Chapter Five: Avoidance Theory

“Okay,” Aaron said, settling into a catcher’s stance. “Throw it at me as hard as you can.”

Carter eyed him doubtfully, tossing the baseball from hand to hand. “You know that would probably kill you, right?”

Aaron frowned at the bucket of baseballs by his brother’s feet. “Well, maybe not that hard. But it has to be fast,” he said. “Fast enough that I couldn’t dodge it normally.”

“I thought you hated using your power,” Brennan said. He lounged in a deck chair, tossing a baseball in the air and occasionally setting it on fire. Only the slight rasp in his voice betrayed that he’d been in a burning house two days before.

“That’s the point,” Aaron said. “I don’t use it very often. Maybe it will get easier if I practice. You use your powers all the time and don’t have any problems.”

“Except I have to eat five hamburgers afterward,” Carter said. “Which, I admit isn’t the worst downside ever. You actually get sick. Last time you—”

“I know,” Aaron said. “But that doesn’t mean it has to be like that. Brennan used to set his clothes on fire when he got angry. And remember that time you broke all the fingers in your hand trying to power punch a tree?”

“You punched a tree?” Brennan asked, laughing.

Carter glared at him. “I was eleven and I had super strength. Don’t judge me. Remember that time you set your pants on fire and had to walk home in your underwear?”

His laughter turned to a scowl. “You swore never to bring that up.”

“My point,” Aaron said forcefully, “Is that you both figured out how to use your powers without hurting yourselves. Maybe I can, too.” He pushed the frames of his glasses up his nose. “I want to try, anyway.”

Carter fingered the baseball. “Maybe you should just…practice. Without me throwing fastballs at you. I could really hurt you, Aaron.”

“I’ve been practicing,” he said. “But it works better when I’m motivated. Come on, it’ll be fine. I’ve thought it through.”

His brother shrugged, and readied himself in a pitcher’s stance. “Here goes,” he said. “Three, two, one.” He cocked his arm back on “one,” and Aaron grit his teeth and twisted.

Carter’s arm slowed as it came forward, the ball flying off the tips of his fingers and spinning toward him. Aaron stepped aside, and it hurtled harmlessly past his head. He let his power go, like a loosed breath.

“Okay,” he said. “Not that bad.” He took a deep breath and swallowed. “Okay. Do three this time.”

Carter eyed him skeptically, but said nothing. He plucked three balls out of the bucket, holding two in his right hand while he gripped the other in his left. “Ready?” he asked.

Aaron took a deep breath, and twisted again. The pressure was worse this time, and he had to concentrate to keep his grip on it. Carter threw the balls in quick succession. Aaron watched it in slow motion, dodging them with ease.

“You have to actually try to hit me,” he said as he released it.

“Pretty sure he was,” Brennan said from the sidelines. The ball in his hand wooshed with blue flame. “I think he secretly wants to hit you.”

“Shut up,” Carter said.

“Fine,” Aaron said, sliding his glasses back on. “Same thing again. Three balls. Throw them faster this time.” They did a few more rounds, and Aaron felt himself easing into a kind of rhythm, and even though the twist became harder to hold, he felt himself dreading it a little less each time.

After the fifth or sixth time, he broke off, fighting back a surge of nausea. He wiped at the thin sheen of sweat across his forehead. “Okay,” he said, swallowing. “Ready.”

0501“Maybe you should take a break,” Carter said.

“I´m fine,” Aaron said.

“You don’t look fine,” Brennan said. “You look kind of…uh…green. I mean, seriously, like you’re going to puke all over everything.”

“I’m fine,” Aaron insisted. “One more time, and then I’ll quit.”

Carter took three more balls, and sighed. “One more time. Ready?” he asked.

“Ready,” Aaron nodded, and Carter pitched.

The twist was hard this time. Aaron had to fight for it, and the pressure felt like a vise around his lungs. He dodged the first ball easily, and sighted the second. Carter’s arm swung forward, and the ball spun off his fingers. Aaron stepped out of the way, blinking as his vision blurred. Carter’s arm swung back again. Aaron saw it through a sudden dizziness, right before he lost control of his power.

The third ball hit him in the shoulder.

Blinding pain exploded through his arm, and then he was on the ground. He blinked at the sky, wondering through the daze why he couldn’t feel his fingers. Carter collapsed beside him, panting like he’d sprinted across the yard.

“Aaron!” he said. “Aaron, are you okay? Say something.”

“Ow,” he said.

“That,” Brennan said, crouching beside them, “was the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”

* * * * *

By the time Mom and Dad got home, the painkillers had numbed the worst of the pain. Mom stalked through the living room with a fury, hurling her keys across the floor as she turned on them. “One afternoon,” she said. “I get one afternoon off, and you two have to spend it trying to kill each other in the backyard.”

Behind her, Dad calmly retrieved the keys and hung them neatly on the rack by the door.

“I didn’t hit him on purpose,” Carter protested.

“It’s my fault,” Aaron said from the recliner. “Should have ducked.”

Mom frowned as she crouched beside him. From somewhere, she produced a penlight, and flicked it between his eyes. “Did he hit his head?” she asked, probing his skull with her fingers.

“Maybe. He landed pretty hard, and he seemed kind of out of it when we brought him in.”

“I’m fine,” Aaron insisted. “I can talk and everything.”

“Okay, kiddo. That’s great.” She checked his eyes again. “Can you move your fingers? Good. I’m going to get your shirt off, okay?” This took some effort, since his shoulder was so sore he could barely lift his arm. When he managed it, she took one look and used a few colorful words he’d never heard her say.

“How hard did you hit him?” she demanded.

“I didn’t mean to.” Carter scratched at the back of his head, looking sheepish. “He said I wasn’t throwing the ball hard enough, so I, you know…threw it harder.”

Dad leaned in and whistled. “Honestly, I’m not sure whether to be angry or impressed. That had to be some throw.”

“You are not helping, Ray.”

“You all right, Aaron?” Dad asked.

“I’ve been worse,” he answered.

“He’s fine, Zoe.”

“He’s not fine,” she muttered, feeling around the joint with gentle, experienced fingers. It really, really hurt. “I’ll have to take you to get it x-rayed in the morning. Until then, you stay right here and don’t move it.” She tilted his head back to look in his eyes again. “Did you give him something?”

Reluctantly, Carter fished an orange pill bottle off the coffee table. Mom snatched it from his hand and turned it over. “You gave him prescription painkillers without asking me first?”

“He’s hurt,” Carter said. “I thought I’d broken his shoulder or something.”

“What if this interfered with his medication?”

“Well, it’s not like he’s been taking it, anyway,” he said, and Mom turned her murderous glance from one son to the other.

Aaron leaned his head back and groaned. “Carter.

His brother winced. “Sorry.”

“Fresh ice,” Brennan announced, hefting a bag as he returned from the kitchen.

“Thank you, Brennan. In the future, I’d appreciate it if you would discourage my sons from doing stupid things.”

“Sorry, Dr. L.”

“Could everyone give us a minute, please?” she asked. No one argued, and Dad ushered the other two out to the backyard.

When they were alone, Mom sighed. “Here,” she said, wrapping the ice in a towel and laying it against his shoulder. “How does it feel?”

“I don’t know. How does getting shot feel?”

“I know you’re all drugged up, but can you try and contain the sarcasm for a few minutes?” She spent a moment studying the prescription bottle. “Why haven’t you been taking your medicine?” she asked.

Aaron sighed. The painkillers were making it hard to think of a lie. “Gives me a headache,” he said. Which was true.

“You have to tell me these things, Aaron. If we want to find a medicine that helps you—”

“Well, you won’t,” he said. “Nothing’s going to fix whatever’s wrong with my brain. You’re going to have to be happy with one perfect son and one screwup.”

“You aren’t a screwup, Aaron. Just because you have a couple of problems doesn’t mean—Sometimes it just takes a while to find the right—” She broke off with a sigh of frustration. “We’ll talk about it later,” she said. “Maybe when you come down off these super-pills Carter fed you. Try and get some rest, and I’ll get you an appointment for tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Aaron said, relieved he’d forestalled the conversation.

“Don’t fall asleep,” she said.

“I won’t,” he said. But he closed his eyes anyway.

* * * * *

Aaron knew he was dreaming, but somehow that didn’t really help.

Darkness smothered him, and his first thought was that he’d gone blind. He felt pointlessly for his glasses and found them missing. When he called out, the darkness seemed to swallow his voice. He spread his hands across the smooth, cold floor until his fingers reached the corner, and slid them up the wall, searching for some way out. But every way he turned, he found solid walls blocking his way.

It’s a dream, he told himself, still hunting for an escape. It’s just a dream.

But he couldn’t break the illusion. Every circuit he made around the room made it seemed smaller, more oppressive.

It’s just a dream, he told himself, but a voice whispered back that it might be a vision. That it might be his future. And he was trapped, completely trapped, and the darkness somehow seemed to be getting blacker, and there wasn’t enough air…

Light struck him, bright and sudden, and he was somewhere else. Above him was a round, white circle, so intense that everything around it was just shadows.  He tried to move, but restraints bound his wrists and ankles tightly to the chair.

“Careful with this one,” a voice said. “He’s dangerous.”

He felt a prickling along his scalp—something between a gentle touch and an electric shock.

The voice spoke again. “But his brain is so interesting.”

The nightmare changed into a vision. Images burst through his brain.

Red lights. Sirens. A security door slamming shut.

His father, his face framed red by emergency lights.

“Shut it off!” he shouted. “This section needs to be evacuated!”

Fire and spinning metal. A man in a black suit.

The Lartech logo in bronze.

A corridor, grey, with a yellow stripe along the wall. The number 516 on a plaque.

Shattered glass on the ground, tinted red with blood.

* * * * *

He jerked awake, wrenching his injured shoulder. For a second, the pain was bad enough to make him forget about the dream, and he spent a minute clutching the arm of his chair, saying, “ow, ow, ow” through gritted teeth.

“Relax, Aaron,” someone was saying. Carter. It was Carter. “It will hurt less if you relax.”

“No, I have to stop it,” he said, gritting his teeth. “I have to—”

“It’s just a dream.” Not Carter’s voice. His father’s.

Aaron blinked into the dark room, trying to focus without his glasses. When had it gotten so late? Had he slept that long, or just forgotten waking up?

Dad sat on the coffee table, one hand still braced against his shoulder. “Must have been a pretty bad one,” he said. “You’re breathing like you just ran a marathon.”

Aaron dropped his head back against the chair. His shoulder throbbed and his brain felt like it had been turned inside out and squeezed. “Ow,” he said one more time.

“Do you want me to get your mom?”

“No,” he said. “Definitely no.” He closed his eyes, watching the vision replay itself in his head. Is he in danger? How do I stop this from happening?

“You want another one of these?” he asked, holding up the orange bottle that still sat on the nightstand.

“Thought I wasn’t supposed to.”

“Did it help?” he said, fiddling with the cap.

“Yeah.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.” He held out the pill in one hand, and a cup of water in the other. Aaron took them, swallowing the pill and draining the cup. His father was watching him with that impenetrable expression. In the dark, without his glasses, it was even harder to read. Aaron wondered if he’d learned it in the military. “You know, kid, your mom can be a little overbearing, but she cares about you.”

“I know.”

“So do I,” he said.

Aaron blinked at him. “I know,” he said, more quietly. Should I tell him? If it saved his life, it would be worth it. Wouldn’t it? “Dad?” he said.

“Yeah?”

“If…” He felt a tightness in his chest that had nothing to do with his power. “Are you…Is it dangerous, where you work?”

“At Lartech?” he said, clearly surprised. “What’s got you worried about that?”

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “I just…I…the dream I had…”

“Was a dream, Aaron,” Dad said. “Just a dream. Listen, kid, I took this job because I didn’t want you worrying about this stuff.”

“I thought it was because they were paying you more.”

“That too,” he said.

“But if something did happen…If there was something dangerous…I mean, some big disaster or something…”

“I’m not saying accidents don’t happen,” he said. “But they don’t happen often. Everything will be fine, kid. You’ve got to learn to relax a little bit.”

I’ve got to tell him. He thought through a dozen things he could say, and they all sounded ridiculous. I can see the future, Dad! Yeah, that would go over great.

Aaron sighed and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It was a bad dream.”

“It’s okay.” He cleared his throat. “You need to get some sleep, okay?”

“Yeah.”

Dad pushed himself to his feet. “Stop worrying so much. Everything will be fine.”

“Yeah.”

He hung around for one more awkward moment, before saying, “Night, kid,” and heading down the hall to the bedroom.

Aaron sat alone in the dark room, feeling miserable. I’ve got to find a way to stop this. Without telling Dad. He slid his phone off the end table and checked the time. 1:46. After a moment of hesitation, he scrolled through his contacts and picked one.

“Yeah?” She sounded annoyed, but not sleepy.

“Hey, Selena,” he said. “I need a favor.”

* * * * *

About half an hour later, she rapped at his bedroom window. He unlocked it, and Selena slipped over the sill, steadying the bag strapped over her back. She’d chosen to wear black clothes, Aaron noticed—black leggings and a loose black shirt, even a charcoal grey jacket with a hood.

“Thanks for coming,” he said.0502

“Yeah, whatever. I was bored anyway.”

“Why are you dressed like that?” he asked.

“Stealth, obviously,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to see me talking to you.”

“It’s 2 AM and pitch black. Who’s going to see you?”

“Okay, fine, it sounded fun and I was bored.” She surveyed his room for a moment, eying the few loose articles of clothes and stray books scattered around the floor. “How do you manage in this? Nothing is organized.” She reached across his desk to straighten a stack of books. “And do you ever dust?” she asked, holding her hand up. Specks of dust gravitated toward her, coating her palm in a thin layer of grey.

Aaron bit his lip to keep from laughing, and she glared at him.

“It’s not funny,” she said. “When I’m charged I’m like a magnet for this stuff.” She brushed at her shirt, sending little sparks up where her fingers rubbed the fabric.

“Here,” he said, still grinning, and rubbed away the dust with one of his old shirts. “That better?”

“Marginally.” Selena set her bag down in his desk chair and unzipped it.  Aaron sat on the bed, grimacing as he tried to find a position that didn’t hurt. “What’s wrong with you?” she said.

“Carter hit me with a baseball.”

“Seriously? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, mostly. I have to get my shoulder x-rayed in the morning.”

“At least he didn’t hit you in the head.” She pulled a slim black laptop out of the case and set in on the desk, using both hands to lift the screen. This was her favorite machine, one she had nicknamed the Black Box. “The last thing you need is more brain damage.”

“What do you mean, more?

“Sorry, hon,” she said, leaning back in the chair. “But your brain is a train wreck.”

“Well, it’s not damaged. Just…”

“Dysfunctional?” She shrugged. “We’re all dysfunctional. Some of us are just better at hiding it.” A password prompt popped onto the screen. Instead of typing anything, she just tapped her thumb against it and the prompt disappeared. “So?” she asked.

Aaron told her about his vision. Selena listened without comment, twirling a pencil back and forth across her fingers. “How sure are you about this one? I mean, your visions are wrong sometimes.”

“Not often,” he said. “And I can’t really tell until they happen. Or don’t happen, though that one’s harder.”

“Your power suuuucks,” she said.

“That’s what I keep hearing,” Aaron said. “I tried to think of a way to warn him, but…I don’t even know what I’m warning him about. So I thought…if we could figure out what’s supposed to go wrong, maybe we can figure out how to stop it, or at least warn someone who can.”

“And by that you mean you want me to hack into Lartech and go searching for a dangerous, classified experiment based on some vague pictures you picked up in a dream.”

“Um. Yeah, that sounds right.”

“You do realize that Lartech has one of the most sophisticated security systems in existence, don’t you?”

“And that’s a problem because…?”

She shrugged. “I just want you to appreciate how amazing I am.” She spun around in the chair and flexed her hands over the keyboard. “It’s going to take me a minute to get into the system, but I’ll need specifics once I do. Everything you can remember.”

Aaron closed his eyes and listened to the sound of her fingers across the keys as he replayed the vision in his mind. “The number is probably the key,” he said. “516. And it’s big. I saw…some kind of spinnning machinery. Metal fans of some kind. Like a turbine, maybe.”

“Uh-huh,” she said absently.

“Oh, there was a yellow stripe down the wall. I don’t know if that means anything.”

“Okay, I’m in,” Selena said. Aaron sat up and leaned over her shoulder.

“What am I looking at?”

“Shhh.” She worked for a minute longer. “Okay, I’ve got access to the main servers, but I don’t think it’s going to help us much.”

“Why not?”

“Because the information you want isn’t there,” she said. “Project data is stored on a separate internal server. I mean, I can get you company e-mails, I can get you HR records, I can probably look up dental plans. But to get info on an active project, I’d have to physically be in the building.”

Aaron rubbed at his head. It was late and the painkillers were making it hard to think. “Okay, so…if you could get in—”

No, Aaron. No, no no.” She shut the lid of her laptop. “I can hack into anything. No problem. If I get into the server room, I can access it in a second. But it’s still physically guarded. By big metal doors and men with guns. I can’t turn invisible or walk through walls.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?” he said. “Something is going to go wrong. I can’t just sit and hope it doesn’t happen! My dad—”

My parents work there, too, Aaron,” she said. “Do you think I don’t care? But I don’t see how getting caught committing felonies is going to help anyone.” She shoved her laptop in its case, a little too hard.

They glared at each other. Aaron gave in first. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t…I’ll think of something else. Maybe I’ll remember something else important.” He took of his glasses and rubbed at his eyes.

She shrugged, grudgingly, and slung her bag across her back. “Hope your shoulder isn’t broken.”

“Thanks. Are you okay getting home?”

“It’s only three blocks.” She help up her hand and a few stray sparks crackled across her fingers. “And if anyone messes with me I can static cling them to death.”

* * * * *

Molly flexed her arm, and winced as the healing skin stretched over her elbow. Most of her injuries were minor enough to pass for a bad sunburn, but the worst was a long stripe of blistered skin along her arm where she’d hit the floor. She’d managed to convince her dad she’d burned her arm on a grill. He didn’t know about the house fire.

She caught Brennan’s eye across the classroom, and quickly looked back down at her textbook. Quadratic functions. So much fun.

As far as she knew, Brennan had kept her secret. But he’d been trying to corner her since, and she’d spent most of her time making it impossible for him to catch her alone. Since he wore long shirts and pants all the time, she couldn’t tell if he had burns like hers. If he did, they didn’t seem to be bothering him.

“Why is he staring at you?” Selena whispered. As usual, she seemed completely uninterested in the lecture, and was busy texting someone, her phone only nominally hidden under her desk. Molly didn’t know whether her apparent apathy was an act or not.

“Don’t know,” Molly said. “Maybe he’s still mad I pushed him into the water.”

Selena bit back a laugh. “That was hilarious,” she said. “But I doubt he’s still—”

Miss Marquez,” Ms. Melroy said. “Would you like to come up and show us how to solve this one?”

Far from embarrassed, Selena smiled and tossed her hair back. “I’d love to,” she said, and strolled up to the front of the room. She took the offered marker, dashed off a few lines of printer-neat calculations, and circled the answer with a flourish and a little smiley face. “That was fun,” she said, handing the marker back to the teacher. “Have you got anything harder?”

* * * * *

After class, Molly grabbed her bag and fled the room before Brennan could follow her. She dodged through the crowding hall, resisting the urge to glance back and check if he was following her.

It just wasn’t fair. She’d tried this time. Really tried. Then one disaster happened and she went rushing in. And now she had Brennan to deal with on top of everything else.

She flung her locker open so hard it ricocheted shut again. Calm down, she told herself, and opened it more slowly. Don’t let your temper control you. She practiced her breathing while she sorted through her books, picking the ones she’d need for her last two classes.

“Hey, freak.”

Molly started at the sound of Kylie’s voice, but it wasn’t directed at her. She turned to see Kylie, Mackenzie and Alisson closing around Lucia Clarke. Kylie stood with one hand on her hip and her chin up like she was looking for a fight. Lucia just slid another book in her locker, pretending she hadn’t heard.

“Hey, I’m talking to you,” Kylie said, shoving her hard in the back. Lucia caught herself before her shoulder hit the open locker door, but she didn’t turn around. “I saw you talking to Carter this morning.”

“Yeah, so what?” She crammed the rest of her things in the locker and shut it. The rest of the crowd moved past with a mix of ignorance, sideways interest, and determined avoidance. Lucia tried to push through the ring of girls, but they closed around her.

“Yeah, so stay away from him,” Kylie said, shoving her again. “He belongs with us. Not some white trash psychopath.”

“I’m not a psychopath,” Lucia said, shoving Kylie back. “And I’ll talk to whoever I want.”

Molly hovered by her locker. She could practically hear her dad shouting at her to stay out of it. And it wasn’t like Lucia would appreciate her help. But she couldn’t keep herself from watching.

“You don’t think you have a chance with him, do you?” Mackenzie said, with exaggerated disbelief. “I didn’t know you were crazy and delusional.”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Lucia said, “I actually have a boyfriend.”

“Oh, right,” Kylie said. “The redneck who thinks he looks tough in that stupid jacket. He’s the only loser in this school weirder than you. Unless you’re upgrading to Captain Seizure.” She rolled her eyes back in her head and twitched like she was having convulsions.

Lucia punched her. It was a sloppy blow, but it hit her right on the jaw. Kylie shrieked. Lucia might have hit her again, but Alisson grabbed her shirt and shoved her into the locker. Lucia’s face hit it hard, and before she could recover, Kylie seized her hair and slammed her head against the locker door again.

“Kylie, stop it!” Molly shouted. She fought her way between them. “Stop it,” she said. “You’re going to hurt her.”

“Stay out of it, Goldilocks,” Lucia said. She slumped against the locker and wiped blood from her lip. “I don’t need your help.”

“Yeah, I can see you’re handling it just fine,” Molly said. “Back off, Kylie.”

“Chill, Molly,” Kylie said. “We’re just messing with her. You can’t let these freaks get away with anyth—”

Molly punched her. It was a solid punch, and it hit Kylie hard enough to knock her down. Molly turned on the other two, but they backed away, wide-eyed.

“What’s going on here?” Molly turned around to see Ms. Pearce, stalking through the crowd of students. Her eyes narrowed behind her sequined glasses. Molly was about to respond when Kylie started crying. With real tears and everything.

“They attacked me,” she wailed. “Both of them. She punched me in the face! I didn’t do anything to her!”

The vice principal looked over Molly, who still had her hand in a fist, and Lucia, who glowered back through a swelling eye. Then she turned to Alisson and Mackenzie. “Is that what happened?” she asked them.

The girls glanced at each other. “Yeah,” said Alisson. “They hit her first.”

“I guess so,” Mackenzie said, looking guilty and miserable. “Yeah, that’s what happened.”

Ms. Pearce helped Kylie up, patting her on the back. “Go to the nurse, sweetheart,” she said, while Kylie cried fake tears into her shoulder, and nodded at her accomplices. “You two go with her.” After the three of them had departed, all huddling around each other like the survivors of a massacre. Ms. Pearce cast a cold eye on Molly and Lucia. “You two,”she said, “are coming with me to the office. Detention for both of you.”

“But Ms. Pearce, that’s—”

“No excuses, Miss Young. I told you before, we don’t tolerate fighting in this school. I’m disappointed that you chose not to listen.” She pointed imperiously down the hall and swept past them. Lucia shoved her hands in her pockets and trudged after her.

Molly started after them. “But I—”

“Give it up,” Lucia said. “This is what you get for choosing the losing side.”

* * * * *

Outside the principal’s office, Lucia relaxed into one of the wooden chairs and rubbed at her face. “You don’t have a mirror, do you?” she asked.

“No. Sorry.” Molly she examined Lucia’s face. Her lip was split where it had hit the locker, and the socket of her eye was already purpling. “It’s not that bad,” she said. “It’ll be fine in a week.”

Lucia snorted. “Have a lot of experience with fights, sweet cheeks? I didn’t peg you as a brawler.”

“She shouldn’t have said those things.”

“It’s nothing she hasn’t said before.” Lucia pressed against the cut on her lip and winced. “Of course around the teachers she’s all peaches and cream, so they always take her side. I don’t know how Carter tolerates her.”

“Are you friends? With Carter?”

“Not really.” She shrugged. “But he’s Aaron’s brother, so I know him. He’s a good guy.” She shook her hair loose and combed her fingers through it before starting to braid it back. Molly stared at the closed door of the office, trying not to dwell on what her father would say when he found out about this. The hall was oppressively silent.

“So why is Carter friends with her?” she finally asked.

“He’s not,” Lucia said. “He hangs around her because Selena does. Not that I like Selena all that much better.”

“She wouldn’t have said that about Aaron,” Molly said.

“Maybe not,” Lucia said. “But she wouldn’t have defended him either.” She looked at Molly squarely. “I don’t know what that act was back there, but I don’t trust you. I’ve warned you once not to mess with me.”

“I’m not messing with anyone,” Molly said. “I’m just trying to…” She sighed. Be normal, is what she wanted to say. “I’m just trying to figure out where I fit in here.”

“Well, I can tell you one thing, sweetheart,” Lucia said. “It’s not with us.”

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