Wow. This is a long chapter. Over 4000 words. If I'm honest, I'm not completely happy with this, but I can always take it down and edit it :) Thank you to everyone who has reviewed so far, I have loved reading every one of them! Hope you enjoy :)
By the time I bounded up the porch steps, the smell of supper had drifted out to meet me. What a day. After my Save the Citizen bout, a couple more games took Penny and Icy out by Lash and Speed. I didn't really believe that they knew the concept of 'Saving' people but they did rather well in rescuing their citizen.
It felt good to see Icy having her ass kicked. Speed ran too quickly for her to impale him on an icicle and, despite her best efforts, freezing the ground beneath his feet didn't work, either. She was still too physically drained from taking Warren on to notice where he was heading. Lash tied all the Penny's up with his wiry arms and held her there until Speed grabbed the dummy. At the sound of 'Heroes win' from Boomer, Penny and Icy trotted back to their seats to reveal in their victories and compliments of classmates.
I saw the reflections in her eyes, the bundle of nerves buried just beneath the surface of the skin. I didn't understand what was going on with her. At all. I understood that she probably thought I was trying to snatch Warren Peace from her attentive grasp and I also understood that she didn't want me to tell people that she was crying in the girls bathroom. What I didn't understand was why she was crying or why she thought I was trying to 'steal' Warren from her. Plus, she acted like a really big bitch. Warren had been picked again, along with Will, against Lash and Speed. It wasn't something I'd likely forget.
I opened the door, removing my coat and rubbed my hands together, wanting to get rid of the lingering cold from outside. The weather was getting progressively colder, despite the sun being ever present.
"Keepsie!" Mom trilled from the kitchen. She emerged a few moments later, clutching a mixing bowl with the remains of cake batter at the bottom. Her face was utterly clear of make up, indicating that she hadn't had any calls today. "I'm so glad you're back! I need you to help me with the cake." She disappeared back into the kitchen. I sighed and followed.
"What's the special occasion?" I asked, surveying the devastation of the kitchen with a skeptical eye.
"A little bird told me that Will Stronghold came into his powers! Isn't that fantastic? I can't believe you didn't tell me straight away."
It took my brain a while to catch up with what she said. I searched for evidence in my head to support that I had told her. There was none. I then remembered why I hadn't told her in the first place. I had fruitlessly hoped that she wouldn't ask now because it was so long ago. "I didn't think it was that important…" I mumbled, opening the fridge and pulling out a soda. I popped it open and took a huge gulp.
"Not that important? Honey, he's going to be one of America's most known heroes. You would do well to… know him."
Somehow, her definition of 'know' wasn't the same as mine. I played dumb. "I already know him. We live on the same street."
"Maybe you should get to know him a bit better." She didn't make eye contact. "You shouldn't drink so much soda, it'll rot your teeth."
"What do you need help with?" I said, looking around for something useful to do and deliberately avoiding the topic of my health.
She pointed to a bag of icing sugar. "Mix the icing, please." She ran a dainty finger around the inside of the bowl she was still holding and brought it to her mouth. I swear she was a seven year old trapped in an adult's body. I rolled up my sleeves and obliged, willing to get my mind off the day's events. I poured water onto the powder and began mixing.
Should I seek Warren out and ask what he was saying before we had to go to the gym and battled Miss Freeze and her minion? He had said something about sidekicks being scared and then, I was ashamed to admit, I wasn't really concentrating on what he was saying. Ahem. It didn't feel like a good idea. Whatever weak friendship we had gradually built up would unquestionably relinquish if I started pestering him about what he said. I honest to God blushed when I thought of how the air between us was heated and electric and how stupid I must look because of it.
I splashed in blue food coloring upon mom's request, and mashed the assortment of icing sugar, water, and coloring together. After I had finished, I watched her child-like glee at smearing the turquoise icing onto the sponge cake, and excused myself from her presence. I was getting a headache. Everything that had happened was piling out top of me and that feeling was becoming too familiar.
Mom really, really needed to stop trying to set me up with Will. She needed a hobby. I climbed the stairs, my feet dragging behind me. She would probably finish the cake tonight and then drop it off with Josie tomorrow. Everyone on our street knew that Josie Stronghold did not like Alice Branson. I was grateful that dislike wasn't applicable to me.
I shoved my bedroom door open with my foot and halted in mid-stride.
Something wasn't right. The window was wide open, pale curtains billowing inwards in the light breeze, making the room colder. I was guessing it had been open a while. I replayed my morning routine; get up, brush my teeth, shower, dress, close the window, groggily have breakfast, then make my way down to the bus stop. Of course, the open window wasn't any justification to be suspicious. Mom or dad could have opened it to vent out the cesspit of female pheromones that, undoubtedly, had been floating around since I had met Warren.
The open window, although wasn't cause for alarm, was not the only thing that made me panic. One drawer was open, the contents ransacked and I was afraid to look to see what had been taken. It then struck me that I actually thought that someone had broken into the house, not stolen the games consoles, TV or laptop, but something from a teenage girl's nightstand that no one could sell or smoke. I was going insane.
The rest of the room was in order and as I left it this morning. I wasn't exactly neat. I preferred the term 'organized chaos'. I knew where everything was, even though most of my clothes were outside the wardrobe and school notes were scattered in every possible place, and I did not leave drawers open. I learned not to when I blithely walked into one and stubbed my toe last year. I was very careful to not let that happen again.
My mind wandered to the strange woman I had seen a couple of days ago. It was, of course, ridiculous, but my instincts told me that another person had been in the room. Another idea hit me. How the hell had they taken something and not been affected by my powers? Fear constricted my chest with every inhalation. To my knowledge, my power worked on everything in my possession. It didn't matter where I was or what it was. I had recently found out that it didn't have to be an object. Somebody could be stealing my air and that opened a whole realm of possibility.
I felt helpless and frightened, an unfamiliar combination that left me frustrated. I edged closer to the open drawer and cautiously peered in. Several old essays from school lay crumpled at the bottom, pen lids strewn over the top. That was all. A hollow sensation overcame me, starting in the base of my stomach and travelling across my whole body.
My project on female superheroes was gone.
I sat down very carefully on the bed and rubbed my eyes, making sure I wasn't having some strange dream. When I glanced at the drawer again, the pages of my work were still absent. None of this really sank in until Mom shouted for me from the kitchen.
I shook myself. I would have to tell her. I mean, she could at least try to do something, right? Dad would have been better but he was working late and I didn't want to bother him with something that I assumed to be hero related.
"Coming!" I yelled. Every step on the way down felt like tiny jolts of realization. I couldn't even bring myself to ponder if this day could get any weirder because the day wouldn't understand it was a statement not a challenge, and then all kinds of shit would fly.
The kitchen counters were now spotless and the meticulously iced cake sat on a cooling rack. Mom was taking dinner out of the oven, obviously happy with her small accomplishments. "It's just me and you tonight, honey." She said.
"Mom, you didn't go into my room, right?" My fingers nervously played with a lock of hair.
She gave me a puzzled look. "No. Why would I? Don't play with your hair, it makes it look shorter than it is."
I ignored her remark. "Well, someone's been in there and if it wasn't you and it can't have been dad, who was it?"
"Why do you think someone's been in your room, sweetie?" She said, elongating her words like she was talking to a five year old.
I clenched my teeth. "Because the window was open when I came in and one of my school project is missing."
"That's silly. What would anyone need in a school girl's little project?" I could tell she wasn't taking me seriously.
"I don't know, but can you look into it? Please?"
She examined my face. "Maybe you're just tired. Why don't you go and lie down-"
"Mom, I'm telling you, somebody's taken it." I interrupted, beginning to get annoyed.
She set down the pot she was holding down and straightened the knives and forks already lain out. Cut flowers on the table hung their heads low over the vase containing them, bobbing their heads when she placed a basket of rolls in the centre. "Laura, stop being childish. You've just left it somewhere you've forgotten and didn't remember to close the window this morning. Now, sit down and enjoy your dinner."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I knew my story was a tad unrealistic and, if I was honest, I didn't exactly expect her to believe me, but it still stung when she didn't even try and pursue it. "Please, you have to think about it." Even I could hear the slight tone of begging in my voice. "I never leave my window open because bugs fly in and I find them when I get home, and I wouldn't lose something I had spent so much time on."
I watched her think about my words, then erase the objection like it was written on the wind before her. "I won't hear any more about this. Besides, people can't take things away from you because of your powers."
"No!" She snapped, making me jump. I could hear the ticking of the clock and the hum of the various appliances. Even she seemed shocked. In a calmer tone, she continued, "If this is an attempt to get some attention, you've got another thing coming, missy."
"What?" I burst out with. "You're going to say 'no' and leave it at that? Something strange is happening and I'm scared that someone is able to get past my powers and you're dismissing it like I'm making it all up!"
"Listen, I do a lot for you and you should be grateful that I haven't asked for much in return. Stop telling me stories and eat your dinner!"
Hurt blossomed in me like a night blooming flower. I swallowed. "Fine." I whispered. "I'll sort it out for myself."
I stormed out of the kitchen, pulled on my coat and strode out of the front door. This wasn't as satisfying as it sounded. It wasn't dark yet, the sun barely brushing the skyline and the odd chimney weaved cobwebs of smoke across the iron sky in the dusk. I stood on the porch steps, listening for any indication that mom was going to come after me. Instead, I heard the metallic clang of the pot going back into the oven and the faint squeak of a chair as she sat down. As stupid and cliché as it was, I didn't want to admit how much it upset me.
My feet carried me down the path and out onto the sidewalk. I was tempted to cut the heads off her prized roses but that would just be plain spiteful. I consoled myself by aiming to think that it wasn't mom's fault. Not really. I wouldn't believe me, either. There was this feeling in my gut that someone had taken that project. I didn't know why or how, but it had been done and I was damn well going to find out who. Everything that had been happened lately must be connected in some way.
I headed down the street, momentarily considering going to Will's but I didn't think that would help anything. I walked for a long time. I wasn't quite sure where I was a few times and, certain I was lost, randomly blundered down a few side streets until I found my way again. This was every bit frustrating and not-fun as it sounded. When was an appropriate time to go home? I didn't know the correct form of etiquette for angrily storming out of the house and wandering aimlessly for ages in the gathering gloom.
Ugh, why was I out here, again? Feeling slightly defeated in whatever strange purpose my mind had made up, I took inventory of where I stars had begun to cut through the darkness, pin pricks of light shining through the black. The sky was surprisingly clear for the city. The houses around me were big and modern and the lights from several restaurants shone over the road. I sighed. If it was dark now, mom would worry. Another pulse of resentment washed over me and I closed my eyes, getting a grip. You're acting like a petulant child, Keepsie. I thought, shoving my hands in my pockets. Put on your Big Girl PantiesTM and deal with this yourself. I turned back to figure out which way I haphazardly came, when something caught my eye.
In the waning light, a figure was outlined against the sky.
The anger I had been carefully nursing was eroding to reveal an icy lump of fear beneath. It wasn't the same woman as before. Or, at least, I didn't think so.
"Fuck." I cursed, almost not accepting what I was seeing as true. What had I done to deserve all these strange women appearing out of nowhere? This woman appeared to be a blot of shadow and I could see nothing of her features except her short, spiky hair. I didn't know what I was doing until I was ten paces away from her. I could see her more clearly. A strange striped costume clothed her slim body and a cat-like mask covered most of her face.
"Hey!" I yelled, paying no heed to my own fear, focusing instead on my profound annoyance. This would be very awkward if she was innocently on her way to a fancy dress party. Her eyes snapped towards me and she grinned. I think I had stumbled upon something far deeper than I could imagine. That grin told it all.
"Hi, sugar. You sure know how to keep a girl waiting." Her voice was a low purr.
"I don't know what's going on, but I know somebody was in my room." My fists clenched and unclenched, hardly daring to understand my own confidence.
She chuckled. "Not even asking my name? My, you've come looking for trouble."
"Who are you?" I was starting to sound like a bad episode of CSI.
She licked her glossed lips. The gesture, oddly, didn't appear sexual, but almost feral. "Cheshire Kitten here, sweetie." Who was this, some Catwoman rip off? I vaguely recalled the name, though. She stretched languidly, arms extending above her head in a unhurried gesture. "You have so much potential, baby-doll! Such a shame about your powers. We might still have a use for you..."
"We?" I questioned, thoroughly confused.
Her lips quirked upwards in a smile. "Oh, yes. Hate to be so cryptic, sugar, but can't have you running to your little friends, can we? Our little team could use someone like you. Here," She came forwards, hips swaying and carrying herself like she was on a runway in Paris, not the suburbs of Maxville. I involuntarily stiffened as she came closer. She held out a slip of paper. "Take it." She said. "I don't bite. Hard." She winked.
Urgh. I gingerly took the paper from her, afraid of what her dangerously graceful form might do if I refused. The woman practically glowed with unspoken threat and sex appeal. The note was written on with the same blue ink and handwriting as the one in my locker.
29 Seventh Street
"What is this?" I said.
"Come meet us tomorrow, sugar. You won't regret it."
"No. Not until you tell me what is going on." I was proud my voice didn't shake.
"See you tomorrow, baby-doll!" She wiggled her fingers.
"Where are-" I began to say but I stopped. Her body wavered, like smoke before a fire, and vanished.
I had no words left. All I could do was choke on air and think I was slowly going off to the deep end. Fucking heroes and their powers. I couldn't be sure if that was invisibility or teleporting. If it was invisibility, had she been watching me? For how long? It meant she wasn't a technopath, so it couldn't have been her that opened my locker. I glanced down at the note in my hand. Seventh Street wasn't far from home.
"Branson? That you?"
In my dazed state, I hadn't noticed a figure coming up behind me. I almost tripped in my haste to turn round. I squinted in the dimness of the street. "Huh?" I said. God, I'm so intelligent.
"What are you doing?"
"Peace?" I said. Crap. Now it looked like I was stalking him. "What are you doing?"
He stepped closer, so I could distinguish his face without straining to see. "I work there." He pointed to one of the restaurants across the road. The Paper Lantern. "I'm on my way home. Why are you just standing here?" I could see his hair was tied back and his leather jacket had been exchanged for an apron. I wouldn't mind seeing him in just that apron… I thought, then swiftly shook myself. Really not the time for those kind of feelings.
"Um… The woman and the disappearing and the walking…" Wow. I was so tired I wasn't even making sense. My brain felt all kinds of fuzzy.
"Branson, are you high?" He came nearer, checking my pupils for abnormal dilation. If I hadn't been so freaking worn-out, I would have taken a few seconds pleasure in our proximity.
"No!" I retorted, mildly offended. "I'm… tired."
"Why are you here?" He asked again, slowly. If he didn't think I was crazy now, this must have done it.
"I had a fight with my mom, so I started walking and now I'm here." I said, pleased I was coherent. "Why are you here?"
He rolled his eyes. "Because I saw you standing here for roughly five minutes and I thought you might be high or drunk. Or both." It occurred to me that he wouldn't have been able to see Cheshire Kitten. She would have been too far into the shadows.
"Oh. Well, I'm not."
He heaved a sigh and after a few seconds of silence, in which I was starting to feel a little faint, he said, "Do you need help getting home?" He seemed to pose this grudgingly, like he felt obligated. It didn't give me a particularly warm fuzzy feeling.
"Maxville isn't the best of places at night, Branson, and I don't want to feel guilty if you get kidnapped, or worse."
I pondered on whether to decline, but when I weighed the options in my head, I knew it would be smart to admit I wasn't completely sure where I was, no matter how stupid I seemed. Plus, in my worn out state, I couldn't be certain I wouldn't just collapse and pretend the sidewalk was my bed. "That would be good." I mumbled. "Do you have a phone so I could ring for a cab?"
"Where do you live?"
I rattled off my address, expecting him to call for someone to pick me up. My own cell was back in my bedroom. He mulled this over while I did my best not to slump against the nearby wall and promptly conk out then and there. Eventually, he came to a decision.
"I don't live far from there. I'll walk you home." He said, gruffly.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" I blurted before I could stop myself.
He glared at me. I mean, really glared. "I'd do this for anyone, Princess. I don't want to see any girl raped because I left her in the middle of the town by herself."
I gulped. "Fair enough." Internally, I was cheering.
"This way." He walked out of the side street and back onto the sidewalk. I followed. I tried not look at his arms, in particular when he removed his apron, revealing a tight t shirt underneath. "I need to drop this at the restaurant. Stay here."
I watched him go back across the road and enter the shop. I couldn't comprehend what was happening. I made my mind up that I was generally unhappy with guys altogether. It didn't matter how foxy they were. Nope. Especially not when they wore leather and had red streaks in their hair. But then I saw Warren come out of the Paper Lantern and I forgot what I had been thinking. God, I'm pathetic.
We didn't speak to each other for a good five minutes. The sound of our footsteps on the concrete were strangely loud in the quiet town.
"Warren?" I said warily, not wanting to instigate a petty fight over nothing.
"What did you mean today, when you said things are going on at school?" Well. Look at that. I'm fluent in Warren-Speak.
"Nothing I haven't already told you." He said. "You're a sidekick. I'm sure something's happened to you that's been a little weird."
"Lately, I've been the Queen of Weird." I muttered.
Another few moments passed in a more comfortable hush. I checked my watch. Nearly ten o'clock. I increased my pace. Maxville wasn't a dangerous town by some accounts, but in every town there's always going to be some kind of crime and I was emphatically grateful for Warren's presence. Street lamps flickered on and off.
"Sorry I grabbed you today." He said quietly.
Whatever I had expected him to say, it positively wasn't that. "Um, sure?" The incredulousness must have been apparent in my voice because he turned to look at me. He had nice eyes when he wasn't glaring.
"No, really. I'm sorry. It was inappropriate."
"Uh, don't worry about it." I said.
It was sort of companionable to walk alongside him without my hormones getting in the way. Tiredness had put a damper on them. There was a small quiver of excitement when his hand accidently brushed mine, but nothing more. It was nice.
All too soon, we were rounding the corner to my street. Only a handful of windows were illuminated in the dark, including the one from my living room. I didn't expect him to come all the way to the door with me, yet he did. I hid a smile when I thought he wasn't looking. Light bled out from the crack under the door.
I stumbled on the porch steps. His hand encircled my wrist and caught me before my knee met the hard stone. His hand was warm. To say I was embarrassed would be an understatement. "Crap." I hissed, straightening. I was a lot closer to him than I originally intended to be. "Thanks for walking me home. I appreciate it." I whispered. The air had a delicate impression, like if I spoke too loudly it would break.
Our bodies were nearly touching. I glanced up, convinced that he would back away. He didn't. "It's okay." He said, almost inaudibly. My eyes jumped to his lips as he spoke and I hastily looked away.
"I'd better go in." I said. He leaned in until I could feel the few free strands of his hair graze my cheek. I hardly dared to breathe.
"Yep." He answer, his face criminally close to mine.
There was a flutter of rapture in my chest. He closed the distance agonizingly slowly. I stayed stock still. His lips were an inch away from mine.
"Keepsie? Is that you?" My mother's voice came from the other side of the closed door.
Well… Eff. I very, very reluctantly stepped away from Warren. "Thanks again." I said, self-conscious. He nodded. I turned away and pushed open the front door. When I looked back, he was gone.
...Well, what did you think? Cheshire Kitten was influenced by Catwoman, so they might have some similar qualities. Warren still in character? Reviews make me very happy :)