Read Strength Online

Authors: Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

Strength (6 page)

BOOK: Strength
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“Let go!” She tried pulling her arm out of his vice-like grip. To her dismay, he proved to be stronger than her new superhuman strength.

His grin stretched wider. “You need to act before you think, girlie.”

Girlie
? Roxie narrowed her eyes. She put her whole body into a lunge away from Daio and managed to force him to shuffle a couple of steps with her. “My name is Roxie! Don’t ever call me ‘girlie’ again.” She twisted her arm to the side.

“If you wish,” he said, maintaining his grip. “And I see no harm in letting you know my name is Daio.”

“Whatever.” Roxie made a fist with her free hand. “Now let me go!”

Faster than a cobra, Daio seized her other wrist. Roxie struggled to pull free as her forearms were forcibly raised level with her face.

“Ha ha ha—
ow
!”

The moment Roxie felt Daio’s grip slacken she yanked her wrists free. Daio dropped his hands over his groin and sank to his knees, his face contorted with agony.

“Dat was low,” he said through clenched teeth, then flopped to one side and scowled at her.

Roxie started running along the sidewalk, intent on finding Aerigo and the bus station. She ran three blocks to the right before turning left onto another busy street. This time she ran as fast as she could and discovered that dodging and darting around people wasn’t too difficult. She ran along the road until she reached the bus station road. She took one final left and sped down it. By now she was getting sweaty and starting to suck wind, but she pressed on.

When the chain link fence surrounding a multitude of buses came into view, Roxie banged into someone. “Sorry!” She grabbed a man by the shoulders and he did the same to hers.

“Rox! What happened?”

She stopped and looked at the man’s face. “Aerigo!” She shook her head and said, “It was Daio! I found him. We gotta go!” Aerigo took her hand and together they hurried toward a white wooden booth marking the station’s entrance.

“Where is he?” Aerigo asked, anger in his voice.

“Beats me. I left him lying in pain on a sidewalk.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I kind of kicked him below the belt.”


What
?”

Roxie shrugged. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I need to teach you some better self-defense moves.”

“What? Kicking him in the groin proved very effective...”

“Never mind,” Aerigo said. “Let’s just get on a bus before Daio recovers.”

They crossed the final street and Aerigo hid away his dagger before they stopped at the teller. They had several coach buses to choose from, one of which was scheduled to leave in two minutes for New York City. Roxie used Grandma’s credit card to purchase the tickets, since Aerigo lacked any American money, much less any currency from Earth. They jogged to a tall navy blue bus with a Blue Eagle Express banner along its side and Roxie climbed the steep stairs, getting doused by a welcome wave of cooled air. All that running and dodging had built up a modest sweat. She walked down the narrow aisle, finding a pair of empty seats toward the middle, and shoved her backpack and breakfast in the overhead shelf, then took dibs on the window seat. She angled the air vent on her overheated face.

Aerigo squeezed his way to Roxie and stowed his backpack next to hers. “Move over.”

She looked up at him. “Why? Just sit there.” She pointed to the aisle seat.

“Because you’re more vulnerable by the window. Please move.” The bus lurched into motion and Aerigo grabbed the overhead shelf.

She hadn’t a chance to notice before but Aeirgo’s arms were huge. They weren’t the excessively huge like that of a Mr. Universe bodybuilder, but huge like someone who’d made a career out of living in the military. “Aren’t we safe enough?”

“No. Now please move in. I promised your grandmother I’d protect you. So far I’m off to a bad start.”

“I don’t need a bodyguard!” she snapped. Several people seated in front of her turn their heads.

“You do now,” Aerigo said.

Considering how she’d handled Daio the second time, she didn’t agree. Nevertheless she didn’t want to attract unwanted attention from other passengers.

Scowling, she lifted herself over the armrests and plopped into the adjacent seat. Aerigo stepped over her knees and yawned as he sat down. He leaned into the crux of the window and chair and stared out the glass, his eyes half open. Good. Maybe he’d give her a break from his Mister Safety crap and take a nap.

Roxie pulled out her hair tie from a capris pocket, pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and it took a heartbeat to register the sudden looseness around her fingers. She fished the worm of a tie out from between her seat and shoulder blades and stood. To her relief, she found a fresh package of hair ties in a side pocket. After a second attempt, her hair was out of her face, off her ears and pulled back in a snug ponytail. Roxie sat down and re-angled her new air vent.

The bus pulled out of the parking lot and headed for I-90 eastbound, and the sun ducked behind incoming rain clouds. Using the overhead speaker, the bus driver announced some details about the bus ride (when they’d stop for food and a stretch). “Our final destination is in the Bronx, folks, right in front of Yankee Stadium. Anticipated arrival is four o’ clock.”

“Hey, Aerigo?” Roxie said softly, not wanting eavesdroppers.

He snapped his head up as if he’d been foiled from dozing off, yet he didn’t seem bothered by the interruption. “Mm?”

Roxie was about to ask a different question but, come to think of it, Aerigo’s sudden tiredness confused her. “Why are you tired all the sudden? It’s morning.”

“I’ve had about ten hours of sleep in the past five days.”

“Oh. I’ll ask you later then.”

“No. Go ahead. What is it?” Aerigo yawned.

“I was wondering if you could tell me anything about Daio. Maybe I could better help you anticipate his next move if I understand how he thinks.”

He gazed at her with half-open eyes. “Don’t trust him.”

“Well, duh!” she said. “He doesn’t think saving lives is a good idea.”

“Always keep that in mind,” Aerigo said, resting his head against the window. “He’ll cause collateral damage to achieve what he wants.” He yawned again, then began speaking so softly Roxie had to strain to hear over the drone of the engine. “But I need to train you up a bit before you start worrying about that.”

“What kind of training?”

Aerigo’s eyes closed. “Physical conditioning... and some magic.”

“Like turning into a giant and back?”

“It’s dangerous...”

“How so?”

“Don’t trust Daio...”

“I know. You already said that.”

“Stay away from the window.”

“Of course I’m staying away from the window,” she said, folding her arms and glaring at the chair in front of her. “I’m not going to lean—” Roxie looked down at her lap. Aerigo’s hand had fallen palm-up onto it. She cleared her throat. “Hey! Aerigo.”

He remained motionless, minus the rise and fall of his chest.

She poked his upper arm. “Aerigo, move your own hand!”

Roxie then heard his deep, relaxed breathing, along with the glass fogging up a little every time he exhaled. Her sourness turned to confusion. “Aerigo? Hello?” She didn’t know it was possible for anyone to nod off so fast.

She took his fallen wrist between two fingers and tossed his hand on his own lap. She watched to make sure it wouldn’t magically defy physics and find its way back to her lap.

It didn’t. In fact, Aerigo didn’t give the slightest inkling that he knew his arm had been moved. Roxie turned her attention to the little overhead televisions and joined the rest of the passengers in watching
Happy Feet.
She broke her fast on an orange and a couple of little muffins as the first raindrops speckled the bus windows.

***

Three hours into the commute, the bus stopped in Syracuse, New York for a rest stop lunch, and the rain had developed into a steady fall sometime during the movie. Her fellow passengers shielded their heads and made mad dashes for the food court. Roxie walked alone to the entrance, not bothered by getting a little wet. She’d tried to wake Aerigo by calling his name, but he was dead to the world, so she let him rest.

Roxie bought some Sbarro’s pizza, along with an extra slice and a giant chocolate chip cookie for Aerigo in case he woke up, in the mood for lunch. She snuck hers and Aerigo’s lunches onto the bus, stowed his food with their packs, and ate in peace. She wanted the luxury of Aerigo’s protection—provided that she could wake him—in case Daio found a way to catch up.

***

The bus finished traversing Binghamton, New York and the driver announced that they’d be crossing into Pennsylvania soon. They were right around halfway to their destination.

The rain had let up in this part of New York but it was still cloudy. Puddles blotted the sides of the highway and passing cars kicked up swirling mist tails.

Roxie heard cars horns and wondered who was driving like an idiot today. She stole a glance out Aerigo’s rain-splattered window and saw a Mustang fighting to stay on the slippery road as it swerved to the left. She jumped to her feet and pressed her palms to the glass. The car slid into the breakdown lane, slammed into the cement barrier with a metallic crunch, then rebounded off it and arced toward the Blue Eagle Express’s belly. The car’s nose broadsided the bus, jolting it, then got wedged under the wheels. Roxie dropped a foot back to keep her balance and continued watching.

Passengers snapped out of their movie-watching trance and voiced their wonder at the strange jolt.

The sports car stayed wedged under the first rear set of double wheels, its nose getting eaten away, and the rest of the car jostled up and down as if it were going over a series of speed bumps. Roxie couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. This kind of crash only happened in movies; not right below her.

The bus driver stopped in the middle of the highway once he heard several people exclaim “Oh my god!” People on the right side of the bus crowded behind those on the left.

“Aerigo!” Roxie reached to shake Aerigo’s shoulder and got zapped the moment her hand was within an inch of his skin. “Ow!” She recoiled and shook her hand. “What the heck was that?” she wondered aloud. The shock more surprised her than hurt.

Roxie shrugged it off as static and reached for his shoulder again, only to get shocked a second time right before making contact with his skin. Aerigo sat upright and his eyes snapped open. They glowed like they had in the bathroom: a swirl of yellow and red, the two colors pushing for dominance over his hidden pupil. The glow faded into Aerigo’s blue eyes and he blinked.

“What did I say about windows?”

Okay… Looks like this mystery is going to have to wait.
She pointed out the window.

Aerigo followed her finger and his whole body went rigid. “Move!” He hoisted himself up with help from the aisle chairs and pardoned himself past the first couple of people stuffed in the aisle. He kept on having to ask one person at a time to make room. Roxie followed, feeling an obligation to stay close. She could hear patience disappearing from Aerigo’s excuse me’s. By the fifth chair he paused and took a deep breath. “
Move!

Roxie flinched at the power of his voice and peered past one of his strong arms. Everyone turn their way and stuffed themselves among the seats. Children pointed at his face and parents shielded children in their arms.

“Look at his eyes, Mommy!” a little girl yelled.

“Shh! Put your hand down!”

Aerigo rushed down the emptied aisle and the bus driver opened the door for him, and Roxie avoided making eye contact with anyone as she followed.

Traffic piled up behind the bus. The far left lane lurched like a line of inchworms as people tried to force and honk their way around, and many a passerby were on their cell phones, hopefully talking to 9-1-1. Several cars pulled up near the bus, forming a diagonal, and turned on their hazard lights before getting out of their vehicles.

Roxie stood near Aerigo, behind the left side of the bus. The Mustang’s hood had been ground off all the way to the windshield, but all the tinted windows were intact. He looked down the length of the bus, then back at the car. He positioned himself behind the bus and glanced at its height, which was twice his. A dozen witnesses and bus passengers crowded near Roxie, who was at a loss for what to do.

Aerigo bent his knees and gripped the underside of the bus, then took a deep breath and straightened his legs with a quick exhale. The rear of the bus lifted off the ground level with his hips. He dropped to one knee and reversed his grip one hand at a time, then heaved to his feet, raising the bus level with his shoulders, and the sports car’s nose remained braided between both sets of wheels. A few scraps of metal clanged onto the pavement. Aerigo straightened his arms, hoisting the bus a little higher, and searched its underside. He began moving his hands as if he were under a row of monkey bars, pausing at every progression to make sure he kept the bus level.

More people began filing off the bus, clutching at heads and shoulders, and other joints. Roxie wondered if it would have been prudent to ask people to get off the bus before lifting it, even though Aerigo was trying to save valuable time. Saving time or not, everyone who’d gotten off the bus forgot about their pain and disgruntlement as they stared at this man holding up several tons of metal all by himself.

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