The high school parking lot was mostly empty as Ann, free from detention, walked across it, out to Mrs. Martin’s garden, where a rickety old picnic table sat on the grass. She plunked her backpack on the bench, pulled out her book, and settled down to wait for her grandfather, but she only enjoyed one new paragraph before Marcus sat down beside her and began to spread a slew of notebook paper out on the table’s weather-beaten surface.
“I’ve been working on these the whole time,” he said, shuffling things around as if the scribbled notes, maps, and diagrams would make more sense that way. “Everything about Josh that might be relevant. Our next step is research, right? Someone will have to distract him, while someone else goes through his stuff and interviews Mr. and Mrs. Larson. I’m also thinking we’ll have to run some experiments. The problem is figuring out how to set them up so they don’t actually endanger—”
Both of Grace’s hands slapped down atop his papers as she leaned over the table, glaring. “Leave her alone, Marcus.”
Grace shoved the papers away from Ann. “No means no, Idiot.”
“Yes,” Ann said, also glaring.
“I, on the other hand,” Grace said, sitting across from them, “am willing to listen to you.” She tugged a piece of paper away from his pile and inspected it, eyebrows raised. “Is that supposed to be a car or a donkey?”
She held it out of his reach. “You think Josh is an Evil Overlord?”
“A Chosen One,” Marcus said, while Ann skootched over, nose back in her book.
She resisted the temptation to say, “The Chosen One.”
“A Chosen One. You know—the orphan kid with special powers who grows up on a farm and has to save the world from an Evil Overlord.”
“The Evil Overlord,” Ann said crankily, nose still in her book. “You’re making it sound like there’s a host of Overlords and Chosen Ones running wild through the world. That’s not how it works.”
Grace tossed the drawing aside and swatted through the rest of Marcus’s paper. “Josh doesn’t have special powers.”
Marcus pointed to a particular page. “Ann says they might have to be triggered, somehow. I’m trying to work out an experiment.”
Grace frowned. “Are you bad at drawing, or are you really going to run him over with a tractor?”
Ann groaned, face-down in her book. “That’s a terrible idea, Marcus. Anything that does The Evil Overlord’s job for him is—”
“Didn’t Todd almost back over Josh with a tractor, years ago? You don’t think Todd’s an Evil Overlord, do you?”
Ann could hear Marcus looking at her, and sighed, lifting her head. “It’s extremely unlikely that The Evil Overlord is someone from Waterdale. On rare occasions, The Evil Overlord is secretly a relative, but it’s far more common for him to be an outside force—some kind of rising tyrant seeking world domination.”
“What’s this guy got against Josh?” Grace said, obviously skeptical. “Josh’s the nicest kid in town.”
“The Evil Overlord doesn’t care how nice The Chosen One is. It doesn’t matter; it’s not anything personal. It’s that The Chosen One is the one person who can, for whatever reason, stop The Evil Overlord from . . Evil Overlording.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “What’s Josh going to do? And how’s he going to do it if Marcus runs him over?”
“I’m not going to run him over,” Marcus growled, bent over the pages with a pencil, scribbling. “I’ll think of something else.”
Grace propped her chin in her hand, watching Marcus write. “Have you two ever fought?”
Marcus frowned. “He’s not super-strong, if that’s what you’re asking. Although it’s been a while since we—”
“Not physically fighting—like, arguing. I mean, have you ever observed him when he’s upset?”
“Emotionally?” Marcus said. He gave a little sideways glance in Ann’s direction. “Well, to be honest, these past couple weeks haven’t been great. But they haven’t turned him into a superhero.”
“Hmmm . . .” Grace shifted to look at Ann, eyes narrowed. “How are you doing?”
“Me?” Ann shrugged. “I’m fine. It’s fine.”
“Hey—whatever. But breaking up’s rough. You two were adorable together.”
“I want to stay out of it.”
Marcus rapped the table with his pencil. “But how are we supposed to do this without you? You’re the one that knows everything.”
“Once the First Love dies, everyone muddles through somehow. All I’m asking you to do is muddle through before that. And I don’t know everything. It’s all guesswork until The Evil Overlord or his minions show up.”
“When will that be?”
“I don’t know.” Ann stood, swiping her book up as her grandfather’s truck turned into the parking lot. “You two can have your club, but I’m not a member, okay?”
Marcus scrambled to his feet. “What if you consulted? Once in a great while? With Grace instead of me, since I’m doomed.”
“You’re doomed?” Grace said, intrigued. “Why are you doomed?”
Ann hefted her backpack and marched away.
“Is that no or yes?
Ann spun, walking backwards toward the running truck. “Once in a great while?”
*This has been Part Six of Ann versus The Evil Overlord