Authors: Francine Pascal
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To Christopher Grassi
used to worry that I was stupid. In spite of all the high test scores, the genius parents, and all the mythology (you know, stuff like walking at two months and communicating in sign language at eight months), whenever I made a mistake, like following Loki's purposely misleading clues or inviting some drug addicted Goth girl to stay with me, only to have her boyfriend rob me blind and beat me, I worried that deep down, I was actually a halfwit.
But I'm not going to do that this time. I'm not going to let myself go down that road again. Even though I let myself believe the impossible, I'm not going to allow my long-held suspicion that I'm secretly a moron rise to the surface.
Even though I let myself believe at precisely the moment I should have doubted. Even though the formula of “I believe my life can be good!” equals “It's only
going to get worse” has already been proven to me over and over, I'm not going to attribute my missing all the obvious signs to a lack of intelligence.
was right with the world. My mother was still dead. Sam was still dead. And George and Ella and Mary. And Heather Gannis was blind, thanks to me. There was still a lot that would never be right. Never could be. But there was so much that
right, it was almost possible to forget the rest. For one moment everything was fine.
Loki was as good as dead.
I knew once and for all and with absolute certainty who my father was.
He was safe and sound and living within the prescribed physical proximity necessary to carry out the fatherly role.
He had Natasha.
I had Ed.
And while there were still a million unanswered questions, I
had all the time in the world to ask them. My father had all the time in the world to answer them. Everything was fine. Everything was sweet. Everything was actuallyÂ .Â .Â . cozy. I was ready to move on to a new life. A life where I would come home from school to my father and his live-in girlfriend and her daughter, who had become almost like a sister (or at the very least she'd become like the daughter of a father's live-in girlfriend who I could cheerfully tolerate on a continual basis). A life without neck strain from constantly checking over my shoulder. A life where I would have birthdays and family vacations and maybe even a pet.
A life that resembled that of a normal girl.
I let myself believe that this was possible. That it was, in fact, already happening.
But I'm not going to fret over the stupidity of believing. Wouldn't that just be a waste of psychic energy? Another excuse to
engage in an endless cycle of negativity? Isn't that what experts in the field of human behavior would say?
I'm quite sure it is. I'm quite sure that whether or not they've appeared on
and regardless of whether their TVQ is high enough to secure their own spin-off programs, experts in the field of human behavior would agree that my will to believe was not a sign of stupidity.
Experts would agree that my will to believe was a sign of
Everything had come to a Very Brady Standstill.
Another Living Gaia Nightmare
THE RED AND BLUE LIGHTS FLASHED
at Gaia Moore as she chased them up the slick pavement of Third Avenue. Her breathing was steady and controlled, her focus unwavering. For once she was content to be living on the dull, lifeless Upper East Side. It made the running so much easier than it would have been in almost any other neighborhood of Manhattan, and most of the four outer boroughs. It made it possible to ambulance-chase without losing sight of those lights. Without having to hurdle winos and sidestep theater geeks and bum-rush tourists. In fact, at this time of night the streets were actually deserted. The froufrou ice-cream shop owners had gone home to their froufrou families, and the rest of the population were either crammed into the multiplex or some third-rate comedy club where out-of-work actors shared their witty observations and prayed for laughter.
It made it easier to concentrate on the running. And concentrating on the running kept her from thinking about the person in the back of the ambulance. The fact that he was unconscious. The fact that she had only had him for such a very short time before tragedy struck. Again.
Gaia was accustomed to running. She normally loved itâthe sensation of her long blond hair whipping back from her face, the burning in her thighs as they worked, the efficient pounding of her heart, the sweat forming on her palms inside her clenched fists. And it wasn't an abnormal thing for her to be doing, even dressed as she was in combat boots and faded gray cords and her only nice black sweater. This could just be any other night for Gaia Moore. Except for one thing.
She wasn't chasing some thug or rapist or drug dealer or even one of her evil-ass uncle's henchmen. And she wasn't running away from a gun or a knife or a flamethrower or a needle. She hardly ever ran when faced with any of those weapons, anyway. No. She was running because her father was in an ambulance that the idiot EMTs wouldn't let her ride in.
This was new.
Also new was the fact that someone was running alongside her. Keeping pace. Sweating profusely, but keeping pace. Ed Fargo. The love of her life. The guy who had been sucked into yet another living Gaia nightmare.
“Hey, Gaia, want me to carry you?” Ed joked. The mere thought of it was absurd. He'd only recently started walking again, and he was panting so heavily, he could barely get the words out. At this point he could no more take on the added weight of a stick of gum than make good on that offer.
But that was what Gaia loved about him. His ability to make fun of his very manliness just to get a laugh out of her. He was the perfect boyfriendâthe perfect addition to the picture-perfect life that had started to take form around Gaia only moments before, until everything had come to a Very Brady Standstill. Gaia had been sitting at a dinner tableâa real dinner table with food on actual platters and plates, drinks in actual glasses, and a tablecloth on the actual table. With her were her father and Ed, the people she loved, and Natasha and Tatiana, the people she could see herself loving. It had been like a family. It had been like a dream. And now it was obliterated.
Gaia spotted the blue-and-white sign for the hospital up ahead, and the ambulance darted around the corner, heading for the emergency entrance.
“Good,” Gaia said, her adrenaline spiking and forcing her to run even faster. “We're almostâ”
Suddenly Gaia hit something hard. Something hard on the inside but somehow soft on the outside. She hit it at such speed that she went bouncing backward and landed on her butt, her tailbone practically meeting up with her skull.
“Watch it, bitch!” someone shouted.
Gaia shook her head. She saw Ed skid to a stop a few feet ahead, just now getting control of his momentum. Then she noticed the feet. The black-booted
Shaq-size feet that were attached to a proportionally sized man who was leering down at her from above. He had three gold teeth and a matching gold necklace. He cracked his already battered and torn knuckles and made a clicking sound in the back of his throat.
The Upper East Side picked the perfect time to go and get a personality.
This guy definitely did not belong here among the socialites and the privileged. And he was definitely itching for trouble. Little did he know that this was the very wrong night and he had decided to interfere with the very wrong girl.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he said as Gaia rose to her feet.
His breath smelled like tuna fish and tequila. There was some sort of festering sore on his chin. Gaia drew herself up to her full height, her fists automatically clenching at her sides. He still towered above her.
“Excuse me,” Gaia said, swallowing the urge to toss this guy head over heels onto his back. She started past him, but his meaty hand landed on her shoulder.
“Where do you think you're going, little lady?” he said, his hot breath hitting the back of her head as he tightened his grip.
Gaia froze. Ed looked at her, resignation crossing his face. He knew her. He knew what she was going to have to do. Gaia looked back at him calmly.
“I think you should go ahead,” she said firmly.
But before Ed could move, the behemoth grabbed
him in a choke hold with one arm. “Not so fast, buddy. You'll just have to stay here and watch while me and your girl have some fun.” Behemoth leaned over as if he were going to caress Gaia's cheek for added effect, but she was way too fast for him. She intercepted his reach and grabbed his arm, twisting it behind his back and setting Ed free.
“Run,” Gaia commanded, trying to convey her desperation with her eyes and not her voice. “I need you to look out for my dad.” And without giving Behemoth the satisfaction of a second glance, Ed bolted. It took a brave and noble guy to stand up and possibly take a beating for the girl he loved, but it took an even braver and nobler guy to walk away and let the girl he loved take care of the dirty work for him.
Behemoth was still sporting an expression of shock at the girl half his size who was able to take him on, when Gaia grabbed his arm even tighter, twisted it until she heard a crack, and shoved him across the sidewalk. He fell like a nice-size tree, face first, and just lay there for a moment, baffled. Then Gaia grabbed the wounded arm again and yanked at it, causing an extra shout of pain for good measure. She was actually glad there was no one around to witness the tussleâGaia had no time for any knights in shining armor jumping in and trying to protect her.
“I think you need to find a new pastime,” Gaia said, wondering how many girls he'd already assaulted using his I'm-a-sudden-wall-on-the-side-walk maneuver. “Somewhere other than here.”
“All right! Let go!” Behemoth shouted. He was near tears. Pathetic. Gaia didn't know why she was wasting her time with him. She released his arm and took a step back, but the second she glanced away, he flipped over and used his good arm to snag her around the knees. It wasn't smooth, but it was effective. Gaia went down, and before she could think, the huge guy had all four of her limbs pinned to the sidewalk under his considerable weight.
“I'll take you right here if I have to,” he grunted, spittle hitting Gaia in the face as she struggled. He was too big and awkward to be a good fighter, but if he managed to stay on top of her like this, she had no chance. She felt like someone had dropped a building on her.
But then he released one hand to go for her zipper and made the mistake of bending his head closer to hers as he maneuvered. Gaia pulled back as far as she could and hit him with a nasty head-butt. There was a resounding crack, and the guy reeled back, bringing both hands to his forehead. As Gaia struggled up, he managed to reach out and backhand her, sending her sprawling on her side.
She got to her knees and leered at him, irritated that
he was bothering to fight back. Gaia had somewhere to be, after all. Her father was lying just a block from here, being poked and prodded and tested and hopefully saved. She didn't have time to mess around with this guy.
Behemoth lunged at Gaia, and she quickly ducked away, but she took a boot to the chin and felt something in her neck snap. She rolled to her feet and took her fighting stance as the guy stood up as well. He looked mighty pissed. Blood dripped from his mouth as he curled his upper lip. There was a gaping hole where one of the gold teeth used to be.
“You're gonna pay for that,” he said.
Then he came at her with some serious punches, a few of which he landed, most of which she blocked. He was strong but slow, and as Gaia feinted and ducked and weaved, she scanned her immediate surroundings, trying to see a few moves ahead. Trying to figure out a way to knock him out. Put him out of commission. Because he clearly wasn't a person who was going to run from a girl.