SYNERGY

Book One
Lisa Marie Arnopp

Lisa
Marie
Arnopp
 SYNERGY

About sixteen years earlier…

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Katherine Ann squirmed in her mother’s arms after her feeding. She was restless and nothing was helping to put her down for the night. It was half past eleven and the next day would be long if the baby didn’t get to sleep. Three-week-olds needed their rest and her mother and aunt needed to begin corrective actions. If things were even correctable. She was a beautiful daughter and her mother was elated to finally have a little girl. “What am I going to do with you?” Her mother teased with a personal underlying angst. “We shouldn’t have run off. The family must be wondering where we are. Eric most of all, he named you.” The baby grinned her toothless smile as her mom’s fingers gently circled her wispy tresses. Eric was the youngest of the twins and since Matt named Brian it was only fair that Eric named their sister. Especially considering he knew she was a girl before anyone. Even after Ron explained to his sons that there hadn’t been a daughter born to the Thomas family in countless generations Eric insisted and wanted to name her Katherine Ann. Katherine after Katharine Hepburn having just seen Bringing Up Baby and Ann after his favorite grandmother, the same one that had him watching old black and white movies at the age of four. He magnanimously allowed her to be Kate for short. Stretching her small torso Kate shuttered from exhaustion but stubbornly stayed awake. “What’s taking Auntie so long?” No one in the family dillydallied and the list for the market was short; diapers, food, diapers, coffee and more diapers. Kate fussed but didn’t cry. She curled her little hand around her mother’s index finger. Latent skills didn’t materialize until the late teens, sometimes early twenties. Of course all parents found glimpses of things to come in their children and Kate was no different unless you counted that it was more obvious than usual. Living in close quarters for two trimester and almost one month with her two exceptionally empathetic relatives boosted the signals. Having reinforced insights to Kate’s mood made her care easier than her three brothers who had the same advantage at weakened levels. Sandy and Sara both agreed it was due to the baby empathizing which compounded with their empathy. And Kate drew people to her like no other newborn. Strangers were enchanted at first site and eager to assist the sisters with bags, buggy and doors.

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The antithesis to this was that Kate could interpret moods from her surroundings. And her mother worried that grownup emotions were far too dark, heavy and complex for such a young child to endure. Mommy and Auntie did their best to halt exchanges that weren’t about love, laughing and warmth. Kate’s pudgy hand daintily pressed against her mother’s cheek. “Something’s wrong.” Lots of things were wrong. For one, Kate was in Colorado and her brothers and father were in California and for two, everything else. But something new was wrong. Deep down in her bones her mother felt a sense of dread so profound and so definite that no amount of blocking could protect Kate from it. The babies grip tightened a split second before the phone rang. Her mother jolted for the receiver. “Hello.” It was a nurse from the county hospital explaining a fatal collision. “Sandy Graham was pronounced dead at the scene.” Impossible. She would do anything to change places with her sister. Cradling the baby she sobbed. “I’m not strong enough for this. She was the strong one.” Her sister once told her how to use their paranormal talent to control their emotions. But control wasn’t enough – so she shut them off – all that didn’t involve loving and making the children happy. She called California. Of course their father knew – he knew everything. Empaths begot empaths. As he took charge of arrangements Kate finally drifted off. Well, he didn’t know everything. “And what do we do now?” She had her answer right in front of her.

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Ann’s Funeral Kate did her best to keep up with her brothers’ long strides as they walked to the car from their grandmother’s grave. Each boy was around six feet or taller and Kate was only five seven and her modest heals didn’t help her balance on the soft grass. She resisted the urge to keep up with them but some innate little sister inside wouldn’t allow her to take her sweet time. And it wasn’t a good day to play power games that she would inevitably lose. Eric was upset about something. Perhaps that they weren’t closer to Ann before she died. Truth was Kate never met her grandmother. When she got in the back seat of the car the door closed as if on its own almost nipping Kate’s ankle. “Hey!” “Move it or lose it.” Matt chastised from the driver’s seat. He had pulled the door shut on her. The twins were telekinetic and impatient. Two foibles Kate and Brian felt were a horrible combination. Eric hit Matt’s shoulder as they drove off. “Be careful with her. She’s our only sister.” He wouldn’t have pulled that stunt with one of their parents in the car. They had been very hushhush about their paranormal skills and only Brian and Kate were privy to the details. Unfortunately it was usually due to the fact that they were the objects of some prank like a chair being yanked out from under them. Out of self-protection both of the younger Thomas children grabbed the edge of their seat as they sat.

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Matt and Eric had wanted to go to the funeral and stood with their mother when Ron protested. It may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ron was always lenient with them and since they were months away from their twenty-first birthday, he was even more tolerant of their insubordination than usual. But their moods had changed during the Mass. The whole day had been an upheaval of emotions. First Sara, their strict but mousey mother, had challenged Ron, their daunting father, about attending the funeral. He was firm set against it since it was a Catholic ceremony and he was anti-religion. In all her years, Kate had never seen Ron lose a fight until that morning. If the twins hadn’t taken a position, she wasn’t sure what would have happened. If Ron hadn’t been swayed her mother may have gone alone.

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Second was meeting Gerard Sanchez, her estranged widowed grandfather. Kate couldn’t even remember a word from his eulogy. It wasn’t that she ignored him. Actually she felt such sorrow knowing he lost the love of his life that the words just sailed in one ear and out the other too insignificant to be

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comprehended in the wake of his turmoil. She had never felt a stronger sense of love and loss. Her parents weren’t that in love even if they had been together for twenty plus years but Gerard was torn with despair at the death of his wife. Maybe that level of affection took decades to grow. And if she didn’t sympathize with him enough during the service, she nearly broke down in tears when he hugged her. What was disturbing was the cause of the tears. It was a deep yearning to know her grandfather – an undeniable sense of belonging and that coupled with the intellectual knowledge that she only just met him and may never see him again overwhelmed her suddenly. Finally, the gawkers at Santa Katrina Cathedral had left her unsettled. An older woman that was undoubtedly in the same generation as her grandparents and a man that could very well be her son had stared at Kate as if she were a spectacle until her mother glowered at them. Kate didn’t always appreciate the overprotection extended from her family but she did that afternoon. Maybe she could have let the awkwardness of the gawkers pass if Eric hadn’t reacted so strongly. The twins were instigators for sure and reactions were calculated for optimal results. But Eric had a pure uncontrolled response. He had tried to stare the man down, as their mother had, but unsuccessfully. Once in their pew he didn’t look Kate in the eye – everywhere but. She didn’t like it and she knew there was something unpleasant on his mind, which meant it was also on Matt’s. They weren’t just telekinetic – they were telepathic as well. Matt pulled their car into the driveway. Gerard’s home was much warmer than their own and still quite grand in a nice neighborhood. The reception was well attended growing from the many who were at the service. The church was packed and some had to stand. To Kate’s surprise there were tons of teens and young adults. She imagined a small group of retirees before she saw the diverse ensemble. Gerard walked them to a table that had prepared plates for them and champagne. He rose to his feet and slowly the gathering hushed. “To Ann. A good woman that I loved very much.” His eyes watered as he took his full glass in one swallow. “Now eat, drink and be merry as that is what Ann would wish from us today.”

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The champagne tickled her nose and had a pleasant flavor. A waiter filled a glass with water and another with soda for the kids. Chatter hummed back to life and Gerard sat down with his family. He studied their faces fastidiously memorizing every detail in case it was another sixteen years before he saw his grandchildren. It wouldn’t be. Kate wasn’t sure how she could pull that off but it was her private goal. He refilled his glass and then the twins’. “So where are you two going to school?” “UC Santa Barbara.” The twins spoke in sync. “That’s just down the freeway.” It was only thirty minutes south from Santa Katrina. “You should stop by sometime.” Sara glared at her father. He had an agenda to breach the rift as well. The twins smiled at each other but didn’t agree out loud. “I see you still like to make it as difficult as possible to tell you apart.” Matt and Eric were dressed alike down to the color of their ties. They were six two with dark wavy hair, like their mother’s, and deep brown eyes. Only the immediate family could distinguish them and they relished it. They had been called on switching classes plenty in high school and usually the

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teacher was wrong. Matt had even lost a girlfriend over one of their switcheroos but they adamantly denied it. “We wanted to see if you could still tell us apart.” Eric practically dared Gerard. “You’re Eric.” He said easily with absolute conviction. “I’m Eric.” Matt lied. They were masters at subterfuge. If anything they lied better than they told the truth. “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” “Dad.” Sara mildly scolded. Whatever caused the breach was unperceivable. The death in the family put things in perspective. Their mother, although miserably depressed from loss, was equally relieved to see her father. He shirked off her reprimand. “And Brian, you couldn’t look more like Ron if you were a mirror.” He had wavy hair like the twins and was only three inches shorter but he was blond with lighter brown eyes.

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“He’s a clone for spare parts.” Matt joked. When Brian was in grade school the twins used to tell him that all the time until their mother demanded that they stop. Brian had just turned seventeen and he shook his head at his brother. He wasn’t as easily upset as he was when he was eight. “And what if Eric needs parts? You think he wouldn’t take them from you in your sleep?” “No need. We have a triplet in the basement for that.” Eric winked. What a scary thought if there were actually three. Gerard’s kind eyes fell on Kate. The ardor enveloped her but there was a subtle worry behind it. “I bet you’re the most popular girl in school.” Kate snickered. “No one even knows I exist.” “A pretty girl like you can’t be a wallflower forever.” Kate rolled her eyes. Truth was she didn’t have a lot of friends at school and boys hardly ever talked to her. Occasionally one would try but one of her brothers would scare them off. Matt and Eric were the worst but they were away at college during the week. Brian wasn’t so bad but did the same and she guessed it was from instructions from the twins. She didn’t mind – most of the time. Gerard hadn’t eaten half his plate when he started making the rounds. She wished to spend all her time with her grandfather but he had to do his hosting duties and Kate was left wanting. A priest, the same that conducted the Mass, joined him. They were old friends. She knew that but wasn’t sure how. Insights like that hit her often and she supposed that was what was meant by women’s intuition. He was a good preacher. During the Mass Kate felt like an outsider never knowing when to stand, sit or kneel, something most of those in attendance did automatically. It reminded her of the USC game they had gone to a few years earlier. The crowd had recited and motioned through the cheers without hesitation as Kate stood helplessly mimicking the fans nearest her always seconds later. As for his homily, he skipped over much of the religion and spoke frankly about his two friends and how he would miss Ann Sanchez. Sara had been drinking more than she had been eating and the waiters kept her ice from getting dry. She had upgraded from champagne to gin and tonic and was on her third.

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Kate reached over and squeezed her mother’s arm. “I’m glad we came.” Eric rolled his eyes

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slightly at her comment but didn’t contradict. He thought it was ridiculous. Kate couldn’t tell if it was the fact they were at a funeral of someone they never met or that they hadn’t known Ann that annoyed him. “Me too.” Sara placed her hand over Kate’s. “I was wrong to let things go so long.” “Speaking of which,” Matt took the opportunity to pry as he often did, “what happened?” “It’s not important today.” Sara dismissed. Kate noted that the use of today foretold that the truce would expire at midnight. “You aren’t going to tell us, are you?” Eric challenged. The twins were more outspoken every year and passed too outspoken in their preteens. Sara grew stern but said nothing. There was no need. It wasn’t open for further discussion. Their mother allowed the impertinence but didn’t succumb to it. The man who had been gawking slyly eyed the Thomas clan but he didn’t approach. Since Gerard had wondered off he had stayed by the bar surveying. Kate kept him in her peripheral vision. When the bartender dropped a glass that loudly crashed on the counter Kate’s eyes darted up and for a moment she was eye to eye with the stranger. He smirked and gave her a nod. Embarrassed, Kate precipitously turned away without getting a better look. She must have seen him before. He was recognizable somehow. Then it started. People approached the table greeting Sara by name to express their condolences. Many people remembered her although she moved out of town when she married more than two decades earlier. The wait staff was busy and when Sara’s glass ran dry again she opted to get her own replacement. The brothers were talking animatedly unaware that their mother was on a collision course with the man from the church. Kate watched and waited. She couldn’t see her mother’s expression but the man’s face was gentle and apologetic. They spoke for a while both very unbendable in their stance. It was a guarded conversation. At one point the man pointed to the table and caught Kate watching. He didn’t flicker his attention. Nonetheless, Sara followed his gesture but Kate had already repositioned as if she had been involved in the discussion with

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her brothers. It was only a ruse and Kate’s true attention stayed on the bar. Her mother left in a huff and disappeared into the crowd. Her second glance was too cursory. The same sensation of recognition hit and without revelation from where.

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 Familiar Faces

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The lady that had first spotted Kate at the church stopped by their table and stood behind a vacant chair as she introduced herself. “I’m Ellen Graham. I was very close to Ann.” She had a warm face. Her eyes were light brown as was her hair where the grey hadn’t completely overtaken the original color. “Hi.” Matt said and introduced them in birth order. “I remember you. I met you one Christmas long long ago. But that was before you came along.” Ellen nodded at Kate with a smile. Kate clumsily smiled back. The comment made her feel responsible for the separation. And then something about Ellen’s eyes seemed so familiar but Kate couldn’t place her finger on it. Brian was rigid. The twins were as relaxed as ever but that wasn’t telling. They could hide anything behind nonchalant postures when they wanted or needed or no reason at all. Undoubtedly, they were having one of their telepathic conversations. The only hint was that they weren’t as verbose as usual. And if that was the case, as she wisely suspected, something was amiss. “And I knew Sandy very well.” Ellen anticipated a reaction. Rather suddenly Matt and Eric stood up in precise synchronization. “We need to find our mother. Excuse us.” Eric didn’t mince words. With that understated order Brian and Kate followed. “That was kind of rude.” Brian remarked. “She gave me the creeps.” Matt responded and no one argued because they all agreed. They walked around people watching and avoiding chatter for a while. The whole town seemed to know each other and generations mixed easily in different clusters. Then Eric swatted Matt’s shoulder and nudged in the direction of two girls about their age. They exchanged eyebrow gestures. “We need to mingle without the kids.” “Nice.” Brian moaned as their older brothers abandoned them. “What was that all about?” Kate rhetorically questioned but noticed that some idea had crossed Brian’s mind.

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“Don’t worry about it.” He lied. Kate could tell when Brian lied. The twins were practically one entity and spun tales freely and often. Brian and Kate had grown close in part because of the exclusion. She gave him a wondering look but he didn’t deign to elaborate. Brian had just turned seventeen and they were a year apart in school and that reinforced their bond. The twins’ bond was much stronger which Kate figured gave them their telepathy. Where the telekinesis came from she didn’t know. It started when they were about Brian’s age and they were very secretive about it. Brian was helpless to their powers although he was picking up early signs of telekinesis. Kate had stopped them on more than one occasion. It fluctuated sporadically. She had tried to move things mentally but without success. They didn’t know a name for her ability to thwart theirs and had dubbed it deterrence. Eric found it particularly irksome or he was more vocal with his irritation. The twins took drinks from the bar and shared with their newfound friends. They were completely undisciplined. And why shouldn’t they be? Their parents had a blind eye to any wrongdoing from them, an eye that found its sight too readily when looking at Kate, who often got blamed or suffered stricter rules despite culpability. Eric was hitting on a petite brunette that was a little too old for him. Kate wished she could shoo her away the way he shooed people from her but she didn’t have the nerve. Matt was happily flirting with the brunette’s blond friend. Before long Kate and Brian found their inebriated mother at the table and Brian joined her. Kate needed to use the restroom. The house was empty in comparison to the backyard. After taking care of business she decided to explore. Some isolation was needed. Everything was perfectly cozy. The kitchen was bright, modern and shiny with a counter and barstools for breakfast or casual meals. Upstairs were three bedrooms, all well decorated and comfortable. She walked into the master bedroom and saw four pictures on the dresser; one of her grandparents on their wedding day, another much more recent and two of her mother from what looked liked her early twenties. Kate picked up the recent photo of her grandparents to get an idea of what her grandmother looked liked. She regretted that she never met her. Even in her sixties she was beautiful but then her family aged well. She put down the picture to bypass a waterfall and looked at the young Sara. In one picture her

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mother was wearing a cap and gown. The other she wore jeans and had her hair in a ponytail sitting on the couch and reading. Sara was still a pretty woman, maybe even more so. Her mother had gorgeous wavy dark brown hair and eyes. It was much longer in the pictures than the shoulder length she had then. She was only five six and had a great figure that she kept up well. Kate gazed into the full-length mirror at her own image. She was already taller than her mother and her hair and eyes were much softer shades of brown. She was passing out of that awkward early teen phase, still more like a child than an adult in the face. Her willowy figure was filling in but less curvy than her mother’s. She mugged a smile for herself and she saw what her brothers must have seen. She recalled Ellen’s eyes and they were very much like her own. Not just her eyes but her smile as well. But Kate’s image had stopped smiling. It was pensive. Ellen must be related to them somehow. Maybe she was Ann’s cousin or sister. She ran her hand along her face. The shape of her face was unmistakably her mother’s. She was the only child that didn’t inherit their mother’s wavy hair although the coloring was similar but lighter. It had grown darker over the years and in time Kate was sure it would catch up but it could never get as dark, unlike the twins that already matched its shade. Her mind mulled the ideas over and generated more possible deductions, which were really unanswered questions. The similarity was why Ellen freaked her brothers and why she stared at her. The only curious thing was that Ellen didn’t mention any relation between them. Maybe she was Gerard’s sister. That was possible. But that didn’t explain why it wasn’t part of the introduction. The twins didn’t really give her enough time. Still if she was kin she should have mentioned it. That wasn’t the right answer. If Ellen were Gerard or Ann’s sister, she would have sat with him or at least a pew behind. Kate moseyed to the first floor lost in contemplation. The sun lowered over the horizon but the gathering showed few signs of thinning. The twins still chatted up the girls near the bar. Her mother, Gerard and Brian were talking off in a corner to an elderly couple. Brian was absolutely bored and Sara looked slightly perturbed. Gerard was completely at ease. Ready to rescue Brian she moved forward but stopped. Ellen and the man were talking with their backs to her. She wanted to see his face again to look for resemblances. They were searching for someone. They were searching for her. That convinced Kate to continue with her exploration of the house. The

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mystery had her intrigued but she wanted a better idea of the resolution before meeting either of them again. She went back to the foyer and crossed into the dining room. Like the rest of the house, it was

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idyllic. Beyond it was a classic study covered in bookshelves with a large section devoted to physics, math and philosophy. There was a glass door leading out to the gathering and Kate peered for the usual suspects. “You must be one of the prodigal grandchildren.” Kate spun around. Two boys around her age stood in the doorway. They were both about six feet. One was blond with green eyes and the other was a brunette with blue eyes. They were slender, built and very attractive. The blond still wore his jacket and looked dashing. The brunette was without a jacket and gave an impression of an outdoorsy type that didn’t usually suit up for events. “Yes.” Kate stammered. They looked at each other and the blond, who wasn’t the one who spoke before said, “I’m Dave and this is my cousin Greg.” Kate waved feebly. She never met people without family with her and it didn’t dawn on her to introduce herself. After a puzzled glance to his cousin Greg prompted, “And you are…” “Kate. I’m Kate.” “Hello Kate.” Dave stepped forward with an extended hand. Kate caught the cue in time to not look like a complete idiot and shook his hand. Greg’s followed. “It’s nice to meet you.” Kate struggled for words. “I’m surprised by how many kids are here.” Greg huffed when she said kids. “Mrs. Sanchez was one of the best teachers at school.” Kate didn’t know that Ann was a teacher and didn’t even consider that she was still working when she got sick with leukemia. Maybe Gerard mentioned it in his eulogy. She couldn’t remember. “You didn’t know.” Greg said bewildered. “Do you know anything about her?” “Not really.” “You didn’t even see her when she got sick? She was sick for months.”

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Why hadn’t Gerard called her mother sooner? She could have met Ann before she died. Had he and her mother declined his offer? “I didn’t know anything until my mother told us we were coming for the funeral.” She was ashamed. “That sucks.” Dave was kinder. “You would’ve liked her. We all did.” She was running out of ideas for chitchat and her personal story was too raw to share with strangers. Usually her brothers kept conversations going. It was more grueling than she imagined. “Are you okay?” Greg asked with his first sign of mild concern. “Dude, she lost her grandmother.” Dave stated as if it was obvious. “It’s a little weird being here. Everyone loved her so much and I never met her.” Kate felt like bawling again but kept a stoic façade. “Not very garrulous are you?” Dave asked. Greg rolled his baby blues. “Excuse him, he has been studying for the SATs.” Kate caught on. “I’m more reticent.” She had been studying for the PSATs. “We’ll leave you alone. Dave just wanted to meet you.” Dave’s face went ruddy. “Shut up Greg.” “I was going to get another coke if you want to come with me.” Kate asked sheepishly. Her brothers weren’t available to scare off the odd couple from church and Dave and Greg would substitute adequately. “That would be nice.” Dave wanted to talk more. Kate turned to the door leading to the patio and grabbed the knob. Gerard walked up the steps headed in her direction. Her mother was with him and visibly angry. Kate wasn’t sure if she was allowed to wonder around the house. She reversed directions and ran into Greg and Dave who were standing right behind her. “Let’s go this way.” She pointed to the swinging door. “Why?” Greg asked askance. “Come on.” Dave led them out to the dinning room. Kate steadied the swinging door as she heard the other door from the study open and her mother’s agitated voice. The boys were well ahead of her and when she was in the foyer she suggested they go on

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and she would catch up after a powder break. Greg shrugged and walked on. Dave waited a second longer but left. As soon as they were gone Kate went back to eavesdrop. “What I don’t understand is why you didn’t call me when you found out she was sick?” Sara was furious. “Blame me. I didn’t want you upsetting her. I didn’t want to have to explain if you didn’t come. The last time she was sick you didn’t come.” Gerard barked back. Kate wasn’t surprised that he could match Sara’s furor. After all, he was her father and she had to get it from somewhere. “I do blame you and I would’ve come.” Sara snapped. “You hadn’t in the last sixteen years. I’m surprised you came today. I’m surprised Ron let you.” “Ron doesn’t control me.” Some spark had faded. Fact was, Ron usually called the shots. “And would you have brought the kids? Would you have brought Katherine Ann?” Gerard pushed. Why was she singled out from her brothers? “I shouldn’t have brought her today. And I don’t know where she went. And Ellen and Jim are looking for her.” “They know nothing.” His steps grew dangerously close to the swinging door. He sensed she was there. She didn’t know how he knew or how she knew that he knew but the feeling was so strong she jumped back. Quietly and quickly she crept back to the patio and down into the tent. She automatically went to get a drink because she was thirsty and forgot that she had an appointment with the two guys from the library. Dave was glad to see her but Greg seemed indifferent, perhaps a little shocked that she showed up. “Hi again.” Kate tried to sound cheerier. She got a drink and they sat at a vacant table. The sun hung low and the crowd had waned substantially. “How do you like Santa Katrina?” Dave tried to break the ice. “It’s beautiful.” She said as a hand landed on each of her shoulders. It was the twins flanking her on both sides. “We were looking for you.” Eric said as he hypercritically inspected her two companions. “Matt, Eric,” Kate tried to be proper and introduce people. “This is Dave and Grant.”

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“Greg.” He corrected and Kate reddened from her amateur mistake. “Hi.” Matt said flatly to the boys. “Come on, Mom wants to head home.”

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It was a lie. Kate’s mother was in the study with Gerard but she didn’t mind swapping Dave and Greg for Matt and Eric, who would ensure that the gawkers would stay clear. “Oh.” Kate turned to her new friends. “Well, it was nice meeting you.” Dave was disappointed. Greg looked disconcerted. She got up and followed her brothers. “Why were you sitting with those boys?” Matt’s tone was paternal. “They talked to me. What should I have done?” “Left them and found us.” Eric said curtly. Kate hated being patronized. “I can’t go my whole life never speaking to guys.” “You can.” Eric laughed it off. Kate would be well out of college before her family let her roam on her own. Even if she had found them, they were flirting with some girls and would have ignored her or worse yet used her as a prop in their flirtatious endeavors. “Where’s Brian?” Matt scanned the crowd for their last brother. Brian was getting his ear talked off by the priest that had conducted the service. The twins waved him over and he willingly obeyed their command. “Now we need to find Mom.” They walked into the house but the boys didn’t think to look beyond the path they had entered through. “You stay here and don’t talk to strange boys.” Eric instructed Kate and her brothers went in different directions to find their wayward mother outside. She drifted into the foyer debating the pros and cons of checking if her mother was still in the library with Gerard and if she should interrupt assuming the conversation had cooled. A few steps into the dining room and she could hear that it had grown in intensity. She skulked back to the living room and sat with her legs and arms crossed on the Victorian couch. People passed by occasionally expressing their condolences when they recognized her. So many kids loved her grandmother and her shame was renewed for not being one of them. Or may be she did love her some, post mortem if that were possible. A family of four walked out the door as a man retreated back into the house calling out over his shoulder, “I know which purse you had.” It was the man from the bar.

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For the first time Kate could see his face properly and it was even more recognizable than Ellen’s. He was a little over six feet and had hair and eyes like hers. They stared at each other for a long while. Then a smirk crossed his face and he gave a small sideways glance at the door. Ellen had planned the rendezvous. His smile was exactly like hers. “You were AWOL for much of the reception.” He began without an introduction. “My brothers are coming back soon.” She wasn’t sure why she told him. She didn’t mean it as a threat. She just wanted him to jump to the explanation, if he was going to give one. Her stomach lurched from anticipation. Again he glanced back to the door as if his mother had made the arrangements for the moment they shared alone. “I’m guessing we have a few minutes.” And he sat in the chair next to her. Out of a nervous habit, Kate put her index finger in her mouth and started nibbling. The man reached over, took her hand and put it in her lap. His touch was familiar somehow. “You shouldn’t bite your nails.” Again she felt the sensation of a kindred spirit but it was even more overpowering as when her grandfather hugged her. “Do you bite your nails?” “Someone I knew did.” “Who?” Kate expected his response. “Sandy.” He confirmed. “And she’s related to me? And you and Ellen to her?” He sat back astounded by her assumptions and his eyes narrowed. “Do you know who Sandy is?” “Ellen mentioned her.” “This is a longer conversation and your family will back.” He pulled a business card from his wallet. Kate quickly put the card in her pocket without reading it. She didn’t need the distraction and she wanted to study his face. “Don’t call unless you want to.” He got up and picked up a purse that had been left on the coffee table. As he walked out the front door her brothers came in the back with their mother in tow.

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Meeting at the Park

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Matt drove home since Sara was shaky after all her gin and tonic self-medication. Everyone was silent and Kate had plenty of time to codify things quietly in her head. She ran through the clues from the day and knew there was a solution but it continued to be evasive. Their home was even more grandiose than Gerard’s. The gate to the property was open and Matt parked the car in the garage. Ron waited in the kitchen for his family’s return. He was clearly in a foul mood that only soured when Sara stumbled through the door. “You’re drunk!” “I’m comfortably numb.” She slurred. “Three sheets to the wind is more like it. Kids, why don’t you go to your rooms?” It was an order and they dispersed. Once in her room, Kate took out the business card she had smuggled into the house. “James Graham, President Graham Technologies Inc.” she read. Opening a browser screen on her MacBook she typed in the company’s web site. It was typical for a software operation that specialized in games and had some educational programs. Kate clicked on the “about the company” link and read the milestones and general history. She moved the cursor over the “about us” link and then on James’ bio. There was a picture of the man she met at the funeral that was about ten years outdated.

James Graham started this company in 1986 when he was a junior in college. Games were his passion and he successfully made a In 1990 he met his wife After their marriage

profitable career doing what he loved.

Sandra, who was from a family of educators.

they worked on creating fun educational software, which grew more lucrative than the games.

A loud crack broke Kate’s concentration and her head popped up from her computer towards the door. It sounded like glass shattered and she heard Ron yelling. He never got physical except for the occasional breaking of items. She hated when her parents argued. Without a doubt the topic de jour was

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the funeral that Ron didn’t want them to attend. When Kate’s eyes returned to her desk Eric’s reflection sat patiently on her bed in the mirror. “Eric, you startled me.” She mumbled. “We’re waiting for this to pass to have a kids only meeting.” “What about?” She casually minimized the browser on her screen. “Everything from today. That man you’re reading about, Ellen, grandpa.” It was very easy for him to refer to Gerard as grandpa. Kate didn’t mind that Eric saw what she was reading since he didn’t get upset. Eric and Matt didn’t have tempers like their father but they got controlling. Her brothers were more possessive of her than her mother and they spent a great deal of effort keeping her a save distance from Ron when he lost control of himself. It wasn’t needed. Ron was as protective of her as the rest but always from a distance. For all she could tell, the temper flares were merely theatrical affects and over the years they lost their potency to scare. “I’ll change.” She went to the walk-in closet and quickly put on jeans and a shirt. She heard another crash, bigger than before and the house trembled. Maybe Ron threw something through a window. Now that was a bit scarier than theatrics. “Do you think we should check on them?” She couldn’t imagine Ron hurting anyone but if he was throwing things, she didn’t want to risk it. “Mom was doing fine last I heard. It’s only bravado.” Eric had moved from the bed to the desk and was reading about James. “I wonder if his wife was Sandy. It could be short for Sandra.” “That crossed my mind as well. Do you know how she fits into this?” She laced up her Keds. “Later. Matt and Brian are in the garage waiting. We should go now.” He turned off the computer and the lights. He stopped at the door. The house was still. In a soft whisper he told her to get in bed and pretend to be sleeping. He quickly hid in her closet. Kate’s heart pumped from the anxiety as she complied. She pulled her covers over her and rolled on her side just in time to hear her door open. It was their dad. He took a couple of steps into the room. Convinced that she was asleep he left without a word. Eric was out of the closet and at the door listening to see if their dad did the same to the other bedrooms. It was unnecessary because if Ron found an empty room it would not be a quiet discovery. After a few tense minutes Eric motioned for them to move.

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The knob torqued noiselessly by itself and the door swung open. They hurried across the hall to the twins’ room and again the door magically opened. As it closed she followed Eric to his window. Their bedroom faced a tree and was an easy climb to ground. The garage was dark and Matt and Brian waited for them. “Let’s go down to the park.” The gates were closed and the twins hopped up on the wall and helped Brian and Kate climb over. They walked two blocks and sat at a picnic table at the local park. It wasn’t the first kids only meeting they had. Often when their parents argued the twins stole them out of the house for some peace. “We need to pull our knowledge together.” Matt said. He was the first-born of the twins and often spoke as the oldest although their authority was evenly matched. The eerie bond between them didn’t stop them from loving their brother and sister as well. When the occasion called for it, they split their protection with Matt tending to Brian and Eric to Kate. “We’ll start.” Matt continued. “Dad never liked Mom’s parents. That’s why they hadn’t spoken for so long. When Mom was pregnant with you, Kate, she disappeared for six months. We didn’t even know she was expecting – maybe Dad did. He seemed to know she’d come back. And she did with a month old daughter.” It was the first that Kate had heard about it. Immediately she assumed that her parents had been considering a divorce and her birth changed their mind. “You’re holding back.” Eric interrupted. It was rare for the twins to have different opinions on anything. Matt shot him a dirty look and Eric waved him to go on. “It was after her return that we didn’t see or even hear mention of our grandparents. We asked once but Dad said it was their choice and that was that. Mom was never the same in a whole new way.” He paused as he contemplated his next sentence. “After today, we think it’s because you aren’t really our sister.” Kate was flabbergasted. “What?” “Dad has always been distant with you.” It was true. “Until today I thought it was because you’re a girl but after seeing Ellen and how much you look like her… I mean, didn’t we all notice a resemblance?” Brian and Eric nodded. “Or more likely you’re our half-sister.”

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“You think Mom had an affair?” Brian asked picking up the general gist of his hypothesis. He didn’t care for the direction they were going. “With that man at the funeral?” It was beyond too absurd. “James?” Kate whispered his name. “Yeah, that guy. They had a heated discussion.” Brian had taken note of the exchange as well. “And Ellen called her Sandy later. You guys weren’t there. Mom corrected her but it pissed her off.

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Maybe that was a fake name she gave him.” He was already presuming there was a tryst with their mother and James. “And you’re the first daughter in who knows how many generations.” Matt added. Eric wasn’t convinced. He expected Kate to offer up insight. She was too stunned to speak. Still, she felt him waiting for her to make a contribution. She couldn’t think straight let alone speak. When she considered Ellen and James’ relation to her she didn’t factor in it could displace any known relation she already held in belief. There was enough rationale in her mind to see they were making plausible propositions but they were her brothers and she was more sure of that than her own existence. There had to be another answer. “We weren’t the only ones who noticed. Ellen and James saw it too. I’m sure of it.” Brian was the most insightful of the kids and he was never wrong when he picked up clues. “They were looking for you while you were gone.” “Where did you go, by the way?” Eric couldn’t take the suspense. “I ran into those boys.” Kate mumbled. “So they didn’t get a chance to talk to you alone?” Kate realized he meant Ellen or James and not the two guys she met. “Well, not then. Later, when you looked for mother and I waited in the living room, James came in. He gave me his business card.” “That was how you found the website.” Eric finished for her. “It said he was married to a woman named Sandra and Sandy could be short for Sandra.” He squinted his eyes toward Matt. “I think Mom has a sister.” “I disagree.” Matt stated flatly shaking his head. “We would’ve met her.” “We may have.” Eric blasted back.

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“We did blood tests. Sara is our mother!”

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“The results would be the same if they were identical twins like us. And you can’t deny she was very different both times she was pregnant. I think Brian is our half-brother and Kate is our cousin.” Brian rolled his eyes. To think he wasn’t Ron’s son was ridiculous – the similarity was uncanny. It had gotten out of control. “Wait a second. We’re making a lot of assumptions that are pretty far fetched.” Kate scolded out of emotional frustration. She was starting to shiver from the tension. “True. Fact is, both times she was pregnant she was different. So much so that both of us,” Eric pointed at himself and Matt, “thought she wasn’t our mother. We asked her once where mom was and she said she was our mother. We didn’t understand.” “We were babies and women change when they’re pregnant.” Matt retorted. “Brian, what do you think?” Eric knew, as they all did, that Brian’s intuition was best. Brian considered it for a long moment. “Well…we don’t know how she was when she was pregnant with you. That would be helpful information.” He pondered taking up more time despite his sibling’s anxieties. “It’s conceivable.” He finally confirmed and Eric had a smug look. “The question is why switch places. If Mom couldn’t have kids of her own, then they may have swapped when you were born, meaning we all have the same mother. I think we do.” “Fair enough.” Eric conceded. “But what about Kate?” “I would like confirmation before I believe that.” It wasn’t Brian’s sixth sense that held back on that final concession. It was something he couldn’t bring himself to admit. And yet too many things were falling into place to refute it. “That would mean Ron,” Kate didn’t know what to call him at that point, “didn’t know about Sandy, wouldn’t it?” “He may know or may not.” Eric had thought about that before. “They met on vacation and eloped quickly after that. He probably hadn’t met any of her family until they were married.” Kate stood up and paced. All the pieces fit. Their theories tied up a lot of the clues nicely. She wrapped her arms around herself for support. Deductive reasoning aside, she couldn’t bare to accept it. “Relax Kate, this is all speculation.” Brian tried to allay their worries.

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“Forgive me for being a little disturbed by all this. None of you are saying your dad isn’t who you think he is.” Kate didn’t mean to bite off Brian’s head but she needed a solution that didn’t involve her being an outcast. Eric stood up and flung his arms around her. “It doesn’t matter to me. You’re my Kate whether you’re a sister, cousin or no blood relation at all.” It was good to hear. For someone that often said the wrong thing on purpose, Eric could really hit the nail on the head with the right comfort. “We need proof.” Brian got up. “How do we find out for sure without telling any of the adults? I don’t think we should let them know we suspect anything, especially if we’re wrong.” Matt flipped his legs over the bench to face them. “Mom would tell us the truth if we asked but I don’t think she wants us to know.” “I have a right to know who my real father is.” Kate squeaked into Eric’s chest. She needed to know – one way or the other. “We’ll find a way.” Eric vowed. “We still have genetic results from Mom and Dad. We can take one from you and do the same test.” “You can?” Kate pushed back as she wiped away a few stray tears. “We used the facilities at college. It was a science project.” Matt answered. “We have a friend in summer school. We’ll get access. It won’t take long.” “Where is Sandy now?” Brian asked out of the blue. “I mean, if we have an aunt, wouldn’t she have been at the funeral?” “If she’s alive.” Matt was thinking out loud. “I didn’t see a grave near Grandmother’s but I hadn’t thought to look for one.” “We can go back tomorrow.” Eric offered. “But I know a way we can find out tonight. We need to get into the lock box in Dad’s office and see Mom’s birth certificate. It’ll say if it was a single birth or not.” “That’s right. Ours says twin on it.” Matt remembered. “How can we get to it without the combination?” Brian wondered.

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“We can do it.” Eric said. “You know how we can move things with our minds, well, we have been experimenting with locks and we can open them now that we understand the mechanism inside.” “We absolutely cannot get caught.” Kate warned needlessly. It would be an intolerable act.

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They hurried back to their house, which was dark and stagnant. They went to the safe box in their father’s office. The back window was smashed from earlier. Kate looked out to see what Ron threw but didn’t find any potential projectile. “You do it. You’re better.” Matt said. Eric closed his eyes as he concentrated and after a few clicks the door swung open. Inside the fireproof box were folders and files. “In that one. That’s where mine was.” Brian had recently got his driver’s license and had needed his documentation to do so. Matt pulled out the file and inside were their parents wedding certificate, passports, Baptism certificates and birth certificates for the whole family. It was weird they had Baptisms. “That’s odd. There isn’t a certificate for Mom.” Matt shuffled through the papers again. “It was a good idea.” Kate patted Eric’s shoulder. “Sshh.” Eric held up his hand. There were footsteps coming down the stairs. “You two hide.” Eric put things back in order as Matt turned off the light. They all went to the kitchen. Brian and Kate hid in the pantry and heard the fridge open and close. It would be bad if Ron discovered them out of bed. If he figured out that they opened his safe and why, he would erupt. He was already on a shorter fuse than normal. The kitchen light came on and a beam of brightness shined through the space under the door. “Hello boys.” Ron sounded calmer. “Hi Dad.” They said in unison with complete innocence. Kate never understood how they pulled it off so effortlessly especially in the presence of their intimidating father. “Late night snack? I don’t know where you two put it all.” He joked. He got a glass of water. “We don’t like it when you argue.” Eric chided. “We were too loud.” Ron never got upset with the twins. They were his pride and joy. “It wasn’t meant for your ears.”

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“We didn’t hear what you were talking about if that helps.” Matt ingratiated in a tactical maneuver.

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“It’s over and things are back to normal.” Ron’s heavier steps were distinguishable. He walked to the door. “Forget about it.” After a couple of minutes the twins opened the pantry and they all snuck back into their rooms.

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Sandy & Sara Even in her torpid state Kate couldn’t sleep with theories swirling chaotically her mind. She tossed and turned until four and finally drifted into a restless slumber. In one dream, her mother was

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standing next to her look-alike happily chatting about the children. Then Ann was there. Everyone faded as the scene changed and she stood overlooking the ocean. Next to her was James. There was a thin mist covering everything except him, who she could see clearly. She was astonished how well her memory was. He looked exactly as he had at the funeral down to his clothes. He was in good shape and handsome. “Hello Kate.” James bear hugged her and the connection Kate felt earlier was more powerful still. “Hi.” She reluctantly let go. “You have questions.” “Many.” “Ask me anything.” His eyes, which were the same as hers, were gentle. “Is Sandy your wife?” “She was. She passed away. Or I thought she did.” “You aren’t sure?” Maybe he hadn’t considered she could have a twin. “I could’ve sworn she was at the funeral, with you actually.” “That was my mother. Her name is Sara.” “Sandy was her twin.” “So Mom did have a twin.” Kate was surprised that her dream was offering up confirmation and wondered where in her mind it came from. Was it from unconscious deductions, hidden fears or fantasy? “I didn’t know until today. That’s what Gerard told my mother.” “Did you check her birth certificate? Do you have it?” “I didn’t think of that but I will in the morning.” “What do you make of all this?” “I’d like to hear your idea first.” He seemed hopeful as he waited for her to respond. “It isn’t my idea but it seems possible.” She paused to gather courage, “My brothers think you may be my biological father.”

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“I think the same thing.” He was being enormously careful. “How do you feel about that?” “It could explain some things. Seems pretty out there.” “If it’s true, we’ll find out soon. Be patient.”

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There was a delicate tuxedo kitten at his feet that Kate hadn’t noticed before. It ran its body along his pants and playfully pulled the leg. “That’s Zuzu. She’s a gift from my mother to you.” He bent down and picked up the kitten. She didn’t like being held. Her fur was medium length and her feet, belly and tip of her nose were white while the rest of her was ebony. “I’m not allowed pets.” Ron wasn’t an animal person. “Keep your window opened and leave water and food in your room. She’ll stay away from the others.” He handed the restless kitten to her and she accepted it. Zuzu’s hair was fluffy and soft. It was the most real dream she had ever had. The cat squirmed to be free and Kate stooped to put her back on the ground. Zuzu rubbed along Kate’s legs and put her paws on her knees. “She’s adorable.” Kate was in love. Zuzu stared into her eyes kneading her claws gently into her jeans. It was as if the cat was telling her that she would keep watch on her. “I’m glad you like her. She’s taken to you nicely. Of course mom was always good with animals.” He had squatted down to be level with Kate and pet Zuzu. “Let me sort things out. See what I can find on my end. I’m sure there’s more for Gerard to divulge. I’m going to talk to him tomorrow. I won’t tell you not to research things on your end but I’d rather you didn’t. This may be a witch-hunt and nothing changes. But there are some secrets for sure. Old secrets are dangerous. People have put a lot to keep it if…” He couldn’t finish his thought. “If I’m your daughter.” Kate bravely finished. He glanced down at the cat, humiliated that he couldn’t speak the words himself. “I’m sure you are. But if you aren’t, it’s opening a potential wound. And more likely, if you are, what to do next.” “Next?” Kate reverberated. She hadn’t considered the consequences. Of course she would want to know her father but how much more tension could her home life take? Things would snap, they were too taut not to. “If I wasn’t your father,” he gulped a little, “I probably wouldn’t be here.”

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“What do you mean?” But Kate didn’t get an answer. She was waking up. Her mother sat on her bed gently nudging her. “Get up. We have to run an errand.” Kate rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. Her neck was sore from lack of sleep. She blinked as she adjusted to the daylight and glanced at her clock. It was eight in the morning. “Get dressed.” Her mother left.

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Kate cleaned up and grabbed her jeans from the night before and a fresh shirt. When she came out of the closet, Zuzu was laying on her bed. Stunned, Kate scratched her ears and Zuzu purred in ecstasy. How did the same cat from her dream appear in her room? The window was open as it often was. Maybe the cat had come in the night and worked its way into her dream. Sara waited at the bottom of the staircase. Everyone else was still asleep after the late night. Judging by the bags under her eyes, Sara hadn’t slept all night. “Where are we going?” “To Santa Katrina.” She had a determination about her. “I’ll explain in the car.” Her mother was usually a poky driver but sped down the highway like Matt or Eric would. After several minutes, as they drove through the Valley, Kate decided she couldn’t take the suspense. “Are we going to see Gerard?” “No. A man named Jim Graham.” That was the final confirmation Kate needed. She was already convinced that he was her biological father but after that statement she let herself trust it. All the lies were about to be unearthed. “Go on.” “He’s your father.” Sara glanced at her daughter. “You don’t seem shocked but then you would have a sense for that sort of thing.” “Are you my mother?” Kate tried to sound tender but there was no escaping the audacity in the question. Sara blushed. “Yes.” She laughed nervously. “I suppose I deserve that.” “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” “Yes, I am your mother. You seem to have all the answers. Do I even need to explain anything?”

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“I don’t have any answers, only questions.” “This is my time for reckoning.” She gave Kate’s hand a squeeze. “I love you.” Kate didn’t know why she said it. Maybe because when Eric told her she was his Kate no matter what it assuaged her worries about the potential earth shattering truths that awaited. “I love you too.” “So you’re going to tell me everything about you and James and Sandy?”

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Sara gave a long sigh. “You have more than just questions. Sandy? I hadn’t heard that name in years until yesterday.” “She’s your twin?” “No. Sara’s my twin. I’m Sandy.” She laughed again with a hint of hysterics. “How long I have wanted to tell you and your brothers.” There was a twist that none of the kids had guessed. “And where is Sara?” “She passed away.” Sandy wiped away tears. “God, I miss her. Matt and Eric have it figured out better than we did. The bond they share as twins is stronger than any other. Even when they fall in love, the bond won’t be as…” she hunted for a fitting expression, “intrusive. That isn’t a good word for it. You never know anything else so it doesn’t feel invasive. It feels unified and unbreakable, invincible even.” Kate let her mother process through her emotions. It was an old secret, as her dream James had said, and would upset a lot of things when it was uncovered. “That was how it was with Sara and I. Unlike your brothers, we were actually very different. And except for my sister’s bond, I was extremely independent. Sara dated as soon as we were permitted but I was happy without a steady guy. Not Sara. She had a draw to powerful men in particular. She dated all the top boys at school and she loved to steal from other girls. She was what you would call a vamp. Luckily my taste in men was the antithesis of hers or maybe because we were sisters, she never meddled in the few guy friends I had.” “When we started college she insisted we rush a sorority. I didn’t find it my cup of tea but she joined one and slowly we started down different paths. We were so connected that we knew each other’s minds and hearts as well as our own and it was like living two lives at once. A year after college, a close sorority sister of Sara’s was getting married and a group went to Vegas for a bachelorette weekend. That

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was where she met Ron. He was at the electronic convention with his co-worker/girlfriend. Sara worked her magic and by the end of the week, he was hers. She knew our parents wouldn’t like him. He was too temperamental, even for her, but she loved him. A month later they were married in Hawaii.” “Of course, I knew I wouldn’t like him because I experienced it in a vicarious but substantial way so I conveniently was out of town when they came home. It was the only time she brought him to Santa Katrina. We didn’t see each other much after that. I moved to Boston and worked there teaching. It was a lot of fun and being home in Santa Katrina was hard without her. When she could get away she split her time between California and Massachusetts. Often our parents would time a trip to Boston in sync with hers and that was how it went for the first couple of years.” “After that, she told me that Ron wanted a baby. She couldn’t have kids. She had an abortion in college and it messed her up.” Sandy frowned at Kate. She was mature enough to understand the story but considering where it was headed, she worried it was too much. “We had traded places so many times and she had a brainstorm. She begged me to have a baby for her. I was appalled by the idea, she meant for us to switch places but I couldn’t deny her that. And that was when the twins were born. It was the worst year of my life.” Kate tried to hide the revulsion thinking of her mother sleeping with her sister’s husband to have his kids. She wasn’t a prude but that was wrong. “Sara was in Boston all the time taking my place but even with that distance we were so closely bonded. She cramped, bloated and craved right along with me. After they were born, I quickly lost the weight and we swapped back. Sara was able to nurse. It was about the weirdest thing ever. Ron, still controlling, was always a doting husband when I was pregnant, which helped. Heirs, male heirs were very important to his family. Well, you know how your grandparents are on his side.” It was true. Ron had fallen a good distance from the proverbial tree. He was never cruel or mean, just removed and only with her. But his parents were draconian. They didn’t care for Kate at all. Her brothers were very turned off by it and most protective of her when they visited. “It worked and even being so far from the boys, I felt close because of her. Motherhood made me miss my mother and she got sick for her first time shortly after the twins were born. I moved back to

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California. It wasn’t as hard at home knowing that Sara had her boys to keep her happy. She loved them so much.” She cleared away another stray tear with the back of her hand. “I ran into Jim then. We had dated in high school and he was still so handsome. Somehow he broke through my barriers, something he couldn’t do before. We didn’t go to the same school and he didn’t know I had a twin. He melted my hard heart. All of Sara’s dating inured me on men before I even tried for myself. I never told him I had a twin. Ron would want more sons and that meant Sara would take my place. We would swap again. And we did. Ron never doubted I was Sara but Jim seemed to tell I wasn’t myself on some level. He never slept with her – but he was affectionate in the general ways. He wrote it off as I was going through a phase.” “And after Brian was born, I lost the weight and we transitioned back to our rightful husbands. Jim was suddenly insatiable from his time of celibacy and we were very active.” Sandy blushed. “You may be too young to hear all this.” “It’s a little creepy.” Kate admitted. Sandy raised her eyebrows. “It didn’t seem so to us. We were so in tune I knew when she was fooling around. I could block it out but again it was like my other life. I was as honest as was safe with Jim. He knew I had only been with one other man and that I hadn’t loved him.” “Sara begged me for another child right away. I told her it was my last and we swapped. And I got pregnant on cue. I used the rhythm method, which made timing the swaps so that I got pregnant right away easy. Getting pregnant with you was different than the other times. At first I didn’t think much of it but then I started to wonder if you were a girl. This worried me because Ron didn’t want daughters. When I told Sara about my concerns she panicked. She said that Ron’s family never had girls. I know genetically it can be favored that way but still exceptions happened. She told me that his family was different than other people. They had skills, telekinetic skills, and that was how they ensured male offspring.” “Dad’s telekinetic?” Kate blurted out. It made sense. She wondered if her mother suspected the twins were as well. “Very precise skills except when he’s mad and can’t control it. Things will break when he his holding back his anger. His parents have awful tempers. He does a good job fighting it. He expects to see

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signs of telekinesis soon in the twins. We have our skills too, telepathy and empathy and we can hinder

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others from using theirs. Ron doesn’t know about that. And we have a lot of twins, not really sure why.” “Telepathy?” Again Kate’s mind leapt to the twins. “Isn’t all this rare?” “Not as rare as you think and it isn’t unusual to find others like us or with different gifts. But all the gifts materialize late in development. The twins are actually behind schedule. They may hide it. Ron loves them but he is so dominating, they withdraw from it some.” “How could that help with having male children?” “The more he understands something the easier it is for him to manipulate the outcome.” Eric had said something similar about the mechanics of locks the night before. Sandy continued. “It may be biological but it’s a physical act and can be controlled. So now I was worried because I realized at four months that you were Jim’s.” “Well honestly Mom, rhythm?” “I didn’t like the idea of putting chemicals into my body and it’s as reliable as any other form. Sara was the same way and she only got pregnant once when she was drunk. Trust me, she proved it worked.” “Go on.” It sounded ridiculous to Kate but it was too late to correct mistakes. “Sara and I left both our lives and moved to Colorado, where you were born. Before we could decide what to do about the boys, a drunk driver killed her and I was alone. I couldn’t leave the boys and if Ron learned the truth he would take them from me. It’s Sara’s name on their birth certificates. And I couldn’t go back to Jim and tell him, oh, I was pregnant and the woman he lived with for four months was really my twin. I did what I thought was best for our children. She had my ID with her at the time and I never corrected the coroner.” It was odd that even though she was their physical mother she referred to them as our children. “When I came home with a daughter Ron assumed I had cheated on him. He was furious. I saw his ugly side in person. He was so sweet when I was baby baking. And I think it was the first time he broke something when he didn’t mean to. It terrified me because he didn’t touch it. His mother was even angrier. She called me a hussy but Ron threw her out. He said regardless of whom the father was, he would raise you since you were my daughter. He loves you but he can’t bring himself to be close because

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deep down, he knows you aren’t his. As for us, he called it over when I returned but didn’t want the

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embarrassment of a divorce. We are merely parents. We have a friendship but that’s all and it’s strained.” They were in Santa Katrina city limits and Kate didn’t know how much time was left. “And now?” Kate pressed. Dream James had brought up the idea of what to do next and Kate didn’t know what her mother’s plan was as they neared the real James to tell him he had a practically grown daughter. “I’ll deal with Ron later. It was wrong for me to keep you from Jim. Actually, I think it’s illegal. A day hasn’t passed that I don’t feel the tremendous guilt. I always knew that but seeing him yesterday.” She shook her head. “I tried to stare him down in the church. I don’t know what he must have thought when he saw you kids with me. But even a blind man could see the likeness between you and him. Then I bumped into him and it was too late to turn around. He called me Sandy and I almost forgot my fraudulent self. Sixteen years of being Sara I had lost who I really was but seeing him made it all disappear. But I did regain control and corrected him. He was confused and hurt. I don’t think he believed me. And he was right.” She paused. “All this needs to be between us until I know what to do about everything.” “Okay, but the boys suspect something. They think you had an affair and I’m only their half sister or their cousin.” “They do?” Sandy wasn’t that shocked. “That may be our story.” She drove down a windy road that had small strip malls and office buildings and pulled into the parking lot of Graham Technologies. “Are you ready for this?” Kate nodded. She didn’t want to lie.

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Realignment

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Ellen was on the phone at the front desk. Whoever she was speaking to was told their call would be returned. She clicked some buttons as she motioned them forward. “Can you come here?” She said into her hands-free set. “Welcome.” Ellen shot Sandy a cool look and a warm one to Kate. “What is it?” Jim said as he walked into the reception area. He stopped abruptly at the sight of the two women. “Oh… Well… Yeah… Um, let’s go to my office.” They wove through the cubicles and offices to the largest. Every few steps Jim checked they were still behind him. Sandy and Kate sat in two chairs in front of his desk as he closed the doors and the blinds to the window looking out into the building. The view from the other windows was gorgeous. It spanned out over the Pacific Coast. “I didn’t expect to see you here today.” He held back accusations. “It’s good to see you again.” Sandy said. “This is my daughter, Katherine Ann.” “Hello.” He waited for the other shoe to drop. “She’s our daughter, actually.” She added stolidly. Kate waited for the lecture. She expected Jim to yell. Instead he was quiet and careful as he had been in her dream. He ran his hand through his hair. “I thought so.” He looked long and hard at Kate and smiled. Then his eyes watered. He blinked them dry. “Do you want the whole story?” “You had a twin and traded places.” He guessed. “Some times.” His eyes narrowed as he considered it through. “Why comes to mind.” “Sara couldn’t have children of her own.” “So you’re Sandy.” After he said that he glanced at Kate to see if he spoke out of turn. “She knows everything. I told her on the way here.” He held his hand over his mouth as his brain worked out the math. Kate’s phone started to vibrate. She pulled it out and read the text messaged from Eric. “Where are you?”

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“It’s Eric.” She said to her parents. “You can use the room next door to talk to him.”

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Kate walked out of the office and into an empty conference room and called Eric. “Hi, I’m with Mom in Santa Katrina.” “Really? Do you know what’s going on?” Eric was frantic. “I’ll tell you later. We’re kind of in the middle of something.” “Kate?” He never had much patience. “I can’t now. I promised Mom. Please give me some time.” “Are you okay?” He put his eagerness behind her well-being. “Yes, yes. Confused though.” “Take care. We’ll wait.” He didn’t want to. “I love you.” She was ready to cry. “We love you too. Wait until I have my say on the matter.” Eric hung up. Funny but Jim was taking it better than Eric. “They’re worried.” She told her biological parents when she returned. Sandy looked abashed. “If you’re here and telling us everything, what does that mean?” Jim wanted to know what happened next, just like the Jim from the dream. “I wanted to know what you had to say.” Sandy watched Jim carefully. Kate could see that her mother still loved him in some way. “You haven’t told me everything. I don’t mean the story. What’s the situation?” “Very to the point. I don’t know what Ron will do. He won’t malign us but his parents may try. So we’ll have to take actions to keep them away.” “Define malign.” Jim was dead serious. “His mother is wicked. She’ll come after me. Still Kate is safer here.” “Here? Temporarily?” Sandy frowned and took her time answering. “Permanently. I think you should take custody. I’ll sign it over.”

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Kate’s head whipped towards her mother. Did she hear that correctly?

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He popped out of his chair and stared out over the ocean. “Shit! Oops. You didn’t hear that.” He pointed to Kate. “You come in here after sixteen years and tell me I have a daughter and you’re giving me custody?” The words were like cold blasts of icy water on Kate. She wanted him to be happy to find her. “If you don’t want her, I understand. We can go back to how things were. But it can’t be half way. It can’t be visits.” Sandy didn’t expect his reaction either. “Don’t want her?” He was incredulous. “Of course I want her. I want to know her. I want to turn back the clock and watch her grow up for myself. But dammit Sandy it isn’t that simple. We would need proof, a blood test, and legal papers.” “How long will that take?” “A few days at the fastest. Can you stay here? Maybe with Gerard? Are you sure about this?” “The twins are in college and Brian is a little more than a year away from eighteen. I can leave Ron and move in with my father. I don’t want to give up custody but Ron can’t keep it. He wouldn’t make visitation easy for you or me since I’m sure he’ll divorce me. If he wants to see her, he can come here but his parents have to be kept away.” Kate’s head was reeling hearing them talk about her like property. Thinking she may not see Ron much if at all was terrifying. And her brothers, how could she live without them? “What do you want?” Jim asked Kate. Sandy sat up. She wasn’t ready for that. Kate didn’t pause. “I want to get to know you.” It wasn’t a choice. It was a need, pure and simple. A slough covered her that wasn’t her truest self and she needed to molt to be reborn. “At what cost?” Jim gently pushed. “I’ve had plenty of time to think about this over the years.” Sandy interrupted. “What isn’t an option is keeping things as they are and getting to know Jim. You’ll have to make a tough choice.” Kate didn’t often get to make decisions. There was no need in a family of six and being the youngest. And she never made important calls and that was as important as a choice could be. Kate stared at her mother thinking about the story she heard on her way to meet Jim. And she looked at Jim. There

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was so much she wanted to know about him. So many questions that needed solving. It was her brothers that made her decision painstaking. “So I stay here and never see my brothers again?” “They would see you. You couldn’t live with them but they’ll always be your brothers. You know that.” The twins were already in college, University of California, Santa Barbara, which was close to Santa Katrina. Brian would follow in a year. She felt an emptiness grow in her very soul. Ron wouldn’t forgive her mother and he might disown her. It was a choice between two fathers. She needed to know Jim. Ron’s actions would be his to choose. “Let’s do this.” It took every fiber of courage to speak.

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 Breaking the News

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After lunch, they met with Jim’s lawyer to start the legal papers and he recommended the quickest route to get a blood test. Results would take three days and that was the short cut. It was three o’clock after they had taken care of business. They drove to Gerard’s house and he joined them in the long arduous drive back to San Marino. Before they turned the engine off the twins and Brian were outside. “Mother, what’s going on?” Matt’s voice was urgent. “Kate and I are going to stay with your grandfather for a few days.” She answered tersely. “Why?” Eric didn’t take his eyes off Kate. She was going to be taken from him. “You’ll find out later.” They entered the house and Ron stood in the hallway. “Can we talk?” He asked holding back his outrage. “Kate, get your things.” Sandy ordered and turned to Ron. “Let’s have this out.” Her brothers sat around her bedroom as she packed. Zuzu stretched and yawned and followed Kate as she hurried about. “Kate, what is it?” Eric demanded. “We all have the same mother but I have a different father. I’m only your half-sister. But she wants to tell you.” She packed some trinkets, the sort of things that didn’t seem like much at the time but each reminded her of treasured moments. “You aren’t coming back?” Eric said sullenly as she packed a picture he drew before she was born of the family. It was awful but their mother had framed it and kept it in Kate’s room. Kate stopped moving and looked at her brother. Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t know. Not to live here. But really, I’m not suppose to say anything.” “And we don’t have a vote?” Brian spoke when Eric couldn’t. Kate shook her head. “I have another father and we need to get acquainted.” She fought back the urge to cry but it was building. She was running out of audacity. “This sucks.” “Brian, we’re still family.”

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“Is it because of dad?” Matt asked.

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Kate’s hole in her soul ached to think of Ron and the possibility of never seeing him again. “No. Grandma and Grandpa Thomas. They can’t know. Not yet.” He understood. “Where did this cat come from?” Brian tried to get Zuzu’s attention. “She came into my room last night. She’s Zuzu.” The cat peaked up recognizing her name. “Come here Zuzu.” Hoping up on the bed she allowed Brian to pet her. Eric sat next to the affectionate cat and played with her tail. “She’s cute.” He said trying to sound nonchalant as always but failed miserably for the first time. “I’ll take her with me.” Kate had put her laptop into her book bag and picked up her duffle. With the distraction of packing completed the urge to cry increased. “I don’t like this.” Brian gave her an iron strong embrace. “Ditto.” Matt said and hugged her. Eric didn’t say a word and held her longest. He was having the hardest time. She was his little sister since the day he met her. He shared her with Matt and Brian but he always considered her as his and they only borrowed her from time to time. She wiped away the tears that finally pooled and fell. They marched down stairs in reverse birth order and the adults waited, their meeting over. Surprisingly there was no yelling or breaking. “And where did that come from?” Ron glanced oddly at Zuzu. “It’s a stray. I was hoping she could come with me.” “Sure thing.” Gerard answered taking the kitten and Kate’s bags out the door. Then Ron did something unexpected by all. He hugged her. It was a long tight loving embrace. “I love you. I know I never shared it well but I do. If you ever need me, I’ll be there.” “Thanks dad.” Kate started to cry again. “I love you too.” She sat in the back seat of the car with Zuzu on her lap doing her best to think about nothing rather than how her all was changing forever. Why did she agree to move to Santa Katrina? Why bade farewell to everything she had ever known? It was because she had to.

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“He took that well.” Gerard commented as they drove off from the only home she knew. When Sara first married Ron, he didn’t take to him. But the Ron he just met was a different man, a broken man. “The truth is healing. And now he understands why I stopped being his loving wife.” Sandy’s eyes were raw and red. She had been crying as well. “He’s a good man underneath his icy exterior. Sara did well for herself. His wired wrong – guess he inherited that – but he knows and he does his best to be a good family man.” “How will the boys take it?” “Ron will tell them everything tonight.” Sara’s eyes darted to Kate who was nodding off from her lack of a full night’s rest. “I didn’t know this would happen. I didn’t know that Kate wasn’t Ron’s until I met her.” Gerard felt responsible. “This is all my fault Dad.” Sandy said valiantly. He shook off his guilt as best he could. “I’m glad you did this. It was your mother’s dying wish that you free yourself from this masquerade.” “I miss her so much.” Sandy wept. “I miss them both.” “And that you didn’t see Ann before she passed is my fault. What a foolish family we are.” They laughed at their stupidity happy to be reunited. Kate’s somnolence overtook her and she faded.

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Some Errands

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Zuzu woke Kate up the next morning pawing softly at her face. She sat up and couldn’t remember anything after she passed out in the car. There was a food dish and water for Zuzu and a litter box in the bathroom. Kate recognized the room from the day of the funeral. It was one of the unused bedrooms in Gerard’s house. She took a relaxing shower and put on some long shorts and a tank top. Her mother was in the kitchen making breakfast. “You look better.” “I slept like a log.” “Good.” She prepared a plate of pancakes and bacon and poured a glass of orange juice for Kate. “It’s nice how familiar it still feels here.” “It’s always a home for you to come to.” Gerard walked in with the newspaper and sat on the stool next to Kate after giving her a bear hug. Sandy fixed two more plates and juices and they were too absorbed in their meal to talk. “So, what’s on the agenda for today.” Gerard picked up their plates and put them in the sink. “I called Jim this morning. He wants to spend the day with you.” Sandy pulled Kate’s long hair out of her face. She had a habit of hiding behind it. “That’ll be nice.” The idea frightened Kate. What if he didn’t like her? Maybe she wouldn’t like him. He seemed nice enough but she hadn’t spent more than a few hours with him and almost none alone. Outside of a few school friends, she hadn’t been alone with anyone without family. Jim was family. She would cope. On schedule, the doorbell rang and Kate was ready. Jim gave her a hesitant embrace. “We’ll be back by dinner time. Mother was hoping we could all go out together.” “That could be interesting.” Sandy sighed. He chuckled. “She promised to be good.” They walked out the door and Kate got into his silver Escalade. “We have one errand and then we can do whatever you like.” Jim was excited with a hint of terror. He wanted her to like him. No, he needed her to love him. “Anything is fine.” Kate was terrified with a hint of excitement. Her love for him was growing.

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They drove up to the gates of a mansion and down the long and winding drive. “St. Ignatius Loyola” was inscribed in the plaque on the gate. It was three stories tall and beyond the parking lot were four pristine tennis courts. There were a handful of cars but it was mostly vacant. “What’s this?” Kate said closing the car door. “My high school. We should sign you up.” “I wouldn’t just go to the public school?” Jim stopped and his joy ebbed. “Would you prefer that? This is one of the best school’s in California.”

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“I hadn’t thought about it.” Kate hadn’t spent one second in the couple of days that her life turned upside down to think about her education once she moved. The idea of moving out of her home was daunting enough. Little persnickety details like school were too far down the list to worry about. “They may not be able to take you so late. But let’s check it out.” He had a spring in his step as he bounded up the stairs and entered his alma mater. “It hasn’t changed a bit.” The grand entrance had a wooden staircase wrapping upward to the left. It was like a small castle. The ceiling had classical arches and the floor was marble. It was straight out of a movie set. “Oh, we have more computers now.” A priest strolled out of a room that had a sign saying “Administrative Office.” It was the priest who preformed the Mass for her grandmother’s funeral. He was in his sixties and a couple of inches shy of six feet. His hair was black with grey temples and he had a genial face. “And to what do I owe this unprecedented visit?” “Father Francis.” Jim vigorously shook his hand and pulled Kate close. “This is my daughter Kate.” Kate startled at Jim when he introduced her. He was technically accurate but this was the first time someone other than Sara, well Sandy or Ron had referred to her as a daughter. Father Francis was just as shocked. “I didn’t know you had a daughter.” “It’s a crazy story but this is indeed my long lost daughter and she will be moving to Santa Katrina. How difficult it would be to enroll her at St. Iggy’s?” “You mean St. Ignatius’ I’m sure.” He automatically corrected. “She isn’t a freshman and we have a waiting list but we have made the rare exception for worthy legacies. Let’s talk in my office.” He

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led the way to a room labeled “Head Master” and closed the door behind them. “Would you like some coffee or water?” They each took a bottle of water as the priest played at his computer for a minute. “We may be able to work it out. What year are you and what is your GPA?” “I’m a junior, sir, and I am not sure of my exact GPA. I get all A’s except for history and biology.” “I recall another student of mine that didn’t like memorization subjects as he classified them.” He smirked at Jim who didn’t mind the jab. “And religion?” “I was baptized.” Kate was trying her best to impress although she wasn’t sure why. “You were?” Jim asked. “We all were.” The priest laughed softly. “And Confirmation.” “I have a certificate. Well, I can get it if you need to see it.” He chortled. “I’m sure you do. But did you go through any other sacraments; Penance, First Communion, Confirmation?” Kate didn’t understand the question but Jim did. “I don’t think so. Her mother isn’t religious.” “Ah!” He said understandingly. “And who is her mother?” Jim got defensive, “Sandy.” “Sandy? But she passed away…” “Long story. But would that really matter?” “Not for admission. It was just my personal curiosity as a family friend.” He wasn’t ashamed. Kate was catching on to the implication. It wasn’t a polite question. But religions were prone to prehistoric ideology and were very big on abstinence and marriage. She began to feel that she didn’t belong in that school. “So I take it you don’t have any religion study grades.” He had meant her religion grade when he asked earlier. “We have a prerequisite for religion every year here. Will that be a problem?” “No.” Jim loosened up. “Are you in any honors programs or advanced classes?”

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“Math and I was going to take AP Physics this year, sir.” Was sir the correct way to address a priest?

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If he wasn’t impressed by her marks, he was then. “Excellent. But you did say you were Sandy’s daughter. That means you are Gerard and Ann’s granddaughter.” “That’s correct.” He sat back in acceptance. “Well, of course we can work this out.” Jim laughed. “I should’ve started with name dropping.” “Well, Gerard does teach here and we will never fill Ann’s shoes. Legacies are helpful but we do not decline an able child of our teachers’. We won’t have any problems.” He opened a file drawer and pulled out an admission folder. “We’ll need your transcript as soon as you can get a copy. This is for incoming freshmen but it covers essentials for any new student. Once we have her schedule ready, I’ll email you a book list.” Jim thanked him for the information and they left the building. “He thinks I was born out of wedlock.” Kate blurted out when they were safely in the car. “Good thing he doesn’t know the whole story. It is far more bizarre than that.” Jim made a good point. He had an easy nature. “But it isn’t his business. Is it?” Kate inquired. Maybe Jim thought nothing of Father what’s-hisname’s nosiness since he was a priest. “Catholicism has some antiquated traditions.” Kate picked up the folder and started reading. It touted their curriculum and college acceptance rate. There was a section on sports and she was glad to see that tennis was an option for physical education. Fridays were always short days and free dress. Kate didn’t understand the free dress term until she turned the page that had the uniform and dress code. “A uniform?” “Four days a week.” “Do they have a dungeon in lieu of detention?” She was only joking. “JUG. But you won’t have to worry about that. Or do you get into trouble?” Jim had a curious expression. “Jug?”

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“JUG.” He repeated. “It stands for justice under God. It usually entails a little physical labor and copying versus from the Bible.” “Physical labor? What century do these holies think it is?” Kate grimaced. “Gardening mostly. It isn’t that bad.” He spoke from experience. “Did you get into trouble?” “Enough.” He quickly glanced at her disgusted expression. “You don’t have to go here. We’ll drive by the public school so you can see it. I won’t be offended if you’re more comfortable with that option. The choice is yours.” Again Kate had an option and it was important. “I’ll go wherever you think is best.” She wasn’t in the right state of mind to do something as complicated as make an educational guess. “I think it’s best if you choose for yourself.” Kate rolled her eyes but he didn’t catch her. “What did he mean when he said religion was a requirement?” “They have four years required religion but they won’t expect you to make up the first two.” “How hard is your religion that you need that many classes?” He threw his head back in muffled laughter. “You don’t have to be Catholic to go to St. Ignatius’. And since you’re a junior you have elective options like philosophy or denominations and world religions.” “They teach other religions? Aren’t they like their competition?” “Not in depth. But they had a class called World Religions when I was a kid. You don’t like the idea of Catholic school. It’s the education that makes it worth it. It’s a private institution and there are benefits that go with that, smaller classes for example.” “I have mixed feelings about the religion but I like that Gerard teaches there. I don’t know him either. Is he Catholic?” “Not very but more in the last years that he started teaching at St. Ignatius’. I was surprised that you and your brothers were baptized.” “Me too. We found baptism papers in the lock box when we were looking for mother’s birth certificate.”

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“So you do get into trouble.” He seemed a little pleased as if that was some proof that she was his daughter. “It was Eric’s idea and we didn’t get caught so there was no trouble.” “You were looking for your mother’s birth certificate to see if she was a twin?” “That’s right.” Kate recalled her peculiar dream from a couple nights back. “We actually kind of had this conversation.” “I remember.” “You can’t remember. It was in my dream.” “Our dream.” He amended. “A dream we shared.” “How can we share a dream?” “It’s a family talent. If we know someone well, we can will ourselves to meet in our dreams. I wasn’t sure if it would work with you since we had only briefly met but as it turned out, it was easier than ever.” He hadn’t convinced her. “How do you think you got Zuzu?” “I figured she happened into my room and I worked her into my dream. You gave her to me? But you weren’t really there, were you?” “No. And I don’t think you could do that with people but Mom was sure it would work with Zuzu and she wanted to keep an eye on you in case you were my daughter, which you are, and in case Sandy was going to be difficult, which she isn’t.” “How would she do that?” “Another family secret. We get along very well with animals. Mom is exceptionally gifted in that realm. She can talk to them.” “She talks to animals?” “It’s not like a people conversation but she can get her wishes across and she can read theirs. Before she retired she was a veterinarian.” Kate had hit overwhelmed long ago and all the over stimulation numbed her mind. She decided not to ask any more questions that could add to her perplexing state. “So where to now?” That seemed like a safe direction. “Well, that’s the public high school.”

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They pulled up to a very run-of-the-mill looking school. The buildings were block shaped, brick and bland with a chain-linked fence surrounding the entire property. It looked feeble in comparison. It was like a prison being compared to a resort. To add to the stark contrast were two tennis courts in disarray. “It’s kind of inhospitable.” Jim was glad to hear her say that. “The choice is yours.” “If I don’t like it at your school can I come here?” “Of course, but you will.” He sped on down the street. It was so easy for Kate to talk to Jim. She didn’t feel the need to be overly polite. Jim didn’t think she was impertinent as her grandparents on Ron’s side often did. He was very open to hear her opinions and was willing to give her room to make her own conclusions. Kate liked that Jim gave her options. She hated it too. What if she made the wrong choice? What if she hated it at St. Whoever’s? What if the public school wasn’t any better? San Marino public school was small and competitive with private schools. She had the best of both worlds there, no religion classes and decent facilities. Jim took her to his house next. It was a two-story tall Spanish style home. Inside was decorated Southwestern with many colors muted out to more neutral tones. A pleasant sweet aroma wafted in the hallway. “I told mother that we’d see her later but she couldn’t wait.” “Consider it pay back for all the years you didn’t listen to me.” Ellen walked in to greet them. She was wearing an apron around her jeans and she looked like one of those young retirees that spent most of their time traveling. “Kate, how are you?” “Good, thank you.” Kate reverted back to her polite persona. “I have chicken salad for lunch and fresh baked cookies.” Ellen kept her distance. She didn’t want to crowd Kate. They went into the kitchen that had a dinning set ready with lunch plates. Ellen served them salad and they dug in. “What have you done so far?” She asked her son and newly found granddaughter. Jim motioned for Kate to answer. She swallowed some iced tea before speaking. “Jim showed me the schools. I’m going to the Catholic one.” “St. Ignatius is a great school. Did you like it?”

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“We only met the one priest but he seemed sort of nice.” Ellen was confused by the slanted responses. She turned to Jim for clarification. “She’s not Catholic, Mom.” “So. Are you? When was the last time you were at Mass outside of Christmas or Easter?” “Two days ago.” He meant the funeral. Kate snickered. “Remember how he treats me so when you sass him he shouldn’t mind it.” Ellen playfully scolded.

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Jim rolled his eyes. “Come on Kate. Let’s show you the house and you can pick out your room.” They gave Kate the grand tour of her new home, a new home without Matt, Eric or Brian. It was much larger than it seemed from the front. The kitchen opened up to a den with a large TV, two couches and a recliner. Through there was a replete rec room with a pool table, dartboard, upright piano and bar. Both rooms had double glass doors that opened to the backyard where there was a barbeque and pool before there was another arm of the house on the far side. They walked outside. Past the house was a half-acre of yard that had wilderness beyond it before dropping off the horizon with the Pacific Ocean rolling in the distance. It was in that backyard that her dream with Jim had taken place. Kate repeated how lovely it was as they walked into a home office that was more cluttered than the one he kept at his work. Through the next door was an art room that had some supplies like a potter’s wheel and some paints. Jim had converted a closet into a dark room that hadn’t been used since digital cameras had become so available. It was Ellen that liked to play with different crafts but she didn’t have the space at her home. They walked into a living room that had a view of the front yard. It wasn’t used much except when his nieces were over and the adults needed some place less rowdy to escape. Kate felt the numbness grow when she learned she had cousins. Her curiosity wanted more specifics but she wasn’t ready. She would wait until she subsided to whelmed before excavating for more details. They walked upstairs to the second floor. After the rec room, the master bedroom was the next most manly. It was darker colors and looked preppy rather than Southwestern. There were three other

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bedrooms, one that was completely empty and another almost as large as the master. This was the room they expected Kate to choose and she did. It was the only of the three that had a walk in closet. “How do you want to decorate?” Ellen was excited to work on a new home project. “It’s fine.” “It’s not fine. It looked like a hotel room.” Jim corrected. “I want to redo it all.” Ellen added enthusiastically. “Paint, new curtains, new furniture, the works.” She held her arms out as she envisioned a new look. “Furniture? This looks fine.” There was a bed and dresser set in light colored wood.

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“We’ll put this in the empty room. It won’t go to waste but that bed is too hard and you’ll need a desk.” Jim wanted Kate to have her own style. It was her home. “Sure. It’s just a lot to think about. Everything’s happening so fast.” She was exhausted. “It is.” Jim agreed. He was as new to the idea of having a daughter as she was that he was her father. “Does it have to match the rest of the house?” She questioned. “No.” Ellen said. “It can be hot pink if you like, but please don’t make it hot pink.” “Not hot pink.” Kate consented. She scanned around at the austere room unable to see the transformation Ellen saw. “How about a soft yellow for the paint. We can do a lot with that and a dark room looks so bleak.” It was clear from Ellen’s suggestion that Jim had chosen his own décor for his room. “I like yellow.” “Let’s get the furniture first? We can work on your room once you move in but you’ll need a good bed right away.” Jim finalized.

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 New Furniture
Jim pulled up to a local store called Andrew’s. A man greeted him by name. Andy, the owner,

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lived next door. He was very tall about six four and in fair shape, just a little pudgy in the waist. His hair was blond and he had blue eyes. Jim introduced Kate as his daughter. It didn’t startle her the second time. Andy must have been curious where a long lost child popped up from but he didn’t question further. He looked familiar. He was probably at the funeral. Andy walked them around the showroom. He had a silly personality that made it easy to like him. They found a great bedroom set that had a queen bed, nightstand, dresser, sitting chair, full-length mirror and a desk. It was a thin rustic style where the wood looked uneven. Kate liked it because it felt comfortable. With a large forest green comforter and matching cushion it looked very masculine on display but Andy said it would soften up with a pastel or bright color. The men went to finish business as Kate sat in her new chair. The dark green cushion would be changed once they had a theme. She had to admit, she enjoyed buying furniture and she treasured her new property. “Where are your henchmen?” The blond boy from the funeral stood in the store. “Excuse me.” “Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee?” At first her face opened in recognition that he meant the twins but then it hardened as she realized it wasn’t a friendly reference. “My brothers aren’t here.” “I’m Dave.” He reminded her. “And you’re Kate.” “Hi.” She softened. “You like that chair?” “It’s mine now.” She answered proudly running her hands along the arms. “We’re getting the whole set.” “Really.” Dave glanced up at Jim filling out the paperwork. “Why is Jim buying this for you?” “Jim is my father.” It was weird for her to say. Kate was going to have to get use to it. “Jim is your father? How did that happen?”

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“The usual way, I’m sure.” She snapped her answer a little curtly. “I just meant that you are kind of old and this is the first I have heard about it.” “Does Jim keep you posted of his family matters?” “We’re neighbors. I know his sister and her kids and I’ve never heard about you.” Dave had a gentle countenance but evidently he felt there was more mystery to uncover. “Well, I was living with my mother but I’m moving in with Jim now.” “Why now?” He wasn’t rude but the inquiry felt that way.

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Kate wasn’t ready to answer so many intimate questions. “Just works out that way.” She stared down at her feet. “Evasive answer.” He teased. “Intrusive question.” Dave blushed. “Sorry. So you’re moving to town?” “Yeah.” “Maybe we can hang out. I can show you around.” He inelegantly wrung his hands over each other. “Sure. I mean, I’m not even settled yet but after that.” “Hey Dave.” Greg came into the display area of her new furniture. “And the lovely Katie.” “Kate.” She corrected. “Close enough.” He shrugged. “You’re still in town.” “She’s moving here.” Dave had a big smile. “Welcome.” Greg dismissed her and told his cousin, “I’ll have to wait until dad’s finished before I can get some cash and then we can go.” “You won’t have any problems getting money from him today.” Dave nudged his head towards the register. “It’s always easier after a sale.” Greg granted. “And this is the set he sold.” There was a telling hint in Dave’s voice. “Really?” He turned to Kate in the chair and then to cash wrap. “Jim is getting this set?” “For his daughter.” Dave pointed at Kate.

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She flushed with annoyance. “Katie Graham?” Greg smirked. Apparently he knew Jim as well. Kate hadn’t anticipated to hear her name attached to Jim’s surname. Would she change her last name? She may have to. “You can call me Kate.” She avoided a committed answer. “And you like this beat up furniture look?” “It’s comfortable and casual. It looks too boyish with all this green but we’ll chick it up.” “Chick it up.” Greg liked her expression. “Sure. It’ll work in a girl’s room.” “It’s the nicest set here.” She informed him.

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“I completely agree.” He was beaming and it irked her. “You should tell my dad that. He likes to know that people like the home made stuff rather than the factory bought.” “He designed this?” Dave was about to answer but Greg hit his shoulder. “Dude, why does Meg have to bring Stacey?” Kate followed his line of vision. He was looking in the mirror and she couldn’t see what he meant at first. She turned to the door and saw two girls looking around the showroom. One was a very cute blond who could be related to them. The other had shoulder length red hair and was stunning. She lit up when she saw Greg. “You know why. Come on before they come this way. See you around.” Dave waved to Kate. “Bye.” Greg left behind his cousin and met the girls. Kate got up to see if Jim was done with business. He was and they talked about baseball. Apparently Jim thought that Torre would be good for the Dodgers. Andy fretted that once a Yankee always a Yankee and Yankees weren’t to be trusted. “What do you think?” Andy challenged Kate predicting her to dodge the question. “Well, he got us into the post season last year. I think this is his chance at redemption.” Kate may be light on the minutiae but she was informed enough to know the Dodgers hadn’t seen too many October games after Lasorda retired. Jim’s mouth dropped. “You like baseball?” “Three brothers.” Kate grinned. “I hear things.”

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“You have sons too?” Andy asked. He must have heard about her since he didn’t investigate earlier. “They’re her half-brothers. She’s my only child.” “That you know of.” Andy joked. “I have two more rooms. Bring ‘em on.” Jim motioned with his arms as if welcoming crowds. “Hey dad.” Greg walked up.

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“Did you hear the register?” Andy clearly considered himself a funny man. Kate thought so too. “Why? Did you sell something? What did you sell?” He was mockingly ingenuous. “You’re feigned innocence isn’t working. Let me finish up first.” “I really like the furniture. It’s the best set in your store.” Kate said honestly. “Andy makes a lot of it.” Jim told her. “Not that piece. Greg made that set. It’s his first big sale.” Greg’s smile couldn’t have been smugger. Kate was perturbed by his arrogance. He had duped her into complimenting him. “It’s great. There wasn’t even a close contender.” Jim added unwittingly fueling Kate’s irritation. “Let’s see when we can deliver the furniture.” The two men walked off to the stock room. Kate’s disapproving face glared at Greg. “What?” He asked guiltlessly. “Oh, do you really like it?” She mimicked his voice. “How much food does your ego need?” “Nah, that wasn’t why I did that. It was nice to know you were just saying it without knowing. I mean, if you learned I made it you may have said nice things to be kind.” “I promise never to be kind to you.” She tried to be fierce but her smirk belied the impression. “I deserve that.” He held his head down and looked up pouting in an apologetic gesture. “Stop that, you look preposterous.” It was the sort of maneuver any of her brothers would pull on her when they wanted something. “Just trying to warm you up.” He stared at her with his baby blues and smiled on one side. “Why?”

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“Dave wants me to ask you to come with us to Catalina tomorrow. I told him you probably

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couldn’t if you are in the process of moving but, I don’t know, I guess he thinks you’re cute or something. I don’t see it.” That was needlessly mean. “Maybe I’m not your type.” Her mind jumped to the red head. “I see it. I’m making sure you knew it was Dave who was interested. I’ll tell him no.” Greg walked off.

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Family United The furniture would arrive the next morning and there was still one more day before they could get the tests and the papers done. Jim picked up Ellen and they met up with Gerard and Sandy at a local fish house on the pier. As promised Ellen was on good behavior but she wasn’t happy with Gerard or Sandy for their secrecy.

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Sandy was a little uncomfortable but Gerard ignored it. He was overjoyed that Kate would go to St. Ignatius. She made a mental note of the name of the school since it would be hers. The next day Ellen joined them in the morning to get a bed spread and sheets and other things for her room and bathroom. They had lunch at home and then got her school uniforms. It was all good fun except for the uniforms. The plaid was hideous but there were worse options that must have belonged to other schools in the area. At least she could wear any sweater and shoes, as long as they weren’t sneakers. The day after that the blood work came back confirming that Jim was her genetic father. At the lawyer’s office Sandy cried. Jim told her they didn’t have to do it that way. “I have had her for sixteen years. She needs to know her father. I’m doing this for her as well as you.” Sandy signed the papers. It was official. Jim had full custody of Kate. She moved what she had at Gerard’s to Jim’s house and brought Zuzu. Her bed had arrived and her room looked great. They would paint, redo the curtains and seat cushions. She didn’t think she would get a minute of sleep but faded off quickly, content in her new home. That Saturday, her brothers paid a visit. Kate missed them so much. The kids went off on their own exploring the pier. It was nice to spend time with them in person and get updates. Ron had apparently gone into semi-isolation. He was lost in his own home. It didn’t feel the same without her. Sandy slept in Kate’s room when she was in San Marino. Every visit she brought another load of things for her daughter. Kate reassured them that Jim was a great guy and she was warming up to Ellen. Ellen was very likeable except for the un-forgiveness she held against her mother.

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She spotted Greg and Dave but they didn’t approach with her security guards nearby. They were with a large group of kids that included the blond and red head girls from the store. And the red head stayed close to Greg at all times. Dave grinned when their eyes met but she looked away, shy and not wanting Eric or the others to catch her. At the end of the day, her brothers promised to come back next Saturday. The first full week at Jim’s was awkward. It wasn’t just missing her family but catching up on sixteen lost years. He took two weeks off work to spend with her. He would have taken more time but school would start after Labor Day weekend. They were finding they had a lot in common. It helped to work on her room. It gave them a project and allowed them time without talking. She slept in a spare room a couple of days while the paint dried. The bed was too stiff for comfort. Each day when she woke it took a little less time to remember where she was. Each night, she fell asleep with a stronger sense of belonging. When the second weekend arrived Kate was excited to hang out with her brothers again. They arrived early in the best moods they had since everything got chaotic. Even Eric was happier. That time they came to her new home and she showed them around. They loved the rec room and after Jim offered twice, the twins accepted his invitation to play pool and darts. Jim fed them sandwiches for lunch. They were deli perfect since he kept a healthy stock of bread, cut meats and cheeses. Afterwards they drove out to the beach. “He seems kind of cool.” Eric begrudgingly stated. “It’s weird. We have so much in common. I mean, it makes sense but you know, it’s just weird.” Kate explained poorly. “I can’t wait, we have to tell her.” Brian rocked on the balls of his feet. “What?” “Dad kind of snapped out of his funk this week.” Matt’s smile meant the story wouldn’t end with yelling or breaking. “I’m so glad. I miss him. Do you think he’ll come and visit?” “Let me finish.” Matt held up his hand. She mimed locking her lips and tossed the invisible key over her shoulder.

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“So, we’re all eating dinner a couple of nights ago. No one was talking but you could see everything was slowly bubbling up on Dad. Every day the pressure building.”

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“Yeah. I think he was so calm that night you came back because he was afraid to let his rage go. And who can blame him this time? I mean, the lies, the hurt, the tearing apart of the family. He hides it better when Mom’s home but it doesn’t last.” Brian added. “Anyway, we’re all eating and I’m thinking he’s going to blow and it needs to happen or he’ll make himself sick.” Eric picked up the story. “So I said, ‘this sucks.’ For a second I thought he was going to throw me against the wall or something.” “I would have.” Matt admitted freely. Eric ignored him. “Instead he dropped his head. He didn’t cry but he was close.” “I couldn’t imagine Dad crying.” Kate couldn’t even conjure up the image. “It was unsettling for sure.” Matt continued. “So we’re all staring at him. I would’ve preferred him breaking something or yelling. And then he glanced up at us and the anger was gone. I mean it disappeared. Nothing.” “He never blew up?” “No.” Eric confirmed. “Better still. He asked, ‘how would you boys feel about moving to Santa Katrina?’” His Ron voice was dead on perfect. “He’s thinking of moving here? Would he really do that?” Kate’s hope was too great for the fear of let down to stop it. “He called a real estate agent and he told Mom. He’s looking at houses today. Tomorrow we’re going with him to see what he liked or new options if he didn’t like any.” “We’ll be in the same city? But why would he do that?” Kate kissed the infamous gift horse in the mouth. “He didn’t tell us of course but Brian has a theory.” Matt cued. “I think,” Brian began, “that he was dwelling on the bad and never considered their motivation for doing this. And at that moment, trying to hold back his eruption, he understood that like it or not, we’re here because of it.” “Wow!”

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“Double wow.” Eric exaggerated.

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“Mom didn’t believe it at first. They were in his office talking but we were listening. She asked what about his job and he said he hated his job and he would do consulting from here – build his own business. He has the money. He told her that other families make things like this work and we would too. And he said he missed her and one way or another he wanted her in his life. And he missed you too and hoped you would be in his life. She asked what about Gran. He said he didn’t give a rat’s ass what Gran had to say about it but that it would be better for us to be close if she tried anything. I didn’t like the way he said that.” Brian finished. Kate hugged him and they were in a group hug before long. “Brian’s going to stay at Gerard’s until we move so he can start school here.” Matt added. “Are you going to St. Ignatius’?” “What?” “I’m not going to the public school. I’m going to St. Ignatius’. Grandpa teaches there.” “St. Ignatius’? Dad will flip out.” Brian hypothesized. “I hope he doesn’t. I’d love to see you in a uniform.” Eric laughed. “They aren’t THAT bad.” Kate said. “And at least the boys don’t have to wear plaid. Yuck.” Of all the people to make things better so fast it was Ron. Kate was elated. “Let’s go find him. I want to see Dad.” She missed him so much it hurt but she stayed away not knowing how he felt. After their tale of selfless acts of love – she had no reason to be cautious. Ron broke away from his house hunting and met the kids for ice cream. He gave Kate another huge hug. It seemed easier for him to be affectionate since the truth was out. Kate told Jim as soon as she came in the door. He was happy for her. “You’re brothers are great. I don’t think they wanted to like me.” He guessed. “Especially Eric.” “They didn’t want to but they did. The pool table won them over. Men are such simple creatures.” She mused. “We are. Well, if you want to invite them over next Saturday, I usually have a barbeque on long weekends.” “Really? You wouldn’t mind.”

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“It will be uncomfortable to have Ron here but I’ll survive.” “Ron too? Are you sure? I would love that.” “Then I’m sure.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “This is your home. If they’re important to you, they’re welcome here.” “I’m going to go call them right away.” And she did.

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The Top Ten List The day of the barbeque Kate helped set things up. She was thrilled when Ron was the first to arrive. The boys had left only moments later in their car in case they wanted to stay longer. “I don’t know how I fit in you life anymore.” Ron said eyeing Jim in the backyard. “But I am glad I’m still in it.”

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“Always. Come on, you’ll like him enough.” She took his hand and led him into the yard to meet Jim and Ellen. Ellen was surprisingly warm. Kate figured she considered him as a victim of the secret and related. “Welcome.” Jim said awkwardly handing a beer to Ron. Both men sized each other up. After a long pause Ron finally replied. “This will get easier, won’t it?” They laughed, toasted and drank. “Has to.” Jim agreed. “How difficult is she really?” Ron adoringly considered Kate. “It could’ve been worse. The twins could have been yours. Do you want them?” Jim shook his head. “I’m a novice. They’re above my pay grade.” Her brothers were the next arrivals and that helped Ron feel at ease not that the beer and Jim hadn’t set him down the right direction already. A lot of kids had come with their parents and among them were Dave, Greg and the blond. It turned out the blond was Dave’s sister and she was pretty cool. Her name was Meg. Kate’s brothers worked their rounds to keep her from socializing with Dave, Greg or any other boys. They had done it her whole life. It wasn’t news to her but after living away from them, it showed more overtly. If anyone was keeping score, Eric was far in the lead with no sign of lagging. After Eric pulled her away from Dave for the umpteenth time she chastised him, “When are you guys going to let me talk to boys?” “I don’t know. If it helps, you’ll probably out live us.” “Strange but that doesn’t really help.” Eric stopped. “Do you want to talk to that guy?” She shrugged. “How do I know unless I try?”

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“Fine, other guys, but not him.”

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“What’s wrong with him?” She looked back at the group of kids Dave joined. They were talking spiritedly about the upcoming school year. Dave glanced up and waved at her. She blushed. “I don’t like the way he looks.” He condemned. “That’s silly. He looks fine.” “He looks interested.” Eric hadn’t missed the wave. He was giving up too much of her to Jim as it was. A boyfriend would take even more time away. She was his kid sister and no boy would be good enough for her or worth the time lost that a relationship required. Would he ever see her as otherwise? Kate rolled her eyes. They walked into the rec room where Brian and Matt played billiards. Kate sat on stool by the bar as Eric joined them. Meg came up to her. “Hi again.” “Hi.” “So, those are you brothers?” Girls always asked about her brothers. “Yes. Eric, Matt and Brian.” She indicated each in turn. “I’ve never seen twins so alike.” Meg paused. “And how old is Brian?” That was newer but not a first. “Just turned seventeen.” “Oh.” By the grin on Meg Kate assumed that was in the acceptable range. Brian was winning but Matt suddenly caught up. Kate assumed there might have been some mental interference to relieve Brian to socialize. Eric took Matt on next and Brian joined her and Meg. “Brian, this is Meg.” They shook hands. Meg, who was very attractive, flashed a perfect smile at Brian. In a nervous gesture he bumped into Kate and sloshed soda on her shirt. “Oops.” He said pink in the face. Meg blushed too. “No problem.” Kate didn’t want to make a big fuss over spilled soda in front of a girl. She dried off with a paper towel and ran upstairs. Zuzu was curled up on her bed purring happily as Greg scratched her chin. “Hi Katie. Cute cat.” “That’s Zuzu and it’s Kate.”

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“What happened to you?”

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“Brian bumped into me.” She went to her closet and got a new blouse. “Um, you really shouldn’t be up here.” “I wanted to see the set after you chicked it up.” He shot her a cheeky grin. “You did good.” “Thanks.” She went to the bathroom to change. She hoped that Greg would take the clue and leave but he didn’t of course. He was still on her bed when she walked out. “Shall we go back to the party?” She hinted. “Will your brothers bother you here?” “They aren’t a bother and probably not. But they’ll get mad to find us here alone.” Even if Greg wasn’t an interested party Eric would flip. “Protective.” “Very. I’m their kid sister.” She hated it at times but loved it too. “Half-sister.” Greg corrected. “True.” “So how did all this happen?” Kate got tense knowing the question was going to keep coming up. She didn’t have an answer that didn’t feel too personal to reveal. “I don’t mean to pry.” He said kindly and stood. “It isn’t a simple answer.” He sat back down. “I don’t care. I mean, it won’t make me think bad of you or Jim.” “My mother kind of led two lives.” That was true without going into too much detail. “My mother too. She left us when I was two.” “I’m sorry.” Kate felt bad for him. It was easier to have compassion when he wasn’t trying to rile her up. He was much more tolerable. “Parents.” Greg didn’t bring his mother up often. “Yeah, really.” “She’s here though. You’re mother. Did she come clean?”

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“Sort of. It kind of unraveled at the funeral.” She sat down in her chair with its new light pink cushion. He was kind of nice after all. “That’s why you were so introverted that day. Dave was sure you either hated him or he made you nervous.” He was emphasizing that Dave was the interested party. She got it. “No, I’m pretty much always like that.” “You’re doing all right now.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Or are you being kind, because you promised me not to do that.” His smile was brilliant. She snickered. “I tried to kick you out first.” “True and that was very obnoxious.”

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“Well, you started it when you extracted praise under false pretenses.” She looked at the furniture remembering his trickery. “Still on about that. I just wanted the truth.” “Why would you assume I would lie?” “I assumed you would be kind. At the time I didn’t know how cruel you really were, so you should give me a pass on that.” She blushed at his joke. “How’s it going having a new dad and all?” Greg knew Jim all his life. He didn’t expect a daughter to materialize out of thin air. “Jim is fabulous. And for the rest, we’ll see after Tuesday.” “Worried about school.” Greg figured that was what she meant by after Tuesday. “Very. I’m not Catholic.” “St. Iggy’s?” “My brothers call it that. Is it okay to say St. Iggy’s?” “Not in front of the teachers but we all do. They’ll give you JUG if you say it too much. And you shouldn’t call Father Francis Father Frank.” “You go there?” “Yeah. It’s great.”

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“Are you Catholic?” “Very. Well, my family is.” “Is that a rude question?” She asked. He didn’t seem offended but it seemed personal. “Not in this town. Almost everyone is and you just start to assume.” He was enjoying her company when she wasn’t being defensive about every little comment. He decided to test her guarded

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nature. “So, what’s the deal with your brothers not letting you talk to Dave. Do you make the call on who they run off?” Greg had caught on to their trick at the reception. He didn’t like it then and he liked it even less as it continued. She laughed. “No. They’re uncontrollable.” “Ask them to stop.” “No control, remember?” “Maybe at school. Or is the younger one going to take the day shift?” “Probably but he isn’t as bad.” Brian either wasn’t as protective or he wasn’t as practiced at it since the twins took on the bulk of the duty. “How would a guy get around that?” “No one has yet.” “Well, I have a little. I mean we’ve had a good ten minutes uninterrupted.” “They might not bother to scare you off. You wouldn’t make the top ten most wanted list.” Kate remembered what Eric said about attracted parties and someone with a girlfriend would definitely get some latitude. “Because I’m so hideously ugly?” He wasn’t, far from it. “That helps. And you aren’t interested in me.” “How do they determine that?” “I don’t know. But Eric said he would let me talk to guys that aren’t interested, so you should be safe.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know about that.” He stared off to the door. Eric was there looking angrier than ever. “Hey Kate.” “Eric, this is Greg.” She introduced sure of his name that time.

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“Brian wondered where you went. He was hoping to play pool with you since he can’t beat either of us.” It was a lie. “I’ll play him.” Greg offered getting up. “He can beat me.” “Are you any good?” “Fair.” “Than he won’t beat you.” Greg left. “Why was the sap up here?” Eric egregiously said before Greg was out of hearing range. “Just looking at the furniture. We bought it in his father’s store. He made this set.” Kate didn’t need Eric making bad impressions on the few people she knew from school before it even started. Eric’s eyes narrowed. “Is that why you picked it?” “No. I didn’t know at the time and it would have probably changed my mind.” “Okay.” He motioned for her to come back to the party. She got up and walked past him to lead the way. “By the way, you aren’t allowed to talk to him either.” “Eric! He has a girlfriend.” Kate had seen the red head. She didn’t have a chance to compete with her even if she tried which she couldn’t because she had no experience bantering lightly with boys thanks mainly to him. “Kate, you’re so naïve.”

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 Clashing with the Neighbors
Back in the rec room Brian was winning. Greg was chatting him up as they played. They got along swimmingly. Eric caught Matt’s eyes and nodded towards Greg giving him a heads up on who was trouble. She elbowed her brother. “Stop that.”

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“Why don’t you find Meg and get the scoop on what she thinks of Brian?” He wanted to get her away from Greg who kept glancing their way. “Why? Is that another problem for you?” “No.” “That is so unfair.” She protested. “Life isn’t fair.” She stormed out into the backyard. In one group were Sandy, Ron and Jim talking merrily. It was a little too surreal but good they got along, socially at least. Gerard and Ellen were in another conversation. He was smoothing things over. Kate found Meg talking to Dave. It was fun to get intel for her brothers and she would have to mingle with Dave to do it. Bonus. “Hey.” She said happily. “Hi Kate.” Dave beamed. Eric was right. He looked interested. Kate felt suddenly shy. She managed a casual, “What’s up?” She glanced at Meg hoping she would start spilling the beans. Kate had never been sent on a fact-finding mission. She wasn’t sure how to go about accomplishing her goal. Regardless she was keyed up to be a part of it. “Dave, would you get us some sodas?” Meg asked coyly. “Be right back.” He ran off without a clue that it was a calculated maneuver. Kate and Meg were on the same wavelength. “Is, um…” Meg stammered, “Brian seeing anyone.” “No. And he doesn’t know a soul in town.” Kate said eagerly glad that Meg jumped to the topic without her trying to be stealthy. “Really?” She smiled feeling less vulnerable. “Are you guys going to the public school?”

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“St. Iggy’s. Mr. Sanchez is our grandpa so it was a rare exception.” Kate was delighted to have an answer for how she got in so easily. Others would ask about it once school started. “We go there too. Greg and I are juniors and Dave’s a senior.” “Cool. At least I’ll know a few people.” “What do you think of Dave?” She was better at fact-finding. It wasn’t covert but it wasn’t too forward to be offensive. “Well, every time we talk I seem to be sidetracked.” Kate admitted. “Tell me about it. Look.” Kate followed Meg’s finger. Eric had cut Dave off at the pass. She rolled her eyes. “Eric’s the worst about that.” Greg walked outside and up to Eric and Dave. He put his hand on Dave’s shoulder and steered him away from Eric and back to where Meg and Kate stood. Kate mouth dropped in admiration. No one got past Eric when he was at his big brother post. It was going to get ugly. “Here you go.” Dave gave them each a soda. “How did you do that?” Kate asked Greg. “I bet I’m on the top ten list now.” Greg had a haughty smirk. “You are the top ten list.” Of course Eric was on his way over. “Kate, didn’t you say you wanted to play a game?” He jerked his head over his shoulder towards the rec room. Greg shook his head encouraging her to say no. “I’ll be back after a game.” She said and followed Eric. Greg was agitated by her compliance. “You told me to talk to Meg.” She reminded Eric as they walked into the poolroom. “Meg, not the boors.” “They aren’t boors.” “The one from your bedroom is on my last nerve. He has a lot of cheek. He walks up and says, ‘come on, let’s go talk to Katie’ and takes off with the other.” He was in a snit. Kate giggled. “He’s helping his cousin out. He thinks you’re too protective.” And he’s right.

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“If his thoughts were about me, he could talk to you.” They played doubles against Matt and Brian. The twins were too good to play as a team. Kate and Eric won the first game but more from luck than skill. “So, what did you find out?” Brian asked with hopeful expectation.

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“She likes you. She’s glad we’re going to St. Iggy’s.” Kate liked the nickname. It was easier to remember and didn’t sound too snooty. “Oh, she’s a Catholic school girl. You’re one lucky kid.” Matt winked at Brian in suggestive manner. “Hey! Our sister is a Catholic school girl now.” Eric warned. Matt pointed at the door with his chin. Dave and Greg were entering the house clearly with some purpose in mind. “Want to play us? You two.” Greg pointed to the twins. They exchanged a wicked grin. Even if they were better than them, they wouldn’t have a chance against the twins. “All right.” They said in unison. “Shall we put a wager on it.” Greg dared. “Never mind.” Matt said. “I see where this is going.” “Better yet.” Eric started collecting the balls even though they were in the middle of a game. “What’s the bet?” Brian asked but his only answer was a dirty look from Eric. Not surprisingly, the twins won the break. Eric prepared his shot and glanced up at Matt, who merely smiled. He shot and sunk a solid. It would be a one-man game as Eric starting clearing the table. They weren’t even being careful about cheating. Eric’s fourth shot boomeranged back before it even hit the edge and in an unlikely angle of return. He was poised for his fifth when Greg accidentally walked in the way of Matt’s vision. Eric missed and his eyes darted up to Greg. “And I thought we wouldn’t even get a chance to play.” Greg pretended to be unaware of how he helped. Dave was better than Greg. He sunk two balls before his third mysteriously veered off and missed its mark completely. Greg fumed.

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That was it. The twins didn’t bother to let the other control their ball and Matt cleared the table. “Good game.” “Fair enough.” Greg said and went outside with his cousin. “You cheated.” Kate scolded the twins. “What was the wager?” Brian asked once their challengers were gone. “They wanted to talk with Kate.” Eric informed him. “And that isn’t an option.” Kate shook her head and stomped out to mingle with anyone other than her brothers. The men were talking baseball with her mother. It was a topic she had to be moderately competent in discussing. The scene wasn’t inviting to Kate and she looked around for other options that wouldn’t alert her brothers. Meg sauntered up. “Did they cheat somehow?” “They’re very good at physics.” Kate stated with irony. “But how does their being good make Dave miss an easy shot?” “I don’t know.” She lied. One of the twins, Eric probably, pushed his ball off course. “Well, they really got under Greg’s skin.” Greg didn’t have a right to be bothered by it. It was Kate’s problem and she would have to handle it in her own way – someday. “Brian wasn’t involved. If that matters.” Meg grinned. “That’s nice to know. Do you want to hear something nice to know back? Greg lives next door and we live at the next house and there are gates into each of our backyards.” Kate flushed. It was tempting but she missed seeing her brothers even if they were being jerks. “I can’t. I hardly see them anymore.” “Is that the only reason?” “Yes.” Kate admitted. Dave and Greg were both nice boys. “But you aren’t with them now.” “I’m annoyed. I needed some air.” “We have air at our houses.” Meg raised her brows. “You’re persistent.” “Live a little.” She nodded towards the gate.

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“Quickly then.” Kate hoped if her brothers were playing billiards they wouldn’t notice her sneaking off.

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Meg casually led Kate and once they were on the other side of the fence they walked into the den of next home. “But how did I miss that shot?” Dave was replaying the game in his head. “I don’t think you did. What do you think, Katie?” Greg tried to annoy her with his misstated moniker. “I think you keep forgetting my name.” “And how long do we have your company before the brute squad starts the man hunt?” “I can’t stay. Jim will think I ditched his party.” Kate figured her brothers would be looking for her within minutes. “Chicken.” They had gotten to Greg. He stared her down with piercing blue eyes. They were cold and hard. Dave shot him a foul look and then his cell phone rang. “Hi Mom... We just went home for a second... Sure. We’ll be right there.” He hung up. “Come on, Mom was worried that we left.” “Let’s go back.” Meg said to Greg. “I’m staying here.” Greg was dejected. “Come on, we’ll all go back together.” Kate pleaded. “We can’t. We lost the game.” He growled. “We’re going back.” Meg and Dave left. “You said they cheated.” Kate tried to wheedle Greg out of his funk. “Those balls did not obey the known laws of physics.” He’d seen enough to make a logical guess. “So you want to stay here and mope?” “Why don’t you stand up to them?” He glowered at her. He didn’t like how they treated her or that she took it so freely. “They don’t mean any harm.” She wasn’t getting through to him. “They aren’t that bad.” He huffed. “And how do you think Aunt Wendy noticed we were gone so fast?” “They probably tipped her off somehow.” She averted his eyes.

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“They are insufferable control freaks.” “Come back. Please.” Kate pulled at his hand trying to get him out of the couch.

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Reluctantly, he stood up standing inches away. She took a step back for some personal space but he didn’t let go of her hand. Instead he marched back to the gate towing her behind. They crossed into her yard. Eric stood with his arms crossed waiting for them. “We had a wager.” Eric said serenely. Greg didn’t let go of Kate’s hand even though she tried to yank free. “There was something funny about that game.” “We used the same table and balls that you did. We only had our skills and we out skilled you.” Technically he was right. “Now, if you kindly release my sister.” Kate had never seen Eric be so direct. Not when he was protecting her. Greg had passed a line that hadn’t even been toed before. She subtly tried to get her hand free but he had a firm clasp. “No, I don’t think I will.” “Greg, it isn’t a big deal. Eric, I’ll be right there.” Kate said to each. “I’ll wait.” Eric didn’t move. Kate rolled her eyes. She turned to face Greg. “Please.” He released her hand as he glared. “Thank you.” She said to Greg and then mouthed to Eric, “Happy?” when she got close. “Abundantly.” Eric took her arm and walked her back to the party. “Why did you go over there?” “I don’t want them hating me. They’re the only people I know at school.” “You’ll meet more.” “This is so unfair.” “You keep saying that.” Once at the party, Kate went to talk with Jim and Andy. She thanked him again for the furniture and said it was really great. There weren’t many people left other than her family and the neighbors from the block. Sandy, Gerard and Ron were the next to leave. Her brothers stubbornly stayed until the neighbors cleared out and then left immediately after. Ellen left last. “Did you have fun?” Jim asked as Kate helped him clean up.

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“Yeah. I like Andy. He’s a funny guy.” “We’re old friends. We graduated together at St. Iggy’s.” “Why am I not surprised?” “Your brothers don’t like you talking to boys, do they?” “Oh, you noticed that. It’s because I’m a girl.” “And how is it that they do that with the pool balls?” The guy was way more observant than most adults. “I don’t know.” The twins were very secretive about their telekinesis and viscerally she didn’t feel at liberty to discuss it. There was a strong inclination in her to keep it unknown.

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“Ah.” He collected the trash bags to take them to the bins. “So, do you really like baseball?” It was one of his favorite discoveries about her. “Yes.” “Do you want to go to a game tomorrow? Andy has season tickets and the Giants are in town.” That’s a long drive but it sounded like fun. “Sure.” “Good, I told him yes pending your approval.” “You don’t have to leave EVERY decision up to me.” “But you are so good at making the best choices. Now get to bed, we’ll finish in the morning.”

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Icing & Cake Kate hadn’t figured on Greg joining them for the game but he did. The drive was excruciating.

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Other than a less than friendly hello, Greg was aloof. They sat silently in the backseat while he stewed, still bitter from the previous night, as their fathers unsuccessfully tried to include them in the conversation. They were the best seats Kate ever occupied, only three rows up from first base. Their dads went to get food, sodas and beers. A vacant chair separated the teens as tangible evidence of the ongoing silent treatment. Finally Greg spoke, “Won’t you get harangued for this?” If he had lightened up it wasn’t by any measurable amount. Kate pretended to be shocked. “Oh, are you talking to me?” “I’ll take that as a yes.” “I’ll take that as a no.” She bit back through a clenched jaw. “You’re kind of a smart ass.” Kate wasn’t. He just brought out her defensive side. “That’s fine coming from you.” “A smart ass puppet.” He didn’t look at her. She couldn’t argue with that. She let her brothers run things but it wasn’t like she was beholden. “What, aren’t you going to hold my hand again? Oh, of course not. No one here to infuriate by it.” It was infantile but it was the only thing that came to her mind and she wouldn’t allow him the last word. He turned his piercing blue eyes on her, and just like the night before, they were cold and harsh. “Is that a dare?” Before she could respond their dads had returned. “Move down, I want to sit with Jim.” Andy walked up unaware that he stopped a spat. Greg rolled his eyes so that only Kate could see but complied. “Puppet.” She whispered pleased to have the last word. Greg ignored her. Jim sat on his other side and Andy on the aisle. Her dad passed down a Dodger Dog and a drink. “Thanks.” She said extra blithely.

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“Did Greg tell you he plays on the school team? He’s been their star player since he was a freshman.” Jim was determined to get them talking so he would be free to watch the game with Andy.

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“That’s really cool.” It would be a shorter game if he snapped out of his bad humor and she didn’t want Jim splitting his attention throughout the game. “It’s a small school.” Greg said humbly. Kate didn’t know if his effort to be civil was for Jim or her. Either way, it helped. “Yeah, but the public school regrets it. They’re state champs and it kills them they can’t beat a little school like St. Iggy’s.” Jim bragged. “If you guys beat them, why aren’t you the state champs?” Greg’s eyes fell on Kate’s and the coldness and severity washed away. “It’s a different league. We win our division, but it takes years to move up through the levels. We play Santa Katrina because they’re our cross town rivals.” Dodger games are usually subdued. Angelinos tended to come to the games late and leave early. They were very laid-back fans except with certain teams and San Francisco was one of them. Jim didn’t get too vocal but Andy’s passion was uncontainable. Greg lightened up a bit, too entranced by the game to focus on anything else. He wasn’t as avid as his dad, maybe because he wasn’t lubricated, but he was emotionally involved with the game. It was apparent. The Giants took an early three run lead and that kept the stands engaged. The Dodgers weren’t improving matters as they filled the bases twice and failed to score. When the game slowed, as they always do, Kate began to people watch. They grew rowdier as the game crept on. At the top of the sixth inning further down the field, security escorted a drunkard out of the stands. He stumbled as the stadium staff ushered him away with as little incident as possible. Half the crowd was ignoring the game and enjoying the sideshow. Even the big screen had the intoxicated fan on video. He was at the aisle when he pulled down his pants and flashed his fleshy protest for the camera. Other spectators egged him on and security pushed him through the tunnel to officially evict him.

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“Katie!” Greg yelled yanking her to him quickly with one hand and whipping his hat off to catch a pop foul before it struck her seat with the other. She trembled from the excitement of almost being hit as he firmly held her. “Honey, are you all right?” Jim seized her into a protective paternal hug. She nodded afraid her voice wouldn’t be convincing. “You’re pretty agile.” Jim gave Greg’s shoulder a grateful squeeze. Greg took Kate’s place and gave her the chair next to her father. She sat down trying to let the moment pass. “Thanks.” It didn’t seem adequate but it was all she could manage. “No problem.” He tossed her the ball. “Here.” “Don’t you want it?” “I have others. Try to watch the game.” He gave her a friendly nudge. She held the ball tightly in both hands thinking about the momentum that hard spherical would have if it hit her head. “Thanks.” She repeated for a second time. He smiled. She had noticed how good-looking he was the first time she met him. Greg was the kind of guy that you couldn’t help but spot it. His standoffish personality had kept her from admitting it. But he was so attractive to her then that she couldn’t deny it. His baseball cap and smile accentuated it splendidly. He acted chivalrous as if it wasn’t a big deal that he just rescued her from certain harm. She must have been staring because he looked away uncomfortably and then back again. “What?” He puzzled. She stared at the ball. “That would’ve really hurt.” It was her understatement of the year. He laughed, bringing back his gorgeous face. “You think?” The inning ended and their fathers went for a last round before they stopped serving beer. “Are you okay?” He leaned toward her. She nodded. “That was kind of heroic.” “It’s just good reflexes.” He said modestly. “Great reflexes.” “It’s what I do.” He leaned away for a moment but returned and spoke softer. “Do you think it would get me off the top ten list?”

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“You shouldn’t have been on it anyway.” She tried to hide behind her hair but he brushed it back. “Really, are you okay?” “How fast was it going?” “Maybe ninety.” Kate remembered the formula for momentum. “And how much does this weigh?” She bobbed a hand trying to feel the weight of the ball. “Are you trying to do the math?” He squinted at her. She blushed from her transparency. “It didn’t hit you.” He stated obviously. “Because of you.” She moved her head so that her hair would fall forward again but only one strand managed to move. He pulled it back again and tucked it behind her ear. “I don’t like talking to your hair.” More blood ran to her head. “You aren’t talking to me.” “I’m talking to you. I like talking to you.” “Because it upsets Eric.” “Icing, only icing. You’re the cake.” He said even softer. She kept her eyes on the baseball. “Stop looking at the ball. It isn’t going to talk to you.” She lifted her gaze and they were almost touching cheeks. He gave her a glittering grin. “That wasn’t so hard. I could wear a bag if that will help.” His eyes dropped to her mouth and she instinctively dropped hers to his. She wasn’t sure why she did that but she held her breath for a moment before she remembered to exhale. He ran his hand down her arm to comfort her. “Katie, say something, you’re worrying me.” Kate opened her mouth but didn’t know what to say. “Thanks.” She graciously echoed for the third time. “You’re welcome.” He gave her a peck and leaned back. The warmth from his lips imprinted her ruddy cheek. She smiled and sank back suddenly more aware that he was next to her than she had been through the first part of the game.

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Jim returned with a white Dodger cap for her. Kate didn’t want to wear it but she didn’t see how to avoid it. Jim would think she didn’t appreciate it or worse yet, know she didn’t want to look goofy in front of Greg. “You look beautiful.” Jim stated proudly fixing it snugly on her. “Let me see.” Greg spun her around. She turned halfheartedly. “You make it work.” He whispered in her ear. Any pretty girl could improve her looks with a Dodger cap in Greg’s opinion. The game went to the bottom of the ninth. Again the Dodgers loaded the bases. The crowd was on their feet wishing for a grand slam with all their cheering. With two outs it was a long at bat and went to full count. The hitter swung to knock it out of the park. He hit three pop fouls in his effort. Each made Kate jump a little, even though none were close to them. Finally the crack of a perfect hit sliced through the air. The ball flew out to right field. Everyone was motionless as it arced and landed over the fence. The stadium erupted. Greg shouted, “Yes!” and gave Kate a victory hug. They walked to their car with energy to spare until they sat in slow lines as everyone waited to depart the horrible parking lot that had only a few bottlenecks as exits. It was half past five before Jim was cruising down the open road headed north. Kate placed her cherished ball in the cup holder and Greg picked it up. “You know, you have to factor in the hardness of the object being hit if you really want to do the math.” “And I would have hurt the ball? Is that your point?” She cut the joke off at the knees. “No, you’re like a marshmallow. You’d have stopped the ball, it’d popped out and you would spring back to your original form maybe in a week or so.” About fifteen miles from home they stopped at a diner for a real meal. Not that Dodger dogs aren’t fantastic but they hardly constituted well balanced. Apparently Andy had a crush on a waitress and they were seated at their usual booth with the kids sandwiched in the middle and the fathers on each side.

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Kate clasped her hands in her lap as she read over the entrees. The others were ready to order. They knew the menu by heart. It took her a moment to realize it was Greg’s hand that had pulled one of hers free. He held it. “No dare. No Eric.” He mumbled while their dads scoped the room for their waitress. The writing could have been in Chinese script for all she was able to comprehend with her hand securely in his. “Do you know what you want?” Jim asked.

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She jerked her hand free and pointed at one of the house burgers on the menu. Kate didn’t want Jim to see them holding hands and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it herself. “Good choice.” “Well, if it isn’t my favorite patrons?” An attractive woman came up. “And what do we have here?” She eyed Kate and then Greg. Jim put his arm around Kate, “This is my daughter Kate.” “Honey, you never told me you had a daughter and so pretty.” “Thank you.” Kate pulled back some hair on one side but left enough to have a sheer curtain for cover. “Kate, this is Angela.” Jim pushed the rest back wondering where she left her hat. “What’ll you have?” Angela took their order and brought drinks. Andy was adorably nervous when she was tending to their table. “I seem to recall someone vowing at the game that if Dodgers came out from behind they would ask Angela out.” Jim called Andy’s bluff. “Next time when it’s just us.” “I like her.” Kate encouraged. “She’s nice.” “She is.” It was Andy’s turn to blush. “So you approve? You wouldn’t steer me wrong?” “Never. She’s a definite keeper.” Without being ordered, the waitress brought over a large brownie fresh from the oven covered in vanilla ice cream. “It’s on the house.” She winked at Andy.

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They dug in as the men continued deconstructing the game. “So Kate, you’re pretty good company for a girl. Don’t you think Greg?” Andy extolled. He bobbed his head in agreement. “One of the boys.”

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It was flattering that he considered her part of the group but she didn’t want him thinking she was like a boy. “I was worried a dame would mess it up. We usually bring Greg’s cousin. And when you didn’t talk much…” “She’s shy.” Jim countered. “That’ll pass.” Andy grinned. “Now get out of here and I’ll get the bill.” They got up to leave Andy to his choir, which had nothing to do with picking up the tab. Jim went to the restroom while Greg and Kate ambled to the car. Afraid he might reach for her hand, Kate shoved her fists into her pockets. “I’m sorry.” He said. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He meant holding her hand. “It’s fine.” “No, it wasn’t cool. I don’t want to get involved with you.” “We aren’t involved.” She rebuffed. He was reading too much into her appreciation of his rescue. She wasn’t foolish enough to like him for long. He was too difficult and completely off limits since he was dating someone absolutely gorgeous. If only she had someone she could talk to about Greg. The closest people in her life were her brothers and none would be able to withhold a bias judgment. If only one had been a big sister, but that didn’t happen in her family. The car beeped opened as Jim approached. Andy bounced by his side, successful in his endeavors. They drove home worn out from the day. Kate reclined into her new bed thinking the day over. She decided Greg had a Jekyll and Hyde complex. He did save her from impending pain and there was a side of her that wanted to believe that Jekyll was the true Greg. In the end, she decided to expect Mr. Hyde. Maybe he was always Hyde. He only did things that would upset Eric and there was contention between the two of them. It would have been fun if her brothers went with them. They would love those seats but she was glad they weren’t. Eric would have been dreadful. If he were there, Greg wouldn’t have been so erratic.

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He wouldn’t have held her hand that was for sure. But then again, he probably wouldn’t have gotten over his pouting either and that wasn’t fair when it was his father’s tickets. Their family dynamics had changed some. It was always Brian she was closest too but now Eric was always there. It was out of a misguided sense of protection but things had shifted. She finally drifted off thinking about Eric’s possessive nature. In her dreams, she woke up in the same clothes she wore to the game laying on top of her comforter. The white Dodger cap sat neatly on her head. Her room had that same mist that her dream with Jim had. It was as if it was the light source and no shadows formed. Suddenly Eric was at the door. He walked in and sat next to her on the bed. “This feels weird.” He said. “Not like a normal dream.” “I pulled you into my dream.” She wasn’t sure if she could do that but there he was. “How’s that?” “Jim can do it. Maybe I can too. We’ll know tomorrow if we both remember this.” “Where’re Matt and Brian?” “I don’t know.” Kate was only thinking about Eric and his overbearing nature. That must have been the key. “Maybe I can only bring one person in at a time.” Even in her dream, Eric could tell she was holding back. “Why me?” “I was thinking about you last when I fell asleep.” “What were you thinking?” She didn’t answer. “It’s that boy, isn’t it? You saw him today and you feel guilty. You should. Stay away.” “Eric, we can talk about anything and you want to lecture me on boys?” “What’s with the ball cap?” Was he changing the topic or reading clues? “Jim got it for me at the Dodger game.” “And who went with you?” He was reading clues. “You’re right. You know sometimes it’s hard being your sister.” He shrugged. “It’s not easy being your brother either.” “You did well. He didn’t speak to me for a long time.”

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“But then he did. I mean after all, two hours to the stadium, a three-hour game, two more hours back. That’s plenty of time to get over it. I don’t like him.” “I don’t like him either, so we have that in common. And he doesn’t like me.” He shook his head. “No, he likes you.” “I don’t want to talk about him.” “I do. You’re shamefaced about something. That’s why it’s me here. What happened?” She didn’t answer him so he probed. “Did he kiss you?” She flushed. How could she flush in a dream? “Kate, you’re too young and this guy is smooth.” “He didn’t kiss me.” She added on the mouth in her mind. “Hold your hand?” “Yes but I removed it quickly.” “Good girl.” He complimented. “Are you guys stopping by tomorrow?” Kate wanted a new topic. “That’s the plan. For lunch.” They talked a little longer before the dream ended. Lunch went well. Eric didn’t mention the dream but there wasn’t a need. They remembered it.

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As luck would have it, Ron purchased a new home only a block down the road from Jim’s. They had a few weeks before move-in.

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Strangers in a Strange Land

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Kate woke up early out of fervent apprehension. It was the first day of school. Ron was the top of her heroes list, if not for moving the family to her new block then for allowing Brian to attend the Catholic high school with her. Their father didn’t like them going to a Catholic school. It was because Kate was going and Gerard taught there that he allowed it for Brian. The fact that St. Iggy’s had decent sport teams helped significantly. They had one class together, so she would have to suffer through the rest in seclusion. And neither would have to eat lunch alone. The barbeque was her only interaction with Meg, her one friend that she could name. Well, there were Dave and Greg but it was less likely that they would take her under their wings as she adjusted. It was a stretch to think Meg would. Trepidation crept into her mind. At the Mass for her grandmother, she was an outsider unfamiliar with the Catholic ways. How different were they from the rest of society? She knew Catholics at her old high school and they were just like everyone else but that was in a diverse scenario. Would they pray in classes? Did she have tells on her giving away that she was a non-believer? What makes someone a Catholic anyway? Maybe she was on a fledgling level. It seemed to mean more than just faith in the Bible. Would the kids wear crosses and dress more conservative than typical teens? More than the religion worried her. It was a private school and Kate had gathered enough hints from her admissions meeting that only the brightest were admitted. On one hand, she hoped the classes would be more dynamic. It was the other hand that frightened her. Would she be able to keep up with the brainiacs? Kate looked herself over in the mirror and hated the austere uniform. At least she would blend in with the other plaid clad girls. She grabbed her book bag heavy with her new texts and went to eat breakfast. Jim prepared eggs and bacon. He glowed with pride when he saw her. “You look so cute.” Yuck. She didn’t want to look cute, like a kid anyway. “Thanks.”

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It was out of the way for Brian to pick her up from Gerard’s but he did it voluntarily. Neither wanted to walk on campus alone and it would only be for a couple weeks until he moved into the new homestead.

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Brian pulled onto the property and parked at the student lot that was inconveniently located at the bottom of the hill. Only a few other students were around since it was early. They had studied the layout of the school to avoid referencing a map and looking like newbies. Not that it would matter. There were only a hundred kids in each class and they would stand out as unknowns. The day started with a full school assembly in the auditorium. The architecture matched but it was a newer building than the original mansion. Most of the classes were in the main building that the school acquired when it opened. They walked into the hall not sure if there were special sections for each year. Dave and Meg found the wayward siblings and invited them to sit together. Brian didn’t mind. He was smitten. Dave smiled at Kate and chatted. Brian wasn’t as good as the twins, but he wasn’t unskilled and when they did sit, Kate was on the aisle farthest away from Dave and Brian was conveniently sitting between them with Meg. Meg assured them St. Iggy’s wasn’t strict on where the classes sat with the exception that the older classes sat in the back half for the smaller kids to see better. Refusing to look for Greg, Kate kept her eyes straight ahead. Stacey, the red head, looked stunning even in her plaid skirt and sat by Dave. She was okay but a bit too perky for Kate’s liking. Greg popped up from nowhere and greeted the new students. Kate was sure he would take the vacant chair by Stacey but he sat with some other boys in the row behind her. They were jocks and the one closest to him looked like he might play football. Greg kicked at her chair every once in a while. If he meant to remind her that he was there, there wasn’t a need. The seats filled up and a loud din from all the happy greetings after a long summer break rose. Aside from everyone wearing the exact same clothes, it didn’t feel that different from any gathering of teenagers. Father Francis walked up to the podium and without asking the talking stopped and all eyes were forward. “Welcome back. We’re glad to see everyone has returned safely, mostly.” Everyone snickered and heads turned to a boy with a cast on his leg sitting half way up in an aisle seat opposite to her side.

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“I’ll keep this brief. We welcome our new students and we know that everyone will make them feel at

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home here at St. Ignatius’. I’d like to reintroduce Mr. Stewart, who stepped in when Mrs. Sanchez fell ill. He has agreed to stay on permanently. Please be kind.” There was another obligatory laugh. “If anyone needs to check their schedules or make changes, please stop by the admin office during your break or free periods. You’ll also find sign up sheets for any clubs, teams and committees there as well. I know we’re all excited to see our friends but remember to keep to your schedules.” They broke to go to their first class. The school didn’t have any bells and you were expected to arrive on time. Meg had the same first class as Kate and guided her around the school. It was Math IV with Mr. Stewart. The class was on the bottom floor and looked very much like any classroom in any school but with fewer desks. They were arranged in a u-shape and Meg told Kate they could sit in any seat all year. The girls sat in the corner farthest from the door. Greg sauntered in with another boy and sat along the wall on the other side of the room. He gave a head nod and continued talking with his friend, the football jock from assembly and kind of a cutie for a beefcake. He asked Greg something. Greg shook his head and whispered a response. “I don’t.” He responded louder and smiled at Kate. Greg rolled his eyes. Mr. Stewart walked in exemplifying the typical nerdy teacher. He was in his thirties, wore wirerimmed glasses, a cardigan sweater and had an unkempt beard. He was a matter-of-fact teacher. They went over their goals for the year and then zeroed in on their first quarter. He allowed them one period to recap the previous year and ten minutes in he passed out a pop quiz to test their retention. The class gave a united moan and got to work. Kate didn’t have any trouble with the quiz but it was tough. She was glad her first class was math, a subject that came naturally. How would she keep up in subjects that she wasn’t ready for? After thirty minutes the class passed their papers forward and Mr. Stewart read them over immediately. “You guys are going to have to do better than this. Brad, I know you have heard of the Pythagorean theorem. Nice work Lindsay. Greg, better, good. And…” he stopped at one quiz, “we have our first perfect score.” He peaked up and glanced at Kate. “Are you Miss Graham?” She was the only new student and the only name he didn’t recognize.

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“Yes sir.” She almost negated it saying she was Kate Thomas but remembered she was enrolled as Jim’s daughter. “And she’s polite.” The class giggled. “Nice job. And another perfect from Jeff of course.” A very neat looking boy gave an unctuous smile a couple of desks down from Meg. Mr. Stewart let them out after giving more homework than Kate ever had in one night from all her classes put together. Jeff caught up to them to meet Kate. “This is Kate.” Meg introduced with a hint of iciness. “Looks like I have some worthy competition, finally.” He was friendly as he sized up his potential intellectual equal. “It’s the only thing I do well and I won’t be much competition for long.” Kate said shyly. “Embrace it. We’ll keep the jocks on their toes.” He ran off in the other direction. Her next class was English. Meg was in that class as well as Greg and his beefcake friend. “They always bunch us up. Let me see your schedule.” Meg scanned Kate’s classes. “We’re in every class together except you’re in Physics next and Philosophy after lunch.” “Good.” Kate liked Meg. “Yeah. I’ll stick with you until you get your feet wet.” Kate already trusted she would and not just because she wanted to know more about Brian although that cinched it. The English classroom was on the top floor and looked like a huge bedroom with comfortable chairs, no desks, in place of regular furniture. All the classes were either on the top floor and looked like that one or on the bottom and looked like the math room with few exceptions. Mostly languages and religion were in the top levels and the rest in the lower classes. Meg told her they all got tired of running up and down stairs all day. The middle floor had offices and some of the art classes were off past the kitchen, which wasn’t used for anything other than cleaning up paint crusted brushes and other supplies. There was a science lab for biology and chemistry up the hill in the converted garage house. Kate liked the English teacher, a Miss Carter. She was very young, late twenties, but made up what she lacked in experience with exuberance. There was an endearing librarian quality about her. She

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would break from her lecture to start reciting some of her favorite lines from their book list. It was

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Comedy and they were to read all plays, two of which were repeats for Kate. The second semester would be Tragedy. “Hey Meg, Katie.” Greg and his friend walked over at the end of Comedy. His friend was Brad, the one who didn’t remember the right equation in math. “It’s super rare for kids to get in who aren’t freshmen.” Brad’s statement was a veiled question. “Mr. Sanchez is my grandfather.” Kate admitted wondering if being related to a teacher would put her in the nerd category of students. After her perfect grade in math, it was a budding pitfall. It couldn’t last when she struggled in her other subjects. “That’ll do it. So how do you like it?” “Ask me after religion.” Kate joked. He was befuddled but only for a brief second. “You didn’t come from another Catholic school?” “No.” “It’s just like history only you’re suppose to learn morals from all the stories.” Kate withheld her urge to frown. History wasn’t an easy subject for her. “Greg, do you have Physics now?” Meg inquired. “Yep.” “Can you take Kate?” “AP Physics?” Kate nodded. “All right.” They walked down the stairs back to the lower level. “I don’t know if you’re ready for this. I mean, you couldn’t remember the formula for momentum.” Greg taunted. “Hyde.” She mumbled. “Hide? Why? Is your brother near by?” He turned expecting to see Brian. “Not that kind of hide. Mr. Hyde. I’ve decided you have a split personality.” “Nice. Mr. Hyde was the bad one, right?” He smiled and to her agitation, he looked pretty darn cute. “Did you tell your brother that you went to the game?” Greg had already singled Eric as the lead reprobate.

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“Let’s not start that.” Kate prepared for another puppet lecture. “I’ll take that as a no.” “Then you’d be wrong.” His eyes widened in disbelief. “You did not. Or you didn’t tell him I was there.” “It really isn’t the catastrophe that you make it out to be.” “And what are the names of your two sides? Jacqueline and Heidi?”

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She stuck her tongue at him and he smiled harder. They went to the classroom next to Math IV. Stacey waved at Greg hoping he would sit next to her but he sat with Kate out of obligation since she didn’t know anyone. “You can sit with your girlfriend.” She was grateful but didn’t want to create an antagonistic relationship with Stacey. It didn’t take a lot of brainpower to see she was the Alpha Female. “I’m fine.” Gerard walked in and gleamed at Kate. He gave her a quick nod as he passed her desk. “All right then. Let’s get started.” He was far more interesting than Mr. Stewart. He didn’t give them a proper quiz but as he talked he pointed at kids to pitch in the right term on cue. Kate noticed he didn’t point at her, perhaps giving her a reprieve until she was acclimated. It wouldn’t last. As soon as class ended Stacey was at Greg’s side. “It’s so lucky we have a class together.” She spoke only to Greg. “Yeah.” “You’ll help me, won’t you?” “It’s isn’t my best subject.” “Kate, right?” Stacey finally acknowledged her presence. “Yeah, hi.” “What’s your next class?” “World History.” “Father Francis is a great teacher but really strict.” “Come on, Meg will kill me if I don’t bring you.” Greg told Kate.

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He accompanied her to a class that was on the same floor but on the other side of the locker rooms. Meg saved her a seat and Greg went back to Brad’s side across the room. “Did he ditch you as soon as you were in class?” Meg asked Kate. “No.” “Great. I’ll hear about that.” She sighed. “Why?” Kate thought that was the point of having Greg escort her to physics. “Stacey is crazy about him. I don’t know why she doesn’t give up. I mean, she’s a senior even

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though she’s our age. She can have any guy in school but she fawns over Greg for some reason. Well, we know the reason.” Kate obviously didn’t know what Meg was talking about, so she clarified. “He’s a jock.” “Oh. Yeah. Baseball.” Kate mindlessly said. She pegged Stacey as Greg’s girlfriend and he hadn’t corrected her when she mentioned it. “And basketball but he isn’t as good at that. Dave is the star there. I think Greg keeps his distance because they use to date. I mean, he could have any girl he wanted and she is the IT girl here.” “It’s so weird not knowing this stuff already.” “You’ll catch on.” She paused, “So how do you think Brian’s day is going?” Kate hid a small grin happy that she was interested and that Brian’s romantic life had some hope. She wasn’t as dour on her brothers’ friends as they were about hers but she was opinionated and she approved of Meg. “He’ll be fine. He plays basketball, so he’ll be at the tryouts. He’s really good.” “Dave won’t like that. He isn’t THAT competitive, not like Greg, but he kind of didn’t like your brothers, more the older ones though.” “They have a natural ability for alienating people.” Father Francis was a good teacher and stringent. He went over the agenda for the year and then went right into the various creation myths from different cultures. He began with the Biblical version first and went on to add there were others. Kate expected him to spin the secular legends to look less plausible but he didn’t. He referred to them all as myths and said that the Bible had two different versions. A rather iconoclastic position for a man of the cloth to take. Kate had never thought about that but he was right.

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There was the seven days where man was created last and then the Adam and Eve story where Adam was created first, everything else and finally Eve. She looked forward to lunch where she could catch up with Brian. Lunch with Brian was Meg’s payoff for babysitting. They got their food and sat at a round table with Brian and Dave. Stacey eventually joined them. Brian was clearly taken by her beauty. Meg got most of his attention though. Kate was glad. Meg was much nicer. Stacey had barely paid Kate any mind when they first met at assembly but at lunch she scrutinized Kate. It was because Greg sat with her at physics, no doubt about it. Kate was a well-practiced wallflower. If all the protection from her brothers taught her anything it was how to hide in plain sight. Stacey’s examination felt like being under a high-powered microscope trapped between to platelets of glass. In the end, Stacey relented confident that Kate wasn’t going to thwart her plans to woo Greg. At least that was the impression that Kate received. Her intuition had always been good when reading people. After moving to a new town and having so many new subjects at once, her instinct had been honed. Her only bad read was Greg. He was a mystery to her. He was Jekyll and Hyde. No. He was Hyde. Even his act of chivalry in physics was another thrust of his foil at Eric. Meg pointed out the key students around the tables. She named each of them and gave a mini biography. Occasionally Stacey would add a glib comment. There was no hope Kate would remember all the details but it was fascinating to hear. Jeff came by and sat with them for a while. He talked up Kate’s perfect quiz in math again with the mild boast that it tied his. Philosophy was the one class she shared with Brian and they walked together comparing notes from their days. It was on the third floor in the same room as her Comedy class. Greg was there with his sidekick Brad. Brian spotted them first and sat with Kate in a different part of the room. Greg gave her a mocking glare. She stuck her tongue at him and then hid behind her hair. Brian shook his head catching their nonverbal banter. “Stop flirting.” “I’m not.” A lady in full nun gear walked in. “Hello, I’m Sister Rene and yes, I know that you call me Sister Rene Descartes behind my back.” She had a certain eccentric flare about her. The class smiled at her joke.

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“We’ll be discussing the ideology of various philosophers through the centuries intertwined with various books as we go.” She went over the agenda and book list and then asked, “Can anyone tell me if the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” It was a paradox from Socrates. The students sat without a hand in the air. Every teacher expected them to be ready on day one to jump right in at full speed. Kate’s brain still had dust from the summer of disuse. She imagined cogs inside her head covered with unoccupied webs and an oilcan on a stool by the on switch that was clearly off. The nun walked along the perimeters passing students who averted eye contact. “Someone has to have an opinion. Miss Graham, what do you think?” She stopped in front of Kate. Kate peeked around for who she was speaking but of course she was Miss Graham. She gulped thinking she was going to have to get use to it. “Um, well, isn’t that a bit like the chicken or the egg.” “Explain.” She was interested by her answer. She glided to the front of the room. “Better yet. What do you think came first?” Kate mentally flipped the on switch in her mind and saw the cobwebs break apart as the gears slowly ground their interlocking teeth. She knew the riddle; what came first the chicken or the egg? But it wasn’t supposed to have a definitive answer. “Depends.” Greg said without raising his hand. That didn’t bother the teacher at all. “If you’re an evolutionist or a creationist. If you’re an evolutionist than it depends on how you define an egg. If an egg is a chicken egg because a chicken laid it, then the chicken came first. And if you think an egg is defined by what it hatches, the egg.” “Interesting perspective.” Sister Rene nodded. “And Kate, what if you are a creationist?” Kate didn’t like being called. She preferred being invisible in class and this nun wasn’t going to have it. At least when Stacey took her measurements at lunch she didn’t have to speak. Finally the cogs were spinning at full throttle and Kate answered, “The chicken.” “Explain.” She held her hand up to the rest of the class waiting. “Please, let her speak Mr. Andrews.”

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If Father Francis hadn’t gone over the Biblical creation stories before lunch Kate would have been lost with an answer. When God created Adam, he was a full-grown man, not an embryo. “Well, Adam and Eve didn’t have belly buttons.” The class broke out in laughter. “We don’t really know but good point. Clever.” Sister Rene approved of her answer. “You’re Gerard’s granddaughter?” That explained why she was picked out of the class. She wanted to test the mettle of the brilliant Gerard Sanchez’s granddaughter. Brian would be hit up soon after. “Yes, ma’am.” Kate felt destined to be labeled a geek. The ma’am caught her attention. “Well, I can see the Gerard in how you think but I am not sure I see the Jim in you.” She continued on with her lecture selecting new victims as she played her word games. Brian wrote her a note, “Graham?” “It’s easier that way.” She wrote back. He rolled his eyes. “You’re Kate Thomas.” “I’m both.” After that, she went to change for Tennis. She was glad it was the end of the day. It was an all girls’ class. The school had sixteen tennis courts in total but the four by the teacher’s parking lot, where Kate and Jim parked when he enrolled her, were the main ones. Coach Evans was a good-looking black man in his late thirties. He was the head of the athletic program. They didn’t play on the first day since many students forgot to bring rackets, Kate included. She could tell he was going to help her game and she loved tennis.

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Moving Day

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Each day school got easier as she acclimated and met more people. Meg kept an eye on her and Kate was very grateful. Brian liked his classes as well even though they had more work to do. He was never a great student but he thrived in the face of challenge. They also liked how they could discuss things with the teachers. It was interactive. Kate worried she would hate Philosophy if Sister Rene kept calling on her but she didn’t. The old nun was growing on her. Friday was the best. She spent extra time on her outfit since it was free dress day. If that wasn’t enough to make Fridays better, the fact that all their classes were on abbreviated times and they were out by 1:30pm sealed it. Greg politely ignored her except when they went to AP Physics where he diligently stayed by her side. They were the only two that had the same English class before and it seemed unavoidable. Brian made the basketball team and was evenly matched with Dave. This wasn’t so bad for Brian since he was growing more attached to Meg. Dave didn’t mind as much either, perhaps because he wasn’t one of the twins. They were becoming close friends as Kate and Meg were. Kate and Brian went to the first football game with Meg and some of her friends. Dave and Greg went to a Dodger game with Andy and Jim, so they missed it. Stacey was on the cheerleading squad. She hadn’t been anything but nice to Kate since that first lunch but Kate kept her distance. She was a senior and she mostly hung out with her grade with the rare exceptions of Meg and Greg. Kate figured she was so buddy-buddy with Meg to get to Greg. Stacey was more than friendly with Brian, who was a senior. Many girls were paying him notice, more than at their old school. They were invited to an after game party but they skipped it. By the second week, they were already into the swing of their new world. Kate understood what Jim meant by the private education and smaller classes. It helped in more way than that as cliques were looser. Jocks hung out with brains for example. And there were more jocks in the advanced classes than in her old school. Most thankfully, she wasn’t pigeonholed as an egghead or a dunce. Dave’s interests in Kate had waned. He spent a lot of time with Claire, a senior and a good friend of Stacey’s. This worked out well to help Brian ease up as they spent most of their time with Dave and

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Meg and their friends. Brian and Dave got along well but Brian kept him from Kate in subtle ways the first two weeks. It was a direct request from Eric. His refusal to admit it didn’t convince Kate otherwise. After the third week, things felt like an old habit. Jeff the math whiz had asked her out to a movie with a group of friends. She had an easy excuse to say no because she was helping her family move. Kate couldn’t believe that time passed so quickly. Santa Barbara was only thirty minutes away and the twins were home to unpack. The truck pulled up Saturday afternoon and neighbors came out to welcome the new family to the street. The boys were busy in their rooms arranging their furniture and property to their liking. The twins had adjoining rooms for the first time rather than sharing and Ron promised them a trip to Andy’s store to get new bedroom sets. Andy and Greg came by to welcome the Thomas family to the neighborhood. Ron, Sandy and Kate were sitting on the steps enjoying a break. Greg didn’t look happy but that was expected. Kate was glad to see it and that was a good auspice. It meant that she was over whatever hero worship she had from the Dodger game. The adults went into the house to get Andy’s professional opinion. Greg sat down on the step below her. “There goes the neighborhood.” He joked with a little regret. Kate started to get up, knowing that Eric could catch them at any moment but Greg held her arm. “Katie, don’t.” She stayed. “Are you going to be nice?” “A perfect Dr. Jekyll.” “To everyone.” She raised her eyebrows. “No promises.” He smirked and looked good. “You’re excited.” “I am.” She turned away from him not wanting to think how appealing he was. He shrugged. Missing them wasn’t a problem for him and he felt no gladness. “It’s not like it makes a difference to you.” “It doesn’t.” He let that go. “Dad missed you at the game last weekend.” “Jim needed a boys night out. He isn’t use to having a girl around all the time.” “He missed you too. All we heard about was you.” He rolled his eyes and then locked onto hers. “And I missed you.”

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Kate frowned. He was going to be charming to woo her into a false sense of friendship so when Eric caught them he would be more agitated. “Don’t do this. You get all sweet and it really is very confusing. I would prefer a constant Mr. Hyde rather than the back and forth.” “What’s so confusing? Sometimes I’m nice, and sometimes I’m not. You pick up on the change easy enough.” He leaned back on her step with his elbows and grinned. “Hello.” Eric sang smarmily. “Relax, we’re just talking.” Greg preempted. “What’re we talking about?” Eric sat by Kate’s other side with false enthusiasm. “Free will.” Greg lied. It was a snide commentary to Eric’s commands that Kate readily obeyed. “We were not.” She corrected. Eric smiled wide at the confrontational attitude. “If he’s bothering you…” “He’s not.” Kate didn’t want Eric picking a fight with one of the most popular kids from her class. It wouldn’t be anymore of a fair match up than the metaphysical game of billiards. Hitting Greg wasn’t Eric’s only weapon. “Jeff, is it?” Eric purposely threw out the wrong name. “No, he’s Greg.” Oh, why did she mention Jeff to Eric? It seemed so innocent at the time. Greg sat up trying to figure out how Eric heard Jeff’s name. “Really Kate. How many boys are asking you out?” Eric was enjoying it too much. Understanding dawned on Greg. “She’s very popular, actually. There’s practically a line.” Their argument was going too fast for her to keep up. “There isn’t a line.” “Sure there is; Dave, Brad, now Jeff. You’re the flavor of the month, the hottest new ticket in town.” Greg’s back handedly complimented. “And where are you in the line?” Eric demanded loosing his cool. The line of boys was something that bothered them both and when his ploy ceased to return the results he sought, it bothered Eric even more. “I don’t wait in lines.” Greg shot back out of pride. “Good.” Eric stood up. “Come on Kate.” “No. Stay.” Greg countered fruitlessly. “We’re talking.”

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Kate could almost hear Greg’s thoughts telling her she didn’t have to do everything Eric said. It wasn’t that simple. Greg was perplexing and when the day came to put her foot down on Eric’s controlling nature, it wasn’t going to be for some guy that Jekylled on her. She stood up. “I’ll see you at school.” Greg was pissed and didn’t even say good-bye as he left. “What did you do that for?” She reeled on Eric. “Who are Dave and Brad?” He didn’t bother to apologize. “Guys at school. You met Dave at the barbeque. And there isn’t a line.” “Cheeky bastard.” Eric denigrated. “He isn’t. He’s just some guy that goes to my school and when he isn’t trying to piss you off he isn’t half bad.” It wasn’t her independence day yet but it was getting nearer. “Eric, I’m almost sixteen. You have to let me date.” “Not him.” “He isn’t interested.” She insisted. “So say you.” “There’s a dance coming up. I think Jeff is going to ask me to go.” “No.” He obstinately shook his head not allowing for contemplation on the matter. She gave him her patented puppy dog look. “You don’t look sixteen when you do that.” “It’s just a dance. I don’t like Jeff like that but it would fun to go, if he asks.” “Jeff’s the bookish one?” “Yes.” Eric liked that he wasn’t a smooth jock. “Be careful.” The victory was sweet. “Why are you like this?” “I know what we were thinking and I know what HE,” he jabbed his thumb to where Greg walked off, “is thinking.” “But I can go to the dance if Jeff asks?” “I can’t stop it if you do.” The thought irked him. It wasn’t permission rather than admittance that he couldn’t control everything.

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She hugged him. “Thank you.” She made her rounds saying good-bye before hurrying home for dinner.

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“Jim, I’m home.” Kate hollered as she closed the front door. “He’s gone for Chinese food.” Greg sat comfortably on the sofa surfing through the channels looking for the pre-game. It was a familiar home to him. “Hi.” She said weakly. He patted the couch beside him.

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She positioned herself as close to the armrest as she could. There was a good yard between them. He found the station but it was playing the final inning of a Mets game. The Dodger game would follow. He tossed the remote on the coffee table. “You’re a puppet.” She stuck her tongue at him. He went to the bathroom and she picked up the remote. She started flipping the stations and landed on a Hannah Montana rerun. A mischievous inspiration struck and she hid the remote in the freezer. When he returned she waited innocently on the sofa. Her only miscalculation was she sat in the center and he edged right next to her. It was on a commercial so he hadn’t notice that station was changed. “Can I hold your hand, in case the warden stops by?” He poked at her palm and she jerked it away. “No.” He snickered at his joke. “Icing. It’s only icing.” “I am not a puppet and I am not cake.” “Said the puppet made of cake. You don’t have to kowtow to their every command.” The program started and Greg realized it wasn’t the right station for the game. “What’s this?” “My house.” Her tone was particularly bratty. “Where’s the remote?” He searched behind a throw pillow and around the undersides of the cushions. “My house.” He leaned across her lap to check the other throw pillow. Turning on his charm he stared at her with his piercing blue eyes. “I’m sorry. You’re not a puppet. You just act like one sometimes.”

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“That has to be the worst apology in recorded history.” She pouted.

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He jabbed her side with his elbow and she stifled a giggle. It gave him a mischievous inspiration. “Be absolutely honest with me.” He said devilishly. “Are you ticklish?” “Not at all.” She lied and scooted away. He scooted right up to her. “I don’t believe you.” “Don’t touch me.” He poked her side and she cringed. “Oops. I didn’t mean to do that.” “Stop it.” “Stop it some more?” He teased and poked her again. “I’m warning you.” She tried to look furious but she couldn’t while giggling. He wasn’t buying it. With both hands he tickled her sides. She jumped around trying to find an escape but his hands were a step ahead. Kate felt like an idiot hoping around and laughing against her will. “Stop. It’s in the freezer.” “That was easy.” He said continuing his handiwork. She was completely wrapped in his arms. Kate thrashed in the wrong direction and their heads banged together. “Ouch!” He ignored his head and let her go. “I’m sorry Katie.” She held her hand at her right temple. “Let me see.” He moved her hand. “You shouldn’t have started flirting with me.” She got indignant and forgot the pain. “I wasn’t flirting.” “Sure, you weren’t.” That seemed to be his plan. “Stay here.” She leaned back holding her throbbing bump. He went to the kitchen and filled a baggie with ice and got the remote. “Here.” She took the homemade ice pack and put it to her head. After changing the television to ESPN he checked her again. Leaning in he took her hand’s place on the ice pack and lifted it. “It doesn’t look too bad.” “Aren’t you hurt?” “A little. We know who has the harder head.”

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His attempt at humor cheered her. His eyes were locked on hers again and she was frustrated that she found him attractive after how mean he was being. How could she find Mr. Hyde appealing? Was she a masochist? Had the pain incited her? “You were flirting a little.” He examined her forehead again holding the ice pack behind her head with his left hand. “I wasn’t.” She insisted. “I was. Do you need an aspirin?” She didn’t know why but she glanced at his mouth. He caught her and she looked away. He bent down and kissed her forehead, keeping his face dangerously close afterwards. “Better?” He whispered. “Better.” She uttered. She was paralyzed with fear and couldn’t feel her bump. His moves were so skilled until then. He was awkward so close to her. Slowly he lowered his mouth along side hers brushing her rosy cheek with his nose as he traced his way down. And then he softly kissed her. It felt nice. Their lips were gently pressed together for a moment and then they weren’t. Her stomach fluttered in nervous enjoyment but her head swam in confusion. When he looked up he couldn’t read her expression. Kate was shocked. Why did he kiss her? It was to upset Eric. That was the most obvious reason. It wasn’t even thirty minutes since Eric had riled him up on the steps to his new house. “I shouldn’t have done that.” Not what she wanted to hear after her first kiss. He was still close and she didn’t know if she was ready for another. A voice in her head said to get away. Her body stayed put. His fingers ran along the edges of her hair. He was going to kiss her again despite his spoken regret. Guiding her chin he kissed her longer and harder. Suddenly the front door opened and Greg popped up and was in the kitchen getting rid of the evidence. “Hey Kate.” It was Andy bringing in some beers for the game. “Hi.” Her voice was a little squeaky. “I’ll be right back.” She needed to get some aspirin but even more she needed space. For some reason she didn’t understand, she glared at Greg as she passed him to go to her bathroom. He tossed the baggie unnecessarily hard into the trash and went back to the couch.

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Taking two pills she flopped down on the bed. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” She told the cat. Zuzu meowed. Kate assumed it was in agreement. “Kate, dinner’s here.” Jim had returned.

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“Coming.” She hollered back. Her head spun a little when she sat up – maybe from the bump or maybe from the kiss. She grabbed some food to take to her room excusing herself to do some homework not that she got much done with her imagination enjoying the reverie that was only occasionally interrupted by her dignity or lack thereof. It wasn’t more than an hour later when Meg knocked gently at the open door. “You’re missing all the fun.” Meg announced. “When did you get here?” “About half an hour ago. And you really need to come down. Your brothers,” she pointed at Kate and then to herself, “and my brother and cousin are playing pool together. Dave even beat one of the twins. I’m not sure which one.” “Matt, probably.” Kate guessed. Eric may be playing nice but he wouldn’t lose a game to either Dave or Greg. “Maybe after they get to know each other some they’ll ease up.” Doubtful. “Eric’s getting better. I told him I wanted to go to the school dance. He didn’t like the idea but he isn’t going to give me a hard time about it.” “Who asked you?” “No one, yet, but I think Jeff will. He asked me out this weekend. It was with a group. We’re just friends.” “Jeff asked you out and you didn’t tell me!” “I’m telling you now.” Kate thought that was apparent. “Do you like him? I mean, I think Dave would probably ask you if you’d like to go with him.” Kate liked Dave more than Jeff. He wasn’t quite as taken with himself. “Isn’t he dating Claire?” “They’re old friends but he likes you way more.” “Oh.” Kate didn’t know what to make of that information. In reality, she wasn’t thinking about Dave or Jeff.

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“Do you think Brian will ask me?” “Yes. He already asked if I thought you’d say yes.”

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“I will. Geez, how can he still have doubts?” Meg wasn’t obnoxious about it but it was clear she was taken by Brian. “At least that means I haven’t been too overt.” Kate giggled, “You could be way more obvious and he would still be skeptical. This is all new to us. We feel conspicuous at St. Iggy’s. We were invisible at our old school.” “I won’t believe that.” She got up and stopped at the door. “Are you coming?” “Coming.” Kate didn’t want to see Greg but Eric was there to keep things proper. She wanted to talk to Eric. Not to hassle Greg, although that didn’t bother her one bit, but she wanted some good advice from someone absolutely loyal to her. She would wait until after Greg left. If only she could get him to leave sooner. Maybe he would go when she showed up. He regretted kissing her. Eric and Dave were playing a game and he wasn’t helping his shots along. He glanced at her and she could almost hear his voice in her head, I’m behaving. Dave lost and Kate walked over to Eric. “Are you warming up to them?” “Some of them.” Eric forced a smile. “Good. Why didn’t you guys tell me you were here?” “I tried to send you a message but I’m still working out the kinks.” Kate had thought about him out of the blue when she was studying but she didn’t think he was trying to reach her. “Do you mean telepathy?” “Yes. It should be easy with you but I’m still patchy.” Since Kate had told her brothers about the whole conversation with her mother they started to experiment on their inherited paranormal gifts. “I missed it. We’ll try again.” “For sure.” He shot a look at Greg with a puzzled expression. “At least I’m not the only one behaving.” Greg wasn’t pulling some antics to annoy him and that didn’t add up. “Yeah.” She’d wait for a better time for that talk. Eric was ready to strike when they were only chatting on the steps. If he knew Greg made a pass at Kate it would send him over the edge. “He’s a cheeky bastard.” Eric said giving her a speculative look. He waited for her to refute his statement. “A cheeky bastard that suddenly doesn’t want to look this way.”

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“You aren’t one of his favorite people.” “But you are.” “Am not.” She rebutted. “Okay, what’s wrong? You let me insult him, he isn’t looking at you.” He kissed me. That’s what wrong. She thought without speaking. “What? When? You only had an hour?” Eric heard it. “I didn’t say anything.” “Did he kiss you?” Eric whispered his jaw locked into place. He stood up taller. “We’ll talk later.”

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“I see his game. Waits until I’m not around and then he pulls something like that.” He fumed. “Don’t let him get to you. It wasn’t a big deal.” She didn’t mean to bring it up then in front of people. Stupid telepathy. “Wake up. I wasn’t there. He didn’t do THAT for me.” “Well, it was awful. That’s why he isn’t looking at us. He’s afraid of you.” “I’ll give that audacious imp a reason to fear.” Eric avowed and glared at Greg. “You’ll do nothing. Be my brother, not his enemy.” Kate dreaded on oncoming scuffle. Eric shook his head. “And Matt got on my case about reading too much into things.” “Kate, do you want to play?” Dave asked. “You’ll cream me.” Kate conceded a little disorientated to change topic so quickly. “We’ll play doubles. We’ll be a team.” “Okay.” “Greg, Meg, you up for a game?” He propositioned. “Sure.” Meg said eagerly. “Brian, you can play.” Greg staved off triggering Eric. That was a dumb mistake. As they played, Matt and Eric had him surrounded telling him to back off. She wished she could hear.

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Greg took it for a while but then he walked up to the table to avoid the heat. He glowered at Kate. Eventually she had to move near him to make shot and he whispered, “That was record timing, tattle.” She lost her concentration and missed the shot. Brian helped Meg shoot by pointing where to aim the cue ball. “He figured it out.” Kate tried to look like they weren’t having a fight. There was enough background noise to keep it fairly private. Only the twins watched them. “Sure. I had it wrong. You aren’t a puppet. You’re the puppet master and they’re your puppet goons.” “You weren’t talking to me and then I didn’t defend you, for SOME reason. He’s smart enough to put the pieces together. What do you care? You did it to upset him. He’s upset. You should be happy.” “And yet I’m not.” It was Kate’s turn again. She walked to the other side of the table to line up her next hit. They were winning because Dave was just that much better. She bent over to take aim and Eric pointed at a spot on the red solid for her to hit. “Give it a good tap.” It wasn’t an easy shot but she made it with his help. She lined up the next shot and sunk another ball. There was one more solid before the eight ball but she didn’t sink it. Dave finished up after Meg missed her shot. “Want to play a game, Greggie?” Eric asked racking up the balls for the next match. “It’s Greg.” He clarified. “My bad.” Eric didn’t attempt to sound genuine. Meg wondered how things had gone from good to much worse. Kate gave an innocent look. They hit balls to see who would break and even though Eric’s should have rolled too far, it suddenly slowed. The despotism proved the treaty was off. Kate didn’t want him playing asinine games to make things worse. Still it was better than Eric taking a swing at Greg. Eric prepped to break. He was shocked when he didn’t sink any balls. Did you do that? Kate heard in her head. She may have. It happened that way sometimes. She shrugged not knowing for sure. Greg caught it all. He hit a ball in and then two more before Eric could hit again.

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His next hit started to deviate as it veered towards its mark but it wasn’t enough. Stop obstructing me. Eric’s voice was crystal clear in her mind. Not knowing what she was doing she walked into the den to watch some of the game with her dad. “How’s it going?” Jim asked with a bit more than casual concern. “Fine.” The Dodgers were up and it was the top of the eighth. “Looks like we are going to the playoffs.” “Torre owes me.” Jim said. “After all the years of pain, you’re forgiving him?” Andy couldn’t believe him. “Years of pain?” Kate questioned. “Jim’s also a Red Sox fan and Torre kept them out of more world series than he cares to remember.” “Who will you root for if they ever go up against the Dodgers for the World Series?” “I don’t know and we probably won’t find out this year.” “Kate, didn’t you want me to help you with some homework problem.” Eric asked walking into the den. Getting the hint, Kate agreed and they went up to her room. “What was that about?” He snapped convinced she stopped him from cheating. “I didn’t think I was doing anything.” Eric was skeptical. “Well, after you were gone, I didn’t have any problems.” “You shouldn’t abuse your powers like that. Why add to the conflagration?” “As a deterrent in case he didn’t mean it.” “He didn’t.” Kate meant the kiss. “Not that. He said he’d leave you alone.” “Oh.” Kate didn’t think that was so surprising but she didn’t like to hear it. “Good.”

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That night Kate tossed and turned as she dozed off. She tried to keep her mind clear so that she wouldn’t bring someone into her dreams. But she must have. She was in her misty room wearing her day clothes again. She got up and looked to the door to see who would walk through. “This is new. We’re usually in my room.” It was Greg. He walked right up to her and ran his hand through her hair. “This seems different somehow.” She pushed his hand away. “Hey!” “This isn’t a guilt dream, is it?” He frowned. “We aren’t going to talk, are we?” He bowed his head ready to persuade her otherwise. She bolted out of bed in her dark room, under her covers, in her pajamas panting. It was two in the morning. She rolled on her side and faded off from weariness. Jim came downstairs to the smell of breakfast. Kate decided that she would treat him for once. “This is nice.” “I’m not an experienced cook but I can do some easy foods.” She flipped a hotcake over that was slightly misshapened. “You know that dream thing you did?” “Yeah.” He saw where she was headed. “I may have done that a couple of times. How does it work?” “Well, you have to know the person. You can’t bring in Brad Pitt, for example. They have to allow it. You can’t pull in someone that wouldn’t want to come in. When I was young, just thinking about someone would bring them but as I got older I learned to control it. Who did you bring in?” “Eric.” And another. “Did it freak him out?” “Me more than him.” “I’m glad you brought it up. There are other things you need to be ready for.” “Like?” “Well, on your mother’s side is some telepathy. You may be able to talk and hear people in your mind.”

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“That’s happened once with Eric but he can do it already with Matt so I assumed it was all him.” “You’re closest to Eric?” “We’re all close but he seems to be less willing to let go of our old family and we have grown closer since this all happened.” He understood. “He scared me the most at first. Even at the funeral he stared me down. He was clearly the hardest to win over. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that was my first imperative.” “Eric is more intimidating than Ron?” Kate couldn’t imagine it. Ron had the worst temper in a family of hot heads. But then, Eric was the strongest bastion of her over everyone else. Jim laughed. “Ron wasn’t so bad. We had a talk about how weird this was when we first met. I think he feels bad that he ended up with my wife. I ended up with you and that’s fine with me.” Kate shuttered. It was a bizarre way to become friends. Jim really did have his feet planted on solid ground. “Anyway I already mentioned that we have an easy relationship with animals. Mom’s really good at it. But you may start to talk to Zuzu more.” Jim continued. “Does that mean that Ellen will learn things I’m up to from Zuzu?” “Possibly. And she can hear it even from far away. I was ten when I realized the family dog was ratting me out.” She’d have to remember that. “Is there anything else?” “You’ll have to ask your mom. I think she can stop things that other people do.” That was how Kate could stop Eric from moving the pool balls around. “I have done that to the twins. They call it deterrence. So does everyone have these things?” “Not many but we seem to find each other. Like me and your mom. And your grandparents. They were both telepathic and empathetic. What about your brothers? What is it they do?” “Aside from telepathy?” She wasn’t sure she should tell him. “Don’t tell Mom or Ron but they can move things. So can Ron.” Jim had expected as much. “Well, Andy can do something kind of unique. It’s like telepathy but you have to write it down.” “What do you mean?”

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“Well, if I write something and think very hard about him, he can read it even if he can’t see it.” “That’s kind of cool.” “Don’t tell anyone. And it can be cool but it’s a one sided conversation. When I eloped with your mother, he saw me signing the marriage certificate and went nuts trying to find me.” “You were thinking about Andy when you married Mom?” “I felt bad because he should have been my best man but he was out of town when we married.” “So is his name really Andy? I mean Andy Andrews.” He laughed. “We call him Andy because of his surname. His first name is Maynard and he hates it.” “Maynard?” She grimaced. “Don’t laugh. A man named Maynard killed Black Beard, you know.” “I didn’t. How ironic?” “Actually, I do have to tell you one other thing.” He got very serious. “You’re birthday is coming up.” “That’s right. October thirty-first.” “Well, that timing doesn’t really work.” “Don’t tell me you aren’t really my father.” She sassed. Her very essence knew with complete certainty. “Oh, I am. The tests prove that. And if it helps, you didn’t even have a plausible blood type to match Ron. He had to know you weren’t his from the day you were born.” “I can’t imagine what he was thinking.” “But the timing, well, Sandy had already switched places. I didn’t know what had happened, only that something seemed off here with Sara who I had no reason to doubt wasn’t your mother but I could tell something wasn’t the same. And one night the real Sandy was in my dreams, which happened plenty, so it wasn’t a surprise but well, I wasn’t in the same town as your mother when you were conceived.” Kate tried to digest that tidbit. “You got her pregnant in a dream?” She shivered. “I’m sure of it.” “Crazy.”

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“The craziest.” “Mom didn’t mention that part.”

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When in Rome

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The next day at school Kate ignored Greg as much as politeness would allow – perhaps a bit more than that. After English ended she ran out before he could catch up. And so it went for a few weeks. The dance was approaching and Brian was taking Meg. Jeff asked Kate to the dance first and she didn’t know how to say no, so she said yes. She wondered who Greg would take but decided she didn’t care. Jim gave his willing permission but he was a nervous father the night of his daughter’s first date. Kate came downstairs wearing a burgundy sleeveless dress that went to her knees. “Jeff is going to be the envy of every boy at the dance.” Jim gave her a careful hug to avoid wrinkling her outfit. Jeff picked her up looking smart in black pants, a white shirt and tie. He didn’t notice that Kate was silent as he took on the lion’s share of the talking. He gabbed her ear off all the way to the school and when they arrived, she couldn’t recall one thing he said. The auditorium was transformed to a dance floor with tables in the back half and out on the large covered patio connecting it to the rest of the school. The DJ kept the music flowing, mixing in fast and slow songs, new hits as well as the tried and true. When they met Brian and Meg, Kate felt more comfortable. They were a good-looking couple. Jeff had a different group of friends but the school was small and everyone knew everyone else. Out of courtesy he sat with her friends. The gathering filled with the usual suspects. Some people brought escorts from other schools. Stacey was with an attractive boy that Kate had never seen before. She was surprised that she wasn’t with Greg but Meg had always insisted he wasn’t interested. They sat with seniors but Stacey made the gratuitous effort to stop by their table to say hi to Meg and Brian. Her date, Chris, was from Santa Katrina. He was an athlete, probably basketball or baseball because he wasn’t bulky enough to play football. The all-American boy with dark brown eyes and black hair, which were a nice contrast to his fairer complexion, gave a cagey glance to Jeff. His small frown changed to an affable face when he shook Kate’s hand.

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Jeff took Kate to dance rather than get into a new conversation with Stacey and her date. Kate had been dreading it. The night was an excuse to play dress up with her friends. She didn’t have a clue how to dance but didn’t say no – not that he really bothered for permission. A slow song played and he put one hand on her waist and held hers in his other. He was nimble on his feet and kept it simple until she got into the groove of it. As she caught on they started dancing around the floor rather than circling the same spot. It was kind of fun. Comfortable in their pace, she eased up her concentration and checked out her classmates and their dates. Everyone looked marvelous. She spied Dave dancing with Claire. She beamed at him and waved best she could without losing her rhythm. He smiled back. Jeff was still talking her ear off, mostly about colleges. He was fixated on where he would go after St. Iggy’s. And he didn’t notice Dave had maneuvered to them. In a slick move he cut in. Jeff and Claire spun off in one direction and Dave whirled Kate in another. “You’re striking.” He had to speak up to be heard over the music since they were by the speakers. “You clean up pretty good yourself.” He was even more dashing than when she first saw him in her grandfather’s study. “I could kick myself for not asking you first.” She blushed. “It’s all good fun. And Claire is really cool.” “She’s a good friend.” His eyes stared at hers and then up. “Well, look who made it after all.” Kate followed his gaze. Greg entered alone looking debonair in a bright blue shirt and dark pants. He, like most of the guys, didn’t wear a tie. He gave Dave a head nod and gave her a couple of eyebrow lifts as he joined Brian and Meg. Meg kept glancing to the dance floor but Brian hadn’t picked up on the hint. He was engaged in an exchange with Greg, probably sports. He needed to dance with Meg. Brian, Kate concentrated her thoughts willing them to her brother, I don’t know if you can hear me but ask Meg to dance. Brian peered up at her. She tried again. Ask Meg to dance. She wants to dance. He got it that time. She could see him flush even in the dim lighting but he got up with Meg. “Let’s sit down.” Dave suggested seeing that Greg was being abandoned.

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Kate hadn’t accounted for that reaction but followed.

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“I thought you were coming with Claire.” Greg said as his eyes sailed up and down over Kate. Reflexively she straightened out her dress. “Jeff stole my date. Of course, I’m livid about it.” Dave wasn’t. “Doesn’t Kate look beautiful?” “She’s all right for a girl.” He was overly indifferent. “What’re you queer? She’s lovely.” Dave turned to Kate, “Ignore him. He thinks all girls should wear blue jeans and baseball caps.” Kate went pink remembering the baseball game. “Go back and dance. You looked good out there.” Greg ordered. “It’s cool.” Jeff was back with Claire. “Let’s go.” He told Kate. Kate looked at the clock over the entrance. “It’s only ten thirty.” “We’re going to an after party and it’s all about the after party.” Greg was shaking his head for her to say no. She didn’t understand why. It reminded her of the twins. “Oh, okay.” She agreed. “We’ll see you there.” Dave promised. Kate had seen telltale signs before but she hadn’t put the pieces together. Dave and Greg didn’t badmouth Jeff but they didn’t care for him either. Even Brad, who was excessively friendly if that was possible, was standoffish when it came to Jeff. The cliques were looser but they were still cliques. From school they drove to a very modern home in the hills. It had more windows than walls. “Do you want a beer?” Jeff inquired. “I don’t drink.” Kate was just shy of sixteen and it seemed an odd question. “None of us do.” He picked up two beers and handed one to her. She took a sip and it was kind of refreshing. She shrugged and figured while in Rome. The house filled with many of the same kids from the dance. Jeff had gotten into a heated debate with another boy from school about politics. Feeling the courage from her beer, Kate decided to mingle. She kept waiting for one of the twins to pop up and direct her but she was alone. She talked to Lindsay from math.

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“What’re you doing with that?” Brian asked eyeing the beer. He had an opened soda. “Here.” He swapped drinks with her and drank her beer leaving her with a Coke. She spied Brad and went to thank him for the party. “Hi Brad.” He was in a group of juniors and seniors athletes. They were more like themselves with their sleeves rolled up and no ties, if any wore one. “Hi Kate. You look nice.” “Thanks and thanks for the party. This is a fantastic house.” “What are you drinking that for? I can’t stand to see people not drinking at my party.” He took her Coke and gave her the rest of his beer, which was still cold and half full. “Thanks again.” She took a sip. They didn’t let her walk on. Instead they riddled her with tons of questions. When Brad’s friends learned St. Iggy’s was her first venue into Catholic school they really started grilling her. She enjoyed the attention and stood by Brad because she knew him best. He was sitting on the arm of the sofa and at some point that she hadn’t noticed he had put his arm around her waist. It was very friendly and she felt comfortable enough with him to not feel like she was being pawed. “Hey guys.” Greg stopped by glancing down at Kate’s beer. “You don’t mind if I take Katie for a minute, do you?” No one complained and he pulled her from Brad’s side. “Why are you drinking beer?” He asked when they were out of range. “When in Rome, do like the Roman Catholics.” She giggled at her joke. He smiled. “Just my luck, drinking makes you smarter. Typically booze degenerates one’s ability to think. Let’s get you something more age appropriate.” In the backyard he pulled out a bottle of water from an ice chest and sat on the low brick wall on the side of the patio. The yard was mostly private except for the occasional guest looking for non-alcoholic drinks. “Thanks.” She giggled to think that he was acting like Eric would if he were there. She was giggling a lot that night. “What’s so funny?” “You remind me of someone.” He got the hint but ignored it. “Are you having fun with Jeff?” “I was, but then he started talking politics with Sam and I decided to socialize.”

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“Nice. He should take better care of his date so that someone doesn’t take you away. Brad and his friends weren’t going to give you back.” She was sure he was overstating things. Like Eric, he seemed to think every guy on earth was out to take advantage of her. “You came alone?” “The girl I wanted to ask was already going with someone else.” He equivocated. “Who is she?” Kate couldn’t imagine that he couldn’t have worked around that if he really wanted to. The mystery of who she was annoyed her. Maybe she was envious of whoever the girl was but she convinced herself it was just curiosity. “Never you mind.” “Mr. Hyde.” She accused. He rolled his eyes. “Why didn’t you tell Jeff you wanted to go with Dave?” “He asked first.” “You could have said no.” Greg didn’t like that she didn’t speak her mind. “I wanted to go to the dance.” “Did you get permission?” “Jim knows where I am.” “That wasn’t what I meant.” She knew that. “Didn’t you promise not to talk to me?” “I promised not to kiss you.” Like that was going to happen again. “And there’s no need to.” “What does that mean?” He got a little hot under the collar. “You did the damage. You showed Eric you weren’t afraid of him.” She looked down feeling like a pawn in their chess game of machismo. “You have this all figured out.” He nudged her shoulder with his. She nodded her head. Her beer clouded mind swished around her skull. “So, I didn’t kiss you because you were flirting.” “I don’t know how to flirt.” “You were doing a good job of it in there with the football team.”

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“We were just talking.” “You had them enchanted.” He pushed her hair behind her shoulder to see her better.

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She shrugged and it fell forward again. These were the kind of talks Eric always had with her. They really did have a lot in common. “So that’s your conclusion, about me, that I kissed you to defy Eric.” “I’m not naïve.” “You’re very smart but yes, you are kind of naïve.” “Hmph.” She grunted. “What?” “Smart girls are like nice guys. They’re always just friends.” “So you like bad boys?” He had a roguish grin. “Not at all. That’s why I’m here with Jeff.” She gave him a defiant look. “He’s a letch, you just don’t know it. And you’re here with me and Jeff is inside arguing the pros and cons of liberals and conservatives.” “We’re here because I needed some air.” “I can leave you alone with your air.” He didn’t move and she didn’t say anything. “So you want me here.” “It’s no matter to me. It’s like being alone.” “Ouch!” “I don’t believe for one minute that you have any feelings.” “You’re wrong. And you’re wrong about why I kissed you.” “Why then?” She wished she didn’t ask. It was a trap. He was playing word games with her and her brain was too muddled to stay sharp. “Couldn’t be that you are incredibly fun and beautiful and smart and sweet, when you want to be? Obviously, you don’t want to be now.” She tried not to blush but it wasn’t something she could control. “I’ll be nice.” She finally decided not knowing how to take in what he said. “Don’t. I don’t need the temptation when I’m abstaining from kissing you.”

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She stood up and her head went fuzzy. He softly grabbed her shoulders. “You’re tipsy.” “I’m fine. I’m going back inside.” She didn’t like his cryptic conversations that zigged and zagged and she didn’t have the gear for a proper slalom.

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 Party’s Over

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Getting her bearings again Kate ambled into the house leaving Greg and his mind games on the patio. Brad bumped into her again. “What did I say about drinking?” He gave her a fresh beer and went to greet more guests. Kate fluttered around the people nursing her beer. A group of kids she didn’t know were in the kitchen playing a game of quarters. One of them was Stacey’s date Chris. “Hi Kate.” He said leaving the game. “Are they all from Santa Katrina?” “Yep. We’re the heathens.” “Me too. I only go to St. Iggy’s because my grandfather teaches there.” “Really? A stranger in a strange land.” “That’s me.” She nodded too hard. It was the beer. “So what’re the rules?” “Do you want to play?” “I don’t think so.” “It’s fun. You try to bounce a quarter into the glass. If you get it in, you get to name someone to drink. If you get three in a row, you get to make a rule.” “Like what?” “Like, no cursing, or you drink. Or no using names, or you drink. No pointing, or you drink. Sure you don’t want to try?” “No thanks. I’m not much of a drinker. Where’s Stacey?” “I don’t know. Trying to find whoever it is she has a crush on.” “But you’re her date.” “I’m only Mr. Right-Now. She’s probably working Mr. Right as we speak. Where’s your date?” “I don’t know. I was looking for him but he wasn’t were I left him.” “I’ll help you. It’s no fun when you aren’t drinking and I am driving.”

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They walked into a few rooms and found Jeff immersed in a larger political discussion. The crowd of debaters grew and they had moved to a better location around the dining room table. They all wore neckties. She waved at Jeff and he crawled out from the group. He was disconcerted.

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“I’ll see you around then. It was nice meeting you.” Chris gave her a long look before departing. “I’m not being a very good escort.” Jeff said. “I was the one that roamed off.” Kate didn’t feel guilty. Politics was about as exciting as watching grass grow. “Where did you go?” “Mingling.” “With Chris?” He was jealous. “He helped me find you.” “Do you need another drink?” Her beer was still three quarters full. “Well, I could use some water. They have some outside.” The patio was as empty as before and they sat on the brick wall. “I can’t believe you came with me to the dance.” He confessed. “Why?” “Because you’re out of my league.” It was an overstatement. He was a good-looking guy. Nonetheless her cheeks went pink. “I’m not and we’re well matched in math.” “We are. I like a challenge.” He ran his hand through her hair. “Are you glad we came?” “I am.” She leaned away a bit. He put his arm around her and it felt uncomfortable. He ran his fingers down her arm and she shivered. He pulled her close. “What’s wrong?” “Let’s go back inside.” “I like it out here.” He moved his hand across her jawbone and guided her face to his. Realizing he was about to kiss her she jumped up. “It’s getting kind of cold.” He was the one that had made the point they were just going for fun, as friends. He rose to his feet. “I’ll keep you warm.” His arms wrapped around her, ensnaring her. “Let’s go back to the party.”

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“You’re kind of a tease, aren’t you?” He whispered in her left ear. “I’m not a tease.” She wiggled to dislodge but didn’t even get more room.

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He ran his face down to kiss her. If she hadn’t been kissed before she may not have known what he was thinking. She put her arms between them and tried to pry free. It didn’t stop him and he mashed his lips to hers. It didn’t feel good. It was insistent. “Jeff!” She tried to say through their lip lock. Opening his mouth he infiltrated her lips with his tongue. She pushed harder against his chest. He pulled back. “Relax.” He cooed. “Jeff, we’re just friends.” “Let’s explore all the options.” He lasciviously closed in for more intimacy but was abruptly pulled back. Greg yanked him by his right shoulder. Jeff was about to voice a protest but his face met with Greg’s fist. “She said no!” He growled. Jeff cradled his left side of his jaw. “Get out of here Greg. Kate came with me.” Greg stood between them with his back to her staring Jeff down. “Well, she’s going home with me.” He grabbed her hand and led her through the house. As they neared the door they ran into Brian and Meg. “What’s going on?” Brian demanded. He didn’t know why she was with Greg and why he was holding her hand. “I’m taking Katie home.” Greg asserted. “The hell you are!” Brian spat back and stepped up to Greg. He wasn’t going to allow it. Jeff got to the entrance hall ready to stop her from leaving but froze when he saw Brian’s agitated state. “Don’t listen to him.” He groveled. Brian studied the two boys trying to comprehend the situation. Jeff looked disheveled and pleading. Greg looked perfect and fierce. Brian couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Meg looked at Kate and understood. “We’ll go with them.” She jerked on Brian’s hand away from Jeff. “Think about it Jeff.” Greg warned ready for a tussle if the need arose.

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Jeff wasn’t a fighter and neither Brian nor Greg would have any trouble if things escalated. Both of them standing there was two times too intimidating. If Kate told Brian what Jeff did he would have to face off with both boys. He said goodnight and went back to the party. “What happened?” Brian had only gotten more lost after Jeff’s brief appearance. “Nothing. I’m fine. Thanks to Greg.” Kate said. With that Brian completed the riddle. “I’ll be right back.” He was about to go after Jeff. Meg held his whole arm and couldn’t do more than slow his progress. “Brian, it’s fine. Let’s go.” “Brian, don’t.” Kate begged. The three of them cajoled Brian to leave and drove home in two cars. Kate was in Greg’s Bronco. “You’re right. He’s a letch.” She hugged her arms around herself feeling like a naïve idiot. “I should’ve figured it out faster.” Greg didn’t look at her. “That he would get fresh.” “You did good. Eric would be proud.” “I don’t do things for Eric.” He hissed. “I didn’t mean that.” “I should’ve stayed home.” Greg regretted. “I’m really glad you didn’t.” “And you’ll give Eric a full report.” He hated that she was under Eric’s influence. “Probably.” She admitted. “You don’t have to tell them everything that happens to you.” “I always do. And there’s no escaping this. Brian knows too much.” She wanted him to understand that they were her brothers. Greg was an only child and didn’t know what it was like to have a sibling. “And I use to think I wanted a brother or sister.” “You would be a great big brother.” They were at a stoplight and he looked over at her. “Is that how you see me? As another brother?” “I don’t know how I see you. Sometimes you seem like a friend but other times…” “I seem like a jerk.” He despised that it was true.

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“I wouldn’t use that word. At least not after tonight.” “I know it. I can’t help it. You baffle me.” “How so?”

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He didn’t answer. He parked in his driveway and opened the door for her. She stepped out and hugged him. “Thank you.” He didn’t let go of the car at first but finally he hugged her back. He held her for a long moment. “Go home. Have another glass of water before you go to sleep.” She nodded wiping a tear away. “Don’t do that.” He was terrified when he saw her crying. “Everything’s fine.” She dried her other eye. Inside, Jim was passed out in front of the television. “Dad, I’m home.” He stirred. “Dad,” she jostled his shoulder, “I’m home.” His eyes popped open. “What did you say?” “I’m home.” “Before that? Did you call me Dad?” “I did.” She hadn’t thought about it. It was natural. “I like it.” He was in seventh heaven. “Did you have a good time?” “It was interesting. Boys are confusing.” “You have it easier than we do. Do you want to talk?” Jim looked nervous that he had to perform a delicate fatherly duty. “No. Just an observation.” Jim relaxed and turned off the television as they headed to their rooms. Kate took a quick shower to unwind her tense muscles. After giving Zuzu an acceptable amount of consideration she curled up. When her head hit the pillow, she was out like a light. She sat up in her misty room wearing her fancy dress. She hopped out of bed and watched the door knowing who would enter. He was the only thing on her mind. Greg strolled in looking as rakish as he had when he arrived at the dance. “I knew I would get back to this dream.”

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“It’s not a normal dream.” She quickly said. “Better.” He walked up to her. “Don’t say anything this time. I don’t want it to stop.” “But…” He kissed her softly. “Please.” Unlike Jeff’s advances, Greg’s kiss was ideal and sweet.

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She melted at his touch as he ran his hands down her arms and held each of her hands in each of his. She was speechless. “Better.” His lips brushed hers softly and he pressed them together. She kissed him back for the first time, awake or asleep. His kisses were wonderful. There was so much emotion behind them. She lost her train of thought, enjoying the moment. “Much better.” He ran his fingers through her hair. She rolled into his touch. “This is very nice but…” “Even in my dreams you don’t listen to me.” His eyes were kind and warm and dazzling. “This is our dream. I’ll remember this in the morning too.” His hand stroked her neck and then along the top of her shoulder. Her head followed it as if it was a magnet and he kissed her neck on the exposed side. “That’s really very distracting.” She flushed. “That’s the point.” He joked as he traced her smile with his fingers. It was too much for her. She took a small step back. “Please, really. You’ll regret it in the morning.” “No I won’t.” He kissed her with more passion and the bones in her legs turned from solid mass to a gelatin like substance. She enjoyed it but when they broke for air she said, “You promised you wouldn’t kiss me.” “This is my time. We can do what we want.” “Really? And do you often dream of my room?” “Once. It was very short.” He swept her hair behind her shoulder. “And am I wearing the same clothes I wore that day?” “I knew I’d be seeing that dress again.” He smiled through his confusion. “Although, you don’t usually talk this much.” Some awareness crept in but he shirked it off.

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She wondered what she usually did in his dreams. It was a dangerous thought and she shook her head to erase it. Perhaps more talking would prove it wasn’t a normal dream. “Momentum equals mass times velocity.” It was all she could think to say. “That doesn’t prove anything. We both know that.” He wasn’t going to be convinced easily, mostly because he didn’t want to stop to think about it. She needed a better plan. “The twins are telekinetic.” He gave a sideways look. “That’s how they cheat at pool. And you can stop them.” “Yes.” “Could be my imagination.” Despite his words, she could see his doubt. His cheeks grew rosy. “And I can pull people into my dreams.” She added for a final argument. He sat clumsily onto her bed accepting it. “We’re dreaming together?” “Yes. I can’t control it. And after tonight, you were on my mind.” “How do we get out?” “It’ll pass. I don’t know how to make it end faster. Unless one of us wakes up.” “What if I go out the door?” “I don’t know. You can try.” He stood up and started for the exit stopping when he was shoulder to shoulder with her. “I’m a jerk sometimes because I don’t know how stop liking you.” “It’s okay to like me.” He meant as more than a friend but she wouldn’t let herself believe it. Something was buzzing behind her but she turned away facing him. He turned to her as well. “Not really. Dave likes you.” His fingers glided along her hairline. She understood. The twins were the same way. “Bros before hoes.” “Something like that.” “Got it.” It helped to know. “You really do look amazing.” “Better than the uniform.” The buzzing got louder but she ignored it. “You look pretty good in that too.” He hesitated. “We didn’t even get to dance.”

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Too loud to ignore, she turned to her left looking for the source of the interruption and she was in her dark room, alone in her pajamas. Her cell phone blinked a text message from Eric. “Are you awake?” She sighed. “I am now.” “Call?” “Go to sleep. I’ll see you soon.” She would be able to bring him into her

dream. She was getting the hang of it. She shut her phone off and tried to go to sleep. It worked. She sat up in her dress again. Her room was filled with mist. Eric walked in. “Nice dress.” “Couldn’t this wait?” “No. Start from the top.” He had heard from Brian that something happened. She told him about the dance and how everything was fine. Then how she went to the party and how she walked around mingling. She kept the details light when it came to guys. “You’re too young to go to drinking parties.” That was hypocritical. They had done the same at her age. She didn’t remind him. “It wasn’t that big a deal.” She mentioned that Greg kept her away from the beer and was on good behavior, mostly. Then she told him how she found Jeff and he was aggressive but Greg came to the rescue. “He should have broken his nose.” “He hit him really hard.” “Did he?” Eric was impressed against his better judgment. “He kind of reminded me of you the way he was acting.” He liked the sound of that even though she was feeding his ego. “Then?” “We left.” “Is that all?” “Sort of. You aren’t the first person I pulled into a dream tonight. I didn’t mean to pull him in but he was here.” It was clear she meant Greg. “And he kissed you?” “Some but he believed it was just a dream and it wasn’t forced.”

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“It was mutual. You kissed him back.” Eric’s face dropped. His sister was growing up against his wishes. “A little. But I wanted him to know it wasn’t the usual dream and I finally convinced him. After that, he didn’t touch me.” Eric sat expressionless in her chair. “We aren’t going to anymore. Dave kind of liked me first and they won’t let a girl come between them so you have nothing to worry about.” “For now.” “Really Eric. I think I got an accelerated course in boys tonight.” “And you didn’t pass. You were alone with an aggressive ass.” She wanted to tell him she might have done better if he let her test the waters earlier. That although he had the best intentions, all his meddling had kept her naïve. But she didn’t. That was water under the bridge. “I’ll see you for lunch?” “Okay.” The dream darkened and she was still asleep.

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Greg & Eric

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Sunday Kate ate lunch at her brothers’ as planned. Eric wasn’t home but Brian and Matt were and Sandy busied herself in the kitchen getting food ready for her hungry children. Making sure her mother was too far to listen Kate updated them on the events of the evening regarding Jeff and the party. Eric had given them the same story that morning. “So why didn’t you pull me into a dream?” Matt asked a little miffed. “I don’t know if I can pull in two people at once.” “Try sometime. I’d like to see how it works.” “Me too.” Brian said. “Hey.” Eric yelled as he walked into the house. Greg was with him. “What’s for lunch?” “Taco salad.” Sandy zoomed out of the kitchen with a big serving bowl. “I’m giving Greg another chance.” Eric said to an unheard question from Matt. “He did all right considering how much trouble Kate got into yesterday.” He turned to Greg, “And now you know it isn’t us being protective. The girl has a talent for finding trouble. Or trouble finds her. Either way it’s a full time job keeping her safe.” Greg laughed. “I don’t know how you did it for so long.” Then he turned to Brian. “How did it go with Meg?” He would be expected to get feedback. “Well until the end. She didn’t like that I lost my temper.” “It happens.” Matt said to the most even keeled of the Thomas men. “She’ll get over it.” “Why did you get mad?” Sandy asked suddenly reappearing with serving utensils. When no one bothered to answer, she grew impatient. “Brian, why did you get mad?” “Some jerk got fresh with Kate.” He answered. “What happened?” It was the sort of story that would trigger her mother’s concerns. “Nothing.” Kate minimized the already insignificant event. “Thank goodness. You’re too young to date.” “They dated at my age.” She pointed at her brothers. “Well, you’re a girl and it’s different. Besides, look how they turned out.”

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“That’s sexism.” Kate groaned.

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Sandy played with Kate’s hair. “Another year won’t kill you. In the scope of things, you’ll have plenty of time for love.” Eric shook from stifled laughter. “Is Jim home?” Sandy would nip it in the bud. “Mom! I haven’t even told him.” “I will.” Sandy left. “Thanks a lot Brian.” Kate mumbled sarcastically. “Ah, Kate, I didn’t know she was listening.” “Don’t worry about it, Bri. It’s good for her.” Matt was hardly as vocal as Eric when it came to Kate but a few more boy-free months suited him just fine. Greg watched the family interact with new eyesight. It probably annoyed him, as it always had, that her choices were being made for her. However, there was a part of him that liked that her dating activities would be curtailed. Patience wasn’t a hardship of his but the Thomases were a different breed – even their little half sister Kate. “What would be good for her is if you taught her how to throw a punch.” Greg suggested. Kate stuck her tongue at him. One minute he was public enemy number one and the next he was chumming it up with her brothers. “Get up.” Eric motioned for Kate to rise. “Eric! I am not going to hit people.” “Get up.” He repeated and pulled at her shoulders. “Okay, keep your knees loose and stand with your feet shoulder distance. That’s right. Make a fist like this.” He held his hand out with his fingers rolled in and his thumb on the outside. “Good.” He stood behind her and torqued her arm in a twisted arc hitting an imaginary assailant. “Perfect. Now do it fast.” She jabbed in the air feeling more idiotic than when she wore the Dodger cap. “Faster.” She tried again. “You’ll get there. Practice.” He encouraged.

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“Really, do you think this is needed?” She moaned. “We can’t always be there.” “So are you coming batting with us?” Greg asked Kate as he lifted a forkful of salad into his mouth. Eric must have invited him to go to the cages. “Not this time. Homework.” She could bat. Her brothers had taken her many times. But it messed up her tennis swing and she had a lot of philosophy reading to do. After they left she moped all the way home hoping against hope that Jim wouldn’t agree with

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Sandy. Her genetic parents sat on the kitchen stools debating her fate. Sandy was displeased and that was a good omen. They hadn’t come to a resolution and her fate was still salvageable. “Well?” Sandy dared Jim to take a final position. “You didn’t tell me everything that happened last night.” Jim was kind, as always, but hurt that he learned the news through the grapevine. Ron or Sandy would have started off in a harsher tone and added the phrase ‘young lady’ to the end of allegation number one. They also would wait for a response before proceeding directly to allegation number two, three, four, to infinity. Quickly she weighed the best route on how to leverage his understanding without dishonesty or taking advantage of his relative newness to parenthood. Subdue and reassure. “It has gotten blown out of proportion and it won’t happen again.” “Eric was bouncing off the walls last night.” Sandy snapped. “Well, Sandy, they are a bit overprotective.” Bonus. Eric’s crazy big brother ways that amplified things with the Thomas parents had the reverse affect on Jim Dad. “You know how boys are at that age.” “I do. I was one not that long ago. And I think you meant to say ‘kids’.” Nice slight on Sandy’s sexist predisposition. Sandy flushed and Kate picked up a sense of embarrassment. Interesting. “We need a united position.” Their new family arrangement had weakened Sandy’s authority. Ron wouldn’t have let her go to the dance at all. “Mom, it was my first date.” Kate’s voice whined.

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“And you can wait a year. When you’re seventeen, we’ll reconsider it. Jim, are you going to back me on this?” “It won’t matter.” “Of course it will. She won’t disobey us.” He didn’t like that comment. He never called Kate a puppet but it was clear that she was low man on the Thomas family totem poll. “She needs to make her own choices.” “You have to set down house rules. You’re the parent now.” “We have rules.” His tone rose. “She has a curfew and she lets me know where she’s going and who with. I think that’s a good place to be.” Kate knew things couldn’t stay as harmonious as they had been. She didn’t know what the first fight would be about or when. But it would come and it had. Her stomach twisted from anxiety. “Jim, put your foot down for once.” Sandy practically commanded him seeing that common sense failed her. “Okay. Kate can date.” “Don’t fight. I won’t date if you don’t fight.” Kate blurted out. She would agree to anything to stop the madness. “We aren’t fighting.” Jim said. She had heard that enough to not believe it. “Yes we are.” Sandy contradicted. “Sandy, what’s that going to do but make Kate more interested and less honest. And it doesn’t matter. She can pull people into her dreams. Do you want her experimenting with boys in that realm?” “You mean..? She can?” Sandy spoke quietly. “You can?” “Yes. I pulled Eric in last night.” “Damn!” Sandy hardly ever cursed. “There’s something I need to tell you.” “I told her.” Jim interrupted. “You told her what?” “That she was conceived that way.” Sandy’s mouth dropped open. “You knew?”

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“I did the math.” He was insulted. “And she can do that too? I mean pull people into dreams?” Kate was still in the room but you couldn’t tell the way her mother was talking. “Yes.” Jim answered. “Since?” “The funeral. I visited her.” “You didn’t.” “I was right. She was my daughter. It was going to start soon anyway. What does it matter now?” “Only that she has learned your little trick.” Sandy was incensed. “Still in the room.” Kate said but no one heard.

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“She’s a smart girl with a good network of friends. She’ll be fine.” Jim stood up. “Why don’t you two have a mother daughter talk?” He left them alone. They stared at each other for a minute. “I guess you won’t have to wait until next year to date.” “I don’t think I’ll be going steady or anything.” Sandy rolled her eyes. Jim was right. There was no use laying down a law they couldn’t enforce. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Maybe it was better the way it was. I upset everyone’s life to free myself.” “Mom, I like living with Jim. It was a good decision. And I see Brian every day and the twins often. I even have Ron still and things are better with him. Remember how he was so distant from me. Mom, he even hugs me now.” “He has changed a lot.” Sandy admitted with a thoughtful look. “We all have. I knew things would change. It was fortuitous they didn’t change for the worse.” “You two get along better now.” Kate added. “We do.” “Do you still love Jim?” It was easy for Kate to have two fathers. There was room for both in her heart. Sandy wasn’t in a position to have two husbands and it seemed to Kate that she was choosing Ron.

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“Not like that. We have changed too much in different directions. And I shattered our trust beyond repair. But Ron and I are getting along.” She blushed. “Funny, after all this time of hating my marriage, I’m falling in love with your father – Ron.” “It’s almost like you’re Aunt Sara.” She sighed. “Yeah. A little of both of us died and a little of both of us lived.” “Are you happier?” Kate always felt like her mother wasn’t truly content.

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“I’m very happy. Ron and I are still…” Sandy worried if it was the sort of talk she should have with her daughter but then remembered she had told her far worse during her confession. “Just friends, as you kids put it. But we have potential.” “Are you dating?” “I’m much older than you so it isn’t hypocritical.” “I wasn’t thinking that.” But it was a good point. “Just trying to understand.” “There’s a part of me that wishes I could change back to my old self and work it out with Jim. He’s much healthier than Ron or I.” Kate had made the same assessment. Jim had a sense of balance that she had never seen before in her family. “But you like Ron?” “I do.” “Why don’t you ask him out?” “Honey, we live in the same house.” “Take him to dinner. When was the last time you got gussied up for fun?” “Now you’re giving me advice. This is backward.” Kate patted her mother’s hand. “Go out and have a good time with your husband.” Sandy went home. Kate kind of liked the idea of her mom and Ron finally working it out. She felt bad for Jim. He got the short end of the stick. He told her that he had some serious relationships since he mistakenly believed his wife died but no one special. Kate went to his office. “That was kind of cool of you to stand up for me.” She said from the doorjamb. “I love you. It would hurt if I didn’t.”

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“You’re a pretty good dad.” He melted at the sound of the word. “Do me a favor. Stand up for yourself too.” “I’ve gotten oodles better since I’ve been here.” Pride swelled inside him. “You aren’t just working me for some money are you?”

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“I don’t need a dime.” She batted her eyes to emphasize her purity. “It’s just, this all started up so fast and it was easier than I would have guessed and you should hear that it was going well.” “Thanks.” She went upstairs to do her homework.

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On the Poo Poo List

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Amazing how much could change after one dance. Brian was right. Meg was turned off by his anger at the end of the party. They were destined to date before Saturday. But after, it was like they may have been introduced once but weren’t sure. Brian still liked Meg. Even without him admitting it, which he did, Kate could see it. However Meg was scared off. Greg and Kate had established a comfortable friendship. She was incredibly attracted to him but she understood where things stood and she put those tempting ideas aside. Jeff apologized for his actions and blamed the beer. She told him to not worry about it but kept a respectable distance. Dave was bummed he missed the excitement. Brian, Greg and him were now on the outs with Jeff. They wouldn’t forget it. And Dave was more straightforward with his fascination in Kate. He asked her to a movie and she gladly accepted. Stacey was always somewhat removed from Kate’s world from the first day of school. The dance had changed that too. She was openly cold to her. Initially Kate didn’t care although it was impossible not to notice. But Stacey was the most popular senior and it only took a couple of days to realize that girls were reverberating the icy treatment. Some of the boys were too. Boys weren’t totally arctic but they stayed clear. Brad was immune to Stacey’s influence and had become more of a friend. He flirted with Kate, or at least it was close enough to round off to flirting. It was purposeless and purely for entertainment value. Her tennis was better than ever. It was all misplaced energy from a few different avenues. Whatever it was, Coach Evans was pleased and she played the top players in class. That meant more matches with Stacey and Stacey was better, best in the class, and had an unbeatable singles record. She had uncanny speed in her serve and reaction time. Even though Kate couldn’t beat her, she reveled in every point she won knowing she was catching up in skill. When she first delivered an ace serve, Stacey was visibly irate. Kate grinned and gave her a wink. The action enflamed Stacey’s competitive side and Kate was trounced after that. It was worth it.

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They had enough courts to play single games but mixed it up with doubles. Whenever possible, Meg was Kate’s partner and that made it more fun even if they lost to Stacey and one of her cronies. She had the upper hand on Stacey in Physics. And it helped that Gerard taught it. He was a great teacher and it was her best subject. When it came to the tough problems, Gerard often called on her or Jeff since they were the two that usually completed them without assistance. Comedy got more fun. Miss Carter decided they would read Little Shop of Horrors, since it was almost Halloween. At least once a week the class read through lines almost as a faux rehearsal. Occasionally she played a song from the soundtrack. They were zipping through it so fast, Miss Carter was preparing to work on Sweeney Todd the last week before Halloween. Philosophy was the best class of all. Sister Rene kept it engaging. Often prodding the class into lively debates. Unlike public school teacher’s, Sister Rene liked them to have an opinion even if it wasn’t the same as hers. She wasn’t impressed with parroting but she was persistent that the students support their positions. Sister Rene called on everyone out of the blue and was never disappointed with Kate’s ideas. The class was open to input without raising hands and waiting to be called. It felt very grown up. Frequently Sister Rene stepped in when pandemonium broke out but after order was restored, they went on talking freely. History wasn’t easy for her. The dates, places and people were hard to remember and they all sounded the same. Father Francis was a stickler in class. He wanted full dates and names but the tests were mostly multiple choice and essay questions. They were the toughest exams she ever had but fill-inthe-blanks would have made them impossible especially since she couldn’t spell well and foreign names were impossible. The movie was pleasant and Dave was a perfect gentleman. He hugged her at the end of the night. She really wanted to like him but she didn’t. She wouldn’t admit why. The most unsettlingly outcome was Greg and Eric. They had become friends, bonded even. It was Greg that eased Eric’s worry when he heard Kate was going on a date with Dave. A clear sign that it wasn’t an issue for him that she date his cousin. The next week, things continued to adjust to the new changes and more were in the works. Stacey was giving a preternatural amount of attention to Brian. And Brian was a fool to be hoodwinked. Kate

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decided it wasn’t her looks that made her the IT girl but her ability to seduce boys for attention. Meg was easily as pretty as Stacey, prettier. Kate was disappointed in Brian. He got attention from other girls but Stacey was the most forward and somehow he only saw her. “She’s trying to envenom you.” Meg said one lunch as if she was spared from any emotions on the matter. “She is but why? What did I ever do to her?” “Because Greg took you home from the party. She has heard that by now. She probably thinks you’re why he didn’t invite her to the dance.” “He didn’t invite me either.” “Like that matters. Given the choice to be bested by no one or you, she has opted for you. You’re better than nothing.” “Are you over Brian?” It was a dumb question. She wasn’t. “Enough.” Meg wasn’t convincing. “That kind of sucks for her to do to you.” “She doesn’t care. She used me to get to Greg.” “She has throngs of adoring men. Why can’t she pick from them?” “The easy prey bored her years ago. She’s a predator.” Meg held out her fingers in gnarled talon like poses as she barred her teeth. Kate snickered until Stacey ran her fingers through Brian’s hair. It was due for a trim but that wasn’t what irked her when she caught the intimate contact. “I don’t like it.” “Well, you shouldn’t do anything. You don’t like it when your brothers meddle in your life.” “I won’t but I don’t like it.” Kate repeated. Brian and Kate eschewed the topic of the wicked harpy. She heard from Dave that Brian was taking Stacey out on a date. She played like she already knew but Greg saw through her. He always did. It was Thursday and she couldn’t wait another day to see the twins. Fact was she didn’t need to stop it. She only needed to push the first boulder to start the avalanche to stop it. She texted her boulder. “Up for a dream meet?” “C U tonite.” Eric responded.

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Sharing dreams was easy as sleeping for her now. He arrived to find her comfy in her chair in her misty room. “Cute uniform.” Eric teased as he sat on her bed and played with Zuzu. “What’s up?” “Brian. He’s going out with this vile girl from school.” “What about Meg?” “Meg doesn’t have a chance. Stacey, this other girl, is on a quest. She’s very blatant.” “Brian’s flattered. It won’t last.” “How can you be so blasé?” Kate wanted him to be her champion. “I’ll talk to him. Don’t worry.” “Hmph. If it were me, you’d do more than talk. You’d interfere.” “What can I do from Santa Barbara?” “Stop it. Tell him to stay away from Stacey.” “He’ll listen to me.” He hoped. “How was your date?” “It was fun but no love connection.” “You’re hung up on Greg.” It wasn’t a question. A family of empaths didn’t have to ask – only inform that they picked up the signals. “Not liking Dave doesn’t equate to liking Greg.” She said quickly. “She protests too much.” “That isn’t an option, is it? And all your effort wasn’t needed.” “Kate, I didn’t know him then. He was such a cocky jerk.” She pouted. “Do you want some advice?” “On Greg? Like you’d help me with him.” She sassed. “What’s your advice? Don’t date?” “If you would agree, yes. But you won’t. If you want another chance at Greg, don’t date Dave anymore.” “Or anyone else.” “No, actually you should date, anyone else, but not Dave.” He was giving her earnest guidance. Or if there was a punch line she missed it.

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“Why?” “He’ll get over that Dave liked you first once you and Dave move on.” “You’re telling me to date?” She couldn’t believe it. “If you want Greg, yes.” “Would that work with Matt and you?” “After we get to know a girl, it’s easy to tell who likes her more and who she likes. At first glance, I have dibs on brunettes and he gets the rest.”

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It was a mockery of romance. “What about that girl Matt was seeing freshman year?” She never heard the truth why they broke up but Eric was involved somehow. “Matt liked her, I don’t know why. She liked me, and I don’t know why. And I didn’t like her because she was leading Matt on. Honest to God. We didn’t swap identities. She tried to hit on me pretending to think I was him and that was when it ended.” Eric let it sink in. “I hate to admit this, but I’m sure you can find another enamored boy without much effort.” He had spent too much time fending off captivated fools to think she didn’t have choices. “I can’t. I am on the poo poo list. Brian’s skanky girlfriend has everyone hating me.” “She couldn’t do that.” “She chased Greg for months and now she hates me because he took me home from that party. She doesn’t realize he won’t date me. That doesn’t matter. Meg says she’s after Brian to piss me off.” “And it’s working. Didn’t we have this talk already?” “Funny.” He was thinking about when Greg use to try to annoy him by flirting with her. “You want to get rid of her, don’t you?” Kate nodded. “Get Meg to forgive Brian. He really liked her.” “I could do that.” She was hopeful. She woke up with a plan. She would test the waters with Meg and see if that interest could be resuscitated. As for someone to date to show she wasn’t going to date Dave, she had an idea. The only guy in school who didn’t treat her like a pariah was Brad. Maybe she could work that some. Too bad she didn’t have a clue how.

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Jim ate a bowl of cereal when she entered the kitchen scavenging for her own breakfast. “Good morning.” She was spry with her new tasks at hand. “Kate, where do you want to go for dinner this weekend? Saturday’s your birthday.” She had forgotten it was coming up so fast. Jim sounded like he meant all her family and she

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loved him more for it. He freely accepted all her domestic baggage without wincing once. “Anywhere?” She wasn’t finicky and he knew the best places in town. “Remember you gave me free range.” He warned. “Of course we’ll invite the Thomas clan.” “And the Andrews?” That would help with her plans for Meg and Brian. “Sure. Anyone else.” “Grandpa.” “I’ll call around today.” She told Brian about the plans on the way to school and she hadn’t counted on the added benefit that he would have to postpone his date with Stacey. He had practice on Friday and Sunday wouldn’t be acceptable to their mother. It was a school night. At lunch, Brian sat with Stacey. Kate knew exactly when he cancelled their date because Kate got one mean stare from vampira. She smiled as she turned away to talk with Greg. She was going to get her butt handed to her in tennis. As she changed in the locker room Stacey groused from the aisle over. “And he has to postpone because of his miserable sister’s birthday.” Meg coughed to hint to Stacey that the juniors could hear her but she didn’t lower her voice. Kate figured that was the point. “She’s so jealous of me because Greg wouldn’t ask her out.” She derided. Kate rolled her eyes as she laced up her sneakers. That was old news and Greg had plenty of time to go out with Stacey before Kate moved to town. If anyone was jealous, it wasn’t Kate. “I’m surprised they’re even related. Well, just barely. She has a different father. Imagine that, only a year apart and a different father.” They say if you put a thousand monkeys in a room with a thousand typewriters they will eventually write Hamlet. Stacey had successfully fumbled around different buttons to push and unearthed

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the one that caused Kate to spring to her feet with her hands clenched, shaking with anger. Her jaw was locked tight as she mentally recalled her lesson in hitting. Her feet were apart, loose knees and her hand was ready for impact. Amazing how clear she saw her target in her mind’s eye. “Kate, relax. She’s just being a bitch.” Meg whispered taken aback by yet another Thomas temper tantrum. The other juniors stared. If they hadn’t been giving her the cold treatment, she believed they would support her need to defend her family. As it was, they were only hopeful for a catfight. The seniors left for the courts. “Geez, what’s with your family?” Meg asked seeing Kate about to explode. “How’d you like her talking about your mother that way?” Kate hissed. “I wouldn’t hit her.” Meg was too docile to strike out at anyone. They walked to courts. It was a doubles day and Kate and Meg were matched up to Stacey and Allison, another senior cheerleader and head toady of the Stacey fan club. Stacey served and Kate returned it without error. It was a great serve too. Kate was determined to win. It wouldn’t be enough justice but it would be sweet. She focused all her rage into her game and it worked. Kate and Meg won the first game. Stacey was irate, more than expected, which made Kate happy, more than expected. She was a sore loser being unfamiliar with the feeling. Kate served and it was out but it was faster than any ball she served before. “That was great Kate. Pull the racket back further before swinging and wait for a good toss.” Coach Evans demonstrated the motion. The next serve was just as fast and in bounds. Stacey didn’t get close to returning it. She stomped her feet in dissatisfaction. Kate dominated the game and it was over in record time. Stacey didn’t touch a serve until the last but her ball went out of bounds. Allison served next and Stacey stood ready to fight for a win. It was close but Kate and Meg triumphed again. Coach Evans had moved to their court. “You’ve been hustling me.” He accused Kate. Kate smiled. “I’ve found my groove.” “Don’t lose it.”

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Meg served the next game. She had a soft serve but her one ace was to Allison. The rallies were invigorated. They prevailed and were up four to none. Could Coach Evans see that it was personal? He must but he didn’t seem to care. He was completely engrossed in their game forgetting the other students. Stacey got up to serve with a look of hostile determination on her face. She hit the ball hard but it was long. She got ready for a second go when Kate said, “Meg, are you coming to dinner with us on Saturday?” Stacey’s ball lazily fell into the net. “I’m sure we’ll go.” Meg said casually with a questioning look. Double faulting was the worst way to lose a point and Stacey boiled. Her next serve was limp and Kate’s backhand was perfect. She won the point. Stacey turned red with frustration. Meg returned the next serve and a rally was curtailed by Allison that was a worthy net player. Let’s see you hit this one bitch. Kate heard in her head. She smiled. It was Stacey’s mind. The ball was fast but Kate was faster. “Do you think Greg will come?” Meg laughed. If she wasn’t sure why Kate was asking those things before, she had caught on then. “Probably.” “Girls, you can discuss this after class.” Coach Evans cautioned. It was too late. Stacey’s concentration was shot. She couldn’t get a fastball to land in bounds and they won handily. Kate took the next game and Meg hugged her after their first win. Some of the frostier chicks even complimented them on the victory. “Kate.” Coach Evans waved her forward. “Yes Mr. Evans.” She said guiltlessly as the other girls shuffled back to get their books and school clothes. He ended class early. “You don’t usually play so uncompromisingly.” “It’s been a long week. I was letting out some steam.”

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“Whatever the reason, you’ve shown you have it in you.” He gave her a pep talk that consistency came with time and patience. His point was she was getting there and he told her to think about trying out for the team next year. Stacey stopped Kate in the locker room. “Don’t let your rare good luck go to your head.” She didn’t look stunning when she was cross. “It was one set.” Kate stepped around her. “It won’t happen again.” Stacey sneered. “If you say so.” Kate said casually over her shoulder. She walked around to the junior’s lockers and Meg in tears. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” Meg lied and she hurried out. Kate’s high was instantly gone. Stacey must have upset Meg. She hadn’t accounted on collateral damage. The battle was between Kate and Stacey and no one else. Kate slumped on the bench. “Hi Kate.” Claire startled her. “Hi.” Kate prepared for a telling off. She was one of Stacey’s followers. “Um, Stacey went into major bitch-zilla mode after the game. She laid in pretty hard on Meg.” She had guessed as much. “Why are you telling me?” “It wasn’t cool. She pretty much told Meg she couldn’t be friends with you.” “What is her major malfunction?” “She’s doesn’t like you. She’s doesn’t take competition well.” “Half the school hates me because of her but that isn’t enough.” “I’m in the other half now. Do you think you can beat her again?” It was a request and not a question. “We’ll find out on Monday.” Kate wasn’t sure if she could pull off a victory one-on-one. If so, it wouldn’t be from an underperformance on her part. She was sure that Coach Evans would match them up. “I’ll be rooting for you.” Claire ran off. The other classes were getting out and girls bustled in and out. She went to meet Brian at his car. Fifteen minutes later Brian marched up and unlocked the car. He was in a foul mood. She got in without a word.

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“What did you do?” He snarled at her after closing his door.

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“I didn’t do anything. You’re girlfriend,” she said the word scornfully, “told Meg she couldn’t be my friend.” “She said you called her a bitch.” “She lied.” She didn’t think she should have to defend herself to him. “I know you think it.” “Only because she is.” “Back off.” Kate soured in her seat. He wasn’t going to listen to reason. He was under Stacey’s trance. That night, she didn’t ask Eric’s permission before falling asleep. He was there when her dream started. And furthermore, she pulled in Matt as well. Things were perilous to not call in the full reserves. “Hey little sister.” She told them everything that happened. They listened intently. “She’s good.” Matt remarked about Stacey’s preemptive counter move by telling her version to Brian first. “What do I do now?” “Let him stew. He needs to figure this out. Anything you say will only make it worse.” “I noticed that.” “Let’s see how Meg handles this tomorrow.” Eric said thoughtfully. “Why?” “Brian may pick up the truth from her.” “What if they start dating? Yuck!” “It won’t last but I don’t want that either.” She forgot Matt was more outspoken on Brian’s life than Eric. She should have called him to begin with. Kate felt better. She may not be able to persuade Brian but the twins were pros. And if he did date Stacey, at least she wasn’t alone. The dream faded.

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 Alles Gute zum Geburtstag

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Jim picked a restaurant called Siegfried’s. It was German and the food was too heavy to be great but it was good. What made it a uniquely amusing choice was they had an oom-pah-pah band to celebrate Oktoberfest. They were a great group and after every song, the band downed shots that were bought for them by admiring patrons. Andy picked up a round and following his example, so did Jim and Ron each. It was a testament to their drinking prowess that they stood up let alone play music. The joint was a favorite of Jim and Andy’s, who knew most of the staff by name. Andy brought Angela along, which was fine with Kate and Jim. And another benefit was Ron had some men friends to chum around with. Jim and Andy included him in all their rounds which were fewer than the bands but still impressive. Kate hadn’t seen Ron lit before and he may not have been but he was a heck of a lot closer than ever before and loving it. Other than a slight condemning sensation from her mother regarding Ron’s liquor level, everyone was having a blast. They sat in the patio that had picnic tables and one group blended into the next. It was a very social and festive ambiance. Brian adeptly shunned Kate without causing suspicion in the adults. Meg was friendly to her but hadn’t told her about what Stacey said. She wanted to bring it up but there were too many people. Brian talked to Meg most of the night since he was avoiding Kate and the twins who took her side. At least some small thing was going in her favor. Matt didn’t parse words. He told Brian off the moment they were back in town. “I’m much easier on you than he is on Brian.” Eric joked with sincerity. “Like it would matter if Kate called her a bitch first or not.” Matt didn’t care if it was a fair call and would only mildly care if it weren’t. But it was. “I didn’t call her a bitch to her face.” “Point is you don’t like her. How’s that going to work in our family?” Awful. Thoughts were heard and feelings felt without audibly being expressed. It was an exposed existence and new people were going to have to get a group approval to enter beyond an outer boundary.

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When the band played the chicken dance for the hundredth time Greg asked Kate to join him. It was nonsensical fun and the only part more fun was seeing her parents dancing along. Later they sat off to the side as they watched everyone getting rather silly from the music and drinks. “How come Brian’s not talking to you?” Greg didn’t know about the drama. “Because you didn’t take Stacey to the dance.” Kate oversimplified. “The onus is always mine.” He took it knowing it was displaced resentment. “She’s quite wicked.” “That’s why I didn’t ask her out.” “Well, now she wants Brian and she told him I called her a bitch, which I didn’t but she is.” He chuckled. “This is very serious.” Just thinking about it upset Kate. “It’ll pass.” He promised. “So what happened with Dave and you?” “Nothing.” “You don’t like him.” He frowned. “Not like that.” He put his hand in his pocket to get something but stopped. Eric and Matt were on a direct course for them. It was time to go home. Andy and Angela had plans after the dinner so Greg went home with Jim and Kate. Jim was talking to Andy as they waited by the Escalade. “You haven’t done that dream thing lately.” Greg said bashfully. “Not with you. I can control it finally.” “Can you, tonight?” “I think so. Why?” He didn’t answer. Jim was already too close for her to explore further. And to Greg’s delight, he handed him the keys. “You better drive.” “The Caddy? You’re going to let me drive the Caddy?” “Whenever you want.” Greg ran his fingers lovingly along the side before entering. He took a moment before starting it.

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“Don’t worry about it.” Jim snickered. “I’m insured.”

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“My Bronco will never be enough again.” Finally he started the engine and drove home incident free. Kate was in her misty room sitting in her chair waiting for the one guy that had passed the preliminary Thomas family test. Greg walked in. “This is some talent.” “So what’s up?” “Here. I don’t think I’ll have the guts to give it to you for reals.” He handed her a small rectangle present from his pocket. “Oh. Well, if you give this to me now, I’ll have it in the morning.” He was fascinated. “Then you get to keep it.” She opened it up and found a gold bracelet inside. It was too much. “Do you like it?” He took it out and clasped it on her dainty wrist. She held up her hand to admire the elegant gift. “It’s great. But you shouldn’t have.” “It was your money, kind of.” He looked around at her furniture. “Happy Birthday Katie.” “Are you ever going to call me Kate?” He shook his head. “I like Katie better.” He was looking deeply at her with his piercing blue eyes. “I better go before I do something really stupid.” She frowned. “I’m not going to date Dave.” “I know.” He said matter-of-factly. “Why did he get dibs on me?” “Because I was too stupid to admit how much I liked you at the funeral.” It sounded ludicrous. He left.

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J.U.G. (Justice under God) The first basketball game against Santa Katrina was that Friday and the school was charged in anticipation by Monday morning. The walls were covered with rally posters and the few kids in free periods were discussing the upcoming game as Kate rushed through the halls. She was late to school because she had her DMV appointment to get her license. Physics was half over when she walked in. Gerard forgot himself and asked if she passed. She held the keys to her new VW Bug up for him to see. He continued his lecture and Greg gave her a couple of eyebrow flashes from across the room.

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Perhaps the thrill of having an official driver’s license had caused her memory lapse or perhaps because she drove herself to school and didn’t see Brian, she had almost forgot last Friday. Almost morphed to not-at-all as details came back in vivid color when Meg was nervous at lunch. They sat with some juniors and Stacey walked in and shot daggers their way. Kate would beat her again if sheer determination were all that was needed. But it wasn’t. Stacey was the fastest server she had ever seen. Perhaps the law of averages would finally pay out. Stacey sidled up to Brian at his table and kissed him on the cheek. When did that start? She laughed extra hard throughout lunch, surely to get Kate’s goat. Sadly, it worked. Kate was so distracted wondering how close they really were that in philosophy, where she sat away from Brian for the first time that year, Sister Rene got her first disappointing answer when Kate asked to hear the question again. She trekked to the lockers to change for tennis wanting to win more than ever. Stacey spoke loudly to be overheard again. “So we’re going out after the basketball game. He adores me.” Kate steamed. She needed to vent and she planned to take it out on the court but there was a ready fist forming on her right hand wanting to settle matters sooner. “He said the dinner was awful. He said SHE,” Stacey pretended that kept Kate’s identity secret, “was just sucking up all the attention. Kind of a brat.” Kate closed her eyes and took a deep breathe for serenity. “Kick her ass.” Meg said clearly for the seniors benefit.

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Smiling Kate withheld her shock. She didn’t expect Meg to stop being her friend on Stacey’s orders but she also didn’t expect her to take a hard public line on her side.

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“If he wasn’t such a good kisser, I wouldn’t bother.” Stacey’s continued with her venomous rant. “I hope that’s a good sign.” She said suggestively. The other seniors giggled. No one could have distinguished whether Meg or Kate had a harsher glare but they were united. It was great that Meg didn’t succumb to the pressure but all Kate’s worries weren’t erased. Stacey had kissed Brian. Did they have a chance to progress further? Were they dating? Truth was she didn’t know and it hurt more than anything Stacey said. But those words were to hurt Meg as well. The rage was invigorated. Coach Evans matched them up for singles. To no one’s surprise, Kate was up against Stacey. “I’ve been waiting for this since Friday.” Stacey threatened. “Me too.” Kate gave a wicked grin and wink. She hoped it was as taunting as her brothers’ smile. Her first serve was an ace and she was up fifteen love before breaking a sweat. It wasn’t as easy as Friday. Stacey was just as mad and motivated and much better as a single player. Every once in a while some insulting thought from Stacey entered Kate’s telepathic mind. It fed Kate’s confidence and improved her swing. Kate was up five games to three when class ended but no one went to change. The other girls stayed to see who would win. It was rare that Stacey lost even one game in a set and the chance that she would finally be bested was too enticing to worry about leaving on time. And Kate and Stacey had invested too much to leave. Finishing the set was important to both and they played on. It was Kate’s turn to serve. She bounced the ball a couple of times. “I know you can do it.” Meg hollered at Kate. Stacey glared at Meg and Kate heard her thoughts. Wrong side to pick. Stacey’s mind dripped with bitterness. Kate delivered an unreturnable serve and Stacey almost threw her racket. “Stay focused.” Coach Evans said to her. Kate served again. Stacey made contact with uncanny speed and they were in a long rally. Stacey won the point and Kate took note of her speed. I’m not going to make this easy. Stacey thought. It was a self-defeating comment.

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Kate loosened up, feeling in her zone. The rage had ebbed. Kate had enough ire to know that

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revenge was still as good a reason as any to belie Stacey’s championship streak but it wasn’t all consuming. Two more serves and she was up two points. Stacey’s speed was fast but plausibly so. “Atta girl.” Claire rooted as promised. Bitch! Claire didn’t hear what Stacey thought but Kate did. Then Stacey told herself to be faster. Kate served and they were in another long rally. Knowing Stacey’s best work was at the net, she subjugated her to stay at the baseline. With a final lofty lob loaded with topspin that bounced just inside the line and over Stacey’s head Kate was victorious, winning the point, the game and the set. The girls exploded into cheers. Meg and Claire were the first to get to Kate taking turns with high fives. Most of the others, some seniors included, had joined the congratulatory mob. They were fist bumping her well-earned win. The giddiness that was rightfully Kate’s to feel was diluted. She was in control of her temper, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that her real problems weren’t fixed. She didn’t like the way Stacey had turned the school on her, how she tried to get Meg to stop being her friend and mostly how she had come between her and Brian. The rest of the student body was pouring out of the building as the girls from tennis were just getting back from their last class. A few students questioned why they were so late. The news was red-hot. “Kate beat Stacey at tennis.” It was a first. Stacey stormed up to her when she walked into the locker room. “I suppose you think you’re hot shit now.” Kate tried to side step her but Stacey wouldn’t have it. She meant to beleaguer. “You’re nothing.” “I’m not in the mood for your fractured ego.” Kate sighed wondering how Brian could believe meretricious Stacey over her. She started to walk around but Stacey grabbed her sleeve and spun Kate her direction again. “Let go of me.” Kate pulled free. Obviously Kate’s dispassionate response wasn’t acceptable to Stacey and she was going to get her riled up one way or another. Both were poised to fight. “Leave it.” Meg ushered Kate with friendly arm out.

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“You’re only taking her side because I stole Brian.” Stacey jeered. “You’re pathetic. No wonder he wanted to upgrade.” Meg almost lost her temper but didn’t. It took a lot of effort as Meg’s face twisted with inner dichotomy between doing what is right and doing what felt natural. Stacey had gone too far and Kate called her on her tyranny. “Why do you have to be so mean? We don’t want any trouble. Go away and leave us alone. And forget about Brian. He won’t date you if I have anything to say about it.” She walked right up to Stacey face-to-face ready to slug it out. “It’s too late.” Stacey shoved Kate and she reeled backward hitting the side of a row of lockers. The epiphany that struggled to reveal itself to Kate before finally shined brightly. Stacey’s speed was too fast, faster than humanly possible. It was some talent she hadn’t learned about. “How did you do that? Do you use that to play tennis?” Kate straightened up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Stacy spat out but her face showed the antithesis. The others girls were confused and Stacey didn’t want rumors, true or not, spoiling her unbeatable reputation, unbeatable until then. Kate stood her ground but kept a yard between them. “Let’s go.” Meg urged fearing that the famous Thomas temper was going to erupt. It won’t work on me. Not now that I know. Kate thought wondering if Stacey heard. Kate wasn’t sure if she could thwart Stacey but it was a bet worth taking. After all, she won the game and maybe it was because Stacey couldn’t fall back on some aberration. “You’re a jealous bitch.” “I’m jealous? It isn’t my fault Greg won’t go out with you.” The other senior girls gasped. The truth was stated plainly by the worst person to profess it in Stacey’s opinion. Their faces showed pity. Stacey clenched her teeth and lurched forward but it was slower and Kate jumped out of the way. Stacey slammed up against the lockers and ricocheted back hitting Kate square on the mouth. Kate stumbled over a bench and held the back of her hand to her bleeding lip. She looked at the blood on her hand. The anger was too much and she laughed – hard. “How are you going to explain that to Brian? Are you going to tell him I hit your fist with my face?”

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“Stop it!” Meg pleaded, “Before a teacher comes.”

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Stacey pounced and they were wrestling on the floor as classmates egged them on. Kate blocked for protection. She had only learned to throw a punch when standing and she couldn’t get a good angle for full torque. She did a fair job of stopping the blows but never got a shot in of her own. Before long teachers were there responding to the hullabaloo. Sister Rene pulled Stacey off Kate and Miss Carter helped Kate off the floor. Stacey kept struggling to attack but Sister Rene didn’t allow it. “Explain yourselves.” The nun ordered. “She started it.” Stacey lied. “She hit me.” “That isn’t true.” Claire countered in Kate’s defense. “Stacey started it.” Meg voiced. “It was Kate’s fault.” Allison said but she was the only one in the locker room backing Stacey. The other girls admitted it was Stacey without being asked. Don’t hit thy neighbor wasn’t a top ten commandment but don’t bear false witness was. “The head master can sort this out.” Sister Rene let them compose themselves before they went to Father Francis’ office. Meg wrote something feverishly in a note pad as Kate was marched out of the locker room. Kate and Stacey waited on benches in the hallway. Miss Carter stood guard while Sister Rene updated Father Francis. The school secretary came out of her office kneading a cold compress to start the chemicals reaction and handed it to Kate. The compress helped as she held it to her bleeding lip. It throbbed but she felt no pain. Stacey and Brian were over and that kept her happy and distracted. He wouldn’t forgive Stacey after seeing Kate’s cut. Even if she had started it none of her brothers would tolerate it. She giggled when she wished she had started a fight sooner. “This way.” Father Francis had the girls go into the office together. The sat down in the same chairs that Kate and Jim had sat on when she enrolled. It was the first time she was in the office since that day. “I’m told we had some excitement.” Stacey refused to speak. “Yes, sir.” Kate answered.

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“We don’t fight here.” Every school had the same rule. “I’m sorry.” Kate had let him down. She knew it. And she was regretful although not completely. “She started it.” Stacey lied. “That doesn’t seem to be the general consensus.” The priest’s eyes bore into his subjects.

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“Allison will tell you the same.” It wasn’t enough but it was the only collaboration Stacey had to her version of events. “But no one else it seems. This will go easier if you’re honest with me.” He promised. “What started this?” “I won a tennis match.” Kate said without going into all the exposition. “You cheated!” Stacey barked. Father Francis took it as confirmation. “Stacey, you’ll have four weeks of JUG.” “Four!” “Unless you’d like more.” He added coolly not swayed by her furor. She didn’t calm down, the opposite actually, but she contained herself. “And Kate?” Stacey wanted equal punishment. “I don’t know. I’m not sure how much provoking Kate did.” He looked expectantly at Kate. Kate didn’t know what to say. “I didn’t think it would get physical and when I got shoved…” “That’s a lie.” Stacey interrupted. “Stacey, you can go now.” She got up and glared at them both but left. She was afraid of getting a longer sentence. “Go on.” Father Francis encouraged when they were alone. “Do you want all the gossip that goes with it?” “You two aren’t friends, I get that. Let’s stay on topic of what happened after tennis.” “She was saying mean things to me and a friend and I didn’t like it. I told her to leave us alone. She pulled my shirt and I tried to walk away but she didn’t stop there. Then she shoved me and when I still didn’t fight back or run she hit me.” Kate was glad she was bleeding even though she would feel it later

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when the pain broke through the deadness. “Then I laughed. I don’t know why. The anger was too much for me and it just seemed so stupid.” “And she lost control after that?” Father Francis finished for her. Kate nodded. He watched her as he pondered what to do. “I believe you. Not sure if that means I should mitigate your punishment.” “Whatever you think is best.” Kate didn’t feel deserving of JUG but it wouldn’t kill her. His face opened in recognition. “So much like your father. He was pretty familiar with this office.” He deliberated on his dilemma. “There will be no JUG this time. But we’ll call Jim. He can deal with this at home.” “Thank you.” She wasn’t sure what Jim would do but he would be disenchanted. It sickened her. Would he believe her? That was the question. “Get out of here.” Father Francis said with a hint of a smile.

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 Facing the Music

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Kate walked out and found the hallway was no longer vacant. Gerard was there. So were Brian, Greg, Dave and Meg. Brian was at her side in an instant. “What happened?” “I didn’t get JUG.” “What!” Greg was appalled. “How did you get out of that?” “I didn’t start it and he believed me.” “Of course you didn’t.” Gerard said completely unfazed. “I would’ve never got away with that.” Greg muttered. It was then that Kate noticed that the guys were in their gym clothes. They were in basketball practice when it all happened. “How did you find out?” “Meg told us.” Dave said looking oddly at Greg. That wasn’t really an explanation. Meg couldn’t barge into basketball practice or could she? “I better go. They’re calling Jim. I should be there if he comes home early to…” Kate wasn’t sure what he would do or how she would make up for her careless transgression. When she pulled up at her house, Jim’s car was there. “That was fast.” She said to herself. She walked in to face the music. “Hi Dad.” “Hi Kate.” She waited for a scolding. “Do you want to tell me what happened?” “This girl at school who is kind of mean to me has been picking on me for a few weeks. Anyway, I think she can do something, like one of those talents that you talked about.” “What can she do?” He was intrigued by the idea. “She can move real fast when she wants. And she uses this to always win at tennis, not that she needs it much. But today she wasn’t able to use it against me. And she got pushy after class and started insulting Meg. I tried not to fight back but how much are you suppose to take before it’s too much?” “I never know.” He held her face and checked her swollen lip. “Did you fight back at all?”

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“Not really. Just blocked more of the same.” She smiled and flinched when her mouth was pulled tight. “Did you stop her from using her speed during the game?” “I think so.” His chuckle was hearty and deep. “And that was why she started the fight?” “I didn’t really take actions to prevent it but I didn’t do anything to encourage it. I swear.” “That was what Father Francis told me when he called. Kind of crazy being on this side of that conversation.” “Yeah. He mentioned you had your share of talks with him.” She peered up to see how he would react. “He meant more than my share.” It wasn’t anything that shamed him. “I wasn’t bad but I did get into trouble. I didn’t expect you to. I at least hoped you would be smarter about not getting caught.” It was an interesting condition. “I’m really sorry.” Kate frowned. “It’s okay.” Jim hugged her. “So what should I do?” “What do you mean?” “What will your mother want me to do? Should I ground you?” “I would rather you didn’t.” “Honesty. I like that.” “Are you going to tell them?” “Yes.” He would like to skip over the incident but he wasn’t her only parent. “Well, whatever is fine but can I please go to the basketball game? I’ll come right home and I’ll sit with you guys and not talk to any friends.” She wanted to see Brian play his first game. “I’ll remember that if I have to negotiate.” He got up. “I’ll be back.” Kate slunk upstairs and took a shower to clean up. It pleased her that Jim was on her side and ready to negotiate minimum punishment. She examined her fat lip in the mirror. It hadn’t bruised but she would wait for the morning to be sure. She was starved for some reason and she went to get some food.

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Her jettisoned backpack was on the counter and her phone rang. Digging it out she saw that she had missed a call already. “Hello.” “Hi Kate.” It was Meg. “Thanks for sticking up for me.” “Always. Are you grounded?” “Not yet but Jim is talking to Mom and Ron.” “What will they do?” “I haven’t the foggiest.” That wasn’t completely accurate. If it was up to Sandy and Ron they would ground her for life at a minimum and probably send her to military school or worse yet, home schooling. She hung up and checked her incoming call log. There were two from Brian, one from Eric and one from a local number she didn’t recognize. She phoned Brian first. “Hi Kate.” He immediately greeted. “So we’re talking again?” She teased happy it was over with Stacey. It was well worth the cut lip. “I’m an idiot. Did the twins get in touch?” “No. I was in the shower and just got their messages now. I called you first.” “You missed a great fight. Jim talked them out of grounding you.” “He did? They wanted to ground me?” “Mom didn’t care if you started it or not. She was freaked out. First Jeff and now Stacey. She went off on the school. Said this stuff never happened at San Marino.” “Not to me but Eric and Matt were in plenty of scuffles.” “Boys are different. And then Ron said if the school didn’t punish you, he didn’t see why they should.” “Really?” “Well, if anyone in the family can understand tempers, it’s him.” “True.” She snickered. “Is Jim still there?” “No.” Jim said from behind her.

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“Gotta go.” She hung up turning red. “You could finish your call. I just didn’t want to eavesdrop.” He laughed at her guilt. “Brian said I wasn’t grounded.” She wanted an affirmation. “Odd because he wasn’t in the room.” “He may have been listening.” “You aren’t grounded.” He confirmed. She gave him a hug. “Thanks Dad.” “You’ve got to avoid these things. Sandy’s keeping a tally.”

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She rolled her eyes. The twins were in tons more trouble before they were even sixteen. “I’ll try. Are you terribly disappointed in me?” He gave her a warm look. “Not at all. You’re sticking up for yourself – that’s good. You’ll learn to pick your battles or at least your battleground in the future.” “Yes Dad.” He ordered pizza for dinner and afterwards she went to her room to study. “Hi Katie.” Greg poked his head into her room. “You’re dad said I could come see you.” Greg examined at her swollen mouth. “Does it hurt?” “A little but it was worth it.” “So Brian woke up?” She enthusiastically nodded. “About damn time.” He smiled. “I tried to call you earlier. I heard you beat her at tennis.” She gently bit her lip smiling. It stung when she did. “About time for that as well.” “She cheats.” “How so?” “She can move fast, too fast.” He considered it. “That doesn’t sound crazy.” Her phone rang. She hadn’t called the twins back and it was the-never-patient Eric. “Hi Eric.”

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“Brian told us what happened. What did I teach you to hit for if you weren’t going to use it?”

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“I almost did. But my temper passed once I realized she was messing it up on her own. I even started laughing knowing it would break Brian’s spell.” “I blame Jim for your temper control. The rest of us would have clocked someone before they had a hand on us.” “Well, that isn’t bad.” “I guess not.” He would have liked it if she got in some punches of her own. “I should go. Greg’s here.” “He’s there? Oh, fine.” He was sarcastic. “Let me talk.” Greg asked. “He wants to say something.” Kate passed the phone to Greg’s waiting palm. “Hi Eric… She doesn’t look too bad. She has a fat lip… I was in practice but I couldn’t do anything to help in the girls’ locker room… I see that she’s a full time job… Okay. Bye.” “I don’t know if I like it better that you’re friends.” She put her phone in its charger. “He’s not so bad now that I know that you’re a trouble magnet.” Greg joked. “How did you find out I was in trouble if you were at practice?” He grinned like a child caught playing with something he shouldn’t. “Meg told me.” She tilted her head waiting for a better explanation but he didn’t give one. “I can’t believe she hit you.” “She did.” She protested. “I mean, she’s so good at manipulating people so she always looks like the victim. She must’ve been really pissed to lose her pretense.” “She was thinking all kinds of nasty thoughts. That was why I stopped being mad. It was all unraveling. If I didn’t dislike her so much, I would have felt sorry for her.” “Don’t.” He gently brushed her face. She flinched a little. “How mad is Dad really?”

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Greg dropped his hand as he laughed. “Zero. He was bragging about it to my dad.” He mocked Jim’s voice, “I was so worried about her when she first moved in. She didn’t like to make decisions and she didn’t stand up for herself. She’s come a long way.” “Really?” “Yes.” He stared at her with his piercing blue eyes. “I’m sorry this happened. I know it’s my fault.” He teased. “Always.” He leaned and kissed her softly on the broken corner of her lip. “Please, don’t.” He was embarrassed. “I’m not mad. It’s nice. But if we aren’t going to date, we aren’t going to date.” She needed to accept they had no future. “You’re right. It’s just that Dave…” “No. It’s you. Don’t blame Dave. We aren’t going to date either.” He didn’t know what to say. “I have homework to do.” She said cooler. “Okay.” After he left she cried. She took off her bracelet for the first time and put it in her desk drawer. Zuzu jumped up on her lap and purred. “I don’t like standing up for myself very much.” She told the cat. “And don’t mention that to Ellen.”

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Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

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Kate checked her lip first thing the next morning. It wasn’t swollen but there was a clear break with a thin scratch. It was hardly noticeable. Brian let her drive since she had a new license and car. They schlepped up the hill to class as usual when they ran into some juniors from the anti-Kate movement. She didn’t expect any greetings but they walked up to say hi and ask if she really beat Stacey at tennis. Upon her validation they congratulated her. One even expressed regret for being so rude the last week. “That was interesting.” Kate bemused to her brother. “Yeah. I’ll catch you at lunch.” Brian ran off to his locker. She received a few more apologies and even more congratulations before she got to her locker room. The guys were really impressed about the victory. She made the needed swap of books and went to Math. Meg and Kate sat next to Brad and Greg. “It doesn’t look so bad.” Brad said holding her chin and turning her head left and right to get the best light. “You should see her fist.” “Tough girl, aren’t you?” He winked. “If she was trying to ugly you up, it didn’t work.” “I’m not a fighter.” She blushed. Greg shifted in his seat, annoyed by their flirtation. “She did great.” Meg was a first hand witness. Mr. Stewart walked in with an unctuous mood. “Your grades will go out this week. Just giving you a heads up.” The students moaned. They usually did in his classes. “I suggest some of you get help. This school has a reputation for passing scores on achievement tests.” “Dude, what’s your grade?” Brad whispered to Greg. “A soft B or hard C.” “We need help.” Brad turned to the girls. “And how are you ladies doing?”

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“C.” Meg spoke first. “A.” Kate said humbly.

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“Can you help us?” Brad wasn’t embarrassed to ask. He needed a C to stay on the baseball team. “Sure.” “Paying attention would also be wise, Mr. Shaw.” The math teacher rebuked tired of their hushed conversation disrupting his lecture. Brad refocused at the sound of his name. Kate started taking notes, but then she saw a message in Meg’s binder scribbled in the margin. “Greg. Kate’s in FF’s office. Stacey hit her.” Kate figured that was what she wrote after she was taken to see Father Francis the day before. It was odd since Meg could have spoken freely after the teachers left the locker room. For the rest of the day, everywhere Kate went she was welcomed. The news was thoroughly saturated and dynamics were re-shifting as a result. Gerard was waiting for the students before Physics started. Dropping his teacher’s hat for the second day straight he asked, “How does it feel?” Stacey lathered as she sat at a desk across the room from Kate. Gerard ignored her. “It doesn’t hurt at all.” Kate smiled carefully. “Good.” By lunch it got outrageous how many kids were talking to her. Freshmen, sophomores and seniors she had never met also spoke up. It was too much attention and it made her feel more conscious about her cracked lip. Even while she ate her lunch there were interruptions to euphemistically pat her on the back. Brian had rejoined their table completely recovered from his temporary loss of his sanity from Stacey’s adoration. “You’re a regular celebrity.” “And most of them were looking through me as if I didn’t exist last week.” Kate ate her sandwich hating the direct attention. No one liked being ignored but the spotlight was too bright for Kate’s liking. “It’s very big news.” Claire added as she took a seat with their group. “It’s kind of like, dingdong the witch is dead.” “This is over the top. I hope it stops.”

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“I don’t.” Meg said. “I hope it’s everlasting.” “I wonder who Coach Evans will pair you up with today? It won’t be Stacey.” Claire asked rhetorically. Kate shrugged.

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“At least you have her number.” Brian smiled thinking about how Kate could keep the game fair. “Doesn’t mean I’ll always win. She’s really good.” I can sneak up and make sure she doesn’t. Brian thought and Kate heard. She smiled acknowledging. Brian wasn’t as good at the twins with telekinesis but he was catching up fast. Greg gave him a scornful look. Brian smiled virtuously. Greg had been on the victim side of the twins. He didn’t know if Brian could do it too but it wasn’t a leap that he would pick it up. She understood why he would feel that way. He was a sportsman and things should be played fairly. And he would understand how skills were inherited and that they manifested around the late teens. His father probably told him about being able to see what people wrote. Then she remembered the scribbling in Meg’s math notes. That was how Greg learned Kate was in the head master’s office. He could see things that were written just like his father. It made sense. Philosophy went quickly. Kate wasn’t looking forward to tennis. The locker room was jarringly still for so many girls to be there changing for class. Stacey didn’t say anything but gave dour looks to Kate and Meg as they hurried to the main courts. Coach Evans sent Kate and Meg to play singles on courts up the drive by the science lab. They had fun playing without scoring. Claire told them after class that Coach Evans pulled Stacey aside to give her a lecture on sporting conduct. Kate didn’t revel in it. She had what she wanted and Stacey was just a bad memory. Meg enjoyed the news a little too much for a self-proclaimed pacifist. After Tuesday, people stopped congratulating her but she was more popular than before the dance. The rest of the week passed eventlessly. Coach Evans always assigned different courts for Kate and Stacey and that was fine by her.

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By Friday, the school was extra excited about the basketball game that night. St. Iggy’s was the underdog. They were down but not out and Brian was new to the team, which could be the grain that tipped the scale. Greg and Dave prayed that he was. Brian took the pressure in stride. Kate and Meg went to the game together to support their school and brothers. It was at Santa Katrina High School. The school was as ugly as the first time Kate laid eyes on it. Habitants took a little off of that institutional edge. They could’ve sat with any group since Kate was off the hit list and for the time being the most popular junior. They sat with Brad and his friends in the front row. Brad was with other non-players. He was on the football and baseball teams and basketball was a spectator sport for him. She knew most of his friends from his party and they were nice guys. Kate sat on the aisle next to Meg. On Meg’s other side was Brad and then his crew. Brian and Greg stopped by to say hi but Dave didn’t want any distractions from his game. Greg smiled and said, “Hello Katie.” She hated herself for blushing. Smugness crossed his face seeing how he could affect her. He gave her a couple of lifts from his eyebrows before talking to Brad. The teams ran through drills like a well-trained cadre. St. Iggy’s wore royal blue uniforms. They all looked pretty good. The Santa Katrina team was more intimidating and wore red. They were all tall but on average, the other team was taller. Kate noticed some familiar faces from the dance. One of the players waved at her. It was Chris, Stacey’s Mr. Right-Now. Kate waved back. “What are you doing?” Brad gasped in repugnance. As she turned around Brian frowned at her. It was reminiscent of the twins. “I met him at your party.” “He isn’t your friend tonight.” Brad educated her. “Sir, yes sir.” Kate saluted. “And that goes double when baseball starts.” He pointed a strict finger at her. The game begun and Santa Katrina took an early lead. They held it but it never got farther than six points ahead. The cheerleaders, Stacey included, did a good job keeping the school’s spirit up. At half time, the score was 38 to 36 in Santa Katrina’s favor. Coach Evans must have given one hell of a we-can-do-it speech because St. Iggy’s gained a twopoint lead and held it. By the fourth quarter, they maintained their slight lead and the clock ticked down.

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The ball didn’t seem to move out of the ordinary. Brian could interfere but he wasn’t as

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competitive as the twins. He played hard but he didn’t know Santa Katrina from any other school and it wasn’t as personal for him as it was for the rest of the team, especially Dave and Greg. Things slowed down as fouls abounded and time outs were more frequent. In the end, Dave scored the final shot and St. Iggy’s won the upset. Brad told them about an after game celebration at one of the public school kid’s home. The girls wanted to catch up with Dave, Brian and Greg before committing. Meg had the routine down. She walked around to some lunch tables by the parking lot where they sat waiting for the players. Shortly thereafter a procession of boys, freshly showered, started. Chris was in the first group. “Hi Meg. And Kate, right?” “Hi.” Kate didn’t want to say his name in case she got it mixed up as she often did. “Chris.” He reminded her. “I remember.” She was correct. “That new guy on the team, he’s your brother?” Chris had spent most of the second half guarding Brian. “That’s right. How did you know?” “I heard there were two new transfers this year and that they were brother and sister.” “You’re a regular Einstein.” Meg sassed. “You’re looking lovely Meg.” She blushed a little. “You played well.” His compliment had served its purpose and softened her. “You guys played better.” He graciously lauded. “You can’t win them all.” “So I hear.” He glanced at Kate. Had the rumors made it to Santa Katrina High? Kate felt the heat of the spot light shining on her. It wouldn’t have surprised her if she broke out in a rash from its brilliant beam. “Waiting for Dave and Greg?” Chris correctly gathered. “Yep.” Meg nodded. “Going to Auggie’s party?”

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“It’s up to them.” “They’ll come. They won.” He was sure of it. “See you there.”

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“He’s kind of cute.” Kate surmised as he walked to the parking lot. Before he turned the corner he glanced back at them. “He used to date Stacey.” Meg raised an eyebrow speculatively. “No accounting for taste.” That did desecrate him, a little. “She used him to get to Dave. It worked.” Meg’s tone was tart. “Who hasn’t she dated, chased or used?” “True.” They giggled. “What’s so funny?” Dave asked. Greg and Brian were with him. “Girl talk.” Meg evaded. “Are you up for one of Auggie’s parties?” As Chris predicted they were. The party was at full swing when they arrived. Brad was behind them with two buddies each carrying two cases of beer. “Empty handed, as usual.” He said to Greg. Greg gave him a revolted look. There were many St. Iggy’s students at the party. Stacey was still in her cheerleader uniform talking with a boy that looked too old for high school. Good. Kate hoped he would keep her from any of her friends. Brad passed everyone but Greg a beer and left to find a place to keep the rest cool. Kate and Meg chatted with Claire. A hand squeezed her elbow and Greg was back with a bottle of water. “If not for me, for Eric.” “Evoking his name without permission?” “For a cause he would believe in.” “Freedom doesn’t feel so free.” She teased but took the water and gave him the beer. He just put it down and left to mingle. “He doesn’t drink.” Meg informed her. “He almost got a DUI last spring and Uncle Andy practically blew a gasket. He hasn’t touched any since.” “How did he get out of a DUI?”

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“He wasn’t drunk but he had beer on his breath. The cop was a good friend of Andy’s and drove Greg home instead of writing him up.” After a powder room break, Kate found Meg talking with Brian. She rerouted to give them some time to get reacquainted. For a while, she joined in Brad’s group. They were talking about the game and it bored her. She moved on. The house was huge. It wasn’t as nice as Brad’s but it was easily as large. The weather wasn’t too cold that night and people were outside by the pool talking and drinking. “You made it.” Chris had dimples when he smiled. “Yeah. You called it.” “I’m glad. I’ve dying to ask you something?” “What?” Kate hoped he would ask her out. She could live with that, even if he was on the Santa Katrina team and once dated Stacey. He was cute enough to absolve him on both counts. “Did you beat Stacey at tennis?” Kate was a little deflated that he didn’t ask for a date. “You heard about that. Yes, I did.” “Classic. I would have liked to have seen that in person. So are you up for a game of quarters?” “Sure but I can’t play long.” She didn’t want to get as buzzed as she had at her last drinking party. If anyone else had asked, she would have declined. “I’ll keep an eye on you.” He pledged. They went into the home. “Is it always played in the kitchen?” “Usually, they have the best tabletops for it.” The game had barely begun and there were no rules established. Chris introduced her to the group. There were two other boys and two other girls. She sat between Chris and Auggie, the host. Auggie gave her a beer and the quarter. “Why don’t you start?” Knowing it was her first time Chris took the quarter to demonstrate the technique. “The best way to do this is keep it flat and bounce it off the table like so.” He dropped the quarter with a subtle jerk downward and it hopped off the table and into the glass. “You try.” Kate missed. Chris went next and made another shot. “Auggie.” Auggie took a swig from his beer. Chris went again but it ricocheted off the rim. “No wonder we didn’t win the basketball game.” Auggie joked.

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A girl went next. She missed. The boy after her made it and Chris drank. He got in two more and Kate and the first girl drank. He made a rule that they couldn’t use names. Not a problem for Kate. The next girl made it but Kate could tell by her reaction that she didn’t get it in often. She noted a gender trend. Auggie drank. Then she missed and it was his turn. Auggie didn’t use the method that Chris’ demonstrated. He rolled the quarter on its edge down his nose but it was a perfect shot. Kate drank. And so it went for a few rounds. Before long, they weren’t allowed to point with their fingers and if you missed a shot you had to drink. Kate’s beer was the first to empty. “Do you want to go?” Chris checked. “One more. But I’ll stop after that.” “I’ll remind you.” He promised and gave her a fresh beer. She hadn’t taken two more drinks before Greg was there. “Hey Katie.” “Greg. Why don’t you join us?” Chris invited. “Not tonight, thanks.” He said genially. He gave Kate a strange look and decided not to make a scene. “Find me when you’re done.” “Okay.” She said and he left. “Is he your boyfriend?” Chris was too curious. “No. He’s a good friend. His dad and my dad are best friends.” “I could’ve told you they weren’t dating.” Auggie said. “He didn’t punch you.” “He’s cool. I wish he went to Santa Katrina.” Chris stated. “When he isn’t playing baseball or basketball.” “If he was at our school, that wouldn’t be a problem.” They stopped the game and talked for a while. Kate was glad. She felt guilty after Greg’s flyby. She stopped drinking once they quit playing. “Do you want something else?” Chris was standing by his vow to keep her safe and sane. “Sure.” The soda was in the backyard and they watched the people and chatted. Kate was getting better at small talk.

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“I don’t mean to keep you from partying.” She was being babysat. He knew most of the kids since it was a Santa Katrina party and she was monopolizing his time. “You aren’t.” His dimples were adorable. “I wouldn’t mind talking to you again?” “This is fun.” She was enjoying herself and the hope that he would ask her out sprung anew. “Maybe we could do something together sometime?” His face had a cute pink complexion.

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“I’d like that.” She grinned. He punched her number into his cell with plans to call and make the arrangements. She went to find the rest of her group. Dave and Greg were ready to leave. They found Brian and Meg and headed home. Meg rode with Brian and Kate got a ride with Greg and Dave. She wanted to tell Meg about Chris but it’d have to wait. How would Eric react? He told her to date but she didn’t imagine he’d be happy. Greg walked her to her door. “Did you have fun?” “You guys were great. I am glad you won.” “Me too. And the party?” “It was fun. I didn’t run into one masher.” Greg laughed. “No, Chris isn’t a masher.” “He said very nice things about you.” “He’s all right.” Greg conceded. “You like him?” Her face dropped. “He’s nice.” “And it’s none of my business.” He hated it. “I’ll see you at school.” Jim was asleep on the couch waiting for her again. “Dad, I’m home.” He was groggy. “Did we win?” “We did.” “Good. I hate it when Andy’s brooding about a high school game.” He smiled at her. “Did you have a good time?” She nodded. “A guy from Santa Katrina asked me out, no firm date. Can I go?” “Who? Where?”

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“Chris Jenkins, I think.” She wasn’t sure about his last name. “And I don’t have the details yet but I’ll tell you as soon as I can. He’s going to call.” “Sure. I don’t have a problem with it.” It was a fib but he’d deal with it.

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Kate called Meg the next morning. Meg had a nice time with Brian and they were back on track. It was good they left when they did because Brad and his friends got into a tussle with some of the boys from Santa Katrina. It wasn’t bad. It was a friendly rivalry but it got out of hand once in a while. After assuring Meg that she was glad that Brian and her were getting along and didn’t mind being ditched Kate told her about Chris asking for her number. “You’re going out with Chris?” Meg was impressed. “He’s so cute.” “Well, that’s assuming he calls.” “He will.” Eric and Matt were home on Sunday. It was best to wait until after her date before mentioning it to any of her brothers. Eric might have seen she was keeping something hidden if they didn’t have so many other things to discuss like the tennis win and the basketball game. The school was stoked over defeating Santa Katrina in basketball. The team was the new stars and Kate was glad to lose the limelight. The basketball players were far more deserving. Kate was extraordinarily nervous when Chris called a week later. He wanted to go to dinner and then to a game of miniature golf. He acknowledged it was a cliché but it was better than a movie because they could get to know each other. She worried if she could be entertaining that long. She wore jeans and sneakers. This made Jim happy, probably because she looked her age rather than dressed up like an adult. He had a condition that he meet Chris before they left. It was fair but Kate wished there was a way around it. She was in her room reading when the doorbell rang. “Kate, Chris is here.” Jim hollered. Chris was chatting in the kitchen with Jim and Andy. She didn’t know Andy was over but they often watched games together. Andy talked to Chris about football. The man had few other topics to discuss. The fact that he could speak knowledgeably on any sport meant he was diverse in his opinion. He was the epitome of a sports dad. Chris was comfortable talking to them. He knew Andy well from the games. “Hi Kate.” He said when she appeared, smiling with his dimples.

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“Hi Chris.” She said timidly. “I’ll get her home early.” He promised Jim.

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Chris had a Honda Civic. He confessed it was a hand-me-down. It was still very nice. They went to a local hamburger joint for dinner. Kate was so shy that it wasn’t until half way through their meal that she loosened up. “Are you any good at miniature golf?” Chris asked. “Not really.” “Not like your tennis game?” “No, not like tennis.” The golf course was packed with families and other couples. It was a relaxed location for a first date. He let her go first and cringed at her form. “Let me help.” He stood parallel to her mirroring the position she should take. She hit the ball and it was a fair shot. On the green he stood behind her to show her where and how hard to hit the ball. It was hard to focus with his arms around hers – at least hard to focus on her swing. He was ahead but she was under par when they came to the last hole. It was a volcano. Those were the most difficult. “It’s all about how hard you hit the ball.” He went first and his ball sailed over the side and swirled downward. It was a hole in one. She tapped her ball. It glided up the hill but stopped short and rolled back close to its point of origin. “You can still beat par if you make it this time. Maybe you could use some incentive. How about we put a wager on it?” Was he kidding? They may as well have gone Dutch. “How much?” “Not money. If you get it in, I’ll kiss you.” He was hesitant. Kate turned red in record time and gulped. “I just lost my concentration.” He smirked. “How do you focus with tennis?” “I don’t. I just do it.” “Then you don’t need to focus here. Just do it.”

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She poised herself and tapped the ball. It was a harder hit that time and it went over the first edge. It kept going up the far side. An inch below the lip it slowed and rolled into the cup. She jumped with joy. “You’re a natural. So now I have to pay up.” He faked a frown. He walked up to her and pecked her quickly on the lips. It was very sweet. “Okay, I lied. I probably would have done that if you scored a thousand.” He kissed her again taking more time to relish the moment. “So, I was thinking, we get along pretty well and we have a fall formal coming up, and maybe you would come with me.” His sentence spilled out rapidly as if it was one long compound word. It was a pleasant contrast compared to Greg who was overconfident that she liked him. She was evenly matched with Chris. “Yes.” She got a hug and it was warm and strong. It was half past eight when they got home. “Do you want to come in?” She asked. “We have a pool table.” She was having too much fun to end the date. “You’ll have to let me win. I have a huge ego.” She didn’t believe him on either statement. “Dad, we’re back.” Her dad and Andy were watching TV and had been joined by Greg. He had a grieved face when he saw her with Chris. He quickly recovered. Her bliss vanished at the sight of him. “Hey Greg.” Chris was friendly. “Hi Chris.” Their dads must not have mentioned her date to him. He was a little dazed. “Good game last week.” “Brian is a great addition to our team.” It was a rigid conversation but no enmities. “Too bad he didn’t come to our school.” Chris glanced at Kate wishing she attended Santa Katrina instead of St. Iggy’s. Kate had told Chris that they almost went to his school. How different things would have been? “It worked out for the best.” Greg was happier than ever that they defeated Santa Katrina. And if Brian had tipped the game in their favor they surely would have lost if he was on the other side. “We’re going to play some pool. Want to join us?” Chris invited.

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Kate was split between what would be the less painful of the two options. She would feel bad if Greg was excluded but she didn’t want to have to manage both guys at once. It was a secret she’d take to her grave but her brothers were right, she was in over her head when it came to guys. “Sure.” Greg got up from the couch as if he was doing them a favor. It wasn’t so bad. Chris and Greg seemed like old pals. Kate kept her distance from both as subtly as she could. Each boy assessed the other whenever she was near one. Kate was tempted to mentally ask one of her brothers to stop by but since they didn’t know about her date she opted against it. The help wasn’t worth the certain sermon that would ensue. “I heard there was a ruckus at the party.” Greg asked with a sneer. “It was merely a misunderstanding.” Chris countered. “The word brawl was used.” “You know how these things get hyped up. Did you hear that we didn’t start it?” Kate’s head jerked to Chris. He had been part of the clash. He didn’t have a scratch on him but it had been a week. “I figured when I heard Brad was involved. He was pretty tipsy.” Greg’s smirk moved from a hint to a full grin. “Try toasted. And did you hear what it was about?” “Yeah. He was bragging.” “About a win that hasn’t happened yet.” Chris shook his head. Greg shrugged. “What win?” The temptation to know the details was too much for Kate and they were giving up painfully small pieces of data at a time. The suspense was like death by a thousand paper cuts. “The next baseball game.” Chris answered. Kate stared at Greg. He was why it was a sure thing. He had a wicked smile on his face. His confidence was rock solid. “We may win. You could get kicked out of school.” Chris jested. It sounded like a long shot. “Won’t happen.” Greg sunk the eight ball winning the game.

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“Almost did once.” Kate’s head whipped up to Greg. “Now that was a misunderstanding.” Greg’s face was equivocatory. “I believe you. That was a set up if I ever heard of one.” Whatever they were talking about they stopped. Kate would find out the answer later. “Kate, this was fun. We’ll talk later.” Chris had to go. She walked him to the door and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before bidding him farewell. The game must have ended because the dads had made themselves scarce.

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Greg waited in the rec room. “Now I know why you got so weird after the game.” It wasn’t an accusation, not a severe one anyway. “Sorry,” was all she could say. “Not your fault.” “What happened? When you were almost kicked out?” Kate sat on a barstools. “Someone copied one of my papers and we were both called in for cheating. It was his word against mine and it is automatic expulsion if you cheat. In the end we had to write new papers on different subjects.” “That sucks. Who would do that to you?” “Jeff.” Kate moved from mild dislike to open contempt for the letch that was too big for his britches. “But he has the best grades in school?” “That was why no one believed me. Well, Father Francis did. I showed him my earlier versions. He convinced them to give me another chance.” “He’s kind of smart.” “Father Francis is great.” Losing his conceited air he asked, “So, did you have nice date?” “Yes.” “Did you have permission?” She was going to play dumb and answer that Jim knew but it would only delay the inevitable follow up question. He meant from Eric. “Not exactly. I kind of had a standing approval.”

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“They won’t like it.” It was an understatement. “Did he kiss you?” “Let’s talk about something else, anything else.” “I’ll take that as a yes.” He was hurt. Kate didn’t want to upset him. “We’re friends. It shouldn’t be like this.” He looked out the window. “It’s late. I’ll see you later.” Why did he have to be there when she got home? Kate texted Eric, “R U home?” “Just got back from a date.” He replied. “Me 2.” “Going to sleep now.” Eric wanted the particulars.

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Kate needed advice and Eric was a wealthy resource even about boys. She sighed. She wanted to talk to him because she was so confused. But she had to prepare for him to be mad. He told her to date but he still worried too much. She was in her chair surrounded by the mist when Eric walked in and sat at the desk. He was prepared for the worst. “Who with?” “This guy named Chris from Santa Katrina. He’s really great. You’d like him.” “Doubtful. Did you have fun?” “Lots. But when we came home Greg was here.” “Good.” Eric thought that was the point. “Not good. He wasn’t happy.” “He had his chance.” Eric said but after seeing her expression he eased up. “You still want him.” “I don’t know what I want.” Eric laughed but stopped. She was so sad. “Sorry but it’s kind of funny. You wouldn’t have this problem if you listened to me and stayed away from boys.” “Now what?” “Greg either steps up and you have a choice or he doesn’t and you either like this new guy or you don’t.” Sounded easy but it felt hard.

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The next day Meg called for a recap. Kate told her about dinner, golf and the invite to the formal. She excluded the pool game with Greg. “That’s great.” Meg was happy for her. “Yeah, he’s wonderful.” “So you like him?” “There’s nothing not to like.” “So you like him?” Meg wanted a more definite answer. “Yes.” It hurt to admit it. She did like him – a lot. But she felt like she was giving up something better in exchange. “And what about Greg?” “Greg?” Kate didn’t expect her to ask about him. After all, Meg hadn’t known anything about them. It was Dave that Meg worried about. “Well, you two seemed kind of close. I have suspected as much since your dad’s barbeque. And then when he came over yesterday, he talked to Dave for a long time. I think he was wondering how Dave would feel if he asked you out.” Meg divulged all. Kate closed her eyes. Why did things have to get so complicated? “Are you there?” Meg asked. “Yes.” Kate’s tone was flat. “I shouldn’t have said anything.” It was too late to undo it.

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Giving Thanks Greg was extra nice to Kate as her friend. Things could have been different if any of so many little anomalies hadn’t manifested. She should have listened to Eric. He had always understood the

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situation and she had refused to believe him. Greg and her let things get muddled right from the start and she never knew what oblique direction they were headed. Chris played a straightforward game that Kate could easily follow. Kate’s report card came. Her grades were good, all A’s and B’s. St. Iggy’s had a tradition of personal input from the teachers. Mr. Stewart wrote that she seemed bored in class and suggested extra work to keep her challenged. Jim disregarded it. He said that if she was challenged overall, he didn’t see a need to ask for more unless she wanted it. It was a rude comment for Mr. Stewart to make. She had an A and he impugned her for it. He was one of those teachers that liked to find your Achilles’ heals and expose them. Perhaps he believed it was the best way to toughen up the kids but more likely he got off on lording over the lowly plebs. Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a short day. Thursday Jim’s sister would be in town for the night and Kate was anxious to meet her two cousins and their parents. She started her homework to get some out of the way before the house was too full and noisy. The doorbell rang and she found Eric standing on her doorstep – without Matt. “Hi.” He said inelegantly. “Gran is coming and Dad and Mom wanted one of us here with you?” “Why?” “She’s mad, really mad.” “Is Mom okay?” “Nothing’s going to happen except unneeded yelling. They wanted me here to keep you away.” He answered as carefree as usual and entered. “Oh.” They wanted her hidden. That didn’t make her feel that her mother was safe. Eric was right. What could really happen other than an ugly family feud? Ron and Sandy were in a better place than ever. Gran may be able to test their love but they would prevail.

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“And we’ll know what’s going on.” That was why it was one of the twins. They would know what the other was thinking. It was

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better than a permanent phone connection. If things got bad, beyond yelling, would they go and stand with their family or would Eric steal her away to a safe haven until the storm passed? He would take her to safety and she would follow but she would rather weather the storm. Ensconced for an undetermined stint they hung out watching TV and playing cribbage. Zuzu made a nuisance of herself trying to swat the cards as they shuffled. They heard the front door and Eric went rigid. It was nerve-racking that he responded so strongly knowing he was truly troubled about her wellbeing. They relaxed when Ellen strolled into the house loaded with grocery bags. She stopped by to put some food in the refrigerator for Thanksgiving. Zuzu welcomed Ellen and kept her company as she did prep work for dinner. Either the game bored her or she was hoping to pick up some scraps. “Hello there. Aren’t you a happy kitty?” She cooed. Ellen loved Zuzu and only gave her up knowing she would take to Kate so well. She didn’t linger and Zuzu got her treat. There were more errands to run before the out-of-towners arrived. “She still gives me the creeps.” Eric said half jokingly as he set the balls up for a game of pool. “Wait. If you’re here to keep us connected Mom and Dad know about you guys being telekinetic and telepathic?” “We told them after Dad heard Gran was on her way. Grandpa called.” Grandpa Morrie was stricter than strict and aloofer than aloof. “Grandpa isn’t coming?” “He disowned Dad and from the sound of it, giving him a heads up on Gran’s visit was a random act of kindness.” What a mess? Hopefully after Gran said her peace things could finish healing. The front door opened again. “Did you forget something?” Kate hollered but didn’t get an answer. “Ellen?” Kate went to the kitchen to see why she came back. But it wasn’t Ellen’s friendly face that greeted her. It was Gran Thomas looking ferocious. “Well if it isn’t the little bastard.” Gran was a small woman with a permanent scowl. Her eyes were almost black, like a shark’s. She wore her hair in short loose curls.

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“Technically she’s the only one born in wedlock.” Eric moved in front of Kate. Matt was already alerted and on his way with the rest. Gran tilted her head curiously at him, saddened and amused that he protected Kate. “They suspected I might come here first.” She had an evil leer. The front door closed and locked by itself in the background. Then the other doors started locking around the house. “I’ll have my say.” Eric concentrated to unlock the door. Kate, I can’t open the locks. Even through telepathy his words trembled. Kate tried to obstruct Gran’s telekinesis but she didn’t know if she could jam Gran without jamming Eric. He understood immediately as if she had said it out loud. The doorbell rang and the others banged loudly. Gran looked up at the ceiling menacingly. “It only gets better with age. They won’t be able to open it.” She walked forward calm in her undeniable control. “What do you want?” Eric ground out from his clenched teeth. “Her. I want to talk to her.” She was implacable. “She’s no concern of yours!” She gave a sullen look to Eric. “Why do you do this to me, Eric?” She hesitated on his name. She couldn’t tell the twins apart with absolute conviction. “It breaks my heart that you would stand against your grandmother.” “Kate! Eric!” They heard their families muffled frantic shouts from behind the front door. Matt’s voice was the clearest. It wasn’t just for Kate’s sake – he didn’t like being kept from his twin. Gran continued smiling. “Step aside.” She asked Eric kindly. He didn’t move. He had his arms spread back from him in a reverse point guard position. “I said step aside!” She yelled and Eric flew off to the left and landed hard on the couch. Kate took a step back. “We knew all along. You weren’t Ron’s daughter. How could you be? And we were willing to live with the secret. But I’m afraid I am not willing to live with the truth. That hussy made a cuckold of my son. I will not tolerate it!” Eric was up and in front of Kate again.

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“Boy, we can do this all day.” Her expression turned to frustration as she tried in vain to push him aside as she had before. Eric didn’t move. It was taking all of Kate’s concentration to hinder her. Gran’s eyes vibrated with effort and the front door opened. Ron, Sandy, Matt and Brian ran in. “Leave her alone! It’s me you want!” Sandy yelled. Gran spun in her spot and they stopped short of the kitchen unable to pass an imperceptible wall. She had broken through Kate’s opposition. “And now we have the whore too.” She scathingly spat out of clenched teeth. “She isn’t a whore!” Kate rebuked. “I’ll deal with you later.” Kate flew back and hit the doorframe to the rec room and crumpled to the floor. Her back smarted from the impact. “You!” Gran pointed at Sandy and an invisible force pulled her forward. “Mother! Stop!” Ron screamed unable to bypass the force field. “Such a disappointment of a son you turned out to be. And a twit to fall for her or was it her sister.” She disparaged viciously. “I can’t remember how the story goes.” “Get out of my house!” Jim had come home and Matt and Brian kept him back for his protection. “I’m doing you a favor. They made a fool of you too.” Sandy hung in the air a foot in front of Gran, her body dangling, powerless. “Put her down!” Ron commanded. “I don’t think so.” Gran said casually as she played them. Kate was on all fours, aching from banging the door. Mom, can you hear me? Her mother nodded. Let’s try together. Sandy closed her eyes, as Kate didn’t take hers off the horrific scene. Sandy dropped to the floor standing on shaky legs. “What’s going on?” Gran couldn’t determine who was pulling against her force. She thought it was Ron or one of the boys exerting an opposite and equal reaction. Regardless what the issue was her skill was momentarily defunct.

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“Get the hell out of here!” Ron ran to Sandy. “Stay away from her!” Ron flew back into Matt and Brian. They staggered but stayed on their feet. Kate and Sandy weren’t strong enough to deter her for any duration.

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Gran grabbed Sandy by the hair not bothering with metaphysics. “I always wondered how you survived that car crash.” Revulsion ran through the room at her words. She had killed Sara. Abruptly Gran flew over the counter and over the couch breaking the glass coffee table. Kate felt it coming. Ron lost his temper and pushed her. Everyone moved at once. Jim and Matt ran to Eric and Kate. Ron and Brian went to Sandy. Gran wasn’t down for long. She scanned the two groups calculating her next move. Kate didn’t know where she would strike next. All at once. Push her out of the house all at once. She sent a telepathic message to Ron and her brothers to eject the threat. Gran was lifted off the ground and sailed out the room towards the door. She rolled to the side and freed herself from their efforts. She couldn’t stop them but she could introduce a new direction and break free of their vector. A chair flew from the dinette set and sped straight at Kate’s head. The twins didn’t have time to react and Jim jumped in front of Kate as it broke on his head and back. He was down and out. A second chair went for Sandy. At the sight of Jim, Kate’s anger tempered her anxiety. The second chair lost momentum and tumbled before making contact. She concentrated trying to hold back Gran’s telekinesis. It’s working. She heard Eric’s voice in her head. Can you keep it up? “Yes.” She spoke the answer afraid telepathy would weaken her focus. Gran glared at her. “You’re doing this?” She was disgruntled to learn Kate was obstructing her. Stay focused. Someone said in her head. Kate concentrated so hard she didn’t know which brother thought it. Maybe all of them. “Get rid of her.” Kate begged as her strength weakened.

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They were debating silently in their heads. Kate wasn’t listening closely. There was some difficulty on if letting her leave would only delay another encounter. Kate’s attention broke when she realized what the alternative meant.

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Gran was waiting for a release and all the knives in the wooden block on the kitchen island flew out straight for Sandy. Terror petrified Kate. A cutting board flew up in time and took the grunt of the knives as some stuck and some fell to the floor. One flew past and cut her mother’s upper arm. Kate refocused and rendered Gran defenseless again. “You can’t keep this up?” She smiled seeing that the effort was erratic. There was a metallic click behind Gran and she turned to face a cocked rifle pointed at her head. “She doesn’t have to.” It was Gerard. Where the hell did he come from? “Gerard,” she was saccharine sweet, “You look well.” “How long do you have Kate?” He called out. “I’m good right now.” Kate closed her eyes to stay focused. “Leave or be shot.” Gerard threatened not dropping the business end of the weapon. “It was a mistake coming here.” Gran pretended that she was offended by their misunderstanding of her intentions. She moseyed out the front door. Kate wanted to check on Jim but was afraid to stop concentrating. “Is she really gone?” “Yes.” Sandy was certain. “I can feel her leaving.” Kate opened her eyes and knelt by Jim along side the twins. Eric tried to get him talking. “Jim?” He groaned but he wasn’t alert. “We need an ambulance.” Ron was on the phone. “He slipped and hit his head.” Kate’s eyes darted to Ron wondering why he gave a cover story. He held his hand over the receiver, “We don’t want them thinking we did this and they won’t believe the truth.” He was right.

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The twins cleared out the pieces of the coffee table and chair into the yard behind the house. Brian picked up the knives and hid the rifle. Ron examined Sandy’s cut. “Will she come back?” Brian inquired. “Not soon but yes.” Ron was ashamed of his mother. “Kate.” Jim squeaked as he tried to open his eyes. “I’m here. We’re okay. How do you feel?” He fell silent again. Kate whimpered. The sirens were close and Brian went outside to direct the ambulance crew. He was back in a minute with two EMTs. Andy and Greg followed seconds later. “Jim!” Andy’s voice trembled. “He’ll be fine.” One of the EMTs said shining a light in his eyes. They had him flat on his back and Jim was stirring. Kate mewled in Gerard’s arms as he told her it would be fine. “What happened?” Andy was beside himself in grief. “He fell on the chair.” Ron stated without a hint of pretense. He was as clever as the twins with a ready tale. The kitchen was back in order. Sandy had a towel on her cut and quivered with relief or fear. Greg surveyed the room and the occupants. Catching Kate’s eyes he knew there was more to the story. Ron was clearly concerned for Jim and had no sign of remorse so he decided it wasn’t a fight between the two dads. Then he saw Gerard. He wouldn’t allow for a cover up if there were some sort of interfamily clash. Greg suspected that some of the family talents were involved somehow. Andy wasn’t as observant or maybe it didn’t cross his mind since he didn’t know about the telekinesis. Jim was his sole concern. Jim was coming to. “How many fingers do you see?” The EMT held up two. “Two.” He moaned. “I fell on a chair.” Sandy told him telepathically to claim he fell. “I feel like a fool.” He added making the tale more believable.

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Greg relaxed when he heard confirmation from Jim that it was an accident. He didn’t miss that Sandy had a cut but he didn’t interrogate. “We’re going to take you to the hospital. They’ll run some tests and you can come home tonight if everything checks out.” The emergency medical techs left to get a gurney. “Go with Jim. I’ll take care of your mother.” Ron told Kate quietly. They were going to a different hospital to not arouse suspicion. The EMTs put Jim in the stretcher and Kate rode with them. She called Ellen on the way. “I know everything. I’ll be at the hospital.” “Good.” Zuzu was in the room the whole time and had given Ellen a full report. Kate stayed with Jim until he was carted off to x-ray. Andy and Ellen were in the waiting room when she gave them an update. “They’re checking for cracks and internal bleeding but they don’t think there are any.” Her voice was faint. A nurse led them back to Jim after a few tense minutes. He was coherent but lightheaded. “Sorry for scaring everyone.” Ellen frowned. “They say I can go home but I need to wake up every two hours.” “No problem.” Kate said. “I’ll stay the night.” Ellen’s made a non-negotiable statement of fact. Jim nodded carefully. “You had me worried.” Andy jabbed. “I thought I was going to have to watch all the football games on that crappy TV they have in the waiting room.” “I wouldn’t do that to you.” Jim laughed softly. Greg opened the door to Jim’s home when they pulled up. “Where’s the coffee table?” He asked as Andy walked in supporting Jim. “I got rid of it. I want to get that new one with the cooler inside.” Jim quickly fibbed. “Good choice.” Andy agreed. “On the house.” He helped Jim upstairs with Ellen following behind. “Katie, he’s fine?” Greg held her arm. He had questions and she was his best chance for clarity.

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“Yes.” Kate’s volume was so low it was really just a movement of her lips. Mentally recalling the events, she panicked. It wasn’t just Jim. It was everything; her odious ex-grandmother, the murder confession, the fact that she wanted Kate and Sandy to pay. Her strength faltered and she cried again. Greg held her tightly stroking her hair. “What else happened?” “I can’t tell you.” “Thank you.” He said sincerely resting his head on hers. She looked up at him puzzled. “For not lying. I want to know. Jim’s like a second father to me.” “And you’re like a son.” She rubbed her palm across her face to clear away some of the water. “Yuck! I kissed my sister.” She snickered feebly, more for him than herself. “You need to rest too.” He took her upstairs. Kate was stiff from hitting the wall and she stepped up gingerly. “You’re hurt.” Greg kept his voice down. “It’s emotional exhaustion.” He didn’t buy it. “It’s part of the same thing I can’t tell you.” She admitted and again he was grateful but not satisfied. She reclined on the bed over her covers. He held her hand until she was still. She knew when he left. She couldn’t sleep.

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 Metaphysical Inventory

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Thanksgiving morning, Jim was more his old self. He moved cautiously but it wasn’t noticeable to anyone who didn’t know the truth. Kate’s back ached but aspirin and a ready smile hid it. She paid a short morning visit to see her brothers and parents. They were planning a subdued Thanksgiving. Sandy’s arm was patched up. It was a clean cut and wouldn’t scar. Beth, Jim’s sister, and her family arrived around noon. Beth looked like a younger Ellen, no signs of graying. Wes, Beth’s husband, was about average height and build with sandy brown hair and brown eyes. Vicky, thirteen, looked like her father and Naomi, eleven, looked like her mother. They were so excited to meet their big cousin. They lived in San Luis Obispo, about an hour or more north. Kate had always been the youngest and she enjoyed the new pecking order with her on top. They shadowed her all day. They never grew tired of petting the cat and that was okay with Zuzu. Their good nature with animals was already evident. Ellen sent the girls to clean up before dinner and Kate to retrieve Jim and Beth. They were in his office catching up on the many changes since their last holiday visit when Jim was a childless bachelor. “I can’t believe she didn’t tell you that you had a daughter.” Beth castigated. “What if you hadn’t seen them at the funeral, would she have ever told you?” “Ahem.” Kate hinted they weren’t alone. “Oops.” Beth’s face reddened in embarrassment. “It’s okay.” The same thought had crossed Kate’s mind as well and the only tranquility was that they did find each other. Perhaps it was kismet and, if anything, took longer than needed to reconcile the separation. “I can’t get over it. You have a daughter and she’s older than mine.” She positively appraised Kate. “She’s better than yours too, in every conceivable way.” “And you fall into the doting father role too easily.” She wasn’t insulted. He loved his nieces. “It’s dinnertime.” Kate remarked. “We’re coming.” Jim stood too quickly and had to steady himself.

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“Have you had too many beers?” Beth incorrectly guessed. “It isn’t like you to be a lightweight. Doesn’t Andy keep you in Olympian drinking condition?” “I’m getting old.” “Kids will do that.” She warned her brother. They sat at the dinning table by the kitchen. The television was on for Jim and Wes, the volume was muted for Beth. The girls told their mother everything about Kate and how they wanted a computer like hers, a cell phone like hers, an iPod like hers. “She’s spoiled?” Beth glanced at Jim. “She’s taken care of.” Jim redefined. If the girls liked Kate, they loved her brothers. After dinner all the Thomases and Gerard stopped by Jim’s. Eric and Matt were especially fascinating to her cousins because they were indistinguishable. They added to the intrigue by regularly switching their identities to confuse the girls. They were enjoying new victims. Kate was a little jealousy. She had been the youngest girl for so long. It wasn’t a strong bitter jealousy, more like a mild irritation. Beth was stiff around Sandy but loosened up when she saw how comfortable Jim was with her and Ron. The last time she met Sandy she was happily married to Jim discussing a family of their own. Wes and Ron got along very well. Neither was as fanatical about sports as Andy and they talked about business and politics. Didn’t men ever talk about interesting things? The day before seemed distant but not forgotten. Kate didn’t let it stop her from enjoying her new family and her old one. By nine o’clock the girls were worn out and everyone retired early. Beth and her family left after lunch the next day and the Thomases and Gerard were back within an hour. Everyone agreed they needed to understand what happened and be better prepared for the next encounter. “Kate, do you think you could stop one person without stopping another?” Ron asked. “I can try.” It would have been beneficial if Eric didn’t lose his abilities when Gran did. They went to the pool table and juxtaposed two balls in the center of the green felt. Ron would push one ball while Matt moved the other and Kate was to prevent only one from any motion. Each time Kate tried either both balls stopped or there was no affect.

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“Close your eyes.” Eric suggested remembering it helped her the day before. “Okay.” She would try anything.

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“And try to focus on Ron’s mind rather than just sending out a stop signal.” Sandy offered. “I use to be able to do it.” Kate nodded and they repeated the exercise. That time, only Matt’s ball rolled and Ron’s wobbled in place. “It’s some kind of local disturbance that stops these things.” Sandy hadn’t thought about how her talent had worked in years. “Sara discovered that you could concentrate on one person’s mind rather than the immediate environment and get exclusive results.” “Why can’t we do it?” Eric liked the idea of having more skills and it was one that had aggravated him in the past when Kate had put a stopper in his shenanigans. “You probably can. Have you tried?” He hadn’t. His game was to start trouble not stop it. Jim and Ellen sat with Zuzu for a while. They wanted Zuzu to let Jim know first if any emergencies happened again. Ellen was confident the cat understood. Ron, Ellen and Jim weren’t telepathic but the rest were. They could send and deliver, so it wouldn’t be a problem unless Gran went for Ron, which was unlikely. She may have some years on him but he was most capable of competing in a paranormal fight. They expected Sandy or Kate to be her first target. Sandy and Gerard were particularly tuned into people’s presence and all the kids agreed to work on that talent. The communication was solid but if Gran found any alone, there would be little time for others to relocate. Sandy and Gerard were fairly certain they could detect her arrival within a good range but the twins were thirty minutes away. They needed to be on the look out while at college. It was a slight chance. The twins’ prodigious connection strengthened them and Gran would be foolish to approach them. “What do we do if she comes back?” Kate asked. “We either get good enough that she can’t touch us or we have to kill her.” Ron bluntly deduced. “Ron!” Ellen was sickened.

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“She won’t leave us alone and she’s trying to kill us. We have a right to defend ourselves.” Ron had lost his wife to his mother and he was unwilling to lose anyone else. The revelation woke him up. His mother was far more treacherous than he ever dreamed. “We can’t let the children be party to this.” Gerard shook his head. “They’re the ones we’re protecting.” Sandy frowned. “She murdered Sara. And she would have come after me if she knew we were twins. She must have thought Kate was in the car when she killed Sara.” Kate shuttered. It was sound logic. It added to the already dismal disclosure. “This is insane.” Jim paced. He had just discovered Kate and now she was under attack by a telekinetic geriatric. “What about your father? Will he help?” “No.” Ron said simply. “I don’t exist. There isn’t a chance he would stand against his wife.” “There has to be an alternative.” Matt hoped. “We just aren’t seeing it.” “I agree with dad,” Eric pitched in, “we know how far she’ll go.” Like all of them, Eric had run through the events over and over again in his head. He came to one humiliating conclusion. If the others hadn’t come, he couldn’t have stopped Gran from hurting Kate. “We don’t have a right to take a person’s life.” Kate stammered. “In self defense we do.” It wasn’t like Brian to take such an arduous line. But he was the most intuitive and repeat attacks left too much risk. “I should’ve shot her.” Gerard had the opportunity but didn’t take it and he was second-guessing himself. “There are better ways. If we stop the flow into her heart it’ll look like an attack.” Ron had thought the morbid alternative further than the others. “Is that possible?” The blood drained from Jim’s face. “Yes. My father climbed up the corporate ladder following a line of heart attacks that struck people in his way. He didn’t kill them – just prostrated them. If it’s physical, we can affect pressure.” “But that’s biological.” Eric said. “You can’t see inside.” “We do it with locks.” Matt reminded him. “We can feel the mechanisms.”

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“Same thing. How do you think we always have sons in our family? Until Kate snuck in.” Ron smiled at her. She was his family. They parted with a list of tasks. Sandy would work on her deterrence. She was rusty. Kate would try to impede one person instead of everyone in the general area. The kids would all practice reading people in their environment. It was most important for the twins, as they would go back to college after the long weekend. Kate got ready for bed when she heard her name in her head. It was Eric’s voice. We want a kids meeting. Can you pull us all in tonight? After dozing off she sat on her bed in her misty room waiting for her brothers. Eric walked in first. Matt and Brian were right behind him. “This is crazy.” Matt mused. “Think of all the times we ran off to the park when we could have our meetings right under their noses.” Brian was impressed. It was his first shared dream. “How do we feel about all this?” Matt got to business. “I don’t want to kill anyone.” Brian was somber. “Me neither,” Matt said, “but she killed our aunt. She tried to kill Mom and Kate before.” “I won’t feel bad if she dies.” Eric was the most fervent. “But if we can think of a better way, I’m all for it. I don’t want to be a killer or related to one, well, another one.” “We’ll need to study up on our biology. To be able to…” Matt didn’t finish. He was thinking about the plan to give her an untimely death by natural cause. “Let me try something.” Brian turned to Matt. “Tell me if you feel this.” Matt’s hand flew to his neck. “I feel it.” His voice was strained. “Too hard?” “A little.” His tone returned to a hoarse version of itself. “I couldn’t breath but the outside of my neck didn’t feel a thing.” “Kate, have you ever tried telekinesis?” Eric asked. “Of course. Nothing happens. But then Ron isn’t my father.”

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married Ann. He could always feel people’s presences and even their feelings for those he was closer to. He thinks his empathy was so strong with Grandma that he learned telepathy.” “That means you’ll be able to pull someone into a dream.” Empathy, like telepathy, was two way street. The twins gave each other a sideways glance. “We have always had the same dreams, lots of twins do. But Wednesday night, I woke up in Eric’s room, it was all misty like this one.” Kate’s back panged as it occasionally did over the last couple of days. “How did she break the coffee table and not feel it?” “She broke it and her fall before she hit.” Eric said point-blank. “Did you guys notice Grandpa today?” Matt asked. “He can tell who is doing what. He knows when we push or pull something.” “Well, we all kind of do.” Kate said. “We,” he pointed to them to exclude the parents, “do but Mom and Dad can’t and other than Eric, I can’t tell if Brian pushes something left or pulls it right.” “Empathy.” Eric said. “It’s not as wimpy a skill as it sounds.” “So I may be able to move things.” Kate liked the idea. “Try to empathize with us when we move stuff. You’ll pick it up.” In another situation, he might not have been so eager for her to catch up to him but she needed to defend herself. Their skills were no longer diversions but survival tactics. “Can you read other people’s thoughts, besides the family’s?” Brian asked. “I can’t with Meg. Well, I tried to send her a message but she didn’t get it.” “You shouldn’t do that.” Matt didn’t like him revealing his tricks. “I have, read that is.” Kate remembered the nasty thoughts during her tennis match. “I heard Stacey’s that day at school. And boy was it a cesspool of putrid opinions.” “That girl that can move fast? It may be easier with people that already have a glitch in their brains.” Matt was thinking aloud. “And receiving is easier than sending. She must’ve wanted you to hear what she was thinking even if she wasn’t willing to say it out loud.”

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Kate opened her desk drawer to get Brian’s phone. He had left it. Her gold bracelet was coiled up inside going unused. Guilt tugged at her heartstring. “I wondered where I put that.” Brian said. “I’ll get it tomorrow.” “Take it. It’ll be there in the morning.” He didn’t believe it. “Trust me, you can pass things off through dreams. Zuzu and I are living proof. She was a gift from a dream I had with Jim.” “And how are you living proof?” Matt asked. “Mom got pregnant with me in a dream.” “Ew!” Eric said. “Well, I’m not bringing Marie into one of my dreams for sure.” “Who’s Marie?” “Eric’s secret girlfriend.” Matt blurted out. Brian and Kate were offended. “She’s just this girl I met.” He blushed. Embarrassment looked good on him or maybe it was such a rarity that Kate liked to see the sanguine complexion on him. Maybe Marie was a factor why he had lightened up on her and boys. She already had a good feeling about her if she could wheedle his staunch stance on her romantic life. “Yeah, so I’m the only one without a significant other. I’ll have to play the field.” Matt joked. Kate remembered how Sara was a player and Sandy wasn’t. She hoped he was kidding. He was – it didn’t suit him to fool around carelessly. “I’m not dating anyone.” Kate reminded him. “Eric said you’re going with some guy from Santa Katrina.” Matt lifted an eyebrow waiting for her to confirm or deny the accusation. “Who?” Brian asked unaware of her recent date. “Chris Jenkins.” “Jenkins! He fouled me three times.” “Because you’re so good.” She fed his ego. “Aren’t you going to stop this?” He looked expectantly at Eric.

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“She’s out of control. I kill one off and another takes it’s place. It’s like fighting the Hydra.” He had lightened up. “We went on one date,” Kate held up a finger for emphasis, “and he’s taking me to his fall formal. It’s not like we are a committed couple.” “Don’t worry. My money’s on Greg.” Eric grinned. Her smile vanished and she stuck her tongue at him. She hated to think about Greg like that. Even if they had the same feelings he made it clear they wouldn’t act on them. “Okay, now back to not getting killed from our evil grandmother. Let’s all agree to brainstorm options other than death by self defense.” They approved of Matt’s suggestion.

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Making the Grade

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School was a welcome rut to fall back into after the overly stimulating weekend. Mr. Stewart had them working silently on problems while he had quick one-on-ones with students. Brad was one of the first and when he got back to his seat he wrote Kate a note, “Will you really help? up a regular study time after school?” She nodded. It wasn’t long after Brad that Meg was called up. He was going through the class in reverse grade order. Meg was almost in tears when she sat back at her desk. Greg was the next in their group. It was shorter than the others but his complexion had grayed. Jeff went up before Kate. “You must be the best in the class.” Greg whispered. She was the only person who hadn’t been called. “Or tied.” Greg relished how that would irk Jeff. “Kate Graham.” Mr. Stewart called after Jeff slunk back to his desk significantly deflated. Kate took the seat by her teacher as all the students before her had. “You have a solid A. You’re obviously not challenged in my class. Did your parents talk to you about taking on more work.” He had a ready list of extra credit sitting on his desk. “Yes sir. I decided to decline the offer.” “The choice was theirs to make.” He was peeved. “They felt it was mine.” “Fine. You won’t mind if I give them a call.” Of course a sadistic despot like him wouldn’t believe her. “No sir.” She said politely. He seemed disappointed. It was because she was confident. Mr. Stewart liked his superiority over the students and she denied him of it. “Well, that was all.” He dismissed. “What was that about?” Meg whispered. “He looked pissed.” Kate shook her head. She would explain at lunch when their tyrannical teacher wasn’t watching them. No other teachers had talks with the students but then no other teachers had so many kids falling short on grades. Can we set

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“So what did he say to you?” Brad picked at his sandwich in an uncharacteristic not-hungry moment. “He’s mad because he wanted me to take on more work. He thinks I’m not challenged. He’s

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going to call my dad to discuss it. He didn’t believe me that my parents don’t think I need to do it either.” “What an egomaniac.” Meg declared. “Never mind that leery fool. Are we going to start study sessions?” Brad needed to get his grade up to play on the baseball team. “Definitely, how about Thursday’s after school.” Meg added. “I’m in.” Greg said. “Me too.” Kate wasn’t sure how helpful she could be but she would do her best for her friends. Coach Evans didn’t pair up Stacey and Kate but they were playing on side-by-side courts. Kate kept her from cheating against Meg. Stacey won but it was a narrower margin than usual. The movement from tennis helped ease her back but she paid for it after classes. It ached the rest of the day. Andy and Greg were over for dinner that night to watch football with Jim. They fixed the salad while Kate finished the spaghetti. When she reached up for the strainer she flinched at a spasm from where she hit the doorframe. Greg grabbed the strainer putting his hand on the exact spot for support. “Emotionally exhausted.” He breathed in her ear reminding her of an earlier lie. “Too much tennis.” She just wanted to avoid the conversation. He grimaced. She was lying again. “I can’t. Please understand.” Kate decided she needed to learn how to lie better next time she saw the twins. Maybe her empathy skill would help. Jim got home a little later. He checked the messages and Mr. Stewart’s voice filled the room. “Hello Mr. Graham. This is Mr. Stewart, Kate’s math teacher. Please call me when you have a chance.” “Are you in trouble?” He checked with Kate before he dialed. “He didn’t believe me that you agreed that I wasn’t going to take him up on his offer for extra math.” “Ah.” Jim made the call. “Hello Mr. Stewart. This is Jim Graham, Kate’s father… Yes, that’s right… I agree with her choice but it’s her call to make… But she gets an A in your class. You must

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know how smart she is… Well, then why wouldn’t the choice be hers?...” He winked at her as he spoke well aware of his audience’s interest. “It isn’t anything that needs reconsideration. Thank you for your call.” He hung up with satisfaction. Kate smiled. “You kind of told him off.” “I was going for a full telling off. I only kind of did?” “You did great.” Greg corrected. “He gets off on power tripping.” “We don’t want Kate wasting time on math when she can be cooking us dinner.” “Geez, Jim. Why not take her right to vote away?” Andy kidded. “She’s stuck with extra work anyway. Katie is helping some of us get our grades up.” “Good.” Andy worried that Greg wouldn’t be able to play baseball if his math grade dipped any lower. And he wanted him to do well in school. “Does that mean someone will help you with history?” Jim had a cocked eyebrow. “I can.” Greg was getting an A. After dinner the dad’s did the dishes, probably feeling guilty about the misogynist jokes earlier. Greg and Kate studied history. They had a test that week. They worked in the kitchen so Greg could watch the game. When the phone rang Jim answered. “Kate, it’s for you.” “Hello.” “Hi Kate.” Even over the phone she could hear Chris’ smile. “How was San Francisco?” She walked to the living room for privacy. “Great. How was your Thanksgiving?” “It was all right.” He didn’t need to know the awful truth. “Are you still up for going to our dance in two weeks?” She expected he would call. Even so she was thrilled. “I have the okay from my dad.” After taking notes on the day and time she returned to the kitchen. Andy and Greg had gone home. “I think Greg has a crush on you.” Jim watched for her reaction. “He never asked me out.” She defended. “The ballgame was his idea.”

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“Well, he never told me.” She hated feeling responsible for Greg’s feelings. She didn’t want to hear about any effort he had made. It was all very nice but at the time he was sending some very direct messages about how he did not want to get involved. “He was nervous. He didn’t speak much that day. I’ve never seen him so shy.” It wasn’t an act of shyness. It was because he was mad at her and that was another fine example of the misdirection she received. “Dad, can I get a dress for the semi-formal?” “Are you changing the subject?” “Yes.” “Of course you can.” He pulled out a credit card. “Try to keep it under a thousand.” “It’ll be hard. I’ll have to settle for the ugliest dress ever.” She called Meg to see if she would go shopping with her. Meg needed a new gown as well. St. Iggy’s had a semi-formal the same night. Brian and Meg were an official item and were going to their dance together. Meg tried to persuade Kate to go to their dance with Chris instead but she had already accepted. Kate got her best history score that year. Greg really helped her understand how things fit together and it didn’t feel like a random list of names, dates and places to remember. Stacey had renewed her pursuit of Greg. Meg told Kate it was a foolish effort. He wouldn’t forgive Stacey for hitting her. It was the angriest she had ever seen Greg. They agreed that it was all about the chase and there were few challenges left. Thursday after school they had their first Math IV study group. They met at Kate’s and planned to mix up the locations going forward. Gerard liked the idea so much he brought them food as a compassionate gesture. He told them if they hit any problems they couldn’t solve, he was always available. “Your grandpa is so cool.” Brad said. “I wish Mrs. Graham was still alive. She was the best math teacher ever.” “I even got it with her.” Meg echoed his sentiment. “Are you so good because she taught you all her tricks?” Brad asked. “I never met her.” Kate choked up a little. “She gave you the power through her genes.” Greg tried to cheer her.

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“I must have gotten it somewhere.” His explanation was as good as any.

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They got to work. Kate was a natural and things started clicking for the others. After a couple of hours, they stopped talking math. “What’s this about you not going to our dance?” Brad confronted Kate. “Please tell me you aren’t really going to Santa Katrina’s with Chris.” “You like Chris.” Greg gave him a reprimanding look. No doubt he was Brad’s source and didn’t want to be exposed as a gossiper. “Off season.” “It is off season. Basketball doesn’t count.” Greg mostly cared about baseball. “Are you going to come to my party afterwards? You can bring the schmuck.” Kate laughed at his inappropriate invitation. “He isn’t a schmuck. I’ll mention it to Chris.” “He’ll do what you want. These things are about the girls. We don’t want to dress up in suits.” Brad would do it in his position. “You look so good when you do.” Meg chipped in. He blushed, a rarity for him. Brad turned to Greg. “And you? Are you coming? With a date this time?” “I’m going to sit this one out.” Greg sat back. Brad’s eyes flickered to Kate. “Whatever.” Meg and Kate shopped all morning and into the afternoon on Saturday. They were successful. Kate got a dress with a black velvet bodice, black taffeta skirt and an antique gold sash around the waist. Meg’s outfit was red and form fitting. She looked sexy in it. Brian would be pleased. At school Brad was relentless in expressing his distaste that Kate was going to the wrong dance with the wrong guy. He told her not to do it again and if she didn’t get asked, he would take her. His dad wouldn’t let him get serious until he was safely on scholarship at college so he had an open dance card. Dave agreed and made the same offer, with the condition that he wasn’t dating anyone. “I know someone was going to ask you to ours. You should’ve waited.” Dave said. Dave meant Greg but she didn’t allow herself to think on it too long. He made his position clear and she was moving on.

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Meg kicked Dave under the table. “Chris is a good guy. You guys would be friends if we went to the same school.” “Sure. I didn’t mean he was a jerk.” “Where are they having their dance?” Meg asked. “I don’t know. Would it be at their school?” “Not for a semi-formal. Even they aren’t that classless.” Brad said snobbishly. “I heard it was at the Plaza Pacific down the coast. It’s a really nice place for it. We usually have our proms there.” “How far?” Brian was immediately interested at that point. Until then he hadn’t contributed at all. He didn’t know Chris from Jack but he didn’t care for Santa Katrina after the grueling win on the basketball court. “About thirty minutes, maybe less.” Brad said. Brian gave Kate a cautious look. Meeting tonight. He thought to her. She nodded that she heard it. Greg was looking at her and she wondered if he caught there was an unspoken exchange. She decided she was getting paranoid. Greg did pay her a little too much attention. It was passing since she was going on another date with Chris. He had no reason to wait and see how it turned out. And he wasn’t stepping up to bat for himself. After school they met at Greg’s for math study. It was going well and everyone was feeling more confident in their knowledge. Shortly after falling asleep Kate sat in her chair when her brothers arrived. “I can’t get use to you in that uniform.” Eric strolled in comfortable with their occasional shared dreams. “What’s up?” Matt asked Brian. “Kate’s dance this weekend is thirty minutes out of town and if Mom can’t know when Gran gets near you two in Santa Barbara, she won’t know if Gran goes there.” “But it’s close to Santa Barbara.” Kate added. “You guys will know if anything happens.” It was too late to cancel and she hadn’t expected Brian to make a mountain out of a molehill. That was Eric’s job. “We’ll stay at school. Is it Friday or Saturday?” Eric asked. “Friday.”

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“And it’s not like Gran will go looking for you. How can she know you would go to a dance at another high school?” Matt figured it was safe. “Why can’t you bring him to our dance? It’s in town.” Brian protested. “I haven’t forgotten how she threw you into the door.” “I can’t ask him that the day before.” Kate was dismayed. She hadn’t forgotten about that day either but she didn’t think the dance was a danger. They always blew things out of proportion with her. Brian’s concern was part of that old pattern and he was stirring up Eric and Matt’s worries. “Where is it exactly?” Matt stayed on topic. “The Plaza Pacific.” “We know it.” “Okay, then we don’t worry about it.” Eric said too easily. After they were gone, Kate had a regular dream about that day in the kitchen, more a nightmare. She woke up with a sudden start when Jim went down after the chair hit him. It was only three in the morning. She rolled over and cleared her mind to get some restful sleep. She woke up remembering Brian’s concerns. On their way to school she promised him that everything was a non-issue and that they were getting better everyday. “Nothing will happen.” She averred. “I’m overreacting. Have fun and I really hope you find him less interesting soon.”

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Chris arrived on time and looking more handsome than ever. He wore a dark suit with a standard white shirt and black and dark grey striped tie. “You’re beautiful.” He said when she came downstairs in her black dress. Jim snapped some photos as promised for Sandy. Kate felt bad when Chris put a corsage on her wrist but Jim had a boutonnière for him that he had gotten if the need arose. He was a lifesaver. They drove down the coast and come up on a grand hotel in the Spanish-Mediterranean style. It was picturesque overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The valet took the keys. Chris put Kate’s arm in his and escorted her into the dance. Santa Katrina was easily five times bigger than St. Iggy’s. Kate didn’t see a familiar face until they sat at their table and she recognized Auggie. The other guys she had seen but didn’t know their names. They were on the basketball team and all their dates were very pretty. Two were cheerleaders. Kate had told Chris they were welcome to go to Brad’s party but he declined. “Auggie’s having an after party as well but really, why? We have parties after every game.” “I met you at an after party.” She fluttered her lashes. Even when she didn’t know him, she was attracted to him. “Another good reason not to go. Someone might snake in on my territory.” He winked. “I only went because Stacey wanted to find her next target. Do you know who it is or was?” “Greg and I don’t think she has completely given up. If anything, she has renewed her old cause with vigor.” He laughed. “Well, he’s smarter than me to stay away for so long. Still, it’s difficult to ignore that kind of attention forever.” Kate didn’t like the sound of that. “You dated her once?” “I did. It was about a year ago when her reputation was getting established. I didn’t believe the rumors. Now I am another footnote. At least we didn’t hook up.” Kate laughed. “Well, she’s Catholic. Doesn’t that mean no sex until marriage?”

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He chuckled harder. “Not at all. There are wild Catholic girls and there is a tempting duality about it. So, what about you? Were you dating Jeff?”

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She rolled her eyes at the sound of his name. “Never.” He was a cad and she was a fool to not have seen it sooner. “I don’t like him after what he did to Greg. That wasn’t cool.” “How did you know it was Jeff who cheated?” “It wasn’t hard to tell he was trying to get him kicked out of school.” “Why?” “To see if he could. Greg wasn’t a good student and he was easy pickings.” “He’s seems pretty smart to me. He gets mostly A’s.” “After that and his near DUI, he got his act together.” “Are you guys close? You know so much about him.” She didn’t understand their rivalry and their mutual respect. They were opposing forces. “We’re in the same baseball camp during the summer with Dave. We get along better when school’s out. What’s the deal with you two?” He hit the nail on the head. “No deal.” She played nervously with her bracelet. She wished she hadn’t worn it. It was a betrayal to wear it while she was out with another guy but it went so well with her dress. Chris didn’t believe her but let it alone. “We’ve been here two hours and you haven’t asked if we’re going to dance.” “It’s your party.” “I’m not much of a dancer.” He had a silly smile, his dimples accentuating it radiantly. “But I suppose we should.” He took her hand and assumed the position when they got on the floor. They stayed in an easy box. He was very muscular for not looking so beefy. His arms were like steal bands and he kept them locked in place but loose around her. They rocked to the music with their cheeks nearly touching. “How is it a girl like you isn’t taken?” He flirted shamelessly. “You aren’t.” “I’m not allowed to get serious with anyone. Baseball first. And your excuse is…”

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Brad was the same way. “I was kept on a tight leash that has recently been lengthened.” “Strict parents?”

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She nodded. “And brothers. Three and one of them is particularly good at intervening whenever a guy gets too close.” “Am I too close?” He brushed his face against hers. “Yes. But Eric isn’t here.” Kate’s heart started pounding faster out of anticipation and guilt. Chris was going to kiss her again and it excited her. Eric would grill her and she fretted the inevitable chat. They walked out on the balcony. It was a clear night and the ocean sparkled under the light of the moon. They were surrounded sparsely by other couples talking, holding hands, kissing or a combination thereof. A sudden chill ran down her back. They were both thinking the same thing. He wrapped his arms around her as she leaned against the parapet looking out over the ocean. He pulled her hair back from her left side and whispered in her ear, “I’m glad you came.” He held his cheek to hers. “I’m glad you asked.” She moved to face him and he pressed his lips to hers with the softest contact. He held her face as they kissed with more energy. Kate felt lighter than air. Where her feet even on the floor? His arms were security for her and he ran his hands through her hair. “So how much competition do I really have to worry about?” Her thoughts went directly to Greg. “You can’t get serious with anyone.” He lamented it. “Which is why it’s so tough for me.” That chilling sensation increased and she realized it was driven by fear not nerves. Eric, Matt, can you hear me? She kept her face blank as she tried to mentally reach out to her brothers. We feel it too. Eric replied. We’re almost at the hotel. She looked over her shoulder but saw no one. It didn’t matter. Gran was there. “How did she find me?” She said quietly. “What was that?” Chris pulled away to see her face. “I need to go powder my nose.” She didn’t want him to get caught up in her family squabble considering how dangerous they got. “Oh, sure. I’ll wait here.”

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She rushed into the ballroom and out into the hallway. Gran stood about fifty yards away looking as ominous as ever. Kate ran in the opposite direction to her only egress. Passed the double doors she was by the pool. It had a wooden deck and lounge chairs and there wasn’t a soul in sight. She kept running but was suddenly pulled back. The invisible force picked her off her feet and twisted her around. She was floating impotently towards the old lady. “Out whoring so young.” Gran voice was shrill. “Tsk, tsk.” Kate was inches from her. She was too wound up to concentrate. She kicked with all her might and dropped as her ex-grandmother buckled over. Kate scurried back and focused to keep Gran from picking her up again. “You think you’re making this harder but it only strengthens my resolve.” Gran had recovered. “What do plan to gain by hurting me? You’re losing your son and grandsons by behaving like this.” There was no rationalizing with the old woman. Kate knew that. She was stalling for time. Hopefully the twins would find her. She slowly got to her feet but her concentration wavered to do it. Gran had noticed as well. “They’re lost!” She screeched. “All I can ask for is justice.” Kate’s flinched at the threat and her attentiveness faltered. Gran felt it at once. “You can’t hold it much longer, can you?” There was a pressure inside Kate’s chest but it passed as she doubled her deterrence. Gran had tried to stop her heart. “I can hold it.” Kate challenged. She had to. Gran took a step closer. “You can’t stop me and my telekinesis at the same time.” Kate stepped back but when she did there was another hiccup as her power was depleted. The omen was true. She was trapped. “You see that I am right.” The lady sprang forward and grabbed Kate by her shoulders and threw her into the pool. Kate bobbed up and took a gulp of air but was instantly pulled down. She couldn’t think clearly with the water around her. Gran kept her down. Kate held her breath. The urge to gasp grew. She struggled to swim up but felt an iron grip on her ankle weighing her down. Eric, Matt. I’m in the pool. Are you here? She tried to send a message. Her mind was so chaotic she didn’t know if she could reach

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them. She heard nothing back and the reflex to breath overtook her. Chlorine water flowed into her lungs as bubbles of air escaped to the surface. The hold released as if hewed with a hacksaw and she swam up coughing out sputum and taking in air. Eric was in the pool with her. He helped the water empty out of her lungs with his telekinesis. Matt had tackled Gran but she threw him back. One sensation pulled Kate out of the pool while at her feet another pulled her down. Close your eyes and concentrate. She heard in her head. She obeyed and the grip on her feet weakened and she was lifted out of the water and landed on the deck behind Matt. “Another time then.” And Gran hurried off away from the hotel. She moved like a woman half her age. They could feel her retreat. It was easier to sense that Gran left than to find her coming when it wasn’t expected. Kate panted for more air. Her lungs stung but they were empty. The coldness and the extra effort she exerted to focus caused her head to throb. A hotel employee had come out to tell them the pool was closed for the night. When she saw Kate and Eric were drenched she exclaimed, “Oh dear.” She was a motherly looking woman in her fifties. Yanking out a walkie-talkie she called for towels.

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Kate’s Type

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“Matt, can you get Chris and tell him where I am.” Kate requested. “He’s on the balcony.” She didn’t know how she could explain her appearance to him but she couldn’t leave without seeing him. “I’ll find him.” Matt ran into the hotel. He’d be easy to find without a date. The towels came and Kate and Eric wrapped up shivering in the coldness. They walked into the hotel where they made two puddles on the linoleum. “What were you doing on the balcony?” Eric asked pointedly. Kate was astounded that he wanted to scold her after running into Gran. “Now? You want to harangue me on boys now?” “I’m trying to distract you.” She laughed softly. “It worked.” “How did you fall in?” The staff lady asked. “We were clowning around.” Eric deceived without hesitation. “What happened?” Chris asked when Matt brought him. “We ran into Kate. We came to crash the party. We really are protective monsters.” Eric’s story slid out easily. Aside from the protective monsters proclamation it was all rubbish. “We took her out to the pool to have a private conversation and well, we fell in.” He held out his hands opening his towel as his clothes dripped. “It’s our fault. We’re sorry for ruining your night.” Eric lied well, spun his yarn quickly and even sounded regretful for his false offense. Donna, the hotel hostess, led them to a vacant room where Kate and Eric could stay warm and took their clothes to dry. Kate and Eric cleaned up and put on robes while they waited for their cloths to be returned. “I’m really sorry Chris.” Kate felt horrible. “Go back and have fun.” Her life was too perilous to be close to anyone without involving them in her mess. “I’ll stay here, more excitement.” He flashed his dimples at her and she melted. At least she didn’t look like a drowned rat anymore. She smiled back. Eric rolled his eyes as he watched the teens flirt.

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“He plays baseball too.” Matt informed Eric with a wicked smile. Eric’s face brightened up. “That explains it.” “You guys play?” Chris asked. They could pass as baseball players.

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“Not us, not on a team. We’re just trying to pinpoint Kate’s type.” Eric relished the discomfort he inflicted on his sister. He may not be able to stop her from dating but he could have fun taunting her. Kate blushed. “I don’t have a type except for those audacious enough to put up with you two.” “I figured as much.” Chris had already pegged Greg as his rival. “Don’t listen to them. They do this to scare off people. Why don’t you two go and I’ll bring Eric’s clothes over tomorrow?” “The hell we’re going to leave you alone in a hotel room wearing only a robe with some hormonally charged boy.” Eric stated automatically. “No offense, Chris.” Matt added without an ounce of sincerity. “None taken.” He chuckled. Kate didn’t know how the hotel got their clothes dry so fast. Her dress looked as if it had never been worn. Her hair wasn’t as pristine but otherwise she was more or less as good as when Chris picked her up. “Back to gorgeous.” Chris glorified. Eric let out a small groan. “I’ll ignore that.” Chris took her arm and walked her out. The twins waited to give them some space. “Where did you go to?” One of the basketball players asked seeing them get off the elevator and eyeing Kate’s disheveled hair. “It’s not what you think.” Chris waved a hand in the air as if it would stop his friend from imagining what they were up to in a hotel room. Kate flushed. There was an obvious but wrong deduction from their appearance. “You weren’t kidding about your brothers, were you?” Chris didn’t seem that bothered by the intrusion. Considering he didn’t know the truth, it was very forgiving of him. “We’re a tight family.” That didn’t begin to explain it away but it was in the right direction.

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“They’re following us.” He spied in the rearview mirror. Kate looked out the back window. The twins drove a few cars back in the fast lane. “They’re

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going home. They usually spend part of the weekend in Santa Katrina. We aren’t being followed.” The twins’ car passed them as if to prove her point. “You’re an interesting date. That’s for sure.” He walked her up to her door. Kate could sense Greg nearby. He must still be up. It made her uncomfortable. He couldn’t feel her presence but her mind imagined the worst. “Sorry about tonight.” She repeated pushing her feelings about Greg as far down as she could. “I had a great time.” Chris grinned even though she clearly didn’t believe him. “I’ll call you. You’ll see.” She smiled and he kissed her. It was a more adoring kiss than ever. Maybe he wasn’t scared off by everything that had transpired. He was as brave as he was good-looking. Waving good-bye as he drove away Kate stood in the open doorway. When she closed it Greg pushed back on it looking very unnerved. He scanned her dress with a confused expression. “We need to talk.” “I can’t right now.” She didn’t want to talk about Chris with Greg. She was thoroughly turned off that he ambushed her return home. He had gone too far. “It was just a date.” She snapped too concerned with getting to her family and a real problem to bother with kindness. “Not about him.” “We’ll talk tomorrow.” She tried to close the door again. “Who’s the old lady?” “What?” She was sure she misheard him. “The old lady, the pool, what happened?” She stepped outside. “How do you know about that?” She didn’t want Jim to catch her. “It’s difficult to explain. And don’t worry. Jim isn’t here. He’s at Ron and Sandy’s.” Greg wanted to talk to her alone where he would get more truthful answers. It made sense that Jim wasn’t home. The twins probably called him over once they got home. “I have to go over there.”

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“Katie, please.” His eyes penetrated her.

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“After I talk to my family I’ll bring you into a dream.” She didn’t have time to argue with him and she wanted to know how he learned about what took place at the hotel. He may have overheard a partial conversation when Jim was notified. Greg weighed the offer and reluctantly agreed. She went upstairs to change and checked the couch before she left but Jim wasn’t there. She ran down the street. The lights were on and everyone had gathered including Gerard and Ellen. Sandy was frenzied. She hugged Kate in a tight grip. “I’m fine.” Kate broke free. “I’m fine now.” Aside from the sting her lungs felt if she breathed too deeply. “How did she find out where you’d be?” Gerard’s analytical brain couldn’t find any answer and it disturbed him. “Is she following us around?” “I don’t know. But I sensed her just not soon enough.” Eric glared and mentally chided her. You shouldn’t let boys distract you. “We felt her too. It’ll be easier now that we know what we’re looking for.” Matt pointed to Eric as he spoke for both of them. Kate wasn’t sure about that. Finding an incoming presence would require constant scanning. Timing and direction were vicissitudes. “But we can’t live in fear of being alone or out of town.” Jim was angry. He didn’t want any of them to have to always look over their shoulders. They shouldn’t be prisoners by fear. “Why does she go after Kate? I thought she wanted Mom?” Brian asked. Not that he would have felt differently if they were there after his mother was assaulted. “Because I’m almost as strong as her.” Ron was only guessing. He worked from home and was constantly near Sandy. “Didn’t sound that way at Thanksgiving.” Ellen challenged. “I underestimated how far she’d go. It won’t happen again.” Ron had learned what happened to Sara. “I won’t spare any more compassion on my mother.” “What do we do now?” Gerard brought them back to the urgent matter at hand.

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“We magnify our efforts. We need to be careful about anytime we break from our routines. She doesn’t want to bring it here where we’re never alone and know the ground layout better.” “I don’t know. Routines may be easier to sabotage.” Jim thought out loud. “What if we set a trap?” Sandy suggested. “It’s an idea but how?” Ron pulled his hand through his hair. His temper was in jeopardy of exploding. “How did she get you alone?” “When I sensed she was there, I ran. I didn’t want her hurting someone at the dance.” Kate acted on instinct. “Don’t do that again. She isn’t going to expose herself in front of strangers.” Ron speculated. “Not that she can’t imprecate with witnesses but she’ll constrained.” Looking back, when she was in the lobby Gran didn’t do a thing. It wasn’t until she was alone by the pool. “Okay.” “Kate, you look exhausted.” Jim noticed. “I am.” She could barely keep her eyes opened. “We’ll continue this tomorrow.” Jim walked Kate home in silence. Finding his daughter had brought more joy than he had fathomed but the risk of losing her was unbearable. Kate curled up with Zuzu by her side. She fell asleep as her mind whirled around the strange occurrences from the evening. When she sat up in her mist filled room wearing in her black dress Greg was at the door admiring her. “Bonus, you’re wearing the dress.” He smiled. “Okay, you first.” Kate cut to the chase. She didn’t want him confusing her with flirtation. He sat next to her. “I can sometimes see through your eyes. If you’re thinking about me or in trouble.” “That’s how you read what people write?” “Yeah. That’s the only way to get an idea across otherwise it’s hard to make sense of it.” “When did this start?” “A couple of years ago.”

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“I mean with me.”

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He knew that was what she meant. “It doesn’t matter. I was sitting at home working on physics the other week and all of a sudden I see Eric’s back in front of me and some spiteful old hag. I can’t hear what she’s saying but I can tell it wasn’t ‘hello and how do you do.’ People ran in but they stopped. You’re mother moved forward. She was floating. You jumped back suddenly and fell. And the old lady flew over the couch onto the coffee table. It shattered before she landed. The chair hit Jim. I didn’t know where it came from. And a cutting board popped up and stopped knives from hitting your mother. And then Mr. Sanchez was there with a shotgun and it went blank.” Kate let him get it all out as she listened. It went blank because she closed her eyes to focus her energy. “And then tonight I saw you looking at the bracelet. I was glad you were wearing it again.” He gazed at her eyes knowing that she had feelings for him and wondering if they were greater than those she held for Chris. She reflexively glanced at her arm as he spoke and spun the gold chain around her wrist. It made sense that he noticed she hadn’t been wearing it. Still she felt bad for hurting him. “A little later I saw Chris and I tried to clear my mind because I didn’t want to see that. He was going to…” Greg swallowed his suspicion. “But then you were hurrying through a hotel lobby and out by a pool and that old lady was there. I couldn’t tell what you were doing at times. You were too tall for a while, like you were standing on a box and then your foot kicked her in the gut. And you fell into the pool and wouldn’t get out.” He stood up. “It was too long and then there were bubbles. You were drowning?” “I was.” She murmured. He sat back down and put his arms around her. “And thankfully Eric was there and Matt and the old lady ran off. And it stopped.” Kate was shaking even though she savored the comfort-giving embrace. “So who is she?” “I shouldn’t tell you.” “We’re past shouldn’t.” Kate let out a soft moan of frustration. “She’s my grandmother, well was. She’s Ron’s mother.”

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“That mean old bitch is related to you guys?”

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“And she wants to kill Mom and me. She’ll kill my dads and brothers to do it.” It was out. It was refreshing to talk to someone about it. She hated covering up and lying to her friends, him most of all. “Surely she wouldn’t do that.” “She already has. She murdered my aunt, my mother’s identical twin. She didn’t know there were two and she probably thought she had killed me at the same time. I wasn’t even a month old.” Greg trembled and held her tighter with irrational thoughts of never letting her go. “I’m glad you told me.” She pulled out of his chest. “I shouldn’t have. What if you get hurt by knowing?” “I’m not worried about that.” He stated in an obvious tone pulling her close again. “No. You have to stay away. We can talk about it but you can’t be caught up in it.” “Too late. I’m already involved. If Jim and you are in danger, we aren’t going to stand aside.” “What do you mean we?” She didn’t need to ask. His intention was apparent. “Dad saw the chair. He didn’t realize it was flying.” Greg spoke gently. “How come only the chair?” “Because he saw through Jim’s eyes. That was when Jim was in danger.” He let her absorb that information. “We’re already in.” She shook her head. “This is bad.” “Katie, you are the only person who I ever saw through that wasn’t related to me. I don’t care that you’re dating Chris, we have some kind of connection and I can’t stand aside…” “We’re not dating.” She cut him off. He rolled his eyes. “He was standing very close to you.” “So, if I am in danger, my vision flicks into yours.” She steered away from the topic of Chris. “I guess so. I didn’t go looking for it.” “Any other times?” “I saw Stacey hit you. And Jeff getting fresh.” “What about when Meg wrote you I was going to Father Francis’ office?” “Well, she kind of calls me by writing my name.”

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“Can I do that?” “Probably. I also saw some of your tennis match. Masterful, I might add.” “I wasn’t in trouble.” “You were intense or you may have been thinking about me. That can do it sometimes.” “When?” She looked into his blue eyes. He flushed. “Other times, here and there.” “When did it start?”

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“At the ball game after the foul ball. I kept seeing myself through your eyes.” He looked down avoiding her. How often did that happen? Kate tried to think about all the times they were in close quarters and she allowed herself to daydream of what could have been. “How did this happen? A year ago the only odd thing in my life was my brothers could cheat at pool. Now everyone I know seems to have magical powers.” She closed her eyes. He scooted up on the bed and held her as she curled up in his arms. Zuzu jumped up on the bed and took her usual nightly post next to Kate. He played with her bracelet and then ran his hand up her arm and held her while she fell asleep in her dream. She felt him stirring. “Sorry.” She let go of him so he could get up. “Um, Katie.” Greg whispered into her ear as he jostled her shoulder. She opened her eyes. Something was wrong. She was under her covers, in her pajamas and the room was mist free. Morning light shined in from the window. She had pulled him through her dream. Kate sat up pulling her covers over her. “How did that happen?” “I don’t know.” Greg got out of bed still in his day clothes from the dream. “Dad said that couldn’t happen.” She told herself despite the forensic evidence. “I didn’t crawl in your window.” He promised as he looked out the window for an escape route. It wasn’t a viable exit. “Kate.” Jim rapped at her door. “Are you up?” “I’m fine.” She replied not realizing she didn’t answer the question he asked.

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“Can I come in?” The door was already opening. He looked at them in her room. “What’s going on here?” “I pulled him through a dream.” Kate stated. He had to believe her. “Kate, I want the truth.” Jim didn’t. It hadn’t happened before. “It’s true.” Greg confirmed. “Downstairs, now!” He commanded the boy. “We’ll discuss this when you’re dressed.” Kate threw on some clothes and ran to the kitchen. She started to sit down next to Greg but Jim pointed to a chair across the table by him. “Did you pull him through a dream?” They nodded. “That’s good to know.” He forgot his anger for a brief moment as he stored that fact. “Kate, I can’t control your dreams but you shouldn’t be pulling in boys, not even Greg. You know that you have the same consequences as you do awake.” “I’m not going to fool around with someone else’s girlfriend.” Greg remarked. Kate glared at him. She was tired of saying Chris wasn’t her boyfriend. “Dad, we were just talking. Cross my heart.” “I had dreams when I was your age and there were very few words.” He stared at his daughter and her stoic expression. “You weren’t doing anything but talking?” He was feeling secure that was the truth. “What about?” If his worst fear wasn’t true, there was more to hear. They were guilty about something. “Well…” Kate started as she gave Greg a look like the cat was out of the bag. “We were fooling around.” He falsely confessed. “We weren’t.” Kate didn’t understand why he changed his story. “Katie, we were.” He gave her a pleading look. “Look. I believe you weren’t. I think I would believe that if you were naked. I couldn’t handle the truth if it were otherwise. But there is this loud voice in my head that sounds exactly like your mother telling me that is the only reason I believe you.” Jim admitted. “It’s true. Greg, tell him the truth.” She begged. “Katie, please. We’ll take the heat for it.”

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“Greg, I don’t believe you.” Jim wanted to cut through the bull and he had to take a side and one side was far more appealing to his paternal nature. “I can’t tell you. Dad can’t know.” Greg didn’t look up from the table. “Why not?” Kate asked. “He’ll freak out.” “What can’t he know?” Jim was lost. As far as father and sons went, none were closer than Andy and Greg. Secrets would be seldom if they even occurred. “Aren’t you in all the way?” Kate called Greg on his promise. “Using my words against me, you and your cruelty.” He tried to joke and then gave a long sigh. “I can see through Kate’s eyes sometimes, like Dad has done with you.” “When she writes? Do you keep a journal?” Jim prayed it was about her date with Chris and nothing more. “Dad, it isn’t just writing. Think about it. You were only signing your name but Andy knew it was a marriage certificate.” It was a detail she noticed immediately when he first told her about his wedding day. Jim sat there blinking a little too much as the idea processed. “What did you see?” “Dad saw the chair hit you but he thinks you were moving to it, not it to you.” “Because he saw my vision.” Jim caught on quickly. Greg nodded. “I saw it all; the old lady hitting the table, the knives, Gerard with the shotgun, the pool.” “That’s a lot for you to take.” Jim felt bad for the boy being pulled into their nightmare. “And you haven’t told Andy because he’ll freak out that you can see through Kate’s eyes.” “Why?” Kate thought it was a good thing. “Because you have to be someone they care about a great deal for them to do it. Andy doesn’t see through just anyone’s vision.” “And vice versa.” Greg added in his own defense. “You should tell your dad. He’ll understand.” “I’ll try. I mean, I’ll do it, somehow. He needs to know. Katie’s right. We’re in this thing now.”

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“No you aren’t. It’s too dangerous. Do you understand what you saw?” Jim wanted to protect Andy and Greg from trouble. “I told him.” Kate admitted. Jim shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. You’re staying clear of this.” He commanded to Greg. “Do you really see either of us standing by while either of you are in danger?” Greg questioned trying to keep the rebellious teen angst to a minimum. “And remember, we can see through you guys.” “Kate, do you think you could jam this vision thing?” Jim couldn’t stop Greg’s determination but he could scuttle any future signals. “Maybe.” Kate didn’t know how but she could stop everything else. “Hey!” Greg shouted. He didn’t like being cut out of the equation. “I said no.” Jim was authoritative. “We can help.” “How? Coming to our aid in time to be another victim?” “Like this.” Greg retorted. Jim’s eyes started darting back and forth unable to focus. “I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything.” He slapped his ears with his hands. “You did that? Can Andy?” “I got it from my mother.” “Everything went black and silent.” Jim explained to Kate. “She wouldn’t be able to move anything if she can’t see what she’s doing.” He peered up at Greg. “You better get home before you have to convince Andy that nothing was going on. I’ll talk to him later about what’s going on with us.” Greg ran out the back to go home. “Go back to sleep, you don’t look rested.” He suggested. “Alone!”

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Stacey’s Blog

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After the pool incident, the whole family worked harder to polish their multifarious skills. Kate discovered she was able to learn new tricks once she let herself empathize with someone completely. Eric and Greg adapted skills with alacrity. She was able to move objects and cloud people’s senses. And Eric had picked up the knack of stopping others from using their gifts. Once Eric caught on, Matt followed shortly there after. Brian wasn’t far behind but even telekinesis had come late to him. Their repertoire was improving. Their parents weren’t able to absorb new skills and Gerard’s hypothesized that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The kids were still growing and learning and that promoted the ability to share. He was in his early twenties when he learned telepathy from Ann and even then it didn’t come as clear. Greg had picked up telekinesis faster than telepathy and empathy. Kate figured it was personal after the trouble the twins put him through earlier. She was having trouble with seeing through other people’s eyes but got flashes from Greg when he wrote notes. Blacking out people’s vision would be good for her brothers to learn but she wasn’t sure how to explain where she picked up that knack. She worked on a plausible excuse. The Thomases didn’t know that Greg and Andy were filled in on the facts or that they had shared their gifts with Kate. Jim didn’t know how they would take the news. Time would most likely give an opportunity to break it if the need came up. School was a diversion from boot camp. The Thursday study groups were going better every time. Meg had even corrected Kate when she misspoke. As for Brad, Kate didn’t know how he wasn’t getting a higher grade. He was so social and jovial all the time it misled how truly smart he was. Greg learned the quickest but Brad retained the knowledge the best. He had a singular focus and that was to get his grade up to play baseball. Gerard sat with them for a particularly complicated lesson. He didn’t instruct but encouraged them to break down their confusion until it was gone. The disparateness between him and Mr. Stewart was the difference between learning and being lectured at.

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Kate’s history was better as well. Father Francis went too fast for her to keep up. That hadn’t changed but Greg would talk her through the chapters a second time helping her recall.

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It was the week before Christmas break when Kate hit any problems at school. Stacey had a blog and had been trashing her on it for weeks. Claire told her that there was a posting about how Chris and Kate had snuck off from the dance to hook up in a hotel room. Kate laughed it off the easily controvertible rumor and assured them it wasn’t true. Meg was furious. Chris thought it was childish and cruel and wished he could stop it. Kate hadn’t seen him since the dance but he called regularly. They had tentative plans to go out during break after his midterms. St. Iggy’s midterms were after Christmas. Greg didn’t take the news of the blog well. Dave informed them how he told Stacey off and she said he couldn’t face the truth because he had a thing for Kate. Later that day, Stacey tripped walking down the stairs. She said she almost blacked out and then was falling off the last steps and sprained her ankle. Greg would not admit or deny any responsibility. To no surprise, the tidbit pleased Eric and Kate was tempted to tell him that Greg may have been behind it. The last Friday before break was joyous. All the students were light hearted. It was purely for the holidays. Every teacher in every class gave them a run down of what to study for their midterms that started the third week of January. Despite the harsh reality of exams, the students’ spirits stayed high. “Greg, can’t we start over. We were friends once.” Stacey used her sweetest voice before the last Physics class. She had snagged the seat by Greg, a bold move even for her considering Kate was on his other side. “Take down your blog and I’ll think about it.” Greg bargained. “No. It's all true.” She pouted intransigently. “And I stopped using real names.’ “Somehow people have uncovered that you mean Katie when you write Cate. I don’t know how they see through your clever encryption.” Kate snickered. It annoyed Stacey but she didn’t have a choice if she wanted to seduce Greg. “My parents are throwing a splendid Christmas party. They said I could invite someone.” Stacey hated talking to Greg in front of Kate but she was his only friend that didn’t run her off immediately. “You should.”

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“Do you have someone in mind?” She batted her eyes. “Chris. He’ll go with you. He’s a nice guy.” “Greg Andrews. You’re a jerk.” She wasn’t amused. Kate scrolled “keep Chris out of this” on her paper. Greg laughed getting Kate’s message. “This isn’t funny.” Stacey frowned unaware of Kate’s condemning warning. “Chris probably isn’t very friendly to you either after those lies.”

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“Fact is they disappeared from the dance and were seen later coming out of the elevators from the rooms. You just don’t want to believe it. My cousin was there and he said someone’s hair was rather mussed up.” She got her point across. Greg was agitated. It wasn’t the truth but he didn’t like to think about Kate with Chris. He lowered his voice to keep from embarrassing Stacey more than was necessary. “I don’t see us happening.” “You will. In time.” Stacey was confident. She hadn’t lost a prey and he wasn’t going to be her first. She didn’t count Brian, conveniently. Class finally ended and Greg walked Kate down the hall. “Katie, I hear you and Meg are going shopping tomorrow. Would you mind if I tag along?” “Of course not.” Kate rolled her eyes. They were friends and there wasn’t a need to ask permission. “And what’re you doing tonight, would you want to go to dinner and a movie.” Kate stopped. “You’re asking me out?” “Well, I was trying to be sly about it to save face in case you said no. You can. I know you’re close to Chris but you say you aren’t dating…” His cocky air was lost in the face of admirable competition. “We aren’t.” She had given up on Greg and suddenly he was stepping up to bat. Swiftly she felt an excitement building – an excitement that had been dormant for weeks. “So it isn’t a problem?” He poorly hid his nerves. Kate wasn’t sure if she really could say yes. Chris wouldn’t like it but he also kept it very clear they were not exclusive. “I guess not.”

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Stacey stormed passed them on her one crutch. She had overheard the entire exchange. “That wasn’t for her. Geez, when will she stop?” Greg felt mildly bad. “Never. You’re her great hunt.”

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Tennis had been enjoyable all week with Stacey sitting out. Even Allison had more fun but she wouldn’t have admitted it. They were changing back to their normal clothes, ten minutes early. “So he finally asked you out. What took the doofus so long?” Meg commented. “I don’t know. I wish he had asked when there were no complications.” Kate was only a junior and it wasn’t like she was romantically committed to either boy. Still she felt like she wasn’t being fair to either Chris or Greg. “Who do you like more?” It was Greg. But she was completely exposed to him. She had no place to hide and that scared her. And her feelings for Chris weren’t far behind. “They’re incomparable.” Meg wanted a definite Greg answer. “Where are you going?” “Anywhere is fine.” Kate was sure it would be in town. He knew what was going on with her family and he wouldn’t take her out of range of her mother and grandfather’s scope. That reminded Kate to give Meg a head’s up that her brothers would be at the mall. There wasn’t a decent shopping center in Santa Katrina and she had to get permission from the family to go shopping in Santa Barbara. “By the way, he wanted to go with us shopping. And we may see Eric and Matt. They said they were still looking for a couple of gifts.” The last part was pure fabrication. “Of course.” Meg sneered. “You like them.” “Yeah, they grow on you like a fungus.”

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 Another Tough Choice
Kate had never spent so much time picking out an outfit. She decided on a dark gray A-frame skirt and pink long sleeve leotard top. Grabbing her black jean jacket she answered the door.

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Greg was dressed in jeans and a white oxford. He looked traditional. They took his bronco to the pier where they had a few choices for dinner. In the end the fish house won out. Kate had been alone with Greg many times. They were friends. That night she was nervous around him. She hadn’t been since he first kissed her. And hiding it wasn’t happening as she constantly fidgeted against her best efforts. It helped that he was as uncomfortable as she was. “It’s weird. We already know each other.” Greg stated after another long suspension in conversation. He wasn’t sure if it was a bad omen and he worried. “So, how close to serious are you with Chris?” By that he meant do you guys have an easier time talking to each other? “Let’s not talk about him.” Kate hung her head. She liked Chris. She liked Greg more. There wasn’t a good way to explain it without hurting his feelings or lying and she didn’t want to do either. “Am I too late? Is the game over?” He searched for a telling reaction. “I’m here, aren’t I?” She smiled apprehensively. He stared at her with his blue eyes. “You are.” There were three Christmas themed movies to choose from; a romantic comedy, a dysfunctional family comedy and an action film. Kate nixed the action film and Greg nixed the romantic comedy. Chris took her miniature golfing because you didn’t get to know each other in a movie. She was glad that Greg didn’t make a choice like that. There wasn’t a need for small talk with him and dinner had been full of long painful pregnant pauses. The theater wasn’t full but they had to go back a few rows to find a good pair of seats that weren’t on the side. Greg took out some Altoids and offered her one. She accepted it and hoped it wasn’t a hint. He held her hand as they watched trailers for upcoming flicks. The movie started flashing scenes of a small snow covered town as the music played a lounge-y version of “Blue Christmas.” Apparently the main character didn’t care for the holidays but was stuck in his hometown forced to relive bad childhood memories.

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Greg’s thumb rubbed the outside of her hand. The action persistently reminded her that she was sitting next to him in a dark theater and the plot was moving ahead without her full awareness. She leaned against his shoulder and he tilted his head toward her. “I think in the end he’ll learn to love Christmas. I’m sure there will be more hilarity before we get there.” “Aren’t you enjoying the movie?” She whispered looking up at him. “Merely pointing out that we don’t have to take a quiz on it.” He kissed her and turned back to the screen. Kate reached up and kissed him. That was the response he wanted. He pulled her head to his and forgot all about the holiday film. Too quickly, the credits were rolling and the house lights came on. They walked out hand in hand. “Kate.” It was Auggie and Chris. They were coming out of the theater that had the action film. “Hi guys.” Instantly she released Greg’s hand to wave hello and heard him sigh. “Hey.” Greg said lethargically. “We’re going to grab a hot chocolate, want to come?” Chris invited the couple keeping his glances towards Kate as infrequent and short as he could stand. “Not today.” Greg answered. “We’ll catch you later.” He flashed his dimples at Kate and they left for their after movie treat. Greg didn’t speak as they clambered back to his car. It was because she dropped his hand. She wanted to spare Chris’ feelings but wounded Greg’s in the process. She would have done the same if they were in the opposite situation. How did other girls juggle multiple men? She walked up to the passenger door waiting for him to unlock it. Instead of opening it, he leaned against the car on one side of her and held his right arm out with his hand on her other side. She was cornered. His eyes locked on hers. “You have a new problem. I want to date you, just you and no body else but you. So, you’ll have to make a choice soon.” She nodded. He was right. The confusion and guilt ate at her insides. There wasn’t any debate. It was Greg. As scary as it was for her, it was him. He was too close and it was a risk at getting hurt. Chris couldn’t hurt her – as much. It would be harder to live without Greg than with him. She opened her mouth to answer knowing he was well worth the gamble.

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“Not now. Sleep on it. Take a week or two. You know where I stand. I love you.” He spoke easily self-assured in his words but unsure of her feelings for him. “We’re only sixteen…” He cut her off with a kiss – a long, hard, burning kiss. “It is what it is.” He opened the door and she climbed into the Bronco. “I don’t need to think about it.” She protested. “Tell me tomorrow.” He held her hand. “I’ll feel better knowing it wasn’t a knee jerk reaction.” Chris called Kate early the next day. She told him that Greg wanted to date exclusively. Luckily she didn’t have to dance around the topic too long since he saw it coming. “I could tell last night.” He lamented. “I’m sorry.” She couldn’t have felt worse. “I came to the same conclusion. He beat me to it. Actually, I should have said something at the dance but the answer wasn’t in my favor. I hoped in time… He’s too smart to give me that chance.” “You’re being too kind.” “Make sure he takes good care of you. I’m not the only guy waiting in the wings.” Kate sniffled. She didn’t mean to hurt Chris. She pulled herself together. She had a larger family than ever and hadn’t started shopping. It was the last Saturday before Christmas. And Meg didn’t need to see her upset over Chris.

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Third Floor Food Court

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They took two cars to the mall since Meg would have to leave early. Her family planned to spend the holidays in San Diego with her grandparents on her father’s side. Greg and Andy would be down for a day and wouldn’t leave until Christmas. Once in Santa Barbara, Greg excused himself to shop alone. Kate and Meg got to work on their lists and were through most of the items in a couple of hours. The stores were crowded with cheery people. There was the occasional frantic shopper but they were few and far between. As promised, they ran into the twins. “We bumped into Greg. He was in a jewelry shop.” Eric gave Kate a smirk. “You’d think he only needs a gift for his dad. What would you buy a dad in a jewelry store?” Matt teased. “Whatever he’s buying it better not be a diamond ring.” Eric finished their taunt. Kate stuck her tongue at each of them. “I’m glad Dave wasn’t twins.” Meg said gratefully after leaving to get a hot chocolate from the Starbucks at the food court. They rode the escalator up to the third floor and sat with all their bags and enjoyed a brief break. “I got everything I needed.” Meg double-checked her purchases to her Christmas list. “I still have a couple more.” Kate was down to Jim and Greg and she didn’t have a clue for either. And the pressure was on for Greg if he was buying her more jewelry. His dad made a good living. It was a must to live on that street. And Greg was getting more and more commissions from furniture he helped make for the shop. Jim gave Kate a credit card and told her she could spend up to twenty dollars per person. That was plenty for her family. They kept Christmas small as possible. She could supplement Greg’s gift with her savings. There was a sport store on the bottom floor directly below. She would go there before leaving and see if they had any suggestions. “You never told me how your date was?” Meg sipped her drink. “It was great until we ran into Chris.” Kate confessed. “Rotten luck. What happened?”

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“Greg said I had to make a choice.” “You’re dating Greg!” Meg jumped to the right conclusion. “We will be when he let’s me answer. He said I had to sleep on it.” Kate rolled her eyes. “I didn’t need to.” “I wonder what Chris will say.” The kindness might have been forgone if Kate hadn’t chosen Greg. “He took it well.” “You told him already?” “He called this morning. It was horrible.”

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Meg hopped out of her chair and hugged Kate. “This is how it should have been. Greg saw you first but Dave claimed dibs. They are so babyish.” “Don’t say anything. We haven’t talked about it yet.” Kate wanted to tell Greg herself. “Won’t be a problem. I have to go. Call him now.” Meg picked up her bags. “I’ll call him after my next stop.” She had to get his present first. “Merry Christmas.” They hugged again and Meg ran off. Kate finished her drink and collected her things. She waited for the elevator when she sensed that same chilly sensation she felt at the hotel. Eric, Matt. Did you feel that? We did. She’s close. How did she get so close so fast? It was Eric. We’re on the bottom floor. Matt’s thought. I’m coming down the elevator now. She tried to reach Greg but he had trouble with telepathy. The door opened and a family of four with a stroller exited. Kate stepped in and pushed the first floor. The doors closed but the elevator didn’t move. She hit the first floor button again and it didn’t react. The door open button didn’t respond either. I’m trapped in the elevator. She told the twins and pulled out her phone to call Greg. There was a creaking noise and a snap and the elevator jerked down a few inches. She looked out the window for Eric and Matt on the first floor. If Greg didn’t hear her, he was probably seeing it. She waved at them frantically. They bolted for the escalators.

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Kate looked around trying to get the attention of anyone that could help. Across the way on the other side of the third floor stood Gran. She waved bye as Kate heard another snap and the elevator dropped a few more inches. It creaked as it hung askew. Had she severed cables? Gran was mentally feeling her way through the elevator mechanisms and it was only a matter of time before she removed anything holding it up. Kate grabbed the rail bracing for a hard drop. Two stories wasn’t a long fall but Gran could push it down faster. There was another snapping sound and Kate peered at Gran. She had an unfocused look to her eyes. It was the look Jim had when Greg blacked out his senses. Greg ran across a bridge from the food court to the shops across the atrium. He skillfully missed everyone and then slammed into Gran. She tumbled to the ground but quickly got up. The telekinesis must have helped her sustain the tackle. Even blacked out, she would be able to fortify herself for impact. Her grandmother’s eyes regained their clarity. Security arrived and was asking them what happened. One mall cop talked to Gran. She wasn’t able to work on breaking the elevator with her back to it. Greg pointed to Kate as he spoke to the other guard. Seconds later a voice was on the intercom. “Miss, are you okay?” “Yes. I think some cables broke.” “We’ll get you out. It can’t fall. There are safeties.” Kate would have liked to think they wouldn’t fail either. The guards walked Gran away. Greg hurried back to get to the elevator doors. With all her effort, Kate focused on the elevator room. If something happened, she was preparing to keep it from falling at full force. She had moved things but it was a larger object than anything she had practiced on. She hoped she could make enough of a difference to affect damage control. The doors cracked open. The floor of the elevator was a good two feet lower than the third floor. A maintenance man widened the opening and she could see Eric, Matt and Greg. When the gap was large enough Eric reached in and pulled her out of the elevator and into a vice like hug. Matt gave her an embrace next. “Dammit Kate, I was scared.” “Me too big brother.” Kate said grateful it was over. Greg took her next and he kissed her cheek as he held her. Eric yanked him back by the shoulder. “Hey!”

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“You wanted me to win.” Greg must have talked to Eric about Kate. “Oh. I do. Don’t do that in front of me.” He tried to smile but it was kind of twisted. Greg rolled his eyes.

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Maintenance handed her bags out. After further inspections the cables were broken and three of the four emergency breaks. They wanted to get a written statement. Gran watched them with security. She glared at the kids and paid special attention that Greg was part of the group. They sensed her leaving as they gave their statements. The element of surprise was gone. She would wait for another opportunity. Kate insisted on shopping for her last two gifts. Eric convinced Greg to let them take her home. They suggested for the sake of time she get gift certificates and buy extra thoughtful gifts for their next presents. By the time they arrived on their street the rest of the family was gathered at Kate’s house ready for another debriefing. After needlessly strong hugs from her parents, they dissected the incident. “Where is she getting her information?” Ron asked. “Maybe she has a talent we don’t know about.” Sandy suggested. “Why didn’t we feel her sooner? She was already at the mall.” Eric wanted more warning. “Too many people around. That makes it harder.” Gerard wasn’t sure. “Tell us what happened.” Jim wanted to hear everything. “We felt her and Kate was on her way down.” Matt told the family. “She was on the other side of the mall watching. And I could hear the elevator parts snapping but then Greg was there blacking out her vision.” Kate forgot they didn’t know about Greg. The twins exchanged looks. They knew he helped but didn’t know he had used anything metaphysical to do it. “Wait? Greg was doing what?” Brian stopped her. “He can black out senses. It’s very disorientating.” Jim filled in the blanks. “Go on.” “And he ran into her and security was there so she couldn’t concentrate.” “That was smart.” Sandy stated. “How did he know to go after Gran?”

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Kate looked sheepishly at Jim. She had said way too much. “Andy and Greg know what’s going on. We only discovered this a while ago.” Jim updated. “And you didn’t tell us?” Sandy snapped.

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“That’s right. I didn’t tell you. They can see things through certain people. Andy can see things through my eyes sometimes and apparently Greg can with Kate. So he saw everything in the kitchen and at the hotel. There, now you know.” “You should have said something.” She was upset. “Sandy, he saved Kate.” Gerard chided his adult daughter. “And now Gran knows who he is.” Sandy shook her head. Kate gave an involuntary shiver. She was glad Greg knew. Even if he hadn’t put the clues together himself she wanted to tell him. But he was in jeopardy because of it. “Would Andy and Greg want to come over?” Ron asked Jim. “I welcome the help but they should know the consequences.” “Actually they insisted and said they wouldn’t stay away if we tried to keep them from it.” “Get them. I want to hear more about how Greg stopped my mother.” Jim called and they were there in minutes. “Greg, what happened? From your perspective?” Gerard prompted. “Well, I ran into Meg and she told me that Katie was at the food court so I went looking for her. Then I heard a faint thought from Katie about an elevator. A moment later I could see inside the elevator through Katie. She was looking down at the twins and then up at the wicked witch. I started running to the woman and blacking out her sight. I was ready to take her down and break a hip but that lady is tough as nails.” He rubbed his shoulder remembering the impact. “The mall cops were there in seconds and she told them she was fine and they needn’t bother. But I said I hit her pretty hard and that they should have her checked out. One asked me why I was running and I said because someone was trapped in the elevator and they called for maintenance. The old lady was still saying she was fine so they let me go and told me to slow down.” Eric and Matt laughed in stereo surround sound. “Brilliant.” “There was another attempt on your sister.” Sandy snarled.

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“Sorry Mom. It was pretty clever though.” Eric stifled his laughs. Kate remembered when Greg was an irritation to Eric. That time had passed. “How come she doesn’t get hurt?” Gerard asked. “She must be in her late sixties.” “She probably braced herself with telekinesis.” Ron conjectured along the same lines as Kate. “The real mystery is how does she find you and why not Sandy. Sandy was at that mall alone only last weekend.” “If we find out how, we may learn why.” Andy had a good mind for strategy – it made him a great coach. “Maybe she wants Sandy to die knowing Kate was killed.” Ron had a gruesome look as he spoke his fears. “What can we do to help?” Andy proposed. “You’re already in too much danger.” Sandy remarked. “They won’t have listen to common sense.” Jim and Andy had a long talk after the pool attack and in the end Andy convinced him they were in too deep already. “That’s right.” Greg echoed. “You could get hurt or worse.” Sandy could think of no reason to bring more people into the danger. “There are eleven of us, we aren’t going to lose.” Andy vowed. “And if we get hurt, we get hurt. We accept the risks.” “What if I get hurt and can’t play ball?” Greg half jested. “Then you don’t play.” There wasn’t a hesitation in Andy’s response. It was absolute. “Wow, he really likes you, Katie.” “Like my own daughter!” Andy raised his voice. “We need to find out how she’s finding you.” Gerard came back to the unanswered riddle. “And then use it to set a trap.” Brian wanted it to end. “I’ll research what other kind of gifts are out there that can see the future or predict someone’s whereabouts. It won’t be easy sifting through all the bullshit studies on psychics. I’ll see if there is

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something we don’t know about.” There wasn’t an enigma Gerard couldn’t solve when he put his determination to the goal.

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“Good idea but I don’t think that it’s likely. I would know about it or share it.” Ron stared at the ceiling as he brainstormed out loud. Sandy shook with fright. “What if the last elevator brake broke?” “I was ready to stop the fall.” Eric, Matt and Kate spoke in unison. “Until we know what’s going on, Kate you stay close.” Ron got paternal. She was the target in three attempts and he passed his threshold of tolerance after the first.

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The rest of Christmas break Kate spent on her block with her family and friends. It wasn’t so hard since she was dating Greg. He had got her golden hoop earrings for Christmas. He liked his gift certificate but Kate felt it was impersonal in comparison. They had a lot of studying to do for midterms. Ellen went to Beth’s for Christmas while Jim and Kate stayed behind to spend it with the Thomases. It was for Kate’s protection and Jim gave Beth a line about having too much work on his plate. New Year’s Eve was nice. Andy was out with Angela and Kate and Greg watched television and made out like teenagers. Post holiday blues hit St. Iggy’s hard as midterms were on everyone’s mind. They had one week of review. Mr. Stewart was enraptured by the mass misery. He reminded the class that it was fifty percent of their grade for the term. The study group stepped up their sessions to three times that week; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. Kate didn’t think they needed it but Brad insisted. He had a one-track mind. He was set to improve his grade and he said that fifty percent was almost half. She was sure it was a joke. St. Ignatius’ midterms were two hours and thirty minutes long. The students had to stay a full hour before they could leave. Outside of a few freshmen elective classes, no one would finish in an hour. The good news was that they spanned the whole week and there were no tests on Friday. Most students didn’t have any on Thursday. All subjects were at the same time and were taken in the auditorium. If you didn’t have a language class at the language time, you didn’t go to that test. There were four tests times daily but it was rare for a student to attend more than two in one day. Kate had English and Philosophy on Monday, World History and Physics on Tuesday and Math on Wednesday. She felt solid after her tests. She had done well. All the extra work had paid off. Math was an exceptionally hard exam. Mr. Stewart went overboard. Half the class would fail. She was convinced Brad, Meg and Greg would not be part of them. She finished with sixty minutes to spare. She was always a fast tester, pass or fail, and she waited outside the auditorium for her friends. Greg and Meg were out half an hour later. He picked Kate up in his arms and kissed her, “You are the best girlfriend ever.”

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“Ahem, Mr. Andrews, you’re at school.” Father Francis scolded. “Sorry sir but I just aced a math test. I didn’t know how to react.” He set Kate down. Father Francis gave him a wry grin. “Well, that would be new for you.” Greg didn’t mind the jab. “It is and it feels pretty darn good.” “I’ll be happy if you get a C. We need you on the team.” Even priests cared about sports. “He loves me. He just doesn’t know how to express it.” Greg told the girls. Kate laughed. “You’re impossible.”

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Brad was out fifteen minutes before the official end. He grabbed Kate in a similar hug and kissed her on the cheek. “Another admirer, Miss Graham?” Father Francis asked. “Father Frank…” Brad began. “Francis.” “That’s what I meant. Father Frank Francis, I just left a math test early. Do you want to know why?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Because I was sure I had the right answers. I had tripled checked it before I realized it was overkill.” “And you’re to thank for this sudden burst of intellect?” The priest smiled kindly at Kate. “No. We studied together. The book was more help than me.” Kate said magnanimously. “She’s being modest.” Meg shook her head. “Or maybe she thinks we failed and doesn’t want to be blamed.” “Who’s being modest now?” Kate elbowed her friend. “It warms my heart when the kids work together. It’s synergistic.” Father Francis was pleased. “And we’re equal to more of the sum of our parts.” Greg joked still jubilant. “Maybe you should start a humility study group next, Miss Graham.” “There are some things that shouldn’t be fixed.” Kate quipped. “Get out of here before my good mood passes and I start handing out JUG to assert my authority.” He didn’t mean a word of it.

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The other students exited when time ran out. It was a funeral march. Even Jeff was surly. Stacey was catatonic from another of Mr. Stewart’s math exams. Her mood escalated to anger when she caught sight of the four friends with jubilant faces. Andy threw them a dinner party to celebrate. Gerard, Dave, Brian and Jim joined. “You got an A? But you haven’t got the test back.” Andy asked Greg as he cut off a piece of his t-bone. It was a manly meal for the occasion, steak and potatoes. “Dad, it has to be an A because I never felt like this after a math test.” Greg was high from his academic feat. Brad gave him a high five. “She has your wife’s gift Mr. Graham.” No other words uttered in the past or the future would ever bring more pride to Gerard. “I bet Ann likes to see this.” Kate was embarrassed thinking of her deceased grandmother that she never met. For all the repairs to her family life she had undergone since that fateful day in August, a relationship with her grandmother was irretrievable. Monday morning Greg was anxious to get his test back and see his A. They all were and they arrived to class ten minutes early the first time all year. Mr. Stewart walked in averting them. Brad gave Greg a fist bump. They were sure he ignored them because he hated to give them A’s. They had no idea how true that was. Mr. Stewart passed back the exams and all four of them had a large red F scrolled across the top with a note to wait after class to talk to him. When the other students were dismissed Mr. Stewart closed the door sequestering them. “We have one unbendable rule at St. Ignatius’. Cheat and you’re expelled.” His delivery was icy cold. “We didn’t cheat.” Brad gasped. “Four perfect tests and they all belong to best friends, one of which has a record.” His eyes darted none to slyly towards Greg. “The odds are against you. How else do you explain it?” “We studied hard.” Meg said through tears.

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“You’ll have a chance to present your defense after school at four p.m. And if you want my

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advice, you should think up a better alibi than you studied hard if you want to be exculpated. Your parents are being notified to attend. This is most grave.” “This is bullshit.” Greg spat out. “I would give you JUG for that foul mouth Mr. Andrews but there will be no more JUG for you.” He had a vindictive sneer. “You’re late for your next period, not that it matters.” They went to their next class disenchanted. Once in Physics Kate and Greg told Gerard the whole story. “That buffoon.” Gerard grumbled. “I’ll be there. I’ll back you up. I saw how hard you worked.” It broke his heart to see his granddaughter so sad. “Kate, let me keep your test and your text book.” Trusting he had a good reason, she left the items and hoped he could find a way to prove their innocence. School drug on as every minute drew them closer to their showdown. Brian and Dave offered to hold Mr. Stewart down so that Greg and Brad could trash him. They probably didn’t really mean it. “Mom’s going to kill me.” Meg was in tears again. “He can’t get away with this.” Brian put his arm around her unable to do more. “Mom knows you didn’t.” Dave assured his sister. Kate’s cell phone rang. It was Chris. “I’ll be back.” She walked off to an unpopulated corner of the patio. “Hello.” “What’s going on over there?” “What did you hear?” “That Greg and Brad are about to get expelled for cheating. It’s not true, is it?” He teetered between disbelief and wishful thinking. He would love to have them both in their athletic program but not with a dark cloud hovering. “Meg and me too. But we didn’t cheat. Mr. Stewart can’t believe we aced the test.” “A test Jeff only got a C on.” He was awed. “Really?” That made her proud of their scores even if they were about to be expelled. “That’s the word over here. What do you think will happen?”

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“It looks bad. I’ll call you after it’s over.” She promised. “Please. And I believe you.” “You do?” “Greg isn’t stupid enough to cheat up to an A.” Chris kidded.

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“Thanks.” She hung up and turned to go back to the table and saw Greg. He had been listening. “They know at Santa Katrina?” His head sagged with the heavy news. “They know.” She confirmed his fears. “Shit!” “We get a say. That has to account for something.” “Don’t you remember your history? The Inquisition comes to mind. Catholics can be very unkind when they want.” “You’re being melodramatic.” She took his arm and walked back to the table. “This isn’t a showdown, it’s a public hanging. Santa Katrina is already buzzing about it.” Greg announced. Their parents started arriving at three thirty. Andy and Jim were first on the scene. “You didn’t do any…” Andy pointed to fingers to his eyes and shifted them back and forth to Greg’s. He was trying to lighten the atmosphere. “No.” Greg was insulted. He was too down to catch the joke. “I know. That wouldn’t explain Meg and Brad.” He tried to give an encouraging front. “We’ll beat this rap.” Meg’s mother and Brad’s father were there fifteen minutes later. All the parents had seen them working hard and it would take substantial proof to convince them the grades weren’t earned. That didn’t mean the school wouldn’t expel them regardless. They had collected in the hallway outside the old receiving room of the mansion when the double doors opened and Father Francis came out to greet everyone. “Feels like old times.” He said to Andy and Jim and escorted everyone to a long conference table that was brought into the room for the meeting.

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Mr. Stewart sat at the far right on the panel’s side of the table looking prideful. Sister Rene, Gerard and Coach Evans were there. Sister Rene was the Assistant Head Master and attendance was required. Coach Evans was there for Brad and Greg. He wasn’t going to lose two of his best players without a fight.

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“Please sit down.” Father Francis held his hand out to the chairs. He was very civil. The school secretary brought bottles of water for the group and shut the doors as she left. “Now to business. Mr. Stewart has charged these four students with cheating. We all know there is a no tolerance rule here at St. Ignatius’. We will listen to both sides. After which Sister Rene and I will convene. We’ll be judicious.” He motioned to Mr. Stewart to begin. Mr. Stewart stood up to address the table as if he were Perry Mason or something. “Kate has always earned A’s, but the others were C students until they miraculously took this exam. They are thick as thieves, these four, and clearly they used their one strength to illicit ill-gotten grades for the lot of them.” “And do you have a modus operandi?” Sister Rene asked in her dramatic way. “I don’t know how they did it but do you know the odds of three C students getting an A when my top student only got a C?” He was inflexible. “No, I don’t. What are they?” Her habit helped her look innocent but there was an objection in her voice. He was taken aback. “The lottery would be easier to win. And given that the top student got a C, that begs a question on how Kate got an A.” “But you said she earned a straight A in your class.” Father Francis pressed. “I doubt how she achieved that now. I knew my test would prove her real worth.” The way Mr. Stewart spoke it was as if he made the exam purposely hard to test Kate’s mettle. She seethed. Jim shuffled nervously in his seat. “When do we get to talk?” Father Francis lifted up his hand and held back a smile. “Soon.” He turned to Mr. Stewart. “Do you have anything else to add?” “No sir.” Mr. Stewart took his seat. “Since you’re the mastermind, Kate, why don’t you tell us your side of the story?”

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Kate gulped and sat up straighter. “I earned all my A’s.” She repudiated. “And when we got our mid-semester grades we decided to form a study group. We’ve met once a week even through the holidays and three times last week.” “I find that hard to believe,” Mr. Stewart interrupted, “considering your aversion to extra work.” “She doesn’t have an aversion to work.” Jim defended. “And it’s true.” “Gentlemen, please. Kate was speaking.” Father Francis motioned for her to continue. “I can’t add anything else, not to defend myself against such a vague accusation.” Kate finished. “Very well. Did you want to add anything Mr. Graham?” “I can confirm they had a study group. And I don’t see how we can be here without proof. This is a witch hunt.” Jim’s glared at Mr. Stewart and his inner teen wanted to rumble. Father Francis held back a laugh that time. He continued down the table asking first the student and then their parent their version of the story. It was the same responses across the board. “Mr. Evans, you asked to be here to speak on the kids’ behalf.” Coach Evans cleared his throat, “Thank you. I wanted to confirm that Greg and Brad were in study group. They discussed it often at practice and with me. I find it hard to believe they would put weeks of exposition into a cheating plot.” “It is an ingenious group.” Mr. Stewart huffed out. Father Francis gave him a warning look. “Mr. Sanchez, you wanted to add something.” He pulled out four sheets of paper and four pencils. He handed them to the students. “Please indulge me.” Kate looked at the page she received. It was a math problem. She smiled realizing he was proving they were all competent. They bent their heads and started working. “Not only did I know and see the study group in session, I attended one as a guest speaker. By that time, these students were well matched to Kate’s intellect.” Gerard stated breezily. “I have a question for you Mr. Stewart.” “Yes.” Mr. Stewart was apprehensive. His opinion was that Gerard was covering for his granddaughter but his statement gave the students more credence and pitted teacher against teacher. “Did you say your best student got a C?”

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“That’s correct.”

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“Assuming these four didn’t cheat, and I don’t for one minute believe they did, that would make him your fifth best student.” “It’s an assumption I don’t share.” He had planned to challenge the students and not Gerard, who had placed himself neatly as their accomplice. The situation had grown treacherous. “How many other C’s were earned from your exam?” “None.” Mr. Stewart didn’t know if he was escaping or falling into a trap. “So out of, say twenty five students, there were only five passing grades. That would mean that eighty percent of your class failed this test. What do you spend your time with these students doing?” Snap! went the trap. “I’m not the one who is being tried here.” Mr. Stewart hissed. The students had finished their problems and were watching the adults intently. “Maybe you should be.” Gerard collected the papers. “Correct, correct, correct, and correct.” He said flipping through each. “Let me see those.” Mr. Stewart’s eyes widened incredulously. “These aren’t comparable questions.” Gerard took the pages and handed them to Father Francis and the others. “They are harder actually. I had to write them myself. I was going to take them off the achievement test from last year but they were much easier than your exam.” He reached into his folder again and pulled out Kate’s test with the large red F scarring the top page. “You may want to see this as well.” He gave it to Father Francis. “I would like to conclude that there are no witches present.” Kate snickered. Mr. Stewart whipped his head to her. “You aren’t off the hook.” She sat up tall and tried to hide her grin. She felt no hook. “Do the rest of you have your exams?” Sister Rene requested and received the other three papers with the same large scarlet F in bold sharpie. After perusing them she showed Father Francis and pointed out some of the solutions. Sister Rene had a hint of a grin as they bowed head to head over the forensicality. “Are you going to deliberate?” Mr. Stewart demanded justice.

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“There’s one more person to speak on behalf of the students.” Gerard had a knowing smile on his face. He sensed it coming. Father Francis added his input. “I spoke with these very students as they left their exam and I stated it then and I feel the same now, they are the epitome of synergized effort. I wish more students worked together this well.” “They cheat well.” Mr. Stewart couldn’t hold back his outrage. “Sister Rene, shall we deliberate?” Father Francis rose from his seat. “We don’t need to. I’ll agree with your verdict.” She gleamed at the students. No hook at all. Father Francis sat and began, “Well, then, we’re sorry for wasting your time...” “This is an indignation.” Mr. Stewart was furious.

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“Mr. Stewart, you presented your case and it has not been close to sufficient. These students have not only done nothing wrong but something very right.” “Father Francis…” He tried to cut him off but whatever he meant to add wasn’t allowed. “I’m not going to punish them because they aced a test you intended to be impassable!” The priest recomposed himself. “Again, I would like to apologize for taking your time and for the false accusation. Something we have little tolerance for as well.” Father Francis walked them back to the hallway. “I never believed you two were the delinquents you pretended to be. And here’s the proof.” He said to Jim and Andy as he put one hand on Kate’s shoulder and the other on Greg’s. “Good job. And you too, Brad and Meg. Well done all of you.” He shook their hands and then the parents’. “Now if you can excuse me. It seems my day isn’t done.” Brian and Dave waited in the wings. “You’re cleared?” Brian looked at his friends and sister who were nodding. “Katie, let me call Chris.” Greg held out his hand for her phone. “I’m sure I’ll regret this.” She handed over her cell. Greg turned the volume up so Kate could hear both sides of the conversation. “Kate.” She heard Chris’ voice. “Not Katie.” Greg was clearly giddy.

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It rang in his tone and Chris picked it up. “You lucky bastard. You dodged another bullet?” “I don’t know why people keep shooting at me.” “Put Kate on the phone.” “Hi.” She hoped he wasn’t mad. “Of course it wouldn’t turn out to our benefit.” He was happy for them. “Sorry.” “Don’t be. I’m glad you were acquitted. How did you prove it?” “My grandpa, he teaches Physics here, he gave us math questions spur of the moment. It was going in our favor but that sealed the deal.” “Your whole family is some kind of different.” Chris complimented. “I gotta go.” “Thanks for calling.”

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Gerard told them later that Mr. Stewart was lucky he wasn’t fired and he was on probation. Sister Rene had seen that their work was not identical and they often worked out their problems using a different order of steps. Additionally, Mr. Stewart was told he had to come up with a plan to get the classes grades up. The students who needed extra points had three chances for ten more points each if they came to preclass lessons. The problems were much more in line with achievement test levels. Since Mr. Stewart gave such a hefty weight to the midterm, fifty percent of their grades, Greg, Brad and Meg had high B’s or low A’s for their semester grades. Mr. Stewart didn’t write any comments on their report cards.

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The Leak

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Baseball geared up and Greg spent a large time in practice with Brian, Dave and Brad. Claire had become a welcomed regular with Meg and Kate as they had more boy-free time on their hands. Stacey was as antagonistic as ever but she had finally aborted her pursuit of Greg. He was no longer a star on her virulent blog but rather a villain. Kate kept telling herself she should read it some day but she really didn’t care. She heard most of the worst libels through word of mouth. The first game of baseball was the second Saturday of February and the school was even more charged than they were when they played Santa Katrina in basketball. For the simple reason that they were the easy winner. Kate decided what she liked best about baseball was that there didn’t use cheerleaders. Eric and Matt came to the game along with all the parents and most of St. Iggy’s. They were an hour early. The teams were warming up. Greg looked great in his uniform. They all did but Kate only had eyes for Greg although she noticed Chris a little bit. Greg beckoned her to him with a head jerk and she ran up to the fence to talk. “Are you all pumped up?” She tried to sound like she understood sports. It was a nice effort but she fell short. “I’m in the zone.” He kissed her through the fence. “Nice hat.” Only Greg would think she looked good in a St. Iggy’s ball cap. “It’s for you.” He knew it. “You’re rooting for us, right?” He glanced over at Chris in the other dugout. “Yes. But will you hate me if I go over and say hi?” “You’ll have to kiss me again. I haven’t forgotten when you let go of my hand at the theater.” Kate struggled to recall what he meant. “You’re memory is too long.” She kissed him as agreed and ran off to see Chris. “Hey there gorgeous.” He greeted. “I won’t root for your school but I’ll cheer you on.” “I’ll take it. Do I get a kiss?” He waved his eyebrows at her. “It would only incite him to play harder.” “If I really thought you would do it, I’d take it.” He flashed a smile.

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She had forgotten how cute he was. “Are you going to behave or will I have to leave?”

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“Look who’s talking? Have you gotten into any trouble lately?” He put on a stern expression. “Nothing that’ll get Greg kicked out of school.” “Hey, I meant to ask you if you were at the Santa Barbara mall when that elevator mishap happened. The news said a girl was trapped in the elevator and since you were there, I assumed…” “It was me in the elevator.” Kate tried to work out what wasn’t right about that question when it hit her. “How did you know I was there?” “I was reading Stacey’s blog. It was all about us back then. How I took you to the dance and all that, remember?” “I never read it. It said I was at the mall? Before I was there?” “She had the inside scoop. She knew I was taking you to the dance before Auggie.” Kate wondered if that could be Gran’s mysterious font of knowledge. “Do me a favor. Tell me that your brother isn’t good at baseball.” He watched Brian walk out on the field looking every bit the baseball player that Greg and Chris did. “You wouldn’t believe me how well he can make the ball go where he wants.” She gave a sinister smile. “Good luck but not too much.” After her dismissal she went straight to Eric and Matt in the stands. “I just heard something interesting. Remember that girl that hates me.” “Is she here?” Matt asked. “Over there.” Kate indicated her nemesis with a subtle nod. “She’s hot.” Matt ogled. Kate glared at him. “I mean I can see where her talents lie.” Matt tried to recover. “Anyway, her nose is too big.” Kate rolled her eyes at his feeble attempt. “She has a blog and writes about me often. Talking about where I am going and who with.” Kate waited for them to do the deduction. “So.” Matt missed it. “Gran.” Eric stammered. “Could be how she finds me and not Mom.” Kate added.

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“You think she’s reading some high schooler’s on line bitch-fest?” Matt mulled it over. “Do you know the website?” “Meg does. I’ll get my laptop.” “Should we tell Mom and Dad?” Matt asked and they looked over to their parents who were in the stands with Andy and Jim seemingly carefree. “After.” Eric said. “Let’s see what we find.” It had been a while since their mother had smiled and he wasn’t going to wreck to it with little more than a hunch. Kate moseyed to the parking lot careful not to arouse suspicion. She neared a sports equipment shed when she heard something stir inside. Slowing she peered in the door instinctively wondering about the origin of the noise. Suddenly she was shoved inside and the door locked behind here. She couldn’t see much. The only light came in around the edges of the entrance and after being in the bright sun, it was severely deficient. She banged her fists for someone to let her out. “Can’t use your little trick when you’re locked up.” It was Gran. How could she get so close and Kate didn’t feel her? She sensed her then. “Let me out!” All the equipment started to raise and swirl in the room. Every rotation the gear sped up and without more light, she had a hard time ducking. She held up her arms and dodged the bombardment as best she could but there was too much. Sending a message was too hard when she kept swerving and ducking. A safety cone wacked her shoulder and then a baseball pelted her back. Everything was accelerating faster and faster. Something hard thumped the back of her head and she passed out. “Katie, wake up.” Greg held her in his arms as she lay on the floor surrounded by fallen debris. She blinked in the beam of sunshine that slanted into the shed through the open door. “Katie, I don’t know how long she’ll be out.” He pulled Kate to her feet and her head spun. It was too soon but they had to move and fast. She stepped over her grandmother’s motionless body on the ground by the shed. “I hit her with the bat.” Greg said as he steadied her shaky legs. Kate touched the bump on her own head. A bat probably hit her as well. They started walking back to the benches as her brothers and their parents ran over. Greg’s hands left her and he flew back slamming into the wall of the shed.

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“You’ve fighting a losing battle boy.” The old woman had woken. Greg moaned in pain as he lay against the wall. Gran tried to stop the family progress but Eric and Matt were preventing her. Then she started

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shaking her head. Greg was blacking out her vision. She ran off in the opposite direction with her arms stretched out and stumbling as she moved. When she was beyond Greg’s range she moved quicker and in a beeline. “Are you all right?” Kate kneeled by Greg. “I’m not going to hit well for a while.” He twisted his back trying to find the sore spots. “She’s gotten more brazen.” Ron panted when they approached. “She’s found a way to go undetected.” Ron didn’t know how but she had fooled Sandy that time and after Gerard, she had the most talent in the arena. Greg stood up stretching his body. “Can you play?” Andy’s concern for the sport was never completely sidetracked. “It’s only an exhibition game.” “Yeah. I need an Advil to keep my muscles from getting stiff.” “I’ll get one.” He was about to go to his car. “Is she gone?” “I think so.” Sandy said doubting herself. “Just checking.” “You aren’t looking for the corked bat are you?” Chris had come to the shed. “What the hell happened here?” The equipment was strewn all over the room. “Kate was attacked.” Eric said. “Greg scared them off.” “Are you guys okay?” “He got slammed against the wall.” Kate answered forgetting her own bump. “Can you play?” Chris worried. “Enough to beat you.” It was the aches that made Greg snap. Chris rolled his eyes. He didn’t need to explain to Greg that wouldn’t qualify as a win. “Yeah, yeah, but in the scope of things, this doesn’t count in the season.” “Sorry. I’m a little grouchy.” Both of his hands were on the small of his back.

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“Here you go.” Andy returned with Advil and water. “Kate, you should take some too. You were unconscious for a minute.” “You’re hurt?” Chris spun to Kate. “It’s a mild throbbing.” Kate swallowed her dose. “You have some kind of bad luck.” Chris noted. She smiled pathetically. He had no idea. “Hey guys.” Chris said to Eric and Matt. “You know the brute squad.” Greg took another long drink of water. Eric smiled at the description. Matt was pleased to hear it as well. “Sure. They were guest chaperones for my school dance. Pushed Kate into the pool.” Chris shook his head. “Oh yeah. I had heard about that. They take some getting use to.” Greg wondered how they didn’t scare Chris off with their bizarre behavior and cockamamie excuse. “This is Ron and Sandy, Kate’s other parents.” Jim finished off the introductions. “Hi.” Chris shook their hands. “So Brian, are you any good at baseball?” “I’m better at basketball.” He admitted. “That leaves a lot of room. Make sure you pick up his slack.” He nodded to Greg and got the bases from the shed and went back to the field. “He’s a nice boy.” Sandy commented. “He doesn’t know about all this?” “No Mom.” Kate answered. “So how is she finding you?” Ron asked. “We haven’t confirmed,” Eric answered, “but a girl at their school keeps a blog and Kate is one of her favorite subjects to harp on.” “Still, we should have sensed her sooner.” Matt stared at Kate as she held her bump. Sandy’s face broke into a revelation. “Ron, remember the other night when you scared me.” “When you were reading that thriller? I didn’t mean to startle you.” “But you were in the room before I knew you were there. I didn’t sense you approaching.” Sandy didn’t think much of it at the time.

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“You’re right. Must be something subtle I never thought about. That narrows down reaction time quite a bit.” Ron worried. “At least I can tell when you leave.” Sandy added. “Well, I have a question about that old hag.” Greg was frustrated. “I hit her pretty darn hard at the mall and today I went for the fence on her head and she wasn’t out for a full minute.” “I thought about that after last time. Perhaps the telekinesis builds us up over the years. We get tougher. Did you see her run? That wasn’t the pace of a sixty plus woman.” Ron hated to think Gran had more advantages. “Are you sure your father can’t get her under control.” Jim brought up the same question. Sandy looked oddly at Ron. “He called him a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t go well.” “What did he say?” Eric wanted specifics. “He said that she was beyond reason, which we know. I said that we were going to do our best to defend ourselves, whatever that would take. He wished me luck but he expects her to be victorious.” Ron informed the group. “We out number her and we have more skills.” Matt didn’t like the answer. No one did. “She’s toying with us. She’ll take it farther and never give up. She taunts Kate because she doesn’t care about her and it will hurt Sandy if she…” He didn’t say the word. “She wants Sandy to pay. Dad confirmed it.” Ron’s head hung as he was the harbinger of more dreadful news. “Find out about this website.” Sandy pointed to the twins. “We’ll set up a trap. I’ll be the bait.” “No!” Her children obstreperously shouted. “It’s me or Kate. I’m older, it’s my turn and I owe her for Sara.” Sandy had that same fierce look she had on her face at the funeral. Not the same, more poisonous. “We’ll work it out later. If we can’t know if she’s coming, we can at least choose the place and narrow the timing.” “We have to get back.” Greg hit Brian’s shoulder. The twins grabbed Kate. “Let’s get your laptop.” “And have Brad’s dad look at Kate’s head. He’s a doctor.” Greg shouted back as they ran to the dugout.

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Meg gave the twins the website and they surfed the web while Kate got a quick exam from Brad’s father. “That’s quite a bump. How did you get it?” “Just unlucky.” “If it starts to hurt again, take more aspirin and you may want to wake up a couple of times in the night. It’s just a precaution.” He tugged down her lower eyelids as he moved his finger for her to follow. “Thanks.” Greg got to bat. Kate could see he was stiff compared to practice. Two balls flew past him as he swung a split second too late or too slow. Chris grimaced seeing Greg struggle at bat. He really was a nice guy. Greg hit the next ball. It was a line drive just out of reach of the second baseman. He was safe on first and one run scored. “That looked harder than normal.” Jim winced. “He’s going to make it worse just to beat Santa Katrina.” Andy didn’t want Greg to overdo it. “You did the same if I recall.” “Yeah, but he’s smarter than me.” “You play dumb.” Jim raised a brow denoting that he knew the truth. Eric and Matt read the blog and got more irritated by the minute. Apparently it was devoted to school gossip and ninety-five percent was about Kate. They rummaged in the archives to see if there were hints Gran could have followed. “Why are they reading Stacey’s blog?” Meg asked in a distant tone. “You don’t want to know.” Kate assured her. “Kate, they aren’t interested in her lunatic fantasy. What’s going on?” “I can’t tell you.” “Does this have something to do with the anger management problem your family has?” Meg was irked feeling left out. “Sort of. And if you knew, you would be surprised how well we suppress it.” Kate wondered how Meg would take it if she knew half the things they had to overcome the last few months. “That bitch.” Matt grunted. “We were with them the whole time. That didn’t happen.” They excavated the section after the semiformal. Stacey had accused Kate of sleeping with Chris.

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“Shit. Right there. She’s talking about it weeks ahead.” Eric was incensed. “Go to the Saturday before Christmas.” Matt pointed at the screen.

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Eric fervently typed a staccato on the keyboard. Kate hoped he wouldn’t break it. The enter key was already sticking too often and Apple technology was no match to his temper and telekinesis. Chris was at bat. He let the first pitch pass to get a feel. The second pitch was perfect and he swung hard. It flew out to centerfield. Brian sprinted for the fence. Kate didn’t think he would use mental assistance but she figured he wouldn’t be able to with her watching. Brian hopped up grabbing the fence with his right hand and stretched to catch the ball. He was out. Chris was half way past second when he slowed down. He glanced up at Kate shaking his head. She shrugged. “Sorry.” She mouthed. “You’re over him, aren’t you?” Meg scrutinized Kate. “We’re friends.” “Good. Now, we’ll talk about this.” She pointed back to the twins. “We can do it now or later.” “Never.”

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Greg was up at bat again. He was still shaking out his aches as he walked from the deck to home plate. As he stood ready to swing Kate couldn’t help think about how handsome he was. There was something about baseball player arms that was irresistible, all of them really, but Greg was at bat and his arms were accentuated. Matt was right. She did have a thing for baseball players. Greg swung at the first pitch and it flew over right field fence. He jogged the bases at a leisurely pace. Chris gave him a pat on the back with his gloved hand as he passed. “Good thing Greg’s hitting well after all.” Meg said. “Yeah. I was worried but he’s doing great.” Kate froze. Meg didn’t know he was injured. “Who did he hit with a bat?” Meg asked directly. “Can you see things?” Kate replayed the facts in her head looking for the answer. “Not through you.” “Through Greg?” “When he writes it down.” He wouldn’t do that. And he didn’t have time. “What did you see?” “I’ll tell you my secret if you tell me yours.” Kate glanced around. No one was listening but her family surrounded them and it wasn’t a safe place for a private talk. “Later. After you go to sleep. Don’t freak out.” “I’ll wait for your call.” “Go to sleep like normal. If you’re up it won’t work.” She whispered. St. Iggy’s won the game by one run. It was slimmer win than predicted but the school spirit was high regardless. Brad threw a party but Greg had to pass to take care of his back. Meg and Dave went without Kate and Brian. They gathered at Andy’s house where Greg could lie down on the couch while they convened. “Stacey had it all out there before it happened, the bitter bitch.” Eric fumed. He probably wouldn’t hit a girl but he had to be thinking about it. “So do we believe this is Gran’s source?” Sandy asked.

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“It’s the likeliest candidate.” Ron replied. It seemed like a strange place for Gran to get

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information but it was the only leak they uncovered and it explained why she found Kate and not Sandy. “Shall we hack in and add an entry?” Brian was good at computers and it would be an easy wall to breach. “Stacey might shut it down if she thinks it’s compromised.” Matt hypothesized. “I can leak it to her during tennis.” Kate was sure it wouldn’t take much chatter for something to make the daily entry. Sandy nodded. “I have a great idea, something that would be too enticing for her to miss.” She had everyone’s attention. “Ron and I are going to renew our vows. Well, renew them legally but really, we aren’t married so we’re setting things straight. We get that on the blog and she’ll come.” “She won’t be able to resist even out numbered.” Ron said. “Good idea.” “The kids won’t really be there. Only adults.” Sandy clarified. “We will.” Matt wasn’t going to miss the action. Brian, Kate and Greg started a joint protest. “She’s right.” Andy backed Sandy. “No kids.” Brian sent Kate and Greg a mental memo. We’ll see about that. The parents started ironing out the plan. They decided Gerard’s house would be a good location for the mock wedding. The kids would stay together at one of their houses a mile away. In the end, Eric and Matt convinced Sandy they were old enough. It helped that their skills were well developed. They chose the first Saturday in April. It would be set up for a small wedding. The real wedding would take place the night before. The adults moved on to Ron’s house to finish up their plans. “This is bunk.” Brian whined. “We should stick together. If something goes wrong, she’ll come here next anyway.” Greg stared at the ceiling as he reclined. “We’ll figure it out when the time is closer. We’ll get there.” Kate helped Greg to his bed and kissed him congratulations on his victory and another for saving her life again. Then a few extras for the pure enjoyment of it.

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Zuzu was happy to see her home. She followed Kate around her room as she prepared for bed. Kate was in the mist again waiting for her friend. Meg walked in slowly. She looked around. Everyone realized it wasn’t the usual dream when they first experienced a shared dream and Meg was sharper than most. The heads up probably helped. “I didn’t believe you when you said to go to sleep. It sounded like you were brushing me off.” Meg admitted. “It’s a family talent. I got it from Jim and my brothers seem to be learning it from me.” Kate told her. “Brian can do this?” “He’s getting there. The twins have an advantage. They learn twice as fast because they learn off each other. Just halves their time and doubles their skills.” “So this is a real conversation?” “We’ll both remember it in the morning. And here.” Kate picked up a note and wrote, “it really did happen on it.” “Keep this. You’ll find it in your room when you wake up. Meg stared at the paper in awe. “We tell all?” “You first.” Kate wanted to reveal as little as possible and would work around what Meg had figured out. “Well, you know how Greg can read what you write?” Kate nodded so Meg went on. “Well, Dave and I can too. We aren’t as good. We get the notes but Greg can see more sometimes.” “But he can’t hear what people are saying.” Greg was confused when he saw things without hearing the dialogue that went with the image. “No. He can’t. And my father can’t at all even though he’s Andy’s brother. He said when he was younger it happened a couple of times and he didn’t like it. He had seen his girlfriend cheating on him and he just hated it after that. It was bad enough to find out she wasn’t faithful but like that was too much.” Kate remembered when Greg saw Chris standing close ready to kiss her. She wouldn’t take that well if it was Greg with some girl and that was only kissing. “That’d kill the urge all right.” “Grandma thinks it’s because of him that our skills are softer. She says use or lose it.”

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It was true. Sandy had gotten rusty from disuse. She was regaining ground but it took some effort to reignite the flame. Meg took a deep breath. “Well, Grandma has another skill, one that seems to skip the men in our family. She can hear things from far away when she knows where to aim.” Meg didn’t know if aim was the right word. “Dad and Uncle Andy knew she was onto them more than most parents but they didn’t know how she did it. During Christmas when we were down in San Diego, it started with me, probably because Grandma was there. She says men don’t get it because men don’t listen.” She giggled at her joke. “So do you hear a lot of background buzz all the time?” “Not really. It takes something to call my direction to it and I heard a cacophony of banging this afternoon. I couldn’t make out what it was and then I heard a hard whack and Greg was talking to you. He said he hit someone with all his force but she didn’t stay down.” Kate raised her eyebrows. Meg had gotten an earful. She tried to spin a tale that would cover up the whole truth. “And I heard Chris say your brothers were at the Santa Katrina dance and threw you in a pool.” She was disgusted. She liked the twins enough but she still had memories of them being overprotected when her brother had been trying to make Kate’s acquaintance. “That’s what they told him.” Kate laughed. “They didn’t throw me in.” “And the elevator. I heard Chris asking you about an elevator and telling you about the blog. I may have been trying to listen then.” She held her face down in shame. She had been checking that Kate wasn’t flirting with Chris. “Damn.” Kate exclaimed. Meg had learned too much to give a partial story. “Who knows besides your grandmother about your hearing?” “You.” “How do you feel about telling Greg and my brothers?” “Not the twins.” Meg didn’t trust them. They were too calculating and too powerful to execute their whims that seemed completely irrationally driven in Meg’s opinion. “It’s the only way you’ll be let into the inner circle.” After a minute of pouting Meg said, “Fine.”

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“Good. They’ll have to decide what to tell you.” Brian walked into the door surprised to see Meg. “Now? We’re telling them now?” Meg jumped up off the bed. Brian gave her a hug. “What’s up?” Eric and Matt were next. They eyed Meg in Brian’s arms. “Geez, Kate, who haven’t you told.” Matt accused. “I haven’t said anything but you need to hear what she knows.” “I knew you were hiding something.” Greg pointed at Meg as he entered the dream. Eric gave a moment pause to be impressed. “You’re getting really good at this Kate.” “Thanks.” She put her hand on Meg’s arm. “You have to tell them.” Meg repeated her story about being able to hear conversations far away. She skipped the joke about why the men in her family didn’t get it. “Brilliant.” Matt said. “Kate, can you pick that up?” “We’re best friends. It won’t be a problem.” Kate lifted her shoulders as if it was old hat. Meg beamed when Kate labeled her as best friend. “I am. You can learn this?” “She can do all kinds of crazy stuff.” Greg bragged.

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“Then you teach us and we can use that at the wedding.” Matt liked the idea of hearing from far away. Kate wondered if the twins could learn the seemingly female gift. Meg’s eyes darted to Greg and Kate. “Who’s getting married?” Kate started waving her arms in the air for everyone to slow down. “Wait, a second. WE are not getting married.” “I’ll tell you everything.” Brian was about to start from the top. “We can’t tell all our dates about this stuff.” Eric protested. “She’s too close. She needs to know.” Brian barked back. He was the most passive of the brothers but only because he didn’t have to take the first stand. When push came to shove, he was ready to take on anyone, twins included. Kate felt the same way when she told Greg. “Think about it. Maybe there’s a reason your girlfriend didn’t get thrown against a tool shed today.” Eric’s caution carried a lot of weight.

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“Is that how you got hurt?” Meg stared at Greg. “Yep.” Greg nodded. “Still want in?” Eric dared her. “Eric, settle down.” Matt took command. “We’re all connected by our relationships. The

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stronger the bound the more responsive each part is to another. When one gets pulled, it sends out a ripple affect and we all feel it. Meg is in this from two sides.” It was true for anyone but their empathy made it even truer. “Three.” Kate said. “More if you count Jim and Andy.” Brian added. Eric flung himself on the bed in annoyance. “Go ahead. I see I’m out voted.” “Your so diplomatic.” Brian remarked and then updated Meg on everything. “Your grandmother tried to kill you?” Meg was astounded by the news. “Well, Stacey wasn’t really that good of an enemy so I upgraded.” Kate joked so easily she surprised herself. “And it’s her blog that’s tipping this lady off? And I thought I was too harsh on her. Next time you want to hit her, I won’t stop you.” “Good.” Greg smiled. Matt kicked Eric’s foot. “Stop mopping you drama queen.” Eric sat up trying to snap out of his funk. “How’s the back tough guy?” “Better.” Greg stretched checking for tender spots. There were a few but he’d live. “I hear kissing really makes that kind of injury worse.” Eric grinned. “I promised not to do that anymore.” “Please, you broke that months ago.” “Can we go now or do you want to pull in Marie and tell her everything too?” Matt stood up. Kate had forgotten about Marie. Eric had just met her before Thanksgiving but it was clear he was captivated. “I would if I ever met her.” Part of Kate was eager to meet the woman that had captured Eric’s heart but part of her didn’t feel as positive after so many months. Why would Eric keep her from Kate if he had true feelings?

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“Kate, I haven’t met her.” Matt glared at Eric. That was a shocking statement from either twin. “Once I learn she’s bionic, then we can do that.” Eric winked. Kate gave him a reprimanding look.

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“We haven’t even gone out. I hadn’t seen her for months.” He smacked the back of Matt’s head with his palm. “Why are you stirring up trouble?” “That’s what we do little brother.” Matt evoked his birthright. “Ten minutes older. That’s all.” Eric hated when Matt played the oldest child card. The twins left. “I knew something big was happening but this is really BIG.” Meg’s eyes were wide opened. “Yep and we’re going to use Stacey to help us set a trap. We’ll talk about my parents wedding in tennis class.” “Sure.” She was glad to help.

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School was school. The midterms were behind them and the finals were far away. Baseball was going well as St. Iggy’s swept through the season undefeated. Mr. Stewart tried harder to break through his arcane communication barrier with his students. His job and possibly career was on the line if the whole class didn’t start comprehending his subject and fast. Philosophy was more charged than ever as the students built a reference to earlier idealisms they studied. They were reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was a Russian novel about three brothers; a sinful brother that believed in God, an atheist brother and one that was a monk. The tome was slightly smaller than the Bible. About two hundred and fifty pages in, and still more than two thirds to go, they came to a parable told by the atheist brother to the monk called The Grand Inquisitor. In it, Jesus returns to Earth during the Inquisition and the people recognize Him by His miracles. An inquisitor arrests Him and pronounces they will burn Him to death the next day. The inquisitor proceeds to tell Jesus off. He accuses Him of making it too hard to choose free will and that humans are bound by their sins. The only comfort the Church can give them is to keep them from the realization they will go to hell. The inquisitor states that people were going to suffer regardless and the Church eases their pain by keeping them ignorant of the fact and fooling them into believing they will pass on to heaven. The bulk of the story is spent on the Inquisitor’s speech while Jesus merely listens. After he finished his tirade he asks for Jesus to respond expecting the worse. Jesus kisses the inquisitor who then releases Him and tells Him not to return. “What are you thoughts on this chapter, Mr. Thomas?” Sister Rene asked Brian. “It’s a parallel to the brother who is telling it and the brother listening to it. Ivan, the atheist, is narrating to Alyosha, the monk. Even in the text when Alyosha kisses his brother in response to hearing the parable Ivan accuses him of plagiarism.” “That line always makes me laugh.” Nuns had a weird sense of humor. “And what of the inquisitor?”

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“Well, it’s insight to Ivan.” Brad took up the train of thought. “He professes to be agnostic, that he knows there’s a God and that He’s good but that Ivan will not submit to Him. That he trusts his own rationalizations rather than Biblical teaching even though he knows Jesus is God.” “The kiss grows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his ideas.” Sister Rene read from the text in confirmation. Kate added, “And it showed that Jesus loved him. The kiss kind of trumps it all. He didn’t defend Himself even facing death by burning and after being crucified, I’d have to think He wasn’t too keen to endure another capital punishment. He still loved the inquisitor.” “It’s like Nietzsche.” Greg pitched in. “And his Master-Servant morality. The inquisitor has good intentions, which is good in servant morality, but wrong actions, which is bad in master morality. Jesus’ kiss is good in both. And it got Him out of getting burned to death.” The class laughed. “Excellent point. Go on.” “It also shows the conviction of the inquisitor. He claimed to be on the side of reason but his heart made the final choice. He let Jesus go free.” “Love usually wins in a battle against wits. And in the end he did the right thing rather than follow the wrong right intentions.” “Why murder Him again anyways? It didn’t stick the last time.” Brad questioned and there was an outburst of snickering. “It would be overkill.” Sister Rene couldn’t resist the blatant pun. Kate walked out of class thinking about her mother’s decision to take her sister’s place. It been done with good intentions but not with right action. In the end, she corrected her path and things were better for it. The family was happier. Things, aside from her murderous grandmother, were improved. There were still two weeks until the wedding and Kate and Meg had it on their list of things to do to talk about it in the locker room before tennis. “So, my parents are renewing their vows.” Kate began. “Your mom and step-dad Ron?” Meg followed their rehearsed script.

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“That’s right, in two Saturdays at my grandfather’s house. They eloped last time and they just wanted to have a proper ceremony with us there. They went through some hard times and this is a declaration that they are more in love than ever despite it.”

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They could hear Stacey giggling on the other side of the locker. The seed was planted. What they weren’t prepared for was hearing her every word in reaction to the news. Even in her muffled whispers, Kate and Meg heard clearly. “It must be hard to choose which child’s father to marry.” Stacey delighted in the slanderous news. “I’ll hold her down.” Meg whispered ready to keep her promise. “I have a better idea.” Kate winked at her. They walked out of the locker room refraining from eavesdropping to keep their tempers in check and were the first on the court. Kate asked Coach Evans who she was partnered with that day. “Since you’re first here, you choose.” “Stacey. I haven’t played her in ages and I want to see if I still can beat her.” Kate played innocent. “I don’t know. Wasn’t there some commotion over it later?” He had doubts about letting them play but a rematch was intriguing. “She isn’t a good loser.” Kate didn’t think she was very good winner either. When Stacey came up she was pleased that they were playing. She wanted to reclaim her champion title. “Keep it on the court this time.” Coach Evans warned her. Neither girl had played that hard for a while. Kate was up five games to three when it was Stacey’s turn to serve. Stacey was quickly up by two points. The class would be out in fifteen minutes. “Try to serve a fast ball, it gives me more to work with on my returns.” Kate heckled. Coach Evans was busy two courts down helping out another match. “You’re a freak!” Stacey spat too loudly but the coach didn’t hear. She bounced the ball a couple of times and poised herself for a perfect serve. As anticipated by Kate, she used her unnatural gift. Her moves were inhumanly fast. Kate didn’t return it.

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Stacey’s face was elated. She hadn’t figured why her skills were hampered in tennis but she wasn’t going to complain if they returned during a match against Kate.

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Kate gave her a devilish wink. It was another powerful delivery. Meg and Claire stopped their game and watched. “Good game.” Kate called out. “My serve.” Stacey didn’t mind. She was back in full force. Kate hit her best ace but Stacey was there to return it for the point. “Love fifteen.” Kate jauntily bounded over to the other side of the court and served another great serve that was returned. They got a rally going and Stacey was all over the court. Kate barely won the point and almost unwillingly stopped the speed demon. “Pick it up.” Coach Evans called. “Time to go home.” Kate started gathering the balls to put them away for the day. “You’re leaving?” Stacey hissed wanting to finish what they started. Kate put on an angelic face, “Can’t today. I have a date with Greg.” It was Thursday and they still had their regular math study. Meg ran up to her on the way to change. “What was that?” “I’ll explain after study group.” Stacey stormed in the locker room. “We play again tomorrow.” She pointed her manicured finger at Kate. “Unless you’re chicken.” “Sure, we’ll play.” Kate was nonchalant. “I’ll beat her tomorrow. You can put money on it.” Stacey vowed to Allison. Study group ended early because Brad had to go home for a family function. As soon as the door closed behind him Meg turned expectantly to Kate. “What?” Greg asked mimicking her expression without knowing why. “Kate played Stacey in tennis today. And at the end Stacey started playing, well, sometimes she plays really fast.” “She has a talent for speed.” Kate informed Meg. “A talent like our talents but for speed.” “That’s how she wins and how she couldn’t beat you, because you stop it.” Kate nodded.

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“If you can stop it why let her use it today?” Greg understood. “Because Katie can’t learn it if she doesn’t use it in front of her.” “Did you learn it?” Meg asked. Kate snatched Meg’s pen across the table in the blink of an eye.

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Greg leaned over and kissed her. “Have I mentioned lately that you are the best girlfriend ever?” “Not since math midterms.” “It won’t go so long next time.” “And I’m not going to let her win tomorrow.” Kate smiled. “Are you going to stop her or use that or both?” “Just stop her. She doesn’t need to know I purloined from her.” “You may feel differently if she blogs. She’s going to be nasty for sure.” “Then a bonus. We need Gran to show up.” That was the plan but Kate dreaded what Stacey would write. “Why do you still call her Gran?” Meg asked. “What’s her first name?” “Grania. She goes by Gran for short.” Kate woke up in her misty room in her PE clothes. It was a first but she figured given the information she wanted to convey, it made sense. Eric walked in moments later. “It’s better than the plaid.” He said when he saw her shorts. “I learned a new trick today.” Kate smiled. “What? From who?” “Speed from Stacey.” “You’re brilliant.” He gave her a hug. “Okay, let me have it.” It didn’t take Eric long to pick up the knack. He was even faster than Kate. They guessed it was because of his natural telekinesis. The gifts had similar feels about them.

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As promised, Kate won tennis the next day. Stacey was irate that whatever had gone wrong to stop her talent had returned. Kate hoped the truth didn’t cross her mind. All the thoughts she had on the court were the usual derisive kind – no sign of revelation. Stacey was silent in the locker room after class. They accepted that as a fringe benefit. That night Eric read the blog. It was particularly acidic but it had all the details they needed peppered through her aspersions. Stacey made it sound like their mother was a tramp. Greg and Kate met Brian and Meg at the pier on Saturday to walk around and grab a bite to eat. It was a gloomy day and off-season for beachgoers so there weren’t many people out and about. It was all locals and predominately teens. Stacey and Allison were trolling for men. Chris and Auggie ran into their group a little after they saw her and Greg gave them a heads up on Stacey. The Santa Katrina boys left in the opposite direction. “I don’t know how you can be so calm about her when she wrote those vulgar things.” Meg found the blog entry beyond distasteful. “We kind of have bigger fish to fry.” Brian said. “And we did learn a neat trick from her.” Meg hadn’t been able to pick up tricks but Greg and Brian took to the speed talent without much difficulty. “She gets under my skin.” Meg confessed. “Ignore her. She isn’t worth it.” Greg offered up. Meg bobbed her head. “Yeah, yeah.” It was easy for the boys to be diplomatic. They hadn’t picked up the hearing gift and Kate and Meg had caught more than they wanted on how wretched they were. And there was a long soliloquy on how much happier Greg would’ve been with Stacey and the litany of reasons why, many of which involved no clothes. Claire and Lindsay were at the pier too. They were watching the waters for dolphins and whales with good luck. Meg and Kate joined them while Greg and Brian went into a store that specialized in

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sports memorabilia. It was small potatoes compared to the one at the Santa Barbara mall but it was there and the girls weren’t interested. “If it isn’t some of biggest losers from school.” Stacey and Allison walked over to ridicule them. “I hear your mother is remarrying your stepfather.” Kate kept her cool by reminding herself she needed the blog no matter how uncouth it was. “Thanks for the warm wishes. It’s next Saturday. We’re all really happy about it.” She wanted to repeat the details they wanted to be posted. “But it’s Brian’s father so you’re still a bastard.” Kate grimaced. Her friends tensed. She hoped that Stacey would speak her mind and leave. “Did that offend you? It is a legitimate word for an illegitimate child.” “Come on Kate.” Claire tried to steer their group out of the line of fire. “She’s jealous because she can’t beat you at tennis.” “She cheats. Just like in math. I heard Mr. Sanchez threatened to leave if they didn’t acquit her. We all know the truth. She’s as innocent as OJ.” Stacey was getting out months of bottled up frustration in one afternoon. Kate’s fist was clenched. She recalled the motion Eric showed her in head in case she lost control and needed to strike. She was on her last nerve and if Stacey didn’t move on she was going to blow. She was already blocking Stacey’s speed in case things came to another bout. They weren’t at school and she wasn’t going to hold back a second time. Jim told her to pick her battles and grounds better. Off campus was better. “I mean, Brad couldn’t outscore Jeff in math, could he?” Stacey just wasn’t going to stop, not with the splendid reactions she was getting in return. Kate closed her eyes willing Stacey away. Wouldn’t that make a great talent? “Did they sleep with you for your help? Greg and Brad? Was it all at once or each separately?” SMACK! Kate opened her eyes. She hadn’t moved. But on the ground was Stacey blubbering and holding her nose, a steady stream of blood flowing. “You hit me.” Stacey accused. Meg’s body was trembling. Her fist opened and closed from the sting of impact.

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“You hit her first.” Claire piped up and eyed Lindsay to do the same. “You threw the first punch.” She immediately echoed as prompted. They were alone in the corner of the pier. The only other people in sight were Greg and Brian who were running over. Surely Brian saw if Greg didn’t. Allison was on the deck by Stacey’s side. “She hit her without provocation.”

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They may have been fibbing about the first punch but that was a bigger lie. Kate and Claire shot Allison blistering glares. She recoiled and tended to Stacey’s nose. Greg grabbed Kate around her waist as he arrived at the scene of the crime. “Are you okay?” Brian had Meg in his palliative arms. “Is she okay? I’m the one that was hit.” Stacey was infuriated. “Did you hit her?” Greg’s blue eyes pierced Kate’s, as she shook her head no. He was confused. Brian caught his attention and darted his eyes at Meg to let Greg know who struck. Greg gave a quick glance to his cousin who was still rickety. His confusion transformed to outright shock. “Stacey threw the first punch. That was what I remember.” Claire echoed. “That’s a lie. She was just shooting off her mouth.” Allison changed her story to the truth but it wouldn’t be enough. The conspiracy was set. They already had a proven record of starting fights and claiming they didn’t. The truth would die there. “Well, it’s over now. Why don’t we all walk away and forget about it?” Greg tried to diffuse the situation. “I’m pressing charges.” Stacey sounded nasally as she held her nose to stop the bleeding. She was leaning up against the railing, Allison at her side. “It’s your word against ours.” Brian reminded her with a wicked grin. “No one is pressing charges.” Greg said moderately. It took a lot of self-restraint. “The hell I’m not!” Stacey shrieked. Meg finally spoke. “She called Kate a bastard and then she said Mr. Sanchez threatened to quit if they didn’t say we didn’t cheat and then she said Brad and you both slept with Kate to get her help on Math.”

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Seconds passed as the boys absorbed in the new information. Kate’s empathy was picking up

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uncharted levels of anger. Brian and Greg were exerting total self-control to stop their eruptions. Slowly Brian’s temper diminished. Greg’s ebbed but only slightly. “Leave now.” Greg whispered. “I’m pressing charges.” Stacey’s soft voice trembled. “Leave!” Greg growled. “Now!” “Come on Stacey.” Allison wasn’t going to wait and see how much fuse was left on Greg. She walked Stacey back to the populated areas of the pier. They stood still. Everyone expected Greg to blow. Brian wasn’t far behind him but he was too busy sedating Meg with his embrace to let his rage flare. “Tell me again, what she said that made you hit her.” Greg asked besieged. “If I may.” Kate interrupted. “I would like it noted that neither Brian or I lost our tempers here. Our family has to get a merit for that. You guys dock us every time we lose it.” Greg’s smile broke through his anger. “And Eric? If he were here?” “Well, we would need a better alibi for sure.” “And a place to hide the body.” Brian added with a sinister laugh. “Let’s invite Eric next time.” Greg’s temper vanished.

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Jim was barbequing when Kate got home. Ellen was in the kitchen fixing the salad and setting the table. Zuzu scurried around her feet. The cat was trying to comfort Ellen. There wasn’t a telling sign in Ellen’s appearance that anything was off but Zuzu was never wrong. The phone rang and Kate picked it up. Matt was looking for Eric. Telling him she hadn’t seen their brother, she hung up and stared at the cat again. “I didn’t know you were coming over for dinner.” She forced a sanguine demeanor as she tested the waters with Ellen. “Aren’t I welcome here?” She meant it as a joke but it had a sharp edge to it. “Always.” Kate picked up Zuzu still getting a strange vibe. The cat didn’t even squirm to be put down and she didn’t like being held. “So, what’s going on?” Kate tried a more direct approach to get Ellen to open up. She trusted Zuzu’s instincts. “Just dinner. Why?” Ellen turned and saw the cat in Kate’s arms. “Stupid tattle tale cat.” “What’s wrong?” “Just a disagreement.” Kate watched Jim cooking on the grill. “About?” It was like pulling teeth. “He doesn’t want me at the wedding and I should be there. He says they don’t need Dr. Doolittle’s help, like he can do anything better. What good is he if they’re all awake?” Kate laughed. It was true. Jim wasn’t much help when things got metaphysical. She considered letting Ellen into the kids’ plan to crash the wedding. She couldn’t. There was no guarantee Ellen wouldn’t rat them out the way Zuzu had just ratted her out. “He doesn’t want you getting hurt. It’s the same with Brian and me.” “Andy is going.” Another fine example of an ill-equipped paranormal skill for certain battle. “And he’s a chauvinist pig. Makes you wonder what kind of mother he had.” Kate teased. “Are you talking about me?” Jim balanced a plate of food in his hand as he closed the patio door. “Ears burning are they?” Ellen delivery was frosty. “I suppose she has told you her grievance.” Kate put Zuzu on the floor. “The cat let it out of the bag.”

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“Now the cat is spying on me.” He faked a mad face at Zuzu. Ellen put the salad on the table with a sudden drop.

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They ate without a word. Kate cleared the table when they were done. She put the leftovers in the fridge, rinsed off the plates and started the dishwasher. Ellen disappeared in her art studio and Jim watched television. Kate felt like a parent with bickering kids. A sudden image flashed in her mind. It was a piece of paper with Greg’s handwriting on it. “Kate, come over if you can.” And then it was ripped out of its notepad and tossed in the trashcan. Greg wasn’t as good at telepathy. “Dad, I’m going over to Greg’s.” “Didn’t you spend the whole day with him?” Jim was cranky from his spat with Ellen. “It’s a more peaceful environment.” She went to the backyard and walked into Greg’s house. It was easier that way. Greg and Eric were watching the same game as Jim. “I told you I didn’t want to see her?” Eric snapped. “I can’t keep her away. She must have a crush on me. I don’t do anything to encourage it.” Greg pretended to be blameless. “I can go home.” Kate offered. “No. Stay.” Eric didn’t mind it wasn’t his home to extend an invitation. Kate sat down by Eric. “What’re you doing here?” “Hiding. I couldn’t think of anywhere else Matt wouldn’t come and bother me.” “Oh, that makes sense except that you and Matt don’t bother each other, everyone else, but not each other.” Kate scoffed. “I suppose there isn’t somewhere to go where no one will bother me.” Eric huffed. What happened? She tried to reach Greg’s mind to bypass Eric’s foul mood. I don’t know. He didn’t tell me that part. Greg answered mentally. “I’m not an idiot.” Eric could tell they were having a silent discussion. “We’ll stop.” Kate said. Curiosity was building but she would give him room. He wanted to talk and he would. He wasn’t patient and although that was often a contentious deficit, it was going to keep her wait short.

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“It’s Marie.” Eric whispered. “They were kissing.”

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He had to mean Matt and Marie. Kate didn’t think a woman could come between them. They had their rule of course but even without one it seemed implausible. “I’m sorry.” “I don’t want your pity. I wish I wasn’t a twin.” “You do not. You love Matt.” “Not today.” He fumed. “Are you sure about this? That doesn’t sound like Matt.” Kate knew her brothers well and they could take things farther than comfort but they had their perimeters. “I saw it with my own eyes. I had to. He blocked out any connection we usually have.” “He called looking for you.” Kate hadn’t notice anything odd in Matt’s voice on the phone. They were proficient liars and she was a gullible fool. The very fact that Matt didn’t know where Eric was a telltale warning and she had missed it at the time. “That was why I didn’t go to your house. He wouldn’t expect me to come here.” Greg’s house had to be on the short list if he didn’t take a car. She didn’t mention it. “He already checked my house if you want to come over. You can stay the night.” “He’ll be there in the morning.” “I’ll tell him to go away until things cool down.” Kate would be there for Eric until it passed. He turned to Greg. “You want your house back?” “I meant it when I said you could stay here. I just thought you needed to talk to Katie.” Kate. She heard Brian’s voice in her head. Are you with Eric? Yes. He’s extremely upset. She answered back hoping Eric wouldn’t catch on she was talking to Brian. Matt is going nuts. It’s not what he thinks. Brian tried to present the other side. Tell Matt he has to wait. I promised Eric. Kate replied back. Kate took Eric to her house and asked Jim if he could stay for a while. Jim didn’t ask questions but he had them. He was still too annoyed with Ellen to pry into new arguments. Sandy dropped in searching for Eric. Matt must have told them everything at home because she knew what was upsetting him. “Come home.” She pleaded.

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“I came over to get some space. Can’t I have space for once in my life without HIM around?” Eric was worn-thin and touchy. “He messed up. According to him, she made the first move and he rebuffed her several times before he ran out of will power.” That must be some woman. Kate thought to herself. It only aggravated Eric more to hear Marie had been the aggressor. “He can have her. I don’t care.” He lied. Unable to coax him, Sandy left. “Thanks for letting me crash here. Is it rude if I ask how long can I stay?”

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“You can stay as long as you want as far as I am concerned but your mother isn’t going to take it well. She’ll want me to kick you out.” Jim surmised accurately. Sandy had told him off for allowing Eric to stay when she first arrived. “You’re a good guy.” Eric had liked him from the start. He had wanted to hate him because he was Kate’s father and took her away from his family. He was over that. “Thanks. This too shall pass.” With that sage remark Jim went to work in his office. Kate pulled Brian into her dream after they went to sleep. It was the only way she could talk to him without Eric knowing. “How’s Matt?” “Miserable. And Eric?” “The same. What was Matt thinking?” Kate was bewildered. “Hey, it’s hard when an attractive girl comes on to you. It isn’t like we don’t have desires.” “Yeah. Like you and Stacey.” Kate said with a lot more bite than she intended. “I apologized for that and Matt did the same.” “This is more complicated than high school romance.” “Give Matt a break. It’s not as bad as what Mom did.” Brian tried to point out that they had over come bigger things in the past. “And look at the mess that caused.” “We’re doing all right.” “You didn’t see Eric. He’s torn up.” Kate wished she could erase all of Eric’s pain.

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“So is Matt.” “He brought it on himself. Eric is the victim here.” She barked. “You’re Eric’s puppet.” The dream ended abruptly. Kate had hit her fill of unconstructive bantering. Matt was over early the next day. “Not today.” She told him before he even started. “I’m an idiot.” He acknowledged.

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“Why would you do that?” She wondered if it was revenge for his girlfriend from their freshman year. From the way Eric told the story, she assumed he hadn’t taken the bait but perhaps he had and this was some kind of overdue payback. “I don’t know why I did it. She came over to our place pretending to look for Eric. She could tell I wasn’t him and that he wasn’t there. I swear it, Kate. I blocked him out because it was getting dicey. That raised his concern because he headed home from the library fast. And then she was all over me. She was relentless.” “Was it worth it?” “Come on. It was a stupid move but I can’t undo it. I don’t even know why I let her kiss me. I don’t like her. How could I the way she was treating Eric. Maybe I was fatigued or just spent from studying and all this stuff we’ve been doing but I lost my rationale.” “Blocking him out was a big mistake then.” “You don’t believe me either.” “I do. Give him some time. You’ll get through this.” She gave him a hug and he left. Eric stayed with them that week taking Kate’s car to Santa Barbara. Greg drove her to school since Brian wasn’t talking to her. For a family that had numerous communicative skills like telepathy, empathy, dreams, visions and hearing, the silence was deafening. Eric had a hard time sleeping the first night because Matt tried to break into his dreams but he found a way to stop it. It was one thing for everyone to be divided on the matter but it was totally bizarre for the twins to be incommunicado. Sandy and Ron were over often trying to convince Eric to go home. Ron thought it was puerile to fight over a girl and told Eric to grow up. He also accused Jim of stealing another of his children. Sandy was more sympathetic. She felt Matt went too far. The family was split down the middle.

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On Tuesday, before Eric was back from class, Sandy had a long talk with Jim. She told him he had no right to let Eric stay there. She understood that Jim was a kind man and that he would offer anyone shelter but she wanted him to kick Eric out. It gave him a place to hide rather than face his problems. Jim said he wasn’t going to throw him out and if everyone left Eric alone he would get past it faster. He added that Eric would exonerate Matt in his own time and rushing it wasn’t going to help anyone, least of all Eric. Gerard felt Eric should go home and face the music. Everyone had an opinion. The real wedding and the faux-wedding were days away. Kate had no hope that the fight would be resolved in time but she did expect that the wedding would outshine the rift. Matt had once told them that when people cared about each other they had a bond and when something happened to one a ripple affect happened through the group touching those closest first. How true it was. Kate grew more upset to think he should have known better. The twins’ tight rope stretched to its limits. They each took family members with them and it caused other tethers to grow taut with pressure like two archipelago islands in the sea but really they were adjoined beneath the surface. She felt Eric and her, with her mother and Jim pulling one way and Matt and Brian, with Ron and Gerard, pull the other. They were near splintering but that wasn’t possible. The family was too smart and could read each other’s minds and hearts and although that provoked the tension it was the durable foundation that would keep it from cracking. Philosophy class was hard with Brian sitting on the opposite side of the room. At least Greg was on Eric’s side. They figured it would pass but Kate hoped it wouldn’t leave a long-term scar. Meg officially took a neutral position but she thought Matt went too far. After her personal experience of losing her temper, she had softened up on the twins, Eric most of all. Kate skipped lunch with the group on Wednesday. She wanted Brian to sit with his friends other than Meg. The team followed Greg and Dave and she was glad for it at first but Brian needed to have his support group too. She ate in a corner of the patio with her world history book reviewing for a test the next day. It was harder when Greg didn’t help. Stacey and Allison sat a couple of tables down. They were giggling clearly trying to rile her. Stacey had no idea of how frothy she really was to Kate. She was desensitized to her immature gossip games.

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“Studying so late?” Father Francis was on his usual lunchtime patrol. “Brushing up.”

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“Are you ready for the big day?” He was performing the real ceremony for the weddings vows, the ceremony that would take place on Friday. “Can’t wait.” “I’ll see you Friday.” He walked off. She really liked him and Sister Rene. They had changed Kate’s opinion about Catholics and the Holy Orders. How could anyone not like them? They had such a peaceful nature about them. Maybe because they didn’t get married and have kids. Kate made a mental note to not have kids, especially since twins ran in her family. She got up to go to Philosophy. She would sit away from the usual suspects again. There was always tennis to take out her aggressions. After the day of isolation, she enjoyed her drive home with Greg. “Do you think they’ll fight at the wedding?” He asked. “They’ll keep it in check for Mom and Dad.” “I’m sorry this is so hard on you guys.” He held her hand. “Sorry you got stuck with Eric.” “He’s all right, now that he let’s me talk to you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “What was that for?” “For being the best boyfriend ever.” They had arrived at their homes. “Well, I’m better than a peck on the cheek.” She gave him an earnest kiss on the mouth. “I could never kiss you enough to equal your full worth.” “You know I meant it, when I told you I loved you.” It was months ago when they went on their movie date that he first told her he loved her. Kate hadn’t forgotten. That kind of fear and excitement were unforgettable. “I know.” “You aren’t ready to admit you love me?”

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“You know it’s true.”

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“Say it.” He wanted to hear it. He usually felt he should wait for her to say it in her timing but he needed to hear it. The faux wedding was rapidly approaching and that meant they would have to stand up to her grandmother. The anxiety was building. “You know I do.” It wasn’t really the same thing but it was as close as she could get. He gave a half smile. He would take it for the time being. She would get there. Friday after school she went home to get her dress before going to Gerard’s house. It was a short guest list but it was a real wedding that needed setting up. She was pleasantly surprised that Zuzu had stowed away into her car. She gave her some water and food, which was left over from summer when they stayed there last. Zuzu shadowed her around the kitchen but remained inside when Kate checked the yard. Brian and Matt were working on decorations. They agreed to put hard feelings aside for the day. She wanted to put them away forever but that was Eric’s duty to absolve Matt. Gerard went all out. He had a gazebo built and it was picturesque for a wedding. There was a large table set up on the patio for dinner. Kate worked on the table setting. “What’s wrong with your cat?” Gerard asked when he came out to check on the progress. “Nothing. She just didn’t want to stay home.” “She’s fussing in the doorway with her hair on end.” Kate went to check on Zuzu who was clearly disturbed if the raised hackles were any indication. The cat sensed other animals around. “It must be a neighbor’s dog or something. She seems to think there is some predator nearby.” She called out. Ellen was in the kitchen working on the meal. It was odd that she didn’t try to calm Zuzu.

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I Do

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Kate still had an hour before she needed to change. She got out her book bag and sat in the study for some solitude. She worked on her physics when Chris called. “What do I owe this surprise to?” She asked without a formal greeting. “Just missed you. Auggie is having a party tomorrow and I wanted to invite you guys.” She couldn’t. Even though the wedding was really on Friday, she had plans to crash the sting. “I can’t. My parents are getting married.” “I read that somewhere but got the days mixed up.” “Still reading the blog?” “Auggie is hooked. He knows it’s all drivel but we get a good laugh at it.” “Don’t believe everything you read. We have fed it false information.” “Next party then.” She hung up with a warm fuzzy feeling. He was a friend of both of theirs. Proof that two guys and a girl could have a happy ending. She didn’t want Marie to get either of her brothers. She was a maneater. What was Matt thinking? She cleared her mind. It wasn’t the day to worry about it. Greg and Meg arrived still in their street clothes. They were going to change there with the others. Greg stayed with Kate and worked on his physics. Eric joined them when he arrived. He found a book and kept to the study until the ceremony. “Chris called asking if we wanted to go to Auggie’s party. I don’t know why, he knew about the wedding.” Kate told Greg. “Is he reading the blog?” Eric asked. “They love that kitschy trash over at Santa Katrina.” Greg rolled his eyes. The public school reveled to hear the worst of their rival’s gossip. “And I heard Auggie’s party was tomorrow. He’s trying to win you back.” Kate was never his but she didn’t argue. “It is tomorrow.” “Well, then why did he call?” Greg was sure it was to flirt and test the waters, see if things weren’t going to last between them. They were.

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“To see if we could go.” “But if he read about the wedding, he would know we can’t. The blog has it posted for tomorrow.” Greg had a bad feeling. “Well, he got his days mixed up. He thought it was today.”

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They all stared at each other. Kate replayed the phone call in her head. Eric grabbed her laptop from her bag and booted it up. He read Stacey’s blog out loud. “It seems there are two weddings this weekend. Perhaps the mother is marrying Kate’s dad one day and Brian’s the other.” Eric ran outside to tell their brothers. Kate and Greg ran into the kitchen. “Ellen we have to call Father Francis and cancel.” Kate said as they turned the corner and found said priest already there. “Why?” He asked. “Um, um.” Kate stuttered without any answer. She hadn’t learned to lie and a priest would be a poor test subject. “She just came in… What was that Kate?” Ellen was on the phone. “Is that Mom?” Kate forgot about the priest and took the phone. “Mom the blog has both dates. We have to cancel.” “We’re on our way. You kids get out of there.” “What’s going on?” Father Francis was confused. “It’s a family emergency. We’re going to have reschedule.” Kate told him. Kate. It was Eric’s voice in her head. She’s here. They ran outside to the gazebo. Gran walked up from the side of the house. She circled them taking an internal roll call. It was only the kids. She stopped facing the gazebo with backyard behind her. Eric and Greg stood in front of Kate just beyond the gazebo and Matt and Brian protected Meg on the other side. “Good, we’ll have last rights.” Gran glared past the kids. Kate turned back. Father Francis and Ellen were in the gazebo. Father Francis was perplexed. Ellen looked violent. “And we have a new contender.” She smiled at Meg. “Leave her alone.” Brian hissed moving Meg directly behind him.

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“You know why I’m here.” She stared at Kate.

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Greg and Eric stepped closer together to tighten their guard. Two sentries that weren’t going to let anything harm Kate. Nothing happened. Kate wondered if it was Ellen or Father Francis presence. Gran must think they weren’t there by accident. She was probably accessing their potential role. Kate should make a move before Gran did. She struggled to think of her options. Her mind was blank. She tried to think but it was like treading through thick mud. “Matt.” Gran said incorrectly to envenom Eric. “Again you protect that child.” “I’m Eric.” He glared at Matt. The egregious mistake was like salt on his wounded heart. Kate wished her parents would hurry. They didn’t know Gran was already there. Kate needed to tell them. She couldn’t think how. There was a way. She had done it before. What had she done? She battled with her vapid wits. “It’s an honest mistake.” Gran still addressed Eric. “You look so alike. Anyone could make it.” “Shut up.” Matt sounded like a child unable to articulate a better retort. “I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not.” Eric accused Matt. “Can we deal with that later?” Matt’s jaw visibly tightened. “Listen to your older brother.” Gran scolded Eric. “Ten minutes older.” Eric blurted impetuously. It reminded Kate when the twins were in junior high and Matt teased Eric about being younger. Eric hated it. Eric took a step toward Matt but Greg stepped in his way. “Stay with Katie.” He whispered. It worked. Eric resumed his post. “Stay away from me.” Eric spat at Matt. Kate wanted them to stop fighting. They had bigger problems than girls. Gran still hadn’t made a move. She had an agenda. “Yes, Katie.” Gran said mawkishly. “Your precious little Katie. And what is she to you?” It was directed to Greg. Greg didn’t answer. His face was contorted as he tried to think.

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Kate scanned her friends and brothers. All the kids were in a deep torpor. Even Gran was dazed on some level but at a decreased amount. Matt shook his head trying to dislodge his gray matter from its numbness. He locked eyes with Kate and mouthed, “Something’s wrong.” Eric, Greg and Brian were staring at Gran. Meg was looking curiously to the next house over. Was there someone over there? Kate’s brain broke through to make a small deductive reasoning. “This is a private party, ma’am. You’ll have to come back later.” Father Francis stepped down to stand between the two groups of kids looking clear-headed. “You have no authority here.” Gran hated religion. “Kate, do you remember the Our Father?” He quizzed her. Kate had been to several masses that year for school and the funeral. It was a prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” She began but couldn’t remember the rest. “Prayer won’t help you now.” Gran laughed. “God is dead.” That was a misquote. Nietzsche didn’t mean that God was literally dead. Kate remembered that. Meg heard someone. That was why she was looking off to the neighbor’s yard. “Hallowed be Thy name.” Greg continued. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He stopped. Maybe he lost his place as she had. “Katie, what’s the Pythagorean theorem?” “The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.” She repeated it automatically. It was engrained deep in her mind. Why was someone in the next yard? They must be helping Gran. Kate started scanning in the same direction looking for a presence. “Enough of school. Kate, if you come with me now, no one else needs to be involved. I won’t even bother your mother.” Gran was using the most alluring tone she could muster. Kate’s mind found someone on the other side of the hedges. Kate didn’t know what skill to hinder but she willed her energy to that person to stop whatever they were doing. She couldn’t. Reciting the theorem had cleared her mind. Mentally she started running through the mathematical proof. It helped. Again, she tried to hinder the person in the next yard. Her brain popped free. They all did. Even Gran’s face cleared up. She lost her advantage and she knew it. Kate needed to deter Gran too but hadn’t tried two people at once.

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We’ve got it. She heard Matt and Eric’s voice in her head. Matt and Eric blocked their

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grandmother. Kate felt strengthened to know they were on the same side. She felt stronger than ever. The others were stronger too. Her empathy sensed it. “Such clever children. But I have learned not to underestimate you, not after the elevator and that baseball bat did leave a mark.” Gran shot a belligerent glance to Greg. There was a click as Gerard walked to the gazebo with his shotgun ready and aimed. “Sorry it took me a while.” Gran turned to run but three mountain lions came out from the bushes of the backyard. She stopped. They didn’t advance but they cut off any escape. “Not going to run this time.” Ellen threatened. She had brought the cats somehow. They were why Zuzu wouldn’t leave the house. “I wanted to see my grandchildren.” Gran lied. “Catch up with them. Matt, I hear you have a new girlfriend.” That wouldn’t get the twins quarreling again. It did cause them to lose their hold on Gran and she pulled out a revolver from her purse. Two things happened at once. Gran shot at Kate. There wasn’t enough time and power with telekinesis to stop the momentum of the bullet but it was visceral to try. Somehow Eric and Greg lithely pulled her down before it hit. It was faster than human. The bullet hung in the air inches from where she had stood and fell to the ground. It had been stopped mid-flight. At the same time, Gerard had shot but his arms were pulled to the right as his round discharged. It passed by their grandmother without making contact. Gran was most amazed of all. Gran’s gun fell to the ground. Her arms pinned at her side subjugated by some unseen force. “Enough woman!” It was Morrie, Ron’s father. He sauntered through the backyard to his wife. He was a tall man with gray hair and brown eyes. He had a hard face that was exaggerated with frustration. Sandy, Ron, Jim and Andy had arrived as well. “Let me go you old coot!” Gran yelled. The presence next door ran off. Whoever she was, she wasn’t going to stay around to face the wrath.

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“Gerard, can you lower your weapon? I’ll deal with my wife.” “If it’s all the same, no.” Morrie shrugged. He could pull the gun away as easily as he done with Gran’s but he didn’t. “Let me go.” Gran repeated. “Silence Grania.” Morrie ordered and Gran’s mouth closed against her will. Everyone but her grandparents stood by Kate. She was lying on the lawn with Eric and Greg.

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Sandy helped Eric to his feet as Andy helped Greg. Brian picked up the bullet and examined it. Ron lifted Kate into his arms. He held her in a tight embrace, Jim at his side stroking her hair. “You really love her, even knowing she isn’t yours.” Morrie gently accused Ron. “She would have made a fair granddaughter if I ever gave her the chance. But it was against our family’s tradition.” He eyed his iconoclastic grandsons. “A tradition that will probably end here.” He laughed too hard at his non-joke. “Ronny, you aren’t a disappointment. After all, your kids love you.” “You said you weren’t going to get involved.” Ron said. “I reconsidered my position. I hope that isn’t a problem.” “Not at all but why now?” “It was wrong. And I didn’t care to hear her mouth off on how much she did for you and me over the years. I never cared about climbing the corporate ladder but she insisted and cleared the way.” Morrie shirked. “She did? I thought it was you.” Sandy commented. “No. But it kept me out of the house more, so why fight it.” He looked kindly at Sandy. “I’m sorry your wedding was ruined.” He gave Father Francis the once over. “Ronny, you’re having a Catholic wedding?” “He’s kind of a family friend.” Ron smiled at Father Francis. “After this, he’d have to be.” “We get a bad rap. You start a few crusades and it takes centuries for people to forgive you.” Father Francis jested. Morrie’s hearty laughter rumbled. “You’re all right for a zealot. I promise everyone here, this will end or I will end it.” He glared at his wife. “It’s time for us to go home.”

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Gran’s body was released but her mouth remained sealed. She bent to pick up her gun. “Leave it.” Gerard commanded with his rifle ready. “Come along now.” Morrie walked Gran out of the yard and through the house. “They’re leaving.” Sandy sighed with relief.

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Everyone was in a state of shock except for Father Francis. “Are you going to change before the wedding?” He reminded them that they still had a ceremony to celebrate. “You’re so unruffled.” Jim remarked. “When you’re a priest you’ve seen and heard it all. The things I could tell you if I didn’t have vows to keep.” “We’ll reschedule.” Sandy suggested. “No.” Ron shook his head. “We’re getting married. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I don’t want to wait another day. We don’t need to change.” Sandy kissed him. “Are you sure?” “Never surer. But maybe we can lose the cats.” The mountain lions stayed even after the shooting. Ellen walked out to the overgrown cats, petting each before they crawled back through the hedges to wherever they usually lived. Father Francis did the honors. It was a simple exchange of vows. After the ritual was over they dug into Ellen’s cooking. “So what happened?” Andy spoke through a mouthful of food. “Stacey’s blog had put down two dates. She must have overheard Father Francis when he told me he would see me on Friday instead of Saturday.” Kate commenced the replay. “That was when we talked to you, Mom. And Gran was here. But she didn’t do anything.” “There was someone helping her in the yard over.” Meg added. “I think it was Marie. It was how I got when she…” Matt stopped. “Manipulated you. I got that way with her too. It’s like your IQ drops and you can’t make logical leaps. Everything gets enigmatic.” Eric picked up. “I sensed it too.” Father Francis said. Everyone was stunned when he spoke. “I started praying the Our Father and the more I repeated it, the clearer my mind became.”

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“That’s why you told Katie to recite it.” Greg realized.

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He nodded. “I knew she could stop whoever was doing it. But you don’t know the prayer as well and it wasn’t working for you.” “But it did for Greg.” Kate recalled. “He asked me what the Pythagorean theorem was and that snapped me out of it some and I found Marie and stopped the clouding. But Gran could tell. It must be a power you can’t keep one person away from. Gran may have been doing something to keep her mind clearer but it was too much to do any telekinetic tricks. And she knew about Matt and Eric fighting. She was using that to keep them at odds and confused.” “And it worked.” Eric said bitterly. “But then we blocked Gran and things were at an impasse. Until Gerard came out with a gun.” “I went to get it but kept forgetting what I was looking for.” Gerard continued the narrative. “Finally my mind cleared I grabbed the gun. She was going to run but there were cougars.” Ellen smiled. “And you said Dr. Doolittle couldn’t help.” “Mom, I’ll never keep you away from life threatening situations again.” Jim joked. Kate picked up the recap. “She made another comment about Eric and Matt and they lost their concentration and she pulled out her gun and shot me. It had momentum and I couldn’t stop the bullet but it was my first impulse to try. Then everything slowed down. I must have sped up.” “Sped up?” Ron interrupted. “I kind of picked that trick up off Stacey at school. Empathy, remember?” “That’s funny, because I did the same thing.” Eric said. “You all did.” Father Francis spoke. Again the family was shocked. “All the boys and Kate were pushing on the bullet and Eric and Greg pulled her out of the way.” “And I could tell she was shooting and I shot.” Gerard said. “They sounded like one bang so it must have been at the same moment. But as I shot something knocked my arms off and I missed her. I guess Morrie did it.” He was relieved he didn’t kill someone. “I have a question.” Jim sat back in his chair. “You’re taking this all very well, Father Francis.” Father Francis sat peacefully wondering how to respond. “You know our secrets.” Gerard urged.

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“I suppose I should confess that I’m not without some of my own talents. I have two. I can read people’s gifts, not just these quirks but what subjects they excel at and sports. It’s useful when evaluating kids for school. So I knew about the menagerie of talent we had to defend ourselves like Kate’s blocking, the boys’ telekinesis, Meg’s hearing, Ellen’s connection to animals, those sorts of things. But I’m losing it. I didn’t realize Kate and Greg could use telekinesis and I didn’t know about any speed until it happened.” “Well, Kate can empathize with people or get them to empathize with her. She learns it and spreads it among the kids.” Jim explained. “Ah, then perhaps I can only read hereditary talents.” “And your other gift?” Andy had his opinion set and sought confirmation. “I know when people tell the truth or when they lie.” He smiled. “How else do you think the two kids with the longest records in St. Ignatius’ history were never expelled?” Jim and Andy exchanged glances. Father Francis laughed seeing them behave as they had so many times before in his office. “Even when you did the crime you didn’t lie to me. Honesty is a great virtue.” “Who has the longest record?” Greg asked hoping for bragging rights. “Jim but when you are talking about the speed of light, what’s another mile per hour give or take.” “I’m grateful for you helping my family.” Ron was awkward around the priest. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone.” It reminded Kate of the Grand Inquisitor from philosophy class seeing her agnostic father ask the holy man for a favor. Part of the table began to laugh; Father Francis, Ellen, Gerard, Jim, Andy, Greg and Meg – AKA the Catholics. Father Francis leaned towards Ron, “If you have a secret, you can trust a priest to keep it.” “And you knew we didn’t cheat.” Greg said. “Both times with you. And I knew you could the second time.” “Well, is this really over?” Gerard asked. “Will Morrie keep Gran from coming back?” “He told the truth.” Father Francis nodded. “Now, about this blog?” The St. Ignatius’ kids showed Father Francis Stacey’s blog. He promised to put an end to it. “I’m curious about this Marie.” Ron asked. “What did she look like?” “She’s short, about five three and a killer body.” Eric described her. “Her hair is shoulder length strawberry blond and she has grey eyes.” Matt finished.

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Ron smirked. “That woman is an old friend of my mother’s. She doesn’t age. And she’s very tempting. Mom tried to break Sara and I up using her. It didn’t work.” Eric and Matt gave a unified “Ugh!” “You have a solid family.” Father Francis remarked. “There are times I wish I had a child to pass on my gifts.” “Katie will learn them and share them with us. We’ll pass them along for you.” Greg offered. “I’d like that.”

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 Free at Last

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It was hard to believe that they were free. A month passed and Kate was still guarded. Greg took her to a baseball game alone and that was when she really felt safe. They were out of town, away from her brothers and families and nothing happened other than the Dodgers losing. Something she lived with better than he did. Father Francis was in the inner circle. True to his word, the blog was shut down. Stacey was furious about it but it was to be shut down or she would be expelled without receiving a diploma. She got four more weeks of JUG on top of it. Kate finally went to a dance with Greg when he took her to their prom. It was at the Plaza Pacific. Kate fixed Claire up with Chris. Dave had started dating Lindsay and he was Claire’s back up date. She was without a date until Kate made the arrangements. They had a live band that played swing, lounge and jazz. Without asking, Greg picked up Kate’s hand and took her on the floor to dance. “I made a request.” He whispered in her ear. She didn’t recognize the song until they started singing the lyrics. It was I’m Your Puppet. “That makes me the puppet master.” She frowned. “No, the song is from your perspective.” “Nice.” After the prom Greg and Kate made a short appearance to Brad’s after party before going to Greg’s for some private time. Andy and Angela were on their first weekend vacation as a couple. Kate was glad for Andy and even happier to have the place to themselves. Greg sat on the couch with Kate’s legs over his lap as they kissed. He kissed to her ear pulling her hair back and whispered. “I love you.” “I…” Kate began before Greg had his hand over her mouth. “Say it when you’re ready.” “I’m ready.” She muffled out. “No you aren’t. You’re just saying it because I did.”

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She moved his hand away. “That doesn’t mean I’m not ready.” “Then tell me tomorrow.” “Can I give you a birthday present?” “It isn’t until tomorrow.” He said.

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“It’s one o’clock. It is tomorrow.” She grabbed her purse and pulled out an envelope with a bow on it. “Happy birthday.” He opened it and fanned out five tickets to a Giants game in San Francisco. “Five?” “Dad thought Angela would join us. We really need to find him someone now.” “Sure thing.” He didn’t take his eyes off the tickets. “Can I check where the seats are?” “Okay.” Kate’s face dropped. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” He kissed her. “You don’t want to stop?” “Well, no. But you can check.” They went to his room and he opened the Giants website. Kate stood behind him as he worked. He pulled the tickets out and a sixth piece of paper fell to the ground. He picked it up and it read “I love you” on a heart shaped note that had been folded in half. He got up to give her a long intense kiss. “And it wasn’t because I said it first?” She shook her head. He leaned in for another kiss but froze just short of her lips. “How did you do that?” Greg realized it would be impossible for her to write a note saying she loved him without it flickering to his vision. She giggled. “It was easy. I practiced writing nonsense without looking at the paper. I didn’t want you to see me writing it. I didn’t even look at the tickets to be extra careful.” He chuckled. “When was the last time I told you that you are the best girlfriend ever?”

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