Tara eased on the brakes, slowing to a halt at the sidewalk to the elementary school. Tamy stopped just ahead, shoes skidding. “There goes that idea,” Tara complained, backing her bike into the road.
“Not necessarily,” Tamy answered, squinting at the army of teenagers swarming the playground. “We could totally take them in a fight.”
Tara grinned despite herself. “Yeah, we could. But, we’re not supposed to show off our powers, remember?”
Tamy shrugged. “So what? Not like anyone’s going to believe two girls beat up ten teenage boys.”
Tara wheeled her bike next to her sister’s, studying the school building. “Are there any cameras?”
Tamy shielded her eyes. “I don’t see any. But even if there were, it’s the middle of summer. Who’s going to check?”
Tara’s grip tightened around her handlebars. “If it means we don’t have to go home yet, I’m in.”
“Great,” Tamy kicked off and started pedaling. “Act innocent, until I give the signal!” she called.
Tara sped after, bringing their bikes even with each other. “What signal?”
“Me punching one of them,” Tamy replied, much quieter.
“Why don’t I get to punch first?” Tara asked.
“Okay, when I say ‘three!’ we punch together. Just don’t aim for the same person.”
“Got it,” Tara nodded, glancing at the school building again. There really weren’t any cameras. She grinned. “Maybe this’ll make up for getting creamed by twelfth grade every single week last year.”
Tamy laughed. “Maybe a little.”
They slowed as the sidewalk gave way to asphalt, tires cutting through hopscotch patterns and four square courts. Tara braked and hopped off her bike, letting it clatter to the ground.
“I call the left swing!” Tamy called, sprinting across the playground. Well, pretending to sprint. Tara knew her sister could run much faster than that.
“No, I already called it!” Tara shouted, running after. She ducked under the rope bridge, dodged between pillars as she half-heartedly gave chase.
Tamy yelped and spun as one of the guys on the playground threw something at her. A warning, probably, since it skipped over the open wood chips instead of actually hitting her. Tara froze under the plastic climbing tube, trying to breathe quietly.
“What was that for?” Tamy stared up at the playground, lower lip protruding.
Snickers. Tara bit her lip, since the plan wasn’t going precisely like it should. Meeting Tamy’s gaze, Tara pointed up. Her sister nodded, imperceptibly, then bent down and plucked a stone from the ground. “One of you threw this! I saw you.”
“What?” one of the boys exclaimed. “No we didn’t. You must have kicked it.” the group of them snorted. “Did you scare yourself?”
Tara stretched her arms over the climbing tube and swung herself on top of it. She glanced at Tamy again, who couldn’t keep herself from breaking into a grin. “Three!” Tamy shouted, hurling the rock.
Tara jumped for the closest boy, punching him in the stomach and landing in a roll on the bumpy platform. A rock smacked skin and another boy curled over his knee, yelling in pain.
“They’re ninjas!” a different boy screamed, scrambling for the slide. “We’re under attack by ninjas!”
He’d clearly never met a ninja before. Regardless, Tara gave chase and shoved him down the right slide face first, stretching her body thin as a gray shoe swung for her. The shoe still landed, stinging her lower back, but she didn’t flinch as she lashed out with a leg, kicking backwards and clobbering him in the knees with her heel. As he yelped in pain, she belly-slid down the left slide to escape the footsteps pounding behind her. Gripping the plastic, she braked to a halt halfway down and jumped over the side, landing in a crouch.
“Hi-ya!” Tamy yelled, apparently having climbed up the playground. Someone screamed in pain and footsteps scurried away.
“They’re actual ninjas!” a different boy shouted, running for the edge of the playground.
Tara grinned, standing and dusting wood chips from her palms. The boy she’d pushed down the slide was already running away, past the swings and through a muddy field. Two others were limping down the playground away from Tamy. “You better run!” Tamy called, voice echoing off the school building. Tara barely contained a laugh as the two limping boys scrambled through the climbing tube and nearly tripped in their haste to escape beneath the monkey bars.
Tara took her time climbing up to her sister, the fake rock wall radiating warmth against her skin. She tried to ignore the quiet bruise in her lower back from the one boy kicking her.
“They were pretty wimpy,” Tamy remarked.
Tara grinned, hopping onto the platform. “All I did to one of them was push him down the slide.”
Tamy snorted, sitting down. “That was a pretty great ambush. The look on his face when you jumped out of nowhere…” she laughed.
Tara carefully knelt. “I can’t believe you hit him in the kneecap from that far away.”
Tamy rolled her eyes. “I was aiming for his other knee. Though it was rather kind of them to give me a rock in the first place, don’t you think?”
“I thought he was going to hit you,” Tara exclaimed.
Tamy mock-punched her in the arm. “I’ve been hit by worse. A lot worse. But yeah, I wouldn’t want to explain to our mother why I needed an ice pack for my head.”
Tara grimaced and rubbed her back. “One of them did manage to kick me. Not very hard, but still,” she shook it off, then waved her hands about. “‘We’re being attacked by ninjas!’”
Tamy curled over laughing. “I can’t believe they thought we were ninjas. I mean, real ninjas never would have been spotted.”
“That’s what I was thinking!”
They fell silent as a car sped past the school grounds, horn blaring. Tara peered over the slide, wondering what their deal was.
“You want to go on the swings now?” Tamy asked.
Tara squinted, staring at the car as it parked in a driveway and then backed out, turning the other way. “Um…” she said. She pointed at the car. “Can you see who’s driving that?”
Tamy crawled to her side, staring at the rusty white car. “No…” she trailed off as the car stopped beside the sidewalk. The sidewalk that led to the school grounds.
“We should get our bikes,” Tara said, scrambling to her feet.
“I agree,” Tamy pushed off down the slide.
“Okay, we’re officially stupid,” Tara muttered, urging her sister to climb faster. Tamy grunted, metal clanging on climbing rocks.
Tara bit her lip and stared at the car, idling at the wide sidewalk. She could see the driver now. It was the same boy she’d kicked in the knees, eyebrows knit together under a mop of curly hair. “What do you think they’re waiting for?” she whispered, unsure why she was whispering.
“Maybe they just want to keep us from escaping,” Tamy whispered back, bikes thunking onto the plastic platform.
Tara climbed up after her, staying low. “We could go around the school. There’s a parking lot we could ride through.”
Tamy huddled by the slide. “Can you bike faster than a car?”
“No,” she scoffed. She peered down the sidewalk again. “How were we supposed to know they had a car?”
“Cars should be banned in playground fights,” Tamy said, propping their bikes in the corner.
“Superpowers too?” Tara asked, nibbling her lip.
“We hardly used those.”
She hesitantly nodded in agreement, even though she had used her powers to get on top of the climbing tube, and therefore surprise the group of teens in the first place.
“You know what’d be great right about now?” Tamy asked.
“If Nick showed up and terrified them out of their wits.”
Nothing happened. Tara sighed. “He’s probably still unconscious. From our meditation session.”
“That was a terrible idea, you know that?”
“It was your idea,” Tara reminded her.
“Well, it was still a terrible idea,” Tamy muttered.
Tara waited, still halfway hoping Nick’s illusions might somehow appear and scare the car off.
“Okay, they’re officially stupid,” Tamy announced after at least ten minutes of the two of them sitting there, knees aching, legs squished between their bikes and the slide. “Why are they not moving?”
“Well,” Tara said slowly, glancing at the sidewalk again, “clearly they can’t beat us in a fight. And their car can’t do anything to us up here.”
“Except smash the playground,” Tamy said.
“And their car. Which could explode. And then they’d get sued, or something.”
Tamy waved a hand. “Obviously.”
Tara checked the car again. Its headlights were still on. “Should we make a run for it? They didn’t try to come for us when we got our bikes.”
“I don’t know,” Tamy replied. “Maybe they’ll leave in a little bit?”
“How long’s a little bit?”
Tamy shrugged. “Ten minutes?”
Tara gave her a look. “We’ve already been sitting here for ten minutes.”
“I know, but what if we do make a break for it, and they have another car in the parking lot? Or what if they catch up to us? I can’t stop a car without breaking something, Tara.” She added as Tara opened her mouth, “and neither can you.”
Tara shut her jaw, turning away. She pointed at the door to the first grade classrooms. “Maybe those doors are unlocked?”
“It’s the middle of summer,” Tamy reminded her. Her hand dropped to the platform.
“So what do we do? Wait for our mother to come looking for us?” she shivered at the thought. Their mother didn’t even know they were here.
“What if we rode straight at them?” Tamy asked. Tara raised an eyebrow. “And then dodged to the side when they drove at us?” Tamy continued. “That would make them have to spin around to chase us.”
Tara checked the car again. “That would involve biking on the grass.”
“So? We hopped a curb a few days ago. We could do it.” Tamy didn’t look like she meant it.
“Okay…” Tara hesitantly agreed. “Seeing as how we don’t have any better ideas…” She stood up. “I really hope we’re both good at swerving.”
Tamy reached for the bikes. “Maybe they aren’t actually trying to run us over, and we can just leave.”
Tara glanced at the idling car, the driver with his knit-together eyebrows. “Yeah, sure, maybe.”
Tamy replied by hoisting their bikes under one arm and crawling to the lip of the twin slides. Tara immediately crouched beside her. “What are we doing?” she whispered.
Tamy scooted forward. “Going down the slides. It’s faster than trying to climb down that thing,” she pointed at the miniature climbing wall, “and there’s a chance the playground will hide us for a little bit.”
“Smart,” Tara replied, scooting to the second slide. “I can take my bike then.”
Tamy handed it over, pink streamers waving. Tara gulped, awkwardly hugging her bike while wondering how she was supposed to get from the slide, off the playground wood chips, and start pedaling before the people in the car noticed them.
“Ready?” Tamy whispered.
“Why are we whispering?” Tara replied, scooting forward.
“Go,” Tamy said, disappearing from Tara’s peripheral vision. Tara pushed herself forward, shoes squeaking as she curled her knees in. She strained to hear a car revving its engine, trying to ignore the streamers flashing in her sight as she slid. Tamy’s footsteps pattered across the wood chips as Tara’s shoes squeaked to a halt at the bottom of the slide. She leapt to the wood chips, lugging her bike the yawning distance to the asphalt and slapping the wheels to the pavement.
Tamy was already pedaling away, glaring at the rusty white car. Tara frantically hopped onto her bike, accelerating slowly.
The car at the end of the long sidewalk squealed, tires spinning. “I go right, you go left!” Tamy shouted, slowing slightly.
“Well of course!” Tara shouted back, afraid her stomach might erupt from her body as the two of them pedaled towards the car zooming towards them. Her bike bumped from asphalt to sidewalk. “You’re on the right side!”
“I know!” Tamy shouted back.
“Swerve!” Tara yelled, yanking her handlebars left and pedaling harder than she’d ever remembered pedaling. Her tires bounced through grass, rattling her teeth, a car roared past and the skin on her arm prickled from the radiating heat.
She sucked in air, twisting the bike back to the open sidewalk.
“Now what?” Tamy yelled over a squealing vehicle, appearing beside her.
“We try to make it home?” Tara shouted, unable to ignore the rattling car engine behind them.
“Before that?!” Tamy shouted.
“Get behind a fence! I don’t know!” Tara stood from her seat, legs burning, focusing on the end of the sidewalk.
Her sister started pulling ahead, and Tara resisted the urge to glance backward at the growing growl of an engine. She hung onto her handlebars as the sidewalk bumped into the road. Her front wheel turned slightly and her heart skipped, but she carefully steered herself into Tamy’s wake, cutting diagonally through the street.
“What fence?” Tamy called.
“I don’t know!”
“There’s another car!”
Tara glanced up in time to glimpse a green suburban arrowing for them. She gaped for a brief moment, then regained control of her limbs and pedaled harder. Tamy’s bike stopped, slamming into the curb and throwing her over the handlebars. Tara barely had time to swerve away from her sister’s bike before her front tire hit the curb too and she launched into the air.
Dizzily, she pushed herself from the ground, skin on fire.
“Get in the car!”
She peered through dancing stars.
“Tara, get in!” A door squeaked, and a pair of shoes wobbled towards her. “Come on Tamy!” a hand grabbed her burning arm, lifting her from the sidewalk.
“Our bikes,” Tara managed to say. She reached for them.
“Get in the car,” the voice shouted in her ear. “I’ve got the bikes.”
The hand let go and Tara stumbled towards the wobbling green suburban, parked in the middle of the intersection.
Her fingers found the door and she stared in puzzlement until a different hand curved around hers and pulled. She ducked inside, washed in the smell of dusty car overlaid with Vanilla Bean and Ocean Wave and she collapsed in the seat.
“Tara…” Tamy’s voice muttered, and she stumbled into the adjacent chair. Their bikes clattered in behind her. “My head hurts.”
Tara’s did too, or maybe just everything else did, so she noticed her less-pained skull by sheer contrast. “What happened?” she asked.
Nick’s face popped out from the passenger seat. “We came to save you,” he said.
Frowning, Tara stared into the driver’s seat as the door slammed. She blinked. “Quinn?”