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   Chapter 4 Sleep is for the Weak

Blog of a Teenage Superhero By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 13902

Updated: 2017-11-29 19:04


I live in a motel-turned-apartment-complex where the closest I get to the ocean is an occasional palm tree thwacking my window. Plantation style, shutters painted candy pink. It“s a doll house, flimsy and thin. If a hurricane came, we“d be blown down the coast.

Kai collapses on the corduroy couch the moment we stagger through the door. "Pain!" he wails. Finn collapses beside him, poking buttons on his phone.

Our apartment is a doll house, too. Full white book shelves line three walls, two matching auditory couches face each other on opposite sides, and a squeaky green armchair sits by the fireplace. Candles flicker on the mantle, blinking orange and blue. We don“t have a foyer. We have a bath mat to keep the carpet in our living room, or our "library," as Dad calls it, clean.

Dad snores in the armchair. He“s still dressed in his usual khakis and tie, newspaper spread across his lap like a dinner napkin. This is where he usually sleeps. The day he uses a bed like a normal person is the day we get a paycheck that covers our living expenses. Also known as “never“ and “not happening.“

I kick open the kitchen door, rinse the percolator in our grubby green sink, and start coffee-making. When the stove“s on, I lean my head against the cupboards and shut my eyes. I“ve stumbled onto something so big a supervillain chased Kai“s car and told me he“s going to kill me and then... not.

Yay?

By reporter standards, that“s not too shabby. By fictional reporter standards, I“m dancing on eggshells by existing. Someone should kidnap me right now. How do I know Masquerade really left? Maybe he can turn invisible, too. I do research, sure, but everyone makes mistakes.

I twist the fleecy insides of Finn“s hoodie, the percolator burbling.

"Hey, Monet—"

I whip around and throw my best hook shot. A boy squeals and crumples to the ground.

"Hijinks!" shouts Kai from the living room, and then he whoops, and then he goes back to snoring. Dad and Kai, a beautiful symphony. I kneel down on the tile and grab Finn by the shoulders. He clutches his arm. It has begun to swell up like a lumpy beach ball under his peach shirt.

"I“m fine," he says with a croaky laugh, his glasses flashing in the glare of candles sitting on the peephole sill. "Totally fine." His arm is trembling. He gulps hard.

I grip him under the armpits and drag him to his feet. His weight is not a problem. Coat rack analogy, remember? But he“s lankier than me, and taller, too. He yelps and topples into the counter.

" Are you okay?" I“m already rummaging through the musty draws, shaking out plastic organizers and turning over mugs and bowls, searching for the first aid kit. He places a hand on my shoulder and squeezes. The touch is remarkably soft, nothing like Masquerade“s Death Grip or Kai“s Hug of Asphyxiation. I flip through salt packets and plastic sporks faster. "I“m so sorry! I didn“t mean—"

"I“m fine. I shouldn“t sneak around like that. I just wanted coffee is all. It“s already four, and if I go to sleep now I am not waking up at six." He says it all with a laugh. I wish I was so adaptable. My mind has veered off in a million directions, but he knows just what to focus on: school.

I rinse out a mug and pour him a cup.

Finn takes his coffee black. He only drinks two a day. But Kai and I can go all night, drinking anywhere from four to eight cups a day. And I won“t even get started on Dad.

But right now, I don“t want to stay awake. I want to collapse on the couch and forget what happened tonight. I could pretend it was all a bad dream. I could curl up against Kai and think hey, I got my friends, I got sleep, everything will be all right.

I know better. Unfortunately.

I pour myself a cup of my own bitter medicine and down it in three long sips.Then I pour myself another. And another. Finn arches a single thin eyebrow and turns out of the kitchen, still rubbing his arm. I glance at the stove clock.

4:17

I hope this morning isn“t indicative of the rest of the school year. I hope it“s a bad prank, a fluke. Because if this is one ugly bead in a string of them...

... Hello, heart attack central.

***

"No, no, no, NO!" Kai buries his face in a stained pillow and worms deeper into the couch. Dad shoots me a glance and rolls his eyes, high on his third cup of coffee. He“s already changed into his third pair of khakis and is pacing circles around the "library," his hands trembling. It“s six-thirty and his left eye is already twitching. "Look, I“d like to drive you kids to school, but—"

"Kai!" I shout. I grab him around the waist. With one quick jerk I drag him off the cushions. He flails and kicks, fingernails scraping my cheekbone. "C“mon, you little oaf. We“ll get you another cup of coffee. Just stay awake for this. It“s the first day of school."

"I. Want. To. Die."

Finn flings Kaito“s backpack over his shoulder. Kai groans, limbs still floundering. I turn back to my dad and shoot him a smile.

"Kai can drive us. Have a good day at work."

He takes another sip of his coffee and kisses me on the forehead. Pats me on the head. Ruffles my hair. "Don“t be too hard on the kiddos, honey." The creases of his dress shirt tremble against his tensed body. "Have a good day. I“ll see you at the office."

He offers a polite “hello“ to either boy and ducks the door. I watch in uncomfortable silence as Kai gawks at my father“s muscles. Between his reading and writing, he can usually be found in the complementary basement gym, pumping iron with his buddies.Just like that, he“s gone, flitting through my morning like a caffeinated fruit fly, humming a song from Lin Manuel“s “In The Heights.“

Finn takes my hand and offers me a paper coffee cup. "Good morning," he says. Khakis are tight. Matching shirt clings to his scrawny body. He hasn“t changed from last night.

I found my comfiest pair of jeans and my comfiest hoodie and though I know the first day of school is supposed to be a special outfit time, a time to show off the new you or whatever, there“s so much more to worry about. Like Masquerade. And not failing Chem. I rub my eyes, roll my fluffy sleeves up to my elbows and sigh, my hands twitching. Time to get serious.

I savor a long, delicious sip. Four sugars. A dollop of cream from a serving spoon. Finn offers me a chip from his mini Lay“s bag. Breakfast of champions, right there.

"Thanks."

"I can“t drive," Kai says. His bloodshot eyes are wide, his black hair greasy and stringy. It hangs in front of his face like a mop. It“s a little shock, seeing Male Beauty look a little more... "mortal" as Number One Fan Masquerade would say. He waves his hands in front of his face. "I“m sleepy. No driving."

"You got the most sleep of all of us," I say with a shrug. "Hop to it, Kai. It“s that or the bus." My eyes are burning, and right now, all I want to do is pull a Kai and bury myself in the couch“s wonderf

ul pillowy soft. I stumble to the door with the boys trailing behind. I“m as coordinated as a zombie, stumbling over the bath mat, staggering through the carpet. An unfortunate side effect of no sleep. Irritability, forgetting how walking works, and a nasty headache that even caffeine won“t cure. Or maybe the last part is just from stress.

I stare at my hands, running my fingers over the creases in my shaky, sweaty palms. My vision has become spotty and dark. Sunlight burns through my squinted eyelids and I make a sound a little too close to a hiss for comfort. A creature of the dark, I am. Finn snickers.

I pluck my backpack off our bath mat foyer and march into the abyss.

***

Summer is a funny thing. When you“re at school, all you can think about are the glorious summer months. No school. Sleep in as long as you want. Big cups of joe you can take as long as you care sipping down. No bullies, no homework, no teachers telling you to shut up and pay attention. Paradise, pretty much.

Until summer actually hits and you realize how soul-crushingingly lonely you are and that your life has no direction without a quarterly report card telling you how much you suck. Antisocial should be my middle name, but I“ve got a bit of your typical “loner“ problem. People my age are intimidating, sometimes. And tiring.

But being alone?

That“s its own sort of scary.

Loneliness is forgotten the minute we pull up to in front of the school. It looks like a museum or, more appropriately, an experiment in architecture gone horribly wrong. The roof is nailed out of wavy gray tin. The windows are concave and bend outward like a fish bowl. The curve of the building“s sides and the flatness of the roof makes the building look like a turtle flipped on its back. Wispy white clouds drift on the horizon, puffs of cotton against a sea-blue sky.

Three minutes after a slumped-over Kai parks, I“m already hiding behind Finn. Because kids. They fill the parking lot and spill into the front doors, side doors, and every other entrance to the Twisted Amusement Park of Drama and Doom. Girls in glittery nail polish and lipstick, boys in shirts that say “Swag“ and “This Game Ain“t Contagious,“ and every shade of disinterested teen in between. It“s all a burble of gibberish to my aching ears. My knees are already trembling.

"What“s wrong?" asks Finn with a sly smirk. He gelled his hair, so the grease is less noticeable to the untrained eye. Still, the style looks... wet. "Scared?"

"I wasn“t scared when I faced a supervillain." I puff up my chest. "And I“m not scared of school."

One of the shimmery-lipstick girls catches my eyes and I jump. Finn laughs. Kai snorts.

"But are you scared of giiirrrls?" He says it just like that. With the extra “i“s and “r“s.

"Scaredy Monet," Kai adds with a cluck and a yawn.

I flip the straps of my backpack over and flick him hard on the cheekbone. He yelps. "Come on, guys." I spin on my heel, kicking up grit and loose gravel. "Let“s get our education!" I pump my fists and break into a run, weaving through the crowds of school kids.

The cool thing about high schoolers, no matter what the sitcoms and the movies tell you, is that they don“t care. The future is speeding towards them on the crushing wings of “adulthood.“ Do they care a quasi-famous klutz is skipping through their ranks like a teenage toddler? Not really. We“re weird, weird kids, and it looks like it“s going to stay that way.

I squeeze inside. If you have been to a public school, you know the deal. You know about the wide white halls jam-packed with more students than should be legal. You know about the pungent antiseptic smell that should knock over the weak of will (and lungs). You also know about the panic that ensues on the first day. Freshman navigating the maze with faces pale and eyes wild with terror. Upperclassmen forgetting the basic blueprint of the school and slapping fives by the staircase, boredom and excitement oxymoronically clear on their faces. And the kids in the middle, just trying to do their civic duty and sit themselves in a desk before they get a tardy. But there are some differences that separate Red Comet High from Every Other High School In America.

And I know what you“re thinking. Red Comet High? Yes, Red Comet High. We meant to have a statue of the superhero in front of the doors, but she decided that was a little... much. Which is good. Because now she“s gone.

The major difference between us and the other guys is that here, the kids are wearing bands and ribbons. The favorite color is red, but blue, green, yellow, and black also make an appearance. It makes my face flush up with heat, because between all my scoop-hunting and drowning, I forgot. I forgot to respect my hero.

The bell rings by the time I“ve found my crumpled schedule and located my classroom. I slide inside. The teacher, Mr. Branders, taps his dusty chalkboard with a pool cue. And that“s all you really need to know about him. He“s a history teacher who carries a big stick. If that isn“t nightmare fuel enough, I don“t know what is.

Unfortunately, the only desks open are in the front row. I drag myself into the window seat, fumble back up for the pledge, and slump back down for class to begin. But Principal Laurel“s voice rings through the speakers, clear as crystal. "Welcome back!" she shouts, and a poor kid beside me cups his hands over his ears and shoves his forehead against the desk.

I watch the boy. His long blonde hair spills out over his ears and fans across the desk. Wind whacks the window, and with a long glance outside where you can make out a sliver of ocean, I remember that all the boys here have rockstar golden locks. Or at least, too many to suspect every one of them of being Masquerade. We live by the surf. Not to mention wigs and hair dye are things, so the beautiful man-bun may not be as big of a lead as I thought it was.

"Though you are all wonderful students whom I“m sure know how to follow the rules—"

A few of the kids snicker, including me. Branders raps my desk hard with a snide smile and I jerk to attention. Or, well, as much as you can in a sweaty yellow plastic chair, knees slamming up into the desk. I“m good at getting people to hate me, supervillains, psychopaths, and teachers alike. The Monet Hate Train is a fun place.

"—We all forget a few things during the summer months, don“t we? That“s why we“re combining our Expectations Assembly and our Student Council Elections this morning. Best of luck to our candidates!"

My stomach plunges. The elections. My black armband wasn“t the only thing I forgot.

I“m running. I have to give a speech.

"This will be interesting," someone whispers in my ear, breath hot on my cheek. I whip around. The kids behind me shoot a bored look my way, and all I feel is a knot tightening in my gut.

Masquerade is here. And he“s coming to get me.

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