Chapter 2: Singed hair and sleepovers
A grunting voice startles me awake. Strands of… is that hay?… are blocking my peripheral view to the left. I feel my ankles catching against the grass and ground of the small decline outside the cafeteria doors. Turning my neck slowly, I can still see smoke from the roof of the school. My blurry vision makes it hard to see anything in detail. Like hair.
Someone is carrying my arm over her shoulder, dragging me away from the building. Trying to regain my footing, I lift my leg up. My knee clips my rescuer in the heel, and she stumbles as she tries to keep me from falling.
“Thanks for pulling me out of the fire,” I say to a girl with her face in the grass, “and for cushioning my fall from tripping you.”
Both of us roll to our backs.
“Ashley?!” I exclaim as she blows a tuft of hair from her face. “What–how did you know I was there?”
“Give me a second,” she huffs. Once she catches her breath, she says, “First, was there really a guy throwing fireballs?”
I hear the question, but it takes a moment to process. The ground starts spinning and my eyesight gets blurry.
“Bridget was raving about a guy with fireballs trying to kidnap her.”
My first instincts are to lie to her. Bridget does have a taste for the dramatic, which is why Mr. Griggs listened to her, earlier today, speak of her concern about me being on the “Porcelain Diet.” My stomach punches me again from the inside, and I realize that I need help. Valeria, my “sister” would be here by now. Hopefully with a shot to keep my body from giving its best impression of a feed-the-third-world-children infomercial.
“Helena!” Ashley yells into my ear.
“Huh?” I look at her, and she’s afraid.
“I just asked you why your hands are shaking.” She’s sitting up next to me.
Oh no. No no no no. This is bad. My stomach does a triple-axle.
“Gah. Okay-okay.” I pull myself up by grabbing her shirt, so I can lean on my right elbow. “I need you to go and look for a very concerned black girl in her twenties. She has long, dark, curly hair and will probably be swearing and calling my name. She drives a purple Jeep.”
“You need a doctor–”
“No!” I interrupt. “She’ll have what I need. This isn’t the fire. I have… a condition. She has my medication. If you put me in an ambulance, they’ll give me a low dose of dextrose, and I’ll be dead before I get to the hospital.”
“What’s dextrose? Never mind. Okay. I’ll be right back. Don’t move!” Why do people always say that to someone who’s immobile?
Shallow breaths. Slow down the heartbeat, I tell myself. Keeping one hand on the ground, I’m waiting for a respite of the dizziness. Maybe Wally was onto something when he offered to make me a utility belt with my medicine and a few gadgets packed inside.
Valeria is wearing the khaki pants and blue blouse that she reserves for days she lectures. I can see her barreling down the valley to me. She flashes me a brief smile. The scowl following the smile tells me I’m due for a private lecture once we lose Ashley, who is trailing behind Val.
“Okay, let’s get you well enough to stand so I can knock you over for being so stupid,” Valeria says. “What were you thinking, going into a fire to save that girl?” Translation: You used your ability in front of normal people?!
“You might want to wait on knocking me back down.” I nod in Ashley’s direction. Valeria gives me the shot in the arm. My “sister” starts examining every burn and gash I received in the fight but ignored till this moment. So this is how a baby chimp on a nature show feels.
My head starts to clear. No longer am I on the the Tilt-A-Whirl. I put my arm out, and Ashley eases me up to my feet. Ashley. She came back into a burning building to pull my smoky butt out of it.
“You have a good friend,” Valeria says while patting my shoulder with some kind of cream. I’ll never know how she keeps so much first aid in her purse. “How come I haven’t met her before today?”
“I didn’t realize I had a friend before today.” Admitting that in front of Ashley makes me feel awful. I kept ignoring her in class. Yet she was here for me.
“You’re welcome,” Ashley says before craning her neck back toward the crowd at the front of the school.
I feel like we belong in a Hallmark card with the sentimentality.
“There you are! Ashley Shepherd, what are you doing down there?” a female voice shouts atop the hillside.
Looking up, I am blinded by light gleaming off a silver purse. The most well-dressed woman I’ve ever seen motions to Ashley to climb up the hill.
“That’s your mom?” Valeria asks in surprise.
“Yes.” Ashley sighs. “Can we not tell her I pulled you out of the fire? She’ll go ballistic.”
“On one condition.” Valeria eyes me for a moment. “I’m working up at the university, and I have a very important research paper due tomorrow.”
“And?” I ask with knot of trepidation in my stomach.
“Well, since you two are becoming friends, I’m wondering if Ashley might have you over for a sleepover at her house. I know, kinda rude to ask if she can go with you, Ashley, but I need the apartment quiet. Besides,” she adds, looking in the direction of the school, “I don’t think you’re having class tomorrow.”
“Oh.” Ashley doesn’t know what to say, being put on the spot, but a smile forms on her face. “I’ll run it by my mom.” She runs up the hill.
Valeria reaches into her purse for a cell phone, but I pull the purse to the ground. “What. Are. You. Thinking?! I don’t know her!”
“I’m thinking you could use a normal friend.”
“No. I didn’t sign up for this. The deal was I go to high school. I act normal while we figure this out together!”
She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Helena, it’s only been six months. These things take time. You need to be patient. In the mean time, you need people skills.”
“I have perfectly good people skills. And you just want to stay with Wally at our place. There is no paper.”
“The paper is real. Wait–what did Wally tell you?”
I open my mouth to explain that I found some of his clothes at our place the last time he was over, but she doesn’t seem interested. “You know what? It’s not important right now. Wally and I will have a talk when he gets back in town, and I need you to behave like a normal fifteen-year-old girl for once in your life.”
“Oh really, Mom?” I throw the “M Card” down. It’s normally a joke between the two of us, but this time I want it to sting. “The kids at school think I have an eating disorder, I just fought a guy who threw fireballs at me, I nearly died fighting him, and now you want me to sleep somewhere else tonight?” When did I start crying?
She pulls me close. “Say it again.”
“Say what again?” I try to keep her at arms length, but she uses a force field to keep me close.
“Say what’s really upsetting you.”
“Oh, God! I almost died!” I feel a little shaky. I want to throw up, but I would need food in my stomach for that to work.
“You didn’t have me or my force field to protect you this time, but you did great. I’m really proud of you, but I totally understand how scared you feel. That’s why I think you deserve some girl time with a new friend. Go try on each other’s clothes, complain about boys, and overdo each other’s makeup till you both look like clowns.” She smiled.
“Val?” I sniff. Oh, the snot.
“That doesn’t sound like fun.” I wipe my nose on her shoulder before she can object.
“Oh, honey, complaining about boys is always fun.”