Sarah Beth Durst

Excerpt from Chasing Power

Chapter One

Razor blade.

Thread.

Gum.

A ball of tinfoil.

A dull fishing hook.

Kayla checked each pocket in her jean shorts, knotted the straps of her bikini top tighter, and pulled on her favorite black hoodie. She frowned at her bare feet. She'd blend in better with flip-flops, but she could run better in sneakers, if anything went wrong. After a half second, she chose the sneakers. She believed in herself, but she also believed in the supreme idiocy of people and their tendency to interfere in the most inconvenient way possible.

Telling herself to think positive thoughts, Kayla applied kohl eyeliner around her blue eyes, then put on three necklaces: a hamsa hand, a blue-and-white glass eye, and a crescent moon with a pentagram. "Moonbeam?" she called as she yanked a brush through her black-and-pink hair.

When her mother didn't answer, Kayla poked her head around the Indian print scarf that separated her corner into an almost-room. Empty. Or, rather, not at all empty -- Kayla and her mother rented a one-room cottage, and it was crowded with pots of herbs, baskets of polished stones, and piles of candles. Prayer flags were strung across the ceiling. Dreamcatchers filled the rafters, as did knots of red ribbons and mobiles of feathers and bones. Bits of mirrors caught and reflected the sun, and crystals split it into a thousand shards of light that danced over the room whenever the breeze blew through the open windows. Her mother must be outside.

Weaving between stacks of books and various baskets, Kayla crossed to the kitchen. She stepped onto a chair, then the counter, inserting her foot between the dishes piled there. Twisting, she stuck her leg out the window and ducked through the opening, shifting her weight until she was perched on a window box of herbs. She jumped to the ground.

Mildly, her mother said, "I wish you wouldn't do that."

Kayla grinned at her and plopped a kiss on the top of her mother's graying head. "Sorry, Moonbeam." Her mother was on her hands and knees in a flower bed. She had a pile of red ribbons beside her and appeared to be tying one onto each of the red-and-blue plaster garden gnomes. "Ooh, they look fancy. Special occasion? Garden party for garden gnomes?"

"I am allowed to be eccentric in my advancing age."

"You were eccentric when you were twelve. I know your stories."

"Ahh, but then it was a phase." Dusting the dirt off her sundress, Moonbeam got to her feet. She wore a shapeless multicolored dress, a dozen necklaces with eclectic charms that were knotted around one another, a half-dozen bangle bracelets on her arms, and rings on every finger except her ring finger. Her bare shoulders were freckled, and her face was tanned but unwrinkled. Except for the gray that streaked her blonde hair, she could have passed for Kayla's older hippie sister. "You know I should tell you to march inside and put on a shirt, or at least zip up your sweatshirt. Your breasts are not an art installation."

"But my belly button is a masterpiece that shouldn't be hidden from the world."

Moonbeam laughed. "Do I even want to ask what you have planned today?"

"Strut up and down State Street with Selena. Mock everyone and everything, and then return home feeling vaguely superior. Oh, and maybe eat a burrito."

"Lofty goals. Again, if I were a good mother, I'd ask if you planned to find a summer job. And maybe tell you not to smoke, drink, do drugs, or talk to strangers. Do we need to have the sex talk?"

"God, no. And I have a job."

"You do?"

"I look after you." Kayla flashed a grin at Moonbeam, and her mother rolled her eyes at her in a spectacular imitation of a stereotypical teenager, then ruined the effect by smiling. "Don't worry about me," Kayla insisted.

Moonbeam's smile faded. "I always worry about you." She caught Kayla's three necklaces in her hand and then dropped all but the blue glass eye. She held it in one hand and passed her other hand over it. Softly, she whispered to it, a string of lyrical words that flowed into Kayla's ears and then out again. Try as hard as she could, Kayla could never hold those words in her memory. They were a string of syllables that flowed through her like water between fingers, caressing her skin and then gone. Her mother released the necklace. "Say hi to Selena for me," she said in a normal voice. "She's welcome for dinner, if she wants."

"She says we eat only rabbit food and horse feed."

"Tell her tonight it's birdseed."

"She'll be thrilled."

A honk blared from the street, followed by three short blasts. Kayla half stepped and half leaped over the cramped flower beds to the red wooden gate draped in hibiscus flowers. Moonbeam called after her, "Love you, Kayla! Be safe!"

"Love you too!" The gate creaked and a dozen bells chimed as Kayla opened and shut it. She hopped over the row of protective stones that Moonbeam used around the entire property, and she waved at Selena.

Selena leaned on her car horn once more for good measure, then waved back. She had the top of her red BMW convertible down, her shades on, and her bare left foot propped up on the door. Her toenails were painted with red glitter. She wore a matching red halter top and the same jean shorts as Kayla, except that hers were cut by designer, not sliced with a pair of kitchen scissors, the same pair used to cut clumps of knotted fur off the neighbor's always-visiting dog. Everything about Selena was designer-perfect. She was half Guatemalan, half Kenyan, and one hundred percent incredibly wealthy. "You know if you worked for me and you made me wait that long, I'd have flogged you."

Kayla hopped into the car and buckled her seat belt. "No, you wouldn't. You have people to flog your people."

"Yes. Yes, I do. I have floggers."

"And slappers, for anyone who doesn't deserve a full-out flogging."

"My slappers are fully employed slapping silly any idiot who thinks he isn't an idiot, which is basically everyone except you, me, and your mom. I've had to upgrade some slaps to flogs simply to meet the demand."

Kayla fetched the spare sunglasses from the glove compartment and slid them on. "You lead an odd life. Good thing you have me to add normalcy."

Laughing, Selena lowered her pedicured foot from the window, shifted into drive, and peeled out, roaring down the street. Wind whipped their hair behind them, Selena's natural black and Kayla's dyed black and pink. Sunlight streamed down on them. Kayla tilted her head back and let it soak into her. The sky was brilliant blue, and the palm trees looked so picturesque that it felt like driving through a postcard. "So what's the target today, Normal Girl?" Selena asked.

"State Street. Henri's."

"Again?"

"I like the challenge. Besides, I want a mochaccino."

"Okay, what's the twist?"

"No hands." Kayla shook her hands in the air, jazz hands. "I do it remote."

"Cash or prizes?"

"Both. And cash can be used to obtain prizes, so long as it's lifted cash."

Selena nixed that. "Too easy. No cash."

"Some cash," Kayla countered. "But can't be used for the primary target."

"Fine. Clock in under thirty minutes and I'll be impressed."

"Give me forty-five. I'll be relying on other people to determine whether I go with plan A, B, C, D, or improvise, and other people are notoriously unreliable."

"Indeed. They all need flogging."

The ocean came into view. Big, blue, beautiful. Windsurfers skimmed over the surface. Waves crashed as white foam on the sand. Brightly colored umbrellas dotted the beach, and the volleyball courts were full. Selena turned right at a traffic light and drove alongside the beach, down East Cabrillo. Ahead, a sculpture of leaping dolphins -- the symbol of Santa Barbara -- was surrounded by a flock of tourists posing for photos, the pier in the background. Competing radios blasted music, and Selena turned up the music in the car, a Spanish radio station.

Selena finessed the car into a parking spot outside of a surfing store. The music shut off abruptly as she turned off the engine. "I'll be at the smoothie café. Signal if you need a getaway car, and I'll call you a taxi."

"You aren't coming with me?"

"Oh, sweetie." Selena twisted in her seat to clasp both of Kayla's hands. "You know how I love to watch you work, but when you finally land your little white tushy in jail, I am going to have plausible deniability and a café full of witnesses to vouch for me. And then I'll bail you out, because that's what good friends do."

"Your faith in me is humbling."

"Don't be humbled, Kayla. You are greatness personified. You are walking magnificence. The epitome of splendor. The penultimate paragon of awesomeness."

"You know that means second-best, right? Penultimate. Next to last."

"It does? It should mean better than ultimate."

"Doesn't."

"Huh. Someone should change that." Selena crinkled her forehead in mock concentration. "Such injustice should not stand."

"Not worth it. There are better causes."

"But the dictionary is a tyrant. Someone should challenge its authority!" Selena punched her fist in the air. Her bracelets clinked together. "Show it that it's people who control the words, not a book. You can't control the people's words! Set them free!"

Kayla climbed out of the car. "Enjoy your smoothie." She flipped up the hood on her hoodie and stuffed her hands in her pockets. Her fingers curled around a stick of gum.

"Hey, platinum bands only. None of this fourteen-carat crap."

"Don't worry. I won't embarrass you."

"See that you don't."

As Selena scooped up her designer purse and headed for the smoothie café, Kayla strolled down State Street. It was a beautiful day. The palm-tree shadows were as crisp as cutouts on the terra-cotta-tiled sidewalks. The white adobe faces of the buildings gleamed so bright that if Kayla hadn't been wearing sunglasses, she would have had to squint. All the restaurants had their outside tables set up with umbrellas open, and people were walking their stuffed-toy-size dogs up and down the sidewalk. One dog wore a bikini. Several motorcycles roared up and down the street, cruising in a clump, and packs of teenagers in all black had already staked out spots on the brick benches.

Kayla leaned against an archway next to an ATM outside the Santa Barbara First City Bank. She wondered what she'd do when she ran out of challenges on this street. Maybe convince Selena to drive to LA. Plenty of targets there. Moonbeam would flip if she left town, but what she didn't know couldn't disappoint her. Kayla pulled out a stick of gum, unwrapped it, and popped the gum into her mouth. As she chewed, she flattened the wrapper with her fingernails and waited for someone to approach the machine.

After a minute or two, a woman in a black suit-dress and stiletto heels strode up to the ATM. Rummaging through her purse, she pulled out her bank card. Go time, Kayla thought.

As the woman slid her card into the ATM, Kayla concentrated on the gum wrapper. She pictured it sliding over the pavement like it was a sail skimming the surface of the ocean, then she gave it a "shove" with her mind. The wrapper slid across the tiled sidewalk. Controlled by Kayla, it rose up the adobe wall of the bank. Kayla concentrated, and the wrapper angled itself beside the keypad of the ATM. Still leaning against the arch, Kayla watched the reflection of the woman's fingers in the silver of the wrapper as the woman typed in her password. Kayla then released the wrapper, and it fluttered to the ground.

The woman stuck her card back into her wallet. As she waited for the cash, Kayla shifted her attention to the wallet. She could "feel" the card poking out. It was stuck in the wallet's plastic credit-card sheath. She pulled at it, and the card wiggled, slightly. She concentrated harder, and it wiggled more. And then a sharp pain shot through Kayla's head and blossomed into little fireworks inside her skull.

Undeterred, Kayla drew the razor blade out of her pocket and sent it slithering fast over the sidewalk. It rose up to the woman's purse and dipped inside. Speed was essential. So was precision. Neatly, it sliced through the thin plastic sheath in the wallet to free the stuck ATM card. Kayla caused the razor blade to flip out of the purse and land on the sidewalk.

Free from the wallet, the card floated out of the purse nicely. Sending it down the wall, she let it fall behind a rock border that edged a few brilliant orange flowers.

The whole maneuver took only seconds -- less than the time it took the machine to spit out the money and the woman to count it. Completely focused, Kayla hadn't breathed. Now, she exhaled.

The woman walked away with her cash without glancing at Kayla. Ignoring her too, Kayla spat the gum into her hand and then sent it flying up to block the security camera lens above the ATM. The gum stuck, obscuring the camera's view.

As she strolled over to the ATM, the razor blade flew up into her pocket, and the woman's bank card flew into her hand. In front of the machine, Kayla pretended to draw the card out of her pocket. She stuck it into the ATM, punched in the woman's PIN, and withdrew the same amount as the woman had, $120. She pocketed the cash and then retreated, leaving the card in the machine. From a safe distance, Kayla called to the wad of gum. It fell off the lens, skittered along the sidewalk, and then jumped into a trash can.

Kayla despised people who dropped their gum on the sidewalk. No consideration for others.

Task complete, she continued to stroll down the street. Several heavily pierced-and-tattooed teens nodded to her, and she nodded back, but she didn't stop. She entered a coffee shop and used one of her new bills to buy a mochaccino with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle, and then she parked herself on a stool by the front window, directly across from Henri's Fine Jewelry and Watches. She pushed her sunglasses up on top of her head for a better view.

She'd never done this distance before. Happily, both the door to the coffee shop and the door to the jewelry store were propped open, simplifying matters. She wouldn't have to wait for someone to open them. She took a sip of the chocolaty coffee, steadied herself, and concentrated. First problem: her target case was locked. Second problem: the jewelry store clerk was leaning against it.

Kayla focused on the case by the front door instead. The lock was easy and quick to pick. With practiced ease, Kayla shifted each tiny tumbler inside the mechanism until she "felt" it pop. She couldn't slide the case door open, of course -- much too heavy -- and besides, it wasn't her target. Instead, she repeated the lock trick with several more cases before switching her attention to the watch display. One by one, she unclasped each watch. The heavy Rolexes slid on their own off their displays. The clerk scurried over to fix them, leaving her vigil over the diamond case. While she was distracted, Kayla focused on the diamond case. She slipped three diamond rings -- platinum bands only, per Selena -- off of their velvet display fingers and scooted them underneath a necklace stand, close to where the case door would open. Then, taking the ball of tinfoil from her pocket, she sent it out of the coffee shop and across the street, rolling like debris and pausing by the curb before hopping up it. She rolled it inside the jewelry store and tucked it under the lip of the diamond display case. And then she waited.

She took a few deep breaths and let her brain relax. Using her power felt like using a muscle -- she focused, clenched, and then released. Her skull felt as though it were vibrating. As she steadied herself, the buzz of the coffee shop sank into her, soothing her. There were maybe a dozen people at the rickety wood tables, a few alone with laptops, others clumped around the tables. The coffee shop tried for an artsy look, with old vinyl records stapled to the walls and chalk signs with slogans like, "Get Off My Unicorn" and "If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Call a Dryad." It had a shelf of used books and bins of specialty chocolates. You could also buy coffee-scented hand lotion. But Kayla liked it, even if it was trying too hard and even if the clientele thought they were too cool for school. All the self-absorbed people were too distracted by the glory of their own personalities to notice her.

Casually, she pulled a bit of thread out of her pocket and tied it to the fishhook. She kept her hands in her lap, where others couldn't see, and then sent the hook and thread out. The hook and thread snaked across the floor, nearly invisible against the bright patterned tile. The thread wound up the nearest stool. She let the hook snag the upholstery of the chair cushion while the other end of the thread dove into the pocket of a coiffed guy with a half-open shirt. She meticulously tied a knot over a loop of metal that she "felt" inside. When the customer stood, the thread, anchored by the hook, pulled out a car key with zero assistance from Kayla. She repeated this several more times, fishing out more keys, a five-dollar bill, and a grocery list. She left her finds on the chair -- she was just practicing -- and commanded the thread and hook back into her pocket. As they hopped back in, she smiled to herself.

As usual, no one noticed.

After a moment's thought, she slithered the cash across the baseboards of the coffeeshop. She pretended to drop a napkin and scooped up the five inside the napkin. Stuffing it into her pocket, she sat up in time to see a woman and a toddler walk into the jewelry store.

Perfect, she thought.

Watching, Kayla took another sip of coffee. She loved toddlers. She didn't know any personally, but every one she'd ever observed was a predictable ball of chaos. It was only five minutes before the little boy was yanking on the display cases, trying to open them. He succeeded instantly with the first case that Kayla had unlocked, a case of charms, and then, with delight on his face so clear that Kayla could see it from across the street and through the window, he repeated his discovery with several other cases, including the diamond ring case.

Clucking, the mother scurried after him, closing the cases as she went. Kayla immediately concentrated on the ball of tinfoil. It rose up and hopped into the corner of the open case door. The mother caught the boy just past the diamond ring case. When she paused in her scolding long enough to close the case, it didn't shut all the way, stuck on the foil. Finishing with the boy, the mother apologized to the store clerk, who had begun to relock the cases, starting with the charm case.

While the clerk was distracted by the mother, Kayla flipped the hidden rings out of the case and let them fall softly onto the carpeted floor. She hid them in the carpet pilings under the lip of the display case and then popped out the ball of tinfoil a few seconds before the clerk locked the case.

Carefully, under the case, she unwrapped the ball of tinfoil with her mind, and then she rolled the rings onto it. She folded the tinfoil around the rings and guided it out of the store. She let it tumble down the street and into a hedge of bushes half a block away.

Standing, she finished her mochaccino and tossed the cup in the trash. Putting on her sunglasses, she then sauntered out of the coffee shop and across the street. She didn't go anywhere near the jewelry store, but she did pass by the hedge and scoop up the tinfoil ball and stuff it into her pocket. Humming to herself, she strolled to a candy store. With her mind, she selected a lollipop from a rainbow-of-flavors display. She sent it flying up to the ceiling, out the door, and along the gutter on the roof. She then flew it directly into the hand of the toddler as he waddled out of the store, his other hand firmly gripped by his mother. Kayla watched as the toddler looked in surprise at the lollipop.

The boy wasn't flummoxed for long, though. Seconds later, he was waving the lollipop in the air, demanding his mommy unwrap it. Absently, she did, and he stuck it into his mouth.

Kayla grinned and checked the State Street clock. Twenty-five minutes. Better than penultimate, she thought. Humming again, she headed for the smoothie café and a soon-to-be-impressed Selena. She passed by the brick bench with the pierced-and-tattooed teens.

One of them was watching her.

He was tall with black hair that dusted over his eyes. Unlike the others, he wasn't pierced or tattooed. He wore a clean black T-shirt and black jeans with boots. Kayla felt his eyes on her as she walked by and for an instant, she thought, He saw me; he knows. But no, that was impossible. It was far more likely he'd noticed her pink-streaked hair or her bikini top, which was the point of both. Also, she liked both. She flashed him a smile as she passed.

He didn't smile back.

When she reached the smoothie café, she glanced over her shoulder. He wasn't there. She fingered her blue glass eye amulet and went inside.

 

Chapter Two

In the window, the charms and crystals caught the moonlight, twisting it and turning it until it danced over the walls and the floor and across Kayla's bed. She sat cross legged on her futon bed in a patch of dancing moonlight and rolled the tinfoil ball soundlessly from hand to hand as she listened to her mother breathe on the other side of the curtain. Almost asleep.

She heard her mother shift and the crisp sheets crinkle.

A deep exhale.

A slow inhale and then steady breaths.

Yes, asleep.

It was funny how roles reversed. Moonbeam talked all the time about how she used to listen to Kayla sleep, checking on her several times each night, reassuring herself that she was here and that no one had taken her in the night.

"No one" being Dad, of course.

And now it was Kayla's turn to take care of Moonbeam as best she could.

Kayla flicked on her lighter. She focused on the flame, and, with her mind, lifted it with a bubble of fluid from the lighter, spun it in the air, and lowered it onto the wick of a candle. It lit the walls with a warm yellow glow, and the scent of honeysuckle rolled out with the colorless smoke.

On her lap, she unrolled the tinfoil ball. The three diamond rings lay nestled in the creases. She lifted out one. It was platinum, per Selena, in the shape of two bulbous dolphins that met nose to nose to hold a lump of diamond. Extremely tacky. The second ring was encrusted with starbursts of tiny diamonds. Also overkill. The third was a classic engagement ring with a single stone propped almost aggressively up on spikes. It defied the concept of the word "subtle." Holding it up, she twisted it, and it caught the candle flame in each of its facets. She stared into the reflected flames, momentarily mesmerized. When the moment passed, Kayla slipped the ring into the pocket of her hoodie, which was draped over the chair that she used as a bedside table. The diamond could be useful, perhaps to cut glass or to cause a distraction.

On the other side of the curtain, Moonbeam tossed under her covers. Kayla froze, ready to snuff the candle, hide the rings, and flop back into bed as if she'd fallen asleep hours ago. But her mother settled again.

Kayla dumped the other two rings into a pouch, the kind used to hold herbs and other protective charms, the kind that Moonbeam wouldn't look at twice. She then pulled a backpack out from under her futon and put the pouch inside. The backpack held emergency supplies: dried fruit, granola bars, a bottle of water, a map of California, and a bus schedule, plus a few other trinkets that Kayla had lifted.

Next, the money. She slid a twenty into her hoodie pocket with the ring. She'd use it for food tomorrow, or maybe slip it into Moonbeam's purse. Tomorrow, she'd also deposit sixty in Moonbeam's bank account, a small-enough amount that she wouldn't notice the influx but enough to cover at least part of the electricity bill -- they didn't use much with just the cottage, but it still added up. The rest went into a Ziploc stuffed with bills in the emergency backpack. She had several thousand dollars in her backpack so far. If Dad ever tracked them here, Kayla planned to grab the pack before they ran.

With a few thousand dollars in cash, they'd be able to run as far as they wanted. Across the country. Or maybe to another country altogether. She'd love to see France. Or Egypt. Or Thailand. And if they pawned the trinkets that Kayla had collected, they wouldn't have to start over with nothing.

She knew she was being paranoid. Dad wasn't going to find them. It had been eight years and no hint of any danger. But she felt safer with the backpack -- and it was a lot more practical than Moonbeam's thousand charms and amulets, which couldn't even protect her from mosquitoes.

Kayla stuffed the backpack under her futon again and blocked it from view with a spare pillow. She straightened just as the curtain was pulled aside. Moonbeam stood in the gap in a loose nightgown that hung to her ankles, white and billowy so that she looked like a ghost in the candlelight. For an instant, Kayla's heart jumped, but she forced herself to take an even breath. No way had Moonbeam seen anything.

"Can't sleep?" Moonbeam asked.

"Just... you know." She winced inwardly at her lack of eloquence.

"Chamomile tea with honey? Alternatively, I could rub your back and sing you a lullaby. Loudly and off-key. Most likely, the neighbor's dog will howl."

Kayla unwound her legs from the covers and pretended she was stretching after just waking. "Tea works." She slid her feet into slippers, a pair of Minnie Mouse ones she'd rescued from a yard sale. She'd claimed she wanted to wear them ironically, but really she liked how fuzzy they were between her toes. She padded after Moonbeam.

She loved how the house looked at night, soft and safe. The windows were open, and a breeze blew the crystals and dreamcatchers in lazy circles. The scarves and curtains rippled like waves. All the shadows overlapped like blankets that you could sink into.

"Were you having bad dreams?" Moonbeam asked.

"I wasn't having any dreams," Kayla said. "I was awake."

"One of the girls at work analyzes dreams. Yesterday she was telling everyone if you dream of a flounder, it means you're feeling indecisive. Who dreams about a flounder?"

"Indecisive people, apparently."

Moonbeam lit three candles in the center of the table. Warm light spread through the cottage. Shadows danced larger. The candles smelled like sandalwood, rosemary, and sage. "Who even knows what a flounder looks like?"

"Indecisive people who love seafood?"

"I wonder what indecisive vegetarians dream about."

"Vegetarians are naturally decisive," Kayla declared. "After all, they decided no steak, despite the temptation of steak tacos with fresh guacamole."

Moonbeam nodded as if that made perfect sense. "Ooh, let's make guacamole tomorrow. I'll pick up some avocados after work."

"Okay." Kayla perched on one of the kitchen stools and rested her chin on her knee as Moonbeam filled a teakettle and set it on the stove. The gas clicked as it ignited. A soft blue flame added more layers and colors to the shadows. "Do you ever feel the urge to travel? See the world? Eat guacamole in Mexico? Or crème brûlée in France with a view of the Eiffel Tower? Or, ooh, on the Eiffel Tower with a view of all of Paris?"

Moonbeam fetched two mismatched mugs from a shelf. They'd made these mugs themselves during Moonbeam's pottery phase. Kayla had painted hers with hearts and stars -- she was ten at the time. Moonbeam had painted symbols, amalgams of Celtic runes and Egyptian hieroglyphics. "Are you having itchy feet?"

"Not really. Maybe someday." Yes, she thought. "You and me, we could do it cheap. Stay in hostels. Camp. Backpack around. I heard you can get a train pass around Europe for not too much. Or maybe we could go to Asia. Or South America. See the rainforests and commune with the medicine men, or whatever you want."

"Aren't you supposed to be in some teenage rebellion stage and not want to be seen in public with your highly embarrassing mother?" Moonbeam brought out a canister of tea leaves.

"That's so eighties. But if you want, we can schedule in some time for me to cringe in between climbing the Eiffel Tower and shopping on the Champs-Élysées."

Moonbeam scooped tea leaves into a strainer. She didn't meet Kayla's eyes. "Are you so unhappy here? We have a nice life. It's a nice place. You have nice friends. You'd miss Selena."

"I don't want to move! Just... see more." Kayla shrugged, as if the suggestion was merely a thought and didn't make her want to leap off the stool and pack right now. "It would be educational."

"It would be unpredictable."

As the water heated, the teakettle shimmied on the stove. "Not if we planned it. Lots of guidebooks. Lots of maps. We could have a route mapped out for every day, if it makes you feel better. I promise not to improvise."

Moonbeam's mouth quirked. "Don't promise what you can't do." And then she sighed. "Oh, Kayla, can't you be happy with here and now? We're part of this place, and it's a part of us. We fit. It's familiar."

The teakettle whistled. Moonbeam poured the boiling water into the mugs. Kayla watched the brown tea seep from the leaves and swirl like paint in the water. In a soft voice, as if she were speaking to the tea, Kayla ventured, "It would be nice to not always be scared."

"Oh, sweetheart, I don't want you to be scared. But I want you to be smart. Familiarity is safety. We hide in plain sight--"

"Maybe I don't want to hide my entire life."

Moonbeam drew in a breath that shook, and Kayla wished she could suck the words back in. She'd never meant to say that out loud. It wasn't her mother's fault that they had to hide. She'd given up everything to keep Kayla safe. Everything she did was oriented around that one goal. And Kayla had just slapped her with it. "I'm sorry," Kayla said quickly. "Forget I said it. I'm tired. I didn't mean it. Maybe I did have some bad dreams. Not about fish."

Moonbeam sank heavily onto one of the other stools. "This isn't about travel. It's about..." She tapped her forehead. Kayla's power. She never named it out loud, as if she were afraid of even the wind overhearing. "You think I'm not letting you be yourself."

"What? No!" Kayla rubbed her forehead. Maybe yes.

"I know it must be so very tempting, and, Kayla, you should know I am so very, very proud of you for resisting. But you can't use it. Ever. He'd find us."

Drop it, her mind whispered. You'll never convince her. She didn't know what made her want to continue the conversation. Maybe it was the moonlight, making everything seem softer and easier to say. Maybe she was tired -- tired of hiding and tired of lying. She thought of the boy with black hair who had watched her so closely. Sometimes Kayla thought it would be nice to be seen -- to have at least someone recognize and acknowledge what she was. "But you use magic." Kayla gestured at the charms and amulets all around them.

"To protect us. Not to play. And I hide it under nonsense." Moonbeam gestured too, throwing her arms wide to encompass the entire house. "No one will see the real under all the fake. Or if they do, they'll think it's merely luck, that I don't know the difference. I'm hiding in plain sight! And you need to too. You have to be a normal girl, inside and out, home and away. Be what you want him to see. It's the only way to stay safe."

"I'd be careful."

"Of course you would. You'd try. But you can never be careful enough. Someday, someone might see, and someone might talk, and then word would spread of a girl who can move things with her mind. And your father will hear, and he will know, and he will come. And he will do to you what he did to her."

There it was, the mention of "her." Neither of them said the name of Kayla's older sister, Amanda, but it still hung in the air, caught in the summer night breeze that twisted around the cottage. Kayla wanted to say it wasn't healthy to always live in the past, to let fear consume their lives, to always hide and lie. But the word "her" clogged her throat. "It might not be like that. He might not even be looking for us."

"He is. He will. If there's one word to describe your father, it's 'determined.' But then, so am I." Her lips thinned, and for an instant, Kayla saw an expression in her mother's eyes that she'd never seen before. It flashed by so quickly that Kayla wasn't sure what to name it.

"What if I only use it here? Supervised. At safe times. Like now." Before her mother could reply, Kayla concentrated on the sugar bowl. The spoon was silver, too heavy, but she lifted a stream of granules. Sparkling like diamond dust, they arced out of the bowl and dove into Moonbeam's mug. Moonbeam's hands tightened so hard around the mug that her knuckles looked like popcorn, bumpy and white. It was tricky, controlling so many specks of sugar at the same time, but Kayla guided the last one into the mug without faltering. Exhaling, she sagged back onto the stool.

Silence. Outside, insects buzzed and clicked.

"Tell me you haven't been practicing that." Moonbeam's voice was quiet.

Kayla studied her mother's face, and her heart fell. She'd hoped for... She didn't know. Pride maybe? Surprise? Maybe she could even be a little impressed? Instead her mother sounded... tired. So very tired. "I haven't." It wasn't a lie. She'd done a similar trick with sand but never sugar. "It's just..."

"He killed her, Kayla. He killed my Amanda. Your sister. He took her from us, and I can't let him take you too. Do you understand? I can't lose you!"

And like that, the shadows felt darker, and the breeze felt sharper. The candle flames twisted. Kayla wished she'd never started this conversation. The wild edge in her mother's voice... She didn't want to hear that. She was an idiot to think she could change her mother's mind. It was stuffed too full of fear.

"Promise me you won't use your power ever again," Moonbeam said.

"I've already promised you a billion times."

"You used it just now!"

"Once. As an example. Safely. No one saw but you."

Moonbeam hopped off the stool and hurriedly pulled at the open curtains. They bumped into crystals and snagged on dreamcatchers. "You don't know that. It's dark outside, light in here. The windows are open." She shook the curtains, hard, yanking them away from all the charms. A few of the lighter ones, ribbons with pompoms and sequins, tumbled into the sink as she closed the curtains.

"The window faces the garden. You can't see it from the street. If there are lurkers in the garden, we have worse problems--" Kayla cut herself off. She drew in a breath and tried to steady herself.

Leaving the charms, Moonbeam sat down again. She had unshed tears in her eyes. She wrapped her hands around the mug. "Promise me. You won't use it again, ever, anytime, for any reason." She looked so fragile in the moonlight, as if she were a puff of smoke that could dissipate. The tea in her hands shook slightly, the surface rippling, and Kayla could tell how much she needed to hear the words.

Kayla met her mother's eyes. "Of course. I promise."

 

Available now from Bloomsbury / Walker Books for Young Readers.

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ISBN: 9780802737557

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