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Authors: Vivian Vande Velde

23 Minutes

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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Text copyright © 2016 by Vivian Vande Velde

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, contact
[email protected]
.

Boyds Mills Press

An Imprint of Highlights

815 Church Street

Honesdale, Pennsylvania 18431

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN: 978-1-62979-441-9 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-62979-561-4 (e-book)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015953497

First edition

The text of this book is set in Chaparral.

Design by Barbara Grzeslo

Production by Sue Cole

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1

Dedicated to those
who try to make things better
for at-risk children and teens

CONTENTS

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

About the Author

CHAPTER 1

T
HE STORY STARTS WITH AN ACT OF STUNNING VIOLENCE
.

Or … well … maybe not exactly.

Maybe, exactly, the story starts when Zoe walks into the bank—except she doesn't recognize it as a story yet. She just knows the sky has opened up in a late-autumn downpour so that she feels as though she's standing under the shower at the campground—the one that's strong and steady but has only two temperatures: cold and very cold. Zoe has never understood the point of camping. Haven't people evolved for thousands of years precisely so that they do
not
have to sleep on the ground, or pee and crap outdoors, or have to eat half-raw food that's been charred over a fire? But the people who run group homes for teens nobody wants to foster always seem to feel that “roughing it” is a way to Build Community Spirit. And to Bond with the Disadvantaged Youth of Our City. As though they weren't in a group home exactly because they'd had a rough time already. Zoe feels that an overnight at a Holiday Inn, hanging out in the hot tub, ordering room service, and watching on-demand movies, would make much more satisfying building and bonding experiences. Not that anybody has ever asked Zoe.

So the rain starts fast and hard and just a degree or two warmer than sleet, and Zoe dashes through the first door she comes to and finds herself in a bank.

That's more a prelude than a beginning to the story: the foreword, the setup.

Then there are the supporting characters: the snotty bank teller and the full-of-himself bank guard. As well as the one bank customer, the one who stands out from the fewer-than-a-dozen other customers—the young guy Zoe immediately pegs as an up-and-coming business exec or a junior lawyer at a prestigious law firm (the kind that does
not
advertise on TV). Zoe prides herself on being able to evaluate people quickly. It's been a necessity for survival. But this guy has an engaging smile and takes the time to speak kindly to her, even after she walks into him, steps on his foot, and drips rainwater on him and his expensive shoes. Lastly, and of course, there's the bank robber—although Zoe doesn't know yet that he
is
a bank robber.

Not much here to say
story
.

It doesn't really pick up speed until the robbery starts to go awry, until they're all within twenty feet of each other—even closer if you're willing to discount that one bank teller. Without her, they're really in a tight cluster: Zoe on her knees on the floor, the guard with his gun drawn and aimed at the head of the would-be robber, the would-be robber with
his
gun drawn and aimed at the head of the guy who was nice to Zoe.

Should I say it now?
she wonders, several times, until finally, after all the shouting and gun-waving and threatening to shoot anyone and everyone, the robber's attention is firmly on someone else besides Zoe.
Finally
, she sees she might actually have a moment or two in which to use her special ability and get away.

If only that opportunity weren't a result of the young CEO (or whatever he is) intentionally stepping between her and the robber.

Is he stupid or suicidal?
Zoe asks herself.

But this is unfairly diminishing him. His eyes are blue and wide and have enough fear in them to say he knows exactly what he's done, enough defiance to declare he'd make the same choice again.

And that holds Zoe where she is.

The situation gets even worse, with more shouting, more threatening—and then there are two simultaneous shots. Or too close to simultaneous to make a difference.

Leaving Zoe spattered in the blood of both the thief and the customer she'd almost had time to grow to like. Not to mention bits of bone. And what she very fervently tries to convince herself could not possibly really be pieces of brain matter.

That's
how the story starts.

CHAPTER 2

O
K … PERHAPS THAT'S A BIT TOO SPARE A TELLING
.

So, for this one time only: a playback of the exact same twenty-three minutes, just with more detail.

Which, of course, is totally
not
the way Zoe's ability to play back time works. Not that Zoe understands much about how it
does
work.

Sometimes she speculates that she was born this way and just didn't discover it until she became a teen, that it's a latent, half-baked magical capability, or some sort of genetic mutation inflicted on her by a universe with a twisted sense of humor. She likes the idea that there might, in fact, be others like her—even if, by playback's very nature, that would be hard, if not impossible, to know.

Or maybe the skill or knack or talent came because she almost died at age ten, when her appendix burst, after her mother waited so long to bring her to the doctor because—as Mom explained at the hospital—“She's always complaining about something.”

Or it may all have started that time Zoe was twelve, when she remained outside during a storm, watching nature's show, the smell of ozone tickling her nose. She could feel the hairs on her arms stand up as the rumbles of thunder came just about simultaneous to the jags of lightning—closer and closer, and louder and brighter, till that one bolt of lightning hit the flagpole in the Durans' yard right next door, throwing Zoe off the steps and onto her back, her whole
body a-tingle with electrical spiders. At twelve, Zoe knew enough not to seek solace from her mother for what had just happened, knew how her mother would have reacted: by giving Zoe a taste of the back of her hand, chiding, “Stupid thing—without the sense to come in out of the rain. You got what you deserved.”

However … whenever … whyever the ability to play back time came to her, Zoe has it, and has been aware of having it for two and a half years now, since she was thirteen.

Zoe is walking in the downtown shopping area, not shopping, but with nowhere to go, when the clouds suddenly burst with Noah-and-the-ark ferocity. She shoves her folder of papers under her t-shirt, but the rain is cold and relentless, so she ducks into the nearest doorway, which is a branch of Spencerport Savings and Loan. This is not an especially good choice, as there is not much for a fifteen-year-old who doesn't even have a bank account to do here. Zoe rubs her arms—one at a time because she still has the folder pressed protectively against herself—and wishes she'd brought her jacket when she left this morning.

No, what Zoe really wishes is that she could play back the entire day. A do-over starting with not mouthing off to Mrs. Davies.

But twenty-three minutes is her limit, and twenty-three minutes after her confrontation with Mrs. Davies, Zoe was still too angry to even
think
about backing off. Now it's way too late to do anything about it.

Too damn impulsive—she's heard
that
before.

Besides, she knows from past experience what a slippery thing playing back time can be. She has used it in instances both serious and frivolous, and she estimates she has a ten percent chance of
actually improving any given initial situation. Her mind goes—as it so often does lately when she thinks about playback—to how she progressed from tongue-tied to awkwardly flirting to successfully flirting with that cute guy at the bus stop … only to find out that the guy was her best friend Delia's new love interest, who was supposed to be waiting for Delia. And no minutes left to play back to ignoring him. Delia still hasn't forgiven her—and that's without knowing anything about playback, so she doesn't even have a clue how relentlessly Zoe pursued him.

In the two and a half years she's had this ability, playback has cost her more than it's gained, and Zoe has come to think of her life as being like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books—one where it's best to read through once and settle, because the choices only go from bad to worse.

So, Zoe is cold and she's wet, and Mrs. Davies is pissed off at her: OK, well, there's nothing new in that.

There are about a dozen customers in the bank this afternoon, the first Friday of November. The bank guard standing inside, just by the entrance, is looking at her with suspicion and disapproval, perhaps for dripping puddles onto the floor, perhaps because he suspects she has chosen the bank as a place for hanging around with her teenage hoodlum friends, now that the mall three blocks over has instituted a policy prohibiting teens from being there unless they're accompanied by a parent.

His level of concern is not appeased even after she pulls her folder from under her shirt and goes to the tall table that has cubbyholes for deposit and withdrawal slips. Whereas the folder itself is water-spotted, the papers inside are undamaged. That's
good. She supposes. Although, now that she's calmed down after her skirmish with Mrs. Davies, she has to ask herself: How important, really, are these papers? Probably not worth the trouble she's in.

Zoe takes a pink bank slip, without even looking close enough to see whether it's for deposits or withdrawals. She picks up the pen, which—for all that it looks like the kind sold by the dozen at the dollar store—is attached to the counter by a chain. Then she turns the bank slip over, and on the empty back side writes down the names of the other girls on her floor. There is no particular reason for doing this other than to see if she can remember them all, and mostly to take up time. She starts with Delia, even though Delia is no longer speaking to her.

Another slip of paper, and she works on recording the names of all the actors who have played James Bond in the movies. Yet another slip for Snow White's seven dwarves. And another for Santa's reindeer. Except she can only think of eight reindeer, and if you include Rudolph—which she has—she knows there should be nine.

All right, she can't stay at this table all afternoon. Although she refuses to glance in his direction, because that would make her look as though she has a guilty conscience, she's sure the guard is watching her and counting the number of slips she's using up.

Zoe stuffs the slips into her folder and gets in line to wait for the next available teller, hoping this will indicate to the guard that she has legitimate bank business.

That next available teller turns out to sound as disapproving as the guard looks when she asks Zoe, “May I help you?” As though she resents having to pretend someone like Zoe is a genuine customer.
As though she suspects Zoe is here to ask for a handout, or to try to sell candy to support her school's soccer team, despite the sign by the door that says “No Soliciting”—which, in this neighborhood, could mean candy or something else entirely. Zoe speaks right up, knowing instinctively that this teller is the kind of adult who feels that all kids mumble. She asks, “Do you have any of those presidential dollars?”

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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