Claire leaned forward and elbowed the back of his head. Ryan spun around, wrapping his arms around her waist at the same time. He charged forward, and they both crashed into the table.
“C’mon!” I yel ed, seeing my mother’s imported English dining table in pieces.
Immediately on her feet, Claire grabbed two fistfuls of Ryan’s shirt and tossed him into the foyer.
“I love it when you play rough!” Ryan yel ed from the other room.
Claire wiped her bloodied lip and licked the crimson liquid from her fingers. “You haven’t seen rough yet.” She disappeared through the doorway, and I winced when Ryan cried out.
“That’s fighting dirty!” he yel ed, crying out again.
“We’d better get in there and supervise,” Jared said, pulling me into the next room.
Claire held Ryan upside down by his ankle, feigning sympathy as he swiped at her to no avail. He scanned the room and then arched his back, lifting a solid wood statue from the floor, hammering Claire’s knee just after getting his hands on it.
She was knocked to the ground, and Ryan fel on his head with a crack. When he stood, a thin line of red streamed from his hairline. “It was worth it,” he said, running at Claire.
She flipped backward, and then drew her side arm.
“Not funny,” Jared warned.
The gun fired, and Ryan jerked, covering his head with one hand, his crotch with the other. The bul et lodged into the wal —right through the center of Cynthia’s prized original Renoir.
“I think…I think I’m going to pass out,” I said, feeling woozy. Jared obliged when I hooked my arm around his.
“Should I stop them?” Jared said.
“They won’t stop until they’re finished being CHILDISH!” I said. “Take it outside!”
Ryan pointed at Claire. “You…you just shot at me!”
Claire rol ed her eyes. “You’re such a baby. That wasn’t even close.”
“The bul et blew air by my eyeball!” he said, dramatical y pointing to his eye.
“Fine,” she said in a huff. “I’ll put it away so you don’t pee your pants, big Special Forces man.”
Ryan relaxed and stood up straight, and then charged her again. Claire rol ed her eyes and grabbed him by the throat, stopping him in his tracks.
“Al you do is run at me. I’m bored.”
Ryan took a swipe at her, making strange hacking noises.
I walked over to them, glaring at Ryan, and then at Claire. “He’s turning blue.”
Claire raised her other fist like she was going to punch him, but then turned it over, casual y picking at her nails.
“Claire,” Jared growled.
She looked at Ryan and narrowed her eyes. “Tap out.”
Ryan struggled to make a noise. “No,” he choked. His eyes fluttered as he lost consciousness.
I frowned. “Okay, that’s enough. Jared, please make her stop.”
Jared took a step, and Claire pointed at him. “Jared Gabriel, don’t you dare.”
“Claire—” he began, but she held her hand palm-out to her brother.
I glanced at Ryan and then back at her. “It’s not funny anymore.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s kinda funny.”
I grabbed Claire’s wrist with one hand and wrapped my arm around Ryan with the other. It was futile, but I hoped Claire would snap out of her rage and realize what she was doing. As if it were nothing, they separated.
“Thank you,” I said, helping Ryan to the floor. “Ry,” I said, patting his cheek. “Deep breaths.” I looked up at Claire to send her a look of disapproval, but her expression took me off guard. “What?”
“I didn’t let go,” she said, stunned.
Jared’s eyes darted between the three of us. “What do you mean you didn’t let go?”
Claire’s eyes widened. “She pul ed me off him.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes,” I said. “You went too far.”
Claire shook her head. “How did you do that?”
She was serious. I had pul ed Ryan from her grip without effort. I had barely tensed, thinking Claire had simply decided to let go. “I…I don’t… know,” I said. I waited for Jared to offer an answer, but he stood speechless.
Ryan stirred. “Did I win?”
Claire frowned. “Of course not, stupid. ‘Did I win’,” she said, mocking Ryan’s deep voice. She rol ed her eyes, and then her face brightened.
“Stand up, Nina.”
“Just do it.”
I stood, and Claire took a defensive crouch. In the next moment, Jared was between us. “You have lost your mind!”
“Just one time!” Claire begged. “I bet it won’t even hurt her!”
“What are we talking about, here?” I said, my eyes dancing between the two of them.
“I’ll do it,” Jared said.
“Do what?” I asked. Jared led me to the center of the room, standing directly in front of me.
“What is he doing?” Ryan asked Claire.
“Sssh. Pass out again,” she said, impatiently waiting for something to happen.
My eyebrows pul ed in. “What do you plan to do?”
Jared steadied himself and squared his shoulders. His eyes darkened, and then he lowered his chin. In the next moment his body relaxed, and he threw his head back. “I can’t,” he sighed, looking at the ceiling.
“What a wuss!” Claire laughed.
The front door opened, and I closed my eyes, waiting for the painful shrieking of my mother. It never came.
“Uh…what happened here?” Bex said. I opened my eyes, seeing Bex stood frozen in place in the doorway, a half-eaten apple in one hand.
“Nina pul ed me off Ryan,” Claire said, her voice trembling with excitement.
“Okay. So what are you doing, Jared?” Bex said.
“Nothing,” Jared replied, clearly embarrassed.
“He’s going to test the theory,” Claire said.
Jared shook his head quickly. “No, I’m not.”
I crossed my arms. “And how were you going to do that, exactly?”
Jared rubbed the back of his neck. “I was just going to throw it. I wasn’t going to….”
“Punch her?” Bex said.
Jared frowned at Bex, and then looked at me apologetical y.
“What?” I wailed.
Jared held out his hands. “I wasn’t going to land it! Just to see if you would catch it.”
Claire puffed, unimpressed. “I was going to punch her,” she mumbled.
My mouth fel open.
Bex walked casual y across the room, stopping a couple of feet from me. Jared reclaimed my attention when he reached for me again. “Come on, Nina. You don’t think I would punch my pregnant wi—”
Before Jared could finish his sentence, Bex’s fist hurled toward me with lightning speed. My body reacted, and suddenly his fist was in my hand.
“I’m not holding back,” Bex grunted, stil pushing his fist toward my face.
Jared’s eyes widened. He tried to talk, but the only result was his jaw flapping about.
Bex relaxed and lowered his hand, and then bent down to kiss my forehead. “She’s been like that for months. You couldn’t tel ?” he asked Jared.
“I uh…I could tel something was different. I assumed it was the baby.”
“It is the baby,” Bex smiled. “Bean is sharing angel juice with Nina. I haven’t taken it easy sparring with her for weeks.”
“What?” I said.
“What?” Jared repeated.
Bex rol ed his eyes. “Remember that time she threw me on my back?”
Jared’s eyes dashed to mine. “She real y did that?”
Bex frowned. “It hurt, too. I just didn’t say anything because I assumed you knew, and this was one of those things you didn’t want to talk about.”
“He is so like that.” Claire said.
Jared was instantly angry. “You were sparring with her on your level? She’s pregnant, Bex. Are you insane? What if you hurt the baby?”
I looked down at my protruding bel y and gingerly rubbed it with my fingers. “Bean is giving me abilities?”
Bex shrugged. “Bean’s ful -on angel, Nina. You’ve got more power than we do, I bet. That’s why you could hover during your dreams and climb the wal s and stuff. You were pregnant then, weren’t you?”
Ryan laughed once. “What? She’s Spider-Man, now?”
“That’s what I said!” Bex beamed. “Love Spider-Man.”
Jared frowned. “You should have said something.”
Bex laughed once without humor. “She’s your Taleh…not to mention your wife. I thought you knew!”
“You didn’t think I’d mention it if I had?”
“No! That doesn’t sound like you at all !” Bex snapped.
“He’s right,” Claire said. “Being forthcoming isn’t your strong suit.”
Jared turned on his heels, crossing his arms. His biceps bulged over his hands. “I guess you knew, too?”
“Obviously not!” Claire said. “It was my idea to punch her!”
“Wel , let’s brag about it,” I said flatly.
Silence overcame the room while the new knowledge set in. Jared’s eyes bounced around different points on the floor while his brain processed a mil ion thoughts a second.
A loud bang sounded from across the room, fol owed by a vibration in the floor. Claire was lying on her back, looking up at Ryan with a shocked expression.
He smiled. “I told you I wouldn’t give up.”
Her face flashed red, and I waited for her to send Ryan flying across the room again. But the flush of her cheeks returned to a warm tone, and her eyes softened. A slow, smal smile turned up the corners of her mouth. Ryan, without caution, kneeled beside her. His eyes left hers, and then transfixed onto her lips. He leaned in closer. I waited for Claire to grab him by the throat, or kick him in his nether region, but she slowly closed her eyes.
“What in the hel happened in here?” Cynthia shrieked, slamming the door behind her.
My mother’s surprise entrance took my attention away for only a moment, and when I looked back, I could see a familiar frustration in Ryan’s eyes.
“Someone had better answer me,” Cynthia said.
Realization fluttered in Claire’s eyes, and she glanced in my direction.
“Karma,” I said with a knowing grin. She had made a hobby of interrupting Jared and I when we were fal ing in love. It was refreshing to see her reaction when the same happened to her.
“Oh, shut up,” she said, pushing herself to her feet. She grabbed Ryan’s hand and helped him to stand. “I apologize, Mrs. Grey.”
“You did this,” Cynthia said. Her words were more an accusation than a question. “I expect everything to be in order by tomorrow morning.” With that, she left for her bedroom.
Claire surveyed the destruction. “It’s going to be a long night.”
“I’ll help you,” Ryan said.
Claire left for the kitchen, and returned holding a large garbage can. She carried it in one hand, picking up the splinters of wood that covered the floor with the other.
“Have fun with that,” Jared smiled, taking my hand. “We’ll be at the oak tree at first light.”
“Oh?” I said with a smile.
Jared glanced at his little brother. “You’re coming, too.”
“I am?” Bex said.
A wary frown touched Bex’s face as his eyes darted between Jared and me. I could tel that he was hesitant to be excited. “Why? Isn’t that, like, your breeding ground?”
Jared rol ed his eyes. “I want to see what Nina is capable of.”
“Sweet!” Bex said, clapping his hands together once. “You ready to spar, Sis?” His hands rubbed together.
A broad smile widened my face. “Oh. It’s on.”
Jared and I walked upstairs. I went through the motions of my nightly routine in a daze, trying to concede to this new reality. Knowing I had a lot to prove in the morning, it was difficult to sleep. Final y I forced my mind to slow down, and managed to close my eyes for a few hours before the sun breeched the horizon.
Once my eyes fluttered, there would be no fal ing back asleep; no sleeping in. I was wide awake, and my body screamed to get out of bed and get to the oak tree. I didn’t bother with a shower, knowing I would be sweaty and covered in dust and dirt within the hour. An oversized t-shirt of Jared’s barely stretched over my bel y, but it would suffice. I was real y showing now, and the thought crossed my mind at how ridiculous I would look, swol en and awkward, while Bex attacked me with gorgeous precision from every angle.
Jared and I met downstairs, where the others were stil cleaning. The only person not smiling and joking about the night before was Ryan.
“What?” Jared said, smug. “You don’t think Nina can take Bex?”
Ryan pointed at me, but looked at Jared. “She’s stil pregnant.”
Bex laughed once. “Don’t worry. Bean’s tougher than I am.”
Claire thought I should start with Ryan, however. Ryan held out his hands. “What the hel is this? Beat The Shit Out Of Ryan Week?”
“I didn’t think you’d mind, since you’re always insisting upon getting yourself hospitalized,” Claire said.
Ryan’s face screwed into disgust. “That was uncal ed for.”
“The truth hurts, baby.”
He smiled. “If you’re going to talk to me like that, you can insult me all day long.”
Claire pul ed her car keys from her pocket, and then pul ed on Ryan’s hand. “I meant that you’re a baby. It wasn’t a term of endearment.”