Prom Nights from Hell Chapter Three part two
Miranda loved the Santa Barbara airport, the way it looked more like an Acapulco Joe’s Cantina than an official building with its adobe-style walls, cool terra-cotta floor, loopy blue and gold tile, and bougainvillaea careening down the walls. It was small, so planes just parked where they landed and had staircases wheeled out to them, with only a chain-link fence separating people waiting for someone from the people coming off the plane.
Pulling the welcome sign out of the Town Car, she checked the name on it-CUMEAN-and held it up in the direction of the disembarking passengers. As she waited, she listened to a woman in the gold Lexus SUV four cars behind her talking on her phone, saying, “If she gets off the plane, I’ll know. He’d better have his checkbook ready,” then tilted her head to focus on the low srloop srloop srloop sound of a snail slithering across the still-warm pavement toward a bunch of ivy.
She still remembered the exact moment she realized that not everyone heard the things she heard, that she wasn’t normal. She’d already spent the first half of her seventh-grade year at Saint Bartolomeo School-the part after the screening of the Your Body Is Changing: Womanhood video-puzzled by all the changes they didn’t list, like uncontrolled bursts of speed and randomly crushing objects you were just trying to pick up and hitting your head on the ceiling of the gym when you were doing jumping jacks and suddenly being able to see dust particles on people’s clothes. But since Sister Anna answered all her questions with “Stop joking, child,” Miranda thought they must just be so obvious the movie didn’t need to mention them. It was only when she’d tried to earn Johnnie Voight’s undying affection by warning him not to cheat off of Cynthia Riley again because, based on the sound of her pencil five seats away, she always got the wrong answers, that Miranda learned just how “differently abled” she was. Instead of falling on his knees and declaring that she was his goddess in a training bra and plaid skirt, Johnnie had called her a freak, then a nosy bitch, and tried to beat her up.
That was how she’d first learned how dangerous powers were, the way they could make you an outcast.
And also that she was stronger than boys her age, and that they didn’t think that was cool or even good. And neither did school administrators.
Since then she’d become expert at acting normal, being careful. Had mastered her powers. Or she’d thought she had, until seven months earlier when-
Miranda pushed the memory aside and turned her attention back to the people at the airport. To her job. She watched a little girl with blond ringlets sitting on her dad’s shoulders standing next to the path and waving as a woman walked from the plane toward them, now shouting, “Mommy, Mommy, I missed you!”
She watched the happy family hug and felt like someone had socked her in the stomach. One of the advantages of going to boarding school, Miranda thought, was that you didn’t get invited over to people’s houses, never had to see them acting like normal families, having breakfast together. For some reason, whenever she imagined truly happy families, they were always eating breakfast.
Plus people who had normal families didn’t go to Chatsworth Academy, “The Premier Boarding Experience in Southern California.” Or, as Miranda liked to think of it, Child Warehouse, the place where parents (or in her case, guardians) stored their children until they needed them for something.
With the possible exception of her roommate, Kenzi.
She and Kenzi Chin had lived together for four years, since their freshman year, longer than Miranda had lived with almost anyone. Kenzi came from a perfect-eat-breakfast-together family, had perfect skin, perfect grades, perfect everything, and Miranda would have been forced to hate her if Kenzi wasn’t also so completely loyal and kind. And a tinsy bit insane.
Like earlier that afternoon when Miranda walked into their room and found her standing on her head, wearing only underpants, with her entire body slathered in drying mint-colored mud.
“I am so going to be in therapy for the rest of my life to get this image out of my mind,” Miranda told her.
“You’re going to need to be in therapy that long anyway to deal with your messed-up family. I’m just giving you some TTD material to talk about.” Kenzi knew more about Miranda’s family history than anyone else at Chatsworth, almost all of it fabricated. The part about it being messed up, though, was true.
Kenzi also really liked acronyms and invented new ones all the time. As she dropped her bag and collapsed on her bed, Miranda asked, “TTD?”
“Totally Top Drawer.” Then Kenzi said, “I can’t believe you’re not coming to prom. I always pictured us going together.”
“I don’t think Beth would like that too much. You know, being the third wheel.”
Beth was Kenzi’s girlfriend. “Don’t even talk to me about that creature,” she said now, giving a fake shudder. “The Beth and Kenzi Show is officially canceled.”
“As of when?”
“What time is it?”
“Two hours and six minutes ago.”
“Oh, so it’ll be back on by prom.”
Kenzi’s ?cancellations? happened about once a week and never lasted more than four hours. She thought the drama of breakups and the thrill of reconciliation kept a relationship fresh. And in some weird way it seemed to work, because she and Beth were the happiest couple Miranda knew. More perfection.
“Anyway, stop trying to change the subject. I think you’re making a grave mistake by missing prom.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I’ll never forgive myself.”
“Why? What’s the big deal? It’s a big dance with a dorky theme. You know I’m dancelexic and should not be allowed out on a dance floor near other people.”
“A Sweet Salute to the Red, White, and Blue isn’t dorky, it’s patriotic. And you do okay with the Hustle.”
“I think Libby Geer would disagree with you. If her mouth weren’t still wired shut.”
“Whatever, prom isn’t just a big dance. It’s a rite of passage, a moment when we move from who we were into the vastness of the adults we’re going to become, throwing off the weight of our youthful insecurities to-”
” – get drunk and maybe lucky. Depending on your definition of luck.”
“You’ll be sorry if you don’t come. Do you really want to grow up miserable and filled with regret?”
“Yes, please! Besides, I have to work.”
“TGI as If. You’re hiding behind your job again. You could so get one Saturday off. At least be honest about why you’re not going.”
Miranda gave Kenzi Innocent Eyes, expression number two from the kissing book. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t look at me like you’re My Little Pony. I have four letters for you: W-I?CL-L.”
“And I have four letters for you: N-O-P-E. Oh and four more: M-Y-O-”
But Kenzi just went on, ignoring her, something she did professionally. “It’s true that Will might need to be vaccinated or screened for diseases after going with Ariel, but I can’t believe you’re giving up that easily.”
Will Javelin filled up about 98 percent of Miranda’s dreams. She’d been trying to cut it out since she learned he was going to the prom with Ariel-“I named my new breasts after my family’s country houses, does your family have any country houses, Miranda? Oh right, I forgot, you’re a foster child”-West, of the West-Sugar-Is-Best! fortune, but it was a challenge. To avoid bad karma Miranda said, “There’s nothing wrong with Ariel.”
“Yeah, nothing that couldn’t be cured with an exorcism.” Kenzi came out of her headstand, planting her feet on the floor. She reached for her towel. “At least promise you’ll come to the after-party. At Sean’s parents’ place on the beach? You will, right? We’re all going to hang around and watch the sun rise. It will give you a chance to talk to Will outside of school. And when are you going to tell me what happened between you two that other night, anyway? Why are you being so MLAS about it?”
Miranda knew that one. “I’m not being My Lips Are Sealed,” she said, picking up a pile of papers on the bookshelf between her and Kenzi’s beds and straightening them.
“You’re doing that thing again. The thing where you pretend to be Holly Homemaker to avoid having a discussion.”
“Maybe.” Miranda was looking at the papers now, photocopies of newspaper articles from the past half year. “Purse snatcher caught by mysterious Good Samaritan, found bound to fence with yo-yo,” the first and most recent said. Then, from a few months before, “Get a grip: Stickup foiled when robber loses control of gun. Witness says Pez dispenser ‘came out of nowhere’ to knock weapon from assailant’s hand.” Finally, from seven months earlier, “Convenience store heist getaway halted by falling lightpost; two arrested.” She started to get a sinking feeling in her stomach.
At least it was only three out of, what, a dozen different incidents she told herself. But that didn’t really make her feel better. No one was supposed to link any of those events together. Ever.
The convenience store was the first one. It was dusk, fog coming off the ocean, the streetlights making misty halos in the air. She’d been driving down a side street in Santa Barbara on her way to roller derby practice when she’d heard the threats from inside Ron’s 24-Hour Open Market #3 and just… acted. She’d had no control over what she did, it was like she was in a dream, her body knowing exactly what to do, where the robbers would go, how to stop them. Coming back to her the way the words from a favorite song did even if you hadn’t heard it in years. Only she had no idea where it was coming back from.
She’d spent the three days following the convenience store incident in bed, curled in a ball, trembling. She told Kenzi she had the flu, but really what she had was terror. She was terrified of the powers she suddenly couldn’t restrain.
Terrified because using them felt so good. So right. Like she was alive for the first time.
Terrified because she knew what could happen if people found out. To her. And to-
She waved the copies toward Kenzi, demanding, “What are you doing with these?”
“Whoa, Drill Sergeant Kiss in the house,” Kenzi said, saluting. “All due respect, ma’am, but as they say in the military, SSTB. You won’t get away with changing the subject just by using your scary voice.”
SSTB stood for So Sad Too Bad. Miranda couldn’t not laugh. “If I were trying to change the subject, army of one, I’d point out that the stuff on your body is flaking all over the rug your mother’s decorator tracked over three continents because it supposedly belonged to Lucy Lawless. I seriously want to know, why are you interested in street crime in Santa Barbara?”
Kenzi stepped from the rug onto the wood floor. “Not street crime in Santa Barbara, foiled street crime. It’s for my journalism final project. Some people are saying there’s a mystical force at work. Maybe even Santa Barbara come back herself.”
“Can’t it just be a coincidence? Criminals mess up all the time, right?”
“People don’t like coincidences. Like the way it’s no coincidence that you are trying to make me talk about this rather than answer my questions about what happened with you and Will. One minute it looks like you two are totally-and I might add, finally-hooking up and the next you are back here in our room. Ruining, I might also add, a totally ace romantic evening for me.”
“I did tell you,” Miranda groaned. “It was nothing. Nothing happened.”
Slouching against the Town Car now as the last of the daylight faded, Miranda thought that nothing was an understatement. It had been worse than nothing. That expression on Will’s face, the one that hovered between you’ve-got-something-green-caught-in-your-teeth and oh-hello-Professor-Crazy, a mixture of horror and, well, horror, when she’d finally gotten up the guts to-
That’s when it hit her. The articles on Kenzi’s desk had all come out on Thursdays, reporting on things that had happened-things she’d done-on Wednesdays.
“Wednesday and Saturday afternoons free,” she heard Caleb saying, repeating her words.
That was bad. That was really bad. She was going to have to lay low.
The gold Lexus SUV behind her pulled away from the curb and Miranda could hear the couple inside fighting over the sound of their air conditioner. The woman at the wheel turning her head to yell at her husband-Don’t lie to me! I know you were with her! – hitting the gas hard right as the family with the little blond girl stepped into the crosswalk in front of her…
Afterward no one was really sure what had happened.
One second the car was careening toward the family in the crosswalk, the next there was a blur and they were on the curb, bewildered but safe.
As she watched the gold SUV speed off into the distance, Miranda felt the adrenaline thrill she always got after she’d acted without thinking, saved someone. It was addictive, like a drug.
And dangerous, like a drug, she reminded herself.
I think you should get yourself a dictionary. That is not what “laying low” means.
Shut up. It was only a handspring and a little push. Hardly some big tactical maneuver.
You shouldn’t have done it. It was too risky. You’re not invisible, you know.
But I wasn’t seen. It was fine.
Miranda wondered if everyone had a voice in their head permanently set to the U-Suck channel.
What are you trying to do, anyway? Do you think you can save everyone? When you couldn’t even-
“What?” a girl’s voice asked and Miranda was startled to realize she’d spoken aloud, and someone was standing there.
The girl was about Miranda’s height but younger, maybe fourteen, and dressed like she’d been studying early Madonna videos and wanted to be sure that if mesh shirts worn over bras, fingerless gloves, teased hair, thick black eyeliner, rubber bracelets, petticoat skirts with fishnets, and ankle boots came back in style, she’d be ready.
“I’m sorry,” Miranda said, “I was talking to myself.” Not exactly how the Mature Driver Person she was supposed to be should act.
“Oh.” The girl held the sign with the word CUMEAN on it out to Miranda. “You’ll want this. And this,” she said, handing her a small square box.
Miranda took the sign but shook her head at the box. “That’s not mine.”
“It must be. And me, too. I mean, I’m Sibby Cumean.” She pointed at the sign.
Miranda pocketed the box to open the back door for the girl, wondering what kind of parent let their fourteen-year-old get picked up by a stranger at eight at night.
“Can’t I ride in front?”
“Clients prefer the back,” Miranda said in her most professional voice.
“What you really mean is that you prefer it when they ride in the back. But what if I want to ride in the front? Don’t clients get to do what they want?”
5Bs Luxury Transport was named after a set of principles the owner, Tony Bosun, had made up-B on time, B polite, B accommodating, B discreet, B sure to get paid. Even though Miranda suspected he’d come up with them when he was drunk late one night, she tried to follow the rules and she was pretty sure this counted as B accommodating. She moved to open the front door.
The girl shook her head. “Never mind. I’ll stay in back.”
Miranda plastered on a smile. What a rad day she was having! Her VIP client was a tiny demon, her dream guy was going to the prom with someone else, and the sheriff’s deputy she had a crush on not only knew it but joked about it with his girlfriend! Awesome.
At least, she told herself, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
Oh, now you’ve done it.