Dad took me by surprise when I got home, and I jumped to the pink fuzzy rug in the upstairs bathroom. I jumped back.
Dad was normally home a couple of hours after I was. Instead of working at the air force base, he was sitting in the living room with a box. The box had a Sharpie marker word scrawled in Mom's handwriting: "Pictures."
"I'm just curious, honey."
I was, too. I just hadn't given myself the time to think about it.
Dad had opened the box and tried to sort out the different places we'd lived. Mom apologized when she brought in water. "I keep meaning to do something with those pictures. I should at least organize them."
We'd lived in so many places growing up, and I was little for a lot of them.
"So, you have to remember the places really well for you to go there, right, Mags?"
"Do you remember New York?"
He dropped a picture of a window looking out over trees and buildings. There was a potted plant and the shades were pulled back. In the foreground, you could see someone standing there, but the window light was so bright that only their silhouette appeared.
It was me. I must have been six or seven years old. I remembered buying ice cream while on a walk with Mom, but I couldn't picture the place. I definitely didn't remember the window in the picture.
"Sorry, Dad. Let's try this one."
I pulled up a picture of a road trip we'd taken. There was a picture of a Route 66 sign beside the long stretch. Mom was holding my hand, and we were both pointing at the sign while squinting in the sun. I couldn't remember if we were smiling or feeling hot. However, the memory of my bus trip melded with this one, and I kept imagining it was in Utah.
"Where was this?" I asked Dad.
"It was Florida, I think." Dad was shuffling through the pictures, looking for a few specific ones.
We moved so often. I thought about where I went to middle school in Dayton, Illinois. I could remember the big hallways but nothing else.
"Honey, didn't you have homework?"
A chapter in science and a worksheet in history. But I felt like jumping.
Dad handed me one. "Try this."
It was a picture of me in front of Mrs. Cantrell's room, my fifth-grade teacher, holding a certificate. I wasn't smiling in this picture. Instead, I had a grimaced face, almost scowling at the camera. I remembered Mrs. Cantrell had tried to comfort me that day after the graduation ceremony. I was wearing a long dress that Dad and Mom made me wear – all the hype for graduation. A few of the girls I thought I knew – Megan something – had started calling me "chicken legs." When we had to walk outside to get to the gym for graduation, the dress blew up, showing my underwear. Megan's voice came back to me, "Don't hide those chicken legs."
"I can do this one," I said, standing.
Dad gave a nod, but he didn't stand.
"Do you want to come with me?"
Dad looked unsure. "Can you do that?" Mom was peeking in from where she was preparing dinner.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Just bring back a souvenir."
"Can I have a cell phone?"
"We'll talk about it," Dad said. He winked.
When I returned with a binder showing the address and city of my old school in Missouri, Dad was in the kitchen and Mom was just walking out, a frustrated look on her face.
Until I appeared.
She shrieked for a moment, and Dad burst back into the living room.
"Here you go. See? Junior High School, near Whiteman," I said.
Mom turned on Dad. "This is just what I mean. Don't you think someone's to miss this some stupid binder? Let her grow the way she needs to."
They were fighting again. My stomach felt like it was caving in on itself.
Dad was looking at the binder. His face passed from impressed to reverent, from suspect to confused.
"Did it feel good to exercise a little bit?" he asked me, ignoring Mom.
It did feel good, but I didn't want to admit it. "Sure, it was fine, I guess. Can I go to my room?"
Dinner was over, and Mom nodded. I jumped directly to my room. Downstairs, I heard Dad start talking. "See? I said…"
My typical day for the rest of the spring semester at Antelope Valley High School went like this.
I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and got ready for school. Then, I checked my Google e-mail account. Most mornings, there was a little message from Ryan Newquist (I heard his last name at school) asking for a ride.
Then, I would jump to the cement stairs leading to his apartment on Tiana Street and knock at about 7:20 a.m.
Usually, Ryan came out with his backpack in his hands. I'd lift him under his arms and jump to the high school gym, which was open but empty in the mornings.
Then, we split up for classes. After going to the bathroom at home a few times after lunch and arriving a little late for class, I set up a clock by my bathroom mirror. Breaks were only 11 minutes long – which seemed too short. Still, I made it back to classes on time.
After school, Ryan would meet me by the school portables, and we'd jump to his parents' apartment. No one was home most days. When someone was, we just parted. I never met his family, nor did Ryan talk about them, and I didn't say anything about my family except to say Dad and Mom couldn't teleport.
We did spend a lot of time talking about teleporting.
"So you weren't dropped in a vat of something?"
"What? No, I wasn't dropped in a vat. I was almost in a car wreck."
"Then what happened?"
I shrugged. "The car wrecked, and I wasn't there."
"Why don't I hear anything when you appear?"
"Like what would you hear?"
"I don't know. A pop or a poof – you know. Air rushing away from the spot you just appeared in."
Sometimes, I couldn't answer any of his questions. We'd test things out – jump away and come back – but it didn't seem like we learned anything.
Instead of talking, I guess I could have started my homework.
After a while, I'd jump home, straight to my room and start working on homework. If I made enough noise with my backpack, Mom would hear me downstairs and come up to check on me.
With dinner over with, I went back up stairs. Mom seemed to have won the fight over doing any family experiments.
When everyone had gone to sleep, or mostly asleep, I would jump back to the Shadle Park beside my high school in Spokane. I missed my friends, but if I knocked or something, they would think I was a runaway. Phone calls would be made. I remember a talk my dad gave me once, about learning to be happy where I was.
Well, now I could be anywhere.
Eventually, some of the Spokane drug users would show up, kids I recognized from high school. I jumped home, then, and slept.
"So, can you carry anything with you? Do you feel it if it's a lot of stuff?"
I didn't think so: I didn't notice much difference between carrying Ryan home from school and when I jumped alone. Still.
"Not really. Should we test it?"
Ryan's house, when he let me into it, was messy. Ryan pulled a cardboard box out of the corner. "Jump this to school."
The box, almost as wide as my shoulders, was noticeably heavy. Heavy, like a box of paper, and its contents didn't shift much.
"Are you sure you can even lift that?"
I wasn't picking it up but a few inches. Just as I tried to jump, the box slipped out of my hands. It landed on the high school gym floor. I had been touching it but not carrying it. It slammed onto the gym floor, loud. A coach – maybe basketball – was leaning against the entry from the locker rooms.
"Hey." He was looking past me, to see where I had come from. The nearest door was about 30 yards away. "Unless you're here for the boys' team, get that off the court."
"Uh, yeah." I started to heft the box. "Okay."
I carried the box in a squat to the exit, taking about five minutes. Five minutes longer than if the coach would just look the other way.
When I jumped back to Ryan's living room, someone else was there, facing away from me. It was a woman, and she was shouting.
I slid the box a few inches closer to where it had been. When the scraping sound drew the person's attention, I jumped to the front door of Ryan's apartment.
Inside, I heard a muffled shout.
I waited. I was worried for Ryan, but if I showed up too soon, they might think I had been there. My backpack! I'd left it in the living room.
I thought about jumping back inside, but I couldn't think of any place that I could appear without freaking everyone out.
Instead, I knocked.
After a second knock, a older-looking woman (she looked older than my mother) cracked the door slightly. Her talking voice was almost as hoarse as her yelling voice. "Who is it?"
"Hi. Um, my name's Maggie. I walk with Ryan home."
She cut off my last word. "What do you want?"
"I- uh, left my backpack. Is Ryan here?"
Ryan squeezed to the crack with my backpack. The woman had to open the door a little bit to let my bag pass.
"I'll be back soon, Mom," Ryan said, as he squeezed through.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going out, Mom. I'll be back."
"You're staying right here. Pizza's coming soon."
I was looking down at my bag.
"I said I'm going out. I'll eat later."
"You're going to eat with us. We never sit down anymore," Ryan's mother was whining.
"I'll be back before the pizza gets here."
In response, Ryan's mom slammed the door.
"Sorry," he said.
"I'm sorry. There was someone in the gym. It took forever," I started, but Ryan wasn't looking at me.
"It's her fault the house is the way it is." Ryan handed me his backpack. "Can you take this to the school for me? Just in the men's bathroom. I'm walking tomorrow morning anyway."
"Do you need any books out of it?" I wanted to ask him if he was okay.
"No, it's cool. Just go ahead. I'll see you at school."
I jumped his book bag to the men's bathroom where we'd met before. I figured that was the one he meant.
Ryan stopped wanting to hang out at his house after that.
A few times, Ryan and I appeared when someone else was in the gym. Once, it was a janitor, looking the other way. Ryan, fast thinking, pushed open a door to the outside and let it slam.
No one caught onto my jumping. I was getting really surprised, but Ryan said it was normal.
"People see what they want to see, Maggie," Ryan said one morning on the way to school. "I dress like this because it's what we've got, and everyone thinks I'm a druggie. Sometimes the teachers look twice at me, but I keep my grades up and it doesn't matter. Point is, no one's going to figure it out until someone sees us jump."
It felt weird to me to hear him use my word, but he was getting used to the trips.
We split up in the morning, and I saw the girl I sit beside in first period, Jamie. Runnels was her last name, I think.
"So, how long have you and Ryan Newquist been a thing? You're always together."
My nose wrinkled. "Me and Ryan? We just walk to school together."
"Uh-huh." She shut her locker and didn't say anything.
Maybe Ryan was right.
Dad was working later than normal. He was getting home at 7 p.m., reheating his dinners in the microwave. One afternoon, Mom and I were having a normal dinner – meatloaf.
"You know what I miss from Spokane?" she said.
We never talked about what we missed. I kept eating.
"I miss Panda Express. Remember the Chinese fast food place? I wouldn't mind paying for orange chicken."
"Really?" I'd only eaten half of my meatloaf. There was some parsley or rosemary or something in it. I didn't like it, but I usually ate whatever was there "because you never know when you'll get another meal," Dad used to say. I'd learned that non-military families didn't have mottoes like that.
"Well, if you want some Panda Express, it'll only take me a minute."
"Really?" Mom laughed. "You know, I never really forget, but I just didn't think about it. Let me fetch a ten."
Mom came back with her purse, digging out a wallet, and from that a $10 bill.
"I'll have to walk from Shadle Park, you know, past the McDonalds?"
Mom hesitated before handing me the money. "Can I go with you?"
She was dressed in casual clothes – some jeans and a loose sweater. The last time I went to Shadle Park, I had to come back for a jacket.
"Get a coat."
Mom and I appeared under a tree in the dark. For some reason, the sun was setting sooner here than it was in Southern California. The high school – under some kind of construction – was behind us and a concrete path wound around the trees to lights.
I let go of Mom too soon, and she slipped to one side. I grabbed her by the coat and helped her steady her balance.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." She started to take a step. "Maybe I need to sit down."
We sat against the tree. Suddenly, Mom laughed, like an "ah-hah." "It smells like Spokane."
After that, she was okay. I thought about Ryan hitting his head on my dresser on his first jump. I should be more careful if I take anyone else – like Dad.
It was a two-minute walk to the Panda Express, a three-minute wait in line, and about another two minutes ordering for both of us. It felt like forever.
We talked about staying, but Mom said we should probably get back in case Dad gets home. We had a third Styrofoam box with his dinner in it.
When we got home, Mom didn't lose her balance.
"So, why don't we hear about any friends?" Mom asked when we were sitting at the table.
"Well, I hang out with some people after school, before I come home."
Mom nodded. "It's not like you ride the bus home with everyone."
"Mom. Almost everyone drives or hitches a ride anyway."
"Still. I mean, honey, you do your homework on the weekends. Aren't most kids – I don't know – going out to the mall?"
Mom wasn't normally this straight-forward.
"Are you feeling light-headed from the trip?"
"It's just that it's been maybe two months, and you haven't asked to go out once." Mom was fiddling with one of the chunks of orange chicken, scooping it through some rice. "I know you must miss Janice and Terry and Mark, but after two months, I was expecting you to make friends here. I mean, you've been so quiet," she said softly, "I was thinking there might be a boy."
She was staring at me, and I couldn't think of anything to say fast enough. I couldn't say I walk to school with him, like I do with everyone else at school.
Suddenly, she blurt out, "There is a boy—"
"It's not like tha—" I said over her.
"What's his name?"
"Stop being so excited, Mom," I said. "We're just friends."
Mom looked askance. "What does that mean?"
"Well, we meet at school. He helped me on my first day – and I sort of helped him out," I said. I started to eat again.
"What. Is. His. Name." Mom steepled her fingers.
"Ryan Newquist. He lives in Rosamond." I ate some of my Chow Mein. "And he's just a friend. I help him with his math sometimes. He gets my essays started."
Mom gave the second "uh-huh" of my day – just like Jaime. "You know, that's how your father and I started out."
I crossed my arms and sat back in the chair, putting on my best superior face. "You know, sometimes people see what they want to see."
Mom used her chop-sticks to point at me. "That's exactly what I mean."
Her words were still in the air when Dad got home. I jumped to the kitchen counter and fetched his Styrofoam box.
"Where did you find a Panda Express?"
I asked for the weekend to watch a movie at "a friend's house." Mom said it was okay as long as other people were there. Dad wanted to go cell phone shopping with me on Saturday, too. We decided he and I would go after the movie. Dad pointed a finger at me. "Don't let anyone see. You know what I mean," he added unnecessarily.
Ryan already knew, and I figured he didn't count, being ex post facto. Still, I wasn't going to tell the others.
Saturday morning, I woke at about 9:40 a.m. and jumped straight to the bathroom for a shower. I was supposed to meet up with Ryan at 10 a.m.
When I was done, I made a swift motion to push the shower knob closed and jumped back to bedroom. Water – more than what was dripping off of me – splashed on to my bed and splattered the carpet.
Haste makes waste.
I jumped back for towels and left them soaking the floor and on the bed.
I resisted the urge to put on anything more exciting than capris and a shirt.
The extra water had come with me from the shower, but I couldn't figure how. I wondered what else would come with me. What if I was in a pool when I jumped to my room? What if I teleported into a pool from my room?
Would Dad be able to explain how that much water got into the upstairs bedroom?
As I patted the wet carpet with a dry towel, I figured there must be more rules to this than I knew about.
The clock in the bathroom read 9:54 a.m.
Promising I would think about it more, I jumped downstairs for cereal.
Dad was up, reading the newspaper. He only stirred when I opened the silverware drawer.
"Don't forget to be back before two," he said behind the front page.
I finished and looked at the time on the microwave. 9:53 a.m. That clock must be slow. I didn't even hear the bowl clatter in the sink when I jumped to Ryan's place.
Ryan couldn't find his copy of "Firestarter." We "walked" to Jamie's house – jumping about a hundred feet each second from alley to alley – following a map Ryan had printed out from . We stopped at a Blockbuster video to rent a copy and knocked on Jamie's door at about 10:10 a.m. Jamie's brother was watching it with us, too, and another girl that Jamie knew. Her name was Ginny, short and nervous about her braces.
I had to wear braces when I was younger. I remembered wanting to sink into the floor when I went to school my first day after getting them on.
Teleporting away wouldn't have been as bad, either. But then I'd have to deal with Dad hounding me over home tutoring or something.
Jamie's brother, Peter, served popcorn, but I didn't eat any.
The movie was obviously old. I guess you would call it an "action/thriller" – not a horror movie, like I was expecting. Peter and Ryan laughed at some of the government guys talking about how they would run tests. Ginny didn't seem as interested in the movie – she was looking away at Ryan or after the popcorn – but kept saying "Ooh, watch this part."
As if I needed reminding.
I couldn't take my eyes off of the movie.
I think Ryan might have noticed.
I didn't breath from the discovery of Drew Barrymore's powers all the way to the government experiments on her and her father. I tried to close my eyes when the mother died but couldn't.
I audibly exhaled when the father said, "Burn it all down."
Ryan had a worried look on his face when the credits started rolling. Everyone began chatting, and Peter stacked the popcorn bowls on the counter. I heard little Ginny say, "That would be so handy. You know? Popcorn – bang, and there it is."
You're being too quiet, Maggie.
I couldn't think of anything to talk about. I was still in the movie.
"I better get going." I stood up. "Dad's taking me to get a phone today."
Everyone began talking about their cell phone, but I didn't hear any of it.
Ryan put down his bowl and dusted his pants off. "I'll walk with you."
Jamie had a significant look but waved bye. Peter was pulling his keys out of his jacket.
"I can give you guys a lift home."
"That's okay," Ryan said. "We'll walk."
I tried to shut the door behind me, but Ryan shouted "Bye" and dashed out the door.
"Hey, wait up."
"Do I look like a bus to you?" I was heading for the next street over, an out-of-sight place to jump home. Ryan was half-jogging to catch up.
I was boiling over.
"You know what." I jumped behind him and gave him a slight push. "Did you think that was some kind of joke? Are you trying to say the military is going to come after me some day?"
Ryan had stumbled far forward from my push because he was off-balance with running.
"They might. I'm not going to say I'm not jealous of you," and that made me blush, "But there are people who would do worse than try to hang out with you."
I had to sit still for a minute, but my legs kept walking.
Ryan followed slowly but close.
"Is that why you hang out with me?"
Ryan breathed. "It was at first."
Ryan was scratching at the back of his neck. "I don't know. I think you're cool, you know? Like I miss it when we can't hang out. I'm glad you came to the movie," Ryan added at the end.
I sighed, but at the same time, I didn't think I was ready to admit anything either.
"You know my dad's in the air force. That's why we moved so much."
"Really? Do you think the air force gave you those powers, or did any experiments on you as a kid?"
Whatever anger I had calmed down was suddenly on fire again. "What? No. Dad was totally surprised when I told him."
"You told him about it? Why would you do that?"
"What else? I can't hide this from my parents. They probably wouldn't ever guess, but they'd know something was up," I said. I hadn't thought it through that fully, but as I said the words, they made sense.
Ryan pushed the button on a crosswalk. The traffic was pretty loud, but I didn't feel like jumping home yet.
"Is the thing about the phone for real?" Ryan said.
"Yeah," I said. "I was kind of excited about it, but the movie must have put me in a bad mood."
"How do you know he's not going to bug it?"
I wasn't that paranoid at first, but I was getting there – and it was starting to irritate me. "He wouldn't do something like that."
When we crossed the street and a high hedge shielded us from the parking lot, I grabbed Ryan and jumped him to his apartment.
"I've got to go get ready."
Ryan sighed and set down his bag. "Look, I'm sorry about the movie. Just ignore it."
"Sure," I said, but I wasn't sure I could.
Mom was the one who took me shopping for my first bra. Dad never came with me, but I heard all kinds of embarrassing stories at high school in Spokane.
It was easy to imagine what Dad would have been like bra shopping when we arrived at the Verizon store at the mall in Lancaster.
Most of the models were on zip-wires. To examine them, you had to pull hard and keep pulling to keep the phone from getting zipped back.
I kept looking at some of the prices. I had paid for my own gas when prices were really high, so a phone for $700 seemed a little excessive.
"So, uh," Dad couldn't stop reading the small-fonted labels, "Do you see any you want?"
"I'm just looking now, I think."
"What about this one?" Dad pulled too softly, and the thin-bodied phone didn't budge. When he pulled harder, the phone's face twisted to the side. "Oh, sh—I think I broke it."
"No, Dad, I think that one's supposed to do that." I swiveled the face up, and a stretched number pad was below it.
I laughed to myself. Dad was always so in control. It was cute to see him like this.
What kind of phone did I want to get?
What if jumping disrupts the phone signal?
Dad was pulling out a Blackberry, beckoning me over. The wide screen was navigated mostly with a roller on the side.
"I guess price is no problem," I said, pointing to the $500 price-tag.
"I was thinking," Dad said, hunching in closer. "You said you couldn't do your thing if you didn't remember the place really well?"
I remembered trying to jump to my room in Lancaster from the bus stop in Idaho. I had been there only two days before but couldn't remember it well enough.
Dad turned the Blackberry on its face and pointed to the camera lens.
"We should probably get one you can record video with. You're bound to forget some places."
That was a good idea.
In the end, I decided for a normal sized phone, one that could dial on its face but also opened up sideways. The maximum memory storage was small. Dad bought a pair of SD memory cards to go with the phone.
Dad and the Verizon sales agent talked a lot longer about the calling plan while I got used to holding it. Dad was trying to get a better deal on the international calling plan. Getting unlimited long-distance in the nation was easy – and vital for someone like me. But I'd only ever been overseas as a child. I couldn't jump there yet.
On the ride home, I asked Dad why he was spending so much on me and the phone.
"Honey, I know I haven't been around to do a lot for you. But I can give you this," and he put a hand on my head while he drove. "We already had the trust talk when we gave you the car. This is just another step of adulthood, Mags."
I liked the feeling of his hand there. He used to do that when I was younger and his fingers could reach down to my chin.
I felt like I was betraying his gift whenever I remembered what Ryan said about Dad tracking the phone.