The House That Ivy Built - Book 5

Excerpt 2

(from The House That Ivy Built #5, © 2002-2017)

Excerpt 1
Excerpt 2
Excerpt 3

[NOTE on this excerpt: This is actually from two chapters, but chapter 9 contains the planning and chapter 10 is the execution of a rescue mission, so I thought I'd put them together. (There's a bunch of other stuff that happens before and after in chapter 9, but those aren't included.)

If you don't know these characters, this is a meeting of the group Handprints: a support group for people who have extraordinary abilities trying to feel at ease in society. However, they've just picked up a new member named Skyler, and when they found her she was trying to figure out what to do to stop an upcoming disaster involving her sister getting sexually assaulted. The Handprints group incorporates her into their group and offers to help save her sister.

The group members and their abilities, FYI:

Now you know enough to read this excerpt without being confused. :)]


Book 5, Chapters 9 and 10, Begin excerpt

       “Where is Bailey? She better get here soon or we’re starting without her.” I crossed my arms and leaned back, tapping my foot impatiently on the floor. Nina and Skyler had made it here despite having to travel through the pool during narrow windows of time, and I’d managed to get Max here on time. Bailey had no excuse for being late when people who actually had to travel had made it.

       “Are you in a rush this evening?” Nicholas asked, adding a smoky little laugh as if anyone else’s difficulties were unimportant.

       “I actually have plans tonight, if you can believe it,” I said. I was due at my friend Nicky’s house at about seven-thirty.

       “Apparently Bailey had plans too,” said Nina. “Well, it is Saturday night, so maybe she had a party.”

       “Dammit, but this is important!” I jumped up and started pacing, a habit I’d learned from Ruben. “She knows Saturday is meeting day.”

       “Actually I do have a party,” said Bailey, standing in the doorway, “but I’ll just go when we’re finished discussing the fate of the world.” She waltzed in and sat down with a smirk. I gave her the evil eye as I took my own seat.

       “Next time could you come a little earlier?” I asked.

       “I’ll come if I feel like.” She crossed her arms. “I’m not being graded, attendance points aren’t being taken off, and no one’s paying me, so as I see it, I can come whenever I want.”

       I sighed. I’d forgotten how reluctant she’d been to even join the group. Mostly Bailey acted as though her attendance was strictly for the purpose of humoring me, but I knew it was good for her.

       “At least give us some notice if you’re planning to miss, okay, Bailey?” I asked, dropping my attitude. “You never know, we could have something important to do, like today.”

       “I know. That’s why I came.” She looked at Skyler. “So we have news on your sister?”

       Skyler nodded, her face looking paler than usual. “It’s happening tomorrow.”

       “How’d you figure that one out?” asked Max.

       Skyler closed her eyes. “In one of those dreams, I saw, like, this big blotch of motorcycle grease on the bottom of my sister’s skirt. And . . . this morning I saw her laying out her clothes for tomorrow’s big date, and that was the skirt.” She opened her eyes. “It doesn’t have the grease on it yet.”

       “Besides, I’d predicted tomorrow as the date anyway,” said Nina. “So, what’re we gonna do?”

       We were all silent for a moment. Then Skyler spoke again.

       “Are we all going?”

       “What do you guys think?” I asked. “I think it might be nice for all of us to go, as our first group activity.”

       “I don’t think ‘activity’ is the word for it,” said Skyler. She looked me in the eyes. “I just wish we’d go there and let you break his head.”

       “Oh, don’t worry, Sky,” said Nina, patting her arm. “We’ve totally got you covered. We know what’ll happen, and where, and when, and we’ve got the power to stop it.”

       Skyler nodded and looked down, and I saw a couple of tears melt onto her cheeks. She clenched Nina’s hand in her own, biting her lip.

       “I would break his head if it were up to me,” I said, “but I think I’d settle for having him locked up for a very long time.”

       “So are we bringing the police into this?” asked Max.

       “I think that is unwise,” Nicholas said. “Let us deal with it ourselves.”

       “I have to say,” said Skyler, her breath still catching a little, “that I really appreciate what you guys are doing. I mean, there’s no one else on the planet who could’ve helped me, and then you came along and just believed me, no questions asked. I’ve only known you a week and you’re my best friends.”

       “Your sister’s lucky to have you,” I said.

       Skyler nodded and started mopping her face with her sleeve.

       “We have but two choices,” said Nicholas. “Either we give this unsavory character to the law to apprehend, or we teach him a lesson ourselves. Since there will not be any breaking of heads, we will either get through to him or hand him over to the authorities.”

       “Right, since we can’t exactly bury him in the backyard,” said Bailey.

       “Well, can we do anything about it ourselves?” asked Max. “I mean, we can stop the crime, but who’s to say he won’t just do it again to some other girl further down the road?”

       “Wouldn’t one of you know it?” asked Bailey. “You’d think maybe Skyler or Nina would know ahead of time.”

       “I don’t think my ability is really that dependable,” said Skyler. “Especially if he goes after someone besides my sister. I probably only knew about this because I care about my sister, I don’t think I’d automatically know when he was going to commit a crime. If I did, I’d know about random crimes that had nothing to do with me all the time.”

       “Well, like I said,” Max continued, “our big question here is whether stopping this one incident will be enough to stop anything he’d do in the future. If not, it’d be better to let them lock him up.”

       Nina’s face went white. “It won’t help.”

       “What won’t?” asked Max.

       “Stopping this one or locking him up. He’ll do it again either way. He’ll never learn.”

       “You’re sure?” I said.

       She nodded more vigorously than I’d ever seen anyone nod before. I wondered what kind of horrible vision must have filled her head right then. It was so wrong for a nine-year-old to have to go through these adult problems.

       “Here’s how it is,” said Nina, and she sounded subdued, out of breath. “If he gets interrupted and punished tomorrow night, it’ll be a while before he tries again. But when he’s drunk he don’t think about consequences. Anyway,” she continued, shaking her head, “if we got the police in on it, he’d be locked up for attempted rape, I dunno for how long. But not long enough, ’cause all he has to do is have a friendly, pretty girl around when he’s drunk and he’ll wanna do it again, jail or no jail.” She shut her eyes and got that look like she was searching.

       “So the only way to stop him is to keep tabs on him forever,” said Max with a sigh.

       “Or break his head,” I reminded them.

       “Or we break something else,” said Nina, her eyes still closed.

       “What do you mean?” I asked.

       “We break his will.” She opened her eyes. “I think I can do it. Maybe. I’ll talk to Adele. But maybe I can make it so . . . he can’t have sex if he’s drunk.”

       Max laughed. “What’re you gonna do, cast a spell on him? Hypnotize him?”

       “Hypnotizin’ is closer to what I’m thinkin’ than magic,” said Nina matter-of-factly. “I might be able to . . . attach a feelin’ of tiredness to the drunk feelin’, so whenever he gets too drunk, he’ll get too exhausted to do anything but drool and fall asleep.”

       I let out my breath. “Okay, guess that settles it. Nina could take care of this shit all by herself.”

       Nina’s eyes opened all the way. “What?”

       “Well what do we need with a full rescue mission if you can just go in and fix the problem where it started in this asshole’s head?”

       She blinked. “Are you mad at me?”

       I sighed and lied through my teeth. “No.”

       “I have no idea what you’d be mad about, but you sure seem like it.”

       “She still needs us,” Skyler piped up.

       “Who needs who for what?” I asked.

       “Just because Nina thought of the best way to get lasting results doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have important parts. She won’t steal your glory, Ivy.”

       I gritted my teeth. I should remember not to lie when my thoughts were an open book to the telepath of our group. She could probably even hear me thinking about her.

       “I don’t want to be useless,” I said, coming clean since there was no other way to be graceful about my reaction. I looked at Nina. “Sometimes I feel like you’re the leader and not me.”

       “Who cares who the leader is?” Nina countered. “You started the group, you named it, you were smart enough to see the need for us. That don’t mean you have to do everything.”

       “But it should mean I at least do something.”

       “Speaking of doing something,” Bailey broke in, “what exactly are we gonna do? I got a party to catch if you people don’t mind.”

       I gave the floor to Skyler. “You said Nina still needs us. So what do you think we each need to do, to help get to the point where Nina can do her thing?”

       “Well.” She sat primly with her knees together, her hair hiding her expression until she looked up. “My part is basically done. I let you know there was a problem. And after Nina does her business . . . I can sure tell you if it worked.”

       “Sounds good. Keep going.”

       “Nina needs that disgusting animal’s attention if she’s going to do anything . . . is that right?”

       “Yes. I need his attention. I prob’ly even need to look in his eyes.” She shuddered.

       “Okay, then we’ll need to get Nina in there, and get my sister out. We’ll need Ivy for that.”

       “Great. So I’m the chauffeur and the magic locksmith.” I hunched my shoulders. Getting us there and in the window was better than no job at all, but I’d wanted some action.

       “Well, and you’ve got to fight the guy.”

       I perked up. “I get to fight?”

       “Someone has to stop him from hurting my sister. We need him good and helpless for Nina to try her brainwashing. You could kick his ass and put him in a headlock. How’s that sound?”

       “Pretty good,” I said honestly.

       “How realistically can you fight him?”

       “Huh?”

       “For my sister’s sake, he has to be beaten by something they both understand. Nothing can look crazy. So if he goes down, it better be from one hell of a punch or with somebody on top of him.”

       “So I just have to pretend I’m a ninja? Cool.” This was looking better and better.

       “You can do that?”

       “I fought a guy from my school once. Punched him in the face like a normal person, but blew him away with my energy. He was on the ground in a second.”

       “I’ll leave it to you. But leave him conscious, or Nina won’t be able to talk sense into him.”

       “Right.”

       Skyler hesitated. “Um, I think we should get my sister out of there before the real fighting starts, and definitely before Nina’s part comes.”

       “Okay. So how do we get her out?”

       “I think . . . we’ll have to wait until he actually starts after her, so that she’ll be scared enough to go with anyone offering help.” Skyler’s mouth turned into a grim line at that thought, but she went on. “Ivy and someone else can come to the window and bust right in—”

       “I don’t have to break anything. I’ll just unlock it if it’s locked, with my energy,” I said.

       “That’s what I meant. Not literally breaking anything.” She shook her head. “Whoever comes with Ivy can take care of my sister and bring her out. I can’t let her see me until everything is over. She can’t know I had anything to do with this or she’ll freak out. I’ll wait until after I’ve checked him to make sure Nina’s ‘programming’ will hold.”

       “I’ll feel a lot better if you make sure,” Nina agreed.

       “Who wants to take Joyce out?” asked Skyler.

       “I might as well,” said Max, surprising me. We all looked at him.

       “Why you?” asked Bailey.

       “’Cause with Ivy around, I’m no extra help,” Max said, shrugging like it didn’t bother him at all. “I can unlock window latches and spook people out, but so can Ivy, so I might as well fill in where any warm body will do.”

       “But can you be compassionate and make sure she’s comforted?”

       Max gave Skyler a strange grin. “Maybe I can. But you already said she’d be scared enough to go with anyone but the jerk trying to get into her pants. Plus, if she’s not feeling up to walking, I’m probably the only one who could carry her once Ivy’s busy.”

       “Very practical,” said Nina, looking almost comical in her seriousness.

       “I’ll just bring her out through the house and take her to our group. We’ll make sure she’s okay until you’re finished with your business and she can see a familiar face.”

       “That sounds like a plan.”

       “Now we come to Bailey,” said Skyler.

       “Oh, I get to play superhero too?”

       “As if you wanted to be left out,” Skyler replied. That surprised me, since Bailey’s face had been a pretty perfect mask of disgust and disinterest. It must’ve been handy to know her real feelings. I needed that ability so I could argue with Bailey too.

       “What do you want me to do?” Bailey said.

       “We need a spy,” she said, and even I could see the gleam in Bailey’s eyes. “We don’t know where they’ll come in from or exactly when, and I’d have to say hanging around waiting for them will be pretty suspicious. So it’d be good if we posted you as lookout, and you can come tell us when we need to be there.”

       “Where will you be?”

       “My backyard, I guess. Someplace close enough that we can gather and fly over at a moment’s notice, but nowhere near Jimmy’s house.”

       “Okay. You can just show me tomorrow. How ’bout I wait inside his house?”

       “Inside?”

       “Trust me. If I’m inside, I hear the door and wink out in half a second. Outside they could see me or I could miss them.”

       “You’ll hear the motorcycle a mile away.”

       “But this way I can also raid his fridge.” She grinned. “I’m the expert at spying, don’t none of you try and tell me how to do my job!”

       “Though you have no use for me in your plan, may I still be permitted to come along?” asked Nicholas from his corner position. I’d almost forgotten he was there.

       “Well, of course you’ll be coming if you want to,” I said, but I wondered myself what use he could be. He could inflict his will on people because his winds could blow hard enough to knock people over, but just like with Max, my usefulness overrode him, since I could be both more precise and more forceful with my energy.

       “I can only contribute by observing,” said Nicholas, a bit sadly, “but I would not miss this group’s first mission. I am, after all, the historian, I’ll need to be there to keep the records straight.” An honest smile appeared under his beard. “I’ll also gladly do some divination with my cards tonight, to get some idea of how it will go.”

       “That’ll be great, Nicholas,” I agreed.

       “Anything else, before I go start my evening?” asked Bailey.

       “Just be here tomorrow, four o’clock or so,” said Skyler, “and I’ll show you my backyard so you can alert us when they get home.”

       “It’s a date.” She’d disappeared almost before the words were out of her mouth, leaving the five of us alone.

       “So,” I said, “any other details we should run over?”

       “None that I can think of.”

       “What’ll we do with the guy after everything’s over?” asked Max.

       “If all goes well with Nina, he’ll fall asleep, since he’ll be drunk,” said Skyler.

       “But should we report him or anything? I mean, even if we ‘fix’ him, shouldn’t he be punished?” Max’s little green eyes were full of concern.

       “I think we should leave that up to Joyce,” said Skyler. “If she decides to report the attempted rape, I’ll gladly be a witness. Or . . . or something, I’ll back her up, they wouldn’t believe I saw it without being there. But if she just lets him get away with it, that’s up to her too.” She nodded to herself. “We’ll have done our damage.”

       “How do we get Joyce home?” asked Max.

       “We can walk, or get our mom to pick us up, depending on if she can walk okay.”

       I scowled. The least I could do to help was offer a ride home, but apparently Sky didn’t want that in her little plan.

       “You really don’t think we’d want to fly with her after taking all that trouble to make your fight realistic, do you?” Skyler looked puzzled.

       “You’re gonna have to stop that,” I said, a little embarrassed.

       “I did something? Oh.”

       “Yeah, I’m not used to people arguing against points I haven’t made out loud.”

       Suddenly she looked so uncomfortable that I felt bad for saying anything. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but around you guys I totally let my guard down. If it really bothers you I’ll try to think more about whether you said what I heard. I’ll try anyway.”

       I sighed. “It doesn’t matter, ’specially if you’re going to hear it no matter what. I think I’d rather know.”

       “But you said, ‘You’re gonna have to stop that.’”

       “I just don’t like being reminded that my stupid mean thoughts are more public than I want them. I shouldn’t even have them in the first place, serves me right.”

       “Everyone has bad thoughts they don’t really mean. Even I do.” Skyler was smiling but not meeting my eyes.

       “Long as you don’t think I’m really as mean as my brain is sometimes.”

       She laughed out loud. “If everyone was as mean as their thoughts we’d be at war in seconds! Believe me, you seem like an innocent baby compared to some people I’ve met. Like my sister Zoe. . . . ”

       Sky went on to tell us how her sister was always thinking these sullen, dark thoughts, not a one of them ever intended to see light. She told us about how some teachers spent a surprising amount of time thinking kids were stupid, and how so many people were incredibly boring. I relaxed and listened, content to be passive for a while now that the stress of drafting a rescue plan was over.

       Nicholas withdrew to the clubhouse loft and started shuffling his Tarot cards, and soon enough I decided I needed to take my other three club members home before my stalling made me late for my own evening plans. I scooped my friends up and headed for the pool.

*               *               *

Chapter 10

       It was surprising how edgy we all were. I was guiltily looking forward to trashing this guy’s ass, but at the same time I wanted it to be over with. I knew I wasn’t in any danger as long as nothing surprised me, and I was on my guard, but still, I was nervous. How would everything play out? What if we made a mistake? How could we be sitting here on Skyler’s backyard steps drinking lemonade when something so horrible was about to happen? I tried to relax.

       We hadn’t expected Skyler’s mom to be home. We hadn’t expected her not to be either, but we hadn’t been prepared to be introduced to her as if we were just Skyler’s ordinary friends. After she’d left us alone, Skyler told us her mom had been so friendly because she was delighted to see her daughter with friends, even though she’d been confused that only some of us were really in Skyler’s age group. I hoped she wouldn’t come out to check on us just as we were flying away, or when Bailey came back from her spying.

       We waited impatiently. I drank all my lemonade and hoped I didn’t have to pee during the encounter. Nicholas tried to calm us down by talking in his storyteller’s voice, giving us reassurance based on his card reading. He said that the cards had predicted a successful rescue, a change in behavior from Skyler’s sister, and a new venture for the group, using today’s events as a springboard into the future. I didn’t care about the future. I cared about this evening, and it wasn’t coming soon enough.

       Nicholas was animated and obviously filled with faith, but the rest of my group didn’t look so comfortable. Skyler, predictably, looked troubled, and Max just had a faraway worried look in his eyes. It was Nina who worried me the most, though; her eyes were dark and expressionless. I knew why, too. She’d had a fight with Adele over this whole thing. Adele claimed it wasn’t right to “reprogram” the would-be rapist the way she was planning, and she also said it wouldn’t work anyway. Nina, in an unprecedented display of stubbornness, had basically written off Adele’s opinion and said she was going to try anyway, and was sure that she could do it. As much as I’d always trusted Adele in years past, she had on occasion been wrong, and Nina had such conviction that this would work that it was hard to imagine denying it. Still, arguing with Adele had shaken her confidence and taken a hammer to her mood, so she was not herself today. None of us really were. I wondered how I looked to the others.

       Even though I wanted to hurry up and start our plan, I still felt unprepared when I saw Bailey letting herself into the yard by the back gate. She sauntered over to us without any obvious hurry. I stood up when I saw her, but the others remained seated.

       “My mom might be watching us,” Skyler said. “I’m glad you didn’t just pop in here, I was afraid you might.”

       Bailey cocked her head. “I know how to handle this stuff. I been doing it a while ya know.”

       “So they’re home?” I asked.

       “Yup. Well I heard the motorcycle anyway. I didn’t wait to see if they were going right in.”

       My stomach tightened up. It was time.

       “I guess we should find a different lift-off spot,” said Skyler doubtfully.

       “No problem.”

       Skyler got up and tossed our plastic cups in the trash, and then our little group went for a walk.

       “I’ll meet you guys there,” Bailey said, which surprised me. Her part was essentially done, so technically she didn’t need to come if she had better things to do. Apparently she wanted to act like a real member of the group after all. I smiled as she disappeared.

       The flight was uneventful. Nina and Skyler seemed comfortable, Max a little tense in the air, and Nicholas (of course) was a basket case like always. He hated flying and always ended up squirming around trying to find something solid to balance against. I tried putting my hands on his shoulders, like a pale imitation of carrying him, and he seemed to relax just a little.

       I followed the verbal directions to the house, shuddering when I spotted the motorcycle in the open garage.

       We landed in the front yard and looked up at the second-story window where the light was on. An overhang for the front porch made a nice ledge to spy from, which was good because we could use it. I took off my flying sunglasses, then reconsidered and put them on again. It might be a good idea to hide my eyes from my “victim,” for several reasons. I was dressed in black to play up my ninja image; all I needed was a cape and I’d look like a superhero. Or a big dork. I felt like a little of both.

       “When should we go in?” I wondered aloud.

       “Nothing’s happened yet,” said Skyler. “Joyce has no idea she’s in trouble.” Then she frowned. “He doesn’t know either.”

       “He doesn’t know what he’s about to do?” asked Max.

       “Well, he didn’t have a premeditated plan to rape my sister,” Skyler said, sounding cross. “I guess he figures on a special occasion he’ll finally get laid, and he’ll just get pissed when she doesn’t hold up what he thinks is her part of some deal.” Her face darkened even more. I could practically see smoke coming out of her ears. She was really mad that this guy wanted to violate her sister.

       “So, shouldn’t we be up there watching or something?” asked Max.

       “I can watch pretty good from down here,” Skyler replied.

       “Yeah, no point in going up there and attracting attention looking in their window,” I pointed out. “It’s fine as long as Sky knows what’s happening.”

       “As much as I wish I didn’t,” she grumbled, crossing her arms. She looked so normal, like some regular annoyed teenager, it was hard to believe she was mentally monitoring two people out of her sight, without the slightest effort.

       Jimmy wasn’t in any hurry to get into Joyce’s pants, it seemed. We waited, some of us standing and some of us sitting, in the front yard for so long it was probably suspicious. Bailey was on the roof, drumming her fingers on her knee and chewing gum. Skyler gave us updates on what was going on in the room, and at one point we thought we’d have to move when Jimmy took Joyce’s vest off and kissed her, but then he backed off again. Apparently Joyce was pretty happy with their date so far, but was hoping they’d get some food soon. She had no clue, still, that Jimmy’s menu included a different main course.

       It got to the point where we were sure we’d come the wrong day or that nothing was going to happen. The only proof we had was that Joyce was indeed wearing that skirt, now notably grease-stained from rubbing up against a dirty bit of the motorcycle.

       Finally, just when I really felt like going home, it happened. Jimmy made his move. He pointed out the stain on Joyce’s skirt and playfully suggested she take it off, and then tried to do it for her when she refused, still playing around in his own mind. She backed away but he advanced and pushed her against the wall, giving her some kisses along the way. She didn’t get really worried until he tried again to unzip her skirt, and didn’t stop when she told him no.

       Skyler stood up at that point and said it was time. Max and I got ready to jump up to the window, and Skyler covered her eyes, looking like she had a headache.

       “You okay?” I asked.

       “God, I don’t believe him,” she mumbled. She took her hands away from her eyes and gave me an unfocused look. “He thinks she obviously wants this since she’s wearing sexy underwear. He thinks she wouldn’t have worn it if she didn’t want him to see them. He considers it proof that she wants him.” Her eyes started leaking tears but there was no change in her voice, like only her body was crying. The rest of her was too pissed off to be sad. “I wonder if there’s any underwear she could have worn that he wouldn’t think is sexy?” She glanced up at the window. “You better go get him. She’s getting really scared now.”

       I didn’t need any more encouraging. Max and I were in the air and on the porch roof before anyone could blink. The drapes were pulled over the window, but that obviously didn’t stop us. When I pushed them back the scene before me burned into my brain forever.

       I could tell Joyce would have been pretty if her mascara hadn’t been tracked across her cheeks by tears and her face hadn’t been filled with fear and disgust and helplessness. That was what got me: Her obvious inability to do anything about her situation; her complete dependence on the mercy that wouldn’t be coming. She was standing there against the wall in a skimpy shirt and expensive black underwear, pleading with her eyes (and probably the rest of her) for Jimmy to leave her alone. Jimmy had his back to us, but I could see he was a muscular fellow with greasy hair that had been crunched flat on the top by his motorcycle helmet. I couldn’t see the expression on his face, but I knew what I wanted to see there. I wanted to see his face switch places with Joyce’s. I wanted the fear in her eyes to fill him up until he had to beg for mercy. And I wasn’t planning on granting it.

       She was helpless. She couldn’t save herself. I stood frozen at the thought. We were all powerless from time to time, about our destinies, or what might happen in daily life, or what people thought of us. But this girl—and almost every girl I knew, for that matter—couldn’t stop a man from taking what he wanted, just because he was physically stronger. Joyce must live like that every day, knowing she couldn’t do anything about it if someone decided to hurt her. How did she live like that? How could anyone, always being at the world’s mercy?

       Right there in that long second on the ledge, I thought back to the times people had tried to violate me and my friends. I’d bitch-slapped the hell out of a dozen cops who’d chased me and Nina once. I’d stopped a robbery and held the perpetrators in place until the police had come. I’d saved my brother and his friends from getting mowed down by a car. And when some guy had stolen my bag, I’d gotten him back, but let him off light with nothing but a good talking-to—for which I’d held him still until I was quite finished. I’d playfully tortured my friends to get my way all my life, and I threw people against walls when they overstepped what I considered their bounds. It had always been so easy. If I didn’t like it, I did something about it. But for the first time, I finally saw that that wasn’t true for anyone else on the planet. For everyone else, physical strength was the deciding factor in who got their way. The realization hit me so strongly that I felt lightheaded.

       Something started filling me up. It was like a light or some kind of electricity. I’d felt like this before, whenever I was mad or upset or out of control; my energy was intimately connected to my emotions, so getting mad had side effects sometimes. But this was different. I didn’t feel particularly upset or angry, or out of control. I was perfectly in control. Or maybe I was so deeply angry that I couldn’t handle it. My energy occupied my whole body and tingled in my blood, and started radiating out from my body. I wondered if it was visible. I felt like it would be.

       Without any effort or intent, my energy smashed the window. I blinked in surprise when I felt it go through the glass and destroy it in the process. It wasn’t just the glass that was broken; the whole window, frames included, burst into little splinters. I salvaged enough control to keep from hurting myself and Max with the shrapnel. Naturally, my little slip distracted Jimmy from his pursuits. He froze and stared at us.

       Joyce was the first to react. She grabbed the closest article of clothing, Jimmy’s jacket, and pulled it around herself. The garment was long enough that she was at least decent. Then she covered her face, sat on the bed, and started crying outright. Jimmy stayed where he was, staring at us, not moving at all.

       Max was the next person to do something. He hopped into the room, avoiding the glass, and slipped past Jimmy like he wasn’t there, putting his hands very tentatively on Joyce’s shoulders.

       “Come on, let’s get you out of here,” he said in a business-like fashion, and even though she didn’t take her hands away from her face, she stood up and obeyed him. With a backward glance at me, Max steered her out of the room. I heard her ask him who he was, and his reply was, “I’m a friend.” We could have been in a cheesy movie.

       And like a cheesy movie, I was standing in the remains of the window, making an attempt to look like a warrior. Now all I needed was hokey dialogue.

       “In about two minutes you’re going to wish you were never born,” I said, locking eyes with the slimeball. In my head the words sounded ominous, threatening. When they came out, my voice was too high to properly carry their weight, and I imagined I didn’t look too badass either with my skinny arms that he could break in half if I were as unarmed as I looked.

       So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jimmy responded with a nervous-sounding laugh.

       The laugh ended when my fist connected with his face, and he was crashing into the wall.

       My brain felt foggy as I fought him. I sent him flying into the wall a couple more times, always preceded by wimpy just-for-show punches. I didn’t say anything, but I sent my message loud and clear. Now it’s your turn to be helpless. Now it’s your turn to be in a situation you can’t get out of. Now it’s your turn to be hurt. I ate up the shocked expression at my first punch. And I relished that cringe when I came after him a third time and he no longer had any doubt that I could and would hurt him. When he hit the ground and made noises indicating his discomfort, I only wanted to kick his ass harder so I could hear it again.

       I didn’t feel like I was being cruel. I felt like I was serving justice. I couldn’t believe after this ridiculous beating he was getting, he was still going to be capable of doing it to another girl, if Nina was right.

       Finally, the jerk spoke.

       “Who are you people?” he said weakly.

       I considered answering him, but I didn’t know what answer he deserved. Instead I gave him his own question to answer.

       “Do you know why I’m kicking your ass right now?”

       “Uh. . . . ” He interrupted himself by taking a couple wheezing breaths and launching into a coughing fit. Maybe I’d kicked the breath out of him.

       “Do you have any idea why I just came through that window to kick your ass?” I repeated.

       “ . . . For Joyce?” he asked, as if he wasn’t sure.

       “You know she didn’t want to have sex with you. Why’d you try to make her?”

       Under the circumstances, his response was pretty brave. “Sometimes chicks don’t know what they want.”

       “And so you decide for them. Aren’t you sweet.”

       “Well, you know, they say they don’t want to when they’ve been giving you the signs all day. Joyce always comes onto me—”

       “That’s not what it looked like. Do you think every girl who’s friendly to you wants your dick?”

       He kind of chuckled, though it sounded like a cough. “Most girls can’t resist me.”

       “It looked like Joyce was trying pretty hard to resist you and you kept going. She told you no. Why didn’t you listen?”

       “She was playing around! She’s always like ‘no, no’ and then she changes her mind. Sometimes she really means yes, I know her.”

       I felt my body pulsing with that energy again. It hadn’t really gone away the first time, but now it renewed itself. This guy thought “no” could mean “yes,” and had decided he was the judge of when that was so. He’d ignored her obvious protests in favor of following subtle hints that may or may not have been there. He thought it was a proper response to her flirting. He still thought he was right.

       “How about I beat your ass some more?” I suggested. “You keep trying to resist me, but your actions up to now tell me loud and clear that you really want a good ass-kicking. I can tell you want it, come here.”

       I could see he got my point. But I kicked him into the door anyway, a nice high kick that showed off my flexibility. It was then that he actually overcame his masculine pride and tried to fight me back. I took great pleasure in stopping his grabs and punches convincingly, and sending him flying a few more times, mostly with my feet. I felt righteous. He was my bitch and there was nothing he could do about it.

       I finally had to stop when Nina poked her nose into my brain. She told me, silently and without words, that that was enough. I stopped what I was doing and left my victim lying in the corner. He wouldn’t be moving for a while.

       Skyler and Nina were standing at the hole in the wall. I didn’t see Bailey, but she must have brought them up there. Skyler looked like a wreck, and Nina looked quietly determined. I realized that if Skyler had been able to follow the sequence of events between Jimmy and Joyce, there was no way she’d have missed any of my antics. Oh no, she could also feel what other people experienced—she’d probably even had to feel the punches I’d thrown, as horrible as that was. And she must have gone into this knowing what would happen! That was brave, I thought. Skyler just waved her hand at me.

       “It’s all right, I’m fine,” she said. “Why don’t you go ahead and join the others? I’ll be down in a minute.”

       I hopped out the window and onto the ledge, glancing back into the room. I hoped Jimmy wouldn’t try to attack them, but I couldn’t see why he would.

       “Don’t worry about us,” said Skyler. “I’ll know it if he’s coming after us.” She turned her back and watched as Nina got on her knees beside the beaten dog. I wanted to stay and watch Nina work her magic, but it was obvious they were kicking me out for a reason. I looked at the ground and saw Nicholas and Bailey, but Max had apparently taken Joyce elsewhere. I joined the remains of my group on the front lawn, put away my sunglasses since it was getting dark, and tried like hell to calm down.

       I had some kind of battle aura going on. It just wouldn’t go away. My energy was like something alive, trying to spread out from me to help where it was needed. I felt like it was trying to fill in all the gaps for the world’s hordes of helpless people, trying to share itself with other victims. I couldn’t make it settle down and sink down under my skin. My blood was still hot with it.

       Nicholas filled me in on events, but I was only half listening. Max had taken Joyce to the nearest shopping center to call for a cab, yeah, yeah. Skyler had been affected pretty strongly by my fight with Jimmy, but she hadn’t said anything about stopping me even though the others could tell by her face every time I’d struck a blow. I was sorry for that but my mind was elsewhere. Nicholas described Skyler’s desire to go to her sister to comfort her, but she’d had to stay out of sight or her sister would know she was involved. Nicholas had convinced Joyce, with Max’s help, that our group was an undercover agency who’d tracked Jimmy here for previous rape offenses and had only been lucky enough to interrupt another one before it was too late. I filed all the facts away like a computer, but I was still living in some dream world.

       I needed to stop this crap from happening. I was one of the only people in the world with the power to stop these things. I couldn’t stand it that people all over the place were making those helpless noises and faces and protests, only to be violated by someone stronger. People were being raped in all kinds of ways and I was standing there with this energy practically pouring into the ground to water the grass. I recognized vaguely that dedicating my life to stopping such crimes would essentially make me a superhero, but what the hell, I could afford a Batmobile if I needed one.

       Somewhere someone will be calling for help, I thought, and I’ll be there.

       “Are you feeling all right, Ivy?” asked Nicholas, observing that my eyes had glazed over.

       “I’m fine.” I put my hand over my forehead. “Just a little dizzy.”

       I dimly recognized that Bailey was getting Nina and Skyler out of the room. They approached us and I noticed Nina was crying, but I felt disconnected from the whole thing.

       “It didn’t work,” Skyler said flatly, holding Nina’s shoulders. “Can we get out of here?”

       I was only too happy to oblige. I made a mental note to come back for Max later, and took my group up in the sky. I listened to Skyler tell what had happened in the room alone with Jimmy, but by that time I was too spaced out to even comprehend it, so I didn’t have any recall of the events. I didn’t care to do something about Nicholas fidgeting beside me and I didn’t try to calm Nina down even though she was still too upset to even tell her own story.

       All I could focus on was my new purpose. A quest sent to me in a sudden revelation. Wherever I could possibly help it, people would no longer have their wills ignored by hungry predators. Girls wouldn’t streak their mascara for lack of anything effective to do. Bad guys would be taught a lesson. And if they were lucky I’d use my fists.

       My energy had no problems carrying us, even as hyped up as I was. In fact it felt great, very healthy and strong. The only disordered thing was the brain my energy was attached to.

       


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