Chapter Nine: Moment of Contact

Molly lay draped across the bed, tossing a tennis ball at an old stain on the ceiling and trying to figure out where things had gone wrong.

It wasn’t like she’d exactly had a plan, but she’d hoped for… well, if not friends, exactly, then at least something in that direction. Instead, she just felt more isolated and confused than ever.

Lucia had stormed out, taking an apologetic Brennan with her, and the others had kind of hovered in awkward silence until Carter had offered to take her home.

In retrospect, it had probably been a mistake to try and make friends at all.

Molly sighed at the ceiling again, and lobbed the ball at it. A piece of textured paint broke off, showering her with white dust. Great, Molly thought. Even this house thinks I’m pathetic.

Her malaise was interrupted by the heavy sound of the door slamming open, and voices downstairs. “Hey, M!” her dad shouted. “We’re back!” —

“That’s my cue,” she told the ceiling, and tossed the ball to the floor.

Halfway downstairs, a blur of lavender-scented enthusiasm assaulted her.

“Oh, Molly! It’s so good to see you!” Clarissa said, throwing her arms around her. “You, too,” Molly managed, trying not to inhale any of the perfume as the hug went on. And on.

At last, Clarissa released her.

“Uh, thanks?” Molly said. “I’ll go help with the luggage—”

“Don’t be silly,” Clarissa said, steering her toward the kitchen. “We’ll worry about that later. Have you had lunch?”

“It’s almost four. I had lunch hours ago.”

“Oh, right,” Clarissa said, frowning at the clock over the stove. “I guess so. I’m still on Hawaiian time,” she said. “Next time I go, I’m going to take you with me. The water around Kaua’i is so gorgeous; you would love it.”

“Is anyone going to help me with this luggage?” Dad called from the hallway.

“Toby, I told you to leave it!” Clarissa called back. “I’ll get it later!”

“Fine, I’ll do it myself!”

“I’ll go help—” Molly started.

“No, don’t you dare,” Clarissa said. “He’s just being stubborn. I haven’t seen you in two weeks; the luggage can wait. Come on, sit down, let’s have something to eat and some girl talk.”

The kind of talk I’m best at, Molly thought. “Great.”

“Oh, and we stopped at this great little roadside stand and picked up a whole basket of fresh peaches. Your dad’s going to make pie.”

“Sounds awesome,” Molly said, and didn’t bother reminding her that she hated peaches. She poured a glass of water, picked an apple from the fruit basket and curled up in a chair. Maybe if she was eating, she wouldn’t be expected to say much.

But Clarissa joined her, sliding a massive blue binder across the table. She flipped through pages of photographs and notes. Molly had seen all of them. Like a million times. For some reason Clarissa never got tired of showing them to her. Toward the end of the book, she reached some half-filled pages.

“So, how are you settling in?” Clarissa asked, fishing an envelope and notebook out of her gigantic purse. “Toby said you made friends.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Molly said.

“Well, these things take time.” She shook a pile of photos out of the envelope.

“Mmhmm.”

As Molly munched on her apple, Clarissa spread her pictures over the table, sorting them into photographs of tropical flowers and beaches, food with ridiculous amounts of pineapple, and an assortment of random photographs that looked like someone had walked into a shop and started snapping random pictures.

“So, Molly. I need your opinion,” she said. “Hawaii gave me so many ideas for the wedding—”

The wedding. Great.

“Tropical flowers, bright colors… I saw these dresses while I was out, and I thought maybe we could do something like this—”

Dad walked by, with the excuse of making coffee. Mostly, she suspected, it was so he could pause and toss her a smug smile.

“What do you think, Molly, hon?” Clarissa asked.

“What? Uh, which one?”

“Right. Which one?” She pointed to a pair of fluttery dresses that looked virtually indistinguishable. “Teal or turquoise? I know you like blue.”

“They…both look great?”

Dad laughed silently into his coffee mug.

Molly was saved by the doorbell. “I’ll get it,” she said, jumping to her feet.

Selena waited on the other side, dressed like a prep school advertisement in a lacy pink top and a white skirt. Behind her, Lucia slouched against a porch column, dressed like a school drop out. Okay, so she’d pulled her hair back and her clothes weren’t ripped, but her shirt had a picture of a zombified unicorn on it and she wore a row of skull earrings up her left ear.

“Hi,” Selena said. “We’re going shopping.”

“Congratulations,” Molly said, and earned a snigger from Lucia. “I can’t,” she said. “I’m kind of grounded.”

Clarissa chose that moment to waltz in behind her. “Are these your friends, Molly?”

Selena beamed at her. “Selena Marquez,” she said. “And this is…uh…Lucia Clarke.” Selena frowned back at Lucia. “Another…student. We were going into town to do some shopping. I would love for Molly to come with us.”

“I’m afraid Molly’s busy today,” Dad said, joining them.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Toby,” Clarissa said. “It’s her first weekend here. Let her go out.”

He and Molly exchanged a long look. He hadn’t told Clarissa about her detention, or their plea bargain. For a second, she thought he might, but he gave her arm a squeeze and said: “Come on in, girls. Molly, why don’t you go get dressed?”

Molly hurried upstairs and dressed in record time. She couldn’t help imagining them letting something slip in front of her dad. Sure, they’d been keeping their own secrets for a while now, but Toby Young was a trained detective: suspicious by nature and protective of his daughter.

But when she returned, the pair of them were crowded around Clarissa’s wedding book like best friends. Dad watched them from the counter, still sipping that same stupid cup of coffee.

“I like the turquoise,” Lucia said. “I might do that color in my hair next time.”

“Oh, but the teal would look gorgeous with Molly’s eyes,” Selena said, meeting Molly’s mortified stare with a grin. “I can’t wait to see her all dressed up.”

Molly cleared her throat. “Ready,” she said.

Her dad slid her phone off the counter and tossed it to her. “Be back before dark,” he said. “School tomorrow.”

“Have fun, Molly!” Clarissa said, and dove back into her book, scribbling notes across a magazine ad with a bright purple pen.

* * * * *

“So where are we really going?” Molly asked, sliding into the front seat of Selena’s gorgeous, vintage Mustang, breathing in the scent of leather polish and lemon-tinted bleach. The interior was so pristine she was afraid to touch anything, and the leather seats looked brand new.

“Shopping,” Selena said. The engine started with a low, absurdly satisfying rumble. “There’s a decent strip mall about twenty minutes away. Nothing like L.A., but it’s all right.”

“I’m not from L.A.,” Molly said. “Your parents are okay with you driving this out of town?”

“Why not? It’s my car.”

“Her parents are loaded,” Lucia said, propping her feet on the console.

“Hey, you know the rules. Get your dirty shoes off the leather.” She shoved Lucia’s feet down with her elbow, and tossed her hair back. “You’re acting like they just handed it to me, but I practically rebuilt the entire engine. Paid for most of the parts myself, too. Not that you would know anything about hard work,” she added with a sneer.

“So…” Molly said, glancing between them. “Are you two friends or not?”

Lucia snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“We’re not really friends,” Selena said. “But we tolerate each other. Anyway, this little trip isn’t about us. It’s about you. The boys hang out all the time, and all I’ve had for female company is that. I’m really hoping you don’t turn out to be a disappointment.”

“Besides,” Lucia said. “You could use some new clothes.”

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Molly asked, looking down at her tank top and jeans.

Lucia and Selena exchanged a glance. “Yeah, hon,” Selena said. “That’s something we do agree on.”

* * * * *

An hour later, Molly was surrounded by a pile of clothes, staring in the mirror with Lucia on one side and Selena on the other, both waiting to hear her opinion. “It’s kind of short.”

“That’s the point,” Lucia said.

“How else are you going to show off those killer legs?” Selena said. “You are in seriously good shape, girl.”

“Check out her arms,” Lucia said. “I guess Kylie’s lucky you didn’t break her face.”

“I shouldn’t have hit her,” Molly said. “I just lost my temper.”

Lucia smirked. “I have to admit, it was kind of fun watching her knocked on her–“

“Oh!” Selena said. “You know what this dress is missing? Some pearl earrings. Do you have any?”

“I don’t wear earrings,” she said. “My ears aren’t even pierced.”

Lucia peered at her earlobe. “Oh, wow, they’re not.”

Selena grinned. “I know where we’re going next.”

* * * * *

Molly sat in the chair, feeling unusually anxious as Lucia and Selena pored over a selection of colored earring studs, talking about her.

“I’m not sure about this,” she said.

“It’s just earrings,” Lucia said. “It barely hurts. Look, I’ve got six of them.” She tucked her hair back and showed off her piercings.

“Maybe you should get a nose ring,” Selena said. “Finish off the look.”

“I’m not worried about the pain,” Molly said. “I’m just not fond of people poking holes in me.”

“What about just a basic white? Simple and it goes with everything.”

“I like green,” Lucia said. “There’s a citrine, and an emerald.”

“It’s not for you. It’s for Molly.

“Who still hasn’t agreed to this,” Molly said.

“Oh, wait, this one’s perfect.” Selena said, showing it to Lucia, who laughed. She turned the display around and showed it to Molly, pointing at a light blue stone the color of pool water. “Aquamarine,” she said with a grin.

She glared at them. “You two think you’re hilarious.”

“You’re getting it,” Selena said. “I’ll pay for it. I’ll buy you some pearls to wear with that dress, too.”

“But I don’t really need to—”

“You might as well give up,” Lucia said. “When she puts her mind to something, she’s more persuasive than I am.”

* * * * *

“It feels weird,” Molly said, fingering the pale blue stud in her ear. She still wasn’t sure how Selena had convinced her to go through with the ear-piercing, but somehow she had walked out with two new holes in her ears and a bag of jewelry she wasn’t sure she wanted.

“Don’t mess with it,” Lucia said. “It’ll get infected.”

“They look great, Molly,” Selena said, hooking her arm through Molly’s. “And am starving. I think I want Mexican for dinner.”

“It’s time for dinner already?” Molly said.

“We’ve been out for like, three hours,” Lucia said, waving vaguely toward the sky. Streaks of pink and violet tinted the clouds, and the sun was halfway sunk over the horizon. “It’s getting dark and everything.”

“I hate shopping,” Molly said.

“Well, it’s good for you,” Selena said. “You look fabulous in that dress. Oh, after we eat, I need to go by the electronics store for parts.”

“Fine,” Lucia said, “but I’m not leaving until I’ve—” She stopped short, and her eyes went wide. Molly was about to ask her what was wrong when she heard:

“Selena? What are you doing with them?”

Selena froze. Molly could almost see the panic in her eyes: it lasted about a second and a half, then she swallowed, turned, and smiled like there was nothing strange about the situation at all.

“Hey, Kylie.”

Kylie was alone, carrying an armful of shopping bags and a smoothie. She cast a lingering, scathing glance over Lucia and Molly.

“Seriously, Sel,” she said. “What are you doing with them?”

“Maybe you should mind your own business, Kylie,” Molly said. “I can give you another black eye if you want.”

“I’m not talking to you,” Kylie said.

“Well,” Selena said, glancing between her and Molly. “Well, I… I was just trying to talk some sense into Molly. You know, before she throws her social life away.” She gazed at Molly with a look of cool superiority. “But it looks like you were right. She’s not really worth my time.”

It stung. There wasn’t even a hint of sympathy behind her words, just disdain.

0902

Lucia rolled her eyes. “I told you she’d turn on you the moment she got a chance. I’m gonna get some food, if you want to come.” She stalked past Selena, shoving into her shoulder as she passed, but paused when she reached Kylie. She laid a hand on Kylie’s arm, right below her sleeve. “You’ve got something black all over your face.” Then she dropped her hand and kept walking.

Kylie’s eyes glazed over, and she didn’t move for a second. Then she gave a little panicky hiccup and brushed frantically at her face.

“Oh, that’s just fantastic,” Selena muttered. “Go on, stop her from doing something else stupid.” It took Molly a second to realize the words were for her, and by then Selena had moved past her and put her arm around Kylie. “Don’t listen to her, honey. You look fine.”

Molly took a few steps after Lucia and hesitated. Selena gave her a quick, furtive nod. Confused as she was, she took the cue and headed through the crowd to catch up.

* * * * *

Lucia was surprised at how well Molly kept up, even when she was at full stride. Even so, she made it all the way to the Mexican place before Molly caught her, and was talking to the server. “—And put some extra chiles in there, and lots of hot sauce. You can’t give me enough hot sauce. And a fajita plate. I don’t care what you put in it. I’m sure she’ll complain whatever it is. What do you want?”

Molly glanced at the menu. “Uh, just some tacos, I guess? Maybe a plate of rice? Water to drink.”

“Great, that too.” She handed the menu to the server, who had copied all of this without looking at either of them. “Thanks,” she said.

“Of course,” he said, with a false smile, and turned away. Lucia pulled the dessert menu over and pored over it, hoping to forestall conversation as long as she could. Pushing Kylie had broken through the barrier she kept between her emotions and those of everyone else’s.

Molly dropped her shopping bags and took a seat in the opposite booth, frowning across the table at her.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Fine.” I shouldn’t have done that. Even to Kylie. I shouldn’t have—

Molly crossed her arms over her chest looked out the window, watching the streams of people floating past the restaurant. Lucia ignored her, studying the menu longer than anyone should really study ice cream and beer, especially someone too young for the beer. I could probably convince that waiter to give me some though. Just a little push— Lucia set the menu down and exhaled slowly. She didn’t like how tempting it was, considering she didn’t even like beer.

“She’ll be okay, won’t she?” Molly said. “Kylie?”

“She’ll be fine,” Lucia said. “It wears off after a while. Still shouldn’t have done it.” Why did I say that out loud? Barriers. Put your barriers back up.

“She kind of deserved it,” Molly said.

“She definitely deserved it,” Lucia said. “It’s not really about her.”

“Ah,” Molly said, and after a pause: “Can I ask you a question?”

Lucia gave her a kind of half-shrug that Molly took as assent. “You can push on people’s emotions, right? Make them feel whatever you want to?”

“More or less.”

“So the other day, when they were messing with you in the hallway, you could have—”

“Yeah.”

“But?”

“But I try not to make a habit of it,” Lucia said. Piece by piece, her mental barriers went up, blocking out the chaos. “It would be easy to manipulate people all the time, but I’m not Selena. And every time I give in…” She trailed off and gave another shrug. This was bad territory. “Habits are hard to break.”

They lapsed into silence again. After a few minutes, the waiter delivered their food with a perfunctory brusqueness, flashed that fake smile, and disappeared without fanfare. Lucia grabbed her fork and dug in.

“So what about Selena?” Molly said.

“What about her? She’ll catch up later.”

“Yeah, but she just—”

“She’s our ride, unless you want to walk home.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Look, she didn’t mean what she said. But Selena cares more about her cover than she cares about hurting your feelings. She didn’t mean it, but she’ll say it again to keep her reputation intact.”

“So why do you put up with her?”

“Because,” Lucia said, “however much she pretends, she’s more like us than them. And I don’t really blame her for trying to seem normal. Sometimes I wish I could do the same thing.”

“I guess I can understand that.”

Lucia sensed a surge of sadness. She brought her walls down a little and refocused her attention on Molly. A swirl of confused emotions tangled around the other girl: hope and guilt and maybe some annoyance. And loneliness. A bitter kind of loneliness.

“As long as we’re sharing, what’s your story?”

The question triggered a surge of alarm. Hesitation. The emotions bundled together tight, like she was trying to contain them. Lucia let her barriers drop a little further. The noise of the crowd grew, but she was in better control of herself now. Finding herself was like finding the melody in a symphony.

Music analogy. Brennan would like that one.

“What do you mean?” Molly asked. Definitely guarded.

“How did you end up moving to the middle of nowhere?”

“Oh. My grandfather lived there,” Molly said. “We inherited his house.”

“He have anything to do with the lab?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So why’d you move?”

“It’s complicated.”

“None of that,” Lucia said. “We’re sharing.”

“Well, it is complicated.” Anger, reluctance. And something else… maybe guilt? Molly fell silent, but Lucia was happy enough to wait; she got plenty of information just listening. Something touched her awareness, like a wrong note, or a missed beat. Something from Molly? Lucia bit her lip and listened more closely, fine-tuning her senses. She wanted to be sure about what she was sensing.

“Look,” Molly said. “I’ve been in eight different schools. Suspended twice for fighting. I got off easy a few times, because I’d lost my mom, and dad was a cop—”

“Whoa, what?” Her concentration lapsed for a moment. “I thought he was a cook or something.”

“Yeah, well, he used to be a cop. But I started getting in trouble, and my powers were a little out of control, and he… he thought it would be easier on me, if he had a different job. If he could, you know, be around more when I needed help.”

“And that makes you feel guilty,” Lucia said. She tried to pick the threads of the rhythm back up.

“That’s annoying,” Molly said.

“Uh-huh.” There it was again. That note. It wasn’t Molly. Lucia glanced around, searching for the source.

“Yeah, it makes me feel guilty. If I didn’t have this power, he wouldn’t need to protect me so much.”

“Because your power makes you violent?” A woman scolding her children. Worried, not really angry. A group of teenage boys, louder than they should be. Just showing off.

“That’s not what I said.”

“It’s what you implied. You got in trouble for fighting. You hit Kylie. You do karate—”

“That’s not about violence,” Molly said. Calmly, but there was spike of indignation, almost anger, under the statement. Lucia raised an eyebrow. “I started taking martial arts to control those impulses. That training keeps me out of fights.”

“But you still get in fights,” Lucia said, glancing the other way. An older man arguing with his wife. Affection underneath.

“Sometimes, but I try not to. Like you said, I don’t want to make a habit of it.”

There.

“Sometimes I can’t help it,” Molly went on. “Sometimes I see something wrong and I just have to—Lucia? You okay?”

“Fine,” Lucia said, distracted. “I’ll be right back.”

* * * * *

Molly leaned back, affronted, as Lucia just stood up in the middle of the conversation—the middle of her sentence—and walked off.

She threaded through the crowd with purpose, and Molly followed her gaze to a couple seated at the bar, having an intense conversation over a couple of drinks.

Oh, awesome. What is she going to do now? Maybe it would be better to leave her alone, but Molly didn’t relish explaining to Selena how they’d gotten kicked out of the restaurant before she’d gotten to eat any food. Besides, it wasn’t in her nature. She tossed her napkin onto her plate with a sigh.

Lucia’s long-legged stride brought her to the bar before Molly had even left her seat. Then, inexplicably, she tripped, catching herself on the woman’s shirt and dragging her off the bar stool. Her drink shattered against the tile, splattering margarita over both of them.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Lucia sounded genuinely mortified. “Let me help you.” She made a show of helping the woman up and mopping the liquid off her shirt. Molly noticed that she touched the woman’s arm at least three times as she talked.

Her date didn’t offer to help; instead he folded his arms across his chest and glowered at them. Angry that his date had been ruined? Or… Molly slowed as she approached the bar, uncertain if she should intervene.

“Listen, I’ll pay for your drinks,” Lucia was saying. “Just go get that cleaned up before it’s ruined.” She gave the woman a push toward the bathroom. Flustered, she left without even saying goodbye to her date. “Sorry about that,” Lucia said to the man, her voice devoid of any apology. “I’m such a klutz.”

“Maybe you should watch where you’re going,” he said.

She leaned close to him, a tiny, triumphant smirk on her lips. “Maybe you shouldn’t poison your dates,” she said, barely loud enough for Molly to hear.

The man seized her arm. He started to say something back to her, but halted, his tongue against his teeth. His grip on her wrist tightened, and his eyes widened. Lucia froze, too, staring back at him with something approaching terror. A heartbeat passed, and she wrenched her arm out of his grip. “Touch me again and I’ll scream,” she said, and whirled away.

* * * * *

Lucia fled through the crowd, navigating more by the swirl of emotions around her than by her sense of sound or sight. Anger pulsed through her, mixing with a vague sense of satisfaction and a smaller, sick feeling lodged in her stomach like a seed. It was hard to tell how much of it was really hers, and how much came from the swells of elation and disgust carrying on around her.

Distantly, she heard someone call her name, but she hunched her shoulders and moved on, tempted to just lose herself in the storm and not come back.

No, it’s too much. It’s too much. She ducked out of the crowded room, retreated from the busy sidewalk into a shadowed crevice between two buildings. The faint scents of garbage and motor oil drifted over her—welcome stimulants: real and solid and inorganic. Lucia slumped against the wall, gripping her arms until her fingernails dug burrows in her skin, shutting her eyes and listening to the sound of her own breath, her own heartbeat. Slowly, she felt herself calm.

“Well, there you are.” The voice cut through her thoughts like a cold knife. Before she could turn, or run, or even scream, his hand was over her mouth. His other arm grabbed her around the waist, trapping her arms against her sides while he hauled her farther into the alley.

“I don’t know how you did that to me,” he whispered into her ear. “But I’m really interested to find out.”

* * * * *

“Lucia, wait!” Molly called, but the girl didn’t even seem to hear her. She went the other way, pushing through people like she didn’t even see them. Some kind of panic attack? Molly wondered. A side effect of her power, maybe. She hesitated, wondering if it was better to go after her or let her calm down alone. It was pretty clear Lucia still didn’t want her around, and she was probably the last person Lucia wanted sympathy from.

Well, except maybe Kylie.

She watched Lucia shove her way through the door, pink hair whipping around from the force of her exit.

Retreat, Molly decided. Retreat would be safer. Her track record with Lucia was less than stellar, but Molly got the impression that she didn’t like others to see her vulnerable. Selena would catch up soon, anyway, and it wasn’t like—

“Excuse me, miss?”

Molly turned to see their waiter, a loaded tray in one hand and fixed smile on his face. “Are you ready for the check?”

“Uh…” Molly glanced back at their table, cluttered with half-eaten food, shopping bags, and Selena’s untouched plate. “Not just yet. We’re still waiting for someone.”

“Of course,” he said, his falsely polite voice dripping with thinly veiled sarcasm. “Take your time. It’s not like anyone’s waiting on your table.” He rolled his eyes and whisked his tray away, muttering “teenagers” under his breath.

Molly figured she should get back to the table, and make a show of eating until Selena caught up with them. But as she turned, she caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Molly look back to see a man in a brown jacket walk out the same door Lucia had gone.

The guy from the bar? Molly hadn’t gotten a great look at him, but she had a sudden, awful feeling that it was. She glanced back at their table, and hesitated for a second before heading after him. If she was in danger, Molly couldn’t leave her alone. And if she was wrong, Lucia would just have to deal with it.

* * * * *

0903He shoved her against the wall hard enough that her head bounced off the brick. Lucia tried to fight free, but he’d managed to pin her down where she couldn’t get good leverage on him. Desire and appetite seeped out of him like poison; so intense she felt nauseous at the contact.

Control. She to had to get control.

“Am I scaring you? You afraid of me, sweetheart?” he asked, the smell of lime and alcohol all over the words. His fingers dug hard into the bare skin of her arms.

Afraid. That one was hers. The fear, and the disgust. And… anger. She latched onto that one, using it to solidify the emotions around her into a core. This is me.

“I might hurt you a little bit, but I won’t kill you,” he said. “Just do what I tell you to and it will be fine.” Hunger. Anticipation. He’d felt her push him when he’d touched her arm. To him, that emotional connection was something new, something exciting. He was hungry for more. She’d dealt with people like him before. She knew how to deal with that. She focused on the anger.

“You’re crazy,” she said, pushing it at him.

He slammed her against the wall again. “Don’t say that!” he snarled. Actually snarled, his lips curling away from his teeth. The fear wasn’t hard to find now; she focused on it: the rapid heartbeat, sweat on her hands, the awful rush of nausea and adrenaline. He pressed against her. “You’re the one who’s messed up,” he said. “You’re the one who’s broken. Do you really think you’re fooling anyone with that hair? Those clothes? You want the attention. You’re begging for it.”

“Yeah, well you’re about to get it.” As a comeback, it lacked a certain originality, but she backed it up with her power. She pushed the fear at him: raw terror without the mediation of anger or reason.

He gasped—a short whuff of breath like he’d been punched—and released her suddenly, staggering back like a drunk. Lucia took the moment of opportunity to kick him. Hard. If she’d been a second sooner, it would have hit him right in the groin, but he dodged and her heel struck him in the knee. She stepped closer to kick him again, but he managed to seize her hair long enough to yank her down. Her knee hit the pavement with a loud, painful crack. He grabbed her shirt, trying to grapple her underneath him.

Panic engulfed her. She let it, pulling all of the raw, mindless fear inside. Her fingers found the skin of his neck, hot and beaded with sweat. She grasped his face with both hand, pushing all of the desperate terror through her skin into his.

He reeled, and she shoved her hip against him, leveraging her weight to throw him off of her. Before he could scramble to his feet, she pushed him back down, pressing her fingers against both side of his face.

“You want to feel something?” she whispered, leaning in so he could hear her. His emotions echoed back at her—fear and rage and desperate loneliness—and she focused on the fear. “You’re a monster,” she said, pushing on the fear. “You like to hurt people. Makes you feel something, maybe. You’ve always known there was something wrong with you, but you like to blame other people. They’re not good enough, not smart enough, they don’t understand…but it’s not them, is it? It’s you.”

As she pushed on his fear, she dredged up all of her own issues, feeding the emotions into him: fights she’d had with her friends, failing math in school, her mother’s death, her father’s suicide. This stupid power.

“You want to feel something? How about guilt?”

0904a

She shoved it all at him, drowned him in it, until she was too drained to feel anything at all. Dimly, she felt Molly dragging her off the guy, heard him run away, but it was a minute before her senses cleared enough to register anything.

Molly was holding her up, staring at her like she’d gone crazy. Well, maybe she kind of had. Lucia shrugged her off.

“Are you okay?” Molly asked.

“No, probably not,” she said, smoothing her hair back. Her hands were shaking. “Did he run off?”

“He’s gone,” she said.

“Good,” she said, rubbing at a sore spot on her jaw. Molly was still staring at her, wary, but Lucia was too drained to sense much from her.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yeah. I told you I could handle it,” she said defensively. “I don’t need your help.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Molly said, without any apology in her voice. “It’s like I told you, sometimes I can’t help myself. Especially when my friends are in danger.”

Lucia cocked an eyebrow. “Are we friends now?”

“I don’t know,” Molly said. “Maybe? I don’t have a lot of experience with the idea.”

“Huh,” Lucia said. The adrenaline had faded, and all the aches and pains from getting thrown around flared up on her, along with the dizzy, hollow feeling she got from overusing her power. “I’m starving,” she said. “Let’s go order dessert.”

“Your side effects—”

Dessert,” Lucia said firmly, and motioned down the alley, toward the restaurant. After a brief hesitation, Molly followed her. “So, uh, the karate stuff you know,” Lucia said. “Think you could teach me some of that?”

“Sure, it’s not that hard,” Molly said. “I used to help teach a self defense class, back in Boston.”

“Boston? I thought you were from L.A.”

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