Power Awakened Chapter 5
“I’m freezing,” I complain.
“Me too,” Art grumbles. “I also have a broken leg. Cracked ribs. And a metal pin in my…”
“Okay, okay!” I roll my eyes, “Stop whining, will ya?” I wink. “Why don’t you let me go in and speed this up?”
Art gives me a dirty look. “If we do that, it won’t be a stake out.”
“Aww… and we’re having so much fun, too,” I sing-song, my voice laced with sarcasm. I flash my most fake smile, spurring Art into laughter despite his pain.
It’s too late to stop Art from getting hurt. He’d gone to visit his father, and he’d paid the price. Now he wants to do it again. I don’t know why, but if there’s anything I can do to repair the damage, even if that means damaging Art’s father, I am prepared to do it.
I look around the packed street and shift on the hard bench. I glance behind me at the noodle store, experiencing a pang of longing, then turn back to the road, keeping my eyes fixed on the hustle and bustle.
The street is packed, nothing but shoppers and commuters, with trash blowing in the wind and cars coughing pollutants into our faces. Art watches carefully so our target doesn’t escape.
“We should at least be eating noodles,” I mutter under my breath.
“Then go buy some.”
“But I want to be here, in case he comes out.”
Art turns in my direction and gives me a battered grin. “Stop whining already!”
I fold my arms and slide down on the bench, jutting my lip out.
“You insisted on coming,” he adds distractedly.
“Only because I don’t understand why you wanted to come back here in the first place. Plus, I want to lay eyes on your jerkwad dad myself.”
I attempt to read Art, trying to get a handle on his motivations, but it only ends up making me sick. I can pick up on his desperation, that he’s hiding something, and that he somehow still thinks he was to blame for his injuries, but I’m unable to put the pieces together into something sensical before becoming nauseous.
Strange colors creep into the edges of my vision and I double up, swallowing back bile.
Art lifts a brow. “What’s up? Mind tricks not working on me?”
I scowl. “When did you get to be so sarcastic?”
“Don’t worry,” he reassures me. “It’s just a coping mechanism. I learned it from the best.”
I make a face and ignore him. I’m starting to feel as though my earlier exaggeration about freezing is coming true. My feet are numb and I wish my face was too, but instead it’s stinging from the cold.
“There,” Art says, wincing as he sits forward. “In the blue parka. That’s him.”
I sit forward too, all complaints forgotten, entirely focused on this thug in the blue jacket. He has just come out of the building opposite of us, a local newspaper office, and now he’s heading down the street for the subway.
“That’s the guy we’re waiting for?”
“That’s your dad?”
Art looks suitably glum. “…Yeah.”
I stand up and watch the man’s stride. He appears desperate to get home, walking with his head down and avoiding the eyes and paths of other pedestrians. In one hand he carries a plastic bag, perhaps the remains of his lunch. I don’t get the impression he’s a journalist though. He doesn’t even have a backpack. Maybe he’s a technician of some sort.
I step out into the street.
“Em, no. Don’t.”
My lips thin. “Art, I’m just going to talk to him. And maybe give him a taste of what he deserves.” I mutter the last part, but I know Art hears me anyway.
“I don’t want that,” Art insists. “It wasn’t his fault.”
I glance back at the guy in the parka, melting into the crowd. Crap. Another ten seconds and he’ll be gone.
My tone is impatient. “Art, we just spent two hours waiting for your attacker, and now you’re telling me he wasn’t your attacker?”
Art looks away, his gaze on the ground.
“What happened wasn’t his fault, Em.”
I snort, disbelief lacing my voice. “And what then? You just ran into his fists?”
Art sighs, his face clouding. “I just turned up outside his office, just like this, except it was his lunch break. I told him who I was, but he didn’t want to know. I followed him, talking at him, begging him to just stop and listen to me. To look at me. I told him I was his son, that I had all the proof, all the paperwork. I said I just wanted to know who he is. He said he gave me away for a reason, and I couldn’t just walk back into his life—except he didn’t use that many words. I—I couldn’t accept it.”
Art swallows, his throat bobbing. “I pushed him, but he still refused to have anything to do with me. He wasn’t interested. He even said he’d call the police if he ever saw me again…”
Art’s eyes burned with anger and unshed tears. “All these years of wondering about my parents, and he didn’t even give a crap. So I pushed him, and pushed him, and pushed him. In the end, he fought back and let me have it. He gave me a beating, that’s true, but I got what I needed from it. A way to let go.”
I shake my head, responding fiercely, “Art, that’s nuts. He beat the living daylights out of you, and made you feel suicidal. He has to pay for that! And… you didn’t let go,” I say pointedly. “You’re still here aren’t you? Why?”
“I—he’s my dad,” Art mumbles, one of the tears spilling over and trailing down his cheek. “I just wanted to see him again.”
I toss my braid over my shoulder, anger and a feeling of injustice burning inside me. “Stay here,” I order.
Spinning on my heel, I stride after the man in the parka. As I cross the road, I know instinctively that there’s a big possibility this is going to be one of those convos where I do all the talking, and the other guy ends up on the tracks as the train rolls in.
There’s a tinge of red clouding my vision, Art’s tear-filled eyes imprinted in my mind. I’m halfway across the road when I spot the guy I saw at the hospital; the tall guy with the dark hair. I know it’s him, he’s unmistakable.
Not just because he’s wearing the same style of clothes as before—ripped jeans and a sweater—but because I can feel the tumble of butterflies in my stomach, and that odd sensation he invokes, like an incredibly strong sense of deja vu.
Although my world feels as though it stops in that moment, the rest of the planet keeps on rolling. A car blares its horn at me, and I jump back onto the curb with a curse as the vehicle sweeps by, the wind ruffling my coat.
I hear Art yell at me, “Em! Get back here. Please!”
My jaw tightens as I search the crowd. “Damn. I’ve lost him.”
Art comes up behind me. “Drop it, Em. Just let it go.”
I barely hear him. Art’s dad might be gone, but the dark-haired stranger is still visible, walking away from me, his head down, headed for the trains. My stomach flip-flops again, and I leap forward, holding out a hand to stop the flow of traffic. I dart across the road amid the sound of screeching tires and more horns blaring. My heart races, and I can hear Art screaming at me again.
“You’re crazy! Em, stop!”
“No,” I mutter under my breath. “No, I’m not crazy. That’s twice I’ve seen this guy now. And he’s so… familiar.”
I manage to reach the other side of the road without killing myself, and I don’t look back. I can hear a crunch of bumper against bumper, and the faint tinkle of glass shattering. I plow forward, piling into the throng of pedestrians, weaving among them as I keep my gaze on my target.
The stranger glances behind him, and his eyes meet mine for the briefest of instants. He turns back around and takes off running. Sudden panic overwhelms me. His actions only confirm what I already suspected, that he is following me for some reason. That means I need to be worried, if not downright afraid. What the heck is this guy doing following me? Watching us? Does he work for child services? Or is he just some creepo that’s taken a liking to one of us? Is it Art he’s after? Me? Both of us? The questions pound in my head, one after the other.
Somehow, he’s able to run through the crowd without bumping into anyone or being held up in any way. I mumble an expletive under my breath. What the heck? Unlike me, the guy does it without turning any heads. I frown. It’s almost as though he’s not even there.
Up ahead, he takes a sharp left between two buildings. “Great,” I mutter, dismay filling me. I tighten my lips in determination, doggedly continuing on, not willing to give up my pursuit. I round the corner, and he comes back into view. When I realize I’m now alone in an alley with him, I hesitate. Was this what he wanted? It’s a dead-end, there’s nothing but a looming wall ahead. He’s got to stop now, right?
Wrong, apparently. The stranger glances over his shoulder, then speeds up again, headed straight for the obstacle. With an effortless leap, he scales the wall completely, not a hand or a foot touching it.
I skid to a stop, losing my balance. My eyes widen in shock as I catch myself, breathing hard, and stare at the now empty alley.
That wall is more than six or seven feet tall, and yet… the stranger leaped over it as if it were nothing. It all happened so fast, I begin to doubt myself. Did I imagine it? Was he even there?
I once saw the Shao Lin monks do something similar on TV… performing a graceful, mid-air cartwheel in total silence. I shake my head, baffled. It’s like he floated above the wall for a second, like a kite, then dropped from view. I didn’t even hear sounds of him landing on the other side. Shouldn’t I have heard some kind of sound?
I jog the rest of the way to the wall, hesitant. I reach out and touch the surface. It’s solid and flat, like I would expect. I glance around at the ground around it, but there’s nothing that would have allowed the guy to jump it the way he did. Nothing to explain how he could even do such a feat. I snort. Placing my hands on my hips and staring at the top of the wall, annoyed, I admonish myself out loud, “What did you expect, Em? A trampoline covered in leaves?”
I push the mystery out of my mind, worried I’m going to lose the guy completely if I waste any more time. Giving the wall a wary look, I put a foot against it and search for a handhold. I pull myself up, and gingerly find another foothold. Then I push until I’m able to grab the top of the wall. My intention is to haul myself up and over, but a sharp, burning pain bites into my hand, and I wince, realizing someone has glued broken shards of glass to the top.
“Son of a…”
I tighten my jaw. Despite the blood, despite the pain, I reassert my grip, ignoring the fresh wounds that pierce the skin of my palm. I give a mighty heave and throw myself over the wall, tearing my jeans in the process. I glance down, but my course is already set. I tumble, half-spin, and land badly, stumbling against the wall. At least I manage to land on my feet.
I stare at the scene before me, chest heaving, my hand dripping blood. I grimace, glancing down at the wounds and then looking away. The guy is gone, but there’s a man in black running shorts and a white T-shirt, talking to three young guys. They all shrink back and stare at me, their mouths open.
I stare them down, annoyed and in pain. “Did you see some guy jump over this thing?” I ask, knowing I must sound and look like a loon.
The man in running shorts folds his muscular, tattooed arms and tilts his head in my direction.
“You scale my wall, drop into my yard, interrupt my class, bleed on my property… and now you’re demanding answers? That broken glass is up there to keep people like you out.”
I ignore the posturing, undaunted. “Tall. Dark hair. Blue jeans. Pale sweater. Jumped over this same effing wall not thirty seconds ago. How long have you been out here?”
The three boys look at each other. They show no signs of relief when the man abruptly smiles and laughs, dropping his hands down to his sides. Then his laughter fades as his expression turns forbidding.
“Unless you want to fly over that wall head first, I suggest you get out of here now.”
Rather than cower or respond to the man’s threats, I look up at the buildings on either side of us. The stranger I followed must have gone somewhere. People don’t just disappear.
“You’re really crazy, aren’t you?” the man in running shorts says. “Absolutely, mad dog, crazy.”
I glance back at him, still distracted by thoughts of the missing stranger. “Look dude, I’m sorry to interrupt your class. I’ll get out of your way.”
I turn back to the wall and start to haul myself back over the top of it, babying my bloody hand and seeking purchase on the loose, protruding bricks.
Running shorts guy mutters something under his breath from behind me. “Wait, wait, wait.” His tone is grudging. “You can go through the building, but any funny business, and you won’t live long enough to regret it.”
I release my grip on the wall and turn back to face him. “Sure. Thanks.”
My gaze is caught on the guy’s tattoos. His arms are covered in ancient-looking scripts and tribal patterns. There’s something on his neck too. I squint. It looks like scarification. That’s when someone permanently scars or brands their body. Kind of like a tattoo, except not. My interest is piqued. I don’t always like tattoos, but his markings seem different. Meaningful somehow, like each one could be its own story.
I glance at the three boys. “So what are you guys doing out here, anyway?”
“Saying goodbye to self-defense class,” says one of the kids.
The tattooed instructor shrugs.
“It’s no big deal. We lost funding, but it would only have been a matter of time before they worked out my license to teach is fake. Even the application was forged. This was a screwed endeavor from the beginning.”
I frown. “Why did you lose funding?”
“We need eight students,” one of the boys offers. “It’s a small neighborhood. We’re only seven.” He glances around before adding, “And only three of us even showed up today.”
One of the other boys gives me a hopeful look. “Hey, you wanna join?”
I scowl. “No freaking way.”
In spite of myself, I feel a tug on my heart strings. They all look so forlorn. Even the instructor, who’d been pretending not to listen to us talking, visibly wilts at hearing his last minute reprieve isn’t happening.
Their expressions prompt me to add, “But I know someone who might.”