JAKE AND THE DYNAMO Chapter 24

Bitter Tears: Does Dana Volt’s dark secret conceal a deadly threat?

JAKE AND THE DYNAMO

CHAPTER 24: BITTER TEARS

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Jake sat on the sofa with his parents and fidgeted. He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and tried to steel himself for what was likely to be the most awkward meeting of his life.

“Don’t mention Pretty Dynamo,” his mother said for the hundredth time as she patted his shoulder. “Just don’t mention her.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I won’t, Mom—”

“And if you go out with Pretty Dynamo again, maybe you should wear a mask,” she added. “And if you talk to any reporters or anything, change your voice.”

“Change my voice? How?”

“I don’t know. Pretend you have a smoker’s cough. Like Batman.”

“Mom, Batman is fictional. I’m running around with magical girls, not cartoon characters.”

His mother sighed. “Oh, I know. Just … just don’t say anything. I’m kind of surprised Mil didn’t recognize you anyway.”

He shrugged. “Maybe she doesn’t watch the news.”

His father frowned. “Doesn’t watch the news? What kind of person doesn’t watch the news?”

“People who don’t want to see Pretty Dynamo,” Jake replied. “The newsmen talk about her all the time.”

His father rubbed his chin and said nothing.

When the doorbell rang, Jake’s mother quickly jumped up and fussily waved her hands. “Oh! That must be them!” She ran over to the front door, threw it open, and cried, “Mrs. Volt! So nice to see you! Come in, come in!”

Jake threw an arm over the back of the couch and half-turned toward the door, where he could see Millie Volt sweep over the stoop and into the great room. She still wore her toothy yet charming grin as well as her peculiar air of majesty. Somehow, her simply walking through a doorframe left Jake with the impression of a princess making a grand entrance, though that impression immediately disappeared when she bent over to take off her shoes.

“Sorry we’re late, Mrs. Blatowski,” she said as she undid her laces. “Dana suddenly, urgently wanted to go to Sunday Mass this morning, so I had to take her all the way down to Rome-in-Exile. She gets like that sometimes.”

Mil wore a simple green pencil skirt and a white silk blouse. When she bent down to remove her shoes, Jake could look over her back to see her suitcase standing on the porch. Beside it stood Dana, once again in skorts a T-shirt, a leather jacket, and thick makeup. She had her fists on her hips and a sneer on her mouth.

Mil’s smile slipped a notch when she straightened up and her eyes landed upon the scroll-shaped mezuzah near the top of the doorpost. “Oh, ah … you know we’re Catholic, right?”

“We don’t care about things like that,” Jake’s mother said as she ushered Mil inside. “We follow the Moon Princess around here, so you make yourselves comfortable and hail Mary or splash holy water or do whatever it is you do.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Blatowski. That’s very kind of you.”

“Just call me Silvia. Come in!”

Jake’s mother ushered Mil to the loveseat. Dana kicked off her sneakers and, without a word, walked in and sat beside her. Jake’s mother fussed over them for a moment, trying to press beverages upon them. After a making few polite, token refusals, Mil acquiesced to a cup of coffee. Dana got a glass of orange juice.

Holding a coffee mug of his own, Jake stared at Dana as she sipped her drink and kicked her feet. She gave him a green-eyed glare, but then, cradling her glass, put an elbow on an armrest and her chin on her palm, and affected boredom.

“Mass was rather nice this morning,” said Mil. “But Nunchuk Nun and Lady Paladin Andalusia are usually both altar servers. I didn’t see either of them today, so I hope they’re all right.”

Jake’s stomach tightened up. His mother sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.

“It was so nice to meet you after that town hall,” Mil said. “My Maxwell and I—that’s my late husband—we’re from Little America, originally—”

“I thought you had an American accent,” Jake’s mother said.

“Hm?” said Mil, her toothy grin returning. “You detect the twang? Not everyone can hear it. Both of us were Irish stock, mostly … and don’t ask how hubby ended up with a funny name like Volt! It’s a corruption, used to be O’something-or-other, mangled through travels and transliterations. You know. Anyway, we were both flaming redheads, and we met through the Preservation Society—”

Jake’s father scowled.

Mil waved a hand. “Oh, don’t worry! Goodness, I don’t associate with them anymore! When we joined up with that group, there were Mongolians from China and Malayalam-speaking Indians from Kerala and Negroes from Kenya who spoke French and Swahili! Max and I thought, this is what the Moon Princess envisioned, all these people so different in appearance, with different cultures, from all parts of the world, coming together and living in harmony! It was wonderful, and their goal of preserving the world’s bloodlines made sense to us. It was just like all the archaeologists and curators and archivists trying to preserve cultures and religions and technologies and books! So we joined up, found out we were both largely Irish, took a liking to each other, and, well, the end result was Dana here.”

She tousled Dana’s hair, and Dana grumped.

Mil sighed. “But then we started seeing the other side of things. We didn’t realize at first how opposed they were to race-mixing. You know the Preservation Society calls mixed people ‘muds’? They even tried to force members to stop speaking English or Japanese unless those were their native languages. So we left there. I think they meant well, but some of their ideas we just couldn’t abide.”

“What brought you to Juban?” Jake’s mother asked.

Mil’s smile turned wistful. She leaned forward in her seat and turned her cup in her hands. “Work. I’m a court stenographer, and I got a job at your courthouse here. Honestly, this part of the city is a bit upscale for us—”

“Oh?” said Jake’s mother. “A stenographer? My, you must be quite the typist to do that.”

“Yes. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m rated at two hundred and ninety words per minute.” Mil glanced at Jake and wiggled her eyebrows as she added, “I have fast hands.”

His stomach clenched again, but for an entirely different reason. Did she seriously just … ?

“But enough about us,” Mil added, her smile now looking decidedly carnivorous as her eyes fixed firmly on Jake. “I think we should get to know more about you. I feel like I know your son here already. You play basketball, is that right?”

Jake shifted in his seat. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, I do—”

“And you know a lot about dinosaurs.”

“Well … yeah.”

“And I understand you’re good at math.”

“I like to think so—”

“And I hear you met my Dana down at the arcade, and she played a game with you and your friends.”

“Sure …”

I guess that’s how it happened.

Mil laughed softly and squeezed her daughter. “It’s been ‘Jake this’ and ‘Jake that’ at our place. But you know how Dana is—she’s just a little chatterbox.”

She is?

Dana made an inarticulate noise in her throat and stared down at the hardwood floor.

“My,” Jake’s mother said. “You look so young. It really is amazing—”

Now Mil’s grin grew a shade larger as she crossed one leg over the other, placed an elbow on her knee, and leaned her chin on her hand. Jake couldn’t help but notice that she shifted in her seat so that her raised knee was pointing at him. “How old do you think I am, Silvia?”

“Well, I wouldn’t—”

“Go on. Guess.”

“I … um … thirty?”

Mil laughed. “I suppose that’s because my daughter’s at my side, hm? You guessed high. I’m twenty-six.”

Jake did the math and swallowed hard.

“My Max and I were both in high school. I fought tooth and nail with my folks, and my father finally granted the emancipation because he knew I was as stubborn as he was and would elope if he didn’t. We were kids, and we were sure we were ready—you know how it is. Worked our way through college once we graduated. Had a little help from the Rare Genes Fund, thanks to this hair. It stung the pride a bit to take a handout like that, but I won’t say it didn’t help us get by.”

She looked down at the coffee in her hands as if noticing it for the first time, and finally took a deep drink.

“We’re hoping you’ll stay the night,” Jake’s mother said. “It’s not much, but I did up the guest room, and there’s a hideaway in the sewing room upstairs. Of course, that’s just temporary. If you were to move in, we’d convert a couple of—”

“Oh, we don’t need two rooms,” Mil said quickly. “Why, we just have a one-bedroom apartment down the hill—”

“Oh no, we wouldn’t think of making you—

“But your house is so nice. I’d hate to—”

“It’s not a problem at all! Really, it wouldn’t be!”

Mil’s smile slipped again. “Well … all this space you have is so pleasant. But I’d hate to take up too much of it. I feel we’re imposing as it is.”

“Not at all. We asked you to join us here.”

“I know it’s an emergency, but I’m still not sure we should rush. After all, if we give up the apartment, they’ll immediately turn around and give it to someone else, so it’s not as if we could go back, at least not until they repair Little India.”

“We’ll get by.”

Mil sighed and took another drink. “I suppose. It’s a duty, after all, even if they’re not ordering us to do it yet. And, to be honest, I’ve been worried about bills, as this part of town really is a bit rich for us. But I’d also hate to leave Juban now that Dana’s finally making some friends—”

Dana, lower lip outthrust, tugged at her mother’s sleeve. “Mommy, I don’t wanna live here,” she hissed.

“Hush, honey.”

She tugged again, more insistently. “I don’t like Jake!”

“Dana, be nice.”

“But I don’t like him!”

“I heard you. Be quiet now.”

His thick spectacles sitting crooked on his nose, Jake’s father stared at the ceiling for half a minute. “Maybe the kids could share a room,” he absently suggested.

Lowering her voice and leaning toward him, Jake’s mother muttered, “Kosmy, that’s not appropriate.”

“Hm? Why? They’re both—”

“Dear, it’s not appropriate.”

Jake stared down at his coffee, which he’d barely touched. Heh. I’d rather share a room with her mom.

 


 

Sunday evening came on, and Jake was standing at the sink in the upstairs bathroom, brushing his teeth, when the door burst open. Dana walked in with a small bag over her shoulder, apparently her bath kit.

He sputtered and spat out his toothpaste. “Dana, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Getting ready for bed.”

“You can’t just walk in on—”

She surveyed the room and grunted. “Figures. American bathroom. Toilet in the same room, and your tub is tiny, and you don’t even have a separate place to wash.”

“Aren’t you guys from Little America?”

“We’ve always had a Japanese ofuroba.” She stepped up to him and pressed her hands against his waist, apparently to push him from the sink. He didn’t budge.

“This is my bathroom,” he said.

She growled faintly and glared up at him. “It’s gonna be our bathroom if Mom makes me live here.”

“The master bath is downstairs next to—”

“That’s your parents’!”

“Well, okay, then use the hall bathroom.”

She raised an eyebrow. “How many bathrooms does this place have?”

“Three.”

“Dork.”

“You’re insulting me because our house has three bathrooms? I didn’t build the place.”

She grunted, and then she peered at the toothbrush in his hands. “Your toothbrush has dinosaurs on it.”

“So?”

“Dork.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a toothbrush adorned with blue lightning bolts. “Move over.”

“Wait your turn.”

“Ladies first.”

“That’s for buffets, not bathrooms. Bathrooms are first come, first serve. And you should knock before you barge in here. You might see something you can’t un-see.”

“Like what?”

“Like … um … chest hair.”

Dana crossed her arms and tapped a foot against the tile floor. “You don’t have chest hair.”

“Do so.”

“Do not.”

“Do so.”

“Prove it.”

“No. Now get out!”

She found his heavy safety razor hanging from its stand next to the sink. After putting down her toothbrush, she reached out and picked it up.

“Hey, careful with that! You’ll cut yourself!”

Holding it before her nose, she turned it in her fingers. “What is this?”

“It’s a razor.”

“Why’s it funny-looking?”

“It’s an old-fashioned razor. It’s for men. Manly men. Now don’t touch the top or you’ll slice your hand open.”

“What’s it for?”

“I shave with it, obviously.”

She stuck out her lip and shot him another glare. “I bet you don’t have anything to shave except your palms.”

“I cannot believe what comes out of your mouth sometimes. I shave my face.”

“Do not.”

“Do so.”

“Do not.”

“Do so. I’ve been shaving for months now!”

She returned the razor to its stand, lifted her nose, and turned her back on him. “I’ve been shaving since I was nine.”

“Well … um … you’re a girl. That’s different.”

“I’m more grown-up than you are.”

“Are not!”

“Am so!”

“Are not!”

“Am so!”

“Are not times infinity!”

Dana tapped her foot. “Grownups don’t play those kinds of games.”

“You brat.”

Grunting, she said, “Hurry up and get out so I can brush my teeth and take my makeup off.”

“You get out!”

She spun around again. “No, you! Ladies first and grownups before kids!”

“I’m the grownup here!”

“Are not! You don’t shave enough! I shave more than you do!”

“Yeah, right. Whatever. Every morning, I risk my face—”

“Risk?”

“Yeah, y’know, I can nick myself. Nick myself all the time—”

“You’re worried about nicking your face?”

“I wouldn’t say worried, but—”

She raised an eyebrow and said through clenched teeth, “Try nicking an armpit.”

“Yeah … okay, that sounds worse.”

“So get out. I’m more grown-up because my shaving’s worse.”

“That’s not how you determine who’s a grownup!”

“Is so!”

“Is not!”

“Is so!”

“Is …” He stopped himself and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Honestly, Dana, I’ll be out in a minute. I’m a guy, so I don’t have much to do. I just gotta brush my teeth and hang my underwear on the doorknob, and I’m done.”

“Aren’t you gonna bathe?”

“I shower. And I’ll do that in the morning before I shave.”

“Gross.” She turned back to the sink and pulled open the medicine chest.

“Hey!”

After she rummaged through various vials, tubes, and half-used packages of plasters, she pulled out a cone-shaped ceramic bottle with a red stopper. “What’s this?”

“I slap it on after I shave.”

She pulled out a narrow spray can. “And this?”

“Um … body spray.”

“You wear body spray?”

“You got a problem with that?”

“Dork. You know girls aren’t gonna fall all over you like in the commercials.”

“My girlfriend seems to like it okay.”

“No she doesn’t. I was there. She wouldn’t even kiss you. You can’t even get a kiss from your own girlfriend. No girl’s ever gonna kiss you.”

“Maybe I’ve kissed a girl who isn’t my girlfriend.”

“Have not!”

Jake merely crossed his arms and stared at her.

She paused a moment as she twisted one foot back and forth. “Have you?”

“Maybe.”

With a growl, she sprayed the can onto her right wrist and sniffed it. Then she doused her other wrist with the aftershave and put it to her nose as well. After a moment of turning her mouth, she nodded. “That’s what I thought.”

“What?”

She held up the bottle. “Pumpkin bread.” Then she held up the can. “Hydraulic fluid.”

She dropped them both in the wastebasket.

“Hey!”

After once again rummaging in the medicine chest, she pulled out his deodorant. She popped the cap off and stared at the stick for a moment before she said, “I’m not sniffing that. It’s been in your pits.”

She dropped it in the wastebasket as well.

He sighed. “Okay, Dana, game’s over. Leave, please. I wanna brush my teeth.”

Her eyebrows came together in a glower. “I have to take my makeup off, and you can’t watch, pervert, so you have to leave.”

“Why do you slather all that makeup on, anyway? You’re a little kid.”

“No I’m not. I’m a grownup.” She turned to the sink and rummaged in her bag.

“I’ve seen you without your makeup, so what difference does it make?”

She growled, mumbled incoherently, and reached for his washcloth, which hung on a rod next to his bath towel.

“Wait, hold it. You’re not taking your makeup off with that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s mine.”

“So?”

“So it’s been all over my face. You sure you wanna use it? That might count as an indirect kiss, I think. Then you would have kissed me, even if my girlfriend won’t.”

She snapped her hand back as if recoiling from a hot stove. With a sullen glower, she said, “Get me another one.”

“Hold on.” He reached into the medicine chest and pulled out a small plastic tub. “Here, I have baby wipes. Use these.”

“Why do you have baby wipes?”

“Why not?”

“Creep.”

“Wash your face, you brat. They have coconut oil in ’em, I think, and that’s supposed to be good for taking off makeup.”

“How would you know that?”

“I just do.”

“Weirdo.”

“I did a little theater in middle school—well, just one play—so I’ve worn makeup, too.”

“Double extra super weirdo.” She snatched the baby wipes from him, stared at them, and pouted anew.

“Dana, I’ve already seen—”

“You can’t see now, so go away!”

“What are you hiding? Do your freckles embarrass you? They shouldn’t. You’re really cute, so—”

She growled. “Out.”

Jake had noticed that Dana blushed easily, and usually, her ears would be bright red by this time. Now they weren’t, and standing close to her as he was, he could see that they had makeup caked on them, just like the rest of her face. She had it down her neck, too, and some of her foundation had even got on her T-shirt collar, turning it an unwholesome shade of peach.

“You’re covering a sunburn, aren’t you? I told you to put on some sunscreen—”

Her eyebrows came together, and the muscles in her cheeks poked out as she clenched her teeth. As if to wield it as a weapon, she reached for his safety razor again, but this time her hand landed on the head, and her fingers went down over the exposed edges of the blade. With a yelp, she snapped her hand back, and the razor clattered into the sink along with several drops of bright red blood.

She clutched her hand, bounced around on tiptoe, and whimpered as more blood dribbled onto the tile floor.

“Sweet Princess, Dana, you’re getting your hep C all over everything. Here, sit.” He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her down onto the edge of the tub. “Now let me see it.”

She kept her hand bunched in a bloody fist, so he seized her wrist and pried her fingers open.

“See? I told you not to touch it. You’re lucky it’s got a safety bar, or you’d need stitches. Hold still.”

Though she pouted, she didn’t pull her hand back. Instead, she held it toward him and continued to drip on the floor as he dug through the cupboard under the sink. After a few seconds, he pulled out a large first-aid kit.

“See this? This is my make-Dana-feel-better box. I have aloe, too.”

He pulled open an iodine wipe and slathered it over her hand. She mumbled in complaint and tried to pull back, so he grabbed her wrist again. Then he peeled open three adhesive bandages, placing one on her thumb, one on her index finger, and one on her middle finger.

“You need to relax. You get yourself all worked up like this, and then you get hurt.”

She mumbled incoherently.

“There,” he said as he affixed the last bandage. “Want me to kiss it this time?”

“No.”

“If I don’t kiss it, I can’t make it all better.”

“Don’t care. Don’t want it all better.”

Laughing quietly, he pulled out some baby wipes and took the makeup off her face. She continued pouting as he worked, but she no longer fussed. She sat in silence and stared down at the floor, but she closed her eyes when he told her to so he could wipe away her eyeshadow.

It took several minutes, but once he was sure he had it all off, he wiped her face with a moist washcloth. Her cheeks and ears were indeed bright red. She wasn’t exactly burnt to a crisp, but she was no doubt suffering, and the burns would certainly peel in a few days. The freckles had thickened on her cheeks, forming two dark brown patches right under her eyes.

“Sheesh, Dana, if you don’t like being freckled, don’t get sunburns.”

He took a bottle of aloe lotion out of his kit, squeezed some onto his hands, and rubbed it gently into her cheeks and neck. Then he massaged it into her ears. Her ears were tiny.

She squinched up her eyes. “Why do you care?”

He paused for a moment in his rubbing. “Hm?”

“Why do you care what happens to me? Why do you try to be nice? I’m not nice to you.”

“You’re not nice to anybody, though, are you?”

After a moment apparently spent in consideration, she shook her head, which caused his hands to slip from her ears.

Kneeling in front of her, he rested his wrists on his knees and said, “Remember when you fought in the Robosaur mothership, and they fired the Weapon?”

She nodded.

“I thought you were dead, and I realized something.”

“What?”

“It annoyed me. When you get hurt, it annoys me.” He tapped her button nose and then smeared aloe on it. “So don’t get hurt. If you want me to leave you alone, all you have to do is stay safe and not get hurt.”

She put her hands in her lap and stared down at them. “I can’t stay safe. And I hurt all the time. Being Dynamo makes me … it makes me sore all over. Everything hurts.”

He screwed the lid onto the aloe bottle and put it away. “Then you better get used to me. I don’t even care if you call me names and hit me. But I’m not going away.”

He didn’t bother trying to shoo her from the bathroom again. He mopped up the blood on the floor with tissue and then rinsed out the sink. Then he made her brush her teeth. As he brushed his own teeth, she silently watched him.

Once he had gargled and rinsed, he headed off to his room. Quietly, bare feet making little noise in the carpeted hall, she followed.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“Then don’t follow me.”

“We’re just going the same direction.”

“The sewing room is the other way. That’s where you’re sleeping.”

He stopped, and she stopped, too. Then he walked again, and still she followed.

When he pushed open his door, she ducked under his arm and stepped inside.

“Hey!”

Standing in the middle of his room, Fists on hips, she looked around and made that rasping noise.

His room was small, but he liked it. His bed was getting worn out, but it was comfortable. A small desk stood in the corner where he did his homework, and he had a purple beanbag chair. On the blue-painted walls hung a playbill from a showing of The Music Man and a poster containing names and pictures of thirty different dinosaurs.

“You’re a slob,” she said.

“If you don’t like it, get out.”

She pointed at a pile of clothes in front of his closet. “Yuck.” Then she pointed at the bed, the sheets of which were in disarray. “Nasty.”

“Yeah, that’s nice. Look, I’d like to go to bed now—”

She walked to his bed, grabbed the edge of the crumpled comforter, and tugged it to smooth it out, thereby revealing its design, a panoramic scene with volcanoes in the background, tropical ferns in the foreground, and a Tyrannosaurus roaring in between.

“Your blanket has dinosaurs on it,” she said.

“I’ve had that since I was seven. You can leave now.”

She reached under the sheets, grabbed a large, amorphous lump, and pulled. Her hands came out gripping a well-worn yellow plush toy with a beak, three horns, and a large frill behind its head. Dana stared at it for half a minute. “What is this?”

“That’s Trilly. Got her at a museum gift shop when I was eight. She’s a Triceraptops.”

“She? You sleep with a girl? You’re gross.”

“You rather I slept with a boy?”

She turned the toy upside down, spread its hind legs, and examined the space between.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking for suspicious stains.”

“Okay, Dana, that’s enough. I’m out of patience.”

Tucking the toy under one arm, she stuck her nose in the air and declared, “Fine. It’s past my bedtime.” She marched out the door and stomped down the hall.

He followed.

Halfway to the sewing room, she spun around and held up one hand. “You can’t follow me.”

“We’re just going the same direction.”

Growling, she spun around again and continued stomping, now at a faster pace. He walked faster as well, so she jogged. He jogged. Then she sprinted, and he bounded after.

Once she reached the doorway of the sewing room, she fumbled with the knob, leapt inside, turned, and held up a hand again. “Hold it!”

He skidded to a halt. “Yes?”

“You can’t come in here! I have to go to bed!”

“Why are you going to bed with my plush toy … and wearing my aftershave?”

With clenched teeth, she pointed down at the doorjamb. “You see that invisible line?”

“Uh—”

“That line marks this room as a no ball zone.”

“A what?”

“If anything tries to come in here with balls”—she leaned toward him and shook a fist—“it loses its balls!”

With that, she slammed the door in his face.

He blinked for a few seconds, but then leaned his nose against the door, cupped his hands over his mouth, and shouted, “You want me to read you a bedtime story?”

From the other side, she yelled, “No!”

“Want me to tuck you in?”

“Pervert!”

“Want me to kiss you good night?”

The door flew open again. Dana still had a pout on her face, but her chest heaved, and tears ran from both eyes. She had her arms wrapped hard around the plush toy’s neck, as if she were holding on for dear life—or trying to strangle it.

“You,” she shrieked through clenched teeth, “are not my dad!”

He blinked again.

Oops.

After taking a deep breath and clearing his throat, he lowered himself to his knees so his eyes were level with hers. “Dana, I’m not trying to be.”

“What are you trying to do?”

He rolled his tongue around in his mouth for half a minute.

Just what the heck am I trying to do?

“Well,” he said, tapping his chest, “if we’re gonna have to live together, maybe you can think of me as your big brother.”

Arms still tight around Trilly, she stared at the floor and muttered, “Well … you’d be more like my little brother, since I’m more grown-up than you are.”

“Have it your way.”

“But you can’t be my brother! You’ve just been an acquaintance up ’til now.” She twisted a foot on the doorjamb and squeezed the plush Triceratops. Its head covered the lower half of her face, making her eyes look huge. “Can’t go from acquaintance to brother,” she mumbled with the toy muffling her voice. “That’s not how it works.”

“How about friend, then? You can go from acquaintance to friend, right?”

She stared at him silently. After several seconds, with most of her face still hidden behind the toy, she held up her bandaged hand.

“What does that mean?”

“Friends can kiss ouches,” she said quietly. “But only sometimes.”

He leaned forward and gently kissed her palm. “There. Now it’s all better.”

She nodded solemnly and lowered her hand.

“Want me to kiss your ears and cheeks, too, since you burned them?”

Snarling, she slammed the door again, this time catching the tip of his nose. With an oof, he fell back on his rump, rubbed his face, and laughed.

He sat there for a second, elbows resting on his knees, and stared at the closed door.

He shook his head and groaned faintly as he rose to his feet. After he stood, the door opened a crack, and one of Dana’s green eyes peered out.

“You should go to bed, Dana.”

“So should you.”

“Yeah, that’s where I’m going. We both gotta go to fifth grade tomorrow, after all. Why are you still up? You really hoping I’ll tuck you in?”

She growled again. “You’re not my dad.”

“No, I’m not.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “Dana, maybe … um … I know it’s not my business, but can I ask—?”

Her green eye stared at him, unblinking, unreadable, like a jewel in the dark.

“It’s true,” she whispered.

He watched her silently, but a tickle in the back of his throat slowly congealed into a lump. For the briefest moment, his knees shook.

“It’s true,” she whispered again. “I’m the one who killed him.”

With that, she slammed the door once more.

This time, it stayed shut.

 


 

Jake didn’t believe it for a minute.

But maybe he could believe it for half a minute.

Maybe.

He padded slowly down the hall. His heart pounded, and in that quiet house, late in the evening, when everyone else was in bed, it sounded like the ominous beat of a war drum.

Dana loved her father. He was sure of it. And Pretty Dynamo …

No, she loved him, too. She had started to talk about him after their scuffle in the alleyway. And though Andalusia had warned him that there were different theories on the subject of personas, he was reasonably sure that Dana and Dynamo were the same person. Pretty Dynamo acted a lot like Dana when she was tired, hungry, or upset.

And just once, he had seen Dana happy, and she was an entirely different girl then, too. If one good meal with a friend could change Dana that much, there was no reason to think Dynamo’s personality implied that she was a separate being from her alter ego.

Andalusia had told him there were different theories, and now he had a pet theory of his own: the girls’ powers supposedly had a lot to do with unfulfilled desires, so perhaps their personas represented traits they wished they had, or sides of their personalities they wanted to reveal but usually couldn’t. Dynamo was brassy and athletic where Dana was quiet and clumsy. Maybe Dynamo was everything Dana wished she could be. Maybe that was why Dana hated her.

Besides, he’d seen Dynamo’s reaction when that woman died in the crumbling apartment building. And he’d seen her reaction when the demoniac tried to drag him to hell. She killed monsters, certainly, but she didn’t like it when people died.

So no, Pretty Dynamo wouldn’t kill Dana’s dad. He was sure of it.

Pretty sure.

Mostly.

When he reached his room, he leaned on the doorframe. He could still hear his heart pounding a war beat in his ears.

I can kill you. Never forget that.

He swallowed hard, and he felt his forehead dampen.

Dynamo had told him that, standing over him in the alleyway. He shuddered.

What she’d said was literally true, and until now, he’d considered no other implications. She was a magical girl. She was powerful. Of course she could kill him, or anybody, if she wanted to. But she hadn’t killed him. They’d scuffled, but it had been like a couple of young boys on the playground figuring out the pecking order. One knocks the other down, and then they stop. She’d given him a few good bruises, but she hadn’t really hurt him. He and Ralph had done worse to each other back when they were in grade school.

He frowned.

This hadn’t occurred to him before: Pretty Dynamo fought like a boy.

The last time he’d gone through grade school, the boys had scrapped with one another, but never with the girls. This was not only because their parents had taught them that hitting girls made them sissies, but also because girls were scary. Boys slugged each other, but girls bit and kicked. A boy would punch your face, but a girl would claw your eyes out.

In middle school, he’d seen plenty of fights in which boys tried to break each other’s noses, and he’d even been in a couple. When a boy went down, the fight was over.

Fights between girls were rare, but he’d seen those, too, and they were worse. Girls didn’t stop when one went down.

His hand tightened on the doorframe. Once the battle was over, he had wanted mercy for the wounded Robosaurs, but Rifle Maiden had instead walked among them, killing them where they lay.

This is total war, Marionette had told him.

And it was.

Because that’s how girls fought.

Urbanopolis was locked in a giant girl fight, and it wasn’t going to stop until it had clawed its enemy’s eyes out—its enemy being the rest of the universe.

 


 

He finally walked into his room, closed the door, and began unbuttoning his shirt. So if all that was true, why hadn’t Dynamo beaten him to a pulp? Why had she simply shown him she was tough enough, and then quit? What was she trying to prove?

Did she want to impress him? But that was pointless. He already knew she was a magical girl. He already knew how strong she was.

As he dropped his shirt to the floor, he shook his head. He didn’t know what was going on in her mind. All he had was speculation.

And maybe he didn’t need to know. Maybe it was none of his business.

Although magical girls were exempt from most of the city’s laws, the courts could theoretically convict one for murder. As far as he knew, it had never happened, and he had no idea how the police or MPs could arrest a magical girl anyway. But no one had tried to arrest Dynamo, and there was no talk on the news of bringing her to justice, so there must be some sort of mistake. Whatever else she was, she wasn’t a murderer.

He shook his head again and began peeling off his undershirt.

He froze suddenly, with his elbows in the air, when a voice came from a dark corner of the room: it was a soft voice, a trembling, timid voice.

It was a girl’s voice.

“I’m sorry, Jake Blatowski,” the voice whispered. “But you’ve learned my secret, and you’re gonna have to die now.”

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