Chapter 14: Exercise
“Do you need a ride home?”
Deena looked up from her homework. Luther was leaning against the railing. He looked at ease, with not a care in the world. She didn’t think she had ever seen him study.
“No. Mom will be here shortly. You’d better go. I don’t think she likes you.”
He nodded, frowning. “We still need to talk.”
She let him go without comment. When his Chevy pulled out of the parking lot, she sighed.
If you can’t trust the guy, you shouldn’t be spending time with him. Besides Mom would just throw a fit.
There were few things in life worth upsetting her mother.
But she could no longer concentrate on the homework. She stared off into space, watching the track people run and jump.
Mara Brooke idled the engine. Deena just sat there on the steps, staring off into space. Maybe she hadn’t noticed her.
“Deena!” she called.
Her daughter moved like she was tired. She packed up her books and walked slowly over to the car.
Deena shook her head, “No. I think I need to walk home again. The exercise yesterday did me a lot of good.”
“It’s a long way. You can walk around the block at home.”
Just a little shake of her head. She gave no big argument. Deena opened the door and set her book bag inside. “It will be good for me. I’ve needed exercise for a long time now. It’s time to start. I’ll see you at home.”
Mara winced when Deena shut the door with a firm slam.
She was already heading across the parking lot before Mara really understood that Deena was going to have her own way about this.
Well, she would talk to her about it when they got home.
She picked up a good stride by the second block.
Deena nodded her head in sync with music she couldn’t really hear. She just enjoyed her easy breathing and the pulse shushing in her ears.
Walking felt good. Like zinc felt good.
Am I going to be addicted to walking now? She laughed. For someone like me, being addicted to exercise would be a dream come true.
She tapped a store window ever second step. Feeling her own private beat.
I’d like a radio, or maybe a music player. Somewhere in the depths of her closet was an old cassette player. But the only tapes she still had were Disney tunes, and those were probably so old they’d break the first time she tried to use them.
Hey Luther, how about just one of your gold coins. Surely, you could spare it.
On a whim, because the light was red and she didn’t want to stop, she turned to the right and walked a couple of blocks out of her way before another light gave her an excuse to turn again.
A corner drug store caught her eye.
I need to ditch this bandage. She had told everyone who asked that it was minor. It was time to reduce the gauze to a stick-on bandage. In a day or so, she could drop it altogether and never have to explain to anyone how her deep cut had healed in minutes.
Mara was startled when Deena came strutting down the street right in front of where she had parked. If there hadn’t been a delivery truck waiting at the light, her daughter would surely have seen her. She ducked her head, but Deena never turned her way.
She skipped across the street and into a drug store.
Mara was frozen in place. What could her daughter possibly be doing in a drug store?
Deena had asked for money this morning. Was this her reason?
It was a long wait. Mara was too frightened to move from her parking spot—not until Deena had come out and moved on down the street.
At last, Deena appeared in the store’s doorway. She had a bottle of water, and something else.
Mara watched as Deena struggled with a small container, took two pills and washed them down with the water.
You don’t buy street drugs at a drug store. But there was another kind of drug that teenage girls could get behind their parent’s back, with the blessing of the government—birth control pills.
I can’t get side-tracked now. Luther sat in his living room, listening to the music he had bought over the last year. Music he couldn’t carry with him once he left. It was too late to rip it to digital.
His early optimism hadn’t lasted the day. No matter if he stopped the locker-spawned rumors, the questions had been asked. Who was Luther Jennings? Where did he come from? Who were his parents?
It was just a matter of time before someone in the right position of authority would decide to find out.
I can’t waste my time on high school X-Files. Deena will just have to deal with her weirdness on her own.
But how did she manage the tricks?
He looked over at his laptop.
Not trusting his own memory, he had gone to the U.S. Mint web site to track down the composition of his coins. Deena had been right, even getting facts he had forgotten. The dollar coin had been a layered coin, so the percentage copper he remembered for the whole coin wasn’t the same as that on the surface. Deena gave him the right numbers for the surface.
She could be psychic. Clairvoyants could know facts they ordinarily couldn’t have known, although he had never heard of one doing elemental assays.
But what about the pitted zinc?
He got up from the chair and began pacing through the house. A book was crooked on the shelf. He adjusted it. A trashcan in the bedroom had a few scraps of paper in it. He added them to the kitchen trash. He stared at his car in the garage for a whole minute before he realized he didn’t remember why he had come out there.
I’ve got to turn on the TV, and turn my brain off, or I’ll go crazy.
Deena veered to the west, reaching Pebble Beach Drive. The ocean off to her right gave her some comfort. The easy walk had become something different—something more disturbing.
She was hearing voices now.
When she had been in the drug store, she heard a man laugh. It was faint and she couldn’t locate the source, but she figured it was just a radio, somewhere in the store, turned down low.
But back on the street, she heard it again. Only there was more than one voice.
Like a crowd at a ball game, or in an auditorium, the voices were plainly people, but she couldn’t make out what was being said.
But this wasn’t a noise she could ignore, like the comforting, rhythmic surf. With startling clarity, a woman’s laugh, or a single word would jar through her thoughts, making her lose track of what she was doing.
She paused for a moment, closed her eyes and pushed as hard as she could at the unseen voices in her head.
Go away! For an instant, she thought maybe they had, but it was just an illusion.
“Republican”, “Sale”, “Ha!”, “forth”, “Sheena”, “Sony”, “Paradise”—like a hailstorm, the words beat on her, sometimes overlapping, sometimes with the briefest break in their fury.
“Ba, ba, ba.” She said, suddenly realizing that there was music in the mix as well. Like a rope to a drowning swimmer, she grabbed at it.
“Ba, ba, ba...by!” she sang. It was a song she had heard. Snippets of the song washed over her, mixed with the words and other notes of other songs.
Deena walked, forcing her steps to follow the beat. She strode down the way towards home, her face grim, and her body dancing.
That song ended, and after a brief surge of panic, she found the scraps of another song she knew.
“I have voices, voices in my head!” she sang to the beat of a popular dance tune.
It’s confirmed now. I am going crazy. The brain tumor’s got me.
Deena looked up from her park bench when Luther shut his car door. He waved at her, but she didn’t wave back.
It was getting close to sunset.
“I can see why you like this place. The view is spectacular.”
“Hi, Luther. What brings you here?”
He looked at her. Her face was red. Maybe she had been crying.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She laughed sadly. “I’m going crazy. I probably have a brain tumor and I’ll die before I ever get to do anything.”
He sat down beside her. He picked up her hand and patted it. It was hot. Maybe she was catching a cold, out here in the sea breeze all the time.
“You can’t be crazy. You’re driving me loony, but I don’t buy your insanity plea.”
She looked at him. “Why? It makes perfect sense. There’s no other reason for all the crazy things that are happening to me.”
“Maybe it makes sense for you, but not for me. Just being crazy doesn’t let you do impossible things.”
Deena chewed at her lower lip. “You could be an illusion, too.”
“Then, you’ll just have to put up with me. As long as I’m here, I’m going to be trying to solve this riddle. It’ll be easier if you just humor me.”
“No ‘buts’. I’ve gotten myself into trouble in the past by ignoring too many mysteries. And wouldn’t it be easier to have someone to talk to about your symptoms?”
She nodded. “Yes. It’s just that I don’t know what to think. So much has changed, and so fast! I can’t get a handle on one bit of strangeness before another one comes to knock me over.”
From across the road, a woman’s voice called, “Deena!”
“Oh, great! Here comes Mom.”
Deena felt that twisting, sinking feeling that overcame her every time she saw Mom coming to do battle.
She straightened her back, and tried to blink away any leftover tears. She wished she had time to wash her face, but there was no time.
Luther looked at her for guidance, his smile showing he really had no idea of what was coming down on him.
“You sir, are not wanted here. Leave and never come back.”
Luther tilted his head slightly. Deena saw him take in a breath and straighten his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he said mildly. “I didn’t realize you owned this stretch of the shore.”
“Mom! Stop it.” She had to jump in. Luther was going to do battle, and even if he won the verbal sparring match, she was the one who would lose.
“Mom, Luther is a friend of mine. Leave him alone.”
“Well! I certainly don’t want a daughter of mine to....”
“Mom!” Deena stood up, her hands curling unconsciously into fists at her side. “We were talking here.”
Luther took a slight step to the side, towards Deena.
“I am sorry if I’ve done anything to offend you, Mrs. Brooke. Deena and I are lab partners in physics class. We were discussing the atomic numbers of metals.”
Mara’s attack stuttered. “Well. Why are you out here? Where are your books? I don’t know about this.”
“Mom, I didn’t want to take him into the living room, not yet.” Deena doubted she would ever want to let Luther into their house. The living room had become a storage room for all the newspapers Mara had intended to read, but had never caught up with. Dust was thick in places. On the rare occasion someone came over to visit, they closed off the doors and never let anyone in that room.
Deena’s accusing stare caught her mother’s attention.
Mara was plainly feeling surrounded. But she had never backed away from a fight to protect her daughter.
“I don’t know your family. I don’t want her spending time with people I don’t know. I’m the only family she has, and I take my responsibilities seriously. I want to meet your parents.”
Luther’s face was unreadable.
“My parents are dead. I live with my aunt.”
Mara Brooke pushed on. “Okay, I’ll meet with her. Otherwise, I’ll have to insist you keep your studies to the school building.”
He took a breath. “Okay. I’ll check with her.” He walked off toward his car.
Mara whispered to her, “Deena! You can’t encourage boys like that. When I looked down here and saw the two of you together, I was shocked.”
Deena had already begun to tune out her mother’s tirade. The voice in her head finished the job.
It was Luther’s voice, echoing in her head. But he was a hundred feet away, talking into his cell phone.