FOR ONCE, SINCE WE ARRIVED IN OHIO, THINGS seem to slow for a time. School ends quietly and for winter break we have eleven days off. Sam and his mother
spend most of it visiting his aunt in Illinois. Sarah stays home. We spend Christmas together. We kiss when the ball drops at midnight on New Year's Eve.
Despite the snow and the cold, or maybe even in retaliation against it, we go for long walks through the woods behind my house, holding hands, kissing,
breathing in the chilly air beneath the low gray skies of winter. We spend more and more time together. Not a day passes during that whole break that we
don't see each other at least once.
We walk hand in hand beneath an umbrella of white from the snow piled atop the tree branches overhead. She has her camera with her and
occasionally stops to take pictures. Most of the snow on the ground lies undisturbed aside from the tracks we have made on the walk out. We follow them
back now, Bernie Kosar in the lead, darting in and out of the brambles, chasing rabbits into small groves and thickets of thorny bush, chasing squirrels up
trees. Sarah wears a pair of black earmuffs. Her cheeks and the tip of her nose are red with the cold, making her eyes look bluer. I stare at her.
"What?" she asks, smiling.
"Just admiring the view."
She rolls her eyes at me. For the most part the woods are dense aside from sporadic clearings we continually stumble upon. I'm not sure how far
in any one direction the woods extend, but in all of our walks we have yet to reach their end.
"I bet it's beautiful here in the summer," Sarah says. "We can probably picnic in the clearings."
An ache forms in my chest. Summer is still five months away and if Henri and I are here in May, we will have made it seven months in Ohio. That is
very nearly the longest we have ever stayed in one place.
"Yeah," I agree.
Sarah looks at me. "What?"
I look at her questioningly. "What do you mean, 'what?'"
"That wasn't very convincing," she says. A mess of crows fly by overhead, squawking noisily.
"I just wish it was summer now."
"Me too. I can't believe we have to go back to school tomorrow."
"Ugh, don't remind me."
We enter another clearing, larger than the others, an almost perfect circle a hundred feet in diameter. Sarah lets go of my hand, runs into the
middle of it, and drops into the snow, laughing. She rolls to her back and begins making a snow angel. I drop beside her and do the same. The tips of our
fingers just barely touch while we make the wings. We get up.
"It's like we're holding wings," she says.
"Is that possible?" I ask. "I mean, how would we fly if we're holding wings?"
"Of course it's possible. Angels can do anything."
Then she turns and nuzzles into me. Her cold face against my neck makes me squirm away from her.
"Ahh! Your face is like ice."
She laughs. "Come warm me up."
I take her in my arms and kiss her beneath the open sky, the trees surrounding us. There are no sounds save the birds and the occasional pack of
snow falling from the nearby branches. Two cold faces pressed tightly together. Bernie Kosar comes trotting up, out of breath, tongue dangling, tail
wagging. He barks and sits in the snow staring at us, his head cocked to the side.
"Bernie Kosar! Were you off chasing rabbits?" Sarah asks.
He barks twice and runs over and jumps up on her. He barks again and pushes off and then looks up expectantly. She grabs a stick from the
ground, shakes the snow off it, and then hurls it into the trees. He races after it and disappears from sight. He emerges from the trees ten seconds later,
but instead of returning to the clearing where he had exited it, he comes from the opposite side. Sarah and I both spin around to watch him.
"How'd he do that?" she asks.
"Don't know," I say. "He's a peculiar dog."
"Did you hear that, Bernie Kosar? He just called you peculiar!"
He drops the stick at her feet. We walk towards home, holding hands, the day nearing dusk. Bernie Kosar trots beside us the whole way out, his
head on a swivel as though ushering us along, keeping us safe from what may or may not lurk in the outer dark beyond our line of sight.
Five newspapers are stacked on the kitchen table, Henri at his computer, the overhead light on.
"Anything?" I ask out of habit, nothing more. There hasn't been a promising story in months, which is a good thing, but I can't help but always hope
for something every time I ask.
"Actually, yes, I think so."
I perk up, then walk around the table and look over Henri's shoulder at the computer screen. "What?"
"There was an earthquake in Argentina yesterday evening. A sixteen-year-old girl pulled an elderly man free from a pile of rubble in a tiny town
near the coast."
"Well, I certainly think she's one of us. Whether she's Number Nine or not remains to be seen."
"Why? There's nothing really extraordinary about pulling a man from rubble."
"Look," Henri says, and then scrolls to the top of the article. There is a picture of a large slab of concrete at least a foot thick, eight feet long and
wide. "This is what she lifted to save him. It must weigh five tons. And look at this," he says, and scrolls back to the bottom of the page. He highlights the
very last sentence. It reads: "Sofia Garcia could not be found for comment."
I read the sentence three times. "She couldn't be found," I say.
"Exactly. She didn't decline to comment; she simply couldn't be found."
"How did they know her name?"
"It's a small town, less than a third the size of Paradise. Most everyone would know her name there."
"It's a small town, less than a third the size of Paradise. Most everyone would know her name there."
"She left, didn't she?"
Henri nods. "I think so. Probably before the paper was even published. That's the downfall of small towns; it's impossible to remain unnoticed."
I sigh. "Hard for the Mogadorians to go unnoticed too."
"Sucks for her," I say, and stand up. "Who knows what she must have left behind."
Henri gives me a skeptical look, opens his mouth to say something, but then thinks better of it and goes back to the computer. I return to my
bedroom. I pack my bag with a fresh change of clothes and the books I'll need for the day. Back to school. I'm not looking forward to it, though it'll be nice
to see Sam again, whom I haven't seen in nearly two weeks.
"Okay," I say. "I'm off."
"Have a good day. Be safe out there."
"See you this afternoon."
Bernie Kosar rushes out of the house ahead of me. He's a ball of energy this morning. I think he's come to look forward to our morning runs, and
the fact that we haven't done one in a week and a half has him chomping at the bit to get back to it. He keeps up with me for most of the run. Once we
make it I give him a good pet and scratch behind his ears.
"All right, boy, go home," I say. He turns and starts trotting back to the house.
I take my time in the shower. By the time I finish, other students are beginning to arrive. I walk the hall, stop by my locker, then go to Sam's. I slap
him on the back. It startles him, then he flashes a big toothy grin when he sees that it's me.
"I thought I was going to have to whip somebody's ass there for a minute," he says.
"Just me, my friend. How was Illinois?"
"Ugh," he says, and rolls his eyes. "My aunt made me drink tea and watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie nearly every day."
I laugh. "That sounds awful."
"It was, trust me," he says, and reaches into his bag. "This was waiting in the mail when we got back."
He hands me the latest issue of They Walk Among Us . I begin flipping through it.
"There is nothing on us or the Mogadorians," he says.
"Good," I say. "They must fear us after you visited them."
Over Sam's shoulder I see that Sarah is coming our way. Mark James stops her in the middle of the hallway and hands her a few sheets of orange
paper. Then she continues on her way.
"Hi, gorgeous," I say when she reaches us. She stands on her toes to kiss me. Her lips taste like strawberry lip balm.
"Hi, Sam. How are you?"
"Good. How're you?" he asks. He seems at ease with her now. Before the incident with Henri, which was a month and a half ago, being in Sarah's
presence would have made him uncomfortable, and he wouldn't have been able to meet her eye or know what to do with his hands. But now he looks at
her and smiles, speaking with confidence.
"Good," she says. "I'm supposed to give you both one of these."
She hands us each one of the orange sheets Mark just gave her. It's a party invitation for this upcoming Saturday night at his house.
"I'm invited?" Sam asks.
Sarah nods. "All three of us are."
"Do you want to go?" I ask.
"Maybe we could give it a shot."
I nod. "You interested, Sam?"
He looks past Sarah and me. I turn to see what he is looking at, or rather who. At a locker across the hall is Emily, the girl who was on the hayride
with us, and who Sam has been pining for ever since. When she walks past she sees that Sam is watching her and she smiles politely.
"Emily?" I say to Sam.
"Emily what?" Sam asks, looking back at me.
I look at Sarah. "I think Sam likes Emily Knapp."
"I do not," he says.
"I could ask her to come to the party with us," Sarah says.
"Do you think she would go?" Sam asks.
Sarah looks at me. "Well, maybe I shouldn't invite her since Sam doesn't like her."
Sam smiles. "Okay, fine. I just, I don't know."
"She kept asking why you never called after the hayride. She kind of likes you."
"That is true," I say. "I've heard her say it."
"Why didn't you tell me?" says Sam.
"You never asked."
Sam looks down at the flyer. "So it's this Saturday?"
He looks up at me. "I say we go."
I shrug. "I'm in."
Henri is waiting for me when the final bell rings. As always, Bernie Kosar is in the passenger seat, and when he sees me, his tail begins wagging a
hundred miles an hour. I jump into the truck. Henri puts it into gear and drives away.
"There was a follow-up article on the girl in Argentina," Henri says.
"Just a short article saying that she has disappeared. The mayor of the town is offering a modest reward for information on her whereabouts. It
sounds like they believe she's been kidnapped."
"Are you worried about the Mogadorians having gotten to her first?"
"If she's Nine, like the note we found indicated, and the Mogadorians were tracking her, it's a good thing that she vanished. And if she's been
captured, the Mogadorians can't kill her--they can't even hurt her. That gives us hope. The good thing, aside from the news itself, is that I imagine every
Mogadorian on Earth has poured into Argentina."
"Speaking of which, Sam had the latest issue of They Walk Among Us today."
"Was there anything in it?"
"I didn't think there would be. Your levitation trick seemed to affect them rather profoundly."
When we arrive home I change clothes and meet Henri in the backyard for our day of training. Working while consumed with fire has gotten easier.
I don't get as flustered as I did on that first day. I can hold my breath longer, close to four minutes. I have more control over the objects I lift, and I can lift
more of them at the same time. Little by little, the look of worry I saw on Henri's face during the first days has melted away. He nods more. He smiles
more. On the days it goes really well he gets a crazed look in his eyes and he raises his arms in the air and yells "Yes!" as loudly as he can. In that way I
am gaining confidence in my Legacies. The rest have yet to come, but I don't think they're far off. And the major one, whatever it will be. The anticipation of
it keeps me up most nights. I want to fight. I hunger for a Mogadorian to saunter into the backyard so that I may finally seek revenge.
It's an easy day. No fire. Mostly just me lifting things and manipulating them while they are suspended in the air. The last twenty minutes pass with
Henri throwing objects at me--sometimes just allowing them to fall to the ground, other times deflecting them in a way that emulates a boomerang so that
they twist in the air and go blazing back towards Henri. At one point a meat tenderizer flies back so fast that Henri dives face-first into the snow to keep
from being hit by it. I laugh. Henri does not. Bernie Kosar lies on the ground the whole time watching us, seeming to offer his own encouragement. After
we are done I shower, do my homework, and sit at the kitchen table for dinner.
"So there is a party this Saturday that I'm going to go to."
He looks up at me, stops chewing. "Whose party?"
Henri looks surprised.
"All that's over," I say before he can object.
"Well, you know best, I suppose. Just remember what's at stake."