Jaden kicked off the covers when he woke, feeling sickly warm. California sunlight was oppressive, surging rather than streaming through the window. The light scorched his eyelids and put his sweat glands into overdrive. He pushed himself up in bed and reached for the shutter louvers, but like the door yesterday, they closed without his touch.
He checked the room, searching for spying eyes. He thought he was alone until the toilet flushed. When he heard Jenny turn the faucet for the sink, Jaden jumped out of bed and rubbed his head.
He had to stop doing that. Whatever it was would get him in trouble. Thankfully she hadn’t be in the room when it had happened. Granted a reprieve.
Jenny came from the bathroom, yawning.
“You’re up,” she said, going to him and brushing his hair off his forehead. “Did you sleep okay?”
“Yes,” he said, which was perfectly true. He’d had a dreamless sleep and was feeling great this morning, except for his sore head and leg, stinging hands, and strange dilemma of spontaneous moving objects.
“Oh good,” she said. “I’m going to go change and make breakfast. French toast again?”
Jaden nodded and she left, leaving him alone, giving him time to think.
Last night had been good news bad news. On the one hand, he’d proven to the Kauffmans he could interact with other people his age, and wasn’t so damaged he’d need intensive therapy sessions for the rest of his life. He got along great with Ryan.
On the other hand, he’d been violent, something he hadn’t done before. Finn deserved exactly what he got, but now the Kauffmans knew he was a) sensitive about his mommy issues, and b) a little unstable, as he nearly strangled someone.
He pulled off his shirt and blue jeans from yesterday and decided to take a shower. Telepathy would be a nice skill to have, so he could read the Kauffmans’ minds. They said they wanted to keep him, but trying to kill someone was probably on the con side of the pro and con list when it came to taking in an older child. A squishy baby they’d raised themselves might not have tried to kill Finn.
Derek had said that he understood, that Finn was a prick and a jerk. Did his violent display show his human side? Maybe it was a good thing he’d reacted as he did. Maybe it proved he was a normal human being.
He’d been trying so hard to play the role he thought Derek and Jenny wanted, he’d forgotten to try and make himself comfortable. Since arriving, all he’d done was put on a show, worried that if he slipped up or did something not in line with their image of who he should be, they would send him back.
Jaden washed and rinsed, then turned off the water. He decided it was not time to panic. He would play it cool, try to relax, not bring up what happened last night and pretend it didn’t happen. He would look ahead, not behind.
The mirror was foggy, so he wiped it with his hand and stared at his reflection. They knew what they were getting, didn’t they? They knew he would be a challenge, not as easy as a fresh human. He combed his wet hair then dried himself, tossed the wet towel in the bin, and dressed in his new clothes.
Derek and Jenny had gone to a lot of trouble, he thought as he stared around his room. His room. They had gotten him his own bed, bought him new clothes, asked him what he wanted for breakfast and had tried to get him to make friends. To fit in.
And how had he repaid them? He ran at the first sign of trouble, after he’d done something bad, assuming Derek or Jenny would hurt him, when they had given no sign of that kind of behavior before.
They assumed the best of you, and you assumed the worst of them.
Jaden felt guilty. He had looked for their past sins, thinking they were hiding something, that one day or night they’d harm him. Yet they had shown nothing but trust and affection.
A clinking sound came from downstairs. Jenny was beating eggs for French toast.
Because she likes you.
Priorities had to be set. Looking at it scientifically, the more worried and panicked he was, the worse the issue became. Reason dictated that if he was able to feel comfortable, genuinely comfortable rather than faking it, the nameless issue would hide itself once again, laying dormant until it was required (if ever).
When Jaden entered the kitchen, Derek and Jenny were talking happily about some episode on television they’d seen. Derek greeted him with a hearty good morning, and Jaden gave one back. Because he liked them, too.
“Can I help you?” he asked Jenny.
“Sure. You can set the table. Thanks, Jaden,” she replied, opening the drawer containing cutlery and place mats.
They sat at the small dining room table, and the Kauffmans each reached out one hand for Jaden to hold when they said grace. Jaden took their hands and bowed his head but kept his eyes open and watched them recite a prayer.
“Amen,” he said with them, then he dug in to his French toast. Maybe the reason he thought the Kauffmans were corny or cliché was because that’s what people did. Maybe it was average, normal, for people to eat breakfast around a table after saying grace. Maybe it was ordinary to read the news or books in the morning. They were neither paranoid, frightful, or rude. Their attitudes matched the order of the neighborhood in which they lived.
“We were thinking,” Jenny said over a mouthful of toast, “we could go to the bookstore today and get some new books for you. We know you like to read, but we’re not sure what.”
Jaden took a huge bite of toast and nodded. “That sounds great,” he said. He put another piece of toast on his plate and reached for the syrup.
It slid a few inches into his open hand.
Jaden looked around. Derek frowned at him thoughtfully, then shook his head and continued with his toast and e-reader.
He poured the syrup then set it down, holding his breath as he pushed it away from him.
“Juice?” Jenny asked, holding up a pitcher of orange juice.
I’m going to pick up my glass with my hands, he thought. Then I’m going to put it down. With my hands.
And so he did. She poured juice, he picked up the glass, drank some, and set the glass on the table. Nothing remarkable happened. He sighed.
“What are you reading?” he asked Derek.
“Just the news.”
“Oh,” Jaden said.
Now I’m going to have another piece of toast. I’m going to pick up the fork in my hand, stab a piece, put it on my plate.
He did so.
Then I’m going to pick up the syrup, pour it, and set the syrup bottle onto the table. Derek will assume he imagined it and will think nothing about what he saw before.
“Are you okay?” Jenny asked as he poured the syrup.
“Yes,” he said, and replaced the syrup onto the table. He paused, grabbed his fork and continued with his breakfast.
“You look like you’re trying really hard,” Derek said, smirking. “It’s just breakfast.”
He dripped syrup down onto his pants. He dropped his fork and went to grab a napkin, when the whole napkin tray slid across the table to him.
Trying to act casual, as if this happened every day in dining rooms across America, Jaden picked out a napkin and dabbed at his jeans. His face was hot, and without looking up, he was sure Derek and Jenny stared, mouths gaping.
A thousand curse words, all in different combinations, strung themselves together in his head, vying to escape through his tightly sealed lips. Whatever it was was getting stronger, happening more frequently and out of his control. Actually it only happened when he wasn’t thinking about not doing it.
Jaden picked up his fork, though no longer hungry, and continued to eat, chewing the toast mechanically and doing his best to be easy-going. He tried thinking of something he could talk about in the news, but didn’t know what.
In his peripheral vision, Jaden saw Jenny and Derek staring widely at each other, their eyes flicking back and forth to Jaden, to each other, and back again. Derek had his fork midway to his mouth and Jenny clenched her glass of juice so hard her fingers were white.
The phone rang. Saved by the bell. Literally.
Jaden looked up because the Kauffmans jumped in their seats, Jenny sloshing juice on the table, Derek almost stabbing himself with his fork. The three of them stared at each other as the phone rang a second time, no one daring to speak first.
“I’ll get it,” Jenny said. Jaden watched her answer the phone and listened to the conversation.
“Hello? Oh hi, Ed.”
Oh great, Finn’s daddy.
“Yes we’re here.” She looked over at Jaden, who did his best to act casual. Her eyes darted between Derek and Jaden, and they were still wide. “Um, sure. Yeah, that would be fine. No, no, we’re just finishing up breakfast.” Pause. “I think that’s a great idea. We’ll see you soon. Okay, bye now.”
“What did he want?” Jaden asked before she hung up the phone, keeping the subject away from what they were all thinking about.
“Finn wants to come over and apologize,” Jenny said, as she sat at the table.
Jaden doubted that. Finn’s parents were probably forcing him to apologize, especially after Jaden booked it last night. They’d probably rounded on him after Ryan relayed how the whole thing went down, and Finn was revealed to be the instigator.
“Good,” Derek said with feeling. “He started the whole thing. Little jerk.”
“Yes, but Jaden shouldn’t have hit him either, honey,” she said to her husband, putting emphasis on the pet name. “It’s not a good idea to resort to violence.”
“I agree, dear, but it’s what I would’ve done.”
Jenny glared at her husband. “We’re not going to teach him that it’s okay to hit someone, even if they do behave like an animal. Right?”
Derek glanced at Jaden then back to his wife. “Of course not.”
“In fact, I think it would be a good idea if Jaden also apologizes. Don’t you agree, my love?” she asked him.
Jaden bit his lip to keep from smiling.
“Yes, of course I do, my princess. Whatever you think is best.”
“I’m so glad we agree,” she said sweetly. She pushed away from the table. “Now, I’m going to get ready for our morning outing and put on my face. Will you two please clear the table when you finish?”
“Gladly,” said Derek.
Jenny nodded to him then left for her bedroom. As soon as she was out of ear shot, Derek turned to Jaden and whispered: “Remind me to teach you how to box, so next time you can knock out your opponent and won’t need to choke him.”
When the door bell rang, Jenny and, grudgingly, Derek escorted Jaden to the door. Before opening it, Jenny bent over and licked her fingers then wiped at a spot on Jaden’s face. He squirmed and rubbed his own cheek.
“Well you had some crumbies there,” she said.
“It’s an apology, he’s not going for a scholarship,” Derek said.
She ignored him. “Do you know what you’re going to say?” she asked Jaden.
That the next time he talks about my mother I’m going to rip his tongue out, throw it on the frying pan, marinate it with soy sauce, and make him eat it?
“Yes,” he said.
Jenny opened the door.
There stood Ed with Finn. Ed smiled at Jaden, but Jaden did not smile back. Ed patted his son’s shoulders. “Okay, Finn, don’t you have something you’d like to say?”
Finn stared at a spot on his shoes. “I’m sorry about what I said last night. It was insensitive and inappropriate, and mean-spirited. I will not do it again. Please forgive me.”
And if you do say that, or anything close to it again, I will shove something up your—
Jenny nudged him and Jaden cleared his throat. “I’m sorry I tried to kill you,” he muttered, crossing his arms.
He and Finn glared at each other.
“Okay, now shake hands,” Jenny said.
Jaden kept his hands crossed and Finn did not move.
Ed picked up his son’s right arm and Finn finished the motion, putting his hand out. Jaden did the same and grabbed his hand, shook it once, then dropped it and crossed his arms again.
The parents regarded each other.
“Okay!” Derek said. “Thanks for coming over.”
The three of them backed out of the doorway and Derek shut the door, turning to his wife. “Better dearest?”
“Yes. Don’t you feel better Jaden?”
“Oh yes, so much better,” he said with the biggest fake smile he could muster. He blinked at her and she grinned, ruffling his hair affectionately.
“All right smarty pants, go get in the car.”
The journey to the bookstore was spent discussing what everyone liked to read, and then Jenny and Derek reminisced about the books they read and enjoyed when they were Jaden’s age. He didn’t have the heart to tell them he preferred different sorts of books. Instead he went along, eager to keep the conversation on something other than him.
But Jaden had a feeling that as soon as both Derek and Jenny had gone upstairs to their bedroom to prepare for the outing, they talked about what had happened at the breakfast table. He imagined Jenny flailing her arms and Derek’s eyes popping so wide they might roll out of his head, bouncing on the floor. Their conversation about books was a distraction, and Jaden tried thinking of a planned response when the inevitable questions would come.
He expected the Kauffmans to be big bookstore patrons, but they parked in front of a building that reminded him of a vet’s office, perhaps because it was across the street from a pet store. Jaden hopped out of the car and waited for a silver suburban to pass before running through the lot. Jenny and Derek came into the store after, holding hands.
Jaden picked up a basket and headed to the young adult section, picking up a few books, reading the backs, and putting them in his basket. The Kauffmans joined him but gave him plenty of space, and examined their own favorites.
A tall and burly man was talking on a cell phone around the corner. Jaden knew this wasn’t a library, but he thought the same rules should apply. He glanced at the man and the man glanced back, nodding and waving a little as he did so, then moved away, speaking softer into his phone.
Jenny rifled through Jaden’s selection, nodding her approval, then added a few of her own to his stash. “You know, us getting you books is not rewarding you for what you did last night,” she said. By the way she said it, Jaden knew it had concerned her all morning. “With Derek going back to work next week and me needing to work myself, you’ll have a lot of free time on your hands. That’s why the books. We’ll get you a library card for our county on the way home as well.”
After getting a library card, the Kauffmans headed home. It was silent in the car. Jaden was already on the second chapter of one of his new books. He didn’t notice the talking adults in the front seats. Only when Derek called him by name did he take interest.
“What?” he asked.
“We wanted to talk about what happened this morning, kiddo,” Derek said, putting extra emphasis on the moniker.
Jaden’s fingers turned to ice, and the book slipped from his hands. This morning. Oh crap. How was he going to wiggle out of this one. Trick of the light? He was learning magic? He spiked their juice with LSD? They were insane?
Jenny faced him. “The napkin tray, remember?”
Kinda hard to forget, thanks. Think of something quick.
“Napkin tray?” Jaden asked in what he hoped was an innocent and clueless tone. Though he tried thinking of an explanation earlier, he hadn’t been able to come up with anything better than “I’m an alien” or some variation. The books distracted him, dulled his focus. Now he wondered if that was their plan of attack, to throw him off.
“You remember. How it slid to you. By itself.”
Crap. Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap. CRAP!
“Oh that,” Jaden said. His hands were no longer icy but slippery with sweat, just like the rest of him.
“Has that ever happened before?” Derek asked, eyeing him through the rearview mirror.
Lie. Lie, lie, lie.
“Nope,” he said. “Kinda weird, huh?”
“You didn’t seem surprised about it,” Derek said. “In fact, you acted like you expected it to happen.”
“I did? Well, I didn’t. How was I supposed to know that would happen?” It dawned on him he was arguing with an attorney. He picked up his book but couldn’t read a word. Both the Kauffmans stared at him. The sweating continued. Their forced calm was obvious. From the backseat Jaden read the tenseness of their postures.
“Jaden?” Jenny said. “Are you being truthful?”
“Yes,” he said, flipping a page carelessly.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, meeting her eyes. “It freaked me out.”
“Us too. Let’s discuss it together.”
“Because I don’t want to.”
Jenny shut her eyes and released a large sigh. “We have to talk about some things, you know. We can’t let you shut us out forever. Especially this.”
“I’m not shutting you out, I just don’t want to talk about that thing.”
“Because it has happened before?” Derek asked, wide eyed. Stupid lawyer.
“Okay fine, yes, it’s happened before. Happy now? It’s happened a lot. I don’t know what it is or why it happens; it just does. I know it’s weird, and I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” He crossed his arms and frowned at the back of the chair.
Jenny’s mouth was thin. She stared at him.
“What now?” he snapped.
“Don’t get smart,” she said. “Don’t talk back to me like that.”
Seriously? They corner him about…whatever it is, make him confess, and now he’s the bad guy? They think getting him some books gives them the right to snoop into his privacy? He told, they forced it out of him, the gig was up. He’s a weirdo. They got themselves a strange one. It was all out in the open now, yet he was still going to be tongue lashed?
“Fine,” he grunted. “Sorry.” He stared out the window the rest of the way home, refusing to say another word on the subject. The Kauffmans peeked at each other the entire journey, as if conversing by blinks. He failed ignoring them. When they pulled into the garage, he stayed inside the car while Jenny and Derek went in.
His bag of newly purchased books sat beside him, judging him. It was hot now that the air conditioner was off. The only sound was the tick, tick of the cooling engine.
It wasn’t their business. It was his, whatever it was. It didn’t belong to them, it belonged to him. He wanted to keep it a secret and had tried ever since he arrived here, losing sleep to keep it away from their eyes. Why couldn’t they have ignored it and let it be?
Would you have ignored it?
Okay, it was probably hard to ignore. To be fair, they had waited until after noon to say anything. They also asked nicely rather than assume the worst and lock him in the closet and not feed him or let him use the bathroom for three days.
Maybe he’d jumped to conclusions.
You assumed the worst of them again.
Jaden picked up his new book and squeezed it in his hands. They were nice people, good people, not mean or cruel, hot tempered or freaks. They were good. The only reason they’d send him back was if he kept acting like they would abuse him. Because that would be hurtful. They’d never threatened him.
He opened the car door, grabbed the book bag, and hopped out. He’d have to apologize for real. Unlike Finn, this wouldn’t be rehearsed. It would still be difficult.
They were both inside, not speaking, when he walked into the living room. They didn’t look at him either.
“I need to say something,” he mumbled.
They watched him now, Jenny from her chair, Derek from the couch.
“I’m sorry if I overreacted or whatever, before, in the car, about the…thing. I know you just wanted to know what it was.”
Jenny smiled warmly and nodded.
“Well. There it is then.” He spun on his heel and started toward his bedroom when a thought came to him. He wheeled back around.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said. “Never tell anyone about it.”
“We need to talk more,” Jenny said, her voice without warmness. “You know that, right? It’s too big a thing to ignore.”
True, the most honest words she’d spoken thus far. Its greatness made it impossible to explain. It was as much a mystery to him as it was to them. Well, maybe it wasn’t. Jaden knew the when of it, guessed the why, but didn’t know the how, and that’s what they wanted to know.
“I can’t talk about it today,” he said. He remembered the first time it happened. The memory of it was making him nauseous, and he wanted to go to his room to be alone.
“Later then? Tomorrow?”
“Next month?” he countered.
“We’ll negotiate tomorrow. Is that fair?” Derek asked, scratching the back of his neck, his eyes popping again. “We can’t stop thinking about it. We have to talk.”
Jaden nodded, unable to think of a counter-argument. They had good points.
Once in his room, he shut the door. It was out now, his secret. The Kauffmans knew. The were probably whispering so fast it sounded like buzzing. He wasn’t telepathic, or didn’t possess supreme hearing skills, but he assumed they discussed him. Let the gossiping begin. Only time would tell what they would do about it, if anything. In the mean time, he must do something.
He drew a hardback book from the bag, placed it on his bed, then backed away and glared at it. He needed to open it with his mind. Jesus, even thinking about it made him feel stupid and foolish. Open a book with his mind? How crazy. No matter, it was what it was. To start, he repeated the word “open” in his head twenty times. Nothing. How could he move things sometimes, but not others?
It happens when you’re not thinking about it, said the voice in his head.
Always when he was not thinking about it. That made sense. He didn’t think about doing anything. He just did it. When he wanted to walk, he moved his legs. How was he supposed to…what? How was he supposed to do the whatever it was?
The book remained motionless on the bed. Jaden tried hand motions, like whirling his fingers about, or pretending he was turning a page, only from a distance. Still nothing.
He sat on his chair and stared at the book. He tried not focusing on it, pondering mundane subjects like how marshmallows were dehydrated for cereal, then whirled around and tried turning a page. The book mocked him from the bed, taunting him with its non motion, jeering him for thinking he was magic.
“Screw this,” he said, after what may have been hours. He pounded to his bed and leaned in for the book—
—and it flew into his open hand.
His first reaction was to jump in jubilation. He’d done it! Then he stopped. He hadn’t done anything. The book didn’t open or turn a page, it leapt when he reached for it. He hadn’t controlled it, it just happened. It did something entirely different than what he wanted.
What was the point of having this ability if he couldn’t actually use it?
Angry instead of pleased, Jaden tossed the book on the desk. Not accomplishing anything was exhausting and draining, and it left him hungry. Thankfully, late afternoon meant dinner. Jenny made chicken fettuccine Alfredo with a side of focaccia bread, which tasted incredible; Jaden helped himself to seconds and thirds. Happily, Jenny and Derek did not talk about The Morning Incident (Jaden suspected they wanted to) and instead chatted with him about schools, a subject that interested him greatly.
“Ryan and Finn said they go to some stupid smart people school,” Jaden said, chewing on bread dipped in extra sauce. “Will I go to the same school as them?”
“They go to St. Apollinaris, right Jen?”
“Yes. Sherry loves it.”
“It’s a private school?” Jaden asked, thinking he already knew the answer, based on the uniform wearing.
“A good one. We can drive by tomorrow if you want. It’s next to the church.”
“It’s a Christian school?” Jaden asked. He knew a lot of people were down with the whole God thing, but he wasn’t sure where he fit into that picture. Limited religious imagery decorated the Kauffman house, but nothing overt. He hadn’t asked to which denomination they belonged. The name of the school betrayed them.
“Yep. Lots of other kids beside Finn go there, you know. You wouldn’t have to be around him all the time,” she said.
“I know,” Jaden said. A wave of vindictive pleasure came over him, imagining beating Finn at everything, from sports to grades. He was sure he was smarter than Finn, and he was unbeaten at basketball. How much fun would it be to trounce the pampered little baby. “I think it would be good. Ryan’s cool.”
It was decided they would take a look at the school tomorrow morning. After dessert—apple crumb cheesecake—Derek insisted on a movie, one Jenny did not approve of. She thought it was too “mature” for Jaden’s eyes.
“Why?” Jaden asked. “Violence? ‘Adult situations?’” he said, using air quotes. “‘Foul language?’ I’ve seen it all for real, you know,” he said casually. “Movies have more explosions and grunts than the real stuff.”
This declaration put expressions of distress, not relaxation, on their faces. Jaden set down his fork and took a large gulp of milk. “Well,” he said, wiping the mustache off his face, “it’s not like you don’t know. They don’t send me to a stupid therapist for the hell of it.”
“Heck of it,” Jenny corrected. “Let’s reign in the language, please.”
“Sure thing. So are we going to watch it or not? I know it’s fake and I promise I’m not going to ‘get any ideas’ and mow down a school or something.”
Jenny was still half-insisting they watch an animated movie about fish, but Derek was adamant and eventually got his way by popping the movie and blasting the volume. He sat next to Jaden on the couch.
“Fine. If he gets scared though, we’re turning it off,” Jenny said.
“It’s not scary, honey, there’s just a lot of explosions and shooting.”
She raised her eyebrows at him.
“All right.” He turned to Jaden and gave a little shake of his head, at which Jaden grinned.
The movie was about a New York cop who’d gone to Los Angeles for Christmas. Derek had been right: there were a lot of shooting and explosions. The main character spent most of the film running without shoes, which Jaden thought was funny. Jaden got a kick out of the movie, and as he headed to bed with the Kauffmans, he said, “Yippee-ki-yay motherfu—”
“NO!” Jenny said, almost laughing. “You promised! We must stop the language, please!”
Jaden chuckled as he walked to his room. “Good night!” he called after them.
“Night, Sport. See you tomorrow morning!” Derek called after him.
“Good night, sweetie,” Jenny said, waving with her fingers.
Jaden smiled as he shut his bedroom door and stripped off his clothes. “Yippee-ki-yay,” he mumbled and sniggered, applying toothpaste to the brush then running it under water. After a thorough cleaning, he pulled on his pajamas (a simple t-shirt and shorts) then hopped into bed. The best thing about the Kauffmans knowing his secret was letting himself sleep. They would not wake, terrified to discover flying objects, and wondering who or what was responsible. Explaining its history was the only thing left: a frightening, nerve-wracking prospect.
He dug himself under the covers and pulled Bear to his chest, smiling into the back of his companion’s head. It had been a good day, considering how it had begun. When summer was over, he’d go to school, private school no less, where no one knew who he was or where he came from (unless Finn blabbed, and Jaden may be able to scare him into keeping his mouth shut). This was a fresh start, a new beginning.
Sleep came easily, falling over him like fog in winter.
Thirst woke him. Delicious and satisfying as it had been, he’d probably eaten too much pasta, bread, and butter. His mouth and throat were parched. He tossed in bed, willing himself to go back to sleep. However, in his experience, thirst never got better with time.
He kicked off the covers, left Bear in bed, then bumped his way downstairs, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
The microwave clock glowed 1:42. Jaden got a glass from the cabinet and filled it at the sink. He stared at his pale reflection in the kitchen window and gulped the water. Better.
Rather than make a second or third trip, Jaden would take the glass with him and fill it in his bathroom if he got thirsty again. He left the kitchen and headed to the stairs to go back to bed.
Someone was there. It was not Derek or Jenny.
The dark figure, his face hidden, advanced toward Jaden, who backed away. He opened his mouth to scream, but couldn’t.
Jaden dropped the glass. It hit the floor and shattered; the sound seemed louder yet far away.
He spun and sprinted all of three feet before colliding with a second hooded man, who had hidden behind him. The second intruder grabbed Jaden, holding him to his chest with a massive and strong arm, while his other gloved hand clamped around Jaden’s mouth.
Eyes wide, Jaden watched the first intruder approaching. A needled syringe was in the man’s hand.
Jaden struggled, trying to break free, but the arm around him was strong, unyielding. His scream was a hollow groan in his throat, with nowhere to go.
When the other dark figure came, Jaden aimed a kick to the man’s gut, but missed. The intruder jumped clear at the last second, catching and holding Jaden’s kicking leg.
With his other hand, the one holding the needle, the man made a lowering motion. Jaden, fighting with every breath he had, squirming, flailing and kicking, was lowered to the floor as the man holding him sat.
Jaden arched his back hoping the bad angle would help. The man clutching him flipped Jaden to his stomach and pinned him to the floor, one hand closed tight over Jaden’s mouth, his legs on the backs of Jaden’s knees.
Immobilized. Jaden could not move.
Heart pounding in his ears, stomach writhing, body twisting, Jaden tried slithering out of their grasp.
“Careful,” the first intruder whispered. He knelt beside Jaden and grabbed Jaden’s right hand, flexing it toward him, then turned his hand palm up, his knee on Jaden’s elbow.
Jaden groaned, fighting the forced movement, knowing what came next.
“Turn his head,” the needle man whispered.
The other twist Jaden’s head the opposite way, so Jaden saw the legs of a chair instead of his outstretched arm. He felt a pinch below his right elbow as the needle penetrated his skin. He groaned again and blinked as tears splashed to the floor.
His heart slowed. A breath of air released. A soft moan of fear faded as his muscles and body tingled and went limp, his eyelids drooped but did not close.
Both men eased off, then the first intruder flipped Jaden onto his back, his hand covering Jaden’s mouth.
Jaden blinked sedately, looking up at the hooded figures, his eyes fighting to stay open but slowly losing control. He was so tired. His legs and arms were numb, his foot twitched.
The needle man taped a cotton ball to Jaden’s right arm over the injection site. Then he reached into a bag and retrieved a roll of duct tape. He tore a strip and placed it over Jaden’s mouth.
“Shouldn’t he be out of it by now?” the bigger man whispered to the first.
The second shook his head. “I was told to expect this. I’ll finish, you clean the glass and get the backpack.” From the same bag he got the tape, the man extracted a dark fabric: a shrouded hood, which he placed over Jaden’s head, blinding him.
Jaden was losing consciousness when his arms were tied behind his back, and his legs bound together. Shortly after, he was lifted into someone’s arms and felt the breeze on his bare skin. A car door opening was the last thing he heard before blacking out.
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