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Chasing Power, Page 2

Sarah Beth Durst

  As usual, no one noticed.

  After a moment’s thought, she slithered the cash across the baseboards of the coffee shop. 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 2

  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 w
orks.” 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 rain forests 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 kill
ed 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.”

  Chapter 3

  She’d steal from every goddamn store on State Street before the end of the summer, Kayla swore. Or before the end of July. Restaurants too, especially the ones where the hostess glared at you if you used the bathroom and weren’t eating there. She strode down State Street, her hood up, her hands jammed into her hoodie pockets, twisting the diamond ring around the tip of her pinkie. She’d steal from every man, woman, and child on the street who had a designer purse or sunglasses that cost nearly as much as a boat.