Margaret and I moved into our new, temporary, house two days after the fire. The fire department took one day to write and release their report and the insurance company took one day to read and file it. Then we got keys. Bombs were never mentioned, fingers were never pointed.
Maybe I didn’t see what I thought I had. Maybe it burned up in the fire. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was an ordinary tool used in extermination that everyone else but me knew about. Whatever the truth was, it looked like it would remain elusive. I couldn’t understand it but I was happy to be out of the hotel, happy Margaret wasn’t in trouble, and happy to see people treating the accident as pretty ordinary. So I tried to let the other stuff go.
Our new home was a town house in a gated community. It was a pain to get in and out of, with the guards an all, but had a pool and a gym and that was a nice change. The project was new. A lot of the buildings were under construction still and the ones that were finished, like ours, were mostly empty. It fit right in with Margaret’s hermit habits. A happy Margaret means a step-mother who’s not constantly on my back, and a low population meant less danger for me so the situation was win win.
Speaking of danger, I didn’t see the back sedan again. I know this because I didn’t once stop looking for it. The absence was a relief. If someone was really after me, they would stay after me. Ergo no car meant no one was after me.
Not that I had much time or energy to dwell on it. Training with Marco was frequent and brutal. He didn’t hold back. I was sore and bruised all over by the end of the second day and started to worry about how I would hide the damage from the officials at school. It was still cool enough for turtle necks and longs sleeves and that helped but what helped more was my status as a wall flower. Most of the teachers, the ones who had watched me walk the same halls for almost four years, didn’t notice anything different about me. I might as well have been invisible.
The substitute Mr. Crabtree was another story. Unlike everyone else, he was new. New and isolated. Our little car ride together had been a mistake. It left him with a sense of comaraderie that I didn’t share and ever since he had been doing crazy things like greeting me in the halls. Once he even held me after class just to find out which coffee shop in town was the best.
He was all alone and kind of a doof and I wanted to be nice and help him settle in but I also crossed my fingers that he’d find a life.
Then the worst possible thing happened, Crabtree and I nearly ran into each other in public.
I was on my way to the dojo and feeling pretty good about life. I’d even found parking on the street that saved me a quarter mile hike.
Then I saw Crabtree.
He was on the other side of the road window shopping so thankfully didn’t see me, but he was only a few yards from my car. I knew he knew what I drove because he’d waved at me in the school lot all the time. Judging by his speed and direction, I had about fifteen seconds to disappear before he saw the car, connected the dots, and started looking for me.
I panicked. I ran into the first open shop and demanded to know if they had a back door.
“Excuse me?” The girl at the counter was not amused. I tried again.
“I mean, does this establishment open to the alley?”
“It’s not for customers.”
“Please?” It wasn’t much of an act to appear desperate. Crabtree had spotted my car. He was walking right towards it and he had a funny look on his face.
“I’m sorry. It’s policy.”
“Uh,” I had to act quick. If I met Mr. Crabtree outside of school our awkward dynamic might balloon into a full on relationship. “This might sound crazy, and I promise it’s not,” I told her. “But can I hide behind the counter or something? I swear I won’t stay long.”
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” She asked. I thought fast.
“You could say that.”
The girl seemed like a pretty alright person, someone I could be friends with if I did that kind of thing. I hated the thought of using her.
I hated worse the thought of navigating the social craziness of senior year with my new good buddy the civics teacher.
“My dad’s outside.” I pointed.
“So, you know that flash rave that started at the football field last weekend?”
“Oh yeah.” She said. “It was awesome.”
“Did you know that by the time it hit the park the cops were waiting?”
“I heard.” She frowned, feeling the heartbreak of a good time cut down in its prime.
“Well,” I raised my hand up slowly .
“Uh oh. You were there?” I nodded, she smirked. “Did you get away?”
“From the cops yes, my dad no.”
“Uh huh. I just want one more day of freedom, you know? One more day before life as I know it ends forever.” I told her realizing there was actually a lot of truth to that statement.
The girl’s smirk turned into a friendly smile. She was alright. Instantly, everything got better.
The back door of the shop dumped out into the middle of an alley. I jogged to the nearest road opening and with my body pressed against the building peeked out onto the main street. Crabtree was standing next to my car scanning the area for signs of yours truly. He seemed determined to connect. I counted shop fronts and matched them to back doors until I found the one for the dojo. Then, when I thought Crabtree wasn’t looking I bolted across the road.
Turns out he was looking.
“Violet!” He called out. “Hey Violet, wait up!”
I raced towards Ralph’s. I tore across the pavement with my eyes focused on the door until from out of nowhere I took a knife to the leg. The world stopped and suddenly I was an acrobat flying through the air without a net. I hit the ground palms first, saving my head, and rolled forward until a brick wall decided I hadn’t been thumped on enough and blocked my progress. The crack my back made hitting the building was so loud I thought for sure a crowd would come running.
But no one, most notably Mr. Crabtree, came. I lay on the ground waiting to be sure Crabtree had given up and trying to figure out what happened. My palms were raw and the crash knocked the wind out of me but the pain in my leg that over road all else. I grabbed my shin, sat up and looked back. Not far from where I landed a foot of lead pipe, painted the same color as the black top, jutted out of the ground, a small piece of my pant leg stuck to its ragged lip. I let go of my shin. Blood soaked though the fabric rapidly. I needed Marco
Biting my lip to keep from crying out I stood and hobbled over to the dojo door. With tears streaming down my face, I pounded on the metal.
“Use the front entrance!” Marco barked back.
“Marco it’s Vi!” I yelped. “Let me in! I’m bleeding!”
The door flew open and before I could say a word Marco was in the alley
“Inside.” He instructed. I lumbered into the room.
“Where are they?” Marco was on high alert, scrutinizing the surrounding area. Every muscle in his body was alive
“Where is who?” I cried. “Ow ow OW it hurts so bad!!”
“Whoever is after you.” He said.
“Why would anyone be after me?” I whined. “Can I get a tissue or something here? Maybe an asprin?” Marco shifted his focus away from the street.
“You weren’t attacked?”
“Attacked? No! I tripped.”
“Tripped?” His tone shifted. He let the door shut and honed in on me. “You tripped?”
“Yes! Running in the alley. And it hurts really bad!”
“Wait.” Marco switched gears completely. “What were you doing in the alley?” He wasn’t worried anymore. “And why were you running?”
Marco was mad and suddenly I was on trial.
“Nothing… and… just because I was.” I dodged the questions. I had screwed up. Badly.
Avoiding dark lonely areas with only one way in or out was one of Marco’s rules for staying away from the kind of danger I wasn’t equipped to handle. It was in the top ten. As far as Marco was concerned, I’d committed a felony.
“I took a short cut.” I said. “No big deal.”
“I was only in the alley for two minutes.”
“How can you expect to stay safe if you won’t...”
“Come on! I’m bleeding all over here!” Marco looked at my leg and frowned. Even with my hand pressed over the wound, blood slid down my shin and onto the carpet.
“Sit.” Marco pointed to a chair. The second I fell into it Marco was on the floor in front of me. He ripped my pant leg open clean up to my hip before I could blink. Why didn’t he teach me how to move like that?
While I worked through my training profile Marco place his fingers around my wound and pealed the torn skin back like a banana. Pain shot up my leg and exploded in my brain. I screamed and with my good leg, kicked Marco square in the chest. He fell back.
“What the hell was that?!” a fresh set of tears streamed down my face. Marco picked himself up, wiping my shoe print off his shirt.
“It’s superficial.” He declared then opened a first aid kit hanging on the wall. “You’ll be fine.”
“No thanks to you!” I screamed at him. Marco said nothing. He had his back to me, digging through bandages. “You’re a bully.”
“You need to clean the area.” He pulled a bottle of what was, no doubt, something horrible and extended it to me. “Pour this on your leg,”
“Not on your life.” I said flatly.
“If it gets infected you could lose the leg. Use it.”
“You’re crazy.” I stood up. “I’m out of here!”
I hopped over to the door with Marco staring at me.
“Wait. Don’t go.” He said sounding genuinely surprised that I was really leaving. I shot him a glare and huffed in defiance.
Then I slipped.
Suddenly my one good leg wasn’t under me anymore and I was heading for the floor. Then, once again displaying lightning speed, Marco had me. His arms were around my middle saving me from another crash. It happened fast. I didn’t have time to stop it. I tensed. I saw Tommy, ready to kiss me then turning into a blabbering idiot and I was terrified. There was something, not a spark but a prick between us and in an instant Marco set me down. He stayed close but there was no contact.
“Please don’t leave.” He said. His mouth was so near I could feel his breath.
“You hurt me.”
“I see now. I didn’t realize.” Our faces were inches apart. Marco’s was so gentle it was hard to believe it was the same one that was ready to thump me only moments before.
“I’m an idiot.” He said. “I’m sorry. I only wanted to make sure you weren’t seriously injured.”
“It’s a gash, I’m not going to die.”
“I was worried.” Marco’s hypnotic eyes were on me. My cheeks burned. The way he’d held me lingered on my skin, frightening me but at the same time drawing me back. I turned my face away so Marco wouldn’t see me blush.
“Please,” He was almost begging.” Let me help you.”
“Only if you promise to be nice.”
“I promise.” He said and stepped back, making way for me to return to the chair. “Stay. Please?”
Marco and I didn’t spar that afternoon. Instead we talked. We talked for what seemed like forever and only a moment at the same time. We talked about our favorite foods and music and told each other what movies we could watch a hundred times and still want to watch again. We talked about fighting and not fighting and what we would do if either one of us won the lottery.
We told each other about our families too but neither of us seemed to have much to say on the subject so we dropped it pretty quick. Marco’s mom died when he was little. His dad, a competitive fighter, was gone a lot so Marco was basically raised by the people in the dojo. He said it wasn’t bad though.
“I was surrounded by people desperate for me to succeed. Everyone I knew wanted me make it in the worst way. Maybe it wasn’t usual but not every family gets to be picture perfect.” He explained.
Marco’s words made me think about my life with ever steady Margaret. She was always there for me, wanted nothing but for me to have a safe life. How lucky was I that she was in my life? My parents were gone. Margaret didn’t have to stay. Where would I be if she’d decided not to?
Hurt spread through me. I managed not to cry again but Marco noticed me struggle.
“The leg?” He asked. I nodded and he stayed quiet for a while, just being there for me until I felt better.
In training Marco made me feel safe by teaching me how to keep my guard up. That day he made me feel safe by standing beside me while my guard was down.
“What happened to your arm?” I asked, just to keep talking, just to keep the moment we were having from ending. I didn’t really care how he’s gotten the scar.
Marco did not reply right away and for the briefest moment his face clouded over. Then it cleared.
“It’s pretty stupid.” He smirked.
“I’ll be the judge of that.” I replied, happy the darkness did not stay.
“I fell against a file cabinet. Knocked it over. One of the drawer corners hooked into my skin as it fell.” He pulled his sleeve up. “Cut a perfect line all the way up.”
I reached out then quickly pulled my hand back. Marco raised his arm up, offering it to me for inspection. What would happen if I touched it? It must have been his face, that day, how close I wanted to be to him. I felt brave. I wanted to feel him so much I decided to take a chance. Besides, I was the one in charge. I could pull away if anything happened.
It was so soft, a thin stripe against the finger tips. It seemed precise as if a surgeon had carved it. I didn’t want to let go.
“Did it hurt?” I asked. “When it happened?”
“I don’t…” Marco began then seemed to change his mind and looking at the floor said quickly, “No. Not at all.”
And it happened. A familiar tinge shot through my fingers from the place they rested on his arm. Marco gasped. I pulled my hand away. Neither of us said anything for a long moment.
Marco broke the silence. “Wow,” he said. “Static.”
“The static discharge. Didn’t you feel it?”
I did but it wasn’t static. At the same moment that spike of electricity hit my fingers, another one lit up the back of my head. It was a sensation I knew. I’d felt it before. It was the same charge that had kept Tommy Spader’s hands clamped to my skull all those years ago.
Right then I knew two things. One, I didn’t know jack about what I was able to do and two Marco had lied.