Chapter Eighteen: Storms

Aaron stared at the tablet, torn between shock and disbelief. Two images were frozen on the screen: one the Molly he’d started to trust and rely on, and the other a vigilante with a reputation for being dangerous and unpredictable. “It can’t be her,” he said.

“I didn’t believe it at first either,” Ivy said. She hunched her shoulders up and stared at the floor. “But you can see the resemblance when you’re looking for it. And the questions I asked her… They made her nervous, Aaron. You don’t need powers to see that.”

He watched the videos again, replaying conversations with Molly, searching for some clue that could disprove it. I’ve gotten carried away before, she’d said. Climbing buildings, jumping off bridges. She’d always been evasive any time he’d asked about her past, dismissive of any mention of Azure or other people with powers. And Lucia… Lucia had called her violent, impulsive, and had insisted she was hiding something. But this? So many reactions swirled around in his brain that it took him a while to settle on one.

She lied to me.

She lied to all of us.

Abruptly, he turned and stormed toward the cabin door. He heard Ivy call after him, but whatever she said was lost under the rushing noise in his ears.

Outside, nothing had changed.

Molly was sitting by the campfire, laughing at some story Carter was telling. She looked so ordinary, like she belonged right there with the rest of them. Like a girl hanging out with friends. Like he hadn’t just watched her take down criminals on a rainy night in another city.

He swallowed against the gnawing sense of betrayal and tried to sound normal. “Hey, Molly.”

Her smile faded as she looked up at him. “What’s wrong?” She glanced between him and Ivy.

“Chicago,” he said.

“I—what?”

“Boston, New Orleans, Sacramento. Portland, St. Louis.”

“Aaron, what are you talking about?” she said, with a fake, fragile smile and a nervous laugh.

He pressed play on both videos and shoved the tablet in her hands. She frowned as she focused on the images. The color fled her face.

It’s true, he thought. It’s really true. “Were you going to tell us?” he asked.

“It’s not what you think—”

“You’re Azure,” he said. “Aren’t you?”

“I can explain—” She rose, dropping the tablet in the camp chair.

Aren’t you?” he repeated.

A good five seconds passed before she said anything. Her hands clenched and unclenched, like she was fighting the urge to run away.

Then, “Yes,” she said, very quietly. “But I—”

“I told you,” Lucia said, hands curling into fists. Aaron could practically feel the anger roiling off her. “I told you she was hiding something. I can’t believe I was starting to like you.”

Molly’s desperate gaze flickered between them. “I didn’t mean to— I just didn’t know how you’d react—”

“So you decided to lie to us?” Carter said. He didn’t sound angry: just deeply, deeply wounded.

“No!” she said. “I wasn’t lying. I just—I—”

“Just wait a second,” Brennan said. “We’re talking about…that crazy vigilante? The one you and Aaron were obsessing over last year?” He looked from Aaron and Molly to Ivy.

“That picture on my desk last night,” Ivy said quietly. “The one you thought was Molly? It was a picture of Azure, from that robbery in Illinois. I didn’t recognize her until you said something. I—” She looked from her brother to Molly, sympathy on her face. “I wanted to be sure before I said anything.”

Molly glanced around at them, maybe looking for some kind of support. “Selena—”

“Don’t look at me like we’re suddenly friends,” Selena said, crossing her arms. “You gave me that big speech about pretending to be someone I’m not. And this whole time, you’re hiding this?

“I just—”

“We trusted you!” Aaron shouted, and Molly stopped arguing. Her arms dropped to her sides and she just stood there, hands clenched, with a kind of terrifying stillness.  “All this time, you’ve been saying you wanted to be normal, pretending you’re just like us— ”

“I wasn’t lying,” she said. Her fists trembled.

“What, did you come here to hide out? Too much publicity after that robbery?”

“I never did that!”

“Did you go with us the other day just for fun? You had plenty of criminals to chase and cops to harass back in the city, but here in the country— ”

It wasn’t like that!” she shouted. Aaron stopped his tirade as she finally met his eyes, glaring at him with outrage. Around her, half-filled cups of water and soda trembled. “You have no idea what my life has been like! You don’t know what I have or haven’t done! Don’t you dare act all superior after begging for my help. You with your little cliques and your secret club and your stupid comic books—”

“Hey!” Ivy said.

“If you think it’s stupid, why’d you stick around?” Aaron said. “So you could laugh about how pathetic we are when you go on your next crime spree?”

“Actually, I thought you might have half a brain,” she said. “But you’re just like everyone else. Stupid and shallow, and scared of anything you can’t control.”

The liquids around her shook more violently—discarded drinks, puddles from recent rains, melted ice dumped from the chest—all rising into the air as she grew angrier. The clouds overhead had grown darker, drawn closer and denser by her power. A drop of rain hit his cheek.

“Molly, stop—” he said. It took effort to keep his voice level when he could feel the ground shaking under his feet. He could stop her if he had to, but not without hurting her.

“Why? Don’t you want to see what I can do?” she asked. Tears flooded her eyes. “Don’t you want to see how dangerous and violent I am?” The shaking intensified.

“No,” Lucia said, touching her arm. Molly froze at the contact.

“You don’t want to do this,” Lucia let her hand slide away, and held both hands up so that Molly could see she’d broken contact. “You should probably go.”

All at once, the shaking stopped. The hovering water splashed to the ground. The tension flooded out of her, leaving her looking somehow smaller, like a crumpled-up can.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll go. You can handle your serial killer without my help.”

“Do you need a ride—” Brennan started.

“No! I don’t need anything from you!” She turned on her heel and stalked back up the hill. No one stopped her.

No one even talked until she was out of sight.

Then, “That escalated,” Lucia said. She looked even more shaken than he felt. “You really screwed that up, Aaron.”

“Like you did any better,” he said, but there was no heat in it. The anger had left with Molly, and he was left feeling hollow and exhausted.

“What do we do now?” Carter asked.

They all looked at Aaron, like he had any idea. “I don’t know,” he said. Raindrops started falling from the sky, spattering into the dirt and hissing over the campfire.

* * * * *

As soon as Molly hit the top of the hill, she ran. No, she sprinted, pushing every muscle in her body as hard as it would go, as if rage and frustration could fuel enough adrenaline to last her the ten-mile hike home.  Rain began to fall: scattered droplets that grew into an onslaught within moments. It soaked her through, but for once it didn’t give her that boost of invincibility she craved. It just made her feel wet, and alone, and abjectly miserable. Every step was like a knife to her injured ribs, but she pushed through the pain, thinking of nothing but putting more distance behind her.

All at once, her body gave out, and she tumbled to the ground, lungs and legs burning from effort. Her ribs felt like she’d bruised them all over again. It hurt to breathe. Great self-control, Molly, she told herself. You lost all your friends and almost killed yourself running away.

1801

And she was stranded. There was no way she could walk home, especially in this condition. Dad was busy until three, so that meant… With dread, she dug her phone out of her pocket and dialed Clarissa’s number.

“Hey, Molly! What’s up? Are you having a good time?” Her voice was so cheerful, it was like another kick to her aching chest.

“I just—” ruined everything. Molly swallowed. “I need a ride home. Can you come get me?”

* * * * *

Clarissa would not stop talking.

Maybe she had some kind of aversion to silence, or maybe she genuinely thought it would cheer Molly up, but from the moment she got in the car, it was nonstop chatter about… Honestly, Molly tuned her out after the first minute, nodding absently whenever she paused for breath.

If being stranded on the side of the road had felt miserable, being in this car was suffocating. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want sympathy. Her ribs hurt every time she breathed, and she was soaking wet, too. Even though she could have drained the water from her clothes, there was no way to explain being dry when she’d been sitting in the rain for fifteen minutes. Soon she was shivering under the blast of the air conditioning. Too bad I left that jacket at home, she thought. She could have used it.

“So I told your Dad—are you okay, sweetheart?”

“Fine.”

“You aren’t getting sick, are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“You should take those clothes off as soon as you get home and take a nice warm shower. I can make you some hot chocolate, and we still have some of that pie—”

“I’m fine.”

It was a miracle, but Clarissa stopped talking. Molly leaned against the car window, wrapping her arms around herself like it would make her warmer. The rain was at its peak now, splattering against the windows with violent, rhythmic force. It was so loud, she could close her eyes and almost pretend she was out there, lost in the storm, instead of cold and hurting and alone. She started to drift asleep.

“My goodness, what a storm,” Clarissa said.

Great, here she goes again.

“I didn’t think we were supposed to have strong winds, too,” she said. “Feels like we’re being pushed all over the place.”

Molly started. Am I doing that? She took a deep breath, and relaxed as she let it loose.

“Oh, there we go,” Clarissa said. “That was weird.”

Molly nodded, but she was focusing on breathing. It had been a long time since she’d lost control like that.

“At least we’re almost home. Storms are lovely when you’re indoors, at least I think so. A cup of coffee and a book and a nice seat by a window—”

Molly closed her eyes. She was starting to feel calm now. At least she thought so.

“Here we are,” Clarissa said. And Molly felt the bump of the car transitioning from smooth pavement onto the gravel driveway. And then another as it rolled to a stop. “Why don’t you take the umbrella?” Clarissa said, reaching into the backseat. “I think you’ve gotten wet enough.”

“I’m fine,” Molly said. She shoved open the door and swung her feet out of the car. The ground was a mess of mud and gravel.

“I don’t want you to get sick—”

“It’s just water!” Molly shouted, slamming the door behind her.

Behind her, she heard the other car door open, but the rain drowned out whatever Clarissa might have shouted after her. Molly stalked toward the house, fighting back a new surge of frustration. Why couldn’t she calm down? She’d been under worse stress than this. It shouldn’t hurt this badly.

But her hands were shaking, even after she made it inside. And despite being soaking wet, her throat was dry like she hadn’t had a drink in days. Molly wrapped her arms around herself and trudged into the kitchen, dripping water along the new wooden flooring. Her shoes squelched as they bled moisture.

As she filled a glass of water from the sink, she heard the door close, and then a tiny yelp as Clarissa slipped on the wet floor. The thought crossed her mind that she should check and make sure she was okay, but it didn’t seem important enough. She watched the water swirl behind the beveled glass like it was hypnosis.

“Aren’t you going to get changed?” Clarissa had already materialized a mop from somewhere. “You don’t want to stay in those wet clothes.”

“I’m thirsty,” Molly said. She drained the glass of water, and turned the faucet back on. The water came out with more force than usual, maybe responding to her need for it. The stream wavered toward her, like metal to a magnet. She was too aware of it—of the water running through the pipes in the walls, pooling around her shoes, in the flower vase on the counter. She took a deep breath. “I’m fine,” she said, mostly to herself.

“Okay,” she said. “I just think—”

“I said I’m fine!” Molly shouted, slamming the glass onto the counter as she whirled around. Dimly, she was aware of metal groaning behind her, but it seemed trivial under the rush of anger. “I don’t need your help. I don’t need your advice. I don’t want your hot chocolate, or your peach pie. I don’t even like peaches!”

“Molly, please,” Clarissa said. “I only meant to—”

“Everything was fine without you,” she shouted. “I don’t even want you here!”

The faucet exploded.

Water burst free, with enough force that Clarissa tumbled backward with a shriek, shielding her face from the spray. She fought back to her feet, blinking water out of her eyes. “Molly, are you okay? What ha—” She froze halfway through the word, eyes widening as her vision cleared.

1802

Molly stood in a storm of water. The water gravitated to her, surging around her feet,hovering in the air around her hands. Molly hadn’t meant to call it to her, but she couldn’t seem to release it. Anger and fear had locked up her muscles: all she could do was stand there, holding onto her power because she was too scared to let go.

“Molly—” Clarissa’s voice was breathless. “Molly—Are—How are you doing that?”

“You can’t help me,” she said in a tight, small voice. Her eyes stung. “I don’t need help. I don’t deserve it anyway.”

She released it.

The water flooded to the ground, splashing in waves across the kitchen tile, over Clarissa’s polished shoes. The woman was still staring at her, too stunned to react. “I’m sorry,” Molly said. She turned and ran—out of the kitchen, out the backdoor, and into the haven of the storm.

* * * * * *

She came home after dark.

Part of her had wanted to just keep running. But she was exhausted and her ribs hurt. So she’d walked instead, until she’d found a rocky patch of shore sort of sheltered from the rain. After she’d mostly dried her clothes, she huddled under it, too drained to even cry.

Hours later, she’d woken up to her phone buzzing in her back pocket.

Fifty messages. Eight missed calls. They all pretty much said the same thing.

It wasn’t like she had anywhere else to go, so she went home.

Dad was in the kitchen, fixing the faucet. The floor was still wet, but it wasn’t flooded anymore. The flowers were in a new vase. She stopped behind him, trying to speak, but she couldn’t find any words.

After a minute, he noticed her. At once, he dropped the wrench and ran to her, wrapping her in a massive bear hug like she’d been gone for days. “You’re okay,” he said.

She still couldn’t say anything. Her throat felt so swollen, it was all she could do to keep breathing.

“I was worried about you,” he said. “Where have you—no, never mind. It’s not important. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“Fine,” she managed. The word was barely a squeak.

“Clarissa told me what happened,” he said.

Molly swallowed. “Is she okay?”

His response was slow in coming. “She’s not hurt,” he said slowly. “She decided to leave for a while.”

The sadness in his voice told the rest of the story.

“I’m sorry,” Molly said. “It’s my fault. I just can’t—I ruin everything I touch.” She pulled away, wiping at her eyes. “I should— I should just go somewhere else. Maybe you could send me to military school, or Grandma Joan’s, or…”

No. You stop that right now.” He pulled her back, wrapping her in an even fiercer hug. He sighed. “M&M, you are a hundred kinds of trouble, do you know that?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Clarissa would have had to know, sooner or later. I’d rather her have found out a different way—”

“I’m sorry.”

“But whatever happens, you’re always going to be first.” Dad let her go. He reached for a rag on the counter and wiped off his hands. “Besides, this house is in your name, and I can’t afford to move out. And I finally got a lease on some space in town. So I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, sweetheart.” He picked up the wrench and turned back to the faucet. “Come help me put this stupid thing on,” he said. “I can’t figure out why it’s still leaking.”

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