I stood and walked to the sink, turned on the tap, and flipped on the garbage disposal. “Okay, pencil, your death is imminent.” I held the pencil, tip down, above the sink. Just as I dropped it, my dad walked in, and my heart doubled its beat. The pencil’s path to the sink slowed and I swiped it out of the air, slammed it on the counter, and turned off the garbage disposal. I cringed and kept my back to him. I should’ve just let it fall. Outside the window in front of me, a little girl rode by on her bike at normal speed. My head burst with pain. I leaned into the counter.
“What are you doing?” His voice sounded normal, and I let out the breath I’d been holding.
Gritting through the pain, I grabbed a dirty plate inside the sink and ran the sponge over it a few times before I spoke. “Cleaning this plate.”
I turned off the water and returned to my computer before he had too much time to assess. Double-clicking on the brain icon, I settled in for some mind expansion, trying to ignore my pounding head.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine.” My mom had always warned me not to push my ability too hard too soon. She was right. I had obviously damaged something. This was not good. I loosened my shoulders and tried to relax. If heightened emotions were bringing out this ability, I just needed to learn not to let my emotions take over.
“Is your head still bothering you?”
“Have you been resting your ability?”
“No, not really.”
He let out a frustrated sigh.
“I know. I will.” Starting now. My program filled the screen.
“What is that?”
“Oh, just a morning routine. Mom sent it with me.”
His face hardened for the briefest moment. “Is it a new one?”
“Sort of. I got it a few weeks before I came.”
“You’re not even supposed to have that here.”
“They approved it.” I pointed to the black stick in the computer. “That’s why it’s on a flash drive.”
“This isn’t resting.”
“I don’t really consider this work. It’s a part of my daily routine.”
“Have you been doing it every day since you’ve been here?”
“Not every day.”
“Can I see it?”
I pulled it out and handed it to him. He flipped it over in his hand several times and then held it up to the light. I didn’t understand what he was looking for, but then he said, “Can I . . . will you . . .”
I waited. My dad rarely hesitated on a sentence.
“I’d like to speak with your mother about this.” He pocketed the flash drive without asking my permission and pulled out his phone while he walked away. Nothing worse than parents just laying down the law without explanation.
I sat, frustrated for a moment, then followed after him. If he wasn’t going to tell me why he did that, I’d find out on my own. And by “on my own” I meant “eavesdropping.”
I pressed my ear to his closed door and advanced my hearing. He was midsentence. “. . . had discussed this. No more experimental programs. Let it go, Marissa, she’s developing fine.” Long pause. “No, but I want to. I still think we should.” Another long pause. “Of course she’ll be angry, but better now than later.” He grunted. “That’s not true. And if we’re going to talk about unfair advantages, I think you have them all, from her friends to her school.”
I was so lost, but that didn’t stop me from listening.
“No, I told you I’d wait, and I’ll wait. But we need to tell her soon. . . . . Stumble upon it? I don’t think so. I pulled some strings and got it moved into Pioneer Plaza just in case for some reason she ended up at the local cemetery with a friend.”
Cemetery? What was going on? I wanted to burst into the room and force my dad to tell me what he was talking about. But at the same time all my limbs were frozen with the thought that they were keeping something huge from me. The last time they’d sat me down, it was to tell me they were getting a divorce. I wasn’t sure I could handle their secrets on their terms anymore. My dad hung up the phone, and I backed away from his door.
I dialed Stephanie’s number and slipped into my room.
“Hey.” I shut myself in the closet for the added layer of sound protection, not that I thought my dad would spy on me, but just in case.
“How are you?”
“I’m okay. I have a question. What’s Pioneer Plaza?”
“Pioneer Plaza? Downtown?”
I fingered the sleeve on one of my hanging shirts. “I guess.”
“It’s a park that has all these bronze statues of cowboys and bulls. I think it’s supposed to be like a tribute to the pioneers who settled Dallas or something.”
What? “Do you think you could take me there sometime this week?”
“I have cheer practice all week. I would take you after, but it’s probably not a good idea to go downtown after dark. How about next week?”
“Yeah. Okay.” But next week wasn’t soon enough for me. Maybe I could borrow my dad’s car and go by myself . . . and get lost and mugged and kidnapped. Well, maybe not those last two, but definitely the first one.
It took me a minute to realize Stephanie was in the middle of a sentence. I tried to catch up. She was telling a story about cheer and some girl named Lindsey. I was completely lost until she said, “So Lindsey thinks Trevor might still like me. What do you think?”
“Do you still like him?” I already knew the answer, but I wondered if she had admitted it to herself yet.
“I don’t know anymore. I don’t want to, but we have this history together, you know? And it’s hard to just erase history.”
“True.” It’s actually very easy, I thought. “You want my honest opinion?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I think you should give yourself some space from him. Let yourself live without him for a while. I bet you’ll realize you’re happier that way.” I didn’t want to say, Because I saw the way he was with you, and it wasn’t promising. That would’ve been heartless. But she had to feel it. One-sided relationships didn’t feel right. And she’d see that once she got into a healthier relationship where someone appreciated her more.
She sighed. “You’re probably right. Thanks for listening.”
“I gotta run. My dad is calling on the other line.”
“From downstairs?” I asked with a laugh.
“Yes, he’s such a weirdo,” she said, laughing as well.
“Bye, Addie, and thanks again.”
I hung up and looked at the phone for a minute, then dialed Laila’s number. It had been a few days since I’d spoken to her.
“My dad just stole my flash drive and is keeping a secret hidden from me at a park full of bronze bulls,” I said without a formal greeting.
“My dad is keeping secrets from me, and they have to do with a DAA program, a cemetery, and pioneer statues.”
“What kind of secrets?”
“If I knew that, they wouldn’t be secrets.”
“Oh, the secret kind of secrets. Why didn’t you clarify?”
I smiled. “I have to figure it out. Do you happen to still have Rowan’s phone number?”
“Rowan . . .” She trailed off, and I could tell she was trying to remember who he was again.
“You know, the guy whose memory you Erased.”
“Oh, Norm Rowan with the exceptionally good kissing abilities.”
“Too much information, but yes.”
“Yeah. Why? He doesn’t seem like your type.”
“I don’t like him, but I’m going to see if he’ll take me to the fake bulls.” I hadn’t planned on asking Rowan; I had hardly talked to him at all. But he had offered to show me around town, and I decided to take him up on that.
“Good call.” Laila gave me Rowan’s number. “And since we’re on the subject, I’ve been thinking about trying to advance my ability.”
“Um, we weren’t on that subject at all.”
“Wait for it. It really does relate. Connor.”
“The guy who almost hit me with his motorcycle?”
“What does Connor have to do with DAA programs and bull cemeteries?”
“Well, he has nothing to do with cemeteries, but Connor is the one who always sells me the black market programs.”
“You mean tries and then fails to sell you those programs.”
“Uh, sure, okay. I got Connor to tell me who the creator of these advancement programs is. Now I just need to meet him . . . or her.”
I closed my eyes. “Do you hear yourself talking right now? Bobby advanced his abilities and he almost killed us, Laila. Killed us. And now you’re saying you’re going to meet someone else, like Bobby, who has the same screw-the-system-and-the-rules attitude and ask him to help you? Is that really what you’re saying?”
She hesitated for only one beat before saying, “Yes. That’s what I’m saying. What are the odds he’s another Bobby?”
Sometimes talking to Laila made me feel like an adult, because I had the overwhelming desire to scold her. I took a deep breath. “Why do you want to advance your ability, anyway?”
“Who doesn’t want to advance their ability?”
“I think I damaged mine,” I blurted out. Fear tightened my chest as I admitted that out loud.
“I don’t know. Something is happening with my ability. It’s weird, and when I push it, my head hurts really bad. And now I can’t even Search without getting the worst headache ever. What if I lose my ability? What if my ability advanced too early and now I’m broken?”
“Calm down. It’s probably just stress.”
“What if it’s not? What if I pushed myself too hard? You need to just wait, Laila. The DAA program is supposed to be the most natural. Your ability will advance when it’s supposed to advance.”
“I may or may not actually do the DAA program on a daily . . . or weekly basis. There are other ways, faster ways. People do it all the time.”
“I can slow down time.”
“It started at Bobby’s, and now at random times, out of nowhere, time slows down. I can’t control it. And when it’s over, I get the worst headache.”
“Slow down time? Awesome. So that must be your advancement. It makes sense, because you’ve always been able to manipulate time in a way, kind of walk forward through it.”
“It’s not awesome. I can’t Search anymore, and I can’t control this.”
“It’s just your growing pains. You’ll be fine when your mind settles into it. See, this is what I’m talking about. I want that.”
“You want to slow down time?”
“No, I want to restore memories.”