“I already told you, Ivy, you can’t come.” Brennan slung his bag over his shoulder and did his best to ignore the persistent figure trailing him across the lawn.
“Yeah, but you say that every time,” his sister said. She flicked a loose curl of auburn hair away from her face as she hurried to match his longer pace. “I didn’t think you were serious.”
“Well, I am,” he said. “You can’t come today.”
“Because I don’t want you to.”
“Oh, please, Brennan.” She rolled her eyes. “You know you can’t keep a secret from me.”
A couple of choice words floated through his mind, the kind that his grandma would threaten with a bar of soap. How did she always know? Ivy skipped ahead of him and walked backwards, tapping a pencil against her teeth as she eyed him. She’d caught a weakness, and she’d worry at it like a dog with a new toy.
“It’s not a secret, Ives,” he insisted, tossing his bag into the backseat. “Everyone already knows you’re obnoxious.”
She regarded him solemnly. “Is that really the best you can do? We need to work on your bantering skills.”
“You can whine all you want,” Brennan said, “but the answer is no. Go hang out with your own friends for a change.”
“They’re busy,” she said. “And I’m bored.”
“And you’re not invited.”
“Does this have something to do with the new girl? The one you’ve been stalking?”
Brennan glared at her. “I’m not stalking anyone.”
“Uh, yeah you are,” Ivy said. “I saw you following her down the hall at least three times this week. You are totally stalking her.” She grinned. “Do you have a crush on her? Lucia’s going to be maaaaaad.”
“You better shut up unless you want cold showers the rest of the month.”
“If you’re threatening me, I must be on to something. Ooh, are you meeting her somewhere? That’s why you don’t want me to come. Cause you’re—”
“I’m not having this conversation.”
“Then let me come,” she said.
“If you don’t, I’ll tell Lucia about your secret girlfriend.”
Brennan slammed the door and turned on her, clenching his fist. Heat rushed through him, and it was only after Ivy backed half a step away that he saw the edge of his jacket smoking.
He did swear then, and rushed to extinguish the heat before it actually ignited. It flowed out of the leather and into his skin, where he dispersed it through his body before it could burn him. He glared at Ivy. “You aren’t coming,” he said, and rounded the car without waiting for an answer. As he climbed into the driver’s seat, he avoided looking out the window. He didn’t want to see if he’d upset her. She’d forgive him later.
She always did.
* * * * *
Molly was surprised to see Brennan when he showed up.
Not because she thought he wouldn’t, but because he was actually dressed for the weather, in a t-shirt and jeans without his usual leather jacket. He looked positively cheerful when she opened the door. “Coming?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “Just let me get my…”
“Phone?” her dad said, coming up behind her. He raised an eyebrow at Brennan. “You didn’t tell me you were going with a boy.”
“Does that matter all of a sudden? Are you going to start threatening him, too?”
“No need,” he said. “I’ll just remind him that you’re a third degree black belt.”
“Thanks,” she said, snatching her phone from his hands. “Come on, Brennan. Let’s go.”
“Don’t forget to check your texts!” Dad called after her as they headed off the porch toward the driveway. “And be back by one! You have painting to do!”
Molly waved back at him without answering, and rolled her eyes as she stomped across the yard. Brennan ambled after her, hands stuck in his pockets. “So,” he said, “Black belt?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s not important.” She halted a few paces short of the driveway, and felt suddenly thirsty. She fumbled the top of her water bottle open and took a long sip.
“You okay?” Brennan asked as she guzzled at her water. “You seem a little…nervous.”
She let out a shaky sigh that was just short of laughter. “I think I am,” she said. She twisted her bottle closed and leaned against the car door. “Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean… I don’t want to get involved in anything that might get me in trouble. My power is—”
“Yeah, I get it,” he said. “Look, I know what happened with the fire was kind of intense, but it’s not usually like that. I mean, I’m not taking you to a secret lair or anything. It’s just a place we can hang out and be ourselves.”
She exhaled slowly. “And you’re sure they won’t mind?”
“Why would they mind?” he asked, but there was a note of doubt in his voice, like he was trying to convince himself. “You’re like us. You’re one of us.”
Molly took another sip of water. Nervous or not, this was a chance she had to take. “Okay, let’s go.”
Inside, the car was…well, ”cluttered” would have been much too mild a word. The seat was littered with books and errant scraps of paper, so much that he had to climb in and displace a stack of junk before she could sit down. He tossed them into the backseat on top of a gigantic pile of clothes.
“Doing laundry later?” Molly asked.
“Bad habit,” Brennan said.
“He used to set his clothes on fire by accident, so now he hoards them in his car,” said a girl’s voice from the backseat.
Panicked, Molly whirled around, fist raised. A girl had materialized from under the mess. She propped her legs up and grinned at them.
“Who is this?” Molly accused. The girl looked a lot like Brennan, with curly hair a few shades darker and green eyes instead of blue.
“It’s my sister,” he said, growling the words. Molly unclenched her hand, but Brennan looked about ready to punch her himself. “What are you doing here, Ivy? I told you that you couldn’t come!”
“Yeah, and obviously you were hiding something.”
He glared at her and turned back to Molly. “I’m sorry. I guess she thought ‘no’ was an invitation to hide in the backseat and spy on me.”
“Maybe it will teach you to clean out your car occasionally.” She turned to Molly and stuck out her hand. “Hi. I’m Ivy.”
“Molly,” she said, and frowned at Brennan. “Um…she…uh… knows about your…”
“Yeah,” he said.
“And does she…?”
“Have powers?” Ivy asked. “Not even a little bit. Brennan got all the special in our family.”
“Unless being nosy and obnoxious is a super power.”
Ivy just grinned at him.
“Out,” he said, pointing.
“Yes, sir!” she said with a lazy salute, and crawled over the laundry to hop out of the door. Brennan pulled it shut and leaned back, with a mortified expression on his face. He waited until she’d wandered more or less out of earshot before speaking. “I swear, I didn’t tell her anything.”
Molly breathed through the storm of anger and fear the girl’s sudden appearance had caused. “Can she keep a secret?” she asked.
“She’s kept mine.” Brennan stared intently at the steering wheel. “My parents don’t know what I can do,” he said. “I never really found the courage to tell them. I mean, I know they love me, it’s just…” He swallowed, and shrugged. “You’ve got your dad. I’ve got Ivy.”
“She knows about the rest of you, too?”
“Yeah,” he said. “She can be annoying, and good luck trying to keep a secret from her, but…she’ll keep yours. I promise.”
Molly glanced after the girl. Ivy had wandered over the to edge of the pier, and stared speculatively at the rippling water. “It doesn’t look like I’ve got much choice,” she said.
Brennan nodded. “IVY!” he shouted toward the lake. His sister whirled around and jogged back to the car.
“I’m taking you back home,” he told her as she climbed in. “If you breathe a word of this to anyone—”
“I know, I know,” she said, shoving aside the pile of clothes to buckle herself in. “Cold showers for a month.”
Brennan glared at her, and turned to start the car.
Ivy settled back with a cavalier grin, her full attention on Molly.
“So,” she said, as they started up the driveway, “how does your power work?”
* * * * *
Aaron looked up from his computer, rubbing his eyes in frustration. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm without the usual sweltering heat. Naturally, he was spending it obsessing over a computer instead of enjoying the weather.
Well, at least he was outside.
“Hey, see if you can hit that tree stump over there,” Lucia said. She swung lazily in a hammock by the shore, watching Carter hurl rocks into the lake. “The one that looks like Aaron’s head.”
“I heard that!” Aaron called.
“It’s got glasses and everything!” Lucia called back. Carter laughed, and scooped a rock out of the ground. Lucia smirked at Aaron, but as she turned away her eyes gazed up the hill and her smug smile faded into a frown.
Aaron didn’t need empathy to know what she was feeling. It was half past ten, and Brennan still hadn’t shown up yet. Lucia had only grown angrier as they waited.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket to check it again, and frowned. “Why am I not getting a signal?” he said. “There’s a cell tower right there.”
Selena looked up from her nearby table, where she’d spread enough disassembled electronics to build at least one computer, and who knew what else. “Give it here,” she said. A spark of electricity flickered between them as she grabbed it and flipped it over.
“Don’t take apart my phone!” he protested as she took a screwdriver to it.
“I’ll make it better,” she said, prying off the cover. “Trust me.”
Arguing, he decided, was pointless. He slumped down in his chair and pulled his computer onto his knees. Displayed across the screen were photographs of blurry text: the pictures he’d taken in his Dad’s office. He frowned as he pulled one up and enlarged it.
The images hadn’t turned out as well as he’d hoped: in his rush, most of the pictures had been too blurry to read. He’d pieced together something about needing approval for human trials, and reference to something called Avalon, but no details.
“Made any progress with the files?” Selena asked, eying him over the remains of his phone.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s only been one night, and it’s not like I could open my stolen classified documents over breakfast. What about you?”
She shrugged. “I looked through them, marked a couple that looked suspicious. But it was your vision, so I don’t know how much I can help.”
Despite what he’d told Selena, he’d spent a couple of hours last night cross-referencing them against the Lartech project files they’d stolen. So far, he hadn’t found any more references to anything called Avalon, or genetic enhancement. He’d decided not to tell the others. At least until he found something.
“Here’s your phone,” she said, tossing it to him.
Aaron glanced down to see that he now had full bars. Apparently, she’d also taken the liberty of replacing his background with one of a basket of kittens surrounded by rainbow sparkles. “Great.”
“You could say thank you. With those mods, you could get reception twenty feet underground.”
“Because I’ll definitely need that,” he said, thumbing through the settings. While he worked on changing the background, he heard an engine at the top of the hill. “There he is,” Aaron said, glancing up to see a flash of color through the trees as the car came down the dirt road. “You think he remembered the drinks?”
“He better have,” Lucia said. “Hey, see if you can hit the dam from here.”
“That’s got to be a mile away, Lu.” Carter squinted at the distant wall.
“You know how my power works. If I throw it that hard, I’ll hardly be able to aim it.”
“It’s a huge, freaking dam. How much do you need to aim it?”
Carter laughed, and hefted a rock the size of a cantaloupe. He considered the distance for a moment, tossing the rock up and down like a tennis ball. Then he reared back and hurled it with a heavy grunt. It sailed across the lake in a high, wide arc. Aaron squinted after it, and thought he saw a very faint splash just short of the dam.
“Wow,” a voice said behind him.
Aaron whirled in alarm. Brennan was heading down the hill, eyes down and hands in his jacket. Right behind him walked Molly Young, staring at Carter in awe.
Aaron was still processing her presence when Lucia reacted. “What the hell?” She stalked toward her boyfriend, her hand balling into a fist.
“Lucia, don’t—” started Brennan. He barely ducked her first swing, and caught her wrist on the second. “Wait, Lucia—”
“You lied to me!” she shouted, trying to jerk her hand free.
“Let me explain—”
“You promised. You said it had nothing to do with her!”
“I couldn’t say anything last night. Lucia—”
“Going behind my back with that lying—”
“Could you just listen—”
“And you bring her here?”
“She’s one of us!”
Startled, Lucia halted, and her fists slackened for half a second before she tensed up again. “What do you mean? She’s—”
“Molly has powers, like we do.”
“That’s impossible,” Aaron said, glancing at Molly. She’d backed away during Lucia’s tirade, her hand seizing the top of her water bottle until her knuckles turned white. Under the sudden attention, she froze.
“Show them, Molly,” Brennan said.
Her hand gripped her bottle again, and she swallowed. For half a second, Aaron thought she’d run away. Then she took a deep breath. “All right,” she said, tossing her bottle to Brennan. Slicking her hair back, she brushed past Lucia and strode down the hill toward the shore. She halted on a large boulder over looking the water, kicked off her flip-flops and planted her feet.
For a moment, she did nothing but look across the lake. Then she raised her hands over the water. A slow rumbling built in front of her, and it took Aaron to realize it was the sound of churning water. It rose in a wave, crashing against the boulder under her feet and throwing white spray into the trees.
Aaron heard a ringing in his head, the kind that signaled an oncoming vision. He grabbed the porch column as a wave of dizziness rushed over him. The last thing he saw was Molly standing by the shore, water glistening as it rained over her.
* * * * *
“Is he okay?” Molly asked.
“He will be.” Carter bent down beside his brother. “This happens to him sometimes. It’s a…” He hesitated. “…Side effect.”
Before Molly could ask what that meant, Aaron moved. A shiver passed over him and he grimaced. “Think I wrenched my shoulder,” he said, clutching at it as he staggered to his feet. His gaze rove over them, unfocused, and settled on Brennan. It immediately hardened to a glare. “We need to talk about this,” he said. “Inside.” Without even looking at Molly, he pushed past her and stalked into the old cottage. The door slammed behind him.
Lucia scowled at her and stormed after him, followed by Brennan, saying, “Lucia, wait!”
Molly stared after them, feeling lost. No, feeling like she’d been kicked in the stomach.
“It’s not your fault,” Carter said, but he didn’t sound like he meant it.
“Yeah, it is,” Selena said. She crossed her arms and leaned toward Molly. “Listen, honey, I like you. But I don’t know you that well. We’ve kept this secret a long time, and you better not screw it up for us.”
“I can keep a secret,” Molly said.
“You better,” Selena said again. She gave Molly one long glare and swept into the house after Aaron. Carter only gave her an apologetic shrug before he went in, too, leaving Molly stranded on the porch. Alone.
* * * * *
Aaron could hardly think through the noise. Brennan and Lucia came in fighting, and Carter and Selena kept talking over each other trying to calm them down.
“Everyone shut up,” Aaron shouted. To his surprise, they did. As one, they turned to glare expectantly at him. Since he hadn’t thought anyone would actually listen, it took a second to think of what to say. He turned to Brennan. “How long have you known about this?” he asked.
“Since the fire,” he said.
“That’s when you started stalking her,” Selena noted.
“I wasn’t stalking her,” he said. “I was just—”
“So you’ve known about this for three days? Why didn’t you tell us?” Aaron asked.
“Because—well—she was scared, you know. She ran off. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her again until yesterday.”
Lucia snorted. “So you were off talking to her when we needed your help?”
“I didn’t know what else to do!” he said. “I had your secrets, and I had her secret, and it seemed like if you just all knew each other’s secrets, the problem would go away.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the floor.
“So you told her about us,” Lucia said. “Brilliant plan.”
“She figured that out on her own,” he said. “I showed her my power, and she guessed the rest of it. I know I should have warned you guys, but…I didn’t…she’s like us. Last night when I asked…you said if Ivy had powers—”
“Yeah, because we know Ivy,” Lucia said. “Molly’s been here for a week, Brennan. And I’ve been telling all of you she’s a liar—”
“Does anyone else know?” Aaron cut in. “About her powers?”
“Her dad.” Brennan said. “But she promised not to tell him about us.”
“Well, let’s hope she’s better at keeping secrets than you are,” Selena said. “Has anyone thought about what will happen if she finds the hard drive full of classified experiments we stole?”
“The what?” Brennan said. “What did you guys do?”
“Lucia didn’t tell you?” Aaron asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Lucia said, “and I’m sure not letting him change the subject now. We’ve got to deal with this problem first.”
“I have an idea,” Selena said. “Lucia can go give her a big welcoming hug and make her forget everything.”
“I thought you liked Molly,” Carter said.
“I do,” Selena said. “But I don’t want my secret depending on a girl I barely know. Better if she forgot.”
But Lucia shook her head. “My power’s not strong enough for that, not for something this big, and not with Molly. She’s too strong-willed, and it’s against her nature.”
“What does that mean?’
“It means that to push someone’s emotions, I have to find something to work with. Something they want. That’s why dealing with that guard yesterday drained me so badly. If he hadn’t been tired and hungry, I never would have overpowered him.”
“Seriously,” Brennan said. “What did you do?”
“It’s not the answer, anyway,” Aaron said, ignoring Brennan’s question. “Whether we like it or not, Molly is the first person we’ve met with powers. We can’t ignore it. I don’t know, maybe it will help us figure out why we’re like this.” He steepled his fingers together under his chin, thinking. “Carter should talk to her first. Molly likes him, and she’s more likely to respond to him.”
Lucia snorted. “I’m the empath,” she said. “If you want a read on her—”
“You need to calm down,” Aaron said. “You’re angry, and you’re feeding off everyone else’s emotions, too. You can’t get a good sense of her if you’re expecting the worst.”
“And your crush has nothing to do with it?”
“I don’t have— It doesn’t have anything to do with that,” Aaron said. “If anyone has a better plan, I’m listening.”
He waited, but no one said anything.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Carter said at last, and headed toward the door without looking at any of them.
Aaron waited for anyone else to object, and said, “I guess we need to fill Brennan in on what happened last night.”
* * * * *
Molly perched on the boulder at the edge of the lake, wishing she could just jump in and swim away. Coming here had been a mistake. Talking to Brennan at all had been a mistake. That stupid fire had been a mistake. She wrapped her arms around her knees and wondered if she should just start walking home.
“Mind if I sit here?”
She looked up as Carter joined her, but couldn’t read anything past the fixed, almost-smile on his face.
“Go ahead,” she said.
He settled on the rock beside her and pulled an energy bar out of his pocket. “So, uh, your power’s pretty cool.”
“Thanks,” she said without much enthusiasm. “Impressive throw earlier. Super strength, I guess?”
“Kind of,” he said. “It’s a proportional thing. I can make myself stronger, but I less agile. Or I can make myself more agile and lose some of my strength. It’s not constant, though. And it takes effort.”
Molly nodded thoughtfully. “So it’s kind of like an adrenaline rush? Like, uh, bursts of power?”
“Yeah, sort of,” he agreed. He finished the last few bites of his bar and sighed at the wrapper. “And I have to eat about three times as much as a normal person, on an average day.”
“Getting to eat whatever you want is a bad thing?”
“Having to eat constantly is. Being hungry constantly is.” He tucked the empty wrapper into his pocket.
“Oh.” Molly pondered this for a moment. “You know, it surprised me to see you here. You and Selena. You two just seem so…”
To her surprise, Carter laughed. “Well, we try,” he said. “But it’s hard sometimes, always having to hold back.”
“I know what you mean.”
“This cabin is the only place we can really be ourselves. It’s kind our safe haven. If it feels like we overreacted, that’s why.”
She hugged her knees tighter. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave if you want me to.”
“What? No, that’s not what I meant, Molly.” A sudden, disarming smile stole across his face. “I like having you around,” he said. “It’s just that…. We kind of all have trust issues. We want to like you, but it’s… going to take some time. ”
“You might change your mind when you get to know me,” she said quietly. “My issues don’t stop at ‘trust.’”
Carter regarded her thoughtfully. “We all have problems,” he said. “If we seem ‘well-adjusted,’ it’s because we try really hard to fit in. But we all have side effects.”
“Side effects? Like being hungry, or like Aaron’s seizures?”
“They’re not seizures,” Aaron said from behind them. This time, he met her eyes. But he didn’t smile. “Can I have a minute?” he said to Carter.
“Sure,” he said.
Aaron sat beside her and leaned back on his arms. He spent a few minutes doing pointless things: screwing his bottle cap on and off, shifting his feet over the rock. After a while, he sighed. “I have visions,” he said. “Of the future. I don’t have any control over it, and sometimes it can be…violent. I’m sorry I took it out on you.”
“You can see the future?”
“It’s not as useful as it sounds.”
“But that’s your ability?”
“No. That’s the side effect. My power is, well, more complicated. Watch.” He took a deep breath and clenched his face up. Then he vanished.
Molly blinked, and before she could turn to look for him, she felt a tap on her other shoulder. She whirled around and saw Aaron on her other side, a mischievous grin on his face. It looked so unlike him that she laughed.
“You can teleport?”
“Not exactly. I just…slowed time down for you. Or sped it up for me. Either way you want, it’s all relative.”
“You can stop time? That’s incredible.”
“Says the girl who can make hurricanes.”
“Only small ones,” she said.
He eyed her. “How much water can you move?”
He’s suspicious about something, Molly thought. She didn’t know what made her suspect that, but it felt like a solid instinct. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I’ve never really had a chance to test my limits. Anyway, I try not to push too hard. It makes me kind of reckless.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Reckless?”
“The water affects my mood,” she explained. “Makes me temperamental. Sometimes it calms me down, but sometimes it gives me a rush. Makes me feel…powerful. I’ve gotten carried away before.”
His eyes narrowed. “Carried away how?”
“I don’t know, doing stupid things. Climbing buildings, jumping off bridges.” She shrugged. “I got it under control. But if my dad hadn’t been there, I don’t know if I would have managed it.”
Back toward the cottage, she heard laughter. Molly glanced back to see Selena at her table, tinkering with the parts strewn across it, while Carter leaned against the porch rail, talking. She laughed at something he said.
“You’re lucky, you know?” Molly said. “Having friends you can be yourself with? I’m sorry if I messed it up.”
“Come on,” Aaron said, getting to his feet. He offered Molly a hand.
“Are you sure?” she said. “You don’t have to—”
“You’re like us,” Aaron said. “Whatever that means, we’ll figure it out. It might take a while to get used to, but we will. You’re one of us. So come on.”
Molly felt a smile creep across her face. She reached up, took Aaron’s hand, and followed him back toward the house.