"And he said, they don't keep that kind of 'trash' in the library here," Katie exclaimed. She tried to make her voice deep so she could mimic Mr. H's stern tones. "'Young lady, this is a school. We have educational books.'"
Propelled by the force of her indignation, the brown-spotted banana that was the school's token contribution to a healthy lunch began to hover in front of her. Three matched silver-eyed stares hastily forced it back onto the table. It made one abortive attempt to wriggle free before Katie caught herself and slumped into her chair. Part of the deal that let them all attend West View Elementary together, instead of leaving home for the Institute, was that they not draw attention to themselves.
Well, not more than they did just by looking the way they looked.
"If only he knew," Eric said. "'Trash' indeed. If I hadn't had science fiction, I'd never have figured out what was going on when things started flying through the air. Not until I met you lot, anyways."
"I learned what my powers meant from my aunt's magazines," Kerri said.
"They have magazines about us?" Katie was momentarily distracted from her anger with Mr. H.
"Not exactly about us. They all had rainbows on the covers, rainbows and crystals and funny stars. They had lots of silly things in them, like how you could use crystals to focus your mind and save the whales. But sometimes there was useful stuff."
"Do you think that would work?" Katie asked.
"What, now you want to save the whales?" Dale snorted. "Like talking that cat out of the tree last week wasn't enough! I was sure you were going to get caught."
"There's no law against talking to cats," Katie defended herself. "But I meant the crystals. We've gotten better at moving things together, but maybe if we focused, really focused, we could be even stronger."
"We could try it," Kerri offered. "Maybe your friend Mrs. M would have some. Or I could borrow some from my aunt." Kerri spent weekdays at her aunt's apartment so her mother didn't have to drive her to the city for school every day. Katie privately thought Mrs. L had proposed the idea more because she didn't like living with Kerri's powers than because she didn't like driving. But she wasn't going to say that to Kerri, especially since her aunt was much nicer and knew how to bake chocolate chip cookies. The interesting magazines were a new and intriguing bonus.
"I bet they've already tried it at the Institute," said Dale. "I bet they have loads of crystals there."
He sounded wistful. Katie knew it was hardest for him, staying in the city. Monica was all right now. Knowing that Katie's strangeness had a reason, that she wasn't the only one with a weird kid, had helped a lot. But Dale's parents twitched at every stray gust of wind. She still thought staying had been the right thing, though. She wasn't sure she would ever forgive Mr. C. for spying on her, even if he had meant well in the end.
"It sounds like bunk to me, not real science," Eric said. "Anyway, then we wouldn't be here, eating this wonderful food." He nodded toward Katie's wilting banana, which she had begun to peel without using her hands, and floated it toward himself. As one, the kids leaned forward to shield their table from prying eyes. With a mock expression of pleasure, he took a big bite.
Katie didn’t think it was very funny, but it made Dale crack a grin. She couldn't wait to get back to her desk, where she'd stashed an orange--a real, juicy orange--from home.
The bell rang, summoning them to recess. Hastily, Eric stuffed the rest of the banana into his mouth while the rest gathered up their trays.
"I'll meet you in the yard," Katie said, mind still fixed on the orange. "You don't need to wait up."
"Are you sure?" Kerri asked. Sometimes the older kids tried to trip them, or shot rubber bands at their backs. But it wasn't like Katie couldn't look after herself. The rubber bands always missed. She nodded, waving the three of them away.
Kerri's warning lingered in her ears, which was why she noticed that someone was lurking just around the corner from her classroom when she doubled back to sneak the orange out of her desk. It wasn't an older kid, though, just a girl, maybe a year or two younger than her. Katie relaxed.
"K-Katie?" the girl asked, coming around the corner. Katie frowned. She looked almost familiar. She was also shaking, like she was afraid. But she kept talking. "My brother, my brother says I can trust you. He says you helped him, when some mean customer wouldn't pay. Can I?"
Katie remembered her now. It was Dorothy, Jackson's younger sister, the one whose party she'd hid at. She had saved Katie the last of the twinkies when Katie had to go to the bathroom.
"Trust me with what?" she asked. Dorothy jumped, as though she hadn't expected to be answered. "I'm not going to hurt you. Don't be silly."
Dorothy swallowed audibly and nodded, then started whispering quickly. "It's not me, it's my friend. Cynthia. She's in awful trouble. She has this necklace, it looks--anyway, her mother gave it to her. Before she died, I mean. Only it fell off on the playground yesterday, and Edward took it. And he says he won't give it back unless she writes his book report for him, the one that's due in English tomorrow. And she did, only now she's afraid he won't give it back at all. And Jackson said--well, I know lots of kids are afraid of you. But he says you're all right. Can you help?"
Katie's face went blank with concentration as she tried to follow the rapid stream of thoughts. She knew who Edward was. He was one of the kids who was always snapping rubber bands, even though he was a grade behind her, and smaller to boot. He hadn't even been put off when Kerri sent one flying back into his own face.
"I guess we could help," she said. "I'd have to talk to my friends. But what do you want us to do?"
"Anything! I mean, Cynthia doesn't care about the book report. But she really wants the necklace. Can you make him give it back? I know he's scared of you."
Cynthia might not care about the book report, but Katie did. She couldn't understand why someone wouldn't want to read a book, and she thought that pretending you'd read one might be the worst form of cheating, or at least one of the worst. She was pretty sure Eric would feel the same way.
"We'll do something," she said decisively, and was rewarded with Dorothy's tentative smile.
Out in the yard, under the half-dead oak where she and her friends usually sheltered, she explained the situation while peeling the orange.
Dale chewed his lip. "I could read his mind right enough, see whether he's keeping the necklace in his pockets or his desk. Once we figure out where it is, it should be easy to float it free. We just need to distract him a bit."
"But what about the book report?" Katie asked. "We can't have him going around pretending to read books. Can we sneak it out of his bag, right before he has to turn it in?"
Eric was looking thoughtful. "I think I have a better idea. Isn't Cynthia the girl who's always wearing those awful fluffy dresses? Doesn't she have Mr. H for her teacher?"
Katie saw what he was getting at immediately, even without telepathy. She hastily swallowed her last section of orange and licked the juice off her fingers. "It would have to be a good book report, though. A really good one, so he couldn't be mad at Cynthia for being sloppy."
"But if Mr. H fails it just because it's science fiction, that's not her fault. How would she know?" Eric finished. "And I just finished a great book. It's got giant robots, and they keep people from thinking anything except what they want them to think. Mr. H will hate it."
"Then we just need to get the necklace back," Kerri said. "Before Mr. H returns the report. Edward would keep it just for spite, if the grade were bad. Even if it wasn't Cynthia's fault."
Dale had already scrunched his eyes closed in concentration. The rest of them practiced their telepathy every weekend at Saturday lessons, and they were slowly improving, but Dale was still the best.
After a minute, his eyes snapped open. He groaned. "No luck for us. He's keeping it at his house. And he doesn't mean to bring it to school tomorrow. Maybe not ever."
"We'll just have to go and get it, then," Katie said firmly.
"How?" Dale demanded. "Breaking and entering isn't staying out of trouble. I know you're good with locks, but the police are good, too. They'll find fingerprints or something."
"He has a dog," Eric said suddenly. "I've seen him with it, sometimes, when I'm out with Toby. Could you ask the dog to get it?"
Katie considered. It was easy to talk to animals, but hard to get them to do what she said, sometimes. But dogs did love playing fetch. "I can try. I'd have to get to his house before he got home, though."
"He doesn't live that far from school," Kerri said. "You could walk over in a few minutes. And his mom comes and walks him home every day. So if we distracted both of them, the house would be empty. We can do that." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "I can do that."
Not all of Edward's rubber bands and spitballs missed. Katie remembered that he'd managed to stick one on Kerri's brand new birthday sweater last month.
"Can you figure out where he's keeping it in the house?" she asked Dale. "Sometimes dogs aren't too bright. I don't want him to have to look very hard." Eric punched her shoulder, but not roughly. The debate about whether cats were smarter than dogs was an old one.
Dale closed his eyes again and rubbed absently at his forehead. "Under the bed," he finally said. "He must not have any siblings. If I used a hiding place as easy to find as that, I'd lose whatever I was hiding in two days flat!"
"That's good," Kerri said reasonably. "Then there definitely won't be anyone home. I'll tell my aunt I'm going over to your place tomorrow, Katie, so she won't worry when I'm late."
Katie wasn't sure how she felt about waiting until tomorrow, but she supposed it was fair to give Edward a chance to return the necklace the way he'd said he was going to. Even if he was the sort of person who cheated about reading books.
"And I'll write the book report tonight," Eric said. "Then Dale can help me switch it out with the one in his bag after lunch. It's better if Cynthia never sees it. Then she can't get in as much trouble with the teachers even if he does find a way to make it all her fault."
"Which he probably will," Kerri said with a sniff. "He's that kind of person."
They all nodded in agreement. When the bell rang to signal the end of recess, they had talked the plan over three more times, and Katie wasn't sure how she could wait until tomorrow to begin.
"We got the report traded out no problem," Dale muttered to her in art class while they hunched together over the papier-mâché mask they were building together. "Eric says you need to talk to Cynthia about her taste in books, though. He read the report she gave Edward. Said it was something terrible, about horses."
"There's nothing wrong with horses," Katie told him. She liked some horse books herself, especially the ones where they carried knights around on adventures. Some of them could be pretty insipid, though, she had to admit. "Anyway, I barely know Cynthia."
Dale shrugged at her and reached for a paintbrush while she surreptitiously stirred the air around the mask, making sure it was completely dry. "Are you ready for your part?"
"Of course," she said firmly. She wasn't sure why her stomach was quivering. This was much less scary than when she'd thought the police were chasing her last summer. But it was also the first time since then that she'd planned something out for herself. Running away had been scary, but also exciting. It felt good to get some of that back. She'd been trying so hard to be good, to prove that keeping them in the city, instead of sending them to the Institute, had been the right choice.
Without even thinking about it, she sent a bit of her breeze whipping across the classroom. Marissa, who had spent all of last week making up new, obnoxious rhymes for "four-eyes," was trying to spread a thin coat of glitter across her mask. The wind caught the glitter and sent it swirling back at Marissa in a cloud that coated her face and hair. She shrieked and dropped her glue on her foot.
Dale gave Katie a look.
"Just practicing," she told him loftily, and went back to work.
A moment later, she heard a second shriek as the glue somehow squirted itself all over Marissa's shoe.
I'm probably out of practice, too, Dale thought at her, and ducked behind their mask to hide a grin from the teacher. Katie kept her face blank, but it was an effort.
With the bell still ringing in their ears, kids spilled down the school's front steps, headed to the waiting buses or splitting up to walk home.
"I've got this," Kerri told Katie, who was studying the crumpled map she'd sketched of the route to Edward's house one last time. "Go."
Katie nodded and trotted off across the yard. Behind her, Edward's voice suddenly rose above the crowd. "Hey! Who hit me?" There was a yelp, and then some very rude words indeed from Edward. As Katie turned the corner, she could hear Mr. K's deeper tones as the teacher stepped into the situation, though it didn't seem to have much effect.
Kerri had never quite gotten the hang of reading thoughts, but she was good at stirring up emotions. Katie doubted Edward would calm down any time soon. If they were lucky, he'd keep using rude words at the teacher and get himself sent to the principal's office. Then she might have hours. But she couldn't count on that.
Three brisk blocks later brought her to Edward's address. The house was more run down than she'd expected, with rusted links in the chain fence that surrounded the yard. Sure enough, there was a dog out there, though it wasn't the kind she'd expect a kid like Edward to have. It was small and yappy, and its fur was carefully pruned.
"Hey," she said, crouching by the fence. "Hey, what's your name?"
She held out a hand as the dog came closer, and passed it the first of the treats Eric had given her through the fence. It looked enormous in the dog's tiny mouth, but he started chewing with a will. Through his almost full mouth, he garbled out, "Dog! My name's dog!"
Katie sighed, but she reached in to scratch the dog's ears. It wasn't his fault that he wasn't as bright as Toby.
"Look, dog, can you do me a favor? There's something shiny under your owner's bed. Can you fetch it for me? Play fetch? I have more treats."
He was silent as he finished gobbling down the biscuit. "Treats?" he asked, looking up.
"Fetch," she reminded him.
"Fetch!" he agreed, and with a yelp dashed in through the doggy door. Katie settled down to wait.
It took three tries for him to find the necklace. The first time, he brought out an old silver matchbox car, and the second time, a broken fountain pen. Each trip he demanded a treat, and Katie was starting to worry she hadn't brought enough when he finally emerged with a silver-wrapped crystal dangling from his jaw.
"Good dog," she told him, scratching his ears again while she wiped the necklace clean against her shirt. The crystal itself was easy to clean, but it was hard to get the slobber off the chain. "Good dog." She handed him the last of the treats, and he bounced off across the yard to finish it.
His yelping almost covered the sound of Edward and his mother coming down the street, arguing loudly. Katie froze. She was in the middle of the block, and by the sound of things they had almost rounded the corner and would see her soon. There weren't any cars parked on the street in the middle of the day, and she wasn't a fast enough sprinter to get to the end of the block in time.
Could she distract them somehow? She reached around the corner, trying to find something she could move. There was a large can full of trash sitting on the curb, waiting to be picked up, but she thought it might be too heavy. She wished she'd asked Dale or Eric to come with her, even if it would have meant coming up with a story to tell their parents.
The necklace was still in her hand, and she suddenly remembered what Kerri had said yesterday about crystals. Would it work? It couldn't hurt to try, and she couldn't think of anything better. But she wasn't sure what to do.
Pulling the crystal up to eye level, she stared at it, watching the light wink off its facets as it twisted on its silver chain. She thought vaguely that she should fall into a trance or something, but there wasn't time. Instead she thought, hard, at the trashcan to move. She watched the crystal sway and thought about the trashcan moving with the same rhythm, back and forth, back and forth, moving a few inches further each time until finally it tipped. . . .
There was a loud clang from around the corner, and Edward and his mother broke off their argument with a mutual cry of disgust. For a moment she could almost smell the trash spilling through the split bags at their feet. Then she blinked, pushing back the drowsy feeling that staring had the crystal had left her with, and looped the necklace around her wrist before running as fast as she could back to school, where Kerri was waiting for her.
"It felt like it worked," Katie told her friends the next day at lunch. "I could never have moved something that heavy before. And I felt so drowsy afterwards, like I'd been laying in a hot bath. Only maybe it was just because I was in such awful trouble. I wish I hadn't had to give the necklace back. We could try again, experiment some."
"There are other crystals," Kerri pointed out. "I'll ask my aunt. That one was important to her."
"I know," Katie said. "But what if it was just that one?"
Eric rolled his eyes at her. "What we do is science, not magic. If it worked once, it will work again. If we can't reproduce it, it probably wasn't real."
She pushed at his sandwich as he raised it up to his mouth, and it jumped abruptly, bopping him in the nose. "You don't know--" she started, but was interrupted by the sight of two people approaching their table.
Dorothy came first, tugging Cynthia behind her. She opened and closed her mouth twice, looking, Katie thought uncharitably, rather like a fish, before asking "Canwesithere?" all in a rush. The question left her breathless, and once she finished she stood silently, shifting from foot to foot.
Katie looked at her blankly, not sure how she felt about the request. She liked that it was them, just them, four silver-eyed kids against the world. But how much of that was because the world was against them? She hadn't had to think about it; no one had ever asked to sit with them before.
"Of course you can," Kerri said, scooting her chair closer to Katie.
"But are you sure you want to?" Dale muttered, jerking a thumb toward the table next to them. It was true; people were staring and whispering.
Dorothy frowned, but Cynthia pushed her thick black hair out of her face to look straight at Dale. She wore glasses, too, for all that her eyes were an ordinary shade of brown. "I don't care," she said, her voice soft but insistent. "I don't care what they think. " She was wearing the chain around her neck, though the crystal was tucked down the front of her dress. Unexpectedly, she giggled. "I heard what Mr. Horchstib told Edward about that report you gave him. He got such a lecture. On and on about what an awful, awful book it was, and how it wasn't worth reviewing. I know he'll be mad at me, but it was worth it to hear him get a dressing down. Especially now that I have my necklace back. And I want to know how you did it."
They all stared at her. Katie knew that one silver-eyed gaze was disconcerting, and the four of them together much, much worse. But Cynthia didn't flinch, though Dorothy took a step back.
A single wordless thought passed between them, and then Eric pulled out the chair next to his. "All right," he said. "Have a seat. But we have to have a talk about the kinds of books you've been reading."