The next day I went back to school while Sumerset contacted Epoch.
Anna cornered me at some point in the cafeteria and started pestering me with questions.
"Did you see it?" she said. "It's just like in the comic books! Your nemesis, out and--"
"Anna," I said, "it might not be a good idea to talk about this sort of thing aloud here, y'know?" That was partially true--but I also wanted a break. Weird things were happening in my life, and I just wanted things to be normal for a little while. At least at school.
"Okay," she said, shuffling awkwardly in her chair as she dropped down to the table next to me. "So, uh--what else should we talk about?"
"Right," she said. "So, do you have any plans on how to deal with this guy?"
"Ugh," I said. "Don't you, like, have any other interests? Do you like cars? I kinda like cars," I said. "We could talk about cars."
"Cars? Seriously? Bo-ring," she said. "Think jetpacks."
"A jetpack would be kind of cool," I had to admit. "I could be all like: 'That's right. I've got a jetpack, bitches.' Then, fwoosh."
Anna laughed, and opened her mouth to say something, but she was suddenly cut off.
"Hey, sugar," an all-too-familiar voice rumbled. "Mind if I borrow you from your 'boyfriend' for a moment?"
Philip Darden. Two hundred pounds of jackass stuffed into a hundred and sixty pound bag. He and Anna seemed to have some sort of history; I should have asked about it, but it had slipped my mind.
"Um," Anna began, squirming uncomfortably. "Well, I kinda--"
"She's busy," I said, turning to face him. I didn't like him--and I especially didn't like the way he talked to Anna. "Why don't you go find yourself a cure for being a jerk, honeysweet pumpkincheeks?"
Philip wasn't expecting that. He gave a start, followed by Anna smothering a giggle. "...excuse me?" he said.
"I'm sorry. Do you mind if I call you honeysweet pumpkincheeks?" I said. "You kind of look like a honeysweet pumpkincheeks to me."
Philip grinned. "I bet everyone looks that way when you're Bruce Banner, huh?"
I felt something tug inside of me; then Anna touched my shoulder. I turned to her. "This guy's a creep, Anna. Let's just go."
"Maybe you should go," Philip said.
Probably, I thought. I was just causing trouble, and it was clear that this wasn't my business. Anna and Philip obviously had some sort of past; it'd be best to let them sort it out. I picked up my tray and started walking away. Maybe they were still serving fries, and--
I caught myself half-way across the cafeteria, tray in hand, my back to Anna and Philip. What the hell was I doing? Anna clearly didn't want to talk to the guy. Why the hell was I walking away?
I turned back around only to see Philip sitting where I had been, grinning as he talked with Anna--who was shrinking back in her chair with obvious terror. When I started coming back, I saw her eyes shine with desperate hope.
"Th'hell you want?" Philip asked.
I ignored him and looked at Anna.
"Stand up," I told her. "Come over to me."
"Maybe you should--" Philip began.
Never gave him the chance to finish. My knee hit the table, shoving it forward and to the left. It met him straight in the stomach--suddenly, he was gasping for breath as he bent over his tray. It was quick enough--and subtle enough--not to draw attention.
Anna took the opportunity, leaping to her feet and darting to my side.
"You little--" he started, still gasping for breath.
"Sue smash," I replied, and then I gave the table's leg a good, hard kick.
Metal clanked. The whole thing jerked back with an attention-drawing creak--and Philip was pushed away, falling backwards and landing on the ground with a loud kra-kow.
Now everyone was staring--but there was nothing to stare at. The moment my foot swung forward, I grabbed Anna by the arm and was pulling her away--as far as everyone could see, Philip had just leaned too far back and ended up dropping on the floor. I heard laughter and cheers surging up behind me.
But none of that concerned me.
"Please start talking," I told Anna. "Really fast. Because I'm pretty sure that asshole nearly managed to mind-control me."