At first she thought it was just the shock of having a burning building fall on top of her. But when Juliette stopped to take a breath, she realized she wasn't feeling any pain - and while her clothing was damaged and torn beyond belief, her skin underneath remained unblemished, just porcelain smudged with ashes and dirt. Her bones were unbroken. Even her hair was untouched, no singed bits, not even any split ends. And that just wasn't normal.
Unlike Papa, she had no Gifts ... and it was that Einstein guy who'd said that there wouldn't be any more Awakenings unless something like the Rapture happened again - and the chances of anything else falling from the sky out of space were remote. Is that what happened at the warehouse? The rest of the City didn't seem in the kind of uproar another Rapture would have caused, so it must have been just her. That warehouse was a laboratory full of strange contraptions and devices - perhaps one of them repeated the Rapture, maybe in miniature? She had to ask Frankie, or Papa.
Papa ... she glanced back down the alley at the burning wreckage of the warehouse. Memory started trickling into her foggy mind - an explosion, then the warehouse collapsing. It was probably too quick for Papa to have blinked out. She wanted to run back to the wreckage, see if she could find him - but then she heard the sirens of fire trucks. The police wouldn't be too far behind.
If Papa had survived, the old bastard would kill her if she'd let herself get caught. And if he hadn't survived, he wouldn't want her to waste time in mourning. She looked up at the almost-full moon and muttered a little invocation to Athena - a superstition she'd picked up from her father. She shook her head at the foolishness of it, wiped her eyes, and dashed off into the night.
She had to get home, and without her father's Gifts, home was a long way away. She looked down at the tattered, scorched remnants of what was once her favorite body-stocking. Now she was showing more skin than a burlesque dancer, and that would get her more attention than she wanted. Before anything else, she needed to get herself some clothes.
On the top of a nearby building, she saw a clothesline. A cotton frock was dangling, swaying in the wind. She felt a knot in her stomach, telling her she could get there, if only she just jumped. She remembered what Papa told her about his Awakening, when he'd learned what to do with his Gifts. It was almost an instinct, he said - it just felt natural. When an opportunity came up, he just knew what to do.
So, she jumped. She pushed herself off the ground, and felt her body slide into the air. It was an exhilarating feeling - she was already going much faster than she could ever sprint. And it was relaxing, almost like floating in the tub. She could feel a very slight pull down to the ground, but it was far from the feeling of falling.
It felt natural to her, almost graceful. In the peace of the cloudless night, she started thinking. Clearly, she was one of the Gifted, now. What were the chances of it happening almost on the anniversary of the Rapture?
And also: how could being unscratched by a falling building also lead to an almost mythical leap? From what she'd heard from her father, his friends, and rumors, Gifts had some sort of common theme, a consistency. But she saw no connection between her invincibility and this new flight of fancy. Of course, they could just all be full of shit.
"Light as a feather, stiff as a board," she said, giggling as she descended, remembering the games she'd played when she was younger, in the back room of the burlesque houses in which her father performed his magic. Thinking of him, she wiped a few more tears from her eyes. Mourning would have to come later, she told herself.
She landed on the building rooftop with the clothesline. After leaving the discarded, disintegrating remains of her clothes on the building tiles, she grabbed the frock and shimmied into it. It was a bit tight in the chest and the hips, but it would serve to at least pay lip service to modesty.
She looked out at Lady Liberty and tried to get her bearings. She was lost - New York City wasn't small by any standards, and while she knew it like the back of her hand, she'd never seen it from this angle. Finally, she figured out where she was, and pushed herself into the air again. She felt the urge to tell Frankie what had went down, assuming Papa hadn't already gotten there. She could still hear him - Business comes first was one of his favorite lessons. Fuck it, she decided; either Papa would get to Frankie, or Frankie could wait.
The apartment was a mess. Papa wasn't there; if he'd survived, he probably would have beaten her there, unless he went to Frankie's first. Juliette stormed through the front room and went to the bathroom. She began the water running - even though she wasn't sore, she wanted to relax with a hot bath. Besides, she was still dirty. She struggled out of the frock and tossed it aside.
She looked around the apartment. How was she going to afford this place? It was $20/month, and without Papa she wasn't sure she could afford it. Without his Gifts, she might not be able to do enough heists. Still, there was always cash in the Stash, as Papa always put it. She checked the Stash, pulling out the Complete Works of Shakespeare, prying a brick out of the wall behind it, and reaching in to grab a fold of bills. She counted - $200. Maybe she could coast for a while.
She'd probably have to get a job to support he burglary habit. She looked down at her named, curvy body - maybe she'd get a job in burlesque. Papa's burlesque friends were always calling her Medusa, 'cause she turned them all to stone. Or maybe not. She had this new Gift, and even if it wasn't Papa's, she could probably spin it off into something useful, and profitable...
She stalked back into the bathroom and turned the water off. She dipped a toe into the steaming water, then slipped right in. It felt wonderful. She relaxed almost instantly, and let herself cry. Pretty soon, the young thief had fallen asleep in the tub. She had strange dreams of fire, Papa, and death.
Papa still wasn't there in the morning, so Juliette peeled a sawbuck off the Stash and headed out to see Frankie; she told herself that he'd probably crashed there again.
The neon sign reading "Morello Pawn" looked out of place against the stained glass window, the only external evidence other than the crosses that the building had once been a church. Juliette went around back and knocked.
Eventually, Frankie came to the door, wearing a set of loose-fitting overalls. The short, plump Italian woman squinted in the early morning sun.
"Juliette! What are you doing here? Why are you outside?" A look of concern spread across her face. "Did something happen to Romeo?"
A rock dropped in Juliette's gut. "He's not here?"
"No." She shook her head. "What happened?"
"The warehouse burned down. Blew up." Juliette shook the cobwebs out of her head. "There was a problem. I think he's dead." She wiped her eyes of tears, and dug the sawbuck out of her cleavage. "Here. Ten percent. That's what you gave Papa up front, right?"
Frankie pushed Juliette's hand away. "Come in, piccola. I've got a kettle on. Let's have some tea."
"I'll take some rum if you've got it."
Frankie gave her a dirty look. "I'll pour some into your tea."
"Fine." Juliette stepped into the back of the store â€" it was the old priest's offices, still decorated with crosses.
"Sit down, sweetie," Frankie said, gesturing to a couch. A part the office had been converted into a small kitchen â€" since Frankie lived there, it was a necessity. She already had a kettle on the stove, and quickly bustled about pouring tea into a few cups. Grabbing a bottle of rum, she carried it over and set them all on a small coffee table in front of the couch. Then, taking her seat beside Juliette, Frankie handed her a cup. "Now, tell me about it.
Juliette poured some rum into her cup. "Frankie, what were we supposed to steal last night?" She started stirring.
Frankie took a sip from her own cup. "Why do you ask?"
Juliette picked up her cup and put it to her lips. "Well, in case you haven't noticed, things went more than a little haywire over there. Papa's dead and ... well, I'm changed."
"Changed?" Frankie's eyebrows raised. "What do you mean?"
"I think I ... Awakened." Frankie's eyes lit up. "No, I'm pretty sure. Whatever happened last night, I'm Gifted now, like you and Papa."
"Isn't that supposed to be impossible?"
"That's what the newspapers all say." She shrugged. "But fuck, Frankie. A building fell on me and all that got hurt were my clothes. And now I can jump almost like I was flying."
"But you didn't even have the Plague..."
"I got it late, but I had it. Remember Rocky?"
"Rocky?" Frankie gasped. "Oh, piccola! My nephew Rocco?"
Juliette nodded. "It was just after the Rapture. We thought the world was ending..." She shrugged. "You know how it goes."
"He was your first?"
Juliette laughed. "Oh, no! Not at all! But I was his. Now, will you take this sawbuck so I can scram?"
"Keep it," Frankie said. "We women have to stick together." Juliette snorted; Frankie gave her a dirty look as she poured herself a cup, and freshened Juliette's. "Now, tell me what happened."
"We blinked into the warehouse." Juliette poured a little more rum into her tea, and began stirring. "Found the lab. It was easy as pie. Then we started looking for the doodad, whatever it was." She gave Frankie a look.
Frankie sighed. "Okay, okay. It was some sort of super electric thing. Would revolutionize all of electricity. Tesla or Edison both would have paid a fortune for it."
"Well, whatever it was, we couldn't find it. Papa thought it might have been in the safe, so I started working to crack it. And then..." She started sobbing.
Frankie put a comforting hand on her knee. "Shhh, it's okay."
"I remember the Nully crackling, so we knew Papa couldn't blink or bend. He was scouting for another exit. And there was this ... thing that looked like an electric cannon, or something. It was angled oddly, kind of pointing at the safe."
Frankie was rather interested. "Go on. What happened next?"
Juliette sighed. "The cannon started to whine, or whir, or something. Then it went off! I don't know what we did to make that happen. And then ... there was an explosion. I think maybe I exploded?" She choked up, and took a long draw of her tea. "Did I kill Papa?"
"Piccola, you can't let yourself think like that. Almost all Awakenings were violent. Even mine. Why do you think the Rapture seemed like the end of the world?" A bell dinged in the other room. "Oh, a customer! I should go get that. Stay here."
Juliette looked through the curtains separating the back room from the front, and listened to two baritone voices exchanging words. She recognized the 'customer' before he even pulled out his badge. "Fuck," she muttered. She had to get out of there. She slipped the sawbuck under Frankie's cup, grabbed the bottle of rum, and slipped out the back door.