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   Chapter 3

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 12667

Updated: 2017-12-12 12:03


Gats.

By the time I“ve stuffed my soaked clothes in my hamper and scampered back onto the street, Juniper and Storm are waiting for me, half-drenched under their big floppy umbrella. Storm, in his thick black trench, his tie peeking out from the folds of his collar. I“ve never seen him without his glasses before. I never realized how gray his eyes were. Juniper, in a shoulderless blue dress that looks far too fashionable for her style. She leans up against the Prius, arms crossed over her chest. She sighs at me. "Gatsby, your clothes."

I give myself a quick once over. I“m wearing skinny blue jeans and a graphic tee-shirt of talking turtles. It“s the only real tee I“ve got. The rest are plaids and button-ups. I stuff my hands in my pockets, trying to smile. It“s a shaky attempt at best. My brain hurts. I want to curl up into myself and sob. And instead, I grin at them, my stomach all clenched up and my head pounding something awful.

"They“re not going to let us in any way. They don“t like cars that cost less than houses." My hair is slicked to the back of my neck, the cold seeping through my clothes. June grabs me by the arm and pulls me under her umbrella, splashing me in puddle water that sloshes in the toes of my mud-streaked sneakers. If Angel saw me like this even a week ago, he“d laugh. I“d laugh. I pat my soaked hair against my head, the cat ears lying flat at the touch. My wrists are still pink where the straps chaffed the skin, and my knees wobble at the sight.

"Gatsby, hon, I know what you“re feeling," June says, pulling me into a hug. Storm offers me an awkward pat on the shoulder. "It“s been so long since we saw our first..." She hesitates.

"Death." I make my voice as smooth and lilting as it will go. I killed a woman. And yet the world still spins and the lights still glitter on the skyline. I should be curled in a corner with my face pressed against the wall, rocking slowly with my hands cupped around my knees. And I was. And all I can see when I shut my eyes is the half-hidden terror in Heaven“s face, and the little smirk she plastered on when Owl pinned her. She wasn“t fighting to save herself. She was fighting to hurt Owl.

And that haunts me even more than the feel of the sword in my hands or the final, squeaky sound Owl made when she collapsed. More than the splatter of warm blood, more than knowing I ended someone“s existence, though the guilt crushes me even now. I had to. It was to save Heaven“s life. And yet I wonder, stupidly wonder, if I had any right at all.

I am a monster.

"You did what you had to do, honey. She killed many people, and you ended what would“ve been a long and blood-filled reign. We“re proud of you."

The smile falters. A lump wells up in my throat and I choke back my tears.

There“s silence as the three of us huddle together in the downpour under the folds of the umbrella. Then Storm speaks, his voice as soft and whispery as usual.

"When Owl had you," he asks, "did she hurt you?"

I lower my head. Tears blur my eyes. I rub my face with the back of my hand. My pulse pounds in my fingertips as I fumble with the door handle. I nod at them with an awkward laugh that breaks at the end with a squeak. "Mom. Dad. I don“t want to talk about it. I just want to eat."

They flinch. I see it in their reflections on the Prius“s windows.

"If you don“t feel like calling us that," June starts, the rain thumping the street behind her, "you don“t have to, you know. Nothing has to change."

I“m not listening. I“ve already propped the door open and scrambled inside, arms wrapped around my knees, back snug against the seats. The cat ears flick flat and pin.Little tremors have crept into my fingers and wrist. I“m hugging myself to keep out the chill.

"How are you—"

"I“m fine!" I don“t mean to snap. "I don“t—I didn“t mean t-to—I just feel so—I“m s-sorry." The words gurgle together, my head pounding, pounding, pounding with the type of pain that“s brain-numbing. I stop my shaking and stretch, the cold rushing in on all sides. "I“m really fine."

I even offer up a smile, though it“s twitchy and a little too broad on my aching face.

The adults say no more as they slip into the front seats of the economy car. June takes up the passenger side and Storm takes up the wheel. I shrink back, eyes squeezed shut, fingers pressed into my temples.

"What about the cat ears?"

"Supers have oddities all the time. No one will say anything."

I raise an eyebrow. The only supers I“ve seen "oddities" is Fallout“s line and whatever it is that faces me in the mirror every morning. "Angel has to hide his wings—"

"That“s different," says Storm, shooting me a glance over his shoulder. His voice is still soft, but there“s an edge to it now. Even Juniper is twitchy. She had the crap kicked out of her a little over a day ago. Her blood ran the steps of the capitol building red. And now all that“s left to show for it are the yellowing bruises on her exposed shoulders. Fingerprint-sized, all of them.

It makes me wonder what they“ve seen if the burning of the capitol building and their own torture skimmed over them as if those events were all in the everyday life of two millionaire environmentalists. I force a smile. If I look happy, then I am happy, if I look okay, then I am okay. I repeat this to myself as rain pelts the glass, wishing I had Angel on my left and Hev on my right, wishing I had my friends to confide in, or more appropriately, beg forgiveness from. Saving someone only gets you so far before they remember you betrayed and threatened to kill them. Multiple times.

Storm pulls into a parking garage. "But you“re right, Gats, these folks don“t take kindly to cars that cost less than a hundred grand or two."

I dry my forehead with the back of my sleeve and blow on the window, fogging it up just enough to draw a smiley. My hands are still shaking, so the smile jags down into a frown. I lean my weight against the door and exit into darkness. The orange lights on the ceiling and supports hum and snap, beetles and moths buzzing around them. Otherwise, the deck is empty of life and light. The only pocket of movement comes from a shadowy corner, where all I can make out is a silhouette of figures muttering in the dark.

I stuff my hands in my pockets and w

alk away from them as fast people. I know the ingredients of a superhero origin story when I see them. Now that I have parents, even nearly indestructible ones, I know the risks. Juniper and Storm look over their shoulders. The figures stop talking.

June takes my right and Storm takes my left. I look back and they“re following us. Under the low, hissing glow of the artificial lights, I can make out more of their features. Their cloaks. Their masks. I freeze.

Storm sighs. "Sometimes you just can“t get a break."

"Of course not. We know everything about you," says a woman with a raspy voice. Her two friends chuckle. "Give us the freak."

Juniper pats me on the shoulder. "Get in the restaurant, we“ll be right behind you."

And you know what?

I run. I don“t look back. I don“t shout that I can fight my own battles, or that the villains don“t deserve my fear, or that Juniper and Storm shouldn“t have to get hurt over me. All I remember is how it felt to be shoved in a van, shoved in a cage, shot in the face, starved. I clear the parking garage in a few quick bounds. I“m outside, gasping in the pouring rain, the city windows glittering at the edges of my vision. I turn the corner, shoulder through a couple kissing on the sidewalk, and slip-and-slide through the puddles into the revolving door.

The Ritz is in London. Starlight does not have The Ritz, but it does have string after string of expensive restaurants that serve meals so pricey you“d think the food squeezed from the essence of gold itself. This restaurant has a name, I“m sure, but there“s no sign with it. Not even above its door. It“s one of those places, like its own secret club, where anyone who“s in knows what it is and how much it costs. Juniper, Storm, Angel and I call it The Ritz. Heaven doesn“t call it anything because she never goes.

I step out into the foyer, coughing into my fist. The restaurant is as beautiful as you think it would be. Chandeliers dangling from gilded ceilings, violin music playing softly in the background, ceilings that vault up like a cathedral“s. The hostess sizes me up from behind her podium, drumming her fingers on the base“s edge. "Where“s the rest of your party?" she asks, shooting a pointed look at my cat ears. "This isn“t a place for toys, Gatsby. What are you wearing?"

I skim my hands through my hair and flick one of the ears. "Oh, these." With a smirk, I lean back against the podium. It feels good slipping back into my old skin. "I consider them pretty stylish, don“t you?"

She shakes her head, though she“s smiling. "You think you“re so slick."

"Very." I shoot her a wink. "You might as well call me Romeow."

She giggles. "Your pun-game could use some work. May I ask what happened to your eyes?"

"They are lovely, aren“t they?" I give my eyelashes a flutter. "What can I say? I“m trying a new look."

Storm and Juniper barge in through the revolving door. It“s an almost fluid movement, and the two intertwine hands with gracious smiles. They look so perfect together, you“d never guess what they“ve seen or where they“ve been. Storm“s on the phone.

"No ma“am," he says, with an awkward smile at the hostess. She offers one back and picks up the menus. We“re ushered into the dining room, which is even more lavish than the foyer. The walls are all mirrors, and the chandelier light shimmering on the floor is reflected from a thousand different places. The table cloths are crisp and white, with little flickering oil lamps in the middle of the tables. The chairs are so plush they might as well be thrones.

"No, ma“am, we can“t—this is a terrible time. Have you seen the news?"

We“re brought out little glasses of lemon water on a silver tray. I take a long sip of mine, staring out at my face in the mirrors. My eyes are stained with dark circles. There“s a long pink scar under my eye, splitting my cheek into even parts. The cat ears are perked. I wish I could say I look as handsome as before, but I don“t know, I just know I look different. Like Angel“s awful brother, with the feathery white hair and the piercing eyes that follow you around the room. I have become a stranger.

"I“m sure he“s a good kid." Storm leans on his elbow, pinching the bridge of his nose. "And I understand that he“s in danger. My wife and I would love to help, but we“ve got our hands full with Angelos and Gatsby. We—"

He frowns. Juniper does too. I drum my fingers on the tablecloth, taking in the characters at the tables around us. They“re dressed in all black, mostly. I shrink down in my chair.

"I think we should leave," I whisper into my lemon water. Juniper hardly seems to hear. She“s too involved in making exaggerated faces at Storm. Specifically, shaking her head and mouthing “no.“

"No." Storm glances down at his drink. "Are you threatening us?"

A pause. I catch the eye of a grinning man in a tux. I duck down even lower. In the mirror, the ears pin. I clutch them because a woman in an evening gown has begun to laugh.

"Please don“t," Storm says, softer now. Juniper snatches the phone from him, holds it up to her ear, and her expression softens. There“s silence for some time. And then she sighs.

"We“ll pick him up, then. Tomorrow morning. But this is it. No more favors."

She hangs up and slams the phone on the table, pinching the bruises on her skin. The waiter comes to serve us, and Storm and Juniper are already on their feet. "Wha—"

"Sorry, sorry," Storm says with a hand wave. I offer the young man an awkward smile that he quickly returns. The patrons are watching me. All of them. Juniper seems to notice and tugs me against her like I“m a little kid, and I don“t mind it. It makes me feel safe.

When we leave the restaurant, I draw up a big breath, hands still trembling in my pockets. The night is young. I want to be with Heaven and Ang and I don“t want to go back to that parking garage.

"What was that about?"

Juniper presses her face in her hands and attempts a smile, but it“s so big it looks plasticky. Storm doesn“t even try. He stares off bleakly into space with his head tipped on his index and forefinger.

"We“re taking in another child," he says. "Looks like you and Angel are going to have a third brother."

***

This chapter is super late and it shouldn“t happen again. Sorry!

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