Bionic, p.12
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       Bionic, p.12

           Suzanne Weyn
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  I sit in the back, I text.

  Can you play Niles’s parts?

  I can try.

  The next call I make is to Elana. She’s Niles’s neighbor so maybe she’ll know what’s going on with him. When she picks up she’s very excited to hear from me. Can I get her tickets for the show tonight? I promise to leave comps at the door for her. “Have you seen Niles around?” I ask, trying to keep my tone casual.

  “Now that you mention it … no. Haven’t you seen him?”

  “He’s not picking up his phone.”

  “Did he get hurt when you guys saved that little boy?”

  That never occurred to me. “Maybe,” I say.

  Punching in Niles’s number, I wait for him to pick up. I can’t believe he won’t answer me. But he doesn’t, so I leave a message: “I know you’re there. Pick up! Come on! I’m worried about you.”

  For the rest of the day I get ready to go on. I disassemble myself and shower. There’s no time to soak in the tub.

  After I strap on my arm and leg again, I study my look in the mirror. What should I wear tonight? Why not really embrace the whole rock star thing—not that I own rock ’n’ roll–type clothes. Searching my closet I pull out a pair of tight, ripped jeans and an old Rolling Stones T-shirt I found at a vintage store. A pair of scissors on my dresser gets a workout as I cut the shirt into a halter top. My old boots complete the outfit.

  The look is good, but something’s not right.

  Feeling brave, I fish out a can of something called Volume Booster from my now-abandoned tote of Snap Girl products. Once I’ve pumped it into my hair and added Snap Girl Super Spray, my hair is a mountainous mass of curls.

  Heavy black eyeliner makes my eyes intense.

  I’m ready to rock!

  When we arrive at The Second Chance, kids are lined up around the block to get in, and the show isn’t for another three hours. The manager is waiting for us at the back door and comes over to the van before we even get out. Matt rolls down the window.

  “I hate to say this guys, but Zombie Rant won’t play if Electric Storm is the opener,” he tells us.

  “What?!” I cry, leaning forward from the backseat. “Why not?”

  “They didn’t say, but I’ll pay you half your price not to go on,” the manager says.

  “These people on line are here for us,” Matt argues. “That’s what’s happening, isn’t it?”

  “Listen, kid, Zombie Rant has lawyers and they’re going to sue me if you go on. I’ll pay you for the night. Just go.” He throws cash into the van and walks away.

  No one talks as we sit in the van not knowing what to do next. In about five minutes, a guy and a girl around our age rap on the passenger-side window. Tom, who is seated there, opens it.

  “We heard a rumor Electric Storm isn’t playing,” the guy says.

  “That’s right, man. They won’t let us,” Tom replies.

  “But we paid to see you!” the girl protests.

  “Get your money back,” I say from the backseat. I’m mad that the club is doing this to us. It’s not right.

  I remember that we passed a park on the way in. “Guys,” I say. “What if we perform in the park tonight?”

  “Will they let us?” Tom asks.

  “We’ll be street performers,” I counter.

  “The guy paid us not to play,” Matt reminds us.

  “We’ll give the money back,” I say.

  Getting out of the van, I tell the guy and girl to spread the word that there will be a concert in the park down the block. “Get your money back, if you can, and come on over.”

  I hurry around to the box office and cut the line, shoving the money into the window. The murmur is already spreading through the crowd that Zombie Rant won’t let us play.

  The van is waiting for me and I run to hop in. In less than five minutes we’re scouting the area. Tom spots some boulders. “That would be perfect,” he says, “if that middle boulder wasn’t there.”

  “Stop the van,” I say, “let me try something.” I get out and scrunch between the two huge rocks. The rock budges as I put my shoulder into it. Soon I’ve made enough space for the others to slide in and help. My own strength amazes me. Even though the guys are helping, I know they couldn’t do this without me. With the boulder pushed into a semicircle with the other large rocks, we’ve created a cool playing space. “We can plug into the van,” Matt says. “I’ll keep the motor running.”

  Before we’re even finished unloading our equipment, kids start pouring into the park. It’s already getting dark and lampposts are turning on. One is right next to the spot where we’ve set up. It’s getting cold, though not unbearably.

  By the time we begin the first number, we have about thirty people watching and more continue to walk in. Three police cars arrive. I worry they’ll shut us down, but they only hang back, watching.

  When I have to take the parts Niles usually plays, I worry. Closing my eyes, I envision his fingers moving along the strings. Concentrating, I attempt to merge my consciousness with the image, incorporate it into myself. All other thoughts are blocked. My only reality is guitar strings. All the videos I watched online of guitar players—they flow through me and into my fingertips.

  The next time I open my eyes, a sea of people are on their feet, roaring cheers, pounding their hands in applause. The band stares at me, their expressions dumbstruck.

  Slowly I realize: It’s for me. I’m the one they’re cheering for.

  We play in the park until ten and would have gone for hours more except the police insist we stop. Noise ordinances and the crowd has gotten too large. The feeling is so UP!

  “Electric Storm is right!” one of the audience members, a guy with longish hair, says as we’re loading our stuff in the van. “You guys really are electric.”

  “Especially her,” Matt says, jerking his thumb toward me.

  “You are a goddess of the guitar,” the guy says, walking away backward. “A goddess!”

  “What did you mean by especially her?” I ask.

  “I mean, you’re literally electric,” Matt explains. “The electric guitar was streaming through all your circuitry tonight. You could almost see it. There was like a blue haze around you.”

  I’ve gotten so used to Niles jumping in to squelch the stupid things the guys say that I half expect him to be there. But, of course, he’s not.

  “She’s become like Storm from the X-Men.”

  “She can’t control the weather,” Tom says over his shoulder as he loads the last of the drum set into the van.

  “Storm can control weather and electromagnetic fields,” Matt reminds him.

  “I’m not a mutant,” I say, unplugging the main cable from the van. A small spark crackles and I drop the cable. A light tingling runs through my body, and random images fly through my mind, as though a flip book is being ruffled. I fall backward onto the dirt. Tom and Matt pull me back up.

  “I told you,” Matt says.

  It takes me a second to feel steady on my feet, and I panic, trying to decide what to tell the guys, until I realize they don’t know what happened. They saw me stumble after being shocked, but no one knows that my brain fritzed but me. And I can keep quiet.

  My phone buzzes with a text from Elana offering me a ride home. I tell the guys I’m going to take her offer. We’ll pass Niles’s house and I want to go by.

  “Are you sure you want to do this?” Elana asks as she pulls up in front of the house down the road from her own.

  “Don’t wait for me,” I say with a nod. “I already texted my mom that I’m staying at your place.”

  “Okay. Good luck.” Elana pulls away and I stand in the driveway staring at the darkened house. I can’t ring the doorbell. Obviously everyone is asleep.

  I try calling Niles, but it goes right to voice mail.

  I’m outside your house, I text.

  No response. But Niles’s Civic is in the driveway.

  Most days I’d be h
urt by his lack of answer, and would probably just go home and spend some time tossing and turning, wondering what I’d done, before falling asleep. But not now. Tonight I’m the rock ’n’ roll electric guitar goddess, and I’m Storm, the controller of electromagnetic fields.

  Determined, I go around the back of the house, looking up. A plaid curtain moves on the second floor. Niles steps into the moonlit window and then goes back. Found him!

  A very convenient maple almost reaches his window. My bionic arm enables me to easily pull myself onto the lower branches. It’s minutes until I’m near the window ledge.

  Gripping the tree, I reach as far as I can to kick the glass. It’s a stretch but I make it.

  Right away, Niles comes to the window. He’s so stunned to see me outside that his expression is comical. I gesture for him to open up, which he does immediately. “Mira! What are you doing?” His voice is a sharp, alarmed whisper.

  With a wave, I gesture for him to stand back.

  “Don’t!” he cries as I spring from my branch, gripping the shutter beside the window. A creak makes me think it’s breaking loose. It holds, though, and I’m able to slide into the window.

  “You’re insane!” he says, coming to my side as I lie sprawled on the floor.

  I want to say, I’m not insane, I’m super, but that does sound crazy—although it’s how I feel.

  “Are you all right?” I ask, sitting. A small green light on my bionic arm flashes. I’ve never noticed it before. That’s not good.

  “I’m okay,” he says, sounding uncertain.

  “Why didn’t you come to the show tonight? Why aren’t you answering anyone?”

  “I told Matt.”

  “Your mother did.”

  “I’m going to quit the band, Mira.”

  “What?! Why? This is out of nowhere. Why wouldn’t you talk to us first?”

  “Not really. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I mean … you can play my parts better than I can at this point.” He takes his phone from his pocket and shows me a video that someone in our audience tonight posted of me playing. I have to admit that I am pretty amazing.

  “It’s not me, it’s the bionics,” I tell him. I realize I’m doing that thing that girls aren’t supposed to do, even though they do it all the time—I’m making my accomplishment seem less so the guy won’t feel threatened by it. “I only played your part because you didn’t show up. If you had been there, I wouldn’t have had to.”

  “That’s not the point,” he says. “The point is that you did it way better than I’ve been playing and you should continue.”

  “After all the months you were asking me to come back and try again, not to give up—you’re just going to leave?” I say. “I don’t want to be in the band without you.”

  “Just forget about me,” Niles replies.

  “Forget about you? Niles, didn’t we just start kissing and all? I’m not hallucinating that, am I? I thought there was something kind of real between us.”

  “There is … I mean, there was.”

  “Then what happened?”

  “It’s not going to work, that’s all.”

  I’m definitely missing something here. What’s bothering him? It has to be about the rescue last night and all the attention I’ve received about it. “Is this some wounded male ego thing?” I ask. “It’s not about the guitar playing, because that happened after you cancelled tonight. Tell me the truth!” I demand.

  “You’re famous now. You don’t need me. I’ll only hold you back.”

  “I might not need you, but I want to be with you. You’ve been a good friend to me, more than a friend. I want us to be together. I think … no, I do. I love you, Niles.”

  “No, you don’t.” He looks away.

  “You don’t feel the same way?” I ask. Now I look away. I want to cover my ears because I don’t want to hear the answer I sense is coming.

  “Forget about me, Mira.”

  “But why?”

  “It’s not going to work,” he repeats.

  “You don’t feel the same about me as I feel about you?” That has to be it.

  “No, I don’t.”

  “So you were just messing with me, seeing if you could get me to like you.”

  “I wouldn’t put it that way.”

  That Niles Bean is one of those kind of guys, the kind who chases a girl until he gets her and then drops her—well, I can’t believe it’s true. Not Niles!

  “You’d better go,” he says. Niles gets off the floor and sits on the edge of his bed. “Let yourself out the front door. Please don’t climb out the window.”

  My body goes cold with disappointment and anger. How dare he just dismiss me like this? Let yourself out.

  It occurs to me that with one swat of my bionic arm I could send him flying. And I’m that angry, too.

  I’m also sad, though. I don’t have a real desire to hurt him. As I gaze at him, he suddenly seems fragile to me.

  As I go to the door, he tells me how to disarm the house alarm. “You could at least walk me to the door,” I say.

  “I’d rather not,” he says.

  Out on the street, it’s gotten colder. A few months ago I would have broken down into a pool of tears. Now the urge doesn’t come—I don’t even feel them pricking the backs of my eyes.

  The following week I’m scheduled for the new surgeries Dr. Hector has suggested. At the hospital, when I put my phone into a box of valuables for safekeeping, I’m glad to be rid of it. I’d never thought I’d say that—my phone is my connection to the world—but the attention around the rescue at the gas station combined with the viral popularity of Electric Storm is too much. One event feeds the other. My phone never stops buzzing.

  “Ready for the big day?” Dr. Hector asks on the day of my surgery.

  “Ready, I guess.”

  “You’ve become quite the celeb,” he remarks.

  “I know. Crazy, isn’t it?”

  An orderly comes in to wheel me into the operating room. I tense up. This is it. Showtime. I never get used to this. I’m scared every time.

  Dr. Hector gazes at me with a serious expression. “You’re a strong young woman, Mira,” he says. “Hang in there.”

  When I wake up after five hours of surgery, Dr. Tim is there. Groggily, I check my chest for a scar but find none. “Didn’t they operate?” I ask.

  “Check your hip,” he says.

  It’s covered with a black-and-blue bruise. “Laparoscopic surgery,” Dr. Tim explains. “We made a small incision there and implanted the electrodes that way. Nerve impulses that would formerly have gone to your arm now go to move shoulder and chest muscles that still exist.”

  My new arm and hand are amazingly lifelike, covered in plastic flesh that matches the rest of me. The hand is a flesh-colored latex glove that covers the electronics.

  There’s a brief doctor-knock at the door, and a bald head appears. “Tomorrow we’ll give you a leg and foot to match that arm,” says Dr. Hector as he walks into the room.

  “Will it work as well as the one I have now?” I ask. I wonder if I’ll be able to use a flipper foot with this new type of leg. “I mean, will the natural look of it make it less effective?”

  “Not at all,” Dr. Tim says. “Trust me, this is the latest and the greatest in prosthetic limbs. They have all the capabilities of the more robotic-looking limbs, and are still activated by the chip in your head.”

  While he and Dr. Tim consult, Raelene comes in. “Hey there, Mira,” she says with a smile. “Look at that arm! People will have to look mighty close to see that it’s bionic.” She has me open and close my new hand, flex my elbow, roll my shoulder back and forward. I can do it all.

  Raelene remains after the doctors leave. Picking up the remote, she clicks on the TV. “How are you doing with all this, Mira?” she asks.

  “Fine.” My reply was automatic, so I pause to reflect on a real answer. How am I doing? “Dealing with all what?” I ask her.

; “All the media attention.”

  “I’m handling it.” That much is true.

  “Are you enjoying it?”

  That’s a tougher question. Who doesn’t want to be famous? It can only bring good things, right? “It’s kind of overwhelming,” I admit.

  “How are your friends reacting toward you?”

  “My real friends are cool,” I say thinking of Emma, Elana, and the remaining guys in Electric Storm. Was it this new fame that drove Niles away? Is he so frightened by it?

  “Okay,” she says a little doubtfully. “Just please know that I’m here should you ever need to reach out. You’ve been through so much, and people keep telling you how lucky you are, but that doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to be upsetting or overwhelming.”

  I nod, grateful that she seems to understand some of what’s been in my head the past few days.

  Raelene produces my phone from her pocket. “I thought you might like to have this for a few hours—catch up with the outside world.”

  Although I was glad for the break, I’m ready to have my phone back. I check my messages, calls, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter accounts. I scan my emails—there are a ton, a lot of them from people I don’t know, and plenty from friends and even people whose names I just barely recognize. But I admit, I’m particularly searching for any contact from Niles. I know this isn’t smart. I should accept that he doesn’t want to be a part of my life. I just can’t believe he hasn’t changed his mind, that he isn’t going to apologize or explain.

  Matt tweets that he hopes I get out of the hospital soon. A bunch of people favorite and retweet it. There’s even a hashtag: ComehomesoonMira. So many people, people I’ve never met, wish me well.

  But there isn’t one call, text, or message from Niles.

  I call him and it goes straight to voice mail. This is Niles. Not answering calls right now. No worries. Just need some space.

  Suddenly, I’m certain that I’ve humiliated Niles in public. I should have let him rescue the little boy. I wasn’t thinking. My only concern was getting the child out of the car. Now I’ve embarrassed him all over the Internet and the TV news.

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