Read an Excerpt
From FEARLESS Payback
When I was five, my baby-sitter, Claire, took me to see my first movie. It was already dark when we came out of the theater, so we started walking toward this big intersection two blocks down where we were sure we could catch a cab.
I was still feeling dazzled by the memory of the music and the big colorful screen when a huge, heavyset man stepped out of a doorway and yanked Claire into the hallway of a nearby brownstone. At that moment I remember being startled and feeling worried about Claire, but I never -- not even for a minute -- felt scared.
I watched silently as the man shoved a rag into Claire's mouth and began dragging her up the stairs. And instead of running for help like any other kid would have done, I followed the attacker as he dragged Claire, kicking and clawing, up four flights. The guy never even looked around to see where I'd gone.
When we got to the roof, he started tearing off Claire's clothes and fumbling with his belt. Of course, I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I knew fear when I saw it, and it was written all over Claire's face. At that moment I started executing my plan, even though I didn't know I had a plan yet.
The guy didn't know what hit him when a spray of gravel pounded his shoulder. And when he turned around to see where it came from, there I stood -- my body planted firmly not ten feet from him at the edge of the roof -- utterly calm. I swung back my arm and let go another missile shower of biting gravel pellets into his face.
Cursing, he leaped to his feet and charged at me, but just as he lunged, I ducked and rolled out of his way. A nanosecond later all two hundred pounds of him was pitching over the edge of the roof.
He fell four flights to his death.
I can't stand bullies. I can't stand men who think they can push women around. When I can kick some guy's ass for picking on a girl who's usually half his size, it's one of the few times I'm thankful for this strange fearlessness that I've had since birth. It's one of the few times when I forget to feel like a freak, when I forget to want to be normal -- something I can never be. Because no matter how little control I have over my own life and how little courage I have when it comes to Sam, or friendship, or letting people in, I can do something for the weak one. The loser.
That is when I feel really alive. Because no matter how strong I think I am, the loser always seems to be a lot like me.
What if the memory suddenly snapped into vivid technicolor surround sound and it was nothing but a big fat...nothing?
"You can't possibly imagine how psyched I am that you called," Ed Fargo told Gaia Moore as she stepped out onto the sidewalk in front of her apartment. "I escaped just when my dad was about to retell the retelling of Uncle Alan's story about how he and my mom mooned the nuns on her wedding day. It's like a fish story. Every time someone tells it, Sister Rose suffers a different fate. This time I think she would have had a stroke, and I don't think I could have handled it."
Gaia winced at the sunlight, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "Right."
Ed sighed. "You're going to have to bring your level of excitement down a notch, G.," he said, a hint of irritation in his voice. "I know you haven't seen me in three days, but your enthusiasm over my presence is making me blush."
"Sorry," Gaia said, stuffing one bare hand into her pocket as she started to walk. The other was clutching a small paper bag she'd picked up off the kitchen counter. "Weird weekend," she mumbled, not sure what, exactly, she should tell him. It had been hard enough when she'd admitted to Ed that she had feelings of, yes, a sexual nature for Sam Moon. Gaia wasn't exactly the heart-to-heart type, and letting anyone in on her secrets went against every fiber in her being. But this had now become more than just a crush. It was bordering on insanity. And Gaia wasn't sure whether telling Ed would help take the weight off her shoulders or merely confirm that she was a first-rate lunatic. Gaia didn't have that many friends to spare. In fact, she only had this one now that Mary was out of the picture. So how much was too much to tell?
It was Sunday morning, and ever since she'd left the hospital on Friday, all Gaia had done was mainline sugar and obsess. Obsess about Sam, think about Sam, dream about Sam. The dream involved kisses that had never really happened. Words that had never really been spoken. They couldn't have been real, no matter how much her muddled, confused brain kept trying to make her believe that they were. Her mind had been sifting random, incongruent images nonstop. Images Gaia couldn't possibly make sense of.
Part of her didn't want to try. What if the memory suddenly snapped into vivid Technicolor surround sound and it was nothing but a big fat...nothing? What if nothing at all had happened between her and Sam? Gaia was sure her heart couldn't handle it. As pathetic as it was, she'd rather hold on to the possibility of something perfect than be hit with the reality of nothing much.
Gaia sighed and pushed forward at her usual breakneck pace, forgetting for a moment that Ed was navigating his wheelchair through the crowd of babbling women surrounding them. She turned around long enough to notice one of the women inadvertently whack his arm with a J. Crew bag. The Christmas shopping rush had officially begun.
The hustle and bustle failed to draw Gaia out of her own confused thoughts as Ed struggled to keep up with her. There were only two things she knew for sure. First, she had been in Sam's room on Thanksgiving. She knew this only because when she was leaving the hospital, a bleary-eyed intern had handed her back her clothes. A T-shirt, a pair of boxers, and a robe. All men's. All with the distinct, musky Sam smell nestled within their folds.
All of which were stashed in a plastic bag, inside a backpack, which was zippered shut and locked with a minilock under her bed. Ella-proof packaging.
The second thing Gaia was completely sure of was that Ella knew something she wasn't telling. That was the part about this whole thing that ate at Gaia like acid through a tin can. Ella knowing more than her. It was just cosmically wrong.
"So what's up?" Ed huffed, catching up to her just before she stepped onto the street, ignoring a solid Don't Walk signal.
"Park," Gaia grunted, holding up the little white bag. "Doughnuts."
"Articulate," Ed commented. "You're quite the cave woman today."
Gaia ignored the comment and kept walking, leading the way into Washington Square Park and dropping onto the first bench she saw. Scowling, she immediately shoved three-quarters of a glazed chocolate doughnut into her mouth. The sticky dough gathered in a lump and lodged halfway down her throat. Where to start?
"Didn't you get enough turkey this weekend?" Ed asked, removing one of the doughnuts from the bag on her lap.
"No turkey," Gaia said while chewing.
"You have to be kidding." Ed picked off a piece of doughnut and popped it into his mouth. "Turkey is the only thing that makes the whole family-gathering debacle bearable."
Gaia shrugged. "I think I might have kissed Sam."
Ed suddenly let out a strangled, choking sound. Gaia turned to him in time to see his eyes fill with water before he doubled over.
That was when the convulsions started.
Ed began to cough like she'd never seen him cough before. He sat gasping, doubled over in his chair, clutching the remaining piece of doughnut so hard, it crumbled into sad little bits and toppled to the ground.
Gaia started to slap him on the back.
"I'm okay. I'm okay," Ed said, sitting up and pounding on his chest with his fist. "It just went down the wrong pipe."
Gaia pulled away her arm. Yes, she knew Sam had a girlfriend. And she knew that girlfriend was probably pure evil and her archnemesis to boot. But did that really make the news choke worthy? She hadn't even told Ed the part she'd really been worried about. The part about not remembering. The part about not knowing whether she'd really kissed Sam or whether she'd just raved outside his dorm like a semiconcussive psychopath, like Ella had told her she had.
Glancing back at Ed, Gaia noticed he'd finally recovered and was gathering himself to ask her something. By the look on his face, it was probably something she didn't want to answer.
"Okay, okay, spit it out," she snapped. Patience wasn't one of her strengths.
Ed blushed and looked at his feet. "So, uh, did you and Sam...do -- do anything else?" he stammered.
Gaia could feel herself turning bright red.
"Um. Um. Well, maybe...I don't know," she blurted out.
"You don't know," Ed repeated.
"It's a long story," Gaia said, sucking the sticky sugar off her index finger. "I'd had a fight earlier. A bad one. And I kind of passed out, and I don't remember much. Ella's trying to make me think nothing happened."
Gaia looked down at her whiter-than-white hands and picked at her nonexistent fingernails.
"I haven't heard from him, though," she said, fiddling with a cuticle. "So I guess...I guess that means that maybe he doesn't...want me."
The look of sadness on Ed's face made her angry. She wasn't telling him this stuff so he could throw her a pity party. She just needed to tell someone she could trust. And she needed to let out the anger. The anger that she couldn't remember. The anger that Ella could. The anger at the idiots who'd beaten her up and made her hit her head so hard that the whole thing was a blur.
"You haven't talked to him at all?" Ed interrupted her thoughts.
Gaia sighed and looked out across the nearly deserted park. People were hurrying through it, their scarves pulled up against the cold. She and Ed were two of only a very few psychos who had stopped to enjoy the frigidity.
"I went to his dorm, but I didn't go in," she said. She didn't go on to say she had stood outside the door of Sam's building for two hours, willing him to come down and find her but never finding the courage to find him.
Ed nodded and followed her gaze to the empty fountain at the center of the park. Suddenly everything looked gray. Everything felt even colder than it was. She wanted Ed to tell her that everything was going to be okay. That Sam would get in touch with her. That it would all work out.
But Ed seemed lost in his own thoughts. Maybe she had really freaked him out for the last time. Maybe he had finally realized what kind of lunatic he was dealing with.
As they sat munching on their remaining doughnuts, the one thing that never happened, happened. Ed was silent.
Copyright © 2000 by Francine Pascal