Read Strength Online

Authors: Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

Strength (3 page)

BOOK: Strength


Aerigo folded the note and set it on the table. “He didn’t really tell you anything.”

“No, nothing specific,” Grandma poured two mugs of tea and brought them to the table. “But enough to help me get by, I guess. I still think Roxie is too young for you to take her away though.”

“The sooner she starts, the better. She has a lot of learning ahead.” He accepted his mug and Grandma sat down.

“I know.”

Hopefully he had enough time for all of Roxie’s crucial lessons. He had no clue how long they had before Nexus the next phase of his plans. The fact that Daio was interfering had to be an indicator that Nexus was almost ready. “I’ll take good care of her for you.”

“Thank you. That means a lot to me.” She sipped at her tea and took a deep breath. “If there’s any way I can be of assistance before you both leave, let me know.”

“There is, but it can wait until morning.”





Chapter 3




Roxie was sitting at the kitchen table, asleep and with her face hovering over an open carton of melting ice cream. Her head drooped forward, looking for the pillow that wasn’t there, and she planted her face right in the carton. The soggy siding gave out and Roxie woke as her nose clogged up with melted ice cream.

She sat upright and snorted and coughed, then wiped her face and felt something slimy. She looked at her hand. It was coated in cookie dough ice cream.
What the heck?
She wiped her face again, feeling a layer of cold slime all over her cheeks. She ran her other hand through her hair. Thick locks had been clumped together and her hair stuck to her fingers. She let out a cry of disgust and surged to her feet, the back of her knees knocking the chair out of the way.

There was a crash of wood on hollow metal. The chair she’d just been sitting on lay on its back in front of the stove sitting on the other side of the kitchen. Roxie blinked.

“Rox, what was that?” said a male voice from the living room.

It took her a moment to recognize the muscular man peering over the back of the couch. It was Aerigo, the only other person she’d met who had glowing eyes. She lunged for the kitchen sink, realizing how gross and ridiculous she must look, hid her head in the basin and turned the water on. “I’ve got ice cream in my hair,” she said peevishly. “What do you think?” She began rinsing off.

Aerigo rose from the couch and a door opened down the hall.

“Who put me at the kitchen table?”

“You don’t remember? You put yourself there.”

Roxie looked up, her hair dripping into the sink.
Why the heck would I do that?
A large empty bowl sat on the table, with flecks of red clinging to its sides, then became aware of the scent of Italian dressing. A half-empty bottle of the stuff stood next to the bowl. There also was an empty loaf pan with streaks of ketchup and meat loaf crumbs in it, and a Heinz bottle nearby. A gallon of apple cider with maybe an inch of it left was on the table as well, however she didn’t see a cup anywhere. Finally, the red half-gallon of cookie dough ice cream lay on its side, the opening facing her and copious amounts of ice cream spilling edge of the table like a wimpy Niagara Falls.
There’s no way I ate all that.
Roxie wrung out her hair, then grabbed the carton and plopped it in the garbage under the sink, dripping ice cream all over the floor in the process. She unrolled an arm’s length of paper towels and began mopping up the sticky mess.

Aerigo grabbed some paper towels and helped wipe up the floor.

“I remember falling asleep on the couch, and that’s about it.”

“What was that loud bang?” Grandma asked. She stood on the other side of the counter with her hands folded over her chest, clinging to her bathrobe to her as if she were cold.

Roxie looked at the upturned chair and wished she could explain how it’d sailed across the kitchen. Grandma followed her gaze and furrowed her brows. Roxie made one last pass with her wad of paper towels and deposited them in the garbage, then made a fist, bumped off the faucet, then turned for the chair.

She flinched and stopped when she heard something light and metallic bounce around in the sink. It was the faucet handle.

“Crap!” Roxie fumbled for a way to put the hand back on.

“Be gentle!” Aerigo said.

“I was!” Roxie said, exasperated. She’d shut off the faucet with her fist a zillion times before.


,” she said.
What? Does he want me to pretend the sink is made of glass?
Rox held in the frustrated sigh that wanted out.

“Let’s just finish cleaning up and I’ll explain what happened to you.”

Aerigo and Roxie cleaned up the table and floor, and returned the possessed chair to its place as Grandma headed to the basement to turn off the water so she could fix the faucet. Within two minutes the kitchen was clean and fixed, the faucet handle needing no more than to be snapped back on. All three took a seat at the table.

Aerigo said, “Rox, you don’t remember leaving your room last night?”

She thought a moment, trying to be honest with herself. “I don’t even remember going into my room. How did I end up in this chair?” She tapped the tabletop with a finger. “To my knowledge I don’t sleepwalk.”

“No, you never did that growing up,” Grandma said.

“You came up the basement stairs and seated yourself after gathering all that food,” Aerigo said. “From what I could tell you’ve gone under some major physical changes and you unconsciously took in the energy you needed to complete the transformation.”

“I look different?”

“Not really,” Grandma said.

Roxie rushed to the hall bathroom and examined her face, which looked the same as yesterday, though her expression more scrutinizing. She shut off the bathroom light and returned to the table. “I don’t look any different.”

“That’s not the changes I meant,” Aerigo said. “You now have all your natural abilities and have the capacity to use magic.”

“Really? What can I do?” The water rose flashed through her mind. Hopefully she had the capacity for more than just neat tricks.

“Quite a bit. I’ll be teaching you as fast as you can learn it.”

“Like what? Are my eyes magic?”

“Our eyes are a physical trait; not a magical one, which is why they could glow before I gave you that liquid last night.”

Roxie felt disappointed that she’d never been using magic every time her eyes glowed. “So what’s my first lesson?”

“To learn how to be gentle,” Aerigo said.

“Sounds boring.”

“It’s crucial to your training, unless you want to be a living hazard.”

“Hazard?” Aerigo’s comment put Roxie on the defensive. Adults were always in such a hurry to not trust teenagers.

“You’re very powerful now. You must learn to control your powers before you exert them.”

Roxie was reminded of her hopelessly boring drivers ed. class. The teacher and driver’s manual preached safety, safety, safety, and more safety. She labeled both the teacher and manual a pair of paranoid lunatics. “I already
careful,” she insisted.

“You already broke the faucet.”

“It’s already fixed!”

“Rox!” Grandma snapped.

Roxie bowed her head. “Sorry. Waking up with ice cream in your hair isn’t a fun way to start your day.”

“Just mind your manners. Would you like some tea?” Grandma headed to the stove.

“Yes, please.” Roxie kept silent while her grandmother put on water to boil and set up three mugs, each with their own milk and tea bag. Roxie said to Aerigo, “Did I really eat all that?”

“I watched you eat it,” he said. “I tried talking to you but you never responded.”

“I don’t remember any of it,” Roxie said, frowning. Aerigo’s eyes and tone of voice convinced Roxie that he was telling the truth, but she couldn’t wrap her head around having eaten so much food. She also didn’t like not remembering things she’d done. It was as if life had gone on without letting her know. She felt robbed of memories that were rightfully hers. “I don’t like this.”

“Don’t worry about it then. You’re still undergoing changes, although at a much slower pace.”

“So how much longer until I’m ‘normal?’” Roxie slouched. Instead of that strange drink helping her fit in better with the rest of humanity, it seemed to have made her more alien.

“You pretty much are. You just have a lot of learning ahead.”

Roxie couldn’t find it in her to be consoled. Normalcy had never been an option ever since her eyes had started glowing. They spooked people of all ages, and gave her peers a reason to call her a freak. Now, in addition to glowing eyes, she seemed to be a gluttonous, sleepwalking klutz. Even less normal. She rose and headed for her room.

“Rox, stop,” Grandma said, half pleading.

Roxie turned around, gaze downcast.

“Do you remember the second time I pulled you out of public school? You were six.” Grandma rounded the counter and stood before her.

“I remember
,” she said unhappily, knowing the answer was her stupid glowing eyes. She also remembered how crappy resorting to home schooling felt. She was a natural social bug. “That’s when I started thinking I was an alien.”

Grandma nodded. “But do you remember what I tried to tell you?”

“You said something about—wait! How long have you known I’m not—?” The word ‘human’ got caught in her throat, torn between acceptance and denial. “That I’m not what I thought I was.” Roxie wondered if this was what it felt like to find out you were adopted. Something she’d assumed all her life was the truth had always been a lie.

“I’ve known almost all your life.”

Her stomach felt like a brick. She turned for her room again. She was supposed to be glad to have the explanation for her abnormalities. Now she felt like she might as well have been born with five arms, or something.

“Wait, Rox. I wasn’t trying to upset you.”

Arms wrapped around her shoulders. Roxie pushed Grandma away. “I need to be alone.”


Grandma let out a cry and clutched the back of her head. Somehow she’d fallen against the kitchen cabinets and was sitting on the floor. Aerigo sprung from his chair and knelt next to Grandma, putting an arm around her frail shoulders.

“Grandma?” Roxie said.

Grandma didn’t respond, her eyes squinted shut and teeth bared. Aerigo gave her a neutral glance, but Roxie interpreted it as silent ridicule.

“I didn’t mean to hurt her!” she said defensively. Neither adult said anything to her as Aerigo turned his concerned gazed back to Grandma. “Is there anything I can do to help her?”

“No,” Aerigo said.

Roxie ran out of the house, her own guilt chasing after her. She had caused pain to her own grandmother. And there was no one to blame but herself. She ran along the forest path and took the fork that led to Lake Erie. The morning birdsong sounded shrill, instead of welcoming, as if every bird were marking her as evil. Squirrels and birds rustling leaves strewn over the forest floor sounded like invisible demons chasing after her, making her run faster.

Roxie reached the other side of the woods in a matter of minutes, panting. The lake lay under a blanket of morning fog, casting a shade of grey over the entire landscape. It had to be no later than six-thirty. Shore joggers and swimmers would be around at this hour but, to her relief, she saw no one. She would be alone to think and try to get rid of the lead weight in her stomach.

Roxie slowed to a walk once she reached the water, two-inch waves lapping against the sandy shore. She strode into ankle deep water and began fishing around for pebbles.

Whenever Roxie got upset and needed to think, she came to the lake to throw pebbles. She’d throw one, then aim for inside the ring of ripples with the next. This exercise always calmed her and helped clear her thoughts. It was as if she’d pass her negative energy to the pebbles as she tossed them. She collected a fistful and roiled them around like one would a pair of Chinese stress balls. The circulating motion helped her focus. She took one pebble in her free hand, shifted it around so it settled comfortably in her fingertips, then chucked it out over the lake as hard as she could.

Instead of the pebble splashing down thirty yards out, it made a little splash somewhere around a hundred and fifty yards out.
What the—?
Roxie stared at the expanding ripples she could barely see and tried to figure out how this’d happened.

She recalled the upturned chair, breaking the faucet and Aerigo telling her to be gentler. Was she strong like Superman now, or something? If so, why hadn’t he just straight up told her? That would have saved her from hurting Grandma. And if she were really strong now, then how was she supposed to function in society, much less in her own home? The world now seemed to be made of paper objects moved around by paper people, everything so crushable. Could she give hugs without breaking anyone’s back now?

Two blots of blue light on the water caught Roxie’s attention. The reflection of her glowing eyes looked back at her. She chucked the rest of her pebbles at her reflection, then regretted it the moment her figure was engulfed in ripples. Something was different about her appearance after all.

Roxie left the water and reentered several feet away, then looked at herself again. Earlier she had looked at just her face, which remained unchanged. It was the rest of her that had been slightly altered. She looked leaner, like she went to the gym regularly. She lifted Aerigo’s T-shirt to reveal a flat stomach that wasn’t like that the day before. She’d had a little extra flab, but now it was gone. She took off her shirt and tossed it on the sandy shore, revealing a figure that was now a vessel capable of extreme harm, broad shoulders and everything.

Roxie tightened her jaw.
Okay, so now I’m a super-strong gluttonous klutz with a toned body.
This is just perfect,
she thought unhappily.
What will I discover about myself next?
When she reached for the borrowed T-shirt, she recoiled, Grandma’s cry of pain ringing in her ears and Aerigo’s unreadable expression flashing before her. Instead of being this strange person with glowing eyes, she was a dangerous freak. She’d already hurt her own family.

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