I glanced up the drive. Once again, the garage door was open. Connor was tinkering around inside. The boy loved his bike. I took a deep breath and shook out my hands. I wasn’t used to talking to a guy without the safety net of being able to Erase whatever I wanted to when the conversation was over.
“So what do you want me to do again?” Duke asked.
“Trust. He needs to feel trust. Comfort. Ease.” I cleared my throat. “And a little lust never hurt anyone.”
Duke shook his head. “I don’t think he needs my help with that one. Isn’t that the one emotion you have control over?”
“He doesn’t like me. He’d rather date his motorcycle.”
“Is that a first for you?”
“Shut up. Just do it. And for the love of all that is living, try to be subtle about it.”
He leaned close to me. “If I remember right, you didn’t suspect anything.”
I shoved him back. “Stay out of my bubble, pretty boy.”
We got out of the car. I kept at least a foot of space between Duke and me as we walked up the drive and into Connor’s garage. He didn’t seem as surprised to see me this time. “I don’t give refunds,” he said, wiping at an already shiny piece of metal on his bike.
“I don’t want a refund. Just a friendly chat.”
“Hey, Connor,” Duke said, his annoying smile painted across his face. “Nice bike.”
I should’ve told him not to talk. To just stand to the side like the shiny little toy that he was. I didn’t even know why I bothered bringing him. Connor had probably mastered blocks for all the abilities, like he had with mine.
“Thanks,” Connor said, and I could’ve sworn his tone was a little less edgy than his original greeting. Maybe Duke would be useful after all.
I turned my back to Connor and mouthed the word Trust to Duke, who gave a slight nod.
“It is a nice bike,” I said. “Looks like she’s all fixed up from her meeting with the pavement. Addie told me what happened. Crazy. You’re lucky you didn’t hit her.”
“I don’t think luck had anything to do with it,” he said.
What did he want me to do, tell him he was awesome because he managed to avoid hitting my friend at the last second? I ran my hand along the seat, testing his reaction. When he didn’t flinch, I threw my leg over and sat.
“What do you want, Laila?” Connor asked evenly.
“Just what I always wanted.” I met his eyes. “Information.” Come on, Duke, make him feel trust. “What would it hurt? I won’t even mention where I got it from.”
“They’re not stupid. They’ll be able to make that deduction.”
“It’s not like I’m some narc. I’m a customer. A paying customer.”
“A partially paying customer.”
“I’ll pay you back. That’s not the point, though. The point is that I need help and I’m willing to pay for it.”
“Ability advancement. That’s what you’re after?”
I felt Duke’s gaze shift to me in the background, but I didn’t turn to look at him. “Yes. Just a name. I’ll figure out the rest on my own.”
He tilted his head at Duke, and for a second I worried that maybe he felt Duke crawling inside him, but then, without looking at me, he said, “Get off my bike.”
I used his shoulder, acting like I needed it for the task. As I did, I gave a quick glance back to Duke. I could tell by the set of his perma-grin and the intense look in his eyes that he was concentrating hard on his task. I squeezed Connor’s shoulder as I straightened up and then dug a pen and scrap of paper out of my purse. “Just a name.”
He grabbed the pen and paper and began writing. I tried to keep the heightened beat of my heart to myself, but it sounded like it was broadcasting to the ends of the earth.
“I will give you information on one condition.”
“When you go, you take me with you.”
“Fine,” I said, even though I didn’t mean it. He handed me the paper and I looked at it. “This is just an address.”
“I’ll give you the name when we go.” And then he said, “Hey, Duke.”
Before Duke could even finish the word, Connor threw the pen at him like a knife, end over end. It stuck into his shoulder for a beat before falling to the floor. “Telekinetic, huh?”
“Ouch,” Duke said, rubbing at his shoulder.
“Don’t ever try to mess with my head again,” he said to Duke, “or I’ll mess with yours. And believe me when I say you don’t want me inside your head.”
I grabbed Duke by the arm and left before Connor had a chance to change his mind. We headed down the driveway to the car.
“He drew blood,” Duke said, pulling his hand off his shoulder and showing me his bloody palm.
“Remember what I said about whining.”
“I didn’t even think it was working, but . . . he drew blood.”
I held up the paper. “But we got what we came for.” My ability was about to be maximized.
Addie: Saving Norms from themselves is exhausting.
“Addison?” Trevor walked down the dimly lit hall. “Is everything okay?”
“Hi.” I whirled away from my intent study of his past, displayed in frames on the wall. “I mean, yes. I’m fine.”
“The bathroom is at the very end on the right.”
“Huh? Oh. No, I’m not looking for the bathroom. I’m waiting for your brother. He wanted to show me some pictures he drew.”
He looked over my shoulder to the door behind which Brody had disappeared and smiled. “He likes you.”
Trevor’s smile seemed so genuine that despite what Rowan had implied, and how I had just witnessed the evidence of its use on Stephanie, it made me smile. “He’s cute.” I pointed to the bedroom. “Your brother.” I bit my lip, not knowing why I felt the need to add the qualifier to that statement. Of course I was talking about his brother.
Trevor looked at his hands and then back up at me, through his amazing lashes. “He doesn’t like a lot of people.”
“Well, I have a slight advantage. . . .”
“You saved him.”
“I was going to say that I know what the Millennium Falcon is, but I guess saving him worked too.”
He laughed. “Star Wars knowledge is a big advantage.” He tilted his head as if remembering something. “So you really were under the table at the bookstore reading comics.”
I scrunched my nose. “Yes, and just because your brother and I like the same books doesn’t make me immature.”
“No. I’m impressed. I . . .” He hesitated, like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to share whatever he was thinking. I remembered Stephanie saying he was private, so it surprised me when he continued. “I draw comics. Or attempt to.”
“You do? Online somewhere?”
“No. Nothing so public.”
“Wow, that’s cool.” How could he be impressed that I read them, when he wrote them?
“So are you moving to Dallas then?” he asked.
I took the hint—he was ready to change the subject. I’d have to ask him more about his comics later. “No. My dad lives here. I’m visiting for the holidays. I just needed a break from things.” I regurgitated the story the Compound had approved, like I was reading it off a paper. For a minute I thought he would call me on it.
But he only nodded and didn’t ask for any clarification.
“Duke. I needed a break from Duke.” Why was I telling him this? That definitely wasn’t in my packet. Maybe because I wanted him to know I wasn’t a fan of Duke either. Maybe because he had just shared something personal with me. Maybe because I hadn’t been able to talk to anyone about it. Even though I tried not to hold it against her, Laila had been a part of the heartbreak, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about it. Probably because every time I tried she got this guilty expression on her face and couldn’t stop saying sorry. It was easier to talk to a total stranger—especially this total stranger, for some reason. “He was using me.” I hadn’t said that out loud before. It still hurt.
Oh crap. Well, Trevor, he wanted me to tell him his future. I couldn’t say that. So what might a Normal guy use a Normal girl for? My face went red as I thought of the main possibility. “Not for that. We weren’t . . . He just needed help . . . with his homework and stuff.” Oh my gosh, that was lame. I’d just made myself and Duke sound like total idiots. “He’s not a good guy.”
“No, he’s not. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry. About your shoulder.”
He rubbed his shoulder with my mention of it.
“And I didn’t know Duke was in on the whole cheating scheme until recently.” I was getting way off my script, but I didn’t think the Compound accounted for Trevor actually knowing some of the same people I did. It’s not like I could pretend they didn’t exist. But I should have avoided the subject altogether, because Trevor’s eyes went tense.
“In on it?”
“I mean, the plan, whatever that was.”
“To purposely injure people . . .”
“Right.” Warning lights went off in my head. I had just been talking about what Rowan said—the dirty plays, hitting after the whistle—but Trevor seemed to think I meant something more. What did he think he knew, exactly? And how could I make him unthink what he thought he knew? I suddenly realized why Laila was so quick on the draw with her ability. “They’re bullies. They need to grow up.”
He looked at me for so long I wanted to squirm under the stare, tell him, Whatever you’re thinking is probably right. Someone intensified your injury by using an ability. Finally, he said, “Duke can go—”
Brody burst out of the room holding a sketchbook. I held Trevor’s stare for a moment, trying to let him know that I understood how he felt about Duke. That I agreed. Brody tugged on my arm, breaking my gaze.
I looked at the drawing. “Wow. You are really good.”
Trevor tousled his hair. “He’s the best.”
The next morning I sat on a bar stool in the kitchen, my laptop open, flash drive plugged in, ready to start a session. But I had distracted myself with a pencil. I kept dropping it over and over again, trying to slow its path to the ground. Slowing down time didn’t seem to be about concentration, because no matter how hard I stared at the pencil, gravity still pulled it to the ground just as fast as always. I knew my dad wanted me to give my ability a rest for a couple of weeks, but the more I thought about that advice, the worse it seemed. I’d never taken a day off from exercising my brain from the time I was five. I just needed to work through this.
I stared at the pencil. Maybe it didn’t work because the pencil wasn’t in peril. That seemed to be the commonality in all the events where time had slowed around me. Bobby had said something about strong bursts of emotions advancing an ability. Maybe that’s when my ability was advancing—when my emotions were heightened.