There was a surprise waiting for me when Cassie pulled up to my house. The garage door was open, and my dad's car was inside. That was unusual; his patrol shift ran from two in the afternoon to ten o' clock at night, so Dad should have been at work.
But what was more unusual was the cherry-red Miata parked in the driveway. I recognized it immediately. It was my mom's car.
Cassie parked on the curb. She noticed the vehicles as soon as I did. Cassie knew what they meant, too. "You didn't tell me your mom was in town," Cassie said as she shut off the engine.
I shrugged, trying to act casual. "I didn't know she was."
As I said before, my parents were divorced. They have been for a while now, since I was just starting middle school. Mom got offered a job in the Bay, a few hours away from where I live, and wanted to pack us all up and move there. But Dad didn't want to go, and didn't want Jordan and I to go, either. My parents fought about it, and I guess it destroyed their relationship. They got divorced, and Mom moved on to her new job.
I'm sorry, I don't really know the details. Dad doesn't like talking about it. Mom does, but even though she lives just down the interstate, I only see her on holidays. She drives up, drops off whatever expensive gifts she bought Jordan and I, then cooks a big dinner and leaves the following morning.
It never really bothered me. But I know Jordan takes issue with Mom never being here, and when Mom actually is, Dad does his best not to talk to her. I love seeing Mom, but the atmosphere in the house feels...hostile when she's around.
And she never just shows up. Mom always calls me or Jordan a few days before she visits.
I got out of the van and heard Chance barking. Cassie followed me. The front door opened and Mom stepped out. She was wearing makeup and heels, with a black pantsuit and a pearl necklace. She must have come here straight from court or something. I smiled and waved.
"Where have you been?" she asked sharply.
I felt my smile drop. "School?"
Mom started stomping towards me, heels and all. "That's a question, not an answer."
Mom may have been a no-nonsense lawyer, but Jake's mom was the DA, and my aunt on Dad's side. And Jake, Jordan, and I have been bullshitting Aunt Jeanie since Jake and I were twelve.
"I was at school, Mom," I answered casually. "With Jake and Cassie. You remember Cassie."
Cassie waved, too. "Hi, Ms. _."
Mom came up to me and grabbed my wrist. "Don't lie to me!"
I tugged, trying to free myself. Cassie started towards us.
"Let go!" I shouted.
Chance was still barking. Frantically. I grabbed Mom's wrist and shoved on it, hoping to slip my arm out of her grip. Heavy footsteps, and the sound of claws clicking on drywall, echoed from the open door.
I looked up just in time to see Dad catch Chance at the door. Chance was going nuts. Dad had him by the collar and was struggling to pull Chance back into the house. Chance was trying just as hard to get to me.
No. To Mom. Chance thought she was hurting me.
I stopped struggling instantly. Dad shouted out Chance's command for healing, and finally got him to back off. I could see Jordan standing just inside as Dad pulled Chance back into the house. Her eyes were wide.
I glared at Mom. "Let me go."
She glared back. "Not until you tell me where you've been all afternoon."
"She was at school," Cassie answered for me. "With Jake and me."
"It's true, Mom," Jordan confirmed. "Aunt Jeanie texted Dad right when they got here. They were doing homework with Jake and his friends."
I silently thanked Jake for the cover story. "Like I said," I said evenly. "School."
Mom didn't budge. "Homework for what class?"
Why does it matter? I gave her my best shit-eating grin. "It was a group project. We were studying anatomy."
Mom narrowed her eyes. "What was the project?"
I wrenched myself loose. "The reproductive system. We were having sex."
"Okay!" Cassie got between me and Mom and pushed me towards the house. "Let's just get inside."
I winked at Jordan as I walked past her into the kitchen. She rolled her eyes. Mom followed and closed the door behind us.
There was a pot of boiling water on the stove, and a box of dried pasta on the counter. Bowls and silverware were already set out on the table. I grabbed another bowl and fork, set out an additional placemat, and caught Cassie's eye. She understood my intent, and nodded.
Dad came into the kitchen, sans Chance, and saw Cassie and the extra bowl. "Would you like to stay for dinner, Cassie? We're having chicken parmesan."
"I'd love to. Thank you." Cassie pulled out her phone and stepped into the next room. "Let me just text my folks."
Jordan dumped the pasta into the pot. Dad went to the fridge and pulled out a bag of flour and a stick of butter. I grabbed a frying pan and put it on the stove next to the pot.
Mom watched us, arms crossed. "You had us worried, Rachel."
I took the flour from Dad and dropped the butter into the pan, and turned up the heat. "Why?"
"Why?" Mom looked at me like I had said something wrong. "Because that's what happens when you disappear. People worry about you."
"Only your mother was worried, sweety," Dad said to me. He dropped a jug of milk and bag of shredded parmesan cheese on the counter, and kissed my cheek. "I knew you were fine."
Mom gave him an angry look. "Thank you, Paul. I appreciate your support."
"It was only an hour," Dad said to her. "Rachel was only gone an hour. She disappears all the time, and - "
"All the time?" Mom shrieked. I rolled my eyes and mixed measurements of flour into the butter. "Our oldest daughter has been blown up, Paul," she continued. "She has been kidnapped, and shot at, in the last two weeks alone. And you're not worried about what she gets up to at all?"
Dad glared at her. "Of course I am. That's why I called you. But this isn't how you talk to her."
"Don't tell me how to talk to my daughter!"
"Mom," Jordan said quietly. "Give Rachel some space. She's having a rough time."
"Rachel can speak for herself." I splashed some milk in with the flour and butter, and eyeballed my sister. Jordan stirred her pot of pasta and didn't look up. But her face grew as red as Mom's car.
Cassie was standing outside the kitchen, looking like she wanted to be somewhere else.
Mom walked up behind me. "Rachel, honey? What's going on with you? Are you in trouble?"
The milk, butter, and flour had thickened into a rue. I tossed in a handful of cheese. "Mom, I'm fine. Honest."
"Are you sure?" she asked me. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Let one more person ask me that today. "Mom, I'm going to burn this sauce if you keep distracting me. Please just leave me alone."
Mom stepped back like I slapped her. But I hadn't. I looked back at her, confused. "What's wrong?"
Mom blinked. Her eyes looked wet. "Nothing, Rachel. I'm sorry I bothered you."
"And grabbing me?"
I cocked my head. "You grabbed me. It was embarrassing."
Mom looked down at the kitchen floor. "I'm sorry I grabbed you."
Jordan put her spoon down. "Pasta's done."
A timer went off. "Chicken, too," Dad announced.
I picked up the frying pan. "And the sauce."
Everyone was acting strange. Awkward visits from Mom were one thing. But my parents have never been physical with me. Or talked about me like I wasn't there. And historically, Dad has always been more mad than worried whenever he didn't know where I was. That was more common than I liked, moreso since my friends and I went running off into Deathburg, but Dad still respected my space.
And Jordan? We've never had issues before. But she's been acting like we did since -
Since Tom died.
Since I sent her running for help when a Controller posing as Dad's friend from work attacked us.
He shot your cousin dead, put a gun to your head, threw you into the trunk of his car, and you couldn't do anything to stop him.
Was...was Jordan angry about that?
I was protecting her!
I sat down at the table, seething. That must have been why she was talking about me behind my back to Dad. What was she telling Dad to make him so worried he'd call Mom? Did he think I was doing drugs or something.
I mean, I joke about getting knocked up constantly. So it might be my fault. But still.
I'm sixteen. Hell, I'm a goddamned freedom fighter. Marco calls me Khaleesi because I remind him of Daenerys from Game of Thrones. I can take care of myself.
You were dead on the floor not two days ago.
I looked up. Jordan, Mom, Dad, and Cassie were all staring at me. Dad was holding a heaping spoonful of chicken parm.
"I asked for your bowl, sweetheart," Dad told me.
My stomach growled. But I'd lost my appetite. I stood up and walked out of the kitchen.
I ignored their calls. I went upstairs to my room and locked the door behind me. I collapsed on my bed and rolled onto my back.
The room felt stuffy. I got back up, turned on the ceiling fan, and laid back down.
You were dead. You died.
Movement over my head. A flash of blue and silver.
I rolled off the bed and into a crouch, ready to fight. No, I couldn't fight as a human. My hands started forming into paws before I realized I was morphing.
I stopped. My room was empty. The only thing moving was the ceiling fan above me.
I reversed the morph and stood up straight. There was a knock on the door.
"Rachel?" Cassie's voice. "Are you okay?"
I ripped my pillow from the bed and threw it against the door. "I'M FINE!"
"Okay." Cassie paused again. "I'm going to head home. I'll see you tomorrow morning."