Power Awakened Chapter 2
George stands beside the breakfast table with his muscular arms folded across his chest. Adopting kids had been his wife’s idea, but she is away doing charity work overseas, and will be gone for the foreseeable future. We receive word from her occasionally, although not through George.
“You’ve given me stale bread,” Art complains.
George looks at him as if to say, “So?”
“This is crap,” Art mutters, shoving his plate away. “When’s Janice coming home?”
I lift a brow. He should know better than to ask George about her. He should know better than to say anything at all during breakfast.
“Not soon enough,” snaps George. His sarcastic response just means he’s sick of “looking after” the two of us. “Now shut the hell up and eat your toast, or I’ll force feed it down your skinny neck.”
I don’t say a word through the entire breakfast. Afterwards, when George dumps us at the school gates, I cuff Art on the back of the head.
“What exactly were you trying to achieve back there?”
Art rubs the spot I hit and gives me a dirty look. “You said that I had to stand up to him.”
“You also need to choose your battles, kid. You wanna risk getting punched in the face over stale bread? Seriously?”
His tone is sullen. “So now you want me to suck up to him instead?”
I look skyward and shake my head. “Art, I don’t care what you freakin’ do. I’ll see you later.”
I walk away from him with my backpack over one shoulder, already thinking about my lunch break and what I am going to do with it. If I can get off school grounds, I will. I like to slip away and walk the streets that are supposedly “forbidden” during school hours. It feels good to break the rules now and then.
Except the rules I make for myself. Breaking those rules is stupid, because I know they make sense. Number one, at the moment, is to not get involved with other people. That includes my classmates. I walk to every class without making eye contact with a single soul. I know that if I let anyone in, either they will go away or I will. The pattern is always the same for kids like me.
Art is the exception. I don’t like it much, but he is the most consistent thing in my life right now. We’d been together at a previous foster home, though only briefly, and there’d been five of us. So we hardly talked to each other except for at enforced, weekly “meetings”. Ugh.
Even so, the powers that be decided Art and I shouldn’t be separated, so now the kid is attached to me. Like a carbuncle.
Despite myself, I glance back before I enter the school building. Art is being shaken down by three other kids in his grade. He has his head down while the three circle him like vultures. I stiffen, watching.
“Don’t back down, Art,” I whisper fiercely.
The bigger kids are laughing, taunting him. “C’mon Art, this is a battle worth fighting,” I whisper again. Every few days, it’s the same thing. One of the kids gives Art a shove, while another pulls his backpack from his shoulder and kicks it like a football. Art protests at this, and two of the kids close in to see if he’ll take it further.
“Keep your head up,” I mutter, silently imploring Art to hear me.
He doesn’t, of course. He puts his head back down, and seems to mumble something. One of the boys shoves his shoulder, and then another slaps him across the face for good measure. Art drops to his knees, cowering.
I scowl and shake my head, turning away from Art’s humiliation and away from my anger. I walk inside, my stomach churning. He will never learn to stand up for himself if I fight his battles for him. Either you have the survival instinct, or you don’t. Obviously, Art doesn’t.
I walk down the hallway to my classroom, and let myself in.
“The bell hasn’t rung,” Miss Carter snaps. She’s new. She stands open-mouthed, in a tartan skirt and a simple, white blouse. Her round glasses and dark hair is tied into a neat bun, making her look prissy, despite low heels and legs that have all the male teachers in the school looking twice.
“It will,” I wave a careless hand and glide to the back of the room.
“Get out,” she insists, asserting an authority that, as far as I’m concerned, she hasn’t yet earned.
I sit down and glare at the her. She’d been writing something on the board and clearly my entrance interrupted her. Too bad.
Despite the immediate animosity, my conscience pricks. I don’t know why, but out of the blue, I get a flash of… something… a feeling that we have something in common. My glare gives way to a frown and staring as I search for insight into why I feel some kind of weird connection to this woman all of a sudden.
“I said get out,” Miss Carter says, louder this time. She waves the chalk she’s holding in the air, pointing at the door.
My frown deepens as I study her. “You just want to get through the day,” I state finally. “Me too.”
The young teacher looks flabbergasted.
I press my lips together and lift my brows. “It’s why you spend the morning pretending to prepare your lessons each day, instead of drinking coffee and smoking in the staff room like all the rest.”
She lowers the chalk and takes a step in my direction. “I’m going to tell you one more time,” she threatens. But somehow, I can sense that it’s her who feels threatened.
Words spew forth again, like my mouth has a mind of its own. “You’re afraid of the other teachers. You’re scared to get involved. You’re scared that they’re going to find out what you did at your last school, and that you’ll have to move again.”
“What did you do?” I continue, wondering out loud.
“Shut up!” Miss Carter barks, her voice harsh.
I shake my head, the movement breaking our odd connection. The room wobbles, then rights itself again. Somewhat disoriented, I blink, then open my backpack and take out a book. I settle back in my seat to read, electing to ignore the woman entirely.
“You’re not allowed to be in here,” the teacher protests again, but I can tell by her tone she’s defeated.
I flip open my book, and glance up at her. “I won’t tell anyone you’re hiding in here, if you don’t tell on me. I’m just reading my book.” I lift it and show her the cover. “It’s even on the syllabus.”
With an angry scowl, Miss Carter turns on her heel and begins writing on the board again.
Outside the window, I hear kids laughing and see the three boys who’d been picking on Art. He is nowhere to be seen.
“Not my problem,” I whisper, as a reminder to myself. “I’ve got enough of those all on my own.”
* * *
Whereas Miss Carter normally doesn’t hesitate to ask me questions in class, that morning she avoids making eye contact at all. Even when I pull out my book and begin to read in the middle of the lesson, she says nada. I hide a smile of victory.
I meet her gaze briefly, and there’s a slight hiccup where it seems as though she is battling conflicting emotions. It’s right when she notices what I’m doing, and it’s as if she’s trying to decide what to do about it. Evidently she decides avoidance is the best policy.
Fine by me. Back down yet again. It’s my experience that once people start backing down, it becomes a habit. Which only works in my favor, at least in this instance.
I spend the rest of the class pondering the weakness of the human spirit, wondering what it is that make some people bend, while others stand firm. Is it genetics that make me so strong? Or sheer stubbornness? Though I don’t remember them well, I can’t help but wonder how much influence my parents have had on my character and development.
Sadness over not knowing them washes through me, but I have a hard time deciphering exactly why. I mean, it’s possible they were amazing people and my life is some big tragedy because I lacked their presence. But then again, it’s just as possible that they were monsters and the world has done me a favor by separating me from them. Honestly, given my life experience the latter seems a helluva lot more likely than the former. I stifle a snort and glance around the classroom, but no one is paying any attention to me.
Flipping the pages of my book, I realize I’m obsessing over my parents again, and frown. Once I start, it’s like I can’t stop. Not knowing the truth about them and why I’m alone drives me mad, but the prospect of finding out one way or another fills me with dread.
I shift in my chair and remind myself for the gazillionth time, that it’s better not to know. Particularly now, when I’m discovering I have some rather—unique—abilities, and I’m learning how much power I actually have to find out, since I’ve become so good at reading people. Actually, not just good, but pretty damn incredible.
I flip the pages of my book, keeping up my pretense of reading as I sit quietly, waiting for class to end. It’s almost as if other people’s thoughts take place inside my mind. If they’re angry, I feel angry. If they’re sad, I feel like crying. If they’re ashamed, I feel sick to my stomach. Like earlier, when I was talking with Miss Carter. Seriously weird, but also… kind of cool.
Except when I say the stuff that I “know” out loud. That’s probably a bad idea, I need to learn how to just keep my mouth shut. Now, when I look at Miss Carter, I see a woman who regrets her mistakes. And when she looks at me, all she sees is a girl who knows too much.
Thankfully, the bell finally rings. I gather up my things and fling my backpack over my shoulder. Ducking my head, I escape into the hallway, releasing a heavy sigh of relief. What a day already.
* * *
After lunch, I sit on a wall and half-heartedly read my book while other students in my grade hang out in their respective little cliques. Most of them ignore me, although I get the occasional curious look. I usually stare them down until they turn away. I flip pages, absently glancing down at the words. I’m too busy keeping an eye out for Art to really register them, but he doesn’t surface.
Not all that surprising I suppose, since I’ve told him on several occasions not to come anywhere near me while we’re at school. He has to find his own friends, his own age. And he needs to learn to fight his own fights. That’s just the way the world works, and the sooner he figures it out for himself, the better.
Still, the seconds tick by, and my concentration is shot. The words blur together into an indecipherable blob of text as my thoughts continue to wander.
Art, where are you?
My gaze moves restlessly as I search the schoolyard, stopping only when it lands on a gaggle of teachers. I narrow my eyes. They aren’t all that different from the older students. Teachers just have thinning hair and worse fashion sense. Like overgrown kids really.
I can feel the vibe coming off of them, and it’s no different from my schoolmates. It’s all about who’s in, and who’s out, which kids are the most difficult and deserve a good slap, and whether or not Miss Carter a) likes it doggy style and b) will make it to the end of the week.
They’ve even got a bet going. I blink, staring at the group. My book slips from my fingers, but I barely notice. Part of me is wondering how the hell I know all of this without being near enough to hear them, but another part of me just knows.
Maybe not exactly what they’re saying, but the gist. They’ve all heard rumors about Miss Carter, and Mr. Grant has volunteered to out her in front of the rest of the staff. He’s an over-confidant asshole whose already asked her for sex once before, and been summarily rebuffed. Hence, his animosity.
I frown, looking down at the ground. “How the hell do I know all of this?” I whisper to myself. “This isn’t right.” Instinctively, I know it’s because of this freakish ability I seem to be developing.
I look back up and see Miss Carter come out of the cafeteria. Uh oh. She begins walking across the schoolyard, and I glance back over at the huddle of teachers.
Mr. Grant steps away from the group. “Miss Carter!” he shouts. She pretends not to hear him and keeps walking, but a slight hesitation before doing so gives her away. He calls her again and raises a hand to wave her over.
Miss Carter feigns surprise and changes her direction, heading toward the group of teachers. Teachers who are about to publicly humiliate her just to assert their dominance and win a bet.
I shake my head. Life doesn’t seem to mean much to some people. It’s like most simply seek opportunities to make it more unbearable. To them, if life is meaningless, then destroying the lives of others doesn’t matter much. It’s all twisted fun and sick little games.
I press my lips together, watching Mr. Grant grin like a shark as Miss Carter approaches him. I scowl, heaving a resigned sigh. I push myself away from the wall and step toward the group.
“Miss Carter!” I call out. All the teachers turn in my direction, including Miss Carter whose face seems to spasm when she sees that it’s me.
I motion for her, beckoning her to come this way. “Can I talk to you, please?” I call out again, a little less loudly, “It’s important.”
“Of course,” Miss Carter responds, her voice tight. She turns and apologizes to the school of sharks, and they all nod their heads at her, fake smiles curving their grotesque lips. I glare at them, but they are too focused on Miss Carter to notice. Mr. Grant gazes at her backside and licks his chops when she turns to walk in my direction. Animals.
“What is it?” she asks as she nears me.
I lift my shoulder in a small shrug. “I just figured you needed a save.” I glance back over Miss Carter’s shoulder at the mob of teachers, feeling disgusted. They’re eyeing her like a pack of hyenas sizing up their next kill.
Miss Carter looks confused. “From what?”
I give her a contemplative look. “I’m not sure. But whatever happened at your last school, you can’t run away from it. They’re going to find out.”
She glances down at her feet in a manner filled with more humility than I’m used to seeing in an adult.
“It wasn’t my fault, you know.” Her voice is quiet. I can detect only the tiniest hint of a wobble betraying her feelings.
I roll my eyes, suddenly impatient. “Look, I really don’t care. I’m not getting involved.”
She looks up at me. “But you did.”
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. What can I say? Miss Carter is right.
“Why did I do that?” I mutter, more to myself than to her.
“Perhaps because you know what it’s like to be followed around by something,” she suggests. “Something you have no control over, but something that poisons everything you touch, destroys everything you try to build.” Miss Carter is almost in tears now, and she bends down quickly, swiping at her face.
She picks up the book that slipped from my grasp earlier. “What’s this?”
I snatch the book back, but it’s too late. She already saw the title. “How to Improve Your Psychic Ability?”
“Physical ability,” I correct her. She knows I’m lying though.
“You do seem to have a gift, I saw that earlier. But that makes you special, and being special’s not always a good thing.” She glances over her shoulder at the hyenas still prowling nearby. “What I’d give to be ordinary…” her voice trails off. She looks back at me. “How long have you had psychic abilities?”
“I don’t,” I retort.
Miss Carter pauses for a moment, studying me. “Would you call it intuition then? The way you read me in the classroom this morning, I mean.”
I shrug again, clutching the book against my chest, not at all comfortable with the direction of this conversation. “Maybe.”
Miss Carter steps around me and leans against the wall by my side. She is curious now, and continues to question me.
“Does anyone else in your family have that ability? Your mother or your father? Your grandparents?”
“I don’t have any family, so if my parents are witches or something weird, I haven’t a clue. Nor do I care,” I lie.
Miss Carter frowns. “I thought… don’t you have a brother?”
“Adopted brother,” I correct her again.
“Ah.” She nods. “Does he know about your ability?”
Art has seen me read people before, and I’ve done it to him plenty of times. Not always on purpose either. But I’ve been successful at it enough for him to notice and comment on it, though I don’t think he’d really call it an “ability”. I can only do it for a few minutes at a time before my head starts to pound, so it’s not like I advertise it.
I bust out laughing at the thought of taking requests like some circus fortune teller, and Miss Carter lifts a brow.
“You act as though you’re not taking this seriously, and yet here you are, reading this book in my class when you should have been studying, and reading it again during your lunch break. Don’t think I didn’t notice you trying to hide it with your text book.”
I shift on my feet, annoyed and uncomfortable with her prying.
“So that’s what this is about? Me not paying attention in class?”
Miss Carter’s tone softens. “Ema, if you let me in, perhaps I could help you.”
I make a scoffing sound. “If I let you in, you’ll leave. Everyone always does, eventually.”
Miss Carter nods. “A friendship needn’t last forever,” she says. “It might only last until I get fired, or you get expelled. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”
I frown. I wasn’t really expecting an offer of friendship. Certainly not from a teacher. Though I suppose we really aren’t that far apart in age. Perhaps we aren’t all that different either.
“Of course, you’re right that it won’t last,” she continues. “Nothing does. But everyone needs a friend from time to time.”
My attention is caught by the sight of Mr. Grant in the distance, marching toward us. Looks like Miss Carter isn’t going to get her reprieve after all.
“Excuse me,” Mr. Grant puffs. To my surprise, he addresses me, not her. “‘I’ve just received some news about your brother.”
But all thought flies from my head with his next words.
“He’s in the hospital.”