“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” - François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
A week went by before gossip about Elliot Saunders died down. In that seem weak my migraines increased. I had one once a day. At some points I had to get up and leave class because I felt so sick. Never before had I spent that much time in the nurse’s office. No amount of ibuprofen seemed to help either.
“Do you need to see a neurologist?” Zoe asked one day as we sat at our usual lunch table.
I shrugged. Maybe I did need to see one. It could not be normal to have this many migraines in such a short time and who knew what the consequences were for taking so many pills in so few days. I began to open my brown bag that had been packed for me that morning. Sophie had put the contents together. Petya had been seeing to Mom and Dad…well I did not know where he was. I heard him come home, but he left early each morning.
When I opened my Tupperware container I saw a note resting on my sandwich.
Don’t eat the food tomorrow.
Confused, I pulled out the small slip of paper and stared at it. The handwriting didn’t look familiar. I had seen Petya’s before. It had a certain, jerky manner to it. The words on the paper were smooth and soft.
“You know, I talked to Elliot the other day,” Zoe said, having moved on from thoughts of a neurologist. “And, he completely ignored me. What, does he think he’s better than everyone else because his brother died?”
I looked up from my note and at my friend. “Zoe, his brother died. It’s not a trophy. He’s going through a lot so I doubt he’s feeling too talkative.”
She looked at me with a frown. “He should want someone to talk to.” Then her eyes locked in on my note. “What’s that?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing,” I said, crumbling up the paper and dropping it into my lunch bag. “Just something from my mom about being out tonight.”
Zoe nodded her head and then was on a new topic: her drama class. Apparently Mr. Smith was still not convinced about her theatrical flair.
Don’t eat the food tomorrow. What was that supposed to mean? And, who had left the note in my lunch? Sophie? But, why? It seemed like such an odd request.
I walked into my last class of the day and sat down at my usual spot near the window. Mrs. Pruitt walked stood behind her desk and walked over to the chalkboard. She refused to get a white board for some strange reason. Mrs. Pruitt had just started writing on the board when a late student slid into the classroom.
Elizabeth Adams, head cheerleader and fashion queen. Her dark auburn hair was pulled into a low ponytail and she wore a floral skirt, a button-up blouse, and a cardigan. As always she looked flawlessly perfect. Her biggest flaw was her need to be perfect. She had a lot of friends and secured her place as head cheerleader, which meant popularity. Despite her seemingly perfect life, Elizabeth did not have good grades and struggled to maintain her perfectly flawed demeanor.
The only empty seat happened to be behind me and Elizabeth made her way over to it, smiling at everyone as she passed by them.
“All right, now that everyone is here, let’s continue,” Mrs. Pruitt said, addressing the class and commanding their attention.
I opened my book and turned to the assigned page.
A tap on my shoulder startled me and I spun around to see Elizabeth watching me carefully.
“Hi,” she said quietly.
“Um, hi,” I replied, uncertain of what was going on. “Do you need a pencil?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, no,” she answered.
I raised my eyebrows expectantly.
“I wanted to talk-”
“Do you have something to add to the discussion, Miss Adams?” Mrs. Pruitt asked, turning to look in our direction, her brow raised. She did not look happy.
Elizabeth sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. “No, Mrs. Pruitt,” she answered.
“Then, please focus on the subject,” our teacher instructed. “And, Miss Brown, too. Anymore talking and the class will have an essay due by tomorrow.”
I groaned along with the rest of the class. Mrs. Pruitt’s class was not one to talk in unless you were talking about democracy.
Taking Mrs. Pruitt’s warning, I looked back down at my book and read along with what she was talking about. I had barely highlighted an important part when a piece of paper landed in front of me.
I blinked and then looked around for the culprit. But, no one was looking at me. Then, I glanced over my shoulder at Elizabeth. She had an impatient expression on her face.
Looking back down at the note, I unfolded it and read.
We need to talk. Meet me after school in the parking lot.
What was it today with people and notes?
I looked back at Elizabeth, but she had her gaze on Mrs. Pruitt. Giving my head a slight shake, I turned back to my text book, wondering what Elizabeth Adams could ever want to talk to me about.
I stood outside in the crisp autumn air, my arms crossed over my chest. It was just a few minutes after the last bell and I had gone straight from my locker to the parking lot to meet Elizabeth Adams. Yet, she was nowhere to be seen.
I had my headphones in and my music at a low volume just in case Elizabeth called out my name.
From the school’s front door stepped Elliot Saunders. He had on a dark green, military jacket, worn-out jeans, and baseball cap. He looked like he was going undercover. His scuffed up Converse, shuffled across the asphalt as he walked towards a motorcycle at the far end of the parking lot.
I watched his every move.
Elliot didn’t talk to anyone, keeping to himself as much as possible. He ate alone at lunch, sat by himself during study hall, and never talked to anyone unless they asked a direct question. All the girls watched him, but he appeared to be oblivious to them all.
“Avery,” Elizabeth said, stepping into my vision.
I blinked, focusing my gaze on her face. Something about her attitude had changed. She actually looked serious.
“You came,” she said, sounding a little impressed.
“Do you need help with Democracy class?” I asked abruptly, ready to get home. I wanted to sit down in my room and do my homework. I needed a moment of sanity.
Elizabeth snorted as if that were the stupidest question. “No. I want you to come with me. There’s something we need to talk about,” she told me, starting to walk towards a blue VW Bug off to my right.
“You can’t tell me here?” I questioned, following after her.
She shook her head. “No, we need to get away from the school,” she said. “I promise it will be worth it.”
I looked at her hesitantly as we reached her car. “What is so important that we have to leave school?”
“Jeez,” she said, sighing in annoyance and looking seconds from throwing a tantrum. “Just get in the damn car.”
Against my better judgment, I obediently climbed into the front passenger seat. Elizabeth climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car. Pop music filled the space. She put the car in reverse and then screeched backwards before changing into drive and speeding out of the school parking lot.
Just as we left I spotted Elliot watching after us.
Elizabeth drove quickly through the streets of San Francisco, which I did not feel all too safe about. The streets were not meant to drive fast on. A few times we narrowly missed a trolley car.
“Could you slow down?” I asked as she drove towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
As if to answer my question, Elizabeth pressed harder on the gas pedal. I groaned. We were going to die.
She wove in and out of the traffic lanes. I turned to look out at the water. Red-orange poles were a blur as Elizabeth’s car made its way across the grand bridge. I could see Alcatraz in the distance, set apart from the Bay.
“Elizabeth, where are we going?” I asked, feeling a little worried.
“You’ll see,” she said cryptically.
“No, tell me now,” I demanded.
Instead of speaking, she nodded her head towards the sign that read: Sausalito.
“What the hell? Elizabeth, turn the car around,” I said.
She shook her head. “Nope.”
I glared at her. “What is so important that you have to drive all the way to Sausalito?”
“You’ll see,” she repeated.
Groaning, I slid down in the seat and crossed my arms over my chest.
A few minutes later we pulled into Muir Woods. Immediately, I unbuckled myself and jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind me.
Around me the redwood trees soared up the sky and the air felt cool. I had not been out here in a long time due to Mom’s allergies.
“Come on,” Elizabeth said, walking in front of her car. She turned and started towards one of the paths.
I groaned in frustration and followed after her. We walked in silence for several minutes. Then, she stopped in the middle of the path and turned to face me.
“How much do you know about your grandfather?” she asked abruptly.
“Wha-What does my granddad have to do with anything?”
She looked at me and then glanced over my shoulder. “Come out guys.”
I spun around and saw two other people step out into the path. One was a man in his late twenties and another was a girl who looked a few years younger than me.
The man had rugged features and a scar across his right cheek that stood out against his ebony-toned skin. His dark hair was pulled into a short ponytail and he had one eyebrow raised as if he expected me to talk. He wore men’s, white V-neck undershirt beneath a dark gray jacket. His jeans had holes in the knees and were tucked into a pair of combat boots. Around his neck was a single dog tag.
The girl looked more put together with a school uniform consisting of a navy blazer, green and blue plaid skirt, and white knee-highs. She had her dark blonde hair pushed back with a plaid headband. She offered me a small smile.
“This is her?” the guy asked, his voice as scruffy as he looked.
“Yep,” Elizabeth said, coming to stand at my side. “Avery meet Simon and Chloe.”
Simon scowled while Chloe raised her hand and gave me a small wave and a quiet, “Hello.”
I looked back at Elizabeth. “What is going on?”
“We need to talk to you,” she said simply.
“And you had to drag me out all the way to Muir Woods?”
She shrugged. “Chloe couldn’t get all the way to the Bay.”
I turned back to Simon and Chloe who were watching me carefully. Well, Simon more skeptically than carefully.
“You’re like us,” Elizabeth said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She looked to Chloe. “Try it out. She’s truly unique.”
Chloe nodded her head and walked up to me, her gaze narrowing at me in concentration. I watched her, uncertain of what was going on. After a few seconds, Chloe frowned and stepped back.
“Nothing,” Chloe said. “That’s impressive. I can’t even get a read on you or Simon when she’s around.”
“A read?” I repeated.
Elizabeth’s expression turned serious. “What I’m about to tell you is kind of strange, Avery. Up until recently I really didn’t know if you were like us. The way you acted…Well you hid yourself really well. But, Parker said he saw you and so I took a leap of faith in bringing you out here.”
“Saw me? Who’s Parker?” This was all a little too weird for me.
“You cancel out other people’s powers,” Simon said, jumping into the conversation.
Chloe reached out and smacked him in the stomach with more force than I imagined a girl her size could. He doubled over and groaned. “What? She needs to know.”
Elizabeth glared at him.
“Powers? What is he talking about, Elizabeth?” I asked, slowly looking from the duo and back to her.
She sighed. “We have…superpowers and so do you.”
I looked from her to Chloe and Simon before bursting out laughing. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Trust me, if I had powers I would know.”
“Not if your power was to cancel out other people’s abilities,” Chloe said. “You would never notice your gift.”
“Do you ever get migraines? Are you immune to the advertisements?” Simon asked.
How did they know? “Are you guys?”
They all nodded their heads.
“What…how…” I couldn’t even piece this all together.
“That’s how they track us down,” Elizabeth explained. “The people who are immune to their mind control.”
“Mind control,” I murmured.
“I know it’s a lot of information,” Elizabeth said. “But, we need you.”
“Parker was right,” Simon said.
Who was Parker, and what was he right about? Need me? For what? I shook my head. “I want you to take me home,” I said, my tone even. This was all too crazy.
“Avery,” Elizabeth began.
But I cut her off. “No, I want to go home, Elizabeth. Now.”
The ride back to San Francisco was silent. Not once did Elizabeth try and talk to me about what had happened in the woods. I could not wrap my mind around it. They were crazy. That had to be it. No way did I, or they, have superpowers. It was impossible.
When we pulled in front of my house I quickly moved to get out of the car, but Elizabeth reached out and grabbed my hand.
“Avery, don’t tell your parents or anyone,” she said. “And, look at your grandfather’s work. Parker said that’s where you would find your answers.”
The elusive Parker.
I didn’t say anything. Instead, I climbed out of the car and walked up the front sidewalk to my house, not looking back.