The House That Ivy Built - Book 3

Excerpt 1

(from The House That Ivy Built #3, © 1997-2017)

Excerpt 1
Excerpt 2
Excerpt 3

[NOTE on this excerpt: Zeke has been interested in Ivy since before Book 1 started. In Book 1, he tried being honest, and that didn't work. In Book 2, he tried beating her at her own game and being somewhat abusive, but that didn't work either. Now he's just trying to get her through psychological manipulation, making it "make sense" to her that they should go out. Zeke used to be very afraid of heights, and has gotten used to them somewhat because of his experience flying with Ivy.]


Book 3, Chapter 7, Begin excerpt

       “All right, Zeke. Do you know where this place is or not?”

       “I—I thought I did.”

       “Well, then, which way do I go?”

       “Just keep going. Maybe it’s just a little farther.”

       “What if we passed it?”

       “I don’t think we did.” Zeke scanned the ground. I flew us in silence for a couple more miles, then slowed down until we were stopped.

       “Zeke, I think you got us lost.”

       “Well, I’m sorry. It’s hard to know without the road signs.” His hands tightened protectively around the handles of the Styrofoam cooler he was carrying our picnic lunch in.

       “Do you want me to take us down?”

       “I guess.”

       I dove for the ground at a speed that I knew had to be uncomfortable for him, trying to annoy him because his lack of direction sensitivity annoyed me. We were by a thick road with cars going past us at a breathtaking speed. Zeke cursed.

       “We went too far,” he said, as if I couldn’t have figured that out for myself. “We shouldn’t have hit the interstate. We have to backtrack and go a little more . . . that way.” He waved his hand in the direction he meant.

       “You mean west?” I teased, popping us into the sky roughly. This time, we did fly over the lake he’d mentioned, and that landmark pointed us toward the park. I finally landed us at our intended destination: A sheltered picnic bench that looked like an open cabin of some sort.

       “Well, here we are,” he said. “You want to go ahead and eat?”

       “Yes!” I exclaimed, delighted. “What did you pack?” I grinned in anticipation. Zeke had said the food was going to be a surprise.

       Zeke opened the cooler, and I moved to look inside. He snapped the lid back on.

       “Uh-uh! You hold your horses!”

       Blinking, I sat back, fidgeting on the scratchy picnic bench.

       “Why do I have to wait? I’m starved!”

       Zeke didn’t answer me, but opened the lid so only he could see inside. I frowned, wondering what the big deal was.

       “I got something for ya,” he said, giving me a boyish grin. Then he pulled a flower out of the cooler: A pink carnation. I smiled with my mouth and frowned with my eyebrows as he held it out to me.

       “What’s wrong? Don’t you like it?”

       I supposed my face probably looked pretty screwed up, and I did my best to rearrange my features as I took the flower gingerly with two fingers.

       “It’s . . . pretty,” I said. “Thanks, Zeke.” I looked at it. “Um . . . why?” I scanned his face as I stroked the petals with my fingers. I’d thought guys bought flowers for girls if they were dating, which Zeke and I most certainly were not.

       “I wanted to do something nice for you, and . . . I thought girls were supposed to like flowers.” Zeke shrugged, but he didn’t look embarrassed.

       “That’s it?” I asked, thinking he might have been trying to say something by giving me a flower.

       “Yeah, that’s it.”

       “Um, well, thanks.”

       “You’re welcome.”

       I stuck the flower behind my ear. Zeke smiled, and he moved toward me suddenly. I stiffened, thinking he was either aiming to kiss me on the cheek or to whisper something in my ear, but I realized he was only sniffing the flower. He took a couple deep breaths and then leaned back.

       “It smells nice,” he reported. Then, not looking at me, he added, “It looks nice too.”

       “Can we eat?” I demanded, too hungry to take much more stalling.

       “Sure we can.” Zeke began to take food out of the cooler, package by package.

       I blushed with pleasure as I realized Zeke had taken care to bring nearly all my favorite foods. He had a tub of cottage cheese, some mayonnaise, bread, and cold cuts of ham and turkey, and a six-pack of my favorite soda. He had a big block of Swiss cheese, which was, in my opinion, the best cheese in the world, and a whole package of chocolate chip cookies. Even a little jar of applesauce and some nacho chips! Then he took out a grocery bag of green apples and peaches, my two favorite fruits.

       Seeing my silly grin, Zeke teased me.

       “Okay. I guess I know you pretty well, huh? Did I forget anything?”

       I laughed. “Two things.” I expected his face to darken since I was picking on him, but he only grinned, like this was a guessing game.

       “Oh yeah? What?”

       “Some milk for the cookies.”

       “Surprise!” Zeke pulled out a little carton of milk. I almost fell off the picnic table. “What else?”

       “Um . . . a peeler for the apples.”

       “You got it!” Zeke pulled out the fruit peeler from our kitchen. I screeched and this time I did fall off the picnic bench.

       “You’re too much!” I wailed from the ground.

       “Guess what else I got?”

       “What else could you possibly have?” The cooler just wasn’t that big. I picked myself up and sat down at the table again.

        “Well . . . I want you to try this.” He pulled out a suspicious-looking pod-like fruit.

       “Looks like a really big cocoon. Don’t tell me . . . there’s butterflies inside.”

       Zeke laughed. I forcibly restrained myself from grabbing the bread so he could finish drawing out his surprise.

       “It’s a pomegranate,” he said. I mouthed the word to myself. “They’re really cool, I’d like you to taste it.” He took a knife out of the cooler and cut the thing in two, then showed me the inside. It was decorated with oddly-shaped red berries.

       “You just bite the red parts, and swallow the juice, then spit out the seeds.” He handed it toward me. I took it dubiously.

       Zeke bit eagerly into his half and spit out a wad of seeds, and so I did the same. I really wanted a sandwich, but I wanted to make him happy, since he’d gone to so much trouble for me. The pomegranate berries tasted very tart, and after I spat the seeds out they left a funny texture in my mouth, but I kind of liked it. I took another bite, and Zeke beamed.

       “You don’t have to eat the entire thing now,” he laughed.

       “I’m hungry!” I mumbled, red juice running down my chin. I wiped it off with the back of my hand.

       “There’s plenty of other food here!”

       “Ooh, I know!” I squealed, putting the pomegranate half down.

       “Help yourself,” he said, and I didn’t hesitate. I spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread, plopped some ham and cheese on top, and picked up my favorite sandwich. Zeke watched me take a bite.

       “Good?” he asked.

       “Heaven,” I mumbled. “The only way it could be better is if the Swiss cheese was melted.” Zeke reached into the cooler again. I swallowed. “If you’ve got a microwave oven in there I think I’ll have to kill you.” Zeke only laughed and took out a jar of sweet pickle slices. I squealed yet again. I loved sweet pickles, but only if I was in the right mood. I was in that exact mood, and I smiled as I gobbled my sandwich.

       Zeke unpacked a couple more things: Some carrot sticks and some tomatoes, neither of which I liked, and he pulled out some silverware and some napkins. I watched him, feeling something resembling jealousy stirring in my chest. I wished I was practical like he was, and sometimes I really wished I was more thoughtful. I tried to be, but then I ended up in bitch mode again without even trying.

       After wolfing down my sandwich, I chugged half a can of soda and began devouring the nacho chips. I watched Zeke happily eat his carrot sticks and his turkey sandwich. He looked so boyish to me now, his squinty brown eyes shining in contentment and his thick black bangs falling in a dark waterfall over his eyebrows. Neither of us spoke for a while, being occupied with stuffing our faces.

       Zeke tried to get the pickle jar open, and I looked up from my applesauce to notice him having trouble. Wordlessly, I held out my hand, and he passed it to me. I smiled at his lack of embarrassment at acknowledging my strength, and I spun the pickle lid easily and handed it back to him. He offered the jar to me with a questioning look after he’d spooned a clump of them onto his plate.

       I reached over to stick my hand in the jar like I always did.

       “Hey, you,” he grunted, “I don’t know where your fingers have been! You want to give me your germs?”

       “Fine,” I smirked, using my energy instead. “Happy now?” I asked as I crunched my pickle. He didn’t say anything, but he looked upset. I liked to tease him by using my energy when I didn’t need to, mostly because it was a very easy way for me to piss him off. I was about to poke fun at him by doing it again, but then I reconsidered.

       Taking the jar from him with my hand, I spooned a bunch of the pickles onto my plate and returned the jar to him without comment. He looked shocked.

       “Why’d you do that?”

       “Do what?” I asked, shrugging and eating a pickle slice.

       “You stopped with that pickle levitation crap.”

       I laughed.

       “Why’d you stop?”

       “’Cause you’re being so nice to me, you jerk!” I shrieked. Zeke smiled. I touched the flower behind my ear.

*                       *                      *

       “How many cookies was that?”

       “This is number five.”

       “Okay, here I go.” I dunked the cookie in the milk carton and slowly began to eat it. Little by little, it disappeared into my stomach. I groaned.

       “I couldn’t eat another cookie if you paid me.”

       “Liar.”

       “You’re right. Gimme.” I held out my hand and he gave me a sixth cookie. I ate it.

       “Ivy, why aren’t you a giant blimp?”

       “Huh?”

       “You eat your weight in cookies, and you never get any exercise ’cause you don’t have to get up off your ass to do anything, so why don’t you weigh three hundred pounds?”

       “I don’t eat my weight in cookies!” I threw my handful of crumbs at him. He combed them out of his hair with his fingers.

       “Well, it’s close.”

       “I don’t know why I’m not fat. You’re the scientist—why can’t you figure it out?”

       “Well, with you there’s a lot of strange variables.”

       “Whaddaya mean?”

       “Just that you’re a weirdo.”

       I spat. “News to me.”

       “Who knows, maybe you burn a lot of calories when you use your energy. That could explain why you’re a stick figure since you’re constantly using it.”

       “I doubt it.”

       “Why do you doubt it? Based on what?”

       “I just don’t think it uses a lot of energy.”

       “Well, if we’re talking about this in scientific context, you can’t answer theories with ‘I just don’t think so.’ You have to be able to propose a hypothesis. So if you don’t think you’re burning a lot of calories when you use your energy, tell me what you’re basing your conclusion on.”

       “Uh . . . well, if it’s burning calories, does that mean it costs energy to use my power?”

       “Of course it does.”

       “Then why don’t I get tired?”

       He was silent, thinking about it.

       “No answer, Mr. Smarty-Pants?”

       “I don’t know. You really don’t get tired at all?”

       “No. It’s a thousand times easier and I never feel drained. Remember that time I was sick? I couldn’t even get out of bed but I had no problem rearranging the furniture. It seems like it’s not even connected to me sometimes. Besides, I mean, how many cookies would I have to eat to make enough energy to pick up a truck?”

       “Damn, I don’t know. You don’t feel weaker at all after you pick up really heavy things?”

       “Oh, not really.”

       “That’s just weird. I swear, that’s impossible, you deny the laws of physics.”

       I snickered. “Another news bulletin.”

       “Well, it must be within the laws of physics somehow or it couldn’t be happening. But for me, it’s a mystery.”

       “Like the mystery of me being a toothpick girl?”

       “Well, I’m guessing that maybe you just have a high metabolism.”

       “Whatever you say.”

       “How much do you weigh, anyway?”

       I thought back to the time I’d weighed myself in a grocery store. “Ninety-five pounds.”

       “That’s insane for being almost six feet tall, Ivy.” Zeke laughed. “Most girls won’t even answer that question, ya know.”

       “Yeah, yeah, I know,” I replied, thinking of my friends Mandy and Nicky and their reluctance to reveal their weight statistics.

       “You’re around seventeen or eighteen, right?”

       “I think.”

       “Weird that you haven’t filled out at all.”

       I looked up at him. “Hey,” I said slowly.

       “I didn’t piss you off, did I? I didn’t mean to.”

       “I guess not,” I relented.

       “I figured if the weight question didn’t bother you, that comment wouldn’t either. I’m sorry.”

       “It’s all right.”

       The stem of the carnation was starting to make my ear feel itchy, so I took it out and let my hair fall back over my ear. I played with the flower’s soft petals, twirling it by the stem and smiling because the petals tickled my fingertips.

       “Wow,” whispered Zeke, like he was sighing. I looked up.

       “Huh?”

       “What?”

       “You said something.”

       “You heard me?” he said in surprise.

       “Yeah, you said ‘wow,’ didn’t you?” I replied, looking at him curiously. He let out a breath.

       “You sure those funky ears of yours don’t turn up your hearing or something?” he asked, running a hand through his hair and making it stand up in little spikes on the top.

       “I don’t know,” I said, touching the tip of one of my ears. “Maybe they do. But I don’t think so.”

       I’d been asked that question several times, and sometimes it did seem like my hearing was better than other people’s, but I didn’t think it was just because my ears had a different shape. I’d thought maybe I just paid more attention to what I heard because I was an auditory learner. Of course, I knew from experience that my sight was better than anyone’s that I’d ever met, since I could always identify the things on the ground that other people couldn’t even see. I didn’t think that had anything to do with the size or shape of my eyes, either. My body was just put together the way it needed to be put together.

       “So . . . what were you wowing about?” I asked, still twirling my carnation.

       “Well . . . this is gonna sound stupid, but . . . just for a second there you looked like a postcard or something.”

       “What?”

       “Uh, well, you looked so perfect, sitting there holding a flower, smiling, and your hair catching the sun. . . . ” He looked up and stared at me like I was a work of art.

       “You always say I look like a freak,” I reminded him softly, tucking my hair behind my ears again.

       “Well, you know, I was just talking out of my ass.”

       I blinked.

       “Honestly, Ivy, I used to think you looked strange, back when I first met you and stuff, but now I’m used to the way you look, and I really think you look pretty, even with your hair like that. . . . ” He paused. “I mean that, I’m not bullshitting you.”

       My face attained an expression that felt like a strange smile and probably looked like I was in pain.

       “Zeke. . . . ” I looked down. “Why do you tell me stuff like that?”

       “Because, it’s true, you’re . . . beautiful, Ivy.”

       He didn’t seem to know what to say after that. I couldn’t think of anything either.

       “If I could date someone like you, I wouldn’t feel like such a loser,” he said finally.

       “Wait a minute. . . . ” I thought for a second. “You wouldn’t feel like a loser if you could date someone who’s . . . as pretty as me?”

       “No, just someone like you. Not just that looks like you.”

       “So you’ve got a thing for weird-looking chicks who regularly pound your ass into the ground, then?”

       He laughed so quietly I almost couldn’t hear it. “It’s not really that. It’s not what you look like, it’s not what you do, it’s just the sum total of what you are that makes me like you. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but whatever it is, that is what makes a girl the kind of person I’d want to date. I can’t put my finger on it, but you’ve got it. You always have.”

       “You’re not asking me out, are you?” It sounded suspiciously like he was leading up to it. But he surprised me by laughing.

       “No, I’d never ask you out. I know you’d turn me down.” He looked up suddenly, seriously. “Wouldn’t you?”

       “I. . . . ” I frowned. “Of course. Yes.”

       “Well, I knew you would . . . but . . . how come?”

       “Zeke!”

       “I just want to know why, Ivy. What’s wrong with me?” He looked a little angry inside all the inquisitive sadness.

       “It’s not you, it’s me,” I replied.

       “Typical dubious female answer,” Zeke scoffed, looking hurt.

       “I mean it! It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s just that I don’t like guys.”

       “Girls then?” He looked up, interested.

       I growled. “No, not girls either. You know I’m just not interested in that kinda thing.”

       “Why not?”

       “Because . . . because if I dated somebody I’d be misleading them.”

       “How so?”

       “If I said yes, they’d expect me to want sex with them. And I don’t.”

       “Relationships aren’t all about sex,” he corrected me.

       “Yes they are,” I snapped. Everyone I knew in a relationship had sex if they were together long enough.

       “There’s plenty that you can do without sex.”

       “But without sex, it’s just a friendship. So why bother dating if you can have friends?”

       “I meant other physical stuff, not just . . . picnics.”

       I scowled. “Like what?”

       “Like backrubs. And kissing.”

       “I don’t like kissing either!” I squealed.

       He looked at me meaningfully. “Well, have you ever done it?”

       “I . . . well, no.”

       “Then how do you know?”

       “I never slit my wrists, but I know I wouldn’t like that either.” My eyebrows dipped.

       “It’s not the same thing, Ivy,” he laughed. “Kissing is very nice! I think you would like it.”

       I looked away from him, my brain crawling with thoughts of cooties. “I think it sounds nasty.” I put the carnation down on the table.

       “You are so judgmental, you know? You have preconceived ideas about everything.”

       I offered him a look that would have sizzled his bones had I been able to shoot lightning bolts from my eyes. “I am not judgmental!”

       “You are too! You’re one of the most opinionated people I know!”

       “Just because I don’t like kissing?!”

       “No, you’re that way about everything!”

       “I am not!”

       “What about that time when I wanted you to try my bean casserole? Remember that?”

       “Yeah. I tried it, though!” I lifted my chin.

       “But you bitched about it for like a solid half hour.”

       “No I didn’t!”

       “You did! ‘Zeke, I’m not eating that! It’s nasty-looking!’” Zeke recounted what I’d said in a high-pitched whine, which was how he approximated my childish voice. “Shall I go on?”

       I scowled.

       “‘That shit looks like walrus snot, Zeke! You couldn’t pay me to eat that slime!’” He reached across the table and prodded me. “But you ate it. And you liked it! Remember?”

       “Yeah, but that was food. This is . . . kissing.” I wrinkled up my nose.

       “Same principle!”

       “No!”

       “Yes! And you’re just afraid! Food can’t say you’re a bad kisser!”

       I grabbed Zeke by his shirt and hauled him onto the table. “Afraid? My ass!” I yanked him down and kissed his mouth hard, holding onto him, then pushed him away from me. I wiped my mouth off while he sat there on the table, stunned.

       “You happy now?” I spat on the ground.

       “That was not a kiss.”

       I glared. “What do you mean?”

       “You don’t know how to kiss!”

       “Huh?” Some of my anger drained out of me.

       “Let me show you a real kiss.”

       “I—”

       “Shush. Let me show you.”

       “Um, okay,” I replied, intimidated. He moved quickly, I supposed so I couldn’t change my mind, and he lifted my chin with two of his fingers. Then he leaned down and put his lips gently on top of mine. I pulled away and gasped faintly when he licked my bottom lip.

       “What’re you doing?” I asked in disbelief.

       “This is a real kiss. You have to open your mouth a little bit.”

       I started to reply but then his lips were against mine again. He licked my lip again and then his tongue touched my tongue. I made a squeaky sound and turned my head, breaking it off.

       “That’s it,” said Zeke proudly. I wiped my mouth again.

       “You stuck your tongue in my mouth,” I accused. “Wha’d you do that for?”

       “You’re supposed to. That’s kissing. French kissing.”

       “But . . . ” I broke off. He climbed down from the table and sat on the bench beside me, facing away from the table. I couldn’t look at him. I started to tremble.

       “So, did you feel anything?” he asked.

       “Yes,” I replied.

       “Really?”

       “Yeah. Your tongue in my mouth.”

       He laughed. “I mean, anything emotional? How did you like it?”

       “I—” I stopped to think. He’d put his lips against mine. His lips were warm. When he opened his mouth it was wet. I’d thought he could probably taste the mayo on the sandwich I’d had. I knew kissing was supposed to be romantic, so I tried to call up any romantic thoughts I might have had. Had I liked it? It didn’t send shivers down my spine. I didn’t feel any tingling. I didn’t have a head rush. I didn’t feel any sense of affection toward him or what he’d done.

       “Nothing,” I admitted. “Just . . . you sticking your tongue somewhere it doesn’t belong.”

       “Really? That’s all?” He looked disappointed, then hopeful. “Want to try again?”

       “No. No, I don’t.” I turned around and faced away from the table too, so that I didn’t have to twist my neck back to look at him.

       “Hmm.” Zeke tapped his sneakers against the ground. “Any reason why you’re shaking like that?” He touched my shoulder.

       “It made me feel funny,” I said. I tried to breathe normally. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about every breath I was taking. I’d been breathing all my life; how had it ever seemed easy?

       “Maybe you’re just not the kissing type of girl,” he rationalized.

       “I told you . . . ”

       “Well, there’s other stuff.”

       “Like what?” I said, thinking anything else had to be even grosser.

       “How about just cuddling? I bet you’d like that.” He didn’t wait for an answer and just put his arm around me, his fingers falling familiarly over my shoulder. He pulled me a little closer.

       “Um. . . . ” I hesitated, then pulled away.

       “What’s wrong?”

       “I don’t want to . . . do anything with you. . . . ”

       “We don’t have to do anything . . . I just thought you might like to . . . see if there were things you did like.”

       “But . . . let’s put it this way, Zeke. I know I won’t like anything like that.”

       “You liked the backrub,” he pointed out.

       “That’s different. That was just to help me relax, and it was . . . supposed to feel good.”

       “So is this stuff.”

       “Well, I told you there was something wrong with me. I know I’m supposed to like it, but I just don’t. I don’t know why. But I don’t.”

       “Ivy, can I make a very good analogy for you?”

       “Um, sure.”

       “You remember the first time you took me flying?”

       “Of course.” I laughed. I remembered his face, screwed up in fright, and he had been dripping wet from the pool. I had wondered if he’d pissed his pants.

       “Well, then you remember I freaked out.”

       “I know. I was there.” He’d about torn my shirt clinging to me like a baby monkey.

       “I—I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. You remember I’m afraid of heights.”

       “Acrophobic,” I clarified. I knew the word well.

       “I knew I was afraid of heights, but . . . I let you take me anyway. Even though I knew I would hate it.”

       “Oh,” I said softly, the point of his analogy coming clear.

       “So . . . well, I let you take me anyway, because deep inside, I knew you knew what you were doing, and you wouldn’t let me fall or get hurt, but . . . well, the open space was just . . . something I never felt. My feet never just left the ground like that before, without anything to hang onto. . . . ” He shook his head, clearing his throat. “But I kept flying with you, and it came clear to me how the whole world can open up when you’re flying. It’s a totally amazing feeling, like a discovery, and now, thanks to my trust in you, I don’t even get dizzy anymore, and I can look down. . . . ”

       “But Zeke—”

       “Let me finish.”

       I nodded.

       “Um, well . . . I know that . . . a lot of people dreamed about flying, like you said, and I used to too, but they were always nightmares, where everyone else said they were good dreams.”

       “Good dreams,” I murmured.

       “I didn’t understand how anyone could think whirling around in the sky was fun, and why they were all so eager to do it . . . but now, honestly, I can go up in the sky with you and enjoy myself. I find myself actually liking it, wanting to do it. Because I found out how beautiful it can actually be.”

       “Uh-huh,” I said, smiling because the sentiment pushed my mouth up.

       “The reason I told you all that is because I want you to give me the same chance. The chance to show you where the beauty can be, and the chance to let it grow on you. Do you know what I mean?”

       “Yeah.”

       “I just want to open your eyes, Ivy.”

       I thought that was an extraordinarily strange thing to say when he was talking about something as stupid as sucking face, but I supposed it had to be important to him. I nodded.

       “So would you let me try something else with you . . . something I think you’ll like?”

       “Okay, but . . . I don’t want to kiss you. At least not right now.”

       “That’s okay. I’ll kiss you instead.”

       “But. . . . ” I trailed off when he just lifted my hand and kissed my fingertip. He gave me four kisses, one for each finger of my hand, and then he laced his fingers between mine. His other hand went around my shoulder and pulled me a little closer to him, so that my right leg was touching his left. Once he’d attained that exceedingly strange position, he managed to lean his head on my shoulder and sigh as if contented. His hand started rubbing my shoulder ever so slightly. I felt kind of funny, being so close to him, and I bit my lip and looked down at our interlaced fingers.

       The olive color of his hand clashed dramatically with my pale skin, and my three long fingers were enfolded by his four. It looked wrong to me. I didn’t feel like my hand belonged interlaced with anyone’s.

       I wondered if Zeke was going to sit there with his head on my shoulder forever, but he didn’t. His fingers came up and tickled the side of my neck, and when I tilted my head reflexively, he put his face close to the other side of my neck and started to find out what I tasted like. I gasped and about let out a shriek when I realized he wasn’t hurting me. He was just nibbling. I started to shake again when he bit my earlobe and licked the side of my ear.

       “Okay, that’s it,” I said, putting my foot down finally.

       “Is it okay?”

       “No, no, it’s not. . . . ” I started to cry suddenly, tangling both of my hands in my hair.

       “Ivy?” He leaned forward. “Are you crying in there?”

       “No.” I laughed. “Yes.” I felt my entire body trembling and I couldn’t stop it.

       “Oh my god, I’m sorry, what did I do?”

       “I don’t know,” I wailed, really crying now. I hid my face and rolled up into a little skinny ball.

       “Ivy! What should I do?”

       I made a muffled sound that even I didn’t understand.

       “Oh, shit,” Zeke cursed under his breath. He put his arms around me tentatively, and when I didn’t shrug him off, he hugged me tighter. That felt good, and I stopped shaking presently. My tears went away with the trembling.

       “This is okay?” he asked.

       “Oh yes,” I replied, scrunched up in his arms. He kissed me gently on the wet cheek.

       “That’s okay?”

       “Mm-hmm.” I took a deep breath and pulled away.

       “So it’s not me touching you that freaks you out . . . what is it then?”

       “I don’t know why. . . . ”

       “I must have done something. . . . ”

       “I’m not sure, but . . . Zeke, why do you have this weird desire to lick me?” I touched my neck.

       “Huh?” He was startled.

       “I mean. . . . ” I touched my ear and rubbed the wetness out of the inside. “You—you licked my ear. You remember how I feel about that . . . ?”

       He laughed. He was probably remembering the time when he’d licked my ear during a playful wrestling match and ended up upside-down, floating in the middle of the room.

       “All right, so I’ll stay away from your ears.” He made a face. “I never liked them much anyways.”

       “Hey, shut up!” I whined.

       “You said it, not me.”

       I slapped him as lightly as I could manage with my energy. He jumped. I grinned evilly.

       “You didn’t have to hit me,” he said sulkily.

       “You didn’t have to kiss me,” I replied. “Now give me a cookie.”

       “Why? You’ve already had six. You’re gonna be a fat cow.”

       “Gimme! Now!”

       “Jeez. I’d say it was PMS except it’s you we’re talking about.”

       I didn’t know what he meant but I didn’t care. “Pipe down and give me a cookie!”

       “Yes, ma’am!” He gave me one and I ate it.

       “Good. Now I can’t taste your tomatoes anymore.” I wriggled in disgust at how gross that was; I’d actually tasted something he ate. I looked at him, and he looked far too amused. I didn’t want to feel his breath on my skin anymore.

       I spun up into the air, turning around to cool myself off. I drifted toward the top of the shelter over the picnic table.

       “What’re you doing?” called Zeke, reaching up to touch my dangling sneaker.

       “I’m hot. I need to catch some wind.” I felt suffocated. I floated out of the shelter and up into the sky, spinning as fast as I could with my hair tangling around me. I shut my eyes and flew randomly, and I laughed out loud because I felt like I’d just been freed from something. I loved the sky. I really belonged there.

       “I love watching you,” Zeke called up to me. “You’re like a dancer.”

       “I am dancing,” I said. “Just not with my feet.”

       I spent some time flipping around like a weightless gymnast, not caring what I looked like or that he would inevitably see up my skirt.

       When I’d had my fill of freedom, I sat down on the slanted roof of the shelter Zeke was under, letting my mind wind down as I looked around. The view was unimpressive. I swept a little wind across myself, smiling as the moving air cooled my hot skin. It was hard to make wind, but today I felt like it. I stirred up the wind some more, and then even more, liking the way it felt. I took a deep breath through my nose and marveled at the way the wind in my head dizzied my senses. Zeke came out from under the shelter, looking up to stare at me.

       “Now what’re you doing?”

       “I’m playing with my wind. Playing with my energy.”

       “Why?”

       “It’s fun and I feel like it.”

       My wind spun in a certain way then, lighting my mind up like someone had flipped a switch as something inside me fell into a rhythm. I laughed out loud as bells went off in my head exactly the way they didn’t when Zeke kissed me. There was something pleasing on an artistic level about causing the actual air to move, and I’d never known why this part of my power was something that entranced and delighted me, but it was, and I went with it. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the breathless sensation of the random bits of the sky whipping through my mind so fast I couldn’t count them.

       “Ivy, quit playing with yourself and get down from there.” Zeke’s voice broke the spell. Most noises did. The air fell through my mental fingers and I scowled.

       “Why’d you do that?”

       “Do what?”

       “Interrupt me!”

       “I just don’t want to sit here and watch you take yourself on a power trip.”

       “Hey!” I shook my head. “That’s not what I’m doing!”

       “It’s close enough!”

       “You don’t understand, so shut up!”

       “Fine.”

       “And until I see you making winds, I don’t want you saying that. You got no idea what it’s like so you have to make stupid comments about it.”

       “Whatever, Ivy. I just wanted you to come down.”

       “How about you come up?”

       “You gonna help me?”

       “Nope.” I gave him a leering grin. He put his hands on his hips. “I’m not gonna help you, I’m gonna do it for you. How could I be helping you if you’re not doing jack shit?” I picked him up and dropped him next to me. He scowled.

       “You’re so damn rough.”

       “Live with it.”

       He was silent for a moment while I stared at him, trying to make him think twice about bitching at me anymore. He finally spoke.

       “So . . . Ivy?”

       “Yeah?”

       “You mad at me? For . . . trying to . . . show you?”

       “I’m mad about the power trip comment,” I sneered, “but not really about that other stuff.” I looked down. “You didn’t know I was gonna cry. I didn’t know I was gonna cry.”

       “Yeah. That weirded me out.”

       “Uh-huh. Me too.” We looked at each other. Finally he smiled and patted my back.

       “Oh, shit!” I shrieked suddenly.

       “What?”

       “Today’s Friday. Damn!”

       “Huh?”

       “I play basketball with Bill on Thursdays and Fridays. We gotta get goin’.”

       “Awright, lemme pack up the stuff. . . . ”

       “No, I’ll do it, it’s quicker.” I poked my head down over the roof of the shelter and cleaned up our mess in a matter of seconds, then swept the cooler up into my hand.

       “That was quick!” Zeke complimented me.

       “What’s new?” I grabbed his hand. “Come on.”

       “Not like I have a choice,” he grumbled as I lifted him into the air. I went so fast I could tell he was having a hard time breathing, but out of manly stubbornness, he wouldn’t admit it. I figured it served him right; because of him, I’d had my own share of breathing problems today. I carried the carnation against my chest, my hand cradling the petals to protect it from the wind.


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