Chapter Twenty-One: Proof (and Theory)

Brennan halted outside the door to the study, too afraid to go in. The muted sound of 80’s hair metal filtered through the study door. As he stood frozen outside the door, his mind raced ahead, running through all the ways this conversation could go disastrously wrong. He was on the verge of fleeing back to his room when the door opened. Dad shuffled out, muttering absently about protons.

“Morning,” he said as he glimpsed Brennan lurking in the hall. “Finally decided to get up?”

“Uh, yeah,” Brennan said, smoothing down his sleep-ruffled hair.

“I’m just on my way to warm up this coffee,” Dad said, brandishing a half-filled mug in the air. “Keep forgetting it’s on my desk.”

“What are you doing home?” he asked. “Don’t you have to work?”

“I’m working from home today,” Dad answered. “The lab’s a mess, apparently. Some kind of safety breach shut down the east wing. Luckily, I’ve got plenty of data evals to catch up on, right?” He toasted Brennan with his mug. “Aren’t you meeting your friends today? Ivy says you had a date.”

“Yeah…later,” Brennan said. “Um, when will Mom be home?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. She got a call this morning asking her to fill in for a sick cellist. She’ll be gone until next week.”

“A whole week? But I—” He cut off before he could give anything away.

“It’s just a week. She’ll be back for Christmas.”

“Yeah, I just…I wanted to…talk to her about something.”

“Oh.” Dad adjusted his glasses. “I’m sure you could call her. Hmm…she might be at the airport still…what time is it?”

“No, that’s okay.” He couldn’t imagined having this talk over the phone. But he also couldn’t wait a week. “I actually wanted to talk to you about it, too.”

“Well, I can spare a minute,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Can…can we go sit down?”

A frowned creased Dad’s normally cheerful expression. “Sure, son,” he said. “Come on in…Just sit…uh…here…let me move these…” He shuffled paper off his extra chair and set it on top of another disheveled stack on the floor. “And I’ll close the door…”

Brennan settled into the chair, rubbing his hands against the worn leather armrests. His panic had hit a point where everything around him seemed distant, like nothing except the fear and his racing heartbeat was real.

“All right,” Dad said, crashing into his chair and swiveling around.” “What’s bothering you?”

Brennan took a slow breath. “I…I don’t really know how to say this. There’s something I have to tell you. A secret I’ve been keeping. And, uh…” He trailed off, and ran his hands through his hair again.

“Brennan, what’s wrong?” Dad leaned forward, concerned, and braced a hand against his shoulder. “You’re shaking, son.”

“I just don’t know how to tell you. I don’t want you to think of me any differently—” He pushed himself to his feet with a sigh, pacing the small space of the office not littered with books and paper. “I’m not good at talking,” he muttered. He sighed and slumped back into the chair. “Do you remember a few years ago, when I had that fever that wouldn’t go away? And no one could figure out what was wrong with me?”

“Yes, it lasted for months. Drove us sick worrying about you. I think we saw about a dozen doctors before it went away. We never did find out what was wrong.”

“That’s because there wasn’t anything wrong, exactly.” He sat back down, and reached for Dad’s mug. He channelled heat into the lukewarm coffee until it started to boil, bubbling gently. “It’s just who I am.”

Dad stared at him through the rising steam. Blinking, he reached for the mug, touching the ceramic gingerly with the back of his fingers. He stared back at his son, mouth open.

Brennan shrugged. “I kind of have superpowers.”

* * * * *

Lying used to not bother Selena, but when she walked downstairs to find her parents not only home, but having breakfast together, she froze.

“Morning,” Mom said. “Did you get enough sleep? You look tired.”

“I’m…fine,” she said, staring at the scene and wondering if she was dreaming. She never really had dreams, but she imagined they were something like this. After hours of imagining them as evil scientists, this mundane situation felt surreal.

“Come eat something,” her father said, glancing up from his tablet briefly. “You’re so skinny you’re going to disappear.”

Mom slapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t tell her that! You don’t want her to overeat, do you?” But as Selena slid into the empty chair between them, she said, “You do look kind of pale. Have something.”

Selena doubted her coloring had as much to do with her blood sugar as the doubt and guilt gnawing at her nerves. She’d been so certain last night, but here, in the bright kitchen, everything seemed so normal. Was it possible she’d just been tired? Stressed? Paranoid after a night of chasing and being chased? As she spread cream cheese over her bagel, her parents resumed their conversation—nothing interesting, just minutiae about work, traffic, and the knob on the bathroom door that had been broken for weeks.

“So, what’s the occasion?” she asked.

“Occasion?” Mom asked.

“Why are you both still home? You’re usually at work by now.”

“Oh,” she said. “We worked late last night and decided to go in a bit late this morning.”

She didn’t want to ask, but she had to know. “Something important going on?” Selena asked, trying to sound casual.

Her parents exchanged a glance. “Nothing unusual,” Dad said.

“The cleanup,” Mom said.

“Yes, that,” he agreed.

“You weren’t working on that at night, though,” Selena said.

“Of course not.” Dad said. Had there been a brief pause before that? Had that glance earlier meant something? “Things are just backed up. We have permits to deal with, safety regulations, overtime approvals—”

“There’s always something,” Mom agreed.

“Has there been any progress? Do they know what caused the earthquake yet?”

“Don’t look at me, I’m a geneticist,” Mom said. “I have my own projects to look after.”

Dad shrugged. “There are a few theories.” Selena waited for him to elaborate, but he went back to his coffee, scrolling through the newsfeed on his tablet. “Why are you so interested in the lab all of a sudden?” he asked.

“No reason,” Selena shrugged and reached for the juice. “Just making conversation.” It was a poor excuse, since she loathed small talk, but her parents didn’t pay enough attention to know that. “The roads looked a little cleaner last night.”

“Excuse me?” Her mother said. “I know you weren’t riding that—thingthrough town at night.”

“I stayed out of downtown. Don’t worry; I was careful.” She poured herself a glass of juice, taking the pause to engineer her next question. “Anyway, there haven’t been any more tremors, and the fires and gas leaks are all cleared up. Why is it such a big deal?”

She looked directly at her father as she said this, and the level stare he returned was a bit too keen. “You should listen to your mother,” he said. “Just because you’re on a bike doesn’t mean roadblocks don’t apply to you. If you aren’t careful, you could get hurt.”

It was something any concerned parent might say, but Selena couldn’t shake the feeling there was a hidden threat behind it. “I can take care of myself.” Despite her best efforts, a trace of anger seeped into her voice.

“Watch that tone,” her father said.

“I—I’m sorry.”

“You’ve always shown yourself to be rational and levelheaded, Selena. That’s why we’ve always felt you deserved a certain amount of freedom. I hope you choose to use that freedom wisely.”

“I understand,” she said. “I’m sorry if I sounded disrespectful.”

Her father held her gaze for a long time, like he was searching something. Luckily, she had enough practice dealing with Lucia that she was able to mask her emotions fairly easily.  Eventually, he broke eye contact, relaxing into his chair as he took a long sip of coffee.

“You’re capable of so much, Selena,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see you waste that potential.” He cleared his throat and lifted his tablet. “I’m going to head back to the office and work.”

“And I’ve got to get to the store,” Mom said. She gathered the dishes into a neat stack and carried them to the sink. “When your brother gets up, let him know where the muffins are. I’ll see you tonight.”

As soon as her parents had left her alone, Selena let out a sigh of relief. Get a grip, she told herself, shaking her head like that could clear the roil of emotions clouding her thoughts. She always prided herself on being practical and clearheaded, and she wasn’t about to stop doing that now.

She reached for her juice, ignoring the sparks of static electricity crackling around her fingers.

I just need proof, she decided. One way or another. She drained the juice and headed upstairs to make a plan.

* * * * *

“I…don’t think I understand,” his father said at last. He’d touched the cup several times before venturing to pick it up, and then turned it around in his hands slowly, like he expected to find it suddenly cold. Then he set it back down abruptly, with and “ouch!” as the heat started to burn his fingers. “How did you do that?”

Brennan shrugged.

“You’ve got some kind of…” He trailed off, still trying to think of some kind of trick that would instantly boil a cup of coffee. “Thing.”

“No, Dad,” Brennan said quietly. “It’s just me. I have…”

“A superpower,” Dad said flatly. “Your superpower is to heat up coffee?”

“Not just coffee,” he said defensively.

“I don’t understand.”

“I can control heat,” Brennan said. “Look—” He touched the cup again, cooling it until ice crystals formed along the surface.

“Don’t break my mug doing that. It’s my favorite!”

“Sorry.”

Dad adjusted his glasses and picked the mug up again, his frown deepening as he inspected the chunks of ice bobbing in his coffee.

“Do you want  me to warm it up again?” Brennan asked.

“You think it will taste good after all that?”

“Do you want me to get you some from the pot?”

“Yes. No!” He jerked his glasses off and rubbed them against his shirt, face creased with thought. “No, all I want from you is an explanation. A real one, this time,” he added, jabbing the glasses toward his son. “Superpowers are not a real thing.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Brennan said. “I mean, I’m only calling it that because I don’t know what else to call it. I mean, I can’t explain how I can do it, anymore than I can explain how… how I can sing a melody or how you and I are talking right now. It’s just something that’s a part of me. Those times I started fires—I really didn’t mean to. I just couldn’t control it yet. And I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know how and I was afraid that—” the words choked in his throat, and he swallowed them back. Because as he looked across the desk at his dad, he saw exactly what he’d been afraid of: confusion, disbelief, fear…and anger.

I knew this was a mistake.

“You don’t believe me,” he said, breathing out slowly. “How can you not believe me?”

His father just sighed. “I know you’ve been through a lot, but this isn’t necessary.  You don’t have to act out to get our attention. You don’t have to lie, or make up… stories about superpowers…”

Maybe it was the word “lie” or remembering all the shame piled on him for setting fires he hadn’t meant to cause, but he suddenly felt nothing except an intense, reckless kind of anger. Brennan pushed himself to his feet. “You want more proof?” he demanded, pulling off his sweatshirt. “Fine.” He through the shirt down, showing his bare arms. “I’m not holding anything,” he said. “No matches, no lighter, nothing.” He snatched the first piece of paper he could reach, crumpled it into a ball and set it on fire.

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A lot happened at once.

Orange flame engulfed the paper, much bigger than Brennan had intended. Dad yelped and scrambled backward, tripping over his chair and falling into a stack of papers behind his desk. Then the smoke alarm went off.

Brennan snuffed the flame quickly and rushed into the hall, waving his shirt under the smoke detector until the ear-piercing beeping ceased. With a sigh, he settled back on his heels.

“What did you do?

It was Ivy, who’d apparently come running at the sound. With her lime green glasses, messy red hair and the half dozen puppies yapping around her feet, she looked like a cartoon character. It was a little hard not to laugh.

“I… set off the fire alarm.”

“Obviously.”

She glanced at the door, where their Dad stood, looking dazed. “You told him, didn’t you?”

“I had to.”

“Wait, Ivy knows about this…this…?”

“His stupid power?” Ivy said. “He’s too dumb to keep secrets from me. What did you do, light a fire in the office? Geez, Bren, you could have burned down the whole house!” He sensed that her ire was more because she feared what else he might have said.

“It was one piece of paper, Ives,” Brennan said. Which also meant, I haven’t told him everything.  “Hey, can we have a minute?”

His sister hesitated, but as much as she wanted to argue with him, he knew she didn’t want to do it in front of Dad. So she nodded. “Yeah, fine. I just came in because I thought—I’m going to feed the dogs. Or something. Come on, mutts.”

Brennan waited until was out of sight to look back at his father. “Are you mad at me?”

“I… I’m not sure. I think I might be getting there.”

And the worst was far from over. Brennan took a deep breath. “Then I’d better tell you the rest of it.”

He decided to start slow. He explained how his powers had started, how he’d realized what he could do and struggle to contain them. The ashes of the burnt paper scattered the desktop between them, and he kept touching them periodically as Brennan talked, shuffling them around like he needed the physical reminder of what he’d seen.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked, when Brennan described accidentally setting fires. “The first time you got in trouble, why didn’t you come to us then?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I was… scared.” He found himself unable to look at his father. He stared at his hands instead. Traces of ash mottled his palms, and strips of raw skin had started to blister. “I thought it would be easier to be the troublemaker than… I thought if I was just in trouble, then maybe you could forgive me, but if I… if I was…”

He started as he felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see his father crouching in front of him, peering earnestly through his crooked glasses. “Listen—” He scooted his chair closer, so that they sat knee to knee beside the desk. “When you came to live with us, Ivy was barely more than a baby. She trusted us instinctively, but you— you were almost four. You’d lost your parents, you’d been through two homes already, and you didn’t know how to trust.”

“I don’t remember that. I don’t remember anyone else. You an Mom—”

“The memories might have gone away, but those feelings—they stay with you. They make you who you are. And it may get better, but it will always be there. You know the only way you fell asleep as a child was when Mom played music for you? An hour every night, for a year and a half. Then you decided you wanted to pick up the violin and play it yourself.” He smiled at the memory. “I loved that little boy, and I still do. No matter what happens, nothing will change that.”

“I know that,” he said. “I know, but…”

“But you don’t feel it,” he said.

He felt a sharp pain in his chest. “That’s not it,” he said. “It took me a long time to feel…safe. Like we were a family and everything was normal. But then this happened. I didn’t want things to change.” He rubbed at the scar in his stomach. “So I lied. For years. And… Aren’t you mad at me?”

“Oh, I’m furious, Son,” he said, leaning back. “But we can’t go back and change things now, can we?”

“…No.”

“So.” He blinked. A silence fell between them. Dad cleared his throat, embarrassed. “Do you think you could, um, show me again? Maybe…a smaller flame this time?”

Hesitantly, Brennan tore off a strip of paper and crumpled it up. Then, taking care this time to control the heat, he kindled the paper until it burst into a miniature bonfire in the palm of his hand.

“Astounding,” Dad said, peering at it. He reached out with a finger, like he was going to poke it.

“Dad! It’s fire!” Brennan protested, drawing his hand back as he smothered the flame.

“Oh. Right. Yes.” He cleared his throat, adjusting his glasses. “I see.”

Brennan dumped the burnt paper into the wastepaper basket and wiped ash from his hands. “There’s… there’s more,” he said.

“More? You have other, er, abilities?”

“No, no, that’s all I can do. But there are other things I need to tell you. And I… I need you to promise you can keep this a secret. Not from Mom,” he added quickly. “I know you have to tell Mom. But no one else.”

Dad hesitated. “Why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like this?”

“You’re probably not,” Brennan said. “But people could get hurt, and we need your help. Please, Dad.”

“We?”

“Yeah. That’s the thing. I’m…not the only one.”

“Ivy?”

“No, not Ivy. We’ve been trying to figure out what caused it. And it..it looks like it has something to do with the Resson field. The one you’ve been researching.”

“How do you—Aaron told you.”

“He felt something weird when the machine was on, and no one else seemed to.” He did his best to explain Aaron’s vision of the explosion, and how Molly had found her grandfather’s journals (she’s Matthew Lakefield’s grandkid? I thought she looked familiar) that described the original experiments (yes, I’m sure she’ll lend them to you, Dad), and how those had led them to researching Resson waves.

“Wait, wait,” Dad interrupted. “Selena Marquez?”

“Um, yeah. There’s not another girl named Selena in town.”

“Martin and Gabby’s daughter? Are we talking about the same girl?”

“Yeah…. She’s a genius, Dad. Her brain is basically a supercomputer. She builds robots as a hobby.”

“But.. the cheerleader?”

“She’s not a cheerleader,” Brennan said. “Although I can see why you’d assume that. Anyway, she built this machine and…it turns out our…abilities can cause them.” He took a deep breath. “The earthquake last week? The machine picked up Resson echoes that matched the tremors. Perfectly.”

“So you think the Resson waves caused this? You don’t think something you did—”

“No, not us,” Brennan said. “But… someone like us.” He wasn’t going to tell him about Tara. Not yet. “And we need your help, because sh—whoever it is could be in danger.”

The next hour was exhausting. Brennan tried to protect as many secrets as he could, but behind his goofball exterior, Dad was still a scientist. He interrupted constantly with questions, and no amount of dodging issues seemed to get him out of answering them. So while he tried to cover for most of the “breaking and entering and hacking” part of it, Dad seemed to realize there was more to the story. What he did manage to tell was bad enough, and that restrained anger grew a little less restrained with every sentence Brennan uttered.

When he finished, Dad leaned forward with a long sigh. “And why,” he asked, “should I not pick up that phone right now and call Ray and Zoe Lightheart, and Ms Clarke, or, God forbid, that asshole Martin Marquez right now?”

Brennan crossed his arms against the chill in the room. “Well….” He said slowly. “First of all because they won’t believe you. Unless they’re involved.”

Dad frowned. “You don’t really believe all this, do you?”

“We don’t know what to think,” he said. “It happened so fast. We just want to be sure. We want to be careful.” He smoothed back his hair and stood. “Let me get you some coffee. Think about it for a few minutes, and I’ll be back.”

* * * * *

Ivy leaned against the wall outside Dad’s study, one sleeping puppy cradled in her arm. She toyed with its ear as she listened to the muted conversation, fighting the feelings of panic that had become almost normal in the last few months.

She waited until Brennan had walked out and headed toward the kitchen, and then ventured into the office, digging her fingers further into the soft fur.

“So,” she said, trying to keep her voice light, “how’d it go?”

Dad glanced up at her, and then frowned back down at his coffee cup. “How much of this did you know about?” he asked.

“Most of it, probably,” she said, settling into the other chair. “He doesn’t really keep secrets from me.”

“You should have told us.”

“It wasn’t really my place,” she said. “And until recently, it wasn’t even dangerous. I mean, anymore than teenagers being stupid normally is.”

Dad didn’t respond.

“Look, you can be mad at Brennan all you want, but the danger isn’t going to just go away. They’re coming to you because they’re desperate. Because out of all the people they could have told, you’re the one they trusted. And if you don’t help them this time, they won’t come to you again.”

He peered at her with a curious expression, like he was seeing something he’d never noticed before. “Are you sure you don’t have superpowers, too?” he said, with a hint of his goofy smile. “That was terribly insightful.”

“I’ve had time to think things over,” she said with a shrug. “I know you’re upset about this, and probably scared, but you should know what Brennan’s not telling you. He’s not the one who rushed into danger when all this started. He just did what he could to protect his friends.  And to protect me. Because…” she swallowed. “One of them came after me. And if they hadn’t… if he hadn’t come…”

She hugged the puppy to her chest, as if its warmth could ease the knot in her stomach.

“Oh, Ivy…” She felt his arms tighten around her, and she leaned into him, losing herself in his familiar embrace. “All this time, you’ve been so upset and we had no idea why…sweetheart….”

“I didn’t want you to feel sorry for me,” she said, pulling away and wiping at her eyes. “I just wanted things to be normal again.” The puppy wriggled awake in her lap, and she soothed it back to sleep.

“I wasn’t going to tell him about that part,” Brennan said from behind her. She turned her head to see her brother standing in the doorway, steaming coffee in hand. He set the fresh mug on the table and laid a hand on her shoulder. “You okay?”

“No,” she said. “But it needed saying.” She looked straight at Dad. “You can blame them for all the dumb things they did, but they still saved me, and probably the whole town. I trust them with my life. Every single one of them. Well, except maybe Selena. But she usually does the right thing. Eventually. I just thought you should know that. And you should help them,” she said. “Because too many of the wrong people know their secret, and this isn’t something they can walk away from.”

************

Sorry for the long absence! I have had a very difficult month, health-wise, and this was what fell through the cracks. I made this chapter extra long to make up for it! I expect to be back on schedule for June 1st. 

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