Don’t do it.
The words tugged at the back of Dani’s mind, and she knew they were right. She gripped her fists tightly, willing herself to remain calm, while she stared down at her slightly faded bootcut jeans and bright orange sneakers. Her eyes caught the red t-shirt she decided to wear that day, and the emblazoned word “Moira” stood out boldly in white print, reminding her of the future she had chosen for herself long ago. That’s right, it wouldn’t be long now. The secret that she’d hidden for ten years would finally be showcased to the world, and Dani would be free to do some real good. So, what did it matter if she used what she’d hidden a little sooner than she had planned to?
Dani shifted her gaze behind her and leered at a large, burly boy in the center of her middle school classroom. He sneered menacingly at a slighter boy less than half his body mass, and then approached his victim dangerously. As if following a chain of command from her subconscious, Dani reacted. Her long, honey-blonde hair whipped behind her as she pivoted on her left foot, willing herself to reach the unfolding situation in time by activating the sleeping power within her!
Crash! The jolting sound of her classmate’s desk hitting the floor distracted her just in time, and Dani stopped herself. No, she couldn’t reveal it after all. The past had taught her how dangerous and destructive that could be, and reluctantly, she held herself back. But that didn’t deter her from deciding to act should she need to, and she carefully kept an eye on the situation in front of her.
At the center of her middle school classroom were two boys. The first boy was slight and average in height, with messy black hair and muddy green eyes that shifted with uncertainty and frustration at his overturned desk. Dani knew right away who he was, since he was the reason she had been spurred into action at the risk of revealing her greatest secret. Across from him, the second boy towered like a half-giant, at least a foot taller than anyone else in the room. Dani recognized the larger of the two boys as Guy Roth, a bully who had pursued her in her second year at Dawton Middle School and that she greatly disliked.
“Looks like you should clean that up,” sneered Guy meanly at his victim.
The rest of the class openly laughed, and Guy stared down at his victim excitedly, with cold, unfeeling brown eyes that seemed to delight excessively in the torment he was causing. Had Dani not hated him so much, his massive body frame, which was made more intimidating by Guy’s short brown buzzcut and impressively showy muscles, might have scared her, especially given her below-average height. But Dani was determined. She marched forward, aggressively shouldering Guy while shooting him a nasty glare, and the rest of the class quieted down immediately. Even Guy’s expression changed, and his eyebrows raised slightly from surprise, which left Dani satisfied as she turned to the boy that she had almost given her secret up for.
“Are you alright, Gideon?” asked Dani.
She knelt beside the boy with messy black hair, and Gideon Atwell flinched back from her in surprise.
“Y-yes!” managed Gideon, clearly startled.
Dani managed to smile at him, hoping it would reassure Gideon, but it seemed to have an opposite effect. Instead of being more relaxed like she hoped he’d be, Dani noticed that Gideon was twice as clumsy as he was before. His face got red and sweaty, and he kept staring at her as if nothing else around him was quite so mesmerizing. It reminded her of the rumors going around the school about her so-called “beauty,” and she felt like a spotlight had suddenly found her, making her self-conscious and uncomfortable. That sort of stuff didn’t matter, and secretly, Dani wished Gideon wouldn’t be so obvious. Besides, it was just the sort of thing that Guy would love to pounce on Gideon for, especially since Dani had rejected the bully last year.
Sure enough, Dani heard Guy scowl behind her before he started to laugh hysterically in front of the entire class, calling Dani out on why she was so eager to help Gideon.
“Really Dani!?” scoffed Guy, “You’re going to help this loser!? Is that your type!? That’s hilarious! You know he’s just an Evoless, useless jerk who should go ahead and die rather than continue living as someone who has no hope in this world, right?”
Around them, several classmates giggled, and Dani glared back at them, annoyed. She then returned her attention to Gideon, but he had turned away from her. The pained, apologetic look on his face grabbed Dani’s attention, and she knew his feelings in that moment were more important than the jerks they were surrounded by. She had to reassure Gideon above all else.
“Just ignore him, okay?” offered Dani kindly, “He doesn’t know your worth.”
Dani saw Gideon’s expression change immediately. He exchanged a bewildered glance with her, that softened into gratitude and longing, almost as he had waited his entire life to hear those words. The unfortunate thing was, it probably was one of the kinder things that Gideon had ever heard, and Dani’s brow furrowed with sympathy.
“His worth!? You’re kidding!” continued Guy, annoyed, “That’s- !”
But Guy stopped immediately, and Dani shifted her attention to another one of her classmates who had walked over. Upon seeing who it was, Dani knew why Guy had held back. Kai Emerson had a reputation for being dangerous and intolerant, on top of having a powerful Evo that most people didn’t want to see. Kai also looked menacing. He was tall, with broad shoulders and ash-blonde hair that was spiked back, almost like he belonged to some sort of street gang. He towered over her and Gideon, staring at them with an unfavorable expression that stirred Dani’s resentful side.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Payton,” advised Kai to Dani meanly, “If I were you, and I knew what was good for me, I’d stay the hell away from that freak.”
Dani wasn’t often called by her last name, so she interpreted Kai’s choice in how he referred to her as a challenge. Out of the corner of her eyes, Dani saw Gideon shift uncomfortably, while she locked eyes with Kai, accepting his provocation. Her body trembled with rage, and she felt like she could spit nails at Kai for what he just said. It didn’t matter how powerful he was, or how scary everyone thought he could be. Right now, Dani wasn’t about to back down from him or anyone else!
With that resolution, Dani stood up to confront Kai. His hazel eyes followed her blue ones, almost as if they were pleading with her to listen to him. She didn’t want to understand the desperation he tried to communicate, though. It was sick and twisted. The fact that Evo-lved citizens, such as himself, considered themselves as better than their Evoless counterparts was wrong! Yet, society condemned the Evoless, simply for being born without the superhuman characteristics that the Evo-lved citizens had inherited. To Dani, it was a pathetic excuse for the prejudice plaguing their society, and she was determined to put a stop to these intolerances once and for all!
“I’ll go ahead and do whatever I damn well please, you got that,” stated Dani to Kai.
Kai’s face shifted from pleading concern to surprise, but then immediately hardened when Dani didn’t back off. This didn’t surprise her, given the fact that most people did as Kai said immediately for fear they’d set off his bad side. He didn’t scare Dani, though. She knew she could take him, and she was itching to finally start making a difference for the people who were powerless around her.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Payton,” spat Kai, “You might think that what you’re doing is for his good, but don’t come crying to me when you’ve seen what he’s really like.”
Dani’s gaze narrowed as she accepted Kai’s threat, and he turned away from her. Only once Kai had returned to his desk did Dani turn to Gideon to see how he was holding up. He wouldn’t look at her, and there was a deep furrow between his eyebrows, like he was guilty of something she couldn’t see. Dani figured it had to be the result of all the bullying that Gideon had endured, and her heart went out to him.
“I’m sorry,” apologized Gideon meekly.
“What for?” asked Dani, “You did nothing wrong.”
“I’m sorry,” apologized Gideon again.
Dani frowned. To her, Gideon reminded her of shattered glass, delicate and broken. This only made her more determined to want to help him. But before she could talk to him anymore than she already had, a teacher walked in as the bell rang overhead. It signaled the start to their homeroom, so Dani went to help Gideon to pick up his desk, but Gideon beat her to it. His eyes continued to refuse to meet her own, and Dani reluctantly left his side as she made her way to her desk several rows towards the front of the class.
“Okay,” interrupted their homeroom teacher, “Please take your seats! My name is Mr. Goldberg, for those of you who don’t know me already, and I will be your homeroom teacher starting this semester. I will be taking attendance now, so please raise your hand when your name is called.”
Dani sat down as Mr. Goldberg called off names in alphabetical order, and she glanced back one more time at Gideon. He happened to also be looking in her direction, and when their eyes met, Dani saw Gideon divert his gaze quickly. He blushed, which surprised Dani, and she turned around quickly, feeling embarrassed as well. She hadn’t expected Gideon to have had his eyes on her, but she managed a small smile, thinking that Gideon was probably just very shy.
“Payton, Dani,” called out Mr. Goldberg.
“H-here!” yelled Dani, raising her hand.
Mr. Goldberg smiled as he nodded at Dani, his bushy handlebar mustache turning up even more than it normally did, and then proceeded with the rest of his roll call for the morning. Out of all the teachers that Dani had at school, Mr. Goldberg was her favorite. Most of that had to do with the fact that he was a science teacher, which was directly in line with what she wanted to do in the future. But Dani also owed a lot to Mr. Goldberg for having him not only keep her secret, but for having him work with her on it as well. Without him, Dani knew she wouldn’t be as well prepared as she was now to pursue the path she had chosen for herself a long time ago.
The last name on the attendance sheet was called, and after confirming the presence of a Zalena Zamira, Mr. Goldberg rummaged through a small stack of papers in front of him. In most classes that Dani was in, this would be an invitation for students to start talking, but she knew why her classmates held back. As an older man in his late fifties, Mr. Goldberg was harsh and strict, with a deep, booming voice that demanded attention whenever he spoke, and silence whenever he was in the room. This forced his class to sit, attentive and alert, for fear they’d stir his wrathful side.
“As you are well aware,” said Mr. Goldberg after a few minutes, “You are in your senior year in middle school, which means it’s time for you all to seriously consider where you will be going next. In other words, your future.”
Some students within the class smirked at each other excitedly, and Dani straightened up, thinking of her future too. A wide smile spread across her lips, and she looked up at Mr. Goldberg, hanging onto every word he was saying.
“It’s something we’ve been preparing you for on your journey through Dawton Middle School,” continued Mr. Goldberg as he paced the classroom, “You’ve had time to explore many different options, learn different subjects, and try out your Evo’s, at least for those of you who have them.”
To Dani’s left, she saw Guy turn his head around at Gideon, and he sniggered.
“My hope, as a teacher, is that you have all thought very carefully about how you will contribute to our society once you have graduated from Dawton,” said Mr. Goldberg, “If not, I urge each of you to do so immediately, so that you may submit your final League choices to me by November 1st. Your League programs will be the stepping stones you need for your careers, and only by choosing a specific League program will you be able to train and adapt your Evo’s thoroughly for the work you will be responsible for, for the rest of your lives. That is, for those of you, of course, who choose to use your Evo’s or who have them at all.”
Mr. Goldberg paused at the front of the room, and stared at the green chalkboard. He crossed his arms, as if contemplating the solution to a particularly difficult chemical reaction that he couldn’t work out, but then nodded and turned to face his class.
“Yes, well,” said Mr. Goldberg decidedly, “I suppose that’s all I have to say about that for now. If anyone needs to deliberate their League program choices any further, please contact me after homeroom and we’ll set up a time to meet.”
Mr. Goldberg waved his hand, and homeroom dismissed a little sooner than normal. With the extra time remaining, a few students approached Mr. Goldberg to discuss their League program choices, while the majority of the class fell into discussion. Dani held back, as she often did, and checked her class schedule. Physical education was her first class of the day, which she didn’t mind. In fact, she prefered working out and being more active in the mornings anyways.
In another couple of minutes, the bell rang and indicated the end of homeroom. Dani grabbed her duffle bag and slung it over her shoulder, walking briskly to avoid some of the hall traffic. Unfortunately, though, she got stuck behind a group of four girls that had decided to take up the whole hallway. Dani hated it when larger groups did that! Especially when she knew that the group in her way didn’t care about getting to class on time or how well they performed.
“Ugh!” sighed one of the girls, “I hate that we have gym first period! My hair is going to get all ruined, and I spent forever getting it to look like this!”
“For Guy?” teased another girl, “You should just ask him out already!”
“Oh, what!? No way!” rejected the first girl, blushing, “Besides, last I knew, he was crazy about Dani.”
Stuck behind them, Dani’s heart stopped. A terrible feeling stirred in her stomach, and she had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be a conversation she’d enjoy overhearing.
“Eww,” cried a third girl, disgusted, “He has terrible taste. She is such a freak! I mean, do you see what she wears? T-shirts and jeans, and those horrible orange sneakers! I can’t believe the guys at our school actually think she’s pretty.”
“Plus, she’s a huge nerd,” added a fourth girl.
“Yeah, but what’s she going to do with with all that brain power?” chimed in the second girl, “It’s not like she has an Evo or anything.”
“Wait, I thought she did,” said the first girl confused.
“Yeah, right,” continued the second girl, “Has she ever shown it?”
The girls contemplated, and when no one had an answer, they all gasped at once.
“Oh my gosh!” shrieked the third girl, “Dani is Evoless too!”
“That’s why she stood up for Atwell!” concluded the fourth girl.
“Okay, seriously, what is wrong with our guys in wanting to date a girl like her!?” said the first girl, nastily.
Dani bit her lip and then rolled her eyes, frustrated with parts of the conversation she had just overheard. These girls didn’t know a thing. Even more to the point, if they wanted someone like Guy, Dani wouldn’t mind handing that idiot to them on a silver platter with arrows pointing to the big jerk.
Without holding back, Dani charged through the group of girls, who, in their expressions alone, were shocked to see that she was there. Had Dani not seen who was just ahead of them, she may have shot them a winning smirk that would have undoubtedly gotten under their skin. Instead, however, Dani caught the eyes of Gideon, who watched Dani hopefully. She knew right away why he was looking at her like that. He had overheard the conversation too, and now, Gideon thought that she was Evoless just like him.
Not that that, in itself, was the issue, but could Gideon look at her the same way if he knew what she really was?