Chapter 1: Infatuation
THE slap of my yearbook hitting the wood floor snapped me out of the memory. A sick feeling turned my stomach. I hadn’t even noticed my fingers uncoil from the book.
“What’s wrong with you, Ian?” Dad had me in a dead stare as he stood behind his desk. He knew when I looked into his office, I’d sometimes have flashbacks of that horrific day when I was five. I wasn’t sure he cared, though. “How can you keep that power under control for twelve years, then suddenly start blowing stuff apart in the last few days?”
I gritted my teeth. “I haven’t kept it completely under control all that time. You know that.”
“Look, if you don’t keep it from coming out, you could put us all at risk. People will come looking for you. You wanna become a government science project or end up dead?” He dropped into his desk chair, turning his gaze to the papers riddled on his desk. “Get to school. You’re gonna be late.”
The repaired, repainted office walls now covered the memory as if it hadn’t happened, much like our silence, but nothing could purge that day from my mind. The memory of my dad rejecting me with a look that said I was dangerous. Defective. That was also the last time I saw my sister. She was sent away to our aunt and uncle’s in California. I never understood why they hadn’t sent me away instead of her. Maybe they were afraid I’d explode again and hurt someone else’s child.
I sighed as I retrieved the black and orange yearbook, taking one last look at the office as if I might never see it again. This house and my dad were suffocating me.
Passing through the kitchen, my mother said, “Bad memories again?”
“Yeah.” I stared at my feet as I walked.
“Give it time.” She turned off the faucet and dried her hands on a dish towel. “The older you get, the more memories fade.”
“I know.” I shrugged, adjusting my gray t-shirt under the brown plaid flannel I wore over it.
Mom hugged me, then pulled back a bit, arms still around my waist. “Just remember, you’re no different than anyone else. Everyone has problems. Everyone has secrets.”
“Not everyone can destroy a room just by getting angry.”
“They can with a bat.” The edge of mom’s lip stretched into her witty smile.
I couldn’t help but snicker.
She kissed my forehead. “Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
I left the house and walked around the side, staring out over our weed-ridden cornfield we hadn’t used in years. Hopefully, a local farmer would rent it again soon and put it to good use. We could always use the money.
I turned into the barn where my white ’91 Mazda RX7 sat. A couple of flaky edges and a few light scuffs hinted at its age. But it still looked pretty good. Now, if it only ran as good as it looked…
I climbed into the driver’s seat and relaxation spread through me like a soft breeze. The old Mazda always did that to me. 135 mph in the car was a rush, and yet strangely calming. The power, the speed, the thrill—they were like therapy to me. In a life of uncertainties, this was the one thing I could control.
As I started the car, the turbo whined like an angry vacuum cleaner, then fell silent and idled out.
And there went my control.
Mom dropped me at school after following me to Tony’s shop to drop off the car.
I strolled into English well after the first-period bell had rung. Everyone talked and laughed among themselves while signing each other’s yearbooks. Mr. Callahan sat with his feet propped on his desk, reading a book.
“Good of you to join us, Mr. Sharp.” His tone sounded less than pleased, but his voice was always that way. We weren’t sure if he was just perpetually crabby or if his wife had slapped his personality right out of him. “Lucky for you, it’s the last day of school.”
“Sorry, Mr. Callahan.” I shrugged. “Car trouble.”
Mr. Callahan’s can’t-be-bothered eyes fell back to his novel.
I looked for an empty seat and caught sight of Mandy Jenkins and her cheerleader girlfriends giggling. At least someone was enjoying my tardiness.
Mandy flashed me a flirtatious glance, then turned back to her friends. She’d been doing that for weeks now. I didn’t understand it. She could have any guy she wanted. Why bother with me?
Hardly anyone sat in their assigned seats. I grabbed the closest desk to me at the front of the class.
A piece of paper showed between the pages of my annual. I pulled it out along with a mechanical pencil from my pocket and started drawing a comic book character I’d created. Drawing came naturally to me and was a sure way to stave off boredom in class. Helped me keep focused on what was being taught, too. It was also a good way not to make friends.
I only had one friend. Sam. And so far, my powers hadn’t ever lashed out and hurt him.
Today, I’d attempt to make one more friend. Today, I’d finally get the nerve up to ask Mandy out.
My hand shook at the thought, mangling the face of the character I was drawing. Why did it scare me so much to ask a girl out? Maybe because I’d never done it before. Or maybe because I had no idea how arousal would affect my powers. Would we share a tender moment right before I blew her apart?
I sighed, pushing the thought from my mind. There would be no talking myself out of it anymore. I knew exactly how I was going to do it, and it was my last chance before graduation the next day.
Mandy’s familiar voice came from behind. “Wanna sign my yearbook?” Goosebumps ran up my arm as her hip brushed past me. She sat on the edge of my desk and pressed her yearbook into my chest. Her blonde locks hung in front of her low-cut, light-green blouse.
For a second, my words caught in my throat, but I finally managed to speak. “Uh…sure, as long as you’ll sign mine, too.” I handed over my yearbook.
“Of course.” She took it with a smile and sat at the desk next to mine. Once she began writing, I opened her yearbook to the last page and scrawled out, Mandy, have dinner with me at High Plains Diner at 5pm today. - Ian.
I wrote down my phone number then snapped her yearbook closed just as she finished signing mine.
She handed it to me. “There ya go. Short and sweet.”
Short and sweet? That didn’t sound good. It was probably one of those it-was-nice-being-in-your-class messages or something cheesy like that.
“Thanks.” I took my yearbook back and held hers out.
Jackie King snatched Mandy’s yearbook out of my hand. “Me next!”
Mandy followed behind her, giggling. “Hey! Give it back.”
Jackie guarded the yearbook against Mandy’s grabs. “You can have it after I’m done it, girl.”
I opened my yearbook, flipping pages till I found her note in the back. Ian, call me sometime! - Mandy. I laughed. Maybe we were more alike than I’d thought.
She hadn’t written her number. Did she want me to ask her for it or was this some cruel joke? Maybe I’d misread her. My stomach knotted up.
I thumbed to the pages with Mandy’s cheerleading photos. One had her phone number signed underneath it. Relief untied the knots in my stomach.
Right before the end of first period, a breathy whisper tickled my ear. “See you at five.” I turned to catch a glimpse of Mandy’s beautiful smile just as the bell rang and she turned to leave the room with everyone else.
Maybe today would be the day things finally started going my way.