“Travis, don’t look now, but remember Julie? She’s over there, and there’s no way she came with us.”
Travis didn’t look. He smiled at me calmly, as if we were talking about something pleasant. He handled it better than I thought he would. “I smelled her. I’ve been pretending not to see her.”
“Good.” It took all of my self-control not to check whether she’d noticed us.
I remembered the briefing. You don’t mess with alternate versions of yourself or anyone you know. It’s right up there with going back in time to kill your grandfather—a dumb, dumb idea. You never knew what forces shaped them, and it was so easy to assume you were talking with the person you know.
Look, I may not always trust authority figures, but I listen when they’re talking sense.
Tara was talking with Samita when I tapped her on the shoulder. “Sorry. I don’t want to interrupt, but I just saw an alternate.”
Tara’s eyes widened (an accomplishment, she had naturally wide eyes). “No. Who?”
“Julie from the program. The girl everyone listens to—whether they want to or not.”
Smiling broadly at all of us, Tara said, “Is anyone else hungry? I like Chinese, and they’re good.”
She pointed at the restaurant. Its neon sign said, ”Infinity City Panda Palace.”
I sized up the pagoda facade, and the glowing white and black bear on the sign. “Sure, I’m always up for panda.”
Rod snorted. “I fought a panda once, a giant, evil panda.” He looked at Samita. “Remember that one?”
In a whisper she said, “We’re out of costume.”
Rod rolled his eyes. “Like anyone here will care.”
Tara grabbed Samita’s hand, and started walking. “Quickly everyone. We don’t want to get stuck in line.”
Tara walked quickly, and with a liquid grace that hadn’t been there before. Her walk reminded me of Travis and Haley.
Despite what Tara had said about getting stuck in a line, we didn’t have to wait.
Tara had spoken quietly to the waitress, and she’d led us to the back of the main room, and down a hall filled with doors. Then she opened one, and shown us into our own private room. When she shut the door, the sound of the restaurant’s conversations instantly stopped.
After she’d handed out menus and left, Tara said, “Go ahead and order anything you want. Stapledon’s paying.”
Travis raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? What are they paying with?”
Tara gave a little shrug. “The usual for Infinity City—gold, but I’m paying with a credit card. They’ll work it out.”
Travis looked like he wanted to ask a few more questions, but I caught his eye.
Tara noticed my look and shot me a grin. She caught a lot more that I’d given her credit for.
“The Panda Palace hosts a lot of private conversations, so I got us a soundproof booth. What would you say Julie’s threat level is?”
Travis and I looked at each other. “That depends,” I said. “Her power’s a killer. If you can understand her voice, she can tell you exactly what to do. My brother designed a device that blocks it, but since they told us not to bring our gear, I don’t have mine along.”
Tara dimpled. “The Rocket. You must love having him around.”
Travis frowned briefly, and said, “Yeah. Anyway, I don’t have my gear either, and honestly, if we were home, I wouldn’t worry about it much. She’s better now.”
I rolled my eyes. “Better, sure, but being better doesn’t take much. She was his own personal stalker.”
Rod looked up from the menu, clearly interested. “Stalker? Did she find out you were Night Wolf?”
Travis shook his head. “No. Well, she knows now, but not then. I played football in high school. I was kind of a big deal. People get a little crazy about football, and she followed me around a lot.”
I spoke up. “Not a lot—constantly. We’d go to a movie, and she’d be in the movie theater.”
Shifting his menu into his left hand, Travis gestured as he talked. “Look, a couple of those times had to be coincidental, but she did show up a lot. I’m not denying it.”
That again? My voice rose as I said, “She still wasn’t over it last year. When Nick and Haley started dating she passed along pictures she’d taken of them to half the high school. What did Julie say? That Haley was slumming, and wondering what they could possibly have in common?”
Holding up his hands, Travis said, “I’m not defending her. Something was wrong in her head, but she hasn’t done anything like that since.”
I was just about to argue with him, but he didn’t stop talking.
“Let’s not get distracted. The problem isn’t our Julie,” Travis continued. “We only have a problem if the Julie out there never got past… whatever it was.”