Somewhere through the deafening panic, she found a thread of sanity. “You’re my grandmother,” she said. It was an idiotic thing to say, but finding her voice seemed to jumpstart her brain.
“Yes, dear,” she said. The words sounded right, but the woman at the table was anything but grandmotherly. For one thing, she wasn’t nearly old enough. Evelyn Lakefield should have been in her seventies, and this woman barely looked old enough to be her mother. The resemblance to that thirty-year old photograph was uncanny. Identical, except for a few slight signs of aging: crow’s feet around her eyes and a crease over her nose that suggested a permanent frown. A few stray white hairs. And not a trace of frailty, either in her poise or in the sharp, knowing glimmer in her eyes.
“I—I—” Molly’s hands clenched open and shut. Her voice felt frozen. She searched desperately for anything to latch onto, and found her father’s pale blue eyes watching her steadily. The discomfort in his face meant he suspected how much trouble her presence could cause. She swallowed. “When did you—”
“I didn’t,” he said.
“Don’t be upset with your father, dear,” Evelyn said, rising from her seat. “I didn’t tell him I was coming.”
She started to extend her hand toward Molly, but whether she wanted to hug her, or just shake hands, she dropped it before she followed through. Instead, she clasped one wrist at her waist and cleared her throat. “It’s good to see you.”
“Yeah?” Molly’s shock had faded enough that she’d found her anger again. “Well, you shouldn’t have bothered. I’m doing fine without you.”
It would have been more satisfying if she’d shown some sign it hurt her, but the woman just responded with a sad smile, like it was the reaction she’d been expecting.
“I’m sorry I haven’t come sooner,” she said. “I thought you would be happier and safer without me around. I’m sure your father has explained…” Here she glanced back at her son-in-law, who had that same uncomfortable expression on his face. “…at least some of this to you.”
Molly crossed her arms. “I’m not sure I have anything to discuss with you.”
For a fraction of a second, Molly caught something like anger in her grandmother’s eyes. But it was gone so quickly she could’t be sure she hadn’t imagined it.
“M,” her father said. “Please don’t—” He cut off as Molly turned her glare on him.
Evelyn held out a hand, placating. “I don’t expect you to forgive me for anything, Molly. And I certainly wouldn’t want…” She pursed her lips, either. “As happy as I am to see you, I didn’t come for myself. I felt I owed you an explanation, at least. And I can help you with your abilities, if you want.”
Molly almost retorted that she had everything under control, but her temper had burned out enough that she could think things through. It wasn’t her own personal pique she had to worry about. It was the safety of her friends, and her new home—two things Avalon hadn’t shown any mercy so far. Information was something they’d been desperate to find, and if she could gain anything from indulging her grandmother’s whims, she would have to swallow her pride.
Still watching her closely, Evelyn ventured another step closer. Sensing a crack in the wall, perhaps. “Can we talk, Molly? Just you and I?”
Dad’s face tightened—apparently he didn’t like the idea any more than Molly did. Again she wondered just how much her father knew about who Evelyn Lakefield really was. But Molly gave him a quick nod to signal that she’d be all right. “Fine,” she said. “We can go out back.” At the suggestion, Dad relaxed. Maybe he understood what she was doing. Close to the lake, Molly had access to water. She had more power. More leverage.
Evelyn must have understood as well, but her smile was amused. “Very well,” she said. “Let’s go have a chat.”
* * * * *
Fear kept Molly from looking at her grandmother. Instead, she focused on the dead leaves scattered over the sparse yellowing grass. Her stomach felt like it had been twisted inside out, and she had to resist the urge to rub her sweaty palms against her jeans. The calm, steady lake nearby was her only anchor.
“I’ve missed this place,” Evelyn said, gazing over the water with an air of wistfulness. “It’s strange, but it hasn’t really changed. Except for all the weeds. Matthew would hate that.”
The comment about her grandfather was like a stab to the gut. She’d tried not to think of the two of them together, and it was hard to imagine that they’d been married. She hugged herself tighter.
“I’m glad you’ve come back here,” her grandmother went on. “I hate to think of this place as empty.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t have left,” Molly said.
“You make it sound like I wanted to,” Evelyn said. “I didn’t have a choice. Eventually, people would have noticed that I don’t age quickly enough. Besides, there were….extenuating circumstances. It was dangerous for me to stay. Dangerous for Matthew as well as for you and your parents. I wanted nothing more than to be here with my family, but it wasn’t an option anymore.” She looked down at her hands, tracing the lines across her palm. Her skin was almost as smooth as Molly’s. Unexpectedly, she turned to catch her granddaughter’s eyes. “I’m very proud of what you’ve done.”
Molly glanced at her suspiciously. “Yeah,” she said. “Getting kicked out of school three times was definitely a noteworthy achievement.”
“Not that,” Evelyn said. “What you’ve done with your powers. As Azure.”
The wind suddenly seemed colder.
“Oh, Molly. Just because I didn’t visit doesn’t mean I wasn’t watching out for you,” she said. “I admit, it took me a while to figure out it was you, but when I did…I almost broke our agreement.”
“With your father. He…” she hesitated, and Molly caught that glimmer of pain again. “He made it clear I wasn’t welcome near you. Until recently, it seems. I was surprised when I found out he was looking for me, but I guess it was a matter of time. As dedicated as your father is, he is still just an ordinary person. He has no idea how to help you.”
“And you do?” She didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
“I hope so.” Evelyn’s smile had faded completely, and the pain had hardened in her eyes like crystal. “Believe me, Molly. If you had gotten in real trouble, I would have been there. I would have come for you.” She reached out and took Molly’s hand. “I wanted to come for you.”
Molly pulled her hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it on her jeans. Did that mean she had been watching the whole time? That she knew Molly was involved with Aaron, and that she could have been killed that night at the dam? Anger pounded through her blood, loud enough that it drowned out the comforting presence of the lake.
Dozens of questions flooded her mind—everything she’d wondered about her family, her mother, her powers, what Avalon meant and what she wanted—but Molly swallowed them all back. She tried to think of what Aaron would do. What Aaron would ask. Her heart hammered against her ribs. She wished he was here. She wished she had one of Selena’s earbuds in her ear, so he could hear what she heard, and tell her what to do.
Evelyn had pulled back into that restrained posture—hands clasped, head held a little too high. “So,” she said. “How much does your father know?”
The question hung between them for a few seconds.
“I’m not sure why I’d answer that question,” Molly said, letting the anger seep into her voice. “Considering what you’ve done.”
Something changed in her grandmother’s appearance. Molly couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was, but the geniality suddenly seemed less benign—more like cold manipulation than careful friendliness.
“Maybe I should ask how much you know,” she said.
“Well, grandma, I know you sent a killer after my friends,” Molly said. She met her grandmother’s eyes now, fueled enough by fury to dull the fear. “Besides the sabotage, and the attempted sabotage, and the people that died when that jet engine exploded.”
“So you know quite a bit.” She sounded like she regretted it.
“And you’re not the least bit sorry for any of it, are you?”
“Now, Molly, that’s not fair.”
“You don’t know the circumstances that brought me here. If there had been another way, I would have taken it. But I had to stop that generator from being turned on. The Resson field is too dangerous. Matthew and I did everything we could to bury that research. If it was recovered, it’s our fault for not burying it deep enough.”
“What’s so dangerous about it? Your lackey said it didn’t cause our powers.”
“My lackey?” she asked, raising a brow. “You mean Leveille?”
“Yeah, the psychopath who abducted a fourteen year old girl. The one who hurt my friends and threatened to kill them. Who threatened to kill me, while we’re at it.”
Molly had the satisfaction of seeing her grandmother thrown off guard. “He threatened to…I didn’t know he… He wasn’t supposed to kill any of you. He was only told to draw you out. Molly, I didn’t even know you were there. If I had known you were involved, I would have—”
“What? Told him to play nice? I guess kidnapping and murder barely count if family’s not involved?”
“I would have handled things differently, yes. I would have come to you in person.” She crossed her arms. “I sent Hugo because he had already met your friend Aaron. He was only supposed to talk to him. I regret it, Molly. I didn’t realize he was…unstable.”
“Unstable. That’s a hell of a way to put it.”
“Watch your language, child.”
“The hell I will,” Molly said. “I don’t owe you anything.”
Her grandmother pursed her lips as if she would pursue the matter. But after a moment, she sighed. “No, I suppose you don’t. But I’m sorry.”
“Kind of late for an apology. It’s been two months.”
“I rather figured you’d had enough of me,” she said. “When I found out your father was searching for me, I did what I could to lead him off course. I figured in time he’d give up.” She paused here with a huff of annoyance. “He is nothing if not persistent.” Then she blinked, and took a slow breath. “I didn’t come here to fight with you, Molly.”
“Then why did you come?”
“To be honest,” she said, “I need your help.”
“My help?” Molly said. “Why on earth do you think I would help you?”
“We have mutual interests, Molly. You want to protect your friends. I want to protect mine.”
The thought of this cold woman with friends made Molly laugh. “Right. I’m sure you have buckets of friends. Are they all as ‘unstable’ as your friend Hugo?”
“Some of them,” Evelyn said. “They’re people like you and your friends, Molly. You know you can’t control what your powers do you you. You know it comes with disadvantages, and they aren’t always as easy to deal with as yours.”
Molly thought about Aaron’s debilitating headaches, and the constant psychological onslaught Lucia experienced as a daily part of life. If she thought those were easy…
“You and your friends are lucky, Molly. Lucky to be able to live your lives. Lucky to have homes. To have each other.”
A pang struck her as she remembered saying something similar to Aaron, not that long ago. She shook it away. “So you’re a saint, now?” Molly asked. “Taking in the broken and helpless?”
“I didn’t claim to be a saint,” Evelyn said. “I’ve done many things I regret. But this mess is partly my fault.”
“Because of the Resson field. Because of what it did to you.”
Cautiously, Evelyn nodded. “How much do you know about that?”
“The basics,” Molly said. “I found your journals. And granddad’s.”
“Damn it,” Evelyn cursed. “He was supposed to burn those.”
“Well, he didn’t. So that’s how you got your powers. You were crammed full of all those experimental chemo drugs, and they interacted with the Resson field. And bam, radioactive self-healing.”
She smiled, genuinely amused. “Close,” Evelyn said. “But it wasn’t the chemo that the Resson waves changed. It was the cancer.”
“The cancer gave you healing powers,” Molly said skeptically.
“That’s our best guess. It could have also had something to do with the chemo, but…How much biology have you studied?”
“Some.” She’d gotten a C- for the semester, but she wasn’t going to admit it.
“Well, cancer cells are basically damaged or abnormal cells that the body fails to destroy. So they replicate out of control, kill healthy cells, and so on. My particular affliction was a kind of marrow cancer. Very difficult to kill, and it had spread pretty far. I had less than a year to live.”
“Mm. So was I. Well, something in the Resson field altered those cells. Instead of destroying healthy cells, they started to..rewrite them. To rejuvenate them.”
“Well, yes,” Evelyn said. “Sounds impossible. Miraculous, even. Which is why we spent the next five years trying to figure out how it worked. Matthew hoped we could extrapolate a universal cure from what had happened to me. He was a physicist originally, you know, but he started to study biology and genetics, hired the best researchers he could. Unfortunately… we couldn’t replicate it, and trying to create something from my DNA had…unexpected consequences.”
That explains the vials of blood. “The other powers?”
“Yes. It’s a long story, but when we discovered that the mutated blood had unpredictable effects, we canceled the project. We tried to eradicate everything we could of it. But some of it must have survived. I’ve spent the last twenty years cleaning up that mess.”
“And my powers?”
“You must have inherited them from me.”
“What about…what about my mom? Was she…”
At the mention of her daughter, Evelyn grew even more reserved. Almost like she was trying to hide the pain deep, deep inside. “No. I don’t think so. A few times I thought— But if she had any abilities, they were minor enough to not matter. Some people are susceptible to it, and others…it doesn’t seem to take.”
“What about my friends?”
“I’ve been trying to figure that out,” Evelyn said. “And that’s why I need your help. The fact that a handful of children in this town were affected means that someone in Lartech still has access to our work.”
“Or what we created from it.” With a grim frown, she said. “Whether it escaped accidentally or was somehow leaked to them, the source of your friends’ powers came from that lab. If any trace of it survives, I have to destroy it. My resources are limited, especially with my retrieval expert in prison. But you and your friends have managed to break into Lartech twice now.”
“We were almost caught both times. And they’ve upped their security,” Molly said.
“This time you’ll have my help.”
Molly laughed. “No way am I going to help you. Especially if it means dragging my friends into your net. News flash, grandma. I don’t trust you.”
“And you have no reason to,” Evelyn said. “But at least take it into consideration. Talk to your friends. There are things I could help them with. Even,” she said, holding a hand up to forestall Molly’s complaint, “if you decide you won’t help me.”
Molly glared back at her.
“Just speak to them,” she said. “I’ll be in touch.” She started to head back toward the house.
“One more question,” Molly said as she started to walk away.
“The earthquake. Did you have anything to do with it?”
“No,” she said. “I was as surprised as you were.”
“But you know what caused it?”
“You mean who caused it, don’t you?”
“So it was someone like us? You’re sure?”
“Fairly certain,” Evelyn said. “I’m looking into it.”
“Leave her alone,” Molly said. Too late, she realized she’d let slip she already knew who was responsible.
“Worried about me hurting her?” Evelyn said. She smiled, and there was no warmth in it. “Molly dear, I’m the only one that can help her.”