If Mom’s voice wasn’t the last one I expected to hear then, it would be hard to name a less likely one.
Ok, not that hard. Dad’s would be less likely.
Rachel turned and her eyes widened. “Mom?”
She’d been saying something to Jaclyn, but she stepped toward Mom as Jaclyn stepped out of her way. Jaclyn blinked, and muttered something to Rachel.
I missed whatever it was, and I’m not sure Rachel caught it.
Not sure where else to go, I said, “We could go to the lab. It’s over—“
Quietly, Mom said, “I know where it is.”
Given that she was down here, it made sense that she would. Given that she’d never made any reference to it during the entire rest of my life… Well, it felt a little weird.
We followed her toward the lab, away from where everyone else was talking. In a minute, we’d passed through all the trophies and mementoes the League had collected. Mom stared as we passed the stand that had held Evil Beatnik’s ring, and her eyes lingered a little longer than I would have expected on “the Starplate,” Daniel’s and my nickname for a device that allowed access to other realities.
Even though it had been sitting in HQ all my life, I’d never had the nerve to experiment with it. Grandpa had made it very clear to me what the risks were.
We all walked into the lab, and I shut the door behind us.
Mom looked around the room, at the tables, the fabricators, the welding equipment, computers, tools, 3D printers, and versions of the Rocket suit. Some of it was Grandpa’s. Some of it was new.
She looked down at the box where I’d put the little blocks that made up Cassie’s suit prototype, opened her mouth for a second, but didn’t say anything.
Then she pulled out a chair next to one of the tables, and said, “Could both of you sit down? Please?”
Rachel pulled a chair away from the wall, and I grabbed a stool. The other chair was across the room, and anyway, acid had eaten away part of the seat.
Mom had taken off her coat and hung it on the back of the chair, something she never did, something she’d actually told us not to do. Unfortunately for her, the lab didn’t have a coatrack. People were supposed to put coats in the locker room—which by this time might hold people taking showers.
She looked at us, pursing her lips in a way that made me think she might actually be nervous. Mom had worked as a publicist in Chicago, and later in New York before she met Dad, and moved back to Grand Lake. Nervousness wasn’t something that fit her.
I hoped she wasn’t about to forbid us from being part of the League.
She had flashes of the toughness that I’d sometimes seen in Grandpa and Grandma. She might be able to make it stick.
“Mom,” Rachel began.
Mom held up her right hand, and Rachel stopped.
When she did talk, she said, “I’m sorry. I feel like I left you to fend for yourselves. I know I couldn’t have done much, and if what David’s dad said is right, I’d have hurt you. I still feel like I never should have let them put the block in.”
Rachel jumped in even as I rolled that last two sentences around in my head. Mom let them put the block in, and she’d known what Daniel’s grandfather said about the League.
“Let?” Rachel asked. “I didn’t know skipping the block was an option.”
Mom shook her head. “It wasn’t an option if you didn’t have powers. It was an option if you did. And I did. I do. You saw what happened at that cottage when those people held me hostage. I phased out of the ropes.”
“So you’ve got Grandma’s powers?” I said.
She shook her head again. “No, I don’t. All I can do, all I’ve ever been able to to is make part of my arms and legs phase out.”
“Oh,” Rachel’s brow furrowed as she thought. “You can’t do much with that except… maybe… kill people?”
She was right. Not being able phase your whole body through walls ruled out sneaking into places, but it still allowed one of Grandma’s major tricks—the ability to phase small objects through walls, armor and skin.
Mom nodded slowly. “That’s what Lee said except he was happy for me.”
Well, Lee being Lee, he would have been.
Mom kept on talking, but her eyes glistened. “If he’d trained me, he’d have built my training around slipping bombs inside people’s clothes or ripping up people’s insides. I was horrified. My parents were horrified, and they told me I didn’t have to. Then they told me about what the Mentalist was beginning to understand—that if I had children they wouldn’t survive unless I left them to take care of themselves.”
She looked from one of us to the other. “Neither of you had been born. I’d never even met your father. It seemed so far away. I told them that they could do whatever they needed to. I wanted you to have the best chance you could, and I still do. But right now, I feel like I wasted twenty-seven years.”