Chapter 18: Burning
Deena had time to cool down, physically, before her mother arrived at the store. She still burned up over Luther.
Why do I let him get to me? Mom lies to me, too.
She shook her head. I’m not investing my time in a guy who can’t be trusted.
There were more different types of shoes than she had ever imagined. And the prices for the best were entirely out of her range.
“Can I help you?” the clerk asked.
“I need running shoes.”
Mara arrived, finally, and was aghast at the prices. Deena had a firm handle on the family budget and had limited her search to shoes that wouldn’t break them.
Still, her mother had to be convinced.
“Mom, come outside. I want to show you something.” Deena signaled the clerk to hold the shoes she had selected.
In the parking lot, she gave her mother a glimpse of what kind of running she was doing. One quick lap around the block had her stunned.
“Now look at these shoes.” Deena took them off and showed her where the soles were separating.
“Just look at me, Mom. Look at how much weight I have lost.
“This means a lot to me. Keeping the fat off will keep me healthy. Keeping it off will help me get a job in another few months. Being actually slim will make a big difference in which guy pays attention to me.
“I’m not going back to fat, even if it ruins my feet.
“That’s why these shoes are so important to me.”
Mara Brooke took a good look at her daughter. Even her face looked different, less plump. When had this happened? Her little Deena had become a young lady, almost overnight. A beautiful young lady.
It was frightening, in a way. And yet, Deena was looking happier than she had in a long time.
She took her hand, “Of course. Let’s get you the right shoes.”
As the clerk rang up the sale, Deena browsed through the sporty exercise outfits on the rack.
No. It would just be a waste of money. At the rate I am losing fat, I should be at my ideal weight, Bryony-sized, in just days.
There is plenty of time to think about getting clothes when my weight loss stops.
If it did stop.
Who actually knew what was happening to her? She could turn into one of those walking skeletons she had seen on the supermarket tabloid cover. Without Luther to talk to, she had to face her fears by herself.
“Mom, let’s go eat at that Italian restaurant over on Anzio. I’m starved.”
And just maybe I can talk her into Murphy’s Thrift Shop.
Highway 101 north out of Crescent City roughly followed the coastline. Luther watched the sun creep lower as he drove.
It was hard to leave. Much harder than the other times when he had to ditch a name and a home.
The others weren’t really homes. Even his house on Temple Street wasn’t a home. He’d made sure of that. It was just a house—just a place to sleep. It was a place he could turn his back on without a qualm.
Then, why was it so hard to leave?
Sunset was approaching. Was Deena at her park bench, watching this? The colors were magnificent.
He passed a sign—Whalehead. The rocks along these cliffs had been formed into fanciful and impressive shapes by the relentless action of the waves. That was one of the things he liked about Crescent City—its cliffs and the rocks on the beach below.
A roadside park appeared around a bend. He pulled in.
Just until the sunset is over.
He found a bench where he could see the waves crash on the rocks and where the sunset crept along at its own pace.
I liked that town. The postman, the bankers, even the clerk at the gas station where he filled up his Chevy, they all knew him. They all said ‘hi’.
Even the high school was a place where he had felt comfortable. The teachers had liked him.
That was the point, wasn’t it? Somewhere down the road, he would need a diploma and a list of references. Potential employers could call them to see if he was honest and respectable. Katy couldn’t fake voices for a whole list.
And I have no other friends.
No one, now that he had put Crescent City behind him.
The burning red sun was half gone below the horizon. He tried to put Crescent City out of his mind as the sun shrank to a curved sliver and then a point and was gone.
Deena packed her new outfit into her school bag. She could wear something old on the morning run to school.
Mom had let her get one matching blouse and slacks when she had seen the price. Deena was happy with it. Used or not, the plain white clothes were nicer than anything else she had.
Dawn was brightening the sky and she was anxious for the day to start. She was sleeping less and less and spending hours each morning on the shore, feeling the refreshing cool breeze.
Heat dissipation. Whatever is burning away my fat needs to get rid of the heat.
That would make it aliens, instead of magic. Magic didn’t have to worry about the laws of thermodynamics did it?
She looked at her face in the mirror again.
I still look human. Her face was much thinner than before, but it hadn’t gone over the line into gaunt. The flesh of her face, and her arms and legs for that matter, were still nicely firm.
From all the running she had been doing, she had expected good muscle definition on her legs, but her arms looked defined and toned as well.
They say people with anorexia think they are fat when really they are too thin.
What could she do to keep that from happening to her? If changing into an alien distorted her perceptions like in the movies, she couldn’t trust her own mind.
She remembered some old commercial. “Pinch an inch.” That was it. She couldn’t remember the product, but if the idea was that if you could pinch more than one inch of body fat at your waist, then you were too fat.
She tried it. Almost. I can still afford to lose a little bit.
Maybe the pasta last night helped. How much would she have to eat, once all the excess fat had burned off?
I love this new body. I love how powerful I feel while running—the freedom.
It had all come to her magically. What if the magic stopped? What would she have to do to keep the results?
Too many questions. I wish I could talk it over with Luther. He’s smart.
When she opened her locker to put away her running clothes, yellow paper fluttered against the inside of the locker door.
Someone had slipped a post-it note with a paperclip and a rubber band in through the grill of the locker so it would wave and catch her attention.
The note said, “I’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about—L.”
She smiled and stuffed the note into her books. If he only means it!
English paper in hand, she headed into class.
But it was nearly impossible to keep her mind on the lecture. She tuned to a classical music station in an attempt to keep her mind running smooth and even, but she found herself tapping her feet to Giuseppe Verdi—and she didn’t even like opera.
As soon as English class ended, she headed outside, circling the building before finding her seat in government.
No music this time.
She started out with a call-in talk show. Show dogs didn’t interest her. Hitting her mental Scan button, she lit on something odd. They were talking about Area 51 and the alien spacecraft hidden by the government.
Deena tried to follow it, but even UFO’s got boring.
My aliens are much more inventive. I wonder what they would say if I called in?
“HI, DOREEN. HOW ARE YOU?” It was a cell phone call, close by. The signal strength swamped out the conspiracy station. The voice—it was a girl’s—wasn’t someone she knew.
She has to be right outside in the hall. The signal was almost painful. Deena fumbled with her papers. Isn’t there anyway to block this out?
How about an aluminum foil hat? She stifled a grin.
Soon enough, the call ended, and Deena knew more about the caller’s boyfriend than she ever wanted to know. Surely she was joking when she described what Ted had wanted to do to her.
Deena’s knowledge of sex was limited to what she had seen on TV (non-cable) and what she had read in the medical book they had at the house. Mom never mentioned it, and even Bryony wasn’t a close enough friend that she wanted to bring up that subject.
Anyway, she was certainly going to avoid anyone named Ted at this school!
By the end of Government class, Deena had estimated how many times she could lap the school before physics started.
I’ll only do it a couple of times, just in case Luther wants to talk.
Her feet were tapping, flexing inside her new shoes, even without music. She looked at the clock. Any minute now!
Honnnnnnk! A large truck swerved to miss her.
Deena stumbled against the curb.
What! Where am I?
She quickly got off the roadway. A road sign said Highway 101.
What am I doing here? The last thing she remembered was waiting for the bell to ring.
She checked her watch. Physics class was just starting. Off in the distance she could see the school. It was more than a mile away.
I’ve got to get back.
She dashed over to the other side of the road and turned on the speed.
Frantically, she pounded the pavement, pushing ever harder.
The distance melted away. Faster than any human, faster than a racehorse, she punched through the air, her hair whipping free of her pins.
She entered the school and slowed down. I’m only a couple of minutes late.
Mr. Fenner looked up as she walked in. There was a seat next to Luther. She sat down.
Luther was looking worried. So was Mr. Fenner. He stopped what he was saying and went to put his hand on her forehead.
“We’ve got to get you to the nurse’s office.”
Luther stood up. “I’ll take her.” Mr. Fenner nodded.
Deena was confused. Why was everyone looking at her like that? Luther led her out into the hall.
“Deena, you are bright red, and you’re burning up! We’ve got to break this fever before you get brain damage.”
She shook her head. “No. Not a fever. I just need to cool down. I was running.”
“You need to get to the nurse.”
“Water!” She pulled away and went to the water fountain. She splashed her face. Luther stuck his hands in and helped.
Her mind started to clear. The enormity of what she had just done started to sink in. She sagged against the cool tiled wall.
“Luther, I ran over a mile at thirty or forty miles per hour! I overheated.”
“That’s imposs... Okay. What do we need to do?”
She pointed. “Just let me go into the restroom and soak my head for a minute in the sink. I’ve overheated before. I’ll be okay.”
Before the bank of mirrors, she was shocked at the red she was still radiating. This was way beyond a blush. It was if her whole blood supply had rushed to her skin.
She plugged the sink with a paper towel and filled it up. Removing her blouse, she dabbed wet towels over exposed skin. Slowly the red was fading. She wished for a thermometer.
This is going to be hard to explain away. How many people saw her like this?
“HELLO.” It was Luther’s voice, from his cell phone.
“KATY ... KATY SLOW DOWN! WHO IS CHASING YOU?”