Villainous, p.11

Villainous, page 11

 

Villainous
 


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  “Bud,” Daniel said. The fat bully’s super-stench was unmistakable, but what would he be doing way out here in the woods near the tree fort?

  Judging by the sudden look of worry on Mollie’s face, she was thinking the same thing. What if Clay and Bud had found out about the new tree fort and ambushed their friends when they weren’t expecting it? What if their friends were in trouble even now?

  “Stayhereaminute,” Mollie said, almost too quickly to hear.

  “Wait, don’t!” said Daniel, but he might as well have been talking to the empty air—she was gone before he’d breathed the first word.

  Cursing under his breath, Daniel dashed up the path toward the tree fort. Mollie was rushing in without considering another, even more troubling, possibility. What if the bullies had somehow gotten ahold of Rohan’s phone and sent that text themselves? She could be flying into a trap.

  The tree fort was close enough that Daniel could just spot its outline through the woods—an unfinished structure half as big as their old tree fort. Nothing looked amiss, but then, if you were preparing to spring a trap, wasn’t that the point?

  Winded from the sprint uphill, Daniel reached the clearing beneath the tree fort. Mollie was nowhere to be seen, but Daniel thought he heard voices from up top. People were arguing.

  A rope ladder dangled from an open trapdoor in the bottom, but he didn’t have the necessary angle to see inside.

  He could make out words now, and Mollie’s voice raised in anger.

  “… out of your mind?” and “… right, you are an idiot!” and “Don’t sit there, that’s mine.”

  Those certainly didn’t sound like cries for help.

  Daniel was halfway up the ladder when Mollie’s head appeared above him in the open trapdoor.

  “Are you gonna take all day?” she asked. “My grandma could climb faster than that.”

  And like that, the memory of her smell, the feeling of flying together, his own worry for her very safety—they all disappeared. Mollie Lee was back to being an enormous pain in Daniel’s butt.

  He ignored her helping hand and hauled himself up the last few feet into the tree fort. The combination of woodland sprint and rope climb had left him a sweaty, out-of-breath mess. He rolled onto the floor and lay there for a moment—oblivious to the sawdust collecting in his hair. As he stared up at the ceiling, he realized the place still had only half a roof. What had begun as a project of passion had become an afterthought for most of them, with neglected tools and piles of unused lumber cluttering up the area. Daniel wondered, and not for the first time, if it would ever get finished. The Supers were no longer a secret, and maybe they’d finally outgrown their secret house in the woods.

  The Bud stink was definitely stronger in here, and when Daniel lifted his head, he saw his friends standing or sitting around him. A few were holding their noses, and Rohan was wearing a swimmer’s nose clip over his—Bud was kind of Kryptonite to a boy with super-smell. Eric was there in his academy uniform. Michael and Louisa and little Rose were present, though Rose kept blinking into invisibility. Right there and then, finding himself in the same room with Louisa for the first time in months, Daniel wished he could disappear too.

  Lastly, in the corner, sitting on the ground looking miserable, was Bud. With his face flushed and his eyes all puffy and red, he looked like he’d been crying. His shirt was stretched near to bursting over his round belly, and his own academy tie was tied all wrong. It was strange enough seeing Bud without Clay by his side, but seeing him here in their tree fort was a shock.

  “What’s he doing here?” asked Daniel. “Did you guys take Bud prisoner or something?”

  “Bud’s not a prisoner,” said Eric.

  “And Eric’s not in his right mind,” said Rohan. “I think he’s being mind-controlled. Oh, wait. No, he really is this stupid sometimes.”

  “Will you two knock it off?” said Louisa. “It’s not helping.” She was leaning against the open window, probably to get as much fresh air as possible. She’d gotten a new haircut. Daniel started to wave a hello at her but realized she wasn’t even looking his way, so he tried to save face by pretending to fix his own hair. An impossibility, of course. Daniel hadn’t managed to get a hairbrush through that tangle of curls since the third grade.

  “What’s going on?” he asked as he pulled himself to his feet. “Mollie, do you know?”

  “I’ll let him tell you,” she answered. Was it his imagination, or was she also avoiding eye contact with Daniel now too?

  “Look, this is silly, you guys,” said Eric. “I’m going to be late.”

  “Just you tell Daniel what you are going to be late for,” said Rohan. “Since you won’t listen to the rest of us, maybe he can talk some sense into you.”

  “What am I talking sense into him about?” asked Daniel.

  “It took Eric one day to get into trouble,” said Rohan. “One day!”

  “It’s a new record,” laughed Michael.

  “With the teachers?” asked Daniel. “With Johnny?”

  “No,” said Rohan. “With Drake and his Nobles. I think it’s safe to say our cover is blown.”

  “That Drake’s a real jerk,” said Eric.

  “We told you that,” said Mollie. “And that’s the whole reason you were going to the academy, to spy on him because he’s a real jerk.”

  “Yeah, but he’s like … a super-big jerk,” said Eric. “Someone has to teach them a lesson.”

  “So you’re the one to do it?” said Louisa. “Stupid, macho boys.”

  “Yeah,” agreed Rose. “Stupid boys.”

  Daniel was surprised at the venom in Louisa’s tone, and couldn’t help but wonder if she was talking about someone else entirely, like him.

  “It’s not Eric’s fault,” said a hoarse voice from the corner. Everyone turned and looked at Bud as he wiped his eyes. “It’s mine.”

  “That’s not true,” said Rohan. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Bud.”

  “Okay, I’m lost,” said Daniel. “Someone please tell me what happened. You’re all mad at Eric, and Bud’s now on our side. Is this some kind of parallel universe where we are all evil and grow goatees and stuff?”

  Everyone started talking at once. Daniel held up his hands and shouted, “One at a time, guys!”

  Surprisingly, they did as they were told.

  “Rohan,” said Daniel. “You first.”

  Rohan adjusted his glasses as he got ready to speak. His glasses!

  “Hey,” interrupted Daniel. “Where are your contacts?”

  “Eh, I didn’t make it past second period. Who can wear those things?”

  Daniel smiled. At least one thing was back to normal.

  “Anyway,” continued Rohan. “You were right about Drake and his Nobles. From the moment the first bell rang, that bunch started strutting around the academy like they owned it.”

  “They spent all morning making fun of the teachers behind their backs,” said Eric. “I couldn’t even focus on what anyone was saying because of all that snickering.”

  “With the exception of the Nobles, though, our morning was pretty awesome,” said Rohan. “Did you know they have a molecular microscope in one of the labs?”

  “Anyway,” continued Eric, “by the time lunch rolled around, we realized that everyone gives the Nobles a pretty wide berth.”

  “The best way to deal with jerks is to ignore them,” said Rohan.

  “Says you,” offered Eric.

  “So they were at their table,” said Rohan. “Laughing and making cracks about the cafeteria food and stuff, when, well …”

  “I came in,” said Bud, whining. “I walked into the lunchroom and Clay was sitting with them, with those Nobles. Clay and I haven’t been getting along much lately, but we usually still sit together at lunch. This time, though, he was sitting with those Nobles and there weren’t any other seats, so … I asked if I could sit there too.”

  “Clay said yes, then kicked Bud’s chair
out from under him as he was sitting down,” said Rohan. “Trying to impress Drake and his buddies. Bud hit the ground, hard.”

  “Everyone laughed,” said Bud. “Except you guys. The whole cafeteria laughing at me, and well, my power kicked in. I couldn’t help it.”

  “That girl, Skye, got sick,” said Rohan. “All over Drake’s jacket. And that’s when Drake lost it. For a moment I thought he was going to toast Bud right there, I really did.”

  They all looked over at Eric, who was suddenly very interested in a spot on the floor. Daniel could imagine what had happened next.

  “And you stopped them, right?” said Daniel.

  “No one else was standing up to those guys,” said Eric. “And honestly, I was already sick of their crap.”

  For the first time since Daniel had seen him, Bud actually smiled. “I don’t think Drake knows just how tough Eric is, ’cause they were getting ready to fight him right there. Clay knows, though. Even he backed away from that one.”

  It was weird, sitting there listening to Bud talk about Eric like he was his hero, after all those years of bullying.

  “You were going to take on the Nobles by yourself?” asked Mollie.

  “Rohan had my back,” said Eric.

  “Man, oh man,” said Rohan.

  “Where was Principal Johnny during all this?” asked Daniel.

  “Never saw him,” said Eric. “Not once all day.”

  Inside, Daniel started to seethe. Johnny had promised that he was going to look after Daniel’s friends at the academy, and yet the world’s first superhero was missing in action. He wondered if he’d been duped yet again.

  “Oh hey!” said Eric. “Guess who else I saw today.”

  “No idea,” said Daniel.

  “He’s trying to change the subject,” added Rohan.

  “Gerald McNally!” said Eric. “You guys remember that kid? He was a couple of years ahead of us, big into school plays. He played Curly in Oklahoma and kept losing his cowboy hat.”

  “I don’t know,” said Daniel. “Must’ve been before my time.”

  “Well, it turns out he’s one of us! The kid’s got X-ray vision and nobody knew. All day long, teachers constantly had to tell him to keep his eyes on the board and off the other students.”

  “Jeez,” said Daniel. “Turned out to be kind of a creep, huh?”

  “Are you two done talking about the super–Peeping Tom?” Mollie asked. “Get on with it! Get back to the fight with the Nobles.”

  “There wasn’t a fight,” said Eric.

  “Yet,” said Rohan. “Tell them, Eric. Go on.”

  Eric hesitated, then, with a deep breath, said, “I told them I’d meet them after classes. I don’t want to get expelled on my first day for fighting in the lunchroom. I mean, I’m not stupid.”

  Rohan snorted. “But you’re dumb enough to sneak off campus to fight them.”

  “If you didn’t notice you snuck off campus too,” said Eric.

  “Because of you!” said Rohan.

  “Where?” asked Daniel. “Where did you agree to meet them? Here?”

  “The junkyard,” said Eric.

  “See?” said Rohan. “First-class moron.”

  “And when?” asked Daniel, though he had a sinking feeling that he already knew the answer.

  Eric looked at his watch. “In about ten minutes. We’ve got free time before the dinner bell.”

  Rohan began lecturing Eric again, while Eric tried to reassure everyone that he knew what he was doing and that he could handle himself even against five-to-one odds. Daniel felt like he ought to get involved, to talk Eric out of doing something this reckless, but he was distracted by another conversation that had started nearby.

  While the boys were arguing, Mollie and Louisa had drifted off by themselves to the corner. Though he couldn’t make out what was being said, it looked like Louisa was as frustrated with Mollie as Rohan was with Eric. Every time Mollie tried to get a word in, Louisa cut her off. At one point Mollie raised her voice, and Daniel heard her say, “I’m not the bad guy!” but the rest of the Supers were too busy with their own shouting match to notice. Then Louisa stalked away, leaving Mollie standing there looking stunned and alone.

  Louisa was coming straight for Daniel. He worked up a smile. “Hi there.”

  But she didn’t answer him, and she didn’t stop. She just walked right through him. Daniel had seen Louisa use her phasing power before, but never to walk through a person, much less feel it happen to him.

  It tickled.

  “See you at home, Rose,” said Louisa, and then she disappeared through the floor and was gone. And here Daniel had worried that she was upset with him for not getting in touch all summer, but what had Mollie done to make her so mad? He had to admit, it was nice not to be the one in trouble for once.

  Daniel approached Mollie. “What’s up with Louisa?”

  When Mollie looked at him, her face was flushed, miserable.

  “Hey, Mol,” said Daniel. “What’s wrong?”

  Mollie shook her head and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Daniel knew he was in trouble.

  “Daniel Corrigan, you …”

  She didn’t finish. With something between a growl and a moan, she shoved him out of her way and stomped over to where Rohan and Eric were having their heated debate. Eric was in the process of explaining to Rohan what a little girl he was, and Rohan was comparing Eric to a less-than-average-intelligence Neanderthal.

  “All right, you two,” Mollie said as she wiped her eyes on her arm. Were those tears? “Eric, you said they wanted to meet you at the junkyard?”

  “Yeah,” said Eric, uncertain.

  “Then let’s go,” she said. “Because I feel like hitting someone.”

  Chapter Fourteen

  Supers vs. Nobles: Round One

  That morning, if anyone had told Daniel that he would find himself in the middle of a superpowered gang war, he would have pulled the covers over his head and gone back to sleep. Now, as he looked at the faces of academy kids gathering in the junkyard, he wondered if it wasn’t too late. Surely he could make it home by himself, lay his head upon his pillow, and forget that this insanity was even going on.

  During the flight over, Daniel had wracked his brain for a convincing argument that might put a stop to all this and make Eric, or at least Mollie, see reason. Rohan wanted Daniel to try, but the truth was that he was just too distracted to be of much use. Louisa was mad at him because he was admittedly being kind of a jerk to her, but for some reason, so was Mollie. She hadn’t offered to fly him this time—she’d grabbed Rohan and taken off without another word to Daniel. Michael carried Daniel, and Rose was with … somebody. It was hard to know for sure because she was invisible, but Daniel heard her giggling on the flight over, so he knew she must be around here somewhere.

  Bud too had insisted on coming along because he wanted to “see the butt kickin’,” therefore Eric was left with the unenviable task of carrying the super-stinky bully.

  Louisa was angry with him and Daniel knew why. Heck, he probably deserved it, although in his own defense he would’ve pointed out that Louisa hadn’t tried to see him all summer either. Why was he the villain in all this? But more baffling, and more hurtful, was the fact that he’d somehow ticked off Mollie too. Why was it so important to her what happened between him and Louisa? And what had Louisa and Mollie been arguing about anyway? Was it him? Had Mollie made the mistake of standing up for him?

  “Women!” Daniel mistakenly said out loud. A large group of academy kids had turned up to watch the fight, and several were watching him now. Was it obvious that he wasn’t like them? Did they think he was a peasant too? So while everyone waited for the Nobles to show up, Daniel drifted to the back of the crowd. Maybe he could just slip away and go home. Maybe his time would be better spent calling up Louisa and apologizing.

  “Hey, Corrigan!” Daniel had just looked up to see who’d said his name when he felt a shock against his b
utt. It felt like he’d sat on a live wire.

  “Ouch!” he shouted, and looked to see a boy with spiky blond hair leaning against a dented old fridge and smirking at him, his academy tie fashionably askew.

  “Hello, Simon,” said Daniel.

  When Daniel first met Simon, he’d thought the boy created his particular hairstyle with a ridiculous amount of hair gel, but he’d come to realize that the boy’s hair looked like that because Simon was basically a human electrical conductor. It hadn’t taken him long to become Daniel’s least favorite Super because of his habit of jolting people for a laugh. But that hadn’t stopped Daniel from trying to save Simon from the Shroud on his thirteenth birthday. Daniel had tried, and failed.

  Even now that Simon’s powers had returned, Daniel wasn’t sure if the boy had forgiven him.

  “I didn’t know you were going to the academy. We were all wondering what you’ve been up to.”

  Simon gave a shrug that said he wasn’t much interested in talking about what he’d been up to. But it was obvious—avoiding his old friends was what he’d been up to.

  “So,” said Simon. “You here to referee this little rumble or what?”

  “No,” said Daniel. “I don’t really know why I’m here, to tell you the truth.”

  “My money’s on Drake and his Nobles.”

  “You are really going to bet against your friends? I thought you were a Super too.”

  Simon chuckled. “Sure, back when there were only, like, seven or eight of us on the entire planet. But things have changed around here if you haven’t noticed.”

  “What are you saying?” asked Daniel.

  “Forget it,” said Simon. “Let me just give you one piece of advice: This isn’t your fight. You keep trying to save people when you should be looking out for yourself.”

  Simon cocked his head to indicate the other students who were standing around waiting. Some faces Daniel recognized; others he didn’t. It was weird to think many of the older kids had shared the same school halls as he, and he’d never known they had once been Supers themselves. Others were experiencing their powers for the first time. Not all of them were academy students—not Michael, not Mollie—but wasn’t it just a matter of time? Only one person here today really didn’t belong, and that was Daniel.

 
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