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Katelyn didn’t get her phone back at the end of class. Miss Gibson had pretty clear rules in her classroom and phones were strictly forbidden. The fine for phone use during class was twenty bucks and if payment wasn’t possible, the phone would be confiscated for a week. Katelyn couldn’t pay.

She left math class nearly in tears. The blond girl I’d hooked her up with on Friday was outside in the hall waiting for Katelyn.

“What took you so long?” she said, speaking at breakneck speed. “Oh my gosh, I’ve been like standing here for like, forever. Didn’t you get my texts? I sent you like a million.”

“Yeah, Miss Gibson read them all,” I said grimly, even though neither girl heard me.

“Hey, Becca,” Katelyn said, but her greeting was lost on the chatterbox girl.

“Oh whatever. It doesn’t matter. I felt like I was going to die in science today. Literally. Like totally keel over and die. Mr. Hanks is so, like, boring. He kept going on and on about this thing where plants like absorb plankton.”

“You mean photosynthesis?” Katelyn said.

“Whatever. It was totally lame.”

“Uh huh,” Katelyn replied on autopilot, which made me cringe. What mess had I gotten her into? This Becca girl was not a good fit as a friend for my Mortal. Which had never happened to me before. Link shells were usually so straight forward and easy.

I followed the girls down the hall to their next class: Physical Education. Duffy caught up with me, looking abnormally pleased with himself and trailing saran wrap stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

“Gideon! You will not believe what I just did,” he said. “I wrapped up the private toilets in the teacher’s lounge. Miss Ryan, the prissy language arts teacher, just went in and you would not believe the screams that came out of her. It was priceless, man. Totally priceless.”

“I bet,” I said, trying to listen in on Becca’s prattling and Duffy at the same time.

“Looks like your gal, Katelyn is still alive,” Duffy said. “See, you had nothing to worry about.”

“Except I paired her up with the most brainless girl in tenth grade,” I said, pointing to Becca.

“Rebecca Eisley?” Diff said, horrified. “That girl could talk the wheels off an SUV. Why’d you pair them up?

“I didn’t know she was this annoying,” I said as Becca’s conversation got louder and more rapid-fire. She talked right over the top of anything Katelyn said. “I kind of just shot blind.”

“Oh man, that’s not good, Gideon. You can’t shoot blind in a small school like this. Folks tend to stay in town and once you’ve made friends, you’re pretty much stuck with them. It’s cliquish, but we operate on small town rules. What you do in high school follows you for a long time after graduation.”

“I’ve got to fix this,” I said, reaching for my gun.

“Not so fast,” Duffy said as he yanked me to a stop a foot shy of walking straight into the girl’s locker room. “We’ve got to work this out and plan first. You can’t just go around shooting people. Out here in the boonies, reputations stick for life.”

“What do you suggest? If I leave her with Becca, she’ll end up dropping her I.Q. or worse, go crazy.”

“Becca’s not that bad,” Duffy said with a dismissive snerk.

“Really? She just told Katelyn that she didn’t know the difference between lined paper and plain because, and I quote, ‘it’s just, like, paper. Duh’.” I said, mimicking Becca’s high-pitched voice.

“Okay, that’s pretty bad,” Duffy said.

Behind the closed doors of the girl’s locker room there was a blood-curdling scream. It started with one girl and then several more followed. Duffy checked his watch and grinned.

“Right on time,” he said.

“What did you do now?”

“Nothing. I swear!”

“Tell me, now, or else,” I warned. I was quite a bit bigger than the stringy Guardian and pretty sure I could get him in a strangling Half Nelson if I wanted. Duffy cowered under my glare with his hands up.

“I put a few spiders in the lockers. That’s it, I swear,” he said, trying hard to hold back a laugh.

“Get in there and fix it,” I said jabbing my finger into his chest.

“No way! I’m a Guardian angel, not a pervert,” Duffy said.

Phil and Min came running down the hall, or tried to. Phil kept stubbing his toe every third step.

“What’s happening?” Phil said.

“Another one of Duffy’s pranks,” I said as the screams escalated into mayhem. “How many spiders did you let loose in there?”

“A few,” Duffy said, but his face was guilt smacked. “Okay, a lot. They’re everywhere this time of year. I couldn’t help it!”

“Awesome!” Phil said as Min high fived Duffy.

“Not awesome,” I said. “I’m already screwing up with my Mortal today. We need a girl to go in there and fix it.”

“Chop,” Min said as he whipped out his long swords and headed toward the girl’s locker room, his face grim.

“No chop,” I said, snagging him by the collar. “Geez, there is more to Guardians that hacking everything to pieces. Chill it, will you?” I handed Min off to Duffy. I knew a girl angel. It was a long shot, but I shoved that aside as I ran down the hall. “Hang on to him. I’m going to go find Addy.”

“Anna!” Phil yelled after me. “You’re never going to get her to like you if you can’t remember her name.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered to myself. I bolted around the corner and headed to the big main hall at the front of the school where I’d left Anna on a bench this morning. She was still knocked out and snoring louder than a Harley Davidson Motorcycle. I leaned over and lightly slapped her cheeks.

“Wake up. Come on, I need a girl for girl stuff,” I said. Anna didn’t stir. I considered whacking her a little harder, but I was struck with a brilliantly stupid idea. I grabbed out a bright red bullet from my belt and stuffed it into the barrel of my gun. It was a bullet we Guardians loved to call the Panic Button and it was one hundred percent pure adrenaline. If this didn’t wake her up, nothing would. I aimed for her heart and pulled the trigger.

Anna burst off of the bench and punched me in the face. My nose crunched to the side, making my eyes tear up. It flipping stung like crazy. Note to self: the next time I shot Anna, I’d do it from a safe distance.

“HOLY MACKEREL! I’m awake now!” Anna shouted as she bounced on the balls of her feet.

“Ow! What the heck? I was just trying to wake you up,” I said, clutching my busted nose. Anna grabbed it and cracked it back into place, which hurt even more.

“This had better be good, Gideon,” she said, her ice blue eyes flaming. Dang, she looked good when she was awake. Even mad, I’d take it.

“Duffy got carried away with a prank in the girl’s locker room,” I said. “I’d go in there, but…”

“You’re a guy. I get it,” Anna said. She ran off, her hair streaming behind her like it was suspended in a dream. I bit back a laugh. Not bad for a narcoleptic pun. I wasn’t far behind her as she ran straight into the locker room and went to do whatever she was going to do to fix Duffy’s prank. I stayed with Duffy and Phil who were still hanging on to Min.

I assume the gym teacher had been alerted and was in the middle of the chaos. I could hear the over-large female coach bellow at the top of her lungs for order. Not that she got far with that.

There was a moment of insanity with the yelling and screaming and then there was a detonation. I’m guessing it was some kind of chemical grenade because pink smoke billowed out from under the locker room door.

The coach blasted out a shrill note on her referee whistle. “Will all of you SHUT UP!”

It took a few seconds and there was silence. Order had been restored. Anna burst out of the locker room door and swept into a low bow.

“You’re welcome, boys,” she said. “The Miracle has saved the day.”

Duffy, Phil and Min clapped appreciatively and Duffy wolf-whistled as Anna bowed again. I, on the other hand, wasn’t too sure the day was saved just yet.

“What did you do in there, Anna?” Phil said. “Mass extermination?”

“Nah, I just turned them all plastic. Now it’ll just look like the girls overacted about a silly Halloween gag,” Anna said.

Nice. I was impressed.

“That was genius,” I said giving her a cool fist bump. It was the best I could do, because my brain shorted out every time I looked at her and that was never a good thing. I was trying to get over my head funk, not make it worse.

Now that our job was done, we headed out. Duffy was anxious to get moving on more pranks when a second explosion (the verbal kind) came from the locker room.

“WHO DO THESE BELONG TO?” The coach was livid and her angry roar could be heard loud and clear through the brick walls.

“Uh, Duffy,” Anna said as we all turned and stared at the door of the locker room. “Which locker did you put all those spiders in?”

“I uh…picked randomly?” Duffy gulped. “I think.”

A small, unmistakable voice piped up. “That’s my locker,” Katelyn said.

This couldn’t be happening.

“Of all the lockers in that room and it had to be hers,” I groaned. “My mortal is having a seriously bad day.”

“It was just a few spiders,” Duffy said. “How bad could that be?

“I hooked her up with a crappy friend over the weekend. Crappy Friend then got her in trouble with her math teacher by text-bombing her during class and then she got her phone taken away. And now this,” I said, pointing to the locker room. “It’s pretty bad.”

Duffy’s usually congenial attitude faltered. He backed away with a very guilty grimace on his face.

“I think I’d better get going then,” Duffy said, jogging off down the hall. “I may or may not have singled her out because she’s your Mortal. So, I am pretty sure that I have a few more pranks waiting for her. I’ll go clean them up.”

“You’d better!” I yelled as he kicked into a sprint.

In the locker room the girl’s coach was going ballistic on Katelyn. She ordered the entire class to get dressed, dismissed Katelyn and gave her a zero score for the day. I had my work cut out for me now.

“Tough break, Gideon,” Phil said.

“I could use some help,” I said.

“About that,” Phil said hastily as he backed away toward the door to the track and field. “Wish I could, but I’ve got my hands full. Boy’s gym class just started. It’s football today and I’m going for zero concussions this week.”

He made it all the way outside before he tripped and fell. He scrambled to his feet in a rush and ran out of sight.

“Chop, choppy,” Min said as he too, bolted for cover in a classroom down the hall. So much for moral support from the local Guardians.

“What is with the Guardians around here?” I said.

“Don’t be too angry,” Anna said. “We’ve all been stuck in J.A.C. for so long, none of us want to make our situation any worse. And trust me, we’re all on the records at Headquarters for multiple Mortals having a bad day. Don’t worry, they’ll help when there is a real emergency.”

“That is so not comforting,” I muttered.

Anna began to rock back and forth on her heels. She held her head with both hands like she had an epic headache.

“Wow,” Anna said. “I feel funky. What did you shoot me with?”

“Straight adrenaline, right through the heart,” I said.

“Not good,” she said. “Shoot me like that again and I’ll punch you in the…”

Anna’s mouth went slack and she teetered, unbalanced, like she was drunk on her feet. Apparently she’d burned through all the adrenaline. I didn’t get to her fast enough as she fell forward like a mighty oak. If I hadn’t caught her under the armpits, she would have crashed, face first on the tiles. It took less than a second and she was snoring into my gut.

I scrambled for a better grip on Anna, but her black combat boots slipped on the tiles making her head slide downward and wedge into my belly button. It had to be the most awkward way to save a girl from falling flat on her face. Anna went totally limp, so I was basically trying to keep a rubber corpse upright.

The girl’s locker room door opened and the class filed out, a crowd of tenth grade girls going one way and Katelyn going the other direction. Her face was beet red and she looked ready to cry, again.

“Oh my gosh, did you see that?” Becca whispered loudly to another girl as they headed for the playing fields outside. “Katelyn totally got in massive trouble with Miss Robinson and she like totally deserved it. That was like the meanest prank ever. I can’t believe I actually talk to her.”

I don’t know why Becca bothered to whisper, the entire school could hear her, Katelyn included. If I didn’t have my hands full, I’d shoot her with a round of zit bullets. Speaking of Katelyn, she was busting a move toward study hall, her curly hair a mess and her shoulders shaking.

This was what I’d been waiting for and I had my hands full. It was either drop Anna and run after Katelyn or figure out a way to drag Anna along with me. I never knew when I needed a Miracle…

That decided it; Anna was coming with me. With one arm under her armpit, I grabbed Anna by the belt holding up her black jeans, which made her slip off my stomach and flop over. She was bent in half and heavily drooping uncooperatively. I didn’t have another way to get her either upright or over my shoulder so I hefted her up by the back of her jeans and dragged her with me down the hall after Katelyn.

“Heaven help me if you dream about this,” I muttered to myself.

Anna snored softly and mumbled something about doughnuts. At least she wasn’t dreaming about Stan.

I was sweating by the time I trailed in to Study Hall with Katelyn. My Mortal parked herself in the back corner of the mostly empty classroom and buried her head in her hands. She could have picked a desk closer to the door, but it wasn’t my place to complain. I hefted Anna through the aisle and plopped her into the desk next to Katelyn. Her head flopped uselessly backward as she snored in short breathy snorts.

“Still knocked out?” I said to her inert from. I waved my hand in front of her face, just in case, but got no reply. It wasn’t as if I expected an answer. I brushed her yellowish white hair out of her face so she wouldn’t inhale it.

Anna replied in typical Anna style: she snored louder as her arms dangled at her sides.

“Great. Have a nice nap.” I turned to Katelyn to find her growling curses into her arms. She’s moved from crying to mad and talking to herself. I loved it when Mortals did that. It took out the guesswork while assessing what was going on.

“I am so stupid!” she quietly yelled at the desk. “I never pick the right friends. They’re all two-faced piles of–,”

“Language,” I warned. Katelyn cursed on anyway. “I think you listed every swear word in the English language. What else do you got?”

Katelyn sobbed. “I can’t believe I got in trouble. My mom is going to kill me.”

“Probably not. Unless you got stuck with homicidal parents, I think you’re safe from maternal murder,” I said. “Come on. Get it all out. Give me something to work with.”

“I give up.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend…”

“High school sucks.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Despite the one sided conversation she had with the desktop, Katelyn didn’t have a solution or voice what she wanted. I’d have to go back to guessing. I ruled out another linking her to another Mortal. I couldn’t believe I was admitting to it, but Duffy had a better handle on these Mortals in Muddy Gap than I did when it came to friendships. I could get her phone back. I’d need Anna awake for that minor miracle because Miss Gibson didn’t strike me as the kind of teacher that made any exceptions to her rules. Not that Anna was going to wake up any time soon.

However, if I wasn’t going to shoot Katelyn with something to fix her problems I created, I could always shoot Becca.

According to my store of ammo, I had a few shells of splatter pellets of the zit and rash variety for those times when I needed a Mortal to stay indoors. However, Katelyn wasn’t the type who would appreciate a little revenge on Becca. Which was a bummer because I was running out of ideas.

When Katelyn’s head finally came up, her eyes were red and her face resolute. She dug around for her homework and got to work. Finally! I had ammo for that.

I got out my gun and rummaged around for a Genius bullet. A little boost of smarts never hurt anything. I was loading up the flashing shell when Anna began to move. She twitched involuntarily in her sleep and began to slide sideways. I pushed her back upright with my elbow, but every time I took my hand off her, she slumped to the side again.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumbled as I shoved the shell in the barrel and slapped it shut. I got Anna propped up where she hung, suspended for a second, which was plenty enough time for me to take aim and…

Anna fell the exact same time I pulled the trigger. Her shoulder slammed into my side. My arm joggled upward and I ended up shooting the row of fluorescent lights above my head. They exploded in a shower of sparks that rained down on us.

“Oh no.”

It was like watching a really bad, super slow motion horror movie. Sparks and Katelyn’s curly frizz for hair wasn’t a good mix. I held up Anna with my knee and stretched to reach Katelyn and bat away the worst of it. The only good I did was create enough of an updraft for the bright sparks to ignite on the hairspray in her hair.

Ever seen aerosol hairspray catch fire? It’s like an industrial strength flamethrower. Now imagine that on a fifteen-year-old girl’s head.

I stood there and stared. My Mortal’s hair was up in flames and it took me a half second to react. There was no way around it, I let Anna fall as I ran to the front of the room and pulled the fire alarm. Then I loaded and shot the sprinkler system with a smoke bomb.

The sprinklers turned on and drenched everything. Katelyn sat in the middle of it, sections of her hair completely gone and her homework a sodden mess.

I cringed. She looked awful.

I screwed up again. Epically.

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