind of new though, unlike most crap in my life.

Over coffee I decide Adrian is the most attractive person I’ve ever seen in real life.  I myself am not particularly pretty, just kind of normal pretty, maybe.  I’ve come to accept this, though I secretly hope that with age I will become prettier, beautiful even.  But even at normal pretty I’m kind of extraordinary to look at; even I know that.  At 16 I’m already almost 5’10” and I have this really long lithe body and slender legs.  I don’t have much in the boobs department, but the shape of my body is pretty, and I have this long wild curly-ish dark blonde hair that men are always ogling.  I have big light blue eyes, which I think make me look kind of innocent, which works to my advantage often enough, and I have a nice mouth, though my teeth are not as straight as I’d like.  I’d begged Delia for braces one year when I realized there could be something done about the teeth, but she’d laughed herself practically into a coma at the idea that I wanted to put metal inside my mouth for a couple years.

Adrian had either put metal in his mouth, or just been really really lucky in the genetics department, because though his smile is a bit lopsided in an adorably cute way, his teeth are perfect, like a movie star.

We slide into a vinyl booth at an all-night diner two blocks away and order coffee and pie.  I don’t know why Adrian gets pie, but I get it in the hopes that it will cover up the flavor of the coffee.  The waitress has left and we’re sitting there staring, the silence heavy between us and I’m beginning to think this was a mistake despite his movie-star smile and charm.

“So what’s your deal Lola?” he says suddenly, but not unkindly.

“My deal?” I echo lamely.

“Yeah, you got balls of steel or what…?” he trails off.  But I have no idea what he’s freaking talking about so I wait for more.  “I’ve never seen anyone stand up to Melvin like that…even Felice is a little bit afraid of him.  I once saw a dude piss himself after getting yelled at by Melvin,” Adrian says, chuckling lightly at the memory.  The waitress sets down our coffee and pie and leaves.

“Really?  Hmm.  I wasn’t that impressed,” I say, taking a sip of my coffee. “He looks like someone’s loser uncle that drank about a thousand six packs too many and likes to touch little kids for fun.” I finish.  Adrian laughs, nearly losing a mouthful of coffee back into the cup.

“Balls of steel it is then,” he says, and then adds.  “But don’t ever say that to his face…seriously,” he says, suddenly looking a quite serious and a bit pained.  We sit there for another long moment, sizing each other up.  He’s definitely handsome.  I never thought a guy as good looking as Adrian would ever be interested in me, superpowers or no, but he is; I can tell from the way his heart beats.  The way his pupils dilate.  It feels like hunting, sitting there with him.  I feel like the hunter now, but I’m worried about falling in love with him.  Won’t that then make me the prey?  Regardless, I suppress this strong desire to taste him.  Literally to just like reach out and lick his cheek.  I imagine it would taste bittersweet.  People all have different flavors to me.  Felice, tastes salty, almost briny to my senses, while Melvin feels rancid, like something past the expiration date.  There’s something else about Adrian.  Vibes or pheromones or something that he’s giving off.  Something refreshing and new.  That’s it.  New.  He feels new.  Like a clean sheet of paper with no mistakes.  It’s tempting as all get out.  I’m resisting it, but so far it’s kicking my ass, and it’s only been like, an hour since I met him.  I don’t want to fall for this guy.  This would be a very inconvenient time to fall in love.  I have so much to do, and I never put love on the list.  I don’t know how to insulate myself from it.  Or protect myself from it if it catches me.

“So Lola,” he says, finally breaking the silence. “I gotta ask, how old are you?”

I gulp hard on my pie.  I’m not sure whether to lie or not.  At the last second I decide not to, I don’t know why, “Sixteen.  How old are you?”

He smiles broadly, “Seventeen.”  I can tell we’re both relieved and there’s a long pause between us, “I’m sorry I laughed at your name,” he finally says.

“Oh, I forgot all about that …” And I’m not lying this time either, I did forget.  Who could remember something silly like that when you’ve got Adrian flirting with you.  He looks into my eyes at that and I just know how things are going to go with us.  It’s almost like I can read his mind, all his plans for us mapped out so clearly in his dark eyes.  I swallow hard.

It’s going to be really hard to keep my head with that smile around all the time.

“So, I guess you better tell me about these people…your…what do you call them…crew, team…what?”

“Crew is as good a word as any I guess.  They’re mostly good people.  Melvin is a dick, but he’s definitely the brains and connections, and leader by default I guess, so there’s no helping that.  Felice, my sister, she and Melvin met up years ago and have been working together ever since.  Enrico is an old friend of Melvin’s; he’s a good guy.  A little more even tempered than Melvin.  Felice’s boyfriend Jorge also works with us.  He’s a nice guy, a little dense sometimes, and definitely not super talented, but he’s trustworthy and stable, which is kind of key.”

“So what do you guys do…exactly.”

“Well…” he looks around cautiously to see if any of the scattered diners are listening, they’re not.  “I mean, we do the kinda stuff that you did the other night.  We usually go a little bigger than what you did…I mean in the sense of a bigger take, y’know since it’s got to be split five ways…”

“Well there was plenty of other stuff to take when I took the necklace,” I say.  “It’s just the one thing I had my eye on.”

“I kind of love that about you.”

“What?” I blush

“Just that you pulled that heist all on your own just cause you saw a necklace you wanted.  It shows that you know what you want.  It’s good…it’s great.”

“Um…thanks,” I say, my face getting hotter by the moment, pushing my plate of mangled cherry pie bits away.  Adrian does the same with his plate of blueberry.

“You want more coffee?” he asks, hand half up to motion to the waitress.  I shake my head no, and he changes his gesture to one signaling for the check.  On the way out the door he opens it for me, which seems sweet and almost old fashioned.  Despite all his excess charm and nefarious occupation, he’s a good boy.  I can sense it down to the hairs on the back of my neck.  We stand for a moment outside and make plans to meet for a late lunch tomorrow.  He kicks at the curb when it gets quiet again.

“Can I walk you home?”  He asks suddenly, seeming shy.  I stumble, because I desperately want him to, but I know it’s probably a mistake to let him know where I live.

“Oh, no, it’s not that far,” I stammer.

“I don’t mind.”

“Let’s just say goodbye here for now.”

“Okay,” he says, leaning into me.  I honestly don’t know how to react.  The everyday me would push him off, probably violently, but I’m finding a gentleness I didn’t even know I had.  He puts his arm against a lamppost behind me, slightly pinning me, and nuzzles my neck.  Which is…unexpected.  It seems like both an animal thing to do and a sweet thing to do.  And I like it, and him even more for it.

“Goodnight Lola,” he says into my hair.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” I say quietly under my breath as he walks away.

I wait until I’m sure he’s gone before heading back to my hotel.  I take a roundabout way home, just in case, but never see anyone tailing me.  When I get back to my room I fall into my bed feeling giddy like a schoolgirl I have never been, never had the chance to be, never thought I’d be.  I know already that it’s probably a mistake to trust him, but I also know that resisting it will be pointless.  What’s the worst thing that can happen anyway?

A few eggs get broken, right?

I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of the idea of actually being in love before.  I mean, like anyone I have crushes.  Being awesome has not made me immune to being a teenager…or something, but I still always kind of thought “love” sounded stupid.

But all those thoughts fly right out the goddamn window after that coffee with Adrian.  Hell, after I first saw him and he smiled at me with that crooked smile of his, I knew I was in trouble.

I guess I just don’t want to get my heart broken.

Is that even possible?

Sharon is becoming a legitimate problem for me.

Until recently she’s been a thorn in just about everyone’s side, but she’s provided an interesting opportunity for me to do good.  Returning thrown necklaces and other bits of stolen property, stopping fights before they begin, stupid little stuff.  Little stuff that makes people happy and lets me see my mother in my dreams.  The dreams, even if they are filled with confusion and violence and strange warnings that I don’t understand, are still time with my mother.  Until Sharon I’ve been used to people somehow intrinsically understanding to leave me alone, like animals in the wild that know to only hunt the weak or injured.  I think I give off something that keeps most people away from me.  Like potential adoptive parents.  It never mattered much to me because I was always waiting for Jasper to come and get me.  Of course when I was twelve, he was eighteen and he didn’t come for me, so I gave up quickly on the fantasy.  I really had tricked myself at first into believing he would come, but when he didn’t, I unpacked my bag again and went back to my regular life.  It was foolish to think he would come, considering I blamed myself for the car accident; it was likely he blamed me for it too.  But I guess I had hoped that he would come anyway.

When Rachael shows up at dinner with a broken wrist I know that Sharon has drawn an invisible line in the sand, and it’s up to me to step up to it.  I begin tailing Rachael everywhere she goes, becoming her self-appointed guardian.  I see her injury and chide myself for sitting idly by for too long; it’s time to stand up, if not for myself, then for someone else.

So I wait for my opportunity.

Sleeping on my bunk a few days later on the third floor of the dormitory while Rachael reads on her bunk at the other end of the room, Sharon comes in.  She’s all anger and frustration bottled. My senses perk up instantly; it’s as if the air in the room tightens all around me, so that I can even feel Sharon’s steps and her body weight as it presses into what was once empty air.  I’m not sure if she sees me or not, but she goes right for Rachael regardless, knocking her book out of her hands and across the room into the wall with a sharp slap.  Rachael doesn’t even cry out, just draws in her breath, preparing herself for whatever onslaught is to come.  I know nobody else is in the room with us without even opening my eyes, and I reach out with everything I have to see if I can feel anyone nearby.

We are very alone.  Now’s my moment.

Sharon slaps Rachael hard enough that she falls backwards off the bed.  I move, fast, until I’m standing in front of Sharon, her face shocked at the speed at which I’ve crossed the room.  She’s holding Rachael’s other arm, the one she hasn’t broken…yet, twisting it backward unnaturally and Rachel is giving off a low pitched whine that sounds almost animal.

I ball up my right fist and throw my first punch.

It’s a good one.

It connects perfectly with Sharon’s jaw and she flies back hard enough that she loses her grip on Rachael before hitting the wall and leaving a little dent as she slides down to the floor, landing on her butt unceremoniously.  Rachael scrambles under the bed like a kicked dog.  Sharon looks up at me from the ground, one hand on her jaw.  It’s broken.  I look at my fist, shocked at what I’ve done.

“J’am gong ta kl yoj,” she says, one hand still holding her broken jaw as if to keep it from falling off.  I step back, so that we are further away from the bed Rachael is hiding under.  Sharon lunges at me and sends an awkward punch toward me, which I catch easily in my own hand.  I begin squeezing her fist with my hand, until her hand breaks.  She screams, but all I can see are Rachael’s tiny feet peeking out from under her bed.  Even her feet look terrified.  Something snaps in me as I stare at Rachael’s feet and I suddenly can’t stand someone like Sharon anymore.  Her very existence disgusts me.

I push Sharon away from me, hard, intending to be done with her, but she trips on the edge of one of the beds and crashes through a window.  I lunge at her as she goes through the glass, trying desperately to catch her, but I’m too late.  She falls three stories onto the grass below. I watch horrified, paralyzed.  Sharon’s body is twisted badly on the grass and my heart is in my throat, my eyes wide.  I wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans and walk out of the room, Rachael gazing at me from under the bed, her face some strange mix of horror and thanks.

Fortunately for me, Sharon has been such a problem that nobody is inclined to believe her that the mute girl, who has never harmed a soul before, has attacked her unprovoked.  For her part Rachael is silent, claiming to have seen nothing.  When they find me nearly a quarter of a mile away, at the other end of the compound, reading peacefully under a tree, not a mark on me, it settles any suspicions that I might be involved.

Sharon’s hip, jaw, and shoulder are broken and her right hand is partially crushed.

Seeing her on the ground all twisted makes me careful though.  I decide then and there that it’s the last time I will be so careless.  I had gone further with Sharon than I had ever intended, hurt her beyond what was reasonable and it scares me to see my power; to see that I’m maybe not totally in control of it.  My emotions had raged when she’d been standing there in front of me.  She had seemed disgusting, like an affront to everything I felt inside, and that rage scares me.  I don’t know if that power exists beyond that rage – can I even tap into it at that level without also tapping into that rage?  I’m not sure.  It’s terrifying.

And so I become more solitary than ever before.  If it is possible to be more silent than already being mute, I find it.

And I remain incredibly alone.

And I wait patiently for someone to open the front door for me.

I meet him the next day for lunch near one of the big casinos, the one with the giant lion face entrance.  Inside this one all the waitresses are dressed like Dorothy which I think is really lame, but then I see all the guys ogling them and realize they’re totally getting off on it.  I don’t know why I’m surprised by these things.  But Adrian never takes his eyes off me, no matter how hot a Dorothy walks by us.

We go into some rainforest restaurant where we walk through a giant aquarium, which looks really cool, but suddenly has me worried he’s taking me to some kind of fish place, and I don’t really like fish.  So I’m nervous all of a sudden, but wondering at the same time why I care what he thinks.  It seems to go against all my instincts to care what he thinks, but it also feels natural, like maybe how any girl feels on a date and so I don’t know whether to embrace it or shun it, which leaves me only more confused.  As we walk by a family eating I see a hamburger on someone’s plate and relax a bit.  We sit in a cushy leather booth and the hostess leaves us with menus.  It’s not three seconds before an overly cheerful voice assaults us.

“Welcome to MGM Grand’s Rainforest Adventure! Can I get you something to drink or an app to start?” I feel like the waitress is practically screaming at us in her enthusiasm.

“Uh yeah, I’ll have a Pepsi and a water…Lola?”

“Oh, yeah, Pepsi for me too.”

“Okay, two Pepsis – any apps?”

“Yeah, yeah, Lo how ’bout the appetizer sampler?”  I just nod my head okay, my heart skipping beats in my chest, because I love that he’s calling me ‘Lo’.  It sounds so natural, so intimate; nobody has ever called me by a nickname before, except Delia of course, and I try not to think about that.

When the appetizer sampler comes I eat all the chicken tenders and Adrian eats all the crab and calamari and most of the wontons.  The shrill waitress, Kimmy, arrives just as Adrian polishes off the last of the crab, and sets down a giant plate of shrimp pasta, which looks pretty good even though the shrimps make me wanna squirm.  My ‘rainforest burger’ looks pretty boring in comparison, but it tastes good.

“You really like seafood, huh?” I say between giant bites of my burger.

“Oh man, I totally love it.  Ever since I was a kid it’s been my favorite food.  My mom practically raised Felice and I on fish tacos y’know?  I’m always kind of dying to get out of Vegas; head to some coast where the seafood has gotta be better than the desert, y’know?  I heard about this place in Malibu where they literally catch the shit in the morning and whatever they catch is the special for the day…because it’s so fresh y’know?  I mean, imagine how good seafood that fresh has gotta taste?”

“Yeah, I guess.  I don’t really like seafood too much.”

“Really?  Well I guess that’s not that weird…a lot a people don’t like seafood.  You’re totally missing out though.”

“Well, to be honest I haven’t tried it that much…it’s just the idea of it…I don’t know, it seems kinda icky.”

“You should totally try it then…here, try this shrimp,” Adrian stabs a bit of shrimp and winds his fork around some pasta and holds it out to me.  I’d had shrimp once before and hated it, but somehow now, it seems like an adult thing to do, to try new things.  I don’t want Adrian to think I’m just some stupid uneducated kid, and it also seems kind of romantic, and so I take the bite and chew.  To my surprise it isn’t awful.

“What do you think?”

“It’s okay.  I like the taste…but it’s a little…rubbery maybe?”

“Yeah, shrimp can be that way, it’s one of the reasons to get it super fresh – the better the shrimp, and the better it’s cooked the less rubbery it will taste.  I’ll get some good shrimp one of these days and cook you an awesome meal with it – then you’ll totally come over to the dark side with me.”  I giggle a little bit but think it makes me seem too young and way stupid so I stifle it.  A kid at the table next to us starts screaming and I crinkle my nose.

“You don’t like kids, huh?” Adrian says without judgment.

“They’re okay I guess…I do prefer the non-screamy ones.”

“Nah, I can tell you don’t like them.”

“Sure I do, sort of,” I stammer.  I can’t imagine ever wanting to have kids, though I guess, technically that’s not what he’s asking me. I know that like Delia, if I have a daughter, one day she’ll take my power, probably kill me for it, and I’m just getting used to having it.  There’s no way I’m going to be willing to part with it anytime soon.

“I grew up with Felice and a whole mess of step-brothers, so I guess I feel pretty used to screaming…do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No, it was just me and my mom.”

“That sounds nice too…I mean the idea of having one on one time with a parent is pretty nice, I can’t think of a time my mom and I were even alone in a room together.”

“That’s too bad, although Delia and I, my mom I mean, we were never too close, ‘oil and water,’ she used to say.”

“Used to?” he pauses.  “Did she pass?”

“Yeah…yeah, she passed.”

“Was it recent?”

“Yeah it was.”

“I only ask because, I mean, I’m not trying to be nosy, but you know you’re only 17, and obviously on your own…I guess you just ran off? Didn’t want to stick around?”

“Yeah, it was pretty sudden, her death I mean, and I don’t have any living relatives, so I just hit the road, figured I’m old enough to take care of myself…” I pause, as the conversation is giving him more than I want to.  I try to reverse out of it.  “It’s working out pretty well so far,” I say smiling at him.

“Yeah, it is.”  We share this long moment of silence before Kimmy breaks in on us again.

“How ‘bout some desert you two?”  Adrian nods at me and so I look at Kimmy.

“Sure. What’ve you got?”  We decide to split a brownie sundae of sorts and when Kimmy finally departs the table, Adrian changes gears.

“So, I guess I should talk some business…” he trails off as if he is unsure it’s a good idea.

“Okay…let’s hear it,” I say, steeling myself up.

“Well, I guess after we left last night Felice talked you up pretty good and convinced them to give you a shot…kind of like a try out.  Do you think it’s something you’re interested in?  I mean, I know we didn’t make a great first impression.”

“Well,” I begin, trying to seem professional.  “What’s in it for me?”

“This time?  Probably nothing…probably just earning your place on the team…but the cut is pretty good once you’re in.  We pull a job every couple months or so, maybe more or less depending on how hot the scene is.  It’s a nice enough life that I don’t have to have a real job so I’m not going to complain.”

“If you don’t have to work, why does Felice waitress?” I ask, cocking my head to the side.

“Eh, there will never be enough money for Felice.  She’s pretty cheap…y’know, stingy.  I think she also likes the idea of a double life, you know, like waitress by day, master thief by night or something silly…like the anti-Batman or something.”

“But not you?”

“Nah, I’d rather sleep in by day, hang out by night and occasionally hit a big score,” he says smiling and honest.

“So um, you’re more like Catwoman then?” I offer.  He laughs.

“Hhn. Yeah, I guess so.”

“So, uh, what’s the job…the job I’ve got to do to get in?”

“Well I don’t know the specifics, we’ll have to bring you in and have Melvin lay it out for you. Some disc he wants.”

“Like a computer disc?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“What’s on it?”

“I don’t know…probably I’ll never know…you definitely won’t know, at least not this time…that’ll be part of the test I’m sure Lo…how willing you are to take orders.”

I look at him warily, “I’m not so good at taking orders,” I say.  He chuckles.

“Yeah, I noticed.  But can you just pretend?  Just until you get in…behave yourself like a good girl.  I’ve got a feeling about you, and if I’m right you’ve got enough talent that you’re gonna be able to get away with that mouth of yours eventually, but you gotta get in first y’know?  Play the game.”

“Yeah, I can play the game,” I say, one eyebrow raised.

“I thought so,” he says.  Kimmy sets the brownie sundae down and leaves hastily.  We dig in and are silent for a while.  Finally he speaks again.  “Is that something that matters to you?”

“Is what something that matters to me?”

“What the job is – what’s on the disc, or in the bag, or the box, or whatever.”

“Well, I mean it’s important I guess cause I don’t want to be taken for a ride, but I don’t care like…morally or anything, is that what you mean?”

“Yeah, I guess I mean morally…like you don’t have issues with that?  We’ve had trouble bringing people in before, either they want to know too much and Melvin has drama with it, or they get ideas about, oh, I don’t know, not liking kind of the ‘larger picture’ I guess of what they’re involved in.”

“Like you mean it could be drugs or something and suddenly I feel bad about putting drugs on the street for innocent kids or something?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, like that exactly.”

“No I don’t have moral issues with it.”

“Can I ask why not?”

“Well, why don’t you?”

“I asked you first,” he teases.

“I don’t know.  Seems to me that people are responsible for themselves.  If someone wants to do drugs, that’s their problem, and there’s no reason I shouldn’t profit from if, I mean someone’s going to, right?”  I trail off, not sure if my answer is correct.  For a moment I’ve forgotten to be careful what I say and just said what I actually think.  I don’t know what his reaction will be.

“Exactly!” he bursts out.  I smile.  It’s nice to know that we think some of the same things, even when I’m not trying so hard.  “Some people just don’t get that,” he says.  “Some people start to feel bad about things we do, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen a good “break-up” with Melvin.  He’s a pretty scary guy.  So just, y’know, be on your best behavior, stay close to me, and don’t piss him off too much and you’ll be fine.”  I smile at him again.

“No problem.”  I’m not thinking it’s no problem to ‘be good’ or to not piss Melvin off, but it’s definitely going to be no problem staying close to Adrian.  At this point I’ve already mentally committed to staying as close to him as humanly possible, whether I have any interest in his gang or not.  But I am interested in his gang. When I used to imagine my “new life” before I left home, before I killed Delia, I always kind of imagined myself alone, maybe because that’s all I’ve really known.  But now, now I can’t imagine anything better than being the awesome talent in a crew of criminals.  It kind of sounds like an opportunity for a family I’ve never had…a family that comes with a hot boyfriend.  Adrian pays the check and we head back out into the casino.

He holds my hand the whole time.

I grow tall.  I’m six feet when I pack my single duffel bag and walk to the front desk to sign out on the morning of my eighteenth birthday.  It’s Peg who hands me the pen to sign myself out.  She’s worked here since I was about nine and as I sign the papers she says “Goodbye Bonnie” in the funny way that people who know that you won’t or can’t answer back always say things.

“Goodbye Peg,” I say simply, handing the pen back to her politely.  Her mouth drops open like a fish.

“You? You…you can talk?” she stammers.

“Of course I can talk,” I say, smiling and picking up my bag.  “I could always talk.”

Peg stands up and calls to one of the others on staff and then looks back at me.  “Why…why didn’t you ever say anything?”  she asks, clearly baffled.  I shrug.

“I didn’t have anything to say,” I shrug walking out the front door without looking back.  I can hear her talking animatedly with other staff even once I’m outside.  I hadn’t meant to shock them, but it feels kind of nice.  I like being underestimated.  There’s some power in keeping what you can really do to yourself.  I’ll have to remember it.

Being free of the home is a beautiful thing.  I hadn’t expected how much I would enjoy being outside those walls and fences, and I promise myself never to go back, there or anywhere else where I’m not allowed to just open the door and walk out as I please.

I could have run away years ago I realize, standing there on the brown grass outside the gates, but it hadn’t occurred to me.  Despite myself, I seem to have some very clear lines drawn in my head about what I am and am not supposed to do.  I’m still not sure where I get these ideas.  Sometimes I fantasize that they come from my mother, but I was so little when she died that it seems impossible.  I still feel she has some connection to it, but when I really look at how the lines feel in my head they feel as if they were drawn there when I was being built.  When I was growing eyes and teeth and little fingers, like while my brain was shaping itself these lines just laid down and took root.  I like the lines though; they make me feel more comfortable about some things that I think are still going to come in my life.  I breathe in deeply the fresh free air and look around.

I have no idea where to go or how to do anything, but somehow it’s all okay, and there’s only one thing I want to do anyway.  It’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do for twelve years.  Find Jasper.

 

It’s funny how quickly I become a part of them.  I meld into them, folding myself perfectly into the space they have provided.  It’s nice.  There are problems too, but in general it’s nice.  It’s not like having a parent because mostly I get to make my own rules, but it’s a bit like what I imagine having a whole mess of brothers and a sister would be like.  They’re annoying a lot of the time, but it’s a comfortable annoying.  And it’s good to know someone has my back; that someone gives a crap what I’m up to.

And then of course there’s Adrian, which is a whole different kind of nice.

I make him wait longer than he’s probably ever had to wait for a girl.  With that smile, I doubt he usually waits too long.  But I’m still worried about getting played, still anxious about what he might take from me when I’m not looking.  And if I’m real honest, I’m nervous about having sex for the first time.  I can do so much that is seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal – but it is – it feels like everything will be different after, like, I will be different after.

And so I hold out as long as I can.

By the time we get to it I’m itching for him in parts of me I never even knew existed.  In the end part of what helps me wait is my fear.  Having never had sex before I don’t know what to do, probably like any virgin, but more importantly, as we draw closer to it, I grow more and more concerned that I’ll accidentally hurt him.  Sometimes I catch myself not knowing my own strength, or not being able to focus it and so I wonder what happens if I finally give in to him and let go.  For weeks before we actually do it I have terrible dreams about my fist going right through his abdomen or throat by accident.  And then he’s bleeding all over me, parts of him in my powerful hands, light going out of his eyes, the word ‘why’ just hanging on his perfect lips. I wake up nearly in screams for weeks.

It’s one of these dreams that gets us started actually.  We’ve fallen asleep in my motel bed watching movies and eating Chinese food and I shoot up out of bed, breathing hard, the image of Adrian’s blood and broken bones covering my hands, still stuck to the back of my freaking eyelids.  Adrian reaches out for me sleepily.

“What’s wrong baby?”

“Hhhhh,” I breathe, wordless.  He wakes up a little more and puts his hand on my sweaty back.  My damp t-shirt makes him alert.

“You okay Lo?”

“Hhh. Yeah,” I say, still trying to catch my breath.  Keeping my eyes open wide so as not to see the images plastered to them when they close.  He pulls me toward him, in spite of my sticky skin and rolls me into him like sand filling a shell.  Before I even realize it we’re kissing and pieces of clothing are falling away and in moments his skin matches mine in sticky sweetness.  He’s inside me almost flawlessly, not like I’ve imagined; awkward and strange, foreign and obvious.  There’s a pinch of pain, but mostly it’s like sticks of butter melting into each other rather than a stick of butter being stabbed with a knife as I’ve kind of been picturing.  I can’t help but feel like it’s this way because he’s who he is and I’m who I am…that maybe it’s like the butter and knife when it’s not the right person.  It seems like a silly idea, but soon I can’t think about anything, even sticks of butter melting into each other.

We lie together after, curled into one another, with no covers on.  He’s sleeping, breathing softly into my hair in a steady rhythm and for some reason all I can think about is Delia.  About what her life had been like when she was my age.  I’m wishing hard now that I had asked her some things before I killed her.  Wishing I at least asked who my father is or was, and if she’d loved him the way I love Adrian.  Hopelessly, desperately, almost violently.

I wonder afterwards if that’s how it is for every girl, super powered or otherwise.

Thinking about how much I love Adrian ends up confusing the hell out of me though.  I’ve been me long enough to know that there’s something wrong with me.  I mean, assuming that bad equals wrong, or that wrong equals bad, or whatever, then am I bad or wrong or both?  And most of the time I think I’m honestly okay with that, whatever the answer is.  I don’t really feel I have a choice about it, like maybe Delia couldn’t help it either.  That we just are the way we are, deep down in our blood, and no amount of feeling bad about stuff or trying to be different can change it, like it’s a disease that never goes away, like Aveline said in her letter.  But I don’t understand how love goes along with all the other things I feel most the time.  It makes the feelings I have for Adrian seem like an alien inside of me.  Like a creature not welcome on an alien planet.  Does the fact that I feel like I’m betraying some ancient part of myself by having tender feelings for him mean something?

Usually I can block all this out.  Push it from my mind.  Except when things are like this, like…happy.  It’s feeling happy that does it I guess.  Feeling happy is the trigger.  It feels wrong inside to feel happy.

I feel like I get a raw deal sometimes.  Superpowers or not, a person should be allowed to be simply happy, without feeling like it needs to strip off its skin

Turning a corner deep in thought I don’t notice anything until I see a shadow fall across my path and I almost smack right into her.

Sharon.

Apparently she hasn’t forgotten what I’d done to her and has been paying attention to when I would be released.  She looks rough.  Like the months since she left the home have been hard on her.  I notice her hand that I crushed is still damaged.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that an orphan’s hand wasn’t properly repaired.  My guilt doubles.  Triples.  She hides the hand underneath crossed arms when she sees me looking at it.  I look up into her face and open my mouth to say I’m sorry but I can see it will mean nothing to her and turn away, determined not to get into another physical altercation with her.

“Not so fast!” she almost screams as she reaches out with her left hand and grabs the strap of my duffel bag, pulling me backward.  I probably could have dodged her grab, but my guilt is keeping me pretty contained; I don’t want to hurt her again, I’ve obviously done enough to her.  Ironically when I had crushed her hand I’d done it because I thought maybe it would keep her from hurting other people.  From the look and feel of her now that has backfired horribly.  As she pulls me toward her by my duffel strap she wraps her right arm around my neck, so that her face is right next to my ear.  I am tense and ready to move, but letting her call the shots.   Of course if I’d known she was going to stab me I probably would have been a little more proactive.

The knife slides into my side and I feel like I’m just a bundle of nerves strapped together with electrical tape.  I yelp in pain and pull away from her.  As I pull forward she stabs me in the back, repeatedly.  Pain and fear shoot through me and the world starts to slip away just as another voice pushes into the alley.  My vision is being eaten away at the edges, but I see a pair of huge black boots as I hit the dirt with a thud, the knife still wedged between my shoulder blades.

I can tell from the second I come into the room that something is going to happen tonight, probably something bad.  There’s a tension in the room that I haven’t felt since I first started working with the crew.  But since I can’t tell what is going to go bad, or when, I decide to just ride it out and try to be extra careful.  I wrap my arms around Adrian’s waist, burying my face in the crook of his neck, smelling him wrapped up in his old leather jacket.  He smiles down at me and kisses my hair.

“Mi niña,” he says.

“Hi,” I say.  At least everything with Adrian seems fine.  I catch Melvin watching us and shoot him a nasty look which he laughs at.  I don’t know what I’m going to have to do to make that dude shut up and stop laughing, but it isn’t going to be pretty.  Maybe when Adrian and I finally get out of here and head for L.A. I’ll leave Melvin a parting gift.

I get in the car with the rest of the crew. Enrico is there, and Felice’s boyfriend Jorge of course, and the new guy, Albert.  I’m not too wild about Albert being included since I don’t know him too well, but I actually trust him more than Melvin, so I guess it doesn’t matter much one way or the other.  The crew loads up into the SUV and Adrian and I sit in the back as usual, making out as we drive to the site.  Felice yells at us to ‘cut it out’ at least three times, which is two times less than she usually does, but we never pay attention anyway.  When we get there I hop out and take off my jeans and sweatshirt to reveal my black cat suit, which I have officially begun to call my ‘working clothes’.   I pull the hood over my hair and adjust it on my face.  Adrian steps out after me, all in black, a black ski mask on his face, and a tire iron in his hand.  He looks back at Felice, who’s driving, as per usual and Enrico who’s looking intently at a glowing laptop perched on his knee.  Albert and Jorge lace up their boots, gearing up for their “decoy bit”.  Felice is on the phone with Melvin waiting for a ‘go ahead order’.  She’s holding her finger up, telling us to wait a minute.  I look in the distance at the low concrete building and the surrounding fence.  Something still feels off.  Felice snaps her phone shut and looks at Adrian.

“We’re a go,” she says curtly.  Adrian looks at me.

“You ready baby?”

“Actually…” I pause, looking around.  I still have the creeps; something feels wrong.  “I don’t know.”

“What?” he asks, looking around, trying to see what I am seeing, which is of course impossible.

“Something’s wrong.  I’ve had a bad feeling all night…and now, well, I’ve still got it.  I think we should bail.”

“Seriously?”

“What the hell is going on?” Felice calls from inside the SUV.

“Lola’s got a bad feeling.  She thinks we should call if off,” Adrian says into the darkness of the SUV.

“Oh really?  So now Lola’s got super instincts?” Albert laughs.  I kinda want to shove Adrian’s tire iron up his nose, but Adrian puts a hand on my arm to keep me still.

“I don’t know Albert, her judgment has been pretty good so far,” he starts.

“Yeah, I’m sure you’re not compromised in any way considering you’re fucking her.”  At that I kind of lose it and jump forward into the car, intent on clawing out his freaking eyes, but Adrian grabs me by the waist and pulls me back outside with him.  I don’t really fight it.  I hate showing these people what I can do and am constantly holding back.  Regardless of my anger, this moment has to be no exception.  Adrian puts his hand up to me as if to calm me and gets back in the SUV and discusses it with the rest of the group.  I hear cabron a couple times and cagar at least once, both of which mean Adrian is pissed, but we lose anyway.  We’re going ahead with the plan.  Of course we are.  It’s really only Adrian and I with our asses on the line, so of course they want the score regardless of any thoughts we may have on the subject.

We get caught.

Of course.

Well actually, I get caught.  We’ve gotten what we came for and we’re slipping out the side and Adrian or I (but it’s totally Adrian) trips an alarm.  We start running, but he can’t keep up with me so I slow my pace and take the heavy box from him in mid-stride to lighten his load.  He still can’t keep up and so I slow down so that we’re at least together.

And then there are dogs.

I hate when there’re dogs.

But we’re close to the fence, and I’m all “we’re gonna be fine” in my head.  Since tripping the alarm though we’re off course, and so where we’re coming out the fence is higher than where we originally came over; higher than where we were supposed to come out.  And since we’re not in position, the SUV is nowhere to be seen either.  I’m looking at the fence and there is just no way Adrian is getting over it, especially not with the dogs on us.  So when we hit the fence I send the box flying up over it.  The box lands with a satisfying thud in the dust on the other side.  When Adrian catches up with me he’s out of breath and horrified and he tears off his mask, his eyes wide and panicked.  I take his face in my hands for just a second.  “Don’t worry,” I say.  He looks at me like I’m insane.  “Trust me.”  I make my hands into a step for him and he looks at me like I’m even more insane.  The dogs are getting really close though, so I drop the sweet voice I used before.  “Just trust me.  Hurry.”  He points at the razor wire at the top of the fence.

“I’ll be cut to shreds Lola – you’re nuts!” he screams.

“Damnit Adrian, you’ll make it.  I promise!” I scream back at him.  And then I point at the dogs a few yards away.  “Would you rather be torn to shreds by that?”  Adrian turns and sees how close the dogs are.

“SHIT!” he screams and puts his foot in my hands.  I lever him over the fence, and I totally overcompensate with the adrenaline pumping through my veins and he goes flying WAY over the fence.  I’m horrified that he’ll break his neck on the way down, so instead of being smart and jumping over myself I watch him fly through the air, and just as he crash lands safely in a mound of sand the SUV pulls up, and one of the dogs jumps my back.  The force of it sends me to the ground and it sinks its teeth into my neck.  I clamp one hand over the wound and hear Adrian cry out, “NO!” as I throw the dog off and get hit by a second and third bites into my back.  A fourth dog joins in and lays into my right calf; I kick that one off with my left foot and send it flying with a high-pitched yelp.  I can hear footsteps in the distance trying to catch up with the dogs and I figure if I can just throw the dogs off and get over the fence and into the car I’ll be fine, but then I hear the tires squeal as the car drives away at an accelerated rate.  I look up to see if Adrian is at least waiting for me on the other side.  Of course there’s nothing.

Nobody.

I’m alone.

I turn roughly, throwing two of the dogs off me, and the first jumps at me again, I catch it by its jaws and pull in opposite directions, breaking its jaw and killing it instantly. I throw the corpse at the two running toward me, hitting one with the body and sending it shooting backwards.  The other jumps at me and I swing my fist at it mid-jump, connecting beautifully with the face, smashing it to pieces.  The third dog that I’d hit with the body is heading back my way, albeit a bit more slowly, and the fourth dog has maybe given up, limping away with a broken leg.  Dog number three lunges for me just as I’m about to make a jump for the fence.  I pull up short and we circle each other, the dog and I, trying to measure each other up.  I lurch forward and it steps back.  When my back is toward the fence it jumps at me and it jumps high enough that I go under it slightly and set it into the air like a massive furry teethy volleyball so that it goes over the fence, but just barely, and when it comes down it lands in the razor wire with a howl.  I plant my feet and go over the fence myself and take off running just as the some of the guards open fire.  Others try to chase me along the fence line.  I keep the pace nice and light for a few seconds until I hear the runners behind me drawing their guns. I yell back at them.  “You need some new fucking dogs!  Those other ones are dead!”  And then I kick my speed into high gear and leave them in the dust.

I slow my pace a few miles away from the facility and sit down near some weeds to give my body a chance to heal its wounds, especially the critical neck wound.  It takes the better part of an hour, but when I’m well enough I begin running again and don’t stop until I can see the Vegas lights big and bright in the darkness again.

It’s time to move on, after I kill my old crew of course.

When I get back to our rendezvous point, the old Spanish restaurant, the car is parked in the back as per usual.  They obviously think I’m dead or they wouldn’t have come back here.  I go up on the roof first, as for maybe the first time in my life I am slightly more curious than I am pissed.  Actually that’s a lie, I’m like royally pissed, but my curiosity gets the better of me anyway.  There’s a skylight in the room and so I kneel at the edge and watch and listen.  There’s no talk of me.  No remorse, no concern, no animated discussion as to whether we should ‘go back for Lola’, nothing.  To Adrian’s credit he looks quite miserable, but whether that’s because he’s left his girlfriend to get eaten alive by dogs or because he’s broken his wrist I can’t be sure.  Mostly they’re just dividing up the take, as usual; discussing their payday.

I sit back and try to think.  I’ve been discovering, much to my dismay, that I’m not a criminal mastermind or anything.  I’m just brute force and my powers in no way include super intelligence, which kind of pisses me off.  I mean, I guess it’s possible I’ll get smarter with time, but at 16 I’m still clearly just muscle, to myself and to everyone else.

Ah, screw the thinking, I’m made of pure badass action.

I snap the padlock off the skylight pull up the window and drop down through the ceiling.  I have deliberately not cleaned myself up, since I look like I’ve been half devoured by dogs and figure the sight of me alone will instill some horror.  To their credit, nobody faints, though Adrian looks like he might.

“Hello gang.  Nice night to be eaten alive by dogs isn’t it?”

“Jesus Lola,” Enrico says

“Dios mio,” Jorge breathes while crossing himself.   He looks the most frightened next to Adrian, maybe because he’s the most religious.  Melvin is the first to say something ridiculous, true to form.

“Well Lola girl.  Thank God you’re all right,” he says, putting a firm hand on my shoulder, the one not still torn apart by dogs.  I shake it off.

“Yeah, no thanks to any of you on that front,” I say eyeing everyone except Adrian.  I don’t want to kill him, but I admit I’m upset he doesn’t seem happy, or even relieved, to see me.  Silly me to expect a romantic reunion scene.  Jorge is the only one that seems to feel any need to explain anything.

“But Lola…we…we saw those dogs attack you…we knew you couldn’t survive that…nobody could…”

“Well, surprise surprise I guess.”

Felice steps forward.  “How did you survive Lola?”

“With no help from any of you that’s for damn sure,” I say, this time cutting a hard look at Adrian, who is curled up like a kitten that can’t process any more information.  They all stand there dumbfounded.  I don’t even feel much like killing them anymore, now that they look like stupid sheep, but I am taking the loot and moving on, without them.  I point to the box I’ve just been nearly killed for.

“I’ll be taking that.”

“Oh really?” Melvin says more than asks.

“Yes. I’m pretty sure I’ve earned it.”  Jorge steps back, not wanting to get caught in whatever is going to happen.   Enrico steps forward to try to stop whatever is going to happen and Albert starts bellyaching that there is no way he isn’t taking his cut.  Just as I’m about to let things get physical (I have this whole idea about leapfrogging over Melvin, grabbing the box and then kind of spiderman-ing out the skylight with the box in hand) Felice hits me in the back of the head with a tire iron.  I stumble but catch myself on a table and pick up a gun lying there innocently.  I point it at Felice, making sure I’ve got Melvin, Jorge, and Enrico in my sights despite my swimming vision.  Albert makes a move for the gun and I elbow him in the face, breaking a few bones, knocking him out.  “Don’t even,” I say, my words slurring together slightly.  Just as I’m about to put a bullet in Felice I get hit from behind again, and since Adrian’s the only one behind me, I know it’s him.

I honestly can’t believe it.

So much for love conquering all.

I fall forward hard, blackness trying to swallow me on all sides.  My eyes flutter trying to beat back the black and I feel Adrian’s strong hands rolling me over onto my back.  Melvin speaks, bastard that he is.  “Good work kid.”

“I…I didn’t want to,” Adrian says, his voice cracking.

“It was her or me, mi hermano,” Felice says.

“You did the right thing,” Enrico adds quietly.

I hate all these bastards.

“If those dogs didn’t kill her then two blows to the back of the head aren’t going to either,” Melvin says, his words swimming around me.  “We better make sure she’s done.”

The last thing I see is Melvin picking up a huge shiny blade.  It glints brightly when it catches the light.  The thing must be at least nine inches long.  He plunges it into my stomach as if he’s gutting a fish.

Then everything’s black.

I wake up tied to a chair with wire cutting into my wrists painfully.  They’re bleeding into my hands so much that they’re sticky and my vision’s blurry.  The room I’m in is bare, with only an alarming amount of my blood pooling into the tread of my shoes and spreading across the scuffed hardwood beneath me.  It’s night, but I have no idea how late and the room I’m in is a dark, empty black.  There’s a bare bulb overhead but the light is off.  Pulling on my wrists to see about freeing them is excruciating and so I stop doing it.  I can hear arguing in another room.

“I thought you just wanted to hurt her,” says a male voice.

“I tried – did you not see me stab her like five times in the back – not to mention once in the kidneys?!  The bitch is still alive.  I’m telling you – I’ve been telling you for like, months – there’s something wrong with her!”

“Listen, baby, I’m sorry she hurt you, it totally sucks, but this is like kidnapping now, which is messy.  I mean I was totally willing to stand by you if you just wanted to get your revenge and be done with it, but this is…well this is a whole other thing.  We should get out of it now.”

“Leave if you want.  But I’m finishing things with her. However it goes down.  She ruined my life and I won’t allow her to just walk away and go on with hers like it never happened.”

“Whatever.  I’m out of it, call me when you’re sane again, okay babe?”  A door slams shut.

“Jerk.”  There’s a pause and then footsteps come my way, up some stairs and straight into the room I’m in.  I look at her.

“I’m sorry I ruined your life Sharon, if I could take it back I would.”

“See, I knew you wouldn’t be dead,” she spits her words and throws her hands in the air dramatically.  “And you’re talking now I see…real convenient.  I knew that was bullshit all along – your stupid mute act.”

“It wasn’t an act…I just didn’t have anything to say.”

“Oh wow, and now some of the first words out of your mouth are lame apologies?  You should have stuck with the mute thing,” she says, leaning against the wall across from me.

“I’m sorry.  It’s all I can say,” I trail off quietly.

“You’re only sorry now because you’re all helpless and tied to a chair…I don’t think you’d be saying those things if I let you out.”

“I would, I really would.  I’ve felt terrible about hurting you.  I never meant to get so carried away…you just made me so angry.”

“HA!” she snorts, stepping forward and shoving her finger in my face.  “You sound just like my stepdad blaming my mom and me for when he would hit us – it was OUR fault for making him mad.”

“I…I didn’t mean it that way.  I was wrong.  I don’t know what happened.  I lost control.  I haven’t hurt anyone since that day, I promised myself I wouldn’t.”

“Hmm.  Well I guess we’ll see, wont we?” She walks toward me with a hammer in her hand.

This is going to hurt.

Without even blinking she swings the hammer at my face, shattering my jaw.  My face explodes in pain as the vibrations ricochet through my whole body.

“Broken jaw.  Hurts, doesn’t it?”

My head lolls backward on my neck as if no longer attached and I choke on bones and blood.  I try to pull my head forward and do so just in time to see her swinging the hammer at me again, this time she hits my pelvis and I feel it splinter inside my body, sending ripples of pain all the way into the strands of my hair.  My hands tear free of the makeshift handcuffs instinctively, pulling off most of my skin in the process.  I fall forward in the chair.  Sharon is already coming at me again with the hammer, aimed for my shoulder I think, and I reach up with one of my bloody skinless hands and grab the head of the hammer mid-swing.  “Ennnougggh,” I say through my broken jaw.  Sharon looks at my horrifying hand, shed entirely of its skin, and crumples against the wall. I think she’s fainted.

I watch her lie there for a moment and when she doesn’t get up I turn over and free my ankles from the wire, breaking the chair into little wooden shards in the process.  I reach up to my jaw, which seems to be knitting itself back together ever so slowly and painfully and look at my hands which look more like an anatomy chart of muscle groups than someone’s hands.  I crawl away from the remains of my chair, my hip too shattered to stand, but collapse halfway to the door as darkness takes me.

 

 I wake up naked in the desert, my head pounding and my skin covered in filmy orange desert dust.  It’s not quite noon judging by the sun and the already Vegas level hot in the air.  I put my hand up to the back of my head, where the ache seems to be emanating from and bring back a gooey sticky mess of partially dried blood.  I’m starting to remember how I got here.

“That bitch,” I say out loud to the tumbleweeds.  Felice had hit me with a tire iron, I remembered that.  But I seriously doubt that was enough to put me down long enough to get my butt dumped in the desert, and then I remember the knife.  I look at my stomach and see a ragged looking red scar across my abdomen where Melvin’s knife must have ended up.  So the good news is, I can cross ‘tire iron to the back of the head’ and ‘being gutted with a nine-inch blade’ off my list of things that can possibly kill me.  The bad news is I am definitely going to have to go back and kill all of them.  Adrian too.  This is what I get for being nice and wavering on killing them in the first place.

Knife in my stomach.  Fucking amateurs!

That said, why did they have to dump me naked?  It’s going to be a pain getting back into Vegas without any damn clothes.  Fortunately my skin seems to handle the crazy hot desert floor pretty well, so I mentally add that to the list of ‘things that are awesome about being me’ as well and walk toward a highway in the distance.

I’m still too weak for a high-powered run back to the city, but unsurprisingly, it turns out it’s not so hard to get picked up in the desert when you’re a naked young girl.  Some dude in a pickup truck stops within two minutes.

“Thanks for stopping,” I say as I climb in.  He looks me up and down in a long gross gaze.

“Sure honey, you okay?”

“Yeah.  Totally fine.”

“Where are you headed?”

“Vegas.  Where else?”

“Too true,” he chuckles.

“Hey, you mind letting me borrow one of those shirts you’re wearing?”

“Well sweetheart, you know, I actually have a um…um…skin allergy, whereas my skin can’t really be out in the sun, which is why I need the two shirts,” he says, his eyes all over me the entire time.

“Your windows are tinted,” I say.  He smiles at me with a creepy, serial killer like grin, and I should know, since I’m working on one of those myself.

“That’s true,” he says simply.

“Okay.  Pull over please.”

“Huh?”

“Just pull over.  I’m not riding all the way back to Vegas with a pervert.”

“Pervert?  You got me wrong, sweet thing.”

“Stop calling me pet names and pull over.”

“Well now, I don’t really think that’s a good idea, darlin’, who knows who might pick you up next.”

“Are you saying you won’t let me out?”

“Well, yes…yes, I guess I am.”

“Okay, just so we understand each other, this is your fault okay?”

“What is my fa–”

“Because I was just like, totally channeling my rage where it belonged, but now you’re being disgusting and so I just want you to know you’ve brought this on yourself.”

I raise my foot in the air and kick the side of his head through his window, while grabbing the steering wheel with one hand and pulling us off the road.  I think his neck broke, because it’s all wobbly like Jell-O when I pull him back inside the truck.  I push his foot off the gas and slow us to a stop on the side of the road and then strip off his shirts.  Wearing his t-shirt I drag him out of the truck and toss him over my shoulder and dump him behind some dry desert brush.  As I do, I notice his feet are shockingly small and so I take his boots as well; they almost fit.  I tie his button down shirt around my waist so I won’t have to sit bare-assed on his vinyl seat.  On the way back to Vegas I fantasize about how to kill each and every one of my crew except Adrian, I keep skipping over Adrian.  But Felice is definitely getting some kind of tire iron special.

When I wake up it’s morning, though early judging by the shafts of soft light spilling into the room through the grimy window.  I feel my jaw and find it healed to perfection. A hand gingerly feeling about my hip tells me it’s still a work in progress.  Sharon’s still passed out on the floorboards nearby.  I crawl over to her and take her pulse.  It’s strong and steady.

I stand up unevenly, broken and still healing, but able to walk.  Barely.  I’m not sure what to do about Sharon.  Hurting her has only made her more of a monster, but I don’t know if I know how to do anything but hurt.

All I can do is leave her alone.

I hobble down the stairs and into the street, grabbing my duffel bag on the way out, happy it’s early enough that few people are out to see the horror show that I am, my clothes caked in blood, my walk a strange awkward shuffle.

I make my way to a part of town ironically not far from the home where I know nobody will be likely to notice my rough appearance and look for a place to hideout.  When I find an abandoned building that looks sufficiently boarded up and deserted I scale a fire escape and pull a few of the boards off a second floor window before crawling inside.  It is blissfully empty, of people at least, and I curl up in a corner and try to finish healing.

My mind swims with what a disaster I have made of things. On my own and away from the home for less than a day and already I’m a mess. Who was I kidding that I could just do this on my own, all alone. And Sharon. I can’t even think about her without my heart seizing up in my chest. I’ve ruined her. I mean, she was on her way to ruin without my help, but her fall out of that window might as well have been me pushing her off a cliff toward never recovering.

I suddenly lose it. I burst into tears.  A wail escapes from me that I wouldn’t have thought possible. I have never felt so alone in my life.  Even though I’ve always felt alone, now there is just this magnifying glass on it, like it’s echoing off everything in the entire universe.  The sobs just pour out of me, unrelenting in their depth.  It’s the first time I’ve cried since I was six.

I’m a monster.

I feel with every fiber of my being that I should be doing something good with my life, that I should be helping people and ‘saving the world’, but all I have the ability to do is maim, kill, and destroy.  It feels so wrong.  I’m an abomination.  Like I am made wrong – missing some crucial piece of a giant and unsolvable puzzle.  I am the Green Lantern without my power ring.  I am Captain Marvel without my magic word.  There’s nothing to guide me.

There is nothing.

Nothing.

I am lost and alone.

I sleep with the honest intention of never waking up.

I go after Felice first.  There’s something about Felice being a woman and one of my biggest betrayers that pisses me off a little bit extra.  Not that I’m the most loyal of individuals myself, but I am feeling pretty justified and superior at this point.  Adrian will of course be last, even though his betrayal hurts the most.  I’m definitely going to have to work myself up to being able to kill Adrian.  I do still love him.  No matter what he’s done…I can’t seem to help it.

The other reason to go after Felice first is simply that I know where she’ll be; the diner.  I stop at my hotel room on the way to the diner in order to change clothes.  Not knowing how long I’ve been out of commission I assume Adrian has given up the location of my motel room so that they can ransack it for treasure, and they have, the vultures.  Fortunately they’ve left the things they found to be worthless, like most of my clothes and personal items.  I’m not surprised to find that my helmet is gone and a glance out the window tells me that the bike is gone as well.  Felice has surely taken the bike as she’s always had her eye on it.

Maybe I can come up with something extra horrible for her.

The room has been torn up, probably to make it look like a robbery (which it is) or a kidnapping (which it sort of is).  I curse a couple times and pull on some underwear, jeans, a t-shirt and my beat up Converse.  I put the rest of my stuff that isn’t destroyed in the only remaining duffel bag and head out the front door.  The duffel feels light without my beloved cat suit in it (though maybe it’s all in my head).  That should be my first question for Felice, although I suspect I’ll forget about it by the time we’re face to face.

I get back in the pervert’s truck with my stuff and the pervert’s old clothes and boots.  It occurs to me as I get in that he’s actually the first person I’ve killed – well, except Delia.  It seems like that should feel weird or strange, killing someone, but instead it feels totally natural, ike taking out the trash or something.  Actually that’s a totally bad analogy since I hate taking out the trash – but it feels almost, maybe routine?  Like mundane and ordinary, and instead of wondering why I did it, I wonder why haven’t I been doing it more?

A couple miles from my hotel, in a McDonald’s parking lot, I throw out the cowboy boots in an old dumpster and two miles from that I throw out the shirts in the trash behind a closed liquor store.  Then I drive the car to a location about a half-mile from Felice’s diner and park it at the empty end of a supermarket parking lot.  I leave the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition, hoping I’ll get lucky and someone will take the opportunity to steal it, moving it even further away from me.  But it doesn’t really matter, I’m about to be a ghost in this town.

On the walk to the diner I pass an auto repair shop and just casually pick up a dirty tire iron lying around with some other tools and walk off with it.  It feels nice in my hand.  Heavy, but almost elegant.  I don’t think people give tire irons enough credit.  On the surface it seems like the choice of a thug or Neanderthal, but really it has a nice feeling to it; it seems like it has more class than using an axe or something.  I like it.

As I near the diner I see my motorcycle parked outside.  Bitch.  She has some giant brass balls.  I almost want to admire her for it, but there should at least be honor among thieves…or something.  I go around the back alley that leads to the dumpsters and is mostly hidden from the parking lot.  Felice is nothing if not predictable and it won’t be long until she comes out for her smoke break.  I lean against a concrete wall and train my eyes on the back door of the diner, the tire iron in my right hand and casually resting behind my right leg.

She emerges, true to form, about eight minutes later, pack of cigarettes in her hand, one already in her mouth and the match struck as she comes out the back door.

“Hello, Felice.”

To her credit she doesn’t faint, but her normal unfazed expression is totally fazed.  In fact, her mouth drops open so far that she loses her unlit cigarette, and the match flame continues to burn towards her hand.

“You’re gonna burn yourself,” I offer.  She looks at the match a second too late and grimaces before dropping it.

“Lola…I…” she stammers.  It’s good she doesn’t have words, I mean what kind of words do you offer to someone that you left for dead to be eaten by dogs, then hit with a tire iron and dumped in the desert naked and gutted, as they stand in front of you in an abandoned alley?

“The keys,” I say simply, holding out my left hand.  She reaches in the pocket of her jeans and takes out the motorcycle keys.  She starts to take the keys off the ring that house the other keys of her life.  “Don’t bother with that. You won’t be needing the rest of those…like, ever.”  She stops, her head still down, her hair falling in her eyes.  Her hands shake visibly as she absorbs the impact of my words.  She tosses the keys to me.  I catch them in my left hand and pocket them.

“What’re you…” she starts.  I smile at her coolly.

“Oh, let’s not ask silly questions now.  I think I just told you what I’m going to do to you Felice.  I’m going to kill you.  And you know what?  You totally deserve it.  I’ll be honest, when I killed my mother, I felt this twinge…not a twinge of guilt or regret or anything you understand, but a twinge that I was supposed to be feeling something…but that it was missing in me.  I suspect I’ll feel that twinge again when I kill Adrian later today, but right now?  I gotta say, I’m not feeling any freaking twinge,” with that I let the tire iron slide out from behind my leg.  “Recognize this?”  Her eyes widen, the whites shining brightly from her face and she finally panics and tries to get back into the diner, but I’m on her before she can even turn the knob, pressing her against the door with my body weight and breathing in her ear, “Let’s not get anyone else involved okay?”  With that I snap the handle off the back door.

“What are you?” she says more than asks.

“Mmmm.  I don’t really know what I am Felice.  It’s an interesting question, but one I’m afraid we don’t have time for today,” I say, totally overloading on over-the-top cartoon villain dialogue. A well-placed blow to the knee knocks her to the ground and she yelps quietly, but the next one might not be so quiet, so I have to work fast.  I beat her until she looks like little bits of broken bones in a bag of flesh instead of a person. She was dead after the second hit, the rest of them were just for me. Afterward, I pick up her body and drop it in the dumpster where it belongs.  There’s blood on the ground, but I don’t care, and I’ve actually remained surprisingly clean, which is nice.

When I’m finished I head to the Spanish restaurant, where they’ll probably be hanging out, like morons, easy pickings, all of them.  I get back on my bike, tie up my duffel bag, and head over.  I keep the tire iron, if only for sentimental reasons.

I’m glad to find that Adrian isn’t there when I peek through the skylight.  I hope he’s not coming at all.  Without drama I drop through the skylight and land in the middle of the room, much like last time.

I look around, happy at the nice shocked faces, though Melvin looks more pissed than surprised.

“Déjà vu, huh?” I say to the room arms outstretched.

“What the hell?!” Enrico says.

“This is impossible!” Albert chimes in.

“Hmm,” I say.  “Lets make it extra déjà vu-y…” I point to the safe in the back of the room.  “I’ll be taking that.”

They all look at the safe, Jorge as white as a sheet and ready to not only give up any treasure, but maybe willing to either proclaim me Jesus resurrected or the devil incarnate, I’m not sure which.  And does it really matter?  Albert and Enrico are similarly ready to give me anything in order for me to leave, but Melvin, as always, needs more convincing.  I look at him hard.  “Please say ‘over my dead body’ – I’m just dying for someone to say that,” I smile.  Melvin smiles thinly back at me and pulls out a gun.  I admit, I’m a little afraid of the gun.  Having never been shot I’m not sure what will happen, and if I’m knocked out again, Christ knows what they’ll do to me and who knows if I can recover from their shenanigans a third time.  Can I re-grow a head?  Melvin shoots at me and I move fast enough that the bullet barely grazes my arm, like a tickle.  He continues shooting, and I continue moving, and as a result he shoots Jorge in the head.  At this Albert and Enrico panic and the noise gets ratcheted up a couple notches.  I grab Albert and use him as a human shield to approach Melvin, who mercilessly shoots Albert twice in the process.  When I’m close enough that I’m confident I can beat the bullet, I move faster than ever before and snatch the gun from Melvin’s hand, taking his trigger finger with me in the process.  He howls like mad and crumbles to his knees.  Albert is crying beneath me, with two critical wounds in his chest and I shoot him in the head just to shut him up.  Melvin looks surprised.  I don’t know why.  Enrico has his hands up in the corner of the room.

“Lola, please, please don’t.  This was not my idea…this was never my –“

I level the gun at him and shoot him without even looking at him, my eyes on Melvin the whole time.  Enrico hits the corner, and crumples against it, falling to the ground insignificantly.  I return my focus to Melvin, who finally looks something remotely resembling frightened.  He’s lying down now on his back, holding his wrist like a baby.  He’s right next to the safe.  I walk over to him and stand above him.  “Tsk, tsk,” I say.  He looks up at me, still not with respect, but with something closer than we’ve ever gotten to before.  I straddle him, one foot on either side of his arms, blood from his hand where his finger has been torn off is soaking his night button down shirt and puddling slightly underneath us.  I squat down so that the weight of me bounces just above his chest, almost playfully, and I poke him in the head with his own severed finger.

“The combination please,” I say.   He looks at me with hate and impotent rage and I throw the finger over my shoulder and pres the gun into his mouth, his teeth clack against the barrel loudly. “The combination,” I repeat, harder.  He shakes his head and I roll my eyes.  He’s so difficult.  If he wasn’t such a jerk maybe I’d respect his stubbornness.  “No?” I say.  “Oh, you know what?  I don’t even need it…watch this.”  I break the handle off the safe with my hand.  Unfortunately the door does not fall open as I had hoped, and Melvin actually has the balls to smile a bit with the gun still in his mouth.  What does it take to impress this man?   I rear my fist back and plunge it through the wall of the safe, which works beautifully, even though my hand is a bloody mess when I draw it back.  His face finally registers some understanding and he looks genuinely scared.  I pull back some of the sharp metal until I’m in the safe, staring at all Melvin’s fortune, and the bulk of mine, which he has obviously appropriated for himself.  After I’m sure Melvin has registered my awesomeness on the level he should have all along I pull the trigger.

He still seems surprised, and pissed, even in death.

I grab a big black canvas bag from one of the desk drawers and fill it with everything from the safe.  I am a rich rich girl, and rightly so.  As I finish up Adrian walks in the door.

Of course.

When I wake up in the abandoned building it’s late afternoon judging by the sun and I feel new, like I have been slumbering in a cocoon and am now emerging strong; like being reborn.  My clothes look the opposite of new however, stiff and caked in dark blood. I unzip my bag and pull out some of the few items of clothing I own and change into them, testing my muscles as I stretch, my mind swimming about what I should do next.

I’ve had doubts about finding Jasper ever since he didn’t come for me six years ago, and they’ve only been compounded since things have gone so horribly awry for me since leaving the home.  But when you hold onto something so tightly for twelve years it’s hard to let it go.  Maybe impossible.  He’s still all I want in this whole world.  If he doesn’t want me around, he’ll have to tell me himself.

The public library has a few computer terminals with free Internet access and after cleaning up a bit in the bathroom I wait my turn patiently, hoping the name Jasper Braverman is still as unusual as it seemed when we were kids.  After a few minutes I’ve learned only that either there is no Jasper Braverman in our hometown or he’s unlisted.  I expand my search, trying Philadelphia first.  Jasper loved the Sixers when we were kids, and as a result, Philly, so it seems like a good place to start.  There are three J. Bravermans with addresses listed in Philadelphia and all three have phone numbers attached.  The library is closing soon, so I write everything down and head to the train yard, stopping at the only working pay phone I see to try the numbers.  If none of these work I’ll have to go back tomorrow and try again.  Keep trying until I find him.

I have to psych myself up to make the call, and can only finally do it when I convince myself that I’m going to hang up when someone answers, or at least pretend not to be me.  The first number goes directly to a voicemail box with a woman’s voice, she’s called Jen.  The second is a disconnected number and I hold my breath as the third number clicks over to voicemail.  I recognize his voice even before he says his name and my breath catches between my chest and freedom.

You’ve reached Jasper Braverman.  I’m unable to take your call at this time, please leave a message at the beep.

I hang up.

It’s amazing.

I can hear that same twelve-year-old brother I so looked up to, but now he sounds more like my father.  All gravely but kind.  I’d forgotten he had sounded that way and there’s a little strangled sound in my throat for a moment as I remember. I hang up and call three more times to listen to his voice. And his voice alone is enough to have my heart beating triple time as I wait for a train headed to Philly.  Finally, in the depths of night I’m able to jump on one passing through in the right direction.

Trying to sleep in the car, I can’t help but fantasize about meeting Jasper for the first time again.  He’s 24.  Will I recognize him as I recognized his voice?  Will he recognize me?  Will he still blame me for the accident?

I can’t read Adrian’s face.  It’s a bunch of percentages of things like surprise, fear, love, and hate, but it doesn’t add up to a hundred percent and no one emotion seems to be winning.

“Lola?” he says, holding his arm and staring at me. I can’t believe he can’t smell the blood. It’s all I can smell.

“Adrian,” I say, dropping my head, resigned but unhappy.  I realize now I’ve been playing mental roulette in my head …‘if he doesn’t show up, I let him go, if he shows he’s gotta die’ that kinda thing.  He still doesn’t appear to have seen the carnage around him, and there’s still no romantic reunion upon realizing I am not in fact dead.  What the hell does a girl have to do to get a movie style happy-ish ending?

I’m not prepared to die a third time for it.

Adrian sees the gun in my hand and then notices the chaos of the room.  You wouldn’t think it would take long to process four dead bodies in a room, but I like to think his happiness to see me makes him a little extra slow, heaven knows he wasn’t that quick to begin with.

“What…what have you done?”

“What have I done?  What have I done?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  You people left me for dead once and killed me and dumped in the desert and stole all my shit once, I’m pretty sure I’m on the high moral ground here.  This is practically self-defense at this point…and if it’s not then it’s at least like…justifiable homicide.”  I watch him taking stock of the room, and his relief is obvious when he sees that Felice’s body is absent.  “Don’t get your hopes up Adrian – I did her first,” I say, my voice hard and flat.  His face falls.

“Lola…are you going to kill me too?”  His face has that puppy dog look that I’d first fallen for, but I raise the gun and point it at him anyway.

“I’ll make it fast, okay?” I offer softly.  He starts to cry a little bit, which actually annoys me, but I can’t deny that my hand is shaking, which has never happened before, not since getting my powers, and really not even when I killed Delia.  He closes his eyes.

“Okay,” he says, his voice trying to hide a tremble, his cheeks wet.  That kinda kills me, that he says that.  It’s much better than trying to appeal to me with a last ditch ‘I love you Lola’ (though that would have been nice to hear, truth be told).  I can’t help but admire the fact that he isn’t begging, isn’t stooping, isn’t trying to play me.  At the last second I turn the gun and shoot him in the meaty bit of his thigh instead of between the eyes.  I’m out the skylight with my bag of loot before he’s had a chance to open his eyes back up and scream.

If anyone were to ask me if I cried into my helmet as I was leaving Vegas I would have said no, but I did.  Adrian broke my heart and I’m surprised that it had been so easy for him to do.  Just because I am the way I am, and I am as strong as I am, I guess doesn’t mean I’m totally invulnerable.  I like to think it also means that maybe I’m not as bad as I always think I am inside.  If I can care about Adrian, enough to make his betrayal something worth crying over, then maybe I’m not as broken as I thought.  I don’t know how I feel about that.

So I just ride the motorcycle faster, and try to leave all of it in my dust.  I’ll be in Los Angeles in a few hours, and all of this nonsense will be behind me.  Perhaps that’s the only way to get rid of those feelings…to ride away from them, to leave them with the carnage in the backroom.  I certainly don’t know what to do with them if I hold onto them.

I don’t make it to L.A.  Not even close actually.  I stop 90 miles outside of Vegas, in this shitty little town called Baker, which is famous for this giant kind of run down looking thermometer.  Apparently it’s the largest in the world, or the U.S., or something.  It’s super unimpressive and I blow right past it and into the nearest convenience store.  My hands were shaking on the road and I’m telling myself it’s from hunger.  Which it could be.  Or it could be the slaughter I left in my wake back in Vegas.  I’m trying to not let it get to me, but it’s really the first time that I’ve just bathed in blood.  And my hands are shaking.

So what.

After using the grimy looking bathroom at a 76 station I grab a diet coke and stalk the aisles for junk food.  I barely look at what I’m grabbing, just picking up handfuls of the most brightly colored packages until my arms are nearly full.  At the register I drop the load unceremoniously on the counter holding onto what looks like a package of chocolate cupcakes and ripping them open with my teeth, the diet coke balancing in my other hand.  The cashier has her back to me and her feet up on a stool, a cell phone glued to her ear.  She’s snapping her gum and talking at the same time, which should be impossible, but apparently isn’t.  I’m not really in a hurry and my eyes are still hungry so I run my hands across more shiny packages of sugar and eavesdrop.

“No!  I’m telling you it was SO gross…Yeah, a spike through his thing…YES! I swear Julie…”

My ears perk up and I lean back to look at her, eyebrows raised.

“Well no…I didn’t get a picture.  They made us turn our cell phones off, duh, otherwise it would be like all over YouTube and crap.  But I have the flyer…no, of course it doesn’t show that, but it shows…other stuff…” she gets quiet, listening to her friend.  I stand at the counter, drumming my fingers impatiently on the Formica, while I lick cupcake off my fingers.  The girl pretends not to notice me, so I throw a Skor bar at her.  It hits her right in her bleached blonde head and she sits up.

“Hey!” she says looking pissed and rubbing the back of her head with her free hand, though it couldn’t have possibly hurt.

“Yeah.  HEY.  Can I buy this crap or what?”

“Uh, yeah, can you hold on a freakin’ second?”

“Yeah, um, I’ve already been holding.”

She sighs dramatically and rolls her eyes, making her instantly at least three times less attractive.

“Jule – I gotta go.  Yeah, I’ll call you back,” she stands up, the flyer still in her hand and she starts ringing me up, hitting the keys extra hard, I suppose so I will know how extra annoyed she is with me.  She’s probably my age, but I feel a lot older.

“What were you talking about…Molly?” I ask, reading her nametag.

“Um.  Like none of your business.”

“What is this?” I ask, snatching the flyer from her hand with lightning speed.

“Hey!” she shouts for the second time.  She’s surprised, but also maybe a little scared and it quiets her down considerably.  I’m always surprised by which people have good instincts and which don’t.  I wouldn’t have pegged peroxide brained Molly as even knowing what instinct is, but she’s feeling like prey very suddenly; it comes off of her in waves that I can almost taste.  It’s the kind of thing that can save a person’s life, maybe.  I look away from Molly and her large prey eyes and examine the flyer.  It’s for a carnival sideshow and front and center is a man tattooed head to toe and pierced dozens of times that I can see.  But that’s not what really catches my eye.  There are over-the-top names for all sorts of freaks, and on the bottom left it says, “Strongest Woman Alive!”  I look back at Molly.

“Where was this?”

“Uh.  Phoenix.  I was in Phoenix this weekend to see my brother…the address is um…at the bottom,” she trails off and looks away.  I stare at the words “strongest woman alive” like they’re written in my own personal language, one that nobody else can understand.  Molly shifts her weight uneasily.  “Your total is $19.01.”

I drop a twenty on the counter.  It’s crumpled from my palm.  I hadn’t realized I’d been squeezing it.  “I’m taking this,” I say, holding up the flyer, and grabbing my plastic bag of treats.  She opens her mouth as if to protest and thinks better of it, casting her eyes to her shoes and waiting for me to leave.

Once I’m on the road again I hope the words from the flyer will fade away, but if anything they burn brighter in my brain.

Just outside of Barstow I turn suddenly onto 1-40 headed for Needles/Phoenix.  It’s going to take me in the opposite direction of Los Angeles, but there’s nothing specific driving me to L.A. anyway, and since reading those three words I pretty much can’t think of anything more important than being in a room with the “strongest woman alive.”

Should be interesting.

It’s still early when I find myself standing outside his house, across the street, under the shade of a big tree.  He comes out eventually and starts walking, a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, not unlike my duffel bag and me.  The sight of him hits me like being doused with ice water.  He looks just like our father.  Tall and lanky with broad shoulders and dark, thick, almost unruly hair.  He has a strong handsome jaw line and skin much more olive than mine which is pale and pinkish.  I want to run up to him, embrace him, escape with him, and never have to talk about what has happened to us.  But I resist.  I’m not so confident he’s forgiven me for being the sole survivor of the accident.  I’ve long ago forgiven him for not coming to rescue me, but my sin seems much greater to me than his; it always has.

I tail him from a safe distance, my exceptional sight making me particularly good at it.  We walk for nearly fifteen blocks, until he finally comes upon a big elementary school with a small, mostly asphalt yard.  Kids are hustling into the building as a long, loud bell rings out into the yard and as Jasper draws closer he breaks into a jog.  I cross the yard filled with swings, a jungle gym, and basketball hoops, heading for a bank of windows on the ground floor.  The second to last window has an overflowing rowdy bunch of kids – maybe second graders – and Jasper bursts through the door smiling and out of breath.  Some of the kids shout his name and I can’t help but smile at the sound of it.  He has a hell of a time calming them down and getting them all in their chairs, but it all seems in good fun.  I watch as they take turns coming up to the front of the class and talking about the most important person in their lives.  Some of them have drawn pictures or brought props like photos and toys to represent their person.  It’s mostly a hilarious parade of pets and parents with a couple of best friends and uncles thrown in until a kid named Noah, serious, but with a mischievous glint in his eye comes to the front of the class.  I can tell from Jasper’s expression that Noah is one of his favorites.  He’s smiling even before Noah starts.

“My favorite person is my new baby sister, cause she’s going to be my best friend an’ slave till I get a baby brother, which will be much better,” Noah says with pride, holding up a pair of pink baby booties.  Jasper starts to laugh and then covers his mouth and coughs, while several of the Noah’s male classmates nod solemnly in agreement.

“Does your sister have a name Noah?”

“Yeah, it’s Emma, but I call her E-dawg.”

“I’m sure your mom loves that,” Jasper says with a smile.  Noah nods confidently.

“Ya, she likes it,” Noah pauses, arms crossed, “You got any brothers or sisters Mr. J?”

Jasper corrects Noah’s language, “You mean do I have any brothers or sisters.”

“Ya, ya,” Noah says waving his hand dismissively, “Do ya?”  I’m holding my breath in anticipation of Jasper’s answer.

“No,” Jasper says simply and with a smile, “No brothers or sisters for Mr. J,” he says ushering Noah back to his seat, pink booties in hand.

This information hits me like a bullet.  Like a million bullets.  It’s not even like there is sadness in his face.  He said it as simply as if I had long ago been wiped away, or worse, never existed.  I pull back from the window stumbling over my own feet and fall into a swing far too small for me and drag my sneakers clumsily across the black tar, tears falling onto my jeans in desperate little plops.

Clearly he hasn’t forgiven me.

I’m not sure how long I wallow, but a small clear voice rouses me from it.  “Your hair is pretty,” it says, and I look up to find a tiny girl in a quilted orange jacket far too warm for early June staring at me.  I wipe my eyes, embarrassed.

“Thanks,” I say, smiling a little.

“Are you sad?” she asks, pulling herself up into the swing next to me, her little pointed toes barely grazing the ground.  “Did someone kill your turtle?  Cause my brother killed my turtle and even though he sayed it was an accident I still cried lots.”

I try not to smile.  “I’m sorry about your turtle.  What was his name?”

“His name was Gregory,” she says, deadly serious.  I try not to smile again.

“That’s a very good name for a turtle.”

“Ya,” she nods in agreement.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Nu-uh, you gotta tell me yours first, or else you’re a stranger and I shouldn’t talk to you,” she says.

“I’m Bonnie.”

“I never heard that name before,” she says thinking hard. “I’m Celia,” she adds, putting out her tiny hand for a proper handshake.  I take it gingerly and we have a little silent shake together.

“What are you doing out here Celia?” I ask, looking around, wondering about her parents.

“I’ve got to go to the dentist,” she says, sticking out her tongue in disgust.

“Where’s your mom?”

“Inside.  She tol’ me to sit still on the steps.”

“Well, this isn’t the steps,” I say tentatively.

“Jeez! They’re right there,” she says, gesturing at the steps thirty feet away.

“Okay, okay,” I say, raising my hands in defeat.

“What are YOU doing out here?” she asks with a challenge.

“Just saying goodbye to someone,” I say.

“Who?”

“My brother,” I say, and Celia turns up her nose at the word.

“Hmmm.  Just be glad you don’t have no turtle,” she says under her breath.  This time I can’t help smiling and have to stifle a laugh.  Just then Celia’s mother emerges from the building.

“Celia!” she yells a little too loudly and Celia pops off the swing.

“See ya Bonnie,” she says running toward the front steps.

“See ya Celia,” I echo back.  Halfway to her mother, she turns around, not unlike a pumpkin in her puffy orange coat.  “I still like your hair a real lot!” she shouts.  I smile and shout back.

“I like yours too.”

Long after Celia and her mother have left I pick up my duffel and leave the yard.  There’s nothing for me here.  He’s obviously moved on.  I don’t want to hurt him any more than I already have.

It’s back to the train yard for me.

I wait all afternoon for something headed west and take the first one that moves.  I’m going to start over somewhere else.  Maybe even be someone new.

I wake up in my crappy Phoenix motel room, the gross comforter on the pretty much gross floor, the white sheets in knots around me and candy wrappers strewn across the bed like opened presents.  Judging by the light in the room I’ve slept a long time, maybe even into the late afternoon.  I’d shed my blood caked clothing like a second skin the night before and I stare at them now wondering what I should do with them. I suppose a dumpster somewhere will do.  I hop across the dark carpet and into the bathroom, hoping a hot shower will loosen up my muscles after the long bike ride.  I don’t really hurt but my body feels more stiff than normal.  The shower is glorious.

Later, my hair in a fluffy white towel I dig through my bag looking for new jeans and a t-shirt and cuss at the bag when I remember that I never managed to get my cat suit back from whoever had it, whoever stripped it off me in the desert.  I kick at the bed in frustration.  Before fully committing to my t-shirt and jeans I go digging through the bag of loot from Melvin’s safe.  Inside his bag there’s a separate smaller plastic bag, which has a bunch of the stuff he stole from my room including my first stolen necklace and miraculously, at the bottom, my cat suit, folded nicely.  I pull it out and try to shake it free of wrinkles. It’s a mess – caked with blood and there’s a huge tear where my abdomen is supposed to go. There’s also a tear in the calf, a bunch along the shoulder and neck, and tons on the back, I guess from where the dogs attacked me.  I don’t know what the hell Melvin could have wanted with a cheap nylon cat suit covered in blood and tears but the potential creepiness gives me a slight chill and makes me gladder than ever that I put a bullet in him.

I fold the suit back up, happy to have it, regardless of its condition and pull on jeans and a black t-shirt.  The cat suit would be better, but this will do.  It never occurred to me until I saw the flyer with those words “world’s strongest woman” that there might be others like me, but now that I’ve thought about it, I can’t get it out of my mind.

The show is smaller than I expected.  It truly is just a sideshow of freaks, and not really a circus or carnival or fair or whatever they call them.  I pay at a window up front and walk in among aimless crowds that all head like sheep toward a main stage.  I try to follow the posters in the opposite direction.  A wiry punk looking kid not much older than me stops me and kind of silently ushers me in the other direction.  I point towards the other posters and the smaller stage I’m heading to.

“Miss, the main stage is behind you.  The show will be starting in a few minutes.”

“I’m not interested in the tattooed dude.  I came to see the strongwoman.”

“Sorry then doll, but she’s not on tonight.”

“Why not?”

“She only does the weekend show…the bigger show that includes all the acts.  This is Monday, only the big names go on tonight…she’s not on until Friday.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I pull out the flyer from my back pocket.  “It doesn’t say that on here,” I complain, thrusting it at him.

“Yeah, it does.  See here at the bottom.  ‘Not all acts available at all shows’

“But it doesn’t say which damn acts,” I say.  He shrugs his shoulders like it is the least of many problems in his life – a ‘sorry’ that he doesn’t mean at all.  I think about punching him in the face.  But I take a couple deep breaths and decide not to – he’s not what I’m here for.  I start to walk away and then turn back to him.  “What’s her name?”

“Whose name?”

I roll my eyes.  “The strongwoman.”

“Lena. Her name’s Lena.”

“Thanks,” I walk away and think about heading out, still having no interest in pierced and tattooed freaks that at best have a high tolerance for pain, until I see a woman in a white corset top and pristine white leather pants leaning up against a wall talking to a guy with a giant head.  She’s extremely fit, with the biggest arms I’ve ever seen on a woman in real life.  I look at the flyer.  Same short dark hair with a single curl on her pale forehead, same broad shoulders and well-defined arms.  Same thin lipped smile and dark eyes.  I take a seat in the back, near where she’s leaning with her bigheaded friend.  When the lights go down and the music starts pounding, the bass echoing up through my metal seat and colored lights dancing across the stage I hear her speak to her friend.

“Ugh.  I can’t watch this show another time this week.  I’m going to go out for a smoke.”  Her friend nods and I watch her duck out a side exit.  I wait a few moments and follow her out.  She’s walking through the parking lot to a field, cigarette already lit.  Once she gets to the field it’s dark enough that the burn from her cigarette is the brightest thing around.  When I’m close enough that I know I’ll startle her I call out.

“Hey Lena,” I say.  I’m surprised she doesn’t jump.  She just turns around coolly.

“Yeah?”  But her eyes narrow when she doesn’t recognize me in the dark.  “Who’s that?” she asks, squinting a little bit.

“I’m Lola.”

“I know you?”

“No.”

“Then what are you doing out here?  Audience and fans aren’t supposed to be out here…this area is private…restricted.”

“Sorry.  I just wanted to talk to you.”

“Yeah?  What about?”

“Well, I guess I just wanted to know how you got into this…how’d you become a ‘strong woman’?” I ask, trying to sound young and naïve.  She snorts a laugh.

“College drop out.  Broke up with my boyfriend.  Lifted weights.  Got lost.  Needed to pay the bills.  It’s a real skyrocket of a career.  Don’t tell me you’re interested.”

“Sorta,” I say.  She squints at me again, eyeing the slender bones in my wrists.

“Gotta say kid, it doesn’t really look like you’ve got it in you.  Maybe pick something a little more up your alley.  You ever even lifted weights?”

“No.  But I’m pretty strong.”

“Sure.  I’m sure you are.”  She flicks the cigarette into the dirt, stamping it out with her white boot.  I don’t know why she’s wearing all white, it seems weird.

“How strong are you?” I ask, innocently as I can.

“I don’t know…I mean, how do I even answer that question?  Faster than a speeding bullet?  More powerful than a locomotive?” she laughs again.  “Hard question to answer.”

“Ballpark it,” I say, too sharply, regretting it almost immediately as I can see her eyes narrow.

“Nah.  I’ve gotta get back in.  Can’t have you giving away all my secrets anyway,” she starts to walk back to the auditorium and I grab her arm hard as she passes me.

“Ballpark it,” I say again even harder.

“What the hell.  Get your hands off me,” she says, smacking my hand off her hard and sending my arm flying out into the dark.

“Nice,” I say, nodding.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she asks, sneering and rubbing her arm where I’d grabbed her.

“Let’s arm wrestle,” I say, smiling in the dark, revealing all my shining though slightly crooked teeth.

“Why the hell would I do that?  Get away from me before I call the cops.”

“Why does the “strongest woman alive” need the cops?”

“Don’t be a moron.  Get out of here, now.”

“No.  Let’s arm wrestle.”

“I’m not arm wrestling you kid.  Now get the hell out of here, NOW,” she turns to walk away and I draw back my fist and punch her in her lower back, hard.  Not hard enough to cripple her, even if she isn’t some kind of “super strong”, but hard enough that she’ll take me seriously.  She falls to the ground on her knees, her skintight leather pants instantly covered in mud and dead grass.  Her hand goes to her back.

“Jeezus.  What’s wrong with you?”

“I said, let’s arm wrestle.”

“And I said no.”

“Let me put it another way,” I breathe, learning down near her ear.  “We arm wrestle and you win, and I’ll let you live.”

“And if I don’t arm wrestle you?” she asks, sounding unsure for the first time.

“Then I don’t,” I hold out my hand to her, offering to help her up.  She looks at me like I’m insane, which is fair I suppose.  For a second I think she’s not going to take my hand, but then I see something click in her eyes and she reaches out to take it.  When she does, she pulls as hard as she can, trying to pull me down onto the ground with her, but I see it coming and anchor myself.  I don’t move when she pulls and the effort yanks her shoulder out of joint.  She cries out in pain.

“Gonna be harder to arm wrestle now,” I say, clucking my tongue against the roof of my mouth with disappointment.  She kicks at my legs, trying to sweep them out from under me.  I think briefly about dodging them, but at the last second decide to take the kick, see what she’s got.  I steel myself for the impact and I feel her shin break against mine.  She screams again.  I worry for a moment that someone’s going to hear her, but I can still feel the pumping bass through the ground and even oohs and ahhs above the music as the performance continues.  Lena lies on the ground, pathetic and bleeding.  I kneel down next to her in the mud; glad I’m just in jeans and not my precious cat suit.

“I just wanted to see how strong you were.  See if you were anything real, anything I should be worried about,” I survey her broken parts.  “Clearly, I didn’t need to be concerned.” Underneath the pain, there’s some relief in her eyes; something I’ve said makes her think I’m not going to kill her.  I almost feel bad for leading her astray and I frown a bit.  “I do have to kill you though, can’t have people like you walking around knowing there’s someone like me. Besides,” I add almost casually, “I find the idea of you kind of gross.  Revolting even.  Almost like you’re a total affront to my existence.  Yeah, you shouldn’t be pretending to be something you’re not…not without expecting the real thing to come and challenge you least ways.” I lean on my knee.  She closes her eyes, probably feeling sorry for herself and I can taste the fear rippling off her body.  It’s like a salty metallic wave that fills my senses.  It’s delicious.  And I want to swallow it whole.  “I would like to know though, just out of curiosity, if you don’t mind, how much can you bench press?” I ask.  Lena’s eyes stay closed.

“360 is my best.”

“Hmm.  Is it just me, or is that not much?”

“It’s good.  It’s very good.  It’s more than most men can…” she trails off.

“But, it’s not even like a record is it?”

“No.”

“So what I want to know,” I pull out the flyer from my pocket and hold it in front of her face.  “Is where do you get off calling yourself the ‘strongest woman alive’?”

“I…I don’t know,” she stammers.  “What is it you want?”

I stand up, put my hands on my hips, and look around the field.  “Hmmm.  Y’know Lena, that’s a hell of a question.  I mean, in the broader scope of things I’m thinking world domination of some kind, but tonight, tonight what I was looking for was someone with power.  And I really didn’t find it, did I?”

“Just let me go, okay?  I’m not going to tell anyone about you.”  She props herself up a little.

“Sure, sure, no problem.”  I lean down and put my hands on the side of her face, as if to tell her a precious secret and then I twist her neck sharply to the right.  She lies there, filthy in her pristine white clothing, staring up blankly at where the stars should be.  I feel disgusted and scammed.  I walk back toward the auditorium muttering to myself, “360 pounds.” Although the truth is, I have no idea how much I can bench-press.  It’s certainly more than 360 though.  It’s gotta be.  Maybe one day I’ll have to find out.

On my way back to the auditorium I see some trailers for the traveling show and have an idea.  There are six trailers, one with ‘Manager’ written on the door.  I head over to that one and break in.  The lock is cheap and snaps off in my hand.  Once inside I ransack the place looking for a schedule of performances.  In one drawer I find exactly what I’m hoping for.  It’s a calendar list of other shows throughout the country, where they’ll be and when, I guess so they can avoid being in the same areas at the same time.  It even has a map.  It’s all I need to find any other women pretending to be “strong women” that might be wandering around.  It’s worth checking out.  They might not all be as fake as Lena.  In fact, there’s a show east of here a few hundred miles with a strongwoman.  Yeah, maybe “Joan – The World’s Strongest Woman” will actually have something legit to offer.

 

I ride the rails trying to forget about Jasper.  About Rachael and Sharon.  My mother and father.  And I focus on the idea of starting over until it’s the only thing I can see.

It sounds clean.  It feels clean.

The idea of being someone else, maybe in a whole new city, with an entirely new name.  With those things can I also somehow have a new past?

I’m not sure how long I’ve been on the train but at least one night has passed.

On the third night, sleeping in an abandoned car that’s not going anywhere, totally unsure of where this new me should go, that I have a different dream of my mother.  Though they’re generally all black crows and strange portents I don’t understand, this one is really just a vivid memory of her the year she died, played back in a bright Technicolor dream while I sleep.  It’s one of the last memories I have of her, though I’d long ago forgotten it until now.  She’s strong and vibrant here, seeming more like the mother I remember, not like some mythical creature constantly trying to warn me of imagined future danger.  And more than just seeming like my mother, she seems like a woman; a girl even.

Just a girl finding her way like me.

In the dream we’re at a carnival, the tinny familiar music soft in my ears.  She’s left me with my brother and my father so we can ride rides and eat sweet treats, but I’ve given them the slip and followed her through the crowds like a miniature spy, afraid to let her out of my sight, afraid she’ll disappear if I let her.  That was always my fear I realize, that she was going to disappear on me.

I watch her from under cover of a clump of rowdy teenagers as she buys a sideshow ticket and slips inside.  Though the sights inside are probably alternately fascinating and horrifying to a child of five or six, I’m not paying attention to any of it, because all I can see is the look on my mother’s face. Most people walking through the show gasp in horror, or laugh and point fingers, but my mother’s face is serene; a contemplative compassionate slate of kindness and solidarity that I can’t understand, like she’s in her own personal church.  What is she seeing in the distorted reflections of these people that I cannot?  When I emerge from the sideshow I can’t for the life of me remember seeing anything inside except her face.

When I wake the tinny carnival music is still heavy in my ears.  I can’t shake it and for a moment worry I’ve trapped myself in some half dream, half waking state.  After a few long moments though I realize that the music is real, and that it is in fact the music which must have brought on the dream and not the other way around.  I pull my duffel bag together and hop off the train car and into a dark empty field.  I turn around, trying to feel where the sound is coming from.

It’s behind me.

I climb up the ladder on the car and pull myself onto the roof.  As I do I see the bright colored lights of a traveling carnival light up the horizon.  I smile, excited for the first time in a long while.

People are streaming into the front gates.  It looks like admission is free, which is good because I don’t have extra money to spend on carnivals.  I don’t know if my sense of what is right would allow me to sneak in, and I suddenly know I have to go in.   I jog across the field with my bag slung over my shoulder and wander in casually, mesmerized by the lights, my eyes peeled for anything that looks like a sideshow.  I see conjoined twins running a corn dog/hot dog kiosk and wonder if everyone here will be as interesting as the girls running the food stands.  Toward the back of the carnival on the right, past most of the rides and across from the funhouse I finally see it.  A real live sideshow.  I’m honestly shocked that they still exist, it seems like something from olden days, but beautifully painted posters line the walls up to the entrance not unlike the way it looked when I followed my mother in so many years ago.  The first poster reads ‘Casanova – The Most Handsome Sword Swallower To Ever Walk The Earth!’ It’s followed by a newer looking poster of ‘Mona & Nona – The Singing Siamese Twins – Joined At The Hip With Perfect Natural Pitch!’ which is weird because the women look nothing like the conjoined twins I saw at the corn dog kiosk.  Next to the twins is an ominous poster for ‘The Fabulous Mr. & Mrs. Ink!” and an image of an intertwined naked couple that appear to be covered entirely in tattoos and nothing else, Next is the ‘The Maddrox Family of Miracle Midgets!’ which is mostly broad smiles plastered on tiny faces, bodies clad in bright spandex.  But next to the Maddrox Family is what stops me in my tracks.  A poster for ‘JOAN – THE WORLD’S STRONGEST WOMAN!’ and suddenly I am oblivious to everything else around me.  Underneath the bright red text is a fairly realistic rendering of an enormous, beautiful woman with dark hair and long limbs lifting a huge barbell above her head.  I take the next few steps toward the poster with my arm outstretched and trace the slightly fading red words with my finger, surprised how important they feel to me.

I’d never thought of this before; that there could be someone else like me out there.  That instead of getting lost and becoming someone else I should instead be looking for others like me, to find where I really come from and what I really am.  It all seems so clear staring at Joan’s poster.  Seeing her looking back at me through the canvas I can’t believe how much I want there to be someone like me; how much I’ve been yearning for it without realizing it.  Tears pool up in my eyes at the thought of the loneliness falling off of me in sheets as I confess all my secrets to someone who can understand.

I buy my five-dollar ticket, a painful price for my meager remaining funds, and walk through the doorway.  Inside I hear what must be Mona and Nona’s lovely singing pour from one tent and the oohs and ahhs of people watching the Maddrox Family’s stunts, as well as a few girls emerging from Mr. and Mrs. Ink’s tent with disgusted looks on their faces.  “I can’t believe they are totally naked.  So gross!”

But I have my eyes on only one prize and so I ignore all of this and push through to Joan’s tent.  When I get there it’s empty, people not having made it to the end of the line yet, I carefully pick out what I deem to be the perfect seat, right in the middle, third row, and wait for the small tiered benches to fill.  Props cover the stage; a huge barbell, a giant tree trunk, a massive boulder, a medicine ball, a partial hull of a rusted car with two front seats still intact, and in the background, a massive scale.

Within ten minutes the tent is filled to capacity and there is a strange buzzing inside me that I’ve never felt before, like a giant butterfly is beating its wings furiously in the cage of my chest, equal parts terror and excitement.  I feel nauseous but exhilarated.  I’m not sure what’s happening to me, but I’m trying to chalk it up to anticipation, even while my body screams out something different.  The room spins lightly around me and I clutch the edge of my wooden seat until my palms bleed trying to keep myself upright.  My eyes are blurry and my throat is dry, I’m not sure if I’ll faint or fly.  This is the moment.

I realize as the curtains part that I’m expecting to see my mother.

I stride through the front gates of “Joan’s” carnival, with an eye out for the sideshow.  I have to admit, this carnival looks like a winner – there are all sorts of freaks walking around, including actual Siamese twins running the hot dog and corn dog kiosk.  If real honest to god, though powerless, freaks are running food stands, what might they have lurking in the actual sideshow?  I’m getting giddy with anticipation, and buy a corndog from the prettier of the Siamese with a wallet I lift off a young couple in love.

I see the sideshow in the distance and make my way there while devouring my corndog and observing the freaks all around me with an annoyed eye.  I’m beginning to understand that ‘freak’ is definitely the right word.  People with deformities, and crazier, people who deform themselves on purpose, and people who pretend to be things they aren’t.  Ironically I’ve realized that I at least have more respect for the real freaks, since maybe they don’t have as many options, but what of these people that turn themselves into freaks on purpose?  I can’t figure that out at all.  I suppose a person could argue that I turned myself into one when I killed my mother…but I’d like to see anyone turn down my power.  And also, it totally called to me.  Long before I even knew what it was I could feel it calling to me, like those Sirens that killed that Othello guy…or whatever that story was.  No.  I’m not like these people.  I’m unique in the world.  I’m more and more sure of that every day.

But when I walk into Joan’s tent it’s like someone hits me with a sledgehammer.

Something is here for real.

It’s not like with Lena.

I can taste it.

Real power.

I grab onto some benches nearby and take a seat near the edge of the tent before I almost faint.  The feeling is so powerful it’s like the air is water pressing on me from all sides, like I’m a submarine about to be crushed by ocean depths.  Some guy next to me offers me a napkin and asks if I’m okay, but it sounds like he’s underwater and a thousand miles away.

“Fine. Leave me ‘lone,” is all I manage.  He doesn’t like that and scoots farther away, which is my preference anyway.  I put my head between my legs and breathe in some deep breaths trying to get my bearings.  What if whoever is here causing me to feel this way is feeling this too?  What if I can’t stand up let alone fight if they reveal themselves?

What have I done?

 

TO BE CONTINUED!  BUY THE BOOK! COMING SOON TO AMAZON & BARNES & NOBLE AS BOTH EPUB AND PRINT!