Molly trudged into school Thursday morning, shoes soggy from yet another night’s rain, and sighed. It was still too early for class, and the courtyard was crowded with groups of kids, hanging out in the few spaces dry enough to sit. She glanced around, and headed toward a corner. No one was going to come relieve her from her isolation this time, not after being kicked out of two groups in as many weeks.
Oh, well, at least she had schoolwork to keep her busy. With a sigh, she settled onto an abandoned bench and dug out her lit book.
“Hey, watcha reading?”
Molly looked up to see Ivy Haley plop into the seat beside her. “It’s okay if I sit here, isn’t it?” she said, but didn’t wait for a response before swinging her ratty bookbag up beside her.
“Yeah, sure,” Molly said, letting Shakespeare fall to her lap. It wasn’t as if she was making much progress on it. “Are you sure you want to be seen with me?”
Ivy shrugged. Her bright green glasses slipped down her nose with the motion and she shoved them back up. “Anyone who cares isn’t worth worrying about,” she said. “Besides, I’ve got someting to show you.” She pulled a zip-up binder out of her bag and opened it up. The inside was stuffed with papers, pencils and abused plastic folders. A few stray pieces of paper floated free, and Molly grabbed them before they landed on the gum-coated sidewalk. “Ah, thanks,” Ivy said, shoving them back in. “So how’s the book?” she said, still sorting through the mess.
Ivy nodded at Molly’s homework.
“Oh, that.” She shrugged. “It’s for school.”
“Don’t like reading?” Ivy guessed. Without asking, she picked it up and started flipping through it. “Is this… a comic book…of Shakespeare? That is awesome. How are you not excited about this?”
“It may have pictures, but it’s still reading,” Molly said.
“Oooohhhh,” Ivy said, like that explained everything. “You’re ADD. Makes sense.”
“What? Where are you getting that from?”
“It fits,” Ivy said. “Problems concentrating, hyperactivity. Impulsive behavior. It’s okay. I have it, too.”
“No you don’t.”
“But you’re smart!”
Ivy looked at her in surprise. “Do you think you aren’t?”
“Well, I’ve seen my grades,” Molly said.
“Bad grades don’t mean you’re stupid,” Ivy said. “Me, I’ve always had trouble switching focus. I hate being stopped at a task and told to do something else. Concentrating is hard, if it’s not something that interests me. But you obviously can focus. You focus on your karate, right?”
“Yeah, because it’s something you enjoy.” Ivy was still flipping through the comic book. “Do you like this one?”
“Huh? The book? It’s okay.”
“The Tempest?” She raised an eyebrow, a hint of a grin showing on her face.
Molly felt herself blush. “I…uh…it’s kind of where I got the name.”
Ivy grinned. “Well, speaking of tempests, I brought something to show you.” Ivy dug back into her binder and pulled a file folder out of the mess. She handed it to Molly.
It was a comic book: rough, pencil sketches, full of the superhero alter egos she’d created for all her friends. Molly flipped through them. It looked pretty conventional—she’d even included a maniacal villain with a trench coat and a crooked scar across one eye.
“Brennan thought I should leave her out of it,” Ivy said. “Since everyone’s still mad at you. But you were there, so I thought she deserved to be, too.”
“This is based on the lab?” Molly asked. “The whole story?”
“Well, roughly,” Ivy said. “Very, very roughly. I just thought you might like to see it.” Her voice wavered into uncertainty. “I know you all think it’s stupid…” She trailed off, staring down at her hands.
Molly stopped at an image of her alias, in battle with the bad guy’s henchmen. Despite her protests, Ivy had changed Tempest’s costume. She’d used elements from the first drawing she’d done and blended it with street clothes more appropriate for fighting. It wasn’t Azure, but it wasn’t the supermodel either. Molly hated to admit it, but it was kind of cool. “I don’t think it’s stupid,” she said. “When I said that before, I—”
“You were mad, I get it,” Ivy said, but she still looked sort of embarrassed. She took the folder back form Molly and absorbed herself in reordering it. “Everyone kind of lost it that day.” She closed the folder and stared at it. “Listen, I, uh, I didn’t know Aaron would react so badly. I thought he’d handle it with some kind of tact. I guess I underestimated his trust issues.”
Molly dropped her gaze, and picked over her strawberries. “It isn’t your fault,” she said. “It isn’t Aaron’s fault, either.”
“It’s not really your fault either,” Ivy said. “I mean, I understand why you weren’t ready to tell everyone. I just wanted to.. .apologize for… how things went.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But it’s okay. I’m used to being alone, and it’s probably best that way.”
“Oh, for—” Ivy huffed. “You’re worse than he is!
“No one understands me! I’m all alone! Angst! Dismay!” She snorted. “Do you really think you’re the only one who’s ever felt lonely? Ever been an outsider?”
“That’s not what I meant—”
“Oh, it is,” Ivy said. “I’ve known those five long enough to hear it all. My powers make me different! I can’t have friends! Do you want to know what being an outsider feels like? Listening to you six whine about how unfair your powers are. I mean, seriously? You have superpowers. How is that not awesome? And you’re Azure. You’re internet famous! What am I? A sidekick? Seriously. I’m not even a sidekick. I’m the reporter that gets kidnapped every other episode and has to get saved. I can’t even be a love interest, because I’m Brennan’s kid sister. I mean, not that I’d want to…uh…but anyway. Seriously. Stop it with the angst.”
“I’m not…I don’t angst,” Molly said, affronted.
“Uh huh. Well, tortured hero complex aside, you both need to grow up.”
“You and Aaron. Are you even paying attention? He’s only mad at you because he doesn’t know how to apologize. They don’t listen to me, or really acknowledge my presence, so I’m coming to you instead. Get over it. Talk to him.”
Molly looked away, thinking about it. There was no easy way to just “talk to him.” He actively avoided her. All of them did. And why shouldn’t they? “I’ll think about it,” she said.
Ivy’s expression said she wasn’t ready to drop the matter, but she nodded. “Hey, are you going to the game tomorrow night?”
“The football game?” Molly asked, surprised. “I don’t really have a reason to.”
“Everyone else is going.”
“Be kind of pathetic to show up by myself.”
“Well, I’ll come with you,” Ivy said.
“Don’t you have friends of your own?”
A brief frown of irritation crossed her face. “Yes, I do, actually. And they’ll be there, acting like idiots with the rest of the sophomore class. That doesn’t mean I can’t hang out with someone else now and again.”
It was tempting, but… “Why? Because you feel sorry for me, or because I was Azure?”
“Because I think Molly is kind of cool. Although you’re making me regret that decision right now.” She took her comic pages and started shuffling them into order. “And I was going to offer to help you with your Lit assignment. I happen to be very good at writing, in case you didn’t know.”
“You’re a year under me.”
“It’s English, not math,” she said. “I read all of Brennan’s books anyway. I read the Tempest twice.” She scribbled something in Molly’s book and handed it back to her. “There’s my number if you decide to show up.”
“This wasn’t my book, you know,” Molly said.
“Oh. Well, it’s pencil.” Ivy shrugged. The bell rang, and Ivy finished shoving her stuff in her backpack. “I’ll work on the others, try to bring them around,” she said. “But you’ve got to talk to Aaron. It’s not like they haven’t—” she hesitated. Her hands froze in the middle of zipping up her bag. “Well,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but…” Behind her glasses, her eyes were unusually intense. “They haven’t been completely honest wth you, either.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t give you details. I promised. But—” Ivy slung her bag over her shoulder. “You’re living in your granddad’s old house, right? Have you cleaned out the attic? The garage? Gone through all his old stuff?”
“What are you getting at?”
“Just that it might be worth looking into,” Ivy said. “Gotta get to class. If I’m late for geometry again, I’ll get detention.”
* * * * *
Brennan was lurking in the hall on the way to class, arms crossed over his leather jacket like he was just trying to look cool and brooding. But when Molly passed, his eyes locked with hers. “A second?” he said, in a tone that was not quite neutral. He nodded toward the hall behind him, a deserted alcove that led to nothing more interesting than a maintenence closet.
She debated brushing him off, but her curiosity was stronger than her resentment. “Yeah, okay.”
After they turned the corner, he leaned against the wall again. “I saw you talking to Ivy,” he said.
“Yeah. And?” Molly said.
“What did she say to you?”
Molly shrugged. “Wanted to show me her comic book.”
“Not really sure that’s your business,” Molly said, and started back into the hall. He grabbed her arm.
“She’s my sister,” he said. Maybe it was her imagination, but his hand seemed to grow hotter against her skin. “I may not be mad at you like Aaron is, but that doesn’t mean I trust you.”
Molly jerked her arm away. “She’s your sister, not your property,” Molly said. “What, are you worried I’m going to recruit her into my league of evil or something?”
“I’m worried you’re going to get her hurt because you’re reckless and impulsive.”
“You don’t know anything about me. Just because some losers on the internet—”
“I’m not talking about Azure,” he said. “I don’t know what you did before we met. Don’t really care. But I saw you fight, remember? I saw you take down that guy in the basement. You could have killed him.”
“But I didn’t. And in case you’ve forgot, I did that to protect you guys. If I hadn’t, Lucia could have—”
“Yeah, okay. You went there to help. I believed that then and I still do. But be honest with me, and tell me you didn’t almost lose control. That you didn’t come one bad moment away from drowning that guy after you had him down.”
“I—” Molly stopped short of lying. “I’ve got it under control.”
“Maybe.” His tone made it clear he didn’t believe it. “Didn’t look like it that day at the lake.”
“So it’s my fault? That’s what you’re saying? Because he threw a fit at me and I reacted?”
“I didn’t say it was all your fault. I said you were out of control. You started a storm, Molly.”
“It was going to rain anyway.”
“Does that make it better?” he asked. “Saying you’re under control doesn’t mean anything if everyone can see you’re not. Aaron is about a million kinds of messed up, but at least he admits it. If you want anyone to trust you again, you’ve got to learn to deal wtih your issues.”
“Fine. Whatever.” She started to push past him.
“Wait,” he said, in an exasperated voice. “Can you just listen for once instead of flying off the handle? Look—” He pushed back the sleeve of his jacket and turned his hand over so she could see his wrist. He ran one finger along the length of an old burn scar, a faint, shiny patch of skin running down the outside of his thumb down to his wrist. “When my power first developed, I had a tendency to lose control of it when I got angry or upset. I set my math book on fire in the fifth grade because I couldn’t figure out long division. And I got two weeks’ suspension for bringing a lighter to school, even though they never found one.”
“That sucks,” Molly said grudgingly. “So what?”
“So after that I was the kid that almost burned down the school. Any time there was trouble, I was the first one they looked at. It was one time six years ago, but that doesn’t matter. A town this size, everyone hears about it and no one forgets.” He shrugged. “You can’t run away from your problems here. If you’re gonna stay, you’ve got to get used to dealing with the consequences. Even ones that aren’t fair.”
She started to feel a little guilty. Of all of them, Brennan wasn the only one who hadn’t been outright angry at her, and he was trying to talk to her now, even though he was kind of being a patronizing jerk about it. But then she remembered: They haven’t been completely honest wth you, either. The moment of weakness passed.
“Don’t lecture me about consequences,” she said. “I’ve dealt with consequences, which you might know if any of you had asked me about my past instead of throwing it my face. I don’t blame you for taking their side, but I didn’t do anything wrong. So do you have anything else to say, or are we done?”
He let out a long, frustrated sigh. “Yeah, we’re done,” he said. But he grabbed her arm one more time as she started to leave. “Don’t get my sister in trouble.” Then he brushed past her and stalked into the crowd.
Molly leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. So none of them were on her side. No surprise there.
Ivy was wrong. Talking wouldn’t fix any of this. She wasn’t sure anything would.
Overhead, the bell rang. And now she was late for class.
* * * * *
The ride home did a lot to clear her mind. Even though it was early October, the weather was still warm, and the weeks of rain had left it humid enough that she could feel the water in the air.
She coasted down the dirt road and onto the driveway, feeling relieved at the sight of home. And then she caught sight of the car in the driveway. Dad was home early, when he should have been working on the new store. He wasn’t supposed to be home before five at the earliest. As she slowed, she noticed the car beside it.
It was Clarissa’s.
What was she doing here? When had she come in? Was she staying? Molly started toward the house in trepidation, letting her bike fall to the grass. What if she’d called the police? What if someone from the school had called? Had Kylie managed to get her in trouble? Was ths some kind of mental health intervention? What if someone had died?
Molly cleared her throat as she opened the front door, and called: “Dad?” in a voice she hoped sounded normal and not weird and panicked. “I’m home?”
“Hey, M&M!” Dad said, rounding the corner. He wore his favorite apron, which had done little to protect him from the generous dusting of flour over most of his clothing. He grabbed her in a huge hug. “I’m making pie!”
“Apple, not peach,” Clarissa said, walking up behind him. She kept her distance, hands folded in front of her like a nervous little girl. “Hi, Molly.”
“Hi,” Molly said, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Silence fell between them.
Clarissa cleared her throat. “Um. How was school?”
“Fine,” she said warily.
“And you, um, you’ve been okay?”
“Yeah,” Molly said. She resisted the urge to glance at her father, who had stepped very purposefully out of the way. “Did you have a good… trip?”
“Oh, yes,” Clarissa said. “I went up to Connecticut for a couple of photo shoots. It’s really beautiful this time of year. I brought you a shirt.”
Another very long silence fell.
At last, Clarissa sighed. “Listen, Molly. I know we’ve never really connected—”
“—but I think I finally understand you a little, and I just want to… I want a chance to make it up to you. To start over, maybe?”
Molly did glance at her father then—he was practically vibrating with excitement. The last time she’d seen him this happy was after he’d proposed. She glanced back at Clarissa, who still had that wary expression on her face. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” Molly said.
“Oh, well, I’m fine,” Clarissa said, although the nervous laugh suggested that she really wasn’t fine. “Molly, honey,” she said. “I want you to know that I…. I still want this to work out. But if you don’t want me here, I understand. And I’m not going to pretend that I’m not…” her voice faltered “…you know, a little….unnerved…but do you think maybe we could work on it?”
She really does love him, Molly realized. Enough to deal with me, anyway. So a lot. She swallowed. “Yeah, I guess so. Maybe.”
Clarissa wilted slightly: it might have been disappointment, but it could also have been relief. She took a step forward like she was going to try and hug her, but hesitated at the last minute. “All right, well,” she said, clapping her hands together to cover the awkward motion. “I can already smell that pie. I’m going to go check on it, all right?”
After she’d waltzed back into the kitchen, Dad reached forward and pulled her into a massive hug. “Thank you, M,” he said. His voice was so full of relief she could almost feel it washing over her.
“Did you know she was coming?”. She didn’t break the hug. A part of her wanted to just stay there forever. “Have you been talking to her?”
“We talked a few times,” he said. “I tried to explain everything, but she had a hard time… She called yesterday and asked if I wanted her to come back.”
“Is everything okay now?” Molly asked. “With you and her?”
He took a few seconds to answer. “Not yet,” he said. “But maybe we’ll get there. Are you okay with it?”
“I can try to be,” she said.
He hugged her even tighter. “Thank you,” he said again. “Everything’s going to be better this time. No more lying, no more secrets.”
The words were like a sliver of ice, shearing cold right through her stomach. Molly thought of her friends, of the injuries she’d lied about, of Ivy’s implications about her grandfather. No more secrets, she thought. Right.