Tara’s Story: clipped voice in the dark void

They found Nick in the backyard, curled under a blanket behind the tree. Tara pressed next to her sister in the window, looking where she pointed. The reedy tree trunk wasn’t even wide enough to conceal him.

“Did either of you hear him? When he snuck away?” Quinn asked, pressed against Tamy’s other side. Tara just glanced at him. “Right,” he rolled his eyes. “Superpowers.” Then he muttered, “Since when were superpowers a common answer?”

“It’s not superpowers,” Tamy corrected. “Nick has superpowers. We just have regular powers.”

His eyebrows furrowed and he gave a confused “wha?”

“She means Nick’s powers are obviously crazier than ours,” Tara stepped away from the window.

Quinn’s gaze flicked between them warily.

“Come on,” Tamy said, stepping to the door.

“Why don’t we just leave him out there?” Quinn suggested, turning away. “He obviously doesn’t want to talk to us.”

“Or maybe,” Tamy swept the door open, “he heard us arguing and ran away.” she glared briefly at Quinn. “So we should apologize.” She marched from the house, and Tara followed closely.

Nick gave no sign he heard them coming, but as they knelt in the tree’s shade Alex appeared in place of the blanket. Tara jumped.

Alex smiled. “Long time no see. How’d your day at the theme park go?”

“Nick,” Tamy sighed. “Please don’t.”

Alex spun towards her. “You aren’t his boss. Maybe let him make his own decisions once in a while.”

Tara bit her lip and peered at the ground. Quinn knelt behind her in the crunchy grass, still wearing his dark pizza-place uniform.

“Okay,” Tamy said, raising her hands. “We just came out here to say we’re sorry for arguing over you,” she met Tara’s gaze. “Right?”

Tara nodded. “Sorry we argued,” she told the back of Alex’s head, who was in fact Nick’s blanket. Or concealing Nick’s blanket.

“Yeah,” Quinn added. “Sorry.”

Alex flourished dramatically, and the lawn melted. Tara scrambled backward, bumping into something and turning to find their mother, eyes haunted. Tara spun back to Alex, finding the older girl, and the tree, replaced by a dark void.

“Tamy!” she called, rising to her feet. A wet road formed around her footsteps. “Quinn? Nick, what are you doing?”

“Your daughters will return at the new year,” a clipped voice echoed. “Trust me when I say they are going to a place that can help them.” Tara spun cautiously, hunting for the voice. She finally settled on their mother, floating near the edge of the dark bubble Nick had created.

“How can you say that?” their mother asked. “Who even are you?”

“Trust me,” the clipped voice said. “You’ll hardly notice they’re gone.”

“My girls…” their mother whispered. “I hardly know them anymore.”

Tara’s heart skipped. “Mom?” she said, voice breaking. Knowing her mother wasn’t actually there, the word leapt from her mouth anyway.

“You’ve done the best you can,” the clipped voice softened. “We’ll take it from here.”

Tara jumped at the slamming of a door, the purring of a car, the wet road was empty but she remembered that sound from somewhere. “Nick!” she yelled, as their mother melted into the dark bubble’s edges. “What is this?” she squeezed her eyes shut. “Let me out!” she yelled again.

“Since we’re spilling secrets today,” Alex said snidely, “Nick knows you broke Mom’s poor heart.”

Tara opened her eyes, gasping and hugging the rough tree bark, knees digging into soil.

“So we went to school,” Tamy shot back, glaring at Alex. “Like there were better options.”

Tara glanced at Quinn, who seemed to be frozen in a state of terrified gaping. She poked his hand with her toes, unwilling to let go of the tree. He didn’t react.

“Maybe there weren’t!” Alex exclaimed. “But you still left!”

“Nick, you can let Alex go,” Tamy said harshly. “You’re hiding behind her.”

Tara nodded emphatically.

Alex flickered out, but another figure instantly took her place. Mr. Latem, their powers teacher. Tara stared, unable to speak. Mr. Latem didn’t speak either, just gazed into Tara’s soul with unyielding gray eyes. He disappeared, and Alex returned. Tara shuddered. “I’m the best at talking,” Alex said.

“But I want to speak to Nick,” Tamy said, fingers visibly shaking. Her fists clenched.

Tara opened her mouth to speak, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“He is right,” Quinn said softly. “You did leave,” his eyes flicked to Tamy, then to the ground. “You got a free pass from…” he motioned to the house, his pizza uniform, the crunchy grass. “It wasn’t fair.”

“Not like us being here would’ve changed much of that,” Tara muttered.

“Nick took that memory from me,” Quinn continued. “The one of Mom, talking to the lady you left with. I was hiding behind the couch, so I didn’t see who Mom was talking to…”

Tara did recall that purring sound now. The white seats, the tinted windows, her limp arms strung to sweaty fingers clutching a pink suitcase she hadn’t even been able to zip up by herself. A sob broke through her lips and she clamped a hand over her mouth.

“We didn’t want to leave,” Tamy exclaimed. She was suddenly by Tara’s side, scraped arms rubbing scraped arms. “But how were we supposed to stay? You see what Nick’s doing. We couldn’t control it.”

Quinn shook his head. “Of course you didn’t want to. But you still left. And it still hurts here,” he tapped his chest. “And I’m still mad at you.” He got up and trudged to the house, shoulders hunched.

Tara glanced away, only to discover that Nick was gone too.

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