“So I stood face to face, stared in his – his creepy yellow eyes, and I said 'Screw you!'” Sean Henthorn brandished a plastic cup in the air, in what would be very poor form if he were actually aiming a gun. He broke his stance and lurched dangerously to one side.
Dale Turner snorted. “Sure.”
“Sure, and I stood up really big and yelled, hey look at me when I yell at you, jackass – and he took off!” Sean let out a triumphant breath, having reached the climax of his story. He glanced around at his audience, who remained seated, lazily sipping from their drinks and peering at him skeptically. “My dad was so spaced, when I came back to the campsite.” Sean made a face, apparently in imitation.
Skylar Stevens sniggered, and it turned into a giggle. Her arm that had leaned casually across Dale's lap slipped, and he glanced at her, a mixture of wariness and amusement on his face. “I don't think you did that,” she said, turning to Sean with an accusatory look.
“What, you don't think I would be brave enough?” he asked, with an exaggerated look of injury.
“I think you'd be stupid enough,” Skylar said, clutching Dale's knee as she shifted to pull her legs underneath her. “Just think it probably wasn't a mountain lion. Probably a squirrel...or a deer or something.”
“Raccoon,” suggested Allison Hawkins from her cross legged perch in the chair against the wall. She surveyed Sean before taking a sip out of the plastic cup she was holding. “Maybe.”
“Nah, it was probably a little tiny chipmunk!” countered Skylar.
Sean scoffed at her this time. “Was not! Wanna go, right now? See if you can do better. I'll show you, I'll take on the biggest animal...the biggest they got out there. You can even have the big gun. Let's go.” He made a grandiose motion, and laughed as he swayed backwards again.
Bonnie Richmond, seated on the edge of a desk, reached out a foot to kick him lightly. He glanced at her and she communicated something in rapid sign language.
“I'm not,” he said, though there was a hint of a smile under his protest.
“What did you say?” asked Skylar.
Bonnie grinned and glanced away but Sean shrugged and said “An idiot.”
Dale made a sign from his place on the floor. Bonnie laughed, but reached for Sean's hand, tugging him back towards her and making a teasing face.
“You know, it's not just you who doesn't believe in me. None of them do,” said Sean, motioning towards the door that led to the front of the shop.
“None of who?” asked Skylar, who had stood to get herself another drink.
“The people in this town,” he said, stumbling just a little over the consonants. “They still don't even know what we can do, and we do it right in front of them.”
“Ew, Sean, TMI,” said Skylar, pouring from the bottle into Allison's half empty cup and raising her eyebrows at Bonnie, who smirked and shrugged.
“No, no, no,” said Sean, waving a hand. “Gutter, lady! I mean they don't respect...what we do. Don't see how much we can do, now. That we're not kids anymore.”
Dale had been trying to stare at Sean with as much disdain as he could muster, but at this, even he had a thoughtful look on his face. Bonnie and Skylar nodded, and Allison was studying the ridges on the side of her cup.
“Puh. They'll figure it out one day,” said Skylar.
“Yeah. After the next big battle,” smirked Allison.
“Next time they want us to man up and fight?” suggested Sean, wrapping an arm around Bonnie and attempting to wink. “Or woman up. Sorry.” He leaned his head against her shoulder. She laughed and rolled her eyes. “We could show them,” she said, becoming a bit more serious.
The intense look on her face moved everyone else to silence for a moment. “Maybe we should just hold their supplies hostage. Make them figure out stupid passwords or do tricks for their bullets and meat,” suggested Dale.
“Meat,” said Sean with a smirk.
Dale ignored him, continuing with a strange glower Skylar would've recognized if she weren't so many drinks in. “They'd know who's got the power around here then. People have to see who's boss sometimes.”
For a moment the other teens looked surprised and were silent. Skylar chugged the remainder of her drink and smirked. “So we show them by making them sing 'I'm a Little Teapot' and 'Killing me Softly'? Can we make Gray do the teapot?”
Bonnie laughed, and Allison and Sean joined in. It seemed contagious and they were all laughing soon, Sean collapsing to the floor and holding his sides. Even Dale was chuckling. Skylar had tears in her eyes.
“Wait, wait! You hear that?” she asked, suddenly serious. The others quieted, though Allison had a hard time stifling her giggles. Bonnie glanced around, signing a question that no one answered as the others were all listening, their eyes towards the door.
“Someone's in the store,” whispered Allison. The other four teens continued to stare at the door that separated them from the storefront.
In the dark front room of the former Cyberjolt Cafe, Jake Green and Gray Anderson were having a hurried, whispered argument.
“We don't know what's in there, Jake. I say call for back up.”
“You guys go back to the station then. I'm going to check it out.”
Gray grabbed Jake's arm, but loosened his hold and softened his expression. “I'm not putting any more of our people at risk when we don't know what we're up against.”
“You don't have to, just go back and – Mary!” Jake hissed over at her. During the argument between the current mayor and former mayor's son, Mary Bailey had edged past them. She glanced towards them and made a silent motion before turning to the door leading to the back room, listening intently for the muffled voices that could be heard on the other side.
“We don't know who it is,” said Gray through clenched teeth. Jake rolled his eyes and stared at the door, trying to listen too.
He couldn't believe how their argument had changed since they'd come inside. Outside the Cyberjolt cafe, Gray had been disbelieving, wondering how anyone could have gotten past the border patrol and the Cheyenne soldiers now stationed at all the checkpoints and settled in various locations around town. He had been reluctant to have even one member of his staff spend time investigating a building on Main Street just because someone walking by thought she heard something. Jake had been annoyed to be intercepted by Gray. Mary'd told him she'd thought she'd heard voices in the abandoned building but she wasn't sure, and he'd wanted to check it out quickly and quietly. He wasn't sure it was anything either, but he'd seen how jumpy Eric had been the past two weeks, ever since their father's death, since New Bern, and everything that had happened. The look Mary was trying to hide was a familiar one too, and knowing she and his brother lived on this street, only a few buildings away, he'd figured it wouldn't hurt to give them all peace of mind, even if they just discovered a broken window or a family of squirrels in the rundown cafe.
Now, he was certain those weren't squirrels and certain he shouldn't have allowed a mayor and a bartender to be his backup. “Get back!” he growled as quietly as he could.
Mary nodded but her eyes widened as Jake held his gun out in front of him. She opened her mouth and he put a finger to his lips. She took a breath, and mouthed something slowly. “What if...”
He looked past her and to the door, stepping as quietly as he could. Of course they didn't know if the person behind the door was dangerous, but she didn't know the kinds of people he'd been running across lately, the kinds of knowledge he'd recently become privy to. Neither did Gray, breathing tensely at his other shoulder. None of them did, and none of them knew the lengths he'd agreed to go to keep them from finding out. He could feel their eyes on him, feel them refusing as he gestured, willing them to leave, so he stepped forward.
A hand suddenly gripped his arm from the side. He tensed but relaxed his grip on his gun, glaring sideways at Gray. “Shouldn't we announce ourselves?” asked the mayor quickly, looking a little spooked.
Jake tried to throw his arm off as quietly as possible. “Out of the way,” he murmured. Before Gray could say anything else, before Mary could step any closer behind them, he reached for the door and turned the doorknob.
Three pairs of adult eyes focused on five teenagers, seated or standing in a variety of poses in the store's small back room. Dale and Skylar stood tensely at the ready, facing their discoverers. Bonnie glanced between her brother's friends and the mayor. No one spoke for a moment.
“Uh oh – it's the fuzz!” said Sean. He glanced sideways and signed something at Bonnie. Bonnie looked down at the floor, but couldn't quite keep a smile from gracing her lips.
Gray sent a quick look at Jake, who was stowing his gun, before advancing on the teens. “Just what do you think you're doing?”
Allison slipped off the side of the chair she'd been balancing on. Gray was nearly shaking now. “Which one of you is going to explain what's going on?”
“I have a pretty good idea,” said Mary quietly. She had gone to help Allison off the ground, and she gestured at the array of cans and bottles around the room.
“I can't quite believe what I'm seeing. You should all know better than this!” Gray began, running a hand over the top of his head and picking up one of the discarded bottles. “Especially those of you who want to be treated like adults.” He rounded on Skylar, who was now leaning with one arm over Dale's shoulder. She stared defiantly back at him.
Dale looked ready to retort, but Jake stepped in, getting between the mayor and the teens so he could give them a stern look of his own. “I'll handle this, Gray.”
“Really, do you think you should be the one to -” Gray began, but Jake ignored him, instead glaring at Dale. “Real smart, guys. Do you know I had my gun trained on whoever I was about to find in here? What do you think happens to people who break and enter?”
“You send in the...the cavalry,” said Sean with a giggle.
Jake spun around. “Seriously! You have no idea what could have happened, do you? You can't go making stupid mistakes like this!”
“Like you never did,” said Bonnie, part defiant and part singsong. Jake stared at her for a moment, slightly shocked. Finally, he pointed. “Clean this up,” he said. “All of you.”
“Aye-aye captain!” said Sean with a mock salute. He sidled up to the desk, sending a bunch of cans cascading over the side.
Skylar was swaying slightly though she continued to hold onto Dale. Allison was burying her face in her hands as though she was forcing herself to suppress something. Jake sighed. “You'll clean it up tomorrow! Tonight, you're going home and showing your parents what you've been doing.”
Dale snorted, wrapping his arm around a teetering Skylar. Jake turned to glare at him, and felt a tinge of surprise when Dale stared back at him.
Jake shook his head and cast an annoyed glance across the teens. “Allison,” he finally muttered. “Your dad's still at the station. I'll walk you. Then I'm driving you home, Bonnie.” He motioned at both of them.
“I still want to have a word with them,” piped up Gray. “You all need to understand the seriousness -”
“You too, Sean, I guess,” grumbled Jake, with a look of vexation. He sent one glance over at Mary, his eyebrows raised. She returned his half smile, half grimace, and gave a small nod.
The three teens in question slowly began filing out the door, only Bonnie glancing briefly at Jake as she went. With one last look of warning at Gray, Jake followed after them.
Gray rounded on Dale and Skylar, who hadn't moved from their spot in the middle of the room, though Skylar was now holding onto Dale with both arms. “Well, you two are certainly going to have to answer for yourselves. I don't know what you were thinking, but you're going to have to smarten up. In a time like -”
“Gray,” cut in Mary. She raised her eyebrows pointedly. He looked at her. “What I think they're going to have to do is sleep it off.” She stepped over to Skylar's other side. “I'll walk them home,” she said, glancing appraisingly at both of them.
“No one is going home until someone answers my questions!” announced Gray.
Dale grimaced. “I'll stay,” he muttered. He turned to Skylar. “I'll meet you back home.”
Gray looked like he would protest, but as Skylar let go of Dale and lurched forward for a precarious moment, he shrugged. “Fine. You'll both be back here tomorrow.”
Mary reached an arm across Skylar's shoulders. “This way,” she said. Skylar reluctantly followed her lead and sullenly did her best to keep up as they crossed the store.
Dale watched them go, listening to Skylar's retreating footsteps until he turned a stiffened expression to the mayor. “So,” he said cooly.
Gray folded his arms as though trying to contain his ire. “Can you explain to me how this shows responsible behaviour that might be expected from someone running a business?”
Dale met Gray's gaze. He didn't seem abashed. “We weren't hurting anyone.”
“Your actions very well could have hurt someone. Do I have to tell you how riled up everyone gets these days at the slightest sign of an intruder?” Gray's voice betrayed a note of fear within the frustration.
Dale said nothing for a moment, but stared back.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself? Answer me.”
“Why? Seems like you've got it down,” said Dale.
Gray practically puffed up as he spoke. “You kids really need to smarten up. You might not be in school but the rules haven't changed that much.”
Dale sent the mayor a withering look. “Everything's changed. And you can't expect us to be kids one day and adults the next.”
Gray looked slightly surprised, and annoyed to have his focus momentarily thrown. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You know I don't actually need anyone.” Skylar shivered slightly in the spring air as they walked. “Don't need anyone to walk me home.”
“Okay,” said Mary, but she didn't loosen her grip as they walked.
“We weren't hurting anyone,” said Skylar. “And we'll fix things later. I wish people'd understand we can do that.” Her voice sounded suddenly on the verge of something. She stepped along emphatically.
“We can talk about it later,” said Mary.
“Talk, talk, talk,” muttered Skylar. “All you ever do is talk. Do we do this or that? Blow up a bridge? Eat some rice? Don't know how you even pick out what sweater to wear this morning.” She stopped for a moment, leaning forward, her hands on her knees. Mary stepped to the side, sighing. Skylar's face was absolutely serious, staring at the ground, and they both waited but nothing happened. Mary stepped back over to her, pulling her along again. “If you have to, aim away from your shoes,” she said.
“What kind of dumbass you think I am?” muttered Skylar.
Mary gave her a significant look but didn't comment.
Jake struggled to keep from speaking the entire trip home. He knew it would be useless to try to talk to Bonnie and drive at the same time, and figured it would be even more useless to try to talk to Sean. Still, as they trudged across the lawn towards the farmhouse, moonlit against the looming sky, he found himself losing the struggle. “I'm not gonna waste time asking you what you thought you were doing,” he said glumly, making sure to look them both in the eye as they stood on the porch. “I'll leave that for Stanley.”
They said nothing, but as he turned to rap on the door, there was a chuckle. He glanced to his side, though he knew it came from Sean. If Bonnie hadn't been standing between them, he might've reached across and swatted the back of Sean's head. He didn't know why, but that kid pissed him off more than almost anyone. Must've been the time he nearly ploughed his mother over with a horse in the midst of stealing it. Yeah, he didn't quite understand Stanley's patience with Sean. Bonnie on the other hand.
“Don't screw it up, Bonnie,” he said, focusing on her and ignoring Sean. “You're smart. You have your life ahead of you.” He sighed. “I know it's normal, messing around when you're young. But you guys don't get to be the same kind of young we were.”
He recognized the challenging smirk she was giving him. He was tempted to smirk back, because he could see himself standing there, exactly the way she must see him, acting all pompous and knowing and completely full of it, since she knew exactly what kind of young he'd been. She'd only been small and still she'd known. Instead, he sighed, knocked on the door once more, and glanced again at the teens.
“Just don't be as dumb as I was,” he said.
He ignored the smirk that passed between them.
Gray ignored a question Bill called to him as he followed Dale through the town hall parking lot. “Should you be driving?” Gray demanded.
Dale spared him a glance. “You know I didn't have any,” he said.
Gray shook his head. It was harder to understand, in a way, than Sean, collapsing in fits of giggles. Somehow it made him more nervous.
“I don't drink. But if my friends want to, I'm going to look out for them,” said Dale.
Gray frowned. Dale talked like he was some kind of boss. That's how he had looked, sitting in the cafe, like a lord surveying his domain. Gray kept from shivering. “This is bigger than you. There are rules you still have to follow. Sorry, you don't get to make judgement calls about this kind of thing.”
Dale scowled but said nothing, opening the door to his car. Gray scowled. He'd never seen it before Dale had driven it around town last week, and he didn't like imagining where it had come from. He suddenly remembered, such a short time ago, the day Dale and Skylar had tried to declare her parents dead. How much easier had it been to not take them seriously when they'd only had a bicycle?
“Anything else?” asked Dale, looking up from his seat.
Gray sighed. “Drive safely, kid.”
A flash, something much stronger than irritation, lit up Dale's face. “I'm not your kid,” he said through gritted teeth.
Gray stood silently, the angry heat of the moment suddenly violently displaced for something else he didn't quite want to label. He had a feeling he'd witnessed something stealing across Dale's face that he wasn't supposed to see, and wished they could quickly go back to the way things had been five minutes ago. Finally, he cleared his throat. “You know those soldiers are out. Don't give them a reason to nail you.”
Dale gave him one more irritated look and shut the door.
Skylar fumbled with her keys, missing the lock a few times and hitting her front door. “Here,” said Mary, taking the keys from her. She glanced at the young girl, who was leaning her hands on her knees again. “Drink some water, if you can, and try a cold washcloth for your head.” She turned the key in the lock. “Might want to tie your hair up, if you can manage it.” She raised her eyebrows. “You okay to-”
“I can do it myself,” said Skylar, wrestling her keys out of Mary's grasp.
Mary held her hands up. “Sure. We've all been there, I'm just trying to -”
“Look, Mother Mary, I don't need your words of wisdom, okay?” said Skylar, half sing-song and half sharp. “You probably think you were some kind of badass in your day...but you don't know what it's like to be me. You never had to deal with the crap I do, so just let me be.”
For a second Mary's eyes widened but she quickly arranged her face into a careful expression of disinterest. “Fine,” she said, stepping back. “See you around.”
Skylar stumbled inside, shoving the door shut behind her. She leaned against the nearby wall, suddenly feeling tears slide down her face for reasons she didn't understand.
“I don't understand,” Mimi was saying. She held a faded green blanket around her pyjamas and hadn't quite lost the frazzled look she'd worn since she'd opened the door.
“Not too much to understand,” said Jake. “Drunk kids, angry as hell mayor.”
“But they broke into the cafe?” asked Mimi.
“Hey, no one was using it!” said Sean. Mimi turned and gave him such a death glare he lost the smile on his face and slunk into the house without another word. Mimi stared after him before turning an accusing look on Jake. “And you're sticking us with Sean too?”
Jake raised his hands as he shrugged. “Didn't think I should take him to his uncle's. Didn't you say he was welcome any time?”
Mimi's look of affliction was quickly repositioned into noble resignation. “He just better not puke on the bathroom floor again. Hear me?” she called into the house, in an oddly stifled voice that he probably didn't hear. She turned then to Bonnie, her expression now one of dismay.
Bonnie did her best to glower back, but she was slightly nervous. Coming out of the haze she'd been in throughout the adults' ranting, she was suddenly embarrassed at the way Mimi was staring at her.
“Stanley's asleep,” Mimi was telling Jake. “It can wait til morning. You don't want to be a witness if we wake him up for this.”
Jake nodded. “He can talk to me if he wants to know anything else. Mary and Gray were there too.”
Bonnie's embarrassment lifted somewhat at this indignity. “Stop,” she said.
Jake and Mimi were looking at her now, eyebrows raised. Slightly thrown. Good.
“Stop acting like you're so perfect,” she continued. “Think I haven't seen you do dumb things? I was there, remember?”
“Bonnie,” began Mimi.
“You don't even know,” said Bonnie, turning on her. “How many stupid things they all did before you even got here. But I know. I've never done anything as stupid, and it's because I've had to watch them!”
She marched past them then, satisfied that they would have to run to get in front of her if they wanted her attention again. Let them run. See if they could keep up in this spinning, twisting room.
A hand touched her arm. She spun around, narrowing her eyes. Jake was looking at her with concern now. “You okay?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Dad.”
Jake let go quickly, a strange, slightly spooked look on his face. “Why would you call me that?” he asked, trying to appear unconcerned, but she'd seen the moment of panic in his eyes. Good. She turned without another word and walked away as fast as she could to avoid any more Jake-handling.
She made it to the living room before her legs started to wobble under her. She could see, out of the corner of her eye, that Sean was now curled on the woven rug, having slightly missed the armchair nearby.
She sank into the couch, letting it swallow her up. She stared at the ceiling that was still spinning even though she had stopped. How dare they? After everything she'd been through with them lately. As she began to slide away, further and further from the ceiling, she imagined herself back in that basement, the day New Bern had attacked. They hadn't been so sure of themselves then. No one had been.