Losers with no imagination say that if you start a new school, there has to be a first day. How come they haven’t figured out how to beat that? Just think existentially. All you do is take what’s supposed to be the first day and bury it someplace in the next month. By the time you get around to it a month later, who cares?
When I first heard the word existential
, I didn’t know what it meant, so I never used it. But then I found out that no one knows what it means, so now I use it all the time.
Since I just moved to New York last week, tomorrow would have been my first day at the new school, but I existentialized it, and now I’ve got a good thirty days before I have to deal with it. So, like, it’ll be just a regular day, and I’ll just grab my usual school stuff, jeans and a T-shirt, and throw them on. Then just like I always do, I’ll take them off and throw on about eighteen different T-shirts and four different pairs of jeans before I find the right ones that hide my diesel arms and thunder thighs. Not good things on a girl, but no one else seems to see them like I do.
I won’t bother to clean up when I’m done. I don’t want to trick my new cohabitants, George and Ella, into thinking that I’m neat or considerate or anything. Why set them up for disappointment? I made that mistake with my old cohabitants and . . . well, I’m not living with them anymore, am I?
George Niven was my dad’s mentor in the CIA. He’s old. Like fifty or something. His wife, Ella is much younger. Maybe thirty. I don’t know. And you certainly can’t tell from the way she dresses. Middle of winter she finds a way to show her belly button. And she’s got four hundred of these little elastic bands that can only pass for a skirt if you never move your legs. Top that with this unbelievable iridescent red hair and you’ve got one hot seventeen-year-old. At least that’s what she thinks. We all live cozy together in Greenwich Village in a brownstone—that’s what they call row houses in New York City. Don’t ask me why, because it isn’t brown, but we’ll let that go for now.
I’m not sure how this transfer of me and my pathetic possessions was arranged. Not by my dad, He is Out of the Picture. No letters. No birthday cards. He didn’t even contact me in the hospital last year when I almost fractured my skull. (And no, I didn’t almost fracture my skull to test my dad, as a certain asshole suggested.) I haven’t seen him since I was twelve, since . . . since—I guess it’s time to back up a little. My name is Gaia. Guy. Uh. Yes, it’s a weird name. No, I don’t feel like explaining it right now.
I am seventeen. The good things about seventeen is that you’re not sixteen. Sixteen goes with the word sweet
, and I am so far from sweet. I’ve got a black belt-in kung fu and I’ve trained in karate, judo, jujitsu, and muay thai
—which is basically kick boxing. I’ve got a reflex speed that’s off the charts. I’m a near perfect shot. I can climb mountains, box, wrestle, break codes in four languages. I can throw a 175-pound man over my shoulders, which accounts for my disgusting shoulders. I can kick just about anybody’s ass. I’m not bragging. I wish I were. I wish my dad hadn’t made me into the . . . thing I am.
I have blond hair. Not yellow, fairy-tale blond. But blond enough to stick me in the category. You know, so guys expect you to expect them to hit on you. So teachers set your default grade at B-minus. C-plus if you happen to have big breasts, which I don’t particularly. My friend from before, Ivy, had this equation between grades and cup size, but I’ll spare you that.
Back in ninth grade I dyed my way right out of the blond category, but after a while it got annoying. The dye stung and turned my hands orange. To be honest, though (and I am not a liar), there’s another reason I let my hair grow back. Being blond makes people think they can pick on you, and I like when people think they can pick on me.
You see, I have this handicap. Uh, that’s the wrong word. I am hormonally challenged. I am never afraid. I just don’t have the gene or whatever it is that makes you scared.
It’s not like I’ll jump off a cliff or anything. I’m not an idiot. My rationality is not defective. In fact, it’s extra good. They say nothing clouds your reason like fear. But then, I wouldn’t know. I don’t know what it feels like to be scared. It’s like if you don’t have hope, how can you imagine it? Or being born blind, how do you know what colors are?
I guess you’d say I’m fearless. Whatever fear is.
If I see some big guy beating up on a little guy. I just dive in and finish him off. And I can. Because that’s the way I’ve been trained. I’m so strong, you wouldn’t believe. But I hate it.
Since I’m never afraid of anything, my dad figured he’d better make sure I can hold my own when I rush into things. What he did really worked, too. Better than he expected. See, my dad didn’t consider nature.
Nature compensates for its mistakes. If it forgot to give me a fear gene, it gave me some other fantastic abilities that definitely work in my favor. When I need it. I have this awesome speed, enormous energy, and amazing strength all quadrupled because there’s no fear to hold me back.
It’s even hard for me to figure out. People talk about danger and being careful. In my head I totally understand, but in my gut I just don’t feel it. So if I see somebody in trouble, I just jump in and use everything I’ve got. And that’s big stuff, and it’s intense.
I mean, you ever hear that story about the mother who lifted the car off her little boy? That’s like the kind of strength regular people can get from adrenaline. Except I don’t need extra adrenaline because without fear, there’s nothing to stop you from using every bit of power you have.
And a human body, especially a highly trained one like mine, has a lot of concentrated power.
But there’s a price. I remember once reading about the Spartans. They were these fantastic Greek warriors about four hundred something B.C. They’d beat everybody. Nobody could touch them. But after a battle they’d get so drained they’d shake all over and practically slide to the ground. That’s what happens to me. It’s like I use up everything and my body gets really weak and I almost black out. But it only lasts a couple of minutes. Eventually I’m okay again.
And there is one other thing that works in my favor. I can do whatever I want ‘cause I’ve got nothing to lose.
See, my mother is . . . not here anymore. I don’t really care that my dad is gone because I hate his guts. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I don’t even have any grandparents. Well, actually, I think I do have one, but she lives in some end-of-the-world place in Russia and I get the feeling she’s a few beans short of a burrito. But this is a tangent. Tangent
is a heinous word for two reasons:
1. It appears in my trigonometry book.
2. Ella, the woman-with-whom-I-now-live-never-to-be-confused-with-a-mother, accuses me of “going off on them.”
Where was I? Right. I was telling you my secrets. It probably all boils down to three magic words: I don’t care. I have no family, pets, or friends. I don’t even have a lamp or a pair of pants I give a shit about.
I Don’t Care.
And nobody can make me.
Ella says I’m looking for trouble. For a dummy she hit it right this time.
looking for trouble. A WALKING TRAP
HE LAY SPRAWLED IN A HALF-CONSCIOUS PILE, AND SHE WAS TEMPTED TO DEMAND HIS WALLET OR HIS WATCH OR SOMETHING. THE POINT Don’t go into the park after sunset.
The warning rolled around Gaia Moore’s head as she crossed the street that bordered Washington Square Park to the east. She savored the words as she would a forkful of chocolate cheesecake.
There was a stand of trees directly in front of her and a park entrance a couple hundred feet to the left. She hooked through the trees, feeling the familiar fizz in her limbs. It wasn’t fear, of course. It was energy, maybe even excitement—the things that came when fear should have. She passed slowly through a grassy stretch, staying off the lighted paths that snaked inefficiently through the park.
As the crow flies. That’s how she liked to walk. So what if she had nowhere to go? So what if no one on earth knew or probably cared where she was or when she’d get home? That wasn’t the point. It didn’t mean she had to take the long way. She was starting a new school in the morning, and she meant to put as much distance between herself and tomorrow as she could. Walking fast didn’t stop the earth’s slow roll, but sometimes it felt like it could.
She’d passed the midway point, marked by the miniature Arc de Triomph, before she caught the flutter of a shadow out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t turn her head. She hunched her shoulders so her tall frame looked smaller. The shadow froze. She could feel eyes on her back. Bingo.
The mayor liked to brag how far the New York City crime rate had fallen, but Washington Square at night didn’t disappoint. In her short time here she’d learned it was full of junkies who couldn’t resist a blond girl with a full wallet, especially under the cover of night.
Gaia didn’t alter the rhythm of her steps. An attacker proceeded differently when he sensed your awa...