Sealed with a Lie
There’s a six-foot man in front of me whom I need to put six feet under.
I may not be able to go through him physically, but I will disable him and get around him—even if he blocks my opening moves.
“Not bad, little girl,” he says with a smirk playing on his insufferable, arrogant British mouth.
Little girl? I can almost feel sparks shooting down my spine. My blood boils, and adrenaline tingles in my legs. I almost levitate with sheer aggression.
This little girl’s gonna take you down.
Despite his condescending, obnoxious words, the normally calm, cool Evan Kincaid is perspiring, and I can smell the damp, musky heat of his body instead of his designer deodorant. His mocking gray-blue eyes have darkened with focus, and his alert, carefully loose
stance tells me that he’s taking me seriously.
It’s about time. My job is to take him out, and fast.
I crouch lower, weight on the balls of my feet, and he warily adjusts his own stance. As I size him up, though, I note that his arms are too low . . . a sign of cockiness. He’s confident that he’s going to beat me—why? I know karate as well as he does. Better, in fact.
Evan is tall, but not beefy. He’s tough and cut and moves with a sinewy grace. Because of his superior height, he’s got about seven inches more arm reach than I do, and twelve inches of additional leg reach. This means that his “ma” distance, or effective sphere of control, is much larger than mine. He’ll want to take advantage of that, using kicks.
Since he outweighs me by seventy pounds, I can’t go to the ground with him unless it’s a finishing move. I’ll need to close that “ma” gap, or I’ll be in trouble.
Evan sizes me up the same way that I evaluate him, gauging my strengths and weaknesses. Will he wait for me to move first this time?
No. He launches a series of spinning kicks: a front kick, followed by a spinning heel, then a roundhouse.
I step out of range of the first, then barely out of range of the second. But I can’t avoid him forever. Eventually, Evan will connect.
I move in on number three, blocking his right knee with my left palm to stop the kick. I punch the instep of his extended foot hard with my right hand, a move called “oi-tsuki.”
Evan winces and gives an audible gasp. Two white dents appear on either side of his nostrils. His eyes narrow on me.
A smirk crosses my face. Evan deserves it, just as he deserves the nasty bruise he’ll develop at his instep. Evan is the reason I’m stuck in Paris.
I focus for a fleeting moment on his mouth and how it felt pressed against mine when he backed me against a wall and stole my first kiss.
I press my advantage, launching myself at Evan just as he is forced to put weight on his injured foot.
I dive-roll past his kicking range and come up to deliver a flurry of punches centerline.
If there’s any justice in this world, I’ll connect.
But he blocks each blow in turn—I’m not even sure how. His hands are a blur. Worse, he catches my last punch, knocks me off-balance, and pulls me forward into a throw.
Unexpectedly, I’m flying.
But I’ve trained long and hard.
I roll out of the throw and come swiftly to my feet, turning to face him in a stance.
Except he’s not where I expect him to be.
What was that I mentioned about him being cocky? I’ve made the same mistake.
Evan’s left arm snakes out and circles my neck. His right arm locks behind my head, squeezing my carotid artery. I struggle to free myself using every tactic I can think of—feet, elbows, hands, hips. I stomp, claw, shove, and even try to bite him as I get ever more desperate.
But he’s relentless.
He uses his bicep and forearm to shut off my blood flow. . . .
And I can’t breathe. As I strain to free myself, every bad word I know flashes neon in my head. None of them can quite express the depth of my feelings.
Evan chuckles softly.
This little girl’s not taking him down, not by a long shot. If he wanted to, he could jerk me higher and wring my neck like a chicken’s. How could I have let him get the advantage like this?
“Relax, darling,” he murmurs. “Make your peace with sudden death.”
I make one last, futile attempt to drive an elbow backward into his six-pack abs. It takes every iota of energy I have left, and it accomplishes absolutely nothing.
Evan’s chest rumbles against my spine. Is he purring?
My vision blurs, then fades—though I can still see the F word emblazoned in flaming letters behind my eyelids. Maybe they’ll engrave it on my tombstone after they bury me.
Hate. Evan. Kincaid.
And he so doesn’t merit being the focus of my last conscious thoughts.
In the end, I’m not sure who I’m madder at—myself,
for being so careless, or him, for choking the life out of me.
Before I can decide, everything goes black.
I regain consciousness within seconds and realize that Evan has let me down gently onto the thick blue mat of GI’s studio. All around us are walls of mirrors that have reflected and refracted my total humiliation a hundredfold. My palms lie sweaty against the scuffed vinyl, and the air in my nostrils is thick with the dirty, plasticky scent of it.
I open my eyes and expect to see Evan towering over me, a six-foot, gi-clad exclamation point at the tail end of my mortification. I’m half-relieved but somehow half-disappointed that he’s not. Then I’m mad at myself for the half-disappointed part. What is my problem?
“Kari? You okay?” asks Sensei Joe. He extends a hand to help me up.
“I’m fine,” I mumble, and struggle upright, ignoring the hand. Evan is across the room, standing near the door and surrounded by an adoring gaggle of girls. He shoots a sympathetic glance in my direction, and his mouth twists in something like an apology.
Oooooh. Seriously? After just decimating me, he doesn’t get to play Mr. Nice Guy now! He can stuff his sympathy where the sun don’t shine.
There are whispers and low laughter and sidelong glances from the other students in the class as they filter out of the room. I wish Evan could choke off my embarrassment just like he did my oxygen. Why did I have to
regain consciousness? I feel a flush spreading over my face and neck.
Sour grapes have yielded sweet wine for the others. I’ve beaten them all, every student in Generation Interpol, including Evan—until today. That’s why they’re thrilled that he’s outmaneuvered me. He is their hero.
I can’t believe I’ve lost this fight. Out of arrogance. Thinking that I was invincible. I cringe.
Though I try telling myself that I’m just off my game, the unpleasant truth bites me in the butt and won’t let go. Evan is better than I am. Not just bigger and stronger, but better. Clearly he’s been holding something back until today, which enrages me. He’s been letting me win—setting me up to take a fall.
I stomp into the girls’ locker room, aware of snickers behind my back. Cecily Alarie, the girl they call “Roux,” curls her lip and laughs openly as she bends over and twists a towel into a turban around her wet copper-red hair.
GI may be in Paris, the City of Light, but this is the darkest time of my life. It may be full of geniuses and agents-in-training; it may be the ticket to an exciting life of fighting global crime, but it sucks.
It’s tough to have a sunny outlook on life when the parents I idolized have turned traitors and shamed not only me, but the Agency and their country. They took some getaway jet to Russia and left me and my brother behind . . . to the tender mercy of the US foster-care system. We were able to avoid it only because of my unusual skill set—and my brother’s.
Seven-year-old Charlie is a budding genius who speaks several languages and will probably win the Nobel Prize one day. I have some talent for karate and a broad base of knowledge that includes an ability to pick locks, “borrow” cars, and rock disguises.
We are stuck in France with Evan Kincaid and his group of international wankers at the Paris Institute during regular school hours. Once the bell rings, we attend GI, which kids who are not in the know refer to as “Get In.” They think it’s a fast track to admission at top colleges all over the world.
It really stands for Generation Interpol, a daily after-school training program for kids who’ve been hand-selected to become spies. The cherry on top? I never wanted to be a spy, and I don’t speak French. Judging by my recent test scores (despite studying for hours), I never will. The only French word I know is douche. I call Evan that a lot. But who turned out to be the douche today? Me.
Cecily (I privately call her Madame de Pompadour, who was Top Ho to one of the ugly French king Louises) smirks at me as I peel off my damp, dirty gi, then shove it into my locker and slam the door. I quickly wrap a towel around my angular, boyish naked body and head for the showers.
As if she knows my insecurities, Cecily drops the towel from her own body, and I am treated to the sight of her curves as she steps into a pair of lacy silk electric-blue tap pants. I’m sorry to say that she is a natural redhead and has large, perfect breasts. She will stuff those into a matching electric-blue boob holster that’s slung casually
over her gym bag. No wonder Evan had a special friendship with her . . . one with benefits. Ugh.
I avert my eyes, but not quickly enough. She says something to her two sidekicks in French that I don’t understand, and they all laugh. I feel their eyes burning my backside as I scurry off, holding the towel tightly around myself.
Why is there a girl like Cecily in every school? I have escaped Lacey Carson, my old nemesis from Kennedy Prep, only to face an even worse version of her. At least Lacey didn’t prance around naked in front of me—she had the courtesy to wear a plaid miniskirt, part of our school uniform. And she was reassuringly American and therefore not all that mysterious.
Madame de Pompadour and her ladies-in-waiting are so Parisian that it’s painful. They’re not just garden-variety obnoxious. They’re chic and sophisticated about it. They ooze French from their pores.
I feel bland and uninteresting in comparison, like a human bowl of grits.
With a sudden pang, I miss my best friend Rita, with her fabulous wardrobe and full array of coordinating designer eyeglasses. I wonder what she’s up to, back in Washington, DC. I miss my other best friend Kale, too. I wonder if they’ve been allowed to see each other since we all got into so much trouble at the Agency?
I really miss my boyfriend, Luke. It’s been hard dating long-distance.
I almost hack up a hair ball thinking about it, but I even miss Lacey, his sister. At least she could give me
makeup tips, so that I could camouflage myself around Cecily.
I drape my towel on a hook near the shower, turn on the faucet, and step under the spray of hot water. Before I realize it, tears are running down my face, and I’m in full-on self-pity mode. This disgusts me, so paradoxically, I cry harder. My only comfort is that nobody can tell, since water is water, whether it comes out of an eye or a nozzle.
For the first time in my life, I feel like a total loser.
I’ve felt dumb before. I’ve felt awkward and occasionally unattractive. Who hasn’t? But I’ve never felt this dull ache, this hopelessness, this loneliness that rolls over me on the flip side of my anger at my parents, at Evan, at everything.
Distracted by my dark thoughts, I slip on the slick communal shower floor and almost wipe out. I look down and see that somebody’s squirted a good six-inch lake of conditioner or lotion right at my feet. It’s been done deliberately to make me fall. Cecily?
I hose it down the drain and kick the tiled wall, which hurts but makes me feel better.
I am not a loser.
Nobody here is going to make me feel this way. And I will learn French if it kills me . . . if only so that I can effectively insult all these Generation Interpol snots. They may never like me, but they will respect me.