I wasn’t in the mood for partying.
Every fiber of my being wanted to disappear into a black hole of nothingness. Unfortunately, blissful escape wasn’t possible. Not while my life was ensnared in so much drama and turmoil. OD’ing on existential despair into oblivion wasn’t exactly on the evening’s menu.
Instead, I found myself wedged in a corner of Dana Fox’s sprawling rec room like a naughty child getting a time-out, as a crush of gleeful kids danced and partied all around me. All for Dana’s homecoming.
News of her sudden return to Barrington that morning had spread through the town rumor mill like a raging California brush fire, incinerating everything else in its wake. Even memories of that pulse, which had nearly leveled the high school and almost exposed Jackson, Oliver, and me to Richard Cochran and Bar Tech only a day before, vaporized in the wake of Dana’s reappearance.
Without missing a beat, Dana’s overjoyed parents had transformed their faux-French-château pool house into a raucous party central. It seemed as though the entire school had turned out en masse to pay tribute to the beloved and much-missed Dana Fox. Being a glutton for punishment as well as a budding masochist, I’d had to attend Dana’s party and experience it firsthand. I’d had to get to know the girl who had so damaged Jackson’s heart and cast a pall over his life.
Lime Jell-O shots spiked with silver mescal, which Chase’s football pals had smuggled in underneath oversized parkas, were downed with reckless abandon by everyone. The thought of consuming Jell-O anything made me sick to my stomach. And as much as I desperately wanted to get lost in an alcoholic haze of misery where I didn’t give a shit, I just couldn’t bring myself to toast Dana’s return.
Bitchy and small-minded of me, perhaps. Petty, even. I guiltily admit having those ugly feelings. But there was also something else churning away in my brain. Nagging suspicions about why that girl had disappeared in the first place and where she’d been hiding for more than seven months without so much as a peep. If I wanted to find out the truth about Dana’s whereabouts, I had to keep my wits about me. I needed to keep up my guard and stay alert . . . frosty.
Ever since Dana had strolled up Jackson’s driveway that morning and hugged him tightly, Jackson and I hadn’t had a private moment to talk. Our communication that evening had been reduced to tense, ambiguous glances at each other from across the crowded room. As the electro-funk mix was cranked up to a full-on, mind-numbing blast, I watched Jackson dance uncomfortably with a beaming, radiant Dana. Dressed simply in a beautiful slim-fit ghost white cashmere pullover and black leggings, she owned the night and looked thrilled to be back with her long-pining boyfriend. A fairy-tale ending come to life.
As deeply and intensely as my feelings were for Jackson, I had no claim on him or his affections. Still, reality was a bitch—an icy slap across my raw face. It was painful for me to see Jackson and Dana together. Not just imagining them in my mind anymore as some vague past couple, but actually seeing them as a couple in the flesh. That hit me squarely in the gut.
Up until early that morning, Dana Fox had been an elusive phantom. A pretty face on a poster. MIA for more than seven months, she was presumably gone forever. Suddenly and incredibly, she reappeared, throwing my life (and Jackson’s) into even more havoc and chaos than it was already. Only moments before Dana’s miraculous return, Jackson and I had been arguing about the dangers of staying in Barrington. I knew we might have to leave town and follow in Maya’s hasty footsteps to parts unknown or risk our secrets being found out by Richard Cochran and his minions at Bar Tech.
But I hadn’t exactly been thinking with a straight head. I was still reeling from the aftershock of discovering that my father was an undercover government agent. Precisely how and why a medical doctor was spying for the Department of Defense still remained a mystery to me, one my dad had yet to fully explain. All I really knew for sure was that Dad had been covertly protecting me, as well as my friends, from being exposed to Richard Cochran and Bar Tech. And I had to protect my dad’s deep, dark secret in return. No matter what the cost. Which meant concealing my father’s true identity from everyone—even Oliver and Jackson.
I could see that Jackson was really shaken up by Dana’s return. He had endured months of humiliation and being treated like a delusional mental patient. All because he’d dared to question the official story about why his girlfriend had suddenly disappeared from town one night without a word. Even lifelong friends like Chase and the other jocks had bailed on Jackson. The boy most likely to succeed had suddenly turned into radioactive waste, which they wanted to bury deep in the ground and forget about. That all changed because Jackson’s girlfriend had come home. In a split second that morning on Jackson’s driveway, the world around me and my friends had changed once again. Timing, as they say, was everything.
I’d felt both incredibly protective over Jackson and inexplicably angry. It was all I could do not to grab Dana by her lustrous, thick black hair and demand some answers. Where the hell have you been all this time, bitch? Why didn’t you ever call your boyfriend and let him know that you weren’t dead? Why did you let him suffer like that? What do you know about Bar Tech? But even as my blood was simmering and reaching its boiling point, I had just enough self-control and presence of mind to get the hell out of there. I was afraid I might do something stupid, which I would definitely regret and which might seriously jeopardize Jackson, Oliver, and me.
“Great meeting you, Dana,” I had said halfheartedly, as I backed down Jackson’s driveway toward the sidewalk, eager to make a hasty exit. “See you around.” I’d had to get out of there.
“Wait up, Nica. I’ll walk with you,” Oliver piped up, anxious to leave as well. “Glad you’re back, Dana.”
“Thanks, Oliver,” Dana replied, hooking her arm through Jackson’s. It was a small but telling gesture that spoke volumes about her expectations with him and her status in the world. “Happy to be home.”
Jackson looked at me with sad gray eyes. They looked as if their vibrant blue-green coloring had been bled out from his irises. He seemed utterly lost as to what to do or say at that very uncomfortable moment. So he just muttered: “Catch you guys later.”
Oliver waited until we had turned the corner off Jackson’s block and were safely out of earshot before speaking. “Holy shit, Nica. How weird was that?”
“Beyond,” I muttered wanly as I just kept walking. I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other without breaking stride. It was the only thing I could do to keep from totally flipping out.
“That’s all you have to say?” Oliver prodded, mystified by my seemingly indifferent reaction. “Mystery girl Dana frickin’ Fox, Jackson’s old girlfriend, returns from the dead,” he added, “or wherever the hell else she’s been holed up all this time. And all you have to say is ‘beyond’?”
He hurried to keep up with me, since the effects of the previous days’ pulse had finally worn off. But I didn’t want to talk. Not to him or to anyone else at that moment. I didn’t want to share my heartbreak or discuss Dana’s return. I wanted to be left alone in my quiet misery. Just as I was about to break into a full-on sprint home, Oliver grabbed my arm. Tightly.
“Nica, stop,” Oliver ordered, clutching my arm, not letting me go. “Talk to me.” He seemed genuinely concerned.
Shaken back to Planet Earth, I stopped and turned to face him, trying not to lose my shit.
“What do you want me to say, Oliver? That I’m crushed that Dana’s back? That’s the least of my worries. Things are totally messed up. And I don’t know what the hell this means for any of us.”
Oliver saw how upset I was and finally released my arm.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to push you like that,” he responded sympathetically. “For the record, we’re in this mess together.”
His kind words were just what I needed to hear. I felt awful for turning on him like a raving Fury.
“Thanks,” I said, shaking my head as if I were trying to knock out all the crazy. “These last few weeks have really taken their toll. And now this.”
“Understandable, given certain recent events,” he said, with a warm, caring smile.
I started walking again. Slowly. Feeling adrift and confused and in no particular rush to race home to face my father. That was a whole other can of worms I wished I hadn’t opened. But I had. And I wasn’t sure how much Dana’s return would complicate matters. All I knew was that my whole world had gone completely bonkers.
Oliver tagged along to keep me company and made sure I didn’t get into any trouble. “Doesn’t it seem like more than just an eerie coincidence,” he declared, “that the day after the pulse hits and causes a nearly epic meltdown at school, that little girl lost shows up on Jackson’s doorstep? I’m just saying. . . .”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” I chimed back, feeling those same nagging suspicions myself.
“What should we do?”
I shook my head, shrugged, and just laughed even as a tear streamed down my cheek.
“I don’t have a fucking clue.”
• • •
Oliver and I had aimlessly wandered the streets of Barrington for well over an hour, racking our brains for answers. I felt as though I were trapped inside one of those mind-twisting logic puzzles. Nothing but dead ends everywhere I turned. My head was ready to explode. Unfortunately, neither Oliver nor I got any closer to figuring out a solution.
“I’m starving,” I suddenly announced to Oliver. “I need to eat something pronto, before I pass out.” I felt a bit shaky, as though my blood-sugar level was nose-diving. “Preferably sugary and fattening.”
“Now, that’s a problem I can fix,” Oliver announced with assurance.
He led me to Ebinger’s Bakery, and a few minutes and several doughnuts later, Oliver and I, in the midst of our delirious sugar highs, stumbled out with huge grins across our faces. I marveled to myself how sometimes the silliest thing can make you forget your troubles and be happy, even for one brief moment. Maybe it was all the sugar in my body that suddenly made me hyper-aware, or the fact that I had stopped obsessing about my own angst long enough to observe the world around me, but suddenly something troubled me.
“Notice anything strange, Oliver?” I asked, pointing at Main Street.
Oliver gave me a quizzical look and then followed my gaze up and down the block. It took him a second to register exactly what I was talking about.
“Where’s Bar Tech Security?” Oliver remarked. “I don’t see one of their cars on the street.” He seemed as surprised by this fact as I was. “Anywhere.”
“And yesterday,” I hastened to remind him, “they were literally everywhere.” I reflected back on the day from the time I had left my house. “In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t recall seeing a single security car around town at all today.”
“Does this mean they’re not looking for me—or us—anymore?” Oliver asked hopefully, but I could tell he was still very concerned they might snatch him at any moment like they’d done to Maya. “Especially considering that none-too-subtle spectacle I made at school yesterday. I wasn’t exactly hiding anything. More like flaunting it.”
“I’m not really sure what’s going on. Maybe it’s one of those collective amnesia experiences,” I hypothesized.
“Like the way everyone seems to reset to normal the day after a pulse happens.”
“Whatever it is, I intend to find out,” I declared, determined to go on the offensive and get some answers.
“And how are you going to do that, supersleuth,” Oliver pressed, “without exposing our secrets?”
“Leave that to me,” I responded cryptically, formulating a plan in my head while we continued on.
After all, I did have my own personal Deep Throat . . . AKA my father.
Before Oliver and I parted ways and headed back to our homes, I asked what his mother said to him after we dropped him off the night before.
“She already knew about the trouble at school,” he replied, “and asked how I was doing. Of course, I was incredibly vague and acted like it was no big deal.”
“She ask anything about the break-in at Bar Tech? Or you being chased by security?”
“Nope. Not a thing. And now that you mention it . . .” Oliver contemplated thoughtfully. “I remember thinking it seemed pretty odd, especially since she usually quizzes me about every stupid detail of my day. But truthfully, I was so relieved not to get the third degree by her that I went right up to my room. In retrospect, it’s like she didn’t want to know what had gone down.”
Just like everyone in town, it seemed. Don’t ask . . . don’t tell . . .
• • •
As soon as I walked through the front door of my house, I heard my dad calling my name. There was an edge of concern in his voice. I found him in the kitchen, sitting at the table nursing a nearly empty mug of coffee. There was barely half a cup left in the coffeemaker. He’d obviously been waiting for me for quite a while. And he looked extremely relieved to see that I was all in one piece.
He rose to his feet and hugged me tightly. “Where did you disappear to so early this morning? I had no idea if something happened to you.”
His long, muscular arms enveloped me in a cocoon of welcome paternal warmth.
“I’m fine,” I replied, finally breaking free from his embrace. “I just had to get out of the house and clear my head.” I didn’t offer up any other specifics.
“And is it cleared? Your head?” He leaned forward, his expression tentative and worried.
“To be honest . . . no,” I answered bluntly. “If fact, nothing seems clearer to me today than yesterday. Not about you. Or about anything else that’s happened.”
“The most important thing right now for both of us,” he reinforced, looking directly at me, “is that we keep our secrets secret. And stick close to home.”
“Does that mean I shouldn’t leave the house at all?” Did he know something important that he wasn’t telling me?
“Just let me know where you’re going. Until this Maya thing blows over and Chase gets released from the hospital.”
“So Chase is going to be okay?” I had to admit I was relieved about that bit of bright news.
“Looks as though he’ll make a full recovery. Though he’s still pretty out of it,” Dad replied, slipping naturally into his doctor mode. “Which is no surprise, given that he’s been in a coma for two days.”
“Does he remember anything about what happened?” I pressed, still worried about what it meant for Maya and her future.
“No. But that doesn’t mean Chase won’t recover his memory. Eventually.”
The implication was clear. There was a ticking clock. I knew the longer it took for Chase to remember, the safer Maya would be. Until then, it was up to Oliver, Jackson, and me to keep Maya’s secret—even from my father. It seemed to be the wisest course of action, where my father’s safety was concerned.
In the meantime, my father thought the best course of action for me was not to do anything rash or call undue attention to myself.
“Just be observant and try to act normal.”
“Normal,” I muttered with a bemused chuckle. I’d almost forgotten what that was.
“An alien concept, I know,” my dad replied. “But do your best.”
I promised to do as he asked. And he promised to continue working Cochran and Bar Tech from the inside. His main focus was to ferret out whether I or anyone else was in imminent danger of being identified by the security-goon squad. My father kept reiterating how important it was that we worked together—as a team.
In the spirit of domestic cooperation, the one new fact I did offer up to my dad was about Dana Fox’s sudden return to Barrington.
“She’s back?” he asked, genuinely surprised by my revelation and looking a bit disconcerted.
“I met her this morning.” I didn’t elaborate on any of the specifics, but I couldn’t help expressing my nagging doubt. “Though her sudden reappearance does seem suspicious to me.” Of course, I deliberately failed to mention anything about my complicated relationship with Jackson to my dad.
“Agreed,” my father admitted, nodding his head as he processed this latest wrinkle. “I doubt it’s just a coincidence.”
I doubted it, too. Timing was everything. And I intended to find out exactly what brought Dana back to Barrington.
Which was why, just a few hours later, I was standing in the middle of Dana’s impromptu homecoming bash. What better place to start digging for answers than in her own backyard?
• • •
“I don’t know what the hell is happening,” Jackson whispered in my ear somewhat forbiddingly as he walked up behind me. He had on his old navy and burgundy school jacket, which I’d never seen him wear at all.
“Makes two of us,” I remarked truthfully, trying my best to keep a stoic expression.
“I was so sure I’d never see Dana again,” Jackson confessed.
“And yet here she is.” I was desperate to get everything out in the open between the two of us. “Don’t you have questions?” The floodgates opened, and so did my mouth. “Where she’s been? Why has she never contacted you? Did her disappearance have anything to do with Bar Tech?”
“Of course I have questions, Nica,” he countered, obviously angered by my insinuating tone but keeping his voice low so others couldn’t hear what we were talking about. “I just need to give her time to open up.”
“Time? Last night we were running for our lives,” I snapped back, reminding him of the imminent danger that surrounded us. “And tonight we’re partying?”
Before Jackson had a chance to respond, Dana abruptly interrupted us, flashing her big, warm grin. “You guys having fun?”
Jackson and I exchanged tense looks.
“Can’t believe how quickly you pulled this all together in just a few hours,” Jackson interjected, hoping to diffuse the awkwardness that hung in the air.
“You know me. Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Dana flipped back playfully. “Can’t believe how much I’ve missed everyone.”
“And everyone seems to have missed you,” I replied in my sincerest voice. “Judging by the turnout.”
Dana scanned the big crowd. Everyone seemed to be having fun. “I’m touched to know that people didn’t forget about me,” she said, humbly patting her heart with her right hand. “I’m just sorry that Maya’s not here.”
I stole a glance at Jackson, desperate for guidance.
What do we say about Maya’s disappearance?
“Yeah, too bad,” Jackson said, all cool and calm. “Haven’t seen her since school the other day. I don’t know where she is.”
“Well, I’m happy everyone else came. And I know we only just met, Nica,” Dana added with a warm smile, “but I’m so glad you came too.”
“Thanks for including me.” I smiled back, relieved to be off Maya but also determined not to reveal even the slightest hint that I might not trust Dana.
“Now, if you don’t mind,” Dana said, slipping her arm through Jackson’s, “I need to steal this guy for a few.”
“Steal away,” I retorted dryly, my eyes lingering on Jackson, wondering what he was thinking.
Jackson looked back at me, giving me a subtle nod, knowing we had much more to discuss. “Catch you later, Nica.”
I nodded and watched Dana lead Jackson over to her suddenly effusive parents, who embraced him like a long-lost relative or future son-in-law—instead of the persona non grata he’d been since Dana’s disappearance. I could read from Jackson’s stiff body language that he was being polite but skeptical. He didn’t seem to be buying their abrupt conversion any more than I was.
While everyone gorged on barbecue chicken wings and pasta salad, I felt claustrophobic and forced my way outside. The cold, crisp Colorado air hit my lungs. I needed to clear my head and try to think, which I seemed to be having a lot of trouble doing lately. I breathed deeply and looked up at the sky. Because of the altitude and our relative isolation, the sky was dotted with thousands of tiny stars. It was so beautiful.
“Everything okay out here, Nica?” A sweet voice expressed concern.
Busted, I spun around to see that none other than the hostess of the party, Dana Fox, had come outside to check up on me with a steaming mug of hot cocoa.
“Yes, fine,” I sheepishly replied to Dana, taking the mug from her with a grateful smile. I was completely mortified at being found out. “Just needed some fresh air.”
Dana furrowed her brow, definitely unconvinced. “You’re going to freeze your ass off.” Her arms were crossed and she was rubbing them briskly to keep warm. The sweater she wore over black leggings seemed to help.
“That wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing,” I joked, turning my head as I pretended to check out the size of my butt in my favorite black jeans.
Dana laughed and shook her head in casual dismay. “Anyone ever tell you you’re—no offense—the tiniest bit crazy? And I mean that in a good way.”
“I seem to recall the expression nut job being bandied about by various shrinks.”
“Ugh, I hate shrinks,” replied Dana. “All they ever want you to do is yak, yak, yak about bullshit. Just leave me alone.”
“You went to one?” I was surprised by her admission. I hadn’t seen that one coming at all. But I used the unexpected opening to do a bit of snooping.
“Please,” she remarked with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Who hasn’t?”
“The curse of our generation,” I quipped, trying to engage her and create a sympathetic bond.
“Tell me about it. My overprotective parents had me see this very nice woman in Denver last year. Specialized in teenagers. She meant well. Such a huge time suck.”
“My mom sent me to one when I was ten,” I confessed. “To make sure I was coping with my parents’ divorce. What was your problem,” I gently pressed, “if you don’t mind me asking?”
“No big deal really.” Dana shrugged and shook her head. “Jackson and I were going through . . . a rocky patch. Things just got too intense between us.”
Her version of events certainly matched the official story I’d heard when I’d first arrived in Barrington.
“And that’s why you left town,” I probed, hoping to get some additional insight or clue about those missing months when she was away.
“I stayed with cousins in Connecticut. Anyway, old news,” she declared with a sigh and an exasperated roll of the eyes, “because I’m back to stay.” Signaling she didn’t want to discuss the matter any further.
I was about to probe a little deeper into Dana’s time away when a gang of her BFFs from cheerleading, Annie, Emily, Maddie, and Jaden, suddenly came outside and surrounded her.
“Here you are,” squealed Jaden. “The party’s inside! C’mon!”
And the girls dragged a laughing, protesting Dana by the arms back into the jam-packed pool house.
I wasn’t exactly sure if Dana had told me the truth and nothing but the truth about her time away, but it was a beginning I intended to build upon.
• • •
Dana’s party finally started to wind down around eight forty-five p.m. My father was on call at the hospital and insisted on picking me up, even though Oliver’s mother had offered to drive me home. With everything so uncertain, I had wanted to skip Dana’s party so that we could continue strategizing, but my father had practically ordered me to attend. I hoped it was because he saw us as a clandestine father-daughter Alias spy duo. Except without the exotic and glamorous locations.
Exactly where that left my mother in this complex equation, I had no clue. To be honest, I was so wrapped up in my own personal angst and turmoil over my life that I couldn’t worry about her. Paranoia and caution had gotten the better of me. It was hard for them not to. Instead, I chose to send a brief, bland e-mail filling Lydia in on my classes (I used “fine” a lot), extracurricular school activities (busy supporting our football team in the playoffs), and my hectic social life. I told myself it was better this way, that I was protecting my mother. What could she possibly do all the way from Antarctica anyway? When in fact the truth was a bit more complicated and something I wasn’t quite ready to face just yet. And that was my (not so) repressed anger at her role in all this.
How could she have sent me to Barrington? Did she have any idea what was really going on? She’d worked here years before, when the incident occurred—while she was pregnant with me. Did she have any clue that sending me back to the “safest town in America” would actually be the most dangerous thing for me?
I just wasn’t prepared to take on that drama—a problem wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a bunker-buster of a bummer: If she knew, it would break my heart, and if she didn’t, I had no earthly way of explaining it to her. I didn’t have a shred of proof except for my currently nonexistent powers and a few hastily scribbled journal entries detailing a scattered selection of the whiplash-inducing revelations of the past few months. It’d be enough to convince my mom that I’d somehow developed an overreliance on cough syrup but not exactly groundbreaking revelations.
My powers? Bar Tech?
Hi, Mom, long time. Listen, I— No, no, things are good. They’re great, actually. I discovered my DNA is—yes, I know. Good stock. Not so much Dad’s side, sure, but— Are you sitting down? Yeah, you’re gonna want to do that. No, I’m not pregnant. That would be easier to say than . . . Um. Well. I can turn invisible.
And that would be that. For as much as she loved to explore different philosophies, religions, and schools of thought, she was scientist and a journalist at heart. Rational to the core. Tales of superpowers and conspiracies were not even gonna make it in one ear and out the other; they’d be torn to shreds halfway by her twin Gatling guns of “Reason” and “Logic.”
I felt my pocket buzz, and my eyes shot to a clock on the wall. Almost nine p.m. Curfew. The screen of my phone lit up with DAD. He didn’t sound thrilled.
“I hate to do this to you, but do you think you can get a ride home?” Oh, Marcus. Always full of the best intentions, always coming up just a little short. I didn’t need a superpower to see this coming.
“Sure, yeah. Everything all right?”
“Couple of scuff ups. Nothing serious, but we’re slammed. Oh, and Chase seems to be recovering his memory.”
It was obvious that Dad didn’t want to say anything more explicit to me on the phone. And I knew not to ask. Who knew if Bar Tech was listening to our calls?
“I’m sure a ride won’t be a problem.”
“But with a parent, okay? No friends. I don’t want to see you end up in here.”
“Got it, Dad.” Click.
Oliver was waving down a car as my dad wrapped up the call. I started to jog over to the old station wagon as he got inside.
“Oliver!” I shouted. “Can I get a ride?”
“You up to date on your shots? Car’s a little messy.”
“I can handle it.”
I opened the door and was greeted by a sluice of files and folders that spilled out and piled at my feet. Oliver’s mom turned around, and I realized in that moment that we’d never actually met. She was older than I expected—wiry haired and a little spastic—like if Doc Brown were a cat lady. And clearly not the most organized secretary Bar Tech had ever had, although now she managed Cattle Baron, the local steak restaurant.
“Sorry. Just put that stuff to the side. Wherever. Floor’s fine. Sorry. Work, you know, and just, well, you eat in the car when you can between meetings and they tell you to drive here and drive there and it gets messy and you want to clean, but there’s so little time. So. Little. Time.”
I smiled as I stooped to pick up the papers before they got too messy. The neurosis that bubbled underneath her words hadn’t wormed its way fully into Oliver’s personality, but he displayed hints of it, and it was charming to see where it came from.
“It’s okay! Plenty of space,” I said, pushing some of the papers and books to the side, creating a clear patch to squeeze myself into. Somehow, everything I moved made its way back into my lap as Mrs. Monsalves finished rearranging the mess into a slightly different mess. Oliver turned around and offered a silent, mouthed apology. I shook my head and laughed. It was fine. Compared to my own family drama, other people’s families were a comfort, even when they were strange.
“I’m Nica, by the way. It’s so nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Monsalves.” I couldn’t really extend a hand to shake, so I tried to lean forward with as much glowing good-girl earnestness as I could.
“Oh, Nica! You’re the mystery best friend I’ve heard so much about!”
“Mom . . . ,” said Oliver, trying to shut down the quirk machine, probably before something really embarrassing leaked out.
“I’ve always told Oliver he can have friends over whenever he wants, but he prefers to be in his room with those video games.”
“Oh, we see plenty of each other,” I assured her, hoping as I spoke that I wouldn’t be squeezed for details of how our adventures had drawn us closer than most high school friends.
Oliver turned around in his seat. “So your dad’s having a busy night at the hospital after all.”
“Seems as though Chase’s memory is returning.” The urgency in my tone registered with Oliver. Chase’s recovered memory would undoubtedly implicate Maya.
“Some guys have all the luck,” snarked Oliver. “I can’t believe that douche is my half brother.”
It wasn’t immediately clear to me that I’d set Oliver up to drop an offhand comment that was actually a grenade primed to explode. It wasn’t until I saw Mrs. Monsalves’s fingers clench the wheel that I realized a mistake had been made.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be okay knowing Chase and I share DNA.”
Mrs. Monsalves tried to play dumb. “What are you talking about?” A nervous laugh slipped through her teeth. “I thought I told you—no drinking.” Oliver rolled his eyes at his mother’s attempts to suppress the secret of his lineage.
“It’s fine. Nica already knows.” Oliver announced it like it was no big deal.
“Knows what?” Oliver’s mother shot him a withering look.
“The whole thing, Mom. It’s fine. Trust me.”
“I don’t even know this girl.” Mrs. Monsalves’s eyes darted up and fired at me from the rearview mirror. No putting that secret back in the bag.
“You don’t have to. I do. She’s my friend, and I’m telling you: It’s fine.”
The only thing worse than fighting with your parents was being trapped in a car with someone else fighting with their parents about you. I pushed back in my seat, wishing, praying, that my powers would come back so I could vanish—and then maybe fling open the door and dive out for good measure. Their voices started to rise:
“No, it’s not fine. I told you that in confidence, Oliver!”
“And I had to talk to someone about it! Sorry I don’t deal with my problems by pushing everyone out of my life the way you do.”
I cringed and looked out the window, trying to get my mind far, far away from the morass I was in. That’s when I saw it from the backseat, pulsing in the sky. By now my brain interpreted any light in the sky as an appearance of the pulse that changed us all, but this light was different. I honestly had no idea what it was at first. It was barely visible, no brighter than a far-off star, but it got exponentially bigger each time it pulsed, like a balloon slowly being inflated. I opened my mouth to say something, and in that instant, the light took over the sky with an immense, silent flash. It was so incredibly bright and violent that I would’ve thought it was a megaton nuclear bomb detonating if the flash weren’t so . . . intensely green.
The same glowing, sickly, skin-crawling green pulse that unlocked our powers in the past had suddenly infiltrated the entire sky. It was a clear night, and for a split second the rest of the evening’s stars sparked from diamonds to emeralds.
And then we were upside down.