Layla Williams was Mother Nature personified. Some people just seemed to forget that Mother Nature could be an evil bitch. Mother Nature could create living and growing things, and then in the next instant, destroy and take the very life She had created. Layla was no different.
Of course, she hadn't always been an evil bitch. She'd once been a naive teenager, who thought she was in love with Will Stronghold. With that same naivety, Layla had wanted to save mankind, woman-kind, the animals, and the rainforest. Then, something had happened and changed her. There were many theories as to what had happened; some people said that it was because of Will dumping her, other people said it was Magenta's betrayal when she started dating Will only days after he had broken up with Layla. All of the theories were wrong, of course, but Layla didn't care about their whispers.
The real reason she had changed had nothing to do with her friends, or ex-friends as the case may be, but all to do with her mother. She changed on the day that her mother died.
It was a sad irony to tell that Ms. Williams had been killed by a rodeo bull, one that she had been fighting to free and protect. The bull, which had been starved, prodded, and zapped in order to keep angry and therefore entertaining, hadn't been the most stable of creatures before this mistreatment. By the time Ms. Williams realised that the bull had been driven crazy, and didn't realise that she was speaking to him, he was already charging at her. She didn't stand a chance to get away, and despite the fact that the bull was quite thin compared to others, it was still emotional enough to send her flying across the pen. Even if she could have survived the broken ribs and internal bleeding into a punctured lung, Ms. Williams had no way of living after breaking her neck against the wooden frame.
Layla and her friends, who she had coerced, cajoled, and outright begged to help her with the protest, had seen it happening. Not one of them had been able to react in time, and the sickening crack that her mother made when hitting the fence had snapped something inside Layla as well. Seeing her mother's lifeless form slumped against the wood, she turned to the bull, prickly and thorn-covered vines caging the creature in an instant. Layla vaguely heard the others calling to her, but she didn't look at them. In seconds, the vine-covered cage pierced the bull, killing it. While she didn't have her mother's gift, Layla could have sworn she saw relief in the animal's eyes as it was finally put out of his misery.
"Layla!" Will said, grabbing her shoulders and turning her to face him.
He stepped back the moment he saw her eyes, something in them terrifying him. Or rather, something that wasn't there anymore.
"Dude, what's happening?" Zach asked.
Will turned to him, stunned at his friend's words, but then he saw that Zach was pointing downwards, and they all looked in the indicated direction.
On the ground, vines were circling around Layla's bare feet. Since it was a hot day, she'd dressed casually in a pair of shorts, and her usual green shirt, and had taken her shoes off at some point while they protested around the bullpen. The vines widened their path, pushing them all back one by one. Before anyone could do a thing, the green ropes shot towards Layla, seeming to enter her skin itself and travel beneath the layers. If they had any idea that it hadn't happened, the green lines that rippled beneath her skin rectified that train of thought immediately. They all followed the green lines that travelled up her legs, body, shooting down her arms, and up past her neck. The green continued on her face, making her look terrifying and beautiful at the same time. She was like a rose opening for the last time, before the petals fell and the thorns were all that remained.
Later, the other five would quietly admit that they had seen tiny vines moving through the white of her eyes, but for this moment, all they could focus on were her irises. They were changing from their regular brown to a bright green, brighter than any leaf or plant any of them had ever seen. Then, as fast as the vines had moved into her body, the rippling and vines seemed to disappear completely. Slowly, Layla's body relaxed, and when she opened her eyes, they were brown once more.
Will, it seemed, was designated the group speaker, and he licked his lips nervously before taking a step towards Layla. "Are ... Are you all right, Layla?"
She turned to face where her mother was, seeming oblivious to Will's question, and cried with all the force of a flooding rain.
He would never admit it aloud, even to the others, but Will was almost relieved at her reaction. The whole vine thing was just too creepy and weird for him to handle. Not that he could handle tears very well, but at least that was a normal response.
Layla was silent for days, and it seemed like the smallest thing would set off her tears. Around her, flowers drooped and lost their brilliance, and trees lost handfuls of leaves at a time; it was as if nature itself mourned with her.
At her mother's funeral, Layla stood with her back straight, staring blankly ahead. She didn't seem to hear or see anything, simply allowing her Great Aunt to lead her around. Her friends stayed with her, all dressed in black, even Zach and Ethan. For the most part, they were quiet as well, their eyes following Layla's wooden form as she was strung along from place to person, a puppet on a marionette.
Soon, the house began to empty as the mourners left individually or in small groups. The animals that had been in the house were taken by Ms. Williams friends and coworkers, and given new homes. Eventually, only Layla, her friends, and her Great Aunt remained.
Layla sat on the couch, staring at the junk food that had been put out, knowing how much her mother would have hated the fact that people were eating chips and drinking actual soda in her house. As she sat there, she heard snippets of the conversation between her Great Aunt and friends.
" ... live with me ... sell house ... can't live alone ... move schools ... normal life ... "
The words seemed to stab directly into her heart, and Layla sat there gasping for breath, her whole body shaking and trembling.
"No. No, no, no, no," she repeated, clinging to that one word between short gasps to fill her lungs.
A paper bag was held out to her, and she grabbed it, breathing heavily and calming herself gradually. Layla looked up to see Warren standing in front of her, and nodded her thanks briefly. He nodded once, returning to his seat.
"No to what, dear?" her Great Aunt asked, waiting until Layla had composed herself enough to take the bag away from her mouth.
"I still want to go to Sky High. Please, don't ask me not to use my powers. They've been part of me since I was four; I can't not use them," Layla said, her tone pleading.
"But dear, I don't live anywhere near Sky High, and have no way of getting you to the bus in the morning. I'm sure there's a school closer to Westville."
"Please, don't take this away from me too," she begged.
Her Great Aunt faltered slightly, the dejected tone in Layla's voice making her teary as well. She hadn't been close to her niece in the past few years, having a differing view on her world views, and turning her nose up at the peace protests she'd gone to almost religiously. She hadn't seen Layla since she was a toddler, and it had been more of a shock to find that her niece had given her custody over Layla on her death. She wondered if she was nothing but a last resort, what with Layla's father running off before she'd given birth.
"I ... I'll see what I can organise with the Principal," she promised, silently hoping that this was the right decision for both of them.
End of the first chapter.