Hero Worship - 3

Prequel (The Croatoa section)
Part 1
Part 2

“Again!” I giggled, bouncing in place on the roof of… I’m not even sure what building it was, honestly. Jillian smiled at me from a few feet away, where she was glancing carefully at the ground below, pulling strands of hair out from behind her mask, only for it to find its way back under there a few moments later. I guess it was pretty windy, though, honestly, I hadn’t even noticed.

“Well, we will have to get down from here,” she replied, turning away from the roof’s edge, apparently satisfied that we hadn’t been seen. “And unless you want to jump…”

“No, that’s all right.” I scurried over to her. “So this is what you’ve been up to all this time?”

“For the last time, Mackenzie, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. If I could’ve been sure you’d keep it secret, I wouldn’t have waited so long, but…” She shrugged. “It just seemed like the right thing to do, you know? Keeping it secret, to protect my loved ones, or whatever. It wasn’t easy, you know.”

“I could’ve kept it a secret.” I said it quietly, letting the wind carry the words away. It was true enough, sure, but I didn’t want her to hear how hurt I was that she hadn’t thought she could trust me. I mean, I was still the only person she’d told, so that was still pretty good, even if it had taken a while.

“The sky looks so beautiful from up here.” She tilted her face up towards the stars, closing her eyes for a few moments, then looking back down, out towards the town. “It all looks so beautiful.”

“You need a costume,” I told her. “And a superhero name. There’s nobody else doing any superhero-ing around here… You could be famous!”

“Nobody’s doing that because there’s no reason to,” she answered, her tone telling me that she’d thought of all this already. “We barely have enough crime to keep the police busy - I don’t need to stick my nose into it.”

“Well, you at least need a name,” I insisted, deciding not to remind her that there were still a few unsolved robberies and such that she might be able to use her powers to help solve somehow. And mom had just been talking about how they’d busted some drug-runners with meth and rouse and whatever else; there were sure to be some others out there, somewhere. “One of these days, someone’s gonna see you, and they’re gonna ask you who they are. Then what are you gonna do?”

“Leave?” She chuckled at me as I rolled my eyes, wishing she would just play along. “I dunno… I was kinda kicking around Zero-G as an option, you know?”

“Eh,” I shrugged. Creativity, honestly, was not one of her strong suits.

“Eh? What’s wrong with that?” She poked my ribs, coaxing a giggle out of me.

“I… think it’s taken,” I said diplomatically.

“Could be.” She glanced back up at the sky, absentmindedly reaching into her jacket pocket, starting to pull out her cigarettes before apparently remembering that I was there, and sheepishly putting them back. “It was just an idea.”

I took the few steps over to her, wrapping my arms around her and staring upwards with her. The stars twinkled above us, more than making up for the mere sliver of moon that was visible. They seemed so close… Almost as if I could simply reach up and pluck one down, put it in my pocket to keep me warm. “I missed you.”

Her hand slid down, detaching me from her side. A few moments later, I felt a bunch of little bubbles rising in my body, like in the glassed of champagne mom and dad had every New Years’. I could feel the roof moving out from beneath my feet. I’m sure that, given time, I could learn to direct myself on my own, but for now, Jillian keeps ahold of my hand, guiding me through the air.

And, to be perfectly honest, that was just fine with me.

Summer bled away into autumn, draining away the green from the leaves, only to leave them in even more colorful coats. It also took my free time, as school started back up, then kicked into high gear, giving me nothing in return but homework. More often than not, by the time I was finished, and gotten myself ready for bed so that I wouldn’t have to worry about mom and dad coming up to check on me, Jillian was already gone.

But every once in a while, usually if I managed to get most of my work done at lunch, I’d finish in time, and would at least have the chance to talk her into taking me with her. Sometimes she’d say I should get some sleep, or sometimes she’d claim she wasn’t going out, but every once in a while, we’d go explore the sky. I was getting pretty good at flying, though not nearly as good as Jill. But, then, she’d also had a lot more practice than me. Of course, I kept it all a secret. It was harder than I’d expected, especially with Alisa, when I was spending more time in the cafeteria doing math than talking to her.

One day, Alisa insisted that I was ignoring her, that I didn’t want to be her friend anymore. She could be all dramatic like that, from time to time. I insisted she was wrong, but I was never sure whether or not she believed me. And then came the day that she didn’t show up to school at all. My first thought, silly as I realized it was, was that she really was mad at me. None of my teachers volunteered any information to contradict me, however, so as the day went on, and there was still no sign of her, I began to wonder more and more just how unlikely it actually was.

By the time I got home, I had convinced myself it was all my fault, working myself up until I nearly burst into tears when Mr. Khabon, my science teacher, told me I’d answered one of his questions wrong. He seemed to get the idea after that, since he didn’t call on me for the rest of the day, or for a few days afterwards. As soon as I was in my house, I was on my way up to my room, tossing my backpack in the general direction of my bed, and then back down the steps, ready to beg Alisa to forgive me for being a terrible best friend.

“Where are you off to?” dad asked me, poking his head from the kitchen, as I made my bee-line back to the front door.

“I’m gonna go see Alisa,” I told him. “She wasn’t at school today. I’ll be back in…”

“Sweetheart, I think you’d better come in here for a minute.”

“Come on, dad, I…” But his tone made me a bit worried, so I cut off my own protests and meekly joined him in the kitchen, perching on one of the chairs and waiting. But of course, as it always is in these sorts of cases, I wasn’t at all prepared for what he was about to tell me. I was mostly just curious, and already starting to squirm in my seat, hoping that it wouldn’t take too long.

“Mackenzie,” he said, kneeling down next to my chair to look me in the eye, “I’m not really sure how to tell you this. But I think you’re mature enough for me to just come out and say it, so…”

“I am,” I smiled proudly, glad that someone in my stupid family had, for once, acknowledged that, diapers or not, I wasn’t just a stupid little kid. “I can handle it. Just tell me.”

He gave me this strange little smile, and a tiny nod. He opened his mouth once before he managed to start. And finally, he told me.

I glanced awkwardly over at Alisa, sitting next to some woman I’d never seen before. They were both dressed in black, which seemed pretty standard, though I’d had to make do with dark-ish gray. Luckily, the lid of the casket was closed… On TV, it seemed like they usually had it open, and I’d been worrying about that all morning, as I’d been getting dressed.

“Come on, Mackenzie, sit down,” Jillian whispered to me, taking my hand. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been standing there, in between the rows of pews, and sheepishly started to follow Jill to where mom and dad were sitting.

But Alisa had apparently heard Jillian, or she’d just chosen that time to look around, red rimmed eyes firmly homing in on me. She waved, just the tiniest of motions, then pointed to the empty seat next to her. I looked up at Jillian, then over at mom and dad, half hoping that they’d insist that I sit with them, but they just nodded, and Jillian let go of my hand.

“H-Hi,” I mumbled, sitting down. I had felt like I should apologize for being too upset and, frankly, scared, to visit her, like I should tell her that it was going to be all right, even if I wasn’t sure how, but that was all that ended up coming out. She seemed to get the gist of it.

“There are so many people here,” she whispered, glancing behind her at the rows of full pews. Her voice seemed odd, almost as if it were an echo, from a long way off. “I only know a couple of them…”

“Who is… umm…?” I nodded towards the woman, who was talking to the preacher.

“She’s my Aunt Claudia,” Alisa answered. “I’m… I’m gonna live with her from now on.”

“Oh,” I nodded, vaguely remembering her having mentioned her aunt a couple times, usually in conjunction with what present she’d gotten from her for Christmas or her birthday. “Is she nice?”

“I guess,” Alisa shrugged.

The preacher stood up then, and started to talk, though if you’d asked me what he said even a minute after he’d finished, I couldn’t have answered. Alisa’s eyes kept darting back and forth, like she was looking for something she couldn’t quite find. About halfway through, her hand darted out and grabbed mine, holding onto it for dear life. At first, I told myself I was just being a good friend, being there for her, but eventually I realized I was squeezing back just as hard, as my bottom lip began to tremble.

I’d cried plenty those few days before the funeral, and even more after, when I realized that Aunt Claudia wasn’t moving into Alisa’s house, as I’d kind of automatically assumed, but rather Alisa would be moving into her house, two and a half hours and half a world away, but I never cried harder than when I was sitting there with her, her father lying there, in front of us, in that terrible box. After a few seconds, she let go of my hand, turned, and hugged me; she didn’t let go until it was over.

“You have to find them,” I raged a day or two later, sitting on Jillian’s bed, her pillow clasped tightly to my chest. “You know you can do it… You can’t just let them get away with it!”

“It was just a robbery,” she tried to tell me from her desk, turning away from her schoolbooks. “They happen all the time. If the police didn’t get them on tape, I doubt anyone will ever manage to find them.”

“But you could,” I insisted, “if you’d just try! You’re a superhero!”

“I’m not, Mackenzie,” she sighed. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You just don’t want to!” I shouted, throwing her pillow across the room at her. “You never liked Alisa, anyway!”

“I like Alisa just fine,” she replied, infuriatingly calm. “But catching the robbers isn’t going to change anything, sweetie.”

I knew it would, somehow. I knew it deep inside of myself, that getting her to do this was the only way that I could actually help Alisa, but I couldn’t even get that right. “I hate you!” I screamed, storming off to my room.

I didn’t really, of course, and I knew that saying it wasn’t likely to make her change her mind. By the time I’d worked up the courage to go apologize to her, she had left for the night. There was a slight twinge in the pit of my stomach, telling me that maybe I was wrong, and she had gone after those bad guys after all. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I decided to go into her room, so that I could be there when she got back.

I sat on her bed for a few moments, then moved to her desk chair, since it was a lot less comfortable, and thus I’d be less likely to fall asleep in it, since I wasn’t sure just exactly how late she stayed out, usually. I flipped through her textbooks, then through her half finished homework, neither of which made a whole lot of sense to me. I sighed, leaning back in her chair, starting to wonder if I should give up and wait for the next morning, only for my eyes to fall on her trash basket, sitting on the far side of her desk. More specifically, I saw something poking out of it; a newspaper.

It could have been that one of the things that had changed while she’d been over in England, but I’d never seen her actually bother to read a newspaper before, so, of course, I was curious. I hopped down from the chair, snatching the paper from the trash, spilling some stray, half finished homework pages onto the floor. Right away, I saw what had drawn her to it - there was an article on the first page about Alisa’s dad, or more specifically, his death.

I started to smile, a warm feeling flooding over me. I’d done it after all. She must have been doing research so that she could find those thieves. If it hadn’t been so late, I would have called Alisa to tell her the good news, at least until I recalled that I wasn’t supposed to let her know about Jillian’s powers.

And then I actually started to read the article, moving down from the headline to the sub-headline, which declared simply, “Metahuman involvement suspected.” My eyes shot over to the window, where there was still no sign of Jillian. What had I done?! I was sure she could handle a bunch of burglars by herself, no problem, but somebody else with superpowers? A nervous feeling began climbing up my body from the pit of my stomach as I began to imagine any number of possible powers Jillian could find herself up against, and how they could kill her just as easily as they killed Alisa’s dad.

I quickly scanned through the rest of the article, trying to find some kind of indication of what she might be facing. They mentioned some kind of electronics disruption that had kept the cameras from functioning correctly, which didn’t seem too bad… After all, it wasn’t like Jillian was a robot or anything. And then the article went on, mentioning the shelves that had been moved from their place and thrown at Alisa’s dad, but without any obvious damage from someone with superstrength lifting them. Telekinesis, then, it deduced, or something of that sort.

Well, that wasn’t quite as bad as I’d feared. Depending on the telepath, Jillian might not be quite as quick, but she was probably fast enough to block a flying shelf. After all, I knew that she took it slow with me; if she was lightening up some inanimate object so that she could use it as a shield, I was pretty sure she wouldn’t bother to take nearly as much time. Still, if I’d known what I was putting her up against, I wouldn’t have pushed her so hard.

I sat there anxiously for a long time, waiting to see her come floating up in front of the window, but, despite the less than comfortable wooden chair, I found myself drifting off to sleep. I half considered breaking my promise, going to tell mom what had happened so that she could go help. Instead, I decided to write her an apology, since that was what I had went to her room to do in the first place. There was plenty of paper spread about her desk, but, oddly enough, no pens or pencils, so I had to open up her desk drawer.

There was more paper in there, along with a bunch of key chains and other little trinkets. I dug through them all gingerly, not wanting to make to obvious that I’d been in there, and negate my apology by getting her all mad at me for going through her stuff. The pens were under a couple layers of flyers, mostly stuff she’d brought back from England, advertising some new music store, or a party, or whatever. I reached for the nearest pen, but my eyes fell on something else, shining ever so slightly beside it.

It was a key, small and silver. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I picked it up and looked it over for a few moments before recognizing it as the key to her suitcase. I could see the corner of her suitcase peeking out from under her bed, where she’d shoved it after unpacking, and, assumedly, hadn’t had any use for it since then. And yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember it being so close to the edge of her bed before.

I should have left it alone. Whatever was in there was none of my business, but even so, I couldn’t help but be curious. The suitcase was heavier than I’d thought it would be, which only fueled my desire to know what secret souvenirs she’d kept stashed away in it.

It was the jewelry that I saw first, dumped in a big pile in one corner, gold and silver chains wrapped around each other like a pit of snakes. Beside it, there was a pile of cash, more neatly divided into stacks of tens, twenties, and what turned out to be fifties, though I didn’t recognize them at first, probably because I’d never seen one before in real life. There were some higher denominations in there, too, but they were all mixed up together, and not nearly as numerous. Along the opposite side of the suitcase, there sat a row of what appeared to be small, metal eggs. I picked one up carefully, surprised at its weight in my palm. It was cool to the touch, and almost perfectly smooth, except for one, small button that I found myself pressing before I could even consider what a dumb idea that was.

The lightbulb flickered as Jillian’s alarm clock sprang to life, pumping out a hiss of static. Quickly, I pressed the button again, not wanting to mess anything up, and, frankly, a little scared at the sudden noise. I stared down at the egg, wondering what she would need something like that for. I glanced back into the suitcase, towards the jewelry and the money, the gears in my mind starting to turn ever so slowly. I picked up one of the bills, rubbing it between my fingers, then tried to untangle a bracelet, each touch bringing me closer and closer to panic. I hadn’t really considered why she would have all that fake money or costume jewelry; I also hadn’t considered that it could possibly be anything else.

But as I sat there on the floor of her room, looking down into that suitcase, a horrible realization dawned on me. I slammed the suitcase closed, locking it and shoving it back under the bed before putting the key back and closing the desk drawer, all the time nervously watching the window. I stumbled out of her room and back into mine, only then realizing that I still had the egg clasped in my hand. I started back towards Jillian’s room to put it back, not making it any further than my own door. What if she caught me? What would she do to me, if she knew that I’d discovered her real secret?

I hid the egg in my dresser, under my socks, and curled up under my covers, watching my door, praying that she didn’t keep track too closely of how many of those she had. I may have been her sister, but when it came to supervillains, there was no telling if that would make any difference whatsoever.

Hero Worship - 3

Nice to see you writing again, Libby!! This was a nice chapter & I enjoyed reading it!!

Hero Worship - 3