A week ago:
I’m not quite sure how I got home. But Robert called the next day to ask how I was–apparently he drove me home in the squad car. I climbed the stairs to my room, ready to drop into bed at a moment’s notice, but it was not to be. I spot my unfinished research paper sitting at the desk, and I groan, but I force myself to sit down and at least look at it before going to bed. The door opens a few minutes later.
“Lannis!” my mother exclaims. I spin the swivel chair to look at her.
“Yes, Mom?” I try to look unconcerned, but I am fairly sure that I’m in trouble already. She’s got the newspaper in her hand, and I frown. I hope that those new city ordinances about firearms didn’t get passed. On principle, even if I don’t have a gun, I’m planning on getting a permit for one. Exercising my constitutional rights. Not that I’d ever shoot anyone, but I’m deadly with a snowball and probably would be a pretty good shot with a BB gun, too. Towards a target, I mean. I’ve never tried before.
“Look at the headline, dear.” I frown as I look at the headline. Robbery Thwarted By Mysterious Heroes. Oh, dear.
I didn’t think my actions would have such an impact. All I wanted to do was to preserve a life.
Apparently, I’m a citizen hero now.
“Was this you?” Mother asks, without preamble. I swallow.
“Someone shot a kid. I had to help. I know I shouldn’t have been in the area, Mom. I’m sorry.” Mother pulls me close, and I close my eyes, resting my head against her shoulder. Her hair, identical in color to mine except for the gray strands running through it, blends with mine at the edges.
“The suggestion about new superheros–that doesn’t make any sense, though,” I say. “It seems like the press always assumes superheroes whenever the facts are sketchy.” That’s true enough. Whenever the details are kept deliberately private, to protect private citizens, the press instantly assumes there were superheroes involved. The fact that it was Starlight there present only gives the assumption more grounds.
And while I don’t know, per se, any super-powered individuals–well, except for Audrey, and the other three I had just met, which didn’t count–I do know that there is an unspoken code. You protect the community. You pretend ignorance. You do not allow anyone to be unmasked, especially because that could be a death sentence. You protect your kind. It’s the first law of the jungle. I may be altruistic, idealistic, but I’m not naive.
“Lannis…” Mother says. I close my eyes. “I know you can perceive thoughts. You’ve been able to hear people’s thoughts since you were two years old, maybe even before. You may not remember, but you asked me why I couldn’t.”
“I’m not a superhero, though,” I say. “It’s not exactly a power that lends itself well to crime fighting.” I don’t want anyone to ever learn what my power is. I don’t want to get “recruited” to some government agency to become the mutant/freak/whatever embodiment of the Patriot Act.
I do not want to be Big Brother.
I am just a normal person. Just a little more perceptive than most.
“Whatever happens, Lannis, we’ll back you up. We’ll lie for you. Your father and I would even kill to keep someone from exploiting your abilities.” I grip my mom’s sleeve, tightly, basking in the pleasant, warm feeling of her love. It’s a refuge, a shield from outside influences. And I am still very much a teenager, and very much human, and I need other people.
“Thanks mom,” I murmur into her collar.
Yesterday was a drain, to say the least. But I can’t dwell on that. I have responsibilities. Especially now. But those new responsibilities form a sort of balance, a safety net.
As yet, it’s a net that I can’t afford to test.
As I slip the notes–I added pressed flowers to the cards, this time, because they were there and it was a peaceful influence after all the stress–for the upcoming graduations into the post office box, I think about the four other cards sitting in my coat pocket. They have pressed violets, all of them. And pansies. Hopefully I won’t offend anyone–especially not Starlight. Starlight–she’s the sort of person you don’t want to offend, even if you generally don’t care who you turn against you.
I leave one envelope. addressed to Starlight, on the outer curls of masonry outside the old court building, now museum. She seems to frequent this area, and she’ll probably see it fairly easily. Rebecca’s and Saxon’s go into the mail pigeonholes at the library behind the desk. I volunteered here one summer and sometimes I lead an occasional program sponsored by the library, so no one really takes any notice when I leave things in the pigeonholes. (At one point I left an entire canister of tea in Mrs. Canney’s pigeonhole on the way home from the grocery store and forgot about it entirely until Mrs. Canney stopped me after school to thank me.) Audrey’s… is still in my pocket. It’s more of an experiment in baroque than an invitation to a super-secret superhero society.
I pull out my phone, instead, as I make my way homeward. It’s a necessity, now that I’m working and going to college as well. I dial Audrey’s landline and wait for her to pick up.
When she does, she’s irritated. “Where were you?” she demands, her voice fizzling oddly over the receiver. It’s inevitable with such old parts–she’s somehow maintained an old phone from the very beginning of the days of caller ID and continuously updates the software to keep it working.
“What?” I ask, confused.
“Where were you? I tried to call you twice!” I blink and look down at the phone. Sure enough, the screen proclaims that I have three missed calls. And I still don’t know how to check my voicemail.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, swallowing. “Did you call home?”
“Yes, but your parents weren’t there and you didn’t answer.”
I have a pretty good idea of what I had been doing, now, even though the memories of yesterday are mercifully blurry. “I’m so sorry,” I say again. There’s a pause.
“Were you okay?”
“I am now,” I say. “I think it was just a migraine.”
“We’re meeting again this weekend. It’s okay if you don’t come, I understand…”
“Do you plan on telling them about that migraine?” I wince.
“Do you?” There’s another pause.
“No.” I take a deep breath. “Where are we going with this, Lannis?” Audrey asks, quietly. I close my eyes.
“I have a feeling that, wherever we’re going, we may not have a choice. It’ll be best to be prepared.” And that’s not ominous at all. Audrey snorts.
“I’ll be there,” she promises, then hangs up. She’s still mad at me. I don’t blame her. I’m still mad at me.
Saturday will be interesting.
I’m actually not scheduled to work on Saturday, but Kayla, who is working, is the sort of person who you definitely want behind you: intelligent, diligent, and discreet. And with great people skills, to a degree that I haven’t mastered–she actually looks people in the eye, when I tend to not look at people. She may not know about my superpowers, but she wouldn’t tell if she guessed at the truth. She’s the sort of person who doesn’t raise an eyebrow when a superhero in full regalia walks in the door. (I know that because of a costume on a day when it wasn’t Halloween. We found out later there was a fan convention across town.)
“I’ve been working on the back wall,” she says as I walk in, about twenty minutes before our meeting is supposed to begin. “But I can’t reach all the shelves.”
“I’ll clock in for thirty,” I tell her, running into the back and grabbing an apron and hair net. My sandals fly off, and I decide to just leave them. It’s not worth the bother. The back wall is the bane of our existence. It needs to be dusted twice a week and scrubbed twice a month, and with the complex arrangement of shelves, that’s annoying. It looks amazing, provided we do our jobs right, but it feels horrible, especially when you’re trying to reach every little cranny and crevice while balancing on a step stool. Especially for Kayla, who comes up to my shoulder (maybe) when she’s in heels, and who doesn’t have my long limbs. As I climb up the step stool, grabbing the wash cloth, she laughs at my bare feet.
“Use the Force, Lannis!” she says in an impressive imitation of Yoda. I laugh along with her. It’s our private joke–due to my long reach and occasional impatience which leads me to reach around her, sometimes without her even noticing, she insists that I’m secretly a Jedi, and keeps asking me if I can come and impress her cousins some time. I’ve never met her cousins.
The doorbell rings and then slams. Saxon’s early. She stops in the doorway, “Am I interrupting something?” she asks, probably staring at the back of my shirt, which is–I can feel it–coming un-tucked in the back. I gesture with the dish rag without turning around.
“This could take a while. Have a seat. Treasure Island is in my book bag.” Dead silence. Apparently, Lannis-working-when-not-scheduled was not on the list of things Saxon expected to encounter today. I continue to scrub around the ridiculous rose quartz that someone thought looked pretty and stuck there. If only this wall was covered in glass display cases, not simple shelves. The wood is going to need a re-finish soon.
“May the Force be with you,” Kayla tells Saxon. I snort quietly to myself. We’re all going to need it.